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Here at the End of All Things

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Things were never exactly calm and quiet in Beacon Hills, but they'd finally reached some sort of equilibrium. The lycan movement was still under incredibly intense scrutiny, but no one was actively interfering with them there anymore. By day, Beacon Hills was the one place where lycans could go about their daily lives without being harassed, where they all gathered to care for the dreaming alphas, where they kept one another safe and had achieved some sort of normal.

Of course by night, in basements and garages and sometimes out in the woods, it was where the other branch of the lycan movement met, sharing notes and making plans. Everyone just called them the Network, and they were the part of Beacon Hills that scared people, and that the government -- not to mention the Argents -- wanted to shut down. But first they'd have to find proof, and the lycans were very, very careful.

So it was good. Even if Stiles wasn't exactly sure what his place was anymore.

He still researched things when they needed him to. He took notes at the meetings (minutes for daytime meetings were available online; notes from the night time ones were stored under seven layers of encryption that only Danny knew how to access). He helped organize things like official marches and protests, getting the permits they needed -- and of course a human needed to do it. Even with the uneasy truce that meant escaped lycans were no longer considered criminals, they still didn't have any rights and weren't citizens, either.

So he did what he could to help. None of it was exactly the biggest contribution anyone had ever made to the lycan movement, but Stiles figured he earned his keep. And even though he wasn't doing anything all that important, it was enough that Derek usually had an excuse to drop by when he was in town.

It shouldn't have mattered to Stiles. Derek had a hundred thousand things in his life more important than visiting him, and a hundred thousand reasons to avoid him at all costs. He went in phases where he did it, too -- he hadn't shown up at all for the first eight months Stiles and Erica were together. Stiles hadn't put that together for awhile, until he'd heard second-hand that Derek had been in town enough times that it was obvious Derek just hadn't wanted to see him. Not that Stiles blamed him, after everything. But it still hurt like a blow to the gut.

Then again, knowing Derek would avoid him when he wanted to made him feel a little better about how elated he was whenever Derek did show up. The times he'd just appear at a meeting Stiles was attending or, rarer still, just... at his house.

Like now.

Stiles wasn't sure what woke him. It sure as hell wasn't Derek, who basically defined "the strong and silent type," with an emphasis on silent. Stiles sat up in bed and saw a shadow against his shade. His shades were flimsy, almost translucent; they were shit at keeping light out. But Stiles didn't want anything darker or heavier. He liked to be able to see outside, to see the moon.

To see Derek.

Derek was sitting on the flat garage roof outside Stiles's window, a few feet away, just basking in the moonlight. It was a week past full, waning, but still bright enough for even Stiles to see by.

He could swear he hadn't made a noise, had barely even breathed, but even so, Derek's head snapped around to face him. Stiles raised his hand in a vague wave. Derek caught his eye, nodded a tiny bit, then turned away, staring back up into the sky. Stiles sighed a little and reached for the window frame, just to make sure it wasn't locked.

Of course it wasn't. He never locked it. Not that Derek didn't have keys to the house, or couldn't simply bash in the door or the window if he really wanted to get in. But it was the principle of the thing. He and Derek were... they were something to each other. Stiles didn't pretend to know what; he wasn't even sure what he wanted them to be. But the roof had always been Derek's perch, and he was never going to lock Derek out.

*

Stiles could smell breakfast cooking when he woke up. He smiled a little to himself, took a shower, and walked down to the kitchen. His father was reading the paper at the kitchen table, and Derek was making breakfast. Stiles helped himself to a mug of coffee and said, "Hey."

Derek grunted. He was never exactly a verbose guy, but in the mornings he stuck even closer to caveman noises.

"I didn't know you were going to be around," Stiles said.

Derek didn't answer, but a minute later he put down a plate of eggs, toast, and half a grapefruit in front of Stiles, and another in front of his father.

"Thanks," his dad said. "Will you be in town long? We can make up the guest bed."

Stiles snorted. "And maybe this time you'll actually use it."

"Ah." His father laughed a little. "Slept on the roof again last night? Any excuse this time?"

Derek gave them a withering look, and pointed down at his father's plate. "Eat."

"Happily." He picked up the fork and added, "Well, you're welcome to stay wherever. Guest bed, couch, roof. Our casa, su casa."

Derek nodded, just a little, and turned back to the stove to make his own breakfast. Stiles felt a little pang of guilt, because Derek always cooked for them first, always took care of them first. He didn't know why -- after all these years, it couldn't just have been habit left over from those days. The ones Stiles didn't like to think about, didn't like to name.

Derek had been their slave.

Stiles didn't understand why he came back at all.

Derek didn't sit down to eat, just lurked by the kitchen counter, plate in one hand and fork in the other. He didn't talk, put his dishes in the sink when he was done, and gave Stiles a raised eyebrow.

"Yes, yes, I'll wash everything," Stiles promised. And, after a long moment, he added, "Before the mess dries and gets hard to get off, Jesus, stop with the eyebrows."

Derek smirked, just a little, and walked out.

Stiles had never been good at remembering to do the dishes.

*

He didn't really sleep that night, since he spent most of it wondering if Derek was going to show up. Sure enough, as it neared 1 a.m., Derek settled into his usual place outside. As much as anything he did could be considered usual.

Stiles watched him for a few minutes, then slid the window open. Derek looked over at him, watching as he pulled a t-shirt on above his pajama pants and clambered out. The shingles were gritty and gross, slippery with mold in a few places, sticky with tar in others. It was hard to walk on the uneven surface, but he managed not to fall. He sat down near Derek and stared into the distance, at the empty street in front of the house.

"We're making progress," Stiles said, remembering how frustrated Derek had been all day. There had been good news lately, and plenty of it, but the Argents had caught six members of the lycan Network in the last month. Caught, collared, and killed, to send a message. "I know it doesn't feel like it, but --"

"Don't," Derek said.

So Stiles didn't. Derek knew the progress they'd made, and the setbacks; he was planning their next moves, deciding which Argent stronghold to bring down next. How he managed it all was beyond Stiles.

A breeze picked up and Stiles shivered. Derek peered at him, then said, "Why did you come out here, if you're just going to get cold?"

"Dunno. Why do you, every night?" Stiles pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, trying to conserve body heat.

Derek shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it to Stiles, who pulled it over his shoulders. It was warm and smelled like Derek -- like old leather and something wild. He inhaled deeply, let the familiar scent wash over him. Scent was the sense most closely linked to memories, he'd heard that somewhere, and for all Stiles had dozens, maybe hundreds, of memories of Derek that he could play through his mind like movies, being close enough to really smell Derek brought him back to the same place, every time.

Derek, staring down a circle of angry lycans, pulling Stiles close to him. Snarling at them all, "He is one of us." And then biting him hard enough that it bled. It bled a lot, actually, and it left a scar, a permanent mark that said Stiles was a member of the pack.

"Thanks," Stiles said, mindlessly brushing his hand over the mark on his shoulder.

Derek just grunted.

Stiles didn't remember falling asleep, but he woke up the next morning in his own bed, the bottoms of his feet blackened from the roof, Derek's leather jacket clenched in his arms like a stuffed animal. The smells of breakfast wafted up from the kitchen.

*

Stiles didn't bother pretending he was going to sleep the next night. Derek was still in town, so he sat up reading, waiting for Derek to appear on the roof, then climbed out. It was actually harder to walk with his sneakers on, somehow. Maybe they were too worn, the tread not good enough, or maybe he just wasn't as sensitive to the weird dips and slippery spots without his bare skin pressed to them.

He slipped, tried to catch his balance --

Derek's arms were suddenly warm and firm around him, anchoring him in place. "Whoa," Stiles breathed, as they held still like that for a few seconds. Then Derek shifted, depositing Stiles on his butt on the roof, and sat down next to him. "Thanks," Stiles said. "We can't all have supernatural balance, but I guess roofs are not my strong point. So much for ever being Batman."

"You miss her," Derek said.

Stiles blinked a few times. "You seem to have some hearing problems. Batman --"

"Erica."

"Oh." Stiles caught up with Derek a few seconds late, as usual, because Derek didn't bother to vocalize any of the steps between A, B, and Q. But he got it now: Erica had always called him Batman, a sort of running joke. And, well. "Yeah."

"I'm sorry."

Stiles shrugged. "It happens. People break up all the time. It -- it's okay now. Mostly. Since it's been awhile."

"A year," Derek said. "Fourteen months."

"But who's counting?" Stiles wrapped his arms around his knees again. "Do you see her, ever? Is she doing okay?"

"Sometimes," Derek said. "And yes."

"Good." He hesitated, tongue swiping from cheek to cheek in his mouth, then, "I bet she gave you this speech, but just in case, you know it wasn't because of you, right? I know you like to feel responsible for everyone you've ever met, but we didn't break up because of you."

"I know," Derek said, then amended, "She told me. She laughed at me."

"I'll bet." He chuckled, imagining it. If Erica had been laughing, then she was being sassy and fun, not cutting and mean like she got sometimes. He could picture her tossing her hair over her shoulder, putting her hand on her hip, and saying, "Really, Derek, you're just not that important to either of us." But with a smile, because of course he was that important, and they all knew it. And maybe they had broken up because of him a little bit, but it wasn't his fault, and neither one of them wanted him to blame himself.

"She asks about you," Derek said. "When she knows I've been here, she asks how you are."

"Mm." Stiles leaned forward a little, chin on his knees. It was nice to know she still cared. "So is that why you check up on me like this? Lurk on my roof? So you can tell Erica I'm okay?"

"No."

"Oh." Stiles looked over at him, almost surprised. "Then why?"

"You're cold," Derek said. Which wasn't much of an answer.

"Yeah, it's cold out," Stiles said. "And yet I feel weirdly compelled to keep you company when you're doing your watchdog thing out here."

Derek narrowed his eyes at the dog comment. If Stiles hadn't known him for so many years, he'd recoil at the expression. But if he hadn't known Derek for years, he wouldn't have dared make the dog comment. Lycans really didn't like being compared to canines.

"You can't have my jacket this time," Derek said, like it was some huge decision he'd just made.

"Okay."

Derek waited a long minute, silent but staring, and then moved. He put an arm around Stiles, tugged him close. And Derek was warm. Like a living, breathing space heater. It felt nice. It felt safe. Stiles shifted closer, curling up against him, head on Derek's shoulder. Their bodies fit together like puzzle pieces, and Stiles could hear Derek's heartbeat, feel the rise and fall of his chest.

For a second, he thought Derek was going to kiss him.

But Derek looked away. Didn't say anything, didn't move. Stiles didn't either, just sat there and soaked in Derek's presence. It was weirdly soothing and he felt himself yawning after a few minutes.

He woke up in his own bed again, head on his pillow instead of Derek's shoulder, the scent of fresh coffee wafting upstairs.

*

The fourth day, the media got wind of the fact that Derek was in town. That was always the worst. Two-thirds of the country still thought Derek was a terrorist, and the other third thought he was Jesus. He usually did his best to stay out of sight, and he was really, really good at it, but there were always undercover reporters in Beacon Hills, and if he stayed more than a few days he got sighted eventually.

That meant that the meetings were basically a circus, and no real business could take place. But everyone knew the drill. Derek spent the day sitting up at the front of some room, listening to horror stories of lycan abuse at the hand of the Argents, and at the hands of the people who'd purchased lycans from them, like they were objects. Or pets.

Derek couldn't do anything about it -- not legally -- and with this much media scrutiny, all the testimonies would do was protect the abusers. Any retribution would be tied back to Derek, and the Network wouldn't allow that to happen. It was frustrating and useless, and the street outside was flooded with protesters and reporters and photographers with Daehler cameras, sophisticated enough to catch lycans on film.

Stiles could see how tense it made Derek. If he could hear the crowds, that meant Derek heard every word, every chant. Every protester who thought he needed to be collared and put down. They'd need the police to escort him out, and to -- where? Derek didn't exactly have a home address, not even here in Beacon Hills. Anywhere he put down roots got vandalized, whether it was just graffiti calling him a mad dog or something much worse. He'd had a house, for a few months, a couple years ago. Someone had blown it up. Derek's senses and healing ability had saved him; he'd caught the bomb's scent moments before it detonated and had managed to run far enough that all it did was damage him. He'd healed within minutes, before the psycho could gun him down -- not that he hadn't tried.

Well, shit.

When the round of stupid, pointless meetings ended, Stiles tried to grab Derek's attention, to let him know... he wasn't sure. He wanted Derek to come home with him, to where he'd be safe. But it wouldn't be safe if Derek was there, and he didn't want to put his father at risk, either.

It didn't matter anyway. He made the mistake of blinking, and the next thing he knew, Derek was gone. He checked his window that night, to make sure it was unlocked, and waited up for hours. Around 3 a.m., he sighed and finally changed into his pajamas. Derek must have found somewhere else for the night.

*

Derek was gone for four months. Stiles tried not to worry, as word drifted back through the Network. And when Derek appeared back in Beacon Hills suddenly, obviously enough that cameras caught him everywhere, Stiles knew what was coming. Four days later, it hit -- headlines that proclaimed another Argent facility had gone up in flames. Another moonstone shattered, another set of alphas freed, another hundred lycan collars deactivated.

Derek was behind it, and everyone knew it. But he'd been in Beacon Hills the week of the explosion, and there was no evidence linking him to it. They were always so careful about that.

He didn't show up at Stiles's place once the whole time he was in town. Probably because of all the scrutiny on him -- it wasn't like it was a secret that he and Stiles were friends, but Stiles still didn't need a dozen reporters camping out on his lawn. Not that Stiles would have turned him away if he'd shown up.

*

Derek did come by six weeks later, though, on the anniversary of Stiles's mother's death -- her murder.

Stiles had been a wreck all goddamn day. He and his father had gone to her grave, left her flowers, and it hadn't helped. It just hurt, just made him that much more aware that she was gone. She'd been dead since he was fifteen -- eleven years, eleven goddamn years -- but all time had done was blunt the pain. It was always still there, still a constant ache.

As dusk fell, he heard a thud and a scuffle upstairs, outside --

Derek was sitting outside, in his usual place, watching the sunset. Stiles was used to seeing him in the moonlight, black and silver, not like this, bathed golden. He looked over at Stiles, and, for the first time, he was the one who reached up to wave.

Stiles swallowed, waved back.

Derek kept an eye on him, and then beckoned.

He'd never done that before, either.

So Stiles climbed out, sat next to him, watching the sun sink and the stars come out. The moon was low in the sky.

Eventually, Derek said, "It used to sound like harmony, when we'd howl. The whole pack, everyone's voices together. I miss them."

"I miss her," Stiles gasped, feeling like everything was going to break loose. "I keep waiting like it's going to stop hurting but it never will, will it?"

"No," Derek said. "But grief is not a weakness."

"It feels like it is." He heard his voice shake. "I feel so fucking weak."

"You're not," Derek said. But still, he shifted closer to Stiles. He didn't put his arm around Stiles, precisely; he kept his hand planted on the roof, his arm a sharp, hard line behind Stiles's back. But he let Stiles lean into him a little bit.

Derek had survived so much, been through everything. He was the strongest person Stiles had ever met. And if he didn't think Stiles was weak...

Stiles didn't sleep at all, or go back inside. His whole body went stiff and achy. Unlike Derek, he was only human, and he couldn't sit without moving for hours on end. But he was still there, awake, when dawn hit their backs, warming the horizon.

"I should make breakfast," Derek said.

"I'll help." He stood and stretched, winced.

"Hot shower," Derek ordered him, nudging him towards the window. He clambered back in and turned around to wait for Derek, but Derek was gone; below him, the front door banged as he came in that way. Stiles shook his had a little, suddenly exhausted, and instead of showering he fell into bed.

He didn't wake for hours, and when he did, a plate of lunch was waiting for him in the fridge.

*

He was still exhausted that night and just wanted to sleep, but he didn't want to miss Derek. Who showed up early again. Not as early, but at a reasonable time of night. Prime time sitcoms were still on TV.

Stiles paused, then threw open his window, leaned out, and said, "Hey. Peter Pan."

Derek stared at him.

"C'mere." Stiles hated to say things like that, anything that sounded like maybe an order, not a... a hopeful suggestion, but it would be easier for them both than if he climbed out.

Derek gave him a skeptical look, but walked over.

"I'm tired," Stiles said. "So I'm going to sleep. But you see this?" He pointed up at the window frame, now raised above their heads. "I am going to leave it open. Like Wendy Darling, okay? I never lock the window, so that if you ever want to come in, you can."

Derek stared at him.

He sighed. "I don't know, Derek. I like when you let me fall asleep with you. I just -- I'm still all stiff and sore and I can't sit outside all night. But you can come in. If you want. No pressure, though, of course, I just -- I don't know why you sit out there, but. You don't have to be out there. If you'd rather be in here. Is all."

Derek blinked at him, and he felt himself blush, because he hadn't babbled like that around Derek in years.

But what Derek said was, "You're still sore?"

"Human." Stiles shrugged. "I did some stretches, but... y'know..."

"Lie down on your stomach," Derek commanded, nodding at the bed.

Now, for a change, Stiles gave him a skeptical look, but he did what Derek said. Because he was Derek.

Derek settled next to him on the bed, kneeling, the mattress dipping under his weight. Stiles held his breath, and Derek reached down and put a hand on his back. He just held it there for a minute, then slid it up to Stiles's shoulder.

Stiles shuddered. Derek had marked him there once, years ago, to prove to the others that he belonged in the pack even if he was just a human. Derek had probably forgotten about it, but there was still a silver-pink scar where he'd bitten Stiles's shoulder.

Derek squeezed gently, and began to massage, both hands working across Stiles's shoulders and back. Stiles turned his head to the side and tried to say something, but his body felt like it weighed a million pounds. He couldn't stir enough to talk, and had no idea he was so exhausted until he decided it would be okay to close his eyes. Just for a second, then he'd roll over and thank Derek --

He woke to the smell of coffee, with no idea if Derek had stayed in his room or not.

*

Stiles's work for the lycan movement wasn't technically employment, in that it didn't pay him anything, so he also worked at the library. He was good at it, even if he didn't actually have any qualifications for the job -- he'd dropped out of college near the beginning of his junior year, finally doing what he'd wanted to for ages and joining the Network -- but Danny had concocted a fake diploma and record for him. And anyway, the Beacon Hills library was willing to look the other way for him, even though his bosses pretty clearly suspected he was involved with the lycans. Or maybe because of that. People who weren't sympathetic to the freedom movement didn't tend to stay in Beacon Hills for very long, these days.

He pulled into the driveway after work as dusk was falling, and movement up at the roof attracted his eye. Derek was up there -- not on the flat top of the garage, outside Stiles's room where he usually lurked, but up on the roof proper. His knees were hooked over the peak at the top and he was doing sit ups.

"Show off," Stiles accused, smiling. Derek paused, his head tilting a little bit for a moment, then he went back to what he was doing. Stiles leaned against the side of his Jeep, just watching. It was actually pretty breath-taking. All lycans had that kind of strength, of course, but Derek was...

Derek was gorgeous.

Every movement he made was precise, graceful, like a dancer. Just watching him made Stiles feel like an awkward teenage klutz again, but he couldn't tear his gaze away.

Stiles applauded, not at all sarcastic, when Derek stopped, then did some kind of gymnastic backflip and landed upright halfway down the roof. He looked over his shoulder at Stiles with a smirk.

"He sticks the landing! Gold medal goes to Derek Hale, the lycan nation's first," Stiles deadpanned, knowing Derek could hear him from up there. He laughed and headed inside and up to his room, and found Derek waiting on the garage roof outside.

"So were you putting a show on just for me?" Stiles asked, leaning out the window. "Or for the FBI agents who follow you around, or what?"

"I was just working out."

"Uh huh. Well, whatever, I'm just going to be in here working on the notes I was putting together for you. I've got a few hours left before bed, so... feel free to sit out there being creepy, or you could come in and watch TV with my dad or something. Your call. Window's open."

"Thanks," Derek said, but he didn't move to come in.

Stiles shrugged, letting it go. Derek was... well, Derek. Unpredictable, and he'd probably be gone in a day or two anyway. So Stiles got to work, prepping everything Derek and Boyd had asked him to, and when that didn't take as long as he expected, he actually read a book for fun for awhile before turning off his light.

He rolled over halfway through the night and glanced out the window. Derek was gone.

But when he sat up to grab a drink of water from the glass on his desk, the glass was empty. He frowned. He'd definitely filled it before bed, but...

Derek was lying on the floor next to Stiles's bed, eyes shut, head resting on his arms. Stiles wasn't sure he'd ever actually seen Derek asleep before.

He stared down at the figure for a long moment. Derek had tossed off his jacket and sneakers, but was still wearing an undershirt and jeans. He looked as tense as ever, which was just... sad. Derek didn't even relax when he was asleep.

Sighing, Stiles grabbed one of his pillows and dropped it on the floor. Or rather, dropped it. Derek's arm snaked out and caught it before it hit the ground.

"I thought you were sleeping."

"Just resting." Derek paused. "Did you throw a pillow at me?"

"I thought you might... you know, want a pillow?"

Derek eyed him warily, then tucked it up under his head. "Thanks."

"My bed's more comfortable than the floor, just so you know," Stiles mumbled into the mattress, and fell back asleep.

*

Erica dropped by the next month, which was a little weird, but mostly nice. She teased Stiles, declared he was downgraded from Batman to Robin status, and he only got so flustered he tripped over his own feet twice. Which was a win, really.

What was really weird was when she said, "I hear things are finally going somewhere with you and Derek."

He answered, "Huh?"

She pet his cheek condescendingly. "Come on, Robin, it's been all over the movement gossip mill. Our savior, Derek Hale, shacking up with a former slave-owner? It's a scandal."

"It shouldn't be. We -- we aren't -- nothing happened. Between us. Nothing."

She gave him her best bitch, please look, which he was way too familiar with, even almost two years after their breakup.

"What?" he sighed.

"It's just, Derek doesn't sleep around other people. Not even the pack. It makes him feel vulnerable, and he won't be that, ever. Think about it."

Then she sauntered off, and Stiles... well, he thought about it.

*

Derek dropped off the radar for a few months. Stiles did his best not to worry as he waited for news. There was no real reason for him to worry. It wasn't like this was even a rare occurrence.

Derek had never been elected or anything, but all the lycans unanimously agreed he was their leader -- and that meant for all he was the public face of the lycan freedom movement, the peaceful group of escapees that had gathered in Beacon Hills, he was also the Network's leader, and up to his eyebrows in their covert, illegal operation. Not that anyone outside the lycans and their enemies knew that. For all the groups had both grown out of the initial rebellion Derek had led and Stiles had not-so-accidentally helped, the world now looked at them as two separate entities. Commentators were constantly saying how the Network just mad the freedom movement look bad, made all lycans look like mad dogs. Hell, plenty of them had called on Derek to condemn the Network.

But of course, the FBI knew what political talking heads on TV didn't, or at least the FBI suspected. The Network covered its tracks carefully, never leaving any evidence that Derek was involved. With no proof, all the FBI could do was try to keep Derek under observation -- and Derek was a genius and slipping away from their watchers, his enhanced senses always tipping him off. So they had no proof, and couldn't do anything. So Stiles didn't really need to worry.

Then again, the Argents knew full well that Derek was behind the Network, even if they couldn't prove anything, either. But they didn't care about proof, and if they ever found Derek...

So yeah, Stiles worried. He never asked his Network contacts what they were doing and they never involved him, but he did check in with Scott as often as he could. To make sure Scott and Allison were both okay, of course, and to ask about everyone else. Erica, even now that they were broken up, and Danny and Jackson, and especially Derek.

Not that Scott would tell him much of anything. He just gave Stiles a lopsided smile and said, "He loves when you ask about him. He pretends he doesn't, but he does."

*

Someone in the movement blew up something they weren't supposed to and the FBI arrived. Or rather, more FBI arrived, since Beacon Hills was under constant surveillance anyway. The FBI usually knew about Derek's comings and goings, even if the media didn't always, but when something like this happened, they swarmed.

Stiles knew the drill, since it happened every few years. He handed them all his equipment, sighing about what it would cost, let them cuff him and take him off for questioning. He didn't fight back when they shoved him around, didn't react to the insult when they called him a lycanlover, and answered the few questions he could. Not that he wanted to, but Derek had ordered him to when this happened. Because Stiles wasn't a soldier, wasn't lycan, and it wasn't really his struggle. (Of course, Derek had said the same thing to Danny, and yet when this happened Danny still always reappeared bruised and banged up, like maybe he'd fought back anyway.)

The FBI agents sneered at Stiles, threw him into a cell and kept him cuffed up in the dark and hit him a couple of times. Like any of that was going to intimidate him. He spent his life immersed in Derek's pack, surrounded by surly lycans who had every reason to hate humans. He was kind of hard to intimidate.

But they didn't just let him go this time. He was pretty sure a full day passed, and someone finally brought him a meal, and later, another. It was always the same shitty food, no variation for breakfast or dinner or anything, but he still counted and assumed three meals came his way each day. Which was how he knew three days went by, and then four, and then he lost track.

Sitting in the dark, there wasn't much he could do but think, and no way he could think about anything except what was happening outside his cell. Had they found something on one of his drives? They had his laptop, he knew, but there wasn't anything incriminating on that. But then there were the other drives. Ones encrypted every way Danny knew how, saved in innocent looking safes that would go magnetic and delete everything if they were improperly opened. Just their existence would be enough to hold Stiles for... months? Years? Was there even a cap on how long they could keep him in custody?

He tried not to think about the headlines, the FBI raid on Beacon Hills, the lycan allies getting rounded up and disappeared. He tried not to picture his lycan friends being caught and handed over to the Argents, forced back into collars and tortured --

"Stilinski." A light cut through the blackness of his cell, some agent in a suit shining it in his eyes. "Up."

Stiles swallowed and stood, let the agent lead him out. He blinked at the dim hall light, and was barely used to it when they hit a brighter holding area and -- fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Derek was sitting in a wooden chair, hands chained behind the chair's back. He looked haggard, exhausted, circles under his eyes and completely unshaven. He was pale, breathing hard, looking worse than Stiles had ever seen him since the incident with the wolfsbane bullet, and oh god, oh god, they'd caught Derek, they'd wolfsbaned him, they would kill him --

But there was no collar on him, thank god. That was the only sliver of hope Stiles had as the agent shoved him down into another chair.

"There, Hale. Your proof. Now you talk."

"What?" Stiles asked.

Derek ignored the agent and said, "Stiles. You -- are you alright?"

"What? Yeah. Of course I -- yes, of course. I mean, kind of starved, and confused, and a little banged up, but you know me. I'm tougher than I look. Always have been."

"Yes, you are." Derek heaved a breath and turned to the agent. "Fine. I watch him walk out, and your boss tells me he's safe. No scent blockers, no mufflers. The truth."

The agent narrowed his eyes but swept out, and Stiles gaped at Derek. "What are you --"

"Don't."

"Derek --"

"Stiles. Don't." Then, gaze dropping to the floor, Derek said, "You've been gone for nine days."

"That long? How? Oh god, my dad must be freaking out, and --"

"Yes. He was. I told him I'd take care of it."

"How? You can't..." He swallowed everything he could even think of. You can't cooperate with them and you can't turn over evidence or your friends will get caught or a million other things. "Derek, you shouldn't be here."

Derek said nothing, because Stiles was right, and they both knew it. Stiles slumped in his chair, hating himself, because Derek... the world needed Derek. He was the symbol, the fuse that lit the fire, the one who mattered. He had too much responsibility to ever turn himself over, even for Stiles. Even if he had a reason to want to do something like that for Stiles.

"You're out," Derek said. "When you leave here, you're done helping us."

"But --"

"That is not up for negotiation. They're coming back; be quiet."

"But --"

At Derek's glare, he went silent.

Sure enough, several agents in sunglasses appeared. One of them undid Stiles's cuffs and handed him a bin of his personal items -- not his laptop, of course, but his wallet and phone.

"Listen to me, Hale," one of them said. "We're releasing him. We have nothing on him, anyway. Nothing to hold him with."

"Then can I have my computer back? This is, like, the fourth one you've seized. Do you really want to see my failed attempts at writing novels this badly?" Stiles muttered. "The next one will be called The Asshole FBI Agent. It'll be a romance novel about an innocent researcher who gets kidnapped by a rogue agent and --"

"Stiles." Derek sounded a little pained. "Stop antagonizing them so they can let you go."

Stiles glared at the agents. "It will not be a flattering portrayal. I'm just saying."

Still, one of them opened the door. He was almost out when he heard Derek call after him: "Leave the window open."