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here comes trouble

Chapter Text

Wolf father, at the door
You don't smile anymore
You're a drifter, shapeshifter
Let me see you run, hey ya hey ya

Holy light, oh, guard the night,
Oh keep the spirits strong
Watch it grow, child of wolf
Keep holdin' on

When I run through the deep dark forest long after this begun
Where the sun would set, trees were dead and the rivers were none
And I hope for a trace to lead me back home from this place
But there was no sound, there was only me and my disgrace [x]

-

Derek hurts.

His entire body is a white blaze of pain; it rockets up his limbs in agonizing waves, compounded and enhanced by the fear and confusion swelling in his head. He doesn’t know where he is but he’s being carried, and there are voices around him, talking fast. He doesn’t recognize them as any of the hunters he knows, but that means nothing, only that the Argents have reached out for help. The air’s thick with the smell of blood, violence, fear, panic, which is joined by Derek’s own when he tries to open his eyes and he can’t see; there are just vague forms looming over him, lights flashing overhead. He tries to sit upright, but the pain and panic only increases when he finds he’s being held down somehow.

Captured, he thinks wildly, and howls desperately for his long-dead pack.

“Oh my god,” someone says above him. “Dr. McCall, can you do something about him? He’s going to upset the whole hospital.”

Someone touches Derek’s shoulder and Derek tries to cringe away from the touch but the straps hold him in place.

“Hey,” someone else says—a man, his voice friendly and firm. “Calm down, dude. You’re going to be fine.”

Derek doesn’t believe him, but there’s enough alpha power in his voice that he shuts his mouth, breathing heavily through his nose. His vision hasn’t cleared—if anything, it’s growing worse, just bright blurs of white against darkness. It’s hard to breathe; there’s something wet bubbling up between his lips. It makes him cough, and coughing is the worst pain yet. He can’t help the noise he makes then, high and frantic and hurt.

“It’s okay,” the alpha voice says calmly, squeezing his shoulder. “You’re gonna be fine.”

That’s the last thing Derek remembers. There’s a sharp pricking pain in his shoulder that lasts a brief second and then the world gently fades around him, enveloping him in a welcome darkness whose pull he doesn’t even try to resist.

-

Derek opens his eyes to a hospital room. It takes a while for the place to register; the last time he was in a hospital, Cora was being born and he’d cried his eyes out because he didn’t want a baby sister. Still, he knows what they look like—one of Kate’s favorite shows was Grey’s Anatomy; it’d been on in the background sometimes, and Derek would watch it in the rare event she fell asleep on him. He doesn’t like being here; he feels trapped, boxed in by the walls and ceiling. The room’s clean, empty, but he can still smell blood and fear—no amount of bleach can completely clean a place of that smell.

Someone’s sitting in a chair next to the bed. Derek can see them without turning his head; a man dressed in a tan uniform, long legs splayed out as he sprawls in the chair. He’s got something in his hands—a phone, probably. Playing a game, if the soft chimes Derek keeps hearing are anything to go by. He turns his head slowly, unwilling to catch the man’s attention but wanting a better look at him. The man’s around his age or younger, pale skin flecked with moles, brown hair messy. The uniform he’s wearing looks like military or police—police, Derek thinks, catching sight of the badge on the arm of his shirt, which says Beacon County Sheriff’s Department.

Derek shuts his eyes, exhausted. He doesn’t know where Beacon County is, or how he ended up in the hospital, but he’s not safe here. The Argents can’t be far behind him—they never are. He shifts minutely, testing his body, but the first thing he discovers is that he’s restrained. There are heavy fabric cuffs around his wrists and ankles, and a strap across his chest holding him to the bed. The second thing he discovers is that he still hurts immensely. Just the small movement of his body is enough to send pain wracking through him, electric in its intensity. He makes a small noise of pain—he can’t help it—and flinches when he hears the man next to him shift alertly.

“Hey, buddy, can you hear me?” the man asks.

Derek squeezes his eyes tightly for a moment before opening them again with a sigh. He looks over at the cop and finds him leaning forward intently, brown eyes bright and curious.

“Hey,” the cop says again, the corners of his mouth curling up in a smile. “How you doing?”

Derek doesn’t know what to tell him so he doesn’t say anything at all, watching the man just as intently as the man’s watching him.

“Okay,” the cop says after a long moment. “Do you understand me? You speak English? Can you tell me your name?”

Derek hesitates, opens his mouth, licks his lips. “Derek,” he says cautiously, his voice hoarse. It takes two tries. He can’t remember the last time he spoke. Toward the end with Laura, they didn’t talk at all. He can’t remember the last thing he said to her, but he remembers her screaming Run, run! He shudders.

“Derek,” the cop repeats, still smiling. “Well, Derek, I’m Sheriff Stilinski, but you can call me Stiles, all right?”

Derek nods slowly, warily. Everything about the sheriff’s easy posture says you can trust me, but Derek doesn’t. He doesn’t trust anyone, and law enforcement least of all—half the time, they’ve got agreements with local hunters, and the rest of the time they’ve got an unbridled hate for werewolves just as strong as the Argents’. He and Laura learned early on not to go to the police for help.

“You remember what happened to you, Derek?” Stiles asks gently.

All Derek remembers is running. He’d slipped on something sharp—a rock, maybe, that had sliced open his foot—and it made every step painful. There’d been trees all around him and then he’d burst out into the open and then—blazing hot pain. He shakes his head slowly and even that hurts.

“You ran out onto the highway,” Stiles tells him. “You got hit by a couple cars before anyone could stop. You’re lucky Dr. McCall was on his way in for his shift and was able to get out and help. You want to tell me what you were doing out there?”

The highway? Derek looks at his hands, trapped against the edge of the mattress. His knuckles are bruised and cracked, dried blood trapped in the creases of his skin. He doesn’t remember going onto the highway, or getting hit, just the pain that followed. He doesn’t answer Stiles, throat tightening as he thinks about the hunters. He’s been here for too long already; they’ll be close, on him in no time.

“Derek,” Stiles says, and Derek looks over at him reluctantly. “We know you’re a werewolf, all right? You’re not in trouble—not with me, at least. I ran your prints and you’re not in the system. If you need help I can help you, but you have to tell me what’s going on.”

Derek exhales sharply, sudden terror clutching at his heart. If Stiles knows, then the Argents can’t be far behind. They listen to the police scanners, he knows they do—there was always one sitting in the kitchen and someone listening in. He’s shaking before he realizes it.

“Hey,” Stiles says, and touches his arm. Derek flinches and Stiles pulls his hand away, frowning. “Would it be easier to talk to another werewolf?” Stiles asks, looking down at his own hand like it’s offended him. “Dr. McCall’s an alpha. I can—”

“No,” Derek says hoarsely, and he’s not sure why, except that all the werewolves he’s met in the last few months have been half-crazy omegas, just like him. He’s not sure he can handle an alpha right now. “I don’t—”

“Okay,” Stiles says simply. He sits back in his chair, looking frustrated. “I want to help you, dude, but if you won’t talk to me or Scott, I can’t do anything for you.”

Derek eyes him nervously, struggling with his instincts. He has to fight to keep himself under control, though his fangs itch at his gums and his fingernails are half claws, stubby and dull. It’s been weeks since he’s been able to manage a full shift, so malnourished that he can’t find his wolf. Without Laura, hunting became difficult; Derek had to resort to breaking into restaurants at night and then, when even that grew too hard, eating out of trash cans and dumpsters. Shame turns his stomach; he’s weaker than a human now, can’t even heal any more.

All Derek wants is one day where he can sleep without worry of being woken by gunfire, without the threat of death hanging over his head. He wants a full stomach and no pain clinging to his bones, no ache in his feet from months of running. He wants a shower, a safe place to put his head. He wants his family, the healing comfort of pack. That’s never going to happen.

Derek looks at Stiles, who’s pulled out his phone, running a hand through his messy hair with a frustrated sigh. He can’t trust the sheriff, but if he keeps his mouth shut, who knows what will happen to him? If he tells Stiles he’s being hunted, though, what will happen? Derek doesn’t know if the Argents have placed a bounty on him; if they have, Stiles has the right to euthanize him right here. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad; it’s not like Derek has any reason to keep on living. All that’s kept him moving in the last few months is fear, and not wanting to give the Argents the satisfaction of killing him.

“Hunters,” he says abruptly, and Stiles looks up at him with a frown. “They’re—after me.”

Stiles’ frown deepens. He leans forward again. “Are they authorized?”

Derek shrugs, his skin prickling with adrenaline and fear.

“Why are they after you?” Stiles asks sharply. “Did you hurt someone?”

Derek shakes his head, his heart aching. How can he explain what happened to his family? “My sister did.”

Stiles shifts, lifting his hips so he can pull a notebook from the pocket of his pants. “What’s her name?”

“Laura Hale,” Derek says quietly. “She’s dead.”

Stiles looks at him sharply. “I’m sorry,” he says automatically. “The hunters?”

Derek nods, his throat aching.

Stiles scribbles something down in his notepad. “Where’d this happen?”

Derek has to think about that. They managed to scrape together enough money to spend last Christmas in a motel in Wisconsin and it wasn’t long after that that the hunters caught up with them. “Minnesota,” he decides.

Stiles writes it down. “Is that where you’re from?”

“No,” Derek says quietly. “We—our pack land was in New York.”

Stiles nods. Derek watches him write, but he can’t see what he's jotting down, the pad at the wrong angle. Derek’s eyes move to his face instead, taking in his long eyelashes and the full swell of his lips, pursed as he writes. He’s young, no more than three or four years younger than Derek. He looks kind, like he laughs easily, and he smells good—Derek’s got just enough power left in him to catch a faint trace of his scent, clean like soap and—oh. Derek’s stomach twists. Alpha. Stiles isn’t a werewolf, but he’s got that strong alpha human scent curled around him like a cloak. Just like Kate.

“Okay,” Stiles sighs eventually, shoving his notepad back into his pocket. “I’m going to have to go check on all this. You’re going to have to stay here until I can figure out what’s going on, all right? I’m going to post a deputy outside your door.”

Derek nods slowly, fingers flexing. He doesn’t think he could get out even if he tried; the restraints on his limbs and across his chest would be no trouble if he was at full strength, but they might as well be solid steel in his current state.

“I think the hospital wants to keep you here anyway,” Stiles tells him, getting to his feet. “You’ve got a lot of healing to do.”

Derek nods again, watching Stiles hitch his utility belt higher up on his hips.

“Well,” Stiles says unconcernedly. “I’ll be back later. Tomorrow, maybe. If you think of anything else you want to tell me, just let a nurse know. They’ve got my number.”

Derek nods for a third time and Stiles frowns down at him, tilting his head to the side. “You gonna be okay?”

Derek shrugs, looking down at his legs. “Well,” Stiles says, a little awkwardly. “Get some rest. I’ll see you later.”

Derek doesn’t look up when Stiles leaves, gently closing the door behind him. He stops in the hallway and has a murmured conversation with someone, but Derek can’t hear what they say. He’s probably talking to the deputy outside. Derek doesn’t know whether to be scared or relieved; he’s not naive enough to believe that one deputy would be able to stop the Argents if they came in after him, and he’s pretty sure the deputy’s there to keep him from leaving, not to stop him from being taken, but he relaxes enough to fall into an uneasy sleep.

The world outside the hospital room windows is dark when he next awakens. Derek’s sleep was fitful, interrupted by sharp stabs of pain from his slow-to-heal body, the bed under him too soft after months of sleeping on hard ground. He freezes when he awakens because there’s someone standing next to his bed, looking over a chart. Derek’s hit by the scent of alpha werewolf, strong and bracing. It makes his head swim a little, body too amped up and defensive to be able to ignore it. The last alpha he met was the leader of a pack somewhere in South Dakota days after Laura had been killed, and he’d run Derek off their territory, snarling about bringing hunters onto their land.

“Take a deep breath, dude,” the alpha says, not looking up from his clipboard. “You’re not in any danger here.”

Derek eyes him anxiously, heart rate picking up despite the alpha’s words. He’s the alpha voice Derek remembers from earlier—when he was being brought into the hospital, he thinks. The alpha looks at him briefly and smiles, dark eyes warm. There’s nothing threatening in his stance or words. Derek relaxes a little, though he keeps his eyes on him, watching him carefully as he tucks the clipboard under his arm and smiles down at Derek.

“Derek, right?” the alpha asks. Derek nods, and the alpha smiles again. He carries himself in a way unfamiliar to any alpha Derek’s ever met, utterly confident and sure of himself, lacking any arrogance or pretense of power. Derek didn’t know that werewolves could even be doctors. “I’m Dr. McCall. How are you feeling?”

Derek takes slow stock of his body. He aches all over and tells the doctor as much. Dr. McCall smiles sympathetically. “Makes sense,” he tells Derek. “You hit the ground hard. May I?” he adds, hand hovering over Derek’s wrist. Derek nods uncertainly and the doctor curls his fingers around Derek’s wrist. At first, Derek thinks he’s taking Derek’s pulse, but then black lines go licking up the doctor’s arm and Derek feels his body relax under his touch, some of the deep pain in his bones leeching away. Dr. McCall makes a thoughtful noise and takes his hand away after a moment, pulling his chart out from under his arm to make a note. “I’m going to up your pain meds,” he says. “The laundry list of your condition is long, but in short you’ve got some broken ribs, and you’re severely underweight and malnourished. Once you’ve gained some weight back, your healing abilities should kick back in, but it’s going to take some time to safely get you there.”

“Okay,” Derek says quietly.

Dr. McCall gives him another encouraging smile and lowers himself into the chair Stiles had been sitting in earlier. “The sheriff told me a little about your history,” he says. “How long were you on the run?”

Derek hesitates for a moment before he says, “More than a year.”

Dr. McCall’s face does something complicated. “Jesus,” he says sympathetically. “No wonder your body’s stressed. You never stopped in all that time?”

Derek shakes his head. There were days here and there when he and Laura stopped, holed up in motels when they could afford it, and abandoned houses and the peaked roofs of barns when they couldn’t, but they could never stay still for long; every minute they spent still was another minute the Argents drew closer, closing in on them.

“And what about before this chase began?” Dr. McCall asks gently. “I saw the scars on your back, Derek. Those aren’t recent wounds.”

Derek freezes, suddenly overwhelmed by a memory of Gerard holding him down, Kate scolding him as she dragged a hot blade down his back, his own voice screaming. He’d been eighteen that time, caught trying to steal a candy bar from the kitchen on Laura’s birthday.

“Hey, hey,” Dr. McCall says softly. “It’s all right. You don’t have to tell me right now. Take a deep breath for me.”

Derek exhales harshly but does what the doctor asks, making himself breathe in deeply. His hands are shaking; if he hadn’t been bound to the bed, he probably would have been on his feet and out the door before Dr. McCall could blink. As it is, his heart’s racing, sweat prickling at his spine at the horrible memory.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. McCall says apologetically. “Let’s avoid stressing you out until you’re feeling better. You hungry?”

Derek slouches back against his pillows and shrugs. He hasn’t been feeling the bite of hunger lately, though he eats when he can, knowing he needs it even if his body doesn’t ask for it. He ate a squirrel yesterday, but threw most of it back up later.

Dr. McCall smiles and pats his hand before he rises. "Let me see what I can find you," he says gently, and leaves the room. A nurse comes in some time later and feeds him a small amount of hot broth. She’s human but omega, like him, and he finds the way she doesn’t really speak to him somewhat comforting. His head hurts, and he doesn’t like the way his stomach feels so full after the nurse leaves. When she’s gone, the room is quiet—the whole hospital’s quiet; the clock above the door says it’s nearly two in the morning. He can hear a faint heartbeat that isn’t his, and it takes him a while to realize it belongs to the deputy posted outside his door. He wonders when the sheriff’s going to come back, and what news he’ll bring with him.

Derek falls asleep eventually, his slumber uneasy and fitful, interrupted by nightmares of rooms that reek of wolfsbane and smoke.

-

Derek wakes early and lay still in his bed for a long time, watching the weak gray light filtering through the window strengthen and turn gold. A nurse comes in—different from the one who’d fed him last night—and takes his vitals; Derek does his best to ignore her, though he flinches involuntarily under her touch. There’s not much to do with his hands bound at his sides—a television’s mounted to the wall at the foot of his bed, but he can’t see a remote anywhere and he’s not interested in watching it anyway. He dozes on and off, relaxing in the warm sunlight as it spreads over his bed.

He wakes to the sound of the door opening and cracks his eyes open, stiffening at the sight of Sheriff Stilinski stepping into the room. Stiles isn’t looking at him—his head’s turned, talking to someone out in the hall. “—risk, Scott. I don’t know what to do.” He turns and catches sight of Derek staring at him and smiles briefly, shutting the door behind him. “Hey man,” he greets Derek, striding across the room and thunking himself down in the chair by the bed. “How are you feeling?”

Derek watches him warily. “The same.”

“Well, you look livelier, anyway,” Stiles says, pulling his notebook out. “So, I couldn’t find any trace of a bounty placed on either you or your sister—not in New York, or Minnesota, or anywhere in between. Whoever was hunting you—they weren’t authorized, even if your sister did hurt someone—”

“He deserved it,” Derek says bluntly, clenching his jaw.

Stiles blinks in surprise. He appears to flounder for a moment before he says, “I can’t speak to what—”

“He raped her,” Derek spits.

Stiles stares at him, brown eyes wide. Derek looks up at the ceiling and exhales through his nose, tamping back the ache of his heart. After a while, Stiles says carefully, “I can’t do anything about what’s already happened, but—there’s no bounty on you.” He waits a moment, like he’s expecting Derek to react, but Derek just keeps his eyes on the ceiling, jaw clenched tight. He doesn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Things could have been so much easier with a death sentence—it’s not like he’s nearly already there, or that there’s anyone to miss him. He’s got absolutely nothing—no family, no friends, no money, and precious little hope.

“Derek,” Stiles says slowly, and Derek very reluctantly looks at him. “You’re not in trouble. If you know the hunters who were chasing you, tell me who they are and I’ll put an alert out for the county. California’s got the strictest hunting laws in the country—it’s absolutely required that you have a bounty on your head before they can begin the hunt. If you can give me their names—”

“You won’t be able to find them,” Derek says, misery curling in his chest. He turns his head to look out the window, where the sky is bright blue and dotted with clouds. It seems so far away; a reality displaced from his own. “They’re professionals.”

“So am I,” Stiles says firmly, but Derek doesn’t say anything more. Eventually, he hears Stiles sigh, exasperated, and get to his feet. “You’re free to go whenever you want, but you should stay if you can and try to get healthy. If you don’t have insurance, the county will cover your basic costs. Scott—Dr. McCall can tell you more.” He pauses for a moment longer, then leaves.

Dr. McCall and a nurse come in some time later and free Derek from the restraints binding him to the bed. Dr. McCall—“Call me Scott, Derek; I’m only a resident, and it still weirds me out.”—makes him get out of bed and walk around the room, observing him with a critical eye. It hurts; Derek’s stiff and his hips and thighs burn at the movement, a long cut on the sole of his foot hindering him further. Dr. McCall—Scott—makes a note on his ever-present clipboard and says Derek’s going to have to start physical therapy. Derek just sighs.

Derek spends a week and a half in the hospital. He doesn’t like it much; there are too many sounds and people, the place steeped with the scent of blood and disinfectant and people in pain. He’s restless and anxious; Scott tells him he’s welcome to take walks around the halls whenever he wants, but Derek’s wary of doing so, unnerved by so many people moving around him, and the chance that someone might recognize his face and report him to the Argents. He paces his room instead, and eats when they bring him food—it’s just broth for a while, and then they start letting him have milk and juice. He nearly cries the night he gets cream of mushroom soup; it’s the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted.

He’s startled and a little suspicious when Stiles comes back a couple days later. Derek’s standing by the window when there’s a soft knock on the door and the young sheriff pokes his head into the room. “Hey dude,” Stiles says cheerfully. “Good to see you out of bed. Mind if I come in?”

Derek eyes him warily, unsure of what he wants, but nods slowly, turning to watch Stiles step into the room. He’s not sure why Stiles is back, unless he’s got more questions to ask, but it doesn’t look that way; Stiles is dressed in civilian clothes, not his uniform—jeans that are worn at the knees and a dark plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He looks younger without his uniform on, face soft and earnest. Derek watches even more suspiciously as Stiles drops himself into the chair by the bed. Why is he here, if not on official business? Maybe he’s hoping to pull more information about the hunters out of Derek. Derek sets his mouth grimly. That’s not going to happen.

“Scott told me you stayed,” Stiles tells Derek. “I’m glad. You’re looking a lot better already.”

“Thank you,” Derek says after a guarded pause, eyes slightly narrowed as he watches Stiles scratch an idle hand through his messy brown hair. He wonders how someone so young ended up in the position of sheriff.

Stiles looks at him carefully. “This isn’t a trick or anything,” he says. “I figured you’d be getting bored, so—” He’s had a book tucked under his arm, but he pulls it out now, gestures at Derek with it. “Brought you this. I don’t know what you like, but if you have any requests I’m sure I can find something else.” He offers the book to Derek, but Derek doesn’t move from the window. After an awkward moment, Stiles says, “Okay,” and puts the book on the bedside table.

They have something of a stand-off after that, watching each other. Derek’s not sure what he’s supposed to do—he’s not exactly looking for a friend—and he’s confused by the expression on Stiles’ face, mild interest, like Derek’s an art exhibit at a museum. Derek doesn’t like it and bares his teeth at Stiles before turning to look out the window. They both jump when Stiles’ phone buzzes in his pocket; he hauls it out with a sigh.

“Gotta go,” Stiles says, getting to his feet. “Pileup on the highway. Let me know if you like the book, okay?” Derek doesn’t say anything, barely turns to watch him leave. He gets a moment to himself after the door swings shut to begin to relax and then Stiles pops his head back inside. “How do you feel about board games?” he asks brightly. Derek stares at him, bewildered, and Stiles waves a flippant hand. “I’ll surprise you. See you later!”

Later? Why Stiles would want to come back is beyond Derek. He waits a few long minutes until he’s sure Stiles isn’t going to crash back in before he moves over to the bed and picks up the book Stiles left behind. Anansi Boys. He’s never heard of it but it’s something of a relief to let himself get sucked into it; the hours pass quicker. He barely notices when Scott comes in for his daily check-in. He can’t remember the last time he was able to just sit and read.

It makes him a little more open when Stiles shows up again a couple days later. He’s dressed in civilian clothes again, more plaid—bright red this time—and Derek looks with interest at the slim box in his arms. Stiles grins and thunks the box down on the bedside table, unlatching it so it folds open into a chess board.

“Told you I’d surprise you,” he says smugly, grinning wider at the surprise on Derek’s face. “I was going to bring Guess Who but you don’t seem like much of a talker and that one’s all questions, so I thought maybe this would be better. You know how to play?”

Derek, who’d been standing over by the window again, nods cautiously and slowly moves around the room until he can drop onto the end of the bed. Stiles watches him patiently, hands moving automatically to set up the board.

“My dad and I play all the time,” he tells Derek, setting a rook into its place. “He still beats me every time, but I’m getting better.”

Derek scoots himself up the bed a few feet. “I haven’t,” he begins nervously, then stops and tries again. “It’s been a few years. Since I’ve played.”

“That’s all right, dude,” Stiles tells him easily. “I’m no whiz at this myself, despite all the practice.”

They play two games; Stiles wins the first easily, and Derek suspects Stiles lets him win the second, but he’s startled to find himself enjoying the game. It’s an unfamiliar feeling and when he first realizes it, he freezes for a moment, heart hammering in his chest because it’s got to be a trick somehow. Stiles looks at him curiously, but there’s no deceit in his eyes, just good humor. It takes Derek a minute to force himself to relax and move his hand, knocking one of Stiles’ bishops off the board. Stiles doesn’t question the odd moment, just groans in defeat.

As they play, Stiles talks, tells Derek about his dad, who was sheriff before Stiles and was forced to retire from the force after being shot in the leg by an overzealous pot farmer. That leads him into talking about the town—Derek’s gathered enough information while he’s been in the hospital to know that he’s in Beacon Hills, California, though when exactly he crossed into the state is a mystery to him. Stiles tells him about everything and nothing in particular; boring, inconsequential stuff like how the guy across the road from him is putting a new roof on his house, and the woman who owns the general store just gave birth to twins.

Oddly, Derek doesn’t mind listening to him. Stiles’ stories remind him of sitting at the breakfast table with his family on Sunday mornings; the radio was always tuned to NPR, and Beacon Hills sounds not unlike Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. Stiles’ continual, unimportant anecdotes are surprisingly soothing; Derek finds himself relaxing. Stiles asks no questions of him, makes no demands, seems completely fine with carrying the conversation all by himself. It feels—normal, in a way Derek hasn’t in a very long time.

Eventually, though, Stiles sighs and says he needs to head out for his shift. Derek watches him close up the chessboard, long fingers deft and sure of themselves. Derek’s a little startled when Stiles asks out of the blue, “Do you feel safe here?”

Derek looks at him in surprise. Stiles’ face is serious. He explains, “Every time someone walks past the room, you freeze up. Do you think you’re in danger?”

Derek swallows; he hadn’t even realized he’d been doing so. “I’m always in danger.”

He expects Stiles to scoff, but Stiles just tips his head to one side and asks, “Why do you say that?”

“I—” Derek hesitates before answering. “Because of what I am.”

Stiles frowns. “That’s not the way it has to be,” he says firmly. “California has some of the most progressive werewolf rights laws in the country. You’re just another person here.”

Derek grits his teeth. “The hunters who are after me don’t care about laws.”

Stiles makes an aborted move, fingers twitching like he was going to reach out and touch Derek’s arm but reins himself in. “Tell me who they are, then,” he says plaintively. “I want to help you.”

“Why?” Derek bites out.

Stiles blinks. “Because it’s my job,” he says, sounding a little surprised. “Tell me what I can do to make you feel safer.”

Derek clenches his jaw. Stiles may not be on the side of the hunters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s on Derek’s side and anyway, Derek’s not going to put anyone else in their path. He saw what Gerard did to that farmer in Iowa who tried to help them. It’s part of the reason he’s starting to itch to get away; more than being cooped up in the hospital, he’s putting himself and others in greater and greater danger with every minute that passes.

“You want me to put a deputy back on your door?” Stiles asks.

Derek shakes his head. He already feels trapped enough.

Stiles sighs softly and reaches out, curling his fingers around Derek’s wrist. Derek stiffens but Stiles doesn’t take his hand away. “Please,” he says. “Give me something.”

Derek swallows hard, closing his eyes against the earnest intensity of Stiles’ gaze. Stiles’ hand is warm around his wrist, his pulse even. The strong, alpha scent of him drifts over Derek, twisting his insides, heating his skin. It reminds him of Kate, but at the same time, it’s not like her at all. There was something warped about Kate—she liked to use her power as an alpha to bend him to her will, manipulating his eagerness to please. Stiles doesn’t seem like that at all; he doesn’t seem to be aware that he might be having some sort of effect on Derek, just stands there radiating sincerity. Derek breathes in another lungful of his scent, hating the thrill it sends rushing through his body. He doesn’t trust Stiles, but he’s weak and afraid, and he gives in. “Argent,” he mumbles.

Stiles’ grip on his wrist tightens. “Argent,” he repeats. “Those are the hunters that are after you?” Derek nods slowly, cracking his eyes open to watch Stiles from under his eyelashes. The sheriff’s face is pensive. “I’ve heard of them,” he says after a moment. “They’ve got a reputation for, uh, overkill.” Derek shudders; he knows only too well. “Were they the ones who put the scars on your back?”

Kate’s laughter echoes between his ears. “Yes,” Derek mumbles, dropping his gaze to where Stiles’ hand still holds his arm.

Stiles makes an angry noise. “I’ll put out an alert,” he says, giving Derek’s wrist a reassuring squeeze before letting go. “If they come this way, we’ll pick them up long before they search you out.” He sounds confident, sure of the sheriff department’s capabilities, but Derek knows the Argents, and he knows he won’t be able to rest easy until Kate and her father are behind bars—or, preferably, dead.

Stiles leaves for his shift, flinging words of encouragement over his shoulder as he goes, but Derek doesn’t hear them. He sits still for a long time, staring at the place where Stiles had touched him, his head pounding with anxiety.

-

Stiles comes to visit twice more. He brings a new book for Derek the next time—The Fellowship of the Ring—and when Derek tells him that he’s already read the trilogy, Stiles’ eyes light up and he says “Oh?”

Derek takes it to read anyway, and on Stiles’ next visit, he brings the movies. Derek falls asleep before the hobbits have even left the Shire, heart aching at the bittersweet memory of his dad taking him and his siblings to see the first movie when it came out. They’d had to leave, Cora in tears over the Ringwraiths, and Derek’s lips quirk up as he remembers Laura sneaking down the hall to Cora’s bedroom later that night, a black sheet draped over her head. Cora had screamed bloody murder and Laura had laughed until she cried. Dad had come out of their parents’ room and he’d been laughing so hard it’d taken him four tries to tell Laura she was grounded. Cora hadn’t talked to any of them for weeks.

Derek’s memories shift into dreams as he slips deeper into slumber. He and Cora run through the dark woods beyond their home, ducking branches and hopping fallen trees as they race through the forest, something black and horrifying chasing them. Derek chances a glance over his shoulder and sees it, a cloaked figure that glides between the trees like mist. It wields a longsword, which it pulls from its scabbard as it closes in on them. Cora stumbles in the leaves and Derek spins to catch her, but the wraith is there first, swinging its long sword in a heavy arc that he’s powerless to stop. It cuts her right in two, and when the wind blows and pushes the wraith’s robes back from its face, Gerard’s revealed, laughing.

Derek wakes up howling, body charged with adrenaline and loss. He moves without even thinking, surging up out of the bed before he’s even got his eyes open, every instinct screaming he isn't safe, he needs to run. Before he can even get five feet, though, someone catches him by the shoulders, holding him back as he struggles to get to the door.

“Derek,”  his captor pants, struggling with him, but Derek’s in full flight mode, his entire being focused on getting out the door. He snarls, and he must be getting some of his strength back because his claws pop out and he swipes at his captor, who hisses in pain.

The door to the room flies open and Derek’s head jerks up as someone else comes storming toward him. He has just a fraction of a second to see eyes burning red and the bottom of his stomach drops away when he realizes alpha—but by then the alpha’s already put a hand around his throat and slammed him back against the bed.

That’s all it takes. Derek had been lost, still half asleep, but he’s jolted out of it abruptly and blinks to find Scott frowning down at him. Derek shrinks into himself, horror and guilt surging in him when he looks past Scott to see Stiles, grimacing as he examines the long claw marks Derek’s slashed across his shoulder. “I—I’m sorry,” Derek says hoarsely.

Scott gives him a disappointed look and swings around, taking Stiles by the elbow. “Come on, man,” he says. “Let’s get that checked out.” Stiles doesn’t even look at Derek as they leave the room, muttering something about his ruined shirt. Scott casts Derek a dark look and says, “I’ll be back later,” before following Stiles.

Derek’s left alone, hands starting to shake as he stares at the tips of his bloody nails. The movie’s still playing and he manages to turn it off after a while, curling up in his bed. He’d swiped at Gerard once, in those early years when he and Laura were first brought to the house. Derek hadn’t even touched him, but Gerard had grabbed his hand, breaking his fingers one by one while Derek howled in pain. Now he waits with a feeling like lead in his stomach, wondering what his punishment will be. His slow-to-heal broken ribs ache from being slammed onto the bed; he deserves it, he thinks miserably. His parents would be so disappointed if they could see how out of control he is.

Scott doesn’t come back for hours, but when he finally does, Derek sits upright, bending his head forward so the back of his neck’s exposed. “I’m sorry,” he says immediately, body tensing as he waits for whatever’s coming to him.

Nothing happens. Scott sounds confused when he says, “Okay?”

Derek chances a look up at him. Scott doesn’t look angry, just slightly bewildered. Derek’s eyebrows draw together, confused as well. “I—hurt Stiles,” Derek says haltingly.

Scott’s expression clears. “Oh, he’s fine,” he says. “He would have come up, but he got called out to the station.”

“But—I hurt him,” Derek insists. He doesn’t understand what’s going on.

Scott shoves his hands in his pockets. “Sounds like you were dreaming, man. Did you mean to hurt him?”

“I—no,” Derek says, still confused. “But—”

“Then there’s nothing to worry about,” Scott shrugs. “It was an accident. They happen. He’s not mad.”

“Okay,” Derek says slowly, but he’s not sure it is.

Scott seems to think the matter’s closed because he instead starts to tell Derek that he’s gained enough weight that Scott feels confident about transferring him to a smaller facility outside the hospital where he can receive specialized care.

Derek feels more confused than ever. “I can’t pay for something like that,” he tells Scott, who smiles.

“You don’t have to,” he says. “Some people in town have set up a fund for you, and—”

“How do they know who I am?” Derek interrupts anxiously. If the Argents hear about it—

“They don’t,” Scott says soothingly. “Your name hasn’t been released, don’t worry. All anyone knows is that a homeless omega got hit out on the highway, and people want to help.”

“Why?” Derek presses. “Why would they want to do that?”

Scott shrugs, smiling faintly. “That’s what people around here do,” he says. “They help each other.”

Derek stares at him, bewildered and suspicious. He has no idea why complete strangers would want to help him out—especially if they’re not getting anything in return. He thinks about Stiles saying I want to help you, and it just perplexes him even more. He’s used to being coerced and used; he knows what’s expected of him, and this surge of kindness with nothing expected in return seems like a trap.

Scott keeps talking about the facility—Derek’s being transferred the next day—and eventually leaves, looking cheerful. He leaves Derek still bewildered in his wake, still feeling guilty over hurting Stiles. He’s suspicious of this fund set up by strangers, and a little angry—he’s not a charity case. Or…is he? Derek’s proud; he doesn’t like the idea of accepting money from strangers, but if he doesn’t, what is he going to do? He doesn’t have a penny to his name, doesn’t even have the clothes he came in with. If he refuses the help they offer, he’s going to end up back in the woods, spending every day looking over his shoulder, eating out of trash cans. It’s not exactly an appealing thought.

-

The following day, Derek swallows his pride and accepts the clothes a nurse brings him. They’re new and don’t smell like anyone else, just laundry detergent and a faint trace of chemicals. He feels a little more like a person, though wearing shoes is an odd sensation after going months without. Scott gives him one last check up and pats him approvingly on the shoulder before Derek gets hustled down to the first floor of the hospital, where an ambulance waits to transfer him to the new facility.

Riding in the ambulance is another odd sensation; he and Laura had hitchhiked for a while, but Laura grew more paranoid the longer they ran, didn’t trust anyone for help. It’s been months since Derek sat in a moving vehicle. The technician travelling in the back with him tries to make conversation, but soon gives up when Derek doesn’t answer; his attention’s focused out the windows in the back doors, watching trees and houses flash past.

The facility’s a long, low building surrounded by a green lawn and ringed by forest. Inside, Derek’s relieved to find it doesn’t have the same panicked scent of the hospital; it’s calmer, the sound of voices a low background murmur. A nurse in cheerful pink scrubs is there to greet him and show him to his room, which is small and furnished only with a twin bed, dresser, and chair, but it’s got a large window that looks out into the woods. It’s open, the fresh scent of earth and leaves rolling in, and Derek relaxes a little.

In many ways, being at the facilities is a huge improvement over being at the hospital. There’s a garden at the back of the building and Derek spends a lot of his time sitting under the shade of the trees, knees drawn to his chest as he watches the woods. He feels secure at the facility, not as claustrophobic as in the hospital, and he’s clean and fed well.

On the other hand, he’s forced into group therapy sessions, where an earnest young doctor tries to make him talk about what’s happened to him. Derek hates it; he disappears into the garden whenever he can, which only makes the earnest young doctor even more determined to “fix” him or whatever his goal is. The other residents at the facility are nice to Derek, but they’ve got their own issues they’re trying to sort out. The building may not have the panicked scent of the hospital, but there’s an undercurrent of misery and loneliness that keeps his hackles perpetually raised.

There’s a constant heavy weight at the bottom of his stomach; Derek may be surrounded by people, but he feels lonely and desperate, aching for the consistency of pack. He’s the only werewolf in the facility, the weird omega who can’t heal, and sometimes he catches people staring at him like he’s a creature at a zoo. He finds himself missing Scott and his stolid alpha confidence. He misses Stiles, too, still feels guilty about hurting him. Derek doesn’t realize how much he enjoyed Stiles’ visits until they stop. He keeps catching himself glancing toward the door, hoping Stiles is going to come through it with a new book, but there’s no reason for Stiles to be there, or any reason why he’d even know where Derek had gone. The facility has a small library in the common room, but seventy percent of the books are sordid murder mysteries he has no interest in. He starts thinking about leaving again, disappearing into the woods. It’d be easy to do; the place has no fences to keep him in.

He’s getting stronger physically—he’s on solid food now, and chicken tastes more amazing than he remembers—and the long cut on the bottom of his foot has almost disappeared, though his ribs still ache when he moves too fast or sits up too suddenly. Mentally, though, he gets worse with every passing day; by the end of his first week at the facility, he spends almost every waking hour out in the garden, anxiously watching the woods for any sign of the Argents. He’s out there in the early evening one night, the fading sun filtering through the trees and casting the garden in shades of emerald and gold, when a nurse approaches him.

“Derek,” she says cheerfully, “you’ve got a guest.”

Derek reluctantly pulls his gaze away from the trees and follows her back inside, walking fast down the long hallways back to his room. The nurse stops outside his door, gesturing him inside, and Derek enters the room unenthusiastically.

Stiles is standing by the window and he turns his head when Derek comes into the room, grinning widely. “Hey man!” he greets brightly. “Long time no see!”

A wave of relief washes over Derek, so intense he almost reels. “Hi,” he says quietly, his elation making him shy. He honestly hadn’t expected Stiles to come visit, even if he had kind of been hoping for it. He takes half a step toward Stiles and then stops uncertainly, remembering what had happened the last time they’d seen each other.

Like he knows what Derek’s thinking, Stiles says, “Don’t worry about it, dude. You barely got me, see?” He’s wearing his sheriff’s uniform, but he unbuttons the top two buttons, pulling the collar aside so Derek can see his shoulder and the very faint lines there. “Just got my shirt, mostly.”

Derek swallows. “I could have really hurt you.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t,” Stiles shrugs, buttoning up his shirt again. “Sorry I didn’t come visit earlier; I’ve got a couple guys on vacation this week and I’ve been pulling doubles covering their shifts.” His heartbeat’s steady; he’s not making excuses. He’s brought Derek new books—more Tolkien—and backgammon this time. They sink onto the floor to play as there’s no table in the room and it brings them closer than normal as they lean over the small board. Stiles catches Derek up on everything that’s been happening in town and it’s an odd feeling when he realizes that he’s starting to recognize names and locations when he hasn’t even really seen the town. Derek can feel himself relaxing as Stiles’ words wash over him, breathing in his scent with every inhale. He feels better than he has all week.

 Derek watches Stiles roll the dice, eyes catching on the gun at his waist for a long moment before he asks, “Did you come from work?”

Stiles glances up at him, startled, and then he smiles, looking incredibly pleased. It takes Derek a moment to realize that it’s the first time he’s asked a question unprompted by any other conversation. “I did,” Stiles says genially, eyes sparkling. “I’ve been looking forward to this all week.”

Derek can feel his cheeks heating up; he hurriedly drops his eyes to the game, an unfamiliar feeling burning in his chest. Stiles hums to himself, grinning even when Derek beats him at the game three times in a row. “Ruthless,” he says cheerfully as he packs up the board. “Can’t even give a dude who’s worked seventy hours this week a break.”

Derek snorts scornfully and Stiles looks at him quickly, grinning. “I gotta head home,” he says. “Mind if I drop back in in a couple of days?”

Derek shakes his head, startled to find he doesn’t mind. Stiles beams like Derek’s just handed him the sun and Derek feels that unfamiliar heat in his chest again, tight and clenching at his lungs.

-

For the next two weeks, Stiles drops in every couple of days. It doesn’t seem to bother him that he makes almost all the conversation and Derek mostly listens. There’s no rhyme or reason to the time of his visits—he shows up around the edges of his shifts, sometimes early in the morning, or in the middle of the day, or in the evening after the sun’s set. Derek doesn’t mind; he’s grateful for the escape from the rest of the facility. At one point, Stiles doesn’t show up for four days and when he does reappear, there are dark half moons under his eyes and he reeks of weariness.

Derek tries to insinuate that it’s okay if he goes home, but Stiles says, “Nah, I’m fine, dude,” and falls asleep while they’re playing chess. Derek watches him uncertainly, sitting cross-legged on the floor with his head drooping toward his chest. He should probably wake him up, but he can tell Stiles is exhausted. Derek ends up gently draping the blanket from the end of his bed around Stiles’ shoulders.

Stiles sleeps like that for almost three hours before he wakes with a sudden start, the blanket slipping off his shoulders. He squints at Derek, who’s sitting on his bed reading, then out the window, where the sky’s gone dark. “Was I asleep?” he asks muzzily.

Derek nods. “That didn’t look very comfortable.”

Stiles yawns, rolling his neck with a wince. “Not really,” he agrees. “I’ve got this ability to fall asleep anywhere, but it doesn’t always work out in my favor. I’m probably going to have the worst back problems when I’m eighty.” He works his phone out of his pocket and sighs. “Damn, I was supposed to go to my dad’s for dinner an hour ago.”

“Sorry,” Derek says, feeling guilty.

Stiles waves an uncaring hand at him. “Not your fault, man, you didn’t know. I see him all the time anyway; he doesn’t seem to understand what retired means.” He tilts his head up to look at Derek speculatively. “You should come over when you get out of here,” he says. “I think you’d like my dad.” Then Stiles blinks like he realizes what he just said, his cheeks going a little pink as he hurriedly adds, “If you’re going to stick around, I mean. Have you thought about it? What you’re going to do?”

Derek shakes his head slowly. He’s been trying to avoid thinking about it, not looking forward to more months in the wild. The facility has its flaws, but even so it’s leaps and bounds above living on the run. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he’s released.

“Oh,” Stiles says, looking thoughtful as he gets to his feet. He notices the blanket on the floor behind him and smiles to himself as he picks it up and folds it carefully.

Derek watches him, curling his fingers against his thighs when he asks, “Has there been any news of the Argents?”

“No,” Stiles says, hooking his fingers in his utility belt. “Nothing local. One of my deputies transferred here from the Midwest and he’s got some contacts in the east, so I asked him to look into it, and he’s got no word of them moving in New York.” He shrugs a little. “It’s possible they passed through and missed you.”

Derek doubts that. The family’s sharper than that—they wouldn’t have missed the news of an omega werewolf getting injured on the highway. He thinks it’s more likely that he’d put more distance between him and them than he’d realized and they’re still headed this way, or they’re already here and lying in wait. Waiting for him to show himself.

Hours after Stiles leaves, cheerfully promising to be back in a few days, Derek crawls into bed, his head heavy. He tugs the blanket over him, forgetting that it’d been draped over Stiles earlier, and gets a lungful of his scent, closer and more intense than he’s ever smelled. It goes straight to his groin, body jolting at the shock of it. He makes a quiet, choked off noise, guilt surging in him at how good it feels, ashamed of how easily he lets Stiles’ scent affect him. Every breath makes his dick twitch, skin tightening with every deep inhale. He tries to ignore it, tries to just go to sleep, but every minute shift of his hips sends shudders up his spine as his boxers rub against his dick.

Derek turns his head into his pillow, muffling a whine as he slips his hand under his sheets, giving in to the drug of Stiles’ scent. His hips jolt up when he presses his palm to his crotch, exhaling harshly through his teeth. It’s been a long time—months—since he touched himself. Fear, pain, and hunger don’t exactly stoke his sex drive—and before that there was Kate, and getting her off wasn’t at all like getting himself off. He feels guilty about it now, biting down on his lip as he palms himself over his underwear, pressing his nose into the blanket and breathing in deep, gulping gasps of Stiles’ scent.

He shifts suddenly, rolling onto his back so he can bend his knees and tug his boxers down his hips. Derek can’t help the soft, wounded noise he makes when he takes himself in hand—it’s been so fucking long and he’s so hard already, aching. He jacks himself desperately, no finesse, chasing release now that he’s given in. He resolutely does not—does not—think about Stiles and his smile and his full lips, wrapped around Derek’s cock as he looks up at Derek with those lively brown eyes. He’d be firm and kind and—Derek comes, his back arching off the bed, teeth digging into his bottom lip so hard he tastes blood. When he collapses back against the mattress after a moment suspended in infinity, his hand and stomach are a mess and he can’t really feel his toes, his entire body tingling with a ferocious kind of pleasure.

“Fuck,” Derek mutters to himself, rubbing his clean hand across his eyes, the momentary rush of pleasure already disappearing under a wave of guilt. He shouldn’t think about Stiles like that—he’s a stranger still, a total mystery to Derek, could very well be a hidden threat—but he’s nice, and no one’s been nice to Derek in a very long time. Derek looks at his dirty hand, shining slickly in the faint moonlight coming through the window, insides twisting in confusion. He has no idea what he’s doing.

-

Derek can barely meet Stiles’ eyes the next time he comes to visit, embarrassed by what he’d done, but Stiles doesn’t seem to notice; he whirls in and explains he can’t stay long. It's the Fourth of July weekend and apparently he’s got his deputies stretched across the county, making sure people stay safe. Derek startles a little at the news, heart heavy; that means it’s been six months since Laura was killed, over a year since they escaped the Argents and the hunt began. Stiles, though, is ignorant of this; he cheerfully hands Derek a paper bag that smells mouthwateringly of herbs and oil.

“Cleared it with your doctor,” Stiles tells him. “Stopped at the carnival in town and grabbed you something.”

Derek opens the bag and peers inside to see a milkshake—vanilla, by the smell—and a packet of hand-cut french fries, tossed in herbs and dusted with parmesan cheese. It smells like heaven.

“I gotta go, dude,” Stiles says cheerfully, grinning widely at the expression on Derek’s face. “Enjoy your Fourth, all right? I’ll be back on Monday.”

Derek looks down at the bag in his hands once more, then says, as Stiles turns to head out the door, “Why?”

Stiles pauses, his hand on the doorknob. He turns to look back at Derek. “Why what?”

“Why are you doing this?” Derek asks, his throat tightening. “Why—you don’t even know me.”

Stiles shrugs. “Why not?” he replies, like it’s that simple. “Everyone deserves a chance at happiness, don’t you think?”

Derek’s hands tighten around the paper bag. “You do this for every stranger you meet?”

“No,” Stiles says simply. He looks at Derek for a long moment before he says, “My mom was in the hospital for a long time before she died. She was a science teacher at the high school—she had tons of visitors, and I used to go see her every day on my way home from school, and she was still miserable. I hate hospitals, man, but I’m willing to bet you hate them even more. I thought—I just thought that maybe I could makes things easier for you, even just a little bit.” He sets his jaw, frowning a little. “If you don’t want me coming to visit, I’ll stop.”

Derek stares at him, his lips parting, a strange panic stabbing at his stomach at the thought of not seeing Stiles any more. “That’s not—I didn’t mean I wanted you to stop.”

Some tension bleeds from Stiles’ shoulders. He smiles faintly. “See you on Monday, then?”

Derek nods tightly. Stiles smiles again and slips out of the room. Derek sits there for a moment before he tries a french fry, closing his eyes as he chews. It’s really, really good.

-

Monday morning, Derek wakes up feeling as though he’s burning from the inside out. His skin’s slick with sweat, all of his senses kicked into overdrive—he can hear a nurse walking down the hall outside his door, the tap tap tap of her shoes as loud as cannonfire, and someone in the next room over singing, as loud as a banshee’s wail. It takes Derek—bewildered and overwhelmed by everything he’s experiencing—a moment to realize exactly what’s happening.

“No,” he moans despairingly, right as the door opens. A nurse pokes her head in, opens her mouth as if to speak, and then her face goes bright red. She slams the door and Derek can hear her retreating down the hall, taptaptap. He groans, levering himself out of bed. He sways, legs kitten-weak, has to clutch at his dresser to keep from falling over. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.

The nurse is back before he’s managed to stagger to the door, bringing the head nurse with her. They both stop in the doorway and stare at Derek, sympathy on their faces.

“You’re all right,” the head nurse says soothingly, taking a step into the room, her hands coming up like she wants to steady him. “It’s completely natural, sweetheart. You—”

Sweetheart, Kate used to sigh, curling her fingers in his collar, tugging him up to her room. His skin crawls just hearing it, forcing him back to a place he doesn’t want to go. Derek snarls and swings at her, claws popping from the ends of his fingers. The head nurse takes a hurried step backward; she and the other nurse duck out the door and swing it shut.

“He’s already pretty far into it,” the nurse says, sounding worried.

“I know,” the head nurse replies. There’s a click; they’ve locked his door. “Call the hospital. Get Dr. McCall down here; he may listen to another werewolf.”

Derek whines, humiliated; the last thing he wants is Scott here—another alpha to disappoint. He staggers to the window and tries to force his way out, but the window is solid and only opens outward a few inches. Derek’s still not at full strength, weaker now with the fire licking through him. He can’t even break the glass, though he tries.

He ends up under the bed, panting and scared, claws digging into his palms. There are new footsteps coming down the hall, heavier—two sets of them—and then soft murmuring Derek can’t hear over the pounding of his heart. The door clicks open and Derek growls reflectively.

A calm voice says, “Easy, man. You’re safe.”

There’s alpha power in that voice and Derek shudders, his fangs itching at his gums. He watches feet cross the room, then they kneel, and Scott’s face appears at the edge of the bed, smiling genially at Derek. “Hey dude,” Scott says gently. “Got your heat, huh?”

Derek whines, his insides curdling. He can smell Scott, his strong alpha scent driving Derek’s senses haywire.

“When was the last time you got it?” Scott presses.

Derek hesitates. Not since—“New York,” he whispers, shaking at the memory.

Scott turns, like he’s checking in with someone, and then he turns back, his face soft and sympathetic. “At least a year, then,” he says, and gives Derek an encouraging smile. “This is good,” he tells Derek. “It means you’re feeling safe and strong enough to mate.”

“I don’t want it,” Derek says desperately. “Please—can’t you stop it?”

Scott shakes his head. “Sorry, Derek,” he says, looking truly apologetic. “This train’s left the station.”

Derek groans, pressing his burning face against the cool tile floor.

“Come on, dude,” Scott coaxes. “We’re going to make this as easy as possible for you. Can you come out for me?”

Derek pauses for a long moment, watching Scott before he reluctantly pulls himself out from under the bed. Scott steadies him as he gets to his feet, Derek’s eyes fluttering shut at the heat of his hands. Scott doesn’t seem to notice; he’s busy checking Derek’s pulse, a faint frown on his face.

“Okay,” he says. “We’re going to move you to the heat room, all right?”

“Heat room?” Derek repeats nervously. He has to lean against Scott as they turn for the door, Scott looping an arm around him to help keep him upright.

“Yeah,” Scott says. “They’ve got a little room away from everyone with everything you’ll need.”

“I’m being locked up?”

Scott sighs a little. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I know it’s not great, but there isn’t time for anything else. We’ll make a plan for the next time it hits.” He pushes open the door and they step out into the hall, where the nurses and—Derek’s stomach drops—Stiles are waiting. If there’s anyone he wants to see less than Scott right now, it’s Stiles. He’s in civilian clothes, a slim purple hoodie and ragged jeans, and he’s staring at Derek with wide eyes, cheeks splotched red. Derek turns his head away, casting his gaze at the floor, cheeks burning with shame.

“Come on,” Scott says encouragingly, and turns them down the hallway. Derek keeps up as best as he can, though his feet skid around like a newborn fawn’s. Suddenly, Stiles is at his other side, crossing his arm over Scott’s for extra support. Derek shudders at his touch, gulping in a greedy mouthful of Stiles’ scent. Stiles gives Derek a small smile that’s probably meant to be encouraging, but it sends a thrill through Derek’s body. He’s getting hard, body aching to be filled, and he hates that Stiles is here to see him like this.

The heat room is about the size of his own room, tile floor and walls, with a small attached bathroom. In the corner opposite is a bed, which Scott and Stiles carefully lower Derek onto. One of the nurses comes in and hands Scott a plastic box, which he gives to Derek.

“This is a heat kit,” Scott tells him. “Hopefully it’ll make things a little easier on you. You’re going to be locked in here, but the nurses will still drop off meals—try to remember to eat, if you can. You’re still pretty skinny, and the heat uses a lot of energy. Okay?”

Derek nods slowly and Scott gives him an encouraging smile. “There’s a couple cases of water under the bed—remember to drink, too. How long do your heats usually last?”

Derek blinks up at the ceiling. “A—couple days,” he decides.

“All right,” Scott says. “Someone will check in on you every couple of hours. You’re going to be fine.” He squeezes Derek’s shoulder and turns, looking significantly at Stiles. “You coming?”

“In—in a second,” Stiles says distractedly. Scott nods and leaves the room. Derek looks down at the plastic box in his hands as Stiles turns to look at him. “Um,” Stiles says, with a nervous glance toward the door. “Look, this is totally not protocol, and probably out of line, but—”

Derek looks up at him in confusion, eyes widening as Stiles unzips his hoodie and peels off the t-shirt he’s wearing underneath. Derek’s gaze flicks over Stiles’ bare chest, flushed down to his collarbones, Derek’s breath coming quickly as he tries to figure out what Stiles is going to do. What Stiles does is offer Derek his shirt, his cheeks bright red.

“You don’t have to take it,” Stiles says hurriedly, “but I’ve heard it’s easier for omegas to get through their heat with an alpha’s scent so, um. Here. If you want it.”

Derek stares at him, watching Stiles’ cheeks get redder and redder. He looks like he’s about to rescind his offer when Derek reaches out and takes the shirt, skin tingling when their fingers brush. “Thanks,” Derek says quietly.

“You’re welcome,” Stiles says, voice full of relief as he shrugs his hoodie back on. “Good luck, I guess. I mean, I’m sure you’ll be fine, but it doesn’t look like you’re looking forward to this, so I hope it’s easier than usual. Uh.” He backs toward the door, looking awkward. “I’ll come back in a few days, okay?”

Derek nods, and as Stiles puts his hand on the door, he says, “Thank you,” again. Stiles looks at him curiously and Derek elaborates, “For the food. It was really good.”

Stiles smiles. “I’ll take you out when you’re out of here, all right? Give you something to look forward to.”

Derek swallows. “I’d like that.”

Stiles grins, giving Derek a little wave as he leaves the room. When the door swings shut behind him, Derek listens, but realizes he can’t hear anything outside the room. It’s either heavily soundproofed or warded against sound—and it probably goes both ways, so no one will be able to hear him, either. It's a bit of a relief and he relaxes a little, looking down at the plastic box in his hands. Heat KitType: Omega, it says on the top, and below that it states Sterile instruments inside. Discard if tabs are broken. Derek takes a slow, deep breath, heat fuzzing his mind, and breaks the plastic tabs so he can open the box.

Inside, there are a couple sealed bottles of lubricant and—a rush of heat floods his body—a silicone dildo inside a plastic sleeve. It’s got a thick bulge at the base. Derek exhales shakily as he runs his fingers over it, the plastic crinkling under his touch. A knot.

Derek’s never been knotted. He’s never even seen a knot in real life, apart from his own. He’s seen them in porn, alpha’s knots thick and fat before they lock themselves in some omega’s ass. Derek rips open the plastic sleeve, hefting the dildo in his hand. He glances furtively toward the door, cheeks flushed, but there’s no window in it and there’s no noise from outside. He’s alone, he reminds himself. Safe. He curls his fingers around the thick toy, more heat flooding his body as he thinks about fucking himself on it. He’s growing slick between the thighs, dick pulsing and hard. Derek swallows, shuddering as he palms at himself through his sweatpants. It’s getting harder to think, his thoughts growing slow and primal as the heat truly sets in.

He tries to fight it. There’s a television mounted on one of the walls and he flicks it on, trying to lose himself in the inane sitcom on the screen. It’s a losing battle; there’s a noise filling his ears and it takes him a long moment to realize it’s him, panting roughly as he tries to cool his body. He bites down on his lip, curling his fingers into his palms, stilling his body as his hips try to jerk upward into nothing.

When Derek was a kid, his closest friend was his uncle Peter, who was his mother’s youngest brother—only two years older than Laura. Taking the role of older brothers everywhere, Peter was wont to disseminate the occasional misinformation to Derek—all for the sake of his own enjoyment, of course—and Derek, who was altogether too trusting, always took him at his word, much to Peter’s amusement. He told Derek once—he’d been young, only eight or so, and still discovering his werewolf abilities—that he could fly on full moons. Derek’s mom hadn’t been too happy about that little joke, not after Derek broke his legs jumping off the porch roof.

When Derek was older, early in his teenage years, full of uncertainty as his body began to change, Peter told him smugly that Derek was going to be an omega. “How do you know?” Derek asked, wide-eyed, and Peter had shrugged, looking superior.

“You can just tell,” he’d said emphatically. And later, Peter had been only too happy to regale Derek with tales of life as an omega. “The heats are awful,” he’d said cheerfully, eating trail mix by the handful in the kitchen. “You don’t have any control over your body. The best you can hope for is an alpha to use you until you pass out.”

There’d been a lot of such talk, and Derek had drunk up every word until his mom stepped in and sent Peter flying out the room, proverbial tail between his legs. “Don’t listen to your uncle,” she’d said gently. “Your heat is nothing to be scared of, omega or not. You’ll always have a choice.”

But Peter had been right about Derek being an omega, and three years after the fire when he’d been hit by his first heat, well—Peter had been right about that, too. It’d been terrifying, heavy, painful, rolling on and on for unceasing hours. Kate had ridden him, shackled by all four limbs to a bed, and it was just like Peter had said; Derek eventually passed out, overcome by heat and exhaustion, but he’d never been satisfied in the way an omega needed to be, never been knotted full. Kate never touched his ass, turned up her nose in a sneer when he begged. That first heat taught him that they were to be feared and hated, and even if he’d long ago stopped expecting that relief of release, they’d never gotten any better.

Now, he grits his teeth against the wave of heat, breathing harshly through his nose. He’s scared—he hasn’t had a heat since before he left the Argent house, and for all that he hates and fears Kate, some stupid part of him wishes she was there with him. Alpha, he thinks desperately. He needs an alpha. He needs—Derek stills, remembering. He’s got the t-shirt Stiles left him. He scrambles to grab it, pressing the soft material to his face and breathing in deeply. It calms him a little, soothes the heat, yet somehow stokes it deeper, sending a rush of want twisting down his spine.

Derek takes another deep breath and shoves off his sweatpants before he can think about it, wriggling out of his boxers. He takes himself in hand without delay, stroking himself off with long, quick strokes. It’s easy coming, barely feels good—he’s used to the way the heat doesn’t recede. It’ll keep burning like this for days, no relief; will only become harder and harder to get himself off.

He gets himself off twice in the next couple of hours, lays panting and still in between waves of heat, Stiles’ shirt clenched in his fist. He sleeps for a while after the third time and wakes up hard, his stomach slick from coming in his sleep. The heat hurts, head aching from the pounding of his heart in his ears, stomach empty—hungry but not. There’s a tray of food sitting near the door; someone must have dropped it off while he was sleeping, but Derek’s feeling too weak to get out of bed, his skin dry and blazing with heat.

When the next wave hits, Derek takes himself in hand again, resigned, but then he pauses, eyeing the dildo, which he’d placed on the nightstand. He’s never—he experimented when he was younger, tried fucking himself on his fingers, and it had felt good, but after the Argents had taken him, there’d been no time to try things out, no time for pleasure. If he needed release, there was no time for finesse, just a race to get off as fast as he could. Derek shudders out a slow breath and reaches for the dildo, fingers curling around its soft weight. It’s an inoffensive flesh tone, flushed soft red at the tip like a real dick.

Derek shifts nervously, spreading his legs. He’s already made a mess of the bed, the sheet underneath him damp with sweat and the slick from between his thighs. He slides a tentative hand down his stomach, bypassing his dick and pressing at his hole, chest tightening at the easy way his finger slips inside. It feels—feels good, so much better than he was expecting. He brings Stiles’ shirt to his face with his other hand, breathing in deeply as he fucks his finger in a couple times, mouth falling open at the way it only feels better and better. He’s not even touching his dick and it’s pulsing against his stomach, smearing precome into his happy trail.

He doesn’t hesitate then, slipping his finger out and pressing the blunt head of the dildo against him instead. It goes in so easy, his body wet and welcoming. Derek throws back his head at the sensation of it filling him, moaning sharply. This—this is everything he’s ever wanted, all he’s ever needed. He moans again, hips canting up as he begins to fuck himself on it, bearing down on the dildo until the swell of the knot nudges against his hole. Derek doesn’t press down that far, not yet, not until he can feel the beginnings of his orgasm swelling behind his hips, the heat in his bones unbearable. Only then does he push the knot in, groaning at the faint burn and stretch, and then it’s inside him, locked up tight.

Derek’s never felt like this, so full. Nose full of alpha scent, ass plugged tight; he can’t even get a hand on himself before he’s coming harder than he ever has before, tendons in his neck stretching as he arches backward, pulsing line after line of thick white come across his chest. When he finally collapses back against the bed, boneless, there’s this golden elated feeling coursing through him, strange and wonderful. He lay still for a while, letting his breathing calm. He feels…different, and it takes him a while to realize it’s because the heat’s receded; he can feel it still, hovering on the horizon, but his skin’s cooled, his mind clear except for that golden glow.

After a while, Derek feels relaxed enough to pull the dildo out, shuddering a little at the empty feeling it leaves behind. He gets to his feet slowly and he’s shaky, but strong enough to walk to the bathroom and clean himself off. When he’s done, he pads back into the room and takes the tray of food from beside the door, eating slowly. He’s growing tired, so he puts the tray back by the door and curls up in the bed, swiftly falling into a deep, dreamless sleep.

-

The next two days pass quicker than any heat Derek can ever remember. He fucks orgasm after orgasm out of himself, clenched down on the fake knot in his ass, but though the heat clings, it never returns to that fever-pitch of the first day. He’s not sure whether it’s having Stiles’ shirt, or the dildo, or both, but it’s the easiest heat he’s ever had.

As the heat fades from his body, though, an all-too familiar guilt begins to pick at Derek. The heat’s a painful, awful thing; how fucked up is he that he kind of enjoyed this one? Does this make him as sick as Kate—she loved the fuck out of her heats, riding Derek’s dick or mouth until his whole body ached. What’s wrong with him?

By the time the head nurse sticks her head into the room a full three days after he was locked inside, and asks kindly, “You ready to come out?” Derek feels even worse than he did going in, and only nods glumly. He has to do a post-heat interview with one of the on-site doctors, and gets weighed and measured by a nurse, and the entire time his head buzzes with the special kind of misery he only gets after a heat.

His unhappiness continues to build as a couple of days pass and Stiles doesn’t come to visit. Derek hadn’t realized how much he’d been counting on him to show up. He’s still got Stiles’ shirt; he finds himself holding it from time to time, guiltily inhaling the scent of him.

Four days after his heat, he’s finishing up breakfast in the common room when a nurse approaches him, a smile on her face. Derek looks up at her, hoping she’s going to tell him he’s got a visitor, but instead she asks him to follow her to the doctor’s office, where he’s told he’s being released from the facility.

Derek stares blankly at the doctor as she cheerfully tells him he’s gained enough weight and has been deemed fit to leave, and when she pauses, looking at him expectantly for a thank you, Derek says, “I don’t have anywhere to go.”

The doctor smiles. “I think that’s been taken care of,” she says, and that seems to be the end of it, because the nurse accompanies Derek back to his room, handing him a plastic bag so he can pack up his few possessions—donated clothes, a toothbrush. He regards Stiles’ t-shirt for a long moment before cramming it into the bag with an ashamed clench of his gut.

There’s a cop car waiting outside the facility and for one wild moment, Derek thinks Stiles has come to get him, but the deputy who gets out of the vehicle is not someone Derek’s ever seen before. He’s young, around Derek’s age, smooth-faced and handsome in a bland, all-American sort of way.

“Mr. Hale,” the deputy greets him politely. “If you’ll come with me, please.”

Derek looks uncertainly at the nurse, who gives him an encouraging smile. He steps forward, eyeing the deputy—Parrish, according to his nametag—uneasily. Parrish gazes back at him with sleepy green eyes and opens the door to the cruiser—the back door, Derek notes, his body tensing. He climbs in anyway because he doesn’t know what to do and there’s a chance the deputy’s here to take him to Stiles—and if he’s here to take Derek to some kind of shelter, or even jail, that’s better than living in the woods. He’s ridden in the back of a cop car exactly once; the first time he tried to escape from the Argents he was caught easily and returned by the local cops, straight to the Argent’s front door. He’d lost his trust in law enforcement that day—learned the only person on his side was himself. That cop car had smelled like motor oil and his own fear; this cruiser smells like disinfectant and stale piss and the pineapple air freshener sticking out of one of the air vents up front.

Parrish doesn’t say anything to him, and Derek doesn’t attempt to speak; he trains his attention out the window, watching as they leave the woods behind and head back into town, the road becoming dense with houses. The sheriff’s department is a long, low building tucked between the post office and a hardware store. The deputy pulls into a space in front of it and lets Derek out of the back seat. He feels like a criminal, clutching his plastic bag of personal items like the vagrant he is. Parrish walks behind him as they enter the building, guiding Derek with the slightest push of his fingers against Derek’s shoulders. Derek doesn’t like the contact, muscles tensing with every tap of Parrish’s fingers, fighting the urge to pull away.

He’s guided to a large open room; there are desks, some occupied by deputies, some of whom glance up at Derek as he comes in. One frowns. Another deputy closer to Derek is talking to a weeping woman sitting next to his desk, an irritated look on his face. Parrish pushes him to the far end of the room before pointing at a chair. “You can wait here,” he says, dropping down behind one of the desks.

Derek sits cautiously, trying to take in the room without being too obvious. There’s an office on the wall furthest from the door, and the nameplate on the door says Sheriff Stilinski, but the office is empty. Derek hunches in the chair, stomach twisting nervously as he watches the comings and goings of the station. Parrish ignores him completely, bent to the task of paperwork, which he fills out industriously. At one point he rises and disappears down a hallway; he comes back a few minutes later with a cup of coffee. He doesn’t offer any to Derek.

A deputy comes over to talk to Parrish. He doesn’t like Derek, who can feel the weight of his stare without even looking up from where his hands are folded over the plastic bag in his lap. Parrish is indifferent to both him and the other deputy; he answers the deputy’s questions about his day off in an uninterested, polite tone—the same polite tone he’d used on Derek. There’s a soft Midwestern lilt to his voice. Derek wonders if he’s the transfer Stiles mentioned. They both seem to know that the deputy’s only there to get a closer look at Derek. Derek can feel the distaste coming off him in waves, thick and sour. Derek just bows his head lower, feeling tired and defeated. It’s less bitter than the hatred of the Argents. He’s used to it.

The energy in the station changes occasionally, everyone tensing and lifting their heads when someone’s brought in in handcuffs. There are two waves while Derek is sitting there—one’s a girl older than him, glaring mutinously into the distance. “Shoplifting again,” Derek hears one deputy say to another. “That’s the second time this month.”

“Daddy’s going to be pissed,” the other deputy replies scornfully. “Bail ain’t cheap.”

The second is a werewolf. Everyone in the station freezes at the sight, two deputies wrestling a young beta male through the double doors. He’s snarling and fighting, eyes burning blue—Derek feels his anger and fear viscerally, his own fingernails popping into claws before he can stop them, digging holes in the plastic bag.

“Put those away,” Parrish says evenly, not looking away from where the two deputies are hauling the beta off down a long hallway. One of the deputies—a young woman with blonde curly hair—is a werewolf too, Derek realizes, watching with wide eyes as she snarls back at the beta, her own eyes flashing tawny yellow. Parrish’s words, however, make him jolt in embarrassment, and he has to concentrate hard to make his claws recede. The other deputy snorts scornfully. Derek feels his cheeks burn.

The place starts to wear on Derek. He grows more stressed with every minute that passes, unsure if he’s waiting or being detained. He keeps picking up snatches of conversation, overhears phone calls, a scanner over by a water cooler against the wall calling out codes as calls roll in—someone's locked out of their car, someone’s heard a suspicious noise, someone’s neighbors are fighting. If the facility was a place of individual misery and unhappiness, this is the place where it all blends together. He can’t parse it out—the noise, the emotionally charged air, the scent of copy machines and gunpowder and old coffee and the lingering raw edge of the beta’s fear. He’s changed his mind; he’d rather be in the woods than in jail.

Derek hunches further into himself, blocking out the deputy who doesn’t like him, blocking out the entire office. He’s good at this, good at being still and unnoticeable and inoffensive. The Argents drilled it into him a long time ago that speaking would be punished, that he was nothing, insignificant and worthless. He still has the scars from these lessons; there’s one across his palm and he runs his thumb over it, over and over.

“Parrish,” a voice says suddenly, right next to him. Derek recognizes it as Stiles’ and lifts his head to find the sheriff standing next to him, frowning. “I asked you to put him in my office.”

“Sorry, sir,” Parrish says apologetically. “I wanted to be able to keep an eye on him.”

Stiles grunts, sounding unimpressed, though his face softens when he looks down at Derek. “Hey man,” he greets. “You want to come with me?”

Derek quickly rises to follow him, avoiding the stare of the unfriendly deputy, and following Stiles into his office. Stiles shuts the door, closing out most of the noise from the rest of the station. Derek sighs a little in relief, sitting in the chair Stiles gestures at.

“You okay?” Stiles asks, sitting down behind his desk. It’s covered in knickknacks; closest to Derek is a plastic Transformers figurine that looks as though it came out of a vending machine. “You looked like you were about to pass out.”

“I’m fine,” Derek says quietly. He adds, when the worry doesn’t fade from Stiles’ face, “There’s a lot going on out there.”

“Yeah, there is,” Stiles agrees, face softening in sympathy. “Sorry. All the deputies think they know what’s best.”

Derek nods slowly. He feels unsettled, not sure what’s going on. Why has Stiles brought him here?

“It’s good to see you out of the hospital,” Stiles says. “You’re looking a lot better than you did when you first came in.”

“Thank you,” Derek says, looking down at his hands.

He hears Stiles shift forward in his seat before Stiles asks, “You sure you’re okay?”

Derek swallows tightly, chancing an unsure glance up at Stiles before he asks, “Why am I here?”

Stiles blinks, surprised, and then his lips curve into a smile. “Well,” he says slowly, “Scott gave me the heads up that you were getting released, and I thought maybe you could stay with me. If you’re planning on sticking around, that is.” Derek stares at him, caught off guard by the offer, and Stiles’ cheeks go a little pink. “It’s fine,” he says quickly, “if you’re planning on leaving, or you don’t want to stay with me. I’m sure I can find someone else to take you in.”

Derek can feel his own face going hot, and he quickly drops his gaze to his hands. He wants to stay with Stiles. It’s not like he has anywhere else to go, he tells himself, either here in Beacon Hills or anywhere else in the country. He thinks about staying, building a life here—and the fact that that even seems like a possibility is both terrifying and more desirable than anything. He spent most of the last decade being told that werewolves were scum, useless, less than human, and he believed it. Even when he was a kid, his parents were careful who they told about the family being werewolves and even with all that care, they ended up dead, slaughtered like animals. But here, in Beacon Hills, people don’t seem to care—his doctor was a werewolf. Back home, that would have been impossible.

Derek lifts his head, looking Stiles in the eye. “I’d like to stay with you,” he says firmly, heart banging in his chest. It beats harder at the way Stiles grins, looking delighted.

“Awesome,” Stiles says, beaming. “My shift’s not over for another couple hours, but I could run you over to the house if you want, or you can hang out here.”

“I’ll stay here,” Derek says, because he doesn’t want to inconvenience Stiles.

Stiles nods cheerfully and inclines his head toward a couch up against the wall. “You can chill over there, if you want,” he tells Derek. “I probably won’t get called out again.”

Derek hesitates before he asks, “Do you get called out a lot?” He holds his breath, not sure he’s allowed to ask questions, but Stiles gives him a small, encouraging smile that seems to say it’s okay.

“Not too often,” Stiles says, shuffling through a pile of papers. “Only the real serious stuff. I’ll go patrolling once in a while if it’s a slow day, or if I’ve got a bunch of people on vacation. Mostly it’s just paperwork and keeping the station running.”

“Where were you just now?”

Stiles glances up at him, and then back down at his paperwork. “Did you see that beta get brought in?” Derek nods and Stiles continues, “We’ve been tracking him all over the county for the past two days. He’s got a bounty on him, unlike you—killed some kids down in LA.”

Derek swallows, thinking about how he’d woken to Stiles in his hospital room. Had Stiles thought he was a killer? “What will happen to him?”

Stiles’ brow furrows. “State investigators will come pick him up,” he says. “California law requires a trial, though if they issued a bounty there’s basically no chance he’ll be found innocent.”

“And then he’ll be killed?” Derek’s mouth twists, thinking of Laura.

“And then he’ll be killed,” Stiles agrees quietly, looking at Derek and then away.

“I thought you said this was a progressive state,” Derek says bitterly.

Stiles looks slightly ashamed. “Well,” he says, clearing his throat. “More progressive than some, anyway.”

They fall into silence after that. After a long few minutes, Derek cautiously rises to his feet and moves over to the couch, sinking down onto the cushions with his head turned so he can watched the comings and goings in the bullpen outside. It’s less stressful this way, most of the sound cut out, only the soft noise of Stiles’ pen on paper filling his ears. Derek relaxes slowly, eyes settling half-shut. He’s content to wait, did plenty of it at the Argent house, got good at keeping still. He switches his attention between the station outside and Stiles, who moves a lot while he works, constantly slumping and straightening and running a hand through his hair. Derek watches Stiles make a couple quiet phone calls and then get to his feet, humming quietly to himself.

“You hungry?” he asks Derek, who shakes his head. “All right. I’ll be right back.”

Derek watches him step out of the office, letting in a swell of sound from the station, which cuts off abruptly when he closes the office door behind him. Stiles stops to talk with a couple deputies—Derek could listen in if he really wanted to, but he’s tired. As Stiles disappears down a hallway, Derek closes his eyes, breathing slow. The office is saturated with Stiles’ scent; it calms him. He sinks deeper into the couch, head still reeling after the confusion of the morning. He drifts off to sleep then, so gently he doesn’t even notice.

-

Derek wakes to a hand on his arm, the soft touch forcing his eyes open. He shoots upright, panicked, only to find himself still in Stiles’ office. Stiles is crouched down next to the couch, a slightly startled look on his face. “You okay?” he asks, worry in his voice.

“I—” Derek exhales roughly. He’s always on edge, always ready to bolt. “Sorry.”

“No need to apologize,” Stiles replies, getting to his feet. “At least you didn’t wake up swinging this time.” Derek winces, but Stiles doesn’t seem to notice. “You wanna head out?”

Derek follows Stiles out of the office, feeling the stares of the deputies as they cross the room. The looks are not all entirely friendly. “Looks like the sheriff’s picked himself up an obedient little bitch,” one of the deputies mutters—it’s the unfriendly one who’d come over to talk to Parrish. “I wouldn’t pass on that omega ass either.”

Derek drops his head, shame twisting his insides. Stiles’ pace slows, his shoulders stiffening—he heard it too. He doesn’t stop, though, just reaches back and curls his hand around Derek’s wrist. “Ignore it,” Stiles says, so softly only Derek can hear him. “Erica’s got it.”

And sure enough, the blonde beta is rising from her desk, a dangerous smile on her face. “You want to talk about werewolf ass, Haigh?” she asks the deputy who’d spoken. “Why don’t you go ahead and rate mine while you’re at it? You’re always looking.”

“Uh,” Haigh says, his face going red. Most of the other deputies laugh. Stiles tows Derek outside and across the parking lot.

They don’t speak until they’re in Stiles’ cruiser—Derek gets to sit in the front seat this time. Stiles thumps himself down in the driver’s seat and rubs a hand over his face. “I’m sorry,” he says abruptly.

“It’s fine,” Derek says woodenly. He’s heard worse. Some people never even bothered to say anything before they came after him.

“No, it’s not,” Stiles says with a frown. Derek just shrugs and turns his head to look out the window, gazing at the parking lot. Stiles sighs, sounding a little frustrated, and starts the car.

Stiles lives in a nice neighborhood, a long, quiet street lined with trees. His house is bigger than Derek expected, the lawn neatly trimmed. There’s a blue Jeep sitting in the driveway and for a brief moment Derek tenses, stomach tightening as he wonders who Stiles lives with—girlfriend or boyfriend? Husband or wife? He tries to sneak a glance at Stiles’ hand to see if he’s wearing a ring, right as Stiles gestures at the Jeep and says, speaking for the first time since the station, “That’s my baby.” Relieved, Derek looks at it obligingly, but he was never all that interested in cars, much to his dad’s disappointment.

Stiles doesn’t seem bothered that Derek’s not interested in his baby; he leads Derek inside and gives him the grand tour, which mainly consists of Stiles flinging out his arm and nearly smacking Derek in the chest, gesturing around extravagantly. Derek likes the house, though; it’s a little cluttered, but there are bookcases stuffed with books, house plants lining the windowsills, and the whole place is suffused with Stiles’ scent.

“It’s way more space than I need,” Stiles says, leading him upstairs, where there are four bedrooms and a bathroom, “but I got it super cheap in a foreclosure auction, and the pack’s always coming over and getting too drunk and needing a place to crash, so it’s worked out fine.” He leads Derek down the hall, past a cluttered bedroom that’s obviously his, and two other rooms that are pretty much empty. He stops outside the room further down the hall and grins at Derek. “Here’s your room.”

Derek peers around the doorway. In the room is a twin bed, nightstand, dresser—and it all smells like new plastic and wood, with the exception of the rug on the floor, which looks handwoven. He looks uncertainly at Stiles, who’s still grinning. “Did you buy all of this? For me?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says cheerfully. “It was probably stupid of me to just assume you’d want to stay. Good thing you said yes, huh?”

Derek stares into the room, his head spinning. He can’t remember the last time someone went out of their way to help him, and to give him an entire fucking room—he hasn’t had his own room, his own bed, since he was seventeen. He doesn’t know how to thank Stiles.

Stiles seems to sense his confusion because his voice is softer when he says, “Why don’t you get settled in? I’m going to go start on dinner—any requests?”

Derek shakes his head numbly. Stiles smiles faintly and disappears down the hall; Derek doesn’t move until he hears Stiles clomp downstairs and start opening cabinets down in the kitchen. Only then does he take a slow step into the room. He sets his plastic bag of possessions on the nightstand and sinks carefully onto the bed. The mattress is softer than his beds at the hospital and the facility, and it’s covered in a thick navy blanket that smells like new cotton. The headboard rests under a window; when Derek peers out it, he can see a big backyard, lush with green grass. Beyond it is a field and even further beyond that, a thickly wooded forest.

Derek looks down at his hands. They’re shaking; he’s overwhelmed and bewildered. Why would Stiles do this for him? They’re complete strangers. Visiting him at the hospital was one thing, but this—welcoming Derek into his home, buying him a room’s worth of stuff—why? No one does nice things for Derek. No one. He gets hunted and starved and beaten. He gets his hands soaked in bleach, knives coated in wolfsbane drawn across his skin. His sister gets killed. His family gets burned alive. He gets raped. No one cares about Derek Hale.

Derek closes his eyes, letting himself slip into the dull blankness he retreats to when the world becomes too much to handle. He loses track of time like that, sitting as still as a stone on the edge of the bed, and then Stiles is yelling his name and Derek’s eyes snap back open. He springs to his feet, panicked, and goes racing downstairs to find Stiles in the dining room, grinning.

“Tada!” Stiles beams, spreading his arms wide.

Derek, who’d thought there was something wrong, stares at him, and then down at the table, which is covered in food. “Oh.”

Stiles lowers his arms, looking a little disappointed. “Oh?” he echoes.

Derek blinks, realizing how rude that was. “No,” he says hurriedly. “I’m sorry—thank you. I—”

But Stiles’ face relaxes and he waves a hand at Derek. “Don’t worry about it. Sit down, c’mon.”

Derek does as he’s told, taking the seat next to Stiles. “Now,” Stiles adds, “don’t expect a spread like this every night, man. I did chicken parmesan and that’s about the most I can cook.”

Derek watches Stiles load a plate for him—chicken, rice, green beans—and offers hesitantly, “I know how to cook.”

“Do you?” Stiles asks with interest, handing him the plate. “Did you work in a restaurant?”

Derek shakes his head. “It’s what my sister and I—” He cuts himself off and breathes in slowly. “It’s what we did.” That’s not strictly true; Laura was the one who did the cooking, and Derek hung around in the kitchen when he could. They weren’t any safer there than they were anywhere else in the Argent house, but no one really bothered Laura when she was cooking, and Derek kept close because she was all he had. He picked up a lot just watching her.

Stiles pauses in the middle of spooning a mound of rice onto his own plate to look at Derek, his eyes sharp and thoughtful, but he doesn’t press Derek for any further information. They eat in silence, but it’s not uncomfortable. The food’s good; Derek has to make himself eat slowly, unaccustomed to being able to help himself—at the hospital and the facility, he was given very specific amounts of food as they built his weight back up. He can’t remember the last time he sat at a table and ate a real home cooked meal. He and Laura were not allowed to eat what they made, only what was left at the end, after the Argents had taken their share. Sometimes there was only a mouthful left, sometimes nothing.

After they’ve finished eating and washed the dishes, Stiles turns to Derek and says, “I was just going to watch some TV, so you’re welcome to hang out, but if you want to take a shower or something, I can show you how to use it—it’s kind of finicky.”

Derek nods; a shower sounds good. He can smell the sheriff’s station on himself, a faint trace of gunpowder, and it’s been putting him on edge.

Stiles leads him back upstairs, pulling the curtain back on the shower to explain, “The knob gets stuck sometimes, so you have to bang on the wall above it. I’ve been meaning to get it fixed, but.” He shrugs. “There’s a whole list of things wrong with the house. Anyway, feel free to use my shampoo or whatever. There’s a razor and shaving cream over here if you want to shave.” He gestures. “Towel on the back of the door.”

“Thank you,” Derek says quietly, and Stiles nods before disappearing back downstairs.

He takes his time in the shower, enjoying the burning heat of the water—the water at the facility had never been more than lukewarm and before that, the doorless bathroom he and Laura had shared in the basement of the Argent house only had hot water once in a blue moon. He cleans himself carefully, scrubbing shampoo through his hair, cleaning dirt out from under his fingernails.

When Derek gets out, he stares at himself in the mirror for a long moment. He’s got a long beard from his months on the run—the last time he can remember shaving is during the motel stay around Christmas. He snorts a little, remembering the time his dad shaved off his beard when they were kids and Cora had cried all night because she didn’t recognize him.

Derek shaves it all off, leaving his face smooth. He needs a haircut too, he thinks, running his fingers through his wet hair to get it out of his face, so he hacks off what he can and shaves the rest, leaving his hair closely cropped to his scalp. He looks younger like this, though his face is still somewhat gaunt, dark half moons under his eyes. He can’t remember his hair being this short since he was very young; it feels strange and light. Derek stares at himself a moment longer, flashing his eyes at himself just to prove he can, and pulls his clothes back on.

He finds Stiles downstairs, slumped into the couch as he watches TV. Stiles glances up at him, then does a double-take, eyes going wide as he takes in Derek’s clean-shaven face. “Whoa,” he says, as Derek flushes. “I almost didn’t recognize you, dude! How does it feel?”

Derek rubs a self conscious hand against his cheek. “Odd,” he decides.

Stiles grins. “You look good,” he tells Derek, who flushes darker. Stiles pats the couch next to him. “You wanna sit?”

Derek does, but he sits at the opposite end of the couch, drawing his knees to his chest; he’s starting to feel anxious again, too nervous to sit that close to Stiles. Stiles doesn’t comment on it, just turns his attention back to the television. “This okay?” he asks Derek. “I can change the channel.”

“It’s fine,” Derek mumbles. He doesn’t really watch it anyway, most of his attention trained on Stiles. He wonders how the sheriff can be so at ease, his heart beating steady and relaxed as he watches the screen. He startles guiltily when Stiles glances over at him and catches him looking, but all Stiles does is smile faintly. “Have you thought about what you want to do?” he asks Derek.

“What do you mean?” Derek asks cautiously.

Stiles gestures around vaguely. “Here,” he says, “in town. Do you think you’ll stay for a while?”

Derek nervously picks at the seam of his sweatpants. “I don’t know. I don’t—have anywhere else to go.”

Stiles nods slowly. “Well, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you want.”

“I can’t—” Derek hesitates. “I can’t pay rent. I don’t have any money.”

Stiles shrugs. “That’s all right. I told you this place is too big for me alone.” Derek hesitates, feeling uneasy. Perhaps sensing this, Stiles adds, “If you really feel that bad, I could probably find you a job.”

Derek hesitates again before he says, “I’d like that.”

“All right,” Stiles says with a smile. “I’ll put the word out, see what I can find.”

“Thank you,” Derek says quietly. Stiles grins at him and turns his attention back to the television.

-

It takes Derek a long time to fall asleep that night. The house is so quiet after staying at the facility, and the bed is too soft. Derek ends up moving to the floor, pulling the blanket down with him. He curls up on the handwoven rug, cheek pressed to the soft fibers. It smells like Stiles and, very faintly, of a perfume that reminds him of his mom. He sleeps then, deep and dreamless.

-

Derek wakes early the next morning, his room gray with the early light. He gets to his feet and stares out the window for a long moment, watching birds flit from tree to tree in the backyard. He makes his way slowly downstairs and finds Stiles already down there, rushing around the kitchen in his sheriff’s uniform.

“Overslept,” Stiles informs him, pouring coffee into a thermos. “I gotta get going. You want to come to the station or stay here?”

Derek thinks about the unfriendly stares of the deputies and shakes his head. “I’ll stay,” he says quietly.

“Okay,” Stiles says distractedly. “I’ll back back this afternoon.”

Derek nods. Stiles whirls out of the kitchen and slams the front door behind him. His cruiser starts a moment later, and Derek listens to it back out of the driveway, the sound of its engine fading as Stiles drives off down the street. Derek’s alone—truly alone, no nurses or doctors likely to appear—and he stands still for a while, not sure what to do, not sure what he’s allowed to do.

He moves after a while, and carefully puts away all the dishes from last night’s meal. His stomach rumbles, but the food isn’t his to take so he ignores it, instead familiarizing himself with the location of everything in the kitchen. It doesn’t take long before all the dishes are put away and he pauses again, lost.

Eventually, Derek moves to the living room and takes up a spot in a chair by one of the windows, staring out at the street. Not much is happening outside; he sees squirrels run across the front yard, and the occasional car passes. Once, a woman jogs by, and half an hour later comes back the other way. Derek doesn’t mind the monotony; he’s used to it, and at least there’s a window for him to look out. There was no window in the basement of the Argent house, just stained concrete and the occasional spider.

Stiles returns home just as the clock on top of the TV cabinet chimes five times. Derek lifts his head when he hears the sound of the cruiser’s engine coming down the road, watching as Stiles turns into the driveway. He’s on his phone, laughing about something about something as he gets out of the car. Derek hears him say, “I’ll see you later,” as he climbs up the porch steps, and a faint voice at the end of the line says, “Later, dude.”

The front door swings open and Derek turns expectantly. Stiles grins when he spots Derek, kicking off his shoes as he says, “Hey man! How was your day?”

Derek shrugs ambivalently. “Okay,” he says quietly, pausing before he asks, “Yours?”

“Pretty good,” Stiles says cheerfully. “Didn’t have to arrest anyone today, and that’s always a good day in my book. Hold on,” he adds, “I’m gonna go change.”

Derek nods, watching him go bounding upstairs. He shifts his attention back to the window, half listening to Stiles moving around his bedroom. He comes back down a few minutes later, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

“So what’d you do today?” Stiles asks, thumping himself down on the couch.

Derek shifts to look at him. “I...put the dishes away,” he says slowly.

Stiles looks at him expectantly. “And?”

Derek stares at him, a little confused. “That’s all,” he says.

Stiles frowns. “You just sat there all day?”

Derek shifts nervously, his stomach twisting. Was there something he was supposed to be doing? Had Stiles asked him to do something and he’d forgotten?

“You’re welcome to watch TV,” Stiles says, still frowning faintly. “I’ll show you how to use the Xbox, if you want. I mean,” he adds, scratching absently at his chin, “I guess there’s not all that much to do around here. Sorry.”

Derek blinks at him, more confused than ever. Why is Stiles apologizing to him?

“You eat dinner yet?” Stiles asks, levering himself to his feet. Derek shakes his head slowly. He’s starving, not having eaten since the night before. He watches Stiles stretch, though he looks away when Stiles’ shirt rises up, giving him a glimpse of the trail of hair below Stiles’ bellybutton. “All right,” Stiles says cheerfully. “I’ll see what I can scrounge up.”

Dinner that night is spaghetti and garlic bread—“The way my mom always made it,” Stiles says cheerfully, setting the plate down in front of Derek, and Derek's not sure what Stiles means by that, but the food's good. They spend a quiet evening playing chess while the TV’s on in the background, playing some superhero movie that hurts Derek’s head to watch. He sleeps on the floor again, building a veritable nest of pillows and blankets around himself.

He wakes in the middle of the night, suddenly and voraciously hungry. Dinner was good but not filling—especially after not having eaten since the night before. Derek twists onto his side, a nervous tension stiffening his spine. He knows better than to ask for food—Food is a privilege, not a right, Kate told him once. You’ve got to earn it, sweetheart. Derek hasn’t earned it, he knows; he’s been living off charity as it is.

Derek manages to hold off for several days, eating in the evenings when Stiles is home, ignoring the rumbling of his stomach during the rest of the day, but soon the hunger is too much. He gets up late one night, stomach so tight with hunger that it hurts, and slips carefully out of the room and down the hall. He pauses by Stiles’ door, which is ajar. He can see Stiles, a lump in the bed, his breathing soft and even. Derek waits thirty seconds, a minute, before he moves again, treading warily down the stairs and into the kitchen. There, he eats fast and quickly, scared of being caught. He only eats what he thinks Stiles won’t notice—a few crackers here, a slice of cheese there. He eats an entire apple, core and all, so there will be no evidence it was ever there.

Derek’s full when he tiptoes back upstairs, but his heart’s heavy with shame. Stiles seems none the wiser the next morning, but Derek tries to punish himself by not allowing himself to sneak more food. It’s useless, though; he keeps creeping down every night, sneaking food, eating so fast it makes his stomach hurt. He doesn’t dare cook anything, eating anything that’s already made, single mouthfuls from leftovers so it won’t be obvious, but one night he’s so hungry that he eats chicken raw—he can’t get sick from it—and the crackers and chips aren’t giving him the protein that he needs.

He’s just bitten off a piece, licking the juices from his fingers when he turns and finds Stiles standing in the doorway of the kitchen, his eyebrows raised, hair askew from sleep. Derek freezes with his hand halfway to his face, the bottom of his stomach dropping away. He hadn’t even heard Stiles come downstairs.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says immediately. He drops to his knees. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have—”

Stiles frowns, taking a step into the kitchen, and Derek drops his head forward, ready for the hand in his hair, the sharp twist of his neck. But Stiles doesn’t move any closer. He asks, “Why are you eating raw chicken?”

Derek closes his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says again.

“Are you hungry?” Stiles sounds frustrated now. “Did you eat during the day?”

“I—” Derek swallows and looks down at his hands. “I didn’t know I was allowed.”

“What?” Stiles exclaims. “Of course you are, Derek! You can eat whatever you want!”

“I didn’t know,” Derek repeats, panicking now. He bows his head, throat burning. Stiles is angry at him. Less than a week here and he’s already fucked up. “I’m sorry—”

Stiles makes a frustrated noise. “Why are you apologizing?” he asks sharply. “What happened to you, Derek?”

Derek squeezes his eyes shut, a shudder wracking his body. He tenses when he hears Stiles move closer, flinches when he crouches in front of him, flinches again when Stiles touches his hands.

“Derek,” Stiles says gently. “Hey. What’s going on?”

Derek shakes his head, keeps his eyes closed.

“I want to help you,” Stiles tells him softly. He flips Derek’s hands, gently brushing his thumb across the thick scar on Derek’s palm. “You weren’t just being hunted, were you?” he asks quietly. “You were being kept.”

Derek jolts backward, yanking his hand out of Stiles’. “Hey, hey,” Stiles says urgently, reaching out to him. Derek snarls and Stiles jerks his hands back, his eyes going wide. “Okay,” he breathes.

Derek drops his head immediately, that all-too familiar guilt coursing through him as soon as the snarl leaves his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles.

“Don’t apologize,” Stiles says softly. Derek feels him hesitate, and then he brushes his fingers against the back of Derek’s neck. Derek’s skin shudders under his touch, but he doesn’t move, closing his eyes. Safe, he tells himself. You’re safe. He exhales shakily, making a wounded noise as Stiles’ fingers graze his hairline. Stiles drops his hand, but he doesn’t move away. “I’m sorry,” he adds, “for upsetting you. And for not making it clear that it’s okay for you to eat whatever you want, whenever you want.”

Derek tips his head up, meeting Stiles’ gaze; his stomach twists at the sympathy he sees in Stiles’ amber eyes.

“Eat your fill,” Stiles tells him quietly. His eyes flicker over to the chicken, sitting out on the kitchen counter. “Use the stove. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Derek watches him get to his feet, his heart still banging madly in his chest from fear and confusion. “Don’t make me go back,” he blurts desperately. “Please, I—”

“Whoa, whoa,” Stiles interrupts, holding up his hands. “That is the last thing that’s going to happen, I swear. Just eat and go to bed—but don’t run, okay? I promise that you’re safe here.”

Derek shifts guiltily, but nods.

“Okay,” Stiles says slowly. “I’m working a double so I’ll be out early, but I’ll be back tomorrow night. All right?” Derek nods again and Stiles relaxes a little. “Okay. I’m going back to bed.” He backs out of the kitchen, watching Derek until he’s out of sight. Derek listens to him go back upstairs, how he pauses at the top before he goes to his room and gets into bed. Derek looks down at his hands. 

He thinks about leaving. There are woods behind the house; all he has to do is step outside and walk a few hundred yards and he’s gone. It’d be so easy. Stiles knows now and that terrifies Derek a little. And yet. And yet…he doesn’t want to leave. He holds his hand out in front of him, staring at the fat scar marring his palm, remembers how much it hurt when Gerard cut it open. Laura had a matching one. A warning, Gerard had said, for what could come if they misbehaved while they were at the house. Stiles’ touch had been so gentle.

Derek sits there for a long moment before he rises to his feet and puts the chicken back in the fridge. He closes his eyes for a count of ten and then quietly goes back upstairs, curls in his nest of blankets on the floor, and goes to sleep.

-

When Stiles comes home the following night, he doesn’t say anything about Derek’s past, just thumps two flat pizza boxes down onto the coffee table and asks, “You want a beer?”

Derek, sitting in his now-customary position by the front window, shakes his head, nostrils flaring as he sniffs yearningly at the pizza, the delicious scent of cheese and dough and sauce drifting up to him. He and Laura splurged on pizza during Christmas, but this one smells even better. Stiles grins as he heads into the kitchen. “Help yourself, dude. It’s here to be eaten.”

The first box has a pizza topped with pepperoni, mushrooms, and peppers, and Derek’s nearly finished a slice by the time Stiles comes back from the kitchen with a beer in his hand. Derek freezes guiltily, but Stiles just laughs and throws himself down on the couch next to him. “Look,” Stiles says smugly, setting the first box aside to lift the cover of the second. “Barbecue chicken.” He laughs again at the hungry noise Derek makes.

It’s not until later, when they’ve both eaten their fill and slumped back against the couch, that Stiles asks, “How long?”

Derek’s throat tightens, immediately understanding what Stiles is asking. He shuts his eyes for a moment, forces himself to breathe evenly before he says, “Eight years.”

“And a year on the run,” Stiles says softly. “Jesus. Your sister was there with you?”

“Yes.”

“Any others?”

Derek hesitates. He doesn’t like to remember this. “A couple,” he says slowly. “They used them…to hunt other wolves.”

Stiles makes a sharp noise, his eyebrows furrowing. “Where’s the rest of your family?”

“Dead,” Derek mutters, curling his fingers against his pants.

Stiles’ face does something complicated. “That fucking sucks,” he says, and something in his tone tells Derek he’s experienced it himself. They’re both quiet for a long moment. “How’d you escape?” Stiles asks eventually.

Derek swallows. It’d been dumb luck, mostly; he and Laura had been trying to plan something for years. The Argents hadn’t become renowned hunters by being sloppy, but that night was different. The family had been hunting something in Ohio, some kind of fucked up demonic fox shifter, and it’d killed Gerard’s granddaughter and nearly half a dozen other hunters. Derek and Laura had been shuffled off back down to the basement by Gerard’s son, Chris—it was his daughter who’d been killed. Maybe he was distracted by grief, or maybe he’d done it on purpose, but neither Derek nor Laura had missed the way the door didn’t lock behind them. He still remembers the look on Laura’s face and the determined way she’d whispered, “Tonight.”

They’d slipped out of the house that night, running through the darkness of the woods. Derek didn’t know how long it took for the Argents to notice they’d gone, but he and Laura didn’t see any sign of them following for nearly four days.

Derek tells Stiles the simple version—“They left the door unlocked.” Stiles nods, a thoughtful expression on his face. Derek hesitates before he asks, “Are you going to tell anyone?”

Stiles gives him a long look. “Not yet,” he says. “I need to do some investigating first. But I’m going to have to, Derek. You can’t keep someone against their will for eight years, and if they’ve still got werewolves captive on their property, I can’t just sit here.” Stiles closes his eyes for a minute, running a hand through his messy hair before he turns to look at Derek. “We’ll catch them, dude. I’m not going to let them get away with something like this.”

Derek just nods, his heart heavy. He wants to believe Stiles, but experience has shown him that the threat of the Argents isn’t to be taken lightly; they’re professionals, with friends in high places. His stomach twists guiltily at that. He’s putting Stiles in danger here, just by staying. He’s being selfish.

Stiles seems to read his expression; he says, “Oh, no, don’t even think about leaving, man. I promised you that you’re safe here and I’m going to keep that promise. Come on, look.” He gets to his feet, casting Derek an expectant look. Derek reluctantly gets to his feet and follows Stiles into the kitchen, where he points out the window in the back door. “See that light in the trees?”

Derek peers out the window at the dark trees and catches sight of a faint silver shimmer in the air at the edge of the property, right where the backyard meets the trees.

“The land’s warded,” Stiles tells him. “No one comes onto this property without me knowing about it.”

Derek breathes out slowly. It’s not a guarantee—he knows that some of the hunters are good enough sharpshooters that they could snipe him from the trees, but if they come onto the property, at least there will be some kind of warning.

“Okay?” Stiles asks softly, and Derek feels like he’s standing at the edge of a vast cliff, a knife at his back. He can run, and maybe run for the rest of his life, or he can stay here and try to make a life for himself, never knowing when the Argents might reappear. Neither option strongly calls to him, but here, at least, he has a roof over his head, and someone who seems to care about him.

Derek nods slowly. “Okay,” he says, and Stiles’ face relaxes.

“Okay,” Stiles says with a nod. He glances out at the backyard once more, eyes finding that soft glimmer of light. “You know what goes great with pizza?” Derek gives him an inquiring look and Stiles grins. “Ice cream. Whaddaya say?”

-

Slowly, Derek begins to adjust to “normal” life. He’s still wary of everything, including Stiles, but he thinks it helps that Stiles is gone for most of the day, giving him time to himself. He does what he can around the house—cleans, vacuums; even though Stiles tells him it’s not necessary, Derek feels like he has to do something to pay Stiles back for his kindness. And anyway, he likes the way Stiles smiles when he realizes Derek’s done something; it sends a deep sense of satisfaction tingling down Derek’s spine. He goes with Stiles to the grocery store and gets a lot of curious stares, but a lot of smiles, too.

“Do they know who I am?” Derek asks Stiles, warily watching a woman beam at him.

“I don’t think so,” Stiles replies absently, bagging potatoes. “They probably think you’re my boyfriend.”

Derek looks at him sharply, his stomach doing a strange flip-flop, but Stiles is whistling as he ties up the plastic bag, completely oblivious.

Scott, the alpha werewolf from the hospital comes over that night. By this time, Derek’s gathered that he and Stiles have been best friends since they were kids. Scott is a bitten wolf, changed when he and Stiles were in high school. Derek’s also learned, to his awe, that not only is Scott an alpha werewolf and a doctor, but his pack makes no secret of who they are—Erica, the blonde beta at the sheriff’s station, is one of them, and there are others spread around town, none of them hiding who—what—they are.

“I told you,” Stiles explained with a faint smile. “We are progressive in some ways. You can’t make everyone happy, but out here, most people don’t care if you’re a werewolf. Hell, there was an alpha that ran for governor and he got like forty percent of the vote.”

This is a foreign concept to Derek; he remembers every tense conversation his parents had about whether or not to tell someone that everyone in the family were werewolves. Friends, acquaintances—more often than not, his parents decided it was best to keep their mouths shut and keep the family secret to themselves. All that secrecy, Derek thinks miserably, and the Argents still found them. So tightly did the family hold on to its secrets, Derek never even met a werewolf from outside of the pack until after he and Laura were taken by the Argents.

Scott is all smiles when he comes through the door, beaming as Derek slowly gets to his feet. “You’re looking good, man,” Scott tells him cheerfully. “I was just thinking about the night you came in—seeing you now is like night and day.”

“Thank you,” Derek says shyly, cheeks warm at the praise from an alpha.

Scott grins, looking truly pleased. “I wanted to talk to you,” he says earnestly. “I think Stiles has already talked to you a bit about my pack, right?”

Derek nods slowly and Scott grins. “Right. Well, if you’re planning on sticking around in town for any length of time, I just wanted to let you know that you’re welcome to join us. You don’t have to, of course, but I know how important that pack connection is.”

Derek eyes him uncertainly. “I’m not family.”

“No,” Scott agrees, “But family doesn’t mean blood relatives in my pack.” He grins proudly. “We’re just a bunch of oddballs who’ve banded together, but that doesn’t make us any less close as pack, you see?”

Derek nods slowly but he doesn’t see, not really. How does pack work, if not as family?

Scott continues, “So you’re welcome to join us, or not, but the full moon’s next week, and I thought it might be nice if you ran with us.”

Derek lifts his head at that, chest tight. It’s been months, years since he ran with other wolves on a full moon, carefree and wild in the light of the moon.

Scott smiles, like he knows what Derek’s thinking. “Think about it,” he says gently. “Just let Stiles know if you want to go. We make a big party of it.”

“Okay,” Derek says quietly.

Scott stays for dinner, and he and Stiles spend the entire time joking. Derek’s mostly quiet, watching them shove and laugh at each other. He learns that Scott’s married, and he’s got a four-year-old son they keep calling Rocky. Derek doubts that’s the boy’s real name but then, he doesn’t think that Stiles is a real name either, so who knows? From the amount of enthusiasm they muster talking about the latest Marvel movie, Derek somehow wouldn’t be surprised if Scott named his son that after all—or if Stiles had somehow managed to convince him it was a good idea. Derek even manages not to shy away when Scott claps him on the shoulder at the end of the night.

-

Stiles gets him a job at a garden center out on the edge of town. It’s owned by one of Scott’s betas, Boyd, who’s married to the blonde deputy, Erica. Derek likes Boyd; he’s a massive, taciturn man who seems to understand Derek’s need for space and quiet. Most of the time, he directs Derek to the rows and rows of trees beyond the greenhouse, and Derek spends hours in the sun dragging yards of hose down the rows, surrounded by the smell of growth and wet soil and damp leaves. He’s grateful to Stiles for finding him a place where he’s not trapped by four walls and a roof, where he doesn’t have to interact much with other people. Once in a while, Derek has to carry bags of soil and mulch to a customer’s car, or help old ladies load flats of annuals into their trunks, but he doesn’t mind much; almost everyone’s in a good mood, as glad to be out in the fresh air as he is.

He doesn’t want to tell Stiles that he was starting to feel trapped in the house, restless. Stiles hadn’t seemed all that sure that he’d like the job at the nursery—“Since you spent the last year outdoors,” he'd said—but when Derek has the option, he’d chose being outside every time, surrounded by fresh air and sunshine. He starts to feel less fragmented, more like a real person again. This town is fresh and clean and untainted by any of his past—it’s just what he needs.

And then the hunters come.

It’s a wet, miserable sort of day, rain pouring down cold and hard, thunder rumbling at the edges of the sky. There aren’t many customers, but just after lunch, Derek’s helping a man load sand into his truck when he hears a noise far off in the woods. There’s a lot to parse through—rain hitting leaves and branches, bedraggled birds calling to each other, thunder off in the distance—but there’s a snapping of twigs that makes him straighten, a nervous feeling crawling down his spine.

“Sir?” the man he’s helping asks irritably, gesturing at the bag of sand in Derek’s arms, but Derek’s not paying him any attention. The wind shifts, carrying the scents of the forest toward him, and the moment they hit his nose—gunpowder, blood, fear—Derek’s gone.

He’s running before he even knows what’s happening, body suddenly buzzing with fear and adrenaline. It chases him, bites at his ankles, a voice in his head chanting run run run. Panic tightens his chest, lengthens his stride, driving him past houses and fields until he finds the safety of the woods. He’s stronger than he was a month ago, but it’s not long before his lungs are burning, fear making it difficult to breathe. When he finds the burnt shell of a once great house in the middle of the woods, Derek crawls under the half-collapsed remains of the porch, panting harshly.

He was stupid, so stupid to believe that he’d actually be able to get away. It was only a matter of time, but he’d started to believe that maybe, just maybe, things would go his way for once. He’s a fucking fool.

Derek lay there for a long time, the sky fading to black while the rain continues to pour down around him. He’s shaking in the cold, consumed by a relentless panic. He needs a plan, needs some sort of escape—but there’s nowhere to go. Never has been. Derek whines low in his throat, desperate and fearful. He wants Stiles and his steady hands, his utter confidence. Derek doesn’t dare leave the relative safety of the rotting porch’s underbelly, though; the woods will be thick with hunters by now. The wolves they hunt tend to move at night, unhindered by an inability to see in the dark, but a year on the run’s taught Derek better than that. He stays where he is and manages to fall asleep there, cheek pressed against the dirt.

Derek wakes shaking harder than ever. There’s someone moving in the trees beyond the house—multiple someones—and he silently pulls himself back even further, right up against the concrete foundation of the ruined house, spiderwebs brushing his ears.

“—this way,” says an indistinct voice. Derek bares his teeth in a silent snarl, claws pushing from the tips of his fingers as legs move into view somewhere beyond the porch—six legs; three people.

“Down there,” say one, and Derek tenses further when the legs approach the porch. He glances around but there’s only one way out—Fool! his mind scolds. Always make sure there’s a second exit. He knows better.

Someone kneels by the gap in the slats, light at their back making their face impossible to see. “Mr. Hale,” they say, and Derek stiffens further. He knows that voice—it’s Parrish, the deputy who picked him up from the facility. “Mr. Hale,” Parrish repeats. “Come out of there, please.”

Derek snarls, diggings his claws into the dirt. He doesn’t trust Parrish.

“Jesus,” sighs a bored voice, and Derek snarls again. That one’s Haigh, the one who hates him. “Just throw some tear gas under there and flush the dog out.”

“You wanna repeat that?” snaps a female voice—Erica. Haigh mutters something and she says, “Yeah, I didn’t think so.” She crouches down next to Parrish. “Come on, Derek. The sheriff’s worried sick about you. You’re safe, sweetheart.”

Derek makes a furious noise at the hated term, and Erica sighs, turning to Parrish. “Better call Stiles. He’ll want to be here anyway.”

Parrish nods and strides off into the trees, talking into his radio as he goes. Erica rises, but only as far as she needs so she can sit on the porch, which creaks menacingly. She and Haigh don’t speak, and Derek watches them warily. He doesn’t know what’s going on, and he doesn’t like it.

Parrish eventually reappears, followed by another pair of legs. Derek tenses again as they approach the porch; one crouches down and then it’s Stiles saying, “Derek, hey,” his voice weak with relief.

Derek makes an involuntary noise then, soft and confused. He wants to go to Stiles, but he’s not sure what’s going on, not sure it’s safe.

“It’s all right,” Stiles says gently, his voice ringing with truth. “You’re not in danger, Derek. You—” He turns his head, looking at his deputies. “Can you guys back off?” Stiles waits for his deputies to move off into the trees before he looks back at Derek. “C’mon, Derek. Please.”

That’s all Derek needs; he pulls himself across the wet dirt, through the planks, and right into Stiles’ lap. Stiles makes a startled noise, falling onto his ass under Derek’s weight, but Derek tucks his head against Stiles’ stomach, his entire body wracked with tremors.

“Whoa,” Stiles says quietly, smoothing a hand over Derek’s wet hair. “You’re okay. You’re okay, right?”

Derek shudders, squeezing his eyes shut. “Hunters,” he mumbles.

“Shit,” Stiles swears. “Fuck—those—they weren’t after you, Derek. They had a permit—they were looking for someone else. Did they hurt you?”

Shame crashes over Derek. He shakes his head. “Panicked.”

Stiles strokes a hand through Derek’s hair. “You had me panicking too. When Boyd called and said you’d taken off, I—” He breathes in deeply. “I was worried about you.”

“Sorry,” Derek mumbles, more guilt washing over him. He’d fucked up. He’d let the fear take over, and he’d made Stiles worry.

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, petting Derek’s hair once last time. “Let’s get you home, okay? I think you could use a shower.”

Derek climbs stiffly to his feet, avoiding the stares of Stiles’ deputies. He’s humiliated and ashamed by the way he acted, embarrassed that Stiles had to come lure him out like a firefighter getting a cat out of a tree. Next to him, Stiles shrugs off his jacket and drapes it over Derek’s shoulders.

“A little too late to keep the rain out,” Stiles says ruefully. Haigh snorts derisively and Derek stares at the ground miserably, cheeks burning red.

It’s a five minute walk through the trees to a disused road, where two cruisers are parked. The deputies climb into one, while Stiles and Derek get into the other. Stiles turns the heat up when he turns the car on.

“Cold for July,” he says, but Derek just looks at his hands, and Stiles doesn’t try to talk to him again until they get back to the house. “I’ll make lunch if you want to go shower,” Stiles says, and Derek can hear it then, the frustration in his voice. He hunches his shoulders and disappears upstairs, stripping out of his wet clothes and stepping under the hot spray of the shower. He feels miserable and stupid, ashamed for acting on instinct and running, ashamed for making Stiles worry.

Derek’s scrubbing shampoo out of his hair when he hears the front door open and he pauses, body tensing as he leans out of the shower to listen.

“How is he?” Derek relaxes a little; that’s Scott’s voice.

Stiles sighs. “I don’t know, man.”

Scott sounds worried when he says, “You know, the full moon’s tomorrow night. I think it’d be good if he came out with us.”

“No,” Stiles says sharply. “I don’t want him out in the woods. What if he disappears again?”

“He’s not going to,” Scott says. “You don’t understand what the full moon means. You’re not a werewolf, Stiles.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not his keeper, are you?” Stiles snaps, and suddenly the water falling on Derek’s head feels icy cold.

“Stiles,” Scott says, sounding shocked. “You can’t—” Derek tunes them out, heart heavy as lead as he ducks back under the water, washing his hair clean.

Keeper. Is that how Stiles sees himself? Derek thought Stiles wanted him here, but apparently that was wishful thinking. Stiles should have let him keep running, not hauled him back under some dutiful sense of obligation—for his own conscience, maybe. Derek hits the faucet with a little more force than necessary, shutting the water off with a thump. He’s not here to be a burden.

Derek pulls on clean clothes and crawls into bed, chest aching as he tries not to remember the relief that had flooded his body after Stiles appeared this morning, how carefully he’d touched Derek’s hair. He turns his face into the pillow, clenching his jaw tight. He’s stupid. Stupid.

Stiles comes up a few minutes later, knocking gently on the doorframe before stepping into the room. “Derek?” he says. Derek doesn’t move. “Are you hungry?”

Derek curls his fingers against the heels of his palms, forcing himself to breathe slow and even through his nose.

Stiles hovers behind him for a long moment before he says awkwardly, “Well, uh, there’s soup down on the stove if you want any. Uh. I’ve gotta go back on shift.” He waits another long moment, but Derek doesn’t speak, doesn’t move, and eventually Stiles leaves the room. Derek listens to him go downstairs, banging around in the kitchen for a few minutes before the front door opens and closes and the house falls silent. Only then does he exhale, forcing himself to relax.

It’s fine, he tells himself. Fine. He was stupid for thinking that things might change, but all that’s happened is he’s swapped one prison for another. It’s fine. He won’t stick around, won’t burden Stiles with his presence any longer. It’s fine.

Derek forces himself out of bed, body heavy. He pulls his stupid plastic bag from the drawer of the nightstand, packs up his few clothes, ignores the shirt Stiles let him borrow during his heat, which he’s been guiltily hiding at the back of a drawer. He takes his toothbrush from the bathroom and goes downstairs. He eats a small cup of soup and then carefully puts the rest in the fridge, washing the cup and pot and spoon. He steals a couple of garbage bags so he’ll be able to keep dry at night, and then Derek steps out the back door. He takes a deep breath and pulls the door shut, hearing the lock click behind him.

He’s no burden, he tells himself, and trots off across the backyard and into the woods, where he’s soon swallowed up by the trees.

-

Derek runs for hours. He takes it slow this time, trotting at an endurance pace. He stops when he needs to, knowing he’s not being pursued. Stiles won’t be home for ages; Derek will be long gone by the time Stiles even notices he’s not there. He heads north this time, thinking maybe he can make it to Canada and lose himself in the mountains of British Columbia.

Derek spends the night tucked under a rock ledge in a ravine and wakes to the all-too familiar noise of people moving through the woods. They’re quieter than the deputies yesterday, quieter than the hunters—werewolves, Derek realizes, pulling himself into a crouch. He tenses, listening to them move from one end of the ravine to another. One passes right past where Derek’s hidden under the ledge and Derek watches her swing her head around, nostrils flaring as she scents the air. He waits five, ten minutes, before the noise of them recedes and he slips out from under the ledge, trotting soundlessly down the ravine. He pauses there, listening hard, but there’s no sign of the unfamiliar pack.

Derek breaks into a fast run—he’s not keen on getting caught on another pack’s land, especially not with the way they’d been seeking him out—but he only gets about half a mile through the woods before ten or so werewolves surge out of the trees around him, surrounding him easily. Derek skids to a halt in the leaves, looking around uneasily. None of them are overly aggressive—no one’s shifted, and though there are a couple with their eyes burning gold, no one snarls.

A competent-looking woman steps forward and flashes her eyes at him; they’re the deep crimson of an alpha. Derek bows his head to her, unease crawling up his spine.

“Derek Hale?” the alpha asks curtly. Derek nods. He sees her signal to one of her betas, who trots off into the woods. “Alpha McCall of the Beacon Hills pack has requested we stop you from crossing our territory.”

Derek bristles. “I’m not a threat,” he argues. “I’m just passing through, I promise.”

The alpha gives him a cold look. “I don’t care. My allegiance lies with McCall, not an unaligned omega. If he wants you, then he can have you.”

Derek bares his teeth angrily. All the betas shift in closer, their faces unfriendly. Derek forces himself to relax; the last thing he needs right now is to be mauled by a pack of protective betas. Derek looks at the alpha mutinously. “Why does he want me?”

“That’s none of my concern,” the alpha says bluntly, and turns on her heel, striding off through the woods. The betas follow, keeping a tight circle around Derek, who’s forced to move along with them.

They reach a cluster of houses in the trees, and the alpha directs Derek to sit on one of the porches, leaving four betas guarding him. Derek sits, growing angrier and more restless by the minute. Why the hell would Scott put a call out to stop him? Why does he care? Derek is not property anymore; he refuses to be treated as such.

The alpha comes back after a time, looking pensive, and Derek snarls, “What’s happening?”

“Mind your tone, omega,” she says coolly. “Your transportation back to Beacon Hills is being arranged.” She watches him for a long moment, then asks, “Where are you from?”

“New York,” Derek spits.

“Your pack?”

“Murdered.”

The alpha’s face softens slightly. “Hunters?”

“The Argents.”

“A dangerous family,” the alpha says quietly. She turns her head as a car pulls up in front of them. “Stay out of my territory in the future. I want no quarry with the Argents here.”

Derek nods stiffly; he has no intention of returning to this unfriendly land. He and the four betas pile into the car for the ride back to Beacon Hills. None of them speak for the hour-long journey. Derek stares out the window and seethes as all the distance he gained slips away behind him.

He’s delivered right to the police station, the betas following him in to ensure he doesn’t slip back out into the woods. He feels more like a criminal than the first time he was here, marched in by his beta guards, curling his lip when any of them get too close. He’s led right to the back of the room, and while Scott comes out of Stiles’ office to talk to the betas, Derek gets shuffled along inside, the door swinging behind him with a very final click.

Stiles sits at his desk, head bent over a stack of paperwork. He’s writing fast, the movements of his pen short and irritable. He’s angry—Derek can taste it in the air, harsh on his tongue. He wasn’t prepared for this—didn’t think he was going to come back. Didn’t expect Stiles to be mad—and why? Because Derek escaped him again? Stiles pushes his papers away suddenly, so sharply that they hit some of the figurines on his desk, which go clattering to the floor.

“What the fuck is your problem?” Stiles snaps. Derek flinches at the lash of his anger, taking a nervous step backward. “You can’t just fucking bail on me without saying anything! Why would you do that? I had ten deputies in the woods trying to find you! Scott’s entire pack was looking! Why would you run away when we fucking found you yesterday morning? I told you you were safe!”

Derek stares down at his shoes, anxiety tightening his chest. What’s he supposed to say? He ran away and all he’s done is cause more trouble. He doesn’t mean anything to Stiles—why does it matter?

Stiles gets to his feet, sending his chair rolling back so violently it smacks into the wall. “Why won’t you fucking talk to me?” he asks, voice cracking. Derek flinches when Stiles breezes by him, but Stiles doesn’t stop, slamming out of the office. Derek twists unhappily, watching Stiles smash his fist against the wall as he disappears down the hall, swearing ferociously. Everyone in the bullpen is staring into the office at Derek.

Scott edges into the room, a worried look on his face. He must have come off a shift at the hospital, Derek thinks, taking in his dark green scrubs and the dark circles of weariness under his eyes. “You okay?” Scott asks quietly.

Derek shrugs miserably.

“Hey,” Scott says gently. “I’m sorry about putting an alert out to the local packs like that, but Stiles was freaking out.”

Derek clenches his jaw. “He doesn’t care about me.”

Scott frowns. “Why would you say that?”

Derek averts his eyes, glaring despondently at the office around them. They’re still being watched by curious deputies. “I heard what he said,” he mutters. “He just—I don’t want to be kept.”

“Oh, no,” Scott says hurriedly, realization dawning in his voice. “He didn’t mean that, man. He was scared—look, just sit down, all right? I’ll go talk to him.”

Derek hesitates. There’s been so much happening, he’s not sure what to do any more. He’s not sure he’s welcome here but, truth be told, he doesn’t particularly want to leave. He likes this town, likes living with Stiles. If there’s the chance that Stiles does want him here—Derek sits in one of the chairs in front of the desk, and Scott gives him a relieved look.

“Just stay there,” he says. “I’ll be right back.”

Derek waits, the seconds ticking by. He bends after a minute, picks up the figurines Stiles knocked over, and carefully places them back on the desk. He stiffens when the door opens again and two people enter, but he doesn’t lift his head even when Stiles crouches down next to him.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles breathes. “Derek, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said. I don’t think that at all, I just—I got frustrated. I felt like I failed you.”

Derek swallows tightly. “I don’t want to be a burden,” he mumbles.

“You’re not, Derek, I can promise you that,” Stiles says earnestly. Derek listens to his heartbeat and there’s no skip there, no lie. Stiles pauses and then reaches out cautiously, taking one of Derek’s hands in his. Derek stiffens but doesn’t pull away, watching Stiles sweep his thumb over the scar on Derek’s palm. “If you left because you don’t want to live here anymore, then that’s fine,” Stiles continues gently. “You can go, and I promise we won’t put out any alerts on you this time. But if you left because you think you’re not welcome here, you’re wrong. You can stay with me as long as you want.”

That’s not a lie either. Derek finally lifts his head high enough to meet Stiles’ gaze and he’s overwhelmed by the sincerity he sees there. He jerks his head away, unable to bear it. “Thank you,” he mumbles.

Stiles squeezes his hand. “I want you here,” he says, and he’s still telling the truth. Derek has no idea why—it’s not like he’s got anything to offer—but he’s so sick of running. He’ll take this for as long as he can get it.

Scott steps forward, making a gentle noise in his throat. “Hey, Derek,” he says, “I’ll give you a ride home so Stiles can finish out his shift, all right?”

Derek nods and Stiles gets to his feet, adjusting his utility belt around his hips. He smiles at Derek. “I’ll see you later.”

-

Scott and Derek don’t really talk on the drive to Stiles’ house. Scott’s got an old tan sedan with a car seat in the back and a smell Derek can’t quite identify—like wolf, but not.

Scott catches him sniffing and grins. “My wife’s a shifter too,” he says cheerfully. “Kitsune. Werefox.”

Derek makes a quiet noise of acknowledgment. He’s never met a werefox before, but if she’s anything like the demon fox thing that wiped out half a dozen Argents, Derek won’t have a problem with her.

“You can meet her if you want to come tonight,” Scott adds. Derek looks at him blankly and Scott says, “The full moon? Like I said, you’re welcome to join us.”

“Oh,” Derek says softly. In all the confusion, he’d forgotten, but the moment Scott mentions it, he can feel the pull of the moon, gentle right now while it’s still daylight. It’ll get harder later, once it peeks above the horizon, but Derek’s been a werewolf his entire life; control’s not an issue for him.

As they arrive at the house, Scott jumping out of the car so he can unlock the door for Derek, Derek says, “I think—I think I’ll stay here tonight.”

He’s not sure he’s ready for a group run, as alluring as it sounds. Some part of him, too, wants to be in a place that’s familiar, at least for this first full moon in town.

Scott just smiles as he unlocks the door. “That’s fine, man. I understand. You all set here?”

Derek nods, and as Scott turns to head back to his car, Derek says, “Thank you.”

Scott pauses, giving Derek a warm smile over his shoulder. “Nah,” he says. “Thanks for giving us a chance.”

After Scott’s driven off, Derek steps inside and leans against the door, unable to contain a faint smile, body light and full of warmth.

-

Because he wants to make up for scaring Stiles, Derek makes the best dinner he can scrounge up from the sparse ingredients in the kitchen. It’s been almost a week since their trip to the grocery store, but he manages breaded chicken and a somewhat limp salad and a tube of Pillsbury biscuits he finds shoved at the back of the fridge. He worries the entire time it’s cooking that Stiles isn’t going to like it, the increasing pull of the moon setting him on edge, but the way Stiles grins when he comes into the house and finds Derek cooking is enough to settle his nervous body for a time.

He’s restless after dinner, keeps ranging around the house to peer out the windows at the horizon. The moon’s there, just barely visible through the trees, pale silver against the darkening skies. Stiles is trying to watch TV, but eventually he sighs and says, “You’re more antsy than I am, dude.”

Derek, halfway to the next window, freezes. “Sorry, I—”

“You want to go outside?” Stiles interrupts.

Derek hesitates. He does, but knowing hunters were in the woods just a day ago makes him wary. The Argents always got the most kills on full moons.

Like he senses Derek’s uncertainty, Stiles says, “We can just sit out on the deck. You don’t have to go anywhere.”

Derek hesitates a moment longer, then nods. Stiles grins loosely, disappearing upstairs to pull on a sweatshirt before leading the way out the back door. Derek’s stomach gives a guilty twist, remembering how he’d stepped out this way to run only a day ago, but he says nothing, just settles down on the steps while Stiles dangles his legs over the edge of the deck a couple feet away. Derek feels better immediately, directly under the moon’s light, breathing in the fresh air. He listens, and can hear Scott’s pack somewhere across town, their happy voices echoing through the woods.

Stiles’ voice jolts him a little, not unpleasantly, when he asks, “Did you and your family go out on the full moons?”

Derek glances over at him; he’s got his arms looped over the lower rung of the railing, chin resting on his arms as he gazes out over the backyard. “Yes,” Derek says quietly. They’d had several acres of land to themselves, land owned by the pack for almost two centuries—necessary, he’d always suspected, to keep the family’s secret. “My parents, when we were younger, and still learning to use our senses—one of them would go into the woods and hide, and we’d have to find them.”

Stiles laughs quietly. “Sounds like fun.”

Derek makes a quiet noise of assent. It had been fun. There was always food at the house afterward—something heavy and indulgent, a treat after a long night—and hot cocoa and cider during the cold months. He remembers hiding in the snow with Peter one full moon in January, and leaping out to startle Laura into screaming. They’d gotten his dad, too, though his mom had caught him as he leapt out of the snow, laughing as she and Peter teamed up to shove snow down his jacket. He’d been ten maybe, Peter nearly twenty. He misses them more than anything.

After a while he rises and, with a nod from Stiles, walks a big loop around the backyard, out to where the protective wards shimmer at the treeline, and back again. He feels…not the best, maybe—he still feels guilty for running, for making Stiles worry—but at the same time, he feels more complete than he has in a long time. He feels real, like he has a place in this world. The grass is cool under his bare feet, the moon high and silver above him, a fresh wind pushing at his shoulders.

Even with all the space available to him, Derek finds he keeps gravitating back to Stiles. It makes sense; Stiles is the closest thing to an alpha he has right now. He’s safety and stability and Derek is extremely grateful he’s been allowed to stay here with him. He wants—he wants to touch Stiles again. He’d been moving automatically the day before, when he’d come out from under the abandoned house and crawled into Stiles’ lap. He wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t been scared out of his mind, and he feels guilty thinking about it now, insides twisting as he remembers how gently Stiles had touched his head. It's greedy to wish for; Stiles is already doing so much for him, providing food and shelter. Derek doesn't deserve any of it, let alone the right to want more.

“You okay, man?” Stiles asks the next time Derek returns from his loop around the back yard.

Derek hesitates before he sits down on the porch, a little bit closer to Stiles than he was before. He’s pushing his luck, but the full moon makes him a little reckless. He can smell Stiles, crisp and clean, and has to turn his head away.

“I’m fine,” he says quietly.

“You sure?” Stiles presses. “I feel like shit for yelling at you this morning. I’m really sorry about that.”

Derek shrugs. It's not like he's never been yelled at before. At least there was no wolfsbane punishment this time.

"Hey," Stiles says softly. "You get that it's not right, right? People treating you like that?"

Derek swallows uncomfortably. "Even you?"

"Even me," Stiles says firmly. "I got scared and took it out on you, and that wasn't okay. Okay?"

Derek shrugs again, getting to his feet. "I'm going to—" He gestures out at the field. Stiles looks frustrated but he nods, eyes following Derek as he strides off into the silvery moonlight. He no longer feels content. Every time he thinks he understands Stiles, he goes ricocheting off in some new direction Derek can't follow.

When he circles back to the porch, Derek says woodenly, "I'm going to bed."

"Derek, if I said something—" Stiles begins, but Derek cuts through him.

"I'm going to bed," he repeats.

Stiles blinks like he's been slapped, but he just nods and says, "Okay," very quietly.

Derek goes upstairs to his room and curls in his nest of blankets on the floor. He lays very still, listening. Eventually Stiles comes back inside and Derek listens to him walk around the first floor, shutting off lights and making sure the doors are locked. He comes upstairs slowly and disappears into the bathroom for a time before emerging and pausing in the hallway. He stands there for a long while, heart beating steadily in his chest, and Derek wonders if Stiles can hear his heart beating; he knows alpha humans have somewhat enhanced senses, but he's not sure of their range.

Eventually Stiles shifts, the floorboards creaking under his feet. "I want you here," Stiles says softly. "Just remember that."

Derek clenches his jaw. Stiles stands out there for a while longer before he retreats into his bedroom, the door closing behind him with a final-sounding click. Derek doesn’t sleep well that night. He dreams of fire.

-

There’s a weird feeling in the house for the next couple of days. Stiles doesn’t try to talk to Derek about his disappearance again, but Stiles seems to be almost tiptoeing around him, like he’s afraid of upsetting Derek further, which makes Derek feel incredibly guilty. He does everything he can think of around the house to make up for it—cooks, cleans—and it seems to work, if the way Stiles smiles at him when he comes home means anything. It takes a few days before the house begins to feel normal again.

Derek goes back to working for Boyd. He tries to apologize for running, but Boyd shrugs it off. “We’ve all been guilty of reacting instinctually at one point or another,” he tells Derek as they help unload bags of fertilizer from a delivery truck. Boyd sighs and adds ruefully, “That’s how I ended up with three kids.”

He hands Derek a bonsai tree at the end of the day, as he’s heading out the door to where Stiles is waiting in the cruiser to take him home. “Here,” Boyd says gently. “Have a kid of your own.”

Derek stares down at the plant in confusion. It’s not looking great, some of the leaves brown and brittle, but he knows it’s an expensive plant. “Why—”

Boyd shrugs. “Give you something to do.”

Derek stares at it the whole way home, holding it carefully on his lap. Besides his clothes and his toothbrush, it’s the only possession he’s got.

“That’s a nice plant,” Stiles offers, in the tone of someone who doesn’t really get plants, despite owning a trillion houseplants. “Looks like it could use some love, though.”

Derek nods, his throat tightening. Love, he thinks. He can do that.

-

On Sunday, Stiles comes home from work and changes into civilian clothes, and when he comes downstairs, he says, “I’m going over to my dad’s for dinner—you want to come?”

 Derek looks up from where he’s sitting by the front window, carefully trimming the dead leaves off his bonsai. “Your dad?” He’s heard a lot about the former sheriff—Stiles talks about him all the time—but he’s yet to meet the man.

“Yeah,” Stiles nods, smiling faintly. “He really wants to meet you.”

“Oh,” Derek says, a little bewildered. He hesitates before answering because he’d rather stay at home, but he can tell this is important to Stiles. “Okay.”

Stiles grins widely and Derek does his best to ignore the way his chest tightens in response.

-

Stiles’ dad’s house is smaller than Stiles’, but the sloping lawn is neatly mowed, and the exterior looks freshly painted. “Dad’s taken in interest in home repair since he retired,” Stiles says as he pulls into the driveway. He adds, with a faint scowl, “He refuses to do anything at my place, though. I think it’s revenge for all the times I refused to mow the lawn as a kid.”

Derek nods, his stomach tight with nerves. He’s not sure why this visit is making him so anxious, except that Stiles’ father is obviously important to Stiles, and Stiles is important to Derek, so he wants it to go well. Derek doesn’t say anything, but Stiles reaches over and squeezes his wrist.

“It’s gonna be fine,” Stiles tells him sincerely. “My dad’s one of those types of people who can get along with anyone.”

Derek stares down at Stiles’ hand wrapped around his arm, his pulse loud in his ears. Stiles blinks then jolts his hand away, the tips of his ears going red. “Well,” he says, a little quickly. “Let’s go inside, huh?”

Stiles’ dad is stocky and tan, his hands rough when he shakes Derek’s. “Derek,” he says warmly. “Stiles has told me a lot about you.”

“All good things,” Stiles says hurriedly.

“Nice to meet you,” Derek says quietly, a little intimidated. Stiles’ dad is an alpha like his son, but where Stiles’ power manifests itself as nervous energy most of the time, Stiles’ father’s hovers around him in a confident cloud. It makes him stand straight and loose, his shoulders relaxed. He reminds Derek of his mom, a little. She’d had that same easy confidence, always a hint of a smile around the corners of her mouth.

The inside of the house is small and comfortable; it smells faintly of Stiles and more strongly of his father, whose scent is like Stiles’ but not—spicier and more mature. Stiles gives Derek a tour, cheerfully pointing out his old bedroom, and a stained spot on the hallway wall where Scott had smacked his head when they were kids and given himself a concussion. Stiles’ father—“Call me John,” he’d said easily—remains down in the kitchen, cooking dinner, which smells enticingly of beef and bread. Stiles stops at the top of the stairs, though, and turns to give Derek a considering look.

“You doing okay?” he asks softly.

Derek blinks, startled by Stiles’ concern. “Fine,” he says cautiously.

Stiles watches him for a long moment and seems to consider whether Derek’s telling the truth or not. Whatever he decides, he says, “We can leave any time you want. Just let me know if you’re getting overwhelmed or bored or whatever.”

Derek nods, but he’s not going to say anything. He’s not going to interrupt Stiles’ time with his father—and beyond that, he really doesn’t mind being in the house. It might have been overwhelming anywhere else, but since the place already smells like Stiles, and he’s only meeting one new person; he’s okay. He can deal. Stiles watches him a moment longer before he nods in return, then heads downstairs.

Stiles’ father is a good cook; he makes meatloaf and green beans and dense dinner rolls. “It’s not usually this unhealthy,” Stiles tells Derek as they settle at the table. “Dad’s not allowed to eat like this.”

John rolls his eyes. “Stiles searches my cupboards for contraband every time he comes over,” he tells Derek in response. “I told him I know my rights and he can’t do that without a warrant, but he does it anyway.”

Stiles snorts derisively. “I tried to pull that excuse on you when I was seventeen and you searched my room for pot, and it didn’t work for me then, did it?”

“My house, my rules,” John says smugly, winking at Derek.

The dinner passes comfortably. Perhaps warned by Stiles beforehand, John doesn’t try to press Derek with any questions, but includes him in the conversation with frequent glances. Derek appreciates that, content to sit back in his chair and absently listen to Stiles and his father delve into a serious conversation about the deputies at the station. Stiles wants to fire Haigh, the werewolf hater, but John shakes his head slowly.

“I’d hold off until the window for getting on the ballot closes,” he says. “The last thing you want is a disgruntled employee running against you.”

Stiles sighs, running a hand through his hair. “He’s a dickweed, Dad,” he says, eyes flickering to Derek.

“I know,” John sighs. “He wasn’t my first choice when we hired him, but we needed the staff badly, and—believe it or not—he was the best option.”

Stiles nods, looking resigned. Derek gets the feeling that it’s a conversation they’ve had before. He shifts forward and both Stiles and his father look at Derek with something like surprise when he asks, “You’re running for reelection?”

Stiles blinks, then smiles faintly. “Yeah,” he says. “First time. I don’t know how it’s going to go—I’m pretty sure I only won the first time around because people thought I was Dad.”

John rolls his eyes. “You know that’s not true. You got elected on your own merit. Seventy percent of the vote,” he adds proudly.

Derek looks at Stiles, whose cheeks flush faint pink. “It’s not—not really anything to brag about,” Stiles mutters. “Besides, the guy who was sheriff before Dad is running again, which means—”

“You’re going to win easily,” John says confidently. “People hated him.”

Stiles makes an embarrassed noise and shoves a forkful of green beans in his mouth so he doesn’t have to talk anymore. John smiles faintly, taking pity on his son, and turns to Derek. “So, Stiles tells me you grew up in New York.”

Stiles drops his fork as Derek freezes. “Dad,” Stiles says warningly.

John blinks. “What?” he asks mildly. “I was just curious. You don’t have to tell me anything,” he adds, addressing Derek. “I like New York. My wife and I spent our honeymoon at Niagara Falls. You ever been?”

“I—” Derek glances across the table at Stiles, who’s frowning, but he meets Derek’s eyes and nods almost imperceptibly. Derek looks at the former sheriff. “No.” He hesitates before adding. “That’s where my parents went on their honeymoon, too.”

John smiles gently. “It’s a nice place. We went back once, before Stiles was born, to see New York City. Did you grow up around there?”

Derek shakes his head. “Upstate,” he says. “Near Malone.”

“Dad!” Stiles says sharply. “Stop fishing!”

John holds his hands up in surrender. “All right, all right,” he says. “Just trying to make conversation.”

“Sure you are,” Stiles grumbles, getting to his feet and grabbing an armful of dishes. “Derek, you want to give me a hand?”

Derek nods and rises as well, collecting a stack of plates before following Stiles into the homey kitchen.

“Sorry about him,” Stiles says immediately, dumping his dishes in the sink with a clatter. “He can’t help being nosy. Thirty years as a cop’ll do that to you.”

“You don’t need to protect me,” Derek says quietly, setting his stack of plates on the counter.

Stiles sighs. “I’m sorry. I just—sorry.”

“You’re a cop too,” Derek points out. “You don’t ask me a lot of questions.”

Stiles casts him a rueful look as he turns on the hot water, steam rising around his forearms. “I’ve got about a million questions I want to ask you,” he admits. “But I don’t want you to tell me anything until you’re ready to tell me, okay?”

Derek reflects on this for the rest of the evening, sitting quietly in the living room as Stiles and his dad get riled up over a baseball game. They’re in the car, almost back to Stiles’ house, before he says, “You can ask me something.”

“No,” Stiles says immediately. Derek looks over at him, startled, and Stiles shakes his head. “You’ve got no obligation to me, dude. You don’t owe me answers. You can give me information freely, but only if you want to.”

Derek stares past him at the dark streets flashing by. After a long, thoughtful moment, he says, “I want you to ask me a question.”

Stiles is silent, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel for a moment before he says, “Okay. Let me think about it,” and they don’t speak again for the rest of the drive home.

-

Derek spends the next couple days waiting for Stiles to ask him a question—bracing himself for it, if he’s being honest with himself, a little afraid of what Stiles will ask. No question comes, though. Maybe Stiles forgot, or maybe he thinks that Derek isn’t ready, and doesn’t want to ask whatever he’s come up with. That’s fine. Derek’s fine with no questions, too. Stiles might not like the answer to some of them.

Three days after the dinner at Stiles’ dad’s house, Derek walks home from the greenhouse. Stiles isn’t there to pick him up—he’s working a later shift—and Boyd offers him a ride, but Derek declines. It’s a nice evening, the shadows growing long as the sun begins to set, the air comfortable, just on the right side of cool. He takes his time, walking slowly down the quiet streets of Beacon Hills. It’s surprising just how many people he recognizes in passing, some of them nodding silent hellos as they recognize him in turn. It makes a warm feeling buzz in his rib cage, a tentative hope rising in him that this place could be home.

Derek’s halfway down the block Stiles’ house sits on when he looks up and pauses mid-stride; there’s a girl sitting on the front stoop of Stiles’ house, her long red hair hanging over her shoulder in a loose braid. Derek stands there for a long moment, not sure what to do. He could keep walking, but he’s got nowhere else to go and besides, the girl’s already seen him; she’s staring at him right now, vaguely curious, though her expression grows sharp when Derek reluctantly comes up the driveway, pulling out the spare key Stiles handed him a couple weeks ago.

The girl gets to her feet, blocking his way up the stairs, and Derek looks up at her resentfully. Everything about her is deliberate, from her makeup to her expression to her delicately messy braid to the way she stands.

“You’re not Stiles,” she says, raising her perfect eyebrows.

“No,” Derek says unhelpfully.

The girl watches him for a long moment, her expression perfectly unreadable. The defiance in her stance reminds him of Cora, always angry about something, fighting to prove that she could hold her own against her older siblings. Derek’s not sure what this girl is trying to prove; he’s tired, not interested in a battle, so he just shifts his weight to a more comfortable stance, and waits.

“Where is Stiles?” the girl asks eventually.

“Working.” The girl considers this for a moment, then steps aside, jabbing a pointed finger at the door. Derek doesn’t move. There’s something strange about the way she smells; it makes his skin crawl.

“Banshee,” the girl says, and Derek’s eyes widen. She smiles faintly, her features softening. “I’m not here to take Stiles, don’t worry. We’ve been friends since high school. I’m Lydia.”

There’s no lie in her voice, Derek realizes, and once she says her name, he realizes he’s heard it before. Stiles has told him about her, bringing her up in conversation without any introduction, like he does in so many of his tales about the town, talking about people Derek’s never met or heard of like they’re Derek’s old friends.

“May I come in?” Lydia asks, more politely now.

Derek gives her a considering look before he nods and heads up the stairs past her, unlocking the front door.

“Thank you,” Lydia says graciously, when Derek holds the door open for her. He follows her inside, watching her warily. She seems familiar with the layout of the house, which makes sense if she and Stiles are friends. She goes into the kitchen and Derek can hear her pouring herself a glass of water. When she comes back, she leans against the doorway and says, “So, who are you?”

“Derek,” he says guardedly.

Lydia raises her eyebrows at him. “You live here?” Derek nods, and she gives him an appraising look. “So who are you?” she asks again. “You’re not dating. Stiles would have told me. Are you renting a room from him?”

Derek glowers at her. “Something like that.”

Lydia laughs suddenly, bright and warm. “It’s okay,” she says easily. “I know we’re strangers.”

Derek shifts uncomfortably, not sure what to do. “Stiles won’t be back for a couple hours.”

Lydia shrugs an unconcerned shoulder. “I’ll wait,” she says. “Unless me being here makes you uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine,” Derek says stiffly, even though it’s not; he doesn’t want to upset Stiles by turning away a friend of his. He stands stock-still, watching as Lydia settles herself comfortably on the couch and turns on the television. She gives him a slightly sardonic look.

“I’m not going to cause any trouble.”

Derek flushes guiltily and moves over to his customary spot by the front window, glaring outside, where he stays until Stiles comes home. Lydia doesn’t make any attempt to talk to Derek, which is fine with him. He sits up straighter as Stiles comes through the door, his eyes immediately moving to Derek, as they always do. He smiles and then notices Lydia sitting on the couch, and his face splits into a wide grin.

“Lydia Martin,” Stiles grins. “What the fuck are you doing in my house?”

Lydia gets to her feet with a smile, allowing Stiles to envelop her in a tight hug. Derek watches them, trying to ignore the way his chest tightens with jealousy; Stiles has never looked at him the way he looks at Lydia now, eyes shining bright with happiness. She’s his friend, Derek tells himself. They’ve known each other for years. It doesn’t make anything better.

Lydia, it comes out over dinner—which is enough Indian takeout for about twenty people—is the vocalist for a band that’s been on tour for the last year. Derek doesn’t recognize the name, but Stiles proudly tells him that they’re booked for Madison Square Garden in the fall. Lydia doesn’t say anything, smiling demurely down at her plate.

Derek doesn’t like her. He is—as ashamed as he is to admit it to himself—jealous of her, of the way she and Stiles are so clearly comfortable with each other. They stand too close together, touch too casually. Derek feels like shit for even getting upset—like he has any right to be jealous, when Stiles has done so much for him. Worse, too, because Stiles clearly wants him to like Lydia; he keeps giving Derek these encouraging little smiles when Lydia’s talking, like he wants him involved, but Derek can’t do it.

He ends up going upstairs to bed early. He doesn’t know if Lydia’s spending the night—with Stiles? he wonders, stomach twisting as he looks at Stiles’ arm, slung along the back of the couch behind Lydia. Stiles looks like he’s going to say something when Derek heads for the stairs, but instead he just calls, “Good night!”

Derek doesn’t respond; he retreats to his room and folds himself into his thick den of blankets, angry at himself for being so bitter. He mulishly blocks his ears so he won’t be able to hear Stiles and Lydia talk about him—or anything worse if they decide to come upstairs together.

Derek closes his eyes, remembering a time back in high school when a friend of his started dating a girl Derek had had a crush on for years. He remembers sitting on the counter in the kitchen, complaining to his mom while she chopped vegetables for dinner, and the moment she’d looked up at him, brushing hair off her forehead with the back of her hand.

“You know, Derek,” she says, “You can’t make someone like you. Sometimes chemistry is there and sometimes it isn’t—and if it’s not, clinging on to someone isn’t healthy for either of you.”

“I know,” Derek replies grudgingly and his mom smiles at him.

“You’ll find someone someday,” she says, eyes warm. “Someone who loves you as much as I do.”

“Gross,” Derek groans.

His mother’s smile widens. “That’s love,” she says cheerfully. “Messy stuff. Now get your butt off the counter and help me with dinner.”

She makes him carry the pot roast out to the dining table when it's done, and Stiles is the only person at the table. He grins at Derek as Derek sets the dish on the table.

“Can’t wait to taste your meat,” Stiles says with a lewd wink. Derek flushes bright red as the rest of his family suddenly appears around the table, all laughing uproariously.

“You two are disgustingly adorable,” Laura says, leaning on the table with her elbows.

“Pity it won’t last,” Kate says, stepping out the shadows behind Stiles’ chair. She curls a hand in his hair, forcing his head back so she can press a knife to his throat. Kate tilts her head, eyes fixed on Derek. “I told you once, didn’t I? I don’t give up what’s mine.”

“Please,” Derek says, mouth dry as the desert. “Don’t—”

Kate smiles. “But he’s a thief, sweetheart,” she says gently, yanking harder on Stiles’ hair, forcing his head back. “And you know what we do with thieves.”

Derek knows; there are scars on his back that serve as a permanent reminder of how the Argents punish thieves.

“A little scratch won’t do, though,” Kate says. She smiles again at Derek, beatific, like a saint in a Renaissance painting. “It wasn’t just a candy bar he took from me.”

“No,” Derek says desperately. “Stiles—” Kate bends forward, pulling her knife across Stiles’ throat like a bow across violin strings.

Someone’s screaming and, as Derek’s eyes snap open, he realizes it’s him.

“Derek, Derek,” someone says close by, and hands tap insistently at his face. It seems like years pass before Derek’s able to snap his eyes away from the ceiling and see, with a flood of relief, Stiles kneeling next to him, worry etched deep on his face.

“You’re alive,” Derek says shakily. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, slipping from memories to dreams to nightmares.

“Yeah,” Stiles says softly. His hair’s askew and he’s wearing a loose t-shirt and boxers—he must have been sleeping. “I’m alive and kicking. You okay?”

Derek shuts his eyes for a long moment. “Yes,” he says eventually. He draws in a deep breath, trying to shake the memory of that awful dream.

“That was one hell of a bad dream, huh?” Stiles asks, gently pressing his fingers to Derek’s throat, feeling his pulse. Derek freezes and so does Stiles. “Sorry,” he says hastily, pulling his hand away. “Sorry. I’m always touching you and I know you don’t—”

“That’s not—” Derek begins, then loses his nerve when Stiles blinks down at him. He swallows. “I’m—not used to it.” I want it. I crave it. “You—you can.”

Stiles looks surprised, his lips parting and then curving up in a faint smile. “Okay,” he says softly, and tentatively touches Derek’s hair. Derek closes his eyes, breathing in deep again. Stiles smells good, his scent soft with sleep—and he doesn’t smell like sex, Derek realizes, with a guilty stab of relief. He finds himself relaxing under Stiles’ hand, the frantic beating of his heart slowing to an easy rhythm.

“You know you can too, right?” Stiles says after a moment. Derek cracks his eyes open to look up at him and Stiles explains, “Touch me, I mean. If you’re comfortable with it.”

“Okay,” Derek says quietly.

They sit in silence for a long time, Stiles slowly drawing his fingers through Derek’s hair, over and over, while Derek breathes in and out and listens to the sound of their hearts beating in tandem. He’s half asleep by the time Stiles asks, sounding more curious than anything, “Why are you sleeping on the floor?”

Derek shifts guiltily. He usually sleeps with the door closed and puts the blankets back on the bed every morning. “The mattress is too soft,” he admits.

Oh,” Stiles says, with great understanding. “Dude, you should have said something.”

“I didn’t—it doesn’t matter,” Derek says.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not good for you,” Stiles replies, then adds thoughtfully, “Or it wouldn’t be for a human, anyway. Maybe we can transition you gradually. I think there are some of those camping pads in the basement.” He threads his hand through Derek’s hair again, fingers lightly scraping across his scalp. Derek has to fight back a shudder of pleasure. “Then maybe one of those foam mattress toppers.”

“Thank you,” Derek murmurs, eyes slipping back shut.

“Not a problem,” Stiles says warmly. “I want you to be comfortable.”

Derek doesn’t say anything else, but he shifts closer to Stiles, just near enough that he can press his forehead to Stiles’ knee. Stiles doesn’t say anything, but he smells immensely pleased. Derek fully relaxes then, slipping into an easy sleep with Stiles still running his hand through his hair.