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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.

Chapter Text

All the suffering that you've witnessed
And the hand prints on the wall
They remind you how it's endless
How endlessly you fall

Then the answer that you're seeking
For the question that you found
Drives you further to confusion
As you lose your sense of ground [x]

-

When Derek wakes again, the room is full of soft morning light and Stiles is still next to him, slumped upright against Derek’s dresser, fast asleep. Derek carefully rolls onto his stomach to look at him, allowing himself to greedily take him in in a rare moment of stillness. Stiles is beautiful even with his face pressed up against Derek’s dresser, lips parted as he breathes. Stiles’ shirt has ridden up on one hip and Derek tries not to fixate on the little triangle of skin he can see there.

He wants Stiles. Derek can’t deny it. A couple times, in the middle of the day when he’s absolutely sure Stiles won’t come home, Derek’s jerked off to the thought of Stiles fucking him, his weight covering Derek like a blanket. It’s not just that he’s attracted to Stiles, or that he’s got that incredible, alluring scent of alpha, or even that he wants sex; the primal side of him that’s wolf craves the security of pack, and the omega side of him craves a companion, his other half. He wants Stiles, but all of him—wants more of his gentle touch, wants his laughter, wants his scent spread so thick over Derek it’s impossible to tell where Stiles ends and Derek begins.

But Derek—how can he say something like that? He’s never had a real relationship—barely got the chance to date in high school, and Kate—well. He was her omega, but she wasn’t his alpha, not the way he craved and needed. He was a thing to her, not an equal. He thinks—he thinks he and Stiles could be equals. Derek can feel his cheeks going pink. It’s a greedy thought; Stiles has already done so much for him, and Derek can’t ask—can’t expect anything of him.

Still. He wonders, his cheeks burning hotter, what will happen if he’s still here when Stiles gets his next heat. Would Stiles ask Derek to join him? But—no. Derek shakes his head a little, twisting back onto his side, facing away from Stiles. It’s better not to think about it. Better not to get his hopes up.

He shifts around, purposefully noisy, and hears the moment Stiles wakes, his scent going confused. There’s a dull thunk, like he’s smacked his head against the dresser, and then he groans. “Oh God,” Stiles says ruefully. “And I was giving you shit about sleeping on the floor. I think my neck’s bent at a permanent ninety-degree angle now.”

Derek flips over to look at him and finds Stiles rubbing the side of his neck, a somewhat bitter look on his face, though it softens when he looks at Derek. “Hey,” Stiles says. “Did you sleep better?”

Derek nods. “Thank you,” he says quietly. “For waking me up.”

“No worries,” Stiles says, wincing as he unfolds himself from the floor. “Though I may send you the bill for all my future chiropractor expenses. They may be quite extensive. Oh man,” he adds, stretching his arms above his head. Something in his back pops several times. “I’m going back to bed.”

Derek watches him amble out of the room, listening as Stiles heads back to his room and drops heavily onto his mattress. Derek settles himself back down amongst his blankets, warm from the morning sun. The room smells like Stiles now—something Derek isn’t at all unhappy about it. It doesn’t take long for him, too, to drift back to an easy sleep, dreamless and uninterrupted.

-

“You wanna go for a walk?” Stiles asks several hours later. It’s mid-morning now, the sun streaming in brightly through the kitchen windows. Stiles has the day off, so they’re eating breakfast together—a somewhat extravagant affair that Stiles put together before Derek got up for the second time. “There’s a preserve out on the edge of town with some good trails.”

Derek nods. He’s happy to spend more time with Stiles, and if it’s outdoors, where he can breathe in the fresh air, that’s fine with him. Stiles grins as though pleased by Derek accepting the invitation.

After they’ve cleaned up the mess from breakfast, they get into Stiles’ Jeep and speed off through town to the preserve. Derek thinks he recognizes the woods as they bump along the dirt road that leads to the parking lot.

“There’s a house out here,” he says, and Stiles nods.

“Yeah, that old one you were holed up under the other day?” Stiles says, and Derek winces. “No one lives there. According to town legend, it used to belong to some well-to-do werewolf family, but, uh, that was a time when California wasn’t so progressive, and they ended up being run out of town.”

Derek frowns and turns to look out the window. The same thing probably would have happened to his family if they hadn’t been so good at keeping the fact that they were werewolves secret.

“Stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore,” Stiles says softly. “Not here.”

They bump across the parking lot and park in the shade of some massive oak trees. Stiles gestures at them as he and Derek get out of the car. “You know, we used to have a nemeton here.”

Derek raises his eyebrows, impressed. A nemeton’s a rare place of power—people used to drive for hours to go to the one in Buffalo, which was a grove of maple trees with an ancient pond at its center. His parents took them once—it’s one of the clearest memories Derek has of being a kid, holding his dad’s hand and feeling that pure, clean buzz of magic run through his body.

“Used to?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles nods. “It was this huge old oak tree. It got corrupted, though, and pulled a bunch of bad shit this way—they ended up cutting it down. I can show you the stump, if you want.”

Derek shakes his head with a faint shudder, not sure he’s ready for that.

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees. “It kind of gives me the creeps. We’re always getting calls about kids getting into trouble out there—I make Haigh go.”

Derek snorts and Stiles grins, bumping their shoulders together as they walk down a well-worn path. The woods are lush and green, full of life even without a nemeton to give them a boost. Derek can feel himself relaxing, his shoulders loosening as they walk a loop through the trees. Stiles doesn’t talk much; he seems just as content as Derek to walk in silence, their bodies brushing every once in a while.

“How long did Lydia stay?” Derek asks eventually, the question having bothered him all morning.

“Not too long after you went to bed,” Stiles shrugs. He glances at Derek. “You didn’t like her, did you?”

Derek stiffens guiltily. “That’s not—”

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, though Derek can hear the disappointment in his voice. “I know she can seem kind of abrasive if you don’t know her. Sorry if you were uncomfortable.”

“No,” Derek says, feeling like he’s got to make up for it. “I didn’t—it’s fine. She’s fine. I just thought—I didn’t want to intrude on anything. Between you two, I mean—”

Stiles looks at him sharply, frowning before his expression clears. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, no, that’s not—no. As huge of a crush as I had on her in high school, Lydia’s just a friend.”

“Okay,” Derek nods. Stiles gives him a thoughtful look but doesn’t say anything; that seems to be the end of it.

They’re almost back to the parking lot when something moves in the woods and Derek’s head snaps in that direction. They’ve seen squirrels, chipmunks, even a far-off deer, but this is moving fast toward them, crashing through the bushes.

“What—” Stiles begins sharply, his head moving around as he catches the sound too.

“Werewolf,” Derek says tensely, shoulders hunching as he catches the scent.

Stiles’ face goes serious. He’s got just enough time to shift into a more protective stance when a little boy comes barrelling out of the bushes, straight at them.

“Uncle Stiles!” he bellows and Stiles laughs, staggering as the little boy smacks into his legs.

“Rocky, my main man!” Stiles says cheerfully, swinging the boy up into his arms. “Where’s your dad, huh?”

The little boy shrugs, then spots Derek. He goes suddenly shy, popping a thumb into his mouth and tucking his face against Stiles’ cheek. Stiles laughs again. “Dude, that’s just Derek! He’s nice, I promise.”

Derek does his best to look nonthreatening. He and Stiles both look up when Scott appears further down the trail, waving and grinning. “Sorry, guys,” Scott apologizes as he nears them. “I turned around and he was gone. I think he caught your scent.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time, huh, rockstar?” Stiles says, passing the little boy to Scott.

“I’m Rocky, Stiles,” the little boy complains. “You promised!”

Scott laughs. “His real name’s Alex,” he tells Derek. “But Stiles let him watch Rocky a couple months ago and that’s all he wants to be called now.”

Stiles laughs guiltily and asks, “What are you doing out here, man?”

Scott grins easily. “I heard Lydia’s back in town, so I thought we could have a picnic. I texted you,” he adds, slightly accusingly.

Stiles blinks and fishes out his phone; Derek can see the new message notification on the screen. “Oh, it was on silent, sorry. Sounds like fun, dude. Derek?” Stiles looks at him. “You feel comfortable meeting the pack?”

Derek hesitates and Scott says, “It’s not the entire pack. Malia and Liam can’t make it, so the only people there you haven’t met yet are my wife and Isaac.”

Derek glances at Stiles, who gives him an encouraging look. He can tell they both want him to go, so he nods. Stiles grins and Scott cheerfully says, “Sweet! We’re right over this way.” He leads them down the trail toward the parking lot, then off down a narrower path that leads to a wide clearing that holds a couple picnic tables. A crowd of people is gathered around one of them, talking and laughing as they lay out food. Derek recognizes Boyd and Erica—Boyd’s holding a tiny baby in his arms, and there are two little girls sitting at the table that must be theirs. Lydia’s on the other side of the table, sandwiched between a cheerful-looking young woman who must be Scott’s wife, and a lanky young man with curly brown hair, who must be Isaac.

“Hey guys,” Scott says jovially, as everyone looks up. “Look who I found lost in the woods.”

The response from the group is warm and welcoming. Scott introduces Derek to Kira, who looks like she’s holding herself back from giving him a hug. It’s clear from the expression on Scott’s face that he worships the ground she walks on. They remind Derek of his parents; he remembers his dad always having that look on his face when Derek’s mom was around. He’s introduced to Isaac, who gives him a cool nod, and then he meets Boyd and Erica’s kids.

“The twins are Vivienne and Vienna,” Erica says cheerfully. “You like babies? This is Vernon.” She plucks the baby out of Boyd’s arms and places him in Derek’s before Derek can get a word out. Derek freezes, staring down at the tiny baby. “Ooh, he likes you!” Erica says gleefully. “Usually he starts crying if anyone other than Boyd holds him.”

“Dude, that’s adorable,” Stiles says, pulling out his phone to snap a picture. Derek glowers at him. Stiles just grins back, completely unbothered. Derek frowns down at the baby in his arms, who blinks sedate brown eyes up at him. He can’t remember the last time he held a baby. When Cora was born, probably. Laura was five months along when she was killed. Derek’s throat tightens, remembering how she’d cried when she found out, how she’d ripped out the throat of the hunter who’d raped her. How she’d talked to it sometimes while they were on the run.

The baby in his arms makes a soft noise, jolting Derek from his thoughts. “You all right?” Erica asks. “I can take him.”

Derek shakes his head slowly. “No,” he says quietly. “I’m fine.”

Vernon’s a nice distraction, as it turns out; he allows Derek to sit quietly on the edge of things, gives him something to do with his hands while he watches the pack. He’s never spent time amongst a pack that wasn’t made solely of family members, nor a pack that included humans. With only a few minutes of observation, though, it’s obvious that they’re just as tightly bonded as his family was, their interactions loose and comfortable from years of being around each other. His heart aches a little watching them, missing his family.

When he was a kid, becoming an omega was his greatest fear. In the bedtime stories his dad told, the omega was like a boogeyman, a spectre of a werewolf wiped of its pack. If he or his sisters misbehaved, his parents would threaten to leave them in the woods to become omegas themselves. And then it had happened for real and it was worse than he’d ever feared. Now, Derek’s got this empty place in his chest where his pack used to be. It hurts, leaves him aching and miserable.

“Hey,” Stiles says, sitting down next to him. “You okay?”

Derek jumps guiltily, startled. “I’m fine.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows. “You sure? You look like you want to punch something. Don’t punch the baby,” he adds, and when Derek just stares at him, he says, “that was a joke.”

“I’m not going to punch the baby,” Derek says. He turns his head to look at the pack, watching Isaac chase a giggling Rocky across the clearing. Without looking at Stiles, he says, “They remind me of my family.”

Stiles is quiet for a while before he says. “You miss them.”

It’s not a question but Derek nods anyway, his heart heavy. Stiles doesn’t say anything, but after a moment he reaches out and puts a warm hand on Derek’s arm. Derek almost tenses and pulls himself away out of habit, until he remembers their conversation last night. They’d agreed on this; this is okay. He presses into the warmth of Stiles’ hand, just enough for Stiles to smile a little, sad.

“Hey,” Stiles says. “You hungry?” He lifts a plate off his lap. “Brought you this.”

They swap; Derek hands Vernon over and takes the plate of food from Stiles’ thighs. Vernon doesn’t cry when Stiles takes him, just shifts and makes a grumbling sort of sound, and Stiles looks amazed.

“Whoa,” he says reverently. “This is the first time he’s never cried when I held him.” He gives Derek a suspicious look. “Did you drug him?”

Derek shrugs ambivalently, one side of his mouth lifting up in a faint smile. Stiles snorts and grins, and Derek has to look away as he bites into a sloppy peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The sight of Stiles holding a baby, poking at one of Vernon’s chubby cheeks with a slender finger, is doing weird things to his insides. It’s not like it’s even possible for him to bear children, but he aches for it, heat licking down his spine. He and Stiles don’t have that kind of relationship, though, and so he sits quietly and makes himself eat a mediocre sandwich because Stiles made it for him, ignoring his instincts before he does something he can’t take back.

-

“Can I ask you something?”

They’ve just returned from another dinner at Stiles’ dad’s house—easier this time, now that Derek has already done it once before. Now, he and Stiles are sitting out on the back deck, watching the sun set over the trees.

Derek turns to look at Stiles. “Okay.”

Stiles chews on his bottom lip before he asks, “Why aren’t you an alpha?”

Derek’s brow furrows. “Why would I be?”

“I mean,” Stiles frowns out at the sunset. “Your sister was an alpha. Why didn’t you become an alpha after she was killed?”

Derek stares at him blankly. He’d been so caught up in escaping the Argents that it had never occurred to him before. “I don’t know,” he admits slowly. “I—It’s possible that she was killed by a werewolf the Argents had with them.” He’d heard the shot that killed her. It seems unlikely that the Argents would give a werewolf a gun, but if she hadn’t died instantly, one could have taken her out with teeth and claws.

Stiles is quiet for a long moment, tapping his long fingers against the wood of the deck. “Is it possible you’ve got family left alive?” he asks.

Derek shuts his eyes, swallowing bile as he tries to remember the night of the fire. He’s ashamed at how it’s gone cloudy in his head. He’d woken up because of the noise; it was like a windstorm, the fire roaring as it consumed the front of the house. That was the only reason he’d gotten out; his room was at the back of the house, above the kitchen, and he’d been able to scramble out onto the porch roof after waking up Laura. His parents and Cora had been lost to the fire, but Peter—he’d come out the front door after the hunters had caught Laura and Derek, and he’d been screaming, engulfed in flames. Derek will never forget the smell of him burning alive. He’d run off into the woods and the hunters had dragged him back. It’d been Kate who pulled a knife across Peter’s throat, just like in the nightmare Derek had had about Stiles. Another reminder, Gerard had said, of how easily he could take their lives away.

“Derek?” Stiles says softly. “Hey, if that was out of line—”

“No,” Derek says, with a swift shake of his head. “I was just...remembering.” He inhales slowly before shaking his head. “I don’t think so. Why?”

“Gotta start building my case against them,” Stiles says. “I’m not going to let them get away with what they did to you and your family.”

Derek nods, but he doesn’t expect Stiles to find much. The Argents have always been very good at covering their tracks. Stiles leans over and puts his hand over Derek’s, squeezing gently.

“We’re going to get them,” he says firmly, “and they’re going to pay.”

-

Derek wakes late that night and sleepily pulls himself out of bed—a foam camping pad between him and the floor now; Stiles had insisted, and it’s actually not all that bad—to go to the bathroom. He’s just opened his door and taken a step out into the hallway when a soft noise catches his attention. He freezes, heart suddenly pulsing in his throat; Stiles’ bedroom door is ajar and there’s no mistaking the slick sound of flesh on flesh, or Stiles’ choked-off noises. Derek’s already frantically backpedalling into his room when the smell hits him, rich pheromones tinged with sweat and desire. It goes straight to his groin, dick twitching in his boxers. He manages one deep lungful before he shuts the door as quietly as he can.

Derek half collapses back onto his bed, fiercely ignoring the way he’s already half hard. He tries to ignore, too, the noises he can hear coming from Stiles’ room; now that he’s aware of them, he can’t shut them out, can’t ignore Stiles’ breathy sighs and the tempestuous beating of his heart. Derek’s never caught Stiles like this. If Stiles has jerked off when Derek’s been living here—and Derek’s sure he has; he’s only human—he’s been careful about it. Maybe he always does it late like this, when he thinks Derek’s asleep, or he does it in the shower, maybe. But—Derek squeezes his eyes shut, breathing through his mouth. God, he smells so good. Just that little taste of his pheromones has set Derek on fire, every cut-off groan sending a pulse of lightning straight to Derek’s dick.

He won’t—he doesn’t want to—but he does. Derek presses a hand to the front of his boxers and it just—it feels so good. If he squeezes his eyes shut and breathes in deep, it’s like Stiles is in the room with him. His scent right now is nothing like the faint trace left on the shirt he’d given Derek; this is bold and heavy and saturated with sex. Derek bites down on his lip as he slides his hand into his boxers, refusing to make a noise. He keeps time with Stiles, all of his attention focused on the room down the hall, and he’s so keyed up that when Stiles comes—with a faint mumbled, “Fuck!”—Derek follows almost immediately, teeth digging into his lip so hard he tastes the metallic tang of blood.

Stiles is quiet for a long time after that, his heartbeat slowing, and Derek sits still, listening keenly, a flush of guilt working itself over his face. Stiles rises after a minute, stepping out into the hall, and Derek tenses, sure he’s been caught, but Stiles heads into the bathroom. Derek doesn’t relax until Stiles is back in his room; he waits nearly half an hour before rising himself. He has to breathe shallowly as he treads quietly down the hall to the bathroom; Stiles’ scent hangs heavy in the hall and Derek’s dick’s trying to get hard again. He exhales heavily once in the bathroom and washes dried come off his hand, avoiding his own eyes in the mirror. That was a shitty thing to do, he knows—a complete betrayal of Stiles’ privacy.

Even knowing this, shame burrowing deep in his chest, Derek finds himself slowing as he passes Stiles’ door. It’s fully open now, and through it he can see Stiles sprawled out in bed on his stomach, shoulder blades gently rising and falling as he slumbers. For just one moment, Derek lets himself imagine what it’d be like to share the bed with him, to sleep safe and comfortable with Stiles curled tight up against his back. He’s never shared a bed with anyone before. He spent time with Kate in her bed, but he doesn’t count any experiences with her as milestones in his life. It was hard to sleep, anyway, with one wrist always chained to the headboard.

All he wants is to love and be loved in the same unconditional way his parents loved each other, the way Scott and Kira do. He wants family. He wants a home.

“Derek?”

Derek blinks, cheeks flooding hot with embarrassment when he realizes that Stiles is awake and raising himself up on one elbow to squint at him.

“You okay?” Stiles asks. His voice is heavy with sleep, like he wasn’t jerking off just half an hour ago. “Can’t sleep?”

Derek opens his mouth, then shuts it again, settling for an ambivalent shrug. He’s certainly not about to tell Stiles that he just listened to him jerk off.

Stiles makes a non-judgemental noise and rubs an absent hand over his face. “You want to come in?” he asks sleepily, and Derek freezes in place. Stiles pats the mattress next to him. “C’mon. Chill.”

Derek takes a hesitant step forward, then stops. He wants it badly, the wolf in his head howling at him to move, but he’s not used to things going the way he wants them to. It’s got to be a trick, right? There’s got to be a catch. But Stiles just pats the mattress again and sinks back onto his stomach, scooting over a little to make room for Derek.

Slowly, cautiously, Derek steps into the room, eyes flickering around the space like he’s expecting an attack. He’s never been in Stiles’ room, though it’s not like he hasn’t had the chance; he’s at home alone a lot, and Stiles doesn’t lock his door—leaves it wide open, in fact. Stiles has never told him he can’t go in, but Derek hasn’t been able to bring himself to do it. Stiles’ scent is heavy throughout the whole house, but it’s concentrated here, layers and layers of it. Derek knows Stiles doesn’t think of it this way, but to a wolf, it’s a clear sign; this is his den, the place that’s his alone, and it’s not Derek’s right to trespass there.

He’s familiar with what he’s seen in passing from the hall; big bed centered between the two windows, dresser stacked with books, Stiles’ uniform on the floor. His utility belt’s looped over the knob on the closet door and Derek’s eyes stick to Stiles’ gun for a moment before breaking away.

Stiles shifts around when Derek steps up to the opposite side of the bed, flipping his head so he can watch Derek carefully lower himself onto the edge of the mattress, body tensed, expecting Stiles to shoo him away at any minute. Stiles doesn’t do anything, though; he just blinks, heavy-lidded, his heartbeat slow. Derek’s beginning to relax despite his nerves, calmed by the heavy intensity of Stiles’ scent and the steady beat of his heart.

“There you go,” Stiles murmurs encouragingly, and Derek goes warm down to his bones. He shifts a little closer to Stiles, pulling his legs up onto the bed and Stiles smiles sleepily. “Good,” he mumbles. He stretches out his hand to catch Derek’s, threading their fingers together as his eyes settle shut. Stiles slips back into sleep within moments, hand loosening its grip on Derek’s, but Derek doesn’t move away. Stiles wanted him here, he tells himself, and after a few long minutes he carefully shifts himself until he’s lying on the bed, head on a pillow that smells of Stiles and Stiles alone.

He lay there awake for a long time, watching Stiles’ face, soft in the dim light of the room, matching his slow breathing until he, too, drifts off to sleep.

-

Derek wakes when Stiles starts shifting around the next morning, but doesn’t open his eyes. He’s warm and comfortable, apparently having made his way under the covers at some point. He can feel the heat of Stiles’ body next to him and doesn’t want to wake up, doesn’t want to shatter the illusion that this is normal, that they mean something to each other.

He can tell the moment Stiles realizes he’s there because Stiles stills, his scent going confused. He brushes his fingers against Derek’s hand but Derek forces himself not to react. He wants this, wants to enjoy this.

“Oh yeah,” Stiles says softly, and then flips over, pulling himself out of bed. Derek listens to him pad down the hall and into the bathroom where, after a moment of silence, the shower turns on. Derek presses his face to the pillow, a little smugly, and drifts back to sleep.

He wakes sometime later when the mattress dips next to him, startling him into opening his eyes. Stiles is leaning over him, eyebrows raised. He’s dressed in his uniform, though his hair’s still damp from showering. “Hey there,” Stiles says. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Did you sleep okay?”

Derek nods slowly. It feels like he’s surfacing from a deep coma, contentment laid deep along his bones. He says, “It wasn’t as good as the floor,” and gets rewarded with a grin.

“Dick,” Stiles says cheerfully. “I’ve got to head into work. You need a ride to the nursery?”

Derek shakes his head, pushing himself up on his elbows. “I’ve got the day off.”

“Oh, cool,” Stiles says. “Well, if you want, I—” He stops speaking suddenly, a frown furrowing his brow. “What is that?” he asks sharply.

“What?” Derek replies nervously. Stiles is staring at his stomach; Derek follows his gaze and freezes. He’d gone to sleep without a shirt on, and the motion of sitting up has caused the blankets to slip down his torso. Now visible is the fleur-de-lis the Argents branded there a week after he’d arrived, just below his ribs.

“Jesus,” Stiles hisses. “Jesus, Derek, was this—” He cuts himself off again. His voice is shaking; he’s angry, but not at Derek—at least he doesn’t think so. He reaches out, fingers spread wide, but Derek jerks backward, baring his teeth unconsciously. He doesn’t like being touched there, doesn’t like to touch it himself. The Argents had coated the brand in some kind of wolfsbane-based oil and it had taken weeks for the wound to scar over, a constantly aching, weeping spot on his side. Gerard had punched him there once while it was still healing, and the pain had almost made Derek pass out.

“Sorry,” Stiles winces, pulling his hand back. He hasn’t taken his eyes off the brand and Derek, self-conscious, pulls the blankets back up around his chest. “Sorry,” Stiles says again, finally turning his head away. He frowns at his dresser, then sighs and rubs a hand through his wet hair. “Fuck,” he says softly. “I haven’t been doing my job.”

“What do you mean?” Derek asks after a moment’s hesitation, watching Stiles uncertainly.

“I should have started the follow-up on your case weeks ago,” Stiles says, sounding frustrated. “I keep getting—distracted. Fuck.”

“It’s okay,” Derek offers.

“No, it’s fucking not!” Stiles says angrily, hopping to his feet. He paces back and forth next to the bed, stabs an angry finger at Derek. “They’re fucking monsters, Derek, and I’m not going to let them get away with what they did to you—what they’re probably doing to other werewolves right now.” He glares at Derek—or, more accurately at the brand on Derek’s ribs, hidden under the blankets. Derek keeps still, his eyes on his hands; Stiles’ anger unnerves him. Kate would get like this sometimes, pissed off about some decision Gerard had made, and she was liable to hit him if he tried to speak, or even moved too suddenly.

“Derek,” Stiles says, dropping back onto the bed next to him, and Derek can’t help it—he flinches. Stiles goes very still, his scent souring with hurt. Derek can’t look at him, body tense with guilt and shame. “Derek,” Stiles says again after a long moment, his voice unsteady. “Look at me, please. Please. You know I—” He reaches out with trembling hands and Derek would back away, but there’s nowhere to go. He cups Derek’s cheeks in his long fingers and Derek bares his teeth again, fangs popping from his gums, shutting his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the look on Stiles’ face.

“Derek,” Stiles says for a third time, voice wavering. “I don’t know if you trust me or not, and if you don’t, that’s okay—you’ve obviously got reasons not to trust people—but please, please believe this: I’m not going to hurt you. I’d never—I won’t. I promise.”

Derek wants to believe him. He wants to believe so badly, the ache strong in his chest. His head hurts; he just wants to return to half an hour ago, when he was dozing comfortably in this bed and life was so much simpler.

“Hey, hey,” Stiles says, slipping a hand round the back of Derek’s neck, tugging him close enough to press their foreheads together. “You’re shaking.”

Derek exhales roughly, giving in to the urge to press in closer, aching for comfort. Stiles embraces him willingly, folding his arms around Derek’s shoulders, patting gently at his back. “It’s all right,” he says. “I’m going to get this all sorted out, I promise.” Derek breathes out again, breathing in deep, Stiles’ scent flooding his nose. It’s the closest they’ve ever been, Derek’s forehead pressed into the crook of Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles strokes a hand over his hair and Derek closes his eyes, wishing Stiles would scent him, or just—just give him some sort of sign that he wants Derek as badly as Derek wants him.

But all Stiles does is pull away after a moment, an unhappy look on his face. "I have to go to work," he says quietly. Derek nods, his gaze falling to his hands. "I'll be home at the usual time," he continues softly. "And I promise; I'm going to catch these guys."

Derek nods again. He doesn't think that the Argents will ever be brought to justice, but if anyone could do it, he thinks it might be Stiles. He gets up when Stiles does, quietly following him downstairs.

"I didn't mean to wake you up on your day off," Stiles says ruefully, buckling on his utility belt.

"It's all right," Derek says with a shake of his head. He would have been up soon anyway; he can't sleep for long periods of time after so many months on the run. Even now he wakes almost every hour, listening hard for any sign of something awry in the house before he lets himself go back to sleep.

“Okay,” Stiles says dubiously. “Well—” He turns toward the door and then turns back to look at Derek, his brow furrowing. “I’m sorry if I upset you this morning. I really—it wasn’t my intention. I just—”

“It’s all right,” Derek says again. “You care about me.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, looking startled. “I do.” A grin begins to spread across his face, growing wider when Derek offers him a cautious smile of his own. “I’ll see you tonight?”

Derek nods, and Stiles grins again. “All right—bye!”

Derek stands by the window, watching Stiles until he’s pulled out of the driveway and disappeared down the street, before he turns his attention to the house. He spends the morning cleaning and, because it’s fresh on his mind after that morning, he slips into Stiles’ office. He’s allowed to be in here; Stiles gave him the password to his laptop and told him he could use it at any time, but this is the first time Derek’s taken him up on the offer.

Stiles’ office is cluttered, much like his office at work, but his scent isn’t all that strong in here. Derek’s got a feeling it’s more of a dumping ground for papers than anything. Still, the area at the desk where Stiles’ laptop sits seems lived-in enough, countless old coffee rings evidence of long hours spent in the chair.

Derek swallows as he opens up the laptop, waiting patiently for it to whir into life before he types in Stiles’ password. He knows how to use a computer, obviously, but it still takes him a couple of minutes to get used to the way things sit on screen, and a minute longer to figure out how to get onto the internet. When Google’s on the screen, the cursor blinking steadily as it waits for him to type, Derek sits back in the chair, his chest going tight. He’s not sure this is the right thing to do, but what if there’s something he missed? What if—what if there are people looking for him? Good people?

Derek exhales roughly and leans forward, typing in Hale family New York and quickly hitting enter before he can change his mind.

It’s the third result, right under two Wikipedia entries about famous Hales from New York he’s no relation to: a news article from almost ten years ago titled Fire Claims Six Lives. Derek clicks on it, his eyes already burning as he reads.

A quick-burning house fire claimed the lives of six people, including three children, in rural Franklin County last night. Fire investigators believe that the fire at the Hale House in Burke, a centuries-old family-owned estate listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began late last night, but was not reported until this morning, when a neighbor spotted smoke rising from the woods and called the authorities.

The cause of the fire is believed to be accidental, but investigators can confirm that six bodies were removed from the remains of the home. Though their identities have not been officially released, they are believed to all be members of the reclusive but well-liked Hale family; Daniel Hale, a respected member of the Burke town council; his wife, florist Talia Hale; Talia’s brother, Peter Hale; and Daniel and Talia’s three children: Laura, a senior at Ithaca College; Derek, a senior at Franklin Academy High School; and Cora, a freshman at Franklin Academy High School. The family -

Derek slams the laptop shut, his breath rushing out of him in unsteady pulses. They thought he was dead. No one would have ever come looking for him or Laura. If Chris hadn’t left the door unlocked, they never would have gotten out of there. They never would have been rescued.

Derek stands abruptly and storms out to the back deck, where he collapses on the steps, closing his eyes against the bright morning sunlight, trying to calm himself. When things got really bad at the Argent house, he and Laura used to curl up together and fantasize about how they’d be rescued —friends from school, maybe, or Dad’s brother who died in Vietnam, only it’d turn out he was alive and looking for them. The other werewolves, locked outside somewhere in a building Derek never saw the inside of, used to howl for help, but he and Laura knew it was useless; there were no werewolves living free within fifty miles of the Argents.

The town must have been in on it, Derek realizes, his heart thudding in his ears. Or the Argents had paid off the firefighters, convinced them to lie and say there’d been six bodies, not four. Or maybe they’d planted their own—other werewolves, maybe, who were no longer useful. He doesn’t know, he doesn’t care; what does it matter now anyway? Everyone he ever loved is dead.

Derek sits outside for a long time, and the bright summer sun helps a little, but it’s not enough. He goes back inside and eats a sandwich that tastes like ash, and then he carefully leaves a note for Stiles—Gone for a walk. I promise I’m not running. It’ll make Stiles smile, he thinks woodenly, heading for the front door. Or make him send deputies after him, he’s not sure.

Derek’s not running, though; he just walks all afternoon, all over town. He keeps his head down at first, heavy with memories of his dead family, but being outside and moving helps; after a while, he lifts his head, taking in his surroundings with sharp eyes. He hasn’t spent much time in town, content to stick with Stiles’ house and the occasional foray to the grocery store or Stiles’ dad’s house, but it seems like a nice place. The main street’s no more than two blocks of small stores—a bookstore, a pizza place, a toy shop—and past that the streets branch off into quiet streets of houses much like the one Stiles lives on.

He can’t remember the last time he was able to just wander like this, like he’s—like he’s free. Derek stops walking when he realizes this, his eyes going wide. For the first time in nearly a decade, he’s doing things because he wants to. He could go anywhere he wants, do anything—but he stays here not because he has to, but because he feels safe. And because Stiles cares about him. He has someone who cares about him. It’s—it’s a good feeling.

Derek’s walking through a park when someone calls his name. He jolts in surprise, icy cold fear that he’s been caught, flushing away all of his contentment in one moment—but when he turns, he sees it’s Scott, pushing his son on a swingset. Scott waves and Derek heads his way amicably. He likes Scott a lot; his easy confidence and wide smile reminds him of his father.

“Hey man,” Scott says cheerfully, when Derek’s close enough. “Did I startle you?”

“A little,” Derek admits, looking down at Rocky, who stares back at Derek solemnly. Derek looks back at Scott; he’s no good with kids. “You’re—not working?”

“I’ve got the afternoon off,” Scott tells him. “We love the park, right, bud?”

“Yes, Dad,” Rocky says seriously, his eyes still fixed on Derek, head turning like a pendulum to keep track of him as Scott pushes him higher and higher.

Scott snorts. “What about you?” he asks Derek.

“Day off,” Derek says cautiously.

“That sounds like something to celebrate,” Scott says. “Rocky, what do you think, bud? Ice cream?”

“Yes!” Rocky yells, throwing himself off the swing, landing with a thump. “Can we go now, Dad?”

Scott laughs as his son grabs his hand and begins towing him off along the grass. “Come on, man,” he says to Derek. “My treat.”

“You don’t have to,” Derek says uneasily.

“That’s what makes it a treat,” Scott says cheerfully. “Come on.”

Looking around like he’s going to get yelled at, Derek quickly follows Scott and Rocky, Scott slowing so Derek can catch up while Rocky runs ahead.

“You okay, man?” Scott asks quietly. “You smell like stress.”

Derek winces, wondering if because Scott’s a bitten wolf, there was no one to tell him that it’s usually considered impolite for werewolves to comment on each other’s scents.

Scott looks at him thoughtfully. “You don’t have to talk to me,” he says. “I just want you to know that if you do ever want to talk, you can talk to me. I won’t share anything you tell me with anyone—not Kira, not Stiles—even if it’s about Stiles.”

Derek gives him a wary look. “Stiles is your best friend.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Scott says seriously. “I know him better than anymore, man. He’s not a perfect person—none of us are, I guess, but he makes mistakes. If he ever does anything stupid, you can come to me.”

“Okay,” Derek says quietly. “Well—” He hesitates before saying, “It wasn’t Stiles. I just—I was thinking about the past.”

“Oh,” Scott sighs, his face softening sympathetically. “Not good?”

“Not good,” Derek says, his throat going tight.

Scott gives him a compassionate look before he jerks his head around and shouts, “Rocky! Wait for us to cross the street!”

“Hurry up, Dad!” Rocky yells back, dancing around impatiently at the edge of the road.

Scott rolls his eyes, but as he and Derek pick up the pace, he says, “I know whatever happened to you is probably something you don’t want to talk about, but I mean what I said. If there’s anything you ever want to get off your chest, I’m here to listen.”

“Thank you,” Derek says, and he really is thankful. Even if he doesn’t think he’ll ever take Scott up on it, he’s grateful and touched by the fact that Scott even cares enough to offer.

Scott grabs Rocky’s hand before he can dart forward and they cross the road together. There’s adeli on the corner with an ice cream stand tacked on to one side, and Scott scoops Rocky up so they can read through the list of flavors together. “Anything you want,” Scott adds over his shoulder to Derek.

“Raspberry,” Derek decides, and Rocky twists around to look at him.

“That’s my favorite,” he tells Derek seriously.

“Oh?” Derek says blankly.

“With chocolate sprinkles,” Rocky frowns.

Scott snorts. “Three raspberries with chocolate sprinkles,” he tells the girl behind the counter. “Two medium, one small.”

Rocky consumes his ice cream in record time, apparently without any side effects like brain freeze, and then crawls into Scott’s lap, where he starts blinking sleepily, leaning heavily against Scott’s chest. Derek watches Scott run a fond hand over Rocky’s head, and asks, “How old is he?”

“Almost five,” Scott says. “He was kind of a surprise, but we wouldn’t give him up for anything.”

“Are you going to have any more?” Derek asks.

“Probably,” Scott says, smiling a little. “But not until I’m done with my residency. It’s not fair to Kira.” He looks at Derek curiously. “You had a sister, right?”

“Two,” Derek says, his chest going tight. “Laura was killed last year while we were on the run. Cora—the hunters lit our house on fire and she died in there, along with my parents and my uncle.”

“Jesus,” Scott says softly, wincing. “That must have been devastating.”

Derek shrugs. “They’re better off dead than going through what Laura and I went through.”

Scott grimaces. “I’m sorry for what happened to you and your family,” he says seriously. “We’ve never had trouble with hunters in Beacon Hills, but I want you to know that while you’re living here, you’re under my protection. If anyone tries coming after you, they’ll have to go through the pack first.”

“Thanks,” Derek says quietly.

They’re quiet for a while. Rocky drifts to sleep in Scott’s lap, chocolate sprinkles stuck to his shirt. Scott absently rubs his cheek against the top of Rocky’s head and says, “I’m sorry for how it happened, but I’m glad you ended up here, man. We all are; everyone in the pack really likes you.”

Derek looks down at his hands, his cheeks warm. Scott reaches over and squeezes his shoulder. “If you want a place in the pack, it’s there.”

Derek stares at him, his mouth falling open. Join Scott’s pack? It’s been years since he had the bond of pack; Laura did her best, but with all that was going on with the two of them, it wasn’t enough. Scott’s pack is strong and thriving and happy, and Derek’s actually being offered a place in it?

“You don’t have to give me an answer right away,” Scott tells him. “This isn’t an offer that’s going to expire at midnight or anything, and if you don’t want to, that’s totally fine.”

“I—I’ll think about it,” Derek says, his voice a little strangled. All of his instincts are screaming yes, yes! His entire being aches for the security and stability of a pack bond, but he knows that he needs to think about it because saying yes won’t just mean he’s got a pack; it’ll mean he’s tied to Beacon Hills for the foreseeable future, and is he ready for that?

“All right,” Scott says lightly. “Just let me know whenever. Even if you don’t want to join, you’re still welcome to run with us on the full moon.”

Rocky stirs. “The full moon’s tonight, Dad?” he asks sleepily.

“Not for another couple weeks, bud,” Scott replies, hooking his hands under Rocky’s shoulders and lifting him up so he’s draped over Scott’s shoulder. “You ready to head home? I bet Mom’s got dinner ready—we won’t tell her we had ice cream.”

“You should probably clean the ice cream off his face, then,” Derek points out.

Scott grins at him. “Probably should. Want us to walk you home?”

Derek shakes his head. He hadn’t realized it’d gotten so late; Stiles is probably already at the house. “I’ll be fine.”

“All right,” Scott says cheerfully. “It was nice talking to you, man. You’re always welcome to stop by the house if you’ve got another day off and you’re bored—ask Stiles for my address.” He pokes Rocky in the calf. “Say goodbye to Derek, buddy.”

“Bye, Derek,” Rocky mumbles into Scott’s shoulder.

“Goodbye, Rocky,” Derek says solemnly.

Scott grins at Derek. “It’s a work in progress,” he says jovially. “See you!”

Derek walks back to the house slowly, thoughtful as the sun begins to sink toward the horizon, his shadow stretching out behind him. Stiles is home by the time Derek gets back, his cruiser parked in the driveway next to his Jeep. He’s out on the back deck when Derek comes through the front door, making something on the grill that smells like charcoal and turns out to be chicken when Derek sticks his head out the back door.

“Hey man,” Stiles says cheerfully. “Thanks for the note. Good walk?”

Derek nods. “I saw Scott and his son.”

Stiles grins. “Sounds like fun.”

Derek nods again. He thinks about telling Stiles about Scott’s offer, but he’s not quite ready to share yet; he needs more time to think it over. “You need any help?”

Stiles inclines his head toward the kitchen. “I picked up stuff for a salad if you want to throw one together.”

Derek nods once more and retreats into the kitchen to wash off the vegetables from the fridge before chopping everything up for a salad. It’s nice, he thinks, as Stiles comes through the door with a plate of somewhat charred barbeque chicken. It feels like home here, like he fits. And why shouldn’t he accept Scott’s offer? It’s not like there’s anywhere else he could go.

“Hey,” Stiles says a little while later, as they’re eating. “Would you be all right if I hosted a party here this weekend?”

Derek gives him a confused look, not sure why he’s asking. “It’s your house.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yeah, but you live here too,” he says. “You’ve got the right to say no. I know you don’t like big crowds.”

Derek looks down at his plate, his brow furrowing. “How big of a party?”

“The pack,” Stiles tells him. “Maybe a couple people from work, and my dad. Nothing big enough to get the cops called on us.”

“You are the cops,” Derek says.

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees with a grin, “which would make it even worse. What do you think?”

Derek thinks about it. He’s already met most of the pack, and that wasn’t too bad. He thinks he can handle a couple more, and if it gets to be too much, he doesn’t think Stiles will be offended if he retreats to his room. “Okay.”

“Awesome!” Stiles says excitedly. “Thanks, man.”

Derek shrugs; having a party wouldn’t be his first choice, but he’ll do it if it’s that easy to put a smile on Stiles’ face. Stiles is so pleased he won’t even let Derek help with the dishes; Derek is banished to the living room, where he slowly flips through channels on the TV. He doesn’t like television all that much, but he’s developing a secret love for reality shows like Deadliest Catch and Ax Men. An easy peace falls over the house; Stiles moves around in the kitchen, and then goes outside to clean off the grill, and Derek sinks further into the couch, which smells like Stiles, his eyes settling half shut. His thoughts drift, a faint smile curving his lips when he thinks about Scott’s offer. This is his home, he thinks. He wants to stay.

Stiles comes back inside, banging around in the kitchen for a while longer before he heads to the back of the house and falls silent. Derek drifts, eyes closing against the bright glow of the television screen. He’s half asleep when Stiles comes into the living room, and Derek jolts awake at the way Stiles’ scent has gone sharp and tense.

“Derek,” Stiles says, his voice heavy. Derek sits up nervously, wide awake now as Stiles sits on the edge of the coffee table. Stiles hesitates and then says, “You didn’t tell me about the fire.”

Too late, Derek remembers how he’d closed the laptop in his panic, leaving the news article about his family’s deaths still displayed on the screen. “I don’t like to remember it,” he says miserably.

Stiles gives him an unnervingly steady look; it takes Derek a moment to realize that this is his sheriff expression. “That article says you’re dead,” he says. “Are you really Derek Hale?”

Derek stares at him in startled horror. “Who else would I be?” he asks hoarsely.

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, his expression not changing. “Someone who needed a new identity and stole it from a dead kid?”

Derek flinches. “I wouldn’t—that’s me,” he says, already realizing he’s got no way of proving it; he’s got no birth certificate, no driver’s license, nothing. It never occurred to him that he’d have to prove who he was.

“You know, we ran your fingerprints when you were admitted to the hospital,” Stiles tells him. “You’re not in any state or national database.” He watches Derek for a second and then says, “Luckily for you—or maybe not; I’m not sure lucky is the right word here—I found your obituary on that news site, and there was a picture of you playing basketball in high school. You’re either an identity thief who seriously lucked out by finding his doppelganger, or you’re really Derek Hale.”

Derek stares at him unhappily. “And what do you think?” he spits out.

“I think you’re Derek Hale,” Stiles says quietly, his heartbeat remaining steady. He looks down at his hands for a moment before asking, “Why would they say you and your sister died in the fire?”

“Because they didn’t want anyone trying to find us,” Derek says. “They probably paid off every official in town.”

Stiles’ lips part in surprise. “You think they’d do that?”

“You don’t understand how powerful their family is,” Derek tells him glumly. He watches Stiles scrub a hand through his hair, his brow furrowing as he thinks. “You know why I don’t trust cops?” Derek asks, and Stiles looks at him sharply. “I escaped from them once before this.”

He’d been left with one of the Argent cousins while the rest of the family was out of state, one of the lower ranking family members, eager to prove himself, but nervous around Derek. Derek had taken full advantage of his fear, backing him into a corner and attacking when the hunter lashed out, knocking him unconscious. He can still remember how fresh the air outside had tasted, how frantically his heart had beat when he realized he’d done it, and how it had sunk when he realized Laura was still locked up somewhere inside. That’s why he’d gone for the police, not daring to chance it by himself, and he’d just happened to find a sheriff’s deputy cruising one of the back roads near the Argent’s estate, and the man had listened to him so patiently, his voice so calm when he’d said, “Get in the back and we’ll get this sorted out,” and then he’d driven Derek right back to the Argent house, right back into the arms of the hunters.

Stiles’ face goes pale as Derek tells him this, horror flooding his expression. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he whispers.

“You get it?” Derek asks tonelessly. “They’ve got hands in every pocket on the East Coast.”

Stiles lets out a slow breath, dragging his hands through his hair again. “This is fucked up,” he mutters. Derek doesn’t say anything; he knows that better than anyone. “Okay,” Stiles says, after a long moment where they both stare at the carpet. “This makes things a little more difficult, but I’ll figure it out.”

“What are you going to do?” Derek asks uneasily.

“I’ve got to start building a case against them,” Stiles says with a frown. “And if they’re as well connected as you say they are, any previous violations of the law have probably been swept under the rug, so I’ll have to build it from the ground up. People like them don’t get where they are without making enemies, though, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find people to back up your story.”

“All their enemies are dead,” Derek says dourly.

“You’re not,” Stiles points out.

Derek opens his mouth and then closes it, not sure how to respond. Some part of him wants to say “I’d be better off if I was,” but the part of him that feels that way gets smaller and smaller with every day he stays in Beacon Hills.

“I’m glad you’re not,” Stiles adds quietly, getting to his feet. He rolls his shoulders, gaze absent as he looks out the window. “I think that’s enough for tonight.”

Derek nods, relieved. Maybe it was too much for Stiles, too, because he leaves the room, heading back to his office. Derek hears the door close behind him and then after a moment, it sounds like he’s talking on the phone with someone. Derek knows Stiles is probably talking about him, but he makes no attempt to listen in; he doesn’t want to know what Stiles thinks of him him. He didn’t even tell Stiles what Gerard did to him after, or the hunter who’d been in charge of him, but it’d been bad enough that Kate had stepped in, and that said enough. Derek doesn’t want pity. He just wants a normal life.

Derek rubs his hands over his face with a weary sigh; it’s been a long day. He thinks wistfully of that morning, waking up warm and safe next to Stiles. He doesn’t think it’s going to happen again, and certainly not tonight.

Derek gives up. Even though it’s still early, he goes to bed, curling up in his pile of blankets on the floor, which feel remarkably uncomfortable after last night’s stay in Stiles’ bed. And even though he wakes up many times throughout the night, he never hears Stiles come upstairs.

-

There's a weird air in the house for the next few days. It’s not uncomfortable, exactly, but Stiles is distracted; he leaves for work early and comes home late, though he’s always careful to tell Derek if he’s not going to be coming home. Derek knows he’s working at building a case against the Argents, but he doesn’t ask how it’s going; as much as Derek wants them to be brought to justice, part of him just wants to put it all behind him. Stiles only brings the topic up twice, the first time being when he asks where the Argents lived.

Derek has to think about it. When he and Laura were taken from the house, they were bound and blindfolded and put in the back of one of the Argent’s SUVs, and it’d taken a few hours to get to the Argent estate, though he hadn’t exactly been in the right state of mind for accurate timekeeping. When they’d escaped, they’d kept off roads, deliberately going as far off the beaten path as possible to make it difficult for humans to follow, and they’d been a long, long way from the estate before they’d ventured into any towns for food. “I’m not sure,” he admits, and Stiles’ face falls. “Finger Lakes, maybe.”

“That’s a town?” Stiles asks hopefully.

Derek shakes his head. “Region. South of Lake Ontario.”

Stiles sighs as he looks it up on his phone. “That’s like a sixth of the state, man. Can you zoom in even a little?”

Derek closes his eyes, trying to remember. “One of the hunters,” he says slowly. “He had a cabin on Hemlock Lake. Said it was a forty-minute drive from the Argent house.”

“All right, that narrows it down a bit,” Stiles says. “Better than nothing.”

“You can’t just look it up?” Derek asks.

“I will,” Stiles says. “But they’re going to know as soon as I start asking questions, and I want to keep ahead of them for as long as I can.”

“Sounds familiar,” Derek says morosely.

The second time Stiles asks is on Saturday morning, when Stiles sets a map of the U.S. down in front of him and asks him to retrace his route to the best of his ability, marking any place where something significant happened.

“I’m looking for witnesses,” he says grimly.

Derek struggles with this; much of it’s a blur of panic and adrenaline. He remembers a giant rocking chair somewhere in Indiana that for some reason had struck Laura as hilarious. Derek’s throat tightens when he remembers an old woman with an American flag on her shirt taking a picture of them standing in front of it, promising to email Laura the picture. He wonders if that picture’s sitting in Laura’s inbox, the last picture ever taken of the only family he had left.

“Derek, focus,” Stiles says gently, and Derek shakes his head against the burn in his throat. Illinois was where they decided to head north and try to cross the border, and right on the edge of the border with Iowa was where they’d met the farmer.

Derek freezes, the bottom of his stomach dropping away with the memory. Stiles leans forward. “Farmer?” he asks insistently. “Did he help you guys out? Would he testify?”

“No,” Derek says bluntly, feeling like he’s going to throw up. He lurches to his feet and escapes out the back door and into the backyard, flopping down onto the sun-warmed grass and forcing in deep lungfuls of fresh air.

He hears Stiles come outside after a couple minutes, carefully closing the back door behind him. His footsteps are soft in the grass, but Derek doesn’t look for him, even when he sits down a couple feet away. Instead, he fixes his eyes on the sky, brilliant blue and studded with huge white cloud. One rolls over the sun, casting the lawn in shadow before moving on.

“You know I have to ask,” Stiles says when the silence has stretched on too long.

Derek squeezes his eyes shut. “I know.”

They met him at a bar where Laura was hustling guys playing pool. He’d been one of her victims, graciously handing over the money he’d lost, and then offering them a place to stay for the night, apparently taking note of their somewhat rough-around-the-edges appearances. They shouldn’t have accepted the offer, should have thought more about the possible dangers and consequences of accepting outside help, but at that point it had been weeks of sleeping on the ground and breaking into houses to steal food, and they'd said yes without even stopping to think.

His name was Lawrence; he was in his late seventies and lonely after his wife had died three years before, and in the long years since their family had been murdered, no one had been kinder to Derek and Laura than him. They were careful not to tell him too much about their pasts, but he was sharp, his wits quick, and he seemed to understand that what they told him was only scraping the surface and because of that—or maybe that’s just the way he was—he treated them well. A day after bringing them home from the bar, he asked them what their favorite foods were and when he came back from a trip into town, he didn’t just have food, but clothes and new shoes, and prenatal vitamins for Laura.

“I think we can trust him,” Laura breathed later that night, and when they told Lawrence the next morning that they were werewolves, he just smiled and said, “Had a feeling you were. My wife was too. Hunters, is it?”

He was going to get in touch with his wife’s old pack, try to get them to help, and if that didn’t work, he said, he’d drive them to Canada himself. The local alpha was out of town for a few days, which meant sticking around the farm, and they should have thought about it, should have known that staying in place for longer than a day or two was a bad idea, but maybe being treated so well made them complacent, reluctant to return to the woods. All Derek knows is that by the time they heard vehicles coming up the private road that led to the farm, it was too late to run; all the land around the house and barn was open fields, too sparse and dead in the late fall to hide in.

They were out in the barn with Lawrence, helping him tend to his small herd of cattle, pitching hay down from the hayloft when Laura picked up the sound of engines. He hid them up there, covered them in hay with a swiftness that belied his age. Laura begged him to hide with them, but he’d just given her a gentle smile and said everything would work out.

He was back down on the main level by the time the hunters roared up to the house, a whole convoy of the dark, tinted-window SUVs the Argents were so fond of. It never occurred to either of them that so many of the hunters would come after them, and it only occurs to Derek now that the Argents would have known that he and Laura could bring down the entire family if they got away, and they would have been eager to stop them. Laura’s hand found Derek’s under the straw as the hunters first tried the empty house and then the barn, where Lawrence strode to the open barn doors to greet them.

Gerard was at the head of the group, and Derek bit down on his lip until it bled at the sight of Kate sauntering along behind him, a rifle casually slung over her shoulder. Laura’s hand tightened around his in a warning to keep silent, which Derek fully understood. One mistake and they’d be dead before they even realized it.

Gerard didn’t beat around the bush, snarling “Where are they?” at Lawrence. Derek still doesn’t know how the hunters tracked him and Laura to the farm without tracks or a scent trail, but it was probably someone in town who’d seen them leave the bar with Lawrence.

Lawrence wasn’t foolish enough to pretend not to know who Gerard was talking about. “You missed them,” he said, leaning on his pitchfork. “Headed west a couple hours ago.”

Gerard snapped his fingers and most of the hunters turned on their heels, heading back to their cars with Gerard’s son, Chris, leading them. Only Kate remained where she was, her eyes flickering around the barn alertly.

“I wouldn’t help scum like them in the future,” Gerard told Lawrence coldly. “Those monsters are worth less than the air they breathe.”

“Monsters?” Lawrence repeated lightly. “I’ll tell you something; I’ve been on this earth a long time, and I ain’t seen anything more monstrous than the man standing in front of me.”

Gerard glared at him, his lip curling in disgust. “Katie,” he said to his daughter, dismissively turning his back on Lawrence, “give the bleeding heart his reward. Let him savor it.”

A slow smile curled Kate’s lips. “Sure thing,” she said, and unshouldered her rifle.

“Oh, no,” Stiles breathes. “Shit—Derek, you don’t have to tell me this—”

“He didn’t die,” Derek grits out, squeezing his eyes shut. “Not right away.”

Kate did it intentionally, shooting him in the stomach so he’d bleed out slowly. This part’s gone fuzzy and distant in his brain; he remembers Laura crying with blood on her hands, cows watching them with big dark eyes. Derek breathes in shakily, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. It was one of the worst days of his life; he doesn’t think he’ll ever get over that moment when it hit him that Lawrence had died because of them. A kind, innocent man, the first glimmer of hope they’d seen in years, and it was their fault he was gone.

“Hey, no,” Stiles says, his voice suddenly closer. “This is not your fault, Derek. You didn’t pull that trigger.”

“Might as well have,” Derek mutters. “If we hadn’t run—”

“No,” Stiles says firmly. “You shouldn’t have been taken captive in the first place. They can’t play God like that—it’s not up to them to decide who deserves to live and die.”

Derek cracks his eyes open. Stiles is leaning over him, his face serious. When he sees Derek looking at him, he says again, “It’s not your fault. Not in any way.” His face softens as he looks down at Derek, shifting from cop stare to sympathy. “I’m sorry for bringing it up,” he says.

“Someone should know,” Derek says miserably. Guilt flashes over Stiles’ face and he reaches out to touch Derek’s cheek, but Derek can’t handle the look on his face right now; he turns his head, pushing himself up onto his elbows.

“Look,” Stiles says, after an awkward moment. “Is there anything I can do for you? As a friend, I mean, not a cop.”

Derek stares off at the woods beyond the backyard, his throat tight, and doesn’t answer.

“Do you want me to leave you alone?” Stiles asks uncertainly.

“No,” Derek says, managing to unstick his throat.

“Do you want me to stay?” Stiles asks, and Derek nods. Stiles hesitates, and then he asks, “Can I touch you?” Derek draws in a deep breath before nodding again, and he hears Stiles shift forward until he’s sitting next to Derek, looping a cautious arm around his shoulders. Derek sighs quietly and, ever so slowly, relaxes into Stiles’ hold. He breathes in and out slowly, allowing himself to be calmed by Stiles’ alpha scent.

“Do you want me to cancel the party?” Stiles asks after a while. “We could have a quiet night. Watch a movie here—or go see one, maybe.”

Derek would like that, very much so, but he shakes his head and says, “No,” because he knows that Stiles has been looking forward to tonight. Stiles has never mentioned it, but Derek gets the feeling that he’s usually a pretty social person, and he’s only been home so much because Derek’s there. Derek feels guilty about it; he doesn’t want to keep Stiles from his friends.

“You sure?” Stiles asks, leaning into him. Derek nods, his heart suddenly leaping to his throat when he realizes Stiles is absently rubbing his cheek against Derek’s shoulder. Derek carefully keeps still; Stiles doesn’t seem to realize what he’s doing. Even when he does sit up, his cheek red, all he says is, “I’ve got to get to the grocery store, then. You want to come?”

“Sure,” Derek says, trying to sound casual, but he sneaks a surreptitious sniff of his shoulder as he follows Stiles back to the house, suppressing a shudder at the delicious way their scents blend there. Stiles glances over his shoulder at him and Derek clears his throat, not particularly wanting to go back to the subject but wanting to distract Stiles. “Are you going to do anything about—what I told you?”

Stiles frowns a little, swinging open the back door. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll have to see if I can track him down on Monday. This is good, in a way—I’m sure he’s been found by now, so there’s probably an open investigation into his death. With you as a material witness, that’s another charge against the Argents, and the more charges we can level against them, the greater the chance that they’re never getting out of jail.”

“You don’t think the cops will try to pin it on me?” Derek asks hesitantly.

Stiles shakes his head. “Unlikely. Statistically, a werewolf's weapon of choice is usually claws.” He pauses there, giving Derek a long look, and then says, “That’s for Monday, though. Let’s try to enjoy the weekend, huh?”

-

After returning from the grocery store, Derek and Stiles spend most of the afternoon by themselves, Stiles in the kitchen making a truly staggering amount of hamburgers, and Derek in the woods collecting firewood for a bonfire. Derek’s fine with being alone; as much as he’d like to brush it off, talking to Stiles about Lawrence has shaken him. It’s been months since Derek really thought about him, the need to survive and other tragedies pushing the memory of his death to the back of his mind. Now he can’t stop thinking about Laura pressing her hands over the gunshot wound in his stomach, and Lawrence smiling up at her comfortingly as his life drained away.

It shouldn’t hurt as much as it does; he was mostly a stranger to them, but after losing so many people Derek cared about, and being abused for so long, maybe it makes sense that losing someone who’d treated them with so much kindness without expecting anything in return is so painful. He has to struggle with the sudden fear that the same is going to happen to Stiles when the Argents show up. If Stiles dies, Derek doesn’t know what he would do—willingly let the Argents kill him, probably. He doesn’t think he can handle any more loss. He has to tell himself that it’s not going to happen; even if the Argents do show up, Stiles is a cop, and he can handle himself, and there’s a whole pack here Derek can call for help.

Being outside helps calm him; the air is fresh and clear, the day warm. He can hear there’s no unnatural movement in the woods, no enemy scents on the wind. Even when Stiles’ friends start to show up, it’s a welcome distraction, a different kind of stress. He knows most of them anyway and, as always, he’s startled by how welcoming they are; Erica playfully socks him on the arm as her twins go streaming past, and Boyd gives him a placid smile. Even Rocky gives him a shy wave when Scott and Kira arrive.

Scott grins when he spots Derek and calls, “Dude, I want to talk to you later!” Derek nods, watching Scott turn and clap Stiles on the back.

Derek keeps off to the side as more people show up. He recognizes a couple deputies and Stiles’ dad, who gives him a friendly wink. Stiles is all over the place, his eyes bright as he talks with people. He pops up next to Derek several times to check on him and Derek almost wishes he wouldn’t because of the way the gazes of the people around them slip toward them, like they’re hiding some great secret.

“Want something to drink?” Stiles asks him on one such visit. “I can grab you a beer.”

“I can’t get drunk,” Derek says.

Stiles laughs. “That’s what you think,” he says, and disappears across the yard. When he comes back, he’s carrying two beers, one of which he hands to Derek. “Try it.”

Derek lifts the bottle to his mouth, but pauses before sipping, catching a familiar scent. “There’s wolfsbane in this?” he asks Stiles, confused.

“Yeah!” Stiles says cheerfully. “Not the deadly kind. It’s a strain that mimics the effects of alcohol.”

“I thought it was illegal,” Derek says suspiciously, staring at the bottle. “You’re a cop. Should you have this?”

“It’s illegal in New York, sure,” Stiles says. “But they decriminalized it here like five years ago, and made it legal last year. I mean,” he adds hurriedly, “you don’t have to drink it. I can get you a soda or something.”

Derek looks at him and then at the bottle before raising it again and taking a cautious sip. Despite being able to smell it, he can’t taste the wolfsbane at all; it just tastes like beer.

“Okay?” Stiles says, looking a little concerned. Derek nods, and his expression clears. “Okay, good. Help yourself to more,” he adds, gesturing vaguely over his shoulder. “I’ve got to start grilling.”

Derek nods again and Stiles spins off through the crowd. Derek nurses his beer as everyone chatters around him, taking a couple steps back when Scott and Isaac take it upon themselves to get the bonfire started. He doesn’t like being able to feel the warmth of the flames, and he struggles to push away a viscerally sharp memory of the sound of the house burning, Laura screaming for their family over the roar of the flames. He takes a larger swig of beer, wrinkling his nose at the alcoholic burn of it.

Derek’s nearly finished the bottle, a gentle sort of buzz rolling over him, when there’s a commotion over by the house, and he looks up to see an unfamiliar woman dashing across the lawn to leap at Stiles, who catches her with the happiest laugh Derek has ever heard from him. She murmurs something Derek doesn’t catch and Stiles laughs again, pressing a kiss to her cheek.

Derek shifts his gaze to the fire as the rest of the pack migrates toward the two of them, fighting to suppress the jealousy tightening his chest. Of course Stiles has never shown any interest in him; he’s seeing this girl, whoever she is. Derek doesn’t have any right to be upset—it’s not like he ever asked—but his heart still aches. Whoever this girl is, she’s well-liked by the pack; they’re all gathered around her and Stiles now, talking cheerfully.

Derek finishes his beer and dully wonders how having another might make him feel—he’s been drunk exactly one time in his life, when Laura smuggled home from college a highly illicit vial of hallucinogenic wolfsbane and mixed it with the cheapest twelve-pack of beer she could find, and they got drunk in the woods behind the house. Derek was sixteen, and doesn’t remember it as a particularly enjoyable experience, but if it’ll distract him from the way Stiles keeps smiling at the stranger, he’ll welcome it. The only problem is that the cooler with all the drinks in it is directly behind the pack. He’s just wondering if maybe instead he can go into the woods for a while without anyone noticing when there’s a lull in the conversation, and almost automatically his attention goes to Stiles in time to hear him say “—meet him.”

“That’s him?” the girl responds. “Over by the fire?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “And I know you don’t like people, but be nice to him, all right? The past couple years haven’t been super easy on him.”

Derek sets his jaw when he realizes they’re talking about him. They probably don’t realize he can hear them; with all the noise in the backyard, most of the other werewolves here probably wouldn’t have been able to at this distance, but Derek’s hearing has been sharpened by survival, and their conversation is crystal clear to him.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” the girl says doubtfully. “He’s putting off major don’t-come-near-me vibes.”

“Sounds like he could be your twin, then,” Stiles retorts. “Come on.”

Derek stiffens as they approach, looking everywhere else until they're too close to ignore, then he looks at Stiles' feet, and then, very reluctantly, at his face.

"Hey man," Stiles says earnestly. "There's someone I'd like you to meet." He gestures at the woman next to him. "This is Malia. She's like Ron Swanson, only much angrier, and without the mustache."

Derek has no idea what he's referencing, but he nods anyway. "Hi," he says to Malia, his eyes flickering to her and then away. She's pretty, dark hair falling past her chin in loose waves, her skin tan. He wonders how hurt Stiles would be if he were to disappear into the house now. He wonders where Malia's been, and why Stiles has never mentioned her. Or maybe he has, her name lost amongst all the tales of the town Stiles used to tell him when he was in the hospital.

"Hey," Malia says unconcernedly, looking utterly uninterested in him. At least the feeling's mutual, Derek thinks, guilty and miserable.

"Malia works for the National Forest Service," Stiles tells Derek cheerfully. "She just got back from a month of training in Denver."

Derek stares at him, not sure what sort of reaction Stiles is expecting from him. "Oh," he says eventually. Malia snorts and he hunches his shoulders defensively.

Stiles' eyebrows draw together slightly, like he's picking up on the tension in the air. "You're empty," he says abruptly, gesturing to the beer bottle in Derek's hand. "You want another?"

Derek does, wants to get himself so drunk he forgets all of this, but he doesn't want to say yes because he knows if he does it means that Stiles will leave him alone with Malia, and he'd rather just fall into the bonfire. Stiles doesn't let him decide; he smiles artificially and says, "I'll be right back," and strides off across the lawn.

Derek expects more awkward silence; he doesn't expect Malia to turn to him and say, "I'm not his girlfriend."

"What?" Derek says, startled by her bluntness.

Malia rolls her eyes. "I'm not his girlfriend," she repeats. "We're not dating. I'm not going to steal him from you, so relax."

Derek eyes her distrustfully. "How—we're not—"

"Oh," Malia says, her expression going thoughtful. "You haven't told him. Have you?"

Derek shakes his head reluctantly, his face burning. His eyes, as if on their own accord, slip sideways, watching Stiles as he bends to pull a drink from the cooler.

"I'm not going to tell him, if it makes you feel better," Malia offers. "That's your business."

Derek eyes her. "Thanks," he says cautiously, and to his surprise she offers him a faint smile in return.

When Stiles returns, beers in hand, he eyes the two of them carefully. Whatever he sees he apparently likes, because he grins and hands each of them a bottle. "Bottoms up," he says, reaching out to clink his bottle to theirs.

"Stiles!" Scott calls across the yard. "Your hamburgers are on fire, dude!"

Stiles coughs, spilling half his beer down his shirt in his haste to dash to the grill. Malia winks at Derek before turning to link her arm with Lydia's, leaning into a conversation she's having with Isaac. Derek, to his relief, is once again left alone, at least until it's time to eat, when he finds himself crammed between Stiles' dad and Boyd at the picnic table off the back deck. Scott, Kira, and Stiles sit on the other side with Rocky on Stiles' lap, ignoring Kira's attempts to feed him carrots.

"So, Derek," Scott says, leaning forward. "Have you given my offer any thought?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Derek sees Stiles look at him sharply, but Derek keeps his focus on Scott. "I have," he says quietly.

Scott raises his eyebrows. "And?"

Derek hesitates, aware that everyone at the table is looking at him curiously. "I'd like to join you," he says.

Scott gives a whoop of excitement so loud that Rocky drops the carrot Kira had finally forced into his hand. Stiles is looking between the two of them in confusion. "What's going on?"

"Derek's joining the pack!" Scott tells him excitedly, already halfway out of his seat. He trots around the table and wraps his arms around Derek's shoulders, nearly vibrating with excitement. Derek goes stiff in his embrace, but doesn't try to shrug him off, a large part of him sighing in relief at the easy acceptance of an alpha—his alpha.

"Dude, why didn't you say anything?" Stiles asks, still confused.

Derek shrugs. "You've been busy."

Stiles blinks as Scott straightens and calls to the rest of the pack. "Does this mean you're staying?" Stiles asks him. "For real?"

"I think so," Derek says slowly. He gives Stiles an uncertain look. "If you'll let me."

"Let you?" A grin breaks out over Stiles' face as the pack swarms around the picnic table. "Dude, this calls for a celebration."

Celebrate they do; Scott stands up on the picnic table, announcing with a grin that Derek’s joining the pack, and since the party is mostly made of pack, Derek finds himself surrounded by people eager to welcome him—his pack members, he has to keep reminding himself, a little dazedly. It’s a little overwhelming to have so much attention focused on him, so he’s grateful when they stop celebrating him, and start celebrating in general, some of the pack putting away truly astounding amounts of alcohol.

“I’m too old for this kind of scene,” Stiles’ father eventually sighs, patting Derek on the shoulder and waving to Stiles before heading for the front of the house.

Derek feels much the same, but no one really bothers him when he keeps to the fringe of things, watching. He went to a couple parties in high school when he was—for a brief time before the fire—popular, but this isn’t the same. Back then, it’d seemed like the goal of things was to get as drunk as possible and hook up with someone, and because he’d been unable to get drunk, the parties hadn’t been all that interesting. Here, though, Derek can tell that this is a group of people that just genuinely enjoys spending time together. Kira and Isaac have roped the kids into some kind of rough-and-tumble tag game, while over by the fire, Stiles’ laughter is starting to rival Erica’s cackling in volume. Lydia and Deputy Parrish are sitting in the cool grass on the far side of the fire; Lydia’s got baby Vernon in her lap and Derek can hear her singing to him, her voice so pure he understands why she’s a famous musician.

He jolts in surprise when Malia pops up next to him, a wicked smile crossing her face when she sees him jump. Derek’s ready to blame it on the wolfsbane beer—he’s three in, and the world already seems a lot smaller, quieter, more intimate.

“Hey,” Malia says lightly.

Derek nods, watching her warily.

“Look,” she says, tapping her fingernails against the bottle of beer in her hand. “Stiles told me a little about you.”

Derek’s eyes flicker to Stiles, where he's laughing raucously with Scott, and then back to Malia. “And?”

Malia shifts her feet restlessly; Derek gets the feeling that she’s just as unwilling to talk about herself as he is about himself, but she says, “I spent eight years in the woods.”

Derek’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “Hunted?” he asks, before he can stop himself.

Malia shakes her head. “Full shift,” she says. “I was stuck.”

Derek’s eyebrows rise even further. “Full shift?” he echoes, awe creeping into his voice. He’s never met a shifter capable of the full transformation to animal form. Even his mom had never been able to manage it, and she was from one of the oldest werewolf families in the country—werewolf royalty. He hadn’t even realized Malia’s a shifter; she just smells like an alpha-type to him. “You’re—”

“Coyote,” Malia says, shrugging dismissively. “Anyway, I know the transition’s hard. I slept outside for like six months after I changed back.”

Derek looks down at his feet, his bare toes curling against the grass. Maybe it’s the beer that makes him warm to her, or maybe it’s her refreshingly blunt nature, which reminds him of Laura, but he says, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be normal again.”

“What’s normal is for you to decide, no one else,” Malia says fiercely, her eyes flashing blue. “If it feels right, do it. No one else gets to pick what’s right or wrong for you. Definitely not Stiles,” she adds, catching Derek’s gaze drifting again.

“Speaking from experience?” Derek asks dryly.

Malia barks out a laugh. “He tried to convince me that my favorite food is pizza,” she says. “But I’ll take deer any day.”

Derek snorts quietly. They stand in silence for a long moment before Malia asks, “How old were you when you lost your pack?”

“Seventeen,” Derek replies. He takes a fortifying swig from his bottle and asks, “How old were you when you came out of the woods?”

“Sixteen,” Malia says. “Scott and Stiles drew me out. I owe them a lot.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees quietly. “I do too.”

Malia turns to look at him. “If you ever want to talk—I’ll try to listen.”

Derek snorts again; that sounds like something Laura would have said. “Did Stiles tell you to say that?”

“He asked me to talk to you,” Malia says. “But even he can’t make me talk to someone I don’t want to.” She spares him a brief smile. “Anyway—welcome to the pack.”

Derek manages to give her a faint smile in return. “Thank you,” he says, and he really means it.

-

By the time the party winds down, Derek’s definitely drunk; he feels like he’s wrapped in a warm haze of light, senses dulled. He submits easily to another tight hug from Scott when he and Kira take Rocky home, and doesn’t even flinch when Erica gives him one too. Soon it’s just him and Stiles bringing food in from outside, Derek moving in a slow, mostly thoughtless daze. He thinks, vaguely, that maybe doing the dishes will wake him up, but the hot water only makes him more tired.

Stiles comes inside while Derek’s thinking about how appealing the thought of going to bed sounds, dumps an armful of empty bottles into the recycling bin, and then startles Derek by leaning into his side with a sigh.

“Glad you’re staying,” he says, his words slurring a little.

Derek turns his head to look at him, bringing their faces much closer than he realized they’d be. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “I am too.”

Stiles looks at him, their noses almost touching. There are spots of color high on his cheeks, his eyes lidded and nearly the color of honey under the bright kitchen lights. He doesn’t say anything at all and it’s nearly unbearable, being so close to him. With his own face growing hot, Derek moves to turn his head, and that’s the moment Stiles jolts forward, smashing their mouths together.

Two months before the fire, Derek started dating his first girlfriend, Paige, and they used to hang out at her house almost everyday after school, ostensibly to work on homework, but mostly to make out. She was the first person Derek ever kissed—and then there was Kate, who didn’t normally like to kiss him, but even she got heat-stupid and kissed him softly and made him feel needed and safe—

Derek shoves all thought of her from his mind because Stiles is here, and he’s kissing Derek because he wants to, because he likes him. He smells so fucking good it makes Derek’s knees weak, his bones turning to jelly at the intense flair of want spiking Stiles’ alpha scent. It makes Derek want to lie down for him, peel off his clothes and let Stiles have him. As it is, Derek can barely manage to pull his hands from the soapy water, touching tentatively at Stiles’ waist as Stiles curls a hand around the back of his neck and pulls him in closer. His kisses are rough, demanding, and Derek gives back as best he can, already addicted to them.

It’s only seconds before they pull apart to breathe, but they’re both panting; it feels like years. Stiles’ pupils have shrunk to pinpricks.

“Fuck,” Stiles says hoarsely, his thumb pressing against the hinge of Derek’s jaw. “You—” He draws in a deep breath, eyelashes fluttering. “Upstairs? We should—”

“Yeah,” Derek says, before his courage deserts him. His heart’s thundering in his chest, adrenaline surging through him. A small voice at the back of his mind says maybe he should slow down and think about it, but this is what he wants, what he’s been craving. Malia said he gets to decide what’s normal, and this—this is it. “The dishes—”

“Sure,” Stiles says, already backing toward the living room. “Finish ‘em. I’m just going to wash up.”

“Okay,” Derek says, watching Stiles disappear out of the room. He doesn’t let himself rush through the rest of the dishes, though he wants to. His anticipation is mounting as fast as his nerves. He listens to Stiles moving around upstairs and wonders if Stiles is as nervous as he is. Probably not; he doesn’t think he’s ever seen Stiles get nervous about anything. His confidence is as much a mystery to Derek as it is alluring. Derek wishes he could move through the world so easily.

Stiles has fallen silent upstairs by the time Derek’s finished with the dishes, but Derek hesitates for a moment after he’s dried his hands, breathing in deeply. This is going to be okay, he tells himself. Stiles isn’t Kate. He’ll listen to what Derek says; Derek’s ready for this.

Still, he thinks, his gaze drifting to the counter, where a couple unopened beers sit. He could be a little more relaxed. There’s only one wolfsbane beer left, but it’s enough; he cracks it open and swallows it down in four long pulls. Already feeling a little more confident, Derek heads upstairs, forcing himself to go slow and steady, breathing in and out deeply. His hands are clammy by the time he gets to the hallway, and he has to stop and listen to the steady beating of Stiles’ heart before he can move forward. Derek nudges open Stiles’ door and steps into the room, no stopping now—except he does. Stiles is stretched out over the bed, clad only in boxers, and appears to be, for all intents and purposes, fast asleep.

Derek stares at him for a long moment before cautiously saying, “Stiles?”

Stiles doesn’t respond. Derek, his confidence beginning to slip away again, steps up the side of the bed and prods at Stiles. “Stiles?”

Stiles groans into his comforter, but otherwise doesn’t move, and Derek gives up. He heads to his room, secretly relieved; maybe he was moving too fast for his own comfort. At the very least, now they’ve kissed, so he knows how Stiles feels about him, and Stiles knows how he feels. They can talk about it tomorrow.

Derek can’t help smiling to himself as he climbs into his comfortable cocoon of blankets. He’s got a pack, he’s got Stiles—he’s starting to feel like he belongs.

-

Derek sleeps without waking once in the night, which is an unusual occurrence for him, but he’s woken in the mid-morning by Stiles yelling something. Derek comes out of sleep blearily, his head pounding painfully when he sits up. Stiles is still yelling and it takes Derek a moment to realize that he’s singing; not only that, but he’s singing a Christmas carol.

“—on the feast of Stephen!” Stiles bellows from the shower. “When the snow lay round about—”

Derek groans quietly and sinks back down amongst his blankets, pulling his comforter over his head. Stiles sings for the entire time he’s in the shower, and he doesn’t seem to know anything other than the first verse of the song, so he repeats it over and over. Derek’s not sure why he’s doing it; all he knows is that he’s grateful when the shower shuts off and Stiles finally stops. He only drags himself out of bed sometime after Stiles heads downstairs, and spends way too long in the shower trying to feel like a real person again. He didn’t even know he could be hungover; he’s not enjoying it all that much, and he doesn’t even know where in the house to find aspirin.

Stiles is in the kitchen when Derek goes downstairs and Derek pauses in the doorway to watch him moving gingerly around the kitchen, wincing as he drops more empty bottles into the recycling bin. Catching sight of Derek standing in the doorway, Stiles gives him a half-hearted smile. “Do you feel like death?” he asks. “Because I feel like death.”

“What was the singing about?” Derek asks.

Stiles winces. “God, sorry. That’s my punishment for myself when I drink too much.”

“Christmas carols?” Derek says doubtfully.

“Volume,” Stiles says ruefully. “Gotta shake myself out of that hangover fugue state. Speaking of—you want some breakfast?”

Derek shakes his head, a little queasy at the thought, and watches Stiles move around the kitchen again, pulling food from the fridge. He’s a little confused; surely Stiles should have mentioned the kiss by now. It’s not like it was an insignificant thing to happen—unless Stiles thinks nothing of it. Derek swallows hard, stomach twisting with anxiety. He should bring it up, because even if it wasn’t anything to Stiles, it was to Derek, and Stiles—he should know, right?

“Last night,” Derek starts, and then loses his nerve.

Stiles shoots him a smile over his shoulder. “It was fun. I had a good time. Did you? It wasn’t too overwhelming, was it?”

Derek shakes his head, but he’s starting to feel overwhelmed now. “We,” he tries, but Stiles is still talking.

“Maybe too good of a time,” he’s saying ruefully. “I hate getting that drunk. I don’t even remember everyone leaving.”

Derek freezes, the bottom of his stomach dropping away when the meaning of this statement hits him; Stiles doesn’t remember. Stiles doesn’t remember kissing him, or inviting him upstairs. What does it mean then that they kissed? That, like Derek, Stiles has wanted to and needed the alcohol to fortify his courage? That he’d only done it because he was drunk, and wouldn’t have otherwise? That he’d done it because he was drunk and horny and it didn’t matter that it was Derek in front of him? Derek feels sick.

“I’m going back to bed,” he says abruptly.

Stiles stops talking, surprise flashing over his face. “Oh,” he says. “Okay. Are you feeling all right?”

Derek shrugs, not sticking around for follow-up questions. He goes back upstairs and heads for his room, gently closing the door behind him before climbing into bed, his head and heart heavy. In some fucked up way, he misses life in the Argent house. Life there was hell, but most of the time he didn’t have to think, didn’t have to navigate the complicated relationships of real life.

The house is quiet; Stiles hasn’t gone anywhere, but whatever he’s doing isn’t making any noise—working in his office, probably. Derek stays in his room well into the afternoon, until his stomach is tight with hunger and he finally rises, quietly making himself a sandwich in the kitchen. He half expects Stiles to come out of the office, but he doesn’t and when Derek tentatively peers inside, Stiles is hunched over the desk, writing intently. He’s wholly focused on whatever he’s doing, which is fine with Derek, who goes outside to eat his sandwich on the back deck.

The thing is, he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to bring the kiss up to Stiles, afraid of what he might see on Stiles’ face. He doesn’t want to make things awkward between them—there’s been enough of that—but if Derek doesn’t say anything, he’s not sure what he’ll do with himself. He’s not going to be able to just put it aside. He just wishes he’d had some indication—any indication—from Stiles as to how he feels about Derek.

Sandwich consumed, Derek decides to go talk with Scott. Scott’s his alpha, and he’d said Derek could talk to him about anything, including Stiles. Stiles is his best friend, too; Scott will know if Stiles has any feelings for him. Derek trusts Scott more than he trusts anyone in Beacon Hills, including Stiles. He knows Scott will listen to him and judge him fairly.

Depositing his plate in the sink, Derek chances another glance into Stiles’ office, but Stiles is on the phone now, turned away from the door. Derek leaves him be, and slinks out of the house quietly. It’s not a short walk to the hospital, but it feels good to be out in the fresh air. Most of Derek’s hangover symptoms have disappeared, though he’s still got a faint ache at the back of his neck—but even that fades after a couple of blocks, and Derek breathes in deeply.

The hospital lobby’s quiet when he walks in, only a couple people sitting around, and Derek heads for the nurse behind the front desk. “Can I see Dr. McCall?” he asks her.

The nurse tucks a dark curl behind her ear. “He’s not in today, sweetheart,” she tells him. “Did you have an appointment?”

Derek looks at her blankly. It hadn’t occurred to him that Scott wouldn’t be here, though obviously he gets days off. “Oh,” he says. Shit. He doesn’t know where Scott lives, and it’s not like he’s at home to ask Stiles.

The nurse gives him an encouraging smile. “Did you need Dr. McCall for something specific? Can another doctor take care of you?”

“It’s not—health related,” Derek admits. “I need to talk to him.”

The nurse’s expression clears. “Oh,” she says, in sudden understanding. “You’re in his pack. Are you Derek?”

Derek nods, startled that she knows who he is. Scott must be pretty open about who’s in the pack; it’s such a foreign concept to Derek.

“Hold on,” the nurse tells him confidently. “I’ve got an in with Scott.” Derek, confused, watches her pick up the phone at the front desk and swiftly dial a number. She pauses, listening, and then when Scott picks up—Derek can hear him faintly—she smiles at Derek and says, “Hi, sweetheart, it’s Mom.”

Derek stares at her, shocked. This is Scott’s mother? She gives him another smile and says, “Honey, Derek came to the hospital to see you. He says he needs to talk to you.”

Derek can’t make out exactly what Scott says, just the low buzz of his voice, but his mother nods. “All right,” she says. “I’ll put him somewhere safe.” She hangs up the phone and looks at Derek. “He’s on his way. Follow me, Derek.”

Derek does as he’s told, meekly following Scott’s mom down a quiet hallway. “I thought I’d meet you sooner,” she tells him over her shoulder. “But I had to work last night, so I couldn’t make it to the party. Did everyone have a good time?”

Derek settles for a shrug, not sure what to tell her. She just smiles again, stopping outside a room and swiping a keycard through the lock. “Here,” she says, pushing the door open. “You can wait for Scott in here.”

Derek steps inside cautiously, but it’s just a hospital room, much like the one he’d first occupied when he arrived in Beacon Hills. He looks at Scott’s mom. “Thanks.”

She smiles. “My pleasure, Derek.”

And as she turns, Derek asks, “What’s your name?”

“Oh!” She turns, looking embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I’m Melissa, Derek. Melissa McCall.”

“Melissa,” Derek repeats quietly. “Thank you.”

She winks at him and disappears, the door quietly swinging shut behind her. Derek’s left to the silence of the hospital room, the anxiety in his chest swelling with every passing minute. He feels alternatively stupid and relieved for coming to find Scott, one moment certain he’s overreacting, the next certain he’s doing the right thing.

Fifteen minutes later, there’s a soft knock on the door and then it swings open, Scott stepping inside. He looks tired and, seeing him, Derek feels guiltier than ever. Maybe this is a terrible idea.

“Hey man,” Scott says. “You okay?”

Derek looks down at his hands, his jaw clenching as he summons the courage to say what’s on his mind. “No,” he grinds out.

Scott shifts forward, pulling a chair up to the edge of the bed. When Derek chances a glance at him, he looks concerned, a faint frown furrowing his brow. “What’s going on?” he asks Derek. “Did something happen?”

Derek hesitates. “You won’t tell anyone?”

“Of course not,” Scott says seriously. “Nothing you say to me will leave this room.”

“Okay,” Derek says quietly. He draws in a deep breath and then slowly lets it go before admitting, “Stiles kissed me last night.” He chances another quick look at Scott, whose frown deepens but doesn’t otherwise react. When he says nothing, Derek continues, “He invited me upstairs and he—he doesn’t remember any of it.”

This makes Scott lean back in his chair, exhaling forcefully. “Okay,” he says slowly. “That’s a problem, obviously, but you need to tell me why.”

Derek gives him a confused look. “What do you mean?”

“This is upsetting you,” Scott says. “I can see that, and I want to help you with this, but you need to tell me why you’re upset. Is it because you didn’t want him to kiss you? Or because he doesn’t remember?”

Derek looks back down at his hands, curling his fingers against his knees. “I want him to remember,” he admits, voice so low it’s nearly a whisper. “But not—if he doesn’t feel—” He cuts himself off, giving up with a sigh.

“Look,” Scott says gently, “it’s not my place to tell you how he feels about you, but you need to talk to him.”

Derek winces. “Could I stay with you?”

“Sure,” Scott says easily. “But you still have to talk to him first.” Derek sighs, and Scott gives him an understanding look. “I know this shit isn’t easy, but what else are you going to do? Avoid him? That’s not fair to him, man.”

Derek nods reluctantly. He knows Scott’s right. Stiles has done so much for him; Derek couldn’t do that to him.

Scott watches him for a long moment before he says, “I guess it was naive of me to think that this would be an easy transition for you.”

Derek looks down at his hands again, thinking guiltily of the trouble he’s caused, the people he’s made worry.

“No, no,” Scott says gently. “It’s not your fault, man. What happened to you would be hard on anyone. I just wonder—it might be beneficial to you to see a therapist.” Derek stiffens, and Scott says hurriedly, “I know there’s a stigma there, but try to see past that. Plenty of people see someone—Stiles has seen someone since his mom died when he was a kid, and I saw someone for a while after I was bitten. I’m familiar with everyone in the area—I could refer you to someone I trust.”

Derek keeps his eyes on his hands, grinding his teeth together. He’s not sure he could do it—he doesn’t want to relive what he went through, and certainly not with a stranger.

“You don’t have to,” Scott tells him softly. “I just think it might help. Think about it. No rush.”

“Fine,” Derek mutters.

Scott’s silent again for a while, watching him, and then he says, “You know we have to go over there.”

Derek nods, defeated and beaten down.

“Come on,” Scott says kindly, and Derek miserably follows him out of the room. Scott’s mom is back at the front desk from where she gives him an encouraging smile as they pass, and then they’re outside, heading for Scott’s beat-up car. Part of Derek wonders why Scott doesn’t get something nicer—he’s a doctor, after all, and it’s not like he’s trying to hide who he is and needs to stay out of the limelight—but then he gives it another second of thought and realizes that Scott probably doesn’t care. He’s not an alpha consumed by power and status, like some of the alphas Derek met on his journey here. He just wants to help his pack.

They’re quiet in the car. Derek shifts in the passenger’s seat uneasily. To take his mind off where they’re headed, he asks something he’s been wondering for a while: “What happened to the alpha who turned you?”

 Scott sighs. “I wasn’t the first he bit without consent,” he says slowly. “He was already on the run when he came through town and got me. They caught him just beyond the Oregon border.”

Derek swallows uneasily. “What happened to him?”

Scott gives him a sad look. “This was over a decade ago,” he says. “The laws weren’t so, uh, lenient then.” He hesitates, then says, “He was executed where they found him.”

Derek just nods; it’s nothing more than he expected. “Did you ever find out why he bit you?” he asks quietly.

Scott hesitates again before he says, “They say he was rabid.”

Derek’s eyes widen in horror. If the fear of becoming an omega is the sort of boogeyman story werewolf parents use to get their children to behave, then going rabid is the stuff of nightmares that stalks their dreams and makes them scream themselves awake.

In a well-balanced werewolf, the human and wolf sides of them are not two separate entities, but one stable being that is neither man nor wolf—a werewolf. Sometimes, a werewolf might struggle to control his or her wolf self on the night of the full moon, but experience and the safety net of a healthy pack could help them through it. Take the stability of pack away through accident or tragedy, though, and a werewolf who struggled with control in the past might get worse. Every full moon, more and more of the wolf would come to power, and more and more of their humanity would be shredded away until what is left isn’t a person, but a monster—wild and unable to control itself. It would move instinctively, aggressively, always on the offense, and anyone unlucky enough to get in its way might end up bitten—or dead.

Derek’s lucky that he didn’t fall down that path after losing his own pack, but he at least has always had impeccable control of himself on full moons. Laura was always jealous of him, control coming more difficultly to her, and in those last weeks of her life, he’d started to see something change in her; she’d stopped speaking, and she was quick to anger, quick to let her eyes bleed red at him—nothing like the kind-hearted girl he’d grown up with. She’d been going feral, and he’d been scared of her. Sometimes he struggles with the painful notion that it might have been for the best that she’d been killed, if rabid was what she was on her way to becoming.

“I don’t know if that’s true or not,” Scott says quietly. “There was no trial; they shot on sight.”

“There are trials now,” Derek says slowly, tearing his thoughts from Laura. Scott nods. “Do they—are they fair?”

“You get a lawyer and a jury just like anyone else would,” Scott says. “I think there’s still a high bias against werewolves, but they do a pretty good job at getting a fair jury pool selected. Anyone who’s even related to a hunter is pretty much automatically dismissed.”

Derek nods, his throat going dry at the mention of hunters—and the fact that they’ve turned down the street Stiles’ house is on. It’s gotten dark, but the lights are all on downstairs. Derek swallows hard.

“It’s going to be fine,” Scott says gently, dropping a little alpha power into his voice. “Derek, I promise that no matter how Stiles feels about you—romantically or not—the last thing he wants to do is hurt you—and he’d never do it intentionally. He cares about you deeply.”

“I know,” Derek says hoarsely, as Scott pulls over to the side of the road a couple houses down from Stiles’. He does know; Stiles visited him at the hospital, took him in gladly, and doesn’t ask for anything in return. But he’s scared now, because what if Stiles was just drunk and kissed Derek because he wanted to kiss someone—not because he wanted to kiss Derek? Derek wants him so badly he doesn’t think he could stay at the house if that turns out to be the case. He doesn’t want to know the truth; he wants to keep on doing what they’ve been doing.

“Derek,” Scott says gently. “You have to do this.”

Derek knows this, too. If he doesn’t tell Stiles what happened, if he keeps replaying that moment in the kitchen over and over in his head, he’ll never be able to look Stiles in the eyes again.

“I’ll be right here,” Scott says. “If, after you guys talk, you still want to come stay with me, just come out. If you’re cool, just give me a wave.”

“You won’t listen in?” Derek asks, staring down at his feet. He’s not wearing shoes, he realizes blankly. He’d been so preoccupied when he left the house before, he hadn’t noticed.

“I won’t, I promise,” Scott says firmly, and Derek can hear there’s no lie in his voice. This makes him feel a little better; he knows either he or Stiles will end up telling Scott what happened anyway, but knowing he won’t be listening in on the moment is a small comfort.

“Okay,” Derek says quietly. He lifts his head, staring toward the house, and swallows back panic. “Okay,” he repeats, and then forces himself out of the car, walking fast down the sidewalk while he’s still got the momentum.

Stiles is standing in the middle of the living room when Derek comes through the front door, one of his hands twisted frustratedly in his hair. He swings around when the door opens and relief floods his face when he sees it’s Derek.

“Dude,” he says. “I need to get you a phone or something. You didn’t leave a note.”

Derek flinches. He can tell that Stiles is trying not to be angry, but Derek can hear the accusation in his voice. “Sorry,” he says.

Stiles stares at him for a long moment, his brow furrowing before he says, “Well, I made dinner, if you want to eat,” and he turns toward the dining room.

“No,” Derek makes himself say, and Stiles pauses, giving him a frown over his shoulder. “I—need to talk to you.”

“Okay,” Stiles says slowly, the frown not leaving his face. He turns back around, sinking down to sit on the arm of the couch. “What’s up? Is something wrong?”

Derek opens his mouth and then shuts it, his courage failing him. He can’t stand Stiles sitting there staring at him, can’t talk knowing Scott’s sitting out on the street waiting for him.

Stiles’ face softens in the silence, concern deepening his frown. “Derek, you know you can talk to me,” he says. “I’ll always listen.”

Derek bites down so hard on the inside of his cheek that he tastes the tang of blood. He makes himself breathe, concentrates on the way the house smells like the two of them—like home. He exhales and manages, “Last night,” before he stops. Stiles doesn’t say anything; he nods slightly, as if to say go on. Derek takes another deep breath and does, plunging off the cliff. “You kissed me.”

For a moment, Stiles just stares at him, bemused, but then Derek’s words seem to sink in because horror creeps across his face, his eyes going so wide there’s white all the way around his irises. “We—I—”Stiles exhales harshly. “You’re—joking, right?”

Derek shakes his head, stung by the insinuation.

“Fuck,” Stiles hisses, running his hands through his hair. “Fuck, fuck!”

Derek takes an uneasy step backward, his stomach and hopes sinking at Stiles’ reaction. Stiles looks up at him, and Derek’s startled to see his eyes look wet, like he’s on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry,” Stiles says hoarsely. “I don’t have an excuse—I’m sorry, Derek, I’m sorry. I would never—I never wanted to do anything that would make you uncomfortable. This house is supposed to be a safe space for you, and I—” He cuts himself off, shaking his head. Derek stares miserably at the tear that goes spilling down Stiles’ cheek when he blinks. “It’ll never happen again, I promise. Please—I’m sorry.”

It’ll never happen again. Somehow, this hurts more than Gerard cutting his hand open, more than the brand on his ribs, more than being hit by a car. All his happiness, all the good things that have happened to him since arriving in Beacon Hills, are falling away, the world narrowing down to Stiles sitting in front of him, absolutely miserable. The world is shaking up underneath Derek’s feet—he’s terrified right now, but he needs—he needs—something. Some kind of an answer. Some kind of closure.

“Did you want to do it?” he asks, his voice shaking.

Stiles shuts his eyes, shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he says. “You’re not—it’s not right—”

“It does matter,” Derek says fiercely. He’s sick of being treated like he’s about to break; remembering Malia’s words from the night before, he says, “You don’t get to decide what’s right or wrong for me.”

Stiles stares at him, startled, perhaps by the ferocity of his words or his tone. Derek’s already struggling against the guilt that comes from standing up to an alpha, defiance long beaten out of him by the Argents. Stiles isn’t going to hurt him, he tells himself firmly, curling his hands into fists at his side. “Did you want to do it?” he repeats.

Stiles blinks, mouthing wordlessly for a moment before helplessly saying, “Yes.” Derek sucks in a sharp breath and Stiles rushes to say, “But it doesn’t mean—I’m not—I don’t expect anything from you.”

That throws Derek. “What do you mean?”

“I just—” Stiles gestures wildly. “I don’t want you to think that just because you’re living here means that you owe me anything.”

“I don’t think that,” Derek says quietly. He might have, in the beginning, when he was scared and desperate for a safe place; if Stiles had suggested it, Derek would have done anything—let Stiles do anything to Derek. He’s used to sex being used as leverage; sometimes Kate would promise Laura’s safety if Derek spent the night with her, and he’d have done anything to keep Laura safe. Stiles isn’t Kate, though; he’d never ask anything like that of Derek, and Derek knows that.

Stiles heaves out a rough sigh, dragging his fingers through his hair. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. That’s—good.” He glances at Derek and then away, chewing on his lip.

Derek can’t stand the tension in the room, still heavy with Stiles’ anxiety and unhappiness, so when Stiles begins to say, “Well, we should—” Derek, scared he’s about to lose any chance with Stiles he might have had, blurts, “I wanted you to.”

Stiles stares at him, his mouth slowly falling open. Derek can feel his face growing red, his heart hammering with anxiety, palms beginning to itch with sweat as slow seconds pass and Stiles doesn’t say anything. He just sits there, staring at Derek like he’s grown a second head. Derek begins to regret saying anything; he thinks about edging toward the door and leaving with Scott, and he’s just about to act on it when Stiles stands abruptly. Derek goes very still, watching him uncertainly.

“You wanted me to kiss you?” Stiles asks hoarsely. Derek hesitates before he nods. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Derek shrugs instead of saying the truth, which is that he doesn’t think he deserves to have Stiles; he knows Stiles would only get upset if Derek said so. If Stiles hadn’t acted last night, Derek probably never would have said anything about it—no, he definitely never would have said anything. He wouldn’t have even done this if Scott hadn’t pushed him to.

Stiles takes a slow step closer, his eyes fixed on Derek’s face. “You’re sure?” he asks, his voice cracking a little.

Derek swallows hard. “Very sure,” he says quietly.

Stiles takes another step closer and Derek’s thrown by the smell of want rolling off him. He’d hoped Stiles wanted him, but he’d never actually expected anything to happen, and now that Stiles is here and staring him in the face, he’s scared.

“Do you want to do it again?” Stiles asks intently.

“No,” Derek says, panicking.

Disappointment flashes over Stiles’ face. “Oh,” he says. “I—”

“That’s not what I—not tonight,” Derek says desperately. “I do, but—I need to clear my head.” What he wants to do is run; he feels as though he’s about to burst through his skin. “Scott—he’s outside. He said I could stay with him.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, looking hurt. “You—went to Scott?”

“He’s my alpha now,” Derek says quietly.

Stiles’ face softens, the hurt fading away. “Right,” he says. “Yeah, of course. I’m sorry. Staying with him—that’s probably a good idea. We can both get our thoughts in order.” He hesitates and then adds, “I can tell this really stressed you out, and I’m sorry for that.”

"It's—" Derek stops himself before he says okay, because Stiles will get mad at him for being a doormat, and...it wasn't okay. Derek still struggles to acknowledge the fact that it's okay for him to feel things; for years, it was beaten into him, sometimes literally, that he was just a thing, subhuman, undeserving of thought or emotion, and so Derek became very familiar with shoving any emotion he did have deep down inside him. Now, it's still hard to remember that he's allowed to feel things; that his feelings are as important as Stiles' or anyone else's. He breathes in deeply and says, "We worked it out."

"We did," Stiles agrees quietly.

Derek shifts his footing, feeling awkward now. "Scott's waiting," he says uncomfortably. "I should go." It's true, but only partially; he's full of mixed feelings right now. He wants to run, or wants to go with Scott, but he also wants to stay with Stiles. He knows that's probably not the best idea; he really does need time to put his thoughts in order, but he can't help the way he always wants Stiles.

"Right," Stiles says again. "I'll, uh...can I walk you out?"

Derek hesitates before nodding, and then he turns for the door abruptly. He can hear Stiles follow him though, and when he gets out to the porch he hesitates again. He looks down the street to where Scott's sitting in his car and pointedly doesn't wave. After a moment, he hears Scott turn the car on and it begins to move forward down the block. Derek turns to look at Stiles, who's watching him.

"I'll see you tomorrow, right?" Stiles asks hopefully.

"Tomorrow," Derek says with a nod.

"Okay," Stiles says, his eyes flickering to Scott's car as it pulls up to the front of the house. He worries at his bottom lip for a moment before he says, a little abruptly, "Is a hug okay?"

Derek pauses, his eyes moving toward Scott's car as well, and then he nods, clenching his jaw. Stiles exhales and sways forward. He stops just in front of Derek, watching him intently like he's giving Derek another chance to say no, but while Derek's heart is beating a mile a minute, he's not going to push him away. He breathes out roughly when Stiles closes that distance, lifting his arms and curling them around Derek's neck. It's a second before Derek lifts his own arms and wraps them around Stiles' back, giving in to the urge to tuck his face against Stiles' shoulder. He always smells so fucking good; Derek tries and mostly fails to hold back a shudder.

"'S all right," Stiles whispers, one of his hands sliding up to cradle the back of Derek's head. "I got you, I promise."

A helpless whine slips past Derek's clenched teeth; all he wants, all he craves, is to feel loved and safe, and he thinks it's within reach, which is somehow terrifying. He doesn't want to let go when Stiles pulls away, his face a little flushed.

"You should get going before we get ourselves in trouble," Stiles says, his voice rough.

Derek nods even though he doesn't want to, and forces himself to step off the porch, walking down the driveway to where Scott waits. He gives Derek an encouraging smile as Derek gets in the car, and then looks past him at Stiles, who's still standing on the porch, watching them. Scott waves at him and Stiles, after a moment, waves back before turning and heading inside.

“Okay?” Scott says to Derek.

“Okay,” Derek says quietly, and Scott puts the car into drive, pulling away from the curb.

Derek stares out the window, watching the houses flit past. He’s suddenly exhausted, worn down by the conversation he’d just had with Stiles. He smells like Stiles now because of the hug, and he keeps turning his head, pressing his nose to his shoulder and inhaling deeply.

“So, you guys worked things out?” Scott asks after a couple minutes.

Derek closes his eyes wearily, not keen on talking, but he owes Scott so he says, “Yeah. It was fine.”

He feels more than sees Scott glance over at him. “Did what Stiles have to say surprise you?”

Derek turns to look at him then. “Did you know?” he asks, trying to keep the accusatory note out of his voice. “How he feels about me?”

“Yeah,” Scott says gently. “He’s my best friend, man—he tells me things. But it wasn’t my place to tell you—that’s something you guys needed to discuss.”

“Thanks,” Derek says grudgingly.

Scott laughs gently. “It’s a good thing, Derek,” he says. “Growth.”

Derek makes a discontented noise, but he knows Scott’s right. He’s tired and still residually nervous, but he doesn’t feel the shadow looming over him that he’d felt all day. The weight’s gone from his shoulders.

A couple minutes later, Scott pulls into the driveway of a two-story home. It’s smaller than Stiles’ house but neat and well-maintained, a small bicycle abandoned in the grass in the front yard. Derek follows slowly when Scott leads him up the path to the door, a little nervousness coming back. This is his alpha’s house, he thinks, brushing non-existent dirt off his pants.

“Hey, relax,” Scott says as he unlocks the front door. “I already like you, man. You don’t have to worry about making a good impression.”

Derek grimaces, but steps inside when Scott opens the door and gestures at him. He stands stiffly in the front hallway, surreptitiously looking at the photos on the wall—pictures of the pack, of Scott and Stiles as kids, Scott holding a baby in a hospital and looking teary-eyed.

There’s a pattering of small feet and an excited shout of “Dad!” before Rocky rounds a corner and skids to a halt, staring at Derek with outraged eyes.

“I’m right here, bud,” Scott says, stepping inside after Derek. “Derek’s come over to hang out.”

“Oh,” Rocky says, sidling around Derek to latch himself to Scott’s legs.

Scott laughs and lifts Rocky into his arms, saying to Derek, “You hungry? Let’s see what’s for dinner.”

Derek’s not all that hungry, stomach unsettled from everything that’s been happening, but he dutifully follows Scott through the living room and into the kitchen. Kira’s in there washing dishes, and she gives the three of them a bright smile as they enter.

“Hi, Derek!” she greets cheerfully. She doesn’t seem at all surprised to see him, which makes sense, he supposes; Scott probably called her while he was waiting outside Stiles' house.

“Hello,” Derek says politely. “Thanks for having me.”

“Of course,” Kira says warmly. “We love having guests.” To Scott she adds, “If you’re looking for food, dinner’s in the fridge.”

Scott makes Derek sit at the dining room table while he heats up food for them, and Kira sits with him after she’s done with the dishes, Rocky in her lap. She talks to him about light, pleasant things—she teaches at the elementary school, so she’s on summer vacation, but she tells him about her students, and their classes, and the field trips she’s planning for the fall. Derek listens and wonders what Scott told her—why he said Derek was going to stay. Scott had said he wouldn’t tell anyone about what they’d talked about, but Kira is his wife, and part of Derek wouldn’t blame Scott if he told her. He remembers well the relationship his own parents had had—they didn’t just love each other, but were best friends, and even if their pack had only consisted of their family, there were no secrets between them. He’s sure his mom used his dad as a sounding board and confidant.

If Kira knows anything, though, she doesn’t say anything; instead, when she’s done talking about field trips, she says to Scott as he carries plate of food into the living room, “We should plan a pack vacation somewhere. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Scott grins at her, setting a plate down in front of Derek and then taking a seat next to him. “Where? It’d be hard finding a place big enough.”

“I don’t know,” Kira says pensively, gently pulling Rocky back as he tries to steal Derek’s dinner roll. “Camping in Big Sur? Maybe Malia knows a good place.”

“I dunno,” Scott says doubtfully. “How would you feel about that, Derek? Are you sick of sleeping outdoors?”

Derek shrugs, a little startled that he’s being included in the conversation. “I wouldn’t mind,” he says. “If it’s with the pack.”

Scott smiles. “We’ll keep that in mind,” he says. “Or—does Lydia’s family still have that lakehouse?”

“I know they were trying to sell it,” Kira says thoughtfully. “I could ask. Maybe she knows someone with a vacation home somewhere.”

“Lydia knows a lot of famous people,” Scott tells Derek, grinning. “Last year she got us all VIP passes to Hozier. It was awesome.”

Derek doesn’t know who that is, but he nods, trying to look impressed.

“I still think they’re dating,” Kira says firmly, but Scott shakes his head.

“Nah,” he says. “She and Jordan have been gone on each other for years.”

“Deputy Parrish?” Derek asks curiously. Scott nods, and Derek looks down at his plate. “I don’t think he likes me,” he confesses.

“It takes him a while to warm up to people,” Scott says. “He takes his job really seriously.”

“Do you know Deputy Haigh?” Derek asks him.

Scott grimaces. “Yeah. That dude’s bad news. I wish Stiles would fire him already.”

“He doesn’t like werewolves,” Derek says quietly.

“Yeah,” Scott says with a sigh. “He’s a purist. Doesn’t think we should exist.” He shrugs. “That type’s still around, unfortunately. Even with the changing times. We’ll keep an eye on him, though. Make sure he doesn’t turn radical.”

Derek nods and Kira says, “All right, enough shop talk. You guys want some dessert?”

“Me too, mama?” Rocky asks hopefully as she plucks him off her lap and sets him on the floor.

Kira laughs. “You’ve already had your dessert, little man,” she says, heading for the kitchen, though that doesn’t stop Rocky from trotting after her optimistically.

It’s a quiet evening in the McCall household. Isaac shows up while they’re watching a movie, which seems to surprise neither Scott nor Kira, nor does Isaac seem surprised to see Derek there. Derek wonders if that’s how it is; the pack constantly wandering in and out of each other’s houses, always somewhere to go if they don’t want to be alone. It’s a comforting thought.

Derek’s put in a small guest bedroom for the night. It smells well-used, like pack. It's clear that Derek’s far from the first to ever stay there. It’s another comforting thought, and though he’s been on edge all evening, still running high from the conversation with Stiles, it helps him relax. He tries not to worry about what Stiles is doing at that moment, how he’s feeling. They’ll see each other soon enough, and while he’s glad for this space, he’s looking forward to going home.

-

Derek sleeps surprisingly well, considering he’s in an unfamiliar house, sleeping in another too-soft bed, but he attributes it to how emotionally draining the day before was, as well as the close presence of his alpha. Just knowing that he has an alpha to be close to is enough to send him back into a contented drowse, which he doesn’t break loose from until it occurs to him that it’s Monday and he’s supposed to be working.

Derek wrenches himself out of bed and dresses hurriedly, rushing downstairs only to find Malia sitting on the living room floor watching Rocky push a toy car around.

“Hey,” she says unconcernedly, not even looking up at him. “What’s the rush?”

“I need to get to work,” Derek tells her, realizing that he has no idea where he is in relationship to the nursery, or how long it’ll take him to walk there.

“Don’t worry about it,” Malia says. “Scott said to tell you that he called Boyd already.”

“He did?” Derek says warily. “Where’s Scott?”

“The hospital,” Malia replies, rolling a plastic fire truck toward Rocky, who pounces on it gleefully. “Kira’s sleeping in. I said I’d watch Rocky for the day.” She tilts her head back to look at him. “I’m taking him on a hike. You want to come?”

Derek frowns. “I have to go to work.”

Malia shrugs one shoulder. “If you want. Boyd said you could do whatever.”

Derek hesitates, because going out into the woods sounds highly appealing. Malia seems to see this, because she says, “I promise I won’t talk to you.”

Derek snorts weakly, giving up. “Fine,” he says.

Malia grins sharply. “Good,” she says. “If you want breakfast before we go, I’d make it now.”

Derek shakes his head. “I’m fine.” It’s not his food to take and anyway, it’s not like he’s not used to not eating.

Malia frowns at him, jabbing a finger toward the kitchen. “Go eat,” she commands.

Derek waffles for a moment, but quails under Malia’s stern expression; she reminds him too much of Laura to disobey. It doesn’t feel right, going through his alpha’s cabinets, but he manages to find the cereal and eats a bowl quickly, listening to Rocky and Malia laugh in the other room. When he goes back into the living room, Malia nods firmly, satisfied.

“C’mon, Rocky,” she says, getting to her feet. “You want to go to the woods?”

“Yes please!” Rocky says excitedly, hopping up after her. Derek trails them to the front hall, putting on his shoes while Malia helps Rocky lace up his sneakers. As they head out to a car sitting by the curb, Malia asks Derek, “Can you drive?”

He shakes his head; his dad had just started to teach him before the fire, but he’d only gotten as far as driving slowly up and down the quiet country roads around their house—he never learned parking techniques or traffic laws. Malia doesn’t seem bothered by this; she just nods and fastens Rocky into a car seat in the back while Derek settles into the front passenger seat.

It’s a long, quiet drive; Malia keeps to her word and doesn’t talk to him, and Rocky contents himself with playing with a couple action figures, quietly murmuring a running dialogue between the two that Derek makes no effort to try and decipher. He looks at Malia out the corner of his eye and wonders if she knows why he was at Scott’s house. He doesn’t think Scott would have said anything—he'd promised, after all—but maybe Stiles did; he can tell he and Malia are close, even if they’re not dating.

Malia doesn’t say anything about it—doesn’t say anything at all, in fact—and the longer the silence stretches on, the more Derek relaxes. He hasn’t spent much time away from Stiles, apart from being at work with Boyd, and he hasn’t spent a lot of time with the pack proper, but Malia’s pack, and Rocky is his alpha’s son, and the more time he spends with them, it just feels...right. Derek lost his old pack in the worst way possible and he was alone for so long after that he almost forgot what having a pack feels like; this bone-deep contentment he feels now is almost shocking.

He feels even better when they reach Modoc National Forest and park the car at a trailhead. Malia lets Rocky out of the back and slings a backpack over her shoulders.

“I can take that,” Derek offers.

“Nope,” Malia says. “Just enjoy yourself.”

She strides off down the path after Rocky, who’s trotted ahead, and Derek follows, his shoulders slumping with relief as the warm sunlight filters down to him. He breathes in deeply, reveling in the smell of the cool, fresh air, the spicy scent of loam and forest decay. He can’t hear anything other than birdsong and forest life, and Rocky giggling somewhere up ahead.

When he was running for his life, there was no time for Derek to take a break and enjoy the world around him, so being able to appreciate the feeling of the wind on his skin and the fresh smell of the forest is a luxury. He keeps track of the other two—Rocky’s somewhere off in the woods yelling at birds, and Malia’s laughing at him—and stays nearby, but keeps a space to himself. He needs this, he thinks, sinking down to sit on a rock in a patch of bright sunlight, closing his eyes in the warm air. It’s the first time he’s been out of Beacon Hills since his arrival, and it feels good—but he’s also surprised to find that he’s looking forward to going home. Home, he thinks, his throat going tight. Stiles.

“Derek!” Malia yells, startling him from his thoughts. He’s on his feet in a split second, crashing through the underbrush to find her and Rocky sitting in a clearing; Malia’s spreading a blanket out over the ground. Derek stares at her wildly; he’d thought something had happened.

“We’re fine,” Malia tells him, exasperated. “You want some lunch?”

Somehow, Derek finds himself sitting with them on the blanket, eating a bologna sandwich. He frowns as he chews, eyes flickering between Rocky and Malia and himself. “Did you make me this?” he asks, gesturing at the sandwich.

“Obviously,” Malia says haughtily.

“But—” Derek looks at his sandwich. When had she made it? She hadn’t gone into the kitchen between the time he came downstairs and the time they left. “You didn’t know I was coming.”

“Yes, I did,” she says smugly. “Stiles said you’d want to come with us.”

“He did?” Derek says, surprised.

“Mm,” Malia says, licking jam off her thumb. “You guys okay? He sounded tired on the phone.”

Derek blinks, a little surprised. So Stiles hadn’t said anything? “We worked it out,” he says cautiously; if Stiles didn’t tell her anything, Derek certainly isn’t going to share much.

Malia nods, and he’s grateful to see she doesn’t seem interested in pressing it any further. Instead, she looks at Rocky and says, “You want to practice your control?”

Rocky’s eyes widen and he nods slowly, scrambling onto his knees in what seems to be a practiced position. Derek watches with interest as Malia leans forward, holding her hand out in front of her, her claws emerging easily from the beds of her fingernails. “Focus,” she tells Rocky. “You can do it.”

Rocky nods firmly and mirrors Malia’s position, his small fingers spread wide. He stares at his hand with a look of concentration, his small brow furrowed deep. He’s almost shaking with the effort, but nothing’s happening; Derek can smell his frustration. He finally drops his hand, face red with vexation. “I can’t do it!” he complains.

“I’ve seen you do it before,” Malia says. “I know you can.”

“You’re thinking about it too much,” Derek says without meaning to. Both Rocky and Malia look at him in surprise and he flushes; he hadn’t meant to interject.

“You got any tips?” Malia asks—not sarcastically, like she’s irritated he interrupted, but genuinely curious.

“I—” Derek draws in a slow breath, thinking back to all the advice his mom gave him when he was Rocky’s age and beginning to learn how to control himself. She used to give him a wooden pendant with their family’s symbol carved on it, telling him it’d help focus his powers, and he’d only found out years later than it contained no magical ability to help him, but having that focal point and belief had been good enough. They’re out in the middle woods, though, so there’s nothing he can hand to Rocky to tell him to focus on. Maybe not something physical, then, but mental. “Think of a good memory,” he says to Rocky. “Something that made you really happy. Can you picture that?”

Rocky closes his eyes, brow furrowing in concentration, and after a moment he nods.

“Okay,” Derek says, glancing uncertainly at Malia. She’s watching him curiously, but nods when he looks at her, encouraging. “Focus on that happiness. Let it anchor you. Think about that happy moment and try again.”

Rocky makes a little huffing noise, his eyebrows furrowing deeper as he lifts his hand again, fingers curling.

“Don’t try to push it,” Derek tells him. “Just think about that memory and let it happen on its own.”

Rocky nods, his eyes still closed, and there’s a long, tenuous moment before his face suddenly relaxes, like he gets it, and his claws pop from the ends of his fingers.

Malia grins. “There you go!” she says. “Your dad’s going to be so proud!”

Rocky beams at her and then, more shyly, at Derek, who can’t help but smile back, pleased to be able to help his pack.

They stay in the woods until the shadows begin to grow long in the late afternoon. Derek’s surprised Rocky lasts that long, but he starts to waver as they head back for the car, his footsteps slowing. Malia blazes ahead, but Derek slows, not wanting the kid to fall too far behind. He’s completely startled when Rocky reaches out and grabs his hand.

“Will you carry me, please?” Rocky asks plaintively.

“Oh,” Derek says, thrown off guard. “Uh—”

He looks to Malia for help, and she tosses him a grin over her shoulder. “Welcome to the pack,” she says unhelpfully.

Derek looks back down at Rocky, who stares up at him patiently. “Okay,” Derek says, and crouches down so Rocky can scramble onto his back. He’s asleep by the time they get back to the car, and Malia has to peel him off Derek and place him in his car seat. Derek feels close to sleeping himself, exhausted by a long day under the sun.

"Scott's going to be really happy with Rocky's progress," Malia says as she heads for the main road. "He's been struggling to teach him. All of the pack are bitten wolves."

Derek's chest warms at the thought of pleasing his alpha, but he asks, "You're a born wolf?"

"Coyote," Malia corrects. "But I'm not any better. I spent most of my childhood stuck in the full shift."

"The pack is the important part," Derek says a little wistfully, thinking about his family. "There's stability and power in numbers. Control just takes practice." He's quiet for a while, thinking, but then his curiosity gets the best of him. "Can you still do it? The full shift?"

Malia nods. "I lost it for a while, after Scott and Stiles took me out of the woods. I didn't have any control; they used to have to lock me up in chains on full moons. It took a couple years, but I can manage it now." She shrugs gracefully. "I don't do it often."

Derek nods. He can't remember the last time he managed the beta shift; there's been no reason to while he's been in Beacon Hills, and he was too sick for months before he arrived. Derek pops his claws just to prove to himself he still can, and it's like scratching an itch he didn't know he'd had, a little frisson of relief going up his spine.

Malia drops him off in front of Stiles' house. Derek pauses for a moment in the car, staring out at it; obviously he was going to come back here, but he's been avoiding thinking about it, nervous.

"Did you tell him?" Malia asks and Derek nods. Malia makes a thoughtful noise, and Derek looks at her a little desperately.

"You dated, right?" he asks, and Malia nods, her eyebrows rising. "What—" Derek tries, then shakes his head and tries again. "How do I—?"

"Look," Malia says evenly, "just be honest with him. He's really perceptive in some ways, but he can be really stupid in others. The best way to deal with him is to just tell him what you're thinking, or what you want."

"Okay," Derek says uneasily. That's going to be a challenge; he's so used to keeping things bottled up inside—but he'll do it for Stiles. "Thanks," he adds belatedly, opening the car door.

Malia leans across the seat after he's climbed out and shut the door. "One more thing," she says through the open window, and Derek tilts his head expectantly. "He loves being fingered when he's fucking you.” She grins wickedly at the way his mouth falls open in shock. “Night!" she concludes cheerfully, and zooms off down the street, leaving Derek standing in the dusk with his face so hot he wouldn't be surprised if all that's left is bone.

When he finally feels like he’s no longer bright red, Derek heads for the house, where he finds Stiles in the kitchen making dinner. He still flushes when Stiles turns to look at him, but it’s less because of what Malia said, and more because of the way Stiles grins at him.

“Hey,” Stiles says. “Heard you went hiking today. Did you guys have a good time?”

“It was fun,” Derek says. “I like Malia.”

Stiles’ grin widens. “Good,” he says, turning back to his cooking. “I’m glad.”

Derek watches his shoulders move as he stirs a pot on the stove and swallows, thinking about how good the contact between them last night and the night before that had felt. He then thinks about what Malia said, about being straightforward with Stiles.

“Stiles?” he says slowly. Stiles tilts his head to one side to indicate he’s listening, and Derek steels himself before asking, “Would you...scent-mark me?”

Stiles drops his spoon. Derek winces at the clatter it makes against the stovetop, and he’s already beginning to second-guess himself before Stiles spins around, his eyes wide and burning alpha-red around the edges.

“Seriously?” he asks hoarsely.

“Please,” Derek says quietly. He aches for it, longs for the intimacy he’s never gotten.

Stiles exhales in a huge rush of air and steps right up to him, lifting his hands to press his palms to Derek’s cheeks. Derek can’t help the noise he makes, pained and wanting, but Stiles just hums softly, his thumbs sweeping over Derek’s cheekbones before he slides his palms along Derek’s jaw and down his throat. Derek has to close his eyes, unable to face the intensity he sees in Stiles’; he’s almost shaking with anticipation and nerves, his pulse pounding in his ears.

Stiles’ hands leave his face and Derek’s eyes fly open, lost, but Stiles just grabs his hands. “You too,” he says roughly. “I want—to smell like you.”

Derek inhales sharply, something tight inside his chest loosening when he touches Stiles’ face. Scent is just as huge a factor in his world as sight and touch, and when he was younger, the entire family fairly reeked of each other—of pack. When they were small, his mother used to cradle them in her arms, rubbing their noses together until they laughed. When they were older and embarrassed by the affection, she’d still wrangle them in for hugs, rubbing her cheek against their hair. Derek’s missed it intensely; he hasn’t smelled like anything but himself since Laura died, and it’s left a hollow place in his chest. Now, he has pack again, and he has Stiles, and the way Stiles touches him, scents him, is so different from the way his mother used to; there’s an intent and a declaration he never expected to receive, and it thrills him.

Stiles leans in, his arms looping around Derek’s shoulders, and he rubs their cheeks together, his breath hot against Derek’s ear. He’s breathing hard, but so’s Derek, his whole body tingling, hyperaware of every place they’re touching. Derek clutches at his hips unsteadily, even though he really should let go; he’s starting to get hard, drowning in Stiles’ scent. Before things can get too dangerous, though, they jolt apart at a sudden hissing noise behind them, and Stiles half laughs, half curses when he turns to see his pot boiling over.

Derek watches him turn to tend to the stove. He feels like he’s vibrating, a deep, warm contentment settling in his bones. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

Stiles gives him a slow smile as he moves the pot off the burner. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” he admits.

Derek’s deeply pleased. “You can do it anytime,” he offers. “I’d...like that.”

Stiles grins at him. “Noted.”

Derek had worried that things would be awkward in the house after everything that’s happened in the past few days, but the scent-marking’s relaxed him completely. He helps Stiles finish making dinner and then they eat out on the back deck, lawn chairs still scattered across the grass from the party. They don’t really talk, but they don’t usually anyway; Stiles recognizes Derek’s reluctance for it, so he usually gives a brief rundown of his own day and then they just enjoy each other’s company. It’s been that way for weeks, and tonight is no different, except that later, when they settle onto the couch to watch a movie, Stiles pats the space next to him, looking a little uncertain. Derek, who usually sits at the opposite end, hesitates only a moment before sinking down next to him, and Stiles leans into him immediately. It’s comfortable—so much more so than he expected, that by the time the movie ends, they’re slumped together bonelessly, Derek half-asleep with his cheek against Stiles’ hair.

When they head up to bed, Stiles stops Derek before he can turn to go to his room. Derek freezes, wondering if Stiles is about to invite him into his room, not sure he's ready for that, but Stiles just says, "I'm really glad we worked this out."

"Yeah," Derek says, his shoulders slumping in relief. "I am too."

Stiles smiles faintly and lifts his arms, drawing Derek in for a tight hug that seems to last for hours—one Derek happily submits to, closing his eyes and breathing in Stiles' strong scent. He'd be happy to stay there forever, but eventually Stiles rubs his nose against Derek's cheek and murmurs, "Night."

"Goodnight," Derek says softly, taking a step back. Stiles waits for him to move into his room before he disappears into his own. The nest of blankets on the floor doesn't seem as cozy as usual, but Derek doesn't care much; he's happy—happier than he's been in a long, long time. He's got a pack, and he's got a home, and he's got Stiles.

Life is good.

-

Derek’s not sure what causes it—either his official acceptance into the pack, or maybe the fact that he was willing to go hiking with Malia and Rocky, but at any rate, it's like some sort of gate has been opened, and he suddenly finds himself invited along on all sorts of pack outings and activities. He and Stiles go to Boyd and Erica's house to help them and Scott build a chicken coop while all the kids run around the backyard shrieking out their best rooster impressions, and Vernon gazes around solemnly from his place in Erica's arms. A couple days later, Derek finds himself out in the woods behind Scott's house for a picnic with Kira, Isaac, and Rocky, who no longer seems to be scared of Derek; he watches him with something like awe in his eyes, and Derek is secretly flattered.

There are pool parties and barbecues and birthdays; Derek finally meets the last two members of the pack: Liam, who's the only beta in the pack Scott turned himself, and Liam's best friend, Mason. Liam's short in stature but holds himself tensely, like he's ready to explode into action. He then proves this by getting into an argument with Malia that culminates in them tussling on the ground, and only ends when one of Erica's girls throws herself into the fray with a wild whoop. ("Stiles tried to give him a nickname in high school," Scott says cheerfully. "Lil Dynamite. It didn't go over well.")

Sometimes people just show up at the house; Malia mostly, or Scott, or, once in a while, Lydia. The first time she shows up, it's long before Stiles is supposed to be home from work, and Derek lets her into the house reluctantly. He feels guilty about their first meeting, but doesn't know what to say to her; Lydia solves this problem by speaking first.

"I came to apologize," she says, and Derek blinks, startled.

“You don’t—” he tries, but Lydia interrupts him with a shake of her head.

“I do,” she says. “I didn’t know you were here, and I don’t like not knowing things.” She offers him a wry smile. “It threw me off and I wasn’t very friendly.”

“I—wasn’t either,” Derek says haltingly. “I thought...you and Stiles were—I was jealous.”

“Oh!” Lydia laughs softly—not at him, just surprised. “You don’t have to worry about that now, do you?”

“No,” Derek agrees, a little shyly. To his surprise, Lydia steps forward and gives him a hug, and after a stiff moment, Derek tentatively hugs her back; she’s pack too, even if she’s human—or at least, not a shifter—and he likes the way she smells, like oranges and vanilla.

Through all of the pack bonding, there’s Stiles. He’s not at every activity—sometimes he’s at work, or sometimes he’s helping his dad with stuff, but he’s always home in the evenings to spend time with Derek, and Derek enjoys every minute of it. He goes slower than Derek expects, which he appreciates—mostly, he touches Derek a lot, and Derek soaks it up like a cat in the sun, his whole body tingling at every brush of their knees as they sit at the dinner table, every tap of Stiles’ fingers against his arm. Stiles has grown fond of running his fingers through Derek’s hair, which is starting to get long again, and the constant movement relaxes him like nothing else; most night, he ends up asleep with his head in Stiles’ lap, safe and content.

A couple nights after the one Derek spends at Scott’s, Stiles comes home with a small shopping bag, from which he pulls a cellphone, which he offers to Derek. Derek stares at it blankly. “I don’t need that,” he says.

“Sure you do,” Stiles says, shaking it at him. Derek takes it reluctantly. “I want to be able to get in touch with you if I have to stay late at work or whatever. Or if you’re going out and you want to let me know, you can. Or...if there’s anything you ever want to say but it’s...hard for you to talk about, you can text me. Anything.” Stiles looks at him earnestly. “I put all the important numbers in there, see?” He leans forward and shows Derek how to find the contact list and all the numbers listed there—Stiles, Scott, everyone in the pack. It’s certainly different from the phone Derek had had in high school, which had been a chunky piece of plastic, basically only good for calling. “You can play games on this,” Stiles says cheerfully.

“Hm,” Derek says ambivalently.

Stiles grins at him. “You don’t have to use it,” he says. “I’ll just...feel better. Knowing I can get in touch with you if something comes up.”

Derek looks down at the phone again and nods slowly. “Have you been working on the case?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, his expression growing serious. “I called the cops in the county where Lawrence was killed, and his murder’s still unsolved. They know you guys—or at least they know a couple of werewolves were staying at his place, but they don’t consider you a suspect. They’d like to talk to you, though.”

Derek stares at him, his mouth going dry. “What’d you tell them?”

“Oh, they don’t know it’s you you,” Stiles says hurriedly. “I just meant they’d like to talk to the werewolves who were staying there. All I told them is that I was investigating a case I thought might be related.”

“Oh,” Derek says, relieved. He takes a deep breath. “Anything else?”

Stiles chews on his lip for a moment before he says, “I’ve got a contact in the DLA—the Department of Lycan Affairs—and she’s going to start looking into putting together a federal case against them. It might mean that I lose jurisdiction, but the charges—and punishments—will be much more severe.”

“That’s good?” Derek says uncertainly.

Stiles nods. “Yeah, but it might mean that I have to start pulling long hours. That’s what the phone’s for, though—I’ll let you know if I’m going to be late.”

Derek nods, and Stiles frowns a little, looking concerned. “You okay?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Derek says quietly. He’s just not sure sometimes what he wants to happen; on the one hand, getting justice for his family is important, but on the other—he’s safe right now, and he’s scared of what will happen if Stiles stirs things up with the Argents. Maybe it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

“Hey,” Stiles says softly, stepping in close to him. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, all right? You’re safe here.”

Derek nods again, not trusting himself to say anything, and he gives in readily when Stiles curls his arms around his neck, pressing his face to Stiles’ throat. He breathes in deeply, steadies himself by listening to Stiles’ even heartbeat. He didn’t believe it when Stiles said the same thing when he first arrived in town, but he does now, buoyed by the strength of the pack and Stiles' confidence. If anyone can take down the Argents, Derek thinks, it's him.

Chapter Text

I've gotta get out of here (keep on running)
Sink down, into the dark
You understand they've got a plan for us
I bet you didn't know that I was dangerous
It must be fate, I found a place for us
I bet you didn't know someone could love you this much [x]

-

Stiles' contact at the Department of Lycan Affairs comes into town two weeks later, and Stiles brings Derek down to the station to meet her. Derek's reluctant to go back to the station—he hasn't been since that awful day the unfamiliar pack dragged him back when he tried to run, but this is important. The smell of the place still sets him on edge and Deputy Haigh gives Derek a glare, but Deputy Parrish shoots him a friendlier look this time, and Stiles bypasses it all anyway, heading straight for his office.

There's a woman lounging in there, dark-skinned, leather boots up on Stiles' desk. He scowls pointedly at her boots, but she just raises an eyebrow at him, and he sighs. "Braeden," he says. "This is Derek. Derek, Braeden."

Braeden tilts her head at him in greeting, and Derek's startled when he sees three long scars marring the skin of her throat. "Deucalion," she says smoothly, nothing but alpha power in her voice. "Prolific were serial killer. Went down fighting."

Derek glances at Stiles, who shrugs. "I thought your job was to protect werewolves' interests," he says.

"Sure," Braeden says coolly. "Even if that means protecting it from other werewolves."

Derek looks at Stiles again, confused. Stiles says, "Braeden's not a hunter, Derek. She's an enforcer. She's neutral, like me."

Braeden looks amused at this. "From what I've been hearing, you're not neutral anymore."

Stiles' face goes a bright, splotchy red. "Irrelevant," he says, his voice a little strangled. "Can we get down to business, please?"

Braeden shrugs, swinging her feet off the desk and standing in one fluid motion; she may not be a were, but she's as graceful as one. "Sit please, Mr. Hale," she says, gesturing firmly at the chair she just vacated. "I've been doing my reading on this case and I have some questions I'd like to ask you."

Derek looks at Stiles again, alarmed; had he been brought down here to be interrogated? Stiles, however, seems just as thrown by this as Derek, because he says, "Wait a minute here. I thought we were going to talk about the case."

"We are," Braeden says calmly. "More accurately, he is."

She points to Derek, but Stiles shakes his head. "No, no—can we step outside for a sec?"

Braeden nods, unperturbed, and leaves the office. Stiles hurries after her, mouthing I'll fix this to Derek. They cross the deputy bullpen and stop by the front doors, just on the edge of Derek's hearing range; he only catches bits and pieces of their conversation over the noise of the station.

"—not an interrogation, Stiles—"

"—taken me weeks to get him to trust me—"

"—essential to the investigation—"

"—extreme trauma from—"

An extremely drunk and disorderly man being brought in drowns out the rest of their conversation, but it doesn't look good. When they come back into the office, Stiles looks angry and agitated, while Braeden's expression is calm.

"Derek," Stiles says with a tense glance at Braeden. "Braeden wants to ask you some questions. You don't have to answer anything that makes you uncomfortable, but anything you do say could be valuable information. All right?"

Derek looks at Stiles, then Braeden. He doesn't want to, but if it'll bring his family justice, he'll stomach it. He nods.

"Good," Braeden says briskly. "We've located the compound in New York, but I need you to tell me everything you can remember about it. Was there security in place?"

Derek draws in a deep breath and says, "No alarms. If they left for a hunt, they'd leave a couple people behind to watch the place. It's never empty."

Braeden nods, pulling out a notebook so she can take notes. "That's good. They're armed?"

Derek swallows. "Heavily."

"Stiles says you said they kept other werewolves besides you and your sister on the property. Do you know where they were held?"

"There were sheds in the woods," Derek says. "I think they were made from mountain ash."

Braeden frowns. "Perfect containment system. How many were there?"

Derek shakes his head. "I'm not sure," he admits. "We never went outside. At least three, I think."

"And where did they keep you and your sister?"

"In the basement," Derek says quietly.

"You suffered abuse that left physical scars," Braeden states. "Can I see them?"

Derek stiffens. "You don't have to," Stiles says.

Derek takes a deep breath, but shakes his head. He shows Braeden the one on his palm first, and she pulls out her phone to take a photograph of it. He hesitates for a moment, then lifts his shirt so she can see the brand on his ribs and the long knife wounds on his back. Braeden photographs those as well, her brow furrowed. Derek keeps his head down, not looking at Stiles.

"Why did they take you?" Braeden asks. "Did they anticipate you escaping the fire?"

"I don't think so," Derek says slowly, though he's often wondered that as well. "They took us because we were young and they wanted help around the house. There were—wolves before, but they—were disobedient." He doesn't like thinking about this. One of them had still been in the basement that first night they'd been shoved down there, a bullet hole between her eyes. Stiles steps up beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder, and that helps a little.

"What sort of help?" Braeden asks.

Derek hesitates. "Laura did the cooking," he says slowly.

"And you?" Braeden asks. "What did you do?"

Derek exhales nervously. Stiles squeezes his shoulder. "I helped," he says faintly.

Braeden doesn't seem impressed by this answer. She snaps her notebook shut and folds her arms over her chest. "Your sister was sexually abused," she says, her voice soft and serious. "Were you as well?"

Derek suddenly feels like he's drowning, his pulse roaring in his ears. He dimly hears Stiles snap, "Too fucking far. I told you—"

"Fine, fine," Braeden says, her voice far away. "I'm sorry. Derek's testimony is enough for a warrant, and the other charges will be enough to keep them in prison for life. I think—"

"I need some air,” Derek interrupts, his heart beating wildly in his chest.

“Do you want me to—” Stiles begins, but Derek doesn’t wait for him, banging out of the office. As he strides through the bullpen, he distantly hears Stiles say, “Seriously, did you get any sensitivity training?” before he pushes through the front doors and steps out into the overcast morning light. It’s humid, and it doesn’t feel much better than inside, but at least there’s a breeze blowing. Derek sinks down onto a bench by the parking lot and clasps his hands together in front of him, trying hard to clear his mind and slow the frantic beating of his heart.

Someone approaches him eventually, which he’d expected, but it’s not Stiles—it’s Boyd, and he sits down on the bench next to Derek with a nod.

“What are you doing here?” Derek asks him.

“Dropping off Erica’s lunch,” Boyd says, levelling Derek with an even look. “She said you looked upset.”

Derek snorts. “Do I?”

Boyd tilts his head to one side. “You look fine,” he says. “But you don’t smell fine.”

Derek folds his arms over his chest moodily. “If you were a born wolf, you would have been taught it’s impolite to use what people smell like against them.”

“I’m not using it against you, man, I’m just pointing it out,” Boyd says steadily. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Derek mutters, not caring that Boyd will be able to tell it’s a lie. If he does pick up on it, he doesn’t say anything, just stretches out his legs. “Where are your kids?” Derek asks eventually.

“Eating lunch with Erica,” Boyd says.

“You didn’t want to join them?”

Boyd snorts. “She told me to come out here and check on you, and I’ll take any chance I can get for a break. You know how much of a mess a three-year-old can make? Double that, then add on a baby, and you get my kids.”

Derek looks at his hands. “Did you ask for the bite?”

“Nah,” Boyd replies. “We were all bitten by the same rogue that got Scott.”

Derek looks at him, startled. “How?”

“School dance,” Boyd says. “Erica and I were heading out to her car to—you know.” He makes a vulgar gesture and Derek rolls his eyes, but nods. “Isaac was smoking behind the school. Scott was looking for Kira. None of us saw it coming.”

“Were you angry?” Derek asks. “That you didn’t have a choice?”

Boyd shrugs. “Sure,” he says, “for a while, but what are you going to do? There’s no cure, so we learned to live with it. We were still alive, and we had each other.” Boyd gives him another long look. “You sure you’re okay?”

Derek spots Stiles standing over by the entrance to the station, watching them worriedly. “I’m fine,” he says, getting slowly to his feet. “Thanks for checking on me.”

“Anytime, man,” Boyd says. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

“See you,” Derek echoes distantly, already walking toward Stiles. “Hey,” he says when he’s close enough.

“Hey,” Stiles says quietly. He doesn’t seem to know what to say, chewing anxiously at his bottom lip. “Uh—”

Derek doesn’t want to hear apologies; Stiles has nothing to apologize for anyway. “Does Braeden have more questions for me?” he asks evenly.

“No,” Stiles says, looking startled. “She got everything she needed. Look, I—”

“Not right now,” Derek says wearily. “Please.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, looking even more surprised. “Sure. Okay. Uh—if you want to come back inside, I asked Braeden to give us a rundown of what else she’s got, but if you want to head home—”

“I’m fine,” Derek says. “I’d like to hear what she has to say.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He still looks a little caught off guard, but he turns readily enough, and Derek follows him back into the station and into his office, where Braeden’s waiting. She watches him with sharp eyes, her expression softer than it was a couple minutes ago, but she doesn’t say anything to him, waiting until Stiles has sat down behind his desk and Derek’s taken the chair across from him to say, “All of our preliminary investigation has turned up no evidence of wrong-doing on the Argents’ parts. All outward appearances point to them being law-abiding citizens—none of them have so much as a traffic ticket on file. All of their hunts—the ones they filed permits for, anyway—were conducted properly, with no violations.”

“They pay off every official they meet,” Derek mutters. “Of course they’re clean.”

“It’s a corrupt institution,” Braeden sighs. “But we do know of at least one illegal hunt—you and your sister.” She watches Derek for a moment before adding, “I want to send a team to try to find your sister’s body. Your testimony’s a good start, but to bring the severest charges, we need to find her.”

Derek exhales shakily. “You want to find Laura?”

“If we can,” Braeden says, her fierce face softening. “And after the investigation, her remains can be transferred into your custody, if you want—you can bury her.”

Derek nods, not trusting himself to speak, overwhelmed by the possibility that he could have Laura back, could visit her any time.

“Do you remember where you were when she was killed?” Braeden asks him.

“Minnesota,” Derek says hoarsely. “We—” He closes his eyes, trying to remember. “It was—flat. Farmland. There was—I hit a lake, had to go around. Hitched a ride into South Dakota.”

Braeden frowns, pulling her phone from her pocket. “How long did that take? Do you remember where you ended up?”

“It was—an hour, maybe,” Derek says, his brow furrowing. “It was a small town...sounded French.”

“Belle Fourche?” Braeden asks, scrolling through a list on her phone. “Conde? Dupree? Flandreau?”

“That was it,” Derek says sharply, lifting his head. “That last one.”

“Flandreau?” Braeden repeats, and Derek nods. “I’ll have my agents work backward and figure out where you could have come from,” she says. “Anything that can help us out? There are a lot of lakes in Minnesota.”

Derek looks down at his hands, trying to remember—and then he does. “That morning,” he says slowly. “Laura left for a couple of hours. She—she went to a clinic.”

“Why did she need to go to a clinic?” Braeden asks, frowning. “Was she injured? Stiles said you were unable to heal when you first came into town.”

“She wasn’t hurt,” Derek says quietly, still staring at his hands. “She was pregnant.”

He sees Braeden look sharply at Stiles, but he won’t be any help; Derek never told him about Laura. He hasn’t told anyone. The Argents didn’t know—and he doesn’t know how they would have reacted if they did, which is why he and Laura never said anything.

“We’ll try to find them both,” Braeden says, after a too-long pause.

Derek draws in a deep breath. "And after?"

"We'll draw up a warrant," Braeden says. "I think we'll be able to serve it by the end of the week. Your testimony will get us that, at least, and even if we can't find your sister's body, there are enough charges to stick them in prison for life."

“What about the fire?” Derek asks quietly.

“The arson and murder charges will probably be handled at the state level, though that could change,” Braeden tells him. “As will your kidnapping and abuse charges. The illegal hunt across state lines—that's ours, and so's your sister's murder."

"Okay," Derek says quietly.

Braeden watches him for a long moment before she says, "I'm not sure you understand how big this is, Derek, but your testimony—all these families are connected. They do favors and hide secrets for each other. Once the Argents begin to crumble, they'll bring the others with them—try to make deals, share information. This whole network will collapse, and it's all because you were strong. You survived."

Braeden's voice is intense, but oddly gentle at the same time; Derek's got a feeling that she's not the type to apologize, but she's trying to now for going too far earlier. He can accept that; she was just trying to do her job.

"Thank you," he says steadily.

Braeden offers him a brief, surprisingly sweet smile before straightening and turning to look at Stiles. "Let's reconvene tomorrow before I leave," she says. "I'll have my analysts narrow down possible sites in Minnesota and see if we can stir up any more memories from local landmarks."

"All right," Stiles says, his eyes briefly flickering to Derek. "You've got my number if anything comes up."

Braeden nods and they watch her whirl out of the office, scattering deputies in her wake as she crosses the bullpen. Despite the bustle from the rest of the station, it seems very quiet suddenly. Derek looks at Stiles, but he's not sure what to say to him; he feels like he's been flayed open, innards exposed for all the world to see. Stiles doesn't seem to know what to say either; he runs a hand through his hair, frowning faintly before he finally offers, "Do you want to go get lunch?"

"No, thanks," Derek says. He thinks he'd like to be alone for a while. "I'm going to go back to the house."

"Do you want a ride?" Stiles asks. "I can—or Parrish, if you don't want me to—"

"I'll walk," Derek says.

Stiles nods, looking a little lost. Derek feels bad for him; he knows all too well how overwhelming it feels, and there was a lot that came out today that Derek hadn't told him—and probably never would have, if he's honest with himself. In apology, he offers all that he has—himself—to Stiles, opening his palms to him until Stiles understands and steps in close. It's familiar and comfortable when Stiles curves a hand around the back of his neck, touches their foreheads together. Neither of them say anything, and eventually Stiles presses a kiss to his forehead and steps back.

"See you at home?" he asks.

"I'll be there," Derek promises.

-

Derek spends the afternoon sitting out on the back stairs reading, a mostly-successful attempt to distract himself from his thoughts. He’s spent enough time thinking about what happened to him in the Argent house; this morning stirred up memories that he’d tried to put behind him, and while he feels somehow relieved that they’re not just his secrets anymore, he doesn’t particularly want to dwell on them anymore. He knows, too, that Stiles is going to say something when he comes home, and so Derek would rather just empty his mind for the moment.

He’s still out there when Stiles comes home, but doesn’t get up to greet him, knowing that Stiles will come find him eventually. Sure enough, after Stiles has banged around inside for a few minutes, going upstairs to change and then coming back down, Derek hears him head through the kitchen and pause by the back door before pushing it open.

“Hey,” he says, when Derek turns to look at him. “Can I join you?” When Derek nods, Stiles steps out onto the back deck and crosses it to sink down on the step next to Derek, just close enough that their knees touch when he relaxes his legs. Derek fiddles idly with his book in the silence, waiting for Stiles to speak. When he does, after a long moment, he says, “Do you remember the first time I took you over to my dad’s house and you said I could ask you a question? Can I ask you that now?”

“I think you’ve asked me a lot of questions since then,” Derek says dryly, but he nods. “Okay.”

Stiles is silent for another long moment, and Derek steels himself for the inevitable, but Stiles catches him off guard by asking, “Will you tell me about your family?”

“What?” Derek says, looking at him in confusion.

“You don’t talk about them,” Stiles says. “But you obviously loved them a lot. I’d like to know about them, if it’s not upsetting to talk about.”

“Oh,” Derek says quietly, almost wonderingly. He was so ready for a question about what came up this morning that he’s not sure what to say. “Where—what do you want to know?”

“I dunno,” Stiles says, folding his arms over his knees. “Start with your mom, maybe? What was she like?”

“She was the alpha,” Derek says slowly. “She owned a florist shop. She’d always do things like—when someone in town died, she’d do the flowers for their funeral for free. People liked her.”

“Was she a good alpha?” Stiles asks.

“I don’t know,” Derek replies. “She was my mom, too, so her being the alpha—it was the same thing. There was no difference between pack and family.”

“Gotcha,” Stiles says quietly. “What about your dad?”

“He was human,” Derek says, and at the way Stiles draws himself up, startled, he explains, “He was the son of an alpha werewolf, but it’s just as likely that our offspring will be born human as it is they’ll be born wolves.”

“All of Erica and Boyd’s kids are werewolves,” Stiles points out.

“So were my sisters and I,” Derek says with a shrug. “It’s all chance.”

“Huh,” Stiles says thoughtfully. “So did your parents’ packs know each other?”

Derek shakes his head. “They met when they were in college. My mom didn’t tell anyone that she was a werewolf, but since my dad had grown up in a pack, he picked up on the signs and figured her out. When they got married, he took her last name and they moved back to the family house—our pack’s lived on the same land since the town was founded.” He pauses there, thinking about the entire corner of the town cemetery taken up by Hale graves. He wonders if his old pack is buried there too. He wonders if he’ll ever see their graves.

Stiles touches his arm gently and Derek shakes his head a little. “My uncle, Peter, lived with us. He was my mom’s younger brother, only seven years older than me. He was—my best friend.” He has to stop there, gritting his teeth against a sudden swell of misery. Peter had been an asshole who’d tricked him and teased him at every opportunity, but he’d also been the one who taught Derek how to ride a bike, who helped him through every full moon until he learned how to control himself.

Stiles shifts a little closer, concern on his face. “Hey,” he says gently. “Look, you don’t have to—you told me plenty. It’s okay.”

Derek exhales harshly and shakes his head fiercely. “Cora,” he says. “She was two and a half years younger than me, and Laura and I would always tease her about being the baby and she’d get so mad; Mom said she was the first of any of us to turn her eyes yellow because we used to get her so riled up. She didn't like sleeping alone, so she and Laura shared a room when we were kids, and even after, when she was older and she had her own room, sometimes she'd go sleep in Laura's bed. When Laura went to college, she'd come into my room sometimes and I'd sleep on the floor so she could have my bed."

The words spill out of him, more than he means to say, almost frantic. Stiles puts his hand on Derek's knee, leans into his side, but he doesn't say anything, just watches him with glittering brown eyes.

"Laura wanted to be a lawyer," Derek says, tilting his head back to look up at the sky, still overcast, a dull gray. "She had a semester left at Ithaca, but she'd already been accepted into the law school at Cornell. She wanted to get into politics and make things better for our kind." He laughs miserably. "She was just like our mom. Always seeing the best in people. Even after she was—she wanted to have the baby. We thought we could make it to the Rockies and find a sympathetic pack there to hide amongst. She would have given up her alpha powers if it meant we'd be safe."

He blinks hard and his eyelashes stick together; he touches his face and finds his cheeks damp. Derek stares at his wet fingertips, his throat burning. He can't remember the last time he cried; his usual method of coping is to shove things so far down inside him that he can’t feel anything at all.

Stiles puts his hand over Derek's and squeezes it gently. "I'm sorry for bringing this up."

"No," Derek says. "I want—someone else to remember them."

Stiles exhales a little shakily. "Thank you, then," he says softly, "For trusting me with their memories."

Derek nods, his heart aching, and they’re quiet for a while. Stiles rubs his thumb over Derek’s knuckles, an absent-minded gesture he finds more comforting than any words. When he chances a glance at Stiles, his brow is furrowed, but his gaze is far away, and Derek turns his own eyes to the back field, where a gentle breeze bends the long grass in waves.

“My mom taught biology at the high school,” Stiles says suddenly. “She loved nature. Her whole classroom was full of tanks of frogs and snakes and stuff like that. On the weekends, she'd take me hiking, or the three of us would go camping. When she got sick, she couldn't do any of that stuff anymore. She was able to keep teaching for a while, but she had to get rid of all the animals in her classroom because her immune system was compromised and the risk of picking up something from one of them was too great. She laid in that hospital room and hated it because she could see the trees outside and she couldn't touch them."

Stiles pauses for a moment, and then continues, "We knew it was coming when she died—or she did, anyway, and my dad; I was too young—so one night Melissa—Scott's mom, she's worked at the hospital forever—helped us sneak her out. She was in a wheelchair and my dad pushed her way out into the woods, and she—" Stiles draws in a deep breath. "She wouldn't stop laughing. She was so happy. My dad was trying to get her to shut up but he was laughing too. She pulled me into her lap, and I know it must have hurt her, but she still did it, and she pointed out all the constellations we could see. She'd taught me all of them years ago, but she couldn't remember; she was so sick she forgot a lot of things."

Stiles points a long finger at the sky, sure of himself even though the sun hasn't set. "Cygnus," he says, moving his hand to point at empty patches of grey sky. "Aquila. Sagittarius. Lyra. Scorpius." He exhales noisily through his nose. "She died three days later, but I don't really remember that part, except after the funeral. We had a reception at our house and her cat got out. I tried to find it, but I never saw it again." He shrugs, one side of his mouth lifting in an unamused smile. "Weird what sticks with us, huh?"

"She sounds like a good person," Derek tells him. "I'm sure she'd be proud of who you became."

"So would your parents," Stiles says. Derek makes a derisive noise and Stiles frowns at him. "I'm serious."

"What is there to be proud of?" Derek asks bitterly. "I was a slave for eight years. I couldn't even keep Laura safe."

"You're alive," Stiles says firmly. "And I'm proud of you. You've changed, Derek. Remember when we first met? At the hospital? You didn't even want to tell me your name, or that they were chasing you. It took days before you'd even look me in the eyes, and now look at you—you don't flinch away from everything, you've got a pack—I've seen you smile, okay? After all the fucked up shit they did to you? They're not winning. You heard Braeden—their entire network is going to collapse, and it's because of you."

"It's not me," Derek argues weakly. "It's—I was ready to die, but you—you kept coming back. You saved me.”

Stiles shakes his head a little. “Nah,” he says. “You saved yourself. If I did anything, all I did was give you a little push.”

“I wouldn’t be here without you,” Derek says stubbornly. “If you hadn’t kept coming back to the hospital, I don’t know what I would have done after I got out. I probably would have gone into the woods and let myself die.”

Stiles flinches and turns suddenly, putting his arms around Derek’s shoulders and pressing his forehead to Derek’s temple. “Don’t say that,” he breathes against Derek’s cheek.

Derek closes his eyes, leaning into Stiles’ touch. “I don’t want to die anymore,” he says quietly, lifting a hand and curling it around Stiles’ wrist. “I want to stay here.”

“You can,” Stiles promises. “Please.”

Derek squeezes his eyes shut tighter at the sudden burning in them, his grip on Stiles’ wrist tightening too. His heart’s going crazy, his chest constricting with the sudden realization that he thinks he loves Stiles. This, of all things, is the most startling, and the most terrifying. For months, he’d been certain he’d die alone, killed by starvation or murdered by hunters. He’d never expected, never even dreamed that he’d find a home, let alone someone to love. He never expected to have a future and yet one lies before him now, stretching on immeasurably.

Derek doesn’t know how long they sit there, heads tucked together, but it’s starting to get dark out before they move again. Stiles breaks first, dragging his nose along Derek’s cheekbone before he shifts upright. “You want some dinner?” he asks quietly.

Derek shakes his head. All the serious discussions have left him without an appetite.

“You sure?” Stiles asks. “I think I’m going to order Chinese food.”

“I’m sure,” Derek says.

Stiles shifts his weight like he’s going to stand, but he doesn’t, just delicately touches the back of Derek’s hand with his fingertips. Derek watches him, drinks in the mellow expression in his dark eyes.

“Will you kiss me?” Derek asks suddenly, before he can even think about it.

Stiles looks at him quickly, startled. “Don’t you mean ‘Can I kiss you?’” he asks.

“No,” Derek says simply. “I want you to kiss me.”

“Oh,” Stiles says softly, his eyes widening. Derek inhales slowly, his skin breaking out into goosebumps at the way Stiles’ scent goes rich and lush. Stiles reaches out slowly, cups Derek’s cheek in one hand, and watches him for a long second before he leans in and kisses him.

It’s nothing like their first kiss—it’s a thousand times better knowing the intent behind it. Stiles is softer this time, his touch gentle and less urgent, but it doesn’t fail to set Derek on fire, his hands rising reflexively to grip at Stiles’ shirt. It feels so good to know he’s still wanted after all of the day’s revelations, such a relief, that he can’t help the disgruntled noise he makes when Stiles sits back.

“I know,” Stiles says a little breathlessly, his eyes bright. “I just—I want to be clear.”

Derek frowns. “Clear about what?”

“I—” Stiles shuts his mouth and appears to be thinking hard about what he wants to say. “I don’t want to talk about it unless you do, but—you have to tell me if—if I go too fast, or I do something that makes you uncomfortable. I just—I need to know, okay? That I’m not hurting you.”

Derek swallows, his throat uncomfortably tight. “You wouldn’t,” he says quietly.

“Not intentionally, but—” Stiles sucks in a sharp breath, his brow furrowing. “Sometimes I get too caught up in what I’m doing—I don’t think. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t say no to me—because you can, always.”

“I know,” Derek says.

Stiles stares at him for a long moment and then nods. “Okay,” he says. “I just wanted to be sure.” He goes to stand, finally, but Derek catches his arm.

“Did...you know?” he asks, his mouth dry.

Stiles’ mouth twists down at the corners. “I had my suspicions,” he says softly. “I’m—trained to see these things—the signs. But I wasn’t going to say anything unless you did. I’m just—really sorry for the way Braeden brought it up. She's cool, honestly, she just—goes too fast sometimes."

Derek shrugs. "Figured it'd surface eventually."

"But it was your secret," Stiles says. "It should have been your choice to share it or not, and I'm sorry that choice was taken away from you."

Derek shrugs again. "It doesn't matter now," he says. After all, like Boyd said, he's alive, isn't he? He's made it this far, and he doesn't want to think about it anymore. "I'm tired," he says quietly.

"It's been a long day," Stiles agrees softly, his eyes fixed on Derek. He offers his hand slowly, like he's not sure Derek's going to want it, but Derek curls their fingers together readily, and together they stand and go inside. Stiles orders Chinese food, and when it arrives, Derek's startled to find that he is hungry; he finishes off a carton of broccoli and beef by himself, and it leaves him feeling even more tired than before, his eyes heavy. Stiles pats his lap invitingly, and Derek thinks longingly about his head rubs, but he has to work tomorrow; he needs a bed.

"I'm going to bed," he tells Stiles wearily, and even that is enough to make him yawn widely.

"All right," Stiles says agreeably, and as Derek gets to his feet, he tilts his head back consideringly and says, "You want to sleep in my bed?"

Derek stills. That's exactly what he wants; to sleep soundly, surrounded by Stiles' alpha scent. "You think that's a good idea?" he asks warily.

Stiles snorts quietly. "Derek, I am not putting a move on you after the day we've had. I'll sleep on the floor if it makes you feel better."

"You don't have to do that," Derek says. "I trust you."

Stiles smiles, truly pleased. "Go to bed, then," he says. "I'll be up in a couple hours."

It's a little strange, slipping into Stiles' room when he's not in there, but Derek carefully takes off his pants and socks and then slides under the covers. His whole body goes lax at the way Stiles' scent settles around him; it's precisely what he needs. He flips onto his side, pressing his cheek to the pillow, and closes his eyes. He'd thought sleep would be impossible, his head crammed full of recollections and memories, but he's asleep almost the moment he closes his eyes, and he sleeps the entire night through without waking once.

When Derek wakes in the morning, the alarm on Stiles' phone is going off and Stiles is on his stomach pressed up against Derek's side, one arm stretched over Derek's chest possessively. Derek stares up at the ceiling, a faint smile curving his lips. He thinks about the way his mom always used to say things would work themselves out and there was no use in worrying. It never seemed that way before, trapped for years in a dark basement, but now, he thinks it seems like she might have been right.

-

The next morning, following a quick, bleary-eyed breakfast of toast and coffee, Stiles brings Derek to the station again so Braeden can go over the information her team has dredged up about the area of Minnesota Laura may have been killed in. They spend a couple of hours poring over photographs of long, flat roads, and lakes and businesses until, with some shock, Derek recognizes one—a bar and grille they'd eaten at the night before Laura’s death. The memories of that day are so clear, burned into his brain, that Derek can trace their route from there, until he finds the small stand of trees where the hunters caught them, and the cornfield beyond where he’d made his escape. Braeden leaves soon after that, announcing grimly that she’s going out there herself.

Her departure leaves Derek feeling a little lost; the investigation is out of their hands now, so all they can do is wait. Stiles drives him over to Boyd’s greenhouse so he can start his shift, but Stiles stops him before he can get out of the car, a hand on his arm. “You okay?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Derek says, but he hesitates before asking, “Do you think they’re going to find her?”

“Unless the Argents moved her body,” Stiles says, watching him intently. “I’m ninety-nine percent sure they will.”

Derek exhales slowly and nods, buoyed by Stiles’ confidence. He shifts to move out of the car, but Stiles still doesn’t let him go. Derek looks at him inquisitively and Stiles grins. “Hey,” he says. “Can I take you on a date?”

Derek can feel his face getting warm. “A date?” he repeats.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, his grin widening. “Dinner, movies, the works. Let me spoil you.”

“You don’t need to spoil me,” Derek says, his face growing even warmer.

“I know,” Stiles says cheerfully. “But I want to. That’s what makes it fun. So can I?”

“Fine,” Derek says, embarrassed.

“Good,” Stiles says, looking satisfied. “I’m going to woo the heck out of you.”

“You don’t need to woo me,” Derek says, beginning to get exasperated. “You already have me.”

“I know,” Stiles says again, and he sounds so pleased that Derek’s exasperation fades almost instantly. “Maybe we can do it this weekend—I’ve got late shifts the rest of the week.”

“Sounds good,” Derek nods. Stiles grins again and tugs him in so he can lean over the center console and kiss him.

“Have fun at work,” Stiles says when he pulls back, finally letting go of Derek.

“I—I will,” Derek says unsteadily, forcing himself out of the car before he gets himself in trouble. Stiles gives him a cheerful wave and peels out of the lot.

Boyd’s waiting inside the nursery when Derek comes in and he raises his eyebrows at Derek, sniffing dramatically. Derek feels himself going red all over again.

“Shut up,” he mutters, his heart beating loud and glad inside his chest.

-

They don’t really talk about it, but Derek doesn’t go back to sleeping in his own room. With Stiles working late, Derek goes to bed before he comes home, and there’s something extremely comforting about waking up to Stiles crawling in next to him—even if the bed’s too soft, Stiles’ presence is an acceptable trade. It’s easier for him to relax in the darkness of the room, when he knows Stiles can’t really see him, and it gives him the courage to kiss him a little rougher when Stiles leans over to say goodnight, his entire body tingling at the satisfied noise Stiles makes.

On the third night, however, two full days after Braeden left, Stiles doesn’t climb in next to him, but shakes him awake. Derek wakes abruptly, confused, fear prickling through him at the serious expression on Stiles’ face.

“What’s happened?” he asks sharply.

“Braeden called,” Stiles says. “They found her. They found Laura.”

For a moment, Derek forgets how to breathe. He doesn’t know how to process the news; relief, sorrow, pain, and anger all go flashing through him. Stiles leans over him, curling his hands around Derek’s biceps, but he doesn’t say anything, waiting for Derek to respond. All he can think to ask is, “What’s going to happen now?”

“They’ll do an autopsy,” Stiles says gently. “Braeden says it’s pretty obvious how she was killed, but it has to be official. Then they’ll get a warrant, and they'll arrest them, Der. You won't have to worry about them ever again."

"What about Laura?" Derek asks shakily.

"After the autopsy, she'll be sent here," Stiles says. "You can bury her, or cremate her—"

"No," Derek says tightly. "No fire."

"Right," Stiles says with a wince. "So, we'll bury her."

"Return to the earth," Derek says distantly, thinking about hiding in leaf piles with her as kids, hiding in the woods as adults. She would have been a good mom. A good alpha. It might take him years to save enough money, but he'll get her a gravestone, and he'll let himself go bankrupt buying flowers to put on it.

Stiles is watching him. Derek doesn't know how much of him he can see, since the light's not on, and little light spills in from the hall, but his hands are steady on Derek's arms, his expression a little sad. He understands loss, Derek thinks, lifting a hand to touch Stiles' cheek. Stiles' eyes flare alpha red in the darkness, sharp and unexpected, the color fading as quickly as it came.

That night, Stiles curls close to him; they lay back-to-chest and Stiles puts his arm over Derek's side, his breath warm against the back of Derek's neck. Stiles falls asleep quickly, but Derek, despite the comfort and safety, lies awake for a long time, thinking about Laura.

When he eventually does fall asleep, he dreams of their house, a Sunday morning with A Prairie Home Companion on the radio and Laura in her Ithaca sweatpants, singing along to an old hymn as she rocks her baby in her arms. She looks over at Derek, a smile on her face, and says, "I made it home."

-

A week passes with no news. Stiles has to cancel their date because one of his deputies gets food poisoning and another has a family emergency. Derek is secretly a little relieved, but also secretly disappointed, and he feels particularly bad when Stiles comes home from a thirty-six hour shift and barely makes it out of his uniform before he crawls into bed and goes to sleep.

When he arises fourteen hours later, he stumbles into the kitchen with his hair all askew and deep circles under his eyes, and plasters himself up against Derek's back. Derek, who's in the middle of making pizza dough, jumps, startled, sending a cloud of flour drifting through the air.

"Sorry," Stiles mumbles sleepily, so close his lips drag against Derek's skin. He doesn't sound sorry at all; Derek fights back a pleasant shudder as Stiles winds his arms around his ribs. He smells like three days of the same uniform, too many cups of coffee, and nervous energy stretched too thin—but he also smells like himself, so deep and rich that it makes something stir at the pit of Derek's stomach, something liquid and hot and unfamiliar. Stiles hums, the low sound buzzing down Derek's spine, and rubs his cheek against the back of Derek's neck.

"Did you—sleep okay?" Derek asks haltingly, all of his senses on high alert.

"Mm," Stiles says absently. The touch of his cheek turns to lips; he kisses the back of Derek's neck and drags his mouth along his shoulder. Derek shuts his eyes, curling his fingers in the pizza dough.

"Stiles," he says quietly, exhaling shakily. Stiles hums again and bites down on Derek's shoulder. "Fuck," Derek groans weakly. "Stiles—"

Stiles unlatches his jaw, pressing a kiss to the bite before saying delightedly, "I think that's the first time I've ever heard you swear."

Derek manages to twist around, trapped against the counter by Stiles' body. "Does it matter?" he asks, his face getting warm.

"No," Stiles says with a grin, tracing his finger along Derek's jaw. "But if that's what it takes to get you to swear, I'm up for the challenge."

He leans in and Derek kisses him gladly. He'd been startled to find that he was lonely the past few days while Stiles was gone, which would have never happened a couple months back. He missed Stiles just as much as Stiles apparently missed him, if the urgency of his touch is anything to go by.

Pizza dough completely forgotten, Derek presses back against the counter so Stiles can lean into him fully, taking all of his weight as Stiles curls his arms around Derek's shoulders, kissing him deeply. Derek groans again when Stiles tilts his head and goes for his throat instead, sucking bruises all the way down to his collarbone. Derek can't stop touching him, his hands sliding up his back, stroking through his hair and down his ribs. Sometimes, he can't believe this is real; that after all he's been through, he still has a chance to be happy.

They've never gone any further than what they're doing now, making out on the couch after dinner sometimes. Derek gets the feeling that Stiles is holding back, which he's mostly grateful for, but it's frustrating in times like now, when they're both starting to get hard. Derek's already expecting it when it happens; Stiles begins to pull back, but Derek decides he's not having it this time, and pulls him back in, hands heavy on his hips.

"You started this," he reminds Stiles. "You finish it."

Stiles laughs, which breaks off into a startled groan when Derek's hands slide over his hips and clutch at his ass, hitching him forward.

"Fuck," Stiles breathes, his dark eyes wide. There's flour smeared down his cheek—that and the wide eyes make him look a little crazy. "Can I—?" He gets his hand between them, cups his palm over the bulge in Derek's pants, and Derek hisses, hips bucking up into his touch. "Fuck," Stiles says again. "Your eyes—"

—are probably burning gold, Derek thinks. He's not going to lose control—he hasn't lost control since he was a teenager—but he feels a little wild right now, and it's—freeing. He always had to be careful with Paige, had to keep tight control so she wouldn't find out he was a werewolf, but Stiles knows already. Derek doesn't have anything to hide, so he lets himself go a little, lets his claws pop out and curl against Stiles' ass—not enough to hurt him, never to hurt him. To Derek's surprise, Stiles makes a weak sort of moaning noise and shudders to a halt, panting hard.

Derek retracts his claws immediately, worry coursing through him. "Did I hurt you?" he asks urgently.

Stiles drops his head against Derek's shoulder with a weak laugh. "Dude," he says. "I just came in my pants."

Derek's lips part in shock, his whole body going hot from a combination of the smell of Stiles' release hitting him and the fact that it was Derek who'd gotten him off. A deep, heady sense of satisfaction thrums through him, content at pleasing his alpha. He nuzzles against Stiles’ cheek, hands sliding up his back, relaxing when Stiles responds in kind, turning his head to mouth lazily at Derek’s neck. He rubs his hands over Derek’s chest, down his stomach, slipping down to unbuckle his belt. Derek exhales sharply and Stiles pauses, lifting his head to meet Derek’s eyes.

“This okay?” he asks. Derek nods, but Stiles watches him for a long moment before he moves again, long fingers nimbly pushing Derek’s jeans down his hips. He’s still watching Derek intently when he slips his hand into Derek’s underwear, his irises mostly swallowed by pupil, though they flash red when he curls his fingers around Derek’s dick and Derek groans. Derek unravels rapidly under his touch, hands clutching at Stiles’ shirt as Stiles jerks him off, breathing heavily as Stiles’ mouth returns to his neck. It’s too much stimulation; Derek comes on a whine, spilling over Stiles’ fingers as Stiles makes a low, encouraging noise at the back of his throat.

“Good,” Stiles breathes. “So good.”

Derek shudders weakly at his words, reveling in the pride in Stiles’ voice. It’s a long while before they pull apart, Stiles dragging his fingers through the hair at the base of Derek’s skull, nosing absently along his jaw. Derek’s glad for the quiet moment together, a little overwhelmed. He’s never been with anyone who’s gotten him off in return; he and Paige never made it that far in their relationship, and what he and Kate were wasn’t a relationship, nor did she have any interest in anything other than her own pleasure. It feels strange—and amazing—to know he’s got someone who actually wants him to enjoy himself.

“Okay,” Stiles murmurs after a while. “I need to take a shower.”

Derek nods a little reluctantly, knowing that after Stiles showers, his rich scent will be masked by soap—clean, sure, but it won’t be the pure scent of him.

“Was all this okay?” Stiles asks, taking a step backward. “It wasn’t too much, was it?”

Derek shakes his head. “It was fun,” he says, and Stiles grins.

“Good,” he says, stepping over to the sink to wash his hands. “That’s the way it should be.” He shoots Derek another grin before heading upstairs, leaving Derek leaning against the counter, smiling vaguely at nothing.

When Stiles comes back downstairs twenty minutes later, Derek’s finished the pizza dough and is letting it rise while he sits out on the back deck with a beer. Stiles grabs one for himself and joins him outside, settling down next to him, resting his hand on Derek’s knee in an absent way.

“Scott and Kira want to come over,” he says to Derek. “That okay with you?”

“Sure,” Derek says with a shrug, and Stiles nods, pulling out his phone to text Scott. They show up maybe fifteen minutes later, Rocky running out ahead to slam himself into Stiles’ legs gleefully. Stiles grunts, swaying in place. “You’re going to knock me over one of these days,” he says fondly, swinging himself down to catch Rocky and tickle him mercilessly.

Scott winces at the sound of Rocky’s delighted shrieks, raising his voice a little to ask, “Any news?”

Derek and Stiles both shake their heads. Scott knows about the investigation—as Derek is a member of his pack, it’s only right that they share it with him, though he doesn’t know the more intimate details. He’d come over a couple days earlier to offer his support after Laura’s body was found, even going so far as to offer her a place in the pack plot in the town cemetery, which was beyond kind.

Scott looks disappointed. “Oh,” he says.

“Should be any day, though,” Stiles says, looking at Derek encouragingly. Derek sighs quietly; he’s been trying not to think about it, because the current state of limbo it's in will drive him mad if he focuses on it. He just wants it to be over.

When the dough’s done rising, they congregate in the kitchen and Stiles splits it out so they can all make personal pizzas. Derek’s helping Rocky lay out a very precise pattern of peppers and sausage on his pizza when Stiles’ phone begins vibrating in his pocket. Stiles makes an irritated noise and sets down the bag of mozzarella he’s holding so he can fish it out. Derek and Scott both look up sharply at the way his scent immediately swings from irritation to unease.

“It’s Braeden,” he says quietly, looking at Derek, then at Scott and Kira. Kira gets to her feet and gently picks up Rocky, carrying him out the back door. Stiles exhales, his jaw clenching as he brings the phone to his ear. “Hey,” Stiles says to Braeden. “Derek and Scott are here. I’m going to put you on speaker. What’s going on?”

He holds the phone out in front of him so they can all hear Braeden’s voice, a little crackly over the speaker. “We got the warrant,” she says. “But their compound’s been abandoned.”

“What?” Stiles exclaims. “Abandoned how?”

“It’s abandoned, Stiles,” Braeden says, frustration loud in her voice. “It’s been stripped of anything of value. There was no one there—they didn’t even lock the doors.”

“But—how?” Stiles repeats plaintively. “How could they have known?”

“They must have been tipped off,” Braeden says grimly. “They haven’t been gone for more than a day or two—there’s still food here that’s fresh.”

“Are there any werewolves there?” Scott asks, glancing uneasily at Derek. He looks at his hands, not sure how to take this latest blow. Stiles bumps his shoulder against Derek’s, frowning deeply.

“No,” Braeden says. “But we found the sheds where they were kept.”

Stiles swears under his breath. “What’s the plan?”

“We’ve put out APBs for all vehicles registered to any Argent,” Braeden says. “But you guys need to be on alert. It’s highly likely they’re heading your direction.”

“You mean they’re coming for Derek,” Stiles says flatly. Derek stares frantically down at his hands, fighting off panic. Scott leans into his other side, but even being sandwiched between the two of them does little to make him feel better.

“Yes,” Braeden says soberly.

“So what are we supposed to do?” Stiles asks bitterly. “Just sit around and wait for them to show up? Fuck that.”

Braeden exhales loudly. “We’re going to do our best to find them first,” she says. “I know it’s not an ideal situation.”

“Not ideal?” Stiles repeats angrily. “Fucking right. Where’d the leak come from?”

“I don’t know,” Braeden says. “We’re investigating that too. Do you have any known hunter sympathizers in your station?”

“Just one,” Stiles groans, digging the heel of his palm against his eyes. “He’s too stupid to do something like this."

"Never underestimate the power of hatred," Braeden says ominously. "I'll call you when we have more information. Stay alert."

Silence rings in the kitchen for a long moment after that. Derek doesn't know what to think; he should have known better to expect the best outcome, he thinks, but he'd wanted to believe. He'd trusted in Stiles' confidence. Scott puts his hand on Derek's back and says to Stiles, "You think it was Haigh?"

"I don't know," Stiles says unhappily. "I mean, he's an asshole and a bigot, but I didn't think he was capable of something like this. I don't know how he'd even know."

"You haven't talked about this at the station?" Scott asks.

"I don't know," Stiles repeats, sounding frustrated. "I might have talked about this to Parrish, but the deputies didn't know I was investigating the Argents." He turns, putting his phone down on the counter. "Derek?" he asks hesitantly. Derek looks at him reluctantly. "I'm sorry," he says softly. "This was supposed to be over—I don't know how this happened."

Derek shrugs. There's a cold, heavy fear settling into his chest, familiar and hated; it sat there the entire time he was held captive, the entire year he was on the run. He should have expected this. The Argents always win.

"Derek," Stiles says. "We'll figure this out."

"The pack's not going to let anything happen," Scott adds firmly. They both sound confident, but Derek feels claustrophobic, smothered by their optimism. He backs away from the counter, away from the two of them. He needs space. Scott seems to understand this, because when Stiles opens his mouth to say something, Scott stops him with a hand on his arm, and Derek escapes gratefully, slipping out the back door.

Kira and Rocky are still out there—he'd forgotten about them—but Kira's standing on the lawn, watching Rocky duck through the tall grass in the back field. She turns when Derek steps outside, waves, and Derek nods back reluctantly. Inside the house, Stiles murmurs something to Scott, but Derek doesn't try to listen in; it's almost certainly about him, and he doesn't care.

Derek sits down on the deck, his feet dangling over the edge, and he folds his arms over the bottom rail and closes his eyes. He's so tired, exhausted by these long days full of emotional rollercoasters. For so long, he didn't have to hardly think at all and now, all of this is too much.

"Derek?"

He opens his eyes to find Kira standing in front of him, Rocky on her hip. They both watch him with identical solemn expressions, though Kira's face always holds a hint of a smile to it. He doesn't know her that well; compared to others in the pack, he's spent much less time with her. He knows she's a kitsune, some kind of fox shifter, but he's not sure what that means, or if she can even shift at all. He likes her, though; Kira's thoughtful and soft-spoken, though he doesn't appreciate that much right now, when she asks, her eyes bright with concern, "Are you all right?"

"No," Derek says bluntly, and Kira's eyes widen. She opens her mouth and he preempts her. "There's nothing you can do."

"There's always something," Kira says firmly, but Derek shakes his head.

"Not this time," he says despondently.

“You have to have hope, Derek,” Kira says. “If you don’t, what else is there?”

Derek stares at her in shock; Laura had said almost the exact same thing once, just days into their captivity, when they’d still thought someone might be out there looking for them. Kira gives him an encouraging smile. “Whatever happens,” she says gently, “you’ll always have the pack. We’re here for you no matter what.”

Derek nods, not wanting to say that that’s what he’d thought before—losing his pack seemed impossible when he was a kid. Kira gives him another brief smile and a few minutes later, Scott sticks his head out the back door to announce that their pizzas are almost ready to come out of the oven. Derek follows Kira and Rocky inside, even though his appetite’s gone. Dinner as a whole is a quiet affair. Kira and Scott seem to be having a silent conversation communicated entirely through subtle facial expressions, and Stiles isn’t looking at anyone; he smells like anger and frustration, and it puts Derek even more on edge than he already was.

When they finish eating, Stiles is on his feet almost immediately, disappearing into his office, and Derek stares after him uneasily. “Don’t worry about him,” Scott says softly, patting Derek on the arm. “He feels like this is his fault.”

Derek turns his head, staring into the kitchen as though he can see right into Stiles’ office. “It’s not,” he says.

“I know,” Scott says. “He—” But he stops talking at the sound of Stiles’ office door flying open again. A second later, Stiles appears, looking furious.

“I have to go to work,” he snaps out. “Haigh’s an hour late for his shift. There’s no sign of him.”

Scott sucks in a sharp breath. “You think he’s running?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says grimly. “Parrish says he went to his house, but he’s not there. I’ve got to go.”

He turns toward the living room and Scott gets to his feet, frowning. “Do you think that’s the right thing to do right now?”

Stiles glares at him. “What do you want me to do?” he says angrily. “Just sit around while my department falls apart?”

“I’m just saying,” Scott says gently. “They may not be the only ones who need you right now.”

Stiles frowns, and then his eyes slip sideways to Derek, who’s watching him uncertainly, and his face softens a little. “I’ll be back in an hour or two max,” he says, and he seems to be speaking to Derek now. “I just need to go sort this out.”

Derek nods slowly and Stiles glances at Scott before he leaves, grabbing his keys as he heads out the door. Scott sighs as the cruiser starts up outside, tires crunching as Stiles backs out of the driveway. “Sorry,” he says to Derek.

Derek shrugs. “Has he always been like this?” he asks.

“What, impulsive?” Scott rolls his eyes toward the ceiling. “He was even worse in high school.”

“It’s only because he cares about you,” Kira offers.

“Yeah, he’s like, stupidly loyal,” Scott agrees, sounding fond. “He’ll get everything sorted out. Do you want us to stick around?”

Derek shakes his head again. He’d like some time to himself, if he’s being honest. Scott seems to understand; he nods and plucks Rocky off Kira’s lap, offering her a hand as she gets to her feet. Derek follows them to the door and Scott pauses again after slipping his shoes back on. "You're safe here," he says seriously, "but you can come stay with us, if you want."

Derek shakes his head. "No, thank you," he declines politely. He's not safe if the Argents are after him, and he's not going to lead them right to the home of the town's alpha.

"Okay," Scott says, narrowing his eyes at Derek. "You can always change your mind. I'll see you later."

Derek watches them drive off down the street, waiting for Scott's old sedan to turn the corner before he closes the door. He cleans up the kitchen, washing the dishes and throwing away the crusts Rocky had gnawed on. He tries watching a movie after that, but he can't concentrate on it; every time he begins to relax, panic begins to swell in his chest, pressing on his ribs. When the movie's ended, Stiles still hasn't come home, and Derek paces the living room for a few minutes before he goes upstairs and gets into bed. Even there he can't relax, though he tries. He reads for a while, but stops when he realizes he's been reading the same paragraph for ten minutes, the words blurring in front of him.

It's almost four hours before Stiles comes home. He steps through the front door muttering to himself, his irritation loud even upstairs, and Derek suddenly doesn't want to face him. He closes his book and sets it down very quietly, slumping down into the blankets as Stiles comes up the stairs after doing a lap around the first floor. He has his eyes closed by the time Stiles comes into the bedroom, moving softer now. Derek hears him pause in the doorway, and then his clothes rustle as he changes.

The bed dips next to him, and Derek makes himself breathe slowly, not reacting when Stiles touches his shoulder. It's not a wake up sort of touch anyway; it seems more like Stiles is reassuring himself, because his fingers barely flex against Derek's skin before they pull away and he turns onto his side, pulling the blankets over his shoulders. Stiles huffs out a few long breaths, and it doesn't take long before his breathing slows, his body losing the tension of consciousness. Derek exhales quietly and rolls onto his back, but sleep isn't coming even with Stiles next to him.

It may only be minutes, but it feels like hours before Derek gives up and pulls himself out of bed, careful not to wake Stiles. He walks down the hall, stopping in each room to check that each window's locked, and then heads downstairs to do the same. When he's satisfied the house is secure, Derek treads soundlessly over to the back door and stares through the glass at the faint silver shimmer of the protective wards in the back field. They don't do much to comfort him. They won't stop the Argents from coming onto the property, and even if they did, there's still a lot of damage that can be inflicted at a distance.

Derek closes his eyes, pressing his forehead to the cool glass. He should have expected this long ago, he knows. He's been lucky—or cursed, maybe, because he's had time to find a family again, and it's all going to be taken away. Stiles and Scott think they can win, but Scott's not a born wolf; he doesn't have half the instincts Derek's mother had, and she ended up dead anyway. The Argents are an old family; they have centuries of experience hunting werewolves under their belts. Stiles' scant couple years as sheriff can't match up to that.

Derek opens his eyes, staring miserably out at the light of the wards. He should run now, while he still has a chance, still has a head start. It'll hurt to leave, but it's better than knowing he got his pack killed because of him. This way, they'll still have a chance, and so will he.

Go, he thinks, but he can't make himself move. He doesn't want to; he wants to stay here with Stiles. But he knows that if he wants Stiles to make it out of this alive, he's got no choice but to go. Go, he thinks again fiercely, and reaches out to put his hand on the doorknob.

"Don't you dare," says a voice from behind him, and Derek nearly jumps out of his skin. Twisting around, he sees it's Stiles, and he doesn't understand how he always manages to sneak up on him. Stiles looks pissed now, his arms folded over his chest. He shouldn't be intimidating in his t-shirt and Iron Man boxers, but the glare he's leveling at Derek now cancels out everything about him that could be construed as weak. "Don't," he says angrily. "If you leave, I'll never forgive you."

"It's the only way to keep you safe," Derek says quietly, his hand tightening around the knob.

"Safe?" Stiles retorts. "Derek, I left safe miles behind the moment I decided to visit you in the hospital on my afternoon off. You don't get to make this decision without me."

Derek shakes his head stubbornly. "I have to," he says. "If they're chasing after me, they won't be coming after you."

"You really believe that?" Stiles asks, raising his eyebrows. "If Haigh's the one who tipped them off, you leaving isn't going to keep us safe. He'll have told them where we live, where Scott lives—where everyone in the pack lives. If you leave, it means we can't keep you safe."

"You can't keep me safe," Derek says. "They're professionals, Stiles. I can run—I hid from them for a year."

"That's what you want to do?" Stiles says, taking a step forward. "Spend the rest of your life running? Always looking over your shoulder? That's what you want?"

Derek hesitates because of course it isn't; he wants to spend the rest of his life waking next to Stiles, running with the pack, smelling fresh air without worrying whether it carries the scent of gunpowder. Stiles sees this hesitation and steps closer, his face softening as his anger fades and something similar to fear replaces it.

"Derek, please," he says quietly. "We know they're headed for us, but we have time. We can make a plan. They're not going to hurt you again, I promise."

"You can't promise that," Derek says, swallowing hard. "You don't know."

"Okay," Stiles agrees. "Not for sure, but—I'll do everything in my power to stop them, if Braeden's people don't stop them first, and they might, who knows."

Derek swallows hard. “What if they get here and we can’t stop them?”

“We won’t know until they show up,” Stiles says quietly. “All we can do is try.” He reaches out, sliding his hands around Derek’s waist. “Please don’t go.” Derek looks to the door, hesitating, but breaks when Stiles says “Please.”

“Okay,” Derek whispers uncertainly, terrified that he’s making the wrong decision, that he’s going to get Stiles and all of their friends slaughtered. He gives easily when Stiles tugs him closer, hiding his face against Stiles’ throat.

Stiles strokes his hands up and down Derek’s back for a few long minutes, slowly bringing him back from a dangerous place. When he eventually murmurs, “Want to go back to bed?” Derek goes with him, grateful someone else is taking the lead. Upstairs, Stiles waits for him to make himself comfortable in bed before he climbs in after him, putting an arm around his stomach and curling up right against his back. Derek allows himself to exhale slowly, closing his eyes.

“Sorry it took me so long to get home,” Stiles murmurs. “I shouldn’t have left.”

“Did you find him?” Derek asks quietly.

“No,” Stiles admits after a frustrated pause. “I’ve got an alert out.” He sighs. “This is my fault.”

“It’s not,” Derek says.

“It has to be,” Stiles says. “I don’t know where else the leak could have come from—and I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I left a folder on my desk and he looked through it, or—”

Derek flips over, putting them nose to nose. “Does it matter?” he asks. “It’s already happened.”

“I guess not,” Stiles says reluctantly. “But I’m a cop, man. It’s my job to figure this kind of shit out.”

“You will,” Derek says, “but you have to accept that it might not be right away.”

Stiles huffs, but after a moment he lifts his hand, trailing his fingers along Derek’s cheekbone. “When’d you get so wise?”

“I’m just used to things not working out,” Derek says.

“Hey, hey,” Stiles says softly, dragging his fingers through Derek’s hair. “They will this time, all right? Don’t lose hope.”

Derek doesn’t reply, instead he inches toward Stiles so their foreheads press together. Stiles tips his chin up, pressing a quick kiss to his lips. Neither of them go to sleep for a while after that, but Derek feels...better. Safe, at least for the moment, with Stiles’ knees pressed to his thighs and his hands drifting over his body. Safe for what may be the last time in a long while.

-

Derek’s tense at work the next day. Boyd has him outside for most of the afternoon, watering the rows of trees, and he spends a lot of time with his face turned to the forest, watching. He doesn’t know how long it takes to get from New York to California—on foot, it took a year with many detours, but by car? He uses the map application on his phone and it tells him it’ll take approximately forty-five hours. Derek’s skin crawls; if they left two days ago, they could already be here.

He thinks about calling Stiles, but then thinks better of it. It’s not like there’s any visible danger and really, he’s still in the same exact place he’s been for months, with no real idea of where the Argents could be. He doesn’t want to get Stiles concerned about something that’s not even currently an issue.

“You all right, man?” Boyd asks when Derek ducks inside to drink some water.

“Tired,” Derek says. The rest of the pack doesn’t know about the investigation and anyway, it’s not a lie; he is tired.

He’s relieved when Stiles comes to pick him up at the end of the day. Stiles looks just as tired as he feels, but he offers Derek a weary smile as he gets into the car—he must have already stopped at the house, because he’s driving the Jeep and wearing civilian clothes.

“Anything?” Derek asks. He figures Stiles would have called, but it’s worth a shot.

Predictably, Stiles shakes his head. “Not really. Braeden called, but all they’ve got is they found a couple of the Argent’s cars abandoned across Ohio. Not sure if they’re catching rides with someone else, or if they’ve got more cars hidden around.”

“I think they had caches of supplies hidden around the country,” Derek offers. “Might include cars.”

Stiles grimaces. “That could complicate things,” he says. “Do they have any other houses, do you know?”

Derek shakes his head. “If they do, I never heard about them.”

Stiles glances over at him as he pulls out of the nursery, reaching over to take Derek’s hand, squeezing gently. They don’t talk as they head into town. It takes Derek—who's staring absently out the window—a while to realize that they’ve missed their turn for the house, and glances over at Stiles.

“Where are we going?”

Stiles smiles slyly. “I thought we could have our date, if that’s cool with you.”

Derek stares at him. “Do you think now is the right time?”

Stiles’ smile fades. “I thought it might be a nice distraction,” he says. “But if you’re not into it, we can go home.”

“No,” Derek says immediately, feeling guilty. “That sounds nice.”

“Cool,” Stiles says, relaxing. “What do you feel like? I know a new barbecue place just opened on South Main.”

“Sounds good,” Derek says agreeably. He’s not particularly hungry, but he’ll go wherever Stiles wants to.

Derek’s zone of travel mostly revolves around the house and the nursery, with the occasional foray to one of the pack’s houses; he doesn’t get into the center of town that often, but it’s nice to walk down the street next to Stiles. Stiles seems to know everyone they pass, fielding nods and hellos left and right, but it’s Derek’s hand he holds, completely casual, and Derek can’t help but relax a little; it feels so normal. He feels like a regular person with a regular life, going on a date with—can he call Stiles his boyfriend?

“What are you smiling about?” Stiles asks, nudging him, a grin of his own on his face.

“I’m happy,” Derek says, and Stiles’ face does something complicated that culminates in him leaning over to press a quick kiss to Derek’s cheek. Derek squeezes his hand, immensely pleased.

Dinner’s fine; the place is loud and crowded, but they get a table up against a wall, where Derek doesn’t feel so defenseless. The food is just as good as Stiles had heard, but what Derek enjoys most is just being around Stiles. He’s not sick of it even after weeks of living together. He’s content to let Stiles talk, letting the sound of his voice soothe him as he talks about—Derek tunes in for a second; he’s talking about an outreach program that they’re going to do with the county schools in the fall. Stiles says he doesn’t like going to the high schools, especially the one he graduated from, because all the teachers still look at him like he’s seventeen.

“Why’d you run for sheriff?” Derek asks after a while, since Stiles is still on the subject.

Stiles shrugs. “Scott thought I had a chance,” he says. “I thought I was too young, but all the other guys who ran were like two decades older than my dad, so maybe people wanted fresh blood—or they just thought I was my dad.”

“But you’ve been reelected since then, haven’t you?” Derek asks.

“Yeah, just before you came into town,” Stiles says, giving him a rueful smile. “Must be doing something right, I guess.”

“People like you,” Derek says.

“Didn’t used to be that way,” Stiles says, propping his head up on his hand. “I spent all of high school pissing off just about everyone in town, including my dad.”

“Isn’t that what high schoolers do?” Derek asks wryly.

“I doubt many of them get caught skateboarding in the water treatment facility, skipping class, and trying to sneak a werecoyote into the house,” Stiles says ruefully. “All in the same week. That was a rough one.”

Derek snorts and Stiles grins, and they both look up as the waitress approaches their table. “Dessert?” Stiles asks hopefully.

The waitress looks a little confused. “Are you Derek?” she asks Derek, who glances at Stiles in confusion before nodding. She holds out a folded piece of paper. “Someone just left this at the hostess stand for you.”

“Who?” Stiles asks the waitress, who shrugs.

“I didn’t see,” she says, and heads off to check on another table.

Stiles looks at Derek. “What is it?”

Derek doesn’t answer; he’s trying to keep breathing steadily, to not let his hands shake. The paper—it’s like she rubbed it all over herself, soaked it in her scent. Derek can’t forget it, sharp anise and pepper a wicked contract to her lavender shampoo.

“Derek?” Stiles says dimly, somewhere off on the edge of his awareness, his voice coming at Derek as if underwater. Derek moves automatically, unfolding the paper, breathing hard through his mouth. Something slips out of it, hitting the table with a dull thunk, but all Derek sees is her handwriting on the note, neat and to the point.

Enjoy him while he’s still alive, sweetheart.

“Derek?” Stiles is in his face suddenly, his expression creased with concern, his hands on Derek’s shoulders. “Talk to me. What is it? What’s going on?”

Derek swallows hard; it feels like he’s eaten a mouthful of sand. “She’s here,” he says hoarsely.

Stiles carefully takes the note from his hands and reads it, making an indignant noise. "Is this a threat?" he asks, then adds, "Fuck, this is from one of the Argents?"

Derek's not listening; his attention's on the thing that slid out of the note. It's an inch long and wickedly curved, fading from solid black at one end to nearly translucent on the other, and Derek has to stare at it a long time before he can wrap his mind around what he's seeing. When he finally realizes what it is, he moans in horror, scrambling out of his chair so fast it falls over, sending heads turning their direction.

"Derek, Derek!" Stiles says pleadingly, catching at his arms. "What is it?"

"Laura," Derek whispers, shaking violently. "It's—it's one of Laura's claws." He can't seem to catch his breath, air coming into his lungs in fits and starts. They shift back to human when they die, which means they ripped this off her when she was alive, which means she hadn't died instantly. She could have had a chance. Derek could have saved her, but he'd run.

"Sheriff?" someone says behind him. "Is everything all right?"

"Peachy," Stiles says grimly. “Just—stay back.” He puts his hand on Derek's arm and Derek snarls at him. When did he shift? His claws and fangs are out, and his body wants to go further, right into the beta shift. He's got to protect himself.

"Derek," Stiles says, stepping in front of him. "Listen to me. Please. We’ll find her—we’ll work it out, but you have to calm down. Just—just breathe, okay?” He reaches out again, slowly this time, and Derek has to fight every instinct he has not to lash out at him. He’s panting like he’s just run a race, but he forces himself to breathe in deeply because Stiles told him to and he can trust Stiles. “Good,” Stiles breathes, his hand curling around Derek’s forearm. “Breathe, Derek. Put your claws away.”

Derek exhales harshly, but he manages to obey, his claw shrinking back into their nail beds. After another moment of struggle, he’s able to put his fangs away.

"Good," Stiles repeats, his voice low and soothing. "Come on, Derek. Let's go outside."

Derek tenses immediately. "What if she's—"

"Don't worry," Stiles says soothingly. "I don't think she stuck around."

"She's going to kill you," Derek whispers.

Stiles, who's dragged him as far as the hostess stand, stops to face him, his expression serious. "No one is going to kill me," he says firmly. "Least of all that family of lowlifes."

He heads for the door, stepping out onto the busy street without pause. Derek hesitates in the entrance, glancing around uneasily; there are so many faces to track, so many possible places to hide and watch him. Stiles reaches out and grabs his hand, tugging him onto the sidewalk. As they head briskly toward the Jeep, Stiles pulls his phone from his pocket.

First, he calls Scott and says, "I need you. We're on South Main by the Rite-Aid," and then he hangs up and dials a new number. "Parrish," Stiles says this time. "I need you to put an APB out for—"

"No!" Derek says sharply, and Stiles stops talking, looking at him intently. "They have police scanners in all their cars. They'll hear if you're looking for them."

"They already know that, thanks to Haigh," Stiles says a little bitterly, but to Parrish he says, "Okay, call everyone on patrol and let them know Kate Argent's made contact and they all need to be on the lookout for her. I also need a couple units down here—I want witness statements and an area canvas."

"She'll be gone by now," Derek says as Stiles hangs up. "This is—her favorite part."

Stiles gives him a sharp look. "What do you mean by that?"

"She likes toying with people," Derek says, his heartbeat kicking up again. Gerard, at least, never did that; he'd slaughter wolves, but at least he was quick—merciful, in that regard. Kate, though, there's always been something wrong about her—something off. Derek's not dead right now because she likes playing games; she can't hurt him if he's dead, and there's no fun in that. That's why she shot Lawrence in the gut, not the heart—that's why she's left this note instead of killing Stiles immediately. She wants him to suffer.

Stiles' face softens and he steps into Derek's space, lifting his hands to touch his cheeks gently. "How are you feeling?" he asks softly. "You scared me back there."

"Sorry," Derek says guiltily, but Stiles shakes his head.

"It's not you," he says. "It's her. I didn't realize—how she affected you. I'm sorry."

"I don't want you to die," Derek says weakly. He's scared; if he loses Stiles—he doesn't know what he'll do.

"I'm not," Stiles says gently. Derek wishes he felt as confident as Stiles sounds.

Stiles turns as several cruisers come racing up the street, lights on, but no sirens. Scott's right behind them, pulling in haphazardly behind the Jeep. Derek leans against it wearily, watching Stiles go into sheriff mode, giving his deputies a rundown on the situation. Scott comes up the sidewalk and pauses next to Derek, his kind face creased with concern.

"You okay?" he asks softly. Derek shakes his head, and Scott purses his lips. "Okay," he says slowly. "Let me talk to Stiles. We'll figure this out. Trust me."

Derek nods miserably, watching Scott insinuate himself into the group of deputies. As they stream off, he hears Stiles tell Scott what happened; they both glance in his direction and Derek looks down at his feet, ashamed to have brought this upon the town.

"We need to have a pack meeting," Scott says seriously. "They're not safe."

"I've got the most room," Stiles says. "Call them to me."

Scott nods and tilts his head back, letting out a howl that makes goosebumps prickle up Derek's arms; if he weren't already ten feet away from Scott, he'd be on his feet immediately, racing to find him.

Stiles looks over at Derek. "Will you go with Scott back to the house?" he asks. "I've got to take care of this, but I'll be right behind you guys."

Derek hesitates, thinking about the note. Kate won't strike tonight—probably; her predictability is just as unpredictable as her temper. Scott puts a hand on his arm. "Come on," he says, a little alpha power leeching into his voice. "Stiles will be fine here."

There are already members of the pack waiting when they get back to the house; Malia and Lydia are sitting on the front steps, and Boyd and Erica pull up just after Scott stops the car. Derek's as relieved to see them as he is frightened; it's not a good idea to have them all gathered together like this—they're a big, easy target. He tries to tell Scott this as they walk up the driveway, but Scott shakes his head.

“I know it’s not ideal,” he says, “but we have to let everyone know what’s going on.”

They all gather in the living room, more of the pack showing up as the minutes pass. Derek’s filled with more relief and dread with every person that shows up—relief that they haven’t been taken or hurt by the Argents, and dread that something’s going to happen while they’re still gathered there. He crams himself into a corner of the couch so he can see the door, not relaxing even when Erica drops down next to him and pushes baby Vernon into his arms. Kira’s the last to filter in, shooting Scott a worried look, Rocky in her arms. No one’s talking much; they all know something’s up, and the house is filling with an uneasily tension that makes Derek’s skin crawl. Stiles shows up twenty minutes after Kira, looking haggard, and Derek doesn’t realize that he’d been half-holding his breath the entire time until he exhales.

Stiles glances in his direction, meeting his eyes for a brief, reassuring moment before he steps into the kitchen to have a quick consultation with Scott. Derek tunes them out, gently dragging the tip of his finger down Vernon's nose; the baby sneezes, and Erica giggles. "You'd make a good dad," she says, elbowing him gently, and Derek feels his face go warm. He doesn't think he'll ever get that chance, but it'd be nice, maybe—if he gets out of this alive.

"Derek?" Stiles says, leaning into the living room. "Can I talk to you for a sec?"

Derek nods, passing Vernon back to Erica and pushing himself off the couch. Stiles heads for the back door and Derek follows, warily eyeing the woods.

"Okay," Stiles says softly. "We're going to have to give them a little of your background—not everything, obviously, but some of it. Is that okay with you?"

Derek nods slowly. "It'll help them understand," he says quietly. "Why the Argents are so dangerous."

"Yeah," Stiles agrees. "But—do you want to do the telling? I can do it if you don't feel up to it."

Derek thinks about it, his skin crawling. He has to, he thinks. He can't let the Argents control him forever. He can't—won't let them scare him. He draws in a deep breath and says, "Yes."

Stiles blinks, clearly startled by his decision. "You sure?" he presses. "I can do it—or Scott, he—"

"I can do it," Derek says firmly.

"Okay," Stiles says, still startled. "Then—are you ready?"

Derek nods again. "Okay," Stiles repeats. Derek reaches out as Stiles turns for the door, grabbing his hand. Stiles gives him an encouraging smile, linking their fingers, not letting go as they head back inside.

The pack is waiting, crammed into Stiles' living room. Scott's standing by the TV, his arms crossed over his chest, a worried expression on his face—though it dips quickly in and out of a smile when he sees Stiles and Derek holding hands. Malia smiles too, though her grin is a little more wicked than Scott's.

Derek stands in between Scott and Stiles, nervous sweat prickling at the back of his neck as Scott heaves a soft sigh and says, "You guys know that when Derek came into town, he was running from something. Most of you don't know any more than that, unless Derek's chosen to share it with you. Now, it's caught up with him, and you all need to understand what's happening." He looks at Derek, his kind face weary. "Ready?"

Derek nods, his mouth suddenly dry. Stiles' grip on his hand tightens, giving him the push he needs to jump into the deep end. "I'm from New York," he says haltingly. "My pack was my family—my parents, my two sisters, and my uncle, and—and when I was seventeen, hunters set our house on fire with all of us inside." He stops there, looks up at the ceiling, and forces himself to breathe slowly. Stiles doesn't let go of his hand; on his other side, Scott takes a small step sideways, bringing his shoulder in contact with Derek's. Derek inhales.

"My sister Laura and I were the only ones who made it out and the hunters—they took us. They kept us as slaves for eight years. They starved us. They beat us. They—" Derek exhales roughly and lifts his shirt so they can see the brand on his ribs. Lydia puts her hand over her mouth; Boyd swears. "They know how to make punishments stick," he says harshly. "They know what they're doing. They're from a family that's been doing it for centuries. They hate our kind, and they don't let things like innocence stop them."

Scott squeezes his shoulder. "That's enough," he says gently. "Stiles?"

Stiles nods, letting go of Derek's hand so he can pick up a file folder sitting on the TV stand. "One of my deputies made contact with them and gave them intel on all of us. They abandoned their compound in New York and headed this way. This evening, they made contact." Stiles' mouth twists grimly. "We're all in danger," he says angrily. "Like Derek said, they don't care if a werewolf's done something bad or not—just being a werewolf is reason enough. They're here for Derek, but if Haigh's told them about any of you, you're not safe either."

He opens the folder and holds up a glossy photograph. Derek looks away quickly, his stomach turning; it’s Gerard, looking sullenly into the camera. "This is Gerard Argent," Stiles says. "He's the head of the family. This—" he holds up another photograph. "This is Chris Argent, his son. Chris' wife was killed by werewolves five years ago, and his daughter was killed by a fox demon last year."

Stiles holds up another photograph and Derek stares at his feet, knowing who's next. "This is Kate Argent," Stiles says seriously. "Gerard's daughter. She's extremely dangerous; if you see her—or any of the others—don't try to fight. Run. Call me and Scott as soon as you can."

"That's what we're supposed to do?" Isaac asks. "Run?"

"We're not in high school anymore," Scott says. "We have families—people to protect. When was the last time you fought someone, Isaac?"

Isaac purses his lips, looks down at his hands, and doesn't answer.

"Exactly," Scott says softly. "These people kill for a living. They might even have other werewolves under their control. I’m not losing any of you.” He straightens, drawing his shoulders back. "If we fight them, we do it together. I don't want anyone here trying to be a hero - I want all of us to come out of this alive."

Derek swallows tightly, guilt surging in him. This is his fault—he brought the Argents here; he brought this danger upon the pack. Like he knows what Derek's thinking, Stiles takes his hand again, squeezing tightly.

"What are we going to do?" Kira asks, looking worried. "You said they made contact—they're here? In Beacon Hills?"

"Kate Argent is, at least," Stiles says. "We haven't had any signs of the rest of the family yet. My deputies are all aware and looking."

"She'll come after me first," Derek says abruptly. "They won't hurt the rest of you until they have me. The best way you can keep yourselves safe is to not be near me."

"Derek," Stiles begins quietly, but Derek shakes his head. "I know her," he says to Stiles. "I know what she wants."

"I think that's all we can do for now," Scott says, with a worried look at the both of them. "Just—everyone pay attention to your surroundings. Look out for each other." As the pack gets to their feet, getting kids and heading for the door, Scott adds, "Lydia, can we talk?"

Lydia nods and hangs back. Scott waits until the rest of the pack's left to ask, "Do you feel anything?"

Lydia purses her lips, tucking a lock of red hair behind her ear. Derek wonders what Scott means until he remembers—Lydia's a banshee. After a moment she exhales and shakes her head. "There's something," she says quietly. "But I can't—I don't know what it is. It feels...like a storm."

"A bad one?" Scott asks urgently.

Lydia shrugs helplessly. "I don't know," she says, sounding a little frustrated. "It could be—or it could pass us by."

Scott sighs. "Thanks anyway."

Lydia nods. She looks around at them and her eyes pause on Derek. He tenses, ready for her pity, but she just offers him a faint smile and then turns to join Kira, leaning in to talk to Rocky.

Scott sighs. "Are you guys going to be okay here?" he asks seriously. "You can come stay with us."

Derek looks to Stiles, who shakes his head. "We've got the wards," he says. "We'll be fine."

"If you say so," Scott says uncertainly. He looks at Derek and adds, "I know that wasn't easy for you, but thank you."

Derek nods and Scott pats him on the shoulder. He and Stiles follow them to the front door, watching them until they’ve climbed into their car and disappeared off down the road. The house seems very quiet suddenly. Derek stands in the doorway to the living room, watching Stiles run a hand through his hair. He’s tired and scared, and he’s not quite sure what to say to Stiles—or if he needs to say anything at all.

Maybe not, because Stiles turns toward him after a long moment and holds out his hand. “Bed?” he asks quietly, and Derek nods gratefully, stretching out his own hand to tangle their fingers together. They go upstairs together and get into bed, but Derek can’t relax. Stiles didn’t say anything about it, but he’s kept his gun on his nightstand tonight, and every time Derek sees it, he’s reminded of the danger they’re in.

“Stop thinking,” Stiles says softly.

“Easy for you to say,” Derek says.

“What, are you saying I’m simple-minded?” Stiles asks teasingly. Derek grimaces and Stiles says, “I’m just kidding.”

“I know,” Derek says, frustrated. “I can’t—not tonight—”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Stiles says, propping himself up on one elbow. He reaches out with his other hand, rubs slow circles on Derek’s chest. “I’m sorry.”

Derek looks sideways at him. He's blocking Derek's view of the gun, but he knows it's there, and he knows Kate is out there somewhere, biding her time. Derek closes his eyes for a moment, focusing on Stiles' hand on his chest—how good it feels, how lucky he is. He sighs softly and puts his hand over Stiles'.

"Hey," Stiles says again, gently. Derek hears him shift closer, feels the heat of his body get nearer. "Hey," he repeats, nearly whispering, and drags his nose against Derek's cheek, his breath warm. Derek opens his eyes slowly and turns to look at Stiles, nose to nose. "Can I try to take your mind off things?" Stiles asks quietly.

"Please," Derek breathes.

Stiles smiles faintly and leans in to kiss him, careful at first, then more intense, the hand he's got on Derek's chest pressing down harder as he shift his weight toward Derek. Derek meets him hungrily, desperate for a distraction and always wanting Stiles. He curls an arm around Stiles' shoulders, pulls him in closer, and his breath hitches in surprise when Stiles suddenly shifts to straddle him, knees hugging his hips.

"This okay?" Stiles asks. Derek nods; he likes this very much, so easy to touch Stiles all over as they kiss, his hands ghosting down his spine and up his ribs. Stiles plants his elbows on either side of Derek's head and leans into him without hesitation, takes his time kissing him, drags his fingers through Derek’s hair. Derek likes being underneath him; he feels tethered and safe under Stiles’ weight, though it startles him when Stiles begins to shift his hips against him, all the air rattling from Derek’s lung at the way it brings his dick in glancing contact with Stiles’. He’s getting hard so fast it leaves him a little dizzy, his breath coming in raw heaves as Stiles tilts his head and bites aimlessly as his jaw.

"Stiles," Derek murmurs wonderingly, his hands digging into Stiles' hips. He feels a little overwhelmed, the day's events starting to crash down around him, and all this attention from Stiles on top of it.

Stiles sits upright, worry creasing his face. He touches Derek's cheeks gently, fingers gliding along his jaw. "You okay?" he asks breathlessly. "Want me to stop?"

"No," Derek says hoarsely. "Just—please."

Stiles nods slowly, rubbing his hands down Derek's chest before he tugs his own shirt off. Derek bites down on his lip at the sight of all that skin, freckled here and there with moles. It reminds him of when he was in heat at the treatment facility and Stiles gave him his shirt. He shudders a little at the thought; his next heat can't be more than a month away, and he's not sure he should be scared of it.

"What are you thinking about?" Stiles asks gently.

Derek swallows hard. "When's your next heat?"

Stiles raises his eyebrows, startled. "Oh," he says. "You know, I kind of forgot. Uh—" His brow furrows as he thinks, hands absently running up and down Derek's ribs. He looks down at Derek. "Maybe this week."

"Oh," Derek says faintly.

Stiles considers him for a moment before he says, "Do you want to stay with me? Through my heat?"

Derek sucks in a nervous breath. "Yes," he says honestly, "but—I—I'm not sure I'm ready."

"That's okay," Stiles says. "It's good to know that. It shouldn't be something you're scared of; they should be fun. This should always be fun." He smooths his hands over Derek's pectorals and says, "Once we've gotten this shit all taken care of, I'm gonna show you how much fun we can have, all right?"

Derek nods fervently, and then feels guilty almost immediately. "What will you do during your heat?" he asks.

"My usual," Stiles says easily. "Jerk off until it hurts. No worries."

"But—" Derek begins uneasily. He doesn't seek someone out? He spends it all alone?

"No worries," Stiles repeats. "You're the only one I want to spend it with, and I can wait until you're ready."

"Oh," Derek says, dumbfounded.

"Just relax," Stiles says, and Derek's lips part in a silent sigh when Stiles begins to rock his hips slowly, his eyes settling half open. "For now," he says almost dreamily, "can I blow you?"

"You—you want to?" Derek breathes. Kate never—but Stiles is not her.

"Yeah," Stiles says, the corners of his mouth curling up. "Nothing I like better."

"Okay," Derek says, his mouth going dry when Stiles shifts backward, curling his fingers in the band of Derek's boxers. "I've never—no one's ever—"

"Don't worry," Stiles says, tugging at Derek's boxers until he gets the hint and lifts his hips. "There is no experience required on your end," he continues, groaning a little when he pulls Derek’s boxers down and he sees his dick. Derek curls his fingers in the sheets, self-conscious, not sure he stacks up against Stiles’ previous bed partners, but Stiles looks anything but disappointed; his eyes gleam as he curls his hand around the base of Derek’s dick. “Dude,” he says. “When you’re comfortable with it, I am definitely taking a turn on the bottom.”

Derek exhales harshly, his hips bucking up under Stiles’ touch, eyes widening at his words. “You—but you’re an alpha,” he says.

“So?” Stiles asks. “Doesn’t mean I don’t like getting dicked less than anyone else.” He grins at Derek. “There aren’t any rules, man. No one’s going to bust in here and arrest us for bucking some outdated opinion about who tops and bottoms. We do what’s fun, right?”

“Oh,” Derek says, his head spinning. He’d thought—but it’s stupid, now that he really thinks about it. He never should have believed Peter.

“Only if you’re comfortable with it,” Stiles adds, watching him intently. “We can talk about it later, though. For now, can I—?" He nods toward where he's got his hand around Derek's dick and Derek nods, his heart racing in his chest. "Good," Stiles says, his voice dropping in pitch. He jacks Derek off a couple times, almost lazily, and then leans forward. Eyes still focused on Derek, Stiles lets his mouth drop open, dragging his tongue across the tip of Derek's dick. Derek curses and Stiles grins, pleased. He tilts his head, slides his tongue up and down Derek's shaft until he's sloppy with spit, and then he takes Derek into his mouth, his eyes settling shut as he swallows him down.

"Stiles," Derek whines, his heels digging into the mattress as he fights the urge to buck up into Stiles' mouth, fingers curling in the sheets. Stiles pulls off him, grinning lazily before he sinks down again, bobs his head up and down until Derek feels like he can't breathe. His hands dig into Derek's hips, blunt fingernails biting into Derek's skin, and the pain of it combines with the pure pleasure of Stiles' mouth on him in a way that makes his head spin, makes his toes curl. "Stiles," he says again, voice ragged.

Stiles lifts his head. "You okay?" he asks, hand moving to jerk Derek off while his mouth's not on him.

"I—fine," Derek says. "Please—"

"Okay," Stiles says, smiling. "You can move your hips, all right? You're not gonna hurt me."

Derek's breath hisses out of him when Stiles sinks back down. He lifts his hips experimentally, watching Stiles closely, but Stiles doesn't seem bothered in the slightest—indeed, the hand he's not holding onto Derek with is rubbing over the crotch of his boxers. Derek groans; knowing Stiles is just as into this as he is makes him even harder. He fucks up into Stiles' mouth, letting go of the sheets to cautiously touch at Stiles' face, to feel where his dick's filling Stiles' mouth. Stiles tilts his head into Derek's touch lifting his eyes to meet Derek's. His pupils flash alpha red at Derek—and he's done, just like that, coming down Stiles' throat with a groan.

"Sorry," he says almost immediately, as Stiles pulls off him. "I should have said—"

Stiles holds up a hand to forestall any more apologies. "You do not need to apologize," he says, licking his lips. "No fucking way." He sits upright, rubbing his hands up and down Derek's thighs. "You enjoy yourself?"

"Yeah," Derek admits, surprising himself with a smile.

Stiles grins. "That's what I want to hear."

Derek's gaze drifts down to the tent in Stiles' boxers. "Do you want me to—?"

"Only if you want to," Stiles says. "I can take care of it."

"I want to," Derek says firmly. "Can I—suck you off?"

Stiles exhales heavily, his eyes flashing again. "Shit, yeah. Here, it might be easier if you kneel—"

He ends up sitting at the edge of the bed while Derek kneels on the floor between his legs. Stiles shimmies off his boxers and swallows hard when Derek leans forward, bracing his weight on Stiles' knees.

"I've never done this before," Derek says, his eyes on Stiles' dick, red and curving toward his stomach. He likes this position, likes how strongly Stiles smells of himself.

"You'll be fine," Stiles says, lifting a hand to run it through Derek's hair. Derek shuts his eyes, enjoying the sensation. "I'm gonna last like two seconds anyway. Just don't choke yourself."

Derek nods, drawing in a slow breath. He takes his time with it, tastes Stiles slowly, encouraged by the way Stiles is vocal through all of it, swearing and groaning and praising him. He touches Derek everywhere, hands fluttering over his shoulders and face, tangling in his hair as he pants, "That's it, just like—oh."

Derek feels like he's floating, Stiles' constant praise making his mind go hazy with contentment. He's more turned on than he was when Stiles was blowing him, even though he's far from being able to get hard again; he can feel himself getting slick between his legs and that's never happened outside a heat, but this—this feels right. He feels safe and perfect, here with his alpha.

"Der," Stiles says shakily, his thumbs sliding over Derek's cheekbones. "I'm gonna come. I'm—you don't have to take it."

Derek shakes his head minutely; he can't take Stiles in all that far, but he wants this. Stiles grips at his hair when he comes, pants his way through it, and Derek's eyes almost roll back into his head at the taste of him. He sits back when Stiles pushes at him gently, but he doesn't get up, leaning into one of Stiles' legs, watching Stiles sway back, trying to catch his breath.

"God," Stiles says eventually, slouching forward. He frames Derek's face with his hands, a smile stretching his lips. "That was really good."

A golden wave of warmth rocks through Derek at Stiles' words. He feels settled in a way he's never felt—balanced. Stiles leans down and kisses him slowly, rubbing their noses together when he pulls back. "Come on," he says, patting the bed next to him. "Get back up here."

Derek does so gladly, stretching out with Stiles, tucking his face against Stiles' throat. He has no problem falling asleep then, weightless, dreamless.

-

Derek wakes slowly, comfortably the next morning, though his contentment soon fades when he remembers the events of the previous day. Kate’s in town, and there’s no telling when or where she’ll strike—but Stiles won’t let him hole up in the house, as much as Derek wants to.

“I’m not going to stop living my life because of her,” Stiles says unconcernedly. Derek knows he’s got a point; it’s all part of Kate’s game, to put them on edge, and it scares him.

Stiles makes him go to work, where at least Boyd lets him work inside all day, in one of the starter greenhouses, where he doesn’t have to deal with the public. Derek’s a little anxious about this too; he’s not sure how the pack’s going to treat him now that they know more about his history—now that they know it’s his fault they’re all in danger—but Boyd is taciturn as usual. He has one of the other employees take over operations out front, and works in the back with Derek for a while, patiently packing soil around new plants.

Derek waits, a little tensely, for the questions he’s sure Boyd will ask, but Boyd only has one, and when he eventually voices it, it’s not one Derek was expecting. “How did they know you were werewolves?”

Derek blinks, wiping sweat from his brow; it’s humid in the greenhouse. “What?”

“The hunters,” Boyd says patiently. “How’d they know you guys were werewolves? I’m guessing that’s not something you told a lot of people?”

“No,” Derek says quietly. He frowns a little, plucking a dead leaf off the plant in his hands. “We didn’t tell anyone. My mom—” He sighs a little. “She was always careful. The area where we lived was...conservative."

They’re quiet for a while. Boyd doesn’t press him, but after a long moment Derek says, “I don’t know how they found us. I thought maybe Laura let it slip to someone while she was away at school, but she was adamant she never told anyone. She thought maybe our uncle dated someone who found out."

Derek scratches a hand through his hair, uncaring of the dirt on his fingers. He doesn't remember Peter ever dating anyone. Mom had called him an eternal bachelor. He sighs again.

"Maybe it was obvious even without saying anything," Derek says. Boyd gives him a curious look and Derek explains, "Our family had lived in that house for centuries. No one ever moved away. We were always together." He wonders, dismally, what's happened to the place now. Has the land been sold and redeveloped, or have the remains of the house been left to rot and be reclaimed by the forest? It hurts, thinking about the loss of that land, where so many generations of his pack thrived.

"I can't imagine having to hide it," Boyd says, and makes his point by using a claw to loosen a tight root ball. "You ever fuck up?"

"Once," Derek says, half smiling at the memory. "I was eight or nine. One of my friends was having a sleepover. I got up in the night to use the bathroom and the house was dark, so I shifted so I could see. My friend was just coming out of the bathroom and he saw me and—he screamed."

Boyd snorts. "What then?"

"His parents came running. I said he must have been dreaming." Derek huffs out a laugh. "My dad nearly cried laughing when I told him about it, and then he made me promise not to tell my mom."

Boyd laughs then, and tells him a story about wolfing out during a lacrosse game in high school, and by the time Stiles comes to pick him up from work, Derek's feeling better. Stiles doesn't have any news about Kate, but he's in a good mood, which keeps Derek content. It's not until he's laying in bed, Stiles breathing quietly next to him, that the cold talons of fear behind to dig into his lungs again.

He knows this is what Kate does; she toys with people, attacking and then backing off, over and over, until they're too tired to fight. Derek doesn't know when she'll be back—it could be days or hours—but she will be back, he knows that for certain. Kate doesn't leave loose ends.

-

A couple more days slide by. Stiles relaxes, but Derek grows more anxious. Every minute that ticks by is a minute closer to the attack, and the only question is where it'll come: at the house? At the nursery? Derek goes over to Isaac's after work to help him and Boyd put together a back deck for his condo, which is work Derek likes doing; there's nothing more satisfying to him than seeing something he’s built with his own two hands come together in front of him. They have pizza after, and then Derek walks home, shaking off Boyd's offer of a ride.

The shadows are growing longer as summer shifts into fall, but there's still plenty of light to see by. The air is cool and smells like a fire someone's having in their backyard a couple streets over, but—something's not right. An odd feeling goes jangling up Derek's spine; enough time spent being hunted has him obeying that instinct immediately, stepping off the road and hunkering down in a gully behind a dense bush. He freezes there, breathes slow when a dark SUV turns down the opposite end of the street and heads his way. Derek leans into the bush, brackish water soaking into his shoes, and breathes shallowly through his mouth. Invisible, he hopes.

She's there in the front seat, dirty blonde curls falling loosely over her shoulders, fingers tapping idly at the wheel. The night is so still Derek can hear the music she's got playing behind the closed windows of the SUV—classic rock; her favorite. He doesn't move until long after the SUV's disappeared down the street, his heart hammering in his chest, but when he does move, he moves like lightning, unfolding himself from the ground and sprinting across backyards, his wet shoes squelching with every step. He scares a middle-aged man barbecuing, sprints through a pool party, but he doesn't care; he's focused on the safety of home and Stiles.

But Stiles isn't there. Derek stampedes up the front path, fumbles out his key, but Stiles isn't inside, nor—Derek realizes belatedly—is his cruiser in the driveway. Derek frowns as he kicks off his shoes, and does a lap of the house to be sure, but his ears don't betray him; Stiles isn't home.

Derek stands in the middle of the living room, unease tightening his chest. Stiles is supposed to be home; just that morning, he'd said he'd see Derek when Derek got back from Isaac's, but Stiles isn't here. Maybe he called to say he'd be late, Derek tells himself, but when he checks his phone, all he's got is a picture from Boyd of one of the twins holding a chicken. Derek exhales.

Maybe Stiles went grocery shopping—but that wouldn't have taken this long. It was nearly two hours after his shift had ended. Maybe there'd been some kind of incident and they needed the sheriff there. He had to do press conferences sometimes. But Derek checks the local newspaper's website, and they don't show any kind of event. Logically, the thing to do is to call Stiles, but when he tries, the phone rings and rings before going to voicemail. Derek exhales again, shakily. He calls again, and again, but every time, the phone just rings and goes to voicemail.

He does another lap of the house, slower this time, wondering if maybe Stiles has left a note he didn’t see on the first round, but there’s nothing in the living room or kitchen. Derek shuffles through the layers of papers on Stiles’ desk for any clue—a card for a doctor’s appointment, maybe, or late meeting he forgot to tell Derek about, but he doesn’t find anything.

His questing hands send a pile of papers slipping to one side in a quiet cascade, and as he gathers them back up, Derek pauses over a photocopied copy of a mugshot of a woman who looks so much like Laura that for one wild moment he thinks it is her. It can’t be, though; the name on the board the woman holds is unfamiliar, and the date below it shows it’s only a couple months old, and Laura’s been dead for six. He shakes his head, heart aching; the woman’s too young anyway—she’s probably Stiles’ age.

The mugshot’s not helping him find Stiles, anyway, so he taps the pile back into order and straightens, thinking. It can't hurt to call the station, he thinks. Maybe Stiles got so wrapped up in paperwork he forgot what time it is—and if he’s not there, maybe he told someone where he was going. Derek gets out his phone again and dials the number.

"Beacon County Sheriff's Department," says the woman who picks up.

Derek inhales slowly. "Can I speak to the sheriff, please?"

"He's left for the day," the woman informs Derek, whose lungs tighten. "Can I take a message?"

"No," Derek says faintly, his mind whirling. "Can I—is Deputy Reyes there?"

"She's out on a call," the woman says kindly. "Anyone else, hon?"

"Uh," Derek says, floundering. "Deputy Parrish?"

"He's in," the woman says. "Let me transfer you."

"Thanks," Derek murmurs.

After a brief moment of silence on the line, there’s a click and then Parrish says, "This is Deputy Parrish."

“Parrish,” Derek says, with some relief. “It’s Derek Hale. Look—do you know where Stiles is?”

“No,” Parrish replies, sounding a little confused. “He left here a couple hours ago. Why?”

“He’s not here,” Derek says, trying to keep his voice level. “He’s not answering his phone.”

Parrish sighs a little. “He’s an adult, Mr. Hale,” he says patiently. “He probably had plans.”

“He always tells me where he’s going!” Derek argues, wincing at how pathetic he sounds. He tries a new tactic: “You know what’s going on. I think—something might have happened to him.”

There’s a pause on Parrish’s end. Derek has the distinct feeling he’s rolling his eyes, but Parrish finally says, “I'll put an alert out. If anyone sees his car, I'll let you know."

Derek knows that's as good as he's going to get. "Fine," he mutters, and hangs up.

Panic's starting to clutch at his lungs. If he loses Stiles—he can't think about it. He can't stand there either, he realizes, his skin prickling with goosebumps. They could be on their way to him right now—they could be out in the trees already.

Derek ducks down behind the couch, breathing unsteadily. He tries to listen, but all he can hear is his own heartbeat, pounding wildly in his chest. Scott, he thinks. Scott will listen; he's Derek's alpha, and Stiles' best friend. But Scott doesn't answer his phone either, and Derek grows more alarmed. First Stiles, now Scott? Something is wrong.

He doesn't know what to do. The pack's not safe, but—Derek straightens a little. There's someone who can help him, someone not too far away. Derek lifts his head cautiously, concentrating hard now, but the street is quiet. He slips out the front door and keeps to the shadows, moving fast, crossing neighborhoods until he reaches the house.

Stiles' dad is surprised to see him. "Hello," he says a trifle warily, looking past Derek to the empty street, his brow furrowing a little when he doesn't see Stiles. "Everything all right?"

"Stiles is missing," Derek says miserably.

"Missing?" John repeats sharply. "Since when?"

"He left the station a couple of hours ago," Derek says. "He hasn't come home." He sees John's brow furrow deeper and adds, a little desperately, "Has he told you? About me?"

"I know about the hunters," John says, then gives him a sharp look. "You think they—"

"Yes," Derek says. His hands shake; he curls his fingers against the sides of his thighs.

John swears and grabs his keys off a table by the door. "Come on," he says, breezing past Derek and striding toward the truck parked in the driveway. Derek follows, relieved someone's listening. "You call the station?" John asks, pulling himself into the driver's seat.

"Yeah," Derek replies, climbing into the other side. "Parrish didn't think anything was wrong. Said he'd put an alert out for Stiles' car."

John clicks his tongue. "Too by-the-book, that kid." He reaches for the dash and flicks a button, and the stereo crackles to life, the cab full of radio chatter from the deputies. Derek's not surprised; Stiles told him once that his dad hadn't taken to retirement entirely voluntarily, so the fact that he's got a police scanner in his truck is no shock. Nor is he shocked when John pulls out his cellphone as he's backing down the driveway and Derek can hear it's Parrish who picks up on the other end—though he's too stressed to be amused that Parrish still calls John Sheriff.

"Parrish," John snaps. "When you get a call reporting your sheriff—your boss—missing, you don't just put an alert out for his cruiser, you get outside and you look for him."

On the other end of the line, Parrish tries to fumble through an excuse, but John cuts him off, his face red with anger. "Parrish," he says. "When an omega tells you their alpha is missing, you listen!"

There's a brief silence. Derek looks out the window, his face warm. "I didn't know," Parrish says. "I'll take care of it."

John hangs up but sure enough, a moment or two later, the dispatcher comes over the radio to get the search started.

"Sorry to play that card," John says, his voice a lot softer than it was a moment ago. "Stiles told me you two were—" he sounds faintly mortified "—getting close, but I didn't mean to overstep my bounds."

"Doesn't matter," Derek says, glancing over at him. "It worked."

"Parrish needs a kick to get moving, sometimes," John agrees quietly. They're silent for a long moment, listening to the deputies coordinate their search. "I'm not waiting for them," John says abruptly, nodding toward the scanner. "Where would they go if they had him?"

Derek thinks about this. "Somewhere private," he says. "Away from people. Secluded." He swallows hard and adds hoarsely, "I saw her driving. Just before I got home."

"Who?" John asks sharply. "One of the hunters? Which way was she coming from?"

Derek squeezes his eyes shut, trying to orient himself. "West," he decides.

John curses, jerking the wheel around so hard that the truck briefly lifts two wheels off the ground as he changes direction. "The preserve," he says furiously, hitting the gas. "There's an old house—"

"I know," Derek says, dread numbing his senses. He remembers the long night he spent hiding under its sagging porch, and how relieved Stiles had been when he found him.

“Fuck,” John mumbles, fumbling with his phone to call Parrish and tell him where they’re headed, and not thirty seconds later, Derek hears the dispatcher order all units to the preserve, and it’s not long before flashing lights appear on the horizon behind them. As they’re passed by two cruisers, John exhales and asks, “Have you called Scott?”

“I tried,” Derek says, a wave of anxiety rolling through him. “He didn’t answer. I thought—"

"I'm sure he's fine," John says calmly. "Give him another shot. He's probably working."

Derek nods and tries Scott again; to his relief, Scott answers this time with a cheerful, "Hey, Derek! What's up?"

"Kate took Stiles," Derek says without preamble. "We think he's in the preserve, in that house—"

Scott doesn't ask any questions; he says, "I'm on my way," and then Derek's listening to silence. He puts his phone away as they turn for the preserve, another cruiser pulling up behind them. The road narrows here, uneven with potholes and crumbling asphalt, but John doesn't slow—he guns it, sending them jolting down the road even as it peters out into nothing but a faint path through the trees, an old driveway long overgrown with weeds.

Derek's mouth goes dry as the abandoned house looms into sight; the other cruisers are parked in the front yard, arranged haphazardly around Stiles'.

"Jesus," John mutters, and Derek grabs for the door handle before they've even stopped, tumbling out into the knee-high grass. His heart's racing, but he makes himself go still, observing.

He can hear the deputies; one's in the house, just coming out the front door. The others are spread out in the woods, calling Stiles' name. Derek closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, tasting the night air. It's cool and rich with the smell of the woods, soured by the smell of mold and decay coming from the house, and at the very edge of it—blood.

Derek's eyes snap open and he takes off through the trees, startling two deputies, who shout after him. Derek doesn't hear them; he shifts to take the world in better, and suddenly all he can smell is blood, heavy and metallic on his tongue. He follows it, can almost see it in the air, thick and crimson. He goes crashing over a steep bank and almost loses his balance, shoes sliding in the wet soil, but Stiles is there at the bottom, laying facedown, half in a weak stream of muddy water.

Derek slides the rest of the way down, not caring about the way his shoes instantly fill with mud and cold water. Stiles is still, one arm bent underneath him, the other stretched against the bank, and the mud underneath him is dark with blood. It's all Derek can smell—blood and dirt and the scent of Stiles' pain.

"Stiles," he says hoarsely, dropping down next to him. He reaches out, but stops before he touches Stiles, his hands shaking. He can hear Stiles' heart beating, faint but there—but he's scared. He doesn't know how to handle injured humans—what if he injures Stiles more? He hesitantly touches the back of Stiles' neck, the nearest patch of bare skin, and Stiles is cold. That frightens Derek even more; he knows he has to get Stiles help, back to the house, back to the other deputies. He carefully rolls Stiles onto his back and curses when he sees Stiles' face, swollen and bruised—beaten. Stiles groans at the movement, his eyelashes fluttering—encouraging but worse, somehow.

Derek moves quickly, lifting Stiles out of the mud, and Stiles seems to wake; his eyes open slightly, dark and liquid, glancing around at the trees and up to the sky before landing on Derek.

"Oh," he mumbles, a sound closer to a sigh and a moan than a word. His hand comes up and grasps weakly at Derek's shirt. "Derek."

"It's all right," Derek murmurs, fighting his way back up the bank—a Herculean task with Stiles in his arms and no traction on the soil with his sodden shoes. "I found you."

"She told me," Stiles slurs, his fingers digging into Derek's chest. "She told me what she did to you. Everything—"

It feels like someone's poured a bucket of ice water over Derek's head. He never wanted Stiles to know. “Stiles,” he tries. “It’s—”

"I'm sorry," Stiles says, and Derek looks down at him sharply when he smells salt. There are tears brimming into Stiles' eyes. "I'm sorry—I wasn't there—I couldn't—"

"It's not your fault," Derek says. Then, he says the most important thing: "You're not her."

"Not her," Stiles mumbles, his hand dropping away from Derek's chest. Fear laces through Derek's heart when he glances down just in time to see Stiles' eyes roll up into his head. He puts on a burst of speed, heading toward the flashlights he can see through the trees. "Here!" he yells.

The deputies are efficient, he'll give them that; one radios for an ambulance and the others get Stiles down on the ground. There’s blood soaked through the front of Stiles’ shirt, and they don’t know where it’s coming from until one of the deputies rips Stiles’ shirt open. They all pause when they see he’s wearing a bulletproof vest under it.

One of the deputies mutters, “Jesus, did he know?”

Derek’s mouth goes dry. He must have; he must have been expecting Kate to go after him, for all his bravado about not letting her stop him living his life. He’d been prepared—but why hadn’t he just stayed home? He would have been safe there.

Stiles’ father comes stomping out of the woods as the deputy unstraps Stiles’ vest, and his face goes pale when he sees his son stretched out on the ground. “Stiles,” he breathes, sounding terrified.

“It’s not that bad,” the deputy says, pulling Stiles’ vest off and pushing his shirt out of the way. There’s a bullet wound in his shoulder; that has to be the source of the blood. “It’s just his shoulder, John.”

“Jesus Christ,” John hisses, and the deputies shift around to make room for him as he kneels next to Stiles. Derek hovers behind him, feeling scared and lost, his supernatural powers useless here. He turns when he hears the sound of a motorcycle approaching through the trees, and relief courses through him when he realizes it’s Scott, who flings his helmet aside as he scrambles off the bike and over to Stiles’ side.

“Fuck,” Scott breathes, tilting Stiles’ chin up and feeling his pulse. “God—someone called an ambulance right?”

“I did,” says one of the deputies, his radio crackling at his shoulder.

“Good,” Scott says, balling up the remains of Stiles’ shirt and pressing it to the wound in his shoulder. “Derek, come here.”

Derek drops down beside him. The strong smell of Stiles’ blood makes his skin crawl. “What do you want me to do?” he asks, his mouth dry.

“Take his pain,” Scott says.

Derek looks at him blankly. “What?”

“Take his pain,” Scott repeats. He frowns. “Don’t you know how?” Derek shakes his head, a little panicked, and Scott says, “Watch.” He puts his hand down on Stiles’ chest, and Derek’s eyes widen when he sees thick black lines go snaking out of Stiles’ chest and up Scott’s arm, disappearing into the sleeve of his scrub top. “You know he’s in pain,” Scott says. “Draw it from him into you.”

Derek exhales slowly and tentatively places his hand next to Scott’s. He can feel Stiles’ pain, burning hot beneath his skin, and he imagines transferring it into his own body, spiraling up his arm. It works—and it hurts; Derek winces at the shock of it, jarring his teeth. He knows, though, that his body can handle this much better than Stiles’ can.

“That’s it,” Scott says encouragingly. “Look.” He nods toward Stiles’ face, and Derek’s heartened to see him relaxing, his lips parting with a quiet sigh.

“I didn’t know this was possible,” Derek says in wonderment, watching the black lines zip up his arm.

Scott spares him a brief smile. “Guess there’s some things even born wolves need to be taught, huh?”

Derek nods, but the good feeling in his chest evaporates when he thinks about how this could have changed things when he and Laura were being kept by the Argents, after being beaten and branded and abused—or how they could have made Lawrence’s last moments a little more peaceful.

Thankfully, he’s distracted by the ambulance arriving, stepping back to let the EMTs load Stiles into the back of it while Scott talks to them rapidly before heading off for his motorcycle. He watches Stiles’ dad swing himself up into the back of the ambulance, and he’s startled when John leans back out to gesture at him. “You too!” he says. “Get a move on!”

Derek jerks forward, climbing up and cramming himself onto the short bench next to John. Outside, he can hear Scott take off on his motorcycle; inside, it’s mostly quiet except for the chatter of the radio and the beating of his heart.

“Thank you,” John says, his eyes on the EMT tending to Stiles. “For finding him.”

Derek doesn’t say anything; he reaches out cautiously and touches Stiles’ arm, pulling more of his pain. The technician gives him an approving look.

At the hospital, Derek and John follow the group that appears to receive Stiles as far as they can before a nurse stops them and points them toward a waiting room. They sit in silence; Scott shows up eventually, still in his scrubs, and joins them, slouched in a chair. The world feels very still all of a sudden, their corner of the hospital quiet. Derek stares at his hands, caked in blood and mud, not sure how to feel now that the world’s stopped rushing past him. John reaches over and squeezes his shoulder, but he doesn’t say anything.

Finally, after what feels like—and probably is—hours, a doctor comes out to talk to them.

“He’ll be fine,” she says with a smile, and the relief in the room is palpable. “There was some muscle damage in his shoulder, but with some physical therapy, he should have one hundred percent movement back in a couple weeks. It appears he may have been shot more than once, but his vest saved him; he’s got some pretty severe bruising, but no damage to his ribs.”

Scott and John look relieved, but when the doctor’s words sink in, Derek freezes in horror. If Stiles was shot in the vest, that means Kate was aiming for his chest, which means she wasn’t just playing with them—she was trying to kill Stiles. He could have been killed. He would have been killed if he hadn’t worn that vest.

“Derek,” Scott says. “You coming?”

Derek looks up to see them both on their feet, John already following the doctor down the hall.

“We’re going to see Stiles,” Scott says, frowning a little.

“Oh,” Derek says weakly. He levers himself out of the chair and follows them, turning a few corners before the doctor shows them to a room. It’s quiet and dimly-lit inside, Stiles stretched out in the hospital bed, breathing slowly. Someone’s cleaned the mud and blood off him, but his face is still red and swollen, a nasty bruise mottling his right temple and cheek. Derek hangs back by the door, heart heavy with guilt. This is his fault.

It’s another long expanse of time before Stiles wakes. A couple of deputies show up to check in on him, and then they step outside to talk with John and Scott, leaving Derek alone with Stiles. He doesn’t move from the spot he’s found leaning up against the wall, sick with shame at the smell of pain rolling off Stiles, burning his nose. He can’t stop thinking about the weak way Stiles had clutched at his shirt and the sharp smell of his tears.

When Scott and Stiles’ father come back into the room, Scott frowns when he sees Derek still leaning against the wall. He looks as though he wants to say something, but he doesn't get a chance because Stiles is beginning to wake, fingers twitching and his breath quickening as the sedation wears off. It's a few minutes before he opens his eyes, his brow furrowing before he cracks one brown eye open, a confused look on his face.

"Dad?" he says hoarsely. "What's—what're you—"

"Easy," his dad says, squeezing his hand. He gently explains where Stiles is and how he got there, but Stiles just seems more bewildered than ever. When John tells him Derek found him in the woods, Stiles looks at Derek, but Derek avoids his eyes. Your fault, your fault, a voice chants in his head. If he'd just left town when he'd had a chance—if he'd never let Stiles into his life, this wouldn't have happened. Derek crosses his arms over his chest, claws digging into his biceps.

Scott's looking between Derek and Stiles with a deep frown on his face, and after John's explained what's happening, Scott says, "Why don't you and I go get some coffee? Mom's always got a pot going at her station."

"Sure," John says wearily.

Derek wants to go with them—or just leave entirely; maybe he can draw Kate off—but Scott stops in front of him.

"Stop it," he says, low enough that Stiles can't hear, but with enough alpha power in his voice to make Derek flinch. "Now's not the time for a guilt trip, got it?"

Derek grits his teeth. "But—"

"No buts," Scott says firmly. "We take care of each other."

He leaves on that note, and when the door swings shut, it's just Stiles and Derek again. "Derek," Stiles says. Derek refuses to look at him, digs his claws against his skin so hard they break the surface. "Derek," Stiles says again, plaintive and angry. "Please."

Derek lifts his head very reluctantly, and he's thrown by what he sees, the scared look on Stiles' face, and the way he's got one hand lifted uncertainly, reaching for him. It's not the Stiles Derek knows, his confidence shaken out from under his feet. Derek aches for comfort, to feel the reassuring rush of blood under Stiles' skin, to know he's alive.

His feet are carrying him forward before he realizes it; he catches himself next to the bed, but then Stiles is reaching for him and Derek lets himself be pulled in, sinking down onto the bed and gladly folding his arms around Stiles—carefully, though, not wanting to hurt him. Stiles can’t lift his injured arm, but the arm he can move he curls around Derek’s shoulder, clutching tightly at his shirt. Derek closes his eyes and presses his cheek to Stiles’ hair, breathing in deeply; under the smell of blood and pain, he still smells like himself, and that soothes Derek a little. He’s shaking again, or maybe Stiles is—or perhaps they both are.

Stiles pulls back eventually, but he doesn’t go far, pressing his palm to Derek’s cheek, eyes focused on his face. “You’re freaking out,” he says. “This isn’t your fault.”

“You could have died,” Derek says, his throat tight. “I—”

"Yeah, but it wasn't you who did it," Stiles says, his thumb sweeping slowly over Derek's cheekbone.

"But if I—"

"You didn't put the gun in her hand," Stiles says. "You didn't pull the trigger. She's the only one responsible for her actions." His expression flickers, a sad, wry smile pulling at his lips. "Like you said: you're not her."

Derek winces. “I’m sorry—”

“You don’t have anything to apologize for,” Stiles says. He leans in again, pressing his forehead to Derek’s, his hand slipping round to the back of Derek’s neck. “We’re going to get through this, and you’re not allowed to run away.”

Derek closes his eyes. It’s hard to believe what Stiles is saying when he’s sitting in a hospital bed after having just been shot—but he wants things to be all right. Wants, more than anything, to live a life free of fear, to wake up next to Stiles every morning. He’s forgotten how to dream, but this, he thinks, this could happen if he’s lucky.

“I’m glad you’re safe,” he whispers.

"Me too," Stiles says quietly. He draws in a deep breath and admits, "I haven't been that scared in a long time."

Derek exhales sharply. "How—" he begins, but he's interrupted as Scott and John come back into the room bearing fragrant cups of coffee. Stiles sits back, slumping against his pillows, but he doesn't let go of Derek, his hand sliding down his arm to find his hand.

Scott, seeing them together, smiles. "Got you a cup too," he says to Derek, offering him a mug. It must have come from the nurses' station, because the handle is chipped and it says World's Best Grandmother on it. Stiles snorts and says plaintively, "What about me?"

"You just got out of surgery," Scott says sternly. Stiles looks crestfallen. "Anyway," Scott adds, sinking back into the chair he'd vacated, "how the hell did you end up out there? I thought we all agreed not to be heroes!"

Scott's angry; it's the first time Derek's ever seen him get mad, and it makes his stomach turn in shame, even though his ire isn't even directed at Derek.

"I wasn't trying to be a hero!" Stiles protests, looking offended. "I saw a suspicious-looking vehicle on my way home, and I decided to follow it. I wasn't going to confront her!" he adds hastily, at the way both Scott and his father frown at him. "I just—if it was her, I didn't want to lose her!"

"You should have called me," Scott says angrily.

"I did, all right?" Stiles snaps. "You didn't pick up!"

"So you kept following her?" Scott presses.

"I was trying to keep us safe!" Stiles says heatedly, surging upright and wincing with the movement.

"Easy, easy," John says, reaching out and pressing Stiles back down. "What happened, son? How'd you end up in the woods?"

"She noticed me trailing her and she took off," Stiles says sullenly. "I thought I'd lost her in the preserve, but I decided to check up at the old house, and I ran over something in the driveway—glass, maybe. Beer bottle or something. Popped a tire. I was out changing it when she came up the driveway behind me. I was trapped so I—" Stiles' mouth twists. "I didn't have time to get to my radio. She came out shooting at me. I just ran."

The room's quiet for a long moment. Stiles' hand tightens around Derek's before he continues.

"She got me in the arm first. I—I've never had anything hurt that bad before. I yelled and—and she laughed. I thought she'd be talking the whole time—toying with me, like you said," he says to Derek, his brow furrowing. "But her laughing was the first noise she made. Then she started talking."

"What'd she say?" Scott asks.

Stiles looks at Derek and then away quickly. "I don't want to talk about it," he mutters. Derek looks at the floor, his chest aching in shame. He tries to pull his hand away, but Stiles won't let him go.

"Okay," John says gently. "And then?"

Stiles draws in a deep breath and says, "I turned to see how far she was and—she shot me, I think. I fell—it was cold and wet. I don't remember much after that."

"She didn't hit you?" Scott asks.

Stiles raised his eyebrows. "No. She never got closer than a couple yards. Why?"

"You're all bruised," Scott says, gesturing at his own face.

Stiles lets go of Derek's hand to touch his face, wincing when he brushes over the bruising on his cheek. "Must have been from the fall." His hand falls away from his face, seeking out Derek's again. "Scott, we need to stop this."

"I know," Scott says quietly. "The pack's gathering at the station. We're going to do grid searches with your deputies."

"Oh, good," Stiles says, going slack with relief. He attempts to lever himself upright. "I'll come with—"

"No, you won't," Scott and John say in unison, and Derek pushes him back against the bed. Stiles glowers at them all. "I'm fine."

"You're staying here overnight, at the very least," Scott says sternly. "Doctor's orders."

"Whoever thought you'd make a good doctor should be shot," Stiles grumbles.

Scott grins. "That was you, as I recall. And you have been."

“God, I hate you sometimes,” Stiles mutters mutinously.

Scott snorts. “I should get down to the station. Derek, you should stay here with Stiles.”

Derek thinks this is Scott’s gentle way of keeping him safe, a gesture he appreciates; he’d rather be here with Stiles anyway. He nods.

“We should get you a change of clothes, though,” Scott adds with a faint smile. Derek glances down at himself and realizes he’s filthy, mud and blood caked up his arms and ruining his shirt. “Maybe a shower too. You want to come with me?”

Derek glances at Stiles, who lets go of his hand to wave him away, so Derek gets to his feet and follows Scott out of the room. He’s surprised—though probably shouldn’t be—to see a deputy standing guard in the hallway, a rifle in her hands. She nods at them as they pass.

They don’t speak as they walk down the long, quiet hallways. Derek half expected some kind of talk from Scott, but when he chances a glance over, Scott’s brow is furrowed, his gaze far away, lost in thought. Derek doesn’t want to interrupt him so he stays silent—not that he knows what to say anyway.

They stop at a linen closet and Scott digs around before pulling out a set of green scrubs. “Here,” he says, handing them to Derek. “You can wear these. There’s a bathroom in Stiles’ room, so you can shower there.”

Derek looks down at the scrubs, well-worn and clean, and then looks at Scott. “You didn’t need to bring me out here.”

“No,” Scott agrees. “I wanted to give Stiles and his dad some privacy, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay. Are you?”

“I’m fine,” Derek says uncomfortably.

“No, you’re not,” Scott says, after watching him for a moment.

Derek shifts his weight around, not sure what Scott expects from him here. “You said now’s not the time for this.”

“Not for guilt and blame, no,” Scott says gently. “But it’s okay to be upset.”

Derek swallows hard, curling his fingers against the scrubs in his hands. “He could have died.”

“I know,” Scott says. “It was scary, man. We can’t focus on the ‘ifs,’ though—what we can do is stop them before they hurt anyone else.”

Derek eyes him for a long moment, uncertain, but a little awed. Scott’s younger than him by at least three years—if he and Stiles are around the same age—but he speaks with such easy confidence, like he has decades of experience. He reminds Derek of his mom, somehow; she’d worn her alpha responsibilities in the same easy way, like she’d been born to lead.

“Something wrong?” Scott asks him, his face softening.

“No,” Derek says quietly, a little sad—but grateful, at the same time, that of all the places he could have ended up, he ended up here in Beacon Hills with such a strong pack.

“All right,” Scott says, not looking entirely convinced. “I should get down to the station. Tell Stiles I’ll be back later, okay?”

Derek nods and Scott squeezes his shoulder before turning and heading off down the long hallway. Derek watches him until he disappears around a corner before he moves, walking off in the other direction, vaguely proud of himself when he’s able to find Stiles’ room without any help.

Stiles’ father has left too, so when Derek steps back into the room, it’s just Stiles lying there, looking tired.

“Hey,” Derek says softly.

“Hey,” Stiles says wearily. “Scott gone?”

Derek nods again. “He left for the station. He said he’d be back later.”

Stiles nods. “Okay.”

Derek takes a step toward the bed. “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine,” Stiles tells him. “Exhausted, though.”

“Do you want me to stay?” Derek asks uncertainly. “I can leave.” He’s not sure where he’ll go, but if Stiles wants space—

“No,” Stiles says, his voice going firm. “That’s the last thing I want.”

“Oh,” Derek says, his shoulders relaxing in relief. “Well—I was just going to shower.”

“Have fun,” Stiles says, smiling faintly. Derek snorts and retreats to the bathroom, where he stays under the spray until the water swirling around his toes is clear. It feels amazing, and the fresh clothes aren’t bad either—they smell inoffensively of soap—but the best part is the way Stiles grins when he reemerges from the bathroom.

“I didn’t know they were assigning me such a hot doctor,” he says, and Derek’s face goes warm.

“Shut up,” he mutters. He heads for one of the chairs beside Stiles’ bed, but pauses when Stiles reaches for him. “What?”

“Will you lie here with me?” Stiles asks, shifting over to give him room and patting the space invitingly.

Derek casts the door an uncertain look. “Will someone yell at us?”

“No one’s going to get angry,” Stiles says earnestly. “I’ll heal faster if you’re close.”

“Because...we're together?” Derek asks slowly. Stiles nods, and Derek furrows his brow. “I thought that was an old wives’ tale.” He’d heard, as a kid, that alpha and omega pairs could help each other heal, but he’d always chalked it up to another one of Peter’s lies.

“Studies have show it isn’t,” Stiles says, grinning faintly. “C’mon, man, I just want to spoon; is that so bad?”

Derek sinks down next to him willingly; he always wants to be near Stiles if possible, and if he can help him heal faster, that’s all the better. The bed’s not really made for two people, so it’s a tight fit, shoulder to shoulder, but Derek doesn’t mind. Stiles shifts around so he’s half on his side—injured shoulder in the air—pressed up against Derek, a contented look on his face.

“Thanks,” he says. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Always,” Derek says, without even thinking about it. A pleased smile slowly works its way across Stiles’ face, and Derek can feel his own mouth curving upward in response. He gives in to the instinct that pushes at him, leaning in to rub his nose against Stiles’ cheek, covering the smell of his pain with the blended smell of them.

Stiles hums softly, contentedly, and lifts the hand he’s able to, pressing his palm over Derek’s heart like he’s reassuring himself that Derek’s still alive. Derek covers Stiles’ hand with his own and pulls at his pain without thinking, drawing it inside him, where it stings but quickly disperses.

“Oh,” Stiles breathes, his steady heartbeat slowing, growing even calmer. “You know that one, huh?”

“Scott taught me tonight,” Derek murmurs, voice little more than a low rumble at the base of his throat. “He’s a good alpha.”

“But I’m better, right?” Stiles asks, teasing.

“My favorite,” Derek says quietly, squeezing Stiles’ hand.

“You old flatterer,” Stiles mumbles, turning his face to Derek’s and pressing a kiss to his cheek.

Derek squeezes his eyes shut, presses his temple to Stiles’, overwhelmed by the affection—by the love; he has to admit it—for Stiles that swells in his chest. He wishes he had the courage to tell Stiles, but here, even now after everything that’s happened tonight, he can’t find the words, so they rest in silence, gradually sinking into the pillows, tangled in a complex way that keeps both of them in the bed, but Stiles’ injuries free from further pain.

Stiles has his head under Derek’s chin, every breath he exhales warm on Derek’s chest. His breathing’s so slow, his heartbeat so quiet, that Derek’s sure he’s fallen asleep until he says, voice a little fuzzy, “I don’t think I’ve ever told you how glad I am that you stayed, but I am.”

“Where else would I have gone?” Derek wonders quietly.

“Dunno,” Stiles sighs heavily, “but that day you left the facility, when Parrish brought you to the station, I thought for sure you were going to run. I didn’t think there was any way you’d want to stay. I just—I hoped.”

Derek closes his eyes. “I was tired of running,” he says.

“Well, I’m glad your legs carried you as far as they did,” Stiles says softly. “I’m happy every day, knowing I get to go home and see you.”

Derek opens his eyes again and lifts his head, but all he can see of Stiles is the faint flush on his cheek. He’s pretty sure that means Stiles loves him too and he’s dizzy suddenly, giddy with happiness. A new determination fills him; he’s not going to let Kate win. She tried once to take Stiles from him and failed; he’s not going to let her try again.

He glares up at the ceiling as Stiles drifts off to sleep, his eyes burning gold in the dim light of the room. It’s high time he won a round of this cat and mouse game.

Chapter Text

Oh, I've changed my number
Wore disguises and went undercover just to
Just to hide away from you
Oh, my ghost came a-calling
Making noises 'bout a promise I had broken
Oh, I'm gonna be lonely soon

Oh, here comes trouble
Put your helmet on, we'll be heading for a fall
Yeah, the whole thing's gonna blow
And the devil's got my number
It's long overdue, he'll come looking soon
Yeah, the whole thing's gonna blow [x]

-

A nurse comes in a couple times through the night to check on Stiles, who never wakes during the visits. Derek wakes each time, opening one wary eye to watch the nurse take Stiles’ vitals. She seems unperturbed that Derek’s in there—she even winks at him, and during the next visit, she brings them an extra blanket. It’s unnecessary; Derek wakes up sometime in the morning feeling overheated, almost dizzy.

“’s it hot in here?” he says groggily.

Stiles makes a low noise of assent, worming closer to Derek, his cheeks flushed. He smells—Derek closes his eyes, his toes curling—he smells so good, his scent richer and deeper than Derek’s ever smelled it before. He presses his nose to Stiles’ hair, breathing in deep lungfuls of his scent, his skin breaking out into goosebumps at how good it is. Derek wants to take off his clothes and let Stiles rub all over him. He wants to get his mouth on Stiles’ skin, on his dick again. He wants to feel Stiles inside him; he’s getting slick at the thought and that—

Derek’s eyes fly open. “You’re in heat,” he hisses, pushing at Stiles.

“Can’t be,” Stiles mumbles, opening his mouth against Derek’s throat and biting down. Derek yelps and Stiles finally opens his eyes, his brow furrowing. “Oh,” he says unhappily.

“I should—get your doctor,” Derek says, trying to worm his way out from under Stiles. His legs are being uncooperative.

“Or you could stay here,” Stiles says plaintively. He’s not cooperating either.

“I told you—” Derek tries. “I’m not—ready—” It’s hard to say that, though, when Stiles is right next to him and smelling so enticing.

Stiles’ eyes widen. “Shit, I’m sorry,” he says. “You—don’t listen to me. Just—go get my doctor. I’ll be fine.” Derek hesitates, fighting his own will and his concern for Stiles, but Stiles waves his hand at Derek forcefully. “Go on!”

Derek makes himself head for the door, and when he steps out into the hall, it’s like night and day; his skin cools and his head clears almost immediately. The deputy on watch—a different one than the night before—eyes him curiously, but Derek ignores him, swinging his head around. He’s not sure where the nurses’ station is, but then he spots Melissa McCall headed his way, a smile on her face, and Derek steps toward her, relieved.

“Hi, Derek,” she says kindly. “I was just coming to visit our sheriff. How’s he doing?”

“He—” Derek glances around and lowers his voice. “He just went into heat.”

The smile on Melissa’s face fades, replaced by concern. “He did? Have you told his doctor?”

“I don’t know who it is,” Derek says uneasily.

Melissa pats his arm. “Don’t worry,” she says firmly. “We’ll figure it out.”

She does; within five minutes, she’s tracked down Stiles’ doctor, who goes in to see him and comes out looking mildly concerned.

“He should be fine,” she says to Derek, who’s waiting in the hallway with Melissa. “But the dual stress of his injury and his heat could be problematic. You can’t go in there,” she adds, seeing Derek look toward the door. They’ve put a bright red sign on it that says ALPHA IN HEAT, RESTRICTED ADMITTANCE. “I’ve administered a sedative that’ll ease his heat and keep him resting peacefully, but your presence could null the effect of the sedative, and I don’t want to risk him further injuring his shoulder.”

“I understand,” Derek says unhappily.

He spends the next couple of hours sitting out in the hall, not knowing what else to do. Malia and Lydia show up sometime in the mid morning, looking worse for wear; Malia’s barefoot, and she’s got mud splashed up to her knees. Lydia’s eyeliner is smudged under her eyes, a stray twig caught in her long hair. Derek feels guilty, knowing they’ve been out in the woods all night because of him.

“What’s this bullshit?” Malia asks, her brow furrowing as she reads the sign on the door. “We can’t see him?”

“No,” Derek says wearily.

“Typical,” Malia says, dropping down into the chair next to him. “Gets himself shot and then goes into heat. What an asshole.” Derek snorts weakly, unamused, and Malia socks him on the arm. “He’ll be fine.”

“He’s had worse,” Lydia adds, sinking down on Derek’s other side. “He got stabbed in the stomach in high school.”

“And he’s crashed his car like five times,” Malia points out. “He’s a mess, honestly. I don’t know what you see in him.” She winks, nudging him in the arm, and Derek manages to drudge up a faint smile, knowing they’re trying to make him feel better.

“Any sign of the Argents?” he asks, wanting to take his mind off Stiles. He can’t smell or hear anything—the room’s been warded for Stiles’ privacy—and it unsettles him. Even news of Kate is a good distraction.

“Nothing,” Malia says, a little grumpily. She grows out her claws and picks at the mud dotting her jeans. “They’re like ghosts.”

“I could find them, if they were ghosts,” Lydia sniffs. “Unfortunately, asshole hunters aren’t on my radar.”

“They didn’t get where they are by being bad at deception,” Derek says, reluctant to give them any credit. “They’ve had centuries to learn how to hide themselves.”

The three of them descend into a moody silence, which is only broken when Malia lifts her head and says, “Who’s this hotshot?”

Derek turns to follow her gaze, and his eyes widen when he sees Braeden striding down the hallway toward them, her badge bouncing off her chest, a shotgun over her shoulder. “Her name’s Braeden,” he says quietly. “She’s leading the federal investigation against the Argents.”

Lydia raises her eyebrows. “Dressed to impress,” she says. “I like her.”

Braeden comes to a halt in front of them, nodding at Derek. “Hey,” she says. “Heard about Stilinski. McCall told me to come down here.” Braeden looks at the door to Stiles’ room and her eyes narrow as she reads the sign on the door. “I wanted to talk to him.”

“You can’t,” Derek says. “Not today.”

Braeden huffs out an impatient noise. “Why more people don’t take suppressants is beyond me. I don’t have time for this.”

“Here here,” Lydia murmurs, and Braeden tosses her a sharp smile that disappears almost as quickly as it appears. Malia snorts.

“Do you have any news?” Derek asks.

“I’d say,” Braeden says with an nod. “The Argent clan had some sort of an internal dispute and split. We found more than half of them at a compound in Idaho. They came in without a fight.”

Derek’s eyes widen. “Then Kate—”

“Is on the losing team,” Braeden says, grinning that sharp grin again. “Her brother says it’s just her and five other hunters—and they’ve got a couple of werewolves with them.”

Derek tries to process this. It takes a moment for what she said to sink in. “Her brother? You have Chris?”

“Sure do,” Braeden says. “He’s singing like a bird in exchange for a plea deal.”

Derek stares at her for a long moment, so many thoughts and questions that he’s not sure what to get out first. He settles on: “Gerard?”

“Dead,” Braeden says simply. “Bitten during a hunt a couple months back. Chris says Kate killed him.”

Derek blinks, triumph and worry battling inside him. He’s glad Gerard’s dead, but if Kate’s resources are dwindling, there’s no telling what kind of stunts she might pull to get herself out of this. She’ll never just give up; Derek knows her better than that. But she might retreat—or die trying. He exhales slowly, trying to gather himself, and without a word between them, Malia and Lydia each put a hand on his arm. He breathes in deeply, comforted by the closeness of his pack.

“You should see this,” Braeden says, her tone gentling. She shifts her shotgun to her other hand and pulls a folded up newspaper from inside her jacket and hands it to Derek. He unfolds it slowly, Malia and Lydia leaning in to see.

It’s the morning copy of The Washington Post, and on the cover is a photograph of a man in a cop uniform leading a scared-looking werewolf—a male beta, eyes glowing gold—from a run-down building. Underneath it, the headline reads Federal raids leave nation’s hunters on edge.

“They’re all falling apart,” Braeden says. “I told you, Derek; they’re turning on each other. We’ve already freed twenty werewolves being held captive. This is all thanks to you.”

Derek doesn’t know what to say; he clears his throat, but no words come. Malia leans into his side, her shoulder pressed to his. He scans the rest of the article, surprised when he flips the newspaper over and sees Kate’s face staring up at him. Authorities seek Katherine Argent in connection with a number of federal and local crimes in New York and California, including arson, murder, and slavery, says the caption below her photograph, along with a number to a tip hotline.

Derek’s eyes widen. “Is this—a good idea?” he asks.

“We need to find her,” Braeden says. “We’re hoping this will force her out of hiding.”

“You may not like the results,” Derek says quietly.

Braeden crouches down in front of him, tilting her head to one side as she looks at Derek, her dark eyes considering him. “I want to ask you something,” she says steadily.

Derek eyes her uncertainly. “What?”

“I want to send a team to Burke and dig up your graves,” she says. “I want to know who or what is buried in yours and Laura’s.”

Derek exhales; that’s not what he expected. “Fine,” he says, shrugging a little. “If we were even given marked graves.”

“I already looked into it,” Braeden tells him. “The town paid for a headstone for each of you.”

That throws Derek—it’s an unsettling thought, really, that far across the country is a tombstone with his name on it, some unknown body lying under it.

“But it’s not just you and Laura,” Braeden presses on. “I want to exhume everyone who died that night.”

Derek’s not so sure about that. “Why?” he asks uneasily.

“To be sure,” Braeden says, watching him steadily. “If you and Laura made it out—”

“Don’t,” Derek says sharply. He’s spent years thinking through all the possibilities, hoping beyond hope, but he gave it up long ago. He doesn’t want to rekindle that fire. “Do what you have to—but I don’t want to hear about it.”

“Okay,” Braeden says softly, rising to her feet. She gives the door to Stiles’ room another irritated glance and adds, “He has my number. Tell him to call me when he’s got his head straight again.”

Derek nods, and the three of them watch Braeden march back off down the hallway.

“She sure knows what she wants, huh?” Malia says after a long moment.

“I like that,” Lydia says, her head turned to watch Braeden disappear around a corner.

“I thought she was pushy,” Malia says. She squeezes Derek’s arm. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Derek says absently. He doesn’t know what to think of the news that the town paid for his family’s gravestones. His dad had been on the council, sure, but that couldn’t be a—a town policy, or something. It’s—he doesn’t know. Maybe he hadn’t understood his family’s place in the town structure. Had people really liked them that much? Enough to buy them graves? Would that attitude have changed if they’d found out all the Hales were werewolves?

Derek spends the whole day sitting out in the hallway, watching people come and go. Malia and Lydia stick around for a while before heading home, Malia muttering under her breath about a shower. Scott shows up once; he’s just as disappointed as Braeden was to learn that Stiles is in heat, but he sits with Derek for a while. They’re doing grid searches in shifts, Derek learns, and eventually Scott goes home to sleep so he can head out again in a few hours. Derek feels guilty about being there in the hospital, not helping, but Scott says it’s important for him to be near Stiles, and Derek’s reluctant to argue with that.

Melissa stops by a couple times; once, she makes Derek come with her to the cafeteria so he can eat, which he does with great reluctance at leaving Stiles. He falls asleep there in the hallway, a restless, uncomfortable slumber with all the external noise and his neck bent at an harsh angle, but he wakes sometime the next morning when the doctor is leaving Stiles’ room.

“Anything?” he asks hoarsely, and she jumps in surprise, then offers him a smile.

“His heat’s passed,” she says. “His shoulder’s doing great. I’m going to send in a nurse to help him shower and change his linens, and then you can see him.”

Derek sits up straight at this, waits impatiently for a nurse to appear and then disappear into Stiles’ room. It feels like she’s in there forever, but he’s on his feet the moment she reappears.

“All right, all right,” she says indulgently, gesturing toward the room. “He’s all yours—just take it easy.”

Derek nods and darts in past her, relief prickling his skin when he sees Stiles sitting in a chair by the window, his hair damp. He turns when Derek comes in, a smile spreading across his face. “There’s a face I missed,” he says, lifting his arm invitingly. Derek takes the invitation, bending to hug Stiles tightly—though he's careful not to jostle his shoulder. Derek can smell the heat lingering on him—the entire room’s quite thick with it, and his cheeks are still flushed—but he smells a lot less like pain than he did a day ago, and he’s not hooked to any IVs, which must be a good thing.

“Was your heat okay?” Derek asks, feeling a little shy over it.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, rubbing his nose against Derek’s jaw. “I mean, it sucked, but it wasn’t the worse I’ve had. But hey—my doctor thinks I can leave today. I just have to meet with the physical therapist.”

“Really?” Derek says, relief filling him once again.

“Yeah,” Stiles nods. “As long as I take it easy.” He blanches at the statement. “But I’m sure there’s a lot going on out there, and I want to get back into it. Have you heard anything?”

“Braeden’s in town,” Derek says, and tells Stiles everything Braeden told them.

Stiles looks a little worried. “But no sign of Kate?”

“No,” Derek says, his stomach twisting.

Stiles squeezes his wrist. “We’ll find her,” he says firmly.

Scott shows up a little while later, Rocky in his arms, and he’s just as pleased to see Stiles as Derek was. “We need to get you out of here,” he says, beaming.

 “Please,” Stiles replies.

It’s not as quick as any of them hope; Stiles has to spend some time with the physical therapist, and then he has to talk to his doctor for a while, but eventually she does give him permission to leave—explicitly forbidding him from working, which Stiles agrees to without pause and without any conviction whatsoever in his voice.

Of course, they go straight to the station the instant Stiles is out of the hospital—Scott drives them, since Derek doesn’t have a car, and Stiles’ cruiser’s been towed from the woods to the station garage. It’s emptier than Derek had thought it would be, just a couple deputies and people in suits who must be on Braeden’s team hanging out—but then he realizes that most of them, including the pack, are probably outside, looking for Kate and the remnants of her clan.

Braeden’s there, though, and she strides right up to them with an impatient look on her face. “It’s about time,” she says.

“Oh hey, I’m fine, thanks,” Stiles says sarcastically. “How are you?”

Braeden levels him with a look that could wither flowers. “Chris Argent’s just been dropped off,” she says. “We think he may be able to tell us where his sister’s hiding.”

“You think?” Stiles says skeptically. “Neither of them are from around here.”

“Mm,” Braeden says, looking triumphant. “We did a little digging. Back in the 70s, Gerard Argent applied for a hunting permit in Beacon County. Successful hunt.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows, exchanging looks with Scott and Derek. “Seriously? What sort of were would have brought him to California?”

“His brother,” Braeden says smugly. “Alexander Argent. Bitten during a hunt, just like Gerard—ironic, isn’t it?”

“Fucking poetic,” Stiles mutters, glancing again at Derek. “So, why do you think that helps us?”

“Precedence,” Braeden replies. “If Gerard was here, there might be something that they know that we don’t—a secret shared among hunters. I see it happen often enough.”

“Okay,” Stiles says doubtfully. “Chris will talk?”

Braeden smiles her sharp smile. “He’ll talk.” And with that she turns on her heel, heading for the hallway that leads to the holding cells. Stiles takes a step after her and then stops, swinging around to look at Derek, his brow furrowing.

“Is this—you don’t have to come,” he says, lowering his voice. “If you don’t want to see him, I wouldn’t blame you.”

Derek hesitates for a moment, then shakes his head. “I’ll be fine,” he says, and sure, there’s unease clutching at his stomach, but of all the Argent family, Chris was the one who treated them the most...human isn’t exactly the right word, but he’d never participated in any of the cruelty—never even touched them if he could help it. He’d hardly ever even been at the house. Derek’s not afraid of him like he is Kate.

“All right,” Stiles says, after watching him a moment. “But you can always leave if it gets uncomfortable. Scott?”

“Just a sec,” Scott says. Erica’s sitting at her desk, watching them with interest, and Scott steps over to her. “You mind watching Rocky for a couple minutes?” he asks her. “He shouldn’t hear this stuff.”

“Sure thing,” Erica says, beaming at Rocky as she takes him from Scott.

“Come on,” Stiles says, adding in a mutter, “before Braeden murders all of us.”

Derek looks up; Braeden’s stopped halfway across the room and is watching them impatiently. Scott snorts softly as he rejoins them, and together they cross the room, joining Braeden to walk down the hall to the back of the station.

Derek’s never been back here, and he’s glad for it; it smells like anger and hatred, sour in his nose. Scott doesn’t like it either apparently; he wrinkles his nose as Stiles presses a series of numbers into a keypad so they can step through into the room where the holding cells are.

They’re all empty except for where Chris sits, and Derek spots him immediately. His footsteps slow; it’s hard, in that moment—harder than he’d thought it’d be, terrible memories of the house crashing down around his shoulders, Laura’s hand grasping at his when the lock didn’t click on the basement door, her hoarse voice whispering “Tonight.”

Stiles turns to look at him, his eyebrows rising, and Derek forces himself forward before Stiles can ask if he’s all right. He’s fine, and Chris is right where he should be—in a jail cell. If Chris recognizes him, he doesn’t show it; his pale eyes flicker to Derek’s face and then away, cooly inspecting each of them in turn. He doesn’t seem at all concerned that he’s sitting locked in a cell, but then, he’s always been better at controlling his emotions than Kate.

“Mr. Argent,” Braeden says cordially. “I’d like to introduce you to Sheriff Stilinski—” Stiles folds his arms over his chest and nods stiffly, his eyes narrowed in dislike. “—Scott McCall, the local alpha—” Scott doesn’t move. Derek’s curious to know how Chris will react, but he just looks at Scott again, his expression blank. “—and you already know Derek,” Braeden finishes pointedly. Chris meets Derek’s eyes steadily before returning his attention to Braeden.

“What a delight,” he says acidly. “And how can I help this meeting of the minds?”

“We need to find Kate,” Braeden says. “You know where she is.”

Chris raises his eyebrows at her. “Oh, do I?” he asks sarcastically. “Am I psychic now?”

“She’s your sister,” Braeden says, sounding irritated. “You know her better than anyone.”

Chris’s expression grows more sarcastic than ever. “I’d second-guess that assumption, if I were you,” he says. “There’s thirteen years between us, and she’s as much an enigma to me as she is to you.”

“So, you claim no knowledge of her plans?” Braeden presses.

Chris snorts. “She doesn’t share her plans with anyone. She’s unpredictable. He can tell you that,” he adds, jerking his head toward Derek.

“You admit you know Derek?” Braeden asks, and Chris nods.

“You sick fuck!” Stiles suddenly explodes. “You knew, and you didn’t do anything—”

“Stilinski!” Braeden barks, whirling on him, while behind her, Chris snaps, “I didn’t know!”

Stiles makes a noise of fury and derision and Chris repeats, “I didn’t know! Not—not for a long time.” To Derek’s surprise, he looks ashamed. “I saw the path my father was heading down, and after he forced me to kill my wife when she was turned, I left before my daughter could be poisoned by him. I should have taken Kate too,” he adds bitterly. “Maybe she wouldn’t have turned out the way she did.”

“When’d you find out about Derek and his sister?” Scott asks. Braeden looks annoyed that he’s asking, but she turns to look at Chris all the same, waiting for an answer.

“A couple years ago,” Chris says. “I hadn’t been to the house in probably five years, and I wouldn’t have gone back, but Allison—my daughter—she wanted to know the rest of her family, and she was old enough to make that decision, so we went for Christmas. That was the first time I saw them.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Scott asks. “Why didn’t you try to stop them?”

“You’ve had a taste of them,” Chris says, his eyes sliding from Scott to Stiles to Derek. “You’ve seen how they react to betrayal. I know it’s stupid, but they’re family. I—” He draws in a slow breath, looking at Derek now. “I’m not proud of that.”

Derek eyes him silently, not sure what to say. Stiles steps sideways, bringing their shoulders into contact, and Derek leans into him gratefully, still watching Chris. “You let us go,” he says, sure of it now; the unlocked door had been no mistake.

“Yes,” Chris says quietly. “Allison was always worried about the two of you. I taught her—we followed the code. We didn’t hurt shifters that hadn’t hurt us or others first, and you two hadn’t hurt anyone. You were just kids. After... she died, I couldn’t let it go on any longer. She would have wanted it.”

“Your daughter sounds like a much better person than you are,” Stiles says angrily.

Chris shrugs. “You’re probably right.”

Braeden seems to think they’ve spent enough time on this subject because she says, quite softly, “Chris. Where’s Kate?”

Chris leans back against the wall, watching her for a long moment. “This is Beacon Hills, right?”

“That’s right,” she replies.

“There’s a network of tunnels that run under the preserve,” he says. “Another hunter told my father about them decades ago. They’re well-hidden. You’d need a hunter from the area to show you an entrance.”

“And that’s where we’ll find Kate?” Braeden presses.

Chris shrugs again. “It’s the most likely place I can think of.”

“It’s a start,” Braeden says bracingly. “Your cooperation’s been noted.”

Chris’ lip curls scornfully, but he doesn’t say anything. The group turns and leaves together, and the second the heavy outer door’s shut behind them, Stiles says, “Tunnels? Really?”

“It’s possible,” Scott says thoughtfully.

Stiles gives him a scathing look. “Don’t you think we would have heard something about tunnels in the preserve? Some kid should have fallen in one by now.”

“I don’t know,” Scott says. “Those woods are deep, man. You know people say there used to be a nemeton out there. That old house isn’t the only ruin out there—tunnels only the hunters know about doesn’t sound that farfetched.”

“Do you know any local hunters?” Braeden asks pointedly.

Stiles scowls. “The old leader of the Calaveras lives outside of town, but she hates me and Scott.”

“I don’t care who she hates,” Braeden says. “She’ll talk to me.”

Stiles’ scowl deepens. “Just what are you planning? We don’t have the resources to launch a full-on assault in a fucking maze of tunnels.”

“You may not,” Braeden says, leveling him with a calm look. “But I do.”

Stiles throws his hands up in the air, looking exasperated. “Jesus—just—let me call my dad first, all right, before you call in the fucking army? If anyone knows about these tunnels, he will.”

“Fine,” Braeden says, looking unperturbed. “But don’t take all day.”

Stiles glares at her before stalking off toward his office. Derek glances around at Scott and Braeden, but they seemed unruffled by Stiles’ anger—Scott just rolls his eyes before turning to talk to Braeden. Derek is bothered by it; he’s not sure what, exactly, has set Stiles off, but it’s probably got something to do with him, and he can’t let Stiles keep on simmering.

He reaches the office before the door can swing shut, and steps in behind Stiles just as Stiles heaves a heavy sigh, his shoulders tight. “Stiles,” Derek says quietly, catching the door and letting it close behind him without a noise.

Stiles jumps and gives him a guilty look. “What?”

“Are you okay?” Derek asks. “Why are you so angry?”

“Why aren’t you angry?” Stiles retorts, his frown returning in full force. “How could you just stand there and listen to that asshole talk? He knew what was happening to you, and he didn’t do anything—”

“He let us out,” Derek begins, but Stiles snaps, “Don’t fucking defend him! He knew! He knew for ‘a couple years,’ however fucking long that is, and he didn’t do a thing to help you! Why aren’t you as pissed off as I am?”

“I don’t remember how to be angry,” Derek says simply. Stiles opens his mouth and then shuts it, confusion filtering across his face. “When we were first taken, I was angry. I’d try to fight—and they’d hurt me, or Laura. They beat it out of me—they beat everything out of me: anger, defiance, hope. I stopped feeling anything at all—except fear and hatred."

Stiles looks horrified. He opens his mouth again, but Derek continues before he can speak. "I hate them," he says. "I hate her." He looks down at his hands, rubs his thumb over the thick scar on his palm. "I know what happened to me and my family was devastating, and I want them all to be punished. But I don't know how to be angry."

"Jesus," Stiles says after a long moment, his voice hoarse. Derek's still looking absently at his hands, but he looks up when Stiles steps toward him, the one hand he can lift sliding over Derek's, his thumb pressing over the scar. "I don't know how you survived it."

"I didn't want to," Derek says, smiling unhappily. "I thought about ending it, but I didn't want to leave Laura alone."

Stiles' face flinches in sympathy. "You're strong," he says. "They didn't beat the defiance out of you; you're still here." He sucks in a deep breath and says, "You don’t need to be angry. I—I’m pushing my feelings on you. It happened to you; you can feel however you want to feel about it.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t be angry,” Derek says quietly. “I know it’s because you care about me.”

“Any decent person would be just as angry,” Stiles says, but he leans his head forward, touching his forehead to Derek’s. “But I do care about you. A lot.”

“I know,” Derek says quietly. They stand there in silence for a long moment, Stiles’ hand still holding his. Derek doesn’t care that the rest of the station can probably see them. He’s allowed to have this.

“Okay,” Stiles says after a while, taking a slow step backward. “Braeden’s probably having an aneurysm by now. I need to call my dad.”

Derek nods and sinks down into one of the chairs by the desk.

“How do you feel about lunch after this?” Stiles asks, scowling at he fumbles at his phone with his one functioning hand. “I’m fucking starving, and I don’t feel like sitting around here waiting for Braeden’s reinforcements to show up.”

“Lunch sounds good,” Derek says agreeably, though he’s not actually all that hungry.

Stiles nods as he taps at his cellphone and holds it up to his ear. After a moment, he frowns and lowers it again, narrowing his eyes at the screen. He dials again, listens for a few seconds, then says to Derek, “Can I try your phone? I don’t have service.”

Derek passes his phone and Stiles dials again, his frown growing deeper. He’s still got it pressed to his ear, and he’s shaking his head when one of the deputies taps on the door before opening it, leaning in to say, “Sir, the phone lines are down.”

“What?” Stiles says, looking slightly alarmed. He sets Derek’s phone down and picks up the receiver of the phone on his desk. “Shit. Shit, uh—what about the radios?”

The deputy looks a little worried. She reaches for the radio at her shoulder and speaks into it: “Station to all units, do you copy?”

They all turn to look at the scanner sitting on top of one of the filing cabinets, but long seconds pass and it remains silent. “Fuck,” Stiles breathes, looking around wildly. “I gotta—” He gets to his feet and trots around his desk, slipping out of the office past the deputy toward where Braeden and Scott are still standing. “Scott—”

Derek rises to follow, and he’s just gotten level with the deputy still standing in the doorway to the office when something shatters the glass in the station doors. Derek’s brain doesn’t even have time to react before his body does; he drops to the floor, dragging the deputy down with him as gunfire shatters the startled silence in the station. All around the room, the other officers do the same, pulling civilians with them to shelter behind desks as bullets pepper the walls. Derek barely dares to lift his head but he forces himself, looking around wildly to see that Stiles has taken cover next to the water cooler, and Braeden and Scott are a couple feet away behind a photocopier. Braeden looks pissed.

When the gunfire stops, almost as abruptly as it started, the room’s left hazy and still, smoke and dust filling the air.

“Sweetheart, are you listening?” asks a woman’s voice somewhere outside, talking—not shouting. She doesn’t need to shout; Derek’s skin breaks out into goosebumps when he hears her, would know that voice anywhere even though it’s been months since he heard it last. She doesn’t need to shout because she’s talking to him. “You’ve got five minutes to get out here before we come and get you, and you don’t want that, do you? I made a mistake with that feisty little sheriff of yours, but I won’t make it again—and we’ve got plenty of wolfsbane to put your new alpha and his whelp to sleep.”

Derek looks across to Scott, who’s got his teeth gritted furiously. Stiles is half on his feet, looking around in confusion. Outside, Kate continues calmly, “We’ll take out every single person in that station if I don’t see you out here in the next five minutes, understand?” The end of her sentence is punctuated by another round of gunfire, sending all the people who’d braved getting to their feet back to the floor.

When it stops, Derek chances a crouch and slips across the room to Stiles, who's looking around warily, his face pale. "What's happening?" he asks worriedly. "It's her, isn't it? Was she talking to you?"

Derek hesitates before nodding, his skin crawling. He has to give himself up; he can't let the hunters outside kill everyone in here.

Braeden slides over to them, most of her attention fixed on the front doors. It seems so wrong that blue sky is visible beyond the smoke. "Are either of your phones working?" she asks angrily.

"No," Stiles says glumly. "Landlines and radio are down too. That's what I was coming to tell you guys. Derek says she was talking to him."

Braeden looks at Derek sharply. "What does she want?"

"Me," he says dismally.

"Sheriff?" a deputy asks nervously, his gun drawn. "What should we do?"

Stiles looks between Derek and the rest of the station, biting his lip briefly before he says to the deputy, "You and Diaz get the civilians to the holding cells. I want two of you on every exit—see if we've got a way out. Are there werewolves outside?" he adds, directing this question at Derek, who blinks.

"Probably," he says. "But Stiles—"

"We're not giving you up," says Scott, joining their group. He's got Rocky in his arms, who looks like he's on the verge of tears, and Erica's right behind him. "She gave us five minutes. Said she'd kill everyone in here if we didn't give him up."

Stiles waves this aside scornfully, half distracted as he watches his deputies move purposely around the station. "No fucking way," he says. Then to Braeden he adds hopefully, "Did you get a chance to call in your team?"

She shakes her head. "Phones were already down."

"How many people outside?" Stiles asks, lowering his voice. Derek doesn't think it'll be helpful; there's an unnatural silence in the room as people move around them, their faces pale and scared, and if Kate has any weres outside, they should have no trouble listening in.

Scott shakes his head. "Can't tell," he says, and he's right; any group of more than three people becomes too much of a jumble of overlapping heartbeats.

Another deputy comes skidding back into the room, looking worriedly toward the front doors. "They've got people outside every door," he whispers. "What should we do?"

"Make sure everyone's got a vest on," Stiles murmurs. "Distribute the assault gear."

"Stiles, people are going to get hurt," Derek says plaintively. "Just—let me go." He doesn't want to go; it's the last thing he wants to do, ever, but he can't let this building full of people die all because of him.

"No," Stiles says bluntly. "Scott—"

"Stiles," Derek says again, more forcefully.

Somewhere outside, Kate murmurs, "Three minutes."

"I can't let everyone die because of me."

"I told you," Stiles says, and his voice shakes a little, "that you're safe with me, and I'm not going back on that, all right?"

Derek looks to Scott for help, but Scott's brow is furrowed; he doesn't seem to have an answer. Braeden, however, says, "He's got a point, Stiles."

Stiles glares at her, his cheeks flushing with anger. "Is that what the bureau teaches you? To sacrifice the person you're here trying to save?"

"I'm not sacrificing anyone," Braeden says cooly, at the same time Derek says, "She's not going to kill me."

Stiles' eyes snap back to him. "How the hell can you know that?"

"She can't torment me if I'm dead," Derek says.

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Stiles snaps. "That if she takes you and manages to get away, I'll never see you again, and you'll spend the rest of your life being tortured by her?"

"She's not going to get away," Braeden says patiently. "We'll—" Her eyes move to the front door and she stops talking, grabbing a pad of paper off a nearby desk so she can scribble: We'll use a tracking device. Let them think they've gotten away while we regroup and go after them.

Scott makes a thoughtful noise and Stiles turns on him with a glare. "You too?"

"It's better than getting everyone here killed," he says, hefting Rocky in his arms. "Only if Derek agrees to it, though."

"Yes," Derek says immediately, his gaze lingering on Rocky.

"No," Stiles says. "You can't be serious!"

"What's your plan then?" Braeden challenges. Stiles stares at her, opening and closing his mouth a few times without saying anything; he's got no other ideas. "Fine," Braeden says briskly. She unslings her bag from over her shoulder and begins rummaging through it purposefully.

"You've got one on you?" Stiles asks skeptically.

"This isn't the first time I've needed one," Braeden retorts, pulling out a small box and opening it. Inside are a couple of small metal chips. "You got pockets?"

Derek pats at his clothes, realizing that he's still wearing the scrubs Scott gave him two nights ago. "Yes, but—" he hesitates, then reaches for the pad of paper so he can write, they'll search me.

Braeden's brow furrows. "True."

Scott reaches for the paper and writes I can implant it. "Is that okay?" he asks aloud.

"It's our only choice," Derek says steadily. Stiles is pale, but he's not longer protesting. Scott moves without delay, passing Rocky back to Erica and drawing an army knife out of his pocket, flipping the blade out. Derek offers his arm, and Scott takes hold of his wrist.

"On three," Scott says to Derek, who nods. "One. Two. Three—" He swiftly draws the blade across Derek's skin. It doesn't really hurt—the blade is sharp, and doesn't cut deep—but he curls his lip at the sensation when Scott uses the tip of the blade to hold his skin away from the muscle. Braeden hands him the chip and Scott pushes it under the cut; Derek grimaces.

"Jesus," Stiles mutters, looking like he's going to faint.

"How much time do we have?" Scott asks, wiping the blade on his pants. The cut on Derek's arm is already healing.

"Not long," Braeden says, glancing at her phone. "Still no signal, either."

"Where's the rest of the pack?" Stiles asks.

Preserve, Scott mouths.

"Fuck," Stiles mutters.

Outside, Kate says sweetly, "One minute," and Derek winces and tells the rest of them.

"Can I talk to you?" Stiles says suddenly, desperately. Derek hesitates before he nods; in some way, he doesn't want to hear what Stiles has to stay. He wants to get this over with, to rip the band-aid off. He's sick of running, and he doesn't want the weight of whatever Stiles is going to say hanging over his head, but at the same time, he owes Stiles so much.

Stiles pulls him back into his office and then hovers there awkwardly before he says, "You don't have to do this."

"Yes I do," Derek says simply. He has to; people will die if he doesn't.

"You're going to get hurt," Stiles says miserably.

"No I won't," Derek says. "You said she'd never hurt me again. I trust you."

Stiles' face does something complicated before he lurches forward and curls his arm around Derek's shoulder. Derek returns his embrace, tucking his face to Stiles' throat and breathing in deep. He's not sure, even after what he said, that he'll get out of this, but he knows that if anyone can bring down the Argents, it's this pack. He believes in them. He believes in Stiles.

Scott opens the door and leans in, his face pale. "Time's up."

Derek nods, his stomach lurching. Stiles won't let go of him; all the deputies in the room turn and stare as they pass between the desks. Erica's got her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide with fear, but Braeden gives him a solemn nod. Scott's watching them silently, his face haggard.

At the edge of the room, Derek tugs his hand free, leaving Stiles swaying there, looking lost. "We'll come for you, I promise," he says hoarsely.

"I'll see you soon," Derek says, trying to keep his voice light, even as his stomach does somersaults. He turns toward the doors. He can see blue sky beyond them, one of the hunters' SUVs parked haphazardly in front of the station.

"Derek," Stiles says, and Derek turns to look at him. He looks like he's about to cry. "I love you."

A joy like Derek's never felt before fills him at the words. He stands straighter, shoulders firm. "I love you, too," he says, and walks out of the station.

-

The hunters outside train their guns on him the moment he steps out onto the sidewalk, but Kate waves them aside, a triumphant smile on her face. She looks just the same as she always has, blonde hair curling around her shoulders, ripped jeans and leather jacket. The sight of her sends terror and hate zinging down Derek's spine, but he keeps himself upright, his expression even.

He only recognizes a couple of the other hunters as Argents; she must have picked the rest up along the way after Chris and his contingent abandoned them. Derek catches sight of the hated Haigh standing with them, looking smug, and Derek lets his lip curl in distaste.

There are two werewolves with them too; Derek recognizes one of them, an alpha female named Kali. She's been with the Argents as long as he has—maybe longer—but she's long past rabid, stuck in a permanent beta shift, her mad eyes always burning red. She's loyal to the hunters, insomuch as that's possible with her madness; she'd be loyal to anyone who provided her with food and the opportunity to kill as often as possible. If the hunters had let a werewolf kill Laura, it would have been Kali, no doubt. She bares her teeth at Derek, shifting around impatiently on her bare feet, toenails grown into permanent claws.

Derek doesn't recognize the other werewolf; he's younger, probably Stiles' age, and his face is soft and resentful. His eyes flash blue when Derek looks at him, so he's killed innocents before; the Argents probably use him in hunts.

"Hi there, sweetheart," Kate says, smiling warmly, and Derek's attention snaps back to her. "You're a long way from home, aren't you? I've been so worried."

Derek doesn't respond; he keeps his head high, not fighting when two of the hunters step forward and pat him down before taking him by the arms. His skin crawls when she steps closer, but he makes himself breathe evenly, meeting her gaze.

"We've had quite the time trying to find you," she says, with a pretty little laugh that holds nothing but displeasure. Her gaze snaps to the sheriff's station; it's silent inside. "We should leave before we wear out our welcome," Kate says. "Come on, baby; it's time to go home."

Derek finds himself being pushed toward one of the SUVs. He lets himself be directed; as much as he wants to fight, he has to remind himself that this is the plan. He climbs into one of the middle seats and gloomily buckles his seatbelt. Kate slides in after him; other hunters get into the back and, to Derek's faint surprise, the male werewolf gets into the driver's seat. Most of the other hunters climb into the other SUV, along with Kali, but some of them, Haigh included, stay where they are.

"You know the drill," Kate says. "Give us a couple minutes to get clear, and then start shooting."

"What?" Derek exclaims. "But you said—"

"That was the old plan," Kate tells him, a warning note in her voice. She smiles. "This is the new plan."

Derek stares at her in horror. He knows Scott must have heard, so they won't be caught off guard, but—a hint of movement in the trees behind the station makes him pause. He could have sworn that he just saw Liam and Kira peering around a tree. Derek makes himself sit back and relax, jerking his gaze away from the woods. If the pack is waiting...things could be all right.

Derek finds himself meeting the gaze of the werewolf in the driver's seat, who rolls his eyes towards the woods and then winks. Derek blinks.

"Let's get moving," Kate commands, swinging her door shut, and the werewolf obeys, turning on the car and following the other SUV out of the parking lot.

Derek tries not to panic; he can already feel himself slipping back into that empty headspace he always kept himself in around the Argents, blank and dull and without any rebellion in his soul, a way of keeping himself safe—but right now he needs his head clear. It's not easy; Kate is so close that their arms brush occasionally, and his skin breaks out in goosebumps every time.

Stiles loves you, he reminds himself. He's right behind you; he'll be here soon.

"I'm so glad to have you back," Kate says, putting her hand on his arm. Derek goes rigid, frantically sucking air in through his nose. "It's been so lonely without you."

Derek can feel his face going hot with shame.

“Did you miss me?” Kate asks, leaning into him. Derek swallows and turns his head to look out the window, but she tsks and says, “Eyes on me, sweetheart.” Derek draws in a deep breath and makes himself turn, meeting Kate’s eyes. “Did you miss me?” she asks again, pointedly.

“Yes,” Derek says quietly, curling his fingers against his pants. He knows it’s best to keep her happy, but it still makes him sick to lie, and the way Kate smiles with pleasure makes his stomach heave.

Kate squeezes his arm possessively. “I missed you too,” she purrs. “Theo—” She jerks her head toward the werewolf in the driver’s seat, “—is doing his best, but he’s just not the same.”

It takes a moment for what she’s implying to hit him and when it does, he whips his head around in horror, looking up in time to see Theo glare at Kate, his eyes dark with hatred, in the rearview mirror. Of course she found herself a new victim. He’d been so focused on escaping that he’d never thought—but it makes sense. Kate’s one of the most self-centered people he’s ever met. He feels sicker than ever.

“He just doesn’t have your stamina,” Kate says, dropping her hand to Derek’s thigh. Derek forgets that he’s supposed to be keeping her happy; he snarls, jerking away from her.

“Temper, temper,” one of the hunters in the backseat says mockingly.

Kate just laughs. “So, you found a little bit of spark while you were away, huh? It’s been a long time since you stood up to me.” She grins sharply. “It’s going to be such a pleasure reintroducing you to your rightful place.”

Derek shudders and turns his face to the window, breathing shallowly. Stiles loves you, he reminds himself desperately. This is only temporary. Next to him, Kate laughs again and twists in the seat to talk to the hunters in the back. His claws itch at the tips of his fingers; she’s so close, he knows he could kill her before she could stop him, but the other hunters will take him out before he can escape, and he doesn’t want to die. He presses his forehead to the glass and watches the trees zip by.

“Derek.” It’s a whisper so faint he almost thinks he’s imagining it, but when he raises his eyes, Theo’s looking at him in the rearview mirror. Derek raises his eyebrows questioningly, eyes darting sideways to Kate, but she’s still twisted to talk to the other hunters; they’re discussing their next move. The hunter in the front seat is oblivious; he’s browsing Facebook on his phone. Derek looks back at Theo. “Hold onto something,” Theo murmurs.

Derek nods and slouches back against the seat, slowly moving his hand to grip at the handle on the door. He extends his claws on the other hand and sinks them into the upholstery by his thigh, the leather making quiet popping noises. Outside the window, the trees are going by quicker, and the distance between them and the SUV in front is closing. Derek braces himself.

The hunter up front looks up from his phone. “Hey—slow down!” he says sharply. Theo doesn’t listen; he punches down on the gas and the car leaps forward. It’s too bad the Argents always bought nice cars, Derek thinks, as the SUV goes faster and faster. A shittier car might not have accelerated so well; the hunters might have had time to stop him. As it is, Kate’s only half-turned, and the hunter in front has just reached over to try to grapple the wheel out of Theo’s hands, when they smash into the back end of the car in front of them.

Both vehicles go spinning out of control. Derek digs his claws in with all his might as they leave the road; the car flips, and Derek’s head smacks sharply against the window. Somewhere, Kate screams. Everything goes black.

-

Where Derek opens his eyes, the car’s still moving, gently rocking from side to side as it comes to a complete stop upside down at the bottom of an embankment. He’s upside down too, held in place by his seatbelt, and it takes him a moment to consider what he needs to do, which is to use a claw to cut himself free. It hurts when he lands, but he pushes himself up onto his elbows, blinking fiercely as he tries to take in his surroundings. One of the hunters is still in the back, but the unnatural angle of his neck indicates he’ll never rise again. Derek can see one of the others lying outside the car, barefoot from the impact. He’s not getting up either.

Hands grab his ankles and yank him backward. Derek snarls and tries to fight, kicking at the hands gripping him, but they let go the instant he’s outside the SUV, and Derek flips over to see Theo standing there.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for months,” Theo says, smiling thinly. “Thanks for being my distraction.”

“Where is she?” Derek asks dazedly, taking the hand Theo offers him, pulling him to his feet.

“Trying to get away,” Theo says unconcernedly. “I took care of the others. Saved her for you.” He watches Derek. “She told me about you.”

Derek winces. “I’m sorry,” he says. “If I’d know—”

“Whatever,” Theo says, shrugging his shoulders. “Shouldn’t have let myself get caught.” He admires his claws, sticky with blood. “This makes up for it, a little bit.”

Derek eyes him a trifle uneasily; maybe those blue eyes weren’t from kills he’d been forced into.

“She’s over there,” Theo adds, nodding to his left. Derek follows the gesture and spots Kate in the grass, dragging herself on her elbows. “I think her leg’s broken,” he adds unconcernedly, striding through the knee-high grass in front of Derek. He gets to Kate first, grabs her by the back of her collar, and flips her roughly onto her back. She grunts in pain but still tries to take a swing at him; Theo catches her fist easily and smiles up at Derek. “You want to do the honors?”

Derek looks down at Kate. There’s blood running down the side of her face; her nose looks broken. There’s a mixture of defiance and—could it be?—fear on her face. Derek wonders how many times she’s been in his position, staring down at the person she’s about to execute. He wonders what was going through her head when she stood outside his family’s home and listened to them burn. He wonders—and quite suddenly, he doesn’t care. He knows one thing, and this he tells Kate: “You’re not worth another second of my time.”

Kate’s eyes widen. Theo looks surprised. Derek takes a step back, and Theo says, “You don’t want to do it?”

“No,” Derek says. He’s not afraid of Kate any more. “I’m not dirtying my hands on her.”

“Fine,” Theo says with a grin. “My hands are already dirty.”

“Derek,” Kate whispers, as Theo lifts his hand to her throat, claws extended. “Please.”

Derek watches her impassively. “No,” he says.

Theo’s hand moves. Derek doesn’t look away.

-

Derek walks slowly along the side of the road, listening to the ambient sounds of the woods to either side of him. Theo had headed in the opposite direction, but Derek had met Kali on the road after climbing back up the embankment. She’d been standing by the wreckage of the other car, licking blood off her hand—he didn’t need to guess to know what’d happened to the rest of the hunters. She’d bared her teeth at him, but Derek had held up his hands peacefully and she must have either decided he wasn’t a threat or wasn’t worth her time, because she’d loped off in the same direction Theo had gone. Still, he listens to the sounds of the forest, wary she might circle around to come at him.

He feels...curiously empty. It hasn’t sunk in yet that Kate’s dead, or perhaps he doesn’t really believe it, even though he watched her bleed out, heard her heart stop beating. He should be happy, but instead he feels a thousand years old, his bones and heart heavy. Kate and the rest of her family might be dead, but so is his, and her death won’t bring them back.

He doesn’t know where Stiles or the rest of his pack is. He hopes that they all survived the second assault on the station by the hunters who stayed behind. Maybe someone is on their way to get him; he’s still got the tracking chip in his arm, so they should know where he is. If not, a sign on the side of the road tells him it’s eight miles to Beacon Hills; he can walk that, although it’ll take a while—it’s certainly not the furthest he’s ever had to walk. He’d hitch a ride if he could, but this road seems rarely travelled; he hasn’t seen another car since before the crash.

Even as he thinks about this, however, he picks up the sound of an engine on the edge of his hearing—and then multiple engines. Derek lifts his head hopefully; they’re coming from the direction of Beacon Hills, and they’re heading his way fast. Relief floods his body when the lead car comes around a bend in the road and he sees the flashing lights on top; it’s one of the cruisers from the station. Behind it are more cruisers, and behind them, a couple of fire trucks and ambulances.

Derek stops where he is, watching the cruiser slide to a halt in front of him, even more relieved when he sees that Scott’s driving. Stiles is sitting in the passenger seat, but he scrambles out of the cruiser the moment it comes to a stop. Derek only has a moment to brace himself before Stiles slams into him, wrapping his arm around Derek’s neck. “Thank fucking god,” he breathes. Derek exhales shakily and hugs him tightly, knees weak with relief.

“Derek,” Scott says softly, and Derek lifts his head to look at him. “Where are they?”

“Couple miles down the road,” Derek says hoarsely. Scott nods and turns to gesture at the line of emergency vehicles; they all start moving again, heading off down the road, where a thin column of smoke can be see rising above the trees. Scott remains where he is, watching them with a faintly worried look on his face.

“Are you okay?” Stiles asks after a long moment, his voice muffled because he’s got his face tucked against the crook of Derek’s shoulder.

“I’m okay,” Derek confirms quietly. “Are you okay?”

“‘m fine,” Stiles says.

Derek swallows hard against a lump in his throat, rubbing his cheek against Stiles’ hair before he finds the courage to say, “She’s dead.”

Stiles pulls back to look at him, his eyes widening. “She is? Did you—?” He grabs at Derek’s hand, staring at his fingers like he’s expecting to see them coated in blood.

“I didn’t,” Derek says. “There was—they had another werewolf. He was driving, and wrecked us on purpose.”

“Another werewolf?” Stiles repeats. He shoots Scott a look and Scott looks even more worried, ducking into the cruiser to talk into the radio.

“Theo. There was another,” Derek says. “Kali. She’s rabid.”

“Fuck,” Stiles breathes. “Scott—”

“On it,” Scott says from inside the car.

What follows is a long, long afternoon bleeding into evening. Derek is exhausted, but when he and Scott and Stiles return to the station, leaving half the force to process the crash scene, they find it a whirl of activity. There are people trying to clean, state investigators arriving to take statements—Braeden’s reinforcements have arrived too late, and they’re all standing around looking overheated in siege gear. The pack’s waiting there too, having helped fight off the hunters left behind, and they surround the trio anxiously, clamoring to know what’s been going on. Derek finds himself the recipient of many hugs, which he submits to wearily, glad for the support of his pack.

Before long, though, he’s drawn into an interview room so he can talk to one of Braeden’s team members. Stiles isn’t allowed in with him at this point, which Derek isn’t a huge fan of, and it feels like he’s in there for hours, answering question after question about the day’s events and his time with the Argents. The sun’s set by the time he’s done, but then it’s Stiles’ turn. Derek’s exhausted, but he doesn’t want to go home without Stiles. Stiles seems to understand this without Derek saying anything, because he smiles tiredly as he heads to the interview room, and says, “You can crash in my office, if you want.”

Derek nods gratefully and heads for the office. It’s much quieter in there, though the now-restored phone keeps ringing off the hook. As Derek sinks onto the couch, it reminds him of the first day he’d been there, stressed out of his mind after leaving the health facility, not knowing whether he was in trouble or not. That was only a couple of months ago, but life is so different now.

He stretches out on the couch, blankly staring up at the ceiling. The day’s events still seem unreal to him, distant, like they happened in a dream. He rubs at his forearm, feeling where he still has the tracking chip under his skin; Scott had said he’d take it out, but had then been distracted by one of Braeden’s team. Derek doesn’t mind; it’s not doing him any harm.

Derek falls asleep there, just like on that first day. He should be on edge, but he’s so tired. And, he thinks, a faint smile curving his lips as he drifts off to sleep, he doesn't need to be on edge. There's no one left to come after him.

-

The station's quieted down somewhat by the time Stiles slips into the office and shakes Derek awake. He's got dark circles building under his eyes, but he still grins faintly when Derek looks at him. "Hey," he says softly. "Ready to go home?"

Derek is all too ready; he gladly gets up and follows Stiles out of the office. Most of the crowds of people have gone. Braden's team is set up in a conference room; she waves as they shuffle past. Someone's taped cardboard over the front doors where the glass was shattered, but the cool air beyond is refreshingly cool, carrying on it the smell of leaves and damp grass. Derek breathes in deeply.

"Isn't your car in the garage?" Derek asks as they head for the parking lot.

"I'm borrowing one," Stiles says, waving his keys in the air. "Sheriff's privilege."

Derek snorts softly, his hand seeking out Stiles' and finding it.

The house is a welcome sight, though it seems very quiet compared to the buzz of the station. The clock on Stiles' DVR says its past two in the morning, but Derek's not as tired as he was before, the long nap in Stiles' office more beneficial than he'd expected.

Stiles heaves out a long sigh, running his fingers through his hair so forcefully that when he drops his hands he looks like he's been electrocuted. "I think I'm going to order a pizza," he says thoughtfully. "You in?"

"Yes," Derek says vehemently, suddenly starving. "And wings?" he asks hopefully.

"And wings," Stiles agrees. "And breadsticks. And—" he groans to himself at he turns toward the kitchen "—a big-ass ice cream sundae, fuck."

Derek snorts. "I'm taking a shower," he says.

Stiles waves over his shoulder. Derek snorts again and heads upstairs to the bathroom where he peels off the scrubs he's still wearing, reeking of sweat and the hunters, and steps into the comforting warmth of the shower. Reality sets in a little; he looks at his hands and the fat scar marring his palm. Kate's dead, he thinks. Gerard's dead. Chris is in jail. And Derek—he's alive. He smiles when he thinks of Stiles. I love you.

By the time he goes back downstairs, comfortably dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, hair still damp, the pizza's already been delivered. Derek's mouth waters at the smell of it. Stiles is doing an impatient little jig.

"Didn't want to start without you," he says, ripping a box open as soon as he sees Derek. "Meat lover's or veggie?"

They down the food like starving men, leaning into each other companionably as they stand at the counter. Derek’s tired again by the time they’re finished, stomach full, body clean and warm, mind content. He nods agreeably when Stiles yawns and suggests, “Bed?”

Derek expects to have some sort of conversation about what happened—he’s sure Stiles has questions, and they haven’t really had a moment to themselves since that morning, but after Stiles has changed out of his uniform and they’re lying in bed together, all Stiles asks is, “You want to talk?”

Derek thinks about it. They should, he knows, but he’s tired, and Stiles is blinking so wearily that Derek think he’ll probably fall asleep before they even get a chance. “Tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, yawning widely. He drops down to his side and worms up against Derek, looping an arm over his chest. Derek exhales quietly, twisting into his grip so he can press his forehead to Stiles’.

“Hey,” Derek says, because there’s one thing he does want to talk about. “What you said earlier, before I—did you mean it?”

Stiles opens his eyes. “Of course I did,” he says without hesitation, and there’s no stutter to his heartbeat. “Did you?”

“Yes,” Derek says decisively. He hesitates for a moment, then asks, “Will you say it again?”

“Mm,” Stiles says sleepily, a slow grin spreading across his face. “I love you, Derek Hale.”

Derek can't help the smile that spreads across his face, so wide it hurts. "I love you," he says, rubbing his nose against Stiles'. "I love you."

-

The following weeks are busy and stressful. Stiles spends long days at the station, trying to calm the storm the Argent's siege spawned. Derek gathers that Stiles is in some kind of trouble for his part in the whole thing; he doesn't say much to Derek about it, but Derek's got a suspicion that it's got something to do with their relationship. Whatever it is doesn't seem serious, though, as Stiles still goes to work every day, unperturbed. Derek has to go with him a couple times to speak with more agents; he's lost track of the number of agencies now involved in the case, trying to sort out the mess the Argents left behind. The worst day is when he has a phone interview with the cops in the town Lawrence died in, but Stiles sits with him for that one, and he manages to get through it.

Some of Braeden's department goes after the two other werewolves Kate had with her. Kali's caught in Washington state after leaving a trail of devastation behind her, but Theo manages to disappear. Derek's not sure how to feel about it; on the one hand, Theo helped him, but on the other, Derek's not sure that Theo's entirely a good person. He just hopes that wherever Theo's gone, he stays out of trouble.

Braeden disappears too; Stiles tells Derek that she's got a lot of cases to handle, thanks to Derek's intel. He's a little confused; he'd thought she was going to Burke to dig up his family's graves, but Stiles says she's probably sending a team to do it for her, and she'll be in touch. "She's like a bad penny," he says with a grin. "She always turns up."

Eventually, though, the world smooths itself out. The last of the federal agencies moves their boxes out of the conference room, and the glass in the front doors is replaced, the bullet holes in the walls putties and painted over. Derek doesn't mind spending time there now—when Stiles was working long hours, he got accustomed to stopping by in the evenings so they could have dinner together. It's a much different atmosphere without the hateful deputy Haigh in there—he'd survived the siege and is sitting in the county jail now, according to Stiles. The other deputies seem to like Derek, to his faint surprise—maybe he's endeared himself to them after finding Stiles in the woods—and Parrish even apologizes for brushing him off when he'd called looking for Stiles.

It takes nearly a month for that day's events to sink in; one morning Derek wakes up early, and as he stares up at the ceiling, it occurs to him that he's really, truly free. No longer does he have to worry about hunters showing up, that Kate is going to drag him back to the compound. There's no one left in the Argent family to come after him seeking revenge, nor allies either, as many other great hunting families have crumbled in the investigations of the past few weeks. There's nothing to constrain him—no physical walls, no mental barriers. He can do what he wants—and what he wants, he thinks, turning his head to look at Stiles, whose face is soft in slumber, is to stay here forever.

As he lies there thinking this, Stiles stirs, shifting onto his side, eyelashes fluttering before he opens his eyes, his gaze slowly drifting up Derek’s body before landing on his face. He smiles sleepily when he sees Derek's watching him, and stretches out his hand to rest it on Derek's chest, palm over his heart. "Hey," he murmurs.

"Hey," Derek echoes back quietly. He knows he should get up and get moving soon, but he's highly reluctant to when he's so comfortable there, with Stiles so warm and content next to him, that faint smile still curving his lips even as his eyes slowly close again.

He lets his mind drift, body relaxed, until a while later, when Stiles says, “Hey, what do you think about the ocean?”

Derek opens his eyes again, a little confused. “The ocean?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. He pushes himself up onto one elbow. “You ever seen it?”

“No,” Derek says, still confused. “Why?”

“Well,” Stiles says slowly. “Now that everything’s starting to calm down, I thought it might be nice if we went away for a couple of days. Just you and me.”

Derek stares at him. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, though he looks a little uncertain now. “If you don’t want to, though, we—”

“No,” Derek says hurriedly. “I’d like that.”

“Oh.” Stiles looks relieved, and then a smile begins to spread across his face. “You’re sure? I talked to Lydia, and she’s got a friend who’s like a producer or something, and he’s got a summer house on the water. She said we could use it, if we wanted.”

Derek raises his eyebrows, startled. “You already planned that?”

“Yeah, man,” Stiles says. “It’s been a...stressful month. I just want to spend some quality time with you.”

Derek smiles slowly. “Sounds like fun,” he says.

“Yeah?” Stiles is grinning now. “You want to go next weekend? I think I can swing a couple extra days off.”

“That sounds good,” Derek says. “I think Boyd will give me time off.”

“He better,” Stiles says fiercely. “I’ll fight him if I have to.”

Derek snorts quietly at the thought.

“Hey,” Stiles says indignantly. “I can hold my own!”

"Sure," Derek says. "But Boyd has to handle three kids every day." He thinks about this, and then adds, "And Erica."

Stiles blanches. "Too true." He grins at Derek. "I'll talk to Lydia?"

Derek nods. "I'll talk to Boyd."

-

Boyd gives his blessing—asking him for time off kind of reminds Derek of being fifteen and asking his dad to drive him and Paige to the movies on their first date; Derek would swear Boyd gives him the same narrow-eyed look his father had given him—and Stiles gets the extra time off work, so two weekends later, they pack up Stiles' old Jeep and head for the coast.

Derek half smiles to himself as they speed along the highway, watching thickly forested woods and flat fields flash past. It feel strange to leave Beacon Hills, feels strange to know he's taking a vacation; the concept of having leisure time is so foreign to him, like he's assumed someone else's life. Or perhaps that's not the right way to think about it; perhaps this is the life he should have been living all along. Stiles sees him smiling and reaches across the seat to take his hand, but he doesn't say anything; he's smiling too.

It's a long drive from the interior of the state to the coast, but it's not unenjoyable. They stop halfway and eat at a roadside diner that's straight out of the fifties—"Including the prices," Stiles says gleefully, slapping down a twenty dollar bill, which covers both their meals and a generous tip.

The house, when they get to it, is not what Derek had been expecting when he heard the words producer and summer home. It's more of a cottage, nestled comfortably between a couple of spruce trees, surrounded by flower gardens. It's comfortable and friendly and, Derek realizes with a faint smile, Lydia wouldn't have sent them to some over the top, exquisitely designed vacation home. She sent them where she knew they'd fit in.

"Come on," Stiles says, getting out of the Jeep and setting off through the gardens. Derek follows him curiously, inhaling the sweet smell of flowers and grass. There's an unfamiliar tang to the air, a briskness that makes his heart race with excitement. The ocean, he realizes, as Stiles stops at a white picket fence and gestures grandly.

The land falls away sharply beyond it, a path winding down a steep hill to a rocky shore where water meets sand and stone. Derek stares; he's never seen anything so vast. His parents took them to Lake Ontario once, but it was nothing like this, nowhere near as powerful. He looks at Stiles, who's watching him with an almost eager look on his face. "Can we go down there?" Derek asks.

"That's why we're here," Stiles says with a grin. He lets Derek go first, and they slip and slide down the dirt path to the shore. Derek hesitates at the edge of the water and kicks off his shoes, toes curling in the damp sand, and turns his head to see Stiles, who's standing a couple yards back. Stiles grins and makes a shooing gesture at Derek; Derek snorts quietly and takes a step forward, letting the water come to him. It does, swirling up over his toes and around his ankles before it recedes, then swells forward again, over and over. It takes Derek's breath away—not because of the temperature, though he does dimly register that it's quite cold—but because he can feel the power of it even in the inch deep water that washes over him.

He steps in further, not caring that his jeans are quickly soaked to the knee, and stands there with the water pulling at his shins, sand shifting under his feet. He tilts his head back and feels the warmth of the sun on his face, at odds with the cold water he's standing in, and as the wind flushes his skin, he feels...whole. For the first time in a long time, he feels like himself. He looks at his hands, the thick scar on his palm, and it doesn't send a wave of fear and worry down his spine. It's just part of who he is now.

Derek stands out there a long time, until he can no longer ignore how uncomfortable his wet jeans feel, and when he turns, Stiles is still waiting for him, sitting on a rock. He doesn't say anything, doesn't even smile, but Derek has a feeling he know what Derek's feeling. Maybe the ocean's made him whole again too.

Stiles gets to his feet when Derek leaves the water, and offers Derek his hand. Derek takes it, and they quietly climb back up the steep hill to the cottage and the long weekend ahead.

-

The next few days are maybe the best of Derek’s life. The time he and Stiles spend together isn’t all that different from the time they spend together at the house—they cook and eat together, relax together, sleep together—but somehow, the knowledge they’re on vacation, that Stiles asked him and only him to be there, makes it so much more precious. Derek goes swimming a lot—Stiles puts a foot in and declares it too cold for survival, but he’s willing to stretch out in the warm fall sunlight while Derek swims. Derek doesn’t mind the cold; as a werewolf, his body runs warmer than Stiles’, a fact that helped him survive the winter when he was on the run and sheltering in woods and unheated barns. He likes getting out of the water and standing over Stiles, dripping salt water onto him until Stiles swats at Derek’s legs with his book.

There’s so much he likes about Stiles. He likes the way Stiles knows how he takes his coffee, and the furrow he gets between his eyebrows when they play chess. He likes the way Stiles is always touching him, his long fingers tapping at Derek’s knee, dancing up his arm, brushing against the back of his neck. He likes the way Stiles gets playful when he’s had a couple beers; he goads Derek into wrestling him and laughs when Derek flips him onto his back and pins him down. Derek laughs too, happier than he’s ever been, and Stiles thumps his head back against the floor, eyes widening in surprise.

“What?” Derek asks guiltily.

“I’ve never heard you laugh before,” Stiles says, sounding a little awed.

Derek can feel his face going red. “I’m—”

“I’m not trying to embarrass you,” Stiles says, his face going soft. He lifts his hand, brushing his fingers against Derek’s jaw. “I want to hear you laugh all the time.”

Derek goes warm all over, his face still hottest of all. “Stiles,” he says, a little plaintively.

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says fondly. “Feelings are tough. C’mere.” He tugs at Derek’s collar, pulling him down for a slow kiss. Derek goes down willingly; that’s another thing he likes about Stiles—he knows when to push, and when to give.

-

Later that night, they have a bonfire out on the beach. Stiles seems to do a double-take after he asks Derek if he wants to have one, his brow furrowing. “I should have asked when we had the party,” he says, looking a little guilty. “Are you okay with fire? Because of—you know?”

“I’m not the biggest fan,” Derek admits. “But—it’d be a good night for it.” It’s true; the sun has set and the stars are out in full force. There’s a briskness to the air and a cool breeze coming off the ocean. He’d be happy to sit out there without a fire, but Stiles won’t like the cold. “I don’t mind.”

“You’re sure?” Stiles asks, and when Derek nods, Stiles peers into his face searchingly for a long moment before he says, “All right. Thanks.”

Even Derek has to admit it’s nice once they’ve got it going, the heat licking at his shins and chest at odds with the breeze against his back. They bring out a couple of blankets too, and Stiles, grinning, procures a bottle of whiskey and ingredients for s’mores. They’re alone on the beach; there are only a few other houses on the cove, and they all seem to be shuttered for the winter. Derek hasn’t seen anyone else since they got there, and he likes it that way.

They share the whiskey—Stiles says the type of wolfsbane in it is harmless to humans, and Derek trusts he knows what he’s talking about—and Derek slouches into his side, enjoying himself completely. He’s surrounded by nature—the ocean gently rolling in in front of them, the bright night sky alive above them, the crisp air around them—and the fire, whiskey, and Stiles’ body heat leave him warm and content. Stiles smells like chocolate and marshmallows and happiness—it’s infectious.

“Hey,” Stiles says after a while, sliding his hand over Derek’s knee. “There’s...something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”

Stiles smells a little nervous. Derek sits up straighter, unsure what’s on his mind. “Oh?”

“It’s about sex.” Stiles looks markedly uneasy now. Derek swallows; he thinks he knows what’s coming. “I mean, we don’t have to do this now, but I think we need to talk it about it eventually. I—” He stops, frowning a little, like he’s trying to figure out the best way to say what he needs to. “It’s not about—about her, exactly, it’s just—I want to be sure, when we do things, that you’re always onboard. I never want to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, or feel unsafe. I want the time we spend together to be fun for both of us. I want to be sure you know you can say no to me.”

“I know that,” Derek says, a little confused; it’s not entirely the direction he’d expected the conversation to go. “We’ve talked about this before.”

“I know,” Stiles says. “It’s just—that was before she told me what—and you said you didn’t want to spend my heat with me—”

“I didn’t say that,” Derek says. “I said I wasn’t ready. And I wouldn’t have said that if I didn’t know I could say no to you,” he points out.

Stiles nods in acknowledgment. “True,” he says. “Okay, I got that part wrong.”

Derek thinks about this, and the past month; they haven’t really been intimate before the whole showdown with the hunters—kissing, yes, and they’ve jerked each other off a couple of times, but they haven’t been naked together since the night they gave each other blow jobs. Things have been hectic, but—“Have you been holding back because of this?”

Stiles looks a little guilty now. “Yeah,” he admits. “I just wanted to make sure we talked about it.”

“I’m fine,” Derek says. “I trust you.”

“I know,” Stiles says, looking at his feet, curling his toes against the sand. “But that’s kind of part of it. I just worry that you might not speak up because you think I’ll lead you right, and I—I’m not a mind reader. I fuck stuff up sometimes.”

Derek watches him draw a circle in the sand with his big toe and asks, “What do you want to do?”

“I just want you to speak up if you’re uncomfortable,” Stiles says. “Or—maybe we could have a check-in system. Like—safe words, kind of.”

“Like what?”

“I know some people use a color system,” Stiles replies. “Red means stop immediately. Yellow means something’s off, or we need to slow down and talk. Green means everything’s good.”

“I can do that,” Derek says simply.

Stiles finally looks back up at him, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Yeah? You’re okay with that?”

“If it makes you more comfortable,” Derek says. “Sure.”

“It’s supposed to make both of us more comfortable,” Stiles says pointedly.

Derek says, "I know. I get it."

"Okay," Stiles says, but he doesn't sound quite certain, and he doesn't relax until Derek leans into his side.

They sit in silence for a while, watching the fire. Stiles puts his hand back on Derek's knee, which seems to be a good sign. And then, because it's what they've been talking about, Derek volunteers, "I'd like to spend my next heat with you."

Stiles stiffens, and for a moment, Derek's worried he's said the wrong thing, but eventually Stiles breathes, "You're serious?"

"Green," Derek says, and Stiles huffs out a laugh, smacking him playfully on the leg.

"Jerk," he says, then sobers. "You're sure, though?"

"Stiles," Derek says exasperatedly. "If the system's going to work, you have to believe me when I say it."

"Right, right," Stiles says hurriedly. "I do, I promise. I just—I want you. Really bad." His heart's beating rabbit-fast, but there's no skip to it; he really does want Derek.

"I—want you too," Derek admits haltingly, his face going hot again. "I want you to be my alpha." He's ready, yet not at all ready for the way Stiles' eyes flash red at him, want zipping down his spine.

Stiles swallows hard. "When do you think you'll get your heat?" he asks, voice a little hoarse. "It's been almost four months."

"Could be any time," Derek says, and for the first time in his life, he cannot wait for it to hit.

"You know," Stiles says slowly. "We don't have to wait for your heat to have sex. It might be nice to get familiar with each other before then."

"That's true," Derek says. He tilts his head thoughtfully, eyes slowly scanning the cove before landing back on Stiles. "Tomorrow's our last night here," he points out, and a grin spreads across Stiles' face.

“You’ve got a point,” Stiles says. “You want to make it special?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, smiling faintly. “I would.”

Stiles’ grin widens. He must believe Derek this time, because he doesn’t ask again.

-

The next morning, Derek wakes up feeling fine, but as the morning passes, he begins to feel...off. He thinks maybe he’s a little hungover—he and Stiles had finished the entire bottle of whiskey after concluding the most serious part of their conversation. He’s got a headache gathering at the base of his neck, and he spends the middle of the morning stretched out on a wicker couch on the cottage deck, dozing uneasily in the sunlight. It doesn’t help, though; he wakes up feeling worse than ever, and brushes off Stiles’ offer of lunch, opting for a swim instead. It doesn’t feel all that refreshing and he stands there with water up to his waist and it feels like he’s standing in tepid bathwater.

He doesn’t know how to respond when Stiles asks him if he’s feeling all right; his terse “Fine,” surprises him as much as it does Stiles, who furrows his brow.

“Okay,” Stiles says and heads for the porch to read his book. Derek collapses moodily onto the couch in the living room and tries to read his own book, but he’s easily distracted, skin itching from the salt water. He thinks about taking a shower, but the thought of more lukewarm water is distinctly unappealing, and he forces himself through two chapters before he gives up and slams the book down on the coffee table, glaring up at the ceiling.

Stiles comes back inside after a couple hours; he leans over the back of the couch, frowning when he sees Derek stretched out there. “I was thinking about running into town to get stuff for dinner,” he says, adding a little dubiously, “If we’re still on for that.”

“That’s fine,” Derek says distantly.

“Do you want to come?” Stiles asks, and Derek shakes his head. Stiles hovers there for a second longer, tensed like he’s about to turn away, but doesn’t. “Did I do something?”

“No,” Derek says, looking at him and feeling guilty.

“Okay,” Stiles says, and Derek can tell he doesn’t believe him. “We don’t have to do anything tonight if you don’t want to.”

“I still want to,” Derek says, and he does, he thinks. He’s not nervous about it.

“Okay,” Stiles says again, more doubtful than before. Derek’s stomach drops; he doesn’t know how to explain this mood, can’t seem to push himself into a better one. His head aches. “Well—I’m going to head out. It shouldn’t take long.”

“All right,” Derek says quietly. He listens to Stiles grab his keys and wallet and leave the house and then, fainter, the sound of the Jeep starting up and backing down the driveway. He feels sick, almost, and decides a shower will be better than nothing, so he forces himself up off the couch, tottering down the hallway to the bathroom on unsteady legs.

The shower soothes some of the itching on his skin, but the pounding of his head just gets worse; by the time he gets out, he’s almost panting with the pain of it. His hands shake when he pulls on a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, and then he makes his way to the kitchen for a glass of water, one hand on the wall to keep himself upright. He downs the glass of water and then searches the cabinets until he finds a bottle of aspirin—he’s never had to take any kind of medicine before, but he needs something to stop the pain clutching at his temples.

He wishes Stiles would come back. He wants the heavy, comforting weight of Stiles’ hand against the back of his neck, Stiles’ forehead pressed to his. Derek slumps over the counter with a pained noise, folding his arms against the cool granite surface and hiding his face against the crook of his elbow. His breathing’s picking up, loud even to his own ears, and he feels too hot in his clothes, body still damp from his shower. Or—Derek jolts upright, his eyes widening.

“Fuck,” he murmurs, breath catching in his throat when he shifts his weight and feels the slickness between his thighs. “No—”

He’s in heat. He’s in heat, but he can’t—he’s not ready. He’d forgotten how it feels, how it tugs and pulls at him, and he can’t deal with it—not here, not all alone, with Stiles probably pissed at him. Derek paces the kitchen, makes himself drink another glass of water as he tries not to panic. The pain in his head is beginning to fade, but he’s not at all consoled now that he recognizes how he’s been feeling all day as symptoms of his oncoming heat.

Derek tries to tell himself that it’s okay; Stiles will be home soon, and he’ll help Derek through this—if he isn’t so angry about the way Derek had been acting earlier that he refuses. He wouldn't, right? Derek clenches his teeth against a panicked whimper, exhaling harshly through his nose. He leaves the kitchen, paces back and forth by the front door, praying he’ll hear the Jeep coming down the driveway soon. Any minute now, he thinks desperately, palms sweating.

The minutes tick by. Derek leaves the front door and does laps around the house instead, peering anxiously out through all the windows for any sign of Stiles, but the yard and road are empty. A rough sound follows him as he paces, and it takes him a long time to realize that it’s him breathing harshly, sweat prickling at his forehead and the backs of his knees, his thighs slick. He doesn’t ever remember a heat coming on so fast like this—most of his heats come on at night and he wakes up already wrapped in their clutches. It’s scaring him.

Finally, Derek can’t stand the waiting any longer. He gets his phone from the bedroom and calls Stiles, tries to even out his breathing while the phone rings.

“Hey,” Stiles says when he picks up, his tone muted. Derek can hear people in the background. “Did you want me to pick something up?”

“No,” Derek says, and his voice wavers.

Stiles sighs; he’s still upset, Derek can hear it in his voice. “Seriously, just tell me what’s going on. Did I make you uncomfortable last night? Because I—”

“Stiles,” Derek interrupts, unable to wait. “I’m in heat.”

Stiles sucks in a sharp breath, and for a long moment, he’s silent. Then he says, lower, and worried, “Are you okay?”

“No,” Derek mumbles, leaning into a wall. He draws in a shaking breath. “I can’t—I need you here.”

“Okay,” Stiles says immediately, his voice going so gentle it hurts. “Okay, I’ll be home as soon as I—look, I’m in line to check out, all right? Then all I have to do is drive back. Fifteen minutes, tops. Can you hold on that long?”

“I think so,” Derek says, but he’s not really sure. His hand’s so sweaty the phone almost slips from his grip.

“You’ve got this,” Stiles says encouragingly. “I’m next in line, okay? I’m almost done.”

Derek puts his back to the wall and slides to the floor, drawing his knees to his chest. “Please hurry,” he mumbles, feeling guilty for being so selfish.

“I am,” Stiles says soothingly. “I’ll be back before you know it. How are you doing?”

“Red,” Derek shivers. “Red, red—”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Stiles murmurs. “I’m almost there. You want me to stay on the line?”

Derek makes a weak noise of assent, pressing his forehead to his knees. Stiles does, talking calmly and steadily of people they know back in Beacon Hills, fragments and tidbits of people’s lives. Derek tries to focus on it, tries to let it wash over him and calm him, but the heat’s growing stronger, the pounding of his heartbeat growing louder. He loses track of time, and nearly jumps out of his skin when someone touches his shoulder. He lifts his head, relief rushing through him when he sees Stiles crouching next to him, brow deeply furrowed.

“Hey,” Stiles says softly, gently tilting Derek’s head up so he can see his eyes. “Jesus, your heat hits you hard, huh?”

“I hate it,” Derek says hoarsely. “Please—”

“Easy, easy,” Stiles says, taking Derek’s face in his hands. “Can you stand up for me?”

Derek exhales shakily, embarrassed by the way he’s getting hard just being close to Stiles, but he manages a nod and forces himself to his feet. Stiles helps him, hands on his chest to steady him.

“Good,” Stiles says encouragingly. “Why don’t you go lie down? I’m going to put the groceries away, but I’ll be in in a minute, all right?”

Derek’s loathe to leave his side now that he’s here, but he trusts Stiles so he nods again and unsteadily makes his way down the hall to the bedroom. It’s a relief to stretch out on the bed, take the weight off his legs. He feels hyper-aware of every noise; he can hear Stiles moving around in the kitchen, hears him swear under his breath when he drops something. Derek feels too hot for his skin; he kicks off his sweatpants, and he’s contemplating pulling off his shirt when he hears Stiles leave the kitchen, his footsteps fast approaching the bedroom. He looks up in time to see Stiles pause in the doorway with a couple bottles of water held to his chest, his nostrils flaring. Derek fights back a groan at the way his eyes burn red, a hot stab of want making his toes curl against the comforter.

“Fuck,” Stiles breathes, approaching the bed slowly. He drops the water on the beside table and then sinks down onto the edge of the mattress, leaning in to press his hand to Derek’s cheek. “Are you doing all right?”

Derek turns his face into Stiles’ palm, breathing so harshly it hurts his throat. He doesn’t know how to answer that; he hates his heat, despises how weak he feels.

“Hey,” Stiles presses, sounding worried. “Talk to me, Derek. I’m not starting anything until you tell me how you’re doing.”

Derek makes a frustrated noise. “I—I hate being in heat.” He can’t believe that last night he was looking forward to it.

Stiles’ face does something complicated. “It doesn’t always have to suck,” he says. “I know your past experiences—” He stops, more complicated emotions flickering over his face before he tries again: “I want to help you. I want you to know it’s possible to enjoy it. Do you want that?”

“Yes,” Derek says hesitantly, not because he doesn’t want it, but because he’s not sure it’s possible, even though Stiles seems to think it is.

“Okay,” Stiles says steadily. “What’s your color?”

Derek hesitates again. “Green,” he says eventually.

Stiles shakes his head a little, like he doesn’t believe him. Derek’s not sure he believes himself. “Derek,” Stiles says. “It doesn’t matter that you’re in heat. If you say ‘red,’ I’m going to stop. Understand?” Derek nods. “Okay,” Stiles says again. “What’s your color?”

“Green,” Derek says, with more confidence this time.

Stiles smiles. “Good,” he says, his voice dropping low, sending Derek’s skin prickling with goosebumps. He leans over Derek, trailing his fingers along Derek's jaw before he dips down to kiss him—gently at first, then deepening the kiss when Derek responds well, raising one of his hands to grip at Stiles' shoulder. Even just a simple kiss takes some of the edge off his heat, but Derek almost feels as though it's burning deeper, pooling in his chest, stoked hot and eternal.

Stiles pulls back, his eyes hazy and red, but he goes no further than it takes to yank off his shirt and then he shifts up onto the bed, moving to straddle Derek in one easy swing of his body.

"Color?" he asks, leaning back in, so close their noses are almost touching.

"Green," Derek breathes, and surges eagerly to meet Stiles this time, arms curling around his shoulders.

He finds himself relaxing more with every passing moment. He groans when Stiles tilts his head and goes for his throat, teeth scraping against his skin. He's so slick between his thighs that the seat of his underwear must be translucent with it. His body arches without his permission, seeking friction and receiving it when Stiles sides a hand between them, rubbing Derek's dick through his underwear.

"Fuck," Derek mumbles, hissing at the dueling sensation of Stiles squeezing his dick and his teeth dragging over Derek's collarbone. He digs his fingers into Stiles' bare shoulders, which Stiles seems to like; he arches into Derek's grip and lifts his head to kiss him again hungrily. The worry he'd had a few minutes ago is gone; now he reeks of lust, scent rich with pheromones. It's still new to Derek, to feel so wanted—craved, even.

Stiles is shifting backwards, moving upright so he can shimmy his jeans off. It's gratifying to see his face flushed, eyes hooded; the heat's affecting him too. Derek still can't believe that he has this, has Stiles.

"Alpha," he murmurs, and a heady thrum of pleasure rushes through him at the way Stiles' eyes flare red again. Derek pushes himself upright, Stiles shifting back a little to give him space, and he helps Derek pull off his shirt, long fingers skating over Derek's hot skin.

They sink back down to the bed together, limbs tangled, Stiles' fingers threaded through his hair as the kiss deepens and turns frantic. Derek likes the way Stiles' body blankets his, his hips grinding against Derek's in a long, slow rolling motion that has Derek groaning with every brush of their dicks.

"Stiles," he pants, fingers clutching at Stiles' hips, aching for motion. "Please—"

"Shh," Stiles hushes soothingly, nuzzling against Derek's jaw. His fingers curl at the band of Derek's underwear. "What's your color?"

"Green," Derek groans. "Green, please—"

Stiles hums pleasantly, mouthing at Derek's jaw as he tugs his underwear down his thighs, Derek lifting his hips to help. His head's getting hazy as the heat continues to build, stoked deep inside his belly. He's so fucking wet—the bed's going to be a mess by the time they're done—and he can feel himself getting ever wetter when Stiles groans, trailing his hands up Derek's thighs, brushing over his cock and down his balls before they dip even lower. Derek tenses instinctively when the tip of Stiles' finger rubs over his hole, his whole body lighting up like a Christmas tree at the sensation.

"Try to relax," Stiles murmurs against his throat. "It's just me."

Derek heaves out a rough breath, wanting it so bad, yet scared at the prospect now that it's finally happening after craving it for so long. Stiles is good at distracting him, though; his other hand wraps around his dick, thumb slipping over the head, and while Derek's groaning over that, Stiles presses a little harder, and his finger slips inside Derek without any trouble at all.

"God," Stiles breathes. "You're so fucking wet. Jesus—can I rim you later?"

If I survive this, Derek wants to say, but he just hisses in pleasure, hips jerking against Stiles' hand, quickly adjusting to the feeling of it. He's fingered himself before—or tried, anyway; it's an uncomfortable angle—but having someone else do it is a completely different sensation.

"More?" Stiles asks, sounding eager, and Derek nods, feeling eager himself; he's almost forgotten about his earlier panic about being in heat. Now, as Stiles works another finger inside him, Derek's slick easing the way, all he can think is that after years of aching for it, he's finally going to be knotted, and if Stiles' fingers are this good, he can't even imagine how his dick's going to feel.

Stiles works him open carefully, not rushing even though Derek feels ready for more long before Stiles gives it to him. He can’t stop the movement of his hips, pushing back against Stiles’ fingers, moaning sharply when they brush against something inside him that sends sparks of pleasure shooting up his spine. Stiles is watching him with his lips parted, looking almost entranced as he fucks his fingers in and out of him.

“You want to come before we fuck?” he asks, eyes slowly sliding up Derek’s body to his face.

Derek shakes his head violently; he wants to come on Stiles’ knot—needs it.

“Okay,” Stiles says easily, shifting back onto his knees so he can pull off his boxers. Derek groans at the sight of his dick, flushed red and curving toward his stomach. "You ready?" Stiles asks, carefully making eye contact, even as he curls his fingers around himself, giving his dick a few rough tugs.

"Yeah," Derek breathes. And then, because he knows Stiles will ask, he adds, "Green."

Stiles smiles, leaning in to kiss him slowly before he sits back again. "Hold yourself open for me?" he asks. Derek draws in a deep breath and bends his knees, hooking his hands behind them to give Stiles room. He shivers a little; he feels so exposed like this, body burning with heat. His hands want to slip, the skin behind his knees sweaty, and he has to dig his fingertips in to keep still.

"Perfect," Stiles says softly, rubbing his hands up Derek's thighs, testing Derek's hole one last time before his hand goes back to his dick, wiping the slick from his hands onto his cock. Derek's heart lifts at the praise; he spreads his legs wider, arching his neck proudly.

"You're doing so good," Stiles murmurs, bracing one hand on Derek's hip as he shift forward. He's still got limited mobility in his arm, still recovering from being shot, but he can put his weight on it, and his other hand is uninjured; that's the hand he wraps around his dick, eyes settling half shut as he lines himself up. Derek focuses on his face as Stiles slowly pushes inside, his lips parting with a faint noise of pleasure as Derek tries to keep his body still. Stiles' dick isn't huge, but Derek's body still gives for him easily, so slick and stretched out that there's not even the faintest burn.

He feels—Derek doesn't know how to describe it. Using the dildo at the facility was one thing, but having sex with the person he loves is another thing entirely. It's not just that he feels so satisfyingly full, but then there's Stiles' hands on him, their scents mingling in the air around them, the heat intensifying everything by a magnitude of a hundred.

"Der," Stiles says softly, not moving inside him. His hand slides up to cup Derek's cheek. "This okay?"

"So okay," Derek says roughly, shifting his hips experimentally, proud of himself for the way Stiles hisses. "Please—move?"

Stiles barks out a laugh. "Patience is a virtue," he says, but he obliges Derek, slowly pulling out of him before pushing back in. He keeps it up for a while, slowly increasing the pace until he's fucking Derek steadily. He guides Derek's hips, helping him find the rhythm until their movements sync, and then Derek gets a little lost. His body seems happy to move on its own, and Stiles sinks low to mouth at his neck, sending fire scalding down into his chest, stoking the flames at the pit of his stomach.

"Fuck, Stiles," Derek mumbles, pressing his cheek to Stiles' temple. He lets go of his knees to clutch at Stiles' shoulders, knees gripping at Stiles' hips.

"You feel so good," Stiles murmurs, turning to give him a sloppy kiss and missing his mouth, getting his jaw instead. "You're perfect."

Derek whines helplessly, and Stiles' movements go a little jerky for a moment, fucking into Derek harder before he smooths out. "I got you," Stiles whispers, and there's alpha power in his voice, where Derek rarely hears it. It makes Derek whine again, his teeth sinking into Stiles' shoulder. Stiles moans and snaps his hips into him, picking up the pace.

It’s not like anything Derek could have dreamed up on his own—fucking himself with that dildo definitely doesn't even come close to this. He wants to come, but he doesn’t dare touch his dick yet; it’s not going to take much more to set him off, and he can feel Stiles’ knot starting to grow, the base of his dick getting wider as the knot swells. Derek can feel it pressing against him with every push of Stiles’ hips, and he tenses without meaning to, a little nervous about it.

“Relax,” Stiles breathes, rubbing his nose against Derek’s cheek. “You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to.”

Derek exhales slowly. “I want it,” he murmurs. “Please, Stiles—”

“Jesus, fuck,” Stiles mutters, and bites down on Derek’s jaw at the same moment he presses his knot inside. Derek howls, his back arching off the mattress; he’s never felt so fucking full. “Oh, fuck,” Stiles swears, grinding into him. “You okay?”

“Keep moving,” Derek pants desperately.  “Stiles—”

“I got you,” Stiles says again, sounding a little desperate himself. “Just—” He begins to roll his hips forward over and over, punching a sharp moan out of Derek with every movement. He can barely think, his fingertips digging into Stiles’ shoulders. The heat’s curling around him, dulling his thoughts; all he wants now is to come, but his hands don’t seem to want to obey him. Luckily for him, Stiles is intuitive enough for the both of them, and he works his hand between them, curling his fingers around Derek’s dick. “Got you,” he repeats, almost slurring. His movements are jerky and uncoordinated, but Derek doesn’t need much more than that. He turns his head, seeking, and finds Stiles’ mouth; they kiss sloppily, Derek breathing hard as his hips rock up into Stiles’ grip.

There’s a tingling feeling building in his toes and the tips of his fingers, swelling into a warm golden glow. He clutches harder at Stiles’ shoulders, just enough control in him to keep his fingernails blunt as his orgasm suddenly sweeps through him, cresting over his body, filling his chest and head with a mindless buzz of pleasure. He arches into Stiles’ hand, groaning low and deep in his chest as he spills over Stiles’ fingers, body clamping down around Stiles’ knot—and suddenly Stiles is swearing, hips bucking into Derek. Derek barely hears him, too caught up in pleasure; he’s never felt like this, never felt so satisfied, so cared for, so loved.

It feels like years pass before the feeling begins to fade; Derek has to blink dark spots from his vision before he can focus on Stiles, his head a little bit clearer as the heat begins to recede—for the moment. Stiles is panting, his eyes squeezed shut, shaking a little. Derek makes a concerned noise and touches his face, damp with sweat, and Stiles leans into his touch with a long sigh. It’s another long moment before he opens his eyes, his gaze a little unfocused.

“Surprise,” he says hoarsely.

“Did you come?” Derek asks quietly.

Stiles makes a strangled noise that might be a laugh. “Still am,” he says, and bows his head, pressing his forehead to Derek’s collarbone. His hips are still moving, working in small jumps that seem more subconscious than intentional. Derek strokes a hand down Stiles’ back sympathetically. He doesn’t mind when Stiles settles his weight on top of him, likes having him so close at hand. Derek’s heat has taken a step back for the time being, but he still wants the intimacy of contact, and this position gives him plenty of it.

After a while, Stiles turns his head and asks, “How do you feel?”

“Good,” Derek says. He doesn’t even need to stop and think about it. He feels good.

“Yeah?” Stiles sounds pleased. He rubs a hand up Derek’s ribs. “As bad as you thought it’d be?”

“No,” Derek says softly.

“I’m glad,” Stiles says quietly, his long fingers dancing across Derek’s collarbones. “I just want to make you happy.”

“You do,” Derek breathes. He has to close his eyes, suddenly overwhelmed.

“Hey,” Stiles says gently, lifting his hand to card his fingers through Derek’s hair. “I love you.”

-

If Derek didn’t know better, he’d suspect the two days he’s in heat are a dream. He’s never passed a heat so easily, so happily, than that heat he spends with Stiles. Stiles dotes on him the entire time, wringing orgasms out of him with ease, helping him to the bathroom to give him a long bath, scrubbing shampoo through his hair and soap over his skin, feeding him by hand, kissing him between every other bite. Derek gets a little drunk with it, alternately pleased and overwhelmed by the attention Stiles lavishes upon him. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to repay the favor, but Stiles doesn’t seem to care; to him, it’s not a favor, it’s just what he does. He calls Lydia and tells her they need to spend a couple extra days at the cottage, and calls the station and tells them the same, and then he’s just...Derek’s.

“Are you still afraid of it?” Stiles asks later, when Derek’s heat is starting to fade and they’re lying out on the couch in the living room, the bedroom too saturated with the smell of pheromones for Derek’s sensitive nose.

“I don’t think so,” Derek says after a long moment of thought. Then he asks, “Is your heat like mine?”

“Not really,” Stiles says. “I’ve always had a pretty mild heat. I don’t know if that’s an alpha thing or just me—Scott says his is the same way, though. There were even a couple times in college where I could go to class while I was in heat.”

Derek can’t even imagine it; his whole body aches after two days. He barely wants to move, let alone walk around.

Stiles nuzzles against his temple happily. “You’re cooling down,” he says, and Derek sighs with some relief; as fun as it’s been, he’s tired.

They lay in silence for a while, Derek’s eyes slowly drifting shut, until Stiles says, “Have you thought about the future?”

“What?” Derek asks drowsily. “I’m not leaving Beacon Hills.” He shocks himself a little with this statement; it’s not like he’s really given it much thought lately, but it’s true. He never wants to leave; it’s home now.

“I know,” Stiles says, sounding pleased. “I meant, like—do you want to work at Boyd’s place forever?”

Derek thinks about this absently. “I’d like to get my high school diploma,” he decides. Maybe even take some college courses if he can save up the money. He wonders what he would have majored in if he’d gone to college when he was supposed to. He can barely remember what he wanted to be when he was a kid.

“Dude, that’s great!” Stiles says. “They offer GED classes at night at the high school. Want me to get some info when we’re back in town?”

Derek nods sleepily, letting his head loll back against Stiles’ shoulder. “What about you?” he asks quietly. “What are your plans for the future?”

Stiles sighs, curling his arms over Derek’s chest. “I dunno,” he says. “Stay sheriff as long as they keep electing me, I guess. Stay as a deputy if not. Maybe get my Masters in something. I dunno,” he says again, rubbing his cheek against Derek’s hair. “Whatever happens, I hope you’re in my future for a long long time.”

Derek smiles faintly at this, his chest going tight with love. “Believe me,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.”

-

They return to Beacon Hills a couple days later, long past the time they were supposed to, and Derek comes home almost feeling like a new person. He feels incredibly happy—no hunters to worry about, his first heat with Stiles passed gladly, an actual future to look forward to. The pack all pick up on it; none of them say anything about it directly, but the mood at pack gatherings is even more joyous than usual, which makes Derek even happier.

A couple days after they get back, there's a pack celebration at Scott's house for Rocky; it's his fifth birthday. He impresses them all by proudly displaying his control over his transformation—Scott shoots Derek a grateful look and Derek smiles a faint, pleased smile to himself—and then they all impress Rocky with a multitude of gifts. Boyd and Erica give him a soft plush t-rex that's almost as tall as he is, and Lydia gives him a microphone that records voices, which Isaac immediately steals so that he and the Vernon-Reyes twins can whisper naughty words into it. Stiles and Derek—and Derek is immensely pleased they're considered a single gift-giving unit, even if Stiles is the one who bought it—give him his first set of Legos, and Malia gives him a craft set full of alarming amounts of glitter.

Derek's watching Kira tactfully try to confiscate the glitter when Stiles' phone rings. Derek glances over in time to see Braeden's name on his screen before Stiles hops off the picnic table and mouths I'll be right back and wanders off into the darkness of the backyard. Derek shrugs a little; he'd thought the investigation was over for them, but it'll probably drag on on Braeden's end for months, if Stiles' complaints about the federal government have any truth to them. He watches Rocky rip open Liam's present instead—a board game called KerPlunk—but he still finds himself waiting for Stiles to return, which he does after just a couple minutes.

"Is everything okay?" Derek asks as Stiles sits back down next to him,

"Mhm," Stiles says, looking delighted. "Everything's awesome."

"Oh," Derek says, relieved. "Is it about the case?"

"Related," Stiles says. "Don't worry about it."

Derek does worry a little bit. He chews at his lip as they watch Rocky rip the wrapping paper off Melissa's gift—a thick stack of children's books and a pack of glow-in-the-dark stars for his bedroom ceiling.

Under his breath because he doesn't want the others to hear, even though most of them are shifters and probably will anyway, he says, "She said she wanted to dig up all of our graves. Have—have you heard anything about that?"

Stiles shakes his head. "She's got a lot going on. She'll be in touch in a couple days; I'll ask her then." Then, because the crowd around them is shifting, he reaches over and squeezes Derek's hand as he says, "Now, I'd really like to see you swing at the piñata, all right?"

Derek soon forgets about the phone call, but after a couple of days, it occurs to him that Stiles is acting kind of...odd. Shifty, maybe, is the better word for it. He keeps disappearing into his office or outside for phone calls, even gets up early one morning for a call so long he gets ready and leaves for work while still on the phone. Derek's not all that worried; he pads quietly over to Stiles' office door to listen in—a little guiltily—on one of the calls, but all he hears from Stiles is, "—if the state agrees to transfer custody, Beacon County will agree to become responsible for the remainder of her parole, right?" which doesn't sound like anything particularly interesting to Derek. He just doesn't understand why Stiles is trying to be so sneaky about it.

One night after dinner, Derek's sitting on the couch, absently watching a rerun of Unwrapped, when Stiles emerges from his office after a fifteen minute phone call, and collapses onto the couch next to Derek, his body tight with energy.

"How would you feel about going to Sacramento with me tomorrow?" Stiles asks without preamble.

Derek blinks at him, caught off guard. "What's in Sacramento?"

"The airport," Stiles says. "I need to pick up a custody transfer."

"Shouldn't one of your deputies go with you?" Derek asks curiously.

"Nah, she's not violent," Stiles says, waving a flippant hand around. "You've got extra muscle if I need it anyway."

"Okay," Derek says, always willing to spend time with Stiles. "Do I get to pick the music?"

"Hmm." Stiles considers this, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Finally he magnanimously decides, "I'll let you have this one."

Derek snorts. “I can see that was a painful decision for you.”

Stiles laughs. “Well, I’d rather have good company than control of the radio, so I guess it’s all right.”

-

They get up early the next morning for the long drive down to Sacramento. It’s uneventful, but Derek doesn’t mind; Stiles is in one of the best moods Derek’s ever seen him in, and it’s catching. He’s got this feeling that Stiles is planning something, and part of him wants to ask if they’re really picking up a criminal, but he doesn’t ask for two reasons: one, he doesn’t want to spoil whatever it is Stiles is so clearly pleased about, and two, Stiles hadn’t been lying when he said it was a custody transfer the night before, so maybe that part is unrelated and he’s got other plans laid while they’re in the city.

All of this means he's unsure whether to be surprised or not when Stiles actually takes the exit for the airport and a couple minutes later pulls up outside one of the arrival terminals, where he parks and gestures at Derek to follow him inside. Derek doesn’t think they’ll be allowed through security, but Stiles steps aside to talk to some of the TSA agents, and after fishing out a wad of papers from his pocket, they are, to Derek’s surprise, waved through.

“Is this...normal?” Derek asks as they walk through the terminal.

“Hm?” Stiles is reading one of the papers in his hand. “Do you see gate nine? Oh—well, we’ve done it before with people coming and going. Sometimes people get in trouble and want to move back to where they’re from so they have a better support system if they’ve got family around.”

“Oh,” Derek says thoughtfully.

They find gate nine—the flight’s arriving from Miami—and settle into a couple of seats to wait—Stiles says the plane’s not getting in for another twenty minutes. Derek’s not a huge fan of this part; he hasn’t been in a place this crowded for a long time, and the close press of people and wild mix of sounds and scents puts him on edge. Stiles seems to sense this; he reaches over and takes Derek’s hand, which doesn’t really do much for Derek, but he appreciates the gesture anyway, focusing on Stiles’ warmth as the minutes tick by.

“Oh, here we go,” Stiles says eventually, turning to look out the window as a plane taxies up to the gate. “Shouldn’t be long.”

Derek watches with interest; he’s never been on a plane before, so the entire airport experience is new to him. It’s not long before the first of the travelers begin filing out of the gate, looking weary.

“You know,” Stiles says idly, “there’s something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.”

“What’s that?” Derek asks.

“Where Laura’s alpha powers went when she died,” Stiles replies. “Because they didn’t go to you.”

“Obviously,” Derek says distractedly, watching a mother just barely stop her son from tripping over his shoelace.

“Well, it stays in the family if the power’s not taken from them by another werewolf,” Stiles says. “And if it didn’t go to you, where do you think it ended up?”

Derek gives him a bewildered look. “What are you talking about?” he asks.

Stiles shrugs a little, but Derek notices, with growing suspicion, that he looks nervous. “Well,” Stiles says. “They had to go somewhere.”

Derek stares at him, a frown furrowing his brow and then suddenly, piece by piece, things click into place—Stiles’ secrecy about this whole thing, his questions, him wanting Derek to be there. The bottom of Derek’s stomach drops away when he remembers the mugshots he’d seen on Stiles’ desk of the girl who’d looked so much like Laura.

“No,” he says unsteadily, as Stiles starts to smile. His heart’s starting to race as he twists his head around to stare at the doors. They swing open and Braeden steps through, a bag slung over her shoulder, and then just after her comes a dark-haired young woman around Stiles’ age, her brows furrowed in the same exact way Derek’s are, her dark eyes moving suspiciously over the crowded terminal. Laura’s double in the flesh.

Derek swings his head to look at Stiles, panic and hope and fear all clawing at his insides. Stiles nods gently. “It’s her,” he says. “DNA match confirmed a week ago.”

Derek doesn’t think he’s breathing; he finds himself rising to his feet unconsciously, and it takes three tries to find the courage to say “Cora?”

Her head whips around, all the color draining from her face when she sees him. She drops her bag and takes off running, vaulting over benches to reach him as curious bystanders turn to watch her go. Derek braces himself, but he’s still slammed to the floor when she smashes into him, hugging him so tightly that any remaining air in his lungs is pushed out of him. He doesn’t care; he buries his face in her hair, frantically inhaling the smell of her, familiar and forgotten all in one, that smell of pack and family he’s been missing for years.

Cora’s crying, her fingers digging into him almost painfully where she’s clutching at him. Derek’s probably crying too, but he doesn’t dare open his eyes to see, afraid this is a dream, that she’ll be gone when he opens his eyes. He’d hoped for so long that someone else had made it out of the fire, dreamed of it every night, but he’d never actually believed. This can’t be real—t’s just another cruel trick the universe is playing on him. In a moment, he’ll wake up and Cora will be back in the ground.

But she’s drawing back, taking his face in her hands, and his eyes open instinctively—she doesn’t disappear. She’s there, solid, the same little sister he can remember, but older and leaner now, that familiar sullen twist to her mouth.

“How?” Derek asks hoarsely. “How—”

“The tunnels in the basement,” Cora says, and the low pitch of her voice surprises him, not at all like he remembers—but then, she’s grown up. She makes a noise that’s half laugh, half sob, and says, “I got confused in the smoke and ended up down there. I came out in the woods and I saw the house on fire and I—” Her voice breaks. “I saw them. I saw the hunters. I hid in the woods for hours. If I’d known you were—”

“You couldn’t have done anything,” Derek tells her. “You were fourteen. What’d you do?”

Cora blinks fiercely, tears rolling down her cheeks. “When the sun came up, I walked to the neighbor’s. She took me in, she was going to call the cops, but we heard on the radio that they were saying they’d found six bodies, and—she said the hunters must have paid off someone to lie about it.”

Derek blinks. “She knew about the hunters? Did she know we were werewolves?”

Cora nods, hiccuping out a little laugh. “Everyone did. She said people have known for decades, but no one cared.”

Derek stares at her in shock. “Mom tried so hard to keep it a secret.”

“I know,” Cora says, rubbing at her face. “It’s so stupid.”

As Derek struggles to comprehend this, and his eyes leave Cora for the first time since she’d tackled him to the floor, it occurs to him that they’re lying on the floor in the middle of an airplane terminal, and there are a lot of people watching them curiously, including Stiles and Braeden, who’s sat down in Derek’s vacated seat. Derek looks at Stiles, who gives him a soft smile, sympathy and happiness warring on his face.

“Why don’t we find somewhere to get lunch?” Stiles asks, leaning forward. “Give you guys a little more privacy?” To Cora, who’s eyeing him suspiciously, he adds, “I’m Stiles,” and her expression clears a little.

“Braeden told me about you,” she says, and looks down at Derek.

“He’s important to me,” Derek says quietly, so Stiles and Braeden can’t hear. Cora smiles and carefully climbs off him, offering him a hand up after she’s gotten to her feet. Once Derek’s standing, he pulls her into a tight hug, a second heavy wave of relief and joy crashing over him. Cora’s alive, he tells himself fiercely, but it still doesn’t sound real; it’s going to take him a long time to believe it.

Even when they pull apart, Cora doesn’t go far; she leans into his side as they follow Braeden and Stiles down the long terminal toward one of the sit-down restaurants at the far end. “Is he your boyfriend?” Cora murmurs, watching Stiles talk to Braeden.

“Yeah,” Derek says, that familiar thrill of love tightening his chest when he looks at Stiles. He looks down at Cora, swallowing before he asks, “You’re an alpha now?”

Cora nods, her feet slowing. “Braeden told me a little about what happened to you and Laura,” she says, her voice shaking a little. “Did—was Laura really alive this year?”

“Yeah,” Derek says again, quieter. “When you got the alpha powers—”

“I was eating a fucking sandwich,” Cora says, her eyes going glassy with tears. “I knew it meant someone had escaped the fire, but since the powers came to me, and I was the youngest—I didn’t think there was anyone left.”

“They skipped me,” Derek says. “I’m glad they did.”

Cora sniffs loudly. “Was she really pregnant?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, his throat aching.

Cora sniffs again and doesn’t ask any more questions until after they’ve reached the restaurant and have been seated. It’s a little awkward with Braeden and Stiles there; Stiles asks if they want to sit at separate tables, but Derek and Cora both shake their heads. Under the table, Stiles presses his knee to Derek’s, which makes him feel a little better. He can’t seem to take his eyes off Cora, afraid he’ll look away and she’ll be gone when he turns back. Cora keeps her hand on his arm, like she’s got the same fear.

Finally, after they’ve ordered their food—Derek automatically ordering the first thing he looks at on the menu, not really hungry—he has to ask, “Was the custody transfer a cover for all of this?”

Cora looks embarrassed. “No,” Braeden answers smoothly. “She’s on parole. She was arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.”

Cora rolls her eyes, an expression so familiar it takes Derek’s breath away. “I was not going to sell it. It wasn’t even mine. A friend left it in my car, a whole fucking brick of it.” She looks at Derek, an exasperated expression on her face. “I got three years in jail, got out after one for good behavior. Never even had a ticket before that.” She shoots this comment at Braeden, who shrugs.

“I’m not the judge,” she says lightly.

Derek doesn’t care; even if Cora had ended up in jail because of her own problems, he wouldn’t care—it’s not like he hasn’t done things he regrets. He gently nudges her arm and asks, “What happened after the fire?”

Cora smiles, a little sadly, and tells him the story. Since she too had been reported dead in the fire, there was no one looking for her, but she and the neighbor agreed it wasn’t safe for her to stay in town; someone had betrayed them, and whether that person had been the one who told the Argents about them, or bribed the emergency crews into reporting all of their deaths, or both, so it seemed likely that if Cora came out of hiding, someone would come after her again. Instead, they gathered a trusted few people and together found Cora a home with a family outside of Albany.

They weren’t werewolves—the few packs in New York that their family had known refused to help Cora out of fear for their own packs’ safety—but Derek is relieved to hear that they’d been kind people, providing Cora with all the help and support she needed. They had other kids who’d welcomed Cora just as easily as the parents, so she’d regained some of that big family that she’d lost in the fire. Cora had been able to finish high school safely, and when the family decided to move to Florida, she’d gone with them, where she’d gone to college. Her experience is basically the opposite of Derek’s, the best-case scenario he could have hoped for for her, considering what they’d been through.

“Are they all still in Florida?” Stiles asks Cora.

She nods. “Yeah. I’d like you to meet them someday,” she adds, eyeing Derek a little anxiously. Derek can understand that; she clearly cares about her adopted family. He wants her to like Stiles too.

“I’d like that,” he tells her, and she smiles in relief. This reminder that she has a new family on the opposite coast worries him a little, and he fiddles with his fork before asking, "Is this just a visit?" He'd understand if she didn't want to stay; they barely know each other anymore, and she's got family elsewhere.

"Oh, no," Cora says earnestly. "I've been kinda drifting since the whole jail thing. I don't have a pack. I'd like to stay, if that's all right with you."

Derek looks at Stiles, who says, "We've got plenty of room."

Derek smiles, relieved—until it occurs to him that Cora's an alpha. "Will Scott be okay with it?" he asks Stiles.

"Of course he will," Stiles scoffs. "He's never turned away anyone in his life. The pack alpha," he adds, addressing Cora, who's looking confused.

"I won't be any trouble, I promise," Cora says immediately. "I'd give away the power if I could. I never wanted to be alpha. It was always supposed to be—"

"Laura," Derek says quietly. Cora squeezes his hand, the corners of her mouth turning downward.

"It's not going to be a problem," Stiles insists. "I'll talk to Scott, don't worry."

Their food arrives then and they're all quiet for a while as they eat. Derek's eyes flicker back and forth between Stiles and Cora; Stiles meets his eyes and smiles around his hamburger, and Derek doesn't know how he'll ever be able to repay Stiles for this.

"I have something for you two," Braeden says, pushing away her salad and reaching for her bag. She pulls out what looks like a photo album. She passes it across to Derek, who opens it and finds, to his surprise, that it is a photo album, full of photos of his family. Cora leans in to see, her mouth falling open when she sees the pictures.

"Where did you get this?" Derek asks hoarsely, touching a photograph of his mother looking proud in front of her flower shop. A sign in the window says Grand Opening Today! "How—"

"Well, the people in your town have heard by now that you made it out of the fire, so when they learned that I was in town to dig up the graves, they put this together and asked if I could give it to you," Braeden tells him.

"Where did they all come from?" Cora asks. Derek's sure he's never seen half of these photographs before; pictures of him and Laura playing sports in high school, Cora at someone's birthday party, Peter graduating high school.

Braeden shrugs a little. "They got everyone who might have known you to help," she says. "Friends, teachers, neighbors—someone even went through the newspaper archives."

Cora gives a watery laugh over a photo of Derek at around eight years old, dressed as a slice of pizza for a school play.

"Holy shit," Stiles snorts, leaning in to see. "That's fucking amazing. I want that on the wall."

Derek glowers at him weakly, but he's not angry; he can't be. All their family treasures and photographs had been lost in the fire. He'd begun to forget what his family had looked like, but they're so clear here; he'll never be able to forget them now. There's a folded piece of paper with his name written on it tucked into one of the plastic slots and he pulls it out curiously. Unfolding it, he begins to read the first line.

Dear Derek, it says. On behalf of the town of Burke, we wish to apologize.

Derek folds the letter back up, his throat burning. He can't handle it right now, too many emotional upheavals in his day already.

"You guys also have a substantial sum of money waiting for you to claim," Braeden says, fishing a business card out of her pocket and handing it to Cora. "That's the probate lawyer in charge of it. It went into a trust after the fire, but according to him, it's the combined sum of your parents' life insurance policies, as well as their personal wealth. He's waiting for your call."

"Holy shit," Cora whispers, turning the card so Derek can see the dollar amount scrawled on the back. Derek's eyes widen; he could buy a mansion several times over with that sort of money. He can go to college. He can bury Laura.

Derek swallows hard and turns to look back at Braeden. "What'd you find in our graves?"

"Sandbags," Braeden says. "But your parents and your uncle—they were there."

Derek nods. He expected nothing more, but he'd never have to wonder again, never hope that one of them might be out there. Stiles reaches across the table and takes his hand. Derek clutches at it gratefully.

"Did you lie to me?" he asks Stiles. "You said you hadn't heard anything about the graves."

"Sorry," Stiles says quietly. "We didn't have a match at that point, so I didn't want to get your hopes up."

"But I saw Cora's mugshot," Derek says. "On your desk the night Kate shot you. That was weeks ago."

"You did?" Stiles sounds a little guilty. “I wasn’t trying to keep anything from you, I promise. I wasn’t sure it was her, so I didn’t want to say anything.”

“How’d you find me then?” Cora asks, looking interested.

“Well, like I told Derek, I always thought it was odd that he didn’t get Laura’s alpha powers after she died,” Stiles told her. “It didn’t make much sense that the Argents would have let one of their werewolves kill her, but that power doesn’t just disappear. I figured if Derek and Laura were able to make it out of the fire, there was a chance that someone else did—not your mom, since her death is how Laura got the power in the first place, but it could have been you or your father or your uncle. I had Braeden ask some experts, and statistically speaking, if the powers had gone to Laura, they were highly unlikely to move on to an older relative—if your father or uncle had been alive, the powers probably would have gone to Derek instead. So, in all likelihood, you were the one who was still alive.”

Cora raises her eyebrows, glancing at Derek. “Impressive,” she says, and Stiles grins.

“I try,” he says modestly. “That was the easy part, anyway. Tracking you down was a lot harder. There’s no national database of werewolves, or even just alphas. Luckily, Braeden’s department has a lot of ears on the ground, so they’ve got their own informal sort of index. They were able to pull a bunch of information about wolves who’d become alphas in roughly the same time period as Laura’s death, and I had to hope there weren’t any missing. There were quite a lot of them, actually.”

“It’s been a rough year for pack stability,” Braeden adds, sighing a little.

Derek looks at Stiles. “But Cora was in the pile.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “But honestly, I didn’t realize until a couple weeks ago. That information came the same day Kate showed up at the restaurant, and I completely forgot about it for a while with everything else that was going on. When I finally did get a chance to look through it, it was pretty obvious—there were only a few new alphas in that pile that met the right criteria to be her, and when I ran a background check on her, she didn’t have any sort of history before the year of the fire, which was a good enough sign—and I mean, come on,” he adds wryly. “You guys look like each other.”

Derek and Cora look at each other and grin.

“Anyway,” Stiles says, “when Braeden reported that Cora’s coffin was empty, that pretty much confirmed it. We just had to wait on DNA after that and then—” He spread his hands wide. “—Tada!”

Cora startles both Derek and Stiles, at the end of the meal when they’re all getting up from their seats, by stepping around the side of the table and wrapping him in a tight hug. “Thank you,” she says quietly. “I never would have known he was still alive.”

Stiles shoots Derek a wide-eyed look of surprise over Cora’s shoulder, tentatively patting her on the back. “I was glad to do it,” he says, cheeks going a little pink.

“I’m in your debt,” Cora says, finally letting go of him.

“No, you’re not,” Stiles protests, his cheeks going even redder. “C'mon, it's what any decent person would have done."

"You're far from decent," Braeden informs him, and Stiles cheers up. She puts a hand on Cora's arm and says, "Come on, let's go grab your luggage. These two idiots can go get the car."

"But," Derek says uneasily, loathe to let Cora out of his sight.

"I'll keep her safe, big brother," Braeden says easily. "Have I steered you wrong before?"

She hasn't; Derek can admit that. He nods, and Braeden and Cora head off down the terminal to where the escalators will take them to the luggage retrieval area.

Derek turns to look at Stiles, alone with him for the first time since everything went down. Stiles smiles faintly. "Garage?" he asks, and Derek nods because what else is he supposed to do?

They don't speak as they make their way to the parking garage, mostly because Stiles is trying to get them there without getting lost. Derek trails behind him down the wide, empty hallways, his thoughts churning so fast he can't focus on a single one. He can't believe Cora is alive. He can't believe Stiles did all of this for him, that Stiles figured out where Cora was when Derek didn't even think she'd escaped from the fire.

They find the parking garage, full of noises of cars and slamming doors and rolling luggage, and when they find the cruiser, Stiles pulls out his keys, but doesn't immediately move to get inside. Instead, he leans up against the hood so he can look at Derek, a slightly concerned look on his face.

"I'm sorry," he says, and Derek blinks in surprise. "For springing this on you. I probably could have done it a different way—"

"Stiles," Derek huffs. "You brought my sister back. I don't care how you did it."

Stiles still looks worried. "You're not mad?"

"I'm not mad," Derek confirms. He steps forward and Stiles' knees spread automatically to accommodate him."I can never thank you enough for this."

Stiles' face softens, one hand slipping up to cup Derek's cheek. "I would have done it for anyone," he says. "But especially you."

"Thank you," Derek says softly, unable to stop a pleased smile spreading across his face.

"Nah," Stiles says, his thumb pressing to Derek's cheekbone. "You don't need to thank me. Just keep smiling like that.”

Derek's smile widens and he leans in to kiss Stiles slowly, trying to put everything he can't find the words to say into it. Maybe Stiles understands; he makes a noise low in his throat that sends heat zipping through his body, skin tingling at the way Stiles curls his fingers at the back of Derek's neck, short fingernails scraping at the soft hair there.

"I want to fuck you later," Stiles says against his lips.

Derek shudders. "Okay," he murmurs, and then remembers: "Cora's going to be in the house."

Stiles swears, pulling back from Derek. His dark eyes twinkle when he says, "You think Scott's got room for her instead?"

-

Much later, Derek twists again to look at Cora, curled in the back seat, asleep with her head on her duffle bag. Stiles elbows him gently. "She's not going to disappear."

"I know," Derek says quietly, still twisted around. "I just—can't believe she's really here."

"She's just as real as you or me," Stiles says softly. "She's not going anywhere."

Cora won't; the pack throws a huge welcome party for her. She and Malia become thick as thieves, and she cries when Scott offers her a place in the pack. It takes a few months to settle the matter of the insurance money, but when it finally comes in, Derek orders a headstone and the whole pack shows up to give Laura and her unborn child a proper funeral. In the weeks and months that follow, there are birthdays and hikes and more trips to the beach.

Derek gets his GED and turns twenty-eight in the same week, and Stiles throws him a party so raucous that they get the cops called on them, and the sight of Deputy Parrish giving his sheriff a stern talking-to about noise complaints is high on the list of Derek's favorite memories.

Three years after Derek arrives in Beacon Hills, Stiles rolls over one lazy morning and sleepily asks Derek to marry him and Derek sleepily accepts.

But for now, there's just the sound of the radio and cars passing them on the interstate, and Derek watching his long lost sister stir, rubbing wearily at her eyes. "We almost there?" Cora asks groggily.

Derek glances over at Stiles, who reaches across the center console to squeeze his hand. "Yeah," Derek says to Cora, smiling faintly. "We're almost home."

-

So we climb
Somewhere I will draw the line
The crowd is home
The treasure found

So let it go
Wake up, wake up, wake up
We're almost home [x]