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- 0 -

It begins at Deaton's.

They're done playing tag with the alpha pack for the night, and everyone's already gone, all too anxious to get home to lick their wounds in peace and sleep. Stiles has Scott settled in the jeep, already half-asleep, and he hates to leave him alone even for a second, but seriously, his hoodie. He's been losing clothes at an alarming rate ever since he started running after werewolves, and this is his favorite hoodie.

Knowing Deaton, he would use it to line a crate. Stiles may have failed tonight at getting Erica and Boyd out, but he'll be damned if he doesn't save his favorite red hoodie from a miserable poop-covered end.

Stiles enters through the unlocked front door to the darkened waiting area. He can hear Deaton moving around in the back, putting away the supplies he used to patch up the worst of Scott's wounds—which really aren't much, considering, but they'll take a while to heal since they were inflicted by that alpha bitch, the one who doesn't even look old enough to attend college let alone try and claim other people's betas for her own.

Seriously, don't get Stiles started on this flock of clowns.

His hoodie isn't on the chair like Stiles thought it would be, but a quick search reveals it behind the counter, getting acquainted with the dust bunnies that live there. Stiles sighs and tries to dust it off halfheartedly. Scott really needs to clean this place better. Or maybe Deaton could do a cleaning charm or something. This is unhygienic.

"You need to tell him," he hears Deaton say, maddeningly calm as always.

It stops him just short of leaving. He'd thought Deaton was alone.

"You need to mind your own business," Derek replies.

Stiles frowns at the doorknob in his hand. Why the hell is Derek sticking around? What the hell are they talking about?

"You know you can't go on like this," Deaton presses.

Stiles likes Deaton. He really appreciates the tenacity of the man, and how unexpectedly badass he is. He also sometimes wants to beat him with a bat until he shows emotion. Deaton's words lack feeling to the point of sounding robotic, but just the fact that he's saying them, right now, to Derek Hale... it means something. Something important.

"I'm fine."

Stiles doesn't particularly like Derek. Okay, he sometimes likes Derek. Like, very rarely. Usually when Derek is far away from him and glaring at someone else. He certainly doesn't like Derek when Derek is being a stubborn idiot, which is probably what he's doing right now.

Deaton wouldn't just butt into Derek's personal business for nothing. And Derek saying he's fine can only mean that he's very much the opposite. But you know what? Right this second, this is so not something Stiles wants to concern himself with. He doesn't want to know about Deaton's worries or Derek's obstinacy. He spent the night scared out of his mind for himself and his friends and Derek frickin' Hale, so right now he just wants to go home, take a shower, and go to sleep.

This is not his problem, whatever it is.

He turns the doorknob soundlessly and slips out.

- 1 -

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that what Derek and Deaton were talking about that night is Stiles' problem. If that isn't a life lesson teaching him to snoop and eavesdrop as much as humanly possible, Stiles doesn't know what it is.

"What're you doing?"

His words come out jumbled and distorted, because he has two very large, very strong hands on his face, cupping his cheeks and smushing his lips together uncomfortably. The position is not exactly conducive to talking.

Derek glares at him, as if it's Stiles' fault that Derek is cupping his face like something out of a romantic movie—only, you know, without the romantic part, because this? Is painful and awkward. Definitely not romantic.

"Just stay still for a little while, Stiles," Deaton says, enabling Derek's bizarre behavior.

"Explanation?" Stiles insists, eyeing Derek suspiciously. Derek's eyes are closed, and his skin looks clammy. Stiles sure hopes he's not contagious.

"He needs... grounding," Deaton explains, which helps Stiles not at all.

"Grounding? Like electricity?" He tries to take a step back instinctively, but Derek wobbles on his feet and Stiles ends up steadying him with an arm around his waist, pulling them even closer together. "What's happening? Deaton? What am I doing?"

Deaton, when he walks into Stiles' line of sight, looks annoyed with the both of them. Stiles doesn't even want to know how this is his fault. "He's been pushing himself too hard," Deaton says. He sounds like he's choosing his words carefully; Stiles guesses the half-lidded glare Derek is giving him is probably the reason why. "His instincts are telling him to push even harder because the threat still hasn't been eliminated. But without an anchor it's... dangerous for him to do so."

Derek makes a growly sound in his throat that sounds about as threatening as a kitten's mewling to Stiles.

"Well that's inconvenient," Stiles comments. "I thought alphas were supposed to be all-powerful badasses."

The words Stiles spouts don't always match what he's actually thinking, and this is definitely one of those times. Anyone with eyes could see that Derek has been deteriorating for some time. His pack is pretty much just Isaac right now and even Isaac seems to be spending more time with Scott than Derek. Peter has taken off to parts unknown, Jackson is loyal only to himself, Scott is insistent on being his own pack, and Erica and Boyd have been taken by the alphas. Add to that the fact that the alphas are tirelessly coming after the rest of their ragtag group of not-exactly-pack people...

Well, Stiles just knows Derek has been pushing himself too hard. He hasn't looked all-powerful in months.

"So I'm grounding," Stiles says, trying out the word. "That's cool. I can ground."

Derek huffs, his hands slipping down to Stiles' shoulders, half cupping his neck, his face looking pained and ash grey.

Stiles stands there, glancing around the room for something to do. Couldn't they have done this sitting down somewhere? He could have read a magazine or something.

He checks his watch. "How long is this gonna take? I need to be home for dinner. I don't think my dad would believe me if I told him I had to ground a dude for the good of all mankind."

He doesn't get an answer. Deaton has already left the room, and Derek seems focused on... whatever it is he's doing.

Stiles ends up missing dinner completely. His dad is not amused.

- 2 -

It's a Tuesday night when everything comes to a head.

And by everything, Stiles means everything. His dad, the alpha pack, Derek's anchor problem, Erica and Boyd... everything.

"Werewolves," his dad says, looking Stiles up and down in shock. Stiles knows that he's covered in blood and guts—literally, there are bits of werewolf on his pants, ew—but he can hear Deaton yelling at everyone to leave and Derek practically roaring inside... which at least means he's alive so that's good, but he also sounds completely out of control, which is bad, bad, bad, and... what he's trying to say is: this is not the time to be freaking out about a little blood.

"Yes!" Stiles says. "Werewolves. Real. You just saw one die a horrifying death. Ta da?"

"This is what you've been keeping from me," his dad states. "You've been... fighting werewolves."

Stiles nods, and then shakes his head. "Some werewolves. Bad werewolves. I don't fight all werewolves."

His dad runs a hand over his eyes. "Are you telling me that you're helping the werewolves?"

"Yes, keep up, will you? There are good werewolves and bad werewolves. I help the—"

"Stiles!"

It's Deaton, raising his voice. Deaton doesn't raise his voice; it's just not something he does. But judging by the faces of everyone filing out the door, there's something much worse than yelling happening in the back room. And of course Deaton wants Stiles' help with that, of course.

Stiles sighs. "I have to go."

"What, no!" His dad grabs his arm. "You're not going anywhere near that thing—"

Unfortunately, Stiles doesn't have the time to explain that the thing in there is their fearless leader, and he sounds like he needs grounding or tearing Stiles' throat out with his teeth or something. Either way, Stiles can't stand there and explain how this whole pack thing works to his dad right now, when, to be perfectly honest, he's not even sure he completely gets it himself.

"It's okay," he lies, prying his dad's fingers off gently. "Scott will explain."

Scott, who looks dazed and even more bloody than Stiles, snaps his head up at that. "What? I—what?"

Stiles pushes his dad in Scott's direction and says, "Explain the thing with the werewolves to my dad. I'm needed inside."

And he runs.

-

The back room is a mess.

Derek is naked from the waist up, which makes him look ridiculous because his chest is the only clean part of him right now. His jeans, his face, and his hands—even his hair—are covered in mud and blood. But his chest is gleaming. And hairless. Stiles wonders for a moment how a werewolf can possibly have a chest that smooth, but then makes himself move on. This is so not the time to think about Derek waxing his chest.

Derek is crouched in the corner like a scared animal, and he has his claws stabbed into the drywall. Stiles has no idea what the hell is happening here, but he's glad that at least the roaring has stopped and Derek has somewhat calmed down. They don't have nowhere near enough tranquilizers to knock him out.

"Is he..." he starts, not sure what to call this. Out of his mind? Gone off the deep end? Insane?

"Feral?" Deaton completes the sentence for him.

Stiles nods. That's as good a word as any. Derek is breathing hard and every muscle in his body seems clenched tight. Painfully. Deaton is standing close to him, close enough to touch, but even he appears wary. Stiles has never seen Deaton wary of anything before. It's disconcerting.

"Almost," Deaton says. "I need you to calm him down."

Stiles makes himself hold his ground and not run back out. "I don't think that's such a good idea."

Deaton glares at him.

Stiles has been glared at by much scarier people before, so it's not like he's going to buckle under this one. "Why me?" he asks. "His pack is out there. Erica should try. I bet she would calm him right down. She's such a soothing person, I can't even begin to tell you."

Deaton looks disappointed in him. Well, boo-hoo. Stiles didn't survive kanimas and alpha packs and Peter Hale by poking at angry supernatural creatures.

Actually, he kind of did, but as a matter of principle, that's not the kind of thing he thinks he should be volunteering for.

"He recognizes them as threats," Deaton tells him. "But you, he won't hurt."

Stiles is the weakling no one recognizes as a threat. This is so flattering.

He squares his shoulders and takes a deep breath. "What do you need me to do?"

"Take off your shirt," Deaton says.

"Excuse me?"

"Stiles."

"Fine," Stiles bites out, taking off his hoodie and t-shirt in as ungraceful a way as possible and throwing them on an upturned chair. "Now what?" he asks, not sure what to do with his hands. Derek is constantly walking around shirtless, what the hell does he do with his hands?

"Now you come here and try to get him to that couch over there."

The couch is in a connected room Stiles never noticed before. It must be a sort of break room, because he can see a water cooler with a couple of mugs next to it. It's not far. They can make it. Probably.

"Okay," he mutters to himself as he approaches Derek. "We'll just go over to the couch. No biggie. I'm tired anyway. Been a long frickin' night of running for my life and saving the day."

Derek doesn't look up when Stiles comes to stand in front of him. He doesn't even react when Stiles calls his name softly. Stiles would give up and call it a night at that, except Deaton is giving him these encouraging looks, so he says one more time, "Derek," and gingerly places his hand on Derek's naked shoulder, and—and something weird happens. At his touch Derek just... collapses.

He doesn't fall down—he couldn't if he tried, not with his claws buried in the drywall—but he visibly deflates, his muscles noticeably unclenching, and his forehead falls against Stiles' knees, making Stiles crouch down in sympathy and sort of maybe hug Derek in an effort to hold him up.

It's an incredibly odd thing to be doing, so Stiles orders himself to stop examining it. He's helping out a friend. Half naked. As you do.

"Okay," Stiles says, spitting out Derek's hair that ended up stuck between his lips and not letting himself wonder whose blood he just tasted. "Good start. Not disemboweling Stiles is a very good decision on your part. Now we just need to... move."

Derek follows his lead. He retracts his claws when Stiles touches his arms, and he stands up when Stiles pulls him up. Walking proves to be a bit of a problem with the two of them attached so awkwardly, but once Stiles figures out that Derek won't let them be separated, it actually goes pretty smoothly. Stiles simply moves, and Derek moves with him.

Stiles is definitely getting the hang of this grounding feral werewolves thing.

The tiny room with the couch has been untouched by Hurricane Derek, so while Stiles wouldn't call it clean by any standard, it's at least tidy. The couch itself looks like they may have let dogs sleep on it, but considering the state of their jeans right now Stiles chooses to keep his mouth shut about that. It won't even be fit for dogs when they're done with it.

He stops in front of the couch and tries to figure out a way to gently lower them onto it. He soon realizes that it's a lost cause and lets gravity do its work instead. He ends up with Derek half in his lap, his face pressed firmly into Stiles' neck. Not as bad as could be, all things considered.

"I really need a better explanation than grounding this time," he says when Deaton appears at the door, smiling enigmatically at their awkwardly tangled limbs. "Because I'm starting to feel like you're pimping me out."

Deaton nods, once, sharply, and disappears, only to come back with a chair for himself. Stiles, in the meantime, manages to rescue his left leg from under Derek, and tips them to the side while he's at it, so Derek is lying on his back with Stiles sprawled half on top of him.

His dignity is so far gone by now that Stiles is actually feeling grateful for this new position where he's not being squished under Derek.

Deaton also doesn't seem fazed by their situation. He clears his throat and crosses his legs. "People have an innate ability to channel magic," he says. "The level to which they can control it is different for every individual."

Magic? Why are they talking about magic? But also, every individual? Like different for everyone? That's interesting. "It's not hereditary?"

"No," Deaton says. "It's usually hard to tell with humans, but you obviously have a very strong ability when neither of your parents had anything close to it."

"Right," Stiles says, swallowing back the questions about his mom. This is not the time. "And what's that got to do with werewolves?"

Deaton tilts his head to signal his understanding of Stiles' impatience. "Werewolves are magic. What makes them different, what makes them transform, what gives them their power, it's all rooted in magic."

"It's a curse," Stiles says, the stories finally aligning with reality in his mind.

"Perhaps," Deaton says. "The thing is, werewolves also have varying levels of magical ability. That's why they need the structure of a pack, why they have a strict hierarchy. They're not all equals, magically speaking. Some of them are always more powerful, more in control. When they're in packs, they can share the burden of magic through their pack bonds. That way they can harness more power, more magical energy, and no one gets... lost."

Stiles looks down at Derek's face. He does look lost. And sick. And a little bit like he's having a nightmare. Stiles absently scritches him behind his ear like a dog. "Why aren't they grounding him then?" he asks. Derek got his pack back tonight. Even Jackson helped, which doesn't mean he'll stay and be a team player, but he was there for the big showdown at least. But Derek still lost his mind after killing that last alpha.

"Alphas have more power than betas. Exponentially more. Not every werewolf is built to handle that. Derek..."

"...was meant to be a beta."

Deaton nods. "That doesn't mean he can't be an alpha. He just needs... extra help."

Stiles' mind starts running with the idea. "He needs a more stable pack. And a less stressful environment. At least until he has it under control."

"That would help," Deaton says. "But that's not really something you can arrange for under the circumstances."

Stiles taps his fingers on Derek's collarbone. "He's not going to lose his mind, is he?"

"No," Deaton assures him. "I've been helping him as much as I can."

"What does that mean? How do you help him?"

Oh, and there it is again. That annoying half smirk that says Deaton knows something Stiles doesn't. Stiles hates it when people know things he doesn't.

"I help him the way you do. But not as effectively."

Stiles would flail emphatically at Deaton to for the love of god make sense for once in his goddamn life, but he doesn't want to risk waking Derek. He really doesn't want to have to deal with him on top of everything else right now. "What the hell does that even mean? What am I doing?"

Deaton leans back in his chair and gives him a long, considering look. "Werewolves use anchors to stay grounded." At Stiles' annoyed look he explains, "To not lose themselves to magic, to better control and channel their power. In most cases, a strong emotion or a memory will suffice to keep them from getting overwhelmed. If that fails, pack bonds are natural anchors themselves. But in some cases, they'd need a person."

Deaton pauses, probably reading in Stiles' face that he does not like where this is going. This sounds a lot like something Scott told him about—and what Lydia said about—No.

"The person—their anchor, would help them balance the magic in their bodies, channel the excess energy and release it."

"So you can do it for Derek," Stiles says eagerly. "You do magic. You can balance him out when he gets... imbalanced."

Deaton is shaking his head. "I have been helping him. But it's not enough. It requires the sort of bond Derek and I don't have. One we will never have."

Stiles purses his lips in annoyance and squeezes his eyes shut to think. It's not that he doesn't want to help. He dares anyone not to feel for the guy after seeing the bloodshot eyes and the needy way he leans into Stiles' touch, but what Deaton is saying... what he's inferring... "Lydia is Jackson's anchor, and Allison is Scott's."

Deaton nods. "Neither of them need an anchor anymore, but yes."

"So you are pimping me out."

The face Deaton makes does not instill confidence in Stiles at all. "It doesn't have to be a sexual bond."

"Doesn't have to be," Stiles repeats slowly. "But it usually is?"

Deaton shrugs.

Stiles doesn't lose his shit. He's determined not to lose his shit over something like this, not after surviving the bloodbath and actually helping blow up a werewolf. "So, could Lydia do it for Scott? If he needed it, I mean? Is it, like, interchangeable? We could take turns."

Deaton shakes his head wordlessly.

Stiles opens his mouth, and then closes it without a sound, because... what does that even mean? It's person-specific? So he and Derek are somehow... matched? In what world does that make any sense? They're polar opposites. They don't even like each other for god's sake. Derek barely tolerates him. And Stiles... well. Stiles doesn't need more sourwolf in his life, that's for sure.

Deaton gets up, rubbing his hands together in a way that somehow signals the end of the conversation. "Forget the details," he says, which—easy for him to say. "Derek needs help, and only you can help him. Will you, or won't you?"

And with that parting shot, Deaton steps out.

Stiles hears him open and close the door to the waiting area, and then there's his dad's voice, rumbling about Stiles. Stiles is feeling a little lightheaded now, a little bit like he's in a dream, a surreal fucked-up dream, but he knows he needs to talk to his dad, it's something he can do, something he should do, so he untangles his limbs from Derek's and tries to stand up on shaky legs.

That attempt fails spectacularly.

The moment he stops touching Derek's skin, Derek lets out a noise, a broken, hurt noise that Stiles can't quite believe came out of the same throat that was roaring like a lion not long ago, and—and Stiles can't.

He's not good at walking away from hurt people, he never has been. He and his dad fought about that day and night when his mom got sick and Stiles couldn't let someone else take care of her. He had to sit by her bedside, had to talk to her, had to cook for her, and just be there, for whatever she might need. He couldn't even let his father take over. Apparently, Derek is no different, because Stiles lasts seconds. Before he knows it he's back on top of Derek, with Derek's arms wrapping around him tight, pulling Stiles flush against his shuddering body.

"It's okay," Stiles says into Derek's heaving chest and lets Derek turn the two of them, effectively trapping Stiles between the back of the couch and the wall of muscle that is Derek Hale. It's not uncomfortable, not really. It's warm and cozy. Safe, almost, which is something Stiles hasn't felt in a long time. Derek's hands are practically cradling him, surprisingly gentle considering his delirious state, so Stiles lets his hands rest on Derek's skin in return, one on his chest, over his heart, the other at his waist, and he relaxes into the embrace.

"It's all right," he says softly. "It's okay. I'm not going anywhere."

Listening to the beat of Derek's heart, he soon falls asleep.

-

When he wakes up, Derek is nowhere to be seen.

- 3 -

Stiles thinks about this—a lot.

He thinks about what it means, about how it affects him, about what to do, who to tell, why he's being punished by the gods... He considers all angles before he concludes that at the end of the day, he cares about whether Derek Hale lives or dies and that's all there is to it.

He can take it one step further even: Stiles cares about Derek Hale being hurt or afraid.

Yeah, he's surprising himself with all this emotional crap, but you know, he's smart, so that's probably why his instincts are telling him to take care of the alpha, because obviously, if they're going to survive this, they're going to need his help.

A dead or crazy alpha is no good to any of them.

In the following weeks, he talks to his dad about werewolves and witches and kanimas and magic—endless, endless talks. His dad is really frickin' awesome, he is, but he's also a cop, and the man won't let any detail pass. He has to know everything. Thankfully, there's enough freaky shit going on that he doesn't focus on what Stiles was doing with a half-feral alpha that night. Thank god for small favors.

Scott does focus on that part, because he's not an idiot, he just acts like it sometimes, and it takes some creative lying on Stiles' part to get him to stop asking about it.

It's a big decision, not telling Scott. Stiles realizes that it puts him firmly on Derek's side. Not that there are sides right now, but if there were sides, if it came down to it, this would become an issue. Stiles hopes it won't, because he wouldn't be able to choose Derek, not if Scott asked him to choose between the two of them, but he also wouldn't be able to walk away if Derek needed him, so that leaves him... fucked. He's fucked if that happens. So he's hoping with all his heart that it won't.

Stiles spends a lot of time with Deaton, going over the practical side of the whole anchor thing. What to do, what not to do, that kind of stuff. Deaton is, as always, infuriatingly unhelpful, but Stiles does his best to infuriate him in return and pick up as much as the man is willing to give. His own research on the subject has come up empty time and again, so it's not like he has anywhere else to turn about this.

With Derek, things get weird.

Well, weirder.

For one thing, they're never alone. In fact, Stiles didn't realize how much time they spent together, just the two of them, until they stopped doing it. It's annoying, to tell the truth. What does Derek think? That Stiles is going to want to talk about it? Stiles never wants to talk about this. With anyone. Ever. He doesn't even want to think about it most of the time. So he resents the fact that Derek runs away from him now. That he's stopped meeting Stiles' eyes. That the one time their hands almost touched, Derek jumped. Literally jumped three feet in the air like a cartoon character.

Stiles resents the fact that Derek is acting like Stiles wants to touch him.

Because he doesn't. Not at all. Not unless it's to help Derek not lose his shit, which, you know what, Derek looks like he's doing fine now, so maybe Stiles doesn't even have to worry about it anymore.

Except, how he apparently should.

It takes a few months, but it happens again: the roaring, the blood, the whole shebang.

The pack is doing a training exercise in the woods and Stiles is doing his calculus homework in the clearing they started off, when he hears Derek's roar, angry and loud like an earthquake, prompting Stiles to his feet with his heart in his throat. The betas stumble in before he can decide whether to run towards or away from the sound—who's he kidding, of course he's going to run towards it—and they're carrying Boyd who looks... a little worse for the wear. Yeah, let's go with that.

"What the hell happened?" Stiles yells, running toward them to check on Boyd. Both of Boyd's legs are bent in places legs should never be bent in, but otherwise he seems fine. Erica, on the other hand, looks terrified.

"It's fine, we're fine," Scott says, half to Erica and half to Stiles. He balls his shaking hands into fists, betraying his panic to Stiles. "He wasn't trying to hurt Boyd. They just kind of... collided."

Stiles feels his eyebrows rise in surprise. Derek did this? Scott is defending Derek? He doesn't know which part is more shocking to him.

"I heard him go all mountain lion," Stiles interjects. That's never a good sign with Derek. With anyone, Stiles is guessing, but he's only ever heard Derek roar, so.

Scott shakes his head. "That was after. I think he was mad at himself for letting Boyd fall."

Stiles curses under his breath. Derek is mad at himself? Well, Stiles is even madder at his stupid face. "Where did you guys leave him?" he asks, looking around their uncomprehending faces. "I'm going to go check on him."

They all start protesting at once. Stiles holds up both hands to shut them up. "I know what I'm doing. I'm the alpha whisperer. Just tell me where he is."

They stare at him, blinking and confused, until Boyd breathes out, "Up the creek. Don't cross it. He's close by," and they all remember that they have bones to set and a wounded packmate to take care of, and Stiles makes use of their distraction to stomp towards the treeline.

Stumbling through the forest, he wonders if hitting Derek would help. It's still skin-to-skin contact, after all. It would certainly help Stiles.

-

Derek isn't wolfed out when Stiles finds him.

He's on all fours by the creek, his jeans and his hands covered in mud. He looks up when Stiles steps through the bushes, but he's so wiped out that he can't even muster a scowl. He looks drained.

You know shit is hitting the fan when Derek's face is showing something other than anger and disdain.

"Boyd is fine," Stiles says. He meant to open with Derek's incomparable idiocy, but the face is throwing him off. Derek's eyes are too bright. His face is too open. His skin is too pale. Stiles can't bring himself to stay mad at him when he's like this.

He should probably do the whole shirts off hugging thing, Derek doesn't look like he'll put up a fight and it is the fastest way to get him back on his feet, but it also makes them both uncomfortable, and they really need a middle ground if they're going to keep doing this. So Stiles opts to keep his shirt on this time around and reaches for Derek's hands instead. Derek looks up at him, surprised, but Stiles gives him his determined face and pulls him up, leading the way to a large rock nearby.

It's still awkward. Wherever they touch it ends up being too intimate, because let's be honest here, they're not even friends, not really. They're people who barely know each other, brought together by circumstances. Supernatural and shitty circumstances that often require them to run for their lives together. So it's weird when Stiles places Derek's hands under his t-shirt, and it's not any better when he puts his own on Derek, palming the nape of his neck and touching the side of his face.

They stick with it though, because it's helping. It's obviously, visibly helping. Derek, who never reacts to anything, is reacting to Stiles' touch, sighing and slumping forward, curling his body towards Stiles. His forehead lands on Stiles' shoulder, bringing them into an almost hug.

Stiles looks around them helplessly, at the trees, the birds, the creek, not sure what the hell to do. He takes in the sounds of nature surrounding them and then finds himself tuning them out one by one, focusing on Derek's breathing instead, his heartbeat, the way he shudders under Stiles' hands.

It actually helps. Stiles is feeling surprisingly grounded himself when he finally pulls himself together enough to state, "You're done avoiding me."

Derek doesn't say anything, but when they separate twenty minutes later, he takes a second to nod to Stiles, an acknowledgement—the first acknowledgement—of what happened; and as they walk back to the clearing he matches Stiles' stride in a companionable pace, not leaving him behind in his dust for once.

After that, they're done avoiding the issue and a whole new chapter begins.

-

Stiles makes a game out of it. It's kind of fun.

He counts how many times a day, a week, a month he touches Derek. He has a spreadsheet for it and everything. After a while, Derek stops reacting to him, and that makes it even more challenging. Stiles wants to surprise him, wants to draw a response out of him, because—because. He doesn't need a reason. You can't blame him for making the most of their new supernaturally weird situation.

The pack—because they are a pack now, Scott doesn't even protest anymore—is suspicious at first. Scott is completely weirded out. Isaac looks hopeful for some reason Stiles is not even going to speculate about. Erica tries to make fun of him for brushing his fingers against Derek's neck three times in one night. But every time someone even looks like they might say something Derek shoots them a glare and they shut up.

It's nice, having an alpha at his disposal. Stiles can get used to this.

It's actually kind of embarrassing how fast they get used to it. They don't hold hands or anything like that, nothing that would leave them with unanswerable questions, but they tend to lean against each other, sit together, brush fingers, feet. They don't hug, but Stiles knows a million different ways to fit parts of their bodies together now. It's innocent to an onlooker, but all put together... well, there's a reason Stiles deleted the spreadsheet that listed where they touched each other and for how long. Written down like that, it seemed a little too much.

But on a day to day basis, they're doing fine.

More importantly, Derek is doing fine. He looks healthier, calmer, completely in control of his inner mountain lion slash werewolf alpha. He's not throwing up magic or whatever it is he was doing before. He almost looks well-adjusted. Stiles has to say, it's doing things to his ego.

He fixed the Sourwolf. All hail Stiles, the Fixer of Wolves.

As months pass, things change around them, and some of them clearly because of them—which, all joking aside, it's all kinds of awesome. Stiles can't quite claim responsibility for the pack coming together at long last, but... come on. He did his part. He singlehandedly kept the alpha from falling apart. He more than did his part.

Like, take Scott for example. At first Scott got suspicious, he got downright weird about the sudden friendliness between Derek and Stiles, but then he kind of relaxed into the whole pack thing. That probably wasn't just because Stiles put his stamp of approval on the alpha—Scott is deeper than that, even if he doesn't often show it—but it sure as hell didn't hurt, and neither did Derek's sudden good mood, the fact that he stopped being an ass all the time, started cutting them some slack, listening to them, bothering to explain things to them.

With Scott, came Isaac, who was somewhere in between the two pseudo-packs, and it's not that Stiles likes the guy all that much—the best friend thief that he is—but as Isaac warmed to the new pack, Stiles noticed everyone, including Derek, smiling more. At the time, he joked about children bringing a family together, but looking back he thinks he was probably right. Isaac is the puppy of the pack. They all like it when he's happy.

Jackson probably only needed time either way. He had to realize and accept that this is his best shot, but it couldn't have hurt that Lydia started hanging out with Stiles, giving him ridiculous knowing looks every time he sat next to Derek, which Stiles didn't even bother countering with derisive snorts and eye rolls after a while. It's not like there's any hope of something happening with Lydia anymore, so... whatever. He doesn't care. Not much.

Erica and Boyd were the last to come around, mainly because Derek hesitated.

Derek has trust issues. They all have trust issues, but Derek's trust issues have their own trust issues. So it took him a while to come around, to realize that Erica and Boyd aren't waiting for another out, that they're here to stay. It was beautiful to watch, really, brought tears to Stiles' eyes. They circled each other and sniffed each other's butts for months, until finally Derek gave them whatever signal they'd been waiting for, and suddenly the haunted look in Erica's eyes lifted and Boyd stopped hiding in shadowy corners.

Stiles looks around the room, his own living room commandeered for a movie night, and smiles smugly at what he helped create.

He has a pack.

"What are we watching?" Erica asks, snuggling against Derek's side.

Stiles watches gleefully from Derek's other side. This is his favorite thing to come out of this whole touchy-feely magical anchor debacle. The pack now touches Derek. All the time. There are puppy piles and everything. It's hilarious. And really unexpectedly nice on chilly winter nights.

"The Notebook," Lydia chimes in, grinning impishly when everyone groans.

"I threw that out last time," Derek informs them.

Lydia pokes out a tongue at him for ruining her fun.

"We're watching Men in Black," Scott says, holding up the box for proof.

"Oh, cool." Stiles gives him a high five with his foot and settles in deeper between Derek's side and the arm of the couch.

Derek holds out the bowl of popcorn for him.

Stiles grabs a handful without looking and stuffs them all in his mouth at once.

"You're disgusting," Erica says.

Stiles shrugs.

- 4 -

Stiles should have known better. When strangers pay him attention, there's always some sort of ulterior motive involved.

He doesn't remember being attacked. He remembers talking to the hot girls, remembers that they smelled nice but different, like earth and incense—which should have clued him in, looking back—and then he remembers being in the trunk of a moving car.

Stiles has good reflexes; the goddamn witches must have been fast like ninjas.

"Stop that," Stiles hears someone say. The voice sounds distorted, stretched out. It's male though. And it's close.

"Enough with your nonsense," the same voice says, and Stiles' brain provides the name Deaton. That's Deaton. Why is Deaton mad at him?

"Derek. You're making it worse. You need to calm yourself."

Oh, good. Not mad at Stiles then. He can be mad at Derek. People are always mad at Derek. Derek doesn't mind.

"Take deep breaths. Unless you want him to wake up having a panic attack."

Stiles doesn't feel like he's having a panic attack. He feels fuzzy. His eyelids are too heavy and there might be a rock on his chest. Or maybe that is his chest. It's hard to tell when his senses are telling him his feet are floating above his head. That's not exactly trustworthy information.

"Good," Deaton says. "Now focus on my voice and breathe."

Stiles manages to half open an eye, only to be greeted with the disturbing view of Deaton's hands on Derek's neck.

That's Stiles' job, and Deaton is doing it completely wrong.

He tries to tell them that but his lips barely move and all that comes out is a weak moan.

"Stiles," Deaton says in a relieved voice, letting go of Derek to bring a straw to Stiles' lips.

The water tastes funny but Stiles drinks it anyway.

"What happened?" he asks, rubbing his throat. He sounds like shit. Which is fitting considering that he feels like shit.

"You were drugged," Deaton explains. "You're going to need to sleep it off."

Stiles opens both his eyes and then promptly shuts them when a ray of sunshine stabs him through the brain. He groans. "The girls? Were they the ones...?"

"Witches," Deaton confirms, matter-of-fact. "Apparently, they were planning a ritual sacrifice."

"Oh, my god," Stiles moans into what he thinks is a pillow but later realizes is actually someone's arm. "Do I broadcast that I'm a virgin?"

"I'm sure that was not it," Deaton says, but it's not reassuring when Stiles can tell he's smiling.

Derek, on the other hand, is all growly now, making the bed vibrate with the sound. "Sssshhh," Stiles says, waving a hand in his general direction. "My head hurts."

The growling stops immediately.

"Well, I'll leave you two to rest," Deaton says with an air of finality. "I'll stay downstairs just in case. And I'll update the rest of the pack. Scott, especially, has been very worried."

Stiles' brain is too slow right now to catch up to what he's saying until the door is closing behind him, so he can't ask why Derek needs to rest or how come Scott isn't there. Scott is always there when Stiles gets hurt. Why would he wait outside this time?

He loses some time to thoughts dancing around his head and refusing to settle. When he finally aligns with reality he decides to try opening his eyes once again. He's pretty sure he's in his room, but his sense of smell is all over the place, so he can't be certain. He'd like to be certain about something.

Derek's face is blurry at first. Stiles blinks and adjusts his eyes and woah. Derek's face becomes crystal clear—and murderous.

Stiles could do without making certain of that.

It's not the kind of murderous that scares Stiles though. It's the kind of murderous that says enemies of the pack should beware, because Derek is going to kill them dead real soon. Speaking of...

"What happened to the witches?"

Derek stays silent for a long moment. "The one holding the knife is dead."

Stiles' brain extrapolates several facts from that sentence—as one often has to do with Derek—the most important one being that Derek killed someone today to save Stiles and he wishes he had killed more.

Stiles hopes no one ever finds out how warm and fuzzy that makes him feel.

"Good," he says. "Is everyone okay?"

Derek gives him a pointed look.

Stiles rolls his eyes—ow fuck. That hurt his brain. "I'm fine," he tells Derek unconvincingly. "I'm just a little woozy, that's all."

They stare at each other, and Stiles finds himself thinking how this isn't uncomfortable at all anymore. A year ago he would have been jumping out of his skin, running at the mouth, overcompensating to make sure no one, least of all Derek, could tell he was afraid.

What difference a year—and some drugs—make, because right now all Stiles feels like doing is to ask Derek to lean over so Stiles can touch the taut line of his neck and make him lose that horrible, tight look on his face.

His eyes slip shut for a second but he blinks them open with the last of his energy. If he lets Derek stand there like that, he knows he'll have the alpha standing guard over him like a sentinel until he wakes up, and just the thought of that makes Stiles' bones ache in sympathy. So he throws open one side of the covers and says, "Come on. Sleep."

Derek doesn't wait to be asked twice.

This isn't something they've done before. Almost-cuddling on the couch, sure, but Stiles' bed has been off-limits by some unspoken rule. It doesn't feel much different though. Stiles just lets himself collapse against Derek's chest as if it's something they do every day, and Derek's arms go around him, a constant in Stiles' life by now, hands going for skin immediately.

They both sigh at first touch.

Stiles' drug-addled brain doesn't register the change at first. When he finally does he gasps, eyes flying open.

The crushing weight on his chest is gone. Immediately and without a trace. And it's replaced by something else. Something softer. Happier. Something Stiles is pretty sure is not his.

"You okay?" Derek asks, his words not much more than grunts. He's monosyllabic at the best of times, but when they're doing the touching thing he seems to lose his words completely.

Not wanting to alarm him—and not sure just how high he is right now—Stiles nods. "Yeah. Fine."

With another soft grunt, Derek buries his face in Stiles' hair. He rubs his nose against Stiles' head like a cat and then brushes his lips on Stiles' forehead.

Stiles tells himself that's not a kiss. It's not. It's lip brushing. Completely different things.

He mentally pokes at the strange stowaway feeling in his chest, and falls asleep wondering if nesting is a valid emotion.

-

When he wakes up, his father is standing over his bed.

That's all kinds of awkward considering that he has Derek's arms around him and they both somehow lost their shirts.

"This is not what it looks like," he says groggily.

"Really," his dad says. He has his arms crossed over his chest and he's in full sheriff mode. Damn the witches for having the worst timing. They had to go and kidnap him on his dad's day off?

"This is completely platonic," Stiles says, trying to surreptitiously dislodge Derek's arms. Derek makes an unhappy noise and pulls him in tighter.

Not helping. So not helping.

His dad snorts. "Sure, it looks platonic."

"Ugh." Stiles rubs at his face. "It's a thing. Werewolf thing. And anchors. I don't even know. Ask Deaton, okay? He made me do it."

His dad raises an eyebrow at that.

"Not like that," Stiles says, even though it is kind of like that. "Just—ask him. He'll tell you. I almost got virgin sacrificed today, so cut me some slack."

His dad shakes his head, but leaves the room.

"I hate you," Stiles tells a peacefully asleep Derek.

Derek has no comment on the matter.

-

Three days later, Stiles corners Deaton alone at the clinic.

"Why am I feeling things?" he asks, trying to look menacing and demanding and like someone Deaton would want to answer or else.

Deaton doesn't look impressed. He looks... pleasantly surprised. "You're sensing his feelings," he confirms Stiles' fears.

Stiles flails. "How is that a thing? Why? Why am I feeling his feelings? That doesn't sound healthy at all!"

"It's part of the bond. I wasn't sure if you two would make it this far."

If he wasn't their only guide to the world of the supernatural, Stiles would punch the man in the face. He knew all along. He knew this would happen, and he never said a word. Fucker. "Make it stop."

"I'm afraid that's not something I can do, Stiles. It's your bond, and it's following the logical progression—and to be completely fair, you're letting it."

Stiles frowns. He was just trying to help. "I'm not letting Derek Hale's feelings do anything to me!"

Deaton gives him an amused look. Yeah, okay, Stiles deserved that one.

"You should stop taking Adderall now," Deaton says out of nowhere.

"What? Why would I—?"

"You don't need it anymore."

Okay, does this man ever make sense? Ever? Because Stiles doesn't know what—"Wait a second. Are you telling me my ADHD is somehow magic related?"

"I'm telling you, you don't have ADHD. You never did. That's why the medication never really quite worked on you as it should."

Stiles doesn't bother asking how he knows that. "And now?"

"You've found balance," Deaton tells him. "Your bond with Derek is now solid, and the bond goes both ways."

"He's grounding me now?"

Deaton gives him a look. "Isn't he?"

- 5 -

It's all downhill from the witches.

The bed is no longer off-limits, so Derek is often found in Stiles' bedroom, taking up way too much space and glaring at Stiles until he stops sitting at his desk and lugs his laptop to bed so that Derek can tangle their limbs together in ways that's really hard to explain to people when they're walked in on.

Not that Derek seems to care. No one's asking him any uncomfortable questions, after all.

Stiles, on the other hand, can't even ask someone out without the entire pack giving him looks like he kicked all their puppies. Twice.

"I'm not dating Derek," he tells Scott for the millionth time.

Scott clenches his jaw. "Look, I don't understand what you're trying to prove here, but Derek is really sensitive about this kind of stuff. Just talk to him about it before you go and do something irreversibly stupid."

Stiles knocks his forehead against his locker. "I'm going to be a virgin forever. And you'll be sorry when a witch actually manages to sacrifice me."

"That's definitely something you should talk to Derek about," Isaac chimes in.

Stiles gives up. He'll go to prom alone. Whatever. It's not like he had anyone special in mind. And he's sure the virginity thing will come in handy one of these days for a spell or something. He's looking on the bright side, because the other side has murder on it. The kind where he kills his best friend with wolfsbane. Nobody wants that.

Speaking of things nobody wants, ghouls masquerading as hyenas should be right at the top of that list. But as their luck goes in Beacon Hills, that's exactly what interrupts their prom night.

"We need to regroup," Stiles insists, taking in the shoes Lydia is wearing. They're so not dressed for this. "I don't even know how we can kill an undead creature. I'm going to need to hit the books. Somebody call Derek and tell him to stay put until we have a plan."

The thing is, they do listen to Stiles. He has earned the pack's respect, fucking-the-alpha jokes notwithstanding. No need to be coy—and Stiles really isn't—he's proved himself invaluable, time and again. The one person who always has to go against Stiles' judgment is—no, surprisingly enough, it's not Jackson.

It's their goddamn alpha.

Stiles goes home, hangs up his suit, and steps into the shower. Ten minutes later he steps out clutching at his chest, pretty sure someone ripped it wide open and he's dying.

He calls Scott, gasping for breath.

"Find Derek," he manages to say. "He went after the ghoul by himself."

Then he sits, not even noticing the cold or that he's still wet and naked, too busy keeping tabs on the pain, because if he's hurting then Derek is still alive. He doesn't know what would happen if Derek died, but he's in no hurry to find out. The pain is good. He'll take the pain.

The agony soon turns into an ache and even that fades after a while, but the terror lingers. Stiles wishes he could leave, get in his jeep and go, do something to help out, but he's never felt this debilitating kind of fear before, Derek never got hurt, not after the bond, not badly like this, not when Stiles wasn't there with him... it's completely paralyzing.

An hour has passed before Stiles can trust his legs to move. He gets dressed, mechanically, putting on the too-large henley Derek left there over his jeans and then wrapping himself up in a blanket, realizing that he's probably in shock.

Ten minutes later, Scott texts him that they're all right.

Forty minutes after that, Derek stumbles into his room, missing his shirt, his jeans bloody.

Stiles sees red.

"You are a moron," he says through gritted teeth.

Derek glares at him, standing there with his arms crossed over his chest defensively.

"I said to wait. I said we'll work out a plan. I said I'll figure it out. What part of that meant go after it on your own?"

Derek takes a seat on the bed, his face closed off. "You don't give the orders."

Stiles drops the blanket around his shoulders. "So you get to just walk into your death if you feel like it."

"Pretty much, yeah."

There's a mocking lilt to Derek's voice, which Stiles knows is nothing more than a defense mechanism, but he can't help but lose whatever's left of his cool at that, because goddamnit, he deserves better than this.

"No."

Derek does the whole rolling his eyes without actually rolling his eyes thing that he's so damn good at. "What do you mean no?"

Stiles walks up to the bed and enjoys getting to loom over Derek for once. "I mean no, you don't fucking get to do that anymore. I get a say. And you—you listen."

"Stiles—"

"Don't even."

Derek looks like he might be considering getting up and disappearing into the night—which totally sounds like him—so Stiles takes a couple of steps backwards and leans against the windowsill to block his path. They're having this talk if it kills him. He already went through the pain, after all.

"The pack doesn't tell the alpha—"

"But I do."

"Because you know better than everyone," Derek says, saccharine sweet, proving that not only are they on different pages but they're talking about different books.

"No, Derek," Stiles says, feeling surprisingly calm. "I get a say because I'm your anchor and you're my wolf."

Derek's face registers complete shock before he averts his eyes. "That's not what that means."

They never said that before, never put those labels on themselves, not that Stiles knows what they mean now that he has. He knows what it has to mean though. If they're going to be connected like this, right at the core, then it has to mean that Stiles gets a say.

"I don't know what you want it to mean," Stiles tells him, absently rubbing at his chest, "but it wasn't just your chest that thing ripped open tonight, so I'm thinking—"

Derek is standing in front of him, lightning fast. "What? Are you—?"

"I'm fine," Stiles says, pushing away Derek's hands to lift up his shirt and show him his chest. "I just felt it. That doesn't mean I'd have been fine if you got yourself killed."

Derek didn't know about the empathy. Stiles had guessed as much. But he throws off the shock relatively easily and starts nodding his head, like he has the solution to everything. "I didn't know that would happen. You're leaving for college anyway. We'll find a way to phase this out. I don't need it as much anymore, and you shouldn't be stuck with it."

Stiles feels his face flush and his stomach drop. Phase out? He doesn't want to phase it out. He doesn't want less of this. If anything he wants more.

It's been so gradual, literally years in the making, but now they're... something. It means something that Derek has a side of the bed and a pillow. It means something that Stiles has been cooking for three people for months. It means something that out of all the schools in the country, he only applied to the ones in the area. Not for his dad, not for the pack... he's staying for this.

That means... something.

Stiles tries to breathe through the flood of—whatever it is that's filling his chest right now. They should have had this talk before. They should have defined the parameters, discussed their feelings, made it clear what they wanted this to be. But no, that sounds so healthy, they couldn't possibly have done that. Instead, Stiles was like oh, it's so hard to date with the pack thinking I'm banging their alpha, and Derek was like ooh, nice, bed, and they were like let's ignore this forever, and now here they are, and Stiles doesn't know what to say to stop Derek from breaking up with him.

"You can't break up with me."

Or he could just come out and say it.

"What?"

"I mean you can't fire me. As your anchor. Because that's what—" He cuts himself off and takes in a deep breath. It's time to put on his big boy pants. "No, I do mean you can't break up with me. Because this is a relationship. We share living space, we cuddle, we don't date other people—and Derek, I like dating. I like people. I like girls and boys, and I like it when they like me back. And sex, when it happens to me, I'm sure I'm going to like that very much as well. That's a thing I stopped doing because—because you were there, in my bed, and I like that too. A little too much."

Derek is scowling. This is not the ideal response, not at all. "The bond is making you—"

"The bond isn't making me anything. I just like you. Okay."

"You didn't before."

"I didn't know you before."

They stare at each other at a stalemate, and there are some serious butterfly action happening in Stiles' stomach. He can't believe he's doing this. They were just touch buddies and that was fine, but then somewhere along the way Stiles completely lost control of the situation. He went and grew feelings in uncomfortable places. He can feel them now, all itchy and warm like herpes. No wonder he didn't realize what they meant, this is nothing at all like how he felt about Lydia.

Lydia was a fairytale princess to him, soft and precious, with a vicious side that made her real and perfect.

Derek...

Derek is...

Derek is annoying. He makes Stiles want to get up in his face and yell at him about ninety-eight percent of the time. He's fucked up, and fragile, and hurt, and angry—he's so angry it hurts Stiles to look at him sometimes. He's also infuriatingly loyal, unnecessarily heroic, and to be completely honest, he's the third best person Stiles knows.

He's also standing way too close to Stiles right now, looking way too confused and unhappy.

Stiles hates it when Derek is unhappy. It's a small, dejected feeling, sitting low in Stiles' chest, miserable like a wet kitten. He reaches a hand to pet Derek's cheek, that usually makes him less sad, but once his hand is there he can't stop. He pulls Derek in, pushes himself away from the windowsill, and touches their lips together.

It's barely a kiss.

The angle is awkward, and Stiles has no idea what he's doing, but the kiss is still soft and perfect. Derek's scent fills his nostrils and Stiles pulls him even closer, his hands grabbing Derek's shoulders, smooth naked skin gliding under his palms, making his own skin feel too hot, too tight.

Stiles makes a desperate sound in his throat and opens his lips, licking Derek's bottom lip, pushing his hips up at the same time, looking for more contact, and then—and then he's turned around and pushed against the wall, with Derek... well.

Derek has already jumped out the window.

Because of course that's the appropriate reaction to a kiss.

Stiles throws himself on the bed and screams into Derek's pillow.

- 6 -

Stiles is not speaking to Derek.

This is made easier by Derek avoiding him, but Stiles doesn't want it easy, oh no. He wants the challenge. He wants Derek to come crawling back so Stiles can not-speak to him to his face. And Derek will come back. He will. Probably.

It's been a long week. Stiles has been ranting randomly at random people, talking half in his head and half out loud, and judging by the reactions, only making sense to himself. He shouldn't be taking this so hard. He's used to putting himself out there and getting rejected. He had years to perfect that very thing with Lydia. But this time it feels different because—because Lydia never gave him any hope. She never touched his face and looked at him like he's the only person on Earth that matters. She never climbed into his bed and made herself at home. She never leaked her feelings into his chest.

She never—almost ran him off the road with her Camaro.

"What the fuck?" Stiles says, undoing his seatbelt and stepping out of the jeep. "You're trying to kill me now? What the hell was that?"

Derek leaves his car door open to stalk towards Stiles menacingly.

"Are we in a western? Is this you trying to run me out of town? Because my dad is the sheriff of this lovely little town, so I get to stay. You take your pack and leave if you want."

Derek stops in front of him, looking confused. "You're my pack."

"That makes it complicated, yes. But this is all your fault, so you deal with that." Stiles hides his hands in his pockets. He's not craving Derek's touch. That's not a thing Stiles does. His life is not a cheap romance novel; he would get way more sex if it were.

"I wanted to talk to you," Derek says. "I tried to get your attention. You didn't see me."

Stiles shrugs. "All right. Talk."

Derek looks nervous all of a sudden, but also determined. He rubs his palms against his jeans and widens his stance. "I shouldn't have left the way I did that night. But I think—the bond is confusing you. You're young, and I know being needed is—you're a compassionate person. I understand how you would feel—"

Stiles doesn't punch him, and that's all the courtesy Derek is getting out of him today. "If you don't want me, just man up and say it. I don't need an out and I don't need the sugar-coating, which, frankly, it's insulting, and if you think I'm going to guilt-trip you into a relationship, I don't know who you've been bonded to all this time but—"

Derek crowds him against the jeep. "You think I don't want you?" he asks, his voice low and dangerous.

Stiles tries to suppress a shiver. He fails. "What else am I supposed to think?"

Derek rubs their noses together and then takes Stiles lips with his, hard and wet and possessive, stealing Stiles' breath right out of his chest. "I want you," he says. Stiles feels the words go down his spine and all the way to his toes. "I want to own you, and keep you, and never let you go."

Stiles grabs Derek's neck to hold them as close as humanly possible and nods. "Okay."

Derek lets out a bitter chuckle. "That's nowhere near okay," he says. "It's too much. I'm enough of a parasite as it is. I took too much from you already."

"The bond isn't too much," Stiles says, trying to shake off the dizziness having Derek all over him is causing after a week without. "It's complicated, yes, but it—it goes both ways. You ground me as much as I ground you and—and that's not even about... this, not really. It works as friends. We weren't even friends and the bond worked. I'm the one who wants it to be more. That's not... too much. That's... just what it is."

Derek doesn't look convinced. "You remember the witches?" he asks.

Stiles frowns. "Yeah?"

"Do you know how I found you?"

Stiles shakes his head. He has no idea where this is going.

"I followed your heartbeat. I can hear your heartbeat anywhere. I keep track of it. I don't know when it started, but now it's there all the time." He pauses, looks into Stiles' eyes as if daring him. "Still think this isn't too much?"

"Maybe it is," Stiles says, suddenly acutely aware of his madly beating heart. "You think that'll make me back down? Date a nice boy from school instead? Does that sound like me?" He closes the tiny gap between their lips and sucks Derek's bottom lip into his mouth. "I know you. I know us. I know how complicated this is. I still want it. What do you have to say for that?"

What Derek has to say turns out to be pretty much completely non-verbal. He wraps his hands around Stiles' thighs, lifts him up and pushes him against the jeep, grinding their hips together. Their lips lock in a wet, sloppy, filthy kiss. No finesse whatsoever. But it's so perfect as it is, Stiles wants to laugh and weep at the same time.

Their bodies are comfortable together, fitting in all the right places, moving in sync even though they've never done this before. Breaking the kiss Stiles gasps for breath, and Derek moves down his neck, sucking his way to Stiles' collarbone. Stiles' hands scrabble for skin, pushing the jacket back in a futile attempt to get Derek naked by the side of the road... which is where they are... and also where his dad's car is... right next to them.

Stiles pulls back, Derek going with him until Stiles clears his throat and says, "Dad. Hi."

Derek drops him like a hot potato. He moves to turn around but Stiles grabs the collar of his leather jacket to keep him where he is, blocking the view to... things his father really doesn't need to see.

"Stiles," his dad says dangerously. "I feel like we need to have a conversation about the definition of the word platonic."

Stiles hides his swollen lips in Derek's shoulder. "No. No. No need. I didn't lie. You actually interrupted our first kiss."

"Second," Derek corrects him.

Stiles pulls back from his shoulder to glare at him. "Really? We're counting the one where I kissed you and you jumped out of a window?"

"That didn't look like a first kiss," his dad comments.

"Yeah, well," Stiles says. He's having trouble looking away from Derek's eyes. "It was a long time coming."

His dad sighs long-sufferingly. "Just, for god's sake, not by the side of a main road."

"You mean get a room?" Stiles asks, and wow, that's a glare he hadn't seen in a while. "Don't get a room?"

"Stop making out in public. Derek, you're coming to breakfast tomorrow morning—and no, that's not an invitation for you to stay over. Stiles, we'll talk later."

They don't move even after he drives away.

"He's actually working the night shift tonight," Stiles says. "And yes, that is an invitation for you to stay over."

Derek kisses his lips, once, softly, promising, and smiles.

- 7 -

The next morning, his dad barges in without knocking, which is a very parent thing to do and definitely something Stiles expected. That's why he and Derek are both dressed and lying over the covers. The picture they paint is probably sickening, yes, there might be handholding involved, but is it deserving of parental scorn? Not at all.

"Breakfast is ready," his dad says and leaves the door open on his way out.

Stiles stretches in Derek's arms and lets Derek nuzzle his neck before he can bring himself to get up and head to the bathroom. "You go on down," he says, thinking his dad doesn't have any wolfsbane bullets if worse came to worst.

When he makes his way downstairs five minutes later, a conversation he would much rather skip seems to be in progress, so he lingers in the doorway, listening.

"So this is a thing now," his dad says and pauses, probably waiting for confirmation. "Is it a serious thing?"

"Very," Derek says.

"Do I need to give you the talk?" his dad says, and Stiles almost chokes on his tongue. Something similar must be happening with Derek because his dad sighs and says, "Not the safe sex talk. The safe life talk. Where my son doesn't get hurt on your watch."

Derek's voice is so low, Stiles has to strain to hear it. "I'll die before I let anything happen to him. And I'm very hard to kill."

"Good," his dad says, clinking silverware signaling the end of torture. "Jam?"

Stiles walks into the kitchen on wobbly, baby-deer legs. Derek doesn't meet his eyes as Stiles takes the chair next to his, busies himself with filling Stiles' empty plate with pancakes and bacon instead, surprisingly domestic.

"Thank you," Stiles says.

Their eyes catch, and hold. Derek looks way too serious for pancakes.

"Too much?" Derek asks softly.

"Nope," Stiles says, and kisses his cheek.