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Fight or Flight (or Freeze)

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The first time it happens is during an argument.

The fact that it occurs while they're having an argument isn't actually all that surprising, to be completely honest. No, what really short circuits Stiles's brain is the fact that it happens at all.

They're in the lobby of Deaton's clinic, well past midnight. Scott is passed out in the back, being tended to by the put-upon looking veterinarian, who is grumbling under his breath about inconsiderate werewolves who can't stick to a 9-5 schedule like normal human beings. Lydia and Jackson are God knows where, probably making out in a tree or something, and Stiles is definitely not bitter about that. Isaac, meanwhile, is driving Boyd and Erica home after their harrowing rescue from the alpha pack—and just thinking about how close to death they came is what sets Stiles off. Under normal circumstances, he'd be content to let Scott get mad about this, but seeing as how his best friend is currently incapacitated with some sort of wolfsbane fever, Stiles resolves to shoulder the burden himself and risk his own life—yet again—facing Derek Hale's wrath.

“A freaking alpha pack?” Stiles is shouting.

Derek glares in the general direction of the door, away from Stiles. “Did you not hear me the first time?”

“Really? And when was the first time? Because if it was two months ago like it should have been, then I guess that no, you must have said it too quietly for Scott to hear. Oh wait—werewolf hearing!”

“You didn't need to know,” Derek grits out.

“Oh, you're right, how silly of me,” Stiles says. “Just like we didn't need to know that Boyd and Erica had been kidnapped—”

“I didn't know about that either!” Derek is inches away now, teeth bared in a snarl, though his face is still human. “I thought they left me!”

Under ordinary circumstances, Stiles would probably back down at this point, hold out his hands and say something placating in an attempt to avoid getting eaten. But Scott is injured and in pain, and if Stiles doesn't say something then who will? “I know you and Scott are sort of on the outs right now, but that's kind of important information that you should be sharing with the rest of the class!”

“Right, because Scott loves talking to me so much.”

Stiles tries to scoff, but it comes out as a gulp. “Maybe if you didn't have crippling information-sharing issues then we could have avoided this whole 'avoiding-you' thing!”

“Maybe I would have if he hadn't avoided me in the first place!” Derek shouts back, hackles rising.

“Did you ever stop to think that there's a reason people don't like hanging around you? Aside from your winning personality, I mean.”

“Like you're one to talk,” Derek hisses.

Stiles throws his arms wide. “Well, Scott likes me better than you at least, so I must be doing something right!”

“Congratulations, the one thing you're good at!”

Stiles jabs him in the chest with an accusing finger before he can stop himself. “Again! Better than you!”

Derek moves, and Stiles expects Derek to hit him, or shove him, or throw him against the wall. He does not expect to have two rough hands seize his head, or for Derek's mouth to press suddenly against his own. The kiss is firm, pushy, demanding; not quite forceful, but not willing to back down. He can feel Derek's mouth working over his, the scratch of stubble on his cheek, the bite of nails digging into his skin, and something in his brain breaks.

Stiles freezes. He wishes he had a better reaction, something closer to Huh? or Oh my God, what? but alas. It helps to know his body has an alternative to the normal fight-or-flight response, at least, though he's not sure when freeze would ever be useful in a life-or-death situation.

After what feels like an eternity, but is probably only six or seven seconds, tops, Derek pulls back and just stares; he looks, if anything, even more surprised than Stiles. Stiles's gaze darts from his lips to his eyes, but other than that minor involuntary twitch he's still frozen in shock.

Apparently freeze is just as good a reaction as fight or flight, because just like that Derek is gone, the door jingling shut behind him.

“Stiles?” Scott calls out groggily from the back room. Stiles comes back to himself, thaws out and stumbles over to check on his best friend.

“Hey, Scott, buddy, I'm here,” Stiles says. His mouth feels numb, like he's not quite sure how to work it.

Scott clasps his hand. “Boyd and Erica?” Scott wants to know.

“They're fine,” Stiles says, still trying to regain proper control of his jaw.

Scott smiles sleepily, and doesn't ask about Derek; so Stiles doesn't say anything at all.

Four days go by before he sees Derek again.

Four days is actually a really long time, especially in the summer when there's no school to distract him, so Stiles has had a lot of time to think about what happened. Or rather, what he imagines must have happened, because there's no way that Derek Hale actually kissed him in the middle of a shouting match.

Stiles is still trying to decide how he feels about that, by the way. Or rather, he would be, if it had actually happened. Because if it had happened, he would, hypothetically speaking, be awash in confusion, and that's just not a place he wants to be right now. He's still reeling from all the other emotional shocks in his life since his brilliant idea to look for half a dead body in the woods at night took a rather unexpected turn. He's not sure what one more emotional twist would even do to him. Fortunately, it's a simple solution: since he isn't feeling particularly confused, he reasons that it definitely must not have happened, which means he doesn't need to think about it, which means he doesn't need to get confused about it.

Stiles is well aware of what denial is, thank you very much.

So it's been four days by the time he and Scott, now fully recovered from that particularly nasty bout of wolfsbane poisoning, show up at the abandoned train depot that Derek has taken to calling home.

“We're here for Boyd and Erica,” Scott says before Derek can say anything. Derek nods and lets them in.

Stiles hangs around the edge of the room and tries not to be too conspicuous. He's not really sure what to say, because asking Hey, remember that time when you attacked my face with your face? is just not the sort of thing you can bring up in polite company. Although with Peter present, Stiles is hard pressed to call this sort of company “polite.”

Considering that Derek largely ignores the two of them for the rest of the encounter, barely even acknowledging their presence in what passes for his home, Stiles happily concludes that either he really did imagine that kiss, or that Derek must have also decided that it didn't happen. Satisfied that they're on the same page, at least, Stiles crosses it off of his list of things to worry about.

The second time is while Stiles is celebrating his first lacrosse victory.

It's been two weeks since the start of school; three weeks and two days since Derek Hale didn't kiss him in the lobby of the veterinarian's office. Stiles has passed that time feeling increasingly anxious about his newly acquired role as team captain, despite the fact that half his team consists of werewolves who will no doubt net him an easy victory regardless of how well he manages them once the whistle blows. He likes to believe he got the job on his own merits, and not because Jackson just up and left on some sort of journey of self discovery, abandoning both his coveted position on the team and also his incredibly amazing girlfriend. Stiles isn't exactly unhappy about Jackson being gone, but ever since he left Lydia's been walking around the school with her mouth drawn into a tight line, and Stiles desperately wants to give her a reason to smile again, if only for a moment. He's accepted that she'll never love him the way she loves Jackson, but that doesn't mean he's over her, doesn't mean he'll ever stop loving her at least a little bit. Right now she's going through the same heartbreak he's been dealing with his entire life; if winning the game is the only thing Stiles can ever give to her, then by God, he's going to do it.

He's seen Derek a few times since then, sometimes with Scott, sometimes without, mostly to discuss what they've managed to glean about the alpha pack from Boyd and Erica's shaky remembrances; but neither one of them has acknowledged whatever didn't happen that night when the betas were rescued, so Stiles hasn't really thought about it much.

Really. He doesn't even like Derek.

But then it's the night of their first game, and by halftime Stiles has only scored once but they're still ahead by three points. And then the clock is ticking down, and Danny has just stopped the other team from scoring, and Lydia is cheering and clapping, and Stiles has just made the best call of his life by passing to Scott and letting him score the winning goal—and then the buzzer is sounding and the crowd is rushing onto the field. Lydia beams at him before turning to hug Danny, and the two of them look so happy for the first time in weeks that Stiles can't help but smile himself at the sight. He turns around, hoping to share the moment with Scott, or his Dad, but all he sees is Derek, watching him from the sidelines like a lurking thing.

Stiles can't help himself, he's too busy riding the high of victory. He grins and waves.

And suddenly, silently, Derek is there, one hand cupping his chin, lips pressed against his own in the gentlest kiss imaginable. It's like the barest brush of a feather. Stiles doesn't freeze this time; he scarcely has time to even register the touch when Derek has disappeared again, melting back into the crowd as if he had never been there at all, and leaving Stiles's lips tingling with the sensation.

“We did it!” Scott shouts from nowhere at all, clapping him on the shoulder. The crowd around him surges back into existence with a roar. Stiles turns around just in time to see Isaac lift Scott up and twirl him around, laughing. Some part of him feels irrationally jealous, but he doesn't want to spoil the moment, so he decides to ignore it.

Stiles lets himself run a cautious finger along his lower lip, and tries not to think too hard about how he's getting rather good at ignoring things.

“Hey, Scott?” Stiles asks at lunch on Monday.

“Yeah?” Scott says, glancing up from copying Stiles's Spanish homework.

“So you and Allison are still broken up, right?” Scott makes a face, but Stiles keeps talking. “But do you ever, like, surprise kiss her?”

“What?” Scott asks, brows furrowed in confusion and horror. “Dude, no, that'd be wrong. And kind of creepy.”

“Right.” Stiles sighs, and resolves not to dwell on just how much sense that makes.

The third time never actually happens at all. You'd think, given Stiles's propensity for ignoring problems until they go away, that that was just more denial talking, but no.

Ironically, this is the one that Stiles can't bring himself to ignore.

It's late, and a school night, and Stiles should really be researching, or doing homework. Instead, he commits himself to a plan, sends a carefully worded text message, and settles down to play Minecraft.

Twenty minutes later Derek stalks into his room and says without preamble, “What did you find on the wolfsbane they used?”

Stiles is immediately sidetracked. “Hey, I left the window open for you,” he says, gesturing with his thumb.

“Your front door was unlocked.” Derek leans back against the bookcase. “Well?”

“You can't come in the front door,” Stiles says stupidly. “What if someone sees you?”

Derek arches an eyebrow. “How do you think I usually get in here?”

Stiles resolves to start locking the front door more often and switches the subject. “Hey, are we gonna talk about that thing?”

Derek stares him down.

“…No? All right then.” Stiles turns around and glares at his computer. He wonders what happened to his spine, and whether his dad's insurance will cover the transplant he so obviously needs. “So wolfsbane. It's a plant. Bad for werewolves, side effects include headaches, dizziness, nausea…”

“Stiles,” Derek huffs. “What kind did the alphas use?”

“I'm not Lydia,” he says, whirling the chair around again. “Ask her, she's the expert. And you know what, wolfsbane? Kind of dangerous for humans too, if you didn't already know.”

“Why am I here then?” says Derek.

“Because,” Stiles grits out. “We're going to talk. About that thing.”

Derek falls silent again, and no, Stiles has seen this movie, they are not going down that road.

“About how you kissed me?” he asks, out loud. “Twice?”

Derek still doesn't say anything. Stiles wonders if he's not the only one with a fight-or-flight-or-freeze reflex.

“I know we have this silent pact to avoid talking about it,” he says, lifting a pencil off of his desk and fiddling with it. “But I have been informed by an undisclosed source that this is kind of creepy. In the interest of my future sanity, and my desire to cut down on my future therapy bill, I think we should talk about it. The kissing, I mean, not my future therapy. Preferably now, while I am young and better able to heal from emotional scarring, instead of in the future, when I will have to pay for it.”

Two minutes pass. Finally, Derek relaxes just a tiny bit. “Okay.”

Another minute goes by. Stiles has no idea what to do now that the ball is back in his court. He taps the pencil against the knuckles of his other hand. “So…” he starts, hoping that Derek's usual way with words will buy him some time before he has to speak again.

Fortunately he's spared having to come up with a witty remark when Derek crosses the room and smoothly disentangles the pencil from Stiles's fingers. He places it on the desk without looking, reaching over and into Stiles's space to drop it out of sight, while never taking his eyes off the boy in front of him.

“Yes?” Derek says quietly, and there's a huskiness to his voice that causes a shiver down Stiles's spine.

Stiles knows werewolves can smell subtle differences in human emotions, and he wonders briefly what he must smell like to an alpha, to a born werewolf who's had his entire life to memorize the distinct flavors of the olfactory-emotional spectrum. He'd really love it if Derek could tell him, because he hasn't the faintest idea himself.

Derek places a hand on Stiles's neck, his other hand still resting against the desk. The warmth of his palm against Stiles's skin helps him avoid freezing this time. He knows what's coming now, and braces himself for it, trying not to tremble as he stares up at Derek's unrelenting eyes.

Derek leans in, slowly, excruciatingly slowly, eyes fixed on Stiles's mouth. Stiles holds his breath, because he's ready this time, he's prepared for it. But then Derek stops, mere inches away, his breath ghosting across Stiles's lips. The tip of his tongue darts out; he lets his gaze flick up to lock onto Stiles's eyes, and there's a question there, only Stiles has no idea what it is, never mind what the answer might be.

And then Derek backs off and is walking out, walking away from Stiles. He makes it a point to use the door.

Stiles doesn't know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't that. He feels almost offended. “Nice talking to you too,” he says to the empty room.

He's so practiced at pretending those first two kisses didn't happen that it takes him a while to convince himself that nothing happened here. He's a little disappointed, in fact, but he tells himself it's just because Derek's messed with the natural symmetry of his insanity by not fully committing to his actions, and not because Stiles was hoping for just a little bit more.

“Do you want to see a movie on Friday?” Lydia asks a week later, and Stiles instantly and literally drops everything.

Yes. Yes! Yes, I would love to go to a movie with you,” he says, perfectly calm and collected, as three textbooks clatter to the ground and fifty odd sheets of paper go flying in every direction.

“Great,” Lydia says, ignoring the mess of papers strewn about the hallway. The other students take their cue from her and keep walking, eyes straight ahead.

“Oh, but wait, Friday's a full moon,” Stiles says. “It's kind of risky with the, you know, alphas on the prowl. How about Saturday?”

“Hmm, no,” Lydia says without really giving it any thought, and Stiles suddenly realizes that she's reading from a script inside her head, that he's playing right into her perfect hands. “Why don't you just bring Scott? I'm sure he can protect us.”

“You want me to bring a werewolf to the movies with us on a full moon?” Stiles asks, helpless to do anything but read the lines on the cue cards.

Lydia smiles wickedly. “Well, when you put it that way, I'll just have to bring Allison along in case he tries anything.”

“I… don't think they'll go for that,” Stiles begs.

“Well, then we'd better just not tell them about it, don't you think?” There's a twinkle in her eye, a goddamned vicious evil twinkle.

“I'm getting the feeling this trip to the movies isn't about the two of us,” he says cautiously.

“No, it's not,” she says sweetly, like she's very impressed with his ability to add two and two. “But your idea to bring Scott and Allison along is a much better plan,” and then leaves him to clean up the mess he's made of the hallway, and his life in general.

Scott ruins everything by inviting Isaac.

“It's just so I have someone to talk to,” he explains with a shrug. “I don't want to be a third wheel.”

Stiles instantly blames the rest of the night on Isaac and all that he stands for.

As far as Lydia is concerned though, the one to blame is Stiles. She doesn't seem to care that it's Scott's fault that nothing ever goes according to plan; instead she spends the entire movie glaring at Stiles, nails dug into his arm as if to say “He's your friend, why can't you control him?” Isaac has situated himself between Stiles and Scott, ostensibly to put some distance between him and Allison on Lydia's other side, but Stiles knows that he himself is a factor in that equation, just as surely as he knows the popcorn is overpriced and the previews are way too long. Scott and Allison, for their part, spend the movie leaning forward in their seats every couple of minutes to steal glances at each other, while pretending they're actually extremely taken with the fascinating architecture of the cinema.

Stiles finds himself wishing desperately that Derek would show up, teleport out of the darkness just to loom and give him something else to focus on. The dark, shrouded halls of the multiplex are exactly his sort of haunt, come to think of it. You could get up to a lot of mischief there…

Stiles hastily abandons that line of thought and chooses to focus instead on the most recent explosion on the screen because, hello! Still ignoring it.

Although stuff blowing up is a fitting metaphor for pretty much every aspect of his life lately.

After the movie has ended and everyone has left the dreaded theatre—except Isaac, who has these weird ideas about staying through the credits—Lydia wastes no time in grabbing Allison's arm and hauling her off to the bathroom, no doubt to discuss in detail Stiles's many failings as a human being.

Scott gives him an apologetic look. “I'm sorry,” he says. “I didn't know Lydia was going to try to set us up again.”

“Well, most people don't know what's going through that evil head of hers,” Stiles says magnanimously. “Maybe Peter, but I don't plan on asking him.”

Scott looks at his watch. “We should go soon. Full moon's coming.” He sneaks a longing glance at the bathroom, then back to the theatre door with a sigh.

“Go,” Stiles waves him off. “I'll get Isaac. We'll meet you in the lobby.”

“You're a lifesaver,” Scott says, and rushes off. Stiles shakes his head and journeys inside to look for the other wolfy member of their party.

Inside, the excessively long credits are still rolling, but the theatre is empty.

Stiles frowns. Maybe Isaac already left? The door to the right of the screen is slightly ajar, the soft glow of the word EXIT pointing the only direction he could have gone. Stiles can't think why, though. The full moon doesn't peak for another couple of hours. They still have plenty of time.

He cautiously pokes his head through the doorway into the alley behind the theatre. “Isaac? You there?” A pair of red eyes flashes in the darkness. “Derek?” he squeaks hopefully, but his luck is not that good. He's hauled into the alley before he can duck back into the relative safety of the theatre and thrown bodily across the ground. The palm of his hand skids across the cement, and it grates that this is probably not the most painful thing that will happen to him tonight.

There are two of them, red-eyed silhouettes lurking over him and grinning, teeth and claws glinting in the moonlight that's reflected back here from the street. Stiles hears a whimper, and glances over to see Isaac huddled against the wall, cradling his arm, which is hanging at a sickeningly funny angle. His eyes have gone feral, his face completely wolfed out, and he's breathing heavily, and Stiles just knows that he's fighting for control, that the alphas have done something to him, and now there are three werewolves who might kill him tonight.

Well. At least he's got some variety in his choice of death.

He feels the beginnings of panic start to set in and tries to fight it off. His body tenses in preparation for fight-or-flight (freeze, fortunately, seems to be off the table for tonight), and he manages to stand, shakily, fully aware that the alphas are toying with him, taking their time and enjoying the show.

He remembers suddenly that Scott can probably hear his panicked heartbeat, and his entire body chills when he realizes that that's exactly what the alphas want, they want Scott to come running right where they can do to him whatever they did to Isaac. Some part of Stiles still finds it in him to resent the fact that he rates at the same level on the important-to-Scott scale as Isaac-whose-fault-this-entire-night-is, and he focuses on that, using the bitterness to steady himself and avoid a full-blown panic attack.

“Hey, fellas,” he says. “Nice alley you've got here. Great place to meet underage boys on a Friday night. Not suspicious at all.”

One of them, the shorter one, rolls his shoulders and chuckles. “Oh, he's got a mouth on him,” the alpha mocks. “Can I rip it a little wider?”

The other alpha, a woman, grins—it's too dark to make out her expression, but Stiles can tell by the shine of her fangs. “Maybe later,” she says, and it sounds like an evil purr. “Maybe I'd like to take a bite, first.” And oh, there's that freeze reflex kicking in.

“Probably not your best decision,” Stiles manages to say. “I wouldn't taste very good. Too stringy.” They've backed him against the wall now, completely ignoring Isaac, who's whimpering and attempting to crawl away on one elbow—so one crisis semi-averted at least. “Also, very high in cholesterol. Have you ever considered the benefits of a vegan diet?”

The first blow catches him in the side. He gasps, all the air knocked out of him, and slumps back against the wall. The second blow is when the claws come out. They glance off his temple, leaving a shallow scratch that nonetheless has blood dripping wet and hot down his face. Stiles winces away from the sting of it but he can't run, has nowhere to go. The third blow lands on his middle, somewhere in the vicinity of his kidney—and Stiles doesn't have time to appreciate the fact that he has a spare because he's distracted by the sudden and agonizing pain that accompanies it.

They're not asking him anything, not interrogating or demanding or threatening, and Stiles recognizes this feeling, knows exactly how helpless he is, and can't help the flashback to a cold basement where Boyd and Erica watched him in another losing battle. It's like he's drowning, and Scott's not here, there's no one coming to save him, he's going to die alone in a dingy alley, ripped into too many pieces for a proper coffin, and his dad will have to bury him in the grave that Isaac's been digging for him all along.

He's starting to hyperventilate, he realizes through the pain.

Another long and bloody scratch appears down his arm, and he ignores the pain, focuses on his dad. He thinks about Scott, and Lydia, and how he really, really doesn't want to die.

So he fights.

He starts with a kick, lashing out and managing to knee the female alpha right in the groin. She grunts, and he's relieved to note that women do not have a magical shield that makes them impervious to pain in that area. He shoves her away, and it's probably only the fact that he has surprise on his side that lets him get away with it, because she stumbles back, giving him some much-needed clearance.

His body has apparently decided that it's had enough of fight and resolves to flee. He's almost made it to the mouth of the alley when the other alpha grabs him, spins him around and pins him to the wall with an arm against his throat.

“I've changed my mind,” the woman says, stalking over angrily. “Let's just kill him.”

A third pair of red eyes appears behind them.

“Oh my God,” Stiles moans, and both alphas turn their heads in almost cartoonish fashion to follow his gaze. Stiles immediately ducks out of the alpha's now-slackened grip. He throws his hands up around his head in classic earthquake-safety position, and just in time, too, because going by the truly ferocious growl that rattles his bones a split second later, Derek is very much not happy.

The male alpha is thrown against the wall above him with enough force to knock a few stones loose. He snarls as he lands, turning instantly to launch himself at Derek, who's knifing the female alpha's face with his claws. She responds by grabbing his other arm and burying her teeth in it with a sickening squelch. The short alpha, meanwhile, has landed on Derek's back and begun to rip away at the flesh there, spattering blood in every direction. Derek grunts and heaves, flipping the woman over and into her partner in a move that looks just as ridiculous as it sounds. There's a crunch of bone as the two collide and land in a tangled heap at the mouth of the alley, drops of red streaming down every inch of their skin.

Stiles reflects that he really needs to cut back on the number of sociopaths in his inner circle.

The woman stands and puts the back of her now-human hand to her lip, a tiny smile playing on her face. “Well. Nice to see you've got some bite, even if it's still fairly lacking compared to your bark.” The other alpha limps to his feet beside her.

“You know someone will call the cops soon,” Derek tells her.

“Ah yes. Police. The only thing we fear.” She snorts, but backs away nonetheless. “Another time perhaps, Derek. We might have to… reconsider our offer.” She spreads her hands in a mock bow, and the two of them leap out of sight.

Derek waits a moment, hands clenching and unclenching, and Stiles wonders if this is a full moon thing, or if Derek is just more pissed off than usual. Then he's turning around and staring down at Stiles, who's let himself sag against the wall, all the fight drained out of him.

“You should go,” Derek says tiredly. His eyes are still red.

As is the rest of him, actually. He really is losing quite a lot of blood. Stiles remembers that wounds inflicted by an alpha don't heal as quickly as other wounds, and realizes with a sinking feeling that Derek is just barely standing despite looking like he's lost a fight with a particularly nasty blender. He has no idea how far Derek will make it before he collapses in plain sight of normal law-abiding citizens, but decides it might be better not to risk having to explain that to his dad.

“Uhh, dude, are you okay?” he asks, trying to broach the subject in a roundabout way.

Derek doesn't say anything, which, well, that doesn't mean he's not okay.

Still… “You look like you took rock-papers-scissors to its logical and bloody conclusion,” he says, and Derek huffs at that, looking Stiles up and down with his eyebrows raised.

He's got a point, but Stiles doesn't want to think about how he must look. “I gotta check on Scott,” he says, climbing shakily to his feet, one hand on the wall to steady himself. “And I guess we should make sure Isaac isn't dead,” he allows.

“Scott's fine,” Derek says, eyeing Stiles warily, like he's the one who's in danger of being mistaken for a serial killer. “How do you think I knew to show up?”

Stiles frowns. “Well, I'm glad he decided not to risk his life for me.”

“Stiles!” Allison's voice calls out suddenly. Derek takes a step back, and Stiles is startled when he realizes just how close they were standing a second ago. “Scott, I found them!” she comes running into the alley, very large knife at the ready.

“Do you just carry that everywhere?” Stiles asks.

Just then Scott shows up, racing down the alley to Stiles's side. “Stiles! What happened?”

Stiles is about to give a scathing reply, but softens at the sight of Scott, who's looking nearly as beat up and bloody as Derek. “I could say the same,” he says instead. Derek stalks to the other side of the alley, watches Allison warily as she kneels down to check on Isaac.

Scott reaches out, but then decides touching Stiles might be too risky given his current condition. “The alpha pack showed up. Two of them cornered us in the bathroom. Allison and I held them off, but we couldn't get to you. Are you— Did they…?”

Stiles shakes his head, and Oh God, why does that hurt so much? “Oh this? Nah, just a friendly chat with some werewolves. You know, the usual.”

Scott gives him a weak smile, placing one hand on his shoulder. Stiles feels a rush of relief at the touch, only to glance down and see inky black racing up Scott's veins as he leeches the pain away. “Oh. Thanks,” is all he can think to say. He really does feel a lot better, actually. He's only got a few cuts and scrapes, nothing too serious—he'll just tell his dad he walked into the kitchen cabinets again.

There's a bruise purpling around Scott's eye, but he looks relieved as Stiles pushes out from the wall and stands under his own power.

“Scott!” Allison calls sharply, still crouched next to Isaac. “There's something wrong with him, he's not changing back.”

“Oh crap,” Scott says, and immediately abandons Stiles to kneel beside his new best friend.

“It's that wolfsbane,” Derek says, one hand on Isaac's shoulder. “They used it on him.”

Scott swears. “You mean that weird wolfsbane they used on me this summer?”

“Will he be okay?” Allison asks doubtfully.

“We need to get him to Deaton,” Scott says, and hauls Isaac up and over his shoulder. He turns to give Stiles a worried look. “The full moon's coming, you two should go home.”

“I have to get Lydia,” Allison says, and stalks off, still wielding the knife. Scott looks like he wants to stop her, but restrains himself.

“No, it's okay, I'll just drive myself home,” Stiles says.

Scott's eyes widen. “What? No, you can't—”

“You can't drive,” Derek cuts in.

Stiles makes a face. “I'm fine. You used your wolfy healing powers.”

“That doesn't heal,” Derek says sternly. “It just eases pain. Like morphine. Which is not something you should be driving under the influence of.”

“Not that I don't appreciate it, but I thought we were going to wait 'til college to start recreational drug use?”

“Just… just wait here,” Scott says desperately. “Derek can take Isaac, I'll drive you home—”

“No,” Derek says sharply. “The moon's almost full. You have a lot of control, but not enough for this.”

Stiles starts to feel a little woozy, and thinks maybe they have a point. “Fine. Then Derek can drive me.”

He's not sure which of the three of them looks more surprised; Isaac chooses to abstain from the contest.

“Derek can drive me,” he says again, more firmly, in stark contrast to how dizzy he feels.

Derek and Scott share a significant glance. “Go!” Derek says, and Scott takes off.

“This is entirely Isaac's fault,” he volunteers as Derek advances on him.

“You are infuriating,” Derek says, gripping the same arm Lydia had dug her claws into earlier, to keep Stiles from what, running away? There's possibly some irony there, given their last few encounters. “Keys,” he says, holding out his other hand.

Stiles fumbles in his pocket with his opposite hand. “You're one to talk,” he says, removing the keys to his baby and slapping them into Derek's outstretched hand. Derek's fingers curl around his own, and the grip on his arm tightens. Stiles chances a look up; Derek's skin is raw, and his bones are creaking, and he's still covered in blood, only some of which is his own, but Stiles can't look away. He's got his hand under Stiles's elbow now, and he looks pained, not from physical hurt, but the same kind of feeling that Stiles has every time his dad goes off to work and he wonders What if today is our last goodbye?

“I don't want to talk,” Derek says finally, his voice low.

Stiles shivers, and not because of the cold. “Talking's really all I'm good at,” he says, for lack of anything better to say.

Derek rests his forehead against Stiles's. “That's not true,” he breathes, eyes closed. He inhales, long and slow, taking in the scent of the boy in front of him.

Stiles swallows nervously. “Seeing as how you look like the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse, and I am currently high on werewolf morphine, maybe now isn't really the best time,” he says, ruefully.

“Probably not,” Derek agrees, and kisses him anyway.

The fourth time is the one where Stiles kisses back, apparently, because he's too tired to worry about denying himself any longer.

This kiss is slow and lingering; Derek presses himself against Stiles, pushing him back against the alley wall, and nips at his lower lip. There's a pleased rumble in the back of his throat that Stiles can feel vibrating all through him. He's being gentle, like he's afraid that any more and Stiles will break, and it's not a battle but Stiles fights him anyway, closing his eyes and parting his lips to take in more of him, letting out a tiny moan when Derek relents and opens his mouth wider. He reaches a hand up and digs it into Derek's hair, feels Derek shudder at the contact, and Stiles suddenly wonders if that whole easing the pain thing works through the mouth, because he's feeling weak in the knees.

“Don't leave,” he says when Derek finally pulls away. “Don't you dare leave this time.”

“You're high. You're not thinking straight,” Derek says. “Neither am I,” he mutters.

“You started this,” Stiles accuses. “All of this. It's your fault.”

Derek doesn't argue.

“Are you guys still here?” Lydia's voice rings out.

Stiles glances over to see her and Allison waiting at the mouth of the alley. “No, we left a while ago. Why do you ask?”

She raises an eyebrow at their tangled position. “Never mind. Forget I said anything,” she says, and turns abruptly to walk away.

Allison rolls her eyes at that. “Be careful, Stiles,” she says, glaring warily at Derek.

“You know me,” he calls out. “Mr. Safety.” She purses her lips but doesn't say anything more, giving him a tiny frown before turning to follow Lydia.

“I need to take you home,” Derek says, glancing up at the sky. He steps back, releasing his hold on Stiles's arms.

“Yeah,” he says, trying to hide his regret. “There's a bad moon on the rise, after all.”

They spend the drive home in silence.

Things go back to normal after that, for given definitions of “normal.” Isaac's arm is broken, shattered in three places. It takes seven days for it to heal, and he has to sit out the next lacrosse game, which they end up losing because Stiles's weak human body is still recovering from his comparatively minor cuts and bruises. Even Scott's too fretful to play properly, probably because after three days Allison finally admits that she's in pain and submits to a checkup from Scott's mom, who puts her in an ankle brace and tells her to please try not to fix her own dislocated shoulder the next time she feels like fighting the things that go bump in the night.

Stiles's dad doesn't even blink at his tale of losing an epic battle with a vicious cupboard door, just sighs and tells him not to pick any fights he knows he can't win. He says it with an exasperated smile, but there's a tightness around his mouth that belies his words. Stiles wonders how long he's been lying to his dad that they've both gotten used to it.

And somehow, in a surprising move to make matters worse, Danny is suddenly everywhere. Stiles has no idea what Lydia's told him, but lately he always manages to be around when Stiles just wants to be alone, all full of concerned smiles and offering to set him up with any number of persons whose gender he carefully avoids specifying. It's not that Stiles doesn't like him—seriously, who doesn't like Danny?—but he's already fighting a losing battle with Isaac over his best friend, and he doesn't need someone else to infringe on what little time he's allotted to maintain his existing relationships. It must be Lydia who put him up to it, and Stiles tries to console himself with the knowledge that she does care about him, even if her first response is to try to ruin his life again, even if he finds he doesn't really crave her approval the way he used to.

On top of that, Derek's lurking has taken a sharp decrease in frequency. Lately Stiles only catches a glimpse of him when one of the betas is nearby, as though he needs an excuse to stare hungrily into the distance. Stiles blames their second humiliating lacrosse defeat in part on the rogue alpha, fuming silently that there was no way to concentrate with Derek's eyes on him the entire game, only to avert his gaze every time Stiles tried to make eye contact. Another part of his brain is clearly still in denial about it, since it firmly seems to believe that he'd be absolutely crushed if Derek hadn't shown at all.

He hates that that part of his brain is right.

Danny finally gives up his attempts at matchmaking after two weeks, right after Jackson makes a surprise reappearance from wherever he went swanning off to. Stiles is surprised to find that he's kind of grateful that Lydia is suddenly around less, too, though he thinks he'd feel a little less judged if Allison would stop drawing her mouth into a tight line every time she sees him. He's taken to throwing Scott at her whenever she tries to approach him, which works as a distraction technique far more often than it probably should.

He doesn't really know how to react, though, when Boyd and Erica sit down on either side of him at lunch one day and stare, chins propped on their hands.

“Whatever it is you're about to say, I have sworn testimony from three different witnesses that I was not involved in it,” he starts, but Erica cuts him off.

“Stop talking,” she says, placing a clawed finger on his lips. Stiles defiantly pops a French fry around her finger and into his mouth. It tastes like nail polish.

“We just wanted to say thank you,” Boyd says, reaching over and gripping the back of his neck in what is probably supposed to be a friendly squeeze. Stiles instantly tenses.

“For what?” he squeaks. “And you're welcome.”

“No idea,” Erica says with a slow smile. “But whatever it is, it's got Allison pissed. And I'm generally in favor of things that upset her.”

“She's vindictive like that,” Boyd says fondly, and Erica's smile turns instantly soft.

Stiles glances back and forth between them, realization dawning. “Oh my God, the two of you! How long has this been going on?”

“Long enough,” says Boyd. “At some point you can't really keep it secret anymore.” They walk away hand in hand, leaving Stiles to gape and shout after them.

“Oh, like hell you don't know!”

Derek doesn't show up to the next lacrosse game.

Stiles is practically vibrating with frustration after their latest crushing defeat when Isaac, of all people, stalks up to him in the locker room. “Derek wasn't here tonight,” he says, like Stiles wouldn't have noticed.

Stiles settles on a defensive tactic. “So? Is that supposed to be my fault?” he asks acidly.

Isaac reels back, startled. “What? Why would it be your fault?” he says, bringing the biggest puppy dog eyes in the history of man or wolf to bear.

Stiles instantly forgives him for being a horrible, friend-stealing bastard. “No reason.”

Isaac gives him the side-eye but doesn't have the chance to inquire thanks to the timely interruption of Scott. “Guys,” he says, face paling. “I just got a text from Derek.”

Isaac snaps to attention. “What? What did he say?”

Scott holds out his phone to let Isaac read it. “He said he's got a plan to take down the alpha pack, and wants me to meet him at his house, alone.”

Isaac raises an eyebrow. “He asked you, specifically? But not me or Boyd or Erica?”

“Well, I mean, it's a trap,” Scott says, then turns to Stiles. “Right? It's gotta be a trap.”

Stiles nods tiredly. “Yeah, sounds like a trap to me.” He is not at all relieved that Derek had a legitimate reason to miss the game.

That would be wrong.

“So what do we do?” Isaac asks anxiously.

Scott and Stiles share a glance. “Uhh…” Scott says, biting his lip.

“We rescue his sorry ass,” Stiles says, shooting to his feet, suddenly filled with a renewed sense of purpose. “Scott, you call Allison's dad, find out if this is hunters, maybe get us some backup.”

“I already did that,” Scott says quietly, while Stiles talks over him.

“Isaac, you round up the other wolves, including Jackson. Tell him no weaseling out of this just because he's been out of town for so long.”

“Jackson left a week ago,” Isaac says.

“Everybody meets at the entrance to the woods in twenty minutes,” continues Stiles. “Because guys? We are going wolf-hunting!”

The symbol of the alpha pack is scratched deep into the wood of the front door. It stares them down, even from where they stand way back in the woods, promising endless nightmares and unimaginable horrors.

“To be fair,” says Isaac, “That could belong to any alpha pack.”

Boyd and Erica shift uncomfortably. “I'm having serious doubts about this plan,” Boyd says.

Stiles closes the wide circle he's been making around the house and brushes mountain ash off his fingers. “Hey, don't run off,” he says, leveling an accusing finger at them. “None of you are even going in the house. You're our backup plan, remember?” He turns to Scott, standing inside the circle with him. “You called Allison's dad?”

Scott nodds. “He'll be here,” he says, then hesitates. “…but Allison's not coming.”

“What a shame,” sneers Erica.

“I wouldn't mind another hunter on our side,” Isaac says warily. He looks down at the circle of mountain ash and frowns. “Is there any reason we can't just… leave them in there?”

“They'll kill Derek,” Scott says. “Why are we even talking about this?”

“What do you care?” Erica says. “You're not in his pack.”

“He helped us at the last full moon,” Scott tells her. “And it doesn't matter anyway! They can't just go around killing people. Someone has to stop them.”

Boyd raises an eyebrow. “And you think you can do that by… talking to them?”

“It's called negotiating,” Stiles says. “That's why I'm going with him. I'm the only one who can break the circle. They're not getting out unless they give up Derek. And don't maim either of us.”

Isaac looks at him quizzically. “No, really. Why are you here?

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I am also in the not-wanting-Derek-to-die camp, okay?”

Scott, of all people, looks surprised. “Really?”

Stiles is still glaring at him when Chris Argent arrives. “This is it?” he asks disdainfully, surveying their ragtag little group.

“Okay, so why is he here?” Boyd asks, edging away from the hunter.

“Derek Hale is currently the lesser of two evils,” Argent says, checking the chamber of his gun.

“This is part of the plan, remember?” Stiles says reassuringly. “When I give the signal, Mr. Argent there breaks the circle so you guys can get in and rescue us.”

“I should be the one going inside,” Argent says crossly. “You're just kids.”

“Oh, that's brilliant,” says Stiles. “Bring a hunter to a werewolf fight. I'm sure they'll be willing to let Derek go if you just ask nicely enough.”

“What's the signal?” Erica wants to know. “Your girly, high-pitched scream?”

Stiles takes offense to that. “It's really more of a manly, high-pitched keening,” he insists.

Argent rolls his eyes and tosses Stiles a small black object. Stiles fumbles in catching it, yelps when he realizes its a freaking taser. “Try not to die,” he says, clearly still miffed at being relegated to backup.

Scott tugs at Stiles's sleeve. “We need to get in there,” he tells him. “I don't like what I'm hearing inside the house.”

“They didn't, uh, hear what we were planning just now, did they?” Stiles asks, shoving the taser into his pocket and trotting to keep up with his friend.

“We were kind of far away,” Scott tells him. “But they know we're here.”

“How many are there?” They stop in front of the door to the house, right in front of the alpha triskele.

“There are five of them inside, aside from Derek,” Scott says, closing his eyes to concentrate.

Stiles takes a bold step forward. “This is a terrible idea,” he says.

Scott shrugs. “You're the one who thought of it,” he points out, and opens the door.

Inside, three alphas are lounging in the charred remains of Derek's childhood home. Stiles recognizes the two alphas who attacked them at the movie theatre, the tall woman and the short, skinny man, playing cards closest to the door. The third alpha is a stocky man with a beard, leaning against the wall next to Derek—who's slumped over on the floor, eyes closed and breathing heavily, face gone full wolf. He's visibly shaking, and Stiles doesn't miss the way Scott's nose twitches—there's wolfsbane in the air.

“Scott!” the woman says brightly, looking up from her game of gin. “How nice of you to come. Glad you got our invitation. Although—” She's on her feet in an instant, looming over Stiles and eyes flashing red. “I don't remember you saying plus one when you RSVP'd.”

“We're here to negotiate,” Scott says, reaching out to place a calming hand on Stiles's wrist. Stiles forces himself to breathe more slowly, tries to calm the frantic beating of his heart.

The alpha with the beard chuckles. “Negotiate, that's cute.”

“This whole house is surrounded by mountain ash,” Stiles says. He rips his gaze away from one murderous werewolf only for it to land on another. He looks to the floor and decides to spend the rest of the conversation staring at Derek's knees. “No one's getting in or out.”

“We want an exchange,” Scott finishes for him.

The short alpha stands slowly and stretches. “Mountain ash?” he asks. “Now isn't that clever. But really, what's a little mountain ash between friends? Or better yet,” he bares his fangs, “Between pack?”

“I'm not your pack,” says Scott.

“Not yet,” the female alpha says. She gives him a fond smile. “You know, we came here for Derek, originally. But he doesn't really play well with others, if you haven't noticed. But you, Scott. You really are an alpha of your own, aren't you? Don't think we haven't noticed.” She grabs his hand in a flash, pulls him across the room to stand beside Derek. “It's fascinating,” she whispers in his ear. “An alpha in name but not in power. But not for long.” She digs her nails into his jaw and forces his face down to look at Derek, who stirs but still doesn't give any indication that he can move under his own power. “We're giving you a gift, Scott, to welcome you to our pack.”

“He says no,” Stiles says, stepping forward. The bearded alpha leaps across the room to block him from going any further, and Stiles freezes, fight and flight going right out the window.

“You tried to kill me,” Scott says shakily.

She laughs and tucks a stray hair behind his ear. “We didn't know you, then. But we do now.” She levels an evil grin at Stiles. “Someone's going to die tonight, Scott. But it doesn't have to be your friend.”

Stiles manages to find his voice. “You can't kill me,” he squeaks. “You'll never get out of here. There's no one to break the circle.”

“Not all of us are werewolves,” says a new voice, and a slight, waifish girl steps into view.

Stiles completely forgets that he's supposed to be frozen. “You have a Renfield?” he asks incredulously. “Isn't that like monster cliché number 4?”

Scott looks confused. “Who's Renfield?”

“Yes, we have a pet human, too,” the she-wolf huffs. “Thoughtful of you, really, to bring one of your own. But we don't really need him now, do we?” She turns to the girl. “What do you think, Stella?”

Stella gives Stiles a scornful stare. “No, he's completely useless,” she tells her alpha.

“That's settled, then,” she says, and nods to the beardy one, who advances, backing Stiles against the wall.

“No!” Scott shouts, struggling to break free of her hold. “Don't kill him!”

“Well, it's not like you're going to join our pack when you've already got one of your own,” she explains patiently. “That, and I really just don't like him.”

“Come on,” Stiles says desperately. “Maybe you'd like me if you got to know me.”

Beardy grabs him by the throat and squeezes.

“No, no,” says the woman, as Stiles loses all sensation in his limbs. “Make it slower.”

“Stiles!” Scott shouts, and lunges out of her grasp.

There's a sudden sickening crunch and the snap of bone. Everyone in the room turns, stunned, to see Peter standing over Stella's lifeless body.

He glances from Scott to Stiles. “What? I was in the basement,” he explains, and then seems startled to notice the corpse at his feet. “You can't hold this one against me.”

“You!” the female alpha says, disgusted, and shoves Scott to the side. “I should have killed you last time.”

Peter shrugs. “Been there, done that,” he tells her.

Stiles thumps his fist against his captor's hand. “Air!” he manages to gasp. Beardy seems surprised, like he's already forgotten about the human he's been casually choking for the last ninety seconds, and releases him. Stiles sags to his knees and coughs, sucking in lungful after lungful of precious air.

“So,” Peter says, clasping his hands together and smiling congenially. “Back where we started?” He wheezes suddenly, and stumbles a bit before regaining his composure.

The shorter alpha sneers. “There's still more of us, outside,” he says. “You think we'd set up something like this without any backup?”

“We have backup too,” Scott says, because Stiles is still having trouble talking. “All of Derek's pack is out there, and an Argent.”

The female alpha waves her hand dismissively. “Betas,” she scoffs. “And a human.” She looks to her two henchmen. “Kill them.” Without warning, she turns and leaps at Peter. Scott immediately tackles the other alpha.

Beardy, meanwhile, reaches for Stiles—but Stiles is ready this time, has reached into his pocket and pulled out the taser. The alpha eyes it warily, but isn't dissuaded, merely takes his time in cornering him, boxing him in and letting fear do the rest. Stiles lunges forward, makes it past him—and instantly drops the taser.

The alpha actually looks askance at him, asking “Really?” as he kicks the taser out of reach.

It's all Stiles can do to scuttle backward across the floor. On the opposite side of the room, Peter is acting as unwilling punching bag for the female alpha; she clearly hates him but seems in no hurry to kill him, so Stiles figures he doesn't have to worry about her turning her attention to him or Scott just yet. Scott, meanwhile, is leading his own opponent on a merry chase up the stairs. He's given himself over to taunting, teasing, hovering just out of reach, but taking the occasional blow to keep the alpha invested and away from Stiles.

Beardy smiles, nice and friendly, and extends his claws. Behind him, Stiles sees three nails gouge trenches into Scott's face, hears him scream in pain and fright. Peter's stumbling against the staircase now, his breathing slow and labored. He's gradually losing control of his body, succumbing to whatever wolfsbane the alphas have been using to terrorize the wolves of Beacon Hills.

Beardy raises his claws to strike.

Derek tackles him out of nowhere, and Stiles immediately scrambles out of the way. He opens his mouth, ready to scream bloody murder to signal their backup, willing to risk inviting the wrath of a fourth alpha, when he notices it. That lunge was all Derek could manage—even an alpha can't handle this much wolfsbane.

Stiles freezes, and this time it's for an entirely different reason. Even an alpha can't handle this much wolfsbane—which means they'd have to give it to the human.

Flight kicks in, and he throws himself onto Stella's body. Beardy is struggling to escape Derek's weight, and Stiles does a quick search of her pockets, finds bag after bag of funny-looking leaves and powdered wolfsbane, and almost laughs at how simple it is. He fumbles one open just as the alpha reaches him, launches it through the air in a powdery, purple arc.

Beardy is felled instantly, dropping like a fly to land in a heap at Stiles's feet.

Stiles grabs another handful of the stuff, ready to rescue Scott, and turns just in time to see his best friend struggling against the shorter alpha. Stiles hesitates, not wanting to hurt Scott with his Agent Orange-grade wolfsbane, and the alpha knocks Scott down, onto his back, and is on him instantly, claws digging in to remove his liver. Stiles decides to take the risk and raises his hand to throw—

And Scott shoves the taser into the alpha's nose. The alpha gasps and rolls off of him, twitching.

Satisfied that everyone he cares about is safe, Stiles casually dusts wolfsbane over the unsuspecting head of the female alpha while she's busy pummeling an unconscious Peter.

He ducks down and checks Derek's pulse, lets out a breath of relief that he's still alive. He grasps Derek's arm and pulls, resolving to drag him outside by any means necessary. Derek is apparently made of miniature black holes, however, and barely skids half an inch across the floor.

“There's still one more,” Scott reminds him, reaching down and hauling Derek's arm over his shoulders with ease. He's starting to cough, and Stiles realizes there must be a lot of wolfsbane in the air, too much maybe for even Derek to handle, and rushes outside so he can break the circle.

He and Scott burst through the door, industrial strength wolfsbane at the ready, only to find Chris Argent calmly wiping blood off of a machete. The three betas are sitting beside him, stunned and covered in someone else's blood, next to the bisected remains of what must be the fourth alpha.

“Gross,” Scott says, wrinkling his nose.

“Does it say something about us that we are not at all bothered by this?” Stiles wonders as they haul Derek out into the night air. “I mean, that is someone's body we are going to have to help hide.”

They're halfway to the others when Scott stumbles to his knees. Stiles, suddenly burdened with all of Derek's weight, instantly falls over. “Scott? Scott! Stay with me, buddy.”

“Just. Wolfsbane,” he gasps out. “I'm just gonna… take a nap,” he says, and keels over.

Stiles has half a second to be exasperated when he hears the dangerous growl behind him. He breaks out into a cold sweat, turning slowly to see the shorter alpha standing in the doorway, now recovered from the shock of the taser. He hears Chris Argent shout, knows he'll be breaking the circle, knows it won't be enough, that he's going to die, here, next to the two biggest idiots in Beacon Hills who could have saved him under any other circumstances.

The alpha leaps, and Stiles wishes he could say that time seemed to slow down, because he honestly has no idea what happens next. One second the alpha's soaring through the air, a whirlwind of fur and fangs, and the next second he's reeling back, howling in rage, with the shaft of an arrow sticking out of his eye. Another arrow appears in his shoulder, and Stiles just has time to register the whoosh of air as it soars past him. Then a third arrow appears, and a fourth, and the alpha screams and runs away just as the betas are catching up to him.

Allison holds out her hand to him, and he takes it gratefully, letting her pull him to his feet. “Glad you could make it,” Stiles says shakily.

She glances at Derek's prone form before rolling her gaze back to Stiles. “I still don't like him,” she says, and Stiles nods, accepting it as, if not approval, then at least a grudging assent.

Not that he needs her approval, he reminds himself. But it will definitely help to win over Scott.

Speaking of which… Stiles pulls a still-delirious Scott to his feet. “Come on, Scott,” he tells him, smacking his face. “Wake up. We gotta get all of you to Deaton and I cannot carry Derek by myself.”

Scott nods sleepily, and proceeds to watch helpfully while Erica, Isaac, and Boyd drag Derek to the car. “Hey, Stiles?” he asks, once they're seated inside, his head nestled comfortably on Stiles's shoulder. “Did we win?”

Stiles looks over at the betas, muddy and beaten, completely exhausted after their first group manslaughter; and then over at Derek who's propped in between them and the window, leaning against the glass and shuddering with the poison still in his system. He thinks back on Allison and her dad, who stayed behind to quote “clean up the mess,” and how that must not exactly be considered ideal father-daughter bonding time.

Stiles purses his lips and shrugs. “Yeah,” he says, and starts the car. “We kicked their asses.”

Derek's completely recovered by Wednesday afternoon, because that's when he decides to show up at Stiles's house.

“Stiles?” his dad calls out from downstairs.

“What?” he shouts back, too engrossed with the internet to bother getting up.

“There's someone at the door for you.”

Stiles trips down the stairs, slows to a halt when he sees Derek waiting awkwardly on his doorstep. His dad is frowning, looking back and forth from one to the other, his eyebrows climbing higher with every turn of his head.

Stiles elects not to say anything and just lets his jaw hang open.

“…Your door was locked,” Derek says, by way of explanation. The sheriff's eye starts to twitch.

Stiles shoves his hands in his pockets. “Hi, Derek. Nice to see you, you know, alive.”

Derek and his dad share a glance, then as one turn to him. “Can I come in?” Derek asks, his voice soft and hopeful, and Stiles knows that if he says no Derek will leave, walk completely out of his life and never come back.

Something clicks in Stiles's head, something he should have realized weeks ago. “Yeah,” he tells Derek. “Absolutely, you can come in.”

Derek sidles past the sheriff, who has managed to recover somewhat and now wears a confused, plaintive expression on his face. “Stiles,” he starts. “I know you took Lydia's rejection kind of hard, but there are plenty of other—”

“Let's go to my room,” Stiles interrupts, grabbing Derek's hand and leading him up the stairs.

“What about that Danny kid?” his dad calls after him. “I like Danny!”

Stiles stops as soon they've reached the (relative) safety of his room. The corner of Derek's mouth is drawn up in bewildered amusement.

“Scott's fine, thanks for asking,” Stiles says. “He had to miss school on Monday, but he didn't get nearly as high a dosage as you did.”

“I'm sorry,” Derek says, and Stiles knows he's not talking about Scott. “For… I'm sorry.” He grits his teeth and glares at the wall.

Stiles nods and chews on his lip. “So I've been thinking,” he says, refusing to let Derek be sidetracked. “And you seem to believe that asking for forgiveness is easier than asking for permission.” Derek levels the glare at him now, but Stiles holds up a finger. “That said, for a guy with a guilt complex as enormous as yours, you are absolutely terrible at asking for forgiveness.”

“What do you want?” Derek demands.

“Well, a better apology, to start.”

Fine. I screwed up. I'm sorry. I never should have kissed you.” Stiles holds up four fingers, then drops his pinky down to make three. “Really?” Derek asks archly. “You are such a child. You know that, right?” Stiles gives him a finger on his other hand. Derek twists his mouth into an angry pout. “You're enjoying this,” he accuses.

“What can I say?” Stiles asks him. “I live for these moments of ours, when I can quake in fear that you're going to rip my throat out. Or surprise kiss me. There doesn't really seem to be an in-between with you.”

Derek reaches for him, stops himself. “…It won't happen again.”

“Good! Because I don't like surprises, Derek. I have lost enough years of my life being terrified out of my mind. Got it? No more surprises!”

Derek looks, well, surprised. He reaches out a hand, placing it over Stiles's outstretched fingers, moving slowly, giving Stiles time to pull away. “I'm sorry,” he says gently, and folds one finger down.

Stiles tuts. “Pitiful.”

Derek settles his other hand on the back of Stiles's head, hauling him closer. “I'm sorry,” he repeats, and his voice is lower, huskier. He folds down another finger.

Stiles shakes his head. “Nope. Not doing it.”

Derek rests his forehead against Stiles's, lets the hand on his neck drift lower across the curve of his spine to rest in the small of his back. “I am so,” he breathes, “So sorry. For all four of those kisses.” He frowns suddenly, pulls his head back and raises an eyebrow at the one upheld finger on Stiles's hand. “Wait, four? Do you even know how numbers work?”

Stiles places the last finger on Derek's lips. “You caught me by surprise before,” he says. “So those other times don't count for anything.”

He leans in, and the fifth time is their first kiss.

“Sorry I had to cancel our study session,” Stiles says the next day at the beginning of history class.

“No problem,” Scott replies. “I studied with—” his voice hitches slightly. “With someone else.” He fiddles nervously with his pencil.

Stiles sighs, but can't really bring himself to be jealous of Isaac anymore. “Well, I hope you learned something, at least.”

“…Not really,” Scott says with a cheesy grin. “I studied with Allison.”

“What?” Stiles asks. “I mean, yay, I'm happy for you, but dude, you're going to fail the test now! And after all my hard work getting you prepped for this.”

“I'm not going to fail,” Scott whispers as their teacher passes out the quiz. “We really did study.”

“Oh, by the way,” Stiles says casually, keeping his voice low as he writes his name on the Scantron. “Derek and I are dating now.”

There's a snap of a breaking pencil, and Stiles smiles to himself as his best friend freezes beside him.

Scott fails the history test.