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Flint and Tinder

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There’s not much they can do apart from wait to see what the pack of alphas want. It puts Derek ridiculously on edge but even he’s not stupid enough to provoke them into doing something just so they can get it over with. To occupy himself, he starts scrubbing their mark off his door –– Mom would turn in her grave if she had one, knowing it was there –– and once it’s clean he decides he may as well paint it.

That’s how it starts. Next he rips out the broken floorboards on the porch and since he’s going out to buy new ones, it’s easier to order enough for the whole house and get the discount.

About three days in, Isaac starts to help. By the end of the week, they come across a crib that must’ve fallen through the ceiling all the way into the basement, piled under ashes and wood and dust. Peter traces the carved lily that’s barely visible and Derek suffers the losses he caused through a different set of eyes.

“I can fix that,” Isaac says. “I’m good at wood shop.”

“All right,” Peter says, when Derek stays quiet, because it’s not his call to make. “Paint it white.” After that Peter goes out to the mostly intact shed behind the house and starts working on their generator.

Three days later they have light in the evening and a working fridge Isaac is gleefully filling with every type of soda he can get his hands on. Derek has the sneaking suspicion he might not have been allowed to drink any before so he doesn’t say anything. It’s not like Isaac’s gonna suffer from tooth decay now anyway.  

When his phone goes off and Derek doesn’t recognize the number, he ignores it because he doesn’t need another credit card, and he’ll get around to installing AT&T when they’ve got actual furniture. Even he remembers how much Comcast sucks. It surprises him a bit when his phone beeps to tell him he’s got a voicemail but Derek forgets about it when he squeezes past Isaac to steal a Coke.

Until he goes to bed. A real bed with a real comforter that smells of plastic and is a bit scratchy because he hasn’t run it through the wash yet. He fishes his phone out of his jeans, remembers the message, and dials his voicemail.

"Hi," a voice comes through and Derek really wishes it’d take more than that to know who it is. “It’s Stiles. Um. Scott gave me your number after, well.” Derek pauses in pulling off his sock. It’s weird, Stiles sounding this quiet and careful. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave any record of what world he actually lives in now, but Derek remembers his bruised cheek, his split lip and that tilt in his posture that spoke volumes about the state of his ribs and Derek wonders.

I wanted to uh, say that I know what Scott told you and I think he’s wrong. I think, after everything, it’d be better if we maybe worked together more. He doesn’t agree with me but I know that you. Um, anyway. The reason I called you, there was this weird sign painted on my Jeep today. Scott thought it was just vandalism but it, it, uh,” Derek can actually hear him swallow and he frowns, ”it kinda looked like your tattoo. Only with more angles. So I thought you should know. About it. That’s all. I guess. So, yeah. Bye.”

He’s in the Camaro, keys in the ignition, before he stops to think. His thumb hovers over the number Stiles called him from but he changes his mind.

Are you up, he texts instead.

Yes? comes the reply almost immediately.

On my way.

“I’m genuinely shocked,” Stiles says when Derek swings through his open window.  There’s a smile on his face Derek hasn’t had aimed in his direction before. “A courtesy text! Who are you and what have you done with the real Derek Hale? Dad’s out at a crime scene, you could’ve used the front door.”

Derek doesn’t know what to do with the first part of that statement so he latches on to the last. “Could’ve told me that in a text,” he gruffs, rubbing a bit of moss from the windowsill off his jacket. Stiles opens his mouth no doubt for more snark so Derek walks over to where he’s sitting at his desk, grabs a piece of paper and a pen.

“That’s my––” Stiles protests but Derek doesn’t get to hear what it is because Stiles changes track. “That’s it,” he says, letting his chair jump upright so he can straighten Derek’s drawing. “That’s what was on my car!”

“Is it gone?” Derek asks, swearing inwardly. He really wanted to keep Stiles and the others out of this.

“What? My Jeep?”

Derek rolls his eyes when Stiles looks up at him. “No, the drawing.”

“Oh yeah, it came off pretty easily. What does it mean?” He’s looking down at the piece of paper, tracing the design with a finger so it smudges. It releases a little cloud of scent, of paper and ink and Stiles, and Derek has to stop himself from leaning closer, from inhaling deeply.

“Trouble,” he says instead, retreating further into his jacket and toward the window. Stiles sighs and his shoulders slump a bit.

“Will you at least share what you know, this time?” he asks, like he expects Derek won’t and Derek tries not to regret all his previous decisions but does anyway.

“I don’t know anything useful,” he admits without really meaning to and Stiles frowns at him.

“Really?” he says, and then he chews his lip when Derek nods. “Okay.” He leans back in his chair so it creaks and tilts precariously. “So, do you want to tell me what you do know? And maybe I can get Lydia on the Bestiary and Scott on the vet and we can work something out?”

Stiles looks at Derek from under his lashes and it makes Derek want to squirm. It feels like Stiles is treating him like a skittish animal he expects to bolt, so Derek purposefully sits down on Stiles’ bed and starts to talk. He wishes he could do that without breathing because his collapse on Stiles’ rumpled sheets released an onslaught of scent and teenage hormones that’ll haunt Derek for days.

The worry is still cloying when he drives home but it’s less suffocating. He’s had Stiles at his back often enough to know it’s best they work together instead of apart. It stings a bit that Stiles won’t tell Scott why he’s supposed to ask Deaton about alpha packs but Derek knows Scott will do for Stiles what he won’t for Derek. It’s not surprising, exactly. Derek just can’t help hoping it’s not another bridge that permanently turned to ash. The taste of Gerard Argent still makes him wake up in the middle of the night with the urge to throw up but he can’t deny that Scott’s plan worked and Derek wants him in his pack. Still.

There’s a text on his phone by the time he crawls into bed. It’s from Stiles, and it just reads, Thanks. Derek falls asleep wondering what for.

***

Chris Argent turns up when they’re replacing the windows. All the ruined plasterboard is tossed out and Derek is looking forward to a bugless night’s sleep. Isaac brought in a friend of a friend’s dad who does electric work for some cash under the table. The guy’s rewiring the master bathroom so Derek nods in the direction of the shed and Chris follows him.

He doesn’t say anything, just pulls out his phone and shows Derek a picture of the alphas’ mark on what looks like Allison’s window.

“I’ve dealt with these guys before,” Chris says. “I know what they want.”

Derek thinks of the message Stiles left him, of working together, and swallows his pride, lets it settle beside the brick of guilt in his belly. “Start talking.”

When he walks Chris back to his car, Derek can hear Peter’s heartbeat from the porch, a little fast and irregular. He winces and really hopes this isn’t the moment Peter snaps. Again.

Chris stops in his tracks because of his hunter sense or whatever it is, and turns. It’s the most loaded silence Derek has ever witnessed and he hears both their hearts beat at the same nervous pace. And then he remembers being five years old, asking his mom why uncle Peter is holding hands with a boy. Because some people love men and others love women and some of them are able to love both, honey.

Oh jesus.

He’s about to open his mouth although he has no idea what’s gonna come out, when Chris nods once and gets in his car.

“What,” Derek says when Chris is gone.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Peter tells him and disappears into the house. Derek has the feeling that’s the first honest thing that’s come out of Peter’s mouth since he was resurrected.

***

Five unsent text messages later, Derek is scowling at his bedroom door, waiting to leave his message after the beep. “Stiles,” he says and nothing else. He really wishes he could physically transmit his annoyance. Laura used to tease him mercilessly for his hatred of phones. “We should meet,” he says eventually because silence on a voicemail will probably get him accused of being creepy again. “To compare what we found out.” He hangs up so hard he scratches the screen.

Okay, a text comes, barely a minute later and Derek doesn’t jump at the sound. He doesn’t.

Dad home. Meaning Stiles can’t call, Derek guesses. He waits.

Can come see you in the morning.

Derek is thinking about his reply when his phone beeps again.

You at your place?

Yes, he types back and turns off his phone. When he crawls under his comforter it feels softer, and smells of him.

***

The burdened groan of the Jeep works as a wake-up call loud enough that Derek has time to shower and brush his teeth, and still be on the porch by the time Stiles climbs out of it.

“Hey,” Stiles says, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He looks awkward for ten seconds and Derek can pinpoint the exact moment Stiles notices the improvements they’ve made. “Your door,” he says, “it’s green!” and Derek doesn’t understand how that’s any reason for his face to light up like daybreak. Stiles has pulled his hands out of his pockets again and holds them out as if he’s about to receive absolution. “It’s fantastic,” he goes on, rushing up the porch steps in not enough strides, so he stumbles. Derek rights him with a hand on his elbow, but Stiles doesn’t even notice. He looks at the front door, pokes it with a finger to test if the paint is still wet and then goes to press his nose against one of the new window panes.

“You can just go inside,” Derek tells him, bemused, “if you want to see.”

“Yeah?” Stiles says, smile wide and pleased and a little surprised.

Derek shrugs and puts his own hands in his pockets, hopes it hides how badly he wants Stiles to approve of what they’ve done. It’s ridiculous and makes him frown.

“I don’t have to,” Stiles says, seeing it. His face falls a bit. “It’s your place, I don’t mean to intru––”

“I want you to,” Derek says, his scowl deepening because the idea of Stiles not going in now is strangely upsetting.

“Okay,” Stiles says, and after a pause, “after you.”

Derek opens the door and feels a rush of pride when the sun chooses that moment to shine through the kitchen and bathe the entire hall in light.

“Oh wow,” Stiles says right behind him. He’s leaning into Derek’s space so he can see over his shoulder and Derek finds himself wanting to lean back. Instead he steps aside and lets Stiles in. “Derek, this is amazing.”

“Thanks,” he says quietly. They’ve changed quite a few things. They’ve made it mostly open-plan so only the library to the right is closed off, and Peter’s bedroom is too. Peter refuses to go upstairs, doesn’t want to sleep there. Derek could guess why, but he doesn’t. The living room, dining room, and kitchen curl around the staircase in a large open L-shape and Derek loves it. It’s enough to keep the memories of his family alive and not be haunted by them.

“I mean it,” Stiles says, briefly touching Derek’s shoulder. He can barely feel it through his leather jacket. “I can’t believe you guys did all this.”

“It’s far from done,” Derek tells him and his ribcage constricts when he considers how nice it is to just talk about something as normal as this. “We still don’t have any carpets or hardwood anywhere and we’re seriously lacking furniture.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got electricity and light and oh my god is that the new Sony?” Stiles flails into the living room and Derek grins.

“Isaac wanted it,” he says as Stiles gapes at the TV he and Isaac hung up yesterday. They’ve got no couch to sit on as of yet, but Isaac can watch his True Blood now, if he wants.

“Movie nights,” Stiles says. “You don’t even get a say in this. Every Friday. It’s gonna be a thing, you’ll see.” He looks around. “As soon as you’ve got something to sit on.”

Derek’s going to order that couch he saw the other day the moment Stiles is gone. He’s thinking about the three-seater or the sectional, because he doesn’t want to think about how warm he feels at the idea of Stiles and maybe the others hanging out here, every week. Of their scents mingling together with older memories, overlaying the smell of flint and tinder.

“And make my new house stink of popcorn?” Derek says, because Stiles is looking at him like he knows. “I don’t think so.”

“I make the best popcorn,” Stiles tells him, walking into the kitchen, pulling open the fridge to inspect it. “The best. You gotta put M&Ms on top while it’s still warm, you see, so it all melts.”

“M&Ms on popcorn,” Derek repeats and tries not to imagine the fragrance of chocolate on top of everything else that is Stiles.

“It’s awesome,” Stiles promises, pulling his head out of the fridge. His cheeks look a bit flushed and they stare at eachother too long for what’s normal, maybe.

“So the alphas,” Derek says, clearing his throat.

“Yeah.” Stiles deflates a bit, but then he sees the new sink with the mug-tree beside it and perks up again. “Coffee?” he asks, hopeful. Derek rolls his eyes and huffs a put-upon sigh he doesn’t mean at all.

“Fine,” he says and Stiles laughs. It’s a sound that echoes through the house, and Derek could very easily get used to it. Wants to warm the place with more of it.

***

A few weeks later, Stiles is sitting on the porch. There’s a cloud of sadness around him and anxiety. More than usual.

“What’s wrong?” Derek rushes out of the car and vaults the porch in one leap.

“Jackson’s gone,” Stiles says, running a hand over his hair. It’d been growing out and Derek had liked it, but it’s buzzed short again.

“What do you mean?” Derek shivers and wants to ask Stiles to come inside because if he’s cold, Stiles must be freezing. Instead, he sits down beside him.

“They moved. Just up and left. Didn’t even tell him about it beforehand, we think. Lydia didn’t know anything about it, no one knows where he went. Danny hacked into the school system but there’s not even a forwarding address.” He sighs deeply, letting his head hang down, arms dangling between his spread knees, before looking at Derek. “And I know he’s a douchebag and a werewolf––” Derek tries not to feel offended that one apparently comes with the other, “––but he was our douchebag werewolf and I hate thinking of him on his own somewhere with no one to help him through his full moons and Lydia, she.”

Derek waits but Stiles says nothing else. There’s a stab of sadness underneath his sternum, adding to his loss, because yes, Jackson wasn’t exactly likeable, but Derek thinks that’s just because he wanted to be liked too badly. He’s about to apologize, knowing Jackson would still be here if it wasn’t for him, when Stiles beats him to it.

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking up, meaning it. “I know you–– I know what it means.” He pinches his lips shut, like he thinks he’s about to say something Derek might not want to hear.

“If something happens to him,” Derek says, “I’ll know.” It’s not much of a consolation, but Derek figures it’s better than not knowing at all.

“Okay,” Stiles mumbles and they sit there until all the daylight is gone.

***

“This is all your fault,” Scott yells and Derek wants to change and bite him into submission.

“It really isn’t,” Stiles groans, which snaps Derek out of it.

“We need to get him to Deaton,” he says, lifting Stiles easily even though he’s heavier than he looks. “He has wolfsbane to put in these claw marks.”

“They’re just scratches,” Stiles says. It sounds like an apology.

“From an alpha,” Derek says. “Unless you want to risk them being able to mess with your mind.” Stiles’ eyes go wide at that.

“Nope,” he says, trying to take more of his own weight. Derek doesn’t let go of him. “No, wolfsbane is the plan, Scott can drive my Jeep.”

“Things always go to shit when you show up,” Scott says as they dump Stiles in the Camaro. Derek wants to roll his eyes but Stiles does it for him.

“Dude,” he says and Derek will never understand why he’s so fond of that word. “These guys are here because of you.”

“What?” Scott squeaks.

“Later,” Derek growls, putting his wolf behind it because Stiles’ blood is starting to smell wrong. They’re running out of time.

***

Derek is sadly familiar with the feeling of wolfsbane in a wound and while Stiles doesn’t have the added allergy to deal with, it still hurts like hell. He doesn’t writhe or scream, he grits his teeth until he passes out.

“Will it be enough?” Derek asks when Deaton is done and he can take his sleeve away from his nose and mouth.

“It should be,” the vet says. “The scratches weren’t really deep enough to get to him, but prevention is better than cure, don’t you agree?” Deaton gives him a smile like they’re talking about flea treatment or something and Derek scowls. The expression on the vet’s face softens a bit, becomes more earnest. “He’ll be fine but I wouldn’t leave him alone tonight. Boy’s been through alot lately.”

“He has,” Derek says and scoops Stiles off the table before Scott can take him home.

***

“Whose room’ll that be,” Stiles asks, stumbling into the kitchen, knuckling his eyes and following his nose to the coffee machine. It’s fresh because Derek wanted a cup around the time he felt Stiles wake up, that’s all.

“Erica’s,” he says and tries not to think about where she might be, where Boyd is, about the stabs of pain and fear he sometimes gets but can never hold on to for long enough to track them down.

“Huh,” Stiles says, yawning and scratching his cheek as he reaches for the milk in the fridge. “I didn’t think she’d be partial to so much pink.”

“She’s not,” Derek tells him, hiding his grin behind his mug and the curl of steam it releases. Stiles turns to him, eyes wide and disbelieving, and when he laughs a bit and says, “You bastard,” Derek tells himself it’s the coffee warming his belly.

“How you feeling?” Derek asks him. He can see the top of three scratches where the shirt he’d helped Stiles into, slides down a bit. Stiles ducks his chin and contorts his face as he tries to look at his own collarbone.

“Not too bad,” he says. “It stings and itches a bit but I’m still in charge of my own brain.”

“Wonderful,” Derek says and Stiles laughs again, nearly missing his mug and drowning the counter in coffee.

“Where have you been hiding this sarcasm, dude, we could’ve been friends ages ago.” His jaws go pink when he realizes what he just implied and Derek’s glad Stiles looks down to pour milk in his coffee so he doesn’t see the expression on Derek’s face.

“Want me to take a look?” Derek asks. Stiles lifts his head and stares at him, confused, so he goes on, “To make sure it’s not getting infected.”

“Oh, yeah sure.” His fingers flex by his sides like they’re about to curl over the hem of his shirt. “Um, here?”

“Living room,” Derek says. Not at all because he wants to show off the deep, huge leather couch.

“Whoa!” is what Stiles says when he sees it and he looks like he’s about to launch himself at it, so Derek says,

“Remember your shoulder. And the coffee you’re holding. If you stain it I’m making you clean it.”

“Right,” Stiles says, throwing a look over his shoulder Derek can’t decipher. He sits down then, puts his mug on the coffee table and plucks at his t-shirt.

“I’ll help you.” It’s easier to just tug at the shirt and slide it over Stiles’ injured shoulder than to stand there and watch this become more awkward. Derek presses Stiles back into the cushions and trails the angry blotched skin around the claw marks. He doesn’t look Stiles in the eye because he can feel the red rage behind his own.

“How does it look?” Stiles asks when Derek’s quiet for too long. He’s holding very still, so Derek listens and scents but there’s no fear in his heartbeat or coming off his skin.

“It looks fine,” Derek says gruffly. It doesn’t. It really doesn’t. The skin is puckered in places where the claws caught, there’s black, dried blood sitting in clumps where they went in deeper and Stiles is going to carry scars, is going to carry marks from another Alpha and if Derek doesn’t get a handle on himself, he’s going to end up scaring the crap out of Stiles.

He’s not lying, it will be fine. There’s no trace of wolfsbane or the wolf who did this, so they cancelled each other out. It doesn’t smell like infection either, just slightly metallic and hurt. “You’ll be fine.”

“Good,” Stiles says but the tension doesn’t leave with the word and Derek knows it’s because he’s still caressing Stiles’ skin. The marks run from the medial point of his right collarbone to the dip of his armpit and Derek nearly chokes when he realizes they hadn’t been aiming to make Stiles theirs. They’d been aiming for his throat.

He stands up and backs away, hitting his calf off the coffee table. Stiles’ mug sloshes a bit over the rim and it’s going to leave a stain. “You should go.”

“What?” Stiles asks, scrambling to sit up and wincing when he pushes his arm through his sleeve too fast. “Why?”

“Isaac will go with you. Come up with an excuse why he’s staying with you, but he’s not leaving your side until I’ve dealt with this. Isaac,” Derek calls, not very loudly. Isaac’s in his bedroom, listening to god awful music but he’ll hear Derek anyway.

“I don’t––” Stiles begins, looking bewildered and hurt as he climbs to his feet. He takes a step toward Derek, a not very conscious one Derek thinks, but he backs away further.

“Just until this is over,” Derek says, “until everyone’s safe.”

“Okay,” Stiles slowly says. Derek doesn’t tell him he doubts it’ll ever be over.

***

“What do you want,” Scott demands when Chris lets him into the Argent’s house. Derek takes a step away from Allison because he can feel Scott’s hackles rising and there’ll be no reasoning with him if he goes all territorial over the girl.

“To talk,” Derek says through gritted teeth, “so no one else gets injured.”

“You’re to blame for––” Scott begins and Derek is just as surprised as Scott when Allison jumps to her feet and says,

“He’s not. And you’re going to listen to him.” Maybe it’s residual guilt over what her aunt did to Derek, about what she did to the others. Derek doesn’t know, doesn’t really care at this point, he just needs Scott to listen to what he’s got to say.

“Alpha packs recruit,” Chris says before Derek can open his mouth. “They recruit and they take territory. They don’t want Beacon Hills because of it’s history with the Hale and Argent families.”

Chris glances at Derek and he feels he should really ask Peter about this history. He knew the Argents when he was a kid, had been taught that they could be trusted, that they had a truce. It’s why he allowed Kate into his home and under his skin, after all. Derek just doesn’t know how far this really goes.

“But they heard about you, Scott,” Chris goes on. “About how you took out a renowned hunter and then rejected your place in the Hale pack. You’re essentially an alpha without a pack and they want you.”

“But I don’t want to join them,” Scott says and Allison rolls her eyes at the same time Derek does.

“They don’t care about that. They’ll break you by breaking anything that’s dear to you. Starting with Stiles.” Derek doesn’t even think it’s a low blow, it’s just the truth.

“And then me,” Allison says. “It’s why they marked my window.”

There’s a war going on inside Scott, Derek can tell. He’s going through several sets of emotions and for a second Derek is afraid his stubborn stupidity will win out. But then his face falls, like it all clicks together, and he says, “Mom thought she’d been followed home from work yesterday.”

“If she noticed them,” Chris tells him, more gently than Derek would’ve, “it’s because they wanted her to.”

“All right,” Scott says, voice small as he runs a hand over his face. “What do I need to do?”

***

“Scott,” Stiles says, and Derek should’ve known because Stiles is too quiet, has been too quiet for too long. Scott’s lifting an arm to claw the alpha’s throat out and then there’s a gunshot, sharp and deafening. It takes Derek a few seconds to get his hearing back, to get his bearings. To see that the gun is in Stiles’ hand, that the black lines spidering over the alpha’s face as he crumples to the ground mean he used a wolfsbane bullet.

“You killed him,” Scott mumbles, dazed and bottom lip wobbling. There’s blood dribbling down his cheek but it’s already slowing, the wound closing. It was an injury caused by an alpha and it’s healing already. Scott proved his place.

“Yeah,” Stiles tells him, the gun beginning to tremble in his hand. “So you wouldn’t have to.”

“Come on,” Derek says. He doesn’t tell him it’s all right. Stiles is just a teenager, a normal kid and he shouldn’t have to fire guns at people, watch their remains smoke lightly on the ground. “Give me the gun.”

Stiles does and Derek can tell by the uncomfortable tingle crawling through the bones of his hand that there’s more wolfsbane in the remaining bullets.

“Go sit in the car while I deal with this,” Derek says because the other alphas are still standing in a semi-circle, watching, waiting.

“Okay,” Stiles says, “just hold on a sec.” He bends over by the nearest tree and empties his stomach. Derek flinches but doesn’t look back. He has an alpha pack to drive off his land.

“The challenge was met,” he tells them. “Scott goes free and you leave.”

“Your human killed him,” the woman with clawed feet says. “Not Scott.”

“No wolf intervened,” Allison snaps before Derek can speak. She cocks her crossbow on her hip. “That was your only rule. This territory belongs to the Hales and the Argents. Leave and don’t come back.”

There’s a tense moment where Derek fears it’ll all go to shit but the woman dips her head once. “Very well,” she says and Derek would believe this has been easy, if he couldn’t hear a teenage boy having a panic attack in his car.

***

“How did you get the bullets?” Derek asks when he quietly shuts the car door. Stiles is leaning against the window, eyes closed and deathly pale but he’s not asleep.

“I had to tell Dad everything,” he says and Derek’s gut clenches. “He saw the scars. He took my car keys and my phone and sat me down and said I wasn’t leaving the house until I told him. And if I refused, he’d take me out of town that night and we’d never be back.”

It’s silent for a long time, disregarding Stiles’ shallow breathing and the anxious tic in his heartbeat. “That still doesn’t explain the bullets,” Derek tells him gently. He feels like handling Stiles with care, now, and knows Stiles would hate it.

“He made me call Chris Argent because he didn’t believe me. Chris left a stash of weapons.” His voice is cold, dejected.

It takes a bit of courage and a deep breath and then Derek puts his hand on Stiles’ left shoulder. Stiles tenses for a second and then relaxes, leans into the touch. Derek slides his hand further, puts it on the nape of Stiles’ neck. “You did good,” he tells him quietly.

“Did I?” Stiles asks, voice small.

“You did. You’re strong. Stronger than Scott.” He tightens his grip.

“I know, that’s why––” Stiles draws in a shaky breath and covers his face with his hands. He scrubs at it, says, “I know,” again and when he resurfaces, he looks better. Derek squeezes one more time and lets him go.

“Why are you here?” It comes out wrong but Stiles gets his meaning anyway. He snorts.

“I told Dad I didn’t want to lie to him anymore, but if he asked me where I was going he wouldn’t like it, so it would probably be best if he didn’t ask.”

“And he didn’t ask,” Derek concludes.

Stiles turns to him and the smile on his face is small but genuine. “Oh, he did,” he says. “He gave me the gun after all. I’ll need that back, by the way. So Dad can destroy the evidence.”

It’s such a surprise, Derek gapes at him and Stiles laughs. It’s still a bit bitter and Derek understands why, but he can also feel the undercurrent of relief.

“I’ll take you home,” Derek says, starting the car.

They’re nearly at the edge of town when Stiles speaks again. “He thought we,” the nervous beat in his heart increases. “He thought I was dating you. He thought that was my big secret.”

Derek can see Stiles’ blush even in the darkness of the car. “Bet he was relieved it was just werewolves, then.”

It’s Stiles’ turn to gape, and he’s waiting for something. Permission, it turns out, when Derek lets the right corner of his mouth lift up. Stiles starts to laugh, loud and a little hysterical but that’s good.

***

The sheriff is waiting on the porch when Derek pulls in the drive. Stiles holds out a hand and Derek puts the gun in it, watches Stiles click the safety into place, which Derek had forgotten. He doesn’t know anything about guns. They both get out of the car, and the sheriff takes the gun off Stiles, says, “Get inside, son.”

Stiles half turns and nods at Derek, tilts his head back and looks up before he goes inside. Derek’s not sure what he’s supposed to do here, but the sheriff isn’t moving so he doesn’t either.

“I want to hate you,” the Sheriff says, his voice so low and full of anger it makes Derek shiver. He hasn’t been afraid of a human who isn’t a hunter in a while. “I want to arrest you and lock you up in the darkest prison I can find. Line it with that stuff that’s in these bullets.” He takes out the magazine with a practiced flick of his wrist and closes his eyes when he sees the missing bullet. “Or I should just shoot you with one of these,” he goes on, voice hoarse, “for what you’ve turned my son into.”

“Yes,” Derek says, because he deserves all of that, even if he doesn’t, really.

“But Stiles’d only hate me. He made his choice, he cares about you and he wants this life no matter how messed up it is.” That surprises Derek because he never considered Stiles might do the things he does because he wants to, not because he has no choice. “And after what I’ve learnt is out there, it’s good to know there are people in his life who can protect him, since I so obviously fail to.”

Derek starts to nod, but then the sheriff is in his face, grabbing his jacket with one hand and jabbing a finger in Derek’s face. His eyes are red and he smells of salt. “So you better protect him. You better protect him or so help me god.”

“I will,” Derek promises. “I will.”

The sheriff stalks off into the house and slams the door. Derek looks up, following Stiles’ earlier gaze and sees that his bedroom window is open.

Not tonight, he thinks. Tomorrow, maybe.

***

They’re on the new couch that’s starting to smell of pack instead of leather and salesmen, when it hits him. Isaac and Boyd are boxing on the Wii and Derek is already lamenting the loss of another reading lamp, when he sees Stiles lick his fingers.

“Didn’t I tell you?” he says when he notices Derek watching. He’s got his legs crossed under him and the hint of salt and chocolate is tantalizing. “The best.”

“Yeah,” Derek mumbles but fuck he thinks, fuck, that’s what that feeling is. The edge of Stiles’ jaw begins to redden and he realizes he’s still watching. It might not even be something he’s alone in, this feeling, but Derek has no idea what to do about it.

So he does nothing.

***

Erica’s quiet after the alphas set her free, even more quiet than Boyd and she will be for a long time. Derek doesn’t press, he knows what his kind is capable of. Or the ones who think they’re superior to the human race, anyway. He doesn’t push her into talking, but when he finds her in her pink room, drawing her claws over her own arm, he sits behind her on her bed and wraps his arms around her, scenting her and marking her until she smells of him.

“I thought I was stronger now,” she says in the end and Derek tells her, “You are. You’re still here.” And I will never let anything happen to you again, he doesn’t say, because she wouldn’t thank him for it. But she’s better after that, decorates his car with frilly heart-shaped cushions when it’s parked in the middle of town, as payback for her pink room. When she tugs at one of Isaac’s curls and invites him outside to go look at the moon with a smirk, Derek feels a wave of fierce happiness.

***

It takes a year for the entire house to be rebuilt, but that’s only because Derek needs six months to brave the basement. In the end they only keep a small part of it, so Peter can restock his wine collection. The rest of it is closed off and Derek lets the emotions wash over him when he puts the final brick into place, imagines he’s erecting a wall between his grief and his guilt and every black emotion that’s nearly destroyed him over the past seven years. No one knows he’s doing this, apart from Stiles, apparently, since he’s climbing down the stairs. It’d been disquieting in the beginning, how Stiles always seemed to just know where Derek was, but he’s used to it now.

“Better?” Stiles asks, when the worst of Derek’s silent breakdown has passed. He nods but doesn’t turn around. There’s cement on his hands and his jeans and he should really clean that up or it’s going to be a bitch to get rid of it later, but he can’t move. Stiles comes to stand behind him, carefully fits his arm over Derek’s chest and together they stand there until the whirlwind in Derek’s mind just stops. He’s not blaming himself anymore and look; the world’s still turning.

***

Scott and Stiles are in a furious argument that involves a lot of eyebrow wiggling and gritted teeth and, No’s and If you don’t then I will’s.

“What’s going on,” Derek says, pulling his henley over his head as he steps out on the porch. He was about to work out but that can wait, if there’s a problem. Stiles gives Scott his best bitch-face and Scott just looks smug.

“Stiles has got something to ask you,” Scott says. Stiles balks when Scott pushes him forward and then lopes off into the woods on all fours. Derek can hear him laugh.

“Yes?” Derek says, trying to sound kind and calm, swallowing down the sudden panic he can’t place.

“Um,” Stiles says, kicking at the red and brown leaves at his feet. “It’s my birthday next week,” he says and Derek tells him, “I know,” because Lydia, Allison, and Boyd have been organizing a surprise party.

“And I was wondering,” Stiles swallows and looks at the house, at the treeline beside it, at the setting sun, “if you’d want to do something. With me,” he adds, when Derek doesn’t move or make a sound. “Just the two of us, as in. Like. A date.”

Stiles is turning eighteen, and instead of being too afraid to act on his feelings, Derek realizes, he’s been waiting. It makes something heavy dislodge beneath his ribs and Derek feels like he’s hanging over the edge of a roller coaster ride, stomach swooping in anticipation and then release.

“It’s okay if you don’t, I told Scott you wouldn’t. But he said you. Okay, you know what, never mind.” He looks miserably at the ground again, where a leaf drifts down from the trees to settle at his feet. “I’m gonna go now.”

“Stiles,” Derek says. “Wednesday. I’ll pick you up at seven. No pizza,” he says quickly, because ever since he made the mistake of admitting to Stiles that he’s not a fan, Stiles has made it his life’s ambition to find a pizza Derek will like.

The blush on Stiles’ cheeks is high and pleased and he grins before he crawls into his Jeep. “Wednesday,” he says, before he closes the door and Derek’s glad no one’s home. The ribbing he’d get for the speed of his heartbeat would’ve been unbearable.

***

Derek talks to the sheriff because he’s going to do this right. He’s not happy with it.

“I’m not happy with this,” Stiles’ dad says and he’s scowling but he doesn’t look as murderous as the last time Derek was here. “But I’ve seen it coming for a while now and I guess there’s nothing I can do.”

“Okay,” Derek says. It’s not what he was hoping for but it’s better than what he was afraid of.

“I remember your family,” the sheriff says just as Derek is about to turn and walk away. “They were good people and I’m sorry for what happened to them.”

“Thank you,” Derek tells him because there’s not much else he can say. He knows the sheriff lost his wife and he imagines what it’d be like to lose Stiles, just for a second, and thinks maybe the sheriff means it. So he says it again, “Thank you,” and this time the sheriff nods, holds out a hand for Derek to shake.

He hears the Jeep around the corner so he leaves, but he does stops a few houses down and opens his window.

“Was that Derek’s Camaro?” he hears Stiles say and Derek smiles to himself.

“Yeah,” the sheriff says and Derek’s cheeks flare bright red because, “I hear you have a hot date on Wednesday, then.”

~fin~