“Hello?” Stiles called out as he stepped into the train depot. He hadn’t seen the pack recently and wasn't sure where they stood in terms of being allies, but with Scott caught up in his Tango Allison, Stiles had no one else to turn to regarding the latest bout of weirdness popping up in Beacon Hills.
He was simultaneously concerned and relieved when no one answered him. On one hand, no one should live in an abandoned train station, so hopefully Derek had found a new lair. On the other hand, if the pack wasn't here, Stiles wasn’t sure how to track them down.
He jumped a foot in the air when he saw Erica and Isaac sprawled on/across a couch they had dragged down, ignoring him in favour of a magazine and a chemistry textbook, respectively. “Hey guys, how's it going?” Stiles was met with silence. He waited a beat then continued, “So, is Derek here? Anywhere? Lurking in a corner, maybe?”
Erica flicked to the next page. “He’s around.”
Stiles waited another beat. “Do you want to get him for me?”
“No,” Erica said, mildly.
“Okay, then.” Stiles wandered further in and flopped down onto the chair usually inhabited by Boyd. He grabbed a magazine off the floor and started browsing idly, hoping Derek would be along soon.
When he first heard it, he thought maybe Erica or Isaac had wolfed out, but they were still reading like nothing had happened. He listened for a few more seconds, looking around the loft to see if he could find the source. When nothing appeared to attack him, he settled further into the chair, intending to return to his article. Then he heard it again. It was a low and pained growl. Stiles jumped to his feet, seeking out the noise. “What was that?”
Erica flicked her eyes toward him, and shrugged dismissively. The noise repeated and Isaac slouched further down. Stiles tried to impersonate his father and pinned Isaac with the best Interrogation Glare he could manage. “Isaac. What was it?”
Isaac tried to look like he didn't care any more than Erica, but his eyes betrayed him and flicked over to the nearby subway car. Stiles crossed his arms and widened his stance, still nailing him with Disappointed Sheriff Face. Isaac rolled his eyes and said, “Derek is asleep.” As if that explained the wounded noises coming from inside the train.
Stiles blinked for a moment, waiting for Isaac to elaborate. “Should someone wake him up?”
Erica snorted. “He already kicked our asses once during training today, I’m not in a rush for him to do it again.” Isaac refused to look at him anymore.
The noise came again, louder this time, almost forming words, but nothing Stiles could understand. He flicked his gaze between the door and the betas a couple of times before he charged over with more bravado than he actually felt.
The inside of the train car was more dim and dusty than the rest of the depot. It took his eyes a minute to adjust enough for him to make out Derek, curled into himself on a bare mattress. He’d thrown aside one threadbare blanket, and had no other warmth or comfort than the jeans he wore. Stiles considered sneaking closer, but then he decided that the sooner Derek woke up and realized Stiles was there, the better.
He walked to Derek’s side quickly and tried to sound calm as he called out, “Derek? Derek, are you awake yet?”
Stiles was halfway to the mattress when Derek bolted upright, and shouted, “Laura!” Stiles stumbled back in surprise, yelping as he tripped over his own feet.
Derek stared at him, red eyes blazing, breath coming in hard pants. Stiles stared back. Tentatively, Stiles asked, “are you--?”
Derek cut him off and ground out, “Why are you here?”
Stiles tried to swallow, but his mouth had gone dry. He wanted to offer Derek some sort of comfort, but he was concerned with the very real possibility that it would lead to bodily harm, so he elected to pretend nothing had happened. “I was at the lake in the Preserve a few days ago, and I noticed that the colour is off. It was too murky for me to see anything, but I think there's something in there.”
Derek growled and climbed off the mattress. Stiles scampered out of the way as Derek headed out of the train car. Erica and Isaac jumped off the couch, looking ready to sprout claws. “Why are you just sitting here? Go out to the lake and look around. Don’t get into any trouble, or touch anything, just look. Be back in an hour.”
The two betas fled, shooting Stiles venomous glares on their way. Stiles smirked back at them, just to get under their skin. The smirk fell away when Derek rounded on him. “Was that all?”
Stiles opened and closed his mouth a few times, then winced when he remembered Jackson had jeered that it made him look like a fish. “I...yeah, that’s pretty much it.” Derek scowled harder and crossed his arms. It probably didn’t have the exact effect that Derek was looking for, because while it was intimidating as hell, he hadn’t put a shirt on. Stiles ended up one part terrified and two parts outrageously turned on, thanks to the powerful muscle and smooth skin on display.
When Stiles didn’t say anything more, Derek growled, breaking Stiles from his stupor. “I’ll just… Uh. Go, then. Let you get back to your...werewolf stuff and...Bye.” He bolted for the exit and didn’t look back.
Stiles jumped out of his computer chair as a blur of black came swinging through his window. He grabbed for his lacrosse stick and spun around, then sagged in relief when he recognized the intruder.
“Jesus, warn a guy.” Derek was standing next to the window, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. “Don’t give me that judgy look, I’m not exactly accustomed to people climbing through my window in the dead of night.”
“It’s nine o’clock.”
Stiles sniffed disdainfully. “Early to bed, early to rise?”
Derek shrugged off his jacket while giving Stiles a Seriously? look. Having already spent many a night waiting for Stiles to finish researching something, Derek knew that Stiles subscribed more to the Keep going til you drop school of thought when it came to bedtimes.
“Did you have a reason for dropping in or were you just pining for my company?” Stiles settled back down at his computer and Derek put a slip of paper next to him.
“We’ve been looking into the lake situation a bit more. I think it’s a kind of freshwater-dwelling giant squid, but we need information on how to get rid of it.” Derek kicked off his boots, grabbed a book off Stiles’ shelf and flopped onto the bed.
“Make yourself comfortable, why don’t you,” Stiles grumbled as he pulled up a new window to start his research. He used the information Derek had given him as a springboard and dove into the rabbit hole of the World Wide Web.
After a few hours of shooting rhetorical questions at Derek, sorting through websites and weeding out tentacle porn, he had a fair amount of information on what kind of sea monster (or lake monster) they were dealing with. He was organizing the compiled data when he heard the noise.
It started the same as before, a low rumbling growl. Stiles looked at the bed and saw that Derek had passed out, the book still clutched in his hands. Derek made the noise again, and tensed, his shoulders hunched.
The mumbling started soon after, jumbled words about people, fire, and pain. When Stiles couldn’t stand to listen any longer, he hurried over to the bed, and placed a hand lightly on Derek’s shoulder.
Derek came awake immediately, grabbing him around the waist and shoving his face into Stiles’ stomach. Stiles stood awkwardly while Derek clung to him, panting against his stomach. Stiles hesitantly placed a hand on Derek’s back and started rubbing slow circles like his mom used to do.
Gradually, Derek got his breath back and finally let go of Stiles, then grabbed his shoes and shoved them on, not making eye contact.
Stiles retreated to his computer and printed the information he’d gathered. “Looks like we’re dealing with a minor league kraken. A much less impressive cousin or something. If you need a hand, let me know.” He held the paper out as Derek pulled his jacket on.
Derek hesitated by the window. “I…”
“See you soon, right?” Stiles pulled up Tumblr, just to give him something to do that wasn’t grabbing Derek, pushing him back on to the bed and holding him tight.
Derek stared at him like he wasn’t sure if he should stay and explain, or run as far and as fast as he could. Finally, he nodded. “Soon,” he said, curtly, and vaulted out the window.
Stiles spent some more time winding down on the internet before he got ready for bed. He couldn’t make himself close the window.
It became a bit of a pattern. Something strange would turn up in town. They would seek each other out to help figure out what it was or how to get rid of it. Derek would fall asleep in Stiles’ bed and start to panic, chased by nightmares. Stiles would wake him up, and hold on until the terror receded. Derek never talked about the dreams, and Stiles never asked.
The more it happened, the better Stiles got at soothing Derek. After a while, instead of bolting as soon as he could, Derek would stay, picking up his book again or wandering into the bathroom for water.
One night, the nightmare came late enough that instead of leaving, they fell asleep tangled together. Stiles wasn’t sure how long Derek stayed, since he was gone when Stiles woke up. Stiles changed out of his clothes, having never gotten around to pulling on pajamas, and headed to school.
When he sat down in homeroom, Scott leaned over his own desk to sniff at the back of Stiles’ neck. Stiles slapped at him ineffectually. “What the hell, dude?’
“What were you doing with Derek?” Scott plopped back down in his own seat to avoid Stiles’ blows.
“Research. I told you about it. We’re trying to figure out what’s with that barista that smells like fish--”
Stiles broke off when Scott leaned forward to sniff him again.
“You reek of him. What did he do, roll around in your sheets or something?” Scott scrunched up his face like he was smelling garbage instead of Derek’s fresh, clean scent. “Wait, is this some weird new tactic to try and get me to join his pack?”
Stiles knew that Scott didn’t mean it to be offensive, but it hurt nonetheless. “Oh, so, the only possible reason that Derek would give me the time of day is to get to you? Couldn’t possibly be that I have some value based on my own merit. No, no. It's all about getting you in the leather club.”
Scott just looked confused. “Well, yeah. Why would he do it otherwise?”
Stiles stared at him for a minute, completely stunned. He was saved from having to think of what to say by the teacher starting class. He went through his day as usual. Scott didn’t notice that he was distracted, just talked about Allison and lamented his challenges with school and work. Stiles went through the motions, nodding and responding when necessary, but he wasn’t really paying attention.
Did Scott really see him like that? Did he honestly think that Stiles had absolutely no qualities or skills that would make Derek seek him out? Scott wasn’t exactly the most observant person, especially since Her Royal Dimpleness had come into his life, but they were best friends. If Scott wanted to hang out with Stiles, shouldn’t he be able to see why someone else would, too? Except that...Scott and Stiles hadn’t hung out recently, not really. They had classes together, and lunch, but they hadn’t spent more than an hour with just the two of them in weeks.
The thing that really upset Stiles was the thought that maybe Derek did see him that way. Stiles thought they had progressed to friends, considering how often Derek came over. If his Dad wasn’t home, then Derek would almost certainly be dropping in. That was a lot of time to devote to some sort of scheme to win Scott over.
Maybe Derek didn’t actually like spending time with Stiles. They mostly just did research and information swapping, with the occasional foray into negotiations with supernatural creatures. Derek might just be using him for his research skills. That wasn’t ideal, but Stiles felt like it was better than being used to get to Scott. At least that way, he’d be used for his own merit, instead of for his best friend.
If all that was true, though, why did Derek keep falling asleep on his bed? Derek never seemed to plan his fitful naps, but if he was really against having them with Stiles close by, he could take precautions to keep himself awake. If he didn’t like Stiles, why did he let Stiles touch him when he woke up from a nightmare?
The questions looped through his brain all day. By that evening, he had thought of every possible scenario and still didn’t know what either werewolf actually thought of him. He was frustrated and his head hurt, so when Derek swung through his open window, he couldn’t contain his irritation anymore.
“What do you want?” Stiles snapped.
Derek stopped in the process of taking off his jacket, staring at Stiles. “I...We didn’t finish yesterday.”
“Is that it? You just want me to finish researching and you don’t trust me to call you when I’m done?” Stiles pushed out of his chair but had nowhere to go.
Derek’s eyebrows moved in an odd agitated dance, that didn’t really tell Stiles anything. “Are you mad because I stayed the night?”
That just confused Stiles. “What? I didn’t even know for sure if you had, I didn’t wake up until I had to leave for school.”
“Oh.” Derek shifted awkwardly. “Are you...mad about something else?”
Stiles sighed and collapsed back into his chair, rubbing his hands over his face. “I don’t know. I don’t understand why you come here. Am I even in your pack? Are we even friends?”
Derek was quiet at first, then he took a deep breath and sat on the bed. “I think we're friends. Yeah, that’s...I’m not good with people and relationships, but I thought we were.”
Stiles nodded. “Me too. What about pack?”
Derek grimaced. “Pack is more complicated.”
Stiles tensed again. “Because I’m not a werewolf?”
“It’s not that clear cut. Humans have been in lots of packs. They used to be in mine. But usually they’re born in, or marry in,” Derek explained. “That’s not really the main issue,”
“Then what is?” Stiles prodded.
“You’re part of Scott’s pack, and he doesn’t want anything to do with mine.” Derek sounded like he hated to say it, but then again, conversation was never his favourite pastime.
Stiles absorbed that. “It doesn’t feel like I am. Scott’s pack.” Derek looked surprised, but he didn’t push. “I hardly see him anymore. He spends all his free time with Allison, and I...I spend mine with you. But if you don’t want me in your pack--”
“I do,” Derek growled.
“Why?” Stiles pressed.
Derek scrubbed his face with his hand, and mumbled, “What the actual fuck is my life.” Stiles almost chuckled, because clearly Derek was hanging around him enough to pick up some of his speech patterns. He waited Derek out, because he knew Derek would get there when he was ready. He hadn’t realized just how important the answer was until he asked the question. Derek took one last bracing breath before explaining, “You are literally the only person in this whole stupid town that I can depend on.”
That was really not the answer Stiles was expecting. “You...What about your pack?”
Derek shrugged. “The bond is growing, but they still see me more of a means to an end. They resent what I dragged them into, while also viewing me as the solution to their problems. You bitch and complain, but you show up. Always. And you never expect anything in return. You have research skills, and you’re good at planning, and you manage to talk circles around people until they’re so confused that they agree to anything you want. Those are handy and all, but mostly, I trust you.”
Stiles bit his lip. “So, you come here because…”
Derek looked to the window. “I feel safest here. Because I...I know you’ll wake me up.”
Stiles moved from the chair to sit next to Derek on the bed but didn’t reach out for him. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Derek shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it, but clearly you need to understand.” They sat silently while Derek composed his thoughts. “I’ve had nightmares since the fire. Laura wanted me to see a therapist, but it’s not easy to find someone who won’t suggest a psych ward if you mention being a werewolf, and we weren't staying in one spot for long. It got easier to deal with because she would always wake me up and help me calm down. Then she was killed, and it was like the nightmares had come true.”
Stiles didn’t resist the need to touch him anymore, just reached over and laid his palm on Derek’s forearm, feeling the tendons tense and shift under the skin.
“When no one's there to wake me up, the dreams seem longer, and it’s harder to get past them when I wake up.” Derek swallowed, and looked away from Stiles’ hand on his arm. “It’s not fair to put this kind of pressure on you. You can’t fix it, and you can’t bring them back, but I…”
“If I help at all, then that’s enough. I don’t mind. I don’t want you to be alone.” Stiles hesitated. “I know it’s not the same, but when my mom died...Panic attacks were easier to get through if I had someone with me.”
Derek pulled him close and Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek’s shoulders. He let Derek push him down onto the bed and bury his face in Stiles shoulder, shutting out the intense emotions the discussion had stirred.
Derek still had his boots on, and they were hanging over the edge. When they both felt calmer, Derek asked, “What brought this on? You smelled really upset when I got here.”
Stiles shrugged a bit. “Scott smelled you on me. He thought it was some sort of weird plan to get him to join you.”
The dismissive scoff that Derek made went even further to soothing Stiles’ ego. “Scott has been nothing but a pain in the ass since I met him. I know for a fact that I can’t trust him. If he wants to join our pack, fine, but I have more than enough to worry about as it is. And how the hell would making you smell like me translate into getting him with us?”
Stiles pushed up onto his elbows. “I know, right? I’ve been trying to figure it out all day!”
Derek snorted. “If anything, I could use him to get to you. You're loyal to a fault and far more valuable.”
“I can’t decide if I should smack you for talking about me like I’m a commodity or give you a cookie for the compliment.” Stiles flopped back down.
‘Do I get a choice in the matter?” Derek sat up and started working his boots off.
“Make you a deal. If you can find the thin mints my Dad stashed somewhere in the house, we can share them.” Stiles decided he could use some cookies after a full day of emotional turmoil, and it was a great way to get them away from his dad.
Derek tossed his jacket on Stiles’ head and left the bedroom. Stiles threw it off and headed for his computer to start on his homework so he could on finish up the latest batch of research.
It took less than five minutes for Derek to return triumphantly with the cookies, retrieved from behind his dad’s vinyl collection.