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Stiles left on a Tuesday.

He wasn't sure when it started. There wasn't a fight, a fall out, an exact moment he could pin point as the turn in everything, not like Scott getting bit. That, Stiles supposed, could be called the start of it all. The start of the end. But not really. Because even with all the shit they went through, Stiles still had, for a time, felt like Scott's best friend. He still mattered. Then he didn't.

At first, when Scott was bit, it was Allison. But, Stiles couldn't blame Scott for how he constantly ditched him for his girlfriend. If Lydia had magically decided to date him, he probably would have forgotten Scott's name, let alone remember to call him back or tell him what was going on or, you know, stay on the line longer than two seconds when the other person is trapped in a swimming pool by a giant lizard with a drowning alpha wolf. Okay, so maybe that last one took a while to be smoothed over.

But it wasn't just Allison or Scott's werewolf hormones making him make out with Lydia. And it wasn't just the fact that Scott hadn't bothered to fill him in with his plan to take down Gerard or that Gerard had threatened his mom in the first place, although that was like a kick to the stomach Stiles never really shook off. And it wasn't even the actual kicks to the stomach and numerous punches Stiles suffered by Gerard's hands until he finally broke, caved and gave up Derek while his betas watched, tied and electrocuted.

It was the fact that no one really noticed.

Stiles's mask shattered when Gerard took him down from his highest moment. Lydia had gotten an earful of his biggest fears: that Stiles wouldn't be able to handle having anyone else die on him; that he's worried about how his father would live on if Stiles died; that Stiles couldn't always be there as the shoulder to cry on because sometimes he was the one that needed to cry. Then Stiles got his second wind and crashed his jeep against Jackson and his heart finally gave up on Lydia as he watched her love save the poor bastard.

Scott noticed for a moment that Stiles was hurt, physically, but he couldn't see the real turmoil underneath. And Stiles wasn't even wearing his mask at the time. He was too broken to try.

Then everything was good, and Stiles put his mask back together, and no one noticed.

Then there was the Alpha Pack. Then came the fight he got caught in the cross fire of that put him in the hospital for a week, leaving him with a scar trailing from his left side to his lower back. The tension that had been building between him and Derek fizzled out because the guy never visited. No one visited except his dad and twice Scott and good lord Lydia Martin visited more than his best friend! She had been "returning the favor". Lydia was being a better friend that Scott (although that didn't last long).

Scott got back together with Allison. He became closer with Isaac. And Erica and Boyd and for fucks sake Jackson. Which Stiles was all for. Scott needed to be part of their pack, which eventually happened during their Junior year. Stiles was glad Scott finally did because he truly needed it. But it was as if Stiles didn't exist.

Stiles didn't know when it started. He didn't know when he started wanting to leave. It was over sleepless nights where he figured how he could graduate early, lonely weekends where he filled out early college applications. It happened as they become a pack and Stiles just watched. When hanging out turned into tagging along. After the Alpha Pack was no longer a threat, it was as if no one wanted him around anymore. No one needed him. Not as a researcher, not as a connection to the Sheriff, not as a friend.

Stiles was an accepted part of the group, the same way it was accepted that Lydia's nails were always painted pink. It was normal. No one really thought twice about it. And she could easily paint over it with a new color and few people would notice.

They treated him differently without even realizing it. It hurt, being alone. Watching as his friends hung out and didn't invite him. Not that they did it on purpose, just that they didn't think of him whenever gathering whichever jumble of friends. It wasn't like they had pack meetings or whatever bullshit. They weren't a club with activities to participate in. They were just teenagers, and some of them were werewolves. And Stiles could see it in the way they sat during lunch or during lacrosse practice. Stiles was associated with them, but he wasn't a part of them. Not really.

Sties left on a Tuesday. He had packed the basics: medication, toiletries, the half of his wardrobe that still fit him (honestly, the number of clothes he still had from elementary school was astounding), and his computer. There wasn't much else he needed or wanted to take with him. He didn't have strange attachments to things like most people. No favorite books, no cherished souvenirs. Items never held great importance to him (with the exception of his mother's cross he wore around his neck despite being an atheist). No one knew except his dad.

There was one more semester to go before graduation, but Stiles had gathered his diploma from the office at the start of winter break. And no one had noticed. It was the fact that Stiles could do stuff like this and not even have to attempt to lie because no one even asked that made up his mind to leave. No one even noticed. Stiles took a plane with his two suitcases on a Tuesday to New York. Syracuse was as good a school as any, right?

Of course, no one else knew this. And with Stiles leaving all of his things, all his stuff, everything that makes a room a room behind, the few times a werewolf may have knocked on his window to ask if he could come and play, nothing really seemed amiss. Stiles had gotten a Merry Christmas text from Scott and Allison and Erica which he replied simply. It guilted him a bit knowing they had thought of him enough to text that, but he was already gone, and no one had even asked where he was and no one did until school started again in January and after a few days no one had seen him.

Stiles wasn't expecting the way his phone blew up. Scott thought he was kidnapped or something, except no one had been covering for him and his dad hadn't looked worried. Stile was in class for the first few calls, but he did (nervously) answer one.

"Oh my god! Stiles, where are you? I thought you were dead! You haven't been to school all week," Scott cried into the phone.

Guilt racked Stiles at hearing Scotts tone, but then Stiles remembered why he had left in the first place. Sure, they didn't want him to die, but they didn't really care about him. They didn't need him in their life. "Scott," Stiles said calmly into the phone, "I've been gone for four weeks."

"What?" Scott sounded incredulous. That couldn't be right. Four weeks?

"I have been going to school all week, dude. Just not the same school you're at."

Stiles could practically hear the confused furrow of eyebrows Scott was making at the moment.

"But, you didn't move. You're dad's still here and all your stuff's in your room."

"Not all my stuff," he replied tersely. For a few seconds, Stiles opened and closed his mouth trying to figure out what to say next. Instead, he just pulled the phone away from his ear, not wanting to hear Scott's voice any more, and hung up.

Later that day Danny broke into the school records and read that Stiles had graduated early and that they had sent copies of his transcript to Columbia, BU, Syracuse, Harvard, Cornell, and Brown, but it didn't say where he accepted.

The lot of them moved in a fog for a few days, unsure how to take the news. It wasn't just that Stiles had left, or that he left without telling them, or that he only even applied to schools on the East Coast, but it was the fact that with all their super amazing werewolf senses, none of them had noticed. How had no one noticed?

Scott had been busy with Allison. Jackson with Lydia. Boyd with Erica. Isaac with his girlfriend (who was as of yet unawares of the supernatural shenanigans). And Danny with his boyfriend. Sure, one or two of them had gone over a couple of times to see if he was free during the break, but for the most part they would have a date night or a wolf run or a girl's night, all activities Stiles wouldn't have been invited to. They realized no one had even so much as texted him over break besides the scarce 'Merry Christmas's. And Derek…

And Derek, who lived in an apartment on the far side of town with Isaac, had been keeping his distance. The wolves were all in control. There was no threat to deal with. There was a truce with the hunters. He had no reason to see Stiles. Derek only did things if he had a reason to. And wanting to wasn't a reason.

He didn't realize that maybe it should have been until he came back from work and Isaac had torn the apartment apart like an anxiety ridden puppy. "Sorry," the tall teen said, staring blankly at the floor.

"What happened?"

Isaac bit his lip and shrugged. "Stiles left."

Chapter Text

Stiles got the call on a Thursday.

The Sheriff had been shot so of course Stiles returned. It was eight years later and everything was different.

Stiles had never come back for holidays or school breaks. He blocked the pack numbers when they wouldn't stop calling and the Sheriff wouldn't give away his address. None of them knew what to do and eventually they did nothing. Two or three times a year his dad would fly out and they would take in a Mets game or go to a comedy show in the city. The Sheriff missed his son, but he understood why Stiles needed this. He had been filled in on the werewolves when Stiles was in the hospital after the Alpha Pack. It had happened only days after his seventeenth birthday. If anything, Sheriff Stilinski was glad Stiles had made this choice. Only, he did miss his son.

Over numerous skype calls and emails and phone calls and text messages, the Sheriff watched his son grow up and come into his own and take on the world. Stiles played lacrosse in college, something he was now incredibly skilled at. He worked at the school's library and at a used book shop and a coffee shop. The Sheriff often worried how his son was doing it all and got his school work done, but every time they talked, Stiles seemed in good spirits and good health. "This is nothing," Stiles would say off hand and the Sheriff knew he meant in comparison to what he had done for the pack. He wasn't risking his life any more than the average college student and the way they never sleep.

Stiles had friends. Lots of friends, actually. He was still a little too loud and a little too talkative but he was from California and knew how to hold his liquor and joined a fraternity and people liked his brand of humor. Stiles became comfortable in his own skin. He had girlfriends. He had boyfriends. He realized he was bisexual somewhere in between there. No one cared in a way that was accepting. So, you're bisexual. And? Now let's go get drunk. Not the way the people back in Beacon Hills would've just shrugged it off and shrug him off.

So much had happened. Everything was different.

They were all expecting him, when the Sheriff got shot. They knew Stiles would return for his dad. Lydia then came to them with confirmation on the subject as she was the only one of them on texting terms with Stiles.

His third year of college, Lydia ran into him on a Saturday. They had each been taking a day of NYC with some friends. For as big as Manhattan was, it was surprisingly easy to run into people there. Lydia was studying at Cornell, apparently the Ivy League offering the best scholarship. Stiles re-added her number to his phone and they actually stayed in contact. It was weird. Stiles was okay being friends with her, his massive crush hadn't even reappeared upon seeing her perfection. Besides, she and Jackson were engaged and going to get married as soon as they graduated.

Stiles graduated from college a semester early, making that a full year before his old friends from Beacon Hills. Lydia had been upset about both of Stiles early graduations. It made him seem smarter than her, she teased over coffee one day. Although, she wasn't really joking.

"The guys back home will be ecstatic to see you again," she grinned over her latte.

Stiles frowned. It was unspoken that she wasn't supposed to bring them up. But then he raised an eyebrow in confusion. "See me again?"

Her smile fell. "You are going back home after the ceremony, right?" Stiles shook his head and felt a pang of guilt as a sort of heart break fell across her features. "They all really miss you, Stiles. And my little reports that I know you don't want me giving aren't good enough."

Stiles grimaced and shook his head again. "It's been over three years, Lydia. I'm a different person. They're all different people. It would just be weird. Besides, I'm sure they don't even notice my absence."

Lydia put on her commanding face. "Did you know Isaac tore up his apartment when he found out you left?" Stiles gaped at her. He hadn't known that. "Or that it took Scott four months before he stopped going over to your house to ask a question before remembering you weren't there? Dear lord, you should have seen Scott. He didn't know how to handle most situations without you telling him what to do. Did you know that Derek moped? Moped, Stiles."

"I don't want to hear this," Stiles snapped bitterly.

"Well too bad. We took you for granted, true. I admit that. But you were still our friend and you didn't even tell us."

Stiles huffed and angrily crumpled his empty coffee up. Lydia hadn't touched this subject in the months they had become reacquainted with each other. He didn't want to hear it. "It wasn't like I was hiding it. I simply didn't bring it up. No one once asked me where I was planning on going to college or where I was interested. No one cared, Lydia. You're all great people, but I didn't matter to any of you back then."

She reached over a put a hand on his. "You mattered, Stiles. You still matter." He shrugged and stood to toss his cup. It was easy to see her words weren't believed. "Stiles, you mattered," she repeated. "You were my confidant, and you left. And yes, we became different people, but you and I stumbled into each other's lives again and we're friends again."

He gave her a small smile. "I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye. I am. But I don't regret it," he said sitting down. "If I had said goodbye you guys would have convinced me to stay. Leaving was the best thing I could have done."

Lydia crossed her arms and glared at him. She wasn't happy with that answer. "Are you at least going to come back next spring for the wedding?" Lydia asked stone faced.

The corner of his mouth twitched up at her. "We'll see."

Stiles graduated. Then he went to Europe and traveled, taking in as much as possible. He didn't go back for Lydia's wedding. She did receive a nice package, a wedding gift. It was a silver pendant he had crafted in Florence. There was an ouroboros creating the outside with a full moon on the inside. Stiles felt it pretty symbolic of who she was giving her heart to.

There was a note: I'm sorry I couldn't make it. I'm sure you'll look stunning when you walk down the aisle. It would have probably been too much for my poor heart to take anyway and I'd fall helplessly in love with you all over again. I don't have anything for Jackson, but he's rich so he doesn't really need anything. But, no matter my feelings for your betrothed, I am so happy for you. The both of you were always better people when the other was there. I'm glad now everyone can know that he's your better half.

Then even their tentative texting fell flat for a while, Lydia only receiving post cards throughout the summer. It picked up when Stiles started grad school at Kent that autumn. Stiles had planned to cut Lydia out again, but he couldn't deny that pull and that morbid curiosity as to how everyone was doing.

But he still wouldn't come back.

Not when Scott married Allison. Not when Lydia had a baby. Not after he graduated for a second time, now with his masters in History of Literature. Stiles planned to travel some more, this time going to the far East, but his travels only lasted a few months. They were cut short when his father got shot on duty while stopping a robbery. Stiles would return for family.

Chapter Text

Stiles rolled into town on a Sunday.

It was about five in the morning, the night still clinging to Beacon Hills, the sky muddling grey as the early winter morning tried to creep its way in. Stiles grabbed the first plane back to California, a twelve hour ride from Tibet, a hopper from LAX to SanFran, then took a cab for a long few hours to what used to be his front door. His heart was racing the whole way there. Lydia waited for him on the front steps of his house and pulled him into a strong hug before letting the boy race in to see his father.

Stiles knew. He could practically feel them. The rest of the pack was nearby, keeping an eye on him. Seeing the boy they had abandoned so many years ago return as a man, so different than what they remembered and yet so exactly the same. But he ignored them, focused on his father. Sitting by his side until the aging man woke up.

In truth, the wound wasn't terrible. No vitals were hit. He was released from the hospital without any complications. The man who fired was in custody. Mr. Stilinski was healing fine, but he was still in the process of healing and off duty for least two months. "I needed a vacation anyways," he joked over breakfast. Stiles gave him a little glare, but he couldn't really reprimand his dad right now. Stiles was just happy he was okay.

It was nearing lunchtime, Stiles sleeping off his terrible jet lag, when the doorbell rang. He knew who it was going to be as he trucked down the stairs, yelling at his dad to stay sitting or so help him. It wasn't as if Stiles hadn't been filled in on certain changes, like who a few of the new deputies were. And it would make sense that one of them, who wanted to see Stiles as well, would take the day's rounds of checking up on the welfare of their boss. All the deputies had taken to making sure at least one of them saw him a day since the incident.

That didn't make it any less weird or uncomfortable for Stiles when he opened the door and Derek Hale was standing there in uniform looking as if someone had killed his kitten. Derek quickly composed himself and gave a curt nod. "Stiles." Stiles backed up, opening the door further to let him inside. He watched from the kitchen, making something for his dad to eat, as Derek and his father chatted. Stiles didn't miss the way Derek's eyes kept flicking his way. Neither did his dad, who patted Derek on the arm and told him to 'man up'. Which, to be honest, Stiles found hilarious if not for the fact it meant his dad just sent Derek over to speak to him.

Stiles sent his dad a withering look, but all he got in return was a stern gaze, a roll of the eyes, and his dad turning back to watch the football game on TV. "So, Deputy Hale," Stiles said, the words feeling like cotton in his mouth. "What can I do for you?"

It took a few beats of awkward silence before Derek finally opened his mouth to say something. Stiles wasn't sure what he had expected, an apology maybe, or something about pack and family and trust and missing him or some other bullshit Stiles had a million rebukes to. But it wasn't what he got. "You look older," Derek stated.

Stiles scoffed. "No shit."

Derek shook his head. "I know, logically, you would look older, but I couldn't picture you looking anything other than seventeen." The sadness in Derek's tone threw Stiles off. He wasn't sure what to make of it. "You look good, Stiles."

Stiles shook his head, a faint upturn of the lips. "I have bags under my eyes the size of California. I look like shit."

Derek shrugged but didn't say anything more on the matter. "It's a full moon tonight," Derek said off hand and Stiles heart skipped a beat.

"I know."

It was obvious to Stiles that Derek was struggling with saying something even though his stoic presence didn't falter much. "Everyone is fully in control." Stiles just nodded. "We, um, tend to get together now."

"Lydia told me as much."

Derek let out a long exhale, although it did little to relax him. "You're welcome to come, you know. We'd like you to come."

Stiles swallowed. "No thanks," he said. "I don't belong there." He could tell Derek wanted to protest, but he kept silent on the matter.

After Derek left the Sheriff let out a deep sigh and shook his head at his son. "You know," he said, "things have changed on our end too. Derek's a good guy. "

Stiles had to admit. Those are words he never in his life thought he'd hear his dad say. He still didn't go that night.

The next day, it was Boyd who came to visit his father, the other new werewolf deputy in town. It was nice. There was no bullshit small talk, not attempt at an apology, no request for Stiles to join them for some get together or other. Boyd simply checked up on the Sheriff, gave a nod Stiles' way, and warned that Scott was planning on stopping by later. Stiles thanked him politely and for the rest of the day he was left to his own thoughts. His dad had fallen asleep in front of the TV.

Stiles thought Boyd had looked better. Taller and broader, if possible, an intimidating officer by any means. But there was a softness behind his eyes, a friendliness and warmth and lack of pain that hadn't been there before. The pack had done him well, it seemed.

When Scott showed up Stiles wasn't prepared for the lack of awkwardness. Scott simply pulled Stiles into a tight hug, grinning like a mad man, and then went straight into a tirade about everything that had happened to them all the last eight years. Allison had tagged along and she interjected every few moments to fix facts or add onto what Scott was saying. Stiles lost count of how many times one of them slipped into the conversation how much they missed him before continuing right along into what everyone was doing now.

Scott was in veterinary school. Allison ran an outdoorsy, camping and hunting store with her father, as well as teaching archery. Derek apparently was still wary about that, but Allison had been doing it since the spring before graduating high school. The craze from Brave and Hawkeye and the Hunger Games was enough to fund most of her college expenses. Jackson was following in his father's footsteps and going to Law School. Lydia was busy being a mother, but that didn't stop her from working on her dissertation in math and running a rather popular fashion blog. Boyd and Derek had become deputies. Isaac was on his way to become a psychiatrist and Erica was job hopping, still not sure what she wanted to do with her life. But, she had her motorcycle license and took drives down to the beach every weekend and apparently coming back smelling like another wolf. Pack territory love affairs aside, everything was going well. Most all of it Stiles had heard before. Once Lydia got Stiles to mention a pack member during one of their chats it opened the floodgates and she had been spoon feeding him information for the last few years.

There was also a new pack member. Danny was in on everything now and considered pack, but Stiles dismissed that as Danny was still human. There was a girl named Meagan, someone who had become friends with Erica during college. Lydia had briefly mentioned this girl, but Stiles hadn't realized she had been turned until Scott said so during his rant. An odd sense of jealousy hit Stiles and a greater sense of outsider-ness. He knew it was his choices that put him so far away from the pack, but the fact that there was somebody Stiles never even met now being one of Derek's betas… it really solidified it for him.

"She sounds nice," was all he said in response.

As Scott ran out of things to say, the room got quiet. It wasn't quite uncomfortable, but it did have the sense that something was missing and needed to be filled. Eventually Allison spoke up. "You've been quiet. It's odd. Even my imagination of you can't shut up sometimes," she laughed.

Stiles quirked a smile, lopsided and a little bitter. He looked down at the beer he was nursing and blew out a sigh. "Yeah, well, I'm still fairly talkative with my university mates," he said, the British terms slipping from him without a second's thought. "But I'm one of the lucky 40 percent and grew out of my ADHD so I don't feel a compulsion to blab like I had before."

They both nodded, not sure what to say in response to that. It was as if their Stiles really was gone and the man that returned only shared his memories. Scott and Allison left with a promise to stop by later and an invitation from Lydia to come meet her baby. There was an unspoken plea for him to see everyone, to join them, to be part of something bigger than himself, but Stiles let it hang in the air.

Stiles did, however, go over to the Whittemore's that evening after making sure his father ate something. Lydia was someone he considered a friend. He wasn't going to snub meeting her child. It was as awkward as to be expected between him and Jackson. They never had got along, even when he stopped being a huge douche thanks to the saving grace of Lydia's love. He gave Stiles a pat on the shoulder and a cold beer and asked him politely how things were. Stiles responded with the same one note response he gave Allison and Scott. "As good as they can be, considering." Jackson nodded and took a sip from his beer.

Lydia came in with Hazel and Stiles spent a solid twenty minutes cooing over the little girl. When Lydia left to get dinner ready, trusting Stiles and Jackson to be able to watch a baby without her, Jackson surprised him. "You know, it is good to see you."

"Yeah?"

He shrugged and sat on the couch, lovingly looking over Hazel in her baby bouncer. "I always thought you were annoying and a liability when things got rough, and I completely understand why you left. We treated you like shit. But, when you were gone, it really took a toll on everyone."

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Did Lydia put you up to this?"

Jackson barked a laugh. "No. But, I guess that wouldn't be surprising if she had." Jackson paused thoughtfully, taking a swig of beer before continuing. "Back in high school we were all self-absorbed pieces of shit, myself included."

"Yourself the most," Stiles interrupted with a smartass smirk.

Jackson smiled and took another sip of beer. "Probably," he agreed. "Point being, you leaving was a real wake up call. I think we all matured five years when we figured out what you had done. When Lydia ran into you in New York and told all of us how you were, I have to admit even I was happy to hear you were doing well." Jackson looked Stiles over and smirked. "You should have seen Derek when he got the news about where you were. Scott and Boyd had to physically stop him from going after you while Allison explained for the hundredth time why you left and that we just had to wait until you were ready."

Stiles quirked an eyebrow. "Why did Derek care so much? We hadn't even talked for like four months before I left."

"He felt guilty for not going to see you when you were still here. Probably still blames himself."

"Why?" Stiles repeated, more confused.

Jackson gave him a look that was blatantly you're a dumbass. "Derek back then would only do things if he had a reason, like life or death reason. He wouldn't just go see someone because he wanted to. He worked and came home and worked and that was it. None of us really saw him besides Isaac for those four months after the last mini fiasco that had happened that summer because he didn't think there was reason to see us. When you left he made sure we all got together as often as possible. He was so afraid that a pack member would leave again because he was incapable of showing that he cared."

There were a few beats of silence, Stiles trying his hardest to wrap his brain around this new information. "What?"

Jackson rolled his eyes but sighed. "I think he's still scared we're all just going to up and abandon him."

Lydia called them in for dinner then and nothing more was spoken on the matter.

By the time Stiles got back home and check to make sure his dad was sleeping, the only thing he had worked out of the mess Jackson had told him was: The only thing I was ever good for was leaving. I made them all grow up. The only thing they ever needed from me was needing me gone.

If Jackson had known Stiles was so good at warping things, he might not have said anything.

Chapter Text

Stiles met Meagan on a Monday.

He'd been in town two weeks and everyone from the pack had made their awkward stop by at least once. They all looked good. Even Peter stopped by, which was weird because when he had risen from the dead (which, admittedly, still freaks Stiles out) he then sort of was never around. At least, he was never around Stiles. Stiles sort of remembers Scott or Isaac or one of the others mentioning him at the lunch table in high school and Peter had helped with the Alpha Pack, but they almost never saw each other back then. Lydia had never even mentioned Peter, although that would make sense. She had never quite forgiven him for what he had done. All Scott had said was Peter was 'doing the usual', although Stiles didn't know what that was. He didn't ask.

When Peter stopped by, it was to check up on the Sheriff and give a few sassy remarks that didn't get the witty retort he was expecting from the kid. "Derek probably doesn't want me over here," he finally said when Stiles flatly asked him why he was still there. "But I can loop hole what he had said to me before you left with when he said we always need to check up on pack whenever possible, or whatever it was he said. The start of the pack meetings and what not," he supplied. Stiles didn't have to ask what Derek had told him before, Peter went straight into it as if as an apology. "When Derek found out that I had offered you the bite back when I was the alpha, he banned me from seeing you. Which, to be fair, makes sense. I still wasn't fully in my right mind at the time." Stiles nodded slowly, not quite getting the point Peter was trying to make. "Just, let it be known, it wasn't that I was ignoring you or that I never considered you pack. You were always pack."

Stiles just rolled his eyes and they politely ended their conversation. It was a few days later when Stiles was grocery shopping that he ran into the final member of the pack, the one he hadn't known before. Meagan was a tall, lean girl with rich chocolate brown hair that was cropped into a pixie cut. Her eyes looked gold even when they weren't shifted. Stiles knew it was her because as he rolled his cart past her, the girls head jerked up, her eyes widened, and she sniffed the air. It was subtle enough no one would really notice unless they were, you know, Stiles or a hunter or another wolf. An almost scared smile crept across her face as she rolled her cart towards him and asked if he was Stiles.

When he confirmed that he was in fact Stiles, her smile brightened and Stiles shrunk into himself. She chatted happily about how glad she was finally able to meet him and sorry it had been in the grocery store. She kept mentioning Isaac and Stiles got the feeling she had a thing for the lanky werewolf. "Sorry for bombarding you," she said, her smile turning apologetic. "It's just that, you get mentioned a lot and I always feel like such an outsider not knowing the great Stiles."

They were silent for a moment and Stiles wasn't sure what made him say it. He may not have a clinical disorder anymore, but he does still say things without thinking. "Why did you become a werewolf?"

Meagan's smile fell for the briefest second and when it came back it was small and inward, something of a blush coloring her cheeks.

"It was my sophomore year of college. I had found out about Erica earlier that year. We were roommates and really close. There was apparently some trouble with Isaac and pack in the area he was going to school in. I had met Isaac already. Erica needed to get there and I drove. I shouldn't have been there, I realize. It was just supposed to be a meeting, but it was still dangerous. I spent the day at a café reading, but one of the other pack found me and dragged me out there because they thought I could be a bargaining chip. A fight broke out, I ended up getting bit."

"Oh." Stiles had not been expecting that. Sure, Scott had mentioned the incident with Isaac, but they hadn't gone into what happened.

Meagan shrugged, a bigger smile returning. "The other pack got pretty badly beaten and I joined Derek and Isaac was able to continue schooling without any problems, so everything worked out, in the end."

"Sorry that it wasn't a choice," Stiles managed to say.

She scrunched her nose. It was adorable. Stiles could have fallen in love with this girl right there if she weren't so obviously crushing over Isaac. After Lydia (and okay, a few others) Stiles learned better than to fall for someone in love with somebody else. "I probably would have asked for it, eventually. Erica's my best friend and everyone else is awesome too and I always wanted a big family." She sighed happily and shook her head. "But, I'll let you get back to shopping. And I hope your dad's okay."

Stiles couldn't help but smile back despite a gnawing in the pit of his stomach. "Yeah, thanks. Nice meeting you."

When Stiles got home, Derek was there. He stood up quickly and stiffly from his seat next to the Sheriff. Stiles quirked an eyebrow and brought the groceries into the kitchen without a word. Derek had followed him. Stiles did his best to ignore the werewolf as he unloaded all the food and put the items away.

"I'm sorry Peter was here," Derek said after a few moments. Stiles just shrugged. "He shouldn't have come. He-"

"You know, I'm a grown man," Stiles interrupted. "I can take care of myself. And I'm not so emotionally scarred that I can't handle seeing someone who threatened me a decade ago."

Derek snapped his mouth shut and nodded curtly. "Sorry."

Stiles leaned back against the counter after putting the cereal away and crossed his arms over his chest. "It's weird hearing you apologize." This only caused Derek to look away, ashamed, and mutter another sorry. Stiles shook his head with a semblance of a laugh. "God, I would have left earlier if I had known it would change you all so much."

Derek's eyes shot back up to Stiles', his brow furrowed in a hurt confusion. "You shouldn't have left," Derek says, his voice pinched.

Stiles went back to unpacking groceries and shrugged. "It was better for everyone except maybe my dad," Stiles continued on conversationally, as if this weren't such a sensitive topic for him to breach. "I was able to make friends and grow up outside of a death trap, you guys lost your weak link, became a close knit family. Boyd smiles now. Jackson's not a douche bag. Isaac has gotten over his trauma. Erica is completely confident in herself. Peter's normal. You know how to take care of people and show emotion that isn't all grr-face, I'm gonna kill you. Obviously, mine leaving was best for everyone and not just totally selfish on my part."

Derek said he was sorry again and Stiles rolled his eyes. "See, it was fun the first few times, but now the apologizes are getting annoying."

When Stiles looked back at Derek, he had his mouth open with a face Stiles knew immediately as about to spill something very meaningful. He had seen that face a lot on other people. Usually a crying "I'm sorry, but we should break up" type deal, but sometimes it wasn't quite so tragic. But no words came out, at least, not before Stiles phone buzzed in his pocket. Stiles answered it, thankful from the distraction of Derek's lips, because even at 31 Derek was drop dead gorgeous and Stiles had had first suspected his bisexuality because of the stupid wolf after all.

"Hello?"

Derek listened into the phone call. He knew he shouldn't, but he did anyway. Another man's voice came across the line, happy and excited. "Stilinski! I just read your facebook update. What the hell are you doing in California? I thought it was all about Asia after grad school?"

Derek didn't miss the way Stiles smiled at hearing the man's voice. "My dad got hurt, so I came home. Going to work on my European research while I'm here since it's all compiled at least. Thank God the grant was for both otherwise I'd have no money until I can get back out there," he cheerfully replied, missing the way Derek tensed hearing Stiles was planning to leave again. "Where are you at?"

"San Antonio, man! I can totally take a hopper and come visit!" Stiles rolled his eyes even though the man couldn't see. The act of doing so caused Stiles to see Derek, hovering awkwardly. Stiles held up his finger to indicate he'd be off in a moment then went back to looking anywhere but the werewolf.

"Dude, you'd buy a plane ticket to visit me in a small ass town high enough in the state you'd need your winter stuff but not high enough you'd be able to go skiing? It would make more sense for me to hop down and spend a weekend wearing shorts, don't you think?"

"Wouldn't want you to take time away from your dad," the guy said. It hit Derek how sincerely caring the voice was as if the man knew the Sheriff personally, better than Derek did.

"Yeah, yeah. We'll talk later okay? Got stuff to do."

They said goodbyes and promises to chat latter. When Stiles hung up he shrugged. "Friend from Syracuse." It was all the explanation Derek got. "Is there anything else you need?" Stiles asked, unsure why the great big alpha was still standing in his kitchen like a lost kid looking for his mom.

"You met Meagan." It wasn't a question or an accusation, just a statement.

Stiles nodded. "Yeah, she seemed nice. Isaac know she's in love with him?"

Derek shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. "For someone studying to be a psychiatrist he really can't see the obvious when it comes to himself."

Stiles laughed, a real one if not a short one.

Then Derek surprised him. The pack had been doing a lot of surprising him, it seemed.

"We weren't better with you gone," he said in all seriousness. "You leaving didn't make things better. It just made me realize just how good I am at fucking things up when I'm trying to do the opposite."

Stiles heart skipped a beat and he was sure Derek could hear it. It was easy to forget about the tension that used to be between Derek and himself when he was away from it for so long. But being alone with Derek brought memories from almost ten years ago to the surface. The way they had once danced around each other before the big fight with the Alpha Pack.

Derek had stayed away for a number of reasons back then. Stiles was young. The age difference meant something back then. Still, Derek almost did something. But then Stiles got hurt. Then Derek did everything he could to make sure he was never in the line of danger again. The mini fiasco of rouge hunters the summer before Stiles' senior year was the last time Derek even talked to Stiles before the Sunday after his father got shot, over eight years later. Because Derek thought that by staying away Stiles would be safe.

Derek freely admits now that he was an idiot.

To himself, at least.

Stiles just knew that there was a something between them and then he got flagged as the weak human and was kept away.

"No one tries to fuck things up, Derek," Stiles eventually says. "Just because you weren't trying doesn't mean it didn't happen."

Derek left and Stiles stated texting Kyle. It was a Friday when he showed up on Stiles front door bearing get well gifts for the Sheriff. Kyle had checked into a hotel for the weekend. He called it quaint, just the kind of vacation he needed from the office work back in San Antonio. Stiles spent a few nights not in his old bedroom, both thankful to be out of that room of reminders and to be in bed with somebody.

Sure, Lydia had told them when Stiles was dating someone. But it was different when someone was a tangible person that the werewolves could smell.

This time it was Isaac who came home from his Saturday class to find the living room of the renovated Hale house looking like a tornado had gone through it. "Derek?" he questioned, his voice more reprimanding and curious than worried.

Derek appeared in the doorway, sighed, and started righting the furniture. "I saw Stiles today. He reeked of sex."

Isaac winced. "Sorry buddy."

Chapter Text

Stiles realized they had gotten under his skin on a Wednesday and it was a Wednesday when all hell broke loose.

Kyle visiting had been a great stress relief. They were good friends and always up for a no strings attached fuck. Sure, they once dated, but it was never anything serious. There was a bit more flirting this time around and Stiles wondered if Kyle was interested again, but there wasn't much to it after he left, although they texted often.

Once his dad was well enough to go up and down stairs without assistance, Stiles got a motel room for the rest of his stay. He needed a place to work and have music playing until four AM without worrying about his father sleeping. Stiles did have a job of sorts, after all. He couldn't just ignore it for the two months he was going to be home.

Scott and Allison and Lydia and Jackson with Hazel visited often, sometimes all together. He always politely let them enter, never going out with them. Isaac stopped by a few more times the following weeks before the full moon. Erica had only visited the once when he was still at his Dad's. She had been distant, apparently, ever since Meagan got turned. Partly feeling guilty, partly because she's now involved with a guy from the pack that had tried to take Isaac. Isaac still thinks she and Boyd should never have broken up, but it happens.

Stiles had opened the door to Scott with a smile and a bro hug and Stiles' mind stopped for a moment and recognized how familiar they were being. He had to admit they were more like friends now than they had been that last year or so of high school.

It was weird. It was comfortable.

Stiles knew that it was common for people to lose track of friends they went to high school with. Most people weren't best friends for life once they went off to college. They grew up and found their own lives. But Beacon Hills was a small town and when people rarely leave it makes high school friendships more important. Then with this particular group of friends being more than friends, but being a family, a pack… well, Stiles could understand why his leaving affected them so much. It just wasn't expected.

That Wednesday Stiles got invited again to the full moon get together. They didn't press, which Stiles appreciated. He told them he'd think about it. He didn't think he'd go.

He worked on his European research, compiling commonalities and rooting out origins. Stiles always had a knack for research. It wasn't just the finding all the right articles and books and tomes and scrolls and archaic stone carvings (Europe is an ancient place compared to America), but Stiles was good at, enjoyed even, going through all of them and discovering the connections.

Stiles dissertation during grad school was The Evolution on the Myth of Shape Shifters: A Cross Cultural Study. It got published. It was good enough it got him a grant with very little effort to continue his research, getting to study first hand in Asia. It was supposed to be for two years. It only lasted five months before Stiles had to return to care for his father.

Nobody in Beacon Hills really knows that Stiles was never able to put his mind at rest when it came to werewolves and kanimas and other creatures that he wished were still fairy tales.

Oh, god, the things Stiles had learned about fairies is just plain terrifying.

Stiles had moved on, made new friends, had a good life in New York and England… but he could never shake the impact the pack back in Beacon Hills had on him over the years. It shaped his whole life.

The full moon was a Saturday and Stiles wasn't sure if it was because he hadn't really gone anywhere besides his old house and the grocery store in a month, but Stiles wanted a night out. He had nearly finished sorting through his research and had mapped out a full six chapters of his next book. He deserved a break, he rationalized when Lydia texted him that morning.

Stiles regretted his decision about the moment he arrived. Scott and Allison weren't there yet and Lydia was off setting up the baby area with Jackson and Peter. Hazel was apparently a handful because she too was a werewolf. A werewolf baby. Stiles wasn't sure how he missed that earlier. Peter was helping them because he was the only one who had been around werewolf babies before. Sure, Derek had been one, but he was only sixteen when he lost his family and the last time there had been a baby, Derek was only maybe nine.

Thinking of that made Stiles really depressed. He shook the thoughts out quickly and focused his attention on the other members of the pack.

Boyd and Erica were cordial to each other, almost as if nothing had ever been between them. Granted it had been… five or six years since they broke up. It would make sense that they're past it. But, at the same time, Stiles couldn't help but feel there was still a pull between them.

Isaac was easy to talk to. They discussed psychology. Stiles had minored in it at Syracuse so he knew the subject a lot more than most of the people Isaac got to talk with. Meagan was sitting there hanging off their every word which was beginning to make Stiles uncomfortable. She was fascinated by him and was flirting with Isaac and Stiles kind of wanted to step away and give Meagan a chance with the other werewolf… but that would leave only Derek to talk to.

And Derek was cooking so it obviously wouldn't be a good idea to bother him.

The night went on fairly smoothly with only a few awkward silences. Stiles had a few beers and didn't make an utter fool of himself. Actually, he didn't do that too often anymore. He was coordinated due to his time playing lacrosse in college. He was also able to think before speaking, which was a great new skill. It was more relaxed once Lydia and Jackson joined them again and even more when Scott and Allison showed up. And Stiles tried to not be awkward because they were all trying to accept him in. And for all the time Stiles had been pushing them away Stiles had only ever wanted for them to want him there.

In the end, Stiles found himself texting Kyle. From a couple of his texts, Stiles found himself smiling. Scott asked who it was, Stiles said nobody. They didn't press.

They ate food and drank and talked and Stiles didn't miss the way Derek kept shifting his eyes towards Stiles and looking endlessly hurt past his blank expression.

Stiles wasn't sure how he felt about being able to read Derek's expressions so well after all these years. By the end of the night Stiles had convinced himself he wasn't seeing anything and excused himself before midnight.

All in all, it wasn't too terrible an evening. But it was weird. Despite the lack of awkwardness at his return and the general acceptance and want of Stiles there, he still felt out of place. The pack had grown up and he had grown up without them. It just wasn't where he belonged.

Stiles went to his motel room and slept and the next day he worked and checked up on his father and it just continued on. Until a Wednesday came around again and it was like they were back in high school. Shit was going down and Stiles found himself in the middle of it. The only difference was he knew how to take care of himself this time.

Stiles was in town, having just stopped by the police station to pick up some things for his dad. He was planning on getting groceries before heading to his dad's, but decided to swing for a coffee first. It was still early and Stiles enjoyed his caffeine. Stiles thought he spotted Erica. He called her name, unsure as to why. They really were getting under his skin, it seemed. She spun around, eyes wide with fear.

That's when he knew something was wrong. Erica didn't do fear. Not since the alpha pack. She was cold and sharp edges or wicked smiles. Not that she wouldn't show herself be vulnerable, but she would never show herself scared. And from what everyone had told him, that hadn't changed in the eight years Stiles had been away.

What had happened, as Stiles found out later, was that Erica broke up with her boyfriend from the other pack. They had been on bad terms lately, fighting more than kissing type deal, and Erica finally cut the cord. Only he held on, and with a vengeance. It had been almost six years since Derek and the others fought this pack to keep Isaac and they had grown in numbers. The boy Erica was dating was the son of the alpha and he commanded a league of betas as if they were his own.

But when Stiles sees Erica, all he knows is that something is wrong, so he checks his pockets and makes sure his things are there and as if they were teenagers again he stalks over and asks what they're up against. Erica tells him to run, but suddenly there are a group of werewolves surrounding them in the parking lot of Starbucks and it's all Stiles can do to place a gentle hand on Erica's wrist and breathe and calm down.

Stiles had learned a few things in his years. Being calm was the best way to get out of a situation like this being number one.

He'd been in too many of them to count.

And not all of them from his time in Beacon Hills.

Chapter Text

It was also a Wednesday, Stiles blearily remembers, when he first met hunters in Europe.

On his year tour before starting grad school, Stiles was already searching for every ounce of information he could on shifters and other not so mythical creatures. During his stint in Ireland, he was looking too close into what some hunters feared to be the truth. One of them, an absolutely gorgeous man named Conor, who was unfortunately absolutely straight, warned him in that cryptic way people do when they want to scare you off without giving away any information.

Stiles was leafing through a small village's library when Conor told him, "Most people who come here searching 'bout myths end up not staying historians fer very long." Stiles didn't even look up. He just continued reading and nodded his head a bit. Conor tried one or two more almost threats before Stiles sighed, put the book back, and looked the man in his deep blue eyes.

"You know," Stiles said, "the low gate most people can jump made out of Rowan around the town isn't very conspicuous. Are there specific wolves you're trying to keep out, or just in general?"

Conor narrowed his eyes slightly, a play of a smirk on his lips. "Conor O'Hannagan," he offered. After a few more semi cryptic statements towards each other, Conor invited Stiles to the local pub and together they discussed their knowledge of the supernatural.

Hunters in Conor's family were much different than the Argents. "Americans," Conor spat. "Argents used to be respected bunch but America has a way of taking and twisting and hating. It's just damn too full of big cities and lost touch with nature because it's so young, growing up in a world of tech. I'm sure more Native American tribes are better at what they do, but most small towns that would know," he blathered, "are all full of prejudice in America and just kill."

Hunters didn't hunt to kill the werewolf population, not by the O'Hannagan standard or the Irish standard, or the UK standard. They knew evil was the person and not the beast and that full blood humans could be beastlier than the average wolf. Stiles thought of Gerard. Conor agreed. He was a true monster.

"But, unfortunately, werewolves can be dangerous. The point being," Conor paused, taking a long swig of his beer, "werewolves can become omegas and feral and when something out there kills like a beast but walks like a man the right authorities aren't gonna figure it out. That's all we're here for, hunters. To protect the people when the police can't see there might be something more out there."

This was a code Stiles could get behind. Later, Conor introduced Stiles to his cousin, Ashley.

That relationship lasted almost a year.

As Stiles traveled throughout Europe, gathering information on different types of creatures, learning tricks even Deaton probably didn't know about, Ashley tagged along. She had been dying to get away from her small village for years and Stiles was a perfect excuse.

Look wise, she kind of reminded him of Erica: tall and blonde and sinister with something sweet behind the eyes. As Stiles gripped Erica's wrist, he couldn't help missing those months Ashley trained him the art of defense against a werewolf, missing Ashley. They weren't the best pair romantically, but they had been good together on the field.

Before the wolves surrounding them could reasonably figure out what Stiles was doing, he pulled out a small squirt gun from his jacket and sprayed a circle around him and Erica. The liquid that came out was as red as blood but much too thin to be said substance. The berries from the type of Mountain Ash that grew in Europe worked just as well as the powder bark Deaton used.

"You can't stay in there forever," one of them sneered after attempting to pass the barrier.

"Don't need to," Stiles remarked with a roll of his eyes, his bravado convincing even to the wolves surrounding him. He wasn't lying, after all. Stiles turned Erica to face him, her eyes wild with panic but her breathing even. There was clarity in her look, which was good. He needed her to listen carefully. "I've never done this with a wolf, so there may be some weird side effects. Whatever happens, try your best to reign yourself in and not freak out and gut me or something, okay?"

"Stiles, what-?"

He waved his hand to stop her question as he dug into his pocket. Stiles pulled out a vial of deep green liquid. Witches brew, the type not commonly found at college parties, was a specialty of Stiles. "Close your eyes," he whispered more for a soothing effect than for secrecy since he knew the other werewolves could hear him. Erica scrunched her eyes shut and Stiles laced his fingers with hers and downed the vial's vile contents.

Ashley taught Stiles how to make a number of things. The berries from wild Mountain Ash in Ireland not only acted as a barrier agent that Stiles could simply squirt around himself, but when mixed with a handful of other herbs and plants and flower juices and that same ability to create a spark as Deaton so called it, Stiles could do much more than create a barrier. Ashley wasn't as good as Stiles at this part. She could only transport herself. Stiles has successfully transported five people out of the way of danger. Goblins are a bitch to fight, after all.

Erica lay gasping on the floor, her eyes flashing color and an obvious struggle on her face to control the shift. Stiles didn't miss a beat in creating another barrier between himself and Erica. She looked at him guiltily once she was under control. "Sorry," she said. "You shouldn't have had to protect yourself from me." Then Erica looked around taking in the sight of the abandoned station she had once called home base that first few months of being a werewolf. "What the hell did you do Stiles?" She then sniffed the air and frowned. "Why do you smell like burning flesh?" Her voice was weary and tense and Stiles had a glimpse at the girl he had known once, more afraid of being rejected from the pack after abandoning Derek than of dying by the hands of the alphas.

Stiles pulled another vial from his jacket, this one full of a thick blue gel, and gave Erica his best reassuring smile. "It's a tough trick, displacing particles. Scientifically that's what it is, but you can't really explain old magic in terms of science. I disapperated us, like with Harry Potter," he said, pulling off his shirts. Erica gasped at the sight of his chest, covered in tattoos that were bubbling up as if the ink were trying to escape. Stiles calmly applied the blue gel and they slowly settled. "This was the second place I came after returning because I knew, I just knew some shit would happen. And I would need a place closer than Ireland to have a second circle. It's kind of like Portal. Did you ever play that? Fucking awesome game."

"Stiles, your chest."

"And back," he responded with a shrug, reaching behind him and spreading the gel the best he could over the symbols and sigils that were burning beneath his skin between his shoulder blades. "Tattoo ink was infused with Mountain Ash and Wormwood. Makes it easier than having to draw all the right spells each time I need to do something."

Erica noted the think black tattoos that weren't symbols, just black. They covered his heart and some major arteries. "A werewolf wouldn't be able to puncture your skin," she said in wonder.

"Not fatally, as least," Stiles agreed, sighing in relief as the rest of his tattoos settled. "They can't track us by scent because we didn't leave a trail, but we really aren't that far away from Starbucks." He looked at Erica, half hoping but not expecting her to have a response, a game plan, a where to go from here now that Stiles got them out of the tricky bit.

She just stared at him, taking in the sight of his tattooed body. There were a few symbols she recognized, but most were foreign. There were some that looked Irish, others looked like alchemy, and there were a few that seemed oriental. There were new scars on his body, none as big as from the Alpha Pack, but some looked far worse. Stiles pulled his shirt back on, breaking Erica's train of thought.

"Stiles, what have you been doing all this time?"

"It doesn't matter. Call the pack, warn them about the situation. I have to go grocery shopping."

The look on Erica's face was incredulous and confused, Stiles almost laughed. He didn't. He merely shoved his hands into his pockets and headed to the door.

"You can't just leave. You can't just go grocery shopping after-"

"Look, I helped you today, but I don't plan on giving up my life for you guys any time soon. This is your issue," he said, turning back to look Erica square in the eyes. "You need to find a solution."

"But they've seen you," she pleaded.

"I can take care of myself, I have for years."

If Erica thought it would do any good, she could have easily stopped Stiles. But he was right. Despite their super strength, Stiles had always been the one saving them. And now he had the means to do it safely.

She stood there, frozen, staring at Stiles figure walking away until finally coming to her senses and calling Derek.

Stiles knew he was fooling himself by waking away. All his years in Europe one thing he learned was that things weren't over until you saw the end. Flying away wasn't the end. But he didn't want to get sucked into this again. Not here. Not with them.

It was different with Ashley. They backpacked and Stiles researched and through the research he stumbled into instances where they needed to defend themselves and save people but it felt like he was in Jonny Quest. It wasn't Beacon Hills. Bad things didn't just show up because of vendettas and broody, sulking, tragic pasts. Sure, there was danger in Europe, but there was also peace and people were happy.

Stiles was happy.

Stiles doesn't think he can be happy here. So, he doesn't want to get dragged into their drama.

Of course, that's when his phone rings, as he's halfway on the walk to pick up his jeep. It's Lydia.

"She's gone! They took her. I don't know how they got in or found out or-"

"Lydia!" he shouts into the phone, trying to catch her frantic words. "Calm down. What happened?"

"Hazel," she sobbed. "The fuckers took my baby."

With those words, it was sealed. Stiles was involved.

Chapter Text

Stiles had spent his Tuesday nights at college working at the local coffee shop.

When Stiles was at Syracuse he tried the whole normal life thing. He juggled school, three jobs, his fraternity requirements, and what was actually a rather booming social life. Class, every semester, never went past five and on Tuesdays he worked at the coffee shop and chatted with the costumers and became friends with the regulars. He also picked up hours there during holidays and school breaks when most other employees went home. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays he worked at the school library where he pretty much did his homework while waiting for people to come to the counter to check out books. Sometimes he was on reshelfing duty, but not often. It was a cool place to work seeing how it involved sitting down and forced Stiles to be quiet and focus on his school work as means of distraction. Fridays he partied. He was a part of a fraternity, it was practically mandated. He had chapel some Saturday afternoons and often partied again Saturday night. During the rest of the hours of Saturday, he usually was hanging out with friends or studying. On Sundays he worked at the used book shop a little ways off campus where he restocked shelves or rung up customers and had a long standing flirt with the owner. He had a pretty decent scholarship, but he needed as much cash as possible to do the socializing part of college.

But despite the friends and the work and the classes, the three years of living among the supernatural had changed Stiles for good. It wasn't like he could tell anybody about his werewolf adventures without being considered crazy or at the very least someone you didn't really want to hang around. It gnawed him up inside holding this secret that he couldn't tell anyone, he couldn't trust anyone to listen to and believe and not laugh in his face because it wasn't like there were werewolves romping around the streets of Syracuse attacking people with freak "cougar" reportings in the news. You just didn't get swept up into these things in a city the way you do in a smallish sized town and there's a different ambiance to creepy woods than creepy back alleys. You didn't find the supernatural there, not unless you really went looking.

And Stiles didn't. He never went looking because he was trying oh so hard to forget about all of it. But he couldn't.

Stiles switched majors three times, from economics to business, finally settling on philosophy because if Stiles could do one thing it was debate abstract concepts. He double minored in psychology (because it was damn interesting) and economics (because he had already taken enough credits to have it count). Lydia had found him and he realized that all his pulling away from the supernatural was useless. Stiles never knew what he wanted to do with his life and having her back in it only solidified that whatever Stiles ended up doing, it would involve them. Maybe, hopefully, because he never wanted to go back, not the pack in Beacon Hills, but definitely the supernatural. So Stiles took his love for research to the origins of the myths and traveled throughout Europe discovering old things and new tricks and all around becoming a character out of a teen supernatural novel. Stiles wasn't sure if he would be the main character or the Deaton of somebody else's story. He didn't care. Either way it wasn't the plucky sidekick pathetic forgettable human liability he had been in high school.

They all could see the changes now. Stiles was in no way the sidekick anymore. It was in the way he stormed into the Hale house and straight to Lydia's sobbing form. There was a determination in his eyes that was hard but not cold. This was a man to be reckoned with. They could all feel it. None of them, besides Erica because she had seen it, were expecting such strength to be radiating off of Stiles and they all stood in stunned silence.

Jackson had brought Lydia to Derek's as soon as they knew what had happened. On the way Lydia had called Stiles. Allison and Scott were on their way over. Erica had filled Derek in about the other pack and Derek had informed Jackson and when Stiles walked in everyone was talking over each other in a cluster fuck of pointed fingers and rude remarks and Lydia's crying. Stiles zeroed in on Lydia, kneeling in front of her, taking her hands, and locking eyes.

"Tell me what happened."

She gulped and retold the story. She had put Hazel down for a nap and was in the kitchen preparing dinner. There was a sound and Hazel cried and Lydia raced to her baby but the window to the room was open and the baby was gone. Lydia freaked and called Jackson who raced home from work and smelled the wolves, one distinctly the same as the scent Erica always came home covered in.

"They must have tabs on all of you already," Stiles surmised, "otherwise they wouldn't have jumped to this so quickly. This isn't just about Erica dumping him." Stiles stood, giving Lydia's hand a comforting squeeze before letting go and turning to the rest of them. "They want something from you. Erica is just an excuse. This is the same pack that wanted Isaac, right?"

Isaac nodded. Stiles ran a hand through his hair and sighed.

"Look, I don't know what's going on with you guys well enough to figure out their master plan, but they want something. And if they want something," he turned to Lydia, "they aren't going to hurt Hazel."

She gulped and nodded, trusting Stiles' words.

"Do you have anything of hers on you?" he asked softly. "Something she touches often."

"I already tried tracking her scent, Stiles," Jackson snapped, more upset about the situation than at Stiles.

Stiles didn't take his eyes off Lydia as she pulled a binky out of her purse. "Not how I track things, Jackson." Stiles took the binky and turned to face the rest of them. "Someone get me a map of this region of California, something that covers a few counties over from Beacon Hills and wherever their territory is, just to be safe."

"Stiles, what-" Derek started but Stiles cut him off.

"Just do it," he snapped.

Erica raced to find a map, yelling at Meagan, Isaac, and Boyd to help her. Stiles looked at Derek and asked him to get the tool box from the back of the Jeep. Derek began to protest but Stiles shot him a look that was so hard even the Alpha felt the need to obey. Stiles turned back to Lydia.

"I am going to find your daughter," he assured her. "If those bastards so much as bruised her, I will kill them."

Jackson wanted to scoff, but even without the look in Stiles' eyes, there wasn't a blip in his heartbeat to tell of a lie.

Lydia flung her arms around Stiles and sobbed her thanks. Derek reentered just as Isaac ran down the stairs, triumphantly announcing the map he found. Stiles instructed Isaac to lay the map out flat on the floor, having him push aside the coffee table first. Then he took his tool box from Derek with a quick thanks before sitting down and getting to work.

Opening his tool box the onlookers could see an array of jars filled with various substances. A few of which they could easily identify as wolves bane and mountain ash. The number of types of wolves bane Stiles had handy was a little disconcerting. But Stiles went past all of that. From the bottom of the box Stiles pulled out four rocks which he handed to Boyd, telling him to pin the corners of the map down. Nobody missed the runes engraved into the stones. Stiles then pulled out candles and handed them to Erica. "One on each edge. Red, yellow, green, black. That order."

Stiles flicked his lighter in the air, knowing someone would catch it. Isaac did. "Light them." Stiles held a jar of pink sand in one hand and a similar colored crystal in the other, pondering for a moment. He put the jar back and then picked up Hazel's pacifier. Holding the binky close to his chest, Stiles sat in front of the map and placed the crystal center.

Then Stiles began to chant something in Latin which only Lydia could understand. They all stared on in amazement as the crystal began to hover the end point move around the map before settling.

"Stiles, how-," one of them began to speak, but he waved an arm over the map, the crystal falling and the lights going out.

"Not the time," he spat, scrambling to his feet. Stiles pulled a few vials out of his tool box and stuck them in his pockets, along with a piece of chalk. He raced to one end of the room and began marking the floor with an intricate circular pattern. "Don't touch this. Normally I would do it in something more permanent, don't have the time." Stiles didn't look up from his task. "Derek, I don't know your pack as well as you do, so you divvy people up, but you should have at least two people here to hold base because this is where I'm coming back if I need a quick getaway. Beyond that, it's your call. But I'm going and don't get in my way."

Stiles brushed his hands on his pants after dropping the chalk and standing back up. Derek just stared at the man, because he truly was a man, for a few beats before clarity rushing back in. As Stiles rushed to his Jeep, Derek rushed to give his orders. "Jackson, do you want to stay with Lydia or-,"

"I am pounding some ass," he growled.

"Then Erica, you stay with Lydia." Erica went to protest but Derek's eyes flared red. "Your feelings and familiarity for the other pack could become a liability. You're staying out of this. When Scott and Allison show up, keep them here. If Peter shows up, send him our way. The rest of you are coming with me," Derek said, tossing the keys of the Camaro to Isaac. "You take Meagan. Boyd, take Jackson. And use the lights."

"Don't have to tell me twice," Boyd said, still in uniform from his shift working speed traps. Derek raced out the front door and just managed to swing into the passenger seat of Stiles old jeep before he sped off down the worn path.

"I'm surprised this old thing still runs," Derek said as they breached the woods.

"Yeah, well, I'm just glad dad kept it."

Stiles glanced sideways at the alpha, unsure as what to say. There was a need to say something. Derek beat him to it.

"Are you a hunter now?"

Stiles clenched his jaw and kept his gaze on the road that he went down far beyond legal limits. "When the situation calls for me to be."

Derek nodded as if he expected no less. "I read your book." Stiles nearly froze, his back certainly went rigid. "I suppose I should have expected no less considering the measures you must have gone through to get your information."

His tone was light, casual. It didn't seem to fit with the circumstances they were in.

"I never did anything," Stiles paused, frustration putting him at a lack of words "nefarious for what I learned. I never even sought out creatures."

"I wasn't accusing you of anything," Derek hurried to correct. His next words sounded downright heartbroken and Stiles wanted so bad to look back over, but he resisted. "Just, a lot of what you learned had to have been first hand, wasn't it?" He could feel the alpha's scrutinizing gaze as if the wolf's red eyes could see the tattoos and scars his clothing so carefully covered.

"Yeah," he admitted. "It was."

"So, magic?"

Stiles nodded. "Magic."

Chapter Text

Stiles first used magic on a Monday.

Before that he had only used magical items like mountain ash. Ashley had taught him everything she knew the year they were together, but Stiles never got a chance to really try anything. Then he was studying at Kent. He, Ashley, and Conor got together once Stiles was free for the summer. They were in some small Dutch town, Stiles still on his quest for research on all things supernatural. He had picked up a few more theoretical tricks, but he had never used them. Most were dangerous so he wasn't going to try them if he didn't have a reason to.

Ashley had taught him about runes for accurate true or false questions and how to brew certain potions. Stiles never considered that magic. Those were magical items, magical ingredients. She did show him how to make the transportation circles and that brew, but as Stiles never needed to use it, he didn't. Ashley warned him about side effects.

They were in the country, taking a stroll through some fields because it was a beautiful day and none of them wanted to be looking through books, which had been most days since joining Stiles. Then, because nothing in his life is easy, things turned sour. By the end of the day they were running for their lives.

The three of them, along with three local townsfolk, somehow managed to get chased by goblins. In a panic, Stiles pulled the sharpie out of his backpack and hastily scrawled the runes he had stumbled across in his books on the back of his hand. He snapped and feeling like Roy Mustang, there was fire. He scorched them. It kind of worked. Stiles had bandages on his fingers for weeks and the goblins were only slowed down. But it was enough. They were able to get to a place they could wall up from the now even more violent creatures while he and Ashley put down all the markings for the transport circle.

"Are you sure you can do this?" Ashley asked, her eyes wide and scared because Conor was bleeding and they only had one vial of witches brew.

Stiles nodded, his mind set. He was going to get them all out. And he did.

Stiles had never willing gone into battle. He had always stumbled into it. Conor and Ashley tied up the loose ends with the Goblins while Stiles helped the towns folk adjust.

This, driving down the highway at barely legal speeds, heading towards a wolves den where he knew trouble was waiting… This wasn't something Stiles ever wanted to do. Yet he knew coming back to Beacon Hills would mean coming back to this. Somehow, he didn't mind. Only because it meant if he hadn't been here, Stiles wasn't sure he could trust the pack to find Hazel as quickly as he could.

But also, there was Derek.

Derek, who sat in the passenger's seat as tense as he ever was back when they first knew each other. The surly alpha kept his eyes mostly trained on Stiles, taking in his appearance more fully than he had had time to since arriving back in Beacon Hills. Sure, Derek had watched Stiles when he showed up for the full moon, but it was hard. Stiles was trying not to socialize and kept texting that guy and Derek's stomach churned at the thought.

Now, Stiles was just there. There was a faint scar on his jaw that Derek wouldn't have noticed if he weren't looking so hard and the mark didn't cut into one of his freckles. Derek wanted to touch it. Now wasn't the time, of course. Derek wasn't sure if it would ever be the time. But there was still another thirty minutes of pavement to speed across before he could distract himself with the mission at hand.

"Will you quit it?" Stiles finally snapped. "You're making me squirm."

"Why magic?"

Stiles shrugged. "It just sort of happened. I went to research things, I found things out."

Derek nodded and looked away as per Stiles' request. "You're quiet," Derek said. "It's odd."

"Yeah? Well I don't need meds to focus anymore and I'm pissed as hell that these low lives would kidnap a baby over pathetic turf wars."

Derek grunted in consent. That was exactly what they wanted. They wanted territory and the Hale property was close and it was large and they thought they could weasel their way in with Erica but when that failed they went for the weak point, which at this point was Hazel. Lydia always had wolves bane nearby, she was not a chick to mess with. Danny had been away on a business meeting for the last two weeks so they couldn't attack the humans. Stiles wasn't on their radar.

So the youngest it was.

"Have you ever killed before?" Derek asked, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

With a grind of his teeth, Stiles gave a curt "yes" and harshly turned on his blinker before changing lanes. "It wasn't a werewolf or a human but it was still a life." Stiles could tell Derek wanted to ask what it had been Stiles had killed. He shifted in his seat and sighed. "I was in the Netherlands," he offered, hoping Derek would know the reference.

"Glamour and the shape-shifter?" Derek asked, talking about a chapter in Stiles' dissertation.

He nodded. "We ran into goblins."

Stiles signaled the end of the conversation by pulling out his phone and calling up Scott. "I don't have any update," he says right away because no doubt by now Scott and Allison are with Lydia and know what's going on. "Will still be another fifteen before we get there."

"Yeah, okay," Scott says before telling Lydia it's not news. "What do you need?"

"Just," he sighed. "I feel selfish, but can you or Allison run by my dad's place? I didn't get a chance to see him today and he was expecting me to come over with groceries. And make sure he eats something healthy?"

There's a pause where he knows Scott is making his soft puppy face before his voice comes through with the affirmative. "Duh, dude. Of course we'll take care of your dad. Now go be a badass. I've heard you're pretty good at it."

Stiles bit his lip to keep him from making a heartless laugh. Yeah, Scott was going to be asking a million questions later, but right now Stiles was given something. He was being accepted and treated like he could handle himself in a fight

The ride seemed to take forever. The meaningful glances Derek kept shooting Stiles' way that Stiles kept ignoring because he was simply not in the mindset to deal with at the moment had the added bonus of stretching the time in the car to uncomfortable levels. But eventually Derek's nose picked up a scent as they rolled into the town marked by Stiles' map and he directed them closer and closer to Hazel.

Stiles parked the Jeep in an empty lot next to an abandoned warehouse and seriously could this be any more stereotypical? Before he could get out, Boyd's police cruiser and the Camaro pulled up on either side, the werewolves pilling out at top speed.

Without bothering to raise his voice, Stiles snapped at them. "I am going in first. This is not a battle until someone throws a punch." He stepped out of his Jeep, all the wolves on edge. Jackson was whining from the obvious need-want-must-find his daughter and instinct to protect but they stayed put. Stiles wasn't sure why they were listening to him, but he was glad. "There will not be violence unless absolutely necessary. The objective isn't about beating them up, it's about rescuing Hazel."

Boyd put a steady hand on Jackson's shoulder and he visibly relaxed. Not enough to look, well, relaxed, but enough that Stiles was confident he wasn't going to lash out at the closest werewolf and get them all killed.

Stiles was more than thankful he was able to get them all to walk in with some grace and not guns-a-blazing. It turned out, a fight wasn't needed in the least.

It was a strange sight. The wolves Stiles distinctly remembered from earlier were cowering, pitiful looks on their faces. A much older but very muscled and stern looking man stood in front of them all, facing the entrance with his arms crossed as Stiles, flanked by Derek and Jackson entered. Derek's eyes flashed red and the muscle man's eyes flashed in response.

"Hale," he said calmly.

"Desmond," Derek gritted out.

The other alpha gave a long suffering sigh and signaled one of the few betas who wasn't cowering but actually looked like he was guarding the rest. The beta, a wiry man around Peter's age, left for a back room and Hazel's voice carried through. Jackson took a step forward, but Boyd put an anchoring hand back on his shoulder.

Then Desmond says something none of them are quite expecting, although Stiles was figuring something was up with the way most all the betas were in a werewolf equivalent of 'time out'.

"I'm sorry about my son." The older alpha's voice is gruff and tired. "Yes, we were planning to encroach on your land, but now I feel like even a fight for territory seems like an asshole thing to do after what this lousy shit did."

"Daad-," "Shut UP, boy!"

The werewolf that had protested put his head between his knees and whimpered a bit.

The wiry beta came back, holding Hazel. He walked over to the group and Jackson snatched her up, cradling her close to his chest.

"I'm not going to go after you or your land or your betas again."

"Well this is anticlimactic," Stiles muttered and Isaac pushed him gently on the shoulder. He turned to glare at the beta although there wasn't any heat behind it. "Call Lydia," he told him then looked towards Meagan. "Tell Peter there's no need to come." Isaac and Meagan ran back outside. Stiles took a few steps towards Jackson, who looked at Stiles warily for the sheer fact that he didn't trust anyone with his baby right now. "Here," Stiles said, tossing the binky he had been holding onto. Jackson caught it with grace and gave it to his daughter.

Stiles then looked between Derek, who was still tensely glaring at Desmond, and Desmond. "You two should have a civil, sit down talk about boundaries and keeping betas in line and not kidnapping," he suggested. Stiles looked over at Desmond. "I mean, two of these here werewolves are law enforcement, too. It might take more than saying you're not going to do it again to stop charges from being pressed. More so, it's definitely going to take more than a sorry to stop me from-"

"Stiles," Derek snapped, although his voice sounded quiet. He wasn't angry, it was just a warning.

"Just saying," Stiles said with a shrug before locking eyes with the alpha's son. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve."

The beta shuddered.

It was nearing midnight when they reached the warehouse and it was Thursday when the alphas sat down for negotiations.

Chapter Text

Derek told Stiles that same Thursday.

Stiles didn't get to see Lydia reunited with Hazel. He stayed behind with Derek and Isaac and Meagan as the negotiations went down. He was running on a high from the anger and the fear and the pure adrenaline that had been pumping his veins the entire drive down, that had been rocketing his system since he saw Erica in front of Starbucks that afternoon. On the outside he looked perfectly calm, but he was among werewolves where they could hear the rapid pace of his heart.

He wasn't someone to hurt people unless it was self-preservation, but he couldn't shake the fact that they had taken a baby. Had taken Lydia's baby. Stiles subconsciously scratched at his left collar bone, hidden underneath his shirt. There was an alchemy circle there. The trigger ingredients were in one of his many pockets.

Meagan came over and gave a weak smile, shifting uncomfortably. He looked her over, remembering that this was the alpha that had bit her. This was the alpha that had tried to take Isaac. Stiles' fingers twitched towards his breast pocket for a moment before letting out a deep breath. He needed to stay calm and not act rash.

He had acted rash once. Conor had been hurt. They were traveling Finland and they were attacked. By a bear, actually. Nothing at all supernatural. Most of what they had on them wouldn't stop a bear. Stiles panicked. He acted rash. They almost died. Back in high school Stiles had prided himself on how well he acted under pressure. How he never hesitated too long and could think quick enough to reach the right conclusions. It was after that incident that he finally realized that maybe that wasn't the case.

In high school Stiles had been rash. Sure, his instinct saved them a number of times. Jumping in after Derek had been paralyzed; confusing stray hunters with his obviously human wiles. But it was his inability to take direction that got Derek paralyzed in the first place and it was sheer luck those hunters didn't shoot on sight. Stiles swore he knew them, psychologically, that they wouldn't shoot. But he knew shit. And it was Stiles being rash that caused him to get sliced near in pieces by the Alpha Pack.

With Conor, his leg was broken and his chest was bleeding and Stiles worked a spell he never practiced like he had with the goblins because it sounded good. And fuck, if the goblins weren't just pure luck. Because this spell backfired, knocking Stiles to the ground and leaving Conor defenseless as the bear, now scared and angry, advanced. Ashley and her new boyfriend Alex came to the rescue as Stiles continued to convulse on the floor like Erica in her human years and almost fell off the cliff side.

And, in the abandoned warehouse, with two calm if not threatening and tense alphas discussing the fate of their two packs, there was no reason to act. Just as there was no reason for the werewolves to rush in head first and tear the first thing they saw to pieces because anger was clouding their judgment. Sometimes your own medicine is the hardest to swallow. Stiles took another breath and took his hand away from his tattoo.

Finally, Derek and Isaac walked over from the negotiations. It was nearing two am.

"I've called local dispatch," Derek said. "I, as Deputy Hale, am charging Terry with kidnapping, but, as Alpha Hale, am not bringing him back to Beacon Hills." Stiles rolled his eyes at Derek calling himself Alpha Hale, but let him continue after a quick: "His name is Terry, really?" because Erica's ex didn't look like a Terry. "Desmond is going to testify against his son, as are the rest of the betas. All the accomplices will also be charged and as betas of the pack will be knocked down in rank accordingly and punished by their alpha. We've also maintained our boarder."

Stiles scrubbed a hand over his face in a way that reminded Derek of the Sheriff. "Do you need to stay until the police get here?"

Derek nodded. "You can go though. I'll grab a taxi or-," but Stiles cut him off.

"I'm staying until I see it finished. Things come to bite me in the ass when I don't."

Derek looked at Stiles, locking eyes. He had seen this Stiles before, in the aftermath of the kanima as they all stood around the newly wolfed Jackson and then again as Stiles returned to civilization after being holed up in the hospital from the Alpha Pack. This was a Stiles that was trying desperately to hold himself together.

Stiles always had a mask. It wasn't something he made because of the supernatural bullshit. It was something that grew on him before even Scott and he became best friends. Probably around the time his mom first got sick. It was shattered after Gerard pounded him into the ground, but Stiles knew how to rebuild. And he kept it on, for the most part, even as he made close friends. Stiles knew it wasn't abnormal. Most people have their projected self and then their vulnerable side and their true being and all that jazz. Stiles was just very skilled at hiding, even when he let people in.

But right now it was just too many things at once. It was his dad being shot. It was returning to Beacon Hills after eight freaking years. It was rekindling friendships with people he thought he never really had friendships with in the first place only to find them ready to burn. It was wrestling feeling guilty for leaving and glad that he had. It was the bullshit stress of all the crap that followed them around as teens finding him almost as soon as he shows up. It was some fuckers, werewolf or not, taking the child of someone he cares about. And it was not being able to let out his frustration like he had wanted to. Jackson forgot all about kicking ass the moment Hazel was in his arms, but Stiles didn't get to have that.

And holding everything in leads to it spill over. Plus he was tired. Despite the way his pulse never really settled, he didn't have the energy to pretend right now. He couldn't pretend everything was all right.

Not when Derek was looking at him with a mesh of concern and guilt and half a dozen other emotions Stiles couldn't pick out but was surprised to find. Derek always had a passively expressive face, but not this expressive.

So Stiles stayed and Derek sent Isaac and Meagan home to sleep and dispatch came and everyone's statements were taken and Terry got shipped off to jail for the night being promised a lawyer in the morning.

The drive back though, was something. He supposed this is where all the climax went. Straight out of the fight and into the drive.

"You've changed," Derek said, once they were out of the town.

"So have you."

He grunted and Stiles could see from the corner of his eye that Derek was fixing him with one of those looks again. "Your pulse is still elevated."

"Did you ever watch Buffy?" Stiles asked. "This is a serious question, not a deflect change of subject," he added quickly knowing the alpha was likely to get frustrated quickly.

"Yes. Not much, but yes."

Stiles nodded and chewed his bottom lip. "Do you remember Faith? The brunette bad girl slayer?"

"Kinda," Derek said, his voice questioning where Stiles was going with this. A reference to Willow or Giles, sure. That comparison would make sense at the moment, or always, but Faith?

"She was the one who said, 'Isn't it crazy how slaying just always makes you hungry and horny?'"

Derek's breath hitched, but Stiles wasn't really paying attention.

"I did a pretty powerful spell earlier today, and then the location spell. I had been running on fumes all the way to the warehouse. It's an adrenaline thing. Adrenaline makes you hungry and horny, but combining that with something that's difficult and maybe even a little dangerous and then the frustration of not even being able to let out my anger by doing something to those guys. My heart is racing like a jack hammer because I really need to do something. Something physical and aggressive and then maybe scarf down three pizzas because I haven't eaten since lunch and spell work can take a lot out of a guy."

There was a few beats of silence before Derek shifted in his seat. "There's a 24 hour pizza joint not too far from here." His voice sounded ragged, like he was holding something back and it was burning his throat. Stiles didn't comment.

"Lead the way."

He followed Derek's brusque directions. They ate about five pizzas between them, eating so quickly words couldn't have been spoken even if they wanted to.

But as they were leaving Derek spoke up again. It was an odd reversal compared to who they were before. Derek was always the one with the questions now, always the one to talk first.

"When you stormed into the house and got Lydia to stop crying and took charge…" Derek trailed off and Stiles stopped walking to look at him. Derek was looking at Stiles like he'd never seen anything quite like him before. Which to be fair was probably true, but still. "I was always so afraid you'd get hurt because of us. And then you did. And I didn't know how to handle it."

Stiles, being Stiles, was able to follow Derek's jump easily. The Alpha Pack. The throw down that landed him in the hospital. The way they had danced around each other before that, almost teasing, almost friendly, almost lustful. The way Derek stopped contact after he was hurt.

"Did anyone ever tell you I killed the Alpha that hurt you?"

Stiles nodded. He hadn't been told explicitly, but it wasn't hard to piece together. When he woke up in the hospital Lydia told him one of the alphas died. When asked, Scott told him it was the creepy one with the mole. The one that attacked him. Derek had been there when it happened and Scott, who had been in a different fray at the shell of a house far from where Stiles was hurt, said the guy was dead when he got there and Derek was racing Stiles to the hospital. It didn't take a genius.

"I wasn't able to protect you back then."

"I don't need protecting, Derek," Stiles spat.

"No," he conceded. "Not anymore."

There was a heaviness sitting between them and Stiles noticed how close the werewolf was standing. Then suddenly he was even closer. They stood toe to toe. Stiles froze as Derek's hot breath hit his face and the wolves piercing pale green eyes tore at him in a look that screamed desire.

"Derek-"

"I almost caved against the excuses I made myself back before you go hurt. And then you got hurt. And then I distanced myself but I was still," Derek bit the inside of his cheek and exhaled fiercely through his nostrils. "And then you left. And I've dated at the push of the pack and I've tried, I have, but I can't. I can't connect with anyone. And then you came back."

"Derek."

Stiles wasn't sure he could hear this. Not right now. Not ever.

"And you came back and you were barely recognizable and yet everything about you, the parts that I. The parts that I wanted had stayed the same. And I'm sorry."

Stiles took a step back, the closeness crowding him in, making him nervous. Quick as lightening, Derek grabbed Stiles wrist and stopped him. It wasn't a hard grip. Stiles could easily break it, but he didn't. The pad of Derek's thumb graced over his pulse point.

"I'm sorry I let you think I never cared about you back then. I never should have pushed you away."

Stiles swallowed, his mouth gone dry. He didn't miss the way Derek's eyes watched his Adam's Apple bob.

"If," Stiles started, unsure if he wanted to ask what he was undoubtedly going to ask. His tongue swiftly darted across his lips and he caught how Derek's eyes tracked that motion as well. "If I had never gotten injured by the Alphas, what would you have done?"

Stiles wasn't sure if he had expected words. Derek had been strangely talkative that day. Maybe he was expecting Derek to drop his wrist and take a step back and say "Nothing" because that's what would make sense. That's what all the years of believing Derek didn't care, that none of them cared, supplied his brain with as the most likely scenario. But Derek didn't say anything.

Stiles should have known.

Derek always had been an "actions speak louder than words" type of guy.

Chapter Text

Stiles left on a Friday.

This time everyone noticed. It was a week after the Desmond pack incident. Earlier than planned, true, but his father was all set to resume working in another week after the last check up and Stiles had a lot of grant money he could only really use if he was in the far reaches of Asia. Besides, he needed to get away. He couldn't stay.

Not when Derek Hale had kissed him.

Not when Stiles had kissed him back, greedily and unashamed.

Not when they didn't make it back to Beacon Hills that night, opting instead to stumble into bed in a motel where they could barely stop touching each other to pay the person manning the desk.

Not when near mindless passion and frantic kisses and too wild hands somehow turned into sensual stroking and slow lips brushing over each tattoo and scar and marking that was scattered across his skin.

Not when they collapsed, sweaty bodies having melted into each other and breathless whispers were murmured into his ear.

Not when something that had been primal lust and suppressed frustration and years of unspoken desire changed into genuine, honest to god feelings.

Not when Stiles was tempted to say the three words that he had never once told anybody.

Not when they barely even knew each other anymore.

So Stiles left. He arranged his flight and packed his bags. It had always been the plan, after all.

Kyle texted him a few times, was sad to hear he was leaving so soon. Told him to call for a drink the next time he was in town. Danny came round to tell Stiles thanks for helping the moment he returned from his business trip. He didn't press Stiles to stay. Only told him, "You're always welcome back. You always have been."

The rest of the pack wasn't quite so understanding.

Jackson was acting like he owed Stiles a life debt. Lydia proclaimed she couldn't handle just emails after getting the full on Stilinski experience during his stay. Erica pleaded she felt safer with him there. ("You're a werewolf," he protested. "And you're a witch! Which, if you take note, seems to trump werewolf." "She has a point." "Shut up, Boyd.") Isaac admitted it was like there was something complete when he was around, as if Stiles took away some hovering tension. Meagan just said she'd miss him because she hadn't known him before but her words were entirely earnest. Although, just before he was bound to take off, she finally told him what she had been holding back, that she had never seen them all so quietly happy than since Stiles arrived. Allison, through a fit of tears, said she hated having missed so much of his life and that Stiles had missed so much of theirs. Boyd stuck it where it hurt saying the Sheriff had never looked so relaxed despite his injury. Scott hugged Stiles declaring that he had always been his best friend and having him back was like having a part of himself back and that he simply wasn't letting him go even if it meant hugging him forever.

"I'm not staying!" Stiles barked, trying again to shove Scott off with little result. He slumped his shoulders and leaned his forehead against the curve of Scott's neck. "It's not like last time, promise. You all have my email now, and my phone number. I'm not disappearing. I'm just leaving."

Surprisingly, though, it was Derek who pried Scott off of Stiles. Stiles didn't know if the werewolves knew. Did they smell him on Derek when he went back to the house? Was Stiles still reeking of sex when Scott swung by the day later demanding to hear stories about how Stiles became a BAMF? None of them wrinkled their noses or made any remarks, but it could have been for any number of reasons. He wasn't going to ask.

Derek just pulled Scott off, flashing his eyes when Scott whined like a puppy. Then he looked at Stiles, nothing like those cold gazes he once gave, but Stiles couldn't decipher this one. "Leave him alone, Scott. Stiles should be allowed to make his own choices." Something in his eyes looked like it was pleading. Choose me. Choose us. Stiles's heart jumped and he didn't doubt that all the werewolves in the room noticed.

Stiles shifted on his feet awkwardly and gave Derek a sort of wave in thanks before heading back to his Jeep. He had his bags packed and needed to say goodbye to his dad, but other than that he had nothing left. There was nothing for him in Beacon Hills.

He just needed to keep reminding himself of that.

When Stiles was at Syracuse, he made a lot of friends. His phone was full of contacts of his frat brothers and lacrosse team buddies and coworkers and project members and his top five contacts were people he still talked to on a regular basis from college. But none of them knew about werewolves and kanimas and goblins and fairies and all the shit that had become his life despite his years in New York.

Then were Ashley and Conor who knew. They knew and supported and were human and it was great. But it was so nomadic. Ashley and Conor grew up in a sleepy little village in Ireland that had a bit of knowledge about the truth. They were decedents of witches and hunters. And they both hated living in a sleepy little village. They hated living anywhere. They kept moving. Which was perfect when Stiles was doing his research. They brought him places he wouldn't have found on his own. And Stiles was still doing his research. And he loved it.

But being back in Beacon Hills had done something to him. And, unfortunately, Stiles had a 13 hour flight to Tibet that left him with his thoughts. Even now without the ADHD his mind fired at a hundred miles a minute.

Being home had changed him. It was like Isaac had said. There was something about all of them, about the pack, that made him feel… complete. Like he didn't want to leave. Like he was home.

Scott had filled the role of best friend as easily as he had before being turned. It took growing up and really controlling the shift that made him not so self-centered. Scott loved Allison but they weren't in that doey eyed first love stage that overpowered all his other senses. And he wasn't fighting against Derek.

And Derek wasn't as broken as he once had been.

God, Derek. Stiles banged his head against the seat in front of him. He got a strange look from the old lady next to him and a grunt of complaint from the guy in front of him but he didn't care. He groaned.

Derek had held him afterwards. He had held him like he was something precious. Like they were in love. Like Derek knew him better than he knew himself. Which was impossible. Derek couldn't know him. It had been eight years since they even spoke. And yet that's how it felt, in his arms. Derek traced the lines of his tattoos with his fingers, ghosting over his skin sending shivers down his spine. He planted kisses on the marks left by wolves and goblins and all the other creatures of the night Stiles had encountered over the years. He caressed the claw mark from the alphas when he was just 17 with eyes that spoke novels of how that event had changed everything. Derek kissed the tips of each finger on his right hand where the fire from the goblin fight hand singed off his prints.

And Stiles had reacted. It wasn't like Kyle. It wasn't like Ashley. It wasn't like all the other boyfriends and girlfriends and hook ups Stiles had had. And that scared him. There was no reason for this to be so. To be so special? He didn't want to find the word. Stiles had reacted to Derek's every touch and whisper and Stiles was not going to let this get to him.

He just wasn't. He was on the other side of the world.

When Stiles reached the hotel he was staying in for his first night before trekking up to the Buddhist temple he was observing, there were already three emails from home in his inbox. One from his dad, checking to make sure his flight was okay to which Stiles sent a quick reply. The second was from Scott, insisting that now he had his contact info, Stiles was going to get an email every day and that Stiles damn well respond. Stiles did. The third was from Lydia. She had always been good at cutting all the bullshit formalities.

Oh God, Derek's moping worse than the first time you left. And don't think I didn't notice it starting before you announced you were leaving early. What did you do to the man?

By the way, I know we're both atheists, but Jackson wants to baptize Hazel. I'm not asking you to come back for the ceremony, but I talked with Jackson and he agreed. Would you be her god father?

Send pictures of Tibet. Where are you going next?

And stay safe!

Lydia

Stiles happily accepted the role of Hazel's god father (I always wanted to play Don Vito Corleone!) and sent pictures the next day after greeting the monks he had left when his dad had been shot. He replied to Scott's email for the day. It took a month before Scott finally stopped with the daily emails, opting for once a week instead.

He told Lydia he wasn't sure where he was going next. When he had started his tour of Asia, he studied in Taiwan for a month, then made his way through different provinces of China. He spent some time in Laos and Thailand before heading to Tibet. Stiles decided on Nepal, then India, then Sri Lanka. He wanted to spend the last part of his stay in Malaysia and Indonesia. He had some interest in Japan, but the truths of that land were more readily documented than the places he was choosing to focus on. If he had time at the end, he wanted to go to some more obscure places within China.

Before leaving Tibet, he got the chance to see a Sky Burial. He told Lydia all about it, knowing Scott would just be confused and disgusted while the lovely strawberry blonde genius would appreciate it.

I'm so jealous! That sounds amazing. I read all about this tradition once in high school. I can't believe they let an American see it. I wish I could have been there.

Isaac's finally figured out Meagan's in love with him, by the way. They're going on their first official date tonight. It's really cute. Isaac is acting like a scared middle schooler!

I don't know if Scott told you, I know he tries to keep you updated as much as possible, but Jackson passed the bar! He'll be starting at his father's firm soon. Did you ever contact Derek? You might want to, just so he can hear for himself that you're doing okay. Okay?

Lydia

It was a month later before Lydia's next email. He didn't receive it until he was in India and hunkering down at a hotel for a change.

Stiles! I know your first name and I am not beyond blackmailing you into emailing Derek!

Also, I think I spotted your dad on a date with Melissa two days ago. Have fun with that information.

Lydia

Stiles groaned into the empty space of his hotel room. He was really going have to face this, wasn't he? First, he emailed his dad, asking if Scott was going to be his step brother any time soon. Then he pulled up Derek's email and just stared. He stared at the blinking cursor on his screen for a solid twenty minutes before a new email notification popped up. It was from Allison. Some of the other pack had emailed him intermittently in the three months he'd been gone, but it was usually just Hey, checking in to make sure you're alive. We miss you. Etc. Stiles clicked anyway, needing the distraction.

Hey Stiles!

So, I'm not sure why I'm telling you first. The pack will know soon enough whether or not I say anything because they'll be able to hear it soon. It was weird when they figured out Lydia before she did.

Anyway, I wanted to tell someone but I'm too nervous to tell Scott yet and I find speaking words an easier way to confess anything but.

I'm pregnant.

Hope your travels are well! I love you. Come back safely.

Also, Isaac told me Derek's been weird since you left. Like, weirder than the first time you left, and that was really strange. I don't know what's going on between you two, but maybe let him know how you're doing. He's really an insecure guy. You're pack, and it hurts when you leave and he's always been so fearful that everyone is just going to abandon him. You leaving can't help that. Sorry, I don't mean to guilt trip you, but over the years Derek has proven himself to be a good guy, and I'd hate him to be so upset because we're unable to reassure him you're coming back this time.

You are coming back this time, right?

Love you,

Allison

He emailed back quickly.

Congratulations!

Scott will be so excited when you tell him. It's scary for me to think of him handling a baby, but you'll be a terrific mother.

And, yeah. I'm coming back this time.

Stiles

Chapter Text

Stiles finally emailed Derek on a Sunday.

He didn't mention them sleeping together. He didn't mention that he's been told Derek's been moping. Stiles simply wrote a hello with some babble as to what he's been up to, asking how the packs been doing.

The next day he had a response, saying everything was fine, asking what else he's getting up to in India.

Before Stiles knew it, they were sending emails to each other regularly. Before he knew it, it was like they had always been friends. Before he knew it, they knew each other.

Stiles had never been very good at relationships of any kind. After his mother died, he and his father did their best but there was always something of awkwardness between each other. Stiles had been way too dependent on Scott and had been utterly hopeless with his crush on Lydia. He didn't know how to make friends when his dependency on Scott fell through because Scott wasn't being there for him. Scott's relationship with Stiles was healthier than Stiles's relationship with Scott. He could fall in love and date Allison and make friends with Isaac and not having Stiles around constantly didn't kill him, unlike when Stiles was left to his own devices and ended up running away to New York.

Stiles had finally gotten a hold of himself in college, but even then. He had friends, he had close friends, but he wasn't able to make any new best friend. He still felt left out even when he was invited to hang out or party. It didn't make sense, but it was a complex and knowing what it was didn't make it any better.

Stiles dated a lot of people, but while he was able to get people to like him, he could never get people to continue to like him. And he could never get people to love him. And he could never love anyone.

Stiles didn't know how to love someone. Not as anything more than a friend. He just didn't.

He thought he loved this guy Alex once. He never said it to Alex, but he thought it might have been love. So Stiles went and got drunk and made out with someone else at a party and guiltily cried to Alex the next day and they broke up a week later after trying to patch things up.

Stiles didn't know how to be in love.

But somehow the distance made it easy. It made these just words that could grow on him without all the physicality and intimacy that could scare him. He had the freedom to go wherever he wanted without running away from the situation because he was already away from the situation. He could control it.

Except when he couldn't.

Because all of a sudden it was as if Stiles wasn't waiting to wake up to spend more time with the native witch doctor shaman guru or pouring through ancient texts or crumbling dwelling places of mystic creatures long since dead. He was waiting to get back to his computer, whether that be at someone's home he was staying with, a hotel, or to some café that he could grab wifi from. He was waiting to read Derek's email and tell him about his day. And these feelings were more real than any he had had in his past, and they were just words. It was just an email. And yet his heart thrummed when he saw the notification and he smiled involuntarily when he read them and reread them. And read them again. And his heart beat nervously as he hovered over the reply button, wondering what Derek will think of what he's now sending. Hoping he doesn't sound stupid or pathetic or pretentious or anything other than neutral or maybe a little excited.

Lydia emailed to say Derek's been smiling more often and Stiles heart did a back flip.

Scott was still emailing him frequently, although not on any schedule. Every time he and Allison visited the doctors, he got an email informing Stiles of the baby's progress. Also, anytime there was an update on their parent's little engagement Stiles got an long letter that was half grossed out and half happy for them both. Then Stiles would email his dad and tease him about the budding romance.

He was glad his dad had found someone. And Melissa, too. They deserved each other.

Erica emailed him to personally tell him she and Boyd were not getting back together, despite the gossip Stiles had been receiving.

And despite being impossibly far away from all of them, Stiles felt closer than they had ever been during high school.

Stiles dated this sorority girl, Maddie, his freshman year of undergrad. Despite the copious amounts of making out and other more sexual activities, there was no real connection between them. Kyle, who had been his roommate and closest friend at the time, told Stiles he was just beating himself by staying with her. Maddie was using him and maybe he was using her as well. He was using her as a tool that kept him in the mindset that he didn't actually mean anything to anybody.

Stiles dumped Maddie when Kyle introduced him to the wide world of women throughout campus where he met girls who liked lanky, geeky boys and did things for him and with him and not just him. Plus, friends who did things because they were friends, like Kyle saving Stiles from Maddie, and not because they could use the favor later or they were in deathly peril.

When they were figuring out rooming for the next year, Stiles opted out of staying with Kyle because he knew he had developed a crush. Stiles had a tendency to like anybody who would be nice to him over the coming years, which again he needed saving from. And Kyle had been great and continued to be an awesome friend (and a year later a boyfriend and then casual fuck buddy, but still a good friend).

And Stiles finally had confidence in himself, at least, when it came to humans.

But then he was holding his own with Ashley and Conor, surpassing them both in the realm of magic even. Then, when Stiles returned to Beacon Hills, it was as if all the confidence he built up during the years wavered in the face of past traumas and the source of his self-hate.

Yet everyone had been so encouraging and grateful and happy that he had returned, confident in him even before they knew about his work with the supernatural around the world.

And they all wanted him to stay.

Even the ones who couldn't really say it.

And fuck.

For the first time since leaving, Stiles really wanted to return.

So he did.

For the first time since leaving, Stiles returned home for Christmas.

When Stiles first told his dad about his plan to graduate high school early and start college in the spring semester, the Sheriff agreed that it was best to get him out of town as quickly as possible. So, they collected his diploma, packed his bags, and Stiles went off to New York the Tuesday before Christmas. His dad had to work until Christmas Eve, but he too hopped a plane and flew in, only a few days later. Their Christmas presents to each other that year was ice skating at Rockefeller and buying everything Stiles needed for his dorm, being able to move in over break with special consent due to extenuating circumstances.

All Stiles got from the pack that year was a few lousy texts. He had stared at them, guilty for not telling them yet furious for the lack of connection. His dad held him and told him this was for the best.

The next three years Stiles was at Syracuse, his dad came to visit for Christmas, sometimes just the two of them hanging out, other times going over to his friend's houses. It was great to have his dad for the holiday, but it hurt to see him go. Yet they both knew, it was for the best.

Every year, though, the Sheriff came baring small tokens from the pack, gifts Stiles put in a box in his closet, unable to get rid of them but unable to open them.

He did open them, after graduating and he was clearing out his room in the frat house. They were all silly things that made Stiles smile, and thanks to the new connection to them via Lydia, he almost held onto them. But he was going to Europe and had no need for silly things as he packed around the small continent. Some of them became permanent fixtures on the mantle at the frat house. Stiles had no idea what happened to the rest of them.

His first Christmas without his dad, he spent with the O'Hannagan's. The small town he met Conor in was buzzing with the types of close knit Christmas cheer Stiles had only seen on campy TV shows. As much as he would have gladly had his father visit, they couldn't afford a round trip to anywhere out of the country during the Christmas season.

The next year he was too busy worrying about a bunch of fairies during the winter solstice on the 21st that in the relaxation of having everything over and everyone safe, he completely forgot about Christmas. He got back to Kent to find a few packages from his father, Conor , Ashley, and Lydia (plus the pack) as well as some class mates. He put off opening the one from Lydia for almost two days before his curiosity got the best of him. She would have sent something the year before if she had an address to send to. It had been a leather bound journal and a really nice pen and pencil set. The note said so he could create his own bestiary. He practically did.

The next few years (his masters taking longer than usual because he took a few semesters for some independent studies in researching the supernatural) went much in the same manner. Stiles would either get caught up in his work (his last year of grad school saw him never leaving his apartment during break because dear god his thesis needed finishing) or visiting Conor and Ashley and their family. The Sheriff could never make it out and he always got a gift from Lydia. He had to think it was only from Lydia, ignoring the tag that said the whole pack, otherwise he'd never be able to let himself accept whatever she sent.

And then when he was traveling again, it was easy to forget about Christmas when he was among primarily Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims that didn't celebrate the holiday. Or, at one point in his travels, among people who didn't even know what the holiday was. It was a refreshing experience, actually.

But then a few months after the holiday he got the phone call that brought him home for the first time in Eight years. And now, almost a year later, he's going home without anyone being hurt or in danger.

It was kind of weird.

Stiles only told Boyd, because if anyone could keep a secret, it was him. He was there to pick Stiles up from the airport, giving him a hug that was close to breaking bones. "Never knew you to be so affectionate," Stiles muttered, a bemused smile crossing his face.

Boyd shrugged, hauling Stiles' suitcase into the trunk and crawling into the driver's seat. "I miss you just as much as the rest of the pack. Plus, now your scent will be muddled when we drive into town. Might give you more of a chance of surprise."

"You're a strategic bastard, aren't you Boyd?" Stiles smirked.

Boyd gave Stiles a smarmy smile that would have been creepy had Stiles not known the guy was a huge teddy bear. The werewolf put the car into gear and took off. "Come on," he said, speeding out of the pick up at barely legal speeds, "Derek's going to have an aneurysm when he smells you."

Stiles laughed. "Big bad alpha is getting old."

Boyd barked out a laugh and shook his head. "So, your dad's or the Hale house first?" he asked when he turned onto the highway.

Stiles thought for a moment. "Can I borrow your phone?" Boyd dug it out of his coat pocket before tossing it over to Stiles. "Now, how would you text out a pack meeting?"

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve that year was on a Saturday.

As Boyd drove Stiles from the airport, his phone blew up in response to Stiles' text. Derek was demanding details before everyone else because he was the alpha. Erica was complaining that shit shouldn't go down on Christmas, but thank god she was already at Derek's snuggling up to some hot chocolate. Isaac and Meagan were sharing same mentalities. Lydia, in her ever contrite manner, told Boyd that is this was some elaborate Christmas prank she was going to personally shoot him full of wolf's bane. The Sheriff stated this better well be an actual emergency if they were calling him in. Scott just grumbled that he was going to have to deal with moving his heavily pregnant wife and Boyd was going to deal with her yelling if it takes too long.

Boyd told Stiles to not respond as Stiles read them all off, laughing in his growing excitement. As they reached Beacon Hills, Stiles got more texts saying people had reached the destination and if Boyd didn't get there in the next two minutes there was going to be hell to pay.

"Gotta love friends who show love through threats of bodily harm," Stiles joked.

Although Stiles couldn't tell, Derek was the first to notice his scent. All the wolves had perked their ears up at the sound of Boyd's squad car pulling into the forest road, alerting the few humans as to his arrival. But then Derek caught wind of something exotic and he furrowed his brow in confusion. It reminded him of Indian food. Boyd detested Indian food. He sniffed again and Derek's eyes widened. He scrambled to his feet and raced out the door to the porch, the others following him with half shouts of what the matter was. Underneath the smell of spices, fresh from the homeland of India, was the base line of Stiles's scent.

"What smells like curry?" Meagan asked with a frown before the car came around the bend and into the clearing before the house.

The cop car's windows were tinted, but the betas could now hear the sound of two heartbeats as Boyd cut the engine.

"Who's Boyd-," Erica started, but it was cut off when the passenger door swung open and out popped a Stiles a million times more cheerful than any of them had seen on his last visit.

There was a clamour of voices shouting his name and berating him for not telling them he was coming, all ignored by Stiles as his father raced over and scooped him into a hug.

"Welcome home, son."

"Glad to be back."

Derek could do nothing but stand there, frozen, eyes locked on the man he had fallen in love with.

When Stiles finally saw Derek, a small smile replaced his ecstatic grin. It seemed more personal on Stiles' face than the looks he gave the other pack members. Derek didn't have long to memorize it before Scott tackled Stiles with a laugh.

It was a good twenty minutes of hugs and welcomes before they all managed their way into the house and situated themselves in the living room.

"Festive," Stiles commented on the tree and decorations that were clogging every spare surface area it seemed.

"I went a little overboard," Meagan said sheepishly.

"Nah, it's cool. This is my first real Christmas in years."

Derek shifted on his feet in the corner. They had said hi, but nothing else. He didn't know how to approach this. Didn't know how to approach him. Neither did Stiles. Without the barrier of the internet between them, they were both kind of at a loss.

Lydia crossed from the kitchen, having reheated some leftovers for Stiles. He was starved. "What have you been doing all these years?" she asked.

Lydia knew well enough, having been in contact for most of them, but she was never one to leave well enough alone.

"Well," Stiles said around a mouthful of chicken, "I believe last year I was in Mongolia and I spent it with some lovely folks who didn't speak a lick of English, trying our best to not freeze our asses off."

That and maybe learning about a rare breed of wolf's bane that even they weren't sure the exact uses of.

It was hard to learn when you didn't share a language. One of the girls there had been studying Latin. They actually communicated through a dead language. It was crazy.

"What matters," Stiles said after swallowing, "is that I'm here now and whether or not you would like your presents tonight or in the morning."

"We get presents!?" Scott asked, sounding more excited than a five year old.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "I wasn't going to come back for Christmas and not bring you anything."

Allison yawned and Scott was on his feet in a heartbeat before shooting Stiles a withering look. He understood. When the pregnant lady gets tired, it's time to get home. It was odd, Allison being pregnant. Stiles had spent a solid five minutes outside just marveling at the state of Allison's stomach. He couldn't believe there was a little, possibly furry baby growing inside of her.

Stiles had once helped deliver a baby, but having it be someone he knew when they were in high school be pregnant, that was just surreal.

But it was getting late. Stiles had tried to book his flight earlier, but there's only so many international flights a day. Slowly, those not living in the house trickled out, the Sheriff giving his son a (manly) hug before heading out. Boyd had already set up the guest bedroom at the Hale house for Stiles since Melissa had recently moved into Stiles' old home.

"Yeah, I know she's over there waiting for you. It's Christmas Eve. I don't want to ruin any plans besides ones I may have already ruined by dragging you out here for a so called pack meeting."

"Stiles, you're rambling."

"Love you, too. Now go have fun with your lady friend. Say hi for me."

"We'll come over tomorrow," he promised.

"Sounds good."

Lydia sauntered over, her hands behind her back and a slightly mischievous grin on her face. He knew that couldn't mean anything good. Jackson stood behind her, his arms crossed, keys to his Porsche dangling from his fingers.

"You're so lucky I love you otherwise you would have gotten hurt for pulling me from home tonight," she said with a smile.

Stiles laughed. "I'll remember that and keep on your good side," he replied before pulling her in for a hug and kissing her cheek. "I look forward to seeing Hazel again tomorrow." The baby was spending Christmas Eve with her grandmother.

Lydia leaned in to kiss his cheek in return. "Check your email. I have some news on my studying."

Over the recent months after Hazel's abduction and Stiles outing as a magical badass, he has been teaching Lydia via email about which resources were legitimate. She's been studying magic on her own. As they took off, Stiles dug out his phone and checked his email.

I helped with the decorations. I don't know if it's worked or not because, well, Scott and Allison purposefully put themselves under the mistletoe to make out and they're the only ones who have stumbled there so far. But beware.

;)

Lydia

Stiles was going to rue the day he ever directed Lydia towards the book of charms and enchantments in relation to foliage. It was supposed to be a brush up on mountain ash use, but Lydia had been pouring over the texts with as much vigor as Stiles had. He knew the use of mistletoe when combined with a spark and Lydia was proving herself a worthy spark. Not quite as potent as Ashely, but he didn't doubt her trick was working.

He hurriedly shoved his phone back into his pocket and looked over at the remaining pack, scanning the ceiling and doorways for stray branches of the nefarious plant. The house was too crammed with decorations to tell so Stiles gave up. Isaac and Meagan were snuggling by the fire. Boyd and Erica were sitting opposite sides of the couch, side eyeing each other. Peter, who had stayed on the outskirts of the group the whole night, was in the kitchen making a leftovers sandwich. And Derek was suddenly in front of him.

"Oh, hey."

"I-," Derek started, but gulped and shifted feet. "Hey."

Stiles couldn't help the quirk of his lips. Derek was visibly nervous. That didn't happened… ever. Stiles ran a hand through the back of his hair, tousling it out of habit and his own nerves.

"Do you want to take a walk?" Stiles asked, a momentary rush of courage spitting the words out for him. He looked over at the betas hoping to indicate that he just wanted to talk out of range of prying werewolf ears.

Derek nodded. "Sure."

Twenty minutes of comfortable quiet later, Stiles found himself deep within the Beacon Hills preserves wishing he had worn gloves. It normally didn't get this cold until February.

"So, you're back," Derek ventured once he deemed themselves far enough away from the house.

Stiles nodded. "Until Tuesday." Stile rubbed his hands together and stuck them under his armpits. "Flew over from Sri Lanka. Going to head out to Malaysia. Should be fun."

Derek nodded although he wasn't sure what to. "What, uh, do you plan on doing once you're done traveling?"

Stiles shrugged. "Conor has offered to house me up while I work on my book, but I don't really know. Then, once I've finished that I guess I'll have to find a real job. Or, like, become a professor." Stiles laughed. "Imagine me teaching."

Derek smiled and looked up towards the stars. It was a pretty clear night and even Stiles could see well enough without the supernaturally charged eyes.

"You could always come back, you know," Derek offered. "That guest room could easily become a more permanent fixture."

Stiles shrugged again, trying to play it cool. Derek would have believed it if he couldn't hear his heart speeding faster than it had been. Which, even still had been faster than normal since they left the house.

"That night," Derek began. Stiles didn't need any more information to know which night he was referring. They never talked about it over email, but he knew. "I never thought I could have that. I had half convinced myself I had never wanted it before you came back. Then you flooded my senses."

Stiles bit his lip, a blush crawling up his neck.

"Werewolves don't imprint or whatever shit media has made popular. We're not all Scott's."

Stiles snorted. "You're more talkative now. It's nice compared to the broody snark I remember you as."

"You're less talkative now," Derek countered. "I kind of miss the rambling."

They caught each other's eye and stared for a long minute before Stiles sucked in breath and turned back to the house. "We should get heading back," he said, already walking.

"Yeah."

Once returned, they entered the house to find the others had all gone to bed. Derek stayed by his side until reaching Stiles' room.

Then he couldn't leave. Neither of them could back away from the arch of Stiles's door. Derek was beginning to panic since something was obviously forcing him there but Stiles just looked up and rolled his eyes.

"Fucking Lydia," he murmured.

Derek looked up and saw the sprig of mistletoe. As he turned to look back at Stiles, his mouth hanging open to ask a question, Stiles darted forward.

The kiss was soft, gentle, and over all too soon as Stiles pulled away before Derek had time to react.

"Merry Christmas, Derek."

Stiles stepped away from the frame and shut the door. Derek stood there, blinking, trying to steady his own heartbeat.

After a moment or two, Derek stepped away. "Merry Christmas."

Chapter Text

Stiles headed off to Malaysia on Tuesday.

Christmas was spent at the Hale house with everybody in the pack: Lydia, Jackson, Hazel, Danny, Erica, Boyd, Isaac, Meagan, Peter, Derek, Melissa, the Sheriff, and Stiles. And yes, Stiles was for the first time in years considering himself pack.

Stiles noticed there was mistletoe above every bedroom door. Freaking Lydia, feeding the sex drive of the pack. After the haze of Christmas morning where there was lots of unwrapping and thousands of pictures taken of Hazel playing with the wrapping paper, they all sat down with their coffee cups and just relaxed.

Danny plopped himself next to Stiles, nudging their knees together. "So I was at an interesting conference in Burbank," he started.

"Who the hell holds conferences in Burbank," Stiles scoffed.

Danny shrugged and gave Stiles a pointed look. "I met your friend Kyle."

Stiles nearly choked on his drink. "Is that so?"

Danny smirked and shook his head. "We got to talking, asked where I was from. Said here, he said he went to college with someone from Beacon Hills. I asked who and surprise, surprise, he said you." Stiles nodded absently at Danny's little explanatory speech. "I heard some interesting stories about you."

Stiles groaned and ran a hand over his face. "Fucking Kyle."

"Heard about that too," he laughed.

This time Stiles did choke on his drink and had to cough a few times to clear his throat, his face blushing furiously. His eyes inadvertently glanced towards Derek who seemed to have stiffened, his conversation with Peter taking on amused look from the older man. Stiles quickly looked back to Danny who hadn't missed a beat of his eye movement.

"Anyway," he continued, "we went out for drinks after the conference got out. He's pretty cool. I should meet more of your college friends and dig up dirt."

"Oooh, what kind of college misadventures did Stiles get himself in?" Erica cooed from the armchair to their right.

Stiles stood and headed to the kitchen. "I'm not going to be present or anywhere near my father when whatever Kyle felt the need to share gets retold." The kitchen was where the food sat and food was always a good companion, Stiles thought. One that didn't reveal all your drunken day secrets to everybody else.

"I would have thought you ate enough already," Derek said, following him into the room, indicating to the platters of food on the table. Stiles had eaten a fair portion earlier that morning. "But you always were a black hole."

Stiles smirked, picking up a croissant and slathering it with marmalade. Derek opened his mouth to speak again but then his eyes widened, his mouth dropping slightly lax and his cheeks flushing. Before Stiles could react Erica's laughter, accompanied by the rest of the pack, rang through the house. Without knowing what was said Stiles flushed.

Derek gulped and blinked a few times, looking away before clearing his throat. "Is it true?" he near but whispered.

"I, unlike you, cannot hear what was said." Stiles them promptly shoved the croissant in his face.

Derek cleared his throat again. "Lead your fraternity into streaking the whole campus?"

Stiles licked the marmalade off his lips and scratched the back of his head. "Ah, yes, the Deke Freak Fun Run of twenty-fifteen."

His father's voice shouted from the living room, "STILES YOU COULD HAVE BEEN ARESSTED!"

"YES AND I WASN'T!" He shouted back. Stiles had a lot of fun times in college, let's just leave it at that.

Derek cleared his throat for a third time to which Stiles had to grin at. "Didn't realize you were such an exhibitionist."

"Only on rare occasions when I've had too much gin." Stiles winked and opened the fridge to pull out the milk.

"You organized a streak while drunk?"

"I am a very convincing drunk."

As he shut the door, Derek's eyes were fixed on him with a new fervor and it became Stiles's turn to clear his throat. It was like a game of who could hide their arousal whilst obviously trying. Ignoring it scores were a solid ten on both ends. Stiles shook his head of the thought and grabbed a glass. After Stiles had poured himself some milk and returned the carton to the fridge, Derek took a few steps closer.

"What are we doing, Stiles?" Derek whispered, knowing very well the wolves could hear him if they were trying to listen in.

Stiles bit his lip, the glass hovering by his mouth. He looked guiltily at Derek and took a swig. "I don't know."

Stiles spent the rest of his time in Beacon Hills dancing around Derek and receiving conniving, dark looks from Lydia, Erica, and Peter. Everybody else just smirked and rolled their eyes.

But time passed as it always does and soon enough Stiles found himself leaving. On Tuesday he found himself at the airport at 3 in the morning. He said goodbye to everybody the night before, an awkward bro hug between him and Derek that left Lydia sighing in frustration. Scott drove him, knowing he would likely be up for an ice cream run at 4 anyway so he might as well pick it up on the way back along with anything else his pregnant wife craved.

"You're coming back though, right?" Scott asked tentatively as they pulled into the departures parking lot.

"Yeah, dude. I'm coming back. I have three more months of travel money before the grant dwindles to figures I can no longer justify spending on air fare and hotels."

"But, you're coming back?"

Stiles fixed Scott with a look as he got out of the car. They met back up at the trunk so Stiles could grab his suitcases. Before Scott opened it, Stiles pulled him into a tight hug.

"I'm coming back, Scott," he whispered. "You're my pack."

Scott squeezed harder and nuzzled his face into the crook of Stiles's neck. "Dude!"

"Love ya too, buddy."

They pulled away and opened the rear of the car. "You know, not that it's any of my business, but when you come back, you should totally say that to Derek."

Stiles grabbed his suitcase and hauled it out, trying not to blush. "I don't think Derek would appreciate me calling him buddy."

Scott rolled his eyes and pulled out the other bag Stiles used as carry-on. "Not that, dumbass. Although it's pretty obvious that you have a Lydia Martin sized crush on the guy. You should tell him you consider yourself pack."

"Why?"

Scott shook his head with a sigh, handing the small suitcase over. "Because dude, he's been beating himself over the head for years because he thought he pushed you away. And now you're back and he's mooning over you and oh my god I can't believe I used that phrase but the point stands!"

Stiles cracked up laughing, which Scott let subside before continuing.

"The dude is in love with you. And while I think he could take you not being romantically involved with him and not break, he needs you in his life. He needs to know you're pack. Dude, until you said it just now I was afraid we had pushed you out for good because of our stupidity as hormonal, newly shifted ass-faces. Sure, you helped us last time and you came back now and you got us gifts but it was still stilted. As much as we've both changed, I know you. You were holding back and it felt all too formal."

Stiles shifted his weight, getting a better grip on his luggage. "Sorry, dude. It's just." He sighed and ran a hand over his face. "I haven't had this, or anything close to it in a long time. Sure the O'Hannagan's are great, but they're more like Weasley's and I'm Harry Potter than the pack. The pack is all couples and ex couples and soon to be couples with a giant attachment to each other. And I just, I still feel awkward, I admit, but…" he trailed off.

Scott wrapped him in another tight embrace, giving him a big smooch on the cheek, as loud and wet as possible just to be annoying.

"Thank you, thanks for that," Stiles said, wiping his sleeve against his face.

Scott shrugged and bumped shoulders with Stiles. "Anytime."

While waiting in the terminal, Stiles began fidgeting like his pre-Adderall self. As the attendee announced they would begin boarding in five, Stiles pulled out his laptop and opened his email.

Derek,

I feel like we didn't get a chance to really discuss anything while I was in town. I'm sorry. I've gotten so comfortable with the written word over the years I've lost my knack for babble.

But I wanted you to know that, whatever impression I have given in the past, things change. You certainly did. And, if you'll still have me, despite my running away and arming myself like a hunter against you, if you still want me as pack, I am.

Stiles stared at the flashing cursor on his screen. The plane was boarding and Stiles had a good ten minutes before he would need to power down for takeoff.

He spent it all staring at the email. It autosaved into drafts. The steward on the intercom told them to please power down all electronic devices. Without thinking his fingers began to type.

And if you just want me, I'm yours.

He never pressed send.

Chapter Text

Stiles found himself without a solid internet connection until some Sunday two and a half weeks later.

There were buckets of emails in his inbox, which he replied to immediately, placating Lydia and Scott he hadn't forgotten about them and staring blankly at the message from Derek simply hoping his travels went smoothly.

Stiles opened the draft he had written at SFO. The last line was missing. He chewed his bottom lip for a minute or two before clicking send, only adding his name to the end of the message. He was already out of Malaysia by the time he got a reply. It wasn't much longer than his usual messages, but Stiles couldn't help replaying the important bit in his head.

I've always wanted you to be pack.

Stiles told his guide he was taking the day off and basked in the sun. Indonesia really was an island paradise and from all the time he's spent near the equator had turned his skin darker. He'd never been so tan in his life. But he couldn't seem to enjoy the paradise when he wanted to be in a dinky little town in the upper part of California.

He ran a hand over his face and stared out at the ocean. A few peoples were staring at his heavily tattooed body since he was wearing just his swim trunks. The first transport circle was tattooed below his breast bone. He idly traced the markings. If he wanted to, if he really wanted to, he could bypass the airport and just go home.

Stiles sighed. Magic wasn't meant to solve mundane problems like homesickness. All his advisors told him the same thing. Use this for others, not for the self. Besides, Stiles had things he needed to get done for work.

He decided to spend his day off collecting plants. It seemed like even when he was trying to get away from it all he was pulled into the witch doctor gig. Stiles knew more magic concoctions from around the world than most Americans know how to cook chicken. He was sifting through sand and jarring it in a secluded part of the beach when a girl came over.

"I like your tattoos," she said with a heavy accent. "What are you doing with the sand?"

Stiles looked up, shading the sun with his hand. "Souvenirs," he said with a smile, wiping his hands on his trunks.

The girl smiled and sat down next to him. "Indah," she said, offering her hand and her name. Stiles shook it politely. They chatted for a bit and it was obvious Stiles was being hit on. And the entire time, despite her obvious beauty and soft voice and adorably stilted English, Stiles's mind kept drifting back to a male body with paler skin and a voice that was never soft but could be gentle and frustratingly stilted sentences.

Stiles spent many late nights during his travel: sifting through data, practicing magic, collecting ingredients, or simply because the jet lag messed up his sleeping schedule. Tonight, however, he stayed up staring at the courser on his open, blank email, wondering just what he should say in reply to Derek Hale.

He sent the email at four in the morning, which would hit Derek at noon the previous day, in all technicality. Time zones.

It wasn't long before he got a reply. Stiles didn't sleep that night.

In the following days he received emails from every member of the pack. Even Peter. Even his dad. All of them asking if he had said anything to Derek.

I swear Stiles, whatever the fuck you said to Derek was not okay. He was all happy one day and then it's like he's shut down. He's not even moping or pinning, he's just. God, I've never seen him like this. What the hell did you write him?

Lydia

x

Hello Stiles,

I know we don't frequently talk, but Derek's been acting funny and I checked his computer because the idiot doesn't have a good password but he is apparently smart enough to delete and then delete from the trash bin EVERY SINGLE EMAIL FROM YOU so obviously something happened.

I don't know where you guys are at, but I was hoping you two would work through your problems. Not make them worse.

Peter

x

Stiles,

I've been able to sneak up on my number one deputy all week. Boyd seems to indicate it has something to do with you?

I don't know if I want to know, but please say something to Derek.

Dad

x

Derek threw me into a tree. I am blaming you.

Erica

x

HOW THE HELL IS THAT MY FAULT!?

Stiles

x

Stiles,

I hacked your email account. I don't blame you. This is an overreaction on Derek's part, although I am kind of surprised by what you said. I won't tell anyone and I've deleted the email for you. Hope that's okay. I will also try to get everyone to stop pestering you about this, but I can make no promises.

We miss you,

Danny

x

Stiles rubbed the palm of his hands into his eyes and sighed. He shot a quick thank you to Danny and chewed his bottom lip. With everyone bothering him like this, maybe he didn't want to go home.

He knew that was a lie. He was just avoiding problems. Either way, Stiles shook his head, grabbed some food, and headed out the door. He only had another week in Indonesia before heading back to China. He best make the most of it.

However, making the most of situations for Stiles usually meant falling into trouble. He should have known Indah wasn't just exceptionally beautiful. She was also an exceptional spark. Unlike Stiles, she didn't know and didn't protect herself properly.

And that's how Stiles found himself being chased through the indigenous forest of a remote island some 100 miles away from the mainland. He had somehow pissed off an ancient god figure who was possessing the young woman's body.

Stiles had dealt with possessions once before. He still isn't positive what it was to this day, and probably never will. There were too many variables to make a definitive, logical assumption. However, the entire idea is tricky because 1: Stiles wants to give the person their body back but 2: their body is currently trying to kill him and 3: in defending himself he's going to likely end up hurting them which wouldn't be good if 4: they get their body back only to die because of wounds he caused.

So, Stiles is running away and trying desperately to think up a plan. Night was falling and Stiles did not know this island. His guide, who had come with them, had been killed and he'd been alone, but Stiles thought he saw smoke. He stalled for a few seconds, debating whether to seek civilization for help, or run opposite as to save them from potential danger. Those few seconds cost him and Stiles found himself yelling out as a type of sword Stiles would never know the name of tore into his side.

Stiles pulled out a vial and threw it in her face. It served as a momentary distraction and he kept on running. So far, his mind thought through about twenty different scenarios. And the best one he could come up with was find a cave, wall himself in, and figure out if there's any way he can help Indah. He got through step two of three before falling into a rut.

He knew nothing about this whatever-it-was that was taking over Indah. And worse, he had no way of researching from inside a cave on a remote island far off the coast of the main section of Indonesia. "Just tell me," Stiles yelled past the mountain ash boarder, "is she still in there?"

"No." It didn't even sound like her anymore.

Stiles swallowed dryly and blinked away threatening tears. He was wobbly on his feet from lack of blood. Indah had hit him a few more times before he was able to get to his ash. His squirt gun had fallen out his pocket a long while back.

"What will you do after you kill me?" Stiles always found that if you didn't argue their point (e.g. that they were going to win and kill you), then they cut a good five minutes of conversation before getting them to spill their agenda.

"I will eat you," the haunting voice coming from Indah said, "then I will consume the world."

Stiles sighed and ran hand over his tired eyes. "Well then that makes this simple," he commented with a sad quirk of his lips, "doesn't it."

His squirt gun may have fallen out of his pockets, but his real gun hadn't. She was down in two bullets. Stiles collapsed on the cave wall, his breath getting heavy. And shit he had no end circles set up anywhere. He carefully scratched out the ones he had made in previous cities and had been so distracted recently with Derek drama he didn't have any circles set up anywhere except maybe...

Stiles slid down the wall and sat. He checked his phone. There was next to no signal but Stiles always had good luck with cell service. He tried Ashley first, then Conor. If either had them had picked up, they could have drawn him a new one. The thing with end circles is that you have to know where they are. If they were anywhere near their home, it could have worked. Alas, the calls didn't go through.

He bit his lip and tried one more call.

Hoping.

The phone rang. Five, six times. He was starting to believe it would go to message, when:

"JESUS FUCKING CHRIST IT IS FOUR IN THE MORNING WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU CALLING ME FOR?"

"Good morning, Erica. Nice to hear from you, too." Stiles took a ragged breath and sighed. "Sorry I didn't think of the time difference. In a bit of a pinch."

"Stiles?" There were some grumbles in the background that Erica shhshed. "Stiles what are you calling long distance for? Wait, no, why are you calling me out of everyone? What's wrong?" There was some shuffling on the other side.

Stiles pressed a hand to his side where he was bleeding the most and winced. "Nothing much," he said, his voice obviously saying otherwise whether or not he was speaking to a werewolf. "I really need you to do a few things for me. Like, right now. Is that cool?"

"Stiles, you sound like your're dying. Yes. What?" She was beginning to sound frantic. Stiles tried to make a soothing sound but she just snapped at him. "Stiles!"

"Just, go to my dad's, break into my jeep, pull out the blue tool box. Double check it's full of my stuff though." He could hear Erica getting dressed and grabbing her keys. "Keep me on the line. And hurry." It was ten minutes later she confirmed she had the tool box. "Okay. Now, that might have been for nothing if this next part doesn't pan out," he panted. "Head to the old depot. I need you to check the circle I made there. Make sure everything is the same."

"Stiles, that was over a year ago. How am I supposed to remember!" she complained, already rushing to the old base.

"Just," he winced again, "just check for scratch marks, fade marks, smudging."

It was a little while later Erica talked again. "The circle's intact except that circle of red stuff I can't cross. Some of the markings underneath might have eroded. I can't tell too much." Erica made an angry sound. "Are you going to come through this!?"

"That," Stiles gasped, "would be the ideal outcome. One more favor? Call Melissa. She should probably meet me there."

Then he hung up.

Erica swore for a good minute at the dial tone.

Chapter Text

Stiles had fought a young child possessed by something on a Thursday.

The boy couldn't have been much older than ten. He was working with a local shaman but they couldn't determine how to stop it, how to save him. Stiles refused to hurt the boy. He almost lost his life because of it. He probably would have been okay with that if it meant the boy would live. Instead he found himself in the medical tent after local tribesmen shot the boy full of arrows as he hunched over Stiles. The boy's fingers had been covered in Stiles blood but all Stiles saw was the way, in his dying breaths, a sort of dark film dissipated away from his irises and clarity rung into his mind.

Stiles instinctively pulled the boy into a hug and cradled his head against his chest. "I'm so sorry," Stiles whispered, tears spilling into the child's hair.

He shook his head and whispered thank you in his native tongue.

Stiles wanted to throw up.

Shooting Indah had the same effect. Whatever possessed her might hit again, but Stiles had a feeling it was trapped on that island. There was something that sent a shiver down his spine when they landed. Should have been clue enough, he supposed. Everything's so simple in hindsight.

After hanging up on Erica he dug into his breast pocket and pulled out the dark green vial of witches brew. "Here's hoping," he whispered before pulling out the cork with his teeth and spitting it out. He downed the drink and thought of the depot.

The second Stiles hung up on her, Erica swore for a solid minute, dialing Scott's mom and cursing at every ring she didn't answer.

"Erica," a groggy sounding Melissa eventually said, picking up, "It's four thirty in the morning. Someone better be dying." There was half a beat of silence before some obvious scrambles on Melissa's side of the line. "Nobody's dying, right!?"

"Melissa, you need to come down to the train depot right now. It's Stiles. He called me and he sounded hurt and if his thing works he's going to be showing up here any minute and-," the words got choked off with a sob.

"I'm on my way!" Melissa near screamed into the phone. "Should I call his dad? He's on duty right now but if Stiles is hurt?" Melissa pulled on the closest things to an outfit she could find, grabbed her purse and keys and was off.

"Don't call my dad, no need to worry him."

"STILES!" Erica screeched. She hadn't been watching the circle. His scent was only just now reaching her. It was disorienting to say the least.

"Stiles?" Melissa asked on the other end of the line.

"He's here," Erica rushed into the phone. "Oh god. He's bleeding, a lot. He said don't call the Sheriff, not to worry him. Just hurry. Please."

Erica could hear the minivan gun a little faster. She hung up and raced to Stiles, unsure if touching him would make anything worse.

"Can't believe that worked," he laughed. It was a hollow, disbelieving sound. "This circle is a little wonky and the one on my chest got spliced a bit too. God, I am good." He tenderly tried to pull his shirt over his head. Erica had to grasp his ankle, that fell outside the red circle, and drag him so she could help. His chest and back was once again bubbling with tattoos flaring from use of magic. "The blue stuff," he asked for.

Trying her best to ignore the smell of blood and burning flesh, Erica picked up the jar she had already pulled from the toolbox and unscrewed the lid. "Does this always happen when you use magic?" she asked, slathering the substance on every bubbling black mark.

Stiles shook his head. "They all react when I transport," he said with labored breaths. "But otherwise it's isolated to the sigil I'm using."

Erica's fingers swift and nimbly ghosted along his tattoos, slowly relieving him of the burning sensation. "Stiles," she whispered, her hand trembling, "you're cut up real bad. This stuff won't infect the wounds?"

He shrugged. "Probably not."

"Stiles!"

"The thing about mountain ash," he said, tilting his head to indicate the large expanse of black that was wrapped around a major artery on his arm, "is that the substance is a naturally occurring repellent to the supernatural. Which is great, back in a time that all you needed was a ward to keep them out. However, they got smart. So did humans. And while your claws are lovely, man-made weapons can be used as projectiles and pass barriers quiet easily." His arm had a large gash in it from where a spear had grazed him. "If she had attacked using magic or her bare hands, nothing more than a scratch. But sharpened stone? Ouch."

He tried to laugh. Erica wanted to slap him upside the head and tell him he's never allowed to leave. When she covered all his tattoos, she helped him into a comfortable sitting position. "I'm calling Derek," she said, reaching for the phone she had abandoned.

"Don't," he whined.

Erica gave him a sharp look but it faltered in the face of Stiles desperate eyes. She sighed, giving in. Just as she was about to further scold Stiles, her ears caught the sound of a car parking. Soon after, Melissa came running in, dressed in sweats and slippers and a messy bun.

"Stiles!" Her cry was half relief he was alive and fear he was so injured. She made quick work, enlisting Erica to help disinfect wounds while Melissa deftly stitched him up, all the while muttering how he is much too reckless and is going to give his father a heart attack.

"I should have had Erica bring you when she grabbed my tool box," he said idly. "Wasn't thinking."

Melissa shook her head and gave a weak smile. "Wouldn't have made a difference. Your car is being holed up in a parking garage. My minivan takes up a lot of space, it seems."

Stiles laughed and then winced as the needle went through his skin again.

Twenty minutes later, Stiles was bandaged, some of them already staining red. "I'm taking you to the hospital. You've lost too much blood." All Stiles could do was nod.

Despite all the times Stiles found himself injured, he had only passed out and woken up in a hospital twice before. One was the time with the bear and the backfired spell. Conor was in the bed beside him, grinning like a mad man and spinning tales of their adventures to the attractive nurse that was taking his vitals. Only Conor could look so handsome in a hospital gown and a bandaged wrapped around his head. Maybe Derek, but he'd likely never have an injury that would land him in a hospital, so it was a moot point.

The time before that was the alpha pack. He woke up alone. His dad had been forced by Melissa to go home and rest mere hours before. He woke up gasping for air, his mind sharply replaying it's last memories. Nurses had to rush in and sedate him and give him oxygen.

Stiles spent a week in the hospital and another at home in bed rest before returning to school. Lydia visited every other day. Scott visited four days. His dad was there whenever he was off work. Stiles healed slowly from the deep wounds of the alpha's claws. He supposed the two weeks spent mostly in pained retrospection put a large dent into the self-loathing and loneliness that pushed him to leaving Beacon Hills.

And Derek, who had saved him, who had brought him bleeding to the hospital, stayed away.

Stiles drifted off in the ambulance this time. When he woke up, it just as dark out, only this time from the late evening and not the early hours of the morning. His dad was resting his head next to Stiles's thigh, snoring lightly. Stiles gently ran his fingers through his father's hair with contentment and possibly pain killer induced smile.

Moments later, the door opened and a hoard of werewolves crept in. "We heard you wake up," Scott whispered with a wry twitch of his lips. He came and sat down next to the Sheriff, a very pregnant Allison tapping his shoulder until Scott stood and gave her the seat. Erica hung back in a corner, her eyes puffy in a way they haven't been since before the bite. Boyd hovered next to her, staring at Stiles with sad eyes. Isaac huddled close to Boyd, wrapping his arms around Meagan. Peter hung by the doorway next to Danny and Jackson who was holding Hazel. Lydia wound her way to the other side of Stiles bed and crossed her arms, glaring daggers at Stiles.

She smacked him lightly on his shoulder, far away from the bandage there. "You dumbass."

"Good to see you too," he croaked, his voice sore and dry. She deflated in an instant and picked up the glass of water from the night stand and helped him drink. "Thanks."

"I've been reading up on those location circles you use," Lydia said, her voice stern but her eyes worried. "You could have been torn to shreds because of that cut on your chest." Stiles noted he was not wearing a shirt, but most of his upper body was wrapped in fresh bandages. Besides Erica, nobody else here had seen his tattoos. He had told Lydia, of course, as she began her magical studies.

He shrugged. "I was a little bit. Indah didn't nick my leg and yet it seems to be pretty damaged." His left leg, not visible under the thin blanket, was the last body part Melissa had stitched in the abandoned warehouse before the ambulance arrived. She smacked him again before delicately dabbing the corner of her eyes. "Guys," he said softly, "I'm not dying. I'm fine. Everything worked out."

Except he wasn't fine. Stiles was in the hospital. Stiles had just killed a girl, even if she was already gone before he shot her. And Derek wasn't here and it shouldn't hurt like it did. It hurt.

Lydia caressed his cheek lightly, apparently done with the smacking. "Derek's taking over your dad's shift so he could be here." Of course he was, Stiles thought with an abstract bitterness.

They all crowded around, asking what happened. Stiles gave an abbreviated story, thanking Erica for her help and telling them all it just got a little out of hand.

His dad hit him that time, having woken up halfway through the story. "Stiles, you are in the hospital. That is not a little out of hand, kiddo." Stiles patted his dad's hand and smiled.

Allison then made a pained noise and all attention moved to her.

Scott had wide, panicked eyes as Allison motioned for help to her feet. Everyone in the room was tense, Lydia looking on thoughtfully. Stiles noted the way all the wolves twitched their noses the moment before Allison cried out again, this time more surprised than in pain.

Everybody froze, glancing around as if figuring out what to do was impossible. When Allison spoke, her voice was tight and breathless. "I think my water just broke."

There was a beat of silence before Stiles rolled his eyes and pressed his nurse call button. "No need to panic. We're already in a hospital."

Chapter Text

Stiles helped deliver a baby once on a Monday.

Stiles knew it was a profession he never wanted to get into. Babies, while adorable, are disgusting. Especially when coming out of the mother. But, he was practically stranded in China and he was studying in a temple and a father came running in screaming in a language he couldn't understand that his wife was in labor on the side of the road. He had followed his instructor out because, hey, guy screaming and monks rushing to his aid. Of course Stiles was going to follow. He ended up helping. Not much, but he helped.

It was a very different experience having the nurse rush in and have the nurse rush Allison out, Scott supporting her along the way. The pack dispersed after that, going back and forth between checking on Allison and Stiles, or going home to sleep, or to work, etc. Stiles knew a bunch of them were just waiting in the lobby on news on the baby.

Erica snuck back in after the Sheriff got kicked out by Melissa on strict orders to get some sleep. She sat down on the end of his bed and rested a hand gently on his ankle. "You really scared the shit out of me, you asshole."

"Sorry," he shrugged with a crooked grin. "Thanks for saving my butt."

She squeezed his ankle and sighed. "Derek was here earlier you know." Stiles heart skipped a beat. Erica smirked slightly before letting it fade. "He would have stayed if he could. He looked wrecked seeing you like this." Stiles squirmed under her grip and she shook her head.

"How about we talk about your boy trouble instead," Stiles suggest, crossing his arms. "You were with someone when I called you and Boyd was snuggling awfully close when you all came into my room."

Erica began to red worse than Stiles did when he was still in high school. "It's complicated."

"Complicated as in you emailed me once just to insist you and Boyd weren't getting back together?" he questioned lightly, shocked and amused by her expression.

Erica was fighting a smile but then it faded quickly. "I don't want to be seen as someone as pathetic as I actually am."

Stiles quirked an eyebrow and tried to sit up straighter. "Erica Elizabeth Reyes, you are in no way pathetic. Trust me on this one."

She shook her head and looked at him sadly. "You're not supposed to give them second chances when they break your heart, right?"

Stiles felt a crunch in his chest. "I can't say."

Erica crawled up next to Stiles and laid her head by his chest, careful of the stitches. "Boyd and I got together for stupid reasons that Isaac said are common considering our circumstances." The words sounded rehearsed, as if she's told herself this a million times. "We had both just been turned, caught up in the kanima mess. We shared life threatening experiences. Being shot full of arrows, captured and tortured by humans. Being let go only to be captured and tortured by werewolves. We only had each other to trust and fall back on and that turned into a very heated relationship."

Stiles stroked her hair. It felt normal, like they had done this over the years whenever one of them needed somebody to confide in. As if they were going to break out the ice cream and romcom any minute now because that's what they did. Stiles wondered how much he had missed over the years that just being given the information can never really replace.

"But it was all physical," Erica continued after a while, her voice so soft he almost missed it. "We took what we wanted and were unable to speak. And he broke up with me." She swallowed hard and nuzzled into his side. "Then the mess with the Desmond pack and Isaac exploded and Meagan got turned and I felt like shit and there was Terry. And he seemed like the perfect rebellious tool. And for a while, it was just that. Then we got kind of serious. Then it turned to shit because neither of us really cared for the other. It was just, comfortable. I was hoping Boyd would get jealous, like a pathetic ex. Because that's what I was." Stiles slapped her arm lightly for that. She wasn't pathetic. "He dated a few times, brought home a bunch of girls. He never seemed to mind that I was going with Terry. The really kicker was after over three years of us, it wasn't until after we broke up that Boyd and I became friends. Being in each other's lives so often because of pack forced us to finally get to know each other. And then I fell even more in love with him than I had when we were dating."

Stiles bit his lip. It seemed all too familiar. "So isn't this a good thing, now?"

Erica made a frustrated sound. "I don't know. Yes. Yes it is because I love him and I can have him but he gave me up, Stiles. Why does he want me back?"

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say he loves you too. Has he been in a serious relationship all these years?"

Erica paused for a moment and shook her head.

"Yeah," Stiles said, patting her arm lightly and thinking of Derek. "He probably always has."

Stiles had been in a few serious relationships. A number of long ones, but even some of those still had the air of just being fluff. Like him and Ashley dated for a year yet they both knew it was nothing more than fun. Alex (not Ashley's boyfriend after him but the one Stiles dated from Kent) wasn't even serious. They were getting there. It was on the verge of 'let's move in together' and 'we should look for jobs in the same city after finishing our masters' and saying 'I love you'. It wasn't there yet. And before Stiles could say those words he fucked everything up by making out with someone else.

Stiles wondered now if it was self-sabotage. Isaac would probably agree.

Erica left when the nurse came in to shove food down Stiles throat. Not that he minded. One, free pudding. Two, he really was still woozy from the blood loss so eating was a great idea. A little while later, Melissa came to check up on him.

"Wearing your civvies I see," he commented with a grin.

She shook her head and fed him more food. He didn't eat as much as Scott, but he still could pack a lot away. "I'm not law enforcement, Stiles. You can't really call it civvies when I'm not in my scrubs."

Stiles shrugged. "Thanks for the seconds on lunch," he said, reaching for the pudding.

Melissa swiped it away from him and gave a stern look. "Never scare me like that again, mister." Then with a smile, she tore off the top and handed the pudding over to Stiles.

He smiled in thanks but then screwed up his mouth in thought. "Why aren't you fretting over by Allison's room?"

Melissa sighed and rubbed her eyes. "I am so excited I think I might go into hysterics, which wouldn't be good for either of them. Trust me. My mother was the most annoying sight when I was in labor. A blessing afterwards. But during, Jesus. Thought I'd check up on you to distract myself."

"I do make a good distraction," he smiled.

"Besides, I have my nurse's pager. Carly is going to beep me when it's time."

Stiles laughed. "Always nice to have an inside man. You ready to be a grandma?"

"Okay, that makes me feel old. But yes."

Stiles shook his head. "I wonder how my dad is going to take being grandpa adjacent."

Melissa snorted. "That's one way to put it." She scratched the back of her head and blushed. "It should be nice. Like having our own kid with all the love but none of the responsibility."

"Grandparents. Good thing you have Scott because I am going to grow up to be either a lonely old miser or a crazy cat owner."

Melissa pushed his head gently and stood. "Doctor Fink says your healing well and that my stitching is amazing-," "Your stitching is amazing." "and that you should be out here tomorrow after redressing your wounds. Just, keep them clean and call if they get infected, etc."

"Duh."

She ruffled his short hair and headed out. "As much as I love you, I am internally freaking out too much to not get in a good pace in the lobby."

The last time Stiles was being kept in a hospital, he was entertained by Conor and Ashley and Ashley's Alex (it had all been really confusing because they were both dating an Alex at the same time). Most of Stiles injuries over the years were either treated by local doctors who just fixed them up where he was and sent him on his way, with the exception of the few times Stiles sought out a hospital because fuck was this not a good thing to be happening. (Okay, so he may have accidentally poisoned himself once or twice while trying to make a potion. It happens.) Then there was the one time a fay had healed his right leg. Stiles had inadvertadly saved the fay's life so to repay his debt he healed Stiles leg after a fearsome battle with a different fay. Fairies are fucking nuts, okay.

But hospitals were still something of a rarity for Stiles. He tried to avoid them as much as possible. He left the one with Conor the same day he woke up. And other than the stomach pumps and antidotes he periodically needed, he hadn't spent a great deal of time in a hospital since this hospital.

There were three times in his life that Stiles spent a lot of time in this hospital: after Lydia had been attacked by Peter; after Stiles had been attacked by the alphas; and when his mom was dying.

He didn't have the best memories of this place.

When Stiles had been holed up here after the alpha attacks, he spent his time mostly watching movies on the little TV he had the remote to. Just looking at it brought back memories of depression. He called in his nurse and asked for a wheel chair. His leg wasn't damaged too badly, but he didn't want a fight about leaving his room. He wasn't hooked up to anything at the moment anyway.

Stiles wanted new memories of the hospital. Ones that didn't involve fear and loneliness and death. The nurse rolled him into the lobby where Lydia was on the phone, Melissa pacing as she had promised. When Lydia spotted Stiles she hung up and walked over.

"You're not discharged."

"Not 'til the morning, no."

Melissa then spotted him and also walked over. "Stiles, what are you doing out of your room?" She then gave a pointed look to his nurse who looked a little ashamed of herself.

"As long as I'm still in the hospital, right? I have no internal damage and they just want to keep me overnight for observation. I'm fine."

She crossed her arms and glared, but Stiles just stared back, unapologetic, until she caved. "I'll take him from here, Taylor. He'll be back in his bed by eleven." She said the last few words with a steady glare towards Stiles who happily nodded. Any conditions if it meant he could be out of the room for a few hours.

His nurse, Taylor, gave him a light squeeze on his unbandaged shoulder and headed off.

Lydia rolled him to the cafeteria because Stiles was already hungry again. He wasn't nauseated because he wasn't on too many painkillers. He tried to stay away from nonorganic medicines as much as possible with the added rune placed just beneath his bull vertebrae that helped temper his injuries. Didn't exactly heal, but it was much appreciated. They ate while Lydia kept them updated on where everyone was, her phone constantly pinging.

Melissa continued her nervous pacing next to them.

"Do they have names picked out?" he asked. Scott had sent him numerous emails with long lists of names, but never anything even close to narrow.

When they were kids they did the girl thing of naming their imaginary kids. (Girl thing only because girls did it semi publicly and guys never talked about it.) Scott and Stiles made a pact to give their kids middle names off of each other' names. It was long time ago, so he doubted Scott remembered. It never came up in the emails, after all.

Lydia shook her head. "As far as I know they have five girl names and five boy names and once they see the kid they'll 'just know'." Lydia obviously thought his ridiculous, but she couldn't help but smile.

That's when Melissa's pager went off.

Chapter Text

Stiles got his first happy memory of a hospital on 12:34 am Friday.

That was when Henry Marcus McCall was born. Stiles had a moment where he looked at Scott, stunned he had remembered. Scott just smiled wider, if that were possible, and pushed him lightly enough to not hurt his wounds. "How could I forget, dude. I told Allison she could pick the first name no questions asked as long as I got the middle name."

Stiles attempted to stand, but he was too tired, the exertion on his body still weighing him down. "Dude, I'd hug you if I could."

"Marcus?" Isaac asked.

He was the only one who had been able to arrive when Lydia texted everyone. The rest would see the new addition to the pack in the morning. Allison was already coming down from the adrenaline high of having a baby. As smiley as she was, her eyes were starting to droop.

Stiles looked up at Isaac and shrugged, rubbing the back of his head in a common Stiles sign of nerves or embarrassment. "We made a stupid pact when we were kids saying our firstborn's middle name would be derived from the other's middle name."

"So your middle name is Marcus?" he asked.

Lydia quirked a perfect eyebrow at him and shook her head. "How have so few of us dug up your legal name?" She asked Stiles before turning to Isaac. "His middle name is Marcellus."

Stiles was actually surprised not more of them had dug up his real name. It shouldn't have been too hard, even if he did legally change it after moving to New York. All his high school records still had that horrendous, impossible to pronounce Polish name his mother gave him listed and M as his middle initial. He just switched them so his legal documents had a name people could understand, unable to actually get rid of the name his mother wanted.

"Technically, it's my first name now," Stiles shrugged. "Fun fact, there are actual people in the world who know me as Marcellus."

That got him some weird looks, some frowny faces (although they could only hold it for so long because Henry started squirming and all eyes were on him), and Stiles forgets they missed just as much of his life as he has of theirs.

It wasn't much longer before Melissa asked Isaac to bring Stiles back to his room. He didn't object.

The next day he was brought back to his dad's place and slept in his old bed in his old room that had been long ago converted into a guest room. The walls were painted a powder blue and his sheets had been replaced to match. His old nick-knacks he had never really cared about had mostly all been given away, the stray one his father kept because it reminded them both of Stiles as a child and his mother. There were photos of her and them on the wall.

Stiles sat up, wiping sleep from his eyes and taking in the memories of the old photos and the oddness of being back in his room that was no longer really his room. It was late in the morning and he was still starving, his body still craving to replenish his system after all the blood loss. He slowly got dressed and sat at his desk, a photo of his mom on the bookshelf next to it. After a moment, he reached up and unclasped her necklace. He had been wearing it since she died, the only sentimental piece of Beacon Hills he had taken with him anywhere.

He supposed this was his silent declaration as he placed the cross in front of the silver frame.

Stiles was expecting visitors. He had just arrived back from foreign lands and was just let out of the hospital. Stiles was also expecting a lot of people were visiting Allison and Henry, who were released from the hospital only hours before him. He was not, however, expecting Derek Hale, looking like a wreck who hadn't slept in weeks sitting at his kitchen table with two mugs of coffee.

Derek glanced up when Stiles walked down the stairs then adverted his gaze to the steaming cup before him, taking a tentative sip. "Your dad let me in," he murmured around the mug.

Stiles shifted on his feet, unsure of how to proceed, but the smell of coffee had him heading forward without much thought. He sat across from Derek, unsure of what to say as he drank his cup of coffee.

It was an awkward few minutes before Derek finally spoke up.

"Despite knowing how much you've changed I'm still expecting you begin rambling at top speeds if I just look at you long enough." Derek sighed into his now cold coffee and locked eyes with Stiles. "I thought you were going to die." Despite trying to seem angry and hard, all Stiles could see was the worry.

"I'm sorry," Stiles whispered, looking away.

The sun filtered through the kitchen window. Stiles watched the dust float in the air between them. It seemed surreal in how normal it was. He wanted this moment to be warm, to be peaceful. For there to be no tension between him and Derek. He wanted them to be able to talk without worrying about hurting each other.

But it was his fault they were stuck like this.

"There was just so much blood," Derek continued, staring off into space himself. "I could hear how weak your heartbeat was, how shallow your breath, while they were checking you over. I could smell you over all the other patients in the building. Then I had to leave before you woke up. I didn't want to." Derek tried catching Stiles' eye again. "You have to know I wanted to be there."

Sties let out a long breath. He wanted to say he understands, he does know, but he can't. "Did you visit Henry yet? He's pretty cute. When can you tell if a newborn is a wolf or not?"

"Stiles," Derek said, clearly frustrated by the blatant topic change. He flexed his fingers a few times before wrapping them again around his mug.

"What do you want me to say?" Stiles asked, defeated. He really didn't know what to do here. It was terrifying in its own right. His heart wasn't racing but he was so lost. Despite being able to take down Derek with a few choice herbs and words (although maybe not right now because his things weren't on him and it still hurt to walk) Stiles hadn't been this afraid of a werewolf since he left Beacon Hills in the first place.

"I don't want you to say anything!" Derek exclaimed, letting a glimpse of his temper through. "I just-," he cut himself off and took a calming breath. "You can't know how-," he cut himself off again, grinding his teeth in frustration. "Fuck it," Derek growled, standing up. The near rage was palpable, coming off Derek in waves as he began to pace the room. "You left, Stiles. You left me twice! And I know it's my fault but, God, Stiles, you didn't have to abandon us!"

Stiles finally looked at Derek, gaping in surprise. "You weren't the reason I left the first time, Derek," Stiles snapped. "You weren't the reason I left the second time. Sure, you were a factor, but you weren't the reason I left. I didn't leave you. I left everyone."

"You were the only one I trusted, Stiles. Back then, you were the only one I thought wouldn't stab me in the back and you left me."

Stiles was stunned by the confession that Derek had put any sort of trust into him but shook it off quickly enough. "Well good, I forced you to trust others by leaving, didn't I?" Stiles crossed his arms bitterly.

Derek's chest heaved as he tried collecting himself again, his control not holding well. "If I had been faster, if I had stopped the alphas from hurting you, would you have stayed?"

Stiles bit inside his cheek and swallowed before shaking his head slowly, keeping his eyes on Derek. "Me getting hurt back then hadn't changed anything on my end Derek. You were the one who stopped coming by, stopped asking for my help. I'm sorry it felt like I abandoned you, but it was the whole pack that caused me to leave. Now if you're going to stay you might as well make yourself useful and grab my painkillers because I'm done with this conversation."

Derek turned sharply and rummaged for the pill bottle on the cluttered kitchen counter. "Your dad and Melissa are both working until nine," he said before placing two pills and a glass of water before Stiles.

Stiles shifted uncomfortably before swallowing the pills. He watched Derek nervously chew his bottom lip and tried his hardest to not find it absolutely adorable.

"When you were over for Christmas," Derek began, "I told you we're not all like Scott and Allison. But I never really finished my thought." Stiles quirked an eyebrow, interested but not willing to voice it. "Scott fell in love with Allison with their first contact. Sometimes werewolves just know who would be right for them. Sometimes it's harder to tell. Sometimes it's easy to push aside and ignore and convince yourself you're being stupid and irrational."

"Derek, I don't want to hear this."

"Well too bad, I'm telling you. All those years of you telling me to use my words, well I'm fucking using them," he snapped. "I'm in love with you, Stiles."

Stiles blinked and looked away, a clenching feeling in his stomach. "Derek," he warned.

"I've been in love with you for God knows how fucking long and I fell more in love with you as we emailed each other. When you first returned and we slept with each other, I wish I fucking knew what was going on in your head because I knew I was being selfish and making a mistake because I knew it wouldn't be what I wanted if you didn't love me back. And you don't fucking love me back, do you?"

There was silence between them for a few minutes, neither of them willing to speak or move. Derek wasn't going to break this time. He wanted an answer.

"I told you already, didn't I?" Stiles said, his voice a harsh rasp as he tried to contain his tears.

"No. You didn't."

Derek didn't count the last email Stiles sent him. He refused to take those words he had deleted forever from his email as Stiles true feelings. It was too easy, Derek knew, to hide emotions among text, that it was much harder to hide in person. Derek needed to hear him say it, needed to smell him and listen to his heartbeat, needed to watch his every movement as Stiles shot him down, again.

"I didn't lie in the email, Derek," Stiles said. "I can't love you. I can't love you the way you want me to. I don't know how to be in love, I don't do relationships well." Stiles finally found his courage and looked Derek square in the eye. "As unbelievable as it sounds, I'm the more emotionally stunted one of the two of us. You deserve so much better than me."

Derek came around the table and pulled back the chair Stiles was sitting in. Stiles couldn't look away but he hugged his arms closer to himself in defense as his heart sped. With sure hands, Derek placed them on Stiles's shoulder, sinking to his knees. With Stiles still seated Derek was just a hairsbreadth shorter on his knees. "Derek," Stiles said, his throat constricted. Derek's hands slid up to grasp Stiles's face. His fingers were feather touches against Stiles's cheek, his right thumb caressing him gently.

"I want you," Derek whispered.

"Why?"

Derek leaned further in until their noses touched. Stiles could feel Derek's breath against his mouth. It was warm and slightly ticklish. "Because while 'you and me' may not have been 'Scott and Allison', I fell in love with you and became as hopeless as he's always been."

A tear trickled down Stiles' cheek and Derek wiped it away.

"I still don't know how to be in love," he whispered.

"Does anybody?"

Stiles doesn't know who moved, but suddenly they're kissing. Their lips moved against each other, slow and soft, yearning and desperate. It was as if they were trying to make up for almost ten years of no communication. Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek, pulling him in closer and running his fingers through his hair.

"I'm going to fuck everything up," Stiles said warily as they separated, needing to catch their breath.

"Yeah, well, so will I," Derek smirked, wiping away more of Stiles's tears.

Chapter Text

Stiles had left on a Tuesday.

He wasn't sure when it started. Stiles had been a broken teenager dealing with more than any teenager should be dealing with on top of being felt abandoned and alone. He wasn't sure when that changed. He couldn't tell what happened between his friends in Beacon Hills, when they turned into real friends again. Better friends, even. He wasn't sure when he fully accepted them.

It was over the course of Lydia finding him and getting tid bits of information. It was coming home and having the faces of his friends in his sight. It was over the course of emails and Facebook statuses and honest to god letters. It was that sense of protection that had overwhelmed his entire being when Hazel was taken. It was the way his father was so accepting and even cared for the pack in Stiles's absence.

It was the fact that everyone took notice.

They cared about what he was doing, where he was in the world, his professional career.

So, ten years ago, Stiles packed his bags and moved to New York, but now he was back in Beacon Hills unsure when he ever got so close to the people he had sworn pushed him away.

Stiles contacted the hotel he'd been staying at and had his things shipped back to America. He took up Derek's old offer and moved into the guest room, not wanting to shell out money for a motel or get in the way of his father's and Melissa's still budding relationship. He and Derek decided to take things slow, and especially while Stiles was still healing, Derek wouldn't do more than kiss him gently.

Every time he did, Stiles stared at the werewolf with eyes questioning in amazement, trying to figure out how he ever fell into this.

Despite trying to take things slow, by the end of the first month, Stiles found himself crawling into Derek's bed most nights, long after he had first attempted sleep. Derek would always make room, make sure he wasn't knocking any injuries, and burry his nose into the crook of Stiles's neck. It felt safe.

As Stiles got freer with his movements, less strained by the pull of healing scars, he spent more time outside and around town. He helped Lydia with her magic studies and even Deaton called on him a few times for some quote: expert assistance.

Often, though, when Derek was at work, Stiles would write. He had enough material for two books: Origin of Myths and Legends Vol.1 Europe, Vol. 2 Asia. On lazy Sunday afternoons, Derek would help proof. He enjoyed reading the stories and hearing them first hand whenever he asked a question. He also, despite being a werewolf, had a hard time coming to terms with certain creatures Stiles swore are not falsehoods. Stiles found it cute.

"I'm okay with that," Derek would always eventually say, "As long as we never go there and you never decide to make Volumes 3 and 4, Africa and South America."

Then Stiles would lean over tentatively, as if still searching for permission, and kiss Derek square on the mouth.

He and Derek spent a number of evenings in each other's company in Derek's room; tumbling into bed together more nights now that Stiles wasn't going to prolong any injuries by doing so. Still there were many times where they just lie there, basking in the heat of the other. Derek would trace each tattoo and scar and kiss each mole. He already had some of the unnatural markings memorized. There were a fair number more than the first time he saw them. "I have to fix some of them," Stiles told Derek as he was tracing the scar winding through the circle on his belly. "I can't use them if there are breaks like that," he said, trailing his own finger along the path Derek's had just taken. "It might be difficult to find an artist who I can convince to use my own ink, though." Derek merely kissed the marking and told him they would find someone to fix them but that he hoped Stiles would never need to use some if not all of these again.

Some nights, it would be Stiles tracing the singular tattoo on Derek's back, marveling at the utter lack of scars all over his body. He would kiss the very center of the triskelion. Sometimes, in playful retaliation, he would lick each leg of the marking. It gave Derek goose-bumps.

Stiles eventually found a job teaching while pursuing his doctorate at a local college only 45 minutes away. It wasn't a terrible commute, but when he returned home and ate dinner with the pack, Stiles realized all he wanted to do was to crawl into bed next to Derek. He didn't even care if there was sex.

Seven months into his return to Beacon Hills, Stiles officially moved in with Derek, and not just in Derek's house. By then Boyd and Erica were back together, Scott's mom and Stiles's dad had gotten married at the courthouse (no ceremony needed for a second wedding, they proclaimed, just a few witnesses and a couple of signatures to make it a legal union), and Henry was beginning to walk. Hazel liked to push him down when he tried following her around on play dates or the full moon.

All in all, Stiles and Derek quite easily fell into domestic life. Stiles's life had never been so normal. And he was living in a house full of werewolves.

When Stiles's new books were finally sent off to publication, they hosted a barbeque. Ashley and Conor flew in and everyone in the pack was excited to meet them. They shared trade secrets with the Argents and Ashley talked magic with Lydia. Kyle came up too, although Stiles hadn't been the one to invite him. He was only slightly surprised that Danny had almost aggressively bided for Kyle's attention until the poor guy gave in. Although, Stiles had his worries Danny was only in it for embarrassing stories of his days in undergrad.

With the house full of so many people, Stiles had never seen Derek so relaxed.

And it still made Stiles watch in wonder every time Derek would smile at him. He couldn't understand how he was the one to put that look on Derek's face. And yet every day as time passed on Derek continued to look at him as if he were the world.

"Do you ever think about having kids?" Derek asked one Friday afternoon, startling Stiles. It was a casual question, no pressure, just curiosity.

They were babysitting Henry and Hazel so their parents could have a relaxing evening at a nice restaurant. Hazel was running around the couch screaming and Henry had just thrown up not twenty minutes ago. But Derek's eyes were on the young werewolves with adoration.

Stiles shrugged. "We have Scott."

Derek smiled at him warmly. "I suppose we do."

"I haven't put a lot of thought into it," Stiles admitted. "I mean, we're both guys so we'd be adopting or using a surrogate, which means we can literally have them any time we want. Neither of us have eggs that could go stale. Anyway," he continued after Derek nudged him a bit, "I think I'd want to be a little more settled in my job first. Finish my doctorate and what not." He cuddled closer into Derek, letting his eyes rove to where Hazel was letting Henry play with her hair. "Maybe wait until those two are closer to teenagers so we can have the cute kid while they're terrorizing the town."

"Hey," Derek said, causing Stiles to look up. He darted down catching Stiles with a kiss.

"Hey."

It didn't happen on any one day. He left on a Tuesday and returned to Beacon Hills on a Thursday and many events happened in between, but there wasn't one day where Stiles fell in love. It had been creeping up on him since high school. There was lust and attraction; there was briefly something akin to friendship. That last part faded away for Stiles as he first traveled, but after returning he noticed things about Derek that made him want to notice more. The lust came back in full force and the attraction built up until Stiles let the dam break the night after the Hazel incident.

He had fallen in love over emails, over silly stories and important information. He fell in love with every facet of Derek Hale as he took care of Stiles when he was injured and kissed him and let him cry out his fears about love. It was sleepless nights where Derek would just hold him, sooth him, take away the pain without his werewolf mojo.

He fell in love with each smile as they came. The one he looks at the kids with, the one for when he's surrounded by pack, the one when he's excited by his work, the one where he can't believe Stiles's stories, the one where he's proud, the one when he's comforting someone, the one when he's joking, the one when he just had a really good laugh. The one he gives Stiles in moments like these with eyes that can only be read as love.

"I love you," Stiles whispered.

Derek's smile slipped for the briefest moment into open mouth disbelief and wonder. Coming up on a year of being together, and Stiles had never been able to say the words out loud, no matter how much he thought them. His tongue always got tied and his throat ran dry. Even when he knew it was true, the words held power and he wasn't willing to give that up. Derek broke out into a blaring grin that swept across his entire face. Stiles could even feel it in his body where they touched. Stiles had never seen something quite so radiant on Derek's face before.

Yes, this was the smile that Stiles loved the most.

"Marry me?" the words falling off Derek's lips in a stunned breath.

His answer was instantaneous.

When Isaac came back from dinner with Meagan, he found the furniture in the living room tossed around, the couch having fallen on its back. Everything smelled strongly of sex.

"Oh, come on!" he yelled.

Henry then Hazel woke up and started crying to which Isaac silently swore. There was a rule in this house. If you wake them up, you put them back to sleep.

Isaac went to the kid's room, where Stiles had resided for those first five months, and as quickly as possible soothed the babies into slumber.

Then he went a few doors over where the stench grew even thicker. "You guys suck," he whispered, knowing good and well Derek could hear. Smothered laughter arose and Isaac headed to bed.

In the room Derek and Stiles laid naked in each other's arms, after glow pouring off their skin. Derek traced the new tattoo running up Stiles's side, memorizing the pattern of the new ink. With dopey smiles they stared into each other's eyes, Derek silently asking to hear it again.

Stiles kissed Derek softly before answering. "I love you."