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It was the full moon and Stiles was out bonding with the pack. If trailing behind them while they raced on ahead, yelping and wrestling and flushing out game could be considered bonding. Stiles didn’t even bother trying to keep up with them for a couple reasons. First, it would probably kill him. Literally. His heart would most likely explode in his chest if he even attempted it.

Secondly, they didn’t merely chase the critters they flushed out, and Stiles didn’t want to be anywhere near them when the fur started flying. Also quite literally, as Stiles found out the first time he’d joined the pack on their full moon romp. Derek said it didn’t matter, though; what mattered was Stiles just being out there with the rest of the pack, and that they had his scent as they bounded through the woods.

Besides, it wasn’t as if they ignored him once they started playing. Scott and Isaac especially continually circled back to make sure Stiles was alright, and Erica delighted in bringing him ‘gifts’ that often made him gag even as he (gingerly and reluctantly) accepted them because he didn’t want to make her mad at him on a good day, much less on a full moon. And Stiles had a suspicion that Derek lurked in the shadows of the trees, as per his M.O. Also, sometimes . . . .

“Holy crap!” Stiles yelped. (Every. Single. Time. Even though he knew full well it was coming.)

As if there was some prearranged signal, they all returned to dance around Stiles (and scare the bejeezus out of him) before taking off into the trees again, whooping excitedly. A rustle of leaves alerted Stiles to the fact that Derek was still there, watching over him.

“One of these days they’re going to kill me,” Stiles told Derek. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure that wolf!Derek could understand him, but that didn’t change the fact that Stiles needed to talk. “My heart is going to leap right out of my chest, and then who are you going to get to do your research, hmm?”

Stiles took a turn in the worn footpath and came face to face with a fox that looked nearly as surprised to see Stiles as Stiles was to see it. “You’re not Derek,” Stiles said, speaking softly, hoping to alert Derek to the situation without spooking the fox.

Stiles let out a panicked screech when the fox charged him, and then a pained, “Ow, fuck!” when it tackled him to the ground and bit him.

The fox’s yelp of surprise and distress joined Stiles’ curse on the night air as Derek appeared out of nowhere and batted the fox off Stiles, and then pinned it to the forest floor with his large paw.

“It bit me!” Stiles said in shock as the others raced back and circled them in confusion, their faces raised as if they were scenting the air, low growls issuing from their throats. Stiles touched a hand to his hip, grunted in pain at the contact, and then pulled away his bloodied hand.

“What happened?” Scott growled around his fangs, yellow eyes staring at Stiles’ hand. Stiles slowly placed it back onto his wounded hip.

“It bit me!” Stiles repeated. Because it bore repeating. What if it had rabies or something? “Oh my god, what if it has rabies or something?”

The fox let out a yippy growl in response, as if it understood the slur, which was cut off when Derek exerted more pressure on the fox with his paw. Derek placed his muzzle against the fox and sniffed. A growl rumbled low in his throat.

“Don’t kill it!” Stiles said frantically. Even though the thing had just bitten him, Stiles wouldn’t enjoy the sight of it being torn apart. Besides, “Don’t they need it alive to test it for rabies?”

The fox made another sound that Derek cut off with a low growl. Wolf!Derek reared up on his hind legs and then wolf!Derek was gone and human (if completely wolfed out) Derek stood in its place.

“Holy mother of god,” Stiles breathed. Because Derek was naked. Completely and gloriously naked. The fox whined and drew Stiles’ gaze away from Derek. Which was another thing to hold against it.

“Change,” Derek growled at the fox.

A moment later a naked man lay on the leaves where the fox had been. Almost like a scene from one of Stile’s fantasies. If the man wasn’t a werefox that had just bitten him!

“Oh my god,” Stiles said. “Oh my god.” He’d been bitten by a werefox. “I’ve been bitten by a werefox.”

“I’m sorry . . . ,” the werefox began, cutting off whatever else he’d been going to say when Derek snarled at him.

“Why did nobody tell me that werefoxes are a thing? And how did he get here? Hey! Why didn’t you know he was here? I thought you guys were all territorial, especially on a full moon!”

“He smells wrong,” Derek said, as if that fact personally offended him, and then he growled something at Erica and Boyd, who immediately moved to stand over the man while Derek strode over to Stiles. He squatted down beside Stiles, and thankfully his eyes flashed red so that Stiles’ gaze was drawn to them and he wasn’t tempted to look anywhere lower.

“Let me see,” Derek growled, but Stiles thought he detected a hint of concern behind it.

Which was actually more worrying.

“It’s fine,” Stiles said, lifting his hand. Which was a total lie because it hurt like hell. For some reason, the sight of the blood on his hand made Stiles feel woozy.

“Don’t tell me you faint at the sight of blood,” Derek said gently as he tore Stiles’ jeans so he could get a better look at the bite on his hip.

“Ha!” Stiles said. “Only my own, apparently,” he said, trying to keep his tone light.

As Derek carefully probed the bite Stiles was just glad that he hadn’t turned a tiny bit more away from the fox and taken the bite on his ass. As if this wasn’t embarrassing enough, with Stiles reacting to Derek’s nakedness even through the pain of the bite, what the situation needed was his bare ass being ogled by everyone. Erica would never let him live it down.

“Is he gonna make it, Bones?” Stiles said. “I’m afraid not, Jim,” he answered his own question.

Derek raised an eyebrow at him. “We need to get this cleaned out.”

“Is that gonna make a difference?” Stiles said, the last word turning into a squeak as Derek shoved his hands beneath Stiles and lifted him. “I can walk!” Stiles protested.

“This is faster,” Derek said, showing no intent to put Stiles down.

“Your feet,” Stiles tried. “Derek, you’re walking barefoot through the woods.” Because he was naked, Stiles’ brain very unhelpfully supplied.

“It’s fine,” Derek said in his Alpha voice.

“It’s not fine,” Stiles said, but he subsided because he knew that further arguing wouldn’t do him any good, and his hip did ache a little bit, and also he was very comfortable. Stiles let his head drop onto Derek’s shoulder and if he pretended that Derek was carrying him under other circumstances, no one but Stiles had to know.

Stiles didn’t rouse until Derek gently set him on his feet in the newly refurnished kitchen at casa Hale, placing him near the counter so he could lean on it.

“Scott, get me the first aid kit,” Derek commanded. “Isaac, get me a pair of pants. Stiles, I need you to take your pants down.”

“What?” Stiles yelped. “Can’t you just . . . ?” He indicated the gaping hole in the denim from Derek’s claws.

Scott and Isaac returned at the same time. Derek set the first aid kit on the counter beside Stiles’ hip, and then stepped into the jeans Isaac handed him while Stiles averted his eyes.

“Come on,” Derek said impatiently.

“Um, does everybody have to be here for this?”

“Yes.”

“Really? Everybody?”

“I need them to keep an eye on him,” Derek said, lips curling up.

“Can’t they do that in the other room?”

“I don’t want to let him out of my sight.”

“Can’t you all . . . ?”

“No. Stiles,” Derek growled.

“Fine,” Stiles agreed unhappily. “Can you at least tell Erica to turn around. Please.”

Erica gave him a smirk that said she wouldn’t mind taking a bite out of him. Stiles knew she was just fucking with him, but he shuddered anyway. Derek glared at Erica over his shoulder as he pulled the necessary items out of the first aid kit. She turned around, but slowly enough to make it appear that it was her own idea. Derek’s glare swept the room and suddenly all of them, including the werefox, were looking elsewhere.

Stiles appreciated the illusion of privacy as he unbuttoned and unzipped (the sound seeming awfully loud in a room full of werewolves) his jeans and carefully worked them down over his hips. Stiles pretended that someone besides Derek was cleaning the bite, slathering antiseptic on it, and covering it with a bandage. Stiles twisted and peered down, trying to see the bite before it was covered.

“What’s it look like?” Stiles asked.

“Like a bite,” Derek said as he smoothed out the tape. “Okay, you can pull your pants back up.”

“Actually,” Stiles said as he considered the large rent in them. Before he could finish the thought Isaac stepped forward and held out a pair of sweat pants. Stiles reached out and took them from him. “Thank you.”

Isaac shrugged and turned away as if he was embarrassed at being caught doing something nice. Stiles toed off his sneakers and quickly kicked off his jeans (and underwear, which had suffered the same fate as his jeans, being bitten through and then torn at Derek’s hands – claws?), but then had to move more slowly as he stepped into the sweats. When he (inevitably) lost his balance and tilted sideways, Derek steadied him and copped a sniff.

“How do I smell?” Stiles couldn’t resist asking.

Derek glared at Stiles, but it was half-hearted at best. “You smell like you.”

“I don’t smell like I’m dying?” Stiles joked, and then froze. “Wait, I’m not gonna die, am I?”

“You’re not going to die,” Derek growled. Stiles wasn’t sure if the growl was at Stiles for being an idiot, or a warning to death, just in case it was considering taking Stiles.

“But Peter said . . . ,” Stiles began.

“I know what Peter said,” Derek said. “But you. Are not. Going to die.”

Stiles had a flash of Derek as a holistic healer, urging people to imagine their healthy cells attacking the diseased cells and chanting ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. It would’ve made him laugh if he wasn’t in a little bit of pain, and also worried that the bite he hadn’t even wanted might kill him, no matter what Derek said.

“The bite won’t kill you, if that’s what you’re worried about,” the man who’d bitten Stiles said, drawing everyone’s attention back to him. Which was a mistake. Stiles could’ve told him that. Not that Stiles had any intention of telling him anything.

When Stiles looked, the man’s head was tipped back as far as he could get it, Erica’s claws pressed against his throat hard enough to break the skin. Stiles watched the small trickle of blood make its way down his neck and didn’t even consider asking Derek to call off Erica.

“Can I kill him?” Erica said.

“No,” Derek replied, but Stiles couldn’t tell if he meant they weren’t going to kill the man at all, or if he was merely reserving that pleasure for himself.

“I really am sorry,” the man said, though speaking caused more blood to trickle down his throat.

Derek ignored the apology. “What were you doing on Hale land?”

The man looked like he hoped Derek would call off Erica so he could speak without drawing more blood, but Derek just crossed his arms over his (still bare, Stiles couldn’t help but notice – he was in pain, not dead. At least, not yet) chest and stared at him.

“I pissed off a witch,” the man said.

When Derek didn’t answer, or seem impressed or worried (which was the opposite of Stiles, who was now freaking out about witches), the man continued.

“You noticed before that my scent is . . . off. Well, she did something, a spell, to mask my scent, and then dropped me into the middle of werewolf land on the full moon. You do the math.”

“What were you supposed to do?” Derek asked.

“Die, probably,” the man said wryly. “She gleefully informed me that the spell would wear off eventually. My only hope was to get the hell out of there before anyone knew I’d been there.”

“Then why did you bite Stiles!” Scott exploded, the stress of having to remain silent finally too much.

Derek glared at him, and Scott subsided. Derek turned his glower back onto the werefox. “Why did you bite Stiles?”

“Because I was scared!” the man said. “I was hiding, afraid the smell would wear off any moment and you’d scent me, or hear me, and then I heard your pack run off and I thought, this is my chance to escape, only when I came out of hiding I ran into . . . .” He indicated Stiles. “I reacted out of fear. I’m sorry.”

The man sounded sincere, but Stiles still wasn’t over the fact that he’d bitten him. Derek nodded his head to Erica and she reluctantly withdrew her claws from the man’s throat, but she didn’t retract them. Instead, she brought them to her lips and licked his blood off each one. Stiles looked back at the man’s neck and watched the claw marks close and heal, the blood on his neck the only indication that he’d been cut. That would be him. If he didn’t die first.

Am I going to die?” Stiles said.

Derek glanced at Stiles, but didn’t growl at him for asking the question, which made Stiles wonder if he wasn’t as certain as he’d tried to appear about Stiles’ fate and wanted to hear the answer for himself.

“No, of course not,” the man answered after a look at Derek, as if to ascertain that it was okay for him to do so. “Why would you think that?”

“The bite,” Stiles said. “If you don’t die from it you turn, right?” His voice was a little high and Stiles knew he was freaking out.

“No! That sounds barbaric,” the man said, eliciting growls from every werewolf in the room. “Uh, I mean, no, werefox bites don’t work that way. If you’re bitten, you turn. There’s no possibility of death. At least, not from a single bite.”

“How many bites would kill?” Stiles asked, his desire to know everything coming to the fore.

“It’s more a mauling than individual bites,” the man said. “But that’s not really a fox thing, that’s more the province of . . . . Uh, what I mean to say is that we’re not affected by the pull of the moon the way, uh, some other weres are.”

“Really?” Stiles said, his interest piqued despite the circumstances. Before Stiles could get carried away asking questions, Derek took back control of the interrogation.

“Tell us more about you – your name, where you’re from, what you did to piss off the witch.”

Stiles’ gaze kept returning to the blood on the man’s neck. He didn’t like seeing it. He’d become conditioned to needing to clean away the blood to assure himself that his friends had healed. He opened a gauze pad and poured alcohol on it. Stiles took a step towards the man. The move was greeted with a chorus of warning growls which froze Stiles in his tracks even though they were his friends (mostly) and he was used to them going all werewolf weird at a moment’s notice.

Erica took the gauze from Stiles and wiped away the streaks of blood on the man’s throat as if she was using a brillo pad on a grate from the bar-b-que grill. The man winced at the rough treatment, but was smart enough to not protest. “Thank you,” he told Stiles.

Stiles nodded and turned back to the first aid kit where he’d seen a packet of aspirin when he’d gotten out the gauze. When Derek saw what he was doing, he got down a glass and filled it with water before handing it to Stiles. Only after Stiles had swallowed the aspirin did Derek turn his attention back to the werefox. Stiles chuckled to himself when he thought that instead of being the fox in the henhouse, he was the werefox in the werewolf den.

Scott gave Stiles a strange look, so either his enjoyment of his own wit hadn’t been as silent as he’d thought, or Scott just knew him well enough to know he was thinking something. Stiles made a gesture he hoped Scott would understand as ‘tell you later’ and turned his attention back to the discussion, not wanting to miss anything.

“Answer the questions,” Derek said.

“My name is Ben, Ben McKellen,” the werefox said. “I’m from Canyon Run, Oregon. The witch I mentioned, Caryn Montgomery, is also from Canyon Run. She and I have had some run-ins in the past – I don’t like the way she does things.” He held out his hands to indicate his current situation. “Case in point. Anyway, she took offense at something I said.”

“Which was?” Derek said.

“No.”

Derek nodded. “Is Stiles going to turn for sure?”

“Yes,” Ben said, sounding surprised that it was even a question. “But I can help him through it, teach him, though I’d be sorry for your loss.”

Derek growled. “We haven’t lost anything.”

“No, of course not,” Ben said. “I just meant that I’d be happy to take Stiles in, to train him.”

The sound of werewolves howling inside one room was very loud. Probably not as loud as Stiles’ heartbeat, which had started racing at the idea of having to leave. He didn’t want to leave. Derek had gone tense beside him, and his claws had emerged from the tips of his fingers.

“I can train him,” Derek said, his voice deceptively soft.

“Of course,” Ben said. “I just meant . . . he’s a fox now, not a wolf.”

“It’s getting late,” Derek said shortly, bringing an end to the discussion. “We’ll finish this tomorrow. Lock him up and watch him,” Derek told the others. To Ben he said, “If you transform or try to escape, I’ll kill you.”

“Understood,” Ben said.

“Stiles.” When Stiles didn’t respond immediately Derek touched his arm. “Come on, Stiles.”

Stiles let Derek lead him out of the kitchen and to the only bedroom that currently had any furniture in it. (Stiles held out hope that they’d one day be able to convince Derek to finish furnishing the house.) He was suddenly overwhelmed by everything that had happened that night. He obediently followed Derek’s instructions to go to the bathroom and get into bed as if he was in a trance. Stiles removed his hoodie, leaving on his t-shirt and the borrowed sweat pants, and climbed into the middle of the mattress. Derek pulled the covers up over Stiles, tucking him in (which should have felt weird, but weirdly didn’t), and then stretched out on the bed behind him.

“What are you doing?” Stiles said when Derek pressed his nose to the back of Stiles’ neck and draped an arm over his waist, careful of his hip.

“Go to sleep, Stiles.”

Stiles closed his eyes. He opened them a moment later when the mattress dipped. Scott climbed onto the bed and lay facing Stiles. Isaac climbed on behind Scott. Stiles looked into Scott’s eyes for a moment, saw only unwavering support there, and closed his own. He didn’t even open his eyes when he heard Erica and Boyd enter the room. After the sound of some metallic clinks near the foot of the bed, Erica and Boyd joined the rest of them on the mattress, stretching out behind Derek.

“Did you just handcuff Ben to the end of the bed?” Stiles asked.

“Yes,” Ben muttered from the floor.

“Does he at least have a blanket?” Stiles said. “Or, you know, pants?”

The mattress jounced as someone moved, and then Stiles heard the soft thud of a blanket hitting the floor. Or Ben’s face. Followed by Ben’s wry, “Thank you.”

“You know,” Stiles said after everyone had settled back down. “I think I’ve watched porn that started out like this.”

Scott huffed a laugh in Stiles’ face. Erica made a lewd suggestion. Derek growled, “Go to sleep, Stiles,” in his neck.

For that moment, all was right with Stiles’ world. He closed his eyes and let sleep overtake him.

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Stiles was roasting when he finally worked his way up out of the clutch of sleep. He’d gotten used to the heat werewolves put off, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed waking up in the middle of a pile of them. Unless it was the middle of winter. Or his feet were cold. Stiles opened his eyes and took in the top of Scott’s messy head. He and Isaac were still sleeping on that side of the bed, but based on the soft curves pressed firmly against his back, Derek had vacated the bed and Erica had moved into his spot.

Stiles fought his way free of werewolves and blankets, and stumbled to the bathroom. The twinge in his hip when he shoved down the sweat pants to pee reminded Stiles of everything that had happened the night before. He’d been bitten. By a werefox. Stiles’ hand shook, but luckily he managed to keep his aim straight. He washed his hands and only then did he look at his reflection in the mirror. He didn’t look any different. He didn’t feel any different. And yet, he knew that he was different.

Stiles carefully peeled the tape away from his skin and pulled back a corner of the bandage. There was still evidence of the bite, but it had healed dramatically. If Stiles wasn’t already used to werewolf healing he’d have been completely freaked out. Even knowing, Stiles was a little bit freaked out. Because he’d been bitten by a werefox. He didn’t think he could stress that enough.

Stiles re-affixed the bandage to his hip and pulled up the sweat pants. He splashed water on his face to help him wake up, rinsed his mouth to get rid of the taste of dead skunk, and then ran wet fingers through his hair to give it some semblance of order. When Stiles stepped back into the bedroom he glanced at the bed to see that Erica and Scott had rolled together to close the gap he’d left. His gaze landed on the folded blanket at the foot of the bed and he realized that both Derek and Ben were missing.

Stiles heard voices from the kitchen as he walked down the hallway. Rather, a voice. Ben’s. Derek, unsurprisingly, was silent. Stiles didn’t let himself think too deeply about how he knew Derek was in the kitchen – it was merely logic, because Stiles knew that Derek wouldn’t have let Ben out of his sight. He let the scent of freshly brewed coffee distract him.

“Please tell me that you did not make this coffee,” Stiles said as he entered the kitchen. It was a rhetorical question, since Derek was the only one up (and Stiles couldn’t see Derek letting Ben near any of their food or drink), but Derek’s eyebrows answered him anyway. Stiles ignored them through lots (and lots) of practice. He also ignored the tableau before him except to note that Ben had been handcuffed to one of the table legs, and that Derek had found him a pair of pants.

Stiles poured a cup of coffee (he’d only started drinking it when hanging out with werewolves at all hours of the night drove him to it) and added a lot of half and half to it, which was necessary when Derek made it. Stiles remembered fondly (and a little wistfully) the days before Derek learned how to use the new coffee maker. Only after he’d taken a careful sip of the coffee did Stiles turn around to face Derek and Ben. He leaned his butt against the counter and held the cup of coffee in both hands in front of him like a shield.

“So,” Stiles said. “What’s up, pussy cat?”

Derek rolled his eyes at Stiles.

“I was just trying to convince Derek of the benefits to you of being taught by another werefox,” Ben said immediately, ignoring Derek’s warning growl.

No one ignored Derek’s growl and lived to speak of it. Ever. Except for Stiles.

“I don’t want to leave,” Stiles said, and relaxed when he saw some of the tension ease out of Derek. “I’m a senior in high school. My dad’s here, my friends.” Stiles glanced at Derek. “My pack.”

“Look,” Ben said affably. “It wouldn’t have to be forever, just until you learn how to control yourself. I mean, I get it, you think you’re in love . . . .”

“I . . . what?” Stiles said, confused (and a little bit horrified) by the sudden turn the conversation had taken.

“And maybe that would’ve worked out before,” Ben continued, “despite your differences, but, as sorry as I am about it, you’re a fox now, and D--.”

Derek’s growl had gotten deeper and louder as Ben continued to speak, until he finally stood up and slammed the side of his fist against the table. Both Stiles and Ben jumped. Ben wisely clamped his lips shut and lowered his gaze to the floor in deference to Derek’s position in his own home. Which briefly made Stiles wonder just what position Ben held in his own pack.

“If you speak to him directly again, I will kill you,” Derek said.

“He’s not part of your pack, Alpha,” Ben said respectfully, head still bowed.

“That’s not for you to decide,” Derek said. He looked over at Stiles, red eyes narrowed on Stiles’ hands. “You’ve burned yourself,” he said, sounding almost accusatory.

“Oh,” Stiles looked at his hands, where the coffee had splashed out of the cup when he’d jumped. Now that Derek had brought his attention to it, the pain registered. “Ow. This is your fault, you know.”

Derek was immediately in front of Stiles. He took the cup from his hands and set it on the counter, then guided Stiles over to the sink. His front pressed to Stiles’ back, Derek turned on the cold water and held Stiles’ hands under the flow.

“Derek, I’m fine,” Stiles protested. Not that he didn’t enjoy having six foot of alpha pressed up against his back. “I can do this myself.”

Derek growled low in Stiles’ ear, making every hair on his body stand up. Stiles suddenly realized that Derek was in alpha-overprotective-mode, his body placed between Stiles and Ben as if Ben, handcuffed to the table leg, was still a threat to Stiles. Or at least to Stiles’ position in Derek’s pack. It made Stiles feel good that Derek wasn’t willing to just hand him over to another pack, even though he’d been bitten by a werefox, which had to make things interesting, if not difficult for him.

By the time the cold water did its job, the burns had healed, leaving no trace behind. Stiles stared at his hands as if he’d never seen them before.

“Go and wake the others,” Derek said.

Stiles rolled his eyes. He could smell a ruse even without heightened senses, and Derek wasn’t that great at lying even on the best of days. “Like they’re not already awake, eavesdropping.” There was no way they’d been able to sleep through Derek hitting the table, not to mention his alpha posturing.

“Just go do it,” Derek growled.

“Oh!” Stiles said. He lowered his voice. “Is this your way of trying to prove that you can be my Alpha? Like, you bark and I jump to do your bidding? Because, yeah, that’s probably not going to work. But I can pretend while we’ve got company! Unless I get distracted, and you know how easily I get distracted . . . .”

“Stiles.”

“Yes?”

“Go.”

“Yes, sir, master, sir,” Stiles said, snapping a salute.

Derek rolled his eyes. Stiles chuckled as he escaped out of the kitchen before Derek could swat him.

“Still want him?” Derek asked wryly.

Maybe that was Derek’s plan – illustrate to Ben just how annoying and frustrating Stiles could be. Not that he meant to be annoying and frustrating.

As he’d expected, all four of them were awake when Stiles said, “Hope you’re all decent!” and poked his head into the bedroom. They were. “Darn!”

Erica gave Stiles a look that had him stepping to the other side of the bed. Scott would protect him. Probably. “I think Derek wanted to get rid of me,” he said.

“Shocking,” Boyd said.

“Haha!” Stiles fake laughed, and then said, “Or else he’s just really hungry. Except, it’s Scott’s turn to make breakfast, so . . . .”

“He’d have to be really hungry,” Erica finished.

“Maybe he needs back up,” Isaac said worriedly.

“You think there might be a fight?” Erica asked hopefully.

“Ooh, lupine fight!” Stiles said, grinning at his own joke. The others just stared at him. “Oh, come on. That was funny. You know, cat fight . . . .”

“We got it,” Boyd said.

“It just really wasn’t that funny,” Isaac said apologetically.

“I’m wasted on you guys,” Stiles complained.

“Well, it looks like you’ve got yourself a new suitor,” Erica teased, and then her head went up.

“What, what is it?” Stiles said, trying to hear what had caught her attention.

“He’s starting breakfast,” Scott said ominously.

“What?” Stiles yelped. “No!”

“Go, go, go!” Erica said urgently as she jumped off the bed.

There was a bottleneck as they all tried to fit through the door at the same time. Like a greased pig, Stiles finally slipped free and the rest spilled after him. When they reached the kitchen, Derek was sitting at the table, calmly sipping his coffee. They let out a collective sigh of relief, which was sucked back in when Derek said, “Scott, I believe it’s your turn to cook breakfast.”

“Crap,” Scott said.

“Don’t worry, buddy,” Stiles said. “You’re not alone in that sentiment.”

Scott glared at him. It wasn’t nearly as effective as Derek’s glare. In fact, it mostly made Stiles want to pinch his cheeks.

“Everyone will help,” Derek said in a voice that brooked no argument. “Except for Stiles.”

“Aww,” Erica said. “We want Stiles to make the pancakes.”

Everyone looked at Derek expectantly. Finally he relented.

“When the time comes, Stiles can make the pancakes,” Derek allowed.

There was a little cheer as the others turned to the bacon, eggs and buttermilk pancake mix that Derek had set on the counters.

“I knew that you liked my pancakes,” Stiles said. That’s because he made fun shapes. Even one that looked suspiciously like a certain alpha, once, with thick blueberry eyebrows and a frowny face.

“If you say so,” Derek said. “Sit.”

“Woof!” Stiles said, even as he started moving towards his usual spot at the table, where his coffee cup already waited. “Oh, wait, was I supposed to say, ‘yes, master’?”

Derek looked at him.

“Sitting,” Stiles said, matching action to word. “Why do I have to sit over here with the adults?” he said, ignoring Derek’s glare and Ben’s speculative look when Stiles sat in the chair to Derek’s right.

“Because Ben is going to tell us more about himself,” Derek said.

“Still not sure why . . . .” Stiles cut off when Derek gave him a quelling look.

“I don’t know what more you want me to tell you,” Ben said, sounding as if he’d love to help Derek if only he knew how. Of course, that could’ve been the handcuff talking.

“Really?” Derek said. “You seem awfully concerned that Stiles be trained properly and you want me to consider your offer to teach him, so why don’t you begin by telling us what makes you think you . . . .” The look Derek gave Stiles said ‘can handle him’, but he finished, “Would be the better teacher. Like how long you’ve been a werefox, the size of your pack, what experience you’ve had teaching others . . . .”

“You’re right,” Ben said. “Of course you’d be concerned about my suitability as a teacher.”

Stiles found himself listening avidly as Ben spoke, not because he had any intention of leaving, but because he didn’t. He had to absorb as much knowledge as he could before Ben left. Or Derek killed him, though Stiles was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen.

Ben spoke about being bitten by his then girlfriend when they were both sixteen because they were “young and foolish and didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” but they’d been together for twenty years now so they must have done something right. Ben admitted that he’d never bitten anyone before and that the only experience he had training someone was their two children, though that was mostly his wife’s doing.

“We don’t live in packs,” Ben went on. “Not like you think of them. We live in family units, mostly, but a lot of werefox are solitary.”

“Then why do you want Stiles?” Derek said.

“Because I am awesome!” Stiles automatically replied. When he realized the import of what he’d just said, Stiles turned to Ben. “Not all that awesome, really.”

“Really not,” Scott confirmed, with the others adding their own denials until Derek calmly said, “Enough.”

Ben gave a laugh that sounded wrong to Stiles’ ears. “It’s not like we’re kidnapping him. We just want to teach him, ease his transition. He’d be free to return to you anytime he wanted to.”

“Why?” Derek said. “You don’t even know him.”

“That doesn’t lessen my responsibility towards him,” Ben said. “Teaching him would be the least I could do.”

Derek nodded, but Stiles couldn’t tell if he actually agreed with what Ben had said, or not. Instead of speaking to Ben, Derek said, “Stiles, why don’t you start the pancakes.”

~*~

Breakfast was a mostly silent affair, nobody really feeling comfortable speaking about the usual stuff in front of a stranger. Especially one that was handcuffed to the table they were eating on. After breakfast had been eaten (more like demolished where werewolves were concerned) and cleaned up, Stiles said, “Well, I hate to eat and run . . . .”

“Get your things together,” Derek said. “And then wait for me. I want to talk to you before you leave.”

“Okay,” Stiles said, pretty sure he knew what Derek wanted to talk to him about – most likely another reassurance that he wasn’t planning to send Stiles away. Stiles grabbed his sneakers, which had somehow gotten kicked under the table, and went to the living room to put them on. Once shod, he stuffed the books and pads he couldn’t go anywhere without, even on the night of a full moon, back into his backpack. He could hear Derek’s voice like a soft murmur in the back of his head, right up until Derek got angry and the voice suddenly got louder, became more clear.

“If you don’t shut up,” Derek growled, “I’m going to rip out your tongue. I told you I’d think about it.”

Stiles’ hand froze as he shoved a pad of paper into his pack. He listened, but nothing more was said. He’d heard enough, though. Derek was considering sending him away.

“What’s wrong?” Scott said, appearing suddenly in the doorway. “Your heartbeat just went ballistic.”

“Nothing,” Stiles said as he zipped the pack with jerky motions. “I’ve got to go.”

“Derek wanted to talk to you,” Scott reminded him.

Fuck Derek, Stiles thought, but was smart enough to keep the thought to himself. “I’ll see you later,” Stiles said as he brushed past Scott. His feet had barely touched the porch when Derek’s voice reached him.

“Stiles.”

Stiles kept walking, his movements angry and stiff.

“Stiles,” Derek growled, infusing the word with all of his alpha-ness.

Stiles stumbled to a stop despite the hurt and anger suffusing him, because he couldn’t do anything else. Derek strode around Stiles and faced him. He looked at Stiles for a moment, then curled his hand around the back of Stiles’ neck and lowered his face to Stiles’ throat.

“I don’t think you need to stick your nose in my neck to know that I’m mad at you,” Stiles said stiffly.

Derek sighed. “You’re supposed to scent me, too.”

“Oh,” Stiles said. He let himself breathe in Derek’s scent, even though what he really wanted to do was give him a knee to the balls. It was . . . comforting, relaxing . . . and a tad arousing, which, yeah, there was no way Derek could miss that.

“Have I ever lied to you?” Derek said, warm breath tickling Stiles’ neck.

Stiles didn’t even have to think about that. He shook his head. “No. Not even when I wanted you to.”

Derek made a sound that might have been a chuckle, but when he pulled back his expression was completely serious. “Then trust me when I say that I’m doing what’s best for you, for all of us.”

Stiles wanted to just say yes, but it wasn’t in his nature to not ask questions, to push just a little bit. He opened his mouth to do just that, but before he could speak Derek placed his fingers against Stiles’ lips to silence him. Stiles swallowed hard and almost missed Derek inclining his head towards the house.

Stiles’ eyes went wide in understanding – Ben could hear everything they said. Stiles nodded his understanding, but Derek’s raised eyebrows made him review their entire conversation and he realized that Derek was still waiting for a response to his earlier statement.

“Alright?” Stiles said.

Derek nodded, then mimed writing something down. Stiles nodded and swung his pack off his shoulder. While he was digging out a pad and pen Derek gestured towards Scott, who’d been awaiting the outcome of their conversation on the porch. As Scott jogged over, Derek said, “Scott, are you going to work today?”

Derek nodded his head as he spoke and Scott started nodding his head in response before realizing that Derek wanted a verbal response.

“Yeah,” Scott said. “Work, I’m gong to . . . go there.”

Derek rolled his eyes as he took the pad and pen from Stiles.

“Isaac, too?”

Scott frowned in confusion, then answered based on Derek’s head nod. “Yes?”

Stiles read over Derek’s shoulder as he began writing on the pad.

Deaton
witch
spell
tell him everything

Derek ripped the page out of the notebook and handed it to Scott. They both watched him read it. When he finished, Scott glanced at Stiles and then Derek. Derek nodded. Oh. Everything meant Stiles.

Derek took the page back and added stay together before handing it back to Scott. This time Scott glanced over to the porch where Isaac hovered. Derek nodded and waved Isaac over. Scott showed Derek’s instructions to Isaac, who read them and nodded his understanding. He didn’t look the slightest bit put out at having to spend the day glued to Scott’s side.

Derek tossed the keys to the Camaro to Isaac. “Call me.”

“Where are you going to be?” Scott asked.

“With Stiles.”

“What about Boyd and Erica?” Stiles said.

“They’re keeping our guest company.”

“Are you sure they’re the best . . . ? Yeah, okay, never mind,” Stiles said.

“Let’s go,” Derek said.

Scott caught Stiles before he could climb into Betty and gave him a quick hug before following Isaac over to the Camaro. It wasn’t as comforting as Scott might have thought because Scott wasn’t normally a hugger.

Stiles got into the Jeep beside Derek and tossed his pack into the back seat. He started Betty and managed to make it to the end of the long driveway without speaking. Mainly by biting his tongue. As soon as he pulled onto the road he opened his mouth to speak, but was forestalled by Derek’s, “Not yet.”

Stiles tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he drove. Remaining silent, like not asking questions, went against his very nature.

“Can we . . . ?”

“Quiet,” Derek said.

“What are you doing?” Stiles whispered when he finally noticed the intense expression on Derek’s face.

“Listening.”

“For what?”

Derek shot an annoyed look at Stiles. “I’m trying to make sure that we’re not being followed.”

“Why would anybody . . . ?”

At Derek’s glare Stiles mimed zipping his lips. Derek rolled his eyes. Stiles couldn’t blame him for doubting that Stiles’ silence would last.

When they pulled into the driveway of Stiles’ home, Stiles let out an exaggerated breath, as if he’d been holding it forever. “Can I talk now?”

Derek gave him a look, then got out of Betty and looked around. Stiles grabbed his pack and slid out, stood looking at Derek over the hood. He could tell that Derek was exerting all of his sense.

“Why do you think someone’s following us?” Stiles said, looking around as well. Derek’s caution was making the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

“Why do you think McKellen is here?” Derek said.

“Because a witch doesn’t like him?” Stiles said.

“And you believe everything he’s said?”

“No, not everything,” Stiles said. “But why would he lie?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Derek said, starting towards the front door.

“How?” Stiles said, falling into step with Derek.

“Research,” Derek said.

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“Okay,” Stiles said as he powered up his laptop. “What am I supposed to be looking for?”

“First, I want to make sure he is who he says he is. Find out if there’s a Ben McKellen living in Canyon Run, Oregon.”

“And then?”

“I want to see what we can find out about the witch.”

“Isn’t that what Deaton’s doing?” Stiles said, turning back to the computer when it beeped its readiness.

“He’s going to be looking at her from a different angle,” Derek said.

Stiles opened the search program used by the Sheriff department and signed in using the account he’d set up for a deputy that no longer worked for the department. They’d already cleaned out his files so no one was likely to stumble across this account unless they did another housecleaning. Stiles typed in Ben’s name and the city name and initiated the search. It was kind of scary how much information he was able to access with simply the press of a button.

“Ben McKellen, or a Ben McKellen, lives in Canyon Run,” Stiles confirmed. “Married with two children. He works for the city. Amanda McKellen works at a bank.”

To confirm that the Ben McKellen they’d found was the same Ben McKellen currently cooling his heels out at the Hale house, Stiles did a DMV search and pulled up his driver’s license. The picture matched.

“What about the witch?”

Stiles typed in her name after saving the search on Ben and watched the information on the screen change.

“She owns her own business,” Stiles said as he read off the screen.

“Occult bookstore? New age crystals?” Derek said dryly.

“Stereotyper,” Stiles said.

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Sadly, you’re not wrong. It’s called Body & Spirit and she teaches yoga and sells aromatherapy candles and oils.”

Derek snorted. “What can you find out about her business? Is it legit?”

“She has a website,” Stiles said. He tapped a few more keys and found himself inside the admin console. More typing got him access to the computer that updated the website. “I can give you her client list.”

“You hacked her business computer?” Derek said as he leaned over Stiles’ shoulder and looked at the screen.

“Hack is such an ugly word, with so many illegal connotations. I prefer to think of it as visiting a friend.”

“What does your friend have to say?”

Stiles scrolled through the list until a name caught his eye. “Ben’s wife Amanda,” he said.

“Takes yoga classes from Caryn?” Derek said.

“Yep.”

“Interesting.”

“But what does it mean?”

“I don’t know yet,” Derek said. “But it’s a connection Ben didn’t tell us about.” He indicated the screen. “Can you find out anything else about her business?”

“Like what?” Stiles said, poking around.

“Like whether it’s a front for something else.”

“Something nefarious?” Stiles joked. At Derek’s expression he said, “What, something nefarious, really?”

“You don’t usually have to hide it if you’re raising money for a children’s charity,” Derek said.

“Right.”

Stiles found the shop’s bookkeeping program, but he couldn’t access it. “Her books are password protected, and I don’t know enough about her to guess. Or have a fancy program to decode it. Maybe we can ask Danny for help again.”

“Not yet,” Derek said. “I want to check some other things first.”

“Like what?”

“Like the connection between McKellen and Montgomery. He said he pissed her off by telling her no.”

“No about what?” Stiles said.

“That’s what we need to find out,” Derek said.

“Okay, so, witches and werefoxes,” Stiles said. “If Canyon Run is anything like Beacon Hills, supernatural will attract supernatural. We might find something in the local paper, reports of weird sightings, disappearances, you know, animal attacks . . . .”

Stiles pulled up the Canyon Run Sentinel as he spoke and began skimming the most recent headlines. “This might take a while.”

Instead of retreating to the bed to wait, Derek pulled up a chair. “Two sets of eyes are better than one.”

Stiles didn’t argue. After fifteen minutes of scrolling he’d bookmarked a couple of articles that bore further reading (a missing girl, lost pets), but nothing that screamed ‘the supernatural is at work here!’

“I’ve got an idea,” Stiles said when the search bar at the top of the page caught his eye. He entered Ben’s name and waited for the search results.

“Interesting,” Stiles said, after reading one of the articles that had come up. Amanda McKellen and Caryn Montgomery were two of the three people running for the two open positions on the Board of Education. “Maybe she wanted Ben to talk his wife out of running. Is that worth killing someone over?”

“I wouldn’t think so,” Derek said. “Search Caryn Montgomery.”

Stiles’ fingers moved over the keyboard. “She’s appealing a decision by the Building Inspector’s office denying her application for a permit to add on to her building so she can expand her business.”

“And where does McKellen work again?”

Stiles pulled up the search he’d saved. “For the city, specifically the . . . Building Inspector.”

Derek frowned. “Another connection, but still . . . .”

“Not worth killing over.”

“Not for us,” Derek said. “But maybe for her.”

“I feel like I’m slamming my head against a brick wall,” Stiles said. “We have no idea where to start.”

“Hmm,” Derek said. “Except we have someone to start with.”

“Ben?”

“Yeah. What has he told us?”

“You mean besides the obvious, like, what he’s actually said?” Derek gave him a look. “Right. Well. That he startles easily, if I was able to scare him,” Stiles said, still not thrilled at having been bitten by a werefox, and a stranger at that.

“She knew about us,” Derek said.

“Who?”

“The witch,” Derek said. “She purposely sent Ben here.”

“He’s responsible,” Stiles said. “At least, willing to take responsibility for teaching me.”

“So he’s said,” Derek said. “Many times. But you know what he hasn’t said?”

“What?”

“He hasn’t asked to call home.”

“His wife,” Stiles said.

“Either he doesn’t think she’d be worried when he didn’t come home . . . .”

“Or she knows where he is,” Stiles finished. “Which doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Unless he’s lying,” Derek said.

“But you’d be able to tell . . . if he wasn’t under a spell that hid his heartbeat and scent from you.”

“Convenient. Also convenient that with the extent of Hale property he just happened to run into us.”

“And the spell hasn’t worn off yet,” Stiles said excitedly. “According to Ben it was supposed to wear off last night so you could catch him trespassing and kill him.”

Derek stared hard at Stiles. “You said before that you didn’t believe everything he said. Why?”

“It’s gonna sound stupid,” Stiles said, “but he laughed once, and it just sounded . . . off.”

“When? What was he saying?”

Stiles tried to remember. “He said that . . . I could come home whenever I wanted.”

Derek nodded as if Stiles had confirmed his own thoughts.

“What?”

“I don’t think Ben ending up on our land was a coincidence. I don’t think biting you was an accident.”

“But, why?”

“Because you’re awesome,” Derek said, deadpan.

It distracted Stiles for a second. “I knew you’d come around to my way of thinking eventually. But seriously, why?”

“That’s what we need to figure out.”

Just then Derek’s cell phone rang, making Stiles jump at the sudden noise. Derek glanced at the screen and then answered it.

“Scott, what did you find out?”

It took Stiles a second to realize that he was able to hear both sides of the conversation.

“Dr. Deaton doesn’t recognize the name, but he’ll look into it. The spell, on the other hand . . . he can probably tell you better than I can.”

Scott put his own cell on speaker and Stiles clearly heard Deaton’s voice through Derek’s cell.

“The spell she used has to be very powerful. Hiding someone’s heartbeat, their scent, isn’t as simple masking them with the equivalent of white noise to fool your senses. It’s magic that affects the most basic functions of the human body. She’d have needed his hair, or blood . . . .”

“Or his cooperation,” Derek suggested.

“You think he was complicit?” Deaton said.

“Let’s just say that I’m not ready to trust him,” Derek said. “He said the spell was supposed to wear off.”

“A spell like this only ends when the witch invoking it breaks it.”

“So if it’s still active . . . ,” Derek said.

“It’s because she wants it that way,” Deaton said. “What do you think she wants?”

Derek stared at Stiles before answering. “I think she wants Stiles.”

“What?” Scott said.

“Speaking of Stiles, how is he doing?” Deaton asked.

“He’s fine,” Derek said gruffly, sounding as if Stiles had better be fine or he was going to do something about it.

“Does Stiles feel the same way?” Deaton said dryly.

“I’m fine,” Stiles said loud enough for Deaton to hear him over Derek’s cell. He might not be fine later, but right now he had other things to think about besides the fact that between one moment and the next he’d become a werefox.

“Why don’t you bring him in so I can examine him?” Deaton suggested. “Just to make certain he’s alright.” Before Stiles could repeat that he was fine, Deaton added, “Humor me, Stiles.”

“Alright,” Derek agreed, and then disconnected the call.

“I’m fine,” Stiles protested. “You can tell I’m fine. I mean, you’d be able to tell if something was wrong, right?” he said, suddenly worried that maybe Derek wouldn’t know.

“Yes, Stiles, I’d be able to tell if there was something physically wrong with you, but Deaton can examine you in ways I can’t.”

Stiles remembered the fun times of sports physicals. “You don’t mean . . . ?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “I meant magically.”

“Oh,” Stiles said with great relief. “Yeah. I knew that.”

Derek gave him a look.

“I did!”

~*~

“What are you doing?” Stiles said when Deaton just stared at him.

“I’m checking your aura.”

“My aura? Is something wrong with my aura?”

“Your aura’s fine,” Deaton said calmly. “Have a seat, please.”

Stiles climbed onto the exam table without any argument. He did balk when Deaton approached shaking a thermometer. “Whoa! Where has that been?”

“Open,” Deaton said without addressing Stiles’ question.

Stiles looked at Derek over Deaton’s shoulder. He stood with his arms folded across his chest, his eyes on Stiles. The intensity of his gaze was too much for Stiles to think about right then, so he turned back to Deaton to protest some more. Deaton popped the thermometer into Stiles’ mouth before he could get a word out.

“Under your tongue,” Deaton instructed. “And no talking,” he added when Stiles still tried to voice a protest.

“Ho– lo–?” Stiles began.

“Quiet,” Deaton said.

Stiles couldn’t help glancing at Derek, who looked amused at Stiles continued attempts to talk, or perhaps his attempts to avoid Derek’s gaze. Deaton removed the thermometer without warning and held it up to check the reading.

“98.6?” Stiles said.

“No. Slightly higher. But that’s normal for you now.”

“It is?” Stiles said eagerly. He loved learning stuff, especially when it was about the werewolves . . . and him now.

“How’s the bite?” Deaton asked.

“It’s good,” Stiles said, his hand automatically going to his hip. He hadn’t checked it since that morning, but it didn’t hurt at all.

“Let me see, please.”

Stiles pushed down the waistband of the sweat pants he hadn’t taken time to change out of because he’d been too busy researching Ben and his connection to the witch. Deaton carefully removed the bandage and peered at Stiles’ hip. Derek moved around Deaton so he could also see Stiles’ hip.

“It’s completely healed,” Deaton said.

“Really?” Stiles said, looking down at his own hip to check it out. The skin was unbroken, with not even a bruise to indicate that he’d been bitten.

Deaton discarded the bandage and Stiles pulled the sweats back up to give himself something to do that did not include noticing how Derek was looking at him.

“You appear to be fine,” Deaton said as he stripped off the latex gloves and tossed them into the trash as well.

“That’s what I said!” Stiles said.

“And now I’m sure of it, as well,” Deaton replied in his perpetually calm voice. “Derek,” he went on. “Can you tell me why you believe the bite may not have been accidental or unintentional?” When Derek didn’t answer right away, Deaton added, “Aside from the fact that you’re naturally suspicious, of course.”

“Now you just hobbled him unfairly,” Stiles said, earning himself looks from both men.

“Things don’t add up,” Derek said. “And he’s shown undue . . . .”

“Undue might be harsh, given my level of awesomeness,” Stiles contributed. He held up his hands in surrender when they looked at him again. “Sorry. Carry on.”

“Undue interest in taking Stiles off our hands to teach him . . . .”

“The Way of the Fox,” Stiles finished for him.

Deaton gave Stiles a considering look until Stiles began to fidget under his regard.

“What?”

“I just had a thought,” Deaton said, and then left the room without another word in explanation.

“That’s not worrying at all,” Stiles told Derek. He’d tried to keep his tone light, keep the very real fear bottled up inside him until he had more time to deal with it, but some of it must have escaped.

Derek growled and took a step closer to Stiles. Stiles huffed a laugh, but there wasn’t much humor in it.

“Whoa, big guy. There aren’t any throats for you to tear out here. Except mine, but I’d like to keep that one intact, if you don’t mind.”

Before Derek could reply, Deaton returned. He held a small dish in his hand, inside of which was an even smaller amount of . . . .

“Mountain ash,” Stiles said.

“Correct,” Deaton acknowledged. “I’d like you to try and manipulate it.”

Stiles reached out for the dish, then pulled his hand back. “Can I?”

“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”

Stiles steeled himself and took the dish, ignoring (mostly) the low rumble in Derek’s chest. He had no problem holding the dish. Stiles passed his other hand over it, but felt no force pushing at him, repelling him. He tipped the dish and poured the mountain ash into his palm. Derek made an unhappy sound, but there was no burn, not even a tingle.

The true test, though, would be in whether Stiles could still control it. Stiles slipped off the table and stopped Derek when he moved to follow him. “I appreciate that you’ve got my back, but I need some room for this.”

Stiles closed his eyes and pictured what he wanted to accomplish. He brought his hand to his mouth and blew the mountain ash into the air. When Stiles opened his eyes there was a thin ring of mountain ash on the floor, more than he’d held in his palm. From inside the circle Derek glared at him.

Stiles grinned. “It worked!”

The corners of Deaton’s lips twitched. “Apparently.”

“Why? I mean, yay! But why didn’t the bite make me susceptible to the mountain ash rather than . . . ?” Stiles indicated the circle.

“Stiles,” Derek snarled.

“I’m not sure,” Deaton said. “Perhaps your spark was too bright for the bite to extinguish, so now the two exist side by side.”

“Heh,” Stiles said. “Did you hear that? My spark was . . . .”

Derek growled.

“Oh, yeah.” Stiles stepped over to the circle. “What’s the magic word?”

“I promise not to kill you?” Derek ground out between clenched teeth.

Stiles considered that. He shrugged. “I was thinking abracadabra, but good enough.”

Stiles dragged his toe through the mountain ash and Derek exploded out of the confining circle. He grabbed two handfuls of Stiles’ hoodie and lifted him off the floor. Stiles felt as if he was flying through the air until his back collided with the wall.

“You promised not to kill me,” Stiles reminded Derek as calmly as he could with Derek all up in his personal space.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Derek said. “You’re just going to wish I had.”

Stiles held it in for as long as he could, but then he had to let out the laugh. “I’m sorry,” he said at the sour expression on Derek’s face, “but that was a lot more effective when I was, you know, actually scared of you.”

Derek rolled his eyes.

“A+ for effort, though,” Stiles said.

Derek released Stiles’ hoodie and let him slide down the wall until his feet touched the floor. “Don’t do that again. I couldn’t protect you.”

Oh. Derek hated being unable to protect the people he cared about, and as much as he might hate to admit it, Stiles was one of those number. “Sorry. I didn’t think about that, I was just . . . .”

“I know. Don’t do it again.”

Stiles shook his head. “I won’t.”

Derek nodded, and then without warning he stuck his nose in Stiles’ neck. “Whoa!” Stiles said in surprise, then couldn’t keep from asking worriedly, “Do I still smell okay?”

Instead of answering, Derek dragged his nose down the length of Stiles’ hoodie, pausing when he reached Stiles’ hip. Stiles squawked when Derek dragged the waistband of the sweat pants down and pressed his nose to bare skin.

“Oh my god,” Stiles choked out as he grabbed at the sweats with one hand to keep from exposing himself, and pushed at Derek’s head with the other. “I know you don’t have any concept of personal space, but I think this is taking things a little far!”

“You need to shower,” Derek said.

“Hey!” Stiles said. “Now that’s just being mean. No one told you to stick your nose . . . where it didn’t belong.”

“You smell like him,” Derek interrupted.

“Oh.” Derek had thoroughly cleaned and bandaged the bite, Stiles was wearing a pair of Isaac’s sweat pants, and he’d been puppy piled to death the night before, but Stiles was not going to be the one to suggest that Derek was imagining things or overreacting. “Okay, I can do that,” Stiles said and watched Derek visibly calm at the words.

Derek stood up and Stiles yanked the sweats up. He reached up and patted Derek’s arm, and Derek didn’t even look like he wanted to bite Stiles’ hand off for desecrating the leather.

“Can I . . . ?”

Derek nodded and Stiles went up on his toes so he could press his nose to Derek’s neck. He filled himself with Derek’s scent.

“What’s it smell like?” Derek asked.

“Like you,” Stiles said. He expected a sarcastic response to that, but Derek just nodded.

“Is it possible that they want Stiles for the power he possesses?” Deaton said, continuing their earlier conversation as if there had been no weird sniffing incident. “It’s also possible,” he went on, “that someone just doesn’t want you to have him. Have you considered the effect on your pack if you lost Stiles?”

Derek growled as if an actual threat had presented itself. Stiles squeezed the arm he still held. “The pack would be fine,” Stiles said. “Not that I’m going anywhere,” he added when Derek focused red eyes on him.

“As fun and illuminating as this has been, I still have some animals to tend to before I can leave today,” Deaton said.

“We’ll just get out of your hair then,” Stiles said, prodding at Derek so he could move way from the wall where he was still pinned by Derek’s body. “No pun intended.”

“That joke never gets old,” Deaton said, unruffled.

“Can you come over to the house later?” Derek said. “Maybe you can tell us more about the spell once you’ve seen the effects firsthand, or about the witch who cast it.”

Deaton agreed to come out once he was done at the clinic. Satisfied, Derek dragged Stiles out to Betty.

“I want to get back,” Derek said.

“Is something wrong?” Stiles asked as he started the Jeep.

“I just don’t like leaving them alone too long,” Derek said.

Stiles could understand that. He’d seen the mess bored werewolves could create. They were worse than toddlers, and Stiles knew this because he’d babysat for one of his dad’s deputies once back when he’d thought that babysitting would be an easy way to earn some extra cash. It hadn’t been.

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The first thing Stiles did when they got back to the Hale house (after making sure that nobody had died during their absence) was to shower. When he got out, the promised clothes were waiting for him on the corner of the bed. Stiles knew before picking them up that they belonged to Derek.

The thought of putting on clothes that Derek had worn, even though he hadn’t just taken them off his body and handed them to him, did funny things to Stiles’ belly. He picked up the t-shirt and pressed his face to the material, breathing in and searching for every last trace of Derek’s scent.

Stiles pulled the t-shirt on over his head and stepped into the sweat pants. The t-shirt was only a little bit loose on him (thankfully Derek liked to wear his shirts tight) (not that Stiles had noticed) (or that it meant anything if he had), but he had to roll up the bottoms of the sweat pants so he didn’t trip over them. It took Stiles a few seconds to work up the courage to step outside the bedroom. He knew that Derek merely wanted Stiles to smell like him, like their pack, but all Stiles could think was ‘I’m wearing Derek’s clothes!’

Stiles wasn’t a teenaged girl, but he sometimes played one on tv.

Stiles squared his shoulders and strode out of the bedroom. He’d been headed towards the living room where he’d left his pack, but the scent of freshly baked brownies drew him to the kitchen. Stiles stared morosely at the empty pan while the others tried to pretend they hadn’t just snarfed down a double batch of brownies. The chocolate extreme ones, too, Stiles noted when he caught sight of the boxes in the trash.

“I can’t believe you ate them all,” Stiles said sadly. “You people should’ve been werepigs instead of werewolves.” Unsurprisingly, not a single set of repentant eyes looked back at him. “I hate you all,” Stiles announced dramatically, and then flounced out of the kitchen.

Derek sat on the couch in the living room and Stiles stumbled over his own feet when he saw him. He continued towards the couch. “I figured you were interrogating our guest.”

“Do you hear screaming?” Derek asked placidly as he turned the page in the book he was reading.

“No, wha–, oh, funny. Why does it smell like brownies in here?” Stiles asked accusingly, wondering if there was any chocolate on Derek’s fingers that he could lick off.

Derek pointed to a plate on the coffee table that held two brownies. “Because I saved you some from the slavering horde.”

“Oh my god, really? They’re both mine?” At Derek’s nod, Stiles practically fell onto his knees on the couch cushion beside Derek. “You are the best!” he declared. “I could kiss you right now.”

Derek lifted his hand without taking his eyes off the book, and placed it against Stiles face to preclude any such thing. “Please don’t.”

“But you saved me brownies,” Stiles said into Derek’s hand.

“A thank you will suffice.”

“Thank you,” Stiles said. And then he licked Derek’s palm.

Derek gave Stiles a disgusted look before he wiped his hand on his jeans. Stiles, on the other hand, had Derek’s taste on his tongue and he found himself reluctant to part with it, even for a brownie. Stiles decided to put it off, just for a little while. He got out his laptop and settled it across his legs.

Stiles glanced up while waiting for the computer to come out of hibernation to find Derek staring at him with an unreadable expression. “What?”

“You’d better eat those before the horde descends.” Derek indicated the brownies.

“I will,” Stiles said, pulling the plate over to his side. While Derek watched, Stiles broke off a corner and popped it into his mouth. He’d planned on saying, ‘there, satisfied?’ but he was too busy moaning as the taste of chocolate exploded on his tongue. Chocolate had never tasted quite this good to him. Stiles shoveled the brownies into his mouth and then licked all trace of chocolate off his fingers after using said fingers to swipe the crumbs off the plate. Stiles could almost forgive the others for scarfing down the rest of the brownies, now that he knew how good they tasted with enhanced senses.

Stiles sighed. “That was amazing.”

“Yeah,” Derek said, sounding as if it cost him dearly to grit out the word.

A few minutes later Erica brought a still-cuffed Ben into the living room from where he’d been cooling his heels in one of the unfinished rooms down the hall. Derek had returned to his book and Stiles was reviewing the information he’d pulled up earlier. He thought he might have better luck without Derek looking over his shoulder.

Erica unceremoniously dropped Ben into one of the beanbag chairs Scott had insisted on having. Ben grunted in discomfort.

“It might surprise you to know that this is quite uncomfortable,” Ben said.

“It might surprise you to know that I don’t care,” Derek replied.

“Ooh, burn!” Stiles said. He held out his fist for Derek to bump. Derek just eyed it. “Oh, come on.” Stiles bounced his fist in what was supposed to be an enticing manner. “I’ll tweak your nose.”

Derek’s glare said, ‘don’t you dare,’ which of course meant that Stiles had to do it. Stiles darted his hand out and grabbed the tip of Derek’s nose, pulling his hand back just ahead of Derek’s swat. Enhanced speed was awesome. Stiles grinned. Derek ignored him.

“You don’t seem to be afraid of dying,” Derek said. It took Stiles a second to realize that Derek was talking to Ben, and not him. When he looked over, Ben was just turning away from Erica’s toothy grin.

“Most of you seem reasonable enough,” Ben said.

“I don’t mean at our hands,” Derek said. “The witch sent you here to be killed. You’re not worried that she’ll find another way to finish the job when she realizes her plan didn’t work?”

Ben gave a nervous laugh. “She may have hoped I’d be killed, probably thought the plan had a 50-50 success rate, but I think she’ll be satisfied with the warning.”

Derek nodded. “What about your wife?”

The blood drained from Ben’s face. “What about my wife?”

“You haven’t asked to call her. Won’t she be worried about you?”

“I didn’t want to involve her in this,” Ben said.

It was a lie. Stiles didn’t know how he knew that, but he did. He opened Word and typed he’s lying.

“You’d rather she wonder where you are?” Derek said.

Stiles tapped Derek’s leg and Derek glanced over at the screen. He raised his eyebrows in question. Stiles typed all of it.

Derek ignored Ben and looked at Erica. “Why don’t you and Boyd go out for a run.”

Erica nodded eagerly.

“Take Isaac and Scott with you.”

Thirty seconds of excited howls later the three of them were alone. The silence that descended seemed unnatural. Derek returned to his book, Stiles turned his attention back to his searches, and Ben closed his eyes, appearing to sleep.

Forty-five minutes later Stiles felt as if he knew a lot about Ben, but nothing about why he might have wanted to bite him. He’d returned to the newspaper, where mentions of Ben went back years to his high school days on the football team, continuing through graduation, his wedding, the births of his children, and many city council public meetings. Stiles did not want to read them all, but he was resigning himself to having to do just that when he heard Deaton’s car pull up to the house.

Ben’s eyes snapped open and he glanced at Stiles before turning his face towards the front door. Derek got up to open the door before Deaton could knock. Ben averted his eyes and tried to appear unconcerned, but Stiles could tell that he’d gone on alert.

Derek greeted Deaton, then said, “He knew you were coming.”

“Well, he’s a werefox,” Deaton replied. “I expect he would have heard me. But I suspect it’s more than that.”

“He knew what you are,” Stiles said, remembering how whatever Ben had sensed had caused him to look to Stiles first.

“Yes,” Deaton said calmly. “If, as Derek suspects, he was sent here to bite you, he’d have had to know how to pick you out of the pack, so to speak. It wouldn’t do to bite the wrong human.”

Stiles couldn’t tell if Ben’s heartbeat sped up, but he could see the tension in the set of his shoulders, the tick at the corner of his jaw. The witch’s spell couldn’t hide everything.

Deaton moved over to Ben and stared at him. Ben squirmed. Stiles didn’t blame him – he knew how unnerving that could be.

“What are you doing?” Ben said, caught between his nerves and the pleasant facade he’d been wearing.

“Looking at the spell,” Deaton answered, to both their surprise.

“You can see the spell?” Stiles said.

“You can’t?”

Stiles didn’t know whether that was a rhetorical question or not, but he decided to err on the side of not looking foolish (more foolish?) and didn’t answer.

“As I thought,” Deaton said. “It’s not merely a masking spell. She bound it to his chakra. Here.” Deaton touched Ben’s forehead. “Here.” His throat. “And here.” His stomach.

“Aren’t there seven chakra points?” Derek said, surprising Stiles.

“In Western theory, yes,” Deaton said, showing no reaction to Derek’s question. “He’s lucky she didn’t bind it to his heart.”

“Why?” Stiles and Ben said at the same time.

“She’s using the body’s energy to power the spell. It could be dangerous to draw too much power through the heart channel.”

“Can you break it?” Derek said.

“It could be dangerous,” Deaton said.

“Do it,” Derek said, at the same time Stiles asked, “How dangerous?”

Derek glared at Stiles. Deaton ignored them both in favor of making a closer examination of Ben, though Stiles was going to have to ask him later just what he saw with his eyes closed.

“We already know he’s lying to us,” Stiles told Derek, not even trying to keep Ben from hearing him.

Ben’s sharp intake of breath told Stiles that he’d been listening, despite his seeming preoccupation with Deaton.

“What will removing the spell tell us that we don’t already know?” Stiles asked.

“Exactly what he’s lying about,” Derek said.

“We already know the important thing,” Stiles said. It was the important thing as far as he was concerned, anyway. “If he gets me away from here I’ll never be able to come back.”

“Jesus,” Ben groaned.

“Yeah, you really suck at lying, dude,” Stiles told Ben.

“But we need to be certain,” Derek said. To Deaton he said, “Do it.”

“Wait!” Stiles said. “When you said dangerous . . . .”

“There’s a chance it could kill him,” Deaton said evenly.

“Derek, it’s not worth it,” Stiles pleaded.

Derek stared hard at Stiles. “It is to me.”

Stiles wasn’t sure what Derek meant by that, not one hundred percent, but the way Derek looked at him made Stiles’ belly go all twisty.

“I’ll just get the supplies I need out of my car, then,” Deaton said.

Stiles heard Deaton leave, heard Ben telling Derek that he didn’t have to do this, but it was as if it was all happening in a dream. Stiles finally looked away from Derek when Deaton returned. He watched Deaton instead.

Deaton snapped on a pair of latex gloves and then withdrew several plastic baggies of herbs and a set of measuring spoons from his case. He measured and mixed the ingredients in a small glass bowl, humming quietly to himself. Finally satisfied with the mixture, Deaton stood and intoned a few words in Latin. “This might hurt,” Deaton said softly as he took a pinch of the herbs between his fingers and prepared to sprinkle it on Ben.

“I can break the spell!” Ben said quickly.

Deaton paused. “How?”

“Words, a phrase, I just say it,” Ben said, tripping over his own tongue.

“Is it possible?” Derek asked Deaton.

“Possible,” Deaton said. “It could also be a booby trap.”

“It’s not,” Ben assured them.

“What would a booby trap entail?” Derek asked.

“A secondary spell that’s activated by the phrase,” Deaton said. “It could merely be intended to kill the subject, keep him from talking, maybe clean up loose ends, or it might hold enough power to kill anyone in the vicinity. For various definitions of ‘vicinity’.”

Stiles’ grip on his laptop tightened until the metal creaked.

“We can’t take the chance,” Derek said, and nodded for Deaton to continue.

“She wouldn’t do that!” Ben yelled. “She’s my sister!”

“Sister?” Derek said.

“Well, step-sister, technically.”

Stiles closed his laptop with a sharp snap. So much for his research skills.

“Just in case,” Derek said, nodding to Deaton.

“Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater!” Ben yelled.

There was a loud pop, as if his ears had been plugged, and suddenly a thudding drumbeat filled Stiles’ ears. Ben’s heartbeat. And it was racing.

“Ask me anything!”

“What does your sister want with Stiles?” Derek said.

“Nothing!” Ben said. “I mean, she’s not like that. She really wants to help people.”

“She sent you here to bite Stiles,” Derek growled.

“She didn’t want to!” Ben said. “But it was the only thing we could think of that would . . . .”

“That would what?” Derek snarled.

“He wanted Caryn to kill him,” Ben said, giving Stiles an apologetic look. At the low rumble in Derek’s throat, Ben went on, ”But Caryn wouldn’t do that. That’s why we came up with the plan to just take him away from you.” When Derek’s growl grew louder, Ben quickly added, “Which we wouldn’t have done if we had any idea you . . . .”

“Who?” Derek interrupted. “Who wanted Stiles dead?”

Stiles was not surprised to see the fangs, or the claws at the end of fingers Derek kept curling into a fist.

“I don’t know,” Ben said. “Caryn wouldn’t tell me. I only know that she made a bad decision once, and he had something on her.”

“I want his name,” Derek said.

“You’ll have to ask Caryn. I don’t know. I’d tell you if I could! You know I’m not lying.”

“He’s not,” Stiles agreed.

Stiles’ eyes went to the door before it opened and Erica burst into the house, followed by the others. Stiles didn’t know what errand Derek had sent them on, but Scott had leaves in his hair. Derek looked over his shoulder at them.

“We found it,” Erica answered the unasked question. “And set a little trap for anyone who tries to use it again.”

Derek turned his full (and very unhappy) attention back to Ben.

“Whoa!” Scott said. “The spell wore off.”

“Something like that,” Deaton said.

“Does she know?” Derek asked Deaton.

“That he used his safe word? Most likely.”

“What will she do?” Derek asked Ben.

“It means I failed. She’ll probably come looking for me. But she’ll have to tell him first.”

Derek pulled out his cell phone. “What’s her number?”

Ben swallowed hard, but Derek’s unwavering glare drew the words out of him. Derek dialed the number. They all listened to it ring. When the ringing stopped there was a cautious “Hello?” from the other end.

“Caryn Montgomery?” Derek said.

“Derek Hale, I presume,” Caryn Montgomery said with more calm than she was actually feeling given the thud of her heartbeat that Stiles could hear as if she stood right in front of him.

“We need to talk.”

“Is he still alive?”

Derek’s gaze moved to Stiles. “Stiles, or Ben?” he asked dryly.

Caryn bravely said, “Ben.”

“Yes. And so is Stiles. Or Ben wouldn’t be. Do you want him back?” Derek asked.

“Ben, or Stiles?” Caryn said.

Derek growled softly. He raised the hand not holding the phone and let his claws protract. “Have you ever heard the screams and moans of a man who’s just been gutted?”

Everyone in the room froze.

After a moment of silence Caryn said, “No. And yes, I want Ben back. Preferably alive and unharmed.”

“Come and get him,” Derek said. “I believe you know the way. Use the driveway this time. You have three hours. Oh, and come alone.”

Stiles had discovered that Canyon Run was just over the California-Oregon border. It would take them about two and a half hours to reach Beacon Hills, which only left them a half hour to be on their way.

Derek disconnected the call and glared at Ben. “Get him out of my sight,” he said.

Erica moved immediately, almost eagerly, to comply.

“He’ll still be able to hear us,” Stiles said as Erica dragged Ben away, adding at Derek’s look, “Which, of course, you already knew.”

While they waited for Erica to threaten Ben and return, Deaton began cleaning up his supplies. He carefully tipped the mixture of herbs into a clean small plastic baggie he produced from the case.

“How do you dispose of something like that?” Stiles asked.

“I think I’ll roast a turkey,” Deaton said. “And make some of my mother’s stuffing.”

“What?” Stiles said, confused.

“I just made my own poultry seasoning.”

“Poultry seasoning,” Stiles repeated.

“Yes. Two tablespoons each of marjoram, savory and parsley, one of sage, one and a half of thyme, and a pinch of rosemary. I just need to add a pinch of onion powder, which I’m apparently out of.” He sounded put out about that.

“Poultry seasoning,” Stiles said again.

Deaton smiled at him.

“You mean you weren’t trying to dissolve the spell, or whatever?”

“Oh, we most certainly were,” Deaton said. “Just not with this.” He indicated the baggie before tucking it away.

“So you weren’t going to kill him?” Stiles pressed.

“Not with poultry seasoning,” Deaton said, which really didn’t answer the question.

Stiles glanced over at Derek, who’d retracted both fangs and claws and still managed to look menacing.

“Do you really believe she’s going to come for him?” Stiles asked.

“She’ll come,” Derek said confidently.

“Alone?”

Derek bared his teeth in something that in no way resembled a grin. “I certainly hope not.”

“You’re expecting her to bring the guy who . . . .” Stiles found it difficult to say ‘wants me dead.’

“Yes.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Kill him first.”

“Yeah, but, I mean, specifically.”

Every werewolf in the room wolfed out.

“Kill him first,” Derek repeated.

Stiles was not going to admit to anyone besides himself that seeing his pack fanged and clawed and prepared to protect him gave him the warm fuzzies.

“What can I do?”

Before Derek could tell Stiles to stay out of it, Deaton spoke up. “You can help me.”

“He needs to stay away from her,” Derek growled.

“There’s a chance she may still intend to carry out her mission,” Deaton explained. “Plan A didn’t work, she may come prepared with Plan B.”

“Killing me, you mean.”

“Precisely.”

“I’m not a fan of Plan B,” Stiles said.

“I don’t think any of us is,” Deaton assured Stiles.

Stiles and Deaton worked on a spell that would temporarily bind the witch’s powers just in case she attempted to kill Stiles with a spell. Derek and the other werewolves talked perimeters and setting watches and strategy for taking out the unknown person behind all of this. An hour into their planning Jackson and Lydia showed up.

“What are you two doing here?” Stiles said.

“We cut our vacation short,” Lydia said with a toss of her hair. “The lake was boring anyway.”

Jackson made a disgruntled sound, but didn’t speak a word in disagreement.

“You guys really didn’t have to do that,” Stiles said.

“We really did,” Lydia said. “How are you?”

“Aside from some wack job wanting to kill me I’m fine, why . . . ? Oh. I keep forgetting about that.”

Lydia’s eyebrows went up.

“Until something reminds me,” Stiles said. “Have you always smelled this good?”

Lydia smirked at Stiles. Jackson growled at him.

“What?” Stiles jumped. “I didn’t mean anything by it! Derek smells good, too!”

Jackson snorted.

“Wait. That might not have come out right.”

Lydia patted Stiles’ shoulder. “I’m sure it did.”

Stiles was distracted by a polite knock at the door. Scott rushed to answer it.

“Hello, Scott,” Allison said. “May we come in?”

Scott moved to let her in, then froze in his tracks and glanced over at Derek. Derek nodded and Scott resumed his motion.

“Thank you,” Allison said as she stepped into the house armed with her bow. Her father followed her. He was also armed, with a crossbow and an assault rifle.

Derek and the Argents exchanged nods of greeting. While Derek had forgiven Allison for trying to kill him, and Allison had reached a place where she understood (intellectually, anyway) that Derek hadn’t killed her mother, they both agreed that keeping their distance from each other would be for the best.

Before the silence could get awkward (awkwarder?), Stiles said, “Seriously, is there a Bat Signal I’m not aware of?”

“Yes, Stiles,” Derek said wryly. “But we just call it a cell phone.”

“Oh,” Stiles said. “Well, that’s boring.”

Awkward moment broken, Chris Argent said, “I’m not sure how effective they’ll be against a witch, but we’ve come fully armed.” He laid his weapons on the round game table in the corner of the living room, and indicated the revolver in the holster strapped to his thigh.

“She won’t be alone,” Derek said, then added, “Thank you for coming.”

Mr. Argent glanced at Stiles. “You’re welcome. A threat to one of us is a threat to all.”

There was another knock at the door. Stiles looked around the already crowded living room. “Who could that possibly be? Isn’t everyone already here?”

Derek averted his gaze and nodded for Isaac to get the door. The familiar heartbeat on the other side finally registered.

“No,” Stiles said. “Derek, please tell me that you didn’t . . . . Hey, Dad.”

“Stiles.” Sheriff Stilinski looked around the living room, at the people and weapons gathered together. “Something you want to tell me?”

“No?” Stiles said.

Photobucket

“I’m not sure I need any more caffeine right now,” Stiles’ dad said.

“I know. I just need something to do with my hands,” Stiles admitted. Instead of brewing the pot he’d prepared now, he set the timer so it would brew in the morning. When he was finished he took a deep breath and turned around to face his dad.

“Do you have any idea the things that are going through my head right now?”

“Sorry,” Stiles said, because he knew that telling his dad what was going on was going to hurt him. “I’m sorry.” Not that he had any idea how to tell his dad about everything that had happened in the past, god, less than 24 hours. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“It usually helps if you start at the beginning,” his dad said.

“Yeah, it’s just . . . it’s so convoluted.”

“Last night was the full moon. Does it have anything to do with that?”

“No, not really.” He could do this. “Alright, just . . . let me get it all out before you ask any questions, okay?”

“Am I going to have a lot of questions?”

“Is the sky blue? Well, I mean, right now it’s not blue, because it’s late, but it’s usually blue . . . .”

“Stiles.”

“Yeah, okay. So, apparently somebody’s trying to kill me. Well, technically they want me dead but they haven’t actually tried to kill me. Yet. Though that’s not exactly correct, either. We think he wants me to not be a part of Derek’s pack anymore, and killing me was just the easiest way to achieve that . . . .”

“Stiles.”

“Right. So he blackmailed a witch. She didn’t want to kill me so they came up with another plan to steal me away from Derek’s pack. She sent her brother here to bite me. And he did. Last night. Bite me, I mean.”

When his dad didn’t say anything, Stiles said, “I’m done. You can talk now.”

“I honestly have no idea what to say right now, where to start,” his dad said. “So you’re a . . . werewolf now?”

“Werefox, actually,” Stiles said. “I really haven’t had that much time to think about it, since it just happened last night and things have been a little bit complicated since then, what with the whole finding out that someone wants to kill me thing. I’m sure it’ll hit me after, when no one’s trying to kill me anymore.”

His dad nodded slowly. “Who is it, do you know?”

Stiles shook his head. “Not yet. The witch is coming to get her brother. We’re expecting him to show up, too. Hence the gathering in the living room.”

“You’re sure it’s someone else and not the witch who’s behind it all?”

“Pretty sure, yes.”

“Wait. She’s coming to get her brother? Does that mean he’s still here?”

“Yes?”

“Derek didn’t kill him?”

Stiles huffed out a laugh. “It’s almost as if you know him. But to answer your question, no, Derek restrained himself.”

“Huh. I’m surprised. Glad I won’t be arresting him for murder, but surprised. I’d like to see him.”

“Derek?” Stiles’ dad just looked at him. “Oh, Ben.”

“His name is Ben?”

“Yes?”

“Sometime before the witch gets here, Stiles.”

“Oh, right!” Stiles led the way out of the kitchen and down the hall to the empty room in which Ben was being held. “You’re not going to shoot him, are you?”

“I haven’t decided.”

“Funny.”

Stiles’ dad reached out and touched his arm. “You’re alright, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, Dad,” Stiles said. “Bite’s all healed and everything.”

“Good, good, that’s . . . . What are you wearing?” his dad said after looking Stiles over to make sure he was alright.

Stiles looked down his body at Derek’s t-shirt and sweat pants. “Uh, I had to borrow some clothes.” He changed the subject. “Do you want to see Ben or not?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Stiles tried to feel bad for throwing Ben under the fatherly concern bus, but he figured it was the least Ben could do in return for having bitten him. Stiles stepped into the room, which was empty except for Ben and the chains that bound him. He sat on the floor and looked very uncomfortable.

“Dad, this is Ben McKellen. Ben, my dad.”

“Mr. Stilinski,” Ben said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I just, uh, wish it was under better circumstances.”

“It’s Sheriff Stilinski,” Stiles’ dad said. “And by ‘better circumstances’ do you mean circumstances under which you hadn’t just bitten my son and turned him into a were . . . fox?”

“Sheriff,” Ben said respectfully, acceding to Stiles’ dad’s demand. “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.”

“You know, if my son was ever turned into a . . . . I thought Derek would be the one to do it.”

“I understand that now,” Ben said, even as Stiles said, “What?”

“I don’t even know what to say to you right now. Part of me is grateful that you didn’t kill him. Part of me wants to shoot you because you hurt him, and you stole something from him, the chance to make his own decision about the bite.”

“I understand,” Ben said. “I have children of my own.”

“Is that your way of trying to find common ground with me?” Stiles’ dad said in disbelief. “Because you and I are nothing alike.”

“I did what I had to do in order to save your son,” Ben said earnestly.

Stiles winced. He knew well the futility of arguing with his dad.

“There were other ways you could have saved my son,” Stiles’ dad said. “You could have warned him that someone wanted to hurt him. Instead you tried to take him away from us.”

“He’d still be alive.”

“You really aren’t helping yourself. Are those restraints going to hold him?” Stiles’ dad asked him.

A change of topic that would’ve made Stiles’ head spin if he wasn’t the king of topic hopping. “They’ve been spelled,” Stiles assured him.

“Stiles’ dad shook his head. “So, werefoxes. They’re a thing.”

“Apparently,” Stiles said.

~*~

“So. What’s the plan?” Stiles’ dad said.

Stiles thought at first that he was being addressed, and he jumped when he heard Derek’s voice coming from behind him. Stiles wondered just how much of the conversation Derek had overheard. And when his supposed newly enhanced senses would stop working only sporadically.

“The witch is coming to collect her brother,” Derek said. “She’ll be here within an hour.”

“We have names,” Ben said.

Ben zipped his lips at Derek’s glare.

“She’s supposed to come alone,” Derek went on. “But we don’t believe she will.”

“She won’t do anything to hurt Stiles,” Ben said.

“She already has,” Stiles’ dad said. “Do you really think that if it comes down to a choice between her own life and my son’s, she’s going to choose Stiles? She’s already proven that she won’t. Well, you can be sure that I will choose Stiles.”

Stiles held his breath, but Ben wisely remained silent in the face of Stiles’ dad’s outburst.

“Dad . . . .”

Stiles’ dad rubbed a hand over his head. “Sorry,” he told Derek. “I’m not taking this well.”

“Is it selfish of me to be kind of glad that you’re not equanimous about the fact that someone wants to kill me?” Stiles said.

“Only you,” his dad said resignedly, shaking his head.

“Hey! How is this in any way my fau–!”

The last word was cut off by his dad’s shoulder when Stiles was pulled into a tight hug. When his dad didn’t ‘hug and release’, Stiles knew it was serious. He brought his arms up and returned the hug.

“I’m fine, Dad,” Stiles said.

“You’re not fine.” Stiles’ dad set Stiles back, but kept his hands on Stiles’ shoulders. “You’re . . . . I mean, it’s not like I didn’t expect something like this to happen. One day far in the future. When you were all grown up, and Derek had gotten his head out of his ass. No offense,” he threw over his shoulder.

“None taken,” Derek said dryly.

“And now you’re a fox,” Stiles’ dad said, sounding confused by it.

“Heh, thanks, Dad. It’s nice to be noticed.”

His dad rolled his eyes. “Is that . . . are you . . . . Is that going to be a problem?” He included Derek in the question. “With everything?”

“Stiles is still pack,” Derek said. “You never have to worry about that.”

Stiles’ dad nodded his head. “Just one more question. Why does this guy, person, want Stiles dead?”

“We’re not sure,” Derek said. “Deaton suggested earlier that they might want Stiles’ powers for themselves, but that was before we realized that biting him was considered the lesser of two evils. It’s possible they just wanted to weaken the pack.”

“But I’m not that important,” Stiles said. “If they wanted to weaken the pack they’d have struck at Derek, he’s the Alpha!”

Stiles’ dad and Derek both stared at him. It seemed that both their expressions were calling him an idiot. Ben’s snort broke the silence, though the three of them ignored him.

Derek said, “They have struck at me.”

“Oh,” Stiles said, but Derek was already gone.

Stiles’ dad shook his head. “I thought you were just ignoring it ‘til it went away, or hiding behind Lydia, or waiting for Derek to make the first move, but I never suspected that you were oblivious.”

Stiles didn’t know what to say. Derek had just practically admitted that by hurting Stiles they’d hurt him. He’d been all possessive and sniffy since the bite, and he’d put Stiles in his clothes. But how was Stiles supposed to know these things if no one told him? Derek was the least emotionally accessible person Stiles knew.

Stiles’ dad patted him on the shoulder. “I’m going to speak with Derek and Chris about just what the hell they’re planning to do tonight.”

Stiles’ head was spinning. First he’d been bitten, then he’d learned that someone wanted to kill him, and now this. He could barely wrap his mind around what his dad and Derek seemed to be implying. Because, god forbid Derek actually say it right out, no, that would be too simple.

“Want some advice?” Ben said.

“Not from you,” Stiles said, and stormed out of the room. By the time he reached the living room, though, his snit had faded and he realized that interrupting the planning to keep him alive was probably a bad idea. He could yell at Derek later, after it was all over and everyone was safe. And if he didn’t make it, it would be a moot point anyway.

Lydia had joined Deaton, while everyone else was grouped together talking strategy for surprising someone who knew they’d be expecting him. Or her. Stiles joined Isaac, who was glaring daggers in Allison’s direction, probably because every time she showed up Scott forgot what a bad idea it was to be involved with her and got all moony. Stiles bumped Isaac’s arm to draw his attention.

“Hey,” Stiles said quietly. “You’d better be careful. We don’t want to tonight to be the night we discover that looks really can kill. Next we’ll find out that our mothers were right and our faces really will stay that way.”

The corners of Isaac’s lips twitched despite himself. He nudged Stiles, but Stiles had planted his feet, anticipating the hit. He nudged Isaac back, and sent him careening into Erica.

“Oh, geeze, sorry,” Stiles said, grabbing at Isaac. “My bad,” he said as every pair of eyes in the room turned to stare at him. “I forgot I could do that now.”

Derek used the interruption to call a halt to their planning. The group broke up, everyone going their own way to prepare themselves for the battle ahead. Lydia and Jackson made out, Erica and Boyd held hands and gave each other a silent pep talk, Allison joined her father and they checked over their weapons, and Scott joined Isaac and tried to figure out why Isaac wasn’t talking to him. Talk about oblivious, Stiles thought.

Stiles joined his dad and Derek, who were still talking about the unknown person who had gotten this whole ball of wax rolling.

“He knew that hurting Stiles would hurt you,” Stiles’ dad said to Derek, while Stiles tried not to blush at the matter-of-fact comment. “It sounds personal to me.”

“Or logical. Weaken me to make taking over the pack, taking over Beacon Hills, easier.”

“You think it’s a werewolf, then?” Stiles’ dad said.

“I’m not discounting it,” Derek said.

“Are we prepared for that?” Stiles’ dad said. I mean, if he’s a werewolf he’ll be part of a pack, won’t he?”

“If he was strong enough to take us he wouldn’t have used the witch.”

“Or he didn’t want to show his hand.”

Derek inclined his head to acknowledge the point. “We won’t know until he gets here. Which will be soon. Why don’t you get a radio from Chris.”

“We need to talk,” Stiles said as his dad walked away, but only after giving Stiles a knowing look.

“It’ll have to wait,” Derek said. Unsurprisingly.

“Yeah, I’m not exactly looking forward to it myself,” Stiles said, “because, as much as I like to talk, I’m not actually a girl.”

Derek’s gaze moved over Stiles’ body. “I’d noticed.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles said, hand lashing out and smacking Derek on the arm. “Stop doing that! If you’re not going to talk to me, you can’t look at me.”

Derek just raised his eyebrows at the ridiculousness of that.

“You know what I mean.”

“Unfortunately, I do. First we have to keep you from being killed.”

“Well, yeah, that’s important, too.”

Derek started to move away, but then he turned back to Stiles. He ducked his head and for a dizzying, stomach churning moment Stiles thought that Derek was going to kiss him. Instead he bent his head to Stiles’ neck and breathed him in. Stiles bit back a moan when Derek’s lips brushed his neck as he drew back. Intentionally, Stiles thought, because Derek didn’t do anything accidentally, especially something like that.

“Stay safe,” Derek said, putting more force behind the words than Stiles could ever remember hearing. “Or I’ll kill you myself.”

“Ditto,” Stiles said, relieved to be on firmer ground with the threat, however meaningless it was.

When Stiles looked around, everyone was making it a point not to look at him. Except for Lydia, who gave him two thumbs up which Stiles pretended not to see.

“Alright,” Derek said to the group. “Let’s get into place before they get here.”

~*~

As everyone geared up – Chris slung the assault rifle over his shoulder and hefted the crossbow, Stiles’ dad slid a magazine of wolfsbane rounds into his back up piece just in case, Erica rhythmically protracted and retracted her claws, Isaac and Scott looked like kids that totally didn’t belong until they both smiled at Stiles and revealed their fangs, Deaton snapped shut his case (the one that really contained magical supplies this time), and Derek looked badass and completely fuckable (did he really just think that?) in his leather jacket – another knock sounded at the door.

“Who is it now?” Stiles said, looking around the room where no one seemed to be missing.

Derek growled. All of the werewolves picked up on something, either the person outside the door or Derek’s reaction, and each of them issued low growls from their throats, as well. Chris ignored them all and went out to the foyer to open the door.

“What’s he doing here?” Derek said when Chris returned to the living room with Peter Hale trailing casually behind him.

“I figured we could use all the help we could get,” Chris said, unapologetic.

“He can’t be trusted,” Derek said.

Peter dramatically pressed his hand against his chest. “Nephew, the warmth of your welcome is what keeps my heart beating.”

Derek sneered, but before he could respond, Chris said, “Better the devil you know.”

“It was that kind of sweet talking that got me to agree to offer my assistance,” Peter said.

Chris merely said, “You came to help because you can’t stand being left out of anything,” but Stiles thought he saw a flush beneath his stubble, which made Stiles wonder . . . . No, no, he was not going to let his brain go down that path because he was not a masochist and he wanted to be able to sleep at night.

“Well, that,” Peter agreed, “and because family should be there for each other.”

Stiles could see the explosion brewing. They didn’t have time for this, and they couldn’t afford to have Derek distracted by his uncle stirring up trouble for no purpose other than that he could. Stiles moved to Derek’s side and placed his hand on Derek’s arm.

“Ignore him,” Stiles said.

Derek’s arm went taut beneath Stiles’ hand, and then he felt the muscles relax. Derek glanced down at Stiles, but it wasn’t to glare his hand off the leather. Derek gave Stiles a short nod.

“Erica, get our guest, please.”

Erica bared her fangs in a grin. She left the room, taking a wide path around Allison (watching your boyfriend be shot full of arrows while you were turned into a pincushion yourself as a prelude to being tortured took a lot more than an apology, however heartfelt it might have been, to forgive) and Boyd followed her out of the room.

“If it isn’t the man of the hour,” Peter said, smirking at Stiles.

Derek’s arm tensed and Stiles squeezed it.

Peter tilted his head as if he couldn’t figure something out, and then his expression cleared. “Well, well, well, looks like someone’s wearing a new pair of boots.”

Stiles frowned and glanced down at his feet, upon which the sneakers he wore were neither boots, nor new. It didn’t hit him what Peter was talking about until Stiles looked back up at him and saw the sardonic tilt of eyebrow, matched by the quirk of his lips.

“Oh,” Stiles said. He kept forgetting about that.

Stiles’ dad must have sensed a threat to his only child, because he came over and stood next to Stiles. “Is he going to be a problem?” he asked.

“Probably,” Derek said dryly, but Stiles’ dad must’ve realized that Derek was more annoyed than genuinely concerned for Stiles’ safety.

“Am I going to have to shoot him?”

“Hopefully.”

“You two are hilarious,” Peter said. “It’s good to see you getting a sense of humor, Derek.”

“Just remember,” Stiles’ dad said to Peter. “You disappeared once, and no one batted an eyelash. It could happen again.”

Peter inclined his head to acknowledge the threat, but Stiles couldn’t tell if he took it seriously or not. Before Stiles was done studying Peter’s expression, Peter turned to look at Ben as Erica led him into the living room.

“Ah, the culprit. I’m surprised you let him live after he bit your precious human.”

“He’s not the end game,” Derek said. “But he’s almost as annoying as you are, so I’m sure you’ll both be very happy together.”

Derek nodded to Erica and she handed Ben off to Peter.

“Don’t lose him,” Derek said. “Or we’ll give you to the witch instead.”

“Please, lose him,” Lydia said.

She’d come a long way since Peter had gotten inside her head and used her to help him come back from the dead.

“Lydia,” Peter said. “Always a pleasure to see you.”

“The feeling is definitely not mutual,” Isaac muttered.

Isaac looked nervous when Peter turned his creepily intense regard on him, but he didn’t back down. He looked even more confident when Scott stepped close enough for their shoulders to bump. Scott, while having come to terms with being a werewolf, still had no love for the man that had turned him and tried to force him to kill his friends. Even if he had been ever so slightly helpful since returning from the dead.

Not for the first time, Stiles thought about how they had to be the most dysfunctional group to ever voluntarily (well, mostly voluntarily) band together.

“Let’s go,” Derek said.

This time no one else showed up to interrupt their plan.

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Despite wanting Stiles nowhere near the witch who’d been tasked with killing him, Derek had finally acceded to Deaton’s point that they needed to be close enough to hear what was going on so they could cast an opposing spell should it appear that the witch was going to try anything funny. Deaton, Stiles and Lydia were stationed to the side of the house, close enough to hear without being seen, and guarded over by Stiles’ dad.

Peter sat on the well-lit porch with Ben, clearly visible to anyone pulling up the driveway. Chris and Allison were hidden in the trees up the driveway just outside the clearing where they could see if anyone else approached from that direction. Erica, Boyd, Scott, Issac and Jackson were spread out in the woods surrounding the house, guarding the perimeter from incursions from all other directions.

Erica and Boyd had set a trap at the place where Ben had slipped onto the Hale property. They hadn’t been able to catch his scent because of the spell, but the witch who’d brought him hadn’t thought to cover her own. However, if their nemesis was a werewolf, he wouldn’t be limited to using the road. Even a determined human could find a way through the woods, as Stiles had shown, since the Hale property backed onto the Beacon Hills Preserve.

All of Stiles’ concentration was on Derek, who stood in front of the house, waiting. Though he wished he’d gained x-ray vision and could see through the house (or around corners, how cool would that be?), Stiles had to rely on hearing.

Stiles saw headlights from down the driveway even before his dad touched his radio and announced softly that someone was coming. There was no sound of movement from Derek, not even when the car was finally visible, nor when it pulled to a stop a few feet in front of him.

A car door opened and someone, the witch, Stiles presumed, slowly got out of the car. There was the sound of material sliding over material, and Stiles imagined her standing with her hands raised.

“You were supposed to come alone,” Derek said.

Stiles couldn’t see her from where he stood, but he heard the eye roll in her voice when she said, “You knew that wouldn’t happen.”

“I suspected,” Derek said.

There was a sudden silence, as if even the animals and the trees wanted to know who was trying to kill Stiles. Finally the sound of another car door opening reached Stiles’ ears and someone else stepped out of the car. Stiles was tempted to peer around the corner of the house to see who it was, and only his dad’s grip on the back of his hoodie kept Stiles from breaking free to look.

“Gerard,” Derek said, practically spitting the word.

“Derek,” Gerard said, and Stiles could easily imagine the smarmy smile on his face. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

Stiles no longer had any desire to look, not even to prove his ears right. Now it was him holding his dad back. When he’d come clean about werewolves and hunters, he’d come clean about everything, even the things he’d wanted to keep hidden, including being beaten as a message to Scott by a dying old man determined to save himself by becoming a werewolf. If that hadn’t been enough to cement Stiles’ hatred of the man, he’d intended to kill Derek so he could become an Alpha. Stiles had a problem with that. Of course, he also had a problem with Gerard suddenly deciding to kill him.

“What does it take to kill this guy?” Stiles muttered in his dad’s ear.

“Stiles,” Gerard said heartily. “How I’ve missed the dulcet tone of your whiney voice.”

Stiles’ eyes went wide as he stared into his dad’s face. ‘Werewolf,’ he mouthed. His dad nodded his understanding.

“I see you managed to survive,” Derek said, his comment mirroring Stiles’ thoughts. “The bite didn’t take because of the mountain ash, so you must have found another alpha to bite you after you got it out of your system,” he added, his words meant to inform anyone that hadn’t already gotten the memo that Gerard was a werewolf. “You’ve been busy.”

“There were so many to choose from,” Gerard said. “For a while there you couldn’t turn around without tripping over one.”

The Alpha Pack, awesome. Stiles wondered if Gerard was now part of the Pack, whether he’d killed the Alpha that bit him the way he’d intended to kill Derek and steal his power.

“Omega,” Derek said derogatorily, answering that question.

“Oh, I’m much more than that,” Gerard said.

Stiles wondered if Gerard’s eyes flashed red. Wondered if he’d turn into the misshapen beast that had been Peter’s Alpha from. He wished he could see, damn it! And suddenly he could. Stiles knew he hadn’t moved, knew his eyes were closed in concentration and frustration, and yet he could see everything.

His vision was focused on Derek, who still stood calmly in front of the house, though his fangs and claws had come out. Gerard and Caryn stood to either side of the car. Caryn’s hands were held out to her sides and she remained silent, as if loathe to draw attention to herself, but she stared at the porch as if trying to make sure that Ben was alright.

Gerard looked exactly as he had the last time Stiles had seen him, minus the disgusting black, viscous fluid oozing out of him, but that was scary enough because Gerard had been fully human when he’d beaten Stiles.

Stiles felt as if he was rising up, but he felt hands holding onto him so he knew he hadn’t left the ground. He saw the determined set of Chris’ chin when he realized that the father who’d thought nothing of allowing his daughter-in-law to die, of killing his granddaughter, was still alive. He saw the shame in the slump of Allison’s shoulders as she remembered what she’d done because she’d allowed Gerard to get inside her head.

Stiles honed in on the werewolves in his pack as if drawn by their familiar scent. They stood wolfed out and ready, though Stiles could see that Erica and Boyd remembered the torture Gerard had put them through. Still, they stood their ground, ready to move against Gerard and any other werewolves he might have brought to the party. Perhaps even eager to redeem themselves and to prove that they were no longer afraid of him.

Further out Stiles sensed something that called out to him. The only way he could think to describe it was as a disturbance in the force. He followed it and saw two werewolves infiltrating the Hale property. Stiles’ first thought was that he had to tell Derek, but something held him back. Soon he was spinning off in another direction where two other werewolves were sneaking towards the Hale house. Stiles noted where both groups were, and then thought about being back inside his own body, and he was.

“Where the hell have you been?” Stiles’ dad hissed.

“I have no idea,” Stiles said. He’d have to ask Deaton about it later.

Stiles fumbled out his phone and sent a group text to Scott and the others, warning them about the other werewolves. A loud howl, soon joined by other howls, greeted receipt of the text.

“I hope yours are as good as mine,” Gerard said.

Instead of answering, Derek said, “What do you want with Stiles?”

Gerard laughed. The sound of it sent shivers racing down Stiles’ spine, and his dad’s hand tightened on his shoulder.

“It’s not about Stiles,” Gerard said. “It never has been. As always, he’s just a means to an end. So many people care about him. You almost make it too easy. No challenge at all.”

“This guy is really starting to piss me off,” Stiles said. He didn’t bother keeping his voice down since Gerard would hear him anyway. “I hope you’re going to kick his ass,” Stiles said, directed to Derek.

“I am,” Derek growled, and then Stiles heard the sounds of an attack.

Since Gerard already knew he was there (and was currently otherwise occupied), Stiles didn’t feel the need to remain hidden any longer. He peered around the corner. Derek and Gerard were exchanging blows, easily tossing each other around. Derek dug his claws into Gerard, but Gerard pulled away before too much damage could be done.

Even though he knew that Gerard was a werewolf, Stiles watched in dismay as the deep scratches healed. Stiles’ attention was caught by movement out of the corner of his eye. Peter had stood and moved to the railing, watching the fight between Derek and Gerard avidly. Although he was technically a member of their group, Stiles couldn’t tell whether Peter wanted Derek or Gerard to win the fight, not even when Peter sensed Stiles watching and turned his head and smiled at him.

Stiles was the first to look away and his gaze landed on the witch, Caryn Montgomery. She still stood near the car, but she’d smartly taken a step or two back, putting more space between her and the fighting werewolves. Her caution was proven right when Gerard threw Derek over the car and he landed on his back right where she’d originally been standing. Gerard leapt over the hood of the car and landed on his feet in a crouch beside Derek. He glanced up at the witch and gave her a look that Stiles couldn’t decipher.

Before Stiles could wonder too much on it, another sound drew his attention. He finally realized that it was the twin sounds of Allison’s compound bow and her father’s crossbow firing. Either some of the werewolves Stiles had seen had made it past (or through) the pack, or there were some he’d missed.

“Dad,” Stiles said, taking a step closer to him.

“I heard,” his dad said as he released the radio and held his weapon at the ready.

And none too soon, because almost immediately yellow eyes gleamed out of the darkness, moving quickly towards them. Stiles inhaled deeply to make sure the approaching werewolf wasn’t part of his pack. When a strange scent filled his nostrils, Stiles said, “Not one of ours.”

Stiles’ dad knew enough about werewolves to know that waiting ‘til you could see the whites of their eyes (if their eyes still had any white in them) meant you’d waited too long. He fired. The werewolf lost a step, but kept coming.

“Don’t waste another bullet,” Stiles said. He leapt, the sound of his dad’s voice calling his name in his ear. Stiles landed on the werewolf and bore him to the ground. He punched the werewolf in the face, and then shook his hand out as pain shot up his arm.

“Ow, fuck,” Stiles said.

“Watch your language,” his dad said reflexively, and they both stared at each other over the body of the downed werewolf.

“Is now really the time to monitor my language?” Stiles said as he climbed off the (he wished he could say unmoving) writhing werewolf. Stiles couldn’t take credit for knocking him out of the game because the wolfsbane in the bullet had taken effect and whatever had been driving the werewolf on was finally overcome by it.

A howl from the woods brought Stiles’ head up. It sounded like Scott. Looked like one of the groups of werewolves had been found. Stiles sent out a silent wish of ‘good luck’ and ‘stay safe’, and then turned back to the fight going on right in front of him. Just in time to see Gerard stumble and Derek get the upper hand. Derek shoved his claws into Gerard’s chest. Instead of the death gurgle Stiles expected, Gerard laughed.

Derek stared in confusion at the hand he had buried in Gerard’s chest and Gerard took advantage. He pushed Derek back with enough force to send him flying. Derek’s claws came out of Gerard’s chest with a sucking pop that had Stiles cringing and averting his eyes. His gaze fell on Caryn, who was staring intently at Gerard. Her hands hung loose at her sides, but her lips moved ever so slightly, almost as if she was whispering to herself.

Stiles glanced back at Gerard, who confidently advanced on Derek, and then back to Caryn. He scrambled back to where Deaton and Lydia waited. “It’s the witch,” Stiles said. “She’s doing something so Gerard doesn’t die.”

“We’ll have to stop her, then,” Deaton said.

“Are you going to kill her?” Stiles asked. He’d have gone out to provide a distraction, if that’s all it took, but witches tended to have defensive spells and he didn’t want to get caught up in one.

“I prefer not to kill,” Deaton said. “Not that I won’t if it becomes necessary,” he clarified as he sprinkled the herbs for whatever spell he was going to perform into a bowl. “I just don’t like to.”

It still seemed a little unfair to Stiles that Deaton didn’t need to use a circle of salt and candles. (Buffy had a lot to answer for.) He’d asked him about it once, but all Deaton would say was that he was old enough to no longer need the focus of, what he called, ‘trappings.’

“Then what are you going to do?”

“We’re going to put up a wall,” Lydia answered for Deaton, who was busy measuring. “Between her magic and Gerard, cut them off from each other. Now go away so we can concentrate.”

“Are you ready?” Deaton asked Lydia.

Lydia nodded, and at Deaton’s signal began to speak in Latin.

Stiles stepped back and the sounds of the fight filtered back into his consciousness. There was nothing he could do here, but there was one thing he could do, even though he didn’t feel qualified for it. He was the only one who could.

“I’m going to help Derek,” Stiles told his dad. “Don’t let anything happen to them.” He pointed at Deaton and Lydia, and then jogged around the corner of the house, ignoring his dad’s, “Stiles!” followed by a resigned, “Damn it,” when Stiles didn’t reply.

As Stiles moved towards the fight he glanced at Caryn to see what she would do. Her gaze followed him, but she didn’t make a move to intercept him, just kept chanting under her breath. Peter actually looked intrigued. Stiles’ hand went to the front pocket of his borrowed sweats, where he’d stuffed the pouch Deaton had pressed into his hand as they’d all filed out of the house to take their places.

Gerard laughed when he saw Stiles, but Stiles comforted himself that Gerard had no idea what Stiles could do with just a little bit of mountain ash. He stepped around Derek, who lay sprawled on the ground where Gerard had thrown him, without looking at him because he didn’t want to take his eyes off Gerard. Stiles ignored the low growl of his name issuing from Derek’s throat.

“What do you think you’re going to do?” Gerard said, giving Stiles a once over and a look that said he’d been found lacking.

Stiles didn’t answer. He imagined the circle he wanted to create around Gerard. Stiles closed his eyes and believed as he raised his hand to his mouth and blew the mountain ash off his palm. When Stiles opened his eyes the mountain ash had settled onto the trampled grass and formed a complete ring around Gerard.

Stiles couldn’t hold back his grin. Gerard wasn’t beaten yet, but at least he would be held until Deaton and Lydia finished their spell, when it would be up to Derek to finish him off. Stiles tried to find it in him to regret his callousness at eagerly anticipating Gerard’s demise, but if there ever was someone who deserved it, it was Gerard Argent.

Gerard toed the line of mountain ash as Derek regained his feet and loomed over Stiles.

“Mountain ash,” Gerard mused. “I’d wondered who’d drawn that circle around the warehouse. I’m wondering now how you’re able to still use it, but that’s a question for another time. Right now I’ve got some unfinished business with your friend there. Then I’ll get to you.”

Stiles watched, stunned, as Gerard broke the circle of mountain ash with the toe of his boot and stepped over it.

“Oh, did I forget to mention that, thanks to Scott, I’m immune to mountain ash now?” Gerard said.

“Yeah,” Stiles said sourly. “You forgot to mention that.”

Gerard ignored Stiles and turned to Derek. “I’m done toying with you. I need to take care of you so I can play with the rest of your so-called pack.”

Stiles shuddered as he recalled the last time Gerard had ‘played’ with him, Erica and Boyd. Derek, who hadn’t known at the time, but found out when Erica and Boyd returned to the fold and told him everything that had happened, growled as he protectively shoved Stiles behind him.

“Commendable, but unnecessary,” Gerard said. “Young Stiles here intrigues me. I’ll keep him alive at least long enough to discover his secrets.”

Before Derek could attack an arrow came out of the night and struck Gerard in the back of the thigh. Gerard stumbled a little bit as he reached back to grab for it. He turned to see who’d shot him just in time to see Allison striding purposefully out of the dark, fitting a second arrow to her bow.

“Allison,” Gerard said heartily, as if they were having a family reunion rather than finding themselves in the middle of a battle. “I’ve missed my granddaughter.”

The comment was greeted with another arrow. Gerard reached out and caught it in the air before it struck home. “I would’ve thought your father would be the one shooting at me,” he said as he studied the arrow before casually flinging it away.

“A man shouldn’t have to kill his own father,” Allison said coldly as she withdrew another arrow from the quiver on her back.

“Besides,” Chris drawled as he emerged from the darkness, bloodied and limping on his left leg, but victorious, crossbow laying over his shoulder. “We flipped a coin, she won.”

“Heads,” Allison said as she shot an arrow towards Gerard’s head.

“I see you’re not in a forgiving mood,” Gerard said as he easily batted the arrow away. “Perhaps we’ll have some time to talk about that after I’ve killed all your friends.” Gerard took the arrow he’d finally pulled out of his leg and threw it at Allison.

Allison ducked out of the way, but not before the arrow sliced her shoulder as it flew past her.

“Allison!” Chris said.

“I’ll take care of you two later,” Gerard promised as he turned back to Derek. “You first. You’ve got something that belongs to me.”

As Gerard and Derek faced off against each other, Stiles’ eyes fell on the arrow Gerard had so casually flung away. He dove on it and then jumped for Gerard’s back before he could realize what Stiles was doing, and drove the arrow in. Stiles knew that it would only distract him for a moment, but every little bit of time allowed Derek to heal and regain more of his strength.

Gerard swung his arm back and knocked Stiles off his back. Stiles’ head hit the ground and the air whooshed out of him. Stiles’ head spun as he lay on the ground, the sound of renewed battle in his ringing ears. He turned his head and tried to find Derek. Stiles’ gaze found Caryn, instead. She was frowning, though she still mouthed words to whatever spell kept Gerard from being killed.

Stiles’ vision was all wonky. He was seeing things, a shimmer in the air. It took him a few seconds to realize that he was seeing the spell. Not hers, theirs. The wall was up; her spell had been neutralized.

“Now,” Stiles croaked out. “Derek, kill him now!”

Derek was busy trying to keep Gerard from shoving the arrow he’d somehow managed to pull out of his back into his throat. Stiles tried to get up, to go over and help. Before he could crawl very far, a pair of legs moved past his face. Stiles looked up and watched as Peter moved slowly, steadily towards where Gerard and Derek grappled for control of the arrow.

Peter kicked Gerard off Derek and strode over to where he’d landed, clutching at the ribs Peter had broken. Peter had a determined expression on his face, but rather than the gleeful madness Stiles was used to seeing there, he saw only peace.

“Been wanting a piece of me for years, haven’t you, boy?” Gerard said, wincing as he got to his feet to face Peter before the bones had time to re-knit.

“You have no idea,” Peter said softly.

Stiles glanced over to the porch where Ben stood on the top step, one eye on Peter and Gerard, the other on his step-sister who, Stiles noted, had stopped even trying to keep the spell up. Neither one of them seemed a threat at the moment, so Stiles’ gaze searched out Derek.

Derek had regained his feet, but he stood back, though he didn’t look happy about not being in the fight. Peter didn’t have Derek’s or Gerard’s bulk, but he was driven by something else. As he pummeled Gerard, not giving him a chance to recover between blows, the rest of them stood watching. The fight seemed uneven, but not in the way Stiles would’ve thought.

“Stiles.”

Stiles looked up as his dad reached down to help him up. “Dad. Deaton and Lydia?”

“They’re fine,” his dad said, indicating the porch where they now stood with Ben. “What about you?”

“Fine,” Stiles said. “Just had the wind knocked out of me. You?”

“Fine.”

The rest of the pack showed up, loping out of the darkness, adding their howls to the ongoing battle. They pulled up to a stop and milled around, adrenaline causing them to look for a fight. When they realized there wasn’t one to be had, they shook off some of the wolf’s instinct and joined the rest of them as spectators.

Jackson joined the others on the porch and Lydia threw her arms around him despite the fact that he was covered with blood. Erica stood next to Boyd, both looking at Gerard as if they’d seen a ghost whose throat they’d like to tear out. Isaac leaned against Scott, though he looked conflicted about it enjoying it. Stiles saw that there was a pretty deep gash in his thigh that hadn’t healed yet, which he’d probably aggravated by racing all the way back to the house.

It had taken Gerard a few minutes, but he finally realized that the spell protecting him was no longer effective. He looked to his son. “Are you going to let them do this to me?”

Chris still had his hand pressed to Allison’s shoulder. “You’re a monster,” he told his father. “And that has nothing to do with you being a werewolf.”

Peter gave Gerard a satisfied smile, almost beatific if Stiles didn’t know he was insane. Peter drove his claws into Gerard’s chest while Derek drove his into Gerard’s back. Blood gurgled out of Gerard’s mouth and dribbled down his chin. They both pulled out their claws from Gerard’s body and he fell to the ground. Derek grabbed Peter’s arm before he could follow him down and finish the job. He looked over at Erica and Boyd.

“The kill is yours if you want it,” Derek told them.

Peter looked put out, but he didn’t say anything to contradict Derek. Erica looked both excited and nervous as she took Boyd’s hand and walked over to where Gerard lay on the ground, staring up at them defiantly even though he couldn’t move. She knelt down beside him and drew her finger along his cheek. Erica pulled it back and licked the blood she’d drawn off her claw.

Erica’s gaze caught Stiles’. “You want to be a part of this?” she asked him.

Stiles shook his head. He’d like nothing more than to know that Gerard was dead, but he couldn’t imagine himself cold-bloodedly killing someone when the heat of the battle had faded. Not even Gerard. If that made him weak, then that’s what he was.

Erica stood up and backed away from Gerard. “I’d be killing him out of revenge,” she said. “Not for the good of the pack. That would make me just like him.”

Derek nodded and squeezed Erica’s arm. “Boyd?”

“Nah,” Boyd said. “I’m with my girl on this one. He’s not worth it.”

Erica gave Boyd a grateful smile and Derek nodded his acceptance of their decision. He looked at Peter, who gave Derek a ferocious grin in return.

“As you already know, I have no qualms about killing him in revenge. He’s already turned me into someone just like him. Any last words?” Peter asked Gerard as he dropped to his knees beside him.

Gerard opened his mouth to speak and Peter slashed his claw across his throat. The only sound Gerard made was the sound of the blood gurgling out of the gaping hole in his throat.

“I changed my mind,” Peter said as he rose to his feet. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”

“Jesus,” Stiles’ dad said.

Stiles couldn’t tell if he was more disgusted at the violence he’d just witnessed, or at himself for having done nothing to stop it.

“You were supposed to be guarding Ben,” Derek said, the reprimand not carrying much heat.

“Please,” Peter said. “Ben wanted Gerard dead as much as any of us. Well, maybe not as much as I did,” he clarified, and then walked off into the darkness without another word to anyone.

“Now what?” Stiles’ dad said, breaking the silence that had fallen with Peter’s departure.

Several people spoke at the same time.

“We settle this thing,” Derek said, his gaze going to where Caryn was being hugged by Ben despite the cuffs he still wore.

“We take care of the bodies,” Chris said.

“We take care of the injured,” Stiles said.

“Sounds like we have enough to keep everyone busy,” Stiles’ dad said.

“Scott,” Stiles said. “Bring Isaac inside.” He turned to look over his shoulder. “Allison?”

“Thanks, I’m fine,” Allison said with a tight smile. “Just a scratch.”

“It should still be cleaned,” Stiles said. He looked at Derek. “And don’t think I’ve forgotten about you.”

“I’m fine,” Derek growled.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Stiles said loftily, then turned to follow Scott and Isaac into the house. As he climbed the porch steps Stiles heard Derek say to Chris and Allison, “You two don’t have to be here for this.”

“Yes,” Allison said. “We do.”

“I agree with Allison,” Chris said.

Stiles closed the front door behind him and shut out the conversations still going on outside. When Stiles got to the kitchen Scott was just helping Isaac into a chair. Isaac was complaining that he’d heal and didn’t need to be coddled.

Stiles stopped in front of Isaac’s chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Isaac clamped his lips shut and looked up at Stiles with wide eyes, though Stiles didn’t think he was pulling off the look nearly as well as Derek did.

“That cut looks deep. You are going to let me clean and bandage it to ease my mind, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

“Yeah, okay,” Isaac agreed quickly.

Behind him Scott had to hide a grin.

“Good,” Stiles said as he turned away to get the first aid kit from the bathroom. “Now take your pants off.”

Stiles chuckled to himself at Isaac’s squawk. Isaac was getting off easy. He’d had to take his pants off in a room full of people that had included Derek and Erica.

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The betas dragged back the bodies of the werewolves they’d slain and laid them on the funeral bier Derek, Chris and Stiles’ dad had built for Gerard and his merry band of omegas while Allison was reluctantly allowing Stiles to tend to her shoulder. Allison shot the flaming arrow that started the fire. The sun was coming up over the horizon before the flames, hidden by a spell cast by Deaton and Caryn, had burned away all evidence of the events of last night. Allison didn’t move from her spot until all that was left was ash, at which point her father gently pulled her away and took her home.

Derek hammered out an agreement with Caryn and Ben that took until late the next afternoon to reach. Stiles wasn’t there for that because his dad had insisted on taking him home. (On the way they’d spotted two vehicles that they suspected had been used by the werewolves. A run of their plates revealed both vehicles to be stolen, so his dad called a tow truck to take them to impound.)

Stiles later learned that Derek had forged an alliance of mutual protection and support not only with Ben, but with Caryn, who he turned over to Deaton to work out the specifics, because it wouldn’t hurt to have more allies in case something like this ever happened again. Caryn agreed to share information and her talents, should they ever be required. Ben also agreed to share information and arranged to have his wife come out to spend some time with Stiles because of the two she was the better teacher. Because they’d both had a part in turning Stiles and trying to steal him from Derek’s pack, both Ben and Caryn agreed to owe Derek a favor separate from the agreement they’d negotiated.

To seal the deal, Derek hosted a banquet. Really a potluck picnic. The entire Beacon Hill’s contingent, including the Argents and Peter, attended. Caryn brought her girlfriend, and Ben brought his wife, two children, and father-in-law, the last remaining member of his wife’s family still living in Canyon Run, and himself also a werefox. Stiles brought his dad and his mom’s famous potato salad.

The gathering was awkward at first, each group sticking to themselves. Stiles rolled his eyes at Derek’s complete inability to mingle, and walked over to the McKellen clan. He’d been introduced to them when they’d first arrived, but hadn’t had any interaction with them since then.

“Hi,” Stiles greeted them all, then turned his attention to Ben’s daughters, Megan and Christy. “Derek has a tire swing,” he told them. “Well, he only has it because I made him put it up, because normally Derek is a sourwolf and I like tire swings.”

Megan and Christy looked back at him as if he was nuts, though he didn’t miss the glance they threw in Derek’s direction.

“He’s frowning, isn’t he?”

The girls looked surprised at being caught.

“That’s okay,” Stiles assured them. “In fact, that’s normal. It’s when he starts smiling that you need to worry.”

The girls shot another look in Derek’s direction. The corners of Megan’s lips twitched, which Stiles figured meant that Derek was frowning even more aggressively than before.

“I keep telling him his face is gonna stay that way,” Stiles mock whispered.

It earned him a giggle from Christy.

“So,” Stiles said, rubbing his hands together. “Who wants to swing?”

“I’m too old to swing,” Megan said, but it sounded like she was willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Stiles gasped theatrically and placed his hand over his heart. “You’re never too old to swing.” He looked at them both. “Just me then? Swinging all by myself? Okay,” Stiles said and started walking away in the direction of the swing.

Before Stiles was halfway there he was overtaken by two giggling girls. They came up on either side of him and each grabbed a hand, the better to drag him along in their wake. They argued about who got to go first and settled the question in some mysterious, but time-honored tradition among sisters, or werefoxes, or werefox sisters. Stiles didn’t care, so long as he wasn’t put in the position of having to be the deciding factor. That was something that would not end well for him, he was sure.

Christy went first. She started out sitting low on the inside of the tire, but claimed it hurt her butt, so quickly scrambled up to sit on top, gripping the rope in both hands and tucking her legs inside the tire. All while the tire was still moving, which gave Stiles a scare and a half. He figured his mother was chuckling over that right now. He didn’t even have kids of his own yet and he was living the whole ‘I hope you have kids just like you’ scenario that parents wished upon their own children.

Megan went next. To one-up her sister, Megan stood with her feet inside the tire. When it was her turn again, Christy stood on top of the tire. Stiles figured he should’ve expected that. Still, he tried to talk her down. To no avail.

“She’ll be fine,” Megan assured him. “She’s fallen from higher than that before.”

“Not really comforting,” Stiles muttered, though he gave in and gave the swing a tentative push with Christy standing above his head, clinging to the rope.

Christy squealed her delight and demanded that Stiles push her, “Higher, higher!” Despite his better judgment, seeing how well she was maintaining her balance, Stiles did. Finally Megan starting clamoring for her turn. Christy agreed, and when the tire reached the highest point of its arc, she let go of the rope and spread her arms out to her side. Stiles opened his mouth to tell (beg) her to hold onto the rope, but before he could get a word out she bent her knees and leapt off the tire.

Stiles’ heart leapt into his throat. He ignored the tire (and almost got clipped by it) and ran over to where he’d seen Christy land. Before he could reach her, Christy came bounding out of the grass on four legs. Somewhere between jumping and landing, she’d transformed into a fox.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said as he came to a halt. “Oh my god. You . . . you scared the bejesus out of me! I thought you were going to break your neck!” Stiles’ knees gave out. He let himself drop to the ground, then flopped onto his back. He clutched at his chest. “My heart. I think you just knocked ten years off my life. That is not cool.”

Megan knelt on the ground beside Stiles and leaned over his face. “She’s a werefox,” she said in the same tone that Derek used when he called Stiles an idiot. He wondered if that ability came from being born a were.

Christy (he hoped to hell it was Christy) appeared in Stiles line of vision and tugged on Stiles’ sleeve with her teeth.

“She wants to do it again,” Megan said matter-of-factly.

“Are you kidding me?” Stiles said. “You stop that,” he told Christy!fox. He flopped her onto her back and tickled her belly. She batted at Stiles’ hand with her paws, and then just stretched out and enjoyed the rub.

“I probably should have warned you,” Amanda McKellen said from somewhere above Stiles’ head. He tried to hide the fact that she’d startled him, but if Megan’s snort was any indication he’d failed. At least Amanda was kind enough to not mention it.

Since Amanda was there now, Stiles stepped back and let her decide what was an appropriately dangerous activity for her daughters. Apparently quite a lot. Megan sat on the swing with Christy!fox in her arms and Stiles pushed. When the girls decided they were going high enough Megan flung Christy into the air. Stiles had to close his eyes. Amanda’s heart didn’t even skip a beat.

“How can you remain so calm?” Stiles said as Christy scampered back for more.

“Practice,” Amanda said with a smile for Stiles as she lifted Christy back into Megan’s arms. “Lots and lots of practice.”

Stiles eventually reached the point where he could watch without wincing each time Christy was launched into the air. Just when he thought he was safe, Scott came wandering over with Isaac at his side.

“Can we play, too?” Scott said, grinning at Stiles.

“You want to push?” Stiles said.

“No, we want to jump!”

“Of course you do,” Stiles said. “Don’t you already have enough danger in your life?”

Scott gave him a look. “This isn’t danger, this is fun!”

Isaac agreed. The girls, of course, loved Scott and Isaac. The boys took turns being pushed on the swing. They stood on top of the tire and jumped off when they deemed it was high enough, turning flips in the air before landing in a crouch. Megan decided to do the same. Scott, despite his whole, ‘it’s fun’ spiel, waited to make sure Megan was alright after her first jump before returning to the line behind Stiles. Christy let Megan throw her a few more times before she decided that she wanted to jump, too. Christy!fox yipped at her mother.

“Well, go get your clothes,” Amanda said.

Christy disappeared into the grass and reappeared dragging her sundress and sandals.

“Oh my gosh, that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” Scott cooed.

Christy growled at him, making Scott jump in surprise. Stiles laughed.

They graduated from jumping off the tire to the boys tossing the girls through the air to see how far they could throw them. Stiles didn’t know why that seemed worse to him, but it did. Finally Lydia called out that the food Stiles’ dad and Ben had taken responsibility for grilling was ready. Scott immediately challenged the others to a race for the table that practically groaned under the weight of the food piled on it. The others took him up on it, and Amanda and Stiles were left in their dust.

“Will I be able to do that one day?” Stiles asked, thinking about the ease with which Christy had transformed, and how the girls had flown through the air, landing so gracefully (except the one time Christy had landed in a sprawl that had left Stiles biting his lip so he didn’t laugh out loud and risk Christy biting his ankles).

“Yes,” Amanda said. She gave his hand a quick squeeze, assurance and apology both, before releasing it to go off and help her daughters fix their plates.

The rest of the afternoon was spent eating too much, followed by complaining about eating too much and being wrestled to the ground by two girls who’d decided to call him Uncle Stiles even though he was just a few years older than Megan.

When the girls were busy with Scott and Isaac, who they’d taken a liking too (most likely because they were willing to toss them through the air), Stiles rested on the grass and watched to see how everyone else was getting along.

Stiles’ dad was talking to Henry Young, Amanda’s father. Probably grilling him on how to parent a newly turned werefox. Deaton was talking animatedly (as animated as Deaton got) with Caryn. Nearby Lydia and Allison had engaged Caryn’s girlfriend Sarah Crosby in conversation.

(Lydia and Allison had remained friends even after Allison had gone all psycho hunter on them. “You only lied to me,” Lydia had said in her blunt way. “You didn’t shoot me full of arrows and let your grandfather torture me.”)

Peter and Ben were talking, which was scary. Chris sat near enough to join in the conversation if he wanted to, yet far enough away to deny that he and Peter had arrived together, something Stiles wouldn’t have believed if he hadn’t seen it for himself.

Jackson sat off by himself. Years of being a douchebag were hard to throw off. Even after a year he found it difficult to admit he was part of their group unless someone was getting killed. Erica and Boyd sat together near Jackson, needing to be close to someone they considered pack, yet really only wanting each other’s company.

Derek sat on the top step of the porch, like a king on his throne, surveying his domain. Derek was alone, as he pretended to like it, but Stiles knew differently. Derek had surrounded himself with a family, though he hated to admit that he needed any of them. Stiles dragged himself off the grass and went over to plop down beside Derek. Derek, unsurprisingly, glared at him.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Stiles said lightly. “Am I intruding on your brooding time?”

“I’m not brooding,” Derek said.

“Of course you’re not.”

“I’m watching.”

“You don’t have to watch all the time.”

Derek didn’t answer.

Stiles stayed there beside Derek. Even though Derek didn’t speak, it felt comfortable. Of course Stiles couldn’t remain quiet, and since Derek was determined to do so there was a lot of silence to fill. So Stiles talked. Bemoaning the fact that he’d eaten too much and was yet considering going back for another cookie anyway, mocking Scott for getting beaten up by a little girl, listing the pros and cons of whether he should go out for football or soccer in the fall, which then made him wonder if the doctor would find anything different during his physical now that he’d been turned into a werefox.

Stiles kept waiting for Derek to tell him to shut up, but he never did. Stiles didn’t know what to make of that. Even his dad didn’t have that much patience with his continuous word vomit.

“You’ll be fine,” Derek said at last. “They don’t draw blood for a sports physical, so as long as you don’t sprout a tail while they’re making you cough, you’ll be alright.”

“A joke!” Stiles said, then added, “Great! Now that you’ve put the thought in my head I probably will, you know that, right? Also, I didn’t know you were even listening.”

“I wasn’t.”

Stiles elbowed Derek in the side. “Were too.”

Soon the gathering started to break up. The Canyon Run contingent of their new treaty had a long drive ahead of them. Stiles and Derek joined the others in saying goodbye. They helped load food and chairs into the backs of their vehicles. Derek shook hands with the adults (less out of politeness, Stiles thought, than to reemphasize his status as Alpha of the Beacon Hills pack). Megan and Christy both tried to climb onto Stiles’ back for a ride to the car.

Stiles waved as they drove away. Derek stood watching them with his hands in his pockets. They stood there for a few seconds after the others finally wandered away.

“You like them,” Derek said.

“Well, yeah, I guess. I mean, aside from the whole biting me and trying to kidnap me thing, they seem nice.”

Derek didn’t respond.

Stiles nudged him. “Why?”

When Derek still didn’t say anything, and his expression had turned constipated, Stiles said, “Dude, are you serious? You think I’m suddenly going to choose them and decide to leave my home, my dad, my friends . . . and everything, just because I had fun playing on the tire swing?”

Derek’s lips turned down, but he still didn’t say anything.

“Don’t worry, I’m not leaving.”

“I wasn’t worried,” Derek said.

“You so were worried. It’s understandable, man, I’m a catch.”

Finally Derek said the words Stiles had been waiting to hear. “Shut up, Stiles.”

Stiles laughed.

~*~

It had been two weeks since the night they killed Gerard Argent, and Stiles and Derek still hadn’t ‘talked.’ Not that Stiles was eager to have The Talk because he had no idea what he was even going to say. So, apparently my dad thinks there’s something going on between us? Or that there should be? Or will be?

The whole thing was just very confusing because, sure, Derek was hot, and Stiles wasn’t blind, but Stiles would never have had thought that Derek thought . . . not that he knew what Derek thought because Derek had neither confirmed nor denied . . . . Maybe he just hadn’t wanted to hurt Stiles’ dad’s feeling by setting the record straight. So to speak.

On the other hand, Derek had said talking would have to wait. If there wasn’t something to talk about he would’ve just said so. Unless he wanted to let Stiles down easily, assure him that his dad totally had gotten the wrong impression. But Ben had also said something about how he wouldn’t have bitten Stiles if he’d known . . . but known what?

Stiles pounded his fist on the mattress and scowled at the ceiling. He didn’t know why he was spending so much time trying to figure out what Derek thought when he still had no idea what he felt. Which is why he was really in no hurry to have The Talk, except how the longer they went without having The Talk, the more Stiles fell as if he had the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head.

Who Stiles had talked to, however, was Amanda McKellen. She’d stopped by to see him a couple days after the picnic and they’d talked for hours. She’d explained the transformation to him, how he could start it, what he could expect from it, and the things he could do now that he was a werefox. Stiles had tried to initiate the transformation while she was there, but nothing had happened.

“Don’t worry,” Amanda had assured him. “You’ll get the hang of it. You just need some practice.”

When she was leaving Amanda had told Stiles that Megan and Christy had been disappointed that they couldn’t come with her. She invited him to come to their home for a visit. “Bring your dad,” she’d said. “Or Derek.”

Stiles had only seen Derek twice since the picnic, once for a pack meeting and another time on movie night. Neither time were they alone for even a second. Not that Stiles had anything to do with that because he was not a coward. And that was enough thinking about Derek Hale.

Stiles sat up and took a deep breath. He recalled some of the tips Amanda had given him – breathing, clearing his mind, imagining the transformation. Which reminded Stiles of what he did when he used mountain ash, so it should’ve been easy, but so far Stiles was having no luck. Stiles closed his eyes and breathed. He cleared his mind of all distractions. He imagined the wolf, all sleek black and . . . shit! Obviously his mind hadn’t been as clear as he’d thought.

Stiles sighed and started over. This time he was going to do it, darn it, because he was not leaving this room until he’d managed to transform. And he had to start supper soon, so . . . Stiles breathed slowly and cleared his mind, centering himself until it felt like he was floating. He imagined himself as a fox, and then put a little more oomph behind it and believed.

Stiles thought he felt something happen, thought he felt different, but when he opened his eyes he still had two hands and two feet, not a paw to be seen. Stiles flopped back onto his pillow in disgust and defeat. He had to shift his head so his ear wasn’t bent over. Stiles froze for a moment, and then slowly reached up to the top of his head. His fingers closed on the tip of a silky soft ear.

Stiles raised his other hand. There was a matching silky soft ear on the other side of his head. Stiles touched the sides of his head and felt smooth skin where his ears used to be. He slid his hands up into his hair until his fingers encountered the silky soft ears again.

Stiles leapt off the bed and raced to the mirror. He gave a delighted laugh when he saw the pointed ears sitting atop his head. He turned his head from side to side, checking the ears out from every angle. They didn’t look like Scott’s ears when he went all wolf-y, but more like actual fox ears plopped down right there on the top of his head.

“I did it!” Stiles said, because it needed to be said. He’d done it! He’d finally done it. He had to tell someone. He’d call Scott. Text Amanda. He wanted to show his dad, and Derek. Wait, what?

“Okay,” Stiles said to the mirror. “I need my own ears back again.”

Stiles closed his eyes and imagined the fox ears gone and his own human ears back in their place. He opened his eyes and started at his reflection in dismay. The fox ears were still there. Okay, nothing to freak out about. Clearly he just needed to concentrate harder. Stiles took a deep breath and cleared his mind. He imagined the ears gone, believed his own ears back in their stead.

When Stiles opened his eyes nothing had changed. The fox ears still mocked him from their spot on top of his head. Stiles, however, wasn’t ready to admit defeat. A dozen attempts to get rid of the ears later Stiles decided that maybe now would be the perfect time to start freaking out.

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Stiles’ dad gave him a strange look, but didn’t say anything about the knit hat Stiles had pulled down over his head to cover the ears sprouting from the top (as well as to hide the empty space on the side of his head where his ears normally sat). It’s not that Stiles thought his dad would laugh at him, or even give him the resigned shake of his head he often got when he did something remarkably stupid. Stiles just didn’t want anyone to know how bad he was at this whole werefox thing.

Though if anyone would understand, it would be Scott. He’d been a terrible werewolf when he’d first been turned, but Scott’s problems had been different than Stiles’ were now. Scott had to learn how to control his anger so he didn’t change at the drop of a hat. Aside from that, the change had come easily for him. It was as if the wolf wanted out. It had taken Stiles days of practice to finally produce a measly pair of ears, and now he couldn’t get rid of the darned things.

Stiles had even been afraid to tell Amanda so he could ask for her help. He’d finally bitten the bullet and texted her. Hypothetically. What wld s’one do if they trnsfrmd a pr of ears & cldnt chg them back?

Amanda had called him back immediately. “You did it!” she said.

“Just my ears,” Stiles said as he stared morosely at the ceiling. “And now I can’t change them back.”

“It’s a start,” Amanda said, way too cheerfully in the face of the brood Stiles was working on. “It might be that you’re subconsciously nervous or worried about something,” she suggested.

“But I don’t feel nervous or worried!” Stiles protested.

“That’s why it’s called ‘subconscious’,” Amanda replied. “Don’t think about it,” she told him. “It’ll go away when you’re ready.”

I’m ready now, Stiles thought. Her current advice seemed even less helpful than breathing and clearing his mind (though he had to admit that had worked in the end), but Stiles didn’t say so out loud.

Scott did a double take when they got on the computer to game, but all he did was smirk and say, “Dude, bad hair day?”

Stiles had let his hair grow out some, but it wasn’t long enough that he could have a bad hair day that couldn’t be solved by running wet fingers through his hair. If he even noticed it without Lydia pointing it out. Stiles said, “Hey, I’m rocking this hat,” and it was forgotten.

Stiles slept with the hat on. Just in case his dad came into his room during the night. Showering the next morning was an unusual experience. Stiles had never had to worry about water in his ears before, but fox ears were not meant to stand under a spray of water. Stiles had to tip his head upside down to shake the water out. It tickled. And also made it seem as if he was hearing everything from underwater.

Styling his hair around the ears was also interesting. Stiles snorted to himself when he realized he’d used the term ‘styling’ in reference to his own hair. He didn’t normally even use a comb on it. He wasn’t even sure if he still owned a comb.

When Stiles got to Scott’s house to play video games, Scott wrinkled up his nose.

“What?”

“You smell funny.”

Stiles, used to werewolf senses, just shrugged. “I showered.”

“It’s not that.”

Later they went to Derek’s for a pack meeting. Stiles had finally convinced Derek that they needed to hold pack meetings even when there wasn’t some supernatural evil in town trying to kill everyone. Something he was kicking himself for now.

“Nice hat,” Lydia said the moment she saw Stiles.

“Thanks,” Stiles said, ignoring the sarcasm in her tone. Then, “What?” to all the werewolves who were looking at him oddly.

Erica moved closer to sniff him and answered for all of them. “You smell weird.”

“That’s what I said!” Scott said.

“You’re probably just getting used to the whole fox thing,” Stiles said.

“No,” Erica mused. “It’s not that. You smelled different then, but this is . . . . I don’t know, it’s still you, but different.” She shrugged, and then went over to claim the seat beside Boyd and nearest to the bowl of Chex mix. (She was a Chex mix snob and insisted on making it herself. Stiles had no complaints because it was really good.)

Lydia brought cookies from the bakery in town and Stiles brought chips and dip. Half an hour later the snacks were nothing but crumbs and the pizza had arrived. One might think that they would be too full for pizza, or sick of it from eating it every week. One would be wrong. They fell on the pizza like a ravening horde.

When they weren’t in the middle of researching their way out of having to run for their lives, they usually talked about school – upcoming exams, sports, the prom. How often Mr. Harris gave Stiles detention. Since it was summer break they got to hear about Lydia and Jackson’s interrupted vacation, the highlights Erica was thinking about getting, and the new car Jackson wanted.

Stiles usually kept up a stream of chatter about anything and everything. From a debate on the benefits of cooked pudding over instant, to the mating habits of lizards (which he’d been saving for a day Jackson really got on his nerves. He didn’t have to wait long.) Today Stiles was quiet. He responded when spoken to, but didn’t offer up any Stiles-isms.

When they started making sounds about heading home, Derek said, “Stiles, stay.”

Suddenly there were half a dozen offers to help clean up and Erica even offered to do the dishes they’d dirtied. Derek rolled his eyes when he realized that no one was planning on leaving until he’d had his conversation with Stiles.

“Stiles,” Derek said, and then walked down the hall to the bedroom, expecting Stiles to follow him. Stiles did. Derek ushered Stiles inside and closed the door firmly.

“What’s wrong?” Derek said, his face all twisted up as if he’d just bitten into a lemon.

“What makes you think there’s anything wrong?” Stiles said.

Derek’s eyebrows went up.

“I should’ve gone with ‘nothing’s wrong’, right?”

“You do realize that I can tell when you’re lying, right?” Derek countered. “But to answer your question, you do smell different, and you’ve barely spoken all evening. Even without the former, I’d be concerned just for that reason alone.”

“Funny,” Stiles said, but before he could say anything more Derek held up a finger to silence him.

Derek walked over to the door on silent feet and jerked it open. Everyone had been pressed so close to the door to better hear (even though Lydia was the only one who needed to), that they all fell into the room in a clump of bodies and waving arms. Erica straightened her clothes and ignored Derek’s glare.

“If you two are going to be doing the nasty, we want to know,” Erica said.

“What?” Scott said, sounding horrified. “No we don’t!” He looked at Stiles with an expression of betrayal. “You’re not, are you?”

For one of the few times in his life, Stiles was struck speechless.

“No,” Derek said. “Now give us the same privacy you would want when speaking with your Alpha,” he commanded in his Alpha-voice.

Erica swallowed hard and they all took a hurried step backwards. “Sorry,” more than one voice said, and, “See you later,” as they all vied to be the first one out of there. (They’d each been invited to have a one on one talk with Derek at one time or another. No one ever seemed the same after. Especially Derek.)

Once they were alone again, this time really alone – the house was almost eerily silent, Derek looked nearly as uncomfortable as the others had.

“Look,” Derek finally said, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m your Alpha now. Well, technically I’ve been your Alpha since you and Scott joined the pack, even though you never listen.”

“Hey,” Stiles said. “I listen. Sometimes. I listened that time you said you wanted walnuts in the chocolate chip cookies I was making.”

Derek frowned. “You wanted walnuts. I just said you could put them in.”

“And I listened!”

If Stiles thought the distraction would work, he’d been wrong.

“Things are different now. And as much as you might not like it . . . .”

Which Stiles interpreted as Derek not having much like for it either.

“. . . there may be things you need to speak to me about. And I will . . . do my best . . . to help you.”

“Wow,” Stiles said. “That must’ve been hard to say.”

Derek growled at him.

“Okay, okay, geeze!” Stiles said. “It’s really not that big of a deal.”

“Do I need to remind you that you’ve been quiet all evening?” Derek said. “Under other circumstances I might have considered a genie.”

“Oh, haha,” Stiles said. “But really, you’d wish for me to be quiet?”

“Stiles.”

“Fine! It’s just . . . it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to, you know, transform. I’ve been trying for days, following Amanda’s advice, and nothing. Then the other day something happened.”

“That’s good, right?” Derek said, frowning as if he wasn’t sure.

“Only my ears changed,” Stiles admitted.

“It’s a good start?” Derek said.

Stiles sighed. “That’s what Amanda said.”

Derek scowled, displeased at being reminded of, much less compared to, Amanda. “So what’s the problem?” he said. “Keep practicing. I could throw you into some walls if it would help,” he offered.

Stiles didn’t need to see the corners of Derek’s lips twitching to know that he was joking. Derek’s sense of humor was pretty bad. “Your sense of humor sucks,” Stiles said. “Besides, that’s not . . . that’s not the problem.” Slowly Stiles raised his hand to his head and pulled off the hat.

“Oh,” Derek said. He didn’t sound amused or disgusted.

“Do they look funny to you?” Stiles asked.

“No,” Derek said, the word coming out a little choked. “Can I . . . ?” His hands moved towards Stiles’ head almost of their own volition.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, feeling breathless all of a sudden.

Derek didn’t go right for the ears. He cupped Stiles’ face and slid his hands up. He pushed his fingers into Stiles’ hair before he finally let them touch his ears.

Stiles held his breath. He didn’t know what it would feel like to have someone else touch his ears. Turns out it felt pretty amazing, Stiles thought as he pushed into Derek’s hands.

“They’re so soft,” Derek said as he gently rubbed them.

“I know, right?” Stiles said, his voice a little high and breathy.

Derek removed his hands, almost reluctantly it seemed to Stiles. “You need to relax,” he said.

Stiles snorted. Right now he was caught between being so relaxed he couldn’t stand, and more turned on than he’d ever been in his life. Just from Derek touching his ears. Who knew that would be a thing that happened?

“Come on,” Derek said. He took Stiles’ hand and led him towards the bed.

“Um,” Stiles said.

Now Derek did look amused. “You need pack.”

“I just spent an entire evening with the pack,” Stiles protested.

“This is different,” Derek said. “Think of it as a concentrated dose.”

“Like pack squared? Or pack to the max?” Stiles said to cover his nerves as he lay down on the bed.

“Please stop,” Derek said.

Derek lay facing Stiles, which was different. He was usually the small spoon in these sorts of piles. Not that there was a pile. Just him and Derek. Who slid his hand behind Stiles’ head and pulled him closer, pressed Stiles’ face to his neck. Stiles wanted to say something sarcastic, but the words dried up in his throat when he inhaled and tasted Derek on his tongue. He made a sound that would be so embarrassing later, and snuggled in closer, as if pressing his nose directly to Derek’s skin would make the scent of him even better.

“Just relax,” Derek repeated as he rubbed a hand up and down Stiles’ back.

And surprisingly, Stiles did relax. Until he realized that Derek had pressed his own face to the top of Stiles’ head and was breathing in the scent of him, as well.

“Hey, are you sniffing my ears?” Stiles said groggily.

“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek growled. Oddly, it sounded more like a purr. Which Stiles would tell Derek never.

~*~

Stiles woke up with his head resting on someone’s chest, tucked up beneath their chin. Stiles had become somewhat accustomed to being included in various configurations of the pack’s puppy piles (so named because Derek got a tic in the corner of his jaw every time Stiles called it that). Usually it was just Scott and Isaac, rather than the entire pack, but the point was Stiles had gotten used to cuddling, and though he’d never admit it out loud, he kind of enjoyed it.

Stiles stretched against the warm body beneath his. Mid-stretch he recalled just who he’d gone to sleep cuddled up with. Stiles threw himself backwards, grateful that he landed on soft mattress and not the hard floor. He’d never before gone to sleep cuddled up with just Derek. In fact, the first time Stiles had been pulled into the start of a puppy pile by Derek had been the night he’d been bitten.

Stiles steeled himself and raised his eyes to Derek’s face . . . only to find Scott looking back at him, not even trying to hide his amusement. Stiles slumped into the pillow in relief. “You’re not Derek,” he said. “Thankfully. Because that would’ve been embarrassing.”

Scott chuckled.

“What are you doing here? I mean, not that I don’t like cuddling with you, but I go to bed with one man and wake up with another. It makes me feel so sleazy.”

Scott ignored Stiles’ ramble with ease born of practice. “Derek called. He had to do something and he didn’t want to leave you alone.”

“Oh, well, that’s nice. He didn’t have to do that. And neither did you, by the way, but thanks. Wait, what time is it?” Stiles looked at the windows, but the heavy drapes had been pulled and he couldn’t tell if the sun was up, but if Derek had to run off . . . .

“It’s morning, still early,” Scott said. “Your dad knows you’re here, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Stiles snorted. “I hadn’t even thought of that. Did he call?”

“Derek called him,” Scott said, his tone way too neutral.

“The two of them are getting a little too chummy for my liking,” Stiles said, earning him a smile from Scott.

Under the premise of getting while the getting was good, Stiles changed the subject. “I’m surprised Isaac isn’t here. I thought the two of you were attached at the hip these days.”

Scott actually blushed. “He’s waiting in the hallway for you to say it’s alright to come in.” At Stiles’ frown, Scott said, “Derek said only I could some in until you woke up and gave the okay.”

“Why would he . . . ?” Oh. Stiles suddenly recalled the reason he’d been force-cuddled by Derek. The ears. He reached up to feel for them under the pretext of running his fingers through his hair, putting it into some semblance of order.

“They’re gone,” Scott said softly.

Stiles froze, then slowly lowered his hand. “You saw them?”

“Yeah,” Scott said carefully, as if he was afraid he might spook Stiles. Then he smiled. “They were cute.”

“They are not cute,” Stiles automatically denied. “They didn’t look weird, or anything?” he asked, unable to keep from voicing his concern.

“No,” Scott said. “They didn’t look weird. I mean, it was strange seeing them on you because . . . .” Scott shrugged. “You’re not supposed to be able to sprout ears. So that’s going to take some getting used to, that you’re a fox now.”

“I’ve always been a fox,” Stiles said.

“Yeah, that’s not going to get old,” Scott said. “You know, you could have told me,” he said carefully. “Of all people I would’ve understood,” he added wryly.

“I know,” Stiles said. “I wanted to. I just . . . I thought I’d be better prepared for this. You know, if it happened to me.”

“You didn’t run screaming into the night,” Scott said. “So . . . .”

“Did it hurt when you got bit?” Stiles asked.

“An insane werewolf tore into my side,” Scott said dryly. “It hurt like hell.”

“Yeah, me too. I mean, I know it was just a little fox, but it felt like he had piranha teeth or something.”

“That’s something I don’t want to imagine,” Scott said. “Were-piranha.”

“Easy to kill on land, at least,” Stiles offered.

“Unless they’re like prehistoric were-piranha and they have little feet,” Scott said.

Stiles laughed at the image like he was supposed to.

“Look on the bright side,” Scott said. “At least you didn’t transform a tail.”

After Stiles was suitably horrified at that image (how would he fit a tail into his jeans?), he suddenly became aware of the heartbeat outside the room. “Tell Isaac he can come in now,” he said.

The door swung open before Stiles had finished speaking. When Isaac realized that he hadn’t waited for Scott’s invite, he froze. “Uh . . . .”

“Get in here,” Stiles said.

Isaac gave the door a push shut and then bounced onto the mattress. He manhandled Stiles into the middle of the bed and stretched out behind him. Isaac reached out to lay a hand on Scott’s hip even as he pressed his nose into the back of Stiles’ neck. “You smell better now.”

“Good?” Stiles said.

~*~

Stiles’ dad was sitting at the kitchen table with files open in front of him when Stiles got home.

“Hey, Dad,” Stiles said as he walked over to the fridge to get out the orange juice. He refused to slink in as if he’d done something wrong, even though he felt as if he’d done something wrong.

“Stiles.”

“Don’t you have a shift today?” Stiles carefully poured the juice and took a casual sip.

“Yes. I decided to do some paperwork at home where there were fewer distractions and interruptions.” His dad leaned back in his chair and pointed to the chair across the table from him. “Have a seat, Son.”

Stiles sat, a sense of dread suffusing him.

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?”

Stiles took the hat off his head and squeezed it between his hands. He took a deep breath and answered, “Yes.” He felt too guilty not telling his dad when both Derek and Scott knew. Stiles looked up at his dad’s face and saw an expression of . . . . “Dad, what’s wrong?”

Stiles’ dad tried (unsuccessfully) to clear his expression. “Nothing,” he lied.

Stiles raised his eyebrows.

“It’s not like I haven’t been expecting it,” his dad said. “I mean, I practically threw the two of you together. I guess I’m not as ready as I’d thought. Not that I don’t appreciate Derek calling to let me know you’d be spending the night . . . .”

“Oh my god!” Stiles said. “Dad! That is not what I have to tell you!”

“It’s not?”

“No!”

“Oh, thank god!” Stiles’ dad slumped in his chair in relief. “Not that I wouldn’t be completely supportive if it was . . . .”

“Of course not,” Stiles said, grinning and feeling lighter than he had in a while.

Stiles told his dad how difficult it had been for him to transform, though he’d practiced every day, doing exactly what Amanda had told him.

(“I knew there’d be problems from the moment you told me that you’d have to clear your mind.”

“No comments from the peanut gallery.”)

That he’d finally managed to transform, though it was just his ears. How excited he’d been, until he realized he couldn’t get them to change back.

“Hence the hat?”

“Yeah.”

“You know you don’t have to hide that from me,” Stiles’ dad said gently.

“I know,” Stiles said. “I just . . . I thought I’d be better at this than Scott was. It’s kind of embarrassing to discover that I’m not.”

His dad laughed.

“It’s not funny.”

“It sort of is.”

“You have a warped sense of humor.”

His dad just stared at him.

“Point taken,” Stiles acceded.

Stiles’ dad played with his pen before speaking. “I want you to be able to tell me things like this.”

“I know. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell just you. I didn’t want to tell anyone.”

“You told Derek,” his dad said softly.

“Derek made me,” Stiles said before he remembered who he was speaking to. “Not like whatever horrible thing you’re thinking.”

“Then how?”

Stiles recalled how open Derek had bene with him last night, making himself vulnerable to Stiles by practically admitting that as his Alpha, Derek needed Stiles to need him. Stiles didn’t feel comfortable exposing Derek, so he just said, “He was nice. It was like the anti-Derek, which kind of freaked me out and I ended up spilling everything.”

Stiles dad rolled his eyes. He knew Stiles wasn’t telling him the whole truth, but he didn’t push it.

~*~

“I need to what?”

“Learn how to fight.”

“But I don’t fight.”

“You will,” Derek said.

“But I’m just research guy! Who carries a bat. I don’t know how to fight!”

“Which is why you’re going to learn,” Derek said in an oh-so patient tone that still somehow managed to announce that Derek was losing his patience.

“I feel like we’re talking in circles here.”

“That’s because you’re not listening,” Derek bit out.

“Why do I need to learn how to fight? And don’t say ‘because I said so’.”

Derek clamped his lips shut.

Stiles snorted. “You were totally going to say that!”

“No I wasn’t.”

“Were too.”

Derek opened his mouth to say something (probably ‘was not’, which tickled Stiles to no end), then thought better of it and closed it. He started again. “You need to learn to fight for two reasons. First, so you can protect yourself. That will serve to free up someone else because no one will have to keep an eye on you. Second.” Derek actually held up two fingers in Stiles’ face to emphasize the point. “So you can help to protect your pack.”

Oh.

“There may come a time when we need whatever assistance you can offer. I don’t know if you’ll be as strong as a werewolf, or as fast . . . .”

“Hey.” Stiles felt obliged to defend himself.

“. . . but we need to find out what you can do so I know how to best deploy you.”

“Okay,” Stiles said, feeling kind of like a heel. Of course he’d been kind of, sort of a liability before, though he’d been awesome at research and was learning a lot from Deaton. As the human, he’d been the most vulnerable. (He was man enough to admit that he was more vulnerable even than Lydia.) “But I like being research guy.”

Derek gave Stiles a look, somewhere between amused and bewildered (which Stiles was used to), and maybe even a little bit fond (which he wasn’t). “You can still be research guy.”

“Aww, you do like me,” Stiles said.

“Don’t push it.”

Which is how Stiles ended up training with the rest of the pack, though Derek went easier on him than the others. “Just until we know what he’s capable of,” Derek said.

“Then will you throw him into a tree?” Boyd said, sounding more pleased about that prospect than he should’ve, in Stiles’ opinion.

“Hey!”

“Don’t worry, there will be plenty of throwing,” Derek assured him.

“Hey!”

Stiles almost missed Erica’s, “On the bed,” which she covered with a cough. Not well enough if Derek’s expression as he turned to her and beckoned her forward was any indication.

“Shit,” Erica muttered, but she gave Derek a wide smile and said, “Bring it on, old man.”

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For the next couple of weeks Stiles divided his time between training with Derek, training with Deaton, playing video games with Scott and Isaac, and practicing his transformation. The ears came easier now, though they still took their own sweet time deciding when to transform back. Stiles had stopped stressing over it and discovered that both Amanda and Derek had been right – the less he thought about it, worried over it, the more quickly the fox ears slipped away, leaving his own human ears in their place.

His dad did a double take when Stiles wandered into the kitchen for dinner one evening with the fox ears, but then he’d smiled so wide that Stiles thought his face might crack. It wasn’t an amused smile, which Stiles was prepared to shrug off with a roll of his eyes, but rather a grateful one. It gave Stiles a pang of guilt over all the lies he’d once told his dad to see him so pleased to be a part of Stiles freaky werewolf (and now werefox) life. He even thought he saw tears shining in his dad’s eyes. Like any normal teenaged boy, Stiles ignored them.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles said. “I’ve got fox ears until they decide to go away.”

“Can I . . . .” His dad made an aborted gesture towards Stiles’ head.

Stiles froze when he remembered how he’d reacted when Derek had touched his ears.

“I don’t have to,” his dad said, misinterpreting Stiles’ silence.

“No!” Stiles said. “It’s just, I don’t know how sensitive they’ll be. I mean, I’ve touched them, but . . . I should probably find out.” Stiles didn’t want to freak out whenever anyone reached for his ears.

His dad moved tentatively, sliding his hand over Stiles’ head as if he was going to ruffle what hair he had before gently touching the tips of his fingers to Stiles’ ear. Stiles giggled and jerked his head away.

“Sorry, sorry,” Stiles said through the last of his giggles. “That tickled. Do it a little harder.”

Stiles’ dad bit back his smile and touched Stiles’ ear more firmly. It felt nothing like when Derek had touched them (thankfully), but it still felt good. Like a nice shoulder rub after the first full lacrosse practice of the season. Stiles pushed into his dad’s hand. He thought that if he was a cat he might start purring.

The ears changed back during dinner. Stiles felt the same something he felt when he transformed the ears and saw the look of surprise on his dad’s face. Stiles reached up to touch the top of his head just to make sure they were gone. They finished eating as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

The next time Stiles showed up at Scott’s house with the ears Scott wrinkled his nose up when Stiles stepped past him into the house. His gaze fell on the hat Stiles wore and his expression changed to one of understanding. Scott just looked at Stiles as if he was a skittish kitten he could get to eat by just giving it his puppy dog eyes. It worked on kittens, Stiles had seen it with his own eyes. Apparently Stiles wasn’t immune either.

Stiles pulled off the hat and Scott’s eyes lit up, as if he was thrilled that Stiles had trusted him enough to show him the ears while he was conscious and able to make the decision for himself. It only took Isaac a moment to notice the ears when they carried drinks and snacks into the living room where he sat on the couch waiting for them.

“Ohhh,” Isaac breathed. “Is that why you smell weird?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Stiles said dryly.

Isaac flushed. “Sorry.”

“‘S okay,” Stiles said as he sat on the couch where Scott pushed him. “I’m starting to realize that you guys smell weird, too.”

Isaac looked offended at that. “No we don’t!”

Stiles snorted at the double standard and tapped his nose. “The old sniffer is more sensitive these days,” he said.

Isaac actually sniffed haughtily, as if Stiles’ nose couldn’t possibly be as sensitive as theirs. Wolves, Stiles thought. And spent the next couple hours being rubbed against (which sounded more fun than it actually was), until both Scott and Isaac were satisfied that they’d reestablished the status quo by making Stiles smell as much like them as possible.

Still, Isaac was the first to notice (even before Stiles felt the telltale tingle) when the fox ears transformed and left Stiles with his regular, human ears. “Oh,” he said, sounding regretful.

“I thought you’d be glad they were gone,” Stiles commented distractedly as he killed a zombie.

“I was just getting used to them.”

Stiles even stopped hiding the ears from the rest of the pack. He took some ribbing the first time he showed them, but it was good-natured. Stiles even preened when Lydia called the ears ‘cute’. Erica wrestled Jackson into a headlock after he made a snide comment about girls being cute.

“Kittens and puppies are cute,” Erica said after making Jackson cry uncle. “And Stiles’ ears,” she added with a smirk at Stiles after she climbed to her feet and brushed grass and dirt off the seat of her jeans.

Stiles even got so comfortable with the ears that he forgot to pull the hat back on when Scott’s mom came home from work one day while Stiles was still there. She’d stepped in front of the television to get their attention and ask what they wanted for dinner. Her eyebrows went up when she saw the fox ears, but all she said was, “That’s different,” and then went back out to the kitchen to order pizza.

“You didn’t tell your mom?”

“I didn’t think you were ready for people to know.”

Stiles thought about that for a minute. “I probably wasn’t.” He reached up and touched his ears. “I guess it’s okay now.”

That night they told Mrs. McCall about Stiles having been bitten by a werefox. The entire story came out in bits and pieces, between mouthfuls of pizza as each of them took turns telling it. She grew angry at the mention of Gerard Argent, annoyed that she hadn’t been invited to the confrontation, and surprised (which Stiles thought was probably deserved, but insulting nonetheless) to discover that Stiles had been targeted specifically because of his importance to the pack.

“Will wonders never cease,” she said, but she was smiling when she gently squeezed the back of Stiles’ neck as she walked behind his chair. “You guys clean up in here, I’m going to light a candle, pour a glass of wine, and soak in a hot bath.”

Isaac’s eyes shone with horror. “Why does she tell us things like that?” he complained to Scott.

“Yeah, TMI,” Stiles agreed.

“Because she knows it freaks us out.”

~*~

The one thing Stiles made sure to do was to imagine the full fox form when he attempted the transformation. He didn’t know if he could end up with a fox head on a human body, but it wasn’t a result he wanted to tempt. He was also paranoid about transforming just a tail ever since Scott put the idea in his head.

As much as he wanted to experience the full transformation, he was also a tiny bit afraid of it. He had no idea what he’d feel like if he was a fox. He was happy (well, more like relieved) each time he looked in the mirror and saw the pointy little ears sitting on top of his head. Until the day his luck changed.

Amanda had told Stiles that once he got the hang of it the change would become second nature to him. She’d also told him not to get cocky and to follow the steps she’d outlined each time without taking shortcuts. Stiles wouldn’t say he’d gotten cocky, exactly. Maybe lazy. Hadn’t, just this once, taken the time to completely clear his mind.

Stiles felt the change, which was immediately followed by a discomfort he’d never experienced with the transformation before. Something was digging into his butt and causing a sharp pain to radiate up his back when he moved just right. Stiles reached behind himself to see if he could pinpoint the cause of his discomfort. He froze when his hand encountered an unfamiliar bump at the seat of his pants, and then he scrambled to undo his jeans and shove them down.

As soon as his jeans were loose the discomfort subsided somewhat, but he wasn’t satisfied until he’d stood up and kicked them off, giving his tail room to un-kink. Yes, he’d just thought that. His tail. Stiles stood breathing heavily as he contemplated that. He reached back slowly, afraid to find out that he was right. Stiles’ hand encountered coarsely soft fur and he jerked it away. (His hand, not the tail, because that would probably hurt.)

Stiles darted across the hall to the bathroom where he could look at himself in the full-length mirror hanging on the back of the door. He slammed the door closed and flipped on the light, but shut his eyes to further put off the moment of truth. As long as he didn’t see it, he could still pretend that nothing untoward had happened.

Stiles slowly opened his eyes and stared at his face for a long minute before allowing his gaze to move lower. He stood perfectly still, but his tail (tail!) had other ideas. It curled around his hip as if daring him to deny the reality of it. Stiles turned to the side. The tail was bushy red and really quite pretty if he was being objective about it.

But he couldn’t be objective about it because there was a tail. Hanging off of his ass. He was going to kill Scott. Somehow this was his fault, it had to be. Stiles jumped when his dad knocked on the door and asked how long he was going to be because he wanted to take a shower.

“I’ll be right out!” Stiles said,. He cursed himself for not hearing his dad come home as he reached for the doorhandle.

Which is when he remembered that he wasn’t wearing pants. Stiles grabbed a towel out of the cupboard and wrapped it around his waist. He hoped his dad wasn’t standing outside the door because the tail refused to obey the commands Stiles’ brain was screaming at it and he was pretty sure the tip was peeking out below the edge of the towel. Stiles poked his head out into the hallway to make sure the coast was clear and then dashed back to his room.

Stiles closed the door behind him and then flopped disconsolately onto the bed, letting out a yelp of surprised pain when he landed awkwardly on his tail. He rolled to his side and punched his pillow before trying to bury his face in it. He couldn’t believe that he had a freaking tail. He’d been fine (well, mostly fine) with not being able to achieve the full transformation so long as he got something as cool and only minorly embarrassing as the ears. A tail was a different matter entirely.

Stiles knew that he was approaching this wrong. His head was not clear and he was definitely not calm. What if the tail took days to go away, like the ears had the first time? A tail would not be as easy to hide. And what if it never went away? What if he was stuck with a tail forever? Stiles felt himself sliding into a panic attack. He did his breathing, forcing himself to relax.

When his dad knocked on Stiles’ door a little while later to ask what he wanted for supper, Stiles said he wasn’t hungry. The sun had gone down when his dad knocked again to tell Stiles he’d made BLTs. Stiles still wasn’t hungry. He only moved to get under the covers when his dad returned to leave a plate outside his door.

“Stiles, is this about the werefox thing?” his dad said when he returned to remove the plate and saw that Stiles hadn’t touched the food.

“Yes,” Stiles admitted.

There was a pause, and then his dad said, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

His dad stood there for a minute, and then he sighed and walked away, taking the plate with him. Stiles felt bad that he was shutting his dad out again, but he couldn’t bring himself to do anything about it. Stiles lost track of time, lying there in the dark. He drifted until a sound at his window startled him. Stiles jerked his eyes up and saw Derek lurking just inside the room.

“What the hell, Derek!” Stiles hissed, though, really, he should be used to this by now. He didn’t want Derek sneaking in when he could see something that Stiles didn’t want him to see. Like a tail, for instance.

Stiles sat up on one hip, careful not to scrunch his tail. “What are you doing here? And why are you sneaking into my room?”

“Your father called me,” Derek said, sounding the slightest bit uncomfortable, and yet determined to do his Alpha duty.

“What?” Stiles said, the wind suddenly knocked out of his sails.

“He said he thought you needed me.”

“What? No, I . . . .”

“To talk to me,” Derek rephrased.

“I’m fine,” Stiles said stubbornly.

Derek studied him. Without a word he removed his leather jacket and let it fall to the floor where he stood. He sat on the edge of Stiles’ bed and removed his boots.

“What are you doing?”

“You know what I’m doing,” Derek said calmly.

“Yeah, no.” Stiles pushed at Derek’s back, but he was like a rock and refused to be moved.

Derek laid down on the mattress, one arm raised above his head to make room for Stiles on his chest.

Stiles blushed and shook his head. “No. I am not cuddling with you.”

Derek shrugged as if he didn’t give two shits either way. Which was almost as annoying as the force cuddling.

“It’s not as if you’re some, some magic elixir or something, and I’m just gonna breathe you in and everything’s gonna be fine.”

“I think you’d have to drink an elixir,” Derek said.

Stiles gaped. “That is not the point. The point is . . . .”

Derek grabbed the back of Stiles head and jerked his face down until it was buried in Derek’s neck. Stiles inhaled to get enough air to continue his rant. Instead he moaned when he breathed in Derek’s scent, and he tried to pull himself closer to Derek, as if he could get more of that lovely scent if he crawled inside Derek’s skin.

“I hate you,” Stiles muttered against Derek’s neck.

“Magic elixir,” Derek said, and Stiles could hear the satisfaction in his voice.

“Really hate you.”

Derek didn’t even bother to dignify that with a response. Stiles didn’t bother pretending that he was even going to try and get away from him.

After several minutes of just the sound of their breathing filling the room, Derek spoke. “You wanna tell me what’s wrong?”

“No,” Stiles said immediately.

“I can smell it,” Derek said gently. “The change. It’s not ears this time.” He rubbed the hand still cupping the back of Stiles’ head over the top of it.

When Stiles didn’t speak, Derek continued. “It’s not paws, or even just claws,” he said as he covered the hand with which Stiles clenched his t-shirt. “Which is a good thing because this is my favorite t-shirt.”

Stiles snorted, refusing to be embarrassed that he was clutching at Derek. “They’re all the same.”

“No they’re not,” Derek said. “This one’s the softest.”

Stiles had to admit, it was pretty soft.

“Unless you have paws on your feet now,” Derek said, poking a toe into Stiles’ shin.

“No!” Stiles said.

“There’s only so many more guesses,” Derek said. “Especially since your back isn’t all furry.”

Stiles huffed a laugh at that. He punched Derek lightly on his chest. “Don’t make me laugh. I don’t want to laugh.”

“You’d rather pout and feel sorry for yourself?”

“Yes,” Stiles said petulantly.

Derek shifted and Stiles immediately tightened his grip on him, afraid Derek was leaving.

“I was just getting more comfortable,” Derek said carefully, as if he needed to handle Stiles with kid gloves.

“I know that,” Stiles said.

Derek didn’t call him on the lie. Instead they lay there in silence until Stiles had to fill it, which was probably Derek’s evil plan all along.

“Tail,” Stiles said, whispering the word into Derek’s (admittedly very soft) t-shirt. “I have a tail.” Now that he’d started, he couldn’t stop the flow of words. “You can’t hide a tail like you can hide ears. And it hurts when I lay on it.”

“So don’t lay on it,” Derek said dryly. “And don’t try to hide it.”

“What, you mean I should fly my freak flag proudly?” Stiles said. “I’m not proud of it. It was a mistake.”

Derek stiffened beneath him. “Being a werefox . . . .”

“Not that,” Stiles said. “Though that wasn’t in my immediate plans, either. No, the tail. I wasn’t trying for a tail. I’m used to screwing up.”

He’d lied to his dad, happily done things he’d been told not to, was the reason Scott was even out in the woods to get bitten in the first place . . . .

“But I thought, if I ever got turned into a werewolf, which I didn’t want, not exactly, but I hang out with a bunch of werewolves, so what are the chances, right?” Stiles sighed. “I just thought I’d be better at it. I thought I’d be an awesome werewolf.”

Derek tipped Stiles’ head back so he was forced to look into Derek’s face. They stared at each other for a moment, the look in Derek’s eyes sending a shiver down Stiles’ back. “You are a . . . ,” Derek said before he was interrupted by a knock on the door.

Derek released Stiles and sank back into the pillow, somehow making himself seem small and unthreatening, even though he took up half of Stiles’ bed.

“Come in,” Stiles called. “It’s not what it looks like,” he added as his dad stepped into the room.

“Is everything alright?” Stiles’ dad said cautiously, taking in the two of them lying on the bed from the light spilling into the room from the hallway.

“Yeah,” Stiles sighed as he dropped his head back onto Derek’s shoulder. “I have a tail. No big deal.”

His dad dropped heavily into the desk chair, as if his legs could no longer hold him up. “A tail?”

“And no, I’m not showing it to you, because that would mean giving you a look at my bare ass. I didn’t show Derek either, if that thought concerns you.”

“I . . . . It didn’t before,” Stiles’ dad said. “So. A tail. Is that why you’ve been freaking out?”

“I was not freaking out,” Stiles denied, even though he’d totally been freaking out. “According to Derek I was pouting and feeling sorry for myself.”

“I’m surprised to hear that,” Stiles’ dad said. “I’d’ve thought a teenaged boy would be much happier about getting a little tail.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned into Derek’s shoulder. “Please tell me he didn’t just say that.”

“I wish I could,” Derek said.

“Come on,” Stiles’ dad said. “That was pretty funny.”

“That wasn’t even a little bit funny. It wasn’t even in the vicinity of funny.”

“You’re just mad because you didn’t think of it.”

“No, now I’m thinking of all the tail jokes Jackson is going to tell at my expense. I’m never leaving this house. Ever again.”

~*~

The next full moon was uneventful. Thankfully. The events of the last full moon had been enough to last Stiles a lifetime. He knew that wasn’t likely, given everything that had happened to them in the last year and a half alone, but it was worth sending the thought out into the universe in case there was anyone out there listening who might want to grant Stiles’ wish.

Ben had said that the moon didn’t affect werefoxes the same way it pulled on the werewolf, but Stiles still found himself influenced by it. He didn’t know if it was because they were pack, or if he’d feel the same energy off any group of werewolves, but it was as if he could sense their excitement. Not because he could see it or hear it, but because he could feel it.

Stiles couldn’t keep up with them as they raced through the woods, but he felt the strength in his legs, the speed he could reach even without the full transformation. Derek remained back with him even though Stiles said he didn’t have to. Derek just gave him a look. They didn’t talk after that, even though Derek didn’t shift to the full wolf form that night, just ran through the woods, excitement thrumming through their veins. The others still circled back to check on them, and Erica still brought Stiles gifts that made him want to puke.

When the night drew to a close Stiles found himself unable to settle down. The others had fallen into a puppy pile the moment they’d returned, exhaustion seeping into their bones as the moon released its hold on them. Derek found Stiles sitting on the porch, listening to the sounds of the night, watching the sky lighten.

“I thought you were with the others,” Stiles said, not turning around when he heard Derek’s familiar light tread.

“Couldn’t sleep without everyone there,” Derek said.

Stiles did turn around at that. He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You couldn’t sleep without me there?”

Derek shrugged. “You’re pack.”

“Mmm,” Stiles said, the lateness of the hour making him feel reckless. “Is that all?”

“Pack is important.”

“So is talking,” Stiles said, not knowing why he was bringing it up even as he spoke the words. “Are we ever going to do that? Talk?”

At first Stiles thought Derek wasn’t going to answer, but then he said, “When the time is right.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “And when will that be?”

“Not tonight. Come to bed.”

“Do you even see the irony in that?” Stiles said as he stood.

Derek’s raised eyebrow said, ‘No.’

“Can you even tell me what it is we’re not talking about?” Stiles said as he followed Derek into the house.

Derek’s only answer was to guide Stiles to the bedroom as if he’d never been there before. The bed was full, but somehow everyone made room as if they sensed the presence of their alpha. Derek pushed Stiles down on the mattress and curled himself around Stiles’ back.

Stiles wasn’t going to let it go, but now, with everyone else lying there wasn’t the time to discuss it. Stiles didn’t particularly want them to overhear, and Derek probably wouldn’t answer anyway, which would only make Stiles look pathetic. He’d make a mental note and pin Derek down about it later.

Stiles gave a sigh as he settled in to fall asleep. His sense of smell was more sensitive since he’d been bitten, and the scent of his packmates filled his nostrils. He could pick out each of them, especially Derek’s scent. Stiles didn’t know why Derek’s scent was the strongest. Probably because he was the alpha, and even as a werefox instead of a werewolf Stiles could sense that.

Still, Stiles didn’t see the others dragging the arm Derek had thrown over them up so they could press their noses to his wrist and breathe him in, which Stiles had done without realizing it. He thought about shoving Derek’s hand away from his face, but figured that would make him look even more ridiculous. Stiles consoled himself that at least he hadn’t licked Derek’s skin. It had been a near thing.

“You smell good,” Stiles said, feeling almost drunk.

Derek grunted a response, his breath hot against Stiles’ neck where his nose was pressed.

“Is it an alpha thing?” Stiles asked.

“Something like that,” Derek said, but he hesitated before he said it.

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“Wanna go to Canyon Run with me?” Stiles said one day at dinner.

His dad raised his eyebrows. Stiles wondered if he’d been taking eyebrow lessons from Derek.

“Amanda and Ben invited me out for a picnic. They said I should bring you.”

What they’d really said was, “Why don’t you bring your dad, or Derek?” When Stiles had reminded Amanda that Derek wasn’t a very social creature, she’d said, “Yeah, but it’ll help cement our alliance. Besides, he’s pretty to look at.” Stiles was trying not to think about it.

“Sounds fun,” his dad said, sounding as if he meant it would be anything but fun.

“You didn’t like them,” Stiles guessed.

“I liked them just fine,” his dad said slowly. “As much as I can like the man who attacked my son and planned to practically kidnap him.”

“It sounds so bad when you say it like that.”

Stiles’ dad just looked at him for a minute. “Does Derek know?”

“Uh . . . no?” Stiles said. “She just invited us, like, this afternoon.” When she’d called to see how Stiles was doing.

When Stiles had first admitted the tail incident to her, Amanda had been excited. “That’s a good sign!” Apparently it meant that he was getting closer to a full transformation. The next time Stiles transformed a tail he’d been less freaked out about it, though he still wasn’t able to let anyone (not even his dad or Scott, and especially not Derek) see it. One time Stiles actually transformed the tail and the ears, which made him wish it was Halloween. He’d have totally rocked that ‘costume’.

“Do you think you should tell him?”

“Why?” Stiles said.

“Look, I don’t pretend to understand the whole alpha thing and pack politics and treaties between packs, but don’t you think he’d want to know about you heading into another pack’s territory, even if you guys do have some sort of agreement with them?”

“Werefoxes don’t have packs like werewolves do,” Stiles said, wondering when his dad had started taking this whole pack business so seriously.

“Not really the point,” his dad said. “Give me the date and I’ll clear my schedule, but you need to let Derek know.”

“Fine,” Stiles said to humor his dad. It wasn’t like Derek would have a problem with it.

“No,” Derek said when Stiles told him about the picnic invitation the next time he saw him.

“What do you mean, no?”

“I mean no,” Derek said helpfully.

Not.

“That’s not actually helpful,” Stiles pointed out.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

“The why part,” Stiles retorted.

“You don’t need to understand why,” Derek said, wincing (to eyes that could determine the complexities of Derek’s seemingly single expression) even as he spoke the words.

Stiles gave a humorless laugh. “Yeah, no. You do not get to revert to the time when you being the alpha was the answer to every question.”

Derek struggled to find the words. He finally bit out, “I don’t want you going there without . . . protection.”

“You don’t trust them,” Stiles said slowly. “What am I saying? Of course you don’t trust them. You formed an alliance with them,” he said, as if Derek needed the reminder.

“It’ll take more than that for me to believe they’ll keep their word. They were part of a plot to kill you.”

“I haven’t actually forgotten that,” Stiles said. And even if he had, his dad had just reminded him of it the other day.

Derek’s expression said, ‘Really? Because it seems like you have.’

Stiles ignored it. “Wouldn’t that be . . . I mean, isn’t there, like, some huge penalty if they didn’t keep their word?”

“Yes,” Derek said. “I’d tear their heads off. But you’d already be dead.”

“Wait, you really think I’m in danger?”

“I’m not taking the chance and sending you into their territory unprotected.”

Stiles couldn’t lie, Derek’s paranoia was starting to affect him, but he refused to let it. “Well, then you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going alone. My dad’s going with me.”

“Not good enough,” Derek said stubbornly.

“He carries a gun,” Stiles said, exasperated.

“He’s human, he wouldn’t be aware of all the possible threats.”

“So what you’re saying is that I need to have a werewolf with me,” Stiles said, translating Derek’s words to get to what he was actually saying. Derek’s face got all pinched up and Stiles gave a laugh of disbelief. “So by ‘protection’, what you really mean is, I can’t go without you.”

Derek’s face said, ‘I don’t care how ridiculous you think I’m being, I’m the alpha and I’m putting my foot down.’

Stiles sighed. “Fine. Amanda said you were welcome to come, too, so I guess I’ll have my protection.”

Derek looked like he hadn’t expected that, which made Stiles chortle. Silently. On the inside.

“The picnic’s Saturday. We’ll pick you up at eight.” Before Derek could reply Stiles decided to get while the gettin’ was good. He couldn’t resist turning around to ask, “Does this make you my knight in shining armor?”

Stiles smiled as the sound of Derek’s growl followed him all the way out to the car.

~*~

Stiles waved goodbye until he lost sight of Megan and Christy, and then he groaned as he put the seat back. “I’m so full,” he complained, rubbing his hand over his distended belly. “I think I’m gonna burst.”

Derek’s only answer was the tightening of his already white knuckled grip on the steering wheel. Derek was driving because he’d told Stiles that he wasn’t riding for six hours in the Jeep, nor was he listening to Stile’s crappy music. (Not like Derek’s taste in music was any better.) And it was just the two of them because Stiles’ dad had ended up having to cover a shift for one of his deputies.

“It was fun, though, right?” Stiles pushed.

The steering wheel creaked ominously.

“The girls seemed to like you.”

The more Derek had scowled and growled at them, the more intrigued Megan and Christy had been. Derek had dropped his fangs once and Christy’s response had been to crawl into his lap and ask if she could touch them. She only subsided when her mother told her that she was being rude. That didn’t stop her from giving Derek her version of puppy dog eyes (which was even more potent than Scott’s) and begging him to, “Do it again.”

Derek took his eyes off the road to shoot a glare at Stiles, who just grinned back.

“The food was good, though. Too good.”

The smell of the leftovers Amanda had sent home with them was almost enough to make Stiles vomit at the mere thought of eating anything else.

“And it was nice of them to introduce us to their family.”

Stiles had been a little bit overwhelmed by the number of people present at the picnic. When Amanda had said ‘family picnic’, he hadn’t thought she meant that her entire extended family would be there for some kind of family reunion. Derek didn’t bother answering, not even a growl. Stiles fell silent and watched the scenery rush past. His stomach was full, and he was exhausted from the drive out, and playing with Megan and Christy, and meeting everyone at the picnic. Stiles let himself drift towards unconsciousness. He was almost asleep when Derek spoke.

“They were trying to fix you up with that . . . girl,” Derek ground out, making the term ‘girl’ sound like an insult. Like he’d rather have used another word entirely to describe her.

“What? Who?” Stiles said. “You mean Tanya?”

A growl rumbled low in Derek’s throat.

“No they weren’t,” Stiles scoffed. “And so what if they were? It didn’t mean anything.”

Stiles waited out the silence and eventually Derek broke.

“They’re still trying to take you away.”

“What are you even talking about?”

“That girl, introducing you to their entire family, making all of your favorite foods . . . .”

“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” Stiles said. “They were just being nice. There was nothing underhanded going on.”

Derek didn’t answer, which left Stiles to his own thoughts. In hindsight, Amanda’s pleased and knowing smile when she saw Stiles and Tanya still speaking minutes after she’d introduced them and almost immediately been (conveniently, Stiles now realized) called away could be interpreted as her putting the two of them together for nefarious purposes. If you were overly suspicious and paranoid.

The fact that she had indeed made all of Stiles’ favorite foods was just her way of making him feel welcome and comfortable. As was her father regaling Stiles with stories about Amanda and Ben when they were younger, including some of the issues Ben had when he’d first been bitten, and how Amanda had helped him through them and then gone on to teach her own children when they’d finally gotten around to giving him grandchildren.

And a distant cousins of Amanda’s, James, talking to Stiles about Stanford, and where Stiles might be thinking of applying in the fall. It could all be seen as an attempt to show Stiles what great care givers the McKellen’s were, and how the members of their family had grown up to be stable and productive members of society that weren’t tied down to a single pack.

If you had a suspicious and paranoid nature. Which Stiles didn’t. Still, the evidence for Derek’s point was adding up.

“Besides,” Stiles said, as if continuing an ongoing conversation. “It would be stupid of them to pull something like that right in front of you. Not to mention, rude.”

Derek gave a growl of agreement.

“And wouldn’t it be a violation of, well, the spirit of the treaty if not the actual, you know, words?”

Derek didn’t answer this time. Stiles didn’t try to fill the silence that fell. Still, his brain whirred, unable to quiet now despite the fact that he’d been close to a nap earlier. Derek had to be wrong.

Neither of them spoke until Derek pulled up outside Stiles’ house, and even then it was only for Stiles to ask if Derek wanted any of the leftovers (Derek’s eyebrows said he wouldn’t eat any of the food Amanda had prepared even if it was touted as the food of the gods), and to thank him for driving, though it sounded kind of lame even to his own ears.

Stiles put the leftovers in the fridge and then went up to his room. He sat on the end of his bed and turned his pone over in his hands. Finally he bit the bullet and found Amanda’s name in his contacts. He tapped his fingers on his knee as he listened to the phone ring.

“Stiles, hi,” Amanda answered the call. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Stiles said. “I just wanted to let you know we arrived home alright, and thank you again for inviting me out, and for all the leftovers, oh my god.”

Amanda laughed. “You’re very welcome. We were happy to have you. Everyone enjoyed meeting you.”

“Yeah, about that,” Stiles said with a nervous laugh. “Derek seems to think that you were trying to lure me away from . . . from Beacon Hills.”

“Not at all,” Amanda said, not even hesitating. “We know how much Derek and the pack mean to you.”

Stiles heaved a sigh of relief. “I told Derek that, but he was being all . . . .”

“We just wanted to show you that there were other options.”

Stiles’ tongue felt as if it had gone numb. “I . . . you what?”

“We just wanted to give you another option. If you needed it.”

“If I needed it? Another option? What does that even mean?” Stiles deflated. He felt as if he’d been sucker punched. “You know I don’t want to leave, right?”

“Yes, of course. But, you know, things change. And you’re a werefox now, which might make things . . . strained with the rest of the pack. We just wanted you to know you’d be welcome here if, well, if things became unbearable there.”

Unbearable? What did that even mean?

“Stiles?” Amanda said, sounding worried when Stiles didn’t answer.

“I have to go.”

“Stiles, are you alright?”

“I’ll call you later.”

Stiles disconnected the call. He let the hand holding the phone drop to his leg. He bowed his head and closed his eyes. “You might as well come in,” he said softly.

Derek slipped quietly into the room.

“You were right.”

Derek’s silence said that he was fully aware of that fact.

“I had no idea. Honestly, I . . . .”

“I know,” Derek said.

“You know I don’t want to leave, right?” Stiles said.

“I know.”

“What are you going to do? About the treaty, and . . . everything?”

“You’re not going back there,” Derek said.

Stiles wasn’t even inclined to argue. Which meant that something had to be terribly wrong because Stiles lived to argue. “No,” he agreed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think . . . .”

Derek sat beside Stiles. “It’s not your fault.”

“Is this why you didn’t want me to go in the first place?”

“No,” Derek said after only a slight hesitation. “Even I didn’t think they’d be quite so blatant about it.”

Stiles snorted. “Blatant, right. So that means you were being paranoid.”

“It’s not paranoid if they really are out to get you.”

Stiles opened his mouth to say something sarcastic, but Derek picked up his hand and the words died before they were even fully formed. Stiles could only stare, breathless, as Derek raised Stiles’ arm to his face and pressed his nose to Stiles’ wrist in a move that mirrored what Stiles had done the night of the full moon. Stiles’ heart raced as Derek inhaled his scent, and he made a broken little sound in his throat when Derek’s lips touched the sensitive skin.

At the sound Derek jumped as if he’d been goosed. He looked at Stiles’ wrist as if just seeing it for the first time. He dropped Stiles’ arm as if he’d been burned and practically threw himself out the window without so much as a ‘see ya later’.

It took Stiles a moment to realize what had happened. He groaned, both at what might have happened and at Derek’s disappearing act, and flopped back onto the bed. At a knock on his door Stiles made a sound that his dad took as an invitation to enter. He took in Stiles lying on the bed.

“Derek leave?”

Stiles rolled his eyes as he sat up. “If you call diving out the window and running away,” Stiles said with more emphasis than was strictly necessary, “then yes, he left.”

“Something happen?” his dad asked, as if afraid to hear the answer.

Stiles snorted. “Yes, but not what you’re probably thinking.” (At this rate, that was never going to happen.) Stiles thought mentioning the sniffing (and possible kissing) of his wrist was unnecessary, especially since his dad had visibly relaxed.

Stiles sighed. “Derek told me that Ben and Amanda were still trying to take me away. I told him that he was being ridiculous. I may have even thought he was being overly suspicious and paranoid.”

“And?” his dad said, lips twitching with amusement.

“He was right,” Stiles said.

“What?” his dad said, all trace of amusement gone.

“They weren’t trying for a snatch and grab or anything like that,” Stiles said, “but I just talked to Amanda and she admitted that they were attempting to show me that I had ‘other options’ . . . .” Complete with finger quotes. “If things didn’t work out here with Derek’s pack.”

“They pulled this stunt in front of Derek?” Stiles’ dad said, sounding both impressed with their nerve, and disbelieving of it. “Was there bloodshed?”

Stiles shook his head. “He didn’t even bring it up until we were in the car on the way home. It was a long drive.”

“I’m surprised he showed such restraint. If I’d thought they were trying to take you away, I don’t think I’d have been able to.”

“Yeah, well, it’s different with you,” Stiles said. “You’re my dad. You have to care of someone tries to steal me away.”

“Uh huh. Still burying your head in the sand, I see.”

“Denial,” Stiles said. “It’s a thing I do.”

Stiles also thought it was unnecessary to tell his dad that he wasn’t in as much denial as he claimed, and that there’d be less denial (or at least, less confusion), if Derek would just talk to him. What his dad didn’t know wouldn’t put that pinched look on his face.

“I’m not leaving,” Stiles said. “I mean, it probably goes without saying, but . . . I figured I’d say it anyway.”

“I’m happy to hear that.”

Stiles let his dad pull him to his feet and into a hug, which he returned just as fiercely.

“Next time you talk to Amanda, you might want to remind her that I carry a gun.”

~*~

Two days later Stiles found himself out at the Hale house. He hadn’t talked to Derek (much less seen him) since the picnic debacle followed by what Stiles was thinking of as naughty sniffing, especially if it propelled Derek out the window that fast. After the battle with Gerard and his merry little band of misfit werewolves, Deaton had finally convinced Derek to allow them to strengthen their defenses by renewing the wards that had been set years ago and were now failing from having not been maintained.

Deaton had been teaching Stiles how to do the wards and sent him to Derek’s place to put his training to practical use and set the first ward. The front door opened before Stiles reached the porch steps. Erica and Boyd tumbled out, laughing, while Derek lurked in the open doorway, arms crossed over his chest, staring at Stiles as if he was the harbinger of bad tidings. It could give a guy a complex.

“Deaton sent me to set the first ward,” Stiles said. “I thought we’d start with the place where Ben gained access to the property.”

“Erica, Boyd, show Stiles were Ben crossed the property line,” Derek said.

“Love to, Boss,” Erica said grinning, “but we’ve got to get to work. Why don’t you show him?”

Derek growled his displeasure, but he didn’t say anything as Erica and Boyd got into Boyd’s truck and started down the driveway.

“Well?” Stiles said.

Derek just stared at him for a moment, then stepped back into the house and closed the door behind him. Stiles huffed at the obvious dismissal. He pulled out his phone as he turned back towards Betty.

“Hey,” Stiles said as soon as Erica answered her phone. “Looks like Derek’s not going to be able to show me,” he said, trying not to sound like it had hurt to watch Derek close the door on him. “Can you give me directions?”

Erica gave a snort of disgust. “Are you serious? Alright, fine, whatever. It’s probably easier if you take the road rather than the woods, then, the same way Caryn and Ben did.”

“Makes sense,” Stiles said. He got in the Jeep and started it while Erica gave him directions.

Even though it was illegal, Stiles kept the phone to his ear as he drove, turning where Erica told him to. He pulled over onto the side of the road when he saw the tree that had been struck by lightning that she’d told him to look for. “Okay, I’m there, thanks.”

Stiles disconnected the call and studied the embankment he’d have to climb. Erica had forgotten to mention that little hurdle. Though, she probably didn’t think of it as a hurdle at all. He wondered if it might not have been easier to get there through the woods, after all. Stiles pocketed the cell and grabbed his messenger bag off the passenger seat. He stuck his head through the strap so it wouldn’t slip off his shoulder and jumped across the ditch. He scrambled up the slope easier than he’d thought possible and thanked his newly acquired werefox abilities.

Near the top Stiles’ sneakers let him down and his feet began to slip. He wondered if he’d have to attempt this climb again, only with more of a running start this time. Just as Stiles began to lose his grip on the grass he’d been using to help pull himself up, someone grabbed his wrist and hauled him to the top. It happened so fact that Stiles didn’t even have time to scream. The air whooshed out of him in relief and annoyance when he was finally standing back on his own two feet and saw Derek glaring at him.

“What the hell!” Stiles said, because Derek had startled him and he was still a little bit pissed off at him.

“You’re welcome,” Derek said dryly.

“What are you even doing here?” Stiles said as he took the bag off and looked around for the best place to set the ward.

Derek growled. “You said you needed someone to show you where this spot was. Why didn’t you wait for me?”

Stiles stopped what he was doing and gaped at Derek. “Wait for you?” he repeated in disbelief. “What part of you going back inside the house and closing the door on me was supposed to lead me to believe that you were going to bring me here? Especially since you did your best to pawn me off on Erica and Boyd?”

Derek shifted uncomfortably. “I just went inside to get my jacket.”

Stiles snorted. “Whatever, man, just . . . let me do this and I’ll get out of your hair.”

“I don’t want you out of my hair,” Derek said, quietly enough that Stiles probably wouldn’t have heard him before the bite, and still he managed to sound exasperated. As if any of this was Stiles’ fault!

“Could’ve fooled me,” Stiles said.

Since he was there being his usual creeper self, Stiles set Derek the task of clearing leaves and twigs from the space he’d chosen for the ward, and then he ignored Derek as best he could. Stiles mixed the powders and herbs he needed, trying not to think too closely on what he was handling, none of which was obvious because their names were misleading.

(Eye of newt, for example, had nothing to do with eyes in the physical sense at all, but referred to the toxin the salamander creature secreted, which, in the right dosage, allowed the user to experience visions. One of the powders Stiles was using for the wards, the rarity of which Deaton impressed upon him several times before letting Stiles out of the clinic with it, was called unicorn horn. Deaton had just raised an eyebrow when Stiles asked if unicorns were real. To this day he wasn’t sure if the powder was from a real unicorn, or if whoever had created it had just decided to fuck with everyone. Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if either case turned out to be true.)

Stiles imagined the pattern he needed, and then drew the lines, sprinkling the powder mixture with his hand. Once he’d laid out the pattern, Stiles set down the bowl and stepped back. He cleared his mind and thought only about what he wanted to accomplish. He pushed his belief into the spell. The wards flared and Stiles felt it along his skin, making his hair stand up like static electricity.

When he looked down, the powder lines had been burnt into the ground. As they watched, the lines faded and then disappeared. Stiles stepped over the ward. Nothing happened. Then again, nothing was supposed to happen. The ward would only activate if someone (or something) that meant Derek or the pack harm passed over the ward. Still, he’d hoped that he might feel something to let him know that it was working.

“Do you feel anything?” Stiles asked, breaking the silence and speaking to Derek for the first time since he’d begun preparing the ward.

Derek gave him a look. “What am I supposed to feel?” he asked suspiciously.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Nothing if you cross it, unless you’re feeling especially irritated and want to hurt someone. I just wondered if you could sense it with your super wolf powers.”

Derek’s expression of suspicion turned to one of ‘what are you, a moron?’ “Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose, if any supernatural creature could sense the ward?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “I guess it would. Stupid question.”

Stiles returned to ignoring Derek. He packed up the bottles of powder he’d used (because the mixture had to be freshly made) and then kicked leaves back over the cleared spot so attention wasn’t drawn to it. Stiles shouldered the bag and stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“Well, I guess I’ll let you get back to brooding and avoiding me. Sorry to have bothered you,” Stiles added sarcastically.

Derek jerked his head up and looked at Stiles. “You don’t bother me.”

“Really?” Stiles said. “Because it seems like I do.” Derek didn’t say anything, and Stiles did not miss the fact that Derek hadn’t denied avoiding him. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Stiles turned and stepped around the ward he’d just set. Instead of trying to go down the bank standing up and ending up landing on his face, Stiles put a hand down on the ground and went down on his butt. When he neared the bottom Stiles stood and bounded over the ditch. He set the messenger bag in the Jeep and brushed leaves and dirt off the seat of his jeans, silently promising Betty that he’d wipe off the seat when he got home. Stiles drove away without looking back to see if Derek was still standing there.

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“Do you want to talk about it?” Stiles’ dad said later that night.

“No,” Stiles said, and stared hard at the television screen.

“Okay,” his dad said, sounding almost relieved, and turned the volume back up on Jeopardy.

Stiles didn’t want to talk about it because he wasn’t that pathetic. Rather, he was that pathetic, he just didn’t want anyone to know it. He wanted to talk to Derek, but even that seemed pathetic, given how reluctant Derek was to talk to Stiles about . . . whatever it was they weren’t talking about. Maybe Stiles needed to figure that out first. Determine exactly what they weren’t talking about and decide if he really wanted to talk about it. Maybe it would turn out that he didn’t. And maybe pigs actually could fly.

Feelings, Stiles thought. He was pretty sure feelings were involved. Surface, attraction-like feelings. And maybe something deeper. Feelings of like. Intense like. The kind of like that made a boy think about cuddling, and holding hands, and maybe doing other things. But maybe Derek didn’t want that. Maybe he was trying to let Stiles down easy.

But Stiles’ dad had seen something. And Derek was being more touchy-feely lately, though that could have more to do with the bite than anything else. Except, if that was the case, then Derek wouldn’t be so evasive. He could talk werewolves (and presumably werefoxes), but the thing that tripped him up was emotions.

“Derek won’t talk to me,” Stiles blurted out before he could stop himself.

His father sighed in resignation and lowered the volume on the television set once more. “Didn’t you just see Derek today?”

“Yeah, but that was just to set a ward. No talking happened.”

“Okay. Uh. Derek doesn’t want to talk to you about what?”

“That thing that makes your face get all pinched up when you think about it happening,” Stiles said, and watched his dad’s face do the pinching thing. “Just like that.”

His dad forced his expression to smooth out and his face to lose the pinched look, but he still looked like this was the last conversation he wanted to be having. Stiles knew exactly how his dad felt because he was pretty sure this had to be the most awkward conversation they’d ever had, topping even the whole Werewolf Reveal of 2012 and the Sex Talk of Aught Eight.

Even so, his dad turned off the television and sat up straight in the recliner (which Stiles knew was not an easy task), and gave Stiles his full attention. “Do you want to talk to Derek about . . . the thing?”

Stiles almost smiled at his dad’s careful wording, but he was too nervous to fully enjoy his discomfort. And a bit to discomfitted himself. “Yeah,” Stiles said. “I think I do.”

His dad nodded, but his face was carefully blank. “When you say ‘talk’, you actually mean . . . ?”

“Talking!” Stiles said. “With words. It’s not a euphemism for . . . anything.”

“Okay,” his dad said. “I just . . . I know that I’m the one who actually brought this to your attention, and that if I hadn’t you’d still be blissfully unaware of . . . .” He sighed. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t said anything.”

Stiles barked a humorless laugh. “Sometimes I wish that, too.” After a moment during which they were both quiet, both probably imagining a return to that idyllic state, Stiles said, “Why did you? Tell me, I mean.”

“I’d just found out that someone wanted to kill you. That you’d been bitten by a werefox, which I didn’t even know existed until that moment, as a prelude to someone trying to steal you away from me. I was not in the best head space at the time and I said some things that, up until then, I’d managed to ignore. For the most part.”

“Huh,” Stiles said. “I’m sorry. That you were worried, I mean.”

“I’ve been worrying about you since the day your mother told me she was pregnant,” his dad said with a wry smile. “I don’t think that’ll ever change.”

“Yeah, but I bet you never imagined that werewolves would be on the list of things you needed to worry about.”

“No,” Stiles’ dad agreed. “No, that one was a surprise.”

Stiles hesitated, then said, “Was Derek a surprise?”

“Because he’s a guy, or because he’s . . . Derek?” his dad said.

Stiles huffed a laugh. “Because he’s a guy. I guess.”

“Given all the times you talked about the lovely Miss Martin, I probably should have been, but I really wasn’t,” his dad mused.

“What about because it was Derek?”

“That did throw me a little bit at first, and not just because he’s older than you are.”

“Then why?” Stiles said.

His dad looked thoughtful. “When we first met Derek, he seemed so angry and closed off. And even after we got to know him better,” he added wryly. “I should’ve know that you’d see that as a challenge.”

“But I didn’t!” Stiles aid. He hadn’t really put any thought into whatever kind of relationship he was developing with Derek at all.

“Plus you’re a natural born caretaker. And if anyone needed someone to take care of them, it’s Derek Hale.”

“He doesn’t need . . . . It wasn’t . . . .” Stiles sighed. “Alright, fine, he totally needs someone to keep him from being such a sourwolf all the time, but that’s not what I was doing. At least, not intentionally.”

“Subconsciously, maybe?”

“It’s just, he’s going to get premature wrinkles if he keeps scowling like that,” Stiles said.

His dad smiled. “You care about him.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Stiles said. “He just . . . he sort of grows on you. I guess. Do you like him?” Stiles asked, not really sure where the question came from.

His dad opened his mouth to speak, closed it, then started again. “God help me, I think I do.”

Stiles couldn’t help laughing at the expression on his dad’s face.

“I think I understand where he’s coming from, the loss he experienced. I respect what he’s trying to do for those kids, even if I don’t approve of his methods. But more importantly, I trust him to keep you safe.”

“Wow,” Stiles said.

His dad shrugged, as if practically giving Derek his blessing was no big deal.

“Derek’s been hurt before,” Stiles said.

When he’d learned the full story behind what Kate had done to Derek, Stiles had been . . . well, let’s just say that Stiles had asked Deaton if there was a way to bring someone back to life because he wanted to make Kate Argent’s second death as slow and painful as possible. As much as Stiles was not a fan of Peter Hale, he thought that Kate had gotten off way too easy at Peter’s hands.

“Do you think he’s afraid that I might hurt him like that?”

Stiles’ dad’s eyebrows went up. “No, Stiles, no. I don’t think that’s Derek’s concern.”

“Then what?” Stiles said.

“If anything, he’s probably afraid he’ll hurt you.”

“What? Why would he . . . ? No, wait, what am I thinking, of course he’d be all noble and shit. Stuff. He would never hurt me,” Stiles said. “Why would he think . . . ?”

“I can’t answer for Derek, but I can tell you what I think. You’re seventeen years old. I know that you don’t think of yourself as a child anymore, especially with everything you’ve been through in the last year or so, but to me you will forever be the tiny, red-faced, squealing baby that the nurse put in my arms. And Derek knows that you’re still in high school, he knows that you’re smart and could go to any school in the country, he knows that you’ve still got your whole life ahead of you. Have you thought about what it means to . . . .” Here his dad paused. “To be in a relationship with a werewolf, and an alpha at that?”

“Have you?” Stiles said, kind of shell-shocked at all the information his dad had just thrown at him.

“More than I care to admit,” his dad said dryly.

“Huh,” Stiles said again. He hadn’t thought about that. Derek could be afraid of tying Stiles down. It would be just like him to not let Stiles in on the decision-making process even though Stiles would be very much affected by said decision. On the flip side, though, was Derek being hurt if Stiles decided to leave for college or whatever after they’d started seeing each other. Only Derek probably didn’t realize that fear was guiding his actions. Or maybe he did and he just couldn’t help it. Stiles certain had a lot to think about now.

“Thanks,” Stiles told his dad. “I know this wasn’t fun for you.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” his dad said, but Stiles didn’t hear the television turn back on until several minutes after he reached his room.

~*~

The next day Stiles turned into a fox. He was so surprised that he tried to get off the bed where he’d been lying and, unused to having four legs now instead of two, he got his paws caught in the comforter and tumbled to the floor. Luckily Stiles hadn’t shut his bedroom door since his dad was at work and he didn’t need the privacy, so he rushed (as quickly as he could when he kept tripping over his own feet) to the bathroom so he could check himself out in the mirror.

Stiles nudged the door away from the wall with his muzzle, careful not to let it close all the way. He did not want to be stuck in the bathroom until his dad got home from work. Stiles sat on his haunches and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He was red. He’d sort of expected that he would be, given the color of his ears. And his tail. But it was strange to see that he was mostly red all over. And furry. At least the ears and tail didn’t look quite as strange in this form as they had when he was human.

Stiles turned his head from one side to the other, checking out his profile. He wondered if he would be considered a handsome fox? He leaned in close to the mirror, studying his muzzle, his eyes, and his ears. He pulled his lips back to bare his teeth. They looked sharp. Sharp enough, maybe, to give Scott a run for his money. Sharp enough, certainly, to tear into a rabbit and . . . .

No. That was not going to happen. Because Stiles wasn’t actually a fox. Well, technically he was at the moment. But he was human. Mostly. Or at least most of the time. The point was, he wasn’t going to let himself be controlled by the fox part of himself. Even if he hadn’t yet eaten breakfast and rabbit sounded pretty good right about now.

Stiles spent some time exploring the rest of his new form. He turned his back to the mirror and peered over his shoulder to admire his tail, which appeared pretty impressive now that it was paired with a fox body. He nosed at his paws, flexing his toes and studying his claws. He checked out other things – because he was a guy – and yep, still a guy. Fox. Guy fox.

Stiles nudged the door back open and padded out into the hallway. He was a little steadier on his feet, but it was a strange sensation to walk on four legs instead of two. It didn’t come natural, and he kept getting messed up. The last thing he wanted was to look foolish in front of anyone (Derek), so Stiles decided to use the time he had before he transformed back to his human form to practice walking, using the upstairs hall as his own personal runway.

Stiles picked up walking without tripping over his own feet pretty quickly. He moved on to trotting, and then running. He couldn’t work up too much speed because the hallway wasn’t long enough for that, but he discovered that it was really fun to get a running start and hop on the throw rug and ride it to the other end of the hall, where he usually tumbled off or banged into the wall, the rug bunched up beneath him.

Stiles caught the corner of the rug between his teeth (it tasted pretty gross, but it was the only option he had since nature (or rather super-nature, heh) had seen fit to divest him of opposable thumbs) and dragged it back into place for another ride half a dozen times before he got bored with it. It wasn’t as much fun alone, and besides, stairs.

Stiles stood at the top of the stairs and contemplated them. They looked a lot longer in this form. But how hard could it be? he thought. Dogs could do it. Stiles reached down tentatively with one front paw before pausing (heh!) to decide his next step. Literally. (He was killing the puns in this form!) Stiles brought his other paw down to reach the next step, but realized that he was stretched uncomfortably, so he carefully brought his back paw forward as well. That felt better.

Stiles brought his first paw forward along with its corresponding back paw. Then the other side. Once he felt more comfortable and had a good rhythm going, Stiles picked up speed. He was just congratulating himself on a job well done when he mis-stepped and tumbled down the last two steps. Stiles got up and shook himself before growling at the steps. Now he knew why Derek did that all the time. It felt great!

Stiles wandered around the downstairs, exploring and poking his nose into things. He didn’t stay in the kitchen very long despite the lure of food because the garbage stunk to high heaven. He couldn’t believe they could stand it even with human senses, and surely his sense of smell now that he was a werefox, even in human form, should’ve been able to pick that up. He made a note to take out the trash as soon as he got his hands back.

Stiles sniffed every corner (and even found the game controller he’d misplaced a while back). Eventually even that got boring, and it turns out that dust bunnies made him sneeze. Stiles considered going outside, but he didn’t want anyone to see him. He wasn’t sure if he would be as stealthy as Derek yet, and besides, all the doors and windows were firmly shut and locked. Yeah, he’d checked.

Stiles figured that the best place to wait out the transformation would be his bedroom. He navigated the stairs (it was easier going up than coming down had been), and trotted into his room. Stiles jumped up on the bed, one back paw sliding off the edge of the mattress because he’d misjudged the distance. He stuck his claws through the comforter scrabbling to get his back paw up, and then spent a few seconds extricating his claws from the material.

Stiles turned in circles and pawed at the comforter before plopping down and settling his muzzle on his front paws. If Derek could see me now he’d be rolling on the floor, Stiles thought.

Stiles closed his eyes, hoping that he’d wake up human again after a nap. Five minutes later Stiles’ eyes were open again. He couldn’t relax enough to sleep, his mind churning with thoughts of remaining in fox form for days, maybe even forever. Stiles felt his heart pound and his chest grow tight, and he wondered if foxes could have panic attacks.

Stiles knew better, he really did. He’d become proficient at least with the ears and tail. But each time something new and different happened it was like starting all over again. Stiles wished that he could take everything in stride, that he could be unflappable, but he was very much with the flapping right now.

Suddenly the house seemed constricting and Stiles, who wasn’t normally given to claustrophobia, wanted nothing so much as to be outside under the open sky, breathing in the fresh air. Unfortunately, he’d already investigated the downstairs and discovered that all the doors and windows were closed. There was no way out unless he threw himself at a window, which he didn’t want to do for several reasons, the least of which was having to explain the circumstances of the broken glass to his dad.

Still, something had to be done because Stiles was still (again?) having difficulty breathing. His gaze caught on his own open window. Stiles tilted his head as he considered it. Derek did it all the time. How hard could it be? Stiles jumped off the bed and trotted over to the window. He put his front paws on the sill and looked out. The ground looked awfully far away. Maybe it looked farther than it actually was?

Stiles hauled himself up and balanced on the window sill as he considered his options. There was a tree. If he could jump onto a limb his leap to the ground would be shorter than if he jumped directly to the ground from his window. After another look towards the ground, he decided that’s what he was going to do. Stiles gathered his nerve and leapt. He landed awkwardly on the limb, flat on his belly with his legs sort of hugging it. Stiles tried to get his feet in under him for the final leap to the ground.

He scrabbled for purchase when he lost his balance and started to slip. Gravity won the battle and Stiles dropped to the ground with a startled yip and a thud that knocked the breath out of him. Stiles took a moment to recover – he didn’t want to take too long in case the noise he’d made drew someone’s attention. He rolled to his belly and got his feet under him. He shook himself, as if he could shake off the experience as easily as he resettled his fur.

Now that he was outside Stiles didn’t know what to do. The important thing had been to get out of the house, but now that he wasn’t feeling claustrophobic anymore, and he’d achieved some measure of success (he was out of the house and on the ground, how it happened was less important than the fact that it had actually happened. That was his story and he was sticking to it), Stiles remembered all the reasons it was a bad idea to be out there. Namely, all the people who might see him and put in a call to animal control. Stiles would never live it down if he got captured the first time he transformed into a fox.

Which meant he had to go someplace where he wouldn’t be seen. He could always hide under the porch. He’d heard of foxes creating dens under porches. One of their neighbors had even complained about it one year. Or he could hide in the tree line behind the house. The problem with either choice is that he’d still be alone with his own brain. He could already feel his heart, which had slowed down after his escape, start to speed up again. Alone was not the best option right now.

His dad was at work, and even if he recognized Stiles in this form, he couldn’t let the other deputies see him. That only left one place where Stiles could go, where he’d feel safe, and where (as much as he hated to admit it), he had a better chance of transforming back more quickly than if he stayed here and moped.

Stiles didn’t know how to get to Derek’s house if he went through the woods, and he didn’t want to get lost, so he’d have to stick as close to the road as he could. Stiles shuddered at the unbidden image of him transforming back in the middle of the woods and being without his phone, and more importantly, any clothes. With that in mind, getting to Derek’s quickly became even more of an urgent matter.

Stiles stayed in the tree line behind the houses until he got further out of town. He moved closer to the road, but still remained hidden in hedgerows and the woods. The trip to Derek’s took longer than it should have because Stiles kept getting distracted. He tried not to, but everything smelled so much more strongly, and even the sound of the wind in the leaves was interesting enough to stop and listen to.

The sound of a car backfiring sent Stiles bolting the rest of the way to Derek’s house, his heart racing even after he realized that the sound hadn’t been a gunshot. Stiles yapped in fear and warning as he dashed across the yard and towards the house. Scott, completely wolfed out, opened the front door and growled his own warning at Stiles. Stiles only hesitated a moment before scampering up the porch steps and darting past Scott and into the house.

Where he immediately had to navigate the legs of the rest of the wolfed out pack. The sight of his friends all growling at him scared Stiles, but he didn’t hesitated to race to where his nose told him Derek was. Stiles skirted the coffee table and bounded up onto the couch. He scrambled across Derek’s lap (stepping dangerously close to his business if the grunt of displeasure he got in response was any indication) and dove into the small, nearly nonexistent space between Derek and the arm of the couch, wriggling and squirming until all of him was safely hidden behind Derek.

Derek growled (Stiles felt the vibration of it and pressed himself even closer to Derek’s back), and the betas immediately fell silent. “Stop growling. You’re scaring him.”

Scott was the first to speak. “Is that Stiles?”

“Who did you idiots think it was?”

Stiles poked his nose up over Derek’s shoulder and peered at Scott, who gave him a sheepish wave.

“Sorry,” Isaac said. “He just caught us off guard.”

“Yeah,” Erica said dryly. “Because Scott panicked.”

“I did not panic!” Scott said. “I thought we were being attacked!”

While Scott and Erica bickered, with the others occasionally weighing in, Stiles turned his attention to Derek. Who was nice and warm. And who smelled really good. Stiles touched his nose to Derek’s neck and breathed him in.

“Are you okay?” Derek said softly, not commenting on the fact that Stiles had just copped a sniff.

Stiles made a sound that Derek took as an affirmative.

“You can stay back there as long as you need,” Derek said. “But you know they’re not going to hurt you, right?”

Stiles made a little huff and tucked himself into a little ball behind Derek. It probably wasn’t comfortable for Derek, but he didn’t say anything to Stiles.

“Stop arguing and watch the movie,” Derek told the others. Stiles heard the page of Derek’s book turn and he knew that Derek had resumed reading.

Stiles hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but when he woke up he was still hidden behind Derek (and still in fox form, thank goodness, because that would’ve been embarrassing). Stiles wiggled until he emerged from his hiding place and was sitting between Derek and the couch arm. Derek looked down at him but didn’t speak. Stiles nudged Derek’s arm until he raised it so Stiles could scoot under it. He leaned against Derek’s side and waited for Derek to lower his arm.

Derek returned to reading, but the others were ignoring the movie in favor of staring at them. Well, staring at Stiles. A sound rumbled low in Derek’s chest and the others immediately turned back to the television and pretended they hadn’t been staring, and weren’t even now straining their senses. Stiles hid his laugher in Derek’s chest and when he glanced up there was a distinct curve to the corner of Derek’s lips. Ah, yes, it was good to be king. Stiles would have to remember to call him on that later.

Stiles licked Derek’s face. Just because he could. Derek grimaced and pushed Stiles’ head away. Stiles caught Derek’s arm between his paws and closed his teeth on Derek’s fingers. He nibbled on them without breaking the skin. When he got tired of that he licked each of Derek’s fingers and his palm, and then sniffed him. Satisfied, because now Derek smelled like him, Stiles plopped down on Derek’s lap and used Derek’s hand as his security blanket.

Stiles expected Derek to complain about having Stiles curled up on his lap, even if he was smaller in this form. Or at least for having his hand coopted. Instead he actually scritched at Stiles’ throat, which was the only place his fingers could reach given the way Stiles was clinging to his hand. Stiles would’ve protested the undignified treatment if it hadn’t felt so good. (Besides, curling up on Derek’s lap probably didn’t give him much of an argument with respect to dignity.)

Stiles made a happy sound in his throat and rolled over to give Derek better access. Derek chuckled.

“I should’ve known you’d enjoy this.”

Stiles wanted to say, ‘You started it,’ but since he couldn’t, contented himself with grabbing Derek’s finger between his teeth and chewing on it a little bit.

Derek gently cuffed the side of Stiles’ head for the temerity, and then returned to rubbing his belly. Eventually Stiles curled back up into a little ball, tucking his tail in because Scott had been showing undue interest in it, and Derek returned to his book.

Stiles drowsed, the sounds of his friends’ voices, and the movie they weren’t watching as much as they were watching Stiles, a soothing background noise. The door opened and Stiles didn’t move. He knew it was Lydia and Jackson before either of them spoke. He didn’t know how he knew, but he didn’t question it.

“Oh, is that Stiles?” Lydia said as soon as she caught sight of him.

“How did you know that?” Scott said.

Stiles couldn’t see it, but he could imagine the look Lydia gave Scott. “What other fox would be curled up on Derek’s lap?”

Stiles slitted his eyes open when Lydia came over to the couch and crouched down so she could look into Stiles’ face.

“Hi,” Lydia said. “You finally did it, huh?”

In answer Stiles licked her nose.

Lydia looked startled for a moment (and everyone in the room held their collective breath), and then she laughed. “Just for that I’m going to scratch your ears.” Lydia wiped the back of her hand across her nose to remove fox saliva and then gently dug her fingers into the top of Stiles’ head and around his ears. Stiles stretched out under her ministrations and made a purring sound that startled himself.

Derek gave Stiles a little poke in the side. “Greedy little glutton,” he said.

In response Stiles rolled and kicked the book out of Derek’s hand, and then pawed at his now empty hand.

“I was reading that,” Derek said.

Stiles played dumb and stretched out so both Lydia and Derek could rub him.

“Don’t get used to it,” Derek growled, but he rubbed Stiles’ belly so Stiles considered it a win.

Scott finally worked up the courage to come over and hold his hand out to Stiles. Stiles wasn’t sure if Scott expected him to sniff his fingers like a dog (Stiles wondered if he was going to have to stop making dog jokes now),but Stiles licked them instead. It was the right thing to do because Scott smiled as if he’d just killed a troll and gained a magic sword. He tentatively stuck his fingers in Stiles’ fur and Stiles was in heaven.

For about two minutes. Which is when he suddenly felt a strange tingle. Stiles froze. He stared at Derek for a second. Stiles scrambled to his feet and leapt over the coffee table. Everyone made sounds of surprise and tried to get out of his way. Stiles heard Derek tell everyone to give him some space, but Stiles was too frantic to appreciate it.

Stiles’ nails slipped on the hardwood floor and it seemed to take him forever to reach the privacy of Derek’s bedroom. And just in time, because no sooner had Stiles dashed through the open doorway than he lost a step and tumbled to the floor, human again. Stiles stretched out on his back and dropped his head against the floor as he stared at the ceiling and just breathed.

Stiles rolled to his knees and stood up. He wobbled, but made it over to the bed without falling. He’d just gotten used to walking on four legs and now he had to remember how to walk on two. A sound in the hallway had Stiles grabbing for the nearest cover, which turned out to be one of Derek’s pillows. Stiles faced the open doorway and was not surprised in the least to see Derek appear.

Derek’s eyes slid over Stiles’ barely concealed nakedness, and then met his eyes. Stiles didn’t know why Derek looked a little bit embarrassed when Stiles was the one without any clothes. Unfortunately, he also looked a little bit amused at Stiles’ expense, and a lot concerned.

“I’m fine,” Stiles said before Derek could ask. It came out a little husky since he hadn’t spoken for a while. “I could use some clothes, though.”

There was a trace of amusement in Derek’s eyes, and something else Stiles couldn’t place. Or was too afraid to.

Derek stepped inside the room, and closed the door behind him. He moved over to his dresser and pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. He pressed them to his face and slid them through his hands before tossing them to Stiles.

“Dude, did you just scent mark the clothes you gave me to wear?” Stiles said as he dropped the pillow and stepped into the sweat pants.

“No,” Derek said. Stiles was pretty sure he was lying, but Derek had politely turned his back for Stiles to get dressed so he couldn’t tell for sure.

“Alright,” Stiles said after he pulled the t-shirt (that smelled like Derek) over his head.

Derek turned around and looked at Stiles. His expression made Stiles feel like Derek might jump him at any second. Derek dragged his eyes away from Stiles and the moment was broken. Stiles sighed.

“You know why I came here today, to you?” Stiles said. “When I was . . . .”

Derek didn’t say anything, just stared at Stiles as he waited for him to continue.

“Because I trust you. To keep me safe, to make everything better.” Stiles shook his head. “I don’t even know. I just . . . I just wish you trusted me.”

When Derek didn’t have an answer for him, Stiles started for the door. Stiles didn’t even see Derek move before Derek was right there beside him, holding Stiles’ hand in his, raising his arm and pressing his nose to Stiles’ wrist.

“I do trust you,” Derek said.

“It doesn’t feel like you do,” Stiles said.

“I trust you as much as I trust anyone,” Derek said, sounding almost annoyed.

Stiles snorted. “High praise?”

“It is,” Derek said, tightening his hold on Stiles’ wrist as if Stiles had tried to pull it away.

“Then why won’t you talk to me?” Stiles said.

Derek glared at Stiles’ wrist. “You don’t understand.”

“Then tell me.”

It was one of the most difficult things he’d ever done, but Stiles remained silent and waited Derek out.

“I want . . . too much,” Derek finally said, speaking the words as if he was struggling to find the right ones.

“You’re allowed to want things, to have things,” Stiles said.

Derek growled and shook his head. “No, that’s not . . . I want with every part of me.”

Derek looked at Stiles as if to gauge whether Stiles was getting it.

“And what?” Stiles said gently,. “You think that’s going to scare me away, or something?”

When Derek didn’t say anything Stiles knew he was right. “You do. You think you’re going to scare me away. Don’t you realize that, if I haven’t been scared away by all the growling and running for our lives, I’m not going to be scared away by, you know, the good stuff I could be getting out of this.”

“You don’t know what you’re getting into,” Derek said.

“Maybe not,” Stiles said, “but I’m pretty good at figuring things out as I go. And there is one thing I know.”

Derek looked suspicious, but he said, “What?”

“You like me.”

Derek rolled his eyes.

“You do, don’t even try to deny it.”

“Maybe a little,” Derek admitted.

Stiles smiled so wide he thought his face might crack. His chest felt so full at the admission that he figured his heart must have grown three sizes.

“You,” Stiles said as he gently withdrew his hand from Derek’s grip, feeling a huge sense of gratification when Derek only reluctantly released him. “Like.” Stiles took a step backwards. “Me.”

With one last smile in Derek’s direction Stiles pulled open the door and nearly skipped out into the hallway, he was feeling so light. Stiles came crashing back to earth when he saw his dad standing in the foyer.

“Hey. Dad,” Stiles said, gamely ignoring the once over and raised eyebrow that said he hadn’t missed that Stiles was (once again) wearing Derek’s clothes, and that he’d just come out of Derek’s bedroom.

“It’s not what it looks like,” Stiles said. “I didn’t have any clothes when I got here so I needed to borrow some from Derek.”

His dad’s eyebrows went up even further. “I’m almost afraid to ask.”

“I was a fox!” Stiles said, jumping out of his skin with excitement.

It took his dad a second to shift gears. “A fox?”

Stiles smiled and nodded.

“You transformed into a full fox?”

Stiles nodded harder.

“And back,” his dad said, indicating Stiles’ current two-legged status.

Stiles nodded again.

“Congratulations!”

Stiles let his dad pull him into a hug.

“He was adorable!” Lydia called out from the living room.

Stiles preened. Lydia had called him adorable, even if she was talking about his fox form.

“And we have pictures!” Erica added.

“Wait, what?” Stiles glanced over his shoulder at Derek, who just shrugged. Stiles gave him the glare of, ‘You knew about this?’ but then had to break off to chase after his dad.

Stiles took his dad’s arm. “Hey! Dad. Hi. We should probably get going, don’t you think?”

“Going?” his dad said. “Derek invited me over for dinner.”

“He did?” Stiles shot another glare at Derek.

“You were sleeping,” Derek said without a trace of remorse.

“Besides,” Stiles’ dad said. “I’m not leaving until I see these pictures.”

“Awesome,” Stiles said as he watched his dad gather with Erica and Lydia to look at the pictures they’d taken with their phones, and heard Erica say, “We’ve got video, too.”

“I can’t believe you let them take pictures,” Stiles said when Derek stepped up next to him.

“You made me rub your belly,” Derek said.

Stiles flushed at the reminder.

“Speaking of which, there’s probably a picture of that, too,” Derek added.

Stiles was speechless for a whole five seconds. “I hate you,” he told Derek.

Photobucket

Derek called a meeting between his pack and their new allies, the McKellens, for Saturday. Attendance was not optional. Stiles was worried about what Derek was going to do or say at the meeting, but Derek refused to discuss it with him, and wouldn’t even give him a little hint.

Stiles spent the time he wasn’t training with either Derek or Deaton (or worrying about the upcoming summit) practicing transforming. It was as if whatever mental block he’d had, had been broken down by the first full transformation. He worried less about whether he could change, and once changed if he’d would change back. And it felt as if his body found the change easier to accomplish now that it had some kind of sense memory to rely on, a path to follow.

Stiles practiced transforming into the full fox form and back to human, sometimes making the change back immediately, other times taking a few minutes to explore and examine his surroundings (whether he was at home or at Derek’s) in case he needed to be familiar with them in his fox form as he was in human.

Being in fox form never got boring (there was so much to see!) (well, if he had to be a fox forever and couldn’t use the computer he might get bored), but he still liked to spice things up. One morning Stiles got up early and hopped up on his dad’s bed just before his alarm went off and woke him up with a yip in his ear. The expression on his dad’s face when he opened his eyes and saw Stiles’ fox face was priceless.

Stiles laughed so hard that he was defenseless when his dad reached out and gave him a shove. He transformed back on his way to the floor, and then scrambled to his feet and raced out of the room, still hiccuping laugher despite the fact that his pasty white ass was hanging out. Neither one of them spoke about it over breakfast. Stiles figured his dad was still too traumatized, but he wasn’t sure which sight had traumatized him more.

Once he felt comfortable with the transition, which happened much more quickly than Stiles had expected, as if everything fell into place all at once, he started experimenting with controlling the transformation. Practiced transforming just the ears or tail on command. When he trained, Derek encouraged him to transform the fox jaw and teeth, or the claws, something that would aid him in a fight should he ever be in the position of needing them.

The morning of the powwow, Stiles timed his arrival so that everyone else would already be there. The important people, anyway – Derek, Ben and Amanda. The one thing Stiles hated about the transformation was the lack of clothing, which meant he had to plan ahead and leave clothes wherever he might transform, or plan on borrowing some. Clothes wouldn’t be an issue today.

Stiles ran along the familiar path to Derek’s place, not allowing himself to get distracted. When Stiles broke out of the tree line surrounding the rebuilt Hale house Derek was standing on the lawn, arms crossed over his chest staring right at Stiles as if he’d been expecting him. Stiles couldn’t hold back a yap of happiness at just seeing Derek standing there waiting for him. Even the usual scowl Derek wore made Stiles happy.

Stiles raced across the yard to Derek, slowing down at the last minute so he didn’t barrel into him. Still, his excitement couldn’t be contained, so he jumped up on Derek with his front paws. He couldn’t reach Derek’s face to lick him, so Stiles contented himself with nosing at his chest and sniffing him. Derek smelled very Derek-y this morning, as if he’d worked up a little bit of a sweat working out before the McKellens arrived, working off nervous energy he might’ve once worked off by growling at his betas. Stiles liked it. Both the change in Derek and the way he smelled.

Derek said, “You’re late,” but he rubbed Stiles’ ears in forgiveness.

Stiles pushed into Derek’s hand. He wasn’t a dog, but that shit felt awesome!

“Are you going to attend the meeting in this form?” Derek said as he scratched Stiles’ ears.

Stiles made a mournful sound as he dropped to the ground. He’d really been enjoying that rub. He trotted over to the house, noting that the entire pack (including Peter, unfortunately) had already gathered.

Lydia gave Stiles a knowing look. “Nice entrance.”

Stiles gave her an ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ look in return. He wasn’t sure if it translated well on his fox features.

Scott opened the front door for Stiles, by now getting used to having to help him get around when he was in this form. Stiles transformed once he got to Derek’s bedroom. He walked over to Derek’s dresser without bothering to close the door. He withdrew a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. Was it wrong that he was beginning to think of this portion of Derek’s wardrobe as his own?

Stiles considered getting a pair of sweats and t-shirt out of the dirty laundry, but he thought that might be making too much of a statement. And make no mistake, Stiles thought as he got dressed, I’m making a statement.

Stiles stepped outside the house wearing Derek’s clothes and nothing else. He paused on the porch for dramatic effect (though he felt a little bit foolish doing it). By now his friends were used to seeing him in Derek’s clothes, but Peter raised his eyebrows at the sight. Stiles ignored him.

Derek, however, couldn’t be ignored. Not that Stiles wanted to. He walked over to where Derek stood. “Sorry I was late,” Stiles said, even though he totally hadn’t been late. It was all about appearances, and if the apology strengthened Derek’s position, then Stiles coudl be man enough (or would that be, fox enough?) to issue one.

Derek looked surprised at the apology, and then suspicious. All he said, though, was, “Your apology is accepted.”

“Can I say something before you start palavering?” Stiles said.

Derek raised his eyebrows. Whether because Stiles had bothered asking, or because he’d used a big word, Stiles wasn’t sure. He inclined his head, giving Stiles permission.

“Hi,” Stiles said, addressing Ben, Amanda and Caryn for the first time.

They returned his greeting readily enough, but the combined scents of contrition and defiance coming off of them in varying degrees tickled his nose and made Stiles want to sneeze.

“I understand why you did what you did,” Stiles said, ignoring Derek’s low growl. “I understand that you were only trying to help. But you have to know that the gesture was not only unnecessary, but futile. Because I’m not leaving. I’d hate to see the treaty broken . . . .” And Derek tear out your throats, Stiles thought. “. . . over something that’s never going to happen. You already know all the reasons why I’m staying in Beacon Hills, but even without them, without school, and my dad, and my best friend, even without those reasons, I’d still have a reason to stay.”

Stiles steeled himself to look up at Derek, who looked gobsmacked. Torn between hugging Stiles and throwing him into a tree – both for the same reason. Stiles didn’t look away, as much as his hindbrain was telling him to submit to his alpha. Stiles gave Derek a long look that said, ‘Yeah, I’m sticking around for you, sourwolf,’ and only then did he lower his head, tipping his head to the side just enough to bare his neck.

Derek growled low in his throat, then managed to find his words. “Join the others.”

Stiles returned to where the others stood, feeling almost numb. The nerves he’d suppressed to be able to pull this off came back in full force. Scott caught him and pulled Stiles under his arm when he stumbled. Erica stepped up on his other side and they all moved together, forming a united front behind Derek. The only odd man out was Peter, who seemed to enjoy his status as the outsider.

Peter regarded Stiles with his creepy gaze, then said, “Subtle.”

Stiles hadn’t been trying for subtle, just the opposite, actually, but he didn’t feel like telling Peter that. Instead he said, “Bite me. Oh, wait, guess you’ve lost your chance.”

Instead of being insulted, Peter laughed, as if Stiles was the most amusing thing ever.

Stiles made himself listen to what Derek was saying, both with his words and with his body language, which Stiles had grown quite proficient at reading. While the main purpose of the meeting was to cement Derek’s position as the Alpha of the Beacon Hills pack, as well as the wronged party in Gerard’s master plan, bottom line, this was about Stiles. (No matter what that d-bag Gerard had said.) He thought it was a good idea to know what kind of agreement-to-not-scrap-the-previous-agreement they hammered out.

Because Stiles really didn’t want to have to witness anyone’s throat being torn out, especially people he liked, even if they had been misguided in their attempts to steal him away from Derek’s pack (although Stiles would be the first to admit that being bitten beat being dead any day of the week).

The meeting was short and to the point, and basically consisted of Derek reminding the others of their transgressions against the Beacon Hills pack that had precipitated the original agreement, which was the only reason Derek hadn’t torn off someone’s head (he glowered at all three of them, but his glare lingered on Ben) at the time, and that a breach of the treaty they’d so painstakingly hammered out, the spirit if not the letter of the thing, meant that Derek would be well within his rights to exact justice on behalf of himself, Stiles, and the entire pack for both the breaking of the treaty and the original misconduct.

Derek also pointed out that they couldn’t be allies if he couldn’t trust them, and if they weren’t allies, then they were enemies by virtue of the actions they’d taken against his pack. Ben and Amanda knew better than to try to defend what they’d done, though Stiles could tell that they desperately wanted to explain their side of it. Instead they did the smart thing and apologized, promising that it would never happen again.

Derek also made a point of saying that all further training that Amanda deemed necessary would take place on Hale property and under Derek’s supervision. As would all other visitation between Stiles and any member of their family. Stiles felt like a kid whose parents were going through a very nasty divorce. As much as he hated being discussed as if he wasn’t standing right there, and as much as it went against the very grain of his personality, Stiles remained silent and let Derek handle the negotiations. He’d made a very visible point of placing himself under Derek’s jurisdiction, it would be silly of him to rescind that now.

The meeting ended suddenly and with little fanfare. The McKellen clan was not invited to stay to celebrate the alliance, and Stiles would be surprised if the entire family was invited back for anything less than an emergency or renewing of the treaty. When requested, however, Derek reluctantly allowed Stiles to approach so Ben and Amanda could say goodbye. They both looked uncertain, as if they didn’t know what words or gestures would be appropriate, given the circumstances. Stiles took the initiative and stepped up to Amanda for a hug.

“We just wanted to make things right,” Amanda said.

“I know,” Stiles said. “But I’m where I belong.”

“So it appears,” Amanda said, the corners of her lips turning up despite the gravity of the situation.

Stiles flushed. Well, subtlety hadn’t been the point, after all. He shook Ben’s, and then Caryn’s hands, and then stepped back to Derek’s side. Derek stood stiff beside him, every muscle tight. Stiles could tell that he was barely resisting the urge to shove Stiles to safety behind him until the perceived threat was gone. Stiles reached out and slipped his hand into Derek’s. At first Derek remained unresponsive, but then he gripped Stiles’ hand so tightly it almost startled a yelp out of him. They stood like that until the McKellen’s car disappeared down the driveway, until the sound of the engine no longer reached their ears.

Peter’s voice broke the silence that had fallen in the wake of their departure. “Well, that was disappointing. I thought there’d be less posturing and more bloodshed.”

Derek didn’t even try to tamp down on the growl that vibrated in his throat as he released Stiles’ hand and turned to face his uncle. Stiles thought that maybe Derek was glad to have a release for all the emotions that had been building up inside of him. From the expression on Peter’s face, Stiles wondered if Peter didn’t know that, but then he thought that might be giving Peter too much credit. The others put even more distance between themselves and Peter in anticipation of Peter’s bemoaned lack of bloodshed putting in an appearance now.

“Why are you even here?” Derek snarled.

“I’d say that I was here to support family, but I know how much you hate that.”

Derek’s muscles tensed, as if he was ready to leap for Peter’s throat. Stiles didn’t make any attempts to hold Derek back, but he did reach out and press the tips of his fingers to Derek’s arm. Derek visibly relaxed at the touch.

“So I’ll just say that I was hoping for some entertainment,” Peter went on blithely, as if he hadn’t been moments from being attacked.

“Sorry we couldn’t oblige,” Derek said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Peter said, glancing at Stiles, his voice taking on the smarmy quality that made Stiles shudder as if he’d just stepped into a cobweb.

“Well, the show’s over. You can leave now,” Derek told Peter without any attempt to be polite. “The rest of you can leave, too,” he added more gently. “Except for you,” Derek said with a glare at Stiles. “We need to talk.”

Derek walked away from Stiles and into the house, reaching out to touch the betas nearest him, Isaac and Boyd, as he passed through them. They waited until the front door closed behind Derek to converge on Stiles. Even though the McKellen’s were allies, the werewolves didn’t like it when Stiles smelled of the werefoxes. Stiles’ gaze caught Peter’s as he was engulfed by his pack – it was both speculative and amused.

Stiles forgot about Peter when his attention was dragged back to the mauling he was enduring by a hand slipping beneath the line demarcating the danger zone. “Okay, who just bad touched me?” Stiles said (tried to demand, but someone’s nose was tickling him).

There was a moment of silence as those not guilty of the inadvertent grope tried to determine who’d done it before Isaac said, “Sorry.”

Stiles started laughing, which started a chain reaction of laughter that soon had them all on the ground. Piled, unfortunately, on top of Stiles.

Stiles was still chuckling a little bit even after having seen the others off. (Peter had been nowhere to be seen by the time they’d made it to their feet again, thankfully.) He stepped inside the house, mouth open to call out for Derek when he spotted him in the living room, staring angrily out the bay window at the front lawn where the pack had just been rolling around.

“Hey,” Stiles said, smiling. “You could’ve joined us, you know.”

Derek turned his glare onto Stiles. “What did you think you were doing?”

“Uh, getting scent marked by a pack of werewolves?” Stiles said. “Which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is from the bottom of the pile.”

A growl rumbled in Derek’s throat. “Before that.”

“You’re going to have to be more . . . . Oh.”

Derek’s eyebrows said, ‘Yeah, oh.’

“I was making a point,” Stiles said, straightening his shoulders.

Derek’s eyes narrowed. “And what point would that be?”

“That this is my pack, and you’re my Alpha,” Stiles said, the words easier to say than he’d thought they would be.

Derek’s eyes softened. He looked warmed that Stiles had called himself a part of his pack, and a little bit surprised that he’d actually admitted that Derek had any kind of authority over him whatsoever. It gave Stiles the courage to go on.

“That I’m where I belong, where I want to be.”

Derek’s eyes went shuttered, as if the conversation had just taken the turn he’d been fearing. Stiles didn’t let that stop him.

“That I’m not leaving.”

“You don’t know that,” Derek said resigned. “There’s any number of reasons you could leave.”

“True,” Stiles agreed, reading the surprise in Derek’s eyes. “But I’ll always come home.”

“To your father,” Derek said. “And Scott.”

“Yes. And to you.”

Derek shook his head. “Being with me wouldn’t be easy.”

Stiles laughed. “Dude, I know. I’ve met you. But it would be worth it,” he added when Derek shot him an irritated look. “Assuming you think I’m worth the effort in return.”

“You’re not an effort!” Derek snapped, and then looked surprised at himself.

“Wow,” Stiles said. “It must be love.” He only laughed when Derek’s withering glare threatened to bury his lifeless body in the backyard.

“Look, I get that you want to take it slow,” Stiles said, proceeding as if this thing between them was a done deal. If he waited for Derek to make the first move he’d die of old age (or possibly blue balls) before that ever happened.

“I don’t know if it’s because you think I’m not ready, or if you’re not ready, but I’m okay with moving slowly. I just think it’s fair to warn you that I turn eighteen in just a few months, and that I’ve set up a program on my computer to count down the days. It’s sitting right on my desktop. I even calibrated it down to the second.”

“Of course you did.”

“So, great! I’m glad we had this talk. You can pick me up at six, then.”

“Six?”

“Yes, six. PM. Tonight.”

“For what, research?”

“No, for ice cream.”

“Ice cream,” Derek repeated as if he’d never heard of it.

“Yes, ice cream. I thought it would be a very non-threatening, or sexy, first date.”

“First date?” Derek made it sound as if Stiles had suggested they eviscerate puppies.

“Yes, and don’t be late,” Stiles said, making that his exit line.

Stiles was halfway down the porch steps when he remembered that he’d run over to Derek’s in fox form. “Crap,” Stiles muttered as he turned around and headed back into the house.

Derek’s eyebrows greeted him with amusement, though he still looked a little bit shell shocked at Stiles’ ambush.

“Uh, could I have a ride home?”

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The next few months seemed to pass slowly, but then Stiles would turn around and realize that three weeks had passed in the blink of an eye.

Derek and Stiles went on their first date and no one got killed. Though for the first half of the date Derek had looked as if he hoped the guy behind the counter turned out to be a child-eating monster of some kind so he could attack it. He stared suspiciously at his sundae until the ice cream melted and he had to slurp it up with the spoon. Very undignified behavior for a werewolf, which Stiles was quick to point out, ignoring Derek’s eyebrows of death in favor of eating his own sundae before he had to drink it.

“We could go to the movies sometime,” Stiles said between bites, and watched Derek’s face go pale. “Or we could rent one and watch it at home,” he amended.

“We do that now,” Derek said.

It took Stiles a second to get over being surprised that Derek had even responded.

“Uh, yeah.” Stiles blushed. “I was kinda hoping it would be just you and me for these movie nights.”

Derek stared at Stiles for a moment, then dropped his gaze back to his dish. “I don’t like people.”

“You like me,” Stiles said.

Derek gave him an exasperated look. “You’re not people.”

Stiles huffed a soft laugh. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Derek glared at Stiles, which by now washed right off Stiles’ back like water off a baby duck.

“Move over,” Stiles said, inspired.

Derek looked confused. “What?”

Stiles slid out of the booth and walked over to Derek’s side. “Shove over.”

Understanding filled Derek’s features. Instead of sliding over, though, he got out so Stiles could sit on the inside. Stiles rolled his eyes but slid in.

“Nothing’s going to attack us here. I’d be perfectly safe on the outside.”

“You never know,” Derek said, giving the guy behind the counter a hopeful look.

“This is better,” Stiles said when Derek finally sat back down and their legs were brushing.

Derek neither confirmed nor denied, but he didn’t seem quite so stiff and uncomfortable as he had before.

“I meant,” Derek finally spoke, “that I don’t like crowds.”

“You don’t like anyone you don’t know,” Stiles said. “And half the people you do.”

Derek looked like he wanted to argue the point, but it would just be on principle because Stiles was totally right. Finally he just said, “Eat your ice cream.”

The dated ended before Stiles was quite ready for it to, but there was only so long you could stare at your empty sundae dishes, no matter how comfortable the silence, before people started looking at you strangely. Derek didn’t like people noticing him, though he was pretty hard to ignore.

“No kiss goodnight?” Stiles said when Derek pulled the Camaro up outside his house.

Derek just glared at him. Stiles grinned and held out his hand.

“A handshake, then?”

Derek looked at Stiles’ hand as if he was considering biting it off. Stiles took his life into his own hands when he took hold of Derek’s jacket and pulled himself over so he could smack a kiss onto the corner of Derek’s mouth. Once accomplished, Stiles practically threw himself out of the car.

“Great date! Thanks for the ice cream!”

Stiles hand shook as he let himself into the house and went in search of his dad. Who tried not to appear like a little kid hoping for a treat. Stiles didn’t make him wait long (mostly because he was too busy listening to Derek, who was still parked in front of the house), and handed over the bag of ice cream. It was sugar-free Butter Pecan, but his dad dug in as if he’d been denied the treat for years, even though Stiles knew he snuck a soft ice cream cone from the Dairy Freeze every Sunday during the summer when he worked.

“How’d the date go?” his dad asked around a spoonful of ice cream.

“It was, uh, it was nice,” Stiles said. He thought about the heat of Derek’s thigh along his, and Derek’s thumb wiping a trace of ice cream off Stiles’ lip, and he flushed. “Yeah,” he said. “Nice.”

“I don’t even want to know,” his dad said, hiding his face in the bowl of ice cream.

Stiles chuckled at his dad’s discomfort, which helped ease his own. He dropped onto the couch and stretched out his legs. “No one died, which is a bonus.”

His dad choked on the ice cream he’d swallowed just as Stiles spoke. “No one dying is your benchmark of a good date?”

“No one dying should be everyone’s benchmark of a good date. But especially so in this case, because Derek is, like, a trouble magnet.”

“Derek is a trouble magnet?” Stiles’ dad said. “I think he’d say that was you.”

“He might,” Stiles conceded. “But he’d be wrong.”

Stiles smiled when he heard Derek’s Camaro peel away from the curb. His dad pointed the spoon at him.

“You’re evil.”

“I know.”

His dad fell silent for a moment, not eating the ice cream, just staring into the bowl as if it held all the answers. “I miss your mom,” he finally said, surprising Stiles when he broke the silence. “Mostly it’s selfish, you know? I just want her here.”

Stiles swallowed hard as his throat closed up, and nodded. He knew.

“And then there’s times like this, when I’m sorry she’s missing it. Your first date.”

Stiles hadn’t thought about it much before, but now he wondered. “Do you think she’d like Derek?”

“I think she’d like him very much,” his dad said. “That’s where you got it from, you know, the need to take care of everyone. I think she’d have spoiled him like crazy. Invited him over for Sunday dinner, made his favorite things.”

Stiles tried to picture Derek at Sunday dinner with the three of them, his mom fussing over Derek all the more because he didn’t think he deserved it. It wasn’t as difficult to imagine as Stiles might have thought.

~*~

Derek took Stiles for a run through the woods to get him used to it in preparation for the night of the full moon. Derek didn’t change to the full wolf form in case he needed to free Stiles from some vines or something, Stiles wasn’t sure since Derek mostly just grunted. Running in fox form was more freeing that Stiles could’ve imagined. No wonder Derek enjoyed it so much.

They ran in silence for the most part, Derek only speaking when he wanted to point something out to Stiles or warn him about something. Stiles yipped excitedly when he accidentally flushed out a rabbit. He chased after it for a couple of yards just because he could, and then returned to Derek who just shook his head.

“You’re not supposed to play with your food.”

Stiles gave a yap of disagreement and then took off again, knowing that Derek would follow him. Derek let Stiles retain the lead even though Stiles stopped every five minutes to sniff at something really interesting. Eventually Derek resumed the lead and took Stiles down a path he didn’t recognize. Maybe it just looked different to him at fox height.

When Derek slowed down Stiles began looking around to see why. He didn’t sense any danger, or anything that might be considered a werewolf treat. He followed Derek until he could see the reason Derek had brought him here. They were at an overlook that offered a gorgeous view of the valley below. Stiles inched up to the edge and looked down at the creek that ran through the Hale property and the Beacon Hills Preserve, and at the woods the pack ran through on a daily basis. It was a lovely view, and Stiles had never even known it was there.

Stiles leaned against Derek’s leg and made a sound in his throat to show his understanding that Derek had brought him someplace special. (Along with opposable thumbs, Stiles also really missed the ability to form words while in fox form. To exactly no one’s surprise, most likely.) Derek dug his fingers into Stiles’ fur in acknowledgment. Derek sat down on the grass. Stiles stayed next to him, leaning against his shoulder. Eventually, Stiles laid down next to Derek, his side right up against Derek’s leg.

Stiles wished he could thank Derek for sharing this moment with him. He rested his head on Derek’s knee, and Derek’s fingers sank into his fur. Stiles thought that maybe their silence said all that needed saying.

~*~

The next time they went out Derek changed to his wolf form for the run. Stiles was gratified to discover that Derek also liked to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, when he was in that form. After running Stiles ragged, Derek once again took him to the overlook and they both laid on the grass together and enjoyed the view.

On one particularly memorable romp through the woods Stiles pounced after a squirrel and was all set to give chase when it took off. Derek caught him before Stiles could leap up the tree after it, but Stiles was excited and in a good mood, and was not to be denied his fun. He pulled away from Derek and leapt up the tree and yapped at the squirrel, ignoring the irritating vines that kept scratching at his belly. Derek gave Stiles a look that, even in wolf form Stiles could tell was part disbelief and part amusement, and cut their run short.

Stiles didn’t know what he’d done wrong until Derek changed back and told him to take a shower and not to bother with calamine lotion because it wouldn’t work since the rash would only last for a short time before his body healed itself.

“You let me run through poison oak?” Stiles said once he’d gotten all the information out of Derek.

“I tried to stop you,” Derek reminded him.

When Stiles’ dad heard the story he laughed his ass off. Stiles glared at him.

“What did you do, roll in it?” his dad asked.

“I was a fox,” Stiles said, as if that answered everything, and stomped upstairs where his computer would not mock him.

The rash only lasted about five minutes once it broke out, but it was the longest and itchiest five minutes of Stiles’ life. Especially since the vine had been growing at the base of the tree he’d been jumping up and he’d gotten it all over his belly . . . and regions lower than his belly.

It wasn’t funny. No matter what Scott said.

~*~

“I miss my mom,” Stiles said.

Derek went still (well, even more still) beside him, and only then did Stiles realize that he’d spoken the words out loud. And to whom. Stiles started to pull away.

“Sorry, that was . . . .” Inconsiderate. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Derek caught Stiles and pulled him back. “You’re allowed to miss your mom. And it’s okay to talk to me about her.”

Stiles stared at his hands for a few seconds before tucking his face into Derek’s chest. “Okay, thanks.”

Stiles’ dad came home from work before the movie ended. Stiles called out to him when he heard the front door open. He poked his head into the living room after hanging his jacket and hat in the closet.

“Hey, Stiles, Derek. What are you two . . . ? Oh. You’re not going to make Derek watch the entire trilogy tonight, are you?”

“Trilogy?” Derek said, sounding horrified that he might have to sit still that long.

Stiles laughed. “No, we’re just watching the first movie tonight,” he assured Derek. Stiles thought that three hours, much less three movies, would be too much to expect.

Stiles’ dad leaned against the doorframe and watched the movie for a few minutes. “Your mother loved this movie.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. They’d watched the trilogy together on numerous occasions. He couldn’t watch them now without thinking of her.

“I think she had a crush on the elf,” Stiles’ dad said. “But she would neither confirm nor deny. Even under my best interrogation tactics.”

“Aragorn,” Stiles said.

“What?” his dad said, drawn out of his memories. Stiles was sorry he’d said anything because they’d clearly been happy ones.

“Aragorn, the ranger,” Stiles said. “Mom’s crush. She said he reminded her of a certain Sheriff.”

“She said that?” Stiles’ dad sounded choked up.

“Yes. Though I don’t see it myself,” Stiles said, trying to lighten the mood.

Stiles’ dad cleared his throat. “Well, I should, uh, go lock up my gun.”

Stiles stared at the empty doorway for a few seconds before Derek squeezed him and drew his attention back to the movie.

“That was a nice thing to share with your dad.”

Stiles couldn’t speak, so he just nodded.

Derek cleared his throat. “You can talk to me about your mom. I mean, if you want to.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said. “You, too,” he added. “I mean, about anything.”

“I know,” Derek said. He looked at Stiles for a moment, then turned back to the television.

Stiles stared at the screen for a few seconds as well, then said, “Well. We just had kind of an intense moment there. I think we should kiss now.”

Derek’s head jerked around in surprise.

“It doesn’t have to be . . . .” Stiles broke off because Derek was leaning towards him.

Suddenly Derek jerked back. Stiles groaned, but a moment later he heard what Derek had heard – his dad’s returning footsteps. They hadn’t kissed yet, aside from the ninja kiss that had only barely touched Derek’s mouth. They’d held hands (once), and often sat next to each other when the pack gathered at Derek’s house, but this was the closest they’d come to kissing and Stiles was not surprised that his dad had inadvertently cock blocked him.

“Hey,” Stiles’ dad said as he stepped back into the living room. “Is it okay if I watch the end of the movie with you two?”

“Of course,” Derek said when Stiles couldn’t speak. They didn’t usually watch the movie together because it reminded them both too much of Stiles’ mom and as much as they both loved her, or maybe because of it, they couldn’t speak of her to each other.

Stiles’ dad took his usual seat. He’d stopped in the kitchen for a beer, but Stiles was glad that he’d at least forgone the whiskey he used to dull the pain of missing her.

“And I’m having popcorn, too,” Stiles’ dad announced as he stared Stiles down. “Pass the bowl.”

“Popcorn’s not good for you,” Stiles said. “All that salt and butter.”

“Do you want Derek to know your first name?”

Derek started to lean forward with interest. Stiles pushed him back against the couch.

“That’s blackmail.”

“Is it?” his dad said innocently. “Pass the bowl and he never has to know.”

Stiles thought about saying no, but his dad knew him too well. “Fine.” Stiles passed over what remained of the popcorn. “Don’t come crying to me when your blood pressure skyrockets and your arteries get clogged.”

“I won’t,” his dad said and dug in.

Stiles turned to Derek to say, ‘see what I have to put up with,’ but the words died on his tongue at the way Derek was looking at him. He’d seen a myriad of expressions on Derek’s face – anger, worry, annoyance, frustration, amusement – all of them directed at Stiles at one time or another. He’d even seen, ‘I think you’re adorable,’ but he’d been a fox at the time so he wasn’t sure if that counted.

But this expression was new. Stiles thought he might be misreading it. Derek blinked and it was gone, and Stiles wondered if he’d imagined it. Then Derek took Stiles’ hand and nudged him to put his head back down. Stiles put his head on Derek’s shoulder and squeezed his hand, smiling as he stared at the television screen without actually seeing it. Derek was ridiculously crazy about him, even if he didn’t know how to use his words to tell him. Stiles thought he could live with that if he could just get Derek to look at him like that again.

~*~

The full moon came and for the first time Stiles really ran with the others. Before they hit the woods everyone wrestled like puppies and played a dangerous game of tag in the yard to work off some of the adrenaline building up under the moon’s influence. Stiles joined in, darting between their legs and nipping at their ankles before dashing away.

“Jesus,” Erica said as she swatted at Stiles and missed. “You’re even more annoying as a fox.”

Stiles just laughed, then yipped when Scott came close to nabbing him.

Derek’s howl brought all play to a halt. They turned as one to see him standing on the porch in full wolf form, muzzle pointed towards the moon. Derek leapt down the steps and Stiles gave an excited yap and raced towards him.

One moment Stiles was running at Derek, the next he was on his back with Derek’s paw on his chest. Derek lowered his head and Stiles felt a moment of healthy fear at the sharpness of Derek’s teeth. Stiles yipped a protest when Derek licked him. Derek ignored Stiles and set to sniffing him, from his throat, to his belly, to his . . . whoa!

Stiles jumped to his feet and protested the indignity. Loudly. Derek laughed at him, then called the others over with a not-quite bark. The betas sniffed Stiles as well, which should’ve been weird, but really wasn’t. Stiles turned his head so he could scent each of them in turn.

Derek howled again and, like a shot, they were all off. Even Stiles. Who picked up speed when Derek nipped at his heels. They ran through the woods playing tag and flushing out game. Stiles caught his first rabbit, and then promptly threw up at the taste of blood in his mouth, and spent a good thirty minutes mourning the fact that he’d killed a bunny, until Derek, who’d stood watch over Stiles with more patience than Stiles would have expected, nudged him to his feet.

Stiles now understood why the pack slept like the dead the day after a full moon. He’d always participated, but his day after exhaustion had been the normal up-all-night tired of a human. He’d never quite realized how the moon pulled at the werewolves, and even though he wasn’t affected in the same way by the moon, he was affected by his pack mates, more so now that he was in his full fox form and was being run ragged now that it was expected that he should keep up with them.

Stiles was having fun, for the first time feeling like a real part of the pack now that he could share this night more fully with them. Until Scott gave him a look that made Stiles’ hackles rise and take off, Scott and the other werewolves giving chase. Stiles ran his little legs off, until he was able to dart between Erica and Jackson and head back to where he knew Derek was. Stiles yapped happily when he found Derek and hid underneath him, just as the betas came upon them.

Erica laughed when she saw Stiles lying beneath Derek, head sticking out from between his front legs. Jackson scoffed, “Alpha’s pet.”

Only when the other had taken off again did Derek gently cuff Stiles upside the head with his paw and then trot off after the others. Stiles yipped and darted after Derek.

When Stiles woke up the next day in the middle of a puppy pile Derek was spooned up against his back, his hand clamped possessively on Stiles’ hip, his nose pressed to the back of Stiles’ neck. It wasn’t as weird as Stiles thought it maybe should have been.

~*~

School started. Classes and homework put a crimp in Stiles’ training, both with Derek and with Deaton, but on the plus side, he was a senior now! Hardly anyone remembered the social outcast from sophomore year. Stiles ran into Danny in the hall their first day back. Literally, because even having been bitten, Stiles was still a little bit of a klutz, mostly because he was easily distracted.

Danny looked Stiles over skeptically. “So, you’re a fox now.”

Stiles wasn’t the least bit surprised that Jackson had told Danny, since Danny knew about the rest of them. They’d ended up needing his help a couple of times during their junior year, and it was impossible to keep him in the dark once he’d held a compress to Jackson’s side to keep him from bleeding out and watched him heal.

Stiles clapped Danny on the shoulder. “I knew gay guys found me attractive! But it’s too late to hit this, because I’m seeing someone now.”

Danny rolled his eyes, but was kind enough to not say anything about the blush Stiles felt spreading over his cheeks.

A couple days later Stiles and Lydia walked outside after school let out to find the reason for Stiles’ blush leaning against Stiles’ Jeep, legs stretched out in front of him, hands buried in the front pocket of his leather jacket. Derek looked calm, and he wasn’t bleeding, so Stiles figured that there wasn’t an emergency. Which was good, because Stiles couldn’t help staring.

“You do realize you’re living the cliche, right?” Lydia said.

Stiles gave her his best confused look. Made all the better because it was genuine. Lydia indicated Derek.

“I should just call you Sandra Dee.”

Stiles nudged Lydia in the side with his arm. “I’m not Sandra Dee.”

Lydia’s only response was to nudge him back. Harder.

“Ow.”

Stiles poked Lydia in the arm and immediately dashed away from her and straight for Derek. “Hey,” Stiles said breathlessly.

Derek’s eyebrows said, ‘you’re kind of ridiculous,’ but the tiny curve to the corner of his mouth said, ‘I like it.’

“You’re dead meat, Stilinski!” Lydia said as she chased after Stiles.

Stiles yelped and squeezed himself between Derek and Betty.

“Hello, Derek,” Lydia said pleasantly, then she turned flashing eyes onto Stiles. “He won’t always be around to protect you, fox boy,” she said with way too much saccharine.

Stiles whimpered a little bit and curled an arm around Derek’s middle. Derek waited until Lydia left to turn around and give Stiles the ‘I’m so disappointed in you’ eyebrows.

“What?” Stiles said. “She scares me!”

“Then you shouldn’t trade blows with her,” Derek said reasonably.

“I should scare you,” Lydia said, from right beside Stiles’ ear.

Stiles jumped ten feet off the ground (not literally, but it felt that way), and whirled around. Lydia was already walking away from him, cackling evilly. Stiles gave Derek a betrayed look. Derek shrugged.

“You should’ve heard her coming.”

Stiles couldn’t be too mad at Derek for not telling him that Lydia was sneaking up on him, because it was nice to see Derek looking something other than angry or broody, even if the amusement was at Stiles’ expense. Still, he couldn’t let Derek get off too easily.

“I would’ve heard her, but I had other things on my mind,” Stiles said.

Derek got that look in his face that said he wanted to jump Stiles. The one he, very frustratingly, refused to act on. Derek sniffed in Stiles’ direction, then turned away. “Get in the Jeep.”

Grinning, Stiles did as Derek said without arguing. Hey, there was a first time for everything. And somewhere, pigs were flying.

“Where are we going?” Stiles said as he tossed his backpack into the back seat.

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The wards Stiles had put up on and around the Hale property got tested near the middle of September. Stiles was sitting in his AP History class when he felt the breach like a tickle of tiny little spider feet running up the back of his neck. His immediate reaction was panic because, with the rest of them in school, Derek was alone, and someone (or something) who wished him harm had just crossed into Hale territory.

Stiles managed to get a bathroom pass without raising any eyebrows. As soon as he was in the privacy of the boys room, Stiles called Derek. There was no answer, but Stiles tried to think positive. Derek was probably out for a run, or busy doing crunches to make sure his ridiculous abs remained in perfect condition. Still, he would be unaware that there was an intruder. Aside from his not inconsiderable werewolf senses. Which did not make Stiles worry any less. He had a sudden twinge of sympathy for his dad.

Stiles left a message on Derek’s voice mail and sent a text to the others. He immediately headed for the exit, not caring that he was leaving his backpack behind in the classroom. Stiles called his dad as he walked and started talking as soon as his dad picked up the phone.

“I’m skipping the rest of the day,” Stiles said. “I’m gonna need a note.”

“Isn’t it a little soon to start skipping classes, and aren’t you failing at being a delinquent by calling to tell me?”

“I’ll do better next time,” Stiles promised.

“So why are you leaving school in the middle of the day?” his dad said, not fooled by Stiles’ attempt at levity.

“Someone set off the wards at Derek’s,” Stiles said. “It could be nothing,” he added, but he knew he didn’t sound very convincing, even if he hadn’t been talking to someone who knew him so well.

“That’s not likely, though, is it?” his dad said.

“No,” Stiles admitted. He and Deaton had been pretty specific about what would set off the wards. They didn’t want them going off for every rabbit or lost hiker that accidentally crossed onto Hale land from the Preserve. Whoever set off the wards today meant Derek, and the rest of the pack, harm.

“I’ll meet you out there,” his dad said, and then hung up before Stiles could argue.

But what could he say, really? Only two months ago Stiles had been human, and railing against being left behind, and though he hated to admit it, even less equipped to deal with things like hunters than his dad. At least his dad had been a Sheriff (and before that a Deputy) for a bunch of years now, and he could shoot a gun, which Stiles had to admit, trumped his (admittedly, really awesome) baseball bat.

Stiles shoved his phone into his pocket without bothering to check his messages. The others would either be there or they wouldn’t, Stiles was leaving regardless, and those that didn’t make it could find their own way out to the house.

Stiles needn’t have worried. Scott and Isaac appeared first, followed by Erica and Boyd, and then Jackson and Lydia. And Allison. Stiles didn’t waste time asking what Allison was doing there. Yet another human who was more than able to take care of herself, even without her bow. Scott, Isaac, Boyd and Erica piled into the Jeep, while Lydia and Allison rode in Jackson’s Porche.

They didn’t talk much on the drive out to Derek’s place. Not even Stiles, whose default setting was to talk, especially when he was nervous or worried because he needed to take his mind off whatever was bothering him. The only thing Stiles said was to tell Scott to keep trying Derek, and then he gripped the steering wheel hard enough to make it creak (sending a silent apology to Betty), and sent out positive thoughts to the universe telling Derek to please be safe.

Stiles’ dad’s cruiser was already parked in the driveway next to Derek’s Camaro when Stiles pulled up to the house, Jackson right behind him. As they got out of Betty, his dad stepped out through the front door.

“Derek?” Stiles said, even though he knew that Derek wasn’t in the house because he couldn’t sense him.

His dad shook his head and Stiles looked out towards the woods. Derek was out there somewhere, and so was whoever had set off the wards. The easiest way to find him (or it) was to use the map Stiles had spelled to the wards. They all tramped into the house and Stiles got the map out of the hidey hole Derek had built in when he’d rebuilt the house, while the others stayed in the living room with Allison. Mainly because, no matter their personal feelings about Allison, the betas all knew that Derek would not want her to know where they kept their important books and documents.

When Stiles returned with the map he unrolled it and spread it out over the table, and everyone gathered round. The individual wards Stiles had placed were marked with red dots. A black spider web of lines showed the net of protection resulting from connecting the individual wards one to the other. The lines sparkled blue where they’d been crossed by the intruder.

“They came in here.” Stiles pointed to the blue sparkles along the border between the Hale property and the Beacon Hills Preserve. “And they’re headed this way.” His finger followed the trail of blue sparkles as they moved across the map in the direction of the house.

Growls broke out loud enough to shake the house on its foundation.

“Wait,” Stiles said before they could rush out of the house willy nilly. “We need to find Derek, and we need a plan to approach whoever this is.”

“Maybe split up so some of us can approach from behind?” Stiles’ dad suggested.

Stiles looked at Boyd, who finally realized that they were all waiting for him to give the orders in Derek’s absence.

“Alright,” Boyd said. “Erica and Jackson, find Derek and bring him here.” He pointed to a spot where the blue sparkles would soon reach if the intruder continued on the same path. “Scott and I will go around and approach from the rear. Stiles, Isaac and Lydia . . . . Is there any sense in telling the purely human among us to stay behind?”

Stiles’ dad and Allison both glared at Boyd.

“Now I know why Derek hates this part,” Boyd sighed, shaking his head. “The rest of you intercept him . . . whatever this is. Make sure you’re armed. Derek’ll kill me if anything happens to any of you.”

“And keep your phones on, just in case,” Stiles said.

Stiles had his fangs and claws, as well as the increased speed and strength of his new fox form, but aside from training with Derek and the others, he’d never used them in combat. He grabbed the baseball bat he was used to wielding, and more comfortable with despite the fact that fang and claw were supposed to be more natural to him now. Once armed, Stiles looked over the others.

“Do you need a weapon?” Stiles asked Allison, who appeared unarmed. He wondered if she didn’t want to ask to borrow anything from Derek.

“No,” Allison said. “I’m good.”

At Stiles’ skeptical look Allison showed him the mini-arrow launchers on both wrists, the knife (which seemed an inadequate description) tucked into her boot, and the expanding baton tucked into an inside jacket pocket.

“Okay, then,” Stiles said, impressed despite himself. “You are good.”

“Everyone ready?” Boyd asked. When everyone indicated that they were, in fact, ready, he said, “Alright, let’s go.”

Erica and Jackson, the best trackers out of the betas, headed off after Derek. Boyd and Scott went wide so they could come up behind the trespasser. The rest of them, Stiles, Isaac, Lydia, Allison, and Stiles’ dad, set off to meet him or it head on. After a twenty minute walk Isaac held up his hand and they all halted. Stiles concentrated on his hearing and the sounds of someone running through the woods reached his ears. He wasn’t far away, and he was coming right for them.

They all spread out so they made a less attractive target, took cover behind whatever trees and bushes they could find, and waited for the intruder. Stiles was concentrating so hard on the person crashing through the trees that it took him a few seconds to realize that someone else was running through the words towards them.

“Derek,” Stiles breathed.

Isaac caught Stiles’ eyes and nodded. He’d heard Derek’s approach, as well.

The unknown intruder got to them first, skidding to a halt when they all stepped out from their hiding places to confront . . . her. She was a werewolf, Stiles could tell. Not from his awesome new fox senses, but because she was wolfed out. She whirled around in an attempt to escape in another direction, but Derek stepped out of the trees. She whirled again and Stiles expected Scott and Boyd to appear and box her in. Instead it was a hunter with his crossbow pointed directly at the strange werewolf.

Derek growled, “Put your weapon down.”

Stiles was impressed that Derek had used his words first.

“I only want her,” the hunter said, ignoring Derek’s command. “I’ve been tracking her for three days. She killed an entire family up in Oregon.”

“I didn’t!” the werewolf protested, looking at Derek with pleading eyes.

“She’s a lying bi–,” the hunter cut off when Boyd crept up silently behind him and placed his claws to his neck.

“I think my Alpha told you to put your weapon down,” Boyd said reasonably, as if he wasn’t drawing blood.

The hunter wisely chose to slowly lower the crossbow, but it was clear that he didn’t want to. Scott took the weapon from him and handed it to Allison, who disarmed it. Derek dismissed the hunter and turned his attention back to the werewolf.

“What are you doing in my territory?”

“I heard there was a strong pack in this area. I thought you might be able to help me.”

“You led a hunter to my pack.”

The werewolf opened her mouth to issue a denial, then closed it and slumped in defeat. “Yes,” she said. “I didn’t mean to, but yes, I did.”

Derek would be within his right to kill her for putting his pack in danger, and it appeared that she knew it.

“But I didn’t do what he said,” she protested desperately.

“Where’s your pack?” Derek said, ignoring her attempt to defend herself.

“Dead,” she said, and there was a fire in her eyes as she remembered the fate of her pack, before it was replaced once more by fear and exhaustion. “I’m alone.”

“What’s your name?” Derek said.

The werewolf looked at Derek for a second, as if trying to make sure he could be trusted, even though she was the one who had come to them for help, then she said, “Sheila.”

Derek nodded, and then turned his attention back to the hunter. “You’re trespassing.”

“I was following this . . . one.”

“Even if you were somehow unaware that you were entering Hale pack territory, you had to have known that this town is protected by the Argents.”

“I spoke with Chris Argent,” the hunter said immediately. “I told him I was tracking an omega that had killed and he gave me permission to enter the area.”

“Really?” Derek said skeptically, ignoring for now the sound of protest that Allison made. “It must’ve slipped his mind to tell me that you were coming.” Derek looked at Allison then.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “He’s lying.”

“And how would you know, little girl?” the hunter said, clearly not having done his research on Beacon Hills or the Argents if he didn’t know who Allison was.

Allison’s expression turned murderous, though Stiles wasn’t sure if it was because the hunter had implied that she was a liar, or because he’d called her a little girl. Instead of responding to him, though, she just took out her cell phone and pressed number one. (Stiles wondered if Scott had noticed that he’d been replaced as speed dial number one on her cell.)

“Hey, dad,” Allison said when Chris Argent answered the call. “We’ve got a hunter here, trespassing on Hale territory.”

(Stiles wondered how difficult that had been for her to say.)

“He says he got your permission to track an omega to Beacon Hills.”

You didn’t need heightened sense to hear Chris Argent’s vehement denial of that claim.

“My dad wants to know your name,” Allison addressed the hunter.

When it appeared that the hunter wasn’t going to supply his name, Derek nodded to Boyd. Boyd kept one hand on the hunter’s shoulder to keep him from even thinking about trying to get away, and began patting him down with the other. He found a wallet and flipped it to Scott. Scott opened it and withdrew an Oregon driver’s licence.

“Mack Everett from Oregon,” Scott read off, and Allison repeated the information into the phone.

“Dad wants to see him,” Allison said, disconnecting the call and sliding her cell into her pocket.

“Tell him to meet us at the station,” Stiles’ dad said, stepping forward.

Stiles couldn’t believe that he’d actually forgotten that his dad was there.

“The station?” Everett said, his gaze taking in Stiles’ dad’s uniform. “You can’t arrest me!”

“Actually, Mr. Everett, I believe you’re trespassing on private property. You know how I know that? Because I walked the boundary line between Hale property and the Beacon Hills Preserve with Mr. Hale and Park Ranger Davis the day it got posted. It was a long day.”

Stiles’ dad put handcuffs on Everett and took the wallet from Scott.

“Allison,” Derek said. He inclined his head to indicate that she should accompany the Sheriff.

It looked like Allison wanted to argue just on principle, but she knew that she had to explain what had happened here to her dad. She followed Stiles’ dad with the crossbow.

“Who’s her ride?” Derek said.

Without waiting for Derek to tell them, Lydia and Jackson moved off after Allison and Stiles’ dad. When they were gone, Stiles, Scott, Isaac, Erica, Boyd and Derek were left with the omega.

“What are you going to do with me?” Sheila asked, her voice quavering just a little bit.

“That is the question,” Derek said. “But first I want to know why you all aren’t still in school,” he said, turning to them.

“School’s out,” Erica promptly said.

Derek pinned her with his gaze. “Was it out when you left?”

Erica squirmed a little bit, then finally admitted, “No.”

“We were worried,” Scott said, rushing in where angels feared to tread.

“I could’ve handled this,” Derek said. “You didn’t need to skip school.”

“Then next time answer your damned phone!” Stiles exploded. Only after he spoke did he realize that had been building up inside him.

“I think what Stiles is trying to say,” Erica began, in an uncharacteristic attempt to smooth things over.

“Stiles can speak for himself,” Stiles snarled.

“Not in front of company, children,” Boyd said.

Stiles wanted to bite Boyd’s head off, too, but he realized that Boyd was right. He didn’t really want to have this conversation in front of the betas, much less a stranger.

“Fine,” Stiles said. “We’ll finish this later,” he told Derek, equal parts promise and threat.

Stiles turned to look at the omega, who was watching them with poorly disguised interest, bringing everyone else’s attention back to her as well. Derek glared at Stiles a little longer before turning his attention to her.

“Why did you come here?” Derek asked.

“I told you,” Sheila said. “Because I hoped you could help me.”

“Help you how?” Derek said. “We’re not interested in expanding our pack right now.”

“Yes,” Sheila said. “I can see that you‘ve got your hands full.”

Derek growled low in his throat, and Sheila quickly backed down. (Apparently Derek could be at the end of his rope with them, but no one else could disparage his pack.)

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Sheila said, ducking her head and baring her throat, though there seemed to be something stiff about it. Probably because she wasn’t used to submitting to Derek, Stiles thought.

“If you don’t want to join our pack, then what did you think we’d be able to do for you?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” Sheila said, sounding kind of miserable. “Give me a safe place to stay for a couple of days, reach out to other packs in the area . . . .”

Derek studied her for a moment before replying. “Let’s continue this back at the house.”

Stiles was surprised that Derek would take her to his home – it wasn’t as if it was hidden in a secret location, but he didn’t like strangers on his property, as evidenced by the very stressful picnic he’d hosted over the summer. Sheila looked relieved about that. Maybe more relieved than the situation warranted, but Stiles didn’t know how long she’d been alone and on the run, so he couldn’t judge.

Derek gave Stiles a look as he turned to lead them back to the house. It said, you annoy me, but I like you anyway. Stiles hoped his own expression, as he naturally fell into step next to Derek, said, ditto.

Sheila, flanked by Erica and Boyd, followed Derek. Scott and Isaac brought up the rear. The walk was made in silence. Unsurprising in Derek’s case, but no one else, not even Stiles, really felt like talking either. Stiles wasn’t sure why, because as far as their encounters with hunters and other supernatural creatures went, this one had been surprisingly easy and bloodless.

It took Stiles a few precious minutes to figure out why he was feeling too distracted to want to run off at the mouth. He could still sense the wards being breached. But they’d neutralized the threat the hunter presented, so he couldn’t figure out why the wards were still being affected. Unless capturing him wasn’t enough. Perhaps the wards wouldn’t stop reacting to his presence until he was off the property. He’d have to talk to Deaton about it, because maybe his understanding of how the wards worked was flawed.

Unless the wards were working perfectly and the problem was that they hadn’t neutralized the threat at all. Which meant that Stiles’ dad could be in danger. Except that the wards had been set up to protect Derek and his pack. It was possible that Stiles’ dad was protected by the wards by extension, since Stiles was part of Derek’s pack?

The other option was that Derek was still in danger. Just as he had the thought Stiles saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Stiles called out a warning, but Derek was moving before the words had left his mouth.

Stiles felt impotent as he watched Derek fight with Sheila, but he couldn’t swing the bat without fear of hitting Derek. From the growls issuing from their throats, the others felt the same way. It was clear that Sheila wasn’t as strong as Derek (probably because she was an omega), and he soon had her pinned (literally) to the ground, his claws in her shoulder.

“Can we kill her now?” Erica said, her own claws out as she shifted from foot to foot with building adrenaline.

Stiles didn’t think of himself as particularly bloodthirsty, but he was the first to second Erica’s suggestion. Derek was bleeding, and that was unacceptable.

Derek gave Stiles a look, but all he said was, “No. I’ve got some questions for her.”

Sheila snarled despite the broken arm she cradled against her body, and the wound in her abdomen that bled sluggishly, both healing slowly. Further proof that she was alone, and not part of a pack.

“Why?” Derek said.

It looked for a moment like she might not answer, but Sheila wanted to tell them. “Why else? Vengeance,” she spat.

“We don’t even know you,” Isaac said, sounding the slightest bit hurt that someone they didn’t know would want to hurt them.

“Vengeance for what?” Derek asked.

“For killing my pack!” Sheila said, a mad glint in her eyes.

“We never . . . ,” Stiles began.

“For killing our leader,” Sheila went on as if Stiles hadn’t even spoken. “He’d have made a strong alpha if you’d only cooperated and let him kill you!”

Stiles took a step back as spittle flew from her mouth. “Gerard,” he said with disgust as he finally realized what ‘pack’ they’d killed.

Sheila glared at Stiles and, if looks could kill he’d have been dead in that moment. “You aren’t fit to lick his boots, much less speak his name.”

“Euww,” Erica said.

Scott snorted.

“Hey, wait,” Stiles said. “Technically, we didn’t kill Gerard.”

“Peter did,” Boyd said, catching on quickly.

“Can we send her after Peter?” Stiles said hopefully.

For a second Derek actually looked like he was considering it, but then he burst all their bubbles and said, “No. What about the hunter, Everett?” he asked Sheila, ignoring their disappointment.

Sheila laughed madly. “He was supposed to take some of your pack out for me so I had a better shot at you. Instead he had to be one of those hunters that follows the code,” she sneered.

“Unlike your oh so great leader,” Stiles offered.

Derek moved his claws in Sheila’s shoulder when she would have turned her attention to Stiles, keeping her focused on him. “The family he said you killed?”

“Needed some reason to keep him on my tail,” Sheila said, as if the lives she’d taken meant nothing.

“I’m sorry for whatever happened in your life to bring you to this point, but even if you hadn’t killed that family, you’re a threat to my pack. I can’t let you live.”

Derek moved so fast Stiles almost missed the swipe of his arm that sliced a claw across her throat. They all watched in horrified silence as she quickly bled out, the angry light in her eyes going dim until it finally went out. In a rare moment, not even Stiles was in the mood to say anything.

“Boyd,” Derek said.

“On it,” Boyd said. “Erica, with me.”

Erica swore. “Why do I always have to bury the dead bodies?”

“We’ll help,” Isaac said, including Scott in that, proving what a sober moment it was.

“How did you know?” Stiles asked Derek. “Before I said anything, you knew.”

Derek shrugged, and Stiles wasn’t sure if he’d get an answer to his question. “She smelled wrong. Rotten.” He looked at Stiles. “What about you, how’d you figure it out?”

“The wards,” Stiles said. “I couldn’t figure out why they were still being set off. I thought my dad was in danger, at first.” He shook his head. “It took me too long to figure out that she was the threat.”

Derek reached out and took Stiles’ hand. Stiles was so surprised he just stared at their joined hands until Derek started to pull away, and then he tightened his fingers quickly. Derek looked pleased and angry about it at the same time, which made Stiles smile.

“Should we help them?” Stiles asked, wrinkling up his nose. He’d helped bury bodies before, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

“We’ve got it,” Erica said quickly.

“Yeah, go do whatever you’re doing somewhere else,” Scott said.

“We’re not doing anything,” Stiles said.

“You smell like you want to,” Isaac said, sounding embarrassed.

Derek growled. “Don’t smell him.”

“Trust me, I’m trying not to,” Scott said.

“Come on, Big Bad Wolf,” Stiles said, more embarrassed than he’d like to let on that the others knew how he felt about Derek. More specifically, what he wanted to be doing with Derek.

“Let’s order pizza for the burial detail. And maybe we should call Mr. Argent to let him know what happened here. And the McKellens, just, you know, to keep them in the loop.”

As splashes of cold water went, that one was pretty effective.

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A couple days after the wards had gone off Stiles’ dad invited Derek to the house for dinner. He kicked Stiles out of the kitchen and made his ‘famous’ Chicken Parmesan. Stiles didn’t even complain about how much cheese his dad was sure to use because he was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that his dad had invited Derek over for dinner.

And it hadn’t sucked. For some reason it surprised Stiles that his dad and Derek got along as well as they did, even though his dad had told Stiles that he liked Derek, and paid him the even greater compliment of saying that Stiles’ mom would’ve liked him.

That weekend, when Stiles had a full day off from school, and after he’d had a chance to speak to Deaton, Stiles walked the Hale property to assure himself that all the wards he’d put up still held. Derek went with him, supposedly for protection, but Stiles wasn’t fooled. Now that he knew Derek like-liked him, it was actually pretty easy to spot. Derek liked to spend time with him, even when he had nothing to say.

It was as if Stiles’ (normally irritating) presence soothed him. Even when Stiles never shut up. Stiles had apologized once, but Derek had waved it off with a simple, “I like it.” Stiles now knew that really meant, “I like you.” Stiles talked because Derek couldn’t, and Derek listened because no matter what Stiles was nattering on about he enjoyed the sound of his voice. It must be love.

Amanda met Stiles at the Hale house for more training. Her training was way different from Derek’s idea of training. Mostly they just talked. And practiced meditation exercises, which made Erica laugh and laugh when Stiles first mentioned it to her. She loudly bet anyone a hundred dollars that Stiles couldn’t sit still for an entire meditation session. It was a sucker’s bet and no one took her up on it. Derek had glared at them from the porch the entire duration of Amanda’s visit and then scent marked Stiles for two hours after she left before he was satisfied that Stiles smelled like him.

“Like pack,” Derek had corrected, but Stiles had only snorted at that and reminded Derek, “Two hours.”

Stiles and Derek often went running together. Sometimes on four legs, sometimes on two. Stiles found himself getting in better shape, which was pretty cool. And he liked that it was his own muscles doing the work, even if his heightened senses kept him from tripping over his own feet, and allowed him to run faster and farther without getting winded or rubber-legged. Oftentimes they ended up at the overlook. Whether in human form or were, they’d flop down on the grass to rest and enjoy the view. Stiles liked being in human form because he could talk, but he enjoyed their four-footed form because Derek was more cuddly in that form and he let Stiles sprawl out on top of him.

Today they were human, sitting shoulder to shoulder. Stiles had been talking, telling Derek about a bunch of stuff going on at school to cover the fact that he really wanted to tell him about the upcoming homecoming weekend. Best to work up to asking Derek to go with him to the homecoming dance. Stiles slipped in a mention of it between a story about Erica and Isaac at lunch the day before and his tale of woe regarding scoring yet another detention from Mr. Harris.

In the silence that fell Derek said, “Laura used to get into trouble all the time.”

“Laura?” Stiles said, surprised that Derek was talking at all, much less talking about his sister.

Derek nodded.

“Don’t tell me, Laura was the trouble maker and you were the good boy?” Stiles said with no little amount of disbelief.

“Yeah, I was always the good one,” Derek said, sounding a little bit bitter, and Stiles wondered if he was remembering the horrible and unfair consequences of the first time he’d rebelled, kept secrets from his parents, lied to them.

“How the times have changed,” Stiles said lightly, trying to draw Derek back to happier memories. “Can you tell me about her? I bet she got you into some trouble.”

Derek made a sound that was almost a laugh. “She loved to get me into trouble. She used to call me a goody two shoes all the time, but I was never able to deny her when she said something would be fun. It took me a while to realize that was her way of saying mom and dad wouldn’t approve.”

Stiles smiled as Derek spoke of his memories, but inside he was squirming like an excited puppy. As Derek spoke, Stiles shifted closer, and by the time Derek fell silent he held one of Derek’s hands in both of his. The quiet was nice; Stiles could tell that Derek wasn’t sorry he’d opened up to Stiles, which made it even better. Stiles rested his head on Derek’s shoulder and Derek pressed a kiss to the top of Stiles’ head. They hadn’t had sex yet, had barely even kissed, but this moment felt more intimate than anything they hadn’t done yet.

~*~

When Stiles finally worked up the nerve to ask him to the dance Derek said no. Stiles remained undaunted until the sixth time he asked, coupled with the suggestion that Derek attend just to make sure they stayed out of trouble. When even that didn’t work, Stiles figured it was a lost cause. It didn’t matter, really. He’d known it was a long shot when he had the idea, and it wasn’t as if anyone else was going as dates. Well, Erica and Boyd, and Lydia and Jackson, and Scott and Isaac, even if Scott remained oblivious to the fact that they were dating. It was kind of sweet, actually. And totally Scott.

So, okay, everyone had a date but him. They were going as a group, and it wasn’t as if anyone would rub it in. Well, Jackson might, but Lydia would kick his ass, so . . . .

To Stiles’ surprise, Derek showed up a the dance.

“Hey,” Stiles said when he saw Derek, trying not to sound as pleased about that as he felt.

“We need to go,” Derek said in greeting.

“Hello to you, too,” Stiles said. “And why, you just got here.”

“Gremlins,” Derek said.

“Gremlins,” Stiles said, deflating. “Of course it’s gremlins.”

“Gremlins are real?” Scott said, voicing Stiles’ other thought.

Apparently gremlins were real, and they had very sharp teeth. And they weren’t cute at all. As soon as they’d dispatched the gremlins Derek sent them back to the dance. Stiles stayed with Derek.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said. “I shouldn’t have asked. I know you hate that kind of . . . .”

Derek shut Stiles up with a kiss. Stiles was actually pretty okay with that.

“I wanted to say yes,” Derek said when he finally broke the kiss.

“I . . . you . . . really? I mean, of course you did, because clearly I am awesome. But, really?”

Derek’s answer was a raise of his eyebrows that said, you are an idiot and I’m taking it all back.

“No!” Stiles said. “You can’t take it back.” He ignored Derek’s confusion, because Derek had so been thinking about taking it back. Which Stiles wasn’t having any of. “Okay, no dances. But we are totally doing more of that other thing. The thing with your lips. And mine. Like now. Now would be good.”

Now was good for Derek, too. Or else he just wanted to shut Stiles up. Either way, it worked for Stiles.

~*~

So kissing was a thing they did now. The only problem Stiles had with it was that they hadn’t been doing it sooner. Because Derek was a pretty awesome kisser. He could make Stiles forget about everything else when he had his tongue in Stiles’ mouth and his hands on Stiles’ body (even though he insisted on keeping them above the waist). As evidenced by the fact that Stiles’ dad had almost caught them making out once because neither of them had heard him come home. Which meant that Stiles had the power to make Derek forget, as well, which was a very heady feeling.

Derek broke the kiss they were currently engaged in and drew back. Stiles moaned his disapproval of that and tried to follow him so he could get his mouth back onto Derek’s mouth. Derek put a hand between them and stopped him. Stiles groaned in defeat and rolled off of Derek’s lap to sprawl on his back on the grass. He was hard. Really, really hard, and it took all his willpower to keep from reaching down and touching himself.

This was another thing Stiles hated. Derek stopping when it appeared that neither of them wanted to stop. Stiles sat up and looked down at the valley below them, hoping that the view would take his mind off his predicament. It didn’t. Stiles stood and dusted off the seat of his pants.

“I’m going for a walk,” Stiles said.

Derek looked surprised, and a little bit guilty, and a lot like he wanted to argue. “Why?”

Stiles huffed a humorless laugh. “Because I’m frustrated,” Stiles said, gesturing towards the very obvious evidence of his frustration. Derek looked, as if he couldn’t help himself, then dragged his eyes away.

“And sometimes it’s difficult to sit next to you when I’m . . . .” Stiles gestured again. “And not want to push for more than you’re willing to give. So, walking it off. I’ll meet you back at the house,” Stiles said, and then headed off before Derek could respond.

Stiles had no doubt that Derek would follow him, because Derek was an over-protective creeper, but the illusion of privacy would be enough to let Stiles walk off his frustration. Most of it was of the physical variety, but some of it was mental, as well. He understood why Derek was skittish about taking their physical relationship further, but that didn’t mean he didn’t wish for more, didn’t want Derek’s hand on him to be more than merely a fantasy.

By the time Stiles broke into the clearing around the house he’d lost his erection and was missing Derek even though he knew that Derek wasn’t far behind him. Stiles went into the house and waved into the living room, where the others were watching a movie, on his way to the kitchen. He broke up the two pounds of ground beef he’d left in the fridge and put it in a pot to cook, then chopped up a large onion and added it to the pot.

Stiles stirred the beef and onion, then covered it and set the timer for five minutes. He got out the cans of diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste, as well as garlic powder and Italian seasoning, and set it all on the counter to be added once the beef and onions were cooked to his satisfaction. Stiles stirred the mixture again and was just setting the cover on the pot when Derek slunk into the kitchen.

“Hey,” Stiles said as he set the spoon down.

“Hey,” Derek said. He looked like he wanted to say something else, so Stiles waited. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here when I got back.”

“What, you thought that since you won’t let me get into your pants I was gonna take all my toys and go home?”

Derek looked equally amused and annoyed at the comparison. “Something like that,” he admitted.

Stiles got out the can opener and opened the cans. He felt Derek’s gaze on his hands, as if working a can opener was the most fascinating thing ever. Stiles stirred the pot again. “You’d think, of the two of us, that you were the blushing virgin,” he teased.

As soon as the words left his mouth Stiles wished he could call them back. Maybe Derek hadn’t, since Kate. Maybe he’d been so damaged by her that . . . . Stiles dared to look at Derek, who was giving him the usual look of amusement slash disbelief, and didn’t look like Stiles had opened an old wound.

“I’m not,” Derek said, putting Stiles out of his misery.

“Oh, good,” Stiles sighed in relief. “Not that . . . . Never mind,” he said at the look Derek gave him. “I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.”

“What makes you think you’re ahead?”

“Funny,” Stiles said, then, “Hey! Why did you . . . with them?” When you won’t with me, went unsaid.

“Because they weren’t you,” Derek said.

“Okay,” Stiles said. “I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere.”

“There is,” Derek said gruffly, as if he’d had enough sharing is caring for one day. “They didn’t matter.”

“Oh,” Stiles said again. His heart swelled just a little bit. He threw himself at Derek and pressed his face to Derek’s shoulder, slipped his arms around Derek’s waist. “I like you for more than what’s in your pants,” he said into Derek’s t-shirt. “In case you were wondering.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Derek said dryly.

“Oh, crap, sorry, ick,” Scott said, and then Stiles heard his footsteps retreating to the living room. “You guys can get your own drinks. I’m not going back in there.”

“Fine,” Erica said, and Stiles could picture the irritated eye roll. “I’ll get them.”

A few seconds later Erica was in the kitchen. “Is this what freaked Scott out?”

“Yep,” Stiles said, not moving away from Derek.

“Why? It’s just a hug.”

“He might’ve smelled the emotions,” Stiles teased.

“Ah,” Erica said, as if she’d taken Stiles at his word. She fell silent; Stiles didn’t hear her footsteps or the sound of the refrigerator door being opened. Finally she spoke again, sounding almost timid. “Can I hug, too?”

“If you think you can handle it,” Derek said as he raised his arm, which made Stiles snort.

“All that icky emotion,” Stiles added.

“If it gets to be too much I’ll go take a shower,” Erica said as she snuggled up to both of them and put one arm around Stiles’ back.

It was really comfortable to stand like that, and Stiles lost track of time until he heard Boyd’s voice.

“I thought you were getting drinks.”

“I was,” Erica said, not budging.

“What happened?” Boyd asked.

“Ooh, hugs,” Isaac said, and was soon wiggling his way beneath Derek’s other arm.

“Come on, you guys, the movie’s . . . . Oh,” Scott said. “Don’t get too close or you might get sucked in,” Scott warned Boyd.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Boyd said.

Isaac made a sound and gave Scott his puppy eyes, which were pretty lethal, especially when aimed at Scott. Scott made a resigned sound and shuffled over to join their group hug. He nudged Stiles’ cheek with his nose as if to say ‘sorry’, then pressed his face to Isaac’s neck.

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” Boyd said.

“Resistance is futile,” Stiles said, and he, Scott and Isaac giggled.

“Uh oh,” Boyd said. “He’s starting to rub off on you guys.”

“I need to rub off on somebody,” Stiles said, and then froze.

Scott leapt back. “Hug time’s over!”

“Uh, sorry,” Stiles said to Derek. “That was totally inappropriate.”

Scott grabbed Isaac and pulled him away, and even Erica stepped back, though more slowly. “Come watch the movie when you’re done putting the spaghetti sauce together,” she invited.

“How did you know that we’re having spaghetti?”

Erica just raised her eyebrows and indicated the cans sitting on the counter. “Besides,” she said, “I scoped it out earlier and saw the Italian bread.”

“Cheater!” Stiles called after her as she followed the others into the living room.

“Sorry,” Stiles said again when they were alone. “I didn’t mean . . . that just slipped out.”

“As most things do,” Derek said, but he didn’t sound upset about it.

“Still,” Stiles said. “It was private and I . . . .”

Derek gave him a raised eyebrow.

“What?”

“They’re werewolves, Stiles. Very little we’ve done, or not done,” Derek added when Stiles opened his mouth to correct him, “is private.”

“I know that,” Stiles said. “In theory. I try not to think about it in practice.”

“Now finish the sauce so we can go watch the movie.”

With a bunch of werewolves who knew that Stiles was sexually frustrated because Derek wouldn’t put out. Awesome. “I hate you,” Stiles said.

Derek’s smirk said that he knew Stiles was lying.

~*~

“Derek and I aren’t having sex,” Stiles announced as he dropped onto the couch.

His dad winced and dragged his eyes away from the television screen. “Do we have to talk about this?”

“Yes,” Stiles said, “because I want you to be just as miserable as I am.”

“Mission accomplished,” Stiles’ dad said dryly.

Stiles sighed. “It’s just . . . I understand, okay, I do. But I’m afraid I’m going to be too old to enjoy it by the time we . . . you know, do anything besides kiss. Not that there’s anything wrong with the kissing. The kissing is great.”

His dad didn’t say anything, probably because he didn’t know what to say.

“Are they absolutely sure that you can’t die of blue balls?”

His dad choked. When he was breathing freely again, he said, “From the number of tissues in your wastebasket when I empty it, I don’t think you need to worry about that.”

They both looked mortified once the words were out.

“I . . . you empty the wastebasket?” Stiles said.

“You think little faeries come in and do it?”

“No,” Stiles said. “But that would be cool. So.” Suddenly, talking about him and Derek to his dad didn’t seem like such a great idea.

“Having second thoughts about this course of action?” his dad said.

“Would you think less of me if I said yes?”

“Not a bit,” his dad said, sounding relieved. “Football?”

“Sure,” Stiles said. “Can I have a beer?”

“No.”

~*~

“What’s wrong?” Stiles asked when he showed up at Derek’s.

Derek frowned. “Nothing’s wrong.”

“Then why’d you ask me to come early?” Though ‘ask’ was a bit of a stretch.

“Because I wanted to show you something,” Derek said.

“Ohh,” Stiles said, waggling his eyebrows. “Your etchings?”

Derek looked torn between laughing at Stiles and strangling him. Stiles got that a lot.

“Okay, show me.”

“Maybe I don’t want to show you now.”

“You do.”

“No, I don’t think I do.”

“I could*make you want to show me,” Stiles said, snaking his fingers beneath the hem of Derek’s t-shirt.

Derek grabbed Stiles by the upper arms and pressed his back against the wall. He buried his face in Stiles’ neck. Stiles moaned and tilted his head, hoping that Derek was going to do more than sniff his neck.

“You’d better be planning on kissing me,” Stiles said, hoping to move things along.

Instead of kissing him, Derek took Stiles’ hand and led him up the staircase.

“Where are we going?” Stiles said, breathless from the sniffing and from the speed with which they went from that to this.

“Upstairs,” Derek said, very unhelpfully.

“No shit, Sherlock, but why . . . oh my god,” Stiles said when Derek opened the door to the right of the landing and ushered Stiles into the room. “When did you . . . ?”

Stiles knew that Derek had started work on the house again when school started. He figured that Derek had needed something to do once he was free of teenagers hanging around all day. There were only so many pull ups and push ups and crunches a guy could do. Not that Stiles wasn’t grateful for every single one of them.

But Stiles had only seen the changes Derek had been making downstairs. The dining room had been finished – painted, the floor laid, and furnished with a table large enough to seat ten people comfortably, twelve if they squeezed one more on each side. Derek had also completed the room he’d chosen as his den, where he could hide when the crowded house became too much for him. He’d also offered to let Stiles use it when he was doing research.

As comfortable as the living room was for hanging out and watching movies, Stiles had to admit that the den, with its big desk, was much better for research. The windows looked out onto the back yard, and even though Derek had furnished the room in mahogany and leather (to exactly no one’s surprise), it was comfortable. Stiles could totally see himself using the space. Especially since it was large enough for the two of them to be in there at the same time if Stiles sat on the, what turned out to be, very comfortable couch.

Derek had never let on that he was also working on any of the rooms upstairs yet. Stiles wouldn’t have been surprised if Derek had put off finishing the upstairs for a couple years. He had everything he needed downstairs, especially now that the dining room and den were complete. This was – Stiles turned in a circle, trying to take everything in – unexpected, to say the least. He ran his hand over the bedpost of the king-sized bed and the trunk at the foot of it as his gaze took in everything else – the side tables, the dresser, the flat screen television hanging on the wall.

“Wow,” Stiles said. “This is . . . this is amazing.”

“It’s the master suite,” Derek said.

“I know,” Stiles said. “I saw the plans. I helped you hang the drywall. But, I didn’t even know you were working up here.”

“I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Stiles glanced at Derek, and though Derek wasn’t really smiling, Stiles could tell that he was pleased by Stiles’ reaction.

“Have you shown the others?”

Derek raised his eyebrows.

“Really? I’m the first?” Stiles wasn’t sure what to do with that information. He was the first to see the master suite, the room that Derek would be sleeping in. Derek had even asked him to come over early so he could show it to him.

To hide his reaction in case he was wrong, wrong, wrong, Stiles dove into the walk-in closet. “Oh my god,” he said, his voice echoing in the cavernous space. “This closet is huge.” He popped out of the closet. “You’re going to need to buy more t-shirts.”

Stiles grinned at Derek, then slipped into the bathroom and immediately froze in place. He’d never seen anything so opulent in Beacon Hills. The sink had a marble vanity and double sinks. Stiles ran his hand over the marble and turned on the cold water handle. Water flowed from the tap.

“The water works!”

“Of course the water works,” Derek said, sounding insulted that Stiles had questioned his manly ability to properly plumb a sink.

Stiles flushed the (water efficient) toilet just to watch Derek’s eyebrows lower. Stiles’ mouth fell open when he was confronted by the tub. It was humongous. “I bet we could have a party in here,” Stiles said as he reached out to turn the knob. If not a party, two people would certain fit in there more than comfortably.

“Hey,” Stiles said. “Come on, get in here with me.”

“I’m not sitting in there,” Derek growled. “You just turned on the water.”

“Oh, yeah.” Stiles’ eyes lit on the shower. “In here!” he said. The shower was nearly as big as the tub, and when Stiles stepped inside he saw that it was equipped with two showerheads.

It was clear that Derek had built this suite with two people in mind. Stiles just wasn’t one hundred percent sure that he was the second person. He thought he might be. Derek had invited him over to show it to just him, without the others around. But he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions that would leave him feeling like an idiot later.

Derek let Stiles drag him into the shower, but he growled, “Don’t even think about turning on the water.”

Stiles grinned. Derek really did know him so well. “But, how are we going to know if it works?”

Derek glared at Stiles.

“Okay, fine, but on one condition.”

“What?” Derek said suspiciously, keeping his eyes on Stiles’ hands.

“We make out on the bed,” Stiles said, grinning when he saw that Derek was tempted.

“The others will be here soon,” Derek said reluctantly.

Stiles pretended to reach for the water. He giggled when Derek’s hand darted out and captured his wrist, more turned on by the move than he probably should be. Derek’s nose did this cute little bunny thing that meant he was sniffing Stiles, and from the look on his face he’d clearly scented Stiles’ arousal.

Derek pressed Stiles’ back against the tiled wall of the shower and lowered his face to Stiles’ neck. Derek’s nose tickled Stiles’ skin as he sniffed him. Stiles tilted his head to give Derek better access and Derek growled against Stiles’ neck. Stiles was pretty glad Derek had completed the master suite if it meant he’d be seeing more action, even though this particular action was taking place in the shower instead of on the nice comfy bed.

Derek made a sound of displeasure as he pulled away from Stiles.

“What?”

Derek’s gaze fell to Stiles’ lips. He looked away and raised Stiles wrist, slowly released it.

“Derek, wha–?” And then Stiles heard it, too. An approaching engine. Boyd’s truck. “Can’t you send them away?” Stiles said, even though he knew Derek wouldn’t.

Derek pressed a gentle kiss to Stiles’ lips, then backed out of the shower.

“I hate everyone,” Stiles said as he rearranged himself in his jeans. He listened to the sound of Derek’s retreating footsteps and only moved to follow him when he imagined Scott’s expression when he found him hiding in Derek’s shower. Before he left the bedroom, though, he rubbed his face all over Derek’s pillow. Stiles smiled as he imagined Derek trying to get to sleep that night.

Photobucket

Stiles’ eighteenth birthday came and went. Nothing changed. At least, not the thing Stiles had hoped would change, as if eighteen was the magic number Derek had been waiting for. It was pretty anti-climactic, actually. Not that the day itself passed without notice. They threw him a surprise birthday party at Derek’s house, which would have been more of a surprise if Scott could keep a secret. (It was truly a wonder that more people didn’t know he was a werewolf.)

Stiles’ dad was there, and so was Scott’s mom. Derek had even set up a Skype with Megan and Christy that Stiles took in the den so they could have some privacy. The girls had baked cupcakes for him. They sang happy birthday to him and made him pretend to blow out the candles. And then they ate the cupcakes in front of him and laughed at his expression of mock outrage. It was really nice and Stiles gave Derek a big kiss to thank him for making the effort.

Derek looked surprised when Stiles released him, and so did Stiles’ dad, who’d come looking for them to let them know that the pizza had arrived.

After the pizza came cake and ice cream. Mrs. McCall had taken pity on Derek and given him the name of the best bakery in Beacon Hills. There were eighteen lit candles on the cake and Stiles got them all with one blow. He made a point of not looking at Derek when he made his wish, but he was pretty sure Derek knew what he’d wished for. (As did probably everyone else in the room, including his father. Not embarrassing at all.)

When the pizza had been demolished, cake and ice cream filling all the nooks and crannies left in their bellies, Stiles’ dad and Mrs. McCall offered to take care of clean up. Derek argued, but Stiles knew not to look a parental gift horse in the mouth. Instead of joining the others in the living room to watch a movie, Stiles pulled Derek out onto the front porch. (There were plans for a patio in the back, with a huge bar-b-que, but for now this was all they had.)

They sat on the top step, shoulder to shoulder, Stiles’ hand resting on Derek’s knee. They watched the stars in silence, listened to the sounds of the woods all around them.

“You knew,” Derek said, his voice soft, as if he didn’t want to disturb the night.

“What?” Stiles said.

“The party, you knew.”

“Oh.” Stiles flushed. He’d tried to act surprised. “You could tell?”

Derek raised his eyebrows.

“Right,” Stiles said. “You guys should know by now that Scott can’t keep a secret to save his life.”

“Hmm,” Derek said, kind of distracted as he picked up Stiles’ hand from his knee and held it in his own.

~*~

As they’d done for the past several years, ever since Stiles’ mom died, they spent Thanksgiving at the McCall residence. The only difference this year was that Stiles (and Scott, though Stiles would bet Scott was still unaware of it) had a date.

“Pick me up?” Stiles said.

“Why, Jeep broke down again?” Derek asked.

“What? No!” No one disparaged Betty, not even Derek.

“Your dad working?”

“He’s going to stop by the station, but that’s not the point,” Stiles said.

Every year his dad went in for a couple hours after dinner so that whoever’d drawn the short straw that year could still spend a few hours with their families. Derek already knew that, but . . . .”

“You asshole,” Stiles said, torn between wanting to smack the smirk off Derek’s face and enjoying the fact that he’d put it there. “Will you just . . . pick me up?”

Stiles really didn’t want to have to explain that he just wanted to arrive with his boyfriend, alright?

“Yes,” Derek said. “I’ll pick you up.”

“Thank you,” Stiles said primly, then squealed when Derek pulled him down onto his lap and kissed him. Stiles wasn’t going to complain. A, he was being kissed, and B, he liked this playful side of Derek.

Thursday morning Stiles threw together a green bean casserole and a cabbage salad. His dad had made banana nut bread using his mom’s favorite recipe. Stiles boxed everything up and was ready when Derek pulled into the driveway. He didn’t even wait for Derek to get out of the car, just pulled on his jacket over his favorite red hoodie and picked up the box.

Derek held the passenger door for Stiles just like a real boyfriend, and Stiles gave him a quick kiss before sliding into the seat. He glanced into the back and bit back a chuckle at the number of bakery boxes sitting on the seat. Derek had insisted on bringing something, but he didn’t cook, so Scott’s mom had told him that it would help her out a lot if he’d bring a couple of pies for dessert. There were more than a couple of pies on the backseat.

“What?” Derek said when he slid into the driver’s seat.

“Buy out the bakery?”

Derek didn’t even bother glancing into the backseat. “I didn’t know what kind people liked. Where’s your dad?”

“Don’t think I don’t recognize a change of subject when I see one,” Stiles said, but he answered the question. “He took some banana bread down to the station.”

Stiles’ mom had started the tradition back when his dad had been a rookie deputy, and they’d continued it after her death. Stiles wasn’t sure about his dad, though he figured the same held true for him, but Stiles felt close to his mom when they upheld the family traditions she’d begun. That hadn’t been the case the first year, when the pain of losing her was still too new and raw, but each time after that.

Stiles saw his dad’s cruiser in the McCall driveway when they pulled onto Scott’s street. His dad was just getting out when they pulled in behind him. He opened Stiles’ door and ducked his head to greet Derek as he took the box off Stiles’ lap. He glanced into the backseat as he stood up.

“What did you do, buy out the bakery?”

Stiles laughed all the way to the house, even though Derek piled his arms with pies and glared a hole into his back as they walked up the walkway.

If anyone had told Stiles even six months ago that he’d be having Thanksgiving dinner with Derek Hale, he wouldn’t have believed it. Sure, Derek had stopped being such a sour wolf all the time, and they’d kinda, sorta been friends, but having Derek share a meal with his family (Scott and his mom were totally part of Stiles’ family) would have been beyond his ability to even imagine.

Which made him wonder now how Derek had celebrated the holiday previous years. Probably spent the day alone when he wasn’t lurking around corners, checking on everyone like the overprotective creeper wolf he was. It made Stiles sad to think about it now, though he’d barely paid it any thought before.

“What?” Derek said, looking worried, as if he could sense Stiles’ distress.

Stiles shook his head and worked up a smile. “Nothing. I’m just glad you’re here.”

Derek looked surprised, but he managed to say, “Me, too,” before they were greeted by Scott and Isaac and relieved of the pies.

“Sure,” Stiles said. “I see how it is.”

Scott just laughed and led Isaac into the kitchen where Mrs. McCall exclaimed over the number of pies they carried and made appreciative noises as she lifted the tops to see what was inside each box.

Everyone got a drink and they sat in the living room for a few minutes, just relaxing and talking about nothing. Mrs. McCall checked her watch and then went out to the kitchen to make the gravy and mash the potatoes while Stiles’ dad carved the turkey. They each took a bowl and soon the table was loaded down with so much food Stiles almost thought he heard it groan.

There was a moment of silence for each of them to give thanks in their own way, and then they all dug in. The assault on the food was led by Scott, who’d put all his favorites in front of his spot, though each of the boys, including Derek, made a good showing of it. Stiles had third helpings and still had room for pie.

Stiles’ dad offered to help clean up, but Mrs. McCall sent him off on his mission of mercy and roped Scott, Isaac and Stiles into clean up duties. When Derek offered to help, Mrs. McCall told him that he was company, and company got to sit and watch everyone else do the work. “So does the cook,” she added with a conspiratorial grin as she joined him at the island.

“Aren’t I company?” Isaac tried.

“People who sleep here more nights than they don’t no longer qualify as company,” Mrs. McCall said.

Isaac blushed. Stiles quickly nodded his head when Mrs. McCall said, “Right, Stiles?”

Despite everything they’d eaten, there were still leftovers. The box Stiles left with was more full than when he’d arrived.

Derek drove Stiles home and only hesitated a moment when Stiles asked him to come in. Stiles put the leftovers away and then he and Derek sat on the couch. Stiles thought it might be a little bit awkward now that it was just the two of them after spending the day with a different kind of family than Derek was used to, but it wasn’t. They fell asleep on the couch to the muted sounds of men running around on a football field and didn’t wake up until Stiles’ dad came home.

~*~

Stiles made the mistake of thinking how nice and quiet it was. Aside from the whole Gerard debacle, things had been peaceful around Beacon Hills (for the most part), since Derek had settled into his role as alpha and shown himself to be a smart leader with a strong pack. It didn’t hurt that he had an agreement with the hunters in the area and had taken out a pack of alphas. Word of that sort of thing got around.

Still, Stiles knew better than to tempt fate, he really did. Because just when you go and think about how quiet things are, someone invariably gets kidnapped.

“So,” Stiles said. “Elves are real. Does that mean Santa’s real, too?”

“Don’t you ever shut up?” the elf said, exasperated.

“I get that a lot,” Stiles said. “It’s just that I talk when I’m nervous. Or all the time, really. And being kidnapped tends to do that to me. Make me nervous, I mean,” Stiles clarified as he tested the ropes around his wrists. He could hear the fibers give a little bit when he pulled on them. Derek probably would’ve torn through them by now, but Stiles was going to take a little longer to break free.

Speaking of Derek. “I feel it’s only fair to warn you that my boyfriend is going to find you and kick your ass.”

There was no response from the elf. Oh well, it was his funeral.

“Can you at least tell me what you want with me? Are you taking me to the North Pole? Are reindeer real? Will I get to meet Santa?”

The elf gave an evil little cackle. The kind of laugh that sounded even scarier coming out of the mouth of a tiny little being that resembled a Christmas elf. Stiles thought it was Un-Fair to have to discover that while Christmas elves (or at least the beings they were based on) were real, they were not the nice and kindly version found in many a (clearly falsified) Christmas tale.

“Yes,” the elf said, finally giving Stiles some information. “You will definitely get to meet Santa. You’re older than the children I usually bring back to him, so I hope you aren’t too tough. Santa likes his children nice and tender.”

The elf smiled. It wasn’t a very nice smile at all. And he had really sharp teeth.

“Wait, what?” Stiles said as his brain finally made sense of the elf’s words. “Tender? He’s going to eat me?” Stiles’ voice might’ve squeaked at the end there.

The elf approached Stiles with a syringe in his hand.

“What’s that?” Stiles said, frantically pulling at his bonds now that it appeared he didn’t have much time left.

“It’s just a sedative,” the elf assured him.

(Just for the record, Stiles did not feel very reassured.)

“Santa likes his dinner fresh. I’m just going to put you in cold storage with the others.”

(With good reason, it seemed.)

“Wait, others?” Stiles said.

The elf didn’t answer, just reached out to press the syringe to Stiles’ neck. Stiles transformed. In fox form his legs and . . . other legs were freed from the rope. Unfortunately, he was still stuck inside his clothing. The fox form did not take to sitting in a chair very well, however, and Stiles tumbled off. The elf stepped on Stiles, who gave a very unhappy yip, and fell to the floor with a loud crack as his head hit. Stiles was rolling around on the floor attempting to extricate himself from his shirts and hoodie when the door was kicked in.

Stiles would recognize that kick anywhere. “Derek?” he said, though it came out as more of a yap.

Derek growled in reply.

“Get me out of this!” Stiles said. Yap, yap, yap!

Someone grabbed hold of the material prison encasing Stiles and yanked off all his shirts in one go. Stiles blinked against the light, then yipped excitedly when he saw Derek standing above him, glowering. Stiles loved that glower. Now that his front half was free, Stiles easily kicked out of the jeans. He leapt up and pawed at Derek’s legs.

Derek fell to his knees and caught Stiles up in a hug. Stiles was too surprised to do anything at first.

“He was really worried about you,” Scott said.

Derek’s growl promised retribution for Scott telling Stiles such a scandalous truth. Stiles just grinned. He licked Derek’s face until Derek clamped a gentle hand over Stiles’ muzzle and stared into his eyes.

“Change back,” Derek said.

Stiles gave Scott and Isaac a meaningful look.

“Out!” Derek commanded his betas.

Scott and Isaac scrambled to get out of the . . . whatever the elf had brought Stiles to. He’d never gotten to see the outside of it. Derek looked at Stiles when they were alone and Stiles immediately changed back. As soon as he was in human form Derek kissed him. Stiles happily kissed him back.

“Don’t do that again,” Derek said.

“It wasn’t my fault!”

Derek’s eyebrows clearly didn’t believe him. “What did you do to him?” Derek asked, indicating the elf laid out on the floor, unconscious.

“Uh. Tripped him,” Stiles said. “Accidentally.”

Derek looked like he wanted to smile, but was afraid it would diminish the amount of worry he’d gone through before finding Stiles healthy and whole. He contented himself with a wry, “Of course you did. Get dressed before the others come back in,” he added.

Stiles only then realized that he was sitting bareassed on the floor. He scrabbled for his jeans when Derek’s words unlocked another thought. “Others!” Stiles said as he hurriedly pulled his jeans up. “Derek, there are children here!”

Derek’s eyes went red as he looked around the room they were in. “Where?”

“I don’t know!” Stiles said as he pulled on a t-shirt. “The elf said he was going to put me in cold storage . . . .”

Derek growled his displeasure at that. Stiles rubbed Derek’s arm.

“. . . so maybe a freezer of some sort? Or a cryogenic chamber, oh my god, Derek, how cool would that be?” At Derek’s look Stiles said, “Right, not the time. Can you sniff ‘em out?” he asked. “I mean, if their heartbeats are slowed down and stuff?”

“I’m not a bloodhound,” Derek said, even as he raised his nose in the air.

“Of course you’re not,” Stiles placated.

As Derek concentrated, Stiles let Scott and Isaac back into the room and told them what was going on. He finished getting dressed while the others searched the room with their senses. His feet were pretty cold by the time he put his socks and sneakers back on. Cold! “Hey! My feet are cold!”

The three of them looked at Stiles with varying degrees of ‘so what?’

“Maybe it’s in the floor,” he explained.

They immediately started checking the floor for any indication of a secret compartment.

“I found something,” Isaac said a couple minutes later.

The four of them got on hands and knees to examine the crack Isaac had discovered. Scott stuck his claws in the crack, but Stiles stopped him before he could pull.

“Wait! We don’t want to do something wrong and end up killing them.”

“We need to find a way to open it,” Derek growled.

Just then the elf moaned as he swam towards consciousness. They all turned to look at him.

“I think I just might know someone who can help us with that,” Stiles said.

Derek hauled up the elf and tied him to the chair Stiles had been tied to, using the same rope. Poetic justice, Stiles thought. Five minutes later they had an answer. The elf hadn’t wanted to talk, but he’d been persuaded that remaining silent wasn’t in his best interest.

When Derek had first wolfed out, the elf had said, “Really, werewolves are real?” which Stiles thought was the elf calling the werewolf black, or something. Because, hello, creepy evil elf.

“I don’t trust him,” Stiles said, shaking his head. “I mean, what if we do what he says and it triggers some sort of distress call, or a self-destruct?”

Scott and Isaac looked around worriedly. Derek stared at Stiles.

“What do you suggest, then?” Derek asked.

“Lydia,” Stiles said. “She might be able to read whatever language this is and tell us what some of these buttons and levers do.”

“Fine,” Derek said. “Call her.”

“We should probably call Scott’s mom, too,” Stiles said as he pulled out his phone and dialed Lydia. “We don’t know what condition these kids’ll be in when we find them.” Stiles refused to believe the worst.

Derek nodded and Scott made that call. Lydia had tried to sound as if Stiles was putting her out, but Stiles had heard the excitement in her voice at the opportunity to put her big brain to use. Lydia was smarter than all of them, except for maybe Stiles, and after so many years of hiding it she loved to be able to prove that fact to them. When Stiles got to the part where he had to tell her where they were Derek took the phone from Stiles and gave her directions.

When Derek had disconnected the call and handed the cell back to Stiles, he suggested that they bring in Deaton, as well. He might be able to tell them something about the elf, or come up with a truth serum in case Lydia couldn’t translate the elven words. Elvish?

“We should bring in your dad, too,” Derek said. At Stiles’ look of surprise, he added, “He’s the Sheriff, and we’re talking about kidnapped children here.”

“No, yeah,” Stiles said. “I’m all for it. It’s just weird having you be the one to suggest calling my dad.”

“Maybe we should wait before calling in the authorities,” Scott suggested. “Uh, I mean,” he stammered when all eyes turned to him. “We only have his word for the fact that there are any children here at all. And if he is trying to get us to self-destruct, the fewer people here the better.” He sounded unhappy, realizing that his mom would be one of the people in danger.

“Your mom’ll be fine,” Derek said gruffly, and Stiles was impressed that he’d read Scott so well. “Call Deaton,” he added, giving Scott something to do to take his mind off it. “Tell him what’s going on. Isaac, call Erica and Boyd, have them scout the town to make sure the elf is alone.”

Stiles hadn’t thought of that possibility. There was probably one other phone call they’d have to make. “When we know what we’re dealing with, we’ll probably have to call Chris Argent, as well,” Stiles said.

Derek nodded to acknowledge Stiles’ point. “While we’re waiting for Lydia to arrive, why don’t you tell me how you got into this mess in the first place?”

“How I . . . ? Okay, fine,” Stiles said, realizing that Derek was just holding on to his control, and if Stiles pushed him, he’d be pinned up against the wall with Derek’s nose in his neck quicker than he could say Jack Robinson. Though Stiles had no idea why he’d even want to say Jack Robinson. “But it really wasn’t my fault.”

Derek’s eyebrows still didn’t believe him. It was totally unfair.

“I was just walking down the street to meet Scott and Isaac at the coffee shop, minding my own business, when I saw this guy talking to this kid. It looked like he was trying to abduct him. I thought he was just some run of the mill creepy pervert dressed up as an elf to entice children. I didn’t realize he was a creepy evil elf.”

“Hey!” the creepy evil elf said.

Derek’s fist darted out and shut up the creepy evil elf quite effectively.

“Uh,” Stiles said. “Keep in mind that we might need him later.”

“Only if Lydia can’t figure it out,” Derek said, and then gestured at Stiles in a ‘continue’ motion.

“Okay,” Stiles said. “Anyway, I ran up to them and pulled the kid away, and I must’ve grabbed his arm so he couldn’t run, and the next thing I knew we were here.” Stiles indicated the room. “Oh my god,” he said. “We teleported!” He’d been too scared for his life to recognize the utter coolness of this at the time. “Is it a device, I wonder, or just something really creepy evil elves can do?”

“Stiles.”

“Right. So how did you guys even know I was gone?”

“We saw you disappear into thin air!” Scott said, freaking out now that Stiles had been found.

“I’m okay, buddy,” Stiles said, giving Scott a hug, and opening his arm for Isaac when he wiggled in.

“But how did you find me so quickly if I just ‘poofed’?” Stiles asked when he pulled out of the hug. “I mean, there was nothing to track, right? No scent or heartbeat.”

Derek looked slightly uncomfortable at the question. Scott, however, looked gleeful. Isaac looked torn between the two emotions.

“Derek could sense where you were,” Scott said.

“Really?” Stiles said. “That’s so cool! How come you never told me you could do that?”

Derek looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “It, uh, never came up.”

“Never came up,” Stiles repeated. Derek looking uncomfortable was the only way Stiles knew that this was something important. “Well, it’s come up now. So spill.”

Derek came to attention. “Lydia’s here,” he said, sounding relieved, and practically ran out of the room to greet her.

Oh, yeah, they were definitely talking about this later. After they rescued an unknown number of children and returned them to their worried parents. But conversation was going to be had.

Photobucket

It was several days before Stiles and Derek could have that talk. Between Stiles giving a (mostly fabricated) statement to the police, his dad and Mrs. McCall making sure the children they’d found were alright and returned to their parents, and Derek working with Deaton and Chris Argent to get all the information they could from the elf before, A, disposing of him in such a way as to make it appear the kidnapper had been killed and yet was unable to be identified as non-human, and B, informing other hunters to be on the lookout for elves attempting to abduct children, there was no time.

From the expression on Derek’s face when Stiles showed up at his house on the third day, he’d been hoping they could put it off for several more days.

“You don’t look happy to see me,” Stiles said, undaunted. “I could leave.”

Stiles turned as if to walk back down the steps and return to Betty and Derek immediately reached out and snagged him by the hood and dragged him back. Stiles tried not to give off smug vibes when Derek buried his face in Stiles’ neck and breathed him in as if it had been weeks instead of days since they’d been together without an audience. It would be just his luck that it turn out Derek could smell smug.

Stiles slipped his arms around Derek and held on tight while he did some sniffing of his own. It didn’t matter how long they spent apart, an hour, a day, Derek always smelled good to hm. Like home and safety and, just, everything. Sometimes Stiles wondered what he smelled like to Derek, and then Derek would make a happy little rumble as his nose tickled Stiles’ neck and he figured he had to smell as good to Derek as Derek smelled to him.

When Derek pulled back he looked a little bit wasted, which Stiles thought was a good look on him, especially since it was Stiles who had put that expression on his face. It made him want to pull Derek into a kiss and never stop kissing him, but first they needed to talk.

Stiles took Derek’s hand. “Come on, let’s go sit down.”

Derek tensed up, but he let Stiles lead him into the living room without arguing. Only once they were sitting on the couch, Stiles leaning against Derek’s side and still holding his hand, did Stiles bring up the subject Derek had been trying so valiantly to avoid.

“So, you can sense me. Across, like, a distance.”

Stiles waited out Derek’s silence and finally he responded with a terse, “Yes.”

“How does that work?” Stiles asked, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice. He couldn’t help that he loved to learn new stuff, and this was really cool. It didn’t help that the less Derek wanted to talk about it, the more curious Stiles became.

“I don’t know, exactly,” Derek said.

Not a lie, Stiles noted, but not the whole truth, either.

“Can you sense the others like that?” Stiles asked. Because that would come in really handy in an emergency. Or even if he just wanted to sneak up on Scott.

Derek squirmed a little bit before finally admitting, “Not like that, no.”

“Just me?” Stiles said.

Stiles took Derek’s silence as an answer.

“Why?”

Derek looked like he wanted to cross his arms over his chest and close himself off from an uncomfortable conversation, but he didn’t want to release Stiles’ hand to do it. “Because you’re important to me,” Derek bit out angrily.

The combination of Derek telling Stiles that he was important to him in an irritated tone was so Derek that it made Stiles want to smile. He bit it back in favor of getting more information out of Derek rather than antagonizing him.

“The others are important to you, too.”

“It’s different,” Derek said.

Stiles nodded. “Because you care about me differently than you care about them,” he said, speaking slowly and carefully. “Because you . . . love me. Because you . . . .” Stiles thought about the master suite Derek had finished. “. . . want me to move in with you?”

That, finally, got a reaction out of Derek – more of the grimace-y kind than the talk-y kind, but he didn’t deny it.

“You did the master suite for us.”

Derek looked annoyed that he’d been so transparent, even though he’d been excited to show it to Stiles as soon as it was finished.

“Yet you haven’t made a move, even though I’m eighteen now. And I know you don’t sleep up there.”

“I don’t want to sleep there without you,” Derek admitted, which gave Stiles the warm fuzzies all over.

But the question remained. “Why haven’t you asked me yet?”

“Because it’s not . . . !” Derek exploded, then reigned himself in. “It’s not that simple.”

Of course it wouldn’t be, not with Derek. Stiles just needed to figure out why. If Derek thought sex was simple, that meant he wanted more than sex. Wanted more than sharing a bedroom. Derek, being the possessive bastard he was would want nothing less than all of Stiles, “Forever.”

Derek jumped as if he’d been goosed. “I know you’re not ready for that,” he said defensively, as if Stiles had been accusing him of something horrible.

Stiles swung himself onto Derek’s lap more nimbly than he would’ve done before he’d been bitten, when he would’ve been lucky to have executed the move without kneeing Derek in any important bits. Werewolf healing aside, that would hurt like hell. And probably derail their conversation.

“Hey,” Stiles said, grabbing as much of a handful of Derek’s hair as he could. “You do not get to decide that for me.”

“You’re not,” Derek said stubbornly.

“Okay,” Stiles said, deciding to humor Derek. “How do you know that?”

“Because you don’t smell right.”

Stiles felt as if his heart had been stomped on. “I don’t smell right?” he repeated, his voice small.

“Of course you smell right,” Derek said, quickly backtracking. He grabbed Stiles’ hips to keep him from escaping, though Stiles had been too stunned to even think of it. “You smell amazing! I love the way you smell.”

Stiles wasn’t ready to let it go. “But you just said . . . .”

“I meant ready,” Derek said. “You don’t smell ready.”

“Oh, I think you’ve smelt ready on me more than a few times,” Stiles said dryly.

“Not that kind of ready,” Derek said with a half-hearted glare made even less scary by the way he actually blushed as if he was remembering just such an occasion.

“Alright, then, what does ready smell like?”

Derek’s face got all pinched up.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said. He slapped Derek’s shoulder. “You don’t even know, do you?”

“I thought I’d recognize it,” Derek said obstinately.

Stiles huffed a laugh of disbelief. “So, what, you thought being a werewolf would give you a leg up on this relationship thing? That you wouldn’t have to take a chance and jump into the deep end like the rest of us mere mortals?” Stiles touched Derek’s face. “I don’t think that’s how it works,” he said more gently. “I think you just need to trust yourself.” Stiles placed his hand over Derek’s heart. “And trust me.”

“What if I can’t?” Derek said.

Stiles didn’t take Derek’s comment to heart because he knew that Derek’s issues were mostly with himself.

“You can,” Stiles said, “because you’re not broken, and you’re not weak. And you’re not alone.”

Stiles pressed his lips to Derek’s, a soft, chaste kiss that he hoped said everything his words were inadequate to express. He wrapped his arms around Derek’s shoulders and rested his forehead against Derek’s. They sat there together, unmoving, just holding on to each other, and breathing in each other’s air, and taking comfort from each other.

The moment he got home Stiles was going to research werewolf bonds and mates and anything else he could think of, but that was for later. Right now was cuddle time.

~*~

Derek was sitting on the top porch step when Stiles pulled up to the house and parked next to the Camaro. Waiting for him, if the intense expression with which he regarded Stiles was any indication. Stiles could not lie – he liked it when Derek looked at him like that, when he could feel the look like a soft caress against his skin, because it meant he was going to get kissed until he couldn’t remember his own name.

“Nobody else here?” Stiles said as he walked up to the house, trying to sound casual though he had to shove his hands into the front pockets of his jeans so he didn’t just reach out for Derek and give the game away.

Derek shook his head. “Just the two of us,” he said softly.

Stiles tried not to sound too eager when he said, “Does that mean we’re going to pretend to watch a movie while we make out on the couch?”

Derek raised his eyebrows. “I’m beginning to think that you only like me for my body.”

“Your sense of humor, actually,” Stiles said as he put his foot on the first step. “The abs are just a bonus.”

Stiles moved up one more step, but before he could sit down beside him, Derek stood and took his hand. Stiles let Derek lead him into the house without complaint because there was going to be kissing in his near future and he was not fool enough to turn that down.

In the living room the lights had already been turned low, but the big surprise was the candles. “There are candles,” Stiles said. There’d never been candles before. “Why are there candles?”

Derek looked like he was annoyed that Stiles didn’t get it, but he was probably more annoyed that he had to use actual words. Stiles thought about what candles usually meant – used to set a mood, for romance . . . .

“Are you trying to seduce me?” Stiles said, sounding surprised. It wasn’t as if Derek didn’t know by now that Stiles was pretty easy for him.

“No,” Derek said. “I have it on good authority that you’re a sure thing.”

Stiles burst out laughing at the similar line their thoughts had taken. “That’s very true,” he admitted. But if not seduction, then, “Are you a closet romantic?”

Derek glared at him, but Stiles didn’t let that keep him from slipping his arms around Derek’s waist. “It’s okay if you are,” he said softly. “I like it.”

Getting to know Derek, getting glimpses beneath the surface, was a thrilling experience. Derek was definitely more than the sum of his parts.

Derek looked like he wanted to deny any romantic inclinations, but then he’d have to explain the candles some other way, and the gesture was already paying off so he’d be cutting off his nose to spite his face. Watching the expressions chase each other across Derek’s face was almost amusing. Except Stiles was missing out on some very valuable make-out time.

“Derek,” Stiles said, interrupting Derek’s mental war with himself. “Just kiss me.”

Derek put his hand at the back of Stiles’ head and tilted it where he wanted it, and kissed him like he’d been thinking about doing it all day. They didn’t stop kissing until Stiles was breathless and his knees like rubber. Sitting down before he fell down sounded like a good idea.

“Should we sit on the couch?” Stiles said. “Put a movie in, you know, keep up appearances?”

Derek slid his hand down Stiles’ back. “I was thinking we could go upstairs,” he said.

Derek spoke so quietly that at first Stiles thought he heard wrong.

“Derek? You want . . . . Derek?” Stiles closed his fingers in Derek’s t-shirt as if he could get his thoughts across better that way. “Do I smell ready?” he said, only partly joking.

Derek growled. “Will you shut up about that?”

Stiles gave a nervous laugh (because he and Derek might soon be getting naked together). “It’s like you don’t even know me.”

Derek grabbed Stiles by the hips and lifted him. Stiles’ arms and legs reflexively went around Derek. Derek captured Stiles’ mouth and Stiles eagerly returned the kiss as he ground himself against Derek. Derek didn’t stop him this time because just kissing wasn’t the end game here.

“Okay, maybe you do know me after all,” Stiles said breathlessly when they finally broke apart.

Derek made a sound that Stiles interpreted as, ‘bitch, please,’ mostly because it amused him to imagine Derek saying it, but partly because his brain couldn’t come up with anything else.

“Are you . . . are you sure?” Derek bit out.

Instead of chuckling at Derek’s angry need to make sure he wasn’t rushing him, Stiles put his hands in Derek’s hair and brought his face close to Derek’s. “Derek,” he said. ”You big stud.”

Derek’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t.”

Stiles might never be allowed to watch ‘Top Gun’ again, but it had to be done. “Take me to bed, or . . . .”

Derek shut Stiles up with a kiss. For that Stiles was willing to be shut up. By the time Derek released his mouth they were moving up the stairs. It would’ve been annoying that Derek could kiss and walk at the same time without tripping, since Stiles never could’ve managed it, but Stiles was the beneficiary of Derek’s grace and agility, so he wasn’t going to complain. Much.

“Are there candles in the bedroom, too?” Stiles said.

Derek didn’t answer. When they reached the landing Stiles saw that there were indeed candles flickering in the bedroom. He’d teased Derek about them, but he was on the fast track to getting laid, finally, and Stiles didn’t want to do or say anything that might derail them from that purpose. Derek carried Stiles through the open doorway into the master suite and then kicked the door shut behind them. Which did things to Stiles.

Derek went to lay Stiles down on the bed, but Stiles refused to unhook his legs so Derek was forced to come down with him. Stiles kissed Derek to silence any complaint, and then rolled them so he was sitting on top of Derek. Stiles grinned triumphantly and, even though Derek could easily reverse their positions, he allowed Stiles to remain on top. Stiles ducked his head to kiss Derek, then buried his face in Derek’s neck.

“Are we really going to do this?”

Derek ran both hands down Stiles’ back. “If you want to . . . .”

Stiles raised his head quickly. “I do! Don’t ever doubt that. It’s just . . . I’m still not sure this isn’t a dream. I mean, for a while there I thought we were never going to get here.”

“We’re here now,” Derek said roughly.

“Yes, we are,” Stiles said as he gently rolled his hips.

Derek growled, and his hands tightened on Stiles’ hips. “I want to come all over you.”

Stiles groaned. “That’s disgusting,” he said as he reached between them to palm Derek’s dick. “And hot. Filthy,” he added as he tore at the button and zip keeping him from touching bare skin.

Derek batted Stiles’ hand away and opened his own pants. Stiles reached inside before Derek could and gently pulled Derek out. Derek didn’t try to stop him. His eyes went red as Stiles stroked him. Stiles enjoyed the way Derek felt in his hand, the reaction he got out of Derek just from this simple touch.

“Do you, uh, want to?” Stiles said. “What you said?”

Derek looked at Stiles as if he wasn’t sure he could really have that. “Can I . . . ?”

Stiles ducked his head, a little bit embarrassed that he wanted Derek to do that to him when they’d never done anything at all before. “Yes.”

Derek flipped them before Stiles could take his next breath. He pushed Stiles’ shirt up as he claimed Stiles’ mouth. Derek broke the kiss to get the shirt off and then he went to work on Stiles’ jeans. In sort order Stiles’ lips had been kissed red and swollen and he lay naked on the bed. Derek looked at him, ran his hand down Stiles’ side.

“Don’t.” Stiles tried to cover himself, but Derek grabbed his wrist and pinned it to the mattress so he could look his fill. Stiles groaned. “You, too, man,” he said, plucking at the hem of Derek’s t-shirt with his free hand.

Derek quickly removed the shirt. He touched Stiles’ skin with one hand as he touched himself with the other. Watching Derek touch himself like that was hotter than Stiles could’ve imagined.

“Derek, please.”

Derek bent down to kiss the words out of Stiles’ mouth, and then pressed a kiss to Stiles’ belly. He sat back up and stroked himself, fingers and eyes moving over Stiles’ body as he worked himself towards orgasm. Stiles had never imagined that he’d see Derek like this. Well, of course he’d imagined it, especially after Derek started kissing him, but Stiles had thought it might never happen. Stiles’ own cock begged for attention, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Derek.

Derek stared into Stiles’ eyes, and even though he wasn’t watching, his hand never slowed on his cock, his fingers unerringly found Stiles’ nipple. When he found something that Stiles liked he did it again. And again, until Stiles was writhing beneath him, making sounds he’d never before heard come out of his own mouth.

“Derek,” Stiles finally managed to say. “Derek, please.”

Derek’s face twisted up and he looked like he was in pain. (It was an expression Stiles had never seen before because even when Derek was near death his default expression was anger.) He made a sound, like a wounded animal, and then he came in stripes across Stiles’ cock and belly. It was the most beautiful sight Stiles had ever seen. It became much less awesome when the come started to cool and dry on his skin.

“Okay, that feels kind of gross now.”

Derek opened his eyes from where he still held himself above Stiles with one arm and breathed as if he’d just ran a race. He lifted his hand and brought it to Stiles’ belly, spread his come over Stiles’ skin.

“Okay,” Stiles said, “that’s . . . .” He couldn’t finish the thought because the expression on Derek’s face was . . . enraptured. “Of course you like that,” Stiles said. “That’s gonna come off, right?”

Derek didn’t answer. Not that Stiles expected him to.

“So,” Stiles said after he’d watched Derek finger paint his skin for a while. “That didn’t take long.”

Derek glared at him, and Stiles laughed at his faux pas. “No, that’s not what I meant! That didn’t come out right. I didn’t mean to impugn your manly stamina, I just . . . .” He lowered his voice. “How long have you wanted to do that?”

Derek didn’t answer, not in words, but the kiss he gave Stiles told the truth – he’d wanted to do that for a long time. The knowledge that Derek had been wanting this as much as Stiles had, that maybe Derek had been thinking about it, imagining it, was pretty heady stuff. Even more turned on by that, Stiles tried to deepen the kiss. Derek pulled back, ignoring Stiles’ whine of protest. He buried his nose in Stiles’ neck and then sniffed a trail down his body, which was not a surprise.

The surprise was when Derek’s tongue followed the path his nose created. It took Stiles a moment to realize that Derek wasn’t merely licking him, but licking off the come he’d spread into Stiles’ skin. It sounded gross, but Stiles could not deny that it was hot watching Derek do that, seeing the expression on Derek’s face as he dragged his tongue over Stiles’ skin, as if licking his come off of Stiles was his nirvana.

Stiles reached down and touched the tips of his fingers to Derek’s face. Derek quickly turned his head and sucked Stiles’ fingers into his mouth, which made Stiles squeal in surprise and then moan as Derek’s tongue snaked it’s way between and around his fingers.

There were things that Stiles had never experienced that he knew were supposed to be fun, supposed to feel good, like having someone else touch his nipple, but this was something he hadn’t seen coming at all. He pressed his fingers against Derek’s tongue and encouraged him to suck harder. Stiles didn’t know how it worked, but it felt as if Derek was sucking on his dick instead of merely his fingers. Derek released Stiles’ fingers and continued on his quest to clean Stiles’ skin of his come.

“You know, I think there’s a spot you’re missing,” Stiles said, trying not to sound too hopeful.

“Where?” Derek said, carefully licking around Stiles’ cock without touching it.

“Derek,” Stiles pleaded. It turned into a low moan when Derek’s tongue swiped the head of his dick. “Yeah,” Stiles said, “that’s . . . no, don’t stop!”

Derek didn’t laugh out loud, but Stiles could tell he was totally laughing on the inside.

“It’s not funny,” Stiles whined, giving Derek’s hair a little tug. In retaliation Derek nipped at Stiles’ hip, but Stiles didn’t have time to complain about it because Derek then closed his mouth over the head of Stiles’ cock and sucked.

Stiles nearly levitated off the bed. He’d never had someone else’s hand on his dick before (the pornos that promised circle jerks in every boys locker room were lies), much less their mouth, and mouth, as it turned out, was very, very good. “You’re never going to stop doing that, right?” Stiles said, patting Derek’s head and doing his best not to thrust into his mouth.

Derek actually raised his eyebrows at Stiles, but he didn’t stop what he was doing, so Stiles wasn’t going to dwell on the fact that he’d actually gotten a raised eyebrow while Derek was sucking his cock. Well, not too much, anyway.

Stiles had been hard for a while now (he didn’t think he was being melodramatic if he said since, like, August), and he’d just watched Derek come all over his belly and then lick him clean, and now Derek was . . . . Stiles took a deep breath. The point was, Stiles didn’t think he needed to be embarrassed to admit that he was getting close.

“Derek,” Stiles said softly, trying not to sound urgent. “I’m close.”

He’d touched his thumb to Derek’s lips, and now Derek lifted his head, popped his mouth off Stiles’ dick and gave his finger a quick suck. Stiles gave an appreciative moan, then managed to find his words again. “I’m trying to be careful, but . . . .”

“Don’t,” Derek said.

“What?”

“I want you to fuck my mouth.”

“Oh. My god,” Stiles said as he frantically squeezed the base of his dick. “You can not just say something like that!”

Derek’s smirk said that he knew exactly what his words had done to Stiles. He replaced his mouth on Stiles’ dick, and when Stiles didn’t move quickly enough to suit him, he slapped Stiles’ hip.

“Ow,” Stiles complained.

Instead of looking repentant, Derek’s eyebrows said, ‘get on with it!’

“Okay, fine, but I don’t actually want to hurt you,” Stiles said as he gave an experimental thrust.

Derek’s eyebrows said, ‘you’re not going to hurt me.’ Stiles couldn’t deny that, as much as he’d been enjoying what Derek was doing to him, thrusting into Derek’s mouth was a whole other level of good. He did it again, still being slow and careful no matter what Derek’s eyebrows claimed. His whole body shuddered as his cock head hit the back of Derek’s throat. Derek gave a satisfied rumble around Stiles’ cock that vibrated into his balls.

Stiles moaned and reflexively thrust harder the next time. The noises Derek made around his cock sounded like, ‘yes, just like that.’

Stiles couldn’t stop now even if he’d wanted to. “Oh god,” he said as he drove his cock into Derek’s mouth. “Derek, god, your mouth,” he groaned.

Stiles couldn’t stop, and he couldn’t slow down, and he couldn’t . . . . His mouth opened in a silent groan when he finally came, his cock pulsing on Derek’s tongue as he emptied himself into Derek’s mouth. Derek milked Stiles dry and pulled off at the first wince of sensitivity. (Stiles now knew what Derek’s eyebrows had been telling him earlier.)

Derek made his way up Stiles’ body and, even though Stiles’ eyes were closed as he recovered from the most intense orgasm ever, he could tell that Derek was looking all kinds of smug.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, reaching up blindly to pat Derek’s head. “You’re the man.”

Derek chuckled. Stiles still wasn’t used to hearing them come out of Derek’s mouth and he treasured each one. “So are you,” Derek assured him.

“I didn’t even do* anything,” Stiles protested. “I mean, you did all the . . . .” He blushed when he saw how Derek was looking at him and realized what he was saying. “You know what I mean.”

“It wasn’t work,” Derek said as he gently ran his hand up Stiles’ body until he cupped Stiles’ jaw in his palm. “And it was my pleasure.”

Stiles’ eyes came up at the rough timbre of Derek’s voice. When their eyes met, Stiles recognized the hunger in Derek’s eyes. It matched that which he felt for Derek. Derek’s name was on the tip of his tongue, but instead of speaking it Stiles slid his hand to the back of Derek’s head and drew him down until their lips met. The kiss started out tender, but quickly heated up.

Even before they’d done . . . this . . . Stiles couldn’t get enough of Derek, but now it seemed as if everything he felt for Derek had been amped up, as if his control had slipped now that it didn’t need to be so firmly in place, and his feelings had been exposed. Derek kissed Stiles as if this was how he’d always wanted to kiss him, and now that he could the desire wouldn’t be denied. Stiles could not deny that he liked this side of Derek.

When Derek broke the kiss Stiles’ lips felt raw. He darted out his tongue to lick them and Derek’s eyes followed the movement. Stiles thought he might get kissed again, but instead Derek rolled Stiles onto his side and spooned up behind him.

“Derek?”

“Hmm?”

“Aren’t you going to . . . ?” Stiles pushed his butt back into the hardness he felt pressing into his lower back.

Derek made a sound in Stiles’ neck, more of a purr than a growl. “Later,” he said and continued to snuffle at Stiles neck like a contented kitten. (Not that Stiles would ever say that out loud. At least, not when he wasn’t prepared to run for his life.)

After a moment Stiles said, “What do I smell like?” He was afraid he smelled awful, like sweaty socks, or something, except that Derek seemed to like how he smelled if the way he kept sticking his nose in Stiles’ neck was any indication.

Derek took a few seconds to answer, too busy sniffing. Finally he simply said, “Mine.”

“I . . . smell like yours?”

Derek hummed in agreement.

“That’s because you covered me in your come!” Stiles said.

“No,” Derek said lazily. “You don’t smell like me, you smell like mine.”

Stiles didn’t know what ‘mine’ smelled like.

Derek placed his hand gently over Stiles’ heart. “Because you are mine.”

Well, Stiles couldn’t argue with that.

“Now go to sleep. I’ll wake you.”

Stiles didn’t think he could go to sleep. Not with so much to think about. But the next thing Stiles knew, Derek was providing him with the promised wake up call. He pressed wet, hot kisses to the back of Stiles’ neck and slowly worked his way down Stiles’ spine. Stiles shivered with each touch of Derek’s tongue to his skin, and again when cool air met the mark Derek had just left on him as he moved lower to leave another.

Stiles giggled when Derek’s mouth reached his lower back because he was a little bit ticklish there, apparently. Factoid #32 that Stiles didn’t know about himself until he’d met Derek Hale. Instead of moving back up Stiles’ body, Derek continued downward. Stiles gasped when Derek’s mouth pressed a kiss to his ass cheek. (It reminded him of a sound he’d heard his Great Aunt Sally make on more than one occasion – Great Aunt Sally was easily appalled. Which was probably not the thing to be thinking about right then, but Derek’s tongue was on his ass!)

And then Derek spread Stiles’ cheeks and pressed his mouth to the cleft between them. Heat blossomed over Stiles’ skin, and it wasn’t all from embarrassment. “Uh, Derek,” Stiles said. “Um, you know, I didn’t know we were . . . you probably don’t want to . . . .”

Apparently Derek did want to because before Stiles had even finished speaking Derek swiped his tongue right over his asshole. Stiles made a sound that was partly a squeak of surprise, and in part a moan of approval. His own moan surprised Stiles nearly as much as Derek’s tongue had. When he’d thought about having sex with Derek (which, let’s face it, he’d thought about a lot), Stiles had never imagined this.

Though he should have, in retrospect, because Derek was as orally fixated on Stiles as he was olfactory-ily fixated. Still, it was sort of unsanitary, and Stiles tried to warn Derek about that but it was nearly impossible to think, much less form actual words with Derek’s tongue doing that to him.

Derek tipped Stiles more firmly onto his belly, and when he pushed Stiles’ leg up to open him up for his tongue, Stiles reflexively pulled his leg up even further. Stiles flushed red at the thought of so wantonly spreading himself open for Derek’s tongue. Derek seemed to appreciate the gesture, if the way his tongue attacked Stiles’ asshole was anything to go by. Soft licks and exploratory stabs with the tip turned to a determined fucking, and Stiles made sounds in response that would’ve embarrassed him if he wasn’t too busy rising up onto his knees the better to push his ass back eagerly against Derek’s face.

Stiles whined in protest when Derek stopped, which made Derek chuckle against his ass. “Don’t worry,” Derek said, placing a hard kiss to Stiles’ cheek. “I’m not finished with you.”

Stiles shivered at the husky promise in Derek’s voice. He spread his legs wider when Derek’s fingers brushed over his hole, and then buried his face in the pillow because he was such a slut! Stiles mewled into the pillow when Derek licked around the finger he teased at Stiles’ entrance.

Derek stopped again. Stiles turned his head to yell at him, but his mouth dried up when he saw Derek stepping out of his jeans. Of course he would be formed like a Greek freaking god, like, all over. Stiles would rail at the unfairness of it, but all that was his, so he was less inclined to complain lest those very same gods think him ungrateful and take it away from him.

When Stiles emerged from where his brain had taken him, Derek stood at the side of the bed looking worriedly at Stiles. He indicated the lube and condom he’d gotten out while Stiles’ mind had been elsewhere. “Is this alright?”

“Is it . . . ? Yes!” Stiles said. “Yes, Derek, I mean, look at me.”

Stiles wanted to feel embarrassed about the way he lay there on the bed, exposed, but Derek was looking at him, and Stiles felt hot wherever Derek’s gaze touched him.

“Don’t leave me like this,” Stiles said. He’d meant it to sound commanding, but it came out more plaintive.

Derek immediately dropped the condom and lube on the mattress and draped himself over Stiles’ back. His cock was hard against Stiles’ ass and his knees between Stiles’ legs spread them even further. His breath was hot against Stiles’ neck and his arm a comforting band of steel around Stiles’ chest.

“Tell me you want this,” Derek said.

Stiles’ would’ve made a smart aleck comment if it had been a command, but he knew that even now Derek needed the reassurance that he wasn’t pushing Stiles too far, too fast. “Yes,” Stiles said. “Yes, Derek, I want this. I do. Please.”

Derek growled in Stiles’ neck. His hand slid over Stiles’ shoulder, down his side to his hip. “Tell me what you want.”

This time it was a command, and still Stiles couldn’t wisecrack because Derek slid his hand over Stiles’ ass, between his cheeks. He shuddered when Derek’s fingers touched him again.

“Yes, your fingers,” Stiles said immediately, eagerly.

“What about my fingers?” Derek asked as he circled Stiles’ hole.

Stiles’ brain must’ve been fried because he couldn’t come up with a good retort to save his life. “P-put them inside me,” he said.

Derek pressed the tip of a dry finger inside Stiles. “Like this?”

Stiles had done this to himself before. (He’d told Derek about it once, hoping it would speed things along. It hadn’t. All he’d gotten for his effort was an afternoon without Derek, who’d had to go run off his frustration.) He knew what he needed now. “More,” Stiles growled.

Derek moved his hand away. Just to be contrary, Stiles figured. Before Stiles could make a fuss, though, his fingers were back, covered in lube. He smeared the slick around Stiles’ hole and then pressed in with one finger. “Like this?” he said against Stiles’ neck.

Stiles made a wordless noise of approval deep in his throat. Derek’s own growl reverberated against his neck.

“Fuck, yeah,” Stiles moaned as Derek slowly pushed the finger all the way inside him, and just as slowly began to fuck him with it.

Finally Derek touched that spot inside him that made stars explode behind Stiles’ eyes. Stiles’ entire body shuddered and he made a very embarrassing noise. Derek seemed to like whatever scent Stiles was giving off, given how deeply into Stiles’ neck his nose was pressed.

Derek moved his finger gently until Stiles’ nerve endings stopped sparking, and then he touched him again. While Stiles was riding the wave of pleasure, Derek inserted a second finger. His touch was tender as he allowed Stiles time to stretch around the additional intrusion, and just when Stiles was ready to tell Derek to give him more, Derek touched him right where he needed to be touched.

Stiles felt full, and his cock was hard and leaking, but he still needed more. “Give me another one, Derek, please.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Derek growled against Stiles’ neck even as he pressed a third finger against him.

“You won’t hurt me,” Stiles said, gasping as he was stretched wider.

Derek hesitated. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Stiles said. “D-don’t stop.”

Despite Stiles’ assurances, Derek very carefully pushed his fingers in as far as he could, and then he waited, giving Stiles time to adjust.

“Okay,” Stiles said after a few seconds he’d used to catch his breath. “You can move now.”

Derek sniffed at Stiles before he moved his fingers, as if making sure Stiles wasn’t lying. He kept his touch gentle, which Stiles appreciated, he really did, but right now he needed more. He pushed back, earning himself a low rumble at the back of his neck. Derek didn’t move his fingers any faster, as if he was waiting to see what else Stiles might do.

If Derek wasn’t going to move faster, then Stiles would. He pushed back harder and took Derek’s fingers deeper. Derek inhaled loudly, as if he hadn’t really expected that.

“Yeah, fuck my fingers,” Derek said into Stiles’ ear.

Stiles shivered as the words, Derek’s breath, tickled his ear, and he rode Derek’s fingers hard. They brushed that spot inside him and the muscles in Stiles’ arms and legs trembled as he forced Derek’s fingers deeper. Stiles needed more, but he didn’t know how to get it, which made his motions frantic.

As if Derek could read Stiles, he said, “Ready?”

Stiles sobbed out a yes.

Derek withdrew his fingers, which left Stiles feeling empty. He made a weak sound of protest even though he knew he wouldn’t remain empty for long. Derek made a soothing sound against Stiles’ neck as normally sure fingers fumbled with the foil packet. Derek pressed a kiss to Stiles’ shoulder and then sat back on his knees to roll on the condom.

Stiles heard the sound of the latex, the lube being slathered over it because Derek refused to do anything without minimizing the pain Stiles might experience. “Today?” Stiles said, because the anticipation was killing him. And also to tweak Derek, because that was always fun.

Derek slapped Stiles’ bare ass cheek in retaliation, then rubbed his hand over the stinging skin.

“Ow,” Stiles said, though it was mainly from surprise.

Derek ignored him. “Do you want to do it like this?”

A shiver ran down Stiles’ spine. “Yes.”

He’d read up on it (that should come as a surprise to exactly no one – Stiles was research guy, after all), and all the sources he’d found said that this position was best for the first time.

Derek’s hand slid over Stiles’ ass. He gently spread Stiles’ cheeks. Stiles shuddered at the sensation of Derek’s gaze on him. One of Derek’s hand left him and was almost immediately replaced with the head of Derek’s dick pressing against his asshole. Stiles tensed up at the first touch, and then forced himself to relax. It would be easier if he relaxed (or so his research told him), and besides, Derek wouldn’t do anything if he thought Stiles wasn’t ready. Which he totally was.

“Please don’t stop,” Stiles said before Derek could ask again if he was sure.

Derek made a choked sound, as if he’d been afraid Stiles would ask him to stop instead of begging him not to. Derek would’ve, Stiles knew, because Derek was used to exercising control over himself, but it would’ve been difficult to restrain himself now that he’d loosed the rein.

Derek bent over Stiles’ back and kissed the back of his neck before pressing more firmly against him. Stiles gasped when the head of Derek’s cock popped inside him, and Derek immediately froze.

“I’m fine,” Stiles said.

He wasn’t fine. But he would be. He just needed to relax, give his body time to adjust. He knew this, intellectually. Putting it into practice was a lot more difficult than he’d expected it to be.

Derek soothed his hand down Stiles’ side. “Stiles?”

“I just need a second,” Stiles gritted out.

“Are you alright?”

“Aside from the tree trunk up my ass, yes,” Stiles said. Possibly more snarkily than he’d meant to.

There was a moment of guilty silence. “Do you want me to . . . ?”

“Don’t. Move,” Stiles snapped. And then he felt bad. “I just . . . really, I just need a minute. I didn’t, I mean, of course I saw how big you are, how could I miss it, right? But I thought, three fingers, right, how much bigger could your dick be? As it turns out, quite a lot bigger.”

“I’m not sure whether I should feel complimented or insulted.”

Stiles huffed a laugh.

“We can stop . . . .”

“No!” Stiles said immediately. “No. I mean, the first time is always going to be the first time, right? If you stop now we’ll just have to start again, and I really don’t want to stop.”

“I could’ve prepared you more,” Derek said, sounding as if he was beating himself up over it.

“How?” Stiles said skeptically. “Put your entire hand inside me?”

Derek sounded like he was choking. “I could’ve used dildos on you,” he finally said.

Stiles moaned softly at the thought of Derek stretching him open with dildos.

“Got you used to the, um, size difference before I . . . .”

“Shoved your tree trunk dick inside me?” Stiles finished.

“Really, where has the romance gone?” Derek said wryly.

Stiles laughed, which made Derek shift inside him. The laughter turned into a moan. “Okay,” Stiles said. “You can move now. Just . . . carefully.”

When Stiles said ‘carefully’, Derek apparently took it to mean ‘glacially.’ He considered complaining, but thought that might be a little contradictory since he’d been the one telling Derek to hold still just moments before. When Derek finally stopped moving, Stiles was glad he hadn’t exhorted him to move faster. He’d felt full with Derek’s fingers inside him, but this was more than he’d expected. It wasn’t uncomfortable, exactly, just strange.

Derek’s hands slid over Stiles’ back. “Is this alright?” he asked, his voice tight.

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “You can move.”

Derek moved, though still slowly. Stiles felt Derek’s hips against his ass, Derek’s breath feathering across his neck, Derek’s fingers tight on his hips, but it didn’t feel right.

“Derek, wait.”

Derek froze before Stiles got the words out. “Do you want me to stop?”

“Yes,” Stiles said. He grabbed the hand on his hip and squeezed. “Just for a second, though, I want . . . can I . . . my back?”

“You want to be on your back?” Derek said, sounding as if he was afraid to hope he didn’t have to stop completely, and at the same time, determined to stop if that’s really what Stiles wanted.

“Yes,” Stiles said, keeping his grip on Derek’s hand.

“Okay,” Derek said. He pressed a kiss to Stiles’ shoulder, and then slowly withdrew from his body.

It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it was a weird sensation to not have Derek inside him anymore. The emptiness touched Stiles’ heart and he felt emotionally empty, as well, until Derek helped him onto his back and he could see Derek’s face, look into Derek’s eyes. That’s what had been missing.

“Hi,” Stiles said, blushing as he became aware of the lube slippery between his cheeks, and the fact that Derek was gloriously naked above him.

Derek’s eyebrows went up as if to say, ‘you’re embarrassed now?’

“So, how do we, um . . . ?”

“Are you sure . . . ?”

Stiles pulled Derek down and pressed their lips together. “I’m sure,” he said firmly (if a little breathlessly) when they broke the kiss. “Now, get your dick back inside me.”

Derek’s eyebrows said, ‘I’m not even surprised that you’re a bossy bottom.’

Stiles would’ve offered a retort, but Derek lifted his leg over his arm and pushed it back, opening him up. Stiles’ breath left him at the move, even though he’d very recently had Derek’s cock in his ass. Derek positioned himself at Stiles’ entrance, and then he looked at Stiles’ face as he pressed back inside of him.

His research had been correct – it was easier on your knees, but Stiles needed this, needed to see Derek’s face as he filled him.

“Is this . . . ?”

“Don’t stop,” Stiles said, reaching out for the hand Derek had planted on the mattress to hold himself up.

Derek didn’t stop, but he was more gentle than the Stiles of before would’ve believed him capable. As soon as Derek was fully inside him, Stiles pulled him down for a kiss. Stiles gasped as Derek shifted perfectly inside him and touched that spot again. Electric shocks arced through Stiles, and his dick, which had previously lost some interest in the proceedings, woke up and took notice.

“Do that again,” Stiles demanded breathlessly.

Derek smirked down at him. Stiles would’ve said something pithy, but Derek did as Stiles asked and brushed that spot inside him again. Stiles saw stars and lost his voice.

Derek claimed Stiles’ mouth, biting his lips as he moved inside him, a slow slide that became faster, harder, hips snapping loudly, obscenely against Stiles’ ass. Suddenly it was as if Derek realized what he was doing, because he stopped.

“Derek, wha–?”

Derek pressed a hard kiss to Stiles’ lips, and then he sat up. He pushed Stiles’ other leg back and Stiles flushed hot all over as he was exposed to Derek’s ravenous gaze. Derek held Stiles’ legs open and watched his cock slide in and out of Stiles’ ass. Stiles would’ve felt embarrassed, but he was too turned on by the obvious desire on Derek’s face. He looked like it wasn’t enough to have his dick inside Stiles, but wanted his fingers, his tongue, in there, too.

Stiles squirmed as if he could feel Derek’s fingers pressing inside him alongside his cock, his tongue licking at him. “Derek, I . . . .”

“Touch yourself,” Derek growled.

Stiles did. He’d been frozen in place before by the images in his mind, but the moment Derek spoke he was freed and his hand wrapped around his cock. He groaned as he touched himself, the touch almost electrifying. Stiles stroked his dick as Derek stroked him from the inside, and the double stimulation was almost too much.

“Derek,” Stiles moaned.

“Do it,” Derek said, his voice rough. “I want to watch you come.”

Those words slithered down Stiles’ spine and curled around his balls. He tried to say something, but his own words came out all garbled, and once they left his brain he couldn’t even remember what they’d been.

Derek bent down and kissed Stiles. He remembered thinking that it was a good thing he was flexible, and then the new position drove Derek’s cock over his prostate on the next thrust, and each one after, and Stiles couldn’t think at all. Derek’s (unfairly ribbed) stomach rubbed the head of Stiles’ dick each time he pushed into Stiles, and that added stimulation was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Stiles’ back arched and his hand lost its rhythm. His mouth fell open in a silent cry and he emptied himself all over his fingers and both their bellies. Derek made a rumble-y sound deep in his throat, almost a purr if he was much larger than your average house cat, and licked and bit at Stiles’ mouth as he reached for his own release deep inside Stiles’ body.

Derek froze above him and Stiles forced open eyes he hadn’t realized he’d closed so he could watch Derek come apart as he filled Stiles with his come. When he was empty, Derek gave a low moan and slumped over Stiles. Stiles brought up the hand not trapped between their bodies (or covered in come) and buried his fingers in Derek’s hair.

Derek made a sound and pressed his face into Stiles’ neck. Stiles shivered when he felt Derek’s inhalation against overheated skin as he breathed him in.

Stiles forced his lips to work. “What do I smell like?”

“Mine,” Derek drawled, sounding almost drunk.

Stiles huffed. He should’ve known that’s what Derek would say. Stiles remembered Derek placing his hand over his heart earlier, and he figured he could live with that.

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December moved along. Stiles’ dad pretended not to notice when Stiles spent the night at Derek’s. Especially after the first time, when they’d had a very uncomfortable morning after talk. Made even more uncomfortable for Stiles by the way his ass throbbed and made sitting still for any length of time nearly impossible. His dad was the Sheriff – Stiles didn’t even try to fool himself into believing that he hadn’t noticed.

Scott took to sneezing every time Stiles walked into a room. Derek assured Stiles that there was nothing actually physically wrong with him and that it was all in his head. Erica, on the other hand, gave him knowing looks that invariably made Stiles blush. He didn’t see that ending anytime soon, because Erica enjoyed it too much. Everyone ignored the recent change in their relationship except for Lydia, who said just once, “So, you’re hitting that, huh?” Stiles had just smiled because, yeah, he was hitting that.

Another full moon came and went without further incident. And then Christmas sort of snuck up on them. Stiles had no idea what to get Derek, since Derek wasn’t someone who wanted things. He wanted people, a family. And the only family he had left was an insane uncle who’d killed Derek’s sister. Except for them – the pack, the family Derek had created for himself. The question of what to get Derek was made more difficult by the fact that Derek had asked Stiles not to buy him anything.

Derek didn’t decorate the house, but bit by bit items were snuck in and placed around the living room. Stiles brought in a ceramic Christmas tree that his mom had painted during the ceramic phase of her larger craft phase. It had little bulbs on it that lit when it was plugged in. Derek eyed it up when he first noticed it, but he didn’t say anything.

He likewise said nothing when Erica brought in a small tapestry-like wall hanging that had been her grandmother’s. Or when Isaac contributed a motion activated Santa that sang snippets of various Christmas songs when anyone walked past it.

When Stiles began making plans for them to spend Christmas afternoon at the Hale house, all Derek said was, “I’ll make lasagna.”

When Stiles looked at him, Derek said, “What? I’ve watched you do it.”

Boyd, of all people, snorted. “You’ve watched Stiles,” he clarified. “Not sure that qualifies you to make the lasagna.”

At Derek’s glare Boyd backpedaled, “But I’m sure it’ll be delicious.”

Derek accepted Stiles’ help with the grocery shopping. It was an interesting experience. Not because Derek pushed the shopping cart while Stiles filled it, but because of the number of people who stopped and stared at them. When Stiles pointed it out to Derek, he just shrugged.

“You don’t mind people staring at you like they think you’re a serial killer?”

Derek gave Stiles a look. “You used to look at me like you thought I was a serial killer.”

“To be fair,” Stiles said, “I had reason to believe that you really were a serial killer.”

Derek’s eyebrows didn’t know why they even hung out with Stiles.

“I don’t think that now, of course,” Stiles assured Derek.

Derek’s eyebrows said, ‘Gee, thanks.’

Stiles grinned at Derek, then he leaned in and gave him a quick buss on the cheek. Because he could to things like that now. He put a hand between Derek’s on the cart handle as they moved down the aisle, and leaned his shoulder against Derek’s.

“How long do you think it’ll be before my dad gets the first phone call warning him that his son is hanging out with the nefarious Derek Hale?”

“Nefarious?”

“And how many calls will he receive in total?”

“Eight minutes ago,” Derek said. At Stiles’ look, he explained, “I’m pretty sure that lady in the parking lot was already reaching for her phone when she saw us get out of the car.”

Stiles laughed. Well, if you didn’t drive a car that screamed ‘I’m a bad boy and I’m going to deflower your daughter . . . or son’, but yeah, Mrs. Griffin. Totally. She was the old Sheriff’s secretary. She’s definitely gonna call. How many?”

“A dozen,” Derek said. “No, a baker’s dozen.”

Stiles laughed. “Thirteen? Good guess, but I think you’re selling your bad boy image short.”

Derek huffed. “I’m not a ‘bad boy’.”

“Oh, babe,” Stiles said as he grabbed several boxes of lasagna noodles off the shelf and set them in the cart. “You are so a bad boy . . . what?” he said when he saw Derek looking at him.

“Nothing,” Derek said quickly.

And not very convincingly. Stiles rewound everything he’d just said.

“Oh. Uh, do you mind?”

“No,” Derek said shortly, but the expression on his face said that he really, really didn’t.

Stiles tilted his head and studied Derek. “You like that?”

“Are we almost done here?”

“Why?” Stiles grinned. He leaned in close and lowered his voice. “You wanna take me home and do bad things to me?”

“Yes,” Derek said.

Which brought Stiles up short. Though his own reaction didn’t. “We could come back,” he said breathlessly.

Derek looked tempted, but then he shook his head. “Let’s just get this over with,” he said. “The first time will always be the first time, right?”

Stiles blushed and slapped Derek’s arm. “No fair using my own words against me.”

They finished the shopping in record time and spent the rest of the afternoon doing bad things to each other.

~*~

Christmas Eve arrived. Stiles was nervous. Christmas Eve was for family, and for the first time since his mom had died there would be someone besides Stiles and his dad at their house.

“I got it!” Stiles called when the doorbell rang. He needn’t have bothered, since he’d been waiting in the hallway for Derek’s car to pull in. He ignored his dad’s snort from the living room and pulled the door open.

“Hi,” Stiles said breathlessly when he saw Derek standing there, hands shoved into the pockets of his leather jacket. He looked good. “You look good.”

“So do you,” Derek said.

“Seems weird to have you using the front door, though.” Stiles grinned.

“Let the man in!” Stiles’ dad called out from the living room.

“Oh, yeah, get in here.” Stiles reached out and pulled Derek in, then shut the door behind him. When he turned back, Derek still looked good enough to eat. Stiles grabbed a handful of Derek’s jacket and kissed him.

“Hey, Derek,” Stiles’ dad said wryly as he passed through the hall on his way to the kitchen.

Stiles released Derek’s mouth and smiled goofily at him. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad to be here,” Derek said. “Thank you for inviting me.”

“You’re welcome.”

Stiles remembered to take Derek’s jacket, and then they joined Stiles’ dad in the kitchen. He’d just taken the roast out of the oven to let it set before carving it. His dad made the gravy while Stiles checked on the carrots and mashed the potatoes. They moved around each other easily, used to the familiar dance of sharing the kitchen. Derek’s presence there with them felt natural.

Derek poured drinks while Stiles set the food on the table and his dad sliced the roast. They sat eating and talking. Silences fell as they each stuffed their face, but it was never uncomfortable. After clean up, which didn’t even feel like a chore with Derek there, they took coffee (Stiles had milk because he was forbidden caffeine this late at night) and dessert into the living room.

Stiles’ dad took his favorite chair; Stiles and Derek sat on the couch. They watched movies – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ because it had been his mom’s favorite, and ‘A Christmas Carol’ (the one with Alastair Sim) because it was a classic. After the second movie ended Stiles’ dad bid them both goodnight (a kiss to the top of Stiles’ head, a hand on Derek’s shoulder) and went to bed. He had the morning shift at the station to relieve those who had small children. Stiles and Derek stayed on the couch.

“Thank you,” Derek said.

“For what?”

“I told you not to get me a gift . . . .”

“I didn’t buy you anything!” Stiles said.

“I know that,” Derek said patiently. “I’m thanking you, not yelling at you.”

“Oh, right. Carry on then.”

Derek shook his head. Stiles smiled.

“You gave me something I didn’t know I needed.”

“Roast beef?”

Derek glared at him.

“Me?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “That, too. I guess.”

“Thanks. Really. So, people?” When Derek didn’t answer, Stiles said, “You’re welcome.”

~*~

Stiles got up early to have Christmas breakfast with his dad. He usually went back to bed after because there was normally nothing to do until Scott got his butt out of bed. Today Stiles got dressed and grabbed some of the leftover roast beef and drove out to Derek’s. He let himself in with the key Derek had given him (given all of them, once he had a front door that actually locked). Stiles put the meat in the fridge, and then went upstairs to where Derek still lay in bed.

Stiles doubted that Derek had slept through his arrival, but he didn’t say anything. He undressed in silence and then slipped under the covers on what had quickly become his side of the bed. Derek reached out for him and pulled Stiles into him. Still, neither of them spoke. Stiles took a few minutes to pet Derek and stick his nose in Derek’s neck. The next thing Stiles knew, the sun was shining through the windows and Derek was waking him up.

Stiles closed his eyes against the sun and pushed his hands into Derek’s hair. Stiles moaned and raised his hips as waves of pleasure rolled over him. Derek was so much better than an alarm clock.

When Derek stopped what he was doing, Stiles opened his eyes and looked down to see Derek glaring at him. “Sorry, did I say that out loud?”

After being very thoroughly woken up, and then showering away the evidence of it, they made roast beef sandwiches and then put the lasagna together. Once the two pans were in the oven they retired to the living room to curl up on the couch and watch ‘Arthur Christmas’, which Stiles had brought over.

Slowly the house filled up. When the movie ended, Isaac put in ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ and then Jackson brandished The Notebook DVD case as he approached the television. Everyone but Lydia groaned. When the movie started, it turned out to be ‘Die Hard.’

“What?” Jackson said. “It takes place at Christmas.”

Lydia punched him, and Jackson whined. Derek smiled into Stiles’ neck.

When Stiles’ dad and Scott’s mom were both there, they paused the movie. Stiles and Derek went to the kitchen while the others jockeyed for position around the dining room table. Derek got the lasagna out of the oven where they’d left it warming and set it on the counter. Stiles shoved the garlic bread he’d made under the broiler.

Laugher reached their ears from the dining room. Stiles smiled, heart-happy to have all his friends and family gathered together. Scott came in for the first basket of garlic bread and Stiles started another tray. Erica got everyone drinks. Derek cut into the lasagna and carried the pan out to the table.

“I’ll be right there,” Stiles told him, peering into the oven to check the bread.

Derek came back anyway and Stiles smiled to himself. The bread was the perfect shade of golden brown, so Stiles took it out of the oven. He tipped the tray and dumped the bread into a second basket. When Stiles set aside hot tray and pot holder, Derek slipped up behind him. He nuzzled Stiles’ neck and curled his hand over Stiles’ belly.

“Why do you do this?” Stiles said, placing his own hand over Derek’s. “You seem to have a fascination with my belly. I hope you don’t think I’m giving you pups some day, because I think that’s physically impossible.”

Derek snorted into Stiles’ neck, then he raised his head and looked at him. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” Stiles said, having the horrible thought that maybe there was something about being a were that someone had forgotten to tell him.

“I touch you because I like to touch you,” Derek said, returning his lips to Stiles’ neck and eliciting a giggle. “But I like touching you here specifically because you like it.”

“I . . . do?” Stiles said.

“Mmm,” Derek said. “Your scent changes, gets even more . . . .”

“More what?”

“Mine,” Derek sighed.

Stiles snorted. “I should’ve seen that one coming.” He turned around in Derek’s arms. They both just looked at each other for a second, and then they both moved, their lips coming together in a kiss that started sweet, but quickly turned heated.

“Everyone’s threatening to eat withou–. No wonder they sent me,” Stiles’ dad said resignedly as Derek and Stiles jumped a part. “Come on, they’re like a pack of wolves out there.”

Hoots and hollers from the dining room met that pronouncement. Stiles’ dad gave them a look, and then he nodded his head before turning and heading back into the dining room. Derek gave Stiles a kiss as he reached around him to grab the basket of garlic bread. Stiles watched Derek’s ass as he walked away from him.

Derek glanced back at Stiles over his shoulder, a knowing smirk on his face. Either Derek had felt his gaze, or Stiles was just that predictable. Or maybe Derek just knew him that well.

Stiles made sure the oven was off, then followed Derek into the dining room. He glanced over the table, making sure that everything was out, and then he slid into the empty chair next to Derek. Everyone was laughing and filling their plates. As loud and obnoxious as they could be at times, this was their family.

Stiles looked at Derek, who was looking back at him. Stiles smiled. He reached for Derek’s hand under the table and Derek was already there, reaching back.

The End