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A Life Less Ordinary

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Stiles would find waking up to utter darkness unnerving under any circumstances, but waking up to utter darkness with a pounding headache, aching neck, and a strap holding him in place is something beyond unnerving. It’s a feeling that toes at the edge of a panic attack, which he swallows down and tries to ignore.

He presses a hand to his chest, fingers wrapping around the restraint and then following it down to what feels like a seatbelt release. He punches the button to unbuckle himself, hoping that the absence of the restraint will make him feel better about the darkness.

It doesn’t.

He reaches forward and his hand hits a steering wheel and then fumbles around until he finds the dashboard and a key. Turning it turns the car on, but the engine won't start. 

The radio bursts to life with static and guitar and a voice that sounds distant and tinny through the shitty speakers and Stiles punches the power button to shut it off before turning the interior lights on so he can get a look around. The car isn't his - it's some sort of sedan, automatic rather than stick shift and much dirtier than his jeep usually is. On the passenger seat there's a piece of paper with a smiley face drawn on it, signed with the symbol of the Alpha pack. Stiles rolls his eyes. 

The passenger window isn't closed all the way and something dark has fallen down onto the plastic lip of the door, but as Stiles leans forward to investigate he catches a glimpse of a body lying in the back seat and has to slap a hand over his mouth to keep from screaming. 

He takes a moment to catch his breath before he looks again. It’s Derek, and he's covered in blood and dirt with several arrows sticking out of him at odd angles. Stiles decides to inspect the window first, and spends the time it takes him to crawl over the middle console convincing himself that Derek's not dead. 

Fenris had mentioned that an arrow had to be removed from Derek’s mother before she could heal back in his E.R. in Wisconsin, so reason (or possibly panic-fueled hysteria) says that if Stiles removes the arrows, Derek will get better. That doesn’t make the blood less alarming, and it doesn’t make Derek’s skin any less pale. 

Stiles' knee feels like someone stomped on it, so he takes his time getting into the passenger seat and touching the dark stuff on the door. “Dirt,” he says to no one in particular. His voice is hoarse and he coughs a little before speaking again. “I really didn’t want it to be dirt.” 

He reaches up to stick his fingers through the crack at the top of the window and more dirt falls in. 

"They buried us,” he says, with his voice pitched higher than usual. "Can you believe that shit?" 

He turns to Derek for a response even though Derek hasn't moved or made a noise and could very well be dead. Stiles swallows several times but he still feels the panic building into a tight ball of pain in his chest so he shakes himself and crawls into the back seat with a lot more urgency than he used to get from the driver's seat to the passenger's.

He starts with the arrow in Derek's leg, but the first time he tries to pull it out he doesn't use nearly enough force and he ends up just making a mess and swearing and leaning over to dry-heave onto the floor. When his stomach stops convulsing, he sits up and swallows and tries to breathe. 

"This is probably just a regular day for you, huh?” He doesn’t look at Derek for a response this time. “Whoops, buried alive, must be Wednesday." 

This time when he pulls, the arrow comes out. It's bloody and tipped with silver and he stares at it for a moment, remembers how Allison used to knock them into her bow like it came as naturally to her as breathing. He lets it fall to the floor and moves on. There are seven. The one that goes clean through Derek's neck is the worst, and by the time Stiles is done he's splattered with red and Derek's still pale and motionless and Stiles can't tell if he's breathing.

 He searches Derek's pockets for something useful or informative, like a cell phone or another note with a smiley face on it or a pulse, and he doesn't find any of those things but he tells himself that it doesn’t mean anything. He finds the keys to the camaro, which he doesn’t take, and a shopping list, which he does. He climbs back into the driver's seat and reads the list in the dim overhead light and laughs because it's so normal. 

He’s not sure what he was expecting. ‘Sinister leather jackets,’ maybe, or ‘self-help books for the discerning asshole alpha.’ Instead it’s just food and hair products. “I didn’t have you pegged for a Lucky Charms guy,” he says. 

Derek’s body stays silent.

“Yeah, yeah,” says Stiles, “you had to go with something. It’s not like they sell boxes full of frosted angst for you to munch on.”

Stiles folds the list back up and turns the car off and waits. 

Ages slide past in the darkness while Stiles drifts in and out of consciousness. Eventually he turns the lights back on to check on Derek's wounds and they seem to be healing, so he turns the car off again and keeps waiting. It feels like it takes days - though he knows they can’t have enough air for that - and he spends the time swallowing down panic attacks and trying not to think about anything too long or too hard because it all leads back to how he's buried alive and he may never see the sun again.

Eventually he hears a groan from behind him, followed by the creak of leather and the whisper of something moving against the cloth of the seats. It's a few more minutes before Derek says, "Stiles?"

Stiles reaches forward to turn the keys and flip the lights back on. 

"Where are we?" asks Derek, wincing as he sits up. In the rearview mirror he looks gaunt and bloodless beneath all the muck on his face, but his voice sounds confident so Stiles convinces himself that it's just poor lighting. 

"Dirt's falling in through the window." Stiles reaches over and grabs the note with the smiley face and holds it out to Derek. 

"There's blood on your hands.” 

"Yeah, yours," says Stiles. He points at the floor of the back seat and Derek leans forward to look at the arrows and then swallows before taking the piece of paper from Stiles’ hand.

"Okay," says Derek, and it sounds like he's trying to think but Stiles has been choking on panic for hours and he's in a mood to take things the wrong way. 

"Okay?" he repeats, his voice shrill. "It's not okay. We're going to die. We're going to suffocate and my dad's going to drown in bacon and have a heart attack and Scott won't have anyone to watch his back and I'm-" Stiles cuts himself off and slams his head back into the headrest. He covers his face with his hands and breathes in the smell of copper and earth and it does nothing to slow him down or lessen the pain in his chest. He whimpers without meaning to and hates himself for it. 

Derek grabs his wrist and pries one of his hands away and Stiles tries to wrench it back but Derek won't let go. His hands are hot on Stiles' skin and they seem to get hotter for a moment before the pain recedes - not just in his chest, but in his knee too - and Stiles feels his panic draining away. His breathing slows and he turns to look at Derek, who seems smaller when he's tired and dirty, even if he does look too big for the back seat. 

His pale eyes are bright beacons in the semi darkness and when he opens his mouth, he uses a tone that sounds like it's meant to be encouraging. "At least it's not cement."

Stiles bursts into hysterical laughter. "That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?"

Derek shrugs. 

Stiles looks down and realizes he's still holding the shopping list and hands it back. "Sorry," he says, "I was checking your pockets for a phone."

Derek takes the list without saying anything. 

"I'm sorry," says Stiles again. 

"For what?" asks Derek. 

Stiles shrugs because he's not sure. "I didn't know you liked Hot Pockets."

"Does that matter?"

Stiles shrugs again. "Probably not," he says, but he thinks maybe it does. He's used to a Derek who threatens people and a Derek who wants to be powerful, and instead this is a Derek who says 'at least it's not cement' and has Hot Pockets on his shopping list three times.

Derek shrugs his jacket off. 

"What are you doing?" Stiles asks. 

"We can either sit here and suffocate on hope, waiting to be rescued, or we can break a window and climb out."

"How do you know the hope thing ends in suffocation?" asks Stiles. 

Derek just looks at him, tired and annoyed, and says, "Are you coming with me?"

Stiles swallows and nods. 

Derek tries rolling down the windows in the back seat but neither of them will budge. 

“That one’s already open a little,” says Stiles, pointing at the front passenger window. 

He leans away while Derek crawls up into the front seat and punches the button to lower the window. It goes down about a quarter of the way, spilling dirt into Derek’s lap, before it stalls. 

Derek twists around to face the door, wrapping a hand around the far side of his seat and sinking down to place his feet against the glass. His first kick doesn’t land hard enough because he doesn’t have enough leverage, so Stiles leans over to brace his shoulders. The second kick lands a lot harder, and the third one breaks the glass. 

They both cough on the sudden influx of dust and start shovelling as much dirt into the car as possible. They work in relative silence, though they have to stop twice for Derek to reach over and grab Stiles’ wrist and keep him from hyperventilating. Stiles wants to ask him how that works, how he can just pull the panic out, but he doesn’t. Eventually Derek says, “It’s time.”

“Yeah?” says Stiles. He doesn’t bother trying to sound like that doesn’t terrify him because Derek can hear his heart pounding anyway. 

“Yeah,” says Derek. "You need to lose anything that's going to weigh you down, and tie your shirt around your head to keep the dirt out. Then just push the dirt below you and don’t stop until you break the surface."

Stiles nods. He strips off his hoodie and the flannel he’s wearing underneath and pulls his t-shirt off so he can tie it. It feels silly, but Stiles doesn't feel like laughing.

“You should go first,” says Derek. 

“I can’t see,” says Stiles

Derek grabs his arm and tugs and Stiles lets himself be guided to the window. The dirt is looser than he expected it to be and he pushes himself into it, kicks off from the window and loses Derek and the car almost immediately. 

Panic rises in him like bile in his throat as everything closes in around him, pressing against his skin and his face and his feet. He's sure for a terrifying, paralyzing moment, that he'll never reach the surface. He makes a noise that would be embarrassing under normal circumstances but then a hand wraps around his ankle and he feels that soothing warmth again and starts to climb, pushing the dirt down below him. 

It's slow going, and as often as he feels like he's making progress, he feels like he hasn’t moved an inch. Like he’s suspended in some dark non-space, cursed to thrash uselessly forever. His lungs ache for fresh air and his muscles scream in protest and it feels like hours, months, years pass before a hand finally finds his. 

Fingers wrap around his wrist and pull and he can feel air on his skin and he struggles toward it until he finally bursts free, gasping, and rips the shirt off his head so he can gulp down air. He's still half submerged and he looks up to see Scott, whose eyes are wide with fear and relief. 

Kneeling behind him is Allison, wearing a similar expression.

"Hey," says Stiles, surprised. "Where's-" He feels something brush against his leg but it's not the sort of powerful movement he'd expect from a werewolf. "Shit," he says, and he starts digging down. 

"What are you doing?" demands Scott. 

"Derek," says Stiles, "Can you hear him? Help me, dude, he's not far."

Scott jerks forward and helps Stiles dig until they find an arm and together they pull and struggle until all three of them are lying on the ground, sweaty and gasping and, in Stiles' case at least, more than a little dizzy. 

"We should go," says Allison after a few minutes, "in case they decide to come back."

"Were those your arrows?" asks Stiles. 

"Ethan and Aiden stole them from me."

Stiles thinks about pressing the issue but he’s too tired, so he just says, “Okay.”

Scott helps Derek up and Allison helps Stiles, and together the four of them shuffle over to her car. Stiles doesn't really want to be in another car but he swallows down his protest and buckles his seatbelt and glances at Derek, who has his eyes closed. 

"Why you and Derek?" asks Allison a little while later, when Stiles is watching trees and stars slide by outside his window. 

Stiles opens his mouth to say that he doesn't know but before he can, Derek says, "They’re making a statement. They already challenged me by killing a member of my pack, but now they’ve made it clear that they don’t consider me a threat at all, and they’re not worried about the Sheriff either." He meets Scott’s gaze in Allison’s mirror and adds, “Or you.”

No one has anything to say to that.

* * *

Stiles dreams about the car. 

He dreams about small spaces and the smell of sweat and blood and dirt. He dreams that Derek doesn’t wake up and he can’t get any of the windows open and Scott can’t find him in time. He dreams that there’s nothing outside of the car, that he climbs and climbs but never reaches the surface. He wakes up gasping, writhing, clawing at his chest with tears running down his face.

He develops a bad habit of pulling his chair over to his open window and falling asleep slumped against the sill, where he can feel the cold October air on his face. It helps a little, but he still wakes up in a panic at every slight disturbance, convinced that he’s being taken again. 

On a cold night in mid-November he gives up on sleep around 2 a.m. and walks down to the grocery store to stock up on caffeine and energy bars for what’s sure to be a long, miserable day of classes. He finds Derek in the frozen foods aisle, glaring at one of the freezers as if it has personally offended him.

Stiles stands next to him, and neither of them say hello. Derek’s wearing his old leather jacket, the one with the shoulders that are loose and the sleeves that hang down over his hands. He looks lost inside that jacket, and lonely. 

“Is it three different kinds of Hot Pockets?” Stiles asks, “Or three boxes of one kind? Or was it just repeated for emphasis?”

“Three different kinds,” says Derek. “Isaac’s chicken and bacon, Boyd’s cheddar and steak.” He points at himself and says, “Philly cheese steak,” and then points at the freezer, where there’s a blank spot in the display.

“Huh,” says Stiles. “Well, it’s your lucky day. I happen to have a box of those in my freezer, and I’ll let you have it for the low, low price of helping me carry a metric fuckton of caffeine back to my house.”

Derek glances at him. “You walked here,” he says, and it’s not quite a question. 

The parking lot was nearly empty when Stiles passed through it and it didn’t contain any shiny black muscle cars, so Stiles says, “So did you.”

They buy energy drinks and junk food and walk back to Stiles’ house. There are two boxes of Hot Pockets in his freezer so he makes both, careful to open the microwave a couple seconds early each time so it doesn’t have a chance to ding and wake his dad. They take their food out to the back porch to eat, and neither of them say anything about it but both of them are more comfortable sitting on the steps where they can see the sky than they would have been at the kitchen table.

Stiles cringes after he takes his first bite and Derek looks ready to be personally offended on behalf of his favorite microwaveable stuffed pastry, so Stiles says, “I burned my tongue,” by way of explanation.

For a second Derek just gives him a blank look, but then he says, “It stays burnt.”

“Well, yeah,” says Stiles.

Derek starts snickering and Stiles glares at him, so Derek tries to focus on eating in the hopes that the act of chewing and swallowing will make his chuckling stop, but it doesn’t.

“You’re an asshole,” says Stiles, which only makes Derek laugh harder. “I’m not going to be able to taste anything for days and you don’t even know what that’s like.”

“Days?” repeats Derek, surprised, before dissolving into sleep deprived laughter again. 

Stiles rolls his eyes and refuses to stoop to blowing on his food. “I hate you.”

“Then stop saving my life,” says Derek. He finishes his second Hot Pocket before Stiles manages to finish his first, and then he tries to reach under Stiles’ elbow to snag Stiles’ second. 

Stiles jerks the plate away just in time. “Hands off the goods you damn dirty alpha.”

“You said you won’t even be able to taste it,” says Derek. “You’re doing it a disservice. I would enjoy it.”

You’re a little shit,” says Stiles. 

“Too bad you still need me to handle the alpha pack,” says Derek. 

“Oh really? That’s why I pulled all your arrows out and waited around for you to wake up?”

Derek shrugs. 

“Now you’re definitely not getting my food,” says Stiles, and he picks up his plate and moves over to the bench swing. It’s closer to the house, so he can’t see the sky from there, but it has a cushion and he settles in the corner of it, where he can curl protectively over his food. 

Derek gets up after a moment and walks over to lean against the railing in front of where Stiles is sitting. “I’ve never eaten Hot Pockets with someone who couldn’t heal.”

“I’m glad I could help you strike that one off your bucket list,” says Stiles.

Derek smirks but it doesn’t last long. “I guess I should go.”

“If you want,” says Stiles. He finishes his second Hot Pocket and sets the plate on the ground before tugging his sleeves down over his hands and wrapping his arms around his knees. It’s still a cold night, and he’s starting to feel it in his fingers and toes. “I don’t mind having you here when you aren’t talking or trying to steal food from the plates of hard-working American taxpayers.”

Derek snorts at that but he also crosses the porch to slump down on the other end of the bench. It swings a little and Derek pushes tentatively with his toes to keep the movement going. 

The next thing Stiles knows, he’s waking up in his bed with his alarm going off. It’s the first bit of sleep he’s had in over a month that wasn’t interrupted by nightmares, and the next time he sees philly cheese steak Hot Pockets at the store he buys them out. 

Chapter Text

Stiles wasn’t really expecting things to calm down after the alphas were dealt with, but he had sort of hoped that Beacon Hills had dodged the ‘winged monster’ bullet when Lydia saved Jackson. 

“You’re never allowed to give me crap about my ‘type’ again,” he shouts at Scott as they flee through the woods. 

Scott has taken to making it abundantly clear that he doesn’t think Stiles should want to be friends with Derek, on top of making it abundantly clear that he doesn’t particularly like either of the two people Stiles has tried dating in the last year. To be fair, they both turned out to be assholes, so he’s probably right on that one.

“I don’t know what you mean,” shouts Scott over the pounding of their footsteps and the screeching of the the winged mass of flame that’s chasing them. 

“I mean stop dating people who want to kill you!” snaps Stiles. “First a hunter and now-” he glances over his shoulder but he hasn’t had a chance to research this and he’s drawing a blank. Phoenix? Evil fire fairy? Charlie had seemed like a perfectly nice girl up until she asked Scott to marry her and he suggested that they break up instead.

The transformation had actually been pretty awesome; her skin seemed to ripple and then huge webbed wings sprang out of her back and her body slowly caught fire but never burned. 

“I warned you!” shouts Stiles. 

“You said she ‘didn’t feel right,’” snaps Scott, “that doesn’t count!”

“I said that about Matt, too!”

From behind them, Charlie lobs a ball of flame in Scott’s direction and Scott very nearly loses all of his hair. As it is, the fire catches his hoodie and he yelps and flings it off him. Stiles skids to a stop and spins, trying to focus. They’re near the Hale house now, almost certainly on the Hale property, and if there’s one thing Stiles has learned in the last year it’s that his magic is stronger here than it is anywhere else.

He crouches down, planting his fingers in the earth, and works on believing the trees are impassable. A barrier shimmers into existence in front of him just in time for Charlie to slam into it and get thrown back several yards, her flames extinguished. She looks up and locks eyes with him, furious and terrified, before scrambling to her feet and bolting back the way they came. 

“How did you do that?” asks Scott. 

Stiles shrugs. The most accurate explanation he’s been able to come up with is that the forest seems to feel that Derek’s pack belongs to it and it likes Stiles because he protects them, but he doesn’t think Scott would like that very much so he doesn’t say it. Instead, he loops an arm around Scott’s shoulders and drags him off in the direction of home, trying to shake the nagging feeling that he has somehow made everything worse.

* * *

A week after the forest incident, Boyd sighs at Stiles and says, “Why does a fire-starter want to kill you?” 

They’re standing in Stiles’ burnt-out kitchen, and it’s really lucky that he’s getting better at the magic thing or it would have consumed the entire house. Derek’s standing at the edge of the destruction with his arms crossed and he hasn’t said anything in several long minutes, so Stiles sighs and directs them all to follow him into the living room. He plants himself in an armchair while Scott, Isaac and Boyd take the couch and Derek leans against the wall next to the stairs, more relaxed now than he was in the kitchen, but not by much. 

“I don’t think she’s a fire-starter, I think she’s an ifrit,” says Stiles.

“Sorry,” says Boyd, “like Final Fantasy ifrit? That little ginger girl turns into a giant demon lord?”

“No,” says Scott, “it’s more like the Human Torch with wings.”

“That’s less exciting,” says Isaac, deflating slightly. 

“It’s plenty exciting when she’s chasing you through the woods screeching like a bat out of hell,” says Stiles. “Anyway, I was reading up on them and apparently they’re particularly susceptible to magic. As in, it scares the bejesus out of them. I just wanted her to stop trying to kill Scott but I think I made myself a threat worthy of extermination.”

“You have a knack for that,” says Boyd. 

“Thanks,” says Stiles, “but this is the fourth fire they’ve set and they’re going to hurt someone if they keep this up. Are you guys going to help me get rid of them or not?”

“Of course,” sighs Derek, and then he rolls his eyes when everyone turns to look at him with surprise. “Do you know where they’re staying?”

Stiles nods.

A few hours later they’re all gathered outside of a large, darkened warehouse, and Scott says, “So how are we going to do this?”

“Go in, tell them we come in peace, apologize for mortally offending them by turning down Charlie’s request for marriage, and then we all go out for pizza,” says Stiles.

Boyd scoffs. “Are you paying?”

“For you?” says Stiles with a sly smile. “Certainly.”

Boyd rolls his eyes.

“Stop flirting with everything that moves,” chides Derek, “that’s what got us into this.”

“No it isn’t,” says Stiles, “my flirting has never hurt anyone. Scott’s the one whose love life has been starting fires all over town.”

Derek stiffens and glares at him rather than taking the opportunity to tease Scott. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Stiles scowls but he lets the subject drop and they all move forward. 

At first, everything looks like it’s going to go just fine. The ifrits are friendly enough toward Derek and they seem to agree with him that peace is the best option. For a shining moment, pizza looks like a real possibility.

Then Charlie’s father, Daniel, says, “Just as long as you kill the witch.”

Everyone is quiet for a beat. 

“What witch?” asks Scott. 

Daniel looks at Stiles, who feels for a moment like he’s supposed to know the answer, and then realizes he is the answer. “Me? That’s a terrible idea.”

Derek just says, “No.” 

Daniel looks offended, which Stiles thinks is a bit rich coming from someone who just ordered his friends to kill him. “The witch is a threat to us. If you keep it, then you’re a threat to us. We don’t take kindly to being threatened.”

“Neither do we,” drawls Isaac. 

“Stiles didn’t mean anything, he was just protecting me,” says Scott, “we don’t want to fight you.”

Daniel ignores him. “It’s the witch or a war,” he tells Derek. 

“Or you could just leave,” says Derek. 

Daniel doesn’t qualify that with a response. 

Derek sighs. “War.” 

The ifrits all bristle and Daniel actually looks surprised. “If you can’t make sacrifices for the good of the your brood, you won’t be a very good leader.”

“I’ve been reliably informed that I’m already not a very good leader,” says Derek. “Wouldn’t want to start now.”

Twenty minutes later, everything is burning. The ifrits fled around the time Stiles turned their own magic against them, making the flames as painful for them as for everyone else, but now the building is coming down around their ears. 

Stiles and Derek are nearly to the door (and the relative safety beyond it) when a beam falls, catching the side of Derek's face on the way down. Derek wheels around and lashes out as if he can beat the flames and burning bits of building away from him but unfortunately he's still shifted - has been since the first lick of flame almost engulfed Boyd, and his claws catch Stiles in the shoulder. 

The memories flood in immediately, disorienting and painful - Kate Argent smiles up at him, naked, and plays with a ring on her finger. The air smells like smoke and rain and strangers, and Stiles (except it’s not Stiles, because his hands don’t look like that) picks the ring up out of the ashes of the Hale house. The fire roars back to life around him but it’s a different fire, one that smells like home and family underneath all the smoke and burning. There are people screaming and Stiles turns and sees that the path to cellar door is clear, but running means leaving all the screaming people behind. He sees Laura, angry, and then he’s ripping Laura in half, finding her, burying her, burying her again. 

Suddenly Stiles is himself again, on his hands and knees in a burning building, struggling to breathe. Derek is crouched in front of him, pale despite the heat and entirely human again. "Stiles, get up," he says, and it sounds like it's probably not the first time he's said it. 

"Yeah," says Stiles, because he has no idea what else to say. Derek grabs his good arm and hauls them both to their feet and, finally, they run. 

When they get to the parking lot Peter’s waiting for them with the others, always happy to show up and enjoy the aftermath of a battle. Stiles brushes off Scott’s suggestions that he go to the hospital to get his lungs checked out and spends a few minutes coughing and trying to catch his breath before he grits his teeth and makes a (foolish) decision. 

Peter’s in the middle of telling Isaac and Boyd a story that he probably thinks is hilarious when Stiles walks up behind him, pulls him around by the shoulder and punches him in the face as hard as he can.

“What the hell?!” demands Scott. 

Stiles goes to attack again even though there’s a fair chance he already broke his hand, but Scott wraps an arm around his chest and pulls him back while Isaac and Boyd jump forward to keep Peter from pursuing him. 

“Is there anyone you didn’t give the memory of the fire to?” demands Stiles. 

Peter’s anger fades into surprise and then he turns to look at Derek with a mix of amusement and hunger that makes Stiles want to hit him again, but Scott won’t let go.

“Come on, Stiles, let’s go. We have to go, if you break curfew again you’re screwed and we still have to stop by the hospital.” Scott keeps hold of his arm all the way back to where they left the jeep while Peter’s laughter echoes behind them.

Chapter Text

Derek hasn’t said more than two words to Stiles in the months since the fire. A year ago it wouldn’t have mattered. A year ago Stiles hated Derek and his stupid hair and his stupid stubble and all the sharp angles of his stupid face. A year ago Stiles didn’t know that Derek likes junk food and techno and that he holds all ten high scores for the Mrs. Pac Man game at the laundromat. 

“Stiles?”

Scott’s standing in Stiles’ driveway looking sheepish, the way he always does right before he takes off with Isaac to do something wolfy. This time Derek and Boyd are going too - they’re all going on some kind of weird retreat as part of a werewolf ritual to honor Erica, because a year ago she and Boyd were captured by the Alpha Pack and she never made it home. 

“You okay?” asks Scott. 

“Yeah, I’m great. You go, do your thing. I’ll be here when you get back.”

“You’re sure?” asks Scott. “I know Derek’s still-”

“Don’t worry about it,” says Stiles.

Scott hesitates. 

“Go,” insists Stiles, “I can make it on my own for a night.”

"I'll see you tomorrow," Scott promises, and Stiles just nods and waves him away.

Stiles never knew Erica very well, but he knew her well enough that once Scott finally takes off he can’t stand the thought of sitting around his house with no one but himself for company. 

He drives downtown and wanders around aimlessly for a while until he passes a thrift store with a big yellow lamp featured in the display window. It’s shaped like a curvy leg wrapped in fishnet stockings, and it reminds Stiles so fiercely of Erica that less than a minute later he finds himself inside the shop telling the woman behind the counter that he wants to buy it. 

The shopkeeper does her level best to talk him out of it. At first he thinks that she’s attached to the thing and feels bad enough about separating her from it that he considers driving out to the mall to try and find a new one, but the look she gives the lamp when she goes to get it from the display window is anything but loving. She won’t even touch the thing with her bare hands. 

“No refunds,” she tells him for the third time.

“You said that part already,” says Stiles, “how much is it?”

She charges him ten dollars and reminds him again that she won’t buy it back from him. Then she wraps it in a protective layer of butcher paper, careful to keep it from touching her, and slides it into a bag which she shoves toward him like she’s glad to see the last of it.

* * *

Stiles manages about four hours of sleep before a nightmare startles him awake and he groans and rolls onto his back to find a face hovering above him. He clamps a hand over his mouth to muffle the strangled noise he makes as he scrambles back. The face belongs to a girl whose eyes widen when she sees Stiles’ reaction, and before he has a chance to say anything she seems to get sucked back into the shade of Stiles’ new lamp. 

Stiles is left, apparently alone, curled against his headboard with one hand still covering his mouth and the other clutching at his chest. He takes a few deep breaths and then glares at the lamp and climbs out of bed to stand over it. 

“Get back out here right now!” he hisses. 

His lamp sighs heavily at him. 

Stiles’s mouth falls open. “Get out here or I will salt and burn you!”

“You’re just going to freak out,” says the lamp. 

“I’m already freaking out!” snaps Stiles. 

A semi-transparent head pops back out of the lamp shade. “You can hear me?”

“Yeah, can’t everyone?” asks Stiles. 

She shakes her head, and the rest of her body drifts out of the lamp as well so that she can hover at eye-level with Stiles. 

Stiles suddenly can’t think of anything to say, so he clears his throat and says, “Hi, I’m Stiles.”

“I’m Reggie,” she says. “Nice bedroom.”

“Sure.” Stiles glances down at her feet, which still aren’t touching the floor. “Ghost?”

“Yeah.”

“Condolences,” says Stiles. “Do you think you could maybe not hover over me while I’m sleeping?”

“Sure,” says Reggie. “Sorry. Most people can’t see me.”

“Right.”

They stare at each other for a few minutes. 

“Are you going to go back to sleep?” asks Reggie. 

“I don’t think so, no.”

“Still freaking out?” asks Reggie. 

Stiles nods. 

Reggie shoves her ghost-hands into her ghost-pockets and hunches her ghost-shoulders. “Sorry,” she says again. 

“Ghost-voice,” whispers Stiles.

“What?”

Stiles goes downstairs, tries to figure out who to call, and settles on Lydia.

“Stilinski, if you don’t have a damn good reason for this I’m going to serve your liver to my gardener with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

“I have a ghost,” hisses Stiles. Reggie rolls her eyes.

“You have a ghost?” repeats Lydia. 

“In my house,” confirms Stiles. “There’s a ghost in my house.”

“Is this some kind of supernatural poisoning or just your run-of-the-mill bad drug trip?”

“I’m not on drugs!” hisses Stiles. “I bought a haunted lamp.”

There’s a pause, and then Lydia sighs and says, “Is the ghost trying to kill you?”

“No,” says Stiles. 

Lydia hangs up on him.

He tries Allison next, but the conversation isn’t much different. 

“I miss Scott,” he announces to the kitchen, but after all these years the kitchen probably already knows. 

* * *

Oh my god, I didn’t break your air-conditioner,” says Reggie for the hundredth time. 

“You expect me to believe this is a coincidence?” demands Stiles.

“If I say ‘yes’ will you turn Doctor Sexy M.D. back on?” asks Reggie. 

“No,” says Stiles. He kicks at the air conditioning unit and goes back inside to call his dad. He’s in the middle of explaining that he’ll die of heat exhaustion unless his dad calls a repairman right away when something shatters in the kitchen. 

“What was that?” asks the Sheriff. 

“Nothing,” says Stiles. He walks to the kitchen doorway and finds Reggie standing over the broken pieces of a plate. The cupboard is open behind her, and she mouths, “Doctor Sexy.

Stiles glares at her. “If you’re busy I can make the call,” he says into the phone. 

“Nice try, I’m not giving you my credit card information,” says the Sheriff. Stiles decides not to mention that he already has all the cards memorized. “I’ll-”

Another plate falls out of the cabinet. 

“What are you doing?” asks the Sheriff. 

“It’s the heat, it makes me horribly clumsy,” says Stiles, while motioning violently at Reggie to get away from his flatware. 

“But you’re horribly clumsy anyway,” says the Sheriff. 

“Rude,” says Stiles. 

“I’ll make the call, just try not to destroy the house, please?”

“Sure thing, love you, bye.” Stiles hangs up the phone and glowers at Reggie. 

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” she says. 

“If you can knock plates over how come you can’t turn the TV on yourself?”

“I do weird things to electronics,” says Reggie, wiggling her fingers and using what Stiles has begun to refer to as her ‘spooky voice.’

Stiles sighs and trudges back into the living room.

* * *

The first knock at the door is Lydia coming to check out the ghost situation, but she doesn’t find Reggie interesting enough to brave Stiles’ sauna of a house for long. The second is Scott, who drops in after he gets back from the werewolf retreat and gets immediately sucked into Reggie’s soap opera, making him a traitor to Stiles’ efforts to convince Reggie that she has terrible taste in television. 

Shortly after Scott leaves for work, a third knock signals the arrival of Allison. She took the time to do ghost research for him, but Stiles feels really uncomfortable talking about vanquishing spirits with Reggie sitting on his couch giving him steadily more offended looks.

“Thanks,” he tells Allison, “but she’s not so bad, aside from her taste in T.V.” He gestures toward the couch, where Reggie is glaring at them. 

Allison squints, but she can’t see any spirits. All she sees is the T.V., which makes her smile. “Oh, I love Doctor Sexy! Is that the one where he finds out that only one of the twins is his?”

Stiles drags a hand down his face and groans.

By the fourth knock, Allison has nestled into the corner of the couch next to Reggie and Stiles has resigned himself to never being able to watch anything good ever again.

“That better be the damn repairman," he sighs as he rolls off the couch and drags himself upright.

“Shhh,” hiss Reggie and Allison in unison. 

“Don’t shush me,” snaps Stiles. “What are you so fascinated for anyway? They’re not getting married.”

“They’re totally getting married,” Reggie snaps back, eyes glued to the screen. Allison just ignores him.

“Wanna bet?” asks Stiles. “If I win we watch something else.”

Reggie shoos him away and Stiles rolls his eyes and opens the door. 

“Derek,” he says, because he’s too surprised to think of anything more clever. 

Derek looks him up and down with something that’s either concern or repulsion. “Are you sick?”

Stiles’ stomach sinks a bit as he realizes that he’s spent several hours doing nothing but laying around and sweating, but he doesn’t bother trying to explain himself. He folds his arms and glares. 

Derek shifts his weight and glares back. “Have you been messing around out at the Preserve?”

“Ooh,” says Reggie, “are you in trouble?” She comes up behind Stiles to peer over his shoulder.

Derek narrows his eyes at her. “Since when is your house haunted?”

“Why are all your friends so attractive?” Reggie asks Stiles a stage whisper.

“We’re not friends,” snaps Stiles. “Reggie, this is Derek, he’s an asshole alpha werewolf. Derek, this is Reggie. She’s a ghost who likes terrible daytime television.”

“The Preserve,” repeats Derek, giving Stiles a significant look.

“We’re not friends,” repeats Stiles. “You’ve made that abundantly clear. And since we’re not friends, you don’t get to know about what I do or don’t do.”

“This is important,” snaps Derek. 

“Oh really? This? This is important? That's funny, you haven't seemed terribly interested in anything else I've had to say recently.”

“Stiles -”

“Here’s an idea - why don’t you ask one of your other friends for help?”

The question brings Derek up short, which was the point, but it doesn’t make Stiles feel satisfied or vindicated once it’s left his mouth. Mostly it just feels shitty, so he closes the door in Derek’s face and goes back to the couch, where he ignores each and every one of Allison’s sidelong glances and Reggie’s questions.

* * *

“What are we doing here?” Reggie hovers above a moss-covered rock and looks down at it with disdain. 

“I’m enjoying a nice hike in the woods,” says Stiles. “It’s beautiful this time of year.”

It is beautiful; the sun is bright and the sky is cloudless and the woods are lush and green and fragrant. 

“It’s August,” says Reggie. “Your house is nice and cool again and instead of enjoying it, you’re out here, being physically active.” She shudders at the thought and gives him a very serious look. “You’re going to melt.”

Stiles ignores her. 

“Beacon Hills Nature Preserve,” Reggie reads from the thick wooden sign at the beginning of one of the trails. “And this has nothing to do with your ex?”

“He’s not my ex,” says Stiles. 

“Sure,” she says, like she doesn’t believe a word of it. “But he is the reason we’re here, right?”

“He was worried enough to come to my house,” says Stiles, “so we’re just going to have a look around and make sure nothing’s going on.”

Reggie smirks. “You totally dig him.”

“I don’t ‘dig’ anyone,” Stiles grumbles.

They’re in the woods for an hour before they find anything, and Stiles is almost too hot and tired to bother being stealthy, but Reggie hisses at him to get down and he ducks into the shade below some shrubberies and creeps to the edge of a steep drop-off. At the bottom there are two men harvesting branches from a collection of small trees, which wouldn’t be a big deal if Stiles didn’t recognize the trees as Mountain Ash.

He stays still and quiet and watches them bundle the branches together and shove them into bags. When they pack up their things and start to leave Stiles goes to follow them but Reggie stops him. “I’ll go. I’ll get license plate numbers and meet you back at the jeep.”

Stiles opens his mouth to argue and Reggie shakes her head. 

“You’re the most interesting person I’ve met since I died. I don’t want you getting murdered in the woods.”

Stiles sighs and nods, and Reggie drifts off after the strangers. 

She meets him back at the jeep ten minutes later with two plate numbers and three names - Collin, Mickey, and Stewart. 

“Let me guess,” says Stiles, shifting the jeep into reverse so they can pull out of the Preserve’s small gravel parking lot. “They drive big black SUVs.”

“Nope,” says Reggie, “little hybrids.”

“Huh,” says Stiles. He drives by Allison’s to ask her about the three men, but Allison claims not to know any hunters by those names. 

“I have a second cousin whose husband’s name is Collin, but they live in Alabama.”

“Thanks anyway,” says Stiles. 

“Stiles?” says Allison, and she looks shifty and nervous in a way that makes Stiles’ shoulders tense.

“I’m not talking to you about Derek,” he says. 

“He’s not talking to anyone about Derek,” mutters Reggie with a sigh. 

“I know,” says Allison, “and I get that, it’s fine. But I - look, I think that you could do better in a friend, but I ran into him at the store last night and he assumed - he asked if you’d told me about Kate.”

Stiles stares at her. 

“He got really upset when I had no idea what he was talking about and he just sort of shoved a box of Lucky Charms at me and fled. Was he talking about my aunt Kate? About the fire?”

“I have to go,” says Stiles. 

* * *

“Who’s Kate?” Reggie finally asks him about a week later. Stiles is parked down the street from the house that Collin, Mickey, and Stewart are staying at. He’s got a pair of binoculars and he hasn’t said a word in about three hours. 

“Sorry?” says Stiles. 

“Allison mentioned someone named Kate,” says Reggie. 

“Mmm.”

For someone who doesn’t actually need to breathe, Reggie seems to sigh a lot. “What caught fire?” she asks instead.

“People,” says Stiles, “Eleven of them, that I know of.”

“Oh,” says Reggie. 

“Yeah.” Stiles leans back and drums his fingers against the side of the binoculars with a sigh.

“Why doesn’t Derek-?” Reggie begins, but Stiles shakes his head at her. 

“I’m not talking to you about Derek either.”

Reggie glares at him and sinks down into her seat, looking put-upon. “What are we hoping to find here?”

Stiles shrugs, but they don’t have to wait much longer; Reggie doesn’t even get another question out before one of the Hybrids comes screeching down the street, burning rubber as it skids to a stop and then pulls into the driveway. Collin and Mickey get out and pull the seats forward to help Stewart haul a limp and bloody Derek Hale out of the back seat and into the garage as fast as possible. 

“This has to be some kind of mutant ability,” says Stiles, punching the button to unbuckle his seat belt and grabbing a bat from the backseat. “I mean everyone wants to kill this guy, that can’t be normal.” He’s closing the jeep door behind him when Boyd goes running past, fully shifted. 

“What the hell was that?” demands Reggie. 

“A werewolf,” says Stiles, because he’s pretty sure that Boyd still wouldn't consider them ‘friends.’

Reggie gives him a look. “We’re not going to talk about the running thing?”

“Not while he’s within earshot with his claws out, no,” says Stiles. 

Reggie lets out another long-suffering sigh as the two of them take off after Boyd.

* * *

Stiles has been in a decent amount of trouble in his relatively short lifetime, but he’s only found himself in the interrogation room once before - after the whole Jackson kidnapping ordeal - and he had thought then that his father couldn’t possibly look any more disappointed in him. 

He had been wrong. 

 “I need you to work with me here,” says Officer Rodriguez. She’s one of the few who’ve been around since before Matt’s massacre, and Stiles has always liked her. “What were you doing at the house?”

Stiles says nothing. He’s been saying nothing for several hours now, and it’s easier than he thought it would be. It’s harder to avoid looking at Reggie, who’s been pacing behind Rodriguez’s chair throughout the interview.

“Did Hale do something that provoked you to attack him?”

Stiles groans and buries his face in his arms. 

“Stiles, you have to say something.”

“No I don’t,” mutters Stiles. “That’s one of my rights.”

“Don’t play games with me,” she snaps. 

Stiles sits up again and meets her gaze. She looks like she’d very much like to smack him. 

“Do you want to tell me what happened to the people who owned that house?”

“They ran off,” says Stiles. "Most of them, anyway." Stewart never made it out of the house, but Mickey and Collin had managed to get back to their car. The last Stiles saw of them, they were peeling out of the driveway with Boyd in hot pursuit.

“They weren't the owners,” says Reggie. She points at the file Rodriguez has open in front of her. “Apparently the owners were dead in the basement.”

Rodriguez says nothing and Stiles cringes. 

“They didn’t run off?” he asks.

“They didn’t run off,” says Rodriguez. 

Stiles runs his hands through his hair. 

“Is it a cult?” she asks. 

“A cult?” repeats Stiles with a scathing look.

“The body you were dragging -”

“Derek,” Stiles corrects her.

She looks at him for a moment, trying to read his face. “Derek,” she repeats. “Judging by the massive blood trail, Derek was lying on what looks like a ritual exsanguination table.”

“Yeah, that was the impression I got, as well,” says Stiles.

“You didn’t put him there?” she asks. 

“Of course not.”

“But you’ve had problems with him in the past,” says Rodriguez. “You even claimed he tried to kill you -”

“That was a misunderstanding, I retracted that statement,” says Stiles. 

Rodriguez stays silent for another long moment while she tries to read his face again, and Stiles can’t help wondering what’s written there. “So what’s your current relationship with Derek?”

Stiles says nothing.

“Well,” says Rodriguez, “whatever it is, it’ll be over soon. With that kind of blood loss, the doctors don’t expect him to last the night.”

Stiles catches Reggie looking at him with the same unbearable pity that people directed at him while his mother was in the hospital and he buries his face in his arms again.

* * *

It takes ten hours for Derek to show up at the police station. The statement he gives is mostly true, but it takes another two hours for the police department to accept it.

“Rodriguez is pissed,” Reggie tells Stiles, and she looks pleased for the first time since the sirens went off outside the witches’ house. 

Stiles doesn’t think ‘pissed’ is the word for it, since he's pretty sure that Rodriguez isn’t upset about Derek not being dead. Stiles can understand her frustration though - he knows how it feels to be faced with a puzzle that you can't see all the pieces to. 

After his release is processed he has to sit in the lobby and wait for his dad since his jeep is still parked on the street where he left it. Derek slumps into the chair next to him and they both watch the receptionist pretending to be busy. 

“Thanks,” says Derek eventually. 

“Why would I tell Allison?” asks Stiles. 

Derek glances at him. “Tell her what?”

“She said she ran into you at the store. I mean, I haven’t said anything to anyone, because why would I? But Allison?”

Derek’s whole body stiffens but he doesn’t reply.

Stiles leans back and watches Derek pick at the arm of his chair. “Do you think I enjoy hurting people?”

“Of course not,” says Derek. 

Stiles frowns at him. “So did you actually think I’d say something, or did you just think you’d deserve it if I did?”

Derek doesn’t answer that, but Stiles doesn’t really need him to.

“Well, that’s too bad,” he says. “You’re the only dumbass around here who thinks what she did is your fault.”

It’s quiet for about a minute before Reggie leans forward in the seat on Stiles’ other side and says, “But what did she do?

Chapter Text

“What do you think are the chances of us having a normal prom?” asks Scott. He sucks on his straw but he’s already out of soda so it just makes a bubbling sound. 

“I’ve never been to one,” says Isaac, “how would we know?”

Scott shrugs. “I just mean - usually monsters show up or someone gets mauled. I don’t want to spend money on a tux if ghouls are going to try to eat me.”

“As long as I get a good photo and don’t end up in the hospital, I’ll be happy,” says Lydia. She prods Stiles in the arm. “You’ve got your tux, right?”

Stiles brushes her hand away and rolls his eyes. It’s not the first time she’s asked him, and he can only assume that she thinks he’s lied to her every other time he’s answered the question. “Yes.”

“Derek’s not coming is he?” she asks. 

Stiles snorts. “I want you to stop and take a moment to imagine Derek Hale at a high school dance.”

She does, and a smile creeps across her face. 

“Why would Derek be there?” asks Scott. 

Lydia leans forward to rest her chin on her hands and peers at Scott like he’s a troubling conundrum. “How is it that you know instantly when I’ve been anywhere near Allison within the last 24 hours, but you haven’t noticed that Derek Hale has been banging your best friend for months?” 

Scott’s in the middle of laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of that notion when he catches Stiles glaring at Lydia and freezes. 

No.” Scott’s voice is so loud that it briefly attracts the attention of half the food court.

Stiles waits for everyone to look away again before he says, “It’s not a big deal.” 

“Then maybe you should stop consulting ‘god’ every time it happens,” says Isaac. Stiles swats at him but Isaac ducks and Stiles' hand only hits hair. 

“I would know,” says Scott. 

“Yeah,” says Isaac. “Why don’t you? They smell like each other all the time.”

“We hang out with you and you live with him,” says Scott. “Everybody smells like everybody.” Even to his own ears, it must sound desperate, because it’s not long before he looks at Stiles and says, “Why?” in a horrified whisper. 

Stiles shrugs.

Lydia opens her mouth to change the subject and Scott holds a hand up to stop her, still staring at Stiles, and says, “But how?

Isaac catches Lydia’s eye. “We should go.”

“Agreed,” says Lydia, and the two of them grab their bags, abandon their fries and all but flee. 

Stiles sighs and transfers Lydia’s left-overs to his food tray. “Do you want a play-by-play or-”

God no,” says Scott. “I thought you hated him. I mean, it got weird after the car thing, but after the fire things went back to normal.”

Stiles shrugs again. 

“I thought he hated you,” says Scott. 

“Well it’s not like we’re together,” says Stiles, squirming a little. 

Scott just looks at him. 

“I don’t know, dude, it’s complicated. Well, it’s not complicated. That’s sort of the great part, we don’t really talk and there’s no mushy stuff, we just-” Stiles trails off and pops a fry in his mouth to give himself an excuse to stop trying to explain his relationship with Derek to Scott, of all people, who has never even kissed someone that he didn’t believe he was in love with. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” asks Scott. 

Stiles shrugs. “I mean, if I had asked someone out and there were dates and stuff, I would have, but there’s not really anything to talk about. I didn’t think you’d want details and there’s not a lot else to it.” 

Scott mulls that over, still looking a little hurt, and Stiles focuses on Lydia’s fries. 

If he were to be honest with himself, he’d have to admit that there’s actually quite a bit more to it. 

It started off simple and angry. After the witch debacle, Derek’s radio silence turned into picking fights over anything and everything he could, and once Derek told Stiles’ dad about the existence of werewolves without talking to Stiles first, Stiles was more than willing to reciprocate.

Stiles couldn’t even remember what half the arguments were about once they were over, but they were exhausting and relentless, and eventually Stiles just got sick of it. Derek was being his usual obnoxious, sarcastic, bone-headed self and Stiles felt rage welling up, rising from his gut to form a tight knot in his chest. 

For a moment when his hands reached out, he thought he would punch Derek, or shake him, or scream in his face, but then his fingers fisted in Derek’s shirt and jerked him forward so their mouths could crash together. It wasn’t exactly what Stiles was expecting, but it was pretty damn nice once it was happening. Then Derek pushed him away and Stiles told him he was an idiot and the argument started up again, but it was less frustrating than it had been. 

Derek worried about it for at least two weeks. Or Stiles thought he did - mostly it manifested in heavy awkward silences and uncomfortable squirming until Stiles finally got him alone and said, “Are you trying to talk to me about feelings?”

Derek shuffled his feet and sneered a little but he also looked frightened.

“Yeah, I don’t want to talk about feelings either,” Stiles told him. 

“What do you want to do?”

Stiles shrugged. “If you want, we could make out again. Or we could deal with the fact that your dumbass uncle decided to-”

But then Derek kissed him, and they took up a new kind of not talking that was awkward in different ways, because sometimes shirts got stuck or pants wouldn’t come undone or their teeth would knock together, and they would have to stop for a moment because Stiles would get caught up laughing at himself.

“Stiles?” Scott’s still looking at him like he’s worried about something. 

“So, have you decided who you’re taking to the dance yet?” asks Stiles, forcing a smile. Scott is in the middle of his first ever love triangle and Stiles hasn’t stopped laughing at him about it since the first moment that Scott realized he’d gone from having no love interests to having two.

* * *

Derek breaks the silence suddenly by saying, “You’re going to the thing tomorrow with Lydia.”

It’s the day before prom, and the comment takes Stiles by surprise. He wasn’t lying when he told Scott that he and Derek don’t talk about things the way couples talk about things, but he may have downplayed the amount of time they spend together.

Derek has a loft now. Two bedrooms, with a wide balcony and a wrought iron spiral staircase. It’s meant to be temporary, just a place to stay while he rebuilds the family home, but so far as Stiles can tell no actual rebuilding has occurred. Derek just has paint swatches and pictures of wood flooring strewn around the den downstairs. 

It’s one of the things they don’t talk about. 

Stiles likes the loft; it’s not depressing or falling apart, Peter rarely visits, and it has electricity, running water and a refrigeration unit that usually contains Hot Pockets. But mostly Stiles likes it because it’s not just Derek’s. 

The Hale property (Derek’s insistence that he wants to rebuild it notwithstanding) has never felt like the sort of place the pack could leave a mark on. It was always a little bit sacred, belonging more to the dead than it ever did to Derek or his betas. 

The loft has a room that Isaac got to pick out and decorate. Stiles and Scott helped him paint it, and all three of them carved their initials above the door. There’s a calendar on the fridge with Isaac and Boyd’s team practices written in, there are pieces of lacrosse uniforms strewn about everywhere, and there are five pairs of muddy footprints decorating the tile just inside the front door.

So Stiles spends time there, because it feels like a third home (after his own and Scott’s). He and Derek don’t cuddle, but sometimes they don’t get dressed either, and Stiles drags his laptop onto the bed while Derek scrounges up a book from somewhere and they tolerate each other the way they’ve always tolerated each other, but they do it naked in a room that smells like sweat and sex. 

Despite the fact that Derek’s tone did nothing to suggest a question, he seems to be waiting for an answer, so Stiles says, “Yeah, why?” He tries not to smile at the way Derek refuses to use the word ‘prom.’

“She’s okay with this?” asks Derek, gesturing between them. He’s trying a little too hard to sound casual and he seems to realize it because he adds, “I don’t want her finding out later and trying to kill me.”

Stiles laughs. “Lydia and I are just friends. And yes, she’s okay with this. She did sort of mention it to Scott, though.”

Derek cringes. “Could I pay you to make him not talk to me about it?”

“I can’t even make him not talk to me about it,” says Stiles.

Derek sighs and they lapse back into silence. 

A couple hours later they’re dressed and in the kitchen. Stiles is reading up on ghouls in one of Derek’s old books and Derek is making quesadillas in a pan and Stiles says, “Did you go to prom?” It’s a thoughtless question - he just needs something else to think about because his brain is rebelling on the ghoul front.

“I didn’t go to senior year,” says Derek, and Stiles winces, but then Derek keeps going, “Laura made me get a GED and take the SATs so no one would think I was stupid.”

“How’d you do?”

“Good enough for Stanford.” The way Derek says it makes it sound like an old, tired argument. Stiles tries to imagine Laura nagging Derek to go to college the way Derek’s been nagging Isaac, and it successfully distracts the restless portion of his mind so that he can get through the paragraph he’s been trying to read for the last several minutes. 

“You’re not surprised?” asks Derek. 

“About what?” asks Stiles, glancing up. Derek’s not looking at him, but Stiles backtracks through their conversation and scowls. “About your score? Why would I be surprised?”

Derek shrugs. 

“I don’t think you’re stupid,” says Stiles, and he glares at Derek as if to challenge him to disagree. 

“I must have imagined you calling me a dumbass,” says Derek, and he almost manages to make it sound like he’s joking.

Stiles stares at him. “I don’t - I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“It’s fine,” says Derek quickly.

“No it isn’t,” says Stiles. “When I tell you that you’re being a dumbass, it’s because you’re being emotionally dense, which usually involves you making assumptions about people that have no basis in reality.”

“Like what?” 

Stiles holds up a hand so he can tick points off on his fingers. The first finger is, “Implied that I would let you drown if there wasn’t a lizard monster standing at the edge of the pool,” and the second is, “implied that I only dug you out of the ground because the alphas were still a problem,” and the third is, “acted like a total dick for months because you thought I was going to tell everyone what I saw when you scratched me.”

Stiles starts to get uncomfortable because his list makes it sound an awful lot like they’re friends (though it’s also making it sound like Derek’s a particularly bad one), but the combined frustration of all those little injustices spurs him on, so the fourth finger is, “Seemed to think I was going to disappear after you ratted me out to my dad,” and then, just to mix things up, the fifth finger is, “Kept trying to pull the stern alpha routine with Isaac and Boyd until it almost literally blew up in your face. You’re not stupid, you just don’t see people.”

Derek scowls and loads the quesadillas onto plates, topping them with sour cream and cilantro and salsa. Stiles moves the book to the side so that Derek can set the plate down and Derek hands him a fork before sitting across from him and saying, “What do you mean I don’t ‘see’ people?”

“Do you trust me?” asks Stiles. 

Derek stares at him. “I thought we weren’t talking about -”

“I’m not asking if you have feelings for me,” says Stiles dismissively, “I’m not even asking if you like me, or if we’re friends, I’m asking if you trust me.” 

Derek doesn’t answer. 

“I’ll take that as a ‘no,’” says Stiles, “which is exactly my point - I’ve saved your ass how many times now? And you still probably think I’d give you up for a pat on the head. You don’t base your expectations of people off of anything real, you don’t see people.” Stiles cuts out a bite-sized piece of quesadilla and thinks about not saying anything else. About letting the subject drop and finishing his food and coaxing Derek back upstairs for another round of bedroom gymnastics, but then he hears himself say, “You just see her, wearing other people’s faces.”

Derek doesn’t respond but his shoulders stiffen and the silence seems colder. Stiles reads about ghouls while he finishes his food and then rinses his plate and leaves it in the dishwasher before taking off. 

* * *

There aren’t any ghouls at the prom. Scott’s pretty adamant that there aren’t any vampires either, but Stiles has his suspicions about some of Lydia’s ‘friends.’

Dancing with Lydia at senior prom is a lot different than dancing with Lydia at the winter formal in his sophomore year. Partially because he’s been well over his infatuation with her for at least a year, and partially because he’s worried about Derek. It’s not a specific worry; Derek isn’t doing anything dangerous that would warrant Stiles worrying about him, but he’s worried just the same. 

“You’re thinking of tall, dark, and broody aren’t you?” asks Lydia. 

“Sorry,” says Stiles. “I think we had a fight.”

“I thought you two didn’t talk?”

“I guess that’s what I get for trying something new.”

Lydia laughs and rests her head on his shoulder. “You know you really do like him, right?”

“The possibility had occurred to me,” says Stiles, but he doesn’t sound happy about it. 

“Just checking,” says Lydia. She sighs. “Go get us some drinks and then you can have fifteen minutes to complain about your big oaf of a boyfriend, but after that I want dancing and fun.”

Stiles smirks and rolls his eyes. “Sure.”

Lydia drifts around to a table at the edge of the dance floor and Stiles heads toward the refreshments. He doesn’t quite make it there before someone appears at his side and presses a piece of cloth over his nose and mouth. Just as his legs seem to melt out from beneath him he’s hauled back upright by rough hands and he hears a familiar voice telling people to clear a path before his world goes dark.

* *

He wasn’t sure what he expected to wake up to, but a warm, soft chair wasn’t it. 

“Welcome back, kiddo,” says a voice nearby, and Stiles pries his eyes open to find that he’s slumped in an armchair, mouth dry and eyes burning, and there’s a woman sitting the wrong way around on a wooden chair in front of him. She smiles, bright red lips drawing back over sharp white teeth, and she’s beautiful the way deadly things often are. 

Stiles sits up straight and tries to swallow but it doesn’t go well, so she smiles and hands him a glass of water. “Go on, it’s not poison,” she tells him. 

Stiles takes the glass from her but doesn’t drink it. His head is pounding as he looks past her, around the room. The walls are stark white, the ceiling made of the flimsy panel board used in cheap office buildings, and the room is empty but for the chairs and a table laden with food. 

“You’re an honored guest,” she tells him, like she’s telling the punchline of a joke he should already know the setup for. “We want you to feel comfortable.”

“I don’t,” says Stiles. 

“Drink the water.” 

Stiles lets the glass crash to the floor and takes comfort in hearing it shatter. “Oops.”

She just smiles again. “I heard you were a feisty one. Nothing in this room is of importance to us so you’re welcome to destroy all of it, and in the morning you’ll be free to go.”

“Why can’t I be free to go now?” asks Stiles. 

She clicks her tongue. “Can’t have you getting in the way again, you might get hurt.” She pouts, as if Stiles getting hurt would make her sad, and then smiles. “Sit tight, little one. You’ll be home before you know it.” She gets up and saunters off toward the door. 

“I have friends who can find me no matter what,” says Stiles. “Powerful friends.”

“Not so powerful,” she says, pausing to look back at him.

“The alpha-”

“Don’t you worry about the alpha,” she tells him with a wink, guaranteeing that he’ll worry about little else. 

Stiles spends some time making as much noise as possible, but no one comes to check on him, so he drags the table into the corner and removes several panels from the ceiling. It feels like it takes forever for him to slip between the pipes and wiring, and when he does he loses his balance and crashes unceremoniously through the ceiling into the next room over.

Luckily, there’s nothing between him and the floor that he could impale himself on, but he lands on his back and jars his head and spends a couple of painful, dizzy moments struggling to get air back into his lungs. 

He listens for another minute after that, but his captors seem to think the noise came from the room he’s supposed to be in and the room he’s fallen into is empty. He climbs to his feet and limps over to the nearest door to press his ear against it. He hears voices on the other side, arguing, and has to quiet his breathing and focus to hear what they’re saying. 

“- people did I send, again?”

“Seven, sir, but -”

“How many of you, exactly, are required to restrain a single werewolf? Three didn’t do it and apparently seven isn’t any better, so please, tell me, so that in the future I may send that many and avoid this -” he starts shouting in a language Stiles can’t understand. 

“Leon,” says a voice, and it sounds to Stiles like the deadly smiling woman, “let the boy speak.”

“Thank you ma’am,” says the voice of a man who isn’t Leon. 

“What happened?” asks the woman. 

“He had already heard from the pack.”

“They’re supposed to be -”

“Trapped,” says the man quickly, “they are, behind mountain ash at the dance like you asked. We left Mickey to keep an eye on things - they’ve tried to get a couple other humans to break it but no luck. But they called him. The alpha.”

“And?”

“The boy you took is important,” says the man, “the alpha was already furious and ready for - he - he took us by surprise and he didn’t stick around to fight about it he just -”

“He got away,” says the woman.

“Yes ma’am.”

“But he’ll be looking for the boy,” says the woman. “So that’s alright, no harm done. Tracking the boy will lead him right to us. Had we known, we wouldn’t have needed to send any men at all. See, Leon, now he’ll come to us.”

Leon huffs in response to that. 

“Yes, he will,” agrees the other man in a hurry. 

“He’d better,” says the woman, and she doesn’t sound pleased anymore. “We need more power if we’re to defeat the Great Ones, and if he doesn’t come here and give us that power I’ll be very disappointed.”

She says ‘disappointed’ like it’s a death threat and from the way the man behind the door begins to stammer, Stiles thinks it probably is. He backs up and looks around, finds another door and presses his ear to that one instead. When he hears nothing, he cracks it open and peeks out. On the other side is a corridor, empty, and he pokes his head out to glance both ways and finds that he’s not far from a staircase. 

Stiles doesn’t waste any time sliding out of the room and closing the door quietly behind him. Every second that he’s in the hallway he feels raw and exposed, and he expects to hear someone shout at him with every step he takes but the call never comes - he gets to the stairs without incident and finds himself on the second floor, overlooking the lobby.

He hurries down to the landing in the middle of the staircase and presses himself against the wall in a crouch. From where he is he can see the tall glass front doors and the relative freedom of the street outside, but his captors are sure to have someone standing guard out there. It takes a moment for him to squash the urge to run for it anyway. 

Once he does, he takes the rest of the steps as quickly and quietly as he can and sneaks further back into the first floor of the building, where he finds another hallway, just like the one upstairs except that this one ends in a door marked ‘Exit.’

Stiles swallows and then runs for it, trying to keep his footsteps as quiet as he can. He stops and listens at the door, but he can’t hear anything inside or outside the building, so he pushes it open and slides out. 

He finds himself in the dark parking lot of a small collection of slightly shabby offices, most of the which have signs on them notifying him that the buildings will be demolished soon. 

It’s raining and there’s no one in sight so Stiles takes a deep breath and starts running, sticking as close to the shadows as possible. Nothing is open and he has no idea which strangers he can trust and which ones he can’t, but there’s a trail nearby that stretches all the way out to the football fields at the high school, so Stiles aims for it and doesn’t look back. 

* * *

There’s a crash and the ground shakes and Stiles freezes. The forest isn’t exactly a great place to be if there’s going to be an earthquake, but then there’s another crash and another tremor and he thinks wildly of Jurassic Park and takes a moment to be thankful he’s not sitting on a toilet. 

Around the third crash he remembers what the woman had said. We need more power if we’re to defeat the Great Ones.

“Giants?!” says Stiles, his voice shrill. “If you meant giants why wouldn’t you just say giants?!” He takes off running again, away from the thunderous footsteps and the cracking of trees being torn and broken and shoved out of the way. 

As Stiles picks up speed, the noises behind him increase in frequency and he adds eaten by giants to his list of horrific possible deaths. 

He keeps sprinting until an uprooted tree lands a mere twenty feet in front of him and he skids to a stop and spins to face his pursuer. 

The giant is, predictably, huge. He towers over Stiles, dressed in leather and thick cloth and glaring out from a face covered in wiry brown hair. 

“Don’t move, little witch!”

Stiles doesn’t. “I’m not a witch.”

“You came from the witches’ place,” says the giant, “you smell like the witches.”

“They kidnapped me,” says Stiles, “I escaped.”

The giant narrows his eyes and crouches down to get a better look at Stiles, but even then he’s at least twice as tall as Stiles is. 

“Humans lie,” says the giant, “especially human witches.”

“Okay, yeah, that’s true. My name is Stiles. What’s yours?”

“Names have power,” says the giant. 

“Nickname?” asks Stiles. “Like Handsome George or something?”

The giant laughs. “Wartank,” he says. 

“Wartank,” repeats Stiles, “what a pleasant name.”

“You attacked my village,” says Wartank. 

“No,” says Stiles, splaying his hands because it’s the least suspicious thing he can think to do with them, “no I didn’t. Did they? The witches? They attacked you?”

Wartank watches him with narrowed eyes. 

“They’re attacking us too,” says Stiles, “they trapped my friends and they’re trying to kill my - Derek. They’re trying to kill the alpha of the local pack, his name’s Derek. I bet he likes giants. He’s got to like someone and he doesn’t like anyone else.”

“If they drain an alpha, they’ll be able to wipe us out,” says Wartank. 

“Yeah, my goal is to not let them do that,” says Stiles. “But first I have to free the rest of the pack.”

Wartank sneers. “Puny dogs.”

“Fine, how do you suggest we find Derek?” asks Stiles. 

“We?” repeats Wartank. 

“Well, yeah,” says Stiles, “I mean, the way I see it, we both don’t like these witches, and we both don’t want them to get more powerful. So why don’t we help each other out?”

Wartank considers him for a moment, and then one of his massive hands darts out, faster than Stiles thinks should be possible, and Stiles panics for a moment as Wartank picks him up and stands. 

“Friend, not food! Friend not food!” says Stiles, flailing.

Wartank laughs. “Stop squirming. Human makes a terrible meal.”

Stiles swallows and stills and Wartank sets him on his shoulder.

“Which way?” he demands, voice reverberating in Stiles’ rib cage.

Stiles takes a moment to breathe and looks around. “We need to be on the north end of town,” he says, and Wartank sets off, making the trees creak and groan and occasionally snap as he shoves them out of his way. 

* * *

“I don’t see a guard,” says Stiles, “do you? They said they left someone.”

Wartank grunts.

“I’m trying to plan, you could help,” mutters Stiles. 

“I have a plan,” says Wartank. 

“Smashing the building to make the people pour out isn’t a plan,” snaps Stiles. 

Wartank shifts his weight, reminding Stiles that he should probably be more polite unless he wants to get ‘accidentally’ dropped on his head. He looks down at the massive face beside him. He’s in no position to see Wartank’s expression, but Wartank shuffles his feet again and it occurs to Stiles that if Wartank wanted to smash the building apart, there’s nothing Stiles can do to stop it. 

“Put me down,” says Stiles. 

“You have a plan now?” asks Wartank. 

“Yeah. I’m going back to the basics.”

Wartank turns to look at Stiles out of the corner of his eye, and Stiles shrugs. 

“Set my friends free, rescue Derek, try not to get killed.”

“In that order?” asks Wartank. 

“In that order,” says Stiles. 

“The alpha,” says Wartank. “He’s your helpmeet?”

“Excuse me?”

Wartank pauses. “Humans say ‘wife,’ I think. Puny dogs say ‘mate.’”

“I - wi - ? We’re not - it’s just -”

“You’ve not told him yet,” says Wartank. “That’s foolish, for a little human who snaps at giants and battles witches.”

“Shut up,” says Stiles. 

“You should tell him he’s yours forever while you can.”

“That’s not how it works,” says Stiles, disgruntled. “Put me down.”

Wartank heaves a long-suffering sigh and helps Stiles back down to solid ground. 

“I’ll be right back, don’t go anywhere.” Stiles starts off toward the dance, but Wartank calls his name before he gets very far. Stiles turns back, biting down on his frustration because snapping at Wartank feels even more dangerous when Stiles can see his feet. 

“How does it work, then? How do humans form life-bonds?”

Stiles shrugs, says, “Poorly,” and tries to laugh about it, but Wartank waits for the real answer in silence. Stiles sighs. “I can’t just tell him he’s mine forever. That’s not my decision to make.”

“You misunderstand,” says Wartank, and he crouches down again. “You’re his keeper. You have him, here -” Wartank pokes Stiles in the chest, and Stiles stumbles backward. “He can’t decide that for you. He can’t take himself out of you. He’s yours.”

“Yesterday I didn’t even like him,” mutters Stiles, rubbing a hand over the place where Wartank’s finger struck him. 

“Yesterday you were stupid,” says Wartank. “You’re lucky you met me.”

Stiles laughs. “What - thanks to you I’m smart now?”

“Less stupid,” Wartank corrects him with a smile. “Go now.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, smirking, and then turns around to run.

After the last witch incident, he started working with Deaton to get used to breaking other people’s - for lack of a better word - spells. In doing so he had realized that casters leave a piece of themselves in everything they do - Deaton’s magic, for instance, felt like Deaton in a way that no one else’s could. 

As he crouches over the line of mountain ash surrounding prom, he finds that the magic he’s breaking feels familiar, but not Deaton-familiar, and he scowls.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Stiles looks up to see Mickey-the-witch glaring at him, having just come around the corner of the building.

“You came back,” says Stiles, genuinely surprised since neither Stewart nor Collin had survived Mickey’s last excursion to Beacon Hills. “That’s brave.”

Mickey starts toward him and Stiles manages to break the line and proceeds to kick as much of it askew as he can while he takes off running in the opposite direction. It takes about thirty seconds before a howl rips through the night air, and Stiles and Mickey both turn to see Boyd, Isaac, and Scott behind them, eyes glowing yellow. 

“Shit,” says Mickey. 

“You’ll probably want to keep running,” says Stiles. 

* * *

“We look like the opening of a bad joke,” says Stiles. 

Scott shushes him. 

“No really,” says Stiles, “Three werewolves, a human and a giant walk into an abandoned office park around midnight.”

“That’s not funny,” says Boyd. 

“Not yet,” says Stiles. 

* * *

It never does get funny. Half the office park gets destroyed and Scott tries his level best to prevent Wartank from smashing every last witch, but the witches killed Wartank’s helpmeet and in the end they’re all covered in a lot of blood and everyone looks miserable and queasy. Wartank wanders off to sit within the relative safety of the treeline and after making sure Scott and Derek are okay, Stiles wanders after him. 

“I’m not sorry,” says Wartank, but he doesn’t sound sure. 

“Okay,” says Stiles. “Will you rebuild your village?”

“No,” says Wartank. “It’s taboo to kill humans. I won’t risk leading hunters home.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It didn’t bring her back,” says Wartank, and for the first time, he sounds small. “I knew - of course I knew - it wouldn’t. It’s still...”

“Surprising,” Stiles finishes for him. He looks up at Wartank’s hairy face and watches giant-sized tears slide down the wiry tangles of his beard. “I’m sorry,” he says again. Wartank holds a hand out and even though it’s covered in witch viscera, Stiles sits in it. Wartank holds him the way people hold kittens, and it says a lot about Stiles’ life that by the time they hear sirens in the distance and everyone scatters, he still hasn’t figured out whether or not that was the weirdest half hour of his life. 

* * *

As he and Derek walk up the stairs to Derek’s door, Stiles says, “Really though, you didn’t think giants were noteworthy? I’m not saying you should have made a big deal out of it but you could have at least sent out a memo.”

“A memo?” Derek repeats. 

“Yes,” says Stiles, “a memo. ‘To whom it may concern: Giants exist!’”

“Who does it concern?” asks Derek. 

Me,” snaps Stiles. “It concerns me. I am concerned by giants.”

Derek doesn’t say anything to that. They leave their shoes by the door and peel off their jackets, dumping them on a chair as Derek traipses into the living room and Stiles follows him, watching the way his shoulders can’t seem to relax. 

Derek didn’t say a single word on the ride over, but Stiles is pretty sure there are a lot of words bubbling up inside him and Stiles is equally sure that none of them will be pleasant. He folds his arms and plants himself near the door and waits. 

“You could have died,” says Derek. 

“Two hundred people die in bathtub related incidents every year,” says Stiles. Derek raises an eyebrow at him and Stiles shrugs. “Death’s never not on the table.”

“What do you expect to get out of this?”

“Out of what?” sighs Stiles. 

Derek gestures between them. 

“Oh no,” Stiles groans and drags a hand down his face. The realization that he’s about to get dumped ‘for his own good’ settles in his stomach as a painful sort of heaviness. “Is there any way you could not do this?”

“I’m serious,” snaps Derek. “What do you expect to get here?”

“Aside from great stories to tell my grandchildren?” Stiles shrugs. “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to top this. What do I say to them? ‘Once upon a time I ran with a giant and a pack of werewolves to save this super hot sex god that I loved, but no we didn’t live happily ever after because he was determined to be miserable.’”

“I’m not determined to be miserable. I’m trying to be practical.”

“You’re failing,” Stiles informs him. 

“You have your entire life ahead of you, you have college and a career in - whatever the hell it is you want to do - and you can’t just throw it away.”

“I’m not throwing anything away. I did great on my S.A.T.s and I’ve been accepted to some good colleges-”

“-Which you’ll never get to go to if you’re dead.” Derek gestures toward the window, or the rest of the town maybe, or the world. “You shouldn’t have been at that battle.”

Stiles laughs. “So I should have stayed at the dance and sent everyone else off to fight without me?”

Yes,” snaps Derek. 

“Oh fuck you,” says Stiles, rolling his eyes. “We wouldn’t have needed to run off and save you in the first place if you hadn’t gone after the witches alone.”

I heal.”

“Not from death,” says Stiles. 

They glare at each other for a moment before Stiles lets out a brittle laugh and says, “You know what, fine. Let’s do this. Let’s break up, and I’ll figure out something else to do while Scott’s busy with his girlfriend and you can putz around this place feeling sorry for yourself and every time I get wind that you’re in danger, I’ll still come running to save you, because congratulations asshole, that’s who I am.”

“I don’t need you to save me!” snaps Derek. 

“Too fucking bad,” Stiles snaps back, “I don’t like living in a world where the people I love are hurt - or dead - I’d rather-”

“Stop using that word,” says Derek furiously. 

“What word?” asks Stiles. 

Derek waves a hand toward him with an ugly expression that can only mean one thing.

Stiles laughs. “What, 'love?' Fuck you, buddy, you don’t get to tell me what to do. I love you.”

“No you don’t,” Derek tells him, fists clenched at his sides. 

“Yes, I do.” It sounds simple, the way it rests in his mouth, like he’s stating any other basic truth. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, the days are getting longer, and Stiles Stilinski - against everyone’s better judgement, including his own - loves Derek Hale. 

The words Derek hurls back at him aren’t simple, and they don’t rest easily on him. They’re vicious and heavy and they twist his stomach into knots. “I don’t love you.”

Stiles huffs out a laugh, looking anywhere but at Derek’s face, his long fingers worrying at the cuffs of his sleeves. “I never thought you did.”

Derek swallows but he doesn’t take it back. 

Stiles’ shoulders sag, like he’s suddenly exhausted, and when his eyes find Derek’s face again they’re cold and unwelcoming. He nods once and grabs his jacket off the back of the chair. Derek makes an abortive gesture with his hands, like he thought about reaching for Stiles’ arm, but Stiles ignores him, slips his shoes on and lets himself out. 

He hears at least three things break inside the loft before the jeep’s engine turns over and the radio pipes up with I Knew You Were Trouble, but he doesn’t let himself entertain the possibility of going back. He shoves the car into drive and pulls away from the curb outside of Derek’s building, trying to squash the part of him that feels that Derek’s emotional turmoil is his problem.

And the saddest fear comes creeping in,” the words drift out of the jeep’s speakers and Stiles clenches his jaw, glowering at the road ahead of him, “that you never loved me, or her, or any-”

“Oh my god, Taylor, shut up,” he snaps, punching the dial to turn the radio off. It takes two tries. “You have the worst timing, you know that?”

Taylor Swift doesn’t answer him.

He calls Isaac and hears Boyd and Scott laughing in the background as Isaac says hello. 

“Hey,” says Stiles, “Derek dumped me.”

His statement is greeted with silence and he winces. 

“Do you - I -” Isaac stops and then starts again. “I can get a bottle of-”

“No,” says Stiles. “I’m - he’s breaking things. You just might want to calm him down or steer clear or something, I don’t know. I thought I’d warn you.”

“Thanks,” says Isaac. “Sorry. Do you-”

Scott saves Stiles the trouble of cutting him off by saying, "I'll be home in ten minutes."

Stiles hangs up and tosses the phone aside and drives to Scott’s house.

Chapter Text

Seven months later there's a banner over the entrance of the Beacon Hills police department that says, "Christmas is coming!" and every time Stiles reads it, it sounds more like a threat. He walks in and waves to Michelle, who gives him a distracted half wave and carries on trying to get a look down the hall. 

"What's going on?" asks Stiles, leaning over the counter to try and see what she's seeing. 

"New intern," says Michelle. 

"That's boring," says Stiles. "Interns are only interesting when they try to work the coffee machine."

"This one makes great coffee," says Michelle. "This one's great at everything."

"Are you smitten?" demands Stiles, sounding scandalized, "with an intern?"

"Wait until you see him," says Michelle. "God himself is smitten with this intern."

Stiles chews on the straw of his smoothie and says, "What's his name?" 

"Hale," says Michelle, and Stiles chokes a little. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," says Stiles, coughing, "I'm great. I'm just - great. I have to go."

"But you haven't seen him," says Michelle. 

"I’m okay with that. Stop ogling the interns, it's creepy."

Michelle pouts but she stops looking down the hallway. 

Stiles lets himself into his dad's office and passes a bag of food over the desk. The Sheriff mutters a thank you and sets the bag aside. 

"New intern?" says Stiles. 

"Yeah."

"You didn't think that was worth mentioning?" asks Stiles. "Derek Hale, former murder suspect, current werewolf, future deputy?"

"You said he never tried to kill you," says the Sheriff, “in fact, you said he was - and I quote - ‘a friend.’”

"Well, yeah."

"He passed the exam with flying colors and we're still a bit shorthanded," says the Sheriff. "He’s good. Knows what I need before I do."

Stiles hums at that, scowling, and chews on his straw again. 

"Do you have any particular objection?" asks the Sheriff with a sigh. 

"No," says Stiles, "he'll be a great deputy. I was just under the impression that I was in the loop, and now I've come to discover that I'm nowhere near the loop. The loop has packed its bags and moved to Wisconsin without consulting me."

“I think it’s more likely that you started attending Stanford and the loop stayed here,” says the Sheriff, but Stiles dismisses that with a wave of his hand so the Sheriff goes back to his paperwork. 

Stiles sucks on his smoothie and takes up his old hobby of reading the board behind his dad's head. There are no murders this time, just notes from a few different cases. Shoplifting, vandalism, the bread and butter of small town police work. 

Eventually the Sheriff sets his papers aside and pulls out the food Stiles brought him. He sees something in Stiles' expression when he glances up and he says, "What is it?"

Stiles shakes himself, shrugs, says, "No bodies." 

"No," agrees the Sheriff. "Thank god."

"Yeah," says Stiles, but he doesn’t sound thrilled. 

"Stiles, you can't be upset that no one's dead."

"Lots of people are dead," says Stiles, but that isn’t what he meant to say, so he shakes himself again and says, “I’m not," instead. 

He isn't. It's just that if there was a body, it would be on the board with evidence and they would be dealing with it, it would already have happened. There's no body, and Christmas is coming, and it might come and go with nothing bad happening but there's no way to know yet so it just feels like waiting. 

"Is Reggie with you?" asks his dad suddenly, glancing around. 

"No," says Stiles. "We don't have a T.V. at Stanford, thank god, so she hasn't been able to keep up with Dr. Sexy. She's at the house catching up on everything she missed. When I left, three of the characters were in a coma having a weird shared dream where they're in a polyamorous-" he catches his dad giving him an amused look and clears his throat. "I mean, dumb stuff was happening that I don't care about because I hate that show."

"I'm sure," says his dad. 

Stiles fidgets for a moment. “How’s he doing? At being an intern?”

His dad shrugs. "He knows how to make coffee."

Stiles smirks and whistles, long and low. "Michelle will drink anything, but the coffee seal of approval from you? That's huge."

His dad grunts. "Shouldn’t you and Scott be catching up with your friends? If I don’t get this paperwork done in time I won't be able to meet you at the Christmas tree farm tonight.”

Stiles raises his hands defensively and tosses his smoothie cup in the trash beside the desk. "I'm going," he says. "If you don’t get done in time just make your intern take over."

"My intern has more important things to do," says the Sheriff. 

"More important than Christmas?" demands Stiles, voice pitched high with mock horror. 

The Sheriff rolls his eyes and Stiles slinks out of the office. On his way through the lobby he says, "Eyes front and center, Mich," and she startles and then glares at him. 

"God himself," she says. 

"Then you ought to show more respect," says Stiles. 

* * *

He gets to the Christmas tree farm first and starts wandering through the rows, trying to find a perfect tree. He's picked out three that he intends to make his dad choose between when he feels the hairs on the back of his neck rise and turns to see Derek. 

“He had to work late,” Derek mutters when he gets near enough for Stiles to hear him. 

Stiles has a moment of really, intensely disliking that before he forces himself to smile. “Fine,” he says, “you have to help me choose. We’ve got three contenders.” He leads Derek around to ‘meet’ the trees, and Derek maintains a scowl with a side of eye-rolling throughout the adventure but Stiles isn’t fooled; he’s seen Derek’s apartment at Christmas. Derek tried to blame it all on Isaac and Boyd but Stiles knows for a fact that Isaac doesn’t care about the holidays and Boyd spent them with his family, so when Derek tells him which tree he should pick, Stiles doesn’t question him. 

Stiles does, however, question Derek’s decision to hang around, scowling, while Stiles has the tree wrapped in netting. “Why’d you come?”

Derek shuffles his feet and twitches his shoulders, hands buried deep in his pockets, and looks anywhere but at Stiles when he says, “Your father asked me to.” 

“You could have called Scott, or Isaac, or anybody. Hell, you could have just called me. These guys would have helped me get it to the car.”

Derek shuffles uneasily. 

Stiles sighs. “My point is that you’re free to go. I don’t particularly enjoy hanging out with people who hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” says Derek, startled.

Stiles just folds his arms and raises an eyebrow.

“Isaac said -” Derek cuts himself off, drags his gaze up to meet Stiles’ like it’s the last thing in the world he wants to do. He looks miserable and angry and sad. He looks like he did when Stiles first spoke to him, in the back of the police cruiser, when he was full of guilt and fury and Stiles was pressing all the wrong buttons. 

But Stiles isn’t interested this time. He tried figuring Derek out, tried being nice and not pushing and it got him unceremoniously tossed out on prom night, so he’s in no mood to decipher Derek’s stormy expression in the middle of a stupidly cheerful Christmas tree forest. 

“Thanks for looking out for him,” says Derek. It takes a second for Stiles to realize he’s still talking about Isaac. 

Stiles and Scott (and Reggie, though she didn't have her own room because she couldn't pay rent) had gotten an apartment together off-campus at Stanford, but Isaac had gone farther south to the University of California and Boyd had gone all the way to the east coast for school. Being separated from everyone had been hard on Isaac, and he couldn’t afford to go back to Beacon Hills except for major holidays, so Scott and Stiles went down to visit him regularly. It wasn’t the same as seeing his pack, but it made things easier.

It occurs to Stiles that being separated from them must have been hard on Derek as well so he says, “He missed you.” He’s spared from waiting for Derek to figure out how to respond to that by a phone call from Lydia. 

“I’m back and starving and my mother’s already asleep,” she announces, sounding annoyed, “feed me.”

Stiles laughs. “I’m cooking in tonight, but you’re welcome to join us.”

“I’ll be over in five minutes,” says Lydia. 

“Take your time, I’m still picking up the tree,” says Stiles. 

“I’ll let myself in,” says Lydia. 

“You can’t-”

But she’s already hung up before Stiles can object to her plan to break into the Sheriff’s house. He sighs and tucks the phone back in his pocket just as the tree farm workers finish wrapping his tree, and he uses that as an excuse not to look at Derek again. 

Derek, despite the many outs Stiles offers him, insists on helping him bring the tree home. It ends up being pointless, as Lydia and Stiles’ dad are both there by the time Derek and Stiles show up, but Derek seems committed by that point, so Stiles lets him help carry the stupid thing inside and set it up. When Stiles’ dad asks Derek to join them for dinner, Stiles casts a suspicious glance toward Lydia and Reggie but they just smile back at him. 

Stiles removes himself from the discussion entirely and goes to the kitchen to get started on the meal, and he’s washing the potatoes when he hears Lydia call back to him from the living room, “It’s settled, Stiles, you’re cooking for four!”

Stiles grits his teeth and takes his frustration out the unfortunate tubers in his hands. The meal takes the better part of an hour to cook, and Derek resolutely avoids the kitchen for the entire preparation process even though that means he has to spend most of it watching Dr. Sexy M.D. with Reggie and the Sheriff. 

Lydia’s not so kind. She saunters in to pour herself a glass of water and leans against the counter beside Stiles with a smile that spells trouble. “So, how’s home treating you?”

“So far home seems like an evil, conniving -”

“Oh come on,” says Lydia, “you both look terrible.”

Stiles throws her an indignant scowl because he had actually put some thought into his appearance when he got up that morning. He did his hair and everything.

“You know what I mean,” she says. “You look like you swallowed a lemon. And he looks like he swallowed a crate full of lemons. And Reggie says that you keep turning people out for no reason.”

“There were reasons,” says Stiles.

“Yes, I’m sorry, that’s right - one of them had ‘weird thumbs.’” Lydia rolls her eyes. 

Stiles glares at her. 

“And another one’s hair was ‘an annoying shade of brown,’” recites Lydia, and Stiles decides that he’s no longer pleased that she and Reggie have apparently become friends. “What, exactly, makes a shade of brown annoying?”

Stiles tries to ignore her. 

“Could it perhaps be that it’s not the dark, almost black shade that belongs to a certain were-”

“Could you stop?” snaps Stiles, keeping his voice low. “Yes, congratulations, they’re not him. I don’t like them because they’re not him. Their thumbs aren’t his thumbs and their hair isn’t his hair and they don’t smell like him and none of them are as comfortable with silence as he is and it drives me up the fucking wall. Are you happy now? You’ve changed exactly nothing.”

Lydia sighs and taps her fingers against her glass and slides along the counter, closer to Stiles so she can rest her head on his shoulder. “You’re both idiots.”

“No one is arguing with you there,” says Stiles, but he leans his head on hers until he has to move to check the oven. 

Dinner is, in a word, awkward. Other words that accurately describe it include quiet, stilted, and (by a unanimous vote) delicious.

Eventually, Stiles’ dad says, “How’s college?”

“I live with a ghost and a werewolf,” says Stiles. "They'll be coming out with a sitcom about us any day now.”

And inevitably, the next question is, “Are you seeing anyone?”

“No,” says Stiles, hoping that will be the end of it. 

“What about - Scott mentioned a fellow named Travis?”

Stiles stabs at his food with unnecessary vigor. “Do you all just call each other to discuss my love life?”

“I worry about you,” says his dad. 

“Don’t,” says Stiles, “I’m great. Scott, on the other hand, has been talking to Allison again.”

“Really?” asks Lydia. 

“Yeah. They’re going to be ‘friends’ now,” says Stiles with obvious disbelief. 

“You don’t think they can?” asks Derek. 

It’s the first time he’s said anything to Stiles directly, and Stiles looks up at him, insides tangled up with anger and exhaustion and hurt, all piled on top of a traitorous desire to reach over and thread his fingers through Derek’s. “No,” he says, looking back down at his food. “They never were friends and I don’t think they’ll ever be friends.”

We’re friends,” says Lydia. 

We’re not Scott and Allison,” Stiles informs her. “I’m not saying that two people can’t fall in love and then back out again and have a really meaningful friendship afterward - I’m saying that falling out of love is a prerequisite for that friendship, and Scott and Allison haven’t.”

“Well,” says Lydia, “I hope they get married and have babies. I need children to spoil that I don’t have to bring home with me.”

“I’ll be sure to take your demands to Scott,” says Stiles wryly. 

Once they finish eating Derek excuses himself and Lydia follows his lead, leaving the Stilinskis alone to clean up and do the dishes. 

“So,” says Stiles’ dad after a long silence, “when I asked you if you had any particular objection to my new intern...”

Stiles tries his best not to give anything away, but his dad has always known him best, and he just keeps waiting for an answer until Stiles finally says, “I don’t have an objection. He’ll make a great cop.”

His dad shuts the water off and turns to watch him with a raised eyebrow. 

“But I’m also in love with him and I’d appreciate it if he didn’t get invited to dinner anymore,” adds Stiles finally. 

“If you’re in love with him, shouldn’t you be embracing excuses to spend time with him?”

“No. Actually I’d really like to not be in love with him anymore, it’s just really hard when he sits there -” Stiles gestures absently to try and illustrate Derek’s many offenses but he doesn’t say any of them out loud because they’re all ridiculous. There’s nothing actually offensive (or endearing for that matter) about the way Derek holds his fork or quirks his eyebrows or hides a smile, except that it’s Derek doing all of those things and Stiles never actually stopped wanting to kiss him. 

Stiles groans and hides his face behind his hands. “I have to go do something,” he says. 

“Sure,” says his dad, “I’ll finish up here.”

Stiles grabs his coat and keys and walks outside to find everything blanketed in a thin layer of white. Judging by the thick flakes falling from the sky, it’s not going to stay thin for long. Stiles can barely remember the last time it snowed in Beacon Hills and he pulls his coat tighter around his sides and stomps over to the jeep, determined not to let a little inclement weather stop him.

The jeep slides four times on the way to Derek’s, nearly giving Stiles a heart attack each time, and when he parks her he’s pretty sure that she’s more in Derek’s gutter than she is on the road.

He heads up the steps to Derek’s door, stops long enough to stomp the excess snow off his shoes, and then shoves the door open. Isaac’s sitting on the couch watching Die Hard and he points toward the stairs when Stiles walks in. 

“Thanks,” mutters Stiles. 

Isaac just turns up his movie.

Stiles takes the stairs two at a time and arrives in Derek’s bedroom damp and overdressed, with embarrassment climbing up his neck to turn his ears red, but he refuses to be cowed by nerves. 

“You’re an asshole,” he announces. 

Derek’s standing just in front of the entrance to the master bathroom, frozen in the middle of towel-drying his hair and wearing nothing but a pair of pajama pants with fire engines on them. 

Stiles is certain that no one has the right to look that attractive in fire engine pajama pants. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Derek doesn’t seem sure whether or not he should answer that. He glances around, as if something in the room might help him decide. “I'm not-”

“What gives you the right to just stand around being all - you - and act like it’s not completely debilitating to be around you?”

Derek spends another couple seconds looking flabbergasted before he starts to look angry instead. “What about you?”

“What about me?” snaps Stiles, taking a step farther into the room and squaring his shoulders as a challenge.

“You look like you stepped out of a men’s fashion magazine and you smell like about a hundred different people and none of them are -” Derek stops just short of saying ‘me,’ or at least Stiles is pretty sure that’s what was about to come out, but he doesn’t have a chance to ask about it because Derek blunders on with, “and then you just waltz into the station like-”

“- I get to waltz into the station,” snaps Stiles, taking another step forward and pointing angrily in a direction that the station may or may not be in, “the station was my place first! Just because you usurped it while I was away at school -”

“- I didn’t usurp anything, I worked hard for that job -”

“- I’m sure you did! And why is that? Eager to get shot at some more? I guess life just hasn’t been interesting enough since -”

“- since you left?” Derek finishes for him, “No, it hasn’t.”

Stiles’ mouth drops open. “Since I left? You said - you’re the one who -” he points down toward the living room, toward everything that happened the last time he was in Derek’s apartment, but he’s so angry that all that comes out is an undignified squeak. 

“I was lying, you idiot!” snaps Derek, as if that should have been the most obvious thing in the world. He freezes as soon as he says it, looking shocked and terrified. His hands twitch, like he thinks about trying to reach out and grab the words, to pull them back to safety before they can reach Stiles, but he’s too late. 

“Well I wasn't,” Stiles snaps back, his voice is still raised in anger. He’s about to keep shouting, if only to break the tension, when Derek closes the distance between them and brings his hands up around the sides of Stiles’ head and kisses him. With his hearing muffled by Derek’s palms, the kiss becomes Stiles’ entire world - a microcosm of electric touch and warm pressure.

Stiles’ hands cover Derek’s and slide along his arms and down his sides and around his back to dig in and pull him closer, and the noises Stiles begins to make into Derek’s mouth are considerably less dignified than his earlier squeak of rage. Derek stumbles backward, pulling Stiles with him toward the bed, and when his hands slide down to drag Stiles’ coat off, Stiles shrugs his shoulders to help it go faster. They both pull and tug at the buttons on Stiles’ shirt and as soon as it's off he shoves at Derek’s chest, hard enough that Derek overbalances and lands on the bed. 

“I’m still mad at you,” Stiles informs him, even as he kicks his shoes away. 

“I know,” says Derek. 

“You’re still an asshole,” says Stiles. 

“Well, yeah.” Derek hooks a hand in the waistband of Stiles’ jeans and tugs him closer so he can get the button undone, and Stiles folds his arms and glares while Derek’s fingers fumble the first couple times. Once Derek finally gets it, Stiles lets the jeans fall and shoves Derek in the chest again so that he falls back onto his elbows. 

And you’re a dumbass,” Stiles announces as he climbs up to straddle Derek’s waist. 

“Laura used the word ‘special,’” says Derek. 

“Laura was nicer than I am,” says Stiles. 

“Not usually.”

They watch each other for a moment, which Stiles is grateful for because he’s feeling a bit lightheaded. His skin is tingling all over, warm and flushed with adrenaline and he’s so relieved that Derek didn’t just kick him out that he’s pretty certain he’s shaking.

“Sorry,” Derek offers. 

“Shut up,” says Stiles, and he leans forward to kiss Derek again, slower this time. 

“Though to be fair -” Derek mumbles into his mouth, and Stiles breaks off the kiss to nose his way under Derek’s chin, “- you haven’t almost died since -”

The statement ends with a gasp when Stiles catches the skin of Derek’s neck in his teeth.

“Shutting up,” Derek concedes. 

* * *

This time there’s cuddling. 

It’s odd because it’s not odd at all - Stiles always assumed that cuddling was something that people actively engaged in, that it was something he and Derek would have to do because it sounds like a verb, like running or fighting or lying. 

In reality, he ends up with Derek’s arm flung over his middle and Derek’s head resting on his chest and they’re both too spent to move. His hand comes to rest in Derek’s hair because that’s the most comfortable place to put it, and Stiles only plays with it because it’s soft and he likes the way it feels on his fingers. 

Stiles is almost asleep when his phone starts ringing. Derek makes a noise of protest when Stiles twists around and leans over to grab the infernal device from the pocket of his jacket, but Stiles ignores him. He winces when he sees that it’s his dad calling, but he answers anyway.

“Lydia called,” is the first thing out of his dad’s mouth, and before Stiles has time to worry that she might be in trouble, he continues with, “she demanded to know if you were home because, and I quote, she ‘has no intention of giving Isaac fucking Lahey fifty dollars.’”

“Gross,” says Stiles, “they had a bet? What were the terms?”

“I don’t think I want to know. It’s snowing.”

“I had noticed,” says Stiles.

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t try to drive home,” says his dad with a long-suffering sigh. “I’m sure you’re very disappointed to hear that.”

“I’m beside myself,” says Stiles tonelessly, “honestly, there are tears.”

“Uh-huh. We’re decorating the tree in the morning.”

“What if it’s not safe to drive then, either?” asks Stiles. 

His dad ignores him and announces that the decorating will commence at 11 A.M. in a tone that doesn’t invite discussion. “And Stiles?”

“If you tell me to ‘be safe’ I’m going to make an angel out of condoms and put it at the top of our Christmas tree,” says Stiles. 

There’s a suspiciously long pause after that before his dad says, “I love you,” instead.

“Love you too,” says Stiles, and as soon as the call ends he dials Scott. 

It rings three times before Scott picks up. 

“Are you in on the bet?” asks Stiles.

Scott hesitates. “No?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “What did you wager?”

“Summer lovin’.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” sighs Stiles.

“You could just wait, so I could win,” suggests Scott. 

Stiles opts to let his silence speak volumes until Scott says, “Oh. So Isaac won, then.”

Derek shifts his weight and says, “If he knows what’s good for him he’ll use his winnings to replace the Hot Pockets he stole from me.”

“Oh gross, you’re together right now?” asks Scott, sounding scandalized. 

Stiles ignores him. “How does one ‘steal’ communal foodstuffs?”

“By putting the empty box back in the freezer,” says Derek. 

“Is this a post-coital phone call?” demands Scott. “I thought we had a lifetime ban on post-coital phone calls.” 

“It’s not directly post-coital,” says Stiles, “it’s been like half an hour. I shouldn’t have to put pants on just to-”

Scott makes puking noises and hangs up on him.

“Good,” says Derek, wrapping himself more tightly around Stiles’ side. “Phone bad.”

“You’re a master of words,” says Stiles. 

Derek snorts and presses his head against Stiles' hand until Stiles starts playing with his hair again. 

Stiles smirks at him. "Liar," he accuses fondly. 

"Idiot," mumbles Derek. He presses a kiss into Stiles' chest and falls asleep smiling.