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Extenuating Circumstances

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1.

“Stiles,” Derek snarled, pacing inside the circle of mountain ash Stiles had carefully, terrifyingly lured him into before sealing it up. That had been an hour ago, and Stiles’ hands were still shaking from the game of lying, fast-talking, and misdirection-filled cat and mouse it had taken to get Derek there. “Do you have any idea what I’m going to do to you when I get out of here?”

“I’m not listening to you,” Stiles told him around the lump in his throat. He carefully measured the next ingredient from the list, double-checking it from his notes before adding it to the mixture simmering on his dad’s camp stove. “But if I were I’d probably say you’ll do what you usually do: lurk outside my window, lurk at the edge of the lacrosse field, lurk at the 7-11 by the slushie machine. There’s going to be a whole lot of lurking is what I’m saying.”

“There’s going to be a whole lot of ripping your arms off if you don’t let me out of here,” Derek said, and the distinct growl underlying his voice made the hair on the back of Stiles’ neck stand on end, and not in a good way. No, definitely not in a good way. He was so fucked. He was so fucked he couldn’t think about how fucked he was.

Stiles watched the timer on his phone and added the mugwort just as the minute ticked over. The thick liquid bubbled and spat, but it didn’t explode or turn colors, so he took it as a good sign.

“I don’t know what makes you think this is in any way a good idea,” Derek said, stalking along the edge of his prison. The warehouse was big and empty around them, and his voice echoed into the darkness. “There’s the alpha pack out there trying to kill us, and you’ve trapped me here for no reason and are going to do a fucking spell on me.”

“I know what I’m doing,” Stiles told him. He sprinkled a pinch of grey sea salt counterclockwise into the mixture.

“You never know what you’re doing,” Derek said. “You’re not a werewolf. You’re not strong. You’re just a kid. You’re making a huge mistake here, and it’s a dangerous one. At least one of us is going to get hurt with this, probably me, maybe you, too. You never know what you’re doing. You know it’s true.”

Breathing shallowly, Stiles read over his list again, making sure he hadn’t missed anything. He had only one chance here. He wouldn’t be able to get some of these ingredients again before the demon took over Derek for good. He couldn’t get distracted and make a mistake. He had to get it right, no matter what awful things Derek said, no matter if some of them were true.

Derek kept pacing, as near to him as he could get inside the circle. “This isn’t the time to pretend you’re at Hogwarts. It’s not one of your fantasy games.”

“No, it isn’t,” Stiles agreed, snapping out the words. “For one, I’d be able to mute you if it was.” He couldn’t let doubts in. He had to focus. The demon was going to do whatever it could to make him think he was doing the wrong thing, so he had to remember that no matter how much of a nerve Derek hit he just had to keep going.

“If you’re so smart, Stiles, why aren’t your friends here? Why aren’t mine? Where’s Scott? Where’s Isaac? Why are you the only one who thinks I’m not myself?” Derek asked.

“They don’t know you as well as I do,” Stiles told him. He knew he was right. He knew it. He had to be. Didn’t he? There were too many clues, too many -

He tore his thoughts back to the present and hurriedly added another pinch of salt, almost too late.

Derek continued to pace, his hands flexing at his sides. “Oh, please. We’re not friends, Stiles.”

“And that’s how I know you’re not acting like yourself. I’ve had to make quite a study of you to make sure my arms stay attached, and you’ve been doing some very non-Derek-y things. Smiling. Praising people. Actually hugging Erica that one time. You’re good, dude, I’ll give you that. Real good. You’re close. You’ve paid attention. But you’re not the real Derek.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Nope. Sorry.”

“Stiles,” Derek said with a sigh, the anger draining out of him. “Have you ever thought that maybe I’m just trying?” He pushed his hand through his hair and let it drop to his side. “I’m not - I never was supposed to be the alpha. I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s what’s going on. I’m just trying.”

Stiles looked over at him, and he could see the vulnerability in Derek’s eyes. He could see the truth in them. He knew Derek was so out of his league with the alpha pack that it was terrifying, and he knew Derek was trying. He knew it. It was all absolutely true, and it made his heart ache in sympathy, because he knew what it was like to be out of his depth.

But...

He looked away, squared his jaw, and stirred the mixture with a whip-thin willow branch. He added a spoonful of vanilla and a shake of cinnamon. The smell was so good it made his mouth water. It reminded him of making cookies with his mother, minus the green gloppy color of the mixture and the stirring with a stick.

“Hey, who knew magic was kind of like baking?” Stiles muttered to himself.

“It’s not like baking, Stiles. This is dangerous. This could backfire. This could hurt someone. This could - “

Stiles stood up, still stirring. “This could get rid of the demon that’s taking you over, Derek.”

“There’s no demon,” Derek told him. He dropped his head and sighed. “It’s just me. Put that stuff down and listen to me. Please listen, before it’s too late.”

“I can’t,” Stiles said, even though his stomach twisted at Derek’s pleading. He glanced at the timer on his phone. “This part’s kind of time-critical.”

Derek clenched his jaw, staring at him. He looked like he was thinking really hard. Finally he said, “Okay. I know you’re trying to do the right thing. You always do.” He sat down a foot away from the edge of the circle and let his hands fall loose in his lap. He let out a long breath. “I won’t stop you. Go ahead. And if something goes wrong, I forgive you. Just promise me that you won’t let the guilt eat you up inside. I know how that feels.”

The fatigue in Derek’s voice was almost enough to stop Stiles. There was compassion there, resignation, and understanding. There was the same acceptance that Derek had when Scott yelled at him about not being in his pack or Boyd and Erica had left to find a better leader. Derek knew his life sucked, and he had to let it happen. And here he was doing it again.

He was giving up again, this time because of Stiles.

Stiles found himself lowering the bowl, wanting to reach out and apologize for being the one to add yet another weight to Derek’s already bowed shoulders. He wasn’t trying to hurt him. He didn’t want to. That was the whole point.

He was just sure... well, pretty sure... kind of sure that Derek wasn’t himself, and that amulet they’d found under Derek’s bed looked kind of like the one in the book, and Stiles had put two and two together and gotten demon... which, okay, when he stepped back and thought about it was actually kind of crazy and -

Derek looked up at him, his bright eyes so full of honesty, something Stiles had imagined seeing from him but never thought would actually happen. “I trust you, Stiles. I always trust you.”

Stiles jerked, torn between misery at that cracked door of hope being shut and determination to do the right thing, and he stirred the mixture a last few frantic times before his clock ticked over. “Thanks,” he bit out. “Thanks for saying that, because now I know for sure it’s not you.”

And with that he tossed the contents of the bowl all over Derek inside the circle.

Derek bellowed, surging to his feet and throwing himself at the barrier keeping them apart. Steam was rising from him, his eyes flicking between a sick green and bright red. He roared and snarled, clutching at his face and stumbling back.

“Get out of him!” Stiles said, pointing the willow wand at Derek. He shook it a little and tried not to think too much about Harry Potter when he was supposed to be doing something real. “Demon begone!”

“Stiles! This fucking hurts! You must have done it wrong!” Derek fell onto the cement floor, thrashing. “Get it off me! Get this stuff off me! Stiles, please!”

His hands shaking, Stiles gestured with the wand again; Derek’s eyes stayed that alien green even as they filled with pained tears. There was no question what was talking to him, no matter whose voice it was using.

“I did it all right,” Stiles said. He took a deep breath and made himself believe that. He was right about the demon, and he was right about the spell. He just had to make it stick to get Derek back. He pointed the wand directly at him and believed. “I did. And now I am banishing you!”

Derek screamed, a horrible, desperate sound, and then the room exploded around them. The walls shook, the roof trembled, and packing boxes and empty pallets fell to the heaving floor.

“Stiles!” Derek yelled, reaching a hand out for him, and then something hit Stiles’ head, and everything went dark.

Stiles was woken by Derek saying his name over and over again. “Stiles, Stiles, come on, Stiles, talk to me, you never stop talking, come on.”

“I’m taking a nap,” Stiles muttered, batting at the hands running over his scalp. He was sleepy. He wanted to sleep. That’s what the teenage years were for: sleeping, jerking off, and being ignored by a series of very hot, very grumpy people way out of his league. “Come back in three or four hours.” He reached for his pillow and felt nothing but hard cement. Huh. When had he gotten a new bed?

“You’re not taking a nap. You were out cold.”

Stiles blinked open his eyes to find himself flat on the floor in that creepy warehouse, Derek kneeling next to him looking worried.

“Uh,” Stiles said, turning his head to see his awesome protective circle totally broken where he’d fallen on top of it. He sat up quickly - way too quickly, if his throbbing head had anything to say about it - and scooted backwards in alarm. Derek looked normal and hadn’t ripped off any of his limbs while he was unconscious, but still. “Fuck. Ow. Fuck.”

“It worked,” Derek told him. He didn’t make a move toward him, just sat back on his heels. “You were right about the demon, and the spell worked.”

“Great.” Stiles couldn’t stop staring at him. That big explosion had been the sign of the exorcism, right? It had to be. Didn’t it? There was supposed to have been a big, rainbow-colored ka-woosh at the end or something, he thought. He’d read that it didn’t always happen depending on the age of the demon and the atmospheric pressure or whatever, and if it had it could have been when Stiles was passed out, so... He let out a slow breath. “Great. Okay.”

“Can I - “ Derek gestured toward Stiles’ forehead. Stiles reached up and swiped a trickle of blood away that was coming from somewhere over his eye.

“Huh,” Stiles said, and Derek apparently took that as permission, since he came over and touched it, too. “Hey, watch it.” Stiles swatted him away. “Human healing, buddy. Do you have any idea where your hands have been? I don’t need an infection, thanks. I’ve got some tissues in my backpack.” He reached over, pulled his bag over by a strap, and began to rifle through it. Apple, math textbook, extra mugwort, hey, his Spiderman pen, he’d been looking for that -

“Sorry. I - “ Derek looked down, looked away, seemed to be trying to figure something out. “Stiles...” His frown came back, this time extra broody.

“I know, I know, I should hurry, I’m bleeding, although I’d think you’d be used to that by now.” Stiles dug deeper. He watched Derek out of the corner of his eye, just in case. He’d been nearly killed too many times since Scott was bitten not to pay attention to just in case.

“I’m never going to be used to that,” Derek muttered.

Stiles’ head jerked up, and he focused a little more closely on Derek. That was... strange. “What?”

Derek shrugged. “Look, I - I know this couldn’t have been easy for you. Doing all of this.” He gestured around the room, the one Stiles had had to lure him into own his own at great personal risk to exorcise the demon taking him over.

“Yeah. No, it wasn’t.” Stiles got his hands on the soft clump of tissues, but he didn’t pull them out. Instead he watched Derek.

“I’m sorry you got hurt,” Derek told him, his eyes filled with an extra dose of his manly - werewolfly - brooding.

“Not a big deal, big guy.” Stiles’ reply was automatic; he was almost unable to pay attention to the words. It wasn’t that he didn’t like being thanked, but it was Derek doing it, Derek who was being softer and nicer than usual. Just a little, but Stiles’ instincts about Derek being nice were what had gotten him to notice the demon to begin with...

His frown growing, Derek reached inside of his leather jacket and pulled out what looked like a clean white handkerchief. Stiles wasn’t sure if he were more surprised by the fact that Derek carried a handkerchief or that it was clean after having had all of that magical glop poured on him, though it had all disappeared with the spell.

Derek leaned forward into Stiles’ space, reaching out his hand to dab at Stiles’ forehead with care. “Here.”

Stiles could barely breathe. Derek was really close, not threatening him or frustrated with him for once but touching him so very gently, his eyes sad, his mouth pulled downward but still pink and soft and as tempting as it ever was -

Derek’s eyes met his, totally arresting and captivating just inches away. “Thank you for noticing the demon,” he said. “You’re the only one who did.” There was a low rumble in his voice that went straight to Stiles’ gut, making his stomach flip and his heart beat faster and his brain go sharp and focused, because it was too nice, too much what he wanted to hear. His hand clenched in his bag.

“Well,” Stiles said, trying not to move too obviously. “I know you.”

Derek nodded, his breath fanning across Stiles’ face. “You do.” His fingers trailed along the edge of Stiles’ hairline, and he leaned in just a fraction of an inch closer. His mouth was so close.

Stiles shuddered at the rush of arousal threatening to take over his body. He wasn’t blind to what Derek looked like. He wasn’t stupid enough not to notice how he responded to Derek’s touch.

But he also knew Derek, what Derek did and didn’t do with him, what he did and didn’t say, and that was how they’d gotten into this warehouse to begin with.

“I do,” Stiles said, ignoring the tug of his desires and focusing instead of what needed to be done. “So nice try.” He pulled out the bottle he’d stowed in his bag earlier, gave it a sharp shake, and opened it up right in Derek’s face.

Derek jumped back, swearing and trying to shield his head as a fountain of fizzy, bright green liquid sprayed over him.

Stiles leapt to his feet and waved the now half-empty soda bottle in his direction. Another spray of liquid spilled out toward him, spattering across the concrete floor. “Begone!” he cried. “I declare the last tether broken, demon!”

“Stiles!” Derek ran his hands through his hair and shook his head like a big, wet dog. Droplets went everywhere. “What the hell is this?”

“Holy water,” Stiles told him proudly. That annoyed look on Derek’s face was too spot-on for the demon to be able to mimic it. That was more like it. The water must have done the trick and banished the last, lingering remnants of the demon; he was glad he’d done his research that that could happen and had planned ahead.

“It smells like Mountain Dew.”

Stiles shrugged and rubbed the back of his hand, wet with soda, on his jeans. “Holy Mountain Dew. The 7-11 was out of bottled water. Father Murray blessed that for me instead when I caught him in the candy aisle. I thought he might have half-assed it to get rid of me, but obviously not because it worked.” He beamed and leaned back on his heels. He was awesome at this. “I am awesome at this!”

Derek dropped his hands and stared at him for a long moment before gritting out, “Yes. You are. Where are those tissues? I’m covered in corn syrup.”

“But you’re not a demon!” That was the important thing, not the words the demon said in Derek’s voice - both good and bad - that would probably replay like a self-recriminating soundtrack in Stiles’ head for weeks accompanied by the memory of soft, sweet touches, none of which were real. The important thing was that Derek wasn’t a demon anymore to do any of that.

“No.” Derek’s shoulders fell as neon green liquid dripped from the end of his nose. “I’m not.”

 

2.

“What is that smell?” Stiles said, wrinkling his nose. He spun in a circle as he walked through the dark woods, trying to figure out what direction that sickly sweet smell was coming from. It was like flowery supermarket donuts or cheap sugary perfume.

“Watch where you’re going,” Derek told him from where he was walking a few feet away.

As if on cue, Stiles stumbled over a root, caught himself on a handy nearby tree before he tumbled onto the ground, and patted the tree’s bark in thanks as he righted himself and continued on.

Derek’s head didn’t move, but his eyes slid toward him in judgment. He didn’t say “I told you so,” which would have impressed Stiles more if Derek weren’t apparently, like, genetically incapable of talking most of the time.

The good news was that Stiles didn’t really care that Derek talked much, because it just meant he was a lot less likely to be interrupted when he had something important to say, like:

“No, seriously, do you smell that?” He sniffed again and pulled a disgusted face. Whatever was in the air was sweet and kind of offensively floral, a lot like that cheap knock-off perfume he’d bought for his mom with his allowance for Valentine’s Day when he was seven, the one that had stayed in the bathroom medicine cabinet for more than a year after she’d died because neither he or his dad had been able to throw away the last chance to smell her. He’d cried himself sick the day he realized he’d sprayed it so much there wasn’t anything left in the bottle, that he could never smell her again.

Really, he thought with a hollow feeling growing in his stomach, it was a whole lot like that perfume.

Derek sniffled and looked even less pleased than usual. “Did you roll around in your dad’s aftershave again? All I can smell is you.”

“No,” Stiles told him. It smelled nothing like that, and anyway, “That was one time. One time. I misjudged how much I needed to use.”

“By a gallon? Do you even shave?” Derek asked, turning to him and walking closer as the undergrowth grew thicker around them.

Stiles narrowed his eyes at the - okay, kind of accurate, whatever - accusation. “Do you?” he replied pointedly, gesturing to the dark scruff on Derek’s face.

“I shave.”

Up went one of Stiles’ eyebrows. “Really?”

“I shave,” Derek said again.

“Because it kind of looks like you are trying to make up for the fact that it’s not polite for you to be furry all over most of the time. Not that it doesn’t work on you, but, come on, isn’t the stubble and leather a little obvious? ‘Hi, I’m a bad boy with a dark past, ask me how?’ Because I know for a fact you don’t want people to ask, and maybe if you went a little less Fonzie people wouldn’t look at you so suspiciously and/or with so much - ”

“Stiles,” Derek said and flung out an arm, stopping Stiles from walking further with a firm hand on his chest. It was kind of like walking into a car or a wall. He could go around, but he sure couldn’t go through.

"Oof.” Just because he couldn’t keep walking didn’t mean that Stiles couldn’t keep talking, though. “What? I have eyes. I have opinions on a wide range of male styling, even if not all of us are as obviously hirsute as - “

Stiles,” Derek snapped. He swept his other hand at the clearing in front of them.

Stiles’ eyes widened as he took in the scene. There was a perfect ring of flowers, maybe ten feet across, all lush and blooming, which would have been a marvel even if it weren’t late fall, so not exactly flower season, and the flowers themselves weren’t silver and purple and shining from their own sparkly inner light. The smell of his mother’s perfume was almost overpowering in the clearing, and he could see Derek breathing through his mouth, like he couldn’t bear to experience it with his superior werewolf nostrils.

“Whoa,” Stiles said. He ducked around Derek’s hand and took a few slow steps forward, Derek shadowing him.

“Don’t touch them,” Derek warned as Stiles crouched down by the edge of the circle.

“I’m not going to touch them,” Stiles replied with a roll of his eyes. “Or inhale too deeply or bring home a bouquet for my kitchen table. Not until we know what they are and if they’re the reason people are turning up dead up here. This isn’t my first rodeo, dude.” He watched bright little motes of pollen drift up from the nearest bloom, like tiny stars shining in the sky. It was dreamily beautiful. “Although, it would be a pretty bouquet.”

Derek crossed his arms over his chest, looking uncomfortable. “We should take a picture and bring it to Deaton.”

Stiles pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket and snapped a few quick photos of the circle of vegetation and close-ups of the flowers. They were very photogenic, but a flat screen still didn’t give the full effect. “Hmm, I can do better than that.” He stuffed his phone away and pulled a plastic bag out of his inner coat pocket.

“Is that an evidence bag?” Derek asked in surprise.

“Yeah.” Stiles glanced down at the official Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department evidence bag in his hand. “I grabbed a couple the last time I was at the station. I thought they might come in handy.” He looked around and found a suitable stick in the leaf litter. “And I was right.”

Derek took a step toward him as Stiles poked a nearby flower with the stick. “What are you doing? I told you not to touch it.”

“I’m not touching it,” Stiles told him. He carefully maneuvered the stick into the center of the flower, swirling it around in the sticky, sparkly pollen. It was kind of like playing Operation, only he had no idea what would happen if he touched the wrong part of the flower or even what that part was. He pulled the stick out and deposited some of the pollen into the evidence bag, making very sure not to get any on the outside of the bag or himself. It was a tricky maneuver, especially since the sparkles were even more dizzying up close. Their smell tickled his nose. “Not directly, anyway. But we might need some of this before we get it all figured out, and I’m saving us a trip back out here in the middle of the night. Because you know it’ll be in the middle of the night, right? It’s always in the middle of the night. And I don’t know about you, but in the middle of the night? I like to be sleeping. Or playing marathon games of Mario Kart, but mostly sleeping.”

“Stiles...” It was more a frustrated sigh than his name.

When Stiles looked up, Derek was glaring at him, his jaw clenching and unclenching with disapproval, and Stiles lifted his eyebrows and pointedly dropped the stick, sealed the bag, and stood up with his heart falling. He knew what he was doing. It didn’t matter if Derek looked like he was sucking on a lemon; Stiles still knew what he was doing. Hadn’t he proven that again and again? Hadn’t he proven that last week with the demon thing? Apparently not to Derek.

Turning his head away, Stiles put the bag in his pocket and pulled out his phone again. “Now let’s go see Deaton.” He stomped back the way they came, and this time he didn’t stumble over any big roots. Maybe he’d get the hang of making an exit yet.

Stiles sent a few texts as they walked, because Scott and Isaac were out looking, too, and it was better to keep them informed about the big ring of sparkly flowers instead of assuming they’d be smart if they stumbled on one, too.

“You’re going to kill yourself doing that,” Derek told him.

Stiles shrugged his agreement that at least serious injury was possible, but Scott’s answering text made Stiles glad he had risked his neck texting and tripping in the dark, because - “My god, no,” he muttered, furiously typing back, “have you learned nothing? Allison does not need you to bring her a sparkly magical evil flower, although given that she’s an Argent maybe the evil part wouldn’t actually be a dealbreaker for her...”

He heard Derek snort a few steps behind him, and Stiles smiled to himself. At least Derek had more responses to him than just glowering and wanting to slam him against things. Occasionally there was something almost like a laugh. It was pretty cool. Very good, actually.

Too bad it was only occasionally.

Stiles slid his hands into his pockets and kept walking. He was used to people not liking him - it was kind of a cornerstone of his whole high school career - but he had saved Derek’s ass more than once, they had to work together all of the time, and it didn’t seem fair that Derek still saw him as an annoying kid who needed to be warned not to do stupid things, especially since he was arguably more useful than the annoying kids Derek had bitten.

He used a spindly sapling to steady himself as he skidded down the hill toward where he’d left the Jeep. Derek, of course, needed no such help to stay upright.

“That was smart,” Derek said, falling into step beside him.

“Well.” Stiles shrugged. “Not all of us have amazing werewolf balance.”

“No.” Derek paused for a second, like he was trying to figure out what to say. “I meant with the pollen. That was smart.”

Stiles blinked over at him in shock. That was... wait a minute, that was a compliment. “Oh. Thanks!” He didn’t even try not to smile, because duh. It was smart.

“I’m still not sure about stealing evidence bags,” Derek added. “But getting the pollen. It might help us figure out what this thing is.”

“My working theory is that it’s some kind of magical venus flytrap thing,” Stiles said. “You know, luring people in by smell, messing with their minds, making them think lying down in the sparkly ring of flowers in the middle of the night is the best idea ever...”

“Huh.”

“I mean,” Stiles added as Derek seemed to be chewing that idea over, “I’m not sure why it thinks cheap perfume is the perfect lure, but it seems to be working if we look at the bodies stacked in the morgue, so...” He shrugged.

“It doesn’t smell like perfume to me,” Derek said slowly.

Stiles looked over at Derek’s face. He was frowning. It wasn’t like that was news; Derek was pretty much always frowning. “I wonder,” Stiles said, thinking it out, “if it changes its smell for each person, then. I mean, it’s magic. Why wouldn’t it be able to do that? It smells like something they want so badly they would go anywhere to get it.” The scent of his mother’s perfume was still cloying and sticky in the back of his throat, and he was torn between wanting to take a long drink of water to try to clear it and never smelling anything else again. He could feel the urge to go right back to the flowers if he concentrated enough. Fortunately, he was great at ignoring his body’s urges for his own good.

“But it smells like...” Derek trailed off, his brows drawing together even further, and then he looked off into the woods, away from Stiles. “No, that makes sense.”

“See?” Stiles pointed at his own head. “Smarter than I look.”

“You’re very smart,” Derek said.

The praise was very welcome but felt a little weird on Stiles’ shoulders coming from him, and he didn’t know what to say but, “Thanks.”

Derek’s eyes drifted back to him, deep and intense. “You’re good at figuring things out.”

Stiles glanced over at him in surprise while he skirted a fallen log. “More compliments? Not that I don’t appreciate them, but are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine,” Derek sighed.

“You sure? Because that was a lot of pollen for your sensitive werewolf nostrils, and even I’m feeling a little woozy from it.” Stiles watched him a little more closely. What if it had been too much for him? What if the pollen was hitting him hard enough that it was going to make him act differently?

“I’m fine.”

“Not feeling... I don’t know.” Stiles waved his hands around at the woods around them. “Like you want to run off and find your family, or a big deer to eat, or whatever it is you want?”

Derek turned his glare on him full-force. “I don’t want to eat a deer, Stiles.”

Stiles kept an eye on him as he clambered over the fence between them and his Jeep. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you not answering my question.” He swung himself over the top and winced as he mis-judged the fall, and he hopped awkwardly on one foot for a second while flexing his twisted ankle. “Great.”

“I’m fine,” Derek said yet again, clearing the fence so much more gracefully, and, seriously, there were a lot of drawbacks to being a werewolf, but the way they could get over barriers in a single leap without the fear of scraping skin off their hands or shins was pretty cool.

“Look, I know you - “ Stiles froze mid-hop as Derek took his elbow. He only didn’t fall because of Derek being there to steady him. “What are you doing?”

Derek solicitously started to lead him toward the car. “You hurt your ankle.”

“Um...” Stiles stared at him. He didn’t fight the help, because a) his ankle did hurt and b) he was kind of too stunned by the gesture to do anything about it. “I just twisted it. And even if I’m not a werewolf, I’m pretty good at not getting broken.” Okay, fine, he wasn’t so stunned he couldn’t talk, even if he didn’t pull his arm away from Derek’s warm hand.

“I know,” Derek said. He guided Stiles around a boulder marking the entrance to the small dirt-packed parking area. “You’re good at a lot of things, Stiles.” He looked over at Stiles, his eyes earnest and grave.

This was getting seriously weird. Derek was complimenting him. Derek was being nice to him. Maybe Stiles was way off on what the pollen did, because it wasn’t like Derek’s greatest wish was him, but it was clearly doing something to him, and the last thing Stiles wanted was to be hanging out with a pollen-crazed werewolf.

“I’m, um - I’m just going to get something from my bag before we go,” Stiles said, moving slowing so as not to spook him. At the moment, Derek only looked concerned and extra-broody, but he was a powerful alpha werewolf. He could turn violent in the blink of an eye. Caution was important.

“Okay.” Derek leaned back against the side of the Jeep as Stiles fumbled around in the trunk. He pushed aside his lacrosse bag and his spare sneakers in search of the emergency pack he’d made up. “Stiles?”

“Mmm?” He unzipped it, digging through the first aid supplies and granola bars. Hmm, maybe he needed a snack, too. He pocketed a bar and kept looking.

“I’m not good at apologies,” Derek said slowly. “But I wanted you to know that... the things I said when that demon was in me... about you not knowing what you’re doing... it’s not true. I’m sorry, I know I wasn’t in control of myself, but I’m still sorry, because it’s not true.”

Stiles let out a slow breath and wished for once he could hear something nice when Derek wasn’t under the influence of something. But if wishes were horses, he’d have a whole herd of them and probably get in trouble with the homeowners’ association.

“I know it isn’t,” he said, pulled out the plant mister, and squirted it a few times in front of Derek’s face.

It wasn’t anything harmful, just a few ingredients he and Deaton had thrown together in the hopes of making a spray that would make a werewolf stop in its tracks for a few seconds but not hurt it. They had enough werewolf friends that they needed to plan for all contingencies. This combination of witch hazel, purified water, and Febreeze hadn’t done the trick, according to their tests with Isaac, but he’d said it felt really good in his nose, especially after all of the tests with pepper spray.

“What the fuck?” Derek spun away from the car, coughing. “Stiles!”

“That should help clear out the pollen,” Stiles told him. He shut his trunk and limped to the driver’s side of the Jeep. “You’re welcome.” He told himself he wasn’t disappointed to have cut Derek’s compliments off. He wanted to earn them, not be given them out of stupid sparkly flower magic.

“Fuck,” Derek muttered and stomped around to the other side. He slammed the door once he was in and glared at him, his jaw set.

Stiles started the car. “Feeling more like yourself?”

“Yes.” The word was barely able to get out between Derek’s clenched teeth. “Why do you keep spraying things in my face?”

Shrugging, Stiles pulled out of the lot and headed toward Deaton’s office. “I’m helping you shake off the crazy. Better than hitting you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, right?”

“Do not,” Derek said, pointing at him, “hit me with a rolled-up newspaper.”

 

3.

Stiles hit Derek with a rolled-up newspaper.

“Get up,” he hissed. “Get up, get up, get up.”

Derek groaned and turned his face into his elbow.

Derek!” Stiles said, leaning as far as he could through gap in the bars separating him from Derek. He was just barely in reach at the end of the paper tube, and Stiles poked him on the shoulder again. He didn’t know why there was an old metal cage in this abandoned building that must have once held some sort of newspaper printing press, and he didn’t know why he was in the one in the cage, but he sure as hell knew there could be no good reason that his memory winked out at seeing Derek at the convenience store after school and started up again with him waking up locked in this creepy cage in this creepy building with his favorite broody werewolf.

(Scott was his favorite werewolf overall, but although Scott could mope and whine and be tempted to write emo poetry about Allison he really didn’t have the mental focus to brood. Not that Stiles was complaining about that.)

“Come on, Laura, give me three more minutes,” Derek muttered. “This is a good dream.”

Under normal circumstances, Stiles might have felt a little bit guilty interrupting something nice for Derek, but these were far from normal circumstances. Or they were depressingly normal, maybe, but they weren’t good circumstances. “Not. A. Dream,” he said, punctuating each word with a swat on Derek’s arm.

Derek came awake with a jolt, his body rolling from a sleepy sprawl to sitting up alert in a second. His eyes flicked around the dim warehouse and focused on Stiles. “What’s going on?”

Stiles dropped his arm and slumped down against the wall of the cage. “Oh, thank god,” he said, his face smooshed between two of the bars. “I have no idea, but this doesn’t exactly look like a surprise birthday party for either of us.”

“No,” Derek agreed, getting to his feet. He was tense, wary, not of Stiles but of everything else, and something tiny relaxed in Stiles’ chest that he might be in this obviously dire situation but at least he wasn’t alone. Derek was there.

“Are you all right?” Derek asked tightly. He looked around the huge, dark room with its odd remnants of past industry and then back at Stiles.

“Yeah. I mean, apart from...” Stiles gestured at the cage.

“Okay.” Derek nodded, watched him for another long, tense moment, and then said, “I should probably look around first.”

Stiles nodded back at him and made himself sit up. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he couldn’t disguise that, but at least he could try to look calm. “In case the cage is booby trapped.”

“There’s a reason you’re in there,” Derek said, his voice as stiff as his posture.

“And you’re not,” Stiles agreed. He could imagine a dozen reasons off the top of his head, from whoever it was who snatched them torturing Derek while he watched to them torturing him while Derek watched to them turning Derek rabid and letting him loose to try to get Stiles out of there, himself, so that he could eat him. Of all of his morbid fantasies, that was the current front-runner. It would be a nasty, awful, terrifying death for him and drive Derek crazy with guilt when he woke up from whatever spell they put him under, because if there was one thing Derek was good at it was feeling guilty for things that he didn’t actually do.

But Stiles kept all of that to himself, because Derek needed to focus on what was in the room and what they would do to escape when they got Stiles out of that cage. So he watched Derek pace around the room, looking at the padlocked doors, the many big, painted-over windows, and the crumbling masonry.

“This place isn’t secure,” Derek told him when he came back. He stood a few feet away, his hands flexing at his sides. Stiles knew he was smart not to get closer, but he felt so vulnerable, so isolated inside the cage. He would have felt so much better without this barrier between them instead of being cut off from the only thing he had on his side.

“Then what’s outside?” Stiles asked. Was the trap actually only sprung when they got out? Would they be chased down like they were in some stupid B-movie with a title like To Serve Man where they were the main course of some Hunters’ exotic species dinner?

“Nothing. I don’t hear anyone. Some distant traffic, but no people, not close.”

“I don’t understand,” Stiles said. “This doesn’t make any sense.” He could feel the panic rising in him, and he breathed in through his mouth to try to stay calm. After a second, he stood up, because it felt safer somehow to be on his feet, and, ow, hello, his knee hurt, but not enough to slow him down.

“I know.” Derek slowly circled the cage. It was made of dark metal, some corrosion obvious at its bottom joints like it had been sitting for a while. The bottom was a plate of solid metal, but the rest was made of bars. There was a door on one side, padlocked with a huge, shiny lock. Derek stared at it for a minute, then looked back at Stiles. “What do you think will happen if I try to get you out?”

“I don’t know.” Stiles swallowed quickly around the lump in his throat. He had too many theories. Too many. “I’ve watched way too many movies. Electrocute me? Cook me from my feet up? Sonic wave that melts my brain? And that’s not counting all of the magical stuff that could happen. Thousands of rats and/or insects swarming me and eating me alive in a matter of seconds?”

Derek’s already stoic expression grew even more pinched. He closed his eyes before meeting Stiles’ gaze. “What should I do?” he asked softly.

Stiles tried to breathe, tried to think. Derek was asking him what to do. This was bad. This was so bad. “This is so bad,” he muttered. “Okay.” He turned away, rubbing his face and pacing in the small cage. “Okay. Think, Stiles. Think.” He walked back and forth, back and forth, as Derek stood there and waited. Stiles looked at every corner of the cage, peered out to the edges of the room, and paced some more. It was only a matter of a minute or two, but it felt like his brain went through a million different iterations of awfulness.

“So here’s the thing,” Stiles said finally, coming to stand opposite Derek again. “I have no clue what’s going to happen.” His hands flailed at his sides at the futility of trying to guess. “Not a fucking clue. So we just have to try something and find out.”

He watched Derek’s throat work before Derek’s mouth compressed even further. “Okay,” Derek said. He stepped forward and put his hand on the padlock. “I’m going to break this.”

“Okay,” Stiles said with a jerky nod. He took a step back away from the door. “I’m just going to - “ He pointed. “ - over here. In case there’s an explosion or something, not that two feet will make a big difference between death and only slightly less instantly deadly horrible mutilation, but - “

Derek looked at him, a world of unfathomable and unspoken words in his eyes, and then the impressive muscles in his arm flexed, and Stiles flinched and waited for whatever would happen to happen.

Nothing happened.

“Nothing happened?” Stiles asked. There was no river of snakes, no flood of poison gas, and - he stepped closer - hey, no broken padlock.

“It didn’t break,” Derek said, staring at it.

Stiles peered down at the entirely unblemished lock in Derek’s hands. “Did you put your back into it?”

Derek rattled the lock and then yanked with all of his might. Stiles yelped and grabbed a bar for support as the whole cage shifted a quarter of an inch, but the lock was still attached. The door was not bent. The hinges were not straining.

“That’s not good,” Stiles said, his stomach going hollow.

Derek tried again, and again, but nothing happened but the cage moving a whole extra three-quarters of an inch. Breathing hard, Derek said, “I’m going to try the bars,” and without waiting for Stiles’ agreement began to try to pull them apart. The muscles in his chest and arms bulged in a very impressive fashion, as did quite a few veins, but the cage didn’t bend.

Derek stepped back, his chest heaving, and he stared down at his hands. His palms were red and raw-looking.

“Fuck,” Stiles said, slumping forward against the bars of the cage. “Wolfsbane?”

“Something.” Derek looked up at him, his eyes wide and helpless. “I can’t get you out.”

Stiles managed to nod around the lump of panic ballooning in his chest. If Derek couldn’t get him out, he was trapped. He was totally and completely trapped, and he didn’t know by whom or for what purpose. All he knew was that he was stuck like a... like a sitting duck, like bait, like a calf about to be turned into veal. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “I know.”

“I can’t - Stiles.”

Stiles swung his head back toward Derek, the fear and desperation starting to make him feel numb. “You should go. Get help. Maybe Deaton. Or my dad. No, not my dad, we don’t know what this is, I don’t want him involved.” That was the last thing he wanted, his dad coming to try to rescue him and ending up dead because he wasn’t prepared for the crazy supernatural shit all around him. Nobody could be prepared. Stiles wasn’t prepared. Look at him, look where he was. But he couldn’t let his dad get caught up in it. “But if - but if - “ He turned to lean his chest against the bars with his hands wrapped around them. “Derek, if things go bad, don’t let him be the one who finds me. Please.”

“Stiles.” Derek surged forward, his name sounding like it was torn out of him. “I’m not leaving.”

“You have to.” Stiles swallowed, his mouth dry. He didn’t want to be alone, but he had to be smart. Someone had to be smart. “You have to. But be careful, because there’s got to be a reason why I’m in this cage and not you. I mean, if you can’t break into it, you couldn’t break out of it. We’re apart for a reason. And if I were out there it would be a lot harder for me than you to get through those padlocks, so there’s a reason it’s me in here and not you. There’s a reason.”

“It’s because they knew I won’t leave you,” Derek said. His eyes didn’t move away from Stiles’ face for a second. “They know with you in there I’m as trapped as you are.”

Stiles slammed his hand against the cage, panic and fury warring for the top place in his heart. this wasn’t happening. “You have to. Derek.”

“They knew I wouldn’t leave you,” Derek muttered to himself, like it was a revelation.

“Then they are stupid, because of course you’re going to go.”

Derek shook his head. “I can’t,” he said simply. “We don’t know what’s happening. I can’t just leave you here.”

“If you don’t go, we’re not going to get out,” Stiles told him. “I’ll be fine. I’ll keep them talking. Maybe show them my incredible dance moves. Life of the party, that’s me, too fun to kill. But if you don’t go and get help, we aren’t going to get out.”

“I won’t go,” Derek said. He stepped forward, curling his hands around the bars just below Stiles’, his thumbs touching Stiles’ fingers. “I’ll find a place to hide, I’ll make it look like I’m gone, but I’m not leaving.”

“I’d go, you know,” Stiles spat at him, trying to make the truth sound hurtful, because the warmth in Derek’s eyes was doing seriously dangerous things to his heart, and he had to be smart. He had to be smart. It was pretty much the only weapon he had. “If I was out there and you were here, I’d totally go. I’d already be gone.”

But Derek just said, “I know. You’re better at doing the hard thing than I am, Stiles. You’re better at doing the right thing.”

“But...” Stiles’ heart was beating in his throat, but it wasn’t in panic; it was in wonder. Derek was touching him so carefully, his hands sliding over Stiles’ in a tender caress. His skin was surprisingly soft, but then why would a werewolf get callouses?

There was a loud crash outside, and Derek’s head whipped around at the same time Stiles’ did.

“Stiles,” Derek said quickly, turning back to him. His words were low and fast. “You need to know that I care about you. I’m sorry you’re involved in any of this, but I promise I’m going to do my best to protect you - “

“Oh my god,” Stiles said in despair, all of the blood draining out of his face and leaving it cold. “I really am going to die. You’re being nice to me, and that means I’m totally going to die. In the next two minutes, maybe less.” He pulled away, rolling his back against the super impervious metal bars. “I’m going to die.”

Derek rounded the corner of the cage, following him. “What? No, I just said I was going to protect you.”

“You just said you cared about me. I know what that is. You’re offering solace to a dying man. I am that dying man.” Shaking himself, Stiles pushed himself upright. No, if he was going to die, he was going to do it on his feet. He was going to look it in the eye, like a man, like a Stilinski. He blew out a steadying breath. “You’d better hide. Get out if you can. Don’t worry about me. I know you’re like the king of guilt, the emperor, but this isn’t your fault. Just please don’t let my dad find me.” His voice only shook a little. He could do this. It wasn’t over yet. There was still a chance.

“Stiles,” Derek said, and he sounded absolutely gutted.

Stiles couldn’t look at him, though. He couldn’t let his confidence waver. He had to stand tall, face it head-on, and give Derek enough time to get out and if necessary make good on his promise about his dad.

“Go,” he said, but Derek didn’t move. Before Stiles could tell him again, a good half of the front wall of the building exploded, raining bricks and dry mortar down all around them.

When Stiles stood back up and dropped his arms from protecting his head, in the hole in the rubble stood Lydia, dust still billowing around her. She held a beaker full of bubbling liquid in her hand.

“Did somebody here need rescuing?” she asked. “Because I’m seriously going to be late for my mani-pedi if this goes on much longer. I’m sure you’re worth it, but...” She shrugged, her smile wide.

“Oh my god,” Stiles said, and if he found himself on the floor a few seconds later he liked to think it was a manly crumple and not a near-faint from relief. He felt light-headed and a little like he might throw up. For once it was in a good way. “Oh. Oh my god. I have never in my life been happier than I am right now to see you, Lydia, and that includes the time Scott and I found that spy hole into the girls’ locker room.”

“Excuse me?” she asked sharply.

“Nothing,” he said, waving it away. “I’m babbling. Crazed by the excitement. It was only at knee-height, anyway.”

Derek watched, saying nothing, as she stepped over the rubble, Erica and Scott coming in behind her, and brought out some sort of awesome universal key to open the padlock.

He was gone before Stiles was composed enough to remember to thank him for trying to be so uncharacteristically comforting at his impending death.

 

4.

The giant snake twisted more tightly around Stiles’ chest, constricting his breath and yanking him further back into the woods. Stiles could see his friends just ahead, lit by the campfire they were cooking their dinner over, but he couldn’t get free to get to them. He couldn’t get enough air in his lungs to call out to them. He could hear their laughter, smell the delicious scent of slightly charred marshmallows, could almost count the curls cascading over Lydia’s shoulder, but he couldn’t get close. He couldn’t even get their attention as he was dragged away.

He kicked his feet but couldn’t get any purchase on the ground. He scrabbled at the snake’s body, but he couldn’t get a grip on its slippery scales. His heart was pounding, his lungs were burning for lack of oxygen, and he was going to die, feet away from his friends, just feet away. Weren’t they supposed to notice he was gone? Weren’t they supposed to hear the danger before he did?

Or was this always supposed to be how it ended, him dying alone and helpless, weak and human in a supernatural world?

As his vision dimmed, Stiles watched Scott feed a marshmallow to Allison, leaving a sticky dot of it on the tip of her nose. Stiles couldn’t help his reflexive grimace when Scott leaned in to kiss it off. Derek threw his head back on the other side of the fire and laughed at something Isaac was saying, and Stiles fought harder. His friends were happy, they were having fun without him, and he damn well wasn’t going to die and let them. He couldn’t. He didn’t want to. He wanted so much more than he had, so much more than this.

Stiles thrashed in the snake’s grip as best he good, but it was no use. The snake was stronger than he was, too strong, squeezing him and shaking him and rubbing his arm soothingly and saying his name in a low, worried rumble and -

Stiles’ fist connected with something hard, the pain of the impact startling him awake. He fought against the bed clothes wrapped around him and the panic gripping his body to sit upright, gasping for air. Each breath was shallow, his stomach a pit of dread and despair, and he swallowed against the horror in his throat. A nightmare. A panic attack. Not real, not real, none of it was real.

“Fuck,” he breathed, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Get it together, Stiles.” He forced himself to remember he was alone in his room, in his bed, and nothing was wrong. Nothing more than usual, anyway. He could just breathe in and out, in and out, and the tension would ebb with each exhalation until -

“Ow,” came a voice from the floor.

“Gah!” Stiles cried and scrambled back up against his headboard, clutching the covers to his chest. Wait, he knew that ow. He peered over the edge of the bed. “Derek?”

Derek was lying on the ground, a hand pressed to his forehead. Glaring at Stiles, he lowered his hand, revealing a big abrasion and rising bruise.

Stiles stared down at his fist in amazement. “Wow,” he said. “I am way stronger than I thought I was.” He looked back at Derek as a smile began to grow on his face.

Derek got up off the floor, still glaring at him. “Calm down. That wasn’t you. You just got lucky.”

“Yeah.” Stiles breathed in through his nose, trying to slow his thundering heart. He could see dirt smeared on Derek’s shirt and a rip near its collar. There was some blood spattered on his jeans. Yeah, it wasn’t him. Of course it wasn’t him. He didn’t magically have any superpowers, and if he did it would be a problem. He should be happy.

It just would have been nice not to feel quite so fucking helpless.

“Are you okay?” Derek took a step toward the bed.

Stiles nodded, his head feeling loose like a bobblehead or a balloon on a string. “Yeah. Yep. One hundred percent totally fine.”

“Stiles...” Derek looked like he was going to reach for him but thought better of it, probably because Stiles had apparently hit him in the face when he’d tried a few minutes before. Not that Stiles would be able to get anywhere near him now without the element of surprise and his lightning-fast sleep-induced reflexes.

“I’m good, thanks.” Stiles waved a hand and tried to look like he wasn’t totally freaking out over imagining being killed by a dream snake. Although probably he’d started the panic attack first while sleeping and added the dream on top of it, right? Or maybe he worked himself up into it just by imagining a nice, happy camp-out with his friends. Either way he was fucked if he couldn’t sleep. He needed to sleep. A man could not live on energy drinks alone, no matter what the commercials said.

Derek watched him in that still, focused way he had. It was unnerving, even if Stiles had kind of missed it in the days since the whole cage incident. But he was never sure if Derek was doing it out of judgment or out of boredom, like the way a cat might deign to watch an ant crawl all the way across the kitchen floor before deciding whether or not to pounce on it.

“I’m fine,” Stiles told him, and if he sounded a little choked and breathless, well, maybe Derek would chalk it up to being awoken by a slightly battered werewolf in his bedroom in the middle of the night. “So what did that to you?”

“What?” Derek asked, finally blinking.

“What did that to you?” Stiles waved at Derek’s forehead. “Rogue alpha? A Hunter? The creature from the Black Lagoon? What do you need me to look up for you?”

Derek frowned even more. “What?”

“Are you okay?” Stiles asked, sitting up and watching him. Derek looked disoriented, upset, and unsure, as much as he ever showed emotion on his face.

“I’m fine, Stiles. You’re the one who was freaking out in his sleep. I was worried. And thanks for punching me when I tried to help you.”

“I’m sorry about that, but what are you doing here in the first place?”

“I - “ Derek looked away, and Stiles brain clicked over from panic about fake snakes to worry about real werewolves. Derek was disheveled and kind of dirty. He’d been in a fight of some sort. He had an obvious head injury. And he’d been nice.

“Do you know who you are?” Stiles asked him. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, his thoughts sharpening.

“Yes?” Derek replied, but it was more confused than confident.

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes,” Derek bit out.

“No, right, you’ve been using my name. Okay.” Stiles rubbed his hand over his own head and asked the next obvious question. “Do you know why you’re here?”

Derek’s glare increased as Stiles stood up. “I’m beginning to wonder.”

Okay, that was inconclusive, because Derek was grumpy and unhelpful lots of the time and not just when he might have some sort of amnesia. “Well, it’s not like you just wandered by to check on me, so...”

Derek shifted his weight on his feet, like he was uncomfortable, but then having a big gap in your memories would probably be uncomfortable, yeah.

“What day is it?” Stiles asked.

“Tuesday?”

“Who is the president?”

Stiles,” Derek snapped.

“Nope, although that would be awesome.” Stiles could just picture it. “I’d be an amazing president. Three-day weekends every week! Triple the funding for NASA! Maybe a whole new cabinet position dealing with lycanthropes. And I’d totally rock the White House bowling alley.” He mimed sending a ball down a bowling lane, then winced and waved at it to encourage it to veer left for a strike, but it still ended up in the gutter. Even his imagination was against him.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m uh...” Bowling wasn’t the right answer, was it? No, wait, something else was going on. Something serious. “Right, I’m checking to see if you have amnesia,” Stiles said, focusing back on Derek’s confused expression. “Don’t worry. It’s usually temporary. Unless it’s a spell. Did you piss off a witch?”

“No,” Derek said.

Stiles bobbed his head sideways, unconvinced. “Maybe you don’t remember? I mean, with the amnesia?”

“I don’t have amnesia,” Derek told him firmly.

“But you don’t know what you’re doing here?” Stiles asked. “Because as pretty as my face is I’m damn sure you didn’t come here just to look at it.”

Derek clenched his jaw, stared at him for the span of a breath, made a frustrated sound, and jumped out of the window.

Stiles rushed over, leaned out of the window, and called after him, “They say if you go to familiar places it’ll help your memory come back!”

 

5.

“I’m not really hungry,” Allison said, wrinkling her nose as she walked with Stiles and Scott across the dark parking lot toward the restaurant.

“You can share a piece with me,” Scott told her with a sweet smile, which made Stiles roll his eyes because a) rule number one of going out with someone who wasn’t hungry was making them order something for themselves and then getting to finish it for them and b) Scott might have been great about sharing everything from pudding cups to homework answers - even if they were rarely the right ones - to anti-itch cream with Stiles but never, ever had he shared anything from Annabelle’s.

Not that Stiles would have wanted to share, because the pie was way too good to eat only half of a slice. But still. There was a principle involved here somewhere.

“Blueberry?” she suggested to Scott. “With ice cream?”

Stiles rolled his eyes again as he held the door for them, because everyone knew Annabelle made her own special cinnamon-vanilla whipped cream. It was bad enough that Scott was whipped about regular things like movie nights and evening phone calls, but whipped cream, too? Sometimes dating didn’t really seem worth the trouble.

And then Stiles remembered that they got to have sex whenever they wanted. He’d probably give up a lot for that.

Though not, he thought, the whipped cream. But then he liked to think he’d never fall for someone who didn’t like it to begin with. He had standards.

To Stiles’ delight, the E in pie on the neon Annabelle’s Pie Shop sign was on the fritz again, and he happily swaggered up to the counter to ask Ruth for a mathematical constant of the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter in coconut cream.

Before he could open his mouth, though, Scott said, “Uh... Stiles?”

“Pie first, questions later,” Stiles reminded him, but he turned to him and then looked across the chrome-trimmed diner toward what Scott was gaping at.

In the red vinyl booth in the corner was a buxom, red-headed woman in a very, very tight green dress, and sitting beside her, leaning into her with her arm around his shoulders, was Derek. He was wearing a tank top, and her fingernails were scratching idly up his very muscular bare bicep.

His stomach swooping with something that was totally not jealousy, Stiles was about to turn right back around, because it was not his business if Derek wanted to go on a date with some woman who looked like she bought makeup by the pound and had her clothes painted on her... but then he took in Derek’s glassy eyes and frowny eyebrows.

Stiles stopped. He knew those eyebrows. They weren’t the eyebrows of desperate social constipation in the face of having to carry on a conversation; they were the eyebrows of confusion and possible alarm. They were the eyebrows of a head injury, maybe, or an enchantment like that stupid fairy flower pollen.

“I don’t think Derek’s okay,” Stiles said.

“He’s on a date,” Scott replied, like that was enough of an explanation for the eyebrows and the weird way he couldn’t quite seem to keep his head up straight. Maybe it was.

“Huh.”

“Good for him?” Allison said, chewing on her lip.

Derek leaned away in the booth, his frown growing, and then the woman tugged him back with a soft word and a hand tight on his shoulder. Derek’s eyes immediately grew foggy again, and his face lit up with a warm smile.

Stiles narrowed his eyes and told himself that smile wasn’t doing funny things to his chest, because Derek looking happy was kind of amazing and made him feel happy, too, just to see it. But the smile was also weird, and that was what was important. “Let’s go meet the lucky lady.”

“Stiles! We shouldn’t interrupt!” Allison protested, but he was already walking with purpose across the restaurant.

“Heeeeeeey, Derek,” Stiles said, coming up to the table and leaning one hand on it. “How’s it hanging? All...” He gestured vaguely. “Hanging-able?”

“We don’t need more coffee,” the woman said, petting her fingertips through the back of Derek’s hair. Stiles was fiercely pleased to see that her half-eaten slice of apple-rhubarb was a la mode, but Derek’s untouched chocolate custard had a big dollop of whipped cream. Derek might live in a burned out shell of a house and/or a decrepit train station, but the guy wasn’t actually an animal, at least not when the moon wasn’t full.

Derek looked up at him, his eyes definitely confused. “Stiles?”

“Focus on me, handsome,” the woman purred to him, and Derek’s head turned back to look at her, his features transforming into a look of utter - if baffled - devotion. “There you go. Much better.”

“What have you done to him?” Stiles asked, crossing his arms over his chest. He was aware of Scott and Allison coming up behind him.

“Do you know them?” she asked Derek.

“Some of my pack,” Derek replied. “Sort of.”

She nodded to Stiles. “This one’s not a werewolf.” The hair on the back of Stiles’ neck, what little there was of it, stood up in alarm at the blatant mention of something supernatural in public, but he wasn’t exactly surprised she knew.

“No,” Derek sighed out like he was half in a happy dream. “He’s Stiles.” He shivered a little as the woman trailed her nails down his arm again, leaving bright red marks behind. They didn’t immediately fade, making Stiles even more concerned about the situation.

“Hi.” Stiles waved a hand at her to draw her attention back to him. “I’m Stiles. What did you do to him?”

“Nothing, honey,” she replied with a wide, dangerous, crimson-lipsticked smile. “Nothing yet. I got a text that there was a lonely alpha werewolf who didn’t belong to anybody, and I thought I’d stop by and check him out.” She drew her fingertip down his nose and over his mouth. “Don’t worry; I’ll treat him right. I’ll show him a lot of love.”

Stiles’ suspicions were growing, and he watched the way Derek kept swaying away from her, only to be pulled back in by her touch. “Right up until you kill him, huh?”

“Well.” She tilted her head to the side and shrugged. “One must be true to one’s nature.” She leaned in and nibbled at Derek’s earlobe with her perfect if just slightly too sharp white teeth.

Derek made a soft, needy, obscene noise that went straight to Stiles’ gut, and he couldn’t decide immediately whether he wished he’d never heard it or whether he’d be replaying it nightly (and in the morning, and sometimes before dinner).

O-kay,” Stiles said, and his heart only started to pound harder when Derek’s eyes slitted open and watched him the second time the demon ripped that sound out of him.

Stiles could feel Scott growing tenser and tenser behind him, probably for very different reasons than he was, and he waved a hand by his hip in what he hoped would be taken as a calming gesture before he slid into the seat. It was a corner booth, three-quarters of a circle around a central table, and he scooted a touch toward Derek.

“Look,” Stiles said, “I’m sure you’re a very nice lady, succubus, er, demon-American, but you can’t have him.”

The woman stroked Derek’s head with her long, slender fingers. “Why not? He is sad and lonely. He doesn’t have anyone.”

“Yes, he does,” Scott said at the edge of the table. “He has his pack.”

“It isn’t the same. Is it, handsome?” The succubus slid her hand down Derek’s admittedly very impressive chest. The possessive nature of the touch made Stiles’ skin crawl.

“No,” Derek replied, low and sad.

“See?” she said, turning back to them. “I’ll take care of him. I’ll give him what he wants.”

Stiles set his jaw. “Until you kill him.” He reached out and touched Derek’s hand, which twitched at the contact. “Hey, bud, isn’t it time for you to get home? I’ll drive.”

“I’m - “ Derek started, looking directly up into his eyes with more clarity than Stiles had seen from him.

“He’s mine now,” the woman said, purring the words right into Derek’s ear. “Run along, boy, unless you’d like to make it a threesome. I like the lonely ones best. You’re all so delicious.”

“Nope, sorry,” Stiles told her, skipping over the very inappropriate sexual thoughts, la la la, and scrambling to come up with a solution because a) he had no idea how to kill a succubus and b) Scott wolfing out in public to try a direct approach like ripping off her head would go very, very badly. “He’s not yours. He’s mine.”

“What?” she said, raising a perfectly groomed eyebrow. He could see Allison doing the exact same thing out of the corner of his eye.

“Didn’t you say that you’d come to claim an alpha werewolf who doesn’t belong to anyone?” He leaned back against the vinyl seat and tried not to look like he was just making things up as he was going. Good thing he was used to doing that.

“Yes,” she said.

“Well, he belongs to someone. Me. Isn’t that right?” Stiles tugged on Derek’s hand to urge him to play along.

Scott choked a little, but Allison stepped closer to hush him. Stiles did his best to ignore them both.

“I don’t think so,” the succubus said with a laugh and went back to toying with Derek’s hair. His eyes drooped closed with pleasure, and, yeah, Stiles would be remembering that look on his face for a long, long time.

“No, he is,” Stiles insisted. He wasn’t sure if she could hear a lie the way werewolves could, but he decided to play as close to the truth as possible. “I mean, we’re both idiots who are, like, completely terrible at this and are avoiding talking about it, but there are feelings. Between us.” He gestured between them. “Tender, romantic feelings.”

The woman just snorted at the idea, which -

“Hey!” Stiles sat up, offended. “I am totally crush-worthy, thank you very much.”

“Please.” She rolled her eyes and turned back to Derek, who was looking down at Stiles’ hand holding onto his. “Handsome,” she whispered, and his attention flipped right back to her. His fingers went lax in Stiles’ grip. “Do you really have feelings for him?”

Derek swallowed, which did amazing things to the line of his bare throat, and then he said in a raspy voice, “Yes.”

Yes! Stiles thought to himself with an internal fist-pump as Scott made another weird noise, because for a minute there he’d been sure Derek was too far gone to be anything but honest.

“I don’t know,” the succubus said to Stiles. “He’s so dark and brooding, so unhappy. I think I should still take him back with me.”

“You can’t do that,” Scott insisted, belligerent and so very unhelpful.

Allison’s eyes grew wide in dismay. “Scott!” she whispered, hushing him.

The woman drew herself up, her hand gripping Derek’s shoulder hard enough the skin was denting under her fingertips, and she said in a voice devoid of seduction and filled with a terrifying, ancient power, “Oh, I can’t?”

Stiles shot Scott what he hoped was a quelling look. “I’m sure you can,” he said to her quickly. “I’m totally sure you can. Nobody is questioning your ability to rock the hell out of a tight dress and/or lure away a very fit werewolf in the prime of his life.”

The succubus preened a little, tossing a lock of her shining red hair back over her shoulder. She settled back against the seat again like a queen on her throne.

“But the thing is,” Stiles continued with his panicked heart in his throat, “Derek might be dark and brooding, but he’s not alone. We might not have our shit together yet, but he’s pining. For me. He’s all - “ He waved his free hand around and tried to urge Derek toward him with the one linked with his. “ - pine-flavored. Like floor cleaner. And that doesn’t taste good. Trust me, I tried some when I was five. The trip to the ER did clean me out, whoa, but that’s a whole other and even grosser story.”

Scott let out a laugh. “Yeah.”

She looked at Stiles for a long moment, her face flat and expressionless, and then asked Derek with obvious derision, “You’re attracted to this?”

Derek’s eyes settled on Stiles’, and Stiles squeezed his hand under the table and tried to give him an encouraging smile. He was pretty sure if he could just get Derek away from her touch Derek would be much better able to focus. He had to keep trying, anyway, because it wasn’t like he was going to let her take Derek away. Derek might have deserved the pleasure she’d offer, but not if he was going to die from it.

“I can’t help it,” Derek said finally, his shoulders slumping like it was hard to get the words out. “I’ve tried not to.”

“I can see why,” she replied.

“Hey,” Stiles protested weakly.

She stroked her hand down Derek’s chest and around his side. “Wouldn’t you rather come with me? I’ll make it all so easy for you.”

Stiles could see how torn Derek was, and why wouldn’t he be? Why wouldn’t he want things to be easy? Nothing had been easy for him since the fire that killed his family, nothing was easy now, and it wasn’t like he was really in love with Stiles. Why wouldn’t he be drawn to this crazy lust demon? Of course he was.

But Stiles couldn’t let him die because of it.

He scooted closer, getting his hand on Derek’s bicep. It was hardly the first time he’d touched it, but wow, hello, soft bare skin over hard muscle, yeah, that was nice if really not the point here.

“He doesn’t need easy,” Stiles told her. “He needs real.”

“And you’re real?” she asked. “Look at you. You’re a child fumbling through your days. What do you know?”

“Age doesn’t matter when it’s love,” Allison piped up.

Thank you,” Stiles told her. It was nice to know he wasn’t totally doing this alone.

She nodded back, looking tense but determined.

“I know what it means to stand beside someone when it’s hard,” Stiles said, thinking of his parents and all they went through, all he and his dad had been to each other after his mother’s death. “I know what it means to love someone for who they are and still tell them off when they’re being an idiot. I know what it means for your life to come crumbling down around you but to be okay because you have one person to hold onto. I know what it means to make hard choices because you love someone. That is real.”

The succubus’ mouth twisted into a moue of distaste. “That’s a nice speech,” she began dismissively.

“He means it,” Derek interrupted, his eyes sharp on Stiles’ face. “That’s who he is.” He took a shallow breath. “Stiles is incredible. He’s smart, he’s loyal, and he’s funny. He’s seen terrible things and keeps going, anyway. He keeps fighting. He makes my life better.”

Stiles swallowed thickly. He told himself it was just relief that Derek seemed to be pulling out of the daze she’d put him in and not a reaction to the actual praise. But, god, to hear Derek say that kind of thing about him... It made his chest swell with joy and pride at being seen and valued.

It also almost hurt, though, because it wasn’t from Derek’s heart. It was just for this stupid succubus.

“And Derek’s strong, he’s brave, not just with his muscles but with his life. He keeps trying,” Stiles said, trying to play his part. It wasn’t all that difficult. “When he lets people see beneath the grumpy exterior he’s actually a really good guy. And he’s showing that more and more.”

Derek’s eyes widened, riveted on his. “Stiles - “ he began, low and earnest.

“Oh my god, I think I’m going to throw up,” the succubus said, letting go of Derek like he was diseased.

Derek blinked, shaking his head like he was coming up out of the water, and the moment broke like it had never happened.

“What?” Stiles said her.

“This is not what I came here for,” she said. She picked up her fork and took a bite of her pie, then grabbed her sparkly little clutch and slid out of the other side of the booth.

“Um,” Allison said, stepping back so that the succubus could pass.

The demon smoothed down her short, slinky dress and tossed her hair back behind her. It caught like she had a fan blowing on her, and Stiles couldn’t help the way his mouth started to water. She might be a murdering demon, but he still had eyes. “I’m a succubus. I want lust. I want passion. I want muscles so firm I can eat off of them. I was promised muscles.” Her gaze went back longingly toward Derek’s chest. Then she looked at Stiles’ hand still on Derek’s arm and made a sour face. “God, the squishy love stuff makes me want to throw up. I’m out.”

“Um,” Allison said again.

Scott and Stiles both watched the succubus walk away, because damn with the short skirt and mile-high heels and tight -

“Scott,” Allison growled and smacked him on the arm.

“Ow!” Scott said. He turned his big, wounded, dopey eyes on her. “I was just making sure she was really leaving.”

“Uh huh. Let’s follow her instead,” Allison told him. “And watch where you’re looking.”

Derek took a deep breath, his arm flexing beneath Stiles’ hand.

Stiles turned back to look at him, concerned but triumphant. Derek’s eyes were more clear but still confused, his cheeks a little flushed. “How’re you feeling?”

Derek focused on Stiles’ hand on him, then back up at his face. “I’m - Stiles - “ He swallowed, maybe to clear some of the rasp from his voice.

“No, I’m Stiles.” Stiles flashed him a big grin as he slumped against the seat, giddy with relief. Who knew his usual inability to stop talking would actually come in handy one of these days? “Close one there, huh?”

“I’m - “ Derek shook his head again. He lowered his voice. “The things I said - “

Stiles jerked his hand back, suddenly coming back to earth with a thump. Or maybe that was just his heart falling into his feet. “Right, no problem,” he interrupted. He didn’t need to hear the denials. He knew them deep in his heart. He knew Derek didn’t feel like that about him. He knew it had all been pretend to fool the succubus. He didn’t need to hear him say it. “Good job there with the talking. I know it’s not really in your wheelhouse to say nice things about me, especially made up nice things, but I think you nailed it.” He waved a hand in the direction of the door. “I mean, she’s gone, so... yay, us.”

“Made up - “ Derek closed his eyes for a moment like he was in pain, but then whatever magic she’d been weaving over him had been strong. There were probably side effects. “I wasn’t lying,” he said, the words barely audible to Stiles.

It took a minute for Stiles to be able to do more with his mouth than just gape at him. That was not at all what he’d expected to hear. Derek had touched on strengths Stiles thought were important but wasn’t sure people had exactly noticed, especially not people like Derek. And Derek thought he was funny, which was also awesome.

“Well, thanks,” Stiles finally managed to say.

That was definitely a surprise. But nice! Definitely nice. It felt great. It felt amazing, actually, it made it feel all warm and appreciated inside, but he tried not to let it bowl him over too much the same way he shut off the way looking at Derek’s body made him feel. He couldn’t get ahead of himself. He patted Derek on the shoulder, not letting his hand linger. “I like you, too.”

Derek’s jaw mouth pressed into a tight line as he watched Stiles’ face. “You like me,” he said flatly.

“Yeah, who knew we could turn out to be friends?”

Very still, Derek looked down at the table, his hands slowly crushing a paper napkin. “Friends.”

“Hey, I’m an awesome friend,” Stiles said, pointing to himself. “Just ask Scott.”

“Yeah,” Derek gritted out. It was hardly the ringing endorsement of camaraderie Stiles was hoping for, but baby steps, right? He’d probably used up all of Derek’s praise for the week, maybe the month.

Stiles looked around for something to distract himself from the conversation before it became even more awkward and asked, “Oh, look, pie! Can I have some?”

Derek looked at him for a minute, his frown totally back in place and that weird warm smile long gone, and then silently pushed over the plate of untouched chocolate custard pie. And it had whipped cream.

“You’re the best,” Stiles told him with feeling, leaning over him to grab a clean fork.

Derek didn’t reply.

 

+1.

“Okay, seriously?” Stiles smacked his hands on the solid metal wall in the underground cave-slash-jail-cell he’d just been tossed into without even the courtesy of a menacing laugh or sarcastic threat. He called through the tiny, barred window after his captors as they glided away, “I thought fairies hated iron!”

One of them - tall, slender, glowing with an internal light, and looking way too much like Galadriel in the “all shall love me and despair!” scene, only with scarier eyes - replied over its shoulder, “That was in the old world. We’re modern. We drive cars and use computers. We’ve evolved.” And then they disappeared around a corner.

“You should have evolved into not kidnapping people!” Stiles yelled and smacked the door again. The impact just made his palms sting. Nothing else happened.

He turned around in a huff and crossed his arms over his chest. The air in the cave was damp and cool, enough that Stiles was glad he’d grabbed his extra-warm hoodie on the way out to the pack meeting tonight. Not that he’d gotten to the pack meeting, because on the way this big shimmery portal thing had appeared right in the middle of the road, way too close for him to be able to avoid it, and he’d barely missed crashing his Jeep into a tree in the woods he’d suddenly found himself driving in instead of the nice, smooth, open road.

And of course once he’d managed to stop without harm to himself or the Jeep, the door had been flung open, he’d been dragged out of the driver’s seat without even a hello, and for once it wasn’t Derek who was doing it.

It was these guys, some sort of fairies, and they were probably the people - creatures, whatever - behind all of the shit that had been going on recently. Weird circle of sparkly flowers? Totally a fairy thing. And this made twice Stiles had been captured, so yeah, Occam’s Razor said the first time had to be related to this one. The demon amulet, the succubus, and the amnesia? Well, clearly they had some problem with Derek, although why Stiles was caught up in it he didn’t know.

He had the terrible feeling he was going to find out.

Stiles paced around the cell, using his - of course signal-less - phone as a flashlight. There wasn’t much to see. Three of the four walls were hewn from the living stone, and the metal wall on the fourth side was set deep into the rock. There was no inside handle on the door, and the tiny window on it was barely big enough to get his head through, or it would have been if there weren’t bars on it.

It sure wasn’t large enough for any sort of food tray. And the cell was definitely not en suite. Stiles had been camping enough with his dad that it wasn’t like he had Lydia levels of pickiness or anything, but he hoped the reason there wasn’t an obvious place to, you know, do his business wasn’t because he wasn’t going to be alive long enough to need to.

Stiles wrapped his arms around his chest, telling himself it was for warmth, and tried not to freak out. Scott would miss him at Derek’s soon. They knew he was coming, and they’d go looking for him when he didn’t show up. And, okay, maybe there was no scent trail for them to follow because of the giant glowy portal thing, and maybe he was on, like, another continent or at least in another state, but it’s not like they’d just give up on him. And they still had Lydia to do the thinking, so they weren’t going to have to rely on Scott’s brain power, which was yet another reason Stiles felt so strongly that they had to work with Derek. Not that Derek was the second coming of Einstein, but at least his pack gave them more to depend on than just Scott.

The whole pack was going to work together. They could do this. They could find him before he starved and/or was tortured to death.

Stiles tucked his shaking hands against his sides and slid down the cold stone wall at the back of the cell, facing the door. “Nope, I’m not going to freak out at all. It is all going to be totally fine.” He might have even believed himself if he couldn’t hear the thinness of his voice.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath and pulled out his phone to see if he could get a new high score on Bejeweled instead of completely losing his shit. He had to wait. He had to conserve his energy so he could try to escape. He had to think about anything other than the fact that he’d drunk almost a gallon of water that afternoon and at some point was going to need to pee again.

Stiles was approaching the two million point mark and was trying to ignore the feeling that the walls were getting closer and closer to him when he heard footsteps coming toward him. He sprang up to his feet and peered out the window to see two of the fairies dragging a very familiar limp body between them. Dark hair, ridiculous muscles, clingy t-shirt: Derek.

“Fuck,” Stiles breathed again.

The fairies didn’t seem worried about Stiles, because they didn’t even spare him a glance as one of them waved open the door and they tossed Derek onto the floor in a heap. Stiles lunged for them, unsure of what he was doing but knowing that he had to try something when they were all on the same side of that wall, and instead of being manly and brave he just bounced off of some sort of glowing barrier and fell onto the ground next to Derek.

The fairies didn’t even pause, and the door swung shut with an ominous clang behind them.

“Derek?” Stiles said, pushing himself up onto his knees. Derek was curled on his side, and when Stiles rolled him onto his back he could see the fading bruises on his face and the traces of drying blood on his dark shirt. Derek was breathing easily, and his brow was stuck in its usual furrow, so Stiles had to assume the fairies had done some sort of magic on him that knocked him out instead of hurting him so badly he’d lost consciousness.

He settled down on the stone floor beside him to wait. After an indecisive minute - because it really was cold in there - he stripped off his hoodie and balled it up under Derek’s head. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

A few minutes later, Derek stirred, making a few - really sweet, if Stiles had been able to appreciate them - sleepy, confused noises before opening his eyes. He almost smiled at Stiles when he saw him, the corners of his mouth just beginning to lift as his eyes brightened, before he sat up in a rush.

“Stiles?” Derek reached out for Stiles’ arm, gripping it tightly as he looked him over from head to toe. “What did they do to you? Are you all right?”

“I’m good,” Stiles told him. Derek’s hand on Stiles’ forearm was very warm, nicely so compared to the cool air, and his concern was just as warming. “I mean, it’s not exactly the Hilton, but they didn’t hurt me.”

“Are you sure?”

“That they didn’t beat me up and/or disembowel me? Yep, pretty sure. They just threw me in here and left.”

Derek very slowly relaxed, his fingers lingering for what felt like way too long or maybe not long enough before letting go. He let out a slow breath through his nose. “Good.” He looked over at the door and then at the cell around them. “Don’t worry. I don’t think we’ll be in here long.”

“What’s going on?” Stiles asked, because it wasn’t like there was a check-out time marked on the back of the door.

“It’s a fairy thing,” Derek said. He absently picked up Stiles’ hoodie and gathered it onto his lap. “There’s a... Have they told you anything?”

Stiles shook his head. “Only that they’re not the same as old world fairies, which isn’t exactly a comfort or a help. I didn’t even know for sure there were fairies.”

“Okay.” Derek’s mouth compressed, and he looked distinctly uncomfortable, but then he always did when there was actual communication and talking involved. “So there are fairies.”

Stiles rolled his eyes and motioned for him to skip ahead.

“They want to move into Beacon Hills,” Derek said. “They want the preserve and the town as their territory.”

“But it’s yours. The pack’s.”

“Ours,” Derek agreed shortly. “But we’re a weak pack, not what we used to be, and they tried to take over by force.”

“The flowers and the demons,” Stiles said.

Derek nodded. “They were going after me. Get rid of me, and the pack crumbles. There’s nobody with enough experience to keep it together, no matter who becomes the next Alpha.”

“Okay,” Stiles said, tapping his fingers on his thigh as he thought, because there had to be a way out of this situation, not just the cell but the whole trying to kill Derek thing. “Well, obviously we need to keep them from doing that. You should try the door. They made some mistakes building this place, apart from the lack of running water. The hinges are on the inside of the door; they’re probably the weakest point.”

“They’re going to let us out, Stiles.”

Stiles whipped his head around to glare at him. “To kill you. And probably me, playing the noble part of bait.”

“No - “ Derek’s face went even stonier. “They’re not trying to kill me anymore. They’ve seen what the pack can do against them, that we’re not going to give in easily, and they’re backing off. They want to make a treaty with us.”

“And they do that by kidnapping people?” Stiles gestured at him. “And beating you up?”

Derek shrugged and looked down at Stiles’ hoodie. “There’s a ritual,” he said. “A protocol. It’s a - Look. The don’t want to lose face, so they took something important to the pack to make us talk to them.”

“You?”

“You,” Derek told him like the word was painful to get out. “They took you so I’d come to the table and talk.”

Stiles could feel his eyes growing wide. “And they thought that would work?” he scoffed.

Derek raised his eyebrows pointedly and didn’t reply.

“Okay, yes, fine, it worked. You’re here. So now what?”

“Now we do the... thing. I prove to them that I want you back, they ask me to give up something to get you, and we make a treaty.”

“You... prove...” Stiles shivered a little. He felt like he was watching the conversation through a strobe light, like he was missing important parts of it, the dark parts between the flashes of light.

“I just have to agree to claim you as important,” Derek said with a shrug.

“But I’m not - “

“Of course you are,” Derek told him. He un-balled the hoodie and offered it to him, helping him into it and settling it around his shoulders.

Stiles shook his head, because Derek might like him, but it still didn’t make sense that they thought Stiles was that important. “Is this because of the succubus? Did they pick me because of that?” He could see why that might have confused them as to his relative value in Derek’s life, and it sucked that Derek would have to give up something to save him. He didn’t know what it would be, but Derek had so little of value that whatever it was would definitely matter to him.

“Probably not,” Derek said softly.

“But - ” Stiles started, guilt and panic welling up inside of him, because he didn’t want to make any of this situation worse with his stupid plans. Not that it could get much worse, because they were stuck in an underground cave at the mercy of fairies who had been trying to murder Derek.

“Stiles.” Derek leaned forward and put his hand on Stiles’ arm, and it helped clear Stiles’ head a bit. It was also distracting, which made no sense at all. “It’s fine. Relax. It’ll go more smoothly if you relax. This is all on me. I’ll do everything.”

“You don’t need my help?”

“I just need you not to fight what’s happening and trust me. I won’t let them hurt you.”

Stiles could feel his heart pounding not just in his throat but in his ears and behind his eyes. This was... this was... “Relax? Trust you? Those are not comforting words. Well, they are comforting words, but the big picture, the big picture isn’t comforting when you say things like that.” It sounded more like something you’d say to a skittish virgin than a -

He froze, his voice barely squeaking out as an awful idea popped into his head. "Is it a freaky werewolf claiming thing? Like you have to lick me all over, or, oh god, you have to have sex with me in front of them, don’t you? That’s why I have to relax? Oh, god, Derek, it doesn’t matter how hot you are and how much I like you, I’m going to have serious performance issues with an audience, and this wasn’t exactly how I imaged our first time might go, and - “

Derek gripped Stiles’ shoulders, his fingers hard and steadying but his thumbs rubbing soft, confusing circles on his arms. “Stiles.”

“I read about this on the internet,” Stiles told him around the huge lump in his throat threatening to block off all air to his lungs. “About pack sex and claiming rituals and fairies and their twisted ideas of fun with mortals, and while I really appreciate how nice and calm and almost affectionate you’re being toward me to help me through it I really, really am not okay with - “

One of Derek’s hands came up to cover Stiles’ mouth, stopping the rest of the sentence from getting out. Derek looked right into his eyes, calm and firm. “You are spending way too much time on the internet. I do not have to have sex with you.”

“Mrr mck mmmph?” Stiles asked, because he needed it all to be perfectly clear.

“Or lick you,” Derek agreed.

About seventy-five percent of the tension in Stiles’ body drained out of him in a rush, leaving him rather light-headed, although that could have been the lack of oxygen from the placement of Derek’s hand making it hard for him to breathe.

“Okay?” Derek said.

Stiles nodded weakly, and Derek dropped his hand and looked away, his cheeks more than a little pink. “Um. Yeah.” Stiles scrubbed a hand over the back of his head and wished for a handy localized cave-in to crush him and save him from his mortification. Nope, no such luck. “Can we just, uh, forget that whole big freak out I had right there?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good. Great. Thanks.” Stiles nodded again. “Anyway. You have to claim me in a totally platonic and non-saliva-related way, and then you have to give up something to them so that we can pretend that they bested you even though they could have just Facebooked you and invited you out for a coffee to talk about being friends?“

“Yes.”

“If they’re trying to be modern and evolved, they kind of suck at it,” Stiles muttered. “They probably don’t even have wifi.”

“I’ll probably have to cede them some territory in the Preserve or promise to come to their aid if they find themselves in conflict.”

“That sucks. Can’t you just... not? I mean, we can keep fighting them if we need to.”

“If I don’t, they’ll get to keep you,” Derek told him pointedly.

“Oh.” Stiles swallowed and shrugged. “Thanks for not doing that.”

“I know you’d wither without wifi,” Derek said, the corner of his mouth lifting into a smile.

Stiles laughed, more at the lightness of Derek’s expression than the joke. Then a thought struck. “Hey, wait - wifi. Do we have to give up something or just give them something?”

“It’s a show of our accord,” Derek said. “They’ll give us something, too. Besides you, I mean. Protective amulets or spells around the boundaries of the territory.”

“So instead of the usual stuff, what if we helped them actually be modern? I bet between Danny and me we could get a network going in these caves, wifi, maybe even a TiVo or two. You could afford that with all the money you’re not spending on rent and furniture.”

“I...” Derek’s eyes widened, and after a moment he said, “I’ll have to think about it, but that might work. It’s at least worth offering.”

“And the good part is that it’ll show the pack’s strength and resources without actually taking anything big away from us,” Stiles said with a nod of pride at the idea.

“That’s very smart.” Derek looked down at his hands in his lap, and his voice was soft when he spoke again. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Stiles said, smiling at him, because he was happy to help, and he was especially happy to come up with a solution that didn’t require Derek to give up something important to him. Derek had given up enough. “Thanks for coming for me. I know I’m not, like, your top priority or anything.”

Derek just shrugged, still looking at his hands. He didn’t say anything else, simply breathed and watched his fingers flex like they held answers to questions Stiles didn’t understand.

“What?” Stiles asked when the silence went on.

“Why don’t you ever believe me when I tell you that I care about you?” Derek asked roughly. “I know I’ve lied to you in the past, but...” He shook his head.

Stiles twitched internally at the change of topic but tried to answer it as bluntly as Derek asked the question. “Because, I don’t know... There have been extenuating circumstances? Like I’m going to die or there’s freaky pollen in the air?” His hands lifted off of his lap. “Or we’re being held captive in a cave deep underground by fairies who picked me as your own personal Princess Peach?”

Derek looked up then, and his eyes were bright with determination and emotion. “That’s just my life, Stiles. That doesn’t mean I’m not telling you the truth.”

Stiles choked a little on his next breath, because what? “What are you saying?”

“That I haven’t been lying to you,” Derek said. “When I’ve said... what I’ve said, I haven’t been lying to you. You never thought I could be telling the truth?”

“Um... no?” Stiles admitted with a wince. “I mean, you’re you, and I’m me, and - “ He gestured between them in illustration.

Derek’s mouth set into a firmer and less pleased line. “Exactly.”

“But...“ Stiles gestured between them again, because Derek was older and hot and experienced, and Stiles might have considered himself to be a catch, but not, he thought, for someone who had seen the world. Or who looked like that. Or who wasn’t impressed that Stiles had his very own Jeep.

“I haven’t been lying to you,” Derek said.

“Okay,” Stiles said. He felt like he couldn’t quite follow the conversation. “That’s good. That’s great. I’m glad. I’m all for honesty when it doesn’t end with my dad being caught up in a werewolf gang war. But... what are you saying here?” He knew he was a smart and perceptive kind of guy, but it didn’t make sense.

“I’m saying have feelings for you, Stiles,” Derek told him, gritting out the words like they were the last thing he wanted to say.

“But there was pollen,” Stiles insisted weakly, his heart in his throat. The pollen was important. It changed things. Right? Hadn’t it?

“Yes,” Derek said. “But it made me honest. What I feel has nothing to do with being a demon or pollen or being near death or any other ridiculous thing you’ve read on the internet. I’m not in heat, there’s no soul bond, I’m not trying to claim you as my mate. I just... have feelings. And I guess it’s important to me that you know I haven’t been lying to you.” His shoulders slumped just a hair as he got to the end of his speech, but he didn’t look away. He didn’t apologize, make light, or try to justify his words. He just waited for Stiles to react, and from the set of his jaw he looked like he didn’t expect his response to do anything but hurt.

Stiles tried to make sense of his words. Derek liked him. Derek had feelings for him. Derek had been being honest when he’d praised Stiles, tried to take care of him, said he was attracted to him.

Oh my god.

What?

Oh my god.

All of the attraction that Stiles felt for him, all of the appreciation of his strength and determination, all of the enjoyment of his dry sense of humor when it didn’t include banging Stiles’ head into things, all of the desires Stiles tried his best to suppress beyond a little ogling now and again because he didn’t exactly need Derek’s werewolf senses picking up on his hopeless interest, all of that went flooding through him like a tidal wave, leaving him reeling.

Stiles definitely had feelings, too. Whoa, did he have them.

So of course he let out a choked laugh and said, “In heat? Now look who’s been reading stuff on the internet,” because his mouth was always about ten steps ahead of his brain, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

Derek flinched, his head dropping, and he put his hands down onto the floor like he was going to push himself up.

“No, no,” Stiles said, getting his hand on Derek’s sleeve, because that was not going to happen, nope, it was not.

Derek froze, looking back at him with obvious apprehension and more than a little lurking hurt.

“I don’t know what to say. I have no idea. Because wow. You’re you, and I’m me, and obviously I have had thoughts. And fantasies. And maybe the occasional highly specific dream with a very happy ending. But for you to say - and mean it - and I - ” Stiles gave up, because it was Derek, and he had no idea how to put all of his fondness and attraction and understanding for him into words. “For once in my life I am totally speechless, I mean, not literally, but - “ He flailed his hands a little to illustrate that he was aware of the irony of his babbling. “But that’s okay, because - “ He lunged forward and put his mouth to a much better and more direct use: kissing.

For the first few, horrible seconds it was awkward and dry, just lips mashing against each other and noses in the way and Derek not reacting at all, and Stiles was about to call back the fairies and ask them if he could stay for good. But then Derek’s hands came up to frame Stiles’ face, he made this amazing growl low in his throat, and he kissed Stiles back, soft but hungry.

Suddenly everything worked, all of it, their mouths, their noses, their hands clutching at each other, and Stiles felt his heart soar out of his chest and his blood rush south and his high, happy laugh escape onto Derek’s lips, because yes.

Derek apparently felt the same way, because he kept kissing him and kissing him with increasing intensity, hauling him into his lap and kissing him some more until Stiles’ lips felt swollen, his pants felt too tight, and he was about to start considering getting some of their clothes off, uncomfortable stone cave or not.

“Stiles,” Derek murmured finally, slowing his kisses but his fingers still cupping Stiles’ head. “Really?”

Stiles curled his own fingers in the short hair at the back of Derek’s neck. “No, I do this with all the werewolves I find myself trapped with in a magical underground lair. You know me so well.”

“Oh,” Derek said and ran his thumb along the skin behind Stiles’ ear. It made Stiles’ whole body tingle and his breath catch, just that simple touch, all the way down to his very happy toes. “I do know you.”

“Goes both ways, dude.” Stiles’ smile grew, because they did know each other, and that meant that this was real, something that was between the two of them, that they both meant. It felt huge, this knowledge deep in his chest, huge and satisfying. There was a reason that both of them wanted this, and it wasn’t magic. Well, it was, but it was the magic of two people connecting, not magic magic.

Stiles kissed him again - far more gently than he would have liked, because Derek was strong and solid, and Stiles really wanted to make him whimper again - and then made himself pull away. “Are you sure you aren’t in heat?” he asked, because it was either that or push Derek onto his back, and they were due for visitors at some point.

Derek’s mouth twitched, his eyes positively twinkled, and he said in mock seriousness, “That’s not ‘til next month.”

Stiles threw his arm around his shoulders and laughed into his neck, overwhelmed and happy and completely ready to be out of there so that he could enjoy this the way he wanted to. He didn’t even mean sex; he just wanted to see Derek light-hearted and joyful. Although he was going to give a big yes to the sex, as soon and as often as possible, because he was not stupid.

This just really wasn’t the place. Or the time, this was so new, but mostly it wasn’t the place.

A minute or so later Derek tensed, the door clanged open, and Stiles lifted his head to watch a fairy walk in.

The fairy looked them over from head to toe and then addressed Derek. “I can see you will be interested in making a treaty with us so that we will return this human to you.”

Stiles turned in Derek’s grasp, not even trying to disentangle himself, and said, “I think you’re going to be interested in making a treaty with us. Cat 5 Ethernet, dude. The best routers money can buy. DVRs, iPads, maybe even a NAS. Prepare to be amazed. Prepare to drool. Prepare to come crawling at our feet.”

The fairy fixed a disapproving eye on Derek. “What is he talking about?”

“I have no idea,” Derek said, pushing himself to his feet and offering Stiles a hand up from the ground. With Derek’s strength, the gesture obviously required little effort for him, but there was a gentle sureness to it that made Stiles feel wobbly with delight. “But I’m sure it’s worth listening to. It always is.”

Stiles couldn’t contain the grin that burst out of him, and his heart was pretty much dancing in his chest, despite the tension of the situation, as he followed Derek toward the door.

This was going to be awesome. And not just the part where they got to wrap the fairies around their little fingers.

“It’s nice to see that you’re finally paying attention,” he said to Derek, walking beside him down the tunnel, shoulder to shoulder.

“I’ve known for a while,” Derek replied with a lift of his eyebrows and a light in his eyes that Stiles had to categorize as teasing. Wow, Stiles was looking forward to categorizing a whole bunch of new things about Derek. “You just haven’t been listening to me.”

Stiles leaned in, knocking their elbows together, and said, “Well, I am now.”