Stiles makes his fifth goal against Scott before Scott's phone starts buzzing from the seat of the Jeep.
Yeah, he's feeling pretty good right now, Bruno Mars ringtone excepting.
Scott groans and pulls off his gloves as he jogs over to his phone, and Stiles just picks up the ball again and scores number six. It's the end of March, there's a nice breeze, the lacrosse ball's in the goal... and as messed up as things have been lately, and as much as he is just totally shoving it all to the back of his mind for now, today's not so bad.
"It's Derek," Scott says, phone still ringing. Stiles looks back at him in a shared bro moment of how unimpressed they both are.
"What does he want?" Stiles asks.
Scott stares at the screen a second longer, shrugs, then silences it and tosses it back into the car.
"'Atta guy, don't be an enabler," Stiles grins as Scott picks up his stick and heads back for the goal. You can't take the werewolf out of the friend, no, but push hard enough and nearly get killed enough--and hey, let the Alpha bite your girlfriend's mom enough--and you could apparently take the friend away from the werewolves.
Scott suddenly stops short, and Stiles' smile slips. "What now?"
"Aw, dammit," Scott whines. "It's 4:30--I told my mom I'd meet her to make dinner."
"Seriously?" Stiles has never been great at keeping keeping emotion off his face, even disappointment, especially disappointment, but he gives it a pretty good shot right now--almost as good a shot as the goals he's been making. "Can't hit a couple more?"
"You can stay, you don't have to drive me or anything," Scott says. "I can just run."
"Sorry, man." Scott scratches his head and looks honestly torn, but he still wolfs out. "Mom and I kinda have a lot of stuff to talk about." Then he's off, running through the woods at breakneck speed and looking sort of like an idiot on all fours.
"Yeah, well," Stiles says to the empty air, "must be nice."
The sun's starting to go down and even in the remnants of chilly air, Stiles has managed to break a sweat. He skids to the goal in a layup--not as badass this time as it was about fifteen minutes ago but still pretty freaking cool--and hurls the ball into the net.
Stiles drops his lacrosse stick in surprise--then scrambles to his feet and nearly falls back on his ass before he manages to flailingly right himself.
Off on the sidelines, hands tucked in his jacket pockets, is Derek.
"Dude, lurk much?"
Derek keeps the glare going. "Where's Scott?"
"He left," Stiles answers before he even thinks about it, and then he does think about it, and this is exactly the kind of business he was trying to blow off, but it just won't stay out of his face.
"Where'd he go?" Derek asks, unflinching.
Stiles shrugs the most dismissive shrug in the history of shrugs, but when Derek turns to leave without another word Stiles' brain is still thinking.
"Wait," he says, "how'd you know I was here--how'd you know we were here?"
Derek looks back at him with an expression that from twenty feet away is completely unreadable, but Stiles gets the feeling distance wouldn't matter here.
"Was it Peter? Did he track Scott's phone again?" The phone Scott left in Stiles' car. Stiles takes a step toward him--just the one, he doesn't really want to get any closer than that right now, but Derek doesn't back away. Derek doesn't make eye contact, either. "Man," Stiles says, "you gotta know how just... so dumb that is, you still working with him, oh my god."
Derek exhales, and then it clicks: he knows exactly how dumb it is. The alarm bells that have been getting louder and louder in Stiles' head over the last week, a building denial over both a concept and a person he really can't begin to deal with, deafen him.
Stiles is tired. He doesn't want to do this, and he's just so tired, and the cut on his lip stings when he shuts his eyes and asks, "What's going on?"
Derek does that thing where he sighs but it's more like a huff, the one that means he's frustrated and maybe about to spill some beans, but instead he just clenches up and says, "Tell Scott I need to talk to him. Soon."
That's how it's gonna be, then.
"Yeah, no." Stiles rocks forward on his toes, but his jaw's as tight as Derek's, probably. "I'm not playing little werewolf messenger or whatever. I'm, uh, I'm done." Maybe a couple of days ago he would have turned his back when he moved to leave, but today's a new and face-bruised day so he keeps his eyes tight on Derek, who's still standing on the edge of the field, until he's safely back his Jeep.
He shouldn't be surprised when Derek's suddenly wrenches open the passenger door and climbs in, glaring at him, but he completely jumps out of his skin.
"Jesus Christ, man, what?"
Derek doesn't answer, surprise, and Stiles rolls his eyes and fidgets at the steering wheel. "Look, if you're not gonna tell me what's going on, just, I don't know, have Creepy Peter track him down again, and uh--"
He was gonna say, get out of my frigging car, because while he's totally still terrified of Derek, a guy's space is his space... but Derek's not glaring at him anymore; he's staring out at the field where the sun's starting its descent. Derek's leadership skills have never been what Derek thinks they are, but Stiles is also pretty sure he's never seen Derek look this lost.
So he bites his tongue. Literally.
"Alphas," Derek says after a moment. "They're here, in town."
Stiles gapes, but not for the reason Derek's probably hoping. "Werewolf stuff," he breathes, then laughs, biting his tongue again to try and keep the awful sound back. "New werewolf stuff. Awesome!" Every ounce of relief the night after the game managed to give him blips out into nothing, and he's back underwater again.
"You asked," Derek snips, probably to cover what Stiles is pretty sure was a flinch.
"Yeah, well. We all have our regrets."
"Talk to Scott, Stiles. This is important," he insists, but fuck that.
There's a thread loose on the stitching of his steering wheel, and Stiles fiddles with that instead of meeting Derek's eyes when he asks, "So just to be absolutely clear: no one's dying, right?"
Derek goes quiet, jaw set, but the Jeep's creaks betray him shifting in the seat. "No," he says. "...Not yet."
"Then it sounds like a you problem, buddy, congrats."
This should be the moment Derek rolls his eyes or sneers or is otherwise obnoxiously catty and bossy, but he just stares back, like whatever shitty rapport they'd built is lying in the same discard pile as Derek's competence and social skills. "It's Scott's problem, too," he says, "which means it'll be your problem."
Stiles snorts. "Yeah, well, I don't know about that lately." He snaps that thread, and if Derek's giving him a look, well, like everything else about Derek, it isn't Stiles' problem. "Look, just get out of my freaking car. I want to go home."
"Stiles, talk to Scott."
"Dude," Stiles says softly, gazing at the lacrosse goal, the dashboard, the steering wheel, anywhere but Derek, "I don't know what you're thinking Scott's gonna help you do. You're not exactly on anyone's favorite werewolf list right now. Scott can handle his own shit." He scoffs and pretends it doesn't sound ugly. "Obviously."
Derek doesn't move. He just chews on his lip and sits there like a big stubborn jackass. "Stiles--"
"Yeah, so no pun intended? But we're kinda burned out."
Derek's eyes turn cold and his nostrils flare, and Stiles shrinks back against his door because really, Stiles, a fire joke, though Derek doesn't move except to intimidatingly pop a crack in his shoulder. "Scott doesn't have that luxury," he growls.
"Yep," Stiles concedes, mouth tight. "But I do."
It's only a silence between them, the birds and nearby highway still moving, still in flux, as they glare at each other until Stiles finally turns over the engine. Then Derek's gone.
Derek's done two hundred pull-ups on the overhead handrail of the train, chest tight with exertion, letting the strain overrun every other sense and thought, when he catches a whiff of cologne.
Peter leans on the doorframe. His hands are crossed over his lap, expression placid. It reminds Derek of stories of still waters.
"Can you imagine how much better things might be for you, Derek," Peter asks softly, "if you put the same effort into being an Alpha that you do your appearance?"
It's not right that Peter doesn't have to smell like death. Derek drops, and his boots hit the floor of the car with a heavy thud, kicking up old dust. "What do you want?"
Peter's smile doesn't show his teeth. "Considering how hard you worked to build a pack to deal with the Alphas," he says, "I thought you'd be more interested in their movements."
Peter's words echo against Deaton's in his head, like a battle for the privilege of smacking Derek in the face with his own shortcomings, but Deaton isn't the one here right now running recon on the real threat. So Derek just grunts.
"I have a phone," he says.
"I prefer having these talks face to face."
"Don't bullshit me, Peter," Derek says, because before he was a psychotic freak, he was Derek's uncle.
"I was in the area?" Peter tries instead, not even half-heartedly. Derek rolls his eyes and pulls on his jacket--leather and sweaty shoulders don't mix, he remembers too late--while Peter follows him deeper into the train car.
"They're not moving, for now," he continues. "They don't seem to know where your..." he glances around the car, out the window into the rest of the dirty station, and smirks: "lair is; I highly suggest you keep it that way."
Derek nods, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Okay. We all take indirect routes here. Main, busy roads, no woods. I'll tell Isaac myself." He pauses, wondering if he should tell Peter that he didn't get to talk to Scott, but if Peter wants to know, then he probably already does.
Peter nods in assent to his Alpha's orders, but then just as quickly his smug, grating superiority is back. "I should warn you," he says. "The missing head Argent and distinct lack of kanima have given them pause. I wonder, what do you think they'll think if they find out Scott McCall is the reason for that, and not you?" He smiles again. "If they find out your, and I'm trying to put this gently, diminished role in it?"
Derek's a born werewolf--he spent elementary school homeschooled, and middle school afternoons and summers in the woods learning to hone, focus, restrain, shift. His entire life has been an exercise in control, and that's the only reason he doesn't bare his fangs and roar for Peter to get the fuck out. Peter isn't threatening him, at least not overtly. There's truth behind almost all of what he says: it's just wrapped in layers of barbing and bull.
So instead, Derek stands there silently in the dingy light, glaring Peter down, eyes green instead of red.
Peter breaks the silence first, acquiescing to a topic change. "Have you considered your traitor Betas might have joined them?"
"They're not traitors," Derek snaps with enough force that he almost believes it. Denial isn't the path to power, and neither is sentiment. He grimaces at himself then straightens, cracking his neck before speaking again. "And maybe. They said they heard wolves in the woods the night the Pack hit town, but..." he hesitates, "they don't take in stray Betas." It's not phrased like a question, not to Peter, but they both know that's exactly what it is.
"No," Peter agrees, Peter answers. "They wouldn't. You have a lot to think about, don't you?" He runs a hand up one of the support poles, fingers brushing over long-dried grime. Derek hopes it stains. "I'll show myself out, if there's nothing else."
"One thing," Derek says. "You should really stick to clean-shaven."
"Hm," Peter replies, a faint laugh tugging at his mouth and stupid goatee. "Well, there's no accounting for taste, is there?"
In the time it takes for Derek to roll his eyes again, Peter's gone, and he's alone.
Sleep doesn't come any easier than usual that night, or the night after. Derek only sees Isaac for long enough to tell him to lie low, and Peter flits in and out, building Derek's anxiety with every new "report": the Alphas are still not moving, settled on the other edge of town, not searching, just getting coffee on the regular. Derek's restless, and if he's totally honest, unsure, but his gut still twists at the thought of confronting Scott.
So the next day he goes for the next best thing.
Stiles stops with his key still in the Jeep door, gaping inside where Derek is perched.
"I swear to god, man, if you broke my locks," he says after climbing in. "Seriously? If there's a vote to make this a regular thing, I'm going with a resounding no."
Stiles is always difficult, but there's something different hanging off him now, something more than the exhaustion everyone reeks of right now. Derek knows the answer before he asks, "You didn't talk to Scott, did you?"
"Nope," he says with a tight, sarcastic smile. "And I've got somewhere to be, so if you're not gonna get out then you can run your wolfy ass back home from the public library."
Derek lets his probably petulant look speak for him.
Stiles shrugs and starts the car. The radio's already on, which makes the silent ride only a little more bearable. They pass through downtown, down the strip of shit chain family restaurants that turn into shit chain clothing stores before finally slightly less shit private diners and boutiques and municipal buildings.
Stiles' snort pulls him out of his thoughts. "Dude, you like dubstep? Way to ruin the mystique."
"What?" Derek asks instinctively, then notices his fingers tapping idly to the beat and stills them just in time for another familiar few minutes of silence.
Stiles isn't squirming in his seat today. Granted, when Derek had had wolfsbane in his blood and a bullet in his arm, everything around him had felt like it was thrumming with energy--Stiles included--but right now Stiles doesn't even look like he's holding back words. He just looks gaunt and tired.
Derek can sympathize.
They pull into the library parking lot, where Stiles cuts the engine and they both stare sidelong at each other.
"How's your, uh..." Derek gestures vaguely, lamely, "face?" Still ground meat, obviously, but he meant in broader terms.
When Stiles practically gives himself whiplash turning to scowl, Derek regrets the question. "Yeah, if you're trying to sweeten me up, quit while you're ahead," he snaps. "I'm still not talking to Scott for you. Go do werewolf stuff on Derek Time, not Stiles Time."
"Being polite? You?" Stiles scoffs, because he's a little dick, touching absently at the scabs on his cheek. "Erica or Boyd tell you?" he asks more softly, and it takes about three confused seconds for Derek to connect the dots.
"Well, call me crazy, but I'm just not sold on your people-reading-slash-interpersonal skills, so I figure--"
"Stiles," Derek stops him. "You saw them? The night Gerard died?"
"'Died' seems like a bit of overrepresentation--"
"--The night of the game, whatever, Stiles."
Stiles catches up, mouth hanging open in thought, eyes suddenly concerned. "Yeah," he answers, "in Argent's basement, after the game. And you haven't seen them since before then."
It's not a question, but Derek still shakes his head no.
Stiles scrubs a hand down his face, taking all of his color with it. "Can't you, like, sense them or something?"
He shakes his head again. The air in the Jeep feels stifling and stale, and every part of Derek wants to smash open the door and bolt into the woods without another word, but he's tired. He just doesn't have the energy for it. Instead, he cracks the window and looks over at Stiles. "There's a bond between us, but it's thin. They... left that night," he bites out. "They're not my Betas anymore."
Stiles glances back at him, face turning hard. Derek has a feeling he knows exactly what Stiles is about to say, but that doesn't make it any less cold or wrong. "Then they're not your responsibility, same as Scott."
Googling 'werewolves' didn't do Stiles anywhere near the favors he seemed to think it did. "I didn't turn Scott," Derek replies sharply. "Scott didn't get captured by Gerard."
Stiles mulls on that for a moment before he relents, smacking at the door and heaving an overly-animated sigh. "Okay, look," he groans, "I'm sure they're fine. Gerard said he wasn't gonna kill them--honestly, he probably wanted them as his Betas after he killed you."
It occurs to him that this kid's alternative to 'dead' is 'fine'. Derek doesn't disagree.
"They could still be there," Derek says.
"With Big Daddy Argent crawling around in werewolf goo? Kinda doubt it." Someone in a slick SUV pulls into the spot next to them, but it's got community college and Apple decals on the window, so they both settle again.
"He would have had them on electricity," Derek starts, and Stiles looks away, eyes hidden as he nods. "That takes it out of you--it hurts. If they got free, they'd be vulnerable."
"Okay, so for the record I still want nothing to do with this, but..." Stiles is chewing on the insides of his cheeks. "I like Erica and Boyd, or at least I kinda did before you werewolf bar mitzvah'd them. So."
Derek sits for minutes in conflicted and tongue-tied silence before he realizes Stiles has shut up for the same reason. He sighs, eyes closed for a moment, summoning his long-clamped ability to be honest with someone. It makes him look vulnerable, but with Stiles it might get him what he needs.
Damn, he's so bad at this.
"I like them, too," he finally says. Glaring at the dusty passenger A/C vent doesn't keep him from feeling Stiles' snap stare.
Stiles groans and thunks his head back on the seat, like he's not conflicted anymore and not happy about it. "Scott's helping Isaac move into his foster place," he admits, and that's when Derek puts a name to the frost there. "That's where he'd be."
Knowing why he asks--just natural flow of conversation, despite the hole in his stomach from his missing Betas and even though he'll maintain to his grave he doesn't actually care--doesn't change the fact that he asks.
"Why aren't you with them?"
Stiles shrugs. "So not a werewolf, dude, no werewolf strength. Unless they need someone on Dorito eating duty, I'd get in the way."
Derek has much bigger things to worry about than the budding bitterness he's heard from Stiles twice in as many days, even if Stiles is now tenuously his connection to Scott. It's not his business, so he climbs out of the car to leave but pauses before he shuts the door.
"...'Werewolf bar mitzvah'. Really, Stiles?"
"Spooky, scary," Stiles replies. Derek doesn't get the joke.
Stiles' phone buzzes an hour after his weird and obnoxiously revelatory meeting with Derek. He's still in the library, doodling squiggles on his notes page, eyes long glazed over Great Expectations--which is kind of ironic since the text is from Derek.
They're not with argents, it says.
Stiles doesn't reply.
He's on his way home after the sun sets when his phone buzzes again, and when he sees it's Scott calling, he doesn't breathe a sigh of relief. It's been a really, seriously, tortuously long day, and sometimes all a guy wants is to go home and bust some asses on Xbox. At least baseball season is about to start.
He sets the phone to speaker on the dash; sometimes driving a stick sucks. "'Sup," he answers.
"Dude," Scott says.
"An Alpha pack? Are they seriously even serious right now?"
"Like a whole pack of freaking Alphas?"
Stiles grins despite himself, like an automatic response to his best friend and the kind of mirrored reaction he was a little afraid they were growing out of. "You heard him."
Scott launches in, totally freaked, about how Derek had shown up at Isaac's and interrogated them on his front lawn about where Scott was, why Isaac hadn't told him, why Stiles hadn't told him either. Which is fair enough, whatever; Stiles has spent the last couple of days plugging his fingers square in his ears and burying his gross busted face in schoolwork and lacrosse, and when this phone call's over, he's going right the hell back to it.
And then Derek had buried his hands in his pockets, rounded stiffly on Scott, and told him about the Betas and Argents.
"I had to listen to her heartbeat over the phone, and she shot the crap out of them with arrows," Scott says. "This is so messed up!"
Stiles does a double-take. "Bro, that's like, psycho Legolas, holy shit."
"I know!" Scott whines, like he can't even argue, and Stiles is really glad he doesn't. "But Gerard's gone so all that stuff's over, and she feels really bad, and she swears her dad let them go."
"So what, then," Stiles asks, rubbing his eyes since he's stopped at a stoplight, "we're thinking the Alphas caught up to them?" He relaxes into his seat as he waits for the light to change. Beacon Hills is old enough that it doesn't have sensors, just dead intersections and years-long red lights, and it is just about the most annoying driving experience the world has to offer.
"I guess? I don't know, no one knows anything, except maybe Peter, and--"
"And he's the worst," Stiles finishes for him, "yeah, I know." Thinking about where Zombie Pete fits in all this is so not what Stiles wants to dwell on right now. "So I'm gonna take a wild guess that you're gonna try and help find them," he says.
"Well I sure don't wanna work with freaking Derek, it's his fault they're werewolves in the first place--"
That's technically true, but everyone would be a whole lotta dead if not for their wolfly help. Then again, Erica brained him once with his car armature.
"--But I can still do my own stuff, right?"
And he could. Scott could get off the bench and onto the field and be frigging great at it. He'd save everyone, and grin like a giant nerd the whole time, and it'd be awesome.
"...Yeah" he says at last, and he's really not on board with how resigned his voice sounds. "Yeah, Scott, you can. I'm sitting this one out, though."
When Stiles gets off the bench, things tend to go down a little differently.
Jesus, when did he become such a downer?
"Hey, you okay?"
Stiles licks his lips and bites his cheeks. "Yeah, fine," he answers, then adds, "Don't get me wrong, I'm still your bro if you need anything. You always got me."
He nearly misses his turn and pulls the wheel hard right, and his phone slides to the other side of the car. It's Tuesday night, there aren't too many cars on the road, but enough that he knows he's being an idiot.
"Sorry, phone trouble. I should probably like actually drive."
"Yeah, Isaac left with Derek, but I'm still helping at his place anyway," Scott replies, and Stiles makes kind of a shitty face at his phone. He could vocalize it; the mocking words are right there making his mouth taste like sawdust, and he actually gives it a split second of thought.
"Alright, boo, love you too," he says instead. Scott laughs, then his phone flashes the call-end screen.
He's still a few blocks from his subdivision, enough to radio surf and detox werewolf stuff from his mind and get pissed that literally every station but oldies is on commercials right now. Even crappy community college radio and NPR going through their funding lists; it's like the world is against Stiles having a decent night.
That's when he sees the lights.
Headlights, on his right, barreling down the intersection he's about to pass, happening slow and fast all at once, and he doesn't have time to think about whether he should brake or gas--
--before it smashes into him.
Metal crunches and screams in his ears, then there's a sick crack as his skull slams into the window. Everything's hazy after that.
When the world stops moving, he's slumped over the steering wheel. It's hard to get air in, and bright pain is blossoming up his left side, creeping into his foggy awareness. The wheel is cold against his skin, and he's pretty sure he smells blood.
Shit, he needs to look up. The car hadn't stopped--it had to have seen him, that intersection's not blind and they didn't even roll stop. Something's wrong, and he needs to look up.
Lifting his head is unnaturally hard.
His headlights are still working, casting light enough to see someone emerge from the other ruined car, clear across the street. Alphas, attacking, coming for him now. This is it, he thinks, I'm gonna die. Bye, world. He should be panicking--should probably be trying to scramble out of the Jeep, but when he moves to reach for the door handle, his arm screams. It hurts so fucking bad, he can't move, and the fog makes thinking so hard, and the pain in his head is stealing the air from his lungs.
The shape walks closer, and Stiles' eyes slip closed.
He kinda wishes there were something poetic or fitting still playing on the radio, like Adele or Mumford, something to play him out right, but it's just a Van Halen song he never liked.
Derek is regretting letting Isaac ride shotgun.
There's nothing wrong with the kid--he's nice enough, control's getting better, didn't abandon his Alpha in the home stretch, thanks--but Isaac in the front means Peter behind them, sitting just out of view of Derek's rear mirror.
"Turn here," Peter says. "Left. This car is flashy enough that you'll need to stay on the main road." Derek obeys because Peter's right. "And don't turn so hard," he continues, "you'll attract attention."
That, though, Derek won't tolerate.
"So will you when you're hitchhiking on the side of this road," he says with a smile. Next to him, Isaac tries and fails to hide a laugh at Peter's expense. Good kid.
Peter notices and pivots. "Are we sure we can trust Scott?"
"Yes," Isaac says emphatically at the same moment Derek answers, "Maybe."
Derek looks away from the road long enough to stare down Isaac. "He got his information from an Argent, the same one who sliced you up in the warehouse," Derek says. No point mincing words. "You're stupid to trust her."
Isaac fidgets, picking at his face and looking out at the passing houses. They're on a stretch of highway on the suburban outskirts of town, not quite out enough to be Alpha Pack territory but hopefully close enough to smell who they're looking for--if the trail from the Argents' house wasn't a trap.
"I don't," he says. "I trust Scott, and he listened to see if she was lying."
"Maybe," Derek repeats. There's a bend in the road, and he pulls it extra tight because he can, tires squealing and wind catching through his open window to whip at his face and hair. Isaac doesn't have to grab for a handhold, but from the corner of his eye he can see Peter scramble to brace himself in the backseat.
The air smells nice tonight.
"I see watching the undeniable power of human love in action hasn't helped you actually trust it," Peter says, no extra malice in his tone, not that it'd be necessary.
"Shut up, Peter."
Isaac snorts, and when he pulls back quickly to a straight face, Derek figures this time the laugh's probably at both of them.
Derek saw the pain and betrayal in Scott's face when he'd called Allison, standing on Isaac's new front lawn with the phone clutched to his ear and trying to focus on her heartbeat instead of the fact that she'd nearly killed two of Derek's Betas... but he'd also seen the same stupid look of devotion, patience, forgiveness that Derek is starting to accept is permanent.
It makes Scott weak.
Or at least, it should.
They're still not picking up any real scent, even with Isaac occasionally sticking his head out the window like a dog while Derek rolls his eyes, and getting too near the Alpha perimeter is out of the question for now. Not before they can gather at least scraps of information. Derek huffs in frustration; this is gonna be a long night.
Peter's fingers curl over the shoulder of Derek's seat as he leans forward, and if he's not deliberately trying to raise Derek's hackles, Derek will trade this car in for a unicycle. "How did you know Gerard Argent had captured our missing Betas?" he asks.
Uncle Peter doesn't seem to understand the world of hurt he's about to be in. "Our?"
"Derek, please, it's a pronoun usage of endearment. Obviously they're yours."
The leather upholstery of the steering wheel crunches under Derek's grip. "Stiles saw them," he grits out, more to keep Isaac in the loop than for Peter's benefit.
Peter relaxes back into his seat, uncrossing and recrossing his legs and slipping into view in the mirror for just a second. He looks contemplative. "Hm," he says, but leaves it at that.
They ride a minute or two in busy silence, but there's still nothing to smell, see, even hear. It feels fractured, incomplete.
Derek glances over at Isaac. "How's your new place?" he asks, and it sounds just as awkward out of his mouth as it did in his head.
Isaac returns the glance, though it looks quietly, pleasantly startled. "Uh," he shrugs, "they seem nice enough. It'll work 'til I'm eighteen."
"You're an orphan, right?" Derek realizes he doesn't know anything about Isaac's mother, except that she's out of the picture, but his fuzzy memory of California law is pretty sure it doesn't matter. "You can emancipate at sixteen, DCSS won't fight it. If, you know, it doesn't work out."
If Isaac's offended, it doesn't show. "Good to know," he says. "I'm not sure it could be worse than my last living situation, but..." Isaac pauses, and Derek doesn't want to see whatever expression's on his face, whatever shift in body language he's doing right now, but he forces himself to meet Isaac's gaze anyway. He looks sincere. "Good to know. Thanks."
Derek nods stiffly, attention back on the yellow lines of the road.
The tang hits him suddenly when they round a hill, and Derek slams on the brakes and pulls over. He holds up a hand, motioning them stay in the car as he climbs out and breathes deep. "Smell that?"
"Blood," Isaac confirms. "It's not Erica's or Boyd's."
Derek scowls. "It's human."
And it's familiar.
"Easy, kid. Come on, back to the living."
Stiles doesn't wake up dead, but holy christ, does it feel like it.
"Stiles, come on," he hears someone repeat, and it takes a second too long to realize it's his dad, speaking low and quiet, fingers brushing over his ear. "Lights are off, you can open your eyes."
So they are. Everything's fuzzy and he feels like he's floating, but he can see his dad illuminated in green LED and light from beyond a door. It's a hospital hallway, he realizes dumbly. He shuts his eyes again.
"Dad," he croaks, and then there's a straw at his lips and the cold, sweet taste of bubbly Sprite. It anchors him to consciousness, which has never felt so hard to hold onto. It's so easy to go back to the dark.
"Sorry, son, you gotta stay awake now," Dad says, and when Stiles can't muster the will to open his eyes again, he feels gentle tapping on his cheek. "Come on, Stiles, take another drink, you know how this works."
Literally nothing tastes better in this moment, a wet rush against his chapped lips while the fizz makes him feel warm inside, but stuff still feels sort of detached.
"Concussion," he realizes right along with its implications, then takes a breath and does his damndest to rejoin the land of the living. His eyes feel puffy, like way too much saline, and it's kind of hard to turn his head. He can't really feel his whole body yet, probably from painkillers, so that is so fine.
"Good," Dad says. "You remember or deduce that?"
What he remembers... is a car that had no intention of stopping, someone staggering menacingly toward him, and the really gross sound of bone against glass. What he remembers is that there was no way in hell he'd gotten out of that car on his own, and an Alpha would have torn cops and a bus to shreds, so who had saved him?
What story had they told his dad?
"Deduce," he lies. "I don't really remember anything."
Even in the dim light, he can see his dad hunched forward with his hands wringing and whiteknuckled in his lap. It hurts like a bitch--not his injuries, those are hovering just out of reach in drugland, but... everything else, especially the lines like Stiles' lies on his dad's face. It's something he'll have to deal with later, when the light's a little brighter, so for now he just smiles.
"We can do hugs," he murmurs. "I think I'm good for hugs time." Dad's good for it too, coming at him on his good side and delicately wrapping Stiles in warmth. It's as close to a bear hug as they're gonna get for now.
"Drunk driver," Dad says eventually, letting up. On their list of past covers, that one's not the worst--more by definition, since nothing would ever be worse than Cousin Miguel. "Creamed you at 12th and Oaklawn. One of the new deputies said you could smell the booze from up the road." Dad growls. "I told those bastards at the city council they need streetlights there, it should at least be a four-way stop--"
"Dad," Stiles says. "I'm okay, right?"
Dad's gaze flits likely before he can stop himself to Stiles' left arm and chest. "You got a pretty bad cut on your upper arm, took twelve stitches, bruised ribs, and--"
Stiles finally recognizes the pressure on his neck and shoulders and battles his body's stiffness to feel at a plastic brace. "Oh my god," he breathes over a hot flush of panic, "oh my god, did I break--"
"No, jesus, Stiles, no!" Dad cuts him off. "It's just whiplash. Doc says you can take it off tomorrow."
It takes a second for that panic to fade, but it seems like he came out of this pretty freaking lucky. His dad's still cradling his poor, abused head, and the tape on Stiles' hand from the IV is pulling as they hug, but Stiles doesn't have the heart to tell him to quit helicoptering.
Suddenly bright light fills the room as the door opens and someone enters, and while Stiles squints against it, he doesn't miss how old and worried his dad looks.
"Hey, man," Scott says. "Looks like you're up!"
"Yeah, man," Stiles replies, "totally back on my feet. I start 5k training tomorrow."
Scott flops onto a rolling stool at the end of the room and glides over to the bed. "We were worried, dude--you were out for like, a while."
"A couple hours since they brought you in," Dad says.
Scott nods. "That's not good for concussions and scalp wounds, but Mom said your scans were okay."
"Wait, scalp wounds?" Stiles asks, considering the brain damage issue thoroughly resolved and shelved. "Dude, did they shave my head?" He tries to reach his good hand to his head, but Dad grabs his wrist.
"Only part of it?" Scott answers. "My mom did the stitches herself so it won't scar. It looks pretty gnarly, though."
Stiles groans. "And since we're not in a nineties movie, I'm guessing that's not a compliment."
Scott shakes his head, and Dad says with a grimace, "They think you broke the skin on impact." He turns to Scott. "And speaking of your mom, I'm gonna go tell Melissa you're awake."
"Hit me with the juice first, Pops, I'm delicate." Stiles gets another few gulps of soda down before his stomach turns and he waves it away. "Get coffee or something," he says softly to his dad. "I'm fine for now and you look like you need it."
Dad studies him for a second, glancing at Scott, then nods. "Back in a few, son," he says. "Love you."
Stiles doesn't have time to answer before he's alone with Scott and a lot of questions that need answers, but first:
"Hey, so did you know when you have a concussion and reception sucks, Panama sounds a lot like 'kanima'?"
Scott snickers, probably for for Stiles' benefit, grin wide on his face.
"All right," Stiles says grudgingly, "hit me."
Scott just looks at him, confused. "Dude?"
"Was it this stupid Alpha pack? Did Gerard show back up?"
"How are you not following?" Stiles hisses, trying to keep his voice low. "Like, nice story with the drunk driver, but what really happened out there?"
Realization dawns on Scott's face, along with something that looks suspiciously and unbelievably like pity. "Stiles, you got hit by a drunk driver," he says, words deliberately slow. "They caught her passed out like a hundred feet away. She blew a .21."
And werewolves can't get drunk.
Stiles' mouth is hanging open and no words are coming out, so he blinks and tries to think at about half capacity. "What..." he fumbles, "what about a cronie or something? A human with some werewolf buddies?"
Scott shakes his head no. "With all this Alpha stuff, I had Mom double-check but the lady's kind of a fixture here, I guess? Mom says she's treated her a bunch for drunk stuff."
An alcoholic hit Stiles with her car at an already dangerous intersection, then wobbled up and passed out.
"So this was just..." he murmurs, disbelief rapidly fading into resignation, "an accident--this--" He feels cold again. Hard. Fragile. "This was normal bullshit human crap."
Scott smiles, that sweet split in his face he's been good at for as long as Stiles can remember. "Yeah, man."
Stiles looks away, past the blinds of the window where the moon isn't in view. There's just the flickering lights of the ER bay.
"Isaac found you, though," Scott says brightly, of course, interrupting before Stiles can settle too deep. "He brought you here, saved you some big ambulance bills."
"What, on foot?" Stiles retorts. "And you don't find that an itty bitty bit suspicious?"
Scott bites his lip and scrubs at his pants. "No? He was in Derek's car," he shrugs. "They found you after they left when they smelled your blood."
He is not focusing on that part, definitely not. "So Derek and Isaac found me," Stiles says, pointed, and Scott looks at him guiltily.
"...Peter was there too."
"I was unconscious in a car with Peter?" Stiles makes a face; being conscious in one with him was bad enough. "Gross."
"Sorry?" Scott tries, kind of adorably sheepish, but Stiles just sinks back into the bed. "Mom thought they might be involved so she told your dad an off-duty EMT found you."
That was a good one. Clean. Stiles is the worst son ever.
The door opens again, and Mrs. McCall follows his dad into the cramped room. She's got delicious private staff food in one hand and giant IV needles of death in the other. Stiles shuts his eyes again.
Derek stands in an alcove of the loading bay, arms crossed and head down, just long enough to hear Melissa McCall tell Scott his friend was lucky, and then just long enough to hear Stiles' voice rejoin the cacophony around him, no longer bloody and pale and limp.
Then he pushes off the wall and leaves.
It takes five more days of searching and tracking for anything to happen.
The first day home, since they discharge Stiles pretty much the second the sun comes up, is spent watching Netflix documentaries in a haze of hydros and hovering over a vomit bucket. With the hospital went the anti-nausea meds, and all the ginger ale in the world--which Dad makes a serious attempt at procuring--doesn't make the sloshing roll of his stomach stop.
"This is your life for the next day or two, kiddo," Mrs. McCall says when they drop him off at the house. She talks him through his disgusting wound-cleaning regimen and how this concussion business works while Dad helps set up a nest of pillows on his bed that Stiles is never, ever going to leave ever again.
"The generalized headache and the nausea should let up tomorrow," she says, nursely concern in full swing. "If it doesn't, you call me immediately."
"Oh, he will," Dad says.
The second day his head's better but his whole body's sore. The neck brace comes off, and Dad makes him cut the drug use in half but thank everything holy doesn't make him go to school. Thanks to the staff shortage Dad has to go back to work anyway, and Stiles' baby miraculously isn't totaled but is still in the shop, thus his options are bus or bust.
Stiles chooses bust.
Physical movement sucks so bad, but he's pretty sure he's starting to marinate in his own filth and Scott's coming over after school to watch him try and fail at one-handed videogames, so shower it is.
Aside from the screaming ache in his shoulders from standing upright, the mirror is the worst part: the old bruises fade out against the new ones up his gaunt face and down his left side, his arm is still in a sling to immobilize the bandaged laceration for a couple of days, and he makes a vow to eat nothing but fatty cheeseburgers for the next week. Lastly, when he peels back the bandage on his head, there is a decidedly unhot shaved patch an inch long over his ear, stitched and moist.
"Oh, gawd," he croaks, skin pulled tight over his wince.
Normal bullshit human crap.
The third day, Derek and Isaac are close to city limits when they finally pick up the scent. It's on the state highway that leads to the Preserve and Derek's house, but the trail stops a few miles before there.
Peter's no help, telling them what Derek already knows: getting too close before the Alphas deign to approach Derek is bad. Searching the area, brashly trespassing on their territory for people they kidnapped is worse.
So they pace, using every sense a wolf has to catch more than a broad whiff of sweat, blood, and Erica's shampoo. When that doesn't work--because everything smells like garbage and oil and coffee, and all they can hear is car exhaust and television, they spread out and try to triangulate a narrower corridor.
In desperation, Derek even pays a man to take a 'hike' through the woods behind the houses, but still there's nothing.
Derek stands on the side of the highway, staring down the roads that lead to neighborhoods and neighborhoods that turn into forest. Late April means it's stupid to be wearing one of his jackets, but his hands are shoved in the pockets anyway, and he holds his chin high.
It's hard not to feel like they're surrounded by eyes past the line of the trees, spectres of powerful creatures just watching and waiting for Derek to make his move. Waiting to trap him in it.
Joke's on them; Derek has no idea what move to make.
The fourth day, after Stiles does a half-day at school before his neck and shoulders can't take it anymore, Lydia comes by.
"You can't catch a break, can you?" she says, eyeing the side of his head and the huge bandage that pokes out from under his t-shirt sleeve.
"You know just what to say to a guy," Stiles replies, smiling anyway as he gestures her in.
The TV's gone now; Dad took it back a couple of days ago. Not that Stiles wanted to return it or anything, the 15-year plan still includes a white picket fence and 40-inch with HDMI for Xbox, but it was burning a hole in his wallet. Time to let it go.
If she notices, with her small, beautiful, sad, perfect smile as she sits down on his bed, she doesn't say anything.
"How's Jackson?" Stiles asks, and her smile gets a little less sad.
"Himself." Which doesn't seem like the best possible outcome here, but it's better than comatose murderous lizard-man, he guesses. "And also," Lydia adds, suddenly and sharply eyeing Stiles, "not particularly explanatory. Tell me what I haven't figured out for myself."
Knowing Lydia, that's probably not much. Stiles sits down next to her, ignoring the flush of heat he feels from how close they are and making a conscious effort to stop his nervous foot-tapping.
"Uh," he starts. "Werewolves are things. Kanimas--Jackson's old suit--are also things. Allison's family is kind of psycho about it." He doesn't add, and sometimes Allison. Lydia chuckles.
"I thought you knew I'm not stupid," she says, but her voice is warm instead of snippy. Mostly. "I got the abridged and likely biased version from Allison about their history and power structure, and trust me, Jackson's done plenty of demonstrations of the physical changes."
There is no way Stiles keeps the disgust off his face. "Um, well, there's a thing with Alphas going down right now, but I don't think Jackson's involved--"
"Then I don't care about any of that," Lydia cuts him off as she flicks a strand of hair over her shoulder and gives him a pointed look. "What do I need to be worried about with a werewolf boyfriend?"
That answered Stiles' question. It wouldn't really be fair not to answer hers, even if it's hard to speak from his deflated puddle on the floor. "The full moon's in a little over two weeks," he says. "Yeah, that's a thing, too."
Lydia fidgets with a bracelet, turning it over her pale wrist as she mulls over this info, so Stiles presses on. "Look, Scott and me can try to help, but trust me, you do not wanna get between an angry werewolf and, uh, anything. Anything ever." Lydia laughs, probably because the situation is still the most ridiculous thing ever, but the smile falls off her face when Stiles says, "I think you need to go to Derek Hale."
"I know," she says, hands tightening over her purse.
"I know Derek sucks, but he's technically Jackson's Alpha, and--"
"It's not that," she insists, and Stiles isn't a werewolf but he can still hear her rough swallow and the quiver in her voice. She takes a steadying breath, staring straight ahead as she clarifies, "It's not Derek, I don't care about him--it's his uncle."
Stiles' stomach decides to give eating itself a shot. As frankly idiotically reluctant as Derek and Scott were to talk about it, he'd kind of figured it out--the wolfsbane nightmare punch at the party, Lydia's weird stuff all the way back to her fugue in the woods, maybe even back to the night she got bitten. It didn't make anymore sense than werewolves which meant it was good enough to be real.
"You can tell me about what happened--"
When he reaches out to touch Lydia's arm--just a reassuring and totally platonic friend pat--she flinches away, and she looks as furious with herself as Stiles feels.
"Thanks, though," she says after an awkward minute, then forces a smile back onto her face. The real conversation is obviously over, so Stiles rolls his sore shoulders and collapses back onto the bed.
Lydia peers down at him. "So tell me, exactly how many times did you all lie to me about werewolves?"
The last day, Derek sucks it up and calls Scott.
Five resigned rings in, he's about to give up when someone answers, distantly: "...and deal with it, jesus."
They come into focus. "Hey, Derek. Nope, not Scott, hi. This is Stiles, thanks for the save." Derek pinches at his nose and keeps his groan firmly down as Scott says something unintelligible in the background and Stiles asks, "So what do you want?"
"Put Scott on," Derek replies. Stiles laughs at him. This was stupid to do over the phone.
"Yeeeah, buddy, that's not gonna happen," he says. "Consider me your Scott Whisperer. So did I bleed all over your car?"
"Yep." All over Peter's whatever designer jacket. He'd almost thank Stiles, except he'd actually been in pretty rough shape when they found him, and leather was hard to clean. "Put Scott on."
"You know, this whole repetition thing? Not your most charming move. How much blood was there?"
"You want the bill?" Derek snaps. "Put Scott on now--I think I know where Erica and Boyd are."
There's a pause on the other side. "...Okay," Stiles says, "so go get 'em."
Derek isn't a fan of epistemology--if a tree falls in the woods, it still makes a sound, end of story, so being on the phone and not in person doesn't stop him from rolling his eyes. "I said I think, you idiot. I can't pinpoint them, but maybe with Scott's help--"
"Hold on," Stiles cuts him off. Something muffles the connection for a second, but the depot is quiet, and if he focuses enough he can hear the two of them arguing through Stiles' covering thumb. Stiles blows out an exasperated sigh. "Alright, whatever, come over," he says. "We're at my house, and I know you know exactly which window to creep through."
Derek snaps his phone shut without another word.
(He can't be assed to get a smartphone for plenty of reasons, and a sneering part of himself knows that's one of them.)
He floors it to the Stilinskis', past a certain set of skid marks like ash in the daylight, and parks far enough down the street that no sheriffs will poke their badges where they don't belong.
Scott and Stiles are waiting for him when he climbs in, whatever videogame they were playing paused when he was halfway up the house, and having their unimpressed eyes on him as he somersaults through a window is not how Derek prefers to make an entrance.
Stiles raises his eyebrows at him. "Ever thought about taking your acrobat show on the road?"
"Let's just get this over with," Scott says, saving Derek the trouble of ignoring Stiles. "You said you know stuff and you need my help."
Derek bites down on that last part, because it's true enough even if it leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. One like cancerous old skin and mountain ash. "We followed their trail from the Argents' house to the edge of town, Highway 85. It's residential with woods behind it, but..."
"You can't get closer than that," Scott finishes. "The Alphas?"
Derek nods. "We can't go near those woods. We're trying to narrow their location down, but it's just the three of us. If we had another person--"
"You said it's residential," Stiles interrupts. They both turn to look at him, but he's deep in thought, pushing himself to his feet with an exaggerated wince. He's not alarmingly covered in blood anymore, but the left side of his head is still purple and yellow and swollen from bruises, and the sutures in his scalp look like little black bugs--evidence enough that the bite is a gift.
Stiles drops into his desk chair, booting up his computer, and Derek and Scott follow. "Dude, I know that area," he continues. "It got hit hard in the market crash. County and city fight over who patrols it, so nobody does, and--" he pulls up a browser and opens a few sites with distantly familiar logos. Realty sites, Derek realizes. Stiles looks up at them and grins. "A lot of empty houses for sale."
Made perfect sense.
Scott smiles back, full of pride, and when he affectionately punches Stiles in his bruised shoulder and Stiles yelps and they slap at each other like idiots, Derek huffs loudly.
"Focus," he says, because one of them has to remember that this isn't a game. "They're in a house. There are a million houses out there, and we won't have time to get close to more than one or two."
"Seriously?" Stiles replies. "Come on, man, give me more credit than that. These sites all have detailed listings and search filters on them. We can pretty much go through the whole neighborhood from here."
Stiles may be literally vibrating with excitement, but no task has ever sounded more tedious and time-consuming than this. Derek is the Alpha, he wins the race against Scott for the second chair.
"So the big honcho high money realtors'll probably have what we need, since I figure we can rule out the really small acre lots and short sales," Stiles says, and Scott just looks as confused as Derek does, so Stiles scoffing at him alone isn't exactly fair. "Seriously? You're an adult, how do you not know this?"
Kicking the chair out from under a teenager would be counter-productive to being said adult. "I don't follow real estate, Stiles."
Whatever words Stiles almost visibly chokes down, he doesn't realize how smart a decision it was. "Short sales sell low," he explains instead, "so low they don't stay on the market long; it'd be high risk to stash them there. And any houses with market problems would get pawned off to bigger companies."
Stiles mouseclicks a few times. "I'm gonna narrow the filter to houses that have been on the market for forever. I'm assuming they think like people and not like Zergs or extremely incompetent Alphas--" Derek sneers at him and Stiles gives him a shitty grin and wave before continuing, "--so they'd want somewhere permanent where no one would look. Give me a bit, I think I can totally figure this out."
He moves lightning quick, focused and oblivious. It's almost interesting to watch... for the first fifteen minutes.
An hour later the sun has almost set, Scott is sprawled on Stiles' bed dicking around on his phone, and Stiles is still working furiously, tabbing between houses and surrounded by printed satellite maps, a highlighter cap between his teeth. Derek would be bored, gazing out at the pink spring sky slowly fading to gray, if anxiety wasn't curling in his stomach like a snake.
Half an hour after that, Stiles slams his fist down with a shout--then swears and winces, shaking out his hand.
"I got it!" he says, and this time his grin is genuine. "I think I got it. Probably got it. Like, ninety-five percent chance this is the right house."
Ninety-five. That's enough to make hope soar for a useless moment before Derek quashes it down and pushes past Stiles to lean over the maps. They're covered in notations and highlighter marks, big circles around blurry house shapes crossed out likely one by one. And then, just under a margin where Stiles has scrawled WOODS!!, at the end of what looks like a cul-de-sac, is a single house.
There's a star over it.
"It's isolated," Derek says.
"Yeah. Been empty for like two years, and the houses around it just went suspiciously up for sale so no neighbors."
Scott hovers over them, looking skeptical. "How do you know it's that one and not the ones next to it?"
Stiles shrugs. "I don't know, man, shell game that shit. This one's my best guess, but with all of us plus Derek's second-string betas we'll have the manpower to check them all out."
"You're not coming," Derek says, about a half second before Scott can.
"What?" Stiles demands like he's genuinely shocked. "Why?"
It's not like Derek stands over his sink and perfects his withering, you're-an-idiot stare, but the muscles in his face get plenty of practice in around Stiles. "...Have you looked in a mirror?"
"Dude," Scott backs him up, "you're pretty busted right now. This could be really, really dangerous." And right there--Scott's unhesitant agreement, a decision made together, and the security of the meticulous notes on that desk--marks the first time in a long time that things seem like they might be going right.
He can't imagine it'll last.
Stiles gapes at them both, but his face is what it is so Derek can pinpoint the moment his betrayal melts into pissed off resignation as he shoves the maps at Derek. "Fine," he bites out. "Alright. But keep me updated--like, so updated I'm basically there." He sighs and spins dramatically in his chair. "I didn't do this just so you guys could keep me in the dark. I'm not your Oracle or whatever."
"No one's Oracle," Scott replies automatically, but Derek just nods, papers in hand. He should say it. He wasn't a nice teenager and he's not a nice adult, but this is the second time in as many meetings that Stiles has been worth the air he mouthbreathes, and Derek should just say it. So he does.
His soul surprisingly doesn't rip out of his body at the words, but Derek is still out the door before he can see their reactions.
Filling in Isaac and Peter and setting up a meeting place just beyond the Alpha boundaries doesn't take long, despite Peter's snake smirk over the phone. "That seems like quite the detective work in such a short time," he'd said. "Where did you say you were, again?"
"Shut up, Peter," was his answer.
Scott eyes him on the Stilinski front porch, wearing the same distaste Derek feels every day of his Peter-adjacent existence. The night breeze is pleasant, deceptive as it ruffles through their hair. They both stare out into it, tension finally directed out into the trees instead of at each other.
"We're taking your car," Derek says. "They know mine."
"No, we're not?" Scott says. "It's my mom's. I walked here, it's at our house."
He stares at Scott. "...Then we go get it." If his tone implies Scott has a longstanding problem with obviousness, so be it.
"No!" Scott says, staring back like Derek's grown another head, because apparently a moment of solidarity and a shared goal doesn't mean he understands the basic concept of enemy mine.
This isn't a battle worth fighting. The car would be useful in the getaway, but Scott is a stubborn little shit who never knows what's good for him and Derek needs to conserve every scrap of mental energy he has. He's going to need it.
"Fine," he huffs. "Then we run." And he takes off, half-shifted on all fours through three lawns then beyond the streetlights, Scott hot on his heels. In the shift, it's instinctual--direction, the stars, the town he grew up in, blended and shaken together into a path he knows as well as his own skin.
"We're not just jumping into this, dude!" Scott yells as they both dodge under an incoming tree branch. "Not with you acting like you're in charge of me. Did you forget I'm not part of your pack?"
Derek leaps over a fallen log just before Scott, prickles of grass damp under his bare hands. "If you hadn't noticed, we don't have time for this! Just stay behind me, I have a plan."
"And you're not gonna tell me what it is?"
Scott can't see his wind-whipped sneer, full of ugly memories, but it's there. "You're not part of my pack, remember?"
"Are you freaking kidding me? Do you even know what you're doing?" Scott pauses as they dart across a street and back into the shadows. "If you want my help, then we do this my way. I'm not falling in line for you."
Derek stops dead and barely resists catching Scott by the shirt and slamming him into the dirt--he settles instead for a slow inhale and square of his shoulders. Scott practically glows when he's angry, an immature but righteous indignation, like his will is strong enough to move the earth they stand on.
"What you did with Gerard, that was good," Derek admits, pulling at the worn cuffs of his jacket before he meets Scott's eyes, summoning every ounce of resolution he owns. "But you don't know anything about this. You wanna come up with a way to get us in and out? Fine. But if we don't stand together as a pack, they'll see our weakness, and they'll kill us."
"I won't--" Scott pushes past him, but this time Derek does lay hands: a hard grip on his shoulder, not enough to hurt but enough to really feel it.
"I'm not asking you to be in my pack," he says, "and I don't need your trust. Just pretend for five minutes or they'll tear us both apart."
Scott doesn't answer, which means he doesn't disagree, and they run the rest of the way in silence.
Peter and Isaac are already waiting in an empty church parking lot, Peter perched on top of the Escalade he's jacked while Isaac bounces on his toes, nerves bleeding into the air. Scott joins him like he can't wait to get away from Derek.
Their pockets light up and buzz at the same time, quiet hums that almost drown in the sounds of spring night, but Scott's too involved in whatever the hell he and Isaac are talking about to check his phone.
Yo tengo update, my werewolf buddies
He and Stiles are gonna have to have a long talk about subtlety and secrecy.
They pile into the SUV, Peter driving through empty streets while Derek texts back, his reply clipped to match the tension of tonight. "Here we go," Derek warns, but the moment they cross into Alpha territory still hits like a slap to the face.
Isaac asks quietly, "Is that going to alert them to us?"
"If they were paying attention," Derek replies, "then they already knew we were coming."
"I'm sure you've put everyone at ease," Peter says.
Derek ignores both Peter and the irony in attempting to be an Alpha while ignoring Peter. "If they're not watching for us," he says, "we have a chance, but we have to be fast. We're going in blind, so this has to be surgical. We get there, we find them, we get out."
They make the final turn, the name on the green street sign dauntingly final, and the house at the end of the road looms in the distance.
"If they're waiting for us," he continues, "then retreat, don't fight. And don't shift. Claws, teeth and eyes if you have to, but don't make yourself a target."
Derek sends one last text ("Going in") just as Peter cuts the engine--but suddenly before he can spearhead the charge Scott darts out of the backseat, snatches a rock, and hurls it through the window of the house next door.
"Scott! What the f--"
A house alarm shrieks, fucking deafening where Derek had his hearing vigilant, and he and Peter have to clamp hands over their ears. Isaac's grin splits wide as he catches on and chucks his own stone at the other empty house, its klaxon doubling up the unbearable noise.
It's as smart this time as it was the first.
They run fast into the main house, Derek and Peter through the large front foyer while Scott and Isaac take the side entrance to a kitchen. The Alphas aren't here in this big empty place but it isn't alarmed, so every muscle in Derek's body is tense to snap as he calls on the weak connection to the kids who were supposed to be his Betas. It's a sour taste in the back of his throat--but it's close.
"Basement!" Derek barks, yanking open the door that leads down and using the rickety stair banister to leap into the dark--Scott bought them time, but not much. Derek lands in a crouch as the others trail behind him, eyes adjusting. The basement is another residential floor, all empty halls and hardwood, and only a few feet down is a locked door that splinters open under his weight.
The stench of wolfsbane hits him before the whimpers do.
It's a line, a semicircle of bright purple petals scattered inches from where Erica and Boyd are slumped like dolls against a wall. Old magic, and crossing it was gonna hurt, but right now Derek could not give less of a shit.
He takes a breath that mingles with the gasps of Scott and Isaac as they barrel into the room, hears Scott call out something that might even be a protest--
--then pushes through a shock of pain that whites out everything but his Betas' heartbeats. Somewhere around him somebody shouts, but the thunder of his own pulse roars in his ears as he forces his legs forward. Finally his fingers brush blood- and sweat-slick skin, and Derek snags them by whatever he can grab--hair and a jacket collar--and flings them back across the line.
But that's all he can do, because god, it's like fire, like every nerve in his body is shorting out and locking up.
He feels his knees hit the floor, and then suddenly it's gone. He's back on the right side of the line, and Scott's grip is still fisted in his shirt. It takes him a stunned moment to realize he's slipped to full shift, and with a grimace he cracks back to humanity.
At least Scott's breathing as hard as he is.
"Derek...?" Erica's voice is small. God, she can't stand; Isaac is holding both of them up while Peter dawdles uselessly to the side.
"We've got you," Derek replies, his own voice rough. They both nod weakly, and something old rolls over in Derek at the sight of them: tattered, bloody.
"I wanna get the hell out of here," Boyd says, and Derek couldn't agree more, taking him off Isaac's hands.
Suddenly Boyd's grip around his shoulder clenches, and that's all the warning Derek has before he feels them, feels power, radiating through the hallways, like this explosive bubble of force could make the walls shake. The clicking comes next, what sounds like heels on hardwood before it come into focus and Derek realizes with roiling dread that the sounds is claws.
...Wherever else he falls short, Boyd has fantastic instincts. Maybe even better than Scott.
Derek stands forward, angling himself in front of the others. Chin up, he thinks. You either live or die tonight.
A woman's hand curls around the door frame, claws glinting as she rounds into view. Derek barely breaks her sharp red gaze to realize she's beautiful and wild, black hair screaming out from dark skin, and proud claws where shoes should be. She'll be an aerial fighter, he figures, one of the few martial areas he was supposed to have the advantage.
When she smiles at him her fangs aren't out, but she still doesn't look human.
"Derek Hale," she says. Behind him, Isaac flinches. "With your record of competence, we did not expect you to find us."
And now Derek's putting so much effort into staying stone-faced and blank, no challenge, no emotion, no tension, that panic wells up from his gut that the strain will bleed into the air. She just freely admitted that they were watching him, but worse, she admitted they had a plan, and his pack had just foiled part of it. His pack had just shown their hand in strength.
It wasn't a slip of the tongue. They're toying with him, testing him.
Derek speaks down his nose to her but tightens his hand around Boyd's waist, where she can't see it. "You had my Betas," he says.
"We found Omegas," she replies, "not Betas," and takes a clicking step forward that seeps pungent fear from everyone but Derek and Peter in a slow leak. They're too young. The bite is a gift, and Derek fucked it right up.
Peter decides this is a fantastic moment to interject. "Perhaps," he says softly, "your bastardized excuse for hierarchy has caused you to forget how a traditional pack operates. It's understandable."
"You had my Betas," Derek repeats over Peter, willing his heart to stay calm and confident.
The Alpha lets her head loll forward, grinning all white under long hair just visible in the streetlights outside. She lazily taps her feet, and the sharp echo of the click-click-click almost muffles the new footsteps in the hall and upstairs. They're all waiting, pacing until they decide to swarm in and rip everyone to shreds.
Finally she looks back up, face lazy and tongue rolling along her teeth in Derek's direction, over her fangs. The smell of blood hits the air as her gaze slides idly to Peter--and lingers there. "Then take them," she says, no upticks in her pulse, and this time Derek can't hide the surprise on his face. "They're not what we want."
That's not reassuring.
Scott agrees. "Just like that?" he asks, and Derek is too twisted up in knots to be angry. The Alpha barely acknowledges him, thank every deity Derek's never believed in, and instead just turns and slinks past the door.
"We'll see you soon, Derek Hale," she calls.
There's a long moment, a still buzz in the air where no one moves, no one blinks, no one breathes; they just listen for the sound of boots over wood, leaving. Then Boyd collapses into Derek's grip and Erica's hysterical attempt at a laugh dissolves into groans, and that's the end.
It's been two hours and Stiles is still staring at Derek's text. He was gonna be decent about this, he honestly was, because there's dangerous shit going down and Stiles is nothing if not a pragmatist, but he's chewed up about five different writing utensils and no amount of Horde Mode in Gears of War will distract from the fact that his best friend is out there in real horde mode.
Hopefully minus the chainsaws.
What's happening, he sends back. Three wiki pages on cartography later, there's no response.
What's happening What's happening What's happening What's happening
There is a strong possibility he's mashing the paste button, but it seems to do the trick; Stiles is ten pastes into his next text when Derek pre-empts him: Stop we are fine.
That being the most lackluster text of all time still doesn't stop the relief from coursing through him, releasing the valve on pressure Stiles barely realized he was crushed under. In hindsight, the destroyed pens should have clued him in.
Maybe elaborate on this we, he sends back, and then--because despite the comedown of the crushing anxiety of the night, the surrealness of texting Derek Hale has not escaped him--he follows it with, Also do you know what proper punctuation is?
It's a good five minutes before Derek replies with a novel.
Made it in main house no problems. Alphas showed up but left with no fight. Betas are back safe. Scott is still here but leaving soon, now shut up
Stiles throws his phone on the bed and collapses after it, ignoring the flare of pain in his arm and lingering soreness all over to just stare at the ceiling. It's not a blank stare, because no one with half an ounce of ADHD can do anything blank, but if he has to assign something special or precise to it, it's this:
After he moment he grabs his phone and, in a jumble of sloppy keyswipes, texts back.
No fight eh? Did Derek have the pointiest teeth at the dance tonight?
Derek knows the stress and adrenaline of the night haven't left his system yet, even in the relative safety of home, because he actually snorts.
Or maybe it's just part of this miasma of relief that permeates the train depot, a side effect of the whistle of the shower Erica is taking, the scrape of fork on cardboard where Boyd shovels leftover Chinese down, the silence of Peter's absence.
Derek feels eyes on him and glances up to Scott's inscrutable gaze. He looks like he wants to look out of place, and he's doing a decent job of it.
Scott only spares him another few awkward seconds before crouching down next to Isaac.
No Derek just understands when to quit while he's ahead, he sends back.
When he looks back up, Isaac's waving Scott goodbye. That's fine.
Stiles' mouth does a thing somewhere between a frown and a laugh, which is as good an instinctive reaction as any to Derek Hale, World's Slowest Texter.
Hint hint ha ha got it. You left your car here btw. Come get it before you piss my dad off.
Stiles rolls onto his good side and shuts his eyes for a minute, trying to will the stress of the night away, and when that totally doesn't work he pulls up WoW raid videos instead. He's got two papers to write and still has Great Expectations to finish, but that shit's not happening tonight.
Ten minutes later he's settling into a Scarlet Monastery fugue when Scott clambers up through the window, not quite as creepily graceful as Derek. Stiles snorts.
"Sup," he says, not budging from his casual sprawl even though they both know the relief's still radiating off him in waves.
"I'm hungry," Scott replies, collapsing face down across the bed. Stiles reaches under the sheet curtain and flings a bag of Doritos at Scott's head just as his phone buzzes again.
It's fine. No one will notice
Um have you seen your car jw?
Scott blinks at him. "Why is Derek texting you?"
"What?" Stiles says on reflex, then shrugs. "I don't know, he's not a total dumbass, he probably realized we're a package deal."
"Okay, but why are you texting Derek?" Scott asks, judgment seeping through a crunchy cornchip.
"You didn't text me back!" Scott can suck it right now, in the platonic-best-friend way. "Someone had to keep Aquaman in the loop."
Scott sits up and sets his food aside. It's not that he looks tired, because Stiles figures werewolf stamina or healing or whatever nets you a free pass from the eye bags department, but there's still something stretched thin about him. "Are you seriously mad about that?" he asks.
"Uhh, yes?" Stiles answers. "I got us the invitations and I didn't even get to go to the party."
"It wasn't a party, dude, it was really dangerous!" Scott says. He's staring at Stiles like he doesn't understand him, which is ironic, and Stiles wonders how the hell they got to this point.
He pulls himself off the pillow with no small amount of strain and doesn't think about how it's just proving Scott's point. Point or not, Scott still didn't get back to him, so Scott's in the doghouse. "Yeah," he says. "Exactly."
Reality, history, always catch up to Derek. It's almost always his own fault, of course, but that doesn't make the punch to the gut throb any less when Erica stalks back into the platform lobby and sits down next to Boyd, snatching a take-out carton from his hands and not quite meeting Derek's eyes.
Her hair's in a towel and she's wearing her dirty jeans and one of Derek's t-shirts, but he doesn't miss that she still put on eyeliner.
Derek isn't an idiot teenager--he knew she was beautiful before he gave her the bite. Boyd too, if he's honest. It makes looking at them now even harder, and Isaac's woefully transparent face across the room proving they all know how awkward this is isn't helping.
"What'd you call that trick?" Boyd asks, slicing through the silence. "The one where two wolves sound like twenty."
Derek snorts, no humor in it. "The Beau Geste effect."
"Guess you were right," Erica says, then tears through a piece of chicken. Derek's not sure how to reply to that, so he doesn't.
Boyd flops onto his back and lets his eyes fall closed, the exhaustion pooling around him like his dirt- and blood-stained shirt. They're definitely healing, slow from an Alpha but it seems like they saw the worst of it days ago. Derek doesn't really want to think about it.
"I'm guessing Scott left already," Erica says, adjusting her towel as her ravenous bites knock her hair loose.
Boyd nods at her from where he's collapsed on the ground, discarded food cartons next to his head. "Took off the first second he could."
Derek bets if he tries hard enough, he can pretend the stench seeping through the air around their words is deference, gratefulness, and not judgment. It's not like he ever figured out how to talk to them.
"Tell me what you know," he says.
It turns out not much. They'd fled the Argents' and got snatched up by the Alphas, and the Alphas hardly said a word to them, end of story. Or at least, end of what they want to talk about. Derek owns mirrors, he knows what the distant look in their eyes means.
Isaac drops down beside them, completing the half-assed circle, and peers at Derek. It's not harsh, just considering. "You should tell us what you know," he says.
Knowledge is something to be guarded, protected, not trusted lightly; that was one of the biggest lessons Derek ever learned in life. But it probably requires him actually having knowledge to protect.
"I knew they were coming before I became Alpha," he admits, and he can't meet any of their eyes. It's not happenstance that the connection, pack, with Boyd and Erica is still frayed. "I knew I couldn't stop them from coming, but with a strong pack, I'd hoped..." he trails off. It doesn't matter, he was wrong.
"Why?" Boyd doesn't sound angry so much as deadened.
"I don't know," Derek says.
"The graffiti on your door?" Isaac asks.
"A declaration." At least he knows the answer to that one. "They're here and saw something they want. We should be proactive in finding out what that is."
There's an unspoken assumption in there, and Derek stares them down, braces for them to correct him. It's quiet, the air brimming with magic like static as he waits.
Erica scratches at her scalp and takes another bite of food. "...Maybe after I've had like five more showers and found my MAC bag," she says. Across Boyd's face, something small but nice stretches as he lays there still sprawled, and he lazily reaches out, hand resting at Erica's hip.
"Hell," he says, "maybe by then Scott won't bolt out the door. Seems to me like we need him."
"Scott won't help until lives are in danger," Derek says sharply. He's made that perfectly clear, and it's not like Derek can trust him anyway.
Isaac tilts his head in thought. "I think it's more that he just won't help the pack," he says, and Derek almost misses the days when he was less confident. Derek's not a good person.
"Whatever, so Scott's off the table for now," Erica concludes. "Stiles isn't."
"Stiles is an idiot," Derek says automatically.
"He found us," she replies, and that gives Derek pause. Erica might have a weird attachment to him, but she's not wrong. Derek stares down at his phone. Stiles and Scott are best friends, and it's not like he'd have to trust him.
He sends one last text.
We all need to talk. When I get my car I'll pick you up
Stiles' Jeep is a shining, beautiful marvel of modern human engineering, the logical conclusion of the evolution of man, so technologically advanced that if Henry Ford saw the fruits of his invention, he'd shit a brick--but it's also a piece of crap.
So Stiles is used to not having a car. That doesn't mean it doesn't massively suck.
He leans on the empty Camaro just because he can--because Derek isn't here yet--and blows out a heavy breath. The sky is nice and summer blue, like two months too early but that's global warming for you, wispy cirrus clouds static in the sky.
Derek's text said he'd be here in ten minutes, but Derek's a jackass with no concept of things like other people's valuable non-school time and limited hours in a weekend, so that was twenty minutes ago.
Stiles lets his eyes fall closed and basks in the warmth of the sun beating down on his skin.
When he opens them, Derek is frowning at him.
"Holy freaking christ!" Even in his panic Stiles doesn't miss how Derek's frown upturns for half a second before Stiles' flailing clangs against the door of his car, and then the frown is back with a vengeance.
"Just get in," he says.
"You're an asshole," Stiles replies, obeys anyway, then promptly melts as the car is sweltering from sitting outside for two days.
Derek shrugs and starts the engine, peeling away from the curb with a squeal because he drives like a crazy person, which Stiles will only begrudgingly admit they have in common. At least he has the decency to blast cool AC in their faces.
"So, uh," Stiles says after a minute, not even bothering to keep the mocking out of his tone, "is this like a pack meeting or--"
"You're an asshole."
Stiles laughs a not nice laugh. But he can only sit in driving silence for a moment, because their banter is a reminder, jostling the question that's been nagging at him since Derek's last text the night of the rescue.
"You didn't ask Scott," he says.
"He wouldn't have come," Derek says with warranted surety. Stiles is doggedly ignoring the part where his own standards of acquaintanceship are apparently way lower than Scott's, throwing the rest of it out there instead:
"You know dragging me along instead isn't gonna make him show up, right?"
Derek's eyes don't leave the road. "That's not what this is about."
"Yeah, you just want my awesome detective skills," Stiles says idly, or at least plays at it--but then Derek's answer is a steadfast but revealing silence, and Stiles stops drumming his fingers over his thigh for just long enough to remember that he's not supposed to give a crap what Derek thinks.
It still feels good.
"Alright, so my inarguable awesomeness being settled," Stiles says, tearing his gaze from passing street signs to Derek's blank face, "you wanna tell me why the hell they let you all go? Scott said you just walked in, grabbed Boyd and Erica, and some chick let you walk out."
Scott also said a lot about him and Isaac breaking windows, but Stiles could only put up with about five minutes of it before throwing a controller at Scott's head and going downstairs for some jealousy food. He's not always proud of himself.
"You're both completely clueless," Derek grumps, and Stiles gapes at him.
"Yeah, dick, this whole concept of an Alpha pack thing? Kind of new to us."
Derek somehow manages to both scowl and roll his eyes at the same time. It's honestly a little impressive. "I don't know her name," he admits, "but she's... like a delegate. She's not the leader, but she's close, I guess."
Stiles' sneaking suspicion that Derek is as lost in in the same corn maze as everyone else, just with the benefit of a faded and barely-legible map, isn't being disproven right now.
"She's dangerous, though," he continues. "There are stories about her. She goes barefoot so she can fight with all her claws--"
"Like, toe claws?!" Stiles exclaims--he can't help it. "You grow claws on your feet? Gross, let me see!" If Derek wasn't driving and, less importantly, possessing a seriously high probability of ripping Stiles' hand off, he would give real consideration to taking matters into his own hands and yanking up Derek's jeans leg.
"What?" Derek says, incredulous. "No. And that's not the point, Stiles--they click, easy to detect if you're on a hard surface. It's a power show."
"Oh my god, like a raptor? She's like a Jurassic Park velociraptor."
Derek looks baffled and definitely lost in memory, but his snort of small laughter answers the question of whether born weredudes got to watch the classics.
Eventually they skid to a stop in the lot of an empty business park. "We walk the rest of the way," Derek says, gesturing to the stretch of unpaved lot and the field beyond it. "Too many cars here today, I don't want anyone getting suspicious."
Stiles pauses, hand on the door.
"Hey, I kinda meant that, back in my room," he says, scratching at his healing scalp. "The thanks. For uh, doing the bare minimum of civic duty." Derek doesn't look convinced of his sincerity, but that's his problem. "It could have been bad."
Well, the persistent throbbing of the side of Stiles' face reminds him, worse.
"Yeah, you might have had brain damage," Derek says shittily.
"Dude, I know you're an easy way out kind of guy, but that was too lazy even for you."
Derek eyebrows at him, as if eyebrows are an acceptable riposte, before climbing out.
They walk in silence for a minute, and--praise to the ADHD gods--Stiles gets to let his mind wander instead of focusing on the reason for this surreal not-bro outing and the obvious way Derek is chewing on words right now. The dude could not be more transparent.
"I thought you were done with 'werewolf stuff'," he finally says, less sneeringly than he could, hands in his jeans pockets because it's too hot for his Danny Zuko leather jackets. Gnats dance in and out of Stiles' sun-blinded vision like it's late summer, springing up where the heat has already killed the April flowers.
Stiles shrugs. It's a good question. "I'm still not, like, sleeping, if that's what you're asking." He says it flippantly, but Derek throws him a considering look.
"You don't sleep?"
Derek tightens his jaw, and they're back to silence. They're wallowing in their typical tension level, trudging through the heat, when suddenly Derek takes a swipe at the air and sputters a bit.
Stiles stares. "Dude--"
"Shut up," Derek snaps, gamely trying and failing to cover his mortification at not being the coolest cat in town. "The gnats are everywhere. You can't see them like I can."
If Stiles had any integrity at all, he would milk this until the cow that is Derek Hale's humiliation dropped dead, but there's a deeper, more pure part of himself--the part that writes essays about circumcision and cartography and chipset circuitry--that's piqued. "Does that mean your motion perception is better than a human's?" Stiles asks.
"Awesome," he says sincerely. "Is it like a neural thing or an eyeball thing? Can you, like, see contrast better? Does that mean your brain is superhuman too?" The questions just spill out of him and he thumps Derek on the shoulder in his excitement. "Do werewolf brains function at a higher level? Has anyone ever studied this?"
"Christ, Stiles--" Derek says, not looking as exasperated as he sounds. "I don't know. Why don't you bug Scott about this?"
Because Scott won't talk about it, Stiles thinks.
"Because Scott can't do a back handspring," Stiles says. "I bet that's not even a joke--I bet you can do a real back handspring."
Derek shrugs, and Stiles was right, he's definitely not exasperated. If anything, he looks a little sheepish, like he's trying to be noncommittal and loose. Stiles lights up. "Oh my god," he insists, "dude, do one right now."
"I don't do tricks on command," Derek sneers.
"Does this mean my dog jokes are catching, 'cause I gotta say, it's about time--"
Derek huffs, elbowing Stiles as he pushes past him, and Stiles is about to protest when suddenly Derek flips forward into the air, lands on his hands, then springs gracefully back onto his feet. He smirks at Stiles over his shoulder. "Are you gonna shut up now?"
One of the gnats pushing its microscopic luck is the only reason Stiles remembers to pick his jaw up off the floor.
"You just did a dead leap, and it was awesome." That sun-glinted smirk stays on Derek's face as he picks up the trail again, and Stiles scrambles to catch up. "So is there a wolfy reason you guys don't go to the Olympics and make serious bank?"
"Who says we haven't?"
Stiles' entire worldview flashes before him. Every pommelhorse, every parallel bar--shit, every home run the National League ever hit suddenly has an asterisk next to it. Not the American, though, them and their Yankees were already cheaters. "No," Stiles says desperately, "no, are you messing with me?"
Derek kicks idly at a rock as they approach the depot. "There's too many fluid tests. Someone might find something out."
"You realize you just admitted you've thought about this," Stiles says, and Derek's wordlessness as he jerks open the rusty double doors, like he's a real person who wanted to do spandexy floor routines or play pro baseball, is by far the most surreal part of his day.
And he's about to go to a werewolf meeting.
They descend past the wire floor lamps and down the stairs, past the office lounge Derek probably and creepily sleeps in and into the lobby, where dust dances in the daylight over Isaac, Erica, Boyd, and--
Just like that, the good mood he didn't even know he was in is gone.
Peter waves mildly. "Hello, Stiles," he says, his tone calm and welcoming and deliberate. Stiles rounds on Derek.
"You didn't say he'd be here."
"He's part of the pack," Derek shrugs, looking uncomfortable. Good.
"He's a zombie. A freaking psycho zombie." And if Stiles never has to be in a room with him again, it'll be like Christmas in Disneyland every day. Boyd snickers, which is almost as much of a shock as Peter's ability to not be six feet in the ground in the first place, but they can't be too thrilled with Uncle Dead hanging around either.
"That's not very nice," Peter says, and Stiles is done.
"Yeah, don't wait up. I'm calling Scott for a ride." He storms out, throwing one last glare at Derek. "You guys have fun."
At least the awkward, awful interaction with Scott will be air-conditioned.
Peter looks self-satisfied as Stiles' angry footsteps echo through the room, and Derek wants to kick him in the throat.
"I can tell this is gonna be the most productive," Erica says from where she's leaning against the train car frame, looking so much like her bratty self that at least something feels right. "It's not like the whole reason for this pow-wow just walked out or anything."
Derek stares at her until she fidgets. No one else wants to say anything, not with Derek as tense as a coil, and not with Peter standing there.
"I think I hurt your plans," Peter says, arms crossed and smartly not meeting Derek's eyes. "My apologies."
Derek's spine feels like creeping ice.
Peter smiles. "You know Stiles isn't the only card in your paltry hand, Derek." He turns to Isaac, who's sitting on a rickety chair. "I hear you've made a new friend recently."
The problem is that it's not a bad idea. Derek isn't stupid, he knows Peter is always thinking, digging his claws under Derek's skin where he can't heal, where he sometimes can't even feel it happening--but that still doesn't make it a bad idea. Derek follows Peter's gaze to Isaac, who flinches.
"Scott..." Isaac starts, picking at a fingernail and slumping in on himself. When Derek first turned him he wouldn't have hesitated, but this change in him, this new and inspired loyalty is why they need Scott in the first place. Isaac nods to himself, resolute, and Derek knows his answer already. "He's my friend," he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I don't want to use that against him, I'm sorry."
Derek hates surprising himself--not knowing your limits is dangerous for everyone--but he still drops the subject without making it an order.
If Peter is disappointed, he doesn't show it.
Without Stiles there isn't as much to talk about. The Alphas aren't just watching and waiting for something, they're actively searching, which should have been obvious before Peter had to point it out, and they're probably hiding in plain sight. Boyd has them all agree to communicate with news via text or down here, where anonymous ears can't reach. Even Peter concedes to keep a low profile.
After, when everyone's gone and Derek is left in darkening silence, he wants to go for a run to calm the buzzing in his muscles. He growls at nobody and does push-ups instead.
Then he sleeps.
Pounding on the door jolts him awake.
There's a window in the room his bed is in, and the dawn light streaming in tells him he managed to sleep through the night; it also tells him there's a sheriff's cruiser parked outside the depot.
Not until he's ten rushed feet from the depot entrance does the familiar smell hit him, and then he wrenches the door open with a sleepy growl.
"Ew," Stiles says, "you wore that shirt yesterday."
"What do you want, Stiles?" Derek grumbles. The rising pink sun behind Stiles is blinding; Derek has to squint against them.
"A PS3," he says. "I could only afford an Xbox and there's some console exclusives, you know how it is."
"What the hell was that last night?"
Derek lets himself lean against the doorframe, arms crossed and probably sleepy-eyed. There's a part of himself that taunts him, that nags him that he hasn't just slammed the door and gone right back to bed yet, that maybe there's a point here, and he's desperate enough to listen for it, dumbass. He diligently ignores it.
"Pack," he snaps instead.
The fact that Stiles doesn't roll his eyes is surprising. "Oh yeah, that's great," he says, and Derek remembers Stiles' words do the barbing for him. "Glad to see your standards are as high as ever."
"What my," he deliberately emphasizes, "pack does is none of your business."
"It is when you invite me there, holy shit!" Stiles says, just short of yelling. "I don't want to be anywhere near that psychopath!" There's a story beneath the zombie jokes, one Stiles hasn't told yet.
"You think I trust him? Really? He k--" Derek stops himself, amends: "I don't trust him."
"Oh, yeah, right, I forgot, you don't trust anyone," Stiles says shittily, complete with bad Derek impression and goddamn jazzhands.
"I'm gonna punch you in the face," is Derek's reply.
"You wanna know what I think?"
"No," Derek says so truthfully. "Not at all."
"I think," he continues, "you let me walk into the creepy uncle lion's den. I think that makes you kind of an asshole."
Derek is always an asshole. He sighs, knuckles some errant sleep out of his eyes. "Did you drive here at seven a.m. just to yell at me?"
"...Yes," Stiles says, and at least he has the decency to look a little sheepish. There's still a County squad car in his parking lot. Derek stares at it pointedly. "What? My Jeep's in the shop!" Stiles says. "You want me to just waltz around town when there's crazy Alphas lurking in the shadows?" He stops, snorts. "And also the Alpha pack."
Derek cracks his neck in a warning, but Stiles just laughs at him.
"Get that thing out of my driveway," Derek says. It would attract attention, the wrong kind. Not that any was good right now.
"Fine, whatever," Stiles waves him off. "I have school in like an hour and Scott's picking me up and then you're giving me a ride home--"
What. "No, I'm not."
"Yeah, you really are," Stiles scoffs. "Because Scott has tutoring and Dad's on second shift and your dick move means you get to join my pack of servants."
"The joke is that you're my chauffeur," Stiles says, but he isn't laughing. "The Morgan Freeman to my Miss Daisy, except without the awesome voice so don't even bother arguing, 'cause on multiple levels I don't wanna hear it."
Derek opens his mouth to do just that, but... Boyd and Erica are staying home today, still recovering. Isaac's foster family drives him to and from. Derek doesn't know or care about any of Stiles' school buddies, but Stiles is still black and blue and knows werewolves exist, knows what's out there, watching all of them, waiting.
It's not that he owes Stiles Stilinski anything, even if Peter is an undead, ominous question mark.
"Be outside at three sharp," he says. "I'm not waiting around." This time Stiles does roll his eyes.
Derek's blearily watching the car pull away when he realizes You can trust that I'm gonna punch you in the face would have been cleverer. Shit.
Stiles is an extrovert.
It's not that Scott isn't, but he doesn't crave people the way Stiles does. He's cool to go a few days with only school and texting and thoughtful Scotty thoughts for company, meanwhile Stiles goes slowly insane.
Stiles is also the car friend, so no car means way less friend.
Thirdly, there's the certain instantaneous feeling of stability and comfort that comes from knowing your ass isn't stranded on the side of the road--or home, or school or whatever.
Stiles reminds himself of all this when he quietly returns the cruiser to his driveway, takes a steadying breath, and waits in the chilly morning air for Scott to pick him up for school. Let it never be said Stiles doesn't have balls. Stiles is the ball king.
Even if he has no idea where his head's at right now, or why, as afternoon slowly approaches and Chem class winds to a close, he's not scared.
Derek is grumpy and definitely trying to be scary. But there are way worse things in the world than climbing in his awkward car for a few days, even if he has to be coaxed into bickering over directions to his house--("Make a left up here," "No. It's easier to just take the main drag," "Do you hear yourself? It's a main drag, make a left!")--to show any signs of life.
Derek kind of sucks, and Stiles tells him as much when he throws the car into third and doesn't freaking make a left, but it's better than walking. Safer, he thinks begrudgingly, even though there's been no sign of the Alphas since the other night.
Speaking of which...
"Have you guys made any progress at all," Stiles asks the second day Derek picks him up from school, "or are you just waiting for the right moment to surprise them with competence?"
"I know a lot of good places to hide your body," Derek replies.
Stiles takes only half a second to be intimidated before he laughs in his face. Progress.
Derek is casual when he drives, looking more at home in leather upholstery, blue LED and ergonomic gear shifts than he ever does in that shithole he actually calls home. If he calls it home. Does he? And suddenly the realization hits Stiles as they pull out of the school parking lot that he has no idea what the hell Derek Hale does for sleeping, or showers, or even food.
Well, not quite. He sleeps in day-old shirts and flannel pants. He also slouches in the driver's seat, and he knows about, like, movies.
"So you're basically clueless about this Alpha thing," Stiles says after minutes of not uncomfortable silence. Derek glowers at him sidelong, and Stiles amends, "Not your thing--though dear god, it's applicable there too." The glower turns into a full-on huff so Stiles soldiers through: "Look, I have a vested interest in not being horribly maimed, but I am also one hundred percent committed to never being near Peter pretty much ever."
Derek heaves a dramatic sigh. "What is it you want, Stiles?"
Now they're cooking with gas. Stiles stares him down, or would if Derek wasn't resolutely watching the road. "Since you're my afternoon buddy--"
"I'm not your buddy."
"Fine, since you're my afternoon weird neighbor kid who only eats saltines with mayonnaise, whatever," Stiles corrects, "you get to fill me in on stuff so I can be a mystery-solving badass, like you were totally gonna do before, don't lie, and Peter keeps a fifty mile distance from me at all times."
Derek gratifyingly does not object.
The rides get less awkward, and Stiles learns a whole fat lot of nothing about the Alpha pack because that's about as much as Derek knows on a given day, but he does learn that Derek owns both a sky blue and a pastel green t-shirt. Derek learns that Stiles will absolutely mock him for matching clothes to his eyes.
It's not supposed to be an everyday thing--there's some issues with insurance, and Dad's handling it but it'll be a couple of weeks at least before he has his baby back--Scott's supposed to share the burden, but he drives his mom's car and he's staying after school most days anyway, serious about getting his grades back up, so Stiles can't be too pissed about that.
Except for that one day when Scott waved and smiled then drove off with Isaac. Stiles is plenty pissed about that.
Scott doesn't know who he's getting rides from after school, but when Stiles swans into Derek's car Friday afternoon and mashes the preset to the only radio station they agree on, and Derek's dark glasses glint in the sun before they peel away, he figures this is its own almost fun revenge.
Derek is not an extrovert.
Maybe in a past life, where he had friends and sports championships and not-dead parents, he might have been one, but things change. People change.
He's not meeting with his Betas today because there's nothing to report and nothing to hear, just like every other day. It should be eerie or maybe foreboding, but it's the second week of Stiles duty and with nowhere to be until then, Derek just spends the whole day in bed reading. It's not even a good book. Weak ending.
The alarm on his watch beeps 2:45 and Derek lumbers to his feet, stretching liberally before pulling on his pants and buckling his belt--last hole, he's not eating enough lately.
Stiles doesn't argue when he pulls into the In'n'Out drive thru, just orders fries and makes Derek pay for it, and while they eat Derek lets himself get drawn into an argument about GMOs in fast food. He's a werewolf, what the hell does it matter?
"Because it fucks everything else up, and all living creatures are precious gifts, Derek, especially me," Stiles replies, and Derek snorts.
They lapse into quiet and Stiles looks apprehensive. It's the first time he's looked like that since these drives started, Derek realizes dully.
"Spit it out," he says, and for a moment the unrest on Stiles' face yields to bemusement.
Stiles drums his fingers over his thigh, then catches Derek's eyes. "I was thinking, the full moon's coming, right?"
"Yep." He can feel it, still pleasant, gibbous and waxing.
Stiles stares at him. "The full moon's coming," he repeats, "and there's an Alpha pack in town, and you have four brand new betas who can't control themselves."
Three he thinks automatically, then lets the reality of how stupid he is, how new Jackson is, and how right Stiles is drown him. He draws a breath and tries not to leave claw marks in the gear shift as he quashes instinctive panic. "Yep," he answers.
"So you're just gonna ignore this. That's good, great plan."
Derek swerves onto the shoulder and slams on the brakes. "You have all the answers?" he snaps, turning in his seat. "Enlighten me, Stiles. What did Google tell you about Alpha packs?"
Stiles falters, and for a half second Derek thinks he's remembered that Derek is a bad person and a werewolf who can rip him to shreds, but then he shrugs, pushes his seat back, and props his feet on the dashboard.
"Smart people don't need Google to tell them that communication is the key to success," he says. "Also: still shocked you even know what Google is."
Derek just stares at Stiles' dirty shoes. He can feel the tips of his ears going red with irritation.
Stiles does not seem to give a shit, rolling his eyes as he pulls out his phone. "Look, dude, Jackson's newest, right? We should probably just call them. Like, set up a time and work out how this is gonna go down." He fires off a text before Derek can reply, but it's a good idea and Derek hasn't had many of those lately, so pulls back onto the main road and lets it slide.
He also lets the 'we' slide.
(The shoes, however, get forcibly yanked off his dash.)
They're pulling up to the Stilinski house, arguing over whether or not Derek knows how to use the internet--he does, he has an iPod--when Stiles' phone buzzes in reply. "Lydia says tomorrow afternoon," Stiles reads, then laughs a little wistfully. "Actually, her exact words are, 'We can have your little werewolf conference after school, over the phone, very far away'." Derek's not sure what's funny about that.
Stiles' normally vibrating movements are subdued as he climbs out of Derek's car. "See ya tomorrow," he says, absently and for the first time.
Derek drives home in silence.
The depot is empty, but he can smell Peter's recent presence in the air, uniquely dead. That's probably why he doesn't call him, just stares at his phone for a while before starting another book and going back to bed. He'll do five sets of pull-ups later. Maybe.
He ends up trying to sleep away from the fear. He fails.
Tomorrow afternoon comes quickly enough on the heels of staggered cardio and strength conditioning. He doesn't bother with a shower, either, smirking when Stiles fixes him with an open-mouthed grimace and says, "Dude, seriously?"
The call comes in before he can really revel in it.
"Let's make this short," Lydia says, tinny on speakerphone where Stiles has set it on the dash.
"Yeah, I'm sure Stilinski has so many places to be."
"Shut up, Jackson," Stiles and Lydia say in time, and despite himself Derek snickers. Jackson is still a shithead, but the heat is gone from his words, like being a dick to Stiles is more muscle memory than intent.
"Can we please get this over with?" Lydia snots. "Thank you.."
Derek shifts in his seat, hooking an ankle over his knee, and grounds himself. "What we are is different from the kanima," he says. He hates talking about this. The words aren't there, not in English, maybe not in any strictly human language. "It's not as... defined. You have to find an anchor, learn control. Jackson is new at this--"
This time it's Derek's turn to tell him to shut up. "It'll take him years to master that control," he continues, "I can help with that, but for now the full moon is his biggest threat. Not just him, either--everyone but me, Peter, maybe Isaac."
Stiles suddenly punches him in the shoulder, hard, and Derek is halfway into a snarl when Stiles clamps an angry hand over his mouth and words a voiceless, Peter!
Derek's claws are out as he moves to peel Stiles' hand off his face, but Stiles is shaking his head vigorously and gesturing with his whole body to where the phone, and Lydia, are silent.
Derek doesn't remember much of that part of the night, but it's hard to forget the inhuman determination in her eyes, and then the terror.
"Okay," Stiles says, a little breathless, "so that incredibly awkward moment aside, the Alphas would have to be total idiots to not take advantage of this."
"They're a clusterfuck of power in an innately hierarchal species structure," Lydia says, though Derek can hear the bravado behind it, "of course they're idiots."
"Yeah, well, doesn’t mean we shouldn't do something." Stiles still hasn't moved, hand warm on Derek's face. Derek should crush it and make furious eyes at him, and he does do the second part, but he's been trying to prioritize strategy lately.
Stiles' flailing when Derek slurps his palm, wiping spit on on his jeans and looking both incredulous and disgusted, is much more satisfying.
"We should split up, hide the Betas while the experienced wolves deal with them," Derek says calmly. "We don't know they'll be violent, but they'll definitely take advantage." Stiles throws one last grossed-out glare at him then fiddles with Derek's iPod as they cement specifics. Derek and Peter will vigil the old house, Scott and Isaac will stay with the other Betas at the depot, and Stiles and Lydia will stay far away. Jackson is the biggest liability, so Stiles will try to extort rowan ash out of the vet.
After that bastard's song and dance to Derek about trust when he knew what Scott was planning, he had better pay up.
"Well," Lydia concludes, "this has been fun, but I have paint to watch dry. Stiles, text me when it's time. Derek, don't text me at all." The call ends abruptly, and he and Stiles exchange glances.
Stiles shrugs. "You did try to kill her once."
"Shut up. And don't touch my face," Derek says sternly, waving a finger in Stiles'.
He bats it away and says with a toothy grin, "But it's just so pretty," then grabs his stuff and climbs out and onto the sidewalk before Derek can ruin his day. Derek seethes in agitation but still watches him make it down the street and safely through his front door like he's done every day, just to be safe, then starts the car. The stereo is oddly silent.
Habit has him reaching for the familiar cubby in the dashboard--except it's unfamiliarly empty, nothing but a loose cord. Derek frowns and fumbles through the console, seats, glove compartment, but the iPod is gone.
He practically rips the key out of the ignition and storms down the street. The Sheriff won't be home for a couple of hours, so Derek's well within his rights to slam open the Stilinskis' door and stomp up the stairs.
Stiles is standing bent over his laptop, but Derek barely makes it a step through the bedroom door before Stiles tosses him the player.
Derek growls, but he still catches it.
"Dude, chill," Stiles says. "I just stole some music from you, not a big deal. You had good stuff on there and I don't wanna pay for all of it."
Derek shoves it in his pocket like it's contaminated. "Don't touch my things."
"Yeah, all two of 'em, sure." Stiles smirks shittily and taps at his laptop. "I put some of my own stuff on there, too--you're welcome, because it's awesome."
That's enough. Derek turns on his heel, jaw set and pissed off and feeling about ten years old, and leaves without another stupid word to stupid kids. It takes about three days of silence just to spite Stiles during the afternoon rides before Derek rolls his eyes at the world and thumbs to the unfamiliar names on the artist list.
He's got almost decent taste.
Stiles gets his jeep back tomorrow morning, when Dad gets off night shift and can take him to the mechanic's. It's all paid for already, but after last time, he doesn't like Stiles to go alone anymore.
That makes today, a hot mid-May Friday, the last day of Derek's indentured servitude. It's not that he doesn't miss the freedom that came with personal transportation, because feeling like he's fifteen again sucks, but it's not been the worst to be lazy and bitchy--his natural habitat--every warm afternoon for a few weeks.
It's been more than tolerable, if he's honest with himself. Which he hates to be.
But Stiles can postpone personal responsibility for a while, because today's going longer than normal, since Derek took a detour to the depot to pick something up and now they have to take the long way to Stiles' home. The song on the stereo as trees whizz past, finally in full bloom, is one of the tracks Stiles jacked from Derek's iPod--worth it.
"Oh my god, come on," Stiles pleads, "just the last one you saw? It's not a hard question."
"I don't watch movies," Derek replies. "I just lie in my coffin all day."
Stiles doesn't have time to be in shock--that was self-awareness--before his mouth ruins it. "Yeaaah, you're funnier when you're being an overt dick instead of trying to make jokes."
"That's good, thank you," Derek deadpans. "My self-esteem hinges on a teenager's approval."
He can't help it, he's weak; he laughs. "Shyeah, pretty sure all of Beacon Hills' werewolf population is aware of that. Plus you drive a muscle car and you won't tell me the last movie you saw--" Stiles suddenly jerks forward, bouncing off his seatbelt as Derek taps the brakes. Someone honks at them.
"You're such an asshole," Stiles says.
It's not like he hasn't seen Derek smile before. Derek has plenty of shitty smiles for shitty situations, it's just that this time the deep afternoon light hits the upturned corners of his mouth, and the crinkle of his eyes, and it makes his hard profile go soft.
Stiles changes the track on the stereo. Derek doesn't protest.
He should feel worse than he does. Not physically--the bruising's almost gone and the stitches are out, though the spot they shaved is still gross, especially against the rest of his hair getting long. He should really buzz it soon.
Nope, the physical is minimal, just distraction from the fact that there are deadly Alphas in town who possibly want to kill them dead, Derek's spending the next full moon on what Stiles is coming to realize might be a martyr mission, and his best friend isn't gonna be much better off.
It's just that right now he isn't thinking about it.
He's thinking about how lame it is that Derek doesn't have car insurance and his registration is out of date and he has a fake ID, and yet he steadfastly refuses to drive without his wallet.
"I might need it," he defends, going with the meandering flow of their bickering. "It's where I keep my money. And the police get annoying if you don't have it on you."
Stiles laughs. "Are you serious? Forget the werewolf shit, this is why you're a public menace."
Derek stares him down. "You drive without your wallet?"
"No, but I've never been a wanted fugitive either."
"Exonerated," Derek insists as they pull into a gas station. "And shut up. I could sue your father for defamation of character."
This time Stiles barks with laughter, because, "Oh my god, that requires actual character to defame!"
"Your fault," Derek says, wild eyed, reaching across the seat to flick him in the scabby head wound. It stings like a motherfucker, and Stiles is smacking him away and still laughing when someone taps on the window.
Stiles stops laughing at once, and he's left with just the sting.
Peter's waving, pleasantly, fingers waggling, gaze boring into Stiles who is valiantly fighting the urge to shrink back in his seat. Derek has gone still beside him, taking a long moment to comply when Peter motions for him to roll down the window.
And even then he only cracks it. Good dude.
Peter leans down anyway. "Don't you think you're being a little paranoid, Derek?" he asks, a chuckle tinging his voice. "I'm just filling up. What did you people do with oil while I was in a coma? These prices are ridiculous." He pauses. "Though I have to praise the auto manufacturers--these cars are much more energy efficient.." He taps his fingers over the black finish of the Camaro. "Not that either of you would know. You should really be more environmentally conscious."
"Do you need something?" Derek asks. Stiles can't see his face, too busy not taking his eyes off Peter for even a second, but he hopes it's mean and unintimidated. Derek is historically pretty good at that one.
"Just thought I'd say hello," Peter replies, so full of bullshit that it's coming out his ears. "I also wanted to thank Stiles for his part in our..." he hesitates, choosing his words carefully with a glance around the public, "upcoming activities."
Stiles exhales and tries to keep himself from shaking on it. "You're the most welcome," he seethes. "Good chat. Bye now." Derek punctuates Stiles' snipes by rolling up the window.
Peter doesn't look offended, just amused, striding back to the Maxima at the adjacent pump. Stiles makes a mental note to ask his dad about recent auto theft as Peter gives them one last jovial, comically slimy wave and drives away.
Then he rounds on Derek.
"Did he follow us?"
"No," Derek replies quickly. "No, he doesn't care that much." And Derek doesn't sound as sure as he should. "You shouldn't worry about him," he adds. "He's physically weak, and there are worse things out there right now."
It's like a bubble, light and floating and distorted, and now suddenly bursting, sending Stiles hurtling back to the ground. Derek hasn't followed.
"Dude, just take me home," Stiles says, sudden and familiar weariness edging over the anger. "I'm getting my car back, and you're gonna Peter-proof your place and we're gonna talk or something because this is..."
That's it, he's out of words, left only with aborted frustrated gestures. Derek fills up the car and no one teases anyone about freaking wallets, and they don't speak another word until Stiles is gathering his backpack and climbing back into the sun.
"See you," he says, and Derek nods. He feels his eyes on him all the way down the street.
When Stiles practically falls through the front door, Dad's at the dining room table nursing an afternoon pre-shift coffee (gross) and looking over some files. Stiles is late on his afternoon Adderall, thanks, Derek, but the thought of fleeing straight upstairs without a word makes something turn over in his gut.
Instead, he grabs a jug of milk, collapses into a chair, and pulls out his math homework. He's being dumb and inviting scrutiny, but right now he could not give less of a crap.
"You alright?" Dad asks, looking up from his reports. It's just department budget stuff, nothing worth snooping.
"Yeah," Stiles answers on a sigh, "just, long day."
Dad nods, awkwardly but in understanding, and they work in quiet.
Derek's shower whistles.
Something in the rusty pipes is messed up, so the pressure vacillates between a power hose and a piddling trickle, and it emits this earsplitting, constant ho-eeeeeeeee. Derek likes to think he hates it because it deafens him to predators and the shower is vulnerable, but mostly it's just really, really annoying.
That's why he doesn't hear the depot door creak open.
His bare foot scrapes over the grime spot he's usually careful to avoid and he swears, angrily lathering his hair with shampoo. He should clean it, but it's gross. He closes his eyes and lets the hot water--in full hose mode at the moment--wash over him.
Then he hears the footsteps.
Derek freezes, weighing his options.
He's the only one here, or was, no one's called and the pack isn't due until this afternoon. The footsteps are too muffled past the screaming of the faucet to make them out. If he shuts off the shower they'll know he's heard them, and he'll have to prepare for something other than a stealth attack.
On the other hand, he can't hear a goddamned thing.
Derek mans up and shuts the shower off, ears peeled, breath low and even. He slithers around the shower curtain noiselessly, but the leftover trickles of water from the shower and his own body are still drowning out deeper sound. The steam is intensifying every smell in the air, and right now that means the overpowering stench of soap. He's blind.
Derek cracks his knuckles and sets his shoulders. He wraps a towel around his waist, more for protection than modesty, readies his claws, and wrenches open the door.
The steam floods out and dissipates, the smell and sound becoming clear just as he registers who is pacing around the platform lobby.
"Stiles," he growls, relaxing.
Stiles looks up and jerks back, almost falling on his ass before he catches himself on a support beam and knocks clattering debris around. "Whoa, alright, Derek, so you're naked," he babbles. Derek doesn't miss the way Stiles' eyes move over him before settling, and widening, on the claws. "And you think I'm here to kill you. Sweet."
Derek doesn't retract them. A healthy dose of get the fuck out never hurt a human, and it's cold out here. "What do you want, Stiles?"
Stiles opens his mouth and shuts it, a first in the universe and of course the worst timing for it, so Derek growls again. "I got the car back, I figured we'd get this out of the way, but, uh, it can wait." Stiles swallows. Derek goes from cold to freezing. "You've got, uh..." he gestures vaguely at Derek's hair, where a sud of shampoo is slowly making its way down his temple.
It takes all his years of carefully-honed restraint to not swipe it away where Stiles can see.
"Just stay here," Derek orders instead, turning on his bare heel and waiting until he's locked the bathroom door behind him to blink awkwardly at the soap in his face.
Stiles is in the old employee lounge on the couch when Derek gets out again, freshly shaved and wearing actual clothes.
He stomps over to the counter where Stiles has set his things, picks up his phone, and flings it at him. "That's what this is for," he snaps.
Stiles dumbly looks down at the phone in his lap, then back up at Derek. "Kinda hard to take you seriously when I've seen you naked."
"I wasn't naked," Derek replies. It's technically not a lie.
"You were so naked."
"I wasn't naked."
Stiles snorts, lounging back on the dusty sofa in a long-limbed sprawl. "Uh, did you see that towel? You might as well have been." There's a splash of red on his face, under high cheekbones, that Derek is doing his gallant best to pretend doesn't exist. At least he isn't annoyingly fuming anymore.
Derek wonders if avoiding an hour of uncomfortable buildup in addition to the inevitable hour of uncomfortable discussion is worth the sacrifice of dignity.
"I'm gonna put your face through that table," Derek replies, and Stiles just laughs and says, "Aw, you know how to show a girl a good time."
Yeah, it might be worth it.
Derek rolls his eyes in exasperation and lets himself flop onto the other end of the couch, staring at the grimy wall. Stiles is right, Derek grudgingly admits, they do need to get this over with. It's cut wire in Derek's chest, barbing whenever he's jostled.
"Peter's not here," he says. "He's usually not. I don't like him being here."
"So what does he do all day? Besides watch, like, youth soccer games." There's a beat. "Get it, because he's creepy--"
"A-hah," Derek sneers. "That's funny."
"Yeah, I'm hilarious," Stiles agrees, but his face has turned serious. "Derek," he says, "he's your dead uncle."
"Oh, wow, really? I wasn't aware." Derek doesn't have the energy for this. He wants to eat lunch, work out, text his Betas to find something else to do tonight, and go for a really fast drive for a really long time.
Stiles narrows his eyes at him. "Dude, it's good to know you appreciate the benefits of sarcasm as much as I do, but right now I hate Peter a lot more than I like you."
"You think I don't?"
"I think you don't want to."
"You don't know anything," Derek says sharply.
"No," Stiles argues, "what I don't know is why you can't just put him the ground. You did it before, we all did, just do it again--"
If they were in a larger room, it might have echoed between them. Instead, the silence just sits there, dead in the air as both of them fail to fill it.
Derek breaks down first. "It's more complicated than that," he says, softer now. He shouldn't have to explain himself, not to Stiles, not to anyone, and yet here he is, forcing out words like cement. "Peter knows things. That I don't. That I should."
He doesn't need Stiles' judgmental teenager stare right now, or ever, but Derek rarely gets what he wants.
"...So you're trusting him with that?"
"I don't trust anyone," Derek replies automatically, and Stiles, the shit, rolls his eyes. "Stiles," he says seriously, "he killed my sister for her power." And Derek killed Peter for his, a nasty voice reminds him. "We weren't really close, but she was..."
He's not going to finish that sentence. Stiles nods in what Derek is terrified might be understanding, because there's something in his eyes he recognizes.
The hem of his shirt is starting to come loose. He picks at it, using a claw to sever the thread.
"I don't think I ever trusted him. Even before," he mumbles. This has been simmering in his soul for as long as he can remember, buried beneath the grief of his uncle prone in a hospital bed. "Peter..." he hesitates, "dabbled in things." He looks at Stiles, who is looking at the floor. "How do you think he knew how to resurrect himself?"
Stiles' eyes, when he meets Derek's, are like gold in the light.
"So he's your werewolf Wikipedia," Stiles says, and Derek hates that he snorts, a pathetic excuse for an inappropriate laugh. "God, that's so dumb."
Stiles can think whatever the hell he wants; he's not the one who has to deal with the Alphas, or Peter, or any part of Derek's life beyond his stupidly given free car rides. Stiles doesn't know anything.
The conversation is over.
Stiles knows it, too. "So I should probably go before this gets, like, awkward," he says. Derek nods in agreement.
Stiles gathers his keys and phone, and adds, "I mean, at least I didn't see you naked or anything."
When the door closes behind him, Derek realizes what he saw: loss, and guilt.
So it turns out Scott hates the plan.
"Why do I have to stay behind?" he demands of Stiles in the cafeteria a few days before the moon. Isaac gnaws on a chicken strip, smartly staying out of it.
Stiles destroys a chunk of his apple and answers with his mouth full. "Maybe because it's mostly Lydia's plan and she doesn't want Peter anywhere near her or Jackson?"
"I should be there," Scott replies. "You didn't see them, she was... really scary." He has his serious face on, hesitating as he chooses his words. "Derek was scared."
"Hate to break it to you, dude," Stiles says before he even processes that he's saying it, "but I'm pretty sure Derek is always scared."
Scott looks at him strangely, but Isaac sets his food down and meets Stiles' gaze with his big obnoxious somber eyes. "Yeah," he agrees. "But he doesn't show it." Now Scott's glancing between them both, then at his bottle of water like there's something in it. Stiles snorts; even Scott's subconscious is funny.
"The no shoes thing was really freaky, too," Isaac adds.
"Yeah, Scott, why didn't you tell me you had feet claws?"
"'Cause they're gross and that's not important right now! Can we focus, please?" Scott pleads.
Stiles slouches as much as one can slouch in a hard cafeteria chair, playing with the drawstrings of his hoodie. "Okay. You're there because Derek bit a bunch of dudes and we really can't have them running around eating people."
"But Dr. Deaton will give us the mountain ash," Scott says confidently.
Isaac looks torn. "Last full moon, it took both me and Derek to keep Erica and Boyd under control. Even with that stuff, I don't know if I'm strong enough to hold off them and the moon by myself."
"You are," Scott says without hesitation, and Stiles only barely resists the urge to cover the table in barf. "I'll stay if I have to, but they're gonna need help with the Alphas." Isaac nods in assent, a freaking blush rising on his cheeks, and Scott turns his focus back on Stiles and says, "I don't think I like you and Lydia being unprotected either." He groans. "This is such a bad plan."
Stiles just rolls his eyes.
"While I appreciate your concern if not your complete lack of confidence in my plan-making ability, how is this your objection? Five seconds ago you were cool with leaving Isaac to the other betas."
Scott looks at him not with pity, but something in the neighborhood, like he can't understand where the confusion comes from. "You're not a werewolf," he says slowly. "This is really serious, dude. They're way more powerful than all of us and we have no idea what they want and you could get really hurt." He clenches his uneven jaw and looks more heroic than anyone Stiles has ever known. "I can't let that happen again."
Also more infuriating.
Stiles has no love for anyone with the last name Argent right now, but if this was what it was like to have the full attention of Scott's protectiveness, his fierce and unadulterated love, then he can maybe see why Allison--
"I got hit by a car," he says quietly, running that nasty train of thought right off its tracks. "I nearly died, dude. From crap normal people deal with every day. I had to pep talk myself to drive to school today." He clamps down, sharing quota filled for the next couple of years. "Pretty sure my puny human body can handle sitting in Lydia's living room watching crappy movies for a few hours."
Scott's mouth twists and turns, like he can't decide what to say--which is fine. Stiles never thought he'd miss being second buddy fiddle.
As much as the moon feels like a looming death clock, the rest of the day and the day after fly by. Stiles gets the ash, along with some judgey silence from Scott's boss. He tries to distract himself by keeping his dad company for the evening shifts, but everyone's somber tones on police radio, still reeling from where four good people got kanima'd to death, kind of puts the kibosh on that.
Stiles grew up with a couple of them.
One of these days he's going to finally stop for a breath, and the weight of everything is going to ruin him, but that day is not today.
He guesses it makes cliche sense that the day of the moon is rainy and dark, but really it just means the fighting (if there is any, he optimistically reminds himself) will be that much harder. He's jittery through all his morning classes, drawing diagrams of potential mountain ash placement for the Betas instead of taking notes.
None of the them except Scott shows up for school, and Stiles has been through four moons now, which is four enough that he knows to avoid the hell out of him if he wants to avoid the douchebag parade. He's getting better, but Stiles is in enough of a shit mood himself that it would probably cause a feedback loop of progressively hurt feelings.
There are other people he could talk to, especially now that the lacrosse team doesn't have him on burn notice anymore, but the apprehension about tonight is weighing him down like sludge.
He's skipping lunch in the locker hallway, browsing forums on his phone, when the social isolation becomes unbearable.
No hard feelings broseph, he sends.
Scott doesn't reply. Stiles clangs his head back against a locker, knee bouncing, and finally he huffs at himself and sends another text, not to Scott.
How's your little monthly problem?
The reply takes half a minute. Derek's getting faster. Funny very original. Did you get the ash
Stiles exhales a laugh then looks around the empty hall, feeling guilty, caught. He wishes he could say it's nerves about tonight. What did we say about punctuation? It's like you were raised by wolves.
I am going to drive there and choke you
You deeply frighten me, Stiles lies. But yeah I got it. Bringing it by after school, dw. He pauses, then follows it with, That means don't worry you technology cro magnon.
Stiles' eyes fall shut, tuning out the rest of the world for that brief minute that he waits for the answering vibration. When it comes, he can't catch himself before he smiles.
For your sake better hope they kill me tonight
But it's also sobering, and Stiles mentally practices his ash lines for the ten billionth time today. He has no freaking clue how many Alphas there are, what they want, who they want, and that's all par for the puny human course, but this new perspective from Derek's side of the fence that's just as in the dark as the other... well, that scares the shit out of him.
Stiles' yet-unsent reply is automatic. That's probably not a good thing--he hasn't seen Derek since the shower thing, won't really see him tonight, has no real reason to see him after that. He stares at the message, takes a breath, stares some more--
I'm not gonna tell you to be careful because it's you but it would be cool if you didn't die.
The bell is about to ring anyway.
Derek has his leather jacket on tonight. It's too warm and muggy where the rain kept up until late afternoon, but it feels like self-made armor and he'll take all he can get.
Peter isn't wearing a jacket.
Back in the train car are Erica and Boyd, this time with Jackson who's been fucking insufferable all day, only calming down when Scott and Stiles showed up and brought grim determination and a rain-wet garbage bag of rowan with them.
The deep black lines along the floor should be reassuring, but they feel wrong; the depot isn't a 'home', Derek doesn't have a home, but it's still not right.
Stiles is long gone with an indecipherable nod to Derek and an obnoxious salute to everyone else, and Scott and Isaac pace the floor while Boyd watches Derek from the door. He's shifted, but still clear-eyed.
"Hey," he says through his fangs. "You know you don't have to go out there by yourself."
Peter pauses from where he was headed out to the Camaro, listening. Even Scott has his ears tuned in.
Derek chews on his cheek, clenches his fists. "You're weak. They'll kill you all without hesitating," he says. "I'll be fine."
"You're lying," Boyd replies. Derek hadn't thought they were standing close enough for him to hear his heartbeat. Boyd just shakes his head and retreats into the car.
Half an hour later they're pulling up to the house, parking down the drive in a probably futile attempt to be quiet, and Derek is feeling the tug of the moon.
Peter's eyes linger on the house as they approach. He died here, twice, Derek thinks, and he was born here twice. Balance.
"Do you know what they want?" Derek asks, not for the first time.
"If I did, we wouldn't be here," he replies, which is just condescending enough to make Derek grind his teeth.
"Well, what else are we supposed to do? I didn't see you volunteer something better."
Peter rolls his eyes, and Derek really hopes that's not what he looks like. "Just because this is the only viable option doesn't negate that it's a poor plan," he says.
"If you’re not gonna help, then shut up," Derek orders. "You're here because you have claws and you're not a teenager. No other reason." That's a lie, and neither of them needs to listen for it.
"I know you don't believe it, Derek," he says quietly, "but I'm not here to undermine you. I am here to help." He stoops down, running a hand over the grass, grown on scorched ground. His eyes look sad, for a moment, until they don't. "Or perhaps that's why you don't trust me."
Derek focuses, concentrates on the thrum of power vibrating in his bones, blood, and being, just waiting to be accessed. He's still the Alpha. He's not in the high school locker room, or in the hospital exam room, or in chains in his own family's basement, being led by the collar. He's the Alpha.
Maybe Stiles' dog jokes are catching.
He hadn't lied to him; Peter was always a little beyond everyone's reach. His mom--Peter was her brother, Dad took her name--used to say he was a good person, but that goodness was finite. It had limits.
Would she be surprised now, he wonders? Could she comprehend it, and would she trust him? Would she have any damn clue what to do at all, or are his memories just rosy with grief and anger and being sixteen years old.
Warm, wet wind rustles the treetops around them. Derek has more important things to think about.
Peter considers him, silent and gears obviously turning. "You are going to need help, Derek," he says after a minute, but there's something in his tone that sets Derek even more on edge. "I'll make sure you get it."
He opens his mouth to reply, but Peter's already closed off, gazing out and on guard. Stiles wasn't right about Peter, but he wasn't wrong, either. It's a good night to have anger as an anchor.
Derek swallows hard, squares his shoulders, and waits.
Lydia actually likes The Notebook.
Stiles always figured that was part of the persona, and maybe it's part and parcel, or like, a self-perpetuating cycle or something that would peel away as her fake ignorance did. But nope, here they are on Lydia's upscale couch, watching Nicholas Sparks like comfort food as they try not to think about the moon outside.
"I can't do this," she says, snapping them both out of a Gosling haze.
"I dunno, I can kinda see why it won a Best Kiss award," Stiles tries, and Lydia fixes one of her more petrifying stares on him.
"Shut up," she replies. "We're going to find Jackson; we'll finish this later."
Up to now it'd been a choice between frying pan and fire: stay here and bathe in estrogen and anxiety, or incur not only Derek's but also Scott's and Jackson's growly wrath. But if he's gonna be trapped in this cheesy rainy kissing hell no matter what, he might as well not piss off the dudes with the actual claws.
Stiles tells her as much. She just peers at him then subjects him to another five minutes of sad elderly dementia cinema.
Lydia Martin is curled up on the arm of her sofa two feet away. They're almost on the same couch cushion. Stiles should be happier about this.
"We can't," he says eventually, sinking lower into the squeaky leather. She's not the only one with people she cares about doing the deadly werewolf thing right now.
"Yes, we can," she replies. "Jackson is out there with an unknown variable." She bites down on her unglossed lip, hiding a small laugh. "And also the Alpha pack."
Stiles' answering cackle is one of those desperation ones, because while it's nice to for once not be the Cassandra in the Greek tragedy that is his life, the only person who believes him is still technically the town whackjob.
"Don't worry," Stiles says, not taking his own advice, "Peter's with Derek. All Jackson has to deal with is a bunch of bloodthirsty, out-of-control teenagers."
"That's not funny," Lydia snaps.
"Yeah, I know. Scott's with him, though, he'll be fine."
"You'll forgive me if I don't have the same faith in your boyfriend that you do."
"Sorry," she says, sounding not. He kinda gets it. She's been on the sidelines and out of control for as long as he has, except she didn't even get the benefit of knowing her boyfriend was a scaly murder monster until she was staring him in the creepy slitted eyes.
"Come on, Stiles," she pleads, uncurling, eyes bright, and his heart clenches when she covers his hand with hers. "We make a good team."
Lydia is beautiful. Lydia is a strawberry-haired, emerald-eyed, certified genius goddess come to Earth, and probably smarter than Stiles by a long shot, but Stiles isn't stupid. He knows exactly what she's doing, and more importantly she knows exactly what she's doing, with her sweet smile and soft voice zeroed in on the guy who bought her three hundred dollars in ungiven jewelry.
It's manipulative, a lot mean, and completely Lydia.
Amazing, and awful.
They gaze at each other for what feels like all of Stiles' life, every moment since recess on the first day of third grade. It's hard to fold away from her blinding light, but turning back to meet her only-mostly-sincere hopeful look with a grin is a little easier.
"Yeah, I guess," he says. "We took down a kanima, right? Let's go."
They do make a good team.
Derek doesn't have to wait long.
The moon is forcing more and more of their attention away from the dark line of the forest, so it takes longer than Derek wants to admit to hear the crunch of feet over ground. Feet, because it's her. Her eyes are shifted, red flashes in the distance but getting closer, and somehow Derek doesn't think it's involuntary.
Whatever. He can do that, too.
"You appear shorthanded tonight," she says, letting her claws drag across the bark of a tree as she passes. "The bond of pack is weak for you."
Derek lets himself slip into wolf with a satisfying crack and hears Peter do the same. She's obviously here not just here to talk. "What would you know about it?"
"More than you," she retorts, "and about more than pack."
Derek breathes long and low. Anger is an anchor, not a crutch, and definitely not reigns for her to latch onto and use against him. Peter wisely keeps silent. Finally, Derek asks, "Why did you take them?"
Her slow pace toward them doesn't stop. "You ask useless questions. We'd thought to make a trade, body for body."
"Are you gonna tell me whose, or are we gonna keep talking in circles?"
"The kanima," she says after considering him for a moment.
"There is no kanima." That's not a lie, and her eyes narrow as she realizes it. There was something she didn't know.
"There was. I can smell it on you like rot."
She's ten feet from them now, and every instinct Derek has wants to widen that gap. Instead he stays very still, smirks, and replies, "Not anymore."
"Interesting," she admits, then tosses a bit of hair over her shoulder. It's the first sign of humanity Derek's seen under the Alpha supervillain. "Where, then, does that leave us?"
"You could get out of my territory," he suggests, gesturing back into the woods, "since what you're looking for doesn't exist."
"Derek Hale," she laughs on a breath, lips catching on her fangs. "Beacon Hills is a lively place, you shouldn't underestimate it. There are many things we want, and we had hoped you would help us with all of them. But without one of your cards in our strategic hand anymore--"
She's lying. She let her heart skip a beat in earshot, again, deliberately.
"--we don't mind being a little more..."
Derek realizes it too late: others in the forest, watching them.
Then she charges.
Derek drops to the ground and rolls away, but she's relentless, fast, claws in a fury Derek can only barely dodge. He snags her wrist and uses her momentum to hurl her away--and she kicks out in a sweep that Derek only avoids by flipping back and out of the way.
She rises to her feet as Derek lands on his. They stare each other down, circling, Derek on the cusp of breathing hard while she just smiles and flexes her fingers. Her fully shifted face is monstrous.
Peter is nowhere to be seen. Shit. Shit.
She lunges again while Derek's reeling, a grinning blur, and her claws dig in before she flings him hard into a nearby tree. Pain explodes through his spine and knocks the wind out of him, bits of wood fluttering in the air. There's no time to catch his breath because she's on him again. He grabs a branch, uses it to vault up and snag her in the air, flip them both down to the ground.
He's panting now, hard through his nose, sweat and groundwater staining his shirt. Maybe blood too, he can't tell.
He's not going to win.
She rushes, her blows faster and harder this time, pushing Derek back with every dodged strike. The ground is uneven, and he barely weaves back in time, shit, feels his boot slip on the wet mud--
--then roars as she gores him from belly to throat.
Derek's strings are cut before he fully registers the pain, but then it's everywhere.
His eyes are wide. He's inhaling grass. There's a lot of blood.
The Alpha crouches down in front of him, blurry where he's trying to keep his eyes open, hazy where he's trying to breathe. She says something, probably cryptic see-you-soon bull, and walks away. Derek just lies there and tries to hold his guts together.
Overhead, the moon beats down on his wrecked body like a beacon, strong and eternal. If he doesn't die tonight, he'll have it to thank.
God, it hurts.
When he was a kid, too young to understand their words, his parents had to rely on his mom for discipline; anything Dad did faded too quickly to matter. Derek remembers standing at the top of the stairs one evening after he'd brought his baseball bat indoors, tears in his eyes as he shouted, I didn't even feel that!
He'd been a petulant little shit.
There are sirens now. He didn't hear them until they were a few hundred feet away.
A whole new panic floods him, because those are ambulance sirens. Wrenching back the shift, one hand around his middle, he tries to push himself to his knees until what little that managed to heal rips back open, and he grunts and collapses.
There are footfalls rushing toward him, hands on his body, lights flashing and shouting voices in the air. "No..." Derek tries to groan, but it just comes up a wet gurgle. Something heavy presses against the huge gash and then they're rolling him over, and he must black out because suddenly he's staring at the gray ambulance ceiling, a plastic oxygen mask over his face.
A woman appears over him, her face harried as her voice fades in and out.
"...ister Hale, I'm Rita, you're in an ambul..." Derek's eyes flutter closed against his will. He's fighting to the surface. "...ifteen minutes, just..."
He's losing time. Losing track of it. What feels like both years and seconds later he sees the night sky again, just before it's swallowed by concrete. The blinding fluorescent light is back: the ER loading bay. They're moving him through hallways, and he feels every jostle and bounce in hot pulses of pain.
They stop moving. There's yelling, more hands.
A loud, stinging click down around his stomach shakes him from the haze, followed by a couple dozen more clicks, and suddenly he's fighting not to hyperventilate, fogging the oxygen mask. His entire abdomen is white hot agony.
Why the fuck isn't he healing?
Probably because of the morphine and blood bags next to his head.
Mom would know what to do.
A vaguely familiar voice drifts into range, followed by even more familiar brown eyes--they're Scott's. Almost. His mom, probably, soft and hard and concerned but most important of all, knowing.
Derek limply reaches his hand toward her, and when recognition cements on her face, fingers squeeze back.
She nods, minutely.
They took separate cars. Lydia's Jackson-appropriated Porsche is faster, and Stiles' Jeep can fit more than half a person in it. It was a good plan in case they got there and found a smoking crater and/or a bloody pile of werewolves who needed a quick escape, but what Stiles didn't take into consideration was that for every useless factoid he knows about Lydia Martin, one of his blind spots was her driving.
The road whips by as he does fifty on it, trying to keep up with the scorch marks in the road--and he is barely exaggerating. His dad's gonna murder him if he gets pulled over.
Stiles' phone starts ringing--it's Melissa McCall. Yep, definitely gonna murder him. "Yeah," Stiles answers, too busy concentrating on not ploughing into mailboxes for friends' parents formalities.
"Stiles, thank god, why isn't Scott picking up?"
"Uh, he's kind of indisposed at the moment, what's--"
"Okay," she cuts him off, "well, I'm pretty sure there's a werewolf in my ICU, and he's in bad shape, and I don't think he's supposed to be here. I'm definitely sure he is not supposed to be in a hospital."
Stiles misses the turn Lydia took. He doesn't notice. "What? Who is it? Is he young or old?"
"I--young. He's young. I can't get his chart, but I've seen his face before with Scott, and the EMTs said he went from critical to stable on the way here."
"What happened?" No, dumb question. "Describe him?"
"Uh," she fumbles, "tall, dark hair, I think he was at the police station--"
Motherfucker, Stiles barely refrains from yelling into the phone. He makes a hard right at the next light, headed straight for the hospital.
"Stiles, if Scott can't get here..." she trails off, and Stiles hears the echo of passing people in the background. "He's not bleeding out so they won't take him to surgery yet, but you gotta get here. Right now."
"Beyond ahead of you," Stiles replies, and tries not to think about just why he's having to fight the seizing grip of panic.
Derek is a werewolf. Stiles saw him get impaled through the chest once. He'll be fine.
He hears something about not responding to analgesics.
He hears Scott's mother, distant, maybe on the phone.
He hears his own heart thundering in his ears.
When Stiles bursts into the room, ushering the white light of the hallway with him, he hears it stutter.
Derek looks like a Tim Burton movie, if Tim Burton movies made Stiles want to vomit.
Because Stiles is gonna vomit. And if by some miracle he doesn't, it's because he's frozen in shock. Mrs. McCall rubs a steadying hand over his shoulder, but that doesn't ease the horror of surgical staples like bloodied zippers from Derek's hips to his collarbone.
Or the fact that he's conscious.
"Stiles," Mrs. McCall says, still teetering precariously on the edge of freaking out herself, "Stiles, you know more about this stuff than I do, isn't he supposed to be healing?"
Stiles opens his mouth, and when nothing comes out Scott's mom outright shakes him. "He's already raising red flags, Stiles--his bloodwork is off the charts, and he's not responding to anything they give him. I don't know--" She covers her mouth with her hands, trying to reign it in. "I can't keep this under the radar much longer, you gotta get him out of here." Because Jesus, this isn't just about Derek for her.
Derek, who's pale and sweaty on the gurney, dragging shallow breaths through a mask, toes clenched where they've pulled one shoe off. His hand with the IV attached to it is twitching.
And, Stiles notices, swollen.
"Derek, buddy," he chokes, rushing to him, propelled by the force of his hunch, "if I'm right you have to pay for all my years of inevitable therapy, but if I'm wrong I am so fucking sorry." Derek meets his eyes for a split, terrible second, and Stiles sucks in deep and rips the IV from Derek's hand.
"Oh--!" Mrs. McCall cries. "Stiles, what the hell?!"
"I think it's the drugs!" he says, trying to keep his hysterical shriek at minimum volume.
"It's a drip!" she hisses as grabs a bandage to cover the steady trickle of blood on his hand. "You can just unscrew it! Or better yet, I can unscrew it!"
Oh. "Well now I know that!" Stiles hisses back. Between them, Derek groans, which is more than he's managed since Stiles got here, and Stiles is paralyzed by the tidal wave of relief that rages through him.
Mrs. McCall soothes a nursely hand over Derek's then peers through closed blinds out the window. "If that's working," she says, "you've gotta get him out of here right now."
"How the hell do I do that?"
She thinks on it for a minute, holds up a pleading finger beckoning him to wait, and leaves the room. It's silent, the monitors muted. Stiles nearly collapses onto the side of the tiny bed.
"Derek," he says softly, cupping his face. His eyes are dilated and bloodshot, black and red against the waxy white of his skin. "Derek, come on, you're always going on about how you're the Alpha, freaking act like it."
Derek's wrecked gaze slides slowly to Stiles as he leans into his hands. Stiles attempts a reassuring smile, one million percent certain he's failed, and strokes a soothing thumb over Derek's cheek.
Mrs. McCall chooses that moment to come back with a wheelchair, a clipboard, and a folded-up hospital gown.
"Not gonna ask," she says, because she is an apathetic saint of a person. "Let's get him into this chair. I've got his AMA paperwork, we can cover him up and get him out of here."
"No one's gonna notice?"
"It's a full moon," she says, which, um, and a neurotic kind of giggle escapes her as she explains, "Everyone goes crazy. We're so busy no one will care about one guy."
Something in Stiles winces at that. He is a giant baby.
Getting Derek into the chair isn't easy--Stiles is reminded again that for having approximately negative bodyfat, Derek is fucking heavy, but his pained whimpers as they manhandle him out of bed and sitting down are so much worse. He's still out of it, head drooped and taking labored breaths, when they drape the gown over him.
It has little ducks on it.
Scott's mom is right; hardly anyone pays them attention as they leave the ICU. Stiles catches snippets here and there--a barfight, three car wrecks, domestic assault--and later when Derek is healthy and healthily bitchy again, they're going to ponder the implications of the moon and the blurring line between natural and supernatural.
Derek is starting to lift his head by the time they reach the busy hospital exit. Mrs. McCall stays with him while Stiles sprints to bring the Jeep around, and it ends up being easier to just load him into the back hatch.
"Get out of sight," Mrs. McCall says, like Stiles needed to be told.
They get around the block, and Stiles doesn't even cut the engine, just throws on the e-brake and leaps into the back with Derek, who doesn't look any better under the gown.
"Oh my god, oh my god, what the hell do I do?" He isn't sure if he's talking to himself or Derek. "Oh my god, please, just get the hell up and heal!"
"...xin..." Derek mumbles weakly then screws his eyes shut, and when he opens them Stiles almost wishes he was still on the IV drip, because the blankness of overload from before is easier than the desperation on his face now. "...Toxin," he manages. "My body... it's pushing it out, anything foreign..."
Stiles' gaze jerks down to the web of weeping lacerations and metal over Derek's torso.
His blood runs cold.
"You gotta do it," Derek gasps, "before I heal around them."
"Okay, Derek, we're friends now--don't fight it--so here's a friend tip: friends don't make friends pull surgical staples out of their chest!"
Derek's answer is the fucking tears of pain welled up in his glassy eyes.
He can do this. He holds his breath and tries to tug at the top of the smallest gash, and skin rips beneath it and it oozes, and no, he cannot fucking do this. "Don't they have tools for this?" he chokes.
"No time," Derek wheezes back. "It's just a stitch, just do it!"
This time Stiles doesn't look, holy christ he cannot look, just blocks out everything but the metal between his fingernails and yanks. Derek barely makes a sound, but he doesn't have to--the wound is still very much open, bleeding sluggishly, and when Stiles gags a little on the second staple he just makes it worse.
He's working as fast as he can, pinching and pulling and trying so hard to ignore the tear of flesh and the grunts and the blood, so much blood. Derek looks like a murder victim, and Stiles looks like his murderer.
He's halfway done. There are tiny bits of metal all over his upholstery, and Derek's teeth are gritted as he takes sharp heaving breaths through his nose, trying to heal as Stiles works.
By the time they're finishing up, Stiles feels like he's overheating. The Jeep is a sauna, and he's about to pass out. Derek's own hands are finally sure enough to pull at the staples himself, and there are still about five left when Stiles shoves open the hatch, all but collapses out, and pukes all over some doctor's office lawn.
At least he didn't eat dinner.
Stiles stays there for a minute, kneeling on the sidewalk with his hand over his mouth. It smells like blood. He's shaking, he knows he is, and the night breeze chills the sweat and what's probably involuntary vomit snot and tears. Gross.
By the time Stiles collects himself Derek has propped himself up against the side of the Jeep. His color is still nonexistent, but the gashes are almost closed up, some of them faded to just an angry red. Stiles stares; if he looks away, Derek might crumble.
"You wanna tell me what the hell just happened?"
But Derek looks so tired when he shakes his head and says, "Not really." Stiles isn't going to argue, at least not yet. His stomach is still spasming from his date with the grass anyway.
"I'm missing a shoe," Derek adds softly. His little toes are waggling like they're confused, and Stiles is out of it enough that he pokes the big one. Derek is out of it enough that he doesn't seem to care.
"It's--" Stiles tries to explain through the fog of adrenaline crash, "--the nails, and the breathing, how they tell. Oxygen."
"Okay," Derek says.
When the wounds are closed enough, he helps him out of the back and into the passenger seat, and they get out of dodge. Derek fills him in on what happened in pieces, glossing, Stiles suspects, over the part where Peter turned tail and bailed, though admittedly the kanima stuff is pretty important.
"So wait," Stiles stops him, "you went down and paramedics were just there? Like, waiting for you?"
Derek opens his eyes with what looks like monumental effort. "Someone called them. My house is twenty minutes from the hospital. It was timed."
The last time Derek looked this beaten down they were also in the Jeep, Derek with a bullet in his gross arm, threatening to kill each other. Stiles wants to do better this round.
"Could it have killed you?" he asks.
Derek shakes his head no. "Not unless you can die from pain. Hospitals... any born wolf and any bitten one who's lived long enough know not to go. If the Alphas did it, it was punishment. Teaching me a lesson." He snorts and looks away darkly. "Or sadism."
"Can't see much of a difference," Stiles replies. Derek's silence doesn't seem to disagree. He's resting his head against the dirty window, even more pale under sickly streetlights, eyes shut and lips slightly parted. Stiles looks away. He has to drive.
Still, there's something about all this nagging at him. "What if it was Peter?" he asks after a moment. "You said he left before the fight, could he have called it in?"
"It would have kept you out of the picture." In indefinite agony. This surge of protectiveness isn't unfamiliar, just... contextually surprising. "Jesus, Derek," he breathes, "who knows how long you would have been in there without Scott's mom? Anyone could have gotten to you."
He lets the implication lie. Derek's had a shitty enough night already.
They turn into Stiles' driveway and Derek turns a weary, questioning eye to him. "Third shift," he explains bitterly. "Dad's picking them a lot since Matt sorta murdered all the night deputies." If he didn't know better, he'd think the downcast look on Derek's face was apologetic.
Maybe he doesn't know better after all.
He helps Derek out of the Jeep and into the house despite his glowering protests ("I'm not an invalid, Stiles." "I will drop you on your wolfy ass if you don't shut up, I swear I will"), locking the front door behind them and not bothering with the lights. It's dark and cool inside the house, safe. Even Derek sags a little against him, a big warm weight of tentative relief.
Also, heavy. Stiles doesn't waste time easing him down onto the living room couch. "I'll be right back, stay," he commands, and Derek's predicted long-suffering glare is like a weight off his chest. He's quick upstairs, changing out of his barf and blood clothes into something that smells like home, washing his face and hands, taking a record-breaking swig of Listerine. He grabs an extra shirt and warm washcloth for Derek.
When he comes back down Derek is curled in on himself, probably instinct more than politeness, but Stiles takes the other end of the couch anyway.
It's not really anymore surreal than staple hell. Which he is still firmly pushing out of his mind.
Derek is recovered enough that he can wipe himself down and change into Stiles' oversized shirt without Stiles having to play deeply uncomfortable nursemaid, but that doesn't mean he can keep his eyes off him.
He finishes and collapses back on the couch, and they sit in silence for long enough that Stiles starts eyeing his laptop on the coffee table. He's drained and antsy at once, like popping too much Adderall after too long without.
"So what now?" he asks when he can't take it anymore.
Derek's brow creases like he's mad Stiles interrupted his beauty sleep. "I heal," he replies, "then Peter and I have a long talk."
"Break his stupid nose," Stiles says, and Derek snorts. "Right now I'm more worried about everyone else."
"Don't be. I can feel the pack. Everyone at base should be safe, at least. They can let Lydia in, she can break the ash." Derek pauses like something's just occurred to him, then winces. "No," he corrects himself, "they can't."
"Why?" Stiles asks.
"The lock and chains are painted with wolfsbane--it's just a precaution," he says, which Stiles shrugs at--understandable, until: "I didn't give them the key."
Stiles stares at him, disbelief hanging off his open mouth. He flops back into the couch around Derek's feet, muscles giving up and out, unable to hold himself up anymore. "Dude," he groans before he can stop himself, "you are so freaking bad at everything."
Awkward silence hits the room, punctuated by Derek's sharp inhale, but Stiles is too tired to even be scared of him right now--
Then Derek laughs. It's not weird or hysterical or anything, which to be fair after tonight the guy is totally entitled to, but it is kinda sad. There's a part of Stiles that's glad it's dark, so he can only see the shadows play over Derek's closed eyes and small, self-deprecating smile that takes a while to recover into a smirk.
"Pot," he says, "kettle--"
"Etcetera," Stiles finishes. "I just pirated Bridesmaids. Wanna watch?"
Derek's answering grimace is too tired to be unfriendly or remotely persuasive, so Stiles just shrugs. "Tough shit, buddy. My laptop's already hooked up and in like arm's reach and I don't wanna move."
Derek still doesn't verbalize, instead just glancing pointedly at the DVD rack ten feet away.
"Yeah, be my guest," Stiles says, sinking lower into the couch and toeing the lid of his computer open. He flops forward just enough to clumsily queue the movie up, then that's it, no more moving. Ever.
They watch in a sort of numb haze, little aborted chuckles here and there while they pass the time on a school night. Eventually Stiles lolls his head in Derek's direction again. "So I swear to god," he says quietly, "if you ever make me do anything like that again, I will do it, and then I will kill you dead myself."
Whatever easiness that had creeped onto Derek's sharp face is gone. There's a long pause between them, one Stiles has spent enough time in cars lately to know is Derek's deep inner conflict to just spit something out.
"You said we're friends."
"Whoa, way to hold what a guy says in the heat of the moment against him," Stiles replies automatically, but... that's not what he wants to say, not at all, not to the quiet contemplation that is Derek Hale on his living room sofa. So he adds, "...I guess, yeah."
Derek's pause this time is just as long as the first. "Then it's inevitable."
"Wow," Stiles whistles, "you are the biggest downer." But if Derek's in the mood for bickering, the scowl on his face doesn't agree. He's angry and sad and guilt-ridden all at once, which Stiles is coming to realize is pretty much Derek's mantra.
"Look at my life since I came back here," he says. "As long as I'm in Beacon Hills, it's always like this. Always."
Stiles watches the hot lady be a bitch to the other lady instead of Derek's face, marinating in his silence until he can't take it anymore. "Dude, Derek, how much of that could you have avoided, though? And not just you, though, all of us. Nobody trusts anyone."
Derek snaps his gaze onto Stiles, staring intensely for a moment, then mumbles, "Scott said the same thing."
"Scott's a good guy," Stiles replies, then turns back to the TV because he can't say the next part while making anything resembling eye contact. "You're not so bad yourself, when you're not crying and dying all over me."
"I did not," is Derek's reply. This is why they might be friends.
"Dude, you cried."
"No, I didn't."
"You so cried."
Derek pulls a throw pillow out from under his him and lazily launches it at Stiles' face. "You wanna review your performance?"
"Hey," he shrugs, tucking the pillow triumphantly behind his head, "at least I didn't cry."
"Congratulations. How's that not puking on the side of the road thing working out for you? Because I've seen manlier five year-old girls."
As Derek relaxes he's been steadily uncurling, and now he's stretched out enough that his feet are an encroaching pressure on Stiles' thigh. "Jesus, just--" Stiles grabs his hairy ankles and deposits them over his lap.
Derek makes a face, but the old couch creaks a little as he settles into it, unassumingly comfortable. He'd probably put Stiles' head through the TV or just run off like a frightened antelope if Stiles took a picture with his phone, but he just looks so different like this, with exhaustion relaxing his face into something soft and peaceful without forgetting the cut of his jaw, and Stiles' oversize shirt draping loose over his hips but tight where his arms cradle his head, and his eyes--
In hindsight, Stiles should have seen this coming when the shower thing happened.
Part of him is hyperaware of the warmth on his lap, overwhelmed by the urge to reach out and touch, but the rest of him is fucking tired. It's best to just shelf this for later.
He's sinking deep into a lull, nurtured by the drone of the movie, when he catches those eyes and that moonlit face on him.
Stiles smiles back.
It's dawn when Derek stirs. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, but he's not exactly surprised.
Everything is... quiet. There's the usual ticking clocks and running pipes and low hum of refrigerators if he really strains, but those are just the sounds of life. All he can truly hear is Stiles' soft breathing.
Stiles sleeps like everyone else: sloppily. He's sprawled on the other side of the couch, still under Derek's legs, oblivious and warm like the rest of the room.
Derek doesn't really want to move.
But the clock on the DVD player tells him like a bucket of ice water that it's getting dangerously close to six a.m. The sheriff will be off work soon, and he'll come home to his house and his kid, because this quiet, soft place isn't where Derek belongs. It's not the life he lives, and it's not the life he wants.
Besides, he has an uncle whose day needs ruining.
The crick in his neck pops about eight times when he stretches it; it's a fucking satisfying wonder Stiles doesn't snap awake. The rest of him seems fine, if a little sore. He can drop his fangs and retract them with no control issues, and his body's recovered from both the wounds and the monumental effort of healing them.
He's still missing a shoe. Dammit. Hoofing it across town and back to base in bare feet isn't undoable, but it's not pleasant. Derek glances down at Stiles still dozing, his weird little nose mushed into the cushion.
They wear about the same shoe size.
Derek doesn't tuck Stiles in or anything, he's a grown man and Stiles is... almost. But he has the strength to carry him up the stairs and out of potential sheriff suspicion, so he might as well use it. It's the least he can do after stealing Stiles' shoes--and shirt. Running through town shirtless isn't the best way to stay low-profile, even if Derek's personal opinion of clothing is... tighter.
Stiles mumbles something frantic about mushrooms on the way up. Derek has to fight a smile all the way back to the depot.
--When the lock and chains are broken, and Peter's the only one inside, he wins the battle.
Derek stops dead when he catches scent of him, claws out before he can fully process it. Once he does, he doesn't put them away.
Peter is in the platform lobby, glancing idly at his watch like he didn't hear Derek stomping down the stairs, like he didn't smell Derek's commitment to break at least half the bones in his body.
"We were worried when you didn't come back," he says mildly.
"Were you," Derek replies with his ugliest, tightest smile.
"Even Scott," Peter affirms. "But it seems like we had nothing to worry about. I'm glad."
Peter pushes off the beam he's leaning against, hands in his pockets as he approaches Derek cautiously. "Derek, you have to understand--"
Derek's slamming him back into the beam before either of them can blink. Peter gurgles satisfyingly, like Derek snapped a joint or two. "You left me," he snarls.
"You're the Alpha, not me." Peter speaks quickly, face strained and hands braced in Derek's shirt as Derek hoists him bodily up the metal pole. "I'm physically weaker, I heal slower, what good would I have done you in a fight?"
"I don't know, Peter, I might not have almost died." Derek doesn't remember everything about last night--which his instincts are screaming about, though it's probably better for his sanity--but he remembers that much.
"If they'd wanted you dead, do you really think we'd be having this conversation?"
Peter isn't wrong, not at all, which just makes Derek sneer. "Yeah," he says, crushing Peter back, "I'm thinking after last night, you shouldn't be having anymore conversations at all."
Peter's eyes sharpen despite the threat and the pain, and the room feels about a hundred degrees colder. "So you did get hurt," he says softly. "And you had help. That's good."
It's transparent, he knows it is, but the first thing Derek thinks of through the fog of uncertainty and low-grade panic is Stiles asleep on that couch, drooling into the seats. Stiles, and the wary way he glares at Peter. The way Peter smiles back.
He drops him like he burns and steps away. "Was it you?" he asks instead, a distraction.
"I honestly don't know what you're talking about," Peter replies. "Listen to my heart. Do you hear a lie?"
All Derek doesn't hear is a blip in the beat.
Peter continues, "You have to be reasonable. If anything happened to you, what would the rest of your pack do? They were locked in here." He brushes out the wrinkles in his clothes and eyes the claw marks in them with disdain. "It's possible I chose wrong, and for that, I do apologize, but I was doing what was best for the pack." He stops picking at a hole in his pressed lapel and snaps his gaze back into Derek. "You understand that better than anyone."
This is his uncle: impenetrable, dangerous, and under everything else, correct. Without him, Derek's not sure he'll survive.
Derek's not sure of anything anymore.
"I'll show myself out," Peter says in the wake of Derek's silence. "You should sleep. And eat--you're looking thin."
He manages a personally impressive eyeroll and glare combination and seriously considers putting his foot through Peter's throat, but Peter just shrugs it off and makes good on getting the hell out.
"Derek," he says, pausing at the base of the stairs. "The Alphas, they're... powerful. You understand that, don't you?"
The look he levels at Derek before he ascends isn't concerned. It's hungry.
By far the worst part of crazy werewolf shenanigans, at least as far as Stiles is concerned in this moment, is the part where he has to go back to school the next morning.
Stiles shuffles through Thursday like a zombie, doing his level best to avoid any and everything that will rouse him from low-hum shock into actually having to deal with last night. He's also ignoring the part where he woke up in his own bed.
He actually does a decent job of it; they're so close to finals that first period is free study, so Stiles is huddled behind a book fort in a dark corner of the library, ignoring his buzzing phone and drifting in and out of nap sleep.
On the way to his Scott-less second period he's hazily congratulating his stealth skills like a jackass, which is probably why Lydia grabs him by the arm and pulls him into the girls' bathroom.
"What the f--"
"Shut it," she says. A girl Stiles vaguely recognizes as a senior eyes them both before tailing it out without drying her hands. "What in the hell was that last night?" Lydia snaps.
She doesn't look tired, but that's probably just concealer.
"Uh," Stiles says intelligently, "I had to--"
"I truly do not care. He was there." This isn't Lydia in a Lydia-snit, she is genuinely furious, and maybe furiously scared, struggling not to shake in her heeled shoes. "I lost part of an afternoon specifically working this out with you, very specifically, so can you please explain to me why he was there?"
It takes Stiles a moment to fully process it, especially under the crushing pressure of Lydia's scrutiny, but when the timeline comes together, he could be buried under the sea and it would matter less than the clarity of his conclusion:
"I think he tried to kill Derek."
Lydia turns her head and takes a breath, eyes closed and secret smile more like a wince. "I want him dead," she says after a moment. "Again. And I'm not going to talk about it."
"He wanted to bite me," Stiles replies. It's out before he can stop himself, like pushing water out of his drowned lungs, and with the same kind of painful relief. Lydia looks at him sharply, waiting. "The night of the formal, he--" Stiles might as well put it all on the table, "--offered me the bite."
"It was in the parking garage where he kidnapped me, I'm being charitable, but yeah, I guess I had a choice."
"I'm sure that's nice," Lydia replies primly. It's kind of like a punch to the face. Stiles knows all about those.
Logically he understands that he doesn't understand, that whatever hell Lydia went through with Peter was horrible and that he's being a seriously selfish shit right now. But that doesn't stop the shuddering memory of hot breath on the back of his neck, on his wrist.
She must see it on his face. "You can help," she says after a moment, because Lydia Martin is a generous goddess. "I'll let you do the legwork."
"Take what you're offered, Stilinski."
He laughs a little, even though he's pretty sure they're both dead serious about this. "You know this is just wish fulfillment unless we have help?"
"From Derek Hale?"
Yeah, from Derek Hale. "He doesn't want to," Stiles says. "At least, he thinks he doesn't." He meets Lydia's eyes, and they're as bright as ever. "But I want Peter gone. From all our lives."
Watching Lydia think is like watching one of those videos of city traffic sped up. The broad understanding of what's happening is there, but everything is just buzzing blurs, moving way too fast to follow.
She's appraising him, and whatever she's looking for, she must find.
"We'll be in touch," she says, then spins on her literal heel and leaves him alone in the girls' room. Then the bell rings. Stiles clangs his head against the wall.
It's cleaner than the dudes' bathroom anyway.
Derek sleeps for a few hours, when his body just can't handle being upright and his eyes can't handle being open anymore. Then he eats.
He would have done it anyway, whether Peter told him to or not.
There is no way to escape someone in the Beacon Hills cafeteria. Stiles is pretty sure it was deliberately designed that way, a conspiracy to make high school as awkward and painful as possible by forcing innocent people into the farce of dealing with adult problems while carrying plastic trays of borderline baby food.
"Stiles!" says Scott from a few tables away.
Today's chicken strip day.
Stiles shoves one in his mouth as he joins Scott, because there's just no stopping the problem avoidance train from crashing.
"Oh, thank god, you're okay." Scott looks like he's barely restraining himself from a bro hug.
"Uh, yeah, why wouldn't I--"
"You disappeared last night! Lydia got there and said you were behind her but you never answered your phone, and then you didn't answer this morning and--"
"Shit, dude, I'm--" A completely unthinking asshole. "I didn't even realize. Derek got in trouble and I went to help him out."
Even with the Peter revelation, he'd known Scott and the rest were fine. They weren't in any danger, and someone else needed help, but that still doesn't stop the familiar thrum of guilt. "Yeah," he mumbles, putting a respectable amount of effort into discovering if he can light his plastic basket of jello on fire with his only his stare.
Scott isn't as invested in the experiment. "You guys are talking a lot lately," he says, and he has the decency to sound tentative. "Like, a lot. I know you were getting rides from him and stuff."
Really? This is the card Scott was gonna play?
"Yeah, because no one else would." It sounds like a lie even to his own ears. Stiles swallows his food hard. "Don't know if you've noticed, but I've kind of been short on hangout buddies for the last month."
That stops Scott short. "Is this about Isaac?"
Well it's sure not about Allison anymore, he manages to keep down, so he doesn't completely take first in the Worst Friend Ever title series. But they're been friends a long time, and Stiles can't keep secrets from him, especially not his bad moods.
"Isaac is... like me," Scott explains earnestly. "There's just things he gets, and it helps, you know?"
He doesn't. "Yeah, well, Derek's a lonely loser, so I guess we're both finding people we have more in common with."
"Sorry," he replies automatically, before he realizes what he's apologizing for. "Last night was rough."
"For all of us," Scott agrees. "You're my best friend, man. All this werewolf stuff hasn't changed that."
He didn't have much of an appetite today anyway, too much Adderall to help with stress, but now it's completely gone. "Yeah, it... it kinda has, Scott."
"No," Scott insists. "Everything's so messed up right now, but what I am, it doesn't change who I am."
He opens his mouth to say something about lip service, but maybe, just maybe, he's being unfair. Maybe he's in a shit mood, and freaked out, and worried. Maybe Scott's just being Scott, which is absolute and idealistic and way overly emotional and also Stiles' best friend.
Maybe this is just how things go.
"Alright," Stiles agrees, and Scott gifts him with a tight but sincere smile before they lapse into eating quietly.
Eventually they settle down, talking about how the Betas did last night--varying levels of terrifying--and calculating the lowest grades they can get on their algebra finals without failing the class.
They're dumping their trays out when Stiles asks, "Dad's working late tomorrow night so I'm going to a thing. There's gonna be drinks, you wanna come with?"
He already knew the answer, so Scott's pained grimace doesn't pain Stiles. "Sorry, man, " he says. "It's just, booze, it doesn't--"
"Yeah, I know." He does. It sucks, but he does.
"We can do stuff Saturday, though? When you're hungover as shit, I mean."
Stiles laughs. "Sure."
It's late, edging on one a.m., when Derek gets the call.
"Hey," Stiles says before he can even grace him with an answering grunt. "Heeey. Where are you right now?"
"Out," Derek replies. He's at the 24-hour supermarket. No one's here this late at night, and Derek prefers to buy gas and bananas without getting gawked at. "What do you want?"
"You know that field where you did that flip for me?"
"It wasn't for you," Derek says, because Stiles is the only person in his pathetic social circle to whom he can lie. "What do you want, Stiles?"
"I left a thing. Scott couldn't make it. That's fine, I get it--I can't believe I get it, but I get it."
Derek stops dead in the middle of the soup aisle. "Are you out there alone right now?"
"Hey, last time I checked the Alphas gave approximately negative crap about me." Stiles pauses, then adds, "And that's not even a pity-seeking statement, man. I could not be happier about that fact."
It's not untrue, but there are other things out there that go bump in the night. Lately, maybe always but especially lately, especially right now, Derek counts himself among them. "I'm coming out there," he says. "Don't go anywhere."
"Good, yeah, yes, I didn't wanna beg. It would get insulting for both of us."
Derek hangs up and resolutely does not laugh or smile.
After he parks near the station, finding Stiles in the unclaimed field is easy enough. He's sprawled out long on the grass, framed by chirping crickets and fireflies, hands cradled behind his head he gazes serenely up at the stars. There's mostly empty liter of barwell whiskey next to him--it still has the pourer spout.
When Derek sits down beside him, Stiles doesn't startle, just pulls his mouth into something honest and wide.
Derek takes an anchoring breath and eyes the bottle. "Where did you even get that?"
"I have friends in gay places," he shrugs. Derek lived in New York for while, he's been to Splash Bar. He's still not completely sure what Stiles is implying.
"Alright. Had enough yet?" Derek asks, and Stiles is quiet for a moment, stars and the streetlight off in the distance reflecting in his eyes as he watches Derek, and then his grin melts into something softer.
"Yeah," he says, "I think I have."
Derek needs a map and moral compass. He doesn't ask, reaches across Stiles' body to confiscate the liquor, and he's so worthless.
Stiles' hair has been growing out. It makes his face look longer and sharper and--older, Derek winces, so instead of watching the way the wind ruffles through it, he stretches out beside him on the ground, one hand folded behind his head, and asks, "What does being drunk feel like?"
Stiles squints at him, field grass brushing his cheek. "Have you seriously never been around drunk people before?"
Once, when he was fifteen, Derek and one of his cousins pinched their noses and chugged a half-gallon of off-brand Everclear. It couldn't even metabolize before they puked it all up.
"I asked what it feels like to be drunk," he repeats, "not to hang around idiots." He raises an eyebrow at Stiles. "I think I've got that part covered."
"So funny, wolfy jokes, you're hilarious."
"Whatever," Derek says, then shifts around so he can stare up at the stars. He wouldn't say he comes anything close to liking Beacon Hills, but he likes that he can see every constellation in the sky, the ones his family raised him on.
(Derek didn't know what a "Big Dipper" was until seventh grade.)
Stiles shoves at him sloppily. "I don't know, man, it's--nice, I guess. I don't really forget but I stop being anxious all the time, stop feeling that..." he's fishing for words, "...overwhelming anxiety. Then I just, I dunno, only give a crap about the good stuff." He nudges his leg against Derek's, warm.
Derek's never once been jealous of humans before. He's better than them, in strength and speed and a million other unquantifiable measures that meant so much before he fucked it all up. The bite is a gift, just one some humans violently don't understand. If anything, humans are the jealous ones.
...But alcohol doesn't sound so bad.
Stiles rolls onto his side, gazing down at him. "That's so weird that you can't get drunk, I know Scott misses it, so you, my friend," he pokes Derek's chest, "are so deprived, so deprived, it's just the best," he rambles almost reverently, maybe at the alcohol, but Derek's not sure. "Wait--" Stiles interrupts himself, "so does that mean you can't get high?"
Derek shrugs. He's never tried.
"Can you get sick?"
"Not like humans," Derek replies. "I caught bad pertussis once when I was a kid, took me a day or two to get over it." He smirks. "It probably would have killed you."
Stiles still has the presence of mind to roll his eyes and flop back down. "Uh, no it wouldn't, because I got vaccinated like a normal person--wait, does that even work for werewolves? Or does your wolverine factor kill the dead viruses? Can you sneeze?"
He's managed to migrate back onto his side, practically hovering over Derek in his rapid-fire of curiosity. Honestly baffled, Derek replies, "...Yes?"
"Even though you know a sneeze is when your nose is irritated--"
"I went to school, Stiles, I know what a sneeze is."
"School doesn't mean you know about sneezes."
"Being drunk is about to get less fun for you." Derek stares him down, but Stiles doesn't budge, staring back through through dark lashes. It makes his eyes look like honey.
"Well, it doesn't," Stiles pouts, then like whiplash he's got one hand under his chin, boring into Derek with intensity eyes that unfocused shouldn't be capable of. "Why do you want to be drunk?" he asks, keen and precise.
"I--" Derek opens his mouth, but there is nothing he wants to say. He's caught off-guard, and why the hell wouldn't he be? He's relaxed in a warm field with a drunk teenager, both of them pretending their problems aren't waiting just past the dark tree line.
Finally, he just settles for his default setting. "Gee, I don't know," he grunts, finding Canis Major in the sky, "it's not like I have anything I'd like to forget."
Stiles saves them both the silence of his honesty by pinching Derek's nose shut.
Derek sputters, thrashing uselessly for a moment before he pries his hand off. "Stiles, what the--" But Stiles isn't laughing. He doesn't even look that drunk.
"You're the worst," he says very seriously. Derek bristles.
"You called me."
"God, jesus, this Alpha crap," Stiles bemoans, and Derek doesn't want to examine his relief when he realizes Stiles is still on the same inebriated train of thought. "Derek," he insists, "Derek, you can run them out of town or, or make them do the Macarena, but none of it matters if he kills you. And he's going to, he's gonna kill you."
Derek shuts his eyes against it, but Stiles has one bullet left.
"He's gonna kill you, and I don't want that."
"I know," Derek blurts, hands fisted, teeth gritted. He does, though, in these rare moments of clarity. There are still so many doubts, little but-what-ifs that nag at him constantly, but whatever was wrong with Peter's soul before he died, it isn't fixed. "I know he is."
"Then what the fuck!"
Derek's sitting up on his elbows now; this isn't a conversation to have flat on his back, defenseless. "It's not that simple--" he starts.
"What the hell, yes it is! You die," Stiles says, gesturing furiously to Derek, "and you're dead. You leave your pack behind--" The anxiety wafting off him is almost as strong as the Evan Williams. "You leave me behind."
Stiles looks like he wants to reach out, one hand hovering higher before he settles it instead in Derek's shirtsleeve. But he's still pleading with his whole face and body, not just for Derek to do what he says--though it's Stiles, so that's probably part of it--but for Derek to--shit--
For Derek to take care of himself, for himself. For people who give a damn.
"Okay," he says.
Jesus, it's no wonder he's been hanging around teenagers for the last six months.
"Okay," he relents, then mushes Stiles' alight face away and into the ground with his palm. "Fine, we'll do it." The reality of what he's agreeing to is hitting him like a freight train, but he's an Alpha werewolf. He can take the hit.
"You're such a good dude, all good 'n murdery," Stiles says from the ground, and Derek snorts and lets him up.
"Shut up," he replies politely, then sobers. "But he's my uncle. Was. We do it my way, I don't care about your friend."
"Derek. Derek, that's a hot people fight you two can have when I am, like, so far away I need a passport."
Derek pauses. Stiles doesn't even break eye contact.
"Yep," Derek says, "time to go. You're drunk, get up."
Stiles groans in response, so Derek hops to his feet and offers him a hand up. When he takes it, it's solid.
He's unsteady on his legs when he stands, taking a long, flailing second to ground his balance, and just like that the realization of how irresponsible Derek's being is creeping back around the edges where this night had blinded it out.
"Hey," Stiles says, sliding a warm arm around Derek's shoulders that's masquerading as friendly but is more likely just helping him stay upright. "We're having fun."
"You're having fun," Derek replies. "I'm your DD." He tries to start walking, get them moving back to the depot, but Stiles holds his ground because he's a stubborn shit. Being three drinks too many doesn't stop his crooked grin, like Stiles can't turn off that perceptiveness that leaves Derek feeling like he has no secrets at all.
"Hey," Stiles tries again, jabbing a long finger into Derek's chest. "We're coping. Ninety-nine problems, right? 'Least we're doing better than Scott, right?"
They weren't. Derek's not sure he minds.
He tugs Stiles' other arm over his shoulders, pulling them hooked around his neck. "I'm giving you a ride," he says, and he can't think of a single moment in his life he's more wished he could get drunk, because then he might not see the beat of hesitation in Stiles' open face, the flicker of knowing. Then it might not matter that Derek's going to plough through anyway.
"You're gonna trip," he says, "and I'm gonna laugh."
"I will not, you don't know me," Stiles slurs even as he clasps his hands around Derek's neck and presses against his back. It feels too much like a hug for Derek to hesitate in hoisting him up.
Stiles is light, not much more of a burden than a heavy coat, and just as warm draped around him. He tucks his chin over Derek's shoulder, almost cheek to cheek, and his breathing is slow enough that Derek guesses his eyes are closed.
"Thanks, pal," he says as they trudge through the field toward the depot. "You're so never gonna escape life as Morgan Freeman. It's written in your palms. Which are on my legs."
"Stiles," Derek tries.
"I like your rides," Stiles says, like Derek can't literally feel his grin against his cheek.
"I'm riding you right now."
"I'm gonna throw up."
Derek squeezes his eyes shut and doesn't miss a step. "This is a theme with you," he replies. "And no, you're not."
"You can't control my throw-up. I so am."
"You're not throwing up on me."
Stiles buries his face in Derek's neck, mumbling, "Pretty sure I am."
Being honest with himself is not a problem Derek has ever had. He knows his power, his strength, and he knows he's a screw-up, that almost all his misery is his own damn fault, and that includes the long-limbed kid draped over his body right now. He knows he deals with most of it through numb acceptance.
But Stiles is not throwing up on him.
"Touch my hand," he says. Stiles mumbles something unintelligible against Derek's skin, probably a stubborn protest, but he slips his hand down over Derek's anyway.
Yeah, he thinks idly as the steadily leeched feeling of nausea washes over him before dissipating like a wound, he probably was going to throw up.
"Wha--" Stiles starts, then shakes his head with renewed energy and says, dully, "What the fuck, you're magic."
The gravel crunching under Derek's boots as they leave the field hides his snort.
They manage to make it past Stiles' parked Jeep, through the doors and down the dark stairs without too much awkward maneuvering, mostly because Stiles is snuggled in tight and no amount of jostling will dislodge him. Finally Derek kicks open the door to the small room he hesitates to call a bedroom. The room with the bed in it, onto which he dumps Stiles unceremoniously.
"My dad just busted a local drug ring and they had this swank hobo loft," Stiles says from where he's smushed into the pillows, sprawled right where Derek dropped him. "It's totally in your squatter budget."
His shirt is riding up a little. There's a couch in the old employee lounge that isn't completely unsleepable. Or Derek could sleep on the train with the other rats.
"Oh come on, you dick," Stiles says as he turns to leave. "Don't make this weird, it's creepy in here."
"No, it isn't," he replies. There's plenty of moonlight.
"I live in a house, Derek. With running water and sunlight."
Derek glares pointedly at the high window on the wall, then rolls his eyes and drops onto the far side of the bed, toeing off his shoes to join Stiles' on the floor.
"And mortgage payments," Stiles adds.
"I'm jealous. Truly." It's a lie, obviously, but... Gerard is dead... ish. Derek is still hiding, but for the first time since he came back, it's not from hunters with well-blended eyes all over town. Maybe it's time for a (mortgage- and preferably rent-free) move.
Stiles is looking what him, wordless, as he contemplates this, like he has something he wants to add. "What?" Derek asks.
"Werewolves can't get braces."
"Your teeth," Stiles says, motioning to his own. "They're all crooked."
"Shut up," Derek replies.
"You shut up. They're like rabbit teeth. Kinda ruins your image." He's reaching out as he speaks, the pads of his fingers just inches from Derek's lips. "I like it, s'cute."
Derek grabs his wrist.
He isn't stupid. This is where they've come to, neither of them is ignoring it, and while he's pretty sure it's not okay even under the best circumstances, what he knows right now, with absolute, crystal clarity, is that Stiles is drunk.
He pushes Stiles' hand back into his own space bubble. "Go to sleep," he says, then rolls over to face the wall.
When Stiles comes blearily back to consciousness the first time, he has the the worst case of cotton-mouth in the entire history of mankind.
When he wakes up the second time, in a foreign bed, foreign glass of water left dutifully on the nightstand next to his head, it only takes him two seconds of panic to realize he has no regrets.
His mouth really does taste like pure bacteria, though.
After blearily taking a giant swig of water and swishing it over the gross bitter film coating his gums, Stiles flops back onto the bed--Derek's bed, and digs his palms into his eyes. He was wrong about the windows; it's bright in here. He's tired as shit, like he didn't get a great night's sleep--
But he's clearheaded enough to remember what happened last night.
Clearheaded enough to know what happened last night.
So Derek is definitely a turn-tail-and-flee-er, Stiles figured that out about half a second into their Acquaintanceship, which is in fact a paleontological period like Mesozoic, in between the Friendship and Holy God Stop Bleeding In My Jeep eras. He's alone in Derek's room, wearing day-old clothes, drooling into surprisingly soft pillowcases. None of these facts gets them closer to where Stiles thinks they're evolving.
Still, there's that glass of water.
Stiles stretches--painfully, good god--joints popping as he prays he can youth his way out of a stiff body. When he pokes his head out of the door, there's no one in the lobby, and he shudders through an agonizing moment of uncertainty before he hears shuffling from the employee lounge.
He knuckles sleep out of his eyes, tries to calm his messy hair, and takes a breath.
Derek is eating cereal. Derek is eating cereal, and reading an actual, physical magazine. He's in fresh clothes, too, a bright blue tee and different jeans, which means at some point he was pantsless while Stiles was asleep. While Stiles was asleep, the morning after they shared a bed.
"Good morning, starshine," he says, and Derek honestly does the right thing by not acknowledging him. "Whatcha eatin'?" he tries again, and while it is definitely just as annoying, that's kind of their thing--so when Derek is still silent, only glancing up at him for the briefest of uncomfortable eye contact, Stiles sits soberly down on the couch next to him.
"Hey," he says.
Derek swallows another bite of Crispix. "You look like you feel better this morning." He isn't actually looking at him.
"I never felt bad in the first place," Stiles replies, and he has no choice but to laugh at himself, because, "Whoa, that was really heavyhanded, good job, me. I am not even gonna apologize for myself."
The self-induced humiliation is worth it for Derek's answering snicker.
Still, there's that nagging worry festering the longer they sit here, at crossroads and unmoving. So Stiles just goes for broke. "Yeah, so, I don't really do well with anxiety waiting," he says. "...I'm not reading literally every single interaction we've had lately wrong, am I?"
Derek's body is so defined he can see individual muscles tensing. It's hot, obviously, but in context it's also pretty awful.
"No," Derek replies. "You're not."
Stiles isn't sure what he expected, maybe coursing relief or ensuing frantic kissing--because that's what they're discussing, jesus christ--but apprehension, the feeling of standing at the mouth of a great chasm... that wasn't on the list. The nervous foot-tapping admittedly was.
Derek sets his bowl on the floor and stares at it, looking more out of depth than Stiles.
Before she got dead, Stiles didn't talk to Kate Argent a whole lot, for obvious reasons, but he can do math, figuratively and literally. Derek and his sister were the only Hales left alive after the fire, and Scott had some seriously creepy stories about her. He's not gonna assume, but he's not not gonna take a few guesses.
"If this isn't okay," he fumbles, "I mean, if you can't..."
Derek can tell him on his own time.
"No," Derek says sharply. "I'm not a kid."
"Scott told me one time you got mad and broke his phone on a wall, so let's not go overboard there," Stiles replies, nudging him with his shoulder, still at least half-serious.
Derek stifles back another chuckle, because against the odds of pretty much the entire world sans maybe Scott and his dad, maybe, Derek thinks he's funny. Derek thinks he's fun. Derek buries his face in his hands.
"I'm not a child," he says, and for the first time today Derek meets his eyes. "You are."
There it is.
Stiles takes a breath, swallows hard. The urge to defend his age is intrinsic to every teenager; Stiles is smart, self-aware enough to know this. There about about fifty variations of an age ain't nothin' but a number speech he could give, but all of them would be at least thirty percent wishful thinking, thirty percent naivete he knows, logically, cerebrally, that he just can't understand.
Derek is twenty-two. Stiles is sixteen. Stiles can do math, both figuratively and literally.
But that ability has to count for something, right?
So instead of all that bullshit, Stiles just rubs a thumb over a crease in his jeans, and asks, "How old were you when your first saw someone die?"
"What?" Derek is confused. Good.
"Just tell me."
He peers at him, contemplating silently for a long moment before he answers."...Fifteen." Not his family, then, thank god. "A pair of hunters. Mom got hurt, they got hurt worse."
Stiles never knew Mrs. Hale, but he saw her picture plenty in the news, after.
"Gotcha beat," he replies on a sharp laugh. "Thirteen. Slowly."
"That's not--" Derek starts, and then stops, because while Stiles isn't sure (but really wants to get to know) how booksmart Derek is, he's smart enough in the ways that count.
He's smart enough to know that they're both pretty freaking fucked up.
Case in point: the sudden slump of Derek's shoulders, not in defeat because Stiles is not trying to be creepy or pushy, honest, but in acknowledgment. In relief of shared misery. Damn, that is heavy.
A full shudder swells through Derek, and he leaves the couch to wash his bowl in the old industrial breakroom sink. Well, "wash", he just kinda splashes water in it for a minute. No wonder he's Stiles' type.
"I..." he tries as he shuts off the faucet, bracing his arms over the counter, back to Stiles, head bowed. He's tense and miserable perfection. "What the hell does it say about me that I want a sixteen year-old?"
Derek turns to face him as Stiles joins him in standing.
He doesn't say, That you're psychologically and sexually stunted at the age where your whole family burned to death.
He does say, "Hey, I have nice eyes."
"You do," Derek agrees, and Stiles falters, thrown. Derek is... actually, genuinely attracted to him, theoretically wants to have sex with him.
He shuts his gaping mouth, because that can't be attractive. Swallows, wets his lips. Derek looks.
Stiles grins, slow and stretching. He can work with this.
"Okay," he says. "So what I'm getting here is we both know what this is," he gestures between them, "and I could go home home right now and be incredibly sexually frustrated and honestly really freaking sad, and we'll still know what this is." He's got a hand on the counter, cups the other one around the back of Derek's neck. "...Or..."
He's gonna do this. Derek isn't moving away from Stiles' fenced grip, just staring deep at him, big crazy-colored eyes all guilty and vulnerable and so goddamn unsure, and yet he's not moving. So Stiles is gonna do this. He takes a final step, smooths his hand into Derek's hair, and breaks gaze to the floor for just long enough to steady his heart--and press their lips together.
Derek kisses back.
It's a slow, tentative open-mouthed thing at first, warm and shaky with a rasp of stubble. Derek's not soft, his body is granite and his hair is thick and coarse under Stiles' eager fingers, but he tastes like cereal and salty-sweet skin and, adorably, chapstick. It's the hint of waxy mint that does Stiles in, makes him push the kiss deep and exploratory.
Derek nips at his lower lip in response with those fucking teeth, because he actually likes this. Derek wants this.
Stiles exhales on a laugh into Derek's mouth, slipping his hand from the counter to his hip, and then suddenly Derek's hands are on Stiles and Stiles is surging forward, pressing him back against the cheap formica.
God, he wants it like this forever, wants his tongue on the other side of Derek's teeth, wants him panting and desperate, wants to know what he tastes like when he's wanting Stiles.
It's not quite his first kiss--thank you, driver's license and Beacon Hills' predilection for underage drinking parties--but it is by far his best.
The sounds Derek makes, this freaking hitch in his throat when Stiles slips his hand beneath his shirt, brings him back to earth in the best way. He grins into the kiss, and murmurs, "So this healing thing, you still sneeze."
Derek pulls back and stares at him, hair everywhere, lips all red and swollen--dear god he's hot. "Yeah, this is the right time for this," he says, obviously and wonderfully out of breath.
They push for another drag of mouths as Stiles laughs and says, "Seriously, dude, hear me out. I'm thinking it's only, like, a major injuries deal that triggers it. Like real pain or damage or whatever--rr!" he stutters as Derek smooths a cool hand up his spine.
"Make a point," Derek punctuates.
Stiles replies by dragging his teeth and tongue over the hard jaw he's wanted his mouth on for long enough, hovering at his ear. "I can give you a monster hickey--like, the most obnoxious, and it won't heal."
Derek's hand on Stiles' back stiffens. "Yeah," he says, "then try it."
He does. He really, really does. Derek smells freaking amazing, like aftershave and morning in the forest, and his pulse under Stiles' mouth races as he clutches at Stiles' hair and shifts Stiles' thigh between his, jesus christ. He's a burning, writhing mass that threatens to envelop Stiles' whole body, his whole life, and he never wants to leave.
Which is why his phone buzzes in his pocket. They both feel it.
He's supposed to take his meds and meet up with Scott in an hour. He's probably supposed to lie to his dad about where he's been all night.
He only pulls back enough to see the bruise bright against Derek's skin. "You have to go?" Derek asks, voice scratchy and still holding Stiles firm against him. He's half-hard already, they both are.
"Yeah," he says, just as rough-sounding. "Scott and I were gonna have a romantic coffee date. Guess I'll have to tell him the bad news." Derek's smile is just a flash, but this close it's impossible to miss. "Shit, then I have to meet my dad--"
"It's okay," Derek says. God, the bruise is still there, on the underside of his jaw, unfading. He's blinding. Stiles kisses him again, slow.
"I'll be back tonight?" He thumbs at the hickey. "You know, for scientific purposes."
"Yeah," Derek says.
Leaving him on that counter, open and mussed, is honest to god one of the hardest things he's ever done. Driving through town to go do literally anything that isn't making out with Derek is a close second.
Especially when it's to go meet his best friend while his face is still a little stubble-red.
Scott beats him to Starbucks, already seated with a drink and his algebra book. Scott doesn't really like to study in places like this, but he's a good bro and Stiles theoretically isn't at a hundred percent from his drinking last night.
Stiles orders coffee and flops into a chair next to him, vibrating a little.
Scott looks up from logarithms to send him a questioning look. "How many cups have you had today?" he asks.
"None, uh," Stiles dismisses. "So, hey, you know how you hate Derek and me and him are hanging out lately?"
Scott's face turns sour. "He's dangerous."
Stiles takes a gulp of coffee and shoulder-nods in acknowledgment. "Yup."
"And he's kind of a butthead."
"He's a dick!" Scott exclaims. The barista behind the counter raises her eyebrow at them.
Stiles shrugs. "So am I, whatever."
"What? No you're not."
Scott has the decency to look offended on both their behalfs, but yeah, Stiles really is. "Beside the point!" he says, dropping it because it's unpleasant enough having this conversation with himself so he sure as hell isn't gonna have it with someone not himself. "Which is, steel yourself: last night we got drunk together and talked about some stuff, then this morning we totally made out and it was awesome."
Scott's 'aghast' face is so exaggerated it could win Tony awards. If Stiles watches close enough, he can see the lever switching between predictably horrified and being super proud of his bro for gettin' some and gettin' it good.
Stiles slouches in his big plush chair, satisfied. "Right?"
"But it's Derek."
Scott takes a steadying breath. "Okay, wait," he says. "So," he says. "You wanted it, right?"
There's no way Stiles could have stopped his bark of laughter at that. "Dude, he's not a vampire, he can't make me wanna touch his dick."
That horrified but conflicted look is back, so Stiles groans, throws his head back, and really dedicates himself to a full-body sigh. "Okay, pretend it's someone who's not Derek and just ask me."
Scott screws his eyes shut, probably literally following Stiles' advice since when he opens them his face is shining with curiosity and his voice is hushed. "So how far'd you go?" Scott is fully committed to best broship; Stiles commends him.
"Some pretty heavy over-the-pants," he muses, setting records for self-satisfaction. "I'm going back over tonight, and stuff's gonna happen, and you're gonna have to hear about it."
Scott shrugs. Neither of them is gonna bring Allison up right now, not after a month of her conspicuous absence from Scott's life, but the fact that Stiles knows her favorite style of sexy underwear is not lost on either of them.
"Okay," Scott dismisses, predictably on the same wavelength, "but like, Derek stuff aside though, isn't he kinda old?"
This time it's Stiles' turn to shrug. "Oh yeah, no, he's ancient. And I'm gonna fuck the shit out of him."
Scott nearly spits his coffee everywhere. "Dude--!"
"Sorry, no I'm not, but I am." He's really not. He's really just looking forward to tonight. Scott's not remotely placated, though. "Come on, man," he says, sobering up. "It's Derek--he's emotionally five." Scott opens his mouth like he wants to argue, but it's just an empirical fact: water is wet, the Yankees suck, and Derek Hale needs therapy. So Scott doesn't say anything about it.
Instead, he sets his coffee down, looking a little uneasy and still keeping his voice low as he asks, "Are you really gonna have sex tonight? That's... really early. Like, really early."
It's not like Scott is hurting his feelings or anything. He's not being unsupportive, or worse, a dickhead about it, which if Stiles is completely honest with himself was what he had prepared for--unfairly. Scott is golden, from his heart to his big werewolf eyes.
It's just that there's a table between them, and sometimes what feels like a mile beyond that.
"I'm not you, dude," Stiles says after a quiet minute. "I want this. It's not a big deal." The sex, at least. "It's not like we met yesterday. I just wanna go on a date thing and do stuff, I don't know."
Scott blows out a breath of truly melodramatic resignation. "I don't like this," he says, then grimaces and corrects, "well, I mean, I'm happy for you, but not for this, you know?"
Yeah, Stiles knows.
"The second you guys break up, I'm gonna murder him, though."
Stiles raises his wax cardboard cup. "Cheers, Scottie."
Eventually they split and Stiles has a late lunch with his dad, and it's only anxious for the first five minutes as Stiles takes the worst kind of advantage of Scott's recent struggles in academia to explain where he's going tonight. It honestly feels kinda good to lie about normal illegal teenager stuff.
They settle in talking about one of Dad's burglary cases for a while, then Stiles excuses himself to go finish some homework for an upcoming test.
It isn't a lie, technically. He spends the entire afternoon watching amateur porn.
He should have said no. He's already a felon as far as the Beacon Hills Sheriff's department is concerned, even if they haven't gotten anything to stick yet, though they could sure as hell make a case now.
He should have said no, but he thinks about the press of the breakroom counter against his back instead.
It's not like the Alphas are any less of a threat, but Derek has been doing pushups and situps and pullups indoors for a solid month, and it's time to do something he wants.
So he goes for a run.
When he gets back, sweaty and satisfied and light, his Betas are lounging in the platform lobby. It's Saturday--the pack has a standing agreement, and for the first time since he's had a pack, Derek managed to completely forget about it.
He should have said no. This really is such a bad idea, but lately Derek's heard that he's good at those.
Erica raises her eyes at him from where she's leaning against a train car. "You smell like you don't know what deodorant is," she says, nose wrinkled.
"Find somewhere else to be tonight," he replies, and all three turn looks that are way too knowing on him. In Boyd's case, it's also a little grossed out.
"Is this the you equivalent of a sock on the door?" he asks, and Derek thinks very seriously about reducing him to little Beta tears.
"Don't be ashamed, Derek," Erica lilts innocent-eyed in that faux-sweet bitch voice she's turning on him for the first time. "It's just a basic biological need."
Maybe before, he would have felt like he'd lost their respect. Maybe he has, maybe feeling like a big brother again for the first time in six years is just wishful thinking.
But maybe not.
That doesn't mean he's not this pack's Alpha, dammit. "I changed my mind. Get out now."
Boyd rolls his eyes but doesn't need to be told twice, grabbing the still-leering Erica by the hand and leading her out. She's got car keys in her hand--Boyd's--deliberately visible, practiced, and proud. They glint in the light with the afternoon dust and Derek's so blinded he doesn't even notice Isaac until his hand is on Derek's shoulder.
That's all it is, just a passing squeeze and nod as he leaves.
Derek forces himself to remember that they're still unstable and messed up kids. That that was the whole point: quick, easily manipulated power. Christ, he thinks as he soaps away sweat and prays for the water pressure to pick up beyond a taunting trickle, and again when he looks in the mirror and sees his unmarked throat, this thing with Stiles isn't even the worst thing he's done to a teenager.
And yet he keeps doing it. He's gonna do it again in a couple of hours.
When Stiles eventually wanders in, he's changed his clothes. He was out in the grass drunk all night, of course he did, but the new shirt fits a little better and Stiles smells a little better, like linen and want and Stiles.
"I haven't eaten or anything," he says, obviously nervous and scratching at his already tousled hair, "if you want to--mmf--"
Derek is a predator.
"Okay," Stiles manages between hungry kisses, grinning into them as he gains back ground, like he's just glad to be here. "Yeah, that works for me too."
Derek licks into his open mouth in response, hands anchoring his hips like they can convince him to stay, and maybe if Derek takes his clothes off, leaves his shirt on the dirty floor, leads Stiles back into his room and his bed, he'll never leave. He'll give Stiles everything he has.
"So we're--we're doing this, right? Right now?" Stiles asks when Derek gets under his shirt, reveling in the way Stiles shudders under his hands. He's so new. He kisses like he's young, mirroring Derek's mouth, but also like he's smart.
"Doing you," he replies into Stiles' skin. Stiles breaks away to laughs a real laugh like he thinks Derek's words have value, and when he turns to shut the bedroom door behind them, Derek reaches out to take his face in his hands, kiss him as deeply as he knows how, and tug his shirt over his head.
Stiles stares at him, breathless and wide-eyed. "I was gonna argue specifics, but..." he starts, But Derek is too busy looking. There's hair on his sports-toned chest. Just sparsely, before a dark line travels down into his jeans. This will be okay.
Stiles is tall and broad on top, closer to a man than a kid, but underneath, where slim torso tapers into slimmer hips, he's so damn small. Derek wants to make him writhe.
"Are you objectifying me?"
He also wants to make him stop talking. "Yes," he says, just to watch him flush a little flustered. That doesn't make it a lie, which he hopes he proves when he slides both hands hungrily up Stiles' waist.
"Jesus, Derek, are you for real?" Stiles looks... startlingly offended, even upset, and for a moment the bottom drops out of Derek's whole small world. He fucked up, shit, he fucked up.
"What?" he pleas breathlessly, "what--what did I--?"
"Oh my god, Derek, shut your fucking gorgeous unfair face," Stiles replies with a roll of his eyes before pushing him back down onto the bed and sliding over his body, hands everywhere, tongue deep and hot in Derek's mouth. Derek hates that he clings to him like a life preserver.
Stiles wedges his leg between Derek's and rocks their hips together with a hot jolt. Stiles is already hard, and dammit, so is Derek, and he can't keep a pathetic sigh from escaping as their cocks brush through fabric. "Yeah," Stiles says, "more of that."
Derek can't overpower Stiles, he can't dominate what they have here. God knows he's trying to outpace Stiles because that's what he knows, that's how sex with Derek is supposed to go, but Stiles' teeth are scraping reverently over his throat, down his collarbone, hot breath on a nipple before he tugs at it, and his hands are down the back pockets of Derek's jeans gripping his ass.
He groans, trapped between all this energy and the sheets, just before he wonders if this is how Kate felt.
"What? What's wrong?" Stiles looks down at them both, still tangled up, then jerks his hands away. It's blatant and obvious. Transparent. Man up, Hale.
Derek takes a breath. "It's fine. I'm fine," he grunts, frowning, but even through the stubble burn and blown pupils he can already see the concern starting on Stiles' face. He shifts on his back and wills his hands back to Stiles' hips.
"Dude, Derek--" he tries, awkwardly hovering above him.
"Don't. I'm not a flower, I'm not gonna break."
"Yeah, you're way prettier than a flower," agrees Stiles. Derek feels more like a bug, pinned under the scrutiny of his stare until finally something crosses it that's not quite understanding, but might be someday. "So, um," says, "is sudden stoppage gonna a theme of sex with Derek, or...?"
Derek wants to kiss him for a very long time.
"One of us has to make this last longer than ten minutes," he says instead.
Stiles gapes down at him. "Oh my god," he says, "you went for that joke." He brackets Derek's head between his arms, still straddling him. "I have jacking it down to an artform," he continues, looking deadly serious, and Derek would laugh except he's too busy picturing it, him flat on his back, cock heavy in his hand, fucking into it. Stiles must see what he sees because the grin that splits his face is one part delighted and two parts downright devious.
He adds, "...Lately you're a featured player." Then he drags a firm hand down Derek's body before popping open the button of his jeans.
Derek is still stuck on Stiles' words until Stiles squeezes him through his pants. "Wanna see if practice makes perfect?"
He can hear the rabbit thump of Stiles' heart right now, turned on but anxious. He's facing down a cliff, deciding whether to jump, and the deeply buried part of Derek that's still virtuous and good wants to tell him the water is cold, don't come in.
The sure tug of his zipper drowns it.
He lets his legs fall apart, and then Stiles' hand is pushing into his jeans. Stiles has to break eye contact and bury his face in Derek's neck as his fingers navigate over coarse hair and brush over the head of his dick.
He hesitates with inexperience for a moment, but before Derek can even process it Stiles is grasping him, tangling his fingers in fabric where Derek's so hard he's spilling over the waistband of his briefs. He arches against Stiles, caught up in the dual sensations of muffled cotton and hot skin on skin.
Derek's hands over the denim of Stiles' ass isn't enough, he needs skin, needs to grip and rock Stiles' body over his while Stiles pulls a slow, tight hand around him.
"Oh my god, you're uncircumcised," Stiles groans into his throat, "of course you are, god, you're so hot." Stiles kisses him again, asks, "Can I--?" into his mouth, and Derek doesn't have a chance to respond, fuck yes, do anything you want before Stiles is pulling his his cock's foreskin back over the head and swiping his thumb between them.
It hits him like fire, so sensitive, and Derek moans. "Take your pants off," he breathes, "get them off, christ, Stiles."
Stiles nods, already out of breath as he rolls off Derek to peel out of his jeans and socks. He's jittery and maybe a little insecure as he does it, naked with someone for what Derek is almost positive is the first time--a fact his brain and his dick are in constant clash about. Especially now, with Stiles' skin all flushed with sex, ready to be devoured.
But Derek has never in his life met someone with the raw nerve of Stiles, because the second his clothes hit the floor he's back on top of Derek, pushing him into the mattress with the force of his kiss and touch.
He'd almost be fine with just this for now, warm and anchored down, except the desperate noises Stiles is making are going straight to his dick. They both need this.
"Up," Derek says when he can't stand it anymore, pushing at him, "up, go, get up." He doesn't wait, just pushes Stiles off and up onto his knees so he can reach between the mattress and the wall for the bottle of lube stashed there.
It's odorless. Stiles would probably comment, but he's too busy raking his eyes over Derek's body and fisting his own dick.
And now Derek's too busy staring.
"Oh my god," Stiles groans, struggling to not double over as his own thumb circles the head of his cock, "can you--please, fuck, just--get over here and destroy me."
He can do that.
Derek pulls him into his lap and shoves his hand away, wrapping his own lubed hand around them both. It's a hot jolt through them both, Derek's breath caught in an exhale as Stiles fists his hands in Derek's hair and fucks up into his hand, up against his cock.
The tighter his grip, the more shift of their wet skin over hard flesh he feels, the more Stiles spreads his legs and throws himself into Derek. Derek keeps their hips tight, one hand gripping bruises into the meat of his ass and letting Stiles' uncontrolled thrusts rub their cocks together.
It's instinctual, he swears it is, when his his finger presses firmly against his hole. "Come on, come on," Stiles moans brokenly, "you don't have to fuck me yet, just--" he rocks back against Derek's finger, already slick enough from the lube. Derek can't stop himself.
Just the one isn't difficult, it's not much of a stretch no matter how tight Stiles is--very--but Stiles still gasps like someone punched him when Derek pushes inside. He wants more of that sound, wants it every second of every day, he's goddamn greedy for it, so he pushes in again, hard.
Stiles is a wreck. His mouth is hanging open, swollen and raw, eyes glazed and hair matted with sweat. Derek wants to break him to pieces.
"Shit," Stiles moans, grinding down on him, clenching, hot and tight and eager. "Oh, shit, Der--" Stiles bites down on the juncture of Derek's neck and shoulder, panting, and what fucking little control Derek has left he uses to thrust hard, and fist Stiles' cock harder. Then the bite turns rigid, and every muscle in Stiles' body goes taut, and with a wrenched, desolate cry Stiles is coming.
And Stiles is still coming when Derek pushes him onto his back, shoves his finger in deep, and takes Stiles into his mouth while he tugs himself hard and fast.
He's so close he can't even register the taste, just the heat building like a wave in his spine, and Stiles' ragged breathing beneath him as he pulls off. He surges up, wrapping his body around Stiles' until he finds the friction of his dick against Stiles' belly, and he only needs a couple of sharp, aborted thrusts before he's done.
He's still trying, still snapping uncoordinated hips as his come smears between them, all over Stiles' skin, until there's no more energy to do anything but suck in air and notice Stiles' hands tangled in his hair.
"You're awes'me," Stiles slurs, scritching his scalp.
If Derek hums gently, that's no one else's business. He hasn't been this warm in a very long time.
Even with Stiles' soft skin under him and his hands all over him, it doesn't take long to feel a little gross. He swipes the sheets over them to clean them off and catches Stiles' face: fucked out, hair plastered down and back, eyes glassy and smile stupid. The sheets will be a lost cause anyway, if Derek gets his way.
And for once in a very, very long time, he thinks he might.
Derek forces himself to move, just enough to slide up Stiles' boneless body and kiss him, slow and begrudgingly sweet. He sighs in response and drapes his arms around Derek, content to just do for a few minutes.
Finally he pulls back, and his sharpness is back. "I'm gonna fuck you next time. if that's cool," he says, voice rough. "With my dick." Derek must make a face, because Stiles grins, squeezes his ass, and continues, "Like, full face in the mattress, just throw you down and go to town and I'm Jewish, but we're gonna find Jesus."
Derek yanks the pillow from under Stiles' head to smack him in the face with it.
...It's been a while for him, but he could get into that.
Right now, though, he's fine with doing what his body tells him and wrapping himself around Stiles, content to not move for a while.
Or he would, except Stiles is tapping at his phone. He grumbles, deliberately resettling his heavy weight, and Stiles cocks an eyebrow in response and tightens his arm around Derek's waist. "Chill out, I'm gonna piss off Scott," he shrugs, angling the phone so Derek can see. The text message is just a youtube link. Stiles clicks it:
I JUST HAD SEX, AND IT FELT SO G--
Derek rips the battery out, does not chuckle, and goes back to basking quietly in the setting sunlight, naked and warm.
Stiles pets his hair. "Are you sure wolf is the right animal for you? 'Cause I'm thinking more snake or kitty cat."
"You cannot be quiet, can you?"
Derek's whole back tenses at the light pressure of Stiles tracing his tattoo, though it only takes a moment to relax again. Even when Stiles is silent, he's still communicating. They lie like that for a few minutes, Derek curled around Stiles as the sun turns more and more gold.
It's peaceful. So like clockwork, Stiles starts to fidget.
He twirls some of Derek's hair on his fingers. "I know we're trying really hard not to remember my age--" Derek winces. "--but how is werewolf refractory time?"
Derek looks up at him, resting his chin on Stiles' chest. His eyes are lidded, and he's stroking lower and lower down Derek's back. "You're serious," he confirms.
"As a freaking heart attack. Which if I don't give you by like, round three, I'm gonna be really disappointed in myself."
He's ruining a teenager. He should probably feel worse about it, but it's hard to care when Stiles' fingertips skate over his ass. "I don't think we can get heart attacks," he says.
"It's like you have no scientific spirit." Stiles squeezes, and Derek's rumbling chuckle turns into something else. "Here's a thing, though, you gotta shave more, 'cause this?" He gestures to his mouth and throat, skin red, lips puffy and neck scraped raw. "Not working for me."
Derek could attack his skin again, wear down every freckle and mole, grind the flush in with his mouth until it's permanent, but he just shrugs. "I don't mind it."
Stiles peers at him. "Shave," he repeats.
Derek smiles back. "Aloe."
"I want you to touch your face," Stiles says, grabbing Derek's hand and smooshing it against his own jaw, and Derek must be more fucked up than he thought because he lets him. "Tell me that doesn't feel like sandpaper. Really beautiful sandpaper."
Frowning to cover the heat in his cheeks because he is an adult and not a fourteen year-old, Derek grumps, "I don't want to shave."
"Do you want to keep kissing me? Because it sure as shit sounds like you don't."
He doesn't ever want to stop, to be honest. Which is why they don't, why Derek kisses him quiet, why he decides halfway through blowing Stiles for real this time that he'd rather feel Stiles' mouth go slack against his as his fingers work inside him.
It's why even as sunset turns to night and Stiles declares cereal is not appropriate post-sex dinner--Derek doesn't see a problem, but whatever--they grab drive-thru food. Because he'd probably get arrested if he pinned Stiles mid-bite in an actual restaurant.
Stiles laughs at him, then shoves him over to make good on his promise. It's a little short, and Derek doesn't find god, but a couple of days after when Stiles pounds him into a slow but deep and hard orgasm, he gets embarrassingly close.
But no one else has to know. No one else does know, except Scott who won't look him in the eye, and for once it's hilarious instead of frustrating, and Lydia, because she took one look at them the first day they met up to discuss Peter and said, "Please refrain from getting gross until we get the specifics planned. I can't believe I missed this about you, Stilinski."
Derek doesn't have the attachment to her that Stiles has. He would have no problem throwing her out by her well-sprayed hair.
Stiles probably wouldn't like that. Derek is surprised how many things he won't do because Stiles doesn't like them.
Stiles drags Derek to a movie, and they argue about it the whole time. It's not his fault the entire summer season is comic book movies and Derek has wrong opinions about almost all of them.
He doesn't even shut up about them when Stiles blows him after, in the passenger seat of the Jeep. He's not sure whether to be offended--he's new at blowjobs and they're hard, pun intended--or just in a weird haze of bitchy, sexy nirvana.
He figures both.
He also figures that pretty well sums up whatever this relationship is.
Derek is grouchy, and not sociable, and sometimes infuriating, and can be baited into bickering about pretty much anything, and he likes to do this thing where he's rude to people who piss him off in restaurants and then merrily listen in when they whine to the rest of their table.
Stiles is trying really hard to not be That Guy and spend every waking non-Dad, non-Scott moment with him.
When school gets out and Stiles can officially tack a less embarrassingly low grade level to his name, that's a seriously tall order.
Even with finals over, their plan to get Peter an actual, non-upgradeable one-way ticket to Deadsville turns out to be more complicated than they anticipated. Derek insists that taking out one of his own Betas unprovoked could look bad to the Alpha pack. It should be Lydia, he insists, because she brought him back to life.
Stiles thinks it's pure horseshit. They don't talk for a day or two over it, but later, when Derek clutches at Stiles' bedspread and then Stiles' face after he sneaks in to defend himself, Stiles can at least believe Derek believes it.
They have sex after that.
They usually do. Stiles really freaking loves sex, which is not remotely a shocker to either him or poor, overshared-with Scott, but it's just especially awesome with his werewolf boyfriend. Boyfriend? Is it rude or presumptuous to call someone your boyfriend when it's not even Facebook official? His werewolf person-he's-dating. He should clarify this with him.
It's almost definitely presumptuous to guess that from the easiness Derek wears when they meet up on breezy Friday nights, "completely exclusive sex person who makes my heart thump" isn't too far off the mark.
Stiles doesn't really care.
He cuts the engine and hops out of the Jeep. Wednesday evening is usually when he and Scott train on the field--it's still light out, and almost everyone else who uses it is in weird church things--but Stiles is getting pretty awesome at catching balls in various places including lacrosse nets (ha), so he can blow it off tonight.
He bounds down the stairs of the depot, hands in his pockets as he hops the last couple of steps--
Where Derek isn't waiting.
But Peter is.
"Hello, Stiles," he says. "You look nice."
Stiles has a better shirt on than usual, and the red pants that make his ass look decent. Peter's predatory gaze has him regretting every non-bargain barrel purchase he's ever made in his life.
"Yeah, y'know, I kinda figured this was Derek-and-Stiles time," he says, with a swallow, gesturing between himself and where Derek is troublingly not. His heart is pounding and they both know it, but his voice still sounds measured when he adds, "Since the text came from his phone."
"I remember when texting was still a pay service," Peter replies idly. Then: "I know what you two are doing."
He doesn't move, just cocks his head smiles faintly, eyes narrowed as he adds, "Besides each other."
The rush of blood to Stiles' head isn't sure if it's panicked or grossed out.
"I don't know, that's pretty much all we do." He still has one hand in his pocket, with his phone and keys. "It's pretty much just sex, really shallow, all the time."
"Don't insult us both, Stiles."
Peter might be physically weak now compared to Derek, but he's still a werewolf with claws and teeth and heightened observation and most important of all, speed. Stiles has one shot at this.
"You could leave," he says, trying to keep the tremble out of his voice. Power on, swipe to unlock. "That would kind of negate the whole need for planning, you know." Home screen, three swipes to the left. "Or, you know, you could just not be evil to everyone all the time." He licks his lips only partly out of nervous habit--it keeps Peter's eyes focused on his face.
Top corner icon, double-tap.
"Oh," Peter says with a show of teeth, "but where's the fun in that?"
Stiles' phone vibrates as the message sends.
Peter roars. He's on him in a flash, ripping Stiles' hand from his pocket, still clutching his phone. Peter's grip is crushing, forcing his fingers loose until he can grab the phone and hurl Stiles to the floor. Pain explodes in Stiles' shoulder and elbow, whiting everything out for a moment, and then Peter is standing above him, staring at the sent message on the screen.
Code zombie 911
Peter rolls his furious gaze over Stiles, then hurls his phone to the ground. It shatters.
"We're going for a ride."
The iron grip on the back of his neck, jerking him to his feet, doesn't leave much room for argument.
Stiles tries to keep up as Peter drags him up the stairs, but Peter's fast and Stiles hurts and he keeps slipping over the metal.
Lydia would have gone to the bomb shelter and called Jackson the second she got the text, but all bets are off about Derek actually following the freaking plan and going with her. Right now, still trying to scrabble to his feet as Peter throws open the door and then throws Stiles into the side of his Jeep, Stiles isn't sure which he'd prefer.
Peter advances on him, pulling him upright by the shirt collar until Stiles is pressed against the driver's side door, shaking. "I like you, Stiles," he says, smiling mirthlessly at Stiles' cringe, "I just like living more. Now open the door, and get in."
"Or how about I just not do that--" he starts, then yelps when Peter pulls him off the door, yanks it open, and shoves him in. He's still recovering by the time Peter climbs in the passenger side, and they stare at each other, like Stiles can't break eye contact. It's like Peter is going for polite or affably evil, but underneath, it's just...
Rage. And ash.
"You're going to take us to Derek and Miss Martin," he says.
Stiles doesn't move.
"You're going to take us to them," he repeats, trailing his fingers briefly up Stiles' shoulder before squeezing, "or I will break every bone in your frail body."
His shoulder creaks. "I don't care," he says, and he says it with every ounce of conviction he can muster.
Peter just rolls his eyes. "You have a choice, Stiles," he says. "This is going to end one of two ways, and none of them involves all three of you living. You'd let your father lose his wife and son for her? For him? Do you think he can survive that?"
The car is a sauna, but everything in Stiles from his head to his soul goes ice cold.
His voice is small when he manages, "What the holy hell is wrong with you?"
Peter has the balls to look contemplative and, jesus, almost sad. "Stiles," he says, "some tragedies are too great, some traumas cut too deep--"
"</i>What</i>," Stiles spits, "like kidnapping a teenager and forcing him to choose between his boyfriend and his dad?"
"Now that's just building character. I'm helping you define your priorities." Peter slides up to him and Stiles clenches his eyes shut, trying to block him out, but there are lips brushing against his ear and fingers dancing over his neck, then hot breath as Peter whispers, "Time is important here, so I suggest you decide quickly, Stiles."
The fingers at his throat shift to sharp claws.
"Or I'll have to choose for you."
If he lives through this, Stiles is gonna have a hearty laugh about Peter's impeccable sense of villainous timing. Right now, he's just sobbing in fear.
(He saw the corpse, after. He's well aware he'll be the second person Derek's stuck his dick in to get their throat ripped out.)
The claws stay sharp and close as Peter slips his other hand into Stiles' pocket and pulls out his keys, pressing them into Stiles' right hand.
He stares at them like a death sentence.
"Oh, come on, it's not that bad," Peter mollifies, and he turns Stiles' hand over, both of them fitting the key into the ignition. "It's not like I'm putting Scott on the line this time." Then he lets his hand go. The claws stay put.
Stiles hovers, paralyzed.
"Turn the key, Stiles."
His hand tightens on it.
And suddenly Peter is yanking him back, over the console and the passenger seat and out of the car, just before Derek skids across the pavement from a full run.
Derek roars, skipping Stiles' heart a beat.
But it means just about jack, because Peter has him pulled into a full-body shield, clutching his wrist in one hand and his throat in the other, claws still out. There's blood trickling lightly onto his shirt. He's trying not to breathe, not that the crushing weight in his chest is letting any air in anyway.
He can feel his pulse pounding against Peter's fingers.
"Derek," Peter says, "I hope you don't think I have any hesitation about killing him."
Derek growls through his fangs, but stays back.
He's fully shifted, clothes ringed with sweat from where he must have run all the way from wherever he was. They meet gazes, both scared and angry.
There's no 'what do you want's or 'let him go's, just viciously tense wordlessness between all of them as they wait for someone, anyone, to slip up.
Stiles is probably gonna die. Whatever the hell his plans or motivations are, Peter has no need for a hyperventilating human anymore. If it's just a matter of time, what the hell does he have to lose? Stiles shifts his weight and backs as far away from Peter's nails as he can get.
Then he elbows him right in the balls.
Peter grunts in pain, just stunned enough that the pressure of his claws goes slack. Derek charges as Stiles hurls himself away, but Peter is already coming at him. His claws are vicious and ready, and Stiles is gonna die.
Derek is fast, but not fast enough.
There's a moment, right then, as Stiles is scrambling away and Peter is snarling and swiping at him, where Derek hovers between them. The millisecond he can, Peter will run.
If he doesn't kill Peter now, he might not get another chance.
But suddenly Derek's body covers his, shielding, and they as both hit the cement Derek grunts in pain. Peter is already taking off and out of sight. "Go, go!" Stiles hisses. "Leave me, get the hell up!"
Derek grimaces and shakes his head. "M'not leaving. He nicked my spinal cord, anyway." he says through gritted teeth. Gross. His full weight is slumped over Stiles, and it would be uncomfortable except Stiles is too busy shaking and clinging to him to notice.
Clinging to Derek.
Beautiful, steadfast, fucked-up Derek, whose breath is rattling for Stiles, whose uncle is going god knows where, still at large, and who made that stupid choice.
Derek is so freaking good.
Stiles tells him as much through half-coherent trembling words, so when Derek can finally sit up with just a wince, he pulls Stiles with him and just... holds him. A big, strong, equally clingy embrace. Peter is long gone, anyway.
Stiles is just trying to remember how to breathe.
"He wanted me to make a choice," he says eventually, still on the ground in Derek's arms. It's twilight out now, and the evening air feels nice. "Between you and Lydia or..." Jesus, he chokes a little. "My dad."
Derek is gorgeous and so perfect that he doesn't ask, but he's not perfect enough to keep the question off his face.
Stiles shrugs and keeps his gaze on the lingering sunlight at the tops of the trees. "I didn't have to make a decision. So it doesn't matter."
Derek's answer is to just burrow deeper. "Okay," he says, and after a while extracts himself just enough to cup Stiles' face in his hand. He gets what the pained look on him is, because it's exactly how Stiles feels right now: shredded, but still held together.
"I'm not good at this," Derek says.
"I don't really need you to be," Stiles replies. Then he pulls Derek into a kiss with teeth, and Derek bows his head into Stiles' shoulder, breathing deep.
He's not sure how long they stay like that. It could be years. There could be a new President, Halley's comet could come back, continental drift could carry them into the middle of the ocean, the sun could burn out and Stiles could still be holding this man that neither of them deserves in his arms.
His legs are starting to cramp, though. The crash is leaving him thrumming. "I need to go for a drive, just to, I dunno," Stiles tries, breaking the silence, then gives up. His whole body is anxiety. "I just do." He pokes at Derek. "Come with me."
Derek nods without actually moving. Stiles can't help but snicker through everything.
"I think it's illegal to drive with a person attached to you, buddy." He gets it, though. He doesn't want to unwind from Derek's everything either.
By some miracle they eventually manage it, climbing to their feet and prying apart just enough to climb in opposite sides of the Jeep. It's ridiculous, but whatever, Stiles can still feel the pinpricks on the thin skin of his throat. His best friend is a werewolf. The girl of his dreams is dating a werewolf. His hot boyfriend is also a werewolf--that one's a triple whammy.
He's allowed to be ridiculous.
This time, he doesn't hesitate with the ignition, or with rolling the windows down, or with taking curves way too fast, or even with passing cars on a double-yellow. Derek is quiet, no smart bullshit about Stiles' driving, definitely not looking out in the woods where everything not in this Jeep waits for them. Stiles is pretty safely sure he isn't projecting.
They're almost to the main highway. There's a sign for a small state route ahead of them, pointing the way back to Beacon Hills. Stiles gets on the on-ramp instead.
"So that thing you said before," Stiles says as they accelerate. The Jeep groans at the cement plates coming faster and faster, until finally they smooth into new highway, open and dingy, but still bright. "It's always gonna be like this?"
Derek leans forward with his arms on his thighs, contemplating, then glances over at Stiles--soft, but not apologetic.
"Probably," he replies.
Stiles nods and shifts into fifth. Then he links his fingers with Derek's.
It could be worse.
* * *