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He’s going to die.

Derek is certain of it. He'd used the last of his proverbial lives even though that’s only supposed to apply to cats, and he’s now going to die. He’s completely, one hundred percent resigned to it even, until he hears the familiar thump-ump of Stiles' heart approaching.

Suddenly, it’s Stiles that’s going to die and that’s unacceptable.

The chains he’s bound with are covered in mountain ash, designed to sap his strength but Derek ignores that, ignores the pain and the knowledge that he might be doing damage he won’t come back from because Stiles is there, voice raised and angry in the adjoining room. There are three hunters who are faster, better, much more morally compromised than Stiles will ever be holding Derek captive and he’ll hesitate when they won't. He’ll hesitate, the hunters will shoot him down and Derek will have to listen on helplessly.

"That's so cute. Your pet came," the one hunter in the room with him says. He sounds like he's having an excellent time and Derek is pretty sure that he is. What he’s not sure of is where the rest of his pack is. He can only hope they’re not trapped like him.

There's a gunshot, sharp and surprising and Derek roars, a horrified denial. Stiles' heart still beats but it's too fast and Derek doesn't know if it's currently pumping his life's blood onto the floor.

"Holy-!" one of the hunters yells from the next room and the one babysitting him looks puzzled when there's another shot, moves to the door with his gun still by his side. He’s disappeared into the next room when there's a third shot and then silence.

"Are you okay?" someone asks, and for a moment Derek can't recognize Stiles' voice. It sounds so hollow and wrong somehow, like it's been removed and replaced and doesn't quite fit the boy he knows, he knew. "Derek!"

"One of them has the key," Derek says, holding up his chained wrists, surprised at how level his own voice is, that it doesn't sound as shocked as he feels. Surprised that Stiles was able to enter the room and he didn’t notice. "Stiles, what-?"

"Don't suppose you know which one?" Stiles says, then, "Fine, whatever." He disappears back into the next room. There's a shuffling, scraping sound and then Stiles reappears to hunker back down next to Derek, frowning. He’s got a ring thick with keys in his hand, a troll doll novelty key ring poking out between his fingers. Stiles finds the padlock that holds the chains together that in turn holds Derek to the wall and starts trying keys, muttering while he works.

"Stiles-" Derek starts to say again, is at a loss how to finish.

"They beat my dad," Stiles says without inflection. He doesn't look up at Derek, just tries key after key, making tsking noises as he moves through what seems like a dozen with no luck. "They thought he was dead. They left him for dead."

Derek knows that happened. It’s why he’d gone after the hunters without any real plan, half-cocked Deaton would call it. Sheriff Stilinski was under his protection, had been pretty much since Stiles rammed himself into Derek's life. If he's honest with himself, Derek might have lost it more because they'd been looking for Stiles, were planning to make an example of the human that would join a wolf pack. They might not have left Stiles with the inch of life the Sheriff had managed to cling to.

Stiles huffs out, "Finally," when he finds the right key and Derek feels the chains loosen. Stiles very carefully unloops them from around Derek, trying not to touch the places he's been spared their burn already but it's unavoidable. Derek bites down on the hiss when they brush unmarked skin but Stiles hears it anyway, wincing in sympathy.

"Listen," Derek says, as he allows Stiles to help him up. Derek will be able to stand under his own power eventually, but right now he's too hurt and too tired to resist not only the offer of help, but Stiles' touch, his scent, the simple warmth of him. In the two years Derek has known him, Stiles has broadened, grown solid through his trunk and sure on his feet. He's not the underweight sixteen year old he was anymore and Stiles handles Derek's bulk easily. "You were never here. This was all me."

"Thanks, but that isn't going to work," Stiles says as he hustles Derek from the room he’d been kept in and into the main part of the abandoned warehouse the hunter’s had been using as a hideout. Derek shuffles away from Stiles' hold so he can face him, get hands on Stiles' shoulders.

"Don't be stupid," Derek says.

"You're so cute when you're all growly and protective," Stiles says. It's the right words but the tone is flat. Derek puts a palm to Stiles' face.

"Let me do this."

"Derek, these aren't some down-home good ol' boys shooting at squirrels in their spare time." Stiles takes Derek's face between his palms, turns it up towards a corner of the high warehouse ceiling. "Say hi to the viewers at home."

Derek sees it immediately, the camera nestled in the corner, unobtrusive unless you're looking for it. It might have been a relic from a time when the warehouse was occupied, but it looks too new and there’s a tiny red light on the bottom of the lens that's on. "Holy shit," Derek breathes. "Can we break it?"

"You're such a luddite," Stiles huffs. "Breaking the camera won’t help. The feed is going somewhere, Grandpa, an offsite server or network and the Chasseurs are either watching it now, or will be very soon."

"The Chasseurs?" Derek says slowly. The name is familiar but he's not sure why. Stiles gets his shoulder under Derek's arm again, urges him forward and Derek starts moving.

"The second guy that I-" Stiles swallows reflexively, clears his throat. "The second guy was Willy Chasseur. They're kinda on a par with the Argents for reputation and history, much bigger in numbers and not so keen on the code. To them, the only good werewolf is a dead werewolf."

They're outside before he knows it, Stiles' jeep parked in a wan circle of light, blocking in another much larger black SUV. Derek can't explain why seeing the familiar light blue monstrosity makes him feel better, maybe because it's so intimately linked with Stiles, with safety, with pack. He can't believe that only two days ago Stiles was making him sing along to Tiny Dancer in it.

Derek makes a grab for the passenger side door, but his muscle control is still all over the place so Stiles props him against the jeep and opens the door himself, helps Derek inside. Derek lets his head hit the back of the seat when he’s situated, closing his eyes for a second and letting the Stiles soaked space calm him, make it a little easier to breathe.

"I called Scott and Isaac. They were on the other side of town. I think your leather jacket is a goner, sorry. We can have a little ceremony for it."

"What?"

"The hunters, they stole your jacket from your loft, ripped it into bits and put them all over town so we couldn't track you by scent."

"How did you find me?"

Stiles is sitting in the driver's side now, gripping the steering wheel. His knuckles go white as he flexes his hands, flood pink again when he eases up. "Process of elimination. I would’ve gotten to you sooner but..." Stiles lets go of the steering wheel long enough to make a helpless gesture of apology.

"You should've had one of the others with you," Derek grits out. He knows it's useless to go down this road, complain about what should’ve happened. Stiles snorts because he knows it, knows Derek is just venting to assuage his own helplessness.

"We were stretched a little thin. Erica was at the hospital protecting my dad and Boyd was guarding Melissa. My dad heard them say they were going after her next. He told us that before he passed out." Stiles' voice is a hard, small thing.

"How is he?" Derek asks.

"They put him into an induced coma. The hunters... they hit him in the head... a lot." Stiles sniffs, rubs over his face with a shirt sleeve. Derek wants to reach out to him but knows he would be rebuffed at the moment, that comfort is the last thing Stiles needs right now. He wants to be angry and Derek will let him, will be a willing target if it'll help. The anger seems to dissipate though and Stiles sounds so horribly young and distraught when he asks, "So, what do we do now?"

Derek can't believe he's saying it, but, "We go to Chris."

*

"I can't help you."

They're sitting at Chris' dining table, Stiles nursing a mug of hot chocolate he hasn't touched with marshmallows quickly turning to bloated mush floating around the top. Chris had accepted their presence with a grim little nod, asking after Stiles' dad and looking pained that the news wasn't better.

"Why not?" Derek demands, brows furrowed. He's glaring at Chris because at the moment it's too painful to look at Stiles who seems to have folded in on himself.

"Derek, the Argent name and our reputation is basically all that's holding off any other hunters coming into Beacon Hills. We're already on shaky ground considering what my father and Kate did. I'm not about to knock out the one remaining support pillar we have by coming down on the side of werewolves against a family like the Chasseurs."

"But-"

"They've already been working to discredit us. They weren't exactly pleased I held them off when we had a kanima in town or an Alpha pack. I'm the thin red line between your pack and the rest of the world. If you want a territory to come back to, I can't help you now."

Derek understands, but he doesn't like it. "We'll have to leave."

"Yes. I can protect your betas at least. I’ll keep my ear to the ground and let you know when the dust has settled."

"It won't," Derek says grimly. He knows what hunters are like when they feel they have a score to settle. He knows they'll be relentless.

"The good news is at least that you killed Willy Chasseur. He's been rogue for a while, the family’s not so secretly glad to be shot of him. Anyone else and they'd be demanding the entire pack be eradicated."

"You've talked to them already?" Derek asks, surprised.

"I was their first call. They want the shooter and the Alpha he was protecting. I took the liberty of telling them you'd already fled, north."

"My dad," Stiles says, voice raspy. Both Chris and Derek look at him but Stiles' own eyes are on his hands, fingers twisting together. "Can you explain everything to him? I mean everything? He'll believe you and he might... he might forgive me for lying if he knows what's been happening."

"You're sure?" Chris asks and Derek reaches across the table, takes one of Stiles' hands. He doesn't snatch it back immediately which Derek is heartened by.

"I don't want him to think I just... left."

"He'll try and follow you," Chris says. "He'll probably tear out his IV and follow you in a wheelchair if that’s what it takes." Chris huffs a hollow-sounding laugh. "I know I would if it were Allison."

"Make sure he doesn't," Stiles says.

"Look," Chris says, attention back on Derek. "I might not be able to help you but someone else might. There are a couple of larger packs, ones that have connections that hunters tend not to touch."

"You guys do like the easy prey," Derek says, can't really stop himself from making the dig but winces in apology when Chris just gives him a level look.

"The closest of them," Chris says, choosing to ignore Derek's jibe. "Is in Strathfield."

"I’ve heard of them," Derek says. "Hopefully they'll know me, or of me at least."

"That might not be a good thing though, right?" Chris says, his own turn to taunt and Derek accepts it with a wry twist of his nod because Chris isn’t exactly wrong..

*

Scott and Allison are waiting back at Stiles' place when they get there, both sitting on the front porch steps, hands clasped. Scott stands when he spots the jeep, Allison following a little slower. They both look pensive and Derek doesn't blame them. They know what's happened, Derek heard Chris calling Allison on their way out, telling her not to get involved.

Scott darts forward as soon as Stiles slides out of the jeep and wraps him up in a hug. Stiles, usually generous with affection, slumps limply in Scott's embrace but doesn't return it. Scott doesn't seem to care though, just holds onto Stiles for as long as he'll let him.

"Come on," Derek says eventually, twists a hand in the material at Stiles and Scott's shoulders and tugs them inside, Allison ghosting their steps. Stiles toes his shoes off in the front hall, obviously by habit more than anything else. He seems to run out of steam after that, just stares down at his socked feet until Derek herds him further inside.

Allison catches his arm as Scott tows Stiles silently upstairs. Stiles' sustained quiet has been unsettling. Stiles had babbled through a broken thumb a few months ago and after being almost drowned by a sprite before that. Derek is pretty sure that Stiles would be able to babble through a collapsed lung but he's not talking now.

"Is he okay?" Allison asks, chewing on her lower lip. "My dad said he..."

"He saved my life, probably all of us," Derek says. "After they'd gotten rid of me they would have gone after the rest of the betas. Just think about Scott cut in half before you spare any sympathy for-"

"I wasn't!" Allison hisses, looking angry. "I wonder if there was another way, if we could've avoided Stiles having to do... that, but I'm sure you're wondering that too."

After a moment, Derek nods stiffly.

"Stiles, he... we were with him when he found his dad. There was so much blood that we didn't think he could be alive underneath it at first. I thought I'd been around violent people but that." Allison breathes deep, her mouth firming down into a thin line. "Those guys enjoyed themselves."

"They were looking for Stiles. They thought his father was a good compromise, thought he knew, that he was using his position to protect wolves in his town."

"We should tell him, after all this."

"Stiles asked your father to tell his," Derek says and Allison blinks at that, surprised, before she nods.

"I guess if it can't be Stiles he's the next best thing. It might be a little hard to take from Scott. He's known Scott his whole life. My dad will give him just the facts, he won't sugar coat it but he won't be overly harsh either."

"Yeah, I know," Derek says. One thing he's learned over the years about Chris Argent is that the man is fair. He won't poison the Sheriff against them, will just lay everything out and let him make up his own mind.

"Where are you going to go?" Allison asks.

"It's probably better I don't tell you, or Scott," Derek says. "Your father knows where we're headed. That's enough."

"You could stay. We could-"

"No," Derek says.

"We could come."

"No," Derek repeats. "Please make sure the others don't follow us either. I can keep him safe and he wouldn't want to risk you guys."

"I know you think you need to do things on your own, but you have a family now," Allison says gently and Derek offers her a wan smile. He likes that they've come full circle, that she's willing to count him as one of her own. Time was, she was full of anger and after that, awash with bitter regret. They've landed in a place they're both comfortable, never truly close but pack all the same.

"Ready," Stiles says from the foot of the stairs, backpack slung over one shoulder and laptop bag dangling from his fingers. Scott's standing just behind him, looks like he wants to grab Stiles up again.

"Take my car," Allison offers and both Derek and Stiles pull faces. She rolls her eyes, presses the keys into Derek's hand. "It's not as obvious as both of yours."

"You just want the Camaro," Derek grumbles, digging his own keys out of his pocket and tossing them to her.

*

They'd pulled off at a roadside motel with a clichéd buzzing sign when Derek couldn't keep his eyes open anymore. Stiles hadn't offered to drive and Derek didn't want to make him. He'd paid for the room with cash to an uninterested night clerk who hadn't made him present a credit card even though a sign pasted above his head said it was required.

Derek jerks awake when it's still dark, motel sheets gritty under his face and room empty. When he'd crashed belly-down on the bed Stiles had been sitting on the other one with his laptop on his knee, staring out the window. Derek had thought he'd sleep eventually but now he’s worried that Stiles had merely been waiting for him to sleep before slipping out.

Derek curses, pulls the jeans he'd kicked off in his sleep back on and steps into his boots, not bothering with socks. The air is cold outside the room and the skin across his chest and arms pebbles. Stiles' laptop is still on the second bed which is the only reason Derek isn't full-out panicking.

He finds Stiles at the motel's pool, an empty concrete basin with a foul smelling green slick at the bottom and graffiti littering the sides. Stiles is sitting on the edge, sweats pushed up to his knees like he's dangling his feet in actual water and it makes Derek want to smile helplessly.

"You okay?" Derek asks. He winces because it's the worst kind of question, so hollow and meaningless.

"Yeah," Stiles says, scrubbing hands over his thighs. "I know I shouldn't be but-"

"Why shouldn't you be?" Derek asks, lowering himself down next to him. Stiles is wearing a hoodie, Derek can only see the point of his nose and chin when he's next to him.

"I should, I don't know, regret it, right? That's the normal thing to be feeling. I don't though, I can't."

"It needed to be done."

Stiles turns then, eyebrows pinched together. "Listen to you, it needed to be done," Stiles huffs, lowering his voice to impersonate Derek. It's like the way a kid impersonates an adult. Stiles even pulls an exaggerated scowly face to complete the effect. "Who says stuff like that?"

"They would have killed me and then gone after the rest of the betas. Maybe you as well since they'd planned on it initially. Lydia, Deaton, Allison-"

"Stop, okay? I know. I know all that, I don’t need a fucking list. It still doesn't make me comfortable with being so... okay with it."

"There's survivor's guilt and buyer's remorse but there's no neat little phrase for what you're feeling right now. I wish there was so I could explain it."

"I didn't even hesitate though. I didn't even think about those guys being people, eating breakfast and having hobbies and family-"

"Don't do that," Derek says, grips Stiles around the back of the neck and tugs him forward until their foreheads are pressed together. Stiles makes a choked off little noise in the back of his throat, hurt and sadness combined and Derek wraps both arms around him more firmly, tugs Stiles all the way into the curve of his body.

"Maybe I'm not as okay as I thought," Stiles sighs, words warm against Derek's skin.

"You will be. I'll do whatever it takes to make sure."

*

"How will we find them?" Stiles asks. They're in a diner on the outskirts of Strathfield. It's a city similar in size to Beacon Hills with it's own hospital and high school but it feels like a small town. The waitress had poured coffee for them without being asked, circled back to take their orders and didn't write them down.

Derek hates that.

She dumps the plates on the table. It's early morning and she's either at the beginning of her shift or the end of it by the lacklustre way she's treating their orders. Derek tugs his eggs and bacon towards himself, pushes Stiles' pancakes and curly fries against Stiles' folded hands. Stiles plucks at the fries disconsolately but doesn't pick any up.

"We won't need to, they'll find us," Derek says. He reaches across and steals a sliver of pancake from Stiles because he doesn't seem interested in them, rolls it in bacon and drags it through maple syrup. Stiles pulls a face at him but Derek thinks that he doesn't have a leg to stand on considering he'd ordered fries with his breakfast, even if he wasn't planning on eating them.

"Really?"

"They'd probably let an omega pass through their territory unmolested but I'm an Alpha and I don't have a pack with me. That'll worry them."

"Ooh," Stiles says, a contemplative sound. "Like those nature documentaries where some unattached male comes barging in and challenges, takes all the ladies when he wins."

"Something like that," Derek huffs, mouth twisting up.

Stiles has his phone out and he's spinning it with his fingers. It's off but he's been toying with it more over the last day. Derek knows he's itching to turn it on, but it's a risk. The Chasseurs are savvy and will probably be able to track it by the phone's GPS. Stiles knows this but Derek can still see the temptation on his face.

"There's a payphone outside," Derek says.

"A what?"

"Don't be cute. You're not that young, you know what a payphone is," Derek grumbles and Stiles smirks at him. Derek's happy to see it, he's not used to going days without Stiles being pleased with himself about a joke he's made. It's odd to find he misses it, that it's a little quirk he enjoys about Stiles. "You could call your dad, tell him you're okay."

"I don't know if it would make him feel better or worse," Stiles says. "Or even if he's, y'know, awake yet." Stiles' expression freezes on his face and he twists his phone around. "Oh my god Derek, he could be dead. My phone's been off so no one can call me-"

Derek plucks the phone out of Stiles' hand, jerks his head at the diner doorway. "Go call the hospital," he says. He takes Stiles' hand, drops a fistful of change into it. "Don't use your credit card."

"God, paranoid much," Stiles grunts, but his voice is shaky and he bolts for the door. Derek watches him go, turns to see the waitress is leaning a hip on the counter, grinning at him.

"Nicely done," she says. "How do you know I don't have someone waiting outside for him though?"

"There's no one out there," Derek says, moving out of the booth so he's not pinned in. He stands and inclines his head at the waitress. "Please tell me you actually work here and there's not some poor girl tied up in the back whose uniform you stole so you could feel me out."

"Nah, I work here. Funnily enough, being a werewolf doesn't pay the bills. I was totally lied to by my recruiter about how glamorous this would be."

Derek knows the Strathfield pack is a generational family pack and he knows they're particularly hierarchical. Allowing someone bitten to approach him shows their distrust. They're throwing someone expendable at him to gauge his intentions.

"We need the protection of an established pack that hunters won't chance coming after," Derek says. "I'm not interested in challenging your Alpha."

"You're an Alpha," the waitress says. Her nametag reads Sonya now Derek bothers to look at it. "You won't be able to help yourself."

"I won't risk it," Derek says, glances towards the door of the diner.

"The protection's for him?"

"It is," Derek agrees, nodding.

"We could take him in," Sonya offers, brow raised and smile cunning and Derek rolls his eyes.

"I won't risk that either."

"Why haven't you...?"

"He doesn't want it," Derek says and he's aware that he's answering a number of questions at once.

"Interesting," Sonya says, rolling the word and the notion around. The door pushes open and Stiles pauses, glance flicking between them. Derek knows their standoff won't look exactly innocent to Stiles and he doesn't disappoint.

"Huh, they'll find us," he says, nodding. He jabs Derek in the side when he fits in next to him. "I don't appreciate being sent out of the room like a kid while the parents are talking."

"You went, I didn't send you."

"Semantics," Stiles grumbles, then holds out a hand at Sonya. "Stiles."

She blinks for a second before she takes his hand, amused. "Sonya."

"Nice to meet you. Now, take us to your leader."

*

They're taken to a suburban home. It’s split level, non-descript but it still gives Derek the creeps. From the way Stiles is practically buzzing, he knows he feels it too, that there's something a little off about this whole situation.

The Alpha of the Strathfield pack is an older man with a jovial face. He's a politician, used to glad-handing and Derek wants to pick Stiles up and get him out of there because whatever is happening here isn't worth it, he's sure of it. There are a number of betas in the room, no other humans and Stiles doesn't seem to mind Derek’s need to have a hand on him at all times, even bumps into the contact which makes Derek feel the slightest bit better.

"Derek, it's nice to finally meet you. I was sorry to hear about your family," the Alpha who introduces himself as Stuart says.

"Thanks," Derek says between his teeth when Stiles nudges him.

"So, I hear you've found yourself in a spot of bother," Stuart continues and he looks altogether too pleased with the situation, like a man with a secret he can't wait to unveil.

"You could say that."

"Sonya said she offered to take your little charge off your hands," Stuart says, eyes flicking Stiles' way and Derek bristles, fights off the urge to outright snarl. He knows Stiles is probably dying to say something about being referred to as a little charge but he grips a hand harder in Stiles' shirt, tugs warningly.

"I kinda want to keep this one," Derek says, playing along. He's pretty sure Stiles isn't the end game here, but it's a nice feint.

"Fair enough. I mean c'mon, look at those big bambi eyes, that cute little face." Stuart's grinning, showing a little fang and it's frankly impolite but Derek is at a disadvantage. He needs to stick this out even though all his instincts are telling him to leave now. "Couldn't you just eat him?"

"Hey-" Stiles starts to protest and Derek hooks an arm around his neck and yanks him closer.

"What is it you want exactly?" Derek asks, tired of playing.

"Well, you certainly came to the right place if the Chasseurs are your problem. We have a certain... agreement in place with them. If you come under our protection, they won't touch you."

"What do you want for this protection?" Derek asks. Stiles makes a noise against his shoulder and Derek knows that noise. It's the holy shit, something's just clicked into place in my brain noise and Derek presses himself closer.

"Well, I’ve heard you have a certain understanding with the Argents." Derek doesn't say anything, but he nods. "Good. We'd like the Argents to extend us the same courtesy. It would go a long way if our pack was seen to be protected by two hunting families of that calibre. The Chasseurs wouldn't be the only ones we wouldn't have to worry about any longer."

"That sounds fair," Derek says over Stiles' incredulous snort.

"Excellent. I'm assuming you would have to discuss it with your Argent contact?" Stuart presumes.

"Yes. That conversation will be... delicate. If you'd give us a few days?"

"Of course. You'll stay within our territory in the meantime, for your continued safety I mean. The Chasseurs won't move on you here."

"Absolutely," Derek agrees grudgingly.

"Fantastic. Well, lovely to meet you both," Stuart says and Derek tows Stiles out of there, fighting the urge to just pick him up and run.

"Oh my-" Stiles starts to say as soon as they hit the street outside but Derek clamps a hand over his mouth, pressing himself against Stiles so it doesn't look like anything but a slightly insecure Alpha reassuring himself and his pack member. Stiles' eyes widen over his hand, but he gets it, stays silent until they're back at their own hotel.

"Unbelievable!" Stiles explodes when they reach their rooms. Derek slumps onto his bed watching Stiles pace and rage. "They sent the Chasseurs after us, didn't they?"

"I'd say it's pretty likely, yes. I can't imagine anything they could offer a hunting family other than something to hunt."

"And what, we weren't supposed to survive so they're a little stuck?"

"No, I think considering who they sent our way, we were. I think this might have been their play, to trap us into coming to them."

"Son of a bitch!" Stiles snaps, drops down next to Derek and rubs hands over his head. He doesn't seem to remember sometimes about his longer hair, leaves it in a mess of crazy spikes that Derek just wants to dig his fingers into. "My dad-"

"Stiles, don't," Derek says, putting a hand to his knee and squeezing.

"So, we're stuck, right? We get into bed with these fuckers or we basically have to run the rest of our lives."

"If you've got another idea, I'd love to hear it," Derek says tiredly, then looks at Stiles when he stiffens. "Wait, do you?"

"I just... give me a sec. It's percolating," Stiles says, waving his hands. Derek catches them and Stiles huffs at him. "Okay, so, I'm assuming this is some pretty bad form on their part, sending hunters after other wolves, right? There's gotta be another big pack somewhere that would be in a position to take exception to that with extreme prejudice."

"Probably," Derek says. "I wouldn't have any idea how to find them."

Stiles gets up, crosses to his laptop and moves over to the single table in the room with the uneven chair in front of it. He waggles his fingers over his keyboard, stretches and then says, "I might be buying us more trouble here."

Derek nods at him, because anything is better than the Strathfield pack having them by the balls like they do. "Do it."

*

Derek has never claimed to understand how Stiles does what he does, how he comes up with the information he can just from the internet. Derek watches him jump from chatroom to forum to obscure occult website with the same kind of manic concentration. Stiles has built a careful network of contacts ever since Scott was bitten and he's pulling in favors and promising them out just as fast. Derek knows he can't exactly help, thinks all he can do is be supportive but after an hour Stiles says, "Dude, stop hovering. It's very retro-Derek creepy of you."

"I don't-"

"Go get food or something, I need snacks for this," Stiles says with a dismissive wave of his hand. Derek doesn't feel very Alpha when Stiles does stuff like that. He supposes the only consideration Stiles shows him is that he never does it in front of the betas. Well, maybe Scott but that's only when they're both being obnoxious.

"Fine," Derek grumbles and does, returns to the room after puttering around for another hour with burgers and a bag of donuts. Stiles makes a happy noise when Derek sets a burger on a napkin beside his elbow and he tears it in half so he can eat with one hand and type with the other, pausing every now and again to lick sauce and grease from his wrist.

Derek collapses on the nearest bed because if he watches that much longer, he'll have to get a grip, and maybe not on himself.

It's an indeterminate amount of time later that he's knocked out of sleep by Stiles flopping down across his back. "Ugh, you have your own bed," Derek complains.

"Yeah, it's this one," Stiles retorts and Derek jerks his face out of the pillow it'd been mashed in, hadn't realized that he'd basically passed out enveloped in Stiles' scent. He rolls sideways and Stiles slides off him and then they're both curled facing each other, two sides of a pair of closed brackets.

"You find something?"

"I'm close," Stiles says through a yawn. His breath smells stale and a little like hamburger which should be disgusting but Derek presses forward anyway so Stiles is practically cross-eyed looking at him when he stops trying to unhinge his jaw.

Stiles is always going to be the brave one. Derek has learned over time that he's the one to jump over the line, good sense be damned. He's like that now, nudging forward until his funny, squishy little nose is pressed against Derek's cheek and their lips are almost aligned. Derek knows it's his job to complete the circuit and he does that now, taking Stiles' bottom lip between his own, scraping his teeth along it.

"Are you serious?" Stiles sighs. "I've been leg-humpingly attracted to you since I met you and all it took was me saving your furry butt and a cross-country race for our lives to seal the deal?"

"I'm very demanding when it comes to being wooed," Derek says and Stiles lets out a snort.

"I didn't realize I was wooing you."

"Oh yeah, for a while now. It's been quite adorable actually."

"Dude, don't call me adorable. I'm a sexy manbeast," Stiles says, smacking a hand at the boniest part of Derek's hip and then grimacing and shaking his hand out.

"Yep, very beast-like."

"You know it," Stiles huffs. He rolls onto his back but flings an arm across Derek. There's a crinkle and then an empty bag is being shaken in his face. "Did you eat all the donuts? Werewolves are the worst!"

*

Derek doesn't remember going back to sleep but the next time he opens his eyes, Stiles is back at the desk hunched over the laptop talking to someone. Derek sits up and rubs at his face, then pushes off the bed and crosses to Stiles, leaning over his shoulder. Stiles has a skype window open and there's a woman who looks to be in her forties with her hair tied back that startles a little to see Derek.

"Oh, this is Derek," Stiles says, patting at his face and managing to catch a finger in Derek's nose. Derek rolls his eyes and grabs Stiles' wrist, forcing his hand back down.

"Derek, meet likan686," Stiles says. "Or to her friends, Maybel."

"Are we friends?" Maybel asks with a raised eyebrow.

"We will be, right?" Stiles says, tone full of guile. Stiles can quite honestly be a complete dick, but he's also charming when the mood strikes or the occasion calls for it.

"Derek Hale, right?" Maybel asks, attention turning to him. Derek shuffles Stiles over, who protests but finally lets him sit on the same chair. They both perch awkwardly until Derek hooks an arm around him.

"Yes. I'm sorry, I don't...?"

"Right, sorry. Maybel Woods. I knew your mother and father."

"Anyone could claim that," Derek grunts and Stiles squeezes his knee, a silent plea for Derek to be polite.

Maybel ducks off screen for a moment, comes back and she's holding a picture up to her webcam. Derek chokes a little when he sees a younger version of his mother and father, Maybel pressed between them and what must be baby Laura in Maybel's arms.

"The Chasseurs approached Maybel's pack, offered the same agreement they have with the Strathfield pack a few years ago. Maybel's pack said no," Stiles explains.

"Of course we did," Maybel huffs. "We're not interested in facilitating the destruction of our own kind. We also don't like the way the Chasseurs operate."

"Getting their targets from other wolves-"

"Not that," Maybel interrupts Derek. "They... information gather first. They send a hunter in to gain trust who usually approaches a younger member of the pack." Maybel's face goes careful. "You might be familiar with the tactic. I know Kate Argent spent some time with them and after what I read in the papers about her recently, it looks like she picked up a few tricks."

Derek feels his heart clench and his mouth go dry. Stiles is suddenly straddling him, hands on either side of his face, pressing their foreheads together. "Hey big guy, come back here. No going to that scary guilt place we only just pried you out of."

"Stiles," Derek grunts, wraps arms around him and squeezes him. There's the sound of a clearing throat and Derek lifts Stiles off, but only turns him so he's still on Derek's lap but now facing the camera again. Stiles' heart rate picks up in a pleasing way at being handled and Derek files that away for later scrutiny.

Maybel looks bemused rather than offended. "So, we can offer you protection, but we want what the Strathfield pack asked for."

"You want a treaty with the Argents?" Derek asks.

"Yes. If they agree, we'll include Beacon Hills as our territory." When Derek bristles, she's quick to add, "From purely a protection standpoint. We're not going to try and take it from you. There’s a lot of old growth forest and mountains there. Might be nice to send our younger ones your way for a run every now and again to keep ties strong."

"Why would the Chasseurs care if you're protecting us if you don't have a treaty with them?"

"Let's just say that we’ve spent a lot of time and money securing friends in high places for just this kind of eventuality and they have a lot of shady side businesses that wouldn't hold up to scrutiny. We saw the need for a little preemptive recruiting of our own when we saw what they were capable of."

"The Argents aren't really at full strength at the moment," Stiles says. Derek's grip on him tightens but Maybel looks pleased by his candor.

"Their name carries a lot of weight. We've done more with less."

"If we leave-" Derek starts to say but Maybel is shaking her head.

"We'll come to you. Make sure the Argent girl is there to meet us."

"Don't you want to talk to Chris?" Stiles asks.

"We want to talk to whoever speaks for them," Maybel says. "We've come to understand that particular torch is passed along the female branch of the family."

"What about the Strathfield pack?" Derek asks.

Maybel's smile turns predatory. "We'll deal with them."

*

Derek's relieved when Allison readily agrees. He hadn't doubted she would to keep them safe, but there was a small part of him that keeps waiting for her to betray them in some way. Time was, he'd trusted Kate implicitly and he knows where that led.

They have a few days till Maybel's pack arrives and Allison is on her way so Stiles scours the internet, looking for stuff to do to avoid suspicion and appear relaxed. They visit a restaurant that claims the best ribs in four counties, a giant water tower shaped for some reason like a lemon and an Ol' Timey Village that boasts real blacksmiths. Derek rolls his eyes when most of the real blacksmiths seem to be engaged in making replica Lord of The Rings weapons and point-blank refuses to let Stiles buy him an orc sword.

They're being watched the entire time and Derek resists the urge to track down and scare off their Strathfield pack shadows. He won't let Stiles out of his sight and Stiles accepts it with good grace, mostly because he won't let Derek out of his sight.

They make out a lot, lazy and sweet in the evenings. Stiles has beard burn and suck marks that he touches absently in the day hidden carefully under his layers. He's pressing for more but Derek resists, wants them home and safe before he'll cross that final line. Stiles rolls his eyes, makes frustrated noises that turn into whimpering moans when Derek sucks another mark over his hip bone.

He's strangely fascinated by parts of Stiles he never would have gotten to see otherwise. His vulnerable ankles, the jutting bones of his wrists. Stiles' hands are older than the rest of him, a man's, large and capable. He's overall hairier than Derek was expecting and Stiles is eternally amused that he's got more chest hair than Derek, joyfully accusing Derek of manscaping.

In retaliation, Derek shaves Stiles' forearms while he's sleeping and that marks the beginning of a swift but brutal prank war that ends with Derek needing to grow over torn palm skin after having the television remote crazy-glued to his hand and Stiles never being able to use a single-serve ketchup packet again.

They're lying on the single motel bed they're now using, the other having become a receptacle for their clothes and other detritus, when there's a brisk knock at the door, a woman says, "Housekeeping!" and then the door pushes open before Derek has a chance to do anything. He'd thought he'd put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door but it's clear moments later why it was ignored.

"Oh my god, where's my phone? I need to-" Stiles says, sounding too thrilled and Allison trips him on the way to the table with the laptop and their phones.

She's wearing a maid's uniform and holding a bunch of towels that she tosses aside.

"Very James Bond of you," Derek says approvingly, grinning at her and she snorts, but she's smiling as she picks Stiles up off the floor and tugs him into a hug.

"I figured you would have at least one pack watching you, if not two," she says as she ruffles a hand through Stiles' hair and pushes him back towards the bed. She takes in the fact that only one bed has mussed covers and the other looks like it's been buried and unused for days but doesn't say anything because she's obviously better than all of his betas combined who would have been relentless with the teasing.

"Is Scott here? Is he in a Bell boy outfit?" Stiles asks hopefully.

"This isn't that type of hotel," Derek huffs.

"He's close but not too close. We brought Isaac because he has the best nose and they came as far as they could without smelling any other wolves before I headed the rest of the way on my own."

Derek nods, pleased by their forethought.

"How's my dad?" Stiles asks, chewing on his lip and Allison smiles.

"He's doing fine. He still looks terrible but he swears he feels better than he looks."

"How'd he take the whole...?" Stiles hooks his hands into claws, curls his lip in an approximation of a growl.

"He wasn't exactly thrilled," Allison says gently. "He's still getting used to the idea. He's worried about you. He'd be making his way here in nothing but his hospital gown and slippers if my dad and Scott's mom didn't keep an eye on him."

Stiles nods, looking a mixture of relieved and sad. "So, we call Maybel, see if she's hit town and then do this thing," Stiles says, standing and tugging at Allison's apron. She smacks his hand.

"Can we trust this second pack?" she asks, eyes concerned.

"We don't know. What we do know is that we can't trust the Strathfield pack and there's no other way to ensure our safety from the Chasseurs," Derek says.

"Rock, meet hard place," Stiles says, holding up two fists and bumping them together.

*

They meet at the diner where they first encountered the Strathfield pack which is a bold choice. Maybel's sitting at one of the larger round corner booths and she has another woman about her age and a younger guy with her. Sonya is absent, a disinterested teenager taking their orders and needing to be prodded to bring them coffee.

Derek doesn't like the booth, makes Allison shuffle in first, then Stiles so he's on the outside. Maybel watches him work out their seating arrangements before settling with an amused twist to her mouth. She's on the side of the booth with open air behind rather than a window and he knows she's placed herself deliberately to see what he would do.

"The Strathfield pack won't be approaching you again, and they won't be interfering anymore either," Maybel says after introductions are made. The woman on her left is Rhonda and the boy Eddie. "They're going to have their own problems for a while without worrying about coming after you. They've been responsible for the hunters attacking a number of packs in the surrounding areas and we've let the affected packs know just where their intel came from."

"They just believed you?" Derek asks. He would have been suspicious that it was a power play of some kind if he’d had another pack come to him with similar information.

"They have no reason not to," Maybel says. "Some of them are packs we have treaties with. We've been building a network over the last few years, tired of all the bullshit posturing and in-fighting. We should be standing up for each other. A lone wolf dies-"

"While the pack survives," Derek says.

"Yes, well, the hunters have started getting more organized and right now, it's the lone pack that dies too."

"We'll be part of this network?" Stiles asks, eyes wide and keenly interested.

"You're lucky your alpha has such a well-known name," Rhonda says. She has wide-set green eyes and a mess of curly dark hair. "Usually our vetting process takes months. We need to be sure the packs we make agreements with are legit because an agreement with us is an agreement with every pack we liaise with."

"I'm not sure..." Allison starts to say, looking pensive.

"Oh, don't worry. The Argent deal will be with us alone. We still have to have a little edge, even if we're all playing happy families," Maybel says and Allison sits back, looking relieved. Derek can understand that she might have been a little more hesitant to make a treaty that covered multiple packs she didn't know.

"What about the Chasseurs?" Derek presses.

"I spoke to their patriarch this morning. I can't say they won't shoot you deader than a doornail if they run across you by accident, but they won't enter Beacon Hills."

"I suppose we can take that," Derek says, nodding.

Maybel elbows Eddie in the ribs and he rolls his eyes before he digs a manila folder out of his backpack and slides it across to Allison. "We had to do a lot of digging to find a previous treaty between werewolves and hunters to use as a template. I ended up stealing some wording from some old ceasefire documents," he says.

"It is basically a cease fire," Allison says, scanning the pages she’s been given. "Nothing I'm not willing to agree to, but I'll have to read it properly."

"We can meet back for breakfast in the morning," Maybel says, smiling. "After that, you'll be free to return home."

"Hoooome," Stiles says longingly, dropping his head on Derek's shoulder.

"We're grateful," Derek says. It rankles a little to be indebted to another pack, but he's also hopeful. If what Maybel is saying is true, they might be heading towards a time where werewolves work together instead of ripping each other apart.

"Remember you said that when you have a bunch of our hyperactive teenagers on your doorstep," Rhonda says with a wry smile.

*

Derek waits to be attacked.

He's expecting the Chasseurs to track them down, the Strathfield pack to come bursting through the door despite Maybel’s assurances, but they don't. It makes him snappish, irritable. He hates being on tenterhooks and he doesn't understand how something can just work out.

It didn't, of course, Derek thinks as Stiles tells him to stop being such a grouchy wolf and smooths a thumb across his wrinkled brow. Stiles should never have had to pull the trigger in the first place that day, never should have been in the position where he needed to. Derek contemplates ending things with Stiles, forcibly ejecting him from the pack but if he's honest with himself, he's too selfish for that. He can't imagine doing without Stiles' splayed limbs and clever mouth now he's had them all to himself. He tries to tell himself that he's keeping Stiles safer by keeping him close, but if he were strong enough he would make sure Stiles stayed as far away as possible.

The evening passes quietly. Allison reads through the contract as he and Stiles watch a Die Hard marathon, occasionally breaking for them both to talk to Scott on the phone, tossing it between them. Now they're not worried about the Chasseurs actively tracking them, Stiles calls his dad. He has a four hour conversation that starts caustic and ends quietly when the morning light is fingering the bottom of their closed curtains with his head pillowed on Derek's stomach and Allison passed out on top of a pile of their clothes on the other bed.

They have Isaac and Scott meet them at the diner the next morning a little early, spend a restless few minutes all pawing at each other in both affection and reassurance. Stiles laughs when Isaac picks him up to hug, burying his face in Stiles' throat. Scott has to bat at Isaac to have a turn and then he and Allison are pressing Stiles between them, a circle of real relief.

Maybel looks over the contract while eating french toast, raising her eyebrows at a few amendments Allison has made, but not disputing any of them. She signs her name with a flourish, cuts the back of her hand and presses the line of red underneath her signature. Allison does the same without question, glancing at Stiles and Derek as she does.

They part ways. Allison brought the Camaro and Derek slides gratefully behind the wheel, Allison pouting at not getting to drive it back home. She, Scott and Isaac all take her car and Stiles flings himself into the passenger seat of the Camaro, props his knees up on the dash and points imperiously forward.

"Home, James!"

Derek smacks him lightly on the forehead and Stiles squawks with indignation as they peel away from the curb, pointed towards Beacon Hills.

Epilogue

"Ow, ow, easy," Stiles complains as Derek tugs his arm into better light. He doesn't need it to see by but the Sheriff does and he doesn't want to deprive Stiles' dad the full effect so their glares can be equally judgemental.

They're looking at four scratch marks along Stiles' forearm while he's trying to tug his arm back. Scott's hovering with the first aid kit knowing not to make his approach until both Derek and the Sheriff have had enough time to scowl at the injury.

"How exactly did this happen again?" Derek growls. The Sheriff vehemently nods and Derek knows that Stiles is very against their propensity to gang up on him these days. Derek counters that complaint every time with a demand for Stiles to stop being so reckless and therefore take away their reason to see eye to eye.

"It's fine," Stiles says, reattempting to tug his arm away but Derek has a vice-like grip on his wrist."The kids were just a little enthusiastic playing chase the Stiles."

"They're teenagers," Derek says, finally releasing Stiles' arm and he retreats to Scott's side, who gives him a don't think you can hide behind me look when Stiles attempts to do so. "They don't have proper control yet."

"They need training."

"They need training from other werewolves, not a glorified chew toy."

"Hey!"

"That's what you are to them when they're engaged," Derek says as Stiles holds his arm out for Scott to inspect, a lot less judgmental than Derek and the Sheriff were.

"I've been reading about the prey drives-" the Sheriff starts and Stiles groans, long and petulantly.

"Da-ad!" he whines. "Didn't I tell you to stay off the internet? There's zero point zero, zero, zero two percent werewolf fact and the rest is porn."

The Sheriff winces knowingly, Derek is horrified to note. Looks like he's waded through that other ninety-nine-point-whatever percent Stiles was referring to. The Sheriff has been asking him questions lately and Derek hopes he never has to have the fact or fiction talk with him when it comes to anything like that.

"Who was it?" Derek asks.

"It's really-"

"Don't say fine again. They need to know there's consequences for not being careful with you."

"Aw, Derbear!" Stiles says, batting his eyelashes. Scott, bless him, cuffs Stiles on the back of the head so Derek doesn't have to. "Look, it was the Fulton kid, but-!" Stiles says, holding up his good hand when Derek opens his mouth. "He's a werewolf, named Jacob in the Twilight era. That guy has enough problems."

"I'll talk to him," the Sheriff says and when Derek raises his eyebrows, he shrugs and says, "Hey, if I can survive Stiles and Scott's formative years, I think I can handle having a chat about boundaries and what's appropriate with a teenage werewolf."

Derek nods and the Sheriff goes, nudging Stiles with an elbow as he passes who grins at him and calls, "Don't scare him too much!"

Scott's done with wrapping Stiles' arm and he also disappears, leaving them alone in Derek's living room. Stiles approaches Derek who's leaned against the back of the couch and crossed his arms. Stiles pries them apart so he can wrap them around his waist and nudge his nose along Derek's cheek. It's a dirty ploy. Stiles knows Derek can never resist smiling when he does that.

"I just worry," Derek sighs and Stiles makes an agreeable noise. "You can get really hurt. Some of them don't fully understand their strength yet and what it can do. Some of them aren't used to being around pale, squishy humans."

"Don't front," Stiles says, chuckling. "I know you wouldn't have me any other way."

"I'd have you every way," Derek growls, snatching Stiles more firmly and dipping him. Stiles yelps, batting hands at Derek but his cheeks are pleasingly flushed.

"My dad! My dad could come traipsing in here at any moment!"

"Might clear up some of his questions about what he's seen on the internet."

"Ew! I don't want him to ever have those answers," Stiles says. He's still being held mostly curved over and his face goes contemplative. Derek's always amazed by how unfazed Stiles is about practically everything and how his mind switches tracks so easily. "Unless he gets a werewolf girlfriend. But even then, I would refuse to acknowledge that they do anything but hold hands and maybe kiss chastely under the moonlight."

"Yeah, this has taken a turn for the weird," Derek says, tilting Stiles upright again.

"You know, he seems to just appear whenever I'm skyping with Maybel."

"Stiles."

"Maybe we could set them up."

"Stiles."

"Werewolf lurve connection initiated by yours truly."

"Stiles!"

"What?" Stiles says, blinking large, brown eyes at him. Derek can already see the wheels turning in his head, sighs and shakes his own. Just then five teenagers come thumping in, all gangly limbs and furry faces.

"What did I say about shifting in the house?" Derek bawls at them and they scurry right back out again.

“Wow. You’re the mean dad and I’m the fun dad,” Stiles crows, looking inordinately pleased.

“Let’s see how fun you are when I’m done with you,” Derek says, throwing Stiles over his shoulder.

“That’s not really a good threat,” Stiles protests. “It doesn’t even make sense!”

“I’ll show you what doesn’t make sense.”

“Great, I’m in love with a nonsensical werewolf.”

Derek freezes, drops Stiles back to his feet so suddenly that Stiles almost falls on his ass, saved at the last moment by Derek catching him by the shirtfront. “What?”

“Uh,” Stiles says, rubbing at the back of his head and then over the top, mussing his hair into mad scientist spikes. “Forget I said that?”

“No way!” Derek says, absolutely beaming and picking Stiles up again.

“You know I’m practically your size right?” Stiles half-heartedly complains. “This would probably look really weird, you picking me up all the time.” He’s laughing though, arms snugged around Derek’s head so Derek’s senses are dulled and all he can really make out is the strong thump-ump of Stiles’ racing heart.

“You know I’m in love with you too, right?” Derek says instead of putting Stiles down. He knows his voice is probably muffled since his face is pressed into Stiles but Stiles must hear him, or at least get the gist of what he says, because the head-hug gets tighter.

“I do now,” Stiles says. “Damn taciturn werewolves.”