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The Summer of Snow Cones and Not-Dates

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Stiles distinctly remembers the summer he and Scott decided that when they grew up, they were going to open up a snow cone stand, and it was going to be the most epicly awesome thing ever because they’d get all the free snow cones they could possibly want, and snow cones made people happy. It was one of their better life plans.

Turns out reality is way less epicly awesome.

When his dad pushed him to get a summer job so he didn’t ‘spend all summer playing video games again’, Stiles thought it might actually be nice to help out financially, and when the ancient, abandoned gas station on Fifth was converted into a snow cone stand, he knew it was his opportunity to live out those childhood dreams. Plus, free snow cones.

He slides the partition open to smile tiredly at a stressed looking housewife, who’s busy trying to wrangle two kids into behaving. “Arrr, what’s your flavor today, matey?” he says with a sigh, the paper pirate hat on his head sliding forward from sweat. He blows out a breath, but it does nothing to make him any cooler, or dislodge the hat with the Shiver Me Timbers Shaved Ice logo emblazoned on it. He’ll never understand how a room literally filled with ice can stay so hot.

The woman does not look impressed, or sympathetic. “One Green Parrot, one Treasure Island, and one -”

“Pirate’s Booty!” her son yells, beaming up at Stiles. It actually makes him crack a smile.

“Coming right up,” he says, and tears off the order sheet to hand it to Toby, who’s busy spinning in circles on their stool, looking as bored and tired as Stiles feels. Stiles sighs and goes to make them himself.

It’s amazing things have been quiet enough to even allow Stiles to have a summer job. He’s used to a full time schedule of werewolves, mutant supernatural creatures, and the occasional psychotic human—but things have been blissfully quiet all summer. Derek keeps saying too quiet, but Stiles mostly thinks Derek likes having something to worry about, and that he feels lost without some new threat looming over them all. He’s always waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Stiles doles out the snow cones to the family, and watches the mother try to juggle all three cones while still keeping her kids in check. “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom,” her son says suddenly, bouncing on his feet.

“Here,” Stiles says, grabbing the key off the hook and holding it out for her oldest daughter. Their mother gives him a grateful look. “It’s just out back. You might have to jiggle the handle. A few times.”

Once they’ve disappeared around the corner, he looks out to see his two new regulars strolling across the parking lot to his window from where their matching motorcycles are parked. This has to be their tenth snowcone this week, and while Stiles can understand a healthy appreciation for flavored shaved ice, he’s beginning to think this might be a little excessive (because there is a limit to how many snow cones you can enjoy in a short time period—he’d found his own limit his first day at Shiver Me Timbers, and puked green and blue syrup all night).

He leans on the counter and greets them with a nod. “The usual?”

“Yeah,” they say simultaneously, and maybe if they weren’t identical twins, it wouldn’t be as creepy as it is when they do that.

He prepares their Red Raider’s on automatic, making sure to keep them in the corner of his eye. There’s something about them that unnerves him and it’s not the strange twin ESP thing. The Carlson twins from middle school weren’t this weird. It’s not even that they’re weird, per se, but they just seem so intent on... something, and it’s the not knowing what that bothers him.

When he gets back to his window, the one who is just slightly taller and larger in the shoulders is leaning against the counter and he pointedly drops a five dollar bill in the tip jar, smirking at Stiles. Stiles plasters on a smile and hands over the cones. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, because you can imagine how much they pay me to talk pirate all day, but a 200% tip? Really?”

“You make a mean Red Raider.”

“I pour sugar on water.”

He shrugs, sucking on his straw, and Stiles pretends the straw-flirting isn’t as obvious as it is because ew. Is that what he looks like when he straw-flirts?

“Are you doing anything after you get off work?” the other one asks, and the fact that they’re both flirting makes them even creepier.

“Yeah,” Stiles deadpans back, “I’ve got a lost treasure to find.”

His lips quirk up into a smile a few seconds too late for him to actually be amused at the bad joke. “You’re funny,” he says, though Stiles doesn’t feel flattered. “You always busy?”

“I’m a pretty in-demand kind of guy. Very busy social schedule. And school’s starting soon. No time for fun.”

“Beacon Hills High?” the taller one asks, and something about the way he asks around his straw, eyes flickering up to meet Stiles’ gaze, leaves Stiles feeling just a touch more uneasy.

“Yep. Seeing as it’s the only high school in town, that’s a really lucky guess.”

They both smile like they’re amused this time, and the one still leaning on the counter, making him way too close to where Stiles has to lean down to peek out the window, says, “I’m Aiden. That’s Ethan.”

Stiles points to his nametag, which actually says ‘Crewman Stiles’ and tries to smile a little so he doesn’t look like the total jackass he is; he really doesn’t want to be friendly with these guys but they are his best customers. He’s saved from having to make more conversation by a group of middle school aged girls climbing out of a minivan and making a beeline towards his stand.

“We’ll see you later,” Aiden says, raising his snow cone and tipping it toward him. “Just can’t get enough of these Red Raiders.”

“Bye Stiles,” the other one, Ethan, says before following his brother.

Thankfully, Stiles doesn’t have to watch them leave, too busy frantically trying to appease a mob of 12-year-old girls instead.

Worst summer job ever.

---

“What the hell is this?” Scott asks as Stiles shoves a baggy of electric blue water into his hands and walks past him into his bedroom to flop on Scott’s bed.

Stiles wiggles, trying to find a comfortable position and thinking he should’ve changed out of his work uniform because the red and white striped polyester shirt is making him hot and itchy now. “A Deep Blue Sea,” he mumbles into Scott’s pillow.

“A what?” Scott asks, still standing in the doorway, holding the bag eye-level and poking at it, making the blue liquid splash about.

“A Deep Blue Sea snow cone.”

“It’s melted.” He doesn’t have to look at Scott to tell he’s pouting.

“You always ask for free snow cones, and now you’re complaining?”

“This doesn’t count as a snow cone.” Scott emphasizes with a jiggle of the bag.

“Well, if you want an un-melted one, maybe you should come to the actual snow cone stand and distract me from summer job hell for five minutes, instead of just expecting me to feed your snow cone addiction for nothing.”

Scott mumbles something but when Stiles looks up to ask him what he’s said, he’s already walked out of the room. Stiles puts his head back down, shifting until he’s more comfortable. Seriously, who thought polyester was a good idea for a business operated out of a concrete box with a tin roof? He’s still hot and his shift has been over for half an hour. He’s ten seconds from drifting off when his phone dings. He groans and rolls onto his side to reach into his pocket to retrieve his phone. It’s a text from Derek.

are you coming over later?

Stiles sighs and tosses his phone onto the bed, frustrated, before instantly picking it back up again. “He’s a total tease,” Stiles announces, when Scott returns with a bowl and a spoon. He frowns. “Did you get cereal and not bring me a bowl?” he asks, sitting up on the bed and clutching at his heart.

“No,” Scott says primly, sitting on the edge of the bed. Now that Stiles can see the contents of the bowl, it’s the Deep Blue Sea ‘snow cone’. “I didn’t have a straw.”

“You, my friend, have a problem.”

“It still tastes good,” Scott shrugs, ladling some of the blue juice to his mouth like he’s eating soup. “Who’s a tease?”

“Derek,” Stiles says, looking at his phone again. “He asked if I was coming over later. Which would be totally awesome if he meant like a booty call, but he doesn’t.”

Scott blanches, some of the blue liquid dribbling out of his mouth. He wipes at it with his sleeve. “Oh my god.”

“Shut up.” Stiles says idly, and starts to type a reply but deletes it. “There’s nothing to ‘oh my god’ about.”

Scott looks confused. His lips are blue. “I thought you guys were... something?”

“No. There’s no something.” He mimes Derek, furrowing his eyebrows and turning his mouth into a frown, “The timing’s not right, Stiles.” Stiles makes a disgusted noise. “It’s a bunch of bullshit.”

“Maybe it’s the age difference?” Scott suggests.

“That’s what I thought at first but he even said it’s not. He’s just... fuck, I don’t know.” He sighs, dropping his phone in his lap to rub his hands over his face.

“But he... likes you?”

“He kissed me,” Stiles says, and he points a finger at Scott when his face screws up. “Don’t give me that look. You accidentally called me when you were having sex that one time,” he says, and he pointedly doesn’t add with Allison because he’s not a total jerk. “You do not get to talk to me about oversharing.”

Scott holds up the spoon and bowl in his hands, as a gesture of peace.

“And it was awesome, but then he kept saying that things were too complicated right now, too dangerous. Which again, is bullshit.”

“I don’t know,” Scott says, considering. “Maybe he’s got a point. A lot of things have happened recently.”

Nothing has happened recently.”

“Erica went missing,” Scott says.

“Unrelated to my sex life, dude.”

Scott is nodding, lost in his own thoughts. “And Jackson ran away.”

Stiles raises a brow. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“And we still haven’t found Gerard,” Scott continues. “Assuming he’s still Gerard. Maybe he’s got wings now, like Jackson was going to. Like a pterodactyl.”

“He’s not a pterodactyl, and you are a terrible friend,” Stiles scowls. “That was all at the beginning of the summer. Nothing bad has happened since then. Almost three months, that’s got to be a record in Beacon Hills.”

“What about that other pack Derek thinks is here?” Scott asks.

“I’m still not convinced that wasn’t just someone doing graffiti on the Hale house,” Stiles says, waving a hand. “We haven’t heard a peep from anyone. So now is the perfect time to get into my pants.”

“So are you going over to his place?” Scott asks, giving him a thin, sympathetic smile.

Stiles sighs, exasperated. “Yes, but I’m not happy about it.”

Scott grins. “Yes you are.”

“Shut up.” Stiles socks him in the shoulder and it’s surprising enough to jar Scott, and the contents of his bowl splash out onto his lap.

“My snow cone!” he cries.

---

Stiles bends down to scan the rows of returned books on the library cart, hoping maybe it holds one of the titles for this summer’s reading list. All four books are gone from where they’d normally be shelved, as everyone else has undoubtedly waited until the last minute to read them as well, but Stiles is possibly going to cry if he has to spend his pitiful salary from Shiver Me Timbers on actually buying The Joy Luck Club or Watership Down.

There’s a surprising amount of returned books about both sexual positions and gardening, but nothing from the summer reading list. He sighs, straightening.

“Hey,” someone says behind him, and Stiles tenses, recognizing the voice. Well, he can at least narrow it down to one of two people. And when he turns around, they’re both there.

One of the twins sweeps his eyes over Stiles, sizing him up. “You look good without the uniform.”

“Even pirates need a day off,” Stiles says, shrugging. He feels the urge to cross his arms over his chest, but he just barely resists, fidgeting instead.

Aiden leans against the library counter, jutting his hip out. “And so you’re spending your day off at the library? I can think of a lot of other ways to have fun.”

“Summer reading,” Stiles says. “I’m allergic to fun.”

Ethan and Aiden exchange a glance, smiling more to themselves than at Stiles.

"Since it's your day off," Ethan starts (at least he thinks its Ethan) and Stiles has to stop himself from physically backing away. These guys can't take a hint—even the obvious hints like being rude and vague like he always is with them. "You want to get some lunch?"

Stiles brows go up and he lets out an awkward laugh. "Uh, you know, I was thinking about starting my yearly hunger strike today."

Aiden raises an unimpressive eyebrow; Derek would weep at its pathetic arch. Stiles grabs the first book off the cart he finds—The Book of Mormon Missionary Positions, fuck. He fumbles with it a little and he admonishes himself for being so obviously uncomfortable in front of them. He's gone toe to toe with Peter—the king of creeps—and he's letting these ugos affect him.

"You could just tell us you've got a boyfriend," one of them says, he's not really sure which one is which at this point, and he really doesn't care.

Stiles screws his face up, confused, and speaks before he even thinks about it. "Boyfriend? What, no, oh... you mean. Huh?"

Ethan (he thinks) steps closer, his face brightening. "Tall, dark and gorgeous? We saw you together at Alfredo’s last week."

"Who, Derek?" It wasn't a date—even though it looked like a date and talked like a date and bought his meal like a date, Derek made it clear it wasn't because they weren't dating. They weren't anything, except shamelessly flirting and lusting after each other. Seriously, Derek needed to get his head out of his ass because Stiles can only take so much more of this.

"So he's not your boyfriend?" Aiden says, quirking a smile and stepping a little closer. "That's interesting."

“You two looked pretty cozy,” Ethan says. “He even drove you home.”

Stiles lets his face turn a little angry then. "Stalking is a crime, you know. And I would know, because my Dad's the sheriff."

They both look affronted and Aiden shakes his head, "We weren’t stalking you. There’s just only so many restaurants in town.”

“A coincidence,” Ethan chimes in.

Stiles doesn’t feel the least bit comforted. They’re both have twin looks of concern on their faces that Stiles is pretty sure are well-practiced and not at all genuine. These guys seriously creep him out.

“Like I’m sure today is a coincidence,” Stiles says, because he’s had just about enough of this.

“It’s a public library,” Aiden says, earlier concern vanishing from his features and replaced by a smile that makes him look like more of a douchebag. “And we’re here for the same reason you are.”

Ethan slings his backpack around, removing a crisp, clean copy of The Joy Luck Club. He drops it onto the counter in front of Stiles, where it lands with a dull thud.

Aiden gives him another smile. “Next time we see you two out, we’ll be sure to say hi. So you don’t think we’re stalking you.”

Stiles narrows his eyes as they walk off, but he still grabs the book from the counter where they’d dropped it and checks it out. Stiles has some pride, but he’s still only paid minimum wage.

---

“You’re disgusting.”

Derek turns to him, brows up in confusion and mouth full. Stiles gestures to the slice he’s just bit half off in one bite. “Pineapple has no place on pizza.”

Derek swallows. “Hawaiian is one of the most popular pizzas.”

“Some people like anchovies on their pizza too. Doesn’t make it right.”

Derek’s nose wrinkles and Stiles takes it as a win. He moves to put his feet on the coffee table, but Derek stops him with his hand, leaning forward to move a manilla folder out of the way first.

“What’s that?” Stiles asks, because he can count on one hand the number of things Derek’s ever been concerned about getting dirty. And it’s basically just that folder in his hands.

Derek hesitates before he opens the folder. Inside are copies of old newspaper clippings - printed, rather than actually cut out of a paper. There’s at least a dozen paperclipped together, but the one on top shows the smiling face of a young woman, probably in her 40’s, who looks a lot like Derek, and the headline LOCAL WOMAN PUBLISHED IN NATIONAL COOKING BOOK. It’s the kind of mundane local story their paper is full of. The only thing that makes this different is that Stiles can see the name Talia Hale printed underneath the photo.

“Laura went through the town archives, after the fire,” Derek explains, shrugging a little. “Since we didn’t have any photos anymore, I think she figured this was the next best thing. I’d forgotten she’d done it until I moved in here and unpacked.”

Stiles hesitates. “Can I?”

Derek hands it over easily, and something about that strikes Stiles as important, that he’s trusting Stiles. He thumbs through it—they’re just the sort of ordinary things every family in Beacon Hills has taped to their refrigerator. An article on Laura winning a science fair, a photo and caption of Derek’s father having caught the largest trout one summer, an engagement announcement for an Elizabeth Hale, who Stiles vaguely remembers from the police report he’d ‘borrowed’ from his dad as one of Derek’s cousins who died in the fire.

“Is that you?” he asks, grinning and pointing to one of a gap-toothed boy proudly holding up a bowling ball in the photo. “Wow, you were in a bowling league. You were a dork.”

“I was a kid,” Derek huffs, but he’s smiling, and that does something to Stiles. It makes his heart stutter and Derek’s eyes crinkle even more, obviously hearing it.

“Thanks,” Stiles says, handing it back. Derek sets it on the other end of the coffee table, so Stiles can still prop his feet up, and doesn’t argue when Stiles shifts to lean against him.

Eventually, Stiles reaches for a slice from the other half of the box—pepperoni with three extra cheeses that are so gooey they stick to the bottom of the box when he tries to lift it up. He takes a bite but the cheese pulls with the piece and he uses his tongue to trail after and pull the rest of it off and into his mouth. He looks over and Derek’s staring at him—his mouth, specifically—and he actually blushes when he notices Stiles has caught him leering. Stiles takes another bite, grinning as he chews.

It’s still weird to think that they do this now. Just a few months ago they were barely allies, let alone friends and/or friends that go on not-dates. A week after Stiles had his ass handed to him by Gerard, Derek kissed him and effectively started whatever it is they’re doing now. He remembers the exact night, a Tuesday, and how Isaac had made an off-hand comment to Scott about another pack in town but he didn’t know anything else when Stiles questioned (read: interrogated) him. Stiles was so angry that, yet again, no one was telling anyone anything, that he drove straight to Derek’s new loft—which he hadn’t bothered to tell anyone about either (surprise, surprise)—intending to make him spill everything he knew.

What Derek did, though, was look at the fading bruise on Stiles’ cheek and his scabbed lip with a mixture of anger and fear, and when Stiles moved close, waving his arms and yelling something he doesn’t even remember now, Derek grabbed his wrist gently and stepped closer. Stiles froze, all of his anger draining instantly, and just watched dumbly as Derek put a hand on his cheek and kissed him, quick and careful.

By the time Stiles’ brain came back online and he was ready to start with the kissing back, Derek stepped away, panicking and apologizing, his eyes wide and frantic, and he fled through the hole in his wall, because Stiles was standing in the way of the door.

Despite Stiles’ best efforts since that night, there has been a complete lack of kissing. Derek’s started finding excuses to see him more, though—showing up at the snow cone stand with tinfoil wrapped tacos just when Stiles is ready to die of starvation, inviting him over for movie nights and pizza, texting him several times a day about absolutely nothing just because they both like the contact.

It never goes further than flirting, and Stiles is ready to jump over that hurdle now, but at the same time, he also likes what they have and how far they’ve come. It would never have occurred to him a few months ago, but he really likes being friends with Derek. He just thinks he’d like being something more a little better.

Stiles swallows his bite of pizza, and he swears Derek blushes again, eyes going to Stiles’ throat. “It’s your turn to pick the movie,” he says, nodding to where the credits have started rolling on TV.

Derek blinks at him, taking a moment for his brain to catch up. “Right,” he says at length, fumbling for the remote. Stiles grins wider, leaning back against the sofa cushions and stretching, aware that his t-shirt rides up a little to reveal his stomach. When Derek turns back, he sucks in a breath, before forcing himself to keep his eyes trained on the TV.

“You’re an idiot,” Stiles tells him, but even to his own ears, it sounds fond.

Derek ignores him, flipping through the stations quickly. He pauses on The Shining, and normally Stiles would be all for mindless psychotic thrillers and Jack Nicholson, but the sight of twins—even twin little girls in matching blue dresses—has him cringing.

“No, not this, something else,” he says, waving his hand. “I’ve had enough creepy twins for a while, thanks.”

Derek gives him a look that clearly says, ‘explain’; it’s mostly a raised eyebrow and pointed glare, but Stiles gets the message.

“It’s nothing,” Stiles waves him off, the concern already showing in Derek’s face. “These twins keep showing up at the stand, like, every day, sometimes multiple times a day. They’re creepy and they keep flirting, which is fine, I guess. I’m not above flirting to get free treats, not that I give them free snow cones, because I’m sure that would just encourage them, but there’s just something about them.”

Derek looks irritated and, after a moment, Stiles realizes he’s jealous.

Stiles smiles his sultry smile—at least he hopes it’s sultry, he could easily look constipated and he’d have no idea—and it does the trick because Derek flushes and looks away, gulping, and trying to school his face neutral.

“Are they bothering you?” Derek asks, still not looking at him.

“Not really?” Stiles says, thinking about it. “I mean, they’re creepy and annoying, but it’s nothing that I can’t handle.”

Derek’s brows crease. “Is it something that needs to be handled?”

“Are you going to defend my honor?” Stiles is aware that he’s grinning now, delighted. Derek still looks wary. “Because I can assure you, my honor is very much in tact. No thanks to you.”

“I don’t like it,” Derek says, and Stiles nods seriously.

“I don’t like it either. We could be making out, right now, and we’re not. There should be a law against that.”

Derek ignores him, which is nothing new. “Have they said anything to you?”

“No,” Stiles says, but the look Derek gives him tells him that his heart rate gave him away. Stupid werewolves. “I mean, not really. They were at Alfredo’s the other night when we were, and it sounded like they were... watching me.”

Derek’s turned to stare directly at him now. “Watching you?”

“Yeah, like... creepy stalker style.” Stiles shakes his head at the horrified—and guilty—look Derek gives him. “No, no, stop with that. They kind of remind me of Jackson. Harmless douchebags, who are just the wrong side of friendly.”

“Maybe you need protection,” Derek says, frowning, his features hard but still creased in worry. He keeps running his eyes over Stiles, like he’s afraid he might disappear. Stiles wants that look gone, now.

He smiles, aiming to get Derek to do the same. “From what? A couple of snow cone addicts who like to flirt? I’ve been handling annoying humans since I was born.”

Derek keeps watching him, debating something internally.

“This is where you tell me that’s funny, because I’m an annoying human,” Stiles supplies, then slides closer. “Though if you’re really worried, maybe I shouldn’t sleep alone tonight...”

It takes another minute of them staring at each other, Stiles keeping his hopeful smile plastered on to try and ease some of Derek’s concern, before Derek finally relaxes. To anyone else, the moment wouldn’t even be on their radar—but Stiles knows Derek well enough now that he can see the slight unclenching of his jaw, the way his shoulders drop just a little, and know that it means he’s accepted something.

“That’s a good idea,” Derek says, and Stiles beams at him, his heart jumping at the idea. Derek’s never let him sleep over, and even if he’s pretty sure it means both lying to his dad about where he is and that he’ll be sleeping on the sofa, it’s one step closer to where he really wants to be.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, pressing Stiles’ phone into his palm. “Call Scott and have a sleepover.”

“You suck,” Stiles says with fond exasperation, and he thumbs his phone on to look at the time. “Shit, I had to be home five minutes ago.”

One failed attempt at a goodbye kiss later and he’s hurrying out of Derek’s loft with a slice of pizza in hand. He eats it on the drive home and just hopes his dad’s already gone to bed.

The lights are off when he pulls up but that doesn’t mean his dad’s not waiting in the dark just inside the door to catch him past curfew. It wouldn’t be the first time. The living room and kitchen are empty and Stiles creeps up to his room, thinking he’s in the clear, when his dad clears his throat down the hall. Stiles turns on his heels to find him standing in the doorway to his bedroom. He’s in his pajamas but he doesn’t look like he was sleeping.

John pointedly looks at his wrist, even though his watch isn’t on, and back up at Stiles with his brows raised in question.

“Heeey Dad,” Stiles drawls. “Funny story, I was watching a movie wit—”

John holds up a pacifying hand. “I saw Melissa and Scott at Jo’s Diner not two hours ago so you might want to think of another lie.”

Shit. He sputters a little, completely obvious. “I wasn’t...” he starts, because he can actually pass his lie off as truth if he changes it up a little. He sighs, “I wasn’t lying. I was watching a movie with a friend but not Scott.”

“What friend?”

Shit. He should have been anticipating that. “Just a friend,” he says quickly, and his dad narrows his eyes at him.

“That’s the best you can do?” John sighs, and Stiles sputters again.

“It’s true,” he insists, because it is, and he hates when his dad looks at him like that. “I was just watching a movie with a friend. I just...” he hesitates, trying to figure out how to answer without getting himself into more trouble. There’s no version of his dad finding out he’s into a 22 year old guy, that he once arrested on a murder charge, that ends well. He shifts on his feet, and goes for as much of the truth as he can. “I just really don’t want you making a bigger deal out of it than it really is,” he finishes, quieter.

To his amazement, his dad’s face actually softens, some of the tension easing out of his shoulders.

“A date, huh?”

Stiles gapes at him, but quickly snaps his mouth closed and clears his throat. He can feel a blush rising up his neck. “Um, I, uh,” he stutters.

“I went on my first date when I was your age,” his dad says, shifting to lean against the wall. He crosses his arms across his chest, but he looks relaxed now. “Mandy Hooper. We went to the movies and afterwards she ki—”

“I don’t need to hear this,” Stiles says, holding his hands up to his ears. He’s not sure if this is better or worse than telling his dad about Derek. Right now, he’s thinking worse. “I’m going to bed now.”

“Stiles,” his dad says, louder, and Stiles turns back. “I’m not an idiot, I know what teenagers get up to on dates.”

“It really wasn’t even a date,” Stiles insists, because it’s true. “We’re just friends.” Even if he really wishes they were a lot more, but he definitely does not add that part.

His dad nods. “You’ve still got a curfew. Make it next time.”

Stiles salutes him once, before fleeing to the safety of his room, trying to scrub the mental image of whatever his dad and Mandy did out of his mind.

---

Stiles is fondling tomatoes, intent on making his own pasta sauce for dinner tonight. He already has the spices he needs at home and there’s a clove of garlic, some fresh basil and ground beef in his basket already. He just needs tomatoes, but a lot of these look bruised or past their prime. He’s created a small pyramid of his cast-offs on the side of the stand and is digging for some perfectly red and ripe ones when a woman’s voice calls from behind him.

“Stiles?”

“Yeah?” he says, turning around to her. She’s his eye-level, thanks to some impressive heels, with dark hair and piercing eyes. She’s beautiful, and a little frightening.

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” she says, smiling pleasantly. She holds out her hand. “I’m Kali.”

Stiles fumbles a little, a basket in one hand and tomato in the other, and finally just tosses the tomato into the basket and swaps hands so he can shake hers. “Do we know each other?”

“Not yet,” she says, squeezing his hand once before letting go. “But I’d like to change that.”

Stiles purses his lips, still confused. “How do you know my name?”

“We’ve got some mutual acquaintances,” she says, still smiling easily at him. Stiles is about to press for more, because he doesn’t think a woman this gorgeous would ever be friends with anyone he knows—except maybe Derek—when Ethan and Aiden turn the corner of the produce aisle. Stiles visibly winces when he catches sight of them.

“Are you alright?” Kali asks when he takes a step back, resting a hand on his forearm, above where he’s holding the basket.

Stiles’ gaze flickers to her hand, and he opens his mouth to answer Kali, when Ethan and Aiden come to a stop on either side of her. “Another coincidence?” Stiles asks, narrowing his eyes at them.

Aiden—or maybe it’s Ethan, hell if Stiles knows—blinks back at him, innocently.

“I was just getting to know your friend Stiles,” Kali says, too casual, and alarm bells are going off in Stiles’ head now. She’s still got her hand resting on his arm, and Stiles pulls back to dislodge it.

Stiles has been around enough werewolves to know when he’s being preyed upon... well, he thought he had, but apparently he’s off his game because he’s missed the twins doing exactly that for the last few weeks. Not missing it now, though, that’s for sure. He forces himself to stand his ground, straightens his shoulders a little and takes a breath before he speaks. “So... werewolves?”

Kali smiles broad and bright at him and it sends a shiver down his spine. “Deucalion said you were smart.”

“Say who now?” Stiles is trying hard to not panic, and he’s doing a pretty good job because he’s still standing there instead of dropping his basket to run away, crying wolf. But his heart rate is no doubt giving him away.

“Deucalion,” she repeats. She obviously senses his fear because she adds, with a comforting smile, “We’re not here to hurt you, Stiles. We just want to talk.”

“You know, when someone starts out with ‘we’re not here to hurt you’ that’s usually exactly what their mission is, so you’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical. Your little bobbsey twins here have been creeping around for weeks. They could have talked to me any time.”

“And I apologize for the secrecy,” she says. It occurs to Stiles that they’re not boxing him in—if he really wanted to, he could turn around and walk out the door right now, and there’d be nothing they could do about it in front of the grocers and Mrs. Hollingsworth, who’s busy obliviously studying zucchini a few feet away. Which means they’re hoping he’ll voluntarily listen, and as loud as his heart is hammering in his chest, he finds he wants to know more about why that is. “We had to be sure of a few things.”

“If you wanted my Red Raider recipe,” Stiles says, looking at Ethan (or Aiden, fuck), “all you had to do was ask.” He lowers his voice. “Here’s a hint: the flavor comes pre-packaged.”

Kali smiles at that. “No, we think you’ve got skills that extend beyond pouring syrup over shaved ice. Skills that maybe aren’t currently being utilized. Or appreciated.”

Stiles raises his brows. “And what might those be?”

“You’re incredibly smart,” she says, like she’s ticking them off. “And quick on your feet. You haven’t run out of here yet, which means you’re brave. All very good qualities.”

“Maybe I’m just stupid,” Stiles says, because he doesn’t really like where this is headed. “Good qualities for what, exactly?”

Kali quirks her head a little, giving him a smirk that says she knows he knows exactly what they’re talking about. “Deucalion would like to speak with you about the details himself.”

“He’ll be in touch,” Aiden says, still leering at Stiles like he usually does.

The twins turn to leave but Kali hangs back a moment. She steps too close to him, and his heart nearly races out of his chest when her hand—which has claws as well as sharply manicured nails, oh god—comes at him but then she leans to reach around and grab a tomato. She holds it up, squeezing it delicately, then places it in his basket next to the other. “Ripe for the picking,” she says, smirking and giving him a wink. “It was nice to meet you, Stiles.”

Stiles gives her an exaggerated nod with his eyebrows bowed up and his lips pursed, but he can’t make his mouth move to actually say anything as she walks away. She’s almost to the door when he finally says, knowing she can hear him, “Just so you know, you and Heckle and Jeckle don’t even make my top ten list for scary threats.”

Which is accurate, but they still firmly hold the number 11 spot. His hands are shaking as he pulls his phone from his pocket and mindlessly dials Scott.

“Hey,” Scott says over the line.

“Uh, I think you and Derek were right about that other pack.”

“What? Did you... what?” Scott sounds concerned. He can probably hear Stiles rapid-fire pulse through the phone.

“I think they just tried to recruit me.”

“Where are you? Are you okay?” Scott’s got an authority to his voice now. It’s still laced with worry, but Stiles can hear the edge of strength to it. He’s gotten more confident as a werewolf and he’s easily shifted into the role of alpha of his own little makeshift pack, not afraid to step up when it’s required.

“Yeah, yes.” Stiles shakes himself out of his daze. He shoulders his phone and grabs a few more tomatoes and heads for the registers, feeling the need to be in the relative safety of his own home. “I’m just leaving the grocery store.”

“Go straight home. I’m coming over,” Scott says, but it doesn’t sound like an order.

“Right. Okay, yeah. See you soon.”

By the time he gets to his jeep and is securely locked inside—not that it would do much to stop a werewolf, let alone three of them—he feels calmer. His hands only have a small tremble when he texts Derek.

met some werewolves in the veggie section at the store today

WHAT, Derek sends back almost instantly.

my house. asap. scott’s on his way.

By the time Stiles pulls up in front of the house, Scott’s motorcycle is parked out front. He doesn’t see Scott, but he’s got a key to the house, so it’s not that surprising. Stiles grabs the grocery bags from the back, trying to keep his hands from shaking now that his adrenaline has mostly worn off.

He’s halfway to the door when he hears the car peeling down the neighborhood road, and turns to see Derek’s Camaro flying into his driveway, jerking to a stop.

“Hi,” Stiles says, when Derek makes his way over to him, his car door slamming harshly behind him. He looks livid and terrified in equal measures. “I’m fine,” he starts, but Derek just stops in front of him and takes the grocery bags from his hands. Derek half tosses them into the grass, and Stiles makes a noise of protest, because there is no way in hell he’s going back to the grocery store again today if Derek ruins his tomatoes. He’s cut off from that line of thinking when Derek grabs his wrists, though.

“What are you doing?” Stiles starts, frowning, as Derek turns his hands over, inspecting them. He leans closer to sniff at Stiles’ neck, twice, before pulling back to jerk the hem of Stiles’ t-shirt up so he can survey his chest, eyes moving quickly over his skin. Stiles can tell what he’s doing, even if he didn’t have that hardened, panicked look on his face, but it still makes him hold his breath for a moment. Especially when Derek reaches out to run his hands along his sides, more intimate than he’s ever been before.

“As awesome as you stripping me in the driveway is,” Stiles says when he finds his voice again, “I’m okay, really. They didn’t touch me.”

Derek turns him around so he can check his back, and normally Stiles would fight harder, because he desperately wants to be inside the house now and the last thing he needs is his neighbors explaining to his dad that a strapping young gentleman molested Stiles in the front yard. Derek seems to need this, though, so Stiles just dips his head forward and sucks in a breath as Derek runs his fingers over the exposed skin of his back from where he’s got his shirt pulled up, until he’s satisfied that Stiles is unharmed.

He presses his nose against the back of Stiles’ neck for just a moment, huffing out a shaky breath, then finally pulls away. Stiles straightens and fixes his shirt while Derek gathers up the grocery bags from where he’d tossed them, heading into the house without waiting for Stiles.

Scott’s waiting for them in the kitchen. Stiles just nods to him and goes straight to the bags Derek’s set on the counter.

“Well,” Scott says, after a moment of silence, the plastic crinkling as Stiles unpacks the bags the only sound in the room. “What happened?”

Stiles takes a breath before turning around and then he explains the entire conversation. Derek shoots him a glare when he mentions the twins and Stiles only feels a little guilty for not listening to his concerns about them.

Derek’s standing in front the kitchen door leading to the back yard—standing between Stiles and danger, his mind supplies—glaring at the refridgerator with his arms crossed over his chest. Stiles can see his nostrils flaring slightly, telling him just how pissed he is, but he doesn’t seem angry with Stiles. He’s as far away from Scott as he can be within the kitchen. They haven’t had much contact since the Gerard-forced-bite incident but that doesn’t mean all is forgotten or forgiven.

Scott’s the first to speak once he’s finished telling them everything. “So they want you to join their pack? To give you the bite?”

“They didn’t come out and say it but their implications were pretty heavy handed, yeah,” Stiles says, and he turns back to the counter and starts dicing the tomatoes. He already started browning the beef on the stovetop while he was explaining.

“What did you say?”

He turns to look at Scott, then. “I didn’t say ‘yes’, if that’s what you’re asking.” Because Scott’s voice has a measure of uncertainty to it, he adds, “I didn’t say anything, really, because they didn’t ask. They said some dude would be in touch.”

“Their alpha,” Derek says, terse.

“Yeah, Deucalion, or something. Ever heard of him?”

Derek shakes his head but doesn’t say anything else.

“What should we do?” Scott asks, looking at Stiles.

“I don’t fucking know.” He focuses on his food prep; his dad will be home soon and he still has to make dinner, rogue werewolf pack be damned.

“Do we know anything about them?” Scott asks, but Stiles sighs, shaking his head.

“They’ve been watching me for weeks. All I know about them is that they’re really into Red Raider snow cones. Like, I get now that they were spying on me now, but wouldn’t they want to change it up every once in a while? Maybe try a Green Parrot? A Jamaican Punch?”

“This isn’t funny,” Derek says from across the room, and Stiles looks over at him, meeting his gaze. Some of his anger is gone but he’s still tense, standing rigid.

“I know that,” Stiles says, slower. Because he’s got a better idea of just how not-funny it is than either of them.

“Maybe we could just start stationing people at the snow cone stand,” Scott suggests. “So the next time they show up, we can jump them.”

“I doubt they’ll be back now,” Stiles says, waving him off. “It’s way too obvious.”

“And we won’t be able to get a jump on them,” Derek says, which makes Stiles pause, mid-chop. He looks over at him again, curious, and Derek averts his eyes. “They’re not a normal pack.”

Scott frowns. “What do you mean? Do you know who they are?”

Stiles can tell that Derek’s struggling over his words, and he can feel a knot forming in his stomach. He doesn’t think he’s going to like whatever comes next. “It’s a pack made up entirely of alphas.”

What?” Stiles asks, dropping the knife onto the cutting board and moving a few steps closer. “How the hell do you know that? And what the hell does that even mean?”

Derek’s arms are still crossed over his chest, and he looks guilty rather than worried now. “The symbol they painted on my house earlier this summer. It’s their symbol.”

Stiles waves his hands, frantic. “And you didn’t think that was important information to, I don’t know, share?”

“I’ve been telling you for months another pack was in the area,” Derek says, carefully.

“Not a pack full of alphas!”

Derek hesitates. “I thought maybe I was wrong. Or that it was just a warning. Nothing else happened all summer and I thought they’d left. The pack’s been around for hundreds of years, but it’s more unstable than most. The members change. Some are more ruthless than others.”

Stiles jabs a finger into Derek’s chest. “You could have gotten us all killed,” he says sharply. “Why is it so hard to just tell the truth?”

“Yeah,” Scott says from near them, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us!”

Stiles rolls his eyes, turning on him.

“Don’t think you’re off the hook either, buddy. That stunt you pulled with Gerard? You both need to learn to use your fucking words. We are putting an end to this weird secrecy pact you have going, and making this a circle of trust.” He waves his arms in big arcs to illustrate. “Inside this circle we tell each other about psychos wanting to murder or hurt us.”

“I was right, though!” Scott tries, but when Stiles narrows his eyes at him, he smartly snaps his mouth shut, fidgeting for a moment. “So how are we supposed to defeat a bunch of alphas?”

“I don't know," Derek says when they look to him.

"Wait a minute," Stiles says. "We don't know what they really want, besides the joy that is my company. They've had plenty of opportunities to attack or bite me, or something, and they haven't."

"You're an idiot if you think they aren't a threat," Derek snaps.

"I didn't say that," Stiles says, his voice raised a little higher than he means. "I'm just saying we shouldn't jump to any conclusions. That typically only gets us into more trouble. We need to prepare for everything."

"Maybe I should stay with you for a while," Scott suggests, and of course this is the one thing he and Derek agree on because he’s nodding along.

"No."

Scott and Derek simultaneously give him looks of 'you can't be serious?' and 'you're a fucking moron', respectively. "They approached me publicly and gave me the chance to leave,” Stiles says, standing his ground. “If they were going to force me into anything, they would've done it before I knew who they were. I don't need a babysitter."

"And what if they're just trying to lure you into a false sense of security?" Derek says, irritation seeping out of his eyeballs.

"Let me rephrase that: I'm not letting either one of you, or Isaac—" he adds to Derek, knowing what his next step would be "—follow me around. I don't need a fucking bodyguard. End of discussion. Got it?"

A tense moment later, Scott nods and Derek huffs. Close enough. "Good," he says, "now I need to finish dinner and my dad will be home soon so..." He gestures toward the door and turns back to his cooking, ignoring whatever else they might say.

---

“Hey man, can you give me a lift?” Stiles says into his phone. He’s just closed up for the night and is sitting on top of one of the picnic tables outside of the stand.

“Sure, where are you?” Derek answers.

“Work. Just closed up for the night. My jeep’s in the shop again.”

He can hear the jangle of keys, and the creak of the rolling steel door to Derek’s loft open and close again. “It’s quarter past ten. Why didn’t you get a ride from that idiot you work with?”

“Toby?” Stiles asks, then snorts. “Would you get a ride from Toby? He was already stoned by the time he left.” He shrugs, even though there’s no one there to see it. “Scott was supposed to pick me up and I think he forgot. I tried calling but he didn’t answer. I’m guessing he fell asleep. He’s been working long hours at the vet.”

“He’s a werewolf,” Derek says.

“Doesn’t make you invincible,” Stiles says, and he can hear the sound of the car engine revving on the other line. “I think you forget that sometimes.”

“Look who’s talking,” Derek snorts, but there’s no venom in his voice. Stiles tilts his head back, looking up at the night sky. The moon’s luminescent overhead, un-obscured by clouds, and it seems brighter than usual. Stiles doesn’t think he ever paid much attention to the moon until all of his friends were werewolves. Now, he finds himself looking at it all the time, memorizing it’s surface spots and patterns.

“When was the last time you slept?” Stiles asks instead of answering, and Derek’s quiet on the other end. “Yeah, that’s about what I thought. Look, I know you’re worried -”

“Oh, you picked up on that?” Derek deadpans back. Stiles smiles to himself, stretching his legs out over the picnic table.

“But,” Stiles says, a little louder, “we don’t know anything. You can’t drive yourself crazy worrying.”

“How are you so nonchalant about this?” Derek asks, and Stiles can picture him, scowling, hands gripping the steering wheel tighter, knuckles going white.

“I’m not,” Stiles answers, and he means it. He’s been on high alert since the incident in the grocery store, spooking at shadows everywhere he goes. He’d jumped about a foot in the air when the janitor had opened the door to the bathroom out back behind the stand while he was washing the sticky syrup from the snow cones off his hands.

He’s not going to let some werewolves—who haven’t even done anything—keep him from living his life, but he’s seen the dark circles around Derek’s eyes, and is pretty sure Derek’s doesn’t share his come-what-may attitude. He definitely seems to be taking it worse than Stiles. “We Stilinskis never met a challenge that could keep us from eating or sleeping, though. That’s our family motto.”

“You have a family motto,” Derek says, not sounding impressed.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “You should have one. Though I think yours would be something like, Scowl and Endure. There’d be a picture of that grumpy cat on your crest.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about half the time,” Derek murmurs, and Stiles grins into the phone.

“Yeah, well, hardly anyone does. I like that you try.”

Derek sighs, circling the conversation back around. “I wish you’d let us keep more of an eye on you, for when they come back. We’re being needlessly careless.” He pauses. “Maybe I’d sleep better then,” he says, like he thinks he’s being clever.

Stiles laughs, tipping his head back. “Man, that wouldn’t stop you from worrying. You think I don’t see you creeping down my street at night in your car?”

As if on cue, Stiles sees the headlights of Derek’s car turning into the parking lot, and raises his hand in greeting. Derek slows to a crawl beside the picnic table, and Stiles climbs down, grabbing the half-melted snow cone from where it’s been sitting on the bench seat. “Bahama Mama,” Stiles says, sliding into the passenger seat and holding it out. The ice ball has sunken in on itself, and there’s too much juice in the cup from where some of it has melted. “It’s Scott’s favorite, but since he didn’t show up...”

“That better not spill in my car,” Derek says, but he takes it and shovels a quick bite into his mouth and sips some of the juice out through the straw before setting it in the cup holder.

Derek catches Stiles staring and flashes a quick grin that makes Stiles fidget in his seat. Then Derek turns to face him, expression serious, and Stiles thinks maybe he’s going to lean in and kiss him again, finally, but instead he says, “This is what I’m talking about. You were just sitting out in the open, waiting.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Oh come on.” He lets out a breath, scrubbing a hand over his face and back through his hair. He’s tired and he’s covered in sticky syrup from when he dropped a bottle of Treasure Island earlier, exploding green syrup everywhere. “I’m not going to wait inside that hot box. It’s a million degrees inside. You can’t honestly think it’s any safer than sitting out in the open.”

Derek gives him a pointed look that says he doesn’t really care. Stiles groans, “Oh my god, you’ve got to be kidding me. Alright, listen up, I’m not your little damsel in distress. I’ve been taking care of myself for years now and I’m not about to let some threats—that haven’t actually been given, by the way—turn me into a hermit. So stop with the overprotective bull.”

Derek stares, open mouthed and guilty, and Stiles would usually get some pleasure out of shocking him but he’s too tired from work and constantly feeling jumpy. “Sorry,” Stiles says, his voice quiet now. “Lets just go.”

Derek opens and closes his mouth a few times like he’s not sure what to say. Stiles turns and looks out the windshield, resting his head in his hand, elbow on the door where it meets the window.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says. “You’re right. I... just. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Stiles tilts his head, keeping it against his hand, to look at Derek. He looks disconcerted, his gaze avoiding Stiles’.

“You and me both, buddy.”

Derek pauses at that, his face flickering through a range of emotions. “If they wanted to come after me,” he says, finally, “they’d be doing that. They want something from you.” He breathes out, quiet for another moment, then holds Stiles’ gaze again. “Do you know how scary that is?”

“I’ve got a vague idea, yes.”

“I’m not overreacting,” Derek says, voice a little harder. “Because if anything happens to you, Stiles...”

Derek looks genuinely terrified, in a way Stiles has never seen before. Stiles frowns, shifting to face him again and reaching to place a hand on Derek’s arm instinctively, just trying to settle him. “Hey,” Stiles says, softer. “I’m okay, Derek.”

Derek's hand twitches where it's resting in the steering wheel, like he wants to reach out, or cover Stiles’ hand with his, or something, but he doesn't move to do any of those things. Stiles growls out a small frustrated breath and leans over to pull him into an awkward hug.

Derek relaxes against him instantly, like he’s just been waiting to touch, his hands roaming over Stiles’ back, before settling and holding firm. It’s obvious Derek is scared to get too close, to let himself have something—this, them—because it could be taken away, and it makes something ache in Stiles’ chest. Derek deserves good things and he realizes suddenly he wants to be one of them.

The attraction has always been there from, like, the very first time Stiles laid eyes on his beautiful broody face, and he was always annoyingly fun to banter with. Now, though, they have this friendship and not-dating and Stiles is constantly sexually frustrated with want for Derek, but this, right now, feels like something else.

They stay like that, just hugging in Derek’s car in the parking lot of Shiver Me Timbers, until Derek eventually pulls back. They both shift in their seats and clear their throats and avoid all possible eye contact.

Derek puts the car into gear and starts the route to Stiles’ house, while Stiles keeps his head turned, looking out the window, trying and failing to suppress his smile.

“You know,” he says eventually, as Derek turns onto his street. “My dad’s working the late shift. If you’re still worried, you could come in, stay a while, maybe take off your clothes...”

Derek pulls to a stop in front of his house and flicks the button to unlock Stiles’ door. “Goodnight, Stiles.”

“Can’t blame me for trying, right?” he grins, and Derek rolls his eyes, but Stiles can totally see his suppressed grin peeking through.

---

Stiles uses his arm to wipe the sweat off his forehead as the last of a group of customers walk away with their snow cones. It's one of the the hottest days they've had this summer so naturally everyone in town wants a snow cone. Whatever cool air is circulating inside the stand goes immediately out the window, leaving them to stew in the humid hot-box the stand has become. Stiles snaps the partition shut, while Toby—who Stiles thinks might be stoned right now—blinks at him. He’s got neon orange sunglasses affixed to the top of his head over his shaggy brown hair instead of the pirate hat he's supposed to be wearing.

The inside of the stand is a mess; there are open bottles of syrup everywhere, completely disorganized, and the trash can is overflowing with broken cups and dirty napkins. “I’ll take the trash out,” Stiles says, electing for the easier job and practically salivating to get out of the stale air of the stand for something fresher. He motions vaguely around the stand. “You start on... this.”

“Totally, bro,” Toby says, nodding. He sits down on their one stool and slides the sunglasses down over his eyes before he starts making a pyramid out of cups, so Stiles doesn’t have particularly high hopes for coming back to finding anything actually cleaner.

He grabs the trash bag and begins lugging it across the parking lot to the big dumpster out back. In the harsh sunlight, Stiles can see random globs of blue and red and green syrup stuck to his skin, like sticky war paint. He cringes, turning his arm that’s not gripping the trash bag over, and wondering how this happens every day.

He’d once went home to find syrup stuck to his ankle. And he’d been wearing socks.

How does that even happen?

He’s distracted enough that he walks straight into some poor guy, dropping the trash bag to the ground. It spills over, littering rainbow-colored napkins all over the guy’s freshly polished shoes.

Shit,” Stiles says, bending down quickly to shove the trash back into the bag. “I’m so sorry, man. This stuff, like, multiplies when you’re not watching, so you’re probably going to be sticky all day. Maybe all week. You should seriously consider either washing everything you’re wearing right now, or burning it.”

“Is that so?” the guy says, and Stiles glances up at him to find he’s smiling, amused. Nothing about him is particularly distinctive—he’s got sandy hair, an easy smile, and looks like he hasn’t seen a razor in a day or two—except he’s wearing sunglasses.

“Sorry,” Stiles says again, moving to his feet. “My dad says I should just wrap myself in caution tape before I leave the house. Some days I think he’s right.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, Stiles.”

The bag drops from his loosened fingers before he even knows what’s happening, spilling out again. He’s sure his eyes are widening and he looks like a deer in the headlights or something equally pathetic but it’s been a long day and his reflexes are slow.

“Uh... Deucalion, I presume?” he says, forcing his head back on straight. Focus Stilinski, he tells himself. Now is not the time for panic.

The smile he gets in return is so wide and terrifying, Stiles is afraid it’ll just keep going and split his face.

“A pleasure,” Deucalion says, his voice like gravel despite his cheery disposition.

“Not to be rude, but now is not a really good time for your recruitment speech,” Stiles starts, but Deucalion raises his hand and Stiles actually shuts up. Fucking hell. Deucalion’s grin turns into an amused smirk, his head tilting slightly like Stiles is a puppy doing a cute trick.

“Snow cones can wait. I won’t take long.”

Stiles feels like he’s going to crawl out of his skin.

“I’m here to offer you something very special,” he continues.

Stiles can’t stop his eyes from rolling. “Seriously?” he asks. “That’s your pitch?”

The smirk vanishes from Deucalion’s face for only a moment before he laughs, loud and echoing in the alley. “Ethan said you were funny.” He turns serious again. “But yes, there’s no need to posture.”

“No?” Stiles asks, and he’s not sure where this sense of bravado comes from anytime his life is in danger. His subconscious must have a strong desire to get him killed. “Your creepy werewolf posse tailed me for weeks. Isn’t that a touch dramatic?”

“We needed to be sure,” Deucalion says, repeating Kali’s words from the grocery store. “Before we extended an invitation to join our pack.”

“Put my RSVP down for ‘no’, then.” He flashes a fake smile. “Sorry to waste your time. Next time just send a card. It’ll be faster.”

Deucalion takes a step closer and removes his sunglasses. “I know you’ve thought about it,” he says, his gaze dropping as he surveys Stiles, his eyes tracking slowly down Stiles’ body and back up. Stiles shivers involuntarily, and hates himself for it. “Wondering why you’re surrounded by werewolves, but no one’s offered you a piece of the prize.”

“The bite is a gift, yeah, yeah,” Stiles answers quickly, flippant. “I’ve heard it all, trust me. And it mostly came with a lot of people trying to kill my friends.”

“You’re not a werewolf, and they still tried to kill you,” Deucalion says, resting one hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “Do you really think I’d be here if I hadn’t done my homework?”

Stiles tries to shrug the hand off, but it grips tighter—not enough to hurt, but enough to imply Deucalion isn’t going anywhere until he’s good and ready. “If you really know everything, then you’d know I was offered this already and turned it down.”

Deucalion smiles again, almost sympathetic. “But your circumstances have changed since then, haven’t they? Derek—” and something about the way he says the name makes it sound like he’s choking on bile— “thinks you’re weak and need protection. Wouldn’t it be nice to show him you can stand on your own? Think about what I’m offering you, Stiles. Strength, speed, near invulnerability, power. A chance to prove yourself worthy.”

“You’re psychotic if you think playing this like a favor to Derek is going to work.” Deucalion’s expression darkens and Stiles firms up his resolve. “It’s not going to happen.”

Deucalion’s expression turns unreadable again, and Stiles thinks he’s going to keep pressing the issue but he only nods and takes a step back, arms at his sides, palms out. “Okay,” he says with a small shrug.

Stiles gapes a little. “That’s it? Okay?”

“Unless you want me to keep trying to convince you,” he adds, smirking again.

“No, I’m good,” Stiles says, swallowing, still not believing how this has turned out.

Deucalion's gaze travels down him again before locking back on Stiles' eyes. "Tell Derek I said hello. See you around, then."

It sounds like a terrifying promise.

Deucalion turns and walks away, around the corner, leaving Stiles alone by the dumpster. He takes in a few deep breaths to calm his heart, then realizes the trash bag is still on the ground, its contents strewn around him. He kneels to frantically shove it all back in, quickly tossing it into the dumpster.

He wants nothing more than to leave right then, to the safety of Scott’s or Derek’s, but he’s got another three hours left on his shift and his jeep is still out of commission. Fuck.

When he gets back inside the stand, he finds Toby exactly where he left him: sitting on the stool, finishing off his styrofoam cup pyramid. “Dude, what took you so long?” he drawls.

“Werewolves,” Stiles says, leaning against the closed door as his heart rate finally starts to settle. He looks around the stand again, which still looks like a snow cone bomb went off inside, and feels his last nerves fraying.

Toby nods seriously. “Right on, bro.”

---

“If you finish that, I’m not getting you more.”

Stiles glances at Derek in the driver’s seat of the Camaro, face lit up by Santa Claus Conquers the Martians playing on the drive-in screen. He takes another, more obnoxious slurp of his Coke and glares at him. Since Trashgate (that's what he calls it in his head), Derek's been extra protective, bordering on possessive and controlling, actually. He's barely let Stiles out of his sight all week, and tonight he insisted on walking to the concession stand together when Stiles wanted popcorn and a drink.

Stiles isn't trying to make excuses for it, and he doesn't particularly like the behavior, but he knows Derek well enough now to know it's because he's scared something will happen to Stiles if he's not there to protect him. And Stiles knows enough of Derek's damaged history to let him have his reassurances. Plus it's not like it's a hardship to spend all this time with Derek.

“I’ll just drink yours when I finish this one,” Stiles says, turning back to the screen. Two aliens, looking like they’ve got beer bongs with TV antennas strapped to their heads, are wandering the North Pole with two kids in tow as they search for Santa Claus. It’s awesome.

Derek snorts. “Uh, no you won’t. This one’s mine.”

Someone slams their car door a few vehicles down, and Derek jerks his head toward the sound, eyes flashing red. Stiles places a hand on Derek’s arm. “Dude, you’re going crazy.”

Derek scowls, his eyes flickering back to their natural color. “I’m just being cautious.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “They’re not going to approach me when you’re here, unless they’re looking for a fight, which I don’t think they are or they would’ve done something a long time ago.” He shoves a handful of popcorn in his mouth. “Besides,” he says around the mouthful, pieces falling out. “It’s been over a week and no one has approached me. Tweedledee and Tweedledum must be having snow cone withdrawals by now.”

When he looks over, Derek’s watching him with a grimace. “What?”

“Nothing,” Derek says, shaking his head and smirking. “You’re just so attractive when you shovel food into your mouth like that.”

Stiles makes sure to give him a big smile and he throws a piece at him, hitting him square in the face. “Shut up, I’m always attractive.”

 

The look Derek gives him is a small, genuine smile that says he actually agrees, and that’s still something that baffles Stiles. That Derek Hale, sex and leather on legs, likes him and wants to spend time with him. It’s an adjustment to realize they could have something, that they do have something. He just wishes it would start benefiting him in other—sexual—ways.

Stiles must stare at him a little too long, because Derek eventually clears his throat and turns back to the movie. The light is too washed out to tell if Derek is blushing but Stiles has a feeling he might be. “So what happened to the giant spider thing?”

“That was the first movie,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes and reaching for his Coke again. It’s mostly ice now, and when he sips it, it sounds like he’s sucking air. “The pilgrims killed the spider, weren’t you paying any attention?”

Derek spares him a glance, “So what’s this?”

Santa Claus and the Martians or something.” He sets his cup down and tries to reach for Derek’s but he’s not sly enough—Derek picks it up from the cup holder right before Stiles’ fingers can close around it, lifting it to his own mouth for a sip, just to spite him.

“You have terrible taste in movies,” Derek says, shaking his head slowly.

“Yeah, well just be glad I didn’t drag you to She-Wolf of London last week.”

Derek laughs, “But those are fun because they’re so, so inaccurate.”

“Because the accuracy is what’s tripping you up in this one? Where a martian kidnaps Santa?” Something dawns on him then. “Wait, is Santa real?”

Derek gapes at him, “Are you kidding?”

“Uh, yes?” Stiles would feel more ridiculous if Derek didn’t burst out laughing. Instead he’s filled with a fondness at seeing Derek laugh so hard his eyes crinkle up and he has to wipe at them.

It’s nice, just sitting with Derek at a movie, talking about nothing heavy or life-threatening. He’s not sure when they got so comfortable with each other but he figures after a few shared near death experiences, there isn’t much to be awkward about. You really get to know someone when you spend two hours basically cuddling while trapped in a pool and trying not to drown.

He smiles to himself, thinking this is the best non-date he’s ever been on, so naturally it doesn’t take long for it to go to shit.

Stiles shifts in his seat, reaching for the car handle. “I’m going to the bathroom, I’ll be right back.”

“No,” Derek says quickly.

Stiles looks back at him, narrowing his eyes. “You want to try that again?” There’s being overprotective, and then there’s being ridiculous.

Derek has the decency to look frustrated and maybe a little embarrassed, but he clears his throat, opening his own car door. “I just mean, no, I’ll come with you.”

“Derek,” Stiles warns, but Derek doesn’t wait for a response, climbing out of the car. Stiles forces himself to count to ten so he doesn’t lose it right here and now. “I can piss by myself, dude,” he says, a little louder than necessary.

Derek doesn’t listen, trailing along behind him anyway and keeping a short distance.

“Seriously,” Stiles says, hissing over his shoulder. The couple in the car he’s passing shush him with a dirty look. “I’m not helpless. Stop following me.”

“I’m not following you. I’m going to the restroom."

They break through the rows of cars into the pedestrian area near the concessions and Stiles turns on him. “Dude, stop. Just leave me alone for a minute.”

Derek has stopped though, and he’s looking over Stiles shoulder, wide-eyed and pale.

“Is there a problem here?”

Stiles freezes, a cold sense of dread washing over him.

“Sheriff,” Derek says, voice cracking.

Stiles closes his eyes for a brief moment, then turns around to face his father, trying to look casual instead of panicked. His dad is still staring at Derek, eyes narrowed, and looking ready to reach for his handgun at the first sign of so much as a raised finger in Stiles’ direction. “Hey, Dad.”

“Is he bothering you?” John asks, nodding toward Derek.

“Everything’s fine,” Stiles says quickly. “We were just, uh, talking about the best martian movie and things got a little heated. Clearly, the answer is Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

“I believe my son told you to leave him alone,” John says, eyes still trained on Derek. “Is there a reason you’re still standing here?”

Stiles prays to any god that will listen that Derek doesn’t choose now to be his usual stubborn self. Self-preservation and mortification apparently win out, though, because he says, “No, Sir,” and even though he can’t see him, Stiles can hear the sound of his footsteps walking away.

Once he’s far enough, John’s eyes move to Stiles. “You want to tell me what that was really about?”

“Not really,” Stiles says, cringing.

“Let me rephrase, then. You will tell me what’s going on and if there’s so much as a hint of a lie in there, I’ll ground your ass for the rest of the school year. Got it?”

Stiles would point out that the last time he was grounded “for the rest of the year” it lasted two days, but even he knows when to shut up. Occasionally.

Stiles nods, his brain scrambling for the best way to play this within the truth.

“It’s just that... I mean. Okay, the truth? We—” his dad’s eyebrows shoot up at the ‘we’ “—are kind of dating.”

John just stares at him for a moment. “You’re dating Derek Hale? That’s the friend you’ve been seeing? The guy you accused of murder six months ago?”

“Yes?”

“Hey John.” He’s saved from having to answer more questions when the deputy Stiles didn’t notice before calls John over. She’s standing by a couple of kids who look like they were just caught in flagrante delicto in the bathrooms. Well, that explains why his luck is so terrible his father interrupted his awesome non-date.

“One sec, Maurissa,” John holds up his hand to her, then turns back to Stiles. “We can discuss your judgement of character later. I need to deal with this. Do I need to take you home?”

He looks concerned again. Stiles shakes his head, “No, it’s okay, really. We were just... it was a friendly argument, I swear.” When his dad still doesn’t look completely placated, he holds up his hands. He’s already gotten his dad into enough trouble lately—he doesn’t need to be pulling him off the job in the middle of his shift. “I’ll have him take me straight home. You can even call the house in a half hour.”

His dad studies him for a moment before nodding with a sigh. “Alright, but I mean it. Straight home.”

“I promise. Even if it means I’ll never know if the martians find Santa Claus,” Stiles says, and it does the trick, because his dad cracks the smallest of smiles before rolling his eyes.

“You’ll live.”

---

Stiles has always thought that the first day of school is the worst. There are almost zero expectations—you can even show up thirty minutes late into a 45-minute class and claim ‘I got lost’ at the school you’ve been attending for two years if you’re Greenberg, apparently—but it makes time drag on forever. Stiles would prefer having actual lessons to zone out to rather than the monotony of being handed a syllabus and the map of where to go in case of a fire, in every single goddamn class for a day.

The bell finally rings on his fourth class, which at least means lunch. He scrambles to his feet, nearly forgetting his backpack in his haste, and makes a beeline for the cafeteria. Scott is hovering near the end of the line, tray in hand and obviously waiting for him. His face lights up as soon as he spots Stiles.

“Hey, man,” Scott says, like they haven’t just seen each other in first period English. He hands Stiles a tray and they begin moving down the line. “I’ve got Biology with Harris and Allison. It’s going to be a long year,” Scott sighs.

“She still asking for space?”

“She didn’t say anything to me,” Scott says, opting for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while Stiles starts loading up on tater tots. “Which I’m pretty sure is the same thing.”

“I’m sorry, man,” Stiles sighs. “If it makes you feel better, I’ve got the opposite problem. Derek won’t go away. I’d normally think it’d be awesome, but having your own personal bodyguard is in no way like a Whitney Houston movie.” He blows out a frustrated breath, moving to claim one of the open tables.

“I’m surprised he isn’t here, right now,” Stiles says, suddenly looking up to scan the room. There’s no Derek—but he spots Isaac watching him and then averting his eyes the second they lock with Stiles’, as though caught spying on him. Stiles flips him off, but Isaac still isn’t looking. “I don’t get the need for all this. Maybe the alpha pack really took that ‘no means no’ lesson to heart and have given up. I mean, I haven’t seen Beavis and Butthead since then.”

In the back of his head, Stiles has a nagging doubt that they really have given up this easily, but he still hates this more. Hates feeling like no one trusts him to so much as walk down the sidewalk without getting himself killed.

When he looks back at Scott, he’s got a stupid grin on his face. “What?” Stiles asks, brows knitting. “Do I have something on my face?”

“Huh?” Scott asks, blinking at him. “Oh, no, sorry, I was just thinking about how pretty Allison looked today.”

Stiles groans. “We’re taking a dip into Stilinski Lake right now, we can return to all things Allison in a minute. How do I make him stop being an idiot?”

“It’s Derek,” Scott says, shrugging weakly. “I don’t know that you can. Besides, maybe he’s got a point. Maybe him being around is why they haven’t tried anything else.”

“You’re taking Derek’s side?” Stiles asks, staring at him. He turns to look up at the ceiling. “When does the sky start falling?”

Scott kicks him under the table. “I’m not taking Derek’s side. I’m just saying... Maybe you could do with being a little more careful.”

“I hate you,” Stiles says, leaning his head down onto the table. “Can’t you be like my father and be all disapproving of him following me around?”

“Oh, did you two finally have that talk?”

“No, he’s been working nights since then, so I’ve barely seen him. But it’s coming. A perfect storm is brewing, I can feel it.”

When he finally lifts his head, Scott smiles hopefully at him. “Can I just tell you how good Allison smelled today, though? Please?”

Stiles gives up and waves his hand for him to continue.

They don’t change topics again until the bell rings, and then Stiles stands, tugging his backpack over one shoulder. “You’ve got Government next, right?” he asks, and Scott nods. They fist-bump, because at least they won’t have to suffer through that class alone.

Stiles waves him on. “I’ve got to run to the bathroom, I’ll meet you there.”

He goes to his locker first to swap out textbooks, then goes to the restroom. He’s probably going to be a minute late, but it’s the first day—so if Greenberg can get away with it, Stiles can too.

Sure enough, he’s washing his hands as the second bell rings, signaling that classes are starting. He reaches to turn off the faucet as the bathroom door swings open, and Stiles feels a little better that someone else is going to be even later than he is. Until he looks up, and catches their reflection in the mirror.

“Gah,” he says, taking a step away from the sink, hands flying up in surprise. He’s instantly horrified by his reaction, which is like something out of a cheesy 80’s horror movie, but fuck, the creepy twins are standing in the bathroom at his school, so Stiles feels his response is justified.

Aiden—the one who leers a lot—tilts his head to the side as he watches him. “Hello again, Stiles.”

Stiles’ heart is still hammering in his chest, but they’re not making any other moves toward him. In fact, so far, all any of this pack has done is imply that they’re an imminent threat, rather than actively try to harm him. They still rattle him, though, because he’s seen Derek do serious damage as an alpha. If they wanted to hurt him, he knows he wouldn’t stand a chance of stopping them.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Stiles says, clearing his throat. “I’ve got to get to class.”

“We know,” Ethan says, stepping in front of the door to block it off. “Government with Mr. Kim. We’re headed there too, actually.”

Shit. They’re students.

“Oh, you just transferred?” Stiles asks, trying to decide if there’s any way he could make it around them and out the door. He’s pretty sure there isn’t. “From where, The Werewolf Academy of Leering and Lame Flirting?”

“You’re a little shit, you know that?” Ethan says, taking a few steps closer to him, and Stiles doesn’t miss how Aiden sidesteps to block the doorway.

Stiles laughs, that bravado of his kicking in again. “What can I say? It’s one of my better traits. Smart, sarcastic and full of shit. That’s me.”

Ethan smirks but it’s not light at all. “I’m still not sure what Deucalion sees in you. From where I’m standing, you’re nothing but a pathetic, weak human trying to ride on the coattails of your powerful friends.” He hasn’t stopped moving and now he’s backed Stiles up against the sink.

“You’ll have to take that up with your master,” Stiles says, willing his heart to calm. This is different than any other encounter he’s had with these two. Even the looks on their faces say they’re not here on an errand. They both look irritated and straight up sick of him, which he can relate to, honestly.

Ethan reaches out to run a claw down Stiles’ shirt, fraying the material but not slicing it. Stiles tries to lean back, but Ethan is standing so close, there’s really nowhere to go with the sink behind him. “You’re an idiot for not accepting his offer. You’re nothing right now, but he could make you so much more.”

“That’s a really inspirational speech,” Stiles says, watching Ethan’s eyes turn red as he stares Stiles down. He stands a little straighter, steeling his nerves. “But my answer’s still no.”

Ethan growls, baring his fangs. Stiles really wishes he could say this is the first time he’s been in this situation, but it still makes him gulp. “We’ve spent too much time on you to accept that answer. Try again.”

“And I thought you really just loved my Red Raiders,” Stiles says, laughing awkwardly as Ethan’s claw punctures the material of his shirt. He can feel it pressing against his stomach now, cold and sharp against his skin, and he sucks in a breath. There’s nowhere to go, though, the porcelain edge of the sink digging into his hip from where he’s pressed back against it. “Magic 8 Ball says outlook doesn’t look good?”

“Deucalion says your alpha’s weak,” Aiden says from by the door, but Stiles doesn’t take his eyes off Ethan, mostly because he’s still got a claw pressed against his abdomen. “Why would you want to be loyal to him?”

Stiles doesn’t rise to the bait about Derek, though he can feel his blood boiling at the implication that Stiles’ loyalty is that easily swayed. “As awesome as you and Thing 2 make being in your pack sound,” Stiles says, jerking his head roughly toward Ethan, “I’m not really seeing the benefit to being some dude’s lapdog, like you two.”

He hears a growl from the doorway but his eyes are on Ethan, who snarls, lips curled back and eyes flashing red again. The clawed finger pressed against his stomach is quickly replaced with an open palm to his chest and he’s shoved, tipping back enough over the sink that he has to scramble to hold onto the edge so he doesn’t topple over.

“Whoa whoa, hey, okay,” Stiles is stammering, trying to backpedal to the point where they were just annoying and straw flirty, because this newfound aggression isn’t flying. “You don’t want to piss off your boss, right? Don’t mess with the merchandise.”

Ethan laughs, baring his teeth again. “You think he cares about your well being? You just have to not be dead.” The hand that’s on his chest shoves him back again, harder, and this time Stiles’ head snaps back against the mirror with an unnatural force. The sound of his skull cracking against the glass of the mirror is sickening. His vision spins, spots dancing across his line of sight and a sharp, acute pain starts radiating out from where he made contact.

Ethan snarls at him again. “No witty comeback this time?”

“Ow, fuck,” Stiles hisses through his teeth, blinking away the spots and breathing harshly through the wave of nausea churning through his stomach. Something wet rolls down the skin behind his ear and onto his neck, and when he lifts his hand—movement slow and stuttered as his world slowly tilts back onto its axis—he comes away with blood on his fingers. He twists his head enough to see where the mirror is cracked now, splintered out from where his head made contact with it.

“Come on,” Aiden says, and when Stiles glances back at them, he can see him tugging on his brother’s arm. “We need to get out of here.”

“See you in class,” Ethan says, giving Stiles another quick shove that just has him stumbling back against the sink, his knees weak.

He watches until they’re gone then turns to the sink, resting his hands on the edges to help keep himself upright. He drops his head, breathing the panic and pain away and reaches to gingerly feel the cut on his head, wincing. It brings up bile in the back of his throat, the bathroom still tilting enough that when the pain flares up again at his touch, he dry heaves over the sink.

Stiles isn’t sure how long he stays like that, just standing in front of the broken and bloodied mirror, gasping out breaths, but evidently enough time has passed to cause for worry because suddenly Scott’s arm is on his shoulder.

“Stiles, are you okay?” He sounds beyond concerned but Stiles isn’t sure if he can speak without losing his lunch so he just closes his eyes and leans into Scott. “You’re bleeding,” Scott says, touching the back of his head and Stiles winces, hissing out a breath. Scott drops his hand instantly, but he says a little more frantically, “Stiles.”

“The twins,” Stiles starts, and Scott growls, low and angry. “I’m fine though, I just need... a minute.”

When he looks at Scott, he’s still got the same worried look on his face. “You’re not fine,” he says, reaching out a hand to pull a paper towel out of the dispenser. He presses it, much lighter this time, against the wound on the back of his head. “They attacked you at school?”

“They’re students,” Stiles says, squeezing his eyes closed as another wave of pain washes over him. He laughs weakly. “Have I mentioned that I really hate the first day of school?”

“So they’re still here?” Scott asks, surprised. “We need to get out of here.”

“I can’t...” Stiles starts, still feeling dazed. “I can’t go home. My dad’s working nights.”

Scott’s reflection in the shattered mirror nods. “So is my mom. Shit—” Stiles knows it’s bad when Scott starts swearing “—what about Derek? He’s probably home. I don’t think you’ll need stitches but you need to rest.” He’s inspecting Stiles’ head like he knows what he’s talking about, and Stiles figures between the two of them, Scott knows more because of his job at the vet; Stiles knows he’s been helping with lighter surgeries and procedures. Small wounds in need of sutures is apparently Scott’s area of expertise and Stiles doesn’t have a problem letting him take over from here.

“Okay,” he says, because nodding or moving his head unnecessarily is out of the question, and he lets Scott take his backpack and guide him out.

Stiles holds the paper towel to his head while Scott drives his jeep to Derek’s, and he really wishes Scott would get the hang of driving a stick already because the jerking is not doing anything to help his headache.

“Sorry,” Scott grimaces as the jeep lurches forward again as he shifts the gear. “I’m trying, I swear.”

Stiles gives the smallest of nods just to show he’s heard him and closes his eyes again. Every bump in the road feels like it’s rattling his brain against his skull, the pressure building. He focuses on breathing through his nose, until the car lurches to a stop. “God, I’m sorry,” Scott says again, scrambling to unbuckle his seat belt.

It takes him a while on the stairs—he has to lean against Scott for support, still not trusting his vision—and they only make it halfway before Derek appears in front of them, eyes scanning over Stiles and nostrils flaring, undoubtedly smelling the blood.

He must shove Scott aside or something, because suddenly he’s replacing Scott’s warm presence and helping—practically carrying, rather—Stiles the rest of the way to his loft. He doesn’t say anything until he’s got Stiles situated on the sofa, handing him an ice-pack wrapped in a dish cloth.

“What happened?”

“The twins attacked him in the bathroom,” Scott says for him.

Stiles leans forward, resting an elbow on his knee and pressing the cold to his head. His eyes are closed, but he can hear the low vibration of Derek’s anger, bubbling just under the surface of where he’s sitting on the coffee table in front of him.

“They attacked you in the open?” Derek asks, and his thumb brushes against Stiles’ neck, rubbing away some of the dried blood.

“Stiles says they’re students,” Scott answers. “I didn’t see them. I just wanted to get him out of there.”

“Thanks, buddy,” Stiles murmurs, lifting his free hand to give him a weak thumbs up. It’s painful, but he forces himself to open his eyes again, tilting his head up just enough that he can look at Derek. “They were different this time.”

“Different how?” Derek asks, and Stiles is aware that his fingers are still pressed against his neck, but they’ve stopped moving—like Derek just doesn’t want to break the contact.

“They used to be friendly, kinda, and flirty. This time, though, they were pissed. I assume because I turned down joining their pack.”

“What’d they say?” Derek asks.

Stiles sighs, knowing Derek’s not going to take this well. “Just that they only need me alive, not necessarily well.”

Derek lets out a full growl now, springing from his spot on the coffee table to pace in front of the large paned window. Stiles can’t look at him, the sun shining through is too bright and hurting his head, but it’s clear he’s livid.

Stiles might doze off, he’s not really sure, but sometime later he hears Derek say, “Stay with him,” and then the metal door is sliding open and slamming shut with a reverberated groan. It’s murder on his head and he cringes inward, hands gripping at his temples. By the time he’s recovered enough to look up, Scott is watching him, concerned, and Derek is long gone.

Fuck.

---

Stiles and Scott stay at Derek’s until the sun is beginning to set, until their parents will be gone to work by the time they each make it home. Derek hasn’t returned despite Stiles’ numerous texts and voicemails yelling at him for being an idiot but Stiles didn’t really expect him to answer. He’s likely off doing something insanely stupid like going after Aiden and Ethan.

He’s feeling well enough to drive so he drops Scott off at home first and his lucky day keeps on getting better because when he gets home, his dad’s cruiser is still in the driveway.

Stiles lets his forehead drop forward to rest on the steering wheel and he groans. His head is still throbbing and he doesn’t want to have a confrontation with his father but he’ll have to pass it off like nothing is wrong until his dad leaves. Then, hopefully, he can pass out and stop worrying about Derek for a few hours at least. The cut on his head has scabbed over and Scott helped him clean the blood off. His hair is long enough now that it covers it and unless his dad gets too close, it should be well hidden.

Inside, his dad’s not getting ready to leave like he should be. Actually, now that Stiles thinks about it, his dad should have left hours ago, instead of sitting at the kitchen table with two fingers of whiskey in his tumbler.

Shit.

“Hey Dad,” he says, aiming to sound normal and not possibly concussed.

“Stiles.” And yeah, he’s not happy with him. He looks weary and when his eyes shift up to look at Stiles, he looks as disappointed as Stiles has ever seen him.

“Sit down,” his dad says.

Stiles does, knowing for once not to press, and stays silent.

“I thought we agreed that you would behave yourself this year.”

Stiles isn’t sure what to say to that. It’s true, they had a nice conversation a few weeks before school started and Stiles promised to keep out of trouble and keep his grades up, baring werewolf shenanigans (his dad didn’t know that clause, though).

“I...” Stiles starts but he’s not sure how to finish. His mind is racing, trying to figure out what he’s done to disappoint his dad. There couldn’t have been security cameras in the bathroom at school, right? There’s no way he knows about the fight. How could he have found out?

His dad rubs his hands over his face. “Funny thing happened today,” he says, though from the tone of his voice, Stiles doesn’t think he’s particularly amused. “I was driving back from the grocery store, and I saw your car at Derek Hale’s.”

“You know where Derek lives?” Stiles asks before he can stop himself.

“What was funny about it,” his dad says, speaking over him, “was that it was the middle of a school day. And of course I know where the former murder suspect ‘kind of dating’ my son lives, Stiles.”

Stiles opens his mouth, but John holds up a hand to silence him. “Don’t even try to tell me he borrowed your car. The school called an hour ago to say you’d skipped. It’s the first day, Stiles.”

“I... it’s not what you think,” Stiles starts but his dad’s sharp look cuts him off again.

Before he says anything else, though, his dad pauses to take a drink and he sets the glass down with a little more force than necessary. It makes Stiles wince, the aching in his head increasing. “Are you having sex with him?”

“What? No!” Stiles says, too loud, which makes it sound like a lie and not the panic that is talking about the sex he and Derek aren’t having with his dad.

“I know you’ve had to grow up quicker than most kids, and it’s my fault you take on so much responsibility, but goddamnit Stiles, you’re seventeen.”

“Dad, I’m not... we’re not,” he flounders. There’s really no reason for his dad to believe him, especially after all the lies he’s told but this is finally something he’s speaking about truthfully and he’s frantic for his dad to believe him.

“I don’t want to hear any more lies, Stiles. You promised me you were going to be better this year, and you couldn’t even make it through one damn day.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, choking on the words, a little more desperate at the growing disappointment on his father’s face.

His dad blows out a long breath, and doesn’t say anything, which is somehow even worse. He’s just watching Stiles, tired and hurt, and Stiles wants terribly to look away, but he can’t. Then John’s face twists into something else—more like confusion. “What’s that?”

“What?”

“Is that blood?” his dad asks, and Stiles goes still. He doesn’t want to lie—not now, jesus, not right now—but he tries to school his face to neutral so it doesn’t give himself away.

It must not work, because his dad gets out of his chair to move over to Stiles. He reaches to peel back the neck of his hoodie, and though Stiles can’t see it, there must be a few drops of dried blood on his collar for his dad’s face to be doing that. Shit.

He tries to pull back, before his dad starts looking too closely for the source of the blood. “I don’t know, is it?”

“Stiles,” his dad says, firmer, but he can hear the concern in his voice. He reaches to tip Stiles’ head forward, to properly examine his neck for a cut, but he presses his palm against the actual cut on the back of his head and Stiles winces, sucking in a breath, a dead give away.

Of course his dad notices, because he stills for a moment, then begins moving his fingers through Stiles’ hair. He finds it easily, spreading his hair out of the way to see the jagged little cuts Stiles was barely able to see himself when he looked earlier with an extra mirror in Derek’s bathroom. They aren’t large but there’s enough of them and they’re bright red.

“What the hell happened?” His dad’s voice is tight with anger. “Did he do this?”

“No, Dad I swear.” Stiles desperately wants his dad to let go of his head so he can show him the sincerity in his face. Shit, this is going worse than he could have imagined. He can’t let Derek take the fall for those assholes, not where his dad’s concerned. He’s already fighting an uphill battle if he and Derek are ever going to have a chance. “I got into a fight at school. That’s why I skipped. Ask Scott. Dad I swear to god I’m not lying.”

“Scott?”

“Yeah, we skipped together and went to Derek’s because we didn’t want to get caught. I’m sorry, Dad, I’m so sorry.”

His dad must hear his desperation because his hands loosen and one takes hold of his shoulder while the other cards through his hair a few times. Stiles is shaking now, taking in deep panicked breaths, and it’s too similar to the panic attacks he used to have, and John must see that because he leans down to wrap his arms around Stiles.

“Okay,” his dad simply says.

Stiles closes his eyes tightly, focusing on his breathing, until he’s feeling calmer. His dad holds him through it, just tight enough to let him know he’s there. Then once Stiles has stopped shaking, he slides into the chair closest to Stiles, facing him. “If it wasn’t Derek, then who was it?”

Shit. There’s no way to answer that without explaining the whole werewolf thing. Stiles takes in a sharp breath, feeling the panic deep in his gut, attempting to rise again, and his dad puts a hand on his arm to steady him.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” his dad asks, searching his eyes, probably looking for signs of a concussion. Stiles has done enough research to know he doesn’t have one. “I should take you to the hospital to have that checked.”

“No,” Stiles says quickly, shaking his head and wincing. “It’s not bad. I’m okay.”

His dad nods, but he doesn’t look convinced. “It’s not like you to be fighting,” he says, switching tactics to get information. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” he starts but stops when his dad levels him a glare that clearly states he won’t take anything but the truth. “I was mouthing off to some guys in the bathroom. One of them shoved me back and I hit the mirror.”

“And Scott was with you?” Stiles knows when he’s being interrogated but it’s not like he can fault his dad for it right now.

“No, he found me in the bathroom later and drove me to Derek’s.”

“What do you mean he found you? You were in such bad shape you couldn’t leave?” John’s sounding angrier by the second.

“No,” Stiles winces, aware this isn’t sounding great, even if for once it’s the truth. “It wasn’t long, I was just trying to stop the bleeding.”

John breathes out through his nose like the image of Stiles bleeding in the bathroom is filling him up with an untempered rage. “This is the second time you’ve come home beaten by ‘some guys’ and both times now you say it’s your own fault,” he says, slowly.

“Yeah, well,” Stiles says, laughing awkwardly, “you’d think I’d learn to shut my mouth, but apparently I never do.”

“Do you realize how that sounds, Stiles?” He looks Stiles in the eyes again and says, sincere but firm, “You need to be completely honest with me right now, did Derek do this to you?”

“No. Jesus, Dad,” Stiles rests his elbow on the table and scrubs his face with his hand. “You can call the school if you don’t believe me. The mirror was busted up. I was just being a dick to these new guys at school, I swear.”

The look his dad gives him is decidedly unamused. “If someone at school is harassing you,” he says, slower, “we can get them expelled. Hell, I can get them arrested for assault, Stiles.”

“It wasn’t on purpose,” Stiles insists. “No one needs to get arrested over a bump on the head, really.”

His dad narrows his eyes at him for a long moment. “How long did you say you’d been seeing Derek?”

“I didn’t,” Stiles says, emphatic, “but it wasn’t him.”

He keeps watching Stiles for another, long moment, before he finally sighs and rubs a hand over his face again. “I wish I knew what I’m supposed to do here.”

“Cook me dinner?” Stiles asks, trying to smile. His dad doesn’t quite return it, but he looks a little less flustered.

After a moment, he pushes up from the table, nodding. “We’re having steak, then.”

Stiles doesn’t even argue.

---

“Why did I think this was a good idea?” Stiles asks, frowning as he watches Derek sink another hole-in-one. “You’re cheating!”

Derek retrieves his purple golf ball from the hole beside the giant plastic turtle to look over at him, flashing a smile that looks way too smug. “Or maybe I’m just better than you.”

“Only because you’re a werewolf with awesome hand-eye coordination. That’s cheating.”

“That’s natural talent,” Derek says, shoulders shaking with silent laughter at the look Stiles directs at him. “Not everyone in my family was born with great mini-golf skills. It skipped Laura and my cousin Elizabeth. They got so mad one time they threw all the balls onto the roof, so we couldn’t finish the game and they could call it a draw.”

Stiles laughs, full-bodied. He loves when Derek’s like this, open and not lost to his own guilt. “Sounds like someone else I know.

Derek just grins back. “Will you just shoot already?”

Stiles huffs out a breath and drops his own blue ball (he’s all too aware of the irony, thank you very much) on the line, then looks ahead at the sloping astroturf course on this hole and nudges the ball slightly to the right with his foot for a better shot. He re-gauges his angle, and nudges it more to the right.

“Stiles,” Derek sighs, but Stiles can tell he’s amused.

“Can’t take the competition?”

He swings, but he overshoots—and his ball rolls up the hill and then past the hole completely, bouncing up over the side and into the pond beside them. Stiles curses under his breath, but when he looks up again, expecting Derek to be laughing, he’s glaring daggers at a couple walking past them, sniffing the air.

“They’re not werewolves,” Stiles says. “What do you think the alphas are going to do, come beat us to death with rubber golf clubs?” He bounces his own club against the astroturf for emphasis.

“They didn’t need a weapon to hurt you last time,” Derek says, frowning.

Stiles steps forward to fish his ball out of the pond. “We’ve been over this. You went looking for them, and they were nowhere to be seen. They haven’t even so much as leered at me since. They don’t want trouble. They only did that because I’ve got a big mouth.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Derek says, glaring at him, like he’s the one being completely unreasonable.

“I seem to recall my mouth getting to you a time or two.” Derek’s eyebrows shoot up and his mouth parts. “Uh, that’s not what I meant,” Stiles corrects, although, reminding Derek of the time he slammed Stiles' head into his steering wheel probably isn’t a good idea if Stiles is ever going to convince him to just make out with him already.

Derek must get what he’s meaning, then, because his face shifts, a flush forming, and he looks impossibly guilty. “I didn’t... that was...” He huffs, his shoulders slumping slightly. “I’m sorry. I should never have done that to you and...”

Stiles thinks maybe he should feel bad for making Derek feel guilty, but fuck that. He’ll take the apology for what it’s worth. He knows Derek’s had shit for a life but it’s not like Stiles has had it particularly easy either, and he doesn’t go around slamming people into things. It’s called ‘coping’.

So he smiles at Derek, says, “Thanks,” and pinches his ass as he walks past to retrieve his ball. Derek doesn’t yelp or jump like Stiles really hoped he would but it’s still worth the darkening flush on Derek’s neck and the way his lips tick up like maybe he actually liked it. “You can buy me ice cream after this to make up for it.”

“Oh, can I? How generous of you.”

Stiles drops his ball—still wet—back onto the astroturf. He swings, and watches it travel up the hill again, slowing down as it reaches the hole. It hovers there, before finally dropping inside with a soft clunking noise. He smirks at Derek. “Unless you’ve got a better suggestion for how to make it up to me?”

Derek clears his throat to cover up a startled cough, but he doesn’t say anything as he follows Stiles to the next course.

Derek drops his ball and lines up his shot, sinking another hole in one.

“Come on, seriously?” Stiles whines. “There’s no possible way to make it through that windmill and get a hole in one. You are definitely cheating. Are you a werewolf magician?”

The kids on the course parallel with theirs look up at that and Stiles flashes them his teeth until they look away.

“Jesus, Stiles, maybe I should just wear a sign, so you don’t have to shout so loud.” He sounds serious but there’s a smile playing at his lips.

Stiles looks at him thoughtfully, stroking his chin, “It could read: Werewolf von Tightpants.”

Derek laughs, his shoulders shaking as he dips his head into his hands. Stiles feels a rush of warmth, the same way he always does when he gets Derek to laugh like that, unrestrained and genuine.

“You are insane,” Derek tells him, smiling fondly when he lifts his head.

“I’ve been called much worse.”

Derek steps out of the way so Stiles can take his shot, which bounces off one of the windmill blades and rolls back toward him, stopping at his feet in almost the same spot he’d taken the shot from. He groans. “Seriously, this was the worst date idea ever.”

Stiles realizes his mistake a little too late—and when he looks up, sure enough, Derek’s gone rigid and tense. “It’s not a date,” Derek says.

It’s been weeks since the last time Derek insisted that what they’re doing isn’t dating—despite all signs pointing to the opposite—and Stiles feels his shoulders slumping at the implication they’ve come no further since then, mostly because it’s bullshit.

“Sure looks like a date,” Stiles says, inching his brows up his forehead as he stares at Derek.

“Doesn’t mean it is.”

Stiles sighs, “What is this then?” Because seriously, they text, they talk on the phone, they spend time together outside of other social obligations. “Because by definition, we’re dating, or courting, whatever you want to call it. Is there a werewolf version of courting? Because I’m pretty sure it would look exactly like what we’re doing.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, sounding exasperated, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. If Stiles hadn’t spent so much time with Derek in the past few months, he would think Derek looks irritated, but now he knows this is how he looks when he’s not sure how to say something, or maybe not sure of his own feelings. Stiles knows enough to give him a minute, at least, to figure it out. “It’s not...” he starts and pauses again, “It’s not that I don’t want to...”

“Good, because we are,” Stiles interjects.

Derek growls but it’s clearly directed at himself instead of Stiles. “It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?” Stiles asks, taking a tentative step closer. “You said that it’s too dangerous, but I was getting dragged into werewolf drama way before we started dating.” When Derek makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, Stiles just plows ahead, because whatever, they are dating. He steps close enough to Derek that he can feel his breath on his face, warm and ragged. “I get that you’re scared,” he says, quieter. “But nothing bad happened last time you kissed me. Why do you think it will this time?”

Derek stares at him, eyes darting to his lips and back, face shifting through a series of emotions, before he takes one step back, out of Stiles’ personal space. “Your dad will kill me.”

Stiles groans, tipping his head back. “That’s crap,” he says, even though okay, it’s probably not. He hasn’t told Derek his dad suspected (and maybe still suspects) that he’s the cause of the wound on the back of Stiles’ head—and he doesn’t plan to—but he’s not an idiot. He knows an excuse when he hears one.

“You saw him the other night at the drive-in,” Derek argues, crossing his arms over his chest. Stiles can tell he’s going on the defensive now.

“It’s because I yelled at you, dude. And that doesn’t even matter because that’s not the real reason you’re resisting.”

Derek gives him a questioning look, then nods, as though daring him. “Okay Stiles, go ahead then. Tell me what you think you know.”

Stiles wants to laugh because Derek thinks he’s got Stiles cornered now when it’s actually the opposite. “I think you’re freaking out because you carry around all this misguided guilt, so you don’t think you deserve anything good. And you’re afraid if I get too close, you’ll get hurt.”

“You think you’re so smart,” Derek says, clenching his jaw. “Like you’ve got me all figured out.”

Stiles does laugh this time. “Would you prefer to stick to your bullshit story about us not making out right now being because of my dad?” He waves his arms a little, feeling his frustration growing.

“It’s complicated,” Derek starts again, but Stiles cuts him off.

“Then let me uncomplicate it for you. I want you.” He really doesn’t mean for his voice to go so rough but the weight of the words force it.

Derek’s stares him down, face unreadable. “You don’t know what you want.”

Stiles reels back. “Fuck you, yes I do.”

“You’re too young—”

“You said this wasn’t about age,” Stiles snaps.

Derek doesn’t raise his voice, just carries on. “—to understand what being wrong can cost you. I know you think you know what you want, but trust me, you don’t.”

There’s something about the way Derek frowns and there's a sadness to his eyes that has Stiles halting the the sharp words he’s ready to shoot back. He sputters instead, reaching for anything to say that will convey what he’s really feeling but not shatter what thin hold Derek obviously has.

Stiles takes a step back and blows out a breath. He feels like something significant is about to happen that he doesn’t want, but he doesn’t know how to stop it, the words just spilling out. “Then why are we even doing this, whatever it is?”

Derek doesn’t look at him, his eyes tilted downward. He just stands there, on synthetic grass with a hippopotamus spitting water behind him, breathing harshly and looking like he’s about to crush Stiles’ heart. “I don’t know,” he says, and Stiles has heard him say those words a dozen times before, but they’ve never sounded so miserable.

Stiles is trying—so fucking hard—to figure out what he’s supposed to say to that, but another couple comes up to their course and is anxiously waiting for them to move on. Derek looks at them and then to Stiles for a split second before stepping off the green, his head bowed downward. The guy lines up his shot and gives Stiles a glare before Stiles finally forces himself to move, following Derek off onto the sidewalk, regretting his decision to push it. His insistence to get Derek to admit that they’re dating has quickly turned on him.

Derek leans his club against the bench seat between the holes, and Stiles can’t take his eyes away from it to look at him again. “Stiles, I’m going to go,” Derek says, strained.

Stiles nods, because what fucking else is he supposed to do?

They stand there in silence for another moment, Derek shifting on his feet and Stiles keeping his eyes trained on the golf club. He’s afraid of what might come out if he tries to speak right now.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, and for a split second, Stiles thinks he’s going to apologize and that everything will be fine again, back to the way things were just a few minutes ago. But Derek’s voice sounds unnaturally tight. “I shouldn’t have... I’m—” he stops, blowing out a deep breath, clearly frustrated.

Stiles finally meets his eyes for a moment and as terrible as Stiles feels, Derek looks wrecked enough that Stiles can’t even find the anger to be mad at him for breaking his heart.

---

Stiles groans and covers his face with his hands. “I don’t know you, oh my god.”

“What’s wrong with this?” John asks, from the dressing room door.

Stiles raises his brows and waves his hands. “It’s a Hawaiian shirt. If you buy that, I’m going to have to terminate our relationship. I can’t be related to anyone who wears that.”

His dad rolls his eyes. “It’s a shirt, Stiles.”

“I’m begging you,” Stiles says, a little louder. A teenager comes out of one of the other dressing rooms, giving them a strange look—which Stiles chooses to believe is because of how ridiculous his dad looks in the Hawaiian shirt, and not how desperate Stiles sounds. “Please do not buy that.”

“Fine, fine,” John sighs, starting to unbutton it as he moves back into the changing room, the door locking behind him with a soft click.

Stiles leans against the wall, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling while he waits. His phone buzzes in his pocket, and when he looks down at it, it’s from Scott.

call of duty w/me and isaac? is all it says, and Stiles sighs before typing his response back.

can’t.

u need to get out of the house. derek sucks., Scott sends back.

No shit. i know. but stuck at store w/dad. send help.

He’s really not sure how he even wound up here. It’s his first Saturday off in weeks, and he’d had glorious plans of sleeping in and pointedly ignoring the fact that he’s definitely single now, as opposed to only being kind of single before. His day was going to involve a complete lack of pants. It was going to be awesome.

But then his dad insisted they go shopping.

Stiles is pretty sure it’s all part of his father’s increasingly less subtle plot to spend as much time with Stiles as possible so he can’t have anything even resembling fun (not that there’s any fun to be had right now, since Derek hasn’t spoken to him since the mini-golf not-date from hell), but he bribed Stiles with the promise of doughnuts, and he’d been helpless to refuse. Stiles loves doughnuts.

The doughnuts, though, are long gone, and they’ve been here forever.

His dad comes out of the dressing room again in his normal clothes—thank god—and claps Stiles on the back. “You hungry?”

Starving,” Stiles groans. “Please say we can leave.”

“Soon,” John laughs, squeezing his shoulder once. “I need to get Bill’s birthday gift first.” He leads them out of the dressing room to where their shopping cart is still resting, filled with a random assortment of candy, some new shirts for his dad, and a pair of fuzzy dice Stiles found in the dollar bin.

They're strolling down the main aisle near the media section and Stiles veers off to look at the newly released video games, his dad silently following. Stiles has had the impression he wants to talk all day, and the shift in his demeanor now makes Stiles think he's getting closer to broaching the subject they’ve been ignoring: Derek.

"I haven't seen much of Scott lately," his dad says, nonchalant, as if Stiles has no idea what bush he's beating around. "I thought you two would be inseparable again, since he and Allison broke up."

"He's working a lot, and hanging out with Isaac." He figures it doesn't hurt to play along, to see how long it takes his dad to bring up Derek, and maybe he wants to drag it out a little, to spite him for making Stiles talk about this. Because Stiles really doesn’t want to talk about Derek.

"The Lahey kid?"

"Yeah, they're pretty tight now." His dad must hear the bitterness he didn’t intend in his voice because he lays a firm hand on his shoulder, giving a squeeze for comfort.

"You and Scott have a solid friendship, that's not going to change."

"I know," he says, ducking his head a little, but it's totally to look at the lower rack where the games starting with 'W' are, not that he's affected by his dad’s words or anything. Nope.

"So," John starts again, and here it comes. "If Scott's off doing his own thing, where are you all the time?"

Stiles sighs. "You know where I’ve been," he admits, because there's no point in lying about it now.

"With Derek." The hand on his shoulder turns him so they're face to face now. "What exactly are you two doing when you're together?"

"Dad, not now, please."

"Yes now." John’s voice is firm and Stiles knows there’s no way out of it this time.

Stiles rubs his hand over his face and resists the urge to keep his eyes covered so he doesn’t have to look at his dad for this conversation. “It’s not what you’re thinking, okay?”

“What I’m thinking is why would a twenty-two year old man want to hang out with a teenager.”

“He doesn’t,” Stiles says, flushing red. “Can we drop it?”

His dad stills, and Stiles can practically see the gears turning in his head. “What do you mean?”

God, he’s really going to have to do this. “We broke up, okay?” Stiles says, hating just how much hurt creeps into his voice. “If we were ever really dating.”

John stares at him for a long moment, like he’s trying to school his expression to not be as pleased as Stiles is sure he is. “Why?” he asks, sounding a touch accusatory.

Stiles blows out a breath, feeling worn in more ways than one, and talking about this isn’t helping. “I don’t know.”

He watches his dad struggle internally with something before he speaks, voice sounding pained. “Did you have sex with him?”

Stiles is pretty sure this is his version of hell. “No,” he groans, and he can feel his cheeks getting hot as a mother and her teenage daughter stop browsing CDs at the end of the aisle to turn and walk away, quickly. “I told you already, it wasn’t like that. We literally just hung out. Watched movies, went out to eat. Dating type things.”

His dad studies him, jaw set as he crosses his arms over his chest. Stiles has seen it happen enough to other people that he can tell he’s shifting into interrogation mode. “And you’re not now?”

“Nope.” Stiles works his jaw, turning back toward the games. He’s still not even sure why they’ve stopped whatever they were doing, but Derek’s made it pretty clear he doesn’t feel it’s worth fighting for, and Stiles isn’t going to beg.

“Stiles, if he broke up with you because you slept with him—”

“We didn’t have sex,” Stiles hisses, his voice notched up several levels, and the frustration running through him feels like an electric current, buzzing just beneath his skin. “There was no sex, for anyone involved. You know what we did last Thursday night? We ordered Chinese and played Monopoly.”

“When you told me you were at home all night,” his dad says, staring him down.

Stiles fights back a groan, because yeah, he walked into that one. “I just, I knew you wouldn’t approve—”

“I don’t,” his dad says.

“—but seriously, other kids my age are out getting high and driving drunk,” he says, flailing his arms a little. “I was out having pizza dates. Which I’m not even doing anymore, because he broke up with me. So you can relax and be happy now.”

When he looks at his dad, though, he doesn’t seem angry anymore. He’s watching Stiles with a concerned, rueful expression. “I’m never happy when you’re not, Stiles.”

What fight that was left in him bleeds out, and Stiles’ shoulders sink. “Really? I’d think you’d be doing cartwheels right about now.”

John’s quiet for a moment, and Stiles notes that he doesn’t deny it. Eventually, he says, “Are you sure I don’t need to go kick his ass?”

Stiles gives him a hint of a smile in return. “I bet you’d like that.”

“I bet I would too,” John nods seriously. “Because if I found out you were sleeping with him or anyone else before you’re eighteen, and maybe even after that, I will not be pleased—”

“Clearly,” Stiles interrupts.

“—and don’t think I’m above abusing my power when it comes to you.”

“Noted,” Stiles says, as a guy in his 20’s walks past, smirking at them—well, at Stiles. “Just do it somewhere that’s not the middle of Target.”

His dad blinks and then looks away from Stiles, as if remembering where they are. When he turns back after a long moment, he clears his throat. “Let’s go pay and get lunch,” he says. And when he adds, “We’ll stop and get ice cream after,” Stiles takes it as an apology.

“I might even let you have some,” Stiles says, and when his dad gives him the smallest of smiles, he thinks his dad recognizes it as his forgiveness.

---

“Life is not fair,” Stiles tells Toby, as he has the past two weekends, the door to the snow cone stand slamming behind him. From the open partition window, he can see his dad’s cruiser still hovering in the parking lot. He waves exaggeratedly through the window to show he’s made it from the car to the snow cone stand without dying, so he can leave now, really, thanks Dad. “This was supposed to be a summer job. Everyone knows the second school starts, summer is over.”

“It’s just weekends,” Toby says, and he’s got on neon green sunglasses today, but at least he’s wearing the pirate hat. Stiles always feels more stupid when he’s the only one wearing it, even though you’d think there was a ceiling to how embarrassed he could be while speaking pirate to customers.

“Not the point.”

His dad circles the lot again before finally driving off, though Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back again even before Stiles’ shift is over. It’s like his dad is unknowingly picking up the slack from Derek’s constant supervision. Then again, he’s pretty sure he’s still seen Derek’s Camaro creeping down his street once or twice, so maybe they both suck.

“We’re out of Deep Blue Sea,” Toby says, clapping Stiles on the shoulder and nodding toward the door. “Been waiting on you to get here. Tom said the new shipment’s in.”

The bathroom and storage spaces are only accessible from the outside so Stiles waves him off as he walks out the door, claiming the stool once he’s gone. He knows from experience that it’s really too early for customers, they won’t get busy until the sun’s higher in the sky, so he fiddles with the boombox plugged into the wall, trying to find a good station to listen to to pass the time. If he has to waste his Sunday working, he’ll at least do it with tunes.

“Excuse me?” someone says, before he can twist the dial away from the Spanish rock station he’s landed on.

“Ahoy!” Stiles greets, spinning around on the stool to face the customer, and his expression instantly falls.

Kali is smiling sweetly at him through the opened window. “What’s good here?”

He scrambles for his phone, intending to call, fuck, anyone—Scott, his dad, it doesn’t even matter—but when Deucalion appears beside her, it slips through his fingers and clatters to the floor.

“I told you I’d see you again,” Deucalion says, smile pleasant, and if Stiles didn’t know better, he might actually pass for something other than a psychopath. He leans back to look at the menu board above the window. “I’ll have a Treasure Island.”

Stiles gapes at him. “What?”

“I’d like a Treasure Island,” Deucalion repeats, smirking like his pack didn’t nearly give Stiles a concussion few days ago. He turns to Kali. “What’ll it be, darling?”

“Deep Blue Sea,” she says, smiling.

Stiles squares his shoulders and takes a few calming breaths. “Sorry, we’re out,” he says, shrugging.

“Oh?” she asks, lifting a brow, smirking. “A Green Parrot, then.”

“Coming right up.” He goes through the motions of making the snow cones, keeping them in his peripheral.

When he sets the snow cones on the counter, Deucalion holds out a crisp $20 bill. “Keep the change,” he says.

Stiles makes no move toward taking it. “This feels an awful lot like being bought off.”

Deucalion’s features soften to something resembling sympathetic. “I’d like to apologize for that. Aiden and Ethan were not working under my orders. It was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.”

Stiles nods slowly. “Yeah, a mistake. I’m sure Flotsam and Jetsam totally didn’t mean to crack my skull into a mirror.”

“That was unfortunate,” Deucalion agrees, shaking his head. “I should be more careful about the company I keep. They’re being dealt with.”

“Well, thanks for the update,” Stiles says, flashing them a fake smile and slipping into his pirate accent. “Away with ye.”

They don’t move. Stiles sighs, “I’m not changing my answer.”

Deucalion gives Kali a look and nods for her to leave them alone. Once she’s far enough away, Deucalion steps closer—and it takes everything Stiles has to not step back. Even if there’s a building between them, Deucalion can’t exactly squeeze through the tiny window, werewolf or not. Deucalion watches him for a moment, like he’s trying to figure him out.

“Stiles, tell me, is your unwavering loyalty to the pack, or is it just to Derek specifically?”

“My loyalties are to my friends,” Stiles says with certainty.

Deucalion tilts his head to the side, examining him. “Are you sure you know where their loyalties lie?” he asks, and Stiles forces himself not to screw his face up, because really, what the hell? “You’d be smart to be careful with Derek.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” Stiles says dryly.

It’s pretty obvious that Deucalion’s spies have apparently missed the memo about Stiles being single now—but he’s not sure what Deucalion is playing at here, talking about loyalties, like he’s trying to get Stiles to doubt.

Deucalion smiles at him. “Consider it a friendly warning. I do hate to see young love snuffed out in its prime.”

Stiles nods seriously. “Yeah, I’m sure you’re a big fan of happy endings.”

Deucalion laughs then, tipping his head back. “That’s funny, Stiles,” he says, smiling as he ducks his head again to sip at his snow cone through the straw. He keeps his eyes trained on Stiles, though, the corners of his eyes crinkling up like Stiles is the most amusing thing he’s seen all week. “You’re very funny.”

It doesn’t sound like a compliment.

“What do you want?” Stiles asks, exasperated. He’d almost rather Deucalion was trying to kill him right now, because at least then he’d know what to do. All of their posturing and kindness is clearly an act, but he can’t put his finger on what they’re hiding.

“I’ve already told you,” Deucalion says, and Stiles snorts. “We want you to—”

“Yeah, fuck that,” Stiles cuts him off. “I don’t buy that line. I am not worth this much effort. And even if I was? Nearly cracking my head open wasn’t a great way to get on my good side.”

Deucalion’s eyes narrow and his lip curls on one end into the tiniest snarl Stiles has ever seen. It’s the first time since he’s met him that Deucalion actually seems agitated. “I’ve told you, that wasn’t me,” Deucalion’s voice is full of grit, enough to suggest something darker is lurking just under the surface.

Stiles raises his brows, more for comic effect. “Oh, so you’re saying you can’t control your pack? Yeah, you’re a way better alpha than Derek.”

Deucalion snarls fully now, eyes flashing red and fangs bared, and Stiles stumbles back a step, the change is so sudden and startling. Shit.

He steps closer to the partition, keeping his blood red eyes locked on Stiles’. “Don’t be fooled by your hormones, Stiles. He doesn’t even belong in the same category as us.”

Stiles has apparently hit a sore spot.

“Do you think Derek intimidates us?” Deucalion asks, breaking into an amused smile, his fangs glistening in the sunlight.

The door beside Stiles flings open, and Stiles jerks his head toward it, on the defensive. “Got the goods!” Toby crows as he steps inside, tossing the bottle of Deep Blue Sea up into the air and catching it.

Stiles gaze flicks back to Deucalion, and is about to shout for Toby to run, but he looks perfectly normal and calm now. Deucalion clears his throat with a look of feigned apology. It’d be more convincing if he wasn’t smirking in that creepy way all of his pack seems to have perfected. He holds up the $20 bill that’s still in his hand and stuffs it into the tip jar on the counter. “I do hope you change your mind. It would be in your best interest.” It sounds like a threat, if Stiles has ever heard one.

And he has, many many times.

Toby claims the stool again while Stiles watches Deucalion stalk off toward the parking lot, his heart finally settling when he sees them both climb into a car; it’s surprisingly just a normal sedan and not the garish type of vehicle he’d expect from them. Derek’s Camaro has more flair and he’s not ‘in their category’, as Deucalion said.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Stiles says, once their car has driven away. He snatches the key off the hook and doesn’t wait for Toby to respond. The knot in his gut is starting to loosen as he walks outside to the bathroom and can’t see their car anywhere.

His hands are shaking a little as he unlocks the door but once it’s locked behind him and he’s splashed cold water on his face a few times, he feels calmer.

The door handle jiggles behind him and he’s about to yell that it’s occupied when there’s the sound of snapping metal and the door is suddenly swinging open. He has a split second thought of ‘oh shit oh shit’ before a hand latches onto his bicep and yanks him around to slam him back into the wall. His head knocks against the cinder blocks and when he blinks the stars away from his vision, Deucalion is there—as if it would be anyone else—snarling, with his fingers, and yep, claws, digging into the skin of his arm, through his thick work shirt.

“Guess you really don’t like waiting for the bathroom,” Stiles says, laughing nervously, because his brain is short circuiting and sarcasm is always his last line of defense. And his first, second and third.

“I have been very patient,” Deucalion snarls, face fully shifted, fangs bared. “But my patience with you is just about done.” His grip tightens, and Stiles winces, the claws sinking further into his skin.

“That’s a pretty common opinion,” Stiles offers. “Can we go back to you pretending to be nice? I was wrong, that was awesome.”

Deucalion ducks his head closer, and for a second Stiles panics, thinking he’s going for his throat but he just inhales. “I don’t have to give you a choice, you know.”

Stiles’ heart is about to hammer out of his chest but he tries to push down the panic threatening to swallow him whole. His throat works a couple of times before he can speak. “But you feel this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship?”

The hand that’s not digging painfully into his bicep goes for his throat—not strangling him, but definitely implying he’s thinking about it. Apparently Deucalion is over thinking Stiles is funny. He struggles for breath as the hand squeezes. “So why bother with the dramatics, if you’re just going to do it anyway?” Stiles grits out, anger replacing the panic he’s feeling.

“I’m not,” Deucalion growls, “I’m going to make you agree, and I’m going to make Derek watch. I want to see the look on his face when you choose me over him.”

“Not gonna happen,” Stiles gasps around the hand tightening at his neck.

Deucalion smiles then, and it’s twisted and depraved, like his true colors are finally shining through his thinly veiled facade of friendliness. The claws in his bicep dig in further and Stiles yelps but it’s choked off with another squeeze of his neck.

“We’ll see about that,” Deucalion snarls and the claws digging into his arm retract and, in an instant, Deucalion is gone, leaving Stiles to slump against the wall with the bathroom door slamming closed.

He slides down the wall to sit on the damp floor, his legs shaking too much to hold himself up. He closes his eyes around the wave of nausea hitting him and leans forward to heave, his head hanging between his knees, and chokes on air when nothing comes up. A sweat breaks out over his body and when he finally leans back to rest his head against the wall, black spots dance in his sight.

He takes several shaky breaths before he can bring himself to look at the throbbing cuts on his arm to see how bad the damage is. He pulls his torn sleeve up, sucking in a breath as the material pulls against the wounds underneath. There are four, inch long diagonal slashes on the outside of his bicep and one inside. There are sickening stripes of blood trailing down his arm.

Once his sleeve is pulled over his shoulder, his hand hovers over the gashes, shaking. He was one of those kids who couldn’t resist poking a bruise and apparently he hasn’t grown out out. He presses his palm over the grouping of four cuts in a vain attempt to staunch the bleeding but it only sends white hot pain through his nerves. “Shit,” he gasps, sucking in a sharp breath.

“Okay,” he says to himself, removing his hand, taking another deep breath. “No touching, then.”

He sits there for several minutes, trying to get it together enough so he can stand and go back into the stand. He cradles his bloody arm against his chest and uses the other to grip the sink’s edge and pull up. He has to lean against the wall for another minute while the room stops spinning enough for him to stand straight.

Eventually he makes it out of the bathroom and inside the stand, and Toby takes one look at him before ripping off his sunglasses, eyes wide and surprised. “Dude, what happened to your arm?”

“Give me your keys,” Stiles says, his voice sounding shaky and panicked even to his own ears.

“What?” Toby says, dumbly. “Did you know you’re like, bleeding?” he asks, and Stiles has had enough of the dudebro routine for one day.

“Give me your fucking keys,” he yells. He’ll feel sorry for it later and maybe he’ll apologize, but all he knows is that he needs to leave and he needs to do it right now.

Toby stands there for another few seconds, his mouth hanging open in surprise, but then he nods and scrambles to fish his keys from his pocket, tossing them at him. Stiles moves to grab them instinctively with his injured arm and yelps at the blinding pain that shoots up from the gashes at the movement, feeling them tear at the edges again. He curls into himself, slumping back against the wall behind him, and he turns to his side to rest his forehead against the cool concrete, breathing through his nose so he won’t throw up. “Fuck,” he eventually says through his teeth.

When he’s finally ready to move again, he looks up to find Toby standing close, holding the keys, having picked them up from where they’d fallen. Stiles nods, taking them with shaking fingers. “Thanks.”

Toby looks like he wants to say something else, but he just grabs Stiles’ cell phone from the counter and slips it into his front pocket instead, patting it lightly.

 

Stiles nods at him and makes his way outside, every step jostling his arm, no matter how slow he goes, and by the time he finally gets to Toby’s car, he’s panting for breath, his arm feeling like it’s on fire. He runs through his options in his head, trying not to let himself panic—hospital and home are both out, because if his dad sees this, there’s no possible way he can explain it away. Deaton’s at some house call on a farm with Scott, because Scott’s been talking about cows and goats all week, which really only leaves one option.

Fuck.

At least Toby drives an automatic, so he’s able to drive through town one handed, keeping his injured arm pressed tight against his chest. He can feel the warmth of his blood seeping into the material of his shirt, and he has to focus on not passing out, blinking away fuzzy vision and lightheadedness. It’s a miracle he makes it to Derek’s without crashing the car.

He’s almost to Derek’s door before he starts wondering if Derek will even be home, trying to remember if he saw his car in the lot or not, or why he didn’t just call Derek as soon as he got away from the stand. But the door slides open fast and sudden, and his answer is standing in front of him, looking worried and cautious.

Derek’s eyes flicker down to his arm and the blood and the worry in his eyes is replaced sharply with anger, a growl so strong vibrating out of him he doesn’t even need to open his mouth for Stiles to hear it.

“Um,” Stiles starts, shrugging and then wincing, because right, that hurts. He feels woozy from climbing the stairs. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t really want to be around me right now, but I didn’t know where else to go and...”

Derek stares at him, pained and horrified, and Stiles thinks it’s because he must look like hell but then Derek’s pulling him inside with a firm but gentle hand on his opposite shoulder. He shuffles inside and is forced onto the couch, Derek sitting in front of him on the coffee table. Derek rips his sleeve up to the seam at his shoulder and he can’t hold back the strained moan.

“What happened?” Derek whispers, voice tight with barely controlled anger.

“Deucalion,” Stiles says, looking up at him. Derek’s eyes flash red for an instant, and then he leans forward, his expression mirroring the one from after Stiles’ encounter at the grocery store when he had to check every inch to make sure Stiles was okay. He seems just as intent as he had that day on inspecting the wounds on his arm, but Stiles pulls back when he reaches to touch.

“Hey,” Stiles protests, because he’s still pretty out of it, but he knows now that would lead to pain. He cradles his arm close to himself, and Derek seems to get the idea, because he balls his hands into fists at his side and fumes silently, but he doesn’t reach to touch him again. Stiles looks down at his arm, feeling his stomach roll at the sight of all the blood. “Bathroom,” he says, closing his eyes. “Please. I need to clean up.”

“You need a hospital,” Derek says, staring at his arm, but Stiles shakes his head, ignoring the way that makes his vision cross.

“No, they’re going to call my dad. And ask what happened. Just... please.”

Derek looks like he wants to argue, to push for more, but he helps Stiles maneuver off the couch and into the bathroom. When he catches sight of his reflection in the mirror, Stiles barely recognizes himself—he’s pale, his hair plastered to his forehead from sweat, and he looks half-crazed. There are patches of blood stained all across the front of his shirt, and his arm has thick stripes of blood trailing down it, some dried and splotchy and others red and glistening from where the blood is still oozing out of the slash marks.

“Fuck,” he whispers, reaching a hand out to grip the counter when he starts to sway.

Derek’s there, though, and he physically lifts him to sit next to the sink on the counter, his legs hanging over the edge, and thankfully he can’t see his reflection anymore. He leans his head back against the mirror and, with shaking fingers, grabs the washcloth Derek’s holding out and runs it under the tap. He starts dabbing it against the dried blood along his arm, careful of his injuries, holding his breath against the stinging of his touch.

Derek is silent as he stands in front of him, eyes sweeping over his wounds and up to his face, hands hovering at his sides. Stiles can tell he’s itching to get a better look, to see for himself just how extensive the damage is.

When Stiles tries to rinse the washcloth again, it’s difficult to do one-handed and he’s starting to feel dizzy from bloodloss. He ends up clumsily splashing water under the faucet and drops the cloth, the blood swirling in the sink to disappear down the drain.

“Stiles,” Derek says, voice edging toward desperation. Stiles turns to look at him, and Derek’s breathing through his nose, looking ready to lose it, but their eyes lock. Stiles tries to take a few steadying breaths and finally nods toward his arm, lifting his arm slightly so Derek can take hold.

“Easy,” he whispers, wincing, when Derek wraps his fingers around his wrist, a tight, sharp pain shooting up from the soft touch.

Derek slowly turns Stiles’ arm over, keeping his touch gentle, and surveys the damage. Stiles looks away—because the sight makes him nauseous—and stares at a spot on the wall over Derek’s shoulder instead. He can feel Derek’s shuddering breath against his skin.

Eventually, Derek releases his arm, but he doesn’t step back. “You need stitches,” Derek says, quieter.

“No,” Stiles repeats. “I told you, no hospitals.”

Derek keeps staring at his arm for a long moment before his eyes flicker back up to Stiles’ face. “What happened?” he asks again.

Stiles sighs, his shoulders slumping forward a little. “Deucalion came to the snow cone stand again.”

Derek’s hands clench into fists. “I thought you said you weren’t working there alone anymore? Why didn’t you call me? I’d have come and—”

“Toby was there,” Stiles cuts him off. “He only left for a minute and Deucalion and Kali showed up. It seemed like last time.” Stiles reaches into the sink to lift the washcloth again but Derek stills his shaking hand, pulling the cloth from his fingers. He wipes at some of the trails of blood, scrubbing softly, his eyes on Stiles for any signs of pain.

“Like last time?” Derek asks, gingerly wiping around the cut on the inside of his bicep. He’s holding Stiles’ arm with a firm grip at the elbow, keeping it steady. Stiles is grateful for the support because he’s feeling more unstable by the minute, his body starting to shake all over, like he’s in shock.

He forces the words from his throat. “Yeah. Just, like, being cagey and way too polite. And then he left, and I thought that was it.”

Derek stares at him like he’s got several choice words he’d like to give him, and Stiles blows out a frustrated breath. “If you say ‘I told you so’, I may have to kill you.”

Stiles.”

“I know, okay?” Stiles grits out. “They’re dangerous, I was wrong, I’m an idiot, I got it.” He motions to his arm, grimacing. “Trust me, I have received that message loud and clear.”

"How did this happen?" Derek nods to his arm, which has started bleeding sluggishly again from where Derek has reopened the wounds by cleansing them.

Stiles takes in a sharp breath, focusing on Derek’s hands wringing out the washcloth to clean it again so he doesn’t have to see Derek’s face for this part. “I guess it was just a decoy, them leaving. He waited until I was alone when I went to the bathroom and then...”

The image of Deucalion just inches from his face, warm breath huffing out and fangs bared as he stared Stiles down, makes him shiver involuntarily.

“If you’d had one of us with you,” Derek starts, but Stiles shoots him a dark look, and Derek just ducks his head, actually seeming apologetic, or at least smart enough not to push that line of thought. He focuses instead on cleaning the cuts, and Stiles hisses as he starts dabbing the washcloth close to the actual slash marks. “You’re still not explaining what the hell happened,” Derek sighs.

Stiles tips his head back against the mirror again, the effort of holding it up starting to make his shoulders ache. “I mouthed off to him. I guess I finally found his tolerance level.”

Derek stands up straighter, dropping the wet cloth into the sink to really look at Stiles. “Something happened.” When Stiles rolls his eyes, because no shit, he growls, “I mean, more than just what happened to your arm.”

Stiles hesitates. His brain’s still foggy with adrenaline and pain, but he’s been thinking about it since he left the snow cone stand. “He said some things,” he says cautiously. He hasn’t been able to work it out in his head just yet.

“What kind of things?” Derek asks, giving him a hard look that implies he’s not putting up with Stiles’ shit tonight—it’s amazing how much it mirrors his father’s own version of that look—and he leaves the bathroom for the hall.

Stiles lifts his head to watch him go, curious. “You know, things. Villainous showboating and threats. Kind of like pre-zombified Peter.”

Derek returns to the bathroom with a first aid kit in his hand, laying it out on the counter. He pulls out antiseptic, and the sight of it makes Stiles inhale sharply, already knowing it’s going to hurt.

“So that’s it,” Derek says, and it’s obvious he’s not buying it for a second. “He made vague, ominous threats.”

“Yep,” Stiles says, eyes still on the antiseptic. Derek dabs some onto a cotton ball, then presses it against the end of one of the cuts, pushing in a little harder than he needs to.

“Try again.”

“Bad touch,” Stiles hisses, banging his head back against the mirror at the sting. It’s unreal, his nerves lighting up all across his body, and his heart hammering out an uneven rhythm. He focuses on just breathing, as Derek keeps cleaning the cuts.

When it’s obvious the pain isn’t going to just ebb away and that Derek is intent on waiting him out, he lets out a shaky breath. “Okay. Maybe... maybe he kind of threatened me.”

“Because your arm wasn’t a threat?” Derek raises a brow at him. He dabs at the cut on the inside of his bicep and Stiles closes his eyes for a brief moment, before opening them again. He taps a rhythm out with his foot against the cabinet below the sink, trying to ignore the sparks of pain shooting behind his eyes and the fresh blood oozing out of the wounds.

Stiles says in a rush, “Maybe he said that he was going to make me join his pack, and he’d make you watch.”

Derek meets his gaze again and holds it. The energy in the room seems to shift, becoming almost electrified—Stiles can feel Derek’s blood boiling with barely checked rage.

“I’m going to fucking kill him,” he growls, then takes a breath to steady himself.

“Yeah, because that would end well,” Stiles snorts, bunching the material of his jeans in his good hand. He hisses out a long breath as Derek cleans the last cut. When there aren’t spots dancing in his vision anymore, he grits out, “I don’t think he meant to tell me that. I got the feeling our bathroom brawl was more spur-of-the-moment.”

Derek sets the antiseptic bottle down onto the counter, studying him. “What do you mean?”

This is the part Stiles has been trying to wrap his head around. “He got really pissed anytime I implied you weren’t the worst thing ever.” He nods slowly, even though it hurts. “Don’t go getting a big head or anything about that, though.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Derek says as he caps the bottle of antiseptic. “So Deucalion doesn’t like me, so what? The feeling is mutual.” Derek grabs a bandage out of the first aid kit, then when Stiles raises a brow at him to imply there’s no way in hell that’s going to cut it, he goes for the gauze instead and starts to wrap Stiles arm.

He risks a glance down at his arm where Derek’s binding it with gauze, and it’s strange, but with all of the blood wiped away, it doesn’t look as severe. “It felt like more than that. It felt personal. Are you sure you don’t know him?”

“No, I think I’d remember someone named Deucalion,” Derek says, and Stiles can tell he’s as frustrated as Stiles feels. None of what’s going on with the alphas seems to add up. Derek’s lips are pressed into a thin line, and there are wrinkles pinched along his forehead, like he’s distressed. He slams his fist against the counter once he’s finished wrapping Stiles’ arm. “If they want me, they should come after me.”

The mirror rattles behind Stiles, jostling him. He sighs, feeling drained and weary, and not just from the day’s ordeal. He’s tired of living on edge, he’s tired of bleeding and running himself ragged, he’s tired of lying to his dad, and he’s tired of wanting Derek, of being unable to reach for him anytime he wants. And right now, with Derek’s standing before him looking angry and worried in all the ways Stiles has seen him before—except now there’s an added, deeper level to it—Stiles just wants to touch, to take comfort, and he doesn’t resist the urge for once.

He reaches his good arm out to Derek’s bicep, his fingers slipping under his sleeve to wrap around the back of his muscles there. Derek startles but he doesn’t look angry in the least, and it gives Stiles the confidence to pull him closer. Derek doesn’t resist; his face softens and he leans in, wrapping one arm around Stiles, careful of his bandaged arm. There’s a reassuring press of his hand stroking up his back to cup at the base of his neck and Stiles sighs into his shoulder and leaning in to let Derek take his weight, lets the warmth radiating from Derek’s impossible temperature sooth his frayed nerves.

Stiles closes his eyes and he presses his nose against Derek’s shoulder, finally feeling more settled and secure. He doesn’t know how long they stay like that, but eventually Derek’s other hand comes up to the hinge of his jaw, fingers slipping back into his hair, and Derek pulls him back, eyes searching his. He leans their foreheads together and they just breathe for a moment.

“Stiles... I...” He sounds strained, like there are too many words and not enough at all, and then he’s finally, finally kissing Stiles.

It’s warm and comforting, just lips against lips, Derek’s fingers pressing firmer into his head, the arm around his back pulling him closer until Stiles is on the edge of the counter and their chests are flushed. Stiles moves his hand around Derek to rub and dig into his back, to feel as much of Derek against him as he can now that he’s finally got him there.

Stiles is the one to break it, because although he’s no longer in agonizing pain, he’s still weak and sore, and he has to stop to catch his breath. Derek doesn’t look guilty or any of the many things Stiles might expect from him for giving into something he wants, and he’s so grateful he leans back to kiss Derek again.

The kiss breaks when Derek pulls Stiles off the counter, his arm tight around him to help keep him upright when his legs threaten to give out. “Come on,” Derek says, voice soft and fond.

Stiles lets Derek guide him across the loft to the designated ‘bedroom space’. “Someone should have told me that getting maimed was all it took to finally get you to take me to bed,” he jokes, but he’s too exhausted for it to come across.

Derek’s cautious when he helps Stiles to sit at the edge and Stiles watches him leave and come back from somewhere that must be the closet with a gray t-shirt in hand. “Do you want me to cut your shirt off or do you think you can manage it?”

Stiles looks down at his disgusting shirt, and the sleeve is ripped to the shoulder so it shouldn’t be too difficult to maneuver off. Derek helps him pull it over his head and he’s more careful than Stiles has ever seen him when he guides the material over his wrapped arm. Stiles already feels better having the other shirt gone, the smell of his blood no longer in his nose.

“Thanks,” Stiles says, but he waves off the tee Derek holds out. “Nah, I’ll just... lie here.” He lays down with a groan, a soreness in his back finally making itself known, likely from getting slammed into the concrete wall. He squirms some, trying to find the best position to cause the least amount of pain. He finally settles on his back, lying flat with his head resting on a pillow that smells like Derek.

Derek’s hovering near the side of the bed, and once Stiles kicks off his shoes, he moves to the other side and lays down beside him, pulling the blanket up to cover them. He rolls onto his side so he’s facing Stiles, jaw working like he wants to say something.

It still hurts to move, but Stiles shifts so that he can grip Derek’s wrist loosely, to still the wheels turning behind Derek’s eyes. It works, at least temporarily, because Derek meets his gaze.

“Thank you,” Stiles says, watching as Derek’s brows instantly furrow, his expression shifting to confused.

“For what? It sounds like they wouldn’t have done any of this if it weren’t because—”

Stiles is all too aware of where Derek’s head is probably at, so he cuts him off, before he can disappear too far down the rabbit hole of guilt. “This was the safest place I could think to go. So just, thanks. For that.”

The look Derek gives him is startled, and then it shifts to something closer to amazed, and that second expression makes Stiles throat feel tight. Derek doesn’t say anything else, though, just lays his head near Stiles’ and reaches up with his free hand to thread his fingers through his hair, brushing a few strands off his forehead. He settles, moving closer and wrapping his arm across Stiles’ stomach, hand resting near his hip.

Stiles closes his eyes, lets his exhaustion envelope him, and falls asleep listening to the steady rhythm of Derek breathing beside him.

---

Stiles finishes unbuttoning the last button on his shirt and shrugs out of it, turning so he can see his arm in the bathroom mirror. The claw marks haven’t bled in two days and they’re a stark outline of dark maroon against his pale skin. The butterfly bandages—because by the time Derek finally dragged him to Deaton’s the next day, it had been too late for real stitches—can probably come off in another day or two, but for now, they seem to be doing the trick. He’s pretty sure there’s going to be jagged scars across his bicep, but he’s hoping they won’t be as deep or noticeable as he’d first feared. He’s not sure how much longer he can get away with only wearing long sleeved shirts and hoodies around his dad, but in a normal t-shirt, the cuts are definitely noticeable. Stiles is hoping he can stretch it out for another week or two while the scars fade, and then maybe he can actually pass it off to his dad as a lacrosse accident.

He traces his fingers down the five jagged marks, considering. Maybe a really traumatic lacrosse accident. That Derek in no way caused.

Stiles is actually amazed he’s gotten this far without his dad realizing something is wrong—he’d never been more grateful for night shifts than he had been when he’d woken up, in a pain-filled panic at Derek’s loft, suddenly remembering that he was very much supposed to be home in his own bed. He’d fired off a text before his dad was supposed to be home that he was going into school for an early lacrosse practice with Scott.

He only feels a little guilty for lying.

Stiles removes his prescription bottle of adderall from the bathroom cabinet, where he’s been hiding the antibiotics Deaton gave him, and dumps a handful into his palm. They’re almost gone, and he has has to dig with his finger until he can find a red and white one amid the orange and white ones. He dry swallows the pill before setting the bottle on the bathroom sink, turning to inspect his arm again in the mirror. It doesn’t seem infected, probably thanks to Derek’s cleaning job, but he’s intent on doing this right; he hasn’t survived werewolves and a kanima and Gerard only to die from gangrene or a staph infection or something completely mundane. Well, mundane in comparison.

Stiles lifts his arm up to test his mobility, watching his reflection grimace in the mirror as his muscles tighten. So he’s still too sore to go running a marathon anytime soon, got it.

Stiles hasn’t actually seen or spoken to Derek since the visit to Deaton to check his arm. Derek’s avoiding him again, and Stiles would have understood that they were back to actually not dating, but Derek kissed him that day. He took care of his wounds and kissed him and they slept together on Derek’s bed and Stiles thought maybe it finally meant Derek was getting past his issues enough for them to actually start something.

He was wrong, though, because things are the same. They’re back to silently ignoring what’s going on between them, and Derek’s back to ignoring him except for creeping down his street to make sure he’s alive or having Isaac keep tabs on him at school, and it sucks.

He splashes a few handfuls of cold water on his face and places his hands on the edge of the sink, letting his head rest, fallen forward to let the water run off. School took a lot out of him today—not that it was in any way difficult academically or socially, he’s just so tired; apparently healing is more effort than he knew. He sighs and rubs a wet hand down his face, flinging more water droplets off.

A throat clears behind him and his head snaps up to see Deucalion’s reflection in the mirror from where he’s standing behind him in the bathroom doorway. Again.

“Holy god,” Stiles gasps, scrambling around to face him.

“You’ve got such a way with words,” Deucalion says, the corners of his lips turning up. A phantom pain shoots up Stiles’ arm, like a lingering echo of the last time they saw each other. Deucalion takes a step closer and Stiles takes two back, his hip bumping into the sink’s edge.

Deucalion sighs, patient. “Haven’t you figured out yet that fighting me doesn’t end well for you?” He nods his head toward Stiles’ arm and the slowly healing scars.

“Your pack really has a thing for making grand entrances in bathrooms, huh?” Stiles asks, mostly to buy more time, and takes a cautious step sideways. “Is that like, your trademark?” His foot knocks into the side of the bathtub, meaning he’s run out of places to go. Shit.

He glances over Deucalion’s shoulder, trying to figure out just what he’s up against—not that it matters. Deucalion’s proven he can easily take Stiles down by himself if he wanted. “Where’s the rest of your motley crew?”

Deucalion tilts his head to the side. “They’re a little tied up with other projects at the moment.”

“And you thought you’d swing by for a cup of tea and a chat?” Stiles mentally runs down his options: his phone is in his hoodie pocket tossed onto the floor of his bedroom—fuck—and there’s no way he’d make it past the doorway, let alone all the way out to his car.

“That depends entirely on you,” Deucalion says, smiling at him. He reaches inside his jacket pocket and tosses something onto the tile floor. It makes a heavy clunking noise as it skids to a stop at his feet, glistening gold in the harsh bathroom lights.

It’s a sheriff's badge, the words BEACON HILLS COUNTY emblazoned on the front, and the sight makes Stiles’ heart stop.

“Are you in the mood to talk now?”

Stiles’ blood freezes in his veins. “Where is he? What did you do to him?” he asks, his words jumbling together in his haste to get them out.

“He’s alive,” Deucalion answers. He takes another step closer, and Stiles feels his entire body go rigid, but Deucalion just picks up the bottle of adderall from the counter and rattles it, his eyes glancing down toward it, completely casual. “But whether or not he stays that way depends on the outcome of our little chat.”

Stiles’ heart is threatening to beat right out of his chest, hysteria mixed with a sudden rage. “If anything happens to him...”

Deucalion grins, clearly amused. “You’ll what?”

He balls his hands into fists at his side, shaking with barely controlled anger. “If he gets hurt, every law enforcement agency in this area will be on your tail, I will make sure of it.”

Deucalion looks unconcerned, and reaches into his pocket to remove a cell phone, dangling it in front of Stiles. Without looking, he presses a button, and the bathroom is suddenly filled with the sound of labored breathing on the other line. Stiles blinks, and it takes him longer than it should to realize what the noise is.

“Dad?” he asks, frantic.

“Stiles?” It’s his dad’s voice from the other end of the line, but it’s pitched too high, too distraught and shaky, and Stiles can’t tell if it’s because he’s scared or in pain. His own heart rate spikes, and Stiles reaches out instantly for the phone, but Deucalion snatches it back, cutting off the connection. The bathroom is suddenly, deafeningly silent.

“You bastard,” Stiles says, and the only reason he doesn’t take a step toward him is because his legs are shaking too much to move, even when his mind is screaming for his limbs to do something, anything, to stop this.

Deucalion shrugs with one shoulder. He still looks positively delighted, and that sends a shiver down Stiles’ rigid spine. “This all could have been much simpler, but you wanted to be difficult. You and Derek are so much more alike than even you know.”

"What do you want?" he asks, even though he’s pretty sure he knows where this is heading. His throat is tight, panic rising through him.

"I want you to join my pack, and it seems this is what it takes to get you to agree. I did try easier tactics."

“That can’t be it,” Stiles says, taking in a sharp breath. “You’re seriously going to all this fucking trouble just to get me in your pack?”

Deucalion smiles, tilting his head to the side, and waiting as the silence stretches on. It becomes clear Stiles isn’t going to get an answer, so he nods, jerkily. “How do I know you won’t just kill my dad even if I agree?”

“You don’t,” Deucalion answers, simply. He holds out the cell phone again, a clear taunt. “But say the word and I’ll have them rip his throat out right now. You can even listen.”

Stiles has never been more desperate for Derek or Scott or someone to be checking up on him to make sure he hasn’t lit the house on fire with his ineptitude, but there’s only silence in the bathroom—no front door slamming closed as someone rushes in, no feet on the stairwell trying to get to him in time, no one coming to his aid. He takes in a deep breath. “Well, when you put it like that.”

“So do we have a deal?”

Stiles nods slowly, because he’s not seeing a lot of other options that don’t immediately end in him or his father in a shallow grave.

Deucalion slides the phone back into his pocket, looking pleased. “I’ll make it as painless as possible for you. You only have to do one thing.”

“I’m on pins and needles,” Stiles mutters.

Deucalion smirks—apparently Stiles hasn’t completely crossed the line from ‘amusing’ to ‘annoying’ yet. “You’re going to have Derek meet you at the old Hale House, and you’re going to tell him you’ve decided to join us.”

“That’s technically two things,” Stiles says without missing a beat, because apparently he has a death wish, and his mind takes longer to finish processing Deucalion’s words than it should. “And he’s never going to buy that. Like, not in a million years.”

Deucalion steps closer, and Stiles flails, almost falling backwards into the tub, but he manages to catch himself on the shower curtain. Deucalion leans toward him, so that Stiles has to physically crane his neck back, and stares him down, eyes glowing dark and bright.

“Then you’d better figure out a way to convince him,” he repeats, firmer. “And it better be the performance of your life, or I will personally tear your father’s limbs off him one at a time while you stand and watch. Simple enough?”

He swallows, nodding, his mind racing for any other options. Deucalion smiles then.

"Good," he says, stepping back. "And if you tell him about daddy dearest, or try something stupid, I’ll know," he smirks, "and I won't be happy about it."

“You’re going to kill Derek instead,” Stiles says suddenly, remembering Deucalion’s words from the bathroom behind the snow cone stand. “That’s your plan, isn’t it? Use me as bait to draw him out.”

“You think so little of me?” Deucalion asks, feigning insult and clutching at his chest. “You think that’s the best I can do? There’s limited fun in tearing someone’s throat out, Stiles. I prefer the bigger picture.”

“Yeah, you’re a real artiste,” Stiles mutters, and Deucalion laughs then.

He reaches out toward Stiles’ arm, and Stiles tries to twist back, but Deucalion’s fingers don’t quite stretch far enough to actually make contact. “Not a fan of my work?” he asks, gesturing with his outstretched fingers toward the long claw marks along Stiles’ arms. “Maybe you’ll like the vision I’ve got for your father instead.” He pulls his arm back, smiling at Stiles again. “If you make me unhappy, we’ll find out.”

Stiles takes in a deep breath. No pressure, right?

---

Stiles gets to the old house fifteen minutes before he’s told Derek to arrive, but Derek’s already sitting on the edge of the front porch, waiting. He scans the area quickly but doesn’t see Deucalion or any of the other alphas, but Stiles somehow just knows they’ve got eyes on him right now, and it intensifies the nerves already threatening to spill over inside him.

Derek jumps down to meet Stiles halfway when he gets out of his jeep. “I got your text,” he says, and he already look suspicious. Shit. “Why did you want to meet here?”

It occurs to Stiles that he probably should have come up with a much better cover story on the ride over, but his mind is a jumbled mess. It’s already taking everything in his willpower to try to keep his hands from shaking, but whatever facade he’s trying to project is proven useless as he can instantly tell that Derek notices his spiked heart rate, eyes sweeping over Stiles, worried. Shit. This is a terrible plan, it’s never going to work, and his dad is going to wind up dead.

“I wanted to talk,” he says, forcing his voice to stay level.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asks. He takes a step closer and Stiles steps back—he can’t be close to Derek for this. Derek already knows something’s wrong and there’s no way he’ll be able to keep up the ruse if he’s right there, looking into Derek’s eyes, smelling him.

“Nothing, nothing, I’m fine. We just... need to talk.”

Derek’s nostrils flare slightly, like he’s sniffing him. Stiles takes another step back. “Why are you so nervous?” he asks.

“I’m not,” Stiles says, laughing awkwardly. Derek narrows his eyes, taking another step toward him, and Stiles almost stumbles over his own feet in his haste to put more distance between them. “Will you just stop?” he hisses. Stiles desperately needs Derek to stay away from him, so that he can just get through this, to give Deucalion what he wants even if Stiles doesn’t understand it.

Derek stops in his tracks, startled and looking a little guilty. “Sorry,” he says, and he reaches out like he wants to touch Stiles but he stops abruptly and shoves his hands in his jacket pockets instead. He stands there for another moment, watching Stiles. “What did you want to meet about?”

Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, fidgeting with the sleeve of his shirt at his elbow. “Deucalion came to see me again.”

Derek’s instantly on alert, his angry eyebrows fighting with the concern in his eyes. He moves closer yet again. “Are you okay? What’d he say?”

Stiles takes a deep breath and forces himself to take another step back, wishing Derek would get the hint that he needs to be away from him.

“He didn’t hurt me,” he says, hoping that lying by omission won’t tip Derek off. “We just talked.” He takes another breath and reminds himself this is for his dad. And a twisted werewolf psychopath, but mostly his dad. He has to save his dad. “He, uh... he actually made a few valid points.”

Derek looks surprised, his eyebrows arching. “What?”

He’s not sure which one of them Deucalion intends this to be punishment for, because Stiles is suddenly so afraid that Derek will actually believe him, even though that’s exactly what he needs.

Stiles lets out a long, shaky breath, averting his eyes. He can’t look at Derek when he says this, even though he knows it would help sell it. “I think I’m going to let him.”

“Let him what? Let him bite you?” Stiles pretends he doesn’t hear the hurt or the disbelief in his voice, and when he turns back, Derek’s starting to close up, his face shifting from surprised to blank.

“Yeah,” he says, and he can tell that Derek’s not buying this, and shit. Stiles clears his throat, quickly trying to change tactics, to distract Derek into an argument—it’s the only way to make this believable. Derek’s easier to manipulate when he’s angry, so he puts as much venom into his next words as he can. “Or do I not get to make my own decision about that either?”

That catches Derek off guard, but it does the trick because he already looks angrier, his frown deepening. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what it means,” Stiles says, trying to breathe eveningly and keep himself calm. To not screw this up.

“That’s not... I—I’ve just been trying to keep you safe,” Derek sputters, uncertainty mixing with his frustration.

“Is that what you’ve been doing?” Stiles asks, and the anger in his voice isn’t quite as forced as it was a moment ago. “It’s a little hard to tell. I don’t know how you manage to suffocate and avoid me at the same time, but it’s really quite impressive.”

“Oh sorry, next time I’ll just let you bleed out on my doorstep. What the fuck, Stiles?” Derek bites out, his guilt quickly replaced with a disbelieving anger. If Stiles can play this right, he can let that anger win out over the logical side of Derek’s brain.

Stiles takes a deliberate step forward, nodding. “No, you’re right. I should be thanking you, for making it very clear to me where you draw the line. You’ll save my life, but you won’t kiss me. Or, no wait, you will kiss me, but then you won’t call me for a week. Have I got that right?” Derek flinches, but Stiles plows ahead, unable to stop himself—and he’s not even sure it’s entirely a part of the ruse now. “It’s okay to lead me on and pretend you like me, as long as you don’t have to follow through, right?”

“Stiles, I’m—I shouldn’t have...” he lets out a frustrated growl and rubs a hand over his face. “Dammit, you know I care about you. I wasn’t pretending; I wasn’t trying to lead you on. I just—I told you, we’re not... this isn’t going to work. I’m not good for you—”

“And I am a walking disaster area,” Stiles snaps, cutting him off, his voice rising several octaves without his permission. “We both are. If we’re not good for each other, who are we supposed to good enough for?”

Derek’s face twists into something different than hurt or anger. “Stiles—”

“No,” Stiles says, cutting him off and shaking his head. “Your logic is bullshit and just an excuse to make yourself feel better. You have had every opportunity to make this work, and you don’t want to.” He takes in a sharp breath, trying to force himself to focus, to get this conversation back on track. “I can’t take it anymore, okay?”

“So you’re going to join them?” Derek asks, incredulous, and shit, Stiles didn’t push it far enough. He can see Derek fighting his anger for control over the rational side of his brain again. “Stiles, they nearly killed you, more than once.”

“They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Stiles says, and there’s a hint of desperation to his voice now. Visions of his father bloody and broken flash through his mind as if on cue and Stiles instinctively glances to the side of the house, half expecting the twins or Deucalion to be lurking there, to tell him that he’s failing at this and it’s going to cost him everything. Derek catches him, though, and narrows his eyes, his suspicion mounting.

“This is fucking ridiculous, Stiles,” Derek growls. “What aren't you telling me?”

Stiles looks away, then forces himself to turn back, to stare Derek down and convince him. “Nothing.”

Derek’s studying him carefully, his frustration clear but he sighs, his shoulders slumping a little, and Stiles thinks maybe this is going to work, that maybe he’s made Derek believe him, as much as that truly hurts. “If you wanted the bite,” Derek starts, but he pauses to think, worrying his lip with his teeth for a second, and then his expression clears, like he’s firmed up something in his head. “No,” he says, power—alpha power—in his voice. “No, this is bullshit. You’ve never wanted the bite. Something’s wrong here. You’re... what is it?” He takes a step forward and Stiles feels caged in even though they’re standing in the open yard. His voice is low and furious when he speaks again, “Are they forcing you to do this?”

Shit, shit, shit. He knew this wouldn’t work.

He tried to tell Deucalion that; Derek’s not an idiot, he knew he wouldn’t believe him, and now his dad is going to die because he wasn’t convincing enough. Fuck. “Goddammit Derek,” he chokes out, his chest starting to feel tight. “Will you just stop? Please. I don’t want you, okay? Or your pack. You have to believe me...”

He doesn’t, though, because he just steps forward and puts a hand on Stiles’ shoulder, the other coming up to grip his neck, fingers brushing the underside of his jaw. Stiles feels like he’s lost all control of his body; he’s sucking in a desperate breath but it doesn’t feel like any of the air is making it to his lungs. He can barely see Derek through his watering eyes but he can tell Derek doesn’t look angry anymore, just worried, and that’s somehow so much worse.

“You’re lying.” Derek sounds anxious, concern filling his voice. Stiles tries to jerk out of his grip but he can’t force his body to move, he’s shaking in Derek’s grasp. “Tell me what’s happening, Stiles. Is it... did they threaten you? Scott?”

“Shit,” Stiles gasps, trying again to break away but Derek won’t let him; he just holds Stiles tighter. He has to make Derek understand, somehow, that his dad is going to die if Derek doesn’t stop right now. “Dammit, Derek, can’t you just listen to me this one fucking time?”

“Maybe you should take him at his word, Derek,” Deucalion says, stepping out from the woods, like he just materialized behind a tree. “The boy chose me.”

Derek goes rigid against Stiles, turning around suddenly, his back to Stiles as he faces Deucalion. The effort of holding himself up without Derek’s support is too much for his shaking legs and Stiles falls to his knees.

Fuck, it didn’t work. That’s it. He’s just got his dad killed and he can’t... he can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t do anything. He curls over, wraps his arms over his head and pulls at the back of his neck, his vision starting to black out at the edges. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Whatever you’ve got over him, he’s not yours,” Derek growls, and Stiles doesn’t have to look up to tell that he’s got his claws and fangs out now.

“You think that just because he was yours, no one can take him away from you?” Deucalion asks, and he sounds closer now. When Stiles finally lifts his head, trying to breathe through his panic, Deucalion is only a few feet away, but he hasn’t shifted yet—like he doesn’t think Derek is even a large enough threat to warrant the effort. “You of all people should know that’s not true.”

Now that Stiles can focus, he realizes that Deucalion is acting like Stiles didn’t screw up—like he actually convinced Derek. He sucks in a lungful of air, trying to calm his nerves, because maybe his dad isn’t dead after all.

“I know you,” Derek says slowly, looking at Deucalion, puzzled.

“It must be hard,” Deucalion chides, tilting his head to the side. “Keeping track of all the lives you’ve ruined.”

There’s the sound of a branch snapping just off to his right, and Stiles jerks his head toward it. The twins and Kali round the side of the house, and Derek snarls at their presence, but doesn’t turn from Deucalion.

It occurs to Stiles that maybe he should be a little more worried about his own life expectancy at this point. He rises to his feet, cautious and still shaky. He doesn’t really think he could run at a moments notice—doesn’t even know where he’d go, considering they’ve still got his dad, somewhere. But at least if they’re all here, that means they can’t kill his father on command.

He hopes, at least.

The twins and Kali hover nearby, waiting for something, and Ethan’s lips curl into a snarl when Stiles makes eye-contact with him. Stiles bares his own teeth—a pathetic snarl for sure but enough to show he’s not backing away from them again—and it makes both Ethan and Aiden laugh, like he’s done an adorable trick. He wants to step closer to Derek, to show them where he stands in this but Derek and Deucalion are circling each other now, slowly.

“Deak,” Derek breathes, so quiet that Stiles almost doesn’t catch it.

“So you do remember,” Deucalion says, the white of his teeth flashing in the slowly fading sunlight. It will be dark soon—assuming they live long enough to see the moon rise.

Derek growls, low and dangerous. “I don’t remember anyone ever using your full name,” Derek says, and Stiles is pretty sure he’s missing about ten steps in this conversation.

“You know him?” Stiles asks Derek, his throat still tight, his voice like gravel to his ears.

“He was engaged to my cousin.”

Deucalion growls, eyes crimson, face twisted furiously. “Her name was Elizabeth, or is it too painful for you to say the names of the people you murdered?”

Stiles flashes back to the police reports he’s read on the fire. Derek doesn’t answer but he doesn’t protest, either, and Stiles knows Derek well enough now to read the guilt in his taunt shoulders and the grim line of his lips.

“He didn’t do it,” he forces out. “I hate to burst your revenge bubble, but Kate Argent burnt the house down, not Derek.”

Deucalion doesn’t even spare him a glance. “Derek may not have lit the match, but he’s just as responsible.”

“Uh, not by any definition known to the dictionary,” Stiles says. He really needs to learn to shut his mouth. Like, really.

Deucalion smiles, and it’s different this time, more calculating. “Oh, he doesn’t know, does he?” Derek keeps his facial features schooled into the same rigid, tense expression. “Not that I’d expect him to. It took me years to get the answers I wanted. I’m lucky your girlfriend liked to brag to other hunters. It just took me a while to realize the cocky, naive little boy she was fucking was you.”

Stiles’ gaze flickers between them both again, feeling a knot forming in his stomach. Derek’s stoic expression has shifted into a snarl at Deucalion’s words, which is all the answer to their validity that Stiles needs.

Deucalion nods once, and then there’s a flurry of movement as Kali and the twins rush forward, and Derek crouches defensively.

“Stiles, run,” Derek snaps.

Stiles doesn’t even get the chance to flee, though, because the second he turns to run, there’s someone already there blocking his path. He’s a wall of muscle with short cropped hair and a huge arm reaches out to shoves Stiles shoulder, sending him flying back onto his ass. Stiles scrambles, crawling backward, trying to get away and knowing he won’t be able to. He barely gets to his feet when the alpha—yep, those are red eyes—grabs his freshly scabbed up arm and yanks him back across the lawn.

Stiles screams, the claw wounds tearing back open, but he can’t do anything about it because suddenly he’s shoved upright and in front of Deucalion and his body locks up at the smirk Deucalion is giving him.

“Thank you, Ennis,” Deucalion says, not taking his eyes off Stiles. Deucalion’s hand wraps around Stiles neck and squeezes painfully as he spins Stiles so he’s standing like a shield in front of Deucalion.

Deucalion clears his throat and his pack stills; Kali and Aiden have Derek restrained by his neck and arms, but he’s still struggling against them. Stiles gets some satisfaction that Ethan is lying in a bloody puddle nearby and Aiden has claw marks down the side of his face.

The hand around Stiles’ neck tightens even more, and Stiles gasps at the pain that shoots through him. Derek snarls, trying to lunge out of Kali and Aiden’s grasp, but he doesn’t move much against the both of them.

“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this,” Deucalion says, and Stiles can feel his breath along the side of his neck as he leans in to inhale his scent.

“He’s not who you want,” Derek growls, before it breaks off into a pained whimper and a grimace. It takes Stiles a moment to notice the claws Kali has digging into Derek’s side, and he sucks in a breath at the sight.

Deucalion lifts his head to stare at Derek, and he laughs—it sounds delighted, which is scary as fuck. “No, but I can’t have the one I want thanks to you. He makes a lovely consolation prize, though, don’t you think? I like the poetry of it. Your betrayal cost me the thing I loved most in the world.” He rubs his nose against Stiles’ neck again, and yep, there are definitely fangs now, ghosting along the delicate flesh. So, this is how he dies. Or at least gets turned into a werewolf, and then dies. It’s every bit as dramatic as he’d always imagined it would be, which is... not really a relief. “And now I’m going to take the thing you love most in the world.”

“Kill me,” Derek spits out, sounding pained. “I’m the one you want to hurt, not him.”

“Tempting,” Deucalion agrees, “but you should know, Derek, death is quick, fleeting. Living with the loss, though. Living with someone’s betrayal. That’s what hurts.”

Stiles is grateful Deucalion can’t see his eye roll, because clearly, he doesn’t know Derek as well as he thinks he does, if he believes Derek isn’t already completely consumed by guilt.

“Why didn’t you do this weeks ago?” Derek asks, and Stiles notes that he’s not straining against the alphas anymore, and it tears the last shreds of hope Stiles had, knowing Derek’s giving up. “Why drag this out?”

“It was worth the wait,” Deucalion says, pleased, and Aiden scowls, apparently not agreeing. “To see your face when he told you he was leaving you.”

Deucalion sniffs at his neck again, and Stiles squeezes his eyes closed, expecting his fangs to break the skin this time.

“You think I bought that?” Derek asks, and the hand on Stiles’ throat loosens just a fraction—to where he can finally gulp in lungfuls of air—as Deucalion lifts his head to stare at Derek again.

“If he wanted to join you, you wouldn’t need a hand on his throat right now,” Derek continues, and Deucalion growls, annoyed. With oxygen, Stiles feels like he can focus more—and now that he’s really looking at Derek, he can tell that while he’s not struggling anymore, his body is still tense, rigid, poised for action.

He’s biding his time, and trying to buy more of it.

When Deucalion speaks, his mouth is right next to Stiles’ ear. “Do you really think my plan failed? I’ll admit, there have been a few hiccups along the way. But you won’t be his Alpha.”

Fangs graze his neck and Stiles shouts out, his voice cracking, “I still won’t choose you... even if you turn me, I’ll always choose Derek.”

“Oh?” Deucalion questions, sounding sour. Stiles can feel him shrug behind him. “Well, if that’s how you really feel after all of this, that’s fine. I’m adaptable.” Stiles doesn’t have to see him to know he’s smiling now, probably that one that covers his whole face and distorts his features and never fails to make Stiles’ stomach sink. “So I guess I will just kill you after all.”

The hand around his throat squeezes so tight Stiles thinks it might actually snap his neck. Deucalion’s claws begin to prick his skin, sinking slowly in. Stiles tries to gasp for breath but only chokes, his throat working double time in a vain effort to suck in air. He struggles against him and pulls weakly at Deucalion’s arm and the vice grip around his neck but he doesn’t so much as budge it.

Everything’s starting to get hazy, sounds are muffled and his vision is tunneling. Derek roars, knocking out of Aiden’s grasp, and they’re a flurry of movement and blood but Stiles shuts his eyes because he can’t look at Derek while he’s watching him die. He doesn’t stop fighting against Deucalion but eventually his arms start to drop, loss of oxygen making him weak. This is it, he’s going to die. He’s praying that they’ll at least spare his dad—that Derek or someone (anyone) will find him alive—when there’s a sudden chorus of snarls around him.

Something hard and heavy collides into them, sending him collapsing to the ground with Deucalion, but it dislodges the hand from his throat. Stiles gasps, choking as his throat starts to expand and he’s blinks away the tears in his eyes, the trees overhead swirling and mingling together in his blurred vision. Behind him, Deucalion roars, and Stiles has just enough energy and sense of self-preservation to roll over and crawl away from the sound, his nails digging into the mud.

There’s more movement this direction, though, and Stiles stills when someone whips past him, lunging for Ennish and almost crushing his hand where it’s gripping the earth. They struggle together on the ground, fangs bared and claws shredding at clothing and skin as they fight for control—and he’s never been more grateful to see Isaac.

Ennis uses his weight to pin Isaac to the ground, and he raises his arm with his claws outstretched, ready to go for his throat. Someone appears—Scott, he realizes seconds later—just in time to knock into Ennis, tearing at his arms as Isaac scrambles backwards and then darts away from both of them. There’s suddenly blood everywhere as Scott rips at Ennis’ flesh, and Stiles looks away from them to scan the rest of the yard.

Aiden is lying prone near his brother, and Isaac is fighting Kali now. There’s blood and dirt flying through the air and they’re all moving so fast Stiles can’t really tell who’s got the upper hand. They’re both snarling and snapping enough that they’re likely doing damage in equal measure.

Derek slams into a tree near him, startling him. Their eyes lock for a brief second, and Stiles nods, trying to tell Derek he’s okay. Derek nods back, spits out some blood, and gets up to go after Deucalion again.

He runs at full speed, barreling at him, intending to knock him down, but Deucalion’s anticipating it and in one swift movement he manages to shove Derek off, and he winds up on the ground, looking startled and angry. Stiles is about to yell for Scott to help Derek when Deucalion turns—and instead of moving in for the kill with Derek, he starts stalking across the yard, straight for Stiles.

Stiles curses under his breath, trying to scurry backwards along the ground, but his arm is screaming in pain from where the scars have re-opened, and his limbs feel like cement. He glances towards Derek, to see if he’s coming to his aid, but he’s busy now fending off Ennis, who’s got deep claw marks drawn across his face and his arm, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing him down any. Shit.

“You,” Deucalion sneers when he gets close enough, dragging Stiles to his feet by clutching the collar of his shirt. Stiles flails a little, trying to find purchase with his feet at the angle. “You have been nothing but a thorn in my side since I met you.” Up this close, Stiles can see how dilated his crimson pupils are, can smell the blood on his breath with each heavy exhale.

“Same,” Stiles croaks out, trying to twist away. Deucalion’s other hand grips his arm with an unnatural force, deliberately squeezing his injured bicep. Stiles’ scream is blood-curdling; white hot pain shoots through his veins, sparks flying behind his eyelids. It feels like his whole body gives out after the initial burst of agony, his limbs going limp except for a trembling that he can’t control.

“I should have killed you weeks ago,” Deucalion snarls, and he lurches forward suddenly, intent on Stiles’ neck, when there’s a furious roar just beside them, and then Deucalion is being dragged backwards by Derek, who’s got his claws sunk deep into his back.

Stiles folds in on himself once Deucalion’s grip is released, collapsing into a pile on the ground, shaking and sucking in deep breaths. He can hear Deucalion’s laugh echoing around them, mixed in with snarls as Stiles watches them from where his face is pressed into the mud, too exhausted to even move. Deucalion gets in a good swipe at Derek’s side, and when he pulls his hand back, the shirt is tattered and blood is flowing out quickly. Derek roars again, but Scott’s there with him a split second later, helping Derek to fight Deucalion to the ground, holding his weight down.

From his angle, Stiles can’t see exactly what happens—but Derek swings his arm down, and Deucalion’s laughter stops, replaced only by the sounds of their harsh breathing and birds overhead.

Scott rises while Derek keeps kneeling over Deucalion’s body, and he turns toward where Stiles can still hear Isaac and someone else growling at each other.

“Wait,” Stiles gasps out, struggling to push himself off the ground and trying to ignore the sharp pains shooting through his limbs. His arm gives out under him, shaking too much, and he ends up with his face pressed into the mud again. Scott looks between him and Isaac, momentarily confused on which to help first, but Derek makes the decision for him, turning around to come to Stiles.

“My dad,” Stiles says, hissing in pain as Derek pulls him to his feet. His limbs almost give out under him again, but Derek helps to support his weight. “They have him. We’ve got to...”

Derek nods, “It’s okay. We’ll get him.” His eyes are running over him, checking his injuries—they linger on his arm and neck, where Stiles can feel blood drying. “Are you okay?” Derek asks, his face pinched in pain and concern.

“I’m fine,” Stiles answers, still shaking and incredibly not fine but he can stand on his own and that’s enough for now. He looks over to where Deucalion's laying prone in the dirt, blood pooling underneath him, and the sight doesn’t leave him feeling guilty or particularly happy—he just feels relief.

His gaze drifts across the yard, skimming past where Ennis lies in a shredded heap, toward Isaac and Scott again. They’ve got Kali backed into a corner, and she’s holding her arms out defensively, rather than ready to attack. They seem to be talking, and though Stiles can’t make out the words from their distance, he’s hopeful it’s about his dad. “How did they even...” he starts, but he’s not sure how to finish the sentence, his throat still so tight that speaking is painful.

“I asked them to come,” Derek says, and when Stiles turns his head back toward him, Derek’s still watching him with that careful, anxious look—like all he wants to do is rip Stiles’ clothes off him and check his wounds. When Stiles keeps staring at him, confused, Derek shrugs with one shoulder and winces from the movement. “You wouldn’t have asked me to come back here. I knew something was up as soon as I got that text.” He narrows his eyes, just a fraction. “I wasn’t being paranoid, so don’t even start. I just, I know you, Stiles.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Stiles says, holding up his hands weakly.

Derek’s eyes soften again, and he looks like he wants to say something else, but Scott yells for their attention and they both turn toward him. “Come on,” Scott says, waving them on. “I think we’ve got a location.”

---

Stiles takes a deep breath as he pushes open the door to his dad’s hospital room; he doesn’t let it out until John smiles at him and says, “Hey kid.”

“Dad,” he chokes. He hasn’t actually seen him since Derek and Isaac rescued him from the alpha pack’s clichéd warehouse hideout. They forced him to stay back with Scott—and he still hates thinking that they did it because they weren’t sure what they’d find inside and didn’t want him near it. But his dad is alive and not too worse for wear. His knee is busted up and he’s got various contusions from fighting back—including one nasty looking bruised cut above his left eyebrow—but he's whole and not dead, which is all Stiles has ever asked for.

They hug awkwardly around the monitor cords John’s hooked up to and Stiles’ freshly stitched and bandaged arm, and Stiles has to close his eyes to hold back his tears, his relief overwhelming him. When he pulls back, John keeps a hand on his cheek and looks him over, his own eyes red and watery.

“Are you okay?” John asks, eyes darting to Stiles’ arm, where his shirt is still bloody. His hand moves from Stiles’ cheek and hovers tentatively over his neck; bruises now forming in the shape of Deucalion’s hand across it, with five small cuts that have already scabbed over.

“Yeah,” Stiles nods, and he clears his throat when his voice sounds too shaky still. “Looks like I’ll live to stop you from eating fast food for another day.”

“What happened?” John asks, studying Stiles’ face again. He looks so small and lost suddenly; not frightened, exactly, but more in the way he hasn’t been since his mom’s cancer, when they both spent weeks wandering around in a confused daze, not knowing what to do. Stile’s heart pangs in his chest. “They attacked you, too.”

“I’m okay, Dad,” Stiles says, taking in another deep breath. “They... It happened a few days ago,” he gestures to his arm.

John stares at him, and the dazed look doesn’t go away. “Just how long was I passed out?”

“No, no,” Stiles says, shaking his head quickly. “You weren’t... It... Shit.” He sits down and scrubs a hand over his face, wondering if he’s making a terrible mistake. But he feels like his dad deserves this, deserves the truth for once, after everything they’ve been through. Besides, while he’s not sure just how much his dad saw of the alpha pack, he’s very sure he’s not going to let Stiles write it off this time. “They’ve been after me for a while.”

After you? Why didn’t you say anything?” A range of emotions play out on his dad’s face; surprise, anger, suspicion, clarity. “Wait, wait,” he holds up his hand before Stiles can even attempt to answer. “This is what’s been going on all year, isn’t it? How long have you known about... them?”

“Uh.” Stiles shifts in his seat. He knew this was coming, he probably should have prepared a little better. “Um... nine months, give or take?”

“Jesus Christ, Stiles,” John sighs, rubbing a hand over his face and wincing when he reaches the swollen bruise above his eye. “Why didn’t you tell me? Do you have any idea how useful this information could have been?”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I just—I didn’t think you’d believe me.” He shrugs uselessly, ignoring the slight pain moving those muscles causes. “What was I supposed to say? Hey Dad, did you know that some of our neighbors get really hairy and howl at the full moon once a month? And I don’t mean Mr. Harrison when he falls off the wagon.”

John sighs again. “I’d have believed you,” he says, then clears his throat when Stiles stares him down, disbelieving. “Okay, eventually,” John concedes. He shakes his head slowly. “I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it, and I saw it with my own two eyes. I just... werewolves.” He pauses, considering something, then narrows his eyes at Stiles. “What do you mean, our neighbors?”

“Uh,” Stiles says, debating just how to phrase the rest of this conversation so it doesn’t end in his father trying to shoot his best friends. “It’s possible there are more werewolves in this town beyond the ones who kidnapped you. Though they’re not all evil, snow-cone addicted psychopaths.”

His dad’s quiet for a moment, weighing the words, and Stiles has a fleeting hope that he might leave it there—even as Stiles knows that’s never going to happen, because his life is never that simple, and because his dad is still a cop.

“Scott,” John says eventually.

Stiles actually flails, until the pain in his arm forces him to stop. “What? How? What...?”

His dad waves him off, not even phased by Stiles’ panicking. “Have you seen the boy eat? It explains so much.” Stiles laughs until he looks back at his dad to see the concern on his face again. “You’re not...” he pauses, unsure, and it takes a moment but Stiles thinks he gets where he’s going.

“Oh, no. No, I’m 100% human. No worries.”

“Good,” John says, nodding. “Uh, I mean. Not that it wouldn’t be okay. If you were. Weren’t, I mean. Weren’t human.”

“You’re going to give yourself a stroke,” Stiles jokes, the corners of his lips quirking up as he watches his dad fumble over his words. It’s not that often that he gets to see him flustered, and it’s kind of awesome, having the tables turned.

“If anyone’s going to give me a stroke, it’s you,” John grouses, taking in a breath. “The werewolves. The ones that...”

“The alpha pack,” Stiles supplies, and John’s eyebrows furrow at that. He’s definitely going to be answering questions about this for a very long time.

“The alpha pack,” John continues. “Why didn’t you come to me? When they... hurt you?” He nods again to Stiles’ arm, looking concerned.

Stiles shifts on his feet, feeling the mood in the room tense. “I thought we could handle it,” Stiles says, quieter.

“We?”

“Me and Scott... and Derek.” He figures if he’s ever going to be honest with all of this, now is the time.

“Derek,” John repeats, firm, not giving Stiles any indication about what he thinks about that.

Stiles nods and for once, bites his tongue.

“Derek’s a... werewolf?”

“Yes,” Stiles answers, trying not to rattle out of his chair with the sudden nervous energy he’s feeling. His dad looks considering but otherwise blank, not betraying a single inch of what he’s really thinking, and the silent seconds that tick by are driving Stiles insane.

“The cut on your head? From a few weeks ago. Who did it?” he asks, voice level, like he’s simply curious.

“Oh, for the love of... I already told you it wasn’t Derek,” Stiles sighs, rolling his eyes, but John stares him down until he answers. "One of the twins. I don't know if you had the pleasure of meeting them or not."

John nods, grimacing at the memory. "Yeah. Little shits."

Stiles laughs, startled. "Right?"

He sobers quickly as John looks serious again. "I heard a little, while they had me. Not much that made sense at the time, but I gathered that what happened today was about Derek?"

"Yeah,” Stiles nods. “Mostly about them being psychotic, but... yeah.”

His dad is searching his face, and Stiles realizes too late just what his father is thinking. “So you got dragged into it because of him?”

He blows out a long, frustrated breath. “It’s not like that,” Stiles says, a little desperate, because he can’t believe they’re going to have this conversation again, especially after everything that Derek has done today. “Derek’s the only reason I’m even alive right now, Dad—” and shit, that wasn’t the right thing to say either, because his dad looks startled and even more worried than before. But Stiles feels an anger boiling in the pit of his stomach at Derek taking the fall for anything that went down with the alphas, because it’s all so far from his fault that it’s almost laughable. “How can you be pissed at him? He saved your life today. And mine, and a lot of other people’s. You know what’s funny?” he asks, but doesn’t wait for his father to answer, just pitches his voice higher. “You two are exactly alike. Way too overprotective and paranoid, and it’s so annoying, oh my god.”

He blows out a long breath, as the horror of everything he’s just said slowly starts to dawn on him. His dad has his arms crossed, and he has that same unreadable expression on his face again. “Are you finished?” John asks.

“Depends on if you want to insult the guy who saved my dad’s life again,” Stiles says, and he knows he’s pushing it—probably too far, definitely too far—but he forces himself not to shrink back. This is important.

“He could seriously hurt you,” John says carefully, and Stiles balls his hands into fists.

“Why, because he’s a werewolf? So could Scott, then. Are you going to tell me that Scott can’t be my friend anymore?”

“No,” John says. “And I’m not going to tell you that you can’t see Derek either.”

“Oh yeah? I can’t believe you, I...” Stiles pauses, words falling off, and he squints at his dad. Oh. “Wait, what?”

“I’m not going to stop you from seeing him,” John continues, uncrossing his arms. “Not that you’d listen to me even if I did. I just want you to be careful, Stiles. I can’t... I can’t lose you. I hate to think how close that’s come in the last few months and I didn’t even know and...”

Stiles moves to hug his dad again, tight. “I’m okay,” he repeats, closing his eyes as John’s arms wrap around him, squeezing. “I’m okay. I’m safe with him. Really.”

“No more lies,” his dad breathes shakily into his hair, rubbing his back slowly. “Even if you think it’s scary, or that I wouldn’t want to know. You’re my son. I always want to know.”

“I promise, Dad,” Stiles swears, trying to convey with every molecule of his being just how much he means it. Because this is important too.

---

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Stiles asks, hovering anxiously between the bed and the doorway. “Because I can stay. Really. It’s not a big deal.”

His dad rolls his eyes from where he’s sitting up in bed, a book spread out on his lap. “I’m just going to go to sleep,” he says, and motions toward the door. “And I’ve got a book, the remote, and my cell phone. I think I can manage.”

Stiles hesitates again. “Don’t try to get up. And remember, you’re supposed to RICE—”

“How could I forget with you reminding me every five seconds?” his dad mutters, loud enough that Stiles is sure he’s meant to hear it. Then he adds, louder, “Will you just get out of here for a few hours?”

He narrows his eyes at his dad in warning—though the look that John gives him in return implies that he needs to work on perfecting his own version of the Stilinski family staredown—before nodding once. “Okay, but call me if you need anything and I’ll come right home.”

“Go,” John drawls, and Stiles does.

Once he gets to his car he almost changes his mind and marches back inside with some excuse, maybe about how his car wouldn’t start again. Because it feels wrong to be leaving his dad right now, even though his few injuries are healing fine, and Stiles is possibly going to lose his mind if he has to watch another episode of Justified.

Stiles needs this, though, and he knows it, he just... has reservations about how good of an idea it really is. As if on cue, his phone buzzes in his pocket.

It’s a text message from Derek that simply reads, still coming?

Stiles smiles at his phone, some of the tension bleeding out of him, and texts back, on my way.

They haven’t been able to really speak or see each other since Derek dropped them off at the hospital and made sure someone saw to Stiles’ arm. Stiles is pretty sure it’s not like the other times when Derek was avoiding him—he’s just giving him time with his dad, which Stiles is grateful for because even now he feels guilty for leaving.

By the time he gets to Derek’s, he’s more nervous than he’s ever been—except maybe for the time after Derek had first kissed him, because he’d been excited about the prospect of getting some action. (Apparently, he should have clarified that the action he was hoping for wasn’t in an alpha pack shredding his arm kind of way.)

He’s not sure what to expect now, though, and that not-knowing leaves him feeling anxious. Nothing has really changed to make him think Derek will suddenly be relaxed enough to finally let them be together—in all the fun ways, that is—but he’s hoping maybe they have. The alpha pack is gone, and sure there are dangers, but nothing like what they’ve just been through.

Stiles draws in a deep breath as he heads inside the building, trying not to get his hopes up—because that’s never worked out in his favor before. They’re probably going to spend the night playing Clue and eating pizza, and decidedly not making out. If that’s all that Derek is willing to offer him, he thinks he can live with that.

He knocks on the door a split second before it slides open to reveal Derek, and Stiles unravels at the sight of him, like he hadn’t realized just how much he needed to see Derek standing and alive and not covered in blood, until right now. His throat suddenly feels dry.

“Hey,” Derek says, stepping aside.

Stiles moves into the loft, and doesn’t take off his hoodie, even when Derek glances at it. His arm is stitched up properly and doesn’t really hurt anymore, but he prefers not having to look at it, not having the reminder. Eventually, Derek stops staring at him to focus on closing and locking the heavy door. “How’s your dad?” Derek asks, back still turned to him.

“Better. I think there may have been some brain damage, though, because he actually wanted me to get out of the house.”

The loft is empty—there’s no Isaac tonight—but Stiles does catch sight of take away boxes sitting on the coffee table, and feels his heart sink a little. Definitely just another not-date, then, nothing has changed. He takes in a deep breath. He can do this.

“Chinese, huh?” Stiles asks, changing the subject. “I bet you already ate all the egg rolls, too. Jerk.”

“And risk listening to you bitch at me for the rest of the night again?” Derek snorts, the smallest of smiles on his face when Stiles looks back at him. It makes him feel lighter, like maybe they really can slip back into normalcy this easily after everything else that’s happened.

“I’m picking the movie though,” Stiles says, moving toward Derek’s small movie collection. “Because I’m not watching Die Hard again. I just, I can’t do it. You’ve ruined one of the greatest movies of all time for me.” He doesn’t even have to read the titles, because he already knows them by heart. Not that it’s hard, when Derek only owns six movies—and the copy of Bring It On that he swears belongs to Isaac. He puts Raiders of the Lost Ark in and takes up his usual spot on the sofa, while Derek hovers uncertainly behind him.

Eventually, Derek sits beside him, picking up the carton of beef and broccoli from the coffee table. He just holds it in his hands, making no move toward eating it, and Stiles can tell that he wants to brace some subject—he’s about as subtle as Stiles’ dad—but Stiles is in no hurry to get to another “we can’t date” talk.

They don’t make it very far into the movie before Derek says, “I’m sorry.”

Stiles nods, shoveling another mouthful of fried rice into his mouth, not taking his eyes off the TV screen. “If this about the lack of crab rangoons, I forgive you. But only just.”

“It’s not,” Derek says, with enough weight to his voice that Stiles finally does look at him. There are worry lines creasing his forehead as he stares at Stiles, and his hands keep fiddling with the food carton, clearly nervous. “I’ve been thinking a lot.”

Stiles wants to close his eyes and look away, because he knows what’s coming next. He steels himself for the inevitable letdown, and for whatever excuse Derek’s going to have now about why they can’t date.

“About a lot of things. And... I wanted to explain.” Derek’s brow is creased in concern and pain.

“Explain?” Stiles asks slowly, because it’s not quite what he was expecting.

He hesitates, and Stiles can tell he’s forcing himself not to look away, shame coloring his features. “About... the fire and Kate.”

Stiles stares at him, surprised, before shaking his head and reaching out on instinct to touch Derek’s arm, to settle him. “You don’t have to.”

“I feel like I do,” Derek says after a moment, grimacing.

Stiles shakes his head, wishing that Derek didn’t look so pained right now, wishing that he could do something to stop it. It’s actually worse than the conversation he thought they were going to be having. “You don’t. Because whatever happened, it wasn’t your fault.”

“You don’t know what happened, though, or how badly I screwed up—”

“You didn’t,” Stiles repeats, firmer. “And I don’t need to know the whole story, because I know you too, Derek. It wasn’t your fault.”

Derek’s face loosens a little, the tension bleeding out of him slowly. The look he gives Stiles is so grateful that Stiles feels an anger surge in the pit of his stomach for Deucalion and Kate or anyone else who ever made Derek feel like he needed forgiveness.

They stare at each other until Stiles can feel a blotchy heat in his cheeks, and he has to turn back toward the TV, shoving another mouthful of rice into his mouth before he says something stupid. He can feel Derek’s eyes still on him.

“I’ve also been thinking about what you said,” Derek continues. “At the house the other day.”

“What?” Stiles asks, around a mouthful of food.

“You were right,” Derek says, and when Stiles turns toward him, he doesn’t even look pained to be saying it. Which would be awesome, because Stiles loves being right, if Stiles knew what the hell was going on.

“That’s—thanks? But, what are we talking about?”

Derek shifts to face him fully, moving the carton to the table. He looks pensive, like he wants to make sure he gets the words just right, and the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach returns. “About me leading you on, and treating you like I didn’t care,” Derek says.

Stiles shakes his head. “Look, they told me I had to convince you or they were going to kill my dad, it wasn’t real, and—”

Derek cuts him off, “It was, though. You meant some of it at least, Stiles. You know you did.”

He doesn’t answer Derek, because he’s not sure he can argue. “Okay, maybe there was a little truth in it... but I’m okay with the way things are, Derek.” And he is (kind of), because he likes Derek a lot and he doesn’t want him to do something he doesn’t want to do.

“I think we both know you’re not,” Derek says, but he doesn’t sound angry.

Stiles thinks for a second about how to phrase what he wants to say. “I am, though,” he says, eventually. “I can’t say I’m not frustrated sometimes, but not enough that I don’t want to see you anymore. I’m good with just this, if that’s what you want.”

“And what if I want more?” The corner of Derek’s mouth turns up in an endearing grin and his eyes flicker quickly to Stiles’ lips.

Stiles feels flush all over and tries to stop his eyebrows from shooting up in surprise. “I’m, uh, good with that too.” His flush grows deeper when his voice comes out too high, cracking a little at the end, solidifying his mortification.

Derek takes the carton from Stiles’ hand, fingers brushing over his, and places it on the table without taking his eyes off him. He slides a little closer. “I am sorry, though.”

“For cock-blocking yourself?” Stiles asks, because he can’t miss an opportunity to embarrass himself and ruin the mood.

Derek chuckles. “Yeah, basically. I just...”

“Am an idiot?” Stiles suggests, smiling at the look Derek gives him—it’s somewhere between amused and exasperated, but definitely still fond. Stiles sucks in a breath at how that makes him feel.

“I thought you’d be safer with a little distance from me,” Derek says, and an edge of seriousness has crept back into his voice. He pauses, watching Stiles with a sharp intensity, before shaking his head to clear it.

“Yeah, that didn’t really work out, did it? I’m safer with you, Derek,” Stiles says, before Derek can think of anything too stupid to say. “If anything, I’m the one who keeps attracting these creepy psychopaths. Am I like, werewolf catnip? Or, what’s the version of catnip for canines? Is it—”

Stiles doesn’t get any further because Derek leans over, closing the distance between them and kisses him.

Stiles flails from the shock of it and it only takes him a few seconds to get with the program and throw his arms around Derek’s shoulders and run his hands back up into his hair. “Oh,” he gasps, when they part for air a moment later, the sound of their heavy breathing hanging between them. “We’re doing that now.”

Derek grins quickly, teeth flashing, and leans in to claim Stiles’ mouth again, but Stiles leans just out of his reach, which is stupid considering how much he wants this—has wanted it, for months—but he needs to know. “What if like, a rogue werewolf or a yeti walks in?”

“Yetis aren’t real,” Derek says, and Stiles flails again when Derek kisses him again, rougher. The noise one of them is making—Stiles’ brain is short-circuiting so much that he can’t even tell which—is completely obscene. Derek keeps leaning into him until Stiles is on his back on the couch cushions and Derek’s holding himself just a few inches too far above him.

“But something bad will eventually happen,” Stiles gasps, leaning his head back against the sofa.

“Then we’ll work it out,” Derek says, staring down at him, hungry. “Together.”

Which is apparently the magic word, and all the reassurance that Stiles needs, as he reaches out to pull at his shoulders until Derek relents, pressing his full weight onto him. He’s a warm, firm pressure that’s just on the underside of too much and it’s perfect. It’s everything Stiles has wanted.

“Yes,” Stiles breathes when they break apart. “Yeah, this is good. This is really good.” He’s not sure what he’s saying or even why, but he wants to reassure Derek so it keeps happening this time.

Derek smiles and ducks his head to Stiles’ neck, pressing light kisses on each of the healing cuts, tongue ghosting over the fading bruises. Derek hums and reaches his hand under Stiles’ shirt, fingers scraping lightly along his stomach and sides. Stiles can already feel Derek’s erection against him and he jerks his hips, making both of them groan when their dicks brush through their jeans.

Stiles gasps, and he sounds more desperate than he intended. He can feel Derek grin against his skin before he scrapes his teeth over a spot at his collarbone. Derek pulls his hand out from under Stiles’ shirt and Stiles is about to voice his frustration but then Derek presses his palm against Stiles’ dick through his jeans, and he can only groan.

Stiles tugs at Derek’s hair so he’ll come back and get with the kissing again, and he does, with fervor. Derek moves his hand away from Stiles’ dick to brace himself and Stiles’ whimper is choked off when Derek grinds down against him, his hips rolling and pressing. They kiss, deep and long, their tongues tangling together until Stiles’ lips close around Derek’s tongue and sucks, making Derek groan into his mouth.

“Oh my god,” Stiles gasps eventually, having to separate to breathe. He’s going to have a beard-burn on his face and it’s looking like he’s going to come in his pants—very quickly—but it’s Derek’s weight against him and Derek’s lips on his, and he can’t find it in himself to feel embarrassed. It’s just perfect. He tries to get his hips to press up to meet Derek but Derek’s rutting against him fast and flawless, and Stiles can only lay there and take it.

He gets his hands under Derek’s shirt and Derek shivers, moaning when he digs his nails into the skin below his shoulder blades and pulls down. “Stiles,” Derek groans, and just hearing Derek say his name like that, like he’s wrecked, makes Stiles push up harder, his dick straining and leaking.

Derek grunts and presses down harder than should be comfortable. “I’ve thought about this,” he breathes harsh against Stiles’ mouth. “About having you under me.”

Stiles makes an unintelligible noise, pressing up hard, and he comes, his body shaking, tense, as Derek holds him close, mouth sucking the soft skin above his collarbone. Derek’s breath is hot and fast against him and he keeps thrusting down until he stills, moaning into Stiles’ neck.

Derek full weight settles onto him and Stiles breathes into his soft hair. Eventually he shifts under Derek and pats his side, “Move over,” he gasps.

Derek slides over to wedge himself between Stiles and the couch cushions. “Fuck,” he breathes eventually, and Stiles can feel the smile against his temple.

“Not quite,” Stiles says, hesitating before reaching to curl one hand in Derek’s hair. It’s stupid to feel worried about doing this after what they’ve just done—and he’s pretty sure he’s allowed now, but it still feels strange, to think he might have permission to touch Derek however he wants. It’s going to take some getting used to.

Derek huffs out a laugh, nudging his nose against his shoulder. Stiles files away the newfound information that Derek is apparently overly affectionate after sex under things that are awesome.

“Next time, though, right?” Stiles asks playfully, trying not to sound too hopeful. He’s pretty sure he fails, by the way Derek snorts and lifts his head to look at him. He seems relaxed and unconcerned, and Stiles feels his cheeks warming with blotchy heat at the knowledge that that’s got something to do with him—that he’s the reason Derek doesn’t look like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, at least for right now.

“Next time,” Derek agrees, leaning in for another kiss.

---

“You finally made it,” Stiles drawls, setting his elbows on the counter to lean closer to the window—a decision he instantly regrets when he can feel his skin sticking to the counter. He blanches, straightening up a little to brush absently at his arm. “My last day, and you finally manage to come visit me at work.”

“I picked you up before,” Scott argues.

“Doesn’t count. I’ve been here all alone and bored, and you couldn’t come entertain me for five minutes?”

“You had Toby,” Scott says, nodding to where he’s sitting on the stool just behind Stiles, spinning around in circles and completely oblivious to the fact that someone is even there.

Stiles’ eyebrows shoot up his forehead and he deadpans, “Woohoo.”

“Well I’m here now.” Scott grins at him, hopeful. “Will you say it?”

“No way,” Stiles says quickly, shaking his head. “Don’t you think I’ve been through enough trauma?”

“Pleeeease,” Scott begs, bouncing a little on the heels of his feet, and shit, Stiles can’t resist that look—it’s like a cross between a begging puppy and a kid on Christmas morning, only 20% more adorable.

Stiles sighs and mutters, with a complete lack of enthusiasm, “Arr, what’s your flavor today, matey?”

Scott lets out a loud, raucous laugh—almost doubling over, holding his sides when he can’t seem to stop even a minute later.

“I hate you.”

Scott wipes at his eyes. “Oh my god. That was even better than I thought it would be.” He grins at Stiles, delighted. “And I’ll take a Bahama Mama.”

“$2.50,” Stiles sighs, writing it down quickly and shoving the pad at Toby. When he looks back at Scott, he’s pouting.

“I have to pay?”

“You do since you made me pirate talk,” Stiles says, and watches as Scott starts pulling out a wadded $1 bill out of his pocket, along with an assortment of coins, counting them out slowly and looking dejected. While they wait, he glances at his phone—his shift is almost over, thank god.

“Will you accept $1.57?” Scott asks, actually sounding nervous.

“You are an idiot,” Stiles informs him, taking the snow cone from Toby once he’s finished pouring the syrup onto it and not bothering to take Scott’s money. He then rips the pirate hat off his head, turning around to half-bow to Toby. “You’re finishing the shift. I am getting out of this hell hole. For good.”

“Right on,” Toby nods, and Stiles makes sure to slam the door to the stand closed as he exits, before moving around front to join Scott.

“You know your dad is probably going to make you get a summer job again next year too,” Scott says, and it’s only been a few seconds, but his tongue is already bright red.

“I will sell my body on the streets before I come back here,” Stiles says, briefly considering just ripping his polyester uniform off in the parking lot and walking around shirtless, but they’re going to Derek’s so he can change there. “An option I will tell my dad all about if he suggests I come back here, ever again.”

“Does that mean you’re over snow cones?” Scott holds his out his own in a peace offering.

Stiles hesitates, because he really does love snow cones. He leans over to take a quick bite, sucking some of the shaved ice into his mouth. “No. I’m just through with making snow cones.”

“That’s fair,” Scott nods, leading them to his car. “Is Derek going to be pissed you didn’t bring him one?”

“He’s not an addict like you.” Stiles pokes at Scott’s side, and Scott looks mildly offended.

“Yeah, but he’s like... your boyfriend, right?”

Stiles remembers how annoyed he used to get when Scott would get that look in his eyes any time he talked about Allison, usually followed by an ear-splitting grin. But he knows he’s got a similar look on his face right now, and he can’t bring himself to care, or be embarrassed. “Yeah, he is.”

Scott rolls his eyes. “I just meant, I think you’re supposed to bring your boyfriend a snow cone. That’s the rule.”

“Should I take yours back then?” Stiles asks, sliding into the passenger seat. “Think he’d want a half-eaten snow cone?”

“Try it and I will bite you.”

Stiles chuckles, watching out the window as Scott drives toward Derek’s. They’ve been trying to do this once a week—and while no one will call it a pack meeting outright, they all know exactly what it is. Derek and Scott just seem more comfortable calling it ‘hanging out’, and Stiles is willing to wait them out, until they both stop being complete idiots. At least they’re all talking now.

“I think Allison might be coming around,” Scott says, drawing Stiles’ attention back to him.

“Yeah? That’s awesome, man.”

Scott’s still explaining he and Allison’s text message chains in great detail by the time they get to Derek’s. Isaac slides the door open after they knock, and takes one look at the snow cone in Scott’s hand before frowning.

“Where’s mine?” Isaac asks, and Stiles rolls his eyes when Scott gives him a pointed look.

“You didn’t come to see me,” Stiles says, pushing past him to enter the loft. “But you can share with Scott.”

“But...” Scott whines behind him, and Stiles can’t see, but he imagines Isaac is giving Scott some version of his own puppy dog eyes at the moment. Stiles ignores them both in favor of heading over to Derek, who’s looking over a collection of take out menus, spread out across the kitchen counter.

Derek looks up at him when he gets close, tracking his movements, and the smile he gives him—small and casual—makes his pulse speed up, and he gives Derek a stupid grin in return.

Derek keeps staring at him, and Stiles feels the color rise up his cheeks. “What?”

“You’ve got, uh...” He nods toward Stiles’ arm, and when he looks down, he finds red and green splotches against his skin, from where he’d set his elbows against the counter back at the snow cone stand.

Derek steps around the counter to wrap his arm around Stiles and pull him forward with a hand at the small of his back. “You smell like sugar.”

"Bet I taste sweet too." Stiles grins wickedly when Derek pulls back and he gets great satisfaction at the flush it creates on Derek’s neck.

Stiles pulls away to turn to the sink and Derek follows, pressing against his back while he washes his arm off. Derek ducks his head to nuzzle under Stiles' ear, making him shiver.

"One day you're going to have to learn how to cook,” he says, turning back and nodding toward the take out menus.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Because there’s only five restaurants that will deliver here, and eventually, man, I’m going to want something else.”

“Maybe you can teach me,” Derek smiles and leans in to kiss him softly. He brings one of his hands up to cup the back of Stiles’ neck, and they stay like that, kissing slowly. When Derek pulls back, he’s got the same stupid grin spread across his features, the one that makes Stiles’ chest feel too tight, especially now that he’s starting to feel like this might actually be his.

“Okay,” Stiles says, humming against Derek’s lips, giving another quick kiss.

“Chinese?” Derek asks, reaching over for the menu and holding it up, but Stiles shakes his head.

“Pizza. Definitely pizza.”

Derek pulling out his phone out of his pocket and starts to dial the pizza parlor, but he doesn’t move away from Stiles grasp.

“It’s a date,” Derek says, smiling.