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It has been seven months since Laura died. Her ashes still sit on the bookshelf in the living room, and Derek still avoids her room, but he hasn’t dreamed about her in months. Hasn’t dreamed of her, in fact, since the night he met Stiles four months ago. Now he dreams of a three-eyed stag. It watches over him while he sleeps, breathing soft and warm against his cheek, the touch of its antlers cool against his skin.

The morning after Derek met Stiles, Stiles had laid in Derek’s bed, their sides pressed together. He’d brushed his fingers over the scabbed bite mark on Derek’s throat and murmured, “It’s not healing.”

Derek had wrapped his fingers around Stiles’ thin wrist, pressed his lips to the soft pads of his long fingers. “I don’t want it to,” he’d replied, and Stiles’ cheeks had gone pink.

Before Stiles, the longest Derek had ever been in a relationship was a month. His dismal affair with Kate had lasted all of two weeks before his family had gone up in flames. Before Stiles, the thought of staying with anyone longer than a few days had been enough to make his palms sweaty. It was at odds with what the wolf in his head wanted – the wolf wanted stability, a constant companion. The rational part of Derek wanted that too, but he was scared because he’d tried, once, to commit, and his whole family had ended up dead.

But Stiles – it’d been a month before he’d realized it had passed. And Derek had been fine with it. More than fine, really. When he’d realized it’d been a month to the day, he’d bought a bottle of wine on the way home and they’d had delicious, sloppy sex on the beat-up couch in Stiles’ apartment. They never really talk about it, but they become “official” some time after that. Someone at the firm asks Derek what he did over the weekend and his sentence begins, “My boyfriend and I—” That’s the first time he says it and there’s no panic, just easy acceptance.

Stiles says it in front of him a few days later. They’re walking through the neighborhood, on the way back to Derek’s apartment after a dinner date, and Stiles gets a phone call from his father (it’s weird and kind of stupid how Derek’s stomach goes tight when he thinks about the sheriff, like he’s going to get arrested for dating the man’s twenty-five-year-old son). He watches Stiles say, “I’m with Derek,” and then he rolls his eyes and says, “No, I rented him for the evening. Yes, my boyfriend.” Stiles doesn’t seem to notice it then, but when he hangs up he looks at Derek thoughtfully. Derek doesn’t say a word, but stops walking so he can kiss Stiles, soft and slow and he hopes it conveys everything he doesn’t think he can put into words and apparently it does because Stiles breathes “Good,” against his lips and then spins away, laughing.

Stiles is unlike anyone Derek’s ever met. He smiles like it’s easier than breathing, and he gives and he gives and he gives. Derek should have sensed it after that first night, when Stiles knew exactly what he was trying to ask for and gave him exactly what he needed, but he’s incredibly sensitive to what other people want and once he’s figured it out, he won’t stop until he gets for them.

He can be petulant, like a big, gangly-limbed five-year-old. Derek literally has to drag him away from the tv when the new Arrested Development episodes are released because it’s four in the morning and he can’t sleep with the tv on. Stiles goes completely limp, letting Derek drag him down the hall, and he keeps his arms crossed and a pout on his face until Derek starts kissing a trail down his stomach. Derek calls him a brat at least three times a week, which makes Stiles wrinkle his nose and punch him on the arm. But though Stiles may make a mess in the kitchen every morning, and he may hog the sheets, he snorts when he laughs hard enough, and he calls his dad every three days without fail. And even though he’s childish and loud as hell, Derek’s never going to give him up.

On this particular morning, Derek wakes in the early morning light. The room is still pale grey, the sun not yet risen above the buildings around them. The room is cool; the window is open, and a breeze is rolling in. Stiles is on his back next to Derek and Derek lays still for a long moment, staring at his long lashes, at the way his full lips part as he breathes softly. He’s naked, and Derek’s eyes travel down the long, lean lines of his body before drifting to the deer tattooed across his chest. This is the three-eyed stag he sees when he sleeps and he would swear that he’s seen the tattoo move – he saw it blink once, and it has shifted before, eyes surveying the room. Stiles denies it, says it has no power to do anything like that, and maybe Derek is just dreaming, but for some reason it makes him feel safe; it makes both of them safe.

Derek rises to use the bathroom and when he comes back into the room, Stiles is awake, blinking sleepily in the soft grey light. A soft smile curves his lips when he sees Derek and he lifts his arms, fingers stretching toward Derek as he murmurs, “C’mere, puppy.”

Puppy. Derek’s never been one for nicknames. They feel cheap, teasing. Laura always used to laugh when she called him Der-Bear because it was a joke, mocking, and it used to piss him off badly. He shouldn’t like it when Stiles calls him puppy because just the word itself implies some soft, weak, helpless thing, which he isn’t. Not most of the time, anyway. But when Stiles says it, there’s only affection in his voice. He saves it for quiet moments like these, when the world is slow. He murmurs it when he comes into the apartment and finds Derek cooking in the kitchen, wrapping his tattooed arms around his shoulders, the drag of his lips against Derek’s ear a smooth hint of good things to come. He says it with a faint smile one night when they go out to a club, soft and coaxing as he tries to tug Derek onto the dance floor. He doesn’t drop it into casual conversation the way other couples might use babe or hon and Derek thinks he does this on purpose, saves it for just the right moments so its value isn’t cheapened. He is not the type of person who accepts nicknames and Stiles is not the type of person who gives them, and every time it’s offered is a moment of truth, a brief period in time when their insecurities come to the surface, and Derek always accepts.

He slides back into bed now, lowering himself into Stiles’ embrace. Derek listens to the way Stiles sighs softly, happily, pushing his face into Derek’s neck. He echoes the noise and closes his eyes, letting himself drift.

Stiles let him go and rolls over eventually, muttering about werewolves and body heat, but Derek chases him, seeks the press of their bodies together. Stiles doesn’t fight him when he puts an arm around his stomach, just crosses his arm over Derek’s, clasps his fingers around Derek’s wrist like he’s worried Derek might try to escape. Derek presses his nose to Stiles’ hairline, smelling the sweet electric smell of him. He’s starting to get hard in a slow, sleepy sort of way, and he’s enjoying the drift between sleep and awareness, how life is fuzzy around the edges and Stiles is pliant in his arms.

“Hey,” Derek rumbles quietly, nosing along Stiles’ shoulder. “Do we have time?”

“There’s always time for indulging,” Stiles mumbles, stretching like a cat and rolling onto his stomach. Derek takes the invitation, shifting on top of Stiles, hips flat against the curve of his ass. Derek grinds against Stiles slowly, enjoying the slip of skin against skin until he’s hard and dripping on Stiles’ back. Stiles sighs softly when Derek reaches between them, fingers pressing inside. He’s still loose from the night before, when Derek made him cum with his mouth on his dick and three fingers curled inside him. Now Derek slides into him with only a little bit of lube and a lot of care and then he lays himself across Stiles’ back, fingers rubbing along his sides. Stiles sighs again and when Derek kisses the back of his neck he tastes content.

For a long time, either of them barely move, shifting back and forth just enough to keep a slow friction going. Derek keeps himself up on one elbow, forearm resting on the pillow next to Stiles’ head, and Stiles keeps his hand over Derek’s, fingers entwined. Derek stares at their hands as he rolls his hips lazily, at Stiles’ elegant tattooed fingers and his empty tanned ones. He shifts his gaze to Stiles' face – he has his head turned to the side, his eyes closed, lips parted. Derek watches his shoulders move with every breath and bends his head to lick the building sweat from his skin. Stiles whines quietly under his touch and says grudgingly, “I’ve gotta be to work in like an hour, dude.”

Derek sighs, a little disappointed they can’t stay here all day. He’s fairly confident he could bring Stiles to the edge of orgasm, over and over, again and again, just to stop and start all over again. Stiles smiles like he knows what Derek’s thinking and kisses the nearest part of him, which is the side of his hand. “Don’t be sad,” he says consolingly. “Saturday’s two days away.”

“I know,” Derek murmurs, mouth soft on the back of Stiles’ neck, tongue warm against his inked skin. He begins to roll his hips faster, picking up the pace. Below him, Stiles arches his back, fingers tightening against Derek’s. “But I’d much rather spend the day with you than go to work.”

“Me too,” Stiles says, his breath quickening. “Oh, you know I would.”

“I know,” Derek breathes, pressing his forehead to the space between Stiles’ bony shoulder blades, curving his body away from Stiles, driving deep into him. Stiles moans under him, pushing back against him, meeting every thrust. They’re both panting now, the quiet calm of the room broken by the sound of their breathing and the slick noise of skin on skin.

Derek can feel his orgasm approaching, heat pooling in his hips. Stiles gets there first, though he’s had nothing but the friction of the sheets under him to aid him along the way. He comes with a low cry, body shuddering, and that’s the tipping point for Derek. He pulls out of Stiles before he comes, and jerks himself off in rough, heavy-handed strokes until he’s coming on Stiles’ ass and lower back. He sits back, breathing heavily, watching his cum roll down the perfect curve of Stiles’ ass, drip down the inside of his thighs. Stiles turns to look at him, a satisfied smile on his face, and Derek dips back up to kiss him. He loves how Stiles goes loose and pliant after he comes, his long limbs limp like wet pasta. Pleasure radiates from every pore of him and the scent is like a drug to Derek.

“Hey,” Stiles says against his lips, long fingers tapping against the back of Derek’s neck. “Morning.”

“Good morning,” Derek grins, dropping back onto the bed next to him. He breathes out slowly, watching Stiles, who drops his head into the pillow and slides a hand across Derek’s chest, smiling softly.

“Next time,” he says, “I want to wake up with you inside me. Would you do that?”

“Whatever you want,” Derek murmurs, his stomach tightening at the thought of Stiles waking up with Derek pushing into him. “You have to return the favor sometime, though.”

“My pleasure,” Stiles says with a grin and he leans forward for a long kiss before slipping out of bed and heading for the shower. Derek stretches luxuriously and rolls onto his stomach, listening to Stiles hum to himself while he showers. Derek's happy, so incredibly happy that he wouldn't be surprised if this all turned out to be a dream. He knows Stiles is happy too, and knowing that they are the root of each other's happiness is more rewarding than anything.

Stiles comes back into the room and Derek doesn't move, listening to him shuffle through his clothes. He's got his own space in Derek's closet, another thing they never discussed, but Derek kept finding Stiles' clothes discarded and forgotten around the apartment and made a space for them to stay.

He feels the mattress dip and the warmth of Stiles' thigh pressing into his side. "Hey," Stiles murmurs, fingers trailing along Derek's spine. "I may be late tonight. I'm supposed to go to city hall and meet with the mayor. I guess they've been getting some threats and they want me to assess the building."

Derek flips over so he can look at Stiles. He's wearing the red sweatshirt he was wearing the night they met. Stiles likes to pull the hood up and crack jokes about Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf. Derek sits up slowly, leaning forward so he can push his face into the worn material. He breathes in slow, relaxing in the safe, solid scent of Stiles. "Be safe," he says quietly.

"I will." Stiles presses his lips to Derek's temple and then gets to his feet with a smile. "With any luck, I'll be home early."

Home. Derek didn't notice when it started, but Stiles has been slipping the word in where he used to say "your apartment." Maybe he isn't even aware he's doing it, but the word fills Derek with warmth every time he hears it. Stiles still has his own apartment, and they stay there once in a while, but somehow Derek's place is the one that's become theirs.

"All right," Stiles says with a sigh. "I need to get going. I'll see you later."

Derek looks up at him. He hears the faint pause before Stiles says I'll see you later, like he wants to say something else but doesn't quite dare. Derek thinks he knows what it is, because he's been trying to build the courage to say it too. I love you - three simple words he was struggling to say. He does love Stiles - he's been sure of that since the moment he was laying in bed after their first night together and Stiles came in with breakfast. It's something he hasn't been able to say since Kate, though, from the time he murmured it into her hair and his family went up in flames the next day.

“I’ll be here,” is what Derek says instead, and he tells himself, I’ll say it tomorrow, like he’s been saying for days now. Stiles smiles and Derek watches him leaves, hears the door shut behind him. He lays back down with a sigh, and lets himself drift back to sleep. He’s taking a half day – being forced is more like it, because his boss discovered that Derek hasn’t taken a day off in over a year, and he’s being forced to use his vacation time.

Derek sleeps late into the morning and finally gets up when a police car comes wailing down the street and stops right outside. He rises blearily and watches out the window for a moment, but it’s just someone causing trouble at the liquor store down the block. Derek rubs a hand over his eyes and goes to take a shower.

He’s outside, walking the last few blocks to his office building after taking the subway uptown, when he’s hit by a wave of pain so sharp it sends him bending in half. On its heels is a voice in his head, soft and serious – it’s Stiles’ voice, echoing around his skull. Mayday, mayday, it says. Mayday.

Derek groans, attracting some strange looks from passersby, and straightens, gritting his teeth at the pounding in his head. If that was Stiles’ idea of some kind of joke, he’s going to get an earful. Derek pulls out his phone and dials Stiles’ number, but it goes straight to voicemail. Derek growls softly and shakes his limbs, trying to shudder off the memory of the pain.

He continues on his way to work, but as he nears the building, he notices a group of people gathered around the front of an electronics store, watching the televisions set up in the window. He slows, wondering what’s caught their attention, and stops walking altogether when he sees what’s on the screen.

It’s aerial footage of the smoking wreck of a building, and the ticker tape scrolling across the bottom of the screen screams Breaking news: explosion at city hall levels north side of building. Two dead, unknown number injured—

It feels like someone’s punched Derek in the stomach. All the air goes rushing from his lungs, a cold sweat breaking along his spine. He scrambles for his phone again, fingers smacking against the screen to dial Stiles’ number, but again it just goes to voicemail and Derek sucks in a sharp breath. “Please,” he says quietly, after Stiles’ cheerful voice says You’ve reached Stiles Stilinski. Leave a message and I’ll hit you up later. “Call me and let me know you’re okay. Please.”

Derek puts his phone back into his pocket and stands on the sidewalk for a long moment. There’s panic building in his chest, burning at his insides, restricting his breathing. He thinks about Laura and how much it hurt to lose her, and if Stiles – no, no, no. He’s saying it out loud, mumbling under his breath, and his feet start to move underneath him without his say-so. He’s running after a few yards, crossing town to get to what’s left of city hall. The air is thick with smoke, and it’s hard to breath as he draws near, and he can’t get within a block – there’s already police barricades blocking the streets, pushing people back. His head aches from the sound of sirens and the scent of smoke.

Derek grabs a policeman by the arm and says, “Hey.” He doesn’t sound like himself; his voice is hoarse and high-pitched with worry. “Do you know where they’re taking people? Injured people?”

“Beats me,” the policeman shrugs unhelpfully and jerks his arm out of Derek’s grip, leaving Derek with his hand in the air. He blinks rapidly, overwhelmed. What should he do? He looks at his phone but there are no messages, no missed calls. Fuck.

That’s when Derek spots it, moving slowly through the hazy air at the end of the block. A massive stag picks his way through the crowd, and he stops at the crosswalk, turning his head to look at Derek. I call him my guardian, Stiles says in his head, and Derek begins moving again, forcing his way through the crowded street after the deer. Once the beast sees that Derek is following, he starts moving, crossing the street and disappearing into the smoke. Derek swears and picks up his pace, darting across the street and almost being hit by a wailing ambulance in the process.

He follows the stag for blocks. Derek doesn’t know where the deer is leading him, but Derek trusts him. He has to; he really has no other options.

Derek's so fixated on the stag that he doesn't pay much attention to where they're going, but when the stag stops walking, turning his head to look across the street, Derek follows its gaze to see they've reached a hospital, and a staggering rush of relief flows through him.

"Thank you," he mumbles, but the stag's already gone, a momentary void in the crowd that quickly disappears. Derek takes a deep breath and crosses the street.

The emergency room is packed with people. Most of them are covered in stone dust, varying looks of shock on their faces. Derek casts around, seeking Stiles. He tries listening for his heartbeat but there's too many in the room, too many panicked hearts pounding. The room smells like panic and blood. He pushes his way to the desk instead, where a harried-looking nurse is barking out orders like a drill sergeant.

"Excuse me," Derek says, trying not to let his voice shake. "I'm trying to find someone."

The nurse gives him an exasperated look. "Do you see how many people are in here?"

"I know," Derek says urgently, "I know, and I’m sorry, but can you think for a moment? I'm looking for a guy, mid-twenties, covered in tattoos. He’s a witch so he’s got the—” Derek cuts himself off because the nurse is already shaking her head.

“Look,” she says, “if he’s here, he’ll receive treatment. And if he’s not here, there’s nothing I can do for you.” The nurse rustles up a sympathetic smile from somewhere and says, “I’m sorry.”

“No,” Derek says dully. “I understand.”

He finds a space on the wall and leans against it, listening to the thud of his heart. He doesn’t know what to do – the stag led him here, but there’s no Stiles. Derek thinks about Stiles in bed that morning, loose-limbed and content, the corners of his mouth curving into a smile, and he has to shut his eyes against the way they burn treacherously. He tries to tell himself that maybe Stiles wasn’t there – he never said what time he was heading to city hall, and maybe his phone died so that’s why he hasn’t returned Derek’s call.

Someone clears their throat next to him and he looks up to a nurse – not the one from the front desk, but a different one, older and softer around the edges. “I heard you talking to Junie,” she says, motioning her head toward the front desk. “You’re looking for a witch? The boy with all the tattoos?”

“Yeah,” Derek replies, his throat tightening. “Do you—”

“Follow me,” she says briskly, turning on her heel and striding off down the hall. Derek shadows her as they take turns down long hallways and ride an elevator to the sixth floor.

“Excuse me,” Derek says, as they stand in the elevator. “Is he—” He can’t make himself ask.

The nurse gives him a long look. “Are you his husband?” she asks, and the question hurts Derek like a dagger through the heart because fuck, it’s not something he even dares let himself think about, but there’s nothing he wants more.

“No,” Derek admits. “Boyfriend.”

“Hm,” says the nurse, as the elevator doors open and they step out into a hallway that’s quiet and smells of antiseptic. “The nurses up here will be able to tell you more. I just saw him come in.”

“Thank you,” Derek says quietly. The nurse gives him a faint smile and leads him to another waiting room. It’s small, and a television on the wall is playing the news, looping footage of the smoking wreck of city hall, of injured people being dragged from the ruins. Derek’s stomach twists and he has to look away.

“One of the nurses will be right over to talk to you,” the nurse tells him kindly and Derek thanks her again before sinking down into one of the chairs.

This floor is silent – or it would be, if he were human. Since he’s not, he can hear machinery humming, heart monitors beeping steadily, people talking in hushed voices behind closed doors. He strains to hear Stiles’ heartbeat, but it’s impossible to distinguish amongst all the others. Derek’s hands are shaking and he digs his fingers into his knees, forcing himself to breathe steadily.

A new nurse shows up about ten minutes later – a man, stocky and dressed in black scrubs. He holds a clipboard and offers his hand to Derek. “Sir?” he asks, even as Derek takes his hand and they shake. “You know the witch?”

“Yes,” Derek says, and his eyes start burning again. “Is he—” He swallows. “Is he okay?”

“He’s stable,” the nurse replies, sitting down in the seat next to Derek. “He’s in surgery now. Can you tell me who he is?”

“His name’s Genim Stilinski,” Derek says hoarsely, “but he calls himself Stiles.”

The nurse smiles faintly and writes on his clipboard. He asks Derek a lot of questions about Stiles, about his medical history. Derek can’t answer a lot of it; they’ve only been together four months, and it never occurred to either of them that there might be any reason to know these things about each other. It makes Derek realize just how little he knows about Stiles.

“Can you tell me,” Derek mumbles, after the nurse has tucked his pen back on his clipboard, “what happened to him?”

“I don’t know what happened at city hall,” the nurse says with a shrug, “but he’s got some internal bleeding, some broken bones, and a fairly traumatic head wound.”

Derek swallows desperately. “Is he going to be okay?”

The nurse shrugs again, looking sympathetic. “I can’t say. You’ll be able to talk to a doctor when he comes out of surgery.”

Derek nods and the nurse disappears with a kind smile. He sits for hours in that tiny waiting room, listening to the non-noises of the floor. Other patients get wheeled past occasionally. A body covered in a sheet is trolleyed by and his head comes up sharply, heart leaping into his throat before he realizes it isn’t Stiles. The news on the television just plays the same tired facts over and over. There’s rumors of other attacks which are quickly proven false, suspects in custody, suspects on the run, nothing solid. It depresses him.

He can’t think about Stiles. Every time he tries, worry and fear swell in his head and everything goes blank. Stiles is going to be okay. He tells himself this over and over even though he has no idea, hasn’t seen him since he left that morning, since he stood over the bed and didn’t say I love you even though they both wanted to. Derek wishes Laura was alive, because she knew the pain of loss just as well as he does, and she would have had the right things to say.

He can see the light is fading through the big window at the end of the hall by the time the male nurse reappears. Derek rises to his feet, his pulse pounding in his head. He suddenly strongly, violently does not want to hear what the nurse has to say, but the man just says, “If you want to come with me?” and Derek follows him down the long hall and around the corner.

There’s a doctor standing there with a chart in her hands, white coat over baby blue scrubs. She looks at Derek and smiles, but it just makes his head clench. “Hi,” she says. “Dr. Knox. You’re the husband?”

Derek shrugs numbly, because what does it matter at this point? He’s staring at the door beyond the doctor and he can hear a heartbeat that he thinks is Stiles, slow but constant.

“Your man’s strong,” the doctor says. “This should have been a lot worse.”

“Is he going to be okay?” Derek asks tightly, still staring at the door.

“He’s stable,” Dr. Knox says, and that’s exactly what the nurse said hours ago. “But the extent of the neurological damage due to his head injury remains unclear. We’ll be able to paint a better picture in a few hours when the anesthesia wears off.”

“Okay,” Derek says, drawing in a deep breath. “Okay. Can I see him?”

The doctor nods and steps back, giving him clear access to the door. Derek steps up to it and closes his eyes for a moment before pushing inside.

The room is quiet, the lights low. There’s a long window running the length of the room and it looks out over the city. Stiles lies in a bed surrounded by medical equipment and he looks smaller than Derek has ever seen him. His eyes are closed and his head is bandaged and there’s dust trapped on his eyelashes and in the curve of his ears. There’s a long, shining scrape down his cheek and an IV drip connected to the back of his hand. Derek steps up to the side of the bed, breathing in deeply, but Stiles doesn’t even smell like himself; he smells like pain and hospitals and disinfectant. It turns Derek’s stomach, but when he tries to pull some of Stiles’ pain away, the vastness and depth of it makes Derek pass out and he’s scared to try again, as much as he wants to.

Derek pulls a chair up to the side of the bed and he sits and he waits. Outside, the night deepens and Derek falls asleep in the chair. He wakes when the sky is red with the sunrise and his neck is stiff, but still Stiles lies there with his eyes closed and the machines around them beep softly.

Derek stays at the hospital for the next six days and Stiles does not wake up. Dr. Knox says a lot of things Derek doesn’t understand and she sounds like she’s trying to be reassuring, but Derek can read people, and he doesn’t read a lot of hope in her.

It turns out that Stiles is some kind of hero. He was with the mayor when the blast occurred and used his protective knowledge to throw a barrier around the mayor, who emerged without a scratch on him. The mayor comes to visit and tells Derek this himself. Derek’s breath hitches in his throat and thinks about how Stiles never stops giving.

He falls asleep with his arms crossed on the bed next to Stiles’ hip and dreams of the three-eyed stag leaning over him, warm muzzle pressed into the crook of his neck.

He calls the sheriff after the first day. Stiles’ phone was lost in the wreckage so Derek has to call the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department and the sheriff is out on patrol so he has to leave a message. He gets a grim phone call seven hours later because the sheriff has taken a flight to New York City and needs to know what hospital to go to. He shows up forty-five minutes later and obviously it’s not the first time that they’ve meant, but it’s not the way Derek wanted to meet his boyfriend’s father for the first time as his boyfriend. The sheriff makes grim jokes and stares at his son laying in the hospital bed with a look of such grief on his face that Derek leaves the room for the first time in almost twenty-four hours and walks around the hospital for an hour.

The sheriff is the one who makes Derek leave. He makes him go home and shower and shave and change his clothes. Derek tells him, apologetically, that Stiles’ keys are gone and he can’t get into the apartment, but the sheriff is welcome to stay at Derek’s place. He offers the sheriff Laura’s room, though his stomach twists and knots at the idea of the man sleeping in her bed. Derek wants to kiss him when the sheriff pauses in the doorway of Laura’s bedroom and says, “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

On the morning of the sixth day, Derek arrives at the hospital and goes up to Stiles’ room alone while the sheriff heads to the hospital cafeteria to get himself some coffee. Derek opens the door quietly, Stiles’ face the first thing he looks at, always, and that’s when he sees Stiles’ eyes are half-open, staring out at the early morning sky.

“Stiles,” Derek says hoarsely, and Stiles turns to look at him, a tired smile breaking over his face.

“Puppy,” Stiles slurs, and the way the word catches and drags over his tongue pulls at Derek’s heart like Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone. He crosses the room in five long steps and then he’s bending over Stiles, pressing his lips to his forehead while Stiles curls weak fingers around his wrists. Derek doesn’t realize he’s crying until he hears Stiles trying to soothe him, tired hands touching his face, his shoulders, curling in his shirt. It’s not until that moment that he realizes how frightened he was, terrified that he was going to lose yet another person he loves.

“I love you,” Derek murmurs against Stiles’ skin, his lips tacky and wet with salt tears. “You mean everything to me.”

Under him, Stiles’ breath hitches and his fingers tighten their grasp on Derek. “I’m okay, right?” he mumbles, and suddenly Derek can smell the sharp smell of Stiles’ own tears, laced with panic. “You’re not just saying that because I’m dying?”

“No,” Derek breathes, pulling back so he can look in Stiles’ wet brown eyes. “You’re going to be fine. And I’m not just saying it. I love you, Stiles.”

Stiles gives a watery laugh, tears spilling over his lower lashes. “Oh, thank God – on both accounts.”

Derek sits down on the bed beside him, slipping his hands into Stiles’. Stiles pulls one of his hands free so he can wipe at his eyes, and he takes a deep breath and says, “I love you too, you know.”

Derek smiles faintly, the first time in days, as warmth fills his body at Stiles’ words. He opens his mouth to speak but stops as the door to the room opens and the sheriff comes in.

“Dad,” Stiles squeaks, and starts crying again.

A few days later Derek sits in Stiles’ hospital room while Stiles works with the physical therapist. The sheriff has left, headed back to Beacon Hills with the assurance that Stiles and Derek are going to visit for Christmas. After Stiles’ session ends and he leans back into bed, Derek says, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Not too hard, I hope,” Stiles says casually, picking up the television remote and flicking on the tv.

Derek rolls his eyes and says, “I’m thinking about leaving the city.”

Stiles freezes and slowly lowers the remote. Derek sees the muscles in his throat work as he swallows before meeting Derek’s eyes. “Where?” he asks, very softly like he doesn’t want to know the answer.

Derek forces himself to remain relaxed. He shrugs casually and says, “I’m not sure yet, but I was thinking back to Beacon Hills, maybe.” Stiles blinks and starts to smile, his smile growing into a grin when Derek continues, “But only if you want to come.”

“Yes,” Stiles says without hesitation. Then he does hesitate, his smile fading. “But what about Laura’s stuff?”

Derek laughs softly, because that’s so typical of Stiles, thinking of Derek before he thinks of himself. He shakes his head. He’s thought about this. “I need to stop living in the past,” he says. “I’ve got people to care about in the present.”

The smile Stiles gives him then is blinding and Derek is prepared to swear on his life that the three-eyed stag on his chest smiles too.