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we knew the hands of the devil

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Derek will never forget the sound Stiles makes when the alphas take him.

It's a lazy afternoon in the second week of January, the sun streaming in orange and faintly warm through the big window of Derek's loft. They've just come back from a party at the McCalls’ house celebrating Scott's birthday and Stiles is pleased because his father clapped Derek on the back when he came in.

"He totally loves you," Stiles says. They're laying on Derek's bed and Derek's half on top of him, one leg between Stiles'. Stiles has an arm curled around Derek's shoulders, fingers pressing lightly against the back of his neck.

"Mm," Derek hums noncommittally, brushing his nose along Stiles' jaw. He's a little drunk; Deaton had procured some kind of wolfsbane that mimicked the effects of alcohol and now the world feels quiet and close and intense. He wonders if this is what it feels like to be human - if so, it isn't all that bad.

"I should take a shower," Stiles says thoughtfully, though he makes no move to get up. Derek settles his weight on him a little more firmly and Stiles grins. "Okay, then."

Derek half smiles and runs a hand over Stiles' chest. He's still mostly clothed, in boxers and a t-shirt, but Derek soaks in the warmth of his body, traces the lines of the bite mark on his chest, the motion so practiced he doesn't need to see it to trace its route. Stiles sighs softly, his fingers on Derek's neck curling into his hairline.

It's been quiet for two weeks. Neither the alpha pack or the Darach have been seen since their last major skirmish the day after New Years. Derek doesn't hold out any hope that they're gone, even if he sent Deucalion off with a hand holding in his guts. He knows the nature of wolves, knows they'll be back. He'll take this quiet while he can get it, though; he’s not going to turn down time he and Stiles can just be together.

"I love this," Stiles murmurs into his shoulder. He smells tired and content. Derek could lay here forever, entombed with Stiles in a ray of dusty sunlight. He knows the hammer will drop sooner rather than later, but he's no longer ready to die, not with the people that depend on him. Not with Stiles looking at him like he is now, like Derek's something precious.

"Nap," Derek tells him, "then takeout - "

"Indian," Stiles interrupts, and Derek gives in with an easy nod.

"Indian," he agrees. "Then sex."

"I like that plan," Stiles says, looping his other arm around Derek's neck. "I totally approve."

It's easy to drift to sleep, embraced by a drunken haze and Stiles' warmth. His slumber is steady, dreamless, content, until it's literally shattered by someone coming through the window. The alarm on the wall goes off, two seconds too late. Derek's up, crouching over Stiles before the boy even wakes, snarling at the alpha twin that came through the window. The twin snarls back and there's an answering howl from the hallway. Derek's head jerks around as the loft door slams open; Kali and the other twin come rushing in.

"Fuck," Stiles mutters underneath Derek, one of his hands curling around Derek's ankle. "My phone - " Is sitting on the desk by the window, right next to Derek's, under a layer of shattered glass. "Fuck!"

"Are we interrupting?" Kali laughs. The twin that came through the window moves, circling behind them, and Derek twists to watch him. He can't keep his eyes on all three of them. He tries not to panic because he knows he can't win this one, not by himself, not with Stiles to protect. He needs to get his back against a wall where no one can circle behind them. He pulls at Stiles, urging him to his knees.

"Oh, no," Kali says warningly. "Not happening, Derek." She moves and suddenly the twins are on either side of Derek, pulling him off the bed. Derek tries to hold on to Stiles, he does - he's got his fingers so tight around the boy's wrist that his bones creak - but then Kali's behind Stiles, wrapping her arms around his chest and that's when he makes the noise that will haunt Derek's dreams for months to come.

It's small, so soft a human never would have caught it, but to Derek it's as loud as cannon fire; a quick, panicked intake of air that's not a shout, not a scream. It's desperate and frightened and almost Derek's name and it hurts him to the core. Derek roars as Kali lifts Stiles off the bed, the boy struggling against her hold like an oversized doll come to life. Derek fights against the twins, red mist boiling in his vision, fury and terror pumping through his veins.

"Say goodbye, Derek," Kali says softly, triumphantly. "You'll never see him again."

Derek doesn't even realize the twins have brought him to the window until they're pushing him through the shattered hole one of them created. He pushes, pulls, fights, catches his hands on the jagged glass, but it’s late, too late.

"No," he hears Stiles gasp. "No, Derek, no!" Kali's laughing.

There's empty air beneath him and Stiles screams somewhere above him.

-

They shouldn't end up together, him and Stiles. Derek has no intention of loving anyone again, not when the people around him always get hurt, not when the alphas are in town, not while Erica and Boyd are missing. And of all people, it shouldn't be Stiles, who is loud and obnoxious and always has a joke on the tip of his tongue.

But when Derek thinks about it later, maybe it makes sense. He thinks through all their past interactions; the time Stiles skipped his lacrosse game to help Derek find the alpha, how he protested loudly about hiding Derek in his room when he was on the run but didn't kick him out, the night he'd kept them afloat in a pool when he could have easily let Derek drown. They have a relationship that is wildly different from Derek and Scott's, or even Derek and his pack's. Closer, somehow, more important.

It makes Derek mad, the way Scott seems completely unconcerned by the way Stiles shows up to that final fight with Gerard, dark bruises blossoming across his cheek and lip. Maybe that is why Derek doesn't turn Stiles away when he shows up at the house the next day, the bruises on his face greening around the edges, to tell Derek he's seen Erica and Boyd. He doesn't turn him away and Stiles keeps showing up. Derek tries not to admit to himself that he likes having Stiles around; his sass is irritating but not as bad as Peter's, and Isaac is sad and rebellious and spent a lot of time with Scott after Erica and Boyd disappear.

Things change after Stiles finds him gardening. Derek remembers the day like it was yesterday, hot and hazy and humid. Even sitting still had sweat rolling the spine and Derek had chosen that day, of all days, to garden.

Derek knows there's not much point in it because the house is condemned but he doesn't have anything else to do when there's no news of the alpha pack, and he has good memories of summer days outside with his parents in their gardens. He’s covered in dirt and wishing for a good thunderstorm when Stiles rolls up in the Jeep. It’s got a very distinct rattle to it now after smacking into Jackson; Derek can hear it across town. He digs at the dirt, listening to Stiles barge through the house and onto the back deck, where he pauses. Derek can feel Stiles staring at his back but he doesn’t look.

“What are you doing?”

Derek thinks about saying something like digging your grave but he thinks he should leave the sarcasm to the master. “Gardening,” he says instead, turning to give Stiles the briefest of looks.

“Gardening?” Stiles repeats, leaping off the back deck and wandering over. “Dude, I thought we were supposed to be looking for people.”

Derek shrugs, his mouth going thin. “There are no leads,” he says. “I have to do something.”

“And that something is gardening.”

Derek sighs, exasperated. “Is that a problem?”

He doesn't know why it surprises him so much when Stiles pulls up a few days later with a load of gardening equipment and mumbles something about how it used to belong to his mom. He knows that Stiles is ridiculously, stupidly selfless sometimes, but it must have cost him to discard his mother’s things.

“There’s more at home,” Stiles says, digging a suddenly shy toe in the dirt. “If you want it.”

Derek is caught off guard by the emotions he can hear in Stiles’ voice; nervousness, eagerness, shyness. He wasn’t expecting this generosity and tries to sound as sincere as possible when he says, “This is more than enough. Thank you.”

Stiles helps him carry everything into the house and out onto the back porch. When they’ve brought everything out, they’re silent for a long moment, looking out over the backyard. Derek doesn't know the words are coming before they're out of his mouth and he can't take them back: "You want to help?"

He doesn't chart the change in their relationship; he's not looking for it, he's not paying attention. He knows that he relaxes in Stiles' presence in a way he hasn't since his family was alive. He knows that someone wants to be around him voluntarily and he's reluctant to push that away even though he's afraid, even though he has a track record that screams of danger and loss.

But somehow, gardening becomes a thing they do. Every couple of days, Stiles meets Derek at the old house and they spend a lot of time on their hands and knees in the dirt (Derek can feel Stiles brimming with jokes about that and is surprised when he keeps his mouth shut), and Derek quietly teaches Stiles a lot about soil types and planting zones and shade and light. He doesn’t mind talking to Stiles like this, half distracted, and he offers small pieces of information about himself - that there were gardens back here before, that his mom used to come out every morning before breakfast and take care of her plants. He points to the base of the porch and says there used to be an herb garden there and his dad grew five different kinds of wolfsbane just to have on hand in case of poisoning. There are maple trees around the house and Derek tells Stiles that his parents planted one every time a child was born into the family. Derek’s tree is as thick around as Stiles’ thigh, a crown of leaves almost as tall as the house. Laura’s tree is split down the middle and Derek says it got struck by lightning a couple months before the house burned down. They kind of look sideways at each other after he says it, and neither points out the obvious coincidence.

Stiles offers his own stories in return. He brings sandwiches from the Italian deli on Birch Street and they sit on the back porch and Stiles tells Derek about his mom’s vegetable garden. She used to come home from work and pour herself a cup of coffee and walk among her plants, picking insects off leaves and inspecting vines. She grew a carrot as long as Stiles’ forearm once, and won a ribbon at the county fair. Stiles catches himself before he says, “I miss her," out loud, but Derek hears the sorrow in his voice; he bumps his shoulder against Stiles’ and gathers up their trash. Stiles buys Derek a pair of flowery pink gardening gloves as a joke and Derek shoves a handful of wet dirt down the back of his shirt.

Some days, Stiles gets to the house and Derek is waiting for him while Isaac lurks in the background. They spend long days trudging through the woods and peering into warehouses because Derek’s heard a rumor, or Isaac’s picked up a scent. It never pans out, though, and there are a lot of frustrated sighs.

The summer wears on, and there’s less to do in the garden once they have everything planted. They water and weed, but there’s long stretches of nothing. They go to the pond on a day so hot all the birds stop singing, and the pond is lukewarm but it’s better than nothing. Derek does elegant flips off rocks and Stiles spits water into his ear, which has Derek shifting with a snarl. He picks Stiles up bodily and throws him as far as he can. Derek’s violence backfires on him because Stiles surfaces with a laugh and pulls at Derek’s arms, begging him to do it again. Derek tries not to smile when he throws him again.

One night he stitches up a cut on Stiles' legs and tries to ignore the way Stiles' pulse feels under his fingers, the way he can hear Stiles' heart racing in a way that's not from pain or adrenaline. He tries to tell himself that this is dangerous, but he can't bring himself to care. They fall asleep on the couch and Derek wakes up leaning against Stiles, head on his shoulder, and Stiles doesn't say a word. Two days later they sit on the sagging back porch of the old house watching the rain. Stiles puts his hand over Derek's and Derek doesn't pull away.

Derek knows he's going to die soon. He's got Isaac, who is still new and mostly untrained, and Peter, who is too weak to fight and deliberately unhelpful, and Scott, who doesn't like to listen to him, against an unknown number of alphas. It took all of them to take down the kanima and now he doesn't even have Jackson, who left as soon as he could. How the hell are they supposed to win against a pack of alphas? He thinks he's being selfish, indulging in Stiles like this when he won't be here in a few months. Isaac, in one of the rare moments he's actually at the loft and not hanging out with Scott, shrugs and says, "Why can't you just enjoy it while you have it, then?"

Stiles is only sixteen and that gnaws at Derek too. His father is the fucking sheriff, for god's sake, and here is Derek, twenty-two and fucking his underage son. If the alphas don't kill him, Stiles' father will. Stiles doesn't seem to care that they break the law, though he's careful to tell Derek when his dad isn't home. He knows he’s walking a dangerous line, but he’s in deep before he realizes it, gone too far to come back.

-

The only person he sees nowadays is, strangely enough, Allison. No one else will talk to him, which is understandable and perfectly fine. He doesn't want company. He spends most of his time in the wolf form because he doesn't have to think, can't talk, can't hurt so bad. He doesn't mind Allison, though. She comes running through the woods once in a while, hair pulled back, smelling of sweat and good health, and will sit in the porch with him for a while. She lets him put his head on her knee and cards her fingers through his dirty fur and tells him he needs to take a bath once in a while. She doesn't talk about Stiles. She doesn't tell him that everything is going to be okay. Allison understands the loss of family.

Two months pass before Derek sees Scott again. The loss of Stiles has changed him. He is harsh around the edges in a way Derek always had to fake, commanding, his spine straight. Nothing like the incompetent, whining high schooler Derek first encountered in the woods.

Derek's up on the second floor; he doesn't come out when Scott appears on the front lawn, though something turns in his stomach, pulls at him, tells him to crawl out on his belly and expose his stomach in submission. Derek's not sure he's an alpha any more and if he is, Scott is much more powerful than he.

"Derek," Scott says, not bothering to raise his voice. He sounds bitter and miserable. "I thought you should know. We teamed up with a pack from southern Oregon and tracked down the alphas. They're all dead."

Derek lays on a beam, paws crossed under his head. He doesn't react to the news. He's not even offended that Scott didn't come to him for help; it's not like he was ever much of a help in the past.

"They're all dead," Scott repeats. "And - and there was no sign of Stiles."

Derek snarls at the mention of Stiles. He feels the power rise in Scott in answer to Derek’s anger, feels him fight the shift. Derek’s hackles rise, stiff along his shoulders.

"Thought you should know," Scott spits, and then he's gone. Derek waits five, ten minutes before leaping off the beam. He runs through the trees, runs until even his supernatural strength is tapped out and then he howls, pain and misery flooding his animal brain, too much to bear.

-

It’s an early evening in the middle of August and Derek sits in the shade of Cora’s maple tree. He has a book in his hands but he’s not really reading; most of his attention is focused on Stiles, who is wandering around the garden and snortinging occasionally, sounding extremely pleased with himself. Derek idly wonders what he’s up to, because Stiles’ mind never stops working, but he sounds happy, so Derek doesn’t wonder too hard.

It’s been a long time since Derek felt so…human. After the fire, he and Laura stopped living in a way, moving through life on automatic. And after Peter killed Laura, there was nothing left for Derek except this stupid obligation to a bunch of teenagers. He’d always thought that once things were cleared up in Beacon Hills, he’d probably head back to New York, even though he hates New York almost as much as California.

Now, even if the alpha pack wasn’t looming on the horizon, he’s not sure he’d go. Stiles is good for him; he questions everything Derek does, which makes Derek think carefully about his plans so he can defend them when Stiles tries to pick them apart. His good humor is infectious; Derek’s done more smiling in the last month than he has in the last six years. He has reasons to smile, reasons to be happy.

Derek feels guilty about this, for various reasons. It doesn’t feel right to be so rich in life when Boyd and Erica are missing. Stiles is only sixteen, a fact Derek deliberately ignores most of the time, but he can’t help feel like he’s stealing something from Stiles sometimes, no matter how vehement Stiles is about consent.

"You okay, dude?"

Derek looks up to see Stiles standing over him, his pale skin painted warm in the fading light of the sun. He looks like he’s trying to swallow a shit-eating grin and failing miserably. Derek can’t help the way one side of his mouth quirks up in response.

"I’m fine," he says, and that’s mostly true.

Isaac knows about them - there’s no way he could not, with the way the loft reeks of Derek and Stiles and sex. He’s the only one, though; Peter is not welcome and Derek’s fairly certain Stiles has not told Scott because if he had, Derek’s also fairly certain Scott would have showed up by now to throw a hissy fit. He doesn’t know whether to be hurt or relieved by this, and if he thought this was going to be a long-term thing, he’d have brought it up by now, but this thing they have is not going to last.

Not because Derek doesn’t want it to, but he’s pretty sure he’ll be dead by Christmas. He hasn’t seen the alphas, has no idea how many there are, but just one on the loose had been difficult enough, and if the rumors are true, defeating them is going to be near impossible. He can feel the tension gathering in the air like a storm far off in the distance, and he knows he’s going to end up dead before long - though whether it’s from the alpha pack or whether it’s Peter snapping again is a toss-up.

"You sure?" Stiles asks. "Because you’ve got this look on your face like someone killed your dog."

Derek scowls up at him and replies, “I don’t have a dog.”

Stiles smiles easily. “Well, now that you live somewhere with an actual roof, maybe you should think about getting one.”

Derek shakes his head. “No.”

Stiles huffs. “Jerk.”

"What are you hiding behind your back?" Derek returns, rolling his eyes.

Stiles grins again. “I made you something,” he says, and pulls a crown made of flowers from behind his back.

Derek narrows his eyes at it. “You picked these out of the garden.” He sees azaleas, morning glories, babies breath, daisies, and big heavy chrysanthemums, all plucked from the bushes they so carefully cultivated, and carefully woven into a circlet of brilliant color and heady fragrance.

"Top-notch detecting, Sherlock," Stiles retorts and he drops to his knees, settling down onto Derek’s thigh. Derek sets his book aside, letting his hands land lightly on Stiles’ hips. "What’s the point of planting them if we’re not going to do anything with them?"

"They’re for looking at," Derek replies dryly.

Stiles snorts. “So now I can look at them and your ugly face. Now c’mon, let me crown you king.”

Derek snaps his teeth but lowers his head obligingly so Stiles can set the flower chain on his head. Stiles snorts again and says, “You look like an elf.”

Derek lifts his eyes to Stiles’ face and thinks he’s the one who looks elven, with his soft lips and ruddy cheeks, eyes glowing with life. “Is that what I am?” Derek asks. “King of the elves?”

"I dunno," Stiles replies, his hands lingering at the sides of Derek’s face. He presses his thumbs against the sharp lines of Derek’s cheekbones. "Is there werewolf royalty? Sacred bloodlines? Ruler of the underworld, something like that?"

Derek rolls his eyes again. “There’s no werewolf royalty, Stiles.”

"Hm." Stiles looks thoughtful and Derek lets his eyes drift half shut, anchored by the touch of Stiles’ hands. "So there’s no werewolf bigwig? No emperor that tells you all what to do?"

"No," Derek says quietly. He slips his hands under Stiles’ shirt, seeking the warmth of his skin. His hands are rough from the days in the garden, and the pads of his fingers catch against Stiles’ smooth stomach, making the boy’s breath hitch. "I voted for the president just like everyone else."

"Oh, god," Stiles says weakly, his hands falling to Derek’s shoulders. "Please don’t tell me you voted for Romney."

"Ron Paul," Derek lies, because he knows it’ll piss Stiles off.

"Gross," Stiles mutters, shuddering as Derek leans forward to attach his mouth to the base of his neck, tongue laving over the thin skin of his collarbone. His skin is warm and tastes like sunshine and hot air, tacky from a long day of heat and sweat.

Stiles hums quietly and digs his fingers into Derek’s shoulder blades and Derek thinks of the first night of the camping trip they took two weeks earlier, when Stiles slid inside him for the first time and Derek came so hard he saw stars. He thinks about how three months ago the last thing he wanted was to be around the boy and how now it doesn’t feel right if they don’t wake up together. He thinks about how strong Stiles has become, confidence swelling as he grows into himself, and how much Derek wants to hold onto him forever.

"Stop thinking," Stiles says quietly, and Derek realizes he’s gone still, open mouth pressing against Stiles’ throat.

"Sorry," he mumbles, and licks up the side of Stiles’ throat in apology.

The twilight is quiet and the woods are dark, fireflies beginning to flicker in the shadows. Stiles slips off his pants and underwear and rides Derek slow and easy in the silence, hiding his breathy noises in the crook of Derek’s neck. The silence here is like that of a church and neither wants to be the sacrilegious one that breaks it. Derek covers Stiles’ mouth with his when he starts getting too loud, swallowing his moans with greed, like a man starved for air.

It doesn’t feel right, having sex on the back lawn under the shadows of his ruined home, but at the same time it’s perfect, the tension of Stiles’ fingers digging into the flesh of his shoulder, the steady pulse of their hearts, the red light of the setting sun turning Stiles’ eyes to liquid gold.

It’s a memory Derek returns to often in the months after Stiles is taken, that quiet evening in the garden. He misses those days more than anything.

-

"Hey," Stiles says, a week and a half before the alphas take him. "Is there a way to make me pack without turning me?"

Derek tilts his head. They're sitting on the couch at Stiles' house. His father is in the kitchen, making dinner. He doesn't like Derek but insists on a weekly meal with him. "You already are pack," he says, and Stiles makes a face Derek doesn't know how to interpret.

"I know that," he says, elbowing Derek in the ribs. "I mean - your betas can sense you, right? Feel what you're feeling?"

"Sometimes," Derek says slowly. "If the emotions are strong enough." He hasn't felt anything in a long time, though; Isaac is Scott's now, and Peter and Cora don't emote particularly strongly.

"Well, what about me?" Stiles asks.

Derek swallows. He moves his eyes toward the kitchen, where the sheriff is humming along to the kitchen radio - classic rock. Blue Öyster Cult, he thinks. "We can talk about it later," he says, hoping Stiles gets it. He does and nods, a faint smile curving his lips.

-

Derek wakes up in the hospital. He is there a week and is visited by a stream of bewildered doctors. He is a medical miracle, they tell him. A seventy-foot fall and his bones are already healing. Miracle, they say, and Derek wants to puke.

He has three guests. Cora comes in twice and then tells him she's leaving for New York. Derek can't blame her. He tells her where the keys to the storage unit in Albany are and says she can take anything she wants. Derek doesn't know if he'll miss her. He's still not sure she's real.

His first visitor is the sheriff. The sheriff does not shout at him, though Derek wishes he would. He looks tired and ancient, like he's aged thirty years in one night. His voice is muted when he says, "I know you did your best." Derek stares at him, bewildered. He waits for the hammer to fall but it doesn't. "Any idea where they went?" the sheriff asks, without any hope in his voice. Derek shakes his head, his throat burning. The sheriff pats him on the shoulder when he leaves.

His last visitor is Scott. Scott doesn't say a word to him. He stands in the doorway for a long minute, a bag of take-out that’s probably being delivered to his mom in one hand, and he doesn't say a word. He doesn't have to; the expression on his face says enough. Derek watches him until he can't bear Scott’s bitter gaze any more; he turns his eyes away and when he looks again, Scott is gone.

-

Two days after Scott tells him the alpha pack has been taken care of, Derek is roaming the woods when he finds a dirty old t-shirt under a log and recognizes it instantly. It's the shirt Stiles was wearing when the alphas took him, an old Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department tee that has a tell-tale rip in the collar. The shirt is shredded, stained brown with blood. Derek takes it in his mouth and carries it home, adds it to the nest of dirty blankets he's built in the only intact upstairs bedroom. It smells like dirt and rotting cotton and nothing like Stiles, but Derek closes his eyes and pretends it does, imagines the warmth of Stiles' body, the security of his arms embracing him.

-

"You're sure," Derek says, pressing his forehead to Stiles' collarbone.

"I was the first five times you asked," Stiles says. "You better hurry up before I take it back."

"You take it back and I'll bite you," Derek says. He can almost hear Stiles grin.

"Isn't that the point?" Stiles lifts a hand, threading his fingers through Derek's hair. "Come on. I trust you; you know that."

"I know," Derek breathes, and isn't that something. He exhales slowly. "Okay. Just hold still." He opens his mouth, letting his fang fall from his gums. He puts his mouth to the skin over Stiles' heart and pauses there for a moment, breathing in the taste of him. "Ready?" he whispers, lips brushing against the electricity of Stiles' skin.

"Mmhmm," Stiles hums. His heart beat quickens; he's nervous but not frightened and that steadies Derek.

"Okay," Derek says. "One. Two." He bites instead of saying three and Stiles jumps in surprise, the hand in Derek's hair tightening. It's frightening how easily Derek's teeth break the skin and he has to fight the instinct in his head to bite deeper, harder - but he's not turning Stiles; he's marking him as Derek's, as his mate.

Stiles makes a tight, pained noise when Derek relaxes his jaw and lifts his head, licking the blood off his teeth. "You okay?" he asks, curling his fingers under Stiles' chin.

"Yeah," Stiles replies, inhaling slowly. "It just - wow." He tucks his head so he can look at the bite mark on his chest, angry red and weeping blood. Derek pushes Stiles back onto the bed and leans over him, gently laving his tongue over the bite, over and over, until it stops bleeding. He listens to Stiles' breath hitching when Derek hits a tender spot, one of his hands clasping at Derek's bicep - not hard, more for comfort than anything.

"Does this mean we're wolf-married now?" Stiles asks when Derek sits up, pulling a thumb along his cheekbone.

"Yeah," Derek says, one side of his mouth quirking up.

"Forever?" Stiles asks, and Derek nods.

"Forever."

The wound heals more quickly than it should. By the time Stiles is taken by the alphas it has scarred over, a white set of teeth marks over Stiles' heart. Derek likes to touch it, to slot his mouth over the scarred skin and bite there, never hard enough to break the skin. Stiles touches it often, rubbing absently at his shirt while he works on homework or watches Derek cook. Derek doesn't think Stiles is aware of what he's doing but every time Derek catches him, he has to stop whatever he’s doing and go over to Stiles, run his hands over his shoulders, brush his lips against his cheek. Stiles always smiles. He never pushes Derek away.

-

The night they find Cora and Boyd, Stiles is waiting when Derek comes home, in a light slumber with his back against the door to the loft. Derek sees him, hears his heartbeat before he’s even rounded the last turn of the stairs, and for a moment, all the weariness and pain inflicted upon him by one very long night lifts because there is Stiles, reassuringly whole and uninjured. He smells sad. Scott told Derek that a friend of his had died, and there’s Erica (and fuck, he had being doing such a good job not thinking about Erica). Derek understands his sadness too well.

He kneels, slides a hand against Stiles’ cheek, and the boy’s eyes flicker open. Stiles smiles before he’s quite focused on him and Derek smiles back, the smile he was unable to locate for the teacher he pulled from the boiler room pulled from him now like a loose tooth, swift and painless. Stiles blinks slowly and then seems to really look at Derek, because his breath hisses between his teeth and he says, “Fucking Christ, Derek!"

"It’s not as bad as it looks," Derek replies quickly, quietly, which is mostly true at this point. All but the deepest claw marks have healed now, but his skin is caked with blood and it itches, pulling at his skin. “Stiles, you should go home and sleep. You have to go to school."

Stiles shakes his head, blinking sleepily. “No," he says, with a flare of unhappiness. “Because Heather - Dad said I don’t - I’m not going today."

Derek nods quietly, and some of the night’s hurt is worn away by the thought that Stiles came here, to him, when there were so many other important people in his life he could have gone to first. He tries not to let that weigh on his shoulders, to let himself think that Stiles is just another person he’s going to fail to protect in the end. Derek tries not to think about how he’s going to end up dead sooner rather than later, and how he wishes he could say something like I love you without knowing it’d be a terrible burden on Stiles a couple of months down the road. Instead, he takes Stiles’ hand and pulls him to his feet.

He can feel the weariness seeping into his bones, smells it on Stiles, but he needs to get clean because it’s not just his blood on him - it’s from Erica and Boyd and Cora and god, his sister’s alive. His sister’s alive but Erica’s dead and his pack nearly killed him tonight and he nearly let them. There’s so much going on in his head that he’s grateful when Stiles takes control, tugs him into the bathroom, and pushes him down to sit on the toilet while he draws a hot bath. Derek lets Stiles strip him, helpfully lifts his arms so Stiles can pull off his shirt, which is ripped to pieces and smells like sweat and death. He pushes his face into Stiles’ neck while Stiles gently touches at the slowly healing lines scored across his chest and for a long moment he just breathes. And Stiles lets him and if that’s not another fucking stab to the heart, because they know each other now, intimate in more ways than one, and it hurts that he’s going to lose this eventually.

Stiles gets him into the bath, and Derek leans into his hands as they scrub away the blood and dirt and sweat. It’s so quiet in the bathroom, just the gentle slough of the water, and Derek thinks about how they should have gone to the ocean this summer. It would have been nice to get a cabin on the coast somewhere, where they could have woken each morning to the sound of gulls and water hitting the shore. If he makes it through another month, he decides, he’s going to do it; he’ll steal Stiles away and take them on vacation. It couldn’t make anything much worse.

Before he knows it, Stiles is urging him to stand and when he does, Stiles wraps him in a towel and ends up with his arms wrapped around Derek too, his upturned nose pressed against Derek’s jaw. Derek closes his eyes and listens to the healthy thrum of Stiles’ heart while the warm bathwater drains around his ankles. It’s the closest to peace he’s had in days, and the closest he’ll have for the foreseeable future. It’ll be enough, he thinks.

Stiles lets go of him eventually, only to take him by the hand and lead him out into the loft. He turns back the sheets and Derek shucks the towel to the floor and crawls into bed. He listens to Stiles pulling off his clothes and then the mattress dips as Stiles climbs in behind him. He tucks an arm around Derek’s stomach, plastering the front of his body to Derek’s back, and Derek lets himself relax for the first time in hours, the warmth of Stiles’ body comforting, safe.

They fall asleep in the early morning sunlight. There are things to do, wounds to heal, people to bury, wolves to fight - but they can wait just a little bit longer, while Derek sleeps and heals and rebuilds the walls inside his head. His sister is alive and Erica is dead and the town is falling to pieces around them but for a couple more hours, he and Stiles are safe.

-

There's a new werewolf in the woods. Derek catches the scent one day, too faint to track. It bothers him; he spends hours in the forest that day, roaming the wooded acres, but he doesn't catch the scent again.

-

Three months after Stiles is taken, Derek kills Peter. He doesn't mean to. He spends about fifty percent of his time as a wolf and it makes him half wild. Peter likes to come to the house and mock him. Derek is used to it but the wolf isn't. It doesn't appreciate the subordination of its beta and one day, when Peter drawls out some inappropriate remark about Stiles, the wolf snaps.

Peter is weak; his strength never returned to him after his resurrection. He can't stop the two hundred pounds of muscle that leap on him, can't stop the crushing force of the jaws that rip his throat out.

Derek regrets it later when he shifts back to his human form. He's still not sure what Peter's intentions were. He's aware of the possibility – probability, even - that Peter had a plan, some kind of long-con that would have ended in Derek's death but still. Peter was family.

Just to be sure, though, Derek burns his body and scatters the ashes throughout the woods. Allison comes to visit the next day and eyes the burnt patch of ground. She doesn't say anything, not even when Derek whines and pushes his cold nose under her knee.

-

It's late October when the sheriff finds out about them. He already knows about werewolves and the Darach. Stiles said he didn't seem all that surprised when he told his father, like maybe he'd already suspected there was something strange going on in Beacon Hills. Derek has been waiting for the sheriff to talk with him, but he didn't expect the man to come to his apartment while his son was there, not when Derek and his son had just had a round of highly enthusiastic and highly illegal sex.

Stiles is in the shower. Derek's laying on the bed, skin still cooling, his hair mussed, when there's a knock on the door. Derek starts a little; he'd been lost in a post-orgasmic haze and hadn't heard anyone approach. He crawls out of bed, slipping on a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt before walking over to the door. The heart beat outside is vaguely familiar, as is the scent, but it doesn't smell threatening so Derek slides open the door.

He regrets it immediately. The sheriff is standing there, hands in his jacket pockets. He looks as nonthreatening as a man with a gun at his hip can, but this is bad. This is very bad.

"Mr. Hale," the sheriff says genially, unaware of the shit-storm that's brewing. "I was wondering if you had a moment to talk. I'd like to know more about this alpha pack."

"Uh," Derek says, his mouth dry.

The sheriff quirks an eyebrow at him, taking in his tousled hair and clothes. He tilts his head when he hears the shower. "Is this a bad time?" he asks. "I can - "

In the bathroom, Stiles starts singing - Rihanna, by the sound of it - and the sheriff stops dead. Derek swallows desperately, wondering if he can make it to the fire escape before the sheriff gets a shot off. He tenses, watching the man's eyes move from Derek's hair, to the unmade bed, to the clothes strewn about the floor, to the bathroom door, and Derek sees the moment it all clicks into place. In the bathroom, Stiles sings loudly, unaware of the trouble outside.

"Seems I've found where my wayward son keeps disappearing to," the sheriff says conversationally. "You going to invite me in, son?"

Derek nods jerkily and steps aside so the sheriff can come into the loft. Derek eyes the hallway wistfully, watching his escape route vanish behind the loft door.

"Why don't we sit," the sheriff says, like it's not Derek's fucking apartment, but Derek nods stiffly and sits on the edge of the bed while the sheriff plunks himself down on the couch. Derek touches his pockets surreptitiously; they've all practiced blind texting and he could text Stiles, at least warn him, but his pockets are empty and he spots his phone sitting on the desk by the window.

In the bathroom, the song changes to M.I.A. - Derek hates that he knows this - and Stiles breaks into what might most accurately be described as caterwauling. The sheriff doesn't even flinch; he's clearly used to his son's terrible vocal stylings. He stares around the room instead, looking speculative, and Derek prays to God that he's not about to say something like, "Nice place you got here."

He doesn't, small miracle, and they're still sitting there in stony silence when Stiles comes out of the bathroom, toweling his hair dry. Derek sees, with a bit of relief, that he's wearing clothes, at least, even if it's just boxers and one of Derek's tank tops.

"Touching him is like realizing all you ever want was right there in front of you," Stiles warbles and Derek tries not to wince. Taylor Swift now, really? "Memorizing him was as - " He stops dead when he lowers the towel and sees his dad sitting on the couch. The sheriff watches his son silently, an utterly unimpressed look on his face. Stiles' eyes flicker to Derek, who tries to look apologetic without changing his expression at all, not an easy feat. "Uh," Stiles says to his father, his voice small. "Hi."

The sheriff watches his son for a long time, his face blank. Stiles shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, trying and failing to keep his eyes off Derek. Finally the sheriff gets to his feet and he sounds tired and defeated when he says, "I thought we were done with the lies."

Stiles flinches like he's been slapped. "Dad," he starts, but the sheriff lifts a hand and shakes his head. He points a finger at Derek, who has kept silent, barely daring to breathe. Derek meets the sheriff's gaze but keeps his face carefully neutral.

"That man," the sheriff says, his tone deceptively calm, "has committed a felony every single time he's touched you." Derek bites his tongue and drops his gaze to his hands, folded in his lap. He feels sick. It sounds a lot worse when it’s said out loud.

"Dad," Stiles tries again, but is cut off by his father once more.

"You're coming home with me," he says, "and if I ever see the two of you in the same room together, there will be hell to pay."

Stiles looks over at Derek then, desperate. Derek shakes his head, misery churning in his stomach. No, he tries to tell Stiles. Don't try to fight him. It's the wrong thing to imply; Stiles' jaw goes firm and he says, "Like hell I'm letting that happen."

The sheriff's head comes up, sharp and angry. Stiles stands his ground, crossing his arms over his narrow chest. Derek despairs in his head but keeps his mouth shut. This is a dangerous situation; one wrong move on his part could land him in jail.

"I lied to you," Stiles admits, his voice shaking with emotion - fear or anger or a mix of everything. "I didn't tell you because I knew you'd react just like this. Derek's not hurting me. He's not forcing me. He's keeping me safe."

The sheriff snorts incredulously. "Safe? The man sprouts claws at will!"

"Yeah," Stiles snaps back, "to protect me from the other furry men with claws. So Dad, if you're going to arrest him, you better arrest me too, because this is as much my fault as it is his."

The sheriff looks over at Derek furiously. He bends his head, avoiding the sheriff's glare.

"Dad," Stiles says, softening his tone as he tries another tactic. "Please. Hasn't my life been shitty enough already? Can't we have something good in our lives?"

"It's illegal," the sheriff sighs. "Son - "

"Oh, don't give me that," Stiles says irritably. "I know you met Mom when she was sixteen and you were twenty-three."

Derek's head snaps up and the sheriff points a severe finger at him. "Not a word," he warns, then turns the finger on Stiles. "Who told you that?"

Stiles rolls his eyes. "I know your birthdays and your anniversary and I know basic math, believe it or not."

The sheriff crosses his arms over his chest. He still looks furious, but Derek can tell he's cracking. "I don't like this," he announces to the room. "I don't like this and I don't condone this, but if you insist on continuing, I'm - I'm not going to do anything. But," he adds forcefully, as Stiles starts to grin. "But. No more sneaking around, you hear me? And we are having dinner together one night a week. All of us," he says, leveling a dark look at Derek. Derek nods silently.

The sheriff gives the two of them one long, last look. "I think I'm done for the day," he says, and he sounds a little defeated. "Hale - Derek - we can have that talk later."

"Yes, sir," Derek says quietly.

The sheriff nods shortly, turns on his heel, and strides out of the apartment. Stiles remains where he is, turning to look at Derek incredulously. "I've gotta say," he says. "That worked out far better than I ever imagined."

"He doesn't approve," Derek points out.

"Clearly," Stiles sighs. "But he knows, at least. I - It was kind of stressing me out."

"I'm sorry," Derek says, his throat tightening. "I should have thought - before we - "

"Oh, no," Stiles says warmly, walking over to stand between Derek's knees. Derek plants his hands on Stiles' hips, slipping his hands under the edge of his shirt to brush against his warm skin. "You are not backing out of this, dude," he says, looking down at Derek fondly. He lifts his hands, tracing the lines of Derek's face with his long fingers. "You're stuck with me now."

Derek is fine with that.

-

The sheriff comes to the house a couple of times in that first month after Derek retreats to the house and stops living like a human. He seems contrite and overly kind; it both bewilders and makes Derek suspicious. He keeps inviting Derek to the house for dinner, which Derek refuses. He doesn't understand why the sheriff's had this sudden change of heart about him. He understands that the man is probably lonely and grieving but then, so is Derek, and he doesn't feel the need to sit for an hour with a man who is ambivalent toward him at best and hates him at worse. He's not going to sit for an hour and talk about the only thing they have in common, which is Stiles. He won't do it.

The next time the sheriff visits, Derek greets him as a wolf, not a man. The sheriff crouches down to see him but Derek doesn't come close; he's a monster, not a dog seeking a soft touch. The sheriff doesn't stay long. The next few times after that, Derek doesn't emerge at all; he sits upstairs and watches the man watch the house until he climbs into his cruiser and drives away. By the time Stiles has been gone three months, the sheriff doesn't visit any more.

-

He finds a half-eaten deer carcass in the northern part of the preserve. It's more than a few days old, the remaining meat green and covered in maggots, but there's a scent in the clearing that seems almost familiar. He can't place it.

Derek hasn't shifted to his human form in more than a month, not since he burned Peter’s body. He's losing parts of himself, memories and behaviors. Allison comes to visit and he almost snarls at the intrusion into his space before he remembers Allison. Friend. She's possibly the only one he has left.

-

The Stiles that curls against Derek at night is not the Stiles he first met in the woods, an awkward high school sophomore with a big mouth. This Stiles holds himself differently; he is confident, taller, more certain of his abilities. He is strong, strong enough to be vocal about what he wants – at pack meetings, at school, in bed. He’s not scared of Derek like he was in the beginning and Derek likes that, likes that he can push Stiles up against a wall and all he smells is arousal, not panic. There’s a new easy grace that Stiles found over the summer – Derek’s not sure where it came from, exactly – but he can see it even in the way Stiles moves his hands, swooping, long fingers stretching, when he talks, when he works, when he runs them down Derek’s body in the dark.

Stiles has changed, but Derek’s not sure it’s a good thing because beyond his improvements, hidden behind an easy confidence, Stiles is scared. He is ready, always, for the next attack, always on edge. Stiles is afraid of thunderstorms; he tells Derek that bad things always happen during them. Derek thinks this is some sort of childhood fear until he realizes that Stiles is right; the Darach’s doing something with the weather and bad shit does happen during thunderstorms.

As the months roll on and the fight with the alphas continue, Stiles sleeps badly, awakening at the slightest of noises. When he’s not at the loft, Stiles sleeps with a knife under his pillow and he draws it on Derek one night when he doesn’t make enough noise coming through the window. Derek stares at the tip of the knife, stopped just millimeters from his nose, and thinks I did this.

-

It's late July. Derek has been in the wolf's form for three months and Stiles has been gone for seven. He doesn't remember his name. He doesn't know what a name is. He lives on instinct and eats rabbits and deer. He doesn't leave the woods because instinct tells him humans are dangerous. He has memories of pain, arrows piercing his body. The abandoned house he dens in smells like fire and humans and should scare him, but it smells like pack and family as well, so he stays. A girl comes by the den and he nearly runs her down, snapping at her heels as she sprints through the trees, before something tells him not to chase and he stops. He doesn't question why; he does what his body tells him.

It's hot out. Derek lays in the shade of trees and belly-down in the stream. He listens to the forest, ears flicking back and forth disinterestedly. He is listless, unsettled. There is something missing from him that the wolf cannot understand. It makes him run through the forest, seeking - seeking something. If the wolf could understand the concept of suicide Derek would take his life, lie down in the loam and refuse to get up again. He could waste away in the forest, no one to disturb him, no one to care he’s gone, and maybe that would be better. The wolf doesn’t understand, though; he is living on instinct and instinct tells him he needs to survive, not die.

He's halfway up one of the hills that gives the town its name, sheltered in the shade of a rough outcropping of rocks, when his ears pick up the sound of movement in the forest below. Whatever it is is large and not very stealthy. Derek pins his ears back, a silent snarl parting his lips as the wind shifts to his advantage and he scents the beast; another werewolf. Derek gets to his feet, slipping off into the woods with all the grace of a born predator. These are his woods, his land, his right to be here, and he'll teach any invader a lesson they won't forget.

The other werewolf is in its human form and completely unaware of Derek's presence. It's hunting; Derek can see the way it turns its head, scenting the air as it seeks prey. Hunting in Derek's territory? No fucking way.

A vicious snarl pulled from the depths of his chest is all the warning Derek gives the other were. He's already in the air by the time it turns, and the weight of his body knocks the other were to the ground. Derek’s in its face immediately, snarling furiously and the other werewolf snarls back, eyes burning gold. Derek tilts his head, jaws stretching wide for a vicious bite when his eyes land on an oval scar on its bare chest.

Does this mean we’re wolf-married now?

Yes.

Forever?

Forever.

Derek’s jaws snap shut, slow horror and realization flooding his brain. He shifts without realizing it and it hurts like it never has, his bones screaming in protest at the sudden rearrangement. He lands on his knees, human and naked, and vomits into the leaves, half-digested rabbit and bile burning his throat. He looks up, coughing, and the other were is already off again, trying to make an escape through the trees.

There’s an imbalance in Derek’s mind. He’s back in his human form but the wolf is still mostly in charge and it says chase. Derek lumbers to his feet and takes off through the forest, hot on the heels of the beta, closing the distance between them even as Derek’s human mind is flooded with emotions and memories.

“Stiles,” he mumbles from a mouth not used to forming words. He stares desperately at the mole-spotted back just a few paces in front of him and hopes he’s wrong. “Stop!”

The beta doesn’t slow and the wolf snarls, “Stop!” with all the power of the alpha it can muster. The beta yelps and tumbles to a halt and Derek slams down on top of him, one big hand pinning him to the loam by the neck.

Derek will never forget the noise Stiles made when he was taken by the alphas. Derek makes the same noise now, high and breathy and panicked, as he leans over the beta and stares down at his freckled face, at the two moles that frame his mouth, at the slight upward curve of his nose, of his amber eyes, wide with fear, at his mouth, hanging slack and panting for breath.

“No,” Derek mumbles, hands starting to shake with despair. “No, no.”

Stiles never wanted to be a werewolf. He’d thought about it and he’d told Derek, “Sure, who wouldn’t want to be faster, stronger? All I’ve ever wanted since I was kid was to have some kind of superpower and here it is, my chance to have it, and I don’t want it. I like being the research guy. I like being the one who can break the circle of mountain ash. I like who I am.” And Derek had respected that.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says underneath him. “Alpha, I – “

“Stop,” Derek says, and Stiles shuts his mouth. Derek swallows against the bile rising again in his throat. This isn’t Stiles. Stiles doesn’t stop talking just because he’s told to; he stops talking when he wants to stop talking. “Do you remember me?”

Stiles' eyes slide to him cautiously. “No,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

It hurts like a knife to the heart. All of Derek's vague hopes of Stiles returning to him unharmed are dashed. He pulls away from Stiles, stomach heaving, but there’s nothing left inside him.

"You know my name," Stiles crouches but makes no move to run again - yet. He's got a wary look on his face. "You know me?"

"Yes," Derek says hoarsely. He tries to take a deep breath but it feels like something’s stabbing him in the chest when he does. “Where have you been?”

Stiles’ amber eyes move to the trees around them. “Is this home?” he asks, looking worried. “I – I felt drawn here.”

Derek shuts his eyes for a moment. “Will you come with me?” he asks Stiles. “I’ve got food. We can talk.”

Stiles looks at him warily. “Can I trust you?”

“Yes,” Derek says miserably, the pain in his heart unbearable. “I swear.”

-

It's midsummer. This thing between Derek and Stiles is still new and careful. They don't know each other well enough to be truly comfortable with each other yet, still learning how the other moves, reacts, emotes. Derek finds that Stiles is quiet when they get serious, which he hadn't expected - he'd thought there'd be nervous laughter, Stiles talking to cover his inexperience, but he's silent. He kisses like he's dying, grips at Derek's shoulders like he's afraid Derek's going to disappear, hard enough that Derek finds bruises there when he looks in the mirror later, fading back to tanned skin.

Derek worries about the silence, worries that Stiles is not enjoying himself, worries that he’s doing something wrong. But every time Derek opens his mouth to ask, he looks at Stiles' face and sees the way the corners of his mouth lift in content, and doesn't ask, suddenly unsure.

"You're quiet," Derek says suddenly one evening. They're on the back deck of the old house, looking out at the garden. Everything's in full bloom now, the early evening air thick with the scent of flowers.

Stiles looks over at him, an incredulous grin spreading on his face. "Are you kidding me? I thought you said I never shut up."

"Not - " Derek hesitates. "I mean when we're - "

"Getting hot and heavy?" Stiles asks, the tips of his ears going pink.

"I just - don't know if you're enjoying yourself," Derek says. He can feel his cheeks flushing.

"I am," Stiles says devoutly. "Believe me, dude - I wouldn't have come down your throat the other night if I wasn't." He reaches over, curls their hands together, taps his bare feet against the graying wood. "I had," he continues, "the most horrifying conversation of my life with my dad when I was like thirteen and he told me I needed to be a little quieter when I jerked off and that - " Stiles shakes his head, his cheeks flooding ruddy red with embarrassment. "I never wanted to have that conversation again. Ever."

Derek laughs quietly because that story is so Stiles. Stiles grins sheepishly and tightens his grip on Derek's hand. "I am enjoying myself," he says, and Derek knows he's telling the truth by the way his heartbeat remains steady.

"Guess it's something we'll just have to work on," Derek says, and Stiles' smile turns genuine.

"Challenge accepted," he says, and slips his hands under Derek's shirt when Derek presses him down onto the wood, fingers digging into the broad expanse of his back.

Derek takes Stiles' virginity that evening, slow and easy and careful. It's not exactly how Derek imagined it would be, rolling his hips into Stiles on the rotting back porch of his burned out house, but two months ago he hadn't even considered Stiles a friend, let alone someone he'd end up sleeping with. He's happy, though, to have someone to spend his time with. For all that he's been alone since Laura died, he didn't grow up that way; the house was always full of family and friends, always full of life. Now, even if it's just Stiles and, sometimes, Isaac, he's glad for them.

He's pleased now, too, because Stiles is trying. He can see the moments when Stiles bites down on his lip and then remembers he's supposed to be trying to be noisy, and lets his mouth hang open, breathy noises and quiet moans slipping past his lips. Derek likes the challenge of making him loud; he changes his angle until Stiles' back arches and he groans, "Fuck!" and they both pause to grin at each other.

By the end of the summer, Stiles has changed, more confident, less petulant. By the end of the summer, Stiles doesn't hold anything back. He's loud and demanding and gets even louder when he realizes how much it turns Derek on. By the end of the summer, Derek's smitten with him (and Laura would have laughed her ass off if she'd ever heard him admit that out loud) and he decides that nothing's going to keep him from having Stiles - not the alpha pack, not anything.

-

They walk through the woods as humans. Derek keeps Stiles just ahead of him, terrified he’s going to disappear again. He has a chance to observe Stiles as they walk and what he sees hurts.

Stiles has lost weight; always skinny, he’s bony, now, skin stretched thin and pale everywhere the bone lays close to the surface – the swell of his collarbones, the curve of his elbows and knees. He’s only wearing boxers and Derek is one hundred percent certain they’re the ones he was wearing the night the alphas took him. They are grey with age and streaked with dirt and blood – as is the rest of Stiles. He smells disgusting, his hair spiked with mud, but underneath it all is still the scent of him, rich like the forest after rainfall, soft like summer sun. Derek drifts closer unconsciously, seeking, wanting, and Stiles notices and shies away, his heart skipping a couple of beats. Derek takes a step back, his mouth going thin. He’s glad Stiles is ahead of him so he doesn’t have to see the white scar over his heart where Derek bit him.

They reach the house. Derek sees it with human eyes and a human mind for the first time in three months and realizes what a shithole it is. It was bad before, but the second floor’s collapsed in on the first floor, only the partial room with the old mattress where he curls up at night still in place, protected from the elements by a crooked piece of roof. Stiles hesitates at the tree line and when Derek turns, raising a questioning eyebrow, he says, “This is your territory.”

“This whole forest is my territory,” Derek says, gesturing pointedly. “Didn’t stop you from running around in it for the past few weeks.”

“I was drawn here,” Stiles repeats meekly, but the corner of his mouth lifts up like he knows he’s being a little shit. It heartens Derek because maybe Stiles – his Stiles – is in there somewhere and just needs to be brought to the surface.

“Well, I’m inviting you in,” Derek says, striding off across the lawn. Something in his heart eases when he hears Stiles follow.

He leaves Stiles to wander around the first floor and rummages through the sagging kitchen cabinets. He told Stiles he had food and he’s pretty sure he does. Or he did. There’s a can of stew in the top of one of the cabinets. Its label is moldy and it expired two years ago – a relic from the fire? He wonders – but it smells fine when he uses a claw to cut the top off.

“Here,” Derek says roughly, finding Stiles standing on the back porch, staring out over the garden. Derek doesn’t look at it; it’s all overgrown and half the plants didn’t come back after the winter. He doesn’t like to think about last summer and how peaceful it was.

Stiles sips from the can like a glass of water and sits when Derek gestures at him. There’s a tense silence for the space of a minute or two before Derek asks, “What do you remember?”

Stiles sets the can of soup down carefully and thinks. “Being with Deucalion’s pack,” he says finally. “We moved a lot.”

“Anything else?” Derek asks, his heart sinking further. “Friends, family – anything?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Just the alphas.” He takes a sip of cold stew. “Um. What’s your name?”

“Derek,” he tells Stiles miserably.

“Were you my alpha?”

Derek shakes his head. “No,” he says bitterly. “You were never supposed to be turned.”

“So I was human,” Stiles says contemplatively. “This place – it’s home?”

“Not, not this house,” Derek says haltingly. “But this town. You’ve lived here your whole life.”

“Family?”

“Your father’s the county sheriff.”

“Mom?”

Derek hesitates. “She’s dead.”

“Oh,” Stiles says quietly. He fiddles with the soup can. “People died here, didn’t they?”

“My family,” Derek tells him, fingernails digging into the rotting wood. He watches Stiles bite at his lip. “Do you want your memories back?”

Stiles exhales slowly. “Do you want my memories back?”

“Yes,” Derek says without hesitation.

Stiles lifts his head and stares out into the forest. “I don’t feel like a person,” he says after a while. “I know things. I know math and how to write and if I had shoes, I could tie them. I know how to drive a car and for some reason I know how to take apart a gun and clean it, but I don’t remember who I am. I feel empty.”

Derek closes his eyes. “Do you want your memories back?” he asks again and Stiles says, “Yes.”

-

When Derek gets out of the hospital, he returns to the loft. The hallway is cordoned off by police tape – the sheriff’s been here already – and smells offensively of bleach. Under it is the smell of blood, Stiles’ blood, and Derek has to lean against the wall when it hits him because there’s too much of it, far too much for him to have been able to survive its loss. Derek doubles over, breathing heavily. Stiles is not dead. He repeats it like a mantra. Stiles is not dead, Stiles is not dead. It takes weeks for the scent to fade, a reminder of his failure every time he steps out of the loft and he has to tell himself Stiles is not dead every time he heads for the stairs.

He joins the search for Stiles. The sheriff has been coordinating the search between his deputies and the pack; there’s usually one werewolf in every search party that combs the woods and fields of Beacon Hills, searching for any clue or scent human sense wouldn’t catch. Derek stays out later than any of them; he scours the land for hours, rarely sleeping. He only returns to the loft when he’s at the point of exhaustion because it hurts to be there – the hallway smells like Stiles’ blood and his bed smells like Stiles and sex and Derek hates the reminder.

There’s no sign of him or the alpha pack. Derek doesn’t get it; he thought he was their target. “They realized you’re worthless,” Scott spits at him one evening as they follow the curve of the reservoir, and Derek hunches his shoulders. Scott’s angry and wants to fight him, but Derek doesn’t rise to his ire. He’s pretty sure he’d lose, anyway – he seems to lose every battle he’s ever fought.

By the end of March, Derek’s losing hope. There’s no news, no clues, no hints at all. The alphas haven’t been seen or heard of since the middle of January. When they took Boyd and Erica there were signs, rumors, but now – nothing. It’s like they’ve vanished off the face of the earth.

Derek’s obsessed. He can’t remember the last time he went to the loft. He sleeps in the woods, in the ruins of his old house, and he spends all night and day running through the trees, seeking Stiles. He doesn’t say it, never admitted to anyone, not even himself, but Stiles was his mate. The bite over his heart bonded them deeply, in a way Derek didn’t notice while Stiles was still around, but now that he’s gone there’s an emptiness inside Derek, slowly driving him mad.

Allison comes to see him one day, dragging a reluctant Scott behind her. It’s four hours until moonrise on the night of the full moon and Derek feels its pull strongly, putting him on edge. He can’t stop moving, has to pace, has to pick at the rotting boards while Allison talks to him, tries to soothe him. Scott is not helpful; he rolls his eyes when Allison treats Derek with kindness and when he finally leans in and says, “It’s your fault,” Derek snaps.

He’s in the wolf form before he knows what’s happened, sinking his jaws into Scott’s thigh. Scott roars in pain and the noise startles Derek into letting go. He’s never been able to find the wolf before, never had the anchor to make the switch, but he has his anchor now; anger, as always, the pain and sorrow of Stiles’ loss a deep pit in his heart.

Scott leaves with bloody jeans and a grim shape to his mouth. It’s the last time Derek sees him for two months. Allison lingers, unafraid, and Derek sits with her on the porch. The mind of the wolf is a relief; it’s like a transparent gauze has been wrapped around his memories and emotions. They’re still there but far away, the aches of them fading.

“Just be careful,” Allison says before she leaves. “Don’t lose the way back, Derek.”

Derek watches her go and thinks that it might be okay if he did.

-

Derek leaves Stiles at the house. He's not certain that the boy won't run off, but Derek needs help. They need food and clothes - Derek won't admit to himself that the reason Stiles needs a shirt is because Derek needs to not see the bite mark on Stiles' chest. Derek needs advice, someone with more knowledge than he has. He thinks about Deaton briefly, then nixes the idea; Deaton may have been the Hale emissary, but his allegiance seems to have shifted to Scott, and Derek’s not ready for Scott to know yet. Derek knows he’s being selfish; some wretched part of him hopes that Stiles will be his pack, and he knows that Scott will want him. Another part of him hopes that he can fix this on his own, bring Stiles back, return him to the boy he was before. He wants to do something right for once. He wants to be able to bring Stiles to Scott and say Look who I found.

He goes to the Argents instead. It goes against everything he’s been taught, but then, he hasn’t listened to a lot of what his mother told him. If he had, maybe things would be different now. But Argent is neutral, and Allison is probably the closest to an ally he has left. It’s possible Isaac will be at their house – Derek had a vague sense of some romance brewing between the two of them – but Derek thinks he can trust Isaac to keep his mouth shut. He’s still got some loyalty to Derek, even if he’s in Scott’s pack now. He never said a word about Derek and Stiles’ relationship to Scott, anyway.

Derek knows he’s a mess. The clothes he scrounged up are torn and stained with blood and dirt and sweat. He smells like an animal – he assumes, since he can’t actually tell any more – and tries washing in the river, but it’s a losing battle. He gives up and heads for the city. It’s an easy run, twenty minutes, tops. He doesn’t get a second glance as he winds his way down the streets – he looks like vagrant, probably, dirty and disgusting. He’s lucky there’s no doorman at the Argent’s apartment and rides the elevator to their floor. When he knocks, he hears heavy footsteps approach the door – Chris, then, not Allison – and the unmistakable sound of a gun cocking.

Derek has his hands raised by the time Argent opens the door, his most neutral expression on his face. The man has a pistol in one hand; it’s not raised at Derek, but he can see the safety’s off.

“What do you want?” Argent asks coldly.

“I need to talk to Allison,” Derek replies. “Is she here?” He knows she is – he can hear her heart beating further in. Hers is the only one, though, which makes the visit a little easier, knowing Scott or Isaac won’t be around.

“Too bad,” Argent says bluntly. “And you should consider yourself extremely lucky that you didn’t touch a hair on her head or you would have been dead months ago.”

Derek frowns at him until a vague memory surfaces, the wolf chasing Allison through the trees.

“So you can leave,” Argent tells him. “And if I see you again – “

“Dad.”

Argent turns. Allison’s standing in the hallway, her arms folded over her chest. She looks at Derek and then her father, her face serious. Argent frowns. “Allison – “

“Let Derek in,” Allison says flatly. “Give him a chance.”

Argent gives Derek a dark look but steps aside so Derek can come in to the apartment. Allison gives Derek a long look and announces, “You’re taking a shower.” Derek sees Argent roll his eyes but he doesn’t argue, following Allison down the hall and into her bedroom. “I’ll get you some clothes,” she adds, eyeing his wardrobe with distaste. She gestures toward a door on the far wall. “Shower’s in there.”

After months outside, the hot water feels better than Derek wants to admit. He should take Stiles to a hotel, he thinks, and then wonders if he has any money. Then he wonders if showering was a good idea; he’s washing off the musk that’s built on him over months. It might throw Stiles off. And Stiles –

Derek curses, almost slipping as he hurries out of the shower. He can’t leave Stiles too long, can’t chance that he’s going to disappear again. Allison’s not in her bedroom; the door is closed and there’s a pile of neatly folded clothes waiting at the end of her bed. Derek slips them on, lips curling at the way they smell like Argent. They barely fit, tee stretching at the stitches, sweatpants tight around his thighs; Chris is a skinny shit.

Allison’s waiting in the living room but her father seems to have disappeared; Derek can’t hear his heartbeat in the vicinity. He relaxes slightly and drops down into an armchair. “I’m sorry,” Derek says immediately. “For chasing you. I wasn’t – I was losing to the wolf.”

“Apology accepted,” Allison says with a wave of her hand. She points at the coffee table as she talks, directing Derek’s attention to a glass of iced tea and a BLT sitting on a sandwich. Derek gives her a grateful smile and eats slowly, not sure how his body’s going to like human food after four months of eating Bambi. “What’s going on? No one’s seen you for months.”

Derek hesitates. He could tell Allison about Stiles. He doesn’t think she would tell Scott. But he’s reluctant to do so, still wanting to fix this on his own. And if there’s anyone that can help him, it’s Chris, really, not Allison. “I need things from you,” Derek says slowly. “I’ll pay you when I can. I just – I’m trying to come back.”

“Did something happen?” Allison asks. “You seemed…happier in the woods?”

Derek stiffens and shakes his head. “No,” he mutters. “That’s no life for anyone.” He thinks of Stiles and his heart aches. He asks, because it’ll seem weird if he doesn’t, “Has there been any news?”

Allison’s face twists in pained sympathy. “No,” she says softly, biting at her lip. “Scott told me that – that the sheriff’s thinking about getting him declared dead.”

“What?” Derek’s head comes up sharply. Something tightens in his chest – even though he knows Stiles is alive, the thought that the sheriff is that close to giving up, it’s – it’s terrifying, because it would have meant some kind of ceremony, and a grave, and a thousand other finalities that Derek never prepared himself for. “He’s not dead.”

Allison smiles miserably. “There was a lot of blood, Derek,” she says unhappily. “He couldn’t have – “

“There was no body,” Derek snaps. “If they were going to kill him, they would have thrown him out the window after me.”

Allison shrugs. She doesn’t look like she wants to argue about it and Derek doesn’t either so he relents, eats the rest of the sandwich she made for him.

“Okay,” Allison says slowly, when he’s finished. “What do you need from me?”

When Derek leaves half an hour later, he’s got a duffle bag slung over his shoulder. Inside are clothes for Stiles, though Allison didn’t know they weren’t for Derek, and food – cans of soup and vegetables, bread, meat. Derek’s pretty sure there’s an old pot somewhere in the house; he can make meals over a campfire. He wants Stiles to gain some weight before everyone else sees him. He doesn’t want anyone to worry.

As he’s heading toward the front door, Allison says, “Derek?” and he turns, a questioning look on his face. “Do you ever think about leaving?” He blinks, and Allison says in a rush, “I know Beacon Hills is where you grew up, but maybe – maybe it’s time for a fresh start somewhere else.”

Derek thinks about Stiles sitting in the empty house, waiting for him. “I’ll think about it,” he says, and leaves.

-

Two weeks after the sheriff finds out about Derek and Stiles, he and Derek have lunch together, ostensibly to talk about the alpha pack, but Derek knows he's going to get a grilling about Stiles or, possibly, arrested. He doesn't tell Stiles about the lunch for this reason, because Stiles will panic or, worse, show up and try to make things better. Derek doesn't need the additional stress. If all goes well, he'll tell Stiles. If not, well, it's for the best if he keeps his mouth shut.

They've already suffered through two extremely tense family dinners at the Stilinski house. Derek and the sheriff don't really talk, leaving Stiles to fill the void with nervous bad jokes. It's stressful for him; Derek knows he wants them to get along. Derek would like that too; his life would be a lot easier with the sheriff on his side, and he's got nothing against the man. Sometimes Derek wonders if he would have reacted differently to them if they'd been honest from the beginning instead of him walking into Derek's place to find his son coming out of the shower.

The sheriff's already at the diner when Derek arrives and Derek tries to hide his scowl. He got there ten minutes early specifically so he could chose a booth that worked to his advantage; near the door so he could watch everyone coming and going, but also so he could make a quick exit if need be. Instead, the sheriff's chosen a booth in the far back and he's sitting facing the door so Derek will have to leave his back exposed. Derek forces a neutral look onto his face as the sheriff stands to meet him.

"Sheriff," Derek says cordially, offering his hand.

"Derek," the sheriff returns, gripping his hand tightly. Derek notices how he doesn't tell Derek to call him by his first name. Not very friendly.

They sit and a waitress comes over to pass Derek a menu and a cup of coffee. The sheriff raises an eyebrow as he watches Derek stir in sugar. "That stuff work for you?"

Derek looks down at the steaming cup. "Yes?" he hazards. "I - We're not that different from you, sheriff."

To his relief, this leads the sheriff to question him on werewolves for the next twenty minutes. They stop only when the waitress comes to take their order, and then the sheriff continues grilling Derek about the phases of the moon and werewolf behavior. He sounds a lot like Stiles, Derek thinks.

Their food comes and they fall mostly silent to eat. The sheriff waits until Derek's got a mouthful of turkey club before he sets down his fork and says, "You know I don't like this, right?"

Derek doesn't need to ask what this is. He swallows and says, "You've made that very clear." He tries not to sound bitter.

The sheriff meets his eyes levelly. "I've got nothing against you," he tells Derek. "I know you've had a terrible life, but that doesn't excuse you. You're dangerous and - "

"I'm not going to hurt Stiles," Derek says vehemently, setting down his sandwich. "I would never - "

"Not on purpose," the sheriff says, his tone maddeningly mild. Derek realizes the sheriff's using cop tactics on him, trying to get him riled up, and grits his teeth, forcing himself to breathe evenly.

"I can control myself," Derek says flatly. "I've been like this all my life."

"Sure you can control yourself," the sheriff agrees calmly, "but you can't promise you can keep him safe."

"I will keep him safe," Derek snaps, color rising on his cheeks. "I would die for him."

The sheriff's not expecting that. Derek hears the way he breathes in sharply, holds it for a moment before saying, "You mean that."

Derek looks down at the table and nods, his jaw tightening. The sheriff sighs and Derek chances a look at his face. He's got his arms folded on the table before him. Derek can almost see the moment his sheriff persona peels away and the father is left behind, tired and worried.

"I want to trust you," he says quietly. "I want to know that someone is keeping my son safe, because God knows I don't seem to be able to any more. But if you die for him, what do you think he's going to do? He - " The sheriff rubs a hand across his mouth, pale blue eyes clouding with misery. "He tries so hard to pretend he's all right but he's soft inside. He hurts so easily. And if you - well. He's already lost his mom, and with everything that's happened, I - "

Two months ago, Derek was ready to die. He lost Erica, abandoned Isaac, couldn't beat the alphas. Stiles knew Derek loved him, but it didn’t change anything until that fight at the mall where Derek nearly died. Derek was almost angry he didn’t die - until he slipped into Stiles' room and smelled the desperate sadness rolling off him. Sad because he thought Derek was dead. It never occurred to Derek that anyone would be sad if he died, but there was Stiles, eyes burning with unshed salt tears, reeking of sorrow. And he got angry, angry that Derek hadn't called to say he was all right, and that was bewildering to Derek, that someone had missed him.

It’s not just that they love each other. Stiles doesn't say the words until weeks after that night and Derek never manages to choke them out but they both know. He knows that he doesn't want to lose Stiles, but that night is the first night he realizes that he doesn't want Stiles to lose him, doesn't want him walking around smelling like misery. He'd thought he was being selfish, clinging to Stiles when he was going to die, but now he realizes he was selfish in readying himself for death, not fighting for the both of them.

Their relationship changed that night. Derek didn't think that either of them thought they'd been fooling around before, but several mornings later, Stiles sat up in bed, his hair sticking in all directions, and said, “Boyfriends?” And Derek smiled faintly and said, “Definitely.”

"I just don't think he can lose another person he cares about," the sheriff says wearily.

"That's not going to happen," Derek says firmly. He sees one side of the sheriff's mouth lift like he wants to believe him, and Derek takes a deep breath. "I know you don't approve of this," he says. "I can't say that I'm sorry it turned out this way, but I hope that, even if you don't like me, you can see that we have the same goal - to keep Stiles safe and happy."

The sheriff's quiet for a while. Derek waits patiently, nods when the waitress stops by and offers him more coffee. Finally, the man nods, his mouth softening, and he says, "You're a good man, Derek. You're being much more reasonable than I would have been in this situation."

"Haven't you been?" Derek asks smartly, before he can stop himself.

The sheriff narrows his eyes at Derek before snorting. "Yes," he says. "I thought Claudia's father was going to smash my head in. He came around eventually, though," he adds, his tone going thoughtful.

Derek doesn't think the sheriff will ever really be comfortable around him, but weekly dinners are a lot more relaxed after that. Stiles notices; he doesn't say anything, but he smiles more. Derek watches the sheriff out of the corner of his eye when Derek makes Stiles smile, and something in his heart loosens every time he sees the sheriff smile indulgently, happy his son's happy.

Derek even gets invited to the house for Christmas, his first celebration of the holiday in years, and it feels like a dream to wake up with Stiles in the morning and go downstairs in his pajamas and his hair all flattened on one side. The way the sheriff's face softens and he says "Thank you," when he sees the watch Derek bought him seems genuine and Derek breathes out in relief. Stiles digs his fingers into Derek's side and grins when he says, "Open mine next, Dad," and falls off the couch laughing at the way the sheriff's face goes pale when he sees the "#1 Grandpa" mug.

The sheriff's wearing the watch when he comes to see Derek in the hospital a couple of weeks later and Derek stares at it. He wonders why the sheriff doesn't yell at him, why he's not furious, when Derek's broken his one promise to keep Stiles safe. It never occurs to him that despite his earlier reservations, the sheriff has come to think of him as another son.

-

Two weeks pass. Derek is not happy, not the way he thought he’d be if Stiles ever came back. Because the person he has is Stiles, but he’s not Stiles. He has all of Stiles’ mannerisms – his carefree grins, the way he snorts when he’s amused, his absolute lack of grace even with his werewolf reflexes, the way, once he’s comfortable around Derek, he never stops with the sarcastic remarks. But he’s not Stiles. He doesn’t remember Derek or anything about them. He still does that stupid move where he runs his fingers over the bite mark on his chest and it’s completely subconscious, but Derek can’t help but curl his lip every time he sees Stiles’ long fingers brush over his t-shirt.

Stiles being a werewolf complicates things further, because now he’s contending with the wolf inside his head and it’s fucking with his personality. Derek hates it. Before, if Stiles was doing something annoyed and Derek told him to stop, he’d keep doing it out of spite, a grin plastered all over his face. Now, he’ll stop immediately and hunch his shoulders defensively like he’s expecting a punishment. Derek worries about what the alphas did to him, but he’s scared to ask, worried about drudging up bad memories. He doesn’t like to think that the few memories Stiles has are bad ones.

Derek gets the story of where he’s been out of Stiles eventually. He doesn’t remember being bitten, but Derek’s already guessed that that happened in the hallway outside his loft, based on the amount of blood; he couldn’t have survived without the bite at that moment. Stiles says they moved around northern California for a while before crossing into Oregon.

“There was a pack there,” Stiles says one night. Derek’s built a fire off the back deck, dug a pit into the dirt so the flames can’t spread too far. Stiles pokes a branch into the flames. “Outside of Bend. Deucalion wanted me to join them, gain their trust.” He chews at his lip. “He wanted me to kill their alpha.”

Derek swallows. “But you didn’t.”

Stiles shakes his head. “No. It didn’t – it wasn’t right. They kind of backed off so the other pack wouldn’t get suspicious and I was supposed to head in their direction but I – I headed this way instead. I don’t know why.” His hand comes up to caress the bite mark and Derek turns his head, gritting his teeth. He thinks he knows why.

Stiles asks him, once, if they meant anything to each other. Derek tells him no. He can tell that Stiles is attracted to him even without his memories, but Derek’s not going to take advantage of him like this, not when he doesn’t understand what they meant to each other, how much they meant to each other. That’s not fair to either of them.

-

A couple of days after they agree that they’re dating, Stiles wanders into the loft and flops down on the couch next to Derek, who’s reading from a dusty leather-bound book Deaton had handed to him a couple days previous.

“You all right?” Derek asks, not looking up.

“Hm,” Stiles says noncommittally. Derek looks up at that, because Stiles always has something to say. The boy’s got his hands in his lap, twisting them around aimlessly.

“What’s going?” Derek asks, setting down his book.

“Nothing. I just – ” Stiles sighs. “I told Scott. About us. Boyfriends.” He looks over at Derek when he says it, like he’s worried it’s not true. Derek nods but doesn’t say anything, waits for Stiles to continue. “Well. He just kind of looked at me. I couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or what.”

“And?”

“And then nothing; the bell rang and we had to go to class.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair. Derek shifts closer to him, curling a hand over his thigh. “He just – he kind of avoided me for the rest of the day.”

“He’s mad?”

Stiles sighs again. “I don’t know. I can’t tell. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him at school, but it’s like the only way I can get a hold of him any more.”

“Stiles,” Derek says quietly. “He’s your best friend. If he – if he didn’t want us dating, would you – ”

“Oh, no,” Stiles says shortly. He’s getting agitated now. Derek can smell the anger building on him. “He doesn’t get to do that, not after all the times you warned him off Allison and he ignored you.”

“I’m not his best friend, though,” Derek points out. Stiles huffs and leans into his side.

“So what? I’m allowed to be happy too. We both are.” He puts his hand over Derek’s, some of the tension slipping off him. “I’m really happy here.”

The way Derek’s heart swells when Stiles says things like that is almost too much to take. He has to tug at Stiles, pull at him until he’s basically on top of Derek, push his hands under his shirt so he can feel the vibrant life pounding through him, convince himself this isn’t a dream. “I’m happy too.”

That doesn’t stop him from seeking Scott out, though. He finds him the next day at the school, getting ready to climb onto his stupid dirt bike. Scott pauses when he sees Derek, his eyebrows rising. “What?”

“We need to talk,” Derek tells him.

“About Stiles?” Scott asks, and Derek blinks, then frowns.

“Are you mad?”

Scott shrugs. “No.”

Derek narrows his eyes. “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” Scott says, sounding exasperated. “I’m not his dad, dude. He can date who he wants.”

Derek exhales, shoves his hands into his pockets. “You knew already, didn’t you?”

Scott sets his helmet down with a sigh. “Look,” he says. “Stiles and I didn’t hang out that much this summer, but I have a nose. He always smelled like you and by the end of the summer, he smelled like – like both of you. Together. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know how serious it was and he didn’t seem to either, but now it looks like you’re official, or whatever, so congrats I guess.”

Derek should leave it there, but he doesn’t. He likes Scott, though he doesn’t think Scott’s ever really liked him. They trust each other, but they’re not friends. Derek doesn’t want them to be enemies, especially not when Scott’s edging on the alpha powers by his own merit, and he doesn’t want this to be a wedge between them.

“I’m not trying to take him from you,” he tells Scott.

“I never said you were.”

“I know, but – ” Derek hesitates before saying. “He’s your pack. There are rules – ”

“Dude, I didn’t grow up in a pack,” Scott says. “I don’t know anything about how packs work. Stiles is my best friend, he’s my brother, but if he’s happy with you, I’m okay with that. I know you’ll keep him safe.”

“Thank you,” Derek says quietly.

Scott shrugs and picks up his helmet again. “Times are kind of awful, if you hadn’t noticed. I think we all deserve some happiness.”

“Right,” Derek says.

It hurts, later, when he loses Stiles and Scott goes too. He’s a full alpha by then, with Isaac behind him and the Argents somehow back in his corner. He blames Derek, which Derek gets – it’s not like he doesn’t blame himself – but it still stings.

-

Derek tries everything he can think of to get Stiles’ memory back. He lost a lot of his books when he gave in to the wolf and the house fell to rot, but there’s a few undamaged volumes that he can pore over. They offer no help. He thinks about what Peter did to Isaac after the alphas took his memories of the bank vault, about the way he’d sunk his claws into the back of Isaac’s neck and pulled them back from darkness. Derek doesn’t know how to do it, though, and he’s afraid of trying and risk hurting Stiles. He regrets killing Peter.

Stiles asks him if he can see his dad. Derek hesitates for a long while before leading him through the woods, looping around the edge of town to bring him to the tree line behind the Stilinski house. They stand amongst the greenery and watch the house. They can see the sheriff moving around inside and Stiles stiffens when he steps out onto the back porch to use the grill.

“He smells familiar,” Stiles says wistfully. Derek doesn’t like the sorrow burning in his eyes. “He smells lonely.”

“You’re all he had,” Derek says, and wishes immediately that he didn’t.

Stiles swallows. “Can I go talk to him?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Derek tells him slowly. “Without your memories. It might – it might hurt him further.”

“You’re probably right,” Stiles agrees sadly.

Derek needs to take him to see Deaton. He knows he does, but he’s not willing to admit defeat. There has to be something he can do or say that will work like a key, unlocking the lost memories.

That night, a thunderstorm rolls through around midnight and Derek wakes to Stiles crouching by the mattress, shivering. “Bad things happen during storms,” he tells Derek, his heart hammering in his chest. Derek shudders because Stiles told him that months ago, curled against his side as lightning cracked overhead. He lifts his arm without thinking and Stiles crawls onto the mattress next to him, pressing his back against Derek’s stomach. It doesn’t mean anything, Derek tells himself, despite the way his body automatically relaxes at Stiles’ touch. Stiles is pack and he’s just doing what a good alpha should.

-

The night Derek kicks Isaac out, he is already at the Stilinski house when Stiles texts him. He stands in the tree line in the pouring rain and stares up at the warm rectangle of light that marks Stiles’ room while he tries to figure out how he got there. He remembers leaving the loft in a rush, barely giving Isaac time to disappear before he was slinging on his jacket and mumbling some sort of excuse to Cora. He didn’t even put on shoes; his feet are covered in mud and slowly bleeding scratches. He frowns at his feet, wondering why they’re so slow to heal when he remembers that most of his body is concentrating on the gaping wound in his chest. It’s not gaping any more, but it’s still raw, and it hurts when he breathes.

His phone buzzes in his pocket and when he pulls it out, he sees a message from Stiles, just a quick can you come over?

That’s the other reason he’s been standing in the hedgerow. His feet carried him here, but he doesn’t just go in like he usually does because he’s not sure Stiles wants to see him. Derek knows that Isaac has probably gone to Scott, and Scott has probably told Stiles everything. He knows that Stiles and Isaac aren’t friends, exactly, but Stiles cares about Isaac and he’s going to be furious.

Join the club, Derek thinks miserably. He hates himself for what he’s just done to Isaac. Things between them had been good; he’d finally started feeling like pack - and that’s why Derek had to do it, had to hurt him. He’d rather Isaac hate him and be alive than the alternative. Derek’s not going to let any more people die because of him.

And Derek doesn’t want to see Stiles because he needs to do the same. The alphas will come after Stiles eventually and he will never, ever forgive himself if Stiles is killed. Just the thought makes his stomach twist and he digs his claws into the nearest tree, shredding the bark.

His phone buzzes again and he digs it out to see i hope its ok to ask and his eyes lift to the window again. Derek realizes that it’s the first time either one of them has asked for the other. There have been a lot of unspoken agreements, sudden appearances at the other’s home. In the beginning, there were carefully neutral texts that said things like garden tomorrow? but never have they requested the other’s presence. And Derek doesn’t know if this is a step forward or back; if Stiles wants him enough not to chance it, or if he’s so upset that he can’t wait for Derek to appear.

I’m on my way, Derek texts back, because he’s not going to admit that he’s been standing outside for the last twenty minutes. He watches the window and sees Stiles’ form pass by, but he doesn’t move from his spot. It’s dark and rainy and he knows that he can’t be seen from his spot amongst the trees. He listens to Stiles, the noises faint but clear; he sounds like he’s working on homework. There’s pen on paper, and pages turning, then the irritating noise of Stiles’ phone playing Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, which he knows is Scott’s ringtone.

"Hey," Stiles says and then continues without waiting for a response, “so Lydia and I were talking to Deaton and he - what?"

There’s a long pause. Derek can’t hear what Scott’s saying, but he can almost feel Stiles’ energy change. He’d felt sad before, unhappy, but now he’s starting to feel angry. Scott’s telling him about Isaac, and Derek realizes that he hadn’t known, before Stiles had texted him. His fingers curl around the phone in his pocket. If Stiles hadn’t been mad before, did that mean he really wanted Derek? Derek knew he shouldn’t be thinking about this stuff - there were more important things to worry about - but lately he’s come to the conclusion that Stiles Stilinski takes up a lot of his thoughts and it’s a surprise when that realization doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

"Oh," Stiles says, and Derek’s attention jerks back to the house. “Oh. Okay." He doesn’t sound angry; he sounds defeated, and that kind of hurts. “Well, I - " He pauses again, listens to Scott, and sighs. “Yeah. I’ll talk to you tomorrow." He sets down his phone and there’s silence for a long time after that. Derek wonders if he’s running his hands through his hair; he’s been doing that a lot lately since it’s gotten longer. Derek likes to do it too, when they’re curled on the couch watching a movie, when Stiles is pushing into him, when he’s asleep, his soft lips parted as he breathes. But - no. His feet have carried him here and Stiles knows he’s coming, and he has to stop this before Stiles is hurt.

He waits until a feasible amount of time has passed, then lopes across the dark backyard. He has a moment of fear before leaping onto the garage roof, worried that Stiles will turn him away, and then he thinks it would be better for both of them if he did. Stiles doesn’t turn him away, though; he sits up on his bed when Derek pushes the window up. He’s surrounded by books but they don’t look like homework; Derek catches a page full of runes before Stiles shuts the heavy volume and slips off the bed.

"Why are you so wet?" he asks and Derek tilts his head, studying his tone. There’s anger there, but it’s being smothered by unhappiness, sharp and tangible. Derek can taste it on his tongue, bitter like unsweetened tea. Stiles’ eyes slide to his uncovered feet and his brow draws together in a frown. “Did you run here?"

Derek nods, not mentioning he arrived half an hour ago. Stiles sighs faintly and leaves the room, reappearing a moment later with a towel. Derek shucks off his leather jacket and carefully drapes it over the back of Stiles’ desk chair. It was his father’s, the only thing he has of his apart from his hazel eyes, and it’s one of his greatest treasures. He accepts the towel and pats himself dry, watching Stiles the whole time from the corner of his eyes.

Stiles stands next to his bed, arms folded as he watches Derek. He’s not happy.
"You know," Derek says as he towels his hair, choosing the moment so his face is covered and he doesn’t have to see that sadness on Stiles’ face.

"Yeah."

"You’re angry?"

Stiles pauses for a moment before he says, “I thought I’d let you tell me your side before I decided how to feel."

Derek lowers the towel, but he doesn’t meet Stiles’ eyes. “Whatever Scott told you is true. There’s not a lot of room for interpretation."

"Maybe not," Stiles agrees. “So you threw a bottle at Isaac. You kicked him out. Why?"

Derek flinches, but he knows he needs to tell Stiles the truth. Someone has to understand. And unlike Isaac, there’s no pack bond to sever. He doesn’t want to hurt Stiles. So he tells Stiles about Deucalion’s visit and the pole through his stomach. Stiles makes him stop so he can push up Derek’s shirt, grimace at the wound, prod at its sore edges with his long fingers. He tells Stiles about Isaac and how he needs the bond to sever, for Isaac to attach himself to Scott so there’s no danger of Derek killing him. Stiles is silent for a long time. He sits on the edge of his bed and rests his skinny forearms on his thighs and watches Derek while he thinks.

Eventually Stiles says, “I understand. That was the shittiest way you could have done that, but I understand."

Derek nods. He’s still standing in front of the open window. He doesn’t like to keep his back exposed, but he’ll be able to make a quick exit like this, as soon as he can find the words and tell Stiles they’re done. He’s still searching when Stiles’ eyes sharpen then soften in quick succession. “You’re going to do the same thing with me, aren’t you?" he asks softly.

"You’re not dying because of me," Derek says, his throat tightening.

Stiles looks down at his hands, his mouth going thin. “You," he says, and his voice catches. “You could have just texted me. It’s not like we’re dating."

Derek stares at him, his mouth falling open. He feels like he’s been punched in the gut and he shouldn’t, he knows - it’s not like they ever agreed to anything. Scott doesn’t even know about them and he’s Stiles’ best friend. They’re a secret, but it still hurts.

Stiles looks up at him, his eyes bright. He smells like misery, but something’s sparked in his face and his mouth falls open. “You love me," he says hoarsely. “Oh my god."

And it’s true. It’s been true for a while now, but Derek wasn’t going to tell him because he didn’t want his love to be a burden, not when he doesn’t know if he’ll be alive in three months - hell, three days, at the rate things have been going. He felt it today with the cold metal shoved through his chest, a darkness deeper than anything Deucalion could conjure, looming over him with malicious intent.

Stiles looks the opposite of happy, which is not the way that he looks in the rare moments when Derek lets himself dream about this moment. His heartbeat’s kicking up, his breathing’s coming fast. He hunches into himself and Derek suddenly realizes that he’s having a panic attack. He steps forward hesitantly, extends a hand then stops, unsure Stiles wants or needs his touch right now.

But Stiles reaches for him, breath hitching, and Derek pulls him close. He can feel Stiles shaking, his legs trembling, so Derek lowers them to the floor and they end up in a heap under the open window. Derek can feel rain on the top of his head but he doesn’t move them because Stiles’ body feels like he’s on fire. He’s got his face pressed against Derek’s collarbone and Derek can feel how his mouth hangs open, trying desperately to breathe. Derek doesn’t make a noise, just rubs his hands over the back of his neck and curve of his spine, forcing calm into his touch, wishing he could pull at this like he could physical pain.

Eventually Stiles sits up and wipes at his face and Derek lets him go, not sure Stiles will want to stay with him now that the panic’s passed. Stiles makes no move to get up, however; he looks down at Derek’s chest and fiddles with the hem of his shirt.

"You don’t," Derek tries, then starts again. “I don’t want you to worry about it. If you don’t - if you don’t feel the same. I - it’ll be better. For both of us. You’ll be safe."

Stiles bites his lip and asks, “Why are you doing this to yourself?"

"Because I need to keep you safe," Derek says plaintively. “Because everyone I love ends up hurt."

"You don’t think I can take care of myself?"

Derek smiles unhappily. “They’re alphas, Stiles. If I can’t - "

"What are you going to do if you’re alone?" Stiles interrupts. “Have you already given up?"

"No," Derek says, and he doesn’t say You’re the only thing keeping me together.

"This is not easier," Stiles declares. “I’m not going to let you."

"Stiles - "

"No," Stiles says fiercely, looking Derek in the eye. “Everything sucks. My dad doesn’t trust me. Scott won’t listen to me. People are dying, and I can’t do anything about it. You’re the only good thing that’s happening and if you think I’m letting you go, you’re fucking stupid." He grips Derek’s shoulders, glaring at him. “I’m not letting you give up."

"Okay," Derek says, and he shouldn’t let himself be so easily swayed, but he can be selfish sometimes. He curls a hand around the back of Stiles’ neck, pulling him down so their foreheads are pressed together. He breathes in deep. “Okay."

-

Derek dreams of a solid body curled against him, his face buried against the back of Stiles' neck. Derek breathes in deeply, inhaling the soft, rich scent of him. He doesn't open his eyes; he's had dreams like this before, haunted by the phantom of Stiles' love. He finds they last longer if he keeps his eyes shut so he does, shifting slowly against Stiles' back, curling an arm around his chest. Stiles stirs, makes a soft, encouraging noise at the back of his throat, tilts his head into the pillow how he knows Derek likes it, so the long, pale expanse of his neck is bared to him. Derek presses his mouth to Stiles' skin, breathing him in before biting down gently, sucking until there will be a bruise there later. Stiles groans quietly, his scent flaring hot with lust. Derek shifts against him again, the hard length of his morning wood rubbing against the curve of Stiles' ass.

"Fuck," Stiles mutters, reaching behind him to clutch at Derek's hip, keeping them close. Derek makes a pleased rumbling noise deep in his chest and slides his hands under Stiles' shirt, slipping his fingers over Stiles' hot skin, pads of his fingers catching on Stiles' nipples. Stiles groans again, fingers tightening on Derek's hip.

Derek nudges at him until he rolls onto his stomach, relaxed and pliant under him. Derek shifts on top of him and grinds down on his ass, eliciting a sharp moan from Stiles. The sound shudders down Derek's spine and he bends his head, pressing his lips to the hot skin behind Stiles' ear and mumbling, "I fucking love you."

He never said those words out loud, before Stiles was taken, and it's one of his biggest regrets. Stiles figured it out that night Derek threw Isaac out. He'd had a panic attack and that had kind of stopped Derek from saying it, scared of scaring Stiles, even if Stiles had said it later.

The first time Stiles ever says it is sometime near the end of November, weeks after the sheriff finds out. They’re in the kitchen, washing dishes after their weekly meal with Stiles’ father. The dinners are starting to grow on Derek; he likes these moments where life seems normal, when he and Stiles are doing something as blasé as the dishes while the sheriff watches baseball in the living room. Derek washes with his shirt rolled up to his elbows while Stiles dries, leaning the whole weight of his body against him. Derek looks down at him, a smile curving his lips as he takes in Stiles’ face, relaxed with content. Stiles catches him look and a smile mirroring Derek’s stretches his lips as he tilts his head to plant a kiss on Derek’s jaw.

“I love you,” he murmurs, easy, and Derek grins as warmth floods his veins. He doesn’t say it back, though, never says it, too worried about scaring Stiles again. By the time he works up the courage, it’s too late, so he says it now, hips flush to a phantom lover, and his heart aches.

Stiles stills underneath him. "What?" he says. "You - "

That's not how he's supposed to react. He's supposed to say it back and then they will fuck like it's their last night on earth and Derek will wake with damp boxers and a heavy heart.

Derek's eyes shoot open and the bottom drops from his stomach. He's in a room dark with scorched wood and mold, on a mattress that smells like death, curled over Stiles, who is a werewolf, who is not his to touch any longer. Stiles turns his head to look up at him, the languid look on his face fading as he takes in the furious expression on Derek's face.

"Derek?" he asks hesitantly.

"Get out," Derek says, voice low and dangerous. Stiles hesitates, opens his mouth to ask why and Derek snarls at him, eyes flashing red. "Get out!"

Stiles scrambles to his feet and runs for the door like Satan himself is on his heels. Derek collapses back on the bed, swearing furiously. He wants Stiles. He misses Stiles more than anything, but the last thing he wants is to take advantage of a new werewolf with no memories, especially when he can't tell if Stiles is going along with it because he wants to, or because he feels like he has to, since Derek's an alpha.

He needs to see Deaton.

-

It's the Friday of Labor Day weekend and Stiles has school on Tuesday but right now he's sitting on the couch in Derek's loft, feet across Derek's lap, snorting at the terrible special effects of the late 90s slasher film that's on tv. Derek's got his eyes half closed. He's not the biggest fan of gore flicks - not that this one is even reasonably realistic - and there's a lot to think about. Isaac didn't come back to the loft the night before and while he technically has a foster family he's supposed to be living with, he barely spends three nights a month with them, and he always calls before he does. He’s not answering his phone and Derek has a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.

He keeps a watch on Stiles out of the corner of his eye. The boy smelled strange when he first arrived, slightly nervous. Derek waited, expected a question, but it never came. Now Stiles smells normal; he's relaxed, eating popcorn, licking salt and butter off his long fingers. Derek's eyes close further, heat flaring in his chest at the memory of those talented fingers. Stiles fingered him open last night, fucked him on his hands and knees, and Derek came so hard he saw stars. His stomach clenches at the memory.

Stiles glances over at him, catches Derek looking at him, and smiles faintly. "Popcorn?" he offers. Derek shakes his head, loops a hand around Stiles' ankle, and Stiles' eyes slide back to the television, smile still hovering on his lips.

On the screen, someone gets their head sliced off. A literal fountain of what looks like fruit punch comes gushing out of the stump and Stiles laughs. He laughs and laughs and Derek stares because he's never seen Stiles laugh before. He smiles and he grins and he snorts and he chuckles, but he's never laughed in front of Derek and it's a stupid horror movie that does it. Derek's heart hurts because there's this light he sees in Stiles' eyes, a glow that's - it's just Stiles. It's his life and energy and happiness and it hurts Derek because he wants that. He wants to make sure Stiles has that light in his eyes all the time, and he wants it forever. He's in love with Stiles.

The realization hits him like a thunderbolt, all the air punched out of his lungs. Fuck. Fuck. This is not supposed to happen. He's not supposed to fall in love. Everyone he loves dies. He’s going to die; there's no way he can beat the alphas, not with Erica and Boyd and now Isaac missing, not with Peter being so weak, not with Scott playing his saintly act. He's fucked. He's absolutely fucked and he's absolutely in love with Stiles Stilinski, who glances over at him now and frowns.

"You okay?" he asks slowly. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"I'm fine," Derek mumbles stiffly. Stiles nods uncertainly and pulls his feet off Derek's lap like he's not sure Derek wants to touch him any more. They watch the rest of the movie in silence. Stiles doesn't laugh again, doesn't crack a smile, and Derek resolutely does not look at him, his heart and mind racing. When the movie ends, Stiles gets to his feet almost immediately, feigning nonchalance when he says, "I should probably head home." There's a question there, seeking invitation, that's never been there before. He sounds uncertain.

Derek nods stiffly, his mouth thin. He wants Stiles, always wants Stiles, but for tonight, at least, it'd probably be better to have some time to himself.

"Okay," Stiles says, but he doesn't move. That strange smell is growing on him again, unease and trepidation. Derek hears his throat click when he swallows. "Okay," he says again. "I've been thinking. School starts on Tuesday and this - I think we should stop this."

Derek jerks his head up to look at Stiles, the bottom dropping out of his stomach. "No," he says, without even thinking about it. He's scared, terrified of what he's come to understand, but with that realization comes the understanding that there is no way in hell he is going to let Stiles go. "No," he says again, as Stiles opens his mouth to protest. "Look at me and tell me you don't want this."

Stiles heaves a sigh. "Of course I want this. It's just - " he bites his lip, searching. Derek waits for an answer, but when it doesn't seem to be forthcoming he gets to his feet and steps into Stiles' space. Stiles doesn't back away, though he smells of anxiety and unhappiness.

"I've given up enough," Derek tells him, curling a hand around the back of his neck. "I'm not giving up you too."

He can feel the movement in Stiles' throat when he swallows again. "It's going to get hard," Stiles says hoarsely. "You sure?"

"One hundred percent," Derek assures him, and there's the smile, breaking out cautiously on Stiles' sun-freckled face. He still smells like anxiety, though, so Derek presses forward, sliding his arms around Stiles' waist and pulling him in close. He breathes slow, presses his cheek to Stiles', closes his eyes. "Stay," he mumbles, and he means for more than just the night.

“Yes,” Stiles breathes into his neck, and Derek thinks he understands.

-

Later, when he’s got his body and mind back under control, Derek seeks out Stiles to apologize. It’s not Stiles’ fault that they used to be in love, or that he can’t remember. He didn’t deserve Derek’s wrath.

When Derek finds him, Stiles is on his knees on the back lawn, bent over one of the abandoned flower beds. His hands are covered in dirt, a pile of torn-up weeds by his side. Derek leaves the porch and tries to ignore what he’s doing. Stiles slows as Derek approaches him, his scent going uncertain, but he doesn’t look up.

“I’m sorry for yelling at you,” Derek tells him bluntly, shoving his hands in his pockets. “That was uncalled for.”

Stiles nods, using his claws to break the root system of a dandelion. He’s got a surprising amount of control but then, he’s already been a werewolf for over six months. Derek supposes that the alphas had to teach him that. “I’m sorry if I upset you,” Stiles says quietly. “I didn’t – I was okay with what we were doing.” His eyes flicker up to Derek then away again, his tongue slipping out to wet his lips. “I liked it.”

Derek’s stomach churns. That’s exactly the problem and he doesn’t know if the attraction has to do with the bite mark on his chest or if it’s just Stiles being Stiles, but he can’t let it happen. Not now. “It’s not going to happen again,” he tells Stiles, his throat burning. He tries to keep his voice soft, because it’s not Stiles he’s angry at.

Stiles nods again, his jaw tightening.

Derek shifts uneasily. “What are you doing, anyway?”

"I dunno," Stiles replies, tugging up another dandelion. "Gardening? Looks like there used to be one here. It feels right."

It shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. It shouldn’t hit him so hard, but suddenly Derek’s overwhelmed by memories of kneeling in the dirt next to Stiles, of pressing him down into the grass smelling like sweat and fresh air, and it hurts so bad. He’s moving before he realizes it, on his knees behind Stiles with his face pressed to the boy’s shoulder blades, crying in great, heaving sobs. Stiles stills beneath him, his scent souring with worry.

Derek never cried. He didn't cry when he woke up alone in the hospital, and he didn't cry two months later when it really hit him that Stiles wasn't coming back. He didn't cry when he found Stiles in the wood, his life changed forever, but he cries now, despairs. Stiles will never be the same, even if he gets his memories back. Derek doesn't know what's worse, honestly - Stiles like this, turned, with no memories of them together, or him gone, missing, the uncertainty of whether he's alive or dead a heavy weight in Derek's heart.

"Derek?" Stiles asks timidly, one of his hands reaching behind him and touching Derek's thigh.

Derek hates the way he sounds so scared. Stiles stopped being frightened of him months ago and this - this makes him furious suddenly. He shoves himself away from Stiles, who winces and says his name again, more hesitant than ever. Derek ignores him; he heads for the woods at a fast trot, melding into the wolf’s form before he reaches the trees. He hates the way his human form feels, hates the way his skin feels stiff with salt, hates the way he hates Stiles. He wishes he'd just let himself stop caring in the woods. Wasting away as a wolf among the trees would have been better than this hell.

He runs through the trees for hours. It’s dark by the time he comes home and he avoids Stiles, slinking up the rotting stairs to his room and shrugging off the wolf’s skin as he sinks onto his moldy old mattress.

There's another thunderstorm that night, but Stiles doesn't come into his room. Derek lays on his bed, glaring at the ceiling, and listens to him out in the hall, Stiles' heart thudding madly in his chest. Derek thinks he can hear Stiles crying but doesn't move, doesn't blink as the thunder cracks overhead. He hates himself more than he hates anything else in his life.

-

In late July, the sheriff leaves town for a conference and Stiles is psyched. "Now you can come over and relax," he says, because Derek never truly relaxes at the Stilinski house, even when he knows the sheriff isn't coming home for hours. Derek has other plans for these few days, though.

He says, "Do you like camping?" and Stiles grins.

They take the Jeep, drive to the northeastern corner of the state, and climb up the side of a mountain in Modoc National Forest.

"I've never really done this before," Stiles says as they set up the tent. It belongs to the Stilinskis; Stiles found it in the basement and it smells like elderly nylon. Derek tries not to wrinkle his nose. "Dad was always too busy. Scott and I went out in the woods a few times, but just into the preserve." They step back, admiring their handiwork, and Stiles asks, "Did your family do things like this?"

Derek nods. "A couple of times a summer. Dad was from a pack in Nevada - he and Mom met in college - and we'd go camp in their territory." He stares blankly at the tent. He hasn't thought about those trips in years; fighting with Laura and Cora about leg room in the car, Laura pushing him into a river and choking on water. He has a vague memory of being small and his father carrying him on his shoulders through the mountains. Derek tells Stiles all of this almost without realizing he's speaking and when he's done he blinks, startling himself. He's never opened up to anyone like he has to Stiles. He feels like he should be worried, like Stiles is going to somehow use the fact that he got bitten by a rattlesnake when he was ten against him. Stiles, though, just smiles faintly and slips his hand into Derek's.

They hike to the top of the mountain and sit for a while, staring out over the mountains and valleys around them. Stiles leans into Derek's side, hand resting against the inside of his knee, and Derek thinks - a little dazedly - about how easy it's been to relax with Stiles, to tell him things he'd never tell anyone else. He doesn't understand it, and he's not sure he quite trusts it - two months ago, Stiles was just Scott's irritating friend. Derek doesn't get the change, but maybe he doesn't need to. Maybe he doesn't need to question it, just enjoy it before it disappears.

"It's weird seeing you in shorts," Stiles says conversationally.

Derek snorts. "Says the kid who usually wears three shirts." Stiles is only wearing one in the heat; it's easier to see his frame, see how skinny he really is without all the layers. Derek likes the way he can see the jut of Stiles' collar bones.

Stiles elbows him in the ribs. "I'm just saying," he says. "Isn't your leather jacket missing you?"

"I think it understands it's a little too hot out," Derek replies dryly.

"Well, I like you like this," Stiles says, lightly digging his fingernails into the bare skin of Derek's knee. "You look a little more…approachable. Like a real person."

Derek doesn't know if he should be offended by that. "What do you mean, 'a real person'?"

Stiles shrugs. "I don't know," he says. "You looked like the antihero out of some comic book. Now you look like some dude going camping."

"That is what we're doing here, right?" Derek asks, and Stiles snorts.

That night, they cook hotdogs over a campfire and lay on their backs in the cool grass, staring up at the stars. Stiles grins at the way Derek keeps turning his head, following the sounds and scents of the terrain.

"You're like a big dog," he says fondly.

Derek kicks at him. "I thought we were past the dog jokes."

"No way," Stiles declares. "Dog jokes will never not be funny."

"To you, maybe," Derek mutters.

Stiles shifts beside him, thoughtful. "I've been meaning to ask you," he says slowly. "When Peter was the alpha, he could shift into a wolf…thing. Can every werewolf do that? Is it just an alpha thing?"

"Only alphas," Derek confirms, "and very few of them. But our family has always had the talent."

"Do you?"

"I've been…working on it," Derek says slowly. "It takes a lot of control."

"I remember," Stiles says quietly, "when Scott and I, uh, dug up Laura. She was a wolf."

"Yes," Derek murmurs, his throat burning. He never really had a chance to mourn Laura and her loss pulls at him like a dead weight. He tries not to think about the way the pieces of her body weighed nothing in his arms.

"I don't think we ever apologized for that," Stiles says. "We didn't know. That she was your sister, I mean. And then we got you arrested." He sighs. "I'm sorry about all of that."

Derek doesn't say anything; he doesn't trust his voice to speak. He reaches over instead, taking Stiles' hand and twining their fingers together. He feels Stiles look over at him, but they remain silent.

Eventually Stiles asks, "Why'd you stay, after you killed Peter? There's not really anything for you here, is there?"

"There's…not really anything for me anywhere," Derek says slowly. "At least I know Beacon Hills."

Stiles is quiet for a long time before he mutters, "I'm glad you stayed."

Derek glances over at him, sees the flush rising on his cheeks, and rolls onto his side, mashing their mouths together until the rest of him flushes the same pretty pink as his cheeks.

Even later they retreat to the tent and strip each other bare, but when Stiles passes Derek the lube, Derek takes a deep breath before pressing it back into Stiles' hand. Stiles frowns at him, confused, until Derek cautiously asks, "You want to top?"

Stiles' eyes go wide; Derek hears the way his heart stutters, smells his lust intensify. "Yeah," Stiles breathes. "You sure?"

Derek is sure. He hasn't slept with many people - there was Kate, and a few hook-ups in New York, but he's never trusted anyone enough to let them fuck him. Stiles - he's different. He's safe.

Stiles doesn't really know what he's doing, but it's more than enough for Derek, who presses his face into the curve of Stiles' neck to bury his moans, knees digging into Stiles' ribs as Stiles' hips stutter against him. He comes harder than he has in a long time, long before Stiles does, and it should be embarrassing but it - it's a relief. It's a relief to be able to lie under someone he trusts and let go. He likes the way Stiles' face contorts when he comes, and the way he curls around Derek afterward.

"My leather jacket," Derek says after a while. Stiles hums, presses his lips against Derek's shoulder blade. "It belonged to my dad. I took it the morning of the fire. I wasn't supposed to; he always got pissed when I took his things. But then we got the call, at school, and…" Derek swallows. "It's all I have of his."

Stiles is silent for a long time. So long that Derek worries he's fucked up somehow. Too personal? He has to keep reminding himself that they're not boyfriends, they're not forever - which is hard, when they do feel like forever.

"When my mom went into the hospital," Stiles says quietly, "she lost a lot of weight and I could see how it hurt my dad to look at her. And I - I look a lot like her and I've always been skinny and I worried that - I was hurting my dad too. So I started wearing layers and baggier clothes so he couldn't see how thin I was."

"Dads," Derek murmurs, and Stiles' arms tighten around him.

"Yeah," he agrees. "Dads."

-

Stiles is gone in the morning. Derek senses it immediately, feels the quiet of the house. He panics, scrambling from his nest of blankets, and tears into the woods, inhaling deeply. He picks up Stiles' scent - the boy has made no attempt to cover it - and takes off, pounding through the trees, trying to keep a handle on the furious, terrified churning of his stomach. It's not until he realizes where Stiles is heading that he slows, breathing in slowly. When he finally spots Stiles through the trees, Derek slows to a walk.

Stiles hears him coming but doesn't turn. He's staring through the hedgerow at his father's house. Derek can see the sheriff sitting on the back steps in the early morning sunlight, a cup of coffee in his hands. He looks ancient sitting there, the deep lines in his face plowed by sorrow and loss. Derek recognizes that loss, saw it enough in the mirror before he abandoned humanity for the woods.

"He smells like alcohol," Stiles says quietly. "He's killing himself."

"He misses you," Derek says, like it needs to be pointed out. Stiles nods, all of his attention on his father. Derek hesitates one long moment before saying, "I'm sorry for yesterday." Stiles swings his head to look at Derek then, his face emotionless. Derek swallows tightly and says, "This isn't your fault. None of it is. It's not fair for me to take things out on you when you didn't do anything wrong, and I'm sorry for that."

Stiles stares at him for another long moment before he nods, a quick jerk of his head, and turns back to look at his father. "I want to see him," he says. "I need him to see me."

"Stiles," Derek says hesitantly, "you don't remember - "

"No," Stiles snarls, "but I know. I know he's family - I can feel it. I can feel his pain and I have to do something about it."

Derek swallows, his throat clicking. He remembers the burden of family, how he could feel his human relatives even if they couldn't feel him. He knows how Stiles' heart must be aching. "Okay," he agrees, "but you have to let me talk to him first. He's not going to understand what's going on if you just walk up to him."

Stiles nods again, that short jerk of the head that's angry and to the point.

Derek leaves him in the woods, abandoning the cool shelter of the trees to cross the Stilinskis' backyard. The grass is high; there's been no one to mow it. The sun, though still early in the morning, is hot on his shoulders, promising a scorching summer day. He sees the sheriff straighten when he spots Derek, but the man doesn't move, letting Derek approach him.

"You've cleaned yourself up a bit," the sheriff tells him conversationally. "It's good to see you, Derek."

He's not lying, but Derek shakes his head; he doesn't have the time to try and parse out why the sheriff's pleased to see him. "You won't be in a minute," Derek promises. "I have something I need to tell you."

The sheriff sighs, setting down his mug. "What is it?" he asks tiredly. "What's threatening the town now?"

"Stiles is back."

The sheriff stares up at him. He blinks, picks up his coffee mug again, sets it down again. Color floods his face. "You," he tries, voice seizing in anger. "If this is a joke - "

"Not a joke," Derek says miserably. "He - "

"Where is he?" the sheriff roars, scrambling to his feet. "Where's my son?"

It's too much for Stiles, who bursts out of the woods despite agreeing to stay until Derek called him. The sheriff pushes past Derek with a broken noise that hurts Derek to hear, racing across the backyard to meet Stiles halfway between the house and the trees. The man's crying and so is Stiles, their arms wrapped tight enough around each other to break bone, rocking back and forth in the warm morning sunlight. Derek sinks down on the back steps, watching them silently. He can hear Stiles talking faintly, stumbling over his words, but he doesn’t try to hear what he’s saying, just listens to the frantic beating of his heart.

They pull apart eventually and head toward the house, wiping at their tear-stained cheeks. Derek stands slowly. The sheriff glowers at him, but it’s half-hearted; he’s too happy to have Stiles to be mad, though Derek’s sure that will come later, once he finds out that Stiles has been back for two weeks already. The man shepherds them inside and he and Derek watch Stiles wander through the rooms. He touches everything; runs his long fingers along the edges of picture frames, picks up books and curios from the shelves in the living room. Even the curtains aren’t safe from his touch. Eventually the sheriff coughs and says, “Derek, why don’t you show him upstairs? He can take a shower and everything in his room – it’s all the way it was.”

Stiles gives his father a troubled look, but doesn’t argue. Derek shows him to the bathroom first, because he wants to see the room before Stiles does, and leaves with the sound of the shower in his ears. Stiles’ room is exactly the way it was the last time Derek saw it, months ago, albeit with a layer of dust over everything. He tries not focus on the way it doesn’t just smell like Stiles, but Derek too. Even though Stiles spent most of his time at the loft, they spent a lot of time here, especially after the sheriff found out about them.

He’s lost in thought; he doesn’t notice when Stiles comes in, jumps when he says, “It smells like us in here.”

Derek turns to tell him it’s nothing, that they spent a lot of time together before, but then he’s hit by a wave of Stiles’ scent, so strong it leaves his head reeling. He’s gotten used to the smell of him being covered by dirt and blood, smothered by the natural world. He’s not prepared for how good it feels, and how awful at the same time, knowing who he is and who he isn’t. Stiles takes a step backward, his eyes flashing nervous gold and Derek forces himself to take a deep breath, inhaling through his mouth so he won’t smell him.

“Yeah,” he says, after a too-long pause. “I just – you’ve got clothes in the dresser. I’ll be downstairs.” And Derek fairly flees, brushing past Stiles, who looks worried and bewildered, and retreats to the kitchen, where the sheriff is cooking up a storm.

“Took the day off,” he tells Derek. “Figured you’d probably be hungry.”

“Do you need any help?” Derek asks, because he should try to stay on the man’s good side while he can.

“Nah,” the sheriff says, gesturing at the table with a spatula. “Breakfast’s easy. You sit and we can talk.”

This is the part Derek dreads, but he knows it’s inevitable so he pours himself a cup of coffee and sits at the table, watching the sheriff move around competently, cracking eggs and turning bacon.

“Now,” he says to Derek. “How long has Stiles been back?”

Derek sighs softly. “Two weeks.”

The sheriff stills. He doesn’t look at Derek, but taps his spatula against the edge of a pan. “I see,” he says after a long pause. He doesn’t sound angry, exactly. A little confused, and betrayed. “And you didn’t bring him back sooner because…?”

“Because he doesn’t remember you,” Derek says softly. “Or any of us. And I was hoping I – I thought I could fix it.”

The sheriff looks over at him. “But you can’t.”

Derek shakes his head, his mouth going thin.

The sheriff sighs. “I understand,” he says. “Can’t say that I’m happy with you, can’t say that I’m happy he doesn’t remember me, but he’s alive. That’s the thing to remember.”

“He knows you’re family,” Derek tells the sheriff. “Blood’s a deeper connection than simple memory.”

The sheriff nods, looking sad, and slides a vast pile of scrambled eggs onto a plate. Derek turns as Stiles comes down the stairs into the kitchen and swallows because, fuck, Stiles may not remember anything about himself, but he’s still managed to dress the way he always dresses – plaid shirt over a tee with some stupid joke on it, jeans worn through at the knees. It makes Derek’s throat tighten at the memories of ripping those shirts off him, tearing buttons off his plaid shirts, slipping his hand down the front of those worn pants. He has to turn away, look out the back door at the trees.

“Oh,” Stiles says, catching sight of his father standing at the stove. “I was starving.”

“Didn’t miss that,” his father says dryly. “I suppose now that you’re a werewolf you’ll have twice the appetite.”

Stiles grins sharply and sits himself down next to Derek. He smells a little worried, still perplexed by the way Derek had reacted to him upstairs, and Derek tries to soothe him by shooting him a faint smile. Stiles smiles back and some of the tension leaves his shoulders.

They eat breakfast together and it’s almost like normal. The sheriff tells them everything that’s been happening in town for the past few months and while Derek’s the only one who understands the people and places he references, Stiles nods and grins and snorts at the stories his father tells. Some of the light’s back in his amber eyes, dancing in the morning sunlight, and Derek realizes what a mistake he made by not bringing Stiles here sooner. Maybe this is what he needs to jiggle his memory; to be surrounded by people and things he knows.

“So what’s the plan?” the sheriff asks eventually, pushing his plate away.

“Plan?” Derek repeats warily.

“The plan,” the sheriff confirms with a nod. “How are you going to get his memories back?”

Derek looks over at Stiles, who looks suddenly nervous, watching his father like he’s afraid he’s going to be kicked out of the house. “I don’t know,” he says. “What are you going to do if we can’t get them back?”

“You’re my son,” the sheriff says to Stiles. “And you always will be.”

It’s not really an answer, but Stiles relaxes a little. Derek’s about to speak when he hears footsteps clattering up the front steps. He’s on his feet by the time the front door opens and Scott comes trotting into the kitchen, a cheerful smile on his face.

“Morning, Sheriff,” he says, then stops dead when he sees Derek and Stiles, all the cheer dropping from his face. “Stiles?”

Stiles, who has picked up on the hostile way Derek’s standing, follows his cue and gets to his feet, a silent snarl curling his lip, eyes burning gold. Scott blinks, a series of emotions running over his face in quick succession – shock, anger, horror – and settles somewhere between hurt and fury. “Stiles,” he says again, sounding as though he’s on the verge of tears. “Why – why didn’t you tell me?” Scott directs this question at Derek, who growls low in his chest, unfriendly and unwelcoming. He hasn’t forgotten the way their last meeting ended, with his fangs sinking into Scott’s leg. This isn’t the way he wanted to do this – he wanted this reunion on his own terms.

“That’s enough,” the sheriff says, sharply rapping his fingers against the table. “Fangs away, please.”

Derek nods and puts a hand on Stiles’ bony shoulder. Stiles appears to relax, though Derek can feel how his muscles remain tense under his hand. His eyes remain gold, watching Scott suspiciously. Scott looks devastated. Derek feels – he does feel bad for Scott. He knows that Scott hates him now because he lost Stiles, but he can completely sympathize with the hollow feeling that comes of the realization that someone you loved doesn’t know you at all.

“How – you’re a werewolf?” Scott asks. “How did this happen? Did you – “ His dark eyes turn sharply to Derek, who scowls.

“It was the alphas,” he says, biting back the urge to add idiot.

“Then when we – “

“He’d already left them when you found them,” Derek tells Scott, his hand tightening on Stiles’ shoulder. “You missed him by a few days.”

Scott gives Stiles another distressed look. “Dude, don’t you know me?”

“My memory’s gone,” Stiles says testily. “You’re not pack and you’re not family.”

“Stiles,” the sheriff says sharply. “That’s your best friend. You’ve known him since kindergarten.”

Stiles shrugs, his expression still wary. Scott looks like he wants to cry again. Derek can see how his fingers flex from across the kitchen, like he’s fighting the urge to throw himself at Stiles and wrap him in a tight hug. Derek hopes he won’t; it wouldn’t end well if he did.

“He’s acting on instinct,” Derek tells Scott. “You’re not familiar to him. He can’t trust you.”

“But he’ll trust you?” Scott asks bitterly and Derek bites back his fury.

“Yes,” Stiles says shortly. Scott looks like he’s been punched in the gut. The sheriff looks frustrated and Derek realizes that he has to be the adult here, has to diffuse this. He presses on Stiles’ shoulder, forcing him to sit, and follows slowly, his eyes on Scott. Scott watches them suspiciously but takes a hesitant step forward at Derek’s nod. Stiles remains stiff, watching Scott guardedly, but he doesn’t make a noise when Scott finally moves forward to sit at the table across from him.

The sheriff glances over at Derek and tells Scott, “We were just talking about how to get his memories back.”

Scott looks sharply at Stiles, then at Derek. “Have you talked to Deaton?”

Derek shakes his head, his eyes falling to the table. “I didn’t – that was my next step.”

“Then what are you waiting for?” Scott asks impatiently. “Let’s take him to Deaton!” But Derek hesitates and Scott raises his eyebrows. “What?”

“It’s just – “ Derek glances over at Stiles, who looks back at him, so trusting. “The way with the ice. It’s dangerous.”

Scott looks at Stiles as well, his face softening. “Do you want to remember?”

“I – “ Stiles’ eyes slide from Derek to his father. “Yes. I’m willing to risk it if – if it means I feel whole again.”

The vulnerability in his voice makes Derek’s heart hurt. His hand, still on Stiles’ shoulder, tightens. Stiles gives him a hesitant smile.

“You don’t – you don’t have to,” the sheriff says, and it sounds like it pains him to get the words out. “It’s dangerous?”

“Deaton can explain,” Derek says, before either of them can get too nervous. “To both of you.”

“I’ll call him,” Scott says, getting to his feet. “Give him a heads up.”

The sheriff nods and follows suit, gathering the dirty dishes from breakfast. Stiles turns to look at Derek, biting his lip. “Can I talk to you?”

Derek hesitates before nodding and getting to his feet. They retreat into the sheriff’s study. Derek can hear Scott on the phone with Deaton, and the sound of the sheriff washing dishes.

Stiles bites at his lip before saying, “I know I asked you before, but I need to know the truth. Did we mean something to each other, before? I just – my room smells like us, and the way you look at me sometimes, and the other morning…” He trails away, cheeks going red.

Derek sighs quietly and reaches out, tugging at the collar of Stiles’ shirt so the bite mark over his heart is visible. “You belonged to me,” he says softly, brushing a finger over the white curving lines. Stiles shudders. “And I belonged to you.”

“And you – “ Stiles swallows. “That’s all gone?”

“Yes,” Derek says miserably.

“If I – if this doesn’t work, what’s going to happen?”

“I don’t know,” Derek replies, grief churning in his stomach. “I don’t think that I…can stay.”

“You’ll leave?” Panic creeps into the edges of Stiles’ voice. “But – “

“I’ll never be able to know if it’s real,” Derek tells him unhappily, letting go of Stiles’ shirt, letting his hand fall back to his side. “If we’re together because you want to be, or because you think you have to.”

Stiles’ mouth falls open. He looks like he’s about to protest when Scott appears in the doorway.

“Deaton said he’s closing the clinic,” he tells them. “Do you want to head over?”

Derek looks at Stiles, who closes his mouth and nods firmly.

They make an odd procession; Scott drives in front, alone, while the sheriff follows in his trooper with Stiles and Derek sitting in the back seat. Derek stares out the window, listening to Stiles breathe nervously. He wants to pull away when Stiles’ hand finds his, but he doesn’t, and feels guilty about it.

“Dad,” Stiles says anxiously, leaning forward to speak through the grille separating the front seat from the back. “If this doesn’t work, are you – what are you going to tell people about me?”

Derek watches the sheriff lift his eyes to the review mirror, studying Stiles’ face. “We’ll think of something,” he says eventually. “Hell,” he adds, “your disappearance may be easier to explain away if you can’t remember it.”

“It’s going to work,” Derek says quietly, as they pull up in front of the vet’s office. “I know it will.”

Stiles grins, but it’s more to cover up the fact that he’s reeking of anxiety, and he doesn’t let go of Derek’s hand as they walk into the clinic. Deaton’s waiting with Scott, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Mr. Stilinski,” the vet says, inclining his head. “It’s good to see you home. There were a lot of people worried about you.”

“Sorry,” Stiles says sheepishly, his fingers tightening around Derek’s.

“Can you explain the ritual?” Derek asks Deaton. “Stiles doesn’t remember and the sheriff doesn’t know.”

“Of course,” Deaton smiles, gesturing at them to follow him into the back. To Derek’s slight surprise, Isaac is there, filling the tub with ice. He smiles uncertainly at Derek, his eyes slipping to Stiles and away again. Stiles watches him move around with a frown on his face.

“What is this?” the sheriff asks sharply, jerking his head toward the tub of ice water.

“What’s necessary,” Deaton replies, and carefully explains the ritual to the father and son. The sheriff doesn’t look pleased by what he’s hearing and Derek doesn’t blame him – the ritual is risky; it requires the heart to nearly stop beating before the memories can resurface. When Deaton is finished, though, the sheriff looks at his son, who sets his jaw and says, “I’ll do it.”

Deaton nods and says to the sheriff, “It’s up to you if you want to stay. This can be…distressing.”

“I…” The sheriff looks at his son, then over at Derek. Derek bites back something that sounds like I’ve got him in his head and meets the man’s eyes steadily. The sheriff sighs and turns, pulling Stiles in for a tight hug. Derek hears him murmur, “Memories or not, you’re my son. You remember that.” Derek turns away so he doesn’t have to see the way their eyes glitter as they pull apart.

There’s the thud of the door as the sheriff goes to sit in the waiting room and then Stiles steps up beside the tub. He takes a deep breath, toeing off his sneakers. He pulls off his shirt and Derek’s eyes are pulled to the bite mark like a magnet. Scott notices it and frowns at Derek. You? His eyes seem to ask. Derek nods. Me.

“What if this doesn’t work?” Stiles asks, eyeing the tub of ice water nervously. Derek listens to the flutter of his pulse and tries to calm his own, knowing that Stiles can hear it.

“It’ll work,” Derek says firmly.

Stiles looks at the tub again, nostrils flaring. “What if I die?”

“That’s kind of the point,” Scott says. Derek glares at him and he glares back. Stiles does not look reassured, but he takes the hand that Derek offers him, holding him steady as he climbs into the tub. Goosebumps pimple his skin the moment his toes touch the water and he exhales forcefully, letting go of Derek’s hand to grip the sides of the tub. He settles low in the water, eyes burning gold, water lapping at his chin.

“Are you ready?” Deaton asks mildly.

Stiles bites at his lip and tilts his head to look up at Derek. “I’m scared,” he says plainly.

Derek kneels by his head. “You’ll be fine,” he says softly. “I won’t let you come to any harm.”

“What if I don’t get my memories back?” Stiles asks, his hand snaking out to grip at Derek’s wrist.

“You’ll make new ones,” Derek says. He has to fight the urge to press his lips to Stiles’ temple.

Scott moves to stand on Stiles’ other side, Isaac at his feet. Deaton stands next to Derek, leaning on the side of the tub. Stiles breathes in deep, then nods. “Ready,” he says. It goes against everything inside Derek to push Stiles under the water and, not for the first time, he’s startled by the strength of Stiles as he thrashes under their hold, fighting to return to the surface. Derek glances over at Scott; he’s chewing on his bottom lip, tense and pale.

Stiles stops moving eventually, his hold on the side of the tub loosening, pale hands slipping under the water. Derek tries not to panic at the absence of his heartbeat. Deaton nods.

“Let him go.”

They release Stiles and his body rises to the surface. His lips are blue and slightly parted and he doesn’t breathe in when he hits the air. Derek’s eyes flicker to Deaton, then to Scott, who glances back at him, hatred lost in shared concern. Deaton’s face remains calm as he leans over the side of the tub.

“Stiles,” he says. “Can you hear me?”

Stiles eyes remain closed. His mouth doesn’t move.

“Dr. Deaton,” Scott begins, but Deaton shakes his head.

“Stiles,” the vet tries again. “Can you tell me where you are?”

Stiles’ heart isn’t beating. Derek stares down at his white face, frozen with terror, and tries to remember if Isaac’s heart stopped beating for this long when they did this to him. He can’t remember, because Isaac’s heart never stopped beating. “This is wrong,” he says, numb, and Scott nods in agreement, an angry jerk of his head.

Deaton frowns. “Someone get him out.”

Scott bends but Derek’s there first, slipping his arms under Stiles’ limp body. He lays him carefully on the table and Deaton presses two fingers to Stiles’ throat. It’s futile; Derek could have told him that Stiles’ heart is not beating. He tries not to think about what that means but there’s panic rising in his mind, a sick churning in his stomach that’s getting hard to ignore. He’d thought it was hell, having Stiles around with no memories, but the thought of losing him again, memories or no memories, hurts more than he can bare.

Deaton pries open Stiles’ eyelids and shines a light into his eyes. “Interesting,” he says, and Derek growls, “What does that mean?”

Deaton puts the penlight away and sticks his hands into the pockets of his coat. “He’s not dead,” he says. “His pupils reacted to the light.”

“So what do we do?” Scott asks.

“We wait.”

They move Stiles’ body to a back room, where there’s a camp bed. Scott goes to get the sheriff and Derek can’t look at his face when he comes in, because he might break if he does. Everyone settles into the room – everyone except Deaton, who, very practically, reopens the clinic for the afternoon appointments.

Three days pass.

Derek does not leave the animal hospital; he sits next to the bed with his hand curled around Stiles’ wrist and does not move. Stiles’ body is warm despite the lack of blood pumping through it; it’s odd, but reassuring somehow – keeps Derek from falling into the deep end and losing all hope. He sleeps slumped against the bed, arms folded under his cheek, pressed against Stiles’ side. Sometimes when he wakes up the sheriff is there. He brings food for Derek, and wears the watch Derek gave him for Christmas.

People come and go around him. Isaac comes, and brings Allison with him. She looks like she wants to hit Derek for not telling her about Stiles when he came to see her, but hugs him instead. Scott spends a lot of time sitting on Stiles’ other side, staring at his hands.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says the first time they’re alone together. They’ve been sitting there in silence for three hours and he can’t stand it any longer. He bends his head, expecting the explosion, but Scott just sighs.

“I know,” he says quietly. He meets Derek’s eyes and shrugs sadly. “I know there’s nothing you could have done, dude. It was three alphas against you trying to protect him. I was mad before, and I shouldn’t have been. I’m the one who should be sorry.”

“I’m sorry for biting you,” Derek mumbles.

Scott snorts. “Yeah, well, I probably deserved it, with the way I was treating you.”

They don’t speak after that, but the silence is more comfortable.

Early in the afternoon of the third day, Derek stares into space, thumb rubbing lazy circles into the soft skin of Stiles’ inner wrist. He’s alone; the sheriff has just left him to start an afternoon shift and Scott’s not coming in until after the clinic closes. Derek is tired. Deaton doesn’t know how long it might take for Stiles to wake – if he’ll ever wake. Derek hasn’t told anyone, but he’s terrified Stiles never will, stuck in this limbo. Maybe it’s only his werewolf powers keeping him here; if he’d been human, he probably would have died outright.

He’s so caught up in terror that it takes him a few minutes to realize that Stiles’ eyes are open; he’s blinking up at the ceiling. There’s a pulse under his thumb, faint but stronger by the second, roaring with life. Derek’s mouth falls open; for a moment, he can’t even breathe.

“Stiles,” Derek finally manages, the name tumbling over his lips.

Stiles turns his head to look at Derek and the way his expression floods with pain and hurt and love tells Derek that he’s back, his Stiles is back. He’s on his feet before he realizes it, leaning over Stiles to cup his face in his hands, pressing his lips to his forehead. Stiles touches him, clutches at his shoulders like he’s afraid Derek’s a dream. He can smell the sharp salt scent of tears and he doesn’t know whether they’re from him or Stiles, but it doesn’t matter because he has Stiles.

“I’m sorry,” Derek mumbles, a tremor in his hands. “I’m so fucking sorry – ”

Stiles exhales beneath him and says, “Derek, I’m cold.”

He’s not cold – his body feels like it’s on fire now – but Derek scoops him up without a word. He brings them to the floor, cradling Stiles to his chest, and curls around him with his entire body. Stiles puts his arms around Derek’s neck and presses his forehead against his throat and just breathes. And Derek breathes with him because it’s about as much as he can handle at that moment, body flooded with relief.

“Do you remember?” he asks after a long time.

“Yes,” Stiles breathes, hot against his throat. “I – the alphas throwing you out the window. I thought you were dead.” His scent spikes with misery and Derek turns his head, pressing his lips to the top of his head.

“I’m here,” he mumbles into Stiles’ hair. “I’m here. I’m never leaving.”

Stiles exhales again, a rough shuddering release of air, his fingers digging into Derek’s skin. “I remember being with the alphas,” he says quietly and Derek stiffens.

“Did they hurt you?”

“No. I mean,” Stiles laughs without amusement. “Besides giving me the bite? No. They were rough but they – they had plans. They didn’t hurt me.”

“I’m so sorry,” Derek says, his arms tightening. “You never wanted – ”

“Hey, hey,” Stiles says softly, tapping his fingers against the back of Derek’s neck. “Could have been worse. What doesn’t kill me…”

Derek chokes on a horrified laugh. “God, I fucking missed you,” he mutters.

“’S weird,” Stiles says. He’s starting to sound tired, his speech slowing. He shifts in Derek’s arms, making himself comfortable. “I didn’t know time was missing, before. When I was with the alphas, I knew I had to have some kind of past. I could feel it in my heart, aching, missing. That pull.” He touches the skin over his heart. “It was this, wasn’t it?”

“I think so,” Derek says softly. He puts his hand over Stiles’, holding him there, feeling Stiles’ pulse hammer through his bones. Stiles smiles faintly, his eyes fluttering closed, and anxiety stabs at Derek’s heart. “You’re going to fall asleep on me? You were unconscious for three days.”

“Tiring business,” Stiles replies sleepily. “Regaining memories. Don’t go anywhere, okay?”

“I won’t,” Derek promises. “I’ll be right here.”

-

Derek wakes with a weight on his chest and soft fingers touching his face, following his jaw, brushing over his nose and lips. He opens his eyes to Stiles leaning over him, his amber eyes soft in the morning light. Morning? Derek frowns until he remembers that they’d brought Stiles, still asleep, home from the animal hospital. Derek, who had not slept all that much the three days Stiles was unconscious, climbed into bed with him and fell asleep almost instantly.

“How long has it been?” Derek asks Stiles groggily, rubbing at his eyes.

“Not three days,” Stiles grins. “Dad said you guys brought me home yesterday afternoon.”

“You talked to him?” Derek says, lifting a hand to brush his fingers through Stiles’ hair. Stiles bends his head into Derek’s touch, his eyes fluttering shut.

“Yeah,” he says quietly. “I woke up in the evening, but you were out like a light. It was just Dad here. We talked for a long time.”

“Everything good?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says again, opening his eyes. “I think I’m dehydrated from crying so much, but that’s me. He’s upset about the whole werewolf thing.”

“And you’re not?”

“Maybe someday,” Stiles says, “but not now. Not when I’m here and whole and healthy with you. It’s not going to kill me.”

“It’s a dangerous life,” Derek tells him, his throat burning.

“Kind of had that already, dude,” Stiles says flippantly, but his face softens and he settles down on one elbow, stretched across Derek’s chest. Derek can feel his heart beating against Stiles’ and it relaxes him. “You can still protect me whenever you want.”

“Didn’t do such a good job of that before,” Derek says tightly and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Okay,” he says, “you’ve had like eight months to beat yourself up about that. I’ll let today slide, but if I hear you say that again, I’m gonna punch you. I know you did the best that you could. Everyone does.”

“I don’t deserve you,” Derek mumbles.

“Ugh, shut up,” Stiles says irritably, and one side of Derek’s mouth quirks up despite himself. “I’m no angel, and you know that. We deserve each other, okay? With all our issues, I think it’s a fair exchange.”

Derek sighs softly, dragging a hand up Stiles’ chest, flattening his palm on the bite mark over his heart. Stiles leans forward, pressing into his touch, mouths inches apart.

“Hey,” he says, a smile hovering at the corners of his lips. “As I recall, you promised me three things.”

Derek blinks up at him. “What?”

“You said,” Stiles tells him evenly, “that we would take a nap, get take-out, and then have sex, remember?”

That warm afternoon in January comes filtering back to Derek; laying in bed before the alphas burst in, wrapped in Stiles’ scent. “Oh yeah,” Derek murmurs. “I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Well,” Stiles says, squirming his way on top of him. “We had our nap, and I just had breakfast so I don’t need takeout. That just leaves one thing.”

Derek’s hands move automatically to Stiles’ waist, fingers curling against his skin even as he asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Stiles stills, a smile cracking his lips. “Course I am,” he says gently, cupping Derek’s face with his hand. “Can’t you tell I’m crazy about you?”

“I – “ Derek swallows. “I just thought – it’s been a while.”

“If you think that just because I lost my memories for eight months, that I didn’t miss you during that time, you’re wrong,” Stiles says, leaning forward so he can brush his nose against Derek’s cheek. The touch sends fire racing down Derek’s spine. “Thank you, though, for controlling yourself when I couldn’t.”

“It was so hard,” Derek mumbles. “You were right there, but you weren’t.”

“You don’t have to worry now,” Stiles murmurs, his lips brushing against Derek’s. “I’m here now, all of me.”

“Welcome home,” Derek says, his eyes stinging, and Stiles tilts his head, pressing their lips together for the first time in more than half a year. Derek is lost, instantly, in the taste of Stiles, the drag of their lips, the heat of his fingers clutching at Derek’s hair. It’s so good it hurts and Derek has to pull back with a wet groan to say, “Your dad – ”

“Left for work before you woke up,” Stiles says rapidly, rearing back so he can tug his shirt off. Derek makes a soft noise at the sight of the scar on his chest and tugs him down so he can slot his mouth over it, teeth digging gently into his skin. He almost thinks he can taste Stiles’ pulse. He’s almost overwhelmed, consumed and surrounded by the taste and sight and smell and sound of Stiles. He has to say it, what he couldn’t before, before something terrible happens and he loses his chance yet again. He mumbles it to Stiles’ heart, those three words he couldn’t say, and Stiles taps his knuckles against Derek’s temple.

“I know,” Stiles says softly. “I’m not blind.” He hesitates before adding, “I like hearing you say it.”

So Derek keeps saying it, flipping them so Stiles is on his back and Derek can move down his body, whispering the words into his skin, to the tender space between his thighs, to the swell of his ass before he laves his tongue over his hole and Stiles shudders underneath him. He says it when he’s inside Stiles, pressed so deep there’s nowhere else to go, when Stiles is arching underneath him and clutching at his shoulders with his eyes glittering bright, and every time he says it, it’s like a knot in his chest loosens and he can breath again. For the first time in eight months, Derek feels complete.

“Scott’s outside,” Stiles tells him when Derek comes back from the bathroom with a damp cloth to clean them off. Derek blinks, because he hadn’t even noticed. He’s not used to Stiles being aware of things like that. Maybe he pouts a little, because Stiles laughs with his whole body and says, “Dude, you are welcome to remain the group’s supernatural watchdog. I’m not going to rain on your parade.”

Derek scowls at him and throws the washcloth at his stomach. Stiles hisses at its damp touch and Derek says triumphantly, “You need to work on your hearing. There’s more than just Scott out there.”

Stiles sits up, head tilted intently, absently swiping clean his stomach and thighs. “Aw, dude!” he exclaims, a grin lighting up his face. “Everyone’s here!” He scrambles off the bed, reaching for his clothes.

It’s true; Derek can hear Scott saying, “Do you think they’ve cuddled long enough? Because that is not something that I want to walk in on.”

“Better than the alternative,” Lydia says.

“You guys didn’t have to hear them all last summer,” Isaac says, sounding pained. “Or smell them.”

“I don’t want to smell them!” Scott sounds panicked. “Should we come back later?”

“Shhh,” says Allison, because even she can hear Stiles thundering down the stairs. Derek follows more slowly, in time to see Stiles rip open the door and throw himself at his friends.

“Welcome home,” Lydia says, her arms tight around Stiles’ neck. Their friends, Derek amends, his heart lightening when Lydia gestures at him with one hand and everyone lifts their head to watch him step in. “Welcome home,” Lydia says again, voice firm. “Both of you.”