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"But damn if there isn't anything sexier
than a slender boy with a handgun,
a fast car, and a bottle of pills"

– Richard Siken, Crush

 

He’s driving on the wrong side of the road, windows rolled down in some pathetic attempt to rid himself of the sweltering heat as he drives to his next job – which isn’t set in stone, but they never are. Stiles just follows the decaying asphalt, keeps his eyes open for signs of distress, and gets down to business.

The clock in the jeep is broken again, the numbers frozen at four thirty. It seems like it’s always broken and it seems like Stiles is always getting it fixed. He doesn’t know why he does because he uses the sun to tell time anyway, and when it’s dark he uses the stars.

The stereo still works and it fills the vehicle with one of the three songs on the CD that don’t skip. He had found the disk years ago, hidden away in one of the desolate houses abandoned during a war he doesn’t remember. It had more songs then, but those melodies are lost now to static and stuttered noises. Stiles makes due with the three remaining. He doesn’t know their names, and he is pretty sure it’s not the same person singing every tune, but he likes them because they keep him sane. As sane as he can be when all he can see ahead of him is cracked, sun bleached road, and the barren grasslands that stretch to the edges of the horizon.

He hasn’t seen another car for miles. And before that car, he hadn’t seen one for a day – unless he counts the empty shells crowded up in the ditches like some sort of rusted cemetery. All gutted out from scavengers who took what they could and left the rest to the elements. Stiles has fallen into that category once or twice, contributing to the wasteland.

He doesn’t remember when the world was green, though he’s told it was. The war happened before he was born, before his father was even born. No one really talks about it. They say it was the day the earth died.  He doesn’t know anything different than the wide expanse of browning grass, so he doesn’t know if it actually did. There are small patches where grass does grow green, where there’s wild wolfsbane, as well as mountain ash trees. Some other places grow berries, fruit, and vegetables but those are rare outside of greenhouses. So the world still seems alive, stubborn to survive the war that ravaged it.

It’s noon when he pulls into the gas station and slides next to one of the pumps. He looks over his shoulder, eyes the jerry cans in the back and decides he should fill up the two that are empty along with the tank itself. He’s running on half, but it’s wise to fill up whenever possible. Some of the stations he’s passed have been torn to shreds, usually at the most inopportune of moments.

This one is just peeling paint and rotting wood. The door is propped open, a line of mountain ash piled along the entrance. The instant he walks in he smells it, the thick odour of wolfsbane curling through the air. A dog from the edge of the counter just inside growls a low warning and Stiles jolts onto his toes. It’s an ugly thing, covered in sparse fur and endowed with a under bite of vicious teeth.

“He’s just making sure you’re not one of them dogs,” the man from the counter drawls. Stiles hadn’t noticed him at first.

Stiles forces out a laugh while he calms his nerves. “Pretty sure you’re not going to have a problem with that,” he says, noting the guns, vials of mountain ash, and wolfsbane lining the shelves behind the man.

Dogs, howlers, even werewolves. All names for the mutations running wild and tearing the world asunder. No one really knows where they came from, whether they were born from the aftermath of the war because of some faulty gene, or were actually part of the war by means of bioweapons that had gone wrong. Stiles has even heard that maybe they were around before that. But it doesn’t matter as long as he knows how to kill them. And he does. It’s how he makes most of his money.

“Filling up half a tank, and two jerry’s,” he continues, nodding towards the jeep, careful to not take his eyes off it for too long.

The man nods, but does not say anything at first. He just looks out the window at the jeep, calculating numbers. “Probably going to run you a grand or so. Unless you’re trading.”

“A grand or so?” Stiles asks, jaw ajar with shock. “People kill for gas, even when it’s dirt cheap.”

There’s no way he’s spending that much on gas. It would be different if people still used paper, but marbles are the norm. People like the way they look, and that they are also toys. Damned things get heavy though. Stiles keeps a stash in a locked box in the back of his jeep.

The man shrugs. “Trucks haven’t come through in two weeks. Take it or leave it.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, weighing his options as he does so. His gaze lands on the wolfsbane, billowing up in violet plumes as it burns. “You must go through a lot of wolfsbane. I’ll give you four pounds if you knock the price to two hundred?”

Wolfsbane is a necessity, more valuable than marbles.

The man thinks for a moment, then nods.

Stiles leaves collateral money and exits the shop, the dry heat instantly bearing down on him. He pulls at the cowl collar of his shirt, stems of wolfsbane, inked into the skin on his neck, peeking out from the light fabric. Tattoos adorn his arms as well, covering much of his skin.

He presses his tongue against the inside of his mouth, toying with the jewellery pierced through the skin just above his lip as he fills the tank and the jerry cans. He leans into the jeep and grabs at the wolfsbane, which he keeps in a bag. And once he’s grabbed four pounds, he takes his gun from the holster on his leg, suppressing it, and puts it in the ratty plum bag that is slung over his shoulder.

Stiles returns with an armful of wolfsbane, dropping it in a heap on the counter.

“Who supplies you?” Stiles asks, peering down the aisle and to what looks to be a medical shelf.

“Local sellers, when they come through,” the man answers absently, sorting through the wolfsbane on the counter. Stiles starts towards the block of medical supplies. “If you try to steal anything, I will know,” the man calls, tapping the screen of the television set, displaying fuzzy images of the shop. “You’ll get your heels bitten off.”

“I do like my heels quite a bit,” Stiles replies, “couldn’t walk without them.”

He sidles up to the shelf stocked with bottles of pills. They are crudely labelled, handwritten names and dosages scribbled over tape stuck to them. He recognizes the writing on most of them, familiar strokes of letters and drawings. Stiles grabs two bottles titled N-Adderall, balancing them in one hand. His eyes fall on the words Zap which is written on another bottle. It’s a name he knows but does not see very often. Pain medication. Strong pain medication. The kind that gets someone really high if they don’t need it.

Also really fucking expensive. He could resell it for a fair price.

Stiles grabs it too and strides back to the counter, placing his small, yet valuable purchase on the table. He turns each bottle around so the man can see the names, and then tosses them into his bag. A case of water catches his eye and he leans down to grab it. It’s weighty in his hands and he leans more on that side.

“One hundred, or are you up to trading again?” the man asks.

“Hmm,” Stiles draws out, reaching down into his bag with his free hand. “Neither.”

He pulls his pistol from the bag at whip cracking speed, aiming at the mountain ash display behind the man. It goes up in a haze of dust, grey clouds of the stuff falling around them. He turns and runs, narrowly missing the door hinge, a snapping dog right on his heels.

In hindsight, this probably wasn’t a good idea.

He holds his breath until he reaches the jeep, tossing the crate of water into the passenger’s seat and throwing himself in the driver’s, shutting the door right before the dog can jump in. The turn of a key breathes life into the engine, as well as the stereo and he rips out of the parking lot, with music loud in his ears.

In the rear view mirror he can see the man in a dissipating cloud of mountain ash, shotgun in hand. Stiles laughs, voice drowned against the music, and waves a hand quickly out of his window.

When the gas station is swallowed by the desert and all he sees is the road behind him, guilt creeps across his skin. Stiles wonders how his father would feel about how he obtained the extra cash. He had always said he wanted Stiles to live comfortably. But he probably hadn’t meant by means of robbery. Or by travelling from town to town looking for his next hit. Setting up home in the jeep, or the stray motels that offer refuge, with stale smelling rooms. Maybe it isn’t living comfortably, but then again, nothing really is in this day and age.

Stiles sighs and watches out the windshield at the road coming towards him, fingertips absently dusting over the wooden sheriff badge pinned to his bag. He doesn’t like to think about these things. About his father. It makes him wish Scott were here, beside him cracking jokes and laughing. Except he wouldn’t be laughing, he’d be scolding Stiles for robbing the station.

He tightens his grip on the steering wheel. He misses Scott, and thinking of his friend brings him back to the shanty town of Beacon Hills, despite it being miles behind him. They had both grown up there, side by side, never in the dark from the horrors of the world. Beacon Hills houses a prominent hunting family, keeping the howlers out, but they had always known about them and could hear them outside the town border at night.

They grew parallel to each other, bright smiles on their faces despite the dust in their eyes. Always confident they would be best friends. And they were, but Stiles hasn’t seen him in months. Not since the last time he drove through Beacon Hills. Scott hadn’t joined Stiles on his journey to oblivion, and had instead opted to help those who lived in their town by following his mother, Melissa, into nursing. Scott has a knack for it and the pills he concocts calm Stiles the most, so he can’t complain.

But it’s still lonely when all he has for company is a three track CD.

The CD repeats multiple times before the sun sets. He turns it down then, until it’s just a low, barely audible hum from the speakers, and watches the stars play across the sky with the cool night air filtering in through the window. Stiles breathes it in and taps his fingers lightly against the wheel. With his free hand, he plays with the jewelry in his ears, tugging at the large stones sitting in his earlobes.

He’ll have to pull over soon if he doesn’t find a motel, which isn’t a problem because he usually sleeps in the jeep. But his back aches from sitting all day in the hot vehicle and his muscles would cry if they could.

Stiles exhales and reaches back to where he knows a large sack of mountain ash sits. He lifts his eyes briefly to the rear view mirror, sucking in another breath before he can properly expel the other. Behind him, several metres down the highway, run two figures. They’re muscular, broad shouldered, and their bare skin is illuminated beneath the light of the moon hanging half full in the sky. The two run with perfectly matched steps, at a speed far too swift for a normal human.

Stiles floors it, letting out an infuriated sigh that almost covers the sound of the engine whining a quick protest at the sudden increase in speed. “Are you fucking kidding me!” he cries out to himself. They could have at least waited until he pulled over and laid mountain ash around the jeep. Now he’s grabbing for his pistol with one hand, plans of attack flashing in his eyes like diamonds.

He keeps his eyes on them, never easing his force on the gas. That is, until they stop in the road. Stiles slows the jeep, not on purpose, but by pure curiosity blocking common sense. It’s entirely possible someone had barricaded the road with mountain ash, but the jeep would have tracked right through it.

Stiles tilts his head as he watches them, twisting himself around in his seat to get a better look. One reaches onto the others back and their bodies begin to contort. It’s a grotesque sight and Stiles swears under his breath as he watches, unable to look away. It’s only when he sees them snap together that he picks up speed again, eyes glued to the rear view mirror as they knit their bodies together.

Stiles has never seen any howler do this before. He has seen them do a lot, like tear into buildings, into people, and pull apart the lives of humans. But this is new.

An alpha, he knows that much. They’re ugly beasts, lupine in shape, animalistic on all fours. Jaws that can open at unnatural angles, like a snake’s, full of teeth. They don’t look like wolves, not really, but they’re close enough. A full shift isn’t at all unusual. What is strange about this one, however, is how massive it is. How it literally looks like two howlers stitched together.

They’re faster together, bounding towards him down the highway in great leaps, a wretched sound ripping from their throat. It sounds like two voices mingled into one, shouting out a warning.

Stiles fumbles with the gun almost gracefully, gripping it with his left hand and leaning himself out the window. The jeep swerves erratically as he takes his eyes off the road to aim back at the creature, which is now closing in. Shots rings out, but if they hit the howler it doesn’t show any signs of distress. Instead it picks up speed, pushing itself to what must be a limit and leaps up.

Stiles is knocked around in his seat as the jeep jerks from the impact.  He tightens his hold on the wheel and turns the vehicle in sharp zigzags, trying to throw it off the roof. He can feel its weight bearing down on the jeep, making even the smallest turns feel unbalanced and restricted in his hold.

It happens fast. Stiles veers too far to the right and can’t correct his course before he’s being thrown into the ditch. The jeep jostles him violently, and he lurches forward when it gets caught in a rut of dirt.

Dizzy and disorientated, he opens the door and nearly falls out, turning around with the gun held in front of him. All he sees is the jeep and the stars in the sky. But he hears it, hears the low growl. He throws himself aside just in time, the stitched figure barrelling through the spot he had just stood in, saliva dripping from its jowls. Stiles fires after it, bullets finding no home as it jumps over the jeep in a graceful way, like it had planned for Stiles to dodge it.

Stiles follows, gun gripped and ready, and wanders away from the vehicle.

Pain rips up his leg, wet and slick and blinding. He vaguely feels the ground rush up, the taste of dirt strong on his tongue, and realizes he’s been knocked down. Stiles rolls over, dizziness impairing his ability to do so quickly. He looks around with his vision like waves, unable to focus on the barren desert. And then movement bursts into his view, blurred from lack of focus. Raising the gun, he squints his eyes, forcing his vision to become sharp, and shoots. The alpha cries out but doesn’t slow. He shoots again, eliciting another pained yowl that delves into that of rage.

A dark blur leaps into his vision, narrowly missing his head, and meets the howler head on. By now Stiles’ haziness has subsided and he’s able to get a better look. He hears two howls. One belonging to the Frankenstein creature, its voice like two tangled into one, and the distinct howl he’s come to know through so many hunts.

Stiles tries to shuffle backwards, but pain tears up his leg again and he lets out a choked sigh and lets himself drop, breathing rapidly. He collects his thoughts, or tries to. He’s aware of too many senses to reign in the important ones. He hears the sounds of gnashing teeth, smells the dusty ground, feels how hot with stress he is.

A cry rings through the air, wounded and defeated. Stiles tightens his hand around the gun, listens carefully to the sounds of steps coming towards him.

A face appears above him, checking him over, eyes residual of a blue glow that fades to a colour he can’t decipher in the low light. Stiles wastes no time raising the gun and aiming. The man grabs his wrist before Stiles can fire.

“I just saved you,” the man hisses. He’s crouched over Stiles, resting on his bent knees. His features are decidedly human. He has a strong jaw with a generous amount of stubble, and his eyebrows are drawn together in some expression Stiles can’t read. He offers a hand, the one not gripped around Stiles’ wrist.

An omega. One that can’t shift fully. Weak, often travelling alone. They can grow claws and fangs, but can’t contort their faces into something more beastly like a beta.

“I don’t need a howler’s help,” Stiles spits. He shoves the hand away and uses the momentum to push himself up on his elbows.

The man considers his words, a smile twitching at his lips with a certain sarcasm. “Derek Hale.”

“What?” Stiles asks, lost for words.

“My name,” Derek replies simply, resting back with his arms relaxed over his bent knees.

“I’m not really down for introductions,” Stiles says with a roll of his eyes.

“But that’s just like you, isn’t it, Stiles Stilinski?” Derek counters, letting Stiles’ full name roll off his tongue with emphasis. Stiles tries to hide the surprise from his face but evidently he doesn’t do so well because Derek’s eyebrows rise in amusement.

“How do you know my name?” Stiles asks, tilting his head. Curiosity pushes him forward slightly.

“You’ve been making a killing with your little hunting business,” Derek acknowledges, either oblivious to his chosen wording, or uncaring. “It doesn’t take long for people to notice. You’ve been making a name for yourself.”

This too comes as a surprise, nearly knocking Stiles back down with some sense of accomplishment. It also hooks Stiles in. Derek’s words are like a glimmering object, and Stiles is the bird whose eyes it catches.

“Who’s talking about me?” Stiles asks, eyes narrowing. He’s been told howlers can sense lies and at the moment it is an ability he wishes he had.

Derek smiles condescendingly at him, giving him a look as if such a question is preposterous. “Does it matter? People know who you are, and some don’t like you.” Derek’s hand grips his leg, sending stinging heat across his skin.

“So popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I’ll keep that in mind,” Stiles grits, wincing lightly. “Now get off.” He rushes his hands forward, attempting to push Derek away but he’s thrust back onto his forearms.

“The two that did this?” Derek says, giving another light squeeze to Stiles’ leg with the hand that isn’t holding him down. Stiles grimaces at the next wave of salty pain. “Their names are Aiden and Ethan. They didn’t target you lightly. That last one you killed? His name was Ennis and they were part of the same pack. I’ve been tracking them and in turn they’ve been tracking you,” Derek states, his other hand placed carefully on Stiles’ chest. His touch is gentle, but is firm when Stiles struggles to get up again. 

“Why are you tracking them?” Stiles asks, cataloguing the rest of the information and letting that one question come to the forefront.

“They killed my sister, Laura,” Derek says, voice suddenly taking on a darker tone.

“Is this going to be a sob story?” Stiles interrupts, exaggerating his exasperation just slightly. Derek flashes him a dangerous look, which has Stiles backing off instantly. “Okay, so you’re going after them?”

Derek nods once, “And you’re going to help me.”

It is a simple sentence, but the weight of it is too much for Stiles to take. Laughter leaks from his lungs, a soft rolling chuckle.

“No I’m not,” Stiles says, “I don’t accept help from howlers, and I certainly don’t offer it up. I look out for number one. Me.” He motions to himself with a flippant gesture.

“Let me know how that works out for you when your limbs are lying on opposite corners of the state.”

“Easy pickings now that a member of their pack is taken care of,” Stiles sighs, growing incessant in his caged position. And because of how easily the two howlers had nearly taken him out.

“There’s more,” Derek reveals, again smiling that condescending smile when confusion blooms over Stiles’ features. “They’re alphas too.”

“That’s not possible,” Stiles stutters out, “there’s a hierarchy, I’ve know about it. You run in packs.”

It’s not uncommon for more than one alpha to be in a pack. It’s a born trait and isn’t transferrable. But he hasn’t come across a pack where they were all alphas.

“There’s two more,” Derek specifies, ignoring Stiles as he lists off facts that evidently hold no ground in this conversation. “You need my help.”

“Sounds like you need mine more than I need yours,” Stiles replies caustically.

Derek chews the inside of his cheek. “They’re going to come back for you, and you can’t defend yourself against them. They won’t stop until they have their revenge.”

Stiles knows that’s the truth. He’s just been incapacitated by two, and he isn’t sure how well he will be able to walk. The way Derek is staring makes Stiles feel like he doesn’t have any options right now other than to accept Derek’s help.

“The second we’re done, we don’t speak. We walk in opposite directions, or I’ll have you like I’m going to have them.”

Derek nods, agreeing, then stands up, and walks towards his car.

“Aren’t you going to help me up?” Stiles calls after him.

“Thought you didn’t accept help from howlers?”

Begrudgingly, Stiles follows, a limp in his step. He grumbles to himself as he stumbles painfully across the uneven grass. This feels like a mistake, too early to truly be made, but too late to take back. Teaming up with a howler isn’t something he planned for. Now he’s caught in some sick symbiosis, the air already taut with tension.

When he reaches the jeep, Derek is near the back, siphoning gas into a jerry can. More cans clutter around Derek’s vehicle, a slick, black sports car that Stiles would drool over were the cans not his own.

“What are you doing!” Stiles shrieks, raising his hands to his head in horror.

“Filling up my tank and taking extra for the road,” Derek says, giving Stiles a look like it’s obvious.

“And what about me?” Stiles asks as Derek returns to his own car and pops the trunk, placing the can inside.

“You’re riding with me,” Derek replies, to a disbelieving Stiles. “Your jeep is trashed. And if you could drive it I’d still take your fuel because mine is running on empty.”

Stiles glares at him. “You just don’t want me running away.”

Derek looks at him, a small smile pulling at his lips. “That too.”

“I’m not leaving my jeep,” Stiles says defiantly. He refuses to be bossed around by anyone, let alone a howler.

“Yeah, you are,” Derek says, walking by with another empty can to fill up from the jeep.

“People are going to scavenge her!” Stiles exclaims. “Take her for all she’s worth! Eat her alive!” He throws his arms in the air for dramatic emphasis.

“Then I guess you better take what’s important,” Derek says, unaffected by Stiles’ whining.

So Stiles does take what is important, which is mostly everything, short of the jeep itself. He doesn’t do so without complaining more, throwing digs every chance he gets at Derek as he fills up what he can and Stiles moves supplies to the car. Derek ignores him mostly, other than the occasional eye roll.

The car doesn’t hold as much as the jeep, and Stiles is grateful Derek doesn’t have many belongings other than a worn leather wallet on the dashboard and a change of clothes in the back. Said change of clothes is now pinned somewhere beneath Stiles’ inventory of things. Bags of wolfsbane, tethered off per Derek’s adamant request, a spare gun, ammunition laced with wolfsbane and mountain ash. There is a large sack of mountain ash, closed off, not because of Derek but because Stiles doesn’t want it to spill. It is a pile of poison, covered with a quilted blanket Allison had made him years ago.

He also pulls an old Polaroid picture from the glove box, the colouring slightly off from aged film. It’s a picture of his family. He had sold the camera when he first started his jobs; it had fetched him a lot of money. He takes a map that is frayed at the edges and shows where wolfsbane and mountain ash grows; he had marked it himself. He brings changes of clothes, and the box of marbles. And of course he grabs the CD, ejecting it from the vehicle before he returns to Derek’s.

Derek seems uneasy when Stiles returns and slides into the passenger’s seat. His body is rigid, hands curling tight over the steering wheel like he’s nervous and rightfully so.

“Looks like I have the upper hand here,” Stiles says with a smirk.

Derek fakes a smile and nods, then he turns the key and the car thrums to life.

Stiles watches the jeep get smaller and smaller through the side window. He frowns and his stomach does a flip. One day, he will come back for it. He just hopes this alpha business doesn’t take long.

“So,” Stiles drawls out, laying his palms on the dashboard and spreading his arms out. Doing this receives some distasteful expression, like the car is off limits. Which makes Stiles think he can get used to this maybe, now that he has some buttons to press and dangerous goods in the back. “What is this?”

The car is beautiful, not as beautiful as the jeep, but it’s up there. It looks and feels like it can go fast, probably quicker in reaching its maximum.

“A Camaro. Twenty-ten,” Derek says, still eying Stiles’ hands like they’re more a threat than the gun in his holster.

“Ooh,” Stiles says, wiggling in his seat, “a real classic.”

“Yup,” Derek agrees. Actually agrees. They’re making some progress. “Yours was something ancient.”

“Ran like a beauty,” Stiles sighs, “before those things, that thing, ran me off the road. Do you normally do that? Fuse I mean?”

Derek shakes his head. “No. That’s… I’ve only seen them do it. A twin thing,” he shrugs.

“Well I hope they’re hurting as much as me,” Stiles says and gingerly pulls up his pant leg. “I hit them with a mountain ash-wolfsbane combo.” He winces as he says the words, taking in a sharp breath when the fabric brushes against the wound.

“That’s a bit of overkill,” Derek mutters, eyebrows rising disgust.

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles grits out, cringing at deep punctures in his ankle where he was clawed. He hasn’t gotten a good look at it until now, and he’s stuck between staring at the gash and turning away. Sick fascination holds his eyes to the blood, some of it crusted and some of it still flowing.

“I didn’t mean...” Derek trails off, shaking his head.

The real pain starts when Stiles cleans it. Rubbing alcohol – soaked into a rag from the first aid box that is a faded red from other fights – sends a shivering sting up his leg. He props his leg up onto the dashboard, earning him an infuriated look from the driver’s side. Stiles presses the rag to his leg even though it hurts, biting his lip to ground himself.

“You’re immune then,” Derek states instead of asking.

“No I’m just this calm because I’ve never been bitten before,” Stiles chides sarcastically. Derek shoots him an unimpressed look. “Yeah I’m immune.”

And it’s a good thing too or else he’d have mutated long ago. Immunity is hard to come by and he knows of only one other who carries the proper gene. Scenes of strawberry blonde hair stay in his vision for only a moment, and distantly he thinks he can hear her voice matching him tit for tat with sarcasm.

Stiles bandages up the puncture wounds, wrapping gauze a few times around and eases his leg back down. Derek doesn’t attempt any conversation, and neither does Stiles. Pain still flares up his leg, increasing each time with more heat. It isn’t long before it surpasses his threshold, turning his eyes wet from the ache.

Alphas, he reminds himself, bound to hurt more.

He digs through his bag, retrieving the bottle labelled Zap. He had been hoping to sell it all, but he feels like he’ll be making a dent in his possible profits. Stiles turns the cap off, picking one of the pills out. It’s large, full of medicine and who knows what else. He just knows it should do the trick, if what its price was is anything to go off of. Stiles slips the pill into his mouth, swallowing it dry without difficulty.

The pain takes a while to go away but it does. A high never comes.

Silence fills up the Camaro and the only sound is the whistling of the wind through a window, rolled down just a crack. It stays like this for a good forty-five minutes and Stiles would take another pill if he felt like lowering his guard down. But he doesn’t feel like a pleasant, woozy feeling is worth metaphorically offering his throat to a howler, so instead he reflects.

He recalls the day. He thinks about how his father would feel, what he would say or do if he knew Stiles was riding with a howler. Then he thinks about Scott and Beacon Hills and the thoughts become too much and the world filters back into his skull until all he hears is the static of a life gone terribly wrong.

It is about that time when he decides to pop in the CD.

“What is that?” Derek asks, doing a double take. His eyebrows rise in wonder, a subtle change from the knitted look he has been sporting whenever Stiles speaks.

“Music,” Stiles declares proudly. The song that plays is a sombre one, but Stiles doesn’t mind and finds some kind of solace in it. It’s his favourite song.

“You could probably make a lot of money off of that,” Derek says and nods to the stereo.

“It’s priceless,” Stiles says, shaking his head, “not for sale. Can’t put a price on sanity.”

“True.”

By the third replay of each song, Derek punches a knuckle into the volume button, shutting the stereo off.

“Hey!” Stiles shouts, leaning forward.

“Doesn’t it drive you insane? Listening to the same songs over and over again?” Derek asks, eyes flashing to Stiles’ for a quick second.

“Yeah, if I’m done listening to them, which I’m not,” Stiles says through clenched teeth, making a swipe for the volume controls.

“Well,” Derek swats his hand away, “I am done and this is my car and can you just go to sleep already?”

Stiles shrinks back into his seat, but not without glaring at Derek the whole way. “I’m not falling asleep because hey, you could kill me. You probably will kill me. This is probably some trap.” Panic beats in his chest. “What have I gotten myself into now, I should have just shot you. I should have shot you and then I’d be in my jeep driving to the next town for repairs and everything would be fine.”

Derek rolls his eyes, which has to be the hundredth time by now. “Stiles,” he barks, “please just do anything else that doesn’t involve noise. I’m not happy about this either.”

Stiles stews in his thoughts and tries to keep his eyes open as long as he can. Inevitably, they grow heavy and he falls into a slumber as the desert landscape blurs by.

---

“I don’t know how I feel about this,” Stiles says, pushing himself out of the car.

A tin building stands before them, lit by the early morning sun. It looks like a large trailer, or part of a train. A rickety sign hangs crooked over the door, peeling paint that says ‘DINER’. Somewhere he hears the sounds of chickens.

Stiles doesn’t like diners he’s not familiar with. He had seen a guy fall over dead once after taking a sip of water. The whole ordeal was both terrifying and annoying because he had nearly sold his Polaroid camera to him. So to say he’s paranoid is an understatement.

“I’ll be able to smell if anything is off,” Derek assures him, locking the doors of the Camaro. He walks past Stiles and to the door, which is just a screen. There’s no mountain ash securing it off, meaning the owners are either stupid or lucky their business hasn’t been wrecked.

“You’re like my guard dog,” Stiles says, following Derek. He grins widely when Derek’s shoulders tense and imagines the glare Derek would probably shoot him if they were facing each other. “Totally my guard dog, I could get used to this. Maybe I’ll keep you around.”

“I can just not say anything?” Derek says, and it sounds like a joke. But it also sounds serious.

Inside the diner are plain, simple tables and small booths that line one side of the narrow building and a counter with the kitchen behind that lines the other side. A woman tells them to sit where they want.

The menu doesn’t have much, mostly serving only vegetarian meals. Stiles orders scrambled eggs and toast, as does Derek.

“Nice tattoo,” Derek lies, nodding to Stiles’ forearm. Stiles looks down, following the ink on his arm until he stops at which one is leaving an obvious bad taste on Derek’s tongue. A wolf head, traditionally drawn into his skin with a spear through it.

“Thanks,” Stiles says, pretending to be oblivious.

“How many do you have?” Derek asks, taking a bite of the egg on his plate.

“Howler-related?” Stiles runs his hand over the wolf, tracing its pain with his finger. “Lots. Regular tattoos? Even more.” Most aren’t even visible, hidden beneath his sleeveless hoodie and his jeans. His arms are like a mural, images of wolves and flowers and weaponry. His left arm stops at the wrist but his right runs right onto his hand. Scrawled across his fingers are the words Hide and Seek.

Derek has tattoos on his knuckles as well, abstract symbols inked there in black. Stiles isn’t sure how Derek’s able to have them, what with his ability to heal.

“What does the fox mean?” Derek asks, pointing with his fork at the picture just peeking up from the neckline of Stiles’ hoodie. Said fox is framed between two roses.

“Ever heard of the fox and the wolf?” Stiles asks and leans forward with his elbows pressed against the table, fingers interlacing beneath his chin. Derek shakes his head. “It’s a story I heard as a child in Beacon Hills, someone recovered a book of fables. Basically it’s about a fox who tricks a wolf, and leaves him for dead. I thought it was fitting, considering what I do,” Stiles says with a shrug.

Derek is smirking and sizing Stiles up in a way that leaves Stiles feeling vulnerable.

“What?” Stiles asks, snapping a bit.

“I’m just surprised you’re the Stiles Stilinski that has people all a ruckus.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Stiles frowns. He isn’t used to the fact that he’s known in such an infamous way, though he doesn’t think it’s surprising.

“You just don’t look like you can fight off werewolves. I bet it’s all luck,” Derek only smiles more when Stiles shoots him a glare.

“We can test out that theory,” Stiles grits out, “who’s going to be lucky when there’s a shitload of wolfsbane? You’re just an omega.” Stiles can easily take Derek down, omegas are weak.

“Have you ever been to a warzone?” Derek asks, ignoring Stiles. He takes another bite of his food and waits for Stiles’ answer.

“No. I keep away from the cities,” Stiles says. There’s no way he goes near them unless he has to, and that’s only if a road is blocked off by road gangs and he has to detour. The cities are too populated with howlers, and the air is too toxic. It’s not worth the risk. “Doesn’t mean I can’t do a good job.”

The conversation lulls for an instant.

“So,” Stiles breaks the silence before it can settle, “we need to talk about this alpha thing. Who are we up against? What’s the plan? Because I sort of just want to get this taken care of.”

“They’re led by a man called Deucalion,” Derek sighs and it’s obvious he doesn’t like him. “Second in command is Kali, and you’ve met Ethan and Aiden.”

Even the mention of their names brings back the pain in his leg. Or it could be the medication wearing off.

“So we go after Deucalion, kill him, and the rest scatter,” Stiles says, arching his back in a stretch and cracking his knuckles in front of him. “We’ll draw him to us.”

“Deucalion won’t be following us,” Derek says, shaking his head. “He’s keeping tabs on you, but he won’t come after you unless highly provoked.”

“How do you know that?” Stiles asks, straightening up in his seat.

“I just know,” Derek mutters. “It’s not his style to go after people. He gets others to do it for him. He likes violence, but he won’t put himself in a situation where his life might be endangered, unless it already is. He’s like a table, you need to knock the legs down first”.

“A table?” Stiles quirks a grin, holding back his laughter. “I could probably think of a better analogy. So we go after who? Kali? The twins?”

“Twins. Definitely,” Derek nods, ignoring the jab, “Kali is his go-to woman. He’ll be keeping her close.”

“So what do we do to get their attention? We can set a trap,” Stiles says with a mouthful of eggs. He reaches into his bag, pulling out the pills of Zap and takes one with a swig of water. “I’m pretty good at setting traps.” He taps his temple for emphasis of his slyness.

“Okay,” Derek says, waiting, “what’s the plan, smart stuff?”

Stiles smirks, though he knows Derek isn’t complimenting him, there’s too much ridicule there for him to be genuinely commenting on Stiles’ intelligence. “I know of a place near Beacon Hills, The Grove, it’s this fenced area of wolfsbane and mountain ash. Only hunters know of it. I say we go there, and we’ll have the advantage over them.”

Derek isn’t at all happy with the plan, but he agrees that it’s what they have to work with.

---

 They park by the side of the road, miles away from the diner at a rest stop. Derek reclines back in his seat and closes his eyes, swatting Stiles’ hand away from the controls.

“Don’t. Don’t play the music,” he hisses under his breath, “and don’t get smart and run.”

Stiles huffs and rolls his eyes, settling in his own seat with crossed arms. He wasn’t going to run, but now the thought seems appealing. If he gets the chance, he will leave. With the open stretch of road, dehydration a sure promise in every direction, now is not that chance. Stiles could roll Derek out of the vehicle and add grand theft auto to his list of crimes, but he isn’t confident he could do so quick enough.

He spends the next hour thinking of plans, ways to foil Derek, but comes up with none. Boredom sets in then, as does pain from the gash in his leg. Stiles kicks his foot up onto the dash, rolls up his pant leg and removes the bandages. He grimaces at the wound, now oozing with infection. He’s been bitten before but it always healed on its own, once disinfectant had been applied.

But he’s never been incapacitated by an alpha before.

“You should get that checked out,” Derek yawns and stretches beside him.

“No shit,” Stiles sighs, redressing it. And like that a light bulb goes off behind his eyes, and he thinks he’s found a way to ditch Derek. Maybe ditch all the alphas. “I know a place.”

---

They detour, which lasts them two days. Two days of sticky heat and heavy tension that just won’t let up. Derek bans music early on, which only adds to the bickering that fills the car when they talk. So they keep quiet most of the time, although that hardly improves the mood.

Stiles doesn’t tell Derek where they are going exactly; he does tell him what direction to drive and gives a vague description of their destination. But he doesn’t give too much information, keeping his plan to himself. The man they are going to see is one Stiles has known for a long time, who has an arsenal of wolfsbane and mountain ash. It is the perfect place to ditch Derek, because he’ll have backup against him and the alpha pack.

The long drive to their destination has Stiles’ eyes and thoughts wandering closer to Derek’s appearance. Without the hindrance of his personality, Stiles has to admit, with reluctance, Derek is attractive. It’s a pity he’s a howler because it cancels out his cut jaw and immaculate stubble. He runs his gaze over Derek’s fingers, curled over the wheel.

“How do you have tattoos?” Stiles asks randomly, hating how quiet it’s been.

“What do you mean, how do I have tattoos?” Derek shoots Stiles an incredulous look, “I got them inked into my skin.”

“No but,” Stiles starts, “how did you get them to stay. You’re a howler, your type heals. I mean I know you’re an omega, but…”

Derek scoffs and shakes his head, then he takes a sigh and says, “It’s a special type of ink.”

“What’s in it?”

“None of your business.”

Stiles grins. “Ah, I bet it’s some special type of wolfsbane.” At that, Derek says nothing, just glares ahead at the road. Stiles sits up excitedly in his seat. “It is, isn’t it? Is there wolfsbane out there that stops you from healing?”

“There’s lots of wolfsbane,” Derek mutters, “yeah. It stops us from healing.” Stiles is shocked that Derek would admit it, and Derek seems to sense that. “You won’t find any,” Derek shrugs, glancing at him, “it’s rare. Only a few have their hands on it, and none of them are hunters to my understanding.”

That will soon change, Stiles is determined to get his hands on whatever wolfsbane has such abilities. For now, however, his mind is abuzz and Stiles knows he’s getting restless. He checks the time, peering out the window briefly instead of the clock of the Camaro. There are trees outside, sparse in the wasteland, but slowly they sidle into thick forest.  It is also early evening, the sun’s not even set.

“Are you some drug dealer?” Derek asks when Stiles pops a pill of N-Adderall.

“Only when I need to be,” Stiles kids, smiling as he looks over to Derek, who is wearing a much more serious face than his own. “It’s to help me focus.”

“What is it?” Derek questions.

“N-Adderall,” Stiles replies simply, “it works okay. Does the trick I guess.”

To Stiles knowledge, back before the war, there were actual medicines that did the job much better. Now all they’ve got are conspicuous looking bottles with even more conspicuous looking pills. Melissa had told him to use this kind, picking up on how hyperactive he could get. So he does, and it isn’t a fix, not really anyway, but it helps quiet the energy when it gets to be too much. Helps him narrow his focus a little.

“Shit!” Stiles hisses, “a left he-“

His voice cuts dryly in his throat as Derek makes a seamless turn onto the uneven dirt road, like he’d known its location and that they needed to take it. In a sidelong glance, Stiles thinks he sees a smile tilting at the corner of Derek’s lips, but it is hard to tell in the lighting – or lack thereof.

They say nothing as the car rolls over the road, dirt and rocks pecking at the windshield. Stiles shrinks into his seat, an unsettling feeling creeping over him that he’s not a step ahead of Derek like he originally thought. He keeps his lips sealed as they near their destination, which is half due to a little test he’s got cooking in his mind and half due to the fact that he doesn’t really need a test to know Derek knows his way around these parts.

Derek completes the test anyway, with flying colours, and pulls into a short driveway, stopping short of a one storey brick building butting back against the trees of the coniferous forest surrounding them.

Derek slides out from the Camaro, calmly striding towards the door before tossing Stiles a look that only makes him wish he hadn’t suggested coming in the first place. With a roll of eyes and slightly over dramatic dropping of his shoulders, Stiles open the door and hops out, following with quick steps.

Derek pushes open the door, revealing an empty room with a wooden door on the opposite wall. A bell at the top of the initial entrance announces their presence, but Derek calls out anyway. “Deaton?”

Stiles’ blood runs cold.

“Derek?” a voice calls from behind the wooden door, laced with serenity and familiar to Stiles and apparently Derek as well. The wooden door clicks and swings open. “Come to get more ink for Laur–“ He stops, eyes darting to Stiles, his calm demeanor flickering slightly with surprise. The flash of confusion mirrors what Stiles is feeling throughout his whole body. “Stiles,” Deaton recovers well, his voice just as stoic as before, now with a hint of amusement. “This is a surprise.”

Mouth dropped and eyebrow twitched, Stiles looks between both Deaton and Derek, little squeaking sounds cracking out of him as he tries to put words to his thoughts. “You know each other?” he finally decides on, directing it at Deaton.

Deaton smiles softly. “Correct, Stiles, absolutely correct.” He looks to Derek, eyes surveying the space behind him momentarily. “I take it Laura isn’t with you?”

Derek stiffens beside Stiles, the breath he was taken completely hitching in his throat. He swallows it down and takes a moment. “Deucalion.”

Something dark flashes in Deaton’s eyes. An understanding that would make Stiles’ blood curdle had he not been hardened to the horrors of the world. From the moment Derek had mentioned him, Stiles knew Deucalion was not to be messed with.

“I see,” Deaton says. He does not apologize but then Deaton has never seemed like one to apologize over things that can’t be helped. Now Stiles isn’t sure how well he knows him though. “What can I do for you then?”

Stiles sighs and rolls up his pant leg, the jeans rubbing painfully across the bandages. He unrolls them, revealing the oozing flesh. “Ethan or Aiden. Or both.”

Deaton gives his wound a hard look, more from pity than disgust, and motions for them to follow him into the back. He waits and closes the rowan door behind them. “It’s a good thing you came, Stiles,” Deaton begins, leading them through a room shelved with herbs Stiles doesn’t recognize, other than rows of wolfsbane.

“Alpha werewolves deal some pretty nasty wounds that can’t be healed through conventional methods. I expected you’d show up more, with your line of work.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Stiles sighs, reading off the lists of wolfsbane as they roll through his vision. Some he recognizes and others are foreign, their properties a mystery.

“I wasn’t expecting you to be in the company of a werewolf, however,” Deaton continues, stopping to look up and down the shelving, tapping each shelf until he comes across what he is looking for. A mason jar full of liquid tinted a lilac colour. Petals float around inside.

“I wasn’t expecting you to know each other,” Stiles says as they turn to go back to the other room. “In fact, I wasn’t expecting you to be so friendly. You’re on our side. How would Chris feel?”

“What Chris Argent doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Deaton says softly, but with an underlying tone that tells Stiles he is to keep quiet. “I don’t pick sides. In a world ravaged by war, someone has to take the middle ground.”

Stiles thinks that is a foolish way to go about things, because middle ground means crossfire.

“Is that why you moved? So they wouldn’t catch on?” Stiles pries.

Deaton nods. “That’s a big part of why. It’s hard to keep balance in a place with one of the largest hunting families. How is Scott doing?”

Deaton had taken Scott under his wing while he lived in Beacon Hills, teaching him how to use herbs to treat wounds. They had been close and Deaton’s departure from the town had hit him the most. The few times Stiles has come here, he acts as the bridge of communication.

“He’s doing good. Still doing the whole medical thing,” Stiles shrugs. There’s not much to say.

Deaton waves his hand over the table set up in the middle of the room and Stiles lifts himself up, easing down onto his elbows. He watches as Deaton unscrews the lid, and wets a napkin with the water, bringing it to the wound.

“Is this going to hurt?” Stiles asks hurriedly. He almost sees a smile on Deaton’s lips, but hot pain sears his vision. “What is that?” Stiles asks, voice creaking with agony as his eyesight blurs back into focus. Derek is standing with his arms crossed, off to the corner of the room, watching the whole thing intently. Deaton simply holds the cloth to Stiles’ leg.

“An aconite formula to draw out the infection,” Deaton explains. “I expect you’ll need more.”

“Why would I need more?” Stiles questions.

“I’m assuming you’re going up against the alpha pack?” Deaton responds, eyebrows raised as if challenging Stiles to prove him wrong.

“How do you know that?” Stiles asks, suspicion swarming him wildly.

“You’re the last person I could see working with a werewolf, Stiles,” Deaton smiles, “there has to be some reason you’re with Derek.”

“And that is the reason,” Stiles admits and nods sourly, wincing when Deaton applies more pressure to his leg. He talks through the sting, as if his words will drive it away. “It started about two weeks ago when I killed one of their pack members on a job. I guess they didn’t like that too much.”

“No,” Deaton says under his breath, moving away to retrieve gauze. “They wouldn’t.”

“Those two assholes caught up to me a few days ago and voila,” Stiles mutters and motions to his leg, which Deaton begins to wrap with the gauze.

“And so a mutual bond was formed,” Deaton says, eyes flashing up to Derek with that same, dark knowledge. It makes Stiles uncomfortable how well Derek and Deaton know each other. That Deaton doesn’t even have to talk about Laura to know why Derek is going after them.

“Not so much a mutual bond as a mild annoyance,” Stiles sighs, “and by mild annoyance I mean huge annoyance. I’d rather just drive around. On my own. And take care of the alphas myself. No offense, Derek.”

“None taken,” Derek grits out from where he leans against the wall off to the side of the room.

“You’re lucky Derek reached out to you,” Deaton says and Stiles wants to laugh because he feels a lot of things and lucky isn’t on that long list. “Deucalion is a strong leader, despite his leadership skills being questionable… But taking down his pack, or any pack for that matter, isn’t a one man job.”

“I have before,” Stiles says, “took out a whole pack once.”

“Not like this one,” Derek mutters from his corner, “I’ve already told you that.”

Stiles shoots him a rather irritated look and scoffs. “Derek’s right Stiles,” Deaton says and Stiles’ attention turns back to him. “They are a strong, calculated pack, one of the few I refuse to help, actually, and taking them down won’t be easy. I’m not convinced that even the two of you will be able to.”

“That’s uplifting, really. I’ll look back on this conversation when I go into battle against Deucalion,” Stiles says.

“You could always prove me wrong,” Deaton challenges. “You’ve already killed Ennis, which I’m sure was no easy feat.”

Stiles nods. Ennis had been hard to take out. Ran around like a freaking tank, destroying public property and bleeding Stiles’ gun dry. Stiles is used to quick and dirty jobs, but it had taken him far longer to just catch up to the beast of a howler. Sometimes mountain ash and wolfsbane combo isn’t enough, and it’s becoming apparent he’ll need to vary his techniques and choices of poison.

Conversation moves slowly between all of them like a dribbling stream. Deaton tells them they’re up against a lot, which doesn’t make Stiles feel any better, but he does say he will help. Which still doesn’t really make Stiles feel any better.

“That ink,” Stiles mentions as nonchalantly, though inside he is buzzing with excitement and the need to get his hands on whatever wolfsbane it is made with. “How come you’ve never given me any?”

“Some things shouldn’t be used as weapons,” Deaton says calmly. “That variety of wolfsbane I only mix into ink. I’ve seen the damage it can cause when in the wrong hands. I’d be more than glad to give you a different type, however.”

Stiles grumbles to himself. He knows he won’t be able to talk Deaton into it, the man stands too firmly in his ways and always has. Stiles doesn’t want to push it.

“Mountain ash too?” Stiles asks, sitting up. It isn’t ink infused with dangerous wolfsbane, but it’s still good. He’s been running low on mountain ash.

Deaton nods. “That I can do.”

“I’ll go get my bag then,” Stiles says. He swings his legs over the table, slowly easing down. The pain is there still, but whatever Deaton applied seems to have alleviating ingredients because it is subdued. He outstretches his arm to Derek.

“Keys?”

Derek digs into his jacket pocket, and drops the keys into Stiles’ palm. Stiles walks to the front, opens to the door and walks outside. The sky has darkened since they first stepped foot into Deaton’s abode, the moon hanging between the treetops of pine lining the road. Rocks and gravel crunch under his boots as he makes his way to the car. He presses the button on the set of keys, unlocking the Camaro.

It isn’t until Stiles is bent over, half inside the vehicle and awkwardly rummaging through the mess that is his plethora of hunting gear that it occurs to him Derek hasn’t followed him. He looks at the door of the building, around the car itself, and to the keys in his hand. The broken down car that was Stiles’ original plan suddenly has new tires, turning fast like the idea filling up his eyes with brightness.

Stiles drops the bag he’s just found, pulling back only to sit himself down in the driver’s seat. He shuts the door and he takes the wheel, flexing his fingers over it with anticipation. He’s got a ticket out of this. This will be easy. Easy enough. All he has to do is step on the gas and pull out. He doesn’t know where he’ll go, but it doesn’t matter. Derek is his extra baggage, and losing that extra baggage is his priority.

Stiles jams the key into the ignition, turning it with a flick of his wrist. He’s about to throw it into drive when a figure appears at his side which nearly sends him up through the roof. Derek is standing just outside the window, hand reaching for the door.

“Though you could use a hand,” he says with a level voice when he opens it, avoiding eye contact. Stiles can’t tell if he’s angry, but he figures Derek at least suspects what his intentions were because he grips Stiles’ shoulder when he leans into the back in a firm way. Stiles thinks he even feels claws.

“Oh, yeah. Thanks,” Stiles manages, doing his best to bring his own voice to that same level of calm.

The conversation ends there and neither say a word. Stiles slides out of the vehicle, shoulders dropped as he returns with Derek into the building.

Deaton moves around the office, gathering things for Stiles and Derek. He chooses a vial of wolfsbane known to cause powerful hallucinations to werewolves , and another powdered wolfsbane that he says can knock out a werewolf. He then refills the bag of mountain ash.

They say their goodbyes, stunted words that don’t reach very far. Stiles promises he’ll pass on good wishes to Scott when he sees him next, and Deaton smiles. Just as they reach the door leading outside, Deaton calls to them, or more specifically, Derek.

“Maybe you’ll want to give it a try one day,” Deaton says, producing a vial of black liquid, a tint of violet shining within it when the light hits it right. “Tattooing, like Laura did.”

Derek and Stiles exchange a quick glance and the whole room is full of silent knowing.

“Maybe,” Derek nods and takes the vial. He walks out first, leaving Stiles in shock. Stiles stares at Deaton for what feels like several minutes before Deaton says a word.

“You need to work with each other, you might not like it. But you’re both in too deep.”

Stiles nods, and follows Derek.

“So,” Derek says once they’re driving, voice cool with a sort of danger that turns Stiles’ blood cold, “you have a thing for grand theft auto?”

Stiles stills in the seat, hands tensing at the edges of the leather. “Nah,” he says as calmly as possible, “not really my thing.”

“Then why were you sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, shifting it into gear?” Derek asks, eyes on the road.

“Just taking her out for a spin,” Stiles says, voice breaking into nervous babbling. “A long spin, a very long one. Which would have resulted in you not getting your car back.”

Derek sighs exasperatedly, shoulders heaving with the sound. “I don’t like this either. I don’t like sharing my car and my space. Your whole life is currently sitting on my bed. I don’t like listening to your music. But I put up with it because it’s a necessary evil.”

“Um,” Stiles drawls out, raising a finger into the air. “You banned my music the second day. Do you not remember that conversation? Because I do.”

“This isn’t about the music,” Derek mutters.

“Good,” Stiles says, reaching over to play the CD. His hand is swiftly swatted away.

“No.”

“See, maybe I’d be okay with this if you let me have my way once in a while,” Stiles grumbles, pushing back against Derek’s hand.

“This isn’t funny Stiles!” Derek exclaims, shoving Stiles’ hand back and pulling over to the side of the road.

“Not with that attitude,” Stiles says sarcastically, waving his hands around with equally sarcastic enthusiasm and then opens the door and slides outside.

“Where are you going?” Derek calls, opening his own door and ducking out into the cool air. He rounds the front of the Camaro, meeting Stiles at the edge of the ditch.

“A walk,” Stiles says. “Your voice has this grating quality to it.”

“Do you even want to kill the alphas?” Derek asks, brows pulling together in frustration.

“What kind of question is that?” Stiles scoffs, “of course.”

“Then we have to make a team effort, you remember what Deaton said?”

“Yes,” Stiles sighs, “that was like just a few hours ago, fuck.” He runs a hand through his hair, looking away from Derek’s piercing glare.

“It’s already going to be hard enough with just the two of us.”

“I know that,” Stiles says, voice rising behind gritted teeth.

They’ve encroached on each other’s personal space, head to head with rage in their eyes. Stiles thinks he sees a cool blue trickle into Derek’s, but he won’t let that intimidate him. Derek doesn’t scare him, though he does drive him mad, knows how to push Stiles’ buttons without even trying.

“Then you can’t just run off whenever an opportunity presents itself. You can’t pull your gun on me or steal my car. This is only going to work if we trust each other.”

“Okay!” Stiles almost yells, trying to rid himself of Derek’s grating voice, hands balling into fists at his sides.

Derek flinches, focus wavering. “Did you hear that?” He looks to the trees to their right, taking a step closer to Stiles.

Stiles shakes his head, straining his ears for whatever Derek heard. Derek twitches to the left this time and it is a subtle movement Stiles barely picks up on.

“Draw your gun,” Derek whispers, “they’re ambushing us."

Derek is bounding to the left before Stiles can ask, but even in the flurry of confusion and howls he knows it’s members of the alpha pack. Stiles pulls his gun from its holster, gripping it with a sure hand. A branch snaps just to his right and he swings his arms around, aiming up into darkness.

“Don’t let them get close to each other!” Derek yells from behind him, voice strained in combat.

Stiles searches the treeline. It’s obvious he’ll have to rely on his hearing because even with the Camaro flooding light eerily over the pines it’s nearly impossible to detect any movement. He feels someone lurking around the trunks, just on the outskirts of his vision, and the hair on the back of his neck stands on end.

He’s a sitting duck and he hates it. His legs need to move; there is too much adrenaline building up in his limbs.

Don’t let them get close to each other.

Stiles takes off, running alongside the ditch in the opposite direction as Derek, away from the car. He whistles as he does so, not unlike the way he would were he calling a dog. Sounds meld together in the night; Derek and whatever twin has him occupied; his own breathing, steady and far from being worn out; another twig snapping just behind him.

Stiles spins himself around just in time to be knocked down, red eyes boring into his. The fall breaks the steady rhythm of his breathing, forcing a choked stutter from his lungs. He tries his best to breathe in, but the wind has been knocked right out of him and he’s left thrashing beneath a half shifted twin.

“Knew we’d catch up to you eventually,” he says, fangs impairing his speech and creating something monstrous. “How does it feel, being killed by the very thing you kill?”

Stiles tries to raise his gun but it’s pinned between him and the howler. “Would be a lot nicer if you gave me some breathing room,” Stiles manages to squeeze out, voice raspy. “We could carry out a conversation at least.”

“Duec’s more of the taunting type, I prefer not to play around,” the twin says, tightening his grip around Stiles throat. “Might make a special exception, just to hear you scream.”

Stiles struggles, wiggling the gun up as best he can. His vision blurs with tears from not being able to breathe and he gasps for air, even just a small bit. Claws graze lightly across his skin, pushing harder as they crawl over his neck. Panic edges into his mind now that he can’t talk, can’t listen to the sound of his own voice to calm himself. Stiles holds onto his sanity with slippery hands, holds onto himself the best he can. And in doing so, he manages to lift the gun up, the barrel pressing against the underside of the twin’s jaw. Stiles screws his eyes shut and takes the shot, finger pulling on the trigger.

Stiles curls backwards, wet warmth splattering his face, oozing down his skin in thick red streaks. Pain erupts in his ears with a sharp ringing and he takes in a jagged breath, finally able to breathe again, the sick taste of copper on his tongue. Weight slumps over him and when he opens his eyes all he can see is the steady flow of blood. The sound in his ears is so disorientating that it takes him a moment to determine whether the blood is seeping into his eyes or not. Even over the ringing, he hears a howl and it’s so different from what he’s heard before. The sound is that of pure despair, like it’s being literally ripped from a throat.

The next thing Stiles knows he’s being pulled away from the body and steadied to his feet. Derek’s voice is urgent and far, a hand tight around his wrist and pulling him with stumbling steps back to the car. Derek resorts to half carrying him, arm around his waist and hoisting him so that his feet drag across the ground.

Derek throws him in the car, literally throws him, and lifts himself over the roof to the other side, wasting no time in taking the wheel and pulling out onto the road as soon as he can. Stiles gasps in pain, cradling his blood covered face between his knees. He feels sick to his stomach and Derek’s hand on his shoulder does nothing to help him.

“Did you kill him?” Stiles asks in a sob. He’s not crying. He doesn’t think he’s crying.

“Why are you yelling?” Derek whispers and Stiles looks up at him to meet startled eyes. It’s the first time Derek’s looked concerned. Truly concerned.

“I can’t hear. I blasted the gun really close,” Stiles says, lowering his voice. It sounds like he’s whispering as well.

“Why didn’t you put the suppressor on?” Derek asks, eyes darting between the road and Stiles and the rear view mirror.

“Because I didn’t have time?” Stiles exclaims. “I’d have lost a lot more than my hearing.” He leans back, pressing himself into the leather of his seat and sighs. “Pull over.”

“What? No,” Derek says, eyes flashing up to the mirror again.

“I’m fucking covered in brain matter,” Stiles yells, whacking his head back into the seat and letting out a frustrated sigh laced with panic. “I’m washing my face.”

“Not until we’re a few miles away at least,” Derek says, shaking his head. “I didn’t kill Ethan. He threw me off and was heading for you. We had to get out of there. Something in him sparked and there was no way we’d be getting away. He’s going to burn out, and I don’t think he’ll come for us straight away. He’ll have to tell Deucalion.”

Derek doesn’t seem too sure about that because when they finally do stop – at a pond Stiles points out – he is on high alert and tells Stiles to make it quick, giving him only three minutes. Submerging himself in water does little to help his hearing and Stiles grows irritated with the incessant sound of ringing. By the end of the three minutes, which probably stretches well into five, Stiles smells of pond and rubbing alcohol. But not gore, and that’s what matters.

Derek doesn’t try to make conversation, probably because Stiles can’t really hear unless he shouts. So they drive in silence. Stiles shifts in his seat, trying to sleep.

It takes what feels like hours until he’s able to do so, and even then it’s a long night of waking up to static.

---

Sunlight pours into the car and Stiles yawns, eyelids fluttering with the remnants of dreams he can’t quite remember. Derek stirs beside him, eyes heavy with sleep.

“I’m going to nod off pretty quick,” he says, a contagious yawn escaping his lips.

Stiles nods and checks the time. It’s a little past noon. He looks outside the windows and finds they’re back in a desert, brown shrubbery replacing the green conifers. A sign ahead, covered in graffiti reads: Hecatolite – 75 km.

With Derek sleeping, and the landscape not offering much in terms of anything, Stiles finds himself without entertainment. He tries his best to be creative, cycling through things and waiting until something sticks. Nothing does. He opens the glove box, taking Laura’s box of tattoo equipment and files through her sketches. They’re of various things, most are of abstract designs but there is one of Derek smiling.

Stiles turns to Derek then, studies his face. He looks different, without anger etched into the lines of his features. Now his face is smooth and vulnerable. But he still isn’t like he is in the picture. For a second Stiles thinks he could trust Derek, but that thought is pushed away, broken apart like disturbed water.

Eventually Stiles takes a pill from the bottle, when his mind is too frazzled to focus on anything for any length of time. Derek wakes up a half hour after that, eyes still tired from only a few hours of sleep.

“So what’s the plan?” Stiles asks, resting his feet on the dash. Derek doesn’t even bother telling him off for it.

“We’re low on gas. I’m thinking we can go to Hecatolite and see if there’s any.”

“I meant about the alphas. Are we running or are we going to lure them?” Stiles turns over in his seat to face Derek.

“Same plan as before, but we need gas to get there,” Derek reiterates.

Hecatolite isn’t so much a town as it is a market. It’s a small labyrinth of shops under tin roofs, the shop owners as equally rusted as the buildings. There’s a makeshift lot to the side of the town, where cars are parked and horses are tied to wooden posts. At the corner of the lot sits a station, door propped open with a wooden wedge. Derek pulls in beside a meter and reaches beneath the back seats, pulling a wooden box Stiles hasn’t seen before. It’s been kept out of his sight, or anyone’s sight really, for good reason. The thing is full of marbles; Stiles hasn’t ever been around this much cash.

“Inheritance, sort of,” Derek explains, and Stiles doesn’t want to know the implications of that. He hands some to him, pooling it into a bag, definitely enough to cover the cost of gas. “Go pay.”

The sun, still high in the afternoon sky, beats down on them the second they step from the vehicle and the sand beneath their boots is swollen with heat. Stiles pulls the cowl hood of his shirt over his head and stretches his cramped limbs. Then he walks towards the station, pays for the gas – jerry cans included – and returns to Derek, who is already filling up the car.

They start off towards the shops when they’re done. Stiles has been here before a few times and remembers there being showers and he still feels disgusting, the sensation of blood running down his face, ghosting over his skin, and his ears are still full of buzzing. Derek has no qualms about stopping for a while, even though they really shouldn’t. They walk a lane of shops and houses, and Stiles keeps an eye out for his goal. The sign draws him in immediately. It could be painted better, but scrawled across it reads: showers.

“There,” Stiles says, lightly pushing Derek’s shoulder and nodding in the direction of the sign.

“I’ll meet you back here in fifteen,” Derek replies, nodding in acknowledgment.

Stiles walks to the shack, pays for five minutes – which is a ludicrous amount in his opinion – and walks around to the back. The shower is mounted on the outside of the building, a ragged cloth attached to a curved rod offering privacy. He pulls it closed and dresses down quickly, throwing his clothing into a pile on the ground away from where he thinks the water will run. He sets his bag on top of it, digging for the soap he knows is in the bag.

He pulls a string and a cool stream of water hits the back of his neck and trickles down between his shoulder blades. Stiles jumps at the sudden cold, despite knowing it wouldn’t be warm and lets out a small shudder as his body relaxes under the spray. It chills away the heat burned into his skin from sitting in a muggy car all day and the soap scrubs away the events of the night before.

Stiles stands in the water until the shower runs dry, then dresses as best he can. It proves to be difficult but he manages, the fabric of his clothing dampening from his skin. He wraps the soap up in the cloth, packs it, and slings the bag over his shoulder.

Derek hasn’t returned by the time Stiles reaches the spot they were supposed to meet up at, so he mills around and looks at the shops in the vicinity. Some sell beadwork, others sell artifacts. One in particular pulls Stiles in like a magnet: an armory shop. He’s about to check it out when he spots Derek walking towards him with a bag in hand.

“Look what I got,” Derek says, clearly pleased with himself, there is even a small smile on his face. The bag in question is full of dried meat, which has Stiles worried. “Beef jerky. Actual beef, I can tell.”

“Uh, yes?” Stiles says, knees going weak and mouth-watering. “You are the best!”

The words come out before he can stop them, but the thought of food – meat product food – has him letting his guard down. Meat is hard to come by, because animals are usually kept to produce food, not to become the food themselves. There are places that have a higher population of animals, sure. Places where animals aren’t such a scarcity, so the risks aren’t there. And Stiles is willing to take a lot of risks, but throw cannibalism into the mix and he’s out. That’s what a lot of the meat on the market is, they say. Especially in the more rural communities.

“I haven’t had jerky in at least a year,” Stiles sighs when they’re back on the road. He takes a bite out of the meat, savouring the salty taste.

“I figured,” Derek says, nearly done his strip. They’ve put the rest in the back for another date, rationing it. “I can smell it, so I know when to stay away and when to buy.” He pauses for a moment, and then flashes Stiles a dark look. “What if I told you it was actually people?”

Stiles nearly chokes and glares at Derek. “That better be a joke or I will use all that wolfsbane back there on you. I will shove mountain ash down your throat.”

Derek laughs, his dark look melting away to that of amusement. “I’m kidding.”

Stiles leans back in his seat and takes another bite out of the strip of jerky in his hand, eyes still glued to Derek with mild annoyance.

Derek’s chuckles fill the car and they roll along to the sound of it, making small talk about easier times. Stiles is surprised to learn that Derek’s childhood was normal. As normal as his own. They don’t get into details because there’s a shared understanding between them and it’s nice that neither has to actually vocalize that silent rule. But they talk about games and books and exploring rubble.

The eastern sky fades to dusk and the conversation wilts to just a few meaningless comments about the landscape. Stiles points out strange looking cacti while Derek mumbles his concurrence. This goes on for a while and Stiles is about to offer for the first time to drive because Derek looks weary from lack of sleep. A hill looms before them and Stiles opens his mouth, but when they reach the top it just hangs there, lips moving silently like a fish as something catches his eye.

Ahead, armoured cars drive into the desert and people walk around with materials for tents, some of which are set up. There are dozens and Stiles leans forward, eyes narrowing. He rolls down his window as they decline the hill, air brushing coolly against his face.

“What are you doing?” Derek panics, slowing the vehicle to a near stop as they near the closest group of people.

“Stop the car,” Stiles says without looking at Derek, eyes trained on the others.

Many have stopped, all attention on the Camaro. One steps forward, shining a light in Stiles’ eyes. Stiles winces against the brightness.

“Stiles?”

The voice is familiar and has a hint of alarm to its tone beneath that of surprise. Something rushes forward from Stiles’ mind and he nearly suffocates, flashes of a worried man with blue eyes filling his vision before it adjusts. Chris Argent stands just a few feet from him, a smile on his face. It’s small but genuine and Stiles returns it once he regains his composure.

“Thought it was you guys,” Stiles says, unlocking the door and sliding out onto the decayed road. Derek delays following in Stiles’ lead, but eventually does, movement rigid and eyes staring hard at the ground.

A girl runs up, hair falling in curls as she skids to a stop right beside Chris. She’s dressed in all black, a crossbow slung over her back. Written across her neck in ink are the words ‘Queen of Poisons.’

“Stiles?” she nearly squeals, repeating her father’s words, surging forward and pulling Stiles into a hug. He wraps his arms around her, happiness filling him up for the first time since he last saw Scott.

“Allison!” he says excitedly, holding her tight and pretending he’s back in Beacon Hills. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Stopping for a few days, just on our way back to Beacon Hills after going to the east coast. What are you doing? Are you on a job?” she asks, stepping backwards. “Who’s this?” she looks to Derek.

“Oh, this is D-,” Stiles begins to say, stopped mid-sentence by Derek subtly kicking him in the heel. “Miguel.”

“Nice to meet you… Miguel,” Allison says and gives him a dimpled smile. “Come on, I’m sure you guys want a nice place to sleep. We have extra sleeping bags and there’s room in my tent.” With that Allison and her father walk towards their camp.

“Miguel?” Derek growls and slams him up against the side of the Camaro, eyes flashing blue and holding with the icy tone.

“I had to think up a name on the spot,” Stiles coughs out, his breath shattered from the impact of his back hitting the metal frame of the vehicle. “Why don’t you want them knowing your name?”

“They killed my family,” Derek mumbles, letting up on Stiles. He rounds the front of the vehicle and gets in, turning the engine on. Stiles ducks in again as well and they drive to where the other cars are parked, a mess of vehicles sitting near their respective tents. They park a ways away from where Allison is setting up her tent and Derek mutters something incoherent but angry as he turns off the car and steps out into the night.

Stiles feels bad. He does. He tries not to, but with Derek sitting a few yards away stiff as a brick, it proves to be a difficult task. Allison helps in drowning out those feelings, taking his mind off Derek. She and Stiles sit close on a blanket, one she quilted for herself. They eat canned fruit, a fitting dinner for the day.

“So, what are you doing?” she asks and rests her head on her knees, looking at Stiles with a smile.

“I am on a job, of sorts,” Stiles answers, looking over at Derek who is slowly eating his fruit. He’s a mere silhouette from how far he is, the moonlight hitting him in just the right way that Stiles can make out some of his profile.

“You don’t usually work with others,” Allison says, the words cutting a little too deep because he’d worked with the Argents before going off and doing his lone jobs. He’s suspected Allison holds a grudge, though she’ll never say it out loud. “He’s cute though.”

Derek perks at the mention of himself but he doesn’t turn to look at Stiles and Allison. “I never really thought about it,” Stiles mumbles and even he can hear the lie in his voice. It’s so tangible he can taste it. He thinks he sees a smile play across Derek’s lips but it’s hard to tell with Allison nudging him and skewing his focus.

“Oh come on,” Allison pushes, “look at him. You haven’t fooled around with him?”

“Excuse me?” Stiles asks in disbelief, “keep your hands off him. Keep your eyes off him.”

Allison laughs. “Are you jealous?”

“No,” Stiles says a little too sharply. “You’re dating my best friend.”

“You sort of have a type,” Allison reminds him, dimples showing in her cheeks, “which I’ve come to recognize, being your other best friend.” After a pause the smile on her face disappears, falling instantaneously. “I miss Scott. Have you seen him lately?”

Stiles shakes his head. “I haven’t been to Beacon Hills in over a month. You probably saw him last.”

Stiles knows the tours don’t last long, maybe two weeks, three at most if they run into howlers. The Argents usually trade with people on the coast and head right back. He knows how taxing they are on Allison. He’s witnessed it. She throws herself into her hunts, becoming a volatile fighter. It’s terrifying and amazing at the same time. But when things are calm, her emotions show on her face, at least to him.

“We got some cool stuff,” Allison says, changing the subject suddenly, a faux-smile on her lips. She leans over to her bag and pulls out a wooden case, clicking it open. Inside are bullets, the same caliber his gun takes. They don’t look very special. “Nordic Blue Monkshood. Will kill a howler in forty-eight hours.”

“I need it,” Stiles says and reaches for the box. Allison laughs and pulls it away.

“If you make me a good offer,” Allison retorts, “maybe I’ll even give you this whole case. We have more, of course. But I’m not giving it away for free.”

“I got some good wolfsbane,” Stiles blurts out, unable to stop himself. It probably isn’t wise to trade wolfsbane that will no doubt come in handy, but the type Allison has seems more tempting.

“Let’s see it,” she replies eagerly, leaning over when he pulls out the two vials.

“This one,” he says, raising one with dark powder inside, “causes hallucinations.” He raises the other one, the bright purple powder flurrying inside the vial. “This one knocks them out.”

Allison, clearly intrigued, grabs for the second. Stiles pulls away, a smirk pulling at one side of his mouth. “The whole case? There’s twelve bullets.”

“Deal,” Stiles grins and stuffs the box into his bag, handing the wolfsbane to her.

 “Finstock’s tent is over there,” Allison points to a tent a couple yards away. There’s a light on and shadows move about. “Might see something you like. We got a lot in the trade.”

Stiles nods and gets up from his spot on the blanket. He looks over to Derek who is already doing the same and stalking over with his shoulders up and his head ducked. The art of subtly is not one Derek has grasped, and Stiles wants to smile about that but it’s like carrying a ticking time bomb. The Argents finding out that he is harbouring a howler would not be good.

They walk the short distance to the tent and Derek shoots him a glare halfway there. Stiles almost doesn’t see it, but stops and looks at Derek with an expectant expression.

“What?” he asks quietly.

“Why did you give away the wolfsbane?” Derek counters, eyes intense.

“Uh, I didn’t give it away,” Stiles says, “it seemed like a good deal?”

“That wolfsbane would have knocked them unconscious!” Derek grits through his teeth.

“And now we actually have insurance that we can kill them,” Stiles replies. “We have twelve bullets as opposed to one vial of nap time wolfsbane that probably would have worked on maybe one alpha.”

Stiles doesn’t wait for Derek to reply. He just heads to the tent, a grimacing Derek following. Chris and Finstock, a man with crazed hair, are mid-conversation when Stiles and Derek push the entrance aside and step into the tent. It’s the size of a small room, bags cluttering the corners. They both look up, Chris wearing a worn smile and Finstock seems very much enthused.

“Stilinski!” Finstock exclaims, hands punching the air. Chris nods at Stiles and leaves the tent, and it’s clear that they were just talking about him.

“Cupcake!” Stiles feigns excitement to the best of his ability. His tiredness seems to be well hidden because Finstock is oblivious to it.

“Chris told me you were here,” Finstock says, “said you brought a friend.”

“He’s not-“

“It’s okay, Stilinski, I don’t need to know the details,” Finstock says, throwing his hands up evasively as he shakes his head. Stiles can feel his face go red with embarrassment.

“Allison says you got a lot of stuff from the trade?” Stiles mentions, pushing the conversation in the direction he wants it to go, so the blush will drain away.

“Oh yes,” Finstock says and begins rummaging through the numerous bags. Stiles doesn’t even need to specify what he’s looking for. Mostly because he doesn’t really know, and partly because Finstock will pull whatever he fancies.

“Why do you call him cupcake?” Derek asks, leaning to whisper in Stiles’ ear.

“It’s just what he likes to be called,” Stiles shrugs, “he won’t do business if you don’t.” Which is sort of annoying.

“I’ve got some armour,” Finstock says, pulling out a mess of leather and turning around before dropping it onto the ground. There are studded gloves and kneepads, silver spikes glinting.

“I have gloves,” Stiles sighs, hoping Finstock will grab something more on the offensive side of things.

“And they suck because you made them yourself!” Finstock bluntly declares, “these will hold. No splintering apart.”

“Yeah but they’re metal.”

“Metal mixed with wolfsbane and mountain ash.” Finstock takes a moment to smile wildly, his eyes wide with mischief. “Your old ones are made of wood.”

Stiles picks them up, slipping them on. They fit well, and are not too heavy.

“How much?” Stiles asks.

“A hundred?” Finstock says, “I think that’s fair.”

Stiles bites his lip, brows furrowing. He weighs the offer and remembers that these are from a trade, and are most likely much more expensive than the price he’s getting them for. Nodding, he turns to Derek, hands out for the keys. Derek rolls his eyes and drops them in Stiles’ open palm.

Stiles retrieves the amount of marbles, weighing his bag down considerably. He doesn’t like carrying too much. He makes good time in getting back to the tent, reaches into his bag and pulls out his pouch of marbles, handing it over to Finstock. It’s at that moment that he hears the howls, far off in the distance but close when they repeat.

Stiles turns around quickly to Derek, whose eyes are wide and whose hands are clenched. Derek backs out of the tent and Stiles follows, Finstock trailing right after him.

The camp is dark and people run this way and that, making it impossible to navigate. Stiles feels overwhelmed but at the same time buzzes with the high of the hunt. Conversations are happening all around him, and he catches glimpses them, gathers enough to know that they’re under attack and that they won’t be backing down.

“We have the mountain ash,” Finstock says, “someone laid it out.”

“They can’t get in,” Stiles says and realizes it works both ways. He and Derek are trapped, or at the very least, Derek is.

Cars are turning on and headlights flood the camp, illuminating a large rock plummeting downwards into a tent. Shots ring in the air and Stiles follows the sound, dodging shoulders and elbows that pop up at seemingly every corner. He stops short of the border, between Chris and Allison who have got their weapons ready, aiming into the desert.

Derek skids to a stop just beside him, watching the darkness closely. His body is rigid, revving up for an attack and Stiles wants to suppress that instinct in the same way he’s suppressing his gun. Dampen the fire before it takes a hold of Derek and Stiles with it.

“Break the seal,” Derek hisses, eyes following something in the distance that Stiles can’t see. “It’s Ethan. I’ll get him.”

“Are you shifting?” Stiles nearly shrieks, managing to keep his voice low enough so that only Derek can hear. “Stop it. Stop it right now because you are not getting us in more trouble than we already are.”

“Down!” Chris yells, and Stiles ducks instantly, a boulder hurdling over his head. More shots pop through the air but none reach their target because no pained howl follows.

“What’s going on?” Stiles asks.

“It’s running circles around us, in and out of range. We haven’t been able to get a clear shot,” Chris calls. “We think it’s baiting us, so orders are to keep behind the ash until we can get it.”

Stiles knows he’s baiting them. Trying to draw him and Derek out to make an attack. And Derek is falling for it, hook, line, and sinker.

“Break the seal,” Derek urges quietly. “You heard, he’s baiting us. I can get him to come closer.”

“Yeah, you get him closer and then you get shot yourself,” Stiles whispers back.

And he knows how good a shot the Argents and their allies are. Derek will hit the ground before he even blinks. The fact that Ethan has the whole camp stumped, has them taking blind shots, is honestly surprising. But he’s not about to allow Derek to give them away. If anyone is going to take the bait, Stiles knows it should be he, himself.

Stiles is just about to step over the mountain ash, ignoring Chris yelling at him to stop, when Ethan runs into view, the sight pulling Derek forward and into the barrier.

Stiles turns to him, horrified, and watches as Derek gives into his nature, watches as he loses himself in a shift. The thud of the force field has Chris’ attention too, his gun trained on Derek now. Stiles drops to the ground, hands swiping over the dirt and brushing away the mountain ash. Derek takes off, oblivious to everything but Ethan running to meet him.

It happens fast. So fast that Stiles is barely able to climb to his feet. Derek reaches Ethan, clashing into him and twisting him around. Chris barks out orders to shoot both and shots ring throughout the air, and Stiles knows they hit their targets, he can tell by the way Derek and Ethan stumble, instincts telling them to run instead of fight.

“Load up the cars!” Chris yells over the camp, now high strung with chaos once more. Stiles backs up, breaking into a run and turning into the crowd, letting it swallow him whole. He hears voices talking about retrieval and finishing the job and how the hunt is on.

Stiles thinks he sees Allison’s face as he runs back to the Camaro, but he doesn’t let the betrayal in her eyes stop him. He’s in danger now, and once they retrieve Derek and Ethan, they’ll be coming for him with questions as to why he’s harbouring a howler.

Stiles jumps into the driver’s seat, starts up the car, and all but slams the thing into drive. And he’s rid of Derek. Finally.

Which is why he’s turning into the direction Derek ran, instinct of his own taking the wheel.

With a foot hard on the pedal, sand whipping up a storm and leaving clouds of dust swirling around, Stiles pushes past the cars. Driving fast into the desert like nothing else matters. He sees Derek ahead, a heap of leather just crawling on the ground. He’s made it pretty far from the camp.

Stiles turns harshly, skidding to a stop just short of Derek, and opens the passenger door. “Derek!” Stiles shrieks, holding his arm out and leaning for him, “get in!”

Dazed, Derek nods, weakly pulling himself up into the seat. Stiles’ fingers brush over the handle trying to find purchase. He closes over it, pulling it shut, and hits the gas, swerving out into the night.

Stiles makes his own road, following the star dappled sky to nowhere in particular. He can feel his senses edging in on him, the overload of stimuli threatening to take him under a wave of panic. Behind them in the distance he spots the lights of a car giving chase and doesn’t let up on the pedal. If they’re lucky they’ve got a head start. Beside him, Derek bleeds and huffs out his pain in short, sharp gasps. Stiles doesn’t dare check him until the lights draw farther and farther back, finally withering away into the darkness.

“Are you okay?” he asks curling towards Derek in his seat. Derek’s forehead is beaded with sweat and is a sickly pale colour. Blue glows through the lashes of his lidded eyes.

“No,” Derek grits out, opening his eyes for only a moment to flash a glare at Stiles.

“Why aren’t you healing?” Stiles asks, hands flapping at Derek’s jacket. “Are you healing?”

“Watch the road,” Derek hisses, and Stiles pulls the car away from a shrub just in time. Rocks peck at the underside of the car, some whipping up to the sides and sounding like heavy rain. “They hit me with some kind of wolfsbane.”

“Well yeah, that’s generally what people like the Argents use,” Stiles deadpans, dividing his attention between the land ahead of them and Derek, who isn’t improving.

“You’re one of them,” Derek points out, voice like daggers even in its breathlessness.

“Not anymore,” Stiles says, deflated. Now he would have a bounty on his head. Hunter turned howler harbourer. “I’m pretty sure they saw me save you.”

“Well that’s going to be in vain if you don’t pull over and help me,” Derek grumbles, sounding entirely ungrateful.

“Help you?” Stiles squeaks, at a loss for words. He shoots Derek a disbelieving look. “I’m helping you right now. And I’m not pulling over. Not until we’re way out of their path. They’re going to try and find us.”

“I need the wolfsbane they used, or it’s going to kill me,” Derek says, voice going several shades darker.

Stiles veers to the left, changing their course so that it isn’t just a straight line down the desert. “How am I supposed to know?” Stiles asks, suddenly panicked. “I don’t know what they used!” Flashes of Allison handing him the bullet case dance in his eyes and he shoots a glance to the backseat where much of their belongings lie haggard in a pile. He sees it, the small wooden box with simple inscriptions peeking out of his ratty tote.

“Will the bullets work?” Stiles asks. Derek nods, swallowing hard. Stiles watches him for a moment, brows drawn in concern. Ahead of them, hills roll into view. “Just hold in there, okay?” Stiles shakes out, letting his eyes dart to Derek before returning his gaze to the desert in front of them.

He doesn’t slow down until they’re well into the safety of the hills and even then he does not stop. Rocks pelt the Camaro as they drive, covering the sound of Derek’s harsh breathing. Music plays low in the car, which had been Derek’s idea fifteen minutes into silence. Stiles wishes one of the happier songs still worked well, because the one now seems far too doom and gloom for his liking.

It’s the first time he doesn’t like music.

He begins to ease up on the gas, letting it roll to a stop. He turns to Derek, who is already shifting in his seat and opening the door, practically falling out onto the dirt. Stiles crawls across the seats with little to no coordination, limbs flying awkwardly as he tumbles out after him.

“Derek?” he cracks out, suddenly aware of how worried he is for the crumpled body in the sand. Derek moves, hands curling around the fabric of his wife beater, which is a dark maroon colour on one side, pulling it up to reveal the damage. The bullet looks like it has decimated his waist; the skin from the hole seems to be rotting, like it’s corroding outwards.

“Bullets,” Derek croaks back, making a movement that looks like he’s trying to motion to the Camaro but his arm is too heavy to actually do so.

Stiles nods quickly, spinning around and leaning back into the car, pulling the box from where it sits, causing the other items atop it to fall from the shaken support.

“Matches,” Derek calls, “glove box.”

“Matches?” Stiles repeats, opening the glove box without waiting for an answer. He doesn’t get one anyway. Sure enough, a box sits there amongst maps and junk. He takes it, turning and collapses beside Derek. Panicked, he takes a bullet from the box and the case of matches, handing them to Derek with twitching hands. Blindly, Derek takes the bullet from him and brings it to his teeth, breaking it open and letting the contents fall to the ground. Then he takes a match, strikes it, and sets it to the dust until it catches.

The odour is different from the raw wolfsbane Stiles is used to smelling when he burns it, but it is hard to tell what is off. Derek scoops the burnt ash into a hand, which shakes violently as he brings it to his side, nearly dropping it. Stiles catches it before it’s lost to the earth.

“Put it in the wound,” Derek sighs, voice dry and raw.

“Into the wound?” Stiles asks, the words drying in his throat. “Like, as in, touch it? I’m not good with that.”

“You kill werewolves for a living!” Derek says, voice loud and with a certain angry tone. Which is more for the fact Stiles isn’t hurrying than anything else.

“Yeah well I’m usually not getting up and personal with them, you know?” Stiles winces, bringing his fist closer to Derek’s bloodied side.

“Stiles!” Derek barks, using his energy to up the tone into that of rage.

“Fuck!” Stiles cries, voice high with a whine. Then he lets the powder fall into the wound, pushing it further in. Blood coats his fingers, wet and warm. He feels sick as he pulls them out, and has to struggle not to vomit all over the both of them. And like a curious cat, he chances a glance at his handiwork, a look of surprise flourishing across his face when the skin repairs itself like it would have done if it had been a normal bullet.

Stiles stares in awe at where the wound had been, running his eyes up Derek’s body until they meet each other’s gaze. “It worked.”

“That was the general idea,” Derek says, body relaxing.

Stiles lets relief take him, and rolls to the dirt beside Derek, sliding a hand up his own neck. “I was worried.”

“I know,” Derek says, “I needed the music so I wouldn’t have to hear how fast your heart was beating.”

Silence falls between them, the conversation drying up like the desert hills. Stiles settles to stare at the constellations for which he knows no names. All he needs to know is their placement, to recognize their patterns, so that he can find his way home. He doesn’t recognize any that will though, and decides they must be hidden behind the large chunk of rock to their backs.

The rock offers coverage, and nestled in a jagged curve sits a tin shack. Stiles hadn’t noticed it at first. It’s small, but the roof is large, slanting down like some sort of rain shelter.

“Why did you save me?” Derek asks, shattering the silence with his quiet voice.

“We have a deal,” Stiles says, and eases into a sitting position, then stands. It isn’t a lie but it sounds like one. He rounds the Camaro to the trunk, opens it, and retrieves the sack of mountain ash. He creates a perimeter around them, a loop that includes the car and the shack. “I figure we’ll set up camp here, we have shelter.”

 

He checks inside, attention falling to a pile of wood. Delighted, he turns to Derek, smile wide. “There’s wood, we can have a fire.”

“The Argents?”

“We’ll keep it small,” Stiles assures him. He’s had practice with doing that, hiding the smoke from howlers, whose keen eyes can spot such a thing from miles away. The area they are in seems well hidden. Reclusive. Stiles will search for wolfsbane later when the sun brings morning.

The fire is small, and crackles with sparks that twirl up into the air and float about. The heat makes Stiles realize how cold he is and he shivers, shuffling closer to soak in the warmth the flame gives. Stiles keeps the smoke to a minimum, trying to keep subtle so as not to attract the attention of gangs, howlers, or the Argents.

Derek pours water over a rag he’d retrieved from the car while Stiles set up the fire. He settles behind Stiles, whose neck is smeared with dried blood. And Derek presses the cloth to Stiles’ neck, scrubbing lightly at the blood and revealing the inked wolfsbane beneath. The touch sends a shiver down Stiles’ skin, but there’s something relaxing about Derek’s movements, how gently he wipes the cloth over Stiles’ skin.

“Hold me fast,” Derek mutters to himself, breath coming out like a heat wave against where the wet rag left Stiles cold. It takes Stiles a moment to realize he’s reading the tattoo on the back of his neck. “That’s from that song,” he says louder and more definite.

“It is,” Stiles confirms. “It’s my favourite song.”

“You’ve only heard three though,” Derek laughs.

“There used to be more on the CD. It was still my favourite though,” Stiles clarifies and worries with the fabric of the quilted blanket he’d laid down at the edge of the small fire. They built the fire close to the shed, and it offers them some shelter, but Stiles doesn’t think they’ll need it.

“So,” Derek begins, as if he’s unsure where he’s going with his words, “what made you get into hunting?”

A chill runs up Stiles’ spine and he stiffens at Derek’s question, fingers freezing around a handful of fabric. He relaxes after a moment, settling after the surprise. “My dad,” he says quietly. Stiles brings his knees up and wraps his arms around them. He stares into the fire and Derek says nothing, just lays the cloth on the blanket after wringing it out.

“He was out patrolling one afternoon, a safe shift, daytime and whatnot. I was in the fields just outside of Beacon Hills, just exploring, and I heard the sirens go off.” Distantly, he can hear the wailing somewhere at the back of his mind, the warning of a shifted howler nearing the town perimeters. “But even though they were blaring, I still heard it. Shots being fired and then just screams filling the air. And I knew then it was someone from town. Because it wasn’t the howling sort of scream.”

Stiles pauses, feeling himself choke on his words. The flames are making his eyes wet, or so that is what he tells himself before continuing. “And so I started running towards the area my dad was at, all I had was a damn knife,” he chuckles. It’s a strangled kind, with sadness woven in the tone. He can only laugh at his stupidity. “And I was yelling for him, I didn’t care if he got mad at me for not returning to the town, I just needed to know he was okay.

“I came upon a group of people, they were standing in a circle and some others were driving off on bikes with their guns raised and ready. I knew them, all of them, and none were my dad. I just sort of collapsed, and then Chris Argent’s face was right in front of mine and he was saying ‘Stiles. Are you okay? What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.’ And the way he said it was terrible because he was worried but he was really angry.

“He took me under his wing, ‘cause we were already practically family. He gave me weapons, showed me how to make my own ammo. I went on some hunts with them. But I couldn’t stay there. So I started doing my own thing.”

Derek is quiet, eerily so, as Stiles finishes. “Did they find a woman as well? An Argent?” Derek asks. The question curls with a chill over Stiles skin.

Stiles turns slowly, looking at Derek who is staring hard at the ground. “How did you know that?”

“The werewolf who killed your father is dead,” Derek says, not meeting Stiles’ eyes.

“What?” Stiles questions. And it sounds like someone else’s voice. Someone broken, through and through.

“My uncle. He killed your father,” Derek begins. The words are heavy. They hit Stiles like a cement block, holding him under water as panic takes him. “Wait, Stiles,” Derek says hurriedly, reaching out for him, sensing the movement before Stiles realizes he was going to run. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Yeah?” Stiles spits, trying to shake the strong hand off, “you just told me your uncle killed my father. How am I supposed to believe you won’t kill me?”

“If I wanted to kill you I would have already,” Derek says.

It sounds like the truth, not that Stiles can tell. But they’ve been through too much together, which is strange because at the same time they haven’t at all. Not really. They’ve been on the road for a week. Not too much, but enough. Just enough that Stiles feels like he needs to hear this. Just enough that Stiles is willing to hear it from him.

“What happened?” Stiles asks weakly.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Peter – his name – was really messed up after the Argents came after us. Unpredictable, unstable. Laura was an alpha, our alpha, and she took it upon herself to watch him. We didn’t want to be like other packs, the Hales aren’t like that. And we knew Peter was on the edge. It was important to keep him on a leash. But he got away. We were travelling close to Beacon Hills and he just snapped. We knew where he was going and we went to stop him.

“When we found Peter, hunters were already looking for him. He told us what happened, that he went after Kate. Peter said a sheriff was running to save her and that he killed him. And Laura was angry because while revenge is serious to us, it doesn’t happen at the expense of the pack and what Peter did would attract attention. So she killed him.”

There’s no sympathy in Derek’s words. Not for Peter. It’s obvious to Stiles that Derek had no part in what happened. But it doesn’t ease the blow of his past rushing back. All the memories he’d long since buried, back with missing pieces. He’s not sure if he ever wanted to find them.

“You knew,” Stiles says. “About my father being a sheriff. You knew I was the sheriff’s son.” There’s no way Derek couldn’t. Not with the badge on Stiles’ bag.

“I suspected,” Derek confirms and nods.

Silence stretches for a long time before Derek clasps an unsteady hand to Stiles’ shoulder in comfort. “I’m sorry.”

Stiles shakes his hand away, “Just don’t.”

---

The sky is painted with morning hues, the clouds a peach colour with the sunrise. Stiles wakes up to a heaviness over his body, and the slow burning embers of the fire. He grabs for what’s on top of him in his grogginess, thick cotton. It’s his other sweater. Derek must have grabbed it.

Stiles smiles. It’s weak, but genuine, and he tries not to because he feels like he’s betraying himself by letting some of the warmth from the simple action seep into his skin. He tells himself it’s nothing – it doesn’t change anything – as he pulls it over his arms and zips it up. Then he looks at Derek, sleeping at the other edge of the blanket, watches how soft his face looks when it’s not frowning deeply at him or smiling in that sarcastic way. And the whole thing, the grudge he’d gone to bed with, just sort of falls away.

He’s angry still, sure. But not at Derek, not that he truly was the night before. It’s a somber kind of rage. The kind that fills him with a sick feeling that can’t be directed at Derek, or Chris, or Peter, or Kate. It’s the type of rage that fills him up and leaves him… sad. Just sad. Because he’s too weak to do much else and there’s no point wasting his energy throwing a tantrum.

So he gets up and walks to the side of the rock blocking out the desert behind it, dragging his feet across the mountain ash and breaking the barrier as he continues strolling. There’s a lot of shrubbery covering the ground, and Stiles absently looks for wolfsbane but he decides to not even bother and just strides across the dirt.

He throws his thoughts away as he walks, tries to clear his mind from all the thoughts racing through it. His entire life, the one he’s built on long rides and cheap thrills, all in the name of revenge, is crashing down around him. Picking up the pieces is futile.

While Stiles is busy trying not to be busy at all, figures walk in the distance. He notices them the instant they enter his line of sight and he stops in his tracks. They do as well, catching the sight of him at seemingly the same moment. He counts five and tilts his head to the side, straining his eyes to make them out.

It takes him a moment to realize that he doesn’t have time for details. They’re advancing, and quick. Stiles turns with urgency in his step, taking off back toward the rock. Behind him he hears the sounds of motors, roaring as they draw near.

“Derek!” he calls out, hoping his voice, or the sounds of the bikes will reach Derek. Stiles doesn’t know how far he is or how long he’s been walking.

They catch up in seconds, corralling around him. They’re dressed in ragged clothes, look as if they haven’t bathed in weeks. Stiles reaches for his gun, but another shoots a bullet into the ground, right near his feet, making him jump aside.

“Don’t try it.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and sighs, because, can this not happen right now?

“What’s in the bag?” one of the men asks, stepping forward. He’s got a pipe strapped to his back, it looks heavy.

“Sanitary napkins,” Stiles says with feigned confidence and a mouth load of sarcasm. He doesn’t understand why they’re asking what’s in it, when clearly it doesn’t matter.

“Cut the shit and drop the bag,” the man demands, venom accompanying his words this time. He reaches for the pipe over his shoulder.

“Can we talk about this?” Stiles asks, stalling for time. He swallows hard as he looks for signs of Derek. “I think this can be solved using our words.”

The pipe whips out and cracks against the side of his arm and Stiles drops the bag, reeling back from the pain. His belongings roll out onto the ground with the fall, marbles going off in all directions.

He’s dealt with this sort of thing before, fought off road thugs waiting to jump him. They’re a lot like howlers, with their hatred of conversation and their affinity for fucking shit up.

“Okay, ouch,” Stiles whinges, shaking off the pain, glaring at the man holding the pipe. “You prick.”

Before he can even see it, the pipe collides with the side of Stiles’ face, knocking off his balance and sending him to the ground. He sees double the people there, all blurred no matter how hard he tries to focus. He tries to push himself to his feet, but his body isn’t having it.

It’s like slow motion. Two of the same arms, holding two of the same pipes, winding up to take another blow. And Stiles can’t move fast enough, can’t will his limbs to dodge it. Is this why the Argents didn’t follow them far? Is he about to become a victim of the notorious meat trade?

Time speeds up. But the hit doesn’t come.

A flash of leather and claws kicks into the back of the pipe wielder, and Stiles focuses just in time to see his assailant’s arm snap violently.

“It’s a fucking dog!” one of them yells.

There are screams and shots that follow quickly, and are put out like water over a flame just as quick.

Stiles kicks up off the ground, Derek helping him in standing to his feet. He grabs for the pipe, gripping it and whipping it around into another’s face before bringing it  back and decimating the leader’s kneecaps with a crunch. Derek is fighting with some behind Stiles, effectively covering him, while Stiles goes after those he can see within his range. It’s a frenzy of snapping bones and curdling screams. Stiles doesn’t watch what Derek does, just seems to dance around him, hitting what he needs to. Derek does the same, taking out anyone who comes too close.

Stiles barely has time to gather his things, piling what he can back into his bag. Then the two of them are running, leaving a pile of groaning thugs behind them.

They haven’t reached the rock when they stop, Stiles is sure they won’t be followed, their attackers are left to the vultures now. Stiles takes in a shaking breath and exhales with relief. He can barely hold himself steady, body threatening to collapse onto the ground.

“I thought you ran away,” Derek says.

“Yeah because if I was going to run I would walk out into the desert and not take a car,” Stiles replies. 

They stand there for a while, quiet as the heat rises from the ground with the promise of a hot day, making no effort to start a conversation.

When they get back to their makeshift camp, Stiles is sweating bullets and has to take the extra layer of clothing off. They pack up quickly; Stiles scoops what he can of the mountain ash into the bag, and Derek grabs the blanket and chucks it into the back after shaking it off.

Derek lets Stiles drive for the first time. First time as in, he actually offers.

“You did a good job last night.”

It’s not even an awkward compliment. So Stiles nods and takes the keys.

“Do we have any jerky left?” Stiles asks as they blaze across the terrain. His stomach grumbles something awful.

“We do,” Derek says with a nod. He reaches back and pulls out the bag. There’s enough to last them another meal. “We’ll have to figure something out after. We can go hunting.”

“Or scavenge,” Stiles offers, taking a piece and biting into it.

“Do you think that’s smart?” Derek questions, “we could run into more groups.”

“I’ve done it before, when things get tough, it’s a lot smarter than starving,” Stiles shrugs. He looks to Derek quickly and flashes a smile. “You can defend my honour again. You are my guard dog.”

They get to the highway within an hour and Stiles presses on the music, letting it fill up the car and repeat for several hours as he and Derek talk about anything and everything.

They reach a dam a few hours later, it’s large with cars parked on either side of the road built across it, letting enough room for them to drive. Whatever water it was blocking is dry. Stiles slows the car to a full stop and steps out, letting the door hang open. He walks to the side of the dam overlooking the valley below and leans against the railing, taking in the sight of just how high they are. His eyes follow the curve of the cement.

“What are you doing?” Derek asks, ducking out of the car and walking over to join him.

“I just need to take a break,” Stiles says, closing his eyes and taking in a deep breath, thinking things will look different when he opens his eyes. Better.

They don’t.

“I can drive,” Derek offers.

“No,” Stiles says with a shake of his head. “I need to stop and just… Not think about hunting or driving or doing what I always do. I’ve never stopped. I never stop driving and I think I should and take in the scenery.”

“Not much to look at,” Derek says, frowning as he watches the horizon. He’s right, the land is dull, shades of yellows and browns, scarred. Stiles doesn’t mind though.

“I’ve been too busy with the ride to really notice,” Stiles says.

So he and Derek just stare and for a while they forget about the alphas and the long road they’ve driven and how cracked down it’s been.

“What are the Argents going to do if they find you?” Derek asks, filling in the silence.

“When they find me they’ll question me, make me prove my allegiance. Depending on who finds me, I could be banned from Argent run towns. I could be shot if they don’t think I’m loyal,” Stiles shrugs. He pretends it doesn’t matter. Maybe it just doesn’t matter anymore.

“I guess we’re both omegas now,” Derek says.

Stiles ignores the warmth that fills him up then, ignores the fact that Derek’s words just aren’t true.

“What would you do if I pushed you?” Stiles smiles, looking to Derek.

Derek thinks about it for a moment. “I’d pull you with me,” he says, furrowing his eyebrows like it’s the obvious answer.

“And what if I jumped?” Stiles asks, turning to look back at the dam.

“I’d go after you.”

Stiles registers his response, but he feels it rather than really hears it. Breathed into his ear from where Derek stands behind him. Stiles is too busy using the railing to support himself to point out both choices have Derek falling.

---

“How’s the bruise coming?” Stiles asks over the lantern burning between he and Derek in the middle of the room.

They’re squatting for the first time, stopping in some old farm house down a road that looked to be seldom travelled. It’s dusty and smells of musk, and there are remnants of it actually being lived in but it doesn’t feel like a home. They’re not the first ones to use its roof; Stiles had searched all over for marbles, finding nothing but ratty sleeping bags and empty food containers. He did uncover a box of candy, however, and Derek found preserved food in the kitchen, along with a bottle of whiskey.

Sometimes people leave things in houses for others. Food, drink, sometimes money. Some sort of neighbourly affection, looking out for other travellers. 

Mountain ash borders the perimeter of the house and more runs in a circle around the Camaro outside. Derek had been quite amazed at how Stiles could make a small amount of mountain ash stretch so far. Stiles told him it was a trick of the trade, being able to work it so well.

Derek hums to himself and raises the lantern to Stiles face, inspecting the side the pipe had crashed upon. “It looks like shit,” he says with a weakened smile after pretending to think on it.

“Why thank you,” Stiles says with a laugh. He takes a candy out of the box, rolling it between his fingers.

“I don’t think we should eat them,” Derek says, frowning with disgust. “We don’t know how old they are.”

“But you’re fine with drinking whiskey, which, by the way, we have no clue who it was made by,” Stiles says and pops a piece of candy into his mouth. It tastes off.

“It’s not poisonous so who cares? Besides, it’s not like I’m going to feel the effects of it,” Derek says and picks up the bottle, observing it.

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks, grimacing and spitting the stale candy out onto the floor.

“I’ve never been able to get drunk,” Derek shrugs, “I might be able to maintain a buzz for a while. It’s just how werewolves are. Laura could never even get a buzz.” Derek goes quiet at mentioning her and turns his attention to puncturing a can of oranges, sliding it to Stiles. Then he opens a can of apples for himself.

Whiskey doesn’t mix well with canned oranges, but then, Stiles isn’t sure it mixes with anything really. The taste leaves him with a bitter tongue but he drinks anyway, passing the bottle to Derek every now and then, who chugs some of it to grasp at the effects.

“What was Laura like?” Stiles asks, basking in a hazy warmth.

“A hard ass,” Derek laughs. It’s genuine but has a sadness tied to it that comes out loud and clear. “But in a good way. She bossed me around, would tease me constantly, never let me get away with anything. She had a soft side though, and we talked about a lot. Everything, even.”

“Do you miss her?” Stiles asks. He realizes it’s a stupid question, but it’s strange. Before Derek, he’d never given a thought to howlers having the ability to care. That they even had feelings.

Derek nods. “Do miss your dad?”

Stiles looks at the lantern and then back at Derek and nods, lying down on the blanket. He misses a lot. Beacon Hills, and Scott.

Scott.

He starts thinking of the time when Scott had found a bike and fixed it up, rode it around town ironically until Melissa gave him crap. So then he and Stiles took to sneaking it around, stashing it in hidden places. Eventually it collected dust and cobwebs, forgotten over time when Scott went to work and Stiles went to hunt.

Stiles misses it. He misses riding around with Scott and terrorizing Jackson who would always terrorize them first so it was fair. He misses hanging out with Scott and Allison too, talking about anything.

He’s homesick for a place that hasn’t been home in a long time. And he feels lost, but he probably has been for a while without even realizing it.

“Wanna play marbles?” Derek asks, reaching for his box. They’d brought in everything, not trusting their belongings to the elements.

Stiles shrugs. “Sure.” He hasn’t played marbles in so long, but he likes it. It’s a gambling game, right up his alley.

“Not for keeps though,” Derek says.

“Uh-uh,” Stiles shakes his head, smirking, “I only play with gambling men.”

“Are you a gambling man?”

“Obviously.”

Derek grins and elongates a nail, etching a circle into the wood. They scatter an equal amount of marbles from both of their boxes, ten each. Stiles shoots first, gaining two back, but Derek shows his worth, eying the marbles carefully and taking five with his first round.

“You’re good at this,” Stiles observes, watching as Derek takes another three.

“I said no keeps,” Derek reminds him.

Derek had said that, and now Stiles is paying quite literally. He keeps seven, and Derek takes thirteen. It’s all in fun though, and they laugh as they play again.

“When do you think our luck is going to run out?” Stiles asks abruptly.

“What do you mean?” Derek arches a brow, looking at Stiles curiously.

“I mean, when is our luck going to run out?” Stiles repeats and chuckles to himself. “We’ve fought and killed three. Or two, I guess. Then there was the whole fight earlier. We still have two to go.”

Derek considers it for a moment, then shrugs and eases himself down onto an elbow, mirroring Stiles. “I don’t think it’s all luck.”

Stiles laughs, alcohol driving the sound louder than it should be. “I thought you said everything I do is based on luck.”

“Maybe not everything,” Derek says, smile lit up by the lantern. “You’re smart, and fast. I’m not convinced you know what you’re doing the whole time. But you seem to know how to work with the blows.”

“We work well together,” Stiles says.

Derek is thoughtful for a moment. “Yeah,” he nods, “I guess we do.” He reaches over and grabs the bottle, taking a big swig and coughing slightly at the burn. They stare at each other, both holding smiles back. “I don’t usually work well with others.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Stiles says with a chuckle, rolling his eyes. “But, same.”

He’s always favoured driving solo, which is why he doesn’t hunt with the Argents. Stiles likes the alone time. Likes not having to put up with annoying habits and fending for someone other than himself.

He rolls onto his back then, face towards Derek. Derek is still propped up on his elbow, pale eyes flickering in the soft light barely brightening up the room. Stiles gets lost in them, the way they grow heavy with exhaustion. It takes only a minute for Derek to ease down onto his own back.

“I think you’re growing on me,” Stiles says and yawns, “you’re not too bad for a howler.”

Stiles reaches for the switch on the lantern, turning it off. Derek’s eyes light up in the darkness. Stiles watches them for a while, lets the cold blue hold his gaze, knowing Derek can see him. It feels intimate, how close they are and how they’re staring at each other with sleep-heavy eyes. As much as Stiles wants to scoot closer, he doesn’t. They’re not supposed to get close, it’s just a job. Once they’re done with the alphas, they’re going their separate ways.

---

Derek is rummaging in the kitchen when Stiles wakes up, dawn just breaking. Stiles rubs at his eyes, pushing himself up and  walks to the kitchen, leaning on the door frame and he watches Derek look for breakfast – another can of fruit.

“When’re we going?” Stiles asks, smiling when Derek turns and hands him the can.

Derek looks thoughtful. “After that,” he says. “We should leave something behind.”

“Uh,” Stiles drawls, popping the lid and tilting the jar to his mouth. He chews a bit, talking before he swallows. “Dog eat dog, man.”

“People are nice enough to leave food and you’re not going to do the same?” Derek says, his lips pulling into a smile.

Stiles sighs and rolls his eyes, dropping his head back as he follows Derek back to the room.  “What do you think we should do then? We’re skint.”

“We can leave a few marbles,” Derek says. He crouches over Stiles’ bag, feeling through it while Stiles simmers behind him.

“Hey,” Stiles starts. He grabs at Derek’s shoulder, pulling him away softly. Derek has the pouch of marbles in his hand and Stiles lets his mouth drop.

“Not all of them,” Derek says, clearly enjoying how surprised Stiles looks if his smile is anything to go off, “just a few.”

They leave three, and pack up their things. Stiles packs away the food into his bag and Derek throws the blanket over his shoulder and they make their way to the door. Derek stops just outside, stilling as his body goes rigid.

“What?” Stiles asks, finding it on the ground just in front of the car. A rock, which must have been thrown over the mountain ash, judging from the marks on the ground. It looks like it has skidded slightly. It also looks like words have been etched into it.

Derek bends over and grabs it, saying nothing while he looks it over. He doesn’t say a word for what feels like minutes and finally Stiles chances a look over his shoulder. There are numbers scratched haphazardly in the rock, but are still clear. Stiles instantly realizes they’re coordinates for some location.

“What is it?” Stiles asks.

“My home,” Derek mutters, throwing the rock as far as he can and opening the door to the Camaro so fast that Stiles almost jumps back.

---

The car is filled to the brim with anger, the kind that stews silently and eats away at a person. Derek’s driving, because he needs to, Stiles can tell by the way he’s glaring at the road. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to go where they’ve been told to, but he’s tearing down the road anyway.

“Derek,” Stiles says slowly, “I think we need a plan of attack.”

“You don’t have to talk to me like I’m going to rip your head off,” Derek mumbles, easing up on the gas. “But we need one. Yeah.” He nods.

“Do you live close to a warzone? Do I need gear?” Stiles asks, already turning in his seat to retrieve a gas mask. He doesn’t need to breathe in the fumes of the cities.

“No,” Derek says. “No need for that.” Stiles stops looking through his things and turns back, shifting a little in his seat to get more comfortable. “But I think you should start getting ready.”

“Who do you think wrote it?” Stiles pushes, slipping his gloves on.

“Kali. But Deucalion might be with her. We need to be as ready as we can be,” Derek says.

---

After driving for hours and stopping for only a short while to eat, a large fence comes into view. Derek stops the Camaro a few feet away from it, staring hard out the windshield. Whatever he sees, it’s not what is standing there now. He stays like that for a while, takes a deep breath, and steps out of the Camaro.

Stiles readies his gun, suppressor and all as he steps out onto the gravel. He grabs his bag, brushing his thumb over the worn, plum material, and sighs. There’s a good chance he won’t be getting it back, depending on what happens. Reaching inside, he pulls the vial of wolfsbane – the hallucinogen Deaton had given him – and places it in his pocket.

Beyond the chain-link fence sit a few large storage containers, some tipped over and rusted. There are junk piles of spare tires and fallen trashcans, as well as what looks like a well and water reservoir which is no doubt empty. Rubbish lays haphazardly across the weed-sprouted ground, mattresses and planks of wood.

 

Stiles has a hard time picturing this as Derek’s home. Though he can see some makeshift rooms built into the containers as they wander close to the fence. Perhaps it would feel more cozy were they not about to walk into danger.

“Are they there?” Stiles asks, turning to Derek. He watches as Derek stands before the fence, not making a move, just staring somberly. Derek hums in response with a nod.

Stiles swallows and wipes his brow, now coated with sweat, and rubs it off on his pants, then he steps forward and loops a few fingers through the chain links, pulling himself up. The fence rattles as he climbs it and each time he finds his footing it feels like he’s going to slip. Clammy palms don’t help.

He scales it, pulling himself over the barbed tips, careful not to touch them, and works his way down the opposite side before dropping to the ground in a soft plume of dirt. Derek joins him, taking much less time; he practically leaps over it.

Stiles sees no sign of howlers, just the remnants of Derek’s home. Storage units create a small labyrinth, curving around the yard, and Stiles walks slowly around them, ready for an attack. Inside of some of the units facing him he sees more of the contents, beds and blankets, all piled up. It feels more like a home then, and he imagines Derek curled up and swallowed by the blankets to keep warm in the cold, desert air at night.

They round the corner of one, and find a female standing in the middle of the lot. Her arms are folded and a menacing smile plays across her face.

“Nice to see you again, Derek,” she says with a steady voice. She doesn’t even bother to hide her condescending tone. “In the same place as last time, no less. I see you brought the hunter.” She nods to Stiles, keeping her eyes on Derek.

Derek is emanating anger. Stiles can feel it as it rolls off him, and if Derek could shift fully, Stiles knows he would. “What do you want, Kali?” he asks.

“Deucalion wants you to stop,” she replies simply, layers of complexity in her voice. “You’ve destroyed half of my pack.”

“More than half,” Stiles corrects. She purses her lips, but ignores him.

“So here’s the deal,” she starts, directing her words to Derek. “Hand him over, and Duec will forgive you for siding with him.”

“Deucalion shouldn’t care in the first place who I side with and who I don’t,” Derek says, “I’m not part of your pack, I’ve never been affiliated with you.”

There are things Stiles doesn’t understand about howlers, just how deep their politics are.

“Oh, Derek, where’s the solidarity?” Kali teases.

“Don’t talk to me about solidarity,” Derek grits out, so low that Stiles can barely catch it.

And then they’re taking off towards each other. Stiles expects a full shift from Kali, for her to drop on all fours in a grotesque crack as the mutation takes over. But it doesn’t happen; she instead takes on a shift much like Derek’s, keeping her humanity. Stiles realizes why right away, as she kicks off the ground and lands atop Derek’s shoulder, claws on her feet ripping into his skin.

She’s a dirty fucking fighter.

Derek falls to the ground but is up quickly, wounds already healing. He twists and grabs her, stopping her course towards Stiles. Stiles can’t get a good shot, not when the two are struggling with each other, and he doesn’t want to shoot Derek, doesn’t need him hit with the wolfsbane again.

Kali is able to swing Derek over her shoulder, slamming him into the ground. It doesn’t look good at first, but she’s jumping up onto the roof of a nearby container and Stiles feels confident that he can get a shot in. He aims, concentrating through the burning heat of the sun, following her movements as she nears him.

Stiles fires his gun when she leaps off, coming towards him. He thinks he has her, thinks she’s been hit, until she smacks him down, sending the gun flying.

He falls, hitting his head on something that dizzies him, making it too difficult to collect himself quickly.

Derek runs to help, but Kali senses it, spinning around and catching Derek in the chest with her toes, splattering blood over the dirt. Stiles watches through his haze as Derek hits the ground, watches as Kali leans over him and digs her claws in farther, dragging a thick streak of red down his chest. Derek’s face is already coated with blood, from scratches that Kali had dealt earlier. And suddenly Stiles is very angry.

“This is familiar isn’t it?” Kali taunts, bending down and staring Derek in the eyes, “except last time you had a pole through your body. That was fun.”

Derek coughs up blood as she presses harder, reaching up to claw away at the offending leg. Kali grabs his wrists, holding them.

“You can’t beat me Derek,” she states through a bloody grin, “or was this ever about beating me? Hales don’t usually go for revenge. Then again, you watched as we killed your sister.” Derek pales, the colour draining from his face. He glares, not at her directly, and frowns, trying to ignore her, the ice blue of his eyes dulling as she continues to berate him. “How was it, watching and not being able to do a single thing as Deucalion ripped her throat out? You weren’t able to do anything, and you’re in the same position now.”

Rage is vibrating through Derek, shaking up his arms as he tries to throw Kali off again. This time she crushes one arm with her other foot and Derek winces at the pain.

Stiles’ own anger is bubbling over and he pulls himself to his feet in his exhaustion, stumbling forward. His fingers grasp a plank of wood. There are nails protruding from it. “Get off of him,” Stiles warns lowly, the taste of copper thick on his tongue. He staggers towards her, holding the large piece of wood with both his hands.

Kali looks at him, alerted first by his movement. Her mouth tilts up in a vicious grin. She doesn’t even look at the wood, underestimating him completely with his dizzying gait.

Stiles drives himself forward, throwing his focus into whipping the wood back and knocking Kali off of Derek. She doesn’t fall over, but she is thrown off balance and turns her attention to Stiles instead of Derek.

“You can barely stand,” she patronizes, tilting her head. Her eyes are dark with a sliver of red, amusement glazing over them.

“Where’s Deucalion?” Stiles asks, voice steady and sure. He drops the plank to the ground for better balance and because he thinks it will show her he isn’t afraid.

Kali gives a low chuckle, but doesn’t answer.

“Where is he?” Stiles repeats.

“He’s not here, he’s not anywhere near here,” she says as she walks coolly towards him. Her feet track blood across the ground. Not yet healed enough to get up, off to the side Derek coughs up a sputter of blood, leaving a pattern of crimson in the dirt.

“Then he’s not coming for you,” Stiles says, mirroring the grin on her face. He reaches into the pocketed compartment of his holster, taking the vial between his fingers. He crushes the vial, throwing a fistful of wolfsbane directly into her face.

Kali coughs, rubbing at her eyes as she staggers backwards. “What was that?” she manages through the burn of wolfsbane, already taking effect judging by the way she walks like the world is spinning fast.

“I’m not really sure what it does,” Stiles says, tilting his head as he follows her steps. Follows until she falls over. “I know it causes hallucinations. Which aren’t going to be too fun. You might just do my job for me. But I do know you won’t be making it to Deucalion. So tell me, where are you meeting him?”

Kali glares at up him, shaking her head. “I’m not telling you.”

“Why are you looking out for him? He’s not looking out for you,” Stiles says, stepping forward, which makes Kali scramble backwards. “He made you kill your pack.”

Kali’s eyes go wide at that.

“He did, didn’t he?” Stiles leans down, the cruel smile still playing across his lips, “he made you kill them. And you couldn’t stop him. Why? Why is that?”

“He’s far more powerful than any of us. You don’t know what you’re up against. You’re either with him or against him.”

“Tell me where he is.” Stiles leans in closer, unafraid of being attacked. Kali is too out of it, her eyes darting continuously back and forth in fear at the world she is seeing. “Tell me and you get to run.”

“The Grove,” Kali says. “He’s at The Grove.”

Stiles locks his jaw, trying to not let it drop. Why Deucalion is at The Grove is beyond him.

“Start running.”

Stiles stands up and leaves her there, then walks over to Derek. Derek is sitting up, watching the whole ordeal, not quite healed. He stares at Stiles with an expression that’s hard to read. Stiles doesn’t linger on it too long and bends down to pick up his gun. He turns around as Kali pulls herself up and begins to walk away. She looks back once, then pulls herself over the fence and leaves.

“Do you think that was a good idea?” Derek asks.

“She won’t get far,” Stiles says, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t think she’ll go back to him anyway. She went in the other direction.” Stiles leans over Derek, frowning at his blood streaked face, and holds his hand out. “You okay?”

Derek nods but looks incriminatingly at Stiles hand. It is then that Stiles realizes there is still wolfsbane on his sweat slicked palms, and blood from where pieces of vial stick out. He doesn’t feel the pain, too hyped up on adrenaline.

Stiles sighs and begins to pull the glass, there aren’t many pieces, but it is still something he doesn’t like much. After the shards are out, he walks to the well and retrieves water, splashing it over his hands. Derek is up now, good as new save for the blood on his tank top and the dirt smearing his skin. He gives Stiles a smile. It’s weak on his lips, matching the weariness in his eyes, now back to their pale green.

Returning to the car, they ready themselves to drive the long stretch of road to The Grove.

---

Stiles is driving, one hand on the wheel and the other propped out of the open window with a gun held in his grasp. Pills rattle in their container on the dash – he’d had to take them, the day was too much and he needed to narrow down his focus a bit.

It’s dark outside, and all he has to follow are the headlights stretching across the road. Eventually he knows they will have to pull over, but they’re both worse for wear, covered in blood and dirt, and he would much like to stop at a lake to clean up a bit.

He catches Derek looking at him out of his peripherals. At first, he ignores it, giving his attention to the road. But he gives in, turning to glance quickly at Derek. Derek’s brows are relaxed and his eyes have a sort of glint to them that they haven’t had before.

Stiles feels a smile tug at his lips, and a warmth rising in the pit of his stomach. He looks to the road again, quickly, then chances another look at Derek. “What?”

“I don’t know,” Derek begins, quietly, eyes wandering down Stiles face. Stiles feels himself growing hot, feels his lips go lax as Derek stares at them. “You were amazing.”

“I couldn’t sit there and let her do that to you,” Stiles says, his voice barely a whisper.

Derek breathes out, leaning over to Stiles’ side of the car. It’s quiet and it’s just them and Stiles isn’t sure what’s happening but he wants this.

The car hits a pothole and Stiles is jostled from his reverie, swerving to the side. He pulls back into the middle of the lane, eyes wide with shock. A flush tints his cheeks, the warmth of it spreading up to his ears and down his neck. They both laugh. And they don’t look at each other again for another mile.

Derek sees it first, the neon glow buzzing in the distance, off to the side of the road. Excitement fills Stiles’ eyes, filling them with the word ‘motel’.

“We’re stopping here,” Stiles declares even before they’ve pulled up. “Especially if there is a water reserve. It’s been too long since I’ve slept in a bed and had a shower in the same day!”

“What if it’s super expensive?” Derek asks as he leans forward. They’re drawing closer now, and sure enough there is a large container beside the motel.

“I don’t care,” Stiles says. He turns into the parking lot, which is completely empty. “And neither should you,” he continues and flashes Derek a smile, “you’re a mess.”

Derek frowns, trying his best to glare but his expression falls short of its mark. Stiles just shakes his head and laughs, stepping out of the vehicle.

The motel isn’t amazing but it looks well maintained. The name – Martin – and vacancy buzz on the sign, though one light is flickering. The ice machine is working, which Stiles isn’t used to, not that he’s going to eat any ice from a strange fridge. The building is one level, with cracked paint, but otherwise is in good condition.

They walk into the lobby, thick with incense to flush out whatever stale smell it usually stinks of. The man behind the desk sits with his feet on the counter, making no movement to look at them. He looks bored.

Stiles recognizes him immediately.

“Jackson?” Stiles asks, mouth wide and brows pulled together.

The man looks up. And sure enough, it is Jackson. Jackson with his dirty blonde hair, and freckled face, and blue eyes lidded with a condescending boredom. Except now his expression closely matches Stiles’.

“Stilinski?” he breaks into a laugh of sorts, one that lacks certainty, like he’s not sure it’s really Stiles.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Stiles says. He doesn’t know whether he’s telling the truth or not. The words sound empty but it’s almost nice seeing a familiar face before him. “You run a motel?”

The last he had heard, Jackson had left Beacon Hills, but he didn’t know it was for this.

“Lydia too,” Jackson says and nods.

“Yeah I hear she followed you. Where is she?” Stiles asks. He looks around the lobby.

“Out. Took the car for supplies at the next town. She’ll be back tomorrow.” Jackson then turns to Derek, giving them a curious look after darting between the two of them a few times. “Didn’t think you’d be hanging out with a howler.”

“What?” Stiles lets his mouth drop more, the word barely dripping from his lips. There is no way Jackson could tell what Derek is. The fact that he’s figured it out so soon has Stiles feeling worried.

“He can sense it. He’s not entirely human,” Derek states rigidly. He looks to Jackson, staring him in the eyes, his own narrowed in wonder. “But you’re not a werewolf either.” Jackson gives him a look of surprise. “I can sense it too.”

“My father called me an abomination,” Jackson says evenly. But Stiles knows him better than that, knows he hates whatever memory he’s swirling in.

“You were bitten,” Stiles states blankly. Jackson smiles at him and nods. “That’s why you left Beacon Hills.”

He’d not heard many details of why Jackson left Beacon Hills. Because there weren’t any. He was told that Jackson just up and left one day, Lydia trailing close behind.

“Yup. We didn’t tell anyone. Made up some story about taking care of some family stuff down the state. Not a total lie,” Jackson replies, “Lydia came. It’s working out.” Jackson slides his feet off the tabletop and leans forward. “I want to hear more about you two though. Stiles Stilinski, hunter, travelling around with a howler. I wonder how the folks back in town will feel about that.” He grins at them, finding the whole thing amusing.

“Guess we won’t know,” Stiles says, “unless you want to join their list of targets. Give us a room.”

“Touchy,” Jackson laughs, turning to the wall of keys. “One bed? Or two.”

Stiles can hear the grin on his voice. “I… Uh… Two. Two.” He nods on the second two, reigning himself in before he gets too flustered.

“Fifty marbles a night,” Jackson turns back to them. “Upfront.” He looks at them expectantly.

“I’ll get them,” Derek says roughly.

“Hey,” Jackson says, “this is a good motel. You pay for what you get. Water, fresh towels and sheets. Lydia has a thing for laundry.” From the sounds of it, Lydia has a thing for making Jackson do laundry. He speaks with a disgusted tone as he talks about it.

The room isn’t too shabby. The walls are made of wood, the bed sheets are mismatched. But it’s clean. Stiles sighs as he looks around, grinning. He drops his bag off at the table in-between the two beds.

“Which one do you want?” Stiles asks.

“I don’t care,” Derek shrugs, “it will just be nice to sleep on a bed and not on a seat.” He puts one of the bags he’s holding on the ground, right at the table by the door. “I’m going to get the rest of the things.”

Stiles nods, to which Derek just stands there. They stare at each other in silence and it takes a while for Stiles to get it. “You need help. Because of the mountain ash.”

“Yeah,” Derek says blatantly.

Stiles smiles and goes to help him. He takes care of the wolfsbane and mountain ash, and Derek takes care of the boxes of marbles. Within fifteen minutes they have almost everything from the Camaro set down in the room and Stiles stretches his arms out in victory.

“Dibs on the shower!”

Derek probably needs it more, but Stiles wants it and doesn’t even think about how dingy Derek looks.

Stiles opens the bathroom door, leading into a tiled room. He undresses quickly, then pulls back the curtain, stepping into the shower. It takes a few seconds for the water to kick in after he turns the handle. The shower gives a sound, something rough and clinking, and brown water pours out. Stiles jumps back from the stream, grimacing at the colour. It runs clear quickly, washing the muddy colour out.

The water is cool against his skin and he lets it run down his back, soothing him and washing away the day – the week’s – grime. Grime that includes terrible flashes of blood and snaring teeth. He stays under the stream for longer than he usually would, letting himself think of Derek and how close their lips had been.

Stiles turns off the shower and steps out, redressing lazily. When he walks back into the room, Derek’s belongings are stretched out on one of the beds, the closest to the window. Most of the things there Stiles hasn’t seen before. It occurs to him the reason for that could be that he completely took over Derek’s car with his own belongings.

“Good shower?” Derek asks, getting up and walking to the bathroom.

“Huh?” Stiles asks, “oh, yeah. Water’s cold. Pretty nice.”

Stiles turns as Derek stops at the door, pulling the tattered, bloody tank top over his torso, tossing it into the bin at the door. There is a tattoo inked in his skin, between his shoulder blades, moving with his muscles. Stiles focuses on it for a moment, letting his eyes drop down Derek’s body, shamelessly taking in how strong Derek is built.

Stiles exhales slowly, blushing as he turns to the bed. He looks at Derek’s things, there are a few changes of clothes, spare rags of linen, little luxuries. He lets himself inspect them, innocently, putting together pieces of Derek. It’s strange, how much someone’s things tell about them. Stiles’ own paint a picture of a violent person, but Derek’s paint one of someone who is just trying to get by without any drama.

Turning to his own belongings, Stiles reaches into one of the sacks on the floor. Stiles takes a handful of mountain ash and walks to the window to seal it off, then he moves to the door and does the same.

“Are you trying to keep me prisoner?” Derek teases, coming up behind him. Stiles hadn’t even noticed the water had stopped running.

“If I was trying to keep you prisoner, I would make a circle around the bed,” Stiles says dismissively, stiffening when his words reach his own ears and register fully.

Seconds stretch to what feels like minutes and it’s quiet and tense. Derek’s breath heats up the nape of Stiles’ neck in an uneven way, like he’s just as unsure as Stiles is. Then there is soft pressure and all Stiles can do is let out a shaky gasp.

Derek pulls away slightly, but in seconds his lips are back, pressing kisses up Stiles’ neck, over the tattoos sunken into the skin. Stiles holds himself against the door, pushing back into Derek’s touch. He shuts his eyes, mouth lax, letting out a groan at the simple touch.

“This is a bit dangerous, isn’t it?” Derek mutters, voice still full of its teasing tone. “Me being a werewolf and all.”

“I get off on danger,” Stiles tries to joke, voice straining halfway through into a whimper as Derek drags his lips over the top of Stiles’ ear. Stiles cranes his head, capturing Derek’s lips in a kiss. It isn’t enough though. Doesn’t feel like enough. In a sloppy movement, Stiles turns his whole body, letting Derek press up against him, to anchor him to the door, giving into the kiss fully.

Derek is wearing nothing but worn sweatpants and his water-beaded body dampens Stiles’ clothing. But Stiles welcomes it, gripping Derek’s shoulders with blunt nails as Derek moves down his neck and to his collar bone, biting soft bruises into the skin there. Stiles lets his head fall back, a shaking sigh escaping his lips. He holds Derek there and arches his back, letting Derek leave an array of bruises blooming across his skin.

He isn’t worried about Derek hurting him or losing control, not even when he feels fangs drag back up his neck, too gentle to even break the skin.

Derek claims Stiles’ lips again and they take a moment to catch up to the rush of it all, breathing each other in. Stiles pushes against him, hands cupping the sides of his jaw. Through his lashes, Stiles catches a short glimpse of Derek, whose eyes look starved, crazed. But at the same time, more relaxed than Stiles has ever seen them.

Then they’re staggering backwards with messy footsteps, blindly guiding each other to the free bed. Derek rids Stiles of his shirt somewhere along the way and throws it across the room, running his hands down to the dip in Stiles’ lower back before being nudged down onto the bed.

Stiles straddles Derek’s waist, rocking against him slightly, reaching down to palm at Derek’s erection through his pants. He revels in the heavy sigh it earns him, the way Derek bites at his bottom lip. Derek messes with the button of Stiles’ jeans, and Stiles helps him shove them down until he can awkwardly kick them away.

They move back along the bed, pressing kisses and licking their way into each other’s mouths. Stiles can barely think, focusing only on the way Derek’s palms burn into his skin wherever they travel. The sensation drives him mad, filling him with the need to press himself even closer. It’s like Derek is lighting him up from the inside out, and Stiles hasn’t realized how cold he’s been. He needs this.

Derek struggles out of his own pants, a clumsy movement that breaks the kiss. He chases after Stiles’ lips, ending up with his forehead pressed to Stiles’, eyes heavy with lust. Stiles grins, hooking his arms around Derek’s neck, pushing him down onto the pillow. Derek is moving beneath him with shallow thrusts of his hips, strong hands running down Stiles’ body and grabbing his ass, holding him there.

Fingers slip past the waistband of Stiles’ briefs and he gets the picture, wriggling out of them the best he can, losing them to the room. Derek continues to rock against Stiles, cock sliding over his ass, and Stiles just about loses it.

“I need you,” Stiles murmurs, surprised at his own words. It’s just sexual. It’s all it is. He tries to ignore how it feels like more, focusing on Derek.

“You have me,” Derek says into his lips.

“You know what I mean,” Stiles says, voice urgent, rutting back against Derek.

“Do you have lube?” Derek asks, kissing the corner of Stiles’ lips.

Stiles nods dazedly, pulling away from Derek and heavily despising the sudden loss of Derek’s mouth against his. He reaches into the bag on the table, grabbing for the bottle he knows is there. He rarely uses it and it takes a few seconds to find it, but he finally pulls the bottle out and hands it to Derek.

Derek leans up and pours a generous amount of his fingers. He reaches around Stiles, one hand gripping a hip, and runs a finger over Stiles’ hole, pressing in slowly. Stiles’ breath hitches in his throat at the sensation and his grips onto Derek’s shoulders to ground himself. For a few moments, Derek stays still, waiting for Stiles to relax around him before finding a rhythm.

He presses another in and Stiles lets his head slide down to rest between the curve of Derek’s neck and shoulder, panting softly at the stretch. He presses back against Derek’s fingers, eyes rolling into a haze when Derek crooks them, adjusting his pace to Stiles’ lust-addled one.

Stiles lets out soft little sounds, whispering whines against Derek’s skin as he’s slowly opened up. When Derek slips a third finger in, easily dipping in and out now, Stiles sighs. He can feel himself growing madder by the minute as Derek fucks into him with his fingers. Derek can sense it, a smile curving his lips up as he watches Stiles fall further into lust, kissing at his mouth and stealing the whines off his lips.

Stiles pushes Derek back down and reaches for the lube, coating his fingers. He reaches back and grasps Derek’s cock, slicking it up. Biting down on his lip in anticipation, Stiles guides Derek to his hole before sinking down slowly. He doesn’t move right away, allowing himself time to accommodate the stretch.

Stiles rolls his hips forward, almost painstakingly slow, moaning quietly and steadying himself by placing his hands on Derek’s chest. He half expects Derek to grab his hips, to fuck up into him at a faster pace, but Derek seems perfectly content with Stiles holding the control. In fact, he seems downright pleased, low, throaty groans slipping out of his lips as Stiles moves.

Derek’s hands glide over Stiles’ body, tracing along the ink on his skin. He follows the lines of the fox on Stiles’ chest, trailing down to the sparrows drawn into the curvature of his hips and settling there. He eyes them all, taking Stiles’ body in with appreciation. He lets Stiles set the pace, lets him take control, which has Stiles’ mind abuzz. Once or twice, Derek does thrust up, his body losing itself in a shock of pleasure.

Stiles stills the third time Derek bucks up, warmth spiking in his stomach, desire shooting through his body. He lets out a small gasp, his body shuddering.

“Your hips,” Stiles breathes out, “angle them up like that again.” He sighs with delight as Derek does and moves his hips forward. “And your hands,” Stiles says,  taking one of Derek’s hands and guiding it up his body, placing them above the fox’s head on his chest, just at the base of his neck. “Hold me here. I liked it when you touched me here.”

Derek swallows and nods, his fingertips brushing the muted purple of aconite petals that curve down Stiles’ neck. Stiles likes the way Derek looks beneath him, how raw his lips look from being kissed and how his pupils are blown beneath his heavy lids, leaving only a slim ring of green.

Derek is pliant under Stiles’ hands; he listens as Stiles speaks, following his words with a sort of desperation that surprises Stiles. He doesn’t even try to take back any control, just gives it all to Stiles.

Stiles feels his orgasm building and reaches to stroke himself. Derek grasps him first, fingers wrapping around Stiles’ cock. Stiles throws his head back, snapping his hips in a sudden change of pace. He leans back, arching himself and holding onto Derek’s thighs for balance, thrusting into Derek’s hand, moaning loudly as he falls apart at Derek’s touch.

Stiles gives a few stuttered thrusts, riding out his orgasm, cracking out a sigh as Derek runs his thumb over the head of his cock, how sensitive he suddenly feels. He leans down, pressing his lips to Derek’s. “Keep going,” he slurs, bucking his hips the best he can, letting Derek know he’s alright for more.

Derek grips Stiles’ hips, holding him still, fucking up into him with hard and steady thrusts. Stiles lets his head fall into the crook of Derek’s neck, panting unevenly. He wants Derek to keep fucking him until his mind goes numb. Stiles keens, trembling against Derek.

“Fuck,” Stiles sighs, voice broken. He doesn’t know how to get his words out, to let Derek know he’s too sensitive now. But Derek seems to know, pulling out the instant Stiles begins talking and giving a few short thrusts against his ass. Derek’s breathing grows uneven against Stiles’ lips, pressed to his throat, his pace slowing down. He grips Stiles’ ass, pressing into the soft flesh with blunted nails and lets out a cracked moan as he comes.

Stiles relaxes and lies on top of Derek, forehead pressed to forehead. They’re both hot with a sweaty sheen over their bodies, but they allow themselves to bask in each other, to enjoy the moment. Derek is smiling weakly, crinkles forming under his eyes. He kneads the flesh of Stiles’ ass as they catch their breath.

“We should clean up,” Derek says, the words vibrating against Stiles’ skin. Stiles nods in reply and rolls off of him. Come sticks to Derek’s stomach, and Stiles can feel some of it on his lower back. Derek gets up from the bed and walks to the other one, taking one of the towels and cleans himself.

Stiles lies in the bed, completely dazed, and takes in the sight of Derek’s bare back, eyes wandering from the tattoo down to his sculpted ass. He smiles to himself, a flutter of joy twisting in his stomach. It’s weird to feel such a thing, he isn’t used to other people, let alone tearing down his own walls for them.

He isn’t sure when he started feeling a connection to Derek, one strong enough to lead to all of this. Emotions that have bloomed over the course of the week out of fights and snide remarks.

They’re the same, in a lot of ways, he realizes. Two lost wanderers with only the road to call home because no one else will take them in. Because they don’t want anyone else to take them in. But now, Stiles isn’t too sure the highway is much a home at all. He’s been following it for too long and whenever he sees Derek’s eyes, weary and pale, it’s like he’s looking into a mirror. Stiles is making a broken home in Derek. And it terrifies him in ways no howler ever has.

Stiles pulls the blankets over himself, tearing his mind from thoughts of Derek and instead withdrawing. He shouldn’t be feeling like this, shouldn’t be weaving his life with that of another – a howler no less. It’s dangerous to let emotions run wild with his job.

Derek eases onto the bed, hand reaching out to Stiles, pulling the sheets off. Amusement etches into the lines of his face.

“What are you doing?” he asks, cracking a smile.

Shrugging, Stiles goes to grab the linen from him but Derek completely disregards his hand and instead wipes at the drying come on Stiles’ stomach, tossing the cloth back to the other bed once he’s done.

Stiles sits there, biting his lips to keep from smiling when Derek looks back at him, his gaze darting across Stiles’ body. He feels more exposed, suddenly, now that he is aware and can feel himself pulling towards Derek.

“You have a lot of tattoos,” Derek muses, running his hand over Stiles skin and retracing the ink like he had moments before. Stiles pushes any fear away and gives into the feeling and smiles as Derek looks at the art adorning his stomach.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, pulling Derek down so they’re pressed together, “I didn’t know you had more.”

Derek gives him a curious look that falls after just a moment into a small smile. “My back.”

“What is it?”

“A triskelion,” Derek replies simply enough, tangling their legs together and leaning down to kiss at Stiles’ neck.

Stiles chuckles softly at the rub of stubble tickling him and rolls his eyes. “Okay, what does it mean though?”

Derek shrugs. “It means a lot of things. For me, it means alpha, beta, omega. We all had it. A pack thing.”

Stiles nods in understanding, letting his hand brush over Derek’s skin, lingering between his shoulder blades. Derek rumbles in content and rolls off to his side, fitting his arm under Stiles’ head. His fingertips follow the curves of lettering, written on a ribbon which has a sparrow sitting on either side.

“What does it mean?” Derek asks, referring to the script: Canis Canem Edit.

“Dog eats dog,” Stiles informs him, lazily carting his fingers through Derek’s hair, still damp.

“You do have a lot of werewolf relating ones,” Derek says, eyebrows rising as he throws back to one of the earlier talks they have had.

Stiles shakes his head. “I guess I do,” he says, because he can’t outright deny it, “but this one can be taken in other ways. Dog eat dog can be used in almost every situation. I don’t fend off just howlers. I’ll do whatever to get what I need. No solidarity here.”

“The gas station,” Derek remembers.

“Yeah. Like that,” Stiles says unsurely. It hadn’t occurred to him that Derek knew, but if he was tracking him, or rather, the alphas, he would have driven right by the gong show that Stiles was responsible for.

Derek stops abruptly, eyes widening. “What about this one?” He’s touching over a spiral just below the jut of Stiles’ hip. “Do you know what this means to us?”

Stiles nods. “Yeah. I know.”

It means revenge. Something Stiles expects Derek would have inked on himself. But so far he hasn’t noticed anything other than the tattoos on Derek’s fingers or the triskelion. It is a werewolf symbol, the spiral. He had taken it for himself because of the irony perhaps.

“People might think you’re a werewolf,” Derek points out. He drags a thumb over the spiral.

Stiles shifts towards Derek, raking his fingers through Derek’s beard, “Most people don’t see it.”

“Ever thought of becoming a tattoo artist?” Derek asks, playing absently with the trail of hair below Stiles’ navel.

A smile creeps across Stiles’ face and his lips tremble for a moment before he lets out a light chuckle. “Tattoo artist? No,” he shakes his head, “definitely not. Needles don’t really sit well with me. Couldn’t do it.”

Derek guffaws at him, eyebrows somehow both raised and furrowed at the same time. “Stiles, you’re covered in tattoos. I find it hard to believe you don’t like needles.”

“Do you hear a lie?” Stiles grins wider.

He’s pretty sure the only reason Derek is able to keep a straight face is because he’s so baffled by the whole deal. “How?”

Stiles shrugs. “I either don’t look, or I pass out while they’re doing it. The result is worth it.”

He realizes how strange it sounds, how completely bizarre it is that he hates needles, yet goes back when he can to mark up his skin with tattoos. He laughs to himself about it.

Derek leans down to Stiles’ neck, pressing a smile into the skin. “You’re so weird.”

“Mm,” Stiles hums, letting the touch wash over him, lighting up his own face.

“So,” Derek says after a few minutes of lazy cuddling, “what are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks, not quite understanding what Derek is on about.

“For work,” Derek replies.

“Hunting,” Stiles says apprehensively, pulling away to look at Derek. Derek’s expression is mostly calm, soft. Maybe even hurt.

“I thought because of–“

“Whatever you thought, you’re wrong,” Stiles cuts him off, his voice sharp and suddenly cruel, “you think that because we fucked, I won’t keep hunting howlers?”

“No, I didn’t,” Derek sighs. Stiles thinks he sees a lie in Derek’s eyes, it looks like he’s been kicked and Stiles feels on the edge of regret; he doesn’t even know where the sudden anger came from. “I just figured, since you don’t have to get revenge on the werewolf who killed your father.”

Stiles laughs sarcastically and shakes his head. Giving into his anger, he sits up, shooting a glare at Derek. “It’s not about that.”

“Really?” Derek asks, his own anger rising in his throat, “because that’s what you said it was, and now you’re backtracking. It never was, was it? You’ve been using it as an excuse to run away. That’s all you do isn’t it? You keep running and you don’t give a shit about who gets in your way.”

Stiles feels his eyes prickle with tears as Derek spits out the words. He bites at his lip, unable to look directly in Derek’s eyes. Derek has found a part of Stiles that has been kept so well hidden, so ignored. Stiles let him in and now Derek is wreaking havoc on his emotions, exposing Stiles to himself for what he really is. It’s not Derek’s fault, Stiles knows it’s not. But it doesn’t quell the anger.

“You don’t know me,” Stiles mutters. “We’ve spent a week in a fucking car. You know nothing about me.” Whatever home he’s built in Derek, he’s tearing it down, reaching in and ripping it apart before he can even properly enjoy it.

“I know you’re using revenge as a way to feel like you’re not running. To avoid the fact that you’re scared. Revenge is a dangerous thing, Stiles,” Derek continues.

“Don’t talk to me about revenge when you’re the one whose whole goal is getting back at the alpha pack,” Stiles spits, “revenge is the reason you came to me, why you asked for my help and dragged me on this road trip. We’re working together for the sole reason of revenge and maybe that’s how it should stay.”

Stiles says it all before he knows what he’s actually saying, and he aches as soon as the words leave his lips. He watches as anger and hurt swirl in Derek’s eyes, but Stiles is simmering far too much to try and fix what he’s ruined.

Perhaps he’s done it all on purpose, his subconscious pushing Derek away before it all became too much. Stiles has a lot of terrible defense-mechanisms and this one already feels to be the most terrible of them all.

Stiles throws himself on the bed, turning away from Derek and clutching at his pillow to keep himself together. He holds onto the rage vibrating within him, because it’s better than letting regret rear its hideous head. It proves to be a hard task because Derek says nothing, and Stiles wishes he would, to not be so willing to give him the last word. It’s for the best, he tells himself, it never would have worked.

They fall asleep, back to back, anger boiling between them. But sometime during the night Stiles wakes up to Derek curled to his back, heating him up. The room is dark; either the power went out or Derek got up to shut off the lights.

Stiles goes stiff at Derek behind him, trying to hold onto the anger he went to bed with. He fights with the idea of getting up and moving to the other bed, but instead relaxes, hating himself for it. It’s been a long time since someone held him, draped themselves over him. He lets himself have this, needing the touch.

 Stiles wakes up to Derek packing. The room is already cleared out of most of their possessions, though Stiles’ weapons are where he left them. Derek is piling his clothing in the trash bag from which they came.

“What time is it?” Stiles asks, yawning.

“Noon,” Derek answers evenly, not meeting Stiles’ eyes. “We needed the rest. And The Grove is close. We can get there in a few hours.”

“Look,” Stiles begins, getting up and putting his clothes on, “about last night…”

“Don’t,” Derek says, lifting a hand up to stop Stiles. He swings the bag over his shoulder and makes for the door. “It doesn’t matter.”

Stiles frowns as he watches Derek carry his bag out to the car, guilt creeping up and grabbing him. Without a shirt he walks to the bathroom, peering at himself in the mirror. A full night’s sleep has done him considerably well, but he feels terrible. There are bruises on his skin, along his clavicle, and up his neck. His emotions twist when his eyes wander over them.

He tears his gaze away from them, refusing to dwell on the fight, the sex, how Derek had held him even though they had argued. His hair is getting long enough that he can almost run his hands through it. Stiles touches at it, then grabs for the razor Derek must have left, plugging it in and bringing it to the side of his head.

The buzzing drowns out thoughts of Deucalion, and Stiles focuses on it so he won’t have to focus on the fact that they’re walking into what feels like a trap. Carefully set up to ensnare them.

Derek comes up behind him, appearing in the murky, cracked excuse of a mirror. “Do you need help?”

Stiles nods. He doesn’t, but he lets Derek take the razor from him anyways, lets him finish the buzz cut. Breath heats up the back of his neck, fogging over the stems of wolfsbane wrapped around his skin, and Stiles tries to ignore how it fills him with desire.

If Derek can see the way Stiles’ lips part in a silent intake of air, he doesn’t say anything. And if Derek’s hand lingers too long as he brushes any stray strands away, Stiles pretends not to notice. They lie to themselves that it means nothing.

---

Utter and complete silence fills the car as they drive to The Grove, the air so thick with dread that Stiles can hardly breathe. Derek doesn’t seem to be doing much better, and Stiles wonders how terrible Deucalion is that another howler is worried.

They drive for what feels like hours before the familiar view of ash trees rolls into view. Stiles aches with the feeling of being home after being so far from it. Beacon Hills isn’t far from here. A day’s drive.

Stiles readies himself for battle, slipping his hands into the spiked gloves, strapping extra ammo to his belt – his signature wolfsbane and mountain ash mixture – and suppressing his gun which he fills with the bullets he’d traded. He files through Derek’s glove box to keep busy. He looks through the tattoo case, spinning the small tube of ink in between his fingers.  He pockets it without thinking.

Up they go on a stretch of road, pulling up to the terribly fitted fence bordering The Grove. Purple flowers dapple the rows of bushes inside, rowan trees sprouting randomly around them. Derek seems uneasy, which isn’t at all strange because he’s at a disadvantage here. To Derek, this is an orchard of poison.

Stiles gives Derek an encouraging look, one that falls flat, but Derek smiles in return, his lips pulling upwards forcefully. They exit the vehicle, not bothering to keep quiet. The engine probably alerted Deucalion already, destroying their element of surprise.

Stiles walks into The Grove, feet heavy with trepidation. He tries not to notice it too much, letting his bravado take over as it always does. Five steps in and already he’s walking easier, giving himself over to instinct far more vicious than any howler.

They navigate the lanes of twisting wolfsbane, dipping under branches of mountain ash, treading with careful steps, expecting to meet Deucalion head-on. Stiles doesn’t know what to expect, as Derek talks little of him. There is only far-off fear in his eyes when Deucalion’s name is brought up, which is what Stiles sees now whenever he catches Derek’s gaze.

They walk until they reach the end of The Grove, stopping at the edge of a clearing. Standing under the shade of a tree, its branches framing his body menacingly, is a man. He wears sunglasses, they look of poor condition, the frames bent and the lenses half broken. In his hand is a stylized stick, which he uses to step forward.

“You didn’t tell me he was blind,” Stiles hisses, turning to Derek.

Derek keeps his eyes trained of Deucalion, which are lighting up their frozen blue. “If I did, you would have underestimated him.”

Whatever Stiles was expecting, it wasn’t this.

“I was wondering if it would be you or Kali,” Deucalion says in an accent Stiles hasn’t heard before. “You’ve proven competent, Stiles. And you, Derek, a weakened omega, how impressive.”

“So you were expecting us?” Stiles asks, not bridging the gap stretching between them.

“That’s why I chose this place,” Deucalion says, the words easy, rolling with his accent, “on the off chance. Was this not the location you were planning to ambush me?”

“How do you know that?” Stiles asks, tilting his head, furrowing his brows.

“I’m well aware of the patterns of hunters,” Deucalion replies simply.

“Then you’ll know I plan to shoot you down in a few seconds,” Stiles says as evenly as he can.

Stiles watches the sight of bones cracking, shifting before him. Deucalion contorts, breaking apart and realigning into something monstrous. It’s something Stiles hasn’t seen before, and he takes a step backwards, noting he will not be underestimating Deucalion at all.

He’s seen alpha’s shift, has witnessed them dropping on all fours like an animal. But this is different. Deucalion’s skin darkens to a blue-black shade, stretching over thick muscle as he steps forward. His jaws are canine enough, with an added row of teeth that snap when he falls onto his front legs, claws digging into the dirt. And then he’s charging towards them.

Stiles takes a few shots, each hitting Deucalion and knocking him out of focus for a moment, but not completely slowing him down. Backing away into a run, Stiles twirls around on his heels, letting a shattering howl push him down a narrow lane of wolfsbane. Derek follows his lead, keeping close as they navigate the violet maze.

It takes them only a minute to realize that the vicious growls behind them have vanished, leaving eerie silence in their wake. Stiles skids to a stop where pathways branch out from the one they’re on, searching the area around them.

“Where is he?” Stiles asks, panting. He can’t see anything but the wolfsbane and mountain ash.

“Watching us,” Derek says rigidly, on the alert for sounds. “He’s using this place against us, trying to make us think he’s in charge.”

“But he’s not,” Stiles grips his gun, “he’s at the disadvantage.” There are too many narrow paths with mountain ash branches jutting out and Deucalion is massive. Stiles could easily duck into such a road and wait for hours.

It’s what they should do. They should wait out the Nordic Blue Monkshood.

Forty-eight hours and Deucalion would fall to the poison. Something tells him it won’t be that easy. That Deucalion will fight tooth and nail to pull them down.

“I’m not too sure about that,” Derek whispers, head whipping to the side. “He’s circling us.”

Stiles listens and he catches it, the sound of snarls, somehow coming from all directions. Deucalion is throwing his voice, per say, putting them on edge. His eyes trained on the trees, Stiles looks for movement, but sees only the branches holding still.

Knowing they can’t stay still, for Deucalion won’t circle for long, Stiles begins to move through the plants again, trying to determine where Deucalion is.

“What are you doing?” Derek asks in a hushed, sharp voice. He tugs on Stiles’ shoulder, pulling him back.

“I refuse to sit like a duck waiting to be shot,” Stiles replies, just as sharply, just as quietly. He’s sure Deucalion can hear, so any new plans are out of the question. “Standing and doing absolutely nothing isn’t doing us any good.”

He means to find Deucalion, locate him and intercept, to show just how smart he is, despite not being a howler. But he can’t say that for Derek to hear, so he hopes his eyes are readable.

Derek seems to understand, nodding, following Stiles as he weaves around aconite and rowan alike. Howler sounds ebb to and fro, reaching their ears so close Stiles thinks they’ll come face to face with Deucalion, but then pull away, echoing lanes over.

Suddenly, Derek snaps, swinging his whole body around. Stiles does as well, startled, catching a blue-black blur. He knows Derek will follow, after all, he’s terrible for taking the bait. And sure enough, Derek is running after Deucalion seconds later.

“Derek!” Stiles yells, turning the corner after Derek. Ahead, Derek has caught up with Deucalion, blood spattering where he’s clawing at Deucalion’s haunches. Stiles can’t get a good shot in. There’s too much risk, and if he hits Derek with a bullet, he’ll be out until Stiles can burn up the wolfsbane again.

But then Deucalion throws him aside, twisting around and slamming Derek into a barrier of ash branches. And Stiles takes a shot, multiple shots, all sinking into Deucalion’s flesh with spurts of blood.

Deucalion turns his attention to Stiles, letting out a howl and taking off towards him. Stiles turns and runs, formulating a plan. Up ahead is another lane, pulling off from the one he is on.

Abruptly, Stiles turns into the conjoining lane, ready to take a shot. Deucalion tears by the path as planned, and Stiles fires off another shot. Only one, because the slide on his gun locks back.

Panic fills Stiles, and he fingers numbly at his belt, trying to reload. Deucalion has already stopped, letting out a cry of anger rather than any pain. He reacts to the bullets much the same way as Ennis, able to withstand many. Stiles has just about reloaded when Deucalion reaches him, a shadow looming, jaws snapping as saliva hits his face. It’s like he’s grinning, knowing he’s got Stiles trapped.

He raises the gun, pulling the trigger, only to have Deucalion knock it from his hand, claws dragging up his arm. Stiles screams in pain, choking on his own voice. With his other arm he forces a knock into the side of Deucalion’s face, throwing him back a bit when the spikes on the gloves connect with his jowl. Stiles falls back on the dirt, Deucalion above him. His hands grasp for his gun, but he hears a crunch as Deucalion steps on it.

Stiles winces, shrinking away, fully expecting Deucalion to tear him to shreds. But instead, the creature housing Deucalion rears up in pain. Derek is atop him, claws piercing his neck. The distraction is enough for Stiles to scramble away, though he is barely able to do so with the pain in his arm, running slickly down to his hands. He climbs to his feet, unable to figure out what to do next. He has no weapon now.

“Run, Stiles,” Derek yells at him, “I’ll hold him off.”

And that’s all he needs to hear, just like that he’s off, running down the framed path. He isn’t sure if Derek means for him to run and get out, but it doesn’t matter because Stiles isn’t leaving him behind. He has no intention of leaving without Derek and the thought of doing so nauseates him.

Stiles throws himself into a lined cluster of mountain ash trees, their branches scraping his skin. He barely feels it, the little cuts they lay upon him, too busy working out a plan. There is a spare gun in the car. He’ll find it and get back to Derek as soon as possible. He just needs to get there.

A cry of pain cuts him off, throwing him. Diminishing all his focus in one second.

He knows it’s Derek, just knows. Turning, he listens, eyes wide. “Derek?” he calls out, receiving the same sound, this time more agonizing than the first. “Derek!”

Stiles doesn’t feel like his legs can move him fast enough, they’re heavy with despair, fitting wrong with how panicked his thoughts are. He isn’t even sure what he’s going to do, he just knows he needs to get to Derek, and soon.

He hears more cries, guttural sobs that have him screaming Derek’s name over and over, letting him know he’s coming back for him. It’s disorientating, and he can’t even tell where they’re coming from. They sound all around, dizzying him.

He trips suddenly, uneven ground catching him. Stiles lands roughly, dirt flaring up his nose and into his mouth. Coughing, he pushes off the ground, ready to run again. But something rolls from his pocket, making him pause. The ink.

Excitement fills his eyes and a sudden rush of realization hits him. Thinking quickly, he grabs at the vial and then breaks a branch from a tree. It’s too dull, so he places it under a foot, angling it before stepping down, creating a sharp spear. Stiles douses it in the ink, letting the wood soak it in. Then, he sets off in pursuit of Derek and Deucalion.

Blood darkens the trail, leading him back to the clearing near the back of the property. The sight of it fills him with hopelessness, and his heart hammers in his ears. Each step is heavier than the last and despite having something to follow, he feels lost. Howls echo from all sides, riding a breeze that isn’t there.

He breaks from the path he had originally ran to, nearly tripping over his feet at the sight before him. Deucalion is in the middle of the clearing, a monstrous canine shape. Derek is below him, gashes marring his skin, like he’s been shredded apart. He seems to be holding Deucalion back, hands gripping his jaws to keep them from snapping.

Stiles doesn’t hesitate, running forward, ink-dipped stake at the ready, the sight of Derek bleeding black over the ground driving him towards his target. Dirt kicks up behind him, alerting Deucalion. But Stiles has the upper hand now, savagely shoving the pointed end into Deucalion’s side. It feels like his ears are being ripped out, like they had back when he’d shot his gun. Stiles sobs out, keeping his hands on the branch, forcing it in.

He shuts his eyes, screwing them tight, not opening them until Deucalion falls limp. Then Stiles steps back, shaking as he turns to Derek, wiping his good arm over his brow where sweat has collected. Derek is motionless, face streaked with red and black. Stiles collapses, fear pulling him to the ground along with exhaustion.

“Derek?” he can barely get a sound out, it doesn’t even sound like he’s talking. His voice is cracked. He pulls Derek’s head into his lap. “Derek?”

This time his voice is more panicked and loud. Derek doesn’t move and he’s about to yell again when Derek’s eyes flicker open weakly, glowing blue through his lashes. “I heard you the first time.”

“Then you should have said something,” Stiles scolds, not bothering to hide his relief of Derek being okay. He dabs at Derek’s face with the bottom on his shirt. He’ll have to throw it out, it’s too stained now.

Derek’s face is already healing, much slower than usual. “You’re hurt,” Derek says, looking at Stiles’ arm, tilting his head to the scrapes.

“I’ll use the stuff we got from Deaton,” Stiles says, shrugging it off. He looks down at his arm, only seeing red. Somehow staring at it makes it hurt even more so he returns his eyes to Derek.

“We did it,” Derek says softly, voice raw.

A sigh escapes Stiles’ lips as he leans over Derek, raking his fingers through Derek’s hair. He begins to cry at some point, laughing as he does so. Derek reaches up, claws sinking back to nails and the blue of his eyes draining back to green, hand clasping the back of Stiles’ neck and just holding there, saying nothing.

---

Once Stiles has disinfected his wound, and stitched it, they set off. He changes into his red hoodie in the car as Derek drives, throwing his bloodied shirt in the back. They talk little, though both have a lot to say. About what happened, about how hectic their stupid road trip has been, about the night before.

All are conversations better left unsaid. Pushed away and saved for quiet nights when there’s nothing else to do but reflect on their mistakes.

An hour later of driving and they reach a town by the name of New Valley. Stiles knows it, it’s just a town over from Beacon Hills. It’s quaint, only a few shops standing, a bar, a yard of cars. The motel sign stands in view from the highway, and Derek pulls up to it first.

“Why don’t you just drive me to Beacon Hills,” Stiles asks, opening the door and sliding out onto the gravel.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Derek says, raising his eyebrows as if to remind him about the run in with the Argents. “Buy a car and drive yourself there. If you show up in my car, you won’t have a good case.”

Stiles smiles, forcing it so his frown doesn’t show through. He know Derek is just trying to help, trying to let Stiles be a hunter again. To rebuild burnt bridges. And he won’t be able to do that unless he can prove Derek and he are no longer working together.

Derek helps him with his things, loading them into a room that he pays for. All the while just letting awkward silence hang heavy in the air between them. Stiles waits for Derek to push him against the wall, to kiss his bruised neck, to hold him there and fuck into him, driving the horrors from his mind until there’s just numbed bliss.

But Derek just sets a case of marbles on the bed, pouring all his into Stiles’.

“What are you doing?” Stiles asks, nearing him.

“Paying you. Think of it as your bounty,” Derek says, pulling his own case and walking to the door.

Stiles follows him, his gut clenching as he watches as Derek puts the case back in the car. He aches for Derek, desperate in a way he’s never really known.

“You don’t have to go,” Stiles says almost pleadingly. They’re face to face, Derek just standing by the door of the Camaro. So close that Stiles could reach out and wrap his arms around his neck. “We could stay here, we could travel for a bit. We don’t have to split up yet.”

“No,” Derek utters, “you were right. We came together to defeat the alpha pack. And we did. Best to keep it that way.”

Stiles licks his chapped lips, avoiding Derek’s gaze for a moment as he nods. “Yeah.”

He doesn’t know what to do, his body is telling him to slip his arms up Derek’s shoulders, but instead he grabs the opening of Derek’s worn leather jacket. Stiles gives it a shake, meeting Derek’s eyes for a moment and it’s the wrong thing to do if they’re actually doing this. So he settles on Derek’s lips instead.

“I’ll see you around,” Stiles mutters.

All he wants is Derek to grab him and hold him close, but Derek doesn’t. He grabs Stiles’ hoodie and does the same, mirroring Stiles. “Maybe.”

Stiles doesn’t even know he’s been holding his breath until Derek pulls away, opening the car and sitting in the seat. He lets himself breathe again, shaking out an exhale, and steps back. With the door shut, and the engine on, Derek takes the road, nodding again to Stiles.

Stiles watches him as he drives down the short street, as he pulls onto the highway and turns a right. Something grips him in a vicelike hold, something that’s sort of always been there, he supposes, but has never felt choke him as it does now.

It’s the first time he’s felt truly alone.

Stiles turns back and walks into his motel room, sits on the one bed propped up in the middle of the room, a bed he and Derek could be sharing. Sighing, he falls back and picks apart designs in the wood, trying to purge any thoughts of Derek to no avail. Everything in the room reminds him of Derek, the stupid CD in its case which Derek had hated, the marbles, even the bandage on his arm, which Derek had helping wrap around the wound once it had been stitched up.

Eventually, Stiles forces himself up. He gathers his bag, with a bit of marbles inside, and walks outside. There’s a bar at one side of town, he’s been there a handful of times. The liquor is strong and cheap and he’ll be drunk long before the sun sets. If he can’t escape Derek, at the very least he can forget him for a night.

He walks across the town, kicking rocks and sending them skipping across the ground in little bursts of dust. Watches them skitter away. Stiles looks at shops as he walks, at a shabby diner, a corner store with gas meters outside. Something from the car yard makes him stop though.

He isn’t sure he is really seeing it at all. The blue jeep sitting there. Stiles starts towards it, instinct drawing him near to it. The jeep looks the same as his, same colour, same black doors – less dents, however.

“Just got it in,” a salesman says, walking up beside him, “few states over, nasty condition. Fixed her up though. Pretty isn’t she?” Stiles nods. Furrowing his brows, he rounds the back to check the licence plate, to see if it really is his jeep. “Clock won’t work,” the man says before Stiles can reach it, and he knows.

“How much?” Stiles asks quickly. Trying to hide the excitement in his voice. It will drive up the price.

“A thousand.”

“Marbles?” Stiles mouth drops. He shouldn’t even be buying back his jeep. 

“Unless you got wolfsbane,” the salesman says.

Stiles ends up splitting marbles and wolfsbane, paying only five hundred of the marbles. The salesman is nice enough to drive the jeep to the motel so Stiles can pay.

He mumbles about having to buy it back the whole time he packs all his things back in, checking out from the motel promptly. The motel wouldn’t refund his – Derek’s – money. But whatever.

The jeep looks like it did before he met Derek, feels like it did. But he’s not happy. Stiles sits with his hands on the wheel, eyes closed as he listens to the music of his CD. Forcing himself to feel like he had a week ago, when nothing mattered and howlers were mindless beasts.

He just wants to go to Beacon Hills and forget everything with Derek Hale had ever  happened.

No matter how hard he tries to listen to the music, no matter how hard he tries to tell himself that he’s got what he wanted out of this, he can’t shake the feeling that he hasn’t got that at all.

Sighing, Stiles pulls from the space in front of his room, heads for the highway, and turns a right. He stiffens quickly with a rush of excitement. Derek had turned this way.

To Beacon Hills.

Stiles gnaws at his lip, tilting his head. And then his excitement swirls into worry.

Derek did not have a revenge tattoo, despite how adamant he was about going after the alpha pack in the name of it. He had even said his family wasn’t violent; they hadn’t fallen for those sort of games. Kali had made a comment, something Stiles hadn’t paid much attention.

“Or was this ever about beating me?”

And maybe it wasn’t. Derek had never even killed one of them. He was violent, sure, because Stiles needed him to be. But Derek wasn’t a killer.

Derek going after the alpha’s wasn’t about revenge. It never was.

And that thought makes Stiles hit the gas, flooring it so fast he’s surprised his jeep doesn’t simply combust. Derek’s already got at least an hour on him, and Beacon Hills is close.

He doesn’t ease up on the gas until he reaches Beacon Hills, coming to a stop at the gates protecting the town. Which are open. Stiles doesn’t see the Camaro, so Derek must have gotten into the town, somehow. Except there’s no way Derek could just get in, he doesn’t know how he could.

He realizes the reason why when he reaches the gate. Greenberg is looking absolutely nervous, retina scanner in hand.

Stiles rolls down the window and sighs, “Greenberg, put that shit away, it’s me. You know me. You know I’m immune.”

“I accidently let someone in without checking!” Greenberg exclaims, “I have to try to keep responsibility of my post. It’s my orders.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and just drives in. Fuck orders. Greenberg should have been fired long ago. But now, Stiles is praising him.

There isn’t much commotion in Beacon Hills. Which is a good sign. There would be complete chaos if Derek had already caused a scene. Stiles searches the streets for Derek, he needs to find him before Argent does. He only hopes Derek hasn’t found them.

Someone ahead catches his eye, and Stiles slams on the breaks because they dart right into the road. Scott, with the biggest smile ever; Stiles can’t return it.

“Stiles!” Scott yells, joining him at the driver’s side.

“Scott, I can’t talk right now,” Stiles says, hating himself for it.

Scott doesn’t seem to hear him, for his smile doesn’t dim and his voice holds its excitement. “I didn’t know you were in town.”

“I just got here,” Stiles says, “look, I’m in a hurry. Have you seen a nice black car? It would have just passed through. It’s important. I’ll tell you later.”

Scott thinks for a moment. “The Argent compound,” Scott says, screwing up his face in confusion, “I saw a black sports car drive there.”

“Thanks,” is all Stiles can say and he does so as he speeds off, stomach dropping.

When he reaches the compound, a large house at the back of the town, many Argent allies have their guns pointed at Derek Hale, who looks fine. Chris is there, talking to Derek, but Stiles can’t hear them. He knows they’re arguing.

Stiles opens his door, and steps out, catching their words.

“Where is Stiles?”

Derek is about to answer when he looks up, over Chris’ shoulder, meeting Stiles’ eyes. He is surprised, and Stiles can see the breath hitch in Derek’s throat, see how startled Derek’s eyes are.

“Right here,” Stiles says aloud, walking towards them.

Chris looks at him, just as amazed as Derek. He almost can’t talk, completely thrown off by Stiles’ arrival. “He says he took you against your will, but then you escaped.”

“He coerced me,” Stiles states, walking right by Chris without looking at him. He holds Derek’s gaze the whole time, glowering at him. Derek frowns as Stiles confirms it. “He told me Deucalion was after me and I hated him for forcing me into a car with him. But he was right, and Deucalion was after me. So one by one we took down his entire pack. Derek never killed any, but he backed me up and without him, the alpha pack would have killed me.”

Stiles has reached Derek now, stopping before him. He reaches up and cups Derek’s cheek, running his fingers over the stubble there. “I trusted him, more and more. We bonded, if you can believe that. A week ago – fuck, if we had met up a day earlier at the camp – I would have ordered you to kill him on the spot. But now I can’t let that happen.” Lowering his voice so only Derek can hear, he says, “I’m so glad you’re okay because I am totally killing you myself.”

“What are you doing here?” Derek asks, for only Stiles’ ears.

“I figure if I’m going to run it might as well be towards something,” Stiles whispers. He turns to Chris, eyes ablaze, “So if you want to kill him, you have to go through me.”

“Stiles, he’s a howler,” Chris says, as if that’s a reason.

“He’s a werewolf, and I’m with him, all the way,” Stiles spits. He can feel his own eyes watering, can feel the pleading working its way up his throat. “How long have you known me Chris? You won’t take this from me, because I know you, and you are a good person. All week, I’ve been fighting with myself about how my father would feel if he knew what I was doing. And I think he’d be happy that I finally found a home.”

There is silence among the Argents, some relaxing their hold on their guns, and some still holding them with a tight grip. Allison doesn’t even have her weapon raised, in favour of covering her mouth and her hand, eyes wide in shock. Stiles vaguely notices them, his eyes glued to Chris’. Wind pushes by them, whistling in the silence, and Stiles sees Chris relax as he thinks about it.

Chris sighs after, and lowers his gun, “Alright.” He gives the sign for the others to follow his lead.

They stay in Beacon Hills for a few days at the McCall household to a nervous Scott and Melissa. Chris lets them because Gerard is out of town, reminding them both Derek would have hit the ground the second he showed up had Gerard been there.  Stiles isn’t sure if they’ll be able to stay under Gerard’s radar for long, but he knows they’ll be long gone if anyone decides to blab about what happened.

They spend a whole day apologizing to each other, talking through what happened until the late hours of the night, and then they simply hold one another, fitting against each other on the couch until falling asleep. Much of the week is spent fucking lazily when they’re alone, sneaking touches when they’re not.

Scott warms up first, and Allison follows. It’s awkward, no one really knows what to do or say. But it’s better than leaving Beacon Hills on bad terms.

And Stiles is happy.

---

Stiles screws his eyes shut, hands curling at his sides as the needle pokes into his skin. He breathes in his mouth and out his nose, a slight whimper on his lips.

“You doing okay?”

He can hear the hint of a smile on Derek’s face, how much he’s enjoying seeing Stiles squirm. “Mhm,” Stiles hums, careful not to move his head.

“You’re done,” Derek says, his fingertips touching his jaw briefly, tilting Stiles’ head, before pulling away. Stiles sits up and opens his eyes, watching as Derek cleans and packs up the supplies and puts them back in the wooden box that had been Laura’s.

“How does it look? Can I see it?” Stiles asks.

Derek flashes his gaze momentarily to Stiles as he packs the last away. “You can look in the jeep mirror,” he teases.

They walk from the shade of the porch of the rackety building of the McCall house and into the warmth of the afternoon. Their vehicles are parked some twenty yards away and they walk close while bumping shoulders.

“You weren’t lying about not liking needles,” Derek says.

“Hey, that one was right by my eye,” Stiles says as they reach the jeep, flailing his hands in the air. He drops his arms and peers into the side mirror, tilting his head. At the corner of his left eye is a triskelion. Heat creeps beneath his skin and he smiles, turning around to look at Derek. “It looks good.”

Derek takes a step closer and presses Stiles to the door of the jeep, hands gently grabbing his waist. His lips find Stiles’ and they breathe each other in. Stiles’ hands find purchase on Derek’s jacket, fingers toying with the collar and pulling Derek closer.

“I hear there’s bounty out for a howler,” Derek says, lips trailing to Stiles throat, teeth nipping at the skin there. “Name is Derek Hale.”

Stiles groans into the touch, letting his head fall back against the frame of the window. “Is that so?” he asks and Derek nods, kissing back to his jaw. “Guess I better get him then.”

Derek places a chaste kiss on Stiles’ lips that lasts much too short, leaving Stiles wanting more when he pulls back. “Catch me if you can.”

With that Derek is walking to his Camaro, parked a few feet in front of Stiles’ jeep. Stiles slides into the jeep, watching as Derek pulls away. He gives him a few seconds to start, then puts the jeep into gear and follows at a safe distance, grinning all the way.

He presses the button for the CD player, but hears nothing. Then he hears it. Music from the Camaro, blaring out loud to bait him in.

Stiles smirks and narrows his eyes at Derek’s nerve, then steps on the gas. Catch him he will.