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Among the Famous Living Dead

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A light goes on at the end of the hallway, and Stiles follows it.

There are creaking sounds, and Stiles is opening up his own bedroom door and standing there in its frame for seconds on end. The light is the only one on in the entire apartment, like a floodlight spilling across ocean waves from a lighthouse; Stiles stares at the yellow where it creeps across the floorboards in the hallway. He listens for a moment to the creaks, the footsteps, things shifting and moving, and he closes his eyes.

There is a lot of pretending that goes along with trauma, Stiles thinks. There is a lot of time spent inside his own head, where the memories are. Unkind as they might be from time to time, Stiles’ memories are the last thing he’s holding onto anymore. Sometimes it’s like he lives inside them.

He is, right now, listening to footsteps down the hall from him. He’s heard those sounds thousands of times, drowned them out with music or movies or his own inane thinking. He wishes, in this moment, standing and staring at light and feeling half outside his body, that he had spent more time just listening when he had the chance. It’s funny what a person thinks about when they go through something like this.

The first steps he takes down the hall are slow and measured. By the time he’s halfway there, his feet are faster and more determined. He’s almost running, because maybe if he moves fast enough he can somehow drift backwards in time and – not be here. Not be right now. Two days ago is fine. Two days ago is – two days ago is another person, another life altogether.

He steps into the frame of the bedroom down the hall from his and stands there, just like he’d done in his own room, and he stares inside. Everything looks exactly as it had before, the same clothes on the floor, the same unmade bed, the same window and the same clutter of things on a bookshelf right next to it. There’s even a living breathing body standing in it, like there had been. But it’s…

“Stiles,” Derek says. He looks surprised, like a deer caught in the headlights. He hadn’t heard Stiles coming, which is surprising and not in equal amounts.

Stiles looks at him standing there in a room he doesn’t belong in, and he can’t think of a single thing to say. He swallows and gets a bizarre urge to pick up the nearest thing to his hand, which just so happens to be a discarded shoe, and throw it at Derek’s head. Scream at him to get out, to leave, to leave him alone and to leave this room alone, it’s not time yet. It’s not time for anyone else to stand in this bedroom, and Derek of all people should understand that. And how dare he. How dare he.

But Stiles doesn’t say or do any of that. He just stands there, and stares, and Derek stares back only for as long as he can. There’s something in Stiles’ eyes, lately, Stiles knows. He’s seen it himself in the mirror. It even unnerves Derek. That raw gaping wound of misery dripping blood right behind his irises. It’s hard to look at for too long. Stiles punched his fist through the bathroom mirror and barely bandaged up his hand and left the mess. He’ll get to it.

Derek clears his throat and puts down something he had in his hand. A book, it looks like. Stiles watches, detached and half present, as Derek turns his body fully towards him but doesn’t meet his eyes. “Are you…” a pause, so long Stiles thinks he actually hears a ghost sigh in annoyance, “…okay?”

“I heard something,” Stiles speaks, and his voice is low. “I thought it. I thought.”

Derek palms his forehead and looks unsure of what to do about this. He scrapes his hand over his skin again and again, stares pointedly down at the floor. “I was just looking for that beastiary you made him. I’d – I’d have just directly asked you, but.”

But.

“Pawing around through his things seemed a better way to go,” Stiles clarifies, and Derek stands there and looks like a kid caught stealing cigarettes from his mother or something. Like this is the worst possible fucking thing he ever could have done and he deserves to be arrested, but then he doesn’t move and doesn’t say anything. “This is essential?”

Derek rubs his jaw. It’s like his defense mechanism for dealing with things he doesn’t want to deal with, Stiles has noticed. “It’s – I just needed it.”

“Something I should know about?”

Derek gives him a glance, and then quickly looks away. “I just – you know, I’m going to go.”

He moves likes he’s going to do exactly that, but then he realizes that Stiles is blocking the exit and isn’t stepping away from the doorway anytime soon, and skids to a stop in his sneakers on the hardwood. He steps on a t-shirt. An old one. Stiles remembers it from high school, from History class, from lunch period and after lacrosse practice and midnight runs to McDonald’s.

“What do you need that book for?” Stiles asks.

Derek looks out the window, squints his eyes like there’s a bright sun outside – but there isn’t. It’s three in the morning, the clock glows all red and menacing at him from the bedside table. “It’s.” There’s that pause again, and Stiles would normally fill it with a probing question, or a demand for information or mindless chatter or something, anything, but his mind…

It’s used to roaring, whirring, gears churning all the time. It is silent and one tracked, these days.

“…tradition. Passed down. It would’ve been. The original one. If it hadn’t…but you made that one. It’s good, it’s.” He swallows hard, looks up at the ceiling. “I am really sorry about this.”

“Could’ve asked me,” Stiles says, and Derek keeps his eyes on the ceiling as he nods.

“I am getting the idea that that’s exactly what I should have done. I just thought…” if Derek pauses one more time, Stiles is going to push him through the window. “…nevermind. I can’t find it. I’ll look more – another time. It’s not important right now. I’ll go.”

Derek adjusts the lapels of his jacket and looks somewhat like a kicked dog, chastised one too many times, even though Stiles has barely said a word to him. Stiles doesn’t have to tell Derek he’s done something insensitive or shitty; Derek is telling himself that plenty in his own head. The thing is, it wasn’t that shitty of a thing to do. It was just stupid and boneheaded, more than anything else.

But everyone is walking on eggshells around Stiles. The same way soldiers must tiptoe over landmines - that’s how they treat him. Like he’s always a bomb that’s waiting to go off. It’s the only way they know how to treat him, because talking to him, or being with him, that’s just too much.

Derek is boneheaded, yes. But he’s never been genuinely malicious just for the fuck of it.

He moves forward, this time with more intent. Like if Stiles doesn’t move of his own volition, then Derek is going to push him, and he’ll high tail it out of here and not come back again. He won’t ask after that book for months, thinking about how guilty this night and this moment makes him feel. He does stuff like that.

Right as he gets close enough to Stiles for them to touch, Stiles clears his throat and meets his eyes directly. The hurt is there, and Derek recognizes it. He had the same look in his eyes some nine years ago when his family burned alive in his own house. “Hey, Derek,” Stiles starts, and Derek looks at him with his lips parted. Stiles opens his own mouth and then closes it. He opens it again, and sighs before licking his lips. “My best friend is dead.”

Even when Stiles looks away, Derek keeps his eyes trained on Stiles’ face. “I know,” he says, all quiet and gentle and soothing and it’s not Derek, it’s not Derek at all, but that’s how they all treat him. Stiles has never felt more alone, not in his entire life. “I shouldn’t have…”

Derek has never been good with things like this. So he moves to the left again and tries to dodge past Stiles before he does what he thinks will only end up making things worse, and Stiles moves just in time with him, to block him from leaving again. Derek stops abruptly and sighs through his nose, feeling cornered and trapped most likely. Stiles has got him caged in like an animal. It would be funny, in any other circumstance.

“Can you do me a favor?” Stiles asks, and Derek looks ready to leap at the chance. “Will you stay here?”

Derek looks at him for a moment, and then he clears his throat. “In…in his room?”

“No,” Stiles corrects, shaking his head. “Just – here. In the apartment. For the night.”

He looks baffled and confused – of all the people for Stiles to ask to stay and comfort him, maybe Derek wouldn’t exactly top the list. His father would, of course, and then maybe Lydia, or Allison, or fuck, Stiles would even take Isaac at this fucking point – but Derek?

Derek and Stiles have a very specific relationship. Stiles thinks of a plan or an idea, Derek says it’s too dangerous, Stiles does it anyway, they all make it out alive because of Stiles, Derek grudgingly admits it, start all over. Throw in some sarcastic back and forth and the occasional shove or push, and that’s essentially their entire communications with one another. Derek is not the person Stiles has ever called to come over and be his friend.

But he’s standing here, and Stiles is so alone he thought Scott had come back from the dead to creak around in his bedroom, and Stiles needs. Needs.

“Well.”

“Wolves have a very specific aura,” Stiles explains while staring at the floor. He subconsciously and a bit manically scratches at the skin of his upper arm, curling his upper lip and feeling pathetic and vulnerable. “Without it here, I – I can’t sleep.” Derek can tell that for two straight nights, Stiles has barely slept. Everyone can tell.

If he doesn’t get some fucking sleep soon, he’s going to start hallucinating Scott standing here instead of Derek, and Derek knows that. Maybe Stiles is guilting him into it and maybe that’s not necessarily fair, but then Stiles thinks that at a time like this he’s earned just a little bit of that. Just a little bit of getting what he needs for his own sanity.

“Okay,” Derek agrees. “I’ll…”

Stiles finally steps out of the doorway, but Derek doesn’t make any moves to leave this time. “You can just sit in the living room. There’s Netflix and – Lydia made a lasagna. You can heat it up. Sleep. Just –“

“I’ll stay,” Derek assures him. Then, he reaches out his hand like he’s going to pat Stiles on the shoulder or something, but pulls it away at the last second. He makes a face, awkward and unsure of himself, and then forces himself to reach his hand out again and follow through. He pats Stiles once, twice, sighing like he can’t believe he just fucking did that, and walks down the hallway.

Stiles stands, turning his head to watch Derek as he drifts into the darkness of the living room, as he switches on a light and removes his jacket to dump on the couch.

I can’t believe this happened to me, Stiles thinks. I can’t believe, I can’t believe, I can’t believe.

More mechanical than anything else, Stiles switches off the light in Scott’s room and closes the door behind himself. Now, the light that Stiles is staring at is coming from the living room, and Derek is standing in the kitchen peering in at the contents of the fridge, fishing out that lasagna that Stiles hasn’t even so much as glanced at since Lydia dropped it off earlier in the morning.

Stiles should say thank you, or anything, but he doesn’t. He just walks back down to his own room, where it’s dark and eerily silent, and lies back down on his bed. He looks up at his ceiling, feels that presence of a wolf, and calms. For the first time in days, he can feel something familiar in his own house, and he can pretend it’s not Derek, who’s only here because he feels guilty and because Stiles practically begged him to be.

With a heaving sigh, he turns over onto his side and reaches a single finger out to touch his clock radio. He runs it along the top, once, twice, getting the magic out of his own body and into the machine, and he concentrates.

A memory. One of his favorites. Anything.

One comes to him quickly, and the radio sort of fizzles for a moment like it’s switching channels. There’s the sound of an DJ announcing the next song for a split second, and then a country banjo for another split second, white air, and then –

“…I wish you had been there, man. I had the worst time without you.” Scott’s voice is tinny, distant, as foggy as his memory of it is, but it’s better than anything Stiles can get out of his own head. Remembering Scott’s voice and really hearing it, from a completely separate source, are different. It’s not quite like he’s really here, but it’s the closest Stiles will ever get again. “I always have the best time with you. It fucking sucked to not have you there with me.

“Know how that feels,” Stiles mutters like Scott could hear him, as though this moment didn’t already happen two years ago. He knows that Derek can hear him and can smell the magic and knows precisely what Stiles is doing, is likely standing there in Stiles and Scott’s kitchen with his palm over his forehead and shaking his head again and again. Apart of Stiles is ashamed, at being so pathetic and miserable, but then he can’t spare the thoughts to care about that.

He listens to Scott’s voice, and feels that presence of a wolf, safe and calming and like home, like family, and closes his eyes. He’ll sleep, for the first time in over two days, while Derek sits in the living room staring at the wall and listening to Stiles’ heartbeat and drowning in the stench of abject misery and loneliness.

You’re my best friend, buddy. My brother. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

****

Stiles’ father opens his bedroom door with a creak and peers in at where Stiles is sitting on the edge of his bed, playing with his own fingers in his lap. There’s a moment, where he just stares in at his son, wearing a nice suit instead of his uniform and frowning, and then he pushes the door open all the way and steps inside.

“You’re dressed,” he sounds surprised. Like he expected to come here and find Stiles still wrapped up in his quilt, unmoving and dead to the world. “Ready to go?”

Stiles thinks about that. “No,” he says after only a moment’s consideration. “I would like to not go.”

A sigh. “You’d regret that, later in life.”

Later in life, Stiles thinks. Later in fucking life. Because this really happened. This isn’t a phase, a blip on the screen, a cigarette burn on a movie projector, or a wound that’ll heal given time. This is it. Scott is dead, and he will be forever, even when Stiles is thirty, forty, and on and on. Scott died at twenty, and now – now that’s it. That’s the story. End.

When he comes back to himself and out of his thoughts, his dad is squatting down in front of him. It’s the way he used to talk to Stiles when Stiles was just a little kid. “And you can’t leave Melissa there alone.”

The absolute dead last thing Stiles wants to do is think about Melissa, but now, there it is. The guilt. The expectations. “Yeah,” he agrees, still staring at his fingers. “I am not dreaming,” he says out loud, and his father’s lips purse downwards, an intense frown, the way he looks at cold case files. The unsolvable. The unfixable.

“I am so sorry, kid.”

“Mmhm.”

“I loved him,” he promises, and Stiles is thankful for it. “Like a second son. This is – this is a tough one. And I’m so sorry, Stiles.”

Stiles’ eyes start to water, but then he won’t cry. He’s cried enough, and he won’t go there again. He cried over Scott’s dead body, screamed and refused to be taken away from it, blood all over his hands and his arms and in his clothes. Derek tried to get close enough to grab him and physically remove him, and Stiles threw a fireball at him from the palm of his hand, mindless and insane with grief.

He won’t go there again.

“Derek stayed over last night,” he says, just for something to say that isn’t horrible. “He sat on my couch all night.”

“Well,” his dad starts, reaching out to adjust the collar of Stiles’ nice black dress shirt, “he’s back to being alpha, isn’t he? Chain of command, and all that.”

“Chain of command,” Stiles repeats in agreement.

“That’s his job, I guess. Looking out for his – you know. For his own.”

“He came over looking for a book,” Stiles says, and it’s just a useless fact. Something to say. Something to think about. “We’re not really friends.”

His dad sighs, like he doesn’t even know what to say to that. “He’s a good person,” is what he chooses to say in the end, and Stiles knows that that’s true, despite all else. Derek is a good person, if not necessarily a good friend, and he’ll be a good alpha. No one else could replace Scott, not really, but if someone has to – it should be Derek.

And someone has to.

Chapter Text

The funeral is awful. Stiles thinks about throwing himself on top of a particularly pointy headstone the entire time, standing there on the grass in the sunshine, frowning and feeling ridiculous in his clown suit of an outfit. Derek is there, and he doesn’t mention the night before, or really even glance much in Stiles’ direction. Might be for the best. Allison is there as well, and Lydia, and Isaac, and Melissa, and even Deaton. They stand there and watch as Scott’s body, the one that Stiles had to be forcibly pried away from, gets lowered down into the ground in a coffin his mother had to pick out just a day ago. None of the arrangements had been made. No will.

He was not supposed to die. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. None of them said that – not a single person who gave a speech or a toast or whatever the hell it’s called when someone dies. No one said that this is all wrong, that there should be a do-over, even when Stiles was screaming it inside his head the entire time.

It’s awful. It’s the third worst day of Stiles’ life, and he wonders how many more he’ll have to go through before the universe just leaves him alone. Tomorrow will be the fourth worst day of his life. And the next will be the fifth. On and on and on.

He goes home, alone, because he waves everyone off and says that he’s fine, he’s all right. He’ll be just fine.

Instead of going to his own bedroom and wallowing in his bed, he goes back to Scott’s room. He turns on the light, and it’s harsh and blinding, and then he hovers and crosses his arms over his chest, frowning.

Stepping inside, he feels like he’s walking into a museum. Time stands still here. Melissa will be coming over someday, when she feels up to it, to collect and box up his things, and Stiles should help her do that. She just lost her son. He should box it all up for her so all she has to do is take the boxes and put them somewhere, not have to look at everything piece by piece, seeing all the parts of her dead son that are left behind.

But, Stiles just looks. He sees Scott’s phone charger still coiled up on his bed, waiting for his phone to come back and get its juices filled up again. That phone is smashed and cracked to bits somewhere out in the preserve. Stiles remembers that detail. It’s weird what you remember.

Clothes, and books, and deodorant cans and spare change and shoes and a wide open closet door and drawers falling out of their sockets. This is what’s left.

Stiles sits on the edge of Scott’s bed and reaches his hand out to where Scott’s own clock is sitting. Just like Stiles’, it fizzles to life and skips over a few stations before landing on a long exhalation of breath, and then a laugh. It’s eerie, almost, to hear it like this – a memory of Scott pushing Stiles into the public pool. There’s a whoosh, and that’s the water, all grainy and odd sounding, and Stiles smiles in spite of himself.

You could’ve drowned me.”

Unlikely. You float – you’re a witch, remember?

Stiles can close his eyes and sees it – that day. The sunshine and the smell of the chlorine and the green grass. It’s February now, everything all cold and dead, but Stiles can pretend. He’s been doing that a lot lately. His magic is a big help.

Couldn’t you just make yourself float if you really wanted to?”

I guess I’ve never tried – I can – I can – I can –“ the edges of his voice start going foggy, as it skips like a CD. “…I can – I can’t – Scott, can you hear me?

Stiles furrows his brow, opening his eyes and looking at the radio. The numbers are there, but they’re not – numbers. They’re red, and they glow, like they should, but they’re backwards, almost. Like the way reading a clock in a dream might look.

Scott, Scott, hey, hey – fuck – open your eyes –“

Stiles’ breathing goes shallow. His fingers curl into the sheets of Scott’s bed, but he can’t move.

He’s not breathing, hey, I need – help me!

Stiles, don’t touch him. Stiles.”

I said he’s not breathing, are you listening? Scott!

He tries to make it stop, but he can’t. He tries, concentrates as much as he can, but it’s like he can’t focus. He keeps going back there, to the preserve, that part of the woods, where Stiles was kneeling in the mud and shaking Scott’s shoulders again and again. Derek hovering over him, right behind him, telling him to stop, to back off, there’s – there’s nothing they can do. His magic is completely in control of it, or his mind is, or something else that’s not really Stiles.

Don’t die on me, not here, not now, Scott, come on! Come on, please!

“Stop it,” Stiles hisses, covering his face with his hands – but it doesn’t work. It keeps going.

Don’t touch me, why are you just standing there? He’s – he’s –

Stiles puts his palms over his ears and squeezes his eyes shut, shaking his head again and again. “Please stop,” he begs, to nothing and no one, tears leaking out from underneath his lashes and streaming down his face.

No, he’s not dead. Shut – he’s not dead, he’s not, don’t you fucking say that to me –“

Stiles –“

Do something!

There’s a noise – something ripping. It’s not from the radio. It’s there, in the room with him, and Stiles opens his eyes right on time to see Derek standing there. He’s ripped the clock out of its socket and is throwing it as hard as he can up against the wall. It shatters, into a half a dozen pieces, and then it’s over. The room is eerily silent, in the wake of it all, and Derek is standing there panting, like he had run here from somewhere. Likely he pulled into the parking lot and attuned his hearing to see if Stiles was home or losing his mind again, and heard all this, and came sprinting up the stairs, burst in through the apartment door, maybe broke the lock.

Stiles sits, his eyes watery, and he breathes through his nose. “Sorry,” he says, but he doesn’t know what he’s sorry for. Maybe that Derek had to hear all that again.

Derek looks down at the floor, where all the pieces of the alarm clock are scattered, and then up at the wall. There’s a hole in the dry wall. He points to it. “I’ll fix that.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, voice raspy. Derek is still wearing his funeral clothes, and Stiles is as well. It’s almost like they’ve brought the funeral right back here to Scott’s bedroom, which seems perfectly fitting. Stiles brought his death back here to his bedroom as well, tainted it with that memory, and now he thinks he won’t ever step foot in this room again. Maybe he should move, but then he’s not thinking clearly right now.

It’s quiet. Derek runs his hand over his jaw, and looks out the window. He has a habit of doing that.

“Are you going to tell me how pathetic it is,” Stiles asks, wiping the dampness out of his eyes and not meeting Derek’s, “that I keep doing that. Or what?”

Derek looks at him. Stiles can feel his eyes on the side of his face, but he stares pointedly down at the floor and keeps his jaw set tight and hard. “You need to eat something,” is what Derek chooses to say, voice low and a bit shaken up. “There’s lasagna left.”

“Okay,” Stiles says.

When they leave Scott’s room, he makes a point of closing the door behind him, taking in a deep breath. Don’t go back in there again, he tells himself, even when he knows he’ll have to, at some point. Don’t touch your radios again, he follows it up with. His mind can only go back to that night, and Stiles suffers enough having to live it out again and again in his thoughts – having it played back to him word for word like a television show all scripted and crisp is hell. Unmitigated hell.

Stiles sits down at his kitchen table while Derek cuts him off a square of Lydia’s lasagna and puts it into the microwave. Derek leans against the counter with his arms crossed and watches the plate and the square turn around and around, the whirr of it loud in Stiles’ ears. He could’ve just zapped it hot, if he wanted to, with a touch of his fingers, and Derek knows that. But Stiles doesn’t very much feel like using his magic right about now.

They tell him he’s powerful – Deaton and Lydia and Morell. One of the most naturally gifted witches any of them have ever met. Bursting with power all over the place, leaking out of his pores so he reeks of it even to humans if they knew what they were looking for. But a lot comes along with that.

It’s sometimes too much power than he can handle. It sometimes gets away from him. It scares him. People don’t always understand, and even Stiles sometimes doesn’t – that it’s not him. He is not his magic, and his magic is not him. It’s just there, inside of him, and it can think for itself.

Stiles sometimes thinks that it’s malicious. How could it not be?

The microwave beeps, and then the food is being placed right there in front of him along with a fork. Derek sits down in the open chair, leans back so that it creaks, and watches as Stiles doesn’t eat anything. The seconds tick by, Stiles staring at his steaming food and Derek staring at him, and then Derek sighs. “Just eat it,” he mutters. “I don’t care if you don’t want to.”

Stiles picks up the fork and looks down at the food, like he’s forgotten how to eat.

“When’s the last time you actually ate?”

He cuts off a piece and brings it up to his mouth. “Couldn’t tell you,” he says honestly – he can’t remember. He remembers the preserve, and the blood, and Derek hauling him off and calling Lydia while Stiles was hysterical and vomiting and mindlessly setting trees on fire. Then he remembers the hospital, his father coming in his uniform and telling Stiles he’s blown all the lights out over their heads. And then the car. Then his apartment. Being alone. He doesn’t remember food, but it’s been three days, so he must have eaten something.

He eats, two bites, three, and doesn’t taste it. Keeps eating, because Derek is watching him.

“I thought you were supposed to say something,” Derek says, and Stiles looks at him like he has no fucking idea what he’s babbling about now. Stiles genuinely doesn’t. Derek clarifies. “At the funeral. You were – a eulogy.”

Stiles sits back in his chair and uses the length of his forearm to wipe at his mouth. “That’s what it’s called,” he says. “A eulogy.”

“I thought you were supposed to give one.”

“Was I?” Stiles blinks.

Derek stares at him, and Stiles can’t say that he recognizes that look. “I guess it’s best you didn’t.”

Stiles goes back to eating his lasagna square, just for something to do with his hands, and Derek watches him some more. That’s another one of Derek’s tendencies – just watching people. It must be an introvert habit, and Stiles wouldn’t know about that. Just watching people, collecting information, instead of running his mouth all the time and waiting for his next turn to talk. Stiles certainly wouldn’t know much about that.

“Listen,” Derek starts, and Stiles is genuinely surprised. Derek leans forward in his seat and then puts his elbows on the table, staring down at it and frowning. “You. Alone in this apartment. Screwing around with magic.”

“I wasn’t screwing around,” Stiles says in a small voice. “I’ve – I’ve done that spell thousands of times.”

“Be that as it may –“

“I used to do it all the time when my mom died. Nothing – ever went wrong like that before.”

“Okay,” Derek interrupts before Stiles can get very much more steam. “That’s not even my point. I just think, right now, you being alone isn’t the best idea.”

Stiles chews his bottom lip. “Wasn’t really my idea.”

He runs his hands through his hair and looks frustrated, but he still won’t meet Stiles’ eyes directly. “You can stay with your dad.”

“No,” he says.

Derek’s jaw tics. “For a little while. A week, maybe a little more. Just –“

“I’m not moving back home as some, like, cherry on top to the rest of this bullshit,” he hisses, and stabs into the last bite of his food like it’s offended him. “I don’t want to do that.”

There’s a look on Derek’s face – it’s something like, and god knows you won’t do a single god damn thing you don’t want to fucking do, is that about right? Stiles has gotten pretty good at reading Derek’s face over the years. “Okay,” he says slowly, very evenly. “Then at Lydia’s.”

“So her dogs can yip-yap at the evil dark entity entering their home?” Stiles rolls his eyes and frowns again. Animals, dogs above all, can sense his magic like a dark cloud hovering over them. Some dogs just eyeball him like they suspect him of having cruel intentions for them, but most of them bark and snarl and growl. Lydia’s dogs yip at his feet and bite his shoes and try to rip his pants apart by the legs. He doesn’t visit very often.

Derek looks frustrated, more and more by the second. “Then Allison’s, or Erica’s.”

“No, and no.” He puts his fork down on his empty plate and then pushes it away. “Honestly, I’m fine here.”

“I just came in to find you’d let your magic do a fun rehash of your best friend dying,” he says, blunt and insensitive as he’s ever fucking been, and Stiles could punch him, “I’d argue that you’re not.”

“Oh, fuck you.”

“Listen,” Derek says again, ignoring Stiles completely. “This is. A fragile time for you. And you know, Deaton says that times of emotional instability – for your magic, that’s like catnip. It – it can’t help itself.”

“I’m fine.”

Derek taps his finger on the table top, looks at Stiles with a very assessing gaze, like he’s creeping right through to his very soul. “You could set this place on fire in your sleep, if you have a nightmare.”

“Unlikely.”

Derek looks at him some more. “You started a forest fire.”

“That was…” true, and Stiles hardly remembers having done it.

“The hospital lost power for over an hour.”

“What is this about?” Stiles bursts out, not wanting to hear about it anymore. “Are you, like, concerned that I’ll burn down the building and you’ll have to answer for it or something?”

“I’m concerned because you obviously need help right now, and you’re too stubborn to admit it.”

“Stubborn,” Stiles snorts, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling. “That’s what this whole thing is about. Me being stubborn. The fact that I just two hours ago buried my best friend, that’s just semantics!”

“Then I’ll come and stay here for a while,” Derek counters hotly, like Stiles hadn’t said what he just said at all. Trying to derail the argument, most likely.

“No, no, I don’t – stop treating me like a kid.”

“You’re the one who said you wanted me around,” Derek reminds him a bit vindictively. “You said my wolf aura or whatever-the-hell –“

“I was sad that night,” Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, looking away while his chin starts wobbling. “I – I was sad. It’s not the same, I’m fine. You don’t need to stay here, I don’t need some god damn babysitter.”

There’s a beat. Derek takes in a deep breath, pants it right back out while he squeezes his eyes shut. When he looks back at Stiles, they’re glowing red – with all that alpha power that got transferred over to him the second Scott breathed his last. It’s how he knew, even while Stiles denied it and cried and begged, that Scott was completely and irrevocably gone. In all of this mess, Stiles has selfishly not given much of a thought to what that might have felt like.

He says, “well, that’s what we’re doing. That’s what you’re doing, and you’ll do as I say.”

Stiles is unfamiliar with the feeling. Scott only ever used it against him maybe three times over the course of almost six years, that alpha voice alpha power thing, and those were in times of grave danger. Stiles barely had the time to process the immediate stopping of what he had been doing and giving in entirely to what Scott wanted or needed him to do.

It’s like a clawing at his gut. An unfurling of his muscles so they go lax, his body unstiffening and making him more pliant. Powerless. It’s not the best feeling, sitting down and having something forced on him like this. But there it is. Stiles can’t argue it anymore, and Derek is going to do it no matter what Stiles does or doesn’t want.

Stiles cries, just a little. A single tear rolls down his cheek and he shakes his head, bitter and angry. “So that’s how it’s going to be.”

Derek doesn’t look proud of himself. He’s not even looking in Stiles’ direction. He sits there and works his jaw and stares at the wall across from himself, jiggling his leg up and down. “I’m the alpha,” he says, deadpan. “I make these decisions.”

He stands up, pushes his chair in, and Stiles just watches him with a frown on his face. There’s not much else he can do.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” he says under his breath, and then he walks out of the kitchen and out of the apartment altogether, slamming the door behind himself.

 

When Derek comes back, almost an hour later exactly on the dot, Stiles has got a pile of blankets and some extra pillows set out on the couch for him. He walks into the room in a new set of clothes, jeans and a t-shirt, and he’s got a bag dangling from one hand, likely full of his toothpaste and spare clothes and a book or two. Derek things, and the like.

Stiles sheepishly gestures to the couch and then clears his throat while Derek approaches. “The couch isn’t so bad,” he says in a low voice. “It’s – a bit lumpy. But if you cover it with a comforter it’s…all right.”

“All right,” Derek repeats back to him, and then puts his bag down on the ground right next to his feet and stands, looking around himself like it’s the first time he’s ever been here. Even before all this, he’s been here thousands upon thousands of times, since the day Stiles and Scott first moved in after graduating high school and saved up the money to do so. It was more convenient and much less conspicuous than Derek’s place, and far away from the Argents unlike Allison’s place, and away from Lydia’s yapping dogs, and not in the world’s worst apartment like at Isaac’s. So it became a kind of command central.

This living room is full, to the brim and overflowing, with Derek and Stiles’ shared memories of Scott. Derek clears his throat and looks uncomfortable, like he might just be thinking the same thing.

Stiles rubs at the back of his neck and looks past Derek’s head. “Um. Sorry for earlier.”

“What?”

“I – I think you’re right,” he crosses his arms over his chest. “Me not being alone.”

Derek nods his head, though he seems a bit confused.

The forest fire, and the hospital losing power and having to go to backup generators just so the people on life support wouldn’t fucking die, and the radio, and pretty much every waking second. All of it is proof that Stiles maybe needs someone right now. And Derek is right about another thing – how stubborn Stiles can be. How often he is to be unwilling to accept anyone else’s help. Magic and the power that comes with it has a tendency to do that. Stiles has always been convinced he can handle himself.

It’s bizarrely something Derek has always had a hard time accepting.

“Yeah,” Derek says, finally, and then sits down on the couch and wrings his hands in between his spread knees, frowning.

Stiles hovers in the general vicinity for just another moment longer, before he sighs and plops down on the couch right next to Derek, a frown pulling at the corners of his lips. They sit in silence together for a minute or so, just soaking in each other’s company however welcome or unwelcome it might be. Company is company, at a time like this.

“Sorry about the –“ Derek scratches at the back of his head and sighs, “alpha eyes.”

Stiles purses his lips. “Well. I guess it’s just necessary with me sometimes. I can be – you know. Stubborn.”

Derek taps his fingers on top of his knee and looks upset about something. What it is, Stiles can only guess at, and he’s got a lot of ammo for guesses at his disposal these days. “It wasn’t a problem with Scott,” he says, voice taking on a familiar note of sour grapes. “Then, I guess you respected him.”

Surprised and a little baffled, Stiles turns and looks at the side of Derek’s face, furrowing his brow. He finds Derek’s face to be withdrawn the same way it gets when Derek is being particularly honest or vulnerable, closed up tight like he’s afraid of the reaction. “I respect you,” Stiles says in a low voice, very serious. He does, he always has. It’s unbelievable Derek could think anything else. “But, Scott was – Scott was different.”

Scott was a lot different. Derek might have Scott’s title and his power and everything that comes with it, but in terms of literally taking his place, Derek is always going to fall a few pegs short. That’s not personal, it’s just the truth.

After another moment or so, Derek turns and looks Stiles right in the face, and then quickly looks away, shifting his eyes down to Stiles’ chin, his jawline, as though he’s afraid to make direct eye contact. “I know Scott wasn’t just your best friend or your alpha and losing him wasn’t just – just that,” Derek says very carefully, all precise. Like he rehearsed this in front of the mirror before he came over or something. “I know he was a lot more than that.”

Scott was, for lack of a better word, Stiles’ connection. When Stiles first started waking up to his own power, Deaton had warned him that if he got too powerful, that he’d need someone else to help him pick up the slack, control his magic when he couldn’t do it himself. Someone like an alpha werewolf – like Scott. It had been easy to just perform the ritual and get it over with, but Stiles never really thought about the residual consequences.

How close they would wind up getting. How Stiles came to rely on Scott for more than just being his alpha or being his best friend, but for – you know. Literal survival. For keeping him in check and making sure his magic never got too far away from him. It explains, then, why he started a forest fire the literal second that Scott died.

He didn’t have that anymore. The connection was severed like pulling a plug, like a thread snapping, and Stiles snapped right along with it. Now that Scott’s gone, Stiles has no one and nothing to hold him down, keep him grounded.

So, no. It wasn’t just like he was losing his best friend. It’s like he lost half of himself and has to figure out how to live with only one arm and one leg.

“But I’m here,” Derek goes on, and makes another one of those abortive gestures like he’s going to reach out and touch Stiles’ shoulder, but doesn’t. “If you needed…anything.”

Derek doesn’t fall short because he’s somehow worse off than Scott, or because he’s not as smart or capable or any of it. Truth be told, Derek has always been more qualified to lead a werewolf pack, because at the bare minimum he understood how it all worked lightyears more than Scott ever did. He falls short because he just – he just does. Derek and Stiles have known each other for five going on six years, now.

But Stiles would say that they don’t know each other at all. Not really.

“Thanks,” Stiles says. He sits on the couch, and so does Derek, and they stew in each other’s silence while the sun goes down, and Stiles looks up at the ceiling and watches phantoms move while Derek pretends he doesn’t notice them.

****

“Derek?”

Derek is asleep, but he’s a light sleeper. The slightest of sounds out of the norm will shake him awake at a moment’s notice. His eyes pop open, and he looks hazily up at where Stiles is standing, right over the couch. He swallows, looking perturbed. People have told Stiles before that they find him incredibly unnerving, from time to time, when he’s put in the right setting. Probably right about now, silhouetted in the dark and lit up only by the digital numbers on the microwave and hovering over Derek’s sleeping body, he looks pretty fucking spooky to the werewolf.

They stare at one another for a moment, and Stiles says, “do you hear that?”

Derek’s eyes shift away from Stiles’ face. He looks at the television, across the room to the front door, out the window, into the kitchen, down the hallway. He finds nothing, hears nothing. “Hear what?”

Stiles waits for a moment, listening more intently to the sound. “That scratching.”

“Is this-“ Derek starts, then clears his throat. “Is this some weird ghost thing? Some weird magic thing?”

“I hear it,” Stiles insists, and he does. It’s like a cat clawing at a door somewhere, but Stiles looked, all over the apartment, every single door, everywhere, and he didn’t find a cat. No matter where he went the noise never got any louder and any farther away. It was just there, all around him, inside his ears maybe. “I’m not making it up.”

Derek runs his hands down his face and rubs at his sleepy eyes. “You’re fucking freaking me out.” Stiles would be offended, but people have been telling him he’s freaky and weird and scary for his entire life, and Derek has told him as much a hundred million times since the day they met. It has no effect on him anymore. “If there were really a noise, I’d hear it better than you, and I hear nothing. It’s – it’s just you.”

Claws digging into wood, scraping, scraping, and Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and tries to block it out, but it’s no use.

“When you get upset, it does this,” Derek reminds him a low voice, just repeating what Deaton has told Stiles again and again. “It’s just the magic. It’s not – it’s not scary.”

Stiles isn’t afraid of it. He just wants it to leave him alone.

****

Derek living in Stiles’ apartment is even weirder to grapple with than the idea of Scott being dead – which is really saying something. Stiles has lived with his dad, and then he’s lived with Scott, and so his experiences with what other people are like are pretty slim and centralized. Derek isn’t really like either of them in terms of his habits and the somewhat strange things he does.

For example, Derek eats toaster waffles for breakfast. Which isn’t weird in and of itself, but for Stiles, standing there watching Derek Hale of all people hovering over the toaster and waiting for his little round waffles to pop up is almost Twilight Zone levels of fucking bizarre. He also brushes his teeth in the shower instead of standing at the sink in the morning. And he meticulously folds up his blankets and quilt when he gets out of bed, first thing, and watches the food network and HGTV and nothing else, and eats Chinese takeout right out of its container, and sits quietly in the silence of the living room just reading, and reading, and reading, for hours on end.

It’s like living with a fucking insane person, Stiles thinks bitterly from time to time. The silence. The god damn silence, all the fucking time. Scott was never quiet. He did every thing he did clumsily and loudly, just like Stiles does. And now living with Derek is like living with the fucking walking dead, or something.

Except for the scratching. Stiles’ conscience, constantly nagging away at the inside of his ears, slowly driving him out of his mind. It’s like the Tell Tale Heart. Guilt in an endless cycle, while Derek just sits and reads and Stiles watches him with a twist to his mouth. Sometimes he wants to zap that book right out of Derek’s hands with a flick of his wrist, just to hear it clatter to the floor, just to hear anything, anything else.

Instead, Stiles sits up straighter in his easy chair across the coffee table, and says, “you know, you don’t have any eyebrows when you shift.”

Derek looks up at him, away from his book, the exact eyebrows in question risen into his hairline. “What?”

“I said, your eyebrows. They disappear when you shift,” he raises his own right back at him. “Where do they go?”

Derek blinks at him steadily. “I’ve never really stared at myself in the mirror after shifting, Stiles.”

“Whoa, really? That’s the first thing I’d do,” he shakes his head, amazed. If Stiles were turned into a werewolf, he’d poke and stare at his shifted face all the fucking time in the mirror. Sometimes when he does a particularly good spell, he looks at himself in the mirror after the fact and sees his pupils blown wide, his eyes almost entirely black from iris to the whites. It’s the craziest fucking thing. “So you don’t even know what you look like?”

There’s this moment where Derek pretends to go back to reading his book, furrowing his brow and trying to look very serious about it as he makes a valiant attempt to tune Stiles out and forget about this entire conversation. Then, Stiles guesses he can’t stand it. He puts a bookmark in between the pages and slaps it closed, putting it down in his lap. “I do. I’ve seen myself before. I’ve just never examined it as closely as you apparently have.”

“There’s no eyebrows,” Stiles reminds him, and Derek looks annoyed. “Scott had eyebrows.”

“Well, he was the better alpha, then,” Derek’s voice is hostile, pissed off, and Stiles doesn’t see what the fuss is about. Then again, he’s the one who made the fuss about the eyebrows to begin with.

Point being, he and Stiles are getting along about as well as they used to. Even with the shift in dynamic, even with Derek literally living on Stiles’ couch just to make sure he doesn’t set himself on fire sometime in the near future, even with them sharing breathing space and living space, there’s not a whole lot of common ground between them. Stiles tries to imagine a friendly conversation between Derek and himself about something they both like – it’s like trying to imagine a unicorn standing in his living room.

But it’s fine. It’s okay. Stiles tells himself it’s better than being all alone. The scratching will go away sometime. The guilt.

The guilt is the same thing that drives him back into Scott’s bedroom after he swore he would never set foot in there for the rest of his life. He steps inside after daring himself all day long, while Derek sits on the couch reading some more while Rachel Ray plays quietly over his head, and frowns in at the contents.

There’s still the crack in the dry wall from the clock being thrown up against it, and then the clock itself scattered in pieces on the floor, and everything else exactly the same as it was less than a week ago. There’s something certainly unhealthy about keeping all of this here, he thinks. There has to be something wrong with leaving a dead person’s bedroom to sit and rot, all of their things trapped inside with nowhere else to go.

Stiles will pack this stuff up. He’s been sitting in this apartment, not going to work, letting days go by and by without anything to show for it, and he’s starting to lose his mind. Derek can say what he wants – these two weeks he’s taken off from life aren’t doing him any fucking favors. If anything, he’s just getting weirder and weirder.

With a huff, Stiles grabs Scott’s laundry hamper and shoves it underneath his arm. He looks across the sea of things, trinkets, memories, and just starts snapping at them with his fingers. He pilfers a shirt, a shoe, an old spelling bee trophy, and dumps them all in one by one with thumps. Then, it’s onto the bed. Stiles shoves his pillow into the hamper, and a stray sock, heedless to the fact that nothing he’s grabbing or doing is making very much sense.

It’s just things. All of it is just things, and none of it means anything, and he’s tired of having it all here like a giant neon sign that something is missing.

In it all goes, as much as he can fit inside the basket at one time. Which isn’t very much. All the same, he goes to the bookshelf and starts manically dumping books on top of the pillow in spite of the fact that there’s nearly no more room left. His arm is getting tired from holding all of it up, but he doesn’t care. He dumps book after book, from school and from Scott’s personal collection and from Stiles’ own collection even, thump, thump, thump, barely paying attention to what he’s touching or doing. It won’t matter to Melissa what is or isn’t in the boxes.

Not right away, at least. Maybe someday she’ll want to look through it all because it won’t be so painful. But right now, it doesn’t matter. It’ll be boxed up and put away where no one will have to see it for a very long time, and that’s for the best.

Stiles pulls down a particularly heavy old textbook from Senior year Chemistry that Scott still has for some reason, and almost doesn’t notice that there’s something shoved deep into the shadows of the shelf behind it. Stiles squints into the darkness and frowns, cocking his head to the side as dust circles up around his eyes.

He reaches in and takes hold of the book hiding back there, and when he pulls it out into the light he almost smiles. The beastiary that Stiles had made in high school. It has a look about it like it’s hundreds of years old, because Stiles wanted it to be authentic looking even though the old one was destroyed – he wanted it to look like it sat on some old witch’s bookshelf for fifteen hundred years. It almost does, if a little over the top.

Dropping the basket down on the ground, Stiles takes the book in both hands and flips open the cover, frowning at the inscription he had written on the inside.

To the moon of my life, Stiles had written, because he thought it would be funny. He thought this stupid book would be passed down to generations of alphas after alphas, and all of them would read it and think it was some romantic declaration between two lovers that lived in 1654 or something like that. Really, it was just Stiles being a little shit.

And anyway, that’ll happen either way. Stiles holds the book tightly for another few seconds, thinking of Scott hiding it away behind all of his boring books where no one would think to look for it – one of his most prized possessions. Because Stiles had made it for him.

But it isn’t Scott’s anymore. Scott isn’t here to claim it, and it’s tradition. Like Derek had said.

He holds the book against his chest and squares his shoulders, walking out of Scott’s bedroom and out into the living room, where Derek is still camped out on the couch. Rachel is pouring olive oil into a pot on screen, and Stiles wonders out of nowhere if Derek really knows how to cook, or if he even cares to learn how. Or if he just puts it on for some background noise.

Stiles isn’t the only one who’s used to a house with a little bit of excess noise. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that Derek is who he is, and that he’s been through what he has. He gets so quiet, sometimes.

When Stiles comes up behind him, Derek lifts his eyes from his book and drapes his neck over the back of the couch, looking up at Stiles half upside down. “What’s that?” He asks, pointing at the beastiary with a single finger.

Derek knows damn well what it is, but Stiles holds it out and tells him all the same. “I found it,” he says, shaking it a few times when Derek just stares at it for a moment. Derek looks up and meets Stiles’ eyes, before swallowing and taking the book in one hand.

There’s a second where Stiles tries to hold onto it. He grips his fingers deeper into the leather so tight his nails leave little half moon shaped imprints in the material. Once he gives this book to Derek, it’ll all be official. Derek will really be the alpha and Scott will really be dead, and there’ll be no going back. That’s the natural order of things.

Finally, Stiles lets it go, and Derek either doesn’t notice or pretends he doesn’t. He takes the book in both hands and observes the cover, strokes three fingers over it. “Yeah,” is what he chooses to say, and Stiles watches him with that book. He seems almost reverent with it, barely touching it like he’s afraid he’ll ruin it, somehow.

“What’s so special about that book?” Stiles asks, frowning. It was special to Scott because Stiles made it for him – for Derek, he must have a half dozen other, much better, reasons.

“It’s just tradition,” Derek repeats for the thousandth time, and Stiles has to force himself to not roll his eyes. “It’s all ceremony.”

“Pomp and circumstance,” Stiles offers with a snap of his fingers, and Derek frowns but nods all the same.

“I guess maybe it doesn’t really mean anything. Especially not to you.” He says it all holier-than-thou, like Stiles doesn’t get it, doesn’t get any of this, like he never fucking has.

“I know what it meant to me,” Stiles snaps. Derek looks at him like that’s the exact moment he remembers that Stiles spent six months meticulously creating that stupid thing. That he worked tireless hours inking in as close as possible replicas of ancient drawings of creatures by hand, that he did research upon research upon research.

Derek looks guilty. It is an expression on his face that Stiles knows as well as the back of his own hand. Now, Stiles feels guilty for making Derek feel guilty, and Derek feels guilty that Stiles feels guilty for making Derek feel guilty, and Stiles can’t just fucking stand here and let the circle continue, so he huffs a sigh and scratches at his cheek while he looks away.

“Anyway, there it is,” he says, for lack of anything better to say.

Pursing his lips, Derek looks down at the book some more. He nods his head. “Thank you.”

Stiles shrugs, like it’s nothing. “I just figured.”

They meet eyes, and Stiles tries to look nonchalant and like none of this affects him at all, but he does a horrible job of it. He can tell just from the way Derek is looking at him. “Well,” Derek starts after clearing his throat, “it’s the natural order of things.”

There’s that phrase again. The same exact one that Stiles had thought of when he found the book himself. But when Derek says it, when a different voice from a different mouth says it, it gives Stiles some pause. The natural order of things. He looks at the leather book in Derek’s hands and swallows, and all at once, he gets an idea.

He can’t believe it’s taken him this long to even consider it, for the thought to even occur to him. It’s so obvious now he could laugh, and laugh, and laugh. There is no natural order of things where Stiles is concerned – his entire being, his very existence, flies in the face of the natural order of things. People aren’t supposed to be able to make fire come out of their fingertips. Werewolves aren’t supposed to exist.

Twenty year old kids aren’t supposed to just – die.

Stiles turns on his heel without another word, and Derek doesn’t look surprised. He just turns his face back to Rachel on screen, watches with vague interest as she sautés mushrooms in a big orange pan on her television studio stove. The mushrooms sizzle, and Stiles’ feet pad on the carpet as he vanishes down the hall and into his bedroom.

He’s sure to close the door behind him, but doesn’t bother turning on the light. With determined steps, he crosses the five or so feet it takes him to get to the corner of the rug he has set up on his hardwood floor, before kneeling down right beside it. His fingers are shaking as he pulls the rug aside, heedless to where it flops itself over, and he scans his eyes across the wood flooring beneath it.

The rest of the wood in this room is a golden color, like a wood floor is meant to be. But here, in this tiny little square of the floor, the wood has started going darker, and darker. Sickly with the time its spent housing the contents that Stiles can’t keep out in the open for any schmoe to stumble on and find.

He uses the blunt ends of his finger tips to scrape and claw at the edges of one of the boards, tugging and pulling as hard as he can. It’s been a long time since he’s even so much as thought about what he keeps under his floorboards, much less actually gone in to get a peek at them, so the wood has been tamped down hard from being walked across and ignored.

Finally, the board springs free, and Stiles pulls it up and throws it aside with a clunk. He pulls a second board away much more easily, followed quickly by a third, clunk clunk, and he licks his lips when he’s finally able to look down into the floor and see his stash.

Covered in cob webs and collecting dust, he’s got a handful of bottles of green and red and purple substances to be used in emergencies only. The purple is a wolfsbane poison that he carries in a vial on his key ring, just in case anything were to happen and per Scott’s insistence. The green Stiles made from his own magic on the off chance that someone were to ever try and rip it out of him – it would kill him almost instantly if anyone ever managed to do that, but the potion would save his life. Everyone knows where it is and how to use it.

And the red. Well.

He pushes them all aside and they clink against one another, revealing a small pile of herbs in other glass jars. There’s nothing too sinister about those on their own, and Stiles mostly keeps them down there as backups to what he has out in the open. Some things he even keeps in plain fucking sight, like in his medicine cabinet and his spice rack in the kitchen. People don’t usually ask questions.

Those get shoved aside as well, until he reaches the bottom. There, he finds a box.

Stiles stares at it there in the bottom of his floor, breathing in and out steadily. There’s a second where he asks himself if he really wants to do this – just one split second of consideration where time seems to stand still. He can hear Rachel talking behind him, and he can hear Derek turning the page of his book, and he swallows.

Without a second thought, he reaches down and takes the box by both ends, hefting it up and out of the floor and dropping it with a heavy bang down right next to him. The thing weighs close to seventy pounds for reasons that Stiles can’t fathom. After all. He’s never actually opened this box before.

Standing up, he takes the box along with him to his desk and starts shoving things out of the way in a cacophony – his papers, his old parchments of ancient spells, his empty mountain dew cans – and clears room for the box to thump it down right on top. He discovers that it’s padlocked shut, which he had forgotten about, but it doesn’t matter either which way. It’s not padlocked to keep him out.

With a single brush of his fingers and a zap from the tips against the front, the lock shatters and drips onto the floor in a hundred little tiny pieces. Stiles watches, and then focuses his attention back on the box itself.

He forces himself not to hesitate before he pulls the top off. Off it goes, and a cloud of dust rises out like an exhalation of breath the second it falls onto the ground. Stiles breathes, in and out, a feeling like he’s about to go over the hill on a rollercoaster settling in his gut as he reaches his hands inside and takes a hold of the old book hidden among a pile of packing foam. Someone, at some point, maybe even fifty years ago, thought it would be a good idea to wrap this book in packing foam. They took the time to do that. It would be funny, if Stiles weren’t too awestruck to find most of anything funny right now.

The rest of the box tumbles to the ground and Stiles thumps the book down hard on top of his desk, so the dust cloud rises back up again. Black Magic it reads, and Stiles traces the contours of the golden lettering with his finger.

Distantly, he hears footsteps. He’s too preoccupied with staring at it, running his hands over the binding and the edges of the pages, to notice it when Derek opens up his bedroom door and looks inside at what Stiles is getting himself into now.

Derek looks and sees the floor ripped open, looks at Stiles’ potions and herbs, looks at the empty and broken box on the floor, looks at Stiles standing there hovering over a Black Magic book, and finally meets Stiles’ eyes. He must have smelled that book the second Stiles opened the box. Gotten the same creeping feeling up the back of his neck that Scott used to try to explain to Stiles, whenever he’d use a particularly powerful spell.

Derek’s even got that look on his face that all the wolves get when faced with Stiles’ magic. That wide-eyed, slack-jawed gaze, that quickening of the breath through his teeth. “What,” he starts, looking down at the book on the desk one more time, “are you doing.”

Stiles turns away from him and focuses back on the book, even while he can feel Derek’s eyes on the back of his neck. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“It looks like you’re opening up the book Deaton told you to never open.”

“It looks that way.”

Derek might be waiting for an explanation, but Stiles isn’t about to give one. Not right now. He reaches his fingers down and plays with the edge of the cover for a moment, knowing that Derek is absolutely and entirely right – Deaton warned him, time and time again, that the book was only being given to Stiles for safe keeping. For an absolute last resort, emergency, nowhere left to turn type of a situation. Like, apocalyptic.

The way Stiles sees it, his best friend dying is as close to the end of the world as he’ll ever get in his lifetime. He licks his lips and takes the cover in his hand, about to flip it over.

“Stiles,” Derek warns, growls actually, and Stiles is sure if he looked over he’d see glowing red eyes. “…once you open that book, you can’t close it.”

Stiles knows that Derek is a half a step away from alpha-ing Stiles into dropping it, stepping away with his hands in the air, burning the book in a fire pit somewhere. Although, Deaton had told Stiles he tried once. To burn it, that is. Now that Stiles is looking at it, he can see the edges are charred black, but in tact all the same. It’s unnerving. Stiles isn’t taking the time to think about it.

“Stiles.”

Before Derek can say another word, Stiles flips the cover open, and there’s no going back. As soon as the front page is there and Stiles is reading it, the room shifts. Stiles can’t put his finger on exactly what’s different, the temperature or the color or the amount of light, but there’s something off, and Derek growls low from the back of his throat like there’s something he can see that Stiles can’t.

Up from the book comes an exhalation of breath, and then whispers. Over and over, at the same time, a small chorus of tiny voices echoing back and forth; Stiles has to lean closer to it to catch what they’re saying, pressing his ear almost right up against the page, furrowing his brow.

StilesStilesStilesStileStiles. Over and over again.

Stiles swallows, straightening back up to his full height, and turns to where Derek is still standing in his doorway. Up above their heads, the light that Stiles had pointedly left off fizzles for a second, and then slowly flickers on and off, on and off, until settling on bright, almost bright enough it should shatter the bulb.

Stiles and Derek meet eyes. Derek looks pale, deathly so, and Stiles smiles.

There’s a second where Derek puts one foot inside the room and then pulls it out just as quickly, growling some more under his breath. Then, he mutters something and forces his way into the room, probably fighting tooth and nail to keep the feeling of wrong, other, bad, evil running through his veins at bay as much as he possibly can.

“Close that,” Derek snaps, walking closer to him even as his hands are shaking. He reaches out like he’s going to touch it, like he’s really going to try – but as soon as his fingers are within an inch of it, it zaps him, sending him scattering back two steps.

“You can’t touch this,” Stiles reminds him, while Derek strokes at his fingers and looks mystified, and petrified, and everything in between. He glances at the book, the blank front page with nothing but age stains and a cigarette burn, and then looks back at Stiles.

“Close it.”

Stiles thinks about it. He imagines himself, like an out of body experience, reaching out and doing that. Doing exactly what Derek wants him to. He can see it in vivid colors, the way his hand would move, grip the cover, slap the book closed. And he’d put it back in its box, construct a new lock for it, and he wouldn’t just put it underneath his floorboards this time.

He’d bury it. Attach a bowling ball on a rope to it and send it to the bottom of the ocean.

But he doesn’t do any of that. He stands there and runs his fingers over the parchment paper, and shakes his head. “I…can’t.”

“Jesus. Fucking. Christ.” Derek sounds like he’s two steps away from full on wolfing out – morphing into that big scary black thing, ripping the book apart with his teeth. “What are you – what are you doing?”

“I…” Stiles starts. He clears his throat, while Derek comes up to stand beside him, so they’re shoulder to shoulder almost, peering down at the book with two very different facial expressions. “I just – I wanted to… I need.” Finally, he flips over to the second page, and then the third. It’s in Aramaic, and Latin, and only a smattering of English, the letters faded and old, but Stiles can read it. He flips, and flips, furrowing his brow as he goes past spell after spell, shaking his head.

Abruptly, the page he has in his hand releases itself, surprising Stiles into taking a step back. Right before his eyes, the book flips its own pages lightning quick, so a whoosh of air strong enough to ruffle Stiles’ hair comes out from the force of it.

Derek actually yelps, taking a step back himself. It’s funny, so Stiles laughs. The entire situation put in perspective, from beginning to end, is so fucking funny Stiles can’t help himself. Rachel Ray is still talking in the background. Stiles laughs harder.

He keeps right on laughing when the book finally stops, landing with a final slap of paper against paper on a page that looks like the lettering was written in blood. Necromancy.

Derek once again tries to reach out and slap it closed, but the zap is harder this time. When Derek pulls it away, it’s smoking, and he’s cradling it up against his chest in pain, breathing deeply in and out. “Stiles,” he starts, voice very low, while Stiles leans over and flips the first page over, observing the first spell offered – communicating with the dead. Welcoming a spirit into your body. Possession. “I know you miss Scott, but this is…” he swallows so hard his throat clicks, and Stiles ignores him. “…you know things like this. It doesn’t. Work. Like you think it will.”

Everyone knows about necromancy. It’s not something that’s exactly a secret, even to normal people – everyone knows how rarely it actually works. Stiles might know more than the average person about just how wrong it can all go, because he’s done his research. He’s read first hand accounts of demons possessing witches who weren’t careful enough, of snakes slithering out of people’s eyes, of getting lost in the spirit dimension and never coming back again.

Stiles used to never understand why anyone would be willing to run that risk. Now, with the book open and the spells sitting right in front of him, he understands. “I need to do this,” he says, running his fingers along the Latin words for a spell to banish a spirit from entering your home ever again. “I need to – I…”

“Stiles,” Derek tries again, and Stiles notices that he’s taken three very large steps back and away from the book, from Stiles, from the entire situation. “You’re not thinking clearly.” He talks some more, and some more, and Stiles only barely listens to the logical reasoning that Stiles has gone batty with grief, that he’s absolutely lost his fucking marbles, that by opening that book he’s already done himself a disservice, that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

His eyes are working over page after page, until he flips one over and reads words in blood red archaic Latin. Guiding a soul out of Hell requires concentration and a great deal of natural

“This one,” he says out loud, leaning over the page and practically sinking inside the book itself.

There’s a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back and away, until he’s not looking at the words anymore. He’s looking into Derek’s eyes, and Derek is right there, right in front of his face, so close their noses are almost touching. “Do not. Do this.” He practically begs this.

“I wouldn’t if I had any other choices,” Stiles says to him, and Derek opens his mouth to counter it. “No. You think I’m just sad he’s gone, and I just want him back just because I’m that selfish?”

“It’s not about –“

“He’s not in Heaven or some mystical happy afterlife dimension, he’s not – he’s not in purgatory,” Stiles spits the word out like it’s venom, and he can practically hear it sizzling on the floor in between their feet. “He’s not – he was killed by a witch. You know what that means.”

Derek stares at him, and Stiles stares back, and neither of them say anything. The light above their head is so bright that Stiles can see every fine line on Derek’s face, can see all the colors of his eyes, and he just looks so – lost. He doesn’t know what to say or do to stop Stiles, and he doesn’t know how to argue the point.

Because he does know what that means.

“He’s in Hell,” Stiles says, because no one else will. No one else wants to say it because they didn’t – they didn’t want Stiles to feel guilty. They didn’t want him to think about it, because they all know. Everyone knows, everyone knows.

“We don’t know that,” Derek says in a quiet voice. He doesn’t even believe it.

“I do.”

“There’s got to be another way.”

“I won’t leave him there,” Stiles shakes his head and pushes Derek’s hand off his shoulder, glancing back at the words on the page. “I can’t do that. I can’t live with myself, knowing I could do something, but that I won’t. Because I’m afraid? I’m not fucking afraid,” he shakes his head again, and again. “You’re afraid. I won’t let you stop me.”

“We don’t know where he is,” Derek tries again, uselessly, but Stiles knows he has to give it his all, his everything, anything he can say or do, until he can’t try anything else. “We don’t know where he is, Stiles!”

“I’m doing this,” Stiles pulls the book up against his chest, cradling it like he’s afraid of having it taken away in spite of the fact that Derek couldn’t touch it no matter how much he tried. “I’m either doing it by myself, or you’ll help me.”

Derek looks down at the ground, his eyes wide and unfocused. He opens his mouth, then closes it, and looks like he has nowhere left to turn. This is the exact reason he was even staying with Stiles to begin with – to keep something like this from happening. Now, Stiles is dragging him into it headfirst, and there’s no other place for him to go. “This,” he starts, “scares the shit out of me.”

“I’m not afraid,” Stiles repeats, very seriously. His voice doesn’t even crack. “You don’t have to do anything. Just – just trust me. Do you trust me?”

Derek meets his eyes. “I trust you,” he says. “Everything in that book? No.”

“It’s just magic.” All it is is magic. All it’s ever been is magic.

****

Derek dumps another bucket load of ice into the bathtub in Stiles’ apartment, his lips curved downward in an intense frown. “This is un-fucking-believable,” he hisses, shaking his head again and again. Even as he sticks his hand in the water to test how cold it is, even as he dumps some more ice in and does exactly as Stiles has asked him to. “This is so fucking – I cannot believe –“

“Just be quiet,” Stiles says, pouring his own bucket of ice into the tub and sticking his hand in just as Derek had gone. He swishes it around for a moment – deems it truly ice cold as the book had instructed him, and then pulls it out. “Arctic.”

“Holy shit,” Derek mutters, dropping his bucket on the ground with a hard thump.

“Now, for these.” Stiles takes his handful of ingredients off his bathroom sink and starts opening up the jars, dropping a pinch of each into the water and watching them steam up as they land like they’re being dropped into boiling water instead of freezing cold. “It’s like Rachel Ray.”

“Oh, my God.”

“Rosemary, and thyme…”

“This is all a bunch of useless fucking abracadabra bullshit.”

Stiles drops a handful of crushed amethyst stones into the water – and they float, almost miraculously. “Right. That’s why you’re so afraid of it,” Stiles raises his eyebrows and looks Derek in the face. Derek scowls at him. “Because it’s all nonsense.”

“Can we just get this over with?”

“Absolutely,” Stiles agrees, glancing into the water one last time to make sure it looks just about right. He has no idea what it’s meant to look like – black magic is foreign to him, for the most part. But the amethyst is floating as it should, and the herbs all melted into the cold and turned the water a light green color, the ice almost freezing itself up even more, and that’s as the book said.

He turns and squats down in front of the toilet, where he’s got the book perched and open for him, and runs his finger down the line of text, searching for the actual ceremony part of the spell. “Okay,” he starts, furrowing his brow as he reads. “After I climb inside, you have to hold me down for at least three minutes, or until I go still –“

Derek looks stricken, but says nothing.

“…and after that, keep your hand on my neck. No matter what happens, don’t let go of my neck,” he looks up and meets Derek’s eyes, and Derek just looks back at him. “No matter what.”

He rubs at his jaw, and for the first time looks like he’s acknowledging that he’s actually fucking doing this. That he’s actually a part of this, and he’s agreed to it, and now he has to do it. He sighs. “I could snap your neck if I’m not careful enough,” he murmurs.

“Well, don’t do that,” Stiles shrugs. “If I don’t move after five minutes, you’ll have to recite this.”

Derek looks down at the words at the page, and he must see nothing but nonsense. “I can’t read Latin.”

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what it means,” Stiles insists, and repeats the Latin words out loud for Derek to hear. Derek reluctantly repeats them back, albeit awkwardly and chopped up, but it’ll do, for the most part. “Make sure you’re timing it on your phone. It’s – exactly five minutes. Six minutes, and I might. You know.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“But that’s worst case scenario,” he examines the instructions one more time to make sure he hasn’t missed anything. When he deems everything ready, he stands up and pulls down on the hem of his shirt, staring into the green water with a twist to his mouth.

It’s now or never. Any hesitation, and he might not go through with it.

“Turn off the light,” he instructs, and Derek is the one who hesitates. Stiles turns to look at him and gestures firmly to the switch on the wall, and Derek finally moves. Then, he pauses with his finger hovering on the switch.

He says, “and what if you don’t come back.” There’s no inflection, like it’s not even a question.

“Then I don’t come back,” Stiles says simply. “Tell Lydia, or – Deaton. Maybe they could find me.” He glances back down into the green water. “Maybe they couldn’t.”

“This is fucking insane,” Derek hisses, but the light switches off all the same, and they’re in the dark.

Derek can see just fine in the dark, as Stiles knows, but Stiles is struggling to blink against it. The only thing he can see is a faint, barely there glow from the amethyst in the water, his only indication for where he’s supposed to go. With a deep, heaving sigh, he puts one bare foot in the water, his jeans getting soaked through, and then the second foot.

Soon after, he lowers his entire body in – “fuck, it’s cold,” – and sinks down until only his neck and his head are sticking up out of it. He breathes once, shallow and chittery with his shivering, and he feels Derek’s hand come up on top of his chest. “Don’t let go of me,” Stiles repeats, and he can’t see if Derek nods or not. “It’ll be over quick.”

“You’re stalling.” Derek’s voice sounds tinny, far away, but the hand on his chest is firm and there, solid.

“Hold me down,” Stiles shivers out between his teeth. He takes one last look at the ceiling, and sees nothing but dark and blackness for his troubles, before closing his eyes and sinking his head underneath the ice.

The first thing he wants to do when he gets underneath that water is get the fuck out of it. It’s not even just the fact that it’s cold, but that is a huge factor without a doubt and he feels his body burning ironically with the freeze of it. But it’s also the fact that it feels – it feels wrong. It feels other, and alien, and not like any other body of water he’s ever been in before.

The feeling goes on for thirty seconds, and Derek’s hand doesn’t move. Stiles wants to breathe. He can’t. He holds his breath tight in his lungs and squeezes his eyes shut tighter, willing himself to vanish, to get out of here, into where he wants to be, to go find Scott. Out of the water, into the flames.

Out of the water, into the flames. He repeats this in his head again and again, even as his skin feels like it’s being peeled off by the cold, even as his lungs are on fire from the need for oxygen. Out of the water. Into the flames.

It must be around minute two and a half that he tries to get out. He feels, very suddenly, that he is no longer alone. It starts as the indescribable feeling of being watched. Of being seen, when the very last thing you want to do is be found out. It’s uncomfortable, simply, at first. And then it feels heavier than that. It’s not Derek. It’s something else. There’s something in the water with him.

It does not have kind intentions for him.

Stiles doesn’t know what he’s thinking when he starts thrashing. He doesn’t know if he thinks that he wants to take it all back, to not do this, that he made a mistake. He doesn’t know if he’s feeling afraid, or if he’s petrified. He doesn’t know if whatever’s there with him is hurting him. All he knows is that he’s moving, and Derek’s hand is holding him down as tight as physically possible without cracking his collarbones, and he can’t do anything but keep his eyes closed and kick his legs.

Stiles had told him, no matter what happens, don’t take your hand off of me. And Derek doesn’t. Stiles said that something might go even more wrong than either of them could imagine if they didn’t follow through. That leaving the spell open ended could drag something out of the water with Stiles. The thing that’s there with him, now.

Minute three comes, it must. One moment Stiles is moving, and the next he is completely still. His body is. The rest of him – the rest of him is burning. His body lies there in that water, he can feel it, but it’s separate from him, like he’s touching it, but not in it. He’s in pain, and he thinks that’s him screaming but he can’t be entirely sure.

Nothing here is something he can be sure of. There’s no start. There’s no nothing. Just that burning sensation, and the feeling of being apart from himself, and he has no way to get back. He shouts Derek’s name, up, as up as he can manage, but he knows that Derek hears nothing. Derek is not here.

He can’t move like this, but he thinks he’s moving. Everything here, wherever here is, feels like that. Like it’s happening but it isn’t. Like he’s inside of his own head, but he doesn’t actually have his own head. It’s one of the most torturous, awful feelings he’s ever had in his entire life. For seconds on end, seconds that feel like hours here, Stiles doesn’t know what to do. He tries Derek’s name again, and is met with nothing, again.

One last scream, up into nothing, and then he touches something he thinks is dirt. Soil. The crust of the very earth, the center, where Hell has to be.

He’s beginning to think he will never get out of here, never be anything but this, this fractured thing that can’t even barely think but can feel pain. Holy shit, can he feel pain.

“Stiles?”

There’s this suspended moment where he thinks that’s Derek. His mind is so fuzzy, that he’s sure it is. But that is not Derek’s voice.

“Stiles, it’s you.”

He coughs. “It’s me,” he says, without even knowing who or what he’s speaking to. Maybe it’s not a good idea to go shouting out who he is in this place, and if he had the presence of mind to think that, he would.

“Stiles?” It echoes back to him, and he tries to feel his hand along the wall, but there isn’t any wall, and there isn’t any hand for him to use. “Stiles?”

“Stop saying my name.” The fucking idiot is implied there, and his best friend would know that.

“You have to help me,” and Stiles tries to reach. He tries to reach out and grab and feel him, but it’s not possible. How is he supposed to fucking do this? How is he supposed to… “you have to help me!”

“I’m trying!”

There’s a pull. A tug. Stiles doesn’t know what it is, but it’s taking him out, and away, and Stiles coughs. He can’t breathe. Something is crushing his neck.

“Don’t leave me here,” Scott begs him, and Stiles tries to crawl forward toward him, but he gets pulled back again, coughing and choking and clawing in the dirt. “Stiles, don’t leave me!”

The water is cold again. Stiles shoots up out of it, sending water and ice flying all over the floor, the bathroom, the walls, and spills up out of it over the edge. He topples head first onto the bath mat, and then uses his fingers like claws, digging into the tiles and pulling himself out. His legs spill over the side, and then his feet are finally out, and he’s done. It’s done. He rubs along his body, feels it, whole and entire, and his hands are shaking so violently it’s a wonder he can feel anything at all.

“Stop!”

That’s when he realizes he’s screaming. He shuts up quickly, blinking at the floor, and he sees Derek’s feet. Derek’s shoes, to be specific. He’s wearing black and white converse, and dark jeans, and these are real things that he’s looking at. This is earth. This is – this is not where he just was. He holds onto these details so tightly, focuses on them. He reaches out blindly and touches Derek’s shoe, just to confirm it as real.

“Stiles? Hey, say something,” Derek doesn’t take Stiles’ hand off his shoe, like he somehow intrinsically knows that Stiles needs that right now. He does, however, squat down and try to put his face right in Stiles’, examining him critically. “Stiles. Stiles, holy shit.”

“Is it here?” Stiles says. His voice is cracked, barely there at all. It’s like he’s been screaming for hours, hours, hours, hasn’t stopped. “Is it in here?”

“What?”

Is it in here?”

“Is what in here?”

The lights are on. Stiles looks up and squints against it. It’s his bathroom. It’s his apartment. Derek is there, but he’s shaky in the peripheral of Stiles’ vision as he looks around himself. There’s green water all over the floor. There’s ice melting in his hair. There is nothing else in here but Derek, and Stiles, and the ice.

“Derek, I –“ he chokes, puts his hand on his neck.

“I hurt you,” Derek says very evenly, and Stiles can feel that. The pain. It’s nothing like the pain from before – it’s a few shallow scratches, just a couple of cuts. It’s nothing.

“What I saw,” he says.

Derek is quiet for a long time. It feels like a long time, it might only be a minute, maybe two. Stiles lies there on the floor, cheek pressed against the tiles, in sopping wet clothes and shivering, eyes glazed and staring out at nothing. He finally says, “did you – did you see Scott?”

Bizarrely, Stiles hears the thump thump thump of something banging on the floor. He furrows his eyebrows, baffled out of his mind. What is that, he thinks, but can’t voice it out loud for some reason.

Derek huffs, and he says, “she’s been doing that for five minutes,” and stomps his foot three times very hard down on the floor as a counter attack. Stiles flinches with every sound, like he’s sensitive to that right now, and doesn’t understand. “You were – I have never heard you scream like that.”

“I scared you,” Stiles clarifies. It’s all detached, to him.

“No, it was a great fucking time,” Derek hisses, and Stiles can’t respond. It was his neighbor banging her broom on her ceiling to get him to shut up, Stiles realizes slowly. She does that – she did that when Scott and Stiles used to throw parties, or play the television too loud, or music above a whisper. Any sound to her is a nuisance.

Stiles was screaming his lungs out, bloody fucking murder, and her reaction is to bang that broom on her ceiling while yelling you damn kids! It’s hilarious, it’s so fucking funny – but Stiles doesn’t laugh.

“Did you see Scott, Stiles?” Insensitively, as he always is, he sort of gestures his arms out around himself. “He is not here right now, so I’m guessing not.”

“Derek,” Stiles starts, and then he moves his arms. They’re sluggish, like he’s just now getting used to being back inside of his own body. It was only five minutes that he was under, and he knows that logically, but – oh my God, it was hours. It was hours in that place. He pushes his hands up on the tiled floor, and then uses them to pull his body up so he’s sitting up on his knees.

He pants for a moment, looking all around himself. He glances back behind himself at the tub, where nearly half the water is gone and all over the floor, likely from Stiles thrashing around so much, from Derek holding him down by his neck. Derek stands all the way back up, out of his crouch, and Stiles is looking at his shoes again.

“I didn’t see Scott,” he says evenly, because he didn’t. “He touched me.”

“He touched you,” Derek says back, like he’s either amazed or not.

“I felt…”

“We are not doing that again,” Derek is firm on this, and Stiles – well. He said he wasn’t afraid, before, because he wasn’t before he knew what it was fucking like. Now he knows what it’s fucking like.

He will never, never put himself back there again. That might make him a coward.

“No, no,” Stiles shakes his head, and runs his hand through his sopping wet hair. “No. No. I won’t.”

Derek is back down to crouching, back on Stiles’ level, and he’s staring into Stiles’ face, like he’s examining it. He eyeballs it very hard, for seconds on end, and Stiles just stares back. “Stiles,” Derek says slowly. “What – what happened?”

Stiles looks at him dead in the eyes, and then clutches his bony, ice cold, shaking fingers into Derek’s shirt. He pulls him close, contact, warm contact, and it’s the best thing he’s ever felt in his life. “I am so fucking scared right now,” he admits, and Derek’s response is near automatic.

He puts his arm around Stiles’ back and pushes Stiles’ face into his own neck. They stay like that for a minute, Stiles shivering and desperately holding onto Derek for dear life. There’s none of this, down there. It’s the greatest thing Stiles has ever felt in his entire life, to be close to someone right now. To feel them against him, to feel himself, to be there.

“Are you okay?”

Stiles says nothing.

“Should I get Deaton?” More nothing on Stiles’ end. “Hey. Hey, Stiles. Stiles.”

“No,” Stiles finally says. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m here.”

“Right, you’re here,” Derek’s voice sounds a little high, panicked. Like he’s bitten off more than he can chew, and now he has to answer for it. After all, Stiles sending himself into the very pits of – wherever the hell that was – and then coming out the other side potentially scarred for life and shellshocked traumatized is sort of on him. As the alpha. Nevermind the fact that Stiles couldn’t have been stopped no matter what. “We are both here. In your apartment. In Beacon Hills.”

“Tell me more,” Stiles insists, and Derek swallows. Stiles feels his Adam’s apple bob against his forehead.

“We’re in your bathroom. You did a fucking idiot spell.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s water on the walls. It will probably stain them green. You’ll have to – fix that. Otherwise they’ll charge you when you move out.”

“There’s nothing else in here,” Stiles clarifies, voice very small, and Derek sighs.

“If there was, I’d know.”

“While I was under…” Stiles pauses, and then he takes in a deep breath. Derek smells like deodorant and the forest and him, and Stiles hugs him even tighter. “…did you feel there was someone else there?”

“Like Scott?”

“No,” Stiles says. “Something – something. Something else.”

Derek pauses for a long second. “What answer will scare you the least?”

“Tell me the truth.” The truth can’t be scarier than a lie. It can’t be.

There’s another pause, and Derek puts his fingers on Stiles’ neck. He pokes at the scratch marks there, gently assessing how deep they are, how much attention to them he should give. They’re not bad, Stiles knows they’re not. “I smelled something. Around the time you started trying to claw my arm off.” Stiles hadn’t realized he was doing that, but it makes sense. His fingers feel so raw. “I’ve never, you know. Smelled a demon before. I hope.”

Stiles shivers in Derek’s arms.

“So I don’t know what I smelled. I just remember thinking…” he sighs again, long and hard. “It wanted you. And I had to keep it away from you.”

“You didn’t let me go,” Stiles says, pressing his cold nose into Derek’s neck. “Oh, my God, you didn’t let me go. I’m so – I’m so – sorry.”

“It’s fine. It’s done.”

It’s done, he says.

The problem is that it isn’t. It’s not done. Not by a long shot.

****

Later, Stiles is wrapped up in a blanket sitting on his couch, and Rachel Ray is there. She’s smiling at him, chopping something up with a very sharp, very long knife, and she’s smiling at him. He’s warm now, and that’s really the most important thing. He’s got a mug of tea that Derek made him, and Derek is sitting right next to him on the couch not saying anything. Neither of them have addressed the elephant in the room, that Stiles just cried and screamed for 45 minutes while his neighbor banged the hell out of her ceiling and Derek did that thing with his foot again.

Derek stomping on the ground in the middle of a conversation, growling under his breath and just stomp stomp stomp. It was so funny. It was so fucking funny.

Stiles sips at his tea and thinks that Derek knows how to make tea. He knows that the underlings, the kids as Stiles calls them in his head when compared with Derek, all like to think Derek is some inept idiot that eats ramen every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and lives out of a cardboard box and hires people to go shopping for him.

But, Derek watches Rachel Ray and knows how to cook and how to make tea, and he always picks up after himself. Stiles is bizarrely fond of him at the moment. All he really wants to do is cuddle up next to him and melt into the side of his body, but he already did that for an hour, and Derek looks very. Upset.

Upset is to put it mildly.

“I am getting the idea,” Derek starts finally, right as Rachel is pulling the top off of a boiling pot of water and making some bullshit joke, “that you don’t want to talk about it.”

“I want to,” Stiles says. His voice has yet to heal itself, from all the screaming. “I physically think I can’t right now.”

Derek taps his finger on the arm of the couch. “You forced me into this,” he reminds Stiles hotly, and Stiles knows that he did. “Hold me down and don’t let go. You said that, I did that.” He looks at the side of Stiles’ face, and Stiles doesn’t dare meet his eyes of his own volition. “Where was I forcing you to stay while I was doing that?”

“Derek, don’t,” Stiles takes another long sip of his tea, like he needs it right about now. “Don’t do that thing that you do.”

“I’m – you put me in this –“

“Don’t. Nothing to feel guilty about. If you had let me go, I don’t know what would’ve happened. You weren’t holding me anywhere. Okay? I was trapped there,” he stares at the steam, as it rises, and he thinks that he knows what it feels like to be the water, to be boiling, to be so hot it’s like you forget what it’s like to…to be anything else. “You were the one who pulled me out.”

Derek is quiet again. Stiles watches the television and wants steak, he wants it really fucking bad, but he doesn’t know how to articulate that thought. “I need to know what happened.”

“I know that.”

“I need to fucking know that, Stiles,” he turns towards Stiles some more, leaning in so close to him, Stiles can smell him. “I feel something in this apartment. It’s not – don’t get scared,” Stiles’ shoot of pure, undiluted horror must smell acrid and horrible in Derek’s nose, because he actually winces. “It’s not a demon or something like that. Nothing came back with you. It’s…a feeling.”

Stiles pauses. He sits there in his apartment and breathes for a moment, not paying attention to his tea, or how he feels, just – just the place itself. He breathes in and out, in and out, and he knows what Derek means. There’s a shift in this place. Something isn’t right.

The book is still open, sitting wide open on the toilet. It’s so funny. Stiles doesn’t laugh. He knows that book is open, and he can feel it.

“Ah, shit,” Stiles thumps his head back on the couch and stares up at the ceiling. “I’ve fucking cursed myself.”

“Oh, great.” Derek throws his hand up in the air and looks so fucking angry Stiles almost can’t believe it. “Oh, great! A curse!”

“The dark mark,” Stiles says, and Derek looks at him like he’s fucking insane. Absolutely batshit out of his mind. “Ah, shit.”

“How is this – this is just ah, shit to you?”

“Man,” Stiles shakes his head, and he looks at Rachel Ray some more. “Ah, shit.”

**

“If one chooses to access the powers granted by Satan, then one might find themselves touched, or marked, by dark energy.”

Satan,” Derek repeats, eyes very big in his head.

Stiles is sitting at his desk chair, one leg up as he turns around and around in the thing, peering into one of his many old research books. He’s read this one at least a thousand times. He knows what it says, about curses specifically, but he figures that right now, the words that simply come out of Stiles’ mouth are not enough for Derek. Derek needs the source, the written down fact, and Stiles has that.

“That’s just an expression,” Stiles says, assures more like. “It’s not actually like I was just in contact with the dark lord himself. I just – you know.”

Satan.” Derek repeats it again.

“You’re focusing on the minute details here.”

Derek throws his hands in the air again, and there’s that unbelievably frustrated expression on his face. “What does this mean? What does this mean?”

“I mean – exactly what it says,” he frowns, looks up at his bedroom ceiling. This all feels very inconsequential to him, at the moment. It’s like it’s all just fine. The curse, and the ceaseless tremor in his hands, and the scratches on his neck all bandaged up carefully, and the mess still left sitting in his bathroom. To him, this is heaven. Comparatively.

“I told you not to mess with this stuff,” a finger, vindictive and big, points right into Stiles’ face. Stiles goes cross eyed looking at it. “I told you not to do this. I begged you.”

“Listen,” he starts, and Derek looks like he’s about to lose his mind even though Stiles hasn’t even really gotten started yet. “A curse is common, for people like me. All right? I’ve almost gotten cursed a couple of times just helping you guys out. I’ve always managed to noodle my way out of it.”

Noodle your way out of this one, then.”

Stiles’ lips twitch at hearing Derek say noodle like that. Like it’s a dirty word or something. With so much fucking anger and conviction. Noodle. Stiles is about to lose his mind, and Derek only looks angrier for it. “This time is a bit different.”

“You have the weirdest look on your face right now,” Derek says, snaps really, and Stiles blinks at him. “This doesn’t bother you at all?”

“It bothers me,” Stiles says, mostly for something to say. It almost really doesn’t – bother him. After what he’s been through. It was literally just two hours ago that he was in another dimension, and Derek seems very insensitive to this fact.

“What are we doing about this?”

Stiles shrugs. “I mean – I’m cursed.”

Derek looks at him. Then, he squats down and looks at him even harder, right in his face. “Are you possessed?” He says very seriously. “Is this Stiles?”

Stiles presses his lips together like he’s about to burst out laughing.

“Say something normal.”

Stiles looks at him. “Normal.”

“Say something that a fucking demon wouldn’t.”

He considers for a moment. “Puppies are great.”

Derek is taking it so fucking seriously. He critically examines Stiles like he’s looking at a math problem, assessing him from top to bottom. He sniffs at him, like he’s searching for a demonic smell, or something. When he gets nothing, he slowly straightens back up to his normal height and looks angry, still. “There are spells you can do to undo the curse,” he says, and it’s not a question.

“Uh – yeah. Some white magic, a little nip, a little tuck. It’s not the end of the world,” he shrugs again, and Derek looks like he’s coming to some realization about all this.

“Okay,” Derek says slowly. “You won’t tell me what happened down there,” he goes on, and Stiles purses his lips together. “So I don’t know what the fuck is going on.”

That book is still open, pulsing almost, calling Stiles’ name. Stiles looks past Derek’s head, out the open doorway, down the hallway, where he can see just the faintest hint of light coming from the bathroom. “That should not still be open,” he says, and his voice might sound just ominous enough for Derek to actually take it seriously.

“I can’t touch it,” he says. “And you won’t close it.”

“I know.”

“So the book is just – open.”

“It is just open,” he meets Derek’s eyes. “It is not a good thing.”

“I keep feeling like,” he starts, and then frowns, “our conversations aren’t getting anywhere.”

“I keep feeling the exact same way,” Stiles says.

“Is it…is it Satan?” He frowns, and looks so serious again, and Stiles wants to scream. “Making us go around and around in circles?”

“No,” he shakes his head, looking away from the hallway, finally, ignoring the sound of the book. It’s making sounds, Stiles can hear them. Derek cannot. “It’s me not directly answering any of your questions and sending you off different tracks every two sentences.”

Derek frowns. “It is Stiles,” he sounds half relieved, half annoyed. Only Derek could pull that off.

“It is Stiles, and Stiles is not possessed.” He blinks down at his research, the book, and the letters all blend together. “Stiles saw something.”

Derek sighs. This is another one of those round and round conversations. Maybe it is the curse, or maybe it’s just them, not talking and talking at the same time.

“I’ll get to work on the curse,” he decides out loud. “Will you – do me a solid favor.”

Derek sighs, again.

“Will you clean up the bathroom?” He’s solemn, leaning his neck over the book and huffing through his nose. “I don’t want to…go in there.”

Derek stands there for a moment, and Stiles doesn’t look at him. “You’ll tell me eventually, what happened.” He could just glow his eyes and force Stiles to do so, but he won’t do that. He won’t do that unless Stiles is in really big trouble, or he’s going to hurt himself. “Won’t you?”

“I will.” Stiles leans even farther over his book, even though he isn’t actually reading a word of it. He just doesn’t want to look Derek in the face right now. “Just not tonight.”

Derek cleans up the bathroom, and Stiles sits in his room and pretends to be working away at curing his curse, even though he’s just in there staring blankly at the words on the page. He hasn’t even turned to another page to make his work convincing. He listens as Derek sops up the green gunk with a towel, listens when he tries to touch the book again and gets zapped, shouts for fuck’s sake.

The broom bangs on the ceiling, and Derek stomps his feet three times right back.

Three, Stiles thinks. Is a very unlucky number.

Chapter Text

The fact that they can’t close the book is, at first, an annoyance. Derek tries his level best for a solid half an hour the night after the whole – you know. He stands there, glaring at it, throwing his hand out as fast as possible to try and slap it shut, and it just zaps him away every time. No matter how much alpha fucking werewolf strength he puts into it, he just cannot do it.

Then he sets it down in front of Stiles and tries to make him find a spell to close it. Stiles does genuinely try, searches his own books and his mind, but nothing he tries works. He stares at it, and stares, and stares, and tells himself to just reach out and close it. Close it. Close it.

Nothing ever happens. Derek is frustrated, and he’s upset, and Stiles isn’t telling him anything, and there’s a distinct feeling in this apartment like they’re being watched all the time. Likely, they are.

But the book is just annoying. At first. It talks to Stiles in a way he can’t understand but can understand at the same time, whispering his name and following it up with unintelligible gobbledygook.

But Stiles knows it just wants him to do something else. More magic. More. It’s been so long since it’s had someone to talk to, it says. It just wants more magic. Stiles is creeped out and also, sort of amused at the same time. There’s a book talking to him, and his apartment is cursed and he’s cursed and hell, Derek just might be too, and his walls are stained green, and his best friend is dead and begging him to get him out of wherever he is, and Derek keeps stomping his feet three times. Always three times.

Stiles says, “stomp four times,” once, and Derek looks at him like he has no idea what Stiles is talking about. “Just try it. Four times.”

Derek furrows his brow, and stomps. One. Two. Three. They stare at each other, waiting for the fourth to come. It does not.

“Two hops, this time?” Stiles is quoting the Cha Cha Slide. There’s not a single bone in Stiles’ body that believes Derek would ever understand that one, in spite of the half dozen Middle and High School dances he’s had to have gone to – but Derek looks at him like he does get it, and is fucking pissed off about it.

Derek stomps. Once. Twice…three times.

“Ah, shit,” Stiles says, and Derek punches his first through the wall. “At least you can do that just once,” he mutters as Derek is picking dry wall off of his knuckles.

So, yes. The book being open is annoying, and the curse has chosen to manifest itself in the most ridiculous of fucking ways, so it’s just – silly. And Stiles still can’t find it in himself to be entirely perturbed. He saw some shit, and Derek understands, for the first thirty or so hours. Derek is perfectly willing to allow Stiles’ silence on the subject, because Stiles bets that after the fire at his house, Derek wasn’t exactly shouting from the rooftops to everyone who would listen what happened.

He knows trauma. He gets it. He won’t push. At first.

Stiles wakes up in the middle of the night to a hand frantically shaking him, and shaking him, and shaking him. He shoots awake, startled and petrified at first, thinking that he’s just been back in the bath tub, that Derek is tearing him out of the underworld again, but then it’s just his bedroom.

It’s his bedroom, and the lights are on, and Derek is right there next to him. Stiles blinks at him all frazzled, heart still pounding in his chest. “Did you move it?”

“What?” Stiles asks, rubbing at his sleepy eyes. “Did I move what?”

Derek points. Stiles follows the arm and the finger with his eyes. The Black Magic book is sitting, wide open, on his desk. Like it’s been there all along. Like it belongs there. “Did I move it,” Stiles repeats. “If you’re asking me that, I’m guess you did not move it.”

“I did not move it,” he says evenly, and Stiles swallows.

“Neither did I.”

“If you say ah, shit,” Derek says in a low voice, eyes glazed as they stare at where the book is perched, “I’m going to rip your throat out.”

The book sits, and it sits, and it flips its pages, again and again. Derek looks at Stiles, and Stiles looks at Derek, and then they both turn to look at the book themselves. “You know in Hocus Pocus,” Stiles starts, and Derek growls under his breath, so Stiles doesn’t finish it. But now it’s all he can think of, watching that book toss its own pages around and around. It’s the least sinister of all the things he could think of, so he latches onto it like a lifeline.

“It’s doing something,” Derek says, and Stiles shoots him a look. Of course it’s fucking doing something. “I…am going to call Lydia.”

Stiles sighs through his nose. He more or less has been avoiding that since the exact second he pulled that stupid box out from underneath his floor. Because once Lydia finds out what he’s done, what he’s been doing, what he’s done to himself, she’s going to – slap him in the face. Stiles is positive of this. She might not be powerful, like him, but she’s a fuck of a lot less stupid than he is. And she has always told him, again and again, that the moment he touched dark magic, he wouldn’t be able to come back from it.

And now here he is. And she was right. A slap is forthcoming.

“It’s three o’clock in the morning,” Stiles moans, covering his eyes with his hand. The pages flip on and on, and Stiles just wants it to fucking stop. All of it. “She won’t be awake.”

Derek has already got the phone pressed up against his ear. He stands up from the bed and does that thing people do where they talk on the phone – walk sort of slowly around, put their free hand on their hip, stare at the floor or out at nothing.

Miraculously, Lydia does answer. As Stiles lies there on his bed and the book flaps at him and Derek explains the situation in its entirety to Lydia, he wonders if the curse had a hand in that, too. Lydia fucking answering at three am. She’s a textbook heavy sleeper, early to bed, late to riser. Satan certainly had a hand in this one.

He hangs up, and looks steadily at Stiles. “She’s coming over.”

Stiles shakes his head. “Yay.”

“I have something to say,” Derek starts, and Stiles just floats down deeper into his blankets, into his pillows, hoping to vanish inside of them entirely. “This entire mess is all because you’re too stubborn to listen to a word I have to say.”

That makes Stiles angry. It makes Stiles really, really angry. One second he’s lying there in his sheets lamenting his very life, and the next second his sitting up, ram rod straight, and narrowing his eyes. “This entire mess,” he begins, in a tone of voice that Derek takes seriously from the look on his face, “is because my best friend is dead.”

“You keep saying that like it’s a defense. Like it’s – like it’s a point.”

“It is a point,” Stiles nods his head. “It’s the point. All I wanted to do, all I –“ he can’t finish. He shakes his head, grits his teeth, and just looks down at his hands. They’re chapped and dry from the cold, and he should rub some lotion on them or do something about it, but he won’t. The chapped hands aren’t even the start of what he deserves.

“I know you’re upset,” Derek says, and Stiles feels like he’s done nothing but say that again, and again, and again. The word. Upset. Upset. Stiles takes it apart in his mind, letter by letter, synonym by synonym, definitions, all of it, like he’s got a photographic memory of its dictionary entry. “…but you’ve done something so fucking irresponsible this time, I –“

“That’s exactly what I need right now,” Stiles hisses, and for just a moment as the argument escalates and gets worse, and worse, neither of them notice what’s going on around them. Their negative energy is combining into one and Stiles should know better – he should always know better. It’s hard to know better when he’s in this state of mind. “…for you to tell me what a fucking idiot I am on top of everything else that’s going on!”

Derek walks over to the bed, gets right in Stiles’ face where Stiles is sitting up against the pillows, and he’s frowning. It’s not an unusual expression for him, but Stiles shrinks back against the pillows all the same, lower lip trembling. He can’t mentally take a scolding from Derek right now, but he’ll get one all the same. “You said to me,” his voice is low, dangerous, “and to Deaton, and to Scott, again and again – you would never fuck around with any of this stuff. You said that. You did.”

“I guess that Stiles just isn’t here anymore,” Stiles says with all the detachment in the world, and Derek looks at him.

“I’m looking right at him,” Derek argues back, and Stiles shakes his head. It’s not him anymore, he knows it’s not. He’s not possessed, and he might be cursed, but that’s not what he means. The Stiles from before wasn’t insane with grief. The Stiles from before had a connection with his best friend and that kept him weighted down, kept him smart, kept him – kept him from acting like this.

That Stiles is gone. Stiles lost him somewhere in the pits of Hell.

“I just want you to leave me alone,” Stiles promises this, and Derek shakes his head.

“I can’t do that.”

“You won’t –“

“I can’t leave you alone!”

“You’re fucking making me crazy –“

“I’m not going to do that, I’m not going to –“

“Stiles?”

Both of them freeze at the exact same time. Derek had just been reaching out to touch Stiles, to take him by his shoulder and shake him, or hug him, or do any number of things Stiles can only guess at – but the hand hovers there in the air between them. They lock eyes, mouths hanging open.

Neither of them just said Stiles’ name. It came from behind them. Over Derek’s head, where the book is sitting wide open on Stiles’ desk. And that was not the voice that the book speaks to Stiles in either – both of them recognize that voice, as well as either of their own voices. Stiles swallows, and Derek closes his mouth and sighs through his nose. A long exhalation of breath, around the silence.

Slowly, moving so glacially Stiles is surprised it’s happening in this century, Derek stands back up to his full height and turns around. He moves out of Stiles’ way at the same time, so both of them can look at what’s happening there in the corner of Stiles’ bedroom.

Stiles puts his hand over his mouth, and Derek just stands and doesn’t move.

There, blinking in and out of focus, is Scott. He has a translucent edge to him, his entire being, like he’s not really there. He isn’t really there. Not on the same plane that they are. He’s managed to crawl himself out from wherever he’s been using that book, Stiles knows. Using whatever magic Stiles left behind, and using the open portal the book supplies, and using – the curse, maybe. He stands there, and he looks placidly at the two of them with a frown on his face.

There’s a gash in his head, and it’s leaking blood all over Stiles’ floors.

“Stiles,” he says again. His voice is distant, like he’s calling to them from behind a door.

Stiles pulls his hand away from his mouth. “Don’t say my name,” he says weakly, and Scott just looks at him. Directly at him. They meet eyes, and Stiles thinks – this isn’t Scott. Scott doesn’t look at people like that. There’s something like genuine malice, genuine hatred in his eyes, and Stiles can’t say if it’s because it’s not Scott, but something wearing his face, or if it’s just…how he looks at people, when he’s looking at them through a magnifying glass from Hell.

“You left me down there,” he accuses, no emotion in his tone, and Stiles covers his mouth with his hand again.

“I…”

“You have to help me.” The blood oozes, and drips, and Stiles can’t take his eyes off of where it pools at Scott’s bare feet. He’s wearing the clothes he died in – not the clothes he was buried in. So his t-shirt is torn to pieces and his jeans are muddled with dirt and blood stains, the powder from Stiles’ magic all over him like a film.

“That,” Derek starts, and Stiles looks at the back of his neck. “…is not Scott.”

“No,” Stiles agrees, shaking his head. “It’s a trick. It’s a trick.”

“Don’t look at it,” Derek says very firmly, and turns his eyes away from the thing itself. “Stiles, don’t look at it.”

But Stiles can’t tear his eyes away from all the blood. How Scott is staring at him with something like betrayal, disgust, loathing, and Stiles has never felt more paralyzed in his entire life. He doesn’t know what to think about it, he doesn’t know if he truly believes that that’s not Scott. It could be. It could be anything, anyone, any number of malicious tricks that book could come up with – but Stiles can’t be sure.

“Close that book,” Derek turns on him, looks directly at him, and partially blocks his view of Scott. “Stiles, you have to close it, or that thing is going to…”

“I can’t,” Stiles says from behind his fingertips. “You know I can’t.”

Derek leans over him, while the only other sound in the room is Scott’s blood dripping onto the floor, and takes Stiles by his shoulders. He glows his eyes red, looks right into Stiles’, and says, “close. It.”

The imperative is there. The desperate need to do exactly what his alpha is asking of him shoots through him like wildfire, and Stiles wants to, he needs to, he has to do exactly what Derek is asking of him. But he can’t. He physically can’t make himself move as much as he imagines himself just getting up and walking over and slamming it shut. He can’t. “Derek, I’m – I’m trying, I’ve been trying!”

Derek’s fingers dig deeper into Stiles’ shoulders, and he hisses in a sub-human growl, “Stiles, close the book.”

There it is again, that same burning sensation, but Stiles – can’t. He can’t. “It won’t let me, Derek, I –“

Derek shakes him by his shoulders, and Scott is saying something over their heads but Stiles can’t pay attention to it. “Just do it!”

It goes through him again, and Stiles winces and shudders. “You’re hurting me,” he hisses, and Derek’s fingers loosen just slightly. “Stop, stop it, it hurts!”

Derek might have been opening his mouth to command him again, and Stiles thinks that if he had done that it would’ve made him pass out from how wrong it feels to be unable to do what he’s asked. But Derek never gets the chance – luckily for the both of them. There’s a flash of white light, and something like thunder clapping across the room burns inside of Stiles’ ears and maybe Derek’s too from how he winces and physically curls his body over Stiles as if he’s protecting him from something.

A cloud of smoke. Stiles opens his eyes and they burn.

Derek moves, flopping himself down on the bed beside Stiles in a heap, so Stiles can see better. They both blink across the room and through the smoke to see Lydia standing there instead of Scott. There is no pool of blood at her feet, and there’s no more Scott, and the book is shut up tight. Lydia had managed to close the book, Stiles thinks in a daze. She has no magical prowess, none whatsoever, but –

“Only an outsider can close the book once it’s been opened,” she says in a dull tone of voice, looking at both of the boys like they’re little ants she wants to squash underneath her feet. That’s probably exactly what she wants to do with them, honestly. “You should have remembered that.”

Stiles swallows. “I forgot,” he says in a small voice.

“It made you forget,” is what she has to say to that, and then she’s just looking at them both. There’s this suspended second of time where Stiles has to force himself to go over everything that just happened in the span of ten minutes – Derek shaking him awake, and them arguing, and Scott or something that just looked like him standing there, and Derek trying to force him to do what they both knew he physically couldn’t, and then…

“Holy shit,” Stiles intones, and Derek sits up straight, and then ducks down. He puts his face in his hands, something like shame written in his body language. Stiles can’t decode that movement for the moment, so he doesn’t.

“I apologize,” Lydia says, actually, which is surprising and not in equal amounts. “I should have known.”

“Known what?” Stiles asks – Derek asks nothing. He is silent.

Lydia looks at them both some more, and then shakes her head. “I should have taken that book from you the second Scott died. I might have known this would happen.”

Of course she might have known. Of course. “It’s not your fault,” Stiles says evenly, and Lydia casts her eyes onto that book again.

“I would take it now, but I can’t take it from you,” she swallows, and Stiles feels very, very small. Not even Lydia can truly help him. “I can close it. That’s the best I can do.”

“It’ll just open itself back up again,” Stiles says dismally, and Lydia doesn’t argue it. There’s nothing to argue. Stiles has done this to himself, entirely.

There’s a pause, where they all stand there and let everything soak over them all at once. That Stiles has cursed himself, and Derek, and the apartment, and he’s got an evil book that’s going to torment him until he can figure out how to separate himself from it. Lydia has no expression on her face, and Stiles keeps waiting for her to walk right up to him and slap him in the face, but she doesn’t. She feels sorry for him. They all do. Even Derek.

She holds out a pan of something that Stiles hadn’t noticed she’d been holding. She says, “chicken and dumplings.”

**

“I can only do so much,” Lydia’s voice is whispered, high and intense, and Stiles can hear Derek’s responding sigh. “It’s not as dire as it seems right now. It was a bad idea, it was a fucking idiot stupid idea, but why did any of us think Stiles would be able to make even a half-witted decision at a time like this?”

“I thought me being here was enough,” Derek says in a low voice, and Stiles closes his eyes and palms his forehead from the kitchen table.

“I should have taken that book the second it happened,” Lydia says again, and Stiles feels terrible. He feels awful, entirely, that Lydia is going to guilt herself over all of this, when it isn’t anywhere near even close to being her fault.

“Not even I thought he would…” Derek trails off, and Stiles has to agree with him there, from his spot in the next room, listening in. If anyone had asked Stiles two weeks ago if he’d ever, even in the wake of this, do something like what he’s done – he’d have laughed. He didn’t think himself capable.

There’s some quiet. Stiles sitting at the kitchen table pushing some chicken around on his plate.

“…it’s not that bad. It’s all fixable. It’s just not an easy, quick fix-it,” Lydia sounds very sure of herself, her voice soothing. “Stiles isn’t in a mental place to fix it, is the problem. It’ll take some time, a few healing spells, maybe a few weeks. But a curse is a curse. It can’t kill you.”

“Comforting.”

“Stiles is going to do what Stiles wants to do,” she says.

“This isn’t even what he wants to do,” and Stiles wants to ask how Derek would ever know that, how he thinks that he has ever known Stiles at all, but he stays quiet, and listening. “He’s not thinking clearly. Worst of all, I let myself get rookied into it. I don’t know how I let that happen.”

There’s a clicking noise, like Lydia clucking her tongue. “Don’t play stupid,” she hisses. “You know exactly how you got rookied into it.”

Derek, for whatever reason, decides not to grace that with an answer. In spite of the fact that Stiles is dying to hear one. Instead, Derek says, “it doesn’t matter anyway. Not even he’s stupid enough right now to try anything else.”

Lydia laughs. It’s her patented I’m smarter than everyone else, yes, including you laugh. Stiles flinches. “You know him a lot better than that.”

**

Stiles lies awake in his bed and thinks he hears bugs crawling across his ceiling. Every time he closes his eyes he feels someone else’s eyes open, somewhere across his bedroom floor, staring at him from the crack in his open closet door. After a while he decides to not close them at all. To just lie there and stare upwards, listening to Derek shuffling around in the kitchen. It’s only ten o’clock at night, but Stiles feels like it’s three in the morning, that the rest of the world is fast asleep and he is left all alone to face whatever waits for him in the shadows.

Derek is here, but then, they’re not really talking. Derek might have run out of useful things to say, and Stiles doesn’t particularly want to bring anything up to him himself. So they stewed in silence after Lydia left, and stayed up all night not talking, and listening to that low untraceable hum both of them can hear but neither of them feel inclined to acknowledge.

It’s not much of a surprise to him whatsoever when he hears the book open itself up with a thwap of its hard front cover against the wood of his desk. He closes his eyes for a moment. Purses his lips and listens to the titter of pages moving, and moving, past spell after spell, until landing on one in particular.

There’s silence, and Stiles keeps his eyes closed.

When he opens them, he immediately sits up and perches himself on the edge of his bed, staring across the room at the book in question. There’s a page open all right, very close to the end – and the end of a black magic book can only mean the most powerful, most awful spells a person could think to do. He purses his lips again and tries to remember what Derek had said. That even Stiles, even as he is now and how he’s thinking and how irrational he is, would be an idiot to even so much as glance in that books’ direction ever again. No matter what it wanted him to do. Not even Stiles.

But Stiles – it isn’t like he has very much left to lose. He’s already cursed. What else is there?

He stands, the hairs on the back of his neck rising up the closer he gets to his desk, where the words are waiting for him. His hands are shaking, so he clasps them together, entwining his fingers among one another and holding on for dear life even when he knows it won’t do him any good. One look at that book, and there won’t be any turning back. Hell, the point of no return was some number of days ago. And he’s still trying to think his way out of it.

With a long exhalation between his teeth, he frowns and looks down at the leftmost page, where a huge word is written in archaic Latin, purple ink like it came from the blood of a mish mash of blueberries. It’s the least sinister thing he could think of.

Resurrection. Stiles looks up, out his window, and sees there’s a raven perched in the tree outside his room, staring at him.

**

Derek appears in Stiles’ doorway sometime around six in the morning, looking like a miserable fucking ghoul. He hovers there for a moment, while Stiles sits on his bedroom floor up against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest, and they don’t meet each other’s eyes for seconds on end.

Derek speaks first. “I’ve gotta talk to you about something.”

Stiles’ lips twitch. “Okay,” he decides, voice very low and gravelly. Derek takes a step inside Stiles’ bedroom, mindful of the hole in the floorboards that’s still left wide open for anyone to get a look at what’s inside, and then hesitates a few steps in. He sees that the book is open once more, but he for one can’t read archaic Latin, so he hasn’t the faintest idea what it says.

He hesitates some more, running his hand over the back of his neck. “I wanted to – apologize.”

“Oh?”

“For before. Using the eyes on you,” he gestures vaguely to them right now, in spite of the fact that they’re just their usual hazel for the moment. “I know I…”

“It’s crazy how much that hurt,” Stiles says, and he smirks just a little bit, even while Derek deflates and looks fucking miserable. “Now I know why you hardly ever use it.”

Derek frowns. “That moment. Was.”

“It was terrible,” Stiles waves him off and thumps his head back against the wall, staring pointedly past Derek’s head. “I’m not mad about it. I get why you did it.”

“You do.”

“Yes,” Stiles sighs. “You thought it might work. And it would all stop. It was maybe the right thing to do,” he looks up at his ceiling, feels eyes on him from somewhere in the corner of his bedroom. “Now you know it doesn’t work when it comes to that. Like trial and error.”

“Trial and error,” Derek repeats.

“You try it once, and you realize that that didn’t work,” Stiles feels the need to extrapolate on this for some reason, even though Derek certainly understands what he means. “Trial. Error.”

Derek looks at him for what feels like a long time, and Stiles isn’t sure what else they’re meant to say to one another. So much has happened, and there are so many topics they could breach the line of, but they won’t. Derek has always been like that – he doesn’t want to bring things up, not ever. It’s a wonder all its own that he managed to make himself come here into Stiles’ bedroom and spurt an apology.

“I’m worried about you,.” Derek decides to say, and it blows Stiles’ mind enough that he actually laughs. It’s a wildly inappropriate time to be laughing, but Stiles is all the same. “Everyone is. I really think – you know. After the whole thing with my family,” the bit where they all burned alive – Stiles remembers that old song and dance, “I went to a therapist. So did Laura. It really – er, helped. Maybe if Peter had gone to therapy –“

“If you’re about to tell me you seriously think some quack with a leather couch and a scented candle could have kept Peter from murdering your sister and doing everything else he did…”

“Things could have turned out differently,” Derek says in that voice he sometimes uses. It’s that I’m older and wiser than you and you’re still just a fucking kid voice that sometimes makes Stiles’ blood boil, but for now just makes him roll his eyes. “Having someone to talk to. It can help.” He scuffs his foot on the hardwood, frowns. “I know I’m not the best company.”

What Derek means is that he’s not the ideal person anyone wants to, you know, work all their fucking problems out with. Derek has enough of his own. What advice could he possibly have to give? What comfort is there to be found in a person who has his own scars along the ridges of his bones?

“So, I want you to do that. When you feel up to it. Go and talk to someone,” he rubs at his jaw and doesn’t make eye contact. “I’ll pay for it.”

Stiles doesn’t think much about what Derek is saying. He does, sort of in the peripheral of his mind – imagines himself leaning across a couch in front of a window and sighing and saying it all started when Peter Hale, renowned psycho-wolf extraordinaire, bit my best friend in the woods one night and turned him into a werewolf. He imagines that he’d get locked up in Eichen before the words and I’m a witch! could even leave his mouth.

He dallies on the thought for a half a second, and he knows that it wouldn’t help. It would be another trial, another error, and Stiles just can’t take another one. Derek likely wouldn’t take no for an answer because his hands are tied and he isn’t sure what else to do and Stiles is his fucking responsibility now, so Stiles doesn’t say no.

He sits up straighter, pushing himself off of the wall, and meets Derek’s eyes as directly as he can. It takes him a second, what with Derek trying his hardest to laser his gaze straight through the floorboards, but eventually the eye contact hits, and Stiles’ lips twitch. He’s smiling. “I want you to do me one last favor,” Stiles starts, and Derek doesn’t look like he likes the sound of that, not one bit. “Help me with one last thing.”

Derek exhales through his teeth. “Don’t ask me to do something I can’t say no to,” he says, a pleading note to his voice, but Stiles doesn’t pay attention to it.

“I just need your help.” Stiles unfolds his legs and stands, and Derek watches every movement of his joints carefully and critically. He starts a slow walk over to where the book is sitting on his desk, wide open again, and Derek is already shaking his head even before Stiles has got his hands on the thing.

“Stiles.”

“Just one more thing,” he says under his breath, gazing down at the page in front of him. He traces some of the words with the tips of his fingers, and feels something against his skin as he does so. A thrum. Power meeting power, his own magic against whatever’s inside that book.

“Haven’t we done enough?”

Haven’t even gotten started. They haven’t even fucking scratched the surface of everything they could do. “One more spell.”

Derek palms his face – Stiles can see that in his peripheral vision. “What is it this time? What spell are you talking about? What else could there be?”

Stiles takes the book in his hands, cradles it up against his chest. He puts the pages with all their ink right against his body and feels it there, how it has a heartbeat. How it breathes against him. There’s something sinister and bad-wrong about it, but Stiles pays it little to no attention. “I’m going to bring Scott back,” he says, and Derek comes pretty close to trying to rip that book clean out of Stiles’ hands even before the sentence is fully out of his mouth.

But the book won’t let him. It’s chosen Stiles as its master, and Derek as a wolf has no rights to put his hands on it. He pulls his hands away with a hiss of pain, growling and flashing his eyes red, and Stiles just watches. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

“I must be thinking more clearly than you,” Stiles defends, raising his eyebrows. “It’s the only option there is.”

Resurrection? Did you hit your head on the side of the bath tub when you came back out of it?”

“It’s not as hard as it sounds –“

Hard?” Derek is incredulous. His eyes are huge, and his breathing has sped up. “This isn’t about the difficulty level of the magic. This is about – the years, the years, that you’ve spent studying all this, and how you know! You know better than anyone what a bad idea this all is!”

“I didn’t know any better,” Stiles shakes his head, holding onto his book even tighter. “I didn’t know what it would be like.”

“You’re not really going to defend this –“

“You don’t know what I’ve gone through to get to this point!” Stiles crosses the room, the full five steps it takes him to be right there in Derek’s face, and Derek meets his eyes. They stare at one another, and Derek takes a single step back to be as far from that book as he can in this moment. “Where do you think I went when I stopped moving underneath that water?”

Derek swallows. He hasn’t wanted to think about it. Stiles hasn’t wanted to talk about it. But he’ll say it, now and here, because it’s his last resort.

“I felt Hell. I know what it feels like,” he won’t break Derek’s eye contact, and Derek seems paralyzed to do anything more than stand there. “I know where Scott is, and he begged me to help him. I can’t just sit here.”

“That was a trick,” Derek says in a small voice, a desperate voice. “It – that wasn’t Scott. Asking you to help him, that wasn’t…”

“Not in my bedroom, but down there – that was him,” he nods to reaffirm his point. “I know it was him. I felt it. I knew that that thing wasn’t him as well as I knew who was speaking to me down there was. And he – he – I just left him down there.” Stiles’ voice cracks, and his lower lip trembles, but he refuses to cry. This isn’t the time to cry. “I can’t leave him there. Not without doing my best to get him out, I can’t sleep at night any other way, do you understand?”

Derek does understand. He doesn’t want to understand, but he does – Stiles can see that in his eyes. Stiles wants to ask him – if he knew that Laura was in Hell, or any of his other siblings, his mother, his father. Would he be able to just sit there, live his life, knowing what was happening to them, every second of every day for the rest of eternity?

But then, Stiles doesn’t need to ask. The answer is right there in his face. He’d have been banging on Stiles’ door, begging him to do this. There’s a limit to what a person can live with. Guilt is only guilt until it’s given time to fester; then, it’s torture.

“I am going to do this, with or without you,” Stiles raises his chin in the air and tries to make himself look bigger, stronger. In spite of the fact that he’s in his pajamas barefoot and clutching an idiotic book to his stomach at the moment. “Help me, or don’t.”

Stricken, Derek takes another step back. Then, he takes two. And he starts pacing back and forth across Stiles’ bedroom, taking an extra large step over the hole in the floor every few seconds, shaking his head. God only knows what’s going through his mind right about now – for all Stiles knows, he’s going to call Lydia and Deaton and have them strap Stiles down until he fucking relaxes and gets this idea out of his head.

He stops, after a minute or so, and puts his hands on his hips. “Sometimes,” he begins, and Stiles can only imagine what he’s about to say, “people don’t come back right.”

“I know that.”

“If he comes back. And he’s not Scott. Or he’s – he’s not. Like he was. If he’s wrong,” the word hangs there in the air between them for what feels like an eternity, before Derek is speaking again, “you’re telling me you would kill him. If it came to that.”

Stiles huffs something like a laugh. “I make my bed,” he throws the book down onto the floor, and the whoosh of air on all sides it sends out blows his chair across the room, “I’ll lie in it, too.”

****

“Okay,” Stiles leans over the book, finger on his chin, while Derek stands there beside him with a frown on his face, “we have the pig’s blood.”

“They loved that at the butcher shop,” Derek mutters, rubbing his hand along his jaw. “I’ll take three quarts of pig’s blood. Not like this town doesn’t already think I’m some sort of fucking pervert anyway.”

“We have the hair you picked off his clothes,” Stiles points to the tiny Ziploc bag with a handful of Scott hairs tucked safely inside, and Derek grimaces. “We have the candles. We have the snake.”

Across the room, there is indeed a snake – coiled up in a plastic container and looking by all counts murderous. It stares its lizard eyes in Stiles’ direction a bit vindictively, like he can sense somehow and knows what his purpose in all this is. They bought it from the pet store along with a couple of live mice to feed it before the ceremony, just so it wouldn’t prematurely croak and so they could look like legitimate pet owners instead of – well.

“Now we just need an object of the deceased.” He furrows his brow as he leans over the book some more, cocking his head. “It says the object can be anything that was deeply personal to the deceased. Like a piece of sentimental jewelry or a cherished trinket or even a favorite song.”

Derek snorts. “Yeah. Let’s just listen to fucking Blink-182 and summon the devil.”

“Right?” Stiles laughs, high and hysterical, manic almost. “A Scott McCall séance. A skateboard in the middle, a mountain dew used for holy water.”

Derek laughs, and Stiles laughs, and it’s not funny. It’s really not funny. “Probably this was written at a time when most music was, like, live or whatever.” He taps his fingers on the page and huffs. “They weren’t really referring to – you know.”

“Got any better ideas?”

Stiles twists his fingers together and tries to think of something, anything else they could use that would be that significant to Scott. Material things, Stiles blanks on. It feels inane to try one of his baseball cards, even stupider still to try an article of clothing. And it has to be important, very deeply, for it to work.

There’s something inherently distasteful to Stiles about going through this entire shebang only to find out that the item they chose wasn’t strong enough. Clothes and baseball cards aren’t going to do it. “Blink-182 it is,” Stiles sighs through his nose, and Derek looks like he wants to start laughing again but thinks better of it at the last second.

He looks across their supplies one last time, lingers on the angry snake for several seconds. It all seems so inconsequential, way too simple to be everything they need. Blood, and a snake, and the knife Stiles has in his pocket, and hair. It feels like Stiles should also be cutting out a tiny section of his heart, or hunting in the forest for some kind of a creature to bite him and bleed out onto a sacrificial plate or something.

But, this is it. It’s that easy. “Let’s pack this up.”

He takes a backpack off his bed and plucks the container of blood, gingerly dropping it into the bottom – then the Ziploc with the hair, and the candles, and then he glances at the snake again. It looks back at him, and he frowns. With a heaving sigh he picks its plastic case up, much to its evident chagrin, and dumps it into the backpack on top of everything else after making sure the lid is closed up tight. The last thing they need is to let the fucking snake slither away and bite one of them or some little kid.

Stiles zips it up, and hands it to an unhappy Derek Hale. There’s a moment before he takes it, where he looks into Stiles’ eyes and purses his lips. It might be his last chance to take it all back. To say he won’t help, to insist that Stiles just goes to therapy and forgets this entire thing. There’s a part of Stiles, somewhere buried deep, where he just wants Derek to stop him. Where he wants to be a normal person who grieves like everyone else, and learns to move on, and focuses on a new and distracting hobby, instead of any of this.

The issue is that he’s not normal. He’s never been normal. And neither has Derek. The supernatural is what they were born and marinated in. This is what they do. Even Derek knows that.

He takes the backpack and straps it on, glowering. “If this snake fucking bites me,” he mutters, and Stiles picks up his book and cradles it against his chest, wide open to the exact page they need.

“He just looks very upset,” Stiles says, mostly just for something to say as he turns off his bedroom light and gestures for Derek to walk out before him. “I think that’s just how snakes naturally look.”

Derek says nothing back to that. They close and lock the apartment door behind them when they go, and Stiles stands in the hallway for a moment as Derek starts walking down the corridor, realizing that this is the first time he’s left his place since the funeral. Something settles in his chest as he thinks about it, frowning at his door and forcing himself to turn and follow Derek down the steps to the lobby of his building.

They meander through the smattering of people getting their mail from the row of boxes against the wall and the odd person coming back in from walking their dogs, and he watches Derek’s back as he walks. He thinks, there’s whole lot of pig’s blood and a live snake in Derek’s backpack and none of these people have any idea. Sure, he’s been given the occasional nasty and suspecting look by some of his fellow tenants, but they only ever disliked him because they sensed preternaturally that they should. None of them could possibly ever guess that he’s actually a witch, though they might joke about it, from time to time.

Witchcraft leaves its mark, even for humans. God only knows what the curse feels like to them.

Out in the car, Derek drives and doesn’t turn on the radio. They sit in silence for most of the way out to the cemetery, Derek’s hand gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles go white and Stiles can hear the leather creaking underneath his fingers. Stiles sits and bounces his leg up and down and tells himself he’s not nervous – but then, he hadn’t been nervous before dunking himself underwater, and look what that got him.

He rubs at the back of his neck and listens to the snake hiss from underneath the cloth of the backpack, tries to ignore it. “So,” he starts when they’re about a mile or so out from the dirt road turn off that’ll take them to the long rows of headstones and pine trees. “I think this goes without saying, because we’ve done spells before.”

“I have watched you do spells before,” Derek corrects in a low voice, very even and steady.

Ignoring that, Stiles continues. “But no matter what happens, don’t interrupt the ceremony.”

Derek nods his head. Stiles has said as much hundreds, if not actually thousands of times before. Interrupting a spell is like lighting a fire, a big one right in the middle of your backyard, and then turning around and walking away from it. No maintenance, no care, no studious watching of the flames to make sure they don’t spread. Without anyone to watch it, it’ll grow, and grow, and swallow up your shed and the treeline and your house.

“Don’t let go of your candle, don’t break the circle. Don’t move. No matter what happens.”

Stiles hears the leather creak some more, watches Derek’s jaw work as he gnashes his teeth. “And what exactly is supposed to happen?”

The metal archway for the cemetery comes into view through Derek’s windshield and he gets a feeling that radiates up his spine like being hit by lightning. “They’re likely to – test me.”

“They,” Derek repeats, and Stiles knows what he’s thinking. He’s imagining, like, Lucifer and Hitler and Osama Bin Laden sitting around a table watching them on a giant television screen down in Hell, surrounded by flames, cackling and drinking wine and eating off of cheese plates.

“Magic channels are guarded by – things,” things is the best word to go with, because anything more specific on what exactly it is that lets Stiles use magic the way he’s about to would make Derek slam on the brakes and turn the car around. “When doing magic this strong they like to make sure the person who’s doing it is…qualified.”

“I’m not stupid.” Derek takes the turn, and they’re on the dirt road. There are no lights in the wide and hilly expanse of green grass and trees, so Stiles watches as grey stone after grey stone are illuminated by the headlights from Derek’s car alone. “It’s not really about making sure you can do it. They’re just.” He doesn’t finish that sentence, so Stiles just frowns and looks out his window and chooses not to think about it.

They’re just playing with him. It’s not fun enough for them to let him pass through. It’s gotta be a game on top of everything else.

“Just – something might – you know. Shock you. They’re not going to kill me,” he says, and Derek snorts and rolls his eyes to the ceiling, like gee wow comforting! “I need your word.”

Derek’s brakes squeak just a little bit when he slows to a crawl on the side of the road, only a row or so down from where Stiles remembers Scott’s grave to be. Hidden underneath a pine tree, right next to a particularly ominous crypt that gave Stiles the creeps even before Scott was buried directly beside it. He unbuckles his seatbelt, and then he just sits there, staring dead ahead. “Just like I need yours. If something else comes back instead of him,”

“I already said I’d kill it,” Stiles hisses, crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head. He doesn’t want to think about it, but Derek keeps making him.

“And if you can’t, then you’ll let me.”

“With your bare hands,” Stiles mutters, and pushes his door open so hard he nearly takes it off its hinges. He slams it behind himself and then stands there, clutching the book and the backpack in either hand, while Derek rounds the front of the car himself and comes to stand right beside him.

They stand like that for a long time. The wind blows, the cold February air feeling even crisper than usual, biting at his nose and his cheeks, and Derek puts his hands in his pockets. He says, “second thoughts?”

Stiles doesn’t say anything. He just looks at him, and starts walking. Derek follows along not too far after, matching Stiles’ pace easily, and before they know it, they’re there. Stiles drops the book onto the ground right in front of the headstone, and even as the wind blows their clothes and hair hard enough to feel like it’s whipping, the pages don’t even flinch.

He reads Scott’s headstone one last time, maybe as a way to punish himself, or maybe just to think it’s the last time he’ll ever have to.

“Criss cross,” Stiles directs Derek, who’s currently just standing there squinting against the wind and looking out of place. “Right across from me, like this.”

He drags his finger horizontally above the grass, indicating that they’ll be facing one another in front of the stone, Scott’s coffin and body buried six feet underneath them and in the center of them.

Derek does as he’s told without complaint, pretzeling his legs as he sits down on the ground. Stiles thinks Derek has never looked any younger than he does right now, like a little kid sitting on a rug in a 1st grade classroom, and the thought makes him smirk to himself even as he’s opening up his backpack and pulling blood and a snake out like they’re textbooks. He puts the snake to his left side, hands Derek one of the candles and keeps one for himself, and then he bends over the book one last time to make sure he’s got the directions right.

He holds the container of blood in his hands and clenches his teeth for a moment. “Once I open this container, the spell starts. Remember what I told you.”

Derek blinks a few times, rapidly, and nods his head once.

Stiles mutters an old and familiar spell under his breath, and at once the two candles in either of the boys’ hands light of their own accord. Just like the pages of the book, the flames stay ram rod straight and still in the wind, and Derek stares at the flame in his own hand and swallows, probably feeling that old and uncomfortable thrill of magic in his bones.

He leaves his own candle in the grass for the moment, standing up on its own and giving Derek the creeps, and holds that blood in his hands. He looks Derek in the eyes just once, quick and forceful, and pulls the lid off.

As soon as he’s got it open, the wind stills. The branches above their heads and all around them silence, so for maybe two miles in either direction, the only sound is whatever Stiles and Derek are doing. Eerie is one word for it. Stiles tips the plastic container over and lets the blood spill across Scott’s headstone, his name, his date of birth and inscription. He stands back as watches as it drips slowly in between the lettering, deep into the grooves, like something out of a horror movie.

“If this doesn’t work out,” Derek’s voice sounds shaky, unsure of himself, “Melissa is going to be very upset with you for doing that.”

And if it Does work out, Stiles thinks, then Melissa will owe him a debt of gratitude. The headstone be fucking damned – they won’t need it anymore.

He parks himself down criss cross in the grass, right across from where Derek is sitting, and picks up his candle. Clearing his throat, he pulls his phone out of pocket and drops it next to him in the dirt, poking his finger around the touch screen for a moment. “Now, this.”

The intro to the song starts playing, and immediately Derek is scoffing. “Really? This song?”

“Well, Jesus!”

“Don’t you think it’s a little too on the nose?”

Stiles gives him a look. The song sounds even louder out here, in the middle of nowhere in the silence, in spite of the fact it’s just his shitty phone speaker producing it. “I wasn’t going to put on I Wanna Fuck a Dog in the Ass in the god damn cemetery, all right?”

Derek frowns up at the sky, shaking his head again and again while the instrumental plays on over his head, and then he levels his eyes with Stiles’ once more. “There’s a lot more in the catalogue than these two extremes, but all right. Fine.”

“Singing along,” Stiles hisses right as the intro is set to come to a close. “I know you know the fucking words.”

Derek grits his teeth, but doesn’t deny it. He sits there for a moment while Stiles mutters the words to himself, and then like his teeth are being pulled out one by one, he starts in himself. Neither of them are really and actually singing, since Stiles has a voice like nails on a chalkboard and he bets Derek is much the same, but more like muttering to themselves in a vaguely monotone tune.

They’re off from the song for a moment, maybe one or both of them too embarrassed or feeling silly to fully commit, and then they finally get themselves in synch. Stiles looks into Derek’s eyes, and Derek into Stiles’, the only lights on their faces those from the flames on their candles, and it all feels stupid. “…where you can always find me, and we’ll have Halloween on Christmas…”

When they’ve finished the first verse, the wind has started picking back up. The blood is all over the headstone, dripping from top to bottom, so it looks like the stone was made red from the start. The snake is hissing in its container, upset and disturbed, and Stiles puts his finger down on the page to follow along through the Latin words of the spell.

He rattles them off as the song plays over his head, and the wind gets harsher, and Derek just stares at him. He’s got his candle clutched hard in his fist, and his face looks particularly ominous in the light from its flame. He looks petrified – Stiles can’t say that he feels any differently. But his voice can’t waver, and he can’t be weak. So he’s harsh on the syllables and quick on the recitation.

Somewhere in the midst of it, the song starts to warp itself. The voices go tinny and thin, the guitars stringier than usual, shrieking against his ears almost, and Derek winces. But Stiles keeps going on, and on, barely reacting to it.

He gets to the end, hisses something about sacrifice and take and give, and throws his candle down as hard as he can into the dirt so it stands up right without him touching it. His fingers scrabble along the edges of the container where the snake is, dragging it right in front of him, and he swallows. He can’t pause, or hesitate – he can’t afford to mess this up when he’s already gotten this far. The wind is loud and the music is grating, Derek frozen still with his eyes big in his head as he watches, but Stiles can’t afford to stop.

He tries his best not to have shaking fingers when he reaches into his pocket and pulls his knife out, flipping it open so the sharp edge is out in the air. Wasting no time, he rips the lid off the box keeping the snake confined and unceremoniously dumps the thing out onto the grass.

It makes one quick valiant effort of slithering away, darting forward in Derek’s general direction with a halfassed plot of biting him Stiles is sure, but Stiles catches it by its tail and drags it back.

There’s a split second of time where it rears backwards, ready to whip around and bite Stiles’ hand clean off, teeth bared in a long hiss filled with malice. Stiles uses his free hand to quickly shove its head down into the grass, jamming it down so its jaw is firmly snapped tight in between Stiles’ palm the grass floor, while its lower body spasms and jerks indignantly. Stiles doesn’t take the time to look Derek in the face, or in his general direction at all.

Honestly, he isn’t sure if he could. Something like shame jolts through his body, but he has to ignore it. He takes the knife in his hand, gripping it as tight as he dares, and cuts the snake in half with a firm and quick chop.

The noise isn’t that loud. But Derek jerks like a crash of thunder just went off over his head, watching in silent shock as the snake’s body separates into two even slices. The halves jerk for a second, reminding Stiles of that old story of a chicken running with its head cut off, and then they go entirely still.

Stiles stares down at it, breathing harshly through his nose, and lets go of the knife. He tosses it aside, as far from him as he can get it, and finally meets Derek’s eyes over the snake, and the book, and Scott’s body. Blood spills into the grass.

“Don’t move,” he warns, and then his hands go up to his own neck.

There’s an itching sensation there in his throat, like he needs to cough – but when he tries, he can’t. He tries, and he tries, clearing his throat again and again, and nothing happens. The itch turns into a choke, all his air passageways completely empty even as he claws at his own skin to try and make a hole for oxygen to pass through. There’s something lodged in his throat. It starts to move.

It’s around this time that Derek maybe says his name, above the noise of the wind and the music still droning on, but Stiles holds one hand out in his direction. Stay put, he hisses mentally, and Derek does. Even if Stiles can vaguely tell his fist is clenched on his knee, and it might be taking every ounce of his willpower to not break the circle and leap over the dead snake and help Stiles get this thing out of his throat, he doesn’t do it. He stays.

Stiles feels it moving more, and more, all the way down the passageway of his throat and dipping down into his stomach. His guts, his intestines. It’s tearing him apart from the inside out, angry and unhappy and desperate to get out – and all Stiles can do is try to help it along.

He digs his fingers into the grass and heaves, all his body thrusting forward as he tries to get it out, out, out of him, now, now now – and he almost gets it. His nails are filling with dirt and tears are streaming down his face as he tries one more time, one more full body jerk.

Finally, it moves forward. He feels the end crawl out of his stomach, feels the shoot of slime and gritty skin moving inside of his mouth.

The head of a snake slithers between his lips, hissing and baring its teeth, and slowly drops its full body out of his throat and into the grass. Stiles heaves a great big breath inward, his red and teary eyes huge as he looks down at what came out of him; created out of his own flesh and blood and magic, slithering forward onto the black magic book and coiling there, paying no mind to the dead body of the snake Stiles had only just killed.

Stiles would say there’s quiet, after the fact. But there isn’t. Everything around them feels loud and hectic, Derek’s hair blowing in the wind and the trees angry with it, but Derek says nothing – and that silence is louder than anything else.

The snake is red, Stiles notes. Bright red. Eyes reptilian and cold, blinking and flicking its tongue every so often. Stiles focuses on it intensely, even as his fingers curl and uncurl in the grass and he struggles to catch his breath again.

“What,” Derek finally starts, and everything, all the noise suddenly comes back into his ears. The song is on, still, on repeat at that, just as shrill as before. “Did you. Just do.”

“You have to,” Stiles coughs into his fist, heaving again, “…resurrect something yourself, before they’ll –“ he cuts off, feeling a stabbing sensation in his chest.

“Stiles,” Derek says, and this time Stiles can hear it crystal clear.

“Just a little bit more,” Stiles says, keeping himself as tight into the circle as he can even when he can swear to God something just tore into his flesh right into his fucking intestines.

Stiles, for God’s sake –“

“One more,” he hisses between his teeth, a strangled scream of pain following it as he feels the sensation again. His hand is searching all over his chest, his stomach, everywhere – there’s no knife. There’s no arrow, no spear, nothing whatsoever, and yet it’s there. His hands come back dry when they should be covered in his own blood, and the snake slithers across the grass closer to him, away from the book and from Derek.

He leans over and vomits a steady stream of bright red blood onto the grass, right on top of Scott’s body. The pain goes away, leaving only a tingling and a discomfort in its wake – but the blood stays. It seeps into the dirt, the grass, drifting down, down, down deep, to the wood of Scott’s coffin. He huffs out a breath, hands barely able to hold him up, and knows that he’s finished.

The candles go out and the wind stills, goes silent, leaving them both in the dark and the quiet. He barely registers that the music is back on the first verse again, repeating back to him for the who knows what time, we can live like Jack and Sally if you want

“Stiles,” Derek’s voice. That’s when Stiles realizes that he’s toppled over onto his side, blinking hazily across the cemetery, his eyes cloudy with dampness and tired from being open at all. “Stiles. Stiles, hey. Shit. Fuck.”

Stiles clears his throat to say something, but he can’t. The snake, the one that spilled out from his guts, slithers up to his face, right there, and blinks at him. It licks his face, and then promptly slithers to his hand, coiling gently around the fingers and curling up his arm.

“Can I break the fucking circle now?”

Again, Stiles clears his throat. He tastes metallic blood and spit and dirt, ash, pain. He says, “yes, it’s over.”

Much quicker than is humanly possible, Derek is breaking out of his criss cross and crawling across the grass, over the book and the dead snake body. He grabs at Stiles’ shoulder with a hand that’s calloused at the fingers and the palm, grips his fingers around it tightly, and the snake pays it no mind. Just curls tighter to Stiles’ arm like it belongs there.

“Hey, talk to me,” he tries, and Stiles blinks at the grass some more. “Say something. Anything.”

Stiles uses the hand that isn’t being held hostage by a snake to paw at Derek’s knee, right in front of him, and Derek huffs.

“You didn’t say,” Derek sounds angry – but more to the point, he sounds afraid. And Stiles has learned to see the difference. When Derek is afraid, sad, lost, he immediately turns to anger. It’s how he deals with anything. “You did not say it would be like that. You said you had to kill a fucking snake and cut yourself, or something.”

“I said,” Stiles wheezes, hissing and shaking his head – his head is fucking pounding, like there’s a hammer drilling into the side of it. “I had to. Kill a snake. And give my blood.”

“You left out the part where you’d let a fucking snake crawl out of your mouth like a – like a –“ Derek can’t think of a simile. Fuck, neither can Stiles. He can’t think of much of anything right now, his body is so…turned off. Completely shut down. “And I don’t see Scott, do you?”

“Ah, shit.”

“Don’t you fucking say that,” Derek goes half mad when he shouts this, his voice echoing off the tree tops and up into the sky. Stiles would laugh, if he had any faculties to do so at the moment. There’s this minute, maybe two, where Derek is panting and looking all around himself, again and again. In the dark, he can see much better than Stiles can, and he just keeps looking.

Head whipping all around himself, breaths coming out harsh between his teeth, eyes frantically scanning and scanning, endless. He’s waiting for some kind of a zombie from two graves over to rise out of its grave and come directly for Stiles’ brains. Or, for some Satanic entity to appear and kill them both.

Nothing happens, not for minutes. Stiles would be freaking out, if he could be. He fingers along the grass and feels Derek’s hands on him, like weights. They touch him on the shoulder, dance along the skin of his arm, move through his hair – as though their only goal for the moment is to confirm that Stiles is here, whole and alive. Okay, for the most part. Stiles likes how it feels, so he allows it.

Five minutes, maybe only a little more. Derek might have said that they should get out of here. Not come back, not ever again. Send Stiles to therapy, and fuck it, enlist him as an inpatient because hasn’t this all gotten out of hand?

Stiles has started to close his eyes, so exhausted he can barely keep them open any longer. His lashes are just starting to fan across his cheek, when he hears it.

The gentlest of sounds, all the way from underneath him. His ear pressed into the grass, he lets his eyes slide back open slowly. He’s staring at Derek’s leg, his thigh, and he breathes out. Another noise from below, and Stiles’ lips thin out into a grin before he even registers the emotion it gives him. “Listen,” he says.

Derek is surprised enough to hear Stiles speaking to him that he actually does. He freezes in his constant searching for danger, hands going still on Stiles’ body. His fingers actually brush up against the snake’s tail, but the thing doesn’t even hardly react, when any other snake would have struck and bit him by now.

There’s a scratching noise, and Stiles is sure that Derek hears it, because his eyes go even bigger. “That’s it,” Stiles says, and he pulls his body up into a sitting position. Or, tries. Mostly, he hoists himself up with one hand and then hisses in discomfort, and Derek has to wrap his arms around his midsection and pull him up himself. “That’s him, we have to….”

Shaking hands reach out and claw at the two halves of the dead snake, and the book, and the unlit candles, getting all of it out of his way. He clears them off to the side, and the snake on his arm is mostly just along for the ride, holding on tight and blinking serenely. He starts clawing at the grass, because the one thing that neither of them fucking thought of was shovels.

They were bringing someone back from the fucking dead. A shovel would have been common fucking sense, but here they are. Stiles is digging his fingers into bloody grass, his own blood and his own god damn mess, but he’s just – he’s just so weak. His entire body feels drained entirely, like he lost an entire pint of his own blood and is fading fast. It doesn’t seem to matter to him at the moment – he keeps going, and going, as his fingers try to move as desperately as the ones scrabbling along the inside of a coffin underneath him.

“Just –“ Derek sounds agitated. He pushes at Stiles’ hands to get them out of his way, and Stiles makes some vaguely indignant noise in response. “I’ll fucking do it, just sit!”

Derek’s hands move Stiles completely out of the way, so he’s just a heap right along the sidelines. He grows his claws out, and immediately starts digging. He does a much better job than Stiles had – his fingers and claws tear up the dirt like it’s nothing to him, and before Stiles knows it Derek has gone a foot deep. There’s a pile forming next to him, dirt and grass and blood and even the dead snake, and Stiles just sits there. What else is he supposed to do?

The scrabbling of fingers gets louder the deeper Derek gets, that desperate noise of a person deprived of oxygen. Stiles wants to tell Derek to hurry up, quicker, they’re running out of time, but he already knows that Derek is going as fast as he physically can.

Finally, Derek’s claws scratch at what sounds like wood. Stiles’ body locks up in anticipation, sitting on the sidelines with tears streaming down his face, a throat cut up like he swallowed a razorblade, breathing shallowly through his nose. There’s a clicking noise, Derek vanishing into his hole for a moment, and then he leaps out of it and scrabbles backwards on his hands. Out of the hole, onto the grass, pulling his legs behind himself.

He’s covered in dirt and mud and blood, and Stiles swallows. It’s a wise decision even if Stiles were completely and totally sure that it was the real Scott down there – to get out of the grave, make distance between themselves and whatever’s about to come out.

They both stare, and stare, and listen. More scratching, and then a push, and a thump. The coffin opening. The general sounds of clothing rustling, and Derek and Stiles meet eyes. There are hundreds, upon hundreds, upon hundreds, of thoughts floating in between the both of them right now. And there’s no time, none whatsoever, to pick any single one to focus on.

A hand, grimy and cold, grips onto the edge of the hole to heft itself up, and Stiles says, “get the crucifix out of my bag.”

Derek hesitates. His eyes are fixated on that hand, and then the other when it comes up for extra leverage.

Derek.”

He moves, finally, crawling across the grass like a crab. He gets his hand inside the backpack, even though his entire body is lit up with anxious energy so strong it’s a wonder he can even move right. The crucifix comes out, and Derek hands it to Stiles, all without taking his eyes off of whatever’s climbing its way out of Scott’s grave.

A head comes into sight, but their face is ducked down, eyes trained on the ground. They pull themselves up, body spilling straight forward onto its knees in the grass, huffing and puffing and sucking in as much oxygen as they can. From a distance, Stiles can tell they have the general features of Scott McCall – brown hair, matted with blood and grime, and tan skin, and the height and weight all match.

But it won’t look up. Until Stiles sees his face, nothing can be sure. The eyes, Stiles remembers reading. The eyes will always give away who is or isn’t what they say they are.

He forces his weak body to move along the grass, to crawl forward in the direction of Scott, or it, or that, and Derek moves too. He follows Stiles along, possibly to protect him and keep him from getting his brains eaten, but he doesn’t try to stop him.

Once Stiles is within three feet of the body, he holds the crucifix out and swallows heavily. “Hey,” he says, voice thin and choppy. The snake moves up his arm in a slow slither and makes it to his shoulder, where it coils itself happily and comfortably. “Hey.”

He moves closer, thrusting the crucifix harder in its general direction. Derek is right there next to him, watching everyone’s every move like a fucking hawk – straight down to the snake on Stiles’ shoulder.

Scott, or it, looks up, and Stiles sees his face. And that’s Scott, all right. Entirely. The jawline and the face and the eyes and the nose, the mouth, all of it. He has the same gash in his head from his death, standing out against the rest of his skin like a beacon, and Stiles guesses there’s not a lot of time for the body to heal itself when it’s – you know. Dead.

But they don’t meet eyes. Stiles pushes forward, closer, and closer still, and waves that crucifix around right in their face, waggling it a bit childishly, like he’s trying to taunt or make fun of them.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Derek intones, whether from shock or indignance or just plain disbelief, Stiles isn’t sure.

“Yes, yes, perfect,” Stiles says a bit manically, waving the crucifix around some more. “Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ,” he starts yelling as best as he can, top of his ruined lungs, and Derek palms his cheek. “Jesus Christ! The power of Christ!”

Scott looks at him, directly at him. Stiles is struck for a moment, shocked and silent, but then he clears his throat and is back at it again.

Jesus. Christ.”

Maybe just for his own mollification, and because Scott is just that close, now, Stiles reaches the crucifix out all the way and slaps Scott in the face with it. Not hard, but just enough. Scott blinks, surprised, but it doesn’t burn his flesh. He doesn’t start convulsing and snarling in a demonic language, or bare his teeth with foam around the corners of his mouth – he just, blinks. Like he’s confused.

Stiles drops the crucifix on the ground. It thumps.

“Scott?” He tries, voice very small.

There’s a beat, and then Scott is looking right at him again. Directly into the eyes, so Stiles can see them for what they are. Deep, deep brown. No discolorations. Brown, through and through, like chocolate.

Scott holds his hands up. He looks at his fingers, chapped and bloody from trying to claw his way out of his grave, and his fingers are shaking. He looks mystified. He looks like he doesn’t know if he’s dreaming, or not.

“Scott?” Stiles tries again, and this time, he reaches out and touches him. Skin to skin. Scott doesn’t jerk away from the touch, but he doesn’t necessarily shy into it either. He just accepts it, turning his hands over and over, at all the blood, and the mess, and then he slowly lifts his eyes to where Stiles and Derek are crouched down and staring at him.

He meets Stiles’ eyes. “Stiles?”

“Yeah,” Stiles croaks, tightening his fingers where they’re gripping Scott’s shoulder. “Yeah, it’s Stiles. It’s Stiles, and Derek.”

Scott looks at them both individually, for seconds on end. “I…”

“You were dead,” Stiles says, just to hear it out loud. “You died.”

“I.”

Stiles’ lower lip trembles, and he doesn’t think he has the water in his body to cry anymore, but he does. He cries. He holds onto Scott tighter, and he cries, and cries, and feels warm skin underneath his own. “I brought you back,” Stiles says through his raw throat, and Scott moves.

He wraps his arms around Stiles’ body, tight as can be, and holds him. He smells, to put it generously, fucking terrible, like he’s been a decaying corpse in a coffin for some odd number of weeks. And Stiles doesn’t care. He doesn’t.

Blink-182 is still fucking playing over their heads, and Stiles has a live snake on his shoulder, and Derek is crouched next to them with big eyes, watching. But Stiles just – can’t care. About any of it.

“I couldn’t leave you there,” Stiles says, voice very thin, and Scott says nothing back.

He just holds tighter, in the quiet of the cemetery.

Chapter Text

“Hey,” Derek says in a quiet voice, frantically gesturing emphatically with his hands toward the kitchen. Stiles looks at him, a frown on his face, and then looks back to Scott in front of him. He’s got wet hair dripping onto his forehead, because the first thing Stiles figured needed to be done for all of them was a shower. Stiles is clean as well, and Derek had gone to his own place to wash, so they’re all sitting there in sweatpants and t-shirts, bare foot.

Scott is wrapped up in a blanket, because for whatever possible reason, he can’t stop shivering. His teeth chatter with it and his breath comes out choppy and quick. Stiles dragged the old space heater out from the closet and set it up right next to him on the couch, at a loss for anything else to do – but he won’t stop shaking.

“You okay?” Stiles asks, while Derek is practically landing planes behind Scott’s head.

Scott looks up and meets his eyes directly, his lips almost blue. Stiles purses his own lips and cocks his head a bit to the side, trying to assess the situation more deeply. It’s hard, when Scott will barely speak more than two words. He says, “cold.”

“Yes, yes cold,” Stiles sighs. “You’re not a vegetable, are you?”

“What?” Scott furrows his brow.

“I mean, what’s your mental functioning like right now?”

Derek claps his hands and points to the kitchen again, his face comically enraged, and Stiles lifts his eyes to the ceiling. With a pat on his knees, he stands up from the coffee table and takes one last long look at Scott. Stiles has no idea, none whatsoever, if he’s okay. Most likely, he’s not, and there’s little to nothing Stiles can do about it at this exact second.

As he walks away, the red snake who has apparently named itself Stiles’ best friend slithers on the carpet alongside him, hissing shortly and chasing Stiles’ feet like it’s a game. Derek leaps into the kitchen and Stiles follows suit, briefly looking over his shoulder at Scott camped out on the couch one last time.

Once they’re alone in the relative privacy of the kitchen, the dim lights seeming eerie in the wake of everything that’s happened tonight, Derek is pouncing on him. “He’s not a werewolf anymore,” Derek starts with, and Stiles blinks at him.

“What?” Like he could somehow assess this on sight alone, Stiles leans back a bit to peak out the door into the living room and glares at the back of Scott’s head. “That –“

“Doesn’t make any god damn sense,” Derek snaps in a low voice. His eyes briefly travel down to where the snake is rolling itself over Stiles’ bare toes, upper lip curling like he can’t think of anything more gross than that. “He’s not a werewolf, he’s – human. I thought, him coming back, he might be a beta,” he starts pacing, like he’s so fond of doing, but there’s not a lot of space in here to do so. He just goes two steps in one direction and then whirls around to go in the other. “Or he might be an omega, or something. I didn’t think…”

Stiles shakes his head. “Okay. Okay.”

“You don’t just stop being a werewolf. You die or you stay one. That’s it.”

“Where’s the guidebook on what happens when you die and then come back?”

Derek keeps pacing, shaking his head again and again. “There isn’t one,” he mutters as he moves, and then he’s rubbing his palm along his forehead. “Holy shit. I don’t know what to do.”

“You’re freaking out,” Stiles says very evenly, and there’s no way to deny it. “Stop doing that – will you sit down?”

“Sit down?” Derek repeats back to him like it’s absurd. “I can’t. I have all this – adrenaline.”

Stiles might have figured as much. For him, he’s lost too much energy and blood to be ramped up on a magic high, but Derek is different. He didn’t actually perform the spell, he was just in it, and the magic ran through his veins and sucked some of his power to get the spell to work, and now it’s like he’s just done a long line of cocaine. He runs his hands through his hair again and again, works his fingers over his lips, clasps his hands together, and paces. Stiles watches him for a moment, like watching a tennis match, and then he sighs through his nose.

He bends down and scoops the snake up with one hand, and it happily curls around his fingers and allows itself to be pulled up with him. “Let’s just decide what we’re going to do tonight and tomorrow. Let’s just make a game plan for the next twenty-four hours, okay?”

“Okay,” Derek agrees a little listlessly.

Stiles sits down at the table and sighs through his nose, absentmindedly running his thumb over the snake’s scales. He doesn’t know why, but there’s some comfort to be found, there – it might have something to do with the fact that it’s like his child, for lack of a better word. It came out of him, and he created it, so what else could it be? “He’s in bad shape right now,” Stiles says in a low voice, “and we still don’t know what to – what to think of this not-a-werewolf thing. So, I think, um –“

“We can’t bring him to Melissa,” Derek decides for Stiles out loud, and Stiles can only nod his head in agreement. Even though she is above all the chief person who deserves to know her son is back and alive, Stiles doesn’t know where this whole thing might end up. And even if Scott gets a hundred percent better and goes back to his former self, it’s just not good for her to see him as he is now. He’s like a shell, and it’s mildly disturbing even for Stiles to see.

“No, we won’t do that. Not yet. Let’s uh – let’s not tell anyone.”

“No one,” Derek agrees very emphatically, shaking his head. “Not a single soul. Not until we’re sure –“

“Not until we know what this is and what’s going on.”

Finally, Derek stops in his pacing and breathes out a long sigh, before sucking in a big inhalation. He holds that breath for a moment, and then lets it back out. Getting his wits about himself, Stiles would wager. “Okay,” he agrees with himself and Stiles, and closes his eyes for a moment. “Okay.”

“We’ll all go to sleep. He needs to rest. For all we know, he’ll wake up tomorrow and feel refreshed.”

Derek shoots him a look. It says, loud and clear, yeah fucking right, but Stiles ignores it, for the most part. The snake darts its tongue out and licks at Stiles’ pinky finger, before rubbing its face right against it affectionately. Derek catches this, and watches with wide eyes and parted lips. When he looks back to Stiles’ face, he says, “what is with that thing?”

Glancing down at the snake himself, Stiles shrugs. “It likes me.”

With a disgusted look, Derek puts his hands on his hips. “You’re not keeping that thing, are you?”

As though he half expects Derek to walk over and try to take it out of his hands himself, Stiles pulls it close up against his chest. “Yes, what the fuck?”

“Oh, what the fuck,” Derek throws his hands in the air, shaking his head. “This entire thing has been back to back nonsense.”

“It’s harmless,” Stiles insists. In testament to this, the snake blinks its reptilian eyes innocently at Derek across the room, and Derek just stares back at it with some level of disdain. Like it personally represents this entire fucking mess.

There’s a beat or two of quiet. Derek stands there, and Stiles sits there, and out on the couch Stiles can still hear Scott’s uneven breathing and he’s positive that Derek can as well, and it’s the weirdest fucking situation Stiles has ever been in. There is no precedent in the history of the world for any of this, Stiles is sure of it.

After some more quiet, Derek sighs. Resignation. “Just do me one favor,” he frowns at the snake. “Look up its breed and make sure it’s not – poisonous.”

“Can do,” Stiles agrees.

“I’m going to stay over. On the couch,” his eyes flick to the open kitchen door, the back of Scott’s head. “You should – stay with Scott. Same bed.”

“Okay.”

“In the morning we’ll…” the sentence dangles in the air, somehow louder in its unsurety.

“Assess,” Stiles finishes for him, and Derek nods.

“We’ll assess.”

Feeling as though the situation has been more or less resolved, at least for the night, Stiles stands up with his snake and uses his free hand to adjust his shirt. There are dozens of things that he knows he has to think about, has to deal with, has to face, but he doesn’t even know where to start. For tonight, he won’t. He’ll go to sleep and wake up to a mess and a disaster, but it somehow feels much more manageable, knowing Scott will be there. For the most part, at least.

As he’s turning to walk out of the kitchen, Derek steps forward into his personal space bubble. He puts his hand on Stiles’ shoulder, grips it nice and tight like he’s afraid Stiles might just jump away from his touch on instinct. After the night he’s had and every thing he’s been through to get to this point, it would only make sense for him to be hesitant to experience sudden touches – but with Derek, it just feels…natural.

It’s funny. Stiles would have said a week and a half ago that they barely knew each other. Now, for no reason Stiles can think of, he’d say they know each other almost too well.

“Hey,” Derek says, and his voice is soft for the first time in what seems like forever. In the cemetery, and in the argument before the cemetery, and everything they’ve said to each other since, he’s felt very harsh. Anxious and afraid. Now, looking into Stiles’ eyes steadily, he just seems like Derek without all the prickly edges. “Are you okay?”

Looking down at his snake, Stiles spends a second or two just brushing his fingers against its scales for something to do. He puckers his lips and feels like there’s a spotlight shining on his face all bright and intrusive, when really it’s just Derek’s undivided attention. He can’t think of anything to say, as though he doesn’t remember his lines, and so he decides to do the only thing he can think of.

He leans forward and wraps the hand not currently housing a snake around Derek’s neck and hugs him against his own body. Derek responds quickly, tugging Stiles even closer and pressing his chin onto Stiles’ shoulder. “It’s okay,” Derek tells him in that same gentle voice, and Stiles wants to ask Derek if he has any idea how nice it is when he talks like that. “You did it.”

“Yeah,” Stiles’ voice cracks like he might cry, but he doesn’t want to, so he won’t. “We did it.”

Derek squeezes him hard, and Stiles closes his eyes and melts into the touch, for just a second. It’s a little strange considering the fact that Derek and Stiles have never properly hugged before, save for a couple of desperate occasions in these past few weeks – but then, those weren’t really hugs in the strictest sense. This is foreign to both of them, yet they fit against each other’s bodies like clockwork gears.

They pull apart, and Derek lets his hands linger on Stiles’ arm for a moment. When he pulls them away completely, Stiles feels sad at the loss, but doesn’t comment on it. “Thank you. So much. I couldn’t have –“

“Let’s not talk about it,” Derek interrupts him with a wave of his hand, so the words die off in Stiles’ throat before they ever truly gain traction. “Let’s just go to sleep.”

Stiles goes back to Scott in the living room and gently coaxes him off the couch while Derek stands in the background with his arms crossed over his chest, watching. Scott more or less does whatever is asked of him, silently and a bit frazzled to boot, but he acts like he has no say in the matter either which way about it. It’s a bit unnerving, but it’s not like Stiles is asking him to jump off a building, so he lets it go as they shuffle down the hall toward Stiles’ bedroom. He leaves Scott sitting on the edge of his bed still wrapped up in that blanket while he drags the space heater in and props it up right against the foot of the bed so the warmth will spread up from their toes.

“Why don’t you go on the inside, okay?” Stiles suggests, pushing lightly on Scott’s shoulders with just his fingers. “So I’ll be on the other side, and nothing will get to you. Right?”

Scott looks up at him with big eyes, teeth still chattering, as Stiles sets his snake down on his bedside table to do what it wishes with its time. It stares at him for a moment, flicking its tongue, but then it seems content to just coil up and get comfortable there for the night. Without a word, Scott lets Stiles push him down onto his back on Stiles’ extra pillow, right up against the wall, leaving ample space for Stiles to lie down right next to him.

Stiles makes quick work of pulling the covers up to their shoulders. He decides to pull the knitted blanket at the foot of his bed up as well, covering only Scott’s half of the bed with it and tucking it around the lump he makes in the sheets and comforter, hoping it’ll be enough. Scott has got a blanket, a sheet, a quilt, and another blanket on top of him with a heater at full blast right next to him, and it still feels like he’s not warming up in the least bit.

He ducks under the covers so even his head is underneath, taking Scott down with him, and then they’re staring at one another in the relative dark. The only light that’s offered in their blanket cave comes from the string lights Stiles forgot to unplug and is too tucked in to bother with now – so their faces look eerie and almost half-formed.

Scott, in particular, looks scary. More to the point, he looks scared himself. They cleaned him up and put him in fresh clothes and fed him and all this, and he still looks like he’s been dead for two weeks.

When Stiles reaches out to touch him, he nearly jerks his hand away from how cold his skin is. He swallows and shakes his head, the sheets rustling as he does so. “Jesus,” he says, and takes one of Scott’s hands in both of his and starts frantically rubbing, trying to get his own body heat into his friend’s skin. “Why are you so fucking cold?”

There’s nothing but the sound of Stiles rubbing Scott’s skin for some time. If Stiles concentrates, he can hear Derek moving about, maybe pacing around and thinking about the curse and what they’re going to tell everyone, how they’re going to approach this. But Scott just watches him a little listlessly, brown eyes almost not seeing him at all.

Then, for the first time since they pulled him up out of the ground, Scott speaks of his own volition. “I’m not used to it,” he says. The words come out slow and choppy like he’s only just now remembering how to form full ones, and Stiles stops in the middle of what he was doing. He stares at Scott’s face, and Scott stares right back. He swallows, and speaks again. “There wasn’t – cold, there.”

No. Stiles guesses that down where he was, there was just no such fucking thing as cold air. After all, Stiles had been there himself. Even only being down there for five minutes, he feels like he spent an entire day there, in the burning and the pain and the endless nothing. For Scott, it must feel like he’s been dropped into the arctic after months of being right next to a firepit.

Stiles feels guilt so strong it could crush him. He presses his forehead right up against Scott’s, feels a chill go down his spine from how icy that contact is, and breathes through his nose. “I missed you so much,” he admits in a whisper, and Scott shuts his eyes and puts his hand on Stiles’ arm. “I am so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Scott says, and Stiles cries. He swore he wouldn’t, but he can’t help himself. “It’s okay, Stiles.”

They stay like that, for hours. Wrapped up against one another while Scott’s shivers begin to gradually die down, his skin warming up in the blanket nest. Stiles is getting used to having Scott there for him again, whole and human and real, and by the time he falls asleep, it almost feels just like it used to, as though they’re little kids sharing a big bed together again.

**

When Stiles wakes up, it takes him a moment to realize that he’s alone in the bed. He thinks for just a blink of an eye that this is normal, that anything he thought might have happened the night before was just a dream. He hasn’t had anyone to share a bed with him in years, because the only people he lets get close to him are the pack and everyone else is unnerved by him.

But he pulls the covers off of his face and finds his snake coiled on his pillow, staring directly into his eyes. He remembers that none of it was a dream. That he really and honestly brought Scott back from the dead in a cemetery in the middle of the night, that Derek was there, that he coughed this snake up from out of his intestines, and that he might have actually nearly killed himself in the process. And now, Scott is not next to him, where he should be.

Stiles throws his blankets off and picks the snake up to cradle in his hand as if it’s normal, scattering on uneven feet towards his bedroom door. For some reason his legs feel like they only half work, now, as though he’s been on bed rest for a week and isn’t used to operating them any longer.

He nearly brains himself on his door jamb as he swings his door open and flops forward, but catches himself at the last second. He hobbles down his hallway and tries to call Derek’s name, but his voice is small and fragmented – he’s spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks screaming, so a brief stint of laryngitis was well overdue. It seems like a particularly bad time, but here they are.

The living room is empty, the couch void of Derek with the blankets he uses to sleep piled and folded neatly, the television off. Stiles has a brief moment of panic that Scott decided at some point while Stiles was passed out asleep that he really was a zombie, and he was hungry for brains, and by golly, there’s nothing better than alpha werewolf brains. He has vicious and bloody images running through his head of Derek getting his head cracked open and the insides picked at by Scott’s blunt fingers, so it’s lucky that he rounds the corner into the kitchen to find both men in question in that very room.

There’s no blood, or guts, and Derek is standing upright with his head properly screwed on, and Scott is sitting at the table with no crazed yellow zombie eyes. Stiles blinks at the scene in front of him, dumbfounded and stupefied.

Derek is standing at the counter cooking pancakes on the griddle that the Sheriff had bought as a housewarming gift for Scott and Stiles when they first moved out. He’s got a bowl of batter next to him, a couple of cakes sizzling and bubbling on the griddle. Scott is pouring syrup onto a pile of cakes in front of him, albeit a little awkwardly and slowly, but it’s all…so normal. Stiles hugs his snake against his chest, and takes a cautious step forward.

“It’ll be a couple of minutes before your plate is ready,” Derek says, flipping a cake over to reveal its golden brown underside. “You want a glass of milk?”

Stiles topples down into the chair across from Scott at the table, nearly knocking over the chair instead of landing on it. “Um –“

In spite of the fact that that wasn’t an answer, Derek opens up the fridge and takes the carton out. As he pours the glass, Stiles watches with detached fascination as the milk falls into the glass, as Scott chews his pancakes almost manically, shoving triangle after triangle into his mouth.

Derek leans down and puts the glass down in front of Stiles, following the latter’s eyes to where Scott is sitting. “Yup,” Derek intones, gesturing to Scott as though he won’t be able to tell they’re talking about him. “That’s his third shortstack.”

“Third?” Stiles’ voice is small and raspy, but Derek can hear it.

“He’s been eating like a starving robot for the past twenty-five minutes.”

Now that Stiles can focus on more details, he does notice something a bit – off with how intensely Scott is eating. He mechanically but quickly shoves food into his mouth, washing it down with milk as an afterthought, and then starts in on more of the food.

“He came into the living room at around nine am,” Derek flips another pancake, “and asked for something to eat. I gave him a pop tart.”

Stiles stares at Scott some more, twisting his mouth as he observes it all.

“It didn’t seem to be enough. So I started making pancakes,” he piles three cakes onto a plate for Stiles and puts it down in front of him at the table, “and he hasn’t stopped eating since.”

There’s a beat, where Derek goes over and adjusts the heat on the griddle like he’s an expert at knowing the perfect temperature for golden-brown cakes, and Scott eats more, and Stiles just picks up his fork and frowns. This is all starting to feel more and more like an episode of the Twilight Zone. “He must be pretty hungry,” his voice is passable but terrible all the same, like he’s unbelievably sick. “I would be, too.”

“I chalked it up to the same thing,” Derek agrees. “I’m not giving him anymore. He’ll explode.”

“Okay,” Stiles nods his head and takes the syrup from the middle of the table, pouring a hefty amount onto his own stack.

“And don’t give him any of yours,” he warns like he’s a dad chastising his kids or something. “You need to eat, too.”

Stiles holds his hand up in the air, the one with the snake coiled around his fingers. “It needs something to eat, too.”

Derek stares at him. It’s like he’s waiting for Stiles to say he was just kidding, or for the cameraman to come out along with Ashton Kutcher and announce a punking. This, out of everything that’s happened in the past forty-eight hours, must be where Derek draws the line. The curse, and the resurrection, and Scott eating them out of house and home – that’s all one thing. But Stiles demanding food for his pet snake? “Did you check to make sure that thing wasn’t poisonous?”

Sheepishly, Stiles pulls his phone out of his sweatpants pocket. “I will right now.” He hastily types in red snake into google and flips through the images to find one that looks like his. Derek makes a grumbling noise, but Stiles can hear the sound of more batter landing on the griddle, so he must be getting over it.

He scans the different pictures before finding one that looks exactly like his and taps its picture, leaning over to take himself to the source page. He scans the words a bit, and then he smirks. “A-ha. It’s a corn snake.”

“A corn snake,” Derek repeats, turning over his shoulder to frown at the creature in question.

“Totally harmless and beneficial to humans,” he shrugs, putting his phone down to focus entirely on his pancakes. “It hunts rats.”

“It’s a she.”

Both Stiles and Derek’s heads shoot up at the sound of Scott’s voice. He’s just sitting there with an open expression on his face, decked out in all of Stiles’ warmest clothes but not openly shivering any longer, with a bit of maple syrup dripping off his chin onto his collar. “The snake,” he repeats, voice low and a bit toneless. “Is a she.”

“How would you know that?” Derek demands, giving Stiles a suspicious look. Like he suspects that Scott knows the gender of his snake only because he orchestrated it into existence to begin with, like he really is a demon that brings snakes with him, or something.

“I worked as a veterinarian’s assistant for six years,” he furrows his brow and gives Derek a duh look, rolling his eyes. “That’s a she, I can tell.”

Derek still looks skeptical from his spot at the counter, arms folded and frowning, but Stiles just raises his eyebrows. He lifts his hand and inspects the snake at a closer distance, receiving a lick on the nose for his troubles. “Now I have to name her,” he decides, scrunching his nose up but smiling as he pulls away.

“We’re not naming it,” Derek mutters, flipping something on his griddle. Stiles and Scott share a look across the table.

“Maybe you’re not,” Stiles mutters right back, and Scott has little to no reaction. He just uses another pancake piece to sop up with little syrup he has left on his plate. Maybe Derek does hate her, if only because she represents that terrible thing that happened only just last night. Or maybe he hates her because he’s lowkey afraid of snakes but is too big and tough to admit to it, or maybe he’s just grumpy.

Either way, he comes over and puts three very small pancakes, about the size of the circle Stiles could make with his thumb and pointer finger, next to Stiles’ plate. He gestures to them with his spatula. “For it,” he says, and Stiles quickly drapes his friend over the table. She slithers off his hand and somehow knows the cakes are for her, seeing as how she darts right for them.

It’s possible she can understand English. Stiles doesn’t know if that creeps him out or if it’s cool. Either way, she attacks the cakes with fervor, wolfing them down the way she likely would mice, and Derek sits down with his own plate and starts work on it.

Stiles pokes around at the food left on his plate, long after the snake has finished and is just sitting there blinking and occasionally flicking her tongue. Scott, with nothing left on his own plate, sort of just stares blankly at it with detachment. Like he’s not even fully seeing what’s going on in front of him.

Leaning forward a bit, Stiles clears his throat. “How are you feeling?” He asks.

Scott blinks after being addressed, looking at Derek and then even at the snake to make sure he’s actually the one being spoken to. He says, “less cold.”

“That’s good,” Derek says slowly, shooting Stiles a look. “What about other things?”

He’s quiet, twisting his mouth and not meeting anyone’s eyes directly. Then, “I keep thinking. This is a trick.”

“A trick,” Stiles repeats, shooting another look at Derek who returns it with a frown. “Like – what do you mean?”

“A trick.” He draws the words out nice and slow, looking between the other two men like he thinks they’re just not getting it. “Not real.”

“It’s real,” Stiles assures him, but Scott doesn’t look entirely convinced. “It’s – okay. It’s all new and whatever, but I’m telling you. I –“ He looks to Derek desperately, this time for back up, for help, and Derek wipes his mouth lengthwise with a napkin.

He crunches the napkin in his fingers, looking down at the table, and sighs through his nose. “You were killed, that night in the preserve.”

Scott nods his head.

“You remember that?” Stiles asks him, and Scott nods again. “Like – the entire…?”

“The whole thing.”

That’s good, Stiles thinks, mentally breathing out a sigh of relief. That he has all of his memories, straight down until the very end. It might not be good psychologically for Scott to remember dying painfully and being dragged into hell, but it’s good for the adjustment process of being alive again.

“And you were dead for two and a half weeks. There was a funeral. And Stiles…”

“Much to everyone’s chagrin I opened that black magic book Deaton told me not to open.” If Scott were feeling up to a hundred percent right now, Stiles knows he’d launch across the table, maybe even flip it over, just to wring Stiles’ neck for being so fucking stupid. Of all the people who were either as or more insistent than Deaton about not fucking with black magic, Scott was the king of them all. But, now, he just sort of frowns and looks upset, shaking his head like he can’t believe it. “And I…you know. Resurrected you.”

Scott doesn’t know what to make of any of this, it would seem. If he genuinely doesn’t think any of it’s real, he’ll have plenty of time to realize that it is. Because Stiles and Derek are pretty sure this isn’t a dream, or a trick. They really did this. They went through hell to do it, and Stiles has the snake to fucking prove it. “Okay,” he says, like it isn’t, not at all.

“Tell me something you’re feeling or thinking,” Stiles demands, scooching his chair further as if to get closer to him. “Just – anything.”

He appears to think long and hard about that, shifting his eyes to the kitchen window. It looks out across the parking lot, to the main road, at all the rest of human civilization on earth. Other people and other lives that aren’t nearly as fucked up as this, and Stiles wonders what it’s like for Scott to look out and see all those cars and people moving past him, existing on the same plane as him. “I feel sad,” he says, and Stiles nods his head. He doesn’t know what else to say, and Scott doesn’t either.

Derek puts his fork down on his plate and has no discernible expression on his face. Of course Scott feels sad, Stiles thinks. Sad probably isn’t even the word he really wanted to use. He likely wanted to use tormented, or miserable, or like he’s just been dragged across hot coals for two and a half weeks on a non-stop loop. But sad will just have to do, for now.

“There’s evidently a lot to talk about,” Derek starts up, putting on that in-charge voice he always uses. It’s always worked, on the rest of them, if Stiles is being honest. Even him, from time to time. “But we don’t have to – get into it all right away. We can just rest, and gather our thoughts, and…” he breaks off abruptly, cocking his head to the side, towards the door, like he’s listening to something.

“What?” Stiles demands, looking between him and the door again and again. “What?”

Derek’s lips twitch down into a frown. “Lydia is here,” he says, and Stiles immediately leaps up out of his chair.

“Oh, my God,” he half-shouts, trying desperately to get himself away from the table. But his legs nearly give out underneath him, just like when he had gotten out of his bed. He catches himself on the table and everything on it clatters and jostles, knocking over his empty milk glass and sending a fork scattering to the floor.

“Hey,” Derek says, and he’s up now, too. He comes over and puts his hands on Stiles’ hip, his shoulder, tries to steer him back to his chair. “You’re weak, still. Just –“

“We have to hide him,” Stiles says, on the verge of hysterics. “We can’t have him out in the open when she comes in here!”

“What?” Derek demands, furrowing his brow. “She’s –“

“She’s going to kick my ass if she sees I’ve done this,” his voice goes low, and he tries a bit hastily to squirm out of Derek’s hold, but it’s no use. His fingers are like steel on him, keeping him firmly in place before he goes and hurts himself.

“She’s going to find out either way,” Derek shrugs, like this is all not a big fucking deal to him, and Stiles could slap him. “Might as well get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid.”

There’s an agitated hissing coming from the kitchen table, Stiles realizes a second later, and looks down to find his snake coiled up with her head reared – she looks about two seconds away from biting Derek right in the hand. Stiles rolls his eyes and scoops her up, cradling her in his hand and hiding her head with his thumb to keep her from lashing out at the alpha.

Two firm knocks on the front door, and Stiles makes a short squeak from the back of his throat. Derek gives him a look, rolling his eyes, before stalking off and throwing his hands in the air. He’s going to open the front door. She’s going to come in here and see Stiles has done this, of all things he could’ve possibly done.

She’s only slapped Stiles once before, but that was more than enough for a life time, if he’s being honest with himself.

The door opens, and Stiles stands there and listens to them exchanging greetings, palming his face with his free hand. He looks at the table to find Scott just sitting there. Just sitting there. He doesn’t look concerned in the least bit, tilting his head as he listens to Derek and Lydia murmuring to one another. Meanwhile, Stiles is about to fall right out of his skin in the hopes that he’ll slither off like his own snake and hide under a trash bag to get out of this whole situation.

But Derek is right about one thing. She’s going to find out no matter what he does, and so will everyone else. Sooner is better, and she’s here now, and Derek sounds like he keeps dodging the subject awkwardly, so Stiles just sighs. He steps forward and gestures in Scott’s direction for him to stand, which he does.

It’s a bit of a struggle at first, but he manages to get on his feet and stand like a normal person. He’s got on one of Stiles’ sweatshirts and a pair of Stiles’ sweatpants, and looks a bit silly while he’s at it, but it’ll just have to do.

Stiles puts his hand on Scott’s neck and leads him forward, toward the living room where Derek and Lydia are still standing. He takes one last deep breath, glancing at the snake in his hand for back up – she blinks up at him, and again, he wonders how much of this she can intuit or understand on her own.

They step out into the main room, and the voices abruptly stop. There are a dozen reactions Lydia could have. Dropping the pan of food in her hand on the floor so it shatters and sends whatever it is flying across the floor, screaming, punching Stiles in the face, punching Scott in the face, or just flat out walking out.

Instead, Stiles and Scott come to a stop a good four feet away from where she and Derek are standing, and she blinks. She assesses Stiles first, as though for some reason he’s the more interesting of the two. Then, her eyes slide to Scott. Her lips purse down a bit harder, mashing together pink lip gloss a bit vindictively. She says, “that’s not what I think it is.”

Stiles clears his throat, but his voice still comes out all mashed up when he speaks. “What do you think it is?”

She looks at Derek, who hovers and tries to act like he wasn’t a part of this entire charade in the first place. “You didn’t.”

Stiles looks at his feet. “Um.”

“Stiles,” she takes a single step forward, cradling that food dish against her stomach, “you didn’t. Honey.”

“What we should be focusing on,” he starts, raising a single finger in the air, which Lydia purses her lips at even harder, “is the fact that I managed to do it at all. I mean, wow. Incredible. It would take a real – a really talented –“

“It would take a pompous, ignorant buffoon to do it.”

All the air deflates clean out of Stiles and he hangs his head, scratching at the back of his neck. Lydia is one of the few people on planet earth who can still make him feel like he’s a little kid again. Deaton always talks him up, how powerful and smart he is, and Scott was much the same, and Allison, and even Derek on occasion has mused about how capable Stiles is.

But one word from Lydia, and Stiles just wants to crawl underneath a blanket and hide. She’s right, is the thing. He knows she is. If it had been Lydia he had gone to with the book in the first place, then he never would’ve managed to go through with it, because she’d have pointed out how dangerous it is, how even if he gets the spell done right…well. Stiles hasn’t spared a thought to that so much, only because he doesn’t want to have to face the reality.

“Look, he’s – he’s here,” Stiles gestures to Scott, who is once again silent and still as a ghost. “He’s Scott.”

Lydia turns to Derek, and shoves that tray of food directly into his hands hard enough that he actually grunts, frowning. “Baked macaroni and cheese,” she says, and then she turns back to Stiles and Scott and clicks toward them in her heeled boots. Stiles has half a mind to put his hands up to defend himself should she really try to hit him, but she just walks right up to them, right up to Scott, and examines him critically.

“He might be,” she mutters as she looks at him from side to side. She takes his chin in two fingers and twists it, this way and that. “I’ve yet to ascertain that.”

“Well,” Stiles starts, and Lydia side-eyes him like a hawk. “Derek and I – I mean. He seems perfectly normal to me, if a little –“

Abruptly, cutting Stiles off mid-sentence, Scott is surging forward and wrapping his arms around Lydia’s much smaller frame. He cradles her against his chest and neck, holding her what must be pretty tightly from her indignant reaction. “…odd.”

Lydia goes stiff for several seconds in Scott’s hold, and then she relaxes. Everything she must be getting from this moment, friendship, familiarity, relief, must convince her that at the bare minimum, this is actually Scott. In spite of all else, it’s really him, and not something pretending to be. She awkwardly pats him on the back, while he buries his face into her neck and probably attempts to scent her.

There’s a couple things he’s done since coming back as a human that strike Stiles as odd. Like tilting his head to listen in on distant conversations that a human can’t hear, like trying to sniff things out. He apparently hasn’t wrapped his head around being back to fully human, just yet.

They pull apart, and Lydia clears her throat. She seems to discretely wipe at the corners of her eyes, lips in a terse frown, but she straightens up quickly and takes a step back. “You smell like death, still,” she says, very matter-of-fact, and Stiles nods his head. He sure does, in spite of the two showers he’s had since crawling out of his grave. “Just let me – let me look at him.”

She does. While Stiles rubs his finger on his snake’s head and Derek leans against the wall and frowns and likely wishes he were anyplace else on earth, Lydia acts like she’s in a lab coat with a microscope and a notepad, observing some new specimen. She walks around him in a slow circle, clucking her tongue and shaking her head. She runs her hand through his hair, once, and then again with a furrowed brow. Picks up his hand and turns it around, looks at the lines on his palm, sighs through her nose.

She stops with a harsh click of her heels on the wood floor, right in front of him with her hands on her hips. “We’ll need to run a few tests,” she decides. “But he seems – realistic.”

“Tests?” Derek asks, raising his eyebrows. Stiles just palms his face and shakes his head – since he, at least, knows what Lydia means.

She nods her head, very firmly and strictly, no nonsense. “White magic tests. If there’s something inside of him, or something that came up with him – we need to get rid of it before it gets any more powerful, feeding off of him.”

“You want Stiles to do those,” he sounds like he simply doesn’t believe that Lydia could honestly be asking this of him, but she just looks at him. After all, it’s not like there’s anyone else who can really perform spells like that.

The spells she’s referring to, Stiles knows them well. They’re like the magic equivalent of doing a dusting for prints over a crime scene – he’ll have to use funky powders and potions and dust Scott with them or force feed them to him and see how he reacts, and then he’ll have to, for lack of a better word, crawl inside his head and see what’s going on in there. It’s, on any other day, easy. But…

“I don’t think he should do any magic right now,” Derek says, shaking his head. “He’s – that spell. He’s too weak to –“

“Well, he should’ve thought about that,” Lydia snipes, and Derek growls under his breath and looks at the ceiling. Stiles wonders, a bit saucily, why Derek doesn’t just red-eye her to get her to do his bidding. He guesses Lydia just doesn’t frustrate him the same way Stiles can. “And I’d like to speak to Stiles alone.”

Ice cold fingers grip on his arm, bright pink nails digging into his skin. Stiles swallows, looking to Derek for help. He just stands there and shakes his head, holding that macaroni and cheese against his chest and frowning. And God knows, Scott isn’t going to be any god damn help.

So, Stiles just goes where Lydia drags him. Away into the kitchen, where the lights are dimmer and the window looks out at the rest of the free world. She rounds on him the second they’re alone, hands on her hips, eyes incredibly serious. If she notices the snake on his hand, she chooses to not pay attention to it for the moment, focusing all her energy on glaring daggers through his skull.

She lifts a finger, points it right into his face, opens her mouth. Nothing comes out save for a small noise, like she’s about to really let him have it. Then, she drops the finger and shakes her head, looking away from him, like she can’t even bear to see his face. Her jaw is set tight and she stares at the wall, eyes watering. She shakes her head again and again, mouth curving into a deeper frown as the seconds pass.

“I just –“

“No,” she interrupts, voice low. “You don’t speak.”

Stiles holds his hands up in surrender, and his snake hisses at her. She pays it no mind again, staring dead ahead and searching her mind for the words to even start with him. She finally sighs, looking at her feet first before meeting his eyes directly.

“I could stand here,” she begins, and Stiles scratches at his cheek nervously, “and go on and on. About how stupid it was. And how reckless it was. And how you could’ve killed yourself, and how you would’ve let your father and Melissa and the rest of us lose the both of you in the span of a single month.”

Stiles’ heart sinks. He had honestly never considered that – not for a second, when he was doing what he did. Maybe it was selfish, but then, could anyone blame him? He was so mindless with guilt and grief, there wasn’t any room for other people in his head.

“I could remind you that by opening that book and letting black magic into your blood you’ve compromised yourself and your safety. I could tell you that you’re cursed, that you’ve given yourself over to things that will never have good intentions for you.” She looks at him, hard and steady, and Stiles has this bizarre need to sit down to better take this verbal beating. “You know all that.”

She’s quiet for long enough that Stiles gets the idea he’s meant to respond. “Yeah.”

“Have you given thought to anything else?” This isn’t said so much accusatory as it is a general query for information. “How you’re planning on letting people know? Just bringing him out and showing him off nearly gave me a heart attack. I can only imagine how Melissa would react.”

“I – I don’t know,” he admits, and Lydia doesn’t look angry at that. She looks like she expected nothing more and nothing less. Stiles is good at getting things done, but when it comes to dealing with the aftermath? Where to go from there? He’s not so much good at that part.

She runs her hand through her bangs, straightens them out and them musses them up again. “Has he done anything odd?”

Stiles relays to her most of the bits and pieces of their journey since bringing Scott home from the cemetery. How he’s not a werewolf anymore, which she doesn’t seem necessarily surprised about, how he was so cold for so long and is only just now warming up, how he still smells like dirt and decay and might for a few more days yet, how he seems…upset, all the time. Nothing shocks or irks her, and she just nods along the entire time with shrewd eyes. When he’s finished, she sucks in a deep breath and lets it out, frowning some more.

As they stand there, something creaks to their left. They both turn their heads to stare at it, and find nothing but solid wall. It ripples, just a little, like it’s made of paper or water, and then flattens back out with another otherworldly groan. Lydia sighs again. “You’ll need to fix that,” she says, matter-of-fact. “Curses only get worse.”

“I haven’t had time,” he admits a little shamefully. “I’m weak, and I – yeah.”

“I’m so upset with you, I could smack you clean across the face. I would, if you weren’t so pitiable at the moment.”

“Lydia,” he says, his voice just north of pleading. “I did it. He’s there, and he’s – fine. There’s nothing left to say about it, okay?”

“There’s a lot left to say about it,” she argues very intensely. “But we have more important things to focus on, right now.”

**

They do the tests.

They sit Scott in a chair in the kitchen and pull out one of Stiles’ old books – one of the ones that don’t whisper to him or open on their own or curse him the second he so much at glances at a page. It’s just a book, old weathered pages, ancient writing from a witch long before Stiles’ time, and his eyes get tired looking at it.

He throws magic dust on him and says an incantation and sits there and watches as nothing happens. If he were evil or if there was something in him or on him that was, the dust would react and centralize in a specific area. But it just sits there, Scott blinking serenely with a twist to his mouth, and Stiles sighs.

They hold Scott down and look in his mouth, they shine lights in his eyes, they make Stiles put a hand over his heart and do a searching spell for his soul to ascertain whether it’s really his soul or not. They make Scott eat something that has him throwing up to see if an evil bug or something will come up with it. They poke at his skin, search for odd markings on him, and have Stiles muttering more and more incantations for a solid two hours.

They find nothing, absolutely nothing. Like Stiles knew they would. This is Scott McCall. Even if he seems sullen and distant, somehow colder beyond just his core temperature, it’s him. Stiles would say that he’s acting strange and unlike himself because he might have PTSD, or he might have seen so many horrible things and had so many horrible things done to him where he was that he just can’t be the same person anymore.

But he can’t argue it any longer. By the time the final spell is done and Lydia is breathing out through her nose and admitting Scott’s as normal as can be, he’s so burned out he just flops onto the table, resting his cheek against the wood and half closing his eyes. The relief he feels at Scott not coming back at all wrong is dimmed by his exhaustion, and all he can think about is getting his head on a pillow.

“Bed,” he says to no one, hefting himself back up to better be able to get on his feet. Derek is standing off to the side, leaning up against the counter with his arms crossed and frowning, and Stiles has no choice but to just…look at him for a second. Even with how tired he is, his eyes flit over his form, from head to toe, as though making sure he’s there, and okay.

Derek stares right back at him. Stiles doesn’t have the time to think about what any of that means.

He uses his palms on the table to try and pull himself up, but his elbows buckle, as do his knees the second he tries to stand. He falls over onto the ground with a hard thump, hard enough that all the glass bottles on the table rattle and quake. For a moment, he stays down there staring at specks of dirt on his linoleum floor and furrowing his brow, baffled at how he got there. He really should mop this floor sometime in the near future, he thinks.

Abruptly, strong calloused hands are grabbing at him, pulling him up to sit on the floor, blinking dazedly across the room. Scott is still sitting in his chair, peering over the edge of the table with a concerned blink at where Stiles is sprawled out like an octopus on the ground, and Lydia’s hands are dainty and soft – which can only mean it’s Derek who’s taken it upon himself to rescue Stiles from the ground.

In confirmation of this, Derek says, “you shouldn’t have made him fucking do all that.” He sounds gruff and annoyed, which isn’t altogether odd for him.

The fact that he sounds gruff and annoyed on Stiles’ behalf is another matter entirely. While in the past Derek has stood up for Stiles and been on his side and helped him, he’s always done so with a bit of a huff and a puff. Like it was all so straining and taxing for him to have to deal with Stiles at all.

“Maybe,” Lydia agrees, and Stiles watches in a bit of a daze as she click clacks across the floor to stand right above him, frowning. “I’m sorry, but it…” she scratches at her eyebrow and purses her lips. “…had to be done. Go on and get to bed, and we’ll talk more tomorrow.”

In a rare display of gentle affection, she reaches down and cups Stiles’ face in her palm. Just for a second, pressing her warmth against his skin and stroking her fingers along his forehead, before she’s pulling away and sighing some more. She gazes at Scott with her arms crossed, and he looks back with no expression on his face, and Stiles wants to sleep.

“Help me up,” he says to Derek.

Instead, Derek takes it upon himself to literally pick Stiles’ entire body off the ground as though he’s lifting a sack of potatoes. He fits one big hand around Stiles’ back and uses the other to support his legs under his knees, and Stiles is too tired to fight it. Any other circumstance, and he’d be kicking his legs indignantly and demanding to be let down instead of being treated like a romance novel heroine – but now, he just deflates and feels scandalized, curling his face into Derek’s shoulder.

As they walk down the hallway, Derek says, “she shouldn’t have made you do all that.”

It’s a direct repeat of what he had said to Lydia. Probably, he’s just looking for validation on his opinion of the entire event.

“It was necessary,” Stiles slurs into his neck. His bedroom door creaks open and Derek flicks on the light, which Stiles buries his face deeper into Derek’s skin to get away from.

“It just seems to me like these days,” he gently begins setting Stiles down on his bed, where the sheets and blankets are already pulled back, “I’m the only one who gives a shit about your own wellbeing.”

It’s hotter than the sun in his room, because he never did turn off that space heater, but he welcomes Derek tucking him in beneath the warm sheets all the same.

“Lydia doesn’t, and Scott doesn’t even know he’s on planet earth yet, and you…” he pauses. He uses the time to click the heater off and wheel it away from the bed entirely, muttering something under his breath. Stiles half listens, hugging his pillow close and shutting his eyes. “You’ve never cared about yourself enough.”

Right back at you Stiles thinks. But what he actually says is, “my snake.”

He makes grabby gestures up into the air with his eyes still closed, physically unable to open them again, and listens to Derek sighing. There’s a rustle, and then the clear sound of a hiss. “I’ve got her,” he says, and sure enough, Stiles feels a rough and scaly body press into his fingers.

He wraps his hand around his friend and pulls it under the sheets with him, where she blinks and coils quickly, happy to be allowed in Stiles’ presence.

“Just – go to sleep.”

“Staying?” Stiles mumbles, and he can hear Derek pausing.

There’s a beat. Stiles almost falls asleep in the silence. “In here?”

Stiles never answers that question, because he’s out like a light before he can even formulate a response.

**

The sun is up when Stiles wakes up – but low. It’s a morning sun. Suggesting that Stiles slept through the entire day and night from before, since Lydia only came over at around eleven o’clock in the morning.

Sitting up, he blinks across his bedroom to find his door wide open and the air much less hot than it was when he passed out. His snake is there, though not under the covers with him. She’s on his bedside table, picking at what’s left of another tiny pancake with quick, vicious snaps of her jaw.

The apartment is quiet, as it should be for seven in the morning. But in the wake of everything that’s happened, Stiles feels that quiet is unnerving and strange no matter the hour of the day.

As he’s running a hand through his hair, Derek creaks into his bedroom and looks at him very steadily, stopping about a foot away from the hole in the floor. He looks tired himself. Like he’d just been up in the living room, waiting and listening for Stiles to wake up. It’s another one of those things Stiles doesn’t know what to make of, so he chooses not to focus on it.

“I fed that thing a few times while you were asleep,” Derek points at the snake and frowns. “She likes grapes.”

Stiles blinks at his sheets and then rubs his eyes. “Shouldn’t she be eating mice?”

“You want to go out and catch some?”

“That’s your job,” he huffs and fists his sheets. “You’re the wolf.”

Derek steps closer to Stiles’ bed, catching the attention of the critter in question. She looks at him a bit scathingly, perhaps still not trusting him in spite of the fact that he’s been her caretaker while Stiles slept. “You were out a while.”

“Yeah.”

Derek sits down on the edge of Stiles’ bed, looking at him from the side and then looking down at his hands in his lap. He just sits there for a moment, and they sit together in the silence. It feels comfortable in a way, and wildly uncomfortable in another.

Fed up with just sitting there, Stiles reaches over and cradles his snake in his fingers for something to do with his hands. She responds in kind, wrapping her tail around his pinky and flicking her tongue a few times. “What’s Scott doing?”

It takes Derek a while to answer. Stiles stares at the side of his face, and Derek wrings his hands in his lap and purses his lips and stares dead ahead, blinking steadily. One hand eventually comes up to rub at his cheek, and then he’s looking down at the ground, his lips curving downward. “I’m going to say something,” he starts, and Stiles hates it when people feel the need to announce things like that. It can only mean whatever’s coming next will be bad. “Only because you don’t need to get your hopes up.”

The sheets rustle as Stiles moves forward, almost unconsciously. He bridges as much of the distance between he and Derek’s bodies as he dares and then he stops. His palm itches with the need to reach out and put his hand on Derek’s upper back. “The suspense.”

Derek looks at him – just once, and very briefly. The eye contact is heavy and solid and serious. Stiles wants to analyze it, but he doesn’t. “I don’t think Scott is ever going to be the same as he was.”

Stiles lets out a long breath through his nose, and when he says nothing else, Derek looks him in the eye again.

“I mean, he’s. He just won’t be. He’s not a zombie, or a demon, or anything like that – but he’s. Not the same. I kept thinking there must have been something wrong but he…” Derek scratches at his chin and shakes his head solemnly, “…that’s just how it is. How he is.”

His throat is itchy, so Stiles clears it before he speaks. He doesn’t need his voice to shake right now. “No one could come back from that and be just as they were, I always knew that.” He makes a valiant effort at keeping his tone even, and detached. “It’s enough that he’s alive, I don’t care if he’s not cracking jokes left and right.”

Derek lets his eyes linger on where Stiles’ snake is curled around Stiles’ fingers, and she blinks back at him a bit serenely. A snake can’t express emotions, or at least not in the way a human could, but there is an expression on her face as she looks back at Derek. She looks sad, or sorry for him, or just sorry for the entire thing. “And the werewolf thing.”

“The werewolf thing,” Stiles shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter.”

“What I mean is that Scott as he is now is as close as we’re ever going to get to him being – well.” He turns his body as he speaks, so he’s facing Stiles head on instead of having to crane his neck. Their knees touch. “There’s no point in waiting anymore.”

Stiles knows what he’s referring to without an explanation. He thumbs his lips for a moment, and then chews on the nail, blinking across his bedroom. This is the part that, while he thought of it, he never gave it much thought. Taking Scott back home, to his mother, where he belongs – Stiles only ever thought of it in the abstract. That she would be happy, and Scott would be back, and everything would be okay again.

But Stiles never really thought about the immediate reaction. What she’ll think or do when the son she buried three weeks earlier waltzes into her living room as though nothing had ever happened. She knows about werewolves and she knows about magic, but everyone draws the line somewhere – and resurrection, actual and entire resurrection of a dead thing, might be where she draws her own.

Selfishness is an emotion that Stiles knows very well. He lets it cover him, just for now, and strokes his fingers along the head of his snake with a curl to his lips. He acted without thinking anything completely through. All he could think about was his own grief. There wasn’t time to think about anything else.

Derek has been watching him throughout Stiles’ entire though process. Stiles is sure of this when Derek speaks. “Tell me what you’re thinking,” he asks.

Sunlight creeps across Derek’s face, illuminating only one eye so the pupil dilates and the yellow flecks get brighter and more prominent. Stiles wants to reach out and touch him, again. “I’m thinking. Magic lets me undo a lot of things.” Derek nods his head, like he knows. “I just can’t ever seem to do exactly the right thing.”

They never talk about that – the books, or Deaton or Lydia or even Derek. That there is a burden and a cross Stiles bears. All the power at his fingertips, and it would feel wrong to not use it. But then, it feels wrong when he does.

Derek holds his hand out, an abrupt enough motion that it draws Stiles’ eyes. When he looks at it, he seems the familiar lines of Derek’s palm, the length of his fingers and the slight tan of his skin. But there are the claws of a werewolf poking out from the ends of his nails and he flexes them, before looking up to Stiles’ face. “I know how that feels.”

Before he can think himself out of it, Stiles leans forward and wraps his arms around Derek’s neck, burying his face into his neck. His snake seems moderately unhappy about being pressed up against Derek’s back, flicking her tail and hissing in annoyance, but Stiles ignores her and focuses on the steady beat of Derek’s heart.

Derek hugs him back, tight and sure. One thing Derek has certainly always been is a sure thing. Even when Stiles never wanted him around, he had been there.

Neither of them say anything because there doesn’t seem to be very much else to say. Of course, there are millions of things to say and even a million more different ways to say them, but talk gets exhausting when you keep going around in circles. The quiet is preferable, every now and then. Silent contact and the understanding that they are both here and they’ve done this, and they live with it now.

Stiles pulls away and looks him in the face. “I should shower,” he says, and Derek nods his head in agreement. “And then we’ll go and take Scott to his mother.” He feels the need to follow that statement up with an I’m sorry.

“Sure.”

“And I don’t know what to do after that.”

Derek shrugs at him. “Go back to work.”

Raising his eyebrows, Stiles frowns as he thinks about his day job, peddling low grade art by local “artists” to halfwitted tourists. “Real life? No thanks.”

All the same, he pushes the sheets off his body and stands. His bones creak and his limbs feel lackadaisical, but he’s nowhere near as burnt out as he had been after doing that spell. His magic is likely working overtime trying to restore itself after the shitstorm it had gone through, and his emotional and mental health likely hasn’t been doing his physical health any favors either. But a hot shower will help, if only minutely.

He walks across the hall to the bathroom door, already creaked open. Flicks on the light, squints blearily at himself in the mirror for a moment. Bed head has never been a particularly great look on him.

It’s when he glances at the shower and tub itself that he shouts, nearly taking two entire steps back. He finds himself back out in the hallway, toes touching the bathroom tile and his heel touching the hardwood of the hall.

Derek is there behind him, peering over his shoulder and frowning from what Stiles can tell out of the corners of his eyes. “Oh, yeah,” he says, nonchalant and dejected at the same time, “I forgot about that.”

Stiles swallows, blinks his eyes a few times to make sure he’s really seeing what he’s seeing. But no matter how many times he squeezes and unsqueezes the sight before him is still there in vivid colors.

There’s blood in the bath tub. Not an entire tub full of it, likely not even a gallon – a half a gallon, at most. It looks like it burbled up from the drain pipe, spreading in veins across the bottom and collecting in small pools here and there. It looks like a murder scene someone already half cleaned up.

“The curse,” Derek supplies before Stiles’ mind can start whirring with all the possibilities for how this could have occurred. But of course, the curse. Stiles had almost forgotten about that in the face of everything else.

“Huh.” He puts his snake down on the sink, where she immediately goes to poking her nose against the toothpaste. “That’s the best they can do, I guess.”

“Freaked the hell out of me.”

“If all they can do is scare us,” he turns on the water as he speaks, and watches with some level of satisfaction as it turns the water a far less sinister pinkish tone and collects it toward the drain, “then I don’t think we have much to actually worry about.”

Derek is quiet for a moment while the water pitter patters and Stiles stares at it all going down the drain. When he does talk, his voice is low. “You’ve always been cavalier about this curse thing. You don’t think it’s a big deal.”

“I think I have other things to worry about aside from ghouls messing with my stuff.” He turns around and makes a shooing gesture in Derek’s direction, which he apparently doesn’t take too kindly. “Go on, git.”

Derek sighs through his nose, shooting one last glance at the snake on the sink. “Don’t bathe with that thing,” he warns, before closing the door behind him with a bit of a slam.

****

“Did I tell you?” Stiles asks, curling and uncurling his fingers around the scales underneath his hands. “I finally named her.”

Derek looks out the windshield, and he doesn’t smile. There isn’t much to smile about where he’s concerned, Stiles has always thought. Now that Stiles thinks about it, he’s never seen a Derek smile that was just…happy, instead of something else. And here in Stiles’ car parked out in Scott’s driveway, both of them having unwittingly put on all black clothing either because they truly didn’t realize and it’s just a coincidence or if that stupid fucking curse has anything to do with it, there is even less for him to smile about. “The snake.”

“Yeah, I named her.”

Stiles doesn’t have super hearing or anything of the sort. So after having been banished out to his car on the grounds of it not being a good idea for him to be in the room or even in the house, he’s lost track of what’s going on inside. Derek, however, does. And he flinches, and Stiles wonders what it is he hears from inside the house

But then, Stiles doesn’t really want to know.

He holds his snake against his chest, all curled up around his hand. “I named her Tink.”

There’s a pause, where Derek says and does nothing except for stare at the front door to Scott’s childhood home. Stiles is about to repeat the last thing he said if only to dull the silence, but luckily, Derek finally speaks. “Like Tinkerbelle?”

“Yeah,” Stiles strokes his thumb against her head. “It fits, I think. She’s, like, a sidekick. But she’s mean.”

“It fits,” Derek agrees.

Stiles guesses he could ask what Derek hears inside the house. He could ask a lot of things. But they won’t talk about it. They won’t talk about how maybe Stiles was wrong, and they won’t talk about how maybe they both were, and they won’t mention that they’ve played with something that isn’t even meant to be touched.

He would never say that Scott would have been better off dead. He certainly wasn’t better off where he was, Stiles knows that for a fact – but even the most well intentioned good deed has its consequences. Maybe Stiles always thought that he would be the only one who would ever have to face those consequences. Another one of those selfish things.

“Is it bad?” Stiles asks. In spite of the fact that he doesn’t truly want to know, the masochistic and ugly part of him just has to know, and has to ask. “Is she…”

Derek is not a soft person. He’s not gentle. He has never been known to beat around the bush or to sugar coat anything. He is blunt oftentimes to the point of being rude and he’s not nice and he’s rough and calloused all around his edges. The truth comes to him naturally as something that he just has to say. But here, in this moment, he hesitates – and Stiles knows it has to be bad. “I know you thought the only possible outcome was a happy ending where everything would go perfectly,” Derek finally says, his voice even and measured. He is choosing his words very carefully.

Tink stirs in his fingers like she can sense his distress, pressing her head against his thumb and blinking up at him with what Stiles would quantify as concern.

“You didn’t see any bad in it.”

“I am not an optimist,” Stiles argues even though there isn’t any real bite to it.

Rather than arguing that point, Derek blinks at him and shakes his head, once. “You brought something back from the dead. It’s not as easy as a happy reunion.”

No, Stiles guesses it isn’t. Derek will likely never tell him what was said or done in the house while the two of them sat out in the car all black and dreary like the dead themselves, Stiles is sure that he won’t. The reasoning for why he’s sure Derek wants to spare his feelings on this particular subject is lost on him, but there’s no doubting that Derek is shielding him.

Maybe Scott will tell him. Someday, when he’s better.

If he ever does get better.

**

The clock on Stiles’ bedside table, the one that he used to have play old memories of Scott’s voice back to him, blares 3:34 AM at him in bright red. It glows on his skin and he holds his hand up to see how red looks on him.

He thinks about how much blood he had thrown up into the grass over Scott’s grave. The same blood that his magic used to pull Scott straight out of it. Abruptly, he pulls his hand down under the covers and out of the red, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to shake the memory out of his head. There are a lot of memories, lately, that he wishes he didn’t have anymore.

He’s even too afraid to reach out and turn the clock around to get the red out of his eyes, for fear that his magic will take over for him and play the sound of him screaming again and again while Derek pulled him out of the bath tub. That, he just can’t risk.

For a while, he lies awake and stares at his ceiling. Scott is right down the hall from him, asleep and okay and alive, but silent. Stiles used to be able to feel him in soundwaves through his magic. The power and energy from being an alpha werewolf was loud and comforting like the sound of the ocean in the background of Stiles’ mind. It used to calm him down and ground him and put him to sleep better than anything else ever could.

As a human now, Scott is silent. It rings in Stiles’ ears and makes every creak in the apartment and the building entirely sound like windows shattering. It should be enough to know that Scott is there at all. It should be enough that his best friend is back from the dead and is sleeping on the other side of Stiles’ wall.

But it isn’t. In the very pit of his gut, it’s as though something is still missing, and Stiles feels guilty about that. He feels guilty about most things.

After another half an hour of his tired and droopy eyes just staring, and staring, feeling the eyes of the curse blinking back at him from somewhere in the white of his ceiling, Stiles finally huffs a sigh and sits up in his bed. He perches himself on the edge of it and hangs his head, rubbing his eyes in the dark.

Tomorrow he goes back to work and goes back to being a normal person with a best friend who isn’t dead, and it should make things seem…okay, again. On his spare pillow, Tink is coiled and fast asleep, eyes open even as she’s still. Stiles supposes he could wake her up and she’d make a stink about it, hissing and wrapping her tail hard around his fingers in retaliation, but she’d at least be company.

The problem is, she’s not the company that he knows he needs. Whatever part of him that tells him to pick his phone up off his bedside table is one that has complete control, because he reaches out and does it without even thinking about it.

And then his phone is to his ear, and he’s listening to the dial tone, again, and again, and –

“Hello?”

“You’re awake,” Stiles isn’t surprised. It’s past four in the morning, but he’s just not surprised.

“Having a hard time sleeping.” Derek’s voice is tinny and odd over the phone. Stiles is uncomfortable hearing it through the receiver instead of right there in front of him.

He toes his floor for a moment, his lips curving downwards, and he says nothing. He knows that Derek can hear him breathing over the line and that he’s still there, hasn’t hung up or something like that, but neither of them speak. Stiles has no idea what to say.

“…is everything okay?”

“It’s just,” Stiles rubs his jawline and then palms his forehead. “…it’s just so quiet, here.”

“Quiet?”

“It’s like a tomb.”

“I’m getting a bit of that here, too.”

Derek’s apartment now is more sensible than both his old train depot location and the stupid loft. Stiles had told him a dozen times his senior year that the loft was sexy, sure, and cool and what have you – but it was also idiotic and kind of useless. Derek’s bed was in the middle of his living room in front of a huge wall of windows where anyone could see him doing god knows what. Stiles used to joke around about peeping toms catching him jerking off by himself in there and Derek would roll his eyes but then not deny it, and Stiles would go red and clear his throat and try to think of something else to talk about.

Now, he lives in a real apartment with a bedroom and blinds and a kitchen. Working appliances, to boot. Stiles can imagine him sitting in his bed with the green sheets, leaning against the wooden frame in the dark. For some reason, the image makes him…want.

“The whole Scott is human thing. It’s just sort of fucking with me. You know?”

“Is this about that wolf aura thing again?”

Stiles traces his pajama pants with his fingers, fiddling with a loose thread here and there. “I just got used to it. It’s like a comfort thing to me, now. Without another supernatural’s energy I just get so –“ he searches for the right word, swallowing before spitting it out, “…lonely.”

“Lonely,” Derek repeats it back to him and he doesn’t sound confused at all. He sounds like he knows the feeling up and down, from top to bottom, left to right, all over him and inside of him, all of the time.

And, of course. If anyone were to know a thing or two about loneliness, it would be Derek Hale. Stiles used to think about him living alone all the time, distancing himself after getting hurt one too many times, and he’d feel sorry. But there was never anything he could do about it – Derek was like a porcupine, or a blowfish, as silly as the image is. Hard to approach, even tougher to touch.

For whatever reason, now, Stiles doesn’t see him that way anymore. Maybe it’s everything that they’ve been through together since Scott died.

“It’s like that here, too,” Derek says, and Stiles closes his eyes and sighs through his nose.

“You’re lonely. I’m lonely.”

“Yes.”

“There might be a really easy solution to that.” Stiles looks up at his dark ceiling one last time, as if asking it and whatever might be looking back at him what the hell he’s even fucking doing, but he doesn’t stop. “Come and stay with me.”

It should concern Stiles how easily Derek says, “all right,” and hangs up. It should be strange, it should make him question everything and doubt himself and wonder what he’s thinking, what the hell is going through his head. This isn’t how things used to work between the two of them. Stiles used to say Derek was like his twice removed cousin – still family, but in that far away type of a feeling. Like he was always out of arm’s reach.

But even when he lets himself into Scott and Stiles’ apartment. Even when he walks down the hallway with creaks and steady footsteps, even when he opens up Stiles’ bedroom door and looks in at him. Even when they both meet exhausted eyes across the room and even when Derek steps over the hole in his floor that he still has yet to fix, Stiles can’t find it in himself to ask any questions.

What are we doing? Stiles could ask. What are you thinking about? What are we going to do? Where do you go in your head when you don’t say anything? Do you know me? Do I know you?

Derek says, “I need blankets for the couch.”

Tink stirs, rearing her head up to glare in Derek’s general direction. She still has this way about her like she doesn’t entirely like him, but then, she doesn’t seem to care for much of anyone. Scott she tolerates likely only because he’s half the reason she even exists at all, but everyone else gets hisses and threats of being bitten.

Derek only ever gets the stink eye. Like he’s more of a nuisance than anything else.

“The couch?” Stiles blinks at him.

Derek rubs the back of his neck and then can’t meet Stiles’ eyes directly. “Or…”

“I’ve got room,” Stiles insists as he pats the wide expanse of his bed with his hand. He does have room. His bed has always been big enough for two people, but truth be told, he’s never had anyone else aside from Scott and Tink inside his bed before. Lydia has sat on it, and Erica has sprawled across it and talked his ear off about one thing or the other, but no one else has ever actually been…in it. With him.

Stiles has been alone for a long time. He always figured it would be better off that way, because who could ever really understand him? What he was capable of?

Derek shrugs off his jacket, and Stiles watches him. Derek unties his shoes, pulls them off one by one, and drops them neatly on the floor near where a pair of Stiles’ own are sitting by the desk, and Stiles watches him. “Do you like the inside or the outside?”

“Um,” Stiles clears his throat, shifting his eyes to where Tink is glaring pointedly in Derek’s direction. She’s flicking her tail a bit defensively, like she can sense someone is about to take her spot. “Inside.”

Stiles shifts over to the colder side of the bed as soon as Derek knees onto the mattress. With one hand he scoops Tink up off the pillow he plans to use, much to her obvious and loud dismay, and puts her gently down next to his alarm clock and glass of water. “I’ll get you your own bed,” he promises her while Derek gets settled in next to him, sitting up still as he pulls on some of the covers and pokes at the pillow to test its fluffiness.

Tink looks at him as if to say your bed is my bed, but makes no further commentary than to pointedly turn her back on him as she coils back up again.

There’s a lot of bouncing of the mattress as both Derek and Stiles get settled. Stiles worms around quite a bit, well after Derek is already lying there still as a statue and staring at the ceiling. He pulls the covers up to his chin, feeling Derek’s body heat right next to him, collecting underneath the dome of the sheets and blankets.

It would likely be best if the two of them just went straight to sleep. But then, Stiles has never been able to let anything just lie. “Thanks for coming.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees, voice a little hoarse with exhaustion. “I, uh – wanted to.”

“I wanted you to.”

“Because of the wolf aura thing.” Derek sounds like he’s clarifying that. It’s not a question, not really, but he expects an answer all the same.

“That,” Stiles admits slowly. “And, also. Like, I don’t know.” A nervous laugh bubbles up from his throat and then he tries to swallow it back down.

“You said you were lonely,” Derek relays this to him a bit solemnly. Stiles can only imagine what he’s thinking.

He turns over in bed to face him, staring at the side of his face. Until Derek turns his own head, and then slowly, his entire body, until they’re lying there, faces mashed against their respective pillows, staring at one another in the dark. “I could’ve called anyone else if it were just…loneliness.” He knows that Derek can see much more of the finer details of his face than he can see of Derek’s, knows that he can see the look in Stiles’ eyes and the set to his lips and how serious he is as he says it. “I wanted…you. To come.”

Derek traces Stiles’ face with his eyes, again and again. “Me.” It almost sounds like he can’t believe it.

There’s maybe a split second where their faces move closer, but it isn’t enough time for Stiles to fully comprehend what’s happening. One second there they are, alone in the dark with a once-dead kid on the other side of the wall Stiles is almost pressed up against, looking at one another.

In the next, Derek is leaning forward and kissing Stiles on the lips.

It’s gentle. It’s not at all like Stiles would’ve ever imagined a kiss from Derek Hale would feel like. Not that he necessarily spent a lot of time ever wondering what it would feel like to kiss Derek Hale, but – you know. Everyone would’ve thought that Derek would be all rough. Grabbing Stiles by the hips and forcing him up against his body hard, shoving his tongue into Stiles’ mouth, running his hands all up and down Stiles’ body. And that would’ve appealed to Stiles, sure.

But, this. Derek pressing his lips like cautious feathers against Stiles’ own, pulling away slowly and looking into Stiles’ face as if to gauge his reaction. This is all right, too.

“What…” Stiles starts, and then doesn’t finish. Because he can’t. He doesn’t know what to ask, what to say, what to think.

All he knows is that he wants Derek to do that again. And again. So he angles himself forward again as an invitation, meeting Derek’s eyes before sweeping his own along the parts of his face that he can see in the dark, and Derek takes the initiative again.

Another gentle kiss, their lips moving against one another slow and careful. Stiles pulls back, and when they meet again, the kiss deepens so Stiles can really taste him – and Derek can taste him right back. It’s just kiss, after kiss, after kiss, each one more soft and sure than the next. Derek puts his hand lightly on Stiles’ hip, just his fingers spreading out in a fan, and Stiles puts one of his own against Derek’s chest. The only sound in the room, in the entire apartment, is the one that their skin makes together.

They separate and Derek rubs his nose against Stiles’ all affectionate and sweet and Stiles could melt, so he kisses Derek again on the lips in a quick peck to show his appreciation. There should be something that he should say. Something, anything, like asking Derek what the hell it is they think they’re doing making out with one another in the dark of Stiles’ bedroom at almost five o’clock in the god damn morning.

And, it’s not even like they’re frantically rubbing off against one another in a desperate need to have an orgasm, or something. Sex isn’t even really on Stiles’ mind, and from what he can tell, it’s not on Derek’s either. It’s not about frustration, or needing sexual contact.

It’s so tender and bizarre Stiles doesn’t have words for it. It’s like they’re suddenly and out of nowhere completely in love with one another. There’s no way in hell Stiles can think of anything to say to Derek, in this moment, and Derek apparently can think of only white noise, himself.

Because after the last kiss is over, Stiles tucks his face into Derek’s neck and closes his eyes, and Derek drops his chin into Stiles’ hair and closes his own.

**

Stiles wakes up to a gentle hand running up and down his back instead of the blare of his alarm clock. It startles him a lot less, so he groggily opens his eyes and takes a second to get acquainted with his surroundings, blinking and furrowing his brow.

Derek is there, right in front of his face, blinking steadily at him as though he has all the time to in the world to just sit there and stare. But then he says, “you’ve got work in about an hour.”

Groaning, Stiles rubs his forehead. “No.”

“It’s almost one o’clock.”

God, Stiles thinks, turning his eyes to the ceiling. He works as a secretary at this stupid art gallery, sitting at a desk for seven hours a day taking calls and answering asinine questions about the hours, the next art showings, how much paintings go for depending on the artist. He doesn’t hate it all that much, considering he’s actually interested in art, but it gets mind numbing after a certain point.

He sits up all the way in bed and frowns across his bedroom. Tink is there, burrowing underneath a pile of Stiles’ dirty clothes so all he can really see of her is the end of her body sticking out as the clothing rustles on top of her. When Stiles keeps looking at her for another ten seconds, her head pops up from the collar of one of his white undershirts and she looks right back at him curiously, as though she could sense his gaze. Likely, she could.

“Morning,” he says to her, and she immediately slithers out and across the floorboards, beelining it for his general direction.

Derek sits up too, in the same clothes he had on last night of course, and sighs long and loud. “It’s good you’re going back to normal life,” he says to Stiles, running a hand through his bedhead and sighing again.

“Normal life,” Stiles repeats like he doesn’t understand the words. Before Derek can say anything back, there’s a short and agitated hiss from the floor, and Stiles smiles. “She wants you to pick her up.”

“She will bite me.” He sounds very matter-of-fact, peering over the edge of the bed to where Tink must be staring up at him with a glint in her eyes. “She doesn’t like me.”

“She’s not a biter.”

“She’s a snake.”

Stiles makes grabby hands at him anyway, and Derek rolls his eyes and looks over the side of the bed again. He hesitates, giving Tink a look that offers a bit of a warning, and then leans down and scoops her up. She doesn’t bite him – but she does threaten it for a second. She rears her head back and hisses right into his face the second she’s close enough, but Stiles grabs her out of Derek’s hand before she can make a move.

He cradles her in his hand and rubs her head affectionately with his thumb, while Derek looks at the two of them with some level of distrust, still. He probably still thinks she’s somewhat evil. She must be, as a snake, but it’s likely just the kind of evil that would slither into the pantry and rip apart cereal boxes for revenge.

“You said normal,” Stiles brings it up again and Derek looks him right in the face. “I don’t think it’s, um…normal. That we kissed last night.”

There’s no hesitation when Derek leans forward and pecks Stiles’ lips again. It’s as gentle as it was last night, like he’s still learning what Stiles’ lips feel like against his own. When he pulls back, he keeps his face close enough that his eye lashes nearly brush against Stiles’ cheek when he opens them again. “I just kissed you this morning, too.”

Stiles blushes and looks down, trying to strangle a smile. “So, we’re kissing now. As a general rule.”

“Why not?”

Stiles can’t think of a single reason why not. Not a single fucking thing could keep them from it, really. They’re both of age, and Derek is good looking and if not necessarily the nicest or stablest person on planet earth, he’s always had Stiles’ best interest in mind. He’s always had Stiles’ back even when they were arguing, even when Stiles rarely gave him the time of day. It’s something that Stiles didn’t always appreciate, but that he thinks he has all the time in the world to learn how to now.

“I didn’t know you liked boys,” Stiles says, mostly just for something to say. Derek’s sexuality has always seemed to Stiles to be the most evil person in the room, which in his case has just so happened to turn out to be mass murdering girls. The girls part might have been an afterthought, for all he knows.

Derek shrugs. “I like boys.”

“Me, too.” They smile at one another like a couple of idiots, and then Stiles has to look away before he explodes or melts into a puddle or something equally as embarrassing. “Okay, so. Work for me. I should – get ready.”

Derek just watches Stiles as he putters around his room with Tink in hand, pulling clothes out of his drawers and grabbing at his hairbrush on his bedside table. When Stiles leaves to go to the bathroom, he makes meaningful eye contact with Derek as he goes, right down until the door closes in between them and they can’t stare at one another anymore.

Much to Derek’s chagrin, Stiles does shower with Tink. He just sets her down in the tub and she spends the entire ten minutes angrily biting at any and all water droplets that come her way like it’s a big game for her, slithering around in the shallow water and running over Stiles’ feet occasionally. She acts like some weird kind of a dog, Stiles has always thought. She’s not a normal snake. That much is for certain.

When he comes out into the main room, dressed and fresh with his car keys and wallet, Scott and Derek are sitting on the living room couch watching television. It’s Cartoon Network, and the sound of it brings back a thousand memories from before Scott had ever even died – it’s what Scott always puts on in the background while he cleans or cooks or folds his laundry. Now, he just sort of sits there and watches it with no expression on his face, and Stiles sighs at the sight.

“Hey,” Stiles says to him, leaning down to look into his face. He puts his hand on the back of Scott’s neck and rubs his thumb against it. “What are you gonna do today?”

Scott looks back at him. “Allison is coming over,” he says, a bit dead-pan. “We’re going to cook.”

“That sounds fun.” Stiles looks past his face to meet eyes with Derek, who’s watching this exchange with shrewd eyes. “I’ll be home around eight. Okay? Save me leftovers?”

He looks Stiles right in the face, and there’s a familiar expression on his own. He says, “should I save some for Derek, too?” There’s a bit of a playful bite to that statement, a flash of the old Scott there, and Stiles blushes a bit.

Pulling back up to his full height, he scratches at his cheek. “I was, um,” he starts, and then has to clear his throat, “going to ask if you wanted to…come over. Tonight. Again.”

Derek doesn’t even have to think about it. “Sure, of course.”

They stare at one another for a moment, and Stiles can feel that it’s dopey and weird and they’re acting like teenagers going to the prom together. Scott sighs in a very, very put-out way, and then leans his cheek into his palm as he stares pointedly at the television screen. “You guys started hooking up when I died, huh?”

Stiles blanches, but Derek just looks at him with a twist to his mouth. “No!” A beat. “We started hooking up when you came back.”

“Ugh.” There’s Scott’s opinion on that matter, Stiles guesses. It’s likely all he’ll have to say about it for some time yet, while he’s still learning to be alive and human again.

It’s not like he can really do much about it either way, Stiles thinks as he heads out the door. Scott isn’t the alpha anymore.

**

Stiles walks into his kitchen after work to find a sight he hasn’t seen in a long time. Scott is there with Allison, standing over a pan of something sizzling on the stove, and they’re drinking beer and Allison is laughing and the table is set with plates and forks and napkins. Scott is dressed and clean and smiling, even if it’s not a full blown grin, and Derek is sitting at the table nursing his own beer, looking at Stiles from the moment he walks into the room.

It takes a second for him to pull his eyes away from Derek, but he does, looking at Scott and Allison with a surprised smile on his face. “What’s going on?” He asks as he takes another two steps into the room.

“We were waiting for you to get back,” Allison turns off the stove with a resounding click, pulling a serving dish that Melissa had given to the boys when they moved into this apartment. They have never once used that thing. Mostly, it sits and collects dust, and every time they have to serve anything they just keep it in the pan and let people scoop whatever it is out with large spoons.

Stiles’ leg presses up against the corner of the table right next to where Derek is sitting. Derek leans back and looks up at Stiles intently, and Stiles glances at him like he doesn’t have a choice. “You guys didn’t have to wait for me,” he says with a shake of his head. “I could’ve just –“

“Of course we waited,” Allison interrupts with one of her big heartbreaker grins. Dimples and curls and all. Stiles never really had to spend too long thinking about how Scott fell in love with her in the first place. And he won’t ever wonder why Scott never really got over her. “Come on.” She holds a plate out for him, and he realizes he’s getting the first serving. He has never in his life had the first serving of food at big gatherings. In his house with his dad, it was always ladies or guests of honor first.

Stiles takes the plate with a bemused smile on his face, and Scott looks at him with a thin smile on his face. “It’s your favorite,” he says, very matter-of-fact. “Chicken marsala.”

He looks at Allison to find her indeed laying out big hunks of chicken onto the serving plate. There’s a pot of mushrooms in sauce, and an even bigger pot filled with spaghetti. Down to the details, this is Stiles’ favorite meal. He wouldn’t think Scott would remember something like that, after everything that’s happened, but he’s gone and made it with Allison.

Allison spoons spaghetti onto his plate while he just stands there and stares, turning his eyes briefly over to where Derek is watching him. He sips his beer and shrugs at him like don’t look at me I had nothing to do with it, and Stiles swallows and watches chicken and sauce get poured over his pasta.

When he sits down at the table, Scott hands him an opened beer without question. Stiles sips at it, still baffled yet slightly amused, while Scott and Allison ask Derek questions like do you want spaghetti, do you like marsala, do you want two pieces of chicken or three?

Derek gets three pieces of chicken because he’s an alpha werewolf, and Stiles starts eating. It tastes just like he remembers it.

He wipes his mouth off on a napkin and everyone else sits down with him, and they eat dinner together. Derek presses his knee up against Stiles’ underneath the table, but that’s not necessarily the only weird or out-of-the-box thing that happens throughout the entire half an hour ordeal. Allison is her usual self, carrying as much of the conversation as Stiles, and Derek’s interjections are sparse but engaged which is just like him, but Scott is silent, for the most part.

He eats the same way he had eaten those pancakes the first morning he came back, in a way that’s almost like he thinks he won’t ever get to eat again. Stiles hasn’t had the time to sit down and really talk with him about what it’s like to be back, selfishly, but if he had to guess, he’d bet that Scott treats everything like the last time he’ll have it. Because he knows what it feels like to not know. To think he has all the time in the world, and then to have it all taken away from him in the blink of an eye.

It’s a morbid train of thought. So Stiles tries not to watch him shove food into his mouth too closely or to notice how quiet he is. Tries instead to focus on the fact that he could reach across the table and touch him and he’d be solid, and real. And that’s what matters.

Once there are only a couple more bites left on Stiles’ second plate, Tink makes her appearance. She slithers in a bit tersely with a look in her eyes that suggests she’s angry with Stiles for leaving her alone at home with Scott, the zombie, and Allison, the stranger. It seems like she’s tried to give him the cold shoulder since she heard him get home, but apparently, she got tired of waiting for him to seek her out and has come passive aggressively scooting to his feet, hissing.

“Oh, hey,” he says, bending down and offering her his hand. Instead of curling up on it like she normally does, she bites at a finger. It doesn’t draw blood, but it makes him frown and roll his eyes.

“Is that your new friend?” Allison asks, peering over the edge of the table to get a good look at her. Tink observes her critically. She’s only met a few of Stiles’ friends since she’s come – and Scott, she tolerates, Derek she detests in silent protest, and Lydia would get bitten if she even tried to touch the snake.

Allison, she just observes steadily before looking away with vague disinterest. She’s a hard person to really hate, even from a more-sentient-than-usual snake.

“Scott told me about her. It really - came out of you?”

“I threw her up, pretty much.” Stiles stands up and walks over to the cupboard, ignoring Tink’s angry pecks at his feet as he moves. “It was like asexual reproduction.”

“What’s her name?” Allison sounds genuinely interested, instead of disgusted.

“Tinkerbelle.”

She laughs, long and loud, wrinkling her nose up. Stiles makes quick work of cutting up a hunk of chicken into bite size pieces, draping them over a handful of pasta noodles and smothering it all in sauce on top of a small saucer. He bends down and presents it to Tink, placing it down on the floor right in front of her face. “Still mad?”

Tink looks at him like she’s deciding, narrowing her eyes into slits. Then, slowly, she leans down and takes a vicious bite out of chicken, and Stiles rolls his own eyes. “She’s a little mean.”

“It’s like Lydia finally reincarnated,” Allison muses as she watches Tink eat like a savage on the floor, and Stiles can’t think of a better comparison if he tried. No wonder Tink hates Lydia so much, seemingly just on principle. She sees herself reflected back in Lydia’s ice cold eyes.

Derek is sitting there with an empty plate, drinking some more and balling his napkin up, so Stiles reaches out to grab his plate and put it on top of his own nearly empty one, still standing. As he reaches out for Scott’s, Allison abruptly stands up and shakes her head emphatically. “No, no,” she insists, ripping the plates out of his hands a little too forcefully. “Scott can do that. You just don’t even worry about it.”

“Uh –“ Stiles stutters, raising his eyebrows. From Derek, he gets another give-a-fuck shrug and a slurp of beer. “Okay.”

Allison puts the plates down on top of her own and gestures for Scott to stand up and do something about them, which he does. Albeit, a little slowly. He takes the plate stack and carries them to the sink, and then comes back around for a second trip on the silverware and the couple of empty milk glasses.

Stiles stands there awkwardly for another couple of seconds and wishes that Derek were more of a help in situations like this, but of course, he isn’t, so the awkwardness just persists. Sitting like a pall over all their heads.

The sink turns on and Scott gets to work, and Allison clears her throat. “Stiles, can I…?” She trails off, gesturing toward the living room, away from prying ears. Derek will be able to hear everything crystal clear, of course. But Stiles is willing to bet that Derek eavesdropping isn’t really what she’s worried about.

“Uh, okay,” Stiles says again, scratching at his cheek. As they file together out of the kitchen, he turns and sees Scott bending down to scoop up Tink’s empty saucer. Tink just looks at him, briefly bumping her nose into his fingers compassionately, and Stiles raises his eyebrows before turning back around to face forward.

They face each other, Allison and Stiles, in the relative silence of the living room, pushed up against the farthest wall. She crosses her arms and looks at him steadily, and Stiles swallows and scratches his cheek again. He can only imagine where this conversation is going to go. “So. Tinkerbelle isn’t a normal snake, I guess. It’s not every day you see one that eats spaghetti.”

“She’ll eat potato chips, too,” Stiles tells her, to which she crinkles her nose a bit at. “I don’t know, she’s magic. She – you know. Came out. Something else put her inside of me, or I…created her. Either way.”

Allison looks like she wants to ask questions. She looks like she wants to ask a lot of them, all of them, every single thing she could think of – because no one knows the full story. Only Derek and Stiles do. And Derek is reserved and shut up tight like a clam about things that don’t even matter to begin with, and Stiles isn’t talking to anyone else but Scott and Derek, these days. So nobody, not even Scott really, knows what happened in that cemetery.

In Stiles’ bathroom. In his bed. No one but he and Derek.

Instead of asking anything she wants to, Allison looks him dead in the eyes and says, “you really did something amazing.”

Stiles looks away. “Depends on who you ask –“

“I know Lydia is angry with you, and Melissa isn’t speaking to you, and your father is disappointed.”

Stiles clenches his jaw and still keeps his eyes trained across the room, away from her face. Yeah. That’s all true.

“…and Derek is Derek. But I just want you to know, from me.” She puts her hand on his shoulder, warm and soft and sure. “I’m happy. And I’m proud. Of you. What you’ve done, and what you had to go through to do it.”

He finally turns to meet her eyes, and he finds nothing but sincerity there in her face. Honest eyes and a happy-sad smile and the features of a friend he’s had since he was sixteen years old. Someone who’s seen the best and the worst of him, standing here and saying this to him. No one else has said anything even remotely close to this; even Derek, who congratulated Stiles on completing the spell to begin with, won’t say it was the right thing to do.

“Scott is getting better, and they’ll all see,” she says this like a promise. Stiles has never been more thankful. He needed to hear something like that. “They’ll see you did the right thing. I know you did.”

Stiles has to clear his throat before he speaks just so it won’t sound like he’s about to start crying. “Thank you,” he says, and Allison smiles tightly at him and nods.

They stand there listening to Scott clean dishes and Derek make the occasional small talk mutterings just for something to do, most likely, for just a couple of more seconds. Allison is likely the happiest out of everyone that Scott is back. The two of them, they never really got closure to begin with.

Stiles can only hope that, now, closure won’t be what they’re looking for. Scott really needs someone aside from a best friend, right now. He needs Allison.

Allison tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and eyes him with a raised brow. “You and Derek.” She adds nothing more and nothing less to that statement – she just puts it out there like fact.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. He doesn’t know what else to say about it. “Is it that obvious?”

She cocks her head to the side. “It’s just in how he looks at you, I guess.” Then Stiles wonders how it is that Derek looks at him. How long he’s looked at Stiles like that, in whatever what it is that makes it so obvious to Allison that they’re doing something, without Stiles ever having noticed it before. “Where did that come from? I mean. You guys were…friends, before.”

Friends. Stiles could laugh out loud.

It might be true that Stiles and Derek stopped actively hating each other somewhere around Stiles’ junior year of high school, and by the time he was a senior, he and Derek more grudgingly tolerated each other. Then into Stiles’ early twenties, i.e. up until Scott died, they were…pack members. They respected each other and listened to each other and sometimes talked. But they never hung out or did anything outside of the day to day emergency Beacon Hills type of a way.

So, they went from that, to kissing in Stiles’ bedroom and making eyes at each other in the kitchen in front of their friends. As quickly as a snap of their fingers. Allison is right to question it. The issue is, Stiles doesn’t really have an answer.

“I think,” he starts even while knowing he’s mostly talking out of his ass, “that we just – we did all that magic. Together. And it was some of the strongest magic I’d ever done, and he was there, and we…” he mashes his fingers together in a miming gesture, and Allison raises her eyebrows. “We just got closer. It was…um. Intimate.”

“Intimate,” she repeats with a wry smile. “Well, all right. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing.”

“You do.”

“Yes,” she sounds very sure of herself, so Stiles can only believe her. “You’re reckless, and he’s grounding. On the flip side, he needs someone to help him stop dragging his feet.”

“Oh.” Stiles hadn’t really thought about any of that before. He thought they were just making out. Maybe they might be good for each other, after all.

He and Allison walk back into the kitchen to find the dishes all done and loaded into the washer, Scott picking cookies one by one out of a pack of Chips Ahoy and eating them robotically. Derek turns to look at them with a very put-upon face of innocence, and that’s the exact second that Stiles knows he was listening to every last word that Stiles and Allison had said to one another in the living room.

It doesn’t bother him. Not really. Derek can listen all he wants – Stiles doubts he’ll be keeping very many secrets from him from here on out.

Tink slithers across the floor and runs her body along Stiles’ feet again and again until he bends over and picks her up in his fingers. She presses her nose into his cheek a few times like she’s giving him kisses, which Stiles allows with little more than a light sigh.

Allison takes the pack of cookies away from Scott and puts them up on the highest shelf of the cupboard, as if it would ever stop him from getting at them. Scott can eat, and eat, and eat these days.

He looks at Derek. “There’s some literature in my room I think you might be interested in,” he says, very serious.

Allison purses her lips and looks like she knows what that’s supposed to mean, but Scott just blinks at them, clueless as the day he was born.

“Oh, right.” Derek clears his throat and pushes his chair out from the table with a crrhrrhrr sound. “The literature.”

“Texts, and all that,” Stiles nods. He watches with a vague fascination as Derek downs the last of his beer and tosses the bottle into the glass recycling, and then he bumbles over in Stiles’ general direction. “So. We’re just gonna go…read those.”

With those final words, they vanish down the hall. Stiles’ door is closed, so he jerks it open and then shoulders it to reveal the entire space in all its glory. It looks mostly the same as it had when Stiles left it, with Derek’s jacket still hanging off his desk chair and Derek’s shoes still piled along next to Stiles’. He figures Derek spent the entire day here with Scott, making sure he ate right and showered and dressed and then palled around with him and Allison until Stiles got home.

It makes Stiles feel happy, for some reason, to imagine Derek being in his house all day, just waiting for Stiles to get back home.

He closes the door behind himself and points to the hole in his floor. “I thought you’d had fixed that by now.”

“I didn’t know it was on my list of fix-its,” he looks down his nose at Stiles, but smiles. “I guess it is now. For now, I’ll just do a temporary fix.” He pads across the safe section of the floor to Stiles’ closet and starts digging around – Stiles is only glad he’s hidden nothing embarrassing in that particular part of his room. A few seconds later he comes up with an old blanket, and Stiles watches with a smirk as Derek drapes the blanket deliberately over the hole, and then gestures to it like ta-da.

“You’re so manly and handy,” Stiles teases, giving him a poke to the stomach as he passes him to plop down on his own bed.

Derek is next to him in a heartbeat, like he’s magnetized to be at Stiles’ side all the time, no matter what. “It’s part of being alpha.”

The hand that isn’t holding Tink gravitates on its own, and he can’t really help himself from reaching out and fingering along Derek’s jean-covered knee. Just pressing the pads of his fingers in a type of dance along his leg, nothing sexual or suggestive in it at all. Just a touch, simple. “So, about that,” he starts without meeting Derek’s eyes. But he can feel Derek’s boring into the side of his face as he speaks, and it makes his cheeks feel hot and ruddy. “When I was in Scott’s pack it was, like, natural, because he was my…connection.”

Derek blinks at him.

“But, um. We never really – had the chance to talk about me being in yours.”

“We didn’t have to talk about it,” his brow furrows as he says this, like he’s annoyed or shocked or both. “Of course you’re in my pack, you’re one of mine. That goes without saying.”

“Oh.” If Stiles wasn’t blushing before, he sure as hell is now. “Well, maybe not. I feel better since you said it.”

Derek shifts just marginally closer to him, so they’re thigh to thigh. He can feel the warmth of Derek’s skin seeping in through both lengths of fabric blocking them, and he has to bite his lip for some reason. “You can use me like you did Scott, you know.”

“Um.”

“For your magic.”

“You might not want to do that,” Stiles is immediately saying this a bit nervously, manically waving his hands around even as Tink holds on for dear life. “It’s not just like – oh, you ground me just for existing, it’s kind of…a job. It’s not – I mean – it’s just not that simple. And I don’t want to, like, put you on the spot just because you think you have to for being the alpha –“

“I offered,” he reminds Stiles with a smile in his voice. “I wouldn’t mind it.”

Stiles scratches his face and feels like there’s a spotlight shining on them, like they’re on a movie set. Like something is watching them, a dozen things standing in the shadows that they can’t see behind the glare of the lights. Stiles is used to the feeling, so he doesn’t pay it very much mind. “Even after everything you’ve seen my magic capable of, you want some of that inside you?”

When Derek’s fingers take Stiles’ chin and twist his face so they’re meeting eyes again, Derek’s expression is strange. He seems almost angry, and that’s not the strange part – it’s just a very specific kind of angry. Like he’s so mad that Stiles could even think to say anything like that about himself, his magic, any of it, that his face just looks like that.

Stiles can’t help the hysterical laugh that bubbles up, now. “It’s just – you know. Evil.”

“Hey,” Derek’s voice is soothing and gentle and dangerous and serious, all at once. “Don’t say things like that.”

“I just –“

“You’re not evil. Your magic isn’t evil. I want to be the one to help you with it,” he leans in, kisses Stiles on the side of the mouth. “That’s all there is to say.”

They kiss again, and kiss, and kiss. Stiles tries to reach his hand out and press it against Derek’s chest, but what he actually winds up doing it bumping Tink’s head into Derek’s neck. Which she isn’t happy about, if the resounding hiss he receives in response is anything to go by. He pulls back, just for a moment, even as Derek presses his lips against his jaw and cheek and neck, and works on unfurling Tink from his hand.

This, she is also not happy about. She briefly tries to coil tighter and tighter around his wrist, nearly cutting off his blood circulation, in a silent protest. She looks at him with her reptile eyes, sometimes so human they freak him out, and silently says no, no, no, no.

Stiles flicks her on top of her head, and she flinches and hisses at him. “I’ll play with you tomorrow,” he promises, which only seems to slightly placate her. She finally uncurls from her defensive position, just enough that Stiles can unwind her body from his own and delicately place her next to his alarm clock.

“She competes for your attention too much,” Derek says around a peck to Stiles’ temple. “Like a crazy ex-girlfriend.”

“Of all the people in this room, in this state, to talk about crazy ex-girlfriends…”

Derek laughs, a brief scrunching of his nose to accompany it, and Stiles smiles right back at him. Neither of them seem to think about it before they’re both collapsing down on their sides on the bed, facing one another just the same way they had been last night. With Stiles on the inside, wedged between the wall and Derek’s body safely, and Derek on the outside – where the dangers of a spurned Tinkerbelle and the rest of the world lie.

They look at each other’s faces almost as though they’re trying to map them out – like Derek is trying to make roads and hills out of Stiles’ beauty marks, out of his lips and eyes and nose, like Stiles could find someplace no one else has ever been before in Derek’s eyes.

Out of nowhere, Derek reaches down and grabs Stiles’ ass with both hands, squeezing for a brief second. Stiles shouts in surprise, but it devolves quickly into a hysterical bout of laughter, echoing off his ceiling as he curls his face into Derek’s neck to hide the blush. Derek releases him from the squeezes but keeps his hands down there anyway, smirking like he’s proud of himself or something. “I’ve wanted to do that,” he admits in a low, self-satisfied voice into Stiles’ ear.

Stiles pulls out of his neck and shakes his head again and again, feeling how hot his skin is as he touches his face with his hands. “Oh, have you?”

“A while.”

He can still feel the light touch of Derek’s hands against his body, and it’s nice and warm and – sexy, yes. “Have you – liked me for a while? You know. Like this.”

Derek breathes out through his nose and moves one hand up to his lower back, using it to push Stiles’ body closer and harder into his own. “I’ve always found you attractive.” That sends a shiver down Stiles’ spine, because he’s not used to declarations like that from anyone. “But when you were literally seventeen years old I did my level best to ignore that.”

“Ew, you fucker,” Stiles punches him in the arm and Derek huffs a laugh. “You were perving on me when I was a kid?”

“I would hardly say you were a kid back then, in my defense,” he gets another punch for that one, which he unsuccessfully tries to dodge. “And, no, I ignored you!”

“Pervert, pervert, pervert,” Stiles chants, poking him in the face with a bony finger again and again until Derek swats it away with an aggravated grunt.

“Then, when you were – older. I don’t know. I sometimes got the sense you weren’t interested in that.”

Stiles knows what Derek means, because there was a time, for a while – even up to very, very recently, where Stiles did not want to do anything romantic. With anyone. When he was a teenager he dated a little bit, because he was hormonal and needed to do it for god’s sake, but he’s only ever had sex with one person. Who was a girl. And that was years ago.

He always felt like no one would ever understand him. Or they would find out the truth about him, and then they’d want nothing to do with him. Being distant from anyone else aside from his pack became like a sport to him. Hell – outside of the pack, he doesn’t even know anyone. People that see him, they don’t get him. They’re afraid of him.

So, no. Stiles would say he was never, not once, interested in a long term romantic relationship. All he can think to say in response to that is, “but my question is, did you like me?”

“I was attracted to you. I could live with that,” he puts his hand on Stiles’ hip, possessive and sure. “I don’t know. Just recently…”

“Yeah, recently,” Stiles agrees, even though it’s not even a full thought. It’s nothing, but Stiles knows what he means. Recently, they’re doing this. Maybe they don’t need to spend hours upon hours examining it, picking apart all its different pieces to get to the bottom of some kind of a mystery. They just want this, whatever it is that they’re doing.

Is that wrong?

“Will you kiss me again?” Stiles asks, and Derek nods.

As he leans in, he murmurs, “anything you want,” right against his lips, and Stiles shivers. They don’t do anything else aside from kiss just like they had the night before, quietly and carefully, and Derek doesn’t try to touch anything else on him aside from his hip. Stiles sure as hell won’t be making the first move in that department because he hasn’t the slightest idea what to do, in spite of all the porn he’s watched – and he knows that Derek will be slow and thoughtful and attentive to the speed Stiles is comfortable with going.

So they just kiss, and fall asleep in each other’s arms, just like before.

**

Stiles shakes Derek awake at eight o’clock in the morning a little frantically, pushing and shoving his shoulder until he finally blinks and furrows his brow in annoyance. He looks unspeakably grumpy, but Stiles points one pale finger in the direction of interest.

“Did you move it?”

“Hm?” Derek grumbles, starts closing his eyes again.

“Derek. Derek. Alpha,” Stiles uses the official title only because it forces Derek to open his eyes and give his full attention to Stiles, his pack mate. “Did you move it?”

Derek sits up and puts his hand on Stiles’ neck, fingers splayed out gentle and affectionate. He rubs. Stiles would take the time to ruminate on Derek being like a cat when he wakes up, needing to rub himself against the nearest possible surface for some point of warmth and touch, but there’s not a lot of time for it, in this moment. “Move what?”

Stiles points once more. “The blanket.”

Derek’s eyes finally land and settle, and he stares. The place where Derek had put the blanket last night is – well. It doesn’t have a blanket on it anymore. The hole is back, and it almost seems…slightly bigger. All of Stiles’ potions are out in the open again, his special powders and herbs, and the Black Magic book is open and whispering. “No,” he says slowly, his fingers stilling on Stiles’ neck. “No, I didn’t move it.”

Immediately, Stiles is shoving his hand into his own face and manically chewing on his thumb nail. It’s just like when they woke up and the book was open, and then Scott’s dead zombie ghost appeared to them, and taunted them. Stiles closes his eyes sometimes and can still see that gaping, gory gash in Scott’s forehead from that night. He has to close his eyes now to shake the image off.

Derek’s hand is on his back, moving up and down. “Maybe it – I don’t know. Tink?”

Tink. She doesn’t sleep as much as a human does, and she really doesn’t need to. She just sort of powers off for hours at a time and then wakes up and screws around by herself if Stiles is still asleep, doing god knows what. Maybe she pulled the blanket off because she’s evil and mean and wanted to scare him – after all, it does sort of look like it’s just been dragged across the floor, albeit very forcefully and much farther across the room than Tink could possibly manage, but he has to ask.

He reaches over onto his bedside table, where Tink is coiled and sleeping with her eyes open again, and gently taps her scales a couple of times. “Tink? Tinkerbelle,” he pats again, and she stirs.

She looks at him a little groggily.

“Did you move the blanket?” He asks her directly, pointing across the room. She looks at the hole in the floor, lifting her head up and rearing her neck back, and Stiles watches as her eyes trace over to where the blanket itself is sitting all the way across the room from where it had been.

Then, she looks back to Stiles. She deliberately shakes her head, back and forth.

“Okay,” Stiles mutters under his breath, thumb going back into his mouth, knee jiggling up and down. “Okay. It’s them. The curse. They’re trying to scare me again.” He looks at that book, open and taunting him, and quickly looks away.

Before, he had an actual directive. He wanted to bring Scott back from the dead, and the book knew that, and did that for him. He had a goal, a method to his madness. But now he needs that book for nothing – and it knows that. It wants to tempt him to do anything, anything else. Anything it can think of.

“Are we going to talk about how that snake can understand and respond to English?”

Stiles turns to Derek and scowls. “Are we going to talk about how a supernatural force powered by dark, malicious energy can move things around in my bedroom?”

Even in the face of this, Derek’s eyes slide to Tink suspiciously. She stares back steadily, unblinking eyes very alert. “I’m only going to say this once,” he says in a slow voice, and even though Stiles is pretty certain he knows what Derek is going to say, he lets him say it anyway. “…but have you considered that she might not be as benign as she seems?”

“I don’t think she’s benign,” he argues quickly, and scoops her up to cradle him in his hand, “but she’s not malicious either. She’s neutral. She’s just a corn snake, she’s not venomous, and she’s never bitten anyone with real intent to harm them. She couldn’t have done this, much less lie about it.”

Derek sighs through his nose, puts his hands up in a placating gesture. “I just think the sheer fact that she can make any kind of statement that we can examine as a lie or not is – suspicious enough.”

“She’s my friend,” he says with all the finality he can muster, and then scratches at his eyebrow with his free hand. “And this is probably exactly what they want. Us, arguing with one another.”

“No arguing,” Derek insists, shaking his head. “Just – I like Tink. But when weird things like that happen…”

“You know it’s the curse. And you do not like Tink.”

Derek sighs, but doesn’t even bother defending that second point. He just puts his hand on Stiles’ back again and rubs it, up and down, up and down, soothing. “I do know it’s them,” he agrees after a beat. “I guess I just wish it were a less sinister thing.”

They sit in silence for a while longer, Tink regarding Derek with a hint of hostility and Stiles doing his level best to make sure she doesn’t lash out and try to bite him. It is scary, Stiles has to admit, that he’s got eyes on him from another dimension, now – a much, much less benign dimension than the one they live in.

That there’s something out there that more likely than not wants to do him harm. Maybe that thing that had been under the water with him, weeks ago.

“I’ll board it up today, while you’re at work,” Derek promises, and Stiles nods his head. Yes. Board it up.

“Does that mean you’re, you know,” Stiles waves his free hand in the air, “gonna stick around here?”

“It’s strange to be alone in my apartment.” A beat. “Without you, specifically.”

Stiles wonders if they’ll talk about how attached they are to one another already, seemingly from nothing, but he knows that they won’t. Not anytime soon, at least.

Chapter Text

Scott doesn’t seem to mind very much that he isn’t a werewolf anymore. He seems to mind even less that he’s not an alpha. From Stiles’ point of view, being an alpha is just a lot of work and stress and comes along with the feeling of having the entire world put on your shoulders. People to look after and things to be responsible for. It has to be more work than it’s entirely worth, for the super strength and the hearing and the healing bit of it.

When Stiles questions him about how it feels to be human again, Scott just shrugs. “Life was a lot simpler when I was human,” he says as he drags his spoon around the perimeter of the bowl in his hand to get at the last bits of cereal. “Being a wolf – it was like constantly being worried about something.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees – because he knows the feeling. He knows it more than he thinks Scott or any of the other werewolves around him can fully realize.

“Now no one looks to me to solve their problems.” The spoon clinks into the bowl when he’s finished, depositing it on the coffee table in front of the couch where they’re sitting in their living room. “I wasn’t always very good at that anyway.”

Stiles puts his hand on Scott’s shoulder, squeezes once. “I thought you were good at it.”

A tight smile makes its way onto Scott’s face, and he just shakes his head. “You didn’t. But thanks.”

There’s not a lot that Stiles can think to say to that, because he might be right. Back then, what seems like lifetimes ago now, when Scott was in charge and called all the shots, things might have not been the best they could have been. Scott had good intentions but he wouldn’t always follow through. He wasn’t willing to make hard choices, the choices that a person has to make in order to be a decent leader. He was hesitant. He wanted to do the right thing.

There are grey areas. Stiles lives in a grey area by just existing.

“Derek is a better fit,” Scott nods his head firmly and doesn’t look Stiles in the eye as he says it, as though he’s talking more to himself. “He’s – an alpha, by blood. The job just fell into my lap.”

Stiles drums his fingers on his knee, clad in his plaid pajama bottoms. “You were a true alpha, though.”

Scott snorts, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. “Whatever that’s supposed to mean.”

It’s unclear whether this attitude and this way of thinking is truly coming from Scott, the one that Stiles knew before all this happened, or if this is just his possible depression talking. It would be a very safe bet to say that the Scott that Stiles had known from before is gone, dead in the most literal sense, and now the Scott that he has here is someone new. But Scott never would’ve rolled his eyes about being a true alpha, before – he held the title very close to his heart, and he believed he could do the right thing by being granted the power he had.

Now, Stiles doesn’t know what Scott thinks about that whole thing – but apparently, in his eyes, Derek is the one who should’ve gotten the power. After all, Derek only stopped being an alpha because he gave all that power away to save his sister’s life. It speaks volumes of his character, but people only ever see what they want to.

“I’m fine like this.” He holds his hands up and no claws come out, just human and plain and tan. “I feel free.”

Jealousy. That’s the feeling that bubbles up in Stiles’ gut when he watches Scott smile softly to himself at the prospect of just being a normal person again – envious and green and thick. There’s not enough words to describe how his magic can often make him feel trapped in spite of all the things it can help him do, but the sheer fact that he can’t fucking get rid of it no matter what he does, no matter who kills him or who tries to take it from him or what happens, says enough.

It’s a cross he has to bear. “That’s great,” Stiles says, because it is for him. It’s so great. “I’m happy for you.”

“Derek will be better,” he repeats his sentiment from earlier and leans back into the cushions of the couch. “Even if he is nailing my best friend.”

Without warning, Stiles’ cheeks immediately go hot and he ducks his head, palming his forehead. “There’s been no nailing.”

“Oh, really?”

“It’s just – we’re just –“ Stiles holds his hands out and gestures them with no clear purpose in mind, just waving them about.

Scott sighs, long suffering and tortured. “Don’t give me any details. I don’t want to know. I still think about him like the older guy who lurked around behind trees,” he makes a face of disgust, shaking his head. “I don’t want to think about him, like, violating my best –“

“I’m of age,” Stiles defends, and Scott gives him a look. “It’s not weird. I just feel –“

“I just wonder,” Scott interrupts before Stiles can get any further, “if you really feel anything about him at all, or if something is making you feel like that.”

That gives Stiles some pause. Actually, it gives Stiles a lot of pause.

When he had said to Allison that he thought the sudden come-uppance of his feelings for Derek and Derek’s reciprocation of those same feelings had come from magic, he had meant that they had gotten close. Just from doing the spells together, strong spells, the strongest Stiles had ever done. It linked them in some way, deeper than even blood because it happened in the soul, where Stiles’ magic comes from.

Stiles did not fucking mean that the magic was making them feel like that. Because to frame it like that makes the entire thing different.

Magic does things. But sometimes, what it does, it does artificially.

“I feel strongly about him,” Stiles says slowly, and Scott just looks at him very steadily. “It comes from me.”

Scott shrugs. “So does the magic.”

“You’re not being fair,” Stiles narrows his eyes and shakes his head, because Scott isn’t. He really fucking isn’t. “I would know the difference between something fake and something real, I know how magic feels.”

“You once told me you wanted me to let Derek die.”

“I wanted him to –“ Stiles shakes his head, offended and annoyed, “that’s – that was before. I was sixteen, I didn’t know him. God, why are you – being like this about it?”

With all the innocence in the world, Scott holds his hands up in placation, eyes going wide. “I’m not trying to be like anything. All I’m saying is, before I died, you two were friendly at best and that’s being generous. Now –“

“Well, things are different,” Stiles snaps venomously. “You got killed, and I did what I had to, and now things are how they are.”

Scott’s lips twist down into a firm frown, looking at Stiles like he cannot believe those words just left his fucking mouth. “So it’s all my fault for up and getting myself killed, then.”

“That’s not what I said –“

“I don’t remember you asking me if I wanted to come back at all, Stiles!”

He yells this right into Stiles’ face, and it’s stunning. Both the words themselves and with how much conviction Scott says them, like he means them from the very bottom of his heart. It’s all Stiles can do to close his mouth after he feels it hanging open for too long, and there’s a silence after the words come out. They stare at one another, the words floating around in between them like a pall they won’t be able to break.

Stiles never thought about what Scott might have wanted. In his mind, Scott was in hell and of course he would want to come back, of course, of course. But Stiles never thought about the fact that there were other ways of going about it – he could’ve taken Scott’s soul and brought it someplace else, somewhere safer and softer and more loving, where he belonged.

Instead, Stiles dragged him right back up to earth, the place that killed him in the first place, and is forcing him to relearn how to be a human being. All in the name of Stiles doing what he had to in order to not be sad anymore.

Scott puts his forehead in his hand and lowers his neck, frowning down at his legs, and Stiles can’t think of anything to say. “You and your magic,” he says in a low voice, and Stiles swallows, because he knows what’s coming next is going to be bad. “You just do what you want.”

Stiles stands up. He’s not going to sit here and listen to this, and maybe that’s selfish. Scott has the right to sit there and be listened to about how he feels about what’s happened to him, Stiles knows that, but he has to walk the fuck out of this conversation right now. He can’t hear it.

Without saying a single word, he turns on his heal and vanishes down the hallway, to the sanctity of his bedroom. He closes the door behind himself and then presses his back up against it, closing his eyes and breathing deeply in and out through his nose. The hole in his floor is still there because Derek is only just today going to get the wood to patch it up, but he ignores that for now. It’ll be another thing he pretends doesn’t exist for the night.

He runs a shaking hand down his face and shakes his head, again and again. He can’t believe Scott said that to him. He cannot fucking believe that Scott would say that to him. After everything Stiles went through to get him out of hell, and Scott is going to sit there and talk to him like that – it’s unbelievable, he thinks with a growl.

Unbelievable.

But also, fair. That’s the worst part of it all, knowing that Scott has a point. Knowing that Stiles is and always will be selfish, and there’s no way around it. It’s not a coincidence that the thing that came out of him, the thing that his magic decided to give him, was a snake. That’s who he is.

Tink is looking at him curiously now from her spot on his pillow, flicking her tongue and cocking her head to the side as if to ask him what’s wrong. He shakes his head and steps further into his bedroom, nabbing his phone from off his dresser and jabbing down on the screen several times before pressing it up against his ear.

Derek answers on the second ring, already talking. “I’ve got the wood,” he opens with, and it sounds like he’s driving. “I just need to go back home and get my toolbox –“

“Hey,” Stiles interrupts, and something about how his voice must sound has Derek shutting up. “Um – are you coming over?” His voice cracks on the last syllable and he curses himself for it.

“You sound upset,” Derek points out in a firm tone of voice, and Stiles looks down at his feet. Yeah, he’s fucking upset.

“I just – me and Scott had a fight.”

“A fight,” Derek repeats, like he needs more clarification.

Stiles crosses his free arm across his chest and starts pacing across the safe part of his floor, sniffling once. He looks down at his feet as he walks, feeling Tink’s eyes on him the entire time. She slithers across his sheets and pokes the top half of her body over the edge of the bed, trying to poke at him with her nose every time he passes.

“What was the fight about?” Derek prompts when Stiles is quiet for long enough. Again, Stiles sniffles and shakes his head.

“You, at first,” he admits, and Derek sighs on the other line. Maybe he had seen that one coming, and Stiles should have too. “And then he said – I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“Okay,” Derek says this slowly. “I’ve got the wood. I just need to grab those tools, and I’ll come –“

“We have tools here, you know,” Stiles hisses this angrily, as if he has any reason whatsoever to be angry with Derek. “This isn’t the fucking Sorority house, we have fucking hammers and nails.”

“Jesus,” Derek mutters. This is starting to sound a lot like a conversation they might have had two months ago. “I’ll come over now, then.”

“Okay,” Stiles barks, and slams his thumb down on the end call button. When he sits down on the edge of the bed and throws his phone off to the side, angrily swiping at his eyes, he can feel Tink staring at him again.

When he meets her eyes, he can read loud and clear what she’s emoting to him. She says, so, you were just an asshole for no reason. For Tink to sit there and accuse anyone else on planet earth aside from herself of being a fucking asshole, then it must mean he really was one. Stiles just reaches over and picks her up, letting her curl her body around his hand and arm.

He pulls her close to his face, and she bumps her nose into his cheek. “I can’t believe he said all that,” he murmurs to her. Does he really think that, he wonders, or was he just angry? Is he depressed because of what happened to him while he was in hell, or is he depressed because he’s back here, and has no other choice?

If he died twice, it would literally kill his mother. Stiles didn’t think about that.

By the time Derek is entering his bedroom with a stony expression on his face, piles of wood under his arm, Stiles has been crying for fifteen minutes quietly with Tink licking the tears off his cheeks. It’s probably a pretty pathetic sight, so it makes sense when Derek’s face immediately softens from stormy into something more akin to lightly drizzling. He drops the wood onto the ground and then straightens up, leveling Stiles with a look.

“It was unfair of me to take my bad feelings out on you,” Stiles croaks, and there’s another tear for Tink to lap up.

Derek sighs through his nose and approaches the bed, taking his time sitting down next to Stiles and putting his arm around his bony shoulders. “What happened, huh?”

Stiles swipes angrily at his cheeks, bumping a finger into Tink’s head in the process, and glares down at his lap. “I can’t do the right thing, ever.”

“Did Scott tell you that?”

“He implied it. Heavily.”

Another sigh from Derek, and it’s a deserved one, because Stiles isn’t giving him much to work with, here. “That doesn’t sound like Scott.”

“Maybe not the Scott from before. He’s dead. I – because of me, Scott is dead.”

Immediately, Derek is taking Stiles’ chin in his fingers and turning his face so that he has no choice but to look into Derek’s. He looks serious, his green eyes intense and his jaw set tight and firm. “Because of you, Scott is alive and sitting on your couch.”

“But he –“

“Is confused,” Derek says this with finality, absolutely no room for arguing. “He’s in a lot of pain right now. He doesn’t understand a lot. He just wanted someone to blame. I don’t know the specifics,” because Stiles won’t tell him, “but he’s not in a great place right now, and I know he didn’t mean it.”

Stiles flicks his eyes down to Derek’s collarbones, the barest peak he can make out of one of them from behind the collar of his forest green shirt, and mulls that over. In the rational part of his brain that isn’t all emotion and guilt-tripping and hurt, he knows that it has to be true. It’s like, well duh Scott is upset and is going to lash out because he’s upset and lost and he just came back from the god damn dead.

But there are so many factors to this entire thing, it’s hard to take Derek at his word.

“You couldn’t have left Scott there,” Derek says right into his ear almost, and Stiles nods. “You told me that. I might’ve argued it at the time, but I see now it was the better option than just leaving him there. He’ll see that too. In time.”

It just hurts, right now. Time is slow moving and there are still so many days left for hurt to get worse.

Derek rubs his hand up and down Stiles’ back, soothing and quick, and Stiles wipes at some more of his tears. “I’ll fix your floor, okay?”

“Okay,” Stiles says back, clearing his throat and hugging Tink against his chest. “I’m sorry about that stupid sorority house comment. It was stupid.”

Derek huffs a bit of a laugh as he stands up, bending down again to pick at the wood and examine it critically. “I’m not a woman, so the offense was lost on me, but apology accepted.” He looks up from laying a long piece of wood along the biggest gap in the boards, and gives Stiles a tight smile. “It’ll get better.”

Stiles has to believe that. He thought that bringing Scott back would solve all of his problems, and everything would revert back to normal – or at least, the normal he had grown accustomed to. Nothing is turning out that way now, and he’s having a hard time accepting it, but he has to believe that it’ll get better, one day.

He has to believe that, and Derek sounds so sure.

**

Stiles had set his alarm for the morning before passing out asleep with Derek after hiding from Scott all night, so he’s not surprised when a noise wakes him up. It takes him just a second to realize that it’s not his alarm, however – his eyes open and he furrows his brow, frowning.

In the night, they had shifted so Derek’s back is to him, the curves of his shoulder blades sticking out from underneath his shirt, and Stiles is staring at it. He frowns in sleepy confusion, listening to the sounds coming from his alarm clock. It’s definitely that, he thinks, and it has the grainy quality of being from a clock speaker, but that’s…not the beep beep beep of his alarm.

Realization dawns on his sleepy mind as soon as the vocal track comes in and he can understand it more clearly, and as soon as he does, dread pools in his guts. …shadow in the background of the morgue, the unsuspecting victim

He shoots up, nearly knocking Tink out of the bed as he does so, and flails his arms in desperation to grab at his clock. Tink hisses in agitation, adding a bit to the madness, as Derek stirs behind him and makes a grumble that sounds like whatsit?

Stiles gets his hands on his clock, cradling it in his palms and pulling it close to his face. The red numbers are there, glaring seven forty five AM at him in a way that hurts his eyes the closer he brings it to his face. And it looks normal, all black and plain and innocent – but the song keeps going. A red light is blinking, indicating that it’s his alarm going off, and he swallows thickly.

This can’t be happening, he thinks.

Derek sits up, and seems at least half-alert. Stiles feels his eyes on him as he listens to the song play on and on, spellbound by it almost and paralyzed, but neither of them talk for a solid thirty seconds. A creeping feeling sinks in the pit of Stiles’ stomach, and he feels again like he’s not alone. And he’s not referring to Derek or Tink when he says that.

“That was a popular song once, you know,” Derek reminds him in a low voice. “Maybe it’s just the radio.”

Stiles swallows. He puts the clock down and slams his hand down on the snooze button, so the song stops, for now at least, and puts his palm on his forehead. “I’d agree with you,” Stiles replies, and then juts his chin to the floor. “But there is that.”

There’s a shuffling sound, as Derek leans over the side of the bed to get a look at what Stiles is referring to. Stiles knows the moment he sees it, from how Derek’s body freezes and his breath hitches in his throat.

Last night, Derek had boarded up the hole in Stiles’ floor. He buried the book with it, locking it up in its box, and the boards were a slightly different color than the rest, but it was fine, Stiles had thought. He had hammered that wood in with strong nails, beat it down until it was all level and firm, and it gave Stiles peace of mind for the first time in weeks.

It had seemed fine.

But Derek and Stiles are both looking at the same hole from before yet again. The boards Derek nailed in just last night pulled out one by one, something that no one, not Stiles or Tink or even Scott could’ve done. Worst of all, they’re lined up in descending length order, perfectly aligned on the bottoms.

The book out of its box. Whispering, again.

**

Scott and Stiles spend the morning dancing around each other in the kitchen, avoiding eye contact and fumbling around in the cupboards for cereal and bowls. It was just a coincidence, Stiles thinks, that they both emerged from their respective bedrooms at the exact same time and then awkwardly shuffled into the kitchen at the same time as well – or, it was just an even pettier form the curse has chosen to take. Waking Scott up at the same time so they have to be in the same room with one another, even when they clearly aren’t speaking.

Stiles is good at the cold shoulder, all things said and done. And his is the chilliest, the iciest, because usually he’ll talk to anyone about anything for however long he can stand it. Scott, especially.

So for Stiles to pointedly avoid him, plonking down at the table next to Derek and staring down into his cereal as though it holds the secrets to the universe without saying even a simple good morning to him – that’s arctic.

From the corner of his eye, he thinks he can see Scott hesitating. Almost saying something and then thinking better of it, morosely eating his cereal leaning back against the counter. Stiles doesn’t know what he could say or what he would have to say. He knows that Scott meant everything he said last night, so what’s the use?

Beside him as Stiles crunches and the silence persists like a tangible fog in the room, Derek is drinking coffee. Or, he was drinking coffee. His mug is almost empty now save for maybe four more sips. Instead of sipping them, he twirls the mug around and around so the coffee swishes, and he watches it move and catch light as it does. Stiles watches him for a few seconds, chewing and narrowing his eyes the longer Derek seems to be out of it.

By the time Derek notices Stiles’ eyes watching him, it’s already been a full minute. They make eye contact, hazel-green to solid brown, and Derek puts his mug down on the table. He keeps his hands wrapped around it though, even though they’re too big for it, and leans close into Stiles’ personal space. He says, “I think we should try to do those – uh. Spells Lydia had mentioned.”

Stiles swallows what he has in his mouth. “She mentions a lot of spells,” he evades.

“The ones to work on getting rid of the curse.”

He looks away and focuses on his cereal, pulling the spoon around in his milk and then wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. Derek notices, cocks his head to the side like a dog listening intently to something – trying to read his mind, most likely, to no avail.

“There’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to do that,” Derek reminds Stiles in a no-nonsense tone of voice, briefly flickering his eyes to Scott to check to see if he’s listening to this. Even if he weren’t trying to listen, he’s hearing it all the same. “I have this feeling. That things are only going to get worse.”

Stiles would have thought things could only get better after bringing Scott back. But it’s another one of those things he never thought through well enough. “They can’t really do anything to us –“

“I’m getting a little tired of waking up to weird shit every morning.”

With a frown, Stiles puts his spoon down but stays looking down into his milk. He avoids both Derek and Scott’s eyes for a moment, rubbing at the back of his neck and trying to think his way out of this one. “…I don’t really want to be doing anymore magic, at the moment.”

Derek blinks at him. “You don’t want to do magic.” This makes no sense to him.

“Not right now.”

“You love doing magic,” his voice is very slow and careful as if he’s talking to a spooked animal, and Stiles can’t help but feel like anything but that. A forest animal trapped in a cage and backed up into a corner, limbs shaking. “And this isn’t going to be like those other spells from the book. It’s white magic, or whatever you call it. Instead of bringing malicious things in, we’ll be taking them out, so I don’t –“

With little to no warning, Stiles pretty much snaps. His voice raises and cracks from the early morning use of it and he shouts, “I’m not going to fucking do it right now, all right?”

Scott and Derek both stare at him for a moment, mirrored faces of shock and confusion. Scott is the first to look away, lowering his eyes back into his bowl and looking for some reason like a kicked dog. But Derek keeps his eyes on Stiles’ face even as Stiles is curling into himself in shame for his outburst, palming his face and trying to calm down.

“…I’m afraid,” he admits finally, in a low enough voice that maybe only Derek can hear it. “When you do magic, it brings attention. Whether it’s – good or bad, the spell. If it’s powerful enough, they watch you and try to…control it.”

With a clink, Scott’s bowl goes into the sink and he’s vanishing out of the room on heavy feet, almost stomping out. Stiles doesn’t have the time to sit there and examine what the literal hell he’d have to be mad about in this particular conversation, and really, he might not even care. Derek watches him leave as well, and then quickly turns his neck to face Stiles again, giving him a steady look that suggests he’s searching instead of just observing.

He parts his lips, sighing through his nose. “I think you never told me the whole story of what happened to you when I held you under the water in your bathroom,” he says, and of course he says this.

Of course he would know what the real issue was, even when there are dozens of issues that Stiles could possibly have. Derek would know better than anyone what would be stopping Stiles from channeling magic again after all of this has happened.

Stiles puts his hands in his lap and wishes he had woken up Tink, so he could wrap her around his hand and hold her up against his chest for comfort. He feels like he can’t look Derek directly in the face, whether out of shame or from sheer nerves, but his silence tells Derek all he needs to know – that he’s right. He’s assumed exactly the thing that has Stiles so petrified of himself.

“Was it that bad?” Derek asks. Not like he doubts that he was. But like he just wants to hear the specifics, so he can try to understand better. For him, he just held Stiles down and experienced what it was like when Stiles came back out of it, shaking in Derek’s arms with unseeing eyes on his bathroom floor, for an hour, non-stop terror stinking the entire place up.

“Yes,” and there’s no room for argument. “It was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” And he did it to himself, is the ironic part.

Derek leans closer to him, shifting in his chair so his knee bumps up against Stiles’. “You did magic after the fact, though – you brought Scott back…”

“I didn’t have a choice, you know I didn’t.”

A sigh, resigned and long. No one knows better that Stiles is going to do what he wants to and not do what he doesn’t, but still, Derek has to try and Stiles knows that. “Not doing magic doesn’t seem like you,” he says gently. “And things will get worse. Baby,” his hand goes up and down Stiles’ back in a comfort, and it sends pleasing chills up and down his spine, “you can’t just ignore it.”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” When things are so bad, so so bad, Stiles doesn’t have any choice but to risk it – and maybe it’ll even be worth it, by that point.

Stiles never could’ve imagined how bad things would go on to get. But he never, ever thinks things through.

“Can I bring up my offer to pay for you to go talk to someone again?” Derek’s hand is still on his back, and Stiles can’t help but lean into it – that contact. Derek’s contact, in specific. It feels like just having Derek’s touch is an instant muscle relaxer or something, as though there’s something between them that magnetizes them to touch, and to resist it would only hurt them, in the long run. “I think you’re in pain, and…”

Stiles smiles – a rueful, sad smile. “What would I say?”

That Stiles is a witch, that his friends are all werewolves, that he used his bathtub as a portal to hell and now unspeakable creatures from the underworld have their eyes fixed on him? And his best friend died and Stiles brought him back to life?

Stiles doesn’t need to say any of this, because Derek already knows. He goes a bit tight around the eyes. “You won’t even talk to me, sometimes.” And Derek is, really, the only person he has to talk to anymore. If he won’t talk to Derek of all people, then what is anyone supposed to do for him?

“I’ll try more,” Stiles promises, unconsciously reaching to grab at Derek’s hand. He laces their fingers together and pressed the back of Derek’s hand into his thigh. “Just – can’t we ignore all this for a little while longer?”

Derek’s eyes scream no, but he nods all the same.

****

“I want to take you out,” Derek announces to Stiles two days later, leaning over him where he’s sprawled out on his bed. He’s got Tink cradled in his hand, and has been sitting in here listening to the book talk to him for the past two hours.

Seeing as how his social life has dwindled down to going to work and making out with Derek and then sitting around the house, lying in bed being taunted by what should be a non-sentient pile of ink and paper is the closest thing he gets to an extra-curricular activity these days. Scott still apparently can’t find anything to say to him, and Lydia calls if only to check in and make sure he’s not losing his mind, and everyone else – well. Stiles doesn’t talk to anyone else.

Stiles looks up at Derek and frowns, a bit. “Take me out?”

Derek gets an impatient expression on his face, taking in the full sight of Stiles’ loneliness and depression. “On a date.”

That perks Stiles right up. He raises his eyebrows and then sits up all the way in his bed, holding Tink against his chest and giving Derek a bemused smile. “Do you now?”

“Yes.” He puts his hands on his hips and surveys the state of Stiles’ bedroom – he knows exactly what it looks like since he slept in it last night. But he went home for a while to do Derek stuff, keep his house in order and all that, and now he’s back just in time for dinner. Stiles guesses he had expected Stiles would use his day off to at least clean his fucking room, but evidently that did not happen.

There are clothes all over the place, Stiles’ undone laundry. The boards that were ripped out from the floor are still scattered around haphazardly, nails sticking out of them and it can’t be very safe. And Stiles is in sweatpants and an old faded t-shirt from high school, cuddling with a snake. Yeah.

Stiles reaches out and gives Derek’s stomach a poke, which Derek barely reacts to. “Aw.”

“It’s not aw,” Derek shakes his head and looks serious, even while saying aw. “It’s about getting you out of the apartment, away from Scott, away from all of this.” He pauses. “Also, I’d like to.”

“Because you like me,” Stiles teases, poking him right in the stomach again. This time Derek seizes the hand and holds it hostage, fingers wrapping around Stiles’ wrist to keep him from doing it again.

“We have established that.”

“I feel very romanced.”

Derek huffs. “I’ll take you to Adagio’s.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows again. Adagio’s is the local high class Italian restaurant with four hundred dollar bottles of wine and romantic atmosphere, candle lights and waiters all dressed in their Sunday best. It’s not really the kind of place Stiles can imagine himself in outside of the realm of birthdays. Matter of fact, he can’t even imagine Derek jeans-are-a-lifestyle Hale in a place like Adagio’s. “That is very nice,” he concedes, nodding slowly, “but I know a cooler place.”

He starts pulling himself out of bed while Derek watches him, taking a step back to give Stiles room to get up and move about his room. Stiles puts his feet on the ground and stands, still holding Tink, who might be asleep. “A cooler place.”

“Oh, yeah. Have you ever been to TJ’s?”

Derek’s eyebrows pull down. To him, it must sound like some weird truck stop off the side of the highway – which, more or less, it kind of is. But better than that.

“It’s, like, this weird diner that has a 50’s theme not on purpose but because the dude that owns it legitimately thinks it still is 1954.” He grabs the first pair of pants he sees, not exactly clean but good enough, and then pilfers a flannel from his laundry basket, also not clean. “My mom and I used to go there all the time. They have really good milkshakes. And a bathroom that’s a shrine to Marilyn Monroe.”

“Sounds like exactly the kind of place to look for you,” Derek says with a light smile, pretending not to watch as Stiles pulls his sweatpants off and then forcefully shoves his legs into black jeans.

“Well,” he peels his shirt off and grabs his deodorant, spraying it perfunctorily around himself, “I haven’t gone in a while. It was uh – my mom always said it was our little secret, because it was a grease trap and she was supposed to be a health nut.” He puts his shirt on, frowning when Tink impedes him from buttoning it up. “My dad still doesn’t know about it, I think.”

It was just one of those things Stiles kept to himself. When he was a kid it was because his mother would bribe him into secrecy with oreo milkshakes and big plates of fries, and then after she died it was because it felt like something for him to keep. A place he only ever went to with her, so going there would be like being a kid who still had his mother. It’s a little pathetic, when he thinks about it, but then he never lingers on it too much.

Derek clears his throat, watching Stiles fumble with his buttons around Tink’s head. “Okay. Let’s go.”

“I hope you like licking grease off your fingers and needing to eat twenty-five tums in a row.”

“Don’t get stomach problems,” he says with an air of superiority, smirking. “Werewolf, remember?”

Stiles gives him a dirty look, frowning and all, and grabs at his wallet from his dresser. He wonders briefly if he should tell Scott they’re going or just vanish, and thinks that the latter would only lead to a bigger rift between them than there already is.

He’s heading out his bedroom door, Derek in tow, when Derek grabs him by his shoulder and pulls him back. There’s a stern and serious look on his face, and Stiles furrows his brow. “Tink is not coming.” He’s got alpha voice on, but not quite the imperative it usually is.

Stiles defensively pulls her up against his chest. “Uh, over my dead body.”

“You can’t bring a snake into a restaurant.”

“Sure I can!” He argues. In testament to this, he makes quick work of tucking the barely-awake Tink into his flannel pocket, right above his heart. Her head peaks out from inside and she flicks her tongue, dazed and confused at her new location.

“Because that’s not psychotic.”

Stiles has to give him that one. Even if he explicitly told Tink to stay in his pocket and not make an appearance while people were looking, she’d likely slither her head out and bite viciously at a French fry as it was entering Stiles’ mouth. The waitress would screech and drop her coffee and the entire place would be in a frenzy, and Tink would just keep eating. It’s her second favorite thing to do after being a nuisance.

“Then, she can stay in the car.”

“Where she’ll destroy my upholstery because she hates me,” he looks Tink in the face as he says this, and she stares back at him very intently. It’s a silent yes, yes I would. “Look. Let’s leave her with Scott. She likes Scott.”

She does, at that. It must be a result of her knowing that the only reason she exists is because Scott is alive and exists himself. She was a product of the spell that brought him back, and so in a way, they’re kind of soul linked. His resurrection was her birth, both on the same day at the same time. It’s all nonsense, really, because if that were the case then why does she hate Derek so much – but Stiles can’t think of why else she would like Scott, of all people.

Stiles pilfers Tink out of his pocket and holds her in his hand, frowning down at her and petting her head with a thumb. He’s reluctant enough to leave her home when he goes to work, and leaving her home so he can go off and screw around with his almost-boyfriend feels wrong. Like he’s abandoning her or something.

“Scott will feed her, and she’ll be happy. Come on.”

Reluctantly, Stiles nods his head. After all, Derek is right. Tink can’t come with him everywhere, because among a host of other completely legitimate reasons, it’s fucking weird. The general populous thinks he’s a freak already, and adding a pet snake that he keeps in his pocket and feeds French fries to would just add more kindling to that fire.

“Okay,” Stiles agrees out loud, giving Tink a few more pets. The good thing about her is that she likely understood this entire conversation and won’t feel neglected since she knows why she’s being left behind. It’s creepy in Derek’s eyes, but Stiles likes that he can talk to her, even if he rarely gets a real response back.

They shuffle out into the hallway, and Stiles looks down the way to see that Scott’s door is closed up tight. Because of course it is. He sighs when Derek closes Stiles’ door behind himself and they walk closer to Scott’s room, holding Tink like a lifeline and biting his lip as he plans out exactly what to say to his best friend.

It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. Stiles barely knows what Scott has been doing with his time – only that Allison picks him up a lot and he’s rarely home.

They approach the door, and Derek clears his throat. “I’ll go wait in the car.”

He vanishes quickly, skirting down the hall and jingling his keys like he’s got a purpose and a mission. “But –“ Stiles starts, but it’s too late. Derek is already closing the door behind himself and leaving Stiles in the eerie silence of his own apartment. Alone, to face Scott.

It occurs to him then that Derek planned this whole idiotic thing. Manipulated it like a puppet master to force Scott and Stiles to speak to one another alone. Stiles doesn’t doubt that Derek legitimately wants to take Stiles on a date, because he’s a secret softy and Stiles knows it, but he very seriously doubts that leaving Tink at home and pawning her off on Scott wasn’t in his master plan.

He only did it because he cares about Stiles. But Stiles is annoyed and curls his upper lip in anger. “I see why you don’t like him,” Stiles murmurs to Tink, who nods her head furiously up and down in the funny way she does. All the same, he raises his eyes to the ceiling and curses the day he was born, raising his free fist to knock three times briskly on Scott’s door.

“Yeah?” Comes through the wood.

Stiles clears his throat. “It’s Stiles,” he says, idiotically. Who the hell else would it fucking be? A demon?

Stiles shouldn’t joke about that. One of these days, it really might just be a demon. Although, why a demon would knock, Stiles can’t imagine. This is aside from the point.

Even knowing that it couldn’t be anyone else but Stiles, Scott hesitates on the other side, because of course. He likely wants to speak to Stiles one on one even less than Stiles wants to speak to him, which makes Stiles’ chest burn, but it is what it is.

Scott says, “come in,” reluctantly, and Stiles pretends that doesn’t hurt. He’s been getting pretty good at that kind of pretending lately.

In Stiles goes, greeted by the familiar sight of Scott’s room. It looks just like it did, except the hole in the wall from Derek throwing the alarm clock against it is patched up and painted over by Derek’s handiwork. All his things are around, his clothes messily strewn and a couple of Allison’s things lying around – a pink sweater, an empty bottle of the flavor of Vitamin Water she always gets, a scented candle. She’s been over here a lot, Stiles guesses. It’s gone right over his head.

He wants to ask Scott if they’re getting back together, if she’s helping him become more human like he refuses to let Stiles do because of the rift between them, if she’s helping him mentally, anything. But instead they just look at each other for a moment, and Stiles’ throat goes dry.

Scott sits down on the edge of his bed, where he might have been before Stiles knocked, and looks at him expectantly.

“Um –“ Stiles clears his throat again, a lump forming again as soon as he does it. “…Derek and I are going out to dinner.”

He expects a sarcastic eye roll and a snort of disgust in response to that, but instead Scott just looks at him some more.

“I was wondering if you’d watch Tink for me.” He holds her out in both hands, so her tail hangs from one palm and her head from another. She squiggles, waving her head around in the air and flicking her tongue.

“Oh,” Scott’s eyebrows raise. This clearly was not where he was expecting this conversation to go. “Oh, yeah. Sure.”

“Cool.” Stiles agrees awkwardly, stepping further into the room to hand Tink off. Once he’s close enough, Scott holds out his own hands and takes Tink in his fingers gently, putting her down on his lap so she slithers over his thighs and makes way to his pillow for another nap. Stiles twiddles his fingers, frowning. “She’ll expect dinner. She – you know. She’ll eat anything.”

“Yeah, I know,” Scott kind of smiles at that, like he thinks it’s cute.

“But she likes potato chips and grapes the best.”

“Okay, sure.” Scott runs his fingers along her red scales, and Tink squiggles her tail a bit in appreciation for the touch. “Happy to do it.”

“Cool,” he repeats and feels like an idiot for it. He scratches at his eyebrow and wishes things were different. “We shouldn’t be gone too long. So I’ll just…” he makes an awkward pointing and snapping gesture toward the door and turns on his heel to vanish out of this room hopefully forever, and Scott stands up as he takes his first few steps.

“Hey,” he says quickly, briefly reaching a hand out in Stiles’ direction and then retracting it back into this jeans pocket.

Stiles waits for a moment, freezing just inside the doorway. They look at each other right in the eyes, and Scott looks – sad. Pensive, on top of it. Like he’s trying to think of something, anything to say. The silence persists, until Scott slowly sits back down again, sinking into the comforter and sheets like he wants to vanish inside of them. “Have a – a good time.”

It’s not what he wanted to say, and both of them know it. Stiles nods his head, gives Tink one last glance, before turning and walking out. Words unspoken and loud in his head.

**

“Oh, my God.” Derek says as he slows to make the left hand turn Stiles directs him to. “This is even worse than you described.”

“It sure is,” Stiles agrees, a hint of pride in his voice.

TJ’s is a mint green and neon pink nightmarish looking place, with a giant sign that flickers on and off, on and off, alerting anyone on the highway of HALF PRICE SHAKE WITH BACON CHEESEBURGER. It’s got only three other cars in the lot, and through the large windows Stiles can see a handful of those car’s owners sitting at the counter in those round spinny stools, a waitress pouring coffee and looking miserable in a frilly hat and even frillier apron.

Derek slides into a parking spot in the wide open lot, glaring through his windshield with a look of disbelief still on his face. “There’s a rotating cow on top.”

“Yup,” Stiles looks up at the cow himself. It’s all rusty and faded with age and the effects of weather, but it still spins and looks as demented as it ever did. Its mouth is wide open in a silent and ceaseless moooo, its head tilted back, tail whipped out angrily. “That’s Mo.”

“They named it?” This might have been the final straw for Derek, if the tone of his voice is anything to go by.

“I did.” He pops open his door and climbs out into the balmy California evening, dusk just beginning to take its grips on them. Derek comes out himself and bumps his shoulder into Stiles’ as they walk toward the door, crunching through the gravel of the parking lot and approaching neon so bright it nearly hurts the eyes.

Derek opens the door for Stiles with a ting-ting, and they file inside to be met with a sign reading simply anywhere.

Stiles taps it a few times, raising his eyes to Derek, and then gestures to the restaurant at large. “Which appeals to you most?”

For a moment, Derek just glares out at their surroundings, and Stiles can’t imagine which booth he’ll pick. The one with the half ripped out cushions, spilling its guts onto the seat like fluffy cotton candy throw up. Or, the one that stands out with the seashell theme that might have been an attempt at a redecoration that went sour after they ran out of money. Or, the super pink one that’s seated by the window overlooking the dumpsters.

In the end, Derek chooses the seashells.

Derek sits first, and then Stiles slides into the booth on the same side as him, which Derek doesn’t comment on or seem to mind. Stile always used to think it was weird and gross when couples would sit on the same side of the booth, just touching each other the whole time and making goo-goo eyes at each other. Then again, that was when Stiles thought love was a sham and a waste of his time, and he’s always been more pessimistic than he’d ever care to admit.

Here with Derek, he thinks he has some reason to be a little stupid and goo-goo eyed.

He grabs at the menus perched precariously behind the sugar and salt shakers, ignoring the food and going straight to the main event. He puts it down right in between them and starts running his finger all over the choices, leaning his shoulder into Derek’s. “Okay. What kind of flavors do you like? Chocolatey? Vanilla? Strawberry?”

Derek eyeballs the list of shake flavors like he can’t believe any one person could think up this many fucking flavors. Peanut butter cup, oreo surprise, strawberry cheesecake, cookie dough, French vanilla swirl, and on and on – Derek stares for a moment, eyebrows raised. “What’s your favorite?” He asks, giving Stiles a nudge.

“I used to always get the brownie sundae. It has brownie chunks in it,” he leans his chin in his palm, just thinking about it. “And whipped cream on top with a cherry.”

“That,” Derek says very seriously, “sounds like diabetes in a glass.”

“Come on,” Stiles pokes his knee. “What do you like?”

Stiles realizes that he cannot fathom which of the shakes that Derek would pick. There are a lot of things that they’ve never talked about, because before, they might have known each other, but only just barely and only in certain ways. Stiles knows all about which hand Derek favors to hit someone, knows around how long it takes for him to heal a deep gash, has had to slot his shoulder back into place while Scott and Erica held him down.

But they’ve never exactly talked about what kind candy they like. Stiles doesn’t even know if Derek prefers chocolate or vanilla, which is a basic thing that most everyone would know about a person they’ve known for six fucking years.

Derek says, “the snickers one,” and Stiles smiles at him. He can imagine Derek being a little kid and still having his family. He imagines his mother used to take them into a truck stop on road trips to visit extended family, and say they can all pick one candy bar, and Derek always picked a snickers. It makes something warm bloom up in his chest, even though he never knew that little kid that Derek was and never will.

Just like Derek will never know the kid Stiles was when he was ten and used to get the brownie sundae shake. But they order two bacon cheeseburgers for their half priced shakes and when they come out, Derek takes a sip and looks very pleased. It’s funny to see him sitting there drinking a milkshake and spooning out bits of a real snickers bar, munching on it happily, but there he is doing it.

“So,” Stiles asks, dipping his straw around in his shake, “what’s, like, a hobby of yours?”

Derek gives him a look. “A hobby?”

“Yeah.” He rubs his hand up and down Derek’s thigh, just once. “That’s a first date question. And this is our first date. So answer it.”

For a moment, Derek just sits there looking pleased that he has his snickers shake and Stiles’ hand on his leg, but then he sits up a bit straighter and shrugs. “I like wood work. Building stuff with my hands. I was always good at that.”

“Like fixing the drywall in my apartment,” Stiles snaps his fingers.

“I meant like building bookshelves and bed frames, but yeah. Sure. What about you? Or can I guess.”

Derek probably could guess. Stiles is just afraid he’ll say something like doing magic, which was true before and might be true in the future, but for right now, Stiles doesn’t want to think about that. He wants to be normal and going on a date and nothing more, nothing less. So, Stiles speaks before he can. “Reading,” he says quickly. “Research. I like history a lot. Books, that’s what I like.” He spoons a big hunk of brownie out of his shake and bites at it, some ice cream dribbling down his chin that he wipes away with the back of his hands. He chews, feeling Derek’s eyes on him. “You could build me a bookshelf.”

Instead of taking it for the joke that Stiles meant it as, Derek smiles at him and nods. “I will.”

Their food comes, and then Stiles gets to experience the way that Derek eats a cheeseburger. He takes the bun off, douses the entire thing in mustard, squiggles some ketchup on for good measure, slaps the bun back on, and then goes on to dip the thing in a weird mixture he made of mayonnaise and ketchup with his fork. He eats like a straight up man, Stiles thinks as he watches him go at it, which makes sense. Derek is likely the most stereotypical type of man he’s ever met in his life.

He eats a bite of bacon and thinks about how Derek likes to work with his hands, how Derek only shaves when he absolutely has to, how Derek thinks red meat is a main food group, how he knows how to fix stuff and has even made Stiles’ Jeep work when Stiles thought it was a goner, how the biggest thing he’s ever spent money on for himself was a grill that has a smoker attached to it that he legitimately uses to make jerky.

It’s, like, the sexiest possible thing. Stiles never noticed how into it he was before, but now, watching him eat his hamburger like a caveman is somehow doing it for him.

A bacon cheeseburger is a pretty big thing, especially when it’s coupled with an entire brownie shake and a heaping pile of fries. Man or not, Stiles is skinny and human. So he makes it halfway through his burger and most of the way through his fries, before he’s running his napkin over his mouth and leaning back into the seat, admitting defeat.

Derek looks over at him, still chewing the last bite of his burger. His plate is clean, save for the tomato and lettuce he picked off his burger. He points at Stiles’ plate. “You gonna finish?”

Stiles looks at him, mouth almost agape. He knows werewolves can eat, because he lived with Scott for years while he was one, but Scott couldn’t eat like this. No living thing could. “Uh – go ahead?”

He reaches over, fingers coated in grease, and picks the half of Stiles’ burger that he couldn’t finish up. He takes one bite, and then another, and another. Stiles watches him do the entire thing and nearly throws up just from seeing it. Captivated, Stiles has to ask. “How much do you weigh?”

Derek doesn’t miss a beat, even though the question is bizarre. “Around 190.” He takes another bite. “Why?”

“You should weigh 600, if this is how you eat.”

“I burn calories like crazy,” he says, wiping his fingers off on a napkin after the last of Stiles’ burger has been ingested and swallowed. “On top of the fact that my body has to have a lot of protein to keep itself going and healing, I like to run. So I eat.”

Stiles thought he could eat himself, but he’s just amazed Derek hasn’t keeled over from a heart attack yet. But he’s trim around the waist and all muscled around his arms and thighs, so it’s like watching Gilmore Girls live in action. All that food, vanishing as though he’s not actually swallowing it.

“You look like you weigh about a hundred and fifteen pounds, if that.”

Stiles smirks and punches Derek in the shoulder lightly, which Derek playfully tries to dodge away from. There’s no place for him to go, wedged inbetween the wall and the booth and Stiles, so he nearly knocks over the sugar shaker in all the commotion.

They spend the time waiting for their check with Derek picking at the fries on Stiles’ plate, sopping them in that weird ketchup/mayonnaise concoction. When it finally comes, Derek snatches it before Stiles can even get a peek at it and shoves his credit card into the book, handing it off to the waitress over Stiles’ squabbling and long fingers.

“The person who asks pays,” Derek reminds him, shoving the last French fry into his mouth with a self-satisfied air about him. “That’s how civilized societies work. Not only that, but you’re broke.”

Stiles scoffs. “I am not –“

“You missed three weeks of work. You’re broke.”

“Kicking me while I’m already down,” Stiles shakes his head sadly and sarcastically. “Some boyfriend you are.”

Stiles doesn’t realize he’s said it until it’s out there, that particular word that every relationship has to come to at a certain point. He blushes a little bit after he says it, feeling dumb and stupid and like he wished he hadn’t said it at all. Derek says nothing for long enough that he blushes harder, biting his lip and taking his phone out of his pocket for something to do that isn’t sitting here feeling embarrassed and lame.

Then, he speaks. “So is that what we’re doing?”

Playing dumb is the best way to go. “Huh?” Stiles feigns ignorance, looking up from his phone – where he was tapping nonsense into a text bubble to Erica that he won’t actually send.

The look he’s met with is one that suggests Derek knows better than to fall for that. “You said –“

“I just meant like – cosmically.” He shields his face a little, ducking down and biting his lip hard enough to break the skin this time.

“Cosmically? That doesn’t mean anything.”

Well, no, it fucking doesn’t. But Derek doesn’t need to be shoving a spotlight onto Stiles’ face right now. The embarrassment gets worse and Stiles puts his phone away, shoving it deep into his pocket and then throwing his hands out a bit too suddenly. Derek jumps back, a smile curling up on his face. “It’s just – we kiss all the time, and you took me on a date. What’s that mean to you?”

Derek shrugs, like it’s all so casual, even while Stiles feels like he’s about to literally burst into flames and turn into a pile of ash right then and there. “I wasn’t thinking about a label,” he says, and Stiles wants to slap him. “But if you like labels –“

“I like knowing what a relationship actually is, yes, like a normal person.”

He actually smiles, all teeth. “Then we can be whatever you want us to be.”

Stiles’ face goes hot again, just for an entirely different reason this time. “You’ve said stuff like that before.”

“Like what?”

“Like – whatever I want or whatever I think.” He runs his thumb over his mouth. “It’s both of us in this.”

“I know,” Derek blinks at him, cocking his head to the side. “I care about what you want.”

“I care about what you want,” Stiles shoots back, like it’s an argument or something. It isn’t, at all.

“Then we’re on the same page.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“Right.” Stiles bites his lip to keep from laughing or smiling. “Um – I want us to be boyfriends. Or whatever.”

Derek looks like he has absolutely no argument for that. He gives Stiles another one of his smiles, reaching all the way up to his eyes, and Stiles thinks about how when all this first started, and Derek first came over and said that he thinks he should stay over to make Stiles wouldn’t go off the magical deep end, Derek never smiled like that. There was nothing to smile like that about, back then.

It was only over a month ago. It’s so scary to think how little time has passed, yet how radically different everything is.

“Even though it disgusts the hell out of Scott.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “It doesn’t disgust him.”

“You can’t smell his emotions like I can,” Derek touches his own chest, shaking his head. “It makes him want to barf.”

That doesn’t necessarily surprise Stiles much. Frankly, it’s the most Scott thing that Scott has done or said since coming back from the dead. His absolute distaste and relative hatred of Stiles and Derek getting together is just – him. Nothing more or less than what Stiles would have expected. “He said he thinks you’re still the guy who perv’d on us from the trees in high school.”

The waitress returns with Derek’s credit card and the receipt before Derek can have much of a reaction to that – all he manages to get out is a sarcastic huff and an eye roll, which is really his entire opinion on the matter summed up anyway.

He signs and adds tip, clicking the pen when he’s finished. Stiles says, “I want a to-go cup for a soda.”

Derek raises his eyebrows. “You just ate all that food and now you want a soda?”

“What happened to whatever I want?”

Derek gets him the soda.

They head back out to the car and the engine starts up, Derek pulling out of the parking lot and away from all the neon and green and pink. He had looked so odd in that setting, in his black jeans and dark shirt and light coat. But here in his car, with the dark interior and the glow of the dash giving his skin an iridescent type of supernatural quality, Stiles thinks he looks right at home.

Derek isn’t a dark person, not really. He’s just gotten so good at the façade he’s cultivated for his own protection that it seems almost natural on him, now.

“I know you purposefully forced me and Scott alone into a room together, earlier,” Stiles says this with his teeth chewing on the straw of his drink, casual as he leans back into the leather seats. Derek looks sidelong at him for a moment, expression unreadable, and then he turns back to the road.

“Maybe,” he admits, which isn’t surprising. Lots of things Derek may be – liar doesn’t even rank. He’s brutally honest, all the time, especially when questioned directly. “That’s because you two have a lot to talk about, yet you won’t talk about any of it.”

“You could just say you and Scott should talk.”

“And that would work.” Derek is a natural at sarcasm. Almost better than Stiles is, honestly.

Stiles doesn’t want to talk about this anymore, and it mostly has to do with the fact that he knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that Derek is right. He and Scott really do need to talk, and there really are a lot of things that they aren’t mentioning to one another. It’s been egg shells with them ever since Scott came back. Just because Scott might not be exactly as he was before, there’s no excuses.

So, instead of discussing the topic any further, Stiles switches to another. “I had a good time,” he says, putting his drink down in the middle compartment. “I like hanging out with you.”

“I like hanging out with you,” Derek says right back, earnest as ever. “And you know, I only want you to get better.”

In reference to the Scott thing, he means. So much for changing the subject. Stiles doesn’t respond to it beyond a head nod and picking his drink up again, and Derek finally lets it pass.

“What’d you think of TJ’s?”

“Looked a lot like a nightmare I had once. But it was good food.” He gives Stiles that side-eye again, and then reaches over the center console to put a big hand on Stiles’ knee. Stiles isn’t really small by any stretch, but compared to Derek he’s a lot more slender and bony, so the hand looks particular big there on his body. “It was cool of you to take me to you and your mom’s favorite place.”

Stiles plays with his straw a little bit, so it makes that squeaky noise that must be like nails on a chalkboard in Derek’s ears – but only once or twice, before he realizes what he’s doing. “Yeah, well,” he shrugs. “She’d have liked you.”

The hand on Stiles’ knee squeezes, and they keep driving. It’s actually a bit of a ways out of town, two towns over almost, so they’ve got another half an hour in the car at least before they’re even crossing into Beacon Hills’ city limits. Stiles is as good at chattering as the next person, so he talks at and with Derek about their individual likes and dislikes for a while as they go along.

Derek apparently hates fish tacos but really likes ice cream cake. These are the important questions.

They’re just launching into a discussion on whether they’re dog people or cat people (Stiles is both, Derek hates cats, because obviously), when Derek furrows his brow looking down at his dashboard.

The car jerks once, twice, and Derek swears under his breath and turns off onto the side of the road. He slows to a crawl as the engine quietly dies, and Stiles puckers his lips and tries to lean over to look at the neon glow of the dash that Derek is staring at. “What?”

Derek looks at Stiles, eyes big in his head. “I ran out of gas.”

Stiles is relieved – he thought a demon had crawled into the engine or something. Still, Derek looks befuddled as though this is the work of the devil all the same, frowning as he looks at his gas gauge.

“I’ve never run out of gas.”

He takes a big gulp of his Dr. Pepper and raises his finger in the air. “It was the curse.”

“Ha, ha,” Derek rolls his eyes. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, so the screen lights up his face even more. He taps around on it for a second and then growls – literally – in frustration. “Oh, what the fuck,” he mutters, and holds his phone up higher in the air, toward the ceiling of the car.

Stiles doesn’t know if that age-old trick actually works anymore, with newer smartphones and the new cell towers. But he knows that he has, on occasion, done it himself.

“How are there any places left in this country that don’t have cell service?” He demands, and Stiles must admit he rarely encounters it. But, when he pulls out his own phone, he sees the same thing Derek must be seeing – that long slash through where his service bars are usually all lined up.

“The curse.”

“All right,” Derek leans back in his seat and rubs his forehead. “We’re not that far out of town. We can just – walk until we get service or to the nearest gas station and –“

Before the words are even entirely out of Derek’s mouth, lightning flashes across their faces, startling, and thunder claps. Immediately, a downpour is raining down on the hood of Derek’s car and on the windshield. The pitter-pat of the droplets is the only thing either of them can hear for a moment, because Derek is struck silent and Stiles is sitting there with his mouth half hanging open, eyebrows up in his hairline.

“Now that has to be the curse.”

Derek looks at him. Stiles smiles tightly, shrugging his shoulders. What else is he supposed to do about it aside from make a joke?

“Well, god dammit.” Derek squints up at the sky as if he’s assessing how long he thinks the storm will last for – it’s night time, so the clouds are a mystery and how huge and long they are is an even bigger one, so it’s not long before he’s pulling back and frowning.

“We can play cards,” Stiles suggests, opening up the glove compartment and fishing around through Derek’s insurance and registration, some old napkins on top of it. “Except, you don’t have any.”

“Carrying cards around is more of a you thing,” he mutters, but when Stiles turns to look at him after slamming the compartment shut, Derek is smiling at him.

“How about I Spy.”

“I spy something that begins with an r.”

Stiles hums for a moment, tapping his chin and scanning across the empty lot they’re parked beside. “Is it rain?”

“Yup.”

With a sigh, Stiles leans back into his seat and takes a sip of his soda. They could be stuck out here for hours, because there’s no way in hell Stiles is going to trudge two miles to a gas station in the fucking rain – especially not when he’s cursed and there’s lightning flashing. He’d get struck, he’s never been more sure of this in his life. “Ah, shit.”

The look Derek gives him reminds him of when they first realized they were probably cursed – and Derek couldn’t physically stomp his feet any more or less than three exact times. Bad things always come in threes, as Stiles has read thousands of times by now.

It’s like, tonight. The car running out of gas. No cell service. And a thunder storm. Three.

His mind can’t help but go to the next obvious list. Scott dying. He and Derek getting cursed. And…what?

As he looks around himself, he realizes that they’re out on the outskirts of Beacon Hills, a bit before the Welcome to Beacon Hills sign with the graffiti’d pentagram right next to the B. He squints his eyes as he realizes this particular section of town is familiar, in the way that his high school hallways would be. That’s because he used to come to this part of town a lot, in high school.

Stiles snaps his fingers. “Hey, isn’t that weird train depot you were living out of like a raccoon around here?”

Derek had been puttering around on his phone for the entire time Stiles was thinking, likely trying to send an email with his LTE to someone who could come and pick them up. Lydia is an avid e-mail reader and would be annoyed, yes, but she’d come all the same. Still, Derek looks up from his phone and glances out the left side of the car, right out his window. He cocks his head to the side, and then he nods. “It’s right over there.”

Stiles unbuckles, patting his pockets to make sure he’s got everything. “Let’s go there, then.”

“I guess it’s not that far of a run,” Derek surmises, peaking out the window again. He unbuckles himself and pulls his keys out of the ignition, dropping them into his jeans pocket. Right as Stiles is about to open up the door and start dashing across the lot toward where he thinks he remembers the entrance to the depot being, Derek grabs him by his arm and pulls him back gently. “Here,” he says, gruff.

He shrugs out of his jacket and reaches over to drape it over Stiles’ shoulders. It’s only fair, seeing as how Derek is a werewolf and would never catch cold from running around in the rain, and Stiles is a measly little human who, witch or not, can contract diseases just like the rest of them. And he’s so thin and pathetic, really.

But, still. Stiles hugs the jacket close to himself and smells forest and Derek’s deodorant and his aftershave, smiling.

“Come on,” Derek throws his door open and slams it shut, standing out there waiting for Stiles to be right at his side before he starts running. Stiles climbs out and holds the jacket up over his head, getting pattered with rain anyway but only slightly less than he would have otherwise. The car honks as Derek locks it, and then he takes Stiles by the arm and they start running.

Stiles really can’t see much of anything. He holds the jacket up over himself and watches Derek’s feet as they go, splashing through puddles and watching the entire world light up with a flash right before thunder claps. Derek’s hand on his arm is the only thing that guides him to go where he needs to, and he trusts it implicitly to not let anything happen to him and to be his eyes.

Maybe two minutes later Derek is slowing to a stop, and the rain stops beating over Stiles’ head. They’re walking, so Stiles pulls the jacket up off of his head and sees that they’re standing underneath the familiar overhang of the entrance. He stands back, shivering and wet and sniffling, while Derek pulls his keys out and starts thumbing through them right in front of the door, likely looking for the old key he used to use.

He flips through them once, twice. And then growls under his breath. “God dammit,” he mutters, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

“Here.” He steps forward and shoves Derek a bit out of his way, holding his hand up and over the doorknob. He wiggles his fingers a bit, since it’s been a bit of a long time since the last time he did any magic whatsoever, and then pointedly tugs on the knob.

It turns, unlocks with a cracking sound that must have been the lock breaking.

The door swings open, and Stiles gives Derek an eyebrow. Derek looks pleased and impressed, ushering Stiles inside with a hand on the small of his back.

It’s pitch dark inside, and silent. The only sound they can hear is the pitter patter of rain on the tin roof above them and the drip drop of their clothes and skin dropping water onto the concrete floor underfoot. Derek says, “I can see fine,” and starts guiding Stiles forward.

Stiles, however, can’t stand being in this kind of pitch black. As Derek pulls him along, he snaps his fingers and a small ball of light fits itself in his palm. It glows yellow, eerie and unsettling, and Derek blinks against it.

Now that he can mostly see his surroundings, he frowns. “It looks like raccoons really have taken over.”

“Come on,” Derek huffs a laugh and gestures toward where Stiles remembers the office Derek fashioned his living quarters out of back in the day. This door is unlocked, and they spill inside the tiny room.

Derek tests the light switch. It doesn’t work. Stiles is already one step ahead of him, pushing the ball of light up and up until it settles itself inside the dead bulb overhead. The light flickers, flickers, until finally leveling out into a dim glow. Again, Derek looks impressed. “I forgot how helpful you could be.”

“Ha ha.”

“Jesus, you’re shivering,” he puts his hands on Stiles’ arms, rubbing them up and down as if to try and get some of his natural wolfy warmth into his bones. It doesn’t really work, and Stiles’ teeth keep chattering, so Derek frowns.

“Yeah, I’m shivering,” he says, drifting off to the tiny bed in the corner and sitting down on the edge, sopping wet still. “It’s raining and fifty degrees.”

“I think I’ve got some clothes left here.” Derek trails off to one corner of the room, where Stiles can see there is indeed an old pile of vaguely familiar clothes.

This room, Stiles can’t remember ever being actually let inside of. He’s been to the depot a dozen times, but mostly just to show up and handle a problem or talk to Derek. There was never any step inside my bedroom interactions back then. Seeing it for the first time, Stiles frowns and scratches at his cheek.

The bed is rickety and feels like it’s going to collapse at any moment, covered in thin sheets and handful of wiry old blankets unravelling at the corners. There’s a desk, mostly empty aside from a pile of chains Stiles doesn’t want to imagine the use for and an old water glass. An alarm clock that doesn’t work, an old pair of shoes, and a pile of clothes.

“I can’t believe you lived here,” Stiles says around his chattering, while Derek approaches him with a warm looking sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants. “It’s so…uh. Sad.”

Derek gestures for him to stand up with two fingers, so Stiles does, immediately starting to unbutton his dripping flannel at the prospect of something dry and warm. “I wasn’t in the best mental or emotional place at the time,” he admits in a conversational tone, dropping the clothes on the bed behind them and then grabbing at a knitted blanket. “I could’ve lived in a cardboard box. Probably what I thought I deserved.”

There isn’t much Stiles can think to say to that. He wants to say that Derek never really deserved a box, and he never deserved this place either, or a pack that tried to run out on him. In spite of maybe not always making the best choices, he can’t think of a single person who ever stopped to think that maybe Derek shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

Yes, Derek foolishly took the alpha power from Peter, and yes he tried to kill Lydia based on an incorrect hunch and he physically hurt Stiles more than once, but he was…struggling. Barely making ends meet in all senses of the term.

The shirt comes off and flops to the ground with a plop, and Derek kicks it away from Stiles’ feet. “Shoes off. There’s a radiator, but I doubt it –“

“I can make it work.”

“Of course you can.”

Stiles makes quick work of untying and pulling his shoes off, balling his wet socks up in the heel and sniffling the whole way. When he comes back up, Derek is draping that blanket over Stiles’ shoulders and pulling it tight around his front. It’s big and warm, if a little scratchy, so Stiles snuggles into it and wipes at his dripping face with a corner.

“You can just uh-“ Derek clears his throat and looks away a bit awkwardly, shuffling his feet back toward that pile of dry clothes and lowering his eyes. “Get dressed.”

Stiles still has his pants on, which is likely where all the awkwardness is coming from. Earlier in the night, he had stripped down to his boxers and Derek had seemed mostly fine aside from his pointed gaze facing away from him respectfully. The issue is that here, Stiles is going to take his boxers off too and be completely naked, and Derek seems to have a weird thing about watching people undress.

It might have something to do with the fact that the teens had spent a lot of time calling Derek a perv and a creep. As a joke, yes, but still. Stiles smirks at the back of his head as Derek makes a show out of turning around, poking through old black shirts that all look identical, and unbuttons his jeans.

He gets naked and pushes the wet clothes away with his foot like Derek had done to Stiles’ shirt, and then wraps the blanket entirely around himself and tries to stop shivering. It’s arctic temperatures inside this room, even colder than it is outside most likely, from how the cold air has just sat in here for months, and months. Years, maybe. For all Stiles knows, the last person who ever set foot in here was Derek.

While Derek is still picking clothes, Stiles pads in his bare feet over to where the decrepit radiator is sitting. The blanket trails behind him as he walks, and then he bends over and examines it critically. He touches it. Ice cold. It’s been a while since he’s done technical magic, because making light out of his palm and breaking locks is kid’s stuff – but making a broken thing work is another matter entirely.

He rubs one of the metal bars and thinks of warmth. Heat, a fireplace, the sound of crackling wood, good things, happy things. And he realizes it’s been so long since he’s done good magic. Not magic that’s taboo or black magic or dark magic that calls upon bad things to help him break the laws of nature. But just…simple, goodhearted magic with a positive end. It feels nice. Stiles had forgotten how good magic could feel when it came hand in hand with good things.

It takes a second, but the radiator creaks and pops. Stiles keeps his hand on the bar and feels the gentle first waves of warmth coming out of it, and smiles. “There we go,” he pats the thing like it’s a good dog or something, and then rises back up to his full height. “It’ll take a while but let there be warmth.”

“So God said on the 4th day.”

Stiles snorts. Derek’s humor is dry and caustic at best, but he makes Stiles laugh. It’s one of the most important qualities a person can have, in Stiles’ opinion – it’s why he and Lydia never could’ve worked out. He deadass thinks she has no laugh box.

He cuddles into his blanket, and turns his neck without thinking about it. Derek isn’t bare assed, which Stiles doesn’t know if he could’ve handled, but he’s standing there with no shirt on, belt unbuckled and jeans hanging low on his hips. His back is turned, so Stiles gets a nice look at his pronounced shoulder blades, the dip and curve of his lower back, the tattoo right beneath his neck bigger and even better looking with a little bit of water dripping around it.

Three things occur to Stiles very quickly. The first is that Derek is ridiculously attractive and – sexy. That’s the word. That is without a doubt the word. The second is that Derek is already half undressed and seems to be struggling to find a pair of pants in that tangle of clothes. The third is that Stiles is completely naked underneath his blanket.

This is, for the first time, not a bad set of three.

But Stiles has only ever had sex with one other person, and that was a girl. Stiles will never for as long as he lives admit to Derek who it was, because he really doesn’t need to know and it would probably make him angry. Not that Derek is necessarily the jealous type, but there’s…a line. There’s gotta be.

Because it was Erica. Stiles doesn’t really wanna get into it.

The point is that he had sex with Erica when he was nineteen, and he’s twenty-one now. And it was this sort of thing where Stiles admitted he was a virgin and Erica scrunched her nose up and said uh, can we fix that? You’re too good looking for that, and Stile more or less just shrugged. He wanted to lose his virginity if only so he could say he’d done it before, and then no one would ask questions about it. And Erica is pretty and was nice to him and didn’t laugh when he struggled to put on the condom, and they’re still friends after the fact.

He doubts that she’s going to go around saying that it was the best dick she ever had, because Stiles was fumbling and awkward and had to finger her after the fact just to make her orgasm.

One time in his entire life, he had sex, and it was not something he’s shouting from the hills. There’s nothing in him that’s naturally sexy or naturally coy either, and he doesn’t know how to hood his eyes or trail his fingers down Derek’s back to give him the hint that he wants to, and he doesn’t even know how to ask if Derek wants to. He’s got next to no idea of how to initiate anything, but the longer he watches Derek’s back muscles move as he fruitlessly attempts to locate dry pants, the more he becomes…aroused.

And werewolves can smell arousal. It’d be worse to just pointedly pretend it isn’t happening. Worse watching Derek clear his throat and rub the back of his neck and act like he couldn’t tell Stiles had a hard on.

So, Stiles has gotta do something. He wishes there were a magic trick that would fast forward him to the good part so he doesn’t have to suffer the awkwardness and attempts at sexiness. His body is thin and pale and he’s got moles. The sexiness is completely lost on him.

He lets the blanket drop a bit off one shoulder, exposing his collarbone, and pads across the floor to where Derek is standing. He seems pretty engrossed in his pants search, furrowed brow and all, so he doesn’t immediately notice up when Stiles sidles up to his side.

He’s seen movies. He should really be able to at least mimic a line he’s heard before, but all that comes to him is, “hey.”

Derek looks up at him. He stands up from his crouch and puts his hands on his hips, frowning and shaking his head. “I can’t find god damn pants,” he snaps, gesturing to the ripped apart pile of clothes at their feet. “Maybe I can just – wrap something around my –“

“Or,” Stiles interrupts before that thought goes any fucking further, “you could uh. Like. Not put any on.”

Derek blinks. He does not get it. Not at all. Because Stiles can’t be sexy no matter how hard he tries.

Stiles clears his throat, and looks away, feeling his entire neck and face region go flaming red hot even in spite of the fact that he’s shivering. This isn’t working – he can’t talk. Not about this.

So he looks back and faces Derek, sees his confused frown and pulled down eyebrows, and sighs through his nose. He leans forward, and presses his lips against Derek’s as soft and sensually as he possibly can. It probably feels more like Stiles is just randomly rubbing his lips against Derek’s for no discernible reason, but he’s doing his fucking best, here.

When he pulls back, he bites his lip and looks down, to where Derek’s bare chest is, and then quickly looks back up through his eyelashes. He says, “I’ve got no clothes on,” as if he really needs to point that out. This will go down in history as the biggest failed attempt at a come on that the world has ever seen, Stiles is sure of it.

Or, maybe not. Because when he meets Derek’s eyes again, he can see they’re just a little bit darker. Hooded instead of confused, lips parted as he skirts his eyes up and down Stiles’ face again and again. He licks his lips, leans down and kisses Stiles himself. This time, it’s harder, firmer, more sure – because Derek is in control and he actually knows what he’s doing.

He kisses Stiles’ cheek, then his jaw, and then slides his mouth right next to Stiles’ ear. He whispers, so it makes Stiles shiver. “You want to?”

Stiles is an idiot. “Um –“

“I want to,” he puts his hands on Stiles’ hips. Even through the blanket, it’s almost too much. “I’ve wanted to.”

Derek sort of pushes Stiles, just the tiniest bit, but it works. Stiles walks backwards as Derek steps forwards, and he can tell they’re drifting off towards the bed. They only make it two steps, and then Derek is stopping everything and giving Stiles a raised eyebrow. He’s looking for some kind of affirmation that he’s on the right path. Stiles has no idea how to give it to him. “You’ve wanted to…”

Derek looks down his face at Stiles, shaking his head incredulously with a smirk. “To fuck you.”

He can’t help it. He bursts out laughing, slapping his hand over his mouth and giggling through the cracks in his fingers. This, clearly, is not a deterrent to Derek, who just rolls his eyes and guides Stiles another couple of steps back to the bed. Through his hysterics, Stiles says, “okay, okay, um.”

Since he’s finally taken the hint that if he wants anything to happen, he’s going to have to gently guide Stiles in that direction, Derek takes the reins. He pushes one side of the blanket completely off of Stiles’ shoulder, so it drops down and exposes half of his body right then and there. Without much of a warning, he leans down and bites.

He literally juts bites Stiles right on the shoulder. Stiles would be alarmed if he felt any werewolf teeth, but he doesn’t – just blunt human teeth, and then Derek sucks at the mark and tongues along the edges of it, and Stiles’ breath hitches. He isn’t laughing much anymore.

“Okay, that’s,” he breathes out through his mouth, and Derek moves to Stiles’ neck and kisses there. “That’s hot. That’s –“ Derek bites his neck, hard enough that Stiles sort of squeals and lifts his hand in an abortive gesture, almost touching Derek but then dropping down when he thinks better of it. “That’s really hot, fuck. Why do I think that’s hot?”

Derek laves his tongue along the mark on Stiles’ neck. Keeping his face buried there, he pushes the part of the blanket still hanging onto Stiles’ shoulder off. It pools on the ground around their feet, and Stiles is completely naked and Derek’s pants are undone and he’s not got a shirt on, and it’s happening. He’s finally having sex again, and with – with Derek, no fucking less.

Derek puts his hands all over him, all the fuck over him, and it almost feels like every inch of his skin is being touched all at once. His hips, his stomach, his thighs, his back, his neck, all of it, and it’s like sensation overload. He can hear himself breathing, wildly, making small surprised sounds in the back of his throat. Derek’s lips are back at his ear and he says, “fuck, you’re still so cold.”

Stiles swallows. He finally touches Derek back, fingers gently ghosting along Derek’s chest. “You should, uh – warm me up. With your – you know.”

This makes Derek laugh, but not like a big belly laugh. It’s more like a dark laugh. Light and sexy and low, and Stiles wants to melt. He honestly thinks he could Wicked Witch of the West himself right now, and it’d be a happy death.

With firm hands, Derek guides Stiles back to the bed until the backs of his knees bump against it. From there, Stiles has no choice but to flop backwards on it, completely naked with nothing to cover himself up with, and spread his body out for Derek to look at.

And look, Derek does. Stiles flails backwards a bit, hitching one knee up to help him get situated better. As soon as it’s there, Derek takes it hostage with his hand, fitting the fingers up on the underside and holding on tight so Stiles can’t move anymore.

Time goes by and it feels like every pound of Stiles’ heart and every tick of the non-existent clock over their heads is a century, and Derek just looks. Stiles would never say he thinks himself ugly, because he’s not, but he’s just not…sexy. He’s not muscled or tan and puts no effort into his body whatsoever, so all he is is awkwardly long limbs and hairy legs and an untoned stomach, his ribcage sometimes a little too pronounced. All of these things occur to him while Derek stares at him, curling his fingers tighter around the knee in his hand as if the last thing he wants is Stiles trying to skirt away from him.

Nervous babbling has always done Stiles good in the past, so he starts up. “Can you believe,” he begins, and Derek’s eyes flick to his face slowly from where they were critically observing his crotch, “I ate all that food and you could still play my ribs like a xylophone?”

Derek does not grace that with an answer. Instead, he moves his hand in order to pull his jeans off – leaving the briefs on for whatever possible reason so all Stiles gets to see is a bulge that might be bigger than Stiles’ or might not be – and takes hold of both of Stiles’ legs this time.

He knees on to the bed in between Stiles’ thighs, and Stiles can’t help it. He scrambles back with his palms, as if to give him room. He’s not really understanding that the entire purpose of this is for Derek to get as physically close to Stiles as he possibly can. So when Derek pulls him back with unnatural strength, Stiles yelps and blushes as his thighs bump into Derek’s.

Derek leans over him, one hand bracing himself right next to Stiles’ head so he can look right in his face. They’re close. Their noses almost touch. Stiles licks his lips and feels embarrassed that he’s so hard, already, tries to look away. But there’s no place else to look. Derek has apparently made sure of that. “Hi,” Derek says.

“Hi,” Stiles croaks back to him. “I don’t know – how to…”

“Why don’t you do me a favor?” Derek puts his free hand on Stiles’ stomach, tantalizingly and mind numbingly close to Stiles’ dick, and rubs gently up and down. “Why don’t you let me do everything. And if you don’t like anything, tell me to stop.”

Stiles goes red again. He has no idea why – it’s just…he’s not experienced. He feels a little embarrassed that Derek will have to essentially coach him through having sex, when Stiles is 21 years old and should be, like, worldly by now. But he isn’t.

“Hey,” Derek reads Stiles like an open book, likely because Stiles has got nothing to hide it with, now. “It’s not like that.” He kisses Stiles’ cheek again, and again, and again, all around his face. “I want to make it good. That’s all.”

“Okay,” Stiles croaks. Bizarrely, he feels like crying. It’s not because he doesn’t like what’s happening or Derek is scaring him or making him uncomfortable. It’s just a lot, all at once, and sometimes when a lot of things happen, he starts getting teary-eyed. It’s humiliating, at best.

“Okay,” Derek agrees. Without saying anything else, he reaches his hand down and palms Stiles’ length, just one quick and gentle stroke up and down, before looking up to Stiles’ face to gauge his reaction.

His reaction is that someone aside from himself is touching his dick – his face probably looks like he’s finally reached heaven itself. Derek reads whatever is there in Stiles’ eyes as a go-ahead, because he wraps his hand fully around Stiles, using a bit of pre-come to help the stroking along.

Stiles tilts his head back and makes a sound – crossed somewhere between a whimper and a gasp. He can feel his legs falling open just a little bit wider, Derek fitting himself even closer into the space Stiles gives him, but he doesn’t do it on purpose. It just happens, from having Derek’s hands on him.

As he keeps stroking, gentle and slow and not at all enough to make him come anytime soon, Derek leans his face over Stiles’ again. They kiss. Or, mostly, Derek kisses Stiles and Stiles hisses quick panting breaths in between every kiss, hand coming up to touch Derek’s chest of its own accord.

“This is all about you, okay?” Derek kisses his nose, and Stiles smiles at him. “I want to show you how good it can be.”

The kissing goes on, and Stiles lets it. Derek seems to have a fixation with no particular point of Stiles’ body aside from the part of it that’s covered in skin, which is fine. So he kisses his face and his neck and his collarbones, bites a bit at one of them and makes Stiles gasp and grab onto his shoulders. He really does like that, for some reason.

Derek kisses all the way down his chest, so his lips leave saliva prints that get cold in the air as soon as Derek leaves them behind. Stiles doesn’t think about or realize that Derek might have a specific goal in mind in doing that, even though to anyone else it might’ve been entirely obvious.

But when Derek positions himself further down Stiles’ body and pants heavily on Stiles’ dick, he gets the hint. Pretty fucking quick. A jolt of panic goes through him at the thought of it, because while yes he and Erica had sex and someone has touched his dick before, no one has ever, ever done that. No one has put their mouths anywhere near his crotch before.

It’s been long enough with just himself that he sometimes worried that he’d taste bad down there or something, or that he has some weird dick disease that shows no symptoms aside from being gross and stupid or something like that. It was all irrational, yes, but Stiles has half a mind to tell Derek not to do it just from how nervous he is that there’s something wrong with him.

It’s too late, either way. Derek wraps his lips around the head, and Stiles feels what it’s like for the first time to have someone give him a blowjob.

It’s – at first – the most mind numbing thing he’s ever experienced. The pleasure is white hot, completely incomparable to anything he’s ever felt before. There’s lips around him, and a tongue swirling along his skin as Derek bobs his head up and down. He laps his tongue along the sensitive underside, licks the slit, and some spit dribbles down his chin as he does so. It’s insane. It’s insane. Stiles is babbling, saying something or other completely nonsensical, he’s sure, but he doesn’t even know what it is.

Derek pulls off. He licks the head once again, gathering up some pre-come and swallowing it without a second thought. His lips are a little red when he meets Stile’s hooded eyes, his parted lips and his gasping. He says, “you taste like – magic.”

“Magic,” Stiles repeats, a little breathless. “Like fire and brimstone?”

Derek smiles at him, very gently. He strokes his hand up and down the shaft and flicks his tongue against the head again, making Stiles go cross-eyed. “Like pop rocks.”

“When’s the last time you had a pop rock?”

“Like 2002, probably.”

“I – can you –“ Stiles’ hips move, up, towards Derek’s mouth again. Derek pulls back and smirks, looking up at Stiles with a tilt to his head. “Can you –“

“Can I…?” Derek trails off, his voice teasing.

He wants Stiles to say it. He can tell that of all the things in the realm of sex that Stiles absolutely flat out cannot deal with, it’s dirty talk. Of any kind, to any degree. Stiles’ face gets all hot and his palms clam up and he starts giggling like he’s in fifth fucking grade, because he can’t. It’s embarrassing. “Can you…put your mouth back?”

Derek tilts his head to the side. “Put my mouth back…?”

Stiles throws his hands in the air, up towards the grimy ceiling of Derek’s old bedroom. He puts his forearm over his eyes to hide his face, and huffs a breath out against his skin. “On my dick.”

“Oooh,” Derek pretends to have only just gotten it, and he arranges himself again in between Stiles’ legs. “That’s what you mean.”

“Fuck. You.”

“Other way around.”

With a teasing smile on his face, Derek dips his head back down and licks from base to tip, seeming to enjoy the choked off moan Stiles gives in reaction. He puts one big hand on Stiles’ stomach as if to hold him down, as if Stiles is going to go anywhere, and returns to bobbing up and down. Every time he comes back up, he flicks his tongue a few times over the head and it makes Stiles insane – and then he understands why Derek put his hand there. Stiles can’t help but try to push his body up, trying to get closer to the feeling, chasing after Derek’s mouth desperately. He never gets very far, Derek holding him down easily, so he fists his fingers into the old sheets and bites his lip.

Most of the noises he makes are quiet, because he strangles them down. Barely anything comes out except for breath and small nothings. It isn’t until Derek does something particularly interesting with both his tongue and hand at the same time that Stiles can’t help himself.

He fists his fingers into Derek’s black hair, screwing his eyes shut as his mouth drops open. Out comes an outdrawn, loud moan, and Stiles flushes immediately after he does it. Living with Scott, the most he ever does when he jerks himself off is pant – he’s never had the opportunity to really let loose and make whatever kinds of sounds he wants to, and now that he can, he feels all clammy about it.

Once that happens, Derek’s mouth is gone. Stiles opens his eyes in confusion, panting and narrowing his eyes and reaching out blindly for Derek’s skin. He doesn’t have to reach far – Derek grabs onto both of Stiles’ legs and pulls him flesh up against his own body, grinding the bump in his damp briefs right against Stiles’ balls.

“Baby,” he says, and it sounds like he’s begging, “please, please –“ he’s on Stiles’ mouth, kissing him so intensely Stiles nearly can’t keep up, and Stiles tastes himself there. It tastes…not like pop rocks. But not exactly horrible either. He can live with that. “…please let me fuck you.”

“Yeah,” Stiles pants, mindless. Anything, anything to get that feeling back, of Derek being all over him. “Do you – do you have…stuff?”

Derek is sucking a mark into Stiles’ neck, hands roaming up and down his chest and stomach, but he pauses when Stiles says that, shifting his eyes up to meet Stiles’. “Like lube?”

“Yeah like that.”

He sighs. Presses his forehead against Stiles’ collarbone like the last thing he wants to do is separate himself from Stiles’ body, even for the barest of seconds. Stiles reaches up and pets at his hair, carding his fingers through the strands and tugging gently.

After another moment, Derek forces his body up and crawls a bit off to the side, so the warmth of his body vanishes and Stiles is cold again. He grits his teeth as the shiver runs down his bare skin, watching Derek lean over the side of the bed to paw around underneath the mattress.

He comes back with a smallish tube that Stiles recognizes, and Stiles can’t help but bite his fist to keep from laughing.

Derek shakes his head at him even as he pops the cap open. “You have some under your bed, too.”

“You don’t know that,” Stiles shoots back lighting quick, even as he can feel the blush on his face giving him clean away.

“I know that,” Derek insists matter-of-factly, and Stiles wants to kick him. In the position he’s in, as Derek climbs back on top of him and wields the lube tube like a fucking weapon, he doesn’t have the room to do so, so he just accepts his ownage with a grain of salt. “Come on. Hands and knees?”

Stiles hesitates. In most of the gay porn he’s watched, yeah, most of it has been hands and knees, which is fine. Stiles has thought about it before and gotten off on the thought, but for some reason, right now, he kind of wants to…not. Do it that way.

He nervously swallows a lump in his throat and looks away, off to the side, his ears turning pink. “Can we – I wanna be facing each other.”

Instead of seeming put off, Derek actually smiles down at him a little fondly. He tilts his head to the side the way he does sometimes when he’s looking at Stiles, and it’s something that Stiles hasn’t had the time to analyze quite yet, and nods. “Whatever you want,” he promises the way he does, and puts his free hand under Stiles’ left leg. “You’re going to have to bend a little for me.”

“Okay,” Stiles agrees, feeling silly. This entire thing thus far is making him feel silly, but god, so fucking good, at the same time. He obliges when Derek lifts his legs a bit, bending them up and then instructing him to hold them there as well as he can.

“I’ll hold them later,” he promises, but for right now, he focuses on squirting a bit of slick onto his fingers. His index and middle, Stiles notes, and then feels weird watching him obsessively like a hawk, so he looks away, up to the ceiling.

Derek circles the rim of Stiles’ entrance with a finger, getting it ready. Stiles knows solidly that it’s going to take a little while to open him up, and he starts getting nervous. He bites his lip and jiggles his leg a little bit where he’s holding it up, as much as he can. It’s supposed to hurt at least a little bit, they always say that, especially on the first time. And Derek is an alpha and probably has a really big one and of fucking course. Stiles just had to go and have his first time with a fucking alpha dick.

The first finger slides in, and Stiles thinks it’s not too bad. Derek asks. “Is that fine?”

“Totally.” Stiles agrees quickly, and his voice is a little too high. “It’d be awkward if one finger did me in. Imagine that.”

Derek huffs, and works the finger in and out, in and out. Slow and precise. Once he deems it good enough, he gently and carefully pokes the second one in right along side it, and that’s okay too. The stretch feels all right and Derek is gentle, so Stiles just swallows and bites his lip, looking up towards the ceiling.

It’s more of a stretch when Derek scissors his fingers inside of him, bit by bit, spreading very deliberately and purposefully. Stiles blinks a bit rapidly and can’t imagine, can’t for the life of him fathom, what it’s going to feel like when Derek actually gets inside of him. Believe it or not, he’s never even tried it on himself. Not fingering, not any toys, nothing. It’ll be completely and entirely alien to him.

It isn’t until Derek presses in a bit deeper and just a tad harder that he touches something that makes Stiles reach his hand out and grab at Derek’s wrist, the one that’s holding one of Stiles’ legs up. He makes a small surprised sound, mouth hanging open, and he and Derek lock eyes as Derek freezes.

Derek licks his lips. “Yeah?” He asks, voice low. Stiles doesn’t know what to say. “Right there?”

Another quick burst of his fingers upward, and Stiles shudders all the way from his toes to his eyes rolling back in his head. When he looks back to Derek, their eyes meet instantly. And Stiles glances down just barely to watch a small bead of precome drip out of him, and Derek watches it as well.

“Okay,” Derek pulls his fingers out slowly, but with a lot of verve. With intent. He manhandles Stiles a bit in the process, pushing his leg this way and then that way, shaking his head to himself like he almost can’t believe this is happening. Stiles knows the feeling.

Beside them, the radiator Stiles magic’d into working again bangs a few times, the pipes clanging as it gets warmer and warmer, and Derek finally pulls his briefs off to reveal himself to the open air. Because Stiles is Stiles and he can’t help himself, he props himself up a bit more to get a nice long look at it.

In his head, he was probably over-imagining. He always lets his imagination run away from him. So he thought, like, a ten inch monster as thick as the dude’s calf or something. Which, yeah, in hindsight he realizes was an impossibility.

But in reality, it might only be slightly bigger than one would expect. It’s thick and a bit longer than Stiles’ and has got a patch of dark hair trailing toward his sac – and Stiles isn’t really afraid of it.

Derek slicks it up and Stiles watches in fascination as he runs his own hand up and down his dick, so it glistens in the dim lighting of the room. He takes a hold of Stiles’ legs again, pushing them up further so Stiles slides a bit up the bed, biting his lip and rapidly moving his eyes from looking right at Derek to looking away at the ceiling.

“If it hurts, tell me,” Derek says this very seriously. Like if Stiles doesn’t do exactly that he’ll be in trouble, or something.

“Okay,” Stiles agrees.

“You nervous?”

“Huh?”

“I said, are you nervous?”

Stiles laughs in self-deprecation, shaking his head and feeling Derek’s dick sliding right up against his thigh. It’s about to be inside of him. “It’s my first time, so it’d – it’d be weirder if I weren’t.”

Derek smiles at him all benign and soft and gentle, and Stiles wants to kiss him so badly, but he’s a bit too far away for that. “Yeah, but it’s me.”

Yeah. It’s Derek. And one thing Stiles has always known about Derek is that, hell or high water, the last thing he truly wants to do is hurt anyone, let alone the members of his own pack. And let alone Stiles. In specific.

“Then, no, I guess not.”

Derek uses one hand to guide the tip inside of Stiles, and – yeah. Yeah, that hurts. It’s a specific kind of hurt, though – a teasing sort that will lead to good, if Stiles can just hold on long enough to get there. It must be written all over his face, the discomfort and surprise, because Derek stops. He might have an inch, maybe less, inside, but he’s frozen on the spot. That can’t be easy for him.

“It’s supposed to hurt,” Stiles says quickly, though he knows the look on his face might not be very convincing.

“Not too much,” Derek is cautious still, tracing Stiles’ face again and again with his eyes. He slides in just a bit more and Stiles meeps, tilting his head back for a second and huffing through his nose. Derek pauses again. It’s amazing he can do that. Stiles doesn’t know if he could handle it, because if it feels as tight inside of Stiles as Stiles is experiencing, God only knows what kind of wet-hot pressure is on Derek’s dick right about now.

“It’s okay. It’s not – bad. Just. I gotta adjust.” His voice is all high pitched and squeaky, and he feels that this isn’t very sexy. In porn, it just happens and it’s hot and fast and there’s all kinds of moaning and groaning and everybody comes. Then again, porn doesn’t seem to centralize on 21 year old virgins getting it for the first time, except maybe in weird specific kink forums. “Deeper.”

Derek hesitates, but does as Stiles asks. A gentle push, slow like honey, and it doesn’t hurt as much as the other times. Now that he’s all, you know, breached, every thing from this point on is the easy bit, he figures. When Stiles is quiet and doesn’t flinch or anything, Derek keeps pushing and pushing, until finally he bottoms out on a harsh pant.

He’s got both hands on Stiles’ legs, one underneath each knee, and is pushing them up in a way that should be uncomfortable and should start to burn, but Stiles can’t focus on that. All he can focus on is Derek inside of him, how it feels, how deep it is, how all-encompassing a feeling it is, like Derek has lodged himself right inside of Stiles’ brain.

Derek kisses Stiles’ calf, squeezing just a bit on the corresponding knee. He can smell exactly how much pain Stiles is or isn’t in, as he sits and waits for Stiles to get used to how it feels, and he smells that it isn’t very much. That gives him the all clear. He pushes gently, sloowwly, out and back in, and Stiles can’t get over how weird it feels. It’s not the most incredibly pleasurable thing he’s ever felt in his life, truth be told, not that it’s necessarily bad, either. But from the look on Derek’s face, Stiles would think this is the most incredible sex he’s ever had in his life.

He’s adjusting, bit by bit. It starts to feel less and less like a slow-drag the second time Derek moves in and out, and more like a wet slide. Derek takes another cue from that alone. He leans down a bit, just enough to kiss Stiles on the chin and the corner of his mouth. He says, “I’m going to fuck you, now.”

Stiles is a little too far gone to giggle immaturely at that, but he does go red in the ears and nod, turning his eyes to meet Derek’s directly.

Derek pushes in, pulls back out. In, out, and Stiles gasps. It certainly doesn’t feel bad. The pace isn’t lightning quick or anything and Derek is just getting into a rhythm, but it’s enough to know that Derek is in him. It’s the weirdest thing. It blows his mind.

At one point, Derek grunts – and it’s surprising because he’s been mute silent for every other portion of this event. What’s even more surprising is when he actually speaks. “Fuck, it’s tight.”

“I –“ Stiles has no idea what to say to that. It’s an asshole, yeah it’s tight. For some reason it doesn’t feel like there’s any room for him to be a snarky dick about it, not in this space. Instead he pants, “yeah.”

Derek smirks at him. It’s a really deliberate smirk. With intent.

He shifts his hips, a bit. Starts moving around inside of Stiles like he’s searching, presses deeper, almost deeper than he was at the start, and – there. Stiles’ breath hitches and he shudders, full body, teeth almost chattering with it.

“There we go,” Derek murmurs all satin-sweet, pushing in again. Stiles whimpers, feels like he’d be falling apart if Derek’s hands weren’t gripping him in just the right place, holding him steady and in place. “There it is, baby.”

“Oh, my God.” Stiles says this. It just kinda comes out of him, like a natural reaction he didn’t intend. Of all the years that Stiles spent hearing about prostates, he never once went in search of his own. Sure, he had been curious before, but he was always too chicken to, like, go out and buy a dildo and shove it up his ass. He’s not very sexually forward. It surprises people, but he’s skittish in that department.

If he had known it felt like this, he might’ve changed his tune.

Derek manages to nail it in perfect succession, once, twice, three, four times, and Stiles is turning into a whimpering, shuddering mess. It’s all fingers twisting into bed sheets and eyes screwed shut and mouth open in pants that turn into moans – it’s crazy. Stiles has never felt like this before.

And then, Derek does the un-fucking-thinkable. He has the balls to reach out, so one of Stiles’ legs sort of drapes itself over his shoulder with no place else to go, and takes a hold of Stiles’ erection. The pre-come slicks the way, and Stiles shouts.

“Oh, my God,” his voice has never been that high before, he’s pretty sure. “I’m – I’m going to – Derek, I’m going to come if you –“

“Come whenever you want.” Derek fucks him in just the right spot, and before that wave of pleasure is done, he twists his hand up and down Stiles’ dick and there’s no escape from it. “It’s all for you.”

Stiles has to shove his fist into his mouth to keep the hysteria at bay. The litany of curses and pathetic mewls and overzealous breathing. He actually tries to hold on for a while longer, but the effort he’s putting into not coming is like a work-out – it’s hard, near impossible, and he shakes his head around another burst of it.

“Come for me,” Derek demands, and Stiles is helpless. Really, and utterly. It’s worse when Derek starts pumping his hand faster with more intent on Stiles’ dick, worse when he fucks inside again and Stiles’ mind goes white. “Come on, come on.”

He comes. Around the sound of Derek’s palm stroking him fast and sure and the sound of Derek pushing inside of him, Stiles lets out a strangled type of cry and just spills. All over Derek’s hand and fingers and his own chest and the sheets, most likely, and then he’s all limp and making moaning pants that he can’t help from making – all the while, Derek is still fucking him.

The rest of the sex happens in sort of a haze, for Stiles. The immediate and immense pleasure he just felt was so fucking intense he sort of goes away in his own head for a moment, watching Derek work his own orgasm out inside of Stiles through a daze.

Derek comes, Stiles is sure, and then he’s adjusting them. It’s amazing to Stiles that Derek can even be in control of his own body right now, let alone have the ability to manhandle Stiles where he wants him, but he does. He drops Stiles’ legs and takes him by the hips instead, pushing his head onto the pillows and draping himself over the top of him, taking him by the mouth and kissing him.

And kissing him, and kissing him. Senseless, mindless.

“That was so good,” Derek says it like a promise, as though he knows Stiles needs to hear that right about now. “You were perfect, you were everything.” He presses his lips all over Stiles’ face and Stiles can only lift his hand up and curl his fingers into Derek’s chest, loving the contact, obsessed with it. Even though Derek was just inside of him, and even though they just made each other come and got as close as physically possible, it still feels like not enough. “Talk to me.”

“Hmm?” Stiles might be going post-verbal.

“I want to hear what you think,” Derek is so fucking intense right now, Stiles notices. Even when he drops down off of being right on top of Stiles, leaning on his side and looking directly at him while keeping a hand on Stiles’ pale chest, it feels like he’s still all over him. That’s how god damn intense he is.

Stiles has to look away from his eyes. It’s too much. He looks up at the ceiling, parts his lips and blinks once or twice. “I just came my brains out.” That’s the feeling. Like his brain just went shooting out of his dick – apologies for the imagery.

Derek seems pleased by this. It’s even more evident when he says, “I just fucked your brains out, you mean.”

“I’d be embarrassed by that,” Stiles points out, finally sliding his eyes back to where Derek is staring at him. “But there’s not enough blood for my cheeks. It’s all down south. Down there.”

Fingers drag up and down Stiles’ chest and stomach, the slide of it the only noise in the room. Which is when Stiles remembers that they’re in the train depot, abandoned, in the middle of a rain storm, and they just had sex. Stiles and Derek just had sex. And it was fucking unbelievable. All the details of it, of this entire night, straight down from TJ’s and the milkshakes and the thunder and the curse – it was all…perfect.

A perfect night. Stiles never thought there could be such a thing. Not in a place like this, and not with who they are, but they’ve done it.

Stiles finally gets his wits about him to turn onto his hip and face Derek directly. He runs his fingers through the alpha’s shaggy black hair, all dry now from being inside and warm for enough time to do so. “I want to say something,” he says, and Derek is listening to him. Eyes on him, only him. If he listens closely, he can still hear the rain pouring down on the roof, dripping everywhere. “It’s kind of crazy.”

“Okay.”

“I know it’s crazy, I know it – but I think I…” he looks into Derek’s eyes, and he just feels so…full. “…I think I’m in love – with – you?” The words come out choppy and weird, like they were decided on as he was saying them. And that’s how it feels. The feeling comes over him like lightning and he can’t deny it, not even a little bit. He is. He’s in love with Derek.

It’s a relief, then, that Derek smiles right back at him. “I know, I know,” he pulls in close, presses his nose against Stiles’ and rubs them together. “I love you. I love you,” a kiss, and then another, “I love you. Tell me again.”

Stiles kisses him back, pressing his body back up against Derek’s. “I love you,” he says it with much more conviction this time, and Derek melts into him. “It’s crazy.”

“It’s not. I’ve known you for so long,” Stiles buries his face into Derek’s neck as he talks, feeling the vibrations of his voice against his cheek. “I know you so well, it’s not weird, it’s not sudden.”

Even though it seems instant. Even though Scott had looked at him like he was insane and said it must be the magic. Even though Allison seemed happy but confused. Even though a month ago they were fighting and Stiles was massively depressed and his best friend was dead – even in spite of it all.

It seems as natural as the tide meeting the sand. It’s just been a while, and Derek went dry and Stiles pulled back too far – because of course. Derek is the land, the steady and strong beacon that waits, and waits, and Stiles is the ocean. The ceaseless moving mass with power and depths so dark few are brave enough to look there, and Stiles himself too angry and powerful to let anyone deep enough.

But Stiles loves Derek. And Derek loves him back. Poets might say it’s magic, but Stiles knows there’s no beauty or art in the real magic. This isn’t that. This is reality. Mundane and boring and explosive, all at once.

Chapter Text

When they wake up in the morning, Stiles is a bit disoriented. He’s wrapped around Derek like a squid taking hold of its prey, and Derek is snoring directly into his neck and, matter of fact, drooling on his shoulder. They’re in the train depot. Stiles is naked, and so is Derek, and the light is still on above their heads. Stiles blinks at the ceiling, and then Derek is stirring.

He wakes with an abrupt stop in the middle of a snore. Stiles is going to make fun of him for that later, but for now, he’s content to listen and feel Derek slowly waking, moving his body against Stiles’ as he blinks and frowns himself. It was like he heard Stiles’ heartbeat move from the steady thump of sleep and into the quicker pace of his alertness, and had no choice but to wake himself.

They meet each other’s eyes. “Hi,” Stiles says, and for the first time since last night, does feel a tinge of embarrassment. He’s coming to terms all over again, with the fact that he and Derek – you know. Really fucking did it. And did it with fireworks and sparklers and a whole barbecue, fourth of July intense style.

But, Derek just smiles at him all sleepy and soft and Stiles wants to curl inside of him and never leave this room or this bed.

Of course they have to, because it’s the next day and there are people and responsibilities waiting for them. When Stiles sits up on the edge of the bed and Derek pulls himself up after him, he checks his phone to find it dead. Derek says he left his in the car to keep it safe from the water, which was probably smart and Stiles should’ve thought the same, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Neither of them have any clue what time it is, but Stiles feels rested enough to be sure he got a full eight hours, wrapped up with Derek. It’s the longest and soundest he’s slept in a very long time.

They fuck again, uncaring of the fact that it could be two in the afternoon and Stiles has missed work or people are looking for them. Derek goes slow and easy, because Stiles is still a little sore, but it’s just as good as before. They kiss and whisper to each other as they go along, and Derek holds Stiles like fine porcelain underneath his fingers and Stiles has never felt so good in his entire life. It’s unlike anything else.

Stiles puts on those clothes that Derek had given him last night that he never actually put on, and Derek’s jeans are dry enough that he slides those on along with a new/old shirt. When they step outside, Stiles deems it late morning. Eleven, maybe.

They walk to the gas station, which turns out to only be three blocks away, and fill up a gas can. Stiles buys them coffee and slightly stale donuts, but neither of them seem to mind it that much. Even though the coffee is burned and tastes like it’s been sitting there all night, even though Derek gets gas all over his fingers, the sun is out and Stiles feels happy. He can tell that Derek does, too, even though his emoting can sometimes be a little off.

In the car, Stiles licks the last juices from his donut off his fingers and observes the actual time on the dashboard clock – he had been right. It’s 11:30 in the morning and neither of them are really late for anything. In spite of that, it still feels as though they’ve left for a little while longer. As though they just went on a very long trip, just the two of them, and now they’re coming back home and everything is going to seem just a little different when they step inside Stiles’ apartment.

Derek slows at a stop sign, taking another sip of his coffee and making a face at it. Then, he has another sip. “Like drinking tar right?” Stiles smirks at him, pressing his head back against the seat rest.

“Even you make better coffee than this.”

“You’re not allowed to say things like that to me anymore,” Stiles haughtily puts his own coffee in the cup holder. “You’re under obligation to be nice to me 24/7 if we’re gonna date.”

“That means you’re under obligation too,” he raises his eyebrows at him, and then presses on the gas again.

“Uh,” Stiles taps his chin, “I don’t really do nice.”

“Well, neither do I.”

Stiles smiles at his profile, and thinks that that’s not necessarily true. No, Derek isn’t nice in the strictest sense of the word, and he’s gruff and rarely smiles and always has some bullshit comment to make that comes from a place of general disillusionment, but he’s…soft. On the inside. Even then, only when he wants to be – but he seems to want to be for Stiles, and Stiles alone.

He reaches over to where Derek’s free hand, the one that isn’t operating the steering wheel at the moment, is resting on his thigh. He tugs at it, and then makes quick work of lacing their fingers together. Derek allows this with little to no reaction, just squeezing back and keeping his eyes on the road.

Stiles likes him so much. He just wants to be close to him all the time. As close as physically possible.

They pull up in Stiles’ apartment parking lot, right next to Stiles’ Jeep, and climb out. Stiles notices Allison’s car parked a few spots down and smirks to himself. Yeah, she and Scott are back together. Even if they aren’t, they will be. Stiles is glad for it. He knows he can’t really be there for Scott, even when he should be, because he’s not good at that kind of a thing – but Allison is.

At the door, Stiles fumbles with his keys and has to jerk the lock to get it to open, but when it does, both he and Stiles freeze at the sight that awaits them.

Scott is there, and so is Allison, and that’s not surprising – but then there’s Lydia. She’s sitting on the couch drinking something, maybe tea spiked with rum like she’s so fond of, and when the door opens, she turns quickly and looks surprised. Then, Melissa, which isn’t shocking but Stiles hasn’t seen her or talked to her since – well. For a couple of weeks. He thought himself still in the doghouse where she was concerned and has been keeping his distance.

They decided not to tell her, not ever, that Scott was in hell. It was the right thing to do for everyone – even though it makes Stiles seem like the bad guy. Maybe she thinks he tore Scott out of heaven or something, Stiles doesn’t know. She won’t talk to him, so it’s hard to say.

Most surprising of all, is Stiles’ father. In full Sheriff’s regalia, looking very serious.

Stiles and Derek hover in the doorway for a moment, while everyone just sort of stares at them for a moment. Stiles turns to Derek and finds a puzzled expression there, and he must be trying to read the emotions in the room. Stiles can only use his good sense and eyes to do so, and what he sees is…worry? Relief? Both, at once.

Scott is the first to speak. He walks forwards with his hands out like what the fuck, furrowing his brow. “Where the hell have you two been?” He demands, and Stiles is dumbfounded. “You weren’t answering your phones,” because Stiles’ was dead and Derek’s was in the car, “you were gone all night!”

Suddenly this ambush makes perfect sense. Stiles hadn’t considered it any point during the night, because he was all wrapped up in Derek in Derekland and that’s really all he cared about for a blessed sixteen hours, but looking at all the facts of it now…

“We thought you’d gotten yourself sucked into a demonic vortex,” Lydia is straightforward, putting her mug down on the coffee table and sighing all put upon. She looks tired.

“Oh,” Stiles says, eyebrows going up. “We –“

“Where were you?” Scott takes another step forward, and Stiles looks at Derek again. He’s just sort of standing there looking a bit awkward, and it likely has a lot to do with the fact that Stiles’ father is eyeballing him. Very, very hard. The way he looks at criminals.

“Derek ran out of gas,” Stiles explains, and finally he walks all the way into the apartment and drags Derek along with him. As he closes the door behind them, he continues. “And it was pouring rain, but we were uh – right by Derek’s old place.”

“His old place,” Allison says this slowly, because she remembers the only other place he could be referring to. The train depot. Not very romantic, in her eyes.

“Yeah, so we just…” he rubs at the back of his neck and feels guilty, cowed. “…stayed there. I didn’t really think –“

“We were worried,” Melissa says, and Stiles looks at her. He stares at her face and tries to find some judgment or reproval there, hatred even, but he finds none. “Scott says that you’re…” she trails off, as if she can’t find the right word.

“Cursed,” Lydia gives it to her, and Stiles rubs his forehead.

“You vanished overnight, no call,” Scott continues on and Stiles keeps rubbing his forehead, again and again. “We were about to launch, like, an investigation.”

As he says this, he gestures to the Sheriff – Stiles’ father. Who is still standing there glaring at Derek with his hands on his utility belt, and Stiles just huffs.

“We’re back now, I’m – I’m sorry?”

Everyone’s reaction to this is mostly just a sigh or an eye-roll, and Stiles figures himself mostly out of the dog house. Derek, he thinks, will stay in the dog house of some people for days, weeks, months yet to come, but they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

Derek puts his hand on the small of Stiles’ back and guides him forward, further into the living room, closer to Scott. Scott, who looks at him not with disdain or contempt but with honest relief, sizing his best friend up from head to toe as if checking for any injuries. It’s a lot like the way Scott used to look at him when he was the alpha, and Stiles was under his care and watch.

Now, Derek is the alpha. And Derek can’t seem to keep his hands off of Stiles for one solid second.

“You guys were really going to send the dogs out after us?” Stiles asks this of his father, who finally looks away from Derek to look right into his son’s eyes.

“A search party,” his father explains, and Stiles can only…imagine.

If they had walked in on that train depot, in on Derek’s old bedroom, either last night or this morning, and seen with their own eyes what happened in there. He imagines his father bursting in on that, and his cheeks get all hot and he feels the need to jump out of a window even just from the thought of it. Frankly, just having his father’s assessing cop-gaze on the both of them now that he has all the information and likely knows exactly what they were up to makes him want to evaporate.

“I’ll call next time,” Stiles promises, and the Sheriff looks at him like damn right you will, and then looks at Derek like give me one good reason to not shoot you right between the eyes here and now.

For his part, Derek bears this with little more than a steady return gaze, blank expression on his face. He’s probably been stared down by countless other fathers in his time, and is used to it by now. A silence descends, while Melissa shifts uncomfortably and clears her throat and Allison and Lydia sort of skirt off to the side like they’re getting the hint things are about to get awkward, and then the Sheriff is clearing his throat.

“Stiles,” he starts, gesturing towards the hall, “can I talk to you?”

This is not going to be a fun conversation. Stiles can tell just from the look on his face. But there’s literally no place to run and if he tried it, his dad could hunt him down. So he just sighs and shirks out of reach of Derek’s hands, walking ahead into the hallway and listens to his father’s heavy footsteps following after him.

They crowd into the hall, where it’s darker and where they can only just barely make out the voices of everyone else trying to start up a normal conversation and pretending like Stiles isn’t about to get chewed out, and Stiles turns and faces his dad head on.

“Look,” he starts, before his father can – it’s what he’s particularly good at. “Derek isn’t a murderer and he never was! Well. At least not of innocent people. No innocents have been killed at Derek’s hands. Well. Except for that one time, but he was in high school and mostly it was Peter masterminding the whole thing, and really –“

The Sheriff holds a hand up, and Stiles abruptly shuts up. In spite of what some people might believe because of Stiles’ proclivity to break the rules and generally be a smart mouth, his father is a strict, authoritarian type of a man. He doesn’t do bullshit, and Stiles knows when he’s not fucking around anymore.

“Derek Hale is one thing,” he says this very slowly, in a voice that suggests Derek Hale is about fifteen thousand things instead of just one. “There are more important things to talk about. Lydia says she’s worried about you.”

A steady gaze, searching eyes. Stiles can’t hide from that. “Lydia worries too much for her own good.”

“She says you’ve gotten yourself into a bit of trouble,” he puts his hands on his belt again, not breaking Stiles’ eye contact no matter how hard Stiles tries. “The kind of trouble I can’t necessarily help you with.”

Demonic trouble. The forces of archaic evil trouble. No, the BHSD can’t help him very much with any of that. “Bringing Scott back,” he begins, trying to keep his tone level instead of panicked, “was a big deal. Not just because it was a big spell, but because…the kind of things that I had to –“

Had to.” The words are icy, chilly. “No one said you had to.”

He’s never going to be able to make his father understand this. He used to get creeped out when Stiles would build an entire lasagna from scratch and then zap it with its fingertips so it was steaming in a matter of seconds instead of the usual fifty minutes it takes to cook. His opinion on truly strong magic has always been that he didn’t want to know about it or see it.

And his opinion on necromancy, Stiles is, quite frankly, afraid of. “Dad,” he says it slow again, only barely condescending. “He was in a very bad place. I knew he was. And he’ll tell you the same.”

“You could’ve talked to me. Not – not Derek Hale.” The name comes out like he’s disgusted by it, when fucking the week Scott died his tune was all he’s a good person, blah blah, he’s the alpha now, blah blah. The sheer knowledge that the dude has put his hands on his son is enough to make the Sheriff hate him on principle alone.

“And you would’ve said no,” Stiles shakes his head. “I knew what I had to do, okay?”

The Sheriff knows he’d have said no, he knows that. He’s not heartless, not by a long shot, and he really did and does love Scott like a second son. But he’s also too logical for his own good – weighing the pros and cons of every possible scenario, and he’d have said the cons for this would’ve far out weighed any potential benefits.

“And Derek thought this was a good idea.”

“Derek told me not to do it. Begged me not to, as a matter of fact.”

And Stiles did it anyway.

“Now, Scott is back. Okay? I did that. And, okay, yeah, there are other fun repercussions of my actions, but I’m not in trouble. Just…” he shakes his head again, trying to put it into just the right words to make his father listen to him. “…magic is dangerous. You’ve always known that. But they can’t really hurt me.”

His father stares at him. He stares, and stares. His magical knowledge is limited to only what Stiles has told him, and the problem with that is that Stiles has always been reluctant to ever be completely honest with his father about most of these things. There are lightyears worth of paragraphs and specifics that his dad just can’t even guess at. And Stiles will never tell him.

He loses sleep over werewolves and monsters enough already. He doesn’t need to know that right now, as they speak, there’s something watching them.

“Scott is alive again,” he goes on when the silence gets to be too much. Down the hall, they’re all still talking in low mumbles, and Stiles can’t imagine what they’re discussing. “I knew it was the right thing to do.”

They look at one another. Stiles is older and taller, almost at his dad’s height, but sometimes when his dad looks at him like that, he feels like a little kid all over again. Like one word of disapproval from him would make him cry and run up into his bedroom and hide underneath the covers, ashamed.

But, luckily, his father loves him pretty much more than anything else in the world, and he doesn’t get angry. He just reaches out and pulls Stiles in for one of his patented big bear dad hugs, tight and sure and firm, and Stiles melts into it. He hadn’t realized, in these past two months, how much he really needed his dad, even for just a second – but now that he’s here, Stiles feels genuine relief. Like a weight is being lifted off his shoulders.

“I won’t say I’m proud,” he says against Stiles’ shoulder before pulling back and looking him in the face, “but I’m impressed. Lydia also said you must be very – er- powerful.”

Stiles smiles. “I guess I am.”

They separate all the way, but his dad keeps one hand firm on his shoulder. He puts on dad face. Stiles knows it well. “And I don’t like you and Derek Hale.”

“Okay,” Stiles shrugs. He doesn’t live at home anymore and he’s an adult with his own place and his own car and his own bills to worry about, so there’s not much the Sheriff can do other than make his opinion known.

“That’s all I’ll say.”

**

It seemed like the only one who didn’t appear that worried about Stiles being gone for a long time was Tink. When he and Derek walk into his room after all is said and done, Tink is sleeping on Stiles’ pillow. She lifts her head, flicks her tongue in their direction, and then quickly coils back up, turning her back on them.

Likely, she knew Stiles was fine. They must have some kind of spiritual or magical connection. It would explain a lot.

“I can’t believe they were really going to get the Sheriff’s department involved,” Stiles says as he pulls his shoes off and dumps them onto his floor with two loud thumps. As expected, shortly after, there are three loud returning bangs on the ceiling below. Stiles rolls his eyes and barely even reacts to it. “Like, all we were doing was screwing around.”

Derek sits down next to him on the bed, reaching his hand up to gently run his fingers through Stiles’ hair. “People care about you,” he says, and Stiles has to nod. They do. Even in spite of everything he’s done, there are still people that care about him. It’s a nice feeling, if a little overdramatic for his tastes.

Derek goes on petting at Stiles’ hair for another couple of seconds, and Stiles allows it a bit imperiously. He ducks his head into the touch and fakes a purr like a cat, which makes Derek huff a laugh and roll his eyes.

“Is it bad that I kinda already wanna have sex again?”

“I figured you’d be like that,” Derek tells him with a shrug. “You jerk off a lot.”

Stiles hides his face behind one hand, pulling away from Derek’s touch. “Werewolves can’t hear it if it’s in the shower, and don’t tell me any differently.”

“Sure,” Derek says. It is not very convincing.

“Don’t be gross,” Stiles accuses, dodging away from Derek’s hand when he tries to reach out and touch Stiles again. “Don’t listen to me when I’m in the shower. Of all places, of all the places on planet earth where a person can go to be free from werewolf particulars, the shower is the one place a man should be able to feel safe.”

“I promise.” He puts his hand over his heart, and Stiles knows he’s being mocked. “I won’t listen to you in the shower anymore.” He pauses, cocking his head to the side. “I’ll just join you instead.”

“You’re gross,” Stiles says, but he’s laughing and – frankly – not hating the thought at all. He pokes him in the stomach with a long finger, and Derek huffs and takes it hostage, curling their fingers together. Stiles tries to break out of the hold to no avail, Derek holding on tight and smirking at him while Stiles laughs and jostles the bed a bit in his struggles.

It’s shaping up to be a real wrestling match. Derek moves like he’s about to try and climb on top of Stiles, which he’s sure would’ve been endgame either way, and Stiles hisses laughter between his teeth, and then – “ugh.”

Scott is standing in Stiles’ doorway, frowning. Stiles hadn’t heard him come in, and from the look on Derek’s face, he would bet Derek hadn’t either. Which is weird, because Derek hears and notices everything

Except for, maybe, when he’s being distracted by Stiles. Which is both flattering and a little scary in equal amounts – because Stiles can be distracting. And he’s not just talking about in the sexy way, either.

“Hey,” Stiles says, shoving Derek’s hands off and away from him, much to Derek’s evident chagrin. He sits up a little straighter, clearing his throat. “What’s uh – what’s up?”

Scott eyeballs them both for several heavy seconds. If he were the same old Scott from before his death, he’d likely be going on a long spiel about how weird it is that his best friend and Derek of all fucking people are screwing around with one another, and how they shouldn’t even glance at one another in Scott’s presence because he doesn’t wanna know or see anything, and on and on and on.

As it is, he just stares with a grimace. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says a bit too enthusiastically. Then, they stare at each other for some more.

Alone?”

Stiles and Scott both look at Derek at the same time, so Derek is forced to look between the two of them with a blank expression on his face. He sighs through his nose and looks up at the ceiling, his lips pressed into a firm line. If he wants to say something, he won’t.

“Uh – okay.” Stiles stands up, leaving Derek sitting on the edge of the bed by himself. As he turns to walk away, he notices Tink waking up and rearing her head, taking stock of the fact that Stiles is leaving and, at last, her and Derek will be alone in a room together without Stiles to watch her like a hawk. She’s probably thinking it’s her shot to finally bite Derek without any repercussions, because by the time Stiles comes back into the room, the evidence will have already healed itself and Tink would just deny it up and down in spite of Derek’s insistence.

She’s not malicious, but she’s mean as a taunted alligator.

So Stiles makes quick work of scooping her up with both hands, cradling her in his palm and shooting Derek one last look. “I’ll be right back,” he says, while Tink glares in his general direction and looks put out.

He and Scott pile out into the hallway, and Scott, for whatever reason, makes it a point to shut the door tight behind them. Stiles wants to ask him if he remembers that werewolves can hear through walls just fine without even really trying, but judging from the look on his face and his general desire to keep Derek out of all things these days, it wouldn’t help their situation very much to go pointing it out. He stays quiet, in the shadows of the hall, holding Tink in his hand and feeling very small under his best friend’s gaze.

It’s not like it was before. It used to be that Scott’s direct eye contact was easy and thoughtless for Stiles, because he knew it so well. Now, Scott’s eyes are a little harder around the edges, harsh and sometimes so distant they’re frosty cold.

Scott leans one shoulder up against the wall and crosses his arms, flicking his eyes to look just past Stiles’ head as a way to avoid eye contact. “I was really worried about you,” he starts, voice a quiet hum.

“I said I was sorry –“

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad,” he interrupts. “I just – I was really, really worried. It’s…it’s the most emotion I’ve felt in some time. Worrying about you.”

Stiles swallows and looks at Tink. She’s serene and calm in his fingers, listening intently it would seem. He doesn’t know what to say.

“I’ve got so much to say to you that I sometimes – it sometimes gets so jumbled. In my head. And I go with…anger. Because it’s easiest out of everything to – express.”

Stiles nods his head. He knows what that feels like.

“I’ve – there’s so much. There’s so much. I know that it seems like, or that it is like, I haven’t been…grateful. To you. For what you did.”

Stiles takes a step forward, parting his lips. “You don’t have to thank me -“

“No, I do.” He insists this, makes it sound like absolute and complete law, no way to argue it. “I shouldn’t have said what I said before, and I’m sorry. What you did, for me…”

“You know I had to,” Stiles’ voice is quiet and sure – of course he had to. He never had a choice, not about any of it.

“You’re so powerful and smart. Sometimes I think I don’t appreciate you enough.”

Sure, there have been those occasions. Stiles wasn’t always a super powerful witch, after all – there was a time, a brief window, where he was just the human sidekick who bumbled along and did everything that Scott more or less ignored. Almost getting killed by this or that because Scott was too busy doing whatever it was, and solving the problem and getting no recognition, and getting hurt and being told to stay home…yeah, there were times Scott treated him like he was, for lack of a better word, a non-essential.

“You went through all that to bring me back, and lately I’ve just been…” he picks at the pocket on his t-shirt, lips tight in a frown as he deliberately avoids eye contact. “…I haven’t been grateful.”

Stiles sighs through his nose, and he can’t argue that. Of course Scott has an excuse, because he was literally fucking dead for two weeks and spent a decent amount of time in Hell – but then again, it was starting to get to the point where it wasn’t really fair any more. There’s not much for him to say and even less for him to argue, so in lieu of saying anything at all, he just reaches his free hand out and pulls Scott in for a hug.

Scott responds in kind, pulling him close up against his body with both arms and holding on for dear life. “You’re my best friend,” he murmurs into Stiles’ ear, “and I’m sorry.”

“Me, too,” Stiles says – though for what, he isn’t quite sure.

A beat or two passes where they’re just hugging each other, and Tink makes an annoyed sound at being pressed tightly in between their two bodies that goes ignored, and Stiles feels like, finally, he has done the right thing. Living life waiting on the recognition and applause of others won’t ever get him anywhere, but he needed the support from his best friend. Everyone else can think what they want about what he did, Lydia and Melissa and all of them – as long as Scott appreciates it, he really doesn’t care.

Scott says, “and you’re too good for Derek.”

Huffing a laugh, Stiles finally pulls away and looks Scott square in the eye. “I know. But someone needs to pay for my expensive lifestyle.”

“In all seriousness, if you’re happy…” he cringes and makes a chuffing sound, frowning so deeply it’s like he’s frowning all the way down to his neck, “…I guess I support it.”

He’s only saying it to be nice. When Scott decides he dislikes someone in Stiles’ name, that’s to the fucking grave. Even though he knew Derek for years before he and Stiles ever started touching one another, none of that fucking matters now. Now, Derek is just the guy who puts his hands on his best friend. That’s enough said.

“But what are you going to do about that?” Scott’s finger points upwards, toward the ceiling, and Stiles makes a face – confused.

He follows Scott’s finger up and up, and as he looks, his mouth opens and he can’t think of anything to say. There’s a blood stain there, spreading and spreading across the textured white ceiling. It’s an arm’s length in size right now, but something tells Stiles it started as a small puddle and then grew, and grew, and grew, as though there’s something on the floor above them slowly bleeding out and no one’s found the body yet.

“They can’t really hurt us,” he says, for what feels like the ten thousandth time.

Lately, though, he’s been starting to wonder.

When Stiles comes back into his bedroom, Derek is still sitting on the edge of the bed, suggesting that he hasn’t moved a muscle since Stiles last left him. He likely just sat there listening to everything he and Scott said to one another and will probably continue to do things like that unless otherwise directly told by Stiles to turn his ears off for a second.

He says, “how’d it go?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know.” Stiles puts Tink down on his bedside table, where she beelines it for a small saucer of lukewarm water Stiles leaves out for her every morning. She laps it up quickly, side-eyeing Derek as she does so. “What big ears you have, grandma.”

Derek doesn’t even try to deny it. He just nods his head and looks thoughtful for a moment, watching Stiles as he sits down right next to him and jostles the bed. “It sounds like it went well.”

“It did. I guess I just never really thought about what consequences there would be to bringing Scott back other than him coming back as a zombie,” he twiddles his fingers and shrugs, not meeting Derek’s eyes. “I thought he’d come back and everything would be normal. In the aftermath, I don’t know. Neither of us are handling it well.”

“I think you are,” Derek says, so earnest it can’t be anything but the truth, and Stiles just – wants to melt into him. Even if it’s not entirely the truth, it doesn’t matter. It’s what Stiles needs to hear, and Derek knows that, so he said it.

“Hey,” Stiles says, turning to face him head on with a small smile on his face. “People care about you too, you know.”

A sad, barely-there smile touches Derek’s lips. He looks down at his lap and shrugs his shoulders, self-deprecation there in that gesture alone. “I didn’t see Erica or Isaac there wondering where the hell I’d been all night.”

Stiles furrows his brows and realizes he hadn’t even thought about that. How throughout this entire ordeal the only remaining members of Derek’s actual blood and flesh pack haven’t even shown up. Not fucking once, not since Derek got the alpha power. And they tried to run out on him once before already. It makes Stiles so angry in that moment, to think that it hurts Derek’s feelings or makes him feel inadequate or all alone.

“I care about you,” he promises, reaching out to grab the hand closest to him and squeeze. “If anything ever happened to you, I don’t know what I’d do. I’m your pack.”

There’s this second, where Derek seems to be searching Stiles’ face. Not trying to find a lie or a reason why Stiles wouldn’t be telling the truth, but just committing the moment to memory. Or like he can’t believe this is happening to him, that he really has Stiles and Stiles really loves him, and he’s savoring every second of it. Basking in the feeling of finally, finally, being loved and wanted.

He surges forward and kisses Stiles on the temple, before using a big hand to tuck Stiles’ head underneath his chin. Stiles wraps his arms around Derek’s middle and closes his eyes, breathing in Derek’s scent – the forest, and coffee, and power and love. “I love you, baby,” Derek says into his hair, and Stiles sighs in contentment. “You’re the only one I need, you know that?”

“Yeah.” Stiles says. He pulls out of Derek’s hold so he can lift his face up, kiss him on the lips, again and again. Derek breathes against Stiles’ nose and cheeks and takes him by his hips and touches him everywhere, every last part of him, that he can, and it’s like little fires spreading out across his skin everywhere those fingers graze.

With fumbling fingers, Derek undoes the button on Stiles’ jeans, murmuring a soft, “come on, come on,” as he works them off over Stiles’ hips.

Stiles has still got bite marks and bruises all along his neck and chest, having barely had the time to heal from when Derek last had his hands all over him – but it doesn’t matter. Not in the least bit. Stiles just wants him. All the time, all over him.

***

Stiles’ eyes open and the first thing he sees is his clock, reading 3:15 AM at him in bright neon in the dark of his bedroom. He stretches, eyes still sleep heavy but cognizant enough to know he won’t be falling back to sleep anytime soon, and sighs through his nose. The sheets rub up against his bare skin, and the only thing he can really see in the dark is Tink snoozing on a book on his desk, tail hanging off the side into his underwear drawer.

He turns over and faces the ceiling, and his hand brushes up against Derek’s chest as he does so. He curls his fingers around the alpha’s side and snuggles a bit closer to his skin, finding comfort there even though he’s dead asleep and snoring.

Or – was. Abruptly, Derek’s snores cease, and his eyes blink open eerily fast. They glow red in the dark, as though he senses some form of danger, and then quickly dim when he sees it’s just Stiles and Stiles alone. “Let me guess,” Stiles grouses in a rasp, voice still sleeping even though he’s awake, “I woke you up.”

“Irregular heartbeat,” he explains groggily, stretches so hard his back pops and he grunts. “When you sleep, your heart is constant no matter what. You woke up and it startled me. I thought you were being attacked.”

“That’ll come in handy when I do get attacked someday,” he pecks Derek on the nose with his lips, smirking in the dark. “Until then, you’ll just have to be an insomniac like me.”

“Great.” Derek is not a morning person. He’s, frankly, not a being-awake person generally. His mood during the day after he’s had his shower and coffee is surly enough, but him before coffee? A different person entirely.

All the same, he paws at Stiles’ naked body softly – not with any intent to do anything, but just to touch him and make sure he’s there and whole and okay. Stiles is so fond of him, from the bottom up, it’s insane.

“Hey, can I ask you about something?” Stiles shifts around in the bed so he can turn over onto his side, propping his head up with his elbow on the pillow. Derek looks back at him and nods, wordlessly. “It’s a bit personal. I don’t want to, uh…upset you.”

“Ask away,” Derek grouses. He sounds so angry just from being woken up, it’s almost funny – Stiles has to suppress a smile.

He runs his fingers up and down Derek’s bare chest, and like a dog getting a belly rub, Derek actually pulls the sheet off of him farther so Stiles’ fingers can reach more of him. He leans into the touch gratefully, sighing and meeting Stiles’ eyes even as Stiles tries to look away. “I just – you and I. You’re my – boyfriend, right?”

“Yes.”

“So we’re in a relationship.”

“Unless boyfriend suddenly means something else.”

“It doesn’t,” Stiles shakes his head. “I just…when you’re in a relationship with someone,” he drags his nails up and down Derek’s skin and Derek shivers against the touch, “you tell them stuff. Like. So let’s just say I had been, you know. In a relationship with a guy who hit me or something.”

Derek goes still. Abruptly, he grabs Stiles’ wrist to get him to stop and forces their eyes to meet. “Who hit you?” he demands, serious as all fucking get out.

“What?” Stiles is alert. “No one, it’s just –“

“Stiles.”

“It’s a hypothetical.”

Derek looks at him very steadily, very seriously.

“I’ve never even dated anyone, who’s my crazy abusive ex? My old Godzilla stuffed animal?”

After another second, Derek releases his wrist but narrows his eyes. Stiles can only imagine what he would do if Stiles really did have some abusive ex-boyfriend to tell Derek all about – more likely than not, his father would call the next day and casually mention the crazy case of some remains of a mauled to death man found in the woods by the landfill just outside of the preserve.

“I was just – you know. If something like that had happened to me, you’d wanna know. Because it’s…that’s important.”

“Right,” Derek agrees slowly. He has no idea where this is going, clearly.

Stiles puts his fingers on Derek’s chest again and sighs through his nose, again avoiding Derek’s eyes. “I just – I wanted to ask you. About…Kate.”

Instead of immediately recoiling or getting a disgusted look on his face, like Stiles would have expected, Derek actually…smiles. Smiles. “You want to ask me about Kate.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, confusion all over his tone. “Yeah. Because she was - she – I just always thought. She like…messed you up? Or something?”

Derek snorts. He snorts, and Stiles is flabbergasted. He sits up all the way, so the sheets pool around his bare hips and he shakes his head, moving his eyes to the ceiling. “Look. Turn on the lights.”

Stiles swallows, but he murmurs lights all the same, and on they go. In the bright fluorescence, Derek looks even more amused than he had before. It’s fucking absurd. Maybe Derek is so deeply tormented by Kate’s memory he can’t help but go a little looney toons whenever she’s brought up. Honestly, it would explain a lot.

“How much do you think you know about Kate and I’s relationship?”

Stiles has no choice but to sit up himself, and as he does so, he rubs the back of his neck. This is not the conversation he had been expecting to have. “Well. You were sixteen, and she was older.”

“Twenty-five.”

“That’s. Fucking. Gross.”

“But continue,” Derek gestures his hand, and Stiles huffs.

“And then she killed your family. So I just – you know…I just thought…” he swallows, looks away again. “…she was abusive?”

Derek doesn’t laugh or smile this time, but he also doesn’t look deeply disturbed or traumatized. He simply sighs, and then adjusts the sheets in such a way that he can face Stiles entirely. He exposes himself a bit, but he’s mindless to it at the moment, taking both of Stiles’ hands in his and looking him dead in the eyes. “It was wrong, but I didn’t know it at the time. She never hit me or explicitly forced me to do anything I didn’t want to –“

Stiles is about to open his mouth to say okay, yes, but it was statutory rape, but Derek keeps talking right over him.

“…but I didn’t know it. To me, I was a god because I was hooking up with a college-aged girl. I thought I was cool.”

Stiles makes a face, and Derek smiles lightly right back at him.

“When I think about it now knowing what I know and knowing what it was all about, it sometimes makes me feel…used. Gross. But she was just manipulative and a liar and used me for her own gains. It took me a while to understand that,” his gaze is steady and serious, and he squeezes Stiles’ fingers harder. “I don’t feel sexually violated or something. The trauma from that time – it comes from other places. She was a terrible person and she’s dead now – it happened, and it’s over, and I don’t think about her anymore. It’s better that way. I used to carry around a lot of guilt and a lot of self-blame, but I learned. She manipulated me and used her influence and power over me to kill my family. That wasn’t my fault. I was just a kid. I know that, now.”

Stiles almost doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say. He feels the weight of Derek’s hands in his and bites his lip and swallows and doesn’t know what to do. “I’m sorry,” he says, because it feels like the right thing. “I just – I wanted to know if…”

“…if I had issues with intimacy or something? If you were going to touch me a certain way at some point and I’d freak out?”

Stiles’ face goes beet red and he wants to vanish into the sheets, feeling like a villain out of a movie for some reason.

Instead of getting angry with him or making fun of him, Derek frees one of his hands from Stiles’ and cups it against Stiles’ cheek, smiling softly at him. His thumb strokes along Stiles’ jaw, and he looks so gentle and honest, in this moment. “You care about me,” he says, and Stiles just nods. “Even if I had any problems, it wouldn’t be a problem with you. I trust you implicitly.”

“Me with you,” Stiles’ voice is a whisper.

“Thank you for asking me about that,” he says this as though he knows Stiles sort of regrets it. “You’re not as caustic as you can seem. Did you know that?”

“I cry all the time,” Stiles’ cheeks turn red and he looks away, “yeah, I know that.”

“I like that about you,” Derek moves his hand down his neck, his collarbones, along his chest. “I like how much you care about things, even though you act like you don’t.”

Embarrassed, Stiles ducks his head. “Thanks. Just – I had to ask.”

“I know.” He takes his hand away from Stiles’ skin and pulls the sheets tighter around himself, rustling around and getting comfortable again. The clock reads almost four o’clock in the morning now, and Stiles figures it’s a good a time as any to fall back asleep before the sun comes back up. “Turn the lights off.”

Stiles fluffs his pillow and makes sure it’s at the perfect angle and temperature, and then spends a bit of time tugging at the sheets himself, getting them where he wants them. Derek is used to Stiles’ weird sleep rituals by now, so he just rests his head on his own pillow and watches with sleepy eyes, a content and lazy smile on his face.

Stiles has gotten everything in their right place, and is just about to clap his hands and watch the lights go off, when something bizarre happens. Bizarre things happening is just a part of Stiles’ life now, and frankly has been ever since he started using magic – but there are some things that Stiles would have said were frankly and entirely impossible. Still to this day, Stiles insists that there is a line that magic cannot cross.

This is an instant he is proven wrong.

From somewhere to his side, maybe across the room or right next to him, a voice that Stiles has never heard before calls his name.

Both Derek and Stiles freeze. Stiles had been punching his pillow one last time, and Derek closing his eyes – but they both stop. Their eyes go wider. They get even bigger when both of them sit up all the way and look across the room and see nothing, no one, not a phantom or a ghost or – anything. Just nothing.

But, again. “Stiles.”

It comes from down below. On the floor. And before Stiles even looks, he knows, knows, whose voice that is.

Derek does, too. “Did that snake just…”

“Oh, my God.” Stiles peers over the side of the bed and Tink is looking right at him, right at him, her mouth open. Like she had just spoken – because holy shit, holy shit, “holy shit,” she did.

Quickly, Stiles leans over the side of the bed and grabs her in both hands, cradling her in his fingers and letting out a breathy, surprised and pleased laugh. “You can talk!” He caws, and Tink looks unamused. She looks at him steadily, peers at Derek with a hint of hostility, and then looks right back at Stiles’ face. She says nothing, nothing at all, and Stiles is wondering if he imagined it. “Say something else.”

She looks at him. Derek stares with his mouth hanging open, eyes wide, completely frozen still with shock – but Stiles leans closer, a leering grin on his face, ecstatic.

When she does speak again, it’s one of the craziest things Stiles has ever seen in his life. An animal, a snake, moving its mouth to form English syllables. She says, “I’m worried.”

Stiles is a bit deaf to the words she actually speaking. All he notices is how her voice sounds, how she looks talking, how his snake is talking to him right now and Derek is hearing it too so it’s not just a fucking hallucination, it couldn’t be. He knew, he knew there was something insanely supernatural about Tinkerbelle. Her voice is girlish but low at the same time, direct and serious, and Stiles hugs her a bit closer to his chest in delight.

He’s just about to open his mouth and gush about how cool it is, and what else can she say, and can she read too, and this that and the other thing – but then Derek puts his hand on his shoulder and looks very serious. “Stiles,” he says, voice quiet and not excited at all, “what did she say?”

“She said –“ Stiles pauses, suddenly not remembering. “I – what did you say?” He holds her up in his palm, so she’s almost standing on a stage performing for them.

“I’m worried,” she repeats, and Stiles tries to ignore again how insane it is that she’s speaking and only focus on the words she says. “Something bad is going to happen.”

Derek and Stiles share a look. Neither of them say anything, and Tink slithers out of his hand and vanishes underneath the bed.

**

“We don’t know what she meant.”

“We don’t – what?” Derek’s voice is hilarious when it’s screaming at him in a whisper – but Stiles can’t focus on that, right now. “Stiles, what? She said it, plain and clear!”

“But she – I mean –“

“Stiles.” Derek takes him by the shoulders, fingers gripping him tight and sure, “your pet snake. Spoke for the first time. At four o’clock in the morning. And the first words out of her mouth are a warning.”

Stiles swallows, looks down the hallway. After she had gone under the bed, Derek had been so genuinely freaked out that his first act was to leap out of bed and leave the room bare assed – he fled without a shred of clothing on and Stiles guessed that was his cue to follow. Except, Stiles took the time to put on his boxers, at least.

So there they stand in the shadows of the hallway, most likely hiding from Tink’s very evidently listening ears, Derek bare assed and Stiles in just his underwear, whisper-screaming at each other underneath a giant blood stain that’s getting bigger and bigger every second they stand here speaking. It’s – typical, almost.

“Warning is a strong word.”

“It was, at the very least, ominous. A snake, a talking snake says to you – I – I –“ Derek is having a hard time wrapping his brain around this, evidently.

But he has a point. A talking snake, one that literally came out of Stiles’ body right before he hacked up a pint of blood over his best friend’s grave, just told them that she thinks something bad is going to happen.

“We have no choice but to take that at face value,” Derek goes on, running his hands through his hair a bit manically. “If she says something bad is going to happen – I can’t believe I’m saying this…but I believe her.”

Stiles shakes his head and doesn’t know what to say. He shivers, so he wraps his arms around his middle and chatters his teeth. It’s freezing in this apartment. “I just…”

“No,” Derek shakes his head. “You can’t rationalize this.”

“Well, what the hell am I supposed to do about it? She says that, and then vanishes –“

“She could be an oracle!”

What?” Stiles rears his neck back and frowns. “Where in fuck’s name did you ever hear the term oracle?”

“I know things,” Derek says this dead-ass, completely straight faced, and Stiles almost bursts out laughing. “A talking snake. You know where else there was a talking snake?”

“I can’t believe you’re really about to say –“

“The Bible.”

“Yup,” Stiles nods to himself, lips curving down. “There it is.”

“I just think you need to – listen, God, I can’t…” he sighs deeply through his nose, and then quickly inhales, and exhales again. As though he’s getting his wits about him. It reminds Stiles a lot of the way he used to freak the hell out about magic when all of this first started happening – it’s a lot like being back to the start, honestly. “I know you’re reluctant. But I think you can’t deny that now it’s really, really time. You’ve got to get rid of this curse. It. Will get. Worse. Tinkerbelle just told you so.”

Stiles looks at his feet, at the wall, at the floor, at the blood stain – at anything but Derek’s face. Because now, in this moment, there’s no way to talk his way out of it. He’s backed into a corner, and Derek is looking at him all expectantly because he depends on Stiles to fix this, because Stiles is the only one who can.

“You opened up a portal in your bathroom that night,” Derek says this cautiously, like he’s talking to a spooked animal. “You need to close it.”

And of course, he does.

“Okay,” Stiles says, and Derek sags in relief. Stiles notices that he’s naked again and has to look away, before he does something inappropriate like start laughing. “I’ll – we’ll start working on it tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” Again, he puts his hands on Stiles’ shoulders. “It’ll all get better from there. You’ll see.”

**

“How long have you known you can talk?” Stiles demands, looking Tink dead in the eyes where she’s perched on a stack of books next to his bed.

She flicks her tail – one odd thing about her, still, is that she can’t emote anything on her face. So when she speaks, it’s almost hard to tell tone or context. “Always.”

“How come you never said anything before?”

Another tail flick. She is not enjoying this conversation. “I don’t care to talk much.”

“She doesn’t care to talk much,” Stiles repeats, a little bamboozled. If he were a talking snake, he’d be talking all the fucking time – but then, maybe Tink just doesn’t see it that way. “I can ask her all kinds of shit, Derek,” he leans back and looks at Derek where he’s sitting on the bed from upside down, giving him a wide grin. At least now, he has clothes on. “This is more useful than you realize.”

While Derek supports Tink’s assertion from the night before, that something bad is going to happen if Stiles doesn’t hurry up and fix things, he still doesn’t trust her. The fact that she can talk has only added fuel to the flames – the way he sees it, she’s an abnormality that Stiles is clinging onto against his better judgment. He won’t say that out loud, perhaps out of fear of what Stiles’ reaction would be, but Stiles can tell all the same.

Stiles leans forward, resting his chin in his palm, and grins in Tink’s general direction. She stares back, looks a bit like she wants to slither under the bed again – she tried that a few times, but Derek grabbed her or Stiles blocked her, much to her chagrin. “How come you said something last night?”

“It seemed important.” A tongue flick. “I care about you. Something bad is going to happen.”

“We’ve established that,” Stiles waves his hand as if to toss the thought away. “I want to know what you think is going to happen.”

Tink’s eyes drift to where Derek is sitting, and then she quickly looks back at Stiles. “I can’t say.”

“Because you can’t, or because you genuinely don’t know?”

Tink seems to consider that for a moment. It nearly makes Stiles have a seizure.

He leans forward, nearly whispering to her, and asks, “can you see the future?”

“No,” she hisses, rearing her neck back like she’s a bit disgusted by his stupidity at the moment. “I can sense things. Sometimes. I’m happy to answer your questions,” another glance at Derek, for whatever reason, “but I don’t know much. I’m a snake.”

Stiles puts his chin in his palm again, amazed. She is just a snake. A talking one, sure, but a snake all the same. She doesn’t have the answers to the mysteries of the universe. “Were you really only born when you came out of me?”

“Yes.”

“So you learned to speak English in the span of two months?”

“Your magic created me,” she looks down her nose at him, a bit haughtily. “It’s more intelligent than you give it credit for.”

Stiles taps his chin, mulling that over for a second. “So you’re not…strictly a snake. You’re not…”

“I came from a part of you. I was made with something inside you. Call it what you want.”

“She was made with the mean part of you,” Derek pipes up, and Stiles feels like punching him in the leg. Now that Derek has actually spoken, and insulted her at that, Tink focuses her attention solely on him steadily. Derek sort of leans away from the gaze a bit, as if the fact that he knows she’s sentient and capable of speech suddenly makes her more threatening to him.

She says, “I don’t like you,” very clearly, and Stiles could burst out laughing.

“Yeah, what about that?” Stiles demands, covering his smile with his thumb to the best of his ability. “Why do you hate him so much?”

“I have opinions,” she coils a bit, hunkering down lower and glowering. “I don’t have to rationalize them. He is unlikeable, so I dislike him.”

“Wow,” Stiles murmurs, eyebrows raising. “She was made with the part of me that used to think you were a creep.”

“Shut. The fuck. Up.” Derek intones, and Stiles covers his mouth again.

There’s a beat, and then Tink slithers off the pile of books and takes cover underneath a discarded shirt, rustling around in the fabric until nothing but her tail is visible to either Stiles or Derek. Stiles guesses that’s code for I’m done talking now, and sighs through his nose. He sits on the floor for another couple of seconds, looks at the gaping hole in his floor that seems to be getting bigger every day. “I’ll get rid of the curse,” he decides.

He knows that Derek thinks that as soon as the curse is gone, they’ll be home free and safe, and the dark cloud that’s been hovering above their heads since Stiles went under the water in his bath tub will just vanish like it never had been there at all. Stiles knows he should feel the same – but there’s a part of him, somewhere he’s burying deep, that thinks otherwise.

Chapter Text

Stiles bursts into his father’s house at nine o’clock in the morning and announces himself by slamming the door and shucking his shoes off on the welcome mat as loudly as possible. Derek takes the cue and takes his own shoes off, neatly lining them up right beside the pile Stiles made of his own. Stiles takes the lead and waltzes into the kitchen to find his dad sitting at the table eating breakfast, fully dressed in his regalia. His coffee is already in the to-go cup Stiles had given him two Christmases ago (reading IF IT AIN’T COFFEE, IT’S WATER!), a clear sign that he’s about five minutes from walking out the door already.

He turns, chewing on an English muffin with a surprised look on his face. “Everything okay?”

Stiles unceremoniously plops Tink down on the table about a foot away from where his dad’s plate of food is, and the Sheriff zooms his eyes in on her like he’s about to choke on his food. That’s when Stiles remembers that she and his father have never actually met before – and now he has to think of a way to introduce them. Without mentioning that she’s a talking snake. Something tells Stiles that in spite of everything else the Sheriff has seen since Scott got bitten, a talking snake is right about where he’d draw the line.

“This is Tinkerbelle,” he gestures to her, while she slithers a bit closer to the food on the table. “She’s my pet.”

“A black cat was too on the nose, I guess,” he mutters, grimacing and lifting his coffee away from her scales. Before he can stop her, she pounces on a strip of his bacon and takes it hostage, quickly skirting to the other end of the table to eat it in peace – likely, she could also sense intrinsically that he’s the type of man who would fight to the death for his bacon. “Oh, come on.”

“You shouldn’t be eating that anyway,” Stiles reminds him with a finger wag, which earns him a stern look, but nothing more. “Derek and I just came to see if you had any of my books in storage somewhere.”

The Sheriff stabs his eggs with a bit of a huff, narrowing his eyes at where Tink is crunching happily on his bacon. “The spooky ones, you’re referring to.”

Stiles sighs. “Yes, those exact ones.”

“I put them in the shed,” he gestures with his fork out the kitchen window, and Stiles can just make out the door of the shed in the backyard, right against the treeline. “As far away from me as possible.”

What’s funny is those books are some of the most benign that Stiles owns, all things said and done. A few of them are just old research books containing history and technique and the others are chockfull of some of the most white magic a person could be capable of – all the same, they freak the hell out of his own father and likely most other people.

After everything he’s seen and done, maybe Stiles can understand that.

“I’ll go grab them,” Derek offers, trailing back into the foyer to slip his shoes on. “We’ll take them up to your room and find what we need.”

“Okay,” Stiles calls at his retreating back. When he turns around to face his father, he sees Tink is already descending slowly across the table toward what’s left of the food on his dad’s plate. She stalks toward it like a predator, eyeballing the Sheriff every few seconds like she might have to strike him to get at what she wants.

Instead of any of that happening, the man just sighs and shoves his plate across the table. “All yours,” he says, and Tink all but climbs on top of the plate in her haste to get at the scraps remaining.

The front door closes, and if Stiles listens closely enough he can hear Derek’s feet crunching through the grass and discarded twigs from trees overhead as he moves to the back of the house.

“She’s not a biter is she?”

Stiles looks at where the Sheriff is studiously pushing his chair back away from the table the closer Tink’s body gets to his, and has to resist smiling. “She’s all bark and no bite. She’s threatened to bite Derek about a dozen times, but she never does it.”

It might be a mistake to say that within her hearing distance, but she pays it no mind either way, ripping apart a half eaten biscuit with fervor.

“What’s all this about?” He looks out the window again, where the door to the shed is open and Derek’s silhouette moves back and forth in front of it. “Doing magic?”

“Good magic this time,” Stiles assures him. “Just uh – cleaning up a mess.”

The look he receives in response to that speaks louder and more clearly than his father ever could. It says, Stiles has always been better at making messes than he’s ever been at cleaning them up. Stiles has done his level best to shield his father from any and all magical problems simply on the basis of him not needing to worry about it. But he always seemed to know either way. He could always tell when Stiles was in trouble.

This time is no different. He wipes his mouth lengthwise with a napkin that he then bunches up and plops on his plate right next to where Tink is having her buffet. “I always just assume you know what you’re doing.”

It hangs there, for a second, and then he doesn’t follow it up with anything else. Stiles doesn’t even know how to answer that – because this time, he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. And he can’t admit that to his dad.

“It’s just a little nip and tuck.”

“All right.” Slowly, he stands and takes his coffee with him, patting his pockets to make sure he’s got his wallet and keys and phone. He looks Stiles dead in the eyes, and Stiles gets this feeling that he can see clean through the problem. Stiles almost has to look away. “Why don’t you bring Derek over for dinner sometime? I’ll make burgers.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles agrees quickly, waving his hand. “He’d like that.”

“Oh, he’ll hate it,” he shakes his head as he walks past, sipping at his coffee. “That’s the entire reason I’m making you do it.”

Out the door he goes, and Stiles just stands there frowning and rolling his eyes to the ceiling. In the silence, the silence of his childhood home that he got so familiar with after his mother died and his father threw himself into his work, he thinks he can hear a rumble coming from the basement. There’s nothing down there, he knows, except for pictures and trinkets and a broken recliner chair his dad has never gotten around to fixing, but he looks down at his feet all the same.

He stares at the linoleum and tries to convince himself he’s imagining it – whatever it is. This house isn’t cursed. But Stiles is standing in it.

“Ominous, isn’t it?” Tink says, and Stiles looks at her with a frown. She knows more than she’s letting on. Stiles is sure of that. But he can’t press the issue – she’ll never tell him. It’s possible she simply can’t.

The back door bangs open and heavy footsteps clomp through the hallway towards the stairs. “I’ve got them,” Derek’s voice calls, and Stiles breathes through his nose.

“Come on, tubs,” he scoops Tink up from the table where she’s completely cleaned the plate, and up the stairs they go, following the distant sounds of Derek opening boxes and thumping books onto the floor.

In Stiles’ old room, they set up camp on the floor and dump all the boxes out one by one so they wind up in a sea of dust and ink and paper. The only things left in here are Stiles’ old bed frame, his desk littered with a handful of old school papers, and some band posters he left up on the wall, so it’s almost eerie for him to be in here.

It’s like being in a memory, almost. A faded old memory. And Derek is there, pressing his shoulder right up against Stiles’ as they comb through page after page – and Stiles guesses Derek doesn’t really fit in, here.

“So, what?” Derek asks, furrowing his brow at an old drawing of a wolf with blue eyes from one of Stiles’ oldest books, “we’re just looking for a spell to get rid of a curse?”

“It’s a bit more specific than that. There’s probably dozens of spells to get rid of curses,” he flips over a page of his own and chews on his bottom lip. “We need the right one.”

“Which one?”

“Look for black magic. That’s your buzz word.”

Derek huffs and turns more pages, over and over, and Stiles does the same right next to him. It goes on like that for a few minutes, with Tink studiously watching them with a flicking tail, and then Stiles picks up a book he thinks he remembers. All of these are books that he’s used before, of course, but as soon as he puts his hands on this one, it’s like de ja vu.

He’s been here before. He’s touched this book, held it in his hands and had Derek right next to him smelling like dust and old paper – he’s sure of it.

He puts the book down on the floor in front of him, clears away the rest to make a hefty amount of space for it, and opens the front cover. Nothing mystical happens. Not like when he opens the black magic book back at his apartment. It doesn’t speak to him, or whisper, or breathe like a living entity – it just lets Stiles look through its contents carefully.

Derek stops what he’s doing and looks over Stiles’ shoulder, attention caught when he notices that Stiles is more seriously examining this one than any of the others they’ve looked at before. Stiles skirts his index finger over a lengthy paragraph, while Derek rubs his hand up and down the expanse of Stiles’ back, quietly watching and waiting.

“Aha,” Stiles taps his finger a few times down on a specific page, eyebrows raising. “Here it is. Here, listen – expelling a malicious curse in the wake of opening a dark magic pool.”

“Dark magic pool,” Derek repeats the words in a low voice, his hand still moving along Stiles’ back, “is that what we did?”

Stiles doesn’t like to ever go back to that night in the bathtub. But whenever he does, whenever he lies awake at night and remembers it and everything that happened – yeah, a dark magic pool is about as close to a description as he can get. “More or less,” he decides to say out loud, and then focuses all his attention on the book once again. “I’ve got all of this stuff back at the apartment.”

“And you’re sure that’s it?”

“Positive.”

“That was…easy.”

Too easy, a voice in the back of his mind tells him, but he ignores it.

“I thought we’d be here all night looking through these things,” he slaps the book he had been looking at himself away so it thumps on the ground pretty close to where Tink has camped herself out. She coils and glares, like her feathers have been ruffled.

Stiles dog-ears the page and closes the book, setting it aside from the rest. “We can do that tomorrow. It seems pretty simple and straight forward so it shouldn’t take too long.”

“Then this whole thing will be over,” he says, and Stiles thinks imagine that. Derek kisses Stiles on the temple, uses his fingers to turn Stiles’ chin to then kiss him on the mouth. It’s early enough in the morning that Derek still tastes like toothpaste and the smallest hint of coffee, and Stiles is sure he tastes nearly the same. He puts his hand on Derek’s thigh and turns his body to deepen the kiss, while Derek moves his hand off of Stiles’ back and puts it on his chest instead, running it up and down.

Derek drags his lips across Stiles’ cheek to his ear, biting down on the shell of it once before whispering, “I want you all the time,” low enough that it sends chills down Stiles’ spine.

“You can’t do that in my childhood room,” he uses the palms of his hands to gently push Derek away, but he uses no real effort. “It’s gross.”

“It’s not.” Derek paws around Stiles’ belt, hunting for the buckle, and Stiles bats his hands away.

“This is what you fantasized about doing while I was still –“

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Derek warns, ducking his face into Stiles’ neck to hide his laughter. “I never fantasized about you when you were seventeen.”

“I once had a wet dream about you when I was seventeen,” Stiles confesses, and Derek immediately removes his face from Stiles’ neck to look him square in the face. He stares for a couple of seconds, like he’s waiting for Stiles to deliver a punchline, but none comes. The longer the silence lasts, the bigger Derek’s smile grows.

“You’re serious.”

Stiles nods up and down, averting his eyes to where Tink is coiled and glaring at them. Part of him feels weird that she’s sitting right there, watching and listening, but then it’s not really that weird. She’s probably asexual and couldn’t give less of a shit. “I didn’t even like you, but – you were dreamy.”

“Well,” Derek shrugs, “that’s one thing I’ve always had.”

There’s a bit of self-deprecation hidden behind the words, and even more to the point, a bit of animosity. Stiles sits up a bit taller and looks Derek in the face, even as Derek tries to avoid his eye contact. “You’ve always had a lot of stuff,” Stiles says, very seriously. “You’re not just super good looking. You know? You’re resourceful and smart and funny when you want to be. And I love you.” He watches Derek curl into himself like a dying leaf, embarrassed maybe, and then puts his hand on his arm. “Seventeen year old me had wet dreams about you. The me now knows you better.”

There’s a pause, where it really seems like Derek just isn’t going to say anything at all – maybe struck speechless in the face of having someone rain compliments down on him like this. Then, he clears his throat. “So it was plural. You had more than one wet dream about me.”

Stiles punches him in the arm lightly, receiving a laugh in response. “And, hey. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry Erica and Isaac are such dicknoses.” They haven’t shown up once, not once, since Scott’s funeral. They have a new alpha, who was struggling to learn how to use that power again, and they apparently couldn’t have given less of a shit. Nevermind the fact that Scott was fucking dead and Stiles needed someone.

Then again, Stiles needed someone and he got someone. He got Derek.

“I didn’t expect much more,” Derek says, another shrug, and Stiles sort of wants to curl around him like a big furry dog, or bury him underneath a blanket with hot chocolate, or let him eat an entire gallon of ice cream. He really deserves better. His pack right now is Stiles, who’s a magical mess, and Scott, who’s half-dead anyway, and Allison who’s a human and has her own life, and Lydia who might as well be a lone wolf, and that’s…it. Erica and Isaac should be booted out, in Stiles’ opinion.

“Well, whatever,” he says, waving his hand in the air as if pushing the thoughts of the two of them away from the entire conversation. “Tink and I are good replacements.”

Derek scoffs. “Tink’s not in the pack.”

“Tink is the mascot.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose, frowning. But all the same, he says, “fine.”

“And you know something else?” He leans in close, watching Derek’s eyes dilate when they look at each other. “We can do it in my kid bedroom. I don’t care.”

Derek gives him a look, like the phrase my kid bedroom is where he draws the line. But then he puts his hands on Stiles’ hips and runs his fingers along the length of his belt until he’s at the buckle, undoing it quickly and looking up to meet Stiles’ eyes.

“Tink,” Stiles says, imperious. “Privacy.”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” she counters, wrapping her tail around the binding of a book.

“I can’t do it if she’s in here,” Derek says, all the severity in the world, and Stiles has to press his lips down in a tight purse to keep from laughing. “It freaks me out. We used to have a dog, when I was a kid,” he pulls Stiles’ jeans down his hips as far as they can go, pushes his hand up underneath Stiles’ shirt to feel along his chest. “I could never jerk off if he was in the room. And that wasn’t a sentient, talking dog. Just a dog.”

Stiles can’t help himself this time – he laughs, scrunching his nose up, even as Derek pulls his pants even further down his legs. “Okay. Okay. Tink, come on. Out.”

She bucks up a bit, rearing her neck back as if preparing for a strike. “No.”

“Oh, my God,” he rolls his eyes back into his head, sits up a bit. His pants are low enough that when he tries to stand he has to waddle a bit, before pulling them up to hang loosely around his hips. Derek sits there on the floor and stares at him, mouth severe and eyes calculating. Stiles crosses the room to where Tink has camped herself, and even as she hisses and tries to slither away, Stiles nabs her with two hands and carts her over to the door.

He places her outside on the floor, where she looks at him menacingly and snaps her teeth at him, just once. “Just – don’t do anything weird on your own.”

She hisses, and Stiles closes the door in her face. “Okay,” he says, making quick work of finally stripping himself of his pants entirely. “Where were we?”

Forty-five minutes later, Stiles and Derek emerge redressed and a bit tousled, and come down into the kitchen to find that Tink had managed to open the refrigerator. There’s a pack of raw bacon with bite marks in it strewn on the floor, a yogurt cup with the lid chewed through, a bag of grapes leaking its guts across the linoleum, and a jar of mayonnaise. That, she couldn’t open without thumbs. It’s just lying there, like she rolled it around for a while.

Tink herself is sleeping with her tail wrapped affectionately around a half eaten chicken breast. Derek takes one look at the mess, snorts, and says, “just like that dog I had.”

****

Derek Barnaby Hale, 6:34 AM : I’m coming over and bringing donuts what kind do you want
Derek Barnaby Hale, 6:56 AM : What kind of donuts do you want
Derek Barnaby Hale, 7:01 AM : If you don’t answer I’m just going to pick. And it won’t be the right kind. And I’ll have to hear it about it all day.
Derek Barnaby Hale, 7:10 AM : I’m getting chocolate with sprinkles. You’ll eat it.

A loud thwap wakes Stiles out of a deep sleep, startling him into squinting up at the glaring sunlight, trying to find the source of the noise that woke him. His eyes adjust to see Derek silhouetted in the light, hovering over him with a frown on his face. Stiles blinks at him for a second, befuddled, and then tries to pull the sheets back over his head to go back to sleep.

A big hand grabs the sheets away and tugs them down far enough that cold air hits Stiles’ middle and he cries out in indignation. “Hey,” he snaps, finally waking up enough to sit up and glare in Derek’s direction.

“Wake up,” Derek says, and then holds a coffee cup in his reach. “Triple cappuccino.”

Frowning deeper, Stiles takes the coffee and holds it in his hand. He can feel that his hair is a structure on top of his head, he has sleep crust in his eyes, and he can barely string together a single sentence. Derek, meanwhile, is dressed and smelling like aftershave and shampoo. It’s more than a little annoying.

“Time?”

“It’s eight.”

Eight?” Stiles shouts, his voice cracking around the word. “Fuck off. Fuck the fuck off –“

“I brought donuts.”

In testament to this, Derek holds out a box of a dozen donuts, smelling freshly baked since he got there so early, still warm and fluffy. They’ve got chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles, and Stiles peers over the edge of the box to get a better look. Another frown. “I prefer vanilla.”

“If you’d have answered your phone,” Derek points to the offending object on Stiles’ bedside table, “you’d have had your opinion noted.” He picks it up and lights up the screen, where even from Stiles’ point of view, he can make out a series of text notifications from Derek. Derek’s eyes trace the screen for a second, and then he furrows his brow and looks up to meet Stiles’ eyes. “Barnaby?”

“Well.” Stiles sips his coffee, reaches for a donut. “You won’t tell me your middle name. I just made one up.”

“And you picked Barnaby.” He seems offended.

“It’s funny. You wouldn’t know about that.” Stiles licks some frosting off his index finger before taking a huge bite of a donut, crunching on the sprinkles and watching as a few of them vanish down into his sheets, likely not to be found again for a few days. “Until you tell me your real middle name, I’ll just keep coming up with them.”

Derek looks at him, and then picks a donut of his own and sits down on the bed right next to Stiles. He silently takes a bite, and sips his coffee, staring out blankly across Stiles’ bedroom.

“It’ll keep getting worse, too.”

Another bite of his donut, another sip of coffee.

“Are you seriously telling me your middle name is so embarrassing, you’d rather have me calling you Franklin or Barnaby or Zeus –“

“Yes.” Derek is painfully serious, meeting Stiles’ eyes. “That’s what I’m telling you.”

“My God.” Stiles is dumbstruck for a second, shaking his head slowly side to side. “It’s a girl’s name, isn’t it?”

“Can we drop this?”

Stiles has long thought that Derek was incapable of certain emotions. Anger, sadness, happiness, all that stuff Derek is perfectly familiar with for sure. But other stuff, like say, embarrassment…Stiles would think Derek was immune. He acts like nothing really affects him in that regard, and really, what’s there to be embarrassed about when you look like that?

But here Derek is, humiliated over his mother-given middle name, and Stiles is obsessed with him. He leans his shoulder against Derek’s and pulls his knee up to rest his half eaten donut on the top of it, sighing through his nose in relative contentment in spite of the ungodly hour. “Thanks for the donuts.”

“Sure.”

The sheets rustle behind them, and Derek pays it no mind whatsoever. But Stiles looks over his shoulder and sees Tink’s head popping up out from underneath the sheets, awake and alert from the smell of sugar in the air. “Oh, hey,” Stiles greets, receiving a brief tongue flick for his efforts. “Want a donut?”

She slithers up on top of Stiles’ pillow, eyeballing Stiles’ own donut like she’d steal it if given half the chance. Stiles grabs another out of the box and closes it, then sets to work on meticulously pulling the treat apart into bite sized bits on top of the lid, setting them out in a manageable pile for her to work with.

Derek watches this and says, “you put way too much effort into spoiling that snake.”

Tink climbs on top of the box and goes to town on her food, ignoring Derek haughtily with her tail swishing over the edge of the box. “It’s a marvel she’s not eight hundred pounds by now. And, anyway, why are you here so early? The sun ain’t even warm yet.”

“The sun is warm,” Derek counters. “And I came over to help with the magic.”

Stiles’ eyebrows raise. “Well.”

“I called and invited Lydia as well.”

His eyebrows raise even higher as he looks at the side of Derek’s face, his profile, trying to read it in its entirety. All he finds there is a pink sprinkle clinging to the corner of his mouth and nothing else, a blank slate. “You’re very gung-ho about this.”

“Yeah, well,” he dusts some crumbs off the seat of his pants and side-eyes Stiles. “I’m worried about you. The sooner we fix all this, the better.”

It blows Stiles’ mind, from time to time, how much Derek genuinely cares about Stiles – and, frankly, always has. Even going back to the beginning of this entire thing, when Derek insisted on staying with him even when Stiles was being incorrigible, Derek has always cared. On the inside, he really is like a fluffy piece of cotton candy.

Stiles leans over and licks the pink sprinkle off of Derek’s lips, and that makes Derek smile and kiss him back. They kiss for a couple of seconds, all four hands full of either coffee or donuts, all sleepy and soft and sugary.

Behind them, Tink hisses. “I’m trying to eat.”

Without missing a beat, Derek reaches over and lifts the lid of the donut box so Tink and her collection of tiny donut pieces go toppling over the edge in a cacophony, leaving her flipped over onto her back with her belly in the air on Stiles’ bedside table. She squiggles indignantly in her crumbs and mess for a second, trying to right herself, and it’s – the funniest thing Stiles has ever seen.

All the same, he tuts and reaches out to collect her. “That was just meanspirited,” Stiles says to Derek, who shrugs and goes back to his donut without a care in the world. In Stiles’ fingers, Tink actually whines pathetically, as if she’s just undergone some great big trauma and now needs coddling. Stiles knows it’s put upon and not even close to a reality, but all the same, he pats her on the head with his thumb and shakes his head. “I know. He’s a mean old man.”

“All right, all right,” Derek rolls his eyes. “Come on and get showered and dressed, and we can start.”

Stiles futzes around with Tink in his hands for a few seconds, curling his lips down into a frown and staring at the floor. He’s stalling, he knows he is, but it’s a feeling he’s used to, after all. He’s been stalling for months, now. “Can I ask you something?”

Derek is done with his donut, sipping on the remnants of his coffee. He nods.

In his hands, Tink looks up at his face. Her looks lately have started to feel more and more meaningful, but she only ever offers scant comments and none of them are ever telling or helpful. She just stares at him sometimes like he’s supposed to just get it, but he never does.

He clears his throat and chances a glance in Derek’s direction, and then he has to quickly look away, back to Tink’s red scales. “Do you ever think…it was weird how you and I just sort of…?”

As he waits for Stiles to finish, Derek stares at the side of his face and says nothing.

“What I mean is, do you ever think it’s weird that we out of nowhere fell in love with one another?” He frowns, feels shame curling around his ears hot like fire. “After doing all that magic. Do you ever think?”

“What do you mean?” Stiles can’t look at Derek’s face. He just can’t.

“Did you ever think it’s not….”

“Did I ever think it’s not real?” Derek finishes for him, his voice sounding…well. Stiles isn’t sure how Derek’s voice sounds. He can’t put his finger on it. But it’s not particularly thrilled, Stiles can say that much.

“This is coming out wrong,” Stiles says under his breath, and uses one of his hands to wipe up and down along his face. Tink is no help, because she never is, so she just sits there glaring at the other half of Stiles’ donut with intent. “I just worry sometimes that it’s all going to be taken away from us. Like it was all fabricated and I just get – scared. Of losing you.”

Derek is quiet for only a second longer, but it feels like an eternity. It feels like Stiles’ entire life flashes before his eyes in that silence, and Tink takes a bite of his donut. “I’ve told you before,” Derek starts, voice low, “that I can tell intrinsically what’s magic and what isn’t.”

Stiles palms his forehead and feels – indescribable.

“What I feel for you isn’t magic. It’s real, I know it is. You know something I do think?” He puts his coffee cup off to the side, putting both his hands palm down on his knees. “I think your own magic scares you, and I don’t know why that is.”

Stiles doesn’t really have an answer to that. This entire narrative from start to finish has been about how he’s terrified of his own magic and by extension, himself. It’s the worst feeling to walk around with – the feeling that you can’t even trust yourself, or that you might just wind up hurting everyone around you. And he doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything.

A warm hand finds its way to Stiles’ back, caressing up and down the way Derek is so good at. “I love you with the most genuine parts of myself, and I’m not going to go anywhere. Okay?”

Stiles nods, too afraid to speak out of fear for what his voice would sound like. When Derek embraces him, pulling his body flush up against his own, Tink doesn’t make a comment or complain. She doesn’t even try to slither out of Stiles’ hand to get away from Derek. She simply sits, coiling down a bit farther, not meeting Stiles’ eyes.

**

Lydia bites into her second donut, swishing the ice in her drink around and around before taking a long, grating sip that sucks mostly at ice in the bottom of the cup. Then, she takes another bite, gives Stiles a look that can only mean something bad, and sighs around an eye roll. There are few people with such an affinity for annoyed gestures as Lydia – she can dole out two dozen per minute if you give her a chance.

“Are you going to eat all the donuts,” Stiles asks, raising a single eyebrow, “or are we going to do the magic?”

“I can do both at once,” she says matter-of-factly, and Stiles doesn’t even think she’s kidding. She licks some frosting off of her fingers and then wipes those same fingers off on her napkin, rolling her eyes again and pursing her lips. There’s this second, where she looks at Stiles and Derek and Scott individually, as if assessing them in that eerie way she does. Sizing them up. Or, maybe she’s just looking at them. Who can ever tell, with her? “Are we doing it here?”

The living room seems as good a place as any – if only because it’s the biggest space they have to work with. The bathroom is too small, and Stiles’ room has a giant hole in the middle of it, and the kitchen is too cluttered with furniture. Plus, Stiles and Scott drew straws on who would get the bigger room when they first moved in and Stiles won, so Scott’s room isn’t nearly big enough. Stiles nods his head in affirmation.

“I’ve got all the stuff,” he leans off the couch and gestures to the coffee table, where a gaggle of oddities is lying in wait. There’s a giant value tub of Morton’s salt, some candles, a lighter with The Notorious B.I.G’s face on it, one of Stiles’ oldest books, and a pile of herbs and oils Stiles mashed together earlier that they’re supposed to light on fire. Like burning sage, almost.

Lydia does that slurping thing with her ice again, and Derek watches her with a hint of distaste. She slaps the empty cup down on the table once she’s done, and then stands up. “Then, let’s go.”

Everyone else stands and shuffles, each of them grabbing something off the table and herding themselves off to the large open space between the couch and the entry way to the kitchen, but Stiles hesitates for a second. In his hand, Tink looks up at him with serious eyes, and Stiles wants to ask her, just one more time, what it is that she knows.

She knows something. She won’t tell him, and Stiles is afraid. Of all the spells in the world, this one would be the most innocuous, the cleanest, the purest, all of it – and yet, there’s something in him that’s like a siren going off. Alarm bells. A tornado warning. In his defense, that ominous feeling has been hovering over his head and inside his chest since the second he went under the water in his bath tub. Maybe it’s nothing. And maybe it’ll all just go away as soon as he does this one simple, quick spell.

He stands, cradling Tink and taking the salt for himself, following everyone else. They’re arranging themselves in a circle on the carpet, everyone sitting criss cross and looking a bit stupid. Lydia primly adjusts her skirt so no one can see her underwear while Scott struggles to arrange his legs like a pretzel, as though he’s forgotten how, and Stiles stands there in the open space left between him and Lydia. Derek will be directly across from him, and they meet eyes as Stiles places Tink gingerly down on the carpet right next to the magic book.

She coils and looks unhappy.

“Salt circle,” Stiles says, waving the salt around in the air before flicking the top open. “You know the drill.” He slowly walks behind everyone’s backs, pouring the salt in as even a line as he can manage, until coming back to where he started. He leaves an open space as he steps inside, and then closes it with a flick of his wrist.

Once the circle is complete, there’s a palpable shudder in the apartment. There’s one place now where no malicious energy can touch, and it’s here where they all sit – something, apparently, does not like that.

Stiles clears his throat and sits like everyone else, and everyone’s eyes are on him. He leans over his book and scrubs a hand through his hair as he reads. “Okay. First we need to light the candles.”

Scott actually reaches for the lighter, but Stiles stops his hand. He snaps his fingers once, twice, three, four times, and as he does so, each candle flickers with a flame at the wick. They burn red, bright red, as the book says they’re meant to – the redder the flame, the more work there is to be done. By the end of the spell, they should burn a crisp and clear blue to indicate they’ve cleaned the apartment and themselves of the curse.

Derek frowns and adjusts himself a bit, sighing through his nose and looking uncomfortable. Last time he was in the presence of magically lit candles…well.

“Is everyone here,” Stiles starts, voice low, “here for the right reasons?”

The question hangs there, and no one says anything. Just like that, the spell has started, and Stiles has to follow along in the book to make sure he’s saying everything right.

“If there’s someone here with us who shouldn’t be,” at the words alone, a chill goes up Stiles’ spine, “you’ll be found out.”

Lydia clears her throat. “I’m clean.”

Following her lead, Derek huffs and rolls his eyes. To the ceiling he says, “I’m clean.”

“I’m clean,” Scott, his voice careful.

And then Tink. She lifts her head a bit, tail beating rhythmically against Stiles’ knee. “I’m clean,” she says, and Scott’s hands immediately go up into the air, almost like he’s surrendering to the shock.

“That thing can fucking talk?”

Ignoring that, Stiles sucks in a deep breath and meets no one’s eyes. If he truly weren’t clean, he wouldn’t be able to speak the words, he knows that. “I’m clean,” he says, and nothing happens. Nothing is supposed to happen. That’s a good sign. “Anyone else?”

There’s a pause, nothing but heartbeats for seconds on end, and then a rumbling. It comes from outside of the circle, Stiles is sure of it, and at the sound of it, he shuts his eyes and convinces himself it doesn’t scare him. The floor shakes a little bit and the windows creak, and Stiles sits up straighter and squares his shoulders. “Wrong answer,” he murmurs, and sucks in a deep breath. “Get out or be forced.”

The rumble gets louder, and this time, it doesn’t just sound like the floorboards or the walls moving. It sounds like a growl.

“Give me that lighter,” Stiles says to Scott, who immediately does as he’s asked with fumbling fingers, eyes very big in his head. Stiles leans forward and flicks it a few times, until the bowl of herbs catches and burns out in a puff of purple-grey smoke. They all sit and watch as it rises, rises, and then when it reaches the edge of the circle, seemingly trapped.

It bounces up against an invisible wall, crawling upward until it touches the ceiling. Then, with nowhere else to go, it travels back downward.

“That’s…” Lydia starts, her eyes upward as she watches with a twist to her mouth. “…odd.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees with a furrow to his brow, leaning over his book to see what it says. It says the smoke is supposed to fill the entire room, not just their own little salt circle; the salt circle is the only place in the room where it’s actually clean and free of the curse. What good will the smoke do for them in here? “Huh.”

The smoke is getting thicker and thicker, to the point where it burns Stiles’ eyes and has him wincing. Everyone else, as well, even Derek, who flinches and tries to shield his eyes with his fingers. Lydia starts coughing, hacking up a lung almost, and Scott covers his mouth and nose with his shirt, squeezing his eyes shut. “God, that smells like ass.”

“Yeah, it’s not,” Stiles coughs, a bit spastically, waving his hand in front of his nose, “it’s not exactly a potpourri from Pier One.”

“I don’t get,” another coughing fit from Lydia, whose eyes are tearing mascara down her cheeks, “what we did wrong.”

“Nothing,” Stiles insists, trying to read the book through the haze and the stench. “We did everything it asked.”

“Fuck,” Derek hacks, and even he’s crying a bit. The smoke is so thick and heavy, even thicker than a bonfire’s would be, and smelly. It’s like breathing in toxic fumes, essentially, so god only knows how his werewolf sensitivities are handling it.

It happens very quickly. Stiles doesn’t notice his hand moving at first, can’t even rightly see it through the haze of the smoke, and he catches it at the last second. Derek moves behind himself, his hand reaching out and aiming for the line of salt at his back. He says something, maybe, it’s not going to work like this, and Stiles watches it almost in slow motion.

“Derek, don’t,” he yells through the smoke, but it’s too late. Derek’s fingers brush against the salt, and the circle fractures. The smoke dissipates to the rest of the room immediately, filtering out so everything becomes more clear.

So Stiles sees it in high definition when Derek’s body suddenly jerks. Something either pushes or pulls him through the salt, just a quick jerk, full body, until he’s a foot away from where he had once been sitting. Confusion is written all over his face, shock and fear and terror and ten different other things.

Stiles and Derek meet eyes. They know what’s happening, the both of them.

The pull happens again, and this time it’s strong enough to send Derek flying back against the hallway wall with a resounding crack, and Stiles is standing up. He jerks up to his feet and nearly trips over the bowl of herbs still on fire, scatters forward and tries to give chase. He says, “stop,” with all the power he can muster, and it reverbs against the walls.

A burst of his own magic shoots out of his fingers and slams against the walls, pure undiluted power searching for something to attack, but it’s not…tangible. It just rattles the building, and Derek is getting dragged down the hallway.

If his friends are chasing him, shouting or trying to help him, Stiles doesn’t notice it. He has tunnel vision, his eyes so focused on chasing Derek it’s like nothing else is there. He watches as something pulls Derek fast toward his bedroom, and shouts his name, slamming his body up against a corner in his haste to catch up. Derek gives a valiant effort of digging his claws into the floor when it tries to tug him through the doorframe to Stiles’ bedroom, but they drag and leave gauges in the wood and around the corner and out of Stiles’ sight he goes.

“Don’t fucking touch him,” Stiles says, and another one of those bursts of magic puts a crack in the ceiling above his head, but it doesn’t matter. He slams his body against his doorway in his effort to get there fast enough, and by the time he’s inside, Derek is in the hole in his floor.

That hole was maybe eight inches deep, just deep enough to house its contents and not any more than that. But Derek’s entire body save his shoulders and head are inside of it now, like it’s suddenly a cliff’s edge, and he’s hanging on for dear life to the jagged floorboards around him.

Stiles shoots forward and tries to offer his hand, tries to pull him back out of it. In that second, that split moment in time, they look each other in the eyes.

Stiles has seen a lot in Derek’s face over the years. But he’s never, never seen anything like what he sees there as Derek is hanging onto that ledge. His eyes are huge, bloodshot, lips parted, and there’s resignation there. There is nothing anyone can do to help him.

But Stiles tries. He runs as fast as he can and reaches for his hand. But Derek vanishes into the hole. And when Stiles is close enough to look for himself, the hole is just…eight inches deep. Floorboards and insulation and a handful of old glass bottles.

There’s this second of realization, of slow understanding. That Derek just broke the salt circle that kept them safe and the dark magic and that fucking book used its energy to drag him across the floor and into that hole in the floor and where he went from there is anyone’s guess, anyone’s guess, but he’s…gone.

Derek is gone. He’s not here. Stiles is panting, he can hear that. He can feel his heart hammering, hammering, hammering, and people’s footsteps behind him, and his hands are shaking. He thinks he hears a ringing in his ears, staring wide-eyed down at the hole in his floor where Derek should be. It’s just…a hole. Eight inches deep.

Without taking the time to think about his actions, he screams, making two huge sweeping gestures with both hands in succession. As he does so, his entire floor goes rattling like dominoes, boards being ripped out by their nails and slamming up against the green walls of his bedroom. The floor parts like the red sea, revealing its guts, its wooden innards, and still. There is no Derek.

There is, however, his downstairs neighbor. He ripped a hole huge enough at one point in the floor that he literally went from floor to ceiling with it, revealing this woman’s living room in all its glory. She is standing there, mouth agape, holding that wooden broom in her hands like she was just about to bang it on the ceiling and yell at him about that racket.

They meet eyes, for a just a second, and she promptly scuttles as fast as her old legs can carry her to the nearest door. She is yelling the Our Father.

Stiles traces his eyes along the floor, still frantically searching for Derek, even though he can’t be in the floor. Logic tells him that. But logic would also tell him that he couldn’t have possibly just vanished into the wood, and logic would tell him that he can’t rip his floor apart without touching it, and logic would tell him he can’t bring people back from the dead.

Logic has no place here. His mind cannot grapple with this.

“Stiles.” That is Lydia’s voice, and Stiles whips his head around to face her. He can see her, but through a sort of film, almost as if she’s speaking to him through a stained glass window. She takes a cautious step back once he looks at her, as though there’s something in him she’s afraid of, and he looks down at his hands.

They’re crackling, little bolts of lightning-red magic flickering from his finger tips. All control completely lost. His eyes must be completely jet black, all pupil, giving him that quality of being subhuman. It’s likely why his neighbor ran for her fucking life while screaming a prayer after he looked at her.

“Calm down,” someone is saying, maybe Lydia again, maybe Scott, but he can’t – think. He can’t fucking think. He can’t calm down, he can’t think straight, and his window is shattering.

“What happened?” He demands, and his voice sounds distorted in his own ears. “What happened? What happened?”

“You don’t break the circle,” and that, that is definitely Tinkerbelle’s voice. Stiles finds her and Lydia and Scott, and really sees them for the first time. They are all hovering in the doorway to his bedroom, because they can’t come inside. Stiles is standing on the only tiny island of habitable land in the room, the rest completely destroyed and dangerous with rusty nails sticking out and holes leading into his crazy downstairs neighbor’s living room. Tink is on the ground, looking at him steadily. Stiles thinks his walls are melting. “You know that.”

Mindless, absolutely insane, Stiles turns on her. Faces her and all of them head on. “You knew about this,” he accuses, and Tink says nothing. “You knew, you always knew this would happen!”

“I didn’t know the specifics –“

“You let this fucking happen –“

“You didn’t read the fine print!” She hisses at him, and Stiles’ walls, really, are dripping green paint onto the ground. He’s melting everything, his capsized furniture sinking into puddles down below, and he can’t stop it. Can’t control it. “Did you think killing a snake was the only sacrifice you’d have to make to do what you did?”

Stiles turns away from her, turns his back on her, tries to think. It’s impossible. It’s not possible to think clearly, to have a single coherent thought. Derek is gone. They took him.

“You. Owed. Them.”

“No,” Stiles says. It’s denial. It’s all he has. “No. I never should have trusted you.”

Tink says nothing else, and Stiles crouches down. He can feel chaos all around him, his magic taking over completely while he himself, Stiles as a person and as a soul, vanishes into the background. All he is, right now, is a vessel for the magic. And it tears everything around him apart. He can hear shattered glass shattering more, can hear walls cracking and the ceiling falling around his head, the put-put of dripping paint forming puddles everywhere it can. He vanishes, goes somewhere else in his head, and the magic does what it does best.

And Derek is gone.

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up. His eyes open slowly, and his body feels almost like it’s been run over by a bus and then hit by a train back to back, so he can’t move for seconds on end. He is paralyzed, and then quickly isn’t.

He used too much magic. He drained himself, and now like a car battery, he has to recharge. It takes him a second to realize he’s in his childhood bedroom, and that’s strange enough on its own. He thinks that he’s gotten drunk and forgotten what happened, blacked everything out, and it’s this blissful ten seconds of blearily confused optimism. This ignorance.

Then, he shoots up in bed and looks around himself. Yes, this is his childhood bedroom and he’s in a t-shirt with blood stains and holes all over it, and he’s all alone. Derek isn’t in here, and Derek has always been here, he’s always been here with him ever since Scott died.

He isn’t here, now.

Stiles is stuck frozen still on the bed as everything comes back to him. The spell they tried to do. The smoke. Derek breaking the circle. And everything after that…is a blur. A scary, scary, mindless blur.

A shuffle in the sheets alerts to him to another presence, and he turns around and spots Tinkerbelle on the pillow his head wasn’t using. She flicks her tongue at him and looks cautious, hunkering down in a tight coil like she doesn’t know what she expects him to say. Honestly, Stiles doesn’t know what he expects himself to say.

He tries to clear his throat, but he knows it’ll be useless either way. Tears are already welling up in his eyes. “That wasn’t a nightmare?”

She looks at him. Even though her snake face can’t project emotion well at all, Stiles can tell that she’s sad. More than that, she is miserable. She slowly and emphatically shakes her head, and Stiles doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what to do.

He puts his hands over his face and cries. He cries and cries and cries, and Tink slithers up to him and coils on his thigh for comfort, as much as she can give.

“I’m sorry I – I yelled at you,” he says to her, and she takes his fingers captive and uses them for leverage to slither up his arm.

“I knew some things,” she admits in a quiet voice, and Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and wants to vanish. Just disappear. All the magic in the world, and he can’t do that this time. “I knew some. I admit it. I couldn’t tell you. I’m…” she seems to struggle for a second, and then hisses shortly. Maybe it’s a sigh. “…I’m sorry.”

Stiles really can’t be angry with her, or with anyone. Anyone but himself. Derek always knew that Tink wasn’t as benign as she seemed, and even Stiles said once that she’s not benign and never has been. She was born out of magic, and magic is evil, always, and Stiles knows that now. She came from where the magic does, that deep dark place he never wants to go to ever again, and even if she never had any malicious intentions, she knew there was more that had to be taken from Stiles.

It never would’ve helped him any if Tink had told him that the resurrection spell wasn’t done yet. What could he have done? She knew he could’ve done nothing, nothing to stop this, and simply didn’t tell him only because she didn’t want him to go crazy trying to fix everything.

Magic cannot fix anything. It ruins everything around him. It always has.

“Do you forgive me?” She asks when Stiles is quiet for too long, a pleading note to her tone.

“Yes,” Stiles decides. After all, she is the only friend he really deserves. She looks at him like she can tell there is a part of him that doesn’t trust her now, and it makes her deflate a bit. Coil more tightly, lower her head in shame.

They sit in quiet for just a few seconds before Lydia is appearing in his doorway, staring at him. She is wearing the same clothes she had on when they did the spell, and the sun is only just now going down, so he can’t have been out for too long. She has that hardened mask on that she has perfected down to a science, but he can see it cracking along the edges of her eyes and the corners of her mouth. She says, “there was an earthquake.”

Stiles blinks. “I caused an earthquake?”

“That’s what we decided to say,” she says evenly, “when you practically destroyed your entire apartment building.”

“Oh,” Stiles covers his face with his hands, “my god. Oh, my God. Is everyone…?”

“A few people got hurt. No one very seriously. Everyone got out okay.”

“Oh my God.”

“A couple broken bones, some stitches.”

Stiles just…can’t. It was one thing when he was hurting himself and starting forest fires and shattering windows and ruining his own bedroom. The thought that he let his magic take complete control and hurt other people, completely innocent and ignorant of everything around them, is the final straw. It just is. There are things Stiles can live with, and things that he just can’t.

“I don’t wanna do this anymore,” he says, standing up from the bed. He nearly falls over under his own weight, his legs like spaghetti, but he pushes himself anyway. “I don’t – I want it gone. I can’t. All of this – this –“

There is too much for Stiles to focus on at one time. He crosses his bedroom floor and heaves out a great big huff of air and tries to steady his breathing.

“Well,” even Lydia seems to be at a loss for what to say to him, right now. There is no comfort. There is nothing right now that makes any of this even remotely okay. She shuffles her feet and puts her hands on her hips, looking at where Tink is still sitting on his bed looking a little miserable. “…there’s something else you should probably see.”

Stiles doesn’t know if he can physically take seeing anything else. After everything he’s been through, he thinks one more bombshell will leave him completely incapacitated. But she’s looking at him intently and he has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and Derek is gone and he destroyed an entire apartment building and he’s never felt more alone in his life – so he walks toward her.

She leads him out into the hallway, and Stiles’ first step onto the hardwood is met with a splash. There’s water on the floor. A thin layer, yes, and now that he’s really looking he can see that some of it has been slowly edging its way into his own bedroom. To his left, his father is standing there with his hands on his hips, in his Sheriff’s uniform, brow furrowed and a frown on his face. He is staring intently down the hallway, but when Stiles steps out, he flicks his eyes to meet his son’s.

Scott is there as well, leaning against the wall with wide eyes and not looking at anyone. Not saying anything. Stiles wonders in the back of his mind if maybe some tiny little part of him feels responsible for all of this – after all, if Stiles had never taken the chance of bringing him back from the dead, none of this would have ever happened. Scott of all people is the last person who deserves to feel guilty for any of this, but Stiles just…doesn’t have the time to comfort him right now. Now, he feels guilt for that himself.

He splashes forward in the water some more, and it’s maybe two inches thick, drifting into different open doorways – his own bedroom, his father’s, trickling down the stairs. When he turns away from his father and Scott to the opposite of the hall, where the bay window sits right beside the door for the bathroom, Stiles sucks in a deep breath.

It’s dark, no lights on. He walks forward, forward still, and as he gets closer, the sounds coming from his bathroom get louder, much more clear. Something like lightning flashes against the opposite wall, and Stiles sets his jaw. The water ripples behind him, and he can feel everyone’s eyes on him as he walks.

He doesn’t hesitate before stepping into the doorway of the bathroom, but he stands there and hovers. It’s pouring rain from the ceiling, a downpour, and every ten or so seconds the lightning flashes again from the mirror, lighting up his pale skin and everything else like a camera going off.

Splashing forward, he crosses and makes waves with his feet, coming to a stop right in front of the bath tub. He leans over it, cocking his head to the side, lips a firm line, and listens to the unmistakable, unforgettable sound coming out of the drain pipe.

It’s distorted from underneath all that water, but he can hear it crystal clear all the same.

…the shadow in the background of the morgue, the unsuspecting victim of darkness in the valley, we can live like Jack and Sally –

Stiles closes his eyes slowly and lets the water pour over his head, soaking his clothes and his skin and making him shiver. Derek isn’t here to lend him his jacket, this time. “Never in my life,” he says to no one in particular, “did I think I’d ever be terrorized by a Blink-182 song.”

He takes a step back, leaning against the wall and looking upwards. Water pelts his cheeks and his hair and he can’t care, he just can’t. Sliding down the wall into a crouch, he presses his hand to his forehead and sniffles.

There’s some splashing in the water, and from the corner of his eyes Stiles can see everyone else’s legs in the water, peering in and looking at him. They want answers from him. His bathroom ceiling is raining and clapping lightning and his bath tub is playing Blink-182. Of course they want fucking answers.

And unfortunately, Stiles has them. He says, “I know what I have to do,” in a low voice, and everyone watches him some more.

They want him to get back in that bath tub and go under again. They want him to put himself at their mercy, all his magic and power and body, there for them to easily fuck with if he makes even one wrong step. Derek will be waiting on the other side, they tell him. Just come inside, and do your best, and don’t fuck up. One. Wrong. Move. That’s all they need.

Stiles can’t go back there again. He said as much again and again, shook his head and had nightmares about being back there and felt eyes on him – he can’t go back there again. He has to, is the thing. He has no other options, and Derek really is waiting for him. Wherever he is – and now, Stiles has a pretty good guess.

He has a pretty good fucking guess at where Derek is.

There’s some splashing, much more gentle than a person’s feet would make, and then Tink is slithering up through the space between his knees. She slides up underneath his wet shirt and moves along his bare skin until her head pokes out from his collar, and then she wraps herself around his neck loosely. Once she’s settled herself, she presses her head right into Stiles’ ear, whispering frantically. “It won’t be like last time,” she hisses, poking her nose against the shell of his ear as if to comfort him. “I can help you, I can help you.”

“Derek’s not here to…” he chokes up for a second, squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t. “…to hold me down. No one here is strong enough.”

“You are.”

“I nearly got lost down there last time.”

His father says, “is he talking to his snake?” in the background, and Lydia promptly shushes him, and Stiles ignores them.

“I’ll go with you,” she promises, so sincere and serious.

“I don’t know what to do.” Last time, when Stiles got down there, it became apparent near immediately that he couldn’t do anything physically in that dimension. He could barely look around himself, for god’s sake. He couldn’t feel his own body, his hands, his head. It was like being a speck of dust lying on the floor in the middle of a dark room. How is he ever supposed to find Derek in the dark with no hands? “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how…”

“I do,” she hisses again. “You need to cheat death out of his dues.”

Like it’s so easy, the easiest thing in the world, she says this. And Stiles just thumps his head back against the wall and lets her stare at him, waiting for his affirmative, that he’ll do this and he’ll take her back down into that place and maybe not ever come back again.

They’ve always wanted him, he knows that. The book and the things that guard it and watch it from another dimension – all of this has always been about them getting their hands on his magic. Going back under is like throwing himself to the wolves, risking everything.

There is nothing else for him to do. Stiles would sooner die than leave Derek down there by himself. Even if he fails, at least he and Derek would be together.

“It’s like taking candy from a baby,” Tink tells him, a malicious glint in her voice – and that’s the first time she ever sounds like she should. Like a villain from a cartoon. “You have so much more power than you’ve ever even used. Show them.”

Stiles looks up, at the faces of his friends and his father. He destroyed an entire apartment building. He started a forest fire and burned half the preserve to ash. He brought Scott back from the dead.

Hell or high water, (and he’s always had both), he’ll bring Derek back. He’ll do it even if it means losing his soul in the process.

****

Stiles stands with the rest of the onlookers, arms crossed over his chest, watching police and firemen walk back and forth across the lot through a cloud of smoke that still hasn’t lifted from the surrounding area. The crowd is a bunch of murmurers who shield their eyes against the sun with their hands, frowning and shaking their heads and feeling, most likely, baffled. The story remains that an earthquake shook the building and collapsed it, albeit very slowly, and people accept this, for the most part.

They don’t ask questions about why no other building in the area was affected. They don’t ask questions about why no one felt any vibrations. They don’t ask questions at all. One thing that Stiles has learned since waking up to his own power is that there is no end to the list of things people will accept if only because they don’t want to lift the film off of their eyes. They don’t want to know what goes on right underneath their noses, because some twisted part of them that recognizes on instinct what people like Stiles and people like Derek are tells them to look away before seeing too much.

Stiles has always felt like an outsider. He’s always felt that he would never be able to go to college or have a career, because his very existence is defined as something that people won’t see. And no one ever has seen him, not really.

No one except for Derek.

He had come back here in the hopes of getting some of his old things out from his bedroom, but when he drove up to the lot and saw the scene in front of him, he knew it would be completely futile. His bedroom, after all, was the main sight of impact. It’s completely destroyed. All his books, his clothes, his memories, all of it, just gone in the blink of an eye. He sat in his car gripping the steering wheel and silently crying.

He made a mental list of all the things he’s lost, because of magic.

It was masochism more than anything else that had him climbing out and stuffing his hands into his pockets and joining the rest of the crowd. To watch firemen pull garbage out of the rubble, to watch them comb again and again to make sure everyone got out all right. There are things he needs to be doing, in a matter of hours, and he still stands here and watches and lets guilt consume him.

A fireman approaches the crowd cradling a small fluff of dust that, upon closer inspection, is a tiny black kitten, mewling and digging its claws into the fabric of the man’s uniform to hold on for dear life. It clearly had been pulled up out of the mess, but is visibly unharmed save for a bit of evident trauma.

“This belong to anyone here?” He asks, holding the creature out for inspection. Stiles looks at it, its tiny white paws and big eyes and soft ears, and looks to his left and right. No one claims it. Silence descends and people coo and aww and the kitten mews again.

“He’s mine,” Stiles says, and all eyes turn to him. Without questioning it, likely because the kitten needs a home whether it’s with an original owner or not, the fireman hands him the kitten gingerly, and Stiles collects the small thing in his fingers as gently as possible. Stiles cards his fingers through the fur to make sure it’s not hurt, and it isn’t, and he cradles it against his chest. “I would’ve thought…”

“I found him hiding under a desk. Likely what saved his life.”

Before Stiles can say anything to that, come up with another lie most likely, a grating yet familiar voice begins yelling at top volume from somewhere to his left. He looks. “There,” it says, and a long, bony finger points with ample accusation in his direction. Cool blue eyes land on him, and Stiles grimaces. It’s his downstairs neighbor. Alive and well and unharmed, it would seem. Which is a miracle in and of itself. She points at him again, and again. “That’s him.”

One of his father’s deputies is standing next to her with his hands on his hips, frowning and pinching his brow together.

He’s the one that did this. He’s not right. I saw the devil in him, I saw –“

“All right,” the officer says, incredibly dismissive. “Do you have any family, anyone we can call –“

‘I know what I saw!” She snaps, voice wooden. “This was no act of God, it was Satan, and that over there is his advocate, I saw it.”

She gets lead off with a gentle hand on her arm, ranting and raving still as she’s carted away. The crowd does that murmuring thing they do, and no one is suspicious of Stiles at all. Mostly, they side-eye him like they feel bad that not only did he almost lose his kitten, but also, he’s been accused of being a Satanic vessel by a crazy old woman.

“Sorry about that,” the fireman, for whatever reason, says. “She’s been going on about Satan and hellfire ever since we pulled her out. She’s likely in shock.”

“Right,” Stiles agrees quickly, watching the old woman from a distance as paramedics surround her and try to persuade her into the back of an ambulance. He holds his new kitten, and wonders just how right that old woman is.

How much of him comes from Hell? How much of him is even human?

“Come on,” he murmurs to the kitten as he slowly turns away to head back to his car. “Let’s get you a new home, huh?”

The kitten mews, clueless.

**

Stiles dumps the kitten on his father’s coffee table, where it promptly plods on shaky paws across the surface, looking around itself in that wide-eyed terrified way kittens do. The Sheriff looks up from his book, frowns, and then meets Stiles’ eyes. “Another talking pet?”

This kitten is really, and truly, just a kitten. For all Stiles knows, at least. So he shakes his head. “I thought you’d want him. He was a rescue.”

His father gazes some more at the critter, who approaches the edge of the table and curiously stares over onto the floor. It shifts its paw like it’s really thinking of jumping, and then quickly lowers it, mewing in fear. “You got me a kitten?”

“It sort of fell into my lap.”

“I don’t want a cat.”

“Sure, you do.”

Sensing that he’s not going to be able to argue his way out of this one, his father simply pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs long and hard. He has a new pet, and that’s the end of that. The reason Stiles thought of him out of anyone else, like say, Allison, who would’ve dropped dead at the chance, is because he’s long suspected his dad gets lonely by himself in this big house. And he’s too proud to admit it, let alone go and get himself a pet for God’s sake. “You’ll be happy to know the bathroom has stopped raining,” he slaps his book closed and reaches out to grab the kitten off the table, holding it easily in his big hand and observing it closely, like looking at a math problem. “And I’m not entirely okay with you using my bath tub to conduct – mumbo jumbo.”

Stiles stopped reacting to the term mumbo jumbo about five years ago. Now it breezes over his head like wind, and he shrugs his shoulders without comment.

“Well, we weren’t using mine.” Lydia’s voice, and Stiles turns to find her paused at the foot of the stairs with a small basket in her hands. There are rattling glass bottles inside of it, and Stiles knows what they are, and he swallows if only to keep himself from saying anything else. “And, come on. You’re wasting time.”

Up she goes, padding on the carpet in her bare feet, and Stiles is helpless. It was his decision. He said he would do this. But he’s being dragged there without a choice, because it’s…Derek. And there is no other option. He follows after her, and his dad simply puts the kitten in his lap and opens his book back up.

He has no idea what Stiles is about to do, because Stiles never tells him the full story. If he did, he wouldn’t be so cavalier.

In his hallway, there is some water damage on the wooden floors. Scott and his father spent the better part of the morning sopping up water with big beach towels, but there’s really only so much they could do – it rained a lot. It rained as much as it must have rained that night – the first night he and Derek had sex.

Of course they were watching then. Stiles wonders if there has ever been a point in time since he was sixteen that they weren’t keeping tabs on him, waiting for him to open that black magic book up. He wonders if they orchestrated the attack on Scott in the first place, if they killed him, if they knew what Stiles would do when confronted with all that. It should scare him, but it just makes him angrier.

They think they can mess with him.

Allison is there, leaning against the wall and talking in hushed whispers to Scott, who nods along with everything she says. She turns when she hears his and Lydia’s approaching footsteps, over her shoulder with big eyes. She’s got this look on her face like she wants to say something to Stiles. Something like sorry.

Stiles is glad she says nothing. She reaches out and touches him gently on the shoulder as he walks past, and Stiles leans into the touch and imagines it’s someone else.

“Hey,” Scott says even as Stiles is trying to just skirt right past him. “Hey, Stiles. Stiles,” he has to jog a bit to catch up, wrapping his hand around Stiles’ shoulder and pulling him to a stop. They wind up hovering there right in front of the bathroom door, where the lights are on and Lydia is leaning over the tub, opening up her glass bottles and fiddling with this and that.

They look at one another. Scott has mostly lost that disembodied vacant look from when he first came back, and now simply looks like him. Brown eyes and a crooked jaw and a certain air of naivety that never goes away no matter how much he sees. “Hey,” he says again, voice lowering just slightly. He looks into the bathroom and sees Lydia putting her hand in the water to test how cold it is, ripping it back out with a hiss and frowning. “I just…”

Stiles waits, eyebrows raised, for him to finish.

“There’s this part of me. That’s really scared you’re not going to come back.”

There is also a part of Stiles that honestly believes he won’t. This is something that he cannot, under any circumstances, say to Scott. His best friend. In his mind, he thinks of all the things he would say. All the things he should say. He thinks, I would do it all again, even in spite of this. I would do this again for you. I will never regret anything that’s happened and when you die, again, you’ll be old and happy and you’ll have lived a normal human life like you always deserved.

I don’t know if I ever deserved that. I am magic, and it is evil.

But if Stiles says any of that, then Scott will know Stiles thinks he’s not coming back. And no. He won’t do that. “I’ll be back,” he promises, patting Scott on the arm and smiling all thin and tight. “Trust me.”

Scott looks at him. He looks, and he looks, and Stiles wonders what he sees there. Where other people see darkness and evil and terrible things, what does Scott see? What has he ever seen?

“It’ll be over before you know it,” Stiles goes on, turning to take his first steps into the bathroom. “Just don’t even worry about it. I’ve done it before.”

Scott’s eyes are shrewd. But he has nothing else to say, because he should know better than anyone else that once Stiles has decided something, he’s decided it. There’s no going back. No matter what anyone says or does.

When Stiles spots Tink, he finds her curling in the sink, seeming happy as a clam in a thin layer of lukewarm water that Lydia must have put out for her. She slithers out as soon as Stiles is in her sights, squiggling across the tiles of the counter until Stiles picks her up. Instead of allowing herself to be cradled in Stiles’ hand, she curls very firmly around his upperarm, squeezing tight and hanging on.

Lydia steps back from the tub and gives Stiles a look. “This is very stupid of you,” she says, and Stiles accepts it. “Just because your talking snake says you should do something…”

“Are you going to help, or judge?”

“Both at the same time.” She purses her lips and throws in another amethyst rock for good measure, and Stiles watches as the water glows the same way it did the first time he ever dared to do this. As he looks at it, he has de ja vu. He feels eyes on him. He feels like he can’t do this, he can’t physically do this, he’s so fucking terrified – but they’re waiting.

Everyone’s waiting.

“Shut off the lights,” he instructs. Allison comes to stand in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest, leaning against the door frame and looking pensive and sad and curious all at once. It is poetic, then, that Scott is the one to reach out and flick the switch, and then they’re in darkness, just like before.

Stiles wishes, wishes so much it nearly hurts to want something so bad, that Derek were here with him. That Derek was helping him into the tub and holding him down and pulling him back out of it. But they are where they are, and Stiles has to do this on his own.

The water glistens gently with the amethyst, and Stiles takes a deep breath. This time will be different.

He puts one foot in the water, and then the other, and slowly sinks himself down into the water until just his head is sticking out. His teeth chatter and Tink curls a bit more tightly to him like she doesn’t much care for it either, and he hisses a shaky breath through his teeth. “Whatever you do, pull me out after five minutes.”

Tactless as ever, Lydia huffs. “We may be pulling out your dead corpse.”

“I don’t want you giving the eulogy at my funeral,” he tells her very sternly, and she blinks at him with pursed lips. They surround the tub, all three of them, kneeling down right next to him and gently putting their hands on his chest and neck. Six hands, holding him in place, and Stiles has no choice.

He goes under the water.

As soon as he’s under, he can feel, again, that he’s not by himself. It isn’t just Tink’s presence that he’s feeling, though she’s a constant squeezing weight of support on his arm. It’s something else, and Stiles is almost used to the extra company for how familiar it feels to have those eyes on him.

He wants to ask whoever it is, whatever it is, what they really expect from him. What do you think you can get out of me, he thinks in his head. What do you get out of tormenting me?

The sheer enjoyment of doing it. Stiles knows that without being told. The hands hold him and Stiles doesn’t thrash as much as he did the first time. It must be that he’s completely resigned to his fate this time around. His body floats soundlessly and still in the water, and Tink barely moves, and time passes. The water turns to ice over his head, and he loses the feeling of cold so fast it’s a wonder he noticed it at all.

It’s a familiar feeling. His head is gone and he’s alone and he can’t feel his hands. There’s no light, nothing for him to touch, and he’s alone. Alone, alone, alone –

“Stiles. Listen to me. It’s Tinkerbelle,” and he twists. Or something does. He tries to find the source of the voice, but it’s like it’s all around him, and he wants more than anything else to reach out and switch on a light. The compulsion is so strong, but he has nothing. “You want to see?”

“That would be nice.” He grits through his teeth – which is when he remembers that he has teeth at all. He has teeth.

“Listen to me,” she says again, and Stiles tries his hardest to do what he’s asked, but the silence is deafening. “Can you feel me?”

Stiles wants to shout no, no I fucking cannot, because he can’t feel anything. He doesn’t have his body to feel a god damn thing. He’s just a thing, a particle, a nothing. But then he…does. He feels her. Moving against his skin, because he has skin, amazingly, and slithering up to his shoulder. He can feel, clear as day now that he’s focusing, her head press into his ear. She whispers. “Can you hear me?”

“Tink,” he says, and she presses up against him again and Stiles feel it.

“It’s inside your head,” she tells him, and Stiles tries to crawl forward. “It’s a game. You can do anything here, but they don’t want you to know that.”

“I…can’t,” he says, out of breath from barely having moved at all. He blinks against the darkness and then squeezes his eyes shut, forcing them back open. Again, all he sees is nothing.

“You can,” she presses. “Hold out your hand.”

“I don’t have –“

“Hold out. Your hand.”

It’s like pulling teeth. Stiles imagines himself, imagines a time when he was human and real and corporeal, and imagines his hand. Imagines holding it out in front of himself and looking at his palm, the back of his hand, his fingers – and suddenly, there it is.

Stiles holds out his hand, and Tink hums. “See?”

Stiles does see. Now that he’s gotten one out of the way, the other is easy. He holds it out, both of them, and turns them over and over again, amazed.

“Derek?” He whisper-calls into the nothing, clenching his hands together into fists. “Derek, are you here?”

Nothing. Tink stirs against his ear, but doesn’t say anything.

Derek?”

There’s another beat of silence, until finally, a whine. Low and pitiful, from nowhere Stiles can see. Mindless, Stiles moves forward, nearly tripping over his own useless feet in the process. “That’s him.”

“I know,” Tink says, and Stiles is so grateful she’s here right now. “Keep going.”

He does. It feels and seems like he’s getting nowhere, absolutely nowhere, but Tink prods him forward again and again, and he just moves. It’s a lot like dragging himself over hot coals, like he’s crawling to his own death or bleeding out on the floor somewhere all by himself, like he’s back in the forest the night Scott died, like he’s been lying in his own coffin for weeks.

But he keeps going.

“Stiles.” Tink’s voice is grave, and Stiles grunts in pain for no discernible reason other than that he is in pain. “It sees us.”

Fear comes naturally here. But it doesn’t hit him the way it does on earth, where it’s all encompassing, coming on like a tidal wave. It strikes him the same way the pain does, in that it’s just there, and it might have always just been there. It’s familiar like his own skin. He wears it.

“You need to turn on the light,” she hisses, and Stiles cowers again, hunching low in on himself in pain.

“I don’t –“

“It’s getting closer,” she warns, and Stiles wants to throw up. “You have hands. You can do anything. Derek is right there.”

Stiles can’t see him, can’t hear him, can’t feel anything except a burning, and eyes all over him. He knows that Tink is right. He has to turn on the light, and he has hands, and he can do that. He’s done it a thousand times on earth. It’s easy. It’s the easiest spell he knows, the first one he learned. He looked at a candle, flicked his fingers, let the magic do the rest.

Imagine it. The candle, the flame, the glow, the light.

It happens. It grows out of him like it’s climbing out of his mouth, slowly descending across the ground and stretching out two feet in front of him, two feet behind him, all around him. And for the first time, he can look down and see his hands, actually see himself being down here instead of just intrinsically knowing.

Everything is a blur. His hands are there, but they’re whitish-orange blobs that keep going in and out of focus. He turns to where Tink is perched on his shoulder and she’s a red stain, but there and whole all the same. He can barely see it when her mouth opens and she speaks again. “He’s so close.”

Stiles can’t see Derek anywhere, but she sounds so sure of herself.

“It can’t touch us with the lights on,” she continues, and Stiles is confused. And then quickly isn’t.

Slowly, moving as glacial as he dares, he looks over his shoulder behind himself. The light stretches into nothing, just a white light in a black room, and there. Just behind him.

A shadow. It stares right back at him.

“Derek?” Stiles calls, a bit more frantic if that were possible. He knows he doesn’t have a lot of time left. In a matter of what must be seconds up on earth, they’re going to pull him out of the water and he’ll have nothing to show for any of this. And he can’t, cannot, leave this place without taking Derek with him. This is unconscionable.

Another whine answers him, and Tink zeros in on the source. “There,” she hisses, and Stiles turns. The light follows him, and at last, at last

A dark mass is huddled on the ground. It’s a wolf, Stiles knows instantly even though he can barely make it out. It’s black and huge and it’s Derek, without a doubt, and Stiles lunges for it thoughtlessly. His hands meet soft fur, warm to the touch, and Derek is shaking. He’s got his head tucked underneath both paws and is cowering, terrified and all by himself, and Stiles digs his fingers into the fur and holds on for dear life.

“It’s me,” he tries, and Derek shakes some more. “Tink?”

“Just don’t let him go.”

Stiles doesn’t. He grips both arms around him and holds on as tight as possible, melting into him and burning and shaking himself, while that thing. That shadow, from the corner. It stands there and watches. Stiles is petrified to turn around and see it and petrified enough to be here at all, he can only imagine what Derek had gone through himself.

“You’ve gotta get us out of here,” Tink hisses in his ear again, and Stiles is confused.

“But they’re going to pull us out.”

Tink doesn’t miss a beat. “They’re not going to be strong enough,” and Stiles had always suspected that. He imagines, because he has the time to do so, what it would be like to spend eternity this way. Just him and Derek and Tink, and the shadow in their periphery, and the pain and the fire and the shaking. In this one tiny corner of Hell where no one else could ever find them, sitting in the one lone light until the end of time.

But again. All he can think of is that at least he and Derek would be together, in the silence.

Hey,” Tink snaps, like she’s been calling his name for some time while Stiles went off alone in his own head. “Focus.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

Even through the haze, Stiles can tell when Tink’s eyes slide to the shadow watching them. She stares at it as though she can communicate with it, or tell it to fuck off, or warn it – but it stays put, waiting. “You know you can do it. No one else could, but you could,” she curls tight around his shoulder. “You’re the thing they’re afraid of.”

Them? Afraid of him?

“You brought Scott back from the dead.”

Derek snuffles and whines, and Stiles cards his fingers through his fur and wants to sink into it, vanish into the softness.

“Your power doesn’t come from them, or from him,” and Stiles knows, beyond any shadow of a doubt, which him she’s referring to. “Get us out of here. Focus.”

Stiles closes his eyes and buries his face into Derek’s fur. There, inside of his mind, he imagines the sun. Underneath the sun there is the ocean that glows and the grass, and summer and Derek’s eyes lit up all green and bright, and the way it feels to lie underneath the warmth of it and be alive, alive. To be alive is, so often, enough, even when we don’t realize it. It’s enough to be alive and underneath the sun and a part of the world.

The world is a very big place. And this place, down here, is very small. It’s all an illusion, put upon by the darkness and the shadows and the dearth of energy. Stiles can do anything, like Tink had said. Anything he wants to.

He opens his eyes again, and screams. With everything in him, every last inch of anything he has left, he screams, and holds onto Derek tighter. The light that came out of him grows brighter, only marginally at first. And then it spreads, and spreads, and Stiles pushes himself harder than he ever has before. It stretches across an expanse of nothing, and bounces up against the shadow.

Instead of it illuminating whoever or whatever it is that had been watching them, it vanishes like smoke, and the light pushes past its absence like it was never there at all. Stiles doesn’t know if he just killed something. But Tink laughs. She laughs, and laughs, like she’s never been happier in her life, and the light gets so bright it’s almost blinding but Stiles doesn’t stop.

He has brought the sun down into Hell, and he’s killing everything in his path.

It happens quickly. One second the light is blinding and he’s screaming and Derek is shaking under his fingers, and the next, they’re shooting back into the water in his father’s bath tub, splashing and sending ice and green water splattering all over the place.

Stiles can still feel Derek’s fur under his hands. That’s the first thing he notices about the entire thing – he doesn’t notice being on his bathroom floor, or Tink uncurling from his arm and splaying out across the floor like she’s so fucking blessed to be alive, or Allison and Scott and Lydia talking at him all at once, or the fact that he can’t barely feel his own body.

All he notices is Derek, and that he’s here. That he brought Derek back from the farthest side of Hell. That Derek is okay. He curls deeper into Derek’s fur, again, and shudders out a breath.

He thinks, while feeling what is unmistakably Allison’s soft hand on his cheek, that Derek told him once he usually only ever goes to his full wolf form when he’s feeling particularly vulnerable or afraid. And it makes his heart burn to know that he was in so much pain and so alone for what must have felt like so long to him, and he cries.

“Oh, my God,” Stiles muffles into him and Derek snuffles in response. “I’ve got you. It’s over. It’s done.”

It’s done.

Derek does not shift back to human form. He stays curled in his wolf skin, paws over his ears and eyes squeezed shut tight and hard, but allows Stiles to crawl on top of him and hug him close like he’s a big teddy bear. Lydia stands over them with her hands on her hips and looks equal parts annoyed out of her skull and relieved beyond all belief, and Stiles is so happy she’s here, and Scott is here, and Allison, and Tink.

He’s wet and cold, and he just used so much magic it’s a wonder he’s still alive from the loss of it – so it’s no surprise, none whatsoever, when he falls asleep. The last thing he hears as he goes under is the steady beat of Derek’s heart, calming down as he realizes that he’s not in Hell anymore, and Stiles is right here, and the rest of Derek’s friends are, too.

**

The amount of times Stiles has blacked out from exhaustion in the past three months has to set some kind of a record. At some point, he’s sure, he’s going to black out and never wake up again. Go into a coma like Sleeping Beauty and lie there dead to all civilization until waking up in the year 3,000.

This time when he wakes up, he shoots up in bed and wonders, not for the first time, what day it is. He notes that it’s pitch dark outside his bedroom window, and he’s in his childhood bed again and there’s a dozen shopping bags from Target on his floor. When did he go shopping?

“Tink?” He calls in a rasp, and she’s there. She slithers out from behind a bag, rustling it a bit, and sets her eyes on him a little shrewdly.

“I’m getting a little tired of you being asleep,” she says, matter of fact. Stiles palms his forehead and wonders if he’s having a hallucination or a dream or if everything before this was a hallucination or a dream. If he’s been asleep ever since Derek got sucked into that black hole in his bedroom and if he’s only just now waking up, and Derek still isn’t back.

He couldn’t live with that.

“It took about three hours to coax Derek out of being a dog,” she hisses a bit as she says this, and Stiles deflates in relief. He flops down onto his bed, his head on his pillow, and covers his face with his hands.

He cries. For the first time in months, not out of abject misery. But out of relief, and happiness. It’s almost foreign for him to feel genuine joy so strongly, like it’s wrong and he nearly doesn’t deserve it. “So Derek’s…?”

Tink sighs, half hiss half breath, and speaks again. “He’s fine. He was being a bit of a baby.”

It’s unbelievable how low Tink’s threshold for empathy is. The only person, and Stiles is fucking sure of this, that she gives even a half of a shit about is Stiles. And he’s still not convinced she wouldn’t sell him to the highest bidder for an endless supply of pancakes, honestly. The only reason she even agreed to go to Hell with him is a.) because she wanted to watch Stiles destroy an entire section of that dimension for her own sick enjoyment, and b.) because Stiles needed her to. He never could have done it without her.

He reaches down and collects her from the floor, and before she can resist it, Stiles hugs her against his chest. It’s mostly just him pressing one section of her body into his stomach with his palm while her tail hangs and her head flops onto his shoulder, but it’s as close to a hug a snake will ever get. He sobs a little bit, blubbering. “You helped me,” he cries, and Tink sighs.

“This seems dramatic and unnecessary.” But she doesn’t try to pull away, and rests her head on his shoulder, giving his neck a bit of a lick.

“Don’t tell Scott,” he says, wiping at the corners of his eyes, “but I think you’re my best friend.”

“I’m no friend.” She pulls away from his shoulder to look him in the face, eyes dark and calculating. “I’m your extra limb.”

Yeah. It does feel like that, sometimes. What she had said that night before the attempt at a healing spell, that she was made from certain parts of him. Derek had been joking, saying she was made from the negative parts of him, but honestly…he was probably right. Tink isn’t evil, but she’s…a chaotic neutral. A true chaotic neutral.

“I’d legitimately die for you,” he says to her, and she lifts her eyes to the ceiling.

Like it’s being pulled out of her by a string, she mutters, “yeah, same,” not meeting his eyes. “So, anyway.”

Stiles hugs her for another second, until she squiggles indignantly and he decides to release her from her torment. As soon as she’s free she coils on his knee, looking up at him and flicking her tongue, gesturing with her head to the bags of stuff on the ground. “You’ve been asleep for two days.”

“I’m not even surprised by that.”

“Your dad bought you some clothes. Since you have none. And no house, no shoes, no toothbrush, even -”

“Okay.” Stiles struggles to stand up from the bed, having to use his palm behind him for leverage. “Where’s Derek?”

“Outside the door,” she says, and Stiles turns to look. His door is closed, but now that Stiles is paying attention, he can tell that there’s a shadow hovering there, in the gap between the door and the floor.

Stiles doesn’t know why he’s standing out there like a fucking weirdo, but all the same, he walks as quickly as he can manage. He nearly trips over his own feet once or twice, catching himself on the wall at the last second, and then pulls his door open so hard it bangs against his wall.

Derek is standing there, in the shadows. He looks like a miserable fucking ghoul, which is exactly how Stiles had described him once way back at the beginning of all this. He’s got on a black t-shirt and jeans, bare foot, and his arms are crossed over his chest, and he looks a little…ashamed.

It’s crazy. It’s absolutely insane. “Derek,” Stiles says, and his voice cracks half way through. “Derek.”

There’s a moment where he says nothing, and he won’t meet Stiles’ eyes. He keeps them downcast and purses his lips and the shadows on his face make him look even more severe than usual. When he finally looks up and into Stiles’ eyes, Stiles can see that he’s crying. He has never, never in his life, seen Derek Hale fucking cry. He would’ve thought that Derek trained himself to resist the urge years ago, after everything he’d been through – or at least he thought that alpha werewolves didn’t cry on principle if nothing else.

But there he is, and he’s crying, and Stiles doesn’t hesitate. He falls forward into Derek’s chest and wraps his arms around him so tight it would kill him if he weren’t a werewolf, and rests his cheek on his shoulder and just feels him. There, against his body. “I’m sorry,” Derek says, bizarrely, and Stiles won’t even give him the chance to finish talking.

“Just shut the hell up,” Stiles hisses, holding onto him tighter. “Don’t do that weird thing you do where everything is your fault and it’s, like, the Passion of the Christ or something. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t.”

“I –“

“It was nobody’s fault. Everything is okay,” Stiles sniffles into Derek’s shirt and smells him, could die from how good he smells. “We’re here. I got you out. We don’t have to talk about it, not right now.”

Derek’s arms are around his waist, and he buries his face in Stiles’ hair. He says, “I love you so fucking much. What you did –“

“Shh,” Stiles sighs. “Later.” For now, he just wants to let this moment last. Where they don’t think about things that have happened, where they pretend this is all normal, and they’re just standing here with one another and everything is fine and perfect. It’s enough to be with Derek, and it’s enough to be alive, and everything else is just background noise.

“You wanna know something?” Derek whispers in his ear, sending shivers down Stiles’ spine. “My middle name is Eugene.”

Stiles screams he laughs so hard. It’s natural and easy and the hardest he’s laughed since Scott died. It’s the most genuine unfiltered reaction he’s had to anything in months, and Stiles is…happy.

It doesn’t feel wrong, for the first time.

Once the hysterics have died down, Derek pushes Stiles back, back, and they move together in a tangle. They flop backwards onto the bed still curled around one another, and Tink nearly gets sent flying off the bed in a catapult from the weight of them. She manages to right herself and stay on her pillow, but probably looks angry.

“I just want to –“

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Stiles says again, because he just thinks Derek won’t want to. Because Stiles didn’t want to, and he was only down there the first time for minutes. Derek was there for two days. Two completely different experiences.

But Derek presses his nose against Stiles’ and breathes, and touches him, and is there. And whole. “Let me say this,” he says, voice a whisper, and Stiles closes his eyes and listens. “Your magic is what got me out. Do you get that?”

Stiles bites his lip. Squeezes his eyes shut.

“You think, you’ve always thought,” and Derek’s hands are moving frantically all over Stiles, just like they were the night they brought Scott back, as if he’s still checking after all this time to make sure Stiles is okay. “…that your magic is evil and you’re evil and you don’t deserve –“

“I’m –“

“I’ve been in Hell. Let me talk.”

Stiles has to bite his lip again, and Derek continues.

“…you did that. Your magic. It’s not like what brought me down there. It’s better than them, you’re better than them, I need you to know that. Do you know that?”

There’s quiet, because Stiles has spent so long, so much of his life, and especially of these past few months, thinking he was nothing but a vessel for some kind of dark, malicious energy. And he can’t just readily accept what Derek is trying to get him to believe. He just can’t. Trauma doesn’t work like that. Derek should know.

“You brought Scott back to life, and you saved me.” Derek’s hand, calloused and hard but always so gentle with Stiles, touches Stiles’ cheek. Stiles can’t help but lean into it on instinct. “You are so, so much more powerful than anything down there.”

That can’t be anything but true, because they are where they are. This is not a hallucination. This is not a dream. This is his life, and he did this. And if anything down there was more powerful than him, could really and truly hurt him like they want so badly, then he wouldn’t have been able to.

“And listen,” Derek whispers in his ear. “Listen and feel.”

At first, Stiles has no idea what Derek is referring to. There’s nothing and no one in this room except for Stiles’ shopping bags and Tink and he and Derek and the bed. There’s nothing, nothing at all, and the house is silent and it’s the middle of the night.

Which is when it dawns on him. “We’re alone,” Stiles says, voice very quiet. “Oh, my God. We’re all alone.” There is no one else, and nothing else here. There are no eyes on the back of his neck, there is no whispering, there is no feeling of impending dread and doom.

There’s just them, and the quiet. It’s been so long Stiles had forgotten what it felt like.

“You broke the curse,” Derek says, and Stiles can feel more than see Derek smiling. “They’re gone. And I still love you, and they can’t take that.”

No, no they can’t. A lot of things magic might have taken from him and other people in the past, but not this. Not him and Derek, and not his best friend, and not Tink, and not Lydia or Allison or his father. His things are gone and he’s got shopping bags filled with half-assed attempts at recreating it all, and he has no home, and the preserve will never be like it was before his magic burned half of it down.

But, fuck. He’s alive. And he has learned, the hardest way possible, that this is enough.

They pull the covers up over their heads and hide there with Tink until the sun comes up. They stay with a small ball of light from Stiles’ palm, whispering to one another. Stiles asks Derek what his favorite color is, where he wants to travel to with all that insurance money, what his dreams were when he was a kid. Derek asks Stiles if he really wants to be an art gallery’s assistant, what he wants to do instead, where he wants to go and does he want to stay in Beacon Hills?

There is so much time. Stiles doesn’t have to cling to every single second anymore like drops of water in a drought, because they’re alone, and safe. They don’t have to talk about anything they don’t want to.

By the time the sun is bright enough that Stiles can tuck the small ball of light away into his palm, Derek is sleepy-eyed and Tink is already asleep. Derek and Stiles will not sleep, Stiles is sure of it. Not because they’re afraid.

But because they finally remember what it’s like to be alive, and they won’t waste it.

Chapter Text

“Stiles,” Derek’s voice sounds quieter than normal, drifting down the hallway to where Stiles is standing in Derek’s bedroom, stuffing his clothes into the space Derek made for him in his dresser. “Come here.”

Stiles tucks another handful of shirts haphazardly into a drawer and slams it closed, reaching down into his bag for one more. “One sec,” he says in his normal speaking voice, knowing Derek will hear it either way. Tink is perched on top of the dresser, watching with vague interest and a hint of disdain as Stiles finishes unpacking what little he has left now, after everything happened.

To say she was less than thrilled with the prospect of living with Derek would be an understatement. But Derek asked, and then he insisted, and Stiles wasn’t in any position to say no. Not just because living back with his dad was humiliating, but also because it’s…Derek. And anyway, Tink doesn’t care about much of anything so long as someone gives her something to eat six times a day.

“I really think you should come out here,” Derek calls again, voice taking on a familiar lilt of hysteria. Stiles has become very familiar with what Derek’s voice sounds like when he’s panicking or afraid, so he furrows his brow as he looks over his shoulder, out the bedroom door and down the hall.

"He's being a baby again," Tink says, and Stiles gives her a look. She's close-lipped as a clam most of the time, just like she was when she first came out of Stiles' guts. Like she had said when she first started talking, she doesn't care to talk much. Especially not to anyone who isn't Stiles. She'll carry on entire conversations with Stiles when they're alone, but as soon as Stiles steps out to have breakfast with Derek, she goes mute and pretends she can't talk at all. That being said, she essentially never misses an opportunity to say something mean.

Without any more hesitation, Stiles picks Tink up with one hand so her tail dangles against his wrist and forearm and walks out the door towards Derek’s voice. When he comes out, he expects to see at least something going on – maybe a dead body or a demonic symbol having been mystically painted on the walls in blood in the blink of an eye. Stiles has learned to expect the worst.

But, there’s nothing. Derek is just standing there a few feet from the front door of the apartment, staring at something on the floor and rubbing his forehead again and again. Intrinsically, Stiles knows that the worst has to be behind them, because it just has to be. They’ve already been through so much and seen so much and done so much; what else could possibly be left? What loose ends are still sitting frayed and lying in wait for them to trip over?

Stiles sidles up beside Derek, looks down at what he’s looking at, and smirks. Ah, of course. Of fucking course.

“It just showed up,” Derek’s throat sounds tight. He sounds afraid.

Stiles isn’t. He cocks his head to the side and gives Tink a look – which she returns. “Look who came crawling back, huh?”

Bending down, he squats right in front of the Black Magic book and shakes his head. It has no box, this time – just itself, lying closed on the ground, deathly silent. It whispers nothing, asks Stiles nothing, emits no aura whatsoever. It might have expunged most of its energy simply crawling out of the rubble from Stiles’ apartment and getting itself here, but Stiles couldn’t care less.

Regardless of its clear lack of threat for the moment, Tink hisses at the thing when Stiles lets her tail drop too close to the binding, and Derek takes a big step back, towards the square of light spilling in from the living room window. “Don’t be scared,” Stiles says, not taking his eyes off of the book. “It can’t really do anything to us.”

“I remember you saying something very similar, again and again,” Derek clears his throat, and Stiles looks up to meet his eyes. “And we know how that turned out.”

Stiles stands back up to his full height, and thinks about how this feels nothing like before. Last time the book came to him, or rather, last time he actively sought it out, all it did was feed off of him and try to force him to do more, and more, and more, to get more out of him. Do enough Black Magic, they always say, and you just might become part of the magic itself.

Trapped forever inside the book itself. Stiles always knew why he felt the thing could talk to him – it’s because it could. It can. They can.

But now, Stiles has no interest in any of it. He has gone there, all the way to the end, and he won’t go back again.

“C’mon,” Stiles says to Derek, turning on his heel and leaving the book lying there on the floor. As he passes Derek by, he catches out of the corner of his eye Derek hesitating, looking between Stiles and the book again and again as though he’s afraid to be left alone with it without Stiles in the room with him. “I know what to do with it.”

Derek almost trips in his haste to follow Stiles into the kitchen, stuttering behind him and looking over his shoulder again and again. “You’re not going to –“

“I’ll pretend you weren’t going to ask me that question,” Stiles quips before Derek can even finish, and Derek’s teeth clack together he closes his mouth so hard. It’s insulting, first of all, for Derek to even think for a fraction of a second that Stiles would ever open that thing up again, and second of all for Derek to think that Stiles could ever put them both in danger like that again. This time, for no reason whatsoever.

But, Derek is Derek. And he can love Stiles all he wants, but he’s the Worst Case Scenario man.

Stiles bends down and opens the cabinet underneath Derek’s sink, pulling out an old toolbox Stiles knew he kept under there. Without preamble, he dumps all of its contents (one lone rusty hammer, a box of nails, a screwdriver) onto the ground, scattering across the floor. Derek frowns and raises his eyebrows. “That was a good toolbox.”

“It’s a very good toolbox,” Stiles agrees with an eyebrow raise, pulling it up and dropping it onto the counter. Tink slithers up his arm in a coil as he opens up Derek’s spice cabinet, curling up on his shoulder and hunkering down for the ride. “That’s why I’m using it.”

He pulls the salt out from Derek’s cabinet, and Derek huffs and puffs for a second. “That stuff again?”

“Yes, this stuff.” Stiles makes quick work of dousing a thin layer of the stuff on the bottom of the box. “It works when you don’t fuck with it. Derek.”

“All the things you’ve ever said to me about magic,” he starts, even as Stiles is turning to walk back out to the main room, crouching down next to where the book is still lying there pathetically on the ground, “…you never once mentioned not playing with salt.”

“I guess I thought it was common sense,” he grins up at Derek, who sort of smiles back at him. “You know it wasn’t really your fault, right?”

Derek nods. They don’t talk about it much, but it’s there, between them. All the things they won’t say, not for days or even weeks yet. It’s all right. Everything is going to be fine.

Stiles says that to Derek every night before they go to sleep. Everything is going to be fine. It’s been so long since he’s been able to say that and mean it that he can’t help but become addicted to the way it feels on his tongue, how Derek seems like he really believes him, every time. The worst is behind them. Stiles only knows this because any other options are unthinkable.

“Don’t touch that thing,” Derek warns him when Stiles reaches his hand out towards the object in question.

“Hey, backseat driver. Let me do my damn work.”

Derek raises his hands up in surrender, taking another step back. Then, he focuses his eyes intently on Stiles’ every move, every twitch of his fingers and blink of his eyes. Stiles holds his hand out a good foot away from the book, furrowing his brow, and slowly, very slowly, the book moves. It jostles a bit at first, maybe resisting the pull of Stiles’ magic if only to try and get him to actually put his hands on it – but it soon relents. Too weak to fight back any longer.

Up into the air it goes, and Derek’s breath hitches in his throat but he says nothing. He can still be amazed sometimes by what Stiles can do, and it makes Stiles feel all fuzzy inside like he hangs the moon, or something. Stiles pulls the book up a couple feet into the air, and then drags it cautiously right over the open toolbox lying in wait on the ground. Without hesitating, he lets the book drop down into the box, where it hisses because of the confinement of the salt, and Stiles slams the lid closed on top of it.

He builds a lock out of greenbrier vines that sprout from the tips of his fingers, wrapping it around and around the toolbox until the entire thing is nothing but thorns and green. When he’s finished, he straightens. The handle is the only bit of it not covered in thorns, and he uses it to pick the box up.

Jerking his neck towards the door, he says, “come with me.”

“To be clear,” Derek starts, even as he’s following Stiles to the door without a second thought, “we’re going to destroy it, right?”

“You can’t destroy it,” Stiles says matter-of-factly, swinging the door open and holding it for Derek.

“Not even you?”

Stiles has to pause for a second, half out the door. He turns over his shoulder and looks at Derek, and can’t help the small smile that crosses over his face. He remembers being sixteen and thinking that Derek was the scariest, and the strongest, and the most powerful person he’d ever met. He thought that the most terrifying things out there were other, werewolves and lizard monsters and succubi and everything in between.

In reality, the most terrifying person he’s ever met is the person he sees in the mirror every morning. And yet, Derek just doesn’t see him that way. He never has. Derek sees him as powerful and smart and capable, but never scary.

“Not even me,” Stiles says after clearing his throat, reaching onto his shoulder to pull Tink down into his shirt pocket before she scares off the locals.

“Indignity,” Tink mutters as she goes, and Stiles ignores her.

They drive in Stiles’ car down to the preserve, the one Derek must remember from his childhood but that he doesn’t really ever visit much anymore. Come to think of it, Stiles hasn’t been back here since…Scott died.

Scott dying feels like another lifetime. It feels like something that happened to someone else, in another century or another place altogether. It’s almost as though Stiles’ magic really is so powerful that it can make even the things that Stiles know happened seem impossible, now.

After parking, they walk through leaves and dirt and fallen tree branches until reaching the river Stiles only vaguely remembers from a long time ago. High school, maybe. They came here once and Scott was alpha and they watched the sunset across the water. Derek was there, too. But then it wasn’t like it is now.

Everything is different, now.

The water is clear enough that when Stiles drops the box into the deepest bit of it he can find, he can still see it, green and thorny and menacing. He kneels down and gets wet, while Derek stands behind him and watches, arms crossed over his chest.

“Nothing,” Stiles says, and Tink whispers it along with him from his pocket. “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”

Like that, it vanishes. All Stiles can see, all anyone will ever be able to see, is water and pebbles and a moss covered stone. It’s not really gone, not at all – it’s sitting there, hidden and covered up by magic, and maybe someday someone will cut their toes on accident against a thorn they couldn’t see.

But no one will ever find the book. Only the thorns.

Stiles comes out of the water, turning around to find Derek sitting down on the ground with his knees splayed up in front of him, resting his elbows on top. When he meets Stiles’ eyes, he says, “I want to sit with you.”

Stiles obliges, plopping down right next to him in the grass and staring across the water. They sit shoulder to shoulder, Tink poking her head out from Stiles’ pocket, and Derek takes a sharp inhale of breath. He says, “I’m not always the best at talking about things.”

“I’m not, either. I mean, I can talk and talk and talk,” he rips at a patch of grass with his fingers a bit viciously, tossing the shreds off to the side, “but I don’t really ever say anything.”

“I know there’s a lot we should talk about,” he looks across the water, maybe can’t even find the spot where Stiles hid the book at all, “but then I think it doesn’t even matter.”

Does it matter?

“Scott is back and he’s doing okay,” Derek goes on, still squinting at the fading sunlight. “And you broke the curse. And we’re alive, and I love you.” He reaches down in between them and takes Stiles’ closest hand hostage; as Stiles looks down to watch the movement, he notes that Tink has retreated deep into Stiles’ pocket, either to give them mock privacy or because she’s sick and tired of them making goo-goo eyes at each other and professing their love to one another every other second. “Maybe the rest is just…details.”

Scary details. The ones people like to read and write about but not actually experience themselves. Stiles would love nothing more than to never speak about these things, not ever again, but he knows they’ll come up again and again, and deep down, Derek does too.

But here by the water, Stiles sees no reason to bring any of it up. “Yeah, details,” Stiles agrees, squeezing Derek’s hand in his own. “I’m not sorry for any of it.”

“It’s crazy, but neither am I.” He looks at Stiles, dead in the eyes. “If we hadn’t done it, maybe we never would have…”

Yeah. The magic never forced them to be in love, never made them do anything they didn’t want to do – all it did was bring them closer. For all that they’ve been through, for everything that’s happened…

Even if the last moment they ever had was right here in this clearing, with the stream and the sun setting before their eyes, it would make everything worth it, just to be here together. Stiles never thought he’d feel that way about anyone, not ever in his life, and he knows Derek feels the exact same. Erica and Isaac barely answer Derek’s phone calls, but Derek has Stiles, and Stiles knows now that that’s enough, for him.

Stiles wants to say thousands of things to Derek. He wants to tell him thank you, for being his friend when no one else would be, for staying by his side even when he was losing his mind, for helping him and holding his hand and pulling him back out of the water. He wants to tell him that he’s never loved anyone or anything more in his life, that Derek is his shadow. What follows him even down into the deepest of darks.

All that comes out is, “I’d do everything over, for you.”

Derek holds his hand harder. They sit quietly, for a while, happy just to be in each other’s company, all alone with nothing but the babble of the water for a soundtrack.

Stiles snickers suddenly, his shoulders shaking with the motion, and Derek turns to him, surprised. “What?” He demands, lips turning upwards at the corners.

“I’m just –“ Stiles loses himself to the snickering again, before finally managing to choke out, “I’m thinking about Eugene.” Tink hisses a sharp laugh from inside his pocket, mean and vicious as she ever is, and Stiles laughs harder.

“Fuck off,” Derek snaps, but he’s smirking.

“Derek Eugene Hale. It doesn’t get old, it never does.”

“It never does,” Tink parrots from his pocket, and Derek huffs and puffs some more like he always does.

The sun goes down in the clearing, crossing over the water slow like molasses, and it takes all the light with it as it vanishes. There’s nothing left for Stiles to follow – it’s only him, and his shadow in the dark.