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Stand Fast in Your Enchantments

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Stiles didn't wake up until they started painting his arms with the tincture. He recognized what it was the second it touched him, the elderberries staining his unmarked skin purple, the myrrh sparking and hissing when it touched the inked designs that wound around his arms from wrist to shoulder. He blinked muzzily at the ceiling, at the vague human shapes standing over him, at the straps that held him to the table, and almost choked on the cloying stench of his magic being snuffed out, one silky stroke of the paint brush at a time.

He didn't start screaming until they got to the runes that ran across his collarbones and down over his heart, and then he couldn't stop.

~*~

When he came to again he was face down on a cold floor in a dark room. Someone had put his pants and his T-shirt back on him, but his feet were bare, and freezing cold. His skin felt like it was on fire, and he groaned as he flopped over onto his back, memories of the dampening ritual making him shudder. He pushed them away and tried to figure out if he was injured otherwise, but he was such a mess from what the tincture had done to him that it was hard to tell. His head was pounding, his stomach roiling. His mouth tasted terrible, bitter and rank, and his throat hurt when he tried to swallow down the feeling of impending vomit. He closed his eyes and tried to take even, shallow breaths, but his entire body was shaking uncontrollably, and not just from the cold.

All those things, things he already knew, weren't the worst part, though. It was the things he didn't know that terrified the shit out of him. He didn't know where he was, or how he'd gotten here, or who had done this to him, or what they were going to do to him next, or how much longer he was going to be alive. He needed to figure out at least a few of those, and hopefully get the fuck out of here before something worse happened.

He forced himself to open his eyes again and began to take stock. It was definitely night. The moon was only a sliver, barely past new, but the sky was clear and there was just enough moonlight coming in through the barred window above his head that he could see his sweatshirt and jacket had been tossed on the floor next to him. He slowly pushed himself up to sitting, much to his body's extreme ire, and then had to pause to let another wave of nausea and dizziness pass, taking in big gulps of cold night air.

Once he felt marginally steadier, he reached for his sweatshirt, trying to pull it around his shivering shoulders with burning, clumsy hands. It turned out to be a sadly complicated task, and he was almost ready to just give up on it when he heard the growl.

Stiles' best friend was a werewolf. Some of his favorite clients were werewolves. Stiles knew damn well what a pissed-off wolf sounded like, and every hair on the back of his neck was telling him that somewhere in this room was a very pissed-off werewolf.

He took a deep breath, willing himself to calm the fuck down even as his already queasy stomach pitched and rolled in reaction to this unwelcome development. Ever so slowly, he turned his head in the direction of the growl, which ratcheted up a notch as soon as Stiles moved. The wolf was almost directly behind him, so Stiles had to nearly pull an Exorcist move to lay eyes on it, and then he immediately wished he hadn't. Staring out at him from the deeper dark of what appeared to be a doorway were two red, glowing eyes.

An alpha. Son of a bitch.

It was instinct that made him uselessly flex his hands, try to summon a protective spell, before he remembered what they'd done to him. He felt the familiar hollowness in his belly as his body made room for the magic to uncurl, the tingle under his breastbone when the rune tattooed there tried to flare to life, and then…nothing. The tingle faded away as quickly as it appeared, his stomach clenched down on itself as the nausea made a comeback, and he opened his perfectly ordinary fingers, from which no power flowed.

They'd taken away his magic and thrown him in a room with an alpha werewolf, who sounded decidedly not-friendly. And it was maybe just his imagination, but it looked like the wolf, who hadn't stopped growling, was moving closer.

"Hey," Stiles said cheerfully, because maybe he couldn't throw a whammy right now to save his life, but that didn't mean he didn't have other skills at his disposal. Maybe he could bluff his way through; it had been a fairly effective tactic for most of his life. "Is that any way to greet your new roommate?" His voice was a little hoarse from screaming, but maybe it made him sound a little tougher than he actually was, he thought hopefully. Christian Bale seemed convinced that was true.

The wolf was definitely moving. As Stiles' heart thudded against his ribs, it crept slowly into the room, where it wasn't quite as dark. Seeing what he was up against didn't make Stiles feel any better. It was a male, dark-haired and moving on all fours, big and muscular and mean-looking, shifted into beta form.

When the wolf moved into the shaft of faint moonlight coming through the window, Stiles could see he was wearing only a pair of jeans, and had a thick collar around his throat. Like he was someone's pet, though it was more likely he was someone's weapon, given the hostility and aggression radiating from him. Stiles couldn't think of any other reason someone would put a collar on a werewolf, and this one was a picture of barely restrained violence as he advanced on Stiles, claws clicking against the wood floor, growl still rolling from his throat.

"I promise I won't drink the last of the milk and put the carton back in the fridge," Stiles said, as the wolf paused barely a foot away from him and tilted his head, nostrils flaring. "Just leave my porn alone, and we'll be cool. Okay?"

The wolf abruptly stopped growling.

"And I'm totally fine with you having people over," Stiles went on, because, unbelievably, this seemed to be working. "We can work out a system, leave a sock on the door or something. Except neither of us have any socks." The wolf huffed, like he thought that was kind of funny. Or maybe he was just irritated, Stiles couldn't really tell.

He had a couple more great one-liners queued up, but they backed up in his scratchy throat when the wolf leaned in and nosed at Stiles' upper arm, where his skin was still stinging from the tincture. Stiles just barely managed to not jerk away, or curl up like a pill bug, both of which seemed like good ideas right then. This wasn't one of the possible reactions he had anticipated from an angry werewolf, but since he was still in one piece, he decided to just roll with it.

The wolf shifted a little closer, and Stiles could feel him breathing through his nose, soft whuffs of damp air tickling Stiles' over-sensitive skin. Was he sniffing him? Trying to decide if he smelled like dinner? Stiles had no idea, until the wolf suddenly made a plaintive sound in his throat, like he knew whatever they'd done to Stiles' arm had hurt him. Unbelievably, it seemed like the wolf was sympathizing with him.

Up close, and with his head craned forward as he continued to nose at Stiles' arm, Stiles could see a dark, crusty line on the skin of the wolf's neck, where the collar met his flesh. With only the moonlight and the faint glow of the wolf's eyes to see by, it was hard to tell for sure, but Stiles was willing to bet cash money it was blood. They'd done something to this wolf, too. Something as bad as what they'd done to Stiles, probably, given the way he was acting. Stiles knew there were things you could do to werewolves that would force them to shift and keep them there against their will. None of those things were pleasant.

The wolf had worked his way up past Stiles' armpit and was now sniffing at his collarbones, whining a little, and before he could tell himself not to, Stiles brought his hand up and petted the back of the wolf's head. Amazingly, he didn't seem to mind, just nudged briefly into the touch before he focused his investigative sniffing on Stiles' other arm. His fangs were so big the bottom ones jutted out of his mouth even when it was closed, like a cartoon werewolf. It was almost comical.

"What'd they do to you, buddy? Huh?" Stiles asked softly, still stroking his hair, which felt kind of dirty but smelled faintly of shampoo, so he couldn't have been here like this too long. The wolf made a sharp, angry sound that Stiles figured wasn't directed at him, but at the people behind this clusterfuckery. "I hear ya," Stiles told him, with a small and humorless laugh. "These guys suck."

Now mostly convinced he wasn't going to get mauled, Stiles relaxed a little and rubbed his way around the wolf's head, even venturing down behind his pointy ears. That must have been a particularly sensitive spot, because the wolf paused in his sniffing long enough to close his eyes and rumble with pleasure, pushing into Stiles' hand like he didn't want him to stop. When he opened his eyes again, they weren't glowing anymore. That was a good sign.

As his hand drifted down the back of the wolf's neck, closer to the collar, Stiles felt a telltale buzzing in his fingers. The collar was magicked, which was probably why the wolf hadn't been able to get it off. Maybe the blood on his neck was from his own claws, evidence of an attempt to tear the collar off and get free. There was no way he wouldn't have tried.

The wolf was now nosing his way under Stiles' jaw, snuffling softly, and Stiles automatically tipped his head back to give him room, which was a big mistake. A new wave of dizziness washed over him, and he knew this time he wasn't going to be able to fight it.

"I'm gonna pass out now," Stiles said thickly, and then he did just that.

~*~

He half-woke sometime later and the moonlight was gone, the room completely dark now, but he could hear forest night sounds, crickets and peeper frogs, and something small scurrying around outside. It was really cold, and he was shivering, and his feet were practically numb.

Stiles groped around on the floor until he found his jacket, then struggled to push it down his body so he could shove his bare feet into the balled up shape of it. When he'd passed out he'd landed half on his sweatshirt, so he squirmed around until he could pull it tight around him and flip the hood up over his pounding head. His teeth wanted to chatter, but he was too exhausted and traumatized to even do that for long, and the pain eventually pulled him back under again.

When he opened his gummy eyes the next time, the sky was just starting to lighten to the gray of dawn and Stiles wasn't shivering anymore. The wolf was a warm, solid wall of comfort at Stiles' back, breathing hot air onto his neck, and Stiles whispered, "Thank you," before he drifted off again.

~*~

When Stiles woke up for real in the morning, the wolf was squatting on the floor next to him, staring at him intently, and wow. He really was impressive. His arms were huge, biceps like softballs, and Stiles could see the long, flexing muscles of his thighs through his jeans. He had the torso of an underwear model, and if all that weren't enough, his human eyes were some kind of incredible gray-green color that Stiles couldn't believe actually existed in someone's face. He couldn't stop himself from wondering what the guy looked like when he wasn't all wolfy.

Unlike his incredibly attractive fellow captive, their cell looked even worse in the daylight, Stiles decided, once he was able to sit up and look around without almost puking. Anxious to do a little reconnaissance, he slowly got to his feet, but he was still unsteady, listing from side to side as the wolf crouched uneasily next to him, making anxious little noises. When Stiles put his hand on the wolf's shoulder, partly to reassure him and partly to keep himself from falling on his face, the wolf pressed against him, letting Stiles lean on him, taking some of his weight, until he felt like he could move on his own.

The cell wasn't technically a cell. They were actually in a freestanding structure that looked like it had started life as a cabin or a cottage, but had since been stripped of almost everything that made it a livable space. The main room was just a big rectangle, and had no furniture in it save one wooden chair.

The glass had been removed from the windows, and thick metal bars put in instead. Stiles got all tingly when he got near them, which explained why the wolf--who had made a go at getting out through one of the windows, if the scratches on the wall and the bars were any indication--hadn't been able to escape. Even werewolf strength was no match for heavily magicked wood and iron.

There were three windows in total in the front room, each on a different wall, and Stiles went to each of them and pressed his forehead between the bars, angling to see as much as he could, but it was the same view from all three: a small overgrown yard, half sun and half shade at this time of day, which abruptly gave way to thick forest, a mix of pine and oak, that could have been anywhere near Beacon Hills. Though the place looked like it hadn't seen much care recently, someone must have maintained the lawn at one point, to keep the woods from encroaching; the line between grass and forest was too straight to be natural.

He decided to try his luck with the door, which was unlocked and swung open easily, revealing a small wooden porch and three rickety steps leading down to the yard. There was the faintest of paths going directly away from the cabin and disappearing into the woods, long grass crushed recently by feet, which told Stiles no one had been here for some time before this.

The magic tingle was even stronger here, and when he focused on it, about six inches in front of his face Stiles could see the opalescent shimmer of a magicked barrier. Someone had also taken the precaution of laying down a line of mountain ash across the threshold, which wouldn't stop Stiles but would definitely keep the wolf from going over it. Not that it made any difference, with the barrier right there.

With his powers and the right supplies, Stiles could have definitely broken the ash line, and possibly taken down the barrier wall, too. In his current condition, there was nothing he could do. He closed the door and continued his exploration, the wolf tagging along at his heels.

One corner of the main room had obviously been a kitchen, and there were still marks on the floor where appliances had been at one time, but they'd been removed. Even the drawers, and the doors on the kitchen cabinets, even the light fixtureswere gone. They'd taken everything but the kitchen sink.

Actually, no. They'd taken that, too.

There was small pile of magazines on the kitchen counter, an eclectic mix of celebrity gossip, women's fitness, and guns. Stiles supposed that was intended to be his entertainment.

Down a short hallway off the back of the room was a bathroom with a sink and a toilet in it, an unopened package of toilet paper sitting on top of the tank, a towel and washcloth hanging from a bar on the wall. There was nothing but a wrecked rectangle of floor where a bathtub had been. Seeing the sink made Stiles realize he was desperately thirsty, and he nearly sobbed with relief when he turned the faucet on and water rushed out of it.

He cupped his hands and drank again and again, the cold water heavenly on his parched tongue and his aching throat. It tasted faintly of iron, the way clean well water did sometimes, and it was delicious. After a moment, the wolf shoved his way in, putting his mouth under the stream and drinking for a long, long time. Stiles wondered how long he'd been without water, if he remembered how to work a faucet in this state, or if he'd been thirsty the whole time.

When he'd had his fill, the wolf dropped back down to all fours and shook himself like a dog, sending droplets of water flying. Then he rubbed his wet chin on his shoulder and waited patiently while Stiles rinsed his face and hands, and dried off with the towel, which was obviously brand new. It was stiff as a board and still had the tag on it.

There was no mirror in the bathroom, so Stiles stripped off his sweatshirt and examined his arms without the benefit of his reflection. In the daylight his skin was still stained a deep purple, and his tattoos had all turned a dull gray, regardless of what color they'd been originally. He ran his finger over the raven on the tender underside of his forearm, painful as hell when he got it, and one of his favorites. It looked flat and dead now, like all the rest, the magic in them muted and inaccessible to him.

The wolf came forward, curious, and sniffed at the raven, then nuzzled it a little. Stiles let him do it for a few seconds, but he pulled his arm away and slid his sweatshirt back on before he started freaking out completely over what had been done to him.

There was only one other room, opposite the bathroom. It was the bedroom, Stiles supposed, if the bare mattress on the floor was anything to go by. He was momentarily aggravated to remember he'd spent the night huddled on the hardwood floor in the front room when he could have been in here at least marginally more comfortable, but he was mainly too grateful to work up any real anger about it. He eased himself down onto the bed with a groan, bellyful of water sloshing unpleasantly, and passed out again.

The wolf was on the bed next to him when Stiles woke up, but stretched out on his side facing the other way. In all the dizziness and near puking, Stiles had failed to notice that he had a tattoo on his back, a beautiful black triskelion between his shoulder blades. It was likely his pack symbol, and seemed vaguely familiar, but Stiles couldn't connect a name to it, which meant he probably wasn't local. He was an alpha, though, so no matter where he was from, his pack would be desperate to find him.

The last thing Stiles remembered was being on the way to meet Scott and Allison for pizza; when he hadn't shown up or answered his phone, they would have known something was really wrong, and called Stiles' dad, plus Lydia, and probably Danny, too. Stiles' dad knew all about the freaky supernatural shit Stiles was into, and made a good go-between whenever something Scott and Stiles were mixed up in necessitated the involvement of law enforcement. With the wolf's pack, Stiles' friends, and the real, actual law looking for them, they might make it out of this yet. All they had to do was stay alive until then.

The sun was streaming through the window above the bed, pleasantly warm, and the wolf was sleeping right in the golden glow of it, his body striped with shadows from the bars on the window. It was actually quite a picture, if Stiles put aside the fact that they were being held captive for unknown but likely nefarious reasons. The wolf's back was as pleasingly muscular as the rest of him, narrowing to the slight dip of his waist, the narrow ridge of muscle above his hipbone just barely visible from this angle. Normally, Stiles would have been thrilled to wake up to this kind of view. Sadly, normal things didn't happen to Stiles, like, ever.

But it was nice, for the moment, to lie in the sun and appreciate the rise and fall of the wolf's ribs as he breathed, and the way his jeans stretched over the backs of his thighs. While he was appreciating, Stiles noticed there was something in his back pocket, a slightly raised rectangle where the pocket should have been smooth and flat.

Stiles had realized right away this morning that they'd taken everything away from him before they locked him in here: his phone, his wallet, his keys, his watch, the various mystical things he always had crammed in his pockets. But Stiles had been out cold and depowered--it was a given that dealing with an enraged alpha werewolf wouldn't be quite as easy. Just getting the collar on him had to have been nearly impossible. Maybe they'd skipped the strip search.

The wolf moved when Stiles sat up, rolling over and pulling himself into a crouch as he yawned big and loud, looking a little like a lion at the zoo with his hooded eyes and his mouth full of sharp teeth. He blinked sleepily at Stiles in a way that was almost cute, so Stiles didn't think twice before he reached out and said, "Hey, can I see—"

The wolf shied away with a warning growl.

Stiles quickly held his hands up, showing he was harmless. "Okay, then. Just because we shared some midnight cuddles doesn't mean you trust me. I get it," he said. He didn't completely trust the wolf, either, so he wasn't offended. "I just want to see what you've got in your pocket," he explained. "Okay?"

The wolf narrowed his eyes at him and appeared to consider it for a moment before he slowly inched a little closer and let out a breath that sounded suspiciously like a put-upon sigh. All signs Stiles took to mean, Fine, go ahead.

Stiles shifted up onto his knees and cautiously put his arm out again, and this time the wolf turned a bit so Stiles could reach into his back pocket. He crouched stiffly on the mattress, eyes on Stiles the whole time, while Stiles eased his fingers into his pocket and came out with a money clip. It was some kind of burnished golden metal, with an H inscribed on it in bold font. It held a couple twenty dollar bills and a driver's license.

"Wow, you're kind of hot," Stiles blurted, when he looked at the photo. The wolf whuffed at him, pleased or amused, Stiles couldn't tell. Stiles got so distracted staring at the sculpted cheekbones and the scruffy jawline in the photo that it took him a second to remember he was supposed to be detecting stuff. He looked from the picture on the license to the wolf crouched in front of him and yeah, definitely the same guy. Even under the fangs and the pointy ears and everything else, it was definitely the same guy.

His name was…Derek Hale.

"Oh. My. God," Stiles said, flabbergasted. The wolf was local. He was very local. He was Derek freakin' Hale. That was where Stiles had seen the triskelion before—one of Deaton's history books. Stiles knew all about the Hale pack, even though most of them had died when he was just a kid. Derek and his sister--Laura? Stiles was pretty sure her name was Laura—and his uncle were the last three living members, but as far as Stiles knew they'd all moved to New York after the fire that killed everyone else.

This was like meeting a legend. A tragic legend, Stiles reminded himself, before he got too gleeful about it.

On the heels of this discovery, though, came a heart-sinking realization: there was likely no big, organized pack out looking for Derek. If they'd managed to rebuild to that level, word would have gotten out, they would have been known. And the last Stiles had heard, the uncle had been the alpha. If Derek was the alpha now, that meant either he had challenged his uncle for it and won, or he'd inherited it when his uncle died. Those two things were not mutually exclusive.

Even if his uncle were dead, maybe Laura was still around. Maybe there was at least one werewolf who called Derek alpha. At least one. And maybe that wolf was looking for him.

Derek was watching him, flexing his claws nervously against the mattress. Stiles' reaction was confusing him, maybe, so Stiles put his disappointment aside and smiled at him.

"Derek Hale," he said, and Derek obviously recognized that as his name; he made a happy sound and bumped his head against Stiles' shoulder, knocking Stiles over onto his butt. "Yeah, nice to meet you, too, Derek. Nice to meet you, too."

~*~

Everything Stiles had learned so far required some time to digest, and do some strategizing, but he was still feeling like he'd been run over by a bus while suffering from both the flu and a heavy duty case of sunburn. He didn't get much strategizing done.

Instead, he slept most of the day, getting up a few times to wobble into the bathroom for more water, though it only got rid of the disgusting taste in his mouth for a few minutes at a time. Sometimes when he woke up Derek was there with him, other times he wasn't, but he always appeared in the doorway as soon as Stiles started moving around, and followed him back and forth across the hallway as if worried Stiles were somehow going to collapse or get lost during that short trip.

Dusk had just started to fall, the woods turning raucous with the sounds of the birds cheeping at each other as they settled down to roost for the night, when Derek suddenly went nuts, charging into the front room and snarling more aggressively than Stiles had heard him so far. When Stiles got up and plodded after him, not sure he even wanted to know what the hell was going on now, he found Derek crouched in front of the door, body stiff and tensed to spring, all his hair standing on end.

Then Stiles heard it, too. Someone was coming.

First it was just the faint sound of male voices in the distance, and careless feet kicking through dead leaves on the forest floor, obviously not worried about anyone knowing they were out here. Stiles was tempted to try to get their attention, to yell for help, but Derek's reaction suggested whoever was out there wasn't going to be much help; it felt like Derek knew who it was, and didn't want them here.

When the footsteps got closer there was a pause, and one voice picked up again, all by itself. It was just a faint murmur, but the cadence and intonation were familiar enough that Stiles knew the guy was reciting a spell, even if he couldn't make out the exact words. When the voice finally went quiet, Stiles' neck prickled and he felt the phantom sensation of cold water running down his back, which was what dispersed magic always felt like to him. That had to mean their visitors had lowered the barrier around the cabin.

Derek's agitation only grew as feet plodded heavily up the porch steps, and as soon as the door swung inward he threw himself at the opening, only to bounce off the invisible mountain ash boundary with a pained yelp. The two men standing in the doorway didn't even flinch, but the one on the right did a very obvious double-take when he saw Stiles. Stiles lifted a hand and waved at the guy, who looked like a younger, pudgier Geraldo Rivera, and was carrying an armload of fast food bags.

The other guy had a sharp, hatchet face and a scraggly beard, and was carrying a gun. He kept it aimed at Stiles even as Derek rolled to his feet and snarled at him, showing a whole lot of pointy teeth. Stiles was the one who could just step right over the ash line if he wanted.

"What the fuck is he doing in there?" Geraldo asked the hatchet faced guy, gesturing at Stiles. "And why the fuck didn't Cujo kill him?" People always went for the Cujo line. It was so predictable.

At the mention of killing, Derek let out a deep, warning growl and darted sideways across the floor, planting himself squarely between Stiles and their visitors. Stiles was oddly touched.

"The old man told me to put him here," Hatchet Face said, a little defensively, but he looked worried, like he already knew he was in trouble.

The old man, Stiles thought. Someone who was in charge, who was not these two guys. They were just toadies.

Geraldo gave Hatchet Face a disgusted look. "He said the north cabin, you dumbass."

"This is the north cabin!" Hatchet Face protested, then ducked away when Geraldo reached up to swat him on the back of the head.

"This is the east cabin. Don't you have a fucking compass on your phone? You're on it all the time, you'd think--"

"Uh, hey, excuse me?" Stiles interrupted. Both toadies looked at him like they'd forgotten he was there. "I can tell you're having a really important argument and stuff, but I'm kind of curious to know why the hell you kidnapped me and are holding me hostage?"

"How come he didn't kill you?" Geraldo asked suspiciously, ignoring what Stiles felt was a perfectly justified question. "He almost killed two of our guys when we caught him, even after we shot him up with wolfsbane."

Well, that was an important clue, and Stiles didn't know if Geraldo was even aware he'd given something away. They'd shot Derek full of wolfsbane to capture him, but then they'd cured him. Which meant they needed to keep him alive for some other purpose. Which probably meant they needed Stiles for some other purpose, too.

"I'm really likeable," Stiles shrugged, hoping empty conversation would deflect everyone's attention away from that interesting tidbit of information. "Loveable, even. I'm like catnip for werewolves. Wolfnip, you could call it. I'm sort of popular with the full moon crowd." He shoved his hands in his pants pockets and gave the toadies a smug smile.

Hatchet Face's eyes were already starting to glaze over. Geraldo had had enough of Stiles' bullshit, too. He tossed the fast food bags into the cabin, and as soon as they landed on the floor Stiles realized he was starving. Derek didn't give the food a second glance, focused like a laser on the toadies, growling softly every time one of them looked at him.

"We'll be back later to move you," Geraldo said to Stiles, and Derek went fucking nuts again, charging the door with such ferocity that both guys took a step back this time. "Or maybe not," Geraldo amended as Derek planted his claws right at the edge of the ash line and hissed at them, showing his fangs. "If he likes you so much. Saves us a trip to the other cabin to feed you, anyway."

Stiles clucked scoldingly at Geraldo. "Such laziness," he said, shaking his head, but he was actually relieved he was wavering on separating them. Derek was apparently non-verbal and stuck in beta form, but he was still an ally, and a freakishly strong and durable one. Their chances were better together. "I'm assuming this is the kind of go-getter attitude that lands one a job as someone else's minion."

"Fuck off," Geraldo said, scowling, and walked away without closing the door, which would have necessitated reaching over the mountain ash line and right into Derek's snarling maw. Hatchet Face backed up slowly, keeping his gun trained on Stiles, in case he tried to make a break for it.

Geraldo clomped down the porch steps and out into the yard, where he paused to mumble his way through the spell to restore the barrier. So he was in charge of the magic, which didn't surprise Stiles, because Hatchet Face seemed the dimmer of those two bulbs.

Stiles actually felt the barrier snap back into place, a soft whoomp in his belly, like going over the top of a rollercoaster, and for a moment he missed his magic so badly, felt so lost and empty without it, that it robbed all the breath from his lungs. He concentrated on watching Geraldo and his buddy cross the small yard, already arguing again about which cabin was the north one as they headed for the tree line.

When it was clear they really were leaving, Stiles stepped forward and shooed Derek out of the way so he could close the door. Derek moved aside with obvious reluctance, and kept his eyes on the toadies as long as he could, until Stiles practically closed the door on his nose, and then, just to be an asshole, locked it. Next time, the toadies would have to wait for Stiles to open the door for them.

So now Stiles knew two more very valuable pieces of information they could use to their advantage, the first being that the dickheads keeping them captive had to drop the barrier to deliver food. More importantly, they didn't restore it until they left. It had been down the entire time they'd been standing in the doorway.

Derek launched himself pointlessly at the closed door again, leaving long claw marks in the wood, as the guys' footsteps retreated back into the woods, but Stiles went for the food bags, the smell of salt and grease making his stomach gurgle and his mouth water. He sat down on the floor under one of the windows and emptied the bags—there were four of them—one by one, as Derek raged at the door.

"Hey, buddy, they're gone. Let's eat," Stiles coaxed. Derek snorted angrily and then growled at the door one more time before he stalked over to hunker next to Stiles, all ruffled dignity. Stiles unwrapped what turned out to be a cheeseburger and took an enormous bite, then shoved a couple onion rings into his face, too. Derek leaned against his shoulder, making a yearning noise, rather than grabbing something for himself, so Stiles held the burger out, and Derek took a bite, chewing somewhat awkwardly around his huge fangs, but his eyes closed for a second as if in bliss and he made a sound that in another situation could have been considered a moan.

Stiles took another bite, then held it out for Derek again, who this time took the whole thing from him, claws making little dents in the bun. The next sandwich Stiles picked was chicken, and by the time he got it unwrapped, Derek had already devoured the rest of the burger and was giving the chicken a hungry look, so they shared that, too.

The bags contained a good selection of different stuff, and they worked their way through it pretty quickly, both of them ravenous. Derek liked the chicken sandwiches best, turned up his nose at the onion rings completely, and only ate half his share of fries before spurning those, too. He obviously loved bacon, though, so Stiles picked it off both bacon cheeseburgers and gave it to him, the ultimate act of generosity. Neither of them was interested in the fish sandwich.

They weren't able to finish it all, so Stiles wrapped up what was left and put it on the kitchen counter, realizing belatedly that maybe they should have rationed it out better. This was the only food they'd been given all day long, which probably explained why it was so much. Maybe it was supposed to last until this time tomorrow, or even longer. Nothing to be done about it now, though.

Belly full, body still aching all over, it didn't take long for Stiles to start feeling sleepy. It wasn't even full dark yet when he slumped onto the mattress again and drifted off with his jacket over his chilly feet. He only woke once before morning, when he heard Derek creep into the room and onto the bed, felt him shuffle close and curl himself around Stiles, a small bit of welcome companionship to carry him through the night.

~*~

Derek was already awake, prowling back and forth in front of the kitchen counter, sniffing hopefully at the rest of the food, when Stiles got himself upright and moving the next morning. They split the last of the sandwiches, and Derek seemed to like the fries better now that they were cold and congealed, which was just so wrong. Stiles tossed the unwanted fish sandwich out the window, where it ricocheted off the barrier before landing in the overgrown grass.

When they were done eating, Derek sprawled in a dusty patch of sunlight to lick his chops and doze, like a wild predator digesting its kill, if wild predators ate at Jack in the Box.

Now that Stiles' body didn't feel so battered, it was easier to notice that it felt kind of grimy, so he filled the bathroom sink with hot water and stripped down to his underwear. He was wearing a pair of Adventure Time boxer shorts that were a birthday gift from Allison, a dark blue background with pictures of Finn and Jake on them--a boy and his dog on an adventure. When he'd put them on two days ago it had been simply because they were on top of the clean clothes pile, but the choice seemed weirdly poetic now.

Since the day was pleasantly warm and his clothes were covered in fear-sweat stink, he rinsed his T-shirt and pants in the sink as best he could, though it seemed like he mainly succeeded in getting the bathroom floor all wet. Wringing the water out by hand turned out to be a big job, and he wasn't all that good at it, but once they weren't completely sodden anymore he moved the chair in the front room into a sunny spot and draped his clothes over it to dry.

Derek was awake again, and padded along after him on all fours when Stiles went back into the bathroom, watching as Stiles filled the sink a second time and used the washcloth to wipe himself down. There was a scab on Stiles' arm he hadn't noticed before, a small round puncture wound in the thin skin of his forearm. He did his best to wipe around it without pulling it off, and tried not to dwell too much on how he might have gotten it. Who knew what the hell they'd done to him when he'd been unconscious.

The cloth came away from his arms and chest looking generally dirty, without even the slightest hint of purple on it, but he hadn't expected to be able to get the tincture off with plain water or he would have tried it sooner. It had been magicked on, which meant it would take some kind of magic to get it off. Once he'd wiped himself off as best he could, he filled the sink one last time and dipped his head in it and scrubbed at his hair, and then as the water drained held his mouth under the faucet and rubbed his teeth with his finger. They still felt disgustingly fuzzy, but it was the best he could do.

"You want to go next?" Stiles asked optimistically, as he ran the towel over his hair; Derek had moved closer while Stiles was washing up, which was maybe a sign of interest in getting clean himself. "You're starting to get a little ripe, too, you know."

Derek huffed his put-upon acquiescence huff—less than two days and already Stiles recognized it--and hopped up to crouch on the lid of the toilet. Stiles filled the sink again and dropped the washcloth in, but Derek just sat there, blinking serenely, until Stiles figured out he was waiting for Stiles to wash him, too.

"Oh, come on!" Stiles protested. "I'm not your butler! You can wash your own damn self." He wrung the washcloth out and tried to hand it to Derek, but he only glared at the rag, and then made a move like he was going to hop back down to the floor.

"No no no no no!" Stiles said, stepping forward to block him and pressing his hand flat on Derek's shoulder, urging him to stay where he was. "You win, buddy. One sponge bath, coming right up."

Derek slowly turned his head to look pointedly at Stiles' hand on his shoulder. "Right. Taking my hand off," Stiles said quickly, snatching it in close to his body where hopefully it would remain attached to his arm. Derek simply settled back into place, though, like nothing had happened.

"So…do you still want me to…" Stiles ventured, holding up the washcloth. Derek's only response was a flat stare that implied Stiles was so far a really bad butler.

"Okay. You want to, uh, take your pants off?" Stiles asked. Derek tilted his head as if contemplating the question, then braced himself on the sink with one hand and sat up a little straighter, so his belly was exposed, and stared down at his fly. "Or I guess I could do that, too," Stiles sighed, when it became obvious that was probably what was going to happen.

In the end, getting Derek's pants off was a little like a Three Stooges routine minus one Stooge, because Derek didn't seem interested in standing up, or even getting off the toilet, so Stiles had to get his jeans undone and then off his body one leg at a time while Derek got progressively more aggravated with the whole affair.

"Do not snort at me like that, mister," Stiles puffed, when he was just a few inches away from getting the pants free. "I'm doing all the work here. Lift your foot, you asshole."

Derek did, and Stiles gave one last tug. The jeans popped free of his foot and Stiles went down on his butt on the wet floor. Derek shook himself and glared, still balanced lightly on the balls of his feet like he could pounce at any moment, but looking decidedly less intimidating in nothing but a bright purple pair of boxer briefs.

Stiles tossed the jeans aside and got slowly to his feet, rubbing his bruised butt cheek. "Here goes nothing. Don't eat me," he sighed, and went to work.

Up until he started wiping Derek down with the warm washcloth, Stiles had been too distracted and annoyed to really think about what was happening, but as he rubbed the rag over Derek's shoulders, and then his chest, the situation suddenly hit home. It wasn't like Stiles had never seen a naked guy before--thank God--but this wasn't for sex. Sex probably would have been less awkward, actually, and a hundred times less intimate. They didn't even really know each other, and Derek had a pretty amazing body, and also a pretty amazing face in that license photo. Stiles was bathing a hot stranger, and it was kind of weird.

He swished the cloth in the sink again and then wrung it out, mentally bracing himself before wiping off Derek's stomach, which was some kind of peak human fitness miracle, and also really close to Derek's groin. Which Stiles was not thinking about. Nope.

As he dragged the washcloth across the line of hair below Derek's belly button, Derek's whole stomach contracted, pulling tight under his skin until each muscle stood out like a drawing in an anatomy textbook. Stiles had a vision, just a quick flash, of what it would be like to make Derek's belly do that again, but with his tongue instead of a wet rag, and he might have choked on his own spit for a second.

Derek ducked his head so he could look at Stiles' face and made a curious noise. Stiles was so busted.

Deciding it was best to move on to less tempting territory, he took hold of Derek's wrist and straightened his arm so he could scrub it, rotating it to get the underside, too, but that wasn't much better. Even his forearms were attractive, roped with muscle, laced with veins, covered in dark hair. This wasn't helping one bit.

"So, can you not talk, or do you just not want to talk?" Stiles asked, trying to distract them both. In response, Derek jutted his chin out, exposing the collar. "I thought so," Stiles said. "I’m sorry."

Derek didn't respond to that, and there didn't seem to be anything else to say, so Stiles dipped the washcloth again and kept going. Despite his reaction to Stiles' hand on his shoulder a few minutes ago, Derek was surprisingly accepting of being manhandled in the name of cleanliness. Stiles washed his other arm, his back, his legs, and then—very carefully—his hands. His claws had what looked like dried blood and dirt caked under them. Whose blood was anyone's guess.

Derek seemed to appreciate Stiles' efforts, though, closing his eyes and rumbling happily now and then, especially when Stiles scrubbed behind his ears. When all that was done, Stiles got Derek to lean down and brace himself over the sink so he could rinse his hair under the tap, then dried him off as best he could with the already damp towel, rubbing his head a little too enthusiastically, until his hair was sticking up all crazy. He looked like a freshly toweled cat.

The only thing left now was Derek's neck, which Stiles had purposely put off to last. He wet the washcloth again, with fresh, clean water, and then told Derek what he wanted to do before attempting anything, because he wasn't sure if disturbing the collar would make it react in any way, or set off some kind of painful defensive magic response. Derek didn't hesitate to let Stiles touch it, though, just lifted his chin and waited.

The collar was dark brown leather, heavily stitched and engraved with symbols, some Stiles recognized and some he didn't. The first thing Stiles realized was that he had been right—there was blood on Derek's neck. The second thing he realized was that Derek had bled so much--was still bleeding a little--because the inside of the collar was lined with two rows of sharp wooden spikes, and it was on tight enough that they were digging into Derek's neck, keeping the wounds continuously open.

Stiles nearly jerked back in shock, then forced himself to swallow against the urge to gag as he dabbed experimentally at the dried blood. The washcloth came away covered in rusty streaks, and quickly turned the water in the sink the same color. He could feel Derek's eyes on him, but was too unsettled to meet them.

While he moved the washcloth from sink to Derek and back again, the full horror of what he was seeing sank in. He'd had no idea that all this time Derek was being tortured. Werewolves healed freakishly fast, but that didn't mean they didn't feel pain. Every time Derek moved, every time he turned his head, the spikes were digging into his flesh, which had to be constant agony. Stiles had no idea how he managed to sleep with it on. It was a miracle he wasn't fully feral.

There was no kidding himself anymore about their situation. This was cruel and inhumane, and it took a bunch of sick, evil fucks to do this to a living creature. Whatever was in store for Stiles and Derek next, it was going to be really bad.

Stiles' hands wanted to shake, but he forced them to be steady, focusing on carefully wiping Derek's skin clean, trying to clinically examine the collar, see if there was a way to get it off. It didn't take him long to decide that seemed unlikely. It was fastened with a small iron padlock that was so heavily protected it actually gave Stiles a small shock when he touched it, and there were numerous gouges in the leather itself, deep claw marks, where Derek had tried to get free of it. Ordinary leather would have come apart like paper under a werewolf's claws; there was obviously really strong protective magic at work on the entire thing.

The wooden spikes were likely made from black locust, if Stiles had to guess. It would prevent Derek from shifting, so he was stuck in whatever form he'd been in when they put it on him. The moon was still young, and Stiles didn't think Derek had been here long, which meant they'd probably captured him on the new moon, when werewolves tended to be at their least wild.

The black locust didn't explain why he was non-verbal, though, or why he moved on all fours all the time, and insisted on crouching instead of sitting. Even werewolves in beta shift were still predominantly human. It was like something was suppressing Derek's human side—another form of dampening, like what they'd done to Stiles. That had to be the work of the symbols carved into the leather.

Stiles tried to clean up all the blood as best he could, but after a while it became a vicious circle, because even moving the collar a little bit dug the spikes into Derek's neck more, sending fresh trickles of blood running down his chest and back. Derek sat stoically through the whole thing, even though it had to be painful, letting Stiles do what he wanted, which only made Stiles feel guilty for hurting him.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, and carefully wiped the fresh blood away as best he could without bumping the collar again. Derek chuffed at him, which Stiles took to mean his apology was accepted, and then sweetly dipped his head to lick at the inside of Stiles' wrist, telling Stiles it was okay with warm, soft drags of his tongue.

~*~

Sadly, Stiles was still so weak that after bath time he needed a nap, so he pulled his sweatshirt on and curled up for a snooze. When he woke up in what seemed like late afternoon, based on the angle of the sun, he felt a lot better. His head was clearer, and he didn't feel nearly as shaky, so whatever they'd done to him was finally wearing off. Derek was on the bed with him again, close but not touching, though he got up and left the room as soon as Stiles started to stir.

Now that he was more with it, Stiles decided it was time to go over every inch of the place, looking for anything he could find that might be a clue, or something he could use to escape. They'd thrown him in here with only the clothes on his back, but it didn't have to stay that way.

The entire cabin had been pretty thoroughly cleaned out, but Stiles was nothing if not meticulous when properly motivated. Within minutes he'd found a paperclip stuck between the floor and the wall, and a small bit of pink eraser hidden half under the threshold.

Derek watched for a while, then wandered off to the bedroom, possibly so bored he had decided to take another nap. Instead, he surprised Stiles by coming back a few minutes later, radiating an obvious air of excitement when he opened his hand and proudly presented Stiles with a rubber band—as wide as Stiles' thumb and still stretchy—and a tiny pearl earring.

"Did you just find these? In the bedroom?" Stiles asked, and Derek whuffed happily, and then preened a little when Stiles set them on the seat of the chair with the paperclip and eraser, saying, "Good job, dude."

After that things really picked up, because Derek had the added advantage of a werewolf nose. They went over every inch of what Stiles charitably thought of as their living room, which was really just a big space with nothing in it, where they found a safety pin and two unpopped popcorn kernels.

The kitchen cupboards, though, were a treasure trove, yielding a cracked spork, and a small pile of spilled salt that Stiles carefully pinched up into a little packet he folded from one the magazine subscription cards. There was a loose nail in one of the floorboards where the stove had been, which Derek was able to pull out easily. Derek also sniffed out an old packet of taco seasoning that had fallen down behind the counter top and gotten wedged.

The bathroom was a bust, even though Stiles checked inside the toilet tank and everything. It was probably too much to expect to find a gun wrapped in plastic, like in the movies. He would have settled for a map of the surrounding area with a big black X labeled YOU ARE HERE, but he didn’t get that, either.

Derek had already checked the bedroom itself, but when they got to the closet, he flattened himself nearly to the floor, nose twitching, and then Stiles watched in amazement as he hooked his claws under the edge of one of the boards and pulled it right out. For a second Stiles thought they were free, that Derek had found a secret tunnel that would take them out of this place, but instead it was...cigars.

There was a small secret compartment under the floor, something someone had taken the time to build, because it was lined with pieces of wood cut to the exact size and shape of the hole. In addition to a half-empty box of cigars, it held a little carton of wooden strike anywhere matches with about six matches left in it. Someone hadn't wanted someone else to know they were smoking, Stiles figured. His dad always hid his cigars, too, like Stiles wouldn't know from the smell on his clothes.

The cigars were one thing, but the matches were an extremely lucky find, more than Stiles had dared hope for; access to fire changed the odds considerably. And that had been all Derek.

"This is awesome, buddy. I never would have found this on my own," Stiles told him, patting him on the back. Derek responded by headbutting Stiles in the face, but in a friendly way.

The hidey hole was also the perfect place to stash all their stuff. Though it didn't seem likely anyone was going to actually come inside the cabin, if the food delivery last night had been any indication, he had no doubt that if the toadies figured out he was collecting stuff it would be confiscated. He put the cigars and the matches back, and then piled all their newfound booty on top before he replaced the board.

The only thing left to check was the shelf in the closet, just a board nailed to the wall, really, so Stiles got the chair and climbed up to scope it out. There was nothing up there but dust and a dead moth—which he carefully scooped up—but when he turned his head so he was looking at the wall above the door he found three letters—initials?--carved into the plaster: PDH.

Beside it was a series of hash marks, grouped in the familiar sets of five people used when they were keeping track of something. Next to it was another set of initials--LMH--and more hash marks. The second set was gouged deeper, and looked more recent, which Stiles guessed meant they were carved by a different person at a different time.

Someone else had been here—two someones--and kept track of how many days they were held hostage. It seemed highly unlikely they'd escaped or been released. This was so bad.

Stiles got Derek to hand him up his money clip, which Derek did with only the slightest tinge of suspicion, and used the edge of it to carve his own initials into the wall, and then Derek's. Beneath them he added two hash marks.

It wasn't until he handed Derek's money clip back to him—which Derek sniffed as if inspecting it for damage before shoving it back in his pocket--that Stiles thought to count the other sets of hash marks. Both had exactly twenty-eight lines.

Whatever was going to happen to them, they had twenty-six days to figure out how to get out of here before it did.

~*~

Now that he wasn't sleeping constantly, Stiles found himself left with a lot more hours to fill than the previous day. After staring out each of the windows for a while at pretty much nothing but grass and trees and chipmunks, he finally admitted defeat and shuffled through the pile of magazines. None of them were of much interest to him, so he randomly picked the women's fitness one that promised to show him sixteen moves to tighten his butt.

For a second he really, really wished Scott were here, because Stiles would no doubt have laughed at at least four of the six jokes that immediately came to mind. And probably made a few of his own.

It was probably best not to start down that depressing mental path, so he took the magazine into the bedroom where he got comfortable on the mattress, propping himself up against the wall under the window and opening the magazine with a snap. Determined to make every page last as long as possible, he started with the table of contents and continued on thoroughly from there, even reading the fine print on the ads. Even so, it wasn't long before he was two or three articles in, and had already learned a lot about the mysteries of sports bras and waterproof mascara.

Derek spent the time wandering restlessly between the bedroom and living room, and once came up and nosed at Stiles' arm. Eventually, Stiles started to feel like kind of a dick for sitting around reading and leaving Derek to his own devices.

"Come here," he said finally, patting the mattress next to him, and that was how Stiles ended up with Derek's head pillowed on his thigh, stroking his fingers through Derek's hair while he read out loud to him.

"You like that, huh?" Stiles asked, looking down at Derek as he scratched his wolfy temple lightly with his fingers. Derek rumbled and bumped at Stiles' stomach with his forehead, then went back to the job of being petted. "I'm gonna assume that's a yes."

It was kind of nice for Stiles, too, actually. Soothing, like petting a cat or a dog, which was probably not a nice thing to think about Derek, but since they were both enjoying it, he decided not to beat himself up over it. For Derek, it was probably a welcome distraction from the spikes on the collar, which Stiles was having a hard time not thinking about, because he could feel the band of leather pressing against his leg. Derek didn't seem to care, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt. Stiles quickly turned the page and went back to reading so he wouldn't picture the way the spikes dug into Derek's throat every time he swallowed.

"'These new workout-friendly hairstyles will have you turning heads in a flash,'" he read out loud. He'd had no idea women had workout-specific hairstyles other than ponytails. He paused and looked down at Derek, whose eyes were only about half open. He was really enjoying the head rub.

"I bet you work out a lot, don't you?" Stiles asked him. "When you're in your human form. You definitely look like you do. I mean, your abs are—" Stiles snapped his mouth shut when he noticed Derek's eyes were open all the way now, watching him. "Definitely good abs. For strength and stuff," he finished inanely.

Derek turned his head enough to nuzzle at Stiles' forearm, then settled again. Stiles had no idea what that meant.

"Anyway," he said, flipping to the next page, because he hadn't yet lowered himself to describing photos of ladies' hairstyles. "'If you're experiencing scaliness, your skin is sending you an SOS. It's so inflamed that the cells are lifting, which results in peeling,'" he read, then added, "Ugh, gross. That reminds me of this guy I went to high school with, Jackson. One day he just turned into a lizard. A full-on lizard!"

Derek made a noise that might have indicated surprise, or maybe disbelief.

"I know, right?" Stiles said, as Derek's soft hair slipped through his fingers over and over. "And then he almost killed someone, and then his parents sent him to boarding school for reptiles or something, I dunno. He was gone the next year. I wonder what happened to that guy."

~*~

The impending arrival of the toadies was once again foretold by Derek suddenly going apeshit at dusk.

Stiles watched them through the window as they emerged from the woods. Geraldo was back, with more bags of food, but Hatchet Face had been replaced—likely due to incompetence—by a short, wide-shouldered guy with a shaved head who looked both smarter and meaner than Hatchet Face. He was carrying a crossbow and an obvious chip on his shoulder.

The bald guy stood with the crossbow aimed squarely at the cabin door as Geraldo took down the barrier. Stiles strained his ears to try to hear the spell, but it was no use. He was too far away and Geraldo was keeping his voice down, so he wasn't completely dumb. Derek could likely hear it clearly, but a fat lot of good that did.

Derek's fury ratcheted up a notch as the toadies climbed the porch steps, and the bald guy scowled. "Jesus, that thing's gonna alert the whole county. The old man's gonna shit a brick if he can't get it done this time," he said. He had a voice like someone who had cigarettes and sandpaper for breakfast every morning.

"Nah, it's fine," Geraldo said. "When the wall's up nothing can get out, even sound. That's why you didn't hear him until I took it down." Then he tried the doorknob, found it locked, and shouted, "Very funny, you little shit. Open the door if you wanna eat."

"Look, dear, we have company," Stiles said sweetly when he opened the door. Derek came forward and crouched next to him, shoulder pressed against Stiles' thigh. Stiles could literally feel him growling. "I should have fluffed the couch cushions. Oh, wait. We don't have a couch."

"This guy thinks he's a comedian," the bald guy said to Geraldo.

"Looks like he's still in one piece anyway," Geraldo observed, in a tone that implied he was relieved that was the case. Interesting. His eyes flicked to Derek, who was still practically frothing at the mouth. He didn't comment on the fact that they were both in their underwear, but he asked Stiles, "You doin' okay in there?"

"Sure!" Stiles said brightly. "You kidnapped me, took away my magic, and locked me up with a feral werewolf, so I'm just fine. Couldn’t be better!"

"Kid's got a mouth on him," the bald guy said, and then spat a stream of tobacco juice onto the porch.

"I'm twenty-two," Stiles said, rolling his eyes. "I know I've got this precious baby face," he said, waving a hand in front of his face, "But come on. Full grown man, here. Though I've been told I do have a mouth. A pretty one, even."

"You keep talking and I'll punch your pretty mouth in for you," the bald guy said nastily, and Derek's growl turned into a snarl. He would probably have beaten himself against the ash line again if Stiles hadn't dropped his hand to Derek's shoulder and given him a little squeeze until he subsided. Stiles felt almost as surprised as the toadies looked when it actually worked.

"Speaking of mouths," Stiles said, "any chance I could get a toothbrush? Maybe some soap? Things are getting a little dire around here." He didn't have much hope of getting anything, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.

"Lookit this guy, thinks he's at a hotel," the bald guy said.

Geraldo said, "We'll see," and tossed the food on the floor at Stiles' feet and walked away, the bald guy standing guard at the door until he could recite the spell.

A few seconds later the barrier came back up, and with it any chance someone would hear them. Stiles had hoped that if anyone got close enough they could yell for help, but that wasn't going to happen. It was also safe to assume the barrier would block any locator spells, so unless Deaton did one at the exact time the barrier was down, he'd get nothing. Until someone walked right up to the cabin and saw them in here, they were practically invisible.

And if the old man had gone that far, he would have covered any scent trails, too. That was an easy enough spell, one Stiles himself had used on several occasions. It was likely their scents went cold at or close to the spots where they'd been taken. Not even a werewolf could track someone through a masking spell.

As disappointing as that realization was, a few minutes later there was a positive development. When Stiles sat down and went through the bags, one of them had a few coins in it, like whoever had picked up the food had thrown the change in the bag at the drive-thru and then either forgotten it or missed the two pennies floating around the bottom. Stiles put them aside and handed Derek a chicken sandwich.

After they ate, Stiles tore a small piece off one of the bags and made a little envelope for the pennies, and carefully added them to the hidey hole, setting them on top of the packet of salt he'd made earlier.

Salt and copper. Things were looking better all the time.

~*~

As darkness fell that night, Stiles and Derek sat side by side on the floor in the front room and watched the crescent moon rise in the window, until they were both bathed in its faint silver glow.

"We need to figure out a way to get out of here," Stiles said. When Derek made a small sound of agreement and shifted restlessly against Stiles' shoulder, he added, "We've got some time to think up a plan. We just need to be patient. I know we can do it, though."

Derek leaned closer and bumped his head against Stiles', which Stiles took to mean Derek thought they could do it, too. Stiles reached up and gave him a couple pats until Derek settled back at his side, and they sat together in companionable silence.

Even though he'd kept it to himself, Stiles had actually been a little worried the toadies would try to move him when they brought the food, and he was glad they'd apparently dropped the idea. Stiles could barely stand to imagine being locked up by himself, how lonely it would be, and how he'd probably drive himself crazy obsessing over how to get out. Derek wasn't much of a conversationalist, but he kept Stiles occupied, and made it easier to stay calm and focused. He was the only reason this was bearable.

Pleasant as it was to sit with Derek in the moonlight, hanging out on the cold floor all night wasn't something Stiles was interested in, so eventually he stood up and dusted off his butt. He could feel Derek's eyes on him, so he said, "You coming?" and Derek must have been waiting for an invitation because he followed right along into the bedroom rather than waiting until Stiles was asleep to join him, as he had every other time.

Once they were both on the mattress, Derek laid down a careful distance away until Stiles said, "Come here, it's okay," and then he cuddled right up to him and fell asleep before Stiles did.

~*~

The next morning, Stiles, aware that he had a lot of time to kill—and maybe inspired by yesterday's reading—decided it would be a good idea to start a fitness regimen. It was possible getting out of here was going to require some running, maybe even some fighting, and he couldn't afford to sit around and eat junk food the whole time. If his theory was right--and Stiles' theories often were--they probably had a couple weeks here, and he was going to Sarah Connor the shit out of them.

Back in high school, Coach Finstock had believed in old school fitness instead of fancy exercise machines, so Stiles knew how to work out without even a set of dumbbells. Running was out of the question, except in laps around the front room, but he could do jumping jacks, and lunges, and fast feet. Once he'd done all those he spent a few minutes jumping an imaginary rope, then switched to high knees. After that, he did some push-ups and burpees, then some sit-ups, and finally hung from the doorframe in the hallway and cranked out some pull-ups.

He tried to encourage Derek to join him, but that went over like a lead balloon. Derek apparently felt that mornings were for lazing in the sun.

By the time he had run through every exercise three times, his arms and legs felt like noodles, so he considered it a job well done. Now that he was hot and sweaty it was bath time again, which was a little less awkward and a little more efficient now that Stiles had some experience and was prepared for the majesty of Derek's stomach. Since their clothes were finally dry, Stiles decided to wash their unmentionables, which he'd skipped the day before for propriety's sake.

Derek didn't object when Stiles explained it to him, and he managed to swap Derek's underwear for his pants with only a modicum of embarrassment, though he'd happily live the rest of his life without ever having to navigate a zipper around another dude's junk for purposes that didn't involve getting laid.

Derek was not shy about stripping at all, and from what Stiles saw—he was trying not to stare, honest---he had no reason to be. The genetic lottery had indeed been kind to Derek Hale. Stiles was, all modestly aside, not so bad himself, and since Derek's attitude towards nudity seemed to be a resounding, Eh, whatever, Stiles decided to treat bath time like the high school locker room, where being naked was just business. Though he'd never had to actually bathe Scott or Danny, thank God for that.

Once they were both back in their clothes—Stiles had never liked the weirdness of going commando, but Derek seemed as unbothered by that as he was most other things—their underwear drying in the sun, Stiles opened up the hidey hole again. He took out all the scavenged stuff and laid it out on the mattress, forming a slightly crooked semi-circle around his knees, and stared at it until his gaze softened and his mind could sort of float around and do its thing.

Sadly, his mind's thing turned out to be a big resounding blank, but he wasn't too worried yet. They still had a few weeks, and sometimes it took a while for a solution to come to him. So far in his life, Stiles had never failed to come up with an idea if his ass—or the ass of someone he cared about—was on the line. He could be patient.

The afternoon was again devoted to reading and Derek petting, and when Derek dozed off in the middle of an article about the Menudo reunion tour, Stiles eased himself down to snuggle against his warm body and nap for a bit, too.

The arrival of the food brought Derek's usual diligent defense of the door, and also a surprise. Along with the bags of burgers, Geraldo chucked in a crumpled plastic shopping bag from CVS. Inside was a goddamn bounty.

It contained not just a toothbrush and paste, but a whole bunch of other things Stiles hadn't even asked for. Some of it had been purchased, and some of it was stuff collected from motel rooms, like little bottles of shampoo and conditioner and lotion, and tiny bars of flowery soap that made Derek sneeze. Unsurprisingly, there was no razor, but Stiles could go weeks without growing any kind of significant facial hair, and Derek, despite the aggressive stubble in his license photo, had so far remained unchanged in this form as far as facial hair went. At the bottom of the bag was a cardboard nail file and a comb.

When Stiles carried it all into the bathroom and arranged it on the top of the toilet tank, it finally dawned on him that there was only one toothbrush, as if they didn't even consider Derek a person who would want his own. There were a lot of people who thought werewolves were less than human; Stiles hated them on principle. It shouldn't have surprised him that the kind of people who would put that awful collar on Derek didn't think of him as an actual person.

That night before bed Stiles brushed his teeth, then rinsed the brush and loaded it up a second time with bright blue gel that promised to taste winter fresh and handed it to Derek. "Make sure you do your fangs," he said, in his best television commercial mom voice.

Derek stared at it for a second, then crammed it in his mouth and started brushing his teeth.

It was kind of hilarious, actually, the way Derek glowered the whole time as if he were doing it under protest, and clutched the handle in his fist like a toddler. And it was almost cute how he got all foamy around his mouth—Stiles was above making rabies jokes, he really was—and the way he snorted and wrinkled his nose at the taste of the toothpaste after he spit into the sink.

Derek wasn't a fan of winter freshness, apparently.

~*~

They fell into a comfortable pattern over the next few days: exercise time, bath time, breakfast time, stare at the pile of crap under the closet floor time, cuddle on the mattress time, food delivery time, moon watching time, bedtime. Every morning, Stiles added another hash mark to their tally on the closet wall.

At first, Stiles "read" to Derek every day, but it never lasted long. Typically, he'd start out sharing something like American Handgunner's feature on the pros and cons of the cross-draw, which would inevitably lead to him telling Derek that when Stiles was a little kid his dad used to lock his sidearm in the gun safe out in the garage when he came home, he never brought it in the house. That inevitably led to another story that led to another story that led to the camping trip they went on the summer after Stiles graduated from high school, an entire week of just the two of them the woods, eating food that was always either overcooked or undercooked on the campfire, and so on and so forth.

After a while, Stiles gave up on the pretense of the magazines entirely, and reading time turned into just plain story time. Each day he picked a theme, like Terrible Injuries I've Sustained or The Top Five Best Meals of My Life or Times I Was Nearly Arrested by My Own Father. Derek seemed to enjoy most of Stiles' monologues more than the stuff in the magazines, and despite the fact that he couldn't talk, Stiles found it relatively easy to tell what was a hit: Derek had an inquisitive noise he'd make when he wanted Stiles to elaborate more on something, and if he didn't care at all he'd just go to sleep. It wasn't rocket science.

Stiles spent an entire day talking about Scott, starting from that fateful first lunch together in kindergarten, when Stiles made Scott laugh until he blew milk out of his nose and the teacher had to put Scott's extra emergency shirt on him on the very first day of school. By the end of cuddle time Stiles had only gotten to seventh grade, and the six months they spent trying to set their parents up, hoping they'd get married.

"I never had any siblings, you know?" Stiles said, thumbing the tip of Derek's ear just to watch it twitch. "Scott's the closest thing I have to a brother. We wanted it to be real, I guess. It's probably just as well it didn’t happen, because we kept fighting over whether we should be the Stilinski-McCalls or the McCall-Stilinskis."

Derek huffed in a way Stiles was now totally convinced was his version of laughing, because he used it around Stiles an awful lot.

The Adventures of Scott and Stiles picked up again after dinner, for lack of anything else to do, and included the story of how Scott became a werewolf. Derek was more interested in that than anything so far, so Stiles explained that Scott was an omega: some asshole alpha passing through town had bitten him and then promptly disappeared and never come back, leaving Scott to figure out the ins and outs of being a werewolf on his own.

Stiles had been the one who insisted on going to the big bonfire party in the Preserve that night, a place that was popular with underage locals for drinking and fooling around. He'd wanted to go because Lydia was going to be there, and he finally swayed Scott by telling him the cute new girl he had a crush on was going to be there, too. It wasn't their usual group--Stiles and Scott weren't even close to being that popular--but Stiles had swiped a bottle of Jack from his dad's liquor cabinet, thus guaranteeing them admittance. High school kids didn't turn down booze, no matter who arrived carrying it.

In books and movies the monster usually came out of nowhere, but that hadn't been the case that night. They'd all heard it coming, crashing through the trees and howling, getting ominously closer with every passing second. Stiles had felt instantly, coldly sober, fear turning his hands clammy, drying out his mouth. Somehow, he'd known it wasn't some kind of prank. Whatever was coming was real, and it wanted to hurt them.

Everyone had suddenly forgotten the social status rules of high school and clung to each other in a tight huddle as the noise got closer, and closer, until they could see the trees swaying, hear harsh breaths. What had burst into the circle of light around the fire had been like nothing Stiles had ever seen outside of a horror movie, a big, hulking, red-eyed thing, foam dripping from its muzzle

"I didn't even know what it was at the time. I had no clue werewolves existed, much less what one looked like," Stiles told Derek, who was following the story with unusual focus. "He was just…crazed. I didn't realize that wasn't normal."

Scott had been brave--or drunk--enough to grab a thick branch from the bonfire, still burning on one end, and take a swing at the thing as it charged the group. The monster had snapped it like a twig, howling in rage as the fur on its arm burned away, and then grabbed Scott around the throat and lifted him up into the air. Because Stiles was not going to just stand around and watch Scott get killed when he could get killed with him, he'd jumped right in, and ended up with a busted arm for his trouble. After that, the situation turned to pure chaos, and the monster would have probably killed them all if it hadn't been for some guys camping nearby, who showed up with guns and drove it off.

"He bit Scott, though. It took us--me, actually--a while to figure out what was going on. And since we didn't know anything about werewolves, we thought he was going to turn into a big, ugly alpha, so it was extra horrifying." When Derek made an indignant noise Stiles remembered belatedly that Derek was also an alpha. "I'm sure you're much more attractive in alpha form than that jerkface," Stiles reassured him, petting his hair.

It had been a rough first year for Scott as a werewolf, with no guidance but Deaton, who was cryptic and close-mouthed on a good day. Luckily for him, he had Stiles, who didn't know jack shit about lycanthropy but was a gold medal Googler.

Even though Stiles hadn't been bitten, that single night in the woods had been life-changing for both of them, Scott more immediately and traumatically so, obviously. But it had also put Stiles on the path to magic, which he began learning out of necessity--someone had to handle the stuff that was toxic to werewolves--and the deeper into the quagmire of supernatural danger they got, the harder he'd worked to learn more.

After a few more brushes with death, it became abundantly clear that sometimes bad things needed to be stopped by doing another bad thing, and most of the time Scott was reluctant to do bad things. Of the two of them, Stiles was the more ruthless, and he was determined to keep Scott alive no matter what he had to do. So: magic.

Deaton, who was similarly wired when it came to the grayer areas of morality, had eventually agreed to take Stiles on as an apprentice, though Stiles was so persistent in trying to convince him that he'd probably finally caved just to shut him up. That was okay, though. What had started as a way to keep his dad and Scott and his other friends safe had turned into a side job before he'd known it, and then after college he'd decided to get serious about it.

That night had also put Stiles on the path to where he was now, locked up in a horror movie kidnapping cabin with Derek, but he didn't dwell on that part.

~*~

Another side effect of that fateful night in the woods was that Lydia Martin had finally noticed Stiles existed, which was fodder for the next day's story time. Derek didn't seem invested in hearing about Lydia at all, even though Stiles skipped over a lot of the pining for purposes of his own dignity. It wasn't until Stiles mentioned Lydia had also been bitten during the attack that Derek finally perked up and indicated he wanted to hear more. When Stiles explained that she'd never turned, and no one knew why, he looked as baffled as everyone else had been at the time.

"She's got some kind of immunity," Stiles explained. "Not just to that, but to, like, everything supernatural. One time when she went missing I tried to do a locator spell on her, and it couldn’t find her."

That had been a terrifying two days of Stiles' life, because he'd thought the reason the spell didn't work was because she was dead. He still hated thinking about it, and Derek must have been able to tell, because he nuzzled at Stiles' hand. Stiles smiled down at him and gave his arm a grateful squeeze.

"She can't even put down a mountain ash line or mix up any kind of potion," he said. "It all goes inert as soon as she touches it. If she handles any magic supplies at the shop that aren't in some kind of bag or container, we have to throw them away. It's crazy."

Stiles and Lydia owned a little occult bookstore and magic shop together, which Stiles had mentioned offhandedly before, but now Derek made curious noises about it, so even though it made him feel even more homesick, Stiles told him more about it, and how much he loved going to work every day and knowing it was theirs. Lydia's areas of expertise were antique books and bossing Stiles around, while Stiles did a brisk trade in magic work, some simple spells and charms for locals, but plenty more complicated stuff for people who were a little deeper down the supernatural rabbit hole than your average college Wiccan.

Most people probably thought Stiles was crazy to go into business with his ex-girlfriend, and all of those people were absolutely correct, but Stiles and Lydia had already been through hell and back together, and it was called teenage romance. If that hadn't made them hate each other, running a little magic geek shop together sure wouldn't.

They'd spent nearly two years as a couple in high school, which, in addition to being a particularly deadly period of time to live in Beacon Hills, was a whirlwind of high emotions and raging hormones, and included a really memorable loss of virginity, because they both almost died twenty minutes later. Then there had been the on-again-off-again drama of the first year of college, followed by a year where they hadn't talked at all, and then eventually friendship.

"Scott still thinks we'll get back together, because he and Allison broke up for a few years, too, but I don't think we will," Stiles said. "I don't feel that way anymore, and I know she doesn't, either. I think Scott really liked the idea of two sets of best friends being couples. He's an old school romantic." He looked down at Derek, who was using Stiles' thigh as a pillow again. The corner of his lip was curled up over a fang, like he was repulsed by the topic of love.

"And you are not a romantic," Stiles guessed, amused. Derek snorted in disgust. Talking about love sure made him cranky.

"Hey, it makes the world go round, buddy, like it or not," Stiles said, ruffling Derek's hair, and then laughed again when Derek actually made an exasperated sound and rolled his eyes.

Stiles was delighted. At first he'd thought he was imagining it, or indulging in some wishful thinking, but every once in a while he noticed Derek was acting, well, a little more human. He responded a lot more when Stiles talked to him, with a widening range of facial expressions, and little vocalizations that were definitely not speech, but weren't just animal sounds, either. He was actively participating in conversation, interacting with Stiles in a way he hadn't at first.

"People do really stupid, terrible things for love. And you should see how many people ask me for love spells," Stiles went on, because he wasn't done with the topic, no matter Derek's feelings on the issue. "Sometimes I feel bad for them, because they're so sad and desperate, but mostly it's just gross."

He always told those clients there was no such thing as love spells, that they didn't work, but that wasn't technically true. There were things you could do to make people think they were in love with you, but Stiles refused to have anything to do with that kind of magic because it was icky and wrong and hello, consent issues.

"Plus, I don't really get it," he said, after he explained his objections to Derek. "If you've ever really been in love, had someone feel that way about you, I don't know how you'd ever be happy with an illusion. I know I wouldn't."

Derek stared up at him, his beautiful eyes a thousand different colors in the soft sunlight coming through the window, and didn't disagree.

~*~

By the tenth day, Stiles was getting mightily sick of burgers and fries, which was something he hadn't even realized was possible; Derek had given up on almost everything but the actual chicken patties and bacon slices. There was a growing pile of fast food wrappers, fish sandwiches, and shredded lettuce in the grass under the window. The guys who brought the food didn't seem to notice or care.

Since asking for a toothbrush had worked, Stiles decided to press his luck and see if he could get some variety in the menu.

"Not that I don't love a good burger, but any time you guys want to swing past Del Taco or something instead, I'd be down with that," Stiles said, after he set the greasy bags down. Derek was pacing back and forth behind him, but not even growling or anything. He was getting a lot less theatrical about food delivery.

"This guy thinks he's in a restaurant," the bald guy said, and spit a stream of tobacco juice onto the porch. He had one line and was working it to death.

"I'm just saying," Stiles went on, ignoring him. "A little change in the menu would be welcome. And maybe a crossword puzzle book or a harmonica or something. You locked me up with a guy who can't talk." Stiles actually found Derek to be good company even without talking, but he wanted to see if they'd actually give him something he didn't necessarily need. He'd take whatever he could get.

"You'll eat what we bring you," the bald guy said pissily, but Geraldo gave Stiles an appraising look.

"You know about herbs and stuff, right?" he asked.

Derek, who had been sniffing at the food bags, seemed to take offense at Geraldo's interest in talking to Stiles and promptly took up position between him and the door, practically sitting on Stiles' feet, and narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Stiles nudged him gently with his knee, hoping Derek would understand it for the cue to be cool he intended it to be.

"Yes," Stiles answered, cautious, not sure where this was going. "Why?"

Geraldo appeared to think about it for a second, as if deciding whether he really wanted to do what he was about to do, then said, "My brother's wife has morning sickness real bad and it's driving him nuts. You know anything that'll help?"

The bald guy scoffed in disbelief. "You gonna trust this kid not to poison your sister-in-law?" he asked.

Geraldo gave him the side-eye. "Be pretty stupid of him, when he's trapped here and at our mercy," he pointed out. He looked back at Stiles. "You help my brother out, I'll see what I can do for you."

"Peppermint tea helps, and fresh ginger," Stiles supplied right away. He wasn't sure he trusted Geraldo to hold up his end of the bargain, but he seemed as sincere as an evil, kidnapping douchebag could be. "There's also a tonic called Mummy Tummy--yes, I know, the name's terrible, deal with it," he said as Geraldo grimaced. "You can find recipes for it online, and it's super easy to make, but it's got fermented cod liver oil in it, so some women can't stand the taste. Really helps, though, if she can choke it down."

"Huh. Worth a shot," Geraldo said. He stared at Stiles for a moment, as if trying to figure out whether or not he was just making shit up, then shrugged and left.

"Your stuff worked," he said the next night, when he showed up carrying three pizza boxes. The smell almost made Stiles' knees buckle. "She says it tastes like shit, but it's worth it. So here you go." He held the pizzas up, waiting for Stiles to reach across the mountain ash for them; Derek always watched the food drop-off with steely-eyed intensity, waiting for one of the toadies to put one pinky over the line where he could get it.

As stoked as he was to see the pizza, it took Stiles a second to notice that resting on top of the pizzas was a much, much smaller box: a brand new deck of cards.

Stiles barely dared look at it, afraid his face would give him away, but as soon as he exchanged insults with the bald guy and locked the door, he reached for the little box with unsteady hands. It took him two tries to get it open, and by then he was certain it was a trick, that it wouldn't have actual playing cards in it, but they fanned out into his palm, slippery, shiny, never used. For a moment, Stiles forgot how to move, until a headbutt from Derek brought him back to reality.

They'd given a mage a deck of cards.

There was no way the old man they talked about sometimes, whoever he was, knew about this, because he at least had to know better, if he had masterminded all this. His toadies, on the other hand, really were a bunch of dumbasses. Not that Stiles was complaining.

He quickly shuffled through the deck and found the one card he'd probably need, and then made sure to have a game of solitaire laid out on the floor the next day when the toadies showed up, so it looked like he was actually using the deck. Even if someone got wise and decided to confiscate the cards, he could always claim Derek had eaten the queen of hearts.

When Geraldo looked at the game and said, "Using the cards, huh?" Stiles was glad he'd taken the precaution.

"Yep," Stiles said, and thought about thanking him, but didn't want to seem too happy to have the cards, and that would have been completely out of character anyway, so he smarted off to the bald guy as usual and shut the door in their faces instead.

"I'm gettin' real tired of that little fucker's attitude," Stiles heard the bald guy complain as they walked away.

"I kinda like him," Geraldo admitted. "Too bad he's not on our side. He'd drive Carla crazy, and it'd be worth it just for that."

"You got a point there," the bald guy agreed, and the last thing Stiles heard was a laugh that turned into a hacking smoker's cough.

That night the food was tacos, the next night Chinese, which was an utter flop with Derek, because he couldn't easily eat it with his hands. In the end, Stiles used the spork to feed him spoonfuls of Szechuan beef and rice, which Derek chewed grudgingly, and then sulked on the bed until it was dark.

The night after that marked the return of the burgers, and this time there was a toy in one of the bags, one of those cheap plastic things fast food places handed out. It was a tie-in to some movie about little kids who were spies, a pair of plastic pinchers, like the grabber Stiles' great-aunt Esther had used to pick things up off the floor, minus the long handle. Stiles opened and closed it a few times with the lever, and then pretended to snap at Derek's nose with it. Derek bared his teeth and snapped playfully back, which had the unexpected reaction of making Stiles' heart feel all warm and full.

Derek had never done anything like that before, and Stiles was sure it meant something. Derek really was changing.

~*~

The days started getting warmer as spring edged toward summer, which meant the nights were less frigid for Stiles' poor bare feet, though Derek had been graciously tolerant of Stiles' habit of shoving them under Derek's legs when he couldn't take the cold anymore. In the afternoons, when the sun had been pounding down on the cabin for hours, the temperature inside could get downright unpleasant. They started leaving the front door open most of the time, to get as much of a breeze through the place as possible, and most of the time the toadies just walked up to the door, threw the food in, and left without saying anything.

Warmer days also meant sweatier workouts, and it wasn't long before Stiles finally abandoned modesty completely one morning, getting totally wet and naked right there in the middle of the bathroom floor, door wide open.

He had just finished lathering up his sweaty hair with the fruity hotel shampoo when he sensed movement behind him. When he glanced over his shoulder, there was Derek, hunkered down on the floor in nothing but his birthday suit, jeans in a heap next to him.

"Aha!" Stiles yelled, pointing a foamy finger at him. "I knew you could get your clothes off! You weren't fooling me, you lazy bastard. You've been going to the bathroom just fine all this time, so there was no way you were trapped in those pants without me."

Derek's attitude had, up until now, been that if Stiles wanted Derek clean, Stiles had to do the cleaning. Since Stiles shared a bed with him, Stiles had done the cleaning. And the unzipping, and everything else. Derek had been playing him like a violin.

The smug look on Derek's face was not just Stiles' imagination. It was fact.

"Here you go. You're scrubbing your own balls, dude," Stiles said, and tossed one of the small bars of soap at him. Derek casually snatched it out of the air with the kind of speed regular humans could only dream of and then, much to Stiles' relief, actually made his way to the sink, which was full of warm water. He dipped the soap in to get it wet and started lathering himself up as Stiles went back to washing his hair, which by now was starting to get a little shaggy.

Rinsing was a little more challenging, and eventually Stiles resorted to just flinging handfuls of water at himself and Derek. The bathroom was a mess, but they were both clean.

After that, Derek was totally down with naked bath time, and he joined in every morning, even though he wasn't getting all sweated up like Stiles was. Which made it even more unfair that he still looked exactly as fit and muscular as he had two weeks ago. Stiles would have been really annoyed by that, if he weren't having so much fun appreciating the view.

All that daily soapy nakedness only further weakened the already compromised boundary dividing what was cool between two dudes who were just roommates and what was cool between two dudes who were probably going to fuck each other really soon, and cuddle time slowly evolved into long hours of what could only be called mutual grooming. Stiles refused to feel weird about it, because he was being held hostage and he could do whatever he needed in order to deal.

Derek seemed to want to be touched all the time, maybe because it distracted him from the collar, and he returned the favor with his own forms of affection. Stiles spent several lazy, hot afternoons dragging his nails in small circles over Derek's scalp while Derek licked the sweat out of Stiles' bellybutton and rubbed his face against Stiles' thighs, a rumble coming from his chest that was almost like a purr. Which was cats, not wolves, but Stiles had no patience for pedants, so he was calling it a purr.

He woke one night with Derek hovering over him on all fours, his hands pressing down into the mattress on either side of Stiles' hips as he slowly dragged his tongue up the small of Stiles' back, over and over. Stiles was pleasantly hard against the bed, drowsy and content, and he was tempted to roll over and see what would happen, but sleep pulled him under again before he could make a decision.

~*~

"I know who you are," Stiles confessed one afternoon during cuddle time. He was on his back on the mattress, staring up at the stained ceiling and running his fingers up and down the big vein that bisected Derek's upper arm. Derek had some seriously veiny arms, which was quickly becoming Stiles' favorite thing. Stiles was really learning a disconcertingly large number of new things about his sexuality while in captivity.

Derek lifted his head, a comical expression of surprise on his face, fang-filled mouth actually hanging open in shock. He tilted his head and made a sound that could have meant, Me? Or maybe, Really? Or maybe, Are you fucking serious right now?

"I'm from Beacon Hills," Stiles explained. It wasn't like it was a secret, but he'd avoided bringing it up so far, because then Derek would know Stiles knew all about the fire, and things were already miserable enough for Derek without Stiles reminding him of the time most of his pack had burned to death. But the longer they were here, and the more he told Derek about his own life, the more it started to feel like he was deceiving him by leaving that part out. "I guess most people there know about your family. Do you have a pack that's looking for you?" he asked. "Your sister, maybe?"

Derek's expression fell and he made a soft, sad noise before tucking his face into Stiles' armpit and letting out a long, shuddering breath.

"Sorry," Stiles said, regretting he'd mentioned it. "I didn't mean to upset you." He stroked the back of Derek's head with his fingers, trying to comfort him a little, ease the wounds he'd just reopened. "Did I ever tell you about the time Danny, Lydia and I were trapped in a hospital supply closet for two hours?"

~*~

That night, Stiles had a nightmare.

They weren't in the cabin anymore, they were in a room Stiles recognized as the one where they'd put the dampening tincture on him, but this time it was Derek who was strapped to the metal table. The bald guy was standing over him with a bone saw in his hand, the blade glinting in the harsh spotlight shining down on Derek's straining body. As Stiles watched in horror, the bald guy smirked and flicked the power switch on the saw.

Stiles wanted to stop him, grab the saw away and use it to smash his head in, but someone was holding him back with rough hands on his shoulders. When Stiles opened his mouth to summon a spell, he couldn't talk, and he gagged instead, hunching over as black goo poured from his mouth, splattering the grimy floor and his bare feet. Derek was howling in terror, the bald guy laughing as he brought the saw down on his arm, just above his elbow. The blade sliced into the vein in Derek's arm, the one Stiles spent so much time admiring, and blood sprayed everywhere, and Derek's howl turned into a scream--

Stiles woke up in a tight little ball, his hands clenched into fists and shoved under his chin, sweat prickling on his neck, the backs of his knees. Derek was crouched next to him on the mattress, a distressed whine rising and falling in his throat. For long seconds Stiles couldn't even breathe, his chest and throat locked down tight, just like they'd been in the dream when he tried to talk.

The first breath hurt, a sucked-in, painful gulp, and Derek's vocalizations only got more agitated. Stiles took another breath, this one bigger and coming more easily to him, and was finally able to relax his body and unclench his hands. As soon as he opened his arms, Derek insinuated himself against Stiles' front, and Stiles clung to him like a monkey, grateful all over again he wasn't alone.

He was always alone in his nightmares. Not actually, physically alone—there were other people in the dreams—but in nearly all of them there was someone he cared about in danger and there was no one to stop it but him, and he couldn't. Nothing he tried ever helped, and all he could do was stand by and watch, powerless. Stiles didn't deal well with being powerless.

The dreams had started after his mother died, and the grief counselor had said it was normal, just the way he was dealing with his mother's death and his inability to save her, which was so cliché it was almost embarrassing. The dreams had been a part of his life ever since, and came back when he was stressed. It was actually a surprise he hadn't had one sooner.

"It was just a bad dream," Stiles said to Derek, who was being a little too determined in his attempts to comfort, practically shoving Stiles beneath his own body, like he could protect him from further nightmares by simply being a physical barrier to the outside world. If only. "Sorry I woke you up."

Derek huffed in irritation at that, like Stiles was being dumb for worrying about him, and Stiles couldn't decide if he was moved by the sentiment or amused. Either way, it had been a while since he'd had someone next to him when he woke up from a nightmare, and it definitely made things better.

Neither of them slept after that, though not for lack of trying, and they got out of bed later than usual, when the sun was already high in the sky. Stiles felt dull and listless, and just getting up seemed like a monumental effort. Walking out into the front room only made him want to go back to bed, but the thought of lying there, unable to sleep, was equally unappealing.

He didn't feel like eating, so Derek refused to eat, too, even when Stiles encouraged him to finish off the fried chicken, which was his favorite. Feeling restless yet unmotivated, Stiles wandered from window to window with increasing despair while Derek followed him, anxiously watching every move he made.

Stiles skipped his morning workout for the first time—he's slept through it anyway, he told himself--and didn't bother with bath time, even when Derek pointedly crouched in the bathroom doorway and stared at him. Normally, seeing Derek naked was a high point in Stiles' day, but even that had momentarily lost its appeal.

Frustrated, and desperate to feel like he was accomplishing something, Stiles got the stuff from the closet and dumped it out on the mattress, but that only made him angry. At himself for not being able to think of a way out of here, at his dad and Scott for not coming to save him, at the old man and the toadies for doing this to him, and then at Derek for sitting so close and breathing all over him.

He got up and stalked into the front room, suddenly more aware than ever that he couldn't go anywhere, that he was trapped here. He'd been very determined to put it out of his mind so far, focusing on Derek and sit-ups and taunting the bald guy and trying to think up a way to escape, but it was hitting him full force now, and it wasn't pleasant. He just wanted out, he wanted this over, he wanted someone to find him and take him home. He wanted his dad.

Derek had followed along behind, nosing at him and licking his elbow until Stiles jerked it away. "Stop it!" he snapped. "Can you just give me some goddamn space for five fucking minutes?"

Derek skittered away from him like a beat down dog, a hurt look on his face, and then turned and went back to the bedroom as Stiles stared out the window and fumed.

Once the flash of anger faded, it didn't take long for Stiles to start feeling guilty. It wasn't Derek's fault they were stuck here, and it certainly wasn't his fault Stiles was having a tough time dealing with shit today. And then Stiles' guilty conscience reminded him that Derek was constantly in pain, and being kept half-animal against his will. Of the two of them, Stiles was certainly getting the better end of the deal, and Derek hadn't done anything to deserve Stiles' anger. Yelling at him had been a dick move of epic proportions.

Derek was curled up small on the bed, next to the pile of stuff from the hidey-hole, when Stiles poked his head around the bedroom door, and that made Stiles feel even worse. He looked so miserable and dejected. He didn't even open his eyes when Stiles sat down next to him.

"Hey," Stiles said, but Derek shrugged off the hand Stiles put on his arm and still refused to look at him. That stung, but Stiles figured he'd earned it. "I owe you a really big apology," he said. "You didn't do anything wrong. I'm just being a dickhead. And I understand why you're mad at me and I totally deserve it."

Derek finally opened his eyes, pinning Stiles with an angry stare that told him he still had a ways to go to patch things up between them.

"I’m not having a good day," Stiles explained, which didn't even come close to describing how he felt, raw and vulnerable and worthless. "I feel like…"

Like shit, was what he felt like. But he owed Derek a better explanation than that, because Derek probably felt like shit most of the time, and he wasn't a jerk about it. With a great air of reluctance, Derek pushed himself up to sitting and continued to stare at Stiles, unimpressed with his excuses.

"I don't think I can do it," Stiles confessed hoarsely, awful words he'd been avoiding saying out loud for a few days now. "I can't get us out of here. I'm sorry." He couldn’t bear to look at Derek as he admitted it, so he stared at a tear in the seam of his jeans instead, and let the truth sink in. They were both going to die because he couldn't do anything to save them. Maybe all those bad dreams he'd had over the years had actually been prophetic.

Derek made an angry sound, which Stiles didn't blame him for, because he'd been telling him all this time they were going to get out, and it had turned out to be a lie. Then Derek ducked his head down and leaned around to shove his face in front of Stiles', demanding Stiles look at him, but when Stiles did, Derek didn't look angry at all anymore. He looked determined.

When he had Stiles' attention, Derek reached over and picked up the little packet of pennies, then carefully placed it in Stiles' hand, resting open in his lap. When Stiles didn't react, he grabbed up the matches and put those on top of the pennies, and then the rubber band. He didn't stop there.

"Okay, I get it," Stiles said, mouth wanting to smile against his will, when his hands were overflowing and he had a packet of taco seasoning sliding down between his legs. "I'll keep trying."

Derek made a sound that Stiles could only interpret as, You bet your ass you will.

There was no other option. Derek wasn't going to give up, so Stiles couldn't either. Or maybe Derek simply believed in him that much, and trusted him to come through. He didn't know Stiles from Adam, and had no reason to have that much faith in him, but it helped anyway.

Derek hummed with satisfaction and then sat back while Stiles awkwardly got his feet, clutching their scavenged booty against his chest. He was going to start fresh tomorrow with his head in the right place, but right now he was going to put everything away and spend some time being nice to Derek. He shuffled toward the closet, trying not to drop anything, while Derek graciously helped by carrying the taco seasoning.

Stiles yawned, huge and jaw-cracking, as he put everything back in the hidey hole. Having a meltdown was really exhausting. Maybe now he'd be able to get a little sleep.

By the time he'd closed up the secret compartment, Derek was already stretched out on the bed, flat on his back, and when he lifted his arm in a welcoming gesture, Stiles gave in to what he'd wanted to do for a while and crawled right on top of him. He wanted to just burrow down and be safe and never come out, but he knew that wasn't possible. He'd have to get back up at some point, and get back to the business of escaping. It already didn't feel as hopeless as it had a few minutes ago, though, with Derek's arms wrapped around him just tightly enough.

"I'm glad you're here," Stiles whispered, because he didn't think he'd ever told Derek that, and that seemed like a glaring oversight. It was so true it was almost painful to say the words. He flexed his fingers against the hard muscles of Derek's shoulders. "I mean it. I can't imagine doing this without you."

A soft, plaintive sound came from Derek's throat as he nuzzled at Stiles' face. When Derek's palm gently cupped the back of Stiles' head, Stiles let out a breath it felt like he'd been holding for days and melted into Derek's body, which was exceptionally comfortable, given how little body fat he had. The rumble of Derek's chest under his ear finally lulled him to sleep.

~*~

One good thing about Derek was that he didn't hold a grudge against Stiles for being an ass, and things went back to normal like Stiles had never been a jerk to him.

They still spent the last hour or so before bed in the front room, looking at the moon if it was visible, or just listening to the crickets, but as the days passed Stiles watched the moon fill in with rising trepidation. Those first few full moons with Scott had been more than a little terrifying, and he wasn't keen to relive them now. A born wolf like Derek would have been able to exert full control over himself from a young age, no matter what the phase of the moon, but the collar was a wild card.

"So, the moon's almost full," Stiles ventured one afternoon. They were in their underwear on the mattress again, and Derek was using Stiles' stomach as a pillow, softly breathing hot air across the single layer of fabric covering Stiles' dick, making the rest of Stiles' body prickle with goosebumps. Stiles lived in a near constant state of sexual arousal now, which was a nice counterpoint to his nagging fear of dying painfully in captivity.

Derek made a sound that was equal parts agreement and annoyance, and twitched his head up into Stiles' fingers so he'd keep running them through his hair. He never got enough touching, it seemed, even though it felt like Stiles had his hands on him all the time.

"Are you...going to be okay?" Stiles asked carefully, because outright asking if Derek was going to murder him seemed rude. The even rhythm of Derek's breath faltered, and he lifted his head off Stiles' belly, turning to look at him. "I know you probably don't have any problem normally," Stiles said quickly. "But the collar..."

Stiles let that thought trail off as Derek slowly shifted to loom over him, bracing himself with one clawed hand on the bed next to Stiles' ear. His pretty eyes were mapping Stiles' face, catching on his mouth, lingering there a little before Derek looked into his eyes for a long time, until Stiles wanted to squirm and look away. His cheeks felt hot, and it was suddenly hard to breathe with Derek looking at him so intently.

With aching slowness, Derek stretched his body out along Stiles' side, curling his arm over Stiles' stomach, and leaned down, like he was going to kiss him. Stiles cupped the back of Derek's head with his hand and urged him down as he tipped his own chin up, wanting it, dying for it, not caring about the fangs, but their mouths never touched.

Instead, Derek bumped the tip of his nose against Stiles' and made a small, soothing noise in his throat that morphed into his rumble-purr as dropped his head lower still to nuzzle at Stiles' jaw before gently nosing his way into the skin behind Stiles' ear, which was one of his favorite spots. He sighed, a happy and content sound, when Stiles rubbed the back of his head, and then he went to sleep, snuggled down into Stiles' shoulder like a two hundred pound kitten.

That was his answer, Stiles figured, so he stopped worrying.

They sat in the front room as usual on the night of the full moon, watching it fill the window, so huge and bright that they cast shadows on the floor. True to his implied promise, Derek had remained calm and completely in control in the hours leading up to the full moon, and hadn't so much as flared his eyes once since the moon rose. If anything, he was even more subdued than usual, staring up at the moon with a longing expression on his face.

Stiles found it hard to look away from him, crouched on all fours, the way the muscles in his shoulders and thighs flexed when he shifted his weight, the way he closed his eyes and lifted his nose to scent the air when something moved in the woods. Stiles could still picture the man he'd seen on Derek's driver's license, preternaturally attractive even in a shitty DMV photo, but Derek was beautiful like this, too, Stiles realized. He was probably beautiful all the time.

Stiles wasn't, in general, frightened or repulsed by the way werewolves looked in beta shift, even though he still thought the alpha he'd seen way back when was damn ugly. Ordinary werewolves in beta form were usually sort of...themselves but dressed up for Halloween. Secretly, he thought Scott looked a little like Eddie Munster when he was shifted, which was kind of hilarious.

Of course, Stiles had known Scott since they were in footie pajamas, which took away a little of the mystique normally associated with being a supernatural creature, and usually when Scott was shifted it was because he and Stiles were trying not to die. Stiles had never just hung out with Scott for hours at a time while he was wolfed out. That would have been weird. This was a whole different experience for Stiles, spending so much time with a shifted wolf.

Though maybe it was Derek himself who was different; Stiles had never met another wolf like him before. His family was legendary, and the pack blood that flowed in his veins could be traced back hundreds and hundreds of years, maybe even further, if the history books were right, to a time when humans and wolves had lived side by side in caves, had run together at the hunt. He was undeniably a wild creature, a force of nature wrapped in muscle and sinew. He looked like he belonged in the woods, running free with the moonlight on his shoulders and the earth beneath his feet, his pack at his heels.

Right now he had none of those things, but Stiles was going to fix that.

~*~

On the seventeenth morning, Stiles drifted back to consciousness with Derek's big arm looped over his waist, claws carefully tucked into the palm of his hand to keep them away from Stiles' skin. They were both in their underwear and Derek was stuck to Stiles' back like he'd been glued there. When Stiles shifted a little, yawning, Derek grumbled behind him and nudged him with his hips. Stiles nudged back as he spread his toes and wiggled them, feeling Derek's erection hard and hot against his ass, giving heaviness to the lazy heat already gathered between Stiles' legs.

Still floating in the pleasant haze between sleep and waking, Stiles hummed happily and tipped his head back, exposing his neck to the feel of Derek's warm breath, sending a wave of shivers down his body. He wanted to be naked, wanted to roll over and rut against Derek, maybe suck him until he came, rub off against his wonderful stomach. Half-awake, comfortable and turned on, all of that sounded good to Stiles.

His skin was tingling, every point of contact with Derek's body pleasantly hot and alive, blood pounding thickly in his veins, body heavy with the warm taffy feel of morning arousal. He closed his hand around Derek's forearm, running his palm down over the slope of muscle there, until he reached his fist, tucked up against Stiles' bare belly. Mindful of the claws, Stiles slid his hand down to cover Derek's, fingers slotting between the grooves of his knuckles, and arched his back, grinding against Derek's dick with his ass as he eased their hands down to where Stiles was hard and ready, straining up toward the anticipated touch.

Before they got to the good part, though, Derek's arm tightened, pushing a little moan out of Stiles' body, and his hips rolled, rubbing his hard cock against the swell of Stiles' ass again before he made a frustrated noise and jerked his hand from Stiles' grip. Stiles suddenly found himself being shoved away, the shock of it bringing him fully awake like he'd been splashed with cold water. When he rolled over, a little unsteady, stomach clenching with dread, Derek was gone. As in not even in the room.

After blinking at the empty bed for a few seconds, Stiles lumbered to his feet and made the short trip to the front room in total confusion. Derek was crouched in the square of morning sunlight in the kitchen, one of his favorite spots, but his whole body looked tense, and when Stiles said his name Derek's head whipped around and he actually hissed at Stiles, teeth bared. For the first time in weeks, Stiles was actually afraid of him.

He backed away slowly, until he was in the hallway, but Derek didn't make any other threatening moves. But he never turned to look at him again, either, and Stiles went back to the bedroom, perplexed and shaken.

The only conclusion he could come to was that Derek did not want to do what they'd just done, which was kind of a bummer, because Stiles very much did. He had very little privacy here with which to deal with sexual frustration, because he felt weird going in the bathroom and jerking off, knowing that Derek could tell what he was doing, and lately he'd had a lot of sexual frustration that he'd felt certain was leading to actual sex. He was literally spending all his time with Derek, who he was definitely attracted to, cuddling and touching and spooning and soaping up in the bathroom together every morning like they were in a goddamn porno. Derek licked him all the time. The tension between them had to go somewhere, and Stiles was ready.

He'd thought Derek felt the same way, but hoo boy, guess not.

Shaken, and feeling a little guilty for stepping over a line he hadn't even seen, Stiles sat on the mattress with his chin on his knees. He wasn't sleepy anymore, and the bed was lonely without Derek, but he didn't know what else to do but stay in the bedroom. Derek didn't want to be around him, and Stiles hadn't appreciated until that moment how lucky they were they got along so well. Sharing three small rooms with another person was a lot easier when you wanted each other's company.

He still had a few magazines to read, but they were out in the other room, where he wasn't welcome. The bathroom didn't hold much in the way of entertainment. Derek was Stiles' only entertainment.

Well, they were adults, they could deal with this. It wouldn't be the first time Stiles had made a pass at someone and been shot down. He could handle it with grace. All Derek had to do was say no--he didn't need to run away and get all growly. He didn't have to be a drama queen about it.

Screw this, Stiles decided, emboldened by his rising indignation. They couldn't fight. It was stupid and pointless and would only make an already shitty situation more shitty. He couldn’t deal with any additional shittiness. He was maxed out, full up, done. They'd been chugging along pretty smoothly up until now, and he wasn't going to let that change.

This was assuming, of course, that Stiles making an overt pass at him was the problem. There was the small sticking point of the confusingly aggressive way Derek had reacted to him, but Stiles decided he didn't have anything to lose. If he was wrong about this and there was actually a bigger problem, if Derek had somehow gone rabid or something overnight, well, Stiles was probably doing to die here anyway, if he couldn't figure out a way to escape. What did it matter how?

He got up and marched determinedly back into the other room. Derek was still huddled in his square of sunlight, and didn’t look up when Stiles approached him.

"I'm sorry," Stiles said, surprising himself, because he'd been planning to open with, What the fuck is your problem?

Derek finally did look at him, and the look said Stiles had overwhelmed Derek with his stupidity. Stiles had gotten really good at reading Derek's looks, unfortunately.

"Why are you looking at me like that? I'm apologizing!" Stiles said, aggravated.

Derek glowered at him, looking equally aggravated.

"Is this because I was, you know, rubbing on you? Because you were rubbing on me, you know. You started it." Oh, God, Stiles thought, wincing. Ten seconds in and the conversation was going completely off the rails. He was already resorting to grade school comebacks.

Derek looked away, noticeably shamefaced, and it took Stiles a minute to take apart his theory and reassemble it in reverse.

"Wait. This is because you were rubbing against me?"

And then the entire who-rubbed-on-who argument suddenly dropped into well and distant second place on Stiles' attention meter, because for the very first time since Stiles had woken up in this stupid cabin, Derek nodded his head in response to a question. It was slow and kind of jerky, like he didn't quite have the hang of it, but there was no mistaking it was entirely deliberate.

Stiles was so thrilled by what he saw as an amazing breakthrough in communication that for a second he forgot they were fighting. "Oh my God, did you just nod your head? Was that a yes?" he asked gleefully, not even trying to keep his cool.

Derek's eyes darted toward him and then away, and he nodded again. It looked a little more natural this time, not so much like one of those creepy animatronic people at Disneyland.

"Holy crap, this is awesome!" Stiles shouted, doing a double fistpump. "I knew it! I knew I wasn't imagining it." He whooped with joy and strutted in a circle, arms thrust in the air over his head, too happy to contain it all. It hadn't been wishful thinking: Derek was becoming less feral. Stiles had no idea how--maybe the spell was weakening over time?--but his human side was slowly starting to show. "This is so awesome. This is so awesome. We need to do something to celebrate!"

When he circled back around to look at Derek, though, he didn't look like he was in a mood to celebrate. He looked miserable. Stiles' happy mood burst like an over-filled water balloon.

"I guess we could, uh, celebrate later. Or something," he said, dropping his arms to his sides, feeling like an ass. Derek had no reaction to that.

"Um, so," Stiles started, after a very long awkward silence. "This is about what just happened, right?"

Derek nodded again, but this time Stiles managed to restrain himself and stay focused on figuring out how to fix this. What he knew so far was that a little butt humping and an almost-grope had made Derek agitated, but not because Stiles had sexually harassed him—Derek apparently felt he was just as responsible for it as Stiles. Now they just had to play a game of twenty questions to get to the bottom of the problem. Stiles took a moment, though, to be thankful that it wasn't rabies after all.

All right. Yes or no questions. They could do this. First question. "Did you mean to do it?" he asked.

Derek made a short, sharp noise that usually indicated a no, but with an undertone of distress that wasn't normally there; he was really unhappy over what had happened between them and hadn't intended for it to happen. It had been an accident, maybe. Derek had been asleep, or not aware of what he was doing until it was already happening.

Stiles had totally misread the situation, and Derek's intentions, this whole time; he hoped his guilt and disappointment didn't show on his face.

He stood there for a moment, at a loss as to what to do next. He was--he really liked Derek, and he hated seeing him upset, and hated even more that he was the cause of it. But as he watched, Derek slowly shuffled his hands and feet until he was facing Stiles directly, staring at him, and he looked so broken open and sad, more vulnerable than Stiles had ever seen him. He looked at Stiles like he was desperate to come to him, but he was holding back for some reason.

"Derek," Stiles said, when he realized he'd asked the wrong question before. "Did you want to do it?"

Derek hesitated, and then he looked down at the floor and nodded, quickly.

Wanted to, but didn't mean to, and felt guilty about it. Stiles almost couldn't bring himself to ask the next logical question, so it ended up coming out all in a rush. "Are you married? Or do you have someone who—"

Derek cut him off with an emphatic no sound. Then he bared his teeth and clawed at the air, but in a fake, showy way, not menacing, that left Stiles completely stumped. What the fuck did that mean?

"You're not married because you're a werewolf?" Stiles guessed, because he seriously had no fucking idea.

Derek gave an annoyed huff and glared at him, which Stiles assumed meant he'd made a really bad guess.

"Derek, I'm sorry," Stiles said helplessly, taking a step toward him. "I don't understand. I don't--"

And Derek just exploded, so quickly and so violently that Stiles stumbled back and tripped over his own feet like he'd actually been pushed by the force of the roar that came from Derek's angry, wide open mouth. Stiles went down hard on his hip and his elbow, but as he shoved his bare heels against the floor, trying to get away, he realized Derek wasn't actually focused on him. He was snarling in frustration, hands scrabbling at the collar around his neck, and within seconds blood was flowing, both from the wooden spikes tearing into his neck and from the gouges his own claws were leaving in the skin around the collar.

"Oh my God! Don't!" Stiles yelled, horrified, and then did what was probably in the top five dumbest things he'd ever done in his life and scrambled across the floor towards Derek. "Derek, stop!" he said again, and this time his voice broke, and it came out as pleading. "Please stop."

Either Stiles' words finally got through or Derek got it out of his system, because he gave the collar one more vicious tug, punctuated by a choked off whimper, and fell forward onto all fours, flexing his bloodied hands against the floor, breaths coming in huge, heaving gasps. As Stiles watched, fresh blood dripped slowly from the collar onto the floor. Big, bright red drops of it. Stiles could hear each plop plop in the sudden, shocked silence.

Stiles felt like his eyes had just been forcibly wrenched open. He knew the collar was horrible for Derek, but he seemed to ignore it so easily that Stiles had gotten pretty good at ignoring it, too. That didn't mean that Derek didn't have to live with it every second of every day, or that it wasn't affecting him. His outburst had probably been brewing for a while, somehow set off by what had happened between them this morning, the last straw.

When Derek didn't move, Stiles slowly crawled toward him and knelt at his shoulder. "Hey," he said softly. He wanted to touch him, to soothe him, but didn't know if it would be welcome. Derek answered that question for him by practically falling into Stiles' arms. He kept his bloody hands tucked against his stomach, like he didn't want to touch Stiles with them, but Stiles wrapped his arms tight around Derek's shoulders and held on while Derek shuffled closer, whining his distress into Stiles' throat.

"I'm sorry this happened to you. I'm so sorry," Stiles said, watching a rivulet of blood run down Derek's back. "We're gonna get out of here, and no one is ever going to do anything like this to you again, I promise." He dropped a tentative kiss onto the top of Derek's head, then another when Derek whimpered and pushed closer. "I promise."



Art by Rahciach

~*~

"This is just like old times," Stiles said, as he scrubbed at the back of Derek's hand with the washcloth. Once again Derek was up on the toilet lid, though much more subdued than usual, while Stiles wiped the blood away as best he could. Derek gave a soft, amused snort at Stiles' bad attempt at humor, and Stiles smiled at him, glad to see he was acting a little more like his usual self now.

Once Derek's hands were clean, Stiles ran a fresh sinkful of water so he could start on the blood around the collar. The gouges from the claws were healed, but Derek's chest and shoulders and back were a mess of drying blood.

As he wiped at Derek's chest, Derek lifted his hands and tentatively rested them on Stiles' hips, his first two fingers warm and a little damp against the skin just above the waistband of Stiles' underwear. Stiles couldn't help it—he was instantly hyper-aware of the touch, how smooth his skin was and the way one of Derek's fingers was twitching lightly. Derek didn't actually touch him with his hands much, usually nuzzling him or rubbing his head on him or just putting his entire body against him instead. Stiles assumed it was because of the claws.

It was because of the claws.

"You're worried you're going to hurt me," Stiles said, finally getting it.

Derek slowly lifted his hands away without even nicking him. Stiles didn't want him to let go, but didn't dare move to stop him. He watched, disheartened, as Derek nodded, then sort of collapsed in on himself, sinking down lower onto his haunches, shoulders slumped. His eyes, though, stayed on Stiles' face, like he was searching for a reaction. Judgment, maybe, or confirmation that Stiles was repulsed by him, or afraid.

Stiles gave himself some time to think about what to do next. He took a few steadying breaths as he rinsed the washcloth out again, and Derek let him get back to the business of cleaning him up.

After working in silence for a minute, Stiles said, "I just want you to know—and I'm not putting any pressure on you—that I'm not disgusted by you or anything, because you look like this right now. Obviously. And I don't have any kind of werewolf kink or anything either, if you're worried about that. Or at least I didn't have one until I met you. I guess my kink is you," he confessed, with a wry smile." Derek huffed a laugh at that, so Stiles kept going. "I’m not worried you're going to hurt me, and even if you did hurt me on accident, I'd know you didn't mean it and I'd forgive you."

Derek made an unhappy sound at the mention of hurting Stiles, even accidentally. It was obviously a big worry for him, one Stiles had been oblivious to up until now. Derek had done such a good job of not hurting him even once that it hadn't occurred to Stiles it was something that took constant effort and vigilance. If he'd learned anything today, it was that he'd been blind to a lot of things going on with Derek.

By now Derek was completely clean, but it was easier to talk while he was busy, so Stiles kept going, running the rag over his shoulder again. "I like you, and I want to have sex with you," he said. "I kinda thought that was where we were headed, to be honest. But I only want to have sex with you if you want to have sex with me, and I can wait."

He finally dropped the washcloth into the sink and took Derek's shaggy head in his hands, letting his fingers curl into the damp hair behind his pointy ears. Derek's eyes were wide and clear, and he looked almost hopeful, not as sad as he had just moments ago.

Stiles dipped his head, slowly enough that Derek had plenty of time to get away if he objected, but Derek didn't try to get away, so Stiles pressed the smallest and sweetest of kisses to Derek's deadly mouth, barely brushing their lips together in the space between Derek's protruding lower canines. As soon as their mouths touched, Derek shivered under Stiles' hands and made a soft, hungry sound in his throat.

"I can wait as long as you want. I can wait until we get out of here," Stiles whispered, before he kissed him again, and it was a promise in more ways than one.

Chapter Text

After Stiles got all the blood off of Derek and himself, he decided to carry on with their routine as if nothing weird had happened, so he started his morning workout. He was making a lot of progress, upping his reps every day, and even though he tended toward lean muscle rather than bulk, his biceps were noticeably bigger, and there was more definition in his stomach and legs. Maybe next he'd work on some of those butt exercises from the magazine, just to switch things up.

Instead of lounging in the sun like he usually did during workout time, Derek shoved the chair over by one of the windows and crouched on it so he could see outside. He sat quietly the whole time, eyes sometimes flicking as they followed whatever he could see out there—birds or squirrels or butterflies, who knew—and then other times he was clearly lost in thought, gaze unfocused, chin resting on the sill. Stiles left him alone.

When bath time rolled around, Derek didn't join in, which was totally understandable. Things had gone too far, and now they both needed to pull back and re-establish some boundaries. That didn't stop Stiles from mourning the loss a little.

They sat a polite distance apart on the floor while they munched their way through breakfast, and Stiles reminded himself he was a strong, independent man who didn't need werewolf snuggles to feel complete while he ate room temperature pizza. Just because he was keenly feeling the loss of Derek's usual easy affection for him didn't mean he couldn't handle the new rules.

As Stiles shoved the empty pizza box out the window, Derek got up and went into the bedroom, leaving Stiles stranded in the front room. This was normally when they'd cuddle together on the bed for a while, but that was obviously out…except Derek was suddenly back in the front room, trying to get Stiles' attention. When he did, he whuffed and gave him an impatient look, and then disappeared back into the bedroom. When Stiles didn't get his ass moving fast enough, Derek came back again, this time whining and nudging him until Stiles finally got a clue.

"Okay, fine," Stiles said, groaning inwardly. "Story time it is." This was going to be torture, lounging around on the mattress with Derek and following the new no touching rules. Maybe he could find the will to use it as added motivation to find a way out of this place, once he got done feeling sorry for himself.

As he trudged toward the bedroom like a condemned man walking the plank, Stiles told himself he was going to be a stand-up guy about the whole thing and not make it any more difficult than it had to be, and not tempt Derek into doing something he'd regret. That meant keeping his hands to himself, being careful about physical affection, and certainly not making any contact between their lower bodies.

It was all for naught, because as soon they got on the bed, Derek suddenly turned into an hairy, fanged octopus, and all he wanted to do was roll around on the mattress and rub his entire body—not just the lower half—all over Stiles.

"I thought--you wanted--to wait--" Stiles gasped out as he lifted his hips in time to meet Derek's, which were lazily rolling into the V of Stiles' spread legs as he growled in Stiles' ear. They were both in just their underwear again, which felt like way too much between them and also dangerously little. Stiles had two handfuls of Derek's fabulous ass, and was finding it hard to focus, but he felt obligated to point out that they had just discussed this and decided to hold off.

Derek's hips stilled as he lifted up a little and made a questioning noise, his werewolfy forehead wrinkled in a frown.

"No no no, I'm not saying I want to stop," Stiles ground out when he saw Derek's face. "I'm up for whatever you want," he told him, then made a strangled sound when Derek humped against him again. "Anything you want," Stiles reiterated breathlessly, just in case he wasn't being obvious enough.

He must have been obvious enough, because a minute later Derek's teeth were snagging the waistband of Stiles' underwear and dragging them down his body. Stiles managed to lift the elastic up before it snagged on his hard dick, then kicked them the rest of the way off while he shoved Derek's purple underwear down, too.

Derek was back instantly, sprawling heavily on top of Stiles, and then making an apologetic noise when Stiles made an oof sound. Undeterred by almost being squished, Stiles got one hand between them and went right for Derek's cock, which he'd never actually seen when it was fully hard, and it was goddamn beautiful, hot and silky in his fist.

He only got to enjoy it for a few seconds, a couple of long, slow strokes that made Derek groan, before Derek was sliding down Stiles' body, taking his beautiful cock with him, out of Stiles' reach. He dragged his tongue down the center of Stiles' torso as he went, leaving a crooked wet line, making Stiles shudder against the bed. Stiles made a frustrated sound that morphed into a choked off moan as Derek slid even lower, snuffling happily, until he could settle between Stiles' legs.

"Oh, God, please," Stiles whined, but then Derek seemed to remember he had a mouthful of fangs at the same time Stiles did, and they both froze.

"Um," Stiles said, into the awkward silence. There was no way, no matter how careful Derek was, that Stiles was putting his dick in that mouth, and even if he'd been up for it, Derek would probably never do it anyway. This was exactly what he'd been trying to explain to Stiles earlier—sex with a shifted werewolf wasn't going to be easy.

"Listen, we can do something else," Stiles said, running his hand over the top of Derek's head while Derek made a frustrated noise and glared at Stiles' cock, like it was somehow its fault Derek couldn't blow him.

"It's fine, I can--" Stiles started to say, taking a good tight grip of himself, but Derek snorted in irritation and bumped at Stiles' hand with his nose until Stiles let go. "Seriously, dude, just let me," Stiles absolutely did not beg. He was dying for someone to touch his dick, and he did not give one shiny goddamn who it was. He just wanted to come while Derek was there with him, naked and just as horny as he was, and then he wanted to make Derek come. He had simple needs.

Derek ignored Stiles' sad plight and instead dropped his head to nuzzle the base of Stiles' cock, his hot, damp breath making Stiles' legs shift against the mattress. Then he skimmed his nose all the way up the underside, the soft scruff on his chin following behind, a shivery cascade of changing sensations on Stiles' sensitive skin. When he got to the tip he rubbed his lower lip back and forth across it, then lapped delicately at the bead of liquid there, eyes going hooded for a second when he pulled his tongue back into his mouth.

Then he gave Stiles' cock a speculative look, like a puzzle he'd just figured out how to solve, and licked it, from base to tip, a long, hot slide of tongue that made Stiles tip his head back and practically shout with how good it felt. Then Derek did it again. And again. And again. And then Stiles figured it out: Derek couldn't suck on Stiles' dick, but he could lick it. And that was exactly what he intended to do.

Stiles was happy to just lie there and take it, succumb to the slick, relentless drag of Derek's tongue on his cock, drooling on him a little, then a lot as his enthusiasm built, until Stiles was dripping with it, could feel it running down his balls, the crack of his ass. And Derek just kept going, holding Stiles down by the hips when he started to squirm, making soft, pleased noises in his throat when Stiles choked out his name and yanked on his hair a little too hard.

Derek just kept at him, dragging Stiles' orgasm out of him a fraction of an inch at a time, from somewhere so deep inside it seemed to take forever to happen, and for long minutes it felt like he wasn't going to get there at all, like he'd pass out or go insane or die of a heart attack first. By the end he was sobbing with it, blinking sweat out of his eyes, clinging to Derek's hair, every muscle in his body tensed to the point of snapping. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of torturous stimulation, Stiles dug his fingers into the mattress, curled his toes around Derek's ribs, and had the most intense orgasm of his life.

Stiles was still reeling, trying to get his bearings, when Derek moved down and started sloppily licking at his balls, then lower, where he could feel how wet he was, hot and slippery. Before Stiles could register what was coming next Derek had flipped him over and was carefully holding him open with the palms of his hands, and then licking him there, too.

Stiles nearly levitated off the bed, and his hips bucked and ground his sensitized cock into the bed in a very uncomfortable way. No one had ever done that to him before, and Stiles wanted to know why the hell not, because it was amazing.

"Oh my God," he said, grinding his hot face against the mattress as Derek licked him and licked him, his tongue hot and rough. "Derek. Oh my God."

Too soon, Derek lifted up, leaving Stiles' ass feeling cold and abandoned. Stiles hadn't even found the breath to complain before he felt Derek's whole body come down on top of him, clawed hands bracketing his shoulders, and that was definitely Derek's cock pushing hotly into the cleft of his ass.

"Wait, wait," Stiles sputtered, because while he knew from experience he could take a dick with nothing but spit for lube, he'd rather be on top, controlling the action. But Derek had already slipped his cock snuggly into Stiles' asscrack and was starting to move his hips. He froze at Stiles' words, though, making an inquisitive sound. "Oh, if that's—okay. You can do that," Stiles said, realizing what he was after. Derek gave a tentative thrust, gliding easily across Stiles' slick skin, and Stiles reached back to wrap an encouraging hand around Derek's thigh. "It's okay. Have at it."

Derek didn't need to be told twice. The poor guy was probably desperate to come, Stiles thought; he'd been waiting a long time. Derek bore down on him, already picking up speed, huffing like a freight train in his ear, making soft guttural sounds of pleasure that made the base of Stiles' spine tingle.

It didn't take very long. At the end his thrusts got uneven and frantic, and friction was starting to be a problem, but right about the time Stiles was wondering if he'd have to make him stop and get everything wet again, Derek came, snapping his teeth on a snarl that turned into a whimper as he twitched his hips a few more times, wet warmth spreading across Stiles' lower back.

He panted in Stiles' ear for a minute, letting almost his full weight come down, which quickly got uncomfortable. Stiles only gave him the tiniest nudge, accompanied by a slight wheeze, and Derek slid to the side so he was only half on top of Stiles. Good enough.

"That. Was. Awesome!" Stiles declared, without opening his eyes. He raised his hand in a noodly fistpump, and felt the warm gust of Derek's amused chuff against his shoulder. "We are awesome at hostage sex."

Derek made a happy sound of agreement as he licked Stiles' shoulder blade, then rubbed his scruffy chin on it.

Sex always made Stiles talkative, and he could never seem to stop himself from indulging in what was basically a post-game highlight reel. Not everyone found it charming, but Derek didn't seem to mind at all. As Stiles reiterated--again--just how rocked his world was at the moment, taking some time to go over some of his favorite parts, Derek stretched out beside him and threw a leg over Stiles' thighs, rumbling appreciatively as he dragged the heel of his hand through the mess he'd left on Stiles' back.

"I knew it," Stiles grinned into Derek's shoulder. "Scott denies it and denies it, but I always knew you guys were all about marking your territory. You should have seen him junior year, when the exchange student from France turned out to be a wolf. Scott tried to act like he wasn't doing anything weird, but he kept giving me and Allison his sweatshirts to wear because we 'looked cold.'"

Derek snorted in amusement and reached around to tug Stiles a little closer, nuzzling his face. Nothing in there was a denial, Stiles noticed, still a little sex-buzzed but recovering. Things were already starting to get cold and sticky, and they should probably get up and rinse off. In a minute, though, Stiles told himself. In a minute.

They ended up having sex again instead, slowly building from afterglow cuddling to grinding against each other, until Stiles pushed Derek over onto his back and then climbed on top of him, getting his hand around both of them so he could jerk them off together. Derek leaked a lot, like really a lot, and that plus a little spit were more than enough to make everything deliciously slick.

Stiles hadn't been able to see Derek when he came the first time, so he took advantage of the view now, watching his abs draw down tight, his panting mouth fall open when he dug his shoulders into the mattress, tendons in his growling throat standing out under the collar. He looked too good to be true, and Stiles fought the urge to close his own eyes when his orgasm rolled through him, so he could see it all, see Derek completely undone.

~*~

The next morning, when he was handing out breakfast, Stiles found a receipt in one of the food bags—these guys really were shit at checking the bags before they handed them over—showing the time and date of the purchase, and the address of the restaurant. In Redding, California. Which was about three hours from Beacon Hills.

Stiles was a little shocked that he'd been unconscious long enough to be transported so far, and that he had no memory of it at all, not even the slightest recollection of being in a vehicle or anything. At least they were still in California, but would anyone even think to look for them here?

On the other hand, the cabin itself had to be close to Redding, because the food was always still a little warm when they got it, even after the toadies carried it through the woods. That meant even if Stiles and Derek couldn't get into Redding proper there would for sure be roads, there would be cars coming and going, and they could get to one, flag someone down. Or Stiles could, at least, while Derek hid. All he needed was a phone, someone who would stop and let Stiles make a call.

They just had to get out of this stupid cabin.

After they ate, Stiles got all the stuff out of the hidey hole and looked at it again, going over what he knew about their situation, what he could do with the few things at his disposal, and how the hell he was going to pull off a spell with his power dampened. Just like he had every day before this one, he came up with bupkis.

He really, really missed Scott. Scott had always been his partner in crime and crazy-ass plans that somehow worked anyway, going back to when they were kids and the stakes had been considerably lower, more on the "wrangling extra dessert" end of the spectrum than "averting certain death." No matter what kind of shit they got into, they always came up with something, bouncing stuff off each other until they came up with a solution, or one of them presented a wacky idea that the other one could run with and turn into something useful. Maybe Scott would have been able to see something Stiles didn't.

There was no way to know, and it was useless to dwell on it. It was just him and Derek here, and while it was possible Derek was a brilliant strategist when he wasn't trapped in beta form, but that didn't mean squat right now. Stiles couldn't do anything but put all their hoarded treasure away again and hope inspiration would strike tomorrow.

Since they had a lot of time to kill before the toadies arrived, Stiles coaxed Derek out of his clothes again—not all that difficult, really—and finally got to live his dream of putting his mouth all over Derek's fantastic stomach. Once he'd gotten it nice and slick, he rubbed himself off on it, which Derek seemed to enjoy almost as much as Stiles did.

After he submitted to a brief tongue bath and regained control of his limbs, Stiles gave Derek the most prolonged and intense blowjob he'd ever given anyone in his entire life. He licked him and sucked him and deep-throated him, brought him right to the edge and then backed off, until Derek's hips started coming up off the bed in desperate little hitches and he was yelping in frustration every time Stiles took his mouth away.

By the end, Derek was so sensitive that all Stiles could do was slowly push his foreskin up over the head of his cock and then gently ease it back down while Derek whimpered and shook, his back curved like a bow, thighs trembling between Stiles' bent knees.

The sound he made when he came was beautiful.

~*~

The headline on the magazine article about fall's spy-inspired fashion trends was in ransom note font, all crooked mismatched letters, and as he paged listlessly through it Stiles thought it was too bad they couldn't make a ransom note for themselves and somehow get it to someone. Cobble together some words and—oh, he was a big fucking dumbass.

He sat up so fast his legs flailed a little, jostling Derek, who opened one eye and grunted in annoyance at having his afternoon nap interrupted.

"Derek, can you read?" Stiles asked him, failing to keep the excitement out of his voice, which got Derek's attention. He opened the other eye.

Derek had never shown any interest in the magazines, though Stiles conceded that could have been because the magazines sucked. He seemed mostly interested in snuggling with Stiles while Stiles read to him or told him stories, but Stiles had never thought to ask him if that was because he couldn't read himself. He'd just assumed Derek had lost that when he'd lost the ability to speak, but he'd never checked to make sure.

Derek pulled an epic bitchface as he sat up, which seemed to say, Of course I can read. Thanks for the insult.

"Right now, when you're like this, I mean," Stiles said hastily, because that had sounded a little insulting, actually. "I know you can't talk, but you can understand me. So can you read?"

Derek nodded, a little less bitchily this time, so Stiles asked the next question, which was the really important one. "Can you write?"

This time Derek gave him a baffled look and held his arms out, casting his gaze around as if to encompass the entire room, explaining quite eloquently that it didn't matter, because they didn't have anything to write with.

"But if you had a way to make words," Stiles persisted, "You could do it?"

Derek shrugged indifferently--something else new he'd started doing recently--like his answer wasn't about to change everything.

Holy shit holy shit holy shit.

Stiles leaned over and plucked the entire stack of magazines off the floor and started flipping through them, tearing out pages with flying hands while Derek hunkered next to him and watched curiously. The titles of the articles were best, because the font was bigger, so that was what Stiles went for first, collecting a small stack of pages. Then he started ripping out the letters to create an alphabet--a V, three Es, a T and a C--and that was when Derek caught on to what Stiles was doing and started making excited noises, shifting restlessly against his side, pointing at letters for Stiles to tear out until Stiles handed him a few pages of his own.

Derek's claws turned out to be perfect for cutting out the letters, slicing through the paper like an X-Acto knife, so Stiles left that job to him and began sorting the letters into piles on the floor next to the bed, where they were less likely to get disturbed every time someone moved. When they finally had twenty-six little stacks of letters, an entire alphabet, Derek dove right in, carefully picking up the fragile pieces of paper with his claws and laying them out on the floor to make words.

While he was doing that, Stiles stacked all the shredded magazine pages in a crooked pile, then got up and stashed them on the shelf in the closet, the instinct to hide everything still strong even though no one else had ever set foot in the cabin.

When he turned back around, Derek had already finished, and was looking up at Stiles, eager, expectant. Stiles dropped to his knees beside him, feeling just as excited, dying to see the first thing Derek wanted to say to Stiles, now that he had the ability. Maybe he wanted to tell Stiles he snored, or have him ask the toadies for something.

Stiles looked down and froze. Derek had written: WHAT IS YOUR NAME

Stiles stared at it, gutted. Days they'd been here together—weeks, actually—and he'd never thought to tell Derek his goddamn name, not even when they—

He couldn't control the way his hands trembled a little as he reached for one letter, then another, carefully lining them up in the right order beneath Derek's question.

STILES

"Stiles," he said out loud, voice catching in his throat, but when he finally made himself look at Derek, Derek didn't look at all like Stiles felt, like Stiles had wronged him. He looked thrilled. "It's Stiles," he said again, and this time he sounded less like he was about to cry. "I'm sorry I didn't—"

But Derek cut him off with a sweet, affectionate noise, and butted his head against Stiles' face. Stiles was forgiven.

Forcing down the lump in his throat, Stiles hugged Derek around his shaggy ears until he complained and tried to squirm free, then hugged him for just a second more.

~*~

Derek spent the rest of the afternoon "talking," spelling out words as quickly as he could, his face practically beaming with joy. Stiles barely got a word in edgewise, and he didn't care.

It didn't take long for them to figure out a shorthand for words and phrases that came up a lot. They eventually went back through the magazines again to find some pictures to add to the alphabet: a frog for the toadies who brought the food, a grandpa in a beige cardigan and big square eyeglasses for the old man. Derek found a picture of Harry Potter he insisted on using to represent Stiles, much to Stiles' outrage.

The first thing they talked about, of course, was how to get the hell out of here. Derek didn't have any ideas on how exactly to do it, either, but was able to tell Stiles there was usually a third person who stayed with the car while the other two dropped off the food, which was vital information. Also, Derek was indeed able to hear the barrier spell when Geraldo recited it, but the words just sounded like gibberish to him. He agreed he would try again that night to figure it out.

In full forensics mode, Stiles asked Derek to go back to the beginning, and that was how he found out Derek had been captured in Beacon Hills, just like Stiles. And just like Stiles, he had no memory at all of how they'd done it, but he did remember being transported, in some kind of metal box in a van, which made Stiles shudder at the thought of it. If they'd done the same to him, he was glad he couldn't remember it.

Derek had almost gotten away, right before they collared him, taking down two of the old man's hired muscle, just like Geraldo had said, and he'd paid for it—torturing someone who could heal almost instantly was practically a sport for these people. Derek's memories of the time immediately after they put the collar on him were hazy, but he did recall trying to get the collar off, and trying to get out of the cabin, both to no avail. He wasn't sure how long he'd been here by himself, but thought it was less than a day.

AND THEN THEY BROUGHT YOU, he wrote next, eyes downcast almost shyly, which was so impossibly cute Stiles had to lean over and kiss him.

"Thanks for not ripping my throat out with your teeth," Stiles said, and then squawked when Derek lunged at him like he was going to do just that, gnashing his fangs on nothing but air.

"Where's your pack?" Stiles finally asked him, when it started to feel a little obvious they were both avoiding the topic. Derek chose two letters, BH, which meant Beacon Hills. Stiles did a double-take, but didn't have time to express his surprise before Derek dropped another shocker by adding: 10 MOS

"You've been there for ten months?" Stiles asked, astounded. Derek nodded and tilted his head in question. "I just—I had no idea," Stiles said. "None."

It was true that there had always been a lot of werewolves in and out of Beacon Hills, initially because of Deaton, and now also because of Stiles himself; they had a lot of overlapping clientele. But that an entire pack could have been there for almost a year without anyone noticing was a stunner. Scott tended to be pretty easy-going about boundaries, partly because of the constant, non-threatening supernatural traffic in town, and partly because he couldn't be bothered to consider anything in Beacon Hills his territory except his mother and Allison and Stiles—and God help the wolf who decided to challenge him on that—but a whole pack? For almost a year?

On the other hand, Stiles had noticed—but not commented on, because everyone knew what happened when you did—that things had been sort of quiet in Beacon Hills for the last few months or so, supernatural emergency-wise. Scott was aggressively dedicated to staying out of any kind of supernatural drama or werewolf politics, but nothing got him worked up like innocent people being hurt or killed. Scott and Stiles and their friends were forever getting mixed up in all kinds of weird shit just to keep people safe, but there'd been a decided lack of that kind of thing recently. There was still plenty of freaky shit going on, and business was booming at the shop, but the repetitive monster of the week episodes had virtually stopped. And even when something strange had popped up, it always seemed to peter out quickly.

Probably because the alpha of Beacon Hills was back, and he and his pack were running off troublemakers, Stiles realized, about a year too late. He couldn't believe he hadn't heard a single word about it via the supernatural grapevine, either. Derek must have been really dedicated to being on the down-low. Or really good at scaring people into keeping their mouths shut.

"How many are there?" Stiles asked, because this changed things. An actual pack nearby could make a difference. The more people looking for them, the better their chances were.

Derek spelled out THREE IN BH ONE IN NY. Stiles couldn't lie to himself: he'd been hoping for a bigger number.

"Your uncle and your sister?" Stiles soldiered on, sure he already knew the answer, so he wasn't surprised when Derek responded with: DEAD. But then Derek swept the word up and began choosing more letters, until he'd spelled out something that actually was surprising: I THINK THEY WERE HERE.

Stiles blinked at the words on the floor. "Here? Like in California? Or here in this place? Where we are?" he asked. Derek nodded, and Stiles asked, "How do you know? You can smell them?" Derek nodded again, and just like that two pieces of information snapped into place like puzzle pieces clicking together, and before he could stop himself, Stiles' eyes went automatically to the closet.

Derek noticed. He slid the question mark over in front of Stiles: ?.

"Your sister's name was Laura, right?" Stiles said, and when Derek confirmed it with a nod, he asked, "What was your uncle's name?"

PETER, Derek spelled out.

Aw, crap.

"You're right, they were here," Stiles said, and told Derek about the initials carved in the wall in the closet, PDH and LMH.

Derek confirmed those were their exact initials, and there was no avoiding the truth now. The same old man who had captured Derek and Stiles had also taken Peter and Laura. And Peter and Laura were dead.

He wanted to see, so Stiles got the chair from the front room and Derek got up on the seat and stared at the markings on the wall for a minute while Stiles wondered just how much more horrible shit Derek was going to have to bear. Just before he hopped off the chair, Stiles saw him stretch himself up, the closest to standing Stiles had ever seen him, and reach to touch the letters, one by one.

Seeing Derek and the marks, it occurred to Stiles that Peter and Laura must not have been collared when they were here, or at least not in a collar magicked to keep them feral. Though Derek had changed pretty dramatically in these last few weeks, in the beginning he hadn't been in any condition to keep track of the passing days. The old man must have tweaked his kidnapping procedure at some point between other two and Derek, made it even more barbaric. Stiles really hated that guy.

Derek didn't seem overly upset when he came back to the alphabet, but he'd already known they were dead, and suspected they'd been in this cabin, so the idea that he was going to die just like they had probably wasn't a total shock to him. It was Stiles who was feeling overwhelmed by this latest news, which was not only another bit of misery heaped on the life of Derek Hale, but also confirmed some of his own worst fears about what they were facing.

Calm as could be, Derek simply hunkered down and went to work until he'd written, LINES MEAN HOW MANY DAYS

"I'm pretty sure," Stiles agreed.

NEW MOON, Derek spelled out, and when Stiles did the math, he realized he was right. Twenty-eight days from when they'd been locked up here would take them right back to the new moon. He felt a bit dumb for not figuring that out before this, but as a werewolf, it was second nature for Derek to always be aware of moon phases.

They stared at the closet in silence for a second, and then Derek must have come up with a theory, because he made a contemplative noise and hunched down over the letters again. The words came quickly, Derek putting them down and then scrambling the letters to make new ones as fast as Stiles could read them.

WEREWOLF LEGEND, Derek wrote. NOT SURE IF TRUE

Stiles nodded his head. There were a lot of old wives' tales floating around in the supernatural world, and it was sometimes surprising what was true and what wasn't. Simple sounding things might be impossible, while the craziest of stuff was actually totally doable. It wasn't unheard of for people to try stuff out, just to see if it worked--Stiles had done it himself, with mixed results. He was never going to look at a Thor action figure the same way again, that was for sure.

Derek wrote one more set of words, and then stared at Stiles grimly. ON NEW MOON, it said. MAGE CAN CONTROL WEREWOLF

Stiles' entire body went cold in one unpleasant rush. He swallowed hard, staring at the words. He'd imagined a lot of horrible things happening to them at the end of these twenty-eight days, but it hadn't occurred to him that he would be used against Derek, that he'd be another form of control, another tool they would use to take away one more piece of Derek's humanity. He couldn't imagine anything he wanted less.

While Stiles was still reeling, a light bulb went on for Derek, plain on his face, and he scrambled for the letters again.

THATS WHY THEY NEEDED MY BLOOD

FOR SPELL

"They took your blood?" Stiles asked, not liking at all where this was going, and Derek nodded vigorously.

After they'd collared him, Derek explained, they'd cut open his wrist and let the blood pour into a bowl, then carried it away.

"The bowl," Stiles interrupted, picturing it immediately in his mind, the memory blurred by the pain he'd been in at the time, but clear enough now that Derek had stirred it to life. "It was blue?" Derek nodded. Stiles looked down at his arm where he still had a faint mark from the scab that had been on his arm in the early days. A puncture wound. "I saw it. I think they put my blood in it, too. That's how they do it. They mix our blood."

Derek wrote, TIES US TOGETHER

"That son of a bitch," Stiles said, disgusted. There were a lot of uses for blood in magic, because it was a powerful ingredient, and most of them were completely innocuous. When people talked about "blood magic" though, they meant specifically the kind where someone's blood was used against them. And blood magic that took away freewill was the grossest, most depraved kind. He had no doubts that was the old man's goal.

Another disturbing thought came to Stiles. "It didn't work though, did it?" he asked nervously. "The old man did the spell, but I can't control you at all, right?"

The possibility that maybe he'd been influencing Derek all this time without knowing it made Stiles' stomach tie itself in a knot. He'd been working under the assumption everything that had happened between them here had been consensual, but what if it hadn't? That would be the ultimate irony, wouldn't it? Stiles, the mage who refused to do love spells, magicking someone into bed with him without even realizing it.

Derek must have picked up on exactly what Stiles was afraid of, because he rushed to slap down the picture of Harry Potter. Next to it he wrote NOT CONTROL ME, and then underlined it with his finger for emphasis, much to Stiles' relief.

"Okay," Stiles said, because he really, really wanted to believe that. Then he told himself to focus on the matter at hand, because otherwise he'd just keep thinking about it and get himself good and miserable. "So if it isn't already working on us yet, it must be a two moon spell."

Two moon spells were some of the most involved and time-consuming magic, because they were cast from phase to phase over the course of an entire lunar cycle. From full moon to full moon, or from waxing crescent to waxing crescent. This one appeared to be from new to new.

"How long does the control last? One day? One cycle?" Stiles asked.

Derek's hands flew across the floor. LONG AS SPELL HOLDS

Stiles felt like he'd been punched in the diaphragm. That could mean years. The rest of their lives, even. The horror of it was something Stiles could barely stand to contemplate.

And the old man, once he got control of Derek, would probably be reluctant to give it up. Werewolves were strong, and healed from almost anything. That kind of power at your disposal would be tempting for a certain kind of person, and Stiles was certain the mysterious old man was that kind of person.

"So if the old man controls me," Stiles said, rubbing a hand over the purple-tinted skin of his arm, "then he controls you. But that doesn't make any sense. If he's got magic himself, he could just do it and leave me out of it. If he's strong enough to control me, then he should be able to control you, right?"

They both contemplated that for a minute, and then Derek spelled out NOT CONTROL YOU W MAGIC?. Underneath it he wrote: THREATS?

"My dad," Stiles said, the words settling like a brick. Then, "Scott."

Derek didn't say anything, only gave him a sympathetic look.

The enormity of what the old man had planned was becoming more and more clear, and he must have wanted Derek under his control very, very badly to go through all this trouble, with two kidnappings, the blood magic, and then on top of it the hassle of keeping a mage and an alpha werewolf captive for an entire month until the spell could be completed. Just capturing an alpha alone would be extremely difficult, holding him almost impossible—unless you could put him in a magicked collar and lock him up in the middle of the woods, and make him invisible to all forms of tracking.

The only thing that didn't make sense was why, if he knew so much about magic, the old man wasn't taking control of Derek himself, rather than having Stiles do it. Incorporating a middleman just seemed unnecessarily complicated. The only reason Stiles could come up with was that the old man wasn't strong enough magically to make the blood spell work, but Stiles probably was. He'd never done it, but there was no doubt in his mind he could, once they removed the tincture and forced him to do the spellwork.

If they'd done any research on Stiles beforehand—which they had to have—they'd know all about him, who he was close to, how he practiced. They'd know full well that he would balk at blood magic, but they'd also know how to force him to do it anyway. Derek's theory was likely correct: the old man was going to make Stiles choose between Derek and his family.

But there were some other things the old man didn't know. He'd meant for Stiles and Derek to be held separately, and they would have been, if not for a mix-up. They shouldn't have been together all this time, shouldn't have seen each other at all, shouldn't have—shouldn't have been doing what they were doing. When the time came, Stiles was supposed to be given a choice between a stranger and the people he loved.

But that wasn't the case anymore, and Stiles had only one reaction to this nasty bit of news: "Well, fuck that."

~*~

They finally took a break when the toadies showed up—with fried chicken, much to Derek's unrestrained joy—and Stiles was glad for the excuse. That whole conversation had been really depressing, and he needed some time to brood over it.

Derek picked up on Stiles' low spirits and practically doted on him while they had dinner, sitting close and fussing over how much he ate, nudging the carton of mashed potatoes closer to Stiles' knees. Stiles ate a little more, just to make Derek happy, but the food was flavorless to him, and kept wanting to stick in his dry throat.

Before today, he'd been completely in the dark about what was coming if they didn't manage to get out. He hadn't thought much beyond escape, because he could only solve problems he knew about, and he hadn't known exactly what would happen if they didn't get free. That ignorance had been a blessing in a lot of ways, and he missed it a little, but at least now he was prepared. He knew what his options were.

Blood magic, if done wrong, was deadly. Stiles had never attempted that kind of spellwork, because he preferred to not be evil if he could help it, but he was experienced and capable, and odds were good he could pull it off if he wanted to. But if he did manage to get them both through it alive, they'd be doomed to a life of servitude.

That wasn't an option. Full stop. If it came down to it, he would bungle the spell on purpose so it killed them both.

So that was Plan B: murder/suicide.

Things just kept getting better and better.

~*~

As soon as they were done eating, Derek went right back to his alphabet, anxious to tell Stiles more about himself and how he had ended up here. Once he got going, Stiles realized that was only slightly less depressing than what the old man had planned for them, but he certainly wasn't going to discourage Derek from talking about whatever his heart desired. He'd been telling Derek all about his life for weeks now, and still knew almost nothing about Derek he hadn't already known when they got here. No matter how much of a bummer it turned out to be, he wanted to know more about him.

Derek explained that in order to hold their Beacon Hills territory unchallenged, once a year the Hale alpha had to visit it. The family hadn't planned on returning full-time, but their territory was big and desirable, not too urban and not too isolated, and had the Preserve in the middle of it. It had been in the family for generations. Despite the tragedy of the fire, it was worth keeping.

PETER WAS ALPHA AFTER FIRE, Derek said, and then explained that Peter had made the trip the first year, while Derek and Laura stayed in New York. After only a few days they'd lost contact with him, which had prompted a frantic trip to Beacon Hills that only led to dead ends. A few weeks later, Laura's eyes had suddenly flared red as she inherited the role of alpha. The three surviving Hales were reduced to two.

Then Derek spelled out EIGHT YEARS AGO and stared at Stiles, waiting for him to make the connection.

"Whoa. Hold the goddamn phone," Stiles said, when he finally did. "Are you saying your uncle bit Scott and Lydia?"

THINK SO, Derek said, nodding.

Well that certainly explained a lot of things, like why the alpha who bit Scott had just abandoned him instead of bringing him into the pack, which had always been a puzzle. It still didn't explain Lydia's immunity, but maybe nothing ever would.

And it also explained their miracle rescue the night of the attack, if the "campers" who had showed up so quickly—suspiciously quickly, in retrospect—and armed to the teeth had actually been the old man's people, in the process of capturing a werewolf. If they'd shot him up, poisoned him in some way to make him weak, no wonder he'd indiscriminately attacked and bitten the first people he'd stumbled upon. He'd been in survival mode, probably panicking, out of his mind with poison.

It had been mystery Stiles had given up on ever solving, and now, all these later, due to the weirdest combination of events, he knew the answer.

"Have you known this all along?" he asked Derek. "That he bit Scott?"

NOT UNTIL YOUR STORY, Derek wrote.

"Did you even know about Scott?" It seemed odd that Derek had come back to his pack's territory and not be bothered to seek out a strange wolf living in it.

But Derek just shrugged and wrote, KNEW THERE WAS WOLF IN BH

OTHER THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT FIRST

Like staying alive, Stiles thought. Bringing an omega into his pack, or driving him out of town, was probably low on Derek's list of things to do. As badly as Derek had needed to strengthen his position by building his pack, he couldn't take the chance that Scott would challenge him for the title of alpha and win. In another town, it would have been unlikely they would have lived side by side as long as they had without a conflict. Scott's easygoing attitude toward his territory and position had certainly worked in Derek's favor.

WILL TALK TO HIM WHEN WE GET HOME, Derek said. ALWAYS ROOM FOR BETAS

"Uh, okay," Stiles said, not sure he wanted to break the news to Derek that just because he had realized he was Scott's alpha didn't mean Scott was going to be eager to be Derek's beta. There were probably things Scott would be less enthused about, but Stiles couldn't think of one right now. "So then Laura was the alpha?" he prompted, unashamedly steering the conversation away from Scott.

Not that the story got any less comfortable to hear once Derek got back on track. The Hales just couldn't catch a break, it seemed.

In the early days of their grief, Laura had taken in an omega in New York—a college student named Jamal--making them a pack of three again. After that, Derek and Laura made the trip to Beacon Hills together every year, sometimes with Jamal, and one year with an additional beta, an older woman who had briefly joined their pack before dying in a subway accident.

Last year Derek and Laura had made the trip to California together, and spent just one night in Beacon Hills before disaster struck. After so many years of the trip going off without a hitch, they'd gotten careless about always sticking together, and the old man must have been watching their every move, because all it took was fifteen minutes apart and Laura was gone.

LIKE SHE DISAPPEARED, he wrote. NO SCENT TRAIL

"I thought so," Stiles nodded. His theory about the scent masking had been correct. That didn't bode well for their rescue, but he'd all but given up on that as an option anyway. "There's a spell. I’m sure the old man knows about it."

He'd looked for her for weeks anyway, Derek explained, hoping he'd find any kind of lead to follow, someone who knew something. He'd kept up the search right up until the end. Right up until his eyes turned red, just as Laura's had before him.

Alone, and now convinced someone was purposely hunting down the Hale pack specifically, he decided to stay and hold his ground. The former omega in New York had a human wife and a baby on the way, and declined to join him, so Derek had no choice but to give the bite to whomever he could find, recruit new pack members to build his strength and hopefully keep himself alive. He was the last Hale left, but he wasn't giving up.

He'd been making progress, slowly growing his pack, staying vigilant, but it hadn't been enough. The old man had eventually gotten him, too.

"And here we are. Full circle," Stiles said, letting out a shaky breath. He had genuinely wanted to know more about Derek, about his family and his life and how he'd ended up here. He just hadn't planned on it being so difficult to hear. "That's…wow."

SORRY, Derek wrote, looking a little guilty for inflicting his tragic life story on Stiles. He reached out a hand for more letters, but Stiles grabbed his arm and stopped him. He didn't want to watch Derek continue to apologize for being a victim.

"Don't be sorry. I want to know everything. And you've listened to me talk for weeks," Stiles said, and he meant it, but he'd kind of had his fill of bad news for the day, and wouldn't mind a change of topic. "Maybe we should take a break, though. Focus on something else for a little while?"

They sat in silence for a few seconds, and then Derek pushed a few more letters across the floor. BLOWJOB? he spelled out, giving Stiles a hopeful look.

"I can't believe it took you so long to get there," Stiles said, and gave him what he asked for.

~*~

"I think my brain is dribbling out my ears," Stiles mumbled a little while later as he slumped forward onto Derek's chest; who cared about the mess squishing between them, they had running water and five tiny bars of soap left. He'd finally convinced Derek to fit his hand around Stiles' while he jerked himself off, giving him the illusion of fucking into Derek's fist until he came all over the both of them. It had been well worth all the groveling. "That was fucking great, dude."

Derek made a pleased hum and licked at the sweat on Stiles' temple. He was half-hard again already, just from getting Stiles off, but was being polite about it. He didn't always go for a second one, though Stiles was usually more than willing.

"Next step, just your hand," Stiles sighed, stretching out to cover Derek's body completely with his own. "I know we can pull it off. You're good at keeping the claws out of the way."

Derek made a doubtful sound—which he always did when Stiles suggested something Derek thought might end up accidentally drawing blood—so Stiles lifted his head and kissed the corner of his mouth.

"It'll be fine. I've got a taste for danger," he grinned. He hadn't lied when he said he didn't have a werewolf kink—that was still true. But over the course of the last few weeks he'd definitely begun to look at the claws and the fangs differently. Not as weapons, or a threat, but as things that were simply another part of Derek, just like all the rest of him. A dangerous part of Derek, yes, but it was a safe danger. Derek would never intentionally hurt him.

When Derek snorted and lapped at his lower lip, Stiles said, "Scott always used to say I wasn't happy unless I was about to do something that could end badly, but he totally trumped me forever on that one when he started dating a hunter."

Derek's reaction to Stiles' offhand joke was immediate and violent. He sat up so fast Stiles had to scramble to not face plant into the mattress. Stiles didn't even get a chance to ask what the hell was wrong before Derek was off the bed, hunched down over the alphabet, hands moving quickly. Stiles reluctantly inched off the mattress so he could see around Derek's broad back, wondering what the hell he'd done now.

Derek had written, DONT TRUST

"Don't trust who? Scott's girlfriend?" Stiles asked, confused. When Derek nodded emphatically, Stiles said, "Allison's fine. She's from this old hunter family, the Argents. They've been around forever, everyone knows them."

Rather than reassuring him, that only made Derek more agitated. He reached for more letters, adding to what he'd already written. His face was pinched and white. ARGENTS KILLED MY FAMLY, it said. Derek sometimes left letters out when he was in a hurry or his emotions were running high.

"Hunters have a code," Stiles protested, but Derek's teeth were bared and he snarled as he slapped his hand down on the floor next to the first thing he'd written, sending the S and the T skittering away, but his message was emphatic and crystal clear: DONT TRUST

"They would never hurt Scott," Stiles insisted. "Her family is great, and Scott and Allison have this whole star-crossed lovers thing going and—"

Derek snapped his teeth on a furious growl and swept all his words away with his hand, eyes wild. He stalked away, then turned back, visibly distressed, and pawed at the collar, a habit he'd picked up recently, when he got frustrated with his limited ability to communicate with Stiles. The alphabet, while a giant leap forward, still wasn't enough right now.

There was nothing Stiles could do but sit silently, waiting.

Derek eventually came back to the letters and stared at them a bit, his entire body singing with tension. He took a deep breath, hands hovering over the letters for a moment, like he wasn't sure if he wanted to say more.

WHEN I WAS 16, he wrote at last. KATE ARGENT TRICKD ME

"Tricked you how?" Stiles asked, still thinking this had to be a misunderstanding. Hunters didn't just kill werewolves indiscriminately, or wipe out entire packs by burning them alive. Especially the Argents, who were the oldest hunter clan around, and went out of their way to protect innocent people.

They only killed bad wolves. And almost Scott that one time, due to a misunderstanding, but that was water under the bridge, and Scott wasn't dead after all, and they were all friends now. Allison's family had helped Scott and his friends deal with freaky shit in Beacon Hills a bunch of times since then, and vice versa. They were allies.

Derek jerked his chin meaningfully toward the bed and Stiles…Stiles thought about Allison's Aunt Kate, who had thrown herself a big thirtieth birthday party several years ago where Stiles and Scott and Allison absconded with a whole lot of beer they weren't old enough to drink. The Hale fire had been several years before that, so Kate would have been in her mid-twenties...

"When you were sixteen she was an adult," Stiles said, sickened. "She…?" He couldn’t bring himself to articulate it, but he didn't have to. Derek nodded, once, sharply.

I TOLD HER TOO MUCH

USED IT AGAINST US

Stiles sat back on the edge of the mattress, shocked. Kate Argent had seduced a teenager and killed almost his entire family, wiped them out in one fell swoop, an act so horrific it had driven the survivors to flee to the other side of the country.

"You're right," he said unsteadily. "You're right not to trust them. You're absolutely right." Something changed in Derek's face, the intense determination giving way to something more vulnerable and pained, and all Stiles could do was reach for him. "I'll tell Scott when we get home. I'll tell him."

Appeased, Derek came back to bed at Stiles' urging, but he was still worked up, and it took more than a few minutes of petting and kissing to distract him and calm him down. Stiles made him roll over and be the little spoon, and wrapped his arms around him tight. After a while, Derek finally dozed, chest rising and falling in a deep, even rhythm as Stiles watched the shadows move across the wall.

Stiles believed him. There was no question of that. Of all the Argents, Stiles knew Kate was the most likely to be the shoot first, ask questions later type—he'd walked into more than one battle with her, seen her do some things that made him uncomfortable. He'd never suspected her capable of doing something as cold and calculated as what Derek had just told him, but everything about Derek's body language and distress said he was telling the truth.

Derek had to carry an overwhelming amount of guilt over what he'd unknowingly helped Kate Argent do, and the real kicker was that the fire had been just the beginning of a string of tragedies for him. Then he'd watched his few remaining family members disappear one by one, leaving him all alone. And now here he was, kidnapped and held by the same man who killed Peter and Laura. Tortured, held in a feral state, facing a lifetime of magical bondage at the old man's mercy.

Stiles wasn't really sure how much more he could bear to learn about Derek.

He'd always thought it was a bit of a miracle Derek had grown to trust him so quickly, but he'd had no idea. No idea at all.

~*~

Derek seemed fine the next day, and Stiles did his best to keep his own spirits up, because the last thing Derek needed was Stiles moping around, being a Gloomy Gus. What was in the past was in the past, and dwelling on it now wouldn't help either of them. Stiles' time was better spent making Derek happy in the present.

The days went a lot faster when they had sex and conversation to keep them busy, and when Stiles wasn't coming his brains out or asking Derek important questions like which Hemsworth brother he'd have sex with if he had to choose one, he continued to puzzle over how to get them out of here.

Derek had given a valiant effort at figuring out the verbiage for the barrier spell, but it was no use. He wasn't familiar with magic, or any of the common languages used for spells, and even trying to spell the words out phonetically didn't give Stiles much to go on. There were a lot of arcane, nearly forgotten languages used in magic, and it was entirely possible even Stiles wasn't familiar with the one Geraldo was speaking.

"It was a long shot anyway," Stiles tried to console him, when Derek got frustrated and scattered the letters with an angry flick of his hand. "We'll figure something else out."

They had no other choice, really. It was increasingly clear Stiles wasn't going to be able to bring down the barrier, not with the limited resources at his disposal. That meant they had to wait until Geraldo took it down, which meant having to overpower two armed men, and then, in order for Derek to get past the door, break the line of mountain ash, something that would have been child's play for Stiles if he had access to his magic, but now would require an outside boost.

Killing the person who had magicked the line was a surefire way of disabling it, but they had no way of knowing if it was either of the two toadies. Stiles thought not—Geraldo didn't seem to be an actual practitioner, just a guy who could recite the right words, and Stiles didn't get a magic vibe off the other guy at all.

He watched the hash marks collect on the closet wall with growing despair.

~*~

In the end, it was Derek who finally set things in motion.

On the twenty-third day they were lounging in bed after some morning orgasms, and Derek was licking softly at Stiles' arm, which he often did. He was a licker in general, but he had a couple favorite non-sexual places he seemed fond of—the round of Stiles' right bicep, his left collarbone, the rune that was directly over his heart. Stiles wasn't inclined to discourage him. It felt good, and it wasn't like Derek had any other hobbies.

Stiles was drowsing a little, being slowly lulled back to sleep by the steady sweep of Derek's tongue, when Derek finally scooted down the bed and settled, throwing an arm over Stiles' middle and nestling down so his face was shoved half under the small of his back. Stiles had no idea how Derek managed to breathe like that, but he seemed to survive just fine every time.

As Stiles reached down to run his fingers through Derek's hair, the raven on his forearm--another of Derek's favorite tongue bath targets--caught his eye and at first he thought it was a trick of the morning light, but when he brought it up to his face and really looked at it, he knew he wasn't seeing things. The purple stain that covered the raven, the layer of dark magic that was suffocating it, keeping its power locked down where Stiles couldn't get to it, was lighter.

When he touched it lightly with his finger, a welcoming hum warmed his fingertip and Stiles sucked in a breath as the familiar swell of his magic bloomed behind his bellybutton, just for a second, before it curled back in on itself and was gone. That would have felt like failure yesterday, but now it was a victory, because his magic was faint, but it was there. He was pretty fucking far from full power, but odds were good he had enough to pull off something easy, something little.

He trailed his fingers up his arm, looking for any other symbols that were somehow fighting off the dampening spell, and it wasn't until he got to his still wet bicep that he found another, and that was when the penny finally dropped.

The tattoos weren't coming through the tincture. Derek was uncovering them.

Likely not on purpose, though Stiles wouldn't have been surprised to find there was some sort of primal instinct at work, since Derek had been drawn to the tattoos from the very start. But the dampening could only be undone with the help of supernatural forces, and Derek himself was a supernatural force--probably even more so right now, trapped in his shifted state as he was—who could take away pain with a touch. Maybe all the licking had been motivated by an urge to make Stiles feel better, and the side effect was that he was gradually wearing away the tincture's potency.

Derek, by virtue of his affection for Stiles, was bringing Stiles' magic back to the surface, just as Stiles, by virtue of his affection for Derek, was bringing Derek's humanity back to the surface. They were slowly breaking the old man's magic down without even consciously trying.

That was what was going to save them, Stiles realized, his heart swelling with hope. The old man had done what he could to control them, keep them weak, but any spellcaster worth a damn knew there was one thing more powerful than any magic that could be conjured up with words, and that was the bond between two people who were willing to do anything for each other. The power of human love.



Art by Rahciach

~*~

"You guys still have my wallet?" Stiles asked Geraldo that night, after taking possession of a rack of ribs, a square of cornbread, and a new package of toilet paper. "I kinda want it back."

The bald guy sneered at Stiles, rolled his tongue in his mouth like he was collecting a nice big mouthful of tobacco juice, and said, "This guy thinks—"

"There's a picture of my mom in it," Stiles said over him. He was so over bald guy's shtick. "She died when I was ten. Can I get it back?"

Geraldo didn't answer him, but sure enough, he brought the wallet the very next day, balanced atop another bucket of fried chicken. Someone had gone through it and taken out all the money—the bastards—and Stiles' one credit card, and his license. They'd also found the little Ziploc bag of clary sage that was stashed in a small slit in the lining, but that was fine, because it was meant to be a decoy.

The picture of his mom was still there, though. It had been taken by Stiles' dad, when she was pregnant with Stiles, just far enough along to show as a little bowling ball under her shirt. People sometimes said that pregnant women glowed, and Stiles believed it, because his mom was positively radiant in the picture, smiling wide, one hand resting on the little bump of Stiles in her belly.

For the first time in a long time, Stiles felt tears prick his eyes when he looked at the picture, suddenly struck by how young and happy his mom looked, only a few years older than Stiles was now. He still missed her, every day. And right now he missed his dad, and he missed Scott and Allison and Lydia and Danny, the only family he had now. Derek, who was crouched next to him on the floor, let out a low, keening whine and anxiously nosed at his face.

"I’m okay, buddy," Stiles reassured him, sniffling, and scratched Derek's ears until he relaxed. "I'm fine. Just thinking about stuff."

While Derek hovered next to his elbow and watched with rapt attention, Stiles used the nail they'd scavenged to score the edge of the laminate and then carefully separate the layers with his thumbnail so he could pull them apart. The back of the photo that could be seen through the laminate covering wasn't actually the back of his mom's photo--it was the back of one of Scott's graduation pictures. Pressed flat between Mom and Scott was a single four leaf clover, undamaged, all four leaves still attached. Stiles breathed a sigh of relief and carefully closed the whole thing back up and put it in the box with the matches.

Then he tackled Derek onto the mattress and hugged the hell out of him.

It was gonna happen. They were getting out of here.

~*~

The simplest and most obvious plan was to break the ash line and wait in the house to ambush the toadies, but if they noticed the line was broken, they'd have a heads up that something was going on. Derek and Stiles would be sitting ducks in the house.

Given that drawback, the most foolproof way was also the riskiest and the hardest, but it had to be done. They were going to have to wait for Geraldo to bring down the barrier, take out both him and the bald guy, break the ash line, and then run for their lives.

They took most of a day to hash out the plan, and they had one huge fight somewhere in the middle, because both of them were stubborn assholes when you got right down to it, and now that he could "talk," Derek was surprisingly argumentative, and prone to sarcastic putdowns. It only made Stiles like him more, honestly.

Finally, they agreed on a plan, and then spent another day getting everything ready.

On the floor in the bedroom, where they weren't in plain view if someone unexpectedly showed up, they unrolled a couple cigars and then refashioned them into golf-ball sized bombs spiked with taco seasoning. The bombs wouldn't kill anyone, but the pepper in them would burn like hell when it got in their eyes. While Derek was making a small torch out of more cigar wrappers and some magazine pages, Stiles fashioned a slingshot from the plastic pincher toy and the rubber band, which would be his taco bomb delivery system.

The next part Stiles had to do himself, except for one very important detail at the end that was all on Derek.

First Stiles used the nail to scrape a small pile of copper shavings off the pennies, which he carefully mixed with the salt. After he rolled the queen of hearts into a small cone and secured it with the paper clip, he poured the salt and copper mixture into it, followed by the eyes from the dead moth. He only needed one more ingredient for this stage.

The thing ordinary people didn't know about spells was that most of the silly wording everyone was familiar with was metaphorical. "Eye of newt" could be an eye from anything that wasn't a mammal—Stiles had learned the hard way you couldn't cross those streams—and "blood of a dragon" just meant blood from any supernatural creature. Luckily, Stiles happened to be rooming with one.

When he held the cone out, Derek didn't even hesitate to poke a claw into the tip of his own finger and squeeze a few drops of blood into the salt mixture. Stiles stirred it around with the spork handle, and gingerly propped it in the corner of the cigar box. It would be inert until he added the clover, which he wouldn't do until he needed it.

Once that was done, they spent several hours running through the plan over and over, miming it out in the front room, improvising different versions for any variables they could predict. The problem with variables, Stiles knew, was that it was always the one you didn't think of that bit you in the ass. They'd cross that bridge when they came to it, and hopefully still be alive when they got to the other side.

The raven on Stiles' arm was almost completely uncovered now--thanks to Derek's diligence once Stiles explained what was happening--and noticeable enough that he always made sure to wear his sweatshirt when the toadies were due to arrive, no matter what the temperature. The tattoo on his breast bone wasn't far behind, and those were the two most powerful marks on him. He could feel the magic thrumming in his body all the time now, muted but still there, and when he'd handled the salt/copper mixture, when he double-checked to make sure the clover was still there and still intact, he had felt the power in him reaching for those things, hungry like an animal, ready to come forth when he called it.

Stiles was ninety percent sure he had enough juice in him to break the mountain ash, with the help of the few materials he'd managed to collect, but it had been years since he'd had to rely on physical objects for such a simple spell, and magic was like a muscle; you had to use it to keep it strong. It worried him that he couldn't practice the spell—he only had the supplies for one go at it.

"If I can't break the line…" Stiles started to say, when they were sitting on the bedroom floor, refining the plan one more time, but Derek was already moving letters around.

YOU GO

COME BACK FOR ME

Stiles wanted to protest, to tell Derek he would never leave him, but they both knew it was their best bet. If only one of them could get out, they at least had a chance. Derek would just have to survive until Stiles could either find a way to break the line, or come back with help. Stiles thought the odds of Derek being able to do that were frighteningly low, but he didn't mention it. Derek was probably well aware of it, too.

"Let's run through it again," Stiles said, and Derek gave him a look like he knew it was an avoidance tactic, but he got up and followed Stiles into the front room.

Derek only let him avoid it for so long, though. That night, after they ate their dinner, he resolutely tugged Stiles into the bedroom. Stiles played dumb, leering at him and pretending he couldn't tell Derek wasn't actually trying to get him into bed, but Derek would have none of it, and rebuffed Stiles' blatantly obvious attempt to distract him via a blowjob. He gently but firmly held Stiles off and crouched over his alphabet instead.

TOMORROW, Derek spelled out, and Stiles felt a little like he might throw up, because there were too many reasons he didn't feel ready, and he couldn't stop thinking of all the things that could go wrong, of the chances tomorrow would end in the death of one or both of them. But staying here would only mean something worse.

"Okay," he said shakily, because he knew they had no choice, and for once he was the one who hid his face in Derek's neck.

~*~

Naked in bed that night, Stiles rolled them over so he was on top, folding his legs on either side of Derek's hips, feeling him hard and smooth in the cleft of his ass. Derek ran his flat palms up Stiles' thighs and then held Stiles still with one open hand on his hip while he carefully curled the fingers of the other around Stiles' cock to cup it against his palm, keeping his claws out of the way. He couldn't make an actual fist around him, but it was still Derek's hand on his cock, and Stiles loved it.

He rolled his hips a little, working himself in and out of Derek's grip, watching the way Derek watched him. "I want to," he said meaningfully, grinding down. "Do you want to? Can we?"

Derek's eyes widened and then he began nodding frantically, hips pushing up like just the thought of being inside Stiles was making them move.

He hated to get up, but Stiles did it anyway, darting across the hall to the bathroom and fumbling around in the dark until he found the small bottle of lotion. When he came back to bed Derek tumbled him down onto it and then licked Stiles' ears as he rutted down between his legs, rubbing their cocks together.

Stiles loved having his ears played with, and the friction on his dick was a little too good. "Stop, or we aren't going to get to the fucking," he laughed, pushing at Derek's chest. Derek huffed at him, but sat back on his heels and let Stiles get on with it before it was too late.

The lotion was thin and greasy, and smelled like those gross fake vanilla candles everyone's mom loved, which was a pretty unsexy image, but Stiles had Derek kneeling naked between his legs to compensate for that, and he was more than enough. Undeterred, Stiles slicked his fingers and pulled one knee up, slowly working himself open with his fingers while Derek mostly just got in the way, licking at the inside of Stiles' thighs, making little pleased noises as he watched, like just seeing Stiles fingering his own ass was really doing it for him. The fact that it was doing it for Derek was really doing it for Stiles.

"Okay, I'm ready," Stiles said, voice wobbling a little, as he shoved Derek down onto his back. It was an understatement of grand proportions. He was dying to have Derek inside of him.

Stiles used some more lotion on Derek's dick, getting a little too into the slippery slide of him in his fist, until Derek pushed his hand away and then grabbed his cock by the base and held himself up, his closed fist on Stiles' rib cage, urging him up and over. Stiles didn't need much urging.

He watched Derek's face as he sank down on him, the way his eyes fluttered closed when Stiles took him all the way. Stiles loved this part, those first intense, shivery seconds where he finally got what he wanted, but was also only just getting started. Derek felt huge and hot, like he was setting Stiles' entire body on fire from the inside out, and he sucked in a sharp breath when Stiles' whole body jerked involuntarily, clenching around him when he pictured what it must look like, Derek disappearing inside of him, buried all the way.

Derek's eyes opened when Stiles slid his hands up his rib cage, circling his nipples with his thumbs until they peaked.

"Is this good?" Stiles asked him, breathless, and Derek nodded.

His hands settled on Stiles' hips when he started to gently rock forward and back, then came up to cup his face when Stiles leaned down to kiss him, licking at his mouth, their tongues touching briefly, kissing as best they could around Derek's fangs.

With everything that was at stake tomorrow still in the back of his mind, Stiles did his best to make it last, slowing down when either of them got close to coming, wallowing in the feel of finally having Derek inside him. Maybe Derek was having the same thoughts, because he let Stiles do whatever he wanted, watching him move on top of him, making appreciative sounds and short whining moans that got increasingly desperate the longer Stiles dragged it out, until Derek pushed himself up onto his arms, licking frantically at Stiles' mouth, sucking on his neck, which meant he was close.

Stiles' thighs were beginning to shake by the time Derek started making little begging sounds in his throat, asking Stiles not to stop the only way he could. Beyond ready to come himself, Stiles finally reached down and closed his sweaty fist over his own cock. It only took a few strokes before he was coming, splattering Derek's stomach, which only ratcheted up Derek's desperation. As Stiles rode out the twitchy aftershocks, Derek started lifting his hips, shoving up into him, eyes squeezed shut as he chased his own orgasm.

"I can't wait to hear you say my name," Stiles gasped against the side of Derek's face, and Derek made a fierce, pained sound into Stiles' neck when he came.

~*~

They spent their last day in captivity alternately running through the plan by getting into place and walking through it as Stiles narrated the steps one by one, and going back to bed to have increasingly desperate sex. Stiles was a little too tender to take Derek again--the lotion had made passable but not great lube, and things had gone on a little too long--but there were still other things they could do.

The day seemed to both drag on forever and pass all too quickly, and Stiles was jittery with nervous energy even Derek couldn't fuck out of him. Right around the time he thought he couldn't take it anymore, the sun started to sink behind the trees. Dusk was coming, whether he wanted it to or not.

They got dressed and double-checked everything one final time, made sure everything was in place where it should be, and then sat down in the middle of the front room to wait. Stiles was nervously gnawing on his thumbnail when Derek suddenly stiffened and stared at the door. The toadies were coming.

Stiles had told himself he was going to be steely and stoic about it, but at the last minute he caved and threw his arms around Derek instead, desperate to touch him one last time before the bloodshed started. Derek hugged him tightly, then pulled back enough to kiss him, licking at his open mouth, before he buried his face in Stiles' neck for a moment. Stiles could hear the toadies now, talking to each other as they ambled through the woods. They were out of time.

As Stiles reluctantly eased back, trying to stop his lower lip from quivering, Derek pressed a small piece of paper into Stiles' hand, curling his fingers tight around it, and kissed him one last time before he let go. He turned away to crouch in place in front of the open door as Stiles scurried into the hallway, heart hammering in his chest.

After Stiles shut the bathroom door behind him, he took a moment to open his hand and look down at Derek's mysterious gift. He could already hear the dull thuds of the toadies' footsteps on the porch, so he only had a second to look at it before he had to shove it in the pocket of his jeans and reach for the slingshot.

Derek had given him a piece torn from one of the magazines that were nothing but tatters now. They would never have to use them again after tonight, one way or the other, so they were leaving behind the ragged letters and pictures that had finally enabled Derek to talk to Stiles, to tell him exactly what he was thinking and feeling. All the little slips of paper were still on the floor in the bedroom. All except this one, a picture Derek had never used before.

It was a little red heart.

~*~

Maybe it was just that they were overdue for something good to happen, or maybe it was the four leaf clover's well-known powers, but they got a stroke of luck that night: Hatchet Face, who wasn't nearly as smart or mean as the bald guy, was back.

Hidden in the bathroom, Stiles didn't realize it until Hatchet Face spoke. "Hey, where's the kid?" he asked, sounding surprised instead of suspicious, which was his downfall.

Stiles was surprised, too, so much that he almost flubbed his line. It was a beat too long before he yelled, "I'm in the bathroom! Can't a guy get a little privacy around here?" Then he flushed the toilet for emphasis, and while it was still whooshing he struck a match and lit the torch, which was jammed into the molding around the door.

The torch flared to life like it was headed for the Olympics, just as the prototype they'd made two days ago had, and Stiles grabbed one of the taco bombs from his sweatshirt pocket and lit it. When he opened the bathroom door, that was Derek's cue. He charged the toadies with an angry howl as Stiles stepped out of the bathroom, slingshot already loaded with one burning projectile, hissing as the flames licked at his fingers, little sparks popping when the fire met the magic that flowed through his veins. Sparks that the bombs would carry when Stiles let go.

Geraldo had gotten complacent, used to Derek being docile now, and it took him completely by surprise when Derek attacked, startled by the viciousness even if he knew he couldn't actually get to him. The food went flying as Geraldo tried to get his gun out of the waistband of his pants, screaming something Stiles couldn't understand. Hatchet Face had a crossbow, but it was probably luck more than skill that enabled him to fire it with any accuracy. Derek yelped as an arrow lodged in his shoulder, but Stiles was already letting the first of the taco bombs fly. His aim was good, because he'd been practicing with balls of fast food wrappers weighted with scraps of hamburger buns.

The taco bomb hit Hatchet Face square between the eyes and exploded, sending sparks and burning tobacco and red pepper everywhere, and the crossbow hit the porch with a clatter as he shouted in pain. Stiles already had the second bomb burning and ready to go, aimed at Geraldo, who was still fighting for his gun with his own pants. When Stiles fired, Geraldo managed to duck behind the door frame and only took a glancing shot, the taco bomb hitting the side of his head and ear.

Hatchet Face was screaming, scrabbling at his face, but it was Geraldo who made the fatal error. He stepped around the door frame with his gun drawn, aiming for Stiles, but in his haste he stuck his arm over the line of mountain ash and Derek had him, had him down on the floor, fangs sunk in his throat, and Geraldo struggled, convulsed, went still. Derek lifted his bloody jaws away from Geraldo's torn neck and spat a mouthful of bright red blood onto the floor.

Stiles didn't have time to be grossed out. Hatchet Face had fallen backwards down the porch steps, but was now back on his feet and trying to make his way to the trees, screaming that he was blind, clawing at his eyes. By now he would have attracted the attention of the driver.

Reminding himself to stay calm, Stiles grabbed the little cone off the shelf in the kitchen, carefully picking up the clover next to it and carried them to the door where he knelt at the ash line. Derek spat on the floor again, eyes fixed on Hatchet Face, who was still stumbling around the yard screaming. Geraldo must have tasted really bad, Stiles thought, with a level of detachment that probably should have been disturbing.

Though they didn't have much time to spare, Stiles took a moment to center himself. This was heavy magic, undoing someone else's work, and they only had one shot at it. He forced himself to take a deep breath and focus before he recited the spell, the hollow in his belly expanding as he said the words, then buzzing pleasantly as his magic came awake, and Stiles knew it was going to work, he just knew it.

He dropped the clover into the cone, and pink sparks shot out the top like little fireworks. There was a hollow POP! and Stiles felt the power whoosh up from his torso and through his hands. A puff of smoke came out of the cone.

Derek was nervously shifting back and forth now, alternately snarling at Hatchet Face and whining at Stiles. Stiles tipped the cone and poured a thin line of the salt mixture, now a shimmery copper color, along the line of mountain ash, which immediately began to turn white. Just as Stiles felt the cascading water sensation of the ash line collapsing, Derek must have sensed it, too, because he barreled through the door and down the steps, and Hatchet Face didn't even hear him over his own wailing.

Derek landed on Hatchet Face's back like a cheetah taking down an antelope, and when Derek got up, Hatchet Face didn't.

Stiles quickly went through Geraldo's pockets, hoping to find a cellphone, but he was either one of the three people in the country who didn't have one or he had purposely left it behind so there was no chance they'd get their hands on it. No time to cry over it, though. He grabbed the gun from the floor and the crossbow from the porch before padding down the steps into the yard, the first time he'd been out of the cabin in nearly a month.

The grass was soft and a little damp under his bare feet, and the sky felt so big above him, high and wide in a way that he'd never noticed before. This wasn't the time to marvel at the wonders of being outside for the first time in weeks, though. He made his way over to Derek and knelt to yank off Hatchet Face's boots.

Derek was pacing impatiently across the grass, zeroing in on every little noise around them with increasing agitation. The shaft of the bolt in his shoulder had broken off when he tackled Hatchet Face, but the head was still embedded in his body, and he was bleeding from the wound. Stiles was pretty sure the rest of the blood on him wasn't actually his.

Hatchet Face's boots were a little small, but better than nothing, so Stiles crammed his feet into them; unlike Derek, he wouldn't make it far in the woods barefoot. While he was tying the second one, Derek suddenly froze, eyes on the path that led into the trees. A quiet growl started in his chest, and Stiles had the sinking feeling their good luck had already run its course, way too soon.

Stiles heard the crossbow let go at almost the same moment the bolt hit Derek in the chest, right between two of his ribs, forcing the air out of him with a pained wheeze. Stiles flattened himself on the ground next to Hatchet Face's body, Geraldo's gun clutched in his hand, and watched helplessly as another bolt hit its mark, this time in Derek's thigh. The third one got him in the throat, right below the collar, and he went down with a horrible strangled gurgle, clutching at his neck.

Derek writhed on the ground, feet kicking at the grass, as Stiles screamed his name, for all the good that would do. A long, awful moment passed where Stiles was sure Derek was dying, and then Derek grabbed the arrow in his neck with both hands and yanked it right out. The squelching, tearing sound it made when it ripped back through the already ragged hole in his throat was horrific, and as he flung it away he flopped over onto his stomach, claws digging furrows into the lawn as he tried to breathe. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.

There was movement in the trees, and the bald guy stepped out into the clearing, crossbow pointed at Derek, but his eyes were on Stiles. "All right, you little asshole, I want you to stand up with your hands in the air! Right now!" he shouted.

On the ground, Derek was trying and failing to get back up on all fours. The arrow in his ribs had punched right through when he fell on it, and Stiles could see the bloody glint of the metal head sticking out of his back. There were awful, wet, rattling sounds coming from his damaged throat, blood spraying everywhere. His eyes were glowing red.

Stiles looked down at the gun in his hand, checking to make sure the safety was off.

"I've got seven more bolts here," the bald guy yelled, coming a few steps closer. "You want to see how many times you can stand to watch me shoot him? The next one goes in his eye socket."

Stiles looked at Derek, still hunched over on the grass, then at the bald guy. He tightened his grip on the gun and slowly got to his feet like he was asked, but instead of putting the gun down he raised it with both hands, aiming it squarely at the bald guy's ugly face.

For a split second, the bald guy looked positively astonished by Stiles' balls, and then he grinned. When Stiles grinned back, the bald guy spit a stream of tobacco juice into the grass and sneered at him.

"You're not gonna shoot me, kid. And even if you did, you'd miss," he said. "Put the fucking gun down or the dog takes another bolt."

Stiles had to bite back a laugh. The bald guy didn't know Stiles was a sheriff's kid. His fucking unlucky day, then.

"This guy thinks I won't shoot him," Stiles said to Derek, and then put a bullet right between the bald guy's eyes.

~*~

Derek, still looking and sounding terrible, helped Stiles roll the bald guy over and search his pockets. He was carrying a phone, but when Stiles thumbed the screen there was no signal. Fuck. He shoved it in the pocket of his jeans anyway, along with a set of keys.

When Stiles turned back around, Derek was busy pulling the bolt out of his leg. It came free with a splintering sound, the head still lodged in his thigh bone, but that seemed good enough for now. He tossed it aside and led Stiles into the woods, limping a little, breath rattling wetly in his damaged throat. He hadn't even bothered to try to take out the arrow that was all the way through his chest, Stiles noticed. He tried not to think about the way it had to be grinding against his ribs, tearing at his lung, every time he moved or breathed.

It was darker deep in the woods, but that wasn't a problem for Derek, who managed to keep them on the path that was barely a path as Stiles trotted along behind, trying not to trip on every rock and tree root in his too-small boots. It was probably only a minute or two, but it felt like they walked forever, Stiles jumping at every little noise, expecting to be ambushed at any second.

Finally, Derek led him to a small patch of gravel next to a blacktop road. Parked there was one vehicle, a Ford Bronco, and the bald guy's key fob opened it.

"Oh, thank God," Stiles said, and Derek made a fervent sound of agreement. Driving away was going to be so much easier than hiking through the forest, especially with Derek wounded.

Stiles opened the door and waited while Derek hopped in and moved over to the passenger seat. It wasn't until Stiles had buckled his seat belt and started the engine that he realized he had no idea which way to go. For all he knew, one way led to Redding and freedom, and the other way straight to the old man's evil lair.

Derek was starting to get impatient, huffing and fidgeting, which gave Stiles an idea. He hit the switch on his armrest that rolled Derek's window down. Derek looked at it, and then at Stiles, making an inquiring noise.

"Can you tell which way we need to go to get to a town?" he asked. Derek didn't answer, but he did stick his head out the window, so he was evidently going to try. Stiles watched as he closed his eyes for a few seconds, as if focusing all his energy to his senses of smell and hearing. When he settled back on the seat, he pointed his chin to the left, and that was where Stiles took the Bronco.

Once they got out on the blacktop they were going downhill, the road full of sharp curves and switchbacks and steep grades, which forced Stiles to keep their speed to a minimum. The sun was almost totally gone now, and Stiles had to fumble around on the dash until he found the headlights. The longer they drove, the more the tense he got, until he thought he was going to lose his mind if they didn't get off this road soon. Every so often he checked the phone, but it was the same every time: no signal.

They passed two other vehicles, both going the other way, and when the first one, a white pick-up truck with a bright yellow grille, went by them, Stiles almost had a heart attack. "Get down!" he hissed at Derek, remembering too late what Derek looked like. The truck kept going, though, and when an RV came trundling up the road a few minutes later Derek ducked down into the foot well without being reminded.

There was a break in the trees next to the road up ahead, and as they went by it Stiles slowed down just enough to take a quick glance. It was an overlook, no more than a small gravel parking strip and a sign. He could see, spread out below in the distance, the unmistakable grid pattern of lights that indicated a city. Redding, probably, but it didn’t really matter. Any city would do.

They were going to make it, they were actually going to make it, Stiles thought giddily, right before a pair of headlights, high beams painfully bright in the rear view mirror, came up behind them, way too fast, and ran the Bronco right off the road.

~*~

When the Bronco finally came to a stop after rolling end over end down a steep embankment, Stiles thought for a terrible, painful second that he was dying. His chest felt like it had been crushed, and he couldn't breathe, and then he realized he was pinned tight by his seatbelt and had had the wind knocked out of him. There were little pieces of shattered glass everywhere, and the Bronco's roof seemed way too low. Next to him, Derek was turned sideways on the seat and already kicking at his door, so he was definitely alive, which was good news.

Forcing down the rising panic over his lack of oxygen, Stiles finally relaxed enough to make his chest work and sucked in a tight, too-small breath, wheezing thinly, and then another that came a little easier. By then Derek had managed to force the door open, but Stiles' seat belt was jammed, and he was trapped. Derek reached down and tore the entire buckling mechanism right out of the seat, then looped a hand under Stiles' arm and dragged him out of the truck.

The Bronco was, amazingly, right side up and sitting almost perfectly square in a gravel parking lot, as if Stiles had parked it there. The only thing that ruined the illusion was the fact that it was smashed to shit and had a scraggly bush stuck in one of the wheel wells.

Stiles also felt smashed to shit, and the ground tilted alarmingly when he put his feet on it, and for a moment he was sure he was going to throw up. He seemed to have some cuts on his face, if the wet stinging sensation was any indication, and his shoulder didn't want to move like it was supposed to. Derek, who hadn't been wearing a seatbelt, was looking even worse for wear than before. His face was dotted with shards of glass, and blood dripped from his chin, which had a gash in it that was already healing. While Stiles swayed like a sapling in the wind, Derek gave an irritated snarl and twisted around to dig something out of the back of his own arm that looked like a ballpoint pen.

It was almost fitting, really, how much like their first day together this was turning out to be: Derek bloody and growling, Stiles dizzy and pukey. Good times.

There was no time to reminisce, though. The white pick-up truck with the yellow grille guard came bouncing into the parking lot on its over-sized tires, solving the mystery of who had run them off the road. The truck had a light rack on the roof, and Stiles could hear the unmistakable chug chug of a diesel engine under its hood. When it came to a stop, angled across the entrance to the lot, Stiles saw there was a logo on the door that said "Bubba's Critter Removal."

"Fuck," Stiles said, with feeling. "Critter" was a codeword. People who called themselves "exterminators" or "pest control experts," those people were all just straight up businesses that killed mice and roaches and stuff, but anyone who claimed to kill critters was also in the business of hunting werewolves.

Just fucking great, Stiles thought. They must have seen Derek in the Bronco when they passed by. Out of the frying pan into the fire, and it was a really bad fire. They were in the territory of a bunch of hunters who didn't know Stiles at all, and had no idea that Derek, wolfed out and blood-streaked and looking like he was barely in control of himself, needed help, not to be put down like a rabid dog. It was going to be really hard to convince them that Derek was harmless.

Stiles was about to try anyway when an arrow went whizzing past Derek's shoulder. Derek and Stiles turned and ran.

The parking lot belonged to a small old-fashioned church, a squat brick building with a white wooden steeple, flanked by black wrought iron fence that looked like it belonged in front of a haunted house. Just beyond the church was a dark expanse of trees. If they could get to the woods, maybe they could lose the hunters.

Derek jigged like he was planning to scale the fence, then must have remembered at the last minute he had an injured human with him and instead ran right up the steps of the church and flung the door open. It had probably been locked, based on the screeching sound it made, but Derek didn't appear to even notice. Behind them, the hunters were shouting, and someone fired their gun, but the bullet hit the door frame just as Stiles ducked through.

They ran full-tilt up the center aisle, and then zigzagged through the pews to get to a small door in the back to the right of the alter, which Stiles hoped led outside. If they could just get to the woods…

They never made it to the woods.

The door did lead outside. When they burst through it into the yard behind the church, Stiles tripped and fell headlong into a plastic sandbox shaped like a turtle. As he scrambled to his feet, spitting sand, Derek was already circling back to him, head whipping wildly around, making urgent sounds. Stiles' chest was aching again, and he couldn't figure out where the hell they'd ended up until he saw the swing set, and the other building directly in front of them, more recently built than the church itself, with a sign indicating it was a Christian pre-school. They were in the playground.

The whole thing was fenced in, more haunted house fence blocking access to the road to their left. To their right was the same, but there it was broken by a double gate, wide enough to drive a dump truck through, and hanging wide open. It led out onto a lawn area with picnic tables and a sagging volleyball net, and beyond that was the woods they'd seen from the parking lot.

Derek bumped into Stiles with his shoulder, urging him in that direction, and Stiles ran hard, almost brained himself on a bird feeder hanging from a tree branch, and then swerved around a tube slide. Derek was ahead of him, moving fast on all fours but checking over his shoulder to see if Stiles was still coming.

It was no use. The white pick-up truck came roaring around the corner of the church and stopped with a jerk across the gate. As Stiles skidded to a stop, the truck's doors opened and two hunters scrambled out, weapons raised. When Stiles spun around, instinctively trying to go back the way they'd come, another hunter, a woman, was already in the church doorway, crossbow at the ready. They were trapped.

The gun they'd taken off Geraldo was still in the Bronco, not that it would have done much good against so many other weapons. Behind him, Stiles felt Derek bump against the backs of his knees, heard him start to growl. He reached back, blindly, and dug his fingers into Derek's shoulder. It was tacky with blood, gritty with dirt, and something that was probably a piece of Bronco glass cut into Stiles' palm.

Their only options were through the hunters or over the fence. There was no way Stiles would make it over the fence, not with a bad arm. But even wounded as he was, it would be no big deal for Derek, and Derek was the one they wanted. Hunters didn't care about humans.

"Derek—" Stiles started to say, turning to look at him, but he never got to finish, never got to tell him to run and save himself, because Derek, having weighed the options and chosen the opposite one Stiles had, rushed at the hunter blocking the church door.

He didn't get far before she threw a flashbang right in his face and he doubled over, howling, blind and deaf, in agony. While he was pawing at his head, she raised the crossbow to her shoulder and leveled it right at him again.

Stiles didn't think, just threw himself in front of Derek, yelling at her to wait, and then something punched Stiles in the side, right above his hip, an explosion of white hot pain, and everything seemed to suddenly drop down into slow motion as he stumbled a few steps forward and looked down. There was blood spreading around a small, round hole in his sweatshirt. He'd been shot.

"I'm human!" he shouted, clamping his hand down over the wound. "I'm human!"

A familiar voice said, "Hear that, boys? He's human."

When Stiles spun around, there was a second truck parked behind the white one, and more people with weapons. Standing at the very front of the group of hunters was Gerard Argent, patriarch of the Argent hunters, ally of Scott and Stiles. He was holding a rifle, muzzle pointed toward the sky.

Stiles wanted to weep with relief. Finally, someone who knew him.

"It's me. Call them off," Stiles gasped. When he pressed down on the hole in his side, trying to slow the bleeding, the pain flared anew, bright and breathtaking. Behind him, Derek was yowling in fury, which probably wasn't reducing Stiles' chances of getting shot again. "He's with me."

A wave of laughter rolled through the group of hunters, and then Gerard smiled, the coldest, most reptilian smile Stiles had seen since Jackson Whittemore.

"Despite what my grand-daughter seems to think, you're not very bright, are you, Mr. Stilinski?" Gerard said, and then raised the rifle to his shoulder and shot Derek in the stomach.

"Stop it! He's down! He's not going to hurt you!" Stiles screamed, and then watched in horror as the hunters opened fire on Derek with everything they had. A crossbow bolt lodged in the meat of his upper arm, and another in his ribs, right next to the broken off remains of the bald guy's bolt, followed by a bullet in his knee, then more bolts, more bullets, until Stiles lost count. Derek jerked with each impact, snarling weakly, but didn't go down completely. He was still on three limbs, one arm wrapped loosely around his mangled midsection. His eyes were barely open, still suffering the effects of the flashbang, and there was so much blood. So much blood.

At a hand signal from Gerard, the barrage finally stopped. Stiles' ears felt hollow. There was a haze of gunpowder smoke in the trucks' headlights.

"What are you doing?" Stiles said helplessly. Every word made pain flare in his side. He could hear Derek's rasping breath, punctuated by high-pitched little whines. "He's—"

"He just killed two of my people," Argent cut him off. "I assume the third one was your handiwork. I doubt Derek would bother with a gun."

"Oh, no," Stiles said, as his legs gave out and he went to his knees. "No no no." This was a fucking nightmare. He could feel the blood welling through his fingers where he had them clamped over the gunshot wound in his side, Derek was slowly dying from the number of crossbow bolts and wolfsbane bullets he'd taken in the last hour, and Gerard Argent was the old man who had been holding them captive this whole time.

"You give up now, boy, you can still live," Gerard called to him.

Stiles knew that was bullshit. "Go fuck yourself," he said, with as much conviction as he could manage, and the rifle went off again, and another bullet found its mark in Derek's body. Stiles slowly wilted to the ground until he was on his back, staring up at the night sky; he felt lightheaded and weird, and his hand was really wet now. He couldn't see Derek anymore, but he could hear his ragged, painful breaths.

Another truck pulled up to join the first two, headlights sweeping over Stiles' prone form. This one had a sign on the side advertising stump grinding services, and a woman got out, tossing her shiny hair as she kicked the door closed and hefted her gun. Derek hissed, hateful and mean, and Stiles recognized Kate Argent's voice when she said, sounding amused, "It looks like these two have made some really bad choices."

Stiles watched her take her place at the front of the group next to Gerard, and cursed his own ignorance. Even after he'd told Derek he believed his story about the fire, he'd been naïve enough to think it was just Kate, that she was a bad apple, but now he knew it wasn't just her at all. There was a whole group of hunters who didn't follow the code, who didn't care who they hurt or killed. And it looked like she and Gerard were the ringleaders.

She was grinning, like nothing pleased her more than seeing Derek and Stiles shot up and bleeding. Before, Stiles had thought she was beautiful and confident and pretty fucking awesome. Now he thought her smile looked terrifying.

"Long time, no see, Derek," she said, resting the butt of her rifle on her cocked hip, like she was Annie Oakley. "How have you been? Lonely, I bet." Her voice dripped with false concern.

"We're great, thanks for asking," Stiles answered. "You wouldn't happen to have any Band-Aids, would you?"

Kate actually laughed at that. "I always liked you, Stiles," she said, smiling patronizingly at him. Stiles regretted every single nice word he had ever said to her. "But you always were a little too invested in keeping your pets safe. Does Scott know you've taken in a stray?"

She turned her attention back to Derek, who was snarling wetly at her. "And you are a stray, aren't you Derek? No home. No family." She sighed in mock pity. "It's such a shame. Pretty thing like you, unloved and unwanted."

"Shut up," Stiles said to her. "Stop talking to him."

"That's enough. Get the boy," Gerard ordered, and despite all his injuries, Derek could still move fast, because suddenly he was crouched at Stiles' side, fangs bared, narrowed eyes glowing red. When two of the hunters started to move toward them, Derek growled deep in his chest and braced himself over Stiles, reaching over him to plant his hands in the dirt next to his hip, sheltering him beneath the bulk of his body.

Derek was trembling, and panting heavily, all the holes in his lungs forcing him to fight for every breath. Stiles could see Derek's tattered belly, the sickening amount of damage he'd taken, all the places he was bleeding, the spidery black paths of the wolfsbane slowly spreading through his veins, more bolts in him than Stiles cared to count.

Even werewolves had their limits, and Derek had to be getting close to his. He was, in all likelihood, done for. But even so, he was going to stand and fight. Derek would die before he'd let Gerard take Stiles again, Stiles realized. And that was probably what was going to happen. Stiles wanted to close his eyes so he wouldn't have to watch.

"I said get the boy," Gerard said again, cold anger in his voice this time, and Derek opened his mouth and roared, a deep, deafening sound of pure rage that vibrated through Stiles' entire body and left his ears ringing when it finally stopped.

From somewhere in the trees beyond the road came an answering roar.

And then another. And another. The last one came right on the heels of the third, and sounded closer than the rest. Four wolves. Four wolves. Derek's pack was here.

Derek's head swiveled around, focusing in the direction of the nearest response, and then he tipped his head back and howled, a long, ululating wolf call that was immediately answered by the others.

"Oh, fuck," one of the hunters said, but Gerard snapped, "Stand your ground!"

The howls kept coming, from all around them, closer all the time, one picking up before the other one faded so the night echoed with one long, continuous howl. Derek had gone silent, staring at Gerard with an openly challenging look on his face. The tide had turned, and everyone knew it.

The last howl died and silence fell, which seemed to spook the hunters even more. They shifted uneasily, looking into the trees, cocking their weapons, but Gerard only seemed to relish the moment.

"You'll never win—" Gerard started, but his pontificating was interrupted by a cacophony of angry roars and Stiles rolled his head on the ground just in time to see three werewolves come charging across the road and vault over the fence like it wasn't even there. One of them even did a little somersault in mid-air before dropping into a perfect three-point landing. Show-off.

At a sharp vocalization from Derek they formed a loose line behind him and Stiles, growling and hissing at the hunters, eyes flaring bright. Stiles did a double take. Was that Erica Reyes? And Boyd from the skating rink? Isaac? "Why did you bite all the people from my high school?" Stiles asked Derek, but Derek ignored him in favor of staring down Gerard Argent, who was in a righteous fury now.

Then another wolf came leaping off the roof of the church to land between Derek and the hunters, crouched low and snarling at Gerard. Derek snarled, too, and flattened himself a little lower over Stiles, like this wolf was a threat to him. Stiles didn't understand why until Gerard said, "This is none of your business, McCall."

The fourth wolf wasn't one of Derek's betas. It was Scott. Scott had come for him. Stiles was going to hug him so hard when this was over.

"You made it my business when you kidnapped my best friend," Scott said, a little lispy, which meant his fangs were out. "You okay, Stiles?" he asked over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off the hunters.

"Not really," Stiles said weakly. He felt sort of drunk, and was having trouble controlling his eyelids, which kept wanting to stay down. "I think my favorite hoodie is ruined."

The nameless hunters were beginning to shift nervously on their feet, giving each other darting looks, but Gerard and Kate weren't going to back down so easily. Kate glared at them over her shoulder, as if disgusted by their lack of bravery, while Gerard lifted the rifle again, aiming straight at Scott, and said, "I've been waiting for years for a chance to put you down."

"Don't even think about it," Allison said from the church doorway, and before Stiles could even figure out where the hell she'd come from and what had happened to the hunter who had been watching the door, Gerard's rifle fell to the ground and he started screaming, bent over, clutching his arm. There was an arrow lodged in his wrist; Allison had shot the gun right out of his hands.

The other hunters gaped in shock, some of them hefting their weapons like they weren't sure what the hell to do. Their leader had been shot, but by another Argent. It was shorting out their little pea-brains. Kate, on the other hand, raised her gun and leveled it at Allison, who nocked another arrow as she strode past Stiles to stand next to Scott. She aimed right at her aunt without so much as flinching.

"Come on, Allison, don't be this way," Kate said cajolingly. "Young love isn't worth it. Isn't that right, Derek?" she asked, winking at him. She sounded happy. She sounded like she was enjoying this.

"You've betrayed your family!" Gerard yelled at Allison. "Your father would be ashamed to call you his daughter."

"Actually, I'm ashamed to call you my father," Chris Argent said, as he came out of the church with a shotgun.

"Ooooh, burn," Stiles slurred.

On some cue Stiles missed completely, all the wolves but Derek suddenly sprang into action, and Stiles lost the plot for a minute as everything devolved into ear-splitting pandemonium. Weapons were fired and humans screamed and wolves roared, and then more people came spilling out of the church at a dead run and joined the fray. From his vantage point on the ground under Derek—where he was content to stay, thank you very much--Stiles saw a woman in a state patrol uniform, two park rangers, and what looked like a UPS delivery driver run past him. They all had weapons.

"Wow, everyone's here," Stiles said, as what looked like a pom-pon girl carrying an axe let out a mighty scream and leapt right over Stiles and Derek.

"No, now everyone's here," Stiles' dad said, from somewhere behind Stiles' head.

When Stiles rolled his eyeballs up to see, Dad was striding across the grass with a guy dressed in chef's whites.

"Oh my God, this is like a movie," Stiles said woozily. "A violent movie with lots of plot twists and cameos." He thought about Derek. "And hot naked guys."

"That's definitely my kid," Dad said to the chef. He was in his civilian clothes--jeans and a mustard yellow fleece pullover Stiles hated—so he wasn't here as the sheriff, just as Stiles' dad.

Stiles was going to tell him to be careful, to stay out of the fray, but he never got around to it, because it seemed like he blinked and the fight was over. Scott was only a little bloody, wiping his mouth on his sleeve as he plucked a crossbow away from an unconscious hunter in a Metallica T-shirt. The rest of the wolves were pacing a loose circle around Kate and Gerard as they were hauled to their feet by the cop and the UPS man, their wrists already bound with zip ties. The pom-pon girl had one of the hunter guys pinned, sitting on his chest with the handle of her axe braced across his quivering throat. Stiles was a little in love.

Derek hadn't moved from his position at all, for which Stiles was grateful. He didn't look like he could take any more damage.

Dad stopped a few feet away from them. "Is your new friend going to let me come near you?" he asked, raising his eyebrows at Derek, but Derek couldn't have cared less about Dad. He was snarling at Scott, who had shifted back to human and was trying to get closer to Stiles.

"Derek, stop," Stiles said, shoving at his bloody shoulder, and the growling subsided, but he didn't budge from where he was still braced over Stiles. "Scott's my friend, I told you about him."

"Ambulance will be here in five minutes," one of the rangers said as he walked up. He looked at Derek, then at Dad. "Better get him out of here. Bonnie's the only EMT who knows about this stuff, and she's in Vegas getting married."

"I'll take care of it," Dad assured him, and when the ranger walked away, he gave Derek his patented I will not tolerate any bullshit look as he came closer. Derek huffed at him but let Dad kneel down next to Stiles' hurt side, then snapped his teeth at Scott when Scott mistakenly thought the invite included him, too.

"He was my friend first!" Scott protested, but Derek ignored him in favor of giving Dad's arm a thorough sniffing before finally relaxing, as if satisfied this was really Stiles' father and not some imposter.

Dad didn't pay any attention to Derek. He was too busy reaching for Stiles' desperate, fumbling hand and hanging on tight; Stiles' fingers felt really cold in comparison. Dad smoothed his other hand over Stiles' shaggy hair, which made a lump form in Stiles' throat.

"I missed you," Stiles said thickly. "Like, a whole lot."

"I missed you, too, kid," Dad said, voice suspiciously gravely. He looked tired. That was probably Stiles' fault. "You okay?"

"Allison's grandpa shot me," Stiles sniffed.

"And he's gonna be sorry he did," Dad told him. Stiles had no doubt that was absolutely true.

"Derek's hurt, too," Stiles suddenly remembered. He really looked bad, actually, blood still dripping off his body onto Stiles' clothes, eyes glassy. His mouth was hanging open as he struggled to breathe, his whole body shaking.

"I noticed," Dad said, dry as the desert. He put his hand on Derek's shoulder and gently pushed—which Derek just accepted, unlike that time with Stiles in the bathroom, Stiles thought indignantly--and said, kindly, "I need you to move, son. Not far, but enough so I can look at where he's hurt."

It looked like it took all the energy Derek had left, but he slowly managed to arrange himself on all fours on Stiles' good side, one leg cocked funny because of the bolt sticking out of his calf.

Dad was gentle, unzipping Stiles' hoodie and pulling his T-shirt up to get a look at the bullet hole, but even so it was agonizing. He only glanced at it before he pulled his ugly old fleece over his head, folded it into a big square, and pressed it against the wound.

"That's your favorite fleece," Stiles protested.

"And you've wanted me to get rid of it for years. I just didn't realize how far you were willing to go," Dad said. "Ambulance is coming. Just hang on, okay?"

"Okay," Stiles said agreeably, then, "This is Derek," because he'd forgotten to do that and introducing his father to the guy he'd been boning in captivity for weeks seemed like the proper etiquette. "He likes chicken."

"I know who he is," Dad said, laughing softly. "His pack's been helping us look for you." He gave Derek a nod. "We're going to get help for him, too."

Derek never got the chance to acknowledge Dad's words, because his body finally gave out, and he started to slump over. The only thing that saved Stiles from getting impaled by one of the many bolts sticking out of his body was the fact that Boyd and Erica came loping up at just that moment and Boyd managed to grab Derek around his battered middle and hold him up. Derek made a sound like it hurt him, but didn't lash out.

"They shot him a lot," Stiles said, as Derek hung over Boyd's impressively muscled arm like an overcooked noodle. "He needs wolfsbane."

"Yeah, I got that. Thanks," Boyd said. He'd always been a sneakily sarcastic motherfucker. His eyes were still glowing yellow and his shirt was ripped all down the front. It appeared having amazing abs was a prerequisite for being in Derek's pack.

"They'll take care of him," Dad assured Stiles, rubbing his hand in a comforting circle across the top of Stiles' head. "They went through a lot of trouble to get him back."

"Let's get some of these out," Erica said, as she started pulling the bolts out of Derek's poor abused body. "I'll do the ones in his back first," she told Boyd, yanking on the one in Derek's calf. "Then he can at least lie down."

Derek groaned through his clenched jaw, but let her work. They all knew once the bolts came out he could start healing those wounds, though the wolfsbane poisoning was going to be more complicated to fix.

"Sheriff Stilinski, we need you for a second!" one of the cops shouted, and Dad looked around and waved Scott over. Derek growled feebly at Scott as he approached, which Scott ignored.

"Stay here with him," Dad told Scott. "Keep pressure on this."

"Got it," Scott said, but it was Allison who took over the job of pushing painfully on Stiles' side while Scott squeezed his hand and told him he was going to be okay, which Stiles already knew, but it was nice to hear it anyway.

"You guys better get him out of here," Scott said to Erica, nodding at Derek.

One of the arrowheads must have lodged in a bone, because Erica had her foot braced on Derek's hip and was pulling with both hands. "Isaac went to get the car," she said, grunting a little with the effort. "We left it parked in the fire lane up by the other cabin." She stumbled back as the bolt came free at last, and tossed it aside.

"He should be back in a minute," Boyd said, finally letting Derek slump to the ground next to Stiles so he could pull a broken off arrow out of his own thigh. "We're taking him to Deaton. He already knows we're coming."

Derek made a sound of protest at that and clutched at the hood of Stiles' sweatshirt with surprising strength for a guy who looked as terrible as he did. Stiles reached over and petted his hair, sticky with sweat and blood. "Derek, you gotta go now, buddy," he said. "They're gonna take me to the hospital, and you've gotta get all that junk out of you, and get that collar off so you can be a real boy again. You gotta go."

Derek whined low in his throat, but it was more of a sad, accepting sound than actual disagreement. They both knew there was nothing else they could do. As Boyd hauled him up into a sitting position, Derek stubbornly shook him off and shakily propped himself up on one arm long enough to lean down and headbutt Stiles in the face, poking him in the chest with one of the bolts still sticking out of him in the process. It was one of the most romantic things that had ever happened to Stiles.

Stiles was going to say something else, like maybe how he couldn't wait to see Derek again when they weren't kidnapped and dying, or that if he had another one of those paper hearts he'd give it to Derek, or something less profound, but all of a sudden there were flashing lights everywhere, which meant the ambulance had arrived.

"Time's up, boss," Boyd said to Derek, as he and Erica picked him up by his armpits and dragged him into the church, out of sight of the EMTs.

After that things got a little hazy for Stiles. The EMTs seemed really nice, but they asked him lots of questions he wasn't interested in answering, so his dad took care of that for him while Scott hovered anxiously nearby. The next thing he knew he was on a gurney, his dad saying of course he was going to ride in the ambulance.

"Hey, Stilinski," Erica said, walking into his field of vision, which seemed to be getting narrower and narrower. They were wheeling him toward the ambulance; the ground was kind of rough, and the ride was bouncy.

Stiles blinked up at her. She wasn't wolfed out anymore. "Wow, you're hot now," he blurted. "Very lipsticky."

Erica smirked at him. "Forget it, I have boyfriends," she said, and while Stiles was still trying to figure out if he'd heard that right, she said, "I just wanted to say thanks."

"For what?" Stiles asked, confused. "I didn't do anything."

She arched a knowing eyebrow at him. "He seems really attached to you. You must have done something."

"I didn't get to say goodbye," Stiles said pitifully, but they were already loading him in the ambulance, and the ranger had said the EMTs weren't down with werewolves, so there was nothing he could do.

It was starting to dawn on Stiles that he'd lost a lot of blood and was probably going to pass out soon, for like the fourth time in a month. He was already fading, starting to go under, when they closed the ambulance door, and the last thing he heard was Derek's long, mournful howl.

Chapter Text

"You're grounded," Dad said when Stiles woke up in a hospital bed, hooked to an IV. He said that every time Stiles woke up in a hospital bed hooked to an IV.

"I'm twenty-two," Stiles pointed out through a world record case of cotton mouth. There was a cup of water with a straw in it next to the bed, but Stiles' arms were too heavy to lift right now.

"Still grounded," Dad said.

"I have my own house," Stiles said, and then made puppy eyes at the water.

"Still grounded," Dad insisted, but he held the straw close enough that Stiles could take a drink.

~*~

The official story they gave the hospital was that Stiles had been accidentally shot by a poacher during a camping trip and then rolled his truck while trying to drive himself to the hospital. The doctor took one look at all the tattoos and didn't even ask why he was also painted purple, but later during a post-op check he did ask Stiles if he'd ever been to Burning Man. Stiles lied and said yes.

The actual story was that Gerard Argent was the head of a hereto unknown radical subset of hunters who had tossed aside the hunter code and were making it their mission to exterminate werewolves completely. After murdering most of the Hale pack outright, he'd made two attempts to get an alpha werewolf under his control for use as a weapon against other wolves. There was no pack smaller, no alpha weaker, than what was left of the Hales, which made capture and containment easier. It was the blood magic that kept tripping him up.

His first two attempts at binding had been unsuccessful, and both times the werewolf in question had ended up dead. For his third attempt, he'd decided to bring in a ringer: Stiles.

He would have gotten away with it, too, if hadn't been for a couple of meddling kids. One of whom was his grand-daughter.

~*~

Stiles spent a few days in the hospital in Redding, and then the remainder of his recovery in his old room at his dad's house, being coddled like a kindergartener with the chicken pox. He was still half out of it on painkillers for the first few days, so he spent most of his time slurping mugs of soup and waking up to find his dad smoothing the blankets or refreshing his ice water.

In addition to the nifty bullet wound in his side—that had thankfully missed all the important stuff—his shoulder was sprained and hurt like a bitch. He also had a few cuts on his head that had required a stitch or two, and a long diagonal bruise across his chest in the shape of the Bronco's seatbelt. From the waist up he was a mess.

Scott stopped to visit almost every day, sometimes with Allison, and Danny came by several times. Lydia was in and out, but mostly busy running the shop on her own, though she did drop off a few lunches for Stiles when his dad was working. They were all vegan and terrible, but he ate them anyway.

An exhausted looking Chris Argent came by one afternoon to give Stiles back his phone and ask him a lot of questions. Stiles didn't remember much about what had happened to him before he woke up in the cabin, but told him what he could, and then asked Chris what he knew about his sister and Derek Hale. It turned out not much, other than Kate had been complicit in the burning of the Hale house. It wasn't Stiles' story to tell, so he only stressed it was a topic worth investigating and left it at that.

"I just want you know, I had no idea about any of this," Chris said when he got up to leave. His eyes were bloodshot and his clothes were wrinkled. "Neither did Allison."

"I believe you," Stiles said, though Allison had never been a question. Stiles trusted her implicitly. But even if seeing them take up arms against their own family weren't enough to convince him of their innocence in all this, seeing Chris Argent here now, rubbing his tired face with a shaking hand, was proof enough.

Chris was, in general, a stoic son of a bitch, but he looked like a man who had had the very foundation of his life rocked, and was barely holding it together. Given what Stiles knew about the Argents—even the nice ones like Allison—he knew that anger was going to be vented somewhere, and he was glad he wasn't going to be on the receiving end of it.

After Chris left, Stiles called Lydia and had her swing by the next morning on her way to the shop with some books. Though he was convinced he'd probably be happier not knowing, he spent the day reading up as best he could on spells that would control a werewolf. There weren't many, and a few of them could be immediately discounted as total bullshit, but he did find one account of a mage who had pulled it off, and then everything made a lot more sense when he got to the end of the story—on his deathbed, the mage had transferred control of the wolf to someone else.

So that had been Gerard's end game—force Stiles to do the spell, and then force him to transfer the power, no doubt with a promise he'd be set free after he did so. Stiles would have been dead thirty seconds after handing over control of Derek, and Derek would have spent the rest of his life bound to that evil son of a bitch. Maybe even, after Gerard was gone, bound to Kate.

Stiles slammed the book shut and slid it under his bed, feeling overwhelmed with fear even though they were well past any chance of any of that actually happening. They'd come so close, just hours away from death for Stiles, and, for Derek, a fate worse than death. If the toadies hadn't accidentally left those pennies in the bag, if some unknown person hadn't spilled some salt in the cupboard...

Dad was coming up the stairs, home from work a little early, and he rapped on the door lightly before opening it.

"Tuna melts?" he asked. He was starting to look a little less ragged than he had the first few days after Stiles had come home, which was good to see.

"Sure. I was just getting up," Stiles said, which wasn't true at all, but staring at the ceiling and brooding could wait until after Dad went to bed. He carefully pushed himself upright and swung his legs off the bed. "I'll get cleaned up and be down in a sec."

Scott had stopped by Stiles' place and grabbed some clothes for him, which were stacked haphazardly on top of his old desk. It was mostly sweatpants and T-shirts, comfortable stuff for lying around and healing, and it didn't really matter what he grabbed, but when Stiles noticed he was holding the Adventure Time boxer shorts, washed and folded by his dad, he quickly put them back, on the bottom of the pile. He'd already worn them enough to last a lifetime, and anyway there were two fang-sized holes in the waistband.

Clean clothes clutched to his chest, he shuffled across the hall like he was ninety years old, though his mind at least felt a little clearer now that he was less dependent on painkillers for comfort. By the time he shut the bathroom door behind him, all the injured parts of his body were protesting being forced to move, but it was still tolerable. He was getting better every day.

He stared at himself in the mirror as he brushed his teeth. It was still strange to have a mirror at all, and even stranger to see how different he looked now. His hair was still long, and he was still stained purple up to his throat, and his face was thin and tired, bristling with stubble, eyes sunken into dark shadows. No wonder his dad was worried about him.

The most annoying thing about being hurt was that for a few more days at least he couldn't shower, because of his stitches. After a month of sponge baths he had really been looking forward to taking a shower, to standing under the hot spray and feeling really, truly clean, but here he was, right back to the washcloth and the soap. And that was maybe just a little too familiar right now.

Derek hadn't visited. Derek hadn't called. That wasn't at all what Stiles had expected, given everything that had happened, and how reluctant Derek had been to be separated from Stiles at the end. He knew Derek was alive and healed, because Scott had been in contact with him since Redding, had even been to his apartment a couple times, but as far as Stiles was concerned he'd disappeared into the ether.

A little voice in Stiles' head reminded him that the wolfed-out non-verbal Derek he'd been holed up with for weeks wasn't the true Derek. Maybe the true Derek didn't want to see Stiles ever again. That was too devastating to contemplate, so he chose not to, most of the time.

Stiles was alive, and Derek was alive, and that had been the goal. That was what he'd wanted more than anything. It wasn't the only thing he'd wanted, but it was enough for now. Maybe it was going to have to be enough forever.

~*~

When he wasn't taking narcotics in order to sleep anymore, Stiles finally ventured out of the house alone for the first time, not prepared at all for how strange it felt to drive again, to walk on a sidewalk, to hear the sounds of traffic, and kids screeching in joy, and lawnmowers. He ended up sitting in his Jeep in the municipal lot for a several long minutes, slowly acclimating to the noise and the space and the freedom again, before he felt like he could get out and deal with it.

After wandering around for a little bit, getting used to civilization, he made his way to the barber shop. Stiles' barber was a guy named Boris, who was also the local lesovik. Being a woodland spirit didn't pay the bills, and Boris loved his cable TV, so he cut hair on the side. Stiles' cuts were always on the house, ever since he'd done some successful fertility work for Boris and his wife a few years back that appeared to still be working, if the ever-growing row of baby pictures stuck to Boris' mirror was any indication.

Boris was thrilled to see him. He gave Stiles a hug, kissed him on both cheeks, and insisted on throwing in a free shave, too. Stiles still hadn't gotten around to doing that.

He eyed the purple skin peeking out of Stiles' collar as he fastened the cape around his neck. "Bad magic, mazy turini," he said. He always called Stiles that. Stiles didn't speak Lesoviki; he'd decided it probably meant "handsome devil." Boris made a quick warding gesture and reached for the shaving mug and brush. "We are lucky to have you back."

"Takes more than that to knock me down for good," Stiles said, with a bravado he didn't feel. Then he held very, very still and didn't talk at all while Boris used the straight razor on him.

Afterwards, he had Boris cut his hair short, shorn down like he hadn't worn it since he was a kid. When it was all over and Boris finished dusting off his neck with a soft brush, Stiles was baby-cheeked and fuzzy-headed, and felt better already. Less like the battered, grizzled guy who had been staring back at him in the mirror every morning since he'd gotten out of the hospital.

Boris' shop was right down the block from Stiles' favorite coffee place, and it had been way too long since he'd had any coffee at all, so he swung in and got a cup. He drank the whole thing on the way to Deaton's, and arrived at the clinic with a serious case of the jitters.

Scott was behind the front desk when Stiles walked in, talking to a little old lady holding a Chihuahua that was shivering in fear, probably from the dual combination of being at the vet and in the presence of a werewolf. Stiles flipped a salute at Scott as he passed by on his way to the back room, but didn't interrupt.

Stiles was braced for the worst, but getting the tincture off was a much more pleasant experience than putting it on had been. Instead of the burning pain and the wrenching sensation of having something vital torn right out of him, there was only a relaxed, floaty feeling, then the warm and pleasant tingle of his magic spreading through every inch of his body again as Deaton carefully wiped away the stain with a mixture that smelled like Pepto-Bismol. He didn't ask about the spots where the tincture was already gone.

"I understand you saved Derek's life," Deaton said, while Stiles was gingerly putting his pants back on. He still had stitches in his side.

"Uh, I guess," Stiles said, thrown by the mention of him, though he shouldn't have been. He knew Derek had come here after the stand-off in the mountains. Deaton was the only werewolf doc around for hundreds of miles. "We saved each other's lives, if anything."

"What happened was a very traumatic experience for the both of you," Deaton said, as he capped a small amber bottle and wrapped a short piece of horsehair rope around the cork. He sometimes made a big show of saying things that were already really obvious, which was kind of an annoying habit, if you asked Stiles.

"Well, we made the best of it," Stiles answered, picturing Derek licking the head of his cock, Stiles jerking himself off all over Derek's belly. His cheeks felt a little warm, so he pulled his T-shirt over his head, taking his time dragging it down over his face to give himself some cover.

"My point is," Deaton said, with the small smile that always made Stiles wonder if he could actually read minds, "Derek has not had an easy life, even before this. It's likely going to take some time to sort through what happened."

"If you love something, set it free?" Stiles said mockingly, then instantly regretted his word choice.

Deaton finished putting away his supplies and turned toward the sink to wash his hands. "I'm suggesting your usual problem solving approach might work against you in this situation," he said, as he soaped his hands up. "This might be one instance where patience really is a virtue."

And Deaton would probably know. Judging from the way he talked, he had a history with Derek. Or at least more of a history than Stiles did; he'd evidently known about Derek's pack the whole time, and never mentioned a word of it to Scott or Stiles. The guy was like a black hole for information—nothing ever came back out.

"I don't expect anything," Stiles said, shoving his feet into his shoes. Which was a big fat lie, but he couldn’t talk about this with Deaton. Or anyone, really, not even Scott. He wasn't sure anyone would understand everything that had happened between him and Derek in just a little under month, or how much it hurt to be apart from him now.

~*~

By the end of the second week Stiles convinced his dad to let him go back to his own place, and didn't even mind when he insisted on escorting Stiles home himself, and doing a quick walk-through when they got there, making sure the coast was clear.

"You going to be okay here alone?" he asked, lingering with his hand on the door knob.

"Yeah, absolutely," Stiles said. And he'd been completely sure of that right up until his dad asked, but now he was starting to have doubts. He had to get on with his life at some point, though, and it had been too long since he'd slept in his own bed.

"Well, I might not be. I'll call you before I go to bed," Dad said, because he was a pro at handling Stiles' bluffs by now. "Lock the door behind me."

Stiles did as he was told, but not until after he hugged his dad, made a joke about empty nest syndrome, and then hugged him again.

Alone in his house for the first time in forever, Stiles flipped through the big stack of mail piled on the kitchen table, but it looked like his dad had already paid the few bills that didn't automatically come out of his bank account, so he left it all where it was and did his own walk-through, much slower than Dad's, just taking in the place again. The bed was haphazardly made, as usual, and his underwear were on the bathroom floor where he'd left them the day he'd been taken. There were dirty dishes moldering in the sink, and the refrigerator was a horror show, but it was still good to be home.

His place wasn't much, just a little house he rented from one of Dad's deputies. It had belonged to his now deceased mother, and was still very much a little old lady house in a lot of ways, since Stiles hadn't bothered to repaint the lavender bathroom, or take down the roses-and-bluebirds wallpaper border that ran all the way around the kitchen.

But the rent was reasonable and the place was in good shape, and had an extra bedroom Stiles could use as a home office. Best of all, out back was a small, fenced yard where he could grow plants he needed for magic work. The garden was in a sad state now, having been neglected for nearly two months, but some of it was still salvageable. He stood out in the yard for a little bit, just enjoying the familiar surroundings and the feeling of the setting sun on his shoulders, the smell of geraniums in his nose.

Dusk was coming. Not that that meant anything anymore.

~*~

That night Stiles was feeling well enough to socialize in the hanging out way, rather than the just lying there looking pathetic while people talked to him way, so he finally got some real bro time with Scott, and a chance to tell Allison he forgave her for having an evil grandpa. And then some long overdue pizza with his friends. He didn't even get kidnapped on the way there this time.

Stiles' disappearance had been big news all over the Beacon Hills supernatural underground, and he was hailed as some kind of conquering hero when he walked into Big Louie's Pizza. It was a little embarrassing, but once Big Louie told him everything was on the house tonight, Stiles got over it.

Big Louie, a shapeshifter himself, sat down for a minute when he brought the food, practically begging for all the details of the dramatic rescue. Stiles didn't mind one bit, his good mood unbreakable. He was hanging out with two of the people he loved most in the world and eating his first junk food since he'd taken a bullet in the guts. Plus, every time he heard the rescue story there was at least one new detail someone had forgotten to tell him before.

He never got tired of hearing about the way everyone had come together to find him and Derek, and had listened avidly to everyone's version more than once already. He wasn't even vaguely ashamed of the little thrill he got from listening to it unfold: Scott calling Dad, then bringing in the Argents. Scott running into Derek's pack in an alley while searching for Stiles, and the short fight that had ensued before they all figured out they had a common goal—a fight that was probably a lot more sexy in Stiles' mind than it had actually been in real life.

Stiles got lost in daydream land for a little bit, and when he focused back in, they were already up to Allison realizing Gerard was purposely misdirecting them, and asking Kate seemingly innocent questions that only confirmed her suspicions. From there the story clipped along to Danny tracking Gerard's cellphone, Dad getting in touch with a fellow supernatural cop in Redding and rounding up a bunch of locals to help, and finally, the showdown at the pre-school playground. That part was definitely not sexy—too much blood and terror--but every time Stiles thought about Scott somersaulting off the roof of the church to put himself between Stiles and Gerard, his heart went pitter patter with love.

So they could talk about it as much as they liked, recount it as many times as was necessary, and Stiles would eat it up with a spoon every time. He liked imagining it in the form of a movie, beautiful people being smart and capable in a fast-paced montage set to cool music, like Ocean's Eleven, only with less homoerotic subtext. Because everything, including gay porn, was less homoerotic than Ocean's Eleven.

"I mean, we knew it couldn't be a coincidence. An alpha werewolf and a mage both go missing at the same time?" Scott said, dumping a truly astounding amount of parmesan cheese on his slice. "And Derek's pack already knew me from school, so we thought we could work together and help each other."

"So, working with other werewolves wasn't really that bad?" Stiles ventured as he helped himself to another slice of pepperoni. Big Louie had already vanished into the kitchen again, so they could talk about private stuff.

Allison suddenly became very interested in her pizza, ducking her head to hide a smile. Stiles didn't care if he wasn't supposed to bring it up; he'd had a lot of beers, because he lived close enough to walk home.

"Got you back in one piece," Scott shrugged. "I'm not joining Derek's pack, though," he said stubbornly.

Stiles had heard from Allison, during their weekly yoga and smoothies night that was now just smoothies and gossip while Stiles healed, that Derek was making an effort to bring Scott into his pack, and Scott was resisting, which was not a surprise.

Once he'd gotten past those few rough years in the beginning, Scott had, through trial and error, worked out his own way to be a werewolf. It wasn't something he'd asked for, but he was making the best of it, and using it to his advantage, mostly to help people, because one thing you could count on about Scott McCall was that he had a good heart. He'd even managed to form an alliance with the Argents, despite their initial objections to Allison dating a werewolf, and he had things set up in Beacon Hills the way he wanted them—he was definitely not happy to have a bunch of other werewolves around who might upset the delicate balance.

Being a wolf was never going to be the focus of Scott's life the way it was with a lot of werewolves, and after all these years alone he was not feeling inclined to start taking orders from some guy he didn't even know. He had no intention of ever being Derek's beta.

Derek was not taking the news well, according to Allison.

"Anyway, I've already got all the pack I need. You guys," Scott said through a mouthful of pizza, which made Stiles feel suspiciously close to bawling his eyes out, but luckily Allison spoke for the both of them by saying, "Awww!" She cuddled up under Scott's arm as Scott stared dreamily at her, and it would have been nauseating how cute they were if Stiles didn't love them both to death.

But when Scott and Allison grinned goofily at each other and Scott kissed her on the tip of her nose, that pushed Stiles right over the edge.

"I need another beer!" Stiles yelled at the waitress, who was sitting in the booth by the door, reading a magazine about fingernail art.

"Get it yourself!" she yelled back, turning the page. It was that kind of place.

~*~

"It's about time you came back to work," Lydia said when he walked into the shop the next morning, but she hugged him until he made a squeaky wheezing noise, and then went in the back room while Stiles pretended those weren't tears on the front of his shirt.

"I know you love me!" he called though the beaded curtain.

"Whatever!" she yelled back.

It felt good to be back, like his life was getting back to normal, and coming to work gave him something to do besides sitting alone in his apartment obsessively thinking about Derek Hale. He'd missed the way the shop smelled, like burnt herbs and old books, and the way the little bottles of bat blood ink always rattled against each other when he walked past them. He'd even missed Lydia's mean little cat, Mrs. Beasley.

"What's up, Mrs. B?" he called as he walked by, cocking a finger gun at her. She was lounging on her side atop an antique box that contained the hand and forearm of an 18th century convicted murderer. It was her favorite sleeping spot, and Stiles never got tired of pointing out to Lydia how creepy that was.

Mrs. Beasley blinked lazily at him and then stretched, spreading her paws until they looked like little black starfish. It was cute, but Stiles knew better than to try to pet her.

Stiles had an office, a cozy little room behind the wall of candles and cauldrons that he used for research and consultations, and to hide when Lydia was sorting through newly arrived crates of books. He'd once nearly blown a hole through the ceiling just by touching a scroll that had been cursed by a Romanian monk in 1688.

Stiles didn't do much actual spell work in his office, but it was his favorite place in the shop, cluttered and dusty and comforting. The door had a tendency to stick, so sometimes it needed a little kick, and when he toed it open there was a stack of messages on his desk about six inches high.

"Aw, crap," he said, and flopped down into his squeaky desk chair. He knew he'd been gone a long time, but he hadn't expected a backlog quite this big.

He sifted through them quickly, separating a few requests that sounded more pressing from the rest. The ones that were over a month old were probably no longer in need of his services, but he'd call them all back anyway, just in case. Some of them were existing clients who had called the shop and talked to Lydia after failing to reach Stiles on his cell, and of those he'd already talked to a few of them since getting his phone back. His voicemail had been completely full.

Then he checked his work email account and found several hundred unread emails, including a dozen or so increasingly frantic messages from someone hoping Stiles could undo a hex. The last email from that guy included a photo, and Stiles grimaced as he quickly closed it again, because ugh. The Hex of a Thousand Warts. That was just mean.

He had whittled the emails down to about a dozen he needed to reply to—including the dude with the warts—when the phone rang.

"You're getting that!" Lydia called from out front. "I did it the whole time you were off being a damsel in distress." Lydia felt answering the phone was beneath her and, in the interest of not driving away customers, Stiles agreed. That was why there was an extension on his desk.

He didn't recognize the number on the caller I.D., so he thumbed the button on the receiver and said, "Morning. The Scarlet Nerd."

"I'm looking for Stiles," the lady on the other end said uncertainly, like she wasn't sure someone could actually be named Stiles, and suspected she was the victim of a prank. Stiles was used to it.

"This is Stiles," he said, putting his feet up on his desk so he could listen better. It worked, no matter what Danny said.

"I've got a problem," the lady said, sounding like she was on the verge of tears. "It's my husband."

"Lay it on me," Stiles told her, pulling his notepad into his lap and uncapping a pen with his teeth so he could take notes as her story unfolded. He scribbled down a few details, but quickly realized it was a pretty cut and dried job. He could do this in his sleep. "So you're saying he accidentally turned himself into a goat?" he asked as Lydia set what was probably a vegan muffin down next to his feet. "Like a goat-sized goat, or a human-sized goat?"

He picked up the muffin—sure to be barely edible, but a gesture of love—and took a big bite. It was good to be back.

~*~

Stiles spent the rest of the week on the move, catching up with friends and tending to his work backlog. He had plenty of clients who had patiently waited for him to return to work, and taking care of them necessitated long days, some of them spent on the road. By the time he got home every night—occasionally in the early hours of the morning—he didn't have the time or energy for anything but a quick meal and some television before he hit the sack.

He was mostly healed from all the physical damage of the ordeal, a process he'd sped up with a little bit of potion work. The stitches were gone, his shoulder was fine, all the bruises fading. His magic was back and stronger than ever, and he was in the best shape of his life thanks to the daily workouts in the cabin.

Mentally, he was a whole other story.

He thought he would adapt, that being home would get easier as time passed, but instead he felt increasingly unmoored, set adrift back into his old life that was mystifyingly exactly the same even though Stiles himself felt dramatically changed. He thought he was doing a decent job of hiding it, because he dove right back in like he'd never been gone, working as much as he could and hanging out with his friends and spending time with his dad. What they didn't know was that he was desperate to keep busy, and feel normal again, and when he was with other people he was largely successful. He sometimes went hours at a time without thinking about what had happened.

When he was at home by himself, though, the whole façade fell apart. It felt strange to be the only person in the house all the time, to sleep in a big bed by himself, and eat his meals alone in front of the television. He kept forgetting he could leave the house if he wanted to, or eat anything he liked, and he kept trying to talk to Derek, kept looking down like Derek would be crouched at his side, or tagging along at his heels.

He thought about Derek a lot, in general. Especially when he tried not to.

He dreamt about him every few days. Usually the familiar nightmares where someone—usually Gerard or Kate—was trying to hurt him and Stiles was failing to stop it, but sometimes he dreamed that Derek was back in his life now, they were together, rolling around in his bed, cuddling on the couch, and Stiles was happy in a way he'd never been before. The happy dreams were almost worse, because waking up and knowing the bad ones would never come true was a relief. Stiles couldn't say the same about the good ones.

Deaton had warned Stiles off of contacting Derek first, and it was probably just as well—it was growing increasingly clear he'd saved Stiles from embarrassing himself. Derek knew how to get in touch with Stiles, and he wasn't doing it. That hurt more than the bullet he'd taken for him, if he thought about it too much, the way Derek was bending over backwards to bring Scott into his pack, while pretending Stiles didn't even exist.

~*~

Allison and her father went out of town for the weekend due to a "family emergency" that was actually the hunter version of a disciplinary tribunal. Hunters from all over the region were coming together to pass judgment on their wayward brethren, and it was not going to be a pleasant time for the Argents. Gerard and Kate in particular.

On Friday night, Stiles and Scott had an old-fashioned video game marathon, complete with a vast selection of Little Debbie products, and soda from the Mexican market down the street. Stiles hadn't had anything sweet at all while he was being held captive, and everything tasted delicious, and he went a little overboard. By the time he passed out in Scott's guest room, Stiles was sure he never wanted to see sugar again. His teeth hurt.

Still vibrating from his sugar high, Stiles made it to work nice and early the next morning, and took some time to sweep up the cat hair and make a new playlist for his iPod before sticking it in the dock. He even opened the door a little early, because there was a purple-haired kid in a Bela Lugosi T-shirt standing outside with his nose practically pressed against the glass.

Saturdays were always busy but low key at the shop. Lydia called it Amateur Day, because it was mostly teenaged Goths and patchouli-drenched college students buying amethysts and altar oil. Stiles and Lydia took turns running the store alone on Saturdays, but since he'd missed a bunch while he was kidnapped, Stiles was on Amateur Day duty until further notice, according to a merciless Lydia. In truth, Stiles didn't really mind, because he usually didn't have to do anything too taxing, the mark up on amethysts was insane, and it was better than sitting home alone.

When he left the shop a little after 5pm, he swung by Big Louie's and got a pizza and a complimentary calzone—he was gonna ride that sympathy train right into the sunset—and went back to Scott's, where he was greeted by both Scott and two teeny tiny orphaned kittens who needed to be bottle fed every two hours. So their wild Saturday night turned into kitten cuddles and cold pizza, but that was okay. It was just as fun as the night before. Stiles loved teeny tiny kittens.

Late that night, Allison sent them both a text message that said simply everything is taken care of. Gerard and Kate Argent, and the hunters who had worked with them, wouldn't be bothering Stiles and Derek, or anyone else, ever again.

Stiles took a few emergency calls on Sunday morning, which was typical. People would get up to no good on Saturday night, feeling the false bravado of alcohol, or hang out with their friends and come up with stupid ideas, and then they'd call Stiles on Sunday morning, hoping he could fix whatever they'd done. Most of the time, it had to be a housecall. Stiles had seen some of the weirdest shit of his whole career on Sunday mornings.

By the time he got his clients squared away—and, in one case, back down to two arms instead of four—the sun was setting and Scott was at the clinic for his own emergency, so Stiles just went home. For the first time since he'd come back to Beacon Hills, he wasn't tempted to look over his shoulder when he walked from his car to his front door.

He didn't bother to look for the moon, either.

~*~

The Scarlet Nerd was closed on Sundays and Mondays, which left Stiles free to be as irresponsible and foolish as he wanted two nights a week, and he'd already used up one of them playing with kittens. Now he was home alone on Sunday night, and he was contemplating doing something very foolish. Deaton wouldn't approve, but Stiles was tired of being miserable, and half the time Deaton's advice sucked anyway, because he always withheld a bunch of the information you needed.

Not entirely sure if he was really going to go through with it, Stiles took his time showering, and then ate a bowl of Apple Jacks in front of the television, changing his mind three or four times in the process. He kept bouncing back and forth between deciding it was a terrible idea and thinking he had no other options.

Everything that had happened between him and Derek was already starting to feel like a dream, and the further away he got from it the more unreal it seemed, and the more he wondered if he had built it up in his head into something bigger than it actually was. But it had felt so real at the time. There was a chance it could be real again, now, if he had the guts to do something about it.

He put on some fresh clothes--including the tightest T-shirt he owned, the one that barely came down far enough to touch his belt--and grabbed his wallet and his phone on his way to the door, tugging his jacket on as he went.

When he opened the door, Derek was standing on his front step, arm raised like he was about to knock. He was wearing faded jeans, a dark green T-shirt with a little vee at the throat, and a leather jacket. His face was completely devoid of any wolfy features. He looked unbelievable, too pretty to be real, and Stiles took an involuntary step back, feeling like he'd been punched in the face with the reality of Derek Hale as a human.

The driver's license photo, as nice as it had been to look at, hadn't done him justice.

They stared at each other for a second. Stiles' own eyes felt as wide and shocked as Derek's looked.

"Hi," Derek said finally, uncertainly, and his voice didn't sound at all like Stiles had expected it to, not one bit. He'd always imagined it something like Derek's growl, deep and gravely and gruff, but it wasn't. It was actually a little soft, like it belonged to a much smaller, much less imposing guy.

"Hi," Stiles said, swallowing hard. "Where have you been?"

"Where have I been?" Derek responded incredulously. "Where have you been? I came by practically every day—"

"No, you didn't!" Stiles said, all the hurt and misery of the last few weeks coming out as annoyance.

"Yes, I did," Derek shot back, sounding just as annoyed, if not more. "Sometimes more than once a day." He looked slightly embarrassed to admit it. "You were never here."

"Oh. Uh." It hadn't occurred to Stiles that maybe Derek had been looking for him here when he'd been just about everywhere else. "I was at my dad's. And at work. And then this weekend I was at Scott's. Didn't Scott tell you?"

"Scott doesn't tell me anything," Derek glowered. His eyes took in Stiles' jacket, the phone in his hand. "Were you going somewhere?"

"Yeah," Stiles said, and then when Derek seemed to deflate a little, Stiles snapped out of his stupidity and said, "Actually, no." Off of Derek's raised eyebrows—he had eyebrows now—he stammered, "Yes, but no. I mean, I was, but….now I'm not."

"I can come back," Derek said, but Stiles looked at his face and knew, he just knew, that if he let Derek walk away now, he'd never come back at all, so he shook his head and quickly stepped aside to let him in.

Then Derek was in Stiles' house, standing in the middle of his living room, taking in the place with obvious interest while Stiles looked frantically around for anything weird or embarrassing he might have left out because he wasn't expecting company. But right now the only thing weird about his living room was that Derek was in it.

Derek was in his living room. Fully dressed and human-looking, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans. He was standing upright, and he seemed so tall. Stiles hadn't realized they were almost the same height. He had gel in his hair.

Stiles knew he was staring, but he couldn't help it. And it wasn't even because Derek was blindingly attractive, and his T-shirt stretched across his chest in an exceedingly pleasing manner, and his neck was bare, the first time Stiles had ever seen it like that. It was his shoes Stiles couldn't stop looking at. He was wearing sneakers, black and white leather high tops. He'd never seen Derek in a jacket--or a shirt, even--but it was the sneakers that weirded him out. They were so normal, so young. Like he was just an ordinary guy hanging out in Stiles' living room, looking a little unsure of himself.

"You can, um, sit anywhere," Stiles said, taking his jacket back off. As he stretched to toss it over the back of the couch, he caught Derek's eyes skating away from where his T-shirt had ridden up. Stiles' heart tripped in his chest, and Derek probably heard it, but it wasn't like it was a secret how Stiles felt about him.

Derek turned away and sat down in the only chair, looking awkward. Stiles had never seen him sit on a piece of furniture like a regular person before, and it made him do a double-take as Derek shifted uncomfortably and then put his hands on his knees, like he didn't know what to do with them. His hands were normal, no claws, just clean, squared off fingernails. Human hands that didn't look like anything he'd ever used to touch Stiles.

"Do you want something to drink?" Stiles asked. He had no idea what Derek liked to drink; their choices in the cabin had been water or water. He knew Derek so well, and yet not at all. "I have beer. Or." Stiles wasn't exactly sure what he had.

"Sure," Derek shrugged, so Stiles went into the kitchen and grabbed two beers out of the fridge, then set them on the counter and gripped the edge of it with his trembling hands and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to get control of himself. He didn't quite get that accomplished before it started to seem like it was taking him a long time to open two twist-offs, so he had to open them up and go back to the living room still feeling like he was going to shake apart.

Derek was watching the kitchen doorway when Stiles came out with the beer, and Stiles was suddenly back in the cabin for a second, remembering what it felt like to move around the place, feeling Derek's attention focused on him. But there hadn't been anything else for him to focus on at the time.

Stiles set Derek's beer down on the coffee table, on a coaster with a red pentagram on it, part of a set Danny had gotten him as a gag gift. Derek didn't pick it up.

Wondering if he shouldn't have gotten him something else instead, Stiles sat down on the couch and took a long pull off his beer. "How have you been?" he asked, when it appeared Derek wasn't going to initiate a conversation even though he could talk now.

"Good," Derek said, staring at Stiles' fingers where they were gripping the bottle of beer. Stiles didn't want to hear that Derek was good. He wanted to hear that Derek was miserable without him. "You?"

Stiles shrugged a shoulder. He couldn't bring himself to lie, and Derek would know anyway. "I guess it'll take a while," he said. "To get over everything." To get over Derek, if that was what he was supposed to be doing.

Derek nodded as he finally picked up his beer and took a small sip.

"Did you get your phone back?" Stiles asked, which was possibly the most inane question he could have asked, but he was floundering here, big time.

Derek nodded again. "Yeah. You?"

"Yeah," Stiles said, and then drank some more beer.

They sat in silence, Stiles feeling like he was drowning under how stilted and painful this was. He'd missed Derek so badly all this time, and had been dying to see him, had imagined a hundred different reunions. None of them had gone like this, but none of them had included this Derek, standoffish and staring, too far away to touch. Stiles didn't know this man at all.

He could feel Derek watching him, but couldn't bring himself to look directly at him, instead darting quick glances at him while he gouged at the label on the beer bottle with his thumb. "Well, this certainly isn't going at all like I thought it would," he admitted. No point in pretending they didn't both know this sucked.

There was a short silence and then Derek said, almost hesitantly, "How did you think it would go?"

"I don't know what I thought," Stiles said, setting his beer down a little too firmly. He had nothing to lose. Might as well be honest. "I've missed you so fucking much these last couple weeks, and now you're here, but you're—" he didn't even know how to describe it "--you're just sitting there wearing fucking sneakers," he said, waving his hand at Derek's feet, as if that encompassed everything that was making him feel unbalanced and strange. "And I. I don't know what to think, Derek. I really don't."

Derek looked a little like Stiles had kicked him in the gut. "I shouldn't have come here," he said hoarsely, looking away. "I knew you wouldn't want…"

"Wouldn't want what?" Stiles asked, when Derek let the sentence trail off, unfinished. Whatever it was Derek thought Stiles didn't want, he was probably wrong. It felt like all Stiles had been doing for the last few weeks was wanting.

Derek didn’t answer. He put his beer down with a distinct air of finality and stood up. Stiles immediately panicked and surged to his feet, frantic to get him to stay. As uncomfortable as this was, Stiles didn't want him to leave yet. It had only been a few minutes, not even long enough for Stiles to really believe he was actually here. It felt too much like he was being punished, like being given a taste of something he desperately wanted, only to have it snatched away again before he could get used to having it.

"Wait," Stiles said. Derek shoved his hands in his pockets and didn't say anything, but he didn't actually leave either. Knowing this was probably his last chance, Stiles took a deep breath and said, "I want to show you something."

Derek turned wary in the blink of an eye, shoulders hunching. "I don't—"

"Please?" Stiles said, trying not to sound like he was begging, but knowing he'd have no qualms about doing just that if he had no other choice. "It'll just take a minute."

"Okay," Derek said, on a blown out breath, like he was making the biggest decision of his life. Stiles probably would have found it funny if he weren't so keenly aware of how close to accurate that was.

"This way," Stiles said, and led him down the hallway to his bedroom.

When he flicked on the lamp he was relieved to see it was messy but not terrible, and he'd made the bed that morning in his own half-assed way, which meant pulling the blankets up at least. There was an empty Doritos bag on the floor next to the bed, but a guy who had been kidnapped and shot and then dumped by his prison boyfriend deserved to eat his feelings once in a while, so there was no shame there.

Derek's eyes widened when he saw where they were, like the idea of being in the same room with Stiles and a bed was terrifying, and that only made Stiles more upset.

"Look," Stiles ordered, pointing at the two framed pictures on his dresser, one of Stiles and his parents at the beach, the year before his mom died, Stiles mugging for the camera in his neon orange swim trunks. The other was of Scott and Stiles on the day of their high school graduation, which they'd only made it to by the skin of their teeth, really. Not in an academic sense, but in an oh shit we almost died again sense.

Stuck in the corner of Scott's frame, next to Stiles' exhausted, grinning face, was the paper heart Derek had given him.

It was bent and crumpled, and had some blood on it, but it was the first thing he'd checked for when they'd given him back his stuff at the hospital. The picture of his mother had been safely tucked back into his wallet when they broke out, but the heart had been in his pants pocket, easily lost or discarded as trash when they took his clothes off at the hospital.

"That's a picture of me and my parents," Stiles said, jabbing a finger at it. "And that," he pointed to the other picture, "is a picture of me and Scott, who's been my best friend since we were five." His voice was rising, and he knew he sounded angry, which he wasn't exactly. Or at least solely. "And that's a stupid paper heart you tore out of a magazine and gave to me on the day we thought we might die."

Derek already knew damn well what it was, though. He was staring at it, mouth hanging open a little. Instead of the fangs he was used to, Stiles could see Derek's two front teeth, square and white, which made him look like a grade-schooler in need of braces instead of a lethal predator.

"Did you mean it?" Stiles asked, stepping closer to Derek. His heart was pounding so hard it almost hurt. Forget hearing, it—Derek could probably see it.

Derek swallowed, his naked throat jumping. "That was—"

"Did you mean it?" Stiles demanded, voice rising. He'd forgotten what a stubborn, self-sacrificing dick Derek could be.

"Yes," Derek said, like he was confessing to a murder. "I meant it."

"Well, good!" Stiles yelled, throwing his arms in the air in frustration. "Because I stupid paper magazine heart you, too!"

Derek took a step toward him, eyes big and pleading, like he wanted so badly for it to be true. "Do you really—"

"Yes!" Stiles said again. "And this is where you're supposed to kiss me, you dumbass!"

Derek didn't kiss him, though. Instead, he sort of lunged at him and hugged him tight, pressing his face against Stiles' neck, a gesture so familiar and yet so different now Stiles could barely process it. There were so many clothes between them this time, and the strangeness of their thighs and chests touching while they were standing up—Derek was so tall—and even the way he smelled wasn't exactly the same either. Derek smelled like different soap, different shampoo, his leather jacket, but still like Derek underneath all that. Stiles didn't even know what it must be like for him, with his heightened senses. Stiles could feel him breathing in and out through his nose like he was trying to get a good sniff, so he had to be noticing it, too.

But for all the strangeness, this finally felt like the reunion Stiles had wanted so badly since waking up in the hospital in Redding. Not that stilted conversation crap out in the living room, but this: in each other's space, breathing each other in, close. When Stiles ran his hand through Derek's hair and down the back of his bare neck, skin Stiles had never touched before, Derek shuddered against him.

Stiles dipped his head until his mouth was right next to Derek's ear as his fingers stroked up and down Derek's neck, drawing a broken sound out of him. "When you got here I was leaving to go find you," he confessed. "Deaton told me not to, but I--I was on my way to your place. I couldn't take it anymore. I had to know if you meant it."

Derek's hands twitched on his back, clutching him tighter before easing up again. "I did mean it," he said, hushed. Stiles heard him swallow. "And I know that's crazy, because we barely know each other and I couldn't even talk, but…I meant it. I think I still mean it."

He pulled back to look at Stiles. His eyes were even more amazing now that they weren't partially hidden under the wolfy brow ridges, though his aggressive human eyebrows were trying their best to pick up the slack. "This might be the stupidest thing we've ever done, but do you want to—can we try?"

"Oh, I've done things way stupider than this," Stiles said, using his hand on the back of Derek's neck to urge him closer, and they kissed, really kissed, for the first time. Derek's mouth was soft and wet and hungry, and he kissed like he wanted to eat Stiles right up, which Stiles was completely fine with, totally fine. He opened up to let Derek in, biting back a moan. When Derek pushed his tongue into Stiles' mouth he made a greedy sound, and gripped Stiles' face in his hands.

Oh, God. His hands.

They were big and warm, and moving all over Stiles' body, running over his hair, slipping down the front of his shirt, then around to his back, sliding up to cup his shoulder blades before gliding back down and teasing at the back of his belt. His touch was easy and confident now, in a way it had never been when he'd been worried about his claws, and it was making Stiles feel weak in the knees.

Not wanting to be a slacker, Stiles curved his shaking fingers around Derek's ridiculous jaw and then up behind his ears, which weren't pointy anymore but were somehow just as silly, if he were honest with himself; they stuck out a lot at the top, like little wingnuts. Derek had goofy ears, and goofy teeth, and he was a really, really good kisser and Stiles loved him.

"You don't still want to leave, do you?" he asked, just to be a shit, while Derek was still trying to kiss him.

"Fuck no," Derek said against his mouth, so Stiles spun them so he could walk Derek backwards to the bed. Derek was already shaking off his jacket, and then somehow got Stiles' shirt off with him barely noticing, like he was some kind of fucking magician. Stiles pushed him down onto the bed and while Derek tugged his own shirt over his head he knelt down to get rid of Derek's shoes.

A few seconds later Derek already had his belt open and his fly yanked down, and Stiles was still struggling because the laces on Derek's adorable sneakers were triple knotted. "Arrrgh!" Stiles yelled, scrabbling at them ineffectually, until Derek hauled him up to sit on the bed next to him and tackled them himself.

"What the hell? Are you worried someone's going to try to steal your shoes right off your feet?" Stiles bitched as he toed off his own shoes and then sent his socks sailing across the room.

Derek flipped over to pin Stiles to the bed by his wrists and gave him a narrow-eyed look. "Do you really want to talk about my shoelaces now?" he asked hotly, rubbing one hard thigh against Stiles' equally hard dick.

"Not really," Stiles admitted. "Plus, I promised you we'd have sex after we got away." This hadn't been exactly what he'd meant at the time, but he didn't want to be a promise breaker.

"Then take your pants off," Derek said, sitting back and reaching for Stiles' belt.

Once they were naked, Derek was everywhere at once with his hands and his mouth, rubbing his hard cock into Stiles' hip, closing his teeth lightly on his nipple. Stiles kept trying to give as good as he was getting, but Derek seemed oblivious to his efforts.

"You're hogging all the fun," Stiles complained, as he futilely tried to sit up, get some leverage.

Derek held him down easily with a hand splayed in the middle of Stiles' chest, without even seeming to notice he was doing it. "I wanna suck your cock. I want you to come in my mouth," he said as he nipped his way down Stiles' stomach.

"Okay, yeah. Whatever you want," Stiles agreed immediately, and then the back of his head hit the mattress with a thump as Derek's hot mouth closed around the head of his cock and sucked wetly. "Oh my God."

When he lifted himself up onto his elbows to look, Stiles had a moment of cognitive dissonance, thrown by Derek's human features and the ordinary fingernails on the hand wrapped around the base of his cock. It was still unmistakably Derek, with his wild black hair and his startling eyes, his wide shoulders and sharp cheekbones, but he looked just different enough for it to feel like being with someone familiar and someone new all at the same time.

Derek stroked him with his hand as he steadily worked his mouth down Stiles' cock, cheeks hollowing, long eyelashes sweeping delicately as he looked up, eyes searching for Stiles' face. The corners of his mouth twitched, like he was smiling, and that was almost too much, and Stiles had to reach for him, and rub his hand over his head, pet him lightly behind his ear, because Derek always liked that before. He still liked it now, because he made a pleased sound, recognizable enough to make Stiles' chest ache a little, and sucked harder.

That was enough to dispel the lingering feeling of fucking a stranger, and Stiles relaxed into it as Derek jerked him off slowly into his mouth, grip nice and firm the way Stiles liked it, and Derek was really liking it, too. Stiles had never actually had someone look that happy to suck his dick before, a blissed out expression on his face, his own hips moving against the bed in time with his hand. Stiles loved to blow a guy as much as—maybe a little more—than the next dick-loving dude, but Derek was putting him to shame with his enthusiasm. It was one of the hottest things Stiles had ever seen, and he wasn't going to last long in the face of it.

"I'm really fucking close," he said, out of courtesy, even though Derek had already told him he wanted Stiles to come in his mouth. Derek moved his hand and his mouth faster, pulling his knees up under him to crouch over Stiles' body, dropping his mouth down even lower around his cock, asking for it. Stiles' hips jerked before he could stop them, seeking to get deeper into Derek's mouth at the last second, but Derek simply obliged, moaning around his dick as Stiles pulsed against the back of his throat. That was enough to short circuit both Stiles' brain and his arms, and as Derek swallowed the last of him, Stiles slumped back down onto the bed like all his bones had been removed.

Maybe they had. He sure didn't care right now.

If Stiles had known back in the cabin just how into cock sucking Derek was, he'd have been a lot more disappointed it was off limits, because that had been fucking stellar, and Derek had been really, really into it. No wonder Derek had acted so annoyed by being denied the pleasure. Sweet merciful crap.

"Sweet merciful crap," Stiles said.

Derek laughed, low and little throaty, as he slid up Stiles' body to kiss him slow and wet, and Stiles went for it, chased his own taste around Derek's mouth. Derek liked that he liked it, humming a little, hips rolling to drag his hard cock along the inside of Stiles' thigh.

"All right," Stiles said, when he moved on to biting at the irresistible curve of Derek's jaw. He was still scruffy, but it was short and even, not the bristly fringe of a werewolf. It felt soft and ticklish against Stiles' mouth. "Your turn."

Derek only shook his head. "I can wait," he said, though he looked hard enough to drill through the wall, and the tip of his cock was dripping all over Stiles' leg.

"For what?" Stiles asked, pulling back to frown at him, because he genuinely had no idea.

Derek laughed at his bafflement, an all new sound to Stiles, who had never heard him do that before. It made his heart feel like someone was simultaneously pinching it and tickling it.

"I have things I want to do first," Derek said, arching an eyebrow at him in a way that should have been ridiculous but instead made Stiles' breath catch.

"Like what kinds of things?" Stiles asked, trying not to sound nervous, but Derek must have noticed because he shook his head and gave him a reassuring kiss.

"I just want to touch you, I could never touch you without worrying." He sat back on his heels between Stiles' bent knees and ran his hands down Stiles' ribs. When he got to his waist he curved them under his back, and Stiles arched off the bed, because Derek's hands. "I'm going to get you hard again, and then I want you to fuck me," Derek said, before he leaned down and dragged the flat of his tongue up the inside of Stiles' thigh, right where he'd leaked all over it.

Stiles gulped and said, "I can do that."

Derek made good on his promise, running his hands all over Stiles' body, trailing them with his mouth, kissing him and kissing him, sucking each of his fingers into his mouth one at a time. He lingered a little over the scar on Stiles' side, but not in a maudlin way--more like he was cataloging this change in Stiles' body, touching it with his hands and his mouth before moving on. They rolled around on the bed and slid against each other, groaning, Stiles digging his fingers into Derek's ass, Derek's shoulders, the small of his back.

He couldn't stay away from Derek's neck, the only place on Derek's body that hadn't gotten hours of attention lavished on it back in the cabin. Derek seemed to love it, tipping his head back to let Stiles suck on the hot skin over his jugular, run his thumb up the tendon on the side until Derek squirmed, gasping, and Stiles backed off and gave him a chance to recover.

"I love your hands," Derek said, threading their fingers together and pressing them into the bed as he lifted up to straddle Stiles' hips. He was still hard, leaving a trail of slick on Stiles' belly when he dragged the head of his dick up and down it. "I could never get enough of you touching me," he murmured, which was the worst kept secret in the universe, but Stiles didn't care, because Derek was kissing him again, slowly fucking Stiles' mouth with his hot tongue, and it was wonderful.

Stiles got hard pretty quickly, but Derek still made him wait, stroking him teasingly while he sucked on his ears, which was so unfair Stiles wanted to beat him about the head, but he was too busy moaning into Derek's shoulder to get around to it. By the time Derek moved back to kissing his mouth, Stiles was more than ready to go, but instead of ramping things up, Derek only slowed down some more, until they were barely even kissing, just breathing into the same space.

When Stiles opened his eyes, Derek's were already open, watching him. "You look so different," Derek said, like he couldn't quite believe it.

"Uh, pretty sure I’m not the one who looks different here, buddy," Stiles said, amused.

Derek grinned, which looked fantastic on him. "Your hair," he explained, circling his hand over the fuzzy crown of Stiles' head. "And you're not purple anymore." He dragged his finger down the inside of Stiles' arm, lingered over the raven. "I've never seen these how they're supposed to look. They look nice."

"You look nice, too," Stiles said, shoving Derek onto his back so he could straddle his stomach and nibble at his lower lip. "Really nice."

"Better," Derek said, like he was correcting him, slurring a little as he worked his mouth against Stiles'.

Derek's thumbs were drawing tiny circles on the insides of Stiles' thighs, where the skin was thin and sensitive, and Stiles was having a hard time concentrating, but he couldn't just let that go.

"No, just different," he insisted, smoothing his fingertip across Derek's eyebrow. Derek smiled up at him a little bashfully. "I like you the other way, too. It doesn't matter to me."

Derek looked like he was going to say something, but then he pushed up to kiss him instead, a little more frantically than just a minute ago. Stiles put his hands on Derek's face and made him slow down. "I mean it," he said. "I like you either way."

"I believe you," Derek said, and it didn't sound like bullshit. He was even smiling a little.

"Good," Stiles said. "Now let me get the lube." He rolled off Derek and flailed his arm around under the bed until he found the bottle.

When he pulled himself back up, Derek was still on his back, drawing his knees up. "Like this?" he asked, making room between his legs for Stiles.

"Definitely," Stiles said. However Derek wanted it, he'd be happy to provide.

The lube was cold on his fingers, and he said, "Sorry, sorry," as he rubbed them slickly against Derek's body. Derek's legs twitched, but he didn’t complain. His eyes slipped closed and his knees fell open a little wider, relaxed. When Stiles pushed, testing, Derek reached up and grabbed the headboard with both hands and just opened for Stiles.

"Wow, look at you," Stiles said admiringly, as he pressed in with two fingers. "You should have said something. I would have fucked you before."

Derek's eyes drifted open. He looked like he was having a hard time focusing, so Stiles must have been doing something right. "I thought it was a line we weren't crossing," he said roughly, then shoved down onto Stiles' slippery fingers and breathed, "Yeah, right there. Yeah."

"I think we crossed it pretty thoroughly," Stiles said, leering. He slowly worked his fingers in and out again, crooking them enough to brush against his prostate, which made Derek roll his hips to try to get more, but Stiles was a tease and pulled back before giving him another shallow thrust, and then another.

"On the last night," Derek gritted out. His hands tightened on the headboard. "I didn't want to ask—Jesus Christ, I'm ready, just do it." He was still so hard, thick and slightly curved, jutting up over his flat belly.

"You're kind of bossy in the sack when you're human," Stiles observed, letting his fingers trail out of Derek's ass and across the inside of his thigh. He knee-walked a little closer as he reached for the lube again so he could slick himself. "You want me to use a condom?"

Derek blinked at him, looking cutely bewildered. "We didn't last time. I thought you knew about werewolves--"

"I do, I do," Stiles reassured him, petting his hip. "But some people don't like the mess."

"I'm not worried about the fucking mess," Derek snarled, hooking a leg around Stiles' butt and pulling him closer. "I'm worried I'm going to die of old age before you put your dick in me."

"See? Bossy!" Stiles accused, but he took the hint and nudged into place so he could push into the tight grip of Derek's body, which felt so good he thought he might go blind. He was hot and slick inside, and Stiles wanted all the way in.

He couldn't help the sound he made as he surged forward, more quickly than he'd intended, but Derek just arched his back and took it beautifully. They both swore when Stiles bottomed out, then laughed together at that, which helped Stiles regain a little bit of his sanity. He held still for a moment, bending to kiss Derek, who was rocking his hips a tiny bit, greedy for stimulation.

"Holy fucking Christ," Stiles said against Derek's mouth, only a little embarrassed by how reedy his voice was. He dared anyone to fuck Derek Hale and not end up feeling at least a tiny bit overwhelmed. It was statistically impossible.

Derek reached down and grabbed Stiles' ass with one hand and hissed, "Come on, I need—" and that was all he had to say, because Stiles knew what it was like to be pinned, open and wanting, desperate to be fucked, and so he sat up to get some leverage and gave him what he needed.

He didn't bother with finesse, which would have been wasted right then on Derek, who was already urging him to move faster, fists clenching tight handfuls of the sheets. There was no way he was going to last long, and Stiles didn't want him to anyway. He wanted to see Derek come apart while Stiles was inside of him.

Stiles couldn't take his eyes off him, splayed out beneath him like a dream come true. It was Derek, with his vulnerable throat and his gorgeous eyes, and this was all new and everything he'd been missing at the same time. Stiles sunk his teeth into his bottom lip so he wouldn't say anything too stupid, then shoved Derek's legs back a little further and did his best to fuck his way right through him.

He started out with short, quick strokes, but Derek demanded it hard, and then harder, lifting his head to watch, hooded eyes glued to where their bodies were slapping together. It was going to be burned into Stiles' brain forever, no matter what the future held for them, the image of Derek writhing beneath him, begging to be fucked. Stiles felt like he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, could only snap his hips forward again and again.

Derek moaned appreciatively as he reached for his own cock, hand moving so fast it was almost a blur, and Stiles felt him clench down tight, head tipping back as he came with a low groan, grinding into it, hand stilling as the last jerky shudders rolled through his body. Stiles fucked him through his orgasm with slow and shallow thrusts, in case he was sensitive now. When Derek sighed out a breath and went limp, Stiles finally stopped moving completely, letting Derek's leg fall back to the bed.

Derek opened his eyes halfway and mumbled, "Wow," and Stiles collapsed on his chest in relief, sucking in huge gulps of air.

Derek let out a little hnnn of surprise. "What are you doing?" he asked, breathless and laughing. "You didn't come yet." He was dragging his hands all over Stiles again, getting come in his hair, and it didn't matter.

"I need a second," Stiles said, a little grumpily. Derek was the one who'd just been fucked within an inch of his life and had what appeared to be a mind-blowing orgasm, and he was already recovering, while Stiles was a wreck. "That was a little intense, okay?"

"Okay," Derek said, sounding way too amused. He was still twitching a little around Stiles' hard cock, and Stiles could feel Derek's heart racing under his sweaty cheek, so at least he wasn't totally unaffected. "Let me know when you're ready to continue."

"Oh, you'll know, smartass," Stiles promised. Then he kissed Derek some more, because that was still a novelty. He was stalling a little, because he didn't want to come yet, but it wasn't long before his hips started moving of their own accord. The sweet drag of Derek's body around him was too tempting, and once he'd caught his breath he sat back again so he could watch himself disappear into Derek one delicious inch at a time, before pulling almost all the way out. Derek was pliant and relaxed now after coming, fingers petting Stiles' wrists where he was holding Derek's legs open.

After a few minutes of that, Derek reached down and stroked himself to hardness again, an impressively short refractory period even for a guy with the kind of recovery Derek had.

Stiles leaned down over him and kept up the easy pace, rocking into him in long strokes that would give them both a slow build. Derek kept touching his face, curving his hands around his ribs, the earlier bossiness gone as he moved with him, one languorous thrust after another. It got sweaty and intense, both of them working together, and maybe Stiles forgot he was trying to not say anything stupid and a few things slipped out, but Derek didn't seem to care.

When Derek got close to coming again he started getting noisy, harsh pants and bitten off words that had just enough wolfy Derek in them to be familiar, but were at the same time completely unlike any sound Stiles had ever heard him make in bed before. Stiles worked into him over and over, only gradually picking up the pace, trying to drag every last amazing sound out of him, but he was running out of time. The blowjob had taken the edge off, but Stiles wasn't going to last forever, not with Derek looking so good and sounding so good and feeling so good and taking it so good.

"Stiles," Derek said when he came, over and over, until Stiles put his mouth over Derek's so he could taste his name on Derek's tongue, finally. Finally.



Art by Rahciach

~*~

The honeymoon lasted about two weeks, a giddy, sex-filled time where they were practically inseparable, in bed and out. They did nauseatingly couple-like things like watch movies with their hands down each other's pants, and argue over who got the last donut before splitting it in half, and kiss each other on the nose. Stiles had permanent beard burn on his thighs, and Derek accidentally put a dent in the wall above Stiles' bed with his forehead.

Sure, there was some adapting to be done, but mostly for Stiles. Derek was, as far as Derek himself was concerned, back to normal. It was Stiles who had to adjust to this new Derek, who could walk and talk and send X-rated text messages. This Derek tended to be a little moodier, and unexpectedly quieter--gone were the constant vocalizations he'd relied on to communicate with Stiles in the cabin, and he didn't seem inclined to substitute words in their place--but at his core he was a lot like the feral version Stiles was already so attached to: affectionate, fiercely protective, funny. And absolutely smitten with Stiles.

"I got you a brownie, too," Derek said, setting the bag from the deli down on the counter. If Stiles had been a cartoon character, his eyeballs would have transformed into puffy red hearts.

"You are the eighth wonder of the world," Stiles said, reeling him in by the front of his shirt for a kiss just as Lydia breezed through the door, back from her own lunch break.

"Working hard, I see," she said, when Stiles finally let Derek go, a few seconds longer than was probably acceptable in a work environment. "And titillating the customers." The shop was nearly empty, but not quite.

"Derek brought me a sandwich," Stiles gloated. Shame was for losers.

"And a brownie," Derek said to Lydia, without taking his eyes off Stiles' mouth.

"I knew all that 'romance is gross' stuff was bullshit," Stiles teased, poking him in the chest with a finger.

"You'll spoil him, and then he'll be even more intolerable," Lydia warned Derek as she disappeared into the back room with her bright green smoothie.

"Don't listen to her," Stiles said immediately. "Spoil the hell out of me."

"All right," Derek said, corner of his mouth twitching. He looked like he was going to kiss Stiles again, but then his phone beeped. "Hold that thought," he said, tangling the fingers of one hand with Stiles' as he plucked his phone out of his back pocket with the other.

Stiles was happy to simply gaze adoringly at him while he checked his phone. Sometimes he wondered how Derek could possibly be real, because no one was this perfect. Not only was he unspeakably gorgeous, he had good taste in music, and he was willing to stay up all night helping bottle feed kittens when Stiles got called in for back-up. He never used all the hot water when he showered, sucked cock like it was his superpower, and now he had surprised Stiles by bringing him lunch at the shop. Stiles felt like he'd won some kind of boyfriend lottery.

"I gotta run," Derek sighed, seemingly oblivious to his own perfection, and the effect it had on Stiles, and also the two girls standing over by the wind chimes who had been openly gaping at him since he walked in the door. He shoved his phone back in his pocket. "I'll call you later."

"I should be home by ten," Stiles said quickly, giving Derek a look with no subtlety in it whatsoever. They hadn't planned on hanging out tonight, but Derek's T-shirt looked really tight. He might need help getting it off at the end of the day.

Derek grinned at him and squeezed his fingers a little tighter before letting go. "I'll see you later, then." He leaned over the counter and kissed Stiles on the jaw and then nosed his way over to his ear, stubble and hot breath chasing a wave of shivers down Stiles' spine. "I actually got you two brownies," he murmured, before he pushed off the counter and walked away.

"Thanks," Stiles said faintly, as Derek strode toward the door, muscular shoulders and perfect ass carving a path between the overfilled shelves of books. He was flipping his car keys over his finger and whistling, and Stiles felt like he was melting.

Until Lydia elbowed him sharply in the ribs, making him jump. He tried to glare at her, but his eyes felt kind of glazed over. "If you let that one go, I'll never forgive you," she declared.

"If I let him go I'll never forgive my--hey!" Stiles yelled when one of the wind chime girls whipped out her phone and took a picture of Derek through the window as he walked to his car. "That is creepy and wrong."

"Sorry," the girl said, not looking up from her phone's screen. She didn't sound sorry at all.

~*~

The problem was, no matter how happy they were to be reunited, and how many times they jumped each other's bones, they couldn't avoid the rest of the world--and the realities of being in an actual relationship--forever. People in relationships had conflicts, and things they disagreed on, and other things to worry about besides each other. Stiles had a business and a family, and Derek had a pack that needed his time and attention. Being together now meant finding time, whereas before they'd had nothing but time. It meant compromises, and settling, and trying to make two very different lives fit together. That was when the cracks began to show.

"Okay, so what about Thursday?" Derek asked. He was already starting to sound annoyed, even though it had barely been thirty minutes since his second orgasm. Checking their calendars always made him grouchy.

"I've got a purification after work, and then a naming ceremony that night," Stiles said, chewing his lip. He flicked his calendar to the next day. Friday, which was dinner with his dad. They weren't yet at the point where Derek was included in those. "I'm on Amateur Day duty Saturday but I'm free that ni--," he started to say, before he realized that was the full moon. So Saturday was out. Derek would be with his pack. And Stiles usually worked for a few hours Sunday morning, so that wasn't any good either.

"Sunday afternoon then?" Derek asked. He was poking at his phone's screen a lot harder than was necessary.

Stiles cleared his throat. "Sunday is Allison's birthday," he said apologetically. "There's a party." And that was a double no, the idea of bringing Derek to Scott and Allison's house, for a party that would be full of Argents. Neither side would thank him for that. Not for the first time, Stiles imagined how much easier life would be if he could hang out with Derek and his friends at the same time. "You could come over after," he offered. "We can spend the day together Monday."

Derek was already shaking his head. "We're moving Boyd's mom on Monday."

"Right," Stiles said, deflating. He'd forgotten that was coming up. Boyd's mom was moving to Vacaville to live with her elderly uncle, who was in failing health. The whole pack was helping, and it was going to be an all-day deal. On Stiles' only real day off that week.

Derek didn't make another suggestion, just glared at his phone. Trying to make plans to see each other again was completely killing the afterglow, Stiles thought, more than a little bitterly.

He set his phone down and lifted up to straddle Derek's outstretched legs. "So come over Sunday night anyway," he coaxed, stroking his hands up and down Derek's bare arms. He could leave the party a little early. It wouldn't go late anyway, because everyone but Stiles had to work on Monday morning. He wouldn’t miss much by ducking out after a few hours. "It's better than nothing."

"Right. Better than nothing," Derek said flatly, tossing his phone aside. He put his hands on Stiles' hips, but didn't meet his eyes.

Stiles bit back the first response that came to mind, which was that Derek had been two hours late showing up tonight because Isaac had hit a deer with his car and needed someone to pick him up and help him make arrangements for repairs and hold his hand or whatever. It wasn't all Stiles' schedule that was the problem here.

But he didn't want to fight, so he said, "Sunday it is," and tried to forget it was only Tuesday.

~*~

As if the scheduling issues weren't hassle enough, Stiles' relationship with Derek only further complicated the already thorny issue of Scott's status in Derek's pack, and often put Stiles in no-win situations where someone would be disappointed with him no matter what he did, which he hated. At first he hoped they'd find a way to co-exist peacefully, and at times there seemed to be progress, but it never lasted; Scott and Derek ricocheted from grudging tolerance to fragile camaraderie to outright hostility and every point in between faster than anyone—even they themselves—could keep straight. Outside threats sometimes prompted them to form a temporary alliance, and other times ignited vicious arguments, which only made dealing with outside threats even more stressful.

And Stiles was caught in the middle, but he couldn't even make a good two-dogs-and-a-bone joke about it because they weren't even explicitly fighting over him. Scott was quietly stubborn about ceding an inch of his territory in Stiles' life, while Derek was often too quick to say he was willing to step aside, and Stiles couldn't decide which was more annoying. Luckily, Isaac had an almost embarrassing level of fanboy adoration for Scott, and was willing to work as a go-between when Stiles got tired of doing it himself.

Maybe a little too willing, Stiles thought, when Scott and Isaac showed up together again, ahead of Derek and the others.

"They're on their way," Scott said in response to Stiles' raised eyebrows. He was clutching a cup of steaming coffee in his hands as they stood around in the back room at Deaton's.

"Actually, they're here," Erica announced as she and Boyd and Derek walked in. There was frost in her hair, the ends frozen into sharp icicles, and Stiles could hear Derek's leather jacket creaking stiffly from all the way across the room. It was too damn cold out there.

Derek nodded at Scott, and Scott nodded back, like two gunslingers meeting in the town saloon and agreeing not to draw on each other.

Erica walked over to the six parchment envelopes lined up on the table, soaked in orange blossom water and painstakingly inked with a complicated rune design. Stiles had finished them a few minutes ago, and they were almost dry, but not quite.

"Don't touch them," Stiles told Erica. He'd liberated a kitten from one of the cages while he waited and was cradling it to his chest, her wee paws kneading his shirt collar as she tried to nurse on his neck. "The magic's still fragile while they're wet."

"They smell good," Boyd said, blowing on his hands; even werewolves weren't completely impervious to cold, especially ones from California. He was wearing a knit winter hat he'd gotten from somewhere, green and red stripes, with a pom pom on the top. He looked like a really badass Christmas elf.

"Orange blossom and cloves," Stiles explained. "Little bit of cinnamon."

"Smells like Christmas," Scott said, and slurped his coffee. Isaac slouched against the cabinet behind Scott and didn't say anything.

Derek came to stand next to Stiles and touched the small of his back lightly with his chilly hand, then smoothed a fingertip between the kitten's ears. She made a little mewl and dug her pinprick claws into Stiles' collarbone, squirming to get further under his chin. Kittens either loved Derek or were terrified of him, with no in between. This one didn't love him.

Now that they were all gathered, Deaton came out of his office and gave them a quick summary of the situation. The frigidly cold mist that had settled over Beacon Hills was likely the result of magic gone wrong, though neither he nor Stiles had been able to locate the source. Even the Wiccan club over at the nearest state college, which could normally be depended on to produce one or two memorable clusterfucks a semester, had no idea what had caused it.

The news was calling it a cold snap, and doing a lot of speculation about climate change, but Stiles and his friends knew better.

Once everyone was up to speed, Deaton gathered up the envelopes. "Stiles has prepared these kapnocharti, and filled them with the required ingredients. They must all be burned simultaneously, and the resulting smoke will render the mist inert within hours."

"You think that'll work?" Derek asked Stiles, then looked over at Deaton as if including him in the question, too. Stiles didn't blame him for being dubious. That the smoke from six small envelopes was enough to take care of the whole town seemed absurd, but that was how magic worked sometimes. Believing had a lot to do with it; Stiles had made the envelopes, and Stiles believed.

"There are no guarantees in magic," Deaton said with a closed-lipped smile. "But we do our best." He handed three of the envelopes to Scott, and the other three to Derek. Derek wordlessly passed one of his to Boyd, who took it like he was accepting a live hand grenade. "Three of you will go to the northernmost point in town, and the other three will burn yours along the coastline. The wind will do the rest."

"Sounds good to me," Scott said cheerfully. Sometimes he had even more faith in Stiles' abilities than Stiles did, which was one of the things Stiles loved about him.

"Worth a shot," Boyd shrugged, always the pragmatist.

Scott handed one of his envelopes to Isaac. "Stiles can drive us," he said, at the same time Derek said, "Boyd, you're with me and Stiles," and there was a short, awkward silence in which everyone stared at Stiles except for Derek, who turned away from him and handed his third envelope to Erica instead.

"I'll call you when we're in position," Derek told Stiles, not meeting his eyes, and walked out without looking back, Boyd and Erica scurrying to catch up to him.

"Sorry," Scott said awkwardly, offering his last envelope to Stiles.

Stiles couldn't take it with his hands full. "It's fine. Just let me put her back," he said, as he headed to the cat room with the kitten, fragile in his hands, vulnerable despite her claws and her fangs, despite the dots of blood she'd left on his skin.

This wasn't the first time something like this had happened, and it wasn't the first time it had ended like this, with Derek backing down from making Stiles take a side. Stiles suspected it was because Derek was afraid Stiles would never choose him over Scott, and that right there was the most heartbreaking thought of all.

~*~

Isaac and Boyd and Erica knew Stiles from high school, and for the most part they were friendly, and accepting of Derek's relationship with him. But Stiles wasn't a werewolf, and despite the fact that he was pretty knowledgeable about them, all his years with Scott had been spent sans pack, and he hadn't really understood the reality of pack dynamics, and certainly hadn't had a clue what it would be like to date an alpha, the person who was responsible for everyone. Especially when that alpha was Derek.

Whether due to lack of experience or his own mercurial nature, Derek veered wildly between being casually violent with his pack and over-compensating by giving them 110% of his attention even when they didn't need or want it, which Stiles found baffling. And even when he wasn't stoically smothering them, they were constantly at Derek's place, because he shared a loft apartment with Isaac, who was in some kind of threeway romance with Boyd and Erica that seemed heavy on both emotional intensity and pig-tail pulling of both the metaphorical and literal varieties.

Given the close-knit nature of the group, someone was always at Derek's place, seeking his attention and assistance, or simply his company. Even when they spent the night at Stiles' house—which was usually the case—Derek's phone kept him tethered to his pack, unless he turned it off, which he clearly hated to do, so Stiles stopped asking. Sometimes Stiles just wanted to be alone with his boyfriend, but the pack intruded in one way or the other more often than he was able to be accept graciously, and when they fought about it Derek threw Scott in Stiles' face, and it got ugly quickly.

It was a whole bunch of drama Stiles would rather just avoid, but late in the summer he decided to have a barbecue and include everyone from both the Stilinski and Hale camps, because they were going to have to learn to get along sooner or later. Also, seeing Derek and his pack was better than not seeing Derek at all.

"Your vegan burgers are in the freezer," Stiles told Lydia when she walked into his kitchen. "And I got that sprouted bread you like." He was sitting on the counter, yanking the silk out of two dozen ears of corn and dropping it into the trash can between his dangling feet. Derek was out in the backyard, hopefully not burning all the hair off his pretty face in the process of getting the grill lit.

It was a comfortingly sweet picture of domesticity, if you didn't know that Derek and Stiles had fought just two hours ago because Stiles had gotten a call from a client with an emergency and Derek had gotten a call from Erica with an emergency, and that left no one to mow the lawn before the party. Which was why Stiles' dad was currently criss-crossing the yard with the push mower while Boyd--who seriously deserved a medal for wading into the fray by being helpful--walked along behind and weed whacked the edges.

"You're my favorite boy," Lydia said, kissing him on the cheek as she brushed past him.

"If those are made with black beans I'm going to cry," Stiles said, watching her set a plate of brownies down on the counter. Her answering silence was ominous. "I'm serious, Lydia! Actual tears!" he called after her as she picked up a bowl of kale chips and took it out to the patio.

Erica showed up next, with taco dip, which was a relief. At least there'd be something edible at the party besides corn. "Ooh, I didn’t know your dad was coming," she said, in a tone Stiles did not like one bit.

"Hands off my dad," Stiles said, pointing an ear of corn at her. "He's a respectable citizen and old enough to be your father. Stop being gross."

"He's handsome. And he carries a gun," she said dreamily, while Stiles made barfing noises. She grinned at him and flounced out the back door, looking like a woman on a mission. Stiles twisted around to look out the window behind him, but Erica only winked at him and then walked over to where Lydia was chatting with Boyd, so Stiles let her live.

Dad had finished the lawn and was now standing over the grill with Derek, drinking beer and talking about God knew what. Stiles' dad, who was cursed with a built-in urge to take care of people, and remembered the Hale family tragedy quite clearly, had taken one look at Derek and seen an orphan who needed some love, and was doing his damnedest to fold him right into the family, which seemed to freak Derek out as much as it pleased him. Right now Derek was looking decidedly freaked.

Normally, Stiles would have joined the conversation to take some of the pressure off Derek, but he was still aggravated with him, so he didn't budge. Sink or swim, Derek, he thought, and yanked viciously on a handful of corn silk.

"Dude, we got three kinds of Cheetos!" Scott crowed when he walked into to the kitchen balancing an overloaded relish tray on one hand. Behind him, Allison held up a reusable shopping bag bulging with Cheetos. Stiles was nearly knocked over by the wave of raw onion smell coming from the tray.

"Ugh, take that outside before we all suffocate," he said, waving a hand in front of his face and getting even more corn silk all over his clothes.

"Hey," Isaac said as he came through the door behind Danny, who was carrying a bag from the liquor store, thank God. "I brought potato salad." He set a foil-covered bowl down on the table.

"Awesome," Scott said, face lighting up. Potato salad was his favorite.

"Great. Your pack's out on the patio," Stiles said to Isaac, because sometimes he needed to be reminded that Derek was his alpha and Scott already had a best friend.

"You got a cooler?" Danny asked, taking several different four packs of good beer out of the bag.

"I told you not to put so many onions on there," Allison told Scott, who looked a little pouty when he said, "But I like them."

"Cooler's outside," Stiles said to Danny. "Where those onions should be." He gave Scott a look.

"I've got it. I want to talk to Lydia anyway," Allison said, taking the tray from Scott and elbowing her way out the door, Danny and Isaac on her heels. Scott was already busy opening Cheetos and dumping them into plastic bowls.

Danny was back two seconds later. "The cooler's not outside."

In the yard, Isaac started yowling as Erica and Boyd chased him around the garden, freshly cut grass flying everywhere. They had a habit of regressing to ten years old when they were all together.

"Of course it isn't," Stiles said, irritated. He'd asked Derek to get it out of the garage, and he hadn't done it. Maybe one of his betas had had a hangnail. "Stop crushing my lavender plants!" he yelled through the window.

"Erica! Isaac!" Derek barked, and then gave Stiles an apologetic look as Isaac got to his feet in the flowerbed, brushing leaves out of his hair, Erica looking sheepish beside him. Boyd was nowhere to be seen, which was probably smart. Every time they were all in the same place together they damaged something. Every time.

"I'll get the cooler," Scott said hurriedly, handing the Cheetos to Danny, who juggled the bowls for an alarming couple of seconds before hip-checking the screen door open and taking them outside.

"Easy, it's just a few plants," Stiles heard his dad say to Derek. Stiles didn't even dignify that with a response. Just a few plants. Honestly, no one appreciated the work that went into--

"You want a beer?" Scott asked Stiles, with more sympathy than Stiles could tolerate right now. The thought of just saying fuck it to this whole thing and getting drunk with Scott was too tempting.

"I want a hundred beers," Stiles sighed, dusting stray bits of silk off his pants and hopping off the counter. "But I'll settle for one. One of Danny's good ones."

Scott clapped him on the back and said, "I'll get the cooler and see what I can do," before he walked out, leaving Stiles alone in the kitchen with his corn and irritation.

Things were very, very quiet out in the yard now. Erica and Isaac and Boyd were sitting at the picnic table under Derek's watchful eye, and Stiles' friends were all clustered together by the Cheetos with Dad. So much for mingling.

This certainly wasn't going as well as Stiles had hoped, but there was nothing to do but grin and bear it. Maybe they could get through the next couple hours without a disaster.

"Stiles, you need to soak it in water beforehand, or all the husks start on fire," Dad said a little while later, as they all stood around the grill, watching the corn go up in flames.

And then, because the universe had a sick sense of humor, it started to rain.

~*~

The rained-out barbecue did nothing to make things better. Neither did the weekend trip to Seattle that got cut short when Deaton needed their help averting a disaster of epic proportions, nor the Avett Brothers tickets that went unused when all three of Derek's betas came down with the lycan measles and he spent three days nursing them back to health and trying to act like he wasn't two inches from a nervous breakdown.

Stiles thought he could be of some assistance, but he was a little freaked by the idea of Scott possibly catching it, and reluctant to expose himself and act as a possible carrier. And Derek was so grimly determined to take care of his betas himself that Stiles couldn't really tell if Derek wanted his help at all. In the end, Stiles couldn't stand the thought of doing nothing, so he went over to Derek's place with an elixir he made from a recipe in an old werewolf medicine book.

The place stunk like chicken soup and fever sweat, and Derek looked so bad that for a second Stiles thought he was sick, too, but Derek shook his head. "I had it when I was a kid. Can't get it again." He looked over his shoulder. Erica was huddled on Derek's bed, just a lump with a bunch of unruly hair sticking out of one end, and Boyd was shivering on the couch. Isaac was probably in his own bed, but Stiles guessed he didn't look much better. "The older you are, the worse it is."

Stiles had nine little bottles of the elixir in his bag, three for each of them, which was the recommended dose. Derek took them with a quick nod, then turned his attention back to Erica, who had started coughing weakly. "Thanks for coming by," he said as he walked away. His tone wasn't quite sincere, but Stiles couldn't tell if Derek was annoyed Stiles was sticking his nose in or annoyed he wasn't doing more to help.

Once again, Stiles went home feeling defeated and resentful over his inability to figure out what Derek wanted. As often as it happened, he still wasn't used to it.

By the end of the week everyone was much better, if still looking a little speckled, and the next time Stiles and Derek were alone he didn't act angry at him, but the downward spiral continued. Emergencies, squabbles, the ongoing tension between Derek and Scott, Stiles having too little free time and Derek having too little privacy.

It was all stuff they probably could have dealt with if they'd talked about it, but it turned out Derek wasn't much of a talker outside the bedroom, where he had no problem at all expressing himself. Stiles would have found funny if it weren't so incredibly frustrating, and the more important something was to Derek, the less likely he was to say anything about it.

Back in the cabin, Derek's wants and needs had been simple, and he hadn't hesitated to communicate them, but here in the real world he was a million times harder to figure out. As a wolf, he'd been open and trusting, and his emotions had been right there, easy to decode. As a human, he was more closed off, and weirdly insecure about Stiles' feelings for him, which often manifested itself as anger.

It took Stiles a long time to figure that out. So long that they almost broke up over it.

They almost broke up anyway. Stiles almost said, "I can't do this anymore," more than once, but bit his tongue every time and just tried harder.

He reminded himself over and over again that it was useless to compare their relationship now to their relationship then. Their real lives were busy, and they had to worry about other people and other things besides each other, unlike in the cabin where they'd been the main focus of each other's existence. Getting along had been easy when they'd had no other option, but wasn't quite as simple in everyday life.

They muddled through September, made it into October, but it never got easier, never felt less like an uphill battle just to stay on speaking terms with each other. Derek, far from an open book as it was, began closing down by increments, getting quieter and more withdrawn, using avoidance as his number one coping tactic, until sometimes Stiles felt like all they did was meet up at his place a few times a week and fuck. That, at least, was easy.

The sex was amazing. Everything else was like an ongoing root canal.

~*~

It was undeniably a strange thought to have, that he missed being locked up in the cabin, but it came to Stiles anyway on a Sunday afternoon, while he was half asleep on his couch with his feet in Derek's lap. Things were quiet, both between the two of them and in Beacon Hills in general. They'd had sex last night and again this morning, and hadn't argued in at least two days, and they were just hanging out together and being close. Something that had been an everyday occurrence when they were being held hostage, but was rare now.

He cracked an eye and looked at Derek, who was sitting at the other end of the couch, holding onto Stiles' toes with one hand and a book with the other. It was an amusing reversal of how things had been back when they'd spent their days lounging on a bare mattress in their underwear, Stiles reading while Derek dozed.

These were the times that made it hard to think about walking away. If it had all been bad, it would have been a no-brainer, but when things were easy like this, when it felt like it had in the beginning, Stiles couldn't even imagine letting Derek go. Even with all their problems, Stiles still felt the pull of the bond that had been forged between them months ago. It made him want to hold on as tightly as he could. It made him want to fight for it, even when there was nothing to go up against except themselves.

Stiles cleared his throat, saw Derek's head tip almost imperceptibly in his direction, even as he kept reading. "I think we need to go back," Stiles said. "To the cabin."

Derek turned to look at him fully. Stiles didn't need any kind of super Derek translating powers to know he did not like that idea. His jaw tightened and his eyebrows drew down. "You're joking."

"I'm not." Stiles said, sitting up, pulling his feet out of Derek's grip. "We need to go back."

Derek lowered his book and closed it over his finger to keep his place. He didn't look so much unhappy now as perplexed. "Why?"

"Because we'll never put it behind us otherwise," Stiles said. He'd only been half-sure it was a good idea when he'd brought it up, but now he was convinced it was necessary. They were slowly imploding. Maybe it was time for something drastic. "It's called closure, and we need it. We're going back."

"If you say so," Derek said, and pulled Stiles' feet back into his lap, but when his fingers closed around Stiles' ankle they weren't quite steady, and they held on a little too hard.

~*~

They went back on a Monday, Stiles' day off. It was late autumn, a little windy but still pleasantly warm and sunny, and Stiles threw a few sandwiches and some orange juice in his backpack before they left, because he was never eating Redding fast food again, thanks. Everyone knew where they were going, just as a precaution, and it had been the battle of a lifetime to stop everyone—Dad, Scott, Derek's entire pack—from tagging along like hired muscle. Stiles checked the road behind them anyway as they blew out of town, just in case.

Derek insisted on driving, so they took his car, the Camaro curling itself into the twisty road like it was made of putty, and Stiles tried to think about that instead of how anxious he felt the closer they got to the road that led up the mountain. He kept tapping his fingers on his knee, on the door, on his chin, until Derek reached into the back seat—and somehow did not run off the road while doing so, thus sparing them that particular reenactment—and grabbed Stiles' hoodie, tossing it into his lap. Stiles spent the rest of the trip winding one of the strings around his finger over and over and reminding himself this had been his idea.

They drove past the church sooner than Stiles expected, since he'd been unconscious in the ambulance for that leg of the ride last time. And maybe it was fucked up, but it made Stiles feel better to see kids on the playground, darting across the grass where Stiles and Derek had almost met their end. Bad things happened, and then life went on. Stiles and Derek had both learned that long before they met each other.

It wasn't until they'd passed the church that Stiles wondered how they were going to find the little patch of gravel that had served as the toadies' parking spot—there seemed to be a lot of them, places for people to pull off to the side of the narrow road—but Derek didn't have any problem. He just slowed a little, eyes scanning the woods next to the road, and eventually pulled smoothly off the pavement and killed the engine.

Then it was just the two of them standing next to the road, staring into the woods and listening to the ticking of the Camaro's cooling engine. Stiles had been the one who insisted they come here, who had made the plans, who had spoken of this trip optimistically, but now as he stood at the edge of the woods, his bravado deserted him. It was Derek who finally took Stiles' hand as they stepped onto the path from the road to the cabin, and led him into the woods.

Neither of them said a word as they wound their way through the trees, Stiles trusting in Derek to find his way, because Stiles certainly couldn't. They walked for what seemed an oddly short time compared to Stiles' memories, hands sweating where they were clutched tightly together. Stiles was just about to ask how much further it was when suddenly there was open space up ahead, and the sharp angle of a roof peeking through the trees, and there it was.

Derek let go of Stiles' hand as they stepped into the clearing, and they stood shoulder to shoulder, looking at the cabin.

It was strange, seeing the place from the outside. Stiles could have drawn a picture of the inside down to exacting detail, even now, but the outside was all new to him. He hadn't had time to look when they were fleeing.

It looked like it had once been painted white, but was flaking and dirty now. The roof was patched in several places, and there were some stunted flowers valiantly trying to hold down the fort against the weeds in a little flowerbed under the front window. By now the grass in the yard was knee high and dried brown, and had grown over the place where Hatchet Face had died, where Derek had pulled an arrow out of his own throat, where Stiles had shot and killed a man without thinking twice about it, or twice about it since.

Someone had closed the door when they retrieved the bodies, but it wasn't locked. There was a blood stain on the floor where Geraldo had died, and the remains of the mountain ash line were still scattered across the threshold. Derek barely glanced at either as he stepped inside.

It looked the same, smelled the same. There was still a pizza box on the kitchen counter, the remains of their last meal. Stiles wasn't eager to look inside it, so he moved on to the bathroom, where the torch, left behind and sputtering, had burned a black mark on the wall next to the door jamb. All their stuff was still there, the little bars of soap and their shared toothbrush, their one dingy towel.

The mattress was still in the bedroom. Derek's nostrils flared when they stepped inside, and Stiles couldn't imagine what the bed smelled like to him. They'd spent so much time on it, sleeping and cuddling, and they'd fucked on it a lot, with no sheets. It had to reek like the two of them.

Their magazine alphabet was on the floor where they'd left it, the piles not quite so tidy now, stirred by the wind coming though the barred window. Stiles sank down on his knees in front of it, and his eyes burned when he thought about how, despite the situation, things between them had been so much easier back then. How they'd communicated with each other more, about important things, in a way they seldom did now that Derek could actually talk. They'd been a united front then, instead of fighting with each other all the time.

Derek was standing by the bed, hands shoved in his jacket pockets, staring stonily out the window. It was surreal, being here with him again when he was so different; it almost hurt to look at him. The Derek Stiles had known here was gone forever--rightfully and thankfully so--and Stiles often felt guilty for remembering him so fondly. That had been an awful time in Derek's life, much more so than Stiles'. Derek still had nightmares about it, woke up clawing at his neck, snarling and whining until he remembered it was just a dream and he could talk again.

"I never thanked you for everything you did," Derek said suddenly. "For getting us out of here."

"Everything I did?" Stiles scoffed, remembering the wolfsbane bullets and the crossbow bolts, blood running out of Derek and onto Stiles. "You were the one who--"

"If it had been another mage, I'd probably be under Argent's control right now," Derek said over Stiles' protests. "I'd still be in that collar."

"We worked together," Stiles insisted.

Derek didn't look at him, but he tilted his head as if conceding the point.

"Can't we make this work?" Stiles asked quietly. It was the first time either of them had admitted out loud that they might not be able to.

Derek was silent for a long time. Without turning around, he said, "You know, I spent years wishing I could get back at her for what she did." Stiles didn't have to ask him who he was talking about. "And then when she was right in front of me…all I cared about was you."

Stiles stared at the floor as his interpretation of that night rapidly rearranged itself. He had never thought about it like that. At the time, there on the grass behind the church, he'd thought Derek was making a choice between saving his own life and fighting for Stiles'. It hadn't occurred to him that the decision might have looked very different from Derek's point of view.

Derek hadn't simply chosen between living and dying—he'd also chosen between past and future.

Stiles was supposed to be part of that future. They both knew it. He poked at a ragged letter F with a finger. He didn't trust himself to talk around the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat.

The toes of Derek's sneakers appeared in Stiles' peripheral vision. Slowly, he knelt at Stiles' side, and, just like he had so many times before, chose some letters and lined them up.

He wrote, I'M AFRAID.

"More afraid than I was here," he said out loud.

"Me, too," Stiles admitted. Here, the goal had been simple and easily defined: escape. And when it was done, it was done. Mission accomplished, cross it off the list. Out in the real world, things were more complicated, and they were always being pulled in fifty different directions and the job of holding onto what was between them was ongoing. They had to work at it every day, and sometimes they sucked at it.

Derek was adding more letters to what he'd already spelled. Now it said: I'M AFRAID YOU'RE GOING TO GIVE UP.

Stiles reached down and scooped up the word "afraid," crinkling the letters in his fist and tossing them aside. If only it were really that easy, he thought. Then he moved some letters around, added a few others, until it read:

I'M NOT GOING TO GIVE UP

"I want us to be together," Stiles said, because it seemed like Derek doubted that a lot, or maybe Stiles doubted that Derek wanted it. "I know it's not all that great sometimes, but—"

He didn't get to finish the thought, because Derek had circled an arm around him and pulled him close enough to kiss him, with unmistakable hunger and intent, and after a moment of mental whiplash, Stiles was returning it, practically climbing into Derek's lap, grabbing his head with his grateful hands. Derek growled into Stiles' mouth, a familiar sound that sent sparks up Stiles' spine, and Stiles was suddenly frantic to do this one more time here, on the gross, stained mattress where it had all begun.

And there was no doubt that was what was going to happen. Derek was like Stiles had never seen him before, aggressive and a little rough as he dragged him backward onto the bed, breathing heavily as he stripped Stiles out of his clothes, then shed his own. He flipped onto his back and clamped his hand around Stiles' neck, guiding his mouth down to where he was already hard. Stiles was not at all opposed to being manhandled a little in bed, but Derek had never done anything like this before, and it made Stiles just as hard as Derek was.

Derek made a punched out sound and his stomach jumped when Stiles took the head of his cock into his mouth and flicked his tongue along the underside. Gentle pressure from Derek's hand urged him down, so Stiles went down until he couldn't anymore, moaning around Derek's cock at the feeling of having his mouth used. That was all the hint Derek needed. He took hold of Stiles' head and eased him back up, then slid his mouth slowly back down, lifting his hips to fuck up into the softness of his throat while Stiles whimpered and rubbed his own hard cock against the bed.

Derek did it a few more times, slow and steady, refusing to move faster even when Stiles started squirming with how good it felt and how badly he wanted more. Too soon, Derek clamped his fingers tight around the back of Stiles' neck and pulled him up to sprawl over his body, like a puppy being hauled by its scruff. Stiles fumbled to get their dicks together in his hand, and Derek moaned like he liked that before he suddenly rolled them so he was on top, thrusting into Stiles' fumbling fist and biting at his mouth.

"Let me fuck you," Derek said, ducking down to kiss Stiles' neck, his jaw, beneath his ear. "Let me—"

"You're keeping me waiting," Stiles panted, because what was this let me shit? Like he was doing him a favor, when Stiles couldn’t ever get enough. He wanted Derek every way he could take him, jerked off to thoughts of him when Derek wasn't around. Even when he was pissed as hell at him, he still wanted him. He'd started wanting Derek here, right here in this dismal room, and never stopped.

The bottle of smelly lotion was still there, wedged between the mattress and the wall, and when Stiles fumbled for it Derek plucked it from his hand and flicked the cap off with his thumb, kneeling up between Stiles' bent legs. He slicked them both up fast and then was shoving forward as Stiles lifted his hips, and he slid home with a low groan.

Stiles closed his eyes and breathed into it, momentarily overwhelmed with how familiar it all was to be here again, the sound of the wind in the trees, birds chirping outside, and the feel of Derek against him. They'd been naked here together both a hundred times and never. Never like this, with Derek kissing him with a human mouth, touching him with human hands.

Derek dropped down onto his arms, practically folding Stiles in half, and Stiles took it without complaint. He liked it like this, and they hadn't done it in a while. They'd never done it exactly like this, actually, he realized once Derek started to move. They'd never done it with Derek fucking into him this hard from the start, forcing short little pants out of him as Derek hunched over him and whimpered into his neck, high pitched distress sounds Stiles hadn't heard him make since they'd left this place.

Stiles tightened his grip on Derek's shoulders, not sure what to do, and suddenly not entirely sure what was even happening. He couldn't remember when he'd ever been so confused and so aroused at the same time, and it was hard to think, with Derek's cock hitting him in all the right places over and over, impossible to decide what he should do. He wanted to ask Derek what was wrong, but he was being fucked senseless at the same time, and when he opened his mouth he didn't know whether to tell him everything was going to be okay or beg him to make him come.

Derek spoke first anyway. "I want to—I want—" he panted into Stiles' ear. He sounded like he was barely holding it together.

"Yes," Stiles said, though he had no idea what exactly it was Derek wanted. It didn't matter.

Derek pushed himself up so he could hook his arms under Stiles' thighs, rearing back until he was up on his knees, and Stiles was shocked to see he was shifted. He'd never so much as flashed his eyes during sex back home, but now he was in full beta shift, and Stiles' stomach did a little somersault when he saw him, snarling and powerful, pumping his hips into Stiles' body.

"Yes," Stiles said again, and this time it came out on a sob as Derek drove into him right where it felt the best. He wanted this. He'd always wanted this, but Derek had been so reluctant, always so cautious and careful. He'd never let go like this when they'd been here the first time.

Derek pulled out of him, ignoring the bereft sound Stiles made, and then flipped him onto his belly like he weighed nothing, breath hissing through his clenched fangs as he guided himself back in, covering Stiles with his body. When his hands came down on either side of Stiles' head, they were clawed, digging into the mattress, poking holes that turned into furrows as he clenched his hands. His pace was brutal and perfect, and Stiles shamelessly begged him to keep going as he tilted his hips to get the right angle back, and shoved one hand under his body so he could jerk off. His hand was too dry and he didn't care.

"God, yes, fuck me," Stiles groaned. "Don't hold back. Don't—"

And Derek didn't. Stiles grabbed the edge of the mattress with his free hand and held on as Derek fucked right down into him over and over. He was already seconds from coming, and it didn't matter, because Derek wasn't going to wait anyway. Derek was making low, desperate sounds as he got closer to coming, body heavy on his back, breath hot in his ear.

"Bite me," Stiles panted, spreading his knees and lifting his ass to meet Derek's increasingly savage thrusts. It was the secret wish he'd never dared utter, because Derek had been so worried, so afraid of his own power. "Put your teeth—"

"Stiles," Derek said, brokenly, like he was begging him not to tempt him, so Stiles tipped his head down to better expose the back of his neck and said, "I want it so bad."

Derek didn't bite him very hard, and he cheated and retracted his fangs, but Stiles didn't care, he came in his own hand with Derek whimpering around a mouthful of his stinging skin, pounding into his ass, and it was mind-blowing, like he was being split in two and scooped clean. As the final few tremors shook through him, Derek let go and powered through the last few thrusts and then held deep as he came inside him with what sounded suspiciously like a muffled roar.

Just like that it was over, nothing but the last few twitches of his dick, his hammering heart, his blurry eyes. Stiles' ears were ringing, though whether that was from his brains dribbling out of them or Derek's noisy orgasm, he wasn't sure. Derek was shaking on top of him, breathing hard, but his hands were fully human again. Stiles could feel a stinging throb where Derek had bitten him, right where his neck met his shoulder, and he jumped a little when Derek licked it tentatively.

"I'm good," Stiles said hoarsely, reaching back to pat Derek's sweaty head, just in case he was starting to regret what they'd done. He'd always been so fearful of doing anything to hurt Stiles, and maybe asking Derek to bite him had been too much.

Stiles expected Derek to seek further reassurance, but he seemed to accept Stiles' word and instead he slowly pulled out—ugh, Stiles' least favorite part—and collapsed onto the mattress next to him, worming his arm underneath to pull him close. Stiles made aggravated noises and tried to shift around to be comfortable, which Derek ignored, as usual. Derek always just held him close however awkwardly, he wasn't picky; Stiles was the one who always made a fuss about finding the perfect position.

Derek wasn't as assured as Stiles had thought, though, because once Stiles stopped squirming around, he asked, a little hesitantly, "You liked that, right?" Like he hadn't been able to tell by the way Stiles had egged him on, and come his brains out.

"You fucker. You were holding out on me when we were here," Stiles answered indignantly. Derek grinned at him, but he looked a shade embarrassed, and he didn't deny it.

Stiles reached up to lightly touch the bite on his shoulder, still hot and tingling. "I knew I was right about marking," he said smugly. "You guys keep telling me I'm not, but you're all liars."

Derek rolled his eyes in disgust. "Have you been reading those stupid werewolf romance novels again? I told you, those are all fake."

"I only read two!" Stiles protested.

Derek raised an eyebrow at him in silent reproach.

"Two series," Stiles amended. "It was research, okay? I wanted to know what I was getting into." It was only partly to change the subject that he asked, "Did you want to do that when we were here?"

"Yeah," Derek admitted, hand rubbing a steady circle into Stiles' hip. "But I didn't want to scare you."

Stiles reached up and flicked Derek on the forehead with his finger. "What part of 'I like you no matter what' do you not get?"

"I was trying—I didn't want you to change your mind," Derek scowled, snapping his teeth at Stiles' finger, like he was going to bite it off. His fangs were out, even though he wasn't otherwise shifted, and Stiles' stomach did a little swoop to see him relaxed and playful and a little wolfy. It was a good look on him, and Stiles hadn't realized how much he'd missed it.

"Well, I didn't. And I'm not going to," Stiles said, softer than he'd intended, which was a little embarrassing. Seeing Derek like this again was making him all emo.

"Me neither," Derek agreed, just as softly. He kissed Stiles on the mouth and rolled him over onto his back. Stiles thought that meant it was time to get dressed, but Derek just inchwormed down so he could throw his arm over Stiles' belly and push his face under the small of his back, something he hadn't done since they'd left here. Stiles had missed that, too.

For the first time, it felt okay to miss some things about this place.

It had been the right call, to come back here, and remember how this felt, get a little piece of it back. It hadn't been all bad when they were here. Maybe that was part of the problem, that they'd both tried to put everything about that time behind them, even the good parts, like sex involving fangs, and honest words carefully spelled out one at a time. They'd set it all aside when they'd stepped over that line of mountain ash, but it didn't have to be that way. There was no reason why they couldn't take the good things they'd had here home with them.

"We're totally having sex like that at home," Stiles declared. "That was too good to give up."

He heard a muffled snort come from somewhere in the vicinity of his lower back as Derek's arm twitched a quick squeeze around Stiles' middle. "We don't need to go home. Just give me a few minutes," Derek said, but he sounded like he was barely awake, so "a few minutes" seemed a little optimistic, but Stiles didn't call him on it. They could nap first.

"And I'm getting you a whiteboard," Stiles added, giving Derek a gentle scratch behind his ear. "So we don't have to drive up here every time we need to have a serious talk."

~*~

Derek had laughed at that, but Stiles wasn't joking. The day after they returned from the cabin, he spent way too much time in Staples, mulling over his options until he found the perfect whiteboard. It wasn't anything special, just a white rectangle, but it was magnetic, so they could stick it on Stiles' refrigerator. Which Stiles did, with not a little bit of theatricality, and then dusted off his hands, satisfied.

"Boyd's making paella on Saturday," Derek said one afternoon, as he trailed his fingers down Stiles' spine. They were on the floor next to the couch, after sex spontaneously broke out during the National League playoffs. "Erica's bringing sangria, and Isaac says we have to watch at least one Almodovar movie." Derek's pack had a thing about theme nights. The last one had involved Finding Nemo and sushi.

"Mmmmm, okay," Stiles sighed, as Derek's fingers swept up to the nape of his neck again. "Maybe I'll see if Danny finally has time to get together and do some beta testing." He and Stiles were working on a smartphone app that would suggest ingredient substitutions for common magic work.

"All right," Derek said, but even though his hand never stopped moving, still tracing delicate lines up and down Stiles' back, his tone was all wrong, way too neutral.

"What does that mean?" Stiles asked, lifting his head. Derek's hair looked ludicrous, so he reached up and tried to foof up the flat side. When that didn't work, he tried to flatten the foofy side instead, which also didn't work.

"It means all right," Derek said, scowling as he caught Stiles' hand and pulled it down to flatten it against his bare chest.

"No it doesn't," Stiles insisted. "Not when you say it like that." He nudged Derek's ankle with his toes. "Tell me what's going on. Are you jealous of Danny or something?" It didn't seem likely, but he had no idea what else it could be.

Derek rolled his eyes. "No."

"Then what is it?" When Derek still didn't answer him, he asked, "Do you need to write it down?"

The whiteboard had been on the fridge for days and days already, unused. Derek had been around a lot in that time, but they hadn't fought even once; everything had just been…easier between them since their trip to Redding. And Stiles wanted to keep it that way, so without waiting for Derek to respond, he wriggled out of his arms, hiked his underwear back up where they belonged, and retrieved the board from the kitchen.

Derek had his jeans on but not buttoned when Stiles came back, and was gathering the blanket and the cushions from the floor and putting them back on the couch. His hair looked even more ludicrous.

Stiles sat down on the couch and then patted the cushion next to him, which Derek had put back wrong, but they'd deal with that later. When Derek sat, sneaking one arm behind Stiles' butt so he could drag him closer, Stiles handed him the whiteboard and a marker and then just waited.

He wasn't sure if Derek would go along with it, but after staring at the board for a second he uncapped the marker with his teeth and quickly wrote something, and then handed it over to Stiles.

YOU NEVER SPEND TIME WITH MY PACK

Well, that wasn't what Stiles thought he was going to say, but it…wasn't entirely untrue, either. He hadn't done anything social with them since the ill-fated barbecue in August, but even that hadn't been an actual pack gathering, which Stiles had assumed were limited to actual pack members. Derek always invited Scott, via Isaac, because he was embarrassingly determined to get Scott to join; it hadn't occurred to Stiles that Derek wanted him there, too.

"I didn't think I was invited. I'm not…you know," Stiles said, scrunching his forehead down and making little wolfy fangs with his fingers, which only made Derek stare at him like he was losing his mind. "I thought you guys wanted to hang and do werewolf stuff, or whatever."

Derek took the board back and used the eraser on the marker's cap to scrub away what he'd written, then jotted something else and held it up for Stiles to see.

NOT ALL THE TIME. After giving Stiles a chance to read it, he wiped it clean again and wrote, I WANT YOU TO LIKE THEM.

"I do," Stiles insisted, knowing Derek would be able to tell he was telling the truth. "Derek, you know I do."

Stiles didn't actually dislike any of Derek's betas as people—he'd known them longer than Derek had—but it was no secret he often resented the pack as a whole, which he wasn't proud of. Derek had lost his original pack and his entire immediate family, and his new pack was important to him. It was all he had, really, aside from his relationship with Stiles.

That was something Stiles tried to remember when he got aggravated, but he couldn't help that the constant pack-related interruptions and last minute cancellations irritated him. Since the closure trip they hadn't been as numerous, and he suspected Derek had used some of his past pack "emergencies" as an excuse to avoid what had become an increasingly untenable situation with Stiles. Whether or not that was true, things had been better in that regard, and Stiles was trying to be understanding.

Derek had written something new: IT FEELS LIKE YOU'RE AVOIDING THEM

"I’m not avoiding them," Stiles said. And he wasn't, really. When the pack got together and did their wolfy thing he took the opportunity to hang out with his own friends. Stiles wasn't one of those guys who ditched all his buddies when he was dating someone, or never let his boyfriend do anything without him. "I just figured that was your thing, so I do my own thing."

IT CAN BE YOUR THING TOO SOMETIMES, Derek wrote, giving Stiles a cautiously hopeful look as he held up the whiteboard. MAYBE SATURDAY?

"So…when you brought that up? That was you asking me if I wanted to be there?" Stiles guessed. Derek always told him ahead of time when the pack had plans, but until now it hadn't dawned on him that Derek told him about the pack nights so he could be there if he wanted to, not so he could find something else to do.

"Yes," Derek said out loud, sounding a little exasperated, but how was Stiles supposed to be able to tell?

"Well, I didn't know that!" Stiles said. "I thought you were letting me know you had other plans." It was kind of ridiculous how easy it was to miscommunicate, about the stupidest things. "Of course I'll come."

"Thank you," Derek said, hilariously formal, so Stiles tossed the whiteboard onto the floor and gave him a bunch of loud, exaggerated kisses on his cheek until he laughed and pulled Stiles down on top of him so they could watch the last inning.

~*~

So that was how it went. Things came up that needed to be dealt with, and they used the whiteboard to do it. Sometimes when Derek went silent Stiles would have to ask, "Do you need to write it down?" but most of the time Derek used the board voluntarily, and with increasing frequency, until it became a part of their daily lives, not just a problem-solving device.

Derek had weird, archaic, loopy handwriting, and because Stiles was a jerk all the dry erase markers in the house were pink, so the notes often looked like something that belonged in a diary with a heart-shaped padlock and rainbow unicorns on the cover. This pleased Stiles to no end, especially when Derek went out of his way to pretend it didn't annoy him.

Sometimes when Stiles got up in the morning Derek was already gone—he liked to go for long runs when it was still barely light out—but there would be a crooked heart drawn on the whiteboard, and a travel mug of coffee, still warm, sitting on the counter with just the right amount of milk in it. Stiles always wrote something really touching back, like, "Your eyes are like shimmering turquoise pools and I want to dive into them like a drunken reality TV star falling into a hot tub," or, "Your sweet, sweet ass makes me weep tears of joy and horniness."

Everyone learned really quickly not to look at the refrigerator when they came over.

Once using the whiteboard became a habit, Derek took it upon himself to start augmenting he notes with pictures stuck to the fridge with Stiles' motley collection of magnets. He didn't cut them out of magazines, because who the hell bought magazines anymore, but Derek was a Google image search junkie, and he printed a bunch of stuff off on the clackety inkjet printer in Stiles' office.

There was a picture of Eddie Munster they used for Scott, and a sheriff's badge for Stiles' Dad, and sometimes Stiles came home from work and found a group shot of the Dalmatians from the Disney movie slapped to the fridge with a magnet form the Redwood National Forest, which meant Derek and the other wolves were out in the Preserve.

Sometimes Scott went along, too. Stiles and Allison called those their wolf widow nights and usually spent them chatting online, exchanging Pinterest links and arguing over whether or not they should switch to hot yoga, which Stiles was firmly against because he did not want to spend an hour a week in a one-hundred-plus degree room filled with twenty other sweating people. Allison claimed it got the toxins out of your system, but she drank a Diet Coke for breakfast every morning, so what did she care about toxins.



Art by Rahciach

~*~

Derek's birthday was just a week after Stiles', so they planned a small dinner thing, nothing fancy, just friends and family in the back room at their new favorite restaurant. Unsurprisingly, it got cancelled due to supernatural drama.

Isaac ran afoul of an alpha passing through town and accidentally started a pack war that dragged on for three days, and then in all the chaos Stiles' dad ended up getting hurt. Not badly, but there was blood, and nothing was guaranteed to make Stiles flip his shit like seeing his dad bleed, and by the end of it the other pack fled Beacon Hills like the devil himself was on their heels, the abandoned train station was nothing but a smoldering crater, and everyone who was still conscious was looking at Stiles like they were a little afraid of him.

Except Scott. Scott had seen Stiles do way worse.

All the wolves had taken some damage, including the two new guys, clients of Stiles' who had been unhappy with their old pack and joined up with Derek just a few weeks ago. A decision they were probably re-thinking already, but it was maybe just as well they knew up front what they were getting into.

Derek was barely tracking what was going on around him, having gone head-to-head with the other alpha, and had to be carried to the car and driven back to his place by Boyd. Allison left with a blood-streaked Scott, and the others were still standing over the hole that had been the train station when Stiles sped off. There was a big hole burned through the front of his T-shirt, right over the rune on his chest, and he thought he might be bleeding from his ears, and he didn't care about either.

Dad was already back home, not hurt badly enough to stay in the hospital overnight, so Stiles stopped off at his own place long enough to get cleaned up and pack a bag before he went over to the house, planning to spend the night with him. It might not help Dad much, but it would make Stiles feel a lot better.

"How'd it go?" Dad asked after Stiles finished fussing over his bandages and double-checking the instructions on the bottle of painkillers.

"Plan went off without a hitch," Stiles said, with a lightness he didn't actually feel, as he dug through the freezer for an ice pack. They had about seventeen of them, which said a lot about what Stiles' life had been like growing up. He chose a soft, squishy one and took it into the living room, along with a big glass of water.

Dad narrowed his eyes at him like he knew he was hiding something, but took the ice pack and gingerly laid it across the front of his shoulder. "Scott? And Derek?"

"Nothing they can't heal from," Stiles told him. "And the other pack is gone, probably for good."

"Good to know," Dad said, popping out the recliner's footrest and closing his eyes as he leaned back. "Now if I could just convince people to stop trying to kill my kid, I'd be a happy camper."

"They weren't technically trying to kill me this time," Stiles said. "I was just kind of lumped in with the others."

"Same end result, if they succeed," Dad grumbled.

The doorbell provided a welcome interruption by ringing three times in quick succession, signaling Scott's arrival. He had cleaned up and changed his clothes, and stopped at the best diner in town for pie on his way over. He was Stiles' favorite person in the world right now, he really was, so he hugged him and told him so.

Dad managed to rouse himself to answer the call of pecan pie, and also ask Scott how everything had gone, trying to fish for details Stiles had held back. But Scott was a true friend, and his answers were just as vague as Stiles' had been.

They all sat around and got a sugar buzz and watched a football game, and talked about everything else but what had happened over the last few days. It was tradition, though when Stiles was the injured party they had brownies instead of pie.

"I'm getting too old to stay up this late," Dad said, when the game was over. It wasn't even nine o'clock yet, but he looked exhausted. Stiles pushed a few crumbs around on his plate, swamped with guilt over the fact that his dad was hurt because of him and his friends. It wasn't the first time, and probably wouldn't be the last. "You boys should get some sleep, too," he said as he heaved himself out of the recliner, like they were sixteen years old again, having a sleepover.

"We will," Stiles promised, which was just as much bullshit now as it was back then, but some things never changed. He got up and took everyone's plates to the kitchen, and swapped out the ice pack for a fresh one. The more they controlled the swelling, the more comfortable he'd be in the coming days.

When he came back, Scott was holding out a hand to shake with Dad, who predictably used it to pull him close and give him a hug with the other arm, the one without the stitches. From where he was standing, Stiles could see their hands still clasped between them, and the black lines spidering up Scott's arm as he drained some of Dad's pain, and he was grateful.

Dad hugged Stiles next, for a long time and not nearly long enough, and then said goodnight one last time and shuffled out of the living room with his ice pack.

Stiles made himself stay with Scott as his dad made his way up the stairs and down the hallway to his bedroom. Hovering wouldn't do any good, and if he acted too worried his dad would start to worry about him and it was just a vicious circle. The best thing to do was feign nonchalance. Maybe if he feigned it long enough, he'd start to feel it.

Despite the pie, Stiles was still starving, having barely eaten in the last day or two, so he busied himself by putting a frozen pizza in the oven and raiding his dad's secret snack stash. Some time in front of the television with a bunch of grease and sugar was sure to start untying the knot in his stomach.

"So what's going to happen with Derek?" Scott asked, when they were slumped on the couch watching an episode of Top Gear they'd both seen about twelve times. They'd already eaten most of the pizza.

"Whaddya mean?" Stiles asked around a mouthful of Doritos.

"You know." He waved his hand around, which didn't help Stiles understand what he was getting at. "You think you guys are gonna be, like, a long-term thing?"

"I…hope so?" Stiles answered, swallowing a little too soon. He felt a pointy Dorito corner dig into his throat on the way down. He had no idea why Scott was asking him this, and why now. "I don't have any plans to break up with him. Why?"

Scott picked up a pretzel rod, but tapped it on his knee instead of dipping it in the mustard. He shifted uneasily and then asked, in a way too casual tone, "Does he want to give you the bite?"

Despite Scott's attempt at making it sound offhand, it seemed a bit rehearsed, like this was something he had been wondering about, and not in a good way. Stiles felt a little like a teenager in an after school special, being asked if his boyfriend was pressuring him to have sex.

"I don't think so," Stiles said. It had honestly never occurred to him to wonder if Derek wanted it, because Stiles didn't want it.

Stiles couldn't be a mage and a werewolf at the same time—there were spells that would be inaccessible to him as a wolf, and not just the ones that required ingredients that were toxic to wolves. Metaphysics was tricky, and sometimes magic cancelled out other magic. Becoming a werewolf would literally end Stiles' career.

"Do you ever think about turning Allison?" Stiles asked. Maybe this was some weird wolfy love thing, he had no clue. This whole conversation was so out of left field.

"No way," Scott said, eyes widening comically at the mere suggestion. "But Derek and I are different." There was an award-winning understatement. "He's never mentioned it?"

"Not so far," Stiles said, but now he was wracking his brain, trying to figure out if he'd missed a clue somewhere.

Derek bit him sometimes when they were fucking, but never with his fangs, and never to the point where he drew blood, and Stiles liked that a lot, but he didn't want the bite. He just wanted to be nibbled on a little now and then. Derek knew that, had never asked to do more, or acted like he wanted it. Stiles had asked to be bitten, that first time in the cabin, and it seemed like something Derek did more because they both liked it than evidence he was harboring some dark desire to make Stiles a werewolf.

He'd never so much as hinted at turning Stiles, or written it on the whiteboard. And while Stiles had a vague notion that this was it for the both of them, no other applicants need apply, since the closure trip he'd mostly been basking in what he considered hard-won bliss, too happy to give much thought to anything too concrete about the future. He had no idea if Derek had, either.

The trip to the cabin, and resulting changes in how they handled problems, hadn't been a fix-all, but it had gone a long way toward making things a lot better. They didn't fight nearly as much, and now that spending time together wasn't soul-crushingly unpleasant, Derek was around way more. Stiles had even cleared a little space for him to keep some things at his place, and given Derek a key, and on Fridays they met Dad for Chinese food and Scrabble. It was all so embarrassingly normal Stiles could barely contain his joy over it.

Some people wanted big sweeping romance and grand gestures and excitement. Stiles got enough excitement in his life. He just wanted to sit on the couch and fold their underwear while Derek emptied the dishwasher.

And also blowjobs. Lots of blowjobs.

So far, Stiles was getting exactly what he wanted on all counts.

"Things are pretty good right now, just the way they are," Stiles said, fighting the urge to knock on wood. Then it occurred to him that maybe Scott had a reason to wonder--just the fact that he'd brought it up meant he was genuinely curious. "Did Isaac say something to you? Did Derek say something to him?"

Scott immediately shook his head. "No, nothing. I was just thinking—I don't really know how it works with an alpha, and having a whole pack around. I thought maybe he'd want you to join. He seems a little…power-hungry sometimes."

Which was absolutely true, but with good reason. The original Hale pack had been destroyed by a madman, and Derek himself had survived only by the skin of his teeth. His paranoia, and desire to make himself and his pack as strong as possible, were completely justified. Stiles didn't begrudge him his focus on protecting himself and the people he cared about.

And packs did have humans in them sometimes, Stiles knew, either by choice or by blood, but alphas didn't gain power from having humans around, they needed betas. Even a mage was still a human, and didn't give an alpha that extra boost of power that came from having other wolves under them.

But Stiles had been the one to bring up the two new guys, after finding out they were looking for another alpha. He'd mentioned it to Derek, told him it might be worth talking to them, see if they'd be a good fit, and in that conversation they'd openly discussed Derek's desire to grow his pack, always trying to find safety in numbers. Derek never said, Hey, how about you instead? It would have been the perfect time to bring it up, if turning Stiles were his plan.

On the other hand, they'd had that talk about Stiles spending more time with Derek's pack, and Stiles had started doing that once in a while, and it was going well so far. Now he wondered if there was a deeper meaning there he was missing.

"He does want his pack to be bigger," Stiles admitted. He didn't bring up that Derek was still hoping Scott would agree to officially join, because everyone but Derek had accepted that that was a lost cause. "But he's never said he wants me in it." Scott looked relieved by Stiles' answer, which was kind of the opposite of how Stiles felt now. "I kinda wish you hadn't mentioned it, though," Stiles said irritably. "Now I feel weird."

"Sorry," Scott said, sounding genuinely apologetic. He dipped the end of his pretzel in the mustard and then held it out for Stiles, who crunched on it absently while he returned his attention to the television, where James May was riding a motorcycle in the rain while wearing a colander on his head.

"I forgive you," Stiles said around a mouthful of pretzel crumbs, though that was a given. It was always a given for Scott.

~*~

Derek showed up a few minutes after Scott left, looking freshly showered and perfectly healed, and for the first time Stiles resented him for it. His dad was upstairs in bandages while Derek looked like it hadn't been just a few hours since he'd toppled into Boyd's car while holding a huge flap of skin closed over his stomach. And this was all because of a stupid pack war that never would have happened if there wasn't a pack in Beacon Hills to begin with, if Derek hadn't bitten Isaac.

Stiles was suddenly very, very angry at him.

Seemingly oblivious, Derek crunched on a handful of Doritos as he thumbed the remote to turn off the TV. Stiles opened his mouth to complain that he'd been watching that, thanks, but he didn't get a chance to before Derek stretched out long on the couch and grabbed Stiles' wrist to pull him down into the reassuring bulk of his body. Stiles grudgingly wiggled around until he was comfortable, glaring at the silent black screen of the television.

"How's your dad?" Derek asked, running his hand up and down Stiles' back. He was probably smearing Dorito cheese all over the back of Stiles' shirt, but at least it would match the front.

Stiles' anger quickly dissolved under the weight of Derek's hands on him, and Derek's concern for his dad. He was glad now the TV was off; he would rather listen to the thump of Derek's heart anyway. He closed his eyes and said, "Okay. He's got some stitches, but it missed the tendon so he should heal fine."

"That's good. That's great," Derek said. It didn't sound like a rote response at all. "Did Scott bring pie?"

"Yep," Stiles said. "Raspberry, coconut cream, and pecan."

"Yuck," Derek said. "I'd rather fight that alpha again than eat coconut pie."

"Says the guy who likes raisin!" Stiles protested. Raisins were the most vile thing on the planet and no one would ever convince him otherwise. A pie made of them was nothing less than an insult to the entire concept of pie.

The coconut vs. raisin argument usually devolved into a tickle fight, but they were both too tired, so it fizzled out before it got to the point that required either of them to actually move. They talked a little more, about how everyone else was doing—the new guys hadn't broken every speed limit trying to leave town, which was a minor miracle--and then about Derek's planned refresher course on werewolf etiquette, because pack wars sucked. Eventually, though, Stiles couldn't stop yawning long enough to carry his end of the conversation.

"Do you want me to stay?" Derek murmured against the top of Stiles' head, which Stiles was smart enough to know meant Can I stay? He'd been expecting it, so he nodded and then let Derek do most of the work getting them to their feet.

They brushed their teeth standing side by side in front of the bathroom mirror, like Stiles and Scott had done a hundred times as little kids, under the watchful eye of Stiles' mom; the stool they used to stand on to reach the faucet was still stashed under the sink. He'd never imagined then that he'd be standing here one day covered in magic tattoos, his mother gone twelve years already, his werewolf boyfriend by his side. At least he and Derek didn’t have to share a toothbrush anymore. Stiles had packed Derek's tonight, too.

"I can help him with the pain, if you want," Derek offered as he sat on Stiles' tiny little childhood bed, untying all the knots in his shoelaces.

Stiles shut his bedroom door and locked it, just in case. Derek would hear if his dad started moving around. "Scott already did," he said, and turned around just in time to see Derek staring unhappily at his socks.

Stiles tried not to be irritated with Derek and Scott most of the time about stuff like this, because it was just who they were. Stiles' dad was the closest thing Scott had to a father, and Derek's family was dead, and it was sincerely a compliment that they both thought of Dad as someone they should take care of, but tonight Stiles didn't have the patience for werewolf territoriality.

"He was here, and he did it," Stiles said as he stripped out of his T-shirt and sweatpants. "I didn't ask him. He just did it really quick while he hugged him, okay?"

"It's not a big deal," Derek said, shrugging a shoulder. He tugged his shirt up over his head and then stood up to unbuckle his belt.

"Do you want me to be a werewolf?" Stiles asked. This was probably the worst time to broach the subject, but it was a question that had been burning in the back of his brain since Scott brought it up, on a night when he was already thinking about mortality and pain, and the future.

Derek stared at him, the ends of his belt in his hands. "No," he said. Then, uncertainly, "I mean—do you want me to bite you?"

"No," Stiles said, crossing his arms over his chest. It came out challenging for some reason he didn't even understand himself. "I can take care of myself just fine as I am."

"I know that," Derek said as he stepped out of his pants. He was still wearing his socks, gray athletic ones, and somehow managed to not look completely ridiculous standing there like that in his underwear. He folded his jeans up and set them on top of his shoes. "We all know that."

"You think I went overboard?" Stiles demanded, some of the anger from earlier flooding back. "Because that was me showing restraint. It was my dad, Derek. "

"I know," Derek said, and Stiles appreciated that it wasn't placating at all, just agreement. "I understand. Maybe more than most." He folded his T-shirt up and carefully laid it on top of his pants before looking at Stiles again. "What is this about?" he asked, crossing over to him and tugging him in with a hand on his elbow.

Stiles went gratefully, mashing his face against Derek's bare shoulder. "Nothing," he said, sounding embarrassingly sullen. "I'm just being dumb."

"That's not like you," Derek said mildly. He kissed Stiles on the ear as he drew a soothing circle between his shoulder blades with one hand.

Stiles snorted. "Flatterer."

"Not really," Derek said, rubbing his cheek against the top of Stiles' head. "What's going on? You need to write it down?"

And that was what was referred to as "turning the tables," Stiles thought.

Derek wrote things down for Stiles a lot, but not all the time. There were days when he was sad and days when he was short-tempered and days when he was just an outright asshole, and he refused to say one word about it except to tell Stiles that it was nothing and to back off. Stiles, always on the lookout for any sign they were falling back into a pattern of not communicating with each other, tended to think of those days as Derek reverting back to old behavior, but maybe he was wrong about that.

Maybe everything didn't need to be said out loud, maybe every thought wasn't logical or rational or something that should be shared. Maybe it was okay to sometimes say and think stupid things because your pack was sick or your dad was hurt and you were handling it badly. Maybe some things were better left unexplained, and it wasn't a sign that something was wrong, but a sign that something was right. Maybe it meant a lot that you could be an irrational asshole once in a while and it wasn't the end of the world, and someone would still love you anyway.

Stiles dug his fingers into Derek's broad back and nestled into the comforting beat of his pulse. "Nah. I'm good," he said. And he was, mostly. For all the jokes he made about Derek being a fear biter, Stiles had done a pretty good imitation of it himself tonight, and now he was feeling grateful it hadn't blown up into a huge argument.

"All right. C'mon, let's sleep," Derek said, drawing him toward the bed, which was comically small for the two of them. Even mashed together like spoons they barely fit.

Stiles was still feeling yucky and vulnerable, though, and with the werewolf war going on, he and Derek hadn't been alone in days, and Derek felt really good pressed against Stiles' back. This was his dad's house, and his dad was right across the hall asleep, but…

"We're not fucking in your dad's house," Derek whispered.

"I know," Stiles said, and then ground his ass back against Derek's groin, just to see how committed Derek was to that line in the sand.

"Stiles," he groaned, his dick already starting to twitch against Stiles' ass.

"I'm just trying to get comfortable," Stiles said, with as much feigned innocence as he could muster.

"You're a menace," Derek mumbled, as he slid his hand up the front of Stiles' shirt and thumbed his nipple. Victory.

Stiles twisted his head around so they could kiss, which they did for a while, sweet little kisses that made Stiles' heart jump in his chest. The angle was awkward, though, and eventually he had to give up and just tip his head forward, let Derek mouth his neck and his ear while he reached into Stiles' underwear and slowly stroked him to full hardness. His hand was a little wet, like he'd licked it first, and felt amazing. Derek was definitely getting hard now, too, and leisurely rubbing himself against the curve of Stiles' butt.

"There's probably something in the bathroom we can use," Stiles hinted, but Derek just shoved their underwear down and slotted himself between the backs of Stiles' thighs and went back to jerking Stiles off.

"Oh, good plan," Stiles breathed as Derek's other arm squirmed beneath him to wrap around his chest and hold him tight. He reached back and grabbed Derek's ass, the hard muscle there flexing with every thrust, and let Derek take care of him. He opened his eyes just enough to look down and watch himself slide through Derek's capable fist, feeling every stroke wind the tension in his belly deliciously tighter as Derek's dick dragged across the sensitive skin behind his balls.

It was lazy and slow, Derek coordinating the motion of his hand with the thrusts of his hips, the insides of Stiles' thighs getting wetter and wetter as Derek's cock slid through them. Stiles sort of tipped over into orgasm like a freefall, Derek covering his mouth with his own to stifle his cries, groaning a little while Stiles pulsed against his palm.

"That was so good, oh my God," Stiles panted as Derek slicked himself even more with his wet hand and then pushed between Stiles' legs again, moving a little faster with something slippery to ease the way. The bed was starting to creak, probably not enough to be a problem, but Stiles sped things up a little anyway just to be safe, squeezing his thighs tight and whispering to Derek how much he wanted him to come, until Derek did, gasping against the back of Stiles' head.

"If that counts as not fucking, we should not fuck all the time," Stiles said triumphantly, while Derek was still recovering behind him. "That was so fun."

Derek was, typically, silently amused in the face of Stiles' post-sex enthusiasm, laying there like a big, sweaty slacker until Stiles sacrificed his shirt to the cause and gave them both a cursory wipe before they pulled their underwear back up and got settled again.

"You really don't care if I never want to be a werewolf?" Stiles asked, after he'd decided spooning wasn't going to work and squirmed his way half on top of Derek instead. Derek was, as usual, perfectly content either way.

"Of course not," Derek said, in a tone that said I thought we already settled this, why are you making me talk about it again? "Remember what you always tell me? About liking me just the way I am?"

"Yes."

"I like you just the way you are. Even when you're kind of terrifying."

Stiles lifted his head, bristling. "It was my dad—"

"Like when you play Scrabble," Derek went on, the corners of his mouth twitching. "I've never seen anyone more cutthroat." They both laughed a little as Stiles de-bristled, then Derek brought Stiles' hand to his mouth and kissed the palm. He said, all the humor gone, "I know if anyone ever took me again, you'd come after me, and you wouldn't stop until you found me."

"I would. I'd find you. No matter what it took," Stiles said, pressing a fierce, close-mouthed kiss to Derek's mouth. And that was true. There was a short list of people Stiles would burn the world down to get back, and Derek was on it. That wasn't the kind of thing he talked about a lot. Despite what some people thought, Stiles did understand the need to be subtle.

Derek kissed him back as his arm wound around Stiles' waist, holding him still as he gentled the kiss into something much more tender. "It doesn't scare me," he said quietly, bumping his nose against Stiles'. "We're a lot alike that way." They were alike in ways that mattered, he seemed to be saying, and lycanthropy wasn't one of them. "You can be human the rest of your life and it will never make any difference to me."

"Good." Stiles threaded their fingers together and held on tight as he put his head back down. "Unless," he said, as an exception occurred to him. "I'm dying and you have to bite me to save me."

"Of course," Derek said immediately. Neither of them was joking.

"You aren't going to start referring to me as your mate, are you?" Stiles slurred into the side of Derek's face a little later, just as he was about to drift off. "That would be soooo embarrassing."

"Stiles," Derek said chidingly, palming the back of his head. "Stop reading those books."

~*~

Stiles did try to stop reading the books, he really did, but they were so bad they were good, and he was addicted to being outraged over the way they were filled with wrongness and misinformation and, once in a while, things that were eerily accurate. He only read them when he was home alone, because even though Derek never said anything out loud when he caught Stiles reading them, he still managed to silently ridicule him with his handsome, smirking face. It was irritating.

It didn't help that Lydia bought him a bunch of old, out of print ones for Christmas that year. She was such an enabler.

Winter slipped by almost without Stiles noticing, quiet by supernatural standards, happy by Stiles' standards. They chased off a griffon that tried to build its nest on top of the Beacon Hills water tower, and three rowdy omegas who rolled through town thinking they were going to cause some trouble, but other than that things were pretty tame, which left everyone with time to live their actual lives. Scott and Allison got engaged. Boyd spent a week at a meditation retreat. Lydia started seeing a perfectly normal guy with an office job and no skeletons in his closet, which officially made him the biggest freak she'd ever dated. Isaac won a poetry contest.

Toward the end of February, Derek stuck a picture of a gorgeous white sand beach up on the refrigerator, and Stiles took the hint. He cleared his calendar and turned the shop over to Lydia for a week, and they went to Aruba.

Stiles and Derek barely saw each other in the three days before they left, and almost missed their plane when Stiles got stopped for speeding on the way to the airport and then Derek got detained and thoroughly searched by the TSA. When they finally got their butts in their seats, the flight attendant already droning on about emergency exits, they were exhausted and harried and barely speaking to each other.

The flight was long and tedious, and the food was gross, and the TSA had confiscated all the snacks in Derek's backpack out of spite, and neither of them did well cooped up in a plane for extended periods, so by the time they landed in Aruba they were hungry and crabby. Stiles' entire body felt like he'd been folded into a pretzel for twelve hours, and Derek looked like he'd just been arrested for murder, clothes in disarray and a homicidal glare on his face. They'd lost several hours on the clock, so it was already late when they checked into the resort; they ate a mediocre meal of sandwiches at the hotel bar and barely made it into bed before crashing.

The next morning, Stiles stood on their balcony, staring at the swaying palm trees and the bright blue ocean, trying to convince himself he wasn't dreaming. He'd been so exhausted last night that it had barely registered they were here, and it had been too dark to see much of anything around them during the short drive from the airport. Waking up to this view was a bit of a shock.

"What are you doing?" Derek groaned into his pillow. He rolled over and squinted against the sunshine.

"We're in Aruba," Stiles explained, flapping his hand at the scene outside. He could scarcely believe it. Aruba!

"I hope so," Derek said, yawning his way into a full-body stretch, arms above his head, back curving against the bed. When he finally came out of it, Stiles was staring at him, probably with his mouth hanging open. Derek gave him a knowing look and casually flipped the sheet back. He was naked and hard.

They didn't make it out of the room until noon, but that was what vacation was for, and it wasn't like the ocean was going anywhere.

Stiles tended to think of werewolves as creatures of the forest, but Derek was really into the beach, digging his toes into the soft sand, catching angry red crabs and letting them pinch his fingers before letting them go. He didn’t even try to hide his delight in scaring the seagulls away from Stiles' bagel with a barely audible growl.

Derek was really into the sand part of the beach, anyway. He turned out to be a terrible swimmer.

"I'm a land animal," he grumped, when Stiles couldn’t stop himself from laughing at Derek's struggle to keep himself afloat. He looked like he was wrestling an invisible kraken.

"We should rent one of those double raft things. With the drink holders," Stiles suggested, towing him back to shallower water. "You can float around all day like a princess."

"You're not funny," Derek sputtered. Then he tried to dunk Stiles, with the result that he ended up mostly dunking himself.

There was a little cajoling involved, and the promise of some sexual favors, because Derek wasn't immediately sold on the idea. Stiles shouldn't have been surprised, then, when Derek took one look at the raft and immediately fell in love, spurning the attendant's help in getting it into the water in his haste to start lounging on it. It figured.

Derek had always loved to laze in the sun, and now he could do it to his heart's content, usually with Stiles next to him on the bright pink raft, clutching an over-priced drink with six different fruit garnishes sticking out of the top. They talked about inconsequential stuff as they floated up and down the beach, and made vague plans to go see some sights, but mostly they did a whole lot of nothing. Derek dozed a little, trailing one foot in the water, waking now and then to smear Stiles with layer upon layer of sunscreen without being asked.

Though Derek tolerated the heat and the sun just fine, Stiles could only lie there so long before he started to feel like a baked potato. And unlike Derek, he liked to swim, so he slipped back into the water periodically to cool off. He'd cruise back and forth a little, do some circles around Derek, and then hang onto the side, chin resting on his folded arms next to Derek's hip as he bobbed with the raft.

"This was a good idea," Stiles said, using Derek's swim trunks to rub the salt water off his face. From this angle, he could see that Derek's eyes were closed under his sunglasses, but he could tell he was awake.

"I know," Derek said smugly. He ran his hand over Stiles' wet hair and then cupped the back of his neck, thumb snugged up under the curve of his jaw. "You can thank me later."

"We should do this next year, too," Stiles said. It didn't feel like a stretch to think about them still being together a year from now, or even longer. That hadn't always been the case, but it seemed like a given now.

Derek didn't say anything, but the corner of his mouth slowly inched upward.

"Look at you. What are you smiling about?" Stiles teased, feeling his own mouth start to curve, too. Seeing Derek smile tended to do that to him.

"Nothing," Derek said, stroking Stiles' jaw with his thumb. His eyes were still closed. "Everything."

~*~

Beltane was also the one year anniversary of the kidnapping, which was a sign Stiles couldn't ignore. Stiles had, in the past, thrown a Beltane party or two, but this year there was extra reason to celebrate. When he mentioned it to Derek, he agreed, and obligingly offered up the space.

They picked a spot on the Hale land, about half a mile from what was left of the house, and spent the day of the party preparing the little clearing they'd chosen, with help from Derek's pack and Stiles' friends. They made a rock circle for the bonfire--which Derek insisted he was fine with over and over again, until he got annoyed by Stiles' repeated inquires--and raised the maypole, and set up tables for the food and the booze. There was a lot of food and booze.

"How many people are you expecting?" Derek asked, forehead scrunching further and further down every time Stiles unfolded another table.

"Everyone!" Stiles said happily, and then pointed at Scott and yelled, "No no no, put the pomegranates with the rest of the fruit. Other there. Over there!"

"Everyone" was an accurate description. By early evening, the clearing was jammed with people milling around, bumping into each other and then laughing about it as they juggled plates heaped with food and cups filled with honey mead, which was Stiles' favorite. He got fairly drunk early in the evening, and stayed that way.

Big Louie came with his wife, and Boris with his entire family. Some of Stiles' long-term clients were there, including the thousand warts guy. His name was Nabil, and he'd been using Stiles for low-level potion and charm work ever since he'd reversed the hex for him. Deaton showed up for an hour or so with two people no one recognized, and offered only their first names as introduction. Danny brought his boyfriend, who ran ultramarathons in the desert, so he had no body fat and was incredibly tan. He looked like a really attractive mummy.

Derek's pack had swelled to over a dozen now, both bitten and born, and had recently welcomed a married couple with two kids and another on the way. The two existing little wolves were immediately swallowed up by Boris' roaming hoard of children, whooping with joy as they disappeared into the woods. An Australian werewolf who had temporarily pledged to Derek while teaching a semester of marine biology at the state university brought his guitar and a fellow professor who was also the local reiki practitioner.

Almost everyone's parents came, even Chris Argent, who did exactly the right thing by shaking Derek's hand right away, thanking him for inviting him to the party, and then leaving him alone for the rest of the night. Derek had come to grudgingly accept Allison as part of Stiles' social circle, but he was never going to be friendly with Chris.

Stiles had worried a little that Derek wouldn't enjoy himself with so many strangers around, here in the heart of his family's territory, but every time Stiles found him in the crowd, he looked like he was having fun. He hit it off with Danny's boyfriend—probably bonding over how much they enjoyed running distances that would make other people puke and die—and good-naturedly tolerated the reiki lady's eagerness to talk to him about his energy.

"This is going better than the last one," Dad said when he found Stiles leaning against a tree and watching everyone have a good time. It was almost dark, and Stiles was feeling mellow and slightly fizzy-headed from the booze.

"I banned corn on the cob," Stiles said, smiling into his plastic cup. "Just in case."

"Good idea," his dad laughed, and slung an arm over Stiles' shoulders. He was wearing a dark green fleece--a replacement for the one Stiles had bled all over--and looked like he was having a good time. He'd agreed to come only when Stiles had reassured him there would be no naked dancing.

They stood together in silence for a while, sipping their mead.

"You've got a good thing here," Dad said after a bit, and he wasn't just talking about the party, because his eyes were on Derek, who was on the other side of the clearing with Boyd, tossing the kids back and forth like screaming footballs.

"Yeah, I know," Stiles said, giving a little wave when Derek felt his eyes on him and stopped to nod a greeting, grimacing as the little girl squirming in his arms kneed him in the stomach. At this time last year Stiles hadn't even known Derek. Now he couldn't imagine life without him.

Dad's squeezed his shoulder and then gave him a little shake. "Good. Now let's go burn some stuff," he said, steering Stiles toward the fire pit.

When they lit the bonfire, everyone settled in around it, the little werewolves in their parents' laps, staring wide-eyed at the flames. Big Louie and his wife were roasting marshmallows and getting financial advice from Lydia's boyfriend. Dad was off to one side talking with Boyd, who had just finished his first year of law school and realized that he loved the law itself, he didn't want to spend his life talking about it in conference rooms and courthouses. He was giving serious thought to joining the sheriff's department instead, with a lot of enthusiastic encouragement from Stiles' dad.

Other groups ebbed and flowed around the fire as the night wound down, laughing and drinking, or just talking quietly, mixed humans and non-humans, like it was no big deal. Allison and Lydia with Isaac, Stiles and Scott and Erica. Danny and his boyfriend chatted with Boris and the Australian guitar player. Derek sat on a rock and had an earnest conversation with Scott's mom for nearly an hour, a flower wreath perched crookedly on his head.

Stiles' people, Derek pack, all together in the same place. No one was fighting, no one was angry.

Rebirth.

~*~

Stiles still hadn't kicked the werewolf romance habit by July, so when he woke up one morning with Derek in his bed, snoring like a chainsaw, the first thing he did was hastily shove a moldy old paperback under his side of the bed. It didn't make sense to set himself up for ridicule, and it was all Lydia's fault anyway. She knew Stiles and willpower were ships passing in the night.

Derek's hair was a wreck, because it had still been wet when he'd climbed into Stiles' bed at 4am and crashed out before Stiles had barely registered he was there, just looped an arm over him and slipped back under. It was a pleasant surprise to see him there after what was surely a wild night out with his pack, celebrating the inclusion of another new beta, the second one in as many months. Stiles had barely seen Derek--or any of the other wolves but Scott--all week, which was common when someone new joined. Werewolves really knew how to draw out a celebration.

"Hi, stranger," Stiles murmured in Derek's ear as he eased over to get his hands on him. Derek was naked and warm and sprawled on his back, the sheet slipping down around his hips and doing almost nothing to hide what was underneath it. He was making Stiles' mouth water.

"Mmmffff," Derek said, and didn't move, not even when Stiles started mouthing at his jaw and rubbing his hand up and down the soft, fuzzy skin of his thigh. Not even when Stiles humped his hip a little.

Well, that was a bummer. Stiles was tempted, so very tempted, to wake him up anyway, but logic and experience won out in the end. Derek was clearly exhausted, and that would only lead to both of them being irritated and grouchy, and that never led to good sex.

Maybe later, when he finally woke up, then. Stiles ran a hand through Derek's crazy hair and leaned down to kiss his nose, where he had a faint smudge of dirt he'd missed in the shower. Derek snuffled against his cheek and made a quiet, content sound that lodged itself under Stiles' ribs and made them ache in the best way, then went back to snoring.

Resigning himself to being content with feeling good in his heart instead of in his pants, Stiles lifted the sheet and let himself take a nice, long admiring look before he covered Derek back up and left him alone.

Since it was Sunday, he checked his voicemail to see who had gotten themselves into a bind last night. There was only one message so far, from Mrs. Goat, as Stiles still thought of her. Her actual name was Trish, and her husband—when he wasn't a goat—was named Dion. Stiles hadn't heard from her since that first job months ago, and was a little surprised to hear from her now.

He called her back while he ate a banana and got the coffee started, and promised to be there in an hour. That gave him some time, so he jerked off unashamedly in the shower, knowing Derek would probably be able to tell the second he walked into the bathroom. It had been a long, lonely week, and waking up with Derek in his bed had gotten his motor running.

Derek was still asleep when Stiles crept back into the bedroom to grab some clothes, but he'd rolled over onto Stiles' side of the bed and buried his face in Stiles' pillow. Just seeing him there, sheet clinging to the curve of his butt, tempted Stiles again, but in addition to a general desire to not deal with Derek's grumpy attitude, Stiles hadn't been expecting to see Derek at all today, and as long as he was here, there was something they needed to deal with. It would be easier if Derek stayed asleep.

Stiles didn't use the whiteboard much, because he didn't often have a problem expressing himself, but sometimes he resorted to it, when he felt like what he wanted to say would be easier for Derek to deal with if he could read it and respond. Or when he was just being a huge coward. Today it was a little of both.

He picked up the pink marker and tossed it from hand to hand, stomach squirming. He'd been thinking about this for a while now, long enough that he knew he wasn't going to change his mind, but he'd already chickened out two other times. Since the trip to Aruba, Stiles had been doing a lot of thinking about the future, and what it meant that Derek had chosen that future once on a bloody patch of grass in Redding, and Stiles had promised not to give up on it. What it meant when Derek slept here on a night like last night, when no one expected him to focus on anything but his pack, drawn back to Stiles after days away. Derek was still choosing that future, in smaller ways, every day, trusting that Stiles was still not giving up.

He scribbled a note on the board with a slightly unsteady hand and then grabbed his coffee off the counter and bolted.

The coffee was too strong and he'd forgotten the milk, but it was still nearly gone by the time he pulled into the Goats' driveway. Mrs. Goat had the front door open and was waving him in before Stiles even got out of the car.

"Morning!" he said cheerfully, as he stepped into the house and nodded at Mr. Goat, who was lounging in the middle of the living room floor and was now…Mr. Tiger.

Mrs. Goat's eyes darted all around the room as she wrung her hands. She was in yoga pants and a tank top, and had faint pink scratches on her shoulders, and one side of her face looked like she'd gotten overzealous with a loofah. "I don't know how this keeps happening," she said. "He was just—"

Stiles swiftly held up a hand, silencing her. "I don’t even wanna know what's going on in your house," he said, even though he didn't have much room to talk, getting regularly banged by a shifted werewolf like he was. Over on the carpet, Mr. Tiger yawned and flicked his tail, then rolled onto his side and stretched contentedly.

~*~

By the time he finished up with the Goats, Stiles was starving, and not at all stalling, so he wandered over to the House of Omelettes and had a late breakfast. On his way home he stopped at the grocery store to grab a few things he didn't really need, and finally he couldn't avoid it anymore so he went back to his place.

Derek's car was gone, and Stiles was probably a dick for being relieved about that, but it was what it was. The walk up the sidewalk took on this weird telescoping effect, like he was never going to get to the door, and when he finally did he fumbled his keys so badly he dropped them. Twice.

He'd gotten inside and kicked the door shut behind him before he remembered the groceries were still in the Jeep, but they could wait. He made a beeline for the kitchen, eyes glued to the whiteboard. His heart was pounding so hard he thought he might black out.

The note he'd left for Derek that morning was still there. It said, MOVE IN WITH ME.

Underneath, where Stiles expected to see Derek's response, the whiteboard was blank. Nothing.

Stiles stood blinking at it in shock. There was no way Derek had missed it--they both checked the board constantly—and there was an empty cereal bowl in the sink that hadn't been there earlier. Derek had definitely been in the kitchen before he left.

There were probably a lot of reasons why Derek wouldn't have answered right away, but Stiles could only think of the bad ones, the ones that would lead to him going into the bedroom and finding Derek's stuff cleaned out, his drawer empty, the stack of books next to his side of the bed gone.

What he didn’t understand was why.

What they had wasn't perfect, but nothing was. Derek always got toast crumbs in the butter, and Stiles picked all the marshmallows out of the Lucky Charms and left the nasty cereal pieces for Derek, and neither of them liked to put the new roll of toilet paper on the holder, but that was all stupid stuff you just dealt with because you loved someone. Sometimes you even learned to appreciate it. Derek was perpetually amused that Stiles couldn't find his way home half the time without using his GPS, and Stiles thought it was cute that Derek had a library card and was terrified of the librarian so he always returned his books at least two days early.

Stiles knew which kind of cookies to buy for Derek before the full moon, and Derek always stopped channel surfing when they came across Apollo 13 because it was Stiles' mom's favorite movie. They both loved Christmas lights, and hated flavored coffee, and thought Stiles' dad walked on water. That last one was, in Stiles' mind, the sign of a real keeper.

In the cabin, they'd been forced together as strangers, but despite the situation and the obstacles it presented, they'd learned to communicate with each other, and to accept each other, even on their worst days. It had taken some time to carry those lessons over to the real world, but they'd done it. In the end, they'd just needed to be reminded they already knew how to be a team, and they'd come back from Redding with a common goal--stay together—that they'd tackled with the same kind of determination they'd put into trying to escape captivity.

So far it had been a success. Little problems stayed little, big problems got sorted out, and the two disparate groups of people who had been pulling them apart were slowly becoming one giant amalgam of family, friends, and pack that was theirs together. This was a good life, and Stiles liked it, and he was sure Derek did, too.

Stiles just wanted him here, all the time. He wanted this to be Derek's home, too. Not the big, echoey warehouse apartment that was really more of a pack hangout, and certainly not that depressing burned-out shell slowly rotting away on the Hale property that Stiles never wanted to see again, thank you very much. Derek stayed here more often than not anyway, so why not make it official?

Derek either didn't want to make it official, or he was taking some time to make up his mind, which didn't seem like a good sign.

Stiles was contemplating the feasibility of curling up in a fetal ball on the kitchen floor for the rest of his life when he realized Derek already had made up his mind.

Stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet from Big Louie's was one of the worst Photoshop jobs Stiles had ever seen. It was a picture of Harry Potter—Derek was never going to let that go—standing next to a big black wolf, because Derek got to be a beautiful, majestic animal while Stiles was a scrawny little British wizard. The proportions were all wrong, the wolf about four times bigger than Harry, and behind them, even more out of proportion and with the light hitting it at an entirely different angle, was a tidy little clapboard house, complete with a white picket fence and a cheery flowerbed.

The mailbox said "Stilinski-Hale."

Stiles was still grinning dopily at the picture when Derek walked into the kitchen with what looked like the groceries from the Jeep in one arm and a stack of library books in the other. He barely had time to set them down on the table before Stiles flung himself at him and hugged him like his life depended on it. Derek ducked his face into the side of Stiles' neck, arms coming up to hug him back.

"Hey, buddy," Stiles said softly as their hearts beat against each other, wild and alive and filled with a devotion strong enough to undo another man's magic. "I'm glad you're here."

Derek nuzzled his ear and held on tight and didn't say anything. He didn't have to.

THE END

Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed; perhaps you may inspire terror. You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have done business with you from your youth; they wander about, each in his own direction; there is no one to save you. - Isaiah 47:12-13, 15

Notes:

  • Rah would like to thank Devil Doll for bringing me onto this project and I hope everyone enjoys it!
  • Devil Doll would like to thank Rah for being so talented and so lovely to work with. <3 Huge thanks to girlinthetrilby, intobedlam, and sheafrotherdon for beta reading. Any remaining problems with this story are completely my fault, because God knows they worked their asses off. Thanks also to dizzzylu for supportive text messages, and to barankka and anfisaaugust for help with Russian stuff I ended up not using after all. I appreciate your help!
  • Because I started this during the hiatus between S2 and S3, there are also many other things in it that got Jossed (Derek being the alpha, Lydia's immunity, the Camaro, how old Stiles was when his mom died, I could go on forever OMG) and I left them all as they were because I knew if I changed one thing pretty soon I'd change another, and another, until I'd unraveled the entire story, so there are a lot of things in here that might look wrong, but just remind yourself this is an alternate universe and anything is possible. On the other hand, there are also things in this story that became explicitly canon in S3 (Brothers! Plan B! Sheriff knows! Argents protect the innocent!) and I'm totally chuffed about those things, so I guess you just take the good with the bad. Also, I use the pre-season three definition of omega because fuck you Jeff Davis. Which leads me to…
  • Obviously the biggest S3 canon contradiction in this story is how mountain ash works, particularly when it comes to breaking a ring of it. When I started writing this, the only instance we'd seen (I think?) of someone breaking a mountain ash line was Stiles severing his own, and when he did it the powder sort of whooshed away from his hands without him touching it, so I felt comfortable extrapolating from that in an AU sense and running with the idea that breaking the line wasn't as simple as just dragging your finger through it…which was exactly what Allison did like an hour into season 3, thus completely Jossing that aspect of my story. Thanks, Jeff Davis. Thanks a lot.
  • Wolves and ravens have a symbiotic relationship so well-documented that ravens are sometimes called "wolf-birds."
  • I took some small liberties with the lunar cycle. The lunar cycle works a little differently in this universe. Same with Northern California geography.
  • Mazy turini actually means "little turnip." Don't tell Stiles.