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1. Meet Me In The Hallway

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Sweat was collecting around his furrowed eyebrows, sliding against his skin, burning into his eyes, leaving a tangy trail everywhere it touched. He thought of that horror movie Erica made him watch once; about the apocalypse and how it rained for two weeks straight, the drops acidic and corroding, that it melted through the earth, scarred the skin, turned the bodies into something zombie-like. It kind of felt like that to him, like he was decaying, rotting away, and there was no one there to wince at the foulness of it all.

He threw away the resistance band, cursing under his breath, despising how quiet it was when it hit the ground. How quiet everything was now that he no longer had super werewolf hearing – no longer had anything. So, he hit his exercise ball into his window, felt temporary satisfaction at the sound of the glass cracking, but he needed more. He hit his fists into the parallel walking bar until his knuckles tore, the bones in his fingers sounding like they were breaking, before the bars did too, disconnecting and falling into a heap of - nothing.

His heart must have been pounding against his eardrums, the sound of his ragged breathing drowning out the persistent knocks against his door. He still felt unhinged, almost, maniac, but he took the crutches beneath his arm, willed himself not to trip, as he opened the door, and Stiles was there, in a suit too big despite his puffier figure, and healing scars across his face. Derek went to close the door in his face, but he still couldn't manage the crutches and his hands and his missing limb so Stiles pushed past him before he really could.

Derek groaned, pushed his foot and heard the door slam shut, before he disregarded the crutches, collapsing somewhere by the cracked window, surrounded by all the pieces of the things he broke. Stiles searched the messy surroundings, nodding in a mocking, bitter kind of understanding, before he turned to face Derek.

" You didn't show up today." Derek eyed Stiles, his jaw locked, things about him devolving back into mere survival tactics, no real life to him at all.

" It was Cora's graduation, remember? Your sister?" Derek got the pack of morphine out of his pocket, dry-swallowing a couple of pills, resting his head back to keep from having to look at Stiles again.

" Un-fucking-believable. This is – great. Just, great." Stiles took off his jacket, threw it when he found nowhere to hang it. He started putting back the walking bars, collecting the small pieces of glass that had fallen away from the window, taming the utter chaos that Derek had made out of his life.

" Okay, that's it." Stiles leaned down, circled his arms around Derek, tried to carry the uncooperative weight of him, but he wasn't having it, groaning, pushing, resisting with all his fading might.

" What is wrong with you?"

" Get off me, I don't need your help."

" Clearly. I don't know what you need, but it sure as hell isn't this." Stiles had Derek into somewhat of a standing position, his figure still clumsy and unbalanced, leaning mostly against Stiles to keep from crumbling.

" Stiles, stop, I don't need your fucking pity." Derek clawed Stiles' arms away, pushed with so much force, it left him with nothing. He took an immediate tumble to the ground, landing on his bad side, hissing with his eyes squeezed shut. He was just – so fucking done. With everything. He hit his hands against the unforgiving floor, again and again, until he started feeling something, until the familiar ache was back between his bones.

" Derek," Stiles was slowly falling to his knees, hesitant and weary, like he was watching a wounded animal, not wanting to scare it away, " I don't – it's not pity, okay? It's not that. But, your sister is fucking miserable. She thinks this is her fault, all of it, and she's driving herself mad trying to find a way to give it back."

" There isn't. She can't. It was never hers to give." Derek tried to breathe – or at least, not cry. It was sickening, how pathetic he felt.

" Cora can't accept that. She can't – cope."

" And? What, do you expect me to help with that? Do you expect me to make it better for her?" Derek laughed, and it was the most terrifying sound Stiles had ever heard. It sent a chill down his spine. And he hated how scared he was again, of Derek, or – for him.  

" I know you can't, or, won't, I don't know. I don't – "

" I'm in this situation because of her. I'm – I'm disabled and weak, because of Cora. I don't owe her shit anymore. And even if I did, I have nothing more to give. Nothing."

Derek started to coat his words with something ugly, bitter and unwelcoming, but he was too tired to will any of it out. He'd been tired, since he woke up in a hospital bed that was Cora's once, no longer spitting out black blood, or smelling the death seeping through his bones. No longer smelling anything, because he was human, and she wasn't. He'd tried to move, to get up and go help Scott and Stiles and Isaac now that Cora was okay, but when he'd moved the blanket away, there was nothing beneath it. Nothing to throw over the bed, or to touch the ground with. There was nothing attached to his left hip and – he'd screamed his throat raw, until they'd put him back to sleep. But when he woke up again, nothing had changed. Nothing was ever going to change.

" Dude, hey, Derek, stop, okay? You don't want me to pity you? So what do you call this, huh? You reek of self-pity, like, you've been through shit before, some would argue, even worse shit than this. And you don't get to quit, Derek. I'm sorry, but you don't."

" Why the hell not?"

" Because you don't have a surrendering bone in your body, you never did. And your sister is going to drive away tonight, to go to a college that's thousands of miles away, because you told her you wanted nothing to do with her. And I know that when you're not high on morphine and – misery, you'll hate yourself for it. So here's what we're going to do,"

" I'm tired, Stiles. I'm so – so fucking spent, and I – I just want to be alone, okay? Cora can do what she wants. You too. I'm just, done. Do you get that? It's over. I'm out." Derek's eyes burned with the tears blurring the image of Stiles, making it look like he was under. Or maybe that was Derek, maybe he would always look up at the world, past the surface of water he could never really break.

" Derek – "

" Stiles. Just – get the hell out. Let me be. I don't want this," His hand fell through the empty space where his leg should have been, when he tried to point around it, shake it back to existing, " Don't want you here. So, don't come back." Derek hardened his gaze, until Stiles' features started to unclench, come slightly apart as he lost all his will to argue, to fight. Hurt flashed across his young, blaming, eyes, but Derek was used to that. Used to being looked at like he'd tipped the world upside down, had taken things that were never his.

" You know what? Fine. You want to push everybody away and brood for the rest of your life? Go ahead. You want to be a dick about every fucking thing? Be my guest. But if – if you expect me to wait around, until one day, my dad calls to tell me that someone found your body somewhere, half-decayed and – alone, then you're more oblivious than I gave you credit for. I'm not burying anyone else, Derek. I'm just not. And I don't care how done you are. I don't care how much you want to die, I'm not going to fucking let you." Stiles had to stop, put a hand over his mouth to keep something from falling out.

" But, yeah. I'm going away for now, going to give you some more space, because apparently, that's something you seem to be needing. But I'm going to call Cora, try to – I don't know, keep her for the night. Maybe by tomorrow morning, you'll want to at least try again. Spare her the guilt that was never hers, Derek. I don't know. I'm going to take that bottle though, and the pills you stashed in that fish bowl – that you broke by the way." Stiles stood, dusted himself off a little, collecting the things he promised.

" Clean yourself up, Derek. You're better than that."

He wasn't. And he was so, so sick of trying to make something of the pieces of himself, trying to find something in the ruins of his life, morph it into something that would look whole, even if it never felt like it. Maybe this was what he was always meant to accept, maybe the fits he threw only angered whoever held a match to his life, set fire to its corners and let it fold around him, burn him down to the ground. Who was he to say otherwise? Who was he to yell and scream about all the things he thought he deserved? Who was he to even think he deserved anything at all?

He waited for the sound of Stiles' distancing steps to fade completely, before he pushed his back into the wall, dug his one foot into the ground, and lifted, taking two more pills as soon as the ground beneath him tilted back to place. He leaned against the walls, jumping through his steps like a fucking child, until he got to the crutches, moved past the piles of pieces that Stiles had swept away, kept all in one place. He took a beer out of his fridge, growling at the thought of Stiles taking his heavy alcohol away – the one good thing he got out of this shit deal of becoming human. He crashed into his single couch, giving up on physiotherapy for the night, giving up on pretty much everything.

There was a hole in his TV screen that he couldn't remember putting there. He looked down at his knuckles, thinking that maybe he should clean those up, wrap something around his hands to help the bones mold together again. Yeah, maybe later. He was tired, sinking further into the couch, closing his eyes around the sound of the crutches clinking against the floor. He put a hand to what was left of his leg, massaging the pulsing ache there, wondering how he could satisfy an itch he couldn't reach, because it wasn't there. There was nothing to itch.

He took a cigarette out of the pack he kept in one of the few cushions he had left – another thing he picked up after – well, just after. He put it between his lips, breathed in until his chest almost gave, before taking it out, moving it between his fingers. He tried to think of his mother, or, no, he didn't actually try to, it just happened. He thought of how she'd look if she'd made it this far, how she'd look at him now that he'd killed everything she'd ever cared for, destroyed all that had made it out of that fire. She probably wouldn't have handled things so terribly. She never would have just – given up, given in. She would have found a way around it, crawled even if she couldn't walk, legs be damned, she was unstoppable. It was yet another thing he had no time to take from her. It felt like he'd been stopped long before he'd just – stopped.  

But she hadn't lost like he had. She left long before things started falling apart. In a way, she started it. She pushed that first block out of the crumbled Jenga tower that was Derek's life. So maybe she had no right judging him, telling him how to cope with losing a leg, then his identity, and all of that right after losing a person he thought he could have loved that ended up killing almost everyone he ever cared for – again. No, no, screw that. Screw her for thinking that she could have done better, that he was to blame for all of this when – she was the one who left. She fucking left and she took them all with her. She took it all.

He heard something, irritating and far, far away. He tried to blink his eyes opened, tried to move, but his eyelids felt heavy, what was left of his limbs too. Panic started to set in, as he struggled to connect to any of his surroundings, tried to come back and not feel so dissociated from it all, not feel so wrong. But he didn't know if there was anything to connect to, if there was anything solid and grounded and not lost in space and time like he was.

Things were falling past his mouth. Was he drooling? Throwing something up? Is it still there? Did they need to cut something else off? Is my body still there? I can't feel it, can't feel anything. Is it there? The noise around him loudened, sounded like nothing he'd ever heard before. Then, he felt hands around his chest, pulling like they were trying to unravel him. He was moving, flying or floating or – crashing. Right into the ground, a weight that wasn't his, surrounding him.

" Oh my – Derek, what did you do? What the fuck did you do? How many of this shit did you take? If we make it out of this, I'm going to fucking kill you myself. Shit. Shit, Derek, fuck."

He thought it sounded like Stiles. It kind of felt like him too. But he was floating, floating, floating, then there were fingers down his throat, his stomach obliging to whatever was telling him throw up, Derek, it's okay, you need to get this shit out of your system. Everything hurt, pathetic whines sounding between his nausea spells. There was a warm hand against his back, rubbing and touching and attempting to soothe. He eased into it, felt it burn into his skin, and then he felt nothing at all.

He didn’t know how much time he lost, didn't know if he'd blinked, or napped, or slept through the rest of his life. The pain was resurfacing, kindling, stretching all around him, like it was telling him, it awakened too. He tried to open his eyes, and this time, they were more co-operative, blinded by the light at first, before falling into a half-opened-half-closed position, leaning more towards closing.

The surface beneath him wasn't hard or unkind. He was in his bed, the one he hadn't been in since coming back from the hospital, because his bed was in his room and his room was up the stairs and the mere thought of having to climb those exhausted him almost back to sleep. Both his hands were wrapped up in bandages, and he wondered if he finally took care of those. He was in a clean shirt and shorts that he was certain he hadn't slept in, because there was no spillage of anything, they didn't stink like he did.

He tilted his head to the side, ignoring the sound his neck made in protest, squinting against the shadow by the window. Broad shoulders, vein-y arms, newly muscled back, an all-around bow to all the corners and curves. Derek tried to swallow that lump in his throat, but it wasn't going down, it was stuck.

" What happened?" Stiles turned towards him, startled at first, then, angry again.

" You started a small fire, then, almost OD-ed. I'm not sure if it happened in that order or not, but that's pretty much the general idea."

" Still haven't figured out the boundaries of this whole human thing I guess." Derek knew he was saying all the wrong things, could see it in the tick of Stiles' jaw, even before he threw his arms away from him, in aggravation.

" Oh no. You are not going to downplay this, okay? Not this time, Derek."

" Why are you drenched?"

" Did you miss the part where I said you started a fucking fire?" Stiles was pacing to keep from inching too close, holding on too tight.

" You said it wasn't that big."

" Do you – oh my God, I'm going to end up fucking murdering you. Why is it, that out of everything I've ever said to you, that's what you heard?"

" It has to be selective hearing when it comes to you, otherwise, I'll just – "

" Derek, stop. Fuck- just stop, okay? You can't joke about this. You just – you can't humor it away. Trust me, I've been trying, and it doesn't work." Stiles deflated, sadness coloring him in shades that looked all wrong. Derek sighed, squeezed his eyes shut and willed sleep to take him away again, but Stiles wasn't having it.

" You almost died. No, let me rephrase that; you almost killed yourself. Do you – have you ever considered – haven't we lost fucking enough? Do you really need to add to that? Is – is that how little you think of yourself? How little you care? Because if you – Derek, if you die, Cora is going to carry that with her for the rest of her life. And Scott and Isaac and just – everyone. Even, I – I'm going to start having panic attacks over you too, put the date in my calendar and never, stop mourning you. I'll start losing my mind every fucking year around the same time. And, who knows what that trauma is going to look like this time." Stiles' voice was all over the place, rising and falling and breaking every so often, it barely made sense at all. Derek opened his eyes, couldn't disregard him or the misery he wore like an armor.

" I don't know what you want me to say."

" I want – I need you to stop trying to die. I flushed all of your pills down the toilet, the alcohol and cigarettes too,"

" Stiles, why would you do that?" Derek growled, and it was the closest he'd sounded to how he used to.

" Because this is not fucking happening. Not now, not like this, and not if I can do anything about it."

" Grow up, Stiles, people die all the fucking time. When have you ever had a say in it?" Stiles shuddered, feeling something ice-cold right where Derek's words hit.

" When you die, it's not going to be on your couch, high and alone. It's going to be protecting someone, and you're going to be really dramatic about it, like, you're really going to milk it, and it's going to suck. It is always going to suck, Derek, but this? I can't let this be what you leave behind, man. You don't deserve to go out so… underwhelmingly." Derek wanted to cry. He also wanted to laugh at the dark irony of it all. But Stiles was suspiciously wiping across his face, like he was still trying to keep it together, and Derek really just wanted to take it all back.

" How did you know?"

" I – uh, I went to see Cora and the rest of them, but then I came back here. Sat outside, in the hallway, for maybe a few hours, until the fire alarms went off. And, yeah."

" Why did you sit in the hallway? Why didn't you just knock?"

" You told me not to come back. And I – I get that you probably needed some space, but it didn't feel right, you know, to just – leave. Leave you alone." Stiles shrugged, like he didn't have a choice. Derek didn't know what to do with that, with the tears drowning out the brown of his eyes, the subtle tremble to his everything.

Derek lifted a welcoming hand, coaxed Stiles closer. He sighed, relieved, carefully approaching Derek.

" How did you get in?" He didn't know why he was still speaking, why he couldn't just, be quiet and let the sound of Stiles' heartbeat comfort the silence. But he wouldn't be able to hear his heartbeat, not really. He wasn't a werewolf anymore. God – he wasn't a werewolf.

" There is this axe in a glass box outside, for emergencies."

" Do you know, how it started? I don't remember much."

" I think you dropped your cigarette. There was a knocked over beer bottle, and, that small carpet was there too, so." Stiles was standing by his bedside now, despair still carved into his features, like he was still awaiting the loss to happen anyway.

" Stupid. Did you just let it burn itself out?"

" Well, I couldn't find the fire extinguisher, and the smoke wasn't bad enough to start the sprinklers.  So, I, uh, I set a piece of paper on fire, stood on this chair, and put it right under the sprinklers until they finally started, and put everything out."

" What the hell?" Stiles flinched, like he expected it to be yelled out, but Derek was laughing, seemingly surprised as well.

" I panicked, okay? You were pretty much unconscious, and I didn't know if you were even breathing, so yeah, I might have over-reacted a little, but at least I got it sorted." Derek dimmed a bit, despite the humorous defensiveness in Stiles' voice.

" I'm sorry. I – I didn't really want to die, if, it makes it better? I don't know. I kind of started freaking out when I started feeling.. off, you know, wrong. I just – I don't know if I can live like this forever. I'm not even sure I want to. It's just – it's a lot. Like, too much."

" I – I know. But, Derek, you saved your sister's life. Cora would have died, if you hadn't done this for her. If that's the one thing that comes out of your life, I'd say, it makes it pretty fucking worth it."

When Stiles started smiling, Derek tugged at his arm, caused him to stumble onto him. He found his lips, didn't think before crashing into them. They were everything he'd wanted them to be. A kind of high that could do no harm, could kill him and make it feel like the most alive he'd ever been. Stiles was still at first, then, Derek moaned –whined into his mouth and he remembered how to do this, remembered how much he'd wanted it. So, he kissed back, allowed himself that moment of recklessness, of need, before he put both hands to Derek's chest, guided him back into a laying position, and pulled himself away.

" Why did you do that?"

" I – I don't know. I'm sorry, we – it won't happen again. I didn't mean to –"

" I, uh, it's okay. I don't mind."

" You don't?" Stiles smiled, all kind and careful, but there was underlaid sadness there, a twinge of something darker.

" No, I don't. Just – not right now. With everything going on, I – it's not healthy, you know. I can't – I can't be your coping mechanism with all of this. My dad, he – he got like that too, after mum went away, and. I can't watch it happen to someone else. I can't be that – thing for you, Derek. I'm sorry, but, I can't kiss it better, you know what I mean?" Stiles left his hands touching somewhere on Derek, and it gave him all the gravitational force he needed to stay. To not be the coward he sometimes was, and flee.

" Yeah. You're right. I'm still sorry." Because he'd known what it'd done to him, to see his father like that. He'd known about the fingers he had to shove down his throat too, to keep him from drinking himself to death, to bring any of him back, and Derek had done that to him again, had put him back there and for that he was – just, so sorry.

" You don't need to be. I don't – it just feels wrong. I don't want to take advantage of – of you, like this. I won't do that to you. But, hey, I'm turning 18 in a couple of months anyway, so if you're sober by then, and you still want this, I'll be here." Derek nodded, tried to smile or touch or do something to offer Stiles reassurance, gratitude, because he'd always known that Stiles wouldn't use him, wouldn't hold his vulnerability against him. But Stiles' phone rang, and he detached himself long before Derek could find anything within him to give.

" Yeah, Scott, I'm – wait, what? I thought – no, no, I'm on my way, just don't let her go until I get there. Fuck, okay, fine, just tell me exactly where she is and which direction she's heading."

Stiles started putting on his shoes, that hadn't dried yet. He collected the rest of his belongings, almost walked out, before Derek called for him, stopped him.

" She's leaving, Derek. Right now. She thinks she found some witch or something, to help with returning the alpha powers back to you."

" That's not possible, she's going to get herself killed."

" Yeah, tell me about it. I don't know what it is with you people – I need to go,"

" I – can you hand me some pants and a jacket? I'm coming with you."

" You are?"

" Well, this can't all be for nothing."

Derek pushed himself off the bed as much as he could, let Stiles carry what was left of his weight. He tried not to think of the imprints of his fingers against his skin, or the comfort of his weight digging into his side, as he helped him down the stairs, handing over the crutches, and running ahead to open the door for him. Stiles stood by as Derek found his way into the passenger seat of his Jeep, patient and willing to help if needed. Derek was still having trouble with the concept of that – his need for someone. So it took him a few trials, but they were eventually driving towards the road between the woods and the Beacon Hills sign. Stiles handed Derek an energy bar, told him he'd bought it on his way back, knowing that Derek probably hadn't had any food in a while. Derek tried not to think about that either.

Stiles' phone continued to ring, probably with updates of Cora's location, but he could see the intersection he expected she would be passing almost at the same time as him, and he needed to focus. So, he made sure Derek had his seatbelt fastened, he insured his own as well, then –

" If she totals my Jeep today, you're going to be the one to explain that one to my dad."

" Wha –"

" Hold on."

" Stiles, what are you – " Stiles pressed the gas all the way, moved his foot to the breaks right around the corner of the intersection, then he lifted the hand break. Derek could hear the crash before it happened, as the car slid across the street, burned a circle into the asphalt, as it rotated around itself once, before stopping in the middle of its second rotation. Cora's car made a similar sound, her lights blinding Derek completely, but when he opened his eyes, both cars had stopped, the front of Cora's car so close to his door, he wouldn't be able to open it.

" What the fuck, Stiles? I thought you wanted us to not die tonight." Stiles was pushing into his door, wobbling his way out of the car, pushing his feet into the ground like he expected it to crack open beneath him, bury him under. He released a relieved sigh, looking at the still shell-shocked Derek, before moving around the car, to check on Cora.

The air bags had opened, bruising her face and her chest, but she put her claws into them, watched them deflate, before opening her own door and getting out of the car, positively fuming. Stiles retrieved away from her, put his hands in the air in announced surrender, as he went to check on his Jeep. It was unscratched, or no more scratched than it normally was but the tires still smelled of burning rubber.

" You could have gotten us both killed, Stiles, what the fuck do you think you're doing?"

" Okay, okay, I get it. Wasn't my best moment. Now, move your car back so that we can open Derek's door and get him out."

" What? Derek is in there?" Cora circled around the car, an unexplainable pull urging her forward, until she was standing by the opened driver door, staring at her brother for the first time in weeks, feeling her seams coming apart. She wanted to howl for how much she'd missed him, how sorry she was that he lost his limb instead of her.

Stiles stepped away, patting Cora's back until she got into the driver's seat, and he closed the door behind her, decided to move her car away himself, to give them some space. He didn't know what was happening, but almost as soon as Derek started talking, Cora was crying, achingly, desperately, sounding like something that was dying an unkind, agonizing death.

" What are you doing here? Are you okay?" Cora asked, fearful. Derek couldn't remember the last time her voice had sounded like that talking to him. He couldn't tell if it'd ever sounded like that at all.

" I don't want you to go."

" You – you don't?" He shook his head, tried to smile, but her face crumpled, collapsed onto itself, a heart wrenching cry scratching her throat, pushing past her trembling lips. He started moving, wrapping and surrounding and enveloping. She sank into him, suddenly so small, young and afraid and in need. Of him. What an odd concept that was – to be needed for something again.  

" I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Cora. Don't go, I don't want you to go, you're all I've got, Cora. You're my family and I'm sorry."

His body was some kind of sound-proof barrier, baring the weight of her sadness, keeping all her secrets. She pushed into his chest, not wanting to distance him, but wanting to inflict some kind of – hurt, punishment. It was all so weak though, so harmless. She'd never want to do anything to him. She had trouble forgiving what she didn't even do.

" I didn't – if I had known this would happen, I – I would have just gone through it, wouldn't have let you do this for me, I – " She tried to get it out, without having to pull away from him, to depart the nest he'd formed around her, the safety blanket he'd always been.

" Hey, stop. Don't say that." It kind of broke Derek's heart. He hated himself a little more, for all the cracks in his sister, all the guilt she now bared. " I would do this, every time, if it meant that you'd be okay. That's all that matters. I was just – stupid and scared, and a little bit angry too. Not at you, though. You had nothing to do with it. I just, I feel weak now. Useless. And I hate it."

" I'm – I'm going to figure this out for you. I'll fix this, Derek, I promise." She detangled herself from him, left her head resting against his extended hand, as she wiped at her face, not knowing why things couldn't stop pouring out of her.

" You don't have to. Listen to me, I don't regret my choices. Or at least, this specific choice. You can't keep trying to reverse it, especially if it puts you in danger again."

" You did it for me. Why can't I do it for you?" Cora's eyebrows furrowed, putting a harsh frame around the otherwise devastated features.

" Because I'm the older brother, and it's my job to – "

" Don't give me this sexist bullshit right now. I survived for years without you, remember? I don't always need you to save my life." Cora growled, interrupting him, and God did she sound like their mother, during every argument with their father that felt like he was belittling her. Derek smiled a little hauntingly, brushing his finger across his sister's cheek.

" Fair enough. You don't need me to do anything for you, I know that, but Cora, we're the only two left. And I would – I would do anything for you. Anything."

" And you don't think I'd do the same for you?" She looked like she was close to crying again, and Derek felt like he was failing, saying all the wrong things.

" I know you would. But we can't keep dying for each other, Cora, do you get that? I – I can't lose you too. I can't do this without you. Okay? Please, just – stop pushing this. I need to focus on this thing, on getting better and stronger, and figuring out that artificial limb thing and whether or not I even want that. It's just, it's a lot, and I'm going to need your help. I'm going to need you." Derek's hands were cupping Cora's face now, his forehead brushing against hers, searching for a place to rest. The breath staggered as it fell past her lips, her hands imitating Derek's, holding his face too, as she closed the inch of space between their foreheads.

" I'll be here. Whatever you need. I'm – I'm so sorry I did this to you, Derek." He closed his eyes, breathed in the scent he'd known all his life, thinking – for the first time – that maybe his mother would have done nothing more, nothing different. Maybe she would have just done her best too. Her best probably would have been better than anything he could ever give, but – at least he was trying. He was still trying.

" Shh. It was worth it." Cora shook her head, prepared to argue, but didn't quite have it in her.

" This alpha thing.. it's scary, Derek. I was never supposed to be the alpha."

" Me neither. You're going to be the best at it."

" Maybe using you as an example in this specific situation isn't the wisest option to make me feel better." Derek snorted, opened his eyes, and there was a renewed glow to them. " Are you going to help me? Tell me what to do?"

" I've got you. Don't worry. Not that anyone could ever tell you what to do." She smiled, contemplative.

" Touche."

They breathed one another in, started slowly loosening their grips, until Cora turned to take the crutches, moving around the car, to help Derek out. And he let her, leaned into her once she wrapped her arms around his waist, gave him only one crutch to use. Stiles seemed to be in the middle of some kind of argument with Scott and Isaac, but when he saw their approaching shadows, he disregarded the conversation, focused on the ease to Derek's worn out features, how his eyes were mostly on Cora, like he'd missed her.

" What's going on here?" Cora asked, smirking knowingly, trying to feel like herself again.

" Nothing, it doesn't matter. Did you – uh, is everything okay with you two?" Stiles interjected, feeling Scott's accusing eyes at the back of his head.

" Yeah, we're fine. I was going to take him home – speaking of home, it's not going to smell like Stiles there too, is it?" Stiles choked, coughing like he was letting out his last breaths. He kind of wished he was, before Scott and Cora started milking this whole thing.

" You okay there?" Even Isaac had some kind of mischief to his tone now too, Jesus Christ.

" Yup, I'm dandy. I'm going to go though, long few days, so I should probably sleep, shower too, who knows,"

" Showers won't do much to wash out Derek's scent, if that's what you're after."

" Cora!"

" Oh I think I'm starting to like this whole alpha thing, it's awesome."

" See? Even Cora agrees with me."

" Scott, relax. I was at his house the other night, remember? And I drove him here, of course we rubbed off on each other."

" Rubbed off on each other? What the fuck do you mean, Stiles?"

" I wonder if it's too late to fake a panic attack or something."

" Stiles." Scott pinched Stiles' arm, didn't react to the dramatized whine he let out after.

" I kissed him." Stiles stared at Derek, wide-eyed, and Derek could almost see his brain fetching for some kind of excuse, a way to take his words back. But Derek nodded, a silent approval, and Stiles kind of wanted to kiss him again –mostly to hide that childish grin taking over his features.

" You – what?" Scott no longer sounded angry or annoyed, shock drowned out everything else he was feeling.

" Yeah. So, if no one has anymore questions about this, we're heading home. Stiles?"

" Huh?"

" Come by, maybe? If – uh, when you have the time? Soon? If you want, I mean, of course –"

" What is happening right now?" Scott questioned, seemingly to himself.

" I'll bring breakfast tomorrow." Derek's face curved into a stupid-looking grin as well. It made Stiles feel better about the whole thing really.

" See you then, I guess. And – thank you, Stiles. Really." Cora sobered, letting her amusement slip, as she nodded at Stiles. He shrugged, never knowing what to do with praise, but he smiled too, waved goodbye, and watched as they turned away from them, molded into one another till they made it to the car –

" That's.. my car. This is yours. Fuck me." Stiles rushed forward, handed Cora's keys over and squeezed his eyes around the sound of her resonating laughter. She helped Derek all the way back to her car, put him into the passenger seat, thanked Scott and Isaac, and drove away, right as Stiles started driving the opposite way, eloping before Scott resumed his previous interrogation.

Stiles got home to find his father asleep, so he went to take a shower, left his ringing phone in his bedroom because he was going to avoid that Scott confrontation as long as he possibly could. But once he was out of the shower – that grin still intact too – Scott was on his bed, looking irritated with a twinge of something slightly brighter, happier. So Stiles told him what happened, gently brushed past the humiliating details because it felt invasive, like maybe he was telling stories that weren't his, sharing moments that were never meant to be witnessed. Scott took it a lot better than he thought he would, once Stiles had actually spoken to him, most of his worry dispersed, left him with a content smile, and a promise to just be honest with him later on, let him know if he needed anything, because Scott wanted to be involved – to be there. Stiles wanted that too.

Scott ended up falling asleep, almost taking up Stiles' entire bed. Stiles didn't mind though, he was used to it by now. He could use the company anyway, since his nerves were still fried, after the.. crazy couple of days he had. But he turned off the lights, made sure none of the all alarms were set for the next morning, and just as he was starting to drift, his phone lit up with a text.

" If I open my door right now, I'm not going to find you in the hallway, am I?"

Jokes. He made jokes with Derek Hale now. What had his life come to?

" I've been traumatized enough for the night, don't you think? You really want to mock me too?"

" Who said anything about mocking? Maybe I wanted you to be in the hallway."

And just like that, the grin was back in full swing.

" Well, it's been a long day so I won't hold you accountable for any of this."

" How many months left again?"

" A couple."

" Isn't it two months later somewhere in the world?"

" I'm pretty sure that's not how it works, Derek."

When he didn't get a response from Derek for a few minutes, he figured he'd fallen asleep, or was simply done with the conversation. So, he put his phone away, closed his eyes and fell asleep. His phone ended up vibrating, and he might have checked it, might have seen something like " I don't know what I would have done today without you, Stiles. I'll try to do better, for you. I promise."

 He also might have dreamed it. He couldn't tell. He never really could when it came to Derek.

But the next morning, when he was contemplating how much space was okay to leave between him and Derek on the couch, he whispered something like " Try to do better for you, not for me. You deserve better." 

Derek smiled then, all raw and desperate and - hopeful. And Stiles thought, maybe they both had the same dream last night. Maybe, it wasn't a dream at all.