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Murder, He Wrote

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Stiles writes it as a joke during his third year at Berkeley during the stupidest class since high-school chemistry. Attendance is mandatory and counts for 10% of the final grade, but the lectures consist entirely of the professor reciting the assigned readings for the week out loud for two hours right before lunch on a Friday.

It’s kind of dumb, honestly, but four months later he has a hundred and fifty thousand words saved to his documents folder under an innocuous file name. He forgets about it entirely in a haze of exams and then righteous post-exams/pre-moving-home-for-the-summer drinking.

It probably would have stayed there indefinitely or until the laptop crapped out and died and Stiles, who always says he will back up his files but never does, would start over with a new machine if it weren’t for Scott.

“So hypothetically,” Scott says while Stiles is trying to focus on keeping flappy bird alive, “let’s say I did something totally uncool but for good reasons.”

Flappy bird takes a nose dive into the pipe. Stiles groans and drops his phone to his lap, turning to look at his best friend. “Hypothetically like when you ‘hypothetically’ drank all my Red Bull or hypothetically like Batman vs Tony Stark?”

“There’s no proof I drank all your Red Bull.”

“Uh huh,” Stiles agrees non-committally. “Lay it on me, bro. How bad is it?”

Scott bites at his lip. “I uh, might have accidentally told Lydia about your book, and maybe given her a copy. And she might have sent it to some other people.”

“My what?” Stiles frowns. “This isn’t Mean Girls, I don’t have a burn book, dude. Plus, no way am I Regina George. I’m clearly Janice.”

“Duh,” Scott rolls his eyes before continuing. “No, your, you know, your mystery book?”

Oh. Well that’s embarrassing. “You gave Lydia a copy of my space-detective story,” he says flatly. “Scott, why? Ugh, she already thinks I’m a huge loser. And how were you even hanging out with Lydia? God, I only went away for eight months.”

The dopey look on Scott’s face is answer enough even before he replies. “Oh, she’s friends with Allison,” he says with a lopsided grin. “Everyone likes Allison. She’s perfect.”

“Yeah, dude, I know,” Stiles sighs. Allison was all Scott had talked about for the last year - new to the Sheriff’s department, beautiful, a year older than them, and from the way Scott described her, basically a Disney princess. “Doesn’t really answer my question, though.”

“Oh, well, I mean, I told Allison about it, and she thought it was great, and I guess she told Lydia? Turns out she’s pretty bored at CalTech—” Duh, Stiles wants to interject. As if CalTech is enough to keep Lydia’s genius IQ occupied. “—so she asked for a copy and uh, anyway she says you have an offer from a publisher and she wants a 20% cut.”

“Wait what?”

And that was how Stiles accidentally became a New York Times bestselling author.

***

“Stiles,” his dad sighs, rubbing between his eyebrows, “Don’t you have a book to be writing?”

Knee deep in cold-cases, Stiles tries not to look guilty and probably fails. It’s kind of hard to pull it off when your dad is the sheriff. “What, a son can’t help out his local law enforcement? It’s free labor, dad. What would the taxpayers say if they knew you were turning it down? During an election year?”

“They’d probably ask me why you weren’t writing your next book,” he says flatly. “You know I pulled Mrs. Korolev over the other day for a broken tail light and that’s all she talked about. I barely got a word in edgewise.”

“I’m writing it!” Stiles frowns down at the cold case in his hand. “Sort of. Sometimes. Just not right now. I’ve got two thirds of it done.”

The sheriff raises one eyebrow and waits. “Okay fine, more like one third, but it’s the first bit and the last bit. I just need, you know, everything between those two.”

“And you’re not at home writing because…?”

Thankfully, Stiles doesn’t have to answer because Deputy Hale ducks into the records room. “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got a possible 187 at the community college, sir.”

“A murder?” Stiles scrambles to his feet. “I’m definitely coming. A murder! In Beacon Hills!” This was exactly what Stiles needed.

“I know I can’t stop you from following us, but you could at least try to not sound so excited,” his dad sighs. “Someone is dead.”

“Yeah, I uh, feel really badly about that. Unless it’s Mr. Harris.”

Deputy Hale rolls his eyes. “Keep talking like that and we’ll have to add you to the suspect list.” He turns and heads back into the squad room.

Stiles can’t help but trace the line from Derek’s broad shoulders to his waist as he walks away. Derek Hale was five-odd years older than Stiles, gorgeous and soft-voiced and totally out of Stiles’ league. Frankly, he was probably out of everyone’s league. What Derek was doing working as a deputy in a small town was something of a mystery.

“You going to gawp at my deputy all day or are you going to inappropriately tag along on a police investigation?” his dad asks, tapping him on the back of the head.

Stiles rubs at the spot half-heartedly. It itches. “Consider it research for my awesome writing career, dad! Field work.”

“Yeah, yeah, save it for someone gullible,” his dad grumbles.

***

Beacon Hills Community College looks a lot like the high school. It’s a long, squat building with sparse windows and the sort of depressingly patchy lawn that can only come from budget cuts. Stiles parks his Jeep out in the parking lot, away from the police cruisers in case they have to make a quick exit, and because of it is a minute or two behind Derek and his dad on their way inside.

It’s easy enough to find the scene of the crime. Stiles just follows Isaac, who is hauling some extra gear inside for the coroner and local vet, Dr. Deaton. “Need some help with that?” Stiles offers.

“Sure,” Isaac says easily, handing off a box of sample jars and evidence bags. “Just do me a favor and don’t drop them.”

“Who, me?” Stiles asks with his best faux-innocent look, but Isaac knows better. He warmed the bench with Stiles for two years when they were both nominally on the lacrosse team.

Allison, dressed in her deputy uniform, is standing guard outside a classroom further in the building, and she waves them inside. He can see why Scott fell for her - she’s all dimples and registered firearms.

The body lies face down in a pool of his own blood. Male, maybe in his late thirties or early forties if Stiles is to take a guess from the look of him, and dressed in a decent suit. Dr. Deaton kneels carefully next to the body and gestures to Isaac. “Okay, grab his leg and let’s turn him over,” he says, and they manage to roll together without disturbing the scene too much.

Stiles steps a little further into the room and leans over to get a better look, then wishes he hadn’t. “Dad—” he starts but his dad has clearly already come to the same conclusion.

“I know,” he says flatly.

“What?” Derek asks, looking between the two of them. “You recognize the victim?”

Stiles sighs, reaching for his cell phone. “Yeah,” he says, and can’t even bring himself to feel bad about the whole thing. “That’s Scott’s dad.”

***

Stiles decides to head back to the station because Scott’s his best bro, and even if Scott didn’t like his dad he might need moral support or something. And also because there’s not much else in the room - some textbooks and pieces of chalk, and the blood obviously, but not a lot else. And, okay, also because Stiles gets bored really quickly.

“I’d come with,” Allison says with a frown, “but I have to stay here to collect evidence.”

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah, I know, and he’ll understand. And you’ll see him at home anyway.” He pauses for a second. “Hey, can you let me know if you find anything? You know how dad and Derek are.”

“Sticklers for police procedure?” Derek says right into his ear. Stiles jumps, rubs furiously at his ear as he turns around. It’s not like Derek knows that’s a sensitive spot for Stiles, but he does know it gets a reaction and he never fails to abuse it.

“Oh my god,” Stiles whines, rubbing at his ear again and fighting down a blush, “Make some noise when you walk!”

Derek shrugs with a satisfied, smug smile. “Sorry,” he says, completely unapologetically. Damn Stiles’ irrepressible attraction to scary-hot people like Derek and Lydia. He’s actually even more attracted to Derek when he’s the same kind of asshole as Stiles. “I’m meeting Mrs. McCall and Scott at the station to take their statements. If you’re going to be there, maybe you can pick up some decent coffee for them.” There’s a question in there somewhere, but Derek Hale is frequently too cool for question marks.

“Yeah, better than the battery acid you guys have at the station,” Stiles agrees. “I’ll see you back there, then.”

***

Stiles has been making late night coffee runs for the station since he got his driver’s license. He knows the orders of most of the deputies, Derek included, by heart. He keeps one hand splayed across the lids of the cups as he drives back to the station to keep them upright, the tray sliding a little in the front passenger seat.

He gets there at the same time as Scott and Mrs. McCall, though, probably just a few minutes after Derek, and gives them each a hug in the parking lot. Mrs. McCall looks grim but not particularly upset, and Scott has his conflicted face on. A lot of the time he comes off like a confused puppy, floppy hair and big, expressive eyes overwhelming his uneven jaw line and goofy eyebrows, but he’s stubborn when it comes right down to it.

“Thank you, Stiles,” Mrs. McCall says as she wraps her hands around the paper cup and breathes in the steam. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Come on,” Stiles says, herding them both inside. Better that they save it all for Derek, and also Stiles is awful with feelings.

Derek’s desk is at least a little out of the way, and he’s already pulled up an extra chair. They huddle in around the desk, Stiles tugging his and Derek’s drinks free of the tray just as Derek comes back and sits down. “Here,” Stiles says, sliding Derek’s cup across to him. His desk is completely, weirdly neat. Stiles’ desk at home is covered in sticky notes, dead pens, reference books and a confusing jumble of cables and wires.

“Thanks,” Derek says, inhaling and taking a sip with raised eyebrows. Yeah, Stiles remembered the extra shot of vanilla. So sue him. Derek’s got a sweet tooth - it’s adorable.

Derek turns his attention fully to Mrs. McCall then. “When was the last time you spoke to your ex?” He asks.

“Three months ago, I think,” she frowns. “He was thinking of coming down for Christmas, but it turned out he had to work, so he couldn’t make it.”

Derek nods along, taking notes. “And how long have you been divorced?”

“Thirteen years. After he got the job in Sacramento, he left the Sheriff’s department and…” she trails off.

“He had an affair,” Scott says flatly. “He blamed it on the commute or whatever, but he left for the FBI, cheated, and we were glad he left.”

“Pretty harsh words for you dad,” Derek says faux-casually.

“He’s not my dad,” Scott argues. “He was just a sperm donor. I don’t hate him, I just don’t care. And I didn’t kill him and neither did my mom.” Stiles can see Scott getting worked up but there’s nothing he can really do about it.

Turns out Derek has it handled. “Hey,” he says quietly. “I don’t actually think you did, but I have to ask this kind of stuff. You know that, right?”

Scott visibly deflates. “Yeah,” he sighs. “It’s just.. he was such an asshole.”

“Scott,” Mrs. McCall scolds but her heart clearly isn’t in it. She looks like she’s in shock, really. “Neither of us ever really wanted to see him again,” she says after a minute. “I’m not going to pretend we got along, or that the split was amicable. He cheated on me, and I was furious, but that was over a decade ago. We barely saw him any more. I didn’t even know he was in town.”

Derek hums at that. “He didn’t tell you he was coming?”

“No,” she shakes her head. “Usually he says he’s coming and then can’t make it. It’s never happened the other way around.”

Until now, at least, Stiles thinks, and isn’t that weird? And by the look on Derek’s face, he agrees.

***

Eventually, Scott and his mom leave, and Stiles’ dad comes back and makes him leave, too. “Go,” he says, shooing at Stiles like he’s a stray dog or something. “Get out of here, get something to eat. Write, for god’s sake, before Lydia starts calling.”

That’s what gets Stiles moving. Lydia is terrifying and even though they’ll never be a thing, he still gets a combined fear-arousal response to her that is very motivating. “I’m going, I’m going,” he says, but he does make a pit-stop at the local diner for a burger and curly fries on the way. And a shake. And some doughnuts to go.

What? Creativity burns a lot of calories. Probably.

When he gets home he manages to write a few pages, but Agent McCall is hovering in the back of his mind the whole time. Eventually he caves and tabs over to google.

There’s not a lot on him, which isn’t that surprising. He’s not even on LinkedIn. Everyone is on LinkedIn, even if their profile is blank, like Stiles’.
But maybe Stiles should look at this from a different angle. If he wasn’t here to see Scott or Mrs. McCall, why was he in Beacon Hills? For a case? It seems crazy because really, nothing happens in Beacon Hills. Ever.

There were a few fires when he was a kid, including Derek’s family home, but no one had been seriously hurt and wild-fires were kind of a given in California, right up there with earthquakes and droughts.

Last year the big headline had been about Stiles, and the mayoral election, which Allison’s mom had won. That was about it.

Frustrated, Stiles closes the tab and switches back to staring at his word document. Lydia must have the universe wrapped around her little finger just like she does everyone else, because it is clearly telling him to mind his own business and write his book already.

“Fiiiine,” Stiles whines aloud to the empty room.

It doesn’t answer back. Maybe he should get a pet.

***

Since he’d managed to write a few thousand words, he’d texted Scott to see if he and Allison wanted company for dinner. Yeah, come on over, is the response, so he double-saves the file and heads out.

Scott and Allison rent a decent little apartment in the west part of town (as much as there is a west) while they save up to buy a house. Not that they’re even engaged yet, though Scott’s been working up the nerve for a few months now. Stiles is pretty sure Allison is going to beat him to it.

Stiles lets himself up with the extra key he made not long after they moved in. What? He picked up some skills in university and he might as well keep them up to date.

“Something smells like delicious take out,” he says, unlocking the door. Scott is already halfway through unpacking thai food, and Stiles gives him a bro half-hug. “Doing okay, man?”

“Yeah,” Scott says seriously, “I’m fine. Seriously.”

“Someone you know still died,” Stiles says, but he only half means it. Scott was right - his dad was an asshole and had been out of the picture for so long he barely even counted as family.

Scott shrugs, so Stiles lets it drop. “Anything I can do to help set up?” he asks instead.

***

After dinner, and after a few beers on the couch, Scott loosens up a bit. He’s always been a big ball of emotions, the yin to Stiles’ yang, so it’s not surprising that he just needed time to process it all, and now that he has it all comes tumbling out of him.

Stiles isn’t great with emotions. He mostly stays on the couch with Scott trying to be supportive while Allison does all the heavy lifting. Eventually though, the beers and the emotions catch up with Scott and he nods off against Allison’s shoulder between one word and the next.

Allison gently tilts Scott’s head back, brushes his hair back from his face and sighs. Stiles hands her a pillow and they manage to reposition him so his neck won’t hurt in the morning, curled up on the couch and out like a light.

As he’s leaving, Allison steps out into the hallway with him and closes the door over. “I didn’t want to talk about it in front of Scott,” she says quietly, “but it looks like his dad was in town on a cold case. That’s all I know, really.”

“That’s weird,” Stiles says slowly. “I thought of that, and I looked back through the old Beacon archives online but I didn’t see anything major. Nothing happens in Beacon Hills.”

“I know,” Allison agrees. “I thought it was weird, too. Just— I know you picked some stuff up from Danny. Promise me you’ll let one of us know if you find anything?”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, of course. Take care of Scott, okay?”

Allison huffs a little, brushes her hair back over one ear. “I will.”

Stiles turns to the elevator but stops when she calls, “And Stiles?” He looks back. “Be careful, okay?”

“Hey, you know me,” Stiles says, shrugging. “I always land on my feet.”

***

The next morning Stiles wakes up only because his obnoxious ringtone won’t stop and his phone is all the way across the room. Groaning, he pulls the duvet close around himself and hauls himself out of bed to answer it.

“Oh my god,” he says instead of hello or good morning or anything else someone might normally answer the phone with. “Why the hell are you calling so early?”

Lydia, beautiful, cruel Lydia, just laughs at him. “I thought you said you were going to keep to a regular schedule of writing? You should’ve been up for hours by now. Are you slacking off?”

“Nooo,” he hedges, crawling back into bed. “I was out late last night. Scott needed moral support.”

She scoffs at him. “Please, you’re awful at moral support.”

“Okay,” he concedes, kicking his feet against the edge of the duvet to keep the heat close. It’s still early enough in spring that the mornings are chilly, and Stiles gets cold at night. “But he needed a shoulder to cry on, and there was beer.”

“At least tell me you got some writing done first. I know you, Stiles,” and she does, which is a terrifying quality in an agent, he’s discovered, “I can tell when you’ve been slacking off.”

“I wrote a ton! Promise!” If loads counted as a few pages and some notes in his outline file. Whatever, same dif.

Lydia hums a little. “Mhm. Step up your game, Stilinski. And get out of bed already.”

She hangs up on him, which is pretty par for the course. Stiles lets his hand flop back down against the bed, phone falling into an awkward spot between his neck and shoulder and just lays there for a minute, staring at the ceiling.

It’s no good. He’s definitely awake now.

“Ugh,” he groans again, just to hear the sound of it in the room. “UGH,” again when he smells himself, like stale beer and take out. “You win, Lydia,” he mumbles and sets about actually getting ready for the day.

***

Because Stiles is lazy and kind of hungover, he heads out to the diner instead of making anything at home. The door has an old bell on it that jangles when he ducks inside, and it takes him a few seconds to adjust to the dimmer light. There, sitting in the far booth with his back to the wall, is Derek, looking at the menu as if he won’t order the same thing he always does.

Stiles decides he could probably use some company. “Good morning, sunshine,” he says, sliding onto the opposite bench. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“It’s lunch time,” Derek replies flatly, but it’s faux-flat – Stiles can tell.

“Yeah, but I was up late and this is my breakfast, so.” Stiles shrugs and tugs the menu out of Derek’s hands, waves to Mar Junior, who runs the place.

Mar Junior is actually named Martha, but her mom went by Mar when she ran the place, and the diner is called Mars Food with a little UFO over the name, so Mar Junior is really just keeping up with tradition. “You both want your usuals?” she asks as she comes over. “Why do you have a menu? Honestly, put that thing away.”

Stiles beams at her. “I was just going to say the same thing to Derek, here! It’s like he’s new or something.”

Derek scowls. “I could try something different,” he says sullenly.

“That’s just the hunger talking,” Mar says, rolling her eyes. “Gimme a minute and I’ll grab your drinks.”

Stiles tucks the menu in behind the sugar and maple syrup, safely out of Derek’s reach. Something about seeing how grumpy Derek gets when he’s hungry makes Stiles want to be extra, obnoxiously cheerful at him. He beams at him again. “So, catch any leads yet?”

Mar drops off their drinks – strawberry shake for Derek, diet coke for Stiles – and heads into the back. “That’s police business,” Derek says seriously, but the effect is kind of ruined when he starts drinking his milkshake. It’s even got whipped cream on top.

“Sure, whatever, but this is a small town,” Stiles argues, “and nobody knows why Scott’s dad was in town, unless it was for official business. Maybe for a cold case?”

Derek sighs. “Stiles, it’s a murder investigation. It’s dangerous. You should just leave it alone. Aren’t you writing a book right now?” It’s funny, but Derek never brings up Stiles’ writing. Okay, not funny so much as a constant, niggling itch in the back of Stiles’ brain, but if he’s redirecting to that it must mean something.

“So I’m right,” Stiles says, nodding. Allison had said so, but it’s good to have confirmation.

That actually seems to confuse Derek. “What?” he asks.

“You never mention my writing,” Stiles says, fiddling with his straw. “The only reason you would is to try and distract me. Which, nice try, dude, but you should know better by now.”

“Don’t call me dude,” Derek says automatically, but the tips of his ears are pink like Stiles has somehow embarrassed him. “Don’t you get enough of people asking you about your books? I thought– never mind.”

“Never mind what?” Stiles asks, leaning forward.

“I just–” Derek stares intently down at his milkshake and Stiles holds his breath.

“Okay,” Mar Junior interrupts, sliding a massive plate down in front of Stiles. “Half-benedict and half-waffles for you, and a double-burger and salad for you. “Just wave if you want a refill,” she adds.

Stiles sighs and leans back against the vinyl bench-back. “Thanks, Mar.”

***

Stiles is just getting back into his Jeep (okay, tripping into his Jeep) when he gets a text message from Allison.

I’m going to murder your dad, it says, which is uh, unusual. Sure, Allison’s great with a gun (or a crossbow, or a knife, or…) but she’s also usually even-keeled, even in rough circumstances. She’s probably going to replace his dad as Sheriff some day.

Should you be texting me that? Stiles replies. I hear the police use that kind of thing as evidence now.

The reply is almost instantaneous. They arrested Scott.

Stiles swears.

***

There are actual cells in the back of the Sheriff’s station, complete with bars, and Stiles storms right through to them without stopping to talk to anyone. Scott has his stupidly determined face on, sitting on the little cot with his hands dangling between his knees.

“Hey, Stiles,” Scott says casually, as if he isn’t literally behind bars.

“What the hell happened? Why are you in here? Why did they arrest you? Did you talk to my dad?” Stiles has about eight more questions on the tip of his tongue, but he doesn’t want to overwhelm Scott who sometimes gets a little lost if too much happens at once.

Behind him, his father sighs. “I didn’t exactly want to arrest him, but he’s not giving me a choice,” he says, stepping into the room. “He lied about his alibi.”

“He— what?” Stiles stops, baffled. Scott is basically incapable of lying.

Stiles’ dad scrubs a hand through his hair and rolls his eyes heavenward. “I checked. Scott said he was working last night, but when I checked with Deaton,” he says, turning to Scott, “he said you took last night off for personal reasons. Son, you still don’t want to tell me what those reasons were? You know we don’t think you really did this, but it looks bad.”

Scott frowns down at the floor, refusing to make eye contact. “I can’t say anything,” he says. Can’t, not won’t. It’s an important distinction with Scott.

His dad holds out his hands in defeat at Stiles. “Maybe you’ll have more luck than me,” he says quietly, and heads back out into the squad room.

Stiles waits until he’s well out of earshot before leaning up against the bars. “Okay, buddy, what’s the real story? Did you kill him? Do you need me to bury the evidence? Were you running away to join the circus? Work with me here.”

Scott leans right to make sure the coast is clear before he gets up and grips the bars, nose to nose with Stiles. “You have to pinky-swear that you won’t tell anyone,” he says seriously.

“Dude, it’s me,” Stiles says, but holds out his pinky anyway. They shake on it.

“I was buying a ring for Allison,” he says, face going dreamy for a second. “But I can’t tell anyone! I mean, god, she works here. If she finds out before I can actually propose it’ll ruin everything. I have it all planned out, Stiles! It’s going to be so romantic—”

“Stop, stop, hold up a second,” Stiles waves that whole train of thought off before Scott can get carried away. “You have an alibi. An awesome alibi. And you won’t tell anyone because you think they’ll tell Allison. You do realize that if you don’t tell at least my dad, who can totally keep a secret by the way, that you could end up in jail for murdering your dad and then you won’t get to marry Allison ever, right?”

But Scott has that look about him, the same one he had when he decided he needed to get into veterinary college even if it meant living with his mom to save money and barely sleeping until he had passed all his tests. “You can prove it wasn’t me! You’re good at this stuff.”

Stiles sighs. “I’m not actually a cop, Scott! I write stupid space mysteries!”

“Even your dad thinks you could’ve been Sheriff one day if you’d worked here instead of writing. Everyone knows that.” Scott grabs his hands through the bars. “You’re my best friend, Stiles,” he pleads. “Please?”

“This is so dumb,” Stiles sighs, as if he could ever say no.

***

The dumbest part is that everyone in Beacon Hills knows Scott wants to propose, and not even Allison would be surprised. When she finds out why he stayed behind bars she’s going to be hella pissed. Stiles can barely manage to lie to Allison himself, but she corners him when he comes back into the squad room.

“Anything?” she asks, hopeful.

“He’s got a great alibi,” Stiles says honestly. “And I’m not allowed to tell anyone what it is. But trust me, he didn’t do it.”

“Everyone knows he didn’t do it!” Allison yells. She rubs at her forehead for a minute. “Sorry,” she grits out, “But if he has an alibi why won’t he use it?”

Stiles winces. “Bro code?”

***

Allison had not taken it well. Though at least now Stiles knows how Elle Woods felt. That kind of counted for something.

There’s nothing really for Stiles to look into until Derek and his dad do some more digging though, so Stiles heads home and winds up writing. A lot. He starts typing and doesn’t stop until his eyes start watering. When he finally finally blinks rapidly, pulling back from where he was hunched over the keyboard the room is dark except for the too-bright glow of his monitor, and everything hurts. And he has to pee. And drink something.

He’s at least got a good stretch of the beginning of the book nailed down, even if his eyes are gritty and his whole body feels like death. Stiles’ stomach growls.

He should probably buy some kind of real food.

Beacon Hills is tiny, but there’s a 24-hour grocery store about a half hour out of town. He drives there with the window down, the cool night air waking him up. The aggressively bright fluorescent lights of the store do the rest.

There are a few other people doing their shopping at three am - a single mom, by the looks of it, with an infant strapped to her chest; a college student hacking into his sleeve and looking vaguely green; and Derek.

Derek looks dead on his feet, hands loose but twitchy on the handles of his cart, which is half full of milk and produce, meat, pasta, and three boxes of sugary breakfast cereals. “Hey,” Stiles gives a little half wave to Derek from across the aisle. “Isn’t it past your bed-time?”

Derek blinks sleepily at Stiles and seems to lag behind for a second. “What are you doing here?” he asks instead of answering.

“Buying food?” Stiles gestures expansively at the contents of his cart - less healthy than Derek’s, sure, but delicious. “I’m a growing boy,” he says with a grin.

“Tell me about it,” Derek mutters under his breath. He’s swaying a little on his feet, and Stiles looks at him a little more closely. He looks worn-out, eyes sleepy and hair mussed. Even his uniform is a little rough around the edges, which Stiles has never seen before. (Stiles pays very close attention to Derek’s uniform. Like maybe too much.)

Derek’s eyelids are drooping. “How about we pay and I give you a ride home?” Stiles says after a minute of watching him practically sleep standing up.

“I can drive,” Derek grumps, eyes slitting back open.

“Nope,” Stiles disagrees cheerfully, herding Derek and his cart back towards the front of the store. “I’m pretty sure that would be illegal.”

The lone cashier looks incredibly bored, doesn’t even blink when Stiles adds Soap Digest to Derek’s groceries. Not that Derek notices. It’ll be a nice surprise for him later. Derek does manage to fumble a bunch of reusable shopping bags out from his cart, though. Adorable, Stiles mouths helplessly to himself. Derek Hale: planeteer.

The hard part is really steering Derek and his groceries over to Stiles’ Jeep instead of the Camaro. He doesn’t seem super keen on walking in a straight line, and it doesn’t help that he’s made of muscle. But hey, if Stiles has to suffer through red marks from his bags on one arm so he can grip onto Derek with his free hand, that’s just the price of community safety.

They manage to cram all their groceries into the Jeep, and Stiles helps Derek up into the passenger seat. He does, at least, remember to buckle his own seat belt.

Stiles has a rough idea of where Derek lives, but he doesn’t know the actual street name or apartment. He looks over and Derek is already slumped against the window, eyes closed and breath slowing.

Stiles elbows him in the side, viciously. “Come on, stay awake at least long enough to tell me where you live, dude,” he says over Derek’s grunt of pain and betrayed look.

“Don’t call me dude,” he grumbles, but it’s sleepy and soft, and there’s no real heat behind it. He rattles off his address.

Blinking repeatedly to stay awake, Stiles starts the car and pulls out of the lot. Derek is already almost asleep again. “What are you even doing out so late?” Stiles asks, trying to keep him awake a little longer.

Derek breathes deeply, eyes closed, but he does answer after a minute. “The FBI sent over the files, so,” he yawns widely, “had to finish reading them.”

“And? Any leads?”

Pulling up at a four-way stop, he turns to look at Derek. His head is leaned against the window again, his face and posture lax and loose with exhaustion. It’s not the first time Stiles has thought Derek looked cuddly — that honor was owed entirely to the autumn station barbeque, where he’d seen Derek in a thick, cable-knit sweater with actual thumb holes what even — but it’s the most personal, the most intimate. Derek frowns at that question, even half asleep as he is.

“The fires,” he mumbles, brow furrowed, but his voice trails off at the end and his expression smoothes out as he falls completely back asleep.

Stiles sits there at the four way stop, staring at him for a long moment even though there’s no one else on the road.

***

When he pulls up to Derek’s apartment building, Derek’s still asleep against the window, mouth open, eyelashes dark against his cheeks and his five o’clock shadow — more like four am shadow at this point — is really making a go of it. Stiles hops down out of the Jeep and opens the back, hauls Derek’s bags out and sets them on the ground. It’s not like someone is going to steal his groceries in a town this small and at this hour.

He raps on the door frame, right by Derek’s face until he blinks awake. “Come on, you can’t sleep in this thing all night. I’ve done it and I can say absolutely that it really messes up your neck.” He opens the door while Derek fumbles his seat-belt unlocked. “Do you have keys?”

Derek blinks at him without comprehension.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says under his breath before straightening up and taking a deep breath. “This is purely for your sake, okay? I’m not trying to cop a feel,” he explains though Derek seems frankly too out of it to care. Stiles pats down Derek’s uniform shirt pockets, looking for his keys. Empty. “Oh my god,” he repeats to himself, and very carefully starts patting down Derek’s butt.

Stiles has stared at that butt a lot, okay? He already knows it’s amazing but it’s one thing to know that visually and a whole other thing to get your hands all over it in the name of helping a friend. He feels a guilty pleasure in the slope of Derek’s ass, and he’d feel worse, but it’s pretty easy to find his keys.

“Seriously, you’ve been sitting on these the whole time?” Stiles asks, but it’s mostly to himself since Derek takes the opportunity to slump, face first into the join of Stiles’ neck and shoulder and rub his cheek and nose back and forth a little, the drag of his stubble setting Stiles’ nerves alight. He drapes himself over Stiles and hangs on, heavy and warm and maybe a little too much to Stiles’ liking. Stiles has always been a fan of being pressed against walls or doors or down into sheets, or— “Oohkay, yeah, how about we get you upstairs and into bed, big guy?”

Derek makes a little sound at that and settles more of his weight onto Stiles, snuffling against his skin. Stiles closes his eyes and counts to three. In the morning, Derek will probably feel embarrassed or awkward if he remembers this at all. He seems practically completely asleep as it is. It’s amazing that he made it to the grocery store.

Looping one arm around his waist and helping Derek wrap his own arm over Stiles’ shoulder, he guides him, hip to hip through the doors and down the hall, fumbling the keys. And shit, keys, plural. Thankfully, it’s a short walk, and Stiles manages to lead Derek down the right end of the hallway by pure luck on the first try. “Can you keep yourself up for a minute?” Stiles asks, and tries to lean Derek up against the wall. Of course, Derek starts to slide downwards immediately, and Stiles has to grab him around the waist, loop both his arms around Stiles’ neck to keep him vaguely upright.

The hardest part is peering over Derek’s giant, very well-muscled shoulders to get the key in both locks one at a time, and actually shove the door open.

The apartment is pretty spacious, wide open with a large bank of windows at the far wall, a kitchen off to Stiles’ right next to a hallway. He shifts Derek again, trying to keep a grip on him — honestly not a problem Stiles ever thought he would have. “I’m going to take a stab in the literal dark and assume your bedroom is down that hall,” Stiles says out loud and Derek grumbles what could be assent into the skin just under his ear.

Stiles shudders. He’s an awful human being.

Sure enough the second doorway opens into a decent bedroom; bookshelves against every wall, and, thankfully, an absolutely massive bed in the middle of it all. He tries to bend over and lower Derek with care to the bed, but Derek is a big guy, huge and heavy even though they’re of a height, and he falls to the bed with an audible oof. “Sorry, sleeping beauty,” Stiles mutters.

Derek is out for the count though.

The least Stiles can do is pull off his shoes and tuck them under the edge of the bed; unbutton his uniform shirt over his undershirt. He can’t pull the shirt off, but maybe Derek will take it off in his sleep when he gets too hot, who knows. Finally he tugs the cover from under Derek and pulls it up over him before heading back out to the Jeep and for the groceries.

It takes two trips, but he gets them all upstairs and shoves the perishables in the fridge. Derek can deal with the dry goods when he wakes up.

The receipt is in the bag, so Stiles pulls a pen out of his pocket and writes Derek a note. It’s funny, but even though they’ve known each other for years, he doesn’t have Derek’s phone number. He scrawls his own at the bottom and signs it with a smiley face, pins it down with Derek’s keys.

The clock on the microwave reads 5:22.

“Oh my god,” Stiles whines on his way back down to the Jeep for the last time. “It is way, way past my bed time.”

***

Stiles wakes up to a text message from Derek.

Had to go into work. Can you pick me up at seven? - D

He saves Derek’s number to his contacts as Captain Planet before replying. See you at seven, sunshine! It’s funny because it’s two in the afternoon and Stiles is barely awake. He can’t even imagine how Derek is right now. (Though he maybe thinks about it for a few minutes, laying in bed and not willing to get up yet, just imagining Derek’s grumpy morning face, his bed head, his sleepy, slow smile after his first cup of coffee.)

After, Stiles showers and brushes his teeth while wandering the house aimlessly, looping back to the bathroom and the fogged mirror. He scratches absently at his neck and spits into the sink. By the time he’s done the mirror has unfogged and Stiles gawps at himself.

His neck is absolutely covered in beard-burn.

***

Stiles layers two shirts and a scarf on to try and cover it up, but it’s that first really warm day in spring before the last stretch of cold (or as cold as California gets, anyway) and he’s pretty sure he’s not going to fool anybody. He parks out front of the station and texts Derek, I’m out front. He wants to go in and visit Scott but he also very much doesn’t want his dad to see him right now. And also Allison is in there and probably still pissed at him.

I know, your dad saw your car. He says come inside, comes the reply a minute later. Stiles bangs his head against the steering wheel twice and takes a deep breath. He clambers down out of the Jeep. It doesn’t matter that Stiles is a grown man — his dad will still probably make fun of him.

He ducks his head on the way in, giving a half-wave to Deputy Parrish who is on front desk duty and thankfully too busy with a senior citizen to talk.

“Heeey, dad,” Stiles says, slinking into his dad’s office. Fully occupied with some papers, his dad doesn’t look up right away, just gestures at the door. Stiles closes it behind himself and flops down into one of the guest chairs.

After a minute, he leans back in his chair and raises an eyebrow at Stiles. “Taking fashion tips from Isaac now, Stiles?” he says, gesturing at the scarf.

Stiles does his best to look totally cool and unruffled. “I can try out a new look,” he says, but it comes out defensive, so, not really cool or unruffled.

“Uh-huh, and it’s 65 degrees out. How about you take off that scarf, son? You look a little flushed.”

It’s not really a suggestion. Stiles pulls the scarf off and his dad breaks out into a full on grin. “Anything you want to tell me about?” he says slowly. “Anyone you want to tell me about?”

“No,” Stiles replies sullenly, sinking further into his guest chair. “Didn’t you have a reason for wanting to talk to me?”

“A father can’t want to see his only son?” he asks cheekily. He barely pauses before gleefully hitting the intercom button to his PA. “Jackson, can you send Derek in with those files?”

Stiles glowers. “I hate you.”

His dad beams as the door swings open and Derek walks in with a stack of case files and Stiles hunches his shoulders, trying to cover his neck as much as possible. Spoiler alert: it’s not much.

Derek takes the chair next to Stiles, sets the stack on the desk. “Hey, thanks for— what happened to your neck?” his voice turns flat, eyes locked on Stiles.

“Can we not talk about this?” Stiles whines. Clearly Derek doesn’t remember last night, or at least, not the tail end of it.

There’s a twitch in Derek’s jaw. Stiles rubs his hands up and down his face, half to hide his probably red cheeks, half because there is literally nowhere safe to look. Derek looks pissed for some reason and his dad looks absolutely gleeful. Stiles might have gotten his disconnect with morals or whatever from his mom, who was sneaky and totally not above seriously bending the rules, but he got his love of trolling from his dad.

Derek scowls like he’s the one getting teased and taps the stack of files sharply. “These are the arson cases Agent McCall was looking into,” he says, still staring intently at his neck.

Stiles snaps his fingers. “Hey! My eyes are up here!”

At least Derek has the grace to look a little embarrassed at that, and he looks up at the ceiling for a moment before taking a deep breath. “Sorry,” he mutters, though he doesn’t sound it.

“Off the record,” his dad picks up, “I know you were going to try and get your hands on these anyway so I had Derek make you copies. We’ve looked through them but there’s nothing that really stands out to either of us. They just look like accidental fires.”

“Everything makes sense,” Derek agrees. “There are three from people who didn’t get their chimneys cleaned, two wild fires that spread to houses near the preserve,” including probably Derek’s childhood home, Stiles knows, “and a couple of cases of faulty wiring. Pretty open and shut.”

Stiles grabs the stack and pulls it messily into his lap, flipping open the first case. “Except Scott’s dad was looking into these.”

“Except that,” his dad sighs. “You’re good with weird connections. Take a look, see what you can find. And don’t tell anyone,” he adds. “I’m only asking because we’re desperate. It’s been 24 hours and we barely have anything to go on.”

“Gee, thanks, dad,” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Way to make me feel special.”

Okay, he deserves the flat look his dad gives him. “Uh huh. Here,” he hauls a reusable bag out from under his desk. “Keep those tucked away until you’re home.”

“Duh,” Stiles says, but slides the files into the bag dutifully.

***

“Oh my god, please tell me you’re ready to go,” Stiles says immediately after they escape his dad’s office. Jackson sneers at him from his desk, but Stiles just sticks his tongue out at him on the way back into the bullpen, such as it is. It’s a small station.

Derek grabs his jacket off the back of his chair and nods. “Sure. Sorry if you’re in a hurry.”

“I’m only in a hurry to get away from embarrassing questions from my dad,” he replies on their way out. “This is almost as bad as that time in college when—” he stops himself before he can say anything incriminating, but Derek is looking at him rather intensely. “Never mind,” he says, instead, and, “Oh look, my car!” kind of desperately, as if there were another blue Jeep belonging to someone else in the county.

They both climb up into the Jeep, and it only takes two tries to get the engine to start up, which Stiles takes as a win. “Sorry if I interrupted your evening,” Derek says awkwardly after a minute, gesturing vaguely in Stiles’ direction but staring straight ahead of the windshield.

“What? Dude, it was no big deal dropping you off. Your place isn’t that far out of the way home for me. Plus you were super out of it,” he adds, scratching absently at his neck. It itches a little.

He thinks about it for a minute though. “Wait, uh, how much do you remember, exactly?”

Derek drags a hand down his face and looks out the window. “Not… much? I got hungry on the way back from the station. It was pretty late. I found groceries in my apartment, so I guess I got those at some point but, uh, I don’t know how I ran into you, or where. So, you know, sorry if I interrupted your date.”

Stiles can’t help it — he laughs. “Dude, seriously, there was no date!”

“What?” Derek asks. He looks confused, then very serious. “Were you,” he pauses and swallows, the tips of his ears turning red, “safe?”

“Safe? Oh! Oh! Oh god. Derek, no, listen—”

“Just because someone tells you they’re clean doesn’t mean you can—”

“It was you,” Stiles blurts out. Anything to get Derek to stop with the safe sex lecture.

“I— what?

If he could take his hands off the wheel, Stiles would probably cover his mouth belatedly, but he’s driving and Derek is pretty much captain safety. “I didn’t hook up with anyone last night, okay? I went grocery shopping, and I saw you there, and you were totally out of it so I drove you home. And uh, some stuff happened,” he says, glancing back and forth between Derek and the road.

Derek’s expression is increasingly alarmed. “Nothing bad! I mean, it was mostly an accident? You were just really tired, and I was there, you know, trying to find your keys,” he can’t stop himself, even though there has to be a better way to say this kind of thing. Sorry I groped your ass while you platonically beard-burned me last night? Words are a hell of a lot easier on a screen where he can backspace and fix things and he has all the time in the world to make it right. “So you know, sorry about the thing with your butt?” Derek’s eyebrows are practically in his hairline now. “Not like that! Just-- keys?” he finishes weakly.

There’s an awkward minute of silence where Derek just kind of stares at him, at his neck. “I did that?” Derek asks after a minute.

“Yeah, who knew you were a cuddler? I mean, oh god, none of this is coming out right,” Stiles moans, hunching forward over the wheel. “I meant, you know, that you’re very tactile when you’re sleep deprived.” There is literally no good way to say any of this, Stiles decides.

“So…” he says, frantically scrambling for a change of topic. “How about them Mets?”

“I gave you beard burn,” he says, still staring intently at Stiles.

Stiles laughs a little, awkwardly. “I mean, no big deal, happens all the time, right?” Derek probably left at least half his dates behind with beard-burn.

“I haven’t seen you wear that many scarves,” Derek says apropos of nothing. He has some kind of superpower that gets Stiles to say as many embarrassing or awkward things in the shortest time possible.

“Well yeah, I mean, I’m not Isaac. I don’t think I can really pull this look off? Just, you saw how my dad gets.” Stiles groans. “Ugh, it’s like he thinks I haven’t been on a date before. Not that last night was a date! Obviously.”

Derek just raises an eyebrow. “Obviously,” he agrees. “Sorry about your neck,” he adds, looking the opposite of sorry.

“Dude, at least try to sound like you mean it,” Stiles says. “Though it’s not that bad. Your beard is a lot softer than I expected? I mean, have you ever touched it? Wait, fuck, of course you’ve touched yourself. I mean, crap.”

Derek just starts laughing them, actually full on laughing at him, head thrown back.

“Shut up!” Stiles says, but he can’t help but kind of laugh at himself, too. “Ugh. Seriously now my dad thinks I have a boyfriend. I mean how do your dates handle the beard burn? You got any tips for me, since you got me into this situation?”

Derek shrugs. “I couldn’t say. I haven’t really dated anyone in awhile,” he says casually, totally unselfconscious about it. Stiles hasn’t been on a date in — well, in a long time. It gives him a little rush to think he’s the first person in a good long while to have gotten up close and personal with Derek, even if Derek didn’t actually mean anything by it.

“Me either, though that’s kind of more surprising for you,” Stiles says, gesturing loosely at Derek, “with your, you know. Everything.”

Derek just grins at him from across the car. “My everything?” he asks. If Stiles didn’t know better, he’d think Derek was flirting.

Thankfully, they’re almost at the 24-hour grocery, and Stiles turns off the side-road. “Oh look,” Stiles says, “we’re here and I can’t further incriminate myself.”

Derek barely seems to care as Stiles pulls into a space near his Camaro, just drums his fingers against one thigh. “Thanks for driving me home,” he says finally. “I appreciate it.”

“Hey, can’t have my favorite deputy crashing his car due to sleep deprivation. What kind of example would that set?”

“Favorite deputy?” Derek asks. “I thought that was a toss-up between Parrish and Allison?”

“Nah, they’re competing for secretly scariest deputy, duh,” Stiles replies and very carefully doesn’t mention that Derek and Parrish are still duking it out (in Stiles’ head anyway) for most attractive deputy. Okay, Derek is winning by a lot, but that’s between Stiles and himself.

“I’m honored then,” Derek says mock-seriously. “Thanks for the ride. I guess I’ll see you around?”

“Absolutely,” Stiles agrees as Derek climbs down out of the Jeep. He waits until Derek’s got the engine going and waves a little over the steering wheel before pulling away. He can occupy himself with the arson files for the rest of the day and keep his mind off the way Derek looked when he was really enjoying himself.

But not enjoying-himself-enjoying-himself.

Oh god. Stiles really needs to focus on something else.

***

The files are interesting. With the county budget stretched thin (isn’t it always?) there’s only really one arson investigator for Beacon County, and his name is on every single one of the reports. They seem pretty straight-forward at first.

The chimney fires, the reports say, were all in older homes that obviously needed maintenance in other areas like the gutters, downspouts and foundations. It makes complete sense that people who weren’t taking care of the outside of their homes would also neglect to get the chimney cleaned out before lighting a fire around Christmas time. There was no way to ask the people who lived there though. They had all died from the fire or from smoke inhalation soon after the fact.

Likewise, wildfires are just a fact of life in California, even as far north as Beacon Hills. All sorts of people saw the fire sweeping in along the preserve. The strange part is really that the people living next to the Hales hadn’t evacuated. By all accounts multiple people had rung the doorbell, yelled, telephoned, and there had been no response. That’s the fire that sticks out to him.

The Hales, at least, had all made it out alive ahead of time, but there had been no stopping the fire from completely destroying their family home. In the photos it’s a charred wreck, still steaming and black against the sunrise.

The fires due to faulty wiring barely merit a write-up at all, apparently. Those reports are thin, brief. Sure, there are some older homes in Beacon Hills, but six with wiring so bad they end in fire inside of two years? That seems excessive.

And actually, that’s a good place to start. Stiles re-orders the fires chronologically, and it gets weirder. All eleven fall into a two year period, starting with the six wiring fires, then the two chimney fires, and finally the supposed wildfires. The reports get longer as they go along but also less detailed. It’s strange.

There are still the photos to go through. For the first wiring fire, Stiles lays the photos out on the floor of his office to try and make a rough floor plan of the home. Google explains how to track a char pattern to find the source of the fire, looking for heavier char on one side of a doorway as an indicator of where the fire came from. If that’s right, what he sees in the photos doesn’t make sense.

The other fires in the same grouping have the same problem. It’s more than suspicious.

He switches over to the chimney fires. The origin point in the photos is clearly nowhere near the chimney in any of them. In one house there’s a broad U shaped scorch mark on the opposite wall, the floor dark with ash and melted glass beneath it, like someone had poured down gasoline and lit it. So those are obvious arsons, too.

But the wildfires? The only suspicious thing Stiles can find is the one family who burned to death in their home. Of course, it’s the last fire chronologically, at least in Agent McCall’s files. Back to Google, then.

The Beacon Hills Beacon archives don’t have any stories about new fires after that except for the usual wildfires, but there are no deaths. There’s one story about the anniversary of the suspicious wildfire, though.

While Beacon County hasn’t seen a year like that in a decade, northern California has seen an increase in accidental fires and wildfires since then, it reads. There’s a little map of the state with stats about fires and the years they had the most. It’s obvious, incredibly obvious, and Stiles can’t believe that no one has noticed before.

No one except Agent McCall, and now Stiles.

***

“Scott’s innocent and there’s a serial arsonist working his way through California!” Stiles shouts as soon as he’s inside his dad’s office.

Except the office is empty. Stiles blinks a little and checks out the clock on the wall. It’s nearing midnight, which actually explains why the station is so quiet. “Aw man,” Stiles whines to himself, dropping the files on the desk. He’d really been hoping to make a dramatic entrance and save his best friend from his mediocre accommodations. Not that they haven’t been treating him well — he’s even allowed to have his cellphone on him so he can text Allison.

Stiles wanders back out of the office and gets an unimpressed look from the on-duty desk Sergeant, Boyd. “Derek’s in the back with Scott,” he says. “Don’t make too much noise.”

“Thanks, and uh, sorry about the yelling.”

Boyd shrugs and goes back to his book. He’s always got a book on him.

Stiles heads back into the cells and immediately fumbles for his phone. Derek and Scott are sitting on the floor and there are kittens crawling all over them. This is absolutely going on Instagram.

“Close the door,” Derek says, looking up as one kitten hooks into his uniform shirt to clamber up and balance precariously on his shoulder. “We don’t want them to get out.”

Click goes the fake shutter sound on his phone. Stiles kicks the door closed behind him. #nofilter #kittens #copsandcats “Boom,” he says, taking a few more photos for posterity. “You’re internet famous. Or you will be, anyway. This is Instagram gold.”

Derek frowns at him flatly, but it’s kind of ruined by the shoulder-climbing kitten trying to get on top of his head. Stiles takes an extra shot of that before tucking his phone back in his pocket.

Scott has one kitten on it’s back in his hand - it fits neatly into his palm it’s so little, tiny feet kicking out as he examines it. “They all look pretty healthy to me,” he says, “but you should still take them to Deaton in the morning. He can check them out for real and get them ready for adoption. Are you sure you don’t want to keep one?”

“My apartment building doesn’t allow pets,” Derek says, but he’s entirely captivated by a second kitten stumbling up over his shoe and into his lap. He strokes one finger down it’s back from head to tail, and the little thing arches into it, meowing, tiny and high-pitched in the quiet.

It sounds, and looks, like Derek would love to have pets. It’s kind of sad that a lot of the apartment buildings in Beacon Hills don’t allow pets. Owning his own house has it’s upsides. Stiles has thought about getting a dog or a cat a few times, though he hasn’t gotten around to it yet. He flops down on the floor between Derek and Scott and commandeers a kitten. It’s a little tawny thing that purrs loudly and instantly tries to pick a fight with his shoelaces. “Where did you even find all these little guys? There are what, five of them?”

“They were in a bucket outside my building,” Derek says softly. He’s rescued his adventurous little friend from his head and has two of them curled up against his stomach, nuzzling each other and kneading at him. “I tried to take them to Deaton’s but he was already closed for the night, so…” he trails off.

Stiles hums a little, letting his little buddy attack his sleeve. “Might as well take advantage of having an assistant vet in holding?” He snaps his fingers then, startling the kitten, who makes an affronted meep! “That’s why I came down here!” he gestures in Scott’s direction, and Scott, bless him, perks up like a puppy. “Those fires your dad had files on? All arsons. No connection to Scott at all,” he adds, turning back to Derek. “You’ve gotta let him go.”

Derek sighs. “Okay one, you’re not supposed to tell anyone you have those files, and two, Scott still lied about his alibi.”

“I have an alibi!” Scott protests.

“Yeah,” Stiles chimes in, “an awesome alibi.”

There’s silence for a moment as Derek waits expectantly. “And? Do you want to share?”

“Uh, I can’t?” Scott says, absently rubbing at the back of his head.

Derek rolls his eyes. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Guess you’ll have to spend the night with all these kittens, then. I’ll get you some kind of litter and water set up,” he says, depositing his two kittens into Scott’s lap and standing to leave. “Stiles, you should go home. Come back at a reasonable hour.”

Reluctantly, Stiles rubs his nose against his kitten’s belly before handing the cutie over to Scott and stands with Derek. “I’ll get you out of here, buddy,” he promises Scott. “I’ll be back in the morning to wow them with my investigative prowess.”

Scott doesn’t even look upset, really. “I know you will,” he says simply. “You always do.”

***

He gets into the station the next morning, kind of fuzzy from lack of sleep and carrying a tray of coffee for his dad and Derek, only to find the office door closed and he can vaguely hear low conversation from the other side. “Hey, Jackass,” he says, kicking the corner of Jackson’s desk, “who’s in there?”

Jackson smirks at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know? It’s a private meeting.”

If someone had told Stiles back in high school that rich asshole jock Jackson would fail out of law school and wind up being his dad’s personal assistant he would have laughed it off. Now though, Stiles is a pretty successful author and while Jackson is still a dick he doesn’t really feel the schadenfreude that he would have expected. Jackson actually seems happier without the pressure to follow in his dad’s footsteps, though it had taken him a year or two to get there.

Not that it made him any nicer. “Don’t you have some shitty book to write? You’re not a police officer,” Jackson sneers.

“Nope,” Stiles agrees gamely, “but I like mysteries, and Scott’s my best bro.” He shrugs. “I can wait.” Stiles flops down into one of the visitors chairs and sends a text message to Derek. He’s not at his desk, but he’s got to be around somewhere. Are you out delivering kittens right now? Are you going to put kitten patrol on your resume?

The reply comes pretty quickly. I’m at work.

Not at your desk you’re not. Unless you’re in the back hanging out with the pussy posse. Get it?

A moment later Derek opens the door to his dad’s office with a resigned look on his face. “Get in here, Stiles.”

Stiles sticks his tongue out at Jackson as he walks past his desk, just because he can. And because the guy was a real bag of dicks in high school.

Inside, his dad looks a little harried, but anyone would when faced with Laura Hale in full lawyer mode. “Stiles,” she says, raising one eyebrow, “are you involved in this shit show, too?”

“Uhhh,” Stiles fumbles. Laura has always intimidated him in a way that Derek somehow hasn’t. She’s almost as tall as her brother with long dark hair and pale skin. She and Derek look like twins, almost, except for the four year age gap and the fact that that Laura’s bone structure is finer.

“Seriously,” she says, turning back to his dad, “I left town for three days and you arrested the McCall kid? Everyone knows he didn’t do it.”

His dad sighs, rubbing between his eyebrows. “That doesn’t change the fact that he lied about his alibi, Laura. Can we drop it? You already got him released.”

“What? Why didn’t you call me?!” Stiles can’t help the outburst. Scott is his best friend. He should have been there when he was released. Everyone turns and looks at him. “I have, uh, evidence?” he adds meekly under Laura’s gaze. His dad and Derek don’t scare him. Laura does.

“What evidence?” his dad asks. Stiles grabs the other visitor chair and hauls it closer to the desk, spreading out the files his dad gave him and the notes he made last night. He explains the arsons, the shifty-sounding fire investigator, and then breaks out the big guns: a map of northern California detailing the path he suspects the arsonist has taken south, dated. “See? There’s a trail of similar fire outbreaks heading down into Bella Vista, then Anderson, Durham, onto Colusa, Calistoga, and then Oakdale.”

“And avoiding Sacramento,” Laura comments, stabbing her finger into the large city.

“It’s not really what I would call proof,” Derek says, “but it’s definitely something we can look into.” He’s leaning over Stiles’ shoulder, one hand resting on the desk, the other on Stiles for balance. In his fervour to present his findings, he hadn’t even noticed how close Derek had gotten, warm against his back and side. Derek looks up at Stiles’ dad. “With your permission?”

His dad waves him off. “Yeah, and get in touch with the authorities in those areas—”

“—and have them look into their fire investigators. I’m on it,” Derek agrees, scooping up Stiles’ files and leaving the office.

Laura brushes some imaginary lint from her skirt and stands to leave as well. “I think I’ve done enough of your work here today, Sheriff,” she says sternly, but she’s smiling like it’s an inside joke. Considering his dad really wanted to free Scott, Stiles supposes it kind of is. “I’ll see you around, Sheriff, Stiles,” she says on her way out.

Stiles slumps backwards in his chair and closes his eyes once she’s gone. “God, she’s terrifying,” he says.

“You’re not allowed to date her,” his dad says too quickly.

Stiles cracks one eye open. “Why on earth would I try to date Laura Hale? She would eat me alive.”

His dad hums.

“What?” Stiles asks.

“You want me to say it?” his dad asks and Stiles shrugs. He has no idea what his dad is on about. “Terrifying and eat-you-alive is your type. Always has been.”

“Uuuuuugh,” Stiles groans. It’s true, but really, who is his dad kidding? Derek’s always been the only Hale for him.

***

He heads over to the vet as soon as he can escape his dad’s office and slips under the counter and into the back. There are three assessment rooms back there, plus Deaton’s office and the holding area. Only the door to the first assessment room is closed, and inside Stiles can faintly hear the tiny meeps and meows of the kittens. He knocks twice before putting his foot between the door and the jam in case any of the kittens try to escape before squeezing inside.

One or two of them are hiding under the exam table or peeking out from the under counter storage on the far wall. Scott and Dr. Deaton are both examining Stiles’ favorite, the little tiger tabby, on the exam table. “Funny how the counter never seems to deter you from coming back here, Stiles,” Deaton says dryly, but he’s smiling a little and clearly doesn’t really mind. At least not much. Stiles has been sneaking into the back of the vet’s office since Scott first got hired back in high school.

“How’s Dex-Starr doing?”

Scott groans. “Stiles, you can’t name them! We have to give them normal names so people will want to adopt them.”

“Are you saying the name of the only house cat to ever join the Red Lanterns isn’t good enough?” He waits a beat just to see the flat look Deaton gives him, totally unimpressed before walking forward to rub at Dex’s ears. The little tabby arches into the touch, purring loudly. “Besides, I’m adopting him. Her? Him,” he amends at Scott’s nod. “And the little grey one, too.”

Deaton bends down to lift the little grey kitten out from the low shelves, settling her onto the exam table. “You’ll need to get them both fixed in about two months of course,” he said, lifting her tail, “especially because this little one is female.” He massages her ears, examines them closely and hums absently. “I’m sure Mr. McCall can help you with the paperwork up front, assuming you’re taking them home tonight?”

It’s a dismissal Scott and Stiles have heard that tone before so they leave Deaton alone with the kittens and head back out to the front. Scott prints off some paperwork for him and hops up on the counter while Stiles fills it out. “You got any big plans now that you’re a free man?” Stiles asks.

“Dinner with Allison’s family,” Scott says glumly. “Some of her relatives are back in town, so it’s kind of a big deal.”

Stiles winces. Mrs. Argent makes a pretty good mayor, and her husband seems like an okay guy, but from what Allison says most of her relatives are completely bananas; two steps away from refusing to recognize the US government and hole up somewhere with a large cache of guns. Scott, on the other hand, is practically a pacifist.

“Good luck, bro,” he says, making a face. “You’re going to need it.” He finishes up the form, scrawling his signature along the bottom of the page before handing it to Scott with a flourish. Scott just rolls his eyes at him before grinning.

“I hope you drove, man, because you’re going to have to buy a lot of crap,” he says, gesturing to the far wall, which is covered in disassembled crates, food for all kinds of animals, cat litter, toys, bowls, leashes, and a couple of awkward looking pet costumes for various holidays.

Right. Stiles forgot about everything that went with the cats.

***

Stiles wakes up to Katma Tui purring and rubbing all over his face, chewing on his hair when that doesn’t get a reaction. “Ugh, stop it,” he groans. He grabs her and Dex-Starr, rolling over and setting them down by his knee where they both start clambering up towards his head again, mewing.

“Ugh,” Stiles groans. “I can’t stay mad. Look how cute you are!” He scoops them up again, rubs his nose against each of them in turn before carrying them back out into the hall and letting them run loose. They both scamper into the living room, chasing each other with wide, ineffectual swipes of their paws. The clock on his DVR reads 5:05 am.

Wiping the sleep from his eyes he turns on the coffee maker in the kitchen. He’s awake now, anyway. He’s standing there, barefoot, leaning against the counter when both kittens race back into the kitchen, skidding across the tile and mewing loudly. Well, loudly for tiny kittens.

“Not a chance,” Stiles says to them, doing his best Stern Sheriff face. “I feed you at five am even once you’re going to try this every morning. I’m onto you,” he says, even as they dance around his feet excitedly. “But I suppose some extra wet food couldn’t hurt,” he gives in all of two seconds later. Just a little bit.

A few minutes later, his coffee is ready and both kittens look at least temporarily satiated. “I can’t ever become a dad,” Stiles says seriously, playing with Dex-Starr’s paws. “You two are already proof that I am the biggest pushover of all time.” Dex-Starr blinks slowly up at him, smacks his lips and stretches his head back for chin scratches. Stiles, of course, obliges.

***

When Lydia calls in the early evening, Stiles is still rolling around on the floor taking photos of the kittens. “Am I on speakerphone?” Lydia asks, sounding offended.

“Yeah, it’s the golden hour. I gotta make the most of the light,” Stiles says absently, snapping a series of shots of the two of them curled up together on the hardwood, exhausted. He’s already texted Scott about 30 photos and his Instagram feed is blowing up.

“I saw your feed,” she says dryly. “That’s why I’m calling. When I said you needed to self-promote on social networks I meant for your books. And I don’t suppose you’ve written anything today.”

Stiles pauses mid-hashtag. “Uhhh.”

***

He does make use of the rest of the golden hour, because he’s not an idiot, but right after that he manages to knock out a few thousand words and then curls up with the kittens for a nap. Again. Okay so he’s mostly spent the day napping and playing with his kittens. He’s only human. Except the nap turns into a full night’s sleep and when he wakes up again the weekend is almost over, he’s hungry for something other than junk food, and one of the kittens is trying to eat his hair.

“Oh my god, no, stop,” he groans, swatting gently in the general direction of his pillow. “My hair is too pretty to eat.” Katma Tui just cranks her purr to eleven and presses her little face against his, whiskers tickling until he rolls over. Then she clambers right down onto his bladder. “Ugh, okay, okay, I’m up!”

He’s been bested by kittens. “You’re lucky you’re so cute,” he says and heads for the bathroom before feeding them.

While he waits for the coffee to brew he pulls up the news headlines on his phone. Nothing.

The thing is, something is niggling at the back of his mind, has been since he first knew it was Scott’s dad, dead on the floor. Something doesn’t match up but he just can’t put his finger on it.

***

He spends most of the day writing, and playing with Dex-Starr and Katma Tui, who are slowly exploring the corners of his house, trying to clamber up onto furniture just slightly too tall for them, and looking longingly up at his bookshelves. When they get big enough to jump that high he’s going to be in trouble, he can already tell.

They also sleep most of the day, though, so he does manage to knock out a few thousand words, which should make Lydia and his editor happy.

All that writing hasn’t stopped his mind from circling back to the community college, though, or the classroom where they’d found Agent McCall. Stiles looks over at the kittens, sleepy and full from their dinners, curled up together on a cushion he’d relocated from the living room. (Stiles is a pushover, but at least he’s aware of it.)

No time like the present to investigate.

***

It’s dark out by the time he gets to the school and the parking lot sits empty. A lot of the classes have been cancelled or re-located since part of the building is still, you know, a crime scene.

The doors are unlocked when he tries them though. “Weird,” Stiles says to himself, slipping inside. He’s pretty sure they should be locked up for the night. The hallway is dark and quiet, and his shoes squeak against the linoleum. “Creepy,” he mutters under his breath, and moves deeper into the building.

When he gets to the door of the classroom the crime scene seal on the jam is broken, the door wide open. So hypothetically, he texts Derek, is your crime scene supposed to be locked up?

Get out of there right now, Derek replies almost immediately, and, I’m on my way.

And that’s when someone clocks Stiles on the back of the head and he blacks out.

***

When Stiles comes to his head is pounding and the air is thick with smoke. He coughs a little and manages to haul himself up onto his hands and knees but he doesn’t know where the door is, or even if he’s in the hall or the classroom. All he knows is that it’s hot, and the building is definitely on fire. He needs out. Out out out plays like a steady mantra in time with the throbbing of his head.

He hits a wall soon enough, keeps his shoulder to it as best he can, and is rewarded when he smacks up against the door frame. The door is closed, because that’s just Stiles’ luck. It’s getting harder to breathe. He tugs his sleeve down over his hand and feels for the handle, hot to the touch, but not burning.

Fortunately for Stiles, the handle is cheap, and the door swings open with just a little force. Unfortunately for him the smoke is just as bad or worse in the hall, or what he thinks is the hall. He feels dizzy and in the gloom and smoke, coughing, he can’t be sure where he is or which way he’s going.

Stiles gags but keeps moving. Out out out he keeps up his mantra. All he can hope is that he’s headed in the right direction. It feels like he’s barely moved, but it’s almost impossible to breathe; he’s dizzy and sick and choking on the smoke, exhausted. It’s like it’s sapping his strength. Maybe he can just stop for a minute, just rest up and catch his breath. Maybe he can just lie down for a minute. Just for a minute.

***

He comes to on his back, the cold burn of pure oxygen up his nose and in the back of his throat from the mask over his face. Stiles blinks up at the red and blue lights, at the night sky and the line of steel overhead. It takes him a minute, but he rolls his head left and sees an EMT turning back to him, her blonde hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. “You back with us, Stilinski?” she asks, fingers pressed against his wrist and eyes glancing back at something he can’t see.

Yes he tries to say, but his throat hurts, everything hurts, and the mask is in the way. He brings his free hand up to swat at it ineffectually. It feels like his arm is barely under his control. “Whoa, cool it, that’s going to stay on,” she says firmly, pressing his hand back down across his stomach. “You can just blink or nod, don’t try to talk. Got it?”

He manages a pretty sloppy nod. “Good,” she says firmly before turning and gesturing at someone he can’t see. He’s starting to feel more coherent. He’s clearly on a stretcher, and the longer he looks at her the more sure he is that his EMT is Erica Reyes. They went to school together. It’s dumb but his first thought is honestly, Dad is going to be so mad.

Speak of the devil, his dad is there a second later, grabbing onto Stiles’ free hand and squeezing for all he’s worth. “If you ever do anything like that again,” he says, clearly furious and terrified and then stops before squeezing Stiles’ hand as hard as he can. Stiles wheezes into the oxygen mask and squeezes back as best he can.

“Sorry,” he tries to say, but it’s muffled through the oxygen mask and sets off a coughing fit.

Derek stands over his dad’s shoulder, hands clenched at his sides, mouth thin. There’s a streak of soot down the side of his face, disappearing into his stubble.

“Sheriff,” Erica says, drawing Stiles’ attention back to her, “we’re going to take him to the hospital to get checked out now, but I think he’s mostly okay. We got to him in time,” she says.

Visibly pulling himself together, his dad stands up straight and nods at her. “We’ll follow behind you. Allison and Boyd can take care of the scene,” he says.

No one questions him even though the community college is smoldering behind them, steaming from the work of the county fire department.

***

Two hours later, he’s completely aware and focused again and feels fine — other than, okay, yes, the cough and the exhaustion — and is getting really tired of sitting around in the hospital. “Seriously,” he says to his dad, pulling the oxygen mask off his face, “I feel totally fine now. Can we go? Don’t you want me to—mpph,” he cuts off as his dad shoves the mask back onto his face.

“You keep breathing that in until the doctor says you can stop,” his dad frowns, “or I’ll have them keep you overnight. Don’t think I won’t.” He will, too. He’s done it before.

Stiles rolls his eyes as dramatically as possible and slumps back against the little cot they’ve put him on. He doesn’t have a room so much as a little curtained-off rectangle of the emergency room, next to several other curtained-off rectangles. Even now the ER is busy with patients, though apparently no one else was stupid enough to get locked inside a crime scene that was then lit on fire.

“Alright, Stiles,” Mrs. McCall says, pulling back the curtain. “You’re okay to leave, but you should rest up for the next few days. Lots of water, lots of sleep. And you call me if your breathing is still bothering you tomorrow,” she says, tugging the mask off his face. Stiles grins up at her.

She bends down to give him a hug. “And don’t do that again,” she says quietly.

“I’ll try,” he says back. It’s really the most he can offer.

***

His Jeep is parked out front of the station, miraculously unscathed. His dad keeps an arm around him the whole way from the cruiser to inside the station and steers him over to the visitor’s chair at Derek’s desk. “Sit,” he says sternly. “Stay. Derek’s going to take your statement and drive you home. I’ve got to go back to the scene,” he says with a guilty expression.

“Dad,” Stiles says, only coughing a little, “It’s fine. You gotta find out who did this to me. I’ll be okay with Derek.”

As if called, Derek arrives at that moment with two cups of water, which he places carefully on the desk in front of Stiles. “I’ll take care of him, sir,” he says seriously.

His dad sighs and rubs one hand over Stiles’ hair. “I know you will, son,” he says after a moment. “I know.”

Somehow Stiles feels like he’s just been handed over for marriage.

“I’ll come see you tomorrow,” his dad says, to Stiles this time.

“Sure,” Stiles says, coughing a little again. “You can meet the cats,” he adds.

That raises an eyebrow. “Cats? Plural?” he asks. “When did that happen? No, never mind, I don’t want to know. Just— be safe.” Thankfully he heads out after that.

“You should drink that,” Derek says, gesturing at water. “You’re going to be dehydrated.” He sounds exhausted, like he was the one trying to crawl out of a burning building. At some point between when Stiles saw him outside the school and now he managed to wipe the soot off his face.

Stiles shrugs and manages to drink a most of the glass before he starts coughing again. “I’m fine,” he gets out when he has breath again. “They said I’d cough for awhile.” Derek stands up and comes halfway around the desk, hovers sort of awkwardly for a moment as if unsure of what to do.

“You could have died,” he says quietly. Stiles looks up at him, and Derek’s hands are clenched at his sides again, eyes focused somewhere around Stiles’ hand. Or maybe on the scorched edge of his sleeve.

The quiet stretches out for a minute. Stiles doesn’t know what he can say to that. Yeah, he almost died, but he didn’t.

Derek sighs. “Stay here. I’ll get you some more water,” he says, taking the almost-empty cup away.

The station is dead quiet. There’s someone at the front desk, sure, but most of the department is probably at the community college trying to work the scene alongside the fire department, and it’s late by now. The squad room is almost completely empty. He rubs a little at his arms. Ash scatters off his sleeves and onto the desk. Mrs. McCall had managed to dig up some of Scott’s cast-offs for him to wear, since they’d taken his clothes away as evidence, but his hair is still full of ash and smoke.

“Crap,” Stiles mutters. He stands up and moves around the desk. Maybe Derek has tissues in there somewhere? He opens a drawer at random but it’s mostly notepads and pens, scissors and a packet of painkillers. The next drawer looks more promising, and he shifts aside a package of printer paper.

Underneath is a copy of Stiles’ first book.

It’s well-worn, ragged at the edges, the corners curling up, the spine broken repeatedly. It looks like it’s been read over and over again. Why did Derek never say anything? Stiles picks it up in one hand and it flops open to a scene that isn’t really exciting in any way — it’s just his space detective meeting the captain of the ship for the first time. There are much more exciting or interesting parts of the book to be Derek’s favorite. It’s weird.

“Oh crap,” Derek says from right behind him. Stiles turns to beam up at him. Derek’s ears are bright red, and he’s carrying a full cup again.

“You like my book!” Stiles blurts out, clutching the paperback to his chest. “Like a lot!”

Derek manages a lopsided smile, still looking embarrassed. “It’s one of my favorites,” he admits quietly. “I just—didn’t want to be another weird fan.”

“Are you kidding me?” Stiles asks. “Dude, I thought you didn’t like these. Like maybe you only read depressing stuff from Oprah’s book club, or like, only non-fiction.” He has to stop, cough a little, and catch his breath, but it’s too exciting. Derek likes his books! His weird space-detective books! “Are you a secret sci-fi fan?”

“Not much of a secret.” Derek shrugs and then seems to realize he’s still holding a cup of water. “Here, you should keep drinking.”

By the time he’s finished the cup, Derek has finished cleaning up the traces of ash and set out a box of tissues and refilled the water glasses. “Sorry about that,” Stiles apologizes.

Derek looks like he would reply, but Stiles breaks out in another coughing fit and grabs for the tissues when he’s done, blows his nose loudly. “Gross,” he says mostly to himself. The tissue is black with soot.

Derek sighs. “Sit down and I’ll run through this as quickly as I can so you can get some rest,” he says.

“Thanks,” Stiles says, slouching back into the visitor’s chair. “All I want is a hot shower and my bed right now.”

“I can imagine,” Derek murmurs, but the tips of his ears turn pink again.

Interesting.

***

Derek really does make taking Stiles’ statement as quick as possible, and drives him home after in a squad car. “One of us will drop of the Jeep when we get the chance,” he says as they pull into Stiles’ driveway.

“You mean in a day or two, when dad feels okay about me leaving the house on my own again,” Stiles corrects.

Shutting off the engine, Derek gives him a flat look. “We’re all worried about you, Stiles. Someone tried to kill you today.”

“I know, but they’re not going to try again if I go to the library,” Stiles argues, getting out of the car. “I didn’t even see anything.”

Derek cuts the engine and gets out of the cruiser as well. Apparently, he’s walking Stiles to his door. “They don’t know that, and we don’t either. You might have seen something and not even realized it,” he continues as Stiles fumbles for his keys, forgetting for a moment that Scott’s old sweats don’t have pockets.

“Crap,” he says, “I think my keys are with my clothes.” He’s so tired he forgot that when they’d taken the clothes away as evidence at the hospital.

Derek holds up Stiles' keys and wallet. “I got it,” he says.

Stiles leans against the wall and lets Derek unlock the door, step inside first and look around. At first he thinks it’s just because Derek has never actually been inside before, but… “Are you checking for threats right now?” he asks, and Derek stills, guiltily.

“....No?” he replies, but it’s definitely a question. Stiles would make fun of him, but there’s a thud from deeper in the house, and they both freeze, looking towards the sound. “Stay back,” Derek says quietly, and thumbs the buckle on his hip holster free so he can get to his sidearm, hand hovering over it as he creeps forward into the house.

There’s a second thud, from the direction of Stiles’ office and it’s just before Derek turns the corner that he remembers.

“Wait —” he tries, but Derek rounds the corner, weapon raised to see both of Stiles’ new kittens, wrestling with a cardboard box he’d left out for them earlier. “—I think it’s just the cats,” he finishes, belatedly.

Derek drops his shoulders and re-holsters his sidearm before kneeling down next to the box. “Hey guys,” he says as Stiles flips on the lights. “You scared me.” Both kittens ignore Derek in favor of chewing on the box, butts wriggling with the intent to pounce. Stiles sinks down onto the floor next to Derek and watches as he scoops up Katma Tui in one hand, strokes her forehead and then her belly with one finger. She’s tiny, especially compared to Derek’s long fingers and broad palm.

Dex-Starr gambols over to Stiles and mews to be picked up as well, and how can Stiles refuse? He scoops up the little kitten and rubs his cheek against Dex-Starr’s whiskers before cradling him in the crook of his arm. His knee is just touching Derek’s, and he slouches a little, exhausted and relieved to be home finally.

“Hey,” Derek says, jostling him a little. Stiles hadn’t even realized that his eyes had closed and he’d started to list against Derek. “You should shower, get some of the smoke off you. I can stick around for a bit.”

Pressing the palm of his free hand against his eyes, Stiles blinks a few times to try and wake himself up before handing Dex-Starr off to Derek and stumbling to his feet. “Thanks,” he says, and absently adds, “Make yourself at home,” as he shrugs out of the hoodie on his way to the bathroom.

***

Taking a shower was a great idea. Stiles scrubs all over, washes his hair and his body three times until the water runs clear instead of a murky grey, and his skin is flushed pink. He rubs himself dry with a towel before remembering, too late, that the only clothes he brought in with him are Scott’s old sweats. He picks up the hoodie and gives it a sniff. The smell of smoke is strong, and he picks up the pants, too, tossing them at the bathroom laundry hamper.

Instead, he wraps the towel around his waist, ties it as best he can, and heads back to his room. He’ll have to wash them, maybe more than once, to get the smell out.

Can you dry-clean sweats? Is that weird? Stiles wonders as he heads back to his room. He’ll have to google it later. It might be better just to throw them out.

He pads down the hall towards his room to change, only to find Derek laying on the floor, head and arms under Stiles’ bed.

“Uh,” Stiles stutters a little. Derek’s shoulder to waist ratio would give anyone pause. Seriously.

“Ow!” Derek hits his head on the underside of Stiles’ bed, but backs out and stands up, a little dusty and a little distracted. He pauses, lips slightly parted, and drags his eyes slowly up Stiles, all the way from his bare feet to his eyes. Stiles feels it like a physical touch. “Sorry,” Derek says after a second, but he doesn’t look sorry, and his eyes keep dipping down to Stiles’ collarbones.

“What were you doing under my bed?” Stiles asks, stumbling a bit over the back half of the sentence and hiking his towel up a little where it had begun to slip.

Derek shrugs one shoulder. “Katma Tui ran in here and she’s in the box spring. I was trying to get her out.”

As if she already knows her name, the kitten in question scurries out from under the bed, heading right for Stiles with a sweet little meow. Derek scoops her up before she can get very far though, and turns her around to face him.

“Ow!” And gets a scratch across his cheek to pay for it. He blows on her face and she scrunches up her nose, pulling back from him before he lets her scamper away.

“Are you okay?” Stiles asks, stepping closer. The scratch is welling up bright red with the first pricklings of blood.

Derek laughs softly. “Guess I deserved it,” he says self-deprecatingly. “Interrupting her when she was trying to say hello to her owner.”

You’re the one who rescued them,” Stiles argues. “We should get some polysporin on that,” he says after a second. “Just give me a second to uh, put on some pants or something,” he adds, remembering that he’s still dressed only in a towel.

“I—right,” Derek says, straightening up. “I’ll uh, I’ll just let you get changed.” He heads back out into the hall pretty quickly, closing the door behind him and Stiles is left standing in the middle of his bedroom, dripping on the floor.

***

“I’ve only got Batman and Wonder Woman bandaids,” Stiles says, after liberally smearing Derek’s cheek with polysporin. “Which one do you want?”

Derek frowns at Stiles as if he’s an idiot. “Wonder Woman.”

“Oh, obviously,” Stiles says sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “Was I supposed to guess?” he asks, unwrapping the band aid.

“Wonder Woman has the lasso of truth, and actual powers. Batman is just a vigilante,” Derek argues.

Stiles mock-gasps, “He’s the world’s greatest detective! They’re called Detective Comics! Now hold still,” he adds, and carefully presses the band aid to the cut, smoothing down the edges. And if his thumb accidentally follows the sharp curve of Derek’s cheekbone before dipping down into his stubble for a second or two, well. Who could blame him?

He made Derek take a stool in the kitchen for this — better lighting — and it feels easy to stand in the vee of his legs, faces close together. Up close he can see the heterochromatic irises that are part of Derek’s long-standing popularity during the annual humane society fundraiser where he’s been volunteering for as long as Stiles can remember. Stiles is a sucker for cute animals and cute guys and a good cause, okay? He’s all about supporting his community or whatever.

“All set,” Stiles says with a sigh, stepping back and yawning.

“I should let you sleep,” Derek says, standing up. “Thanks,” he gestures, “for the band aid, and everything.” Stiles follows him sleepily down the hall to the front door, watches as Derek slips his shoes back on. “Don’t forget to lock the door behind me,” Derek says finally, standing in the foyer.

Stiles huffs. “Seriously, no one is going to try and kill me in my own house,” he says, “but I’ll lock the door if it’ll make you feel better.”

“It will,” Derek says with a sharp nod, and opens the door, steps out onto the front step and then turns, waiting.

“Drive safely, you weirdo,” Stiles says, and closes the door before locking it twice.

He peeks out the window a minute later when he hears the engine start up and watches Derek pull out of the driveway and disappear down the street.

***

Stiles sleeps fitfully. He’s woken repeatedly by coughing fits and having to blow his nose a lot, so he thinks he’s earned the right to sleep in a bit. His followers on Instagram and Twitter are lucky he doesn’t post a picture of one of his black tissues. A little before lunch time he goes over the recent chunks he’s written of the book and sends them to his editor so she knows he’s actually been writing, along with some notes about what might happen next.

All that deserves a nap with the kittens, so it’s creepy when he wakes up and his dad is leaning over his bed, staring at him. “Augh!” Stiles jerks, startling Katma Tui and Dex-Starr, who puff up with surprise, on high-alert.

“Up and at’em, sleepy head,” his dad says, ruffling his hair. “I brought lunch.”

“Luuuuuunch,” Stiles moans, stretching. He soothes both kittens with some gentle petting, smoothing their fur down and scooping them up to come into the kitchen with him. Katma Tui clambers up onto his shoulder for the journey, though Dex-Starr is much happier being carried in the safety of Stiles’ hands. He lets them both down once they hit the cool tile of the kitchen, and stops to change the water in their bowls before clambering up onto a stool. “What did you bring?”

“Burgers from Mar’s,” his dad says, opening up two greasy paper bags. “I figure we both deserve one after last night.”

“You’re my favorite dad, have I ever told you that?” Stiles asks, wide-eyed and earnest.

“I’m your only dad, but I’ll take it,” his dad replies, sliding a plate across the island to Stiles. He even got curly fries, which are obviously a key part of the food pyramid. Instead of a milkshake though his dad passes him a tall glass of water. “Melissa’s orders,” he says. “Lots of fluids and lots of rest. You were in there too long for comfort.”

He pulls his own stool up kitty-corner to Stiles at the island and digs into his own burger, and they chew in silence for a while. Stiles watches Katma Tui and Dex-Starr chase each other around the stool legs, tucking his feet out of the way of tiny claws. The way Dex-Starr ‘hides’ under the stool (completely visible, and completely adorable) reminds him of last night and he can’t help but laugh a little.

“What’s so funny?” his dad asks.

Stiles tells him about Derek thinking the cats were assassins, laughing the whole time, but the look on his dad’s face is serious. “Stiles,” he says when Stiles has finished telling the story, “Go easy on him. He pulled you out of a burning building yesterday.”

Stiles almost chokes. “He what?”

“He didn’t tell you? Hm,” his dad hums a little. “He called me on his way to the college, called in half the force, too, before we even knew the place was on fire. I guess he beat the trucks there and he decided to go in by himself to get you.”

He doesn’t know what to say to that. Stiles stares down at his burger and fries, suddenly less hungry than he had been a minute ago. No wonder Derek had soot on his face. No wonder he’d been so serious about checking out the house and making sure the doors were locked. Stiles owed him his life.

“Oh,” he says quietly.

“Oh,” his dad agrees. “So cut Derek and the rest of us a little slack. A father isn’t supposed to see someone pull his only son out of a burning building, okay?”

“Okay,” Stiles says, voice small.

***

It takes a little while after that for them to get back to normal, to relax. Eventually they finish their meals and Stiles’ dad gives him an update on the case. “We interviewed Harris after the murder, of course, since it took place in his classroom, but I honestly didn’t think he was dumb enough to shit where he sleeps. But after yesterday the FBI sent over a file on him that Agent McCall put together.”

“I knew it!” Stiles says.

“Hold your horses,” his dad replies, dryly. “There’s nothing really definitive in the file, though he does have a degree in chemistry and a juvie record for some small fires.”

That’s more than enough for Stiles. “Are you bringing him in?” he asks.

His dad sighs, scrubs a hand through his hair. “I tried, but we can’t find him. It looks like he’s on the run.” And ugh, trust Harris to slither off when the police were closing in on him.

“What an asshole,” Stiles grumbles, slouching on his stool.

“We don’t actually know he did it,” his dad argues. “He’s just a person of interest.”

“A person of interest who has always hated me and apparently likes setting fires,” Stiles replies. “That’s practically a conviction right there.”

His dad rolls his eyes. “Maybe to you, but us officers of the law like a little something called conclusive evidence, maybe even a confession,” he says. “But in the meantime I’m having an officer watch your house until we find him and sort things out.”

“Daaaaad,” Stiles whines. “Are you serious with this right now? I’m an adult. I’ll be fine.”

“It’ll make me feel better,” he says, mouth flat. “And if Harris does try anything, we can catch him in the act.”

“Fine, but I don’t have to like it,” Stiles says with a pout.

“Yeah, well, deal with it, kid. It’s for your own good.”

***

Three days later Stiles is going stir crazy. He doesn’t have his Jeep, he can’t leave the house without an armed escort, and even Instagramming the kittens and writing are starting to lose their appeal. At least his editor is happy.

“I’m boooooooooooored,” Stiles whines to the cats, flopping back on the couch.

They ignore him. Jerks. He texts Allison. I’m booooooooooored.

Good, she replies, Because we’re bringing your Jeep over. You better be wearing pants, Stiles.

One time he answered the door in his boxers. One time.

***

Allison and Parrish do indeed drop off his Jeep, and Stiles is overwhelmed with the sudden freedom. He could go anywhere!

He winds up driving aimlessly around town.

It’s a weekday and everyone he knows is at work. He’s just itching to do something, but he doesn’t know what exactly. Eventually, he pulls into the parking lot at the community college.

Black streaks sweep up from every door and window towards the roof, and the acrid smell he remembers still lingers, heavy and sharp in the air. Still, Stiles climbs down out of the Jeep and walks halfway across the parking lot before stopping. He just stares at the building, blankly. Even though the fire was put out days ago it still sends a shiver down his spine. Seeing it up close somehow finally makes it real: he almost died. Someone actually tried to kill him. To death.

“There’s no evidence left, you know,” Laura says from behind him. Stiles jumps about half a foot in the air before clutching at his chest and turning around.

“You scared me!” he says but Laura just shrugs, looking effortlessly put together and professional as always. Stiles threw on whatever was clean and close at hand. He probably looks like a hobo next to her. “What are you doing here?”

She glances past him towards the college. “I was on my way back to the office from a meeting and saw you here; thought I’d make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”

“Stupider than going in there in the first place, you mean?” he asks.

Her gaze when she looks back at him is sharp. “Don’t forget that Harris is out there, unaccounted for, and could be looking to finish the job. You’d be surprised how many criminals really do return to the scene of the crime.”

“I wouldn’t,” Stiles counters, “considering that’s where I was hit over the head.”

Laura hums. “Point,” she concedes. “But really, I’m surprised Derek and the Sheriff don’t have you under guard. Why did you wind up here?”

“Something is still bothering me,” Stiles says. “Why would Harris kill Agent McCall in his own classroom? I mean, he’s an idiot, but that seems dumb even for him.”

“Double bluff?” Laura guesses, but she looks unsure as well. “If it wasn’t Harris, who could it have been, though?”

“I don’t know. Someone who wanted to frame him maybe? He was kind of a super dick to everyone though. The suspect list would be everyone he ever taught chemistry.”

Laura sighs. “Yeah, no kidding.” When Stiles looks at her curiously she explains, “He taught Derek and me in school, and he was a complete tool.”

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Laura and Derek are only a few years older than him. Derek was one of those guys who grew a scruff almost as soon as puberty hit, and Laura had always been so cool and collected. Stiles still feels like he’s twelve half the time even though he’s done school and owns a house and everything. He still runs out of clean socks every other week and sometimes forgets to eat anything other than cereal.

“Go home, Stiles,” she says after a minute. “There’s nothing here for you.”

She’s probably right.

***

He stops off at the pharmacy on the way home though, because the stuff that comes out when he blows his nose is still absolutely not a good color, and that can’t be good for him. Plus he needs toilet paper.

Standing in the middle of the cough and cold aisle comparing different nasal rinses is exactly the last place he expects to run into Allison’s aunt, though. She’s got a basket full of tampons and vaseline, greasy chips and a carton of eggs. Weird, but he’s not exactly one to judge since he’s planning a fun evening of shooting salt water up his nose.

“Stiles, isn’t it?” she asks, tucking a lock of perfectly curling hair behind her ear. The Argent genetics are strong in this one — she’s gorgeous with an aloof, calculating air; long hair and a cocky stance, like she knows she could beat him single handed in a fight. She absolutely reeks of cigarette smoke.

“That’s me,” he replies, trying to sound more casual than he feels. “You’re Allison’s aunt, right?”

“Call me Kate,” she says, almost purring, stepping right up into his space. The smell is even worse up close. “I hear you’re kind of a big deal.”

“Uhhh,” Stiles stalls. There’s really no good way to answer that.

Kate laughs, a charming sound that somehow still strikes him as calculated. “Cute, successful and modest? Hard to believe someone tried to kill you,” she says with a smirk.

“Wrong place, wrong time.” Stiles swallows. There is definitely something not right about this woman. Allison downplayed how creepy some of her relatives were. “I saw the door was open and went in to check it out.”

“Is that all?” Kate pouts at him, actually pouts. “I heard you were something of a detective?”

He puts on a wide, fake grin. “Oh, only when it comes to my space detective!” He proceeds to ramble about holo-sims that end badly, alien culture clashes, all the stuff that only really serious nerds ever want to hear about. It’s not long before Kate obviously loses interest and shifts her weight from foot to foot.

“That’s very interesting,” she cuts in eventually in a tone that implies it is the exact opposite of interesting, “but I’ve got to get going. It was great to meet you finally,” she adds but doesn’t even wait for a reply before turning down the next aisle.

Stiles’ heart is pounding, but he can’t put his finger on why exactly.

He grabs the most expensive nasal rinse and gets the hell out of there as fast as he can.

***

FYI, he texts Allison when he gets home, Your aunt is terrifying even when she’s buying tampons. I totally feel for you guys having to have dinner with her now.

Sorry, Allison replies. She used to be less creepy.

There’s always been something weird about Allison’s relatives whenever they’re in town, like some kind of psycho gene is dominant in half her family. Allison is okay, obviously, and her dad is scary but mostly okay. Her mom is terrifying but in a for-the-good-of-Beacon-Hills way, like some kind of political vigilante, ruthlessly cutting out corruption and raising taxes just enough to pay for better public services. But her aunt? Her grandfather? Her uncles and cousins?

Every single one of them would fit right in at Arkham Asylum.

***

He buries himself in his writing for the next few days, staying up late into the night, and rolling out of bed and flopping down in his desk chair unwashed again in the morning. He forgets about the outside world for a little while and manages instead to knock out several chapters of the third book. Engrossed in his writing, he’s not expecting it when he turns around to grab a drink and finds Derek and his dad both in his kitchen.

“Jesus, kid, I thought something had happened to you again,” his dad says, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”

“What?” Stiles asks, “What are you talking about? I’ve been writing,” he says, gesturing vaguely in the direction of his office.

“He’s been calling you all morning,” Derek says. Belatedly, Stiles realizes that he’s only wearing an old band shirt and a ratty pair of boxers, and he’s not sure how long it’s been since he last showered or brushed his teeth.

“Uhhh,” Stiles stalls, “hold on.” He jogs down the hall to his bedroom and finds that while he put his phone near the charger, he didn’t actually plug it in, and the battery is completely drained. “It’s dead!” he calls over his shoulder before plugging it in.

“Yeah, we figured that out,” his dad says from the doorway. “How about you get presentable and then we can talk.”

***

Stiles takes the world’s fastest shower, brushing his teeth while he’s in there, and manages to find a clean pair of jeans he doesn’t wear much because of how tight they are — one of Lydia’s ideas — and an old grey t-shirt. He doesn’t bother with socks, just towels his hair roughly before heading back into the kitchen.

Derek is just finishing pouring coffee, which is great, because now that Stiles isn’t writing, he’s pretty sure his sleep cycle is all screwed up again. It’s kind of his default state when he’s on a roll. He swings by the fridge to grab the milk (still good!) and some sugar from the cupboard next to it before sliding onto a stool next to his dad. Derek slides the mugs across the island and straddles the seat across the island from Stiles.

“Harris is dead,” he says bluntly just as Stiles is about to take a sip of his coffee. Stiles freezes with his mouth just over the rim of his mug.

“What?” he asks dumbly.

“Burned his own house down,” his dad explains. “Maybe. The fire department says it looks accidental, but considering the circumstances…” he trails off.

Stiles sets his mug down. “You’re having an outside fire inspector look at it, right? It’s just—” he stops. He doesn’t actually have any evidence that Harris wasn’t the one to set those fires, just a gut feeling.

“Laura told me about your theory,” Derek interjects. “We were already thinking along the same lines, so we checked into where he was during the other fires down the state.”

“He was here the whole time,” his dad continues. “There’s no way he was lighting fires halfway down the west coast. Since no one else knows that we’re aware of the connection between those fires and the ones here, we’re going to act like the case is closed. I wanted you to know it isn’t.”

Duh,” Stiles says. “But thanks anyway. So what’s next? Stakeouts? Undercover work?”

Derek smirks into his mug, trying to hide the grin, but Stiles sees it anyway. His dad, on the other hand, is less impressed. “Just be yourself and act normal,” he says, “or as normal as you get. If we’re lucky, the real arsonist will get cocky.”

“Oh, because a cocky arsonist totally sounds like a safe and healthy type of person to have running around town,” Stiles says sarcastically.

“It’s our best bet until we can find some kind of evidence pointing to the real culprit,” his dad says, draining the rest of his coffee. “Which is why when we leave here you’re going to act relieved and if anyone asks you’re just glad it’s all over.”

“Can do,” Stiles agrees, mock-saluting. “You know me.”

“I know you almost failed drama,” his dad agrees. “Just… do your best and stay out of trouble, okay?”

“Okay,” Stiles agrees even though Derek is giving him a look that means he knows Stiles is lying.

And his dad must, too, because he says, “Great, then you and Derek can join Melissa and me for dinner tonight.”

***

Stiles naps and does laundry and naps some more once they’ve left, and wakes up starving and totally ready for dinner. When he pulls up at his dad’s house, Scott and Allison’s car is parked in the driveway next to the cruiser and Derek’s total mom-car. He parks on the street and lets himself inside.

“Hey, did you invite the whole neighborhood or something?” Stiles calls out, toeing off his shoes in the foyer. He can hear everyone talking in the kitchen and follows the sound.

“Hey, you made it!” Scott grins at him from over Allison’s shoulder. He’s got her wrapped up in a hug, as usual. They can barely keep their hands off each other, but it’s cute. “Why are you dressed like that?” he asks.

“You look very nice, Stiles,” Allison says, elbowing Scott. “Aren’t those the jeans Lydia picked out?”

“Yeah,” Stiles twists a little to get a better view of himself, self-conscious, “it’s laundry day. I’m going to have to unbutton these later.”

Behind him, Derek coughs, chokes, waves off Melissa as he sets down his glass. “I’m okay,” he says roughly, “just swallowed wrong.”

Melissa looks dubious about that but lets it pass. “Come on, everybody grab a dish and give John some room before he burns something again.”

“That was one time!” his dad protests, but Stiles is pretty sure everyone knows if you distract him at all from the stove, dinner winds up being delivery.

Luckily he must have already been almost done, because by the time they’ve set the table with plates and cutlery and gotten drinks, his dad starts bringing out the actual food, one serving dish at a time. There’s a heaping bowl of parmesan cauliflower bites, herb roasted chicken thighs and a massive bowl of salad. It all smells heavenly.

There’s some confusion, as always, about which way they’re passing things, and if everyone has had a shot at everything before they push the serving dishes into the centre of the table and dig into their food. “Oh my god, dad,” he moans after the first bite, “this is so good.”

“Yeah well, it’s not too late to learn to cook properly for yourself, son.”

“I can cook!” Stiles protests. “I cook all the time!”

Melissa laughs at him. “It doesn’t count if it comes from a box or the deli counter,” she says.

“I can totally cook,” Stiles grumbles.

“You made tacos that one time,” Scott says, like the true bro he is.

Allison frowns though. “Weren’t those in a bag of fritos or something?”

“Yeah? Walking tacos. No dishes,” Stiles shrugs. “Dude,” he says, elbowing Scott, “New idea - Cool Ranch walking tacos.”

“Stiles,” Scott says very seriously, “if I weren’t already with the love of my life…”

“You can have him part time,” Allison says generously. “Especially the day of and the day after you eat anything like walking tacos.” Okay, not so generously.

“Anyways,” Stiles pushes on, “it’s not like anyone at this table can cook other than dad.”

“I can cook,” Derek says. Stiles turns to his left. Derek has been sitting and eating pretty silently this whole time. If it weren’t for their arms occasionally knocking into each other (and, okay, the fact that his crush on Derek can probably be seen from low earth orbit) he’d have almost forgotten he was there.

“What?” He asks.

“I can cook,” Derek repeats.

“It’s true,” his dad agrees. “You should taste the stuff he brings in to the station.”

“You can cook? Stiles asks incredulously. Derek stares down at his plate intently.

“A little,” he says, self-deprecatingly.

“A lot,” Melissa corrects.

Derek sets his cutlery together on the edge of his plate and turns to face Stiles directly. “How about I show you? After this is all over, I’ll make you something.”

Stiles completely wasn’t expecting that. “Yes!”

“No fist-pumping at the table,” his dad says mildly but Stiles doesn’t feel any shame. Derek is going to cook for him and it is going to be amazing.

***

After dinner, and after they’ve all helped clear the table and load the dishwasher, Stiles goes to the bathroom with a side mission to his dad’s office. The file on Harris’ house burning down is open right in the centre of the desk. Some things never change.

He snaps pictures on his phone — thank goodness for Evernote — and is back in the living room for after-dinner coffee before anyone even knows he was up to something.

***

The report is a little different than the previous ones he’s read, written by one of the state-level investigators rather than someone from a nearby county, but the basics are the same. The ignition point was a trash can in the first floor bathroom, the report reads, which contained several combustible materials: cellulose fibre (cotton, rayon), paper pulp, petroleum jelly, fried snack foods, ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol, all of which are common household items. The ignition source appears to have been a cigarette that was not properly extinguished.

But Harris didn’t smoke. That was probably the only thing they’d ever agreed on in high school — that the smell of cigarettes was disgusting. He’d actually seen Harris send someone to change once.

That’s one clue, but he’s going to need more than that if he’s going to figure out who actually framed Harris.

He starts googling the combustibles the investigator listed. The two kinds of alcohol are really just one kind of rubbing alcohol, which makes sense. According to wikipedia, at least, the petroleum jelly is probably vaseline. The cotton could be anything. Cotton swabs, bandages, dishtowels, old socks… Cellulose is one of the vaguest words the investigator could possibly have used. Almost everything is made of cellulose. Even shredded cheese has cellulose in it.

Stiles slouches back on the couch and watches Dex-Starr and Katma Tui play, chasing each other under and around the coffee table, wrestling briefly before springing apart. “I gotta remember to get you guys fixed eventually,” he says to them, not that they know what that means. They’re too young for it right now anyway, Scott had said. Maybe in a month or so. He just knows he definitely doesn’t want any incest-kittens happening.

“Oh my god,” he says to himself a minute later, and then he’s dialing Derek.

***

“You are going to be so glad I read all about menstruation for biology,” is the first thing out of his mouth.

“Stiles, what? It’s two in the morning,” Derek groans. “I thought this was an emergency.”

“It is!” Stiles says vehemently. Derek had actually gotten up and driven all the way to Stiles’ place, though he looks disgruntled and sleepy, hair mussed up and wearing sweatpants and a tank top under his jacket. “I know who killed Harris.”

“Because of menstruation,” Derek replies flatly, unimpressed.

“Because of menstruation,” Stiles agrees. He’s willing to overlook Derek’s grumpiness since he did, you know, accidentally get him out of bed in the middle of the night.

Derek sinks onto the couch without so much as a by-your-leave, splayed out and sleepy-eyed. “Okay,” he says, “Tell me.”

Stiles tells him all about running into creepy Kate at the pharmacy, about the things she had in her basket, “I’m nothing if not incredibly observant,” he says, ignoring Derek’s scoff. “Vaseline, chips, eggs, and tampons,” he finishes proudly.

Derek just kind of stares at him blankly.

“They’re all fire starters!” Stiles bursts out. “Vaseline is petroleum jelly! Doritos are like the perfect kindling! The egg carton is made out of paper pulp! And tampons—”

“—are typically made of a rayon-cotton blend,” Derek finishes for him, sitting up straight finally and rubbing at his eyes.

That gives Stiles pause. “I mean, I know that, but how do you know that?”

“I’ve got three sisters,” Derek says absently, but he’s already moved on. “She bought everything right in front of you,” he muses. “Do you know if she paid with a card?”

“Uh, I mostly tried to hide from her until she left the store,” Stiles says honestly. “Because she is terrifying and also because she reeked of cigarettes. Which she probably used to light the fire!” he adds.

“Yeah, I got that,” Derek muses. “So why tell me? Why not tell your dad?”

“I uh, might have snuck in to take some photos of the fire investigator’s report without asking,” Stiles hedges.

Of course the very next thing Derek does is call to wake up Stiles’ dad.

***

“Stiles,” his dad says, dragging his hands down his face. “Do you think I’m an idiot? I left that out so I could show it to you. I raised you. I know you don’t take that long in the bathroom.” He leans back into the armchair with a sigh. “I am too old to be up this late,” he mutters.

“Justice waits for no one,” Stiles says solemnly, but the looks he gets from both of them are distinctly unimpressed.

“It can wait for morning,” his dad groans. “I’m taking the guest room.” He heaves himself out of the chair and stumbles down the hall towards the guest room. No one has actually ever used it before, but there are clean sheets on the bed and his dad probably isn’t picky.

“Um, I’m out of beds,” Stiles says, except my own, “Are you okay on the couch?”

Derek slides his jacket off and pulls his legs up and stretches out. It’s a long couch, perfect for napping (half the reason Stiles bought it) so he fits, at least. “Do you have a blanket or something I can borrow?” he asks.

“Yes, blanket, pillow, yes, stay put,” Stiles rambles and grabs the spare pillow from his bed and a quilt from the closet. His mom had loved quilts. “I hope this is okay,” he says, handing Derek the pillow and unfolding the quilt, spreading it out over Derek’s legs. “If you get cold or anything, just wake me up.”

Derek stares sleepily at Stiles for a long moment, unblinking. “Okay,” he agrees, and then just rolls over and pulls the quilt up over his shoulders, end of conversation.

“Okay,” Stiles says mostly to himself, and turns off the light on his way back to bed.

***

Stiles wakes up to the sound of someone rattling around in the pan drawer under his stove, but also to Dex-Starr alternately meowing and chewing on his hair, purring loudly the whole time. “I’m up, I’m up,” he says, and Katma Tui takes that as a prompt to step directly on his bladder. “Ugh, I love you, but you need to not do that every morning,” Stiles says to her, scooping her up and setting her on the floor. She and Dex-Starr follow him into the bathroom, dancing around his feet until he heads to the kitchen to feed them.

Really, Stiles had not taken enough time last night to appreciate Derek’s arms in that tank top. They’re obscene. No one should be allowed to have smooth, strong arms like that, or perfectly rounded shoulders sloping into the long line of that neck. Derek stands up from where he was digging through through the drawer, holding Stiles’ biggest frying pan. “Morning,” he says, voice soft with sleep. “Pancakes okay?”

It’s like all of Stiles’ dreams are coming true. “Yeah,” he says, swallowing, “Pancakes would be great.” He has to brush past Derek to get to the cat food (safely out of reach from kittens), and distracts himself measuring it out for both of the cats before changing their water.

Derek has already found a bowl and whisk, working the batter smooth while the pan heats up. “Do you want anything in these?” he asks, seemingly undisturbed by Stiles just watching him.

“Chocolate chips?” Stiles suggests, digging a bag out of the cupboard.

“Sounds good,” Derek agrees, and pours the first pancake into the pan before throwing a handful of chips into it. The batter bubbles up slowly, the edges curling solid as they cook. Stiles leans sleepily against the counter and just watches Derek test the edge and flip the pancake over, revealing a perfectly golden-brown top. When he flips the first pancake onto a waiting plate, Derek turns and smiles at Stiles, close and soft in the early morning light of his kitchen. “Told you I’d cook for you.”

Stiles won’t tell anyone, but his heart jumps a little at that, and it’s hard not to just lean forward and steal a kiss.

“Do I smell pancakes?”

His dad is here.

***

While Stiles wouldn’t call pancakes a real demonstration of Derek’s supposed cooking prowess, he will admit that they are delicious — light and fluffy with just the right number of chocolate chips. Stiles is in breakfast heaven.

“I know we agreed to act like the case is closed,” Derek says to his dad, “but I think we might need to keep an eye on Kate Argent. If she’s buying her supplies right in front of the sheriff’s son she might feel invincible right now. We could catch her with her guard down.”

“Good idea,” his dad agrees. “But we’ll have to keep it quiet.” He pauses, and smirks a little at his pancakes before schooling his expression. Stiles is immediately on high alert. “Maybe you and Stiles should stakeout the Argent house tonight.”

Stiles pauses, forkful of pancakes halfway to his mouth. “What? You’re letting me go on a stakeout?”

“Just to observe,” his dad says sternly. “Since I know you’d probably try it on your own anyway, at least this way Derek will be there to keep an eye on you, and I can get my beauty sleep.”

“I’ll take care of him, sir,” Derek nods. “And we’ll keep an eye on the Argent house and let you know if anything happens.”

“Good man,” his dad says approvingly. “And good pancakes.”

***

“What are you wearing,” Derek says flatly when he picks him up that night for their stakeout.

“Stakeout clothes!”

“You look like a French thief.”

Stiles does not look like a French thief. “I know you’re supposed to dress casual in case someone comes over to the car, but Scott once found me during hide and seek in the dark because I’m so pale, so I dug out an old turtleneck,” he explains.

“And the hat?” Derek asks.

“I get cold?” So he found a black beanie in his closet. It’s not like Derek is that much better. He looks like a bike gang reject or an extra from Grease.

Derek gives him a second once-over and sighs a little to himself. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Slinging his backpack over one shoulder, Stiles locks up the house before climbing into Derek’s mom-mobile. “I brought coffee and sandwiches, and a deck of cards, and my laptop in case inspiration strikes,” he explains as Derek turns back onto the main road.

“You’re uh, planning to write tonight?” Derek asks, glancing over at him.

Stiles shrugs. “I mean, I wrote all day? But sometimes I get an idea and if I don’t write it down right away? Pouf. Gone forever.”

Derek hums and turns off the headlights as they pull onto the street where Chris and Victoria Argent live, parks a few houses down outside the home of one of the other deputies.

“So,” Stiles says after a minute of silence. “What do you do on stakeouts?”

“I haven’t been on many,” Derek admits, unbuckling his seat belt and shifting in his seat, “but I’m pretty sure we just watch the house and see if Kate Argent goes out. Then we call your dad.”

“That’s it?” Stiles asks. “That sounds… really boring.”

Derek grins. “Why do you think he let you come along instead of him?”

***

Three hours later Stiles has drank too much coffee, illegally peed in some bushes, and been soundly beaten by Derek at both War and Go Fish. “Why are you so good at cards?” Stiles groans.

“I don’t think War and Go Fish really count,” Derek says with a self-deprecating shrug, “but we played a lot of Gin Rummy on vacation. Just be glad you’re not playing against Laura — she’s vicious.”

“Ugh, I bet,” Stiles groans. “She reminds me of Lydia, which is terrifying.” Beacon Hills somehow became home to an unusually large number of incredibly attractive and scary people, like the Argents, and the Hales, and Danny and— Well. Maybe there was something in the water.

Derek sits up straighter for a second before turning around in his seat and leaning into the back, rooting around in a grocery bag behind his seat. “What are you looking for?” Stiles asks.

“I got you something,” Derek says, then makes a triumphant noise before slipping back into his seat. “Well, for the cats, really.” He hands Stiles a handful of cat toys: little felt things stuffed with catnip, a plastic jingly ball, and a shiny goldfish with a feather tail.

“Hey, you didn’t have to go out and buy them toys, but, you know. Thanks, these look awesome,” Stiles says with a grin, and tucks them into his backpack. “You must really like cats, huh?”

“Sure,” Derek agrees. “Cats are pretty great. I always wanted a dog, too, but with some of my shifts at the station it wouldn’t really be fair to the dog. And my building doesn’t allow pets.”

Stiles can’t help but make an unhappy sound. “You should move out of there,” he says. “I’ve seen you with those kittens, and the canine unit, and you’re always so happy when you get to play with animals. There’s gotta be an apartment building around here that allows pets.”

Derek shrugs. “Maybe. It’s not where I’m going to live forever, but it’s fine for right now. Things change.” He looks over at Stiles. “It’s just a bachelor apartment, just for now.”

“I mean, it’s pretty nice, from what I saw of it,” Stiles backtracks, unsure if Derek might have taken offence. “Lots of bookshelves, big windows.”

Derek groans and covers his face with his hands. “Tell me you didn’t see my bookshelves,” he says, muffled.

“What? I mean, sort of? Why?” Stiles is suddenly much more interested. “Was there anything embarrassing on there? Are you secretly really into harlequins? Do you only read pulp mysteries?”

Dragging his hands down his face, Derek looks at Stiles flatly. “Are you kidding me right now? I’ve got like three copies of both of your books.”

Really?” Plus the one in his desk? “I—were you going to sell them on eBay or something? I don’t think they’re worth much, dude. Not unless you got them signed, and I haven’t seen you at any of the signings I’ve done in town.” It had actually been a sticking point in Stiles’ mind, that Derek had never shown up to any of the events he had at the bookstore on Main, or the library. Until recently he’d assumed it meant Derek just didn’t like his books, or didn’t care.

Derek flushes all the way up to his ears. “I really like your books. A lot. But I didn’t want to be weird, or make you uncomfortable so uh, I asked Laura to take one of my copies and get it signed once, when you were doing a reading? But she uh, just laughed at me a lot and then said no.” That is adorable. “After that there was that charity auction for the humane society, so I uh, got a signed set from there,” Derek finishes, still bright red, even in the dim streetlight.

“That’s—that’s awesome, dude.” Derek gives him a look. “I mean it! Some of the people here definitely get the books signed in case I die in a freak car crash or something and they wind up being worth some money. But I saw the copy in your desk, you’d clearly read it a lot. When you say you really like them I know you mean it, and that’s awesome.”

Derek has always been a smart, good guy. His opinion means a lot to Stiles, crush aside.

“I—” He’s cut off by Derek’s phone ringing. “It’s your dad,” he says before answering. “Sir?” He waits for a minute, tells him they’re on their way, and hangs up before swearing, reaching for his seat belt.

“What happened?” Stiles asks. There’s been no movement from the house all night.

“There’s another fire, and at least two dead,” Derek says grimly and starts the engine.

***

Once they get back onto the main road it’s not hard to figure out which way to go. There’s an unnatural, rosy light flickering from the east end of town, away from the newer houses and apartments.

The fire department is really working hard this month. There are three trucks at the scene, parked as close as is safe to what used to be a beautiful, turn of the century home that had been up for sale recently. Stiles had looked at it, even though he liked his little house not far from his dad, just because this one had been so gorgeous. Now though, the wrap-around porch is black and charred, steaming under the onslaught of water from the fire trucks. The graceful curves of the trim around the gables have given way to thick plumes of smoke, and several of the windows have shattered from the heat.

It’s awful.

“Stiles, Derek, over here,” his dad calls. They make their way through the crowd of officers, firemen, and emergency personnel to his dad, who is standing beside a shiny new pickup with a matching bed cover. “It’s registered to Kate Argent,” he says. “We’re just about to open it up.”

Deputy Parrish is working a jimmy into the door lock, and a moment later there’s a click as it releases. He pulls open the door and reaches across the inside to unlock the passenger side door, too. “I’m going to get some WD-40 for the bed cover, sir,” he says, gesturing to the back of the truck.

“Thanks, Parrish,” his dad says, then waves Derek around to the other side of the truck and tosses him a pair of gloves. “Derek, you’re with me on evidence collection until the fire department says it’s safe to go inside. Stiles, grab the evidence bags from the squad car. We’re going to need every pair of hands we can get.”

A few times in the past Stiles has helped out at scenes like this, or sort of like this. Mostly during emergencies, and only really bagging and tagging things for his dad, stuff anyone could do.

Looking around, it seems like half the LEOs and emergency personnel in the county are at the scene, all of them with their hands full. It’s going to be a long night.

***

Stiles wakes up in the passenger seat of his dad’s cruiser with Derek’s jacket spread over him like a blanket. “Hey, kiddo,” his dad says, looking worn and tired. “Parrish is going to drive you home.”

“I can help,” Stiles says, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “I’m awake.”

His dad sighs. “Are you sure? You don’t have to be here.”

“I’m in this, dad. I need to know what happened.” He sits up and pulls the leather jacket on properly. He can give it back to Derek whenever he sees him; he’s got to be around here somewhere.

“Okay,” his dad says, caving. “We’ve set up a tent to look over the evidence we pulled out of the truck and from around the fire, though Deaton has already taken the bodies to the morgue.”

“Bodies, plural?” Stiles asks. Last he remembered they had only found one body, badly burned on the main floor.

“Two dead,” his dad agrees as they head over to the field tent well away from the remains of the house. “We’re pretty sure it’s Kate Argent. No word yet on who the other one is yet. Was.”

They duck inside the tent, lit bright with work lights in the corners and filled with folding tables where the evidence bins sit. Parrish and Derek are pulling evidence bags out of one bin and sorting them on to different tables. “Hey, Stiles,” Parrish says with a smile. “Need a ride home?”

“No, but thanks. I’ll help with the evidence sorting.” He notices Derek staring at him. “Oh, did you want your jacket back?” Stiles asks, shrugging out of it.

“No,” Derek says too quickly, “I uh, you can keep it on. That’s fine.”

Stiles is maybe not awake enough to sort through that. “Okay,” he says slowly, pulling it back over his shoulders. “Just put me where you want me and I’ll get started.”

Derek looks pained and his dad is looking at him like he’s done something awkward, but whatever. They’ve all been awake a lot longer than Stiles. They’re probably punch-drunk.

“Some of this is just junk, but her car also had a lot of potential fire starters and some firearms. We need to sort the most immediately relevant evidence from the stuff we can probably look at later,” Parrish says, probably taking pity on Stiles. “Just grab a bin and start going through it. Then we can go over the individual pieces.”

“Sure thing,” Stiles says with a salute.

His dad smiles, lop-sided and exhausted. “I’ll leave you boys to it, then. I have to check in with Deaton about the autopsies. Be good,” he adds to Stiles.

“I’m always good,” Stiles argues, but no one seems to believe him.

***

Parrish hadn’t been kidding. Kate Argent’s truck had at least three rifles, a cooler full of ammo, and a suspicious amount of rope. And that wasn’t even getting started on the other stuff: cans of gasoline, over dozen tubs of vaseline, tampons, cotton pads, chips, a huge box of matches; just a lot of homemade fire starters. Stiles has done a lot of research by this point. He’s pretty sure he could make a bomb now.

“She really must have felt invulnerable,” Stiles says, looking over his collection. “Most people wouldn’t keep this much evidence just lying around.”

“It was in her locked, covered truck bed,” Derek counters. “No one could see it, or get in. She probably planned to start the fire and then drive away.”

“I guess,” Stiles says, but it still doesn’t seem right. Something is off, he just can’t put his finger on it.

Derek puts down his evidence bag. “I know you probably still feel freaked out. She tried to kill you for getting too close to the truth, but she’s dead now. It’s over.”

“But who’s the other victim? Why burn down this house?” There are a lot of questions Stiles needs answered. “And, I mean, I looked over those other fire reports. She’s been doing this for years and never got caught. She wasn’t sloppy. So what happened here? How did she wind up trapped in a fire she lit herself?”

“There could have been a struggle between her and the other victim,” Parrish argues. “We won’t really know anything until we get the results from Deaton, and that could take awhile. It’s a lot harder to get evidence from a body that badly burned.”

Stiles frowns down at his collection of evidence. “I get that, I just… I’m missing something. Something doesn’t make sense.”

The thing is there’s an awful lot of material. They’d had six bins to go through, each one completely full. “Why would she buy more vaseline?” he asks.

“What?” Derek looks confused. “To start fires.”

“Yeah, but this house was empty. How much vaseline could there possibly be inside? And when I saw her before Harris was killed she was buying just enough stuff to start that fire. Why would she do that if she had all this lying around?”

“I—okay, that’s a fair point,” Derek concedes. “Though it’s not conclusive. If we see enough other inconsistencies it could mean something, though.”

“Like these tampons, you mean?” Stiles asks, waving the box around.

“Uh, what?” Parrish looks a little weirded out.

“I saw her buy the stuff for the Harris fire. She had a totally different brand of tampons, the kind with a cardboard applicator. These are smaller and have a plastic applicator. They won’t burn as easily.”

“And not many women would keep six boxes of tampons in the back of a truck,” Derek says. “Not unless they were giving them out.”

“Somehow,” Parrish says dryly, “I doubt she was the charitable type.”

***

All in all, they find a lot of little things that add up to at least a moderate amount of something. Stiles feels antsy, but eventually he does have to go home and sleep. “I’ll drive you,” Derek offers. “I’m headed home, too; Sheriff’s orders. He wants us back in a few hours after some rest.”

“Okay, thanks,” Stiles agrees, knuckling his eyes as they climb into the car.

The hum of the engine and the warmth of the sun through the windows lulls Stiles back to sleep. He only wakes up when Derek turns the engine off and they’re already in front of his house. “Oh man, sorry I fell asleep,” Stiles says, fumbling for his seat belt.

“Don’t worry about it,” Derek shrugs. “You drove me home when I was dead on my feet, remember?”

Stiles laughs a little. “Yeah, I guess we’re even.”

Derek hums non-committally. “Something like that,” he says. “Get some rest. We’ll call you when we know something more.”

“Thanks.” Stiles climbs out of the car and heads inside, waving as he unlocks the door. Derek doesn’t pull away until he’s halfway inside though.

Katma Tui and Dex-Starr meet him at the door, meowing loudly, and rubbing up against his ankles. “Hey, guys,” he says, bending down to pet them as he toes off his shoes. “Are you hungry? Sorry I’m late.” It’s only an hour or two past when he would normally feed them, but he doesn’t feel too badly since there’s still a little dry food in their bowls. He sets out wet food for them, changes their water, strips down to his boxers, and collapses face-first into his bed.

Justice can wait until after he has a nap.

***

He sets an alarm on his phone for a few hours later. When he wakes up, he showers, puts on clean clothes, and heads down to the station without waiting for a call from Derek or his dad. He parks out front next to the Argents (recognizable by the slightly obnoxious MAYOR license plate) and heads inside.

Victoria and Chris Argent are sitting awkwardly at Derek’s desk, both looking exhausted, so Stiles makes his way past and around the corner as if he’s headed into the break room so he can eavesdrop. What? It’s not like he has an obligation to behave better. He’s not actually a deputy.

“I had no idea,” Victoria says. “I was at the office working late last night, and I wound up sleeping on the couch there. Chris is a light sleeper.”

“Do you know why Kate and Gerard might have been out together last night?” Derek asks.

“No,” Chris sighs. “My father and sister have always been a bit… strange. We only see them once or twice a year. I just thought they were out hunting.”

Derek sighs. “You’re aware that hunting season doesn’t start until July?”

“Stiles,” his dad says, dropping a hand on his shoulder and making Stiles jump. He turns to see his dad holding a mug of coffee. “Come on, stop eavesdropping. I’ll show you the autopsy reports.”

“What, no coffee for me?” Stiles asks as they head back to his office.

“You hate the coffee here,” his dad argues, which is true.

The autopsy files are already sitting on the desk, and Stiles grabs the one on top, flipping it open. After the usual summary letter, which Stiles skips, there are body diagrams and a list of collected trace.

Stiles had never met Allison’s grandfather, but from the sound of it he spent a lot of his time with Kate, which can’t be good. From the autopsy report, he was old. Deaton had found evidence of lung cancer and severe arthritis under the damage from the fire. Nothing that really surprised Stiles or stood out.

He swapped the file out for Kate’s, which was more interesting. Some evidence of defensive injuries to her forearms and a comminuted fracture to the parietal bone as a result of blunt force trauma. “Okay, well that’s not natural,” Stiles mutters to himself.

“The skull fracture?” His dad asks. “I wondered about that, too. They both died from smoke inhalation, but Gerard’s body was found far away from hers, near the back door, like he was trying to get out.”

“Do you think they fought?” Stiles asks.

“It’s the natural assumption, especially if the fire had already been started. But on the other hand—”

“—there’s Gerard’s arthritis,” Stiles finishes. “There’s no way he could have taken out Kate.”

“Agreed,” his dad says, taking the file back and closing it. “Which means someone else was involved. A third party.”

“We still don’t even know for sure that Gerard was involved in the fires, though,” Stiles says, flopping back in his chair.

His dad rustles through the files on his desk before pulling one out triumphantly. “We do, actually. His fingerprints are all over a lot of the evidence we found in the front half of the truck. Most of what was in the back was completely clean, which leads me to believe your hunch was right and someone was framing them. But the things we found behind and under the front seat or in the glove box have both Kate and Gerard’s prints all over them, as well as traces of a couple different accelerants.”

“So they probably were working together, lighting fires up and down the coast, but someone framed them anyway? That doesn’t make sense.”

His dad shrugs. “The best theory I can come up with right now is that we’re looking at an overzealous vigilante,” he says. “But there’s still evidence to examine, and the fire department says the house should be safe enough for us to go into by tomorrow morning. Go home, Stiles. Get some rest.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says, heading for the door. “You know you have to sleep eventually, too, right?”

His dad waves him off, so Stiles pulls his phone out of his pocket on his way outside and sends a text to Mrs. McCall. Maybe she can drag him out of the station. She’s definitely made of sterner stuff than Stiles.

He leans against the Jeep for a minute, waiting to get a reply, and looks over the Argent’s car again. It really is kind of obnoxious — black paint, tinted windows, the custom license plate. He could almost believe it was a mob car if it weren’t for the vanity plates. “Ha,” he says to himself, feeling some measure of schadenfreude, “even the Mayor gets parking tickets.” He leans over to take a better look, and that’s when he sees it.

***

Stiles isn’t big on planning. He’s more of a spur of the moment, every party is a surprise party kind of guy, but he manages to wait until that evening and get everything together before he makes his move. He squares his shoulders and rings the doorbell at the Argent house.

Chris Argent opens the door. “Stiles,” he says, raising one eyebrow. “What are you doing here? Allison doesn’t live here anymore.”

“I’m actually here to speak to you and your wife,” he replies. “If you’ve got a few minutes.”

Chris frowns. “We’re trying to arrange two funerals. Is it important?”

“Life or death important,” Stiles replies. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Sighing, Chris steps back and gestures for Stiles to come inside. He toes off his shoes in the foyer and heads on in to the living room. “Take a seat,” Chris says. “I’ll find Victoria.”

The Argents’ House is fancy and modern and uncomfortable the way Stiles assumes the homes of most public officials are. There are a lot of chairs, all very sleek, but just slightly awkward to actually sit on. He sits on the edge of a sofa before standing up again. His butt will thank him later.

“Stiles,” Victoria says, returning with Chris. She’s still wearing a skirt suit like she’s at the office. Personally, Stiles is more of a strip down as soon as you get home kind of guy. “What can we do for you?” Everything about her is perfectly poised, professional and upright. Even Chris looks a little shabby next to her.

“It’s about something I overheard at the station today,” he says.

“Won’t you take a seat?” Victoria interrupts. “Can we offer you some tea?”

“I don’t think I’ll be here that long,” Stiles says. Victoria does settle onto the couch though, and Chris next to her. “I was visiting my dad this afternoon and I couldn’t help but overhear you talking with Deputy Hale. You were both pretty quick to act like you had no idea what Kate and Gerard were up to, even though they’ve been living here for two weeks.”

Victoria sighs and smooths at her skirt. “I know the life of a famous author is a little different than mine, but surely you understand that Chris and I lead very full, busy lives, Stiles. It’s not unusual for one or both of us to only come home to sleep.”

“Yeah, about that. I parked next to you today at the station. Nice car,” he says, with a wide, fake grin. “Very Men in Black. I saw you had a parking ticket, though, which is weird,” he pulls his phone out of his pocket and thumbs over to the camera, “because it’s from yesterday in Beacon Beach and you said you were at work all day.”

Her eyes narrow. “I believe I said I stayed there all night, not that I didn’t go out during the day. And it sounds like you did quite a lot of eavesdropping of a confidential statement to the police.”

“What can I say?” Stiles shrugs. “I’m a curious guy. But lucky for me, parking meters in Beacon Beach use 24-hour time, and I happened to take a photo of your ticket.” He holds out his phone, showing a photo of the ticket, swipes to the next shot, a wider look at the car including the license plate, ticket visible in the window.

Chris has been becoming steadily more agitated, glancing between his wife and Stiles. “Victoria?” he asks, shifting subtly back from her. “What’s going on?”

She grabs at his hand, holding onto it tightly. “I’m pretty sure the Sheriff’s son is trying to blackmail us.”

“Oh no,” Stiles says, calmly. “I’m only trying to blackmail you. I’m pretty sure Chris is innocent. You know, once I saw the parking ticket I thought, what are the chances that she figured out what her father- and sister-in-law were doing and tried to help the police along in their investigation? It’s a worthy cause, really.”

Chris tugs his hand out of his wife’s grip and stands up. “What did you do?” he asks, staring at her with dawning horror.

“She bought out half the drug store in Beacon Beach!” Stiles says cheerfully. “You know, the one on Main Street? I called and said my mom thought she dropped her sunglasses in their store. They definitely remembered her when I described her. It’s not every day someone buys that many tampons and tubs of vaseline. I’m pretty sure they thought you were crazy or senile, by the way,” he adds, looking back at Victoria. “You should’ve spread it out over a couple different stores. Though I guess you were working on a deadline.”

“I did what I had to in order to protect this family,” Victoria says, turning to Chris. “They were going to destroy us.”

“I’m curious about that, actually,” Stiles continues casually. “How did you figure that out when the police were scrambling for clues?”

Victoria snorts indelicately. “They actually had the gall to ask me about specific buildings, like the community college, or that eyesore of a house. As if I wouldn’t put the pieces together, especially after Kate framed that idiot she played around with when she lived here. I followed them, I saw them buy their supplies and light his home on fire. Do you have any idea what that’s going to do to the county insurance rates? Gerard and Kate have both always been complete, irresponsible nut-jobs.”

Speak for yourself, Stiles thinks, though it’s good to know why Kate and Gerard had killed Harris. “So you followed them?”

“I went through their things, I figured out what I needed, and I made it happen,” Victoria says calmly. “I’m an excellent project manager. It obviously takes a woman to get anything done properly.”

Stiles nods agreeably. “Man, I can see it. You figured it all out way before anyone else did. So you followed them to the old house?”

“I got there first,” Victoria corrects. “They were so obvious about it, it wasn’t hard to figure out.”

“Why didn’t you tell someone?” Chris croaks. He’s probably in shock.

“And have them paraded through the news for the arrest, the trial, the execution? It’s an election year. I couldn’t take that risk. It had to be over and done with as quickly as possible.” She stands up, smooths her clothes, and looks down her nose at Stiles. “So you’re looking for money? I would have thought you had more than enough to go around, but I suppose there’s no accounting for greed.”

Stiles stands his ground, shoulders back. “No, I’m okay for money,” he says. “I only came here to see that Allison would still at least have one parent who could come to her wedding.”

Victoria falters, and that’s when Derek, his dad, Allison, and Parrish come in through the kitchen. “Victoria Argent,” his dad says, expression resigned and pulling out a pair of handcuffs, “You’re under arrest for the murder of Kate and Gerard Argent—”

“I cleaned up your mess!” she spits at him, but he ignores her, continues on to the list of her rights. “You should be thanking me!”

Allison has moved to hug her dad, both of them with wet eyes, not quite believing what’s happening. “Allison,” Victoria says desperately, “I was trying to protect you from them. They were monsters.”

“You killed them, mom,” Allison says, swallowing hard. “And you tried to cover it up.”

They take Victoria away after that, but it doesn’t matter. Stiles can’t even look Allison in the eye.

***

It takes a few weeks for things to calm down. The arrest is big news, obviously, and somehow word of Stiles’ involvement gets around town. (It’s a small town. He’s used to it.) He decides to lay low for awhile, focus on his writing, let Allison figure out if she kind of hates him for getting her mom to confess to a double homicide.

You know, the usual.

The good news is that he manages to finish the third book in a flurry of writing over the weeks following Victoria’s arrest, way ahead of schedule. He sends it off to his editor and winds up crashing for a few days, just sleeping and eating and playing with the kittens, who are getting into the tiny-head giant-body phase of their development.

All he really has to do is return Derek’s jacket.

***

“Okay, Stiles, you can totally do this,” he says to himself, still sitting in the Jeep outside the station. He’s been avoiding it and Allison. Trying to give her space is how he justified it to Scott, not that Scott believed him.

His phone rings. It’s his dad. “You going to come inside any time soon, or are you just going to sit in your car all day?” he asks.

“I’m coming in!” Stiles says defensively. “Maybe I just had to email someone or something. You don’t know!”

“I’ve got binoculars,” his dad says flatly. “Get in here already.” He hangs up without saying goodbye.

“Rude,” Stiles says to his phone. But he gets Derek’s jacket and heads inside anyway. Might as well get it over with.

Derek isn’t at his desk, so Stiles drapes the jacket over his chair and grabs a pen and a sticky note. Thanks for the loan, he starts writing when Derek puts his mouth right up against Stiles’ ear and says, “Hey.”

Stiles jumps and spins around, accidentally scrawling pen across Derek’s desk but miraculously not breaking Derek’s nose with the back of his skull. “Holy crap,” he gasps, clutching at his chest and leaning back against Derek’s desk, heart pounding. Derek sticks close, leans one hand on the desk right beside Stiles’ hip. “Were you just going to leave me a note and run away again?”

“Uhhhhh,” Stiles fumbles. That was exactly what his plan had been.

Derek ducks a shy smile. “I was thinking, now that the case is over and I still owe you a meal,” he starts, but gets cut off.

“Stiles!” Allison yells from across the squad room. She’s already heading towards them, and Derek sighs a little, regretfully almost, Stiles thinks, before standing up and taking a step back. “Hey,” Allison says when she makes it to Derek’s desk. “Scott told me you were worried but I just, I want you to know I’m not mad. I would have done the same thing in your place if I’d been able to work the case.”

She has the same earnest expression Scott gets sometimes, as if she’s mentally willing him to agree. He’s never been able to say no to Scott, so there was no chance he was going to be able to say no to Allison, either.

“I just figured maybe you would need some space?” Stiles tries but she buys it even less than Scott did.

“I need my friend,” she stresses. “Come over this weekend. I’ve barely seen you lately.”

Stiles relaxes, finally, really believing her. “I was finishing my book! I’ve got time again, until galley edits,” he says with a shrug. “Saturday?”

“Sunday,” she says firmly. “We’ve got something on Saturday.” Then she pulls him into a tight hug and whispers into his ear, “Go easy on Derek, okay?”

Which is baffling. Almost as quickly as she had arrived she’s off again, across the room to talk to Boyd about something work-related.

Stiles shakes his head to clear it and looks back at Derek, who is smiling. “You finished the third book?” he asks.

“The first draft anyway,” Stiles shrugs. “It’ll still be like a year before it comes out.”

“In that case, I hear you’re free tomorrow,” Derek says.

“You gonna wow me with your cooking prowess?” Stiles asks.

Derek steps closer again, and yeah, he’s definitely interested. “If I can borrow your kitchen,” he says with a shrug, faux-casual. “Dinner?”

“It’s a date,” Stiles agrees.

***

“It’s a date, Lydia! At my house!” Stiles moans into his phone. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Clean?” Lydia suggests. “I’ve seen your place when you’ve been writing; it’s a sty.” Stiles looks around the room and uh, yeah, that’s a lot of old water glasses on his desk, and an old bag of Doritos now serving as a trash can.

“Oh my god, I’m a slob,” he whines again. “But okay, okay, I can fix that. What else?”

Lydia huffs. “Shower? Change your sheets? Wash your b—”

“—Okay, got it!” Stiles cuts her off. “Got it, thanks! That is too much.”

She laughs at him, because it’s Lydia and of course she does. “Get it together, Stiles. I didn’t invest all this time in you to have you be a failure.”

She hangs up on him then, and Stiles stares blankly at his disaster of a home before realizing he only has a day and a half to make it look like he’s a real, functioning adult.

***

He manages to get it all done by hiding the trash bags in his garage and leaving some of his dirty clothes and sheets in the washing machine. He can run it later.

Derek shows up right on time, loaded down with supplies that he won’t let Stiles help carry into the kitchen. “Can I help at all?” Stiles asks.

“Nope,” Derek replies, pushing up the sleeves of his ridiculously soft-looking sweater up past his elbows. “My purpose is to wow you, not put you to work.”

If the purpose is to destroy Stiles with the sight of Derek’s bare forearms, which are rarely on display (a travesty of justice if Stiles ever saw one) then it’s working. Stiles sits silently at the kitchen island, watching Derek stash what looks suspiciously like a cake stand (complete with cake maybe under an opaque cover) in his fridge before pulling out a covered bowl of what looks like raw meat and setting it down on the counter with a package of Boursin.

“What’re you making?” Stiles asks, watching as Derek pulls out a handful of ground meat. It looks like it’s already seasoned with something, bits of green and white mixed into it.

“Burgers,” Derek says, rolling the meat into a ball. “You’re going to like this, trust me.” He pokes his thumb into the centre of the ball, makes a dent, and then slices off some Boursin to tuck inside, rolling the meat back into a ball around it, patting it flat, and setting it aside.

“Whoa, whoa, with Boursin inside?” Stiles asks, suddenly extra interested. He loves Boursin. Once when he was moving he lived on Boursin and crackers for almost a week so he could empty his fridge. “Inside the burger??”

Derek smiles, slow and easy, rolling another one up and setting it aside. “Yeah, I thought you’d like that.”

It doesn’t take Derek long to finish making the raw burger patties, and he puts a tray of four in the fridge before pulling out bacon. And not just any bacon, but fancy bacon, from the farmer’s market. Stiles would recognize that brown paper wrapping anywhere.

And bacon?” he asks, just to be sure.

Derek hums a little, pulls out Stiles’ heaviest frying pan to warm up. “The trick is to cook the bacon first and leave the pan greasy, and then cook the burgers in that. Trust me.”

“You had me at ‘bacon’,” Stiles jokes. Honestly, Derek had him at hello, practically since puberty. He just never thought he’d have a shot. Back then, Stiles had been all flailing limbs and a buzz cut; awkward and too prone to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. In comparison, the Hale genes seem to go from pretty freaking attractive to holy shit how are you so handsome and then stay that way. (Stiles has met Mr. and Mrs. Hale, okay? Derek and Laura are always going to be beautiful.)

“I think you’ve got that backwards,” Derek says, spreading thick slices of bacon out across the hot pan. “The first time I actually talked to you I was at the farmer’s market with my family and it was, ugh, just incredibly early in the morning on a Sunday, because my mom said all the good stuff would be gone if we got there after eight.”

Stiles laughs a little at that, watching Derek push bacon around the pan. “My mom used to say the same thing,” he agrees.

Derek grins at him over his shoulder before turning back to the pan. “And she had this list of stuff we had to get every week, like a pie from the Mortley Farms stand, and sugar snap peas and strawberries. And it was my dad’s birthday that week so we were going to make him bacon-wrapped steak.”

“And?” Stiles prompts him.

“And so she sent me over to the stand with the best bacon,” he shrugs, gesturing at the package he’s got open on the counter next to the stove. It’s definitely the best in the area, always has been. “Gave me ten bucks and told me I’d better come back with the good stuff or else. I was fourteen, I guess, you must have been what, nine?” Stiles nods. “And I get there and you and your mom had just bought the last of the bacon.”

“I think I remember this,” Stiles says, sitting up straighter. It wasn’t long after that when his mom had started to get sick. That summer had been some of the last really happy times they’d had together. “Did you have braces?”

“And headgear at night,” Derek confirms. “It was awful.” Stiles can’t picture him clearly from back then, but the idea of Derek with braces is kind of adorable, especially considering he still has bunny teeth. “Anyways, I uh, I panicked, a little. And I guess your mom saw that I was kind of upset and asked me what was wrong. When I explained why I needed the bacon she looked at you and you just pulled the bacon back out of your bag and handed it over to me, like it was nothing.”

“I—really?” Stiles definitely had forgotten that part.

“Yeah,” Derek smiles at the memory and starts pulling bacon out of the pan. “I remembered that when we ran into each other later, when I was talking to your dad about applying to the police academy. You came into the station to see him. I guess it was the summer before you left for Berkley. I hadn’t really seen you around much, and all of a sudden you were gorgeous and leaving for four years. I was just trying to not embarrass myself in front of you and your dad, but I think he figured out instantly that I’d just fallen for you.”

“You, what?” Stiles asks, thrown for a second.

“I mean you were gorgeous then, but god, you came back and you were just—” he makes a noise of frustration. “And then your book came out!” He stops for a second to pull the tray of burger patties out of the fridge and slide the first one into the pan where it hits the bacon grease with a hiss and sizzle. “What was I supposed to do with that?”

Stiles can’t stop smiling. “Kiss me, I guess.”

Derek drops his spatula on the spoon rest and turns, tilts Stiles’ chin up with one hand wrapped around the back of his neck, thumb stroking along his cheekbone before leaning in to gently brush their mouths together. Once, twice. The third time he stops to press his teeth lightly to Stiles’ lower lip and Stiles parts his lips with a groan. Derek licks a little at Stiles’ mouth but doesn’t push further, just bites at Stiles’ lower lip again before pulling away.

Stiles tries to chase after him, leaning forward, but Derek just presses his thumb to Stiles’ mouth until he opens his eyes. “After dinner,” he says, voice rough, and inhales deeply before turning back to flip the first burger.

The food smells amazing. Stiles has never wanted more to skip a meal.

***

Derek also somehow manages to be coherent enough to pull together a shaved asparagus salad with some kind of mustard vinaigrette, and between that and the burgers, Stiles is in heaven. He pushes his plate aside and watches greedily as Derek polishes off the last of his own burger.

“Now can we make out more?” Stiles asks and Derek actually laughs at him, standing up and grabbing both of their plates.

“I made dessert, you know,” Derek says as if he hasn’t been playing footsie with Stiles all through dinner; staring at his mouth, his hands. As if Stiles hasn’t been just as distracted.

Stiles groans. “Derek, seriously, you’re a great cook; I get it, I’m impressed, I’m wooed, whatever. You know I’ve been head over heels for you for years, right? We can eat dessert later.”

“Just have a taste,” Derek says. He rinses their dishes off and loads them in the dishwasher before pulling out the cake stand from the fridge. When he pulls off the cover, the bundt cake underneath is a golden brown color, covered in a dusting of icing sugar and generous drizzles of white icing. “It’s honey-apple,” he adds, cutting into the cake with a large knife and carefully serving up a thick slice.

“Um.” Just a taste can’t hurt.

Derek places the plate and a new fork in front of Stiles and waits, expectantly. It would be rude not to have some, right? So he picks up the fork and grabs a bite.

It’s amazing. Stiles groans around the bite. “Oh my god,” he says, going in for another. “This is so good. Why have you been hiding this?” He scarfs down another bite.

Looking pleased, Derek walks around the island and wraps his arms around Stiles’ middle, resting his chin on his shoulder. “If I’d known you would be this impressed I would have done this earlier,” he says, dragging his cheek up and down the side of Stiles’ neck.

Stiles shudders a little but manages to eat the last bite of the cake. Cake waits for no man.

When he’s seemingly satisfied with the long line of stubble burn, Derek mouths his way back up to just under Stiles’ ear before biting down. Stiles groans again, dropping his fork, and grabs for Derek’s head to hold it in place. “Are,” he swallows another groan, “are you trying to mark me or something?” Stiles asks. Derek hums, right there below his ear and Stiles shudders. “Because I am one hundred percent on board with that plan,” Stiles adds.

“Good,” Derek says roughly before pulling back. “Are you done eating?” His eyes must be half pupil. Stiles knows how he feels. He would make a joke, but Derek doesn’t wait for an answer, just drags his hand down Stiles’ arm to his wrist and tugs, leading him towards the living room.

Derek falls back onto the couch and pulls Stiles right into his lap, forcing him to straddle him, and Stiles is completely okay with that. He balances his hands on Derek’s shoulders and leans in for another kiss, long and sweet; takes his time exploring Derek’s mouth and the sounds he makes, the way he presses one hand to the small of Stiles’ back but doesn’t drop his hand any lower. No, Derek is apparently all about long, slow drags of his palm up and down Stiles’ back, smoothing up over his shoulders and down along his spine like the world’s lightest massage.

Arching into it, Stiles digs one hand into Derek’s hair, gets a grip and manages, briefly, to mouth along Derek’s jaw before returning to his mouth, still lush and hot and the complete focus of Stiles’ world just then. Derek groans at that, shifts both hands to Stiles’ hips and just pulls him down hard against him. And absolutely that is a good idea. Stiles grinds down against Derek and is more than pleased to feel he’s not the only one thoroughly enjoying this.

Derek bites another mark into the side of Stiles’ neck, the join of his shoulder, his collarbone. “Are you,” Stiles gasps, grinds down again, “Are you just going to put marks on me all night so everyone knows I’m taken, or are you actually going to do something about it and take me?” Derek bites down hard then before kissing Stiles with definite intent. He pulls back, just enough to look Stiles in the eye. His mouth is red and swollen and his cheeks are flushed and Stiles wants that mouth back on him immediately but he also wants more.

“What do you want?” Derek asks, breathing hard.

Stiles lowers his eyes before looking back up at Derek through his lashes. “I want you inside me, if you’re okay with that.”

That’s all it takes, apparently, for Derek to get a hand under each of Stiles’ thighs and stand up, carrying him down the hall to Stiles’ bedroom. Stiles clings to him, legs wrapped around his waist and buries his face in Derek’s neck, inhaling the smell of him, the feel of him. Derek is solid and heavy, thick with muscle and Stiles feels touch-starved. He needs more, more of everything.

Derek lowers him onto the bed, presses him down into the covers and licks along his neck, biting under his ear again. “You got a fixation on that spot or something?” he asks, arching up shamelessly against Derek, who rewards him by letting go to tug Stiles’ shirt up and off, throwing it to the floor.

“Or something,” he says, nuzzling his way down Stiles’ chest, biting at each nipple and licking from his belly-button right down to the seam of his jeans. Stiles’ hips buck upwards involuntarily. Everything feels so good, but he needs more contact, more of Derek pressed against him, hot and solid and real.

He reaches down to tug at Derek’s shirt at the same time that Derek starts trying to undo Stiles’ jeans. “You need to be naked,” Stiles gasps. “Why are you still wearing so many clothes?”

“Speak for yourself,” Derek mutters, but sits up and pulls his sweater off over his head like something right out of porn. Up close and personal he’s even more perfect than Stiles had imagined (and Stiles had imagined at length, you could say). He can’t help the whine that slips out when Derek stands up, leaving Stiles alone and cold without his body heat, but it shifts into a groan of appreciation when Derek slips out of his jeans, toes off his socks and his completely lewd black boxer-briefs.

He climbs back onto the bed and tugs loose the button of Stiles jeans, drags the zipper down with a slow, teasing pressure all along Stiles’ cock. “You’re killing me,” Stiles says, chest heaving. They’ve barely even done anything but make out and he’s practically ready to come in his pants.

“Not yet,” Derek says before tugging Stiles’ jeans down and off, kicking them off the bed and out of the way. Stiles would feel embarrassed next to Derek —skinny and pale, still in his underwear with a damp spot marking the head of his dick as if it weren’t obvious already that he’s really interested in this —but Derek takes the opportunity to lean down and suck on the head through his underwear, and Stiles, not expecting it, jackknifes up with a squeak.

“Oh my god,” Stiles pants. “You have to stop that or I’m going to come.”

“That’s the plan,” Derek says with a grin, and then hooks his thumbs into the band of Stiles’ underwear and slides them down and off before licking his own, broad palm and wrapping it around Stiles, jacking him slowly, torturously. “I just want to take care of you,” he says, as if that’s totally normal, and then sucks the head into his mouth, his free hand pressed firm and heavy against Stiles’ hip to hold him in place.

Stiles practically sobs with it, the hot, wet shock of Derek’s mouth on him. It’s too much, too soon, and a minute later he’s coming helplessly down Derek’s throat with a cry.

Derek soothes him through it with gentle licks, lapping at what little come he missed and pulling off before Stiles gets too sensitive. “You can come over for dinner any time,” Stiles says weakly, flopping one hand in Derek’s general direction. Derek looks smug at that, though his own cock is still hard and dark, leaking pre-come out the tip like it’s going out of fashion.

“Are you ready for more?” he asks and Stiles nods frantically. He’s ready for pretty much anything Derek wants to give him, any time, but especially his dick right the fuck now. “Okay,” Derek agrees easily. “Lube?”

Lube. Stiles can do lube.

He rolls over and fumbles for the drawer of his bedside table and manages to pull out a tube of slick and a condom. As he’s closing the drawer, Derek drags one hand down Stiles’ right cheek, pulls it aside to press his thumb just so against Stiles’ hole. He shivers, full body, and looks back over his shoulder at Derek, who, mouth just parted, is staring fixedly at the sight of his thumb pressing against and pulling back from that spot repeatedly. Stiles is already starting to get hard again.

He shoves the lube and condom at Derek and gets on his hands and knees. “Come on, come on,” he whines. “I want you inside me, I want it, come on.”

Derek fairly growls before Stiles hears the snap of the cap on the lube, feels the first slick trace of Derek’s finger circling against him and dipping inside. It’s wet and perfect and not enough. “More,” he urges Derek, “Come on, give it to me.”

“No,” Derek says, voice hoarse, “I think I’d rather take my time,” he adds with a gentle press of one finger directly against Stiles’ prostate, earning him a moan. “Get you loose and wet and worked back up for it, make you really want it.” He pulls out, gets more lube and presses back in with two fingers and Stiles bites his lip.

“I, I do want it,” Stiles hiccoughs as Derek starts pushing both fingers inside him, stretching him and pressing against the rim, pushing in to just lightly drag over his prostate like he doesn’t know exactly how much of a tease he’s being.

Derek hums. “You’re pretty tight. I really think I better take it slow, make sure you’re really ready.” He leans forward, pulls his fingers out and blows hot air over him where he’s open and wet, and Stiles clenches involuntarily with another shudder. “Make sure you really enjoy yourself,” he adds before pushing back in with three fingers, pressing deep and then pressing back against the rim before diving back in again.

Stiles collapses down onto his elbows with a cry and pushes back as much as he can, but Derek’s got his free hand gripping firmly at Stiles’ hip to hold him in place. He lets go for a second and just smooths his hand gently up and down the small of his back. “Shhh,” he says. “I’ve got you.”

“Then get in me!” Stiles whines. “Please, please, I’m ready, I’m so ready. I want it, Derek, please.”

Derek pulls his hand out completely. “Well, if you’re sure,” he says, but Stiles can hear the waver in his voice. He’s not unaffected. If Stiles could do anything but lie there, ass in the air and face pressed into his pillow, he’d look back and see for himself, but as it is he’s not even sure he can coordinate enough to grab his own dick.

He gives it a shot though, only to have Derek bat his hand away. “Not yet,” he says, and Stiles can hear him opening one of the condoms and slicking himself up. “I want to be inside you before that happens.” Stiles moans helplessly again, thrusting forward against the air and back towards Derek as if that’ll get him inside faster.

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” Derek murmurs, and holds Stiles still with one hand, lines himself up with the other and slowly presses inside. He’s thicker than his fingers, a solid, satisfying girth that fills Stiles completely, tears leaking from his eyes. “Are you okay?” Derek asks, breathing hard and only halfway in.

“More,” Stiles manages, rubbing his face against the pillow, and whines as Derek slides the rest of the way inside, setting his nerves alight. “Move,” Stiles adds, and, “Please.

Derek pulls back, leaving Stiles achingly empty before sliding back in again, slow and steady, one hand still gently rubbing at Stiles’ back, the other holding onto his hip. He shifts, changes his angle and thrusts in again, and refuses to speed up despite Stiles struggling to push back against him and get more, faster. On the third stroke he presses hot and heavy against Stiles’ prostate, and Stiles cries out, clutching at the sheets and leaking pre-come all over the duvet.

“There you are,” Derek says, breathless and proud, and after that he doesn’t hold back. He thrusts harder and faster, driving Stiles mad with it, with unending stimulation he can’t do anything about. He whines and tries to reach for his dick but almost over balances. Derek stops rubbing at his back and slides his hand around to grip Stiles firmly in one slick hand, giving him an experimental tug in time with his next thrust. “Are you close?” he asks, breathless and rough, “You want to come?”

He’s beyond coherent speech, apparently, so Stiles just whines some more, moans when Derek thumbs the head and gives it a twist on the upstroke. “Please, please,” Stiles manages, and then he can’t stop, just a steady stream of please and Derek escaping his lips.

“I told you,” Derek says, draping himself over Stiles’ back and whispering right into his ear. “I’ve got you. Come any time you want.”

And that’s it, the feel of his breath on his ear, the sound of his voice, the grip of his hand and the steady, unrelenting strokes across his prostate — Stiles cries out again and comes all over his bedding, and Derek’s fingers, and whites out from the force of his second orgasm that night, his throat raw and his eyes wet.

Derek presses deep into him a few more times before groaning, fitting himself as close and tight against and into Stiles as he can as he comes.

They lay there, panting together, Derek draped over Stiles, his hand still loose around Stiles’ cock, until their breathing calms down and Derek can pull out and toss out the condom. He comes back with a warm, wet cloth and gently wipes Stiles down before chucking it in the general direction of the little waste basket in the corner. He tugs the duvet free and slides under it, spooning up close behind Stiles, one hand resting over his chest.

“Good?” Derek asks after a minute.

Stiles groans incoherently. There’s really no word for how far beyond good he is.

“Okay,” Derek murmurs against the back of Stiles’ neck. “Okay.”

***

Stiles wakes up far too early to Katma Tui chewing on his hair and meowing loudly. “Oh my god,” he groans, and rolls over, trying to hide his head under Derek’s chin.

“You want me to feed them?” Derek asks.

Stiles rubs his nose along Derek’s collarbone and tries to hide from Dex-Starr’s burrowing paws under the duvet. “No,” he decides after a second. “I’m a responsible pet owner.” He presses a kiss just there to Derek’s shoulder before dragging himself out of the bed and pulling on the first pair of underwear he can find and heading into the kitchen, both kittens following loudly along behind him.

They happily ignore him once they’ve each got fresh food and water, and Stiles scratches absently at the back of his neck before deciding leftover cake for breakfast in bed is totally an acceptable option. He cuts two slices and heads back into the bedroom.

Derek is still lying in bed, face first in Stiles’ pillow, one arm wrapped around it. With the duvet pulled back a little Stiles can finally get a good look at the tattoo that spans from shoulder to shoulder. He sets the cake down on the side table and traces the outline with one finger, earning a sleepy sound.

“I didn’t know you had a tattoo.”

Derek rolls his head to the side and peeks up at Stiles, blearily; traces down his neck and chest and stopping somewhere around his waist. Stiles looks down. “Oops?” He says, plucking at the waistband of Derek’s boxer briefs. “Do you mind?”

Derek doesn’t mind. They don’t eat the cake until later.

***

“Are you sure it’s okay for me to come with you?” Derek asks on their way to Scott and Allison’s place.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m wearing a turtleneck again but this time because I’m covered in hickeys and beard-burn. You’re definitely coming with me.” Derek has the grace to look at least a little bashful. “Also they, you know, like you,” he adds.

“Okay,” Derek acquiesces and none too late, because they’re already outside the apartment building.

He lets Derek carry the beer, and they head upstairs. Stiles lets them in with his key. “Hey love-birds, I brought a friend!” he calls out as they step inside.

Allison pops out of the kitchen and smiles beatifically at them. “Looks like more than a friend to me,” she says cheekily, eyeing his turtleneck, and then turns to Derek. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” Derek says, ducking his head, ears bright red. It’s adorable. “We uh, brought some beer,” he adds, handing it over.

“Scott’s just about to call for take-out,” Allison gestures them in after her towards the kitchen. “You like Chinese, right?”

Maybe Scott should also have invested in an old turtleneck because as soon as they get into the kitchen Stiles can see a solid line of hickeys down his neck and, more importantly, “Dude,” Stiles blurts out, “Where’d you get that rock on your finger?”

Scott looks happier than Stiles has ever seen him. He grins widely and pulls Allison in for a smacking kiss. “Allison proposed!”

“Whoa, you beat him to it?” Stiles asks. “Congratulations!” He pulls them both into a hug. “Did you tell her about your alibi yet?” he asks after.

“Uhhhhh,” Scott says, rubbing at the back of his head. “No?” At Allison’s raised eyebrow he spills the story, and while Allison is charmed, Derek groans and drags a hand down his face.

“Why didn’t you just tell us that when we arrested you?” he asks, exasperated.

“It was supposed to be a surprise!” Scott argues.

Derek just rolls his eyes. “I can’t believe you thought that was a good idea,” he says to Stiles.

“I tried to talk him out of it,” Stiles shrugs, “But you know. Bro-code.”

“Bro-code forever,” Scott agrees solemnly, and they bump fists.

“Okay, okay,” Allison says, pulling back from Scott. “Food?”

“Food,” Stiles agrees.

***

They stay up too late talking, and it’s only when Stiles notices that Scott has passed out that he realizes they should leave. Allison sees them out with hugs, and Stiles automatically starts driving back to his house.

“Oh,” he says, part way home, “Did, did you want me to drop you at your place instead?”

“Nah,” Derek says, resting one hand on Stiles’ knee. “Your place sounds good.”

They’re silent the rest of the way home, relaxed and comfortable, easy in the late hour. Both kittens are asleep in Stiles’ bed when they get inside, and it’s absolutely adorable seeing Derek creep under the covers while trying not to disturb them. Stiles waits until Derek is under the duvet at an uncomfortable angle before scooping up both kittens, clambering under the duvet himself, and setting them both back down near his feet.

Dex-Starr looks thoroughly unimpressed. So does Derek.

“I was trying to be nice!” he hisses, like the cats care. Both of them stretch, long and easy before taking off to play in the living room.

“They’re nocturnal,” Stiles shrugs. “They won’t care. Come on, stretch out.”

Derek sighs but scoots over and wraps himself around Stiles like he did the previous night. “Are you okay with this?” he asks quietly, and even though Stiles knows he means sleeping spooned up together it sounds like a bigger question. He can already imagine eventually moving Derek in with him, and maybe getting a dog. Lazy Sunday mornings making pancakes in the kitchen and late nights making good use of the bed.

“Yeah,” he says, tangling his fingers up with Derek’s. “Yeah, I am.”



Stiles and Dex-Starr, by eeames