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They are the hunters, we are the foxes (and we run)

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Stiles was still more than a little bit fuzzy from the spell, dropping to his knees and immediately feeling the mud soak through his jeans. Casting that spell had taken a surprising amount of power, and he was positively drained by it. Exhausted. He was going to need all the Gatorade and some greasy food. Make that a lot of greasy food. Curly fries, preferably. 

And sleep. About sixteen hours of sleep. But alas… It didn’t seem like that would happen any time soon. Because the surroundings didn’t even look the slightest bit familiar to him. Seriously, he’d been here for about half a second - if that - and he was already being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Karma apparently actually hated him that much, because not only did he possibly overshoot the backyard to his own house just the tiniest bit, but the area he had landed in was humid and disgusting and vaguely reminiscent of the Bog of Eternal Stench. 

Though the scent probably wasn’t quite as bad as that. 

“What the hell did you just do?” A tall, dark and handsome stranger grabbed Stiles by the collar and none too gently shook him. “Where the hell are we?” 

Oh, right, Stiles had taken someone along with him for the first time. Well, this was the first successful attempt, anyway. When he’d tried it with Deaton before, his mentor had ended up getting left behind. And the man had been beyond pissed that Stiles even tried to do it. 

Something about considering all aspects of a spell before trying to bend it to its will. But what was being a Spark other than bending things to his will? All he had to do was believe and focus and use the spells that Deaton had painstakingly tried to teach him, and he was making magic his bitch. Most of the time. When he didn’t fuck it up. 

“Would you believe that I don’t know?” Stiles shot the stranger one of his charming grins. 

What, he could totally be charming. He could. Stop laughing. Any second now. 

The stranger was not amused, and he continued to hold Stiles up with seemingly very little effort on his part. Which was just rude, because sure Stiles hadn’t quite filled out in the way that most dudes did when they matured, but that didn’t mean that he was still 147 pounds of pale skin and fragile bones. He’d at least passed 150 by now, maybe even 155. And there was no way a human could hold that up so easily for this long without at least a tremor. Unless this stranger was some kind of wrestler or bodybuilder - which Stiles couldn’t discount completely because the stranger’s muscles had muscles. This dude was fucking built . Yummy. 

He was also looking at Stiles with a face that was a step up from resting bitch face. Stiles was going to call it Resting Murder Face, or RMF for short. 

“You don’t know what you did?” Murder Brows was already feeling murder-y. 

“Oh, I know what I was trying to do,” Stiles wriggled and tried to get at least the tips of his toes in reach of the ground. “Basic teleportation spell. Kind of like Apparating, you know?” 

Look, there had been a lot of things that the writers and the theorists got wrong, but sometimes there were things that were actually close enough to actual, real-life magic. And for people who weren’t exactly in the know, it was easier to explain it through those familiar ideas. 

“I don’t,” Murder Brows actually did not seem to get the reference. 

And that was just so disappointing, but since it seemed like they had the time for Stiles to do a brief history of magic with a side-step to the more commonly portrayed ways of using magic from popular culture… Well, he might as well start from the very beginning. Because as Julie Andrews had once sung, that was a very good place to start. 

“So, there are several different kinds of magic,” Stiles started, still dangling from the Stranger’s grip. “But we’re going to focus on the three most well-known kinds. Druids, who take their power from nature and have to balance their spells so that karma doesn’t come around to kick them in the balls. Or the lady balls, but that’s not… Second, there’s Mages. And Mages use a focus object, like a wand or a staff or the stuff you’ve most likely seen in movies and books. And thirdly, there’s Sparks, and their magic is powered by belief. It’s a Paladin type deal, which makes sense if you’ve ever played D&D.” 

More silence from the Stranger. Which meant that he’d probably never played D&D in his life and that meant that Stiles was just a little less massively attracted to him. Just a little, though, because Stiles would be happy to coach him through his first session. He was a passable DM, and had helped many a fledgling geek lose their Dungeon virginity. Or the other kind, once or twice. Okay, just once. That had happened once. 

“Are you following along?” Stiles was going to pretend he wasn’t still held up in mid-air, because it just seemed more… secure in his own strength. “Let me know when I get the stuff you already know, because I will keep talking forever if I have to. Not just if I have to.” 

Heck, Stiles could keep a conversation going with an inanimate object if he ever got bored enough to try that - again. Sadly, this had happened more than once before. 

“Shut up,” the Stranger finally spoke again. “And tell me where we are.” 

The Stranger was very demanding, very strong, and completely unsurprised by the existence of magic. Stiles was not going to guess a species yet, but he was pretty sure that he’d hit the Supernatural Creature Trifecta. The Stranger was definitely not human. Not even a bodybuilder would have been able to keep Stiles up like this, his entire body just dead weight being held up by a single muscled arm. 

And what an arm! Just a little veiny (enough to make Stiles want to trace them with his tongue), covered in dark hair (very masculine, and very much doing things for Stiles), and a little tanned from exposure to the sun. Or was that his natural skin tone?

Either way, Stiles could definitely rule out the vampire option. The sun was shining, and there was no sparkle - shame, because Stiles had always wanted to find out what the world would look like when accompanied by an undead disco ball. 

Joke. Total joke. Not the Stiles wanting to find out what it was like, but the ‘vampires sparkling and glittering in the sun’ thing. Come on, did you really think that had any relation to reality?

“I can’t actually do both of those things at once,” Stiles pointed that out, earning himself a growl-like noise from the Stranger. “So I guess the ‘answering your question’ thing is more important. So I will. I guess. I don’t know where we are. There might have been a little glitch with the teleportation spell. I totally did my best Thomas impression, but it still didn’t work.” 

Another blank look, which meant that Stiles was seriously worried about the Stranger’s childhood, and about Stiles’ own mental health if he was going to be stuck with the gorgeous buzzkill for much longer. He needed someone who was going to go along with his references, or at least grasp about half of them. His best friend still hadn’t seen Star Wars, and he still managed to understand over half of what Stiles was saying at any given time. 

Which was a lot better than most people did. 

“Thomas the Tank Engine?” Stiles clarified, waiting to see a look that would have told him that the Stranger had gotten a clue. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can? Still nothing? Wow, dude, you must have had some seriously sheltered upbringing.” 

Stiles was feeling kind of sorry for him, and that kind of thing always made him determined to fix whatever wrong he’d perceived. As soon as he’d figured out where they were, he was going to send the stranger back home to his family with a collection of Pop Culture Essentials According to Stiles Stilinski: From Star Wars to Mean Girls. Hmm, yeah, maybe he needed to update the collection a little before he gave it to the stranger, but it would totally work. As long as he believed that he could give the Stranger that awesome gift. 

“Take me back,” the Stranger was still resorting to nothing but demands. 

“Say the magic word,” Stiles was not above a little trolling. 

Though he’d met a troll or two over the course of the past few years and they weren’t nearly as mischievous as he’d been hoping. The Fey Folk, however? Goblins? Imps? Now they were all about the trickery, the pranks and secret deals. Stiles tried to avoid them, not just because he was clearly the superior trickster and would therefore embarrass them, but also because his mouth had a tendency of running away with him and that was not a good trait to possess when around any of those creatures. He’d barely avoided a marriage to a Goblin Prince the last time around, even though he had been tempted to find out if the humanoid creature had any kind of relation to David Bowie. 

Look, those were some tight pants and no one could blame teenage Stiles for ogling. Even in his late twenties, he was still having trouble keeping his eyes away from The Bulge. 

“Dude,” Stiles pouted at the continued silence. “I know you’re less than an expert at this magic stuff, but it would be cool if you managed to play along at least a little.” 

He’d always wanted a sidekick of his very own, and since apparently Sparks didn’t get Familiars like Druids or Mages did, he was going to have to go for a very human sidekick. Or a mostly human one, seeing as this dude was definitely a Supe. Yes, Stiles was up to date on all the latest Supernatural-related slang. Not related to the show that wouldn’t die, of course. 

“Please,” the Stranger muttered halfheartedly. 

“Now, usually that would be an awesome magic word,” Stiles started, “because I’m all about good manners. It’s just that when it comes to magic, you’ll want to use something more magical and mysterious. Make a wish, or just use good old Abracadabra.” 

Another growl, because the Stranger did not seem to be in the possession of a sense of humor - which meant that he would not be accepted into the position of Stiles’ sidekick. His sense of humor was very important to him, and it would make sense for his not so animal sidekick to share an appreciation for any form of wit. Stiles would settle for the lowest form of wit, because sarcasm was actually one of his favorite things. 

“Take. Me. Back.” 

That was quite a growl there. Enough of one that Stiles was pretty sure that he’d managed to transport some kind of Were along with him. Now, there were quite a few species of Were (not even Deaton had met all of them), but judging by the way that the Stranger’s eyes flashed red and his teeth turned into actual fucking fangs, he was thinking werewolf. He was also thinking - and hoping - that the Stranger had decent control of his hands slash claws. 

Stiles really didn’t want to be eviscerated today. Or any other day. 

“Alright, hold your horses,” Stiles wished he could pat the Stranger’s head to calm him down a little. “If you would be so kind as to set me back down onto my dainty little feet.” 

Stop laughing. He could totally be dainty. He could

If he used a spell, he could be dainty and graceful, but if he didn’t want to waste his precious magical energies on that, he was stuck being awkward and gangly and able to trip over his own feet at absolutely any moment in time. But it would do, for now. Even though he’d really been hoping that he would have impressed the Stranger a bit more by now to balance out the impending awkwardness. Well, there was nothing he could do about that at the moment. 

The Stranger was still glaring at him, even though he’d finally moved to let Stiles put his own two feet back on the ground. Or… mud. Swamp. Bog. Grossness. 

“Close your eyes,” Stiles continued. “And your mouth, because there are a lot of flies and after tasting about three of them already, I can conclude that they are not part of a nutritious diet and should be avoided at all cost while we zoom back home. Zoom? Travel? It’s not quite interdimensional travel, you see, and I’ve yet to find the perfect way to describe it other than saying teleportation or using trite Harry Potter comparisons. And that just won’t do.” 

He checked very carefully to see if the Stranger was listening to his orders for once, and was disappointed to find that while the Stranger’s mouth was closed as usual, he hadn’t stopped staring at Stiles for even a second. And while Stiles totally got that he was incredibly pleasing to the eye, it was more than a little disconcerting to be on the other end of this more murderous stare. Especially when he’d done absolutely nothing to earn that. 

Nothing. That mistake with the teleportation did not count. 

“Really?” Stiles just had to call the Stranger out on his stubbornness. “We both need to close our eyes and then I need to wish real hard, and we’ll go to a better place. Not like, the good place or the bad place or anything, more like my backyard. I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to go back to the location we departed from. You did not look like you were having fun.” 

No one had looked like they were having fun. Well, there was this one blonde who had that demented grin on her face while she taunted the Stranger. Stiles hadn’t been able to hear what she was saying to him, but the odds of it being less than kind were astronomically large. And while Stiles had no idea which side had been the evil one - he’d been too impatient to do a Detect Evil or whatever - he’d seen an unequal battle and wanted to give the Stranger the opportunity to regroup. Because any magical practitioner worth their salt had to make the effort to save a damsel in distress. Even if that damsel was six feet tall and murderous. 

“I was handling it,” the Stranger petulantly huffed. 

“A whole pack of men with guns,” Stiles could not be blamed for being more than a little dubious at that. “And a few women. I’m not trying to be sexist here. But, a whole bunch of very angry people with guns undoubtedly modified to do the most damage to someone like you. Against just you, cornered and lashing out. It doesn’t seem very fair to me.” 

Wolfsbane bullets, he was guessing. And yes, if the Stranger had been an evil werewolf, or a feral one who’d been lashing out uncontrollably, it would have made sense. Except Stiles had seen a cornered animal, terrified and lashing out as he tried to keep himself alive and whole for just a little while longer. A lone Alpha, without a pack around to support him. An outlier, something that Stiles had never seen before. Someone he’d immediately been curious about. 

And, well, that whole damsel in distress thing. Stiles wanted to be the strong hero who saved the day, and maybe got a well-deserved thank you. Or even a reward. 

He wasn’t completely selfless, after all. 

“I had it handled,” the Stranger repeated the sentiment. 

“You were surrounded,” Stiles was not going to entertain his delusions. “If I hadn’t come around when I did, you would have been coughing up that gross black wolfsbane poison sludge by now. And not even you could pull that look off, McDreamy. Or are you more of a McSteamy?” 

Yet another blank look. And this was a whole lot less fun than Stiles had been expecting it to be, with a profoundly grateful damsel who was exceedingly attracted to Stiles’ slightly dorky charm, who wanted to reward him properly. Wink wink nudge nudge. 

Okay, so maybe his daydream had been a little more porny than he’d been willing to admit to before. But like, wasn’t that how the whole rescuing people thing was supposed to work? 

“Take me back,” the Stranger always came back to that. 

“Alright, alright,” Stiles tried not to roll his eyes too obviously. “Hold your horses and let me get hold of my mojo. Not the ‘spy who shagged me’ kind, but actual magical mojo.” 

Stiles tried really hard not to crack a whole bunch of jokes in a shitty Mike Myers impression, because he doubted that the Stranger would have any idea what he was talking about, because once again, dude was seriously deprived. And even though Stiles would have loved to bring a little more sparkle into his world, he didn’t want to be in a swamp to do so. 

The atmosphere was just all wrong for a proper seduction. 

“Hold onto me,” Stiles gave it one last shot. “It’s easier for me to transport you if we’re touching, and if you’re preferably very, very close to me. As close as you want. No boundaries.” 

Was that too sleazy? Had he actually crossed that line now? It felt like he’d definitely crossed the line there, and that was bad. He wasn’t that kind of guy. 

“And I’ve officially crossed the line into creepy,” Stiles sighed. “Sorry about that. I was hoping for a bit of a different scene here, but I’ll try to keep it PG. Or PG-13, if that’s cool with you. You do actually need to be touching me, because we need to be linked, but anything else is just wishful thinking because you’re the most gorgeous damsel I’ve ever had the opportunity to save.” 

The Stranger was not interested in accepting the compliment. Instead he harshly grabbed a hold of Stiles’ wrist and closed his eyes, as if he was just trying to get this over and done with. Which was not a great reflection on Stiles’ awesome rescuing skills - but he felt like he could totally make that better by getting the Stranger to safety somewhere. Even if that safety was just the Stilinski backyard, a place that Stiles had always associated with being safe. 

Plus, the wards were up, so no one was going to get in there without his permission. Because he had actual skills, damn it. No matter how skeptical the Stranger seemed. 

“Before you tell me to shut up again,” Stiles couldn’t stop talking, as usual. “Just let me remind you that I am physically incapable of shutting the fuck up. It’s a serious condition and I’d like to ask for your understanding in these difficult times. Thoughts and prayers and all that.” 

At some point the Stranger was either going to murder him or reveal that he had a sense of humor after all, and Stiles was just going to keep trying until that happened. Option two, obviously, because he was not ready to die yet. He just wanted the Stranger to say something - anything - other than the strictly necessary. He’d settle for a smirk or a joke or even a name at this point. Anything that showed a personality beyond anger and frustration. 

“We need to go,” the Stranger just kept saying things along those lines. 

Fine. Maybe they could do the personality thing back home in his backyard, with Stiles’ Dad waiting for him to come home. It wasn’t like Stiles wanted to stay in this damn swamp for a second longer than he absolutely had to. The humidity was making it difficult to keep a good ramble going, and Stiles loved a good ramble. 

“Here goes,” Stiles closed his eyes and just believed. 

And promptly passed the fuck out. 

The next time he woke up, he was still positively surrounded by the humid air that positively surrounded the Bog of Eternal Bugs. He was feeling woozy, unsure of what was up and what was down, though the trouble breathing was entirely connected to the humidity and had nothing to do with the way he’d passed the fuck out, completely out of nowhere. 

Okay, so maybe not completely out of nowhere, because he had been attempting magic when he fell down. And sometimes magic could wreak havoc, or so Deaton said. But that was usually related to issues with balance or with focus objects. It apparently was not as common in Sparks, because their magic was more closely tied to belief and faith. Which should have meant that as long as Stiles believed he could do magic, he would be fine. 

That however did not seem to be the case at the moment. 

“What the fuck ?” Stiles managed to get his croak of a voice to mostly cooperate. 

It somehow embodied exactly what he wanted to say, without exhausting himself by throwing out dozens upon dozens of words. He had a whole bunch of other things he wanted to say, but he felt about as strong as a particularly ferocious kitten. Well, no, he felt like that ferocious kitten probably would have been able to kick his ass without even breaking a sweat. 

And that was just embarrassing. 

“You’re awake,” the Stranger did not sound particularly excited about that. 

Stiles would have attempted to look at him to see if he was still as angry as he’d been before, but that would involve moving a significant part of his body and that just didn’t seem to be happening at the moment. Also, he was apparently very close to the Stranger, because Stiles could have sworn that he’d actually felt the vibrations of the Stranger’s voice when he spoke those words. That was probably the dizziness talking, but still! Closeness! 

“What the fuck happened?” Stiles had to ask. 

“You fainted,” the Stranger was just stating the obvious now. “You’re lucky I was still holding on to you, or you would have cracked your skull when you hit the ground.” 

Wow, that was a longer speech than Stiles would have expected the Stranger to be capable of, even under these circumstances. There was a proper sentence, some chastising and subclauses and everything. Actual grammar - Stiles was totally impressed. He probably would have been a little turned on if he’d had the strength. 

And then he looked up, and suddenly his lack of strength didn’t even matter. 

“I humbly thank you,” Stiles totally would have bowed if he could. “My knight in… leather armor? I wanna say it’s leather. I remember there being a leather jacket before. Did you get rid of it? Did you get that hot? You were hot before. Not that you’re not hot now.” 

The Stranger had allowed Stiles to rest his head in his lap. The Stranger, the one who probably actively hated him by now because Stiles had not managed to get the two of them out this fucking swamp, he’d actually cared for Stiles in the best way he knew how. There were no first aid supplies around for miles, and even if there had been Stiles was pretty sure that the werewolf wouldn’t even know what to do with them. But he’d tried. 

Hashtag you tried. With a gold star. This dude had definitely earned a gold star. 

“You’re on top of it,” the Stranger thought that was enough of an explanation. 

“I’m on top of you,” Stiles dumbly corrected him. 

Because well, that was just A. Lot. Like, a lot, a lot. 

Everytime Stiles looked up, he was faced with the stupidly attractive face of the Stranger, with its perfectly sculpted stubble and that strong jaw and the heavy brows that were giving him less ‘down for murder’ and more ‘emotionally constipated concern’ right about now. It was a lot to look up to, really, and with the Stranger having stripped off that leather jacket, there was actual skin on display that Stiles would have visibly drooled over if he’d been feeling a bit more normal - right now he was managing to keep the drooling to his mind only. Hopefully. 

He really did not want to get any drool on the Stranger. That would just be embarrassing. 

“What do you think the mystery pillow is?” The Stranger was getting downright sassy now. 

“Them thighs?” Stiles batted his eyelashes at him. “They looked strong enough to hold me earlier. Strong enough to crush me, really. Very attractive. And I promise that I will stop obnoxiously hitting on you as soon as the world stops spinning. Fuck, I’ve never been this dizzy before. And that means a lot, after my college drinking habits. Dude, I was an idiot in college.” 

There had been many a night that had ended in Stiles making absolutely terrible decisions that he’d promptly forgotten all about in the morning. Which led to an interesting order history on his Amazon account and a lot of shit he didn’t need and friends he didn’t remember meeting. But he’d stopped overcompensating for his inability to party in high school ages ago. And now he was a totally legit practitioner of magic with a business of his own and some excellent money made off his research. 

Sure, the supernatural angle made it incredibly difficult to advertise properly, but the word of mouth in the community was better than any Instagram ad, or whatever. 

“In college?” The Stranger was obviously down to make fun of Stiles. 

“I’m a grown-ass adult,” Stiles was totally taking offense to this. “I have my shit together. I don’t even live with my Dad anymore. We’re neighbors now. Our gardens are bordering each other, but we have separate houses. I have a big boy job. I have clients. I’m an adult.” 

The words ‘big boy job’ probably didn’t help with the whole ‘trying to get the Stranger to see him as the mature adult he supposedly was’ thing. But the words were out already, and there was nothing he could do about that now. He just hoped he’d managed to convince the Stranger. 

“Can adult you get us out of here?” The Stranger questioned far too gently. 

Probably because grown-ass adult Stiles hadn’t dared to do so much as sit up for fear that he’d toss his cookies into the swamp somewhere. The dizziness really had not gotten any better in the past few minutes, and the thought of trying to stand up, let alone operate a spell that involved actual movement… That was enough to bring on mild dry heaving. 

“Adult me will vomit if adult me even tries,” Stiles announced none too happily. 

Honestly, he needed about a day or five’s worth of sleep and several gallons of sugary drinks and even more of disgusting greasy food. And a metric fuckton of curly fries. And maybe after all of that, he’d slip into another five day post food coma. And when he woke up from that, he might eventually dare to risk attempting to do that spell again. Maybe. 

“Do you enjoy talking about yourself in the third person?” The Stranger asked. 

“Sometimes the Stiles does enjoy that, yes,” Stiles attempted a nod and wished he hadn’t. 

He couldn’t even nod? That was definitely a new low for him. He was totally an expressive dude, and he felt like it was important for the Stranger to know what kind of Spark he’d managed to save. Or who’d managed to save him. 

Wait, did this mean they were even? Because Stiles totally could have used a favor. 

“Your name is Stiles?” The Stranger did not appear to be all that impressed. 

“Well, yeah,” Stiles went for a shrug instead, and called it a win when he didn’t immediately feel like barfing. “It’s the name I go by, anyway. It’s a family nickname. Because Mieczyslaw Genim Stilinski just doesn’t roll off the tongue the way that Stiles does.”

Okay, so maybe it did for him, but not so much for most other people. Other people just gave him terrifyingly blank stares. In high school and college, he’d started to just respond any time it looked like the teacher or professor or TA was having a mental breakdown about a name. Because about 95 percent of the time, he was right about it being his name they were having the breakdown about. The other five percent had to do with systemic racism and professors being unwilling to learn how to pronounce something that didn’t read white. 

Not that they’d made any kind of effort with his almost Eastern-European name. 

“Stiles Stilinski?” The Stranger repeated. “Any relation to Sheriff John Stilinski?” 

Stiles had been pretty damn sure that he’d never seen the Stranger around Beacon Hills before, so it was really weird that he seemed to know exactly who Stiles’ Dad was. Sure, Stiles’ Dad was one of the local celebrities in that most people who visited got to know his name rather quickly - especially when they got involved in a local quote accident unquote. 

Yes, there were still quite a lot of those. Not much had changed since his high school days. 

Beacon Hills was still a Hellmouth without a Slayer. 

“How do you know my Dad?” Stiles had to ask. 

“My sister told me that if I was ever in Beacon Hills,” the Stranger was very pointedly avoiding Stiles’ gaze, “if I got in trouble here, that I should reach out to John Stilinski. Because he knew about wolves, and he’d treat me fairly. She said he’d help.” 

That was quite the reputation his Dad had. It was completely correct, and Stiles took an absurd amount of pride in it. He just hadn’t known that this reputation had actually spread beyond the borders of Beacon Hills, or perhaps even beyond the borders of the county. It was impressive and he was absolutely going to embarrass his Dad about it at some point - because his Dad didn’t think that any of what he was doing was actually special. 

That far too humble man just thought he was doing what any decent human being would do. And yeah, either he was wrong about that and he was far better than decent, or he was right about it and there were just far too few decent people in the world. Stiles preferred to choose to believe that his Dad was just particularly fucking awesome. 

“Your sister is not wrong,” Stiles was pleased at the referral. 

“Was,” the Stranger said, and then stopped himself from saying anything else. 

She was not wrong. She hadn’t been wrong. When she was… still alive? Oh boy. 

Did that have anything to do with the assholes surrounding this damsel? Or dudesel? Was there a female form of damsel or was damsel a gender neutral term? Did it matter?

Still, Stiles was not going to say anything about being sorry for the Stranger’s loss because he knew from experience how fucking meaningless that shit was when it came down to it. Being sorry didn’t actually bring them back, and judging by the way the Stranger’s stupidly handsome face was now just one big exposed nerve, the loss had been relatively recent. 

“So you do need help,” Stiles chose to focus on the immediate problem. 

“Not from you,” the Stranger was lashing out now. 

Stiles would have been offended if he hadn’t so massively overshot the landing on his teleportation spell. Though, actually, he was still a little offended that the Stranger was not even the slightest bit grateful that Stiles had saved him from certain death by… hunters. Stiles was now pretty sure that the Stranger had been cornered by werewolf hunters, or any other kind of hunting family, when Stiles had dropped in on them. And even though the Bog of Eternal Bugs was kind of a shitty place to be, it beat being six feet under. 

So yeah, he was offended. But that didn’t mean he was going to stop helping. 

“I’d offer to take you to my Dad, but,” Stiles trailed off. “I’m having a little trouble even contemplating sitting up. So use of magic is all out for the foreseeable future. And since this does not look like a particularly habitable place, I’m thinking we need to make for the nearest town and find a way to contact my Dad from there. He’ll know what to do next.” 

He didn’t even have the slightest clue where they were, and attempting any kind of locator spell was only going to leave him projectile vomiting all over the place. And while there were few things that could make their swamp less pleasant, that was definitely one of them. 

Stiles did not want to make it into the Bog of Eternal Barf. 

God, that was a solid joke. At least his brain was fine. 

“You don’t have a phone on you?” The Stranger was not impressed. 

“Do you have your phone with you?” Stiles questioned in return. “Because I’ve known my Dad’s number by heart since I was about five years old.” 

That probably didn’t sound nearly as impressive as he wanted it to. 

Still, Stiles was currently pretty damn phoneless, because he’d learned quickly that phones did not handle teleportation particularly well. It was kind of useless of them, and Stiles was going to try and find a workaround for it (a spell that allowed him to transport his phone along with him), but that was not going to do them any good now. It meant that even if the Stranger had been carrying his phone when Stiles grabbed him, it was going to be dead now. At least for the foreseeable future - a charge usually got it working again, but Stiles wasn’t exactly spotting any outlets in this fucking swamp. A fucking swamp - the karma of it all. 

His jeans were covered in mud and muck by now, and it was going to seep through to his underwear any second now. It seemed like the Stranger’s jeans really weren’t doing a whole lot better, though - and that made him feel absurdly vindicated. 

“It’s dead,” the Stranger didn’t even bother to check the phone in question. 

“Magic,” Stiles did a weak impersonation of spirit fingers. “It tends to do that.” 

The Stranger was not imbued with spirit because of it, which was to be expected, because the Stranger had never seemed all that spirited. In fact, the dude seemed to be a downright downer, which was definitely going to make the whole ‘marooned in a fucking swamp’ thing a bit more depressing than it needed to be. Though Stiles really did appreciate the stupidly sarcastic wit that was starting to shine through. He didn’t care about the mean edge to it all, because he was probably going to sink to that level any second now anyway. 

“Can you even move?” The Stranger was starting to get impatient. 

“Not particularly well,” Stiles admitted. 

He managed to sit up slightly straighter with stupid amounts of effort, and with the Stranger still supporting him the whole time. At least the guy was physically supportive if not all that emotionally supportive. At least Stiles could lean on him in that way. 

There were no expectations of any Bill Withers-like leaning. On anyone. 

“Worse than usual?” The Stranger pointedly remarked. 

And honestly, Stiles would have been impressed if he hadn’t been so frustrated about the terrible impression he was making here. Was it mostly accurate? Sure, but this was the first person he’d met in a while who didn’t have a pre-existent horrible opinion of him, and he’d hoped to have more of an opportunity to impress before he fucked it all up. 

“Just slightly,” Stiles pasted on a sunny smile as he lied to the wolf’s face. 

Supposedly, the Stranger would be able to tell. Stiles hadn’t exactly met a ton of wolves in his life, even though Beacon Hills had once been a safe haven for one of the most prominent werewolf families in the country - perhaps even in the world. But the Hale family had moved away and then died in a tragic accident when Stiles was just a kid, and no werewolves had dared to establish their own pack on top of the ruins of the old one. Or the ashes, if someone wanted to be really rude and tasteless and terrible, like that Deucalion guy who seemed to think he could win the town. 

Boy oh boy, had that not turned out the way he’d wanted it to. 

“Great,” the Stranger did not think it was all that great. 

But then again, Stiles wasn’t going to be mean if he wanted to lie to himself a little. This was kind of a shitty situation after all, and he was not going to disrespect someone else’s coping mechanisms when he knew his were usually just fucking weird. 

Of course he needed a coping mechanism when sitting up was quickly starting to become very, very exhausting. He was probably going to fall over or attempt to lay back down any second now, and the Stranger was probably not going to be very happy about that. And not just because Stiles was going to faceplant right into his lap again, but also because they technically still had places to be, probably. Stiles’ Dad would be pissed if he didn’t come home. 

The search party was going to be… extremely large and completely unnecessary. 

“So, just hypothetically speaking,” Stiles started talking about the reality that he was experiencing at that very moment, “what if someone actually wasn’t able to stand up and this person and their companion with super strength had to depart in a hurry anyway, say because… their location is very uncomfortable to be in for a serious length of time.” 

Was he going to come right out and ask the Stranger to please, pretty please with a cherry on top carry him to the nearest town? Absolutely not. But was he going to hint and infer until the werewolf finally got the message? Absolutely yes. Because standards, that was why. 

“What do you want?” The Stranger was straight-up not having a good time. 

“If you’re gonna be carrying me,” Stiles continued because this was totally going somewhere, “would you prefer a more traditional piggyback ride or the more Romantic princess carry? I’m saying Romantic with a capital R because Lord Byron would want to be carried like a princess, okay? And while I’m not quite that level of extra, the idea does appeal to me.” 

Not quite. He said not quite. It might have been close at times, but he wasn’t quite there. 

So he leaned back helplessly, because he was so very exhausted already. Sure, he probably could have saved some energy by not talking quite as much, but really, anyone who knew him at all knew better than to expect those kinds of miracles from him. There were better odds of Scott falling out of love with Allison than of Stiles not talking. 

And that wasn’t going to mean anything to the Stranger, but it explained quite a lot to Stiles and most of the other residents of Beacon Hills. Scott’s puppy dog eyes for Allison Argent were common knowledge to just about everyone by now. 

“Do you have the arm strength to hold on to me?” The Stranger asked so very seriously. 

Stiles did his very best to lift his arm over his head to pat at the Stranger’s shoulders. He made it about halfway before his arms got all tired and painful and they flopped back - hard - onto Stiles’ chest. It fucking hurt, but at least he’d answered that question. 

“Fine,” was all the Stranger had to say to that. 

A beat. And then another beat, during which the Stranger unceremoniously pulled the comfy leather jacket pillow from under Stiles’ head and put it on. Stiles was super offended about it until he realized that this was the only way that the Stranger could make sure that his prized possession didn’t fall from Stiles’ limp fingers during their trek into the nearest town. 

Between one slow breath and the next, the Stranger picked Stiles up - like his 155 (?) pounds of dead weight was nothing to him. There was one strong arm under his thighs and another wrapped around his back, and Stiles was pretty sure that he’d passed out again and managed to trick his way into the Best Place. Because nothing this awesome happened in real life, and especially not to him. It wasn’t like flaming hot strangers showed up out of nowhere and reluctantly carried him for potentially miles and miles every single day. 

Only on weekends. (He fucking wished .)

“I’ve always depended upon the kindness of strangers,” Stiles managed to bat his eyelashes at the Stranger before deciding to just close his eyes for a second there. “Say, Stranger. Mister Stranger Sir. Would you perhaps be so kind as to tell me your name?” 

It was getting more than a little tiresome to keep referring to the Stranger as the Stranger, even if it was just in his head. He wanted to know the name of this godlike werewolf, of his potential future husband (kidding! Mostly?). For potential going undercover purposes when they got to town, or just so he wouldn’t have to toss out a ‘hey you’ when they inevitably ended up in some kind of trouble while waiting for Stiles’ Dad to come get them. 

And wow, that really didn’t sound as mature as Stiles was hoping it would. 

“Miguel,” the Stranger was clearly lying to him. 

“You don’t look like a Miguel,” Stiles pondered the name from his comfortable position in not-Miguel’s arms. “I think I know what a Miguel would look like, and you’re not it.” 

At least, he thought he’d know, even though he’d never actually met a Miguel before. Maybe he’d seen one in a movie or in one of the cheesy telenovelas that Scott’s abuela loved to watch over the holidays (or not just over the holidays, but he didn’t spend enough time with her to find out her precise television habits year-round). But that was the only place he could even think of that might potentially have an actual Miguel. A real-life Miguel. 

Because the Stranger? Totally not a real-life Miguel. No. Stiles refused. 

“How would you know?” The Stranger had seemingly decided that this was the time to start arguing with Stiles. “I forgot my name tag in my other jacket.” 

The sarcasm, the effortless carrying of Stiles in whatever direction the Stranger had deemed the right one… It was a lot to deal with, and now Stiles’ vertigo wasn’t just from the failed spell and accidentally closing his eyes while moving. No, now it was also because he was swooning because of Not-Miguel’s many excellent attributes. There were so many. 

And Stiles was only human. 

“Of course you have multiple leather jackets,” Stiles was only dying on the inside. 

“Am I going to disappoint you when I say I don’t have a motorcycle?” The Stranger was still talking to him at least, so Stiles was considering that a win. 

Sure, maybe he was a little disappointed about the lack of a motorcycle to complete his ‘hot leather enthousiast with murder brows’  fantasy, but his Dad would have murdered him if his bad boy boyfriend took him on his motorcycle. And yes, Stiles’ occasional bouts of self-delusion were fine as long as he didn’t share them with anyone else. 

Least of all the Stranger. Not-Miguel. 

“I bet you have a sexy car, though,” Stiles was already daydreaming about its backseat.

That was when the Stranger shifted his grip a little to make Stiles feel like he was about to fall to the ground, at least for a hot second. And then the Stranger grabbed him again, easy as pie, which meant that the almost falling thing had totally been on purpose, trying to drag Stiles from his sexy fantasy time. Which, yeah, was probably creepy when in a hot dude’s arms. 

“I have a Camaro,” the Stranger answered nonetheless. “And you’ll never set foot in it.” 

Now that was the actual cruel part. This guy was good. 

It had taken them about an hour or so just to get to the nearest road leading out of the marsh slash swamp, and then another hour and a half to find a crossroads that let them know the exact whereabouts of where they’d managed to find themselves. 

Two and a half hours worth of walking, carrying another person. 

That whole time Stranger hadn’t complained about the weight once, but Stiles still knew that he was less than excited about the many miles they still had ahead of them before they would find the town of Chiloquin, Oregon. At least, Stiles was really fucking hoping they were in Oregon and not in another state with marshlands and Bogs of Eternal Bugs. If they actually ended up in the bayou somewhere, he was going to have to hand in his metaphorical Spark badge. 

Yes, Stiles was still very disappointed that they didn’t have actual badges. Because he definitely deserved one. A particularly shiny one that told everyone how awesome he was. Because he was awesome, even though his current position in a sexy werewolf’s strong arms probably didn’t give off that impression. 

“Are you good to keep carrying me?” Stiles asked when they finally got to the edge of town. “People are going to have a lot of thoughts about you carrying me without showing strain. We don’t want to make it too obvious for them that there’s something hinky going on, right?” 

Hinky. He just liked that word, and he didn’t get to use it in front of new people a lot. Just his Dad and Deaton and occasionally Scott - and they just didn’t react to it anymore. Not like Most Definitely Not Miguel, who made a face the second he’d heard Stiles say it. 

And it was fucking hilarious. 

“Can you even stand?” Not-Miguel was still very skeptical of his prowess. 

Probably because Stiles had pulled the same thing about an hour ago, when he’d thought he’d recovered enough to at least stand on his own two feet. And well, while he’d been semi-right about that, he really had not been up for doing a whole lot of walking yet. Anything that required taking more than half a step had been enough for him to fall flat on his face, leaving him with some embarrassing bruises. Not ones from falling, but ones from being grabbed too hard by a werewolf who caught him before he hit the ground. 

Because sometimes werewolves forgot all about their strength in an emergency. The fingerprint bruises undoubtedly popping up under his shirt were not going to paint his companion in the most positive light if they ran into any cops. Which they probably would. 

Of course they would. They just looked suspicious as fuck. 

“Also, I feel like you should tell me your real name,” Stiles just had to try one more time before the Stranger actually got stuck with Miguel. “Before the lies get away from you. I know all about that, and it’s definitely a shitty place to be in. You should come clean, confess. Supposedly that’s good for the soul and all that. And I’m totally trustworthy, dude. Remember how I totally saved you from the hunter version of the Manson family earlier?” 

Stiles was totally the most trustworthy magically inclined person in the greater Beacon Hills area - and not just because Beacon Hills only attracted Darachs and fucked up Mages. Also because Deaton definitely had his own agenda and Stiles was the only other person within the town limits with any kind of magical ability. So that meant he was trustworthy. 

So there, Not-Miguel. Stiles Stilinski could totally be trusted with a name. He didn’t even have a Fae type thing going on where a name once given couldn’t be used again. No, he was just going to use it like any other normal person would. 

Also, it wasn’t fair that the Stranger got a cool undercover name and Stiles was still stuck with, well… Stiles. He could have had a normal name for once. Even for a few hours. 

“I mostly remembered that your rescue landed us in another state,” the Stranger had stuck with the snark over the past few hours. “Which I will definitely mention to the FBI.” 

Was this a bad time to mention that Stiles had once interned with the FBI? Back then, he’d been on track to be accepted into their full-time program before the whole magical ability thing became impossible to hide and required a lot more training than he was getting just by reading some of the books he’d essentially stolen from Deaton’s office and then secretly photocopied so he could keep up while in DC. Those copies had saved his ass more than once when he’d managed to run into yet another monster, but they hadn’t helped him get a handle on his power. 

“Just when the restraining order had run out,” Stiles mentally mourned the permanent loss of his Dad’s faith in him if he got convicted on kidnapping charges. “I was really going places.” 

The look on the Stranger’s face when Stiles mentioned the restraining order was a whole new kind of priceless. Which made sense, because how was he supposed to know that the restraining order was basically a massive misunderstanding involving Jackson Whittemore getting in touch with his inner lizard? That was right, he couldn’t know that! 

But he knew that Stiles wasn’t lying about the restraining order - which was excellent. Also about going places, because he really was, damn it. This was just a momentary setback. 

“You actually believe that,” Not-Miguel seemed to find that surprising. 

“I have the whole upward trajectory going on,” Stiles argued, still in his stupidly comfortable position in the Stranger’s arms. “Dude, I’m pretty sure that my magical mentor - my Dumbledore, so to say - is going to let me graduate from his intermediate program and move me to the advanced class. A class of one, but still! Progress!” 

Actually, the Dumbledore comparison was pretty solid. Though Stiles was too old to be made into a child soldier, Deaton definitely had his own agenda and he was not opposed to sicking Stiles on his enemies and watching them squirm. Or even purposefully not telling Stiles that he knew who was murdering people because the balance was somehow more important than actual human lives. Yeah, there was a reason that Stiles made sure to get a second opinion for any info he’d gotten from the local veterinarian. He’d learned from his mistakes. 

Those mistakes, anyway. He’d probably made dozens more in the meantime. 

Like transporting a total stranger across state lines and then passing out on him instead of managing to take them both back to Beacon Hills. That seemed like a pretty big mistake, especially because he was making this random werewolf carry him around for hours on end because he was still too weak to move his own body. 

“Hey, I’m still not walking,” Stiles finally noticed that the Stranger had distracted him. 

“Good,” Still Not Miguel responded, and started walking towards the center of town. “Even if you could manage more than one step, we still wouldn’t be making good time.” 

Right, because apparently they were in a rush. Sure, Stiles didn’t want to be walking around Oregon for any longer than absolutely necessary, but he also didn’t see the need for the kind of urgency that Not-Miguel deemed so very important. Maybe he had a date to get back for, or whatever - because of course a hot guy like that had a date - but it was a bit much. 

“I’m not that out of shape,” Stiles had to argue. 

The Stranger just made a very skeptical noise and kept walking. Stiles would have argued with him some more were it not that they were heading into a more public area and that was just going to make them look even weirder than they already did. 

And at this point, that was really saying something. 

They were starting to come across actual people now, and instead of checking on them, the people just stared at them. Gawked, really. Jaws were dropping all around, and still no one was offering to relieve The Guy Temporarily Known As Miguel of his burden. Even though the guy was now pretending that he was struggling with the weight. 

Stiles would have called him out on being rude if he didn’t know his buddy was acting. 

Wait, was Not-Miguel his buddy now? 

“Would you stop?” The Stranger was not amused. 

“They’re just staring because you’re ridiculously attractive,” Stiles huffed, trying to distract him from the weirdness. “Because you’re basically Ryan Gosling in that movie he did with Emma Stone. The not La La Land one. The one with the dude from the Office. Steve Carell. I’m Emma Stone and you’re fucking photoshopped. And you’re lifting me - the only thing that’s missing is the full-on Dirty Dancing moment. But I’m sure we could get there with some practice.” 

God, if fucking only. It was kind of a bucket list item for Stiles, to have one of those ridiculous rom com moments. He was totally a romantic at heart, even though he’d been mostly single since college. His few attempts at relationships hadn’t lasted all that long, probably because there were always a ton of secrets he had to keep from them. He hadn’t managed to find anyone already in the know who was willing to date him. Or, well, not just willing but someone actively interested in dating the great Stiles Stilinski, local Spark. 

Not that he was going to be explaining this to the Stranger. He wouldn’t get it. People of any gender were probably lining up in droves to get a shot at him. 

“Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?” Stiles asked. 

He was pretty damn sure that the answer was a yes, judging by the way The Idiot No Longer Known As Miguel was avoiding his eyes. If he didn’t actually have a clue what Stiles meant, he would not have hesitated to call him out on it. The slight embarrassment that Stiles was detecting clearly meant that the Stranger knew something about this - he just wasn’t all that proud of the knowledge. Like he should have been according to Stiles. 

“Well, guess I’m going to call you Ryan from now on,” Stiles promptly decided. “Because I refuse to believe that your name is actually Miguel. I refuse. Straight-up refuse.” 

Maybe the Stranger didn’t actually look like a Ryan either, but it was better than Miguel and maybe if Stiles managed to annoy him enough he’d eventually earn the real name. Though it would have been hilarious if he managed to figure it out on the first go. 

Rumplestiltskin, eat your heart out. 

“How are you doing, Ryan?” Stiles was determined to get a response from him now. “Not too heavy? Ready to find ourselves either a free phone or a local police officer? My Dad is probably dying to hear from me. He worries, you know. For no reason.” 

The scoff he got in response meant that Ryan was still listening, at least. He was back to mostly ignoring what Stiles was saying until he said something that was just blatantly untrue or potentially dangerous, which was just all kinds of disappointing. Stiles had been starting to get used to the sarcasm and the straight-up sass he got from Ryan. He was starting to like it too. 

Even though humiliation really wasn’t one of his preferred kinks. 

“No reason,” Ryan wasn’t going to let that go by without a snide comment. 

“There’s my boy,” Stiles was delighted. “I love your snark, dude. Don’t ever stop.” 

They’d passed another townsperson, another person who actually crossed the street when he saw them coming. Which was just really fucking rude and Stiles was pretty damn sure these people had never even heard the tale of the Good Samaritan before. And like, Stiles was not particularly religious, but he was still familiar with it because he was a decent person who’d bother to help if he came across a situation like this one. 

Though technically his habit of trying to help was the thing that had gotten them into this position in the first place. That probably made it somewhat less of a valid argument to use here. 

Still, there was something more than a little antisocial about the response. Something hinky. 

“Are we the first strangers to come to this town or something?” Stiles was a little concerned now. 

“You’re just the first stranger rambling on and on while being carried like a fairy tale princess,” Ryan clearly didn’t even believe that himself. “You stand out.” 

Stiles was going to choose to see that as a compliment about his uniqueness. Because he didn’t even want to fit into the mold anyway. So there. He was proud to be his weird self, had learned to get comfortable with being the guy who talked a lot and had trouble managing his level of focus. If people didn’t care for that, well fuck them. 

“Because you and your ridiculous hotness are subtle,” Stiles rolled his eyes. 

And he didn’t immediately feel like he wanted to die and/or pass out, which was definitely some legit progress. He kind of wanted to test out the rest of his range of movement now, but he also didn't want to make things even more difficult for Ryan. They’d been at this for hours already, and Stiles was pretty sure that even werewolves got tired eventually. 

Also he didn’t want to brain himself on a random Oregon sidewalk. That would suck. 

“I just keep hitting on you,” Stiles both was and wasn’t surprised at that. “Sorry dude. Stop me if you need to. Gag me or whatever. That usually works. Most of the time.” 

Was it an accidental sex joke? Absolutely. Was Ryan going to interact with it? Absolutely not, because he never seemed to do that when Stiles got weird about him once again. At some point he was going to find a way to stop blatantly ogling and drooling so much, but it was not this day. 

“Almost there,” Not Ryan just elected to ignore him, which also had a reasonable success rate. 

They’d made their way towards the town center. Even though the town was not as big as he’d been expecting, it still had a diner. And in that diner, they were undoubtedly going to find some kind of payphone, or even a customer who was willing to lend Stiles their phone long enough for him to call his Dad. He could probably make up some excuse about getting into a car accident or getting lost - that totally sounded believable, right?

After all, Stiles still wasn’t all that steady on his feet, and his jeans were still all muddy and gross - even though they’d dried quite a bit since they exited the Bog of Eternal Bugs. Even Ryan didn’t look nearly as perfect as he could have. Though his leather jacket had managed to escape most of the mud damage, and he wasn’t as visibly shaken as Stiles was. 

There was something superhuman about Ryan’s ability to look composed. 

“I’m just going to call my Dad, then,” Stiles nodded, almost reluct to be rescued. 

He was even more reluctant to be back on his own two feet. Not because he was lazy or entitled, getting too used to being carried everywhere that he wanted to go. More because he liked Ryan’s hold on him, liked how stupidly safe and protected it made him feel even when his werewolf friend sassed him and complained about his slow recovery speed. 

Because he was pretty damn sure that Ryan would have ditched him ages ago if he actually thought that Stiles was even half as annoying as he claimed to find him. Even the nicest wolf in the world wasn’t going to abandon someone they hated in the middle of a swamp. A marsh?

Anyway, he was pretty sure that Ryan wasn’t actually the nicest wolf in the world - the sarcasm alone would disqualify him - which meant that he didn’t actually hate Stiles. It was somewhat of a convoluted argument, and the reasoning was a little messy, but he was choosing to put his metaphorical weight behind it. Because his literal weight was still leaning against Ryan. All of it, because standing was hard and walking was going to be even harder. 

He was almost glad when he didn’t even get to take an actual step before Ryan once again bodily lifted him - not half as Romantic this time - and dragged him into a nearby alleyway. Stiles was surprised as fuck that he wasn’t even tempted to struggle, because usually people started kicking and screaming when someone tried to kidnap them. Not Stiles, not this time. 

Of course this wasn’t the first time it had happened to him. 

“Wait, what the fuck?” Stiles finally tried to react in his normal exuberant fashion before he got cut off by Ryan’s strong hand over his mouth. 

He was really fucking tempted to just lick it, even though he knew it really was not the time to try and be immature about anything. Because if Ryan was acting out like this, there was clearly something serious going on - the dude would not just do this for shits and giggles. Not like Stiles would, trying to mess with his friends just because he would. 

Stiles would never do that to Ryan though. It seemed as if he was super paranoid for a reason. 

“Hush,” Still Not Ryan whispered. “Please.” 

It was the please that got him, just like in the Princess Bride. Ryan said please and Stiles was basically putty in those sexy hands of his. Because Ryan - or whatever his actual name was - was just not the kind of guy who would use the world please unless he absolutely had to. He would not start actually begging Stiles to stay quiet if there was any other way, which meant that once again the shit had managed to hit the fan.

So Stiles just stood there, pressed close to Ryan, as he waited for his companion to uncover his mouth so that breathing became a bit easier. He stood and waited, letting Ryan take his weight again just in case he was going to need to use his strength later. Who knew if he’d actually have to stand on his own feet at some point in the near future? 

“He’s around here somewhere,” a woman’s voice sounded from around the corner. “We should split up. Canvas the town. People would have noticed someone like him coming by.” 

Did that voice sound familiar or was that Stiles’ paranoia kicking in? He could have sworn that there was something about the voice that rang a bell. He wasn’t stupid enough to have a look at the person who was speaking, and they were completely fucked if she found her way into the alley, but he was pretty sure he’d recognize the woman if he saw her face. Stiles just didn’t know what he recognized her from - and that was just annoying. 

When was the last time Stiles had met someone actively evil? 

“I still can’t believe you fucked the beast,” a man’s voice, sounding particularly disgusted.

“He was so very pretty,” the woman laughed, and Stiles felt chills go down his spine. “Pretty and dumb and easy to manipulate. He grew up good, though. Grew into those ears.” 

From one monsterfucker to another… Stiles was not going to judge anyone for thinking supernatural creatures were hot. Some of them anyway. He was starting to become rather partial to werewolves himself, because damn , Ryan. 

Though anyone who referred to supernatural creatures as ‘beasts’, or anything along those lines, didn’t deserve the blessing that was supernaturally hot sex. All they deserved was a fuckton of bad karma and most likely more severe punishment too - Stiles would be happy to cast those spells, because speciesism was fucking gross and he wasn’t going to stand for it, ever. If he had any magical power at the moment he already would have cast a petty, yet effective itching spell on the both of them. But alas…

“And the teeth,” the woman continued, mocking. 

That was when Stiles realized that they were both shaking, because Ryan was trembling. That strong body with almost limitless strength was suddenly fragile and insecure because of that woman’s words, and the perceived threat of these people coming ever closer. 

Was it - Were they talking about him ? About Ryan? 

Stiles wanted to do damage now, actual damage. How dare they talk about him like that? How dare that bitch take advantage of Ryan like that? The things she was saying were starting to paint a terribly unflattering picture of the kind of person she was, and the kind of things she’d put Ryan through. The treasure trove of manipulation alone! The fucking him under false pretenses, possibly when he was still very young, and now speaking of him as if he was nothing but a mindless beast that she’d heroically fucked into submission. It was more than just offensive. 

“You can get reacquainted with your pet in a bit,” the man had turned more dismissive now. “We just need to find him first. Maybe he tried to turn to the police again?” 

Was this actually a pattern of abuse and abuse of authority? Had they betrayed Ryan over and over again, or had they just made it impossible for him to get away? If this was the kind of thing that happened to Ryan when he got close to people, it made a lot of sense for him not to dare to use his real name, even with the person who’d saved him from the other batch of assholes back in Beacon Hills. Ryan was probably trying to keep himself and Stiles safe. 

“Because that was such a success story the last time,” the woman scoffed, sounding like she was a bit further away now. “He doesn’t exactly have any other family members left to lose. We put down his sister already. The last time he dared to talk. And the uncle? We own him. We control him. He’s out of options. We’ve made it very clear the police isn’t an option either.” 

That was definitely a confession, one Stiles wished he’d been recording. That was definitely that horrid woman outright admitting to murdering Ryan’s sister - possibly the very sister who’d told him to go off and find John Stilinski if he needed help in the Beacon Hills area. Ryan’d had a family once, and these people had taken that from him, just because he was a werewolf and they were murderous psychopaths who thought that was a reason for genocide. 

Nothing was a valid reason for genocide. Nothing. Not ever. 

“You know dogs aren’t that smart,” the man spoke again. 

Stiles was having a little problem with wanting to throw up, but not being able to do that for fear of being caught. And it was fine if they ended up catching Stiles, because it wasn’t like they were going to do anything to him. But Ryan? Stiles would rather die than let them have him. 

“I know,” the woman was far too happy with herself. 

“Let’s get the rest of the boys so we can coordinate a search,” the man moved away. 

It was a little easier to breathe now that those people, those assholes, those hunters were moving away from them. Sure, there was a whole gang of them in town and they were definitely looking for Ryan - even though they’d last seen him in Beacon Hills, hundred of miles away from here. Which was… odd. 

Wait, how had they even managed to find him? How did they know? 

They didn’t stick around Chiloquin for very long after that, because the hunters outnumbered them at least eight to one, and Stiles was still effectively worthless in combat. He didn’t have his trusty baseball bat with him  - it totally got him out of a ton of scrapes in high school - and his magical energies were still slow to return. Once again, they had to rely on Ryan’s strength, which was both appealing and annoying at this point. 

Because Stiles was totally an equal opportunity partner in crime, even though right now he was just making things harder for his good friend Not Actually Ryan. He was tempted to make Ryan go on without him, but he always stopped himself. Because if the hunters found Ryan when he was alone, they would make it look like something it wasn’t. 

They would take him out, without a second thought and without repercussions, because they still assumed that Ryan was all alone in the world. Even though they might have caught a glimpse of Stiles when he basically launched himself at the werewolf and teleported them across state lines, or might have gotten a description of him from the annoyingly talkative townspeople who’d seen Ryan carrying him around town. Still, they weren’t going to come after him - and even if they tried, they’d get an entire network of people in the know after them. 

Starting with the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department. And the Sheriff in particular.

“Honey, I can’t believe how nervous you are,” Stiles batted his eyelashes at Ryan in a most charming fashion. “It’s just my Dad. I know he owns a gun, but he isn’t actually going to hurt you. He’s just going to threaten you a little, that’s all.” 

By now, that barely even flustered Ryan. Stiles had managed to charm him into using some of his cash to buy them bus tickets to Redding, taking them back to California. It was going to take a few hours with all of the pointless stops, but they were on the move and trying to be as subtle as they possibly could be. Which totally meant fake boyfriends. 

Because how many times was Stiles going to have the opportunity to pull that scam? Never, that was how many. So of course he had leapt at the opportunity, and started thinking of an elaborate backstory the second the idea popped into his head. 

Ryan and Stuart had met last fall, during some charming meet cute moment straight out of a Hollywood rom com. They’d both reached for the same book at the bookstore, the very last copy of an embarrassingly explicit gay werewolf romance. And Ryan had blushed, and Stuart had rambled and flirted (just as explicitly as the book), and somehow they’d started a two-person book club that had quickly just become an excuse for the two of them to see each other. 

They had each been interested in the other, but neither had thought the feeling was mutual until Christmas, when Stuart had left to visit his family and Ryan had missed him far more than he’d expected. They’d first kissed at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and they’d been inseparable ever since, now attempting to personally attempt every single one of their favorite love scenes from the books they’d discussed. They hadn’t even gotten a quarter way there yet. 

Right now though, they were on their way to California, so that Ryan could meet Stuart’s father for the very first time. Of course, he was understandably nervous about that. 

Stuart was torn between reassuring him and making him sweat. 

“You didn’t warn him we’re on our way,” his companion seemingly caught on to Stiles’ plan. 

Probably not to the secret identities and the full backstory, but Stiles could work with how adaptable Ryan was. He could slip in the details gradually, painting a vivid picture for the bored people on the bus with them. Bored travelers always loved a good romance. 

“It’s going to be a surprise,” Stiles even did some jazz hands to emphasize how fun that would be for Stuart’s father. “I’ve been talking about you so much, and he’s been talking about wanting to meet you for months now. And since you finally get some time off… I didn’t want to wait any longer. I didn’t want to give you any time to change your mind.” 

This was where Not Actually Ryan was supposed to say something about how he was never going to change his mind about their relationship. If he understood the kind of story that Stiles was trying to tell here, which he clearly didn’t. 

“Impulsive,” Ryan sighed, the annoyance mostly real. “Can’t you at least send him a message now? There’s no turning back now. Someone will need to pick us up.” 

The giggling teenagers across the aisle were definitely gossiping about them, and Stiles was pretty sure that his werewolf fake boyfriend was able to hear every single thing that they were saying. He was dying to ask about it, but he had to stay in character if they were ever going to make this ridiculous con work. If he was convincing enough, he might even get Ryan to blush all adorably, or to flirt playfully at Stiles. Honestly, by now he was pretty damn convinced that the werewolf only really saw him as an annoyance, so he was going to take this fake relationship and run with it. Because it was clearly the best he was going to do here. 

As long as he didn’t actively push past any of his companion’s boundaries, it was all good. So he was not going to try for any PDA, except maybe hand holding. 

“My phone broke,” Stiles pouted at Ryan. “You know that, babe. You remember exactly what we were doing when it broke. How was I supposed to know that you’d slam me against the wall that hard? I mean, I know we were going for verisimilitude because that’s how they did it in the book, but I didn’t think we’d break my phone. I love how strong you are, but the property damage…” 

Seriously, Beacon Hills Community Theater was missing out on their brightest star, clearly, even though Stiles really couldn’t sing. At all. Acting though, that he could do. He’d gotten a whole lot better since his terrible evasive maneuvers in high school. At this point he could pretty much convince anyone, except his Dad. Or maybe a werewolf. 

Damn those supernatural lie detectors. 

“Please stop,” Fake Ryan’s ears were totally red. 

“Look, I totally know the number by heart,” Stiles smiled indulgently at him. “I can use your phone. I promise that Dad won’t send you any texts if you don’t want to. I know I’m a grown ass man, but I still look adorable enough to make him listen to me.” 

He’d almost pushed it too far there, but he walked it back with a teasing joke and a way to push the plot. If Ryan pulled out his phone and acted upset that it was dead, maybe someone would either let them send a message from their phone, or let them borrow a charger while they were on the bus. That way they could actually send a different kind of message to Stiles’ Dad. 

They were going to need the cavalry. Or what passed for the cavalry in Beacon Hills. 

“Adorable isn’t the word I’d use,” Not Ryan was such a troll, and Stiles loved it. 

“Gorgeous?” Stiles gave him a few options to choose from. “Out of your league? Incredible? Handsome? Intelligent? Beautiful? Charming? Did I mention gorgeous?” 

Honestly, while the Ryan Gosling joke had been fun at first, it was starting to wear on him. He wondered what he had to do to earn the man’s real name. Because he was pretty sure that Definitely Not Miguel was either going to make him guess, or make him earn the right to call him by his name. Wow, there was probably a peach joke in there somewhere. 

Not one he was going to make in front of Ryan, though. Boundaries and all that. 

“Stubborn?” Ryan gave back as good as he got. 

“Persistent,” Stiles tried to make that sound charming. “My Dad likes that about me. Now, please, babe, could you just give me your phone. I promise not to change any of your preset ringtones this time. Even though I still think it was hilarious.” 

That incident that never actually happened was still making Stiles smile. Shit, if they kept the conversation going for the entire bus ride, he was going to have about half a novel written about the epic romance between Stuart and Ryan. Ryan and Stuart? Styan or Ryart? 

The couple name was going to take some more work, though. 

“My boss was not amused,” Ryan was a better actor than he knew himself to be, clearly. 

“I’ll make it up to you later,” Stiles winked at him in the least subtle way. “Promise.” 

Look, this was absolutely how Stiles was going to act when or if he was in a relationship with anyone. Lots of promising of sexual favors at inopportune times, and following through on them the second they had time alone. Stiles Stilinski didn’t give out checks he couldn’t cash - he only made promises when he was completely sure that he was going to do the thing. And with his fictional boyfriend Ryan, Stuart was absolutely going to do all of the things. 

Because Ryan was the perfect boyfriend. And Stiles was totally not projecting. 

“Not with your Dad in the next room, you won’t,” Ryan was still going along with it. 

“The walls aren’t that thin,” Stiles blatantly lied. 

The old Stilinski house had terribly thin walls, which had occasionally led to some awkward conversations when Stiles had been in the throes of puberty. Not that he was ever going to mention that in front of Ryan - because even in this very, very fake relationship, Stiles was not going to embarrass himself in front of Ryan on purpose. 

Accidentally embarrassing himself though, that was pretty much unavoidable. 

“You’re a terrible liar,” Ryan probably cheated and used his werewolf powers. 

“Babe, phone, please,” Stiles reminded him. 

Ryan started patting the pockets of that stupid leather jacket exageratedly - and honestly, it was the middle of summer, why was he even wearing that thing? Stiles was rolling his eyes a little, even though the display definitely got them the undivided attention of the teenage girls across the aisle. Which Stiles could not blame them for, because he too would have ogled if he’d seen a man as stupidly attractive as Ryan touching himself like this in public. It shouldn’t have been even half as hot as Stiles thought it was. But it still worked. 

“It’s dead,” Ryan ducked his head, acting adorably embarrassed. “I really thought I’d charged it last night, but I must have forgotten. Sorry, babe. Maybe we can find a charger somewhere when we get to Redding. Or just buy you a new phone.” 

Did Ryan carry enough money for that? Honestly, they’d probably been lucky that he’d been carrying cash at all. Or was there a reason that Ryan had a few wads of cash hidden on his person at all times? Were these hunters using his credit card activity to track him? Was this Ryan’s attempt at going off the grid? Before Stiles had ruined it, anyway. 

Still, Ryan was acting all adorable and embarrassed and Stiles was going to nail his slightly annoyed boyfriend response. Except he got interrupted by the teenage girls. 

“Do you need to borrow my power bank for a bit?” The brunette leaned across the aisle, obviously trying to get Ryan’s attention. 

Stiles was starting to really regret that he hadn’t argued more when Ryan had insisted that Stiles take the window seat, because that way Ryan could protect him. Even though it really should have been Stiles in the aisle seat, protecting Ryan. 

He was supposed to be a helpful travel companion, damn it. 

“You are a lifesaver,” Ryan was actually pitching his voice differently, a charming smile on his face that made Stiles want to get on his knees and worship. “I swear I’m not usually this much of a mess. But, well, I’m meeting my boyfriend’s Dad, and… You probably don’t want to hear about that. Sorry. Yes, I’d love the help. I’ll only need it to give me a boost, for a little while.” 

Both girls were a little flustered with that charm directed straight at them, and honestly Stiles couldn’t blame them. It was like Ryan was suddenly a completely different guy, charming and kind and open and a bit of a talker. None of that sounded like the Ryan Stiles knew, except the kind part. Though it wasn’t like Stiles had known Ryan all that long either. It had been mere hours since he’d spotted a stranger being harassed by hunters. 

How did Ryan wiggle his way into Stiles’ heart that quickly? He didn’t even know his real name!

“It’s no problem,” the girl stammered. “Really, not at all. I’m sure you’re really stressed.” 

It almost wasn’t fair of Ryan that he’d turned up the charm. It wasn’t fair to the girls and it certainly wasn’t fair to Stiles. Sure, Stiles preferred the grumpy murder face, because at least that was real, but the charming smile held its own kind of appeal. 

“He has a gun,” his fake boyfriend just kept talking, even though the girl had already given him the power bank. “Law enforcement. I haven’t even gotten a speeding ticket since that one time in college, but I’m still worried he’ll think I’m not good enough for his son. I can’t believe I’m telling you all of this. I guess you just remind me of my younger sister.” 

Oh, that was very nicely done. The babbling was adorable when Ryan did it, which Stiles was definitely going to add to his list of the things that Ryan did that just weren’t fair, but it was the younger sister thing that truly sold the bit. Because it looked like Ryan wasn’t aware of the kind of effect he’d had on the girls, and he was just excited and nervous. 

Stiles was actually tempted to start a slow clap for a hot second there. 

“Do you want me to handle the text?” Stiles put on his best long-suffering boyfriend face. 

“Thanks dear,” Ryan said distractedly, already reengaging with the girls. 

Perhaps this was just Not Ryan trying to lay a false trail, one of a charming and flustered fellow and his boyfriend traveling across the state for a family visit, one that the hunters would never think to connect to the grumpy, lonely werewolf they thought they’d had cornered back in California. Still, Stiles was stupidly jealous that Ryan was making an effort for them, that these strange girls were getting the smiles that Stiles had been working so hard for. 

Sure, the smiles were probably fake, but it was the principle of the thing. It was that Stiles was desperate to be the center of Ryan’s attention. Not that it meant that Ryan owed him anything, it was that Stiles had never been quite as drawn to anyone before. 

But there were more important things to worry about here, like composing a message to his Dad that would explain everything without having to actually explain everything. Their usual code was probably not going to cover all of the details, but at least the idea would get across and his Dad would help them in any way he could - as long as Stiles made sure that this was actually a life or death type of deal. He could do that. 

To: The Best Father In Law

Dad, sorry to use the bf’s phone. Mine got left behind. He’s dying to meet you, but he’s nervous, so be gentle with him. Only the special bullets. Kidding! Meet us in Redding? We had to take alternate transportation. Be good - no red meat till I get here! Love, your favorite son. 

So, pick-up for two would be arranged. Life or death situation involving a supernatural being (they didn’t actually have a werewolf-specific codeword yet, though the special bullets thing could definitely be taken that way), and they had to travel by bus. Technically it could have been B for bicycle as well, but Stiles probably would have described that differently - and also, biking to Redding? There was no way that his Dad was ever going to believe him. 

No one who knew him would. 

And then he just had to wait for the Sheriff to get the message and compose a reply. Which was nerve-wracking enough when they weren’t being pursued by evil hunters - though adding the qualifier was kind of redundant, because ninety-nine percent of hunters were evil these days, or just not nearly discriminating enough about killing supernatural beings. 

When a reply still hadn’t come after a few minutes, Stiles started getting antsy. And when Stiles got antsy, the wiggling started. It started with the tap of a toe, or the fiddling with the bottom of his shirt, or rubbing his hands over his thighs to stay moving. Then his leg started bouncing, and Stiles knew he was doomed to annoy the shit out of his werewolf companion. Ryan did not appear to be the kind of guy who would appreciate his fidgeting. 

He wished his Dad would just reply already. Maybe he hadn’t seen the message yet, or he hadn’t thought much of it because it came from a strange number instead of Stiles’ personal cell. Maybe he was too busy to check his phone, or maybe they were dealing with something important and dangerous back home as well. Without Stiles to help them. 

What if something had happened to his Dad? 

“Deep breaths, dear,” Not Ryan put a hand on his thigh to stop Stiles from moving. “Did you tell him? What did he say? Is he going to leave the gun at home?”

And Stiles immediately got distracted from any concerns by that large hand actually touching him so openly. By Ryan’s hand so high up on his thigh, tempted to wiggle a little more so that the grip would get even tighter or Ryan’s hand would move even higher up his thigh. 

But the giggling from the girls helped keep him focused. 

“Waiting for a reply,” Stiles was trying so hard to be good. “Did you make friends?”

The girls were both leaning towards Ryan, which meant that either he hadn’t actually been saying anything boring, or that they just couldn’t help themselves. Either could be true, but Stiles didn’t know him well enough to have all of the details of what Not Ryan would say at a time like this. He only knew what his very fictional boyfriend would have told them. 

Something embarrassingly sappy about Stuart/Stiles, probably. 

“I was boring them,” Ryan was acting all bashful and adorable again. 

“Babe, you could never be boring,” Stiles put the proper sappy and adoring look on his face, because it wasn’t like that took any effort right about now. “I’m sure they don’t think so either.” 

They did not look bored. They really did not. And how could they when Ryan was so damn charming? Stiles couldn’t even be frustrated with him, even though they’d been traveling for hours now and they were looking at a lot more time spent together. Even though he was worried about the kind of trouble they’d been dragged into, about the hunters being so determined to go after Ryan specifically. Sure, hunters didn’t usually need much of an excuse, but this seemed so very personal to him. Why did they want him over any other wolf? What did he know? 

“How long have you two been together?” The girl in the window seat, the one who reminded him of his friend Kira, asked. 

“Since New Year’s,” Stiles interrupted before Ryan could chime in with a new story. 

There was something about the smile on the girl’s face, combined with the wavy black hair and the bright red tank top peeking out from under her off the shoulder top. All of those things combined reminded him of his friend, the one whose number he probably would have texted as well if he’d known it by heart instead of just programming it into his speed dial. 

“I kissed him at midnight,” Ryan added. “Haven’t been able to get rid of him since.” 

The girls oohed and aahed over the story, while Stiles was just impressed and worried that his fake boyfriend had actually managed to read his mind somehow. Seriously, had he known that was exactly the story that Stiles had been going for, or was it just a lucky guess? If he’d guessed based on what he knew of Stiles instead of basing it on the odds, Stiles was going to make Ryan stick around Beacon Hills forever. People didn’t just click with him like this, going along with his plan on the fly and making fun of him about stupid things. 

He hoped that this trip wouldn’t be the last he’d see of Definitely Not Ryan. 

“Haven’t wanted to,” Ryan continued, and Stiles was helpless to do anything but smile. 

The phone buzzed in his hand, finally. 

From: The Best Father In Law

Favorite son? You’re my only son. Can’t get away from work, but will send a friend. Feel free to make her stop for treats on the way. Tell that boyfriend of yours I won’t shoot him too much. 

“I’ll text him,” Ryan grabbed the phone from Stiles’ hands. 

“No way,” Stiles tried to take it back, and failed. “You’re going to say something embarrassing.” 

Did Stiles actually have a reason to object to that plan? Probably not. He just wondered what Ryan was going to think about the code they were using, and if he would be able to read between the lines. For a second, he wondered why Not Ryan would want to contact his father before they saw each other in person, but then he remembered that Ryan’s sister had told him to find Sheriff Stilinski. So maybe this was about that. 

Not that anyone could blame Stiles for being curious about it. 

“I’ll show you before I send it,” Ryan rolled his eyes. “Promise.” 

Stiles was not going to be surprised if Ryan’s message was in a whole different kind of code, even though he’d never actually met John Stilinski before. Ryan was never all that open or straightforward about sharing information. So clearly he wouldn’t start now. 

Still, when Stiles saw the actual message, he was more than a little impressed by how well the wolf had managed to impersonate Stiles. It was a little uncanny, to be honest, how well he’d grasped the code and tried to say something in return. 

To: The Best Father In Law

The bf says thanks for welcoming him into your home. Something about how his sister always spoke highly of you? Any idea what that’s about? Have you been keeping secrets from your favorite son? LOL. Even though I could have sworn you’d never met Derek’s family before. They left long before you became Sheriff. See you when we get there - Favorite AND Only Son. 

Okay, so he’d been right about the code thing. And if Ryan was using the same code he’d developed with his Dad, or something close enough? Ryan’s sister was someone with the initials or code name AHL. Now Stiles knew very little about hockey, and his Dad wasn’t any better, because baseball was the house sport at the Stilinski house, so he disregarded the hockey reference that somehow popped into his head. 

No, this was something else, maybe an anagram? Hal? Did they know anyone named Hal?


Oh, fuck

Stiles was still going to need a bit more time, even though he’d had a couple of hours to get used to the revelation that Ryan was definitely not a Ryan, but a Derek instead. That he was one of the werewolves, the Hales who used to live in the Beacon Hills preserve until something happened right around the time that Stiles’ mom got sick that made them leave the area and never come back. Most of them, anyway. 

There was one woman who’d come back for a brief visit, a few years ago now. Stiles had only seen her from afar, but she’d been tiny and fierce and impressive, and his Dad hadn’t wanted to share any details of what they’d been talking about. Stiles had only managed to pry a name from his unusually tightlipped Dad. 

It would have been great if he still remembered that name, but the best he could do was a guess that it had started with an L. Liz? Lisa? Lauren? Lola? 

Wait, AHL? Alpha Hale. First name with an L. Oh, Derek had done very well. 

Sure, they’d had to turn off the phone after a far too brief conversation, because it could far too easily be used to track them, but they had a plan now. The Sheriff was going to send Kira (a purposefully surprising choice) to pick them up from the bus station, and they were going to go back home to come up with a plan together. The mention of Alpha L. Hale had apparently helped convince Stiles’ Dad that this was a very serious matter that required immediate attention, so all other cases had been put on hold. 

Because the hunters were coming. 

“Alright,” Stiles took a deep breath as the bus pulled into the last stop before Redding. “Almost there. One more stop after this. I’m so sick of being on this bus.” 

He was tired still, too tired to attempt a spell with the scope of a teleportation spell. But he was doing well enough for some small magic if they needed a diversion. Nothing more than a diversion, though, something that might make someone feel the need to look away for a second while they made a run for Kira’s car. But they were almost home safe, so they wouldn’t need much more than a diversion, even if people were still trying to find them. 

And Stiles was pretty sure they’d ditched the hunters hours ago. 

“Still better than carrying you the whole way,” Derek smirked at him. 

The girls, their new friends, had gotten off about an hour ago with a promise to keep in touch and let them know how the meeting with Stiles’ Dad went, but Stiles was pretty sure that they would have died a little at the sight of that viciously sharp smirk. Stiles died a little because of it, but it was only about half a little death. Damn, Derek Hale was stupidly attractive. 

Didn’t he used to be kind of awkward looking? Stiles couldn’t remember a whole lot about the years the Hales still lived in town, but he remembered the oldest girl (who he was now pretty sure was named either Lauren or Laura) and the oldest son (Derek, clearly), and one of the younger girls (Cori or Cora) who’d been a grade above his and had been disturbingly prone to chasing after bullies and threatening to tear off body parts. 

They’d spent a lot of time in detention together, even at eight and nine years old. Eight year old Stiles had basically worshipped her, because she could make Jackson Whittemore shut up when he called Stiles a freak with no friends. 

It had been blatantly untrue, because he’d still had Heather at the time. Not Scott, not yet, but he’d had Heather as a friend since they were toddlers. Even though she was too shy to stand up for Stiles so openly, too worried that she too would get bullied. Unlike Cori - Cora? Coraline? - Hale, who would sooner lash out with surprisingly strong hands. 

Stiles hadn’t known about werewolves then, but he probably should have, looking back on things - because Cora had not been subtle. At all. He probably saw claws at least twice. 

The bus was still not moving, probably because some idiots wanted to get on. Stiles was already zoning out again, trying to figure out how they’d approach their exit at Redding. 

“You’re so kind,” a disturbingly familiar voice thanked the bus driver. 

Suddenly, Stiles was completely focused on the present again. That voice! That was definitely the voice of the evilest of the hunters, the woman who’d so gleefully talked of taking advantage of a teenage Derek. Of an underage boy. The wicked witch of the west, Stiles wanted to call her - because this was still the west coast after all. And she deserved nothing less, and a whole lot worse. She deserved only bad things, no good at all. 

And as soon as Stiles got his powers back, he was going to make that happen. But right now, he just had to grab Derek and run - they’d just have to get off the bus a stop early and try to get in touch with his Dad or Kira again later. Staying away from hunters was more important than making it to their appointment with Kira - at least for now. 

He was certainly going to hear about it, and they were probably going to crack jokes about Stiles being too busy with his fake boyfriend to get his shit together - even after Stiles told them about this very moment - but they were going to get it too. Derek’s safety was paramount. 

“Alright,” Stiles grabbed Derek’s hand. “Honey, I guess this is our stop. I can distract them a little, and briefly, but I don’t have a lot of juice still. But we can do this.” 

Surely the Wicked Witch had her henchmen, her not-flying monkeys, obeying her every command and waiting for them right outside. Or waiting for them in Redding, surrounding them in the crowded bus station to make it look like something it really wasn’t. Stiles figured they’d have fake police badges to make it look like official police business or a wolfsbane syringe to make it look like Derek just collapsed because of natural causes. 

But they were outgunned, outmanned - outnumbered, and… Not actually in Hamilton. 

“She’s going to keep finding me,” Derek looked… devastated.

“Not if we run,” Stiles started dragging at Derek’s arm, trying to push him around with his feeble human strength. “We can’t sit here and let ourselves be caught. Come on Derek, you’re at least as stubborn as I am. There’s no way you’re going to just let them win now.” 

Stiles had to appeal to Derek’s stubborn side, because the defeated look on that handsome face caused him actual physical pain. He remembered seeing a more toned down version of that look on Derek’s face when Stiles had first seen him, surrounded by a whole pack of hunters and ready to fight to the death. Or just ready to die. 

“We’re leaving,” Stiles pushed Derek into the aisle and to the exit at the back of the bus. 

“They’re waiting for us,” Derek let himself be pushed, but didn’t really help. 

Of course they were. Of course Derek managed to catch their scents - Stiles figured that gun oil and wolfsbane were distinctive enough for a werewolf to scent even from many yards away, or from inside a bus. Stiles didn’t know the details of Derek’s range, but he was happy to take advantage of it if it allowed the both of them to escape in one piece, without letting that horrid woman even get near Derek. Stiles would die before he let her touch Derek. 

“How many?” Stiles moved so that he would be the first to exit the vehicle. “Where? Give me some intel and I’ll find a way to make it work. I’m not going to let them get you.” 

Clearly Derek was underestimating what Stiles could do, because he’d only been on the other end of a failed spell, but Stiles hadn’t lived to this ripe old age just because he had a Sheriff Dad and a smart mouth. His powers and his smarts had saved his life multiple times, and now they were going to save Derek’s life as well. Again - only this time without a swamp involved. 

“About half a dozen,” Derek didn’t seem to believe that Stiles could do it. 

“Easy,” Stiles knew he was probably lying, but he was going to make himself believe it. “I can distract six people for a few seconds. If you’re ready to run. We’re going to duck into whatever building is nearby and figure out how they found us again. So we can stop that.” 

Stiles suspected some kind of tracking spell. He could handle that, no problem. But they had to start moving, or the bus would start moving again. The Wicked Witch was still playing nice with the bus driver, because apparently she didn’t have any cash on her and the man refused to let her on without a ticket. That man was a living legend and Stiles wished for him to have all the damn blessings, because he was saving their lives here. 

“There’s an empty storefront,” Derek figured that out so easily that Stiles was getting a little turned on again. “If we lay low maybe they won’t find us right away.” 

Together, they peeked out at the bus stop. Stiles couldn’t see anyone obviously waiting for them, but he believed everything that Derek had said, so he assumed that they were just waiting in the wings until they appeared through the open door. He was hoping he’d at least get a look at them before he cast the spell, because that made it easier. 

“I can totally lay low,” Stiles genuinely believed that. “Now, I’m going to open the door and we’re going to run for the store next to the empty one. I’m going to do a vision trick, so they’ll believe we ran in the opposite direction. We’ll zag into the empty store at the last second. Ready?” 

It was probably inconvenient that Stiles was in front, but he needed to be in front of Derek if these guys wanted to be distracted from looking for Derek by the appearance of a stranger - and in the fractions of a second they’d need to figure out the connection, he’d have cast a spell already. He’d done it before, and he’d pull it off this time as well. 

For Derek. For both of them, but mostly for Derek. 

“Ready,” Derek wasn’t too convincing, but it was the best they were going to do. 

Stiles jumped out of the bus, and immediately six men started moving towards the vehicle, though they visibly slowed when they saw Stiles appear. That gave him time to believe that they weren’t all that interesting. The notice me not trick didn’t last all that long, but it took a lot less energy than an attempt at an actual invisibility spell, especially on two people. What he wouldn’t have given for a cloak right about now - he could totally rock that look. 

“Go,” Stiles whispered under his breath, as soon as he realized that the spell took. 

Derek started running, and Stiles desperately tried to keep up with him, even though he was pretty sure that he wasn’t nearly as fit as he could have been without the draining magic he’d been casting over the course of the past twenty-four hours. Still, he ran, believing in his own magic the whole way to the empty storefront. Believing that they’d get there in time. 

The door was apparently easily manipulated with werewolf strength, and Stiles was dragged inside of the empty building before he had the chance to comprehend just what Derek had done to make it open for him. Because the store was empty, and seemingly had been for quite a while, there were no security measures that they had to avoid. They just ducked behind the counter and tried to keep breathing (Stiles, just Stiles). 

“We did it,” Derek sounded surprised, which, rude. 

“Of course we did, dude,” Stiles was really trying not to be offended by that. “Now, we’re going to figure out just how they keep finding us. And then we’re going back to the BH. Beacon Hills.” 

As soon as they’d removed the tracking spell - or well, as soon as Stiles had removed the tracking spell - they were going to send another message to the Sheriff. And then they were just going to hole up in the store until Kira came and got them. Because moving around would only draw attention to them at this point, and taking another bus would be obvious. 

The hunters would be expecting them to head for Redding again. 

“You should run,” Derek was definitely doing the martyr thing. 

“You should stop being an idiot,” Stiles was more than done trying to hold back the sass. “If you can. Seems it’s hard for you. I am not going to leave you to the… hunters. And wow, isn’t that just the opposite of the well-known proverb and please make me stop.” 

He wasn’t going to leave Derek to the wolves… Yeah, he was not going to finish saying that out loud, because it was just too weird, but he was totally going to snicker about it a little, at least to himself. It wasn’t even all that funny, it was very serious business actually, but Stiles always managed to insert humor into a life or death situation. Even when it really wasn’t all that appropriate and he should have just shut his damn mouth. 

“Leave, Stiles,” Derek was actually trying to order him. 

“You have no idea how stubborn I am,” Stiles sighed. “You and my Dad should have words when we get to Beacon Hills. Now, are you going to let me do a quick diagnostic so that I can figure out if they put a tracking spell on you? Because I have thoughts, and you are going to hear about every single one of them until I figure out how they tracked us.” 

Tracking spells were easy. They were one of the first spells he’d learned after the basic mountain ash tricks, because any magic user worth their salt had to be able to cast and dispel tracking and cloaking spells. At least, that’s how Deaton saw it. Apparently most Mages and Druids had other ideas, but Stiles had trained with a mysterious master, which meant learning to hide was a priority from day one. At least it was going to come in handy now. 

“Until?” Derek found his sass again, apparently. 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Stiles nodded. “I’m never going to stop rubbing it in, poor fragile human Stiles saving your ass while you’re all dramatic, telling me to leave you behind.”

It was basically some kind of scene from a superhero movie, where the hero tried to get his friends and love interest to leave him behind so he could save the world on his own. And depending on the genre and the quality of the writing, he was either going to get his wish, or the friends and love interest were going to come up with a superior plan that involved the entire team. And Stiles believed that this was a story of superior quality. Which meant that there was no way that he was going to let Derek go off all by himself. 

No matter what Derek seemed to think about that. He didn’t get to choose. 

“When they make this into a movie,” Stiles continued, because Derek still wasn’t talking to him, “I think we should get one of those CW hunks to play you. One of those superhero dudes, because they’re usually pretty good at brooding and doing the whole self-sacrificing thing. And I’d be played by one of the comic relief guys - even though they’re usually played by guys who are just as attractive as the lead, just in nerd glasses. Which means, yeah, they’d probably be too hot to play me, but I’m not unattractive, so it works. I think.” 

Seriously, the CW casting directors had a very weird - and boring and stereotypical - idea of what a nerd looked like, but Stiles was willing to let that work to his advantage if it meant that they would cast someone who didn’t look like Derek was wildly out of his league. 

“I thought I was Ryan Gosling?” Derek managed a little banter. 

“Will we have the budget for Gosling, though?” Stiles pretended to seriously consider the issue. 

Honestly, he actually preferred Reynolds anyway, but that was not something that he was going to explain to Derek at this time. Because now that Derek had taken the bait and was acting like his usual grumpy self again, Stiles was going to have to press the issue and make sure that Derek would never be followed again. Even if he keeled over from overuse of magic. 

What? Stiles totally wasn’t getting disproportionately attached to Derek. 

“While you think of other casting options,” Stiles teased, getting a bit more comfortable behind the dusty counter, “I’m going to try to dispel the tracking spell. It’ll only take a minute.” 

It looked like Derek wanted to argue about that, so Stiles immediately started setting his spell in motion, so that it would be no use for Derek to stop him. What, like he was going to listen to Derek’s martyr instincts and bail on him when Derek needed him most? No way Jose! 

So Stiles cast another spell, pretending he wasn’t a little unsteady on his feet from the repeated use of magic without any way to replenish his reserves. He’d hardly eaten all day, and while Derek had been kind enough to buy him some essentials before they got on the bus, it wasn’t nearly enough to get him back to normal. But it had been smart not to spend all of their cash - because they might still need it to get back home. To Stiles’ home anyway. 

What place did Derek call home? Did he even have a place that was completely safe for him? 

When Stiles finished casting the spell, there was no response. Not instantly, so Stiles waited a few seconds for the desired result. For the expected result. 

“There’s no spell on you,” Stiles wasn’t disappointed - only he was. 

“That doesn’t mean they’re not tracking me,” Derek was already jumping to conclusions. “These are hunters, they don’t track with magic. They track the old fashioned way. With bugs.” 

There was definitely a bug joke in there somewhere, and if Scott had been around, Stiles totally would have said something along those lines. But while Derek could definitely appreciate jokes and puns at the right time, Stiles knew well enough that this was about as far from the right time as they could possibly get. They had to figure this out before the hunters tried tracking him again, and that horrid woman said more awful things about taking advantage of Derek. 

If it were up to Stiles, she was never going to be allowed to talk ever again. 

“In your clothes?” Stiles wasn’t just trying to get Derek naked. 

“I’d have found that,” Derek argued. “Underneath my skin. Some place not so obvious.” 

Wouldn’t it have been better if there had been some kind of bug hidden in the lining of that stupidly attractive jacket? Sure, Stiles would mourn it, but he was pretty sure that it was only going to make Derek look more ruggedly handsome if it had a bit of wear and tear to it. Even the shirt or the pants would be fine, but underneath Derek’s skin? That was a lot. 

“Wouldn’t your special werewolf healing have fixed that?” Stiles thought that was too much. 

“I heal quickly,” Derek explained as if Stiles didn’t know that. “Almost instantly if the cut or incision is small enough. So if they did it when I was… indisposed, I would have healed by the time they were out the door. If it was small enough, I wouldn’t even feel it.” 

Well, that was just very, very terrible and uncomfortable and Stiles just got more furious at the idea that these people had taken advantage of a rare moment of vulnerability on Derek’s end to make sure that they could track him like an errant pet. Like the beast that they seemed to think that he was - like he wasn’t a real person with wishes and dreams of his own, with the freedom to roam wherever he wanted to roam. Derek was a free wolf! 

And Stiles was going to give him the metaphorical sock to make that a permanent thing. 

“Strip, then,” Stiles still wasn’t trying to get Derek naked just to ogle him. 

“I need you to do a spell that’ll detect metal,” Derek ignored his comment. “Or anything not usually present in the body. Can you do that?” 

Look, having Derek take some of his clothes off so they could get to this disgusting bug underneath his skin? Mixed bag. Because Derek getting naked should have been a glorious experience, but it was definitely going to be marred if there were gross things going on and Derek had to claw at himself to get it out of him. 

There was definitely going to be blood, and while Stiles was a badass, needless gore still made him uncomfortable. Also, being there while Derek hurt himself? That didn’t appeal to him at all. 

He didn’t want to see Derek hurt at all. In any way. 

So he cast the spell, his own modified version of the object tracking spell, mixed with a diagnostic spell. Was Deaton amused when he found out Stiles had been attempting to create new spells? Fuck no. Did they work? Hell yes. And it was like his own spells were even easier for him than those created by others, like they didn’t require as much belief to make them happen for him. His magic already knew that it could do the thing - it was almost easy. 

Almost, though, because he was still doing magic even though he’d been pushing himself already with the distraction spell and the tracking nullifier so close together. It was a lot of strain he was putting on himself, but it was helping keep Derek alive and therefore it was worth it - and Derek was never going to know how much Stiles was pushing it. 

His current spell worked better if he could touch the object or person that he was trying to fix, but Stiles was pretty sure that he was just going to make things worse for Derek if he dared to pull that move. Even though it wasn’t actually a move this time, just a spell trait. 

It was still going to make Derek uncomfortable, though, so he wouldn’t. 

Stiles tried to be methodical about running magical energies all over Derek’s ridiculous body. He’d shrugged off the leather jacket, and even though he was still mostly dressed, he might as well have been naked for the effect that it had on Stiles. Because he was vulnerable and trusting and he hadn’t even argued about the necessity of the spell. In fact, he’d suggested the spell himself, instead of trying to werewolf his way out of the situation. 

Did he just make werewolf into a verb? 

“Are you comfortable?” Stiles had to ask. 

“It’s fine,” Derek seemed like he wanted to shrug. “It was a little itchy at first, but now it’s… warm, soft. Comfortable. Can magic feel protective?” 

Whoops, Stiles was getting his feelings involved in his magic again. It happened from time to time, when the stakes were high and it was down to the wire and someone Stiles cared about was at risk. Sparks were prone to emotional magical outbursts, but Stiles usually had that under control these days. Unless… Unless it was something like this. 

And then he felt it, between Derek’s shoulder blades. There were two things, one of them older and without any malicious intent, the other relatively new and meant to harm. The bug. 

“Found it,” Stiles struggled not to reach out and touch. 

God, he wanted to. He wanted to put his hands on Derek’s warm skin and let soothing waves of magic just wash over him until Derek felt better and safer and more whole. Sure, Stiles couldn’t actually work miracles, no matter how much he wanted to, but he wanted to try. 

“Good,” Derek seemingly nodded. “Now, you’re going to have to cut it out of me.” 

What the fuck ?

He might have blacked out, busy as he was with screaming from inside his head. Derek wanted Stiles to cut a bug or tracker out of his body. With a non-existent weapon, or whatever. Because Stiles was just a human who didn’t have sharp claws for such a purpose. 

“You want me to do it?” Stiles tried so hard not to shout. 

Also, Derek trusted Stiles to do that? He trusted Stiles to make him bleed and not to hurt him too much while he did it? Apparently, Derek trusted Stiles to hurt him just enough to fix the wrong that had been forced upon him. Apparently, Derek didn’t even want to try doing it himself, even though they’d met less than twenty-four hours ago (Stiles assumed, because time was a slippery bitch and he had no idea what day it was or what time). 

Derek trusted Stiles. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was. It really was. 

“If I try to reach for it myself,” Derek had come up with a reasonable explanation, “I will only end up hurting myself more, if I can even get to it. So you need to do it.” 

Yes, that definitely sounded completely logical. Of course it didn’t have anything to do with Derek trusting Stiles to take care of him. That would just be stupid and impulsive and did he mention stupid? Derek was not trusting, not at all, which meant that this had nothing to do with trust and appreciation, and everything to do with necessity being the mother of invention. 

Now they just had to invent some kind of tool to get the job done. 

“With what?” Stiles was still trying not to lose his shit. 

“I’m sure you can find something sharp around here somewhere,” Derek didn’t seem to be too bothered by things like gangrene or infections. “Metal would be best. If it’s something small and flexible I’ll just heal up around it and that would just be even more uncomfortable.” 

Of course a werewolf wouldn’t have to worry about tetanus shots and stuff like that. Still, Stiles wanted to be better to Derek, wanted to do better than just sticking random pieces of metal into Derek’s back in the hopes of finding the tiny, tiny bug that was hidden somewhere. There was a lot of important stuff near there - what if he hit Derek’s spine? Oh God, he could totally paralyze Derek or permanently disfigure him somehow. 

“Oh god,” Stiles was going to screw this up. 

“You are not going to screw this up,” Derek was apparently reading his mind now. “I’ll heal from anything you don’t get right the first time. I can handle a little pain.” 

It wasn’t about what Derek could handle. It shouldn’t have been about what Derek could handle, because of course that idiot was just going to grin and bear it, because he knew that at the end of this, he would be free again. Or at least, more free than he had been before. 

“You have issues,” Stiles told him. “More issues than Batman. And I’m not just talking about the comic book issues. But also about his very real, very personal issues. Dude, just because you heal doesn’t mean you need to give me a license to dig around your insides and hurt you until I find the miniscule thing they hid up there. That’s fucked up, Miguel. Derek.” 

Why the Miguel slipped in there, he honestly didn’t know. Was he trying to distance himself from the fucked up proceedings going on behind the counter of what had once been a store dedicated to nature and camping? Wait, camping. Nature. Did that mean that there was a chance that there was an errant pocket knife or something along those lines left behind in the back somewhere? It seemed like the odds had just gotten a little bit better. 

“Just do it,” Derek was quoting Nike now. 

Not the goddess of victory. If only they were that close to victory. 

“Aren’t you going to take your shirt off?” Stiles hated that he had to say that under these fucked up circumstances. “I really don’t want to get blood all over your shirt. We still have to be able to walk out of here without looking like serial killers. That’s a stretch for you on a good day, because you have those murder brows and when you’re angry you look like you’re seconds away from cutting a bitch. So let’s not make it worse by adding blood.” 

He was absolutely going to be sick if he had to watch Derek walk out of there with blood all over his clothes. Blood that Stiles had put there. Shit, he was definitely the wrong person for this kind of job. Or at least, the wrong person to do this kind of thing for someone he cared about. It was stupid, but he cared about Derek already, cared about him far too much. 

It was going to suck when the mission was over and Derek bailed again. 

“You just want to get me naked,” Derek was actually trying to tease him now. 

“Did you hear me asking you to take your pants off?” Stiles was freaking out, but still determined that he was not just going to let Derek win. “Trust me, if I were trying to get you naked, I’d tell you. You’d know. I’d be very, very clear about what I wanted you to do. Extremely clear. Crystal clear, even. I’m great at dirty talk. You have no idea how good.” 

Great, now he was inappropriately hitting on Derek again. Didn’t they have better things to do? 

Any second now Derek was going to decide to take his chances on his own because Stiles couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut. Stiles had basically had to force him into keeping Stiles around a couple of times already, and he really hadn’t taken that to heart if he was going to keep treating Derek like a hot guy at Jungle instead of as his only ally against a whole gaggle of evil hunters. Sure, his libido was basically always ready to go, but this was not right. 

“I could take my pants off, if that would help,” Derek was choosing now to be an asshole. 

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles was not okay right now. 

Derek was actually playing along with it? Somehow that was worse, Derek trying to humor him by distracting him from the imminent blood and gore and pain. Somehow it was worse that Stiles’ stupid feelings were just a joke that Derek was now playing along with. Sure, of course he knew that Derek was never going to take it seriously, but it still stung. 

Wow, and that was almost ironic, when he’d soon be stinging Derek. 

“Call me Derek,” the werewolf was clearly losing it. 

“Is the tracker making you hallucinate?” Stiles just had to ask. 

That shouldn’t have been possible, but perhaps Stiles’ magic had triggered some kind of weird defense mechanism on the tracker that made it release wolfsbane gas or something ridiculous like that. He wouldn’t put it past the hunters to do something like that. 

“I’m distracting you,” Derek said matter of factly. “You smelled like you were going to puke.” 

Ah, yes, having his stupid feelings rubbed in his face was a great distraction. 

Derek taking his shirt off as commanded, however, that was a less painful distraction. Stiles would have been happy to drool a little before getting down to business (to defeat the Huns?), except now he just felt awkward about being so obviously appreciative of what Derek looked like without a shirt. Which was probably a good thing, because it was probably making Derek feel awkward as well, with Stiles smelling like a brothel with the way he just… wanted. 

“Well, don’t,” Stiles was feeling itchy and frantic and uncomfortable. “I wasn’t going to puke, but excuse me for not being happy about hurting you.” 

He totally wasn’t going to puke. He’d gotten over the sympathetic puking thing years ago, when he first started getting dragged into the supernatural shenanigans that were now typical for Beacon Hills. He could handle a lot these days, and he just needed a bit of time before going back to being professional. Which was totally a thing he could do - being professional - because this was a thing he was good at. He helped people with his magic, even when they thought he was just a pathetic human who couldn’t actually make a difference. 

His head was all twisted up and turned inside out because of the magical depletion and the lack of food and sleep, and it made him feel so stupidly unsteady. 

So maybe it was time to be open, to be clear about how he felt. 

“Don’t make fun of me for this,” Stiles knew he had to say it. “I know you must be able to smell how stupidly attracted to you I am, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make me into the butt of the joke. I know it’s not the time, I know you’re not into me at all, but don’t fuck with me, okay?”

It was a cruel joke, even though it clearly was meant to be a harmless distraction. And to stop Derek from continuing down this path, Stiles had to be honest about the effect it had on him. So he said it, admitted to falling too fast and too deep for someone who had far too many other things on his mind, someone who hadn’t even wanted to tell Stiles his name just a few hours ago. Of course things couldn’t have changed that fast, not for Derek. 

Not like they had for Stiles, because apparently he’d turned into Scott now. 

“Who said I wasn’t into you?” Derek sounded far too serious for that joke. 

“Just stop,” Stiles sighed. “Please.” 

It would have been funny if they were both teasing, but Stiles was very much not teasing anymore, and that definitely took the fun out of it. Shouldn’t Derek have been able to tell that it wasn’t fun for Stiles anymore? That his feelings were real? That he was prodding at a sore spot? Or was Derek actually too awkward to notice he’d gotten it wrong? 

“I know you can’t hear lies like I can,” Derek just had to push it some more. “But you need to know that I trust you. I trust you not to needlessly hurt me, I trust you to crack embarrassing jokes just to distract me from the shithole that is my life. I trust you to be honest with me about how attracted you are to me, if you trust me to be honest about feeling it too. This is not the time, but you should still know. You deserve to know.” 

Obviously the hunters had gotten to them and viciously murdered them, and Stiles had somehow managed to find his way into the Good Place. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t actually all that out there, but it was easier to joke about Derek obviously having lost his mind enough to think that he was into Stiles than it was to contemplate him being serious. 

Because maybe, probably, definitely he was serious. 

“Please keep your pants on this time,” Stiles found some words to say. 

They even made a little bit of sense, so that was good. Because while he would love to get the full view of Derek’s everything, they were still hiding and they were moving so fast that Derek was undoubtedly going to regret this after a good night’s sleep. 

“Next time,” Derek teased goodnaturedly. “Next time you poke me I’ll get naked.” 

That idiot looked so proud of his terrible joke that Stiles couldn’t even be mad at him anymore. Not when Derek was ducking his head a little and looking up at Stiles through his lashes in a way that was so obviously flirtatious that Stiles was having a little trouble getting his heartbeat in order. Because that look, coming from Derek? It was a lot. But in the best way. 

“You are the devil,” Stiles was almost smiling now. 

“Just stab me already,” Derek rolled his eyes. “I think we might be on the clock here.” 

Oh, right, there was other stuff going on than the flirting and the teasing and the banter. There was danger right outside of the door, and they were going to get caught if they kept at it with the innuendo. Stiles still had to remove the tracker from Derek’s back, from somewhere right around the spiral tattoo - the tattoo that just emphasized the stupidly supple skin and oh God he was actually starting to sound like he was in a Harlequin novel. Ugh. No. 

The point: Derek shirtless was a true sight to behold, even after Stiles had had some time to try and get accustomed to it. He managed to keep his drool mostly to himself as he tried to find something that he could use to start digging for that damn tracker. 

“I almost forgot,” Stiles was happy to laugh at himself. “We’ve got magic to do.” 

Well, okay, so maybe not magic, but Stephen Schwartz would probably forgive him for taking the opportunity to make that terrible joke. He was just trying to mentally prepare himself for what he was going to have to do in a few minutes. Perhaps seconds even. They were supposed to be on the clock, after all. They couldn’t distract the hunters forever. 

“It’s going to be fine, Stiles,” Derek was actually trying to reassure him. 

Stiles ducked into the back room to avoid Derek’s outright sincerity for a second while he grabbed some of the gear that had been left behind. There were a couple hats they could use for a disguise later, and a couple of Swiss army knives that Stiles felt only slightly guilty about pocketing. Sure, he’d never been as good with a knife as he was with a gun - he was the Sheriff’s only child, of course he’d gotten the proper training to make sure that he didn’t accidentally hurt himself - but he was stubborn and sneaky and he couldn’t always rely on his magic. Or on Derek always being around to protect him from any danger. 

“Alright, the doctor is in,” Stiles shouted from the back room, preferring to do any medical procedures in a separate space rather than cramped behind a counter. “Do I need to make you sign some kind of form that says I’m not liable for any damage?” 

It was probably a good thing that he was going to perform his first surgical incision on a werewolf who was going to heal from most anything Stiles could do to him. But there was also something about werewolf healing that made it tricky. Stiles was going to have to move fast, otherwise Derek was going to heal up before Stiles had gotten the tracker out. 

“Stiles, I’ll be fine,” if Derek kept saying that, Stiles was going to believe him. 

“Totally,” Stiles wasn’t there yet, though. 

He took a deep breath, and then another and another, until he felt that his breathing was as steady as it was going to be. Stiles clutched the Swiss army knife in his right hand, blade extended towards Derek’s unmarred skin. Alright, this was go time. 

“So you’re going to have to put real pressure behind it,” Derek was apparently trying to talk him through it. “Do you remember the exact location of the tracker?” 

That he did. He’d marked it mentally, because it made sense that they’d use the tattoo to hide any marks left behind from the wolfsbane that evil witch had undoubtedly used to insert that dreaded device into Derek’s body. Sure, wolves could heal from wolfsbane, but the tattoo would have covered it while it was healing - and any discomfort or weird feeling could be the tattoo needing some refreshing. Or did that not happen with wolf tattoos? Derek would know. 

“It’s hiding underneath your spiral tattoo thing,” Stiles told him. 

“It’s the Hale pack symbol,” Derek was downright talkative while Stiles got closer and closer to making the first cut. “I’ll just keep talking, if that helps you tune out everything else.” 

Stiles had never done well with quiet. Quiet made it far too easy for him to hear all of the little things that were usually just background noise. But if it was quiet, he had nothing to focus on but himself, and that was a terrible idea for everyone involved. But if there was too much going on, important stuff got lost in mental processing. So it was important that Stiles found some kind of in-between option, which usually meant that he needed one kind of auditory input to filter out everything else. That one thing could be music, the sound of a fan, the TV on in the background while he did his research, or in this case… The sound of Derek’s voice. 

“Yes,” Stiles was actually kind of grateful. “We don’t want the ADHD to kick in midway through, because that would suck for both of us. And I shouldn’t babble right now, because that would probably distract me from the very important thing I’m going to do. Right. Now.” 

And with that, he just… did it. He cut into Derek’s body with the knife, trying to remember to use more pressure than would usually be necessary, just to combat the healing and the werewolf strength. Even though Derek didn’t actually have adamantium skin or whatever. 

That would have been so cool. 

“It’s called a Triskele,” Derek started to talk again, steady and soothing. “It’s an ancient symbol also known in the Celtic tradition, but for me it always meant home, and pack. It represented many things to all of us, but it mostly meant Alpha, Beta, Omega to me. Any wolf could be either of the three, depending on where life took us. An Alpha could become an Omega, but an Omega could also become an Alpha. It was important not to take status for granted.” 

Stiles, in the meantime, was onto the more disgusting part of the proceedings, digging around with the knife as he tried to pry the tracker out. He had to look at what he was doing, but it was better to let his mind drift off a little and just listen to Derek’s story. 

“That was what my Mom said, anyway,” Derek continued, dragging up painful stuff instead of just talking about the birds and the bees. “When I was a stupid teenager struggling with control and hormones, she gave me a talisman and told me to hold it, focusing on the mantra. It helped to have something tangible to hold on to. More so after… After they all died.” 

Almost! For a second there, he almost had it, but then he lost it again. It was hard, digging around with just his knife, not daring to actually use fingers to grab hold of the small, far too slippery tracker. Too hard, and even though he didn’t actually want to have to dig in with his fingers, he knew he was going to have to if he didn’t want to needlessly cause pain. 

“You don’t have to tell me,” Stiles made sure that Derek knew that. 

“I know,” the werewolf said. “But I need to. You’re the only one I can tell. Everyone else is gone, except Uncle Peter. But he’s gone in every way that matters. There’s nothing left of him. Those hunters took everything from me, Kate most of all. That’s her name. Kate. Katherine Argent, of the Argent family that slayed the Beast of Gevaudan. The noble hunter family that is supposed to hunt only those who hunt them. Not that Kate believes in that.” 

It was hard to look at what he was doing, but he’d gripped the tracker between his fingertips and pulled, hoping against all odds that he wasn’t causing any serious damage. 

“She told me she did,” Derek barely even moved a muscle as Stiles dug out the tracker. “I was dumb and naive, so I believed her. I believed that she was trying to be better, that she and her brother were trying to get away from their father’s teachings. She was right about her brother, but not about her own motives. She just wanted to find a way in. And she did.” 

Stiles threw the tracker into the nearby sink and wished that werewolf healing took care of emotional scars as well as the physical ones. He washed his hands methodically, trying to clean the blood off his fingers and wondering if he was going to have nightmares when they finally got to sleep again. Maybe Stiles didn’t actually want to sleep after seeing his own bloody hands, after seeing the water get red as it washed away. 

The tracker was left behind, but hopefully worthless after being in water. 

“And then she just kept coming,” Derek wasn’t going to stop talking until Stiles told him to. 

Should he tell him to just stop, or was it good that Derek had finally started talking about what had happened to him? Wouldn’t it just be harder for him to tell someone else if Stiles cut him off now? It was probably important for Derek to have someone else who knew what had happened, someone who cared about what happened to him and the entire Hale family. 

Why Stiles though? Why would he be worthy of that trust? He couldn’t even do anything. 

“Derek,” Stiles said, helplessly. 

“Peter was in a coma,” Derek still had more to say. “Do you know how bad the damage would have to be to keep a werewolf in a coma for years on end? He had burns all over his body, and they healed so slowly. He couldn’t protect us, so Laura and I had to run. We weren’t safe.” 

It was killing him that he couldn’t do anything, especially when Derek’s wound was already healed, displaying that tattoo again, even though Stiles had yet to wash away the blood. Stiles needed to make sure that Derek was clean and whole again, so he pulled off his own grimy flannel shirt and washed it out in the sink. He used the wet cloth to gently wash the blood off Derek’s back, because Derek’s well-being was more important than his own issues with not wearing enough layers. He still had his t-shirt, after all. 

But it wasn’t enough. He hadn’t done enough yet. 

“And then they killed her too,” Derek was crying, Stiles could tell. “They used Peter to do it, or whatever was left of him after they tortured him and manipulated him and drugged him and used magic on him until he didn’t know anything but being their good dog. They made him kill his favorite niece, made him tear her to pieces like he was a hunter and she was just prey. That should have made him the Alpha. It didn’t. Somehow, it didn’t. Somehow the power went to me.” 

And Derek clearly thought that had been a mistake. 

Stiles thought he was wrong about that, that Derek was the best choice for that power. The last Hale, the one who was stubborn and careful and determined to be free. The one who’d make a good Alpha for anyone who needed one. The one who wasn’t actually alone, because Stiles was going to make sure that Derek became a part of society again, part of a pack. Stiles would be his pack, and his Dad, and anyone in Beacon Hills who wanted to have an Alpha werewolf on their side. They didn’t have an Alpha in Beacon Hills, and not many wolves either. 

They could use someone like Derek. 

“Good,” Stiles said, and put a hand on Derek’s shoulder. 

It was a bit awkward, because Derek probably didn’t even like to be touched, and here came Stiles, just standing behind him and awkwardly putting a hand on Derek’s naked shoulder because he clearly hadn’t thought this through at all. The nudity just made it so much more intimate, and Stiles was super tempted to just pull back and pretend it didn’t happen. 

Except Derek visibly unclenched, visibly released some tension at the comforting touch. 

“You’re a good Alpha,” Stiles figured it was his turn to start talking now. “And you have a pack, if you want it. I’ll be your Pack, or I’ll find you a Pack. There will be plenty of people who could use someone like you. Whose lives would be improved by your knowledge and strength and annoyingly sarcastic sense of humor. You have so much to give, Derek.” 

Okay, so maybe he didn’t actually know a ton of werewolves, especially not ones who didn’t have an Alpha, but he was going to use every single one of his connections in the supernatural world to make sure that Derek found the perfect packmates. Because he deserved it. 

“You,” Derek managed to find some words. “You’re in my pack.” 

Nope, Stiles was not going to get all emotional about that. No sir. He was perfectly composed as he thought of how nice it would be to be a part of a pack, to follow this Alpha that he was never going to stop arguing with. To offer Derek a home in Beacon Hills again, to let him reclaim his family’s land and use his legacy to protect the people of their town. 

Emissary Stilinski did have a nice ring to it, after all. 

“If you’re sure,” Stiles thought this was about the right time to start teasing again. “Because once you have me, you’re never getting rid of me. You break it, you buy it. No returns or refunds. No take-backsies. You know how stubborn I am. You’re stuck with me now.” 

Too much? Definitely. He’d definitely said too much and revealed too much of his feelings and of how badly he wanted for Derek to just stick around Beacon Hills and make it a home. Stiles was happy to offer his couch or his bed (while he slept on the couch, of course, he wasn’t that much of an asshole), or even his Dad’s guestroom. Just while Derek got back on his feet, of course, just until he figured out if he wanted to stick around in a more permanent way. 

God, Stiles really hoped that Derek wanted to stick around an idiot like him. 

“Good,” was all Derek had to say to that. 

“We should talk to my Dad again,” Stiles tried to distract Derek from the way he totally wasn’t blushing right now. “We need to give Kira an alternate location to come find us, some place where she won’t look suspicious. We can probably scrounge up some camping gear to disguise ourselves a little. The hunters will be looking for us here, if they bothered to check the tracker.” 

They probably didn’t have a lot of time to vacate the premises, but it was still better to have a plan and a location in play before they had to start roaming around town aimlessly. Because that was definitely going to get them noticed by the hunters within the hour. 

“There is a motel a little ways back East,” Derek offered. “We passed it just before the bus pulled over. It didn’t look like much, but they had a vacancy.” 

As long as it didn’t rent by the hour and it kept them safe from hunters until Kira found them - or someone else, if his Dad would prefer for someone else to be the getaway driver now that the hunters had gotten so very involved - Stiles was perfectly fine with a dingy motel. It was probably even going to give him the opportunity to take an actual nap. He’d been needing to take a good nap for hours now - or ever since he’d yeeted himself into a swamp. 

He had no idea how many hours had passed since then. 

“If you can spot my broke ass,” Stiles teasingly batted his eyelashes. 

“Only if you don’t mind sharing a bed,” Derek was probably joking. 

Sharing a bed with Derek? Stiles thought that was an excellent idea which meant it was probably actually really terrible. It meant that he was actually moving too fast, and letting the stupid feelings run his life, when he should really be focused on trying to get them out of this hellhole and to safety. He had to focus on getting in touch with his Dad. 

To: The Best Father In Law

So, there’s been a change of plans, Daddio! Hope you weren’t counting on us for dinner. Under the covers soon. Need to find a motel. Tell our fierce friend to find us there. Eastern end of town, one stop away from Redding. Running home would just be too much. Superior Son

They probably had enough money for a motel room if Kira couldn’t get to them by nightfall, and even if they didn’t, there was probably a decent place to hide out around there. And that wouldn’t involve potentially sharing a room and a bed with Derek, who he’d basically just met that day - or last night, depending on the time. But time was just a construct anyway, so who could be bothered to keep up with that with all of this going on?

“Alright, shall we?” Stiles was getting antsy. 

“I’ll go first,” Derek barely remembered to put his shirt back on before heading out the door. 

Stiles was both happy and disappointed. 

The motel was kind of crappy, but they’d managed to scrape together enough cash to pay for a room for the night. Stiles wasn’t sure if they’d actually sleep there for a whole night, but at least they had a safe place to hole up until their savior arrived. That and Stiles had actually managed a pretty decent nap - in bed - while Derek stood guard over him. 

At least, Derek had been standing near the window when Stiles had fallen asleep. 

It had been… something to wake up to Derek sitting at the foot of the bed. Sure, Derek had known the very second that Stiles had woken up and his breathing had changed, but there was still something so vulnerable and sincere about him when it was just the two of them waiting for the cavalry. It was stupidly intimate, and Stiles had been kind of tempted to just tell Derek to lie down next to him, even if he didn’t actually get any sleep. He just wanted to share that moment, to actually and properly share the bed like Derek had suggested as a joke. 

Though he was starting to doubt that it had been a joke. 

“Should we check the phone again?” Stiles asked. 

“She’ll be here soon,” Derek was somehow almost effortlessly reassuring. “We passed on the room number to your Dad before your nap. Your friend is being careful.” 

Usually Stiles would be all for that, but right now it was just starting to wear on him. Sure, the nap had helped with the magical depletion at least a little, and they had requested that Kira bring some food for the both of them to help them recover - they’d wiped out the cash renting the motel room. That much was progress, but the longer it took, the more chance they had of being discovered by the hunters who probably hadn’t actually left town yet. 

Though who knew what they were going to try without the tracker to lead them to Derek. 

“Do you want me to distract you?” Derek noticed the twitching. 

“You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?” Stiles questioned in return. “Don’t say stuff like that if you don’t want my brain to take me to the rated Explicit parts of my imagination.” 

He already had about half a dozen ideas about the many ways in which Derek could distract them until Kira got here, but none of those were very suitable for a motel room with extremely thin walls where they could be interrupted at any second. Literally, any second. 

Stiles trusted Kira with absolutely anything and everything, but that didn’t mean he was okay with her walking in on him naked and entangled with the gorgeous werewolf he was already half in love with. There were still some boundaries left and Stiles was going to try to keep them intact throughout this ridiculous situation. He already knew far too much about Kira - all Scott’s fault. 

“Who says I don’t want that?” Derek looked far too innocent to be serious. 

“Right, you’re into me,” Stiles was still having some trouble believing that. 

Derek seemed to be sincere in that, at least. But Stiles hadn’t really shown Derek his best traits. He’d been belligerent and messy and irritable and downright annoying. If he’d met Derek on another day, under different circumstances, he could have been charming and put together and friendly and flirtatious. Properly flirtatious, not just throwing innuendos at Derek because he was gorgeous and right fucking there. He could have done it properly. 

Though Derek didn’t seem all that interested in proper courting rituals. 

“I am,” Derek confirmed it yet again. “I could tell your friend too, when she gets here. I’m pretty sure she’ll at least believe me. I’m happy to prove it when we don’t have to worry about Kate.” 

Every single time Stiles heard that name, it just made him angry. It made him furious, wanting to ruin her and wreck her for what she’d done to an entire family just because they’d been born werewolves instead of humans. It made him want to destroy her and everyone who was associated with her - that entire group of hunters, wiped out. 

He could probably do it too, if he wanted to tarnish his magic that way. If it was what Derek wanted, Stiles would do it in a heartbeat. He was vindictive that way. 

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said, because he knew Derek was worried. “I don’t do well with waiting.” 

Waiting made him jittery, and even though he was still ostensibly lounging around on the bed in just a t-shirt and boxers - because if he even touched the bed with his disgusting pants, they were going to have to trash the entire bed right away. And they did not have the money to pay the extra cleaning fee. Also, Stiles was tempted to just torch everything he’d been wearing the second he’d gotten access to a shower and clean clothes. Because ew. 

How could Derek be attracted to him when he smelled like swamp and sweat? 

“I can tell,” Derek raised those brows of sass at him. “She’s almost here. I think. If she’s the one who just arrived. Scent with electricity all over it? Definitely not human.” 

That definitely sounded like Kira. Not that Stiles would know all that much about her scent - not from actually smelling it anyway. He’d just put two and two together and seeing as Kira was a thunder kitsune, the non-human with a scent that was basically all electricity? Totally sounded like her. Stiles honestly couldn’t think of anyone else that would fit the description. 

“Kira’s a kitsune,” Stiles explained at least the bare minimum. 

Derek nodded and grabbed his meagre possessions, waiting for Stiles to put his grody pants back on. Honestly, Stiles was almost tempted to run out into the parking lot without his pants on, but that was probably a terrible idea, seeing as he was the one who was going to have to return the key at the front desk. The sun had finished coming up, which meant that it was technically morning now, even though it was still very fucking early. 

“I smell grease and breakfast,” Derek was trying to motivate him into moving faster. 

Totally worked too, because greasy disgusting food always made Stiles feel like he was having a cheat day - he didn’t allow himself to have that kind of food in front of his Dad, because it wouldn’t be fair to show off the food that his Dad definitely wasn’t allowed to eat. Not that his Dad didn’t have cheat days whenever Stiles was out of sight - but it was the principle that counted here. Stiles was just trying to be a good son. 

After hastily dropping off the key at the front desk, leaving the bored clerk behind with a quick goodbye and thanks, Stiles rushed towards the backseat of the car. Not because Derek was already in the passenger seat, but because he was going to feel more comfortable with Derek right next to him instead of having to look at him via the rearview mirror. 

That gave not being able to take his eyes off him a whole new meaning. 

“Kira, you are my hero,” Stiles announced as he closed the door behind him. “Sorry that we dragged you all over California for this. Hope you’re not missing work for us.” 

She probably would have done it regardless, but that didn’t mean that Stiles wanted the best teacher at Beacon Hills High School to call in sick just because he’d gotten in trouble. It was important that the new generation of miscreants got a proper education in physics and chemistry - not the bullshit he’d gotten from Harris way back when. Kira had the best experiments, the ones that made him wish he could have had a teacher like her. 

But instead he’d been stuck with fucking Harris. What ever happened to that guy anyway?

“Summer holidays,” Kira gloated. 

“That’s just not fair,” Stiles pouted from his spot in the backseat. “I know you work your ass off during the school year, but the vacation time? Not fair.” 

Look, everyone was better off not having Stiles as a teacher, but he occasionally still wondered if maybe he should have picked a steady job instead of focusing on his research. Because he never knew in advance how many jobs he’d have that month, because the monsters he’d researched didn’t exactly stick to a schedule. Or, well, some of them did, but they didn’t all stick to the same schedule. Or spread out evenly. It was usually all at once, then nothing at all. 

That made it fun, but also occasionally a bit of a mess. 

“Just wait until I have to teach summer school again,” Kira was still smiling. 

“Only because you’re the greatest teacher ever,” Stiles figured it wouldn’t be a bad thing to suck up to her a little. “By the way, have you two introduced yourselves yet? Derek, this is Kira, one of the biggest badasses I know. And that’s saying something. Thunder kitsune, chemistry teacher, and long time member of the Supernatural Protection Squad.” 

Kira could totally handle the rest of her introduction herself, or just let Derek get to know her through her silly jokes and infinite kindness. Stiles was just here to do the stats bits, like he was reading out the pertinent facts on her character sheet, and to tease Kira a little with that damn name that no one seemed to think was a good idea. He was still pretty determined to give them a badass team name. And since the Justice League was already taken...

“We’re still not picking a team name, Stiles,” Kira was happy to jump on that. “And even if we did, we would never call it something so obvious. We’re going for stealth.” 

Yeah, Stiles’ stealth modifier was pretty fucked. He’d always been good at the plotting and the backup plans and thinking of every eventuality, but he’d never been good at being sneaky, especially not compared to the many supernatural beings on the team. Sure, Kira didn’t have the same kind of senses a werewolf did, but she could still hear him coming from miles and miles away. Though that probably had more to do with Stiles than with Kira. 

“I’m not good at stealth,” Stiles had to state the obvious. “Anyway, so, that’s Kira. Kira, this is Derek. Badass Alpha werewolf with the sassiest eyebrows I’ve ever seen. He’s been giving me shit all day about landing us in a swamp and yet somehow he’s still into me.” 

Was he bragging a bit there? Probably. But he had to tell Kira, had to let her know that somehow he’d managed to trick Derek into thinking that Stiles was attractive and interesting enough to potentially date. That just didn’t happen to him. 

“I am,” Derek said that so easily. 

“I ship it,” Kira responded, smiling at the both of them. 

They were leaving town already, so Stiles thought it was safe to start digging into the bags of food that Kira had brought along with her. He was starving, after all, and he was pretty sure that Derek wasn’t doing much better. 

Did werewolves need more calories than humans? That would make sense, because they were faster and stronger than humans and therefore had to burn far more calories. Which meant that they also needed to eat a whole lot more, which meant that Derek had totally been lying to Stiles when he told Stiles he wasn’t hungry, back when they’d bought food before getting on the bus to Redding hours upon hours ago. Neither of them had eaten anything since. 

“Derek, please eat something,” Stiles was not above pouting. “Kira knows about my curly fry obsession, so she probably brought enough food for half a dozen teenage boys. Which means that you should be eating at least half of that - because I’m definitely not a teenager anymore.” 

Yep, okay, so… That was a mess. His brain clearly was not doing what it was supposed to be doing, but at least he was still using actual words. Which meant that he wasn’t doing too badly, because there was no need to seriously worry about him until he started using gibberish instead of actual words. And he was pretty sure he hadn’t reached that point. Yet. 

“Did that make sense to anyone?” Stiles had to ask. 

“Surprisingly, yes,” Derek mocked. “You’re still sleep-deprived. You should sleep more.” 

It was weirdly comforting that Derek could already see through the banter and the rambling, even though they’d only known each other for less than forty-eight hours. Sure, there was that quote from Speed about relationships based on intense experiences not working, but Stiles was going to ignore Keanu Reeves for now because this was different. Because Derek and Stiles had been through hell together, basically running for their lives and solely relying on each other to get them out of it. And that created a bond that couldn’t be broken. 

Stiles was sure of it. And he was happy to let Derek mock him to prove it. 

“Food,” Stiles was definitely pouting now. 

“After the food,” Derek was not going to let this go. 

Maybe it would have been patronizing if Derek hadn’t had a pretty good point about Stiles pushing himself too far on too little sleep and too little food. Stiles was choosing to see it as caring, and even though it occasionally came out a little clumsily, he had no doubt that Derek cared about him. Derek thought it was his turn to keep Stiles safe now. 

Stiles sighed, already preparing to give in. “But who will keep you company?” 

“I’m right here,” Kira was only pretending to be offended. “By the time you wake up, Derek and I are going to be best friends. We might even have time to make BFF bracelets.” 

Was it weird that he was a little jealous of the non-existent BFF bracelets already? He wanted Derek to be all his, even though he knew that it was important for Derek to build a whole network of relationships instead of relying solely on Stiles. Still, Stiles kind of wanted a visible sign that he’d been claimed by Derek and that he’d claimed Derek in return. Sure, there hadn’t been any werewolf claiming of any kind, but Stiles wanted to leave marks all over Derek that said ‘Claimed by Stiles Stilinski - don’t you dare hurt him’. 

He just wanted people to know that there was someone who had Derek’s back, unconditionally. 

“I can braid,” Derek was so willing to keep the joke going. “My sisters taught me.” 

Okay, now it was a little less funny and lighthearted, but they could roll with it. 

Stiles caught Kira’s eye in the rearview mirror, and ever so slightly shook his head, to make sure that Kira wouldn’t ask Derek any questions about those sisters. Maybe at some point he’d get more comfortable talking about Laura and Cora, but this was probably not the time. Even though the image of Derek carefully braiding his sisters’ long, dark hair was giving him heart palpitations with its cuteness. Derek had been an awesome brother, he was sure of it. 

“Dude, you’re making me wish I had longer hair,” Stiles was good with being the distraction. “You and those ridiculous hands giving me a scalp massage or something.” 

That was probably taking it too far in front of Kira, but his friend had gotten used to his idiosyncrasies years ago and therefore wasn’t going to be all that surprised about how open Stiles was about his attraction to Derek. If he got even a second alone with Kira he was going to tell her all of the reasons why Derek was perfect for him and why Stiles was halfway in love with him after less than forty-eight hours. And she was totally going to understand. 

Especially since she’d already said that she shipped it. 

“You don’t need long hair for that,” Derek was totally up for it, apparently. 

“You two are so cute together,” Kira was trying not to squee. 

It was quite something, the dichotomies of Kira Yukimura. The way she giggled and acted girlish right after decapitating a ghoul with a katana, or driving over the speed limit on the highway while turning up the radio so she could sing along to a Britney Spears song. He adored every little thing about her, and he hoped Derek liked her too. 

Derek could totally use some friends that weren’t Stiles. 

“Even when he’s eating with his mouth open?” Derek was dragging Stiles now. 

“You’re still cute,” Kira shrugged, a smile on her face. “I’m not blind, you know. You’re super taken, like, ‘property of Stiles Stilinski’ tattooed on your face, but I’m not blind.” 

Stiles felt his heart pounding in his chest when he actually saw Derek smiling at that. My God, that smile was something else. It wasn’t just the bunny teeth or the other perfect white teeth, or the jawline covered in scruff, or even just the way that his eyes absolutely lit up with infectious joy. It was the way that Derek looked younger and happier and unburdened. 

He needed to look like that all of the time. 

“Maybe not face tattoos yet,” Stiles had to try to keep this going. “I’m not sure I could pull off any kind of tattoo, let alone one covering this gorgeous face.” 

He was speaking in jest, but Derek seemed to take it very seriously, inspecting every inch of Stiles’ face as if he was imagining what it might look like with a tattoo. It had a stupidly arousing effect, because Stiles got his mind stuck on thinking how Derek would have this look in bed as well, inspecting all of Stiles and imagining where he would touch and where he would leave his marks. Because Stiles needed him to leave all the marks. 

“Maybe not the face,” Derek looked at him far too closely. “But you could pull off anything. You’d look good with tattoos. Not that you don’t look good without them. You always look good. You know that right? Or is that another thing that you simply won’t believe?” 

The compliments were embarrassingly flattering, which meant that Stiles had started to avoid eye contact with both Kira and Derek. He was probably blushing too, and that was always so obvious with his fair skin, that he usually just turned away and hoped that the person complimenting him would just stop it and let him be. Maybe Derek would too. 

“You’re embarrassing,” Stiles tried to hide his face, but couldn’t. 

“And you’re sleepy,” Derek saw right through him. “Come here.” 

Derek had a point; Stiles was absolutely exhausted, and they still had quite a trip to go, seeing as they were going to have to take the scenic route to Beacon Hills, just to make sure that no one was following them. They probably wouldn’t get back to Beacon Hills until dinner time, and although Stiles had been perfectly alright after a couple of sleepless nights back when he was in college, he was basically an old man now. He couldn’t pull that stuff anymore. 

“Are you going to cuddle me?” Stiles had to ask. 

“Yes,” Derek responded, pulling him close. “Now sleep. Kira will keep me company.” 

But weren’t they going to need Stiles to keep the conversation going, or to keep Kira from accidentally broaching one of the many painful topics and offending or wounding Derek because of it? Could they actually handle this without him? 

Yeah, they probably could, but Stiles liked to feel needed. 

“Don’t tell him anything too embarrassing,” Stiles warned, eyes already drooping closed. 

“But that would mean I can’t tell him anything at all,” Kira had no problems dragging him. 

Stiles wanted to object, but he was being pulled in, his head finding a natural resting place in the crook of Derek’s neck. It should have been a no-go zone for a werewolf, but apparently that was not an issue for Derek. Not when it was Stiles, anyway. And wow, that was heady, that was something he was going to have some very good dreams about. 

“Wake me up if you need me,” Stiles slurred. 

“Sleep, Stiles,” Derek ordered again. “I’ll keep you safe.” 

Oh, that was nice. 

They’d spent most of the day in the car, with just a few short breaks to stretch their legs and to switch drivers. Derek had done the afternoon shift, only offering to switch after Stiles had woken up from his nap and started loudly demanding that they stop for lunch somewhere. 

What? Food was very important for him when he was recharging - and he had a feeling that he needed to be back at full strength a whole lot sooner than he would have been if it hadn’t been for the curly fries and the lunch they shared at a random diner in the middle of nowhere. There had been milkshakes and pancakes and all of the stereotypical diner food that made Stiles feel like he hadn’t eaten in days instead of hours. He’d ordered far too much and made obnoxiously sexual noises while eating, just to see what Derek was going to do about it. 

Kira had ducked out to leave them to their quote mating ritual unquote, and Derek had given back as good as he got, sucking on the straw with a truly filthy smirk on his face. Stiles had instantly gotten hard in the middle of a very family friendly diner, and the smirk just got even filthier because of course Derek had picked up on that change in his scent. 

They’d managed to keep it in their pants, for now. 

But now it was about dinner time, and they were only about an hour away from Beacon Hills - less so with the way that Kira was driving. Stiles had wanted to have his turn, but Derek and Kira had teamed up and denied him. The friendship was adorable, but the way they’d immediately managed to gang up on him was far less cute. 

Still, there was not a lot of time left on their road trip. There was not a lot of time left before a lot of new people got involved in the fight against the hunters, and he wasn’t going to be able to spend any kind of private time with Derek. Not that things were all that private with Kira here as a chaperone, but it was still a whole lot easier this way than it was going to be with his Dad around all the time, and Deaton wanting to chide him for his massive magical failure. 

Yeah, even though they were heading towards safety, Stiles wasn’t looking forward to it. 

“I’m starving,” Stiles complained, and he wasn’t even lying. 

“Maybe we should have dinner on the road,” Kira offered, shooting a sympathetic look in the direction of the backseat. “I know what you get like when you’re hungry, and a Snickers commercial is nothing compared to hangry Stiles.” 

Oh God, was he that obvious? Of course this wasn’t actually about how adorably grumpy he got when he didn’t get his food - Kira’s description was definitely a gross exaggeration. Of course it was about not wanting this moment to end, the way Derek was right next to him, bodies pressed far too closely together even though there was plenty of room in the car. 

He didn’t actually want to let Derek go. Not ever. 

“That sounds dangerous,” Derek was letting his sense of humor out more than ever. 

“That’s because it is,” Kira was happily going along with it. “I’m sure we can find a place that has a decent dinner selection. Not just burgers and fries Stiles. I’m drawing the line at greasy junk food from a diner for more than two meals a day. You’re not allowed to be that much of a hypocrite. Making your Dad eat nothing but salads while you clog your arteries.” 

Heck, Stiles wasn’t going to argue about any kind of food if it meant that he could spend more time with Derek before the world made an attempt at going back to normal. Even if all they got was plain lettuce, he would put up with it for Derek. He was that guy now. 

“I could do rabbit food,” Stiles sighed heavily as he prepared to make the sacrifice. 

“Poor baby,” Kira didn’t pity him in the slightest. “I know a great Korean place about half an hour from here. It’s probably about forty minutes or so from Beacon Hills, so it’s not even that far out of our way. And I haven’t had kimchi in forever. Or bibimbap. Great, now I’m starving too.” 

That did sound really good. His stomach gave a loud growl in agreement. 

“I approve,” Stiles nodded hard enough that he felt like a bobblehead. 

Stiles then turned to Derek, trying to at least give him a chance to get an opinion in before Kira and Stiles steamrolled all over him. He found Derek already looking at him, which was something he was slowly starting to get used to, because no matter how unusual he’d thought it was at first, Derek actually liked looking at him for some reason. Sure, Derek definitely wasn’t a pushover, but he enjoyed watching Stiles get excited about silly things like food. 

“Let’s do it,” Derek cast his vote in favor of Korean for dinner. 

“Weirdest third wheel on a date, ever,” Kira teased, taking an exit so that they could head in the direction of the restaurant. “Do you need me to sit at a separate table so you can have your first date in peace? I wouldn’t want to disturb any of the magic.” 

And there would be magic. Stiles was determined that there was going to be a whole lot of magic when he finally got his first date with Derek. It was weird talking about finally when it had barely even been two days since he met Derek - or met him again, anyway - but Stiles didn’t really give a damn about being weird. Because they’d crossed state lines and Derek had carried him princess style and Stiles had been inside Derek - to remove the tracker, nothing filthy, sadly. 

A normal date at a restaurant just seemed… dull in comparison. 

“I think we’re past the traditional first date,” Derek was smiling ever so slightly. “I’ve already swept him off his feet, and he’s already taken me to places I’ve never been before.” 

Now there was definitely room for innuendo there as well, but Stiles was hesitant to point that out, because if he got started on the innuendo train, he was not going to get off that track until they’d gotten back to Beacon Hills. Because only the presence of his Dad could derail those kinds of thoughts, of all the metaphorical places that Stiles could take Derek. 

Or the literal places. He was totally willing to travel. To take Derek. Oh boy. 

“The Bog of Eternal Bugs?” Stiles snorted inelegantly. 

“This I need to hear more about,” Kira apparently hadn’t been briefed on that yet. 

Stiles didn’t know much of anything about what Derek and Kira had discussed while he’d been sleeping, because his friends had been surprisingly tightlipped about it. Stiles hadn’t wanted to ask for details, just in case there had been some kind of shovel talk or a reveal of information that Derek didn’t want him to know about yet. Also, he didn’t want to hear all about the embarrassing things that Kira had undoubtedly revealed about him. If he didn’t know about it, he could still pretend that Derek thought that he had his shit together. 

Even though Derek probably knew far too much already. 

“I didn’t tell you how we met,” Derek was far too gleeful at the opportunity to embarrass Stiles some more. “It’s a good story too. Basically, Stiles saw me with some hunters and decided that I was most definitely a damsel in distress. One who couldn’t handle things himself.” 

Okay, so Stiles still wasn’t getting any kind of appreciation for his daring deeds? Derek was painting a completely different picture here, not out of some inflated sense of toxic masculinity, but to make it sound like he hadn’t been in as much danger as he had been at that time. Maybe because he didn’t want to worry Kira. But probably because Derek had been in a bad place and that was not something that he was going to talk about with a stranger. 

“You were surrounded,” Stiles had to argue. 

“I had it covered,” Derek was obviously blatantly lying here. “I might have been a damsel, and I might have been in distress, but I could totally handle it.” 

Stiles was ready to argue against that almost immediately, but then the words got processed properly and he realized that there was a reason that it sounded kind of familiar. 

“Was that a Disney reference?” Stiles just fell a little more in love with Derek. 

“You two are adorable,” Kira interfered before the explanation got completely derailed. “So, Stiles came swooping in like Hercules with a savior complex… Then what?” 

More like Hunkules. 

Alright, his brain had effectively been derailed by thoughts of Derek in a Hercules costume, but he was totally going to get it together any second now. Because he had a story to tell, and he was going to make sure that it got told accurately, and not in any kind of biased way. He knew that Derek was biased as hell about the spell mishap and the damn swamp, and he was not going to let Kira go through life believing that Stiles was a complete fuckup. 

“That’s when the magic happened,” Stiles saw an opportunity for a joke. 

“This idiot came running at me,” Derek used such a loving pet name, “and before I knew it, we were somewhere completely different. I think I passed out for a little while, and he did as well, before we both came to and realized that something had gone wrong.” 

Right, that was why he still wasn’t quite sure how much time he’d spent with Derek, because there were some gaps in his memory after he cast the spell. It was likely that he’d blacked out after casting the spell - it wasn’t uncommon after a complete magic depletion. Which he’d just made worse by trying to cast a return spell so very quickly after he’d woken up. No wonder he couldn’t even walk by the time he woke up a second time. 

“I got you out of there, didn’t I?” Stiles argued that he’d gotten it partly right, at least. 

“Right into Klamath Marsh,” Derek wasn’t even going to give him partial credit. “Either your aim is truly horrible, or you fucked up the spell. And then you passed out again when you were trying to take us both back to Beacon Hills. So, I’m not sure I’d count that as a win.” 

Okay so maybe it wasn’t a complete win, an unambiguous win that had absolutely no downsides. But Stiles was still going to consider it a win, because he’d gotten Derek away from immediate danger without leaving a trail of body parts. Which probably could have happened if he’d well and truly fucked up the spell. But the most important reason it was a win? Derek. 

“I would,” Stiles had an ace up his metaphorical sleeve. “It got me you, didn’t it?” 

That made Derek blush and duck his head, which was still quite a sight to behold. Stiles was pretty sure that he was never going to get sick of it, pretty sure that he would be happy to stare at it for the rest of his pathetic life. He was just going to sit here and stare at the way the flush went all the way to Derek’s ears, and how he looked up at Stiles almost bashfully from under those dark lashes - and especially at the way the corners of his mouth twitched upwards. 

“Aw,” Kira sighed happily. 

“And then all of the shit started going down the second we got back to civilization,” Stiles figured he’d better finish the story. “Which I will brief people on when we’re all together, because it’s not a fun story and we’re not going to tell people over and over again. Or maybe I’ll tell my Dad and let him decide what others need to know. There’s sensitive information involved, you see, and it’s not really my story to tell anyway. Gotta protect my sources.” 

Stiles had to protect Derek. He’d only had Derek for like a day and a half, but if anything happened to him, Stiles was going to kill every single hunter he ever set eyes on. And then… resurrect them only to kill them again. 

And wow, that meme suddenly made so much more sense to him now. 

“It’s okay, Stiles,” Derek reached for his hand, intertwining their fingers. 

So they’d progressed to hand-holding now, awesome. He had not been expecting for that to be a thing yet. He’d expected it to just be a whole bunch of sexual tension and some emotional declarations of feelings that weren’t going to go anywhere until they got to the final battle and then had a dramatic moment in front of everyone. But maybe they’d gotten their heads out of their asses in time to make it work before then - that would be preferable. 

He didn’t want this to just happen in moments of fear or stress. He wanted all the moments, the quiet ones and the loud ones, peaceful and dangerous. Right now he mostly wanted the peace and quiet, especially since that had been so very rare in the past few days. He wanted to hide Derek in his room and just enjoy stupid basic things like a bed and a shower and no fucking hunters on their trail. Time to breathe gently, and time to get to know this wonderful man outside of imminent crisis. Because apparently Derek liked holding hands, apparently he was a tactile person, and that was extremely important information that Stiles needed to know. 

So that he could act on it. He was already making plans for hugs and cuddling and running his hands through Derek’s hair while he scratched his scalp and got ready for what he was jokingly going to refer to as ‘puppy piles’ as soon as Derek got a pack of his own. Derek had no idea what was coming, but with his permission, Stiles was going to be happy to be all over him whenever Derek wanted him to be. No matter what other people had to say about it - and they definitely would have a lot of things to say about Stiles’ new boyfriend. 

It made him a little less excited about going back to Beacon Hills, where people had all of these preconceived notions about how Stiles should act. Where people weren’t going to understand that that weirdo Stilinski kid was in an adult relationship - calling him a kid, as if he was still that bored teenager running around in the woods because he was bored, instead of a fully grown adult who ran around in the woods fighting actual monsters. 

“Food,” someone said, and Stiles sat up straight. 

“See, it totally works,” Kira was laughing at him.  “No matter what’s going on, even if he’s half asleep or completely asleep, he will respond to shouts of either food or sex.” 

While Kira wasn’t wrong, Stiles still thought it was kind of rude. But Derek was smiling and holding the car door open for him, reaching out his hand. 

Now this he could do, even in Beacon Hills. 

It wasn’t that the town of Beacon Hills had actually changed in the barely 48 hours Stiles had been away, it was that Stiles himself had changed in that short time. He was paranoid, looking at people he’d known all his life with suspicion because they too might sell Derek out to the hunters. To the Argents. Allison’s family. 

And wasn’t that just a true mindfuck of epic proportions. Stiles hadn’t exactly properly digested the name that Derek had given him while Stiles had been performing a trackerectomy, not right away. Now that he was back home, and back in familiar surroundings, a lot of old memories started popping up, about the crazy amounts of weapons Chris Argent had that not even Allison was allowed to touch, and about Allison going off to spend time with her aunt Kate. Her favorite aunt, the young one who talked about boys with her, and… 

Stiles wondered if Kate had ever told Allison about Derek. And just what she’d told her. 

“Derek Hale,” John Stilinski was waiting for them in the garden. “It is good to see you again, even though I do not like these circumstances one bit. But I’d recognize you anywhere. Of course you’re a Hale. You look just like your Mom and Dad, son. They’d be proud of you.” 

Oh boy, his Dad was going for all of the vulnerable places right away, huh? Was he trying to get the measure of the man? Or wolf? 

Still, Derek didn’t seem all too upset at the reminder. Perhaps it was because John Stilinski was an authority figure, speaking only positively about Derek’s long lost parents. That and sometimes it was nice to have that feeling again, that he wasn’t the only one holding onto the memories from years ago. At least, that was what it felt like to Stiles. 

“It is good to see you again as well, Sir,” Derek was perfectly polite. 

“You don’t have to call him Sir,” Stiles was going to nip that in the bud right away. “Not unless you’re aiming to be a deputy. Or you’re trying to suck up to him.” 

That uniform wasn’t flattering to anyone, and Stiles was pretty sure that allowing his Dad and Derek to team up was only going to lead to them ganging up on him. No matter how much he’d appreciate having a spy within the Sheriff’s department, reporting on his Dad’s eating habits and kicking him out of the station if he worked too much. The price was simply too high. That and Derek didn’t seem like the type to want to be a deputy. 

But then again, what would Stiles know? He’d only known him for two days. 

“Should I not ask for his permission?” Derek quirked an eyebrow. 

“My permission to do what?” The Sheriff was far too involved in the conversation already. 

This was why it was much easier when it was just the two of them. They didn’t have to worry about other people trying to insert themselves into a private conversation. Only Derek had definitely done this on purpose, not giving Stiles a chance to drop the whole relationship thing - which was excellent. Because he didn’t want to drop it, he wanted to cling to it. 

“To date your son,” Derek didn’t beat around the bush at all. 

“Please take him off my hands,” John Stilinski was surprised, but not surprised enough not to go for that terrible joke. “I’ve had him for almost thirty years now. It’s someone else’s turn.” 

Ah yes, his Dad hadn’t cracked that terrible joke since the last time Stiles brought home a significant other. Which, actually, had been years ago - not that it had been funny back then, just like it wasn’t funny now. Even though Derek looked a little amused by it, probably because he didn’t have any previous experience being grilled by the father of a potential romantic prospect. Especially not a father who owned a gun and knew how to use it. 

“I am a gift,” Stiles was just offended now. 

“I’ve never seen the receipt,” his Dad had to go for that old chestnut again. “It’s good to see you back in one piece, kiddo. I was getting a bit worried when Kira told me you weren’t on the bus. And then you sent that message about the hunters… Trouble is coming, isn’t it?” 

So much trouble. All the trouble. Trouble they hadn’t ever asked for, trouble they hadn’t invited into their lives with any of their actions. They’d done nothing to bring these hunters to their doorstep except exist. Because God forbid a werewolf in the Hale line would be allowed to live a full life without interference by fanatical hunters. Honestly, the hate was so targeted towards the Hale family that Stiles had to wonder if there was something special about that family, or if it was just that they’d happened to be around when Argent Senior lost his fucking mind. 

“Yes,” was all that Derek had to say to that. 

“It’s a straight-up vendetta,” Stiles hoped his Dad was ready for the word vomit Stiles was about to throw at him. “Nothing about it is fair or according to the code. They just got stuck on the Hale family as being a representation of werewolves, and they decided that it was enough reason to take them all out. I can’t believe Allison’s family is actually this homicidal.” 

Did Stiles have Allison’s number still? Would talking to her make this better or worse? She’d left Beacon Hills years ago, following her father to wherever his job was taking him this time. Sure, she’d actually managed to finish high school in Beacon Hills, but she’d left before the ink on her high school diploma was dry. And sure, it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen her since, because she was still best friends with Lydia and that meant that Scott would sniff her out whenever she came back for a visit. It was a good thing that Scott was a plain old human, because if he’d ever gotten turned into a werewolf, the stalking was just never going to end. 

“I’m not all that surprised,” his Dad was such a cool cucumber. “There was always something about that Chris Argent that didn’t make sense to me. And his wife…” 

Look, while there was a certain DILF-like quality about Chris Argent that Stiles had never mentioned out loud to anyone ever, the man’s wife had just straight-up terrified Stiles whenever he met her. And he’d been unlucky enough to have her as a substitute teacher very often. And that had nothing to do with the way that Stiles drove his teachers to the brink. 

He only did that accidentally, after all. And well… Finstock made it through, didn’t he? 

“She was straight-up terrifying,” Stiles shivered at the memory. 

“Kate is worse,” Derek’s face was terrifyingly blank. “Victoria at least pretends to play by the rules in front of witnesses. Kate would sooner kill the witnesses. She will attempt to do the same to you because you dared to help me. To anyone who keeps her from getting to me.” 

Honestly, Stiles was pretty damn down for murder right about now, because every single syllable he heard about that wicked witch made him want to lash out in completely justified vengeance. She’d done far too much damage to the innocents, and by Hunter laws Stiles would have been justified to take her life at least a dozen times over. There was no retirement among hunters - they died on the job or got taken out and permanently locked up when they lost it. And if locking them up didn’t work, well… The hunters always liked permanent solutions. 

“That ends here,” John Stilinski’s sense of justice was strong. “You’re not alone, son. You’ve got all of us. Us Stilinskis, we bond fast and we don’t let go. And we come with a pack of our own.” 

Sometimes Stiles just saw himself in his Dad, or his Dad in himself. And this was one of the times that he was just so incredibly proud of that. While Stiles was a lot like his mother, he’d also inherited a ton of his Dad’s better qualities. The loyalty and the stubbornness and the ability to put a puzzle together with half the pieces missing. That and the way they’d both die to protect anyone from injustice - they both couldn’t just let things go on being unfair when there was something that they could do about it. And after all, they did bond fast. 

And Stiles was not going to let go. Not when it was Derek he was holding on to. 

“Do we have other wolves in town?” Stiles just had to ask. 

“We do,” his Dad managed to surprise him. “A mated pair, just moved back to town a few days ago. You probably went to high school with the both of them. Vernon Boyd and Erica…” 

Funny, they hadn’t had wolves in town when Stiles yeeted himself out of there - or at least not that Stiles knew about. But apparently he’d missed the announcement, and it was definitely one he was sad to have missed. Because these people weren’t just any wolves, they were people Stiles had known when they’d been mere humans. And… Erica! 

“Reyes,” Stiles knew his eyes were wide with shock. “She’s… She’s still alive? And healthy? Of course she’s healthy if she’s a werewolf. That’s… I’m so glad. I hadn’t heard from her in ages and I was worried that… And Boyd! She ended up with strong and silent Boyd! So unexpected!” 

Back in middle school, Erica was one of the few people who’d been just as much of an outcast as Stiles was. She was treated terribly by the assholes in their school, because they always managed to put her down when they needed to feel better about their own pathetic excuse for a life. And she was just such an easy target, with the trembling and the seizures that made her wet her pants. Because they thought it was hilarious to witness her almost die. 

Stiles had been the only one who’d called 911. He’d sent her a card a few days after, not sure he’d be welcome in her hospital room. They’d been on the cusp of being friends when her parents moved away so she could take part in some kind of clinical trial that was supposed to work miracles on teenagers with epilepsy. 

Now he was starting to wonder if the clinical trial was actually lycanthropy. 

“You’ll like Boyd,” Stiles turned to Derek, elated at the news about his old… friends? “He’s the strong and silent type, but he has this wicked sense of humor that made me choke on my drink more than once. Even Jackson Whittemore shut up when faced with Boyd.” 

Sure, he’d only peripherally been aware of Boyd, mostly through the lacrosse team. Boyd hadn’t wanted to join the team, but then his grandma started having problems again and it became the best option for him to get a college scholarship. And he was good at it too, landing an excellent scholarship, much to Jackson’s chagrin. Not that the dipshit needed the money, with his parents’ wealth and their bribing the Dean of some kind of fancy East Coast school. 

Ugh, now that was one classmate that Stiles really didn’t miss. 

“They’re Omegas,” the Sheriff continued. “They were part of a pack where they lived before, but they didn’t get along with the Alpha all that well. Apparently he was a bit biased towards born wolves, and didn’t treat the bitten wolves very well. And with them both having roots in Beacon Hills, they were hoping that the Hellmouth would eventually attract an Alpha.”

Destiny. Stiles was definitely banking on destiny here. A pair of Omega wolves looking for a pack, arriving in town just days before an Alpha looking for Betas shows up. It was a most convenient kind of plot device, and not just because of the pack thing. Also because Stiles was pretty damn sure that they would work well with Derek, and Derek with them. 

“Erica’s exact words, I assume?” Stiles probably didn’t even need to ask. 

“How did you know?” His Dad rolled his eyes, not all that interested in the references. 

Or in Stiles’ answer. Which probably made sense. It was a rhetorical question, after all. 

But Stiles had a whole bunch of things he could say about that, and he would have rambled on about Erica and Boyd and awful high school memories for ages if Derek hadn’t reached out at that very moment and held his hand again. Stiles squeezed Derek’s hand briefly in a silent response to the question Derek hadn’t dared to ask, and he was seriously contemplating just exiting the conversation and heading back to his place for some sleep. And a shower - the shower first, because they probably still reeked. 

Fresh clothes were definitely a must at some point in the very near future. 

“Before you two lovebirds go off together,” his Dad had to interrupt the festivities. 

“That’s a yes on the permission, Ryan,” Stiles thought it was about time to bring that nickname back from war - or whatever. “That means you get to date me as much as you want.” 

If Stiles could just distract his Dad from what he was going to say, maybe he’d get to avoid the problem until the morning. Maybe then he was actually going to get some peace and quiet with Derek, perhaps even in Stiles’ bed. Or was that too optimistic? 

“I was told that Deaton needed to see you when you got back,” his Dad just ruined it all. 

“But Dad,” Stiles totally wasn’t pouting. 

He didn’t want to deal with Deaton when he was still half covered in Bog of Eternal Bugs stench and he still had half a swamp soaked into his clothes. He didn’t want to deal with Deaton after he’d so obviously fucked up the spell that Deaton had specifically told him not to use before studying the conditions some more - and the consequences of screwing it up. Deaton was going to be all smug and ‘I told you so’ without actually saying it because that went against his vow of being a cryptic smug asshole. It gave Stiles all the Dumbledore feels in the worst way. 

One of these days he was going to get some actual information out of that man. 

“I’m not getting involved in the magic stuff,” Dad was probably right to draw that line. 

If Stiles had actually inherited his magic, as Deaton had theorized once or twice, it certainly hadn’t come from his Dad’s side of the family. No, the magic was presumably all Gajos. Not that Stiles had anyone he could have asked, seeing as the family hadn’t talked to them since his Mom died. They hadn’t shown up to the funeral, because they’d disagreed with his Dad’s decision to have her buried in Beacon Hills instead of in Poland, with her family. 

“Alan Deaton?” Derek broke the silence. 

“Wait, of course,” Stiles was putting some things together. “The dude is like, beyond cryptic, but once or twice when we were talking about Emissaries, he said something about being one in a past life. I thought he was being pretentious and enlightened, talking about actual past lives, but he was the Emissary for the Hale pack, wasn’t he? Before you left town?” 

Wouldn’t it be just like Deaton to keep something like that from people? Of course, keeping everything from people was kind of a kink for Deaton, so honestly, Stiles probably shouldn’t have been all that surprised that his mentor had a secret past among some of the most famous werewolves in the supernatural community. Surely Deaton had hundreds upon hundreds of secrets about his life before he started training Stiles, because a veterinarian with knowledge of the supernatural just screamed secret badass backstory. 

Though with the way Derek responded to the name, it probably wasn’t all badass stuff. 

“He was,” Derek looked upset about it. “He did not take kindly to Laura contacting him after our family had passed away. He thought she was not worthy of being our mother’s successor.” 

Bitch please. Laura was the most worthy successor - not that Derek wasn’t going to be an awesome Alpha once he started getting a pack together, but Stiles was on team Laura here, and not on team Deaton. Because making a young woman feel awful for not being enough like her mother when she had just lost said mother? That was just awful all around, and bailing on them after just ensured that Laura wasn’t going to get the guidance she would have needed to become just as awesome an Alpha as Talia Hale had been before her. 

Deaton had failed his pack, on purpose. It made him a shitty Emissary. 

“I barely even remember Laura but I could kick his ass for that,” Stiles had to offer. 

“You could try,” his Dad muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Stiles to hear. 

Rude. So very rude. Stiles was almost a full-fledged badass now. While the whole FBI thing hadn’t worked out, that had gotten him in the habit of exercising semi-regularly and making sure that he was fit enough to keep up with most humans, at least. He knew he wasn’t going to stand a chance against supernatural beings when it came to speed and strength and stamina, but he was going to make sure that he could at least outrun Scott. 

Which was easy, because asthma. Wow, he could never tell Scott about that. 

“I heard that,” Stiles gasped dramatically. “I may not have awesome werewolf hearing but that doesn’t mean that I have an auditory impairment of some kind. I may not carry the same aura of mystique, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take him. I’m strong enough to yeet two people across state lines, damn it. Doesn’t matter that I didn’t actually intend to do that.” 

The look on his Dad’s face when Stiles used the verb ‘to yeet’ was something else. The man just didn't have the knowledge of memes and internet culture that was necessary to be able to keep up with Stiles. While Stiles wasn’t going to go all ‘ok Boomer’ on him - not again, anyway - he still really enjoyed making stupid references to things that his Dad had no hope of ever understanding. And letting his Dad bring him in on cases, just for his millennial skills. 

“Which is why you need to go see him,” Derek squeezed his hand ever so gently. “I may not like him, and he definitely doesn’t like me, but he still has valuable information. Maybe he can tell you why we ended up in the Bog of Eternal Bugs. I wouldn’t want to go there again.” 

Stiles didn’t want to let go of Derek’s hand, but he was going to have to. Showing up at Deaton’s while still holding Derek’s hand definitely wasn’t going to get him anywhere with the man, especially if he hated Derek as much as Derek seemed to think he did. No, it was best that he went there alone, no matter how much he disliked letting Derek out of his line of sight. 

He had separation anxiety, okay? After just two days of spending every second together. Well, apart from bathroom breaks. But that was barely a fraction of the time. 

“Dad, look after Derek,” Stiles ordered before he left. “Derek, look after Dad.” 

Derek actually chuckled at that, while John Stilinski mostly just looked offended at the idea that he needed someone to look after him. Which was exactly what Stiles had intended. 

So he went off to the clinic, not bothering to change his clothes because it was just Deaton and Stiles definitely did not need to impress him, and barely remembering to grab Roscoe’s keys before he threw himself into the driver’s seat of his baby. He tried to use the short drive as an opportunity for peaceful meditation, but Stiles had never been calm in traffic so clearly that was doomed to fail. Which resulted in a very frazzled Stiles walking into the clinic. 

Even though it was late, he was sure that he would find his mentor here. It wasn’t like Stiles knew any other place where he could possibly be - did Deaton live near the clinic? He’d never told Stiles, which was just one of the many examples of things he’d been hiding. 

Ah, there he was. 

“Mister Stilinski,” Deaton still refused to address him by his first name. 

“Doc Deaton,” Stiles settled for halfway between formal and annoying. “Dad said you wanted to see me. Is it about the slight teleportation kerfuffle? Because that turned out alright in the end.” 

He probably should not have started at that. He probably should have started with the werewolf boyfriend thing, or the hunters coming after him and probably returning to Beacon Hills very soon. The first thing would have distracted Deaton from his mistakes, and the second thing was actually the most urgent thing that they needed to discuss. But no, Stiles just had to be the reigning king of getting himself in trouble just by opening his mouth. 

“Kerfuffle?” Deaton was apparently not impressed by the vocabulary. 

“Look, I did everything I was supposed to do,” Stiles immediately started defending his other choices. “I closed my eyes and I wished real hard and I pictured the place where I wanted the both of us to end up. The garden between my house and my Dad’s.” 

He’d picked a particular spot in the garden, even, the exact place where the territory line would have been if Stiles and his Dad had cared about that sort of thing at all. It was right next to where his Mom’s flower beds had been. He would know it anywhere, blindfolded or with his eyes closed, or just by scent. Or maybe that last one was a bit of an exaggeration. 

Still, the point remained that he didn’t mess up that part of the spell. 

“Mr. Stilinski,” Deaton was doing the disapproving voice thing again. “I have told you several times already that this particular spell is not meant for passengers. It is meant for short range teleportation of one person. You never should have been able to bring anyone along with you, especially someone who is not a practitioner and doesn’t possess any magic.” 

Had Deaton told him that before? At a time when Stiles had actually been listening? Maybe to the first bit, but as for the second part? That had to have been a no, because Stiles couldn’t remember Deaton telling him a damn thing about it being solo travel only. 

“Aren’t werewolves magical?” Stiles knew that would start a discussion on magical theory. 

“Werewolves may have magical abilities,” Deaton was going to get all nitpick-y about it too, and patronizing. “But this does not mean that they actually have the ability to do magic. And with a spell such as this one, the latter is what counts. You could have seriously hurt yourself and this werewolf. You could have ended up in the middle of a highway, or broken your entire body into pieces scattered across the state. That was a very foolish thing you did.” 

Yay, a fun lecture about how impulsive and irresponsible he’d been. He could cross out that square on his ‘encounters with Deaton’ bingo card. That and the ‘Deaton appears without warning’ square, and the “Mister Stilinski” one. Seriously, just five or ten more minutes spent in the man’s company and he was going to have a proper Deaton Bingo. 

“I saved Derek’s life,” Stiles was proud of that much. 

“Derek?” Apparently that detail hadn’t reached Deaton’s ears yet. “Derek Hale?” 

Ah, so Deaton hadn’t actually completely wiped the Hale family (or the pack) from his extensive hard drive. Not that Deaton could actually be a robot - he was far too mysterious for it. Robots just wouldn’t be able to pull off that air of mystery that always just wafted from Deaton. 

Should ‘air of mystery’ be another bingo square?

“Yes, that Derek,” Stiles found himself acting a bit more smug. “The one whose pack you completely bailed on even though most of them had just been murdered by hunters. The very same hunters who are still after Derek, even after all of these years. That’s how I found him, you know. Surrounded by an entire gang of hunters, all connected to the Argents.” 

If Stiles knew his mentor at all, Deaton knew everything there was to know about the Argent family and their associates. The Druid made it his mission to know everything that there was to know about potential threats to Beacon Hills - and to himself. Shame he didn’t extend the same courtesy to the people who were actually on the same side as he was. 

“Kate Argent?” 

Of course Deaton knew about the Wicked Witch of the West Coast. Of course Deaton was about to rattle off a biography and the names of a couple known associates - unless there was something about the family that he’d rather keep a secret. If that was the case, Stiles was going to have to pry the information from him with a metaphorical crowbar. Heck, Stiles would have happily used a real one if he thought it would have any effect. 

“The monster herself,” Stiles made his opinion of her pretty clear. “I met her from a distance, and boy oh boy, I just knew right away that I’d found my nemesis. My hatred for Jackson Whittemore or Matt Daehler is nothing compared to this.” 

Shit, if Deaton was willing to listen, Stiles had a couple of things that he wanted to say about Kate Argent that he couldn’t say in front of Derek without making Derek feel ashamed or embarrassed or both. Stiles had a lot of harsh things to say, and some legal vocabulary about the crimes she’d committed against the Hales and against Derek in particular. He probably wouldn’t even have the time to get into what she’d done to Peter. 

Stiles wondered if there was still some kind of possibility, some way to save him. 

“She is still trying to claim Derek as her own, then?” Deaton sounded so calm. 

“You knew?” Stiles was very much not calm. “You’ve known about this the whole time and you just couldn’t be bothered to do a damn thing about it? He was on his own when he got here. They killed Laura. They tortured Peter Hale until there was nothing left of him and made him kill his niece, and you just let it continue because you are obsessed with the fucking balance.” 

Druids and their balance, Druids and the idea that all that mattered was having an equal balance between good and evil. Honestly, the world could use a whole lot more good if it was going to even remotely balance out the evil - and in the particular case of the Hale family, the balance was completely out of whack. Derek hadn’t been given anything good in years, and a happy childhood was no equal weight to the depths of despair he’d been going through in the fifteen to twenty years since. That was a long time to be falling apart. 

Shit, Stiles wished he’d found Derek sooner, so that he could have done something. So that he might have saved Laura Hale, at least. So that Derek didn’t have to be alone. 

But Deaton had known, and he’d done absolutely nothing. 

“Why am I even surprised about this?” Stiles was not done. “Of course you would do that, because you never got over the death of Talia Hale. And instead of lashing out at the people who’d murdered her, you chose to blame her surviving children. And you used your precious balance as an excuse to just let all of these atrocities happen. You Druids are all the same, with your dreams of peace that always have to be achieved by others. You just stand idly by.” 

He was pretty sure that he’d just ruined any opportunity he had to continue studying magic with Deaton. And he was completely fine with that, because there was no way that Stiles could be in the same room as this pathetic excuse for a human being for any serious length of time. Not without wanting to lash out at him and making him understand that his desire to keep everything in balance had actually created nothing but evil. 

And Stiles wasn’t going to be nice about that. So he had to go. 

“I can’t be here,” Stiles announced, giving up on Deaton bingo for the foreseeable future. 

Maybe it wasn’t the most tactical choice he was making, turning his back on a potential ally for the battle to come. But Stiles had standards, damn it, and he didn’t want allies that he couldn’t actually trust to have his back. Deaton would just as soon stab him in the back (metaphorically and/or literally) as help them beat the hunters for good. 

Because he believed that for there to be wolves, there had to be hunters. And maybe that wasn’t wrong in itself, but these kinds of hunters? They did not need to exist. 

“Mister Stilinski,” Deaton just had to have the final word. “They won’t let you get away with this.” 

Ah yes, time for a threat. Honestly, Stiles didn’t find it particularly scary, because he had something worth fighting for. He had someone - multiple someones - to fight for, and he had plenty of people who were willing to be on his side for the battle to come. He had the moral victory, and he had far stronger magical powers than Deaton could have ever expected - because he did manage to take a second person with him on solo teleportation. And he’d taken the both of them further than they’d been expected to go. He could do this. 

“Let them try,” Stiles was pretty sure his entire being was crackling with magic now. “Let them try and they will see what balance and fairness really looks like for sociopathic murderers.” 

Those words weren’t actually strong enough, they didn’t properly explain just how bad these people were, just how much of a waste of oxygen. It was speciesism and taking advantage of a vulnerable teenage boy and murdering people for sport. It was torture of a man who’d lost everything and making him take one of the last good things left in his life. 

“Mister Stilinski,” Deaton had to try once more. 

Suddenly, Stiles was sure that when the battle came, Peter Hale would be there. And Stiles was sure that he was going to do everything he could to make sure that Derek got his remaining family back. No matter what it took. 

“Don’t mind me, I have a boyfriend to get back to,” Stiles found the perfect exit line. 

He’d been separated from Derek for far too long already, and he wasn’t going to stay away any longer. Not for something like this, a conversation that was a complete waste of time, and just made him want to crack skulls and lash out and hurt everyone who’d ever dared to hurt Derek. It was a possessive anger, something he’d never felt the likes of before. But he’d gladly take it, because someone had to do something. Someone had to fight for Derek. 

And Stiles had just definitively determined that it was going to be him. 

There was a light on in his apartment when he got back. That was new, and meant that Derek was still awake, waiting up for Stiles. He had someone waiting for him to come home now. 

Stiles found that he enjoyed coming home to Derek. It was a relatively new experience, but it was lovely nonetheless. His place felt less empty, less cold and dark and lonely, with Derek waiting for him on the raggedy couch, reading one of the many books Stiles had about supernatural beings from Asian folklore. Even though he appeared completely entranced by the book, Stiles could still tell that Derek had heard him enter the house. 

“You reek of anger and magic,” Derek didn’t look up from the heavy tome. 

“Deaton just kind of has that effect on people,” Stiles tried for a casual shrug and failed. 

It wasn’t going to read as a lie, even though it was probably downright evasive. Still, he hadn’t actually said something that was not true. Not that the evasiveness wasn’t obvious to Derek, because he was giving Stiles one hell of a skeptical look. With the brows and everything. 

Stiles fell a little bit more in love with him because of it, because the brows of sass told him everything he needed to know about how Derek was feeling at any given time. And right now, Derek wasn’t believing a thing he’d just said about Deaton. He was completely right about it, but the skeptical look, the ‘bitch please’ written all over his face, that was what made Stiles smile and then crack. He glanced at Derek and then shrugged, because it wasn’t anything good and he didn’t want to make things worse for Derek. He didn’t deserve any of this bullshit. 

“It’s okay,” Derek attempted to reassure him. 

“It’s really not,” Stiles was tempted to argue and tell Derek just what he’d discovered. 

But that would definitely qualify as making things worse. 

Still, he dropped down onto the couch, sitting next to Derek and wishing he could get even closer without looking like he was blatantly angling for a makeout session. Or cuddles or kisses or sex. Because Stiles liked being physically comforted, and honestly, he’d been missing Derek far too much in the short time they’d been separated, and he kind of wanted to touch him to make sure that he was still there, still solid and true and real. 

“We could do something that might make me smell better?” Stiles flirted. 

“Take a shower?” Derek apparently was perfectly happy to shoot him down. 

Stiles couldn’t believe that he’d ever thought that Derek didn’t have a sense of humor, because it was so very obvious to him now. With the brows of sass and the quirk of his lips and that dry wit that was quick enough to keep up with Stiles - which was a rare quality that Stiles was going to encourage as much as he could. He’d met his match. 

“Together?” Stiles wasn’t going to let that opportunity slip him by. 

“Incorrigible,” Derek sighed dramatically, clearly exaggerating to make his point. “Maybe eventually, but not just yet. Right now, I was thinking maybe you’d like a hug.” 

Mind reading wasn’t actually one of the skills that werewolves had, but Stiles was starting to think that Derek definitely possessed that ability. That or Stiles was just particularly transparent to him. Or in this case, this was wishful thinking on Derek’s end because he also just really wanted a hug. Because the whole world got a little better after a hug, and even though Stiles could never even get close to enough hugs to undo all of the shit that had happened to Derek, he was going to do his very best to make sure that Derek got all the comfort he wanted. 

It was totally altruistic and had nothing to do with Stiles missing having someone to cuddle with. 

“Yes,” Stiles leapt at the chance. “You do look like you give excellent hugs, and I’ve been deprived of them for two whole days now. Clearly withdrawal will be kicking in soon. And that could get bad, Derek. I might start rambling even more than I do now.” 

Derek wrapped an arm around him in response, strong and sure and warm on Stiles’ heated skin - because werewolves ran hot. He moved so that he was right next to Stiles, their thighs pressed together as they just sat there. It wasn’t a hug yet, though, so Derek was clearly trying to take this slow. He clearly had more patience in his pinky than Stiles possessed in his entire body, which was an admirable trait. But also kind of really frustrating. 

“Is that even possible?” Derek pulled Stiles even closer regardless. 

“Don’t tempt me,” Stiles teased, letting himself sink into the embrace. 

He twisted his torso, leaning further into Derek’s warmth even though he was probably sweaty and gross enough that Derek could smell many disgusting things on him. It should have been too hot, too warm to spend any length of time so close to his werewolf space heater. But it didn’t matter, because Derek had wrapped himself around Stiles like he wasn’t ever planning on letting go. Because he hid his face in the curve of Stiles’ neck and just breathed. 

Was it memorizing Stiles’ scent or was it something else? That was for Derek to explain. 

“You’re good at hugging too,” Derek confessed. 

“Not perfect yet,” Stiles teased, perfectly comfortable and at ease. “We should keep practicing.” 

That made Derek pull back so that Stiles could see him rolling his eyes at that terrible pickup line, even though Stiles was pretty damn sure that Derek wouldn’t be opposed to practicing this all the time. And maybe eventually some other things as well, once they’d had a bit more time to get used to each other, and maybe get rid of the lingering threat of Kate Argent and her fucking hunter posse. Because Stiles had seen too many movies to believe that the situation was in any way resolved - those assholes were definitely coming back for Derek. 

In the morning, they’d have to start preparing for their last stand. Because they were going to make sure that they had the advantage of being on home turf, and the advantage of knowing that they were coming - they had the time to prepare and even to pull a full on Home Alone and set up booby traps (he said traps). They had time to do this right

But not tonight. Tonight was for cuddles. 

“They’ll come back here,” Derek was hiding his face again. “They always find me.” 

Or not. 

Apparently Derek did feel the need to address his concerns right away. Which made sense, because he wasn’t used to having any kind of downtime to relax a bit and enjoy the finer things in life, like hugging and sleeping in a bed and having someone on his side. Stiles was pretty sure that Derek hadn’t had that last thing since Laura, and though he didn’t know the details, he was also pretty sure that it must have happened a while ago. 

Not long enough ago for Derek not to be the walking wounded, but long enough ago that he’d felt confident enough to come back to Beacon Hills to find the Sheriff who would help. 

“We took out the tracker,” Stiles argued. 

“Doesn’t mean they won’t find me,” Derek sighed. “The hunter community is vast, and the Argents have many friends who feel the exact same way about werewolves. And Kate knows me, she knows how I feel about Beacon Hills and my family’s land. It might not be tomorrow, and it might not even be this week, but they’ll come here. To finish this.” 

It pissed Stiles off that the only thing that Derek had faith in was that his enemies were going to find him no matter what he did. He just wanted Derek to believe in the good things too, to learn to believe that there were people in this town who were going to stand up for what was right and support him in his battle against his nemesis. He wanted Derek to develop absolute faith in the fact that Stiles was always going to support him, that Stiles was always going to come for him, whether it was to yeet him across state lines or to give him a hug. 

Derek needed to know that there were people out there who wanted to be his family. 

“Oh, we’ll finish this alright,” Stiles was already feeling particularly bloodthirsty. 

“That’s your murder face,” Derek leaned back to have a proper look. “Stiles, I know you’re enthusiastic about getting revenge against Kate, but we’re outnumbered. By a lot.” 

Yeah, that definitely brought the Hamilton song to the front of his mind again. He actually had to shake his head to clear out the cobwebs, and then he had to try and figure out how he was going to explain this to Derek without him being in denial the whole time. 

“It won’t just be the two of us, you know,” Stiles had to make sure Derek knew that. 

“I’m sure your Dad wants to help,” Derek was treading very carefully, trying not to be too dismissive of John Stilinski and his ability to make a difference.

Which was good, because any shit talking about his Dad was going to make Stiles get over his feelings really fucking quick. There had been people before who couldn’t get past the Sheriff father thing, or the overprotective father thing, or the overly clingy Stiles thing who was not going to let himself lose another parent. Derek had better not be one of them. 

“Derek, dear, sweet Derek,” Stiles was going to make so very sure that Derek was going to get this through his stupidly thick skull. “You know I’m part of the supernatural protectors group in Beacon Hills. That group isn’t just me and Dad and Kira. Because you can be damn sure that Kira would cut a bitch on your behalf. She’s already decided that you’re friends, and unless you’re a completely heartless asshole, you can’t deny her.” 

Just because Kira had only met Derek earlier that day, didn’t mean that she hadn’t already metaphorically braided a set of best friends bracelets for the two of them. Kira was easy to get along with, but Stiles had never seen her bond with anyone as quickly as she had with Derek. And he especially hadn’t expected how quickly and easily Derek reached out in return, jumping on the bandwagon and teasing Stiles mercilessly and developing inside jokes with Kira. 

Did he really think that wasn’t going to be enough for Kira to want to fight for him? 

“I can’t,” Derek sounded fond about it too. 

And he should sound fond about it, because Kira was fucking awesome and they really didn’t deserve her. Not after she stuck around after her thing with Scott blew up, even though it was awkward for her seeing Scott get together with Malia almost immediately after. Not after she’d been determined to continue to be Stiles’ friend, even when things got weird and awkward. 

“Good,” Stiles nodded decisively. “With Kira come her parents. Ken is the history teacher you wished you had in high school. He also knows a lot about strategic warfare, even though he’s a mostly harmless human himself. But Kira’s mom? Actually nine hundred years old. A Celestial Kitsune who is always going to fight for what is right. With Dad come the deputies who are in the know. Parrish - Jordan - will be our biggest asset, since he’s a hellhound, but Tara is a human badass who’s very good with a gun. And then there’s Erica and Boyd. If they’re anything like what I remember of them… They’ll help. They’re holding out for a good Alpha. That’s you.” 

It was a lot, and Derek was visibly taking all of that in. The way his eyes had widened when Stiles had talked about Noshiko, particularly her age, had been especially hilarious to Stiles, but he mostly managed to keep a straight face. Because it just wouldn’t do to laugh at Derek when they were having a very serious conversation about their allies in the upcoming battle against the source of all evil. No, for once Stiles wasn’t going to use humor as a diversion. 

Sure, that wasn’t going to last too long, but he was going to try, at least. 

“I’m not a good Alpha yet,” Derek had to argue. 

“Bitch please,” Stiles actually had to say it instead of just giving Derek that look. “Your Mom was one of the best Alphas in werewolf history, Laura was a fucking badass. Do you really think that none of that was genetic? Because boy, I’m going to have a lot to say about that.” 

Derek didn’t seem all that sure, which was just terrible self-esteem, and something they were really going to have to work on if he was going to feel confident enough to take charge of a pack, even though they were going to start with just two betas. Stiles was perfectly happy to spend the rest of his life just complimenting the shit out of Derek - because he had so many things to say about the awesomeness that was Derek that it was going to take the rest of his life to mention all of them. And Derek was going to blush and be all adorable about it, but eventually he was going to learn to take it to heart. If Stiles had his way, anyway. 

And Stiles had gotten pretty damn good at bending the world to his will. 

“And you don’t have to be perfect right away,” Stiles figured out that he actually wasn’t quite done with the topic. “No one expects that. It’s a learning process and something we can totally do together. We are going to keep the lines of communication between us and Berica very open and just keep talking about what we want out of this. Yes, I gave them a ship name already.” 

Look, he had a lot of thoughts about his school friends finding each other again somewhere far away from Beacon Hills, and the second he saw Erica again he was going to demand all of the gossip about what he’d been missing these past fifteen years. He wanted to know all about all of the awesome things she’d achieved, and how Boyd and Erica had become Berica. Because yes, he was totally going to start using that out loud all the time. 

“Us?” Derek repeated that one word, and then said nothing else. 

Out of everything that Stiles had said, that was the thing that tripped him up? 

“I’m in your pack,” Stiles was not going to let Derek change his mind about that. “I was the first person in your pack and you don’t get to kick me out now, especially because I’m already working on figuring out all the protocols on how to become the best Emissary in the history of ever. Because that’s what you deserve, what your pack deserves. And it’s all yours, if you want it. I’m all yours. You should know that by now, but I’m going to keep reminding you.” 

Shit, it was embarrassing just how much he was Derek’s after such a short amount of time, and how badly he was already fucking this up by being all-in right away and making plans for a future together. He was already drawing up plans for a pack house in his mind, for a growing family that might include kitsunes as well as werewolves. 

And this annoying Spark who was stubborn enough to invent side-along teleportation. 

“Emissary Stilinski,” Derek said it out loud, just to find out how it sounded. 

“Stilinski-Hale would be good too,” Stiles’ mouth ran away with him again. “Or Hale-Stilinski? I mean, you do have a say in it but I think Stilinski-Hale just rolls off the tongue better.” 

Honestly, he really should have expected something like this. He should have expected that he’d put his foot in his mouth not even a minute after trying to remind Derek that they were pack now. Derek had barely been able to believe that Stiles still wanted to be in his pack without getting a very pointed reminder, and in return Stiles started talking about how they’d totally hyphenate their names when they got married. They’d barely started dating. 

This was taking his usual tendency to be all-in to a whole new level, that much was sure. 

“Eventually,” Stiles moved to try and fix this. 

“Eventually,” Derek nodded, as if they hadn’t basically just gotten engaged. 

He was basically engaged. Stiles was basically engaged to Derek Hale, and they’d only really known each other for two days. There were so many things that Stiles didn’t know about him yet, or that Derek didn’t know about him. Derek probably didn’t even know Stiles’ real name yet, or his embarrassing middle name - though he vaguely remembered saying something about his embarrassing name back when they were in the Bog of Eternal Bugs. Stiles didn’t know Derek’s middle name, though, or his birthday. Maybe they were moving too fast. 

Halfway to getting engaged when they hadn’t even kissed yet? What was this, Regency England? Would they have to court and be properly chaperoned? Stiles’ virtue was pretty much gone though, and he’d already seen Derek shirtless, so… This was a mess. 

“We just got engaged and we haven’t even kissed yet,” Stiles just realized that and of course that meant that he had to say it out loud as well. “That’s terrible.” 

Something had to be done, and Stiles was hoping that this something was going to be some kissing between him and Derek. Because well, breaking the engagement was the only other option, and Stiles sure as hell was not going to advocate for that option. Nope, he was happy to have staked his claim on Derek, and that Derek actually accepted the claim. 

“Engaged to be engaged,” Derek felt it was important to make that distinction. “Because we just started dating. And if you think the not kissing thing is a grievous oversight…” 

Here he trailed off meaningfully, just waiting for Stiles to figure out what he was trying to say. 

Embarrassingly enough, that took a while, even though Stiles had just been thinking about how kissing now was the only solution to this grievous oversight (God it was hot how Derek looked like that and then said things like ‘grievous oversight’). It took a ridiculously long couple of seconds, during which Derek seemed endlessly patient. That probably didn’t mean that he didn’t actually want to be kissed, but Stiles still figured that he had to ask. 

“Can I kiss you?” Stiles was all for asking first. 

“Yes,” Derek smiled, actually smiled. “Come here and do it properly.” 

Right in the fucking honor. Derek was actually challenging Stiles, motioning to his lap as if outright daring Stiles to just climb him like the sexy tree he was. Not that Derek was that much taller than Stiles, but climbing someone like a shrub just didn’t seem as sexy. 

“I’ll show you properly,” Stiles was determined to make this the best kiss Derek had ever had. 

So he climbed into Derek’s lap, straddled him like he wasn’t nervous that he was already fucking it all up, and made sure that he was attuned to Derek’s every move. Because if Derek had any doubts, any doubts at all, Stiles didn’t want to push. He wanted to get this right on the first try, because that was precisely what Derek deserved. 

“Straight to sitting in your lap,” Stiles pondered out loud. “You don’t start small, do you?” 

Derek had a very comfortable lap, though Stiles did want to wiggle a little bit to make sure that he’d found the perfect spot to settle in. Though he knew that was bad form, so he was really trying to sit very, very still until Derek told him that it was okay to move. 

“I figured that since we’re basically engaged,” Derek teased, “we could skip a couple steps.” 

With that, Derek’s big hands moved to Stiles’ lower back, just inches from the curve of his ass - and Stiles was immediately tempted to wiggle so that those hands would move those final inches. Clearly that was what they both wanted, and they were basically engaged so it wasn’t like some mild ass-grabbing would be out of line for either of them. 

“Just a couple, though,” Stiles knew it was time to bring out the snark in return. “I’ll let you call the shots, because I’m pretty much down for anything with you, anytime you want.” 

It made Derek chuckle, which had been the whole goal of saying that out loud. Honestly, he was probably just going to make it his life’s mission to make Derek smile and/or laugh. That sounded like an incredibly important and valuable way to spend his time. Because he was going to treasure every twitch of Derek’s mouth, every smile that actually made his eyes crinkle adorably and showed off the bunny teeth. And he was going to catalogue all of the happy sounds that he was going to get Derek to make, and what he’d done to make it happen. 

“Promises, promises,” Derek was enjoying the banter very much, it seemed. 

Stiles finally gave into the urge to wiggle a little bit, just so he could find the perfect spot in Derek’s lap, and so that he could get Derek’s hands where he wanted them. And once again Derek’s mind-reading powers seemed to kick in, because he just knew exactly what Stiles wanted from him at that very second. It made Stiles feel even happier. 

He’d be happy to stay like this forever. 

“You still haven’t kissed me yet,” Derek was looking at an invisible watch on his wrist. 

The sass on his future fiance. The sheer sass, the teasing that made Stiles want to just go for it, to kiss that damn smirk off that ridiculous mouth of his. 

So he did, pressing his lips to Derek carefully at first, until he felt Derek respond to him, by tightening his grip on Stiles’ ass and trying to get him closer. Then, Stiles went for it, for real this time. He looped his arms around Derek’s neck and licked at Derek’s pink lips, trying to burn the taste of him into his memory. Derek responded so beautifully, flushing slightly as he opened his mouth for Stiles and clung to him with all of his considerable strength, like he needed Stiles to be his anchor as the floor dropped out from under him. 

Stiles could certainly relate to that feeling. 

“I think we need to do this all the time,” Stiles briefly pulled back. “Pack rule. The Alpha and the Emissary need to have all the time in the world for kissing. All the time.” 

Derek rolled his eyes a little, because he clearly couldn’t just admit that he agreed with everything that Stiles had been saying. Even though he barely finished the gesture before leaning in for another kiss, one that was hungry and fierce and had a hint of fang to it. Which was probably one of the hottest things that had happened to Stiles, ever. 

Probably? Make that definitely, because Derek was clearly doing it on purpose, his hands remaining perfectly human and claw-less. That kind of control? Super fucking hot. 

“Proper enough for you?” Stiles had to ask as he tried to catch his breath. 

“There’s nothing proper about it,” Derek looked far too pleased at that. 

He looked like he was finally able to leave his worries at the door, at least for a little bit. Tomorrow would bring new things, new people and new dangers, but tonight? Tonight they could banter and tease and be happy. 

It lasted three days. Or, well, it took the assholes three days. 

Derek had been getting antsy after two, and he’d barely settled down when camera footage from the outskirts of town revealed that more and more dark SUVs were making their way to the local dodgy motel. They hadn’t gotten the chance to look at any faces yet, but Tara had been sent on a reconnaissance mission about an hour ago, and she was hopefully going to come back with names and descriptions and perhaps even pictures. And some bad guys on her trail who were stupid enough to follow a law enforcement officer. 

She was the best choice: affiliated with law enforcement but still very human, and with a way of making even the grumpiest clerks divulge their secrets. That way was her soft smile, the smile that made people think that they couldn’t possibly have anything to fear from her - the smile that made them forget about the core of steel that she was hiding underneath. 

“I think they brought Peter with them,” Derek didn’t make it a point of sniffing so obviously unless something serious was going on. “I smell pack, Hale pack. It has to be him.” 

Peter Hale had been used as an attack dog for years now - it made sense for the hunters to take him along with them, especially because they still thought that they could finish off the last of the Hale pack today. Of course they were going to try to use the Hale under their control to kill the last free Hale. Those assholes would think of it as some kind of poetic justice, while Stiles just thought of it as needlessly cruel - which made it perfectly in character for them. 

“We expected that,” Stiles nodded. “I’ve been preparing for just that.” 

He hadn’t shared the details with anyone yet, just in case he didn’t have enough time to figure it out, or not enough time to recharge from the last major spell he’d done for Derek. Because honestly, this new spell was going to be for Derek too. For Peter Hale, whatever kind of person he may be, but mostly for Derek, so that he could have a family again. A family that was connected by blood as well as the one that he was already building, the one that was connected because the family members wanted to be connected. 

“You still like preparing for anything, Batman” Erica teased him. “Even though you didn’t usually have the patience to actually stick to your supposedly brilliant plans.” 

Sometimes it was really fun to see his old friends again, and sometimes it just got embarrassing because these friends knew all the shit he’d pulled before he knew better, or before he learned to at least count to ten some of the times he came up with an idea that he just had to try. 

Yes, some of the times. Because he hadn’t exactly been thinking when he grabbed Derek and dragged them all the way to Oregon. That had been all instinct and belief. 

“Supposedly?” Now Stiles was just offended. 

“I still think you’re brilliant,” Derek was quick to reassure him. 

At least someone still believed in him. 

Stiles pulled Derek in for a quick kiss in thanks, wanting to make sure that no matter how this was going to go - most likely their way, but no one could ever be completely sure about that - that Derek knew how much Stiles appreciated everything about him. So one kiss turned into two, and two turned into three, until Stiles lost count a little. 

Apparently Derek was completely fine with this level of PDA. 

“I think they’re coming,” Boyd interrupted that tender moment. 

Either Boyd’s senses were ridiculously good - which honestly wouldn’t surprise Stiles one bit - or he’d heard or sensed something else that told him that it was time. 

“I think you’re right,” John Stilinski nodded. “I just got a message from Tara. She confirmed the identities of the hunters. She’s letting them follow her here, as planned.” 

Tara was fucking awesome, and apparently just completely fine with leading a whole gang of hunters on a merry chase around town, while still pretending that she had no idea what was going on. Even though Tara could spot an actual tail from a mile away, because she was good at her job. And, well, she had a cousin who’d been turned into a werewolf a couple of years ago, and another who’d married into the Mahealani pack a while ago. She cared about equal rights for supernatural creatures, and she was always going to come through for them. 

“Five minute warning,” Stiles hollered at their team. 

They had a team, and it was fucking awesome. 

Just like he’d explained to Derek, it wasn’t just Derek and the Stilinskis (though that would have made a totally fucking awesome indie band name). It was also Kira and both of her parents, even though Ken was mostly staying at a distance after he’d helped put up the fucking awesome booby traps earlier that day. It was Parrish and his insane fire tolerance and his skills with a gun. It was the betas - Erica and Boyd, followed by a recent turn Stiles also vaguely remembered from high school: Isaac Lahey. It was Melissa on standby with her med kit, and several people hidden a bit further out, trying to be stealthy about taking down some hunters before they could even get to the clearing where the rest of the team was waiting. 

Corey’s invisibility came in particularly handy, and Malia had been aching for some evil monsters to get her fangs and claws into. There were almost two dozen people openly involved on their side - and another half a dozen people involved from a distance. 

Because Stiles had made the call to France two days ago, and while there was no way that she was going to make it back to Beacon Hills in time to fight with them, Allison Argent was very much on their side. And so was her father, albeit a bit more reluctantly, seeing as he didn’t like what his sister had turned into. Chris was still hoping to save her, apparently. 

Not that Stiles was ever going to let him try. Not if he had anything to say about it. 

“Are you sure everyone is okay with this?” Derek had to ask that question again. 

“The answer hasn’t changed in the last hour or so,” Stiles tried to be gentle about reminding him. “They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to be. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe that this is the right thing to do. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t on our side.” 

It was important to Stiles to say that it was their side. Not just his, and not just Derek’s, but theirs. Because they were going to do this together from now on. Anything that came up, they were going to face it together. Anyone who thought that they could hurt one of them, was going to have both of them to deal with - and a whole bunch of other people. 

“Don’t be an idiot, Der-Bear,” Erica strutted over to them, smirk on her face. “I’m not going to walk out before the fighting gets good. You can’t pull me out of the game now that I’m finally getting my chance to rip out some hunter guts. Also, you’re probably going to be at least a half-decent Alpha, which means you’re at least two hundred percent better than the idiot Boyd and I had before. So stop pouting and maybe make out with Stiles some more.” 

Look, was Stiles annoyed that their pack was determined to get involved in their conversations? Yeah, maybe a little. Was he delighted at how hard Erica shipped them and wanted them to make out in front of her? Abso-freaking-lutely. Sure, it bordered on voyeurism but he could be cool with that as long as Derek was cool with it and they weren’t about to battle the source of all evil. Because right now, the timing just was not in their favor, no matter how much Stiles really wanted to make out with Derek some more. But then again, he always wanted that. 

“Please don’t,” Stiles’ Dad had managed to overhear that part. 

“You’re just jealous,” Stiles had to tease. “I pulled my head out of my ass and found someone, and you still haven’t asked Melissa out on a date. It’s been years.” 

It probably wasn’t the right time to get into that either, but Stiles liked to give these really obvious reminders occasionally. Because this had basically been a thing since high school, but it just never happened and then his Dad dated Lydia Martin’s mom for a while and that was just a whole new league of awkward. But they were both single now. It was time. 

Maybe after the battle, they could have one of those ‘thank God we’re alive’ kisses. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” his Dad was a terrible liar. 

Derek looked at him skeptically, which was saying a lot, because Derek had only met Melissa like twice, and both of those times John Stilinski had been anything but subtle. Because that absolutely ran in the family. It wasn’t like Stiles was any better. 

“I have no idea why we’re talking about this now,” Parrish changed the subject, because of course he was on his Boss’ side here. “They’ll be here soon.” 

Those few minutes were passing mighty fast. Stiles hoped Tara hadn’t rushed too much, and that she managed to stay out of the way of actual danger. Sure, they hadn’t expected the hunters to act against a human officer of the law, and Tara did carry both regular and wolfsbane bullets on her at all times, but one could never be sure. 

“Alright, spread out,” John Stilinski started directing. “All of us with regular human hearing should stay within earshot of a wolf, so we can relay messages. And so they can tell us what the hell is going on. Derek, son, you look like they’re here already.” 

That particular part of the plan had been Ken’s idea. Using the strategic advantage of the werewolves and their super hearing, and being prepared for any kind of trap that was meant to negate the super hearing. The typical high pitched noises hadn’t been heard yet, but Stiles wouldn't be surprised if Kate and her cronies had some tricks up their sleeves. It always paid to be prepared for any kind of eventuality, after all. 

So they moved into position, Stiles and Derek at the center and with a visual of everyone else. 

“They are,” Derek nodded. “Coming our way from South and East. No movement in North or West yet. If it stays that way, those teams should circle around to surround them.” 

Stiles reached for Derek’s hand again, just briefly, before moving away as he heard the rustling of leaves. Someone was coming, moving in their direction - so why wasn’t Derek worried yet? Or well, not as worried as Stiles had been expecting him to be at Kate’s entrance? 

When Tara stepped out into the clearing, Stiles smiled. She was completely unharmed, proud and strong and grinning fiercely. She was still in uniform and only took her hand off her gun when she saw that her compatriots were equally unharmed. 

“Here we go,” Tara’s smile wasn’t nearly as sweet as it usually was. “They didn’t think I noticed them, but honestly? There were far too many of them for me not to notice. It’s kind of offensive how little they think of us small town cops.” 

Hunters were used to getting those very same small town cops on their side, talking about shooting animals that were dangerous, hurting animals and people alike. Because in most of those small towns, the local law enforcement officers were not in the know - they didn’t know that most of the time, any real damage had been done by the hunters to excuse their own murderous tendencies. Any damage to the humans was done in self-defense, and any damage to animals was hunters trying to stir up shit. 

Beacon Hills was different though. And these monsters had no idea. 

“I’m pretty sure we can get them to change their minds,” the Sheriff was proud of his people. 

There was screaming in the distance. Stiles mentally went through the areas in his head, and figured out that Malia had finally gotten what she wanted, some good old-fashioned violence against evil. They’d agreed on no killing unless absolutely necessary, but that didn’t mean that Malia wasn’t going to scare the shit out of them and maybe wound them a little. 

“She’s coming here,” Derek could hear the details, so he continued to report to Stiles and anyone else within earshot. “With about half a dozen lackeys, maybe more. A dozen, max. But they started with about twenty to twenty-five. Who was on the South-East?” 

Derek was incredible, the way he’d figured out how many people were involved and who was moving where. It seemed almost impossible that he could keep track of all of them, and somehow he managed. He explained it clearly and concisely as the other wolves softly repeated it for the humans and other team members without super hearing. They didn’t want to risk being overheard by the hunters now. That would just ruin the next surprise. 

“Malia was in charge,” Stiles grinned. 

“Definitely one of Peter’s,” Derek almost grinned, then abruptly turned very serious. 

That was definitely a sign. They were coming. They were close. Time to shut up. Time for everyone to be very still and very, very quiet, no matter how impossible that usually was for Stiles. Either of those things was hard enough, but both? 

Still, he’d do it. For Derek. For all of them. 

“Derek, sweetheart,” that familiar voice started calling out. “You didn’t really think that you could get rid of us that easy, could you? I’m proud of you for being smart enough to use what’s left of your family’s money to pay off some local idiots, but it’s not going to be enough.” 

Pay off some local idiots? Oh wow, Kate really did massively underestimate them. Apparently she really thought that there was no way that Derek could get anyone on his side without having to pay for it. And apparently she thought that he didn’t even have enough money left to hire quality people - which, Malia was going to want to rip her throat out for that. And Stiles was starting to wonder if maybe he should just let that happen. 

Maybe even make some popcorn. Not that they’d brought that into the woods. 

“What is it, dog?” Kate said then. “What do you smell?” 

She made her way into the clearing, still mostly focused on Peter, who was apparently leading her straight to Derek. Because true pack, true family, they could always find each other, no matter how long it had been, and no matter that people had tried to sever the pack bond. 

“Surprise, motherfucker,” Stiles just couldn’t resist the reference. “Bet you thought you’d seen the last of my dazzling self.” 

Kate looked up and stopped in her tracks for just a second, the men behind her not even noticing that she’d stopped. They kept moving closer, until they too reached the clearing and realized that their supposedly simple murder of the last Hale was going to be a lot more complicated than they’d expected. Because while Derek was pretty much the last Hale, he was not the only member of his pack, and especially not of his extended pack - the town. 

Derek was just one of four werewolves, standing with two kitsunes and three law enforcement officers (and one of them was a hellhound). And Stiles. He had Stiles. 

“Sweetheart, did you actually make a friend?” Kate scoffed dismissively. 

“I found a pack,” Derek stood up straight and looked her straight in the eye. 

Because that was the trigger phrase, the one that meant that everyone moved as one, rushing the henchmen and leaving Stiles and Derek to deal with Kate and her poor, tortured werewolf. 

Speaking of… Peter Hale was not going to be Kate’s much longer. 

It had to be now. It had to be now that the wicked witch was distracted enough by Derek somehow managing to get a whole group of people on his side. This was the shot Stiles needed to try something truly outlandish. Sure, it was going to be well worth it if it worked, but he hadn’t exactly been able to do a trial run. But he believed that he could do it. 

And that had to matter more than anything else. That’s how it worked, usually. 

Stiles looked at Peter Hale, the man who moved like an animal even though he was currently wearing his entirely human face. In a flash, he saw the beta blue eyes that meant that Peter had taken an innocent life - or just felt intensely guilty about a death that he’d been involved in, but seeing as Stiles knew that Peter had been forced to murder his niece… Well, it was obvious that there were multiple reasons why the man would have blue eyes in his werewolf shift as well as in his more human form. Apart from that flash, they’d been cold as ice. 

“Uncle Peter,” Derek said, because he had to try. 

That also made for another excellent distraction, so Stiles could close his eyes and take a couple of deep breaths before he focused all of his magical energy on Peter Hale. He opened his eyes again to see that the wolf had stopped moving, probably because he sensed the presence of magic in and around his body. Wolves distrusted magic, mostly. 

Especially those who had been manipulated by hunters. 

“Do you really think this is a Disney movie?” The Wicked Witch just laughed in his face. “That the power of love is going to bring him back to you? That’s adorable. You were always so naive, sweetheart. I see you haven’t grown out of that yet.” 

Stiles was going to make sure that Derek got to believe in happy endings again, starting with this fight, and this day. Sure, Stiles probably wasn’t going to be able to keep it all clean and child-friendly, but he was at least going to stick to the happy endings part of it, believing with all of his might that he could fix Peter Hale. That he could make the man remember who he’d been before, and remember that these hunters had only bad intentions. 

Peter howled as Stiles continued to believe, falling down onto hands and knees as if standing up was just too hard. He shifted to his beta shift and then back again, and those ice cold eyes were completely human when he turned them to Derek and smiled. 

“What’s wrong with our best dog?” Kate looked at the spectacle with disdain. “Did you idiots forget to remind him to behave? Did you forget his daily dosage of wolfsbane?”

When Kate revealed that particular bit of information, Stiles grinned. Because he knew how to extract wolfsbane from wounds, and he figured that this would work the same way. He believed that this would work, and he believed in it even more when Peter Hale seemed to be steadier on his feet with every second Stiles believed. The spell was working. 

“Kate,” Peter growled then, moving back to standing on his own two feet. 

“I thought you’d forgotten how to talk,” Kate was only slightly dismayed, but mostly bored. “I kind of liked it when you couldn’t talk. Because that’s not what you’re here for, dog.” 

The grin on Peter’s face at those words was almost enough for Stiles to question if the spell had worked after all, but then Peter leapt at Kate with supernatural speed, his claws extended as he pushed her to the ground and slashed her throat in one single, graceful move. 

Now that hadn’t technically been part of the plan. 

“I win,” Peter laughed triumphantly, slightly manic. “I win. The Hales win.” 

It was a victory. Sure, it was a murder, and one that they probably had to cover up somehow - but it meant that the worst of it was over. It meant that Kate Argent was no longer the matriarch of their family. It meant that Allison was the next leader, Allison who knew Stiles and knew Beacon Hills and now knew the kind of havoc that her aunt had been wreaking for years. That phone call had been an excellent idea, and even though Allison hadn’t been thrilled at hearing the news that her aunt was most likely going to be dead by night’s end… She’d understood. 

“Are you sure it took?” Stiles had to ask, just bloodthirsty enough to want to make sure. “I don’t want any surprise resurrections a few months or years from now.” 

This was Beacon Hills after all, where no one and nothing stayed dead, unless the body was found and cut into pieces or burned. And Stiles wasn’t exactly thrilled about potentially having to do some burning or mutilating, but he’d take it on all too happily if it meant that this monster was out of their lives for good. If it meant that Kate Argent was never going to be allowed to hurt a single being ever again, human or animal or supernatural. 

“She’s dead,” Derek was the one who responded. “I can feel it.” 

Stiles reached for him, wanting to hold on to his hand for a little while. Derek didn’t seem to think that hand-holding was enough, though, as he pulled Stiles closer. The embrace was unexpected yet completely welcome, and Stiles gently ran his hands up and down Derek’s back as he shuddered in pain and relief. Perhaps now Derek was finally going to get the chance to mourn for what had been lost, now that he no longer had to worry for his own life. 

“I’m glad,” Stiles had to say it. “I’m glad I saw you and I took you and that you let me. I’m glad you get your uncle back and I’m glad that he tore that monster’s throat out.” 

Derek was trembling, allowing himself to be a little vulnerable for once. Even in front of their friends, who were still holding the rest of the hunters at bay. He just let out those shuddering breaths and clung to Stiles like he was the only thing keeping him upright. Because maybe he was, and Stiles was happy to do it. For as long as Derek needed him to. 

But the embrace was not allowed to last forever. 

“Nephew,” Peter Hale called out, visibly swaying on his feet. 

“Uncle,” Derek ran towards him, catching him just before he hit the ground. 

It was stupid how much Stiles already missed Derek’s warmth, but he was also stupidly proud of him. He was stupidly impressed at how Derek didn’t even think about it, at how he just had to help his uncle, even though he couldn’t actually be sure that Peter was completely back to normal yet. He just believed that Stiles had fixed him, and that Peter needed him. 

Stiles loved that idiot so damn much. 

“I fear I’ve overextended myself a little,” the sarcastic drawl was enough for Stiles to believe that Peter was going to take far too well to the rest of their pack. “Being tortured and dosed with wolfsbane for years on end does that to you. Though I can’t sense any wolfsbane anymore.” 

Yes, Peter was going to fit in just fine. As long as he didn’t actually lean into the creepy uncle stereotype that much, he was going to be able to snark with the best of them. Erica was probably going to tease him about being old, and Stiles was going to be a little shit about anything he could figure out about Peter’s embarrassing past as a skirt chaser - there were a couple people in Beacon Hills who were possibly half Hale. 

Stiles had suspicions about Malia - and about Jackson Whittemore, but that was a whole other story that they probably should get into when there wasn’t a battle raging. 

And Derek? Derek was just going to take no shit, and treat him exactly as he had before. 

“It’s all gone,” Stiles smugly did one last check for the poison. 

Of course he’d been sure before then, but it never hurt to double and triple check, especially when it came to the health of his future fiance’s only living relative. 

“Stiles,” Derek gaped at Stiles, stupidly surprised.

“What the hell is a Stiles?” Peter just had to interject. 

Stiles just wanted to laugh, because even at a time like this, Peter Hale still had enough wits about him to make fun of Stiles’ name. Clearly he was related to Derek. 

There was another chuckle from somewhere to the side. Stiles took a glance only to see that Kira and Noshiko had easily dispatched four henchmen, and were now tying them to a couple of trees, where they would have to wait until their new leader arrived. Several hours from now. 

All around Stiles and Derek, members of the team were dealing with unconscious henchmen in their own ways. Though clothes had gotten torn in the struggle, and a few people had some forming bruises and slight cuts… Everyone had pretty much escaped unharmed - not that the same could be said for the hunters. There were probably some broken bones, some burns (Parrish had gotten his flame on), and even a few bullet wounds (both John Stilinski and Tara were scarily accurate with a gun). Whoops? 

“Your nephew’s one true love, that’s what,” Stiles figured it was okay for him to move a bit closer to the Hales. “Stiles Stilinski, nice to properly meet you.” 

He held out his hand, even though Peter was still half sitting down, half in Derek’s arms. Because Stiles could totally be polite when he wanted to be, and he kind of wanted to make a decent impression on Derek’s one remaining family member. He suddenly understood why Derek had been a little worried about meeting the Sheriff and his gun. 

“John and Claudia’s boy?” Peter’s brain was as sharp as ever, apparently. 

“Peter Hale,” the John in question had also found them. “I see you’re still every bit as dramatic as you used to be. Let’s hope you don’t get arrested nearly as much these days.” 

Now that was a story that he was going to be glad to hear all about later. He was going to pump his Dad for all the information he could get about Peter’s criminal past. Purely for blackmail purposes, of course, and just because it sounded incredibly entertaining. Surely his Dad and Peter Hale had interacted in embarrassing ways before. And Stiles needed to know. 

“Oh my God,” Derek rolled his eyes. 

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Peter Hale’s grin was sharp as a razor, slightly terrifying with its almost feral edge. “I’m an upstanding citizen now, Deputy Stilinski.” 

If that man was ever going to be an upstanding citizen, Stiles was going to… Well, he wasn’t wearing a hat, so he couldn’t offer to eat that. But yeah, Stiles was completely unconvinced of Peter’s promise to be upstanding. Because there was no fucking way he wasn’t lying - and Stiles didn’t even need to be a wolf to be able to tell. 

“That’s Sheriff Stilinski now,” Stiles’ Dad was totally enjoying that moment. 

“Oh, fuck,” Peter cursed none too quietly. “There goes that bribe.” 

It was almost impossible to keep a straight face at that, and Stiles was pretty sure that he wasn’t the only one having that problem. Derek was blatantly rolling his eyes as he let go of Peter, apparently having decided that his uncle could stand on his own power if he still had the ability to crack terrible not-jokes like that one. Which yeah, Stiles totally supported that. 

Still, it was good to have that moment of levity after a battle, brief as it had been. 

“Stiles,” a dark-haired woman stepped into the clearing and broke the spell. 

“Allison,” Stiles respectfully nodded at her. “Matriarch. I believe I have some of your men.” 

Allison really hadn’t changed much, even though Stiles hadn’t seen her face to face in several years. The dark hair was shorter now, giving her a more mature look, and her clothes were still dark and unobtrusive. She looked more dangerous these days, though still only about half as dangerous as she actually was. But when she smiled, the dimples were still there. 

“They’re not mine,” Allison’s grin was feral and dangerous. “My men would never hurt the innocent. Nous protegeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se proteger eux meme.” 

Sure, Stiles’ comprehension of French was nearly non-existent, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t know the way Allison had changed the hunter’s code since she’d left for France. She’d explained it to him over the phone, and Stiles had never been more proud of his old friend. 

“Isaac, no,” Erica said loudly, for no apparent reason. 

“But she has dimples,” Isaac apparently gave no shits. “She speaks French. And she’s down with werewolves. She couldn’t be more my type if I made her up in a lab.” 

That definitely earned him a look from Allison’s father, because naturally she hadn’t shown up in Beacon Hills by herself. She was going to need a respected right hand man if she was going to take over the Argent family without too much bloodshed. And Chris Argent was the perfect choice for that position - grown up with the former matriarch, and his deceased wife had been the matriarch before Kate. He knew exactly what the rules were. 

By the family’s rules, Allison was always supposed to have been next, before Kate even. 

“Mr. Argent,” Stiles turned to the silver fox in residence. “I’m very sorry about your loss. But I refuse to be sorry about what happened to your sister.” 

That was probably a bit much, even though he wanted to be sure that there were no lies between the Hale pack and the Argents. And he hadn’t lied, he’d been completely honest when he said that he was sorry for Chris and Allison’s loss. It sucked when friends and allies lost someone they loved. But he really couldn’t find it in himself to be even remotely sorry that Kate Argent had been killed by the man she’d tortured and enslaved for so long. 

She’d deserved all that and more and he hoped she got all of that when she got to the Bad Place. They probably had plenty of ideas about how best to torture her. 

“Thank you, Mr. Stilinski,” the response was actually kind of respectful. 

It was beyond surprising, because Stiles knew that Chris Argent had never liked him all that much. It was even more surprising that he accepted the blatant disrespect of his sister and her status within their family, and that he dared to give Derek a respectful nod from a distance. 

“Alpha Hale,” Allison actually addressed him directly. “Beta Hale. On behalf of the only decent branch of the Argent family tree, I apologize for what has happened to you and to your family. All of Kate’s assets will be sold, with the benefits going to your pack. I believe you’ll need a new pack house in the near future. It would only be fair if she paid for it.” 

Oh, Allison made an excellent point there, because Kate Argent may have paid with her life, but that clearly was not enough payment to cover all of her sins. Nothing would be enough payment for all of her sins, but making her pay like this would definitely help the new Hale pack build themselves up from the metaphorical ashes - and yeah, Stiles wasn’t going to say anything like that out loud because even though the Hale house in Beacon Hills had just been torn down, the house they’d moved to had been turned to ash just a few months after they’d moved in. 

Clearly Stiles was going to keep his mouth shut about some phoenix metaphors. 

“I like her,” Peter grinned that evil grin again. “Christopher, you’ve done well for yourself. The grey suits you too. I suppose that makes you a silver fox now, doesn’t it?” 

Was Peter Hale actually hitting on Chris Argent now? Was this actually happening? Right here, right now, right in front of Stiles’ salad? Not that he wasn’t into this show and would buy tickets if the flirting happened more often. He just wanted to see if Peter could actually get a reaction out of the DILF. Because yeah, Stiles really couldn’t blame Peter for trying. 

“Don’t start, Peter,” Chris Argent wasn’t even swayed. 

“You say that now,” Peter wasn’t done. “Soon you’ll be saying ‘don’t stop’ instead.” 

Wow, those were some terrible lines, but Stiles still wanted to applaud Peter for just going for it, and in front of everyone too. Because Chris Argent could have easily just dismissed Peter, or rejected him outright, but he didn’t. And there had to have been a reason for that, and Peter wasn’t too scared to attempt to discover that reason. And kudos for that. 

“I can’t be here for this,” Derek stepped back until he reached Stiles. 

Stiles was perfectly willing to let Derek hide in his arms, or just to let him hide his face while Stiles put his hands over his boyfriend’s ears to block out at least some of the flirting. Because not even Stiles’ hands would be enough to keep that werewolf hearing from catching at least part of what was going on, at least at this distance. 

“My favorite nephew is abandoning me already,” Peter easily shifted gears. “Kids these days.” 

With some muttering about how Derek wasn’t actually a kid anymore, Stiles and Derek dragged their new errant beta back with them. Clean-up was someone else’s job, and especially the law enforcement part of their team was going to have a hell of a time destroying the evidence, together with the Argents. The good Argents, of course. 

But for now, Stiles just got to cuddle up to his boyfriend and relish in their win. 

“Please tell me your home is soundproofed,” Peter interrupted yet again. 

Fuck. Maybe his Dad wouldn’t mind if Peter took over the guest room?

Quite a lot had happened in a month. 

Peter had gotten sick of sleeping on the couch at Stiles’, and of the guest room at the other Stilinski house, and was now bunking with the Yukimura family. Noshiko had a soundproofed guest room and enough power to keep Peter in line if he caused any trouble. Sure, Stiles wasn’t expecting for that arrangement to last a whole lot longer than any of the other options, but at least Peter was taken care of for the time being. Because it was going to be a while until they could get him a place of his own - especially because he’d been presumed dead. 

Kate’s assets had been liquidated surprisingly fast - Stiles suspected that Allison and Chris had something to do with it, with some bonus strong-arming from the Beacon Hills Sheriff. The arm of the law had quite a reach, it seemed. 

Which meant that they were starting construction on the new pack house. Today. 

“How did you get the plans so fast?” Stiles just had to ask. 

“My Dad was an architect,” Derek still had some issues with talking about his parents, even to Stiles. “I called his old partner the morning after… We found Peter again. He designed it for us for almost nothing. Anything for Stephen’s son, he said.” 

Sometimes Stiles forgot that Talia wasn’t Derek’s only parent. He didn’t talk about his father much, preferring to talk about his mother or sisters whenever the topic of family came up - and only if he couldn’t avoid it. It was as if Peter’s appearance in his life made him more reluctant to talk about the pack they’d had before. Which was his right, but Stiles was a curious idiot, and he just wanted to know everything about his boyfriend. 

Derek had been putting up with him for a whole month now. 

“That’s nice of him,” Stiles knew that was putting it mildly. “He did a good job. I especially like the Alpha suite thing you’ve got going on there. That looks like the perfect spot for a sexy Emissary to lay his weary head at night.” 

There was a snort from the peanut gallery, but Stiles was only interested in seeing Derek’s response to that. Because while they were technically engaged to be engaged, they hadn’t exactly discussed the whole cohabitation aspect of their future marriage. Not that they needed to, because it had only been a month since they’d met and gotten together - but Stiles was pretty sure it was never too early to start planting some seeds. 

This was exactly the right time to make sure that the Alpha suite was built to his exacting specifications. He had standards, and he was going to make sure that there was a TV in the bedroom, no matter how much of a luddite Derek could be at times. Sure, Stiles enjoyed reading as much as the next guy - probably even more so - but he did most of his reading from a computer screen these days. Not everyone could look sexy while holding a first edition of a nineteenth century Spanish author. Derek? Totally could. 

“I don’t know which part of that I should roll my eyes at first,” Derek finally responded. 

“Not the sexy part,” Erica bumped her hip into Stiles, almost making him fall over. “Because we all know that would make you a filthy liar.” 

Look, there was no way that Stiles and Derek would have been able to keep their hands off each other until they’d finished building this place. Not when it had taken Derek about a week and a half to throw Stiles down onto the bed and ride him hard. Fortunately - or maybe unfortunately, Stiles wasn’t sure yet - he hadn’t been put away wet. 

Still, that left at least two weeks of them having sex on every available surface, at every possible opportunity. And that left a lot of opportunities for the betas to catch them at it, even though they really should have known better with how sharp their senses were. 

Stiles suspected Erica’s multiple interruptions had been completely intentional. 

“Just tell me that Alpha suite is sound-proofed,” Isaac wasn’t nearly as into listening in on his Alpha as Erica was. “I’ve been mentally scarred enough. It’s only been a month.” 

Isaac fit in far too well with the rest of the pack, and him and Stiles had developed the kind of banter that revolved around their supposed hatred for each other. Because Isaac couldn’t admit that he actually quite liked his pack’s Emissary - even though Stiles was totally likeable. 

Still, the feigning of mutual hatred totally worked for Stiles too. 

“Well, just because you’re not getting any,” Stiles teased. 

“Allison’s coming back,” Isaac had to argue. “She’s just gone back to France to get all of her things and to prepare to come back for good. And then I’ll finally ask her out.” 

Some things had not happened. Some things took more than a month - and if Isaac ever stopped drooling from afar, he’d realize that Allison was almost as interested in him as Isaac was in her. But Stiles was not counting on that happening any time soon. Isaac had surprisingly low self-esteem for someone with his sartorial choices. The scarves alone were a statement. 

“Five bucks on him chickening out,” Erica was not impressed. 

“Ten on Allison asking first,” Boyd had a much better idea. 

Sure, Boyd wasn’t the loudest one in the pack, but when the other betas gave him an opportunity to talk, he always had something particularly excellent to say. He had the kind of deadpan jokes that had Stiles in stitches, while also knowing when to get serious or get a little more heartfelt. Because Boyd had an incredibly big heart underneath the snark and the muscles, and Stiles was never going to let anyone reduce him to just the big guy. 

Kira might have turned into Derek’s best friend, but Boyd was a very close second. Those two stoic sons of bitches had their very own book club that was just for the two of them. Judging by the books Stiles had spotted on the nightstand on Derek’s side of the bed, it wasn’t a book club he’d be particularly interested in, but Derek was thrilled to share his love of Shakespeare (in every translation he could get his hands on) with someone. Stiles was mostly just in it for the dick jokes and the banter, but he didn’t need to analyze it to death.

Shocking, right? 

“Fifteen on Chris Argent giving the shovel talk before anyone asks anyone out on a date,” Kira had the superior idea. “He’s been glaring at Isaac ever since they met.” 

No one wanted to take that bet, because they were all pretty sure that there was a serious shovel talk in Isaac’s near future. Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if Chris left France a few days early just so he could get that talk over and done with before Allison even stepped foot onto American soil again. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. 

“He’s not going to kill me, is he?” Isaac just had to make sure. 

“Allison wouldn’t let him,” Stiles reassured him. 

Also, Chris Argent probably wouldn’t do that unless Isaac did something that seriously hurt Allison, but it was fun to let Isaac believe that he would, at least for a hot second. Messing with Isaac had been one of the most fun additions to his hobbies over the last month. 

“I thought my pack would have my back,” Isaac just needed to fight a bit more, it seemed. 

“Well,” Stiles made a doubtful noise just because he could. 

Of course the pack was going to have his back if he ever got into actual trouble. Erica might have mostly treated Isaac like the annoying little brother she’d never wanted, but she was also the first to start threatening to crack some skulls on Isaac’s behalf. And the rest of the pack was quick to follow, as Isaac was the unofficial baby of the group at the moment, even though he was a ridiculously tall baby. Why were the guy wolves so tall? Totally unfair. 

“No gambling,” Derek finally managed to interject. “Anyone who does put money on their packmates’ love lives will be forced to pay for the next pack pizza night.” 

That certainly silenced everyone, because no one wanted to be stuck with that ridiculously expensive bill. Like, Stiles had known that werewolves could really pack it away, but Pizza Night had been something else. Stiles was lucky that he was the Alpha’s boyfriend and therefore actually had a chance of grabbing a couple of slices before the rest of the pack just started eating like actual wolves. That was a dangerous battle, too dangerous for any human to get involved in without being backed by his boyfriend. 

Using magic to win? Oh yeah, that had totally occurred to him, and he’d been working on a couple of spells that might help him finally get enough food, but he liked it better when Derek got to growl and make them behave - and mostly when he got to provide for Stiles. Because Derek liked it a lot, which usually led to the kind of moments that Erica wanted to listen in on. 

“Good,” Derek was a benevolent Alpha. 

“Now, do you want to make a speech, Der?” Stiles had to ask. “Or do you just want to get to work already? Or you could let me make a speech, I’m good at talking.” 

Look, Stiles might have had part of a speech prepared for this very occasion. It was snarky, with just a touch of sappy stuff, and it was going to make the pack feel even more united than they did when they all ganged up on Peter together. 

That particular pack tradition had been established almost immediately, and it was something that Peter not only allowed, but encouraged. Because he just gave back as good as he got, snarking at them like he was actually getting paid for it. He pointed out weaknesses with only a bit of malice, trying to hide how much he appreciated being part of a pack again. 

“About one month ago,” surprisingly enough, Derek appeared to be choosing the speech option. “I came back to Beacon Hills with a pack of hunters on my tail. For some reason, the local idiot decided that it looked like I needed help handling that.” 

Of course he’d needed help handling it - he’d been losing so damn hard that there was no way that he could have turned the tide. Not without help, not without finding someone who was willing to stand by him and fight for their lives with him. Not without someone who’d been willing and able to save that gorgeous damsel from the monsters surrounding him. 

Someone like - the local idiot? 

“Hey,” Stiles wasn’t even remotely offended, but he was still going to defend himself. 

“And he was completely right,” Derek kept talking as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “Even though he went about it in the most idiotic way, he showed me that I didn’t have to do any of it alone, not ever again. Not just because of him fighting for me, but because there were many people who wanted to fight with me. He gave me family when I thought all of mine had been lost, and he gave me a future when I thought all I had was a past.” 

Wow, that was surprisingly sappy, especially for Derek’s standards. It was stupidly sincere too, which was even harder to deal with. Because Derek was ridiculously attractive when he was being sincere - almost as attractive as when he was rolling his eyes at Stiles and calling him on every bit of his bullshit. Which meant that Stiles was a little bit speechless and a whole lot emotional and even more ready to jump on Derek and show him the time of his life. 

“You two are disgusting,” Erica was smiling far too proudly to be believed. 

“Please don’t make out in front of us again,” Isaac groaned. 

Yeah, like Stiles would ever be able to keep his hands off Derek for more than a few hours - and vice versa, because Derek had constantly proven to be tactile as hell. He wrapped himself around Stiles at night, and constantly found excuses to touch him during the day. And Stiles was not going to make him stop, not ever. Derek could express himself as much as he wanted. 

“I can make no such promise,” Stiles grinned. 

Kira was smiling at them, always so very pleased that they’d found each other and that they were so very happy together. Which meant that the next item on Stiles’ list - after making sure that Allison and Isaac got their shit together - was going to be to find someone who appreciated the loveliness that was Kira. Because she deserved someone who looked at her like she was the best damn thing in the world. You know, the way Stiles looked at Derek. 

“Just get out of here,” Isaac motioned for them to shoo. 

“We have work to do,” Stiles was happy to get out of said work. 

Honestly, unless he started popping off spells all over the place, he wasn’t going to be all that helpful during this part of the construction. Sure, he was happy to supervise while watching his shirtless boyfriend carry heavy things (yes, that was just a fantasy but that didn’t mean that it couldn’t happen), but he was pretty sure that was not what the pack was looking for from him. 

Not right now and maybe not ever. 

“Want to get out of here?” Stiles offered Derek his arm. “I can take us anywhere.” 

He’d been working on his magical reserves, and looking up people who were willing to mentor him at a distance - because he sure as hell wasn’t going to be working with Deaton anymore. That was done the second Stiles had found out about the way that man had treated Derek. And it wasn’t like their philosophies on magic had meshed all that well before, or their personalities worked well together. Stiles was just going to eliminate that source of frustration. 

Pretty soon he was going to find a much better Yoda - and then he was totally going to master the transportation spell properly. And practice was totally going to help. 

“Because that went so well the last time you did that,” Derek was apparently not all that impressed. “Does the Bog of Eternal Bugs ring any bells?” 

Well, apparently Derek didn’t feel comfortable being his guinea pig, which was just rude. He really didn’t have to call Stiles out in front of everyone, though. Now the pack was laughing at him, thinking that they had something on him. Which they didn’t. 

“How dare you,” Stiles gaped at Derek. “You just finished giving this adorable speech about how I made a change in your life because of that very spell, and now you’re dismissing the beautiful time we shared in that marsh. Me, passing out? You, gently cradling my head on your lap and using that leather jacket as a pillow? That is what dreams are made of, Ryan.” 

Okay, so maybe this was not the best time to bust out that nickname. The look on Derek’s face wasn’t all that amused, and the pack mostly just seemed confused. 

“Ryan?” A chorus of voices from the pack. 

“Does he not look like Ryan Gosling in that one movie?” Stiles motioned at Derek. 

That description was kind of vague, but he was pretty sure that at least some of the pack members were going to get what he was talking about. And if not, he knew which movie they had to watch on the next - and first - pack movie night. Because Derek didn’t get nearly enough of his references, but Stiles was going to be damned if he didn’t teach the betas about quality movies and shows and music. The children needed to be educated, okay?

And no, it didn’t matter that several of these children were older than him. 

“I have wondered if he’s photoshopped,” Kira nodded. 

“Alright, we’re leaving,” Derek sighed and immediately started walking. 

Aw, Derek clearly didn’t want to talk about his movie twin. That was fine, the whole Rumplestiltskin thing had gotten kind of passe anyway. Stiles had the rest of their lives to come up with more stupid in-jokes that no one else was going to get. 

That is, if Derek didn’t leave without letting him catch up. 

“How dare you leave without me?” Stiles started running. 

“I’m sure you could teleport and catch up to me,” Derek grinned at him. “Eventually. With a minor detour. Or two. Or three.” 

Stiles rushed and tackled him. Maybe this time Derek could be the one ending up face first in the dirt. Or maybe Stiles could take them to Oregon on purpose this time. 

That would show him.