Actions

Work Header

Something Missing

Chapter Text

Cora texted more when she was away. Not just telling him to pick up milk at the store (though she did that too) but stupid little things. Complaining that she missed his shitty coffee, that Tomas had put on four inches because life wasn't fair, that she was never going to get the smell of goats out of her nose or hair.

If she wasn't complaining, it was usually a photo. A selfie with Tomas' chin hooked over the top of her head. A sunset. The goats. All the truly hideous things she found in the flea markets her other pack was addicted to.

It was never this.

03/25/2017 Sat
Cora: You know I love you right? - 11:37 a.m.

Derek was sure there were more ominous texts she could have sent him, but he'd be hard pressed to think what they might be.

Nothing happened, though. He almost forgot about it.

-----

The next day, there was a ruckus on the stairs. Familiar steps. Familiar giggles and whispers, massed together in a way that made it hard to distinguish who and where and did nothing to tell him why.

He left his book on the coffee table anyway. Timed his response so they wouldn’t have to knock.

(Not that they would have anyway.)

He knew, roughly, what he was going to see when he opened the door, but it was always possible he was having a wolfsbane induced hallucination or something. Even if he hadn’t left the apartment in--a while. There was always the possibility.

It wasn’t a hallucination.

Isaac and Stiles grinned down at him from the doorway, wide and manic and unmistakably present in a way hallucinations just--weren't. His memory had latched onto the way they'd looked at seventeen, skinnier and shorter than they were at twenty-odd and filled in. Reality was always a surprise, when it'd been a while.

Huffing a sigh, Derek retreated back down the narrow hallway separating the front door from the rest of the apartment, letting the wave of human and werewolf and baggage flow in.

He'd liked the hallway, when he viewed the apartment. Easily defensible, if someone was stupid enough to try the door instead of going for the giant windows or the sliding glass door that led out to the balcony.

That appreciation hadn't lasted through the first time he'd tried to let a group of more than three people in at once.

"Why are you here?" he didn't quite grumble as Isaac brushed right by him, shoes and overstuffed backpack still on, headed toward his room.

"Spring Break," Stiles replied, hot on Isaac's heels but turning left instead of right when he cleared the bottleneck, trailing the stench of airport and inevitable never-admitted panic behind him. "And a miracle of timing."

Derek tried to remember but--no. No, none of them had said anything about break. Not where he could see it, at least. And that was weird. He'd have realized it was weird, if he'd thought about it.

He just--hadn't.

Allison was next through the door, and Derek had to split his attention between watching Stiles saunter across the living room to drop his duffle bag in the dead space between the couch and loveseat and boggling at Allison as she towed Scott and a bag that looked like it weighed roughly as much as she did directly down the hall toward him.

He took a prudent step back and to the side, wincing in unison with Allison as her bag bounced and banged off Scott's shoulder into the drywall. (Why wasn't Scott carrying it? Was it one of those weird, human-born pride things about carrying her own stuff, or did they just not think about it?)

The crowd at the door didn't seem to be shrinking, yet. Boyd automatically ducked as he came through the door, hand rising to take off his Air Force cadets' cap. With him bent forward, Derek could see that at the least Danny and Lydia were still in the hall, and if Danny and Scott were there, Ethan was too.

And there was Denise, ducking under Boyd's arm as he straightened back up, that weird shoulder-slung bag she insisted had never been a quiver stuffed to bursting, laughing at something Lydia was grumbling.

He--wasn't getting near the door for a while. Boyd, Denise, and Danny had all grown up in no-shoes-inside households.

(And that was still weird, no matter what Denise claimed. She was a goddamned Ochoa--even if most of the family pretended she didn't exist these days--and while they'd never gained the widespread notoriety of the Argents, what kind of hunting family kept their kids shoeless?)

Derek retreated again, tucked himself into the corner where he could see down the hall and most of the living room, at least. Stiles had sprawled over the arm of the couch closest to his bag and was unpicking his shoelaces. Scott and Allison had disappeared--somewhere; he couldn't hear them over the laughing, growling, not-fighting in the entryway, the unhappy creak of the little table that lived by the door to catch keys and receipts and prop people up while they fought with their boots.

Please let them not be in the kitchen unsupervised, he caught himself thinking, then paused to stare as Boyd came around the corner with only one shoe off, carrying Ethan like a sack of potatoes.

Boyd deposited Ethan against the wall dividing the living room from the kitchen, nodded politely to Derek, then tap-padded back into the fray as Ethan bent forward to fight with his boot laces. Again.

Over the noise of Danny laughing at Ethan, Denise and Boyd trying to dodge around one another to get his uniform jacket and her scarf untangled and off, Lydia complained "Finally," and dragged a rolling bag in out of the public hall.

Denise trotted around the end of the closet barefoot, braids bouncing and daintily pulling a pack of cards from her bag before she tossed it aside and launched herself over the coffee table onto the couch next to Stiles, landing in a flurry of creaking springs and accusations of attempted murder.

He wasn't serious, his heartbeat as close to steady as it ever got, even with her mock-snapping toward his face and pretend-angry gestures, all yellow eyes and bright teeth. That was...good. Better than last time.

The front door was still gaping open and Derek started eyeing the hallway to figure out how to get past everyone, because no. Not acceptable. Even with Boyd and Danny and Lydia still log-jammed between the door and the closet.

But before he could take a step toward them, Lydia was pulling a second bag in and swiveling, pushing at the door with her foot, swinging it closed. Or as closed as it could swing, anyway. She flexed her leg, snakeskin-patterned ballet flat pressing harder against the door, and growled when it refused to snick shut.

"You have to--" he began, but Lydia was already glaring his way, huffing "Obviously" as she let go of her rolling bags and twisted back toward the door with free hands. Turned the knob to let it latch, slid the locks home, double checked the weird, backward deadbolt to make sure it was actually in place.

There was a smile on her lips when she turned back, brushing her hands off as though they might have somehow gotten dirty. It was a small smile, quiet and pleased and real in a way she still didn't let them see very often, still more guarded in happiness than she ever was in fear or anger. It faltered when they made eye contact, but then she scrunched her nose and rolled her eyes and started pushing random loose shoes out of the way so she could pull her bags instead of just lifting them.

Because god forbid Lydia Martin resort to heavy lifting if anything less than maiming was on the line.

Boyd, second shoe finally off, as well as his belt for some reason, padded past him into the living room as Lydia kept prodding at loose shoes with her toes. Danny slid past Derek to leave two bags in the space between the bookshelves backing the hall closet and the side of the couch, then wandered off down the hall toward the rest of the apartment.

Derek had no idea where he was going or why, but he definitely seemed to have a goal in mind.

"Why are you here?" Derek asked as Lydia stepped past him too, and he could finally turn his stare entirely on the horde in his living room. Because, okay, 'Spring Break', whatever, but that didn't explain why he'd just had nine people rumble through his front door in what was obviously an organized and precise strike, executed without warning. "Without an invitation," he added as Ethan crowed in victory after finally getting out of his boots.

Danny golf-clapped from down the hall. It sounded like he was next to the bathroom.

And of course, as soon as his back was turned, Lydia returned to the entry hall, done delivering whatever she'd been carrying, apparently. But by that point, he was stuck. Couldn't turn around to watch her without it being obvious.

(Tried to remind himself that he didn't have to. That he trusted her. That she'd earned that.)

It didn't do anything to stop the itch building in the middle of his back, but it let him remember why he was ignoring it, at least.

Denise, distracted from mock-fighting with Boyd and Stiles for more than her fair share of Derek's couch, smirked up at him. "Uh, we always have an invitation?" she said, smirk deepening as he rumbled a subvocal protest. "We're pack."

Behind her, Boyd stretched his arm out to give Stiles' head a playful shove. Stiles half-heartedly swatted his hand away, and either didn't notice or ignored it when Boyd's hand stayed, just touching the side of Stiles' neck, faint traces of black seeping up Boyd's hand and beneath his sleeve, almost unnoticeable.

But Stiles wouldn't allow it if he thought anyone else was paying attention, so--

Derek rolled his eyes. "You," he said, pointing at Denise and ignoring the playful nose wrinkle she gave him back, "are pack. And you," he nodded to Boyd, waved a hand Ethan's way as the other wolf padded back from depositing his boots where they belonged in the furthest reaches of the hall closet and disappeared down the hall to collect a kiss from his boyfriend as reward.

Derek refused to even gesture toward Isaac. Could hear Scott and Allison in his room with him, now, and that was a conversation he wasn't touching. Didn't need to rehash old arguments for no reason. "Everyone else--"

"Everyone else is pack-adjacent," Stiles cut in, smug and unrepentant as Denise squirmed around to shove his arm up over the back of the couch so she could prop herself against his side, throwing her legs over Boyd's lap.

Apparently, being boxed in by boys counted less if you were using them as furniture? Derek had no idea.

The adjustment moved Boyd's hand away from Stiles' skin, but the black had already faded away. Probably just stiffness from the tension of his trip, then. Not anything new to worry about.

"Danny comes with Ethan and you know it. And," Stiles rolled his eyes, determinedly steamrolling over the snorts and snickers that only started with Ethan and Danny, returning from the hall loaded down with what looked like all of Derek's spare blankets and sheets. Which--next to the bathroom, right. But since when did Danny know that?

--Cora.

As Derek started plotting against his little sister, Stiles was saying "Allison comes with Isaac, in a totally different way. We think," he amended, briefly distracted, then shook his head, added "Isaac and Boyd both like Scott and Allison won't come without him. Which is slightly more that way. When he's not in a different state, at least. And then I assume she has a vibrator and Skype, but--" Down the hall, Scott and Isaac both choked and fell into hysterical laughter as Allison asked them what was up, "--the point is, you're kinda hosed." He grinned, smug and triumphant and fuck Derek wished he had a camera.

Lydia had finished clearing and reorganizing the entryway mess to her satisfaction and was rolling her way toward the hall, coatless, shoeless, and on her way to--where, exactly?

"I love how I'm not on this little list of yours," she tossed over her shoulder, smirking, and it looked like she only kept herself from flinching by pure force of will when she turned back and found Allison right there, apparently done in Isaac's room and come to drop off shoes and jackets for the three of them. (Or so he assumed, anyway. She had one of Isaac's sweaters draped over her shoulders and was carrying two coats and a pair of sneakers a good four inches too long for her feet.)

"Isn't it your territory anyway?" Allison asked, sliding around to long-leg it over Lydia's left-hand, smaller case. "I mean, you're further up the supernatural food chain, right?"

Derek shrugged when Lydia narrowed her eyes at him. Close enough.

She huffed, tossing her hair back over her shoulder as she turned away and started down the hall again. "I'm taking Cora and Erica's room. I emailed them already."

That explained where she was heading--if not why she was here at all--and he decided it wasn't worth asking if she'd gotten a response to those emails. Erica could express her dissatisfaction later if she needed to. (It wasn't like she'd be coming.)

"Not alone you're not," Denise called after Lydia, playing keep-away with the deck of cards she was shuffling and reshuffling as Stiles tried to pluck individual cards out of her grasp. "Dibs on Cora's bed!"

Erica would definitely be expressing her dissatisfaction later.

Allison was giggling into the depths of the coat closet, scuffling around after something that sounded like Denise's beaded scarf and someone's hoodie. (Someone not Stiles, since his didn't have a zipper and he was still wearing it anyway, despite the werewolf shoved into his side.)

"You didn't account for yourself either," he noted toward Stiles, crossing his arms and scowling.

Stiles gave him big tragic eyes, but it was Boyd who snorted amusement and said "Don't front, Derek. Everyone knows Stiles is your favorite."

Down the hall, the first bedroom's door crashed open and Isaac leaned out of his room with a solemn "Ahem."

Denise grinned fangily toward the hall, even though Isaac probably couldn't see her from where he was. "Out of the not-really-pack, obviously," she amended for Boyd, who looked like he was trying not to laugh.

"Better," Isaac chirped back and closed the door again, which muffled Scott's laughter a little.

Didn't do anything about Allison's or Danny's, and he grumbled at them all.

He'd complain more, but someone would hear the lie if he kept it up. That was always embarrassing.

-----

The pack had banned bridge over summer break their sophomore year. Lydia almost invariably won at poker. The cribbage board had died an ignominious, embarrassing death at Cora's hands (though it had probably been more embarrassing for the goblin), and Go Fish was more of a spectator blood-sport if Stiles was playing, unless there was someone to sit behind him and keep him honest. He was usually good about not abusing his hard-won ability to lie to werewolves--except when it came to mostly meaningless card games.

Somehow, this had turned into playing Uno, of all things, in Derek's living room.

Derek had given up on wondering how many decks and types of playing cards Denise had at her disposal at all times. It just made his brain hurt.

Cora would have approved. Of course, she'd probably have kicked him out of the armchair so she could sip a drink judgmentally at the players, introducing anyone who tried to rope her into the game (even Denise) to the bottom of her foot, but she'd have enjoyed it all the same. She was weird like that.

(Laura would have laid hands on a mahjong set and passed out conflicting copies of the rules. Because Laura.)

But she wasn't there, so Derek got to keep the armchair (and his sanity) and pretend to read while Lydia denounced the game (she was behind) and Denise laughed at her for it. If the look of slightly evil calm on Danny and Boyd's faces was any indicator, Denise was about to be in trouble anyway. Scott and Ethan were competing for last, more or less seriously, and Stiles was squinting at his hand like he couldn't figure out how the cards had betrayed him.

Allison was scuffling around in the kitchen with Isaac, but it smelled like they were putting together drinks for everyone instead of cooking, so it was probably safe.

(Scott and Allison in the kitchen was automatically bad, but Isaac with either (or both) wasn't much better. He could not be trusted as a braking influence on them, on any subject. Stiles complained about it every time all four of them were in the same place. Mostly about the kitchen experiments, but only mostly.)

Isaac came in with his hands completely filled with mugs around the time Ethan was banished to the blanket nest he and Danny had made between the couch and bookshelves for successfully pretending he didn't really understand the rules. Allison trailed after Isaac with a repurposed baking sheet--why did he even have a baking sheet?--which Denise promptly took away from her (right, he didn't have one, Denise just didn't have room in her college apartment for the kitchen stuff she'd stolen from her parents' house before her species-makeover reveal) and returned to the kitchen.

Derek was trying to ignore Denise's ranting about good baking sheets versus the crappy ones that lived in the can't-really-get-at-it cupboard when Stiles extracted himself from the couch--Lydia promptly usurped his spot--and flopped down at Derek's feet.

Well, more on on his feet than at, but Stiles distracted him from complaining by leaning back until his head was cradled against Derek's knees and saying "How's life treating you? I mean, with the whole homebody, not doing anything schtick you have going on."

"That's not even close to accurate," Derek sighed, turning back a page in his book in the hopes that he could remember what was going on.

No help. He didn't even recognize that character's name.

Stile shrugged, shoulder-blades knocking against Derek's shins as he settled his head more comfortably. "So enlighten me. It's not like you're sending us long missives about what you are up to."

Derek turned an unnecessary page before he smirked down at Stiles. "No."

(There wasn't anything to say, really.)

Stiles scowled, body tensing up like he was going to move, and Derek didn't even think about it before pulling his feet free and hooking them around Stiles' hips, tucking his toes in under Stiles' thighs.

His pant leg rode up, and so did Stiles' shirt. He could feel the ache hovering just out of reach, throbbing between Stiles' hip and knee. It wasn't a new injury and the pain wasn't bad, but Derek took it anyway.

Stiles blinked up at him, a question starting to work its way from his eyes to his mouth even as his body relaxed, settling back into the support of Derek's legs.

"You were complaining about your criminology advisor?" Derek prompted when it looked like Stiles might poke him again, and Stiles mock-scowled.

"Don't think I don't know what you're doing, mister," he admonished, shaking a finger toward Derek. Derek just smirked back at him and waited. If there was one thing Stiles couldn't resist more than talking about his classes, it was bitching about how nobody else understood his peculiar choice in double majors. "And it was my Hate Crimes professor. He was giving me shit about taking classes on fairy tales. Which, really, considering why I was interested in taking his class to begin with--"

And he was off.

The words sort of washed together, a familiar blur from irritation through fascination and back. Racial tension to juvenile delinquency to cautionary tales, illustrated tales, bestiaries, hunter codes, gender as code, gender and violence, punishment theory--

Derek knew Stiles loved his classes, the libraries he had access to, the fact that he was literally involved with a secret society because it was the only way he could get the training he needed. It was great for Stiles.

Derek hated it anyway.

Hated the school, his magic-crap advisor, the stupid organization, because it was all in fucking South Carolina. Hated that no one in the pack, 'adjacent' or otherwise, was close enough to check on him regularly. That even hours and at least one meal later, he still smelled of airport and stale panic.

"You're still on schedule to be done next year?" he asked, when Stiles started winding down. With Lydia on the couch, Allison had gone for the loveseat, which had somehow evolved into Allison, Scott and Isaac on the loveseat, and Danny on the floor in the empty space between Boyd and Lydia's legs.

(Derek didn't blame Danny for not claiming a couch cushion. Not between those two.)

Ethan had trailed after Denise, who was muttering something into the depths of Derek's pantry, and Danny was walking Lydia through a programming bug of some kind, his head tilted back onto the cushion next to her thigh so he could get an angle on her tablet screen. Allison, Scott and Isaac were a mess of limbs on the loveseat, with Allison's arms occasionally jutting out oddly as a rigid diagonal as she worked her way through the stretches that kept her limber, in spite of the scars.

"Oh, yeah." Stiles grinned. "I might even get out of summer-two this year." He rolled up a bit and Derek reclaimed his legs for his own, flexing his toes (they weren't cold, really). "On campus, anyway. I'm actually doing a longer summer-two than normal, just from here. LeRoux said she'd give me a pass even if I didn't do any work, which--rude." He snorted, shifting restlessly. "It means I can just turn in my work when I get back for fall, though. But yeah. I guess I wasn't supposed to start my thesis yet? For the magic side of things. Not doing one for--yeah. Don't know why, though. I mean, it's not like I'm going to change my mind."

Scott rumbled a laugh from the tangle. "Didn't you talk about doing something on Old World influences in voodoo?"

"Yes. Yes I did," Stiles shrugged and leaned closer again, resting his cheek against Derek's knees and looping an arm around his calves. "And I totally did write it. Just not for my thesis, come on. It's not exactly new ground. People have been talking about Ghanaian and other West African influences on Caribbean and Southern magic traditions forever--"

Derek poked Stiles' hip with his toes. "This summer?"

"Right," Stiles blinked, trying to remember what he'd been talking about. "Professor LeRoux says I've got a good handle on my topic. We're gonna do a directed study for summer-one to make sure I've got my books in order, then I'll come back here for summer-two for a more, ah, hands on sort of study." He shrugged, stared up at the ceiling and pointedly ignoring the tense attention he was getting from the entire room. 'Hands-on' and the nemeton didn't make anybody happy. "Or have the option of it, anyway. Since--you know. It's here, so kinda hard to claim a practical understanding of the issue if I spend my entire academic career back in SC." He shrugged again, and most of the room relaxed. Ethan and Denise went back to their kitchen wizardry and Lydia kicked Danny until he went back to explaining why her syntax wasn't working. Boyd went back to his book and Isaac was already half asleep in the tangle on the loveseat, as far as Derek could tell.

Derek wasn't so sure he could trust what Stiles was implying. Neither were Allison and Scott, judging by the way they kept their ears canted his way.

"LeRoux kinda prefers not having to deal with me in person anyway, so consulting by e-mail's a win for both of us," Stiles continued on, pretending obliviousness. "Apparently, I can't break anything over e-mail. You'd think she wouldn't hold a grudge about things we fixed al--"

"--So you'll still be working, but you'll be here," Derek cut in, and Stiles laughed.

"At home with Dad, but yeah. I wasn't planning on crashing on your floor all summer."

Derek shrugged, and pretended not to notice the smirks. Stiles was not his favorite. He just wasn't as annoying as he used to be.

-----

There were too many heartbeats in his space for him to sleep. He felt cramped even in his bed, separated from the other two bedrooms and the living room. Hemmed in by quiet, lurking shadows.

He wasn’t letting himself think about what kind of fights were going to break out over showers and bathrooms in the morning. He was probably going to have to let some of them use his if he wanted to avoid bloodshed. Wasn’t sure it was worth it.

It would have been easier to get water from his ensuite. There was probably even a glass next to the sink in there.

He headed for the kitchen anyway, padding near-silently past the closed door to Erica and Cora’s room, the slightly ajar door to Isaac’s room. Past the kitchen, around the corner into the living room.

It had been advertised as spacious, with a lofted ceiling and large windows with a view. It was a lot less so at night (or extremely early morning, as it happened) with four adults crammed in wherever they seemed to fit best. Danny and Ethan were tangled together between the couch and the built in shelving unit that backed the hall closet, and Stiles was out cold, mumbling into his pillow and sprawled across the couch like he needed to hold it down. Boyd had stripped the loveseat of its cushions and taken all the throw pillows from it and the couch. From the location of the fourth heartbeat, he was nested between the couch and the slider, filling in the gap behind the loveseat. There was no visible trace of him, the shadows cast by the tree outside making outlines blurry and indistinct.

He wasn’t going to go over and check, though. A looming shadow was sure to wake someone up, probably with growling or screaming, which would wake everyone else.

Derek padded back to the kitchen, letting his hearing spread out again to make sure everyone was still in their place, asleep and safe and--a dark shape twisted in the deeper shadows of the kitchen, crouching as it turned, practiced and sure.

He shot forward on pure instinct, catching the glass Allison dropped before it could hit the linoleum.

They both froze for a long second--Derek listening furiously for any sign they’d woken anyone else too attuned to the sound of a defensive crouch, a lunge, the patterns their hearts made when alarmed--then he looked up. Took in Allison’s wide-eyed stare, the weird way she’d pulled her lips in (like she’d just made a terrible mistake; it was the same face people made in that moment where they realized that the sidewalk didn’t actually extend that far, or that the next step on a staircase wasn’t actually there), the way her hands had gone to the back of her hips.

Then she was curling over, hands coming up to cover her face to try and stifle the giggles. “Oh, god. Sorry, sorry,” she whispered around the muffled hilarity.

Derek sighed, standing up properly, and put the glass back on the counter. Allison was at the sink, so he assumed she was there for the same reason he was using as an excuse to check on everyone.

He was just glad she hadn’t gotten around to filling the glass yet.

“Good reflexes,” he murmured, brushing past her to get a glass for himself.

Allison stifled another laugh into her elbow before straightening up. Her cheeks were flushed, but the set of her eyes said amusement, at least. “Yours were better,” she whispered, picking her glass up. “I’m not even wearing my knives, for goodness sake.”

Derek shrugged, leaning against the counter while she got the faucet going. He wasn’t going to point out the fact that she was probably just disoriented from sleep. She wouldn’t appreciate it. Might start wondering why he was up, without any telltale sheet creases on his face.

Glass half full, she moved aside and hopped up on the counter above the dishwasher, watching as he filled his own glass. When he turned around, she was still watching. “What?”

“Are you doing okay?” she asked, quiet and hurried and cut off, like she wasn’t sure it was okay to ask. “I mean. With everyone being gone and everything that’s happened, I was just--“

“I’m fine,” he cut her off, leaning in to brush his cheek against her shoulder before heading for the door. She should understand that well enough. “Get some sleep. We’ll need it, for managing these idiots tomorrow.”

He glanced back to see her smile, and decided to ignore the sharp edge in her eyes.

It was Allison. She always had edges hidden somewhere.

-----

He slept. A bit. Not very well.

It would get better, he knew that. He just needed to get used to how close everyone was.

(Which would probably happen just in time for them all to leave again.)

His bed was where he'd be doing most of his work until they all left, regardless. It wasn't a hardship to catch up while he let himself adapt. Spring break or not, he still had deadlines.

Derek's fingers stilled before the sun was up, listening as Boyd sighed himself awake. He went back to typing when there was no further movement, finished the paragraph he was working on before closing his laptop and stowing it under his bed. Tossed a blanket in front of it for good measure. Everyone was generally good about respecting personal territory and privacy within it, these days, but that didn't mean they wouldn't snoop through his stuff if he left it out and visible.

Boyd stumbled upright up when Derek left his room. Met him in the kitchen and took over before he could murder the coffee. It was Stiles' phrasing, but everyone else had adopted it with a speed that left Derek grumbling.

Instead of trying to fight the inevitable, Derek started getting the oven set up for bacon. Pulled out the package he'd only just started on the day before and hoped it'd be enough. (If it wasn't, one of them could go out and get more. That's what they got for not warning him to expect guests.)

It wasn't long before Derek was sliding the pan into the oven. When he glanced over, Boyd was pulling the egg carton out of the fridge and eyeing Derek judgmentally.

Derek huffed and pulled down a mixing bowl. "It was supposed to be just me this week."

"Didn't know werewolves could live on soy sauce and protein," Boyd whispered back, lips twitching up in a grin he was trying not to share.

And--whatever. He would have gone grocery shopping soon. Eventually.

Whenever he ran out of food, he'd have gone grocery shopping.

"Heading home today?" he asked, instead of pursuing a conversation that he already knew he wasn't getting out of gracefully.

Boyd nodded, grin relaxed into a smirk. "Yeah. They don't know I got in yesterday. I told them I was getting a ride to town this afternoon from some friends."

Denise would probably end up driving him. Boyd had given up on convincing his parents and grandmother that they weren't dating, and Denise thought it was hysterical. Cora was less amused.

It was convenient, though. Wrong or not, Boyd's family was a lot more willing to let him go when they thought he was just looking for time alone with his girlfriend.

There was no point to talking about that, though, and no time to do it in. The apartment was starting to smell vaguely of bacon, and heartbeats were picking up. Limbs rustling against sheets.

There was a sudden sharp zipper noise and Scott whined as a sleeping bag was moved around and zipped shut again. A muffled thud told Derek that Allison was up and mobile, doing her morning stretches against the wall.

There was a heartfelt groan from Isaac, then, "Dude, it's not even seven yet. What the hell."

Boyd smirked, small, mean and playful, even though Derek was the only one there to see it. "You'd think they'd be used to us by now."

"You'd think they wouldn't complain about bacon."

"Th's bac'n?" Denise muttered, before there was abruptly another set of feet on the floor and determined footsteps heading down the hall. She was disgustingly awake by the time she hit the kitchen, nose happily twitching.

"Not done yet," Boyd chuckled, handing over a mug.

"Like I care," Denise rolled her eyes, eyeing the oven like she really did plan on hauling it open and dragging some out.

Derek moved in front of the oven and poured out the first round of eggs, because no.

-----

He managed to escape with only letting Danny and Ethan into his bathroom. He was considering that a win, because it actually seemed a bit cleaner when they were done.

From Denise's muttering, he didn't think the other boys had managed that particular trick. (Knew he hadn't.)

-----

After breakfast and assorted morning rituals, there was apparently time set aside for presents before everyone wandered off to touch base with family or on errands (Denise was dragging him to the store, since the only family she had in town was him, if only by technicality). Danny and Scott were the only ones who hadn't missed Ethan's birthday in person, and Derek was the only one there who'd bothered mailing his gift, since everyone else knew they'd be seeing him soon.

Stiles seemed a bit more surprised by the boxes pushed his way, but Derek didn't know why. It was only a couple of weeks early and they were all in one place. Of course they'd brought Stiles' stuff too.

If nothing else, it probably made Ethan feel less awkward.

It hurt a bit, still, to see him hesitate before reaching for a box. The warm confusion in his face when Denise gave him some good card-stock and a gift card for his favorite art supply store. When Allison and Boyd admitted to going in together with Erica to get him most of the colors he wanted in a particular kind of marker. It was good. It was progress. But it still hurt.

Watching Stiles' delighted grins at the conga line of horrible, borderline-offensive t-shirts was--easier. Less complicated. So was the sharp grin he shot Derek when he had to rip through a priority mail box, and the way his expression went stubborn and delighted when that still left wrapping paper, an over-taped box, more wrapping paper and another not-quite mummified box, all to get to a set of magnetized spice tins that left Stiles beaming. It wasn't that big of a deal. Stiles' apartment was tiny, it was a well known fact. As was his need for a system for storing dried plants and powders that wouldn't break.

It just made sense, was all.

-----

Isaac, Boyd, Stiles, Lydia, Danny and Derek's phones all went off within a minute of each other.

03/26/2017 Sun
Erica: Two finals today. Kill me nao. - 12:39 p.m.

Denise, Scott and Allison all got texts a moment later. Derek didn't ask if they were the same.

(When Ethan's phone chirped a few minutes later, the way he smiled as he typed a reply suggested it was probably a belated happy birthday, not griping.)

-----

Grocery shopping was an experience. Not bad, just--

Denise paused inside the store, glanced over the aisles from one end to the other and back, then proceeded to haul Derek on what felt more like a military campaign than a shopping trip. She had a list and seemed to know where every item on it was going to be, with only one exception, despite having only been in the store a few times before. The look on her face when the canned tuna wasn't next to the boxed meals was hysterical.

"I travelled with my parents a lot, once I was old enough," she explained in the car on their way home, kindly skipping over the reasons why a family of hunters had been on the move often enough to pick up quirks. "We usually had to be in and out pretty quick, so I got used to the layouts and where we'd find the kind of stuff we needed." She shrugged, slouching and rubbing her head against the headrest. (Establishing her scent in his car, or were the bases of her braids itching? He might never know, and he was okay with that.) "It's just habit to keep track of where to find everything else I need too."

"Except tuna."

"That's because your tuna is in the wrong place," she grumped, giving up on the headrest and reaching up to tug on and wiggle some of her braids.

(Just itchy, then.)

-----

Denise handed out recipes that evening, as people wandered back in. Said she'd made dinner the night before and done the shopping, so she and Ethan were going to talk card game mechanics while someone else supplied them with food.

Lydia sniffed and pushed Denise's hand back without taking the recipe card. "I don't think so. I'll buy a couple dinners while I'm here, but I am not cooking."

"How do you survive on campus?" Allison asked, laughing too brightly for even Lydia to take offense.

Lydia rolled her eyes and powered through the room to where she'd left her laptop. "Stir fry, curry, and take out, Allison. For one."

That was fair, he thought. Cooking for ten was a lot different.

He'd had to adjust, but the other way. (Had to get used to cooking just for two for a long time, and then--) He remembered the recipes, though. Should probably make some of them, sometime. The next time they had everyone over, maybe.

(Denise's trip was too well planned and organized for him to barge in with something unexpected.)

-----

Denise still wasn't used to cooking for werewolves, and Derek had, perhaps foolishly, thought they'd mostly gotten over all their various growth spurts.

They'd gone through most of the actual food in the house by lunch the next day.

"I take it I'm covering dinner," Lydia remarked idly, eyebrows arching but not taking her eyes off the paper she was reviewing for Allison.

Something about plant biology, he thought. Allison kept snorting whenever Lydia glossed over a paragraph with 'la la la tree sex', at least. Which-- What.

Denise growled and Derek headed for the kitchen. Isaac and Danny were done cleaning up in there, and that's where the menus were anyway. (He wasn't retreating. Really.)

"Anybody leaving before dinner?" he asked, pushing stuff around in the odds-and-ends drawer until he found the right menu. Growled at himself when he heard Scott repeating the question for Stiles, Allison, Lydia and Danny. It'd been too long since he'd had humans in the house regularly.

Nearly three years, he realized, and even back then the humans hadn't been around that much unless there was an emergency somewhere, and nobody forgot to yell for one of those.

It was over ten years, if he didn't count that.

Two days of having them all crammed into his home didn't stand a chance of changing things.

There was muttering and shuffling in the living room, but no real answers, so Derek let it fall to the back of his attention and focused on the Dragon River menu instead.

It wasn't all that hard to put together a generic order for the pack-extended (stupid title. appropriate, but stupid. All the appropriate titles for their weird pack-not-pack pack were stupid). Three steamed rice, one each vegetable and pork fried rice, two orders beef house noodles (hand shaved, not skinny--it was the only thing they all agreed on), at least five orders of the honey pork. Probably eight. The humans could split two orders between them, but Derek didn't want to risk the broken furniture if anyone else had to. Actually...

He scribbled out the five on the notepad and put a twelve in instead. They'd never had leftovers on a group order, but Derek was hopeful. Best breakfast right out of the fridge, stickier and spicier than when it was fresh.

He squinted at the menu again, added spicy eggplant twice (once with four stars after it because Stiles, Allison and Danny all liked a side of masochism with dinner, and once with a very pointed zero), four lemon chicken, three Mongolian beef, twelve each of egg rolls and rangoons, and one order of barbecue pork and extra hot mustard for Denise.

They could probably get by with that, with that much of the honey pork. Although maybe he should get something slightly more...vegetable.

"Danny, Ethan and I are going out," Lydia announced, stalking into the kitchen and grabbing a soda. "You can take off the second eggplant, Isaac just eats it so I can have some that won't try to rip off my tongue. Add the green beans in black bean sauce instead. You like those, and it's a vegetable. You should be at the stage where you're worrying about that."

He nodded towards her departing back, changing the order as she continued "You've got the number, right? Allison can forge for me. I expect you to save me an order of noodles for breakfast tomorrow."

Derek added a note next to the noodles to set aside a box for Lydia, on pain of Lydia.

"Sounds like everyone else is in," Stiles announced, bouncing himself off the doorjamb on his way into the kitchen. Which, fine, whatever, except suddenly Stiles was draped across his back, leaning over his shoulder to review the order.

"You could have just said that from the living room," Derek noted, flipping the pen to thwap Stiles' knuckles when he went for the paper.

Stiles rolled his eyes. Derek couldn’t see it, but he had Stiles pressed up against him from shoulder to thigh, and he knew what a slight bend to the left knee, chin and head tilting up and right, shoulders slumping and twisting slightly back and to the right meant. Eye roll, no line of sight required.

"I could have," Stiles agreed, like this was normal. "But then I couldn't edit the order."

Derek passed him the pen and found himself slumping agreeably to let Stiles change the list and, maybe, just maybe, to keep the bit of skin contact where Stiles' left hand rested against his hip, even though there was nothing there for him to take, no soreness or ache close enough to Stiles' hand for him to reach.

Stiles reduced the lemon chicken number by two and Mongolian beef by one without peeling himself off Derek’s back. (Fair change with three of them gone, especially Ethan and his lemon chicken addiction.) He scribbled in a line of exclamation marks after the honey pork but didn't change the number, then added an order of sautéed pea vines, with a question mark after it. Derek shrugged and didn't complain. He had no idea if they were available yet, but Stiles would eat the whole carton if no one else was interested.

"Like I'd have just called it in without running it past everyone," he said eventually, grumbling.

Stiles laughed, leaning a bit more into Derek (and there--a sliver of skin between Stiles' shirt and his jeans, and Derek could take some of the ache in his hip, even if it wasn't that bad). "Dude, you probably should. Anybody mind if we just do generic ordering instead of letting everybody haggle for personal favorites everyone else hates and ending up with this anyway?"

There were sighs and a chorus of nos from the living room, and a belated "So long as there's spicy eggplant, I don't care" from Allison once the question had been passed on. Because Stiles was somehow worse at remembering to pitch his voice for the humans than Derek.

Stiles didn't bother waiting for the confirmation to get passed along, pulling away from Derek and taking out his phone.

He was aware of Stiles reading off the list and wandering out to the hallway so he could pace without running Derek over. He heard Stiles clarify twice that no, this time it was just one order of eggplant and yes, he really did mean twelve orders of honey pork and yes, they knew their order would take a bit longer, that was fine.

Derek heard all those things, but he wasn't paying attention. He could still feel the press of Stiles' hand against his hip, the line of warmth against his back, the subtle movements of Stiles' body as he breathed and made faces and just existed.

Stiles touched him all the time. He touched all of them, everybody, whenever he could get away with it. Which--was always, if they weren't in public. And the only one making a fuss about it in public was Stiles.

It wasn't unusual, was the point. Stiles pressing that close was perfectly normal, now. Expected.

What wasn't expected was how much he wanted that touch back. He felt off balance. Like the missing weight at his hip was going to leave him falling over and bouncing off walls if he tried to walk.

He heard Stiles laugh and watched him cover his face as he passed the door. Wanted to hide when he realized he could hear a delivery driver in the background saying she didn’t need the address.

Possibly they ordered too much Chinese. But it was so much easier to order than pizza and had more vegetables anyway. No one else delivered, and the only sandwich place in immediate walking distance had an aversion to getting any order of more than three sandwiches at a time right.

Possibly, Derek thought, as he realized he was staring at Stiles' hand, he had a problem.

As he was thinking, that hand flew up from Stiles' face, sweeping out in a gesture that ended with a sharp crack against the doorjamb, Stiles yelping and tucking it under his other arm and babbling apologies into the phone.

Derek didn't need to think about it, just stepped forward and reached around Stiles, slipping a hand under his arm and over the damaged hand and pulling the pain out.

It wasn't a lot of pain, mild enough that he barely noticed it, and it would have faded on its own soon enough. But Stiles twisted around with a grin and a mouthed 'thanks' and he practically had Stiles in an embrace and Derek definitely had a problem.

He didn't know what it was yet, but that lurch in his gut wasn't normal.

-----

He shared the last few pieces of the pork with Boyd the next morning, while the coffee brewed. Pretended like he didn't know what anyone was talking about when they asked about it, after the smell of cooking bacon started waking them up.

It was--kind of fun, actually. Worth putting up with Lydia's judging eyebrows over her box of noodles for the small, secret smile on Boyd's face.

-----

They hadn’t included Derek on any of the planning, arriving or leaving. Just burst back into his life like a flooding river, and flowed back out in a steady, relentless leak.

Boyd left first, on Wednesday. He had leave, but it only stretched so far and there were things he wanted done before classes started again.

(Derek hated to admit it, but the Academy really was good for him. It made him seem more solid, more sure of himself, more comfortable in his skin. So no matter how stupid Derek thought it was for a werewolf to voluntarily walk into a military institution--it was good for him.)

Thursday, Allison annoyed Isaac into giving her a lift to the airport; she was back in competitive archery and had a meet she couldn't skip. Isaac also got the pleasure of leaving earlier than he needed to on Friday, so he could drop Stiles and Lydia off at the airport on his way south. Denise had to go through Oregon to get back, so she took Scott, Ethan and Danny with her.

He had just long enough to himself to wonder what he was supposed to do next when Lydia called.

"Stiles' flight's been delayed," she said, as soon as the call connected. "Mine hasn't been. You have an hour and a half to get here."

Derek didn't bother arguing, just grabbed his keys. "Is Stiles--"

"In the bathroom, deluding himself into thinking I don't know he's freaking out and not letting me help? Yes. Yes he is," she said in that particular bright, sunny tone that he knew meant she wanted something or someone rent limb from limb. (No-one still alive, in this case. Not that it mattered.) "Hour and a half, Derek."

She cut off the call before he could remind her it was a two hour drive, even for him.

He made it in an hour and forty.

-----

Stiles walked out from behind the security checkpoints three minutes after Derek texted him, his stride pointedly loose and smiling wide enough to trick absolutely nobody who was actually paying attention.

Most people weren't. Never did.

(Peter would never have been able to take him, if they did.)

Stiles stopped and set down his bag when he was still five feet away, mouth opening to probably explain that he was fine, didn't need a babysitter, only smelled like panic and alarm because of perfectly reasonable reasons, really. Just give him another thirty seconds to think them up.

Derek closed the gap and pulled Stiles in for a hug by the back of his neck before he could get started. (Wanted to hiss at the pain he could sense, bone deep and locked up all through Stiles' bad shoulder. Didn't. Couldn't.) "It just looks like you're an arrival," Derek muttered into Stiles' hair as he tensed up, "and I'm a friend who's meeting you here. Calm down."

Stiles slumped into the hug with a sigh, pressing his face hard into Derek's shoulder. "You didn't need to come. It probably won't be that long."

"I turned on the radio, dumbass," Derek sighed, covering one hand with the other so he could start drawing pain without drawing stares. "It's a bomb threat, not technical difficulties. You aren't leaving until I know you're going to be safe on the other end."

"Worrywart," Stiles protested, but he didn't actually sound particularly invested. Small miracles.

"Come on," Derek sighed, pulling away and snagging Stiles' bag before he could recover. "Let's go talk to your airline and find out what they know."

-----

The airline knew flights to South Carolina would probably be released soon, but could bump Stiles to something that left Saturday morning instead. (Because no. No he was not letting Stiles go on just the assurance that they hadn't found anything so it didn't exist. He had enough problems with bombs when he knew the people building them, let alone total strangers.) The airline had enough delayed people clamoring for seats on any and all of the earlier flights that bumping Stiles to the morning was almost a favor. They didn't even need to worry about pulling a checked bag out of the chaos.

Derek shoved Stiles off to call whoever was picking him up as soon as they had an updated arrival time. Handled the fees for the switch and an upgrade with Stiles' fidgeting lingering at the edge of his vision.

Stiles huffed when Derek kept his bag for the walk out to the car. Drew breath to protest when Derek started calling around to the local motels (the ones Lydia, Denise, and Allison had shortlisted, anyway. He knew better than to try one off the ads posted around the airport), but snapped his mouth shut before he said anything.

He knew there wasn't any point in complaining. He'd have to admit that motels made him twitchy. Out loud. (And it wasn’t like Derek was just going to leave him there.)

Likewise, Derek knew there wasn't any point in getting two beds. They'd wind up in one or the other by the end of the night anyway.

He dragged Stiles out to buy himself a shirt for the next day. Wound up buying one for Stiles too, which he did protest, if not very loudly. It was classier Batman than Stiles normally went for, a grey on black distressed Gotham skyline with the bat signal faint just above the heart, but his fingers kept twitching like he wanted to grab it and put it on right then.

The shirt meant Derek would have a better chance of stealing the shirt Stiles had soaked through with fear-sweat anyway. He could wash it and mail it back to South Carolina with whatever it was Stiles had forgotten this trip.

Money well spent, in his opinion.

So was the thirty dollars he blew on quarters at an arcade he saw on their way to the motel. It was loud, flashy and annoying, but it got Stiles' brain focused outward again. Focused on killing zombies, or nazis, or the car he was attempting (badly) to race, or himself when he insisted on trying some dancing thing that required physical coordination.

The fact that it completely wore Stiles out was just a bonus.

He was already half asleep when Derek pushed him onto the bed. Tried to toe his shoes off and mumbled happily when Derek grabbed him by the ankles and tugged them off one at a time.

Undressing a half-asleep Stiles was--surprisingly easy. Derek pulled him back up by the front of his hoodie, and Stiles did all the squirming free himself. Left his shirt behind too. Wound up sprawled topless on the comforter and squawking in protest over the cold fabric.

It left him awake enough for Derek to grumble “Empty your pockets before you pass out. I’m not doing it for you.”

Stiles made a face, hands already fumbling at his fly. “No sleepin’ in jeans. ‘S the worst.”

Derek huffed and walked around to the other side of the bed. Pulled the other hoodie and Stiles’ toiletries out of his bag. Left the new shirts out with them. Stuffed the fear-stench shirt and hoodie into his shopping bag and shoved them off to the side.

“‘M not dreamin’, righ?”

Derek turned around to raise his eyebrows at Stiles. He was mostly under the covers. His hips weren’t, or his legs, or his Spiderman boxers, but his head and shoulders and most of his torso were. He looked like an inept burrito.

“Get the rest of the way under the covers and go to sleep,” Derek grumbled, then turned away again to strip out of his own shirt.

“Dreamin’,” Stiles mumbled, barely audible over the rustle of the blankets as he tried to kick his way under them. “Definitely dreamin’.”

It was nice, sleeping with someone again. Warm and safe, even with the scent of strangers clogging the air.

It wasn’t very restful sleeping with Stiles, who kept trying to flip around and punch Derek, but it was nice.

-----

He must have fallen asleep at some point. Must have, because when he snapped alert to the hotel phone buzzing, there was pale light filtering through the thin curtains and he was tangled in long limbs like he was a couch that needed holding down.

The phone kept buzzing. Vibrating hard enough it was rattling a set of keys he'd accidentally left in contact with the damn thing.

Wake up call, he remembered, because the clock in their room hadn't seemed reliable--that meant it was six a.m., time to start regretting his life choices all over again.

Mostly those that involved actually letting himself fall asleep in a room that looked and smelled so wrong.

A hand groped his shoulder. Patted his collarbone experimentally, his jaw, slid for the edge of the bed and found the corner of the night stand with outstretched fingers but that was as far as Stiles could reach. Until he shuffled even closer on the bed, face smushing into Derek's chest and finally pulling the phone off the cradle, dragging it over the sheets and bashing it against Derek's arm before getting it close enough to mutter "H'lo?"

The recording wished him a good morning and informed them of the time, prompting a heartfelt groan and--Stiles started rubbing his face into Derek's shirt, mumble-yawning something about 'unholy' and 'early', then froze so abruptly Derek went still on instinct.

(When had he started bringing his hand up to Stiles' back? What, exactly, had he been planning on doing with that?)

He didn't have a chance to find out, because Stiles yelped and suddenly the duvet, the sheets, one of the pillows and Stiles were on the floor, flailing and--apologizing. To the recording.

Or maybe he was apologizing to the phone, which he'd yanked off the nightstand and into Derek's shoulder.

Derek rubbed absently over the ache in his chest, then got up to help Stiles defeat the covers and rally his stuff.

They hadn't really unpacked Stiles' bag the night before, no point, so there wasn't much to corral. That was good, because herding a jittery, stress-worn human around took enough time all on its own. Also experience, and training.

Coffee number one was from a drive-thru Starbucks along the way. A quad-shot americano and a short drive later, Stiles' knee had stopped jittering quite so much.

He watched Stiles slump through security, guzzling the dregs of his drink and throwing the cup away before he toed out of his shoes and pulled his laptop out of its bag, very deliberately not looking Derek's way.

He was still calm, though. Or calmer than he normally would have been, without Lydia there to snipe at him for wearing something with laces. Not loose, either in relaxation or readiness to duck, jump, or run at a moment's notice, but not spring-tight either.

Stiles didn't bother dithering once he was through security. Slipped his laptop back into the appropriate bag, grabbed his shoes, jacket and bags and walked off in his socks, straight across the hall to the benches. He looked up and caught Derek's eye as he slipped his sneakers back on, grinned, and headed for a familiar green sign.

Coffee number two was from the Starbucks just past the security checkpoint, apparently.

Derek ignored the twinge in his chest as he turned away, headed back out to the short-term parking garage to pay his fee and get out.

His phone chirped, sometime after the merge onto the highway. He almost reached for it, in case there was something wrong.

There wasn't. His phone didn't chirp again, didn't ring, didn't make that horrible crashing airship noise someone had rigged his phone with after the one time he'd forgotten his phone in the living room and hadn't heard the 'where are you?' texts until Isaac was banging on the door wanting to know if Derek was alive in there.

He kept glancing at it, but didn't look until he'd pulled into his parking spot.

04/01/2017 Sat
Stiles: Safe and sound aboard the pressurized metal tube of terror and death :) No joke! - 9:43 a.m.

Good. That was...good.

He caught himself pressing his hand into his chest again that night, while he was staring at the ceiling above his bed, wondering what was wrong with him this time.

Chapter Text

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sat, April 1, 2017 at 11:56 PM
Subject: all of you SUCK

I've been stuck dealing with finals while you assholes have a giant slumber party and you don't even share the excitement? I hate you all.

If anybody used my bed, you had better have washed the sheets.

 

From: iceman@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 6:05 AM
Subject: RE:all of you SUCK

There was excitement? I must've missed it.

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 6:38 AM
Subject: Re: all of you SUCK

Yes, Erica. I obviously hate you and want you to suffer. Of course I washed the sheets.

You wouldn't have come even if the timing had worked out and you know it. How IS Travis, anyway?

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 8:40 AM
Subject: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

Thank you for finally admitting it. (Not the sheets. The hating thing. I've always suspected... ;-)

Did you seriously just ask for an update on my sex life? On behalf of the entire pack?

 

From: denise-menise@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 8:52 AM
Subject: Re: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

Oh please god no.

-----

He picked up what he could. Gathered the straggling chip and popcorn bags lost behind the loveseat and squirreled away next to where Boyd had been sleeping. Dug the candy wrappers out of the couch cushions and tried not to identify the culprits (hint: it was everybody).

Derek didn't want to disturb Isaac's room too much, but figured he wouldn't mind it being aired out. Went through Cora and Erica's room looking for Lydia's odds and ends but did not air it out. Or take anything Denise left.

Cora would want as much of Denise's scent in the room as possible when she got back.

The 'Stuff You Idiots Left Here' box in the coat closet was already half full again by noon. He'd only finished mailing everyone their summer break stuff back to them in November, sending non-urgent items along to Danny and Erica with their birthday presents. He was going to have to make another post office trip sooner rather than later, this time. Boyd had left one of his caps, and it looked like Lydia had forgotten some class notes. They were going to need those.

Stiles would probably like his sunglasses back, too. And his shirt, and his hoodie, once they didn't smell like terror.

-----

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 12:29 PM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

Relax. Like I have one right now.

Why didn't anybody tell me that thinking was this tiring? I'd never have signed up for this if I knew. Cruel, cruel world.

 

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 2:46 PM
Subject: RE:RE:Re: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

Wait. But you and Travis study together all the time. Is that helping or part of the problem?

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 2:48 PM
Subject: RE:RE:RE:Re: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

We're law students, Scott. We are actually studying.

Then we pass out and complain about being too tired for sex when we wake up, and that's the state of my sex life. Are you happy now?

 

From: denise-menise@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 3:16 PM
Subject: Re: RE:RE:RE:Re: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

I'm not. For the record.

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Sun, April 2, 2017 at 3:17 PM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:RE:RE:Re: RE:Re: all of you SUCK

Don't worry. We'll start making up for it once Travis wakes up from his post-finals coma. ;)

-----

Four days after Stiles left, Derek was back at the airport again.

Cora didn't bother pretending to be sane or human. Left her head down and bulled her way through the meandering crowd, never actually hitting anyone but not deviating from a direct line unless she had to.

She was growling softly by the time she'd made her way over to him and thunked her face against his shoulder. Not loud enough for human ears, but still worrying.

(Worrying, but not surprising. Derek was pretty sure that Stiles was the only one who hated airports and airplanes more than Cora.)

Derek brought a hand up to pet his sister's hair and turned his head to nuzzle into it until he could smell her under all the surface scents and airport funk and the heavy traces of stranger-family that her other pack always covered her with.

Which--probably wasn't fair to them. They weren't strangers, not really. Derek had met all of them. Could name them, scent by scent, if he wanted to.

But he didn't. Just wanted to get Cora home and into a shower so she could stop smelling weird and airport-y.

"My bag's almost to the carousel, I think," she muttered into his shoulder after a few moments. "I brought rattles."

Derek didn't know what to listen for, but true or not it was a pretty good indicator that she wanted to pull away. So he backed off, took her larger carry on and followed her into baggage claim.

"I'm gonna sleep for a week," she rumbled, glaring at the plastic-curtained aperture between her and her bag. "Then I'm gonna gorge on Doritos and ice cream and catch up on my email." She turned back to him, frowning and abruptly more awake. "Did they make it out? You had company, right?"

Derek rolled his eyes. "Yeah, almost everybody showed up for Spring Break. Would've been nice to have warning."

Cora shrugged, smirking in a way that reminded him painfully of Peter. "Maybe. But then you'd have tried to go somewhere else."

And--fair.

"Oh, that's my bag." Cora dropped her purse at Derek's feet and pushed away, eeling between a woman in a suit and a nervous teenager to snatch her bag off the carousel--much too easily, considering its size.

Thankfully, everyone seemed more distracted by the rude to pay much attention to the way she was hauling around a sausage-stuffed duffel like it was weightless.

Still. It didn't make him want to linger.

-----

04/07/2017 Fri
Denise: Heard weird howling. Investigated. Actual wolves. Fml - 4:36 a.m.

-----

It was good having Cora back, even if she did give him a despairing and judgmental look at realizing they were down to half a loaf of bread, less than a dozen eggs, and--alright, so the quarter inch of milk in the bottom of the jug probably hadn’t actually been worth putting back. (Whatever. Groceries were her job, in more than the obvious sense.)

Her adoptive pack was doing well. Still holding out hope that she’d come join them for good one day. Officially, not just as a skittish child-then-teenager who’d needed a pack until her own resurfaced.

Derek was still, officially, not thinking about that. He knew he had no reason to worry. Cora's other pack was still confused and hesitant about how she was dating a hunter, even one who'd been bitten and disowned.

He was still thinking about sending them a 'welcome to the club' letter. The pack-extended had eight wolves, three of whom were seriously dating hunters or ex-hunters, one of them had been a hunter, and only two of them had never dated a hunter. He honestly wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a sign they were doing something very, very wrong.

-----

04/11/2017 Tue
Lydia: What's blue, floats, and giggles? - 11:35 a.m.

Lydia: That wasn't a joke. That was a description of something in my favorite library. - 11:40 a.m.

Lydia: Nvm. Stiles says it's harmless. - 12:56 p.m.

-----

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, April 20, 2017 at 8:00 AM
Subject: it's that time again

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapy Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiithday tooooooooooooooooo--LYDIA.

And weed.

Happy 4/20 everybody, but especially Lydia.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, April 20, 2017 at 8:44 AM
Subject: Re: it's that time again

I thought we'd trained you out of that death wish...

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, April 20, 2017 at 11:13 AM
Subject: Re: it's that time again

I don't care who it was, but whoever arranged for Katie to make me brownies today is going to die.

PAINFULLY.

-----

Denise's birthday passed with a lot less fanfare, but saw Danny adding some sort of drawing-widget-thing to the pack website. They started out playing a weird sort of long distance Pictionary, but ended up mostly on chat while Ethan and Denise hashed out design options for card backs.

The full moon a week later was almost as calm. Boyd reported hearing some howling, but distant enough that even he couldn’t be sure it was a threat or not. (And, honestly, if any of them were going to have a strange pack unexpectedly in the area-- Best if it was the one in the military compound.)

-----

05/15/2017 Mon
Isaac: avocado oj milk chkn pb eggs - 3:40 p.m.

Isaac: Shit, sorry. Meant to send that to myself - 3:42 p.m.

-----

The pack--and not-pack who acted like pack and were always on his couches when they were around but were still, somehow, apparently not--

Everyone. ‘Everyone’ was easiest.

The point was, they kept in touch. Made phone calls, emailed, sent utterly random and senseless texts. Very few of which were drunk texts from the humans, which was unfortunate. If they'd been drunk texts, he could have just written them off as that and ignored them.

They were all kept up to date on the relationship drama and gossip across seven separate states, and everyone knew when Scott or Allison made the drive to the other’s campus by the sudden absence of updates, if nothing else.

The ache in his chest didn’t go away. He kept turning to his left when he wanted to share something, even when Cora wasn’t home, when his was the only heartbeat he could hear.

(Since when was three bedrooms way too much space?)

-----

Derek came home from a run to an empty house and an explosion in his inbox.

Allison was still an Argent. Still a hunter. Kept up with the news, even if some in the community tried to keep her out, now. But it meant she still heard things.

Things like, apparently, a group of hunters finally finding the (rotting) remains of a violent omega they'd been tracking across three states to--Massachusetts.

And had lost, two months ago.

Lydia was flippant. Said she'd filed her report on the incident on the website and it wasn't her fault they hadn't noticed. Then the text-shouting started.

Derek flipped through the emails, barely skimming over them until--

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, May 25, 2017 at 12:03 PM
Subject: Re: RE:RE:Re: RE:WTF

Oh, I'm so sorry. Was I supposed to call for help? Was I supposed to just let the omega go, because I was waiting for someone else to get here?

It was one werewolf. He's dead, and I wasn't even hurt.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, May 25, 2017 at 12:08 PM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:RE:Re: RE:WTF

Hold up. Nobody's saying you aren't capable of taking care of yourself, Lydia. (Uh, obviously. The situation kind of speaks for itself.) I think we're mostly just upset that you didn't let us know.

If something had gone wrong, we wouldn't have known what was going on or why you weren't replying. It would have added days to the option of getting someone out there to find you.

None of this works if we don't talk to each other and let people know when we have supernatural shit going on.

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, May 25, 2017 at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: RE:Re: RE:RE:Re: RE:WTF

Like you did, last October? What was it, trolls?

I don't think I ever saw a report filed for that, now that I think about it...

-----

Derek ran a hand over his face and shut his laptop, idly hoping his computer would do him the favor of crashing, so that wouldn't be the first thing he saw when he opened it again.

Lydia was fine. Stiles was fine. That's what he needed to focus on. He couldn't--

He needed to run.

Derek tapped out a quick text to Isaac, on his way back down the stairs.

No one's hurt, right? Can you summarize the mess for me once it's over?

He didn't get a reply right away, but there were two waiting for him by the time he parked at the preserve for the second time that day.

05/25/2017 Thurs
Isaac: Already working on it. - 1:41 p.m.

Isaac: Not as bad as it sounds. Be safe, k? - 1:43 p.m.

Derek snorted and started to run.

-----

Isaac's summary was a lot easier to read than the yelling and confusing references back and forth across different email chains.

Lydia had put herself in danger without telling anyone, but hadn't actually done any worse than the rest of them did regularly. She'd felt the pull of a recent death and gone looking, met the omega as he was leaving the scene and--had her taser in hand, already, because Lydia had learned a thing or two about going looking for dead bodies over the years.

Derek didn't know how she'd killed the omega. Didn't need to. What he needed to know was that Lydia hadn't done anything any of the rest of them wouldn't have. She just hadn't told them about it after the fact, which-- Considering the reaction in the emails, he thought he might understand, even if he didn't agree with it.

Stiles, on the other hand, had thought there might be some sort of urban troll moving into his campus. Had asked for Lydia's help translating some documents, instead of going to one of his professors. Had wanted to figure it out for himself.

It turned out they were gnomes, and already in discussion with the head librarian about what they were and were not allowed to move around, and where they were and were not allowed to settle. So Stiles had dropped the matter and not reported it. Hadn't bothered telling anyone about it, because it wasn't an issue.

Even though, apparently, one of the places the gnomes had decided to set up a colony was Stiles' living room.

Derek ran his hands through his hair and stared at the wall for a little while, contemplating how much trouble he'd be in if he just killed Stiles himself the next time he showed up. It'd save him the worry of wondering when something else was going to do it.

His pack was so broken, though. Relationship drama and who fell asleep in what embarrassing place? They all knew within twenty four hours, even if there wasn't anyone pack-adjacent on their campus. Actual supernatural threat? They'd admit to it. Eventually. When someone else ratted them out.

His pack (and not-pack) and their priorities. Fuck.

-----

05/30/2017 Tues
Scott: Dude, I met your eyebrow twin. - 8:31 p.m.

Derek stared at his phone for most of a minute before sighing and deciding to ignore it.

-----

Derek and Cora drove down to San Bernardino for Isaac's birthday.

(Technically, they drove down to celebrate his birthday with him two weeks early. Because his last final of the quarter was on his birthday, and he needed the time to study just as badly as he needed an enforced break from it.)

It wasn't anything fancy. They brought him presents from everyone who'd had them delivered to Beacon Hills since break. Took him out for pizza. Met various friends. Watched him turn red as classmates and ex-roommates and people from various jobs and clubs came over to introduce themselves and make a big deal over not knowing it was his birthday. And to completely fail at being subtle when it came to flirting. Frequently with all three of them.

Isaac started introducing them as his siblings, after the second person managed to imply they'd be open to a three-or-maybe-four-some.

(Derek tried not to think too much about how right that felt. Isaac probably just wanted them to stop because it was embarrassing.)

-----

Isaac’s actual birthday involved a lot of swearing on chat, and links to videos of racoons doing ridiculous things, because they were all horrible people.

(The one Derek posted was of a litter of rescues, all yawning and squeaking at the camera. Denise scolded him for missing the point, but didn’t deny that she was cooing just as hard as everyone else.)

-----

From: sparky@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com
Date: Sun, June 18, 2017 at 10:58 PM
Subject: I am such a dumbass

Soooo. I forgot to check with Dad before booking my flight. Any chance I can bribe for a pick up?

 

From: coratheexplorer@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Sun, June 18, 2017 at 11:01 PM
Subject: Fwd:I am such a dumbass

Picking up your things is really not my job.

 

From: coratheexplorer@hale.com
To: sparky@hale.com, alpha@hale.com
Date: Sun, June 18, 2017 at 11:02 PM
Subject: Re:I am such a dumbass

Sorry. Washing my hair that day.

When are you flying in? I need to put a note on my calendar to make sure I'm washing my hair that day.

 

From: alpha@hale.com
To: sparky@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com
Date: Mon, June 19, 2017 at 7:05 AM
Subject: Re: I am such a dumbass

I've got it. Date/time?

 

From: alpha@hale.com
To: coratheexplorer@hale.com
Date: Mon, June 19, 2017 at 7:06 AM
Subject: Re: Fwd:I am such a dumbass

Stiles isn't mine, or a thing.

 

From: coratheexplorer@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Mon, June 19, 2017 at 10:19 AM
Subject: Re:Re: Fwd:I am such a dumbass

Keep telling yourself that.

-----

Stiles didn't twitch over being pulled in for a hug. Didn't bother with dropping his bag either, just muttered 'sorry' when Derek grunted a protest to it making the acquaintance of a kidney.

Derek knew Stiles wouldn't let him buy a few hours at a seedy motel so Stiles could shower. He was tempted to suggest it anyway. "You smell terrible," he growled into Stiles' hair, tightening his grip when Stiles tried to flinch away "What did you do, lock yourself in the plane bathroom to maximize your freak out?"

"...shut up."

That was the opposite of a no. Derek sighed heavily. Stiles pinched his side and pulled away. (Derek let him go. He'd pulled out enough of the ache that Stiles wasn't tensing up against it anymore.) "We should get moving. We can leave the windows down if I offend your nose so much."

"Because exhaust fumes smell so much better," Derek snorted and grabbed the handles on Stiles' bag. Stiles didn't let go, leaving them walking toward the baggage claim with the bag hanging between them like a rope toy. "You realize it looks like we're holding hands, right?"

Stiles fidgeted, shoulders pulling in and his hand pushing harder against Derek's. But then he shrugged and gave the bag handle a playful tug. "Don't care. I'm not giving this up."

Derek didn't know if he meant the bag or the way their hands and arms brushed against each other or something else. It made that ache in his chest come back, regardless.

(He'd gotten better at ignoring it. No point in noticing something that didn’t go away for days at a time.)

-----

Stiles slept most of the ride, loose limbed and mouth gaping, head propped against his window and knees wedged into the side of the center console.

Derek didn't mind. That was two hours he didn't have to put up with inane conversations and flailing. Two hours where he could smell Stiles, even panic-sour as he was, and know he was okay. Could hear his breathing and pulse, glance over at him and make sure he was still in one piece. Two hours of calm and recovery, against the dark wells under Stiles' eyes.

Two hours in which he could reach over and nudge Stiles half awake when his heart went up-tempo, or his fingers spasmed shut.

It was a good drive.

-----

Derek dropped Stiles off at home. His father's home. Where Stiles lived.

Stiles turned with a wave and a sleepy smile after he'd gotten the door unlocked, and that was that.

-----

07/02/2017 Sun
Isaac: Are we sure raccoons aren't a supernatural threat? Like, really sure? 10:58 p.m.

-----

From: silversister@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Wed, July 05, 2017 at 8:46 AM
Subject: How's Stiles?

Hi. Sorry.

How's Stiles doing? Have you seen him? I know I don't really need to be, but I'm worried. The stump freaks me out, you know that.

Just... Keep an eye on him for me, would you? I know he won't admit it if anything's wrong.

-----

Derek stared at the e-mail for five minutes before shutting his laptop and going for a run.

He couldn't answer Allison's questions. Wasn't sure he'd be able to even if he had seen Stiles, in the days since dropping him off.

If he ran close enough by the nemeton to smell it, to draw in deep lungfuls of new growth in the midst of the old tragedy with no trace at all of Stiles, that was no one's business but his own. It gave him something to say to Allison, though.

-----

From: alpha@hale.com
To: silversister@hale.com
Date: Wed, July 05, 2017 at 11:05 AM
Subject: Re: How's Stiles?

I haven't seen him, but I haven't smelled him out on the preserve either. He hasn't been out to the stump yet.

I'm sure he's fine.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Wed, July 05, 2017 at 11:22 AM
Subject: RE:Re: How's Stiles?

Thanks for humoring me.

How are you? Holding up okay?

-----

He...had even less idea how to respond to that than he did the questions about Stiles.

-----

07/07/2017 Fri
Danny: Is anise a thing? Ethan's acting a bit loopy and all I can think of is the biscotti he had earlier. - 4:52 p.m.

-----

It was Boyd's last birthday where his family knew they'd be able to visit. Knew for for sure where he was going to be. Even better, it was on a Friday.

They flew out to see him. Spent the weekend in Colorado. (Leaving just in time for the full moon, which-- Derek couldn’t help but think it was a good thing Boyd had such solid control, finally.)

Derek stayed home and watched his inbox riot with well wishes and grumbling over delayed packages and moaning over how they were sure they'd gotten all their details right this time, but apparently not.

They were going to have to figure out a better system, once Boyd graduated and was stationed somewhere. His addresses were only going to get more complicated.

-----

It'd been a week and a half since Derek dropped Stiles off at home, most of a week since Allison had emailed him, and he hadn't seen or smelled Stiles once. Cora hadn't either, which meant he hadn't even been by the store yet. The only proof of life they'd had was Stiles' email for Boyd's birthday.

It still wasn't much of a surprise to hear his jeep pull up and park out front, or his heartbeat bouncing its way up the stairs.

Derek got up, unlocked the door and left it ajar, wandering back to his spot on the couch to make sure his laptop was sufficiently hidden before stretching out with the paper.

It was only about thirty seconds before Stiles was leaning around the corner into the living room with a wry grin. "I take it my presence isn't a surprise."

"Shut the door,” Derek answered, not bothering to look up. "Don't forget the locks."

"As if," Stiles sighed, but he disappeared back into the entryway to do as he was asked (minor miracle). "Mind if I loiter here for a couple hours? I just can't focus on this stuff at home."

"Mi casa es tu casa," Derek drawled, deliberately flattening out his vowels.

Stiles growled in affront, but kicked his shoes off and dumped some of his stuff in the entryway before flopping on the far end of the couch, digging out the book he was reading before poking and shoving Derek's legs into a curve he could curl up in.

And when, exactly, had they gotten comfortable enough with each other that Stiles could use his hip as a pillow and it wasn't weird? (When had he gotten comfortable enough around Stiles that he just moved, without even a token grumble?)

It did bring him close enough for Derek to pick up on most of the fading traces in his scent. Pull it apart, looking for that peculiar mix of new-old-sad-hope the nemeton gave off. But it wasn't there. Not yet. And there was no ache for him to drain when he brushed a hand not-so-idly against the nape of Stiles' neck or when he managed to push Stiles' shirt up a bit with his heel, to get at his waist.

"You really aren't dissuading me from thinking you just hang out at home all day, you know," Stiles commented, after a solid half hour of mutual silence and page turning.

"Maybe it's my day off," he offered, feeling the edge of a smile creep in, safe behind the newspaper.

"It's Monday," Stiles spluttered.

Derek shrugged and let himself smile. There was nobody around to see it anyway.

-----

Stiles fell asleep after four hours, and Derek was only able to shimmy free by slipping a pillow under his head and bracing it up with another two. Even with that, Stiles still grumbled and twisted around to smack a hand up where Derek's stomach would have been. He calmed down without waking up, though, and Derek was able to rescue the book Stiles had been reading before he accidentally ripped a page or lost his place entirely, so all in all it was a win.

He stretched and took advantage of the break from being furniture to take a piss. Retreated to his room to order a pizza, because it was Stiles, who actually appreciated meatballs on pizza instead of vaguely tolerating them, and didn't think he was weird for combining them with bacon.

It was delicious, and the rest of his pack and not-pack had no taste at all.

He was on his second attempt at correcting his credit card information when Stiles' heartbeat stuttered, leapt, and took off at a sprint.

"Nevermind. I'll pay cash when it gets here," Derek bit out, and hung up while the guy on the phone was still trying to talk.

It didn't matter. If it did, they'd call back.

Stiles was mostly on the floor by the time he made it back to the living room, just his knees and feet still hooked over the seat. His eyes were closed, but he was breathing in and out with focused intensity and lifted a hand to wave at Derek when he approached the couch, so Derek just sat next to his feet, rested a hand on his ankle and waited.

There was a twinge in his hip, but it wasn't bad. Felt like the kind of thing Stiles might need, to keep from making it worse, so Derek left it alone.

Finally, after five careful breaths, Stiles said "Heard you walking around. Bathroom?"

"Bedroom," Derek corrected. "I was ordering us a pizza. Didn't want to wake you up."

Stiles laughed, short and harsh, then opened his eyes on an exasperated sigh. "You know, Alfredos does online ordering. If you were more willing to use a computer, this wouldn't be a problem."

His laptop was technically right next to Stiles' hip, but Derek wasn't going to tell him that. Circled his thumb over the bony point of Stiles' ankle and shrugged instead.

"Yeah, yeah," Stiles groaned, pulling his legs back and rolling to one side with a wince to get up. "You're gonna have to join the 21st century sometime, Derek. I mean--Huh." He reached out and snagged the laptop from under the couch. Sat up, holding the computer up next to his head with a disbelieving glare. "The hell? This doesn't have enough stickers to be Cora's."

Well fuck.

"I told you I had a job," he offered, trying to shrug it off as unimportant.

"No. You implied you had a job," Stiles corrected, flapping Derek’s laptop in the air as he wriggled around until he could get his legs crossed. "Vaguely enough it could have been volunteer work. So I repeat. The hell?"

Derek reached, but Stiles swayed back, clutching it to his chest. He was going to fall over backwards soon, if Derek was any judge, and maybe even brain himself on the edge of the coffee table.

"I use it for work," Derek tried. "I telecommute."

It was true. Sort of.

Stiles wasn't buying it if the expression on his face was anything to go by, but he handed the computer back. "If that thing isn't password protected, I am totally snooping next time I find it."

Derek wasn't sure what to do with that, but then Alfredos called back (with someone else on the phone, thankfully) and saved him from having to. He took the laptop down the hall to drop off in his room, bumping walls and scuffling his feet and talking loud enough that Stiles would know where he was.

It was hard, remembering to be loud enough to be heard. Felt unnatural. But Stiles' heartbeat stayed steady and calm.

-----

"I see Stiles finally caved," Cora drawled over patient clicks, one lock after another.

"See?" Between the two of them, she didn't usually bother sticking to humanisms. So...

Cora stepped into his line of sight and dropped a sweatshirt over his keyboard. And okay. Even without scent, that was definitely Stiles'. Derek was fairly sure no one else with access to his space would wear a college sweatshirt that just said COLLEGE. The hell.

None of the rest of them would carry a sweatshirt around in July, either, but Stiles had acclimated almost immediately to South Carolina's climate. That apparently meant hot and humid, and Beacon Hills evenings were just not cutting it.

Derek grunted acknowledgement and Cora rolled her eyes, stalking off to the kitchen. "What excuse did he use?"

"Couldn't focus at home," Derek said, not bothering to try and defend Stiles' good name. She thought he was biased anyway.

There was a huff from the kitchen that would have been laughter, eleven years ago. "Wow. Normally he's better at bullshit than that."

"I could have sworn you liked Stiles."

It wasn't a question. Not really. But Cora wandered back with a bowl of the horrible, over-processed fake-vanilla ice cream she'd gotten hooked on in the years after the fire and perched on the arm of the couch, curling her ankles around his so she could feel if he wanted to run away and stare at him at the same time. (Laura had usually pinned him to their two-seater couch in New York with her legs over his, but the principle was eerily similar. And depressing.)

"I do like Stiles," Cora explained, enunciating carefully. "We just have a complicated way of expressing our friendship." The spoon disappeared into her mouth. Reappeared clean enough to gesture with as she rolled her eyes. "And I don't think he's good enough for you. But it's my prerogative as your sister to think that about everybody, so."

That-- What.

His expression must have been--something, because Cora sighed, put upon and exasperated, then pushed off the sofa arm so she was actually sitting on his feet. "I don't think you're good enough for him either. You're both kinda fucked in the head. Which explains why neither of you seem to realize you bypassed dating and went straight to the part of being married where you hardly ever talk anymore or have sex and you need to rekindle the spark in your relationship." She shrugged and shifted her weight more heavily against his legs to keep him pinned. Talked over his spluttering. "But really. It's Stiles. He's kind of all about spark, so that shouldn't be too--"

She flinched away and was on her feet, ice cream abandoned, eyes wide and confused, before he even realized he was growling. "What? I'm sorry. What's--"

(Technically, taking his laptop and going to his room was probably running away, but he didn't really care.

At least it was something he was good at.)

-----

He wound up sleeping with Stiles' sweatshirt.

It didn't mean anything. It just ended up on his pillow when he'd shoved it off his computer, and he didn't care enough to throw it onto the floor.

His chest was sore again, and the apartment felt empty even though he could hear Cora breathing through the walls. Could hear the woman downstairs lovingly threatening her baby with goblins if he didn't stop fussing and go to sleep. Could even hear the couple next door and their eternal, unconscious fight over the blankets.

-----

Stiles showed up for breakfast the next day.

Because of course he did.

Cora glared at both of them over her eggs (three scrambled, three over easy, and only one piece of toast for all of them. His sister was so weird), but it was unfocused and could have just been her standard resentment at mornings. It was possible.

Ish.

For his part, Stiles acted as though everything was normal. And--it probably was, for him.

He dumped out Derek's coffee, made a new pot that was actually fit for consumption by non-Hales, stole a few bites of egg from Cora and a piece of Derek's bacon, and filled in the silence with a steady stream of inane facts. Most of which would probably not be okay at a more typical breakfast table.

According to LeRoux, an otherwise healthy adult werewolf experiencing continuous blood-loss was apparently capable of producing about a pint of blood every couple of minutes, if necessary.

Derek didn't want to know how she knew that.

Cora shrugged and pushed her mug in Stiles' general direction. Derek just hoped LeRoux was answering enough of Stiles' remaining questions about how everyone he knew hadn't died already that maybe he'd stop asking them.

It wasn't likely, but he could hope.

-----

Cora left for work and Stiles claimed his end of the couch, but squinted at Derek instead of starting in on his research again. "See. Your baby sister is gainfully employed."

Derek rolled his eyes, because it was already that kind of day. "My baby sister is a grocery clerk." Which was a legitimate job and she actually seemed to enjoy it, somehow, so that was fantastic. It just sounded like absolute torture to Derek. "And I have a job."

"I don't believe you," Stiles said placidly before cracking open his books. Finally.

-----

07/12/2017 Wed
Allison: So. Hypothetically. Raccoon demons? Not hostile but annoying. Is this a thing? - 3:23 p.m.

Derek squinted at the text, ticking over what he could remember of his lessons (wishing Stiles was still around, so he could pawn the question off on someone who knew better) before sending back Maybe then Don't tell isaac

Allison: I knew THAT - 3:42 p.m.

-----

When Stiles came over that night, he smelled green. Like organic decay and moss and fresh sap. Cora started growling almost immediately, but she was in the kitchen and it was far enough and soft enough that Stiles had no way of knowing.

"How's it doing?" he asked, half expecting Stiles to wince or flinch.

But Stiles just shrugged, frowning at his hands as he pulled pages and pages and pages out of his bag. (A flash of gold foil between the pages caught his eye, there and gone before he could focus.) "You've seen it. You went out to it about a week ago, right?"

"--How did you know that?"

"It's calmed down, Derek, but it's still a partially sentient tree. And it's lonely. Try stopping by and talking to it, next time."

That--no. Derek put his nose back in his book. Ignored Stiles' snort.

-----

He stayed long enough for Cora to calm down. Let her come out and bull her way into his place so she could badger Stiles for more information.

He left the room, ignored Stiles' betrayed glare and retreated to his room.

It’s not like he was hiding. Cora was just better at being annoying than he was, and he had an email to write.

-----

From: alpha@hale.com
To: silversister@hale.com
Date:Wed, July 12, 2017 at 7:14 PM
Subject: Stiles

He's doing fine. He's been out to see the stump, but from what I can tell from his rambling he's bonding with the sapling, not trying to connect with the stump itself.

I think he's reading it children's books.

-----

If he was a better person, a better alpha, he'd probably have gone back out to save Stiles from his sister. To find out what she'd learned, maybe get some answers of his own. (If nothing else, about that flash of gold that screamed 'childhood' at him, from Stiles' bag. Because what.)

The thought just made him tired.

-----

"So..."

The voice was soft, but easily within lunging range. It should have had him on edge, rolling into a crouch to face the threat. (He'd done that to Cora, once. But that had been before, when her voice was still strange and unfamiliar.)

Instead, Derek blinked himself awake to see Stiles crouched just outside his doorway. Half shielded by the wall, braced to dodge and run if he needed to, but-- His heart was calm.

Derek blinked again and scrubbed a hand over his face before pushing himself up. "Uh."

"I don't think I've seen you sleep since high school," Stiles said, keeping his voice low and sounding just as placid as he would discussing the weather. (No, that was a lie. Stiles wasn't placid while discussing anything, weather included. Apparently you could still see the marks from hailstorms in France a hundred years later, if you knew what you were looking for.) "And, I mean, even then it was because of all the weird brain-magic fucked-up-ness going on. I don't think you've ever taken a nap where I could see you before, even though your couch is seriously made of rainbow sheep and happiness."

Stiles would know. At least half of the weirdly zen moment he seemed to be having was probably related to the cushion creases on one of his cheeks, and the way his hair was pushed to one side.

"Spring break," Derek started, but Stiles was already shaking his head.

"You were always up first, and stayed up later than I did." Stiles waved a thought away with a loose gesture, like it was an annoying insect. "Same thing with the airport thing, actually. You're always awake before I see you."

Derek shrugged. "Werewolf."

It was a good answer, when people knew. It actually did explain about ninety percent of the questions he used it for. Unless the person asking was Stiles, who always wanted to know why and how and poke it with sticks until he understood it.

Stiles...didn't press. Just nodded and asked, "So what about now?"

Derek didn't have an answer for that, so he groaned and threw a pillow at him instead.

He hadn't thought he'd thrown it that hard, but Stiles flailed and fell backward anyway. Laughing, thankfully, the whole time.

"Oh my god," Cora hissed from the living room, and Derek felt his ears heating up. "Dinner is ready, if you care. And I'm going to eat yours if you don't get out here."

Derek rolled his eyes but stood up and walked over to offer Stiles (still laughing) a hand. And possibly some sanity, since he was still giggling into his pillow.

-----

From: silversister@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Wed, July 12, 2017 at 8:22 PM
Subject: RE:Stiles

Oooookay.

I thought they were the same entity, though? The sapling is part of the stump, isn't it?

 

From: alpha@hale.com
To: silversister@hale.com
Date: Thurs, July 13, 2017 at 6:14 AM
Subject: Re: RE:Stiles

I'm not the expert. Why aren't you asking Stiles about this?

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Thurs, July 13, 2017 at 8:19 AM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:Stiles

Okay, sure. I'll ask him to check up on you too, since you've been so reassuring about that.

 

From: alpha@hale.com
To: silversister@hale.com
Date: Thurs, July 13, 2017 at 8:22 AM
Subject: Re: RE:Re: RE:Stiles

I'm fine.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Thurs, July 13, 2017 at 8:25 AM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:Re: RE:Stiles

Uh-huh. Like I said, I'll ask the expert.

-----

Sometimes, it was just easier to run. Easier to let his legs stretch out and eat up the ground. Let his hearing spread, picking up all the day-to-day murmurs that made up life, whether the neighborhood was suburban or wild. Let his breathing and his heartbeat become the only sounds that mattered, so long as nothing else stood out in all the noise.

He couldn't keep running forever, though. There was a text waiting for him as he ran back into cell range, making his phone chirp as he approached the treeline on his way back.

07/14/17 Fri
Cora: We're out of milk. - 10:52 a.m.

Derek sighed, because of course they ran out on one of Cora's days off. He mentally added a trip to the store to his route back while he typed out a reply.

Anything else?

He wasn't entirely surprised when his phone chirped three more times on his way to the store.

-----

And of course, he got caught on his way through the meat department by--Billy? Bruce? B-something, he thought. Brandon, maybe.

(Cora usually called him Obnoxious, so Derek wasn't really sure. Just knew that he agreed with her, and wished the guy would pick up a hint.)

"Cora's fine," Derek offered, before Obnoxious could get too far into offering random small talk about steak while he psyched himself up to ask. "Still dating Denise."

(It wasn't like the hints were subtle. Derek didn't think it was too much to ask.)

"Yeeeah, yeah," Obnoxious nodded, backing off a step as his scent went heavy and soggy. "Still, though. Long distance sucks, yeah?"

Derek grabbed a package of hamburger, because Obnoxious was between him and the pork chops and fuck it, he wasn't up for this. "They're happy, and Denise is graduating next year anyway." He tried out a smile, and tried not to be too pleased when Obnoxious' pulse kicked up a notch and he backed off another step. "Have a nice day."

He had the rest of the stuff, so long as he didn't count pork chops. He just needed milk then he could get out.

-----

It didn't feel weird or unusual to come back to the apartment to find Stiles' Jeep outside, or Stiles on the couch. It was weird to come home and find him on the couch laughing with Cora, their feet tangled over the middle seat.

Derek wished he'd recognized it earlier, because Cora stopped laughing when she heard the door shut, even if the expression she threw his way was still a grin. Still happy.

Neither of them laughed much, since the fire and everything after. Not like that, anyway, out loud and lingering.

He'd have stood outside until the milk went sour to hear more of it.

"Stiles was mocking my SAT score," Cora explained, and Derek realized he was just standing in the doorway staring at them. Right.

He moved toward the kitchen, because he didn't actually want the milk to go bad. They went through enough of it as it was. But--

Why were they talking about her SAT score? That was-- Ages ago, he thought.

"I was not!" Stiles protested, indignant and amused in equal measure. "But seriously. You got the same score Scott did, you applied to some of the same colleges he did, and you got your first letter from OSU. You're totally turning into Scott!"

Cora made a rude noise at that. Derek felt something warm and happy settle in his gut.

As soon as the groceries were put away, he was hugging his sister until she screamed bloody murder. Because Cora was amazing, and she was actually going to get to go to college.

"Admit it," Stiles teased. "Scott's totally your role model. I bet you're going into the forestry program too, aren't you."

That ache in his chest was back, and Derek had a sinking feeling he'd figured out what it was.

"Whatever, loser," Cora said with a huff and a scuffle of fabric, then her voice moved up as she stood and started for the hall. "I need to call Denise and let her know."

The path to her room took Cora past the kitchen, so Derek took advantage of the opportunity to step out and haul her into a hug.

Her elbows and insincere growls were a decent distraction from the mess in his head. She wasn't screaming (yet) anyway.

Besides. It made Stiles laugh.

-----

"Nobody would ever believe me if I told them you do this," Cora muttered sourly, but she smelled content when she crawled into her bed and pushed his legs out of her way. "So what kind of emotion are you struggling with today?"

Derek growled from under Cora's pillow, but only because he knew she wouldn't take it seriously. Not when he was curled up like a pathetic lump on her bed, anyway.

True to form, it just made her poke him in the side. "Words, Derek."

"Do I love Stiles?"

Once upon a time, back before undead trees and brain fuckery and bank vaults and alphas and murder and vendettas and fire and her, it would have been a ridiculous question. Worthy of mockery. But there in that moment, Cora just curled over him, rested her cheek against his back and let him breathe for a few moments.

Her voice was flat when she broke the silence. Emotionless and hostile, if you didn't know her. Didn't know what she'd been through. Didn't recognize the armor. "I think the fact that you're asking is enough of an answer."

Fuck.

She patted his shoulder twice before, "I told you so, by the way."

How had he forgotten that he hated his sister?

-----

It wasn't what love was supposed to be. He couldn't stop thinking about it that night, even to sleep.

Derek knew what love looked like. Not just the crap on television, but-- Well.

He'd seen couples arguing about nothing in stores, cafes, on the street. Pushing into each other and smiling because it was still contact. Still a way to touch. He'd heard the noises they made when they drifted apart, even the ones that were probably too soft for the people themselves to hear.

Scott and Allison looked for each other always, in every room, and smiled at each other like it was a surprise each time they found each other. Settled into the spaces they left or made for each other like they couldn't help it. Like it was gravity. Pressed kisses into each other's hair, jaw, temple, grinning like they'd won something. (Failed at actually kissing because they were smiling too hard. Laughed at themselves for it.)

Ethan lit up when Danny was near him. Brought Danny coffee and power cables and pens just because. Could sleep with Danny watching over him, curled lax and pliant and oblivious against his side.

In return, Danny's whole face relaxed when he could lean into Ethan, looking smug and content and far too feline. He was quieter about it, more subdued and subtle, most of the time. When he wasn't incorporating plaid or paisley into the website to fuel Ethan and Denise's ongoing argument about patterns.

Travis kept coming and visiting his girlfriend's hometown, her pack's territory, like it wasn't against the rules of every half-baked hunter's-lore story his family had picked up over the years. Like his heart didn't triphammer every time he caught sight of Scott. (Caught sight of Derek.)

Cora and Denise had some sort of complicated system of points-scoring with horrible saccharine pet-names for each other and played like it was the Olympics. Crooned words across rooms, whispered in each other's ears, biting them out while mock-snapping at each other's faces until they gave in to the giggles and tumbled down together, smiling.

That's what love looked like. That's how Derek recognized it. Because yes, he looked for Stiles first. He looked for Stiles even when he knew there was most of a continent between them.

According to Cora, he had three distinct Stiles-smiles. They didn't tend to happen at mirrors, so he had to take her word for that one.

He slipped further into Stiles' orbit than he meant to without even noticing. Thought about Stiles when random things caught his eye. Wanted the weight of his presence nearby.

So it looked like love, but--

But there was also the way Denise's pupils dilated when Cora leaned in close with a hitch in her breath. The way Allison and Scott had a tendency to stare at each other's mouths when they were...distracted. The way Danny's heartbeat shifted when Ethan crowded up close behind him and nuzzled into his neck, his hair.

The way Erica had bitched about needing to buy so many batteries, ugh since meeting Travis.

(Denise was never living down the fact that it was entirely her fault they all knew that.)

He knew so much more than he wanted to about strangers' mutual attractions. The tiny gasps, the open body language, the second, more-targeted glances. The smiles and looks that talked across rooms.

He knew about Denise and Ethan. How they knocked their shoulders together as they hunched over a book. The way they tormented each other into laughing. (The fact that Ethan was relaxed enough, settled enough, around her that he could argue, and bite, and snap over something he actually cared about. Didn't draw into himself and go quiet to protect it.)

That was love too, but not the kind that erased the distance between them. Not the kind that made them hungry for contact. Not the kind that ached, when they weren't around each other.

And that--wasn't what he was feeling. He wanted to drown in Stiles' scent. To spend hours just listening to Stiles breathe, letting his heartbeat sink into his bones. He felt--calmer, when Stiles was there.

But when he thought about Stiles, it was just--

Stiles was--awkward. Physically. He still didn't quite know where his body ended, and he was enough past his last growth spurt that Derek figured that was probably just Stiles, now. It meant that he didn't really walk so much as amble or lurch. Didn't lean when he could teeter, sit when he could collapse or fall.

He was cute enough. According to strangers on the street, who didn't think about being overheard. (Who did think about it, but didn't know to factor in werewolves.)

Derek just...didn't get it. Didn't notice, didn't care, wasn't interested. Still.

Probably wouldn't have been even if Stiles made people stop and stare in the middle of the street. If he was graceful and predatory when he moved, instead of--that.

And that's what was wrong. That's what didn't fit.

Even if it was love, there was still something broken and wrong in his head. Always had been.

He'd been able to ignore and forget about that. Hadn't had to think about it in years. Not until--this.

-----

Cora pounded on his door but left it closed, which was what passed for polite in her world, most days. "Are you coming out of-- Well, I guess you already did that. But are you coming out of your room at all today?"

Derek groaned and smashed his face more firmly into his pillows. "Yeah. Soon."

"Alright."

She didn't leave, though. Hovered outside his door, probably glaring at it.

"What?" he groused, pushing his blankets back so he could stand.

"Nothing," she said, too fast. "Just. I'll get started on lunch."

Derek rubbed a hand over his face, listening to Cora's footsteps down the hall.

It was that late?

-----

He tried, later. Closed his eyes and shut out the world. Pulled his hands across his skin and thought about Stiles. The shape of his hands and his smile. The strength in his arms. Got distracted by the sound of his laugh. The hundred ways his face could mock or jibe, say I told you so or just I'm listening.

It didn't work. Left him frustrated and empty and feeling like an idiot.

-----

Derek knew it wasn't rational or reasonable to be angry at someone because you thought you might be in love with them, but his life wasn't very rational and it had never been reasonable.

-----

07/16/2017 Sun
Lydia: Had lunch with Charise today. She sends her love and creepy innuendos about pack alliances. - 2:09 p.m.

Lydia: By which I mean she still wants in your pants and you should not visit. In case that wasn't clear. - 2:12 p.m.

-----

"Hey."

It felt familiar, waking up to that particular soft voice. Derek let his eyes fall open, twisting his head to see Stiles, where he was tilted and propped up against the doorjamb. Or at least, that's what it looked like. But that's what Stiles always looked like when he leaned against something at shoulder height.

"Cora let me in," Stiles continued, when Derek stayed silent. Pushed himself up from the door and walked in, hands in his back pockets and eyes on the floor. Because alpha or not, fully functioning adult or not, Derek hated putting his clothes away properly almost as much as he hated having to wash them in the first place. "Technically, Cora texted me with threats if I didn't come over, then fled the scene while I was still on the stairs. And yes, I remembered to lock up after her."

"I'm going to rip one of her arms off," Derek grumbled and mashed his face back into his pillow. "And beat her with it."

Stiles hummed, laughter implied if not present. "Not bad. I'll give it a six out of ten, because you probably have some reason for the moping and I'm nice like that. It's really not up to the levels of sincere menace I expect from Hale threats, and it's a little too creative, but the combination seems to work somehow."

The lack of creativity in their threats, Stiles had decided, was a family trait. He and Cora had made the mistake only once--each--of challenging Stiles to do better.

(Cora was still deeply suspicious of egg beaters and Derek did not want to know.)

Stiles let the silence drag out for another minute before sighing. "Cora said you're having an emotion. And, granted, I'm not exactly the best person to call for this kind of thing, but I'm definitely better than Cora. I think Cora's still confused by most problems that aren't math or solvable by a judicious application of brute force, and I don't think the quadratic equation or a headlock would help you much."

This was good, Derek mused. Stiles could babble, and Derek could go back to sleep. That sounded like a winning solution.

But then the mattress dipped, and Stiles' hip was suddenly warm against his side, and there was a light brush of fingers against his hair, and...

And Stiles wasn't talking. He was just sitting there. On Derek's bed. Petting him.

Fuck my life, Derek thought, even as a pleased rumble made its way out of his chest without his permission.

"I can't believe you're not objecting to this," Stiles muttered, his voice amazed and amused at once. "Cora was right, I guess. Physical wounds don't take you out like this, and I don't see any signs of poisoning."

Technically, that time with Peter outside the high school when Scott and Stiles had thought he'd died and would, therefore, be a fantastic scapegoat for murder and terrorizing high school students (not that he was bitter) had left him feeling a lot like this. Gutted and raw and just wanting to sleep. For about forty hours.

Stiles sighed heavily when Derek continued to just lie in bed, not speaking. "Oh man. Why couldn't Allison be here? She's good at other people’s feelings crap. Instead it's you, me, and Cora." He snorted, then--

Derek jerked back with a growl, raising a hand to rub at his scalp. "Stiles!"

"Hey look," Stiles drawled, entirely unrepentant for the hair pulling and wearing mock surprise like a sideshow attraction. "A face!"

He'd been wrong. It wasn't love. It was hate. Utter, absolute, vicious--

Stiles leaned in, expression relaxing into concern. "Seriously, Derek. What's going on? If Cora's worried, I'm really worried."

"It's not like that," he tried, but Stiles rolled his eyes, settling back and putting distance between them again, and-- Damnit. That shouldn't matter.

"I know," Stiles scoffed. "You've been way better about actually sharing the life threatening danger. Thanks for that." He made to hit Derek's shoulder, and didn't seem particularly bothered when Derek caught his wrist out of habit. "We're worried about you, numbskull." He shook his fist, jostling Derek's hand with it for emphasis. "We love you, it's allowed."

The ache in his chest was back, and he really didn't want to be awake for this. Because he knew, he knew Stiles didn't mean it like he did. Had said just that to nearly everyone in the pack, in one context or another.

Granted, the first few times he'd been drunk off his ass, and later it had been mostly to annoy people. But still.

Apparently knowing didn't matter, because he was there and saying it to Derek. In Derek's bed.

"You should go," he managed to get out, staring at his hand on Stiles' wrist and only belatedly realizing he should really let go. And he would. Soon.

Instead of doing something sensible, like prying his hand free and taking off screaming into the--mid-afternoon, Stiles twisted around until he could kick off his shoes and stretched out on the bed.

Derek let go, finally, mostly so he could run, but Stiles had his hand hooked around Derek's arm before he could move.

"C'mon. We'll try again after a nap."

Derek let himself be pulled in and down. Closed his eyes against how right it felt, to have Stiles' scent mixing with his. Their breath mingling. The weight of his arm over Derek's ribs.

He fell asleep to the sound and rhythm of Stiles' heart, as it slowed and evened out.

-----

There was skin against his nose. A pulse, steady and strong, not under his touch but close enough that he could feel the flutter of it.

Everything smelled of Stiles, but Derek didn't think he was dreaming.

If he'd been dreaming, the fingers in his hair would be pressing harder. And they wouldn't have paused, spasming to a stop before going back to their idle, too-light rub.

"You awake?"

Derek grunted, and Stiles snorted in response. It was loud, so close, and it made the skin of his throat jump, away then back, and--

Fuck, he wasn't awake yet. But it felt so good to press closer and nuzzle. To focus on touch and the slide of skin and the smell of Stiles, sleepy and content and in his bed. And he could remember, suddenly, why Stiles was there.

It seemed like a reasonable way of explaining, to Derek's sleep fogged brain, to just--relax. Let his instincts go, for a moment. It was--better, to not use words. Stiles could figure it out for himself. Knew more about werewolf relationships than most of the pack, still.

Besides, it was glorious just breathing open mouthed against Stiles' neck to draw the scent over his tongue, and Stiles wasn't going to leave until he figured out what was going on anyway.

At least, he didn't think Stiles would. But Stiles had gone panic-still under the attention, his pulse kicking into high gear, and--

Derek flinched back, wincing when Stiles' hand clamped down on his hair and--and pulled him in again. Right up against Stiles' throat.

What the hell.

Derek growled but let himself relax. Let Stiles roll them onto their sides and wrap his arms around Derek, trapping Derek's face against his shoulder.

It wasn't comfortable, but Derek wasn't planning on complaining because Stiles didn't smell scared. He smelled--

"Oh my god, stupid brain. Stupid, stupid brain. And body. That's dumb too. You just-- You stay there, okay?"

Stiles smelled like surprise. And like happy, and want, and anxiety strong enough to drive almost anyone else off.

But it was Stiles.

"Shit," Stiles muttered, pressing his nose into Derek's hair and not seeming to notice as they rolled again, Derek's arms pulling Stiles after him and over him. Let Stiles curl around him like a shield. "Fuck, shit, damnit. Is this-- Oh my god, your sister is evil."

Derek grumbled agreement, and Stiles laughed.

"Seriously. Is this why you've been moping?"

That grumble was less agreeable, but Stiles just curled closer and snickered. "Oh my god, you idiot."

If his life was normal, Derek thought that this was where they'd kiss. Then there'd be confessions and more kissing and possibly sex.

His life wasn't normal, and neither was he.

There wasn't any talking, for a while, but it was because Derek knew how ticklish the edges of Stiles' ribs were, how far he could push that, before actual distress set in, and set about making him spasm, shriek, swear, yell, and kick until he was breathless and crying with laughter.

It bought a little time.

-----

Stiles magnanimously let him retreat to the bathroom to shower and change. The door was still cracked between them, but Stiles stayed curled up on the bed instead of trying to sneak an eyeful in. He'd only ever needed one talk about abusing the courtesy others extended his brain in all its traumatized glory.

(Granted, it had been one talk with Lydia.)

Even with that, he'd half expected Stiles to have moved by the time he got out. Gone to make coffee, or raid the fridge, or turn on the television for the noise. But there he was, face smashed against one of Derek's pillows and body tucked up into an awkward looking question mark.

He wasn't quite drooling on Derek's pillow, but it was a near thing. More importantly, Derek wasn't sure he'd have cared, if it meant Stiles was there.

That had to be love.

Derek sat next to Stiles' hips, and wasn't really surprised when Stiles twisted around to curl his torso over Derek's lap. "Falling asleep on me?"

"Nowa'yam," Stiles mumbled, patting Derek's thigh with absent affection. "Squishy."

"That's not even vaguely accurate."

Stiles poked him for his troubles.

This is my life, Derek mused.

It wasn't long before Stiles was stretching himself to coherency. Joints snapping and popping in sincerely disturbing ways, limbs bending and body twisting in sincerely fascinating ones.

"You done?" Derek asked, then winced as Stiles twisted his neck to one side for one last snap as he sat up.

(It hurt when he did that. Not much, and he couldn't sense any pain in Stiles, but still.)

"Think so." Stiles tried to say something else, but it was swallowed up by a yawn, quickly muffled with his arm. "Augh."

"Coffee," Derek sighed, and gave Stiles a light shove toward the kitchen. "You should make some."

"Pushy."

"I could make some," he offered. (Threatened.)

That got Stiles moving.

-----

Stiles muttered to himself and the coffee maker as he worked. Always did. Always had. Derek let himself keep tabs that way and settled in the living room with his laptop. Took the couch corner with the best sight-line to the kitchen, so Stiles would be able to check on him easily.

There were only two flickers of motion at the edge of his vision before Stiles was tripping his way out.

It didn't even take thought, Derek just moved his laptop to the arm of the couch when Stiles approached, expecting feet in his lap or a head, if Stiles was feeling particularly bold.

He hadn't been expecting all of Stiles.

"This is your work?" he asked, looping one arm around Derek's neck as he leaned in for a better look, other hand tugging the computer part way onto his own lap. "Oh, man, please tell me you're writing romance novels."

It was easy to wrap his free arm around Stiles' waist. Brace his computer with the hand that had been holding it. "I don't write romance novels," he sighed. "I translate. Mostly technical stuff, but some fiction too."

(Not that he didn't write, or get paid for it, but he wasn't admitting that. It wasn't a regular thing anyway.)

"This is about werewolves," Stiles laughed, eyes skipping over the text and fuck, Derek forgot how fast he could read. "Do you fact check?" Stiles asked, sounding far too gleeful. "Do you use your job to find werewolves and hunters and other stuff?"

"No."

"Boring," Stiles sighed. "So are we gonna talk about this or not?"

Not.

Even without Lydia (Laura) or Cora there, he could feel the smack to the back of his head for that thought.

"What's there to talk about?" he tried instead, closing his laptop and setting it aside. He wasn't going to get more work done, and any discussion with Stiles had at least a slim chance of disaster. Particularly for small, fragile objects.

He was expecting Stiles to glare, or roll his eyes, or even just look at him in one of those ways that implied a lot of words were involved. He expected Stiles to talk more. To build something out of words Derek could disagree with.

He wasn't expecting Stiles to lean in until their foreheads pressed together, until their noses brushed and their breath mixed in the tiny gap left.

"Why have you been moping?"

It was a whisper, but still too loud for how close they were.

Derek didn't want to answer, didn't want to admit-- So he kissed Stiles instead. Pressed their lips together and moved his arm around Stiles' back, to keep him braced upright through the first inevitable startle. Opened up when Stiles recovered and surged back, swallowed the groan Stiles offered him.

He ran his fingers up and down the seam running along the outside of Stiles' thigh and tried to learn how Stiles liked to be kissed.

It felt nice, the texture of seam and the press of lips and teeth. It was okay.

This was something he could do.

-----

"I don't get it," Cora grumped from her perch on the kitchen counter. Right in the middle of where Derek usually set up the cutting board, of course. "Stiles was here for hours, and the living room definitely smells like make outs and horny teenager--"

"He's not a teenager," Derek said automatically. Then immediately cursed himself, because ignoring her was the only real way to make her go away.

Cora made an agreeable noise, but. "The living room smells like make outs and horny teenager," she repeated. "So why aren't you happier."

Derek glared down at the carrot he was mauling and decided to switch to onions next.

(He didn't actually need onions, but Cora hated the way they smelled.)

-----

Stiles came back for dinner the next night, smelling static-sharp amidst a sudden tinge of wet green. Cora watched them suspiciously the whole time, but--it was mostly just...normal.

They ate on the couch. Or at least, Derek and Stiles did. Cora had just arched her eyebrows at them and curled up in the armchair. And okay, so they sat pressed together all up and down one side, but that wasn't anything new. Stiles still talked about strange, random, inappropriate things. Still wouldn't talk much about the stump or what he was doing with it. Still bickered and sniped back and forth with Cora. Still teased Derek for making a salad and elbowed him in the ribs when Derek stole a bite off his plate. (Stiles was a freak who didn't like cucumber anyway, and could shut it.)

Stiles was the one who didn't live there, so Stiles had to take everyone's dishes back to the kitchen and get them rinsed off while Cora flicked through their movie options and listed out things for Stiles to vote on or make horrified noises at the idea of.

They watched a movie Stiles could mostly recite, while Cora read and Stiles worked his way through a stack of printed and copied articles with three highlighters and the kind of focus Derek was used to associating with threats to life and limb.

It was nice, even if the movie was horrible.

When Stiles left, after packing up but before putting his shoes back on, he leaned over the couch and kissed Derek. Cora groaned and buried her face in her book, so she probably missed the way Stiles' expression broke when he pulled away. Uncertain and asking questions Derek didn't know the answer to.

Derek reached up to pull him down again, and tried to answer in a language he didn't understand.

(He must have done a good enough job of it. Stiles was smiling again when he let go.)

-----

07/19/2017 Wed
Denise: Chickens laying black eggs is a bad thing right? I mean when they didn't used to - 8:07 a.m.

Derek eyed his phone in despair and texted back to tell Denise that probably yes, and she should really email the full details to Stiles and Lydia for a better answer.

-----

It should have been less surprising, how easy it was.

Things didn't change much, at first, and when they did it was--good. Stiles still came over to study, curled up on the couch with his head on Derek's hip or in his lap. Sometimes they ended up in bed, where Derek could stretch out and bury his nose in the curve of Stiles' neck and fall asleep to the squeak of the highlighter.

(Forget cracker crumbs in bed, though. Post-it notes were the worst.)

They touched more. Constantly. Hands not just in the safe territory of shoulders, backs and arms, not just seeking out skin to check for aches and pains that were okay to take, but sliding around to curl over a belly, gripping at a thigh, lingering in the hair. And kissing--kissing was something Derek was discovering he liked.

Stiles kissed like kissing was the point, not just part of a formula. A step in a process to get somewhere else. Derek had been with other people who kissed like that before, but apparently caring made a difference. At least half the post-its that ended up lost in Derek's sheets got there with what started as a kiss against a shoulder, and Stiles twisting around to face him with a grin.

They ate dinners with Cora. Talked about the schools she'd applied for and what she was expecting, what her options were, what going out of state for college was like, watched movies, and eventually she trusted them enough to come back to the couch. She still claimed the couch still smelled like makeouts and horny teenager, but as long as that was all it smelled like, she was willing to stop giving them crap about it.

That lasted all of a week.

"Derek," Stiles panted against his cheek, before biting at his jaw.

It--felt weird, honestly. Almost a threat, but too weak for even a human mean it.

Derek took it as instruction. Dragged his teeth lightly over the vulnerable spot just below Stiles' ear. Pulled at Stiles' hips until he was gasping, riding Derek's thigh like it was the only thing in the world that mattered.

Stiles was a limp mess by the time he was done. It was strangely satisfying, to know that he was the reason for that. That he was why it took nearly a minute before Stiles was muttering disconsolately into Derek's shoulder about coming in his pants.

He caught Stiles' hand before it could finish sliding down to his fly. Kissed his palm. "Not necessary."

"Well at least I'm not alone," Stiles laughed, misinterpreting what he'd said entirely. Just like he was supposed to.

Stiles didn't stay, that night. Went home to shower and change and see his dad.

When Cora came home from work, she groaned and glared at the couch like it was the cause of all her life's woes.

"This is at least partly your fault," Derek pointed out, contentedly stretched out on what he was now fairly certain was just his and Stiles' couch. At least for the summer.

It was good. Mostly.

So long as he didn’t think about how fast the end of summer was approaching.

-----

07/22/2017 Sat
Erica: Need response asap. Pencil skirt or skinny jeans? - 4:14 p.m.

Derek glared at his phone but typed out This is Derek, not Lydia anyway.

Erica: Knew that. Hurry! - 4:18 p.m.

Whats the outfit for?

Erica: Travis date - 4:20 p.m.

Jeans

Erica: THNX - 4:23 p.m.

___

Sex didn't change that much.

Stiles still came over and prodded Derek into being living furniture while he studied (which now mostly consisted of typing up all the notes he'd taken over the summer and turning them into something organized and terrifying). Still stayed over for dinner or appeared randomly for breakfast and talked about the weirdest things, or tried to get Cora to make faces. Kissing Derek was his new favorite method, and Derek wasn't complaining. He still smelled like green-death-decay-growth-hope-ozone sporadically. Sometimes they stretched out on the couch, sometimes on the bed. Sometimes they kissed for what felt like forever.

Sometimes it was more intense, but that was okay.

It's not like it was bad, and it was his fault anyway. He'd started it.

-----

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Tues, Aug 8, 2017 at 11:49 PM
Subject: I’m fine

Two omegas. One’s dead, the other one is more likely to end up in Idaho than Oregon. (Female, brunette, caucasian, about my height, no noticeable gear and wearing an orange tank top that was pretty beat up.)

I am fine. A little scratched up, but it’s all from rolling around on the ground without sleeves on, I promise. (And before anyone gets smart with me, I was just getting home after class when I heard them. They were just fighting each other, no humans involved, but it sounded bad enough I wasn’t taking the time to change.)

The dead one was violent. The runner mostly seemed scared. Definitely lucid, even with the moon, but I’m not surprised she didn’t hang out to talk with me while I had my bow out.

 

From: coratheexplorer@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 8:07 AM
Subject: Re: I’m fine

Do you want Derek and Stiles to come up?

(Please?)

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 11:40 AM
Subject: RE:Re: I’m fine

I don’t think it would help. Sorry, Cora.

-----

He was tempted to go anyway. The idea of taking Stiles was…appealing. It seemed like the sort of memory Stiles would want to make, before he left. And Pullman had been nice enough, when Derek drove up to check it out (immediately after Allison started chattering excitedly about being accepted to the school her parents had met at).

(In his defense, he’d heard the story of how her parents met, by that point.)

Denise replied to the chain, blaming Montana as usual. He was starting to think she was right. Allison and Denise were dealing with half the dangerous creatures the pack as a whole reported in about, the website had a widget for that and their count was actually creeping up to three out of five, but Scott and Ethan had barely seen anything.

He should probably make a trip up. Check on them. Maybe--

Maybe he should see why Stiles was poking him in the stomach.

Derek huffed a sigh and twisted around, looking down at the wide not-so-innocent eyes that were angled up at him from his hip. “What?”

“There’s a big meteor shower in a few days. Wanna go?”

“Isn’t tomorrow the last day of your semester? Why aren’t you thinking about that instead?”

Stiles huffed and twisted, one arm looping over his legs and chin digging into the meat of his thigh. “Dude, LeRoux’s basically giving me a pass for the quarter. She knows I’m working, she’s just gonna stamp off on my notes when I turn in the hard copies. So. Meteors?”

The drive to Pullman and back would take up most of the time they had left. It would be--amazing, having Stiles pressed against his upholstery for a couple of days. He’d complain about Derek’s route, and they’d argue over music, and food, and just about everything. They could stop somewhere on the flatter side of the mountains for the meteor shower.

Or they could stay, and he’d have Stiles pressed up against his side, or sprawled over his lap, jittering and whispering and close and that--

“Yeah. Sounds good.”

Heading up to Idaho and Washington could wait. It’d give him something to do after school started again.

-----

Three days before Stiles had to leave, he closed his laptop and stretched, head pushing against Derek's stomach and toes crackling when he wiggled them in the air past the arm of the couch.

"I don't wanna go back."

Derek pet at Stiles' hair, because he didn't know what else to do. That was okay, apparently. Stiles tilted his head into the touch, mouth ticking up in one of the little smiles Derek liked best for a moment before he sighed. "Okay, that's not true. I miss it like crazy. Even Professor LeRoux and her creepy fish and the fucking humidity." Stiles opened his eyes, turning to frown up at Derek. "But then I'm just gonna miss you and Dad and Scott and everybody, and the lack of humidity, and how crappy the library is, and--"

"You're not going to miss how crappy the library is," Derek interjected, amused. By all reports, Stiles had lived in the libraries on campus more than his dorm room, his first few months away. And it was only half because he hadn't been able to stand his roommate.

Stiles hummed and rocked his head back and forth. "I dunno. Sometimes it's kinda nice, knowing there's only so much to look through and just one building it's all kept in." Then his eyes sharpened and locked onto Derek's. "But the point is, I'm going to miss you. Like, even more than I usually do."

It made his gut twist up in painful knots. He was trying not to think about it. About Stiles leaving, what he felt, what it would mean. "We'll talk," he said instead, and if it sounded weak to his own ears, then so what?

Something about it worked for Stiles though, because he was grinning suddenly and sitting up. "That reminds me. Gimmie your computer, we can set it up for video chat."

Derek pulled it out from under the couch, entered the password, and handed it over wordlessly.

He didn't even complain when Stiles tested it out by calling Scott.

-----

Stiles jittered his way through the security check, turning to smile and wave before he walked away.

He looked fine. Relaxed, at ease, smiling.

His heart rate was through the roof, and Derek knew he smelled like sour sweat and panic. That he was never that relaxed, anymore, unless he was curled up with the pack-not-pack (or in Derek's bed).

If there weren't any of his werewolves around, that posture didn't mean relaxed. It meant he was ready to fight or run at a moment's notice.

Derek made himself walk away.

(If he stayed close, and didn't leave until he'd gotten Stiles' text that he was on the plane, until he confirmed that the flight had taken off, that was his business.)

-----

The image was too dark, and a bit grainy, but it was still Stiles grinning at him from the computer screen. He looked completely wrung out; tired and tense and shaken, the way he always was after a flight. But he was smiling, and--

"That's my shirt."

Stiles laughed, nodding. The image glitched briefly, leaving Stiles frozen for a moment with his head twisted at an improbable and painful looking angle. "Yeah. Uh. Sorry? I'm a sap, apparently."

"And a thief," Derek pointed out without any heat. He didn't care. Not really. He had fi--four shirts just like that one. Only recognized it because the collar was stretched out from the last time he'd wrestled with Cora over the remote.

"I like smelling you," Stiles shrugged, like that was something people just said. "Thought it'd help, after the flight. And I was right. Sooo...whatever. How're you?"

"Pretty much the same as I was nine hours ago," Derek rolled his eyes, trying to squash down the pleased flutter in his gut before it came out his mouth somehow. "Only without you."

Stiles nodded, expression as serious as it could be when one corner of his mouth kept twitching up. "So... Brooding, disconsolate, and sexy?"

"Ye--what?"

Stiles laughed, and Derek decided he didn't really care about anything but hearing him do that again.

Chapter Text

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 7:38 AM
Subject: He's aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive

Stop rolling your eyes at me, Lydia. Rude.

I survived! Both being home so-not-alone for the summer, and the flight back...home. School? Where am I?

The flight back to the world of libraries, at any rate.

What the hell though, guys? Are you dead? Don't be dead. I really don't have time to carve a path of vengeance and destruction across the country.

Seriously though. Updates? I refuse to believe nothing of significance has happened all summer.

 

From: denise-menise@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 7:51 AM
Subject: Re: He's aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive

It wasn't just Lydia.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 8:03 AM
Subject: RE:Re: He's aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive

Rude.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 8:49 AM
Subject: Re: He's aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive

Hasn't been a lot of point in e-mailing over the summer, everybody but you and Derek have been blowing up the chat at pretty much all hours.

Speaking of which. The couch? Rude.

Lydia and I knew you'd want to poke your nose into everybody's business eventually, so we put together a summary of what's been up. File attached. (Make sure to check out August 6th. It's a moment I will treasure forever.)

 

From: iceman@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 12:07 PM
Subject: RE:Re: He's aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive

I know where you live, Danny.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: RE:Re: He's aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive

:D

 

Derek took a moment to push his computer out of the way so he could thunk his head onto the kitchen table a few times.

His pack. Why.

-----

The school year meant everything but the mockery slowed down. Emails were mostly about what classes were great, and which ones sucked, awesome professors and monotone nightmares.

There was a feral dog that Scott and Ethan wound up trapping and contacting animal control over, which was an exciting step toward figuring out how to deal with problems without killing them, even if it wasn’t as supernatural as they’d first thought.

Erica fell asleep with her face mashed into a textbook in the library. Travis took a photo and posted it to her instagram, proving once again that her crushes on Stiles and Denise hadn’t been flukes. Her type was, in fact, ‘occasionally an obnoxious asshole’.

(Derek refused to think too much about that.)

-----

Strange things happened when one's sibling was applying to colleges. First, there was a long period where Derek kept finding Cora sitting on the stairs, waiting, because the mailman was running late. Then, suddenly the mail stopped appearing upstairs without warning and he had to go down and collect the three day backlog.

(He found the MIT rejection letter later, shoved down into the bottom of their paper recycling. The rejection hadn't really been a surprise, but--)

Now, there was one school left to go, and Cora was still not getting the mail. Stanford wasn't as much of a reach as MIT, but it was enough of one that they were already discussing the pros and cons of Berkeley and Oregon State (in state with no pack, out of state with pack and a friendly alpha for most of her first year being high on the list of considerations).

Stanford was still enough of a stretch that Derek had to actually stop himself and look at the envelope in his hand, thick enough he'd initially thought it was advertising.

-----

When he brought her the letter, Cora hugged him hard enough to displace one of his ribs, kicked his legs out from under him, then ran off to her room to have a minor breakdown.

All over the pack.

There were no emails that night. The pack-chat exploded in an impromptu congratulations party, with Ethan and Erica scrabbling for additional scholarships Cora might be able to apply for, now that they finally knew what they were working with.

Derek retreated to his room, content to scan the chat feed as it raced past. Cora needed them more than him anyway.

-----

From: BornToBeBeta@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Mon Sept 18, 2017 at 9:02 AM
Subject: Something up?

Scott hasn't been getting anything in the mail and his birthday's this week. I know Allison is coming down for the weekend, but it's weird.

Is there something going on?

-----

Derek didn't know why they asked him these things. They pretty much never involved him in the planning.

Normally he'd know anyway because Allison or Stiles would have sent out an email about plans, but-- Stiles had been there all summer. The presents for Scott had just disappeared one day, and Derek had figured it was dealt with.

-----

From: alpha@hale.com
To: sparky@hale.com
Date: Mon, Sept 18, 2017 at 9:09 AM
Subject: FWD: Something up?

I'm assuming something's up.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com
Date: Mon, Sept 18, 2017 at 5:43 PM
Subject: RE:FWD: Something up?

Have no fear, something is so up.

Sorry, didn't realize you guys were out of the loop. All the presents went to Allison, and we're keeping it a secret. She's bringing him a surprise.

-----

"You're doing better."

It was a good thing he and Cora didn't have human-normal boundaries. He pulled a pair of underwear from where it was crammed between his nightstand and the bed and tossed it into the dirty pile. They smelled like Stiles, and that was really all he needed to make that determination.

"I clean my room every month," Derek pointed out. Because he did. On the twentieth, just like clockwork. And if he hadn't in August, well--Stiles. "It doesn't mean anything."

Cora snorted and pushed her toes under a sock so she could flip it up toward his head. (He caught it and tossed it in the clean pile.) "Not what I meant."

"I don't know what you meant," he grumbled, but there wasn't much point to it. She was already leaving, flipping him off over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen.

-----

Allison had some wizardry where she was able to set up her webcam to record while her laptop was playing video, so the entire pack got to watch Scott blush and laugh through a truly horrible recording of Allison and Stiles singing him happy birthday.

(Derek had no idea when they'd done that, or how they'd arranged it. The last time they were in the same state was March.)

There was a ridiculous array of balloons behind Scott's head and Allison was beaming, despite the tired smudges under her eyes.

Derek didn't envy her. It was a six hour drive between their campuses, and she wasn't going to have much chance to rest before making the trek back. Only had a few days before she needed to be back for class.

She seemed to think it was worth it, though.

-----

Erica immediately produced a birthday wish list and demanded that someone sing for her too.

Because of course she did.

Stiles sent out a video attachment of himself singing La Cucaracha for her entertainment five minutes later. (Because of course he did.)

-----

09/26/2017 Tues
Ethan: I've got Danny's phone for the next few hours. Can't unlock it so please call ME if anybody needs something. - 12:03 p.m.

-----

"Scott keeps taking these teamwork and group oriented and leadership classes and I just..." Stiles sighed, shaking his head and slumping back in the chair. "I wish I was in Oregon to thump him over the head."

"He's learned some useful things from those," Derek felt obligated to point out. Because it was true. He spent a lot of time talking over those classes with Derek.

Because as much as Scott was the whole cause of the not-pack-still-pack-what-the-fuck-is-pack issue, he was also the one who'd suggested the website. The one who'd pulled Lydia into a real alliance with the wolves. Who figured out the whole fiasco that was Danny and Ethan. Who hadn't accepted that Boyd and Erica were dead, after the rest of the nemeton-mindfuck was figured out.

It was Scott who'd taken two packs and turned them into a supernatural neighborhood watch program, then kept it running across seven states.

"Yeah. He talks to you about the helpful stuff," Stiles sighed before straightening up again. "He talks to me about all the useless and confusing crap. Which-- Fair to him, he tries to use it before he determines that it's useless and confusing crap." Stiles shrugged, absently picking up a--something from his desk to fiddle with. Derek hadn't noticed it, couldn't make out what it was before it disappeared behind fingers. "And the more useless the crap is, apparently the better of a grade he gets. Because he tries really, really hard when he doesn't understand it."

Because Scott was maturing into a real leader. (Wasn't faking it, like Derek.)

"I'd rather not talk about Scott," Derek admitted. He was too tired to deal with Scott.

He was going to have to, later. Scott had taken to video chatting with him about the leadership stuff as well as pack business, and he had a class the next night.

Derek blamed Stiles for that new torment, no matter how useful it was turning out to be.

Predictably, Stiles grinned and waggled his eyebrows at the monitor. (Was that supposed to be attractive? How?) "Wanna talk about something else?"

"Yeah." He didn't, really. They never stayed on long, after sex. But he was tired, and sex was easy. "Switch to phones?"

Sex was easy, so long as he just had to talk.

"I'm going to get you over this bashful thing eventually," Stiles complained, but it was...teasing, more than anything. A joke. "But yeah. I'll call you in just a sec. Need to clear some stuff off my bed. Okay?"

"Sounds good."

The video cut out.

-----

09/28/2017 Thurs
Denise: Mad howling in Idaho. Staying in tonight. - 8:00 p.m.

Well. He'd been meaning to make a trip north anyway.

-----

There were two deaths by the time Derek got to the University of Idaho. Scott and Ethan were already on their way, with Scott ditching out of a Friday lab for a 'family emergency'. (Having a mother who worked in a hospital and understood that 'family' didn't just mean blood, and that 'emergency' wasn't usually an exaggeration anymore had to be really, really handy.)

It was a pseudo-pack. Three omegas who tolerated each other, two deferring to the one who could beat them up.

Not stable. Not safe.

"I'll call Allison," Scott offered, rubbing his hands clear of blood once they were done. "Let her know where the bodies are, in case there were hunters on their trail already. Are we far enough away from--?"

"Yes," Derek confirmed, before Denise could. "This is far enough to be safe."

So long as whatever hunters came were rational. Didn't think to look for more prey at the university. Didn't think all werewolves were fair game.

(It wouldn't be safe, no matter where they left the bodies. It never was.)

They all crowded into Denise's tiny studio apartment, after washing off the best they could with the just-in-case water bottles and paper towels she always kept in her trunk. Spent the night curled up together on a mattress not big enough for two let alone four. Denise crashed, and Ethan had long since proven he could fall asleep almost anywhere. Derek didn't usually sleep well, after fights. Didn't think Scott did either, from the occasional glimpse of red he caught over the edge of Ethan's shoulder.

-----

From: alpha@hale.com
To: coratheexplorer@hale.com, sparky@hale.com
Date: Sat, Sep 30, 2017 at 11:34 PM
Subject: Staying

I'm going to stay in Idaho for a few days. Just until we hear back from Allison.

I might stay a bit longer. I wanted to head up to Pullman and visit Allison too. With her birthday coming up, I think it'd be nice to just make a longer trip of it.

 

From: coratheexplorer@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com
Date: Sun, Oct 1, 2017 at 7:11 AM
Subject: Re: Staying

I'll be fine. Stay as long as you need to.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com
Date: Sun, Oct 1, 2017 at 8:28 AM
Subject: RE:Staying

Give Denise and Alli a hug from me. They both probably need one.

-----

"Stiles sends a hug," Derek passed on the next morning, while Denise poured egg over the ham, peppers, mushrooms and onion already in the skillet.

She flicked the spatula, thankfully still egg-free, in a curt gesture cutting between them. "Do not hug me. I am not huggable before 10 am."

-----

They didn't generally make a big deal out of Allison's birthday. It was too close to when Aiden died. When Peter died the second time (the third, if you counted the fire).

Too close to Gerard's birthday, and the day his body finally gave in and gave up.

So they didn't really celebrate Allison's birthday.

But that didn't stop people from sending her things every year, or keep Derek and Cora from calling up a bakery near her campus and arranging for six chocolate raspberry cupcakes to be delivered.

(The bakery they used to try and cheer Ethan up didn't do deliveries, but Scott was willing to pick up the 24 carrot-cake cupcakes if Derek was willing to pay for them. So it worked out alright.)

All told, it was understandable that Allison was surprised to see him at her door the day before, cupcakes in hand. He didn't think she minded, though. Not if the way she practically fell into his shoulder was anything to judge by.

-----

They didn't actually talk until after Allison shoved an entire cupcake into her mouth (and seriously, Derek didn't know that was possible), fluttered around the living room for a bit, making frustrated noises through her mouthful of cake while she tried to tidy up (which--why? It was already neater than Derek's apartment), and ate another cupcake (three bites, which was at least easier to watch).

"Have you just been lurking around in Idaho this whole time?"

Derek huffed and leaned against the wall next to Allison's kitchen, watching while she kept poking around her living room like there was anything left to do. "I spent a day in Spokane, talking with an associate of Deaton's."

That got her to perk up, going still and attentive with a throw pillow still stretched tight between her hands. "Anything good?"

"She remembers my uncle fondly," he said, knowing it came out more wry than anything, and watched the grimace flash over her face. "She did seem more upset about what he did after his recovery than his death, at least, but."

He shrugged and Allison nodded. "I get it. Trust me."

He knew she did. One of their warning signs for hunting groups was how they interacted with Allison's family history. 'Sorry for your loss' was generally not a threat of immediate danger, but anything about how the deaths in her family were a blow to the hunter community was a sign to be wary. Anything that mentioned Kate or Gerard specifically was a sign to be worried.

One hunter had told Allison that he and her aunt had been quite close. That had been all the warning they needed to keep him under watch. They'd got him before he'd taken Chris out. (Well. Tried.) He'd ranted about traitors all the way to jail.

"Well, you can stay here if you want," Allison offered, thrashing the pillow again before putting it back on the loveseat. "I have spare rooms, with beds in them and everything. Which-- You know that already. What am I saying."

Derek offered her another cupcake and grinned when she scowled at him and marched them to the fridge instead.

"The room might be musty," she warned, head still in the fridge and, from the sound of it, getting distracted by a bag of chips. (Why was there a bag of chips in the fridge?) "I keep most of the house closed off. Heating bills." She shrugged it off, emerging with something green and crispy disappearing into her mouth. (--he wasn't going to ask. It seemed safer.) "I think I've got all the wolfsbane residue out, though. Scott doesn't even sneeze when he visits, anymore."

"It's fine. Is Scott visiting soon?" That was something he hadn't thought of. "I can--"

But Allison was already shaking her head, grinning. "Next weekend. And I doubt you wanna be away from home that long."

She was right, so he just shrugged again.

"So how are you holding up with Stiles gone?" Allison tossed over her shoulder, apparently done fussing with the living room and kitchen and now off to fuss at whatever room she was going to let him use.

Derek rolled his eyes, but trailed after her. "I'm fine."

"Damn right you are," she chirped, and he choked. "But I meant emotionally."

This had been a horrible idea.

-----

Allison was curious about the weirdest things. Wanted to know how he'd been eating, if he slept okay, how often he got out of the house, which--he thought she might be wondering if he was visiting the stump without Stiles around, but couldn't figure out why she thought he would.

She asked if he'd picked up any hobbies, if he liked whatever it was he was doing for work, if he had any plans for what he was going to do when Cora left for school.

It was weird, but he was kind of used to that from Allison.

He stayed three days. Visited Scott, Ethan and Danny on his way back south.

-----

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 4:12 PM
Subject: Quick Reminder

Halloween's coming up, guys, so try and remember.

1) Stay human
2) Stay sober
3) Stay alert
4) Stay in contact. We have a rotation schedule for a reason, keep blowing up whatever phone is on duty with updates if anything seems weird.

I do not want Derek to have to drive anywhere this year because someone passed out after reporting weird lights, got it?

 

From: sinisterkid@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 4:43 PM
Subject: RE:Quick Reminder

Are you ever going to let that go?

 

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 4:44 PM
Subject: RE:RE: Quick Reminder

Nope

 

From: alpha@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 4:45 PM
Subject: Re: RE: Quick Reminder

No.

-----

Halloween was unexpectedly quiet. Derek and Cora dealt with a stable omega who didn't need more than a stern warning and directions, and Lydia had an issue with a swarm of black cats (the mischievous-spirit variety, not the domesticated feline) that quickly turned into them having an issue with her.

Eventually, the supernatural world was going to learn not to piss off the banshee attending MIT.

Probably just after she finished her last round of finals. That was their kind of luck.

-----

11/02/2017 Thurs
Isaac: How can something that isn't afraid of a werewolf NOT be supernatural? - 9:27 p.m.

Derek contemplated his options before typing back Stiles. Allison. Danny.

Isaac: That's different. Nobodys dating the raccoons - 9:32 p.m.

-----

"God I've missed you."

Derek blinked at the screen, which hadn't even finished loading entirely, so he was stuck with just Stiles' shoulders and jaw. "Hi to you too."

"Yeah, greetings, whatever," Stiles waved it off, finally fully in the frame. "You knew I had no manners before you kissed me."

Point. Derek shrugged.

"So how are things on the home turf? Puppies all behaving themselves?"

Cora growled from the kitchen, but there wasn't much heat to it. Derek smirked at the screen anyway. "You know it's just me and Cora here. And she can hear you."

And she was stressed as fuck, ready to jump out of her skin at a moment's notice, trying to get everything together that she needed. Worrying about leaving.

(Worrying about him, probably.)

"Oh, crap," Stiles laughed, and the sound still made Derek feel--better. Looser. Calmer. "Sorry, Cora! I meant Isaac, mostly," he admitted, shrugging with a grin. "I can't help it. The more badass he tries to be, the more I want to scritch behind his ears."

"He'd bite your fingers off," Derek pointed out, even though they all knew it wasn't true.

If it was any of the wolves, maybe. They'd learned the hard way that a severed finger would just reattach itself if you slapped it back on fast enough.

(Even if it wasn't the right finger. That had been an embarrassing visit to Deaton's.)

"Ahuh. Because I'm everybody's favorite," Stiles nodded solemnly. "But, seriously. How's he doing? He talks to you more than Scott, and that boy is shit about updating his blog."

"Because there's very rarely anything going on in San Bernardino," Derek reminded Stiles patiently. "I told you. It's a weird supernatural dead zone."

Kind of the opposite of Beacon Hills.

"Except for Isaac."

Derek shrugged. He could feel a smile tugging at the edge of his lip. "Well. He was a zombie for Halloween, apparently."

"That would just make it a supernatural undead zone," Stiles said, but he was laughing.

He could laugh about things like that, now.

They mostly talked pack, and midterms, and about the gnomes that were, apparently, the most amazing house guests ever and kept Stiles' apartment clean and organized to the point where he had trouble finding his stuff.

There was a wheezy laugh in the background at that, and Derek decided not to think about the fact that the gnomes probably listened in on all of their calls.

Stiles didn't try to start anything, and Derek didn't feel the need to either. They had to cut off the call abruptly when Stiles realized he had to get to an evening class, and Derek felt--almost good.

It was nice.

-----

Talk about midterms turned into talk about finals, and the holidays.

Thanksgiving was kind of a non-event. Scott came home, to spend the day with his mother. The Sheriff went to Stiles instead of making his son fly.

Boyd came home. Still had a blood family to visit and spend time with. Isaac and Erica...didn't. Didn't want to spend a holiday all about family in the town that had killed theirs.

Erica went home with Travis instead. Derek insisted she keep in contact, which made for some exasperated sniping until Stiles pointed out she could just spam her Instagram or Facebook with pictures and the occasional selfie.

(So many pictures of baked goods.)

Derek and Cora couldn't stand the idea of leaving. Denise didn't have any bad memories of Beacon Hills, didn't have a family left that would claim her, so she drove down to curl around Cora until they both hurt less.

Danny brought Ethan home with him and kept him distracted by dragging him more and more into his own family. Allison's dad went to her. Lydia ended up meeting her mother in New York.

Everyone was there, though, on and off the chat from Wednesday through Saturday. Dropping in with greetings and updates and everyone's own unique brand of affection.

They were spread out, over the town and over the country, but it still felt a little like home, somehow.

-----

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Nov 30, 2017 at 10:02 AM
Subject: life is so unfair

Why do you people always insist on sending me candy for my birthday. I'm still full from Thursday. Did you see how many pies there were? Did you see the bowl of potatoes the size of my torso? (The rack, not the waist.)

I don't think I'll ever eat again and you people sent me food.

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Nov 30, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Subject: Re: life is so unfair

You had nine different varieties of candy on your wish list.

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Nov 30, 2017 at 10:43 AM
Subject: RE:Re: life is so unfair

Shut up with your logic.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: life is so unfair

Uh. I got some of Erica's candy. I think? Or did somebody intend to send me a carton of ring pops?

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 4:33 PM
Subject: RE:Re: life is so unfair

I'm torn between 'ugh food' and 'ooooh ringpops'.

(And you cheater! You aren't until tomorrow!)

 

From: sinisterkid@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 5:07 PM
Subject: RE:Re: life is so unfair

Crap. I think that was me.

Erica, did you get something weird?

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 5:13 PM
Subject: RE:RE:Re: life is so unfair

By 'weird' do you mean 'almost but not quite looks like crappy bondage equipment'? And a latex slinky type thing?

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 5:16 PM
Subject: Re: RE:RE:Re: life is so unfair

They're for cord control, for computers and other electronics.

Let's switch, and nobody has to get hurt.

 

From: sinisterkid@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Fri, Dec 1, 2017 at 5:20 PM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:RE:Re: life is so unfair

Sorry

-----

Talk about finals turned into panic about finals. Talk about the holidays turned into panic about the holidays.

-----

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Tues, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:20 PM
Subject: Who? Where? When?

Dad's talking about visiting family in Montana for Christmas. Somebody save me. Anybody able to be somewhere in the vicinity of WSU around the 20th or so, and pick me up?

 

From: BornToBeBeta@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Tues, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:23 PM
Subject: Re: Who? Where? When?

If you can get down to OSU, Danny was going to pick me and Scott up on the 19th. Finally got the tires on the van fixed.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Tues, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:28 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

We can hold off a day and make the hike up to WSU too. It's fine.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Tues, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:28 PM
Subject: RE:Who? Where? When?

Jesus, Allison, just remember to WARN YOUR DAD, okay? We don't want him thinking you've been kidnapped. Again.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Tues, Dec 5, 2017 at 9:32 PM
Subject: RE:RE:Who? Where? When?

I will! I just need to have plans to be in Beacon Hills already. I don't think he wants to go anywhere, really. I didn't even know we had family there.

 

From: denise-menise@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 7:48 AM
Subject: Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

You didn't, two years ago. We never had Argents in Montana when I was growing up.

Avoid Montana, everybody. Don't even stop there for layovers until we know what's going on. This is probably bad.

Allison, if you'd rather not sit in the sketchy white van with three boys for hours on end, I can pop over and pick you up before I head down. 21st okay? We'd be taking a little detour over into Nevada to get Erica.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 7:53 AM
Subject: RE:Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

Girls only road trip! Sounds fun. :D

 

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 8:02 AM
Subject: RE:RE:Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

:(

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 10:53 AM
Subject: RE:RE:RE:Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

Oh shut up, Scott. You'll be sucking face before and after anyway. Give us our girly bonding time.

 

From: sinisterkid@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 1:20 PM
Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

"girly bonding time"

So...is there a band of omegas you're planning on taking out along the way, or..?

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 2:23 PM
Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

He knows us so well.

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:46 PM
Subject: RE:RE:RE:RE:RE:Re: Re: Who? Where? When?

;D

 

-----

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com, Bombshell@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, silversister@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com, sparky@hale.com, web-god@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 8:12 AM
Subject: Lydia

Does anybody know what they're getting Lydia? Or ideas for other poor souls for what to get for Lydia?

(help?)

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, Bombshell@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com, sparky@hale.com, web-god@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 8:16 AM
Subject: RE: Lydia

I've been learning how to knit, so I'm making her a ear warmer headband thing. I'm kinda hoping she takes it as the thought that counts, because I seriously did not anticipate how weird this yarn would look when I was done with it.

I'm just spending money on the rest of you. Anybody who wants me to knit them something is getting stabbed. With a knitting needle.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, Bombshell@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, silversister@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com, sparky@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 12:01 PM
Subject: Re: Lydia

Oh-kay, I thought we had a handle on this finally, but I guess not.

Step one) Take a deep breath.

Step two) Remember that Lydia actually likes you.

Step three) Remember Lydia's dad? Who uses gifts and money to try and make up for everything?

Step four) Don't do that.

Step five) You're fine.

Buy her something you know she actually likes, guys, not something she can't buy for herself. (Newflash: we can't afford that.) Give her toe socks, or something she likes to eat. Give her number puzzles, or word puzzles. (Do not give her jigsaw puzzles, or found object puzzles, for the sake of my sanity, please. I will find you and hurt you.) Give her pretty notebooks, or stationary, or colored pencils, or fancy pens. Just give her something that lets her know you care about her, and that you pay attention.

Then have whatever you're giving her professionally wrapped, or beg Erica to wrap it for you.

 

From: Bombshell@hale.com
To: web-god@hale.com, truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, silversister@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com, sparky@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:58 PM
Subject: RE:Re: Lydia

Awwwwww. I feel all loved.

And like I'm not going to have a lot of time for that, so ask nicely and ask early.

-----

Derek let his cursor hover over 'reply all', wondering how many of them remembered that her favorite chocolate was actually Cadbury (bars, definitely not the eggs), not the expensive stuff. That she liked curry and always stocked up on packaged mixes to smuggle back to Boston, because she was convinced that the ones on the east coast tasted different, even if she bought the same brands.

He had his gift for Lydia already. A canister each of masala (for tea) and a mild green curry blend from a small batch spice vendor on Etsy, a huge Cadbury fruit and nut bar, a coconut curry bar he didn't remember the brand of (because why not), and a copy of a nearly unintelligible Old English manuscript that he was fairly certain was actually just a summary of court cases in some random town on some random day.

He'd wrapped it himself. The edges were sloppy, the paper was cheap, and he'd fastened the corners and torn bits with oversized gold star stickers.

As far as he was concerned, half the fun of giving Lydia presents was watching her affronted glare blank out when she tried to respond to the actual gift.

The other half for this one was going to be the yelling when she figured out the manuscript wasn't actually about anything important.

He closed the e-mail instead of replying to it.

(Even if Scott was freaking out, they didn't need his help. They'd done fine the year before.)

-----

From: sinisterkid@hale.com
To: web-god@hale.com, truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, Bombshell@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, silversister@hale.com, sparky@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 1:18 PM
Subject: RE:Re: Lydia

So...I'm thinking cough drops.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: sinisterkid@hale.com, truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, Bombshell@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, silversister@hale.com, sparky@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 1:29 PM
Subject: Re: RE:Re: Lydia

...I'm not sure if you're brilliant, or have a death wish.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: web-god@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com, truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, Bombshell@hale.com, BornToBeBeta@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, silversister@hale.com, iceman@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 1:41PM
Subject: RE:Re: RE:Re: Lydia

I think the response there is yes.

She likes Ricola honey and herb, right? I know I've seen her with those before.

Hey, who isn't-- Wait.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 1:45 PM
Subject: Home for the Holidays?

Hey all. Is anyone not coming home for the break? I'll assume you'll be there if you don't say nay.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 2:12 PM
Subject: RE:Home for the Holidays?

I will definitely be there. Talked with Dad. He wasn't too disappointed over losing Montana.

(Re Montana: Hunter gossip is pretty much nil, but it did sound like he was expecting a working vacation, if you know what I mean. Has anyone else heard anything more?)

 

From: denise-menise@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:12 PM
Subject: Re: RE:Home for the Holidays?

I braved Facebook for you, Allison. I hope you appreciate that.

One of my cousins forgot to remove me. He wasn't really in the hunter thing way back when and I don't think he is now, but he was talking about strangers in town. Also? Get this. A Bigfoot convention.

I have no idea if that's legit, or if there's some poor sasquatch getting hunted down, or if it's a cover for bringing in a bunch of hunters, but.

That's my news. That's all of it. There's a Bigfoot convention going on in Montana.

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:13 PM
Subject: Re: Home for the Holidays?

You could've just asked me, Stiles.

Danny's picking up Scott and Ethan on the 19th, and they're driving down in that horrible van Danny's so attached to. Denise is leaving on the 21st, picking up Allison and Erica en route. You're flying into LAX on the 18th, so I booked my flight for the same and Isaac's agreed to pick us up again, though he might not be able to drop us off. He wants to head back a little earlier than we'll need to.

Boyd said he's coming home as well, but not when or how.

So that's all of us in Beacon Hills again, at least for the 23rd through the 27th, unless Boyd's schedule is different.

I think most of us are going to be free from family obligations Christmas night, like last year? We can get together for the pack celebration then. Failing that, we could do something on the 26th.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:54 PM
Subject: RE:Re: Home for the Holidays?

You are ever the alarming and terrifying light of my life, Lydia.

 

From: sparky@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com, bombshell@hale.com, coratheexplorer@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:55 PM
Subject: But speaking of Christmas...

Do you guys have anything specific planned? Dad would be happy to have you with us for Christmas Eve. You could stay for the morning if you wanted, though that would involve sleeping bags and couches.

 

From: coratheexplorer@hale.com
To: sparky@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, bombshell@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 6, 2017 at 3:56 PM
Subject: Re: But speaking of Christmas...

We're in. What should we bring?

-----

"Cora."

"It'll be better than moping around here all day," Cora said from her room, and even with two walls between them, Derek could tell her eyebrows were raised mockingly. "We'd all be sad and Isaac and Erica would want to be here but not in Beacon Hills and Denise would be missing her family and you'd brood because you couldn't make anyone happy, and we'd have a crappy dinner because none of us would want to cook. Just like last year." There was a rustle, like Cora was shrugging into her pillows. "And they'll understand if we want to go for a run. And they'll feed us and they won't be as lonely. Wins all around."

The others seemed to agree. The reply emails were already popping up.

Derek wished he had an actual objection. He didn't know why, he'd have been fine with it if she'd just checked with him first, but he did.

-----

"Did Cora actually talk to you, before agreeing?" were the first words out of Stiles' mouth, once the screen loaded. "'Cause her reply was just a little, y'know, instantaneous."

Derek kind of adored him.

He smiled and shook his head, grinning when Stiles rolled his eyes and groaned. "Damnit. Look, I haven't said anything to Dad yet. If you don't--"

"It's fine, Stiles," he cut in, just loud enough to be heard and smiled when most of the tension dropped out of Stiles' shoulders. "We'll be there. I--"

"You'd have said yes, if anybody had given you the chance?" Stiles offered with a crooked grin of his own.

Derek sighed and nodded. "I would have."

-----

From: sparky@hale.com
To: coratheexplorer@hale.com, alpha@hale.com, bombshell@hale.com, denise-menise@hale.com, sinisterkid@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Dec 7, 2017 at 8:01 AM
Subject: RE:Re: But speaking of Christmas...

I'll probably regret this and it might be rude, but. Could you bring a large hunk of meat? Dad and I can cook it, but I think it's fair to ask the five apex predators to provide the roast beast, considering the appetites involved.

Just do not bring a goose. Please.

-----

Lydia sent out spreadsheets with everyone's arrival and departure dates as well as the times, for the two flights. It wasn't a surprise at all to see that Lydia had opted for a red eye in order to beat Stiles to the airport. The spreadsheet also had planned family events blocked out and labeled. There was an open invitation on the Boyds' Christmas Eve holiday lights stroll, and Erica had apparently already opted to join the McCalls for volunteering at the shelter Christmas Eve morning.

A tentative plan for a pack gathering the evening of the 25th was already in place. It was only 'tentative' because Lydia refused to consider anything final until she'd heard back from everyone, and Scott was up at WSU visiting Allison one last time before they all left, and that meant they weren't replying to anyone else unless it was an emergency.

Derek kept wrapping presents.

They all looked better than Lydia's.

-----

"You need something in your life that isn't the rest of us, you know."

Derek looked up from his inspection of the last box around Denise's present (three boxes, one inside another and padded just enough that they rolled and jostled weirdly when shaken). "I'm fine, Cora."

She chuffed irritation at him and stalked into the room, collapsing comfortably next to him and pressing their shoulders together. "You're really not."

"I'm fine enough," he tried instead, pressing back and pretending not to notice her disbelieving huff. "Now which pattern should I use for Denise?"

"The deranged elves. Definitely."

-----

He wasn't expecting Stiles when he opened the door.

No, that wasn't right. He was expecting Stiles and Isaac. Had heard them coming. That's why he'd opened the door. He was expecting them to jostle against each other on the way in, and talk too loud, and complain about having to drop Lydia off. Or maybe that was a hope, so he could find out why Isaac hadn't dropped Stiles off as well.

He was expecting it to be normal.

He wasn't expecting Isaac to slide around him like he was dodging a bullet as soon as the door was open. Wasn't expecting the nearly inhuman grin that lit up Stiles' face, or the way he swooped in without even a hello. Was just there, crowding into his space and against his mouth and--

--pulling back as fast as he'd moved in, putting enough room between them that the air felt cold.

"Wh--" Oh.

He should have expected it.

He grabbed Stiles' coat and pulled him back in before he could finish frowning. Reached around him to close and lock the door, and bit back a sigh of relief when Stiles relaxed at that. (Made up his own reasons for Derek not knowing how to act right.)

Stiles seemed distracted at first, when Derek pressed him up against the door and kissed him, trying to remember how to make it feel like sex and hunger and want. That was okay, though. They were just trading off awkward.

It got better.

"No sex in the doorway," Cora objected, sounding pained. "Please."

Derek backed off, smirking at the flush on Stiles' face and sliding a hand up under his shirt in back. His hip wasn't as much of a problem as usual, but Derek leached off most of the ache that was there anyway. "He needs to shower first."

"Oh, fuck you," Stiles grumbled, flushing for another reason and swinging his bag up into Derek's chest. "Just because you hate airports."

Because you hate airports, Derek thought. He was too used to Stiles smelling like stress and fear already. Didn't need more examples.

"Shower," he settled on sighing, pulling away and pushing Stiles down the hall toward his bathroom. "I'll grab some stuff for you to wear."

(Stiles' bag was just a carry on. Any clothes he had probably smelled just as bad as he did.)

"I think that's our cue to go grab something for dinner," Isaac drawled back in the living room, making Cora snort a not-laugh.

It wasn't even two yet.

They had sex in the shower, just like everyone expected them to. He pressed Stiles against the tile and stroked him off. Mouthed at his jaw, his throat. Felt the thrum of his pulse and the way his breath hitched against his lips, his tongue.

Kissed Stiles slow and languid while he came back to earth. Pressed his hands flat against the tile and did his best to lose himself in sensation. In slick skin, smooth tile and rough grout, a smile he could feel pressed against his throat, his chest, his--

(It was tricky, not getting distracted. To focus enough but not too much on what was happening to make sure he was hard, that he could come. It was nothing like he figured it should be, but he couldn't know. Didn't know how.)

-----

Cora and Isaac weren't unbearable, when they finally came back. Hours later than they needed to, but they did bring dinner. The teasing was light, and mostly poking at Stiles, who could jab and banter back as easy as breathing.

It was annoying, though. The push and pull and break. The constant implication that they were expected to have sex, that it would be weird if they didn't have sex, if they didn't want it all the time, that it was as necessary as breathing.

The slant to their voices that it was kind of gross that they were having sex, that they shouldn't do it where other people had to deal with it, or know about it, or think about it, even when they were the ones--

Stiles' fingers tapped against his thigh. Slipped--down? Rubbed along the seam just above his knee.

Derek turned his head, buried his nose in Stiles' hair and focused on breathing. On the smell of Stiles, relaxed and calm and astonishingly like himself. Hardly any trace left of strangers and airports and panic and fucking South Carolina.

He focused on that and Stiles relaxed even more, slumping into his side and running a fingernail over the ridge of the seam over and over again, slow and methodical.

It was nicer, if he didn't pay attention to the words. Just followed the tones of voice through teasing and mocking and happy affection. That was normal. That was fine.

(It was better if he didn't pay attention. Didn't think about it.)

-----

Derek was the only one surprised that Stiles was spending the night. It wasn't like he minded, it just--wasn't what he was expecting.

Especially when Stiles left his tshirt and boxers on and just burrowed under the covers like he thought he was going to find gold down there. When he pulled Derek close and flopped around like a dying fish until Derek growled and wrapped an arm around him to keep him in place. When he curled his legs around Derek's and just--stopped. Went still and quiet, not pretending to sleep (he knew better), but acting like that was all he meant to do.

Derek fell asleep to the sound of Stiles' pulse slowing to normal, then further into actual rest. He got to sleep with his nose tucked behind Stiles' ear. His hand splayed across cotton and skin and the elastic band of Stiles' boxers.

It was kind of perfect.

-----

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 11:58 AM
Subject: I am going to kill someone.

My father's in town, and he came by to talk to Mom this morning.

I'm not spending another night in this house until he's gone. Someone produce a guest room I can crash in.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:03 PM
Subject: Re: I am going to kill someone.

You know you're always welcome with us. Your mom okay?

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:05 PM
Subject: RE: I am going to kill someone.

We've got room, but just a pull out couch.

 

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:11 PM
Subject: RE: I am going to kill someone.

We've got a spare room. With an actual bed and everything.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:13 PM
Subject: RE:RE: I am going to kill someone.

Oneupsmanship isn't attractive, you.

 

From: sinisterkid@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:20 PM
Subject: RE:RE:RE: I am going to kill someone.

Pot, kettle. Have you two been introduced?

Remember to take the flirting off the main list, guys.

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:24 PM
Subject: Re:RE:RE: I am going to kill someone.

None of you are even in town yet. Allison hasn't even left.

 

From: web-god@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:26 PM
Subject: Re: Re:RE:RE: I am going to kill someone.

Yeah. And my mom totally won't recognize you or understand if you turn up and say your dad's trying to ruin your holiday. How could I have forgotten that you're a complete stranger?

We're heading out soon, just stopped for lunch, so please assume I'm arguing with you about this all day if that's necessary.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:26 PM
Subject: RE:Re:RE:RE: I am going to kill someone.

Uh. Yeah. But Dad's home? And it's quiet, and I'll be there in a couple days.

 

From: idiofyia@hale.com
To: pack@hale.com
Date: Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 12:30 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re:RE:RE: I am going to kill someone.

You're all intolerable.

I'll be at the Mahealani’s until further notice.

-----

"I'm so glad they got that sorted while we were napping," Stiles huffed, leaning over Derek to put his laptop back on the floor. Or--close to it, at least. There was a pile of pants in the way. Clean. "I do not want to explain to Dad why Lydia's taking over his house."

"Better there than here," Derek grumbled, smirking when Stiles laughed and sprawled out over his back. "I do not have room for a Lydia."

Stiles nodded, jaw rasping against Derek's shoulder-blade. "You should consider upgrading. Moving to a house again." Derek growled, but Stiles just poked him in the side. "Oh come on, like you haven't been thinking the same thing."

"Maybe."

(Maybe was easy to say. Maybe was safe.)

-----

Stiles did have to go back home to his dad, so Derek was left alone with Cora and Isaac and too many shrewd looks.

And the thought of spare bedrooms, and house guests, and the fact that Erica and Denise both were going to be on their way soon. That Erica hated sharing her space even just with Cora. That Cora and Denise had still been tiptoeing around each other the year before. Hadn't actually been involved yet.

That Denise probably wasn't going to end up on the couch again.

--Shit.

-----

From: alpha@hale.com
To: silversister@hale.com, truealpha@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Dec 21, 2017 at 6:48 AM
Subject: speaking of crash space

Could Isaac stay with one of you, over the break? Or Denise and Cora. I haven't talked with any of them about it yet. I just wanted to check and see if that'd be an option.

 

From: truealpha@hale.com
To: alpha@hale.com, silversister@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Dec 21, 2017 at 7:12 AM
Subject: RE: speaking of crash space

Absolutely. Mom'd be thrilled to have Cora and Denise over. Especially if Denise brings her baking stuff.

Isaac should be fine too, but probably not all three. I'll check with mom.

 

From: silversister@hale.com
To: truealpha@hale.com, alpha@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Dec 21, 2017 at 7:23 AM
Subject: RE:RE: speaking of crash space

I don't think convincing her to bring her baking stuff is going to be hard.

Dad and I could definitely take Isaac if he wanted to stay over, though.

 

From: alpha@hale.com
To: truealpha@hale.com, silversister@hale.com
Date: Thurs, Dec 21, 2017 at 7:42 AM
Subject: Re: RE:RE: speaking of crash space

Thanks. I'll talk to them.

-----

"You're kicking us out?" Isaac frowned up at him from his spot on the loveseat, upside down with his legs hooked over the back.

He was still beating Cora at the racing game they were playing, which was making her grit her teeth loudly enough to be annoying.

"No," Derek sighed. "I'm giving you options. You don't have to go, and you can come back whenever you want, if you do. But I thought you might like the chance for a little privacy."

"And less fighting over bathrooms," Cora muttered, giving up and steering her cart-thing off road to spin around in the grass instead. "Sounds good to me, though. I don't need to know you're listening to me have sex."

That made two of them.

-----

People drifted in and out. There were brief flurries of activity as people arrived, dropping in at Derek's to pick up stuff or drop off presents. Stiles was there more often than not: a near-constant warm lump at his side, papers and highlighters and pencils and quiet muttering punctuated by abrupt exclamations.

And abruptly, Derek was closing his eyes to the twenty third with Stiles tucked in against his side and an enormous garlic-studded roast they'd worked on together resting in the fridge.

It was kind of perfect. (He'd hate himself for not noticing, later.)

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve morning, Erica was up, about, and showering at a disgustingly early hour so she could go join Cora and Denise at the McCall's.

Derek was probably a horrible person for the spike of glee he got every time he remembered Cora's expression when she realized everyone, even Denise, was expecting the two of them to join in at the shelter.

(It wasn't like she minded the work. Just the hour they expected coherence at. Personally, Derek thought it was excellent practice for college, even if Cora had somehow managed to avoid any classes that started before 9.)

Stiles was next, pulling Derek out of bed to help wedge the roast into the passenger seat so it wouldn't go sliding to the floor if Stiles took an abrupt turn.

Isaac had been drifting back and forth between the Argents' and Derek's apartment all break, sometimes crashing on the couch instead of his bed for reasons Derek didn't understand and wasn't going to ask about. He'd come home for the 24th, though, so Derek rapped on his door around 10. Then again at 10:30.

Opened the door and threw one of Cora’s tacky couch pillows at Isaac's head just before 11.

The pillow died, but Isaac got up.

-----

It was quiet, for a holiday.

There were veggies and hummus and tortilla chips and salsa and popcorn, all of which started on the dining room table and ended up on the coffee table. They played a party game called Werewolf that Denise had a card deck for. Because of course she did.

Then the sheriff pulled out a scrabble board and proceeded to define 'schooled' for all the poor college students. Mostly with three and four letter words. It was delightful to watch. Probably because he was just watching.

The roast was good. All the food was good. The bickering was minimal and everyone was relaxed. (Mostly.) It was a good night. (Mostly.)

He tried to ignore the sour note in Stiles' scent. Didn't recognize it, or know what it meant. Didn't know what to do about it, just that it came with a brittle edge to smiles that sometimes didn't make it to his eyes.

-----

He slept with Stiles that night. Shared his bed, fell asleep with Stiles' fingers clenched against his shirt, Stiles' heartbeat in his ears, Stiles' scent in his nose.

When he woke up the next morning, Stiles had already managed to slip away. Was downstairs, fussing in the kitchen with Isaac and Erica.

Derek wasn't sure how that had happened.

-----

Stilinski Christmas traditions were fairly simplistic and minimal. The Sheriff was in uniform for breakfast, on his way in to be a significant portion of the skeleton crew for the station for the day.

There were applesauce pancakes and real bacon and hash browns, because Erica found potatoes and a cheese grater and decreed it was meant to be. There was coffee and orange juice and, for some reason, Diet Coke. The Stilinskis traded gifts over the breakfast table, and it only wasn't awkward because they kept arguing and talking through the exchange, the unwrapping, the embarrassed smiles they exchanged after.

Then the sheriff was gone and they cleaned up and--

"So this is normal for you, for Christmas?" Cora demanded, half bent over and trying to find where the hell the frying pan in her hand went when it wasn't on the stove.

Stiles took the pan from her and--set it on the stove. Hunh. "Yeah. Dad and I don't really do Christmas. He'd usually drop me over at Scott's, but." He shrugged, unconcerned and pointed Isaac toward the right cupboard for bowls. (Had they even used bowls? Isaac had three.) "Scott'll probably be on his way over to your place soon any--"

Derek's phone buzzed. Stiles' and Isaac's played obnoxious melodies. Denise's beeped.

Erica and Cora looked miffed and immediately pressed up against Isaac and Denise's sides to read the text message.

12/25/2017 Mon
Lydia: Pick me up - 8:12 a.m.

Derek thumbed open a new message to the pack-not-pack group contact, typed out a quick We've got Lydia and sent it before the whole group could try to confuse themselves into arranging things so Lydia didn't have the entire not-pack abruptly converging in her driveway.

Stiles was nodding when he lifted his head and gave him a shove toward the door. "She'll be at her mom's. We'll meet you at home."

-----

Derek didn't make it to Lydia's driveway. She was two blocks from home, striding with purpose toward Stiles' house, then into the street as soon as she saw Derek's car.

He barely had time to unlock the door before she was inside.

Derek let the engine idle for a bit. Waited while she pushed the heels of her hands against her cheeks and sniffled. While she tossed her hair back and yanked the seatbelt down.

"I love my mom, you know?"

It was a rhetorical question, and Derek took it as his cue to start driving again.

Lydia smiled at him as he used someone's driveway to turn around. (Technically, the fastest way home was to keep going straight. Drive past her mother's house. But he could go the long way. It was fine.) "She's a great person. A good mom. Just has shitty, shitty taste in men."

Any other time, life or death situations mostly excepted, that comment, from Lydia, would have gotten significant looks. Looks that suggested apples and trees, maybe a few pots and kettles.

It wasn't the time.

"Your dad?" he asked instead, unsurprised when Lydia nodded, lower lip caught getting caught in her teeth for a moment before she released it with a watery sigh. "I thought he'd leave for--"

"He did," she chirped, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face with a sharp gesture. "He went to celebrate Christmas Eve with his family, then came back to share our Christmas, I guess. We hadn't even finished unwrapping everything when he knocked, and she just let him in. Like he was family again."

It was a sentiment Derek didn't really understand. Peter was still family, the second time Derek had ripped his throat out. Was still family, dead and burned to ash, mixed into the earth, the ocean, and scattered on the wind. He'd still be family when Derek died.

Granted, they still weren't sure how the banshee thing worked. Maybe family worked differently when you might be a changeling.

"He didn't even bring Marcie," she bit out, and...no. Family didn't work differently when you might be a changeling. "He said he thought it'd be for the best if he left her with his parents."

It was kind of irritating, that Derek couldn't offer to kill him for her. Too capable of it for it to be a joke or just a show of support.

He wouldn't bother, if he was serious. She could do it herself with a lot less suspicion and questionable circumstances. Would just ask if she was actually going to go there and needed his help.

The rest of the drive was silent, but comfortable enough.

By the time they reached his apartment, Derek wouldn't have guessed Lydia had been on the edge of crying if he hadn't seen it.

He wished she felt safer, with them. Knew she could break down, if she needed it. Was more willing to let them know her instead of her armor.

But he didn't know how to say that. Kept quiet instead.

-----

The others beat them back to the apartment. Allison beat them to the apartment. There were no visitor spots left in the lot, and the street parking was mostly gone.

"My inbox is probably going crazy," Lydia sighed, swinging her legs out of the car and levering herself up onto the curb.

Derek couldn't disagree. That was kind of what happened these days, when you sent out a mass distress call and not everybody could be involved in the dramatic rescue.

Not that the rescue had been horribly dramatic.

The aftermath would probably make up for that, Derek realized as an unfamiliar car rolled to a stop at the doors and spilled Danny and Ethan out, a dark head of hair leaning over and worried brown eyes staring at Lydia from the driver's seat.

(Was that one of Danny's sisters? But that would mean they were old enough to drive. One of them, anyway.)

Lydia let Danny hug her and gave the presumed-sister a small smile and a wave. "I'm doomed."

She was right. Spent the rest of the day with a werewolf attached to her hip. She also didn't seem to actually mind it that much, smelled content and mellow, no matter how much time she spent protesting the situation.

-----

The pack-not-pack gathering got underway a good two hours before Lydia's spreadsheet dictated. Even then, it only waited that long because nobody messed with Boyd's grandmother's holiday traditions for anything short of an actual emergency, so he couldn't leave until his family brunch was well and truly over.

The gift exchange went about as expected, right down to the arguments over what furniture got moved where to make enough room. Boyd's gifts were all baked goods and homemade candy, because his family was terrifying about supplying food and he had no interest in spending his pass time shopping. Scott and Allison were sappily sentimental with each other, kind of generic with most of the pack, and spoiled Isaac and Stiles like it was their purpose in life. Ethan and Denise mostly did gift cards with alarming accuracy for who needed or wanted what, and gave each other obnoxious scented candles which were immediately sent to live on the balcony with the ratty potted herbs because no. Danny and Lydia's gifts were practical and straightforward and alarmingly tasteful.

Lydia's gift to Derek, he was pleased to see, had been bundled up in a newspaper from her college and looked like she'd just wrapped and bunched the paper until it covered everything, then wound tape around the whole thing. It felt like it was four layers deep, and looked like a complete mess.

She glared smugly at him from behind her small mountain of artfully wrapped and elegant looking boxes and his tacky looking lump. He smirked back.

The tape was sturdy enough he had to slip a claw out to nick the edges in a few places to let him rip it open without ripping it apart, but once he got in and shook the whole mess out, the fabric in the middle turned out to be a jacket.

It was light, easy to bundle up and thin enough to pass in the summer. It felt weirdly sturdy, though. Like it might actually hold up going through a wall with him. He'd have to ask about that. (Later. She was busy.)

Lydia's face was a reward when she opened his present, but it was a delight when she started going through all the others and found a bag, a roll, or a few independently random cough drops in almost every single other gift.

The aggravated noise she made was a little too banshee to be comfortable, but the couch cushion battle that she started, then lost, made up for it.

Allison's knit thing really was kind of atrocious, but he could see where she'd been going with it. It was all soft blues and blue-greens with hints of lavender and tan, they just blended into a weird sort of pastel vomit if you weren't looking closely.

Denise unwrapped card decks and travel games and an alarmingly large box from Cora that said Cards Against Humanity and Derek wondered if it was too late to run.

(Probably.)

Stiles and Erica did their normal trade in in-jokes with occasional sap. He honestly wouldn't have expected Boyd to get soft at the edges over a CD, but the way Erica rolled her eyes and looked pointedly away while bumping their shoulders together said a lot.

Erica gave him a set of ornaments. Ceramic disks with a design painted on either side that. Just.

He was going to strangle her. He was.

Hospital scrubs on one side, a black jacket and an apple on the other. (And yes, he had heard all about the apple story, and about the Jackson-apple moment that had made it all so hysterically funny to Scott a year or so later.) A gravestone on one side and a black jacket behind grey bars on the other. A snow plow (she'd hear about that mistake later) on one side and a lacrosse stick over a black jacket on the other.

Erica hated sharing her stuff, was territorial to a fault sometimes, but Derek had a feeling he knew what he'd be getting for the next few years, regardless. She'd accepted the others eventually, after all. Just had her priorities still.

Stiles' present was a photo album, the first few pages filled in with the entire not-pack. Stiles and Scott smooshing their cheeks against either side of Allison's face, her eyes closed and laughing but Scott's squinted open. The glare not hidden, exactly, but not harsh enough to obscure the photo. Erica thrown over Isaac's shoulder, obviously yelling about it, with Boyd and Denise cracking up on the couch in the background. A candid of Ethan and Danny with their heads angled in close, oblivious to anything but each other. A candid of Cora, glaring at the television with a game controller in hand, tongue sticking out just a little and focusing so hard her fangs were creeping out.

"I figured you'd miss our smiling faces," Stiles quipped, pressing against his side briefly, "but this was the best I could do."

Cora had given him a camera, and suddenly that made a lot more sense.

"Thank you."

He didn't look up for anyone else opening his presents. Only liked the confused-surprise on Lydia's face because he meant to put it there. Got tired of seeing it everywhere else. So it was his own fault, really, when Denise took him by surprise, launching herself over the piles and piles of wrapping paper to knock him and the entire couch over. Thankfully Scott was the only one to get hurt, Allison automatically tucking herself up to roll off the couch as it hit the ground and both Derek and Scott instinctively reaching out to curl Stiles in, keep him still and anchored into the cushions until everything stopped moving.

It wasn't like he'd even given Denise much of a gift. A new wallet with a photo of her and Cora tucked inside, and a stupid Pokemon keychain with a new apartment and mail key attached to the keyfob, because her key had broken and she might as well start picking up the mail since she practically lived there. It wasn't anything special.

-----

Things calmed down after Christmas. Lydia drifted from house to house during the days, like she needed to make sure she was still welcome everywhere. (Like she needed backup in case someone else turned up, waiting outside one of her other homes.) Stiles stayed over more often than not, but left at least once a day to see his dad and eat a salad or something with him. He still smelled like nerves, and sour-sharp-off in a way that Derek couldn't figure out. It didn't smell like he was sick. Maybe angry, even though he never acted on it. Never said anything.

Then Isaac was leaving, driving back to San Bernardino so he could pick up the New Year shifts at the restaurant he was working at. Cora and Erica got into a fight over the suggestion that Erica just take Isaac's room for the last few days of break.

Denise chased them out for a run to clear their heads. If that happened to coincide with Stiles' Jeep pulling up out front and parking, he could write it off as happenstance if he wanted.

They left the door unlocked, and he listened in as Erica caroled a hello as they passed him on the stairs, as Denise laughed and Cora just relayed the information about the door. As Stiles made his way up, let himself in, ticked the locks into place.

Stiles settled in at his side, leaning over to see what Derek was so focused on and laughed. "How'd you go from maybe to looking up real estate listings?"

"Cora thought it was a good idea to suggest Erica change rooms," Derek muttered. Didn't complain when Stiles reached over to shut his computer, just slid it out of his lap and under the couch.

Stiles snorted, flopping back against the couch arm and shoving his feet over Derek's lap. "She's met Erica, right?"

It was...nice. The weight of Stiles' legs over his own. The warmth of him. The excuse to wrap his hand around an ankle and just feel him for a bit.

"I'd thought so. They've been sharing a room for two years, whenever they're both home."

Which wasn't often, really, and that was the only reason that had ever worked, but still.

The sour scent came back, as Stiles hummed and fidgeted, not pulling his feet away or even acting like he wanted to. More like he was uncomfortable, and--what?

"Stiles," he started, almost froze when Stiles tensed up and stared at him. "What's wrong?"

He wasn't expecting Stiles to laugh. Wouldn't have expected it to sound harsh and--pained, even if he had. "I think that's my line. I mean, I've been trying to figure it out, y'know?" (He didn't know. Didn't even know what Stiles was talking about.) "I figured I'd just--back off, let you have more space, see if I could sort out the problem from what you wanted, but--I can't. You don't want to kiss me," he listed off, pushing back an index finger until it looked as painful and wrong as Stiles thinking that felt. "You don't want to have sex with me," he continued, and Derek felt an uncomfortable weight settle in his stomach, "but you do want to sleep with me and sit next to me, like, all the time. So, honestly, I'm feeling kinda like a teddy bear that gets inconvenient boners."

That was a visual Derek needed out of his head. Immediately. "Could you not do that?" he complained, rubbing over his eyes and trying to think--but no. They hadn't had sex since the shower, the first day Stiles showed up. They had kissed. Once or twice.

All in those first few days. Usually because Derek was trying to distract Stiles from something.

Stiles was always around, always next to him, but--no, he hadn't been touching Derek as much. Usually sat down first, or looked at him before moving into his space.

"I'm sorry. What am I supposed to not be doing?" Stiles drawled, slumping further into his seat and--

Derek gripped the leg of Stiles' jeans before he could pull his feet away. "I like this."

Stiles blinked but relaxed, shifted a bit to get comfortable but still leave his feet with Derek. "Ooookay. And?"

"I like it when you're close," Derek tried, groping for words. "When I can touch you and smell you without having to try. I want you around, and I like kissing you, I just--"

"Just what?" Stiles bit out when Derek went quiet.

"I forgot."

He felt like an idiot, because that was about the worst excuse he figured he could offer. But Stiles' eyes had narrowed, flicked back and forth over his face, and--

"You forgot you liked kissing me, or your forgot you should be kissing me?"

"Both, I think," Derek answered before he'd really thought his answer through. But hey, not-thinking was turning out to be a great strategy here too, so why not?

Stiles--flinched, minutely, but didn't try to pull away. Just nodded and turned his attention to the ceiling. "What about sex? Forget that too?"

He did, but it felt like the wrong thing to say. "I wouldn't have slept with you if I minded it," he said instead, because that was as close as he could get and be honest (mostly honest). Felt like that was the actual problem. But--

"Minded," Stiles said, flat and blank and way too much like Cora when she felt exposed, somehow.

And--shit. "I didn't mean--"

But Stiles was already jerking his feet back. Standing up and flinging a hand out like he could pin Derek in place with a gesture. Breathing in short and sharp and fast, heart beat racing, leaving the room. Heading for--

Derek was up and off the couch, down the hall and reaching past Stiles for the bathroom door before he'd really thought about it. "No. Take my room. Take Isaac's. Don't go in there."

Tried not to hate himself when Stiles flinched away. Waited, didn't touch him, didn't relax his grip on the door until Stiles nodded and stumbled further down the hall. Went into Derek's room.

He listened, and didn't feel guilty for it. Stiles did head for his bathroom, but stopped. Made his way to Derek's bed instead and buried himself in the covers.

(That was safer, when Stiles was like this. That was--not okay, but better. As acceptable as anything could be.)

Knowing Stiles wasn't going to make himself even more sick, Derek made himself go back to the couch. Grabbed the blanket that smelled most like Cora and curled up under it.

Tried to get his brain around a solution. A way to fix things. Keep Stiles.

Couldn't think of anything. Kept running into how hurt Stiles had sounded when he'd laughed, the sour note he hadn't asked about, Stiles flinching away from him.

(His chest didn't just ache, it felt like he'd been run through And he'd know.)

-----

He didn't know how long they stayed like that.

Did hear Stiles move, at one point. Heard him wiggling around, his breath catch and stutter as something beeped and he tried to swear at it. Heard Cora's phone whistle, whisper soft, somewhere in her and Erica's room. Figured it meant Stiles was thinking ahead better than he was, as usual, and that the girls would know better than to come home. Wouldn't end up walking into his mess blind.

At some point, Stiles' breathing and heart calmed down. Slowed to what passed for normal, for him, if not to rest.

At some point, the angle of the sun changed. It wasn't dark, but when Stiles' footsteps came down the hall and Derek pushed the covers aside, the light was softer. Muted.

"I'm not ready to talk to you yet," Stiles croaked, and Derek winced at how swollen and red his eyes were. But then Stiles reached over and flipped the blanket back over his head. "Oh my god. Scoot, you asshole."

He shoved and prodded at Derek's legs until they were where Stiles wanted them. Flopped on the couch and wiggled until Derek curled his legs back, wrapped them around Stiles' torso and held him in place.

It felt--better. Familiar enough to take comfort from, even if Stiles hated him now.

He tried again. Tried to figure out how to fix this. Lost his train of thought every time Stiles' breath caught. Every time he shuddered.

Hated himself, every time he took too deep a breath. Smelled the sour-panic and the tears.

He wasn't sure how long it was before Stiles started talking. It felt like just a few minutes, and forever at the same time.

"So, the thing I don't get," Stiles started, voice muffled from where it was pressed into the back of his thigh and sounding too composed to be anything but a lie, "is why you kept initiating things you didn't want to do."

That--was a good question. "I'm not-- I wanted you. Wanted you to stay. I didn't want you to know I'm--"

Broken, he finished silently, Wrong. Incomplete.

The words were all wrong, but--Stiles relaxed anyway. His breathing got a little more even. "You want me," he said slowly, like he was feeling the words out. "Just not sex."

"It's not--" Derek cut himself off with what could have been a groan, if he'd let it out. He had actually almost said it wasn't Stiles, it was him. He knew the social meaning behind that, though. Knew he meant the opposite. "There's something wrong with me," he settled on instead.

He didn't want to admit that. Didn't want to talk about that. But--

But Stiles was twisting. Sitting up and leaning over. Pulling the blanket away from Derek's face again. "What?"

He could understand Stiles wanting to see his face, but he didn't want to see Stiles' if he actually had to do this. Stared determinedly at the wall instead. "There's--always been something wrong, I think. Or maybe it just started in middle school. I don't know." That was when he'd started noticing, at least. He already knew he was different, wasn't human. Had to keep track of what everyone else was doing anyway so he could fake it, if he had to. He just didn't know what to do when he realized he was faking something his sisters hadn't had to. "I just know I'm not--haven't ever--wanted. People. Like that."

Well. That was coherent.

At the edge of his vision, he could see Stiles nodding. Could feel his fingers curling in, gripping at the blanket over his thighs. "...I totally should have dragged you to the bed instead of coming out here. There's no room."

He didn't really want to move, but Stiles wasn't trying to make him. Just curled over his hip and pressed him harder into the couch.

"Okay, so, look. I know this is from the year of brainfuckery, but--"

No. "I'm not talking about that with you."

It was the kind of statement that should have had Stiles' hackles rising. Should have had him biting back. Should...not have had Stiles snorting, almost amused, and thumping his head against Derek's elbow. "Dude, she’s off limits. I know that." Shouldn't have had Stiles patting his knee appeasingly. "You still need so much therapy, but--wow. More than I thought, apparently. That's--"

"Stiles."

Stiles let himself be cut off. Paused, fingers digging into Derek's thigh. Then, "But, yeah, no. I didn't mean that. I was going to ask about Paige."

--what? "What does-- How do you even know about her?"

He was looking at Stiles. Hadn't meant to, but twisted around to stare anyway. His eyes were still red, but his face was more animated. Less bleak. It was an improvement and--well. Human. He might still be swollen and gross looking for a while.

It was faint, and more wry than amused, but Stiles was smiling. "Guess Cora never asked you about that, huh? It was something Peter told us, that year. About--why you had blue eyes."

So Stiles knew he'd killed his best friend when he was in high school. "And?"

"He said you'd loved her."

Derek groaned and flopped back into the couch. "Fucking Peter."

Stiles curled over, hiding his face in Derek's side as he laughed. Which--inappropriate, much? But Derek supposed he could understand.

"Yes, I loved Paige," Derek said, feeling the bite at the edge of his words. "You love Scott, don't you?"

"She was--"

"My best friend," Derek confirmed. It was an old hurt. He had plenty of others that hurt more, now.

(It still hurt.)

"We hated each others' guts up until we had to do a chemistry thing together." He couldn't remember what that had been, anymore. Could remember her sitting on the couch in her rec room, highlighter held under her mouth like a microphone as she belted out 'Isn't it ionic' surprisingly in tune and with the most absurd lyric substitutions. It made no sense, but it didn't have to, to have him laughing so hard he'd fallen off the couch. "She figured out I was a werewolf in six months, and had a million questions about it. I'm not sure it ever occurred to her to be scared."

(That was a lie. He'd asked her, once, why she wasn't scared. She'd rolled her eyes and pushed a bottle of vodka at him. "Yeah, because you've been so intimidating in the year and a half I've known you. Remember that time you walked off the bleachers and faceplanted in a mud puddle, freshman year? So scary.")

She'd never been scared of him. Had tried to poison him a few times in her mission to figure out how to get him drunk, sure. But she hadn't been scared.

Not of him.

"I knew we shouldn't trust him," Stiles muttered. "I should have asked you about that ages ago."

Derek shrugged. "Can understand why you didn't."

(Really, they all coped with that year by not talking about it. Healthy? No. Working? Most of the time.)

"Yeah, well," Stiles sighed. "Anyway. So, the thing is that you want me, you just don't want sex." Derek groaned and turned his attention to the wall again. It was a good wall. Very blank. Stiles, of course, just kept going. "At all. With--anyone, right? It's not--" He let out a slow breath when Derek nodded. Nodded along with him a few times. "Okay. Good. And--I want you, but I also want to have sex with you, which makes things kind of awkward."

"It doesn't have to," Derek tried, even though he knew better. "We could--"

"Make me feel like I'm taking advantage of you, because I don't understand what's going on in your head?" Stiles asked, all sharp false-cheer. And that-- Derek hadn't thought of that. "Yeah, no. That's not happening. No sex until we've figured this out."

That announcement felt like a lead weight in his gut, but-- "No sex?"

But he didn't say no to the other things. Didn't mean no to the other things, judging by the way he leaned over and pressed a careful kiss against his jaw.

"No sex," Stiles confirmed. "Not until we know more, anyway. And, I mean, I know this is going to surprise you, but I actually do know how to masturbate. Now," he continued, pushing himself up and ignoring the way Derek choked, caught between surprise and laughter, "tell me how badly we need to air the apartment out before I text everybody that it's okay to come over if they need to."

Derek groaned, because they were going to need to. If Stiles had told everybody still in town to stay away, they were all going to need to come and make sure they were actually okay.

(Allison and Scott would probably be the first ones outside the door. Not-pack his ass.)

He got up, though. Opened a window and stuck his head outside to clear his nose. Came back inside and practically choked when he took a breath. The whole apartment tasted sour-sharp, too complex to pick apart, even with how well he knew the twists and tells of Stiles' scent. Of his own.

Stiles winced, muttered "Ooookay then," then headed for the kitchen to get the oven preheating before wandering down the hall to get the window in Derek's room open.

It was a good thing they had this routine down to a science, regardless of whose house they were in.

Derek opened the rest of the windows in the living room. Opened the slider onto the balcony and squinted at his options. The sage had finally given up the ghost under his and Cora's neglect, but the mint remained immortal, if scraggly and weird. He grabbed a decent handful and sliced through the stems. Cut them in half and dumped them on the coffee table on his way to the kitchen.

By the time Stiles made his way back, wearing one of Derek's shirts and setting a change of clothes on the counter, Derek was pouring boiling water over some dried rosemary in a roasting pan.

It wasn't ideal, but it'd do.

"You change, I'll get laundry going," Stiles offered, already on his way to the couch for the blanket. "I already sent a text out. Told them they'd better bring food offerings if they were coming over and didn't live here."

Derek didn't have to think about it. Stripped out of his shirt to shove it in with the blanket in Stiles' arms and leaned over to kiss him.

Stiles didn't protest. Not the kiss, anyway. "Gerrof," he laughed against Derek's mouth, freeing one hand to shove lightly at his chest. "You're gonna make me have to change again."

It wasn't fixed. They weren't fixed. (Derek definitely wasn't fixed.) But.

It felt--better. Like it could be fixed.

Stiles pushed again, and Derek backed off. Retreated to his room to change.

Wasn't surprised at all to hear Scott and Allison taking the stairs like it was a competitive event by the time he was done.

"Incoming," he called, pitching his voice to be heard over the washing machine.

"What the hell," Stiles muttered, not bothering to change his volume at all. "Were they already at the sandwich place or something?"

They'd been at Thai, six blocks down. Had brought four boxes of phad thai and a container of pineapple green curry. Because--he supposed it made sense to them.

Scott made a face when Stiles opened the door for him, but didn't gag or choke. Allison just glanced Stiles over, gave him a pat on the shoulder then beelined in to give Derek the same treatment. Only she hugged him. Because why not compound the awkward?

Whatever expression was on his face made Stiles laugh, at least.

He could already hear the rest of them coming. Cora, Erica, Denise and Boyd on the stairs, bickering over whether or not Denise should have brought food or not and Denise sniping back that she'd make something if she had to. Lydia, Danny and Ethan paused downstairs while Lydia finished calling an order for delivery in, because they were sneaky and probably didn't want to stop on the way.

(Boyd had banana bread. His grandmother's, which he practically never shared. Boyd was temporarily Derek's favorite.)

-----

Dinner was banana bread, phad thai, three large pizzas, and a chicken casserole Allison and Ethan managed to cobble together out of the odds and ends in the fridge. The curry went entirely to Lydia, who picked the pineapple out and dumped it on whoever's plate was closest. It was also Cora glaring death at Stiles whenever she thought his back was turned, and subtle, cautious poking at what happened by everyone else.

Well. It was subtle and cautious after the first question, which Stiles immediately shot down with "Mindfuckery related. Drop it," and went right back to his conversation with Boyd about how helicopters worked.

It was...surprisingly nice.

Stiles didn't stay. Left when everyone else with another home trickled out. Kissed Derek on the cheek and smiled against his lips when Derek went after his mouth instead, but he left.

(It shouldn't have hurt, but it did.)

Derek was stripping out of his shirt when Cora knocked. She pushed his door open when he didn't object, leaning in so hard her shoulders bowed back. "I'm not asking, but if you want to talk--"

He'd probably grab Allison. Or Danny, or Scott, or Denise, or Ethan, or Boyd, or Erica. But. "Thanks."

She nodded and disappeared again. Didn't yelp when she practically tripped over Erica. Derek would have commended Erica for the stealth, but he was tired and not really up for the bickering.

His bed felt empty and cold. He was exhausted, but it was incredibly hard to fall asleep.

-----

New Year's Eve passed without a hitch, which Stiles grumbled about later, since he'd been positive someone had plans to propose that night, even if he wouldn't say who or why he thought so. Lydia brought wine for the humans and herself. She let the werewolves share the champagne for the final toast but said she'd find a way to trim their claws if they helped themselves to anything more.

It did mean he had a loose, giggly Stiles pressed against his side most of the night.

Derek didn't think he'd ever complain about that. Not even when his entire pack-not-pack ended up crashing in haphazard piles around his living room, and he ended up pinned with Stiles snoring against one shoulder and an Allison-Scott tangle passed out partly over his lap.

He would have complained when Cora dug out the camera she'd given him for Christmas and snapped a few photos of everyone, but--

Well. They'd fit in, with the book Stiles had started.

-----

New Year's Day was the beginning of the exodus. Danny left, taking Ethan and Scott back north with him to Oregon, with plans to drop Boyd off at an airport along the way.

Derek was driving Stiles and Lydia to the airport on the third, but Denise, Allison and Erica all headed out on the second. Which meant Denise--wasn't there to distract his sister, anymore. Which meant Cora was free to start panicking as she realized she was leaving on the fourth.

Derek saw the first hint of madness in the set of her shoulders as she walked around the living room again and again and--

(He was just giving his sister some privacy. Really.)

-----

Stiles met him at the door with a knowing grin before he lurched back, throwing the door wide to let him in. "Cora?"

"How'd you guess?"

"She just sent out a mass email about what an unsupportive jerk of a brother you are for running off in her hour of need."

Derek shrugged, shutting the door and slipping out of his jacket. "I just figured she'd like to get over her crazy in--don't text her that."

He made a grab for the phone, and Stiles didn't try very hard to keep it from him.

The screen just said Gotcha <3 when he checked it.

Derek huffed, trying not to be as amused as he was. "Which one of us is the jerk?"

"We both are," Stiles grinned, snagging his hand and dragging him toward the stairs. "It's why we work. Now c'mon, I wanna show you something."

-----

'Something' was an email.

-----

From: k.griebe21@scu.edu
To: s.stilinski3@scu.edu
Date: Mon, Jan 1, 2018 at 6:59 PM
Subject: RE: Sexuality Stuff

Yes, dorkface, I remember you. (What, you thought you were forgettable? PLEASE.)

And yeah, totally normal for some people. You want to look up romantic attraction vs sexual attraction, and the asexuality spectrum. Actually, if you're asking, just look up asexuality. You'll get to the rest of it from there.

Want links? You can find most of what I can give you on your own with a basic google, but. If you're freaking out, I can provide links.

kgriebebe
>
>----------------------
>
>From: s.stilinski3@scu.edu
>To: k.griebe21@scu.edu
>Date: Sun, Dec 31, 2017 at 9:22 AM
>Subject: Sexuality Stuff
>
> Hey Karla,
>
> Uh, forgive the MASSIVE rude, but you're the closest I know to an
> expert on this stuff. Is it normal for some people to like somebody
> and want to date them, but not be interested in sex? Like, at all, for
> anybody. And we are not talking friend-liking, if that needs to be
> clarified.
>
>But seriously. Is that normal?
>
>Stiles (really hoping you remember me)

-----

It looked like the only email he had from k.griebe (lately, at least), but a quick glance over the tabs Stiles had open suggested he wasn't freaking out so much he needed links.

"I can send you those," Stiles said, chin hooked over his shoulder and apparently reading something from his posture. "Or, well, the ones that don't piss me off, anyway. It's the internet. Stupid people exist."

"Who is this?" he asked instead, prompting Stiles to press his mouth against Derek's shoulder for a moment and hum.

"Karla," he said after a moment, muffled since he hadn't bothered to move his mouth. "I had to do a group thing with her in Sociology of Crime last spring. It took me a while to remember if it was her or Kristie who had the rant on social invisibility and non-binary sexualities and genders, but." He shrugged, straightening a bit and putting an unacceptable half inch of distance between them. "I would have gotten here on my own, but I remembered that I'd worked with somebody who had opinions on the subject, and figured this way I could bypass anything irrelevant. Like erectile dysfunction, despite having evidence to the contrary."

"I'm surprised you didn't end up on erectile dysfunction anyway," Derek muttered, glancing over the tabs again. But no, nothing medical or obviously specifically dick related.

Stiles snorted and bumped one of his shoulders against Derek's. "Jerk. But no, seriously, I'm leaving tomorrow. I probably won't be coming home again until June, and if I do it's gonna be because there's an emergency, right?"

"And?"

"And there's nothing wrong with you, and we've got about six months of no touching anyway to figure this out in." Stiles tucked his nose behind Derek's ear and Derek let his eyes drift shut. "We rock at figuring weird shit out, and this isn't even that weird. We'll be fine."

When Stiles said it like that, he could almost believe it.

He went home eventually. Alone. Unpacked the seven boxes Cora had piled in the living room in his absence and went through them with her. (She'd tried to take the blender. Why? Erica was the smoothie junkie.) Ended up with piles small enough to fit into one box and a few large bags.

They had at least managed to finagle her a room to herself in one of the residence halls, so she wouldn't have to worry about grossing a roommate out by bringing dirty laundry to leave out until the room smelled safe enough to actually sleep in.

They slept in Isaac's room, because Cora needed him close and neither of them wanted to sleep on a mattress their sibling had had sex on recently.

(He could have had his own bed, could have explained things to Cora, but-- It seemed like a discussion for when she wasn't so unsettled. For when he knew more than just a few words and had a chance to start believing it. If there was even anything to believe.)

-----

It was a quiet drive to the airport, the next morning. Lydia nursing a to-go mug of coffee to try and wake up, Stiles using his to try and calm down.

They might have talked if Lydia wasn't there, but Derek wasn't sure. Was kind of glad for the excuse. The quiet.

He waited at the edge of the security area while Lydia and Stiles queued up and got their things in order. Waited while Lydia reminded Stiles to get the change out of his pockets. While Stiles reminded Lydia to make sure her toiletries were easily reachable.

Waited until Stiles asked why Lydia she was wound tighter than usual, and she said "I'm waiting for your boyfriend to leave so I can ask nosy questions about him."

Derek left, abandoned Stiles to Lydia's questions and Lydia to Stiles' flustered insistence that he wasn't talking about it.

He found a Starbucks on his side of security and ordered a hot chocolate. Requested whipped cream and sprinkles when the kid behind the register gave him a weird look, just to mess with him. Sat there while his drink went cool, reading the book he'd brought with him.

It was an hour and a half before Lydia texted him.

1/3/2018 Tues
Lydia: He's gone. No complications this time. Go home. - 11:03 a.m.

Derek wasn't sure which was stranger. The fact that she knew he'd wait or that he knew she'd text.

-----

"You made up before he left, right?"

Derek sighed and resisted the urge to reach past his sister and take the seat belt away from her, since she seemed more interested in playing with the buckle than blending in. "It wasn't that kind of fight."

Cora narrowed her eyes at him, finally (finally) buckling her damn belt in. "So you're admitting it was a fight."

He wasn't actually sure it was. Wasn't sure there was a word for whatever 'it' had been. He focused on the parking lot instead, on obstacles and potential threats and getting his sister to college. "We're fine, Cora. I'm--"

"You can't just say that," she spit, vicious enough to startle him into silence. "You always say you're fine and it's never a lie, but I don't think you even know what fine is anymore, because you are not fine, Derek."

He knew that. Still thought he was broken, if not quite the same way he used to. But there wasn't anything she could do about it. "Cora."

"I should stay."

Derek nearly drove them off the road. "No, you shouldn't," he said, suddenly angry. "You should go to school, and learn how to build amazing things, and beat up people who say you can't be an engineer because you're a girl."

It was blissfully quiet for three heartbeats, then--

"You just gave me permission to beat people up," she muttered around a grin, quiet but gleeful.

"No," he tried, even though he kind of had. "Only if they actually say it. If they imply it, you'll just have to prove them wrong."

"So it's okay if I beat them up intellectually," Cora snarked, rolling her eyes and leaning against the door, but still smiling.

"Yes. Exactly." And--shit. That would have been a better answer in the first place.

They were quiet for a few miles, conversation too awkward to continue. It was only as they were leaving town that Cara breathed in sharply through her nose and straightened up. "I'm just worried, okay? There isn't going to be anybody around regularly until, what, June? Boyd told me what you had in the fridge last spring, and it didn't look like you'd bothered shopping after they left."

And that--might be true. But. "So we'll both be learning."

"What?" That broke her stubborn stare out the windshield. Made her frown and turn his way, even if he couldn't look away from the road for long.

"You'll go learn how to make robots," he said, ignoring the way her head rolled and her mutter about not building robots (when, really, what other reason was there for becoming an engineer?). "And I'll try to learn how to be on my own."

For once.

That bought him another ten miles of silence, but Cora at least seemed to be thinking about it.

When she opened her mouth again, it was to complain about being even further from Denise than usual, and Derek felt something in his chest loosen.

They'd be alright. Eventually.