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I Intend to be Independently Blue

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He scratches the back of his neck, staring at Stiles. His need to repair the tentative friendship they’d been forming outweighs his many and varied misgivings. Instinctively, he trusts Stiles, believes he wouldn’t use this knowledge to hurt him. He can’t pinpoint any one reason why he feels this way, he can only highlight a hundred small moments and understandings between them. He’s been wrong, before, but he’d been young and untested. He’s too cautious, too cynical, to fall that way again. And Stiles is --- nothing about him is artifice, not even when he’s obviously planning to be. He’s always laid bare before Derek.

He gestures at the distance between them. "You expect me to shout across at you? Come here."

Stiles rigorously shakes his head. "How about no? Wendigos and trip-wired bombs I can handle. Heights? Not so much."

Derek rolls his eyes and scampers over to the window frame, shoving Stiles' right leg down and settling opposite him. It's a tight fit. Stiles does not look overjoyed Derek's invading his space. He doesn't care. Stiles rubs absent-mindedly at the scratch on his arm and Derek knows his first thought shouldn't be, 'I made that, we're tied together by that mark', but it is. He tilts his head back, takes a deep breath.

"When I'm with you, I can forget," Derek says, staring up at the cloud-filled sky and wondering how Stiles would feel if he howled for the absent moon. "For a moment, more, I don't have to rage against the world."

"So what's with all the teeth gnashing and glowy red eyes? You're angry with me for distracting you from your life's mission?"

"I'm not angry. That's the problem. You make me not angry, Stiles, and that's the only way I know how to stop myself from shifting. I've never been taught how to regulate the transformation beyond emotional cues. When you’re brought up a werewolf there’s this belief you have your whole life to learn the whys and wherefores of your existence, so it’s normal to reach adolescence and be given all the theory, little of the practicality. No one thinks they’re not going to be around to teach their kids. I started basic training when I was sixteen. And it takes years, a decade, to learn how to curb your instincts.

“When my parents died, I was just coming into my powers. I was always angry and I wanted revenge. My body became used to a baseline of tension, so when I'm relaxed, my senses go into overdrive. I become the wolf when I'm calm, happy, contented. I can’t control it."

Stiles’ eyes are wide and comprehending. "You're Scott in reverse."

Derek raises an eyebrow. "In every way. But, yes, especially in this."

Stiles seems to figure out the implication of the conversation about thirty seconds into the ensuing silence.

"Hang on, hang on, man down, are you telling me I make you happy? I make you calm? The prospect of causing me bodily harm actively delights you? Thereby rendering you capable of doing it. I feel like this is the kind of irony that'd be in that song."

"It's not the prospect of harming you, though God knows, I'm envisaging it now. It's just ---" Derek flails in Stiles' direction. Not a co-ordinated, elegant gesture, not a careless shrug. A flail. "It appears I enjoy spending time with you."

There’s a beat, two. Stiles’ eyebrows curve high on his forehead. His eyes are huge in the dim light and Derek distractedly thinks he could watch him for hours.

"I like how they're the most difficult words you've ever had to say. Really charming there, Derek. Makes a man feel worthwhile."

"If you're trying to keep me angry, it's working."

"Good. Because, yes. Can't have you getting all snuggly and bitey, now, can we?”

“You can see why I likened you to a disease.”

Stiles nods. “Look, if it's as simple as not being around me, why bother being around me at all?"

"Because I like how it feels, you idiot. I like being able to forget. I like leaving my burdens behind, laughing at inconsequential shit. I don't want to be angry every second of every day."

"Right. Sorry," Stiles mumbles. He seems confused, still, unsure.

It isn’t that he doesn’t believe him, Derek realizes. It’s more that he doesn’t think it makes sense he believes him. Stiles is keeping his gaze lowered. His expression, for the most part, is carefully blank. He has thoughts he’s not sharing, for once. Reactions he doesn’t want Derek to see. Derek is surprised by the vehemence with which he wants to discover all those hidden aspects of Stiles.

He waves his hand at him in condemnation, an extension of his earlier flailing, but this time deliberate. "You should be sorry. You're the worst."

"And you must be some kind of masochist, because you're the one who likes me. So what's the deal, here? Your heart rate can't drop below 50? Or is it 88?" Stiles asks, stretching his own hands out expansively. Derek hopes his glower is as forceful as he wants it to be. "What? I like to watch old-school movies."

Derek stares pointedly at him. "I remember when Speed came out. I don't think it's fair to call a movie old-school if you can remember its premiere."

"I'm pretty sure it was made before I was born. By, like, a year or so? But, still. Before. There's no remembering for me."

"God, you are so depressing." Derek taps a finger against his lips thoughtfully, contemplating. “I don’t know the exact threshold. I know it happens when you make me want to laugh --- either at your absurdity, or because you’re saying something resembling a joke.”

“Gee, thanks,” Stiles cuts in.

Derek ignores the interruption. “I know it happens when, yeah, my heartbeat is slower. When I’m out of context, out of place, living in the moment. The best way to bring myself out of a shift is to call on anger. That’s how I stopped last time. I was so pissed you wouldn’t get out the damn car.”

This is, perhaps, an admission too far, but since Stiles is still talking with him --- is, in fact, attempting to help him figure some things out, Derek’s not going to regret it.

Stiles rolls his head around, knocks it against the wood of the frame and tuts to himself about it. “Did you shift at all when you were teaching me how to box, the other day? I don’t remember you going all Mr Chaney on me.”

Derek pretends to think about it. Immediately he recalls the hope he’d had when he thought his problem had been solved. It had been akin to euphoria --- something he hadn’t felt since childhood. He half-suspects his disappointment is all that’s keeping him from transforming now. That and the steady drumming of his heart against his ribcage. He can’t entirely explain that, although he thinks it might have something to do with his proximity to Stiles, his obsession with the scratch on his arm.

Stiles seems to follow his gaze. His own becomes assessing.

“You didn’t, did you,” Stiles says. It’s a statement, not a question.

Derek looks down at his fingers, curtly shakes his head. When he looks up again, Stiles has his eyes closed, face tilted up and a small, private smile on his lips.

“You’re tired,” he says. “I’m gonna go.”

Stiles opens his eyes lazily, nods in acknowledgement. “Before you go, can I say one thing?”

“There’s usually no stopping you.”

“Thank you,” Stiles says.

He stretches his hand out and brushes it along Derek’s arm. The touch is light through his jacket, but it still makes the base of Derek’s spine tingle with warmth. He likes it a little too much. He can tell that Stiles is thanking him for more than the book.

“Am I forgiven?” Derek can’t help but ask, strikingly aware it’s imperative he know.

“For now,” Stiles returns. “But don’t be shocked if I come up with ways you can make it all up to me.” He puts on an exaggerated accent of indeterminate origin. “You want I should be a disease? I’ll be a disease.”

“See you, Stiles,” Derek says, aiming for long-suffering, but thinking he sounds more amused.

Stiles waves at him sluggishly and tumbles back into his room. Derek jumps down to the ground, pleased when Stiles locks his window and seems to settle. Five minutes go by. Derek stands by the fence and watches, wanting to be satisfied that Stiles is safe.

The window opens again and Stiles stands, shirtless and annoyed.

“Stop being a creeper, Derek. Go home and get some sleep.”

*

This must be how Barbicane felt as he hurtled toward the moon, Stiles thinks as he stretches luxuriously on his bed. He’s grinning stupidly to himself, the corners of his lips refusing to curve back down. It’s morning and he’s still coasting on a high, relentless inner voices repeating the mantra, ‘he likes me. He really likes me.’ He sings in the shower, telling the world good morning starshine, he’s picking up good vibrations, and he’s feeling good. The fact he’s practically tone deaf? So not important.

It’s entirely possible Stiles is drunk on pleasure.

It isn’t that he’s lacking in compassion. He’s aware that Derek’s basically told him he’s almost always miserable. He knows how that must suck, because he’s been through that, he’s felt that kind of loss and isolation, has endured emptiness. But the solitary light in Derek’s life? That’s Stiles. Stiles is it. He is on Earth to make Derek happy. And he really, really wants to. He is more than okay with that being his mission for as long as it takes.

He gets up, makes toast. His dad has already left and Stiles feels bad about that for thirty whole seconds, because he had been going to make him bacon and eggs. That’s the only time he can spare to feeling bad, though.

He texts Scott to come over once he’s cleared up the kitchen, washed and dried the dishes. They revised their plan regarding catching and killing the wendigo before Stiles trudged home and Stiles thinks he needs to point out that things are going to have to change again. Not that he’s spoken with Derek about it, but there’s no reason for them not to work together anymore. Strength in numbers and all that jazz.

Stiles is humming to himself by the time Scott comes in. He’s also drawing up a couple of diagrams. It was a solid plan, he thinks, the one they employed the night before. If Derek hadn’t gone all desperately defensive on his ass, he believes they would have been successful.

Scott looks up at the ceiling, then down at Stiles. He has a curious expression on his face that Stiles isn’t used to seeing.

"So, you and Derek, huh?" he asks, sitting down and stealing some of the skittles Stiles prepared for himself and him alone.

Stiles ceases slapping Scott’s hand away and gapes. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s all over your face,” Scott replies. He smushes his hand over Stiles’ chin, drags it up and around. “Just all over.”

Stiles artfully fends him off and thumps Scott in the shoulder. He rubs his hand over the top of his head and winces. He has no idea how Scott is going to take the news that his best friend has the hots for the Alpha he refuses to join forces with. It could go okay, or disastrously, terribly wrong. It would never stop them from being best friends, but it could make things awkward.

"Yeah, we're sort of friends," Stiles says. He waits.

Scott gives a wide, teasing grin. "In the same way me and Allison are sort of friends."

"No! Maybe. I don't know, emotions are complicated," Stiles says, petering off. He twiddles his thumbs. "I like him."

Scott scrunches his nose up. "That is so weird. You're like celery and nutella."

"Am I the celery, or the nutella?"

"Definitely the nutella. You're sweet, and, you know, nutty. Also, seriously damaging to someone's health if they have you in large doses."

"Oh, hah."

"It's true. We almost got burned and/or chewed up last night, Stiles." Scott jabs him in the side, and ow, Stiles did not sign up to be a human punching bag today. "Just tell me one thing --- do you trust him?"

There isn’t a second’s hesitation in Stiles’ reply. "Yes, actually, I do."

"Okay. Then I won't eat him. I'm going to continue to mistrust him, though, if that's all right by you?"

Stiles smiles. "I wouldn't have it any other way. For the record, I don't trust Allison, either."

Scott opens his mouth wide in shock, looking utterly appalled. Stiles might feel bad if this wasn’t a calculated move. "Excuse me?"

"There's no way someone that drop dead gorgeous would be interested in a schmuck like you except under extenuating circumstances. I'm positive she wears extra-strong prescription glasses and has just never had the heart to tell you."

"You know what? I take it back. You're the celery."

*

His pack apologizes. Derek isn’t anticipating it. Certainly wasn’t expecting it. Isaac is the first, too, which makes it even stranger. Isaac had been missing when he’d come back. Derek had thought he’d broken away to become an Omega, or to find another pack to join, or to attempt to build his own pack without overthrowing his Alpha, which was possible but very risky.

It turns out Isaac was sleeping on Boyd’s couch.

“I made a mistake,” Isaac says, sounding contrite. Sounding more like the boy he was before he was bitten. “I confused disobedience with initiative and I’m sorry.”

“Good,” Derek replies. “I’m glad you can see that now. I hope this serves as a reminder should you think about questioning my authority again.”

Then, because he isn’t a complete hardass, even though he probably should be, he claps a hand on Isaac’s shoulder and squeezes.

“You gonna help us kill a wendigo?”

Isaac blinks, once, the picture of innocence. “Is it gonna happen this century?”

Erica is the one to flick him on the ear.

*

They gather at Derek’s place. It’s the first time they’ve all been together and Derek is antsy about it, but it makes the most sense in drawing up a plan and assigning roles. There’s animosity and reluctance in the air, but everyone so far has entered into the spirit of the occasion. No one’s physically attacked anyone else, at any rate. There’s been some verbal sparring, but nothing Derek doesn’t remember from High School among regular teens.

"I have a theory about the wendigo," Derek says to the crowd at large.

Stiles responds as if he’s speaking to him alone. "That it's an enormous prick?"

"Obviously. But also that it might be living in the homeless shelter. Admit it --- if you could live in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, you would."

"That is not a word of a lie. Gosh, Derek, you're not just a face, are you?"

"You mean pretty face."

Stiles gazes at him mischievously. "Nope. I don't. You have a really unfortunate face, what with the symmetry, and the perfectly scaped facial hair, and the ridiculously intense eyes. You should get something done about that."

At this point, it’s mild irritation that Stiles is choosing to do this in front of everyone that’s keeping him from going primal, because Derek wants to lick that expression off. He’s been coming to the conclusion his regard for Stiles is not strictly platonic. It’s an uneasy conclusion to come to when surrounded by his pack and Stiles’ friends. He should have realized this before, but it crept up on him some time between last Friday and now. It’s --- a problem.

One that other people have noticed, judging by raised eyebrows and glances between the two of them.

“The shelter’s closed during the day, isn’t it?” Allison asks.

Derek never thought he’d feel this much gratitude for an Argent.

“Yeah,” Boyd says. “Begins operations at five. Staff go in a half hour earlier.”

“That gives us four hours to see if you’re right, Derek,” Scott chimes in.

They set to work mixing chemicals and acquiring suitable containers for their make-shift bombs. Work is engrossing, which Derek is very thankful for. He doesn’t have to consider the way Stiles is staring at him if he’s trying to keep his eyebrows from being blown off his face.

Afterwards, Allison teaches Isaac how to use a bow. He isn’t appalling at it. Derek will be more impressed when he sees him strike a moving target, however. Scott, Boyd and Erica practice sparring, flipping off the wall and throwing each other around. And Derek is his own worst enemy by suggesting he and Stiles run through the boxing formations they worked on Wednesday. Away from prying eyes. Far away from prying ears.

He hasn’t had to worry about this kind of thing in a long, long time. After Kate, he always assumed he was never going to have to worry about it again. He’ll never forgive himself for that error in judgement, for letting the wants of his body dictate the needs of his mind. But it isn’t the same with Stiles, he doesn’t have an agenda.

Stiles is the kind of person who makes someone they profess to dislike a sandwich because it’s polite, who thinks he’s the Zeppo even though he’s nine times smarter than most others his age, who offers to kill a wendigo just because it’s the right thing to do, who attempts to kill the wendigo under his own steam, because he wants to protect others, who probably wouldn’t tell him he has an unfortunate face if he was seriously only trying to get into his pants. Except, of course, knowing Stiles, that’s entirely what he’s thinking, he’s simply not going to pretend to be something he’s not for the opportunity.

Derek’s selfish side keeps saying he deserves a moment or two to concentrate on something other than an unwinnable quest for vengeance. Nothing can ever fix his life, not completely, not so that it’s perfect again. Especially since it wasn’t really perfect to begin with. But whatever it is he has with Stiles might come close to adhering one jagged, broken side to the other.

"So. Kinda been a crazy week, huh?" Stiles says flexing his arms.

"As always, you are the master of understatement," Derek returns.

He signals the start, lets Stiles get into position. They work through balance and co-ordination. Stiles’ form has improved, especially with his right hook. Derek doesn’t let any of Stiles’ punches connect, but he’s proud to see that there’s more likelihood they would today than there was during their previous session. He still manages to get Stiles in a headlock with little to no effort.

“I think we’re going to have to do this every time we meet up,” Derek says, unwrapping Stiles and jogging from foot to foot. He stretches up and notes Stiles’ preoccupation with the sliver of skin exposed between his pants and shirt. “In order to keep the beast at bay.”

“I have a better solution. You’re gonna like this. It’s the greatest,” Stiles says. His voice is a touch higher than usual, he looks slightly manic. “All you need to do is keep your heart rate up, right?”

Stiles slides forward, rests a hand on his shoulder. He licks his lips, huffs out a short breath.

Derek isn’t what he’d call overly patient. Even less so when he can’t see any need to be. He closes the gap between them in one swift move, cradles the back of Stiles’ head, and kisses him softly. Stiles makes a surprised moan against him, and Derek can’t resist tilting his head more, licking insistently along the seam of his lips; pressing and sliding and teasing. Stiles feels like a furnace against him, his heartbeat echoes in a rapid, syncopated rhythm, and Derek’s heart matches the beat. Stiles has one hand tugging at his hair, another at his waist. He arches into him like he can’t get enough. It makes Derek want to take more, pull Stiles down to the ground and possess him.

Stiles is overly eager and inexperienced, but Derek finds that downright endearing. He wants to be the one to teach Stiles how to use his tongue, how to breathe and kiss at the same time. He doesn’t want to pull away, plant short kisses on Stiles’ lips while doing so, but they’re limited by their self-imposed duty.

“I see that this has already occurred to you,” Stiles says breathily.

"I didn't want it, you know," Derek says, conversationally. His words are somewhat undermined by his fingers dragging down Stiles’ sides. “Not originally. It wasn’t a scheme I had in mind.”

"Of course you want this,” Stiles amends. “This way, you get to spend time with me without having to confront your wolf every five minutes."

Derek stares at Stiles, hands curved against his hips. He drags his lower body closer, crowding tight. "Is that your sole reasoning? Cold, hard, logic?"

Stiles gets this look on his face that speaks of shamelessness. In this instance, it’s also very clearly flirtation. Derek's always wanted to be immune to that look. Never has been. "Not so much with the cold, but the ha---"

He shakes Stiles, interrupts. "Don't say it."

"The hard, though," Stiles continues, ignoring him, grinning broadly.

Derek has no choice but to shut him up with more kissing. It’s another ten minutes before they go and join the others.

*

“If I’d known the shelter had a basement, I’d have suggested this first,” Stiles whispers. “I’m just saying. It would have saved a lot of time and consternation.”

He’s close by Derek’s back and a little distracted by envisaging licking all over his tattoo. He maybe made the wrong move by initiating things with Derek before the day was over.

Stiles, he thinks, keep it together.

The same asshole voices that were telling him he’s not worthy of Derek, the very same ones who insist he stay awake night after night, keep saying that this is the moment when everyone’s favorite character dies. It’s always right this second --- after discovering that the object of their affection loves them, after thinking they’re about to save the world, after making a huge sacrifice --- that the witty, capable, adorable one dies a gruesome, horrible death. Stiles is emphatically not a leaf on the wind. That isn’t it, he isn’t done. He is not going to finally find out what his weapon does and wittily remark upon that fact, no sirree.

All the werewolves say the wendigo is here, though it’s doing a great job of hiding in the shadows. Stiles doesn’t even think he needed wolf confirmation. The stench is rancid enough that his perfectly ordinary human nose has picked up on it just fine, thank you.

There’s a dead body hooked up on the wall, guts hanging out. Its eyes seem to follow him as he steps deeper into the room. This is the part where Stiles really wants to give a manly, gruff yell, but suspects it’d be more of a boyish, pitchy squeak. It’s only in remembering the acetone peroxide he has ready to go should the need arise that he doesn’t do either of these things. That and the five werewolves and kickass archer at his disposal.

Derek sees it before he does. He knows this because Derek stops still and Stiles practically barrels him head over ass. The wendigo is at least nine feet tall, mottled grey and brown, with skin hanging off in tatters. Stiles didn’t get the best look that time Derek shoved him to the asphalt and had his dastardly protective way with him, so it’s all new to his eyes. On closer inspection, the wendigo is covered in pus, slimy and skeletal. It looks malnourished, which, considering there’ve been nine victims that Stiles knows of alone, does not seem right, even though he should have expected this.

There is such a haunted look in its features that Stiles really thinks they’re here to put it out of its misery.

It might not feel the same.

It happens so suddenly, Stiles couldn’t say who moved first. All he knows is that Derek is shifting, the wendigo is surging toward them, and he’s shouting ‘Fus Ro Dah’ at the top of his lungs. There’s a sizzle and a pop, flame bursting on either side of the creature, entrapping it on its left and right. Scott, Boyd and Erica are springing behind the wendigo and all it can do is ram forward. It gives it a red-hot go.

The best thing about Stiles thinking of it in this way is that it’s literal as well as figurative. Derek ducks to the side as Stiles throws his bomb. Allison and Isaac send explosive arrows shooting into its chest, though some of them fall to the ground, hitting bone as opposed to flesh. The wendigo is down on its hands and knees, but it hasn’t stopped advancing. Stiles readies bomb number two, but before he can chuck it, Derek is clawing viciously at the wendigo’s neck. He grabs hold, digging in deep. There’s a wailing scream, Derek is flung to the other side of the room, and still the monster will not die.

This is when Stiles makes his noble sacrifice. He delivers a right hook to the wendigo’s stomach-region --- the only part of the wendigo that doesn’t appear to be just bone. His hand goes in like a knife through butter. Disgusting, spreadable actually-he-can-believe-it’s-not-butter. Naturally, in his fist he’s holding his second bomb. He lets it go immediately, and when he reclaims his hand, he runs the fuck out of the way. Thankfully so does everyone else.

And that is how they all end up soaked head to toe in wendigo juice. All in all, it’s an eventful day.

If anyone were to say that Stiles’ victory moves were awfully similar to the Snoopy dance, he’d have to recount this tale as reason not to mess with him. As it is, Scott joins in, followed by Boyd. Erica stares at them humorlessly, as Allison and Isaac make their way over.

Stiles searches for Derek and sees him leaning against the opposite wall, popping his dislocated shoulder into place. He’s grimacing, squeezing his eyes closed. Stiles wants to kiss him better. He makes do with going over, stroking his arm.

“Derek? Are you all right?”

Derek looks up, refocuses. There’s a hint of a smile in his expression. “I will be. What the hell were you shouting before?”

“It provided a distraction, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, to me.”

Stiles gives a moue of distaste, before deciding he’s not going to take that kind of crap lying down. “Shut up, Derek.” He steps forward and claims his mouth, heedless of covering him in pure, unadulterated wendigo slime. All he cares about is licking against his teeth, seeking entrance, teasing out a low moan.

“Oh my God,” Erica’s voice whines, cutting into the idyllic vacation that is kissing Derek. “Why don’t you take a seat right over there?”

Stiles stops what he’s doing, which is a hardship, and glares majestically.

Even Isaac rolls his eyes. “Leave them alone, Erica.”

Scott simply looks bewildered. He turns to Allison, murmuring, “I don’t get it, do you get it?”

*

“Our age difference doesn’t bother you, does it?” Derek asks when they get back to Stiles’ room.

They cleaned up the mess in the basement the best they could, went and buried the bodies of the wendigo and its victim. They showered. Separately. Stiles wasn’t really down with the independence involved in that.

There’s a note to Derek’s voice that suggests he’s been wondering since the morning. The fact that it has only been since the morning lends credence to Stiles’ response.

"I live in a world that thinks werewolves are fictitious horror stories as opposed to reality, my life isn't like that of anyone else, you think I'm gonna care you're a few years older than me?"

"It's more like several. Years," Derek says with a quirk of his eyebrow.

Stiles throws his hands forward, frown etched in deep lines. "Really? We're bothering with semantics here? If this is the kind of scintillating conversation we can look forward to, I'm not surprised your body tricks you into wolfifying before you slip into a state of catatonia."

Derek stands his ground, because he's annoyingly resilient and stoic like that. "I want an answer, Stiles."

“It doesn’t bother me. And you know what? Even if it did? If this is what it takes to stop you from going all American Werewolf in Beacon Hills, then I'd suffer and take one for the pack. For, not from, by the very obvious by. The only member of the pack I want to take anything from is you.” He brushes his hands down Derek’s biceps, adopts what he hopes is a very persuasive expression. “I mean, seriously, of the two of us, you think the hormonal teenager is the one who's going to raise any objections?"

"Well, yeah," Derek says, sliding his hands down the zipper of Stiles' hoodie, pulling him an inch closer. "I'm the werewolf. I have skewed morals."

Stiles looks down at his feet, counting each thrum of his pulse. It's going to become incredibly embarrassing, and no doubt awkward, but Derek values honesty and he feels it needs to be said.

"Okay, so, I'm about to get super corny and you need to promise me you're not going to tear my throat out, pull my heart from my chest, or generally maim me in any way."

"I make no guarantees."

Stiles snaps his head up and glares at Derek, but he doesn't seem to notice, because he's focused on Stiles' lips. "You're really going to make me work for this, aren't you?"

Derek gazes into his eyes again, and his grin is ridiculously wide. The Cheshire cat would come last place in a grinning contest against all those teeth. It's 'all the better to eat you with', is what it is.

"I may not physically change, but I feel like I transform when I'm with you, Derek. I feel like I'm my most powerful and yet my most out of control, and because I am not right in the head, I kind of love that feeling."

Stiles slides his eyes to the side, unable to meet Derek's intensity. He doesn't know what he's expecting. A slap, maybe, or perhaps a tickle. Really, the outcome is up in the air. So when Derek drags him into an embrace, nuzzles against his neck and sucks a hickey for all the world to see, he can't help but think he's gotten the best possible deal.

And Stiles? He could totally get used to this.

*

Stiles is the worst thing that could have happened to Derek.

No. That’s a lie. Derek is willing to admit --- to himself and maybe Stiles if he’s feeling generous --- that he lies on occasion. By omission and not intention, but sometimes the outcome’s the same.

Stiles is the best thing that could have happened. He’s frustrating as hell, believes in pushing Derek to his limits, insults him almost every chance he gets. But Derek wouldn’t have it any other way.

He’d been struggling alone for a long time. No family to speak of, not for a while. All he had in his life was a bucket-load of resentment and pain, keeping him in tightly restrained control, but preventing him from truly living. He’d had regrets and mistakes and one all-encompassing emotion --- anger. There were some things he’d never truly learned. Like how to get over the past, how to live in the moment, how to look to the future.

Until Stiles.

Now, he has warmth in his life again. Now, he has joy. Now, he has hope.