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Derek wanted to strangle Scott.

Not that he didn't always want to half the time anyway, because Scott could be hilariously dumb during the worst moments, but the way Stiles was hunched up against the side of his jeep was stirring the familiar itch in Derek’s fingers again. He put the hazard lights on and slowed his car to a stop behind the jeep, hesitating for a few seconds before sighing and opening the door to get out.

Stiles didn’t even bother looking up as he approached, which rang alarm bells in Derek’s head, because Stiles was nothing if not incredibly observant, sometimes even to the point of paranoia. But now, he just stared at the ground with the same look Derek remembered him wearing a few times after the shit show that was the nogitsune. If there hadn’t been other warning signs that something was definitely wrong, Stiles with this particularly heart-wrenching expression on his face would tip anyone off.

Derek honestly hated that look. He hated that look then, and he sure as hell still hated it now. Stiles was supposed to be all nervous energy and word-vomit, not this quiet, world-weary kid who didn’t deserve even a fraction of the crap that his life was constantly handing to him. An image of Stiles back when they’d first appeared on each other’s radars flashed across Derek’s mind for a moment, and he blinked a few times to shake it away. He didn’t want to think about all the ways Stiles has changed, right now. Derek placed a hand on Stiles’ shoulder and crouched down beside him. “Hey,” he said softly. “Stiles.”

Red-rimmed eyes darted up to his face for a moment, before quickly darting away again. “Hey,” Stiles rasped out, voice cracking. He rubbed a sleeve over his eyes and sniffed. “I—thanks. Thank you. For coming.”

Derek glanced up at the smoking hood of the jeep, eyes catching on the fist-sized dents on it, and looked back at Stiles, whose arms were crossed tightly over his chest, hands tucked into his underarms. It was obvious that he’d grown older since Derek last saw him, the angular lines of his face and broadened shoulders giving away his age, but it was also like he’d shrunk into himself in the time that Derek had been gone. He just seemed… smaller, somehow. “No problem,” Derek replied, before standing up and offering a hand. “Come on, I’ll drive you back to your house. You can call a tow truck for your jeep on the way.”

Stiles looked up at his hand, staring blankly at it for a few moments before blinking and loosening the fold of his arms. Derek eyed the bruised and bloody knuckles with a frown, but stayed quiet as Stiles reached out slowly, clasping Derek’s in a cold, sweaty grip. 

Immediately, Derek felt a deep, phantom ache creep up his arm at the touch as he tugged the teen up, an ache that felt older than the fresh scrapes on the backs of Stiles’ hands. Eyebrows rising, he tugged the sleeve of his sweater back to see black veins running up his wrist, before fading out once Stiles let go. Derek frowned even further and grabbed at Stiles’ hand again, careful not to squeeze too hard. “You’re hurt somewhere else,” he said flatly, watching worriedly as black lines raced up his arm. “Where?”

Stiles rolled his eyes and snatched his hand back, clutching it to himself. “It’s nothing. Leave it alone,” he muttered. When Derek reached out to grab his hand again, he jerked out of reach and snapped. “Fucking—leave it alone, I’m fine.”

Sometimes, Derek wanted to strangle Stiles too. God help him, he really did.

He said nothing and grabbed Stiles’ wrist when he tried to shoulder past Derek to get to the car. “No you’re not,” Derek said firmly, trying to focus and pinpoint the source of the pain. Stiles grunted and tried to tug his arm away, but Derek tightened his grip and held on. “The pain feels old. Was this from the chimera that attacked you?” Stiles stopped struggling, but turned his head away to stare at the road sullenly. Derek growled. Why did he have to be so fucking stubborn? “Stiles.”

Stiles made a frustrated sound and his head whipped back to face Derek, eyes angry and mouth trembling. Derek just glared back. It was always unstoppable force meets immovable object when they argued, but Derek wasn’t going to give an inch on this one. Not this time. Not when Stiles looked too much like how he had when he’d been possessed by a demon. “My goddamn shoulder, you asshole,” Stiles bit out when it was clear that Derek was willing to stand there all day and wait if he had to. He stepped into Derek’s space and shoved at him. “ Yes, it was from Donovan. Happy now?” He shoved him again.

Derek didn’t even bother replying, just jerked Stiles’ wrist to pull him close and cradled the back of his head with his other hand, tilting it to the side. “Hey! What are you—don’t—” Derek ignored him and let go of Stiles’ wrist to tug at the neckline around the back of his hoodie.


Derek recalled Stiles describing the chimera over the phone, but he hadn’t been able to get a clear picture of what he meant until now. Nor was he aware that Stiles had actually been bitten, the little shit.

“Have you had this checked?” Derek asked incredulously as he inspected the wound. It looked raw and painful, the skin around it an irritated red from continuously chafing against Stiles’ clothes. “Have you even cleaned this up? Why isn’t it covered?”

Stiles’ angry silence was all he got in reply.

Derek closed his eyes and sighed, before tugging Stiles’ neckline back up and nudging him towards his car. “Change of plans,” he said. “Get in. I’m taking you to my place to take care of that.”

By the time they pulled up outside Derek’s building, Stiles still hadn’t spoken a word. He’d spent the entire ride staring silently out the window and plucking at a loose thread on his sleeve, unmindful of the concerned glances Derek kept shooting his way. “Come on,” Derek said after killing the ignition. He opened his door and got out, waiting patiently as Stiles stayed where he was for a few moments, staring unseeingly at the dashboard, before he did the same.

Stiles was out of it. Derek kept an eye on him as they made their way inside, nudging him a few times to keep him walking in the right direction when his feet started to wander. He wondered if maybe he’d pushed him too far by pressing the issue about the injury, but knows that he couldn’t have when they’ve had worse, more explosive arguments before. This was different. This had been building up.

This was Stiles shutting down after everything that’s happened even before he’d called Derek in for help.

Once they were in his apartment and Derek had locked the door behind them, he steered Stiles towards the couch and sat him down. “I’ll be right back,” he told him quietly, before heading to the bathroom to get the first-aid kit. When he came back, Stiles was still staring at his twitching hands and hadn’t moved an inch.

“Tell me again what happened last night,” Derek prompted after successfully getting Stiles to shrug off his hoodie so that he could start applying ointment to the wound. Stiles had sent him a text last night saying that ‘Scott knows about Donovan’ and that he was ‘probably out of the pack’, so Derek wasn’t completely in the dark. But still. There were clearly a lot of details he was still unaware of.

When Stiles gave no acknowledgement of having heard him, Derek elbowed him gently in the back of the head. “Stiles,” he said when Stiles gave him a slow, sidelong glance. “Tell me about what happened last night. What happened between you and Scott?”

Stiles’ face immediately crumpled at the mention of Scott’s name, and for a terrifying moment, Derek was sure he’d just succeeded in making Stiles cry, but Stiles just looked away and swallowed, blinking back tears. “I don’t—” he started, voice hoarse. “I—I fucked up.” Stiles dug the heel of his palm into one eye and exhaled shakily. “God, Derek, I just—I fucked up.”

Derek felt his chest constrict at the hopelessness in Stiles’ voice. He could live without ever having to hear it again.

He cut out pieces of gauze and placed them carefully over the wound, quickly securing them with medical tape before taking Stiles’ shoulders in both hands and pulling him into a firm hug. Stiles stiffened in surprise, palms flat against Derek’s chest, ready to push him away, but when Derek pulled him closer, he relaxed and curled them into fists, clutching at Derek’s sweater desperately. “What are you doing?” Stiles asked shakily, even as he leaned in further. Derek tightened his grip and ignored him. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said simply.

“God, you cryptic dick,” Stiles said as he gave a weak laugh. He tucked his face into Derek’s neck carefully, pressing his cold nose against the warm crook of it. His hands flexed weakly against Derek’s chest.

“Scott had the wrench,” Stiles started after taking a deep breath, voice muffled into Derek’s skin. “The one—the one I hit Donovan with. His blood was—it was still on it and Scott… Scott just—he knew, okay? He knew what I did and he—” Stiles broke off on a sob. “The look on his face when I told him why I did what I did. Jesus, Derek, he looked like he didn’t know who I was. Like—like he’d never seen me before. Scott was—God, Scott was scared of me. He stepped away from me like he thought I was going to—like I—he looked at me like I was going to kill him like I killed Donovan.”

The skin on Derek’s neck dampened with Stiles’ tears as he sobbed against him, his voice cracking all over the words. Derek closed his eyes and held him tighter.

“And—and I knew. The moment I got into my car with Donovan’s blood all over my fucking hands, I knew. I knew I was going to lose Scott. I was going to lose my best friend. I knew I was—that I was going to lose one more person I don’t fucking deserve—fuck, I knew this. I knew this but it still—” Stiles was gasping, his whole body trembling despite Derek’s hold. “It still fucking hurts.”

“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Derek murmured into Stiles’ hair, reaching up to rest a palm on the back of Stiles’ head, rubbing soothing circles into his back with the other. He held Stiles close and let him cry it out, trying to smother the urge to head straight over to the McCall house and give Scott a solid hit in the face because he should have understood the situation. Scott was being willfully and dangerously naive if he thought he could always get away with never making the hard choice—even moreso if he expected other people to do the same. How could he not get his head around the fact that Stiles was protecting himself? That Stiles, who was still so painfully human despite his intelligence and wit and bravery, actually almost died that night?

But… something wasn’t adding up. Even if Scott was that stupidly idealistic, Derek still knew how important Stiles was to him. He knew how much they cared for each other. Something about the entire thing seemed off to Derek, because no matter what Scott’s beliefs were, no matter what morals he had, Stiles’ safety overruled everything else. Derek knows this. He’s seen it.

“Stiles,” Derek said once Stiles calmed down enough that his sobs had quieted to hiccups. “Stiles, where did Scott get the wrench?”

He could feel Stiles’ eyebrows furrowing against his skin as he sniffed. “I don’t—what? I—I don’t know. He just had it. With him.”

Derek thought that sounded suspect already. “Did you tell him how Donovan died?”

Stiles pulled back a little, wiping at his face with a sleeve of his hoodie. “No, he just knew. What’re you—” But Derek shook his head and cut him off. “Stiles, think about it. How could have Scott found out about what happened with Donovan when he wasn’t there and you never told anyone?” The pained look in Stiles’ eyes began to fade as the gears began to turn in his head. “I know things didn’t go well between you two last night. And I know I haven’t known Scott as long as you have. But if there’s one thing about Scott that’s always been clear to me since the day I met you both, it’s how much you mean to him.”

Stiles was looking at Derek with wide, reddened eyes.

“He would never think that you dying is less important than saving the life of whoever’s trying to kill you. Never. The only way he could have known about Donovan is if someone told him, and someone obviously told him a different story,” Derek said seriously. He leaned in. “Who was the only other person there with you that night?”

Stiles looked down for a moment, eyes clear and focused, before he gave a loud exhale and closed his eyes. His mouth was a thin, angry line. “That son of a bitch,” he whispered furiously.

“That’s what I thought,” Derek said, his hand sliding down to squeeze the back of Stiles’ neck comfortingly. “This Theo kid is manipulating all of you, and it’s working, but you know it now, so you can fix it. I’ll even help you beat the shit out of him for free for all the trouble he’s causing.” Derek squeezed Stiles’ neck again until their eyes met. “Stiles, listen to me: you are Not. Losing. Scott,” he said firmly.

Stiles sobbed out a laugh and threw his arms around Derek’s neck, drawing him back into a tight hug. “God you shit. When the hell did you get so good at pep talks?”

Derek smiled before he could help himself. “I give great pep talks, you’re just never around when I do.”

Stiles loosened his grip after a few moments, but didn’t let go. They sat in silence until Stiles finally ventured a question, voice small. “But why… why did he believe Theo?”

Derek wished he had an answer for that. He really did. Just to keep that resigned tone out of Stiles’ voice. “I don’t know,” he breathed quietly into Stiles’ hair. “But I can hold him down while you punch him in the face for it. And then you two can hug it out like you always do.”

They both knew that it was probably going to take a lot more than that for Scott and Stiles to ever get back to the same level of friendship they used to have. Not when trust was lost so fully on both sides. But Stiles hitched a laugh into Derek’s neck anyway.

After another pause, Stiles sighed and tightened his arms again. “Thanks for… for coming back. I know you hate being in this hellhole after everything that’s happened to you here—and, fuck, I don’t blame you at all—but you came back. You came back when I called and… it means a lot. To—to—it just means a lot, okay? A whole freakin’ lot. So thank you.”

Derek tightened his arms right back. “I’d always come back for you,” he said softly, because it’s true, and he owed it to Stiles to be honest. Especially about this. Derek has owed him since the kid held him up in a pool for two hours when he had the choice to let go. Stiles always had the choice to let Derek go, and even when he takes it, he always comes back. He’s the only one who always has.

Derek is the one holding him up now, but it’s not just to return the favor. If this had been three years ago, maybe it would have been, but it’s not anymore. Not now. Not at this point.

Stiles sniffled a chuckle. “God, you can’t just say things like that. You could have just said ‘I missed you, Stiles’ and left it there, but no. Now I’m feeling all fuzzy and it’s your fault, freakin’ sappywolf” Derek rolled his eyes and huffed.

“Alright then,” he said, tone fond despite himself. “I missed you, Stiles.”

A pause.

"I missed you too," Stiles replied quietly. And then, because he's Stiles, he adds: "Asshole."

Derek gets it all the same.