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Even the stars they burn

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“Why do I always end up ––" Every word is accompanied by a useless tug at the beam of reinforced steel crushing Derek’s leg, “–– being the one who has to save your sourpuss ass.” Stiles huffs, wipes his forehead with the back of his hand leaving a trail of dirt behind, and sits back on his heels. “I can’t shift it without your help man, you’re gonna have to move.”

“Don’t you think I would have if I could, you idiot,” Derek hisses between his teeth. He can feel the bones of his calf grind together as he twists and it hurts like hell.

“Well, this idiot’s trying to prevent you from being killed, sawn in half and buried in pieces so maybe you can be a bit nicer, huh, what do you think? Can you even do that? Be nice? Or is that against werewolf code or whatever. Erica sure used to be a lot nicer when ––“

“Just shut up,” Derek says, “and come on my side so we can both push.” Stiles looks like he’s going to start out on another tirade and it’s more than Derek can stand right now, so he stretches his mouth in a wide, fake grin, and adds, “Be a dear.”

Stiles’ mouth drops open but no sound comes out, he’s just staring at Derek in silence. Oh, Derek thinks, I’m filing that piece of knowledge away for later. “Come on,” he says, “I can hear footsteps.”

That gets Stiles to move. He jumps over the beam, puts both his hands right next to Derek, glances at him for confirmation and then bracing himself says, “One, two, three.” Together they shove and the beam moves enough for Derek to pull his leg free. It begins to heal instantly but it won’t be in time before the hunters get there.

“Help me,” Derek says. Stiles stares at him for a beat and then hauls Derek up, wrapping an arm around his waist, tugging Derek’s over his shoulder. He smells of adrenalin and fading fear now that they’ve gotten Scott, hopefully well on his way to Derek’s warehouse, out of there. There’s something else too, a scent lingering just beneath Stiles’ skin, but Derek has no time to define it. The footsteps are close, and he jerks his chin toward the exit of the abandoned lumberyard, trying to lean on Stiles and drag him away at the same time. He’s still quiet, and Derek thanks his stars that Stiles understands the need for stealth for once.

“You’re gonna have to drive,” Derek tells him, fishing his keys out of his pocket when they reach the Camaro. He rolls his eyes when Stiles face lights up.

“Really? You’re going to let me drive,” he pauses, runs a reverent hand over the roof, “her?”

“… Her.” Derek says like he can't quite believe it. He has to scowl all the harder to suppress his grin. If Stiles found out Derek has an actual sense of humor, he’d probably be subjected to bad puns and obscure culture references until his ears bled. “One scratch and I will––“

“Rip my throat out with your teeth, yeah, yeah,” Stiles says, taking the keys and opening the door so he can lower Derek into the passenger seat, carefully helping him lift his mangled leg. It wasn’t what Derek was going to say but he doesn’t correct him.

He shouldn’t be so surprised really, that Stiles is a fantastic driver. Not with a cop for a dad. His movements are precise and swift, shifting through the gears with a fluidity even Derek doesn’t quite manage. If they were the kind of friends Derek had in a past life where he did things like taking a car for a spin, he’d tell Stiles she’s purring beneath his hands.

Stiles drives fast but is in control the entire time, and as soon as they slot into traffic, he slows to only slightly over the speed limit but never enough to attract attention. He weaves in and out of lanes, takes so many side streets and detours that even Derek doesn’t know where they’re going after a while.

“Where are we going?” he asks, because he has no choice, even though Stiles’ smug face sets his teeth on edge.

“Home,” says Stiles brightly.

“Home,” Derek repeats because he can’t believe he’d almost grudgingly acknowledged Stiles might just have a brain after all.

“Yup. Dad’s out of town for some cop conference until tomorrow night, the garage is empty so we can park my baby there, and you can spend the night healing on the couch. I’ll even make you dinner if you’re good and restrain yourself from marking every corner of the house.” Stiles checks his rearview mirror, his left mirror and over his shoulder before changing lanes. Derek doesn’t know which part of that sentence should outrage him more, but he knows commenting on the last bit would just be rising to the bait, so instead he pops the holder for his sunglasses, shoves them over his eyes and says,

“Oh, I’ll be good, honey.”

Stiles doesn’t say a word for the rest of the ride which, in Derek’s opinion, equals mission accomplished and he spends it doing his best not passing out while his bones knit together beneath his skin.

//

“Define lost,” Stiles says and Derek has to suppress the overwhelming need to throw himself on the ground and have a full blown tantrum.

“As in you can’t hand it over to me within the next five seconds,” Derek says. He allows his eyes to glow red because jesus christ. Stiles doesn’t look afraid, doesn’t even step back when Derek crowds his space, just looks wide-eyed and guilty.

“Well, yes, then, that, that would definitely mean I lost the USB stick. But I can find it again,” he adds in a hurry, “I probably dropped it in school somewhere. No big.”

“In school. Where Gerard Argent is now headmaster.”

“Um,” Stiles says. “Yes. Yes, that school. But in my defense, it’s passworded and encrypted and unless they know the entire dialogue of the first Star Wars movie, the real first one, they won’t break it and another thing in my defense, why did you want me to put all those addresses on a USB if they’re all so sensitive? I mean that’s just plain stupid. You want something to be safe these days, you put it on paper and you shred it when you’re done. Just look at Grandpa Argent and his bestiary. All we needed was superwolfy hearing and someone who could read Latin, and boom, secrets unraveled.”

“Just get it back,” Derek interrupts him and when Stiles opens his mouth for more useless babble, Derek adds, “babe.” Stiles’ mouth stays open and blissfully silent and this time Derek can’t stop the smile. It’s just too good. He lets it stretch while he watches Stiles swallow hard. That scent is back, the one he couldn’t identify at the lumberyard. He still doesn’t know what it is, it’s not something he’s come across before so he writes it off as embarrassment of the Stiles kind and turns on his heels.

Stiles has the USB back that same night. He’d left it in his locker and Derek is waiting in Stiles’ bedroom fifteen minutes after he received the text. “Decode it,” he says, before Stiles has a chance to assault Derek’s brain with more babble, “print it out and destroy the USB.”

“Are you shitting me?” Stiles says. He’s almost yelling and Derek thinks it’s the first time he’s smelled just below the surface simmering anger on him. He looks tired. “After all the time I put into this in the first place? Oh my god.”

“You were right. I was wrong,” Derek says. He stretches out on Stiles’ bed –– which, fuck, is really comfortable –– with his legs crossed at the ankle, hands tucked beneath his head. “Does that make you feel better?”

“If you call me sunshine, maybe,” he mumbles, turning away, clearly forgetting about werewolf senses. He slams the USB down on his desk and Derek waits until he turns around again.

“Does that make you feel better, sunshine?” Derek asks, and god, he can’t remember the last time he’s done so much smiling.

It’s nice.

“Can I at least have a shower?” Stiles demands, trying his very best to ignore Derek but his pink blotched cheeks betray him. “Breaking into schools makes me sweat, okay? I seriously reek.” He drops his backpack and begins to rummage through the wreckage that is his walk-in.

You don’t reek, Derek wants to say. You smell of you, unconcealed by soap and deodorant. Pure. He doesn’t though, because the thought leaves him unsettled.

“You all right?” Stiles asks, emerging with a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, towel slung over his shoulder. “You’re being very quiet. I thought we’d gotten past the broody glowering, and I kind of liked it. Or is it your time of the month already?”

Derek snarls and Stiles smiles at him happily before sauntering off to the bathroom, as if that response is perfectly acceptable. It feels like they’re doing some sort of dance here, only Derek hasn’t figured out yet whether it’s contemporary or classic.

“Derek?”

“Mm.”

“Derek. You’re asleep. In my bed.”

“No’nymore,” he mumbles against the pillow, rubbing his face in it, tucking it closer to him as he does.

“No,” Stiles says, and he smells … troubled? Derek lifts his head and blinks up at him. “You were out, man,” Stiles says, eyes wide. He has a hand on Derek’s shoulder, and wow, he didn’t even feel that. “I mean, I managed to just walk in here and you didn’t move.” His hair’s wet and his t-shirt sticks to him in places he didn’t dry off properly. Stiles just got out of the shower so Derek couldn’t have been asleep for more than ten or fifteen minutes, maximum. It’s worrying. Stiles’ eyes narrow in a way that makes Derek want to jump up and right out of the window. “When’s the last time you’ve slept in an actual bed?”

Derek’s defenses are down so he doesn’t suppress the groan in time. He drops his head into the pillow. That’s the last time he’s ignoring his instincts.

“Answer me,” Stiles says. The muscles in Derek’s shoulders tense and Stiles has got to feel it but he doesn’t move. It’s insane; the wolf in him wants to obey.

“Not since I left New York.”

Stiles is quiet for so long, Derek looks up at him. He blinks, hiding an expression Derek can’t decipher. His heart is beating faster than normal and he smells distressed. “Well,” he says, lifting his chin. “Thanks to you I’ve got a few hours of work to do, so go ahead.” He straightens, looks at Derek as if he wants to say more but just turns and drops down behind his computer to extract the addresses off the USB.

Derek really should get up. He really should leave and not come back until he absolutely has to. The wolf in him snarls at the thought, so he just burrows into the pillows again, lets the sleep thick scent of Stiles envelop him, mumbles, “Whatever you say, sweetie,” even though he thinks Stiles can’t hear him, and falls asleep.

//

“Stiles I’m off to work. Don’t forget your dentist appointment after school okay?”

Derek is up in one swift move, crouched over Stiles and facing the door, a growl rumbling in his chest as his nails and teeth lengthen. Protect, is his only thought.

“Stiles?”

“Okay dad, yeah sure, I won’t forget, have a good day. Um. Yeah. Bye!” Stiles’ voice is high and his heart beats out a rabbit pace. He’s got Derek’s t-shirt in a death grip as if that could stop him from pouncing at the door. He keeps tugging though, until Derek drops his head and looks at him under his arm.

He winces. Shit.

Sorry, he mouths. Stiles heaves a great big breath full of relief and releases him. He’s rubbing at his face, looks like he’s torn between hysterical laughter and crying.

“What the shit, Derek,” he says when they both hear the door fall shut downstairs. “What was that?”

Derek straightens, doesn’t know what to say to that. Or no, that’s not true. He doesn’t want to say the things he could. So he leaves with the one swift leap out of the window he should’ve taken yesterday. All the way home he can feel where Stiles had been plastered against his back.

He’s all prepared for a few awkward days, is fully on board with the plan of ignoring Stiles until the unsettling feeling in his stomach goes away and then slip into his room again like nothing happened. He should’ve anticipated Stiles would screw all that up when his phone rings.

“Derek,” Stiles hisses, “what were those addresses for?”

“Stiles," Derek begins, scrolling through news sites absently. None of the unsolved murders in three states have anything in common unless you know what to look for. "I’m really not gonna––" but Stiles barrels on like Derek’s on mute.

“No, this is clearly my fault because I didn’t even question. You just have to show up and it’s like I lose all reason and then with the pet names and for fuck sake, Derek whatever they were, they want them.”

Derek turns his chair away from the library computer and faces the window. “What.” His mouth feels dry, suddenly, and his brain is already conjuring up all sorts of different ways Stiles could’ve meant that.

“Yeah. They want them and, I, shit, shit, someone’s coming, whatever you do, keep my dad out of this, I’m in the basem––" The line goes dead.

It takes Derek no time at all to track him down. Derek doesn’t know exactly what happened between Peter and Stiles, but he knows enough to go find the Danny kid and make him search for the GPS in Stiles’ phone. It’s all too easy but it’s not like he has any choice.

“Call Jackson and tell him to meet me there with the others,” he says to Danny, who’d been a bit bug-eyed to see ‘Miguel’ show up at his doorstep, but who asked surprisingly few questions. Derek thinks he knows more than he lets on, because there’s an air of nervousness around him but he never hesitates for a second. He just nods, says, “Consider it done,” and Derek takes a moment to lament the fact that the only people who follow his orders aren’t in his Pack.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Stiles is babbling when he sees Derek break into the storage building’s basement. “It’s a trap, I should’ve known they wouldn’t be stupid enough to let me keep my phone.”

“Of course it’s a trap,” Derek says with a calm he doesn’t feel because Stiles smells like he’s on the verge of shock and Derek inhales the anxiety until it thrums in his veins. The air in the basement is stale and thick with the scent of Stiles’ blood. There isn’t much light but it’s enough for Derek’s heightened vision to see blood dripping from his nose and lip, and a crossbow bolt sticking out from his leg. He’s got his fingers pressed around it and his entire body is shaking. It’s expertly aimed. Away from the major artery that runs from his groin down, away from the bone to avoid permanent injury, through the thick of the flesh. Maximum pain for minimum damage. It goes in one side and comes out the other, so Derek won’t even be able to pull it out. It’ll slow down their escape. Whoever did this, planned it well.

Derek stays where he is no matter how badly he wants to crouch down beside Stiles, gather him up and protect him from a world he shouldn’t have been part of to begin with.

“You need to get out of here, Derek,” Stiles whispers, his voice suddenly steady. “I’m just a tool. They got a copy of the USB when I left it in school and fuck, fuck, I am so stupid. I knew I hadn’t left it in my locker. They need me to decode it, so they won’t kill me. You need to go, call my dad, the police, and go. It’s me they want, you can still leave.”

He's right. They wont kill him, not until they’ve got what they need. They have a lot more persuasive methods up their sleeves than an arrow in the leg though. Derek knows that first hand. He slowly lifts his head to the tiny red dot in the corner and says, “That’s where you’re wrong, Stiles.”

As if on cue, Gerard Argent walks in, a pleasant smile on his face that is just plain creepy, and flicks on the bright LED lights. They momentarily blind Derek but he stays absolutely still, doesn’t blink until his pupils contract enough to see again. Gerard spreads his hands companionably as if he’s mildly surprised to have guests, but willing to roll with it. There’s a small crossbow hooked to his belt.

“Derek Hale,” he says. “At last.”

Stiles looks from Gerard to Derek and back again. “Wait,” he says, “it’s him you’ve wanted all along?” Derek wants to laugh at Stiles for being the only one not knowing that, to get to Derek, they go through Stiles.

Gerard looks down at Stiles who’s lying half crouched by his feet. “Well, of course,” he says, eyebrows rising. “Don’t get me wrong, a compiled list with the address of every Alpha in the United States is a precious gift I could never’ve hoped for. It’ll make me the most influential hunter on the continent.” Stiles turns to Derek and flails at him in disbelief, his entire body telling how stupid he thinks Derek is, really. Gerard goes on before he can start talking though, and Derek’s willing to count all his blessings right now. “He’s the reason both my daughter in law and my daughter are dead. So this, this is personal.”

“Your daughter didn’t die at my hands,” Derek says. He can hear the growl in his voice and for some reason that makes Stiles look terrified. He’s shaking his head minutely, mouthing something at Derek but he can’t make it out because his vision is swimming red. “I wish she had,” he goes on. “She deserved everything she got.”

“Is that so,” Gerard says and he’s too calm, too smug but Derek can’t think straight because the scent of burnt wood and flesh that haunts him in his dreams is there. “For putting down that nest of mutts of yours? They were abominations, you all are and I will make sure,” and here Gerard’s face twists into the mask of the psychopath he really is, “that every single one of your kind is destroyed.”

Derek snarls, lets his canines lengthen and flexes his hands by his hips to release the claws. He’s about to pounce when Stiles yells, “Derek, no!” which is the only reason he twists away from the bolt rushing for the center of his chest. He wouldn’t have bothered normally, would’ve just walked through it and ripped Gerard to pieces, but the wolf listens to Stiles. The arrow ends up high in his shoulder instead of near his heart and immediately his knees buckle.

“Idiot,” Stiles says softly and Gerard crouches down beside him.

“The boy’s right,” he says. “Wolfsbane in a lead casing, spreads on hard impact. Pity, it was my last one. I was aiming for your heart but this is even better. Now you’ll die slowly and the boy here can keep you company. Maybe he’ll be more cooperative afterwards.” He grips the bolt in Stiles’ leg and gives it a vicious twist. Stiles cries out and Derek howls but he can’t move more than a few inches before his arms give out.

“Stiles,” he pants when the door falls into lock and Gerard’s gone, “Stiles.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine, fuck, fuck, no I’m fine.” The scents of their blood mingle. “Derek, we need to get that arrow out of you,” Stiles says, but Derek’s already pulling it out. He curses and Stiles drags himself forward a bit to look. “There’s no wolfsbane left in the head,” he says. His eyes are wide and he looks so guilty and miserable, it makes something twist in Derek’s chest.

“If you hadn’t stopped me, I’d be dead already,” Derek tells him, wanting to make Stiles feel better. “And ––“ Derek grits his teeth, purposefully not looking at the camera. He isn’t sure it records sound too but he can’t take the risk.

“How long do you have?” Stiles asks and Derek sighs. He wants to lie but he has a feeling Stiles’d know.

“Not long. It’s much closer to my heart this time.” He hears Stiles swallow, and he looks up at him. He’s scanning the basement. “Don’t bother,” Derek says. “There’s no other wolfsbane here, I’d have smelled it before.”

“You didn’t smell it in the arr––“ Stiles breaks off and Derek whips his head around to glare at him.

“No,” he says, because he knows exactly what’s coming. “Stiles, don’t even––“

Stiles is twisting around, his face contorted in pain as he looks at the arrow sticking through his thigh.

“The head’s intact,” he says. “I need to find a lighter though, can you sniff out butane or something like that?” He begins to drag himself forward and Derek wants to reach out and grab his shoulder but Stiles is too far away and he’s already too weak. He can feel the poison spreading through his veins like a cold, itching burn. He just hopes the others are doing what they have to. As long as they get Stiles out, he doesn’t care.

Derek takes a second to let the meaning of that sink in. He smells it on himself, underneath the pain: affection. He won’t allow himself to call it anything else. “Stiles,” he says again, “you can still bleed out from a minor wound if you don’t get out of here fast enough. I won’t let you ––“

“Sorry buddy,” Stiles says from where he’s rummaging through a box. “I’m not part of your Pack,” and oh, the wolf doesn’t like that, “so you can’t boss me about. Bingo!”

He pulls out one of those long reach lighters and after searching some more, a tin plate. His face is pale and covered with a sheen of cold sweat by the time he’s dragged himself back to Derek’s side. He looks Derek straight in the eye and his breathing is grating and shallow. He’s bracing himself and Derek knows the prospect of pain must be so much worse when you know you’re not just going to heal in a few hours. Derek finds that he’s shaking his head, he’s saying, “No, Stiles, don’t.” Please, he wants to say. He didn’t notice his hand sliding over to cover Stiles’ until Stiles lifts it to his neck. Derek squeezes the soft flesh between his neck and shoulder because he knows there’s nothing he can do to stop him now.

Derek never looks away from him. Stiles’ one hand is a vice around Derek’s wrist and he never looks away either when he closes his other hand over the arrowhead sticking out of his leg behind him. He bites his lip until it splits again to hold in the shout as he yanks it out.

Stiles’ breath comes with harsh, painful whimpers and Derek pulls him in against his good shoulder, says, “Stiles,” and, “Shh,” and, “Love.”

“Don’t,” Stiles chokes out on a broken laugh, “don’t make fun of me, not now.”

I’m not, Derek wants to say but Stiles is already straightening and begins to dismantle the arrowhead with trembling and bloodied hands. It takes a little longer because of that to set fire to the dried wolfsbane but it’s maybe only a minute or so before Derek is pushing the ashes into his wound. He’s too distracted by Stiles lying on the ground, eyes closed, face relaxed with relief even as blood seeps from his leg, to even feel the pain.

It takes another minute to realize Stiles isn’t just resting his eyes, he’s passed out. “Shit,” Derek mutters. He presses his cheek against Stiles’ chest more to reassure himself that he can feel his heart beating than he needs to do it to hear it. It’s a slow pulse but a steady one. Derek wants to rub his nose in the soft material of the worn hoodie, wants to scent him and mark him so everyone knows to touch Stiles is to touch Derek. The feelings aren’t exactly sudden but they are incredibly overwhelming and Derek has no idea what to blame it on. Instead he sits up and very still, and listens. He hears water simmering down from a boil and someone stirring a cup. He hears the soft scrape of nails (Jackson) and a body hitting the floor, he hears someone trailing the perimeter of the building on all fours (Erica), he hears three bodies being dragged away to the woods (Boyd). Derek wonders where Isaac is when the door opens and Scott and Lydia walk in.

Scott runs over and tries to wake Stiles, so Derek turns to Lydia. “How many dead?” he asks and she smiles.

“None.” She holds up gloved hands dripping with something viscous. Derek sniffs the air and he can feel the paralyzing agent of Jackson’s venom in his lungs. It makes his nose itch.

“Isaac and Allison?”

“Allison stayed home. Plausible deniability in case this went wrong and Isaac stayed with the cars should we need a quick escape. Do you need a hand with Stiles?”

“I’ve got him,” Scott says. He has ripped a piece of his shirt and bound it above the bleeding wound and is levering Stiles in a fireman’s hold.

Derek desperately wants to growl and take Stiles from him. He doesn’t.

“Get Stiles seen to,” he says, “and everyone else home.” He hesitates on the threshold for barely a second. "Good work."

“What are you up to?” Scott asks but Derek’s already gone.

//

He’s on his way to the hospital elevators when Derek crosses the Sheriff in the hallway. The look they exchange is cautious but not hostile, so the police department must’ve called him already.

“Thank you,” Stiles’ dad says.

“Gerard Argent deserves to be locked up,” Derek says, voice carefully even.

“He does. And thanks to your tip-off he will be but that’s not what I meant. Stiles will be fine, thanks to you. So I owe you.” He goes to turn away and Derek doesn’t say that usually when Stiles isn't fine, it's because of Derek, but he doesn’t. The Sheriff is looking at him with an odd smile. “Come to dinner some day,” he says, and then he’s gone.

The Pack is in Stiles’ room, all staring at the bed, pretending they didn’t hear him coming from a mile away. “It worked,” he says as soon as he walks in and the tension oozes out of all of them all at once.

“Thank god,” Lydia says and Jackson squeezes her hand. They’re the first to leave. Erica and Isaac are next, and Danny grins at Derek when he walks past behind Boyd. Huh, Derek thinks, but he’s pleased.

“Come on, sweetheart, let’s go,” Allison says, the last to get up. Scott looks away from Stiles and smiles up at her like she hung the moon. The scent they leave behind is achingly familiar and claws the breath right out of Derek’s chest.

He closes his eyes and sighs. “You can stop pretending now, Stiles. They’re gone.”

“You knew I was awake?” Stiles asks. His voice is thick with sleep and painkillers. When Derek opens his eyes again, Stiles is looking at him slightly sheepishly. There’s a dark bruise on his left cheekbone from where they’d hit him and his lip is scabbed and puffy.

“All along.”

“So what worked?” Stiles asks, wincing as he levers himself up on his elbows and higher onto the bed. Derek’s fingers twitch with the need to reach out and help. He really wants to touch Stiles, because he’s not going to like what comes next and Derek honestly doesn't know if he'll have the chance again.

“We’ve been working on setting up Gerard Argent for weeks. He’s a psychopath and he needed to be stopped. The list with all the Alphas was fake, it was a ruse to peak his interest. I needed a way into his hideout so I could get my hands on his laptop.” He grins without humor. “Turns out Gerard Argent likes to keep lists. Of past and future victims. The police will be able to solve a whole bunch of murders after I called to let them know he’d kidnapped you and we were taking you to the hospital.”

Stiles gapes at him, looking not at all impressed and Derek wonders which bit his mind has snagged on. Whatever it is, all Derek wants is to wipe away that look of pure hurt on his face. “It was … fake?” he asks weakly. “All that work, and it was … why didn’t you tell me,” he demands. The wrinkle between his eyebrows becomes a groove and Derek can smell a wave of anger coming off him. “You should’ve told me. You should’ve trusted me.”

“I do trust you, Stiles, more than––“ Derek tries, but Stiles isn’t listening.

“I put so much time into that, do you have any idea how hard that was? And to keep up with homework and then you had me fetch it from school and ––“ He falls silent, his face twisting with something new. “Derek,” he says, nearly whispers. “Was I … bait?”

“What?” Derek asks, taken completely aback.

“Was I bait. Did you, did you use me to get to him. Tonight. Was that planned? Because if it was, I don’t think I ––" His voice gives out and he looks away, biting his lip and wincing when it reminds him of being split twice that day already. Stiles presses the back of his hand against his mouth but Derek hears the small, pained noise anyway. The overhead lights reflect wetly in his eyes.

“Of course not,” Derek says. “I had you encrypt it partially to keep you out of harm, yes, but also because it needed to be done. You were never supposed to lose the USB, Stiles. Remember that? That’s when you put yourself on Argent’s map. It wasn’t a hardship to figure out from there that the best way to me is through you.”

“Because I’m the weakest,” Stiles says, still not looking at him. Derek wants to shake him. Wants to roar, how can you not know, because he can smell it on himself. The want, the need, the desperate longing that deepens with every second he stands there. But Stiles isn’t a werewolf. He’s a human who thinks that means he’s less than everyone he spends nearly all his time with. It's the exact opposite because Stiles has no superhuman abilities, can't heal from injury within hours, and he steps into the line of danger anyway.

“Because you’re important to me,” Derek simply says. A quiet truth. Stiles looks over, eyes wide.

“You’re so different,” Stiles says, like it’s an admission. “Than from the beginning, I mean. I never expected you to be … nice.”

I wasn’t always like this, Derek wants to say. I used to babysit my little brother when my parents had a date night. I used to take Laura swimming in the lake during school holidays. I used to kick everyone’s asses at Risk after Christmas dinner, and once, when I was five, I got really drunk because I finished an entire glass of my dad’s beer thinking it was lemonade. He says none of that, wants to keep that for another time and place. Right now, he just wants to know if he’s right.

He leans forward in his hospital chair, bringing his face level with Stiles’. “All because of you, love.”

There it is again and this time he’s prepared for it. The scent of simple warmth and delight, like fresh baked bread.

“Stop that,” Stiles says, looking down at where his fingers are endlessly worrying at the hard sheets.

“Why,” Derek says, putting a hand over Stiles’ to keep him still. “You like it.”

“Don’t add embarrassment to the long list of my injuries, dude, that is so not cool.”

“I mean it,” Derek says. He’s silent until Stiles looks up, and then he says it again. “I mean it.”

“Oh,” Stiles hums and he begins to flush prettily. The scent rises in full force, in time with Stiles’ heartbeat and Derek feels his own pick up a pace when Stiles turns his palm and threads their fingers. The silence drags on and it doesn’t take long at all for Stiles to start fidgeting again. He lifts his eyes to Derek. “So, um, what now, because I don’t, I’ve never, I mean, is that even what you––"

Derek closes the rest of the distance between them and presses his forehead to Stiles’ temple, his free hand coming to rest gently against his neck. “I think it’s customary to kiss, now,” Derek says, smiling. “Unless you don’t want to.”

“No,” Stiles says hurriedly, pulling away a bit so he can look at Derek, “I’m very much on board with the idea. Of kissing.”

“I meant because your lip is split,” Derek says, his smile turning into a full blown grin because he can’t help it. Not around Stiles. It’s like he’s reached inside, right through the scar tissue where Derek’d been burned and found a beating heart there after all.

“I don’t mind,” Stiles says, voice turning gravely with want. “I want to, I mean, unless you do mind because that’s probably gross. You probably don’t want to kiss a scabbed mmmm––“

Derek leans in, gently takes Stiles injured lip between his teeth and presses his tongue against the cut. Stiles tenses briefly, his heartbeat skittering until it slows again and then he tilts his head into a proper kiss.

It’s heady and Stiles tastes too much of chemicals to be really good, but it’s the beginning of something, and it makes the wolf in Derek howl with pleasure, because it’s the first beginning in a very long time.