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Ghost Blanket and the Wolf

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The idea struck Stiles during what he called a Pack Meeting and what Derek less generously called We’re Having Pizza At Scott’s House Not Everything Is A Fucking Meeting Stiles. This particular one, though, had a special purpose, which he felt legitimized his stance on the matter. They were a week out from Halloween, and planning the evening’s festivities had been a total bust thus far. He therefore, quite reasonably, adapted Scott’s invitation to meet at his house for a marathon of truly atrocious werewolf movies, the aforementioned pizza, and some beer that Lydia’s older sister had agreed to buy for them. It was a perfect opportunity, after all, with the entire pack (or pack plus pack-adjacent - he still had trouble identifying where some of them fit in the group) gathered in one place.

They ended up, as everyone should have expected by this point, with a few bottles of “full-bodied” red wine (whatever the fuck that meant - thanks a lot Martin sisters) and a knock-down-drag-out fight about what to do on Halloween night.

Lydia’s offer to host a party made them all squirm until Allison gently reminded her how well her notorious birthday bash had gone. “I'm not going to drug anyone this time,” she said huffily, shooting a glare in Derek’s direction as though it was his fault for even being related to Peter Hale. He looked angry about it, which meant he was embarrassed and kind of agreed with her.

“There's a rave scheduled,” Erica said, from her comfortable perch in Boyd’s lap. He had his fingers tangled in her hair, his other arm wrapped around her waist, with that casual yet inoffensive PDA they couldn't seem to help engaging in. His mouth twisted in mild distaste at the idea - he and Derek tended to hang out on the edges of their wilder events, knocking back beers and making sure everyone else was alright, without directly participating - but he didn't otherwise object.

Isaac perked up. He was sprawled across a giant beanbag Scott had begged his mom to buy when he was about twelve (it'll fit me and Stiles! Then we won't spill things on the couch when we play Xbox!). With his long limbs and the beanbag’s tendency to suck bodies into it, leaving the poor souls struggling to free themselves, he looked, Stiles thought darkly, like a spider. Spindly and pale and one of his least favorite things. He wouldn't stomp on him or anything. Just carefully show him into the backyard, drop him into a prickly bush, and lock the door behind him.

Isaac loved Scott; Scott loved Isaac. They were epic bros. But Stiles was Scott’s best bro, and he never had done well in the schoolyard lessons about sharing. “It's mine,” he'd say, puzzled by the teachers trying to pry a particular toy out of his hands. “I play with it every day. I’m happy with this one - I don't want to try any of the others?”

Scott was his one Lifetime Buddy - the only kid he’d voluntarily handed his favorite toy off to, who’d nodded when Stiles dubbed them best friends, and loyally stuck to it.

Best friend is singular,” he muttered to himself. Fortunately, all of the wolves in the room were too busy dealing with Isaac and Erica, who'd agreed they wanted to go dancing in costume but were literally fighting about the location, to hear him.

All the wolves, with the exception of Derek, who always heard fucking everything. He hadn't moved from his awkward position by the back door, but his stupidly beautiful eyes were fixed on Stiles. He arched an eyebrow when Stiles made a face at him (which he promptly regretted - he might've had a glass too many of the wine).

He crawled over the back of the couch, briefly tangling his legs in the butt-ugly, scratchy throw Melissa’s grandmother had knitted and pawned off on them, and stumbled over to Derek. He suavely propped an arm against the wall, misjudged the distance, and gracefully recovered, with only mild flailing.

On the plus side, Derek’s expression had gotten less dour in the process.

“You look like a bouncer,” he informed him. Impossibly, Derek's eyes were prettier close up, which was a thing he'd noticed before, of course, but hadn't really let himself notice. It was true, even when they were narrowed suspiciously at him.

“You smell like you’re drunk,” he countered, which was both rude and beside the point.

“I have been drinking. That and drunk are two completely different things, which you would know if you were able to get even the slightest bit tipsy.” His tongue slurred slightly over the s’s, which probably didn’t help his argument, but it was hard to concentrate when Derek’s face was that close to his. “Why are you all the way over here. Are you guarding the door?”

Derek glanced at the living room, where Isaac was pulling Erica’s hair as she bit him.

“No teeth!” Scott was yelling, trying to separate them without endangering his own limbs. “My mom’s sick of getting blood out of the carpet!”

“The room seemed full,” he said. “I can see better from here.”

“You’re such a creeperwolf.” His voice sounded more fond than he’d meant it to, so he cleared his throat and shifted back to the important topic at hand. “No votes on our party?”

“I might be busy,” he said stiffly. He avoided eye contact, which only confirmed that he was lying; the fact that he was claiming to have plans was a clear enough falsehood.

“You?” Stiles scoffed. “Right.” He felt shitty about it as soon as the words left his mouth. Derek’s expression didn’t change, exactly, but it tightened into that unfeeling mask that he knew far too well. Back when he’d first been getting to know Derek, it’d made him want to punch him - occasionally with his mouth - but it’d slowly transitioned into something else. He wrapped his arms around his chest, tucking his treacherous hands under his armpits, and tried not to think about hugging Derek.

“Are you okay?” Derek asked after a bit. His voice was still gruff, but it was the tone that signaled he was hiding genuine concern, and doing a terrible job of it. “Your face is doing weird things. Weirder than usual.”

“Oh fuck you,” he said without any heat. “I’m thinking about my costume. It’s going to be fucking amazing. I’ve just decided.”

Derek tried to hold back the follow up question, which Stiles could have told him was a futile attempt. “And?” he prompted, sounding annoyed by his own curiosity. “What is it.”

“A surprise,” he said loftily. “You just wait, you and your fake-ass plans.”

“They’re not fake.” He shifted his feet a little and checked to be sure Erica was still gnawing at Isaac’s ribs while he yelped and tried to kick her. “I bought candy. I was going to hand it out.”

“To who?” Stiles gaped at him.

“There are housing developments around the loft. A few apartment buildings. Families with kids.”

“Parents don’t take kids up a dozen staircases in a building that looks, quite frankly, abandoned. Not unless you’re running a legit haunted house.”

“It’s not a dozen,” he said, as though that was the important piece to pick out. “I thought I might put a sign downstairs. Saying there’s candy.”

“Oh my god Derek. You can’t put a ‘hey kids, free candy’ sign out in front of that building and expect to not have the cops called on you. My dad has enough to deal with on Halloween.”

Derek was scowling again.

“Fuck, dude. You really want to do this, don’t you.”

He shrugged, as though his disappointment wasn’t positively seeping out of his pores.

“Okay, how about this. These assholes do whatever it is they decide on. You bring your candy over to my house, since my dad lives in an actual neighborhood with kids whose parents won’t drag them away in fear. Deal?”

“But this entire thing was your idea,” he said, scrunching his eyebrows at Stiles. Stiles wanted to touch them but manfully resisted. “They’re only fighting right now because you were the one who brought it up.”

“I sped up the inevitable, that’s all. And besides, I-” He stopped, biting his tongue before he could say I wanted to spend time with you. “Drinking, dancing, sweating all over strangers? Not that appealing. If you’re up for it, we could move everyone over to your loft for the afterparty, when they’re exhausted enough to not destroy everything.”

Derek stared at him with those stupid iridescent eyes, flicking his gaze from Stiles’s eyes to his mouth to his chest, then back up, checking to be sure he wasn’t fucking with him. It stung a little, but he got it. He had some disturbingly well-founded trust issues, and much of his hesitation was purely instinctive now, a self-protection layer that he couldn’t peel off that easily.

“Okay,” he said, once he was satisfied with his examination.

Stiles tried not to beam, but from the grudgingly pleased expression spreading over Derek’s face, he could tell he was failing pretty miserably.

“Your teeth are red,” Derek told him. “From the wine.”

“Not a thing you’re supposed to tell people when they can’t help it,” he pointed out, but licked a finger and scrubbed it over his teeth, then ran his tongue over them for good measure.

Derek’s attention was focused on the panting, bleeding wolfpile when he looked up again, having done as much as he could to wipe away the stains. Fucking wine. Even if it had been surprisingly delicious with the pizza.

“I think they reached an agreement,” he said.

“Scott looks like he might cry,” he agreed. “I’ll be back, I’m going to go tell him I’m abandoning him to those losers.” He clapped Derek on the shoulder as he went, wondering if he’d never noticed before that his ears shaded to a deeper pink at their tips.

It’d seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. Then again, most of Stiles’s plans did, until he actually had to sit down and put them into action.

***

Stiles, perhaps surprisingly, hadn’t been the most inventive child. He liked what he liked, and when he found it, he latched on and couldn’t be shaken loose.

The first Halloween he remembered outside of photographs, he was small enough to hang onto his dad’s hand as they walked around the neighborhood. They were scraping by, making ends meet from paycheck to paycheck - as a newer deputy in the department, his dad didn’t bring home a significant amount of money, and his mom had taken time off work to raise Stiles, and to deal with the budding headaches that could leave her out of commission for an entire day at a time. They weren’t poor, exactly, but Stiles was used to keeping his expectations low when it came to bringing home the latest and brightest - toys, clothes, electronics, and throwaway expenses like Halloween costumes.

That particular year, his mom had brought home swaths of discount fabric from the local crafting store, intending to sew their costumes. A week and a handful of debilitating migraines later, she sat Stiles down and asked him what he wanted to be, explaining it needed to be something simple, so she could finish it in time.

“It doesn’t matter, Momma,” he told her, with the sweet earnestness he’d only had at that age. “I just want you to be okay.”

In response, she’d pulled their warmest, softest blanket off the back of the couch, wrapped it around his wiggling limbs, and tacklehugged him. “You’re my little cuddlemonster,” she said, with a wetness in her voice that he didn’t connect to tears until years later.

He laughed and kicked and squirmed but hugged her back as well as he could through the heavy fabric.

“Blankets mean hugs, my baby,” she told him once they’d settled down, and she was smoothing his sweaty, unruly hair off his forehead, the blanket neatly folded and back in its proper place.

“I want to be a ghost,” he decided, inspired by this revelation. “Scott too. We’ll be hugmonster ghosts.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Let’s see what we can do about that.”

In the end, the fabric hadn’t quite worked - too shiny and flimsy, Stiles insisted, not something you could snuggle in - and she dug two soft fleece blankets out of a trunk that held spare sheets and some of his baby clothes.

“We only have one in grey,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to make one for you and Scott.”

“It’s okay,” he reassured her, feeling generous and wanting the worrylines forming around her mouth to go away. “I can be a yellow ghost. It’s scarier, anyway.”

She sewed two pouches to fit their hands at the front of each blanket, stitched on funny squiggly lines for their mouths, and finished it off with sheer black fabric for the eye holes. “Can you see through that?” she asked him, draping the blanket over his head.

It was perfect, like everything she made, and he yelled the most frightening ghost yell he could manage and dove at her, hugging her tightly around the waist until she dropped down on the floor to wrap her arms around him and rest her chin on the top of his fuzzy head.

“Blankets mean hugs,” he reminded her, and she shook with what felt like happiness, although her voice sounded strange again when she spoke.

“That it does, my darling ghostlet. You remember that, okay? Anytime you need a hug and feel like you can’t tell me, you just pull on that blanket and find me.”

“You too, Momma,” he said, and squeezed her harder. “I’m the best at hugs.”

He wore the ghost blanket every year from then on, sticking with the lemon yellow long after Scott had abandoned his in favor of newer and more exciting costumes.

When he was ten years old, he put the blanket away for good. The night of the funeral, he’d pulled it over his small black suit and curled under it on the floor of his closet, having what he didn’t realize at the time was his first panic attack. His chest hurt. His stomach felt like it’d been flipped inside out. He couldn’t breathe. He thought he was dying - like his mom, who’d tried so hard to squeeze his hand with her feeble fingers when he’d brought the blanket to the hospital.

His dad found him, picked him up, and held him close, until they’d both sobbed themselves dry. When he tried to layer the blanket over Stiles - too old to be tucked into bed, but wanting that comfort nonetheless, Stiles shook his head. He didn’t want to see it anymore. It hurt, in a terrible, clenching, hopeless way, like his mother was in the other room, hearing him call and turning her head away, refusing to come. He didn’t want to remember. Not like that.

“Okay, buddy,” his dad said, folding it into a sloppy clump and closing a drawer around it. “But if you want it again, it’ll be right here. And kiddo - I’ll be here, any time you need me.”

He turned his face to the wall, hearing his dad’s heavy sigh as he shut off the light and left the room.

***

“I may not have thought this through,” Stiles moaned, staring in dismay at the oversized fleece blanket with its lopsided attempts at hand pockets.

“It’s not too late to change your mind,” Scott said. He was sitting on Stiles’s bed, eating Cheetos, texting Allison, and not helping in the slightest.

“I don’t want to change my mind,” he growled, “I just want the damn thing to look right. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“Do you need the pockets? I don’t think we ever actually used ours. I mean, to hold our candy, I guess, but you won’t need to do that.”

“We’re handing out candy,” he said, ripping the stitches free and starting over.

“Derek could do that. I don’t understand why you’re so set on this, anyway. Wouldn’t you rather go with something where he can see your face?”

“Why?” He was only half-paying attention; if he moved the pockets up, they’d be at a more reasonable level, instead of somewhere around mid-thigh. The original version would’ve worked better for an orangutan, maybe.

“I mean, I know it works differently for everybody, and it’s not like you’ve ever been - conventional, I guess. But this costume doesn’t really send out the right signals, y’know?”

Stiles stared at him blankly. “No, Scott, I do not know. What the fuck are you talking about?”

Scott scratched his nose, dusting it with orange powder. “It’s not the most attractive costume. That’s all. If you’re trying to hook up with Derek tonight-”

“Oh my god what the fuck.” He jabbed the needle into his finger in shock, dropped it onto the floor, promptly stepped on it, and gave up, lying across his damn impossible blanket costume and clutching his bleeding hand to his chest.

Scott scooted to the edge of the bed so he could reach over to touch Stiles’s forehead. “You’re not even in pain, dude. Want me to find the needle?”

“No. I’ve got it. Embedded in my foot.” He sighed and rolled his head to meet Scott’s apologetic gaze. “What the hell though?”

“Isn’t that what this is? When you told us that you’re skipping the pack party night to hang out with Derek while your dad’s at work, we all figured...well, you do like him, right?”

“Well, yeah. But this isn’t some weird seduction plan. He wants a normal holiday. No hunters, no evil druids, no mysterious supernatural creatures crashing in and ruining his night. I figured...it’s something I could give him.”

“Okay. So why the old costume from when we were kids, then?”

“Uh,” he said, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden, as though Scott didn’t already know all of his worst secrets. “It’s - you know that blanket hug thing we used to do?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Oh. Oh.”

“The guy needs hugs. This way, it won’t be weird.”

“I really think you’re underestimating how much explaining this whole thing is going to take. But I believe in you, bro.” He held a fist out, and Stiles reached up to bump it.

“Thanks, dude. But actually - could you sniff out the needle? I think it fell out of my foot, and I’m afraid to move.”

***

It didn’t take that long to get Derek up to speed with the cuddleblanket’s magical properties. He showed up earlier than he was meant to, and Stiles clattered down the stairs, tripping over the edges of his costume, to find him awkwardly holding a paper bag out to his dad, who was poking through it like he was allowed to eat any of the candy bars.

“Stop stealing from the kids, Dad,” he remonstrated, and they both turned, his dad pushing the bag back toward Derek like he could hide the mini Snickers he’d been shoving into his uniform pockets. Their matching guilty expressions faded - Derek’s to confused amusement, and his dad’s to something stricken. Shit, he thought. He hadn’t thought through that part of it.

“Stiles,” his dad said, and he moved towards him, ignoring Derek for the moment so he could throw blanket-covered arms around his dad.

“Blankets mean hugs, Dad,” he muttered, his voice thick.

“Aw hell, kid.” He thumped him on the back and moved away, wiping at his eyes. “There was a bag of peanut M&Ms in there, son. I think I just earned them.”

When Derek didn’t respond, his dad held out his hand. “C’mon, hand it over. Stiles will forgive me this once.”

“Oh,” he said, flushing at the realization that the Sheriff had been addressing him. He fumbled at the sack, drawing out two yellow bags of candy.

His dad stuck one in his shirt pocket and ripped the other open, shaking a couple M&Ms into his mouth. “I won’t be home until the morning,” he said, crunching the chocolate with far too much enjoyment. “You two be good, you hear?”

“Be safe, Dad.”

“Love you, kiddo. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Once the door had clicked behind him, Derek cleared his throat and hefted the bag in Stiles’s general direction. “Where should I put this?”

“I’ve got a bowl,” he said, trying to spin in place to find it. The costume didn’t have the best peripheral vision, and he lost balance momentarily. Derek was at his side before he knew it, a steady hand at his elbow.

“I’ll get it. The hospital’s already too crowded on Halloween.”

“Funny.” He grinned, though, behind the safety of his blanket, then remembered Derek could probably hear it in his heartbeat or smell his chemosignals or whatever it was wolves did with their supersenses. Fuck.

He’d ended up cutting basic round holes in the blanket so he could see through it, giving up on making it a total work of art, but the advantage was that his vision was unimpeded - as long as he was looking at something directly ahead of him. He stood, wringing his hands nervously, as Derek meticulously arranged the candy into the bright orange bowl he’d helped his parents pick out a dozen years earlier.

“Do you have a place you normally keep it?” he asked when he was done. He looked calm, relaxed, wearing that damn burgundy thumbhole sweater that he only pulled out when he wanted to make Stiles stumble over his tongue. Or so it felt to him, anyway. He had wanted a normal night, he realized, and he felt a fierce spike of anger over the years Derek had lost to tragedies over which he’d had no control.

“Stick it on the stand by the door,” he said, then followed so that Derek nearly bumped into him when he set the bowl down and turned around.

“Oh,” Derek said. “Hi.” He didn’t move back, which Stiles felt was enough of an invitation.

“The thing you should know about this costume,” he explained, “is that it’s an unbreakable Stilinski tradition. When you’re wearing the ghost blanket, it’s basically a cuddle on demand deal.”

Derek’s ridiculous eyes seemed greener tonight, somehow, and he got caught up in them for longer than he should have. He swallowed, hard, his skin prickling all over with nerves and the realization that Derek hadn’t looked away, either.

“So what does that mean,” he breathed, sounding more interested than Stiles could’ve possibly expected.

“If you’re okay with it, I’m going to periodically hug you. Just for tonight. With. You know. This blanket.” He gestured to better convey his meaning, but the movement wasn’t quite as effective or expansive as usual, sheathed under layers of fabric.

“I see,” Derek said. His lips had curved up, though, and his body hadn’t tensed in preparation to flee the moment Stiles moved closer. His arms did lift when Stiles thumped his body against his, but only to, after a moment of hesitation, gently wrap around Stiles’s shoulders.

Hugging through a blanket wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined first touching Derek like this, but thinking about the tracks his imagination had taken him down was not a great idea when their bodies were this closely aligned.

He considered the family- or bro-appropriate backslap, which signaled that everything was cool and casual, but he had a new spark of bravery swimming through his veins, and he let himself linger, releasing Derek without turning it into something that - well, it wasn’t casual, not for him.

“It’s a tradition,” he repeated, feeling nervous again, and a bit like a dork who’d thought it made sense to wear a blanket over his head and throw himself at the guy he’d been half in love with for years. “It means you can hug people without it being weird.”

“It’s pretty weird,” Derek said. “You’re pretty weird.” He grinned, with a hint of dimples Stiles had never seen before, and his heart tripped over itself.

The doorbell rang, and they both jumped, Derek looking sheepish about it. He picked up the bowl again and reached for the door, but Stiles stopped him.

“Wait, you’re not even wearing a costume. What the hell, dude, it’s Halloween. You can’t answer like that.”

Derek gave him a look that reminded Stiles far too much of his scorchingly hot and infuriating early Alpha days, when he was still riding high on the unfamiliar rush of power, mixed with fearing-for-your-life-in-every-moment adrenaline. His eyes flared red, and he cracked his neck, his fangs dropping with a low snarl. “I brought my own.”

With that, he clicked the lock on the door and greeted the clump of brightly-costumed kids, who piped out, “Trick or treat!” in high, eager voices and thrust their pumpkin-shaped baskets at him.

“You look great,” Derek said, enunciating more carefully than usual through a mouthful of sharp teeth. “Here you go, ghost, goblin - Iron Man?”

“Iron Woman,” the little girl said, her chin held high.

“I’m sorry. Iron Woman, chocolates for you, too.”

“Thank you!” they said in chorus, then skipped down the driveway to their parents, who didn’t bat an eye at a shifted werewolf interacting with their children. It was probably the only time of year Derek could walk around as he truly was, without people trying to chase him with modern day versions of pitchforks. No wonder the holiday appealed to him.

Fuck, you’re cute with kids, Stiles thought. It wasn’t something he’d ever expected to see, but it made sense: Derek had been from a huge family, and had probably been around an assortment of kids his entire life. Until - well, until he’d lost every one of them, all in one horrible blow. Impulsively, he toppled forward to hug him again, trying to squeeze his conflicted feelings - sympathy, comfort, respect - into his bones, and Derek huffed out a surprised breath as he was shutting the door.

“This is going to happen all night, isn’t it.”

“It really is,” Stiles confirmed.

***

By the end of the night - or, at least, the blissful portion that was their only occasionally interrupted time alone together - Derek had essentially stopped reacting when Stiles draped himself over him. He was lying on the couch, not really watching the movie they’d queued up on Netflix, calmly eating handfuls of caramel corn like he hung out in Stiles’s house every day. Stiles returned from the kitchen with a couple of sodas, set them down on the coffee table, and flopped on top of Derek.

Derek grunted but braced an arm around him to keep him from falling off the couch. It was probably self-preservation, too, since Stiles was likely to take him with him in the inevitable limb-flail.

“Want some?” he asked, nudging the bowl.

Stiles sighed into his warm, unfairly firm chest. “More things I did not consider when covering my entire body in fabric.”

“You brought two drinks. How the hell were you planning on drinking yours, or are you trying to dose me with extra sugar?”

“With a straw? Through...an eyehole?”

“You’re an idiot. Why don’t we just cut a spot for your mouth so your stomach stops growling at me. I’ve been hearing it for an hour.”

“Scissors are upstairs,” he said. “Or in the other room. I don’t know. I don’t feel like moving.”

Derek popped his claws out.

“Oh fuck, or that. Please don’t cut my face.”

“Please,” Derek scoffed. “Some of us mastered the ability to control our bodies without injuring everyone around us. I realize this is a foreign concept to you.”

“Fuck off,” he said, but propped his chin on Derek’s chest so he could carefully slice through the blanket, his claws tearing it in a jagged line that freed his lips. “Thank god,” he breathed, wiggling his mouth a few inches from Derek’s face, reveling in the sweet brush of blessed air on his skin again. “This will make it so much easier to talk.”

“Regretting it now,” Derek said, but Stiles tried to grab at the popcorn bowl before he could think of a way to tape his mouth hole back shut. Besides, it wasn’t like Derek meant it. They’d spent most of the evening talking, with an easy, balanced flow. It was all legitimately terrible, and he couldn’t bear the notion of returning to their everyday life, where he couldn’t tangle himself around Derek at a moment’s notice.

“You’re like a sloth,” Derek added absently.

“Slow moving and lazy? I don’t think that’s accurate.”

“Big-eyed and clingy.” He gave in to Stiles’s pitiful looks and dipped his hand into the bowl. Holding out a few pieces of caramel corn, he let Stiles eat directly from his fingers. It was an awkward angle and wasn’t as easy as it sounded - Stiles had to swipe his tongue between Derek’s fingers to catch a falling kernel, and Derek shivered and abruptly shifted his leg, kneeing Stiles painfully in the hip.

“Fucking ow, man. Careful with that thing.”

Derek was turning an intriguing shade of pink, but he simply held out another handful.

Stiles was still contently chewing, the bowl nearly empty, seriously contemplating whether he could get away with falling asleep on top of Derek, when Derek jerked suddenly, his head tilting to the side.

“More trick or treaters?” he mumbled, his eyes drooping. Between the blanket and the heat of Derek’s body, he was warmer and cozier than he’d probably been in his entire life. “I thought they’d stopped for the night. S’getting late.”

“No,” he said, listening more intently. “Erica. Dammit, I forgot - where’s your phone?”

“Upstairs? Where’s yours?”

“Uh,” he said. “I think it might be in my car.”

“Well.” He nuzzled Derek once more, for good measure, while he still could, then lifted himself away, stretching his tired limbs. “Good job, us. That’s the sound of an avenging werewolf come to chew us out for not meeting them at the loft. I’m surprised they didn’t go ahead and break in.”

“I’m sure they did.” He grimaced, probably at the thought of replacing the locks on his doors yet again. “Erica’s here to collect us.”

He groaned, but the fact that Derek sounded equally disappointed by their night drawing to a close made it come out happier than it should have, under the circumstances.

He trailed to the front door, opening it as Erica was preparing to hammer on it with a clenched fist.

“Good,” she said. “I didn’t want to break a nail on your door. Everyone’s looking for you, and I lost the ‘who has to go fetch the dumb bastards’ draw.”

“You love us,” Stiles said, diving at her.

She screeched, her claws pricking at him through the heavy blanket. “What are you doing!”

“It’s my costume,” he explained as she relaxed into his irresistible hug. She smelled like smoke and sweat, and he was glad to see her, even if she had interrupted the best night he’d had in his entire adult life. “Free hugs ghost blanket. Cuddle monster. Thing.”

“Very creative.” She squeezed him back, then pinched him. “No ulterior motives at all, I bet. Get moving, I’m missing the party.”

“You’ve been at a party all night,” he said. “You look amazing, by the way. Wonder Woman, very nice. I’m sure Boyd is an insanely sexy Superman. Where are my shoes.”

“Fuck your shoes,” she retorted, but Derek appeared before she could launch into any threats, dropping a pair of slip-on loafers he only vaguely remembered buying during his ill-advised Impress Lydia At All Costs phase.

“Those should be easier to put on,” Derek said, then growled at Erica when she took his keys from him.

“You’re both coming with me. Who knows where you’ll end up if I let you wander off on your own. You can pick up your car tomorrow.”

“How am I supposed to get home,” Stiles complained, nodding at Derek in thanks when he offered his arm so Stiles could manage the right leverage to slip his feet into his shoes.

“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue,” she said. “Asses in the car. Now.”

“You picked the worst people to bite,” Stiles told Derek, not remotely meaning it. “Wait, did we turn off the tv?”

“I got it. I’ll get the door, too, don’t worry about it.”

“You’re sickening,” Erica said, addressing both of them, but she guided Stiles along the path to her car, making sure that he didn’t trip or drag his blanket through too many bushes.

***

The advantage of living in a more-or-less abandoned building was that no one complained when they cranked up the music and turned on a strobe light that Isaac had found who knows where. Stiles lost himself in the flow, making sure he hugged everyone in the room and danced with each of them in turn. Except Isaac, obviously. Fuck Isaac. Fortunately, he was distracted by a curvy, beautiful girl he’d found at the rave, who fit into the group frighteningly well and had returned with them for the afterparty.

“Supernatural creature?” Stiles asked, sidling up to Derek, who’d gone back to hanging at the edges of the action.

“No,” Boyd answered. After some fairly indecent dance floor grinding with Erica, he’d, predictably, taken the seat next to Derek and kicked up his feet on the ottoman. Erica was dancing with Lydia now, which would have ordinarily been an incredibly appealing sight, but. He looked at Derek again.

“Human, as far as I can tell,” Derek filled in. “Not ruffled by people who aren’t quite the same. Sounds like someone we know.”

“Erica was right,” Boyd sighed, dropping his legs off the ottoman and heaving himself to his feet. Stiles obligingly dropped into his vacated spot and nudged his shoulder into Derek’s until Derek’s arm curved around him.

“They like having you around,” he said after he’d grown languid and sleepy again. “They’re pretty much all assholes. Except Scott. So they don’t show it. But that’s why they dragged you all the way back here instead of leaving it at breaking in and using your place.”

Derek remained silent, for long enough that Stiles figured he didn’t plan to answer.

“I know,” he said eventually, shaking Stiles out of a heavy-eyed daze. “It’s not that. I worry about losing them.”

Erica and Boyd, he thought. It’d been close. Too close, and Derek still acted like all the blame would’ve rested on his shoulders if they hadn’t reached them in time.

“They’re fine,” he said, leaning harder into Derek, to ground him with his weight. “You’re beating yourself up for something that didn’t even happen. You’ve gotta let it go.”

“They’re my responsibility.”

“They’re your pack. Hell, they’re your friends. Your family. You take care of them, but we all take care of each other. It’s not all on you. You don’t have to stand around like a scowly bodyguard and wait for the ceiling to fall in.”

“I have no desire to dance,” he added, as though that was the next line of attack.

Stiles snorted. “Believe me, I gathered as much. You don’t have to, big guy. Be yourself, that’s all anyone expects. Or wants.”

“Including you?” Derek asked, looking down at him.

“Especially me.”

“Okay, I’m out of here,” Erica said, leaning over the couch behind them to flick Derek on the ear and Stiles on the top of his blanketed head. “If you want a ride, this is your last chance.”

Stiles twisted to look around. The loft had cleared out; Boyd was moving Derek’s few pieces of furniture back into place, but everyone else was long gone. “Fuck, how late is it?”

“You don’t want to know. Put it this way, your dad will probably be home from his shift soon.”

He extricated himself from Derek and stood up, pulling the blanket over his head. “God, that thing’s hot.” He flapped his shirt away from his sweaty body with one hand and yawned and stretched with the other arm. When he reopened his eyes, Erica and Derek were in the midst of an elaborate eyebrow conversation, which Erica seemed to be winning.

“You can stay,” Derek said, huffing and pushing her smirking face away. “If you want. I can get my car tomorrow and drive you home.”

“That might be easier,” he admitted, his jaw cracking open in another yawn. “I’m ready to pass out right now - one of you would have to carry me down the stairs.”

“Not it,” Erica said, clacking her way to Boyd’s side. She linked their hands together and gave them a fingerwave from the doorway. “See you later, losers.”

“I guess that decides that,” he said, turning back to Derek, who drew his hand back as though he’d been caught doing something embarrassing. Like touching the blanket Stiles had dropped onto the couch?

“It’s yours,” he said, not knowing until that moment that everything had been leading up to this gift. He’d demonstrated its powers - the shields that could drop when you wrapped yourself in an invitation to your loved ones - and now it was Derek’s turn to use it as he wished. “Remember, it’s a free pass. Anytime you need a hug, you don’t have to say anything. Just put the blanket on.”

Derek stared up at him, his eyes silver-grey in the moonlight. He stood, his fingers dragging the blanket with him, and hesitated for long, slow heartbeats before lifting it and letting it fall over his shoulders, draping to the floor. He held out his hand, in that stupid, completely useless arm pocket, and Stiles took it, his breath light and bubbly in his throat.

He hadn’t expected their first kiss to happen through a ragged hole in a shoddily made Halloween costume. He hadn’t expected any of this: the werewolves, Derek, falling in love with the most guarded, complicated, addictive person he’d ever know. Certainly not being loved in return.

“It’s the ghost of hugs past,” he said when they paused to breathe, choking up a little as he said it, nudging his nose against the elegant line of Derek’s behind that ridiculous blanket. It was a reminder of their mingled pasts, with all the heartache and lost loved ones, and deeply embedded, sometimes crippling fear of that happening again.

“And of the future,” Derek said, brushing his lips over Stiles’s cheek, kissing away the tears.