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ain’t that a kick in the head

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Stiles will never get over how bizarre it is that Derek treks around the Core Region wastes without any weapons whatsoever.

The third time he voices this, Derek just growls under his breath and holds up his hands. The nails beyond the cut-off fingertips of his leather gloves have gone long and sharp and deeply scary.

“Werewolf,” he says, hint of a snarl in his voice. Stiles hasn’t known Derek long enough to tell if it’s a smug snarl or an annoyed one, but he’s leaning towards smug because Derek’s next words are, “Besides, you’re traveling with enough weaponry for the both of us.”

“Are you kidding?” Stiles says. He gestures at his current gear, which is down a revolver, a plasma pistol, and the service rifle he’d won off an NCR trooper in a game of Caravan. “I’m not even traveling with enough weaponry for one of me! Anyway, you should be thankful to have me along. We couriers are master survivalists.”

Ahead of him, Derek picks his way down the embankment inhumanly fast and Stiles does his best to follow without losing his footing in the scree. The slope is a steep one--the old highway here is nothing but switchbacks, but apparently Derek doesn’t believe in switchbacks because they’re pretty much cutting straight down the mountain. By the time he catches up at the lowest section of highway, his thigh muscles are aching and he’s almost fallen twice.

Ugh. That month he spent convalescing at Deaton’s left him more out of shape than he’d thought.

“You were saying?” Derek says innocently.

“You,” Stiles says, trying not to pant, “are a jerk. Normal people travel along roads, you know.”

“So do bandits.” Derek’s face is doing that thing where it’s carefully blank except for the corners of his mouth, which are barely twitching. The first time Stiles got him to make that face, Scott was nearby and dragged him out the door and into the scrap yard, where he freaked out about how Stiles made Derek laugh, holy shit, did he have any idea what that meant?! From the way he was acting, Stiles got the weird feeling marriage was somehow involved.

No, Stiles told him. No, he did not know what it meant, because (a) people didn’t make that face when they were happy, they made that face when they didn’t cook their gecko meat long enough and ended up with stomach issues, and (b) if anyone were going to make Derek laugh, it sure as hell wouldn’t be him, because in the few weeks Stiles had been in Beacon Hills Derek had alternately yelled at him or ignored him, or sometimes shoved him into things for variety.

Touchy guy, Derek Hale.

“Yeah, he doesn’t have the best people skills,” Scott said, which was the biggest understatement in the entire history of understatements. “I think he likes you.”

Stiles had laughed so hard that a headache flared up, but…three weeks later, here they are: Stiles accompanying Derek to a Followers of the Apocalypse outpost south of Redding so he can track down a copy of the book Stiles had never delivered, and occasionally Derek’s face does that twitchy-mouth-thing. It’s weird.

“Between the two of us, I think we’ve got a handle on the bandits,” Stiles says. “I’m not quite as equipped as I’d prefer, true, but you turn into a deathclaw when you get mad so I think that makes up for it.”

“I do not turn into a deathclaw,” Derek snaps, sounding hilariously affronted.

“Ehhhhhn. Deathclaw, werewolf…either way, it’s all claws and teeth and unstoppable rage, right?”

He knows he’s scored a point when, instead of arguing, Derek just shoves his hands into the pockets of his leather armor and marches off. Once again, he’s totally eschewing the road in favor of making a beeline straight through the wastes, and Stiles still doesn’t know if this is a werewolf thing or a Derek thing. He wants to say it’s the latter, because Derek is one of the most contrary people he’s ever met, but the few times he’d gone out prospecting with Scott the other man had done the exact same thing--just set out in a straight line towards his intended destination without any thought whatsoever for what might be in between.

It turns out that there are a lot of barkscorpion nests in a ten-mile radius around Beacon Hills. Stiles wishes he didn’t have occasion to know that.

He and Derek haven’t run into much trouble since they left Beacon Hills this morning, mostly just geckoes and coyotes and mole rats. Stiles dressed the first few kills so they wouldn’t be stuck eating the packaged goods they’d brought along, but after that Derek got fidgety and Stiles stopped bothering. So far, the worst creature they’ve encountered was a giant radscorpion, which Stiles took care of with his pistol before Derek even had his game face on.

“What?” he said, when Derek looked at him with an expression of frank surprise. “I told you I was a good shot.”

“Huh,” said Derek. Stiles decided to pretend that Derek was just jealous of his mad marksmanship skills.

He lengthens his stride so he can catch up with the other man, hanging back about ten feet and slightly to Derek’s left so he has a clear shot at anything that might come at them. As he walks, he checks over his weapons. It’s a wee bit superstitious, but waking up with no gear, a bullet in the head, and three weeks of missing time will do that to a guy. The gear he’s traveling with now isn’t his gear, most of which is unfortunately still in the hands of various Argents and their Silver Hunter cronies, but he’s still gotten kind of attached to it.

“Machete,” Stiles murmurs under his breath. Touches the handle where it’s strapped to his back. “Knife.” A thick leather sheath, strapped to his thigh. “Knuckles.” Spiked, in a pouch on his belt, taken off a dead Viper raider he and Scott found a week ago. “Pistol.” Ten millimeter, battered to shit but shoots like a dream, snug in her holster on his right hip.

He checks the clip--full, good--and reviews his ammo next, cataloguing the clips, the bullet boxes, and the rattling bits of loose ammo he doesn’t have a gun for but plans to break down when they reach the outpost.

There’s another holster on his left hip, this one conspicuously empty. Stiles brushes his fingers over its cracked leather last, and around the lump in his throat he whispers, “Revolver.”

He’ll get her back. And the last thing Gerard Argent will ever see is her barrel right between his eyes.

“You keep doing that,” Derek says. He’s still a good ten feet in front of Stiles, which makes it creepy as hell. Stiles keeps forgetting about werewolves and their freakishly good everything.

It’s not like the ritual is a particularly private one, but it’s still unnerving to know that Derek’s listening in. “Is that a problem?” Stiles snaps.

Derek actually stops and turns, looking a little taken aback. “No,” he says. “Just…observing.”

“Not all of us can bite the face off anything that attacks us,” Stiles says. “I like making sure my stuff’s where it should be.”

He flushes when Derek’s eyes drop to the empty holster. Scott’s been the only one to ask about it so far, and Stiles felt weird about explaining, what with his girl being Gerard Argent’s granddaughter and all. Sure, Allison had been quite vocal about her split from the Silver Hunters and subsequent alliance with Derek’s sad, misshapen branch of the Children of the Moon, but she was still an Argent. And Gerard Argent had--


”The truth of the matter,” said the man holding his father’s revolver, “is you have no comprehension of the forces that brought you to this moment. You might’ve been anyone. And it must seem to you that Luck’s dealt you a lousy hand, but maybe you’ll find comfort in knowing your death will be the catalyst for great things to come. It will have meaning, young courier. Take peace in that, if you can.”

The monotonous scrape of the shovel abruptly went silent, and Stiles went cold all over. The absence of sound was like a knife to the gut.

“Please,” Stiles said. His voice cracked. “You don’t have to do this. I won’t tell anyone.”

The man’s voice was very gentle. “End of the line, son,” he said, and pulled the trigger.


In spite of the sun beating down on them, Stiles shivers.

Derek’s watching him. “It was important, wasn’t it?” He nods at the empty holster, even though they both know he’s not talking about the attempt on Stiles’ life. “What he took from you. It was important.”

“It was my father’s,” Stiles says, and then his throat closes up and he can’t bring himself to elaborate.

Derek’s expression goes tight. His blue-grey eyes are shadowed and hollow, and Stiles knows he’s thinking about the blasted-out remains of a house and too many shallow graves, about fire and loss and betrayal. He’s only gotten bits and pieces of the story from various people around Beacon Hills, but it was relatively easy to put the parts together into a single, horrifying whole.

Wow. He and Derek are the worst conversationalists ever.

It’s a relief when they start walking again.

Before he’d known about werewolves and their weird penchant for traveling in straight lines, Stiles had been mildly aghast when Derek told him where they were going. Based on the map, it looked like they were facing a mountain range and a solid week of travel one way, and he deeply suspected Derek was going to end up murdering him before sunset of the first day. If not because he was annoyed, then because Stiles was technically the reason they had to make the trip in the first place.

Derek, on the other hand, declared that they were three days out at most. Because he liked his throat the way it was (i.e. not torn to shreds), Stiles decided not to argue.

Now, he can’t help but wish he had the doc’s old Pip-Boy along. Derek hadn’t wanted to take it--the relationship between him and the doc is a weird, prickly one that Stiles isn’t going to pry into too deeply--but it would’ve been nice to know how far they’d come after just over a half day of travel. Except for the occasional billboard silhouette and the stretches of cracked asphalt, the random rusted-out hulk of a car, they’ve run into few remnants of the pre-War world. The landscape around them is dry and smells of dust and sage, and is eerily beautiful in its starkness.

Maybe it’s better that they’re keeping off the roads for the most part. If Stiles had been traveling alone, the way he usually did, this vast and people-free expanse would’ve been unbearably lonely. With Derek, even when they’re not talking, it’s kind of…pleasant.

Of course, Stiles can only stand the silence for so long before it gets boring. “So,” he says. “Why me?”

Derek grunts. “Too dangerous to go alone.”

This, Stiles decides, is the most hilarious thing he’s ever heard, because Derek can turn into a furry ball of rage and teeth that heals instantly and isn’t affected by radiation or most poisons, and this renders him nigh-invulnerable to just about everything the wastes could throw at them. Whereas Stiles…

Stiles is a squishy, underequipped human who keeps getting migraines because he was shot in the head.

“No, that’s not--“ Derek utters a frustrated growl when Stiles just keeps laughing. “That’s not what I meant. If I’m alone, it would be too easy for the Hunters or other packs to mistake me for an omega.”

“Wouldn’t other wolves be able to smell it on you?” Stiles asks. “Your…alpha-ness, or whatever.”

The corner of Derek’s mouth tilts up. “Not at sniper range,” he says. “That far, all you really get is ‘wolf.’ Most packs tend to be very 'shoot first, ask questions later' when it comes to lone wolves in their territory.”

Waaaait a minute. Stiles points an accusatory finger at Derek. “I thought you guys didn’t use guns!”

Derek huffs in something that might be annoyance or might be amusement. “I said that I don’t use guns,” he says. “Plenty of other packs do. Anyway, that’s why I have you along.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t bring one of your own pack,” Stiles says, but even as he says it the answer is sliding into place. It’s the feeling he gets when he knows a lock is about to give way to his pick, tumblers clicking and slotting one after the other until they’re right where they should be. Derek needed to travel with someone so no one could possibly mistake him for an omega, but Stiles has gathered that territory disputes are one of the major reasons why the Children of the Moon can’t seem to unify themselves properly. If Derek had opted to travel with another member of his pack and they ended up in someone else’s territory--

“Ohh,” Stiles says, comprehension dawning. “If you’re with another werewolf, you’re a threat. With a human--”

Derek’s nodding. “Not so much. Plus, hunters might be less likely to harass us. Worst case scenario, you can pretend to be a bounty hunter bringing me in.”

That’s…a weirdly good plan, coming from someone like Derek. Over the course of his stay in Beacon Hills, Stiles has gotten the impression that Derek tends to do okay when it comes to ripping the throat out of his problems and less well when it comes to any actual strategizing. The more he hears, the more convinced he is that Derek’s pack follows him more out of pity than because he’s a good leader.

It probably doesn’t help that Derek’s pack is composed largely of misfits who wouldn't know a good leader if it bit them in the ass.

“What about Peter?” he asks. “Aren’t you worried he’ll make a play when you’re not around?”

“I’m not worried about Peter,” Derek says.

Stiles is worried about Peter. Before he and Derek left on their trek, Peter’s favorite game had been to appear directly behind Stiles, seemingly out of nowhere, and then sniff his neck. Stiles more or less jumped out of his skin every single time.

Then Peter had to make it a million times creepier by murmuring things like, “Dear boy, you are utterly wasted on my nephew,” and yeah, Stiles is definitely worried about Peter, Peter is a very worrying person.



“I left Boyd in charge,” Derek continues, seemingly oblivious to Stiles’ discomfort. “He’s pretty impervious to Peter’s, uh…”

“Unique brand of charm?” It comes out a lot more sourly than he intends.

There’s absolutely no doubt that Derek’s snort is an amused one. “Yes. That.”

He supposes he could just leave it there, because Derek’s reasoning makes sense: lone wolf bad, two wolves bad, one wolf and one human good. Simple, straightforward arithmetic. What doesn’t make sense is why Derek picked him over all the other capable humans in town. He knows he shouldn’t ask. It will just make him sound like he’s fishing for compliments, and the answer he gets will be horrible, like, “Because, Stiles, you’re the most disposable human I know.”

They’ve been walking for a long time and the sun is definitely making a move towards the horizon. He should ask about their plans for camping out--fire, food, shelter, does Derek sleep as a human or does he turn into a wolf, and if he sleeps as a wolf then what does he do with his clothes?--but when he opens his mouth what comes out is, “So why me?” and he wants to smack himself in the head.

Derek doesn’t even slow down. “I already told you.”

“No, you told me why you needed a human along.” They’re approaching another section of highway, this one above them. The embankment ahead is steep and it looks like part of the road collapsed at some point; there’s a jumble of rocks and broken slabs of asphalt at the bottom of the slope, along with thick, scrubby sagebrush that’s providing a lot more cover to the rocks than Stiles is entirely comfortable with. He slides his pistol out of the holster and thumbs off the safety, just in case. “You didn't tell me why you picked me instead of the other, far more awesome humans you know.”

“Because I didn’t want the other awesome humans,” Derek says, just a hint of exasperation in his voice. “I wanted you.”

Movement in the brush ahead. “Ten o’clock,” Stiles says, raising the pistol and dropping into a crouch.

“Relax, Stiles,” Derek says. He’s laughing, the bastard, actually laughing. “It’s a crow.”

“Oh.” He lowers the gun again, cheeks reddening. “Right. Of course. Just, uh…just testing you.”

“This,” Derek says. “This is why I wanted you along.”

Stiles hopes that Derek can see the pronounced side-eye he’s getting, because that’s the sort of statement that makes him wonder if Derek’s developing heat stroke or werewolf dementia. “Why, because I was about to waste precious bullets defending you from crows?”

“No,” Derek says. “Because you assumed it was dangerous.” He glances back at Stiles, who is shocked to see something akin to fondness in Derek’s eyes. “And because your first thought was to protect me from it.”

Oh. Huh. Stiles…doesn’t really know what to say to that.

He wonders if Derek can smell that he’s blushing.

Derek doesn’t say anything after that, just heads straight for the embankment and up the precarious slope. After a moment, Stiles stows the pistol and follows. Once again, he’s painfully aware of how limited his skills are compared to a werewolf’s, although there’s no real rancor behind the thought. Sure, it would be nice to leap nimbly up teetering, rocky slopes like this without worrying about things like handholds or stable footing, but being human has its advantages too.

None of them are exactly coming to mind right now, but he knows they exist.

He’s almost to the top when one of the loose rocks beneath his feet slides free and his center of balance suddenly shifts backward. Time grinds to a crawl. There’s a terrible, hollow feeling in his stomach, and he knows this sensation, this feeling of near-weightlessness; he’s felt it exactly once before, when a rotten branch gave way on a tree when he was much too high. He’s got stimpaks along, and Med-X, and he’d talked Derek into throwing a doctor’s bag into his rucksack, but this embankment is steep enough and sharp enough that none of them are going to do any damn good should he fall. He’ll be little more than gecko-chow by the time he reaches the bottom.

And he’s going to fall. The knowledge sits heavy in his gut, just like he’d known the hole was a grave back when--when--

A large, warm hand closes around his wrist and hauls him up onto the asphalt, and Stiles blinks back to himself to find Derek’s arm around him and his nose planted firmly against Derek’s chest.

…it’s a very nice chest.

“Oh,” he says weakly. “Thanks.”

Derek draws back just far enough to cup Stiles’ face between his palms. He’s got long fingers, Stiles notes in a daze. He feels like that’s a weird thing for him to notice.

“Are you okay?”

Seriously, their faces are like less than a foot apart. Derek should definitely be able to see if Stiles is okay, not to mention his other freaky werewolf senses.

Then again, Stiles probably stinks of adrenaline and fear-sweat and his heart feels like it’s trying to jackhammer its way through his ribs, so maybe that explains Derek’s sudden handsiness.

“Just dandy,” Stiles croaks. “These moments where I keep almost dying and then not, they’re definitely my favorite.”

Derek keeps his hands on Stiles’ face far longer than necessary, his eyes searching for--Stiles has no idea, this is one of those moments that would be way less awkward if he knew for sure that Derek was going to kiss him. When Derek finally lets go and straightens, it’s with a deep, shuddery breath.

“Just a little farther and then we’ll make camp,” Derek says. He pauses, shifting from foot to foot like he wants to say more, then abruptly turns and marches off. Still shaky and now deeply confused, Stiles trails after him.

“A little farther” turns out to be five miles. He and Derek definitely need to have a talk about the definition of the word “little,” because he’s beginning to think it has a different meaning in Werewolf. The sun is below the horizon and the sky is a hazy gray by the time they stop, and Stiles hasn’t spent this long on an extended hike since before he woke up in Beacon Hills.

His head kind of really hurts.

As campsites go, their spot is a decent one. Stiles had hoped for shelter involving more actual shelter--a roof, for example, would’ve been nice--but Derek just snorted and asked what, was he expecting rain? Stiles was damned if he was going to complain after that.

He builds a fire while Derek scouts the nearby area for any threats, rigs up a spit so he can roast off the gecko and mole rat meat before it spoils. They’re in a hollow about a half-mile from the road, and the valley stretches out vast and dark before them. There are tiny lights off in the distance below, not moving. Redding, perhaps, or the Followers outpost. Tucked away in the lee of the rocks with food on the campfire and a werewolf roaming nearby, the distant lights make Stiles feel oddly cozy.

He doesn’t so much hear Derek return as become aware of someone watching him. He knows it’s Derek--no one else has perfected his particular brand of lurking, barely concealed menace--but Stiles still rests his hand on the butt of his pistol. He’s learned caution the hard way.

“How’s the perimeter?” he calls.

He sees Derek’s impossible eyes first, glittering red just beyond the circle of firelight. Then the rest of Derek appears, and although he’s fully human again there’s dark blood on his face and hands. Judging from his satisfied expression, none of the blood is his. “It’s clear,” he says.

Stiles rummages in his rucksack and pulls out a bottle of dirty water. He tosses it to Derek, who catches it one-handed and takes a swig--stupid lucky werewolves, totally impervious to rads--before he splashes more onto his face and hands and scrubs the blood off as best he can.

From his spot on the ground, Stiles grins crookedly at him. “Way to waste water,” he says. “And here I thought you’d just lick yourself clean.”

He means it as a joke, but then his brain helpfully provides a mental image to go along and…no, Stiles isn’t going to go there, he’s pretty sure Derek would be able to smell abject lust. He busies himself with poking at the fire instead.

“Night stalkers,” Derek says. He drains the last of the water and tosses the bottle back to Stiles before dropping unceremoniously to the ground next to him. “They taste vile.”

“Valuable blood, though.”

Derek just shrugs and helps himself to a gecko steak.

They eat silently, watching the night sky deepen into black as the coyotes cry down the hillside. Stiles’ headache is getting worse, but he does his best to ignore its slow, steady throb. He’s learned by now that few things short of sleep or stimpaks will touch the pain, and it’s useless to waste stimpaks on unfixable injuries. Deaton had been incredibly apologetic about this last--he was a good doctor, he’d said, but the surgery he’d performed to keep the swelling down had all but taxed the limits of his skill. The bone was healing well and so was the long, ugly scar that wrapped around the right side of Stiles’ head, but the bullet would always remain and with the bullet, the headaches.

Stiles shifts closer to the fire--their hollow blocks the wind, but the wastes still get damn cold at night--and tries not to flinch when the movement makes his head flare with bright, sharp agony.

Derek’s head whips around so fast it makes Stiles dizzy. “You’re hurt.”

“Wow, do you think you could sound any more accusatory?” Stiles closes his eyes and presses the heel of his palm into his right eye socket. The pressure dulls the pain, though not by much. “I’m fine. I just get headaches.”

“For how long?”

Pain makes him snappish, makes him wish he had teeth like Derek so he could bite and bite and bite until everything stopped hurting. “Since Gerard Argent shot me in the goddamn head and stole my delivery, genius. How long d’you think?”

“No, that’s not--“ Derek’s voice is very quiet. “I meant, how long have you had one tonight?”

“Dunno,” Stiles mumbles. Now he feels like an asshole. “A while.”

Derek huffs. “You didn’t say anything.”

“Yeah, well. Saying anything wouldn’t have done much good.”

“We could’ve stopped earlier,” Derek says. Apologetic, almost, if Derek weren’t allergic to things like apologies and politeness.

A warm, impossibly gentle hand fits itself around the curve of Stiles’ skull, thumb pressing just so to the knot of scar tissue over Stiles’ eyebrow. It feels so good that it’s almost agonizing, and Stiles utters a tiny, choked noise as warmth floods through him. Derek backs off immediately at the sound, and the second he does the pain comes crashing back.

“Wait, no,” Stiles gasps. “Please.”

“Too much?” Derek sounds worried, like he’s afraid he’s going to shatter Stiles’ fragile human skull with his mighty werewolf whatever. His fingers shift restlessly over Stiles’ temple, his jaw, the back of his head.

Stiles groans a negative and pushes his head shamelessly into Derek’s hand. “Not enough,” he says. “You can--harder, seriously, I’m not going to break.”

Derek hums and Stiles wants to cry when his hand disappears entirely. Then comes the rough scrape of leather over dirt and loose stone, and Stiles is suddenly being manhandled--very gently, but still--into what can only be the space right between Derek’s legs.

“Buh-huh?” He’s got a bullet in his brain, so he figures he’s allowed some pure confusion once in a while.

“Angle’s better this way,” Derek rumbles behind him. “Lean back.”

Stiles cautiously lets himself settle back against Derek’s chest, and this time both of Derek’s hands slide up over his head. The pressure is still just this side of too light, almost like Derek’s testing out the limits of too soft before moving on to too hard, but his hands are the perfect size and he’s deliciously warm and this is definitely the best thing to happen to Stiles in a long time.

It’s weird--he’s seen what the werewolves can do, he knows how ridiculously strong they are. Derek could crush Stiles’ head between his palms with no more difficulty than he’d crush an egg.

Stiles can’t remember the last time he felt so safe.

“Seriously,” he says again, pointedly shoving the back of his head against Derek’s collarbone. “Pressure is good. Let’s err on the side of pressure.”

Derek grumbles, less words than a surprisingly canine rumble of frustration, and carefully presses his fingers against Stiles’ temples. Stiles groans and sags into his hands.

“Okay?” Derek says. Stiles babbles something that contains the words yes and perfect and maybe ohgodohgoddon’tstop.

Thankfully, Derek seems to interpret this as an invitation to move his hands, which he does, sweeping them over the curve of Stiles’ skull, making hard little circles with his thumbs over the knotted length of his scar, the hollow at the base of his skull, the dip of his temples, the center of his forehead. It feels horrifyingly good; every time Derek finds a spot that makes his spine melt, Stiles responds by moaning and pushing himself into Derek’s palms. It probably comes across as blatantly sexual--doubtless he smells that way too, he’s pretty sure he’s been hard since Derek first touched him--but Stiles doesn’t want this to be about sex. It’s about Derek making him feel good, about Derek taking away his pain. The careful sweep of Derek’s hands and the precision of his fingertips leaves Stiles shivery and boneless and blissed out, and this no doubt explains why he completely loses control of his mouth.

“How are these your hands?” He’s all but slurring with how good he feels. “Where is this even coming from? I mean, I’m not complaining,” he adds quickly when Derek pauses. “Not by a long shot. But mostly you just loom at me and occasionally shove me against things.”

Derek’s silence takes on a distinctly embarrassed quality. “Peter,” he mutters. “He kept…touching you. I had to--“ He swallows so hard that Stiles can actually hear his throat click. “I had to get his smell off you.”

“You had to…” Stiles can’t help the weak laughter that bubbles up. “Wow. You really don't know how to interact with people, do you?”

Derek growls and digs his fingers in a little deeper, but if he’s trying to make a point about his terrible personality and lack of people skills, it’s a total failure because it just leaves Stiles shuddering and warm all over.

He says, “Nnngk.”

Derek’s thumbs press tiny, firm circles into the base of his skull. Stiles feels like his eyes are going to roll up into his head.

“I’m sorry I--“ Derek begins, and then utters a frustrated little huff and noses at Stiles’ hair. His voice is rough, awkward in the way of a man terribly unused to apologies. “I’m sorry I--loomed? And occasionally shoved you into things. I didn’t--it wasn’t my intention to threaten.”

Well, that’s a bald-faced lie.


There we go.

“S’okay,” Stiles says blearily. “You’re forgiven. You’re forgiven for everything you do in the next five years.”

Behind him, Derek’s chest shakes with silent laughter. “That’s…good, I guess?”

“It’s a privilege. Don’t abuse it.”

The headache has more or less disappeared. Stiles feels somehow both heavy and hollow, like Derek has scoured the inside of him clean and then filled the void with warm stones and sand. The body behind his has slid down against the rock and they’re slotted together like two spoons, Stiles’ smaller curve notching into Derek’s larger one, and Derek’s not so much applying pressure to his head as mapping the shape of it now. He returns to the scar over Stiles’ right eye again and again, tracing the length of it as it travels into Stiles’ short hair and trails off at his parietal bone.

One bullet. If there had been a second, or if the first had passed through, Stiles wouldn’t be sitting here now.

“Tomorrow,” Derek says. His voice is low and sleepy, and makes something unbearably tender curl in Stiles’ chest. “When we’re traveling. Tell me if your head hurts.”

“Mmm,” Stiles says. Tilts his head back and tucks it against Derek’s neck.

Stiles. You have to tell me.”

Their fire is dying, but Stiles doesn’t think it’s going to matter. The smell of the coals will keep away the smarter predators, and the dumber ones will be warned clear by the combined smell of night stalker blood and werewolf. As for warmth, Derek’s radiating more than enough heat for the both of them.

“Fine, fine,” Stiles says, when Derek gives him a pointed shake. “I’ll tell you if I get headaches. Go to sleep already.”

Derek’s breathing slows, deepens, his fingers twitching where they rest against Stiles’ skin. Somewhere in the valley below them is a man with Derek’s book. Somewhere in the mountains behind them is a man with Stiles’ revolver. He knows they’ll find these men, however long it takes, but for now there’s a warm fire and someone who cares enough about Stiles to take pain apart with his hands, and that’s more than enough to go on.