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Spark, Smolder, Catch

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Derek is alone in his house.

It’s dark, as it always is, the windows covered in soot long since calcified into the glass. Sometimes, if there’s enough sunshine outside and the sun hits at the right angle, soft beams of light filter in through the open third floor and cracks in the second.

There’s no sun out today though; it’s cold and drizzly. There’s a green mist that surrounds the forest as light struggles to get in past the canopy. The house is black.

Derek doesn’t mind it. It’s what he’s come to know and it’s definitely what he deserves.

He’s failed at building his pack. Failed at protecting his family, twice. Erica and Boyd are gone. Isaac is drifting steadily closer to Scott. Scott, who declared, “You aren’t my Alpha,” just the night before.

Jackson has been turned now, the irony bitter as Derek thinks of the way his claws pushed through the boy’s stomach, puncturing blood vessels and threading through sinew. It was meant to kill him. To save them from the horror of the lizard inside him.

When Derek tried to turn him the first time, he made a grave mistake. Jackson never intended to follow his lead. There’s no reason to think that he will now that the wolf has taken. The way he clung to the Martin girl as ‘home’ left no room for anyone else, and certainly none for interpretation.

Even that doesn’t surprise Derek, honestly; he started making his pack because it was what he was supposed to do. He remembers enough of his childhood to know how it should be. But he didn’t really think it would take. He knew, ultimately, he would end up alone once more.

He’s okay with that. He has his house.

The rain is drizzling outside, dripping in steady splats inside as it creeps through the floorboards above his head. Derek sits on the battered green sofa and listens to its watery heartbeat.

In the distance he hears the rumbling purr of a vehicle, the choke of a gear change in the mud. It gets closer and he identifies it as Stiles’ jeep. With a sigh, he pushes off the dusty cushions and slips out to the porch. He stands at the top of the stairs, the house behind him. It’s the architectural equivalent of shoving the damsel in distress behind the protection of his body. Something he has to do a lot these days, though usually not with the women - always the boys.

The jeep jerks to a messy stop in front of the house and Derek can see that there’s only one occupant. The door creaks open and Stiles tumbles out, but it’s stilted, not the usual tangle of drunken limbs but hesitant, held in. Derek wonders what Gerard did to the boy. He knows first hand that the Argents can be... inventive.

Stiles marches stiffly up to the house, pausing at the bottom of the steps. The mist settles on the spikes of his hair, his shoulders, eyelashes, like overnight dew. The swathe of broken blood vessels across his cheekbone is stark against the paleness of his skin, his lip still split at the corner. He stares up at Derek with hard, dark eyes.

He hasn’t been afraid of Derek in a long while. Not for the first time, Derek thinks about why he’s never tried to turn him. To make Stiles pack. It would make a shit load more sense than the other choices he’s made lately.

Derek stares back down at him. Stiles may not be cowed, but Derek is still the Alpha. An Alpha. He’s still Derek. He crosses his arms over the dirty wifebeater he wears like armour.

“What are you doing?” Stiles demands eventually, breaking the silence with hard consonants and anger.

Derek raises an eyebrow. At this point it’s practically an unconscious movement. He doesn’t bother to answer.

Stiles scoffs, he presumes, at his silence. “Seriously? You aren’t even going to talk?”

“What’s there to say,” Derek says blithely, and it isn’t a question. Stiles takes it as one anyway.

“How about where’s your pack? How about what’s going on with Jackson?” Stiles is waving his arms around as he makes his supposed points, his voice rising. “How about, what the fuck is up with trusting Peter fucking Hale!”

Derek feels the growl that vibrates in his throat, too low for Stiles’ human ears to hear.

“None of those are your concern,” he spits.

“None of my... Are you freakin’ kidding me?” Stiles yelps incredulously, his eyebrows reaching upwards and his brow furrowing into angry lines.

“No,” Derek says and turns sharply, walks back into the cavernous blackness of his house. He has half a thought that maybe Stiles will give up. Will get back in his car and leave, go and annoy Scott or stalk Lydia.

He can hear Stiles stomp up the stairs and through the door behind him, follow him inside with no regard to the fact that it is Derek’s house, that he has not been invited.

“They have to be someone’s concern, and right now, mister big bad Alpha is doing sweet f-all about them,” Stiles snipes at him as he follows further into the house undeterred.

Derek turns slightly, looks over his shoulder and snaps, “There is no pack, Stiles. Now. Go. Away.”

For a second, the kid looks stunned, eyes wide and mouth slack and open. But it’s only a second.

“That’s it? Really? Five minutes of things not going your way and you’re throwing in the towel?”

Derek rolls his eyes to himself and continues towards the back of the house. The wood is pitch black here, darker where the fire had rushed up from the basement like water through floodgates.

”Jesus,” he hears Stiles mutter. “You’re even worse at this werewolf shit than Scott.”

Derek does growl at that, moving out into the open back of the house where the walls have actually fallen and the ceiling is the sky.

“I don’t know why you all think that I have the answers,” Derek snaps.

“Oh really?” Stiles counters, sarcasm dripping from him with the droplets of mist liquefying on his skin. “Well maybe, just throwing this out there, but maybe that’s because you said you did!”

Which. Point.

“You’ve been a werewolf all your goddamn life, Derek,” Stiles continues. “Scott’s been one for ten fucking minutes!”

Derek’s silence, as he stares up at the sky, balanced on the edge of the rotting floorboards, seems to spur Stiles on.

“And what about your rag tag team of teen wolves? Which - stellar idea, by the way. Do you even know where they are?” Stiles asks, stomping to Derek’s side so he can’t be ignored. His hands are on his hips and his face is so gaunt; the beating and stress of the last few weeks clearly having taken their toll.

This isn’t the kid who trespassed on his land so many months ago, all nervous energy and disregard for danger. No, Derek thinks, observing the dark circles under Stiles’ eyes, the sharp cut of his cheekbones where childhood puppy fat no longer clung. This was a different beast altogether. Derek wasn’t too proud to admit it unnerved him.

Instead of dwelling on that unbidden thought, he shrugs. “I’m sure they’re fine. They have each other.”

Again, Stiles scoffs. “Each other?” his eyebrow raises and Derek almost wonders if they look like twins, whether Stiles learned that off him or if it’s something he always did, before the horror of Derek’s life suffused his own. “Like they had each other where they were tied up and being electrocuted in the Argent basement last night?”

Suddenly Derek understands the red stripes across Stiles’ palms, not from defence, as he assumed, but from trying to help. His heart lurches uncomfortably in his chest. No one asked Stiles to do this. He shouldn’t be doing it. There’s no reason.

Then again, there’s no reason for the bruising across his face either.

“Why aren’t you looking for them? Why aren’t you waiting for them in your bat cave?” Stiles demands and Derek can’t help but snort at the allusion.

“I told you, they aren’t my pack,” Derek says, and it’s quieter this time. “The warehouse is not mine.”

“Of course it’s yours, it’s your home.”

“No. You are standing in my home.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Are you kidding me? This is not a home. Clearly the burnt-out remains of your house are integral to projecting an air of long-suffering broody woe-is-me, and sure, the shtick works for you, don’t get me wrong, but this?” Stiles indicates the walls of Derek’s falling down home, the direct line of sight to the sky, with a waving of both his arms. “Not a home by anyone’s standards.”

And that’s enough. Derek has never claimed to be a saint, but he’s certainly still an Alpha and he won’t take this insolence from anyone, certainly not a human, certainly not Stiles.

He moves before it even occurs to him to do it, forearm smacking into Stiles’ windpipe. The momentum carries him forward and Stiles backward until he’s slammed into the nearest blackened support.

Derek knows his eyes are flashing red, his teeth elongating, and he doesn’t even care. “You think this is shtick?” he growls, taking satisfaction at the way Stiles’ eyes are blown huge and scared, his fingers scrabbling at the arm Derek has pinned him with.

“You think I stay here because it’s a game?” he continues in a low snarl. “This is where my family lived. This is where they burned, Stiles. Where their blood boiled and their flesh cooked. And you think I stay here because what, I like it?”

Stiles' face is starting to turn red, his fingernails digging deeper into the skin of Derek’s arm, but Derek refuses to move, continuing to cut off his oxygen. “Do you remember, Stiles, where your mother died?” he growls, but this time it’s low and quiet, dangerous.

Immediately Stiles stills, blood vessels in his eyes turning pink as the salt burns. Stiles’ Adam’s apple pushes against Derek’s wrist as he swallows convulsively.

Derek nods, teeth retracting, and steps back. He’s made his point. Stiles gasps for air, hands flying to his throat for reassurance. Immediately Stiles looks away, refusing to meet Derek’s gaze, and Derek suspects it’s so he can’t see the way Stiles’ eyes are tearing up.

He lets him have the moment without comment.

“You’re wrong,” Stiles says after a long pause. He’s quiet but defiant, chin jutting out and jaw clenched and Derek shoves down the way he feels almost proud of him. “A home isn’t in walls, it’s in people, in memories. This isn’t a home, Derek,” he says and hits at the nearest piece of wood he can find with the heel of his palm.

The impact dislodges a chunk of the wood and it thuds onto the floorboards, scattering into a litter of charcoal. Derek stares at it and so does Stiles. He can feel his own pulse throbbing in his neck and the rush of blood is deafening.

It’s instinct, but unexpected, and when he roars, the full power of his canine vocal chords resonating and diaphragm pushing out the noise, it’s loud. The few birds that were still in the immediate vicinity, hunkered down and puffed up to avoid the wet, take flight, flocks of starlings and sparrows arcing into the air. And then there is silence. Stiles startles, jumping fair out of his skin, but he stays in place. Derek doesn’t know if he’s frozen in fear or stupid, but there he is. Standing there, watching him.

“You know I’m right,” Stiles says softly, as though an apex predator hadn’t just bared its teeth in front of him.

And with that, Stiles turns and quietly walks back out of the house.

* * *

Derek spends an uncomfortable night in what’s left of his childhood room. The rain is heavy and the thin mattress he usually sleeps on has become damp. He thinks about giving up and sleeping in the Camaro, but it really isn’t big enough, even if it would be warmer. The car wasn’t purchased to be practical. It was rebellion, pure and simple, a ‘fuck you’ to life and all the horrors it’d bought him.

In any event, the idea of being forced out of the house due to the rain falling steadily heavier throughout the night angers him. Since his argument with Stiles a low-level thrum of irritation has lodged under his skin. It’s his home, and he simply won’t be forced out of it because a teenager called him on his coping mechanisms.

And how they really aren’t allowing Derek to cope.

The morning dawns just as misty as the previous day, though thankfully the rain has stopped. Derek wanders the house, cataloguing the memories associated with corners and doorways, walls and floors. Not for the first time, he wonders if he should stay in Beacon Hills. Because he has nowhere else to go doesn’t seem like a good enough reason, not now that his pack is gone, that Laura is gone. The only thing left is the house, and that isn’t much of anything.

It’s almost unbelievable, the product of not enough sleep or the onset of madness, but Derek hears the noise again around mid-morning. Stiles.

Once again the jeep comes up the track and stops in the clearing in front of the house. Stiles tumbles out, this time with more fluidity, but still hesitant. He’s dressed in ratty jeans and a Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department t-shirt that looks like it was made in the seventies.

He wears the same defiant look he left with the day before, tight jaw and determined eyes. Instead of talking, or yelling as he had yesterday, Stiles walks straight up to the house to where Derek stands at the top of the stairs. When Stiles reaches him, he pauses, a dare clear in his raised eyebrows that Derek can’t interpret.

Derek doesn’t react, refusing to be baited, and Stiles seems to take it as an answer in and of itself, nods to himself and brushes straight past Derek, rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the veranda. Stiles walks into the house and Derek finds himself in the submissive, following the boy as he winds his way through to the back and out to the open-walled scene of yesterday’s argument.

Derek doesn’t miss the way Stiles looks back at him, checking to see he’s there.

The silence is deafening and peaceful all at the same time, and Derek knows he should be asking questions. Questions like ‘what’ or ‘why’. Demanding to know why Stiles isn’t badgering him. But he doesn’t, out of a desire to see where this goes or resigned apathy, he couldn’t say.

Stiles stops where the broken bits of charred wood still lie scattered on the floor. From his back pocket he takes out what look like gardening gloves and pulls them on over his hands.

“What are you doing?” Derek finally asks as Stiles bends and picks up the largest piece of charcoal.

Stiles looks up to him, righting himself and pulling back his arm before pitching it forward, sending the remnant flying into the woods outside. He doesn’t answer Derek. Instead he turns to the part of the house that fell at his impact the day before. He grabs hold of the edge of a wall strut and yanks with all his might. The muscles go taut in Stiles’ arm, tendons flexing with the effort, and then the wood comes free with a whispering crack.

Newest piece of Derek’s house in his hand, Stiles turns once more, presumably to pitch it, too, into the forest.

“What the hell?” Derek says, hand darting out to clamp around Stiles’ wrist before he can throw. It’s not a growl, not an Alpha warning; he’s too bewildered to process what’s happening.

Stiles still says nothing, and Derek finds the silence unnerving. He has no idea how he got accustomed to Stiles’ inane, constant chatter. When did that even have time to happen?

Derek tightens his grip on Stiles’ wrist, feels the fragile bones flex. The amber brown of Stiles’ eyes gets swallowed by black in direct physiological response to the threat.

“Hey,” Stiles exclaims, yanking his hand back when Derek loosens the hold on him.

“What are you doing?” Derek asks again, this time allowing his voice to darken, words measured and slow.

“I’m doing what no one else will,” Stiles says simply. The edge of defiance is still there, but the unconscious way he bites at his bottom lip gives his uncertainty away.

“Destroying my house?” Derek asks, voice rising incredulously.

In answer, Stiles throws the piece of wood as hard and as far as he can. It hits the trunk of a tree with a thwack and then falls to the forest floor with a hollow thump. He turns back to Derek again as if checking for imminent maiming or death, but his voice is steady. “Not leaving.”

Derek doesn't know if it’s an answer to his question, or defence against Derek’s potential reaction to any answer he could give. Either way, Derek can’t really do anything but stare.

The person standing in front of him is a weird mix of new and old. Stiles isn’t the annoying best friend of Scott’s anymore, the one who dragged him, by sheer force of will, kicking and screaming into a world where werewolves are real. Derek has always thought of him as the yappy sidekick, and okay, probably the yappy sidekick who is secretly running the show, but still.

Stiles’ intense desire to know everything - and research it - makes him a valuable ally, but also one likely to stick their nose in at unwelcome times, to be the voice of reason when reason is sorely inconvenient and fangs much more proficient. It was he who talked Scott into ignoring Derek further, into taking on the role of Alpha-cum-teacher by trial and error simply to prove Derek wasn’t needed.

And yet, in the time Derek has known him, Stiles has somehow, sneakily, grown into something else entirely. It’s with startled surprise that Derek looks at the person in front of him, this skinny kid in his father’s clothes, and sees a burgeoning adult.

Someone who has saved Derek’s life on more than one occasion, who has lied to his father - his only remaining family - to protect his friend, to protect Derek. Someone who wears his heart on his sleeve in the hopes no one will notice the gaping hole in his chest, a clown who amuses to deflect. Stiles, who gets beaten up for his friends and makes nothing of it, tells no one, who tries to save people because they are pack, even though that pack isn’t his. Who sacrifices himself because the girl he is in love with loves someone else, and her being happy is more important than him being so.

Derek thinks back to himself at that age, to the blithe disregard for anyone other than himself. Hell, he thinks of Scott and his refusal to put anyone other than Allison first, of Jackson’s need for power, or Boyd and Erica and their utter disregard of what he’s given them, what he’s offering. Of Isaac, who flies to whomever approximates a parent and tells him what he should do, not choosing to think for himself.

Stiles stands in front of Derek now with eyes that are far too old, too nuanced for someone his age, with hands gripped around the burnt-out husks of Derek’s house, threatening to tear it down. Determined for reasons Derek doesn’t even want to fathom teasing out.

Not leaving.

Alarmingly, Derek finds himself wanting to move forward, to step into this new Stiles’ orbit and learn the paths he travels. His throat clicks as he swallows and his fingers twitch, wanting to touch, to learn, to reassure himself Stiles is who he thinks he is. He wants to thank him for answering questions Derek doesn’t even know to ask.

So Derek does the only thing he can do. He turns to the wall beside Stiles and claws off the next piece of burnt siding, rusty nails creaking as they give up their hold on rot and death.

He throws it as far as he can.

* * *

They work side by side in silence for a number of hours, wrenching off burnt pieces of wall. By the time the sun, weak and hidden by cloud, has reached its zenith, the back portion of the room is gone, a pile of splintered pine growing on the ground.

Stiles smells of sweat, cheeks red with exertion black streaks of charcoal smeared across his forehead where his gloves have swiped at moisture. Derek can hear Stiles’ heart as it beats rapidly against the unforeseen cardio. Eventually his movements get sloppier, and the next time Stiles deposits an ungainly beam into the pile like completing a caber toss, he doesn’t turn straight back, instead bends down until he can sit on the floor, legs dangling over the edge of the rotted-out floorboards.

Derek doesn’t need the break, but he stops anyway, sinking down beside him.

Stiles looks at him sideways from under his lashes and then goes back to watching the trees. Derek stares into the woods too, noting every scratch of bird claw as wrens hop across branches, the scuffle of vermin and rabbits across the leaf litter. The sound of the wind as it whispers.

“I was pretty sure you were going to kill me,” Stiles notes carefully, not turning to look at him.

Derek snorts, not quite humorous and a whole lot disbelief, leans back onto his arms and transfers his gaze up into the clouds above. “And yet you did it anyway.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees, but gives nothing else away as to his suicidal motivations.

They’re quiet some more, the rasp of Stiles’ breathing slowing.

“She died in the hospital,” Stiles says out of nowhere, and Derek jerks his gaze back to him, but the kid is still looking into the woods.

Derek says nothing and Stiles continues.

“My mom,” he clarifies, as if Derek might not follow. “One day she was there and the next...” Stiles makes an abortive little hand movement, all fingers and fluttering like a trapped bird.

“I couldn’t go to Scott’s house for months,” he says, voice soft and matter-of-fact, as if he tells the story every day, when Derek knows, in the way he’s never told anyone about the day of the fire, that he hasn’t.

Stiles flicks his gaze to Derek, perhaps gauging how he’s being received. Derek is pretty sure there isn’t anything that shows on his face, muscles well-schooled in giving nothing away, but Stiles seems to see something that reassures him, lets him look back away again.

“I love Scott’s mom, but I just couldn’t. Her clothes, they smelled like the hospital. Like antiseptic and bleach.”

“Like death,” Derek offers, words slipping out unbidden.

Stiles turns to him and nods, a slight uptick of his head in agreement. “Like death, yeah. And part of me was so angry at Scott’s mom for being alive, you know? At Scott even, for getting to have his mom. Isn’t that awful? Like I almost wished it was his mom that had gone and not mine.”

Derek shrugs awkwardly. “I think that’s pretty normal.”

Stiles’ laugh is bitter and somewhat broken. “Maybe.”

Stiles says nothing, and Derek isn’t sure if he’s meant to comment, to share his own experiences. It’s awkward and he doesn’t know the appropriate response, nor whether he’d give it if he knew it. It’s been so long since this was easy. Sharing life. He never got to do it normally, not as an adult.

“It’s pretty fucked up that there’s a normal for those things,” Stiles says after the pause.

“Try having your whole family burn alive,” Derek says, and it’s sardonic, cynical, but also meant to alleviate the tension. He isn’t sure it works.

Stiles looks at him, but it isn’t the horror he’s used to seeing on people when they work it out, that he’s that Derek Hale. It’s curious and knowing.

“I only really have my dad,” Stiles says.

“I only really had my sister,” Derek says, and this time it is bitter.

Stiles does look somewhat horrified at that sentence. Derek guesses it’s because they all forget, that everyone was so caught up in werewolves being real, in Scott being one, that it never occurred to them he’d just lost his sister. Had just buried half her body next to his house like a dog burying a fucking bone.

Stiles makes a noise, kind of choked and painful, and then he’s up, springing back onto his feet and returning to the calming act of destruction. Pulling down Derek’s house.

They don’t talk after that, falling back into the labour of the work. When dusk falls, Stiles sighs and pulls off his gloves, screws up his face in what Derek thinks is meant to approximate a smile, too leaden with emotion to actually make it there. Stiles nods at him and heads for the jeep.

Derek sits in the demolished back room throughout the night and tries not to think of what he’s letting Stiles do.

* * *

It’s starting not to surprise him that Stiles turns up the next day. He doesn’t know why Stiles isn’t in school, and he doesn’t ask. It’s mostly silence, the harshness of their breathing, the crack and splinter of the less-burnt wood as it comes free from the frame. Thuds as the pile of debris in the backyard grows.

They stop every now and then; Stiles will sit and be alone in his head while Derek roams the rest of the house, cataloguing memories. Other times he sits with Stiles in silence, sharing a bottle of water or the sandwiches Stiles starts bringing.

They don’t talk about what they’re doing, about the house. Derek is grateful. He feels himself on the edge, desperately trying not to think about the destruction at their hands. He still doesn’t know why Stiles is doing it, or why he lets him. Every piece of wood pulled from the wall is a betrayal he feels in his bones. If it weren’t for the niggling feeling that each one is a little bit like something Derek might call freedom, if he were inclined to name the emotion... well. Why Stiles is there is a less significant problem, which is probably why Derek lets himself obsess over it.

On the third day, when they’ve pretty much torn down all of the back room they started with, Derek has to poke at it.

“Why aren’t you hanging out with Scott?” he asks, sitting down, back against one of the remaining uprights, knees pulled up. It isn’t ‘why are you hanging out with me?’ but close enough that Derek has to concentrate not to cringe.

Stiles finishes the swallow of water he’s taking and sets the bottle down, back of his other hand swiping across the moisture on his mouth. Derek absolutely does not follow the movement.

“Why aren’t you?” Stiles parries.

“Not my pack,” Derek answers simply. They’ve been over this. “But he’s your best friend.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, and Derek reads it as fond, but frustrated. “Scott is busy.”

Derek frowns. “Didn’t Allison break up with him?”

Stiles nods, slides around from where he’s sitting to face Derek, legs crossed beneath him. “Yup.”


“Isaac,” he says simply, then takes another drink of water, Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows.

“Ah,” Derek says. He doesn’t really know what to say after that, though.

“Scott is,” Stiles begins, but then stalls. He starts picking at a splinter in the floor, worrying it with his thumbnail. “Scott is my best friend,” he continues eventually. “But we’ve been friends a long time. It’s not that we take each other for granted, although we probably do. Just I guess sometimes we forget, that you need to work at friendship. It’s just always been there, though... so.”

Derek watches Stiles pull the splinter out and flick it away, then begin picking at another.

“And Isaac is a werewolf, I’m not. I think it probably does Scott good to connect with someone who knows what he’s going through. And I’m not enough, sometimes,” Stiles finishes and looks off to the side.

“Scott’s an idiot,” Derek dismisses summarily.

Stiles’ laugh is more startled than genuinely amused, but his gaze comes back to Derek. “Scott is Scott.”

Derek huffs, annoyed that he needs to use more words to explain. “Being a wolf... it changes you. If you let it, it changes you too far. We need humanity to keep us this side of the line. Scott needs to learn that.”

Stiles seems to consider Derek’s words, chewing slightly on his bottom lip in a way that Derek finds distracting. Being Stiles, the next words out of his mouth aren’t what Derek expects, and they catch him in the solar plexus like a surprise uppercut.

“But what about you?”

“What about me?” Derek says, and can’t help the annoyed growl that hides in the question.

Stiles seems to realise his misstep and holds out his hands in a gesture of pacification. He says what he’s thinking anyway, because Stiles is clearly suicidal that way. “You don’t have any human friends. How do you keep, you know...”

Derek snatches forward for the water bottle, takes gulps to buy distance. He sets it down again gently. “I don’t have friends, period,” he says carefully. Controlled.

Stiles’ mouth opens, then closes back up as if he rethinks the wisdom of going down that road. Instead he looks around them, at the wide-open expanse of outside that is suddenly also inside.

“We should probably work from the top down,” he says, and for a second, Derek wonders if he’s talking about his friendship skills. “We don’t want to bring the whole thing crashing down on our heads.”

“No,” Derek says slowly, sarcastically. “Wouldn’t want that.”

Stiles laughs, a short bark of laughter Derek feels down his spine. It’s been so long since he made anyone laugh. He doesn’t even remember.

Once Stiles is rested, they head up the main stairs. Stiles sticks to the sides, as if he’s worried he’ll go through them. He needn’t be worried, though; Derek knows the stairs are probably the most structurally sound part of the whole house. He built them with his dad.

To Derek’s knowledge, Stiles has never been up further than the ground floor, and he watches as Stiles takes in the rooms that remain on the front side. He’s clearly trying not to look as if he’s prying, and Derek appreciates it, even if it’s probably fear of being choked once more that brings on the politeness.

Derek deliberately doesn’t look as Stiles passes his childhood bedroom, the ratty mattress in the corner that smells like mice.

The way up to the third floor is trickier: nothing really remains other than the front facade and some window panes. Derek lets Stiles go first up the rickety ladder that was propped there years ago. He doesn’t want to have to explain the kid’s broken neck to the Sheriff.

There’s enough room for them to work without fear of falling to a painful death, but it’s definitely narrow. The way Stiles’ eyes squint at the ledge in distrust pushes Derek closer. Stiles smells like work, spicy with sweat and deodorant. It’s heady, the scent of humanity, so unlike the way the pack smells, the only other beings Derek’s ever really close with. There were others, of course, even after Kate, but that was back in New York, before Laura. It was different.

Stiles has his gloves back on and together they set apart ripping down the cladding on the end portion of the wall. There’s no roof to speak of, other than the small amount in the middle where the widows walk remains. It’s an irony Derek really doesn’t like to think about.

Stiles throws himself into the work with gusto, pushing at the planks so they fall out and clatter down the side of the house to the ground. Derek stays close, worried Stiles will fall forward with the momentum every time. There’s been enough death in this house.

By the time Stiles leaves that night, weary and eyes heavy lidded, a third of the top floor... top wall... has gone. The house looks different. Too different, as if it’s not even the same place any more. Something even the fire hadn’t managed to do.

It makes it easier.

* * *

Derek has already started back again the next morning by the time Stiles turns up, too antsy to sit around and wait. He isn’t sure why he feels such a rush now, for it to be done quickly. It isn’t like he has any plans for when it is, or any place to sleep for that matter. The feeling he thinks might be the cutting of ties is getting stronger, and he’s started to think about what that means. Could he leave? Should he leave? Where would he go?

The house and the pack are the only things that tie him to Beacon Hills now. The pack... isn’t one. Which only leaves the house. He lets the thought sit in the back of his mind as he swings the sledgehammer he found in the basement. It feels good, the warm stretch in his muscles as he pulls the weight back, the jarring crack as it hits its mark, wood splintering and ash puffing out in clouds.

Stiles turns up at nine with muffins and coffee. He’s never done that before, and Derek doesn’t know what it means, but he eats next to Stiles, leaning up against the jeep and letting the warmth of the engine seep into his back. It feels almost domestic; decimating a home while consuming baked goods.

“Doesn’t your father wonder where you are? Or why you aren’t in school?” Derek asks around a mouthful of blueberry muffin.

Stiles raises an eyebrow. “He knows I’m here,” he says, which is not the answer Derek expected.

“And he’s okay with that?”

Stiles nods as he sips cautiously at his coffee. Cinnamon latte, two sugars; Derek can smell it. “Sure.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Sheriff.” Derek tries his own coffee. It’s black and strong and he appreciates it, sighing as the warm liquid slides down his throat. The morning is chilly, sun only just starting to evaporate the dew on the ground.

“Honestly? I think he’s just glad I have people around to defend my virtue from marauding lacrosse players,” Stiles says, gesturing at the bruise across his cheekbone. It’s turning mottled and yellow.

“I don’t know whether to be flattered that he trusts me with your virtue, or insulted,” Derek murmurs, and Stiles looks at him, really looks at him, and it makes him feel jittery and exposed.

“Me either,” Stiles says after a beat.

There’s more to the story that Stiles isn’t saying, but it doesn’t take a genius to draw the lines between the dots: the bruises on Stiles’ skin, the stiffness in his gait. Enforced recuperation, then. Why Stiles wants to convalesce with hard labour is anyone’s guess but Derek gets the impression he shouldn’t push it. So he doesn’t.

They head back up to the third floor, where Derek has managed to make a significant dent in the proceedings. There’s only half left now, and he thinks they’ll probably manage to have it all down by nightfall. It feels significant.

Once again they end up working next to each other. Derek abandons the sledgehammer for when there are less fragile human bones around to get in the way, goes back to brute force instead. They’ve only been working an hour or so when he realises Stiles is slower today, his movements constrained and careful.

“Are you hurt?” Derek says before he manages to reel the words back in.

Stiles looks up from where he’s warring with a bit of baseboard, surprised. “Um no, just... achy human muscles, is all. My soft countenance is not used to this much activity. Sitting in school all day will do that to you.”

“You shouldn’t push yourself,” Derek says, wishing again that he could pull them back. He seems compelled to keep talking, though. “I mean, I can... you know... by myself.” He waves at the remains of the house.

Stiles’ face seems to close off and he turns back to the wall, mumbling, “I’m fine.”

“I’m not trying to suggest you can’t... That I’m comparing you to a wolf.” Derek stumbles over the words.

Stiles does look at him again then. “I know,” he says, and Derek can’t sense a lie in it but he’s missing something and doesn’t like the feeling.

They turn back to their respective pieces and work on. The slightly uncomfortable silence bleeds into normalcy again. The sun today is hot, warm and prickly on Derek’s back. He’s only wearing a tattered wifebeater but even that seems restrictive. Stiles shucks off the flannel he’s wearing over a band shirt that Derek doesn’t recognise. His arms are pale, freckled like his face.

Together they work at the middle section of the house, where the dormer window peeks out and the widow’s walk rests precariously at the top. It takes both of them to wrangle the metal above their heads; it’s clunky and melted at the bottom where the fire was hot enough to warp it. Eventually they lever it free with the use of their combined weight and some carefully placed slats of wood.

Derek feels the moment they win the battle, the slight tip in balance that signals the railing overcoming the fulcrum of the house itself. He pushes, hard, and the wood splits under it, cracking and snapping as it goes toppling over the side of the house.

The crash it makes as it hits the window directly in front of them is deafening, and Derek takes a step back on instinct. Stiles isn’t quite so fast.

The glass splinters as part of the railing goes through it, and Derek can see the way a jagged, dirty edge of it slices open Stiles’ arm as if honing in on the nearest perforable material. Stiles jerks with a shocked gasp and steps back, but he misses his footing on the rotten boards and tilts backward at an alarming angle.

Derek lunges, heart in his throat, fingers clamping tight around Stiles’ bicep and yanking him back towards him, away from the gaping drop of the floor. Stiles stumbles into him, shoulder smacking heavily into Derek’s chest with the momentum, but Derek stays upright braced with werewolf agility. His arm slides automatically around Stiles’ waist, anchoring him from danger.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says shakily as Derek rights him, pushes the warmth of Stiles’ body off his chest where Derek’s own heart is doing its best imitation of a tarantella. He keeps his hands on Stiles' shoulders just to make sure he isn’t going anywhere. “Oh my god,” Stiles says again. His eyes are dark and wide, panicked.

“Hey,” Derek says, trying to get Stiles to focus on him. When that doesn’t work, he grabs at Stiles’ jaw, thumb and forefinger manhandling his face toward him. “Stiles, it’s okay. You’re safe.”

Stiles’ eyes flicker up to his. “Huh... oh what? Yeah. No, I mean. I know. Jesus. I mean, thank you.

“Let me see your arm,” Derek says gently, turning Stiles towards him.

“My arm?” Stiles asks incredulously, and it’s slightly hysterical. “Seriously? I nearly died. My whole life flashed before my eyes! There was a lot of carrot sticks. A lot more than I’m actually comfortable with. Fuck, I need to buy my dad curly fries, like, right now. I don’t want him to die thinking of raw vegetables.”

Derek lets Stiles get the verbal diarrhea out. He knows it’s just the adrenaline surging through the kid’s body. The scratch on Stiles’ arm is not as deep as it looked when the glass was slicing through it, but it’s still beginning to bleed, crimson dots of blood oozing slowly along the line from Stiles’ wrist to his elbow.

“Fuck, that’s all my life adds up to? No thoughts of my dad? I didn’t even think of Lydia! Aren’t you meant to think of your long lost loves or something when you’re dying? Maybe that doesn’t apply to virgins. Oh. My. God. I would have died a virgin. That would have been so humiliating.” Stiles whimpers in embarrassment as the words tumble out of his mouth unheeded.

“You weren’t dying,” Derek says, gentle but firm.

“I could have been,” Stiles argues, finally looking down at his arm where his wrist is cradled in Derek’s fingers. “Ow,” he says, but it sounds more like the need to say something than actual discovery of pain.

“I wouldn’t have let you die,” Derek mutters, turning Stiles arm into the sunlight to get a better look. Just to be sure. Stiles stays silent. “We better clean this out. Have you had your tetanus shots, by the way?”

Stiles stutters, pulling his hand back out of Derek’s grip. “You’re asking me if my vaccinations are up to date?” And Stiles sounds incredulous again, although it’s slow and disbelieving.

“Your father is the Sheriff, remember?” Derek retorts.

“Sure,” Stiles says softly, head tilting as he looks at Derek, and the weird feeling prickling along Derek’s neck makes him swat at the skin there, as if expecting to find ash or spiders.

Derek just asks the question again. With his face.

“Um, yes, I had my tetanus booster a few months back. There was metal and it was all Scott’s fault.”

“I’m sure it was,” Derek sighs. “Come on.”

He leads Stiles down to the second floor, then the first. He has a first aid kit in the Camaro.

When Stiles is patched up, wound washed clean and a couple of butterfly bandages applied for good measure, they stand for a while in the sun. It isn’t uncomfortable, like earlier, just quiet and peaceful. Derek can hear the wrens in the trees and the steady thump of Stiles’ heartbeat next to him.

When Stiles has recovered enough that Derek thinks he’s okay to drive, Derek sends him home, because he really doesn’t need the Sheriff to come knocking, asking why his son is more beaten and bruised than he was when he turned up. Not for the first time he wonders if the Sheriff knows the extent of what Stiles is doing while he ‘rests’ away from school. Stiles looks like he’s ready to argue when Derek suggests it, but then he nods, eyes serious and old.

“Okay,” he says simply, then backs up from Derek. He doesn’t turn around, walking backwards until he reaches the jeep, whereupon he hoists himself in with his good arm. Derek hasn’t seen any of the kids afraid to turn their backs on him for a long time, no longer scared of the big bad wolf routine. He doesn’t think that’s what this is.

Derek watches as the jeep turns down the road and disappears. He feels undeniably better at having Stiles away from the house right now. A thought he isn’t going to examine. At all.

He heads back up to third floor and has the rest of the wall demolished by sundown.

* * *

“Wow, you really did a number on it, didn’t you?” Stiles say with a low whistle the next day.

Derek is coming in from the woods, an early morning run to help clear his head. He meets Stiles at the car and they both stare at the house, a third of it gone and the squat rectangular shape no longer familiar, no longer his home.

Derek shrugs, not willing to explain that it’s safer this way, less precarious for Stiles’ skin and bones. “How’s your arm?” he asks instead.

Stiles pushes up the sleeve of the blue Henley he’s wearing, shows Derek the scabbed over wound. It’s really not much more than a deep scratch, but it puts Derek at ease that it’s healing.

“Fine. Doesn’t even hurt that much,” Stiles says. “But, you know, thanks again. For the saving.”

Derek doesn’t acknowledge the compliment. “Do you want to start on the second floor today?”

Stiles pulls his sleeve back down and shrugs lopsidedly. “Sure.”

It’s lighter now with the walls of the third floor not casting shadows down into the second. Stiles goes straight to the end room, which makes sense, but it’s Derek’s childhood room, and it causes his hackles to rise. He breathes deep, reminding himself he’s equally involved in this destruction. That, unlike last time he ruined this house, it’s his choice to do so now.

Stiles must pick up on the tension Derek is fighting, because he looks up uncertainly from where he’s studying the mattress in the corner.

“Was this your... We don’t have to, we can start from another room,” Stiles says awkwardly, tripping over his tongue. He’s fiddling with the corner of his top, the navy-blue material threading through his fingers.

“No,” Derek grunts, and if it’s a bit sharp, a bit too much like a snap of teeth, Stiles doesn’t make any move to acknowledge it. Just waits, gaze unwavering on Derek’s face.

Derek forces himself calm and tries again. “No, it’s okay. Let me just...” He steps forward, awkwardly moving around Stiles and tugging at the thin mattress.

They both ignore the beetles and other things that crawl away as he shifts their hiding spot. Derek carries the mattress into the next room, Laura’s room, and lets it slump down on the floor. When he goes back to his room, Stiles is right where he left him, as if waiting for Derek to give the go ahead, to make it alright.

“How should we- ?” Stiles asks, indicating the roof above their heads.

Derek considers for a moment. “I think I’ll have to get up there and pull the boards up from the top. How about you start on that bit.” He gestures at the open side, the remaining wall, out from the shadow of the ceiling and fully away from where falling debris might be.

“Okay,” Stiles says simply, easily, and he goes straight to it as Derek jumps, hoists himself up onto the upper floor with his fingers.

It’s silent again, apart from the hitting of wood as Stiles punches out the siding with a hammer, while Derek works above him, prising nails out of the misshapen floor boards. He wonders if it should disturb him, the way that this is easy, that they seem to work together with no need for conversation, no need for reassurance that this is safe.

After all, it isn’t like Stiles has ever been great friends with Derek. Yes, they’ve come to a sort of mutually beneficial recognition of each other, borne from taking turns at saving each other’s lives. Of Stiles saving the lives of his betas. The have not, however, spent as much time with each other as they have in the last week. It shouldn’t be this easy, not for Derek. He doesn’t trust, he can’t afford to. And yet here he is, letting Stiles tear apart his house. Abiding his presence and, if he’s honest, almost enjoying it.

Stiles is quiet, serious and focused, and it doesn’t gel at all with the Stiles Derek knew before. The one whose mouth never shut. The one that sarcasm oozed from as the most natural form of self defence.

Derek pulls up the board he’s managed to liberate, and throws it over the side before crouching down to work on the next one. He takes a moment to watch Stiles below him, as he punches holes in the wall with a kind of uncoordinated grace. Derek’s amazed he hasn’t hit his own fingers yet, but somehow Stiles is managing.

Stiles’ shirt pulls taut as he arches back to swing the hammer, stretching across his shoulders and riding up in the back to reveal a sliver of his skin. Derek turns away, back to the flooring.

He has it all ripped up by noon, having to loosen the last board and jump down to the second floor before pushing it up and over from below. Stiles has stopped, is sitting down taking a break. His face is ruddy and his chest heaves.

Derek thinks about telling him he can do it on his own again, but the reaction from yesterday stops him.

* * *

By the end of the week, Derek has moved the mattress twice more, and it is now exposed to the open air, resting in the last room on the floor. The house is barely recognisable now with the second floor almost gone.

Stiles turns up every day like clockwork, and Derek finds himself drawing comfort from it, this strange alliance between them.

The next day, Stiles turns up in a brown t-shirt with a bright purple flower on it. Underneath are the words ‘is my Kryptonite’ in block letters.

“Is that wolfsbane?” Derek asks incredulously as Stiles walks towards the house.

He knows the answer because Stiles grins, huge and toothy in a way that Derek can admit makes him feel things that are decidedly uncomfortable.


“They do not sell those,” Derek says flatly, drifting into Stiles’ space to get a closer look. It certainly seems like a professionally printed t-shirt.

“The internet sells everything, Derek,” Stiles mocks.

“The internet does not sell that,” Derek replies just as quickly, poking at the flower on Stiles’ chest.

“Hey,” Stiles protests, pulling back from Derek’s finger. “Okay, so maybe I got it printed. So what? It’s hilarious.”

Derek raises an eyebrow and says nothing, because this is ridiculous. And very Stiles.

“What?” Stiles says indignantly. “Wolfsbane doesn’t kill people, Derek. People kill people.”

“Oh my god,” Derek monotones. Because, really.

Stiles is back to grinning.

Derek can’t find it in him to stop him.

* * *

Their luck had to run out sometimes, and the next week, after a Stiles-less Saturday that had Derek antsy and uncomfortable like the prickle of a full moon that didn’t exist, the rain decided to bucket down during the day as well as the night.

They’ve pulled down the entire second floor, so the mattress now lays in what used to be the living room, antique green sofa and debris its only company. The plan was to demolish the kitchen next, start at the other end of the house, but the rain isn’t cooperating.

Derek hasn’t slept much at nights as it is, too many memories in each of the rooms his raggedy mattress ends up, making it impossible to shut off his mind. Instead he’s resorted to running, hunting and letting the wolf inside deal with the confusing emotions of his current situation by playing to his baser instincts.

He’s tired today in a way he isn’t used to, the physical strain of demolition all day and running all night, the emotional mire he walks through every time a piece of his home comes down, catching up to him in a sluggish ennui.

He’s lying awkwardly on the mattress, staring up at a dark stain across the ceiling. The rain drips inside, finding the crevices easier without the second or third floors to provide meagre shelter. So far it isn’t dripping on him, though, so he stays where he is.

He doesn’t really even expect Stiles to turn up today, given that nothing will get done in the sudden monsoon.

And yet, when he hears the angry purr of the jeep as it makes its way through the mud pile that was once a track, he can’t help the uptick of his heart as it responds to Stiles’ closeness.

The jeep isn’t the only thing that’s angry. Stiles is. Derek can hear it in the way Stiles pulls the gears too quickly, letting them grind against each other. In the quickness of the brakes. He can definitely hear it in the slam of the car door, even if that could just be interpreted as haste to be out of the torrenting water.

Stiles’ feet pound up the front stairs of the porch. There’s a split-second hesitation at the door, but then he opens it, bursts inside in a swirl of frigid wind and water. Stiles stops in the entrance to the room, mid-shake of water.

“Derek?” he calls, and there’s a naivety to his voice, a worry.

“Yes?” Derek responds, not bothering to get up from where he lays. It’s comfortable, in a very uncomfortable way.

“Are you auditioning for Night of the Living Dead? Why are you lying on the floor?” Stiles asks.

“Why would a zombie lie on the floor?” Derek queries, not answering the second question.

“Nosferatu then,” Stiles snaps, and there it is, the anger Derek sensed.

“I’m tired, Stiles,” he growls, because he isn’t beneath exerting a little bit of Alpha to put Stiles in his place. “When I’m tired, I lie down.”

Even as he says the words, though, he’s levering himself up, sitting back against the wall.

“Oh, okay,” Stiles says, watching him from the doorway. He makes a decision, apparently, because he comes further into the room, flops down on the green sofa in a cloud of dust.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asks, even though he knows better.

“Your stupid betas,” Stiles grouches, glaring at Derek like that’s a suitable thing to do with a tired werewolf not more than two yards away from you.

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” Derek deadpans, and Stiles’ eyes open wide, a laugh bursting out of him. Derek pretends he doesn’t feel a little bit proud.

“It’s Jackson,” Stiles says after the shock settles. “He’s being an ass to Lydia. Again.”

“And you’re surprised?” Derek asks, dangling his arms over his bent knees and letting his fingers droop.

Stiles huffs, annoyed. “Aren’t you? She saved his life. Sort of. After all that I thought...”

“You thought what?”

Stiles rolls his eyes, slumping sideways on the couch so he’s no longer looking at Derek but the ceiling, unconsciously echoing Derek’s position from a second ago. “I don’t know,” he begins, a resigned sigh making his chest rise and fall. “I guess. It was obvious, when she chose him. Couldn’t be a more dramatic declaration of love than offering the key to your heart and bringing someone back from the brink of death, could there?”

Derek thinks there could, an image flitting through his mind of Stiles’ jeep crashing into the warehouse and smacking into Jackson’s reptilian form, but he keeps quiet.

“And Jackson, who’s a dick by the way,” Stiles throws in for good measure. “Jackson seemed to get it. Wouldn’t have changed back if he didn’t, right?” Stiles glances Derek’s way for confirmation.

Derek shrugs at the possibility, and Stiles looks back at the ceiling.

“And yet he’s still...”

“Jackson,” Derek supplies when Stiles trails off.

Stiles is watching him again, head tilted to the side. He nods slightly.

“And Jackson isn’t you,” Derek continues slowly.

Stiles rolls his eyes again, pushing his legs off the sofa and sitting back up again. Derek is suddenly reminded of a Jack-in-the-Box he had as a kid. He wonders what happened to it, assumes it burned in the fire.

“This isn’t about me,” Stiles says stubbornly.

“Isn’t it?” Derek can’t help but prod. He doesn’t know why, because it’s not like he’s enjoying this. Teenage romance has never been his topic of choice when it comes to conversation.

Stiles laugh is dark and broken. “Fine. Maybe a little, but not entirely. Lately I don’t even feel...” He waves his hands near his chest and Derek waits him out. “It’s like when I saw her in the warehouse. I just knew. That I was never...”

Derek gets it. He does.

For some reason he feels like he should reassure Stiles, which is all kinds of ridiculous. Stiles is not his pack, not his charge. And yet, over the last week, Derek can’t deny Stiles has become something to him. That they could even be considered friends. Maybe.

“There’ll be plenty of others,” Derek offers. It sounds weak to his ears.

Stiles snorts and makes an exaggerated gesture down the length of his body. “Yeah. Right. Because they’re falling all over themselves to get up in this.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Derek says. This time he’s the one to roll his eyes. “I very much doubt you’ll die a virgin, Stiles, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

He realises a second too late he may have said something odd, by the way that Stiles is staring at him, posture rigid and eyes large in the gloom. He’s swallowing; Derek can see the way his throat moves around it.

“You are Nosferatu, aren’t you?” Stiles says in an almost whisper, in the way only Stiles could ruin a moment.

Derek ignores him. “We probably won’t get much done today, if you want to hang out with Scott instead.”

Stiles is still looking at him, all wide-eyed and conflicted, and Derek really hopes he doesn’t actually think Derek’s about to suck his blood or something, because the kid isn’t that dumb. He keeps looking at him, and something in the intensity of the stare unnerves Derek, makes his skin feel tight and warm. He really needs to stop thinking of Stiles as a kid when all the evidence in front of him points to something else entirely.

He’s about to tell him to get out, as politely as he can, when Stiles nods. “Okay. Yeah, I probably should. I haven’t really had a chance to hang with Scott for awhile.”

Stiles pushes up off the sofa but then pauses, looking around the dark room, the rain pouring outside the windows and pounding heavily on the floor above. He hesitates, as if he isn’t sure what he’s about to say is okay or not. He fidgets at the zip to his hoodie.

“You know, if you ever need to get away, or um, get out of the rain, you can always crash in my... at my house.”

Derek’s taken aback, stunned into silence. Stiles must take it as confirmation of a misstep, because he hurries on. “I mean, you know, if you wanted. I’m sure you can tell when my dad isn’t there, because of, er, the car, obviously,” he babbles. “Even if he is, as long as you’re quiet, like a mouse. Do wolves- ”

Derek cuts him off, sure he doesn’t want to hear the way that sentence ends. “Okay.”

If he thought Stiles’ eyes were wide before, now they’re positively ink-filled. It almost makes Derek want to laugh, at being the cause of such surprise with so simple a word. Instead it makes him sad.

“Thanks,” he adds, when Stiles seems to have trouble forming words.

“Uh, alright then,” Stiles stutters. “Well, you know where my window is. Whenever.” He tries, and fails, to shrug casually, his shoulders too sharp and his elbows awkward.

“See you later, Stiles.” Derek dismisses him.

Stiles leaves the house and Derek listens to the quiet pause as he sits in his car, not turning the ignition for a long moment. Eventually the jeep growls to life and then peters out into silence as Stiles makes his way back out of the woods.

Derek lies back down on the mattress again and stares back up at the ceiling. It’s probably one of the last times he’ll get to do it, he thinks, his heart thudding painfully in his chest. Soon there won’t be a ceiling. Won’t be a home.

His house with its charcoal and stains, melted upholstery and twisted metal where the fire burned too hot. He hears it sometimes, the fire. The roaring growl of it as it licks its way over his family. It’s imaginary, because he wasn’t there, he didn’t hear and he doesn’t know. And yet.

His thoughts turn to Stiles, away from the pain of what he’s doing to the house, what this house has done to him.

In all the time Derek has been in Beacon Hills, with Scott and the ragtag bunch of teenagers that have become his pack, no one has ever offered him, well, anything. He knows it comes with the territory - the mystique he draws around him for safety simply works best if he appears to want to stay in the burnt out remains of his family home like some kind of psychotic recluse. Stiles wasn’t entirely wrong when he accused Derek of it being a shtick, not entirely. Even if Stiles hadn’t understood why, that it wasn’t for play.

Derek certainly never expected anything more. He wasn’t here for friendship. For love. For companionship. He was here because this was where his sister died. Where his family died. He didn’t have anything else. As the Alpha, it was his duty, and one he was forced to admit he’d failed.

It wasn’t even a surprise to find himself alone, for his betas to abandon the pack, for Scott and Jackson to deny him. Honestly, he expected to be alone; it was a big part of why he let Stiles begin the process of pulling down the house, knowing there was nothing else keeping him here.

He’d made his bed, with Kate in it, and this was the consequence.

But as he thinks of the look on Stiles’ face when he offered Derek his house, he’s forced to come to a startling, aching realisation.

He isn’t alone.

He has Stiles.

* * *

The next day is as wet as the one before, a steady downpour that fills the echoing rooms with a harsh rush of noise. It reminds Derek of the roar of fire and makes his fingernails hurt. He’s pretty sure Stiles won’t be coming, and briefly, very briefly, he wonders if he could go to Stiles. Turn up at his window and see if he was telling the truth, if he’d be welcome inside.

It’s a stupid thought and one Derek dismisses quickly. His feelings about Stiles, about what this sudden invitation means, are confused. If Stiles is his friend, what does that even mean? They aren’t going to swap friendship bracelets, or blood oaths, nor declare BFF-dom while skipping into the sunset. Because this is Derek, and he doesn’t get that. Also, they aren’t girls.

There isn’t really much Derek can offer, as a friend. He can’t get drunk without imbibing a liquor store, he doesn’t like the noise and fuss of parties, and he’s never going to spill his painful secrets to anyone. He’s not the type to hang out playing computer games or watch movies in his pyjamas. He’s just not. If life has taught him anything, it’s that he’s not fit for consumption. Laura put up with him because she had to, and also, she was almost as fucked up as him sometimes. No, when Derek gets close to people, people tend to get hurt.

Stiles texts him in the morning, the lone beep of Derek’s phone, so clearly mechanical and unlike the wet, melancholy bird song through the window, alerting him to the message. Rain. Ugh. Tomorrow? Truthfully, he’s grateful he’ll get another day’s grace.

It’s with something akin to apprehension that the following day greets Derek with warm sunshine and the kind of cool breeze that promises later heat.

Right on schedule, Stiles shows up with coffee and food. Derek meets him by the car and once again they eat, leaning against the metal of its shell. The silence isn’t entirely comfortable, as if the world knows the thinking going on in Derek’s head and judges him for it. Stiles fidgets next to him, and more than once Derek thinks he’s going to say something before he clams up again.

Derek is almost relieved when the physical labour beckons, following Stiles into the house and into the last room on the right, what used to be the kitchen. They’ll need to get the remains of the fittings out before they start on the room itself. Burnt-out cupboards with no doors flank the side wall. An oven, rusted in place in the middle. The fridge is long since removed, though Derek doesn’t know by whom, or why, nor does he really care. It’s one less thing they have to move now.

They work side by side, prying down the overhanging cupboards with a crowbar and hammer. Stiles is silent like he was the previous week, but it feels different. Derek keeps catching Stiles looking at him out of the corner of his eye. He can’t tell what the look is, if it’s nervousness or why, but Stiles’ heartbeat thuds faster whenever he realises Derek’s caught him, his gaze skittering away.

It’s unnerving.

Worse is the way Derek keeps reaching to yank down a piece of plywood, only to find Stiles is there first, muttering apologies and pulling back quickly. They’ve never been this awkward around each other before, and Derek can only assume it’s his fault, given he’s the one who had the realisation that Stiles comes here every day because he wants to, because he wants to spend his days with Derek.

He tries to shake it off, throws himself into smashing the cupboards to bits in a way that is frankly, a fair bit of overkill. Stiles laughs at him, even if awkwardly, and some of the tension leaves the room. Derek finds himself relaxing.

Of course, he also finds a by-product of this is that he keeps wanting to drift closer to Stiles. Whatever his feelings on his own inadequacies are, the fact of the matter is Stiles makes him feel like he isn’t alone. It makes him want to reach out, to touch. He knows it’s probably a lot to do with the wolf inside, the instinct to drag friends and family close and protect them. He also knows it isn’t only that.

The whole day goes by with less than ten words spoken between them. Sure, they’re normally quiet, talking in snippets of conversations rather than exhausting every topic that comes up, but they’ve never been this silent.

When darkness falls Stiles puts down the hammer he’s been using, then pulls the gloves off his spindly fingers and sets them gently on the remains of the bench. Derek wipes the sweat off his brow with the back of his arm before resting the crow bar by his side.

He expects Stiles to leave, but he doesn’t. He just stands there in the middle of Derek’s old kitchen, eyes dark in the shadows cast by the falling dusk. Derek’s heart feels as if it’s lodged in his throat, painful and cutting off air with each contraction and push of blood. He doesn’t know what Stiles is looking at, and it scares him. Terrifies him in a way the animal urges inside him never have.

And then Stiles nods, smiling slightly, softly, before he dips his head in acknowledgment and leaves.

Derek has no idea what just happened.

* * *

He spends a restless night in the woods, chasing after things he can’t see and feelings he doesn’t know how to interpret. For the first time in months of denial, he aches for his sister. The horror of her loss washes over him a thousand fold for his holding it at bay. The howl that rips from his throat is full of sorrow, and is really mostly a scream.

When Stiles turns up in the morning, Derek is tired. He lacks the energy to deal with what Stiles means to him, and somehow that makes it easier for him to ignore. He takes his place next to Stiles at the jeep, settling in closer than before, enough that he can feel the bleed of warmth coming from the body next to him as much as from the vehicle.

Stiles wordlessly hands him his coffee and says nothing about the proximity.

* * *

The days blur together and Derek mostly settles himself back into something approaching normal. The kitchen comes down piece by piece. The mounds of rotten wood outside the house build up as the house itself disappears.

Derek allows himself to stay close to Stiles, and Stiles lets him. For all Stiles has caused these unwelcome thoughts of friendship, Derek draws support from him anyway, allowing the scent of Stiles to wash over him, his breaths calming his nerves. Maybe this is what having a friend is like, Derek reasons.

Together they take apart the central staircase that has led to nothing but sky for days now. It becomes too much, as Derek pries the nails out that he hammered in with his dad, and when one takes so much force to pull out that the chisel he’s using slips and cuts the soft webbing between thumb and forefinger, Derek roars.

Stiles flinches, but stays.

Derek doesn’t. Storming out the door, the door that’s no longer needed, that no longer goes anywhere, he finds himself running again, as far and as hard as he can.

It’s late by the time he gets back, and Stiles has taken the entirety of the staircase down himself. Derek is so grateful it chokes him, and so he sits down on the top of the rickety stairs that lead up to the porch, next to where Stiles is waiting for him to return.

“Sorry,” he grunts, feeling stupid for having to say it.

Stiles shrugs. “For what?” he says simply, and it’s clear he doesn’t want Derek to answer, that he doesn’t need or expect him to.

Derek finds himself answering anyway. “We built those stairs together,” he says, not bothering to elaborate on who he means.

Stiles is silent a long moment, fiddling with the cap on his bottled water. When he speaks, his voice is soft. “My mom taught me to cook,” he says, and shifts over so he’s pressing up against Derek’s side, shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh.

They stay that way until Stiles has to go home to make his father’s dinner.

* * *

In the way that time is at least perceived as a linear progression, it had to happen eventually. It still takes Derek by surprise on the day they have only one room left to tear down.

They start work on the ceiling, not more than the remaining floorboards of the floor above. Dust and ash cloud around them as they work, making Stiles sneeze and swear. This has been the most used of all the burnt-out rooms and Derek thinks that should mean it’s less dirty, the movement and wind sweeping out some of the leaves and dirt. Apparently it doesn’t work that way.

They work through lunch, the promise of a finishing point pushing them on until Stiles stomach grumbles so loudly that Derek laughs unexpectedly.

Stiles looks up, eyes shining from irritation and something else. It looks a lot like happiness at making Derek laugh, if Derek were prone to interpreting things, which he’s not.

“Come on, idiot,” he says, and can’t help the way he wants to smile. Can help the actual smile, but doesn’t, just a bit.

He offers his hand out to Stiles and helps him down from their perch on the ceiling.

“I bought lamb today,” Stiles says as Derek follows him to the jeep. “I know how much you like to eat the little sheep.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You really get too much mileage out of the whole werewolf thing for someone who isn’t a wolf, you know.”

Stiles looks over his shoulder as he digs around in the jeep for the bag of sandwiches and grins, eyes sparkling. “Someone ought to have some fun with it. God knows you all are too busy being dramatic to.”

“Lizards and hunters trying to rip your guts out does that to a person,” Derek comments dryly.

Stiles snorts, finally pouncing on the plastic bag and pulling it out triumphantly. “I’m just saying,” he says. He takes one of the sandwiches out and hands it to Derek, then unwraps the other for himself. “There have to be pros to being a wolf.”

They eat standing, Stiles leaning against the jeep and Derek in front of him. A little too close to be normal. The lamb is dry and somewhat gamey, but Derek chews it down all the same. It’s meat. It’s good.

“There are,” he admits around a bite.

Stiles looks contemplative. “Maybe you should celebrate those sometimes. See how that goes. I bet the kids would appreciate it.”

Derek watches Stiles chew. Something stops him from saying back, ‘They aren’t my kids,’ knowing it won’t be the answer Stiles wants to hear.

They finish eating and Derek goes into the woods a ways to relieve himself. When he gets back Stiles is standing in the centre of the living room, now not more than a corner of walls and smattering of floorboards above it. The light, allowed in after years of banishment, is bright and harsh, illuminating the mould on the walls, the weeds growing through the cracks. He’s looking down at Derek’s sad excuse for a mattress. The yellow water spots and old blood stains long since turned brown.

He looks up as Derek enters.

“You’ll stay with me tonight, yeah?” Stiles says, and he sounds nervous, unsure like he did the first time he offered. Derek supposes that’s because he didn’t take him up on the offer that time, even though he said he would.

“Maybe,” he answers, because he really doesn’t know what his plans are yet. Stiles looks affronted but not particularly surprised, so Derek thinks it’s probably okay.

Derek takes hold of the thin mattress and pulls it off the floor. He manhandles it out the remaining window frame and turns back to find Stiles staring again, this time at the floor where the mattress was; the black stain of arterial spray that spurted out of Kate’s slit throat.

Stiles’ face blanches, blood draining.

His voice is thready but firm, and his eyes don’t leave the spot on the floor. “You’re staying with me.”

Derek steps awkwardly forward, places a hand on Stiles’ shoulder like it’s a thing he does. “Alright. If you need- ” He cuts that sentence off quickly at the absolutely livid look he gets from Stiles, changes direction to mollify. “Okay. While I figure things out.”

Stiles look is quizzical. “Things?”

Derek removes his hand, lets his arm drop awkwardly to his side. “I don’t have a home now, remember? Gotta go somewhere.”

Stiles nods contemplatively. “Shouldn’t take too long, I mean, there’s not exactly a dearth of housing in Beacon Hills. What with the murders and mountain lions and all.”

Derek hesitates. “Right. That’s an option.”

“What do you mean, an ‘option’?” Stiles asks, and there’s something in the way he says it that’s wrong. Something in the narrowing of his eyes that tells Derek he should be alert.

“Stiles,” Derek says, the uncertainty bleeding a burr into his tone. “I don’t even know that I’ll stay in Beacon Hills. The house was the last- ”

“What? No!” Stiles steps backwards, his body a line of sudden tension. “You aren’t leaving. Not after we did all this!” he yelps, arms flailing at the ruins around them.

“Exactly,” Derek says calmly, the way he’d talk to a small child. “After we did all this. I don’t have a home here now.”

A thunderous, dark look passes over Stiles’ face, and Derek fights the urge to recoil. When it comes, Stiles’ voice is incredulous, reedy disbelief dripping with raw anger. “You think we did this so what, so that you could leave?”

“Didn’t we?” Derek asks, because it’s true, even if it was never his conscious goal. It’s why he’s painstakingly torn apart the last vestiges of his home. To free himself. To let himself breathe, to be able to go.

“Fuck, I can’t even believe you,” Stiles snaps, one of his hands running over his head in agitation. “That you would think I’d help all this time... That I’d do it to watch you leave, to watch another person leave.”

Derek can feel his own anger build. Yes, he has grown to share a friendship with Stiles as he’s broken his house apart. He doesn’t understand it, is somewhat scared of it and yes, it means something. But he will not allow himself to be trapped by something else, by someone else, in this godforsaken town of ghosts. Stiles should understand that better than anyone.

“Why else would I tear down my house, Stiles?” he snaps, and it’s cold, but he can’t help it. Stiles doesn’t get to guilt him after just two weeks of being civil to him.

“Sure. What other reason could there possibly be?” Stiles huffs sarcastically.

Derek knows his eyes flash red, and it’s testament to the fact that Stiles has gotten used to him that alarm doesn’t even register on his face. “You tell me, Stiles. Enlighten me.”

Stiles rolls his eyes so hard Derek thinks he’ll pull an ocular tendon. Derek can practically feel the sarcasm coming like a wave of cold air before a storm.

“Gee, how about, I don’t know, it enabling you to look after your pack,” Stiles whips out like he has a ready-made list, and knowing Stiles, which it seems Derek apparently does now, he probably has. Stiles throws his arms up in the air in exasperation as if he’s dealing with a stubborn three-year-old. “How about, I dunno, the four messed-up teenagers with self-esteem issues that you turned?”

Derek wants to point out that Jackson doesn’t have self-esteem issues, but he knows that would be a lie.

“How about Scott,” Stiles says, voice rising and eyebrow arching when Derek doesn’t answer. “How about how he needs you. Because there’s no one else who’s done this as long as you, who knows the things about being a wolf that you know!”

“Scott isn’t my problem,” Derek says, and almost believes it.

Stiles scoffs. “Right. Because that wasn’t you, was it, Derek? That was your psychotic uncle - who, by the way, has disappeared off the face of the earth, but you know as well as I do is just lurking, waiting to fuck shit up the second you’re out of the picture. Is that what you want? To have some great misery rain down on Beacon Hills that isn’t caused by you? Well, guess what, Peter is your problem. You made him!”

“Stiles,” Derek warns, feeling his canines lengthen, his claws beginning to dig into the flesh of his palms.

“No, you know what? You don’t get to be offended,” Stiles spits, pacing in front of him like a caged animal and not even enjoying the irony. “You act like none of this has anything to do with you, like you were thrust into the middle of this, and because it isn’t working, you get to walk away.”

Derek does growl then, a low noise that vibrates in his throat. “If you recall, they are the ones who gave up on me.”

“Sure. Like that’s a mature, adult response,” Stiles says acidly. “You picked the damaged ones, Derek. You picked the ones you knew wouldn’t say no because they were so fucking broken already that any promise, any glimmer of hope you offered, would be grasped with both hands. And what, you thought that would absolve you? Because they chose? A drowning man always chooses the life preserver.”

“They’re not damaged now,” Derek snipes, stock still, as if Stiles is his prey and he can’t let him know his next move. “They don’t need me and that’s their choice too.”

Stiles laughs, hands going to his hips in a way he probably doesn’t realise echoes the way his father stands at crime scenes. Derek should know. “Aren’t they? Really? You know, I can’t even tell if you’re mad that your bite gave them teeth - the ability to fight back - or if you’re just stupid. They aren’t fixed. They’re just bigger. Stronger and scarier and just as fucking damaged inside, only now they have the ability to act on it.”

“And I’m not their father!” Derek growls.

“No, you’re their Alpha,” Stiles snaps, swinging into Derek’s space and pointing a finger into his chest.

Derek has Stiles’ arm in his grip before he even blinks, yanking him roughly in towards him, Stiles’ back at his chest. His arm comes up, pinning Stiles around his ribs, his other hand curling around Stiles’ throat, claws out and pinching at the skin. “It is. Not. Your. Business,” he spits into Stiles’ ear, the tickle of Stiles’ hair against his cheek.

To Derek’s satisfaction, Stiles shudders at the sudden turn of events, rigid and smelling of fear. Despite what he can smell, though, what he can feel, Stiles still manages to surprise him. “And here I thought things had changed between us,” Stiles says, voice hoarse but holding steady like Stiles is clinging to it. “That we’d gotten past the whole physical intimidation thing.”

Derek growls but releases him, shoving him roughly away. “You’re the one who started this, Stiles. You’re the one that started pulling down my house.”

Stiles blinks at him owlishly, recovering from the shock of being manhandled and touching the angry red crescents Derek’s claws left at his neck, but he meets Derek’s eyes determinedly. “Yeah. Because it needed to be done and you wouldn’t do it.”

Derek exhales loudly through his nose, annoyed at talking in circles. “What do you want from me, Stiles?”

The rueful smile is hard to look at. “I want you to let the past go. Allow yourself to move on and be what they need you to be.”

Which is too close to something Laura would have said, and far too close to the things he’s too frightened to acknowledge, let alone try and attempt.

And so he reacts.

“And I suppose this has nothing to do with you at all. Nothing to do with the fact that your best friend has abandoned you and your crush doesn’t want you and hey guess what? Little Stiles is all alone with no one to play with. You think I don’t know that I’m convenient to you? That you can swap stories with me about your mom and expect me to sympathise because I lost mine too? News flash, Stiles. Your mom died, it was sad and life went on. Me? I got mine killed. I got her set on fire while her children burned around her. Not the same thing, so don’t even fucking try to compare.”

Stiles’ mouth has dropped open, cheeks colouring and eyes wide as if he’s been physically slapped. Derek feels it like a punch in the gut, his own words reaching his ears and turning his stomach sour.

Stiles takes a ragged step backwards, stumbles on his own shoes but remains standing. The expression on his face...

“Stiles,” Derek says, suddenly desperate to take it all back. To acknowledge that it isn’t true, that these past few weeks have been the most normal he’s felt in years, the least alone, that he’d deliberately and naively not thought about the fact that making a friend meant leaving one.

“No, you know what?” Stiles says, and then he laughs, a horrible broken noise that grates down Derek’s spine. “Just don’t. Don’t even bother. Have a nice life, Derek. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

And the worst part, as Stiles turns sharply and stumbles over the foundations of the Hale house in his haste to leave, is that despite the pain and wrongness of what Derek’s just done to him, Derek thinks he probably means it.

* * *

Derek has always been aware that he isn’t a very nice person. Not since, well, a very long time ago. Before. Yet even he has trouble dealing with the wave of guilt that settles over him after Stiles’ departure. He’s said worse things to even nicer people, but it has never felt like this. Now it sits like a stone in his stomach, roiling in the guilt that he swallows down every day for simply being alive.

It’s not like he got here with a map, he thinks, as he tears blindly at the remaining wall. Blood drips down his arms from where nails have caught in his flesh, splinters embedded but not yet pulled out, reminders of why he should hurt. Of how he hurts others.

In retrospect, it’s pretty fucking obvious Stiles hasn’t been helping Derek tear down his house because he wants Derek to leave town. And honestly, he never thought that was the case. He’d been so caught up in not knowing what this thing with Stiles was, this growing friendship, the weird way in which having someone around had become normal so horrifyingly easily, that it didn’t occur to him to wonder why it was.

They started pulling the house down in anger - ironic, given it seems that’s how it’s ended too. It was cathartic, in the way that catharsis is also incredibly painful. Derek hasn’t had this much emotional turmoil to deal with since the fire; even Laura’s death was simple, revenge an obvious solution with the narrow-minded haze of anger focusing his thoughts.

Angrily, he kicks hard at the last remaining joist, and with a quiet thump, everything is silent.

He stands on the foundations of what was once his home.

With nothing left but mounds of charred wood ringing the flat space, Derek waits for the rush of freedom he’s been anticipating. It doesn’t come. Instead he feels sick, falling to his knees and retching onto the blackened dirt of the exposed floor.

He stays there for what feels like hours, kneeling on the floorboards as his heart pounds and the wolf inside him pines for what he’s lost.

It actually is hours, he realises, when he finally looks up and the sky is falling dark, a cooler wind chilling him through the flimsy wifebeater he wears. He feels calmer, though the pain of the recent fight with Stiles is still sharp, caught and stabbing at him like one of the splinters in his arm.


Derek isn’t sure what to do. He isn’t sure if there is anything he can say that will make the pain he’s inflicted go away. Stiles is smart and will know the words Derek uttered, as he’d lashed out like something out of a Psych 101 textbook, were said to cause damage, and not because they were true.

Stiles won’t turn his back on Derek because of the words, as hateful as they were. He might turn his back on Derek because of the larger issue they indicated, though, the fact Derek felt the need to say them at all. That and the way Derek was ready to turn his back on Stiles first.

Stiles, the boy who stayed.

That Derek might not be able to repair whatever it is he has with Stiles is suddenly too much to bear, too painful a thing to let happen, and he heads for the Camaro parked on the other side of the forest.

It’s fully dark by the time he pulls up around the corner from Stiles’ house. The Sheriff's cruiser isn’t in the drive, and Derek is relieved. He doesn’t know what he would have done if it had been. Snuck into Stiles’ bedroom and tried to have what he’s sure will amount to a fairly loud argument without attracting attention? Knock on the door and hope not to be arrested... or shot?

As it is, Derek still has to make the window-or-door decision, but he ends up going for familiarity, easily hoisting himself up to Stiles’ room. The window is shut, but the blinds are up, and Derek can see Stiles hunched over at his desk, tapping aimlessly at his computer keyboard. The overhead lights are off, the only illumination in the shadows of the room coming from the desk lamp angled away from Stiles’ computer screen.

Given the afternoon’s events and unsure of the depth of the welcome he might receive, Derek does something he’s never done previously in this situation, and knocks, knuckles rapping gently against the cool glass of the window.

Stiles’ head jerks up in alarm, and then his expression morphs as he takes in who it is with an ugly mix of anger and disbelief. His eyes are rimmed red, and there’s such sadness about him that Derek almost loses his nerve and runs.

Even when he doesn’t, Derek isn’t sure he’ll be allowed the chance to make this better. Stiles is staring at him, unmoving, presumably warring internally on which way he wants to play this. Derek fidgets, again decides this was a mistake. He should have cut and run when he had the opportunity. But then Stiles rolls the chair back from the desk and stands, slowly coming to the window and pushing the sash up.

By the time Derek has climbed in, Stiles has backed up, knees against the back of his bed. Derek doesn’t approach any further, standing awkwardly just inside the window.

“What do you want?” Stiles asks, and his voice is gravelly and raw like he’s been swallowing sandpaper.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, knowing that there’s no other way around it despite his general aversion to the words.

Stiles scoffs, quiet and resigned, like he knows the outcome of this conversation already, a chore he has to get through before moving on with the rest of his life. “Okay, thanks. You’ll be going now, then?” Stiles replies, still sarcastic even in apathy.

Derek takes a halting step forward and is relieved when Stiles doesn’t back away. He doesn’t know if he could stand it.

“Stiles,” he tries again. Stiles watches him, the light from the lamp casting sharp angles across his face, but he stays silent. “I didn’t mean... when I said...” He breaks off, frustrated. He isn’t good at this, he doesn’t know how.

“Oh, really? So you weren’t going to just leave, then?” Stiles responds as if Derek has managed whole sentences. His voice is incredulous and his eyes flash with anger.

“That’s not what- ”

“So you were,” Stiles snaps, cutting him off before he can try to explain. “Good then, we’re all the same page.”

Stiles,” Derek growls. “It wasn’t like I made a decision to go... I didn’t really think that far- ”

“I did,” Stiles cuts him off, and it looks to Derek like he didn’t mean to when Stiles’ eyes go wide in surprise.

There’s an awkward silence where neither of them says anything. Stiles looks at the open window and Derek looks at Stiles, willing him to speak when he clearly isn’t going to. Eventually Derek bites the bullet.

“For the pack?” he questions cautiously, quietly.

Stiles sighs and sits down abruptly on the bed as if his strings have been cut. “Mostly.”

There’s no squirming or fidgeting that accompanies the word, only the same resigned, uncaring tone. It’s so very much not Stiles that Derek fights the urge to get closer and shake it out of him.

“For me?” Derek asks, standing as still as he possibly can, not daring to take a wrong breath or make a noise that might break the silent detente that seems to be occurring.

Anger flashes across Stiles face again, but it’s quick, fleeting. “Little Stiles all alone with no one to play with,” he mocks himself, throwing Derek’s earlier words back in ugly parody.

“I didn’t mean that,” Derek says, shrugging in a way that probably looks disaffected but is actually to alleviate the weight of the guilt he can feel pressing down on his shoulders.

Stiles shakes his head a little, sadness settling over his features. “The worst part is, I believe you,” he says softly, a rueful smile twitching across his mouth. “But it doesn’t make it any less true.”

Derek feels the frustration build again, needing Stiles to understand. Denying Stiles’ word isn’t going to do him any favours, so he takes a chance on honesty and the element of surprise.

“So maybe it is,” he starts, and Stiles’ eyebrows pull together in a frown so he hurries on. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Apparently you’d rather skip town than be alone, so you tell me,” Stiles replies without intonation.

“I was wrong,” Derek says. Because he was.

Stiles looks up, curiously. “Wrong?”

Derek swallows, tamping down his unwanted pride. He takes a step into the room, then another. “I didn’t realise that I wasn’t. Alone.”

Stiles eyes are doing the fade-to-black thing again, irises vanishing as his pupils dilate. Derek wonders what else would make them do that, and is stunned by the sudden rush of images that his subconscious has, apparently, already got at hand on that topic. Because that is new, and yet somehow it slots into the confusing picture of Derek’s emotions on what Stiles means to him, brings it into startling focus.

Focus. Which is what he needs right now, because that is not even in the same country as what they’re trying to fix right now.

“No?” Stiles asks, and it sounds very small. Derek wants to make him not sound that way.

He shakes his head. “You started tearing down my house, and I let you, Stiles. I don’t know how I didn’t see... but there you were. Every day.”

“I’m annoying that way,” Stiles says, nodding like this is something he hears on a regular basis, which he’s made his peace with and uses for nefarious purposes.

Derek risks the rejection and takes the last steps to Stiles’ bed, sits down carefully beside him as if it were any other morning and they’re sipping coffee next to each other against the jeep. He keeps his head down, eyes focused on an imaginary spot on the carpet. “That’s the thing though,” he says, figuring out the truth as he stumbles across it. “It wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t what?” Stiles asks, and Derek can feel his gaze on the side of his face.

“Annoying,” Derek says, tilts his head a little to see how Stiles is taking his words.

Stiles snorts like he doesn’t believe it, but isn’t really offended either way.

“No, I mean it, Stiles,” Derek presses. “It was... for the first time since... Laura. I had someone to just be with. Someone who was there, not asking questions or arresting me, or demanding I bite them or fix them or solve the whole damn world’s problems.” His voice rises on the last part, and he takes a breath, brings the volume back down. “I had no idea you could be so quiet,” he says, attempting humour where it might not be taken.

“Neither did I, actually,” Stiles admits, warmth creeping back into his tone. “But you seemed to need it, so...” He flourishes his hand awkwardly.

Derek turns to him, wanting to get his sincerity across properly. “Thank you.”

Stiles blinks, breath falling softly from him and fanning across Derek’s cheek. Derek thinks he might not get a reply, but he’s pretty sure, from the emotion pooling in Stiles’ eyes, that Stiles believes he means it.

Stiles kisses him.

It’s so quick Derek almost thinks he imagines it, Stiles darting forward and pressing dry lips to Derek’s own. A soft, warm slide of skin and moist breath.

And then Stiles is backing away in alarm, arms and legs flailing as he jumps from the bed and crosses the room. “Oh my god,” he mutters, sounding shocked. “I didn’t mean to do that.”

Derek moves to stop him, a hand on Stiles’ shoulder before he can slip through the door and escape. They did not just get to this point, through all that hurt and misunderstanding, to have something as innocent as a kiss fuck it up. Stiles eyes him warily as Derek moves closer, but he makes no movement to indicate alarm as Derek pins him gently to the closed door. The image of another time, another moment recalls in his mind.

“I’m sorry- ” Stiles begins to say, but Derek interrupts.

“Stop,” he commands, and despite not being one of his betas, having no reason to listen, Stiles goes still and silent. “It’s okay.”

Stiles just looks at him, mute and radiating uncertainty.

“It’s okay,” Derek repeats, softer this time, and at Stiles’ jerky nod of acknowledgement, he finds himself leaning in, repeating the kiss that Stiles’ gave him. Peter giving Wendy back her thimble.

Stiles’ mouth opens in a shocked, stuttery gasp, and Derek pulls back, checking, making sure this is okay. That what he suddenly finds himself wanting is wanted in return. The wait as Stiles collects himself seems interminably long. But then Stiles’ fingers are feather soft against Derek’s hips, flexing ever so slightly.

Derek finds himself smiling, which feels weird and somewhat unnerving, given there hasn’t been much for him to smile about in a long time. He dips back in, captures Stiles’ lightly parted mouth with his own. The kiss is firmer, sure and lasting, and Stiles seems to melt under him, body going lax and pliant until Derek has to slide his arms around Stiles’ waist, pressing them both into the door to keep them upright.

Stiles opens his mouth against Derek’s and Derek can feel the hesitance, the inexperience, and it amazes him that Stiles is doing this with him. He feels an unexpected urge to protect, to keep the boy in his arms safe in a way he only feels with his betas because of the wolf.

He sweeps his tongue along Stiles’ bottom lip and darts in, swallowing the soft hitches of Stiles’ breath, tangling them together and taking as much as he gives. Stiles’ grip tightens on Derek’s hips as his tongue slides and curls, and Derek fights the urge to go with the pull, to rock into Stiles before he should.

Stiles shudders, fingers slipping under the edge of Derek’s pants, teasing at the naked skin and the question of timing is taken away from him as he reacts by reflex, pushing forward into Stiles. Apparently it isn’t unwanted, because Stiles moans, low and throaty, and that in turn sends a hot shiver of arousal straight to Derek’s growing erection.

He pulls back from Stiles mouth, lips already kiss-bitten and glistening in the low light of the room. Stiles looks drugged, heavy-lidded with arousal, and Derek groans at the want building in his veins.

“Please,” Stiles whispers, as if he’s afraid Derek is reconsidering.

Derek presses another kiss into Stiles’ mouth, allowing it to briefly turn dirty and full despite meaning it to be chaste reassurance of his investment in the current situation. Given the way Stiles is starting to rock forward, pressing his own erection into Derek’s hipbone, he’s pretty sure the message is received.

Stiles makes a noise like a mewl around Derek’s tongue, fingers of one hand clutching at the skin of Derek’s hip, the other slipping upwards and across Derek’s abs, sliding up under the dirty wifebeater to chase the line of his ribs.

Derek finds himself smiling as he pulls back from Stiles’ mouth to see the sparkle that’s back in his eyes; joy Derek can’t quite tamp down.

“More,” Stiles says, and his eyes roll back slightly as Derek gives in to the request, pressing clothed cock to cock and grinding against him.

Fuck.” Stiles whines, and Derek grins at the old Stiles he hears leaking through. The impatient youth the adult in front of him has almost left behind.

He doesn’t want to rush this, not now that he’s found it. He wants to stay standing here and kiss Stiles against the door until forever. Taste the sugary-spice taste of him, bruising his lips red and swollen. But Stiles is twitching against him, unable to keep still, and though he may not be a teen much longer, Derek’s well aware that Stiles hasn’t done this before, has as much ability to last as Derek has to keep his temper.

So Derek pushes Stiles firmly against the door and drops to his knees.

The whoosh of breath Stiles gasps is incredibly satisfying, and Derek mouths at the crotch of stiles’ jeans, the bulge of his hard cock trapped inside the denim.

Oh fuck,’ Derek hears above him but he doesn’t pull back, keeps his focus on the heavy scent of arousal that surrounds him. A flick of his wrist and Stiles’ jeans pop open, his cock forcing the zipper wide against it, ratcheting teeth one at a time until Derek pulls it down the whole way.

Stiles is wearing simple grey briefs, stretched obscenely by his cock. He’s larger than Derek thought he’d be, not that he had any reason to think about it really. He should have expected it, given that Stiles is always so much more than he looks. Stronger, tougher, wiser, more breakable.

He levers Stiles’ briefs down with his pants and his cock bobs free, already glistening with pre-come. Derek inhales, ignores the keening sounds Stiles makes and lets the cock in front of him bump against his cheek, nuzzling before turning his head to lick a warm stripe up its length. He’s always enjoyed giving head, the way it can be perfunctory or intimate depending on the situation, the people involved, what it needs to be.

He closes his palm around the base of Stiles’ erection, nestling in the wiry dark hair while, with his other, he presses Stiles’ hips to the door, anchoring him gently. At the last second he glances up, into the wrecked helplessness of Stiles’ gaze, his mouth opening and closing on words that don’t make it out.

With a smile that probably borders on wolfish, Derek swallows him down, sucking at the hot flesh, the salty taste of Stiles on his tongue. Stiles gives a strangled yelp, one hand flying to Derek’s hair and his hips pistoning off the door. Derek keeps him still as he pulls off, licks at the head of Stiles’ cock, along the crease, dipping the tip of his tongue to the slit.

Stiles’ cock jerks in his hand and Derek laughs softly at the enthusiasm before going back down, sucking and pursing his lips around Stiles as he begins to slowly jerk him off with his hand as well. Stiles’ fingers tighten in Derek’s hair and his own cock twitches in his pants.

“Derek, oh my god, fuck, Derek,” Stiles is mumbling, a litany of half-unintelligible words, and Derek casts his eyes up to watch as he begins to come apart. Stiles’ neck is flushed, head tipped back against the door and eyes closed tight. It’s one of the hottest things Derek thinks he’s ever seen.

“I’m going to, if you... fuck,” Stiles cries on the back end of a moan, and Derek simply steps up his pace, fucking him with hand and mouth. He can feel Stiles’ cock hardening, steel forming under the velvet stretch of skin, and he decides the risk of impalement is minor compared to making Stiles completely lose it, removing his hand from Stiles’ hip to slide it between Stiles’ smooth thighs and cup at his balls.

The barest touch is all it takes and Stiles flies apart, his body jerking violently and come spilling out across Derek’s tongue, spurting thick down his throat. Derek rides him out, lapping and soothing with his tongue as Stiles comes down. As he lets Stiles’ spent cock fall from his mouth, Stiles’ knees give out and he’s falling too. Derek has him clutched tight before he even gets halfway to the floor.

He gives in to the wolf, nuzzling and nipping at Stiles’ throat as Stiles’ breathing and heart rate calm. It’s awkward, Derek forced back on his heels, Stiles twisted uncomfortably, pants around his knees and t-shirt rucked up to reveal the gentle curve of abs and the trail of hair leading from navel to cock. He wouldn’t move if he could.

“Wow,” Stiles eventually says, sounding buzzed and satiated.

Derek huffs a laugh into the hair behind Stiles’ ear, licks at the sheen of sweat that’s filmed there. It tastes like salt and Stiles.

“Wow,” Stiles repeats and then pulls back, grinning and happier than Derek’s seen him in a long time. If ever. “You are going to teach me to do that,” Stiles laughs.

“Right now?” Derek asks, eyebrow rising.

Stiles blushes, which Derek finds himself inordinately fond of. “Well maybe, soon?” Stiles asks, nerves invading the question.

Derek leans forward and kisses him. “Come here,” he says instead of answering, getting to his feet and pulling Stiles up with him. He pulls his wifebeater off, enjoying the way Stiles unabashedly takes in his body, reaches out and traces a pec with his fingertip. It makes Derek shiver and want even harder.

He has Stiles’ t-shirt up and off a moment later, and realises the smug look on Stiles’ face probably means he’s enjoying the way Derek soaks in the lithe, toned expanse of his skin too. Manual labour clearly agrees with Stiles, though Derek wonders if Stiles has been secretly training on the side, because he should not look like that after two weeks.

“Focus,” Stiles sniggers, unknowingly echoing Derek’s earlier mandate.

“Smart ass,” Derek growls, but it’s not harsh.

He takes control back by unbuckling his belt with a flick of his wrist - sliding it out of the belt loops in one long snap of leather. Stiles swallows audibly and Derek smirks. His pants follow, socks and shoes and then he’s in nothing, crouching down to help Stiles step out of the rest of his own clothes.

He steps Stiles back towards the bed, the back of Stiles’ knees hitting the mattress and folding down onto it. With a bit of manoeuvring Derek has them skin-to-skin, bedclothes pulled haphazardly over them. He presses down against Stiles, eyes closing at the feel of his cock sliding against the softness of Stiles’ belly.

“Derek,” Stiles says urgently, his name sounding so at ease on his tongue. Stiles’ fingertips claw at Derek’s shoulders, urging him to move. Instead Derek leans in, claiming Stiles’ mouth again, kissing and tasting, biting and sucking. Stiles kisses back, learning and perfecting with every second, every stroke, until he has Derek moaning, hips stuttering as he rocks into the slick skin of Stiles’ hip where his pre-come is pooling.

He can’t get enough of Stiles’ mouth and then it’s his throat, bared without fear and salty with sweat. Derek mouths at the junction of neck and shoulder, biting at the soft skin with the tips of his teeth until Stiles squirms under him, cock hardening again between them.

When he can’t take any more, Derek shifts, gets a hand between them and grips their cocks together in his hand. Stiles has thrown his head back into the pillow, and Derek can feel the minute hitches of his hips as he tries to keep it together.

Derek doesn’t want him to keep it together, though, and he starts to jack them, tight and fast, pre-come slicking the way not quite enough, but workably. The sound of their breathing is harsh and loud in the quiet of Stiles’ room, and it only serves to make Derek harder, the way Stiles writhes under him, the moans and whimpers that spill past his lips. Derek can feel the itch behind his gums, his canines wanting to lengthen, his fingernails where they want to grow, but he holds them back, using the edge of tension to ride himself closer.

When Derek comes it’s with the pulse point of Stiles’ throat against the flat of his tongue. He cries out, hand going tight around them both and thrusting into it as his come stripes Stiles’ stomach. Before he’s even come down he’s using the spilled fluid to slick his hand and jerk Stiles fast and hard until he comes once more, adding to the mess between them and whimpering into Derek’s ear.

They lay there a long time, comfortable and quiet, listening to the sounds of the world outside the window. Derek is content to be still and not worry about any of the things that got them to this point. As he begins to drift, Stiles pulls him close, legs tangled possessively. Derek finds he doesn’t even mind.

* * *

When he opens his eyes, dawn light is filtering in the window, cancelling out the light of the desk lamp they left on the night before. Stiles is a warm stretch of humanity against his side, held close and safe.

“Stay,” Stiles whispers, and Derek opens his eyes to find Stiles awake and studying him.

The question isn’t a simple one, and they both know it. Derek doesn’t know what he wants anymore, finding himself with the need to re-evaluate a lot of things he thought he understood. A few miles away his house is no longer, and further than that, scattered like marbles across a child’s floor, are his pack.

Maybe he was giving up and maybe he wasn’t. At the very least the question deserves proper consideration, though.

Derek looks at Stiles, the sleepy tilt of his mouth, the honesty in his eyes. He knows he isn’t alone anymore, not now.

Perhaps Stiles was right all along, that instead of leaving, Derek needs to move on. To take a chance on something and someone else, someones else, and see what comes of it. To leave the charred remains of his house behind and build something new, something whole.

“Okay,” he says, fighting the familiar urge to run that shifts under his skin.

Fighting for the eyes that blink up at him, daring to hope.

“I’ll stay.”

* * *