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It's just starting to go dark, and Stiles has been standing in his usual spot for less than twenty minutes when he hears footsteps behind him. Nothing normally happens this early; most people like having the illusion of anonymity that darkness gives them before they can work up the courage to approach a prostitute, never mind that Stiles could pick out every single trick he's ever turned from a lineup of a hundred people. It stands to reason, then, that this is a regular, and Stiles turns to greet them with his trademark sultry smile already in place, only to have it vanish almost instantly.

He hasn't seen Derek Hale for two weeks, ever since a couple of Derek's regulars beat the shit out of him for beating them to the last blanket. Stiles still has a couple of fading bruises on his face, and he's still all kinds of bitter. "What are you doing here?" he snaps, automatically on the defensive. "Don't you have mouths to feed?"

"I do," Derek says carefully, "but I also wanted to check up on you, let you know that we still have open spots if you want to come back and spend a night or two."

"I don't," Stiles says, looking everywhere but into Derek's eyes. He never used to be this skittish, but he has reasons now. "I'm not going back there. It was nice while it lasted and all, but I'll take my chances out here, thanks."

Derek honestly hadn't expected Stiles to immediately agree to come back,yet he's still disappointed. "Well, the offer still stands. We upgraded a bit, so there's more room for everyone."

Stiles tries to smile, and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Derek," he says. "I just don't feel safe there anymore."

Derek nods, a slight, sad smile on his face. "I understand," he says, because he does. "Do you mind if I bring out some food, then? I know you can take care of yourself, but we always have extra."

Stiles sighs. He wants to say no, but he can't ignore the aching hunger deep in his belly. "Fine," he says. "If you must."

The smile twitches into a slight grin at the petulant statement, but Derek quickly schools his features into something a bit more tactful. "All right. Is here okay?"

This time, Stiles shrugs. "It is if I'm here."

Derek decides not to press the issue any further for the moment. "Okay. I'll send Boyd out with some food in a little bit. See you around, Stiles."

Stiles raises a hand in lieu of a goodbye, and turns away from Derek.

Derek sends Boyd out as promised, but then he's distracted for most of the night by helping the people who come into the shelter.

Derek's family originally founded this shelter, and when they had died - a gas leak that was set off by an electrical short - he'd invested the inheritance wisely and started getting more involved in the community. New York was a hard place to be for those who had homes, and for those who didn't - Well, that was why the Hales had originally established My Friend's Place in an old restaurant/store building that had been up for sale. The building was Derek's now, free and clear, as were the buildings to either side of it that he was having remodeled into a community space complete with computers and washing machines in one building and the other was being fitted with numerous cubicles to be used as makeshift rooms for added security during the night, as well as short-term lodging for people who were volunteering at the shelter while looking for work.

Derek's shift ends at three in the morning, and he passes the torch to Isaac, who had been one of Derek's regulars that he'd helped get back on his feet after he'd run away from an abusive father. Derek grabs a hamper full of leftover food and heads out, pausing every so often to distribute the food to the people who didn't want, for whatever reason, to stay at My Friend's Place. As he's nearing the end of his walk, almost ready to turn around and head back to his apartment, he hears a commotion from a nearby alley. Without hesitating, he heads over, phone in hand and sending a text to Boyd with his location and what's going on. If he doesn't check in in fifteen minutes, Boyd knows to call the police, just in case.

"Get off me!" Stiles grunts, fighting against the much-bigger john who is trying to pin him to the wall. "I told you, I won't do that, now get off, get-- stop! You're hurting me!"

Derek doesn't hesitate; before he's even registered that it's Stiles's defense he leaping to, he's already got the guy by the scruff of his neck and is dragging him off of Stiles. "Hey," he snaps, giving the guy a shove into a nearby pile of garbage for good measure, "he said no, asshole."

"Who the fuck are you, his guardian angel?" the guy snaps, while Stiles slides down the wall. "Jesus Christ. Fuckin' prudes, I swear to god." He shoves past Derek and walks away, still muttering to himself.

Derek glares after the guy until he's sure that the other man is gone, and then he turns back to Stiles, crouching so he can look Stiles in the eye. "Did he hurt you?" he asks, not quite daring to reach out to lay a hand on Stiles's arm.

Just like last time, Stiles doesn't meet Derek's gaze. "Not much," he says. "Just roughed me up a little." He hesitates and then adds, almost as an afterthought, "Thanks."

Derek nods. "You're welcome." He hesitates, then, before asking, "Are you done for the night?"

"After that, yeah," Stiles scoffs. He tries to get up but succeeds only in flailing a bit and hitting the floor again with a pained grunt. "Just gonna get out of here."

Derek holds out a hand. "C'mon; I'll help you get wherever you're spending the night."

"Thanks," Stiles says again. He takes Derek's hand and lets him help him to his feet. "I'm just down here."

Derek walks with Stiles down to where Stiles says he's sleeping, and he can't help the look on his face when he sees it. "Here?"

Stiles shrugs. "It's out of the way, mostly out of the wind."

Derek frowns slightly. "It's the middle of winter," he protests. "Even without wind, you have to be freezing."

Again, Stiles shrugs. "You get used to it," he lies.

The look on Derek's face makes it clear he doesn't believe that anymore than Stiles does. "You're sure you don't want to come back to the shelter?"

Stiles shakes his head. "Derek, I can't."

"Do you have anywhere else to stay?" Derek presses.

"No," Stiles says, impatient. "Look, thanks for your help and all, but I've got it from here. You should get home."

"Come with me," Derek says abruptly, then flushes. "I mean, I've got a spare bedroom, or a couch if you'd prefer that, nobody's using either of them so you're welcome to them for as long as you want."

If it's even possible, Stiles looks equal parts amused and disturbed. "Dude, I just told you, I'm done working tonight."

Derek's ears feel extremely hot against the cool night air. "That's not what I meant, and you know it," he protests. "Look, if you're worried about paying me - I don't know, but for tonight you can pay me back by not making me worry about you turning into the Little Matchstick Girl."

Stiles' eyebrows raise. "That was cold, man," he says, shaking his head. "You're not gonna let this go, are you?"

"No, tonight is cold. And no, I'm not," Derek answers.

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Fine. One night."

"One night," Derek agrees, but as they start walking, his already planning how to get Stiles to agree to stay for longer.

Derek's apartment, when they get there, is nice - way too nice for Stiles to feel any degree of comfort standing in the doorway. It's painfully obvious that he doesn't belong here, in dirty clothes and shoes that have been kind of squelchy ever since he stepped into a puddle a few nights ago, and he doesn't feel anywhere near clean enough to touch anything, so when Derek wanders further into the apartment he stays put, fiddling with the broken zipper on his jacket. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," he says uncertainly, already edging back toward the door.

"It's a great idea," Derek says, emerging with a pile of old clothes. "Here; I'm gonna donate these anyway, so you can pick through and see if you want anything." There's sweatpants and some old shirts in the pile.

"Oh," Stiles says, surprised. "Thanks."

Derek gives Stiles a smile. "You can leave your shoes and socks by the door; could you flip the lock, please?" he requests as he makes his way into the kitchen; he'd set the Keurig to have a cup of hot chocolate waiting for him when he got home, and he takes another mug out. "Want some?" he offers, holding up another cup of hot chocolate powder. "Won't take but a minute."

Stiles can't help the way he eyes the cup with hunger. "Uh, yes. Please. Thank you." He does as Derek asked and moves cautiously through the apartment, hoping he isn't leaving soggy footprints on the hardwood floors behind him. The kitchen, when he joins Derek there, is of a moderate size and stylish, and Stiles hovers awkwardly beside the sink. "This is a really nice place," he offers.

Derek grins. "Bit big for one person, though," he points out as the Keurig beeps. "Here. I've got Poptarts and ramen and some other stuff in the pantry if you're hungry."

Stiles snorts, even as he clutches the warm mug to his chest like it's a lifeline. "You don't strike me as a Poptarts and ramen kinda guy."

Derek laughs. "Sometimes I just don't feel like cooking," he replies.

"Fair enough," Stiles says. "I'm fine with whatever."

Derek rummages through the refrigerator for a moment, and looks back at Stiles. "I forgot I had leftover pizza here; want some of that?"

Stiles nods. "Sure."

Derek divvies up the pizza; there had been four slices left so he heats them up two to a plate and hands one to Stiles. "Here you go."

"Thanks," Stiles says. He takes the plate and bites into the pizza delicately, not wanting Derek to see just how hungry he is. The pizza smells divine, though, and the first slice is gone in record time.

Derek doesn't want to think about how long it's been since Stiles has had a full meal. "Here," he says, nudging over the plate with his second slice as he finishes the first. "I'll go make up the bed or the couch, whichever one you want."

"Wherever's more convenient," Stiles answers, already reaching for Derek's plate.

Derek debates for a moment before deciding to go ahead and make up the bed, which mostly means replacing the decorative pillows for functional ones. If Stiles only spends the one night, Derek wants it to be a good one. He spritzes the sheets with Febreeze for good measure before he returns to the kitchen. "The bed's ready," he says. "You need anything else?"

"Um." Stiles hesitates, looking nervous. "Maybe a shower?"

Derek nods. "Shower's just past the living room, help yourself to whatever you need in there; I just went shopping the other day so you don't have to worry about using the last of anything. I have a few emails to answer, and then I'll head to bed; if you need anything, don't be afraid to ask."

"Thanks, man." Stiles gives Derek a weak smile and shuffles off toward the bathroom.

Derek doesn't see anything of Stiles for the rest of the night, but he honestly wasn't expecting to. So he finishes his emails, finalises his schedule for the next week, and heads to bed without his usual shower. He'll just get one in the morning.

He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow, and it seems like he's barely closed his eyes before his alarm is cheerfully making his ears bleed, and he slaps blindly at the offending sound until it stops. He makes a face at the taste in his mouth as he shuffles down the hallway, and the first thing he does is down half a glass of water, rinsing out his mouth before he starts fiddling with the shower knob, getting it to the perfect temperature - just shy of scalding his skin - before stripping and stepping in.

Of course, being still half-asleep and used to living alone, he forgets to shut the door behind him, much less lock it.

Stiles woke to the sound of Derek's alarm, and the first thing he sees when he ventures out of the spare room is the bathroom door, open in invitation. Something inside of Stiles sinks when he sees it, but it's not like he hasn't been expecting something like this. Oh well, at least Derek's hot; Stiles would probably do him for free.

In no time at all he's stripped down to his birthday suit, already half-hard as he pushes the bathroom door the rest of the way open and moves into the steamy room. Derek's facing away from him, wanting to distance himself from what's about to happen or maybe just playing coy, but there's no way that Stiles is misinterpreting this because he doesn't make any move to acknowledge Stiles' presence when he slides the shower door open and steps inside.

All the same, there's a second of hesitation while Stiles forces himself into his Working headspace, and then he moves in behind Derek, wrapping his arms around Derek's waist. "Morning," he murmurs against Derek's neck, his hand already reaching for Derek's dick.

Derek's reaction is probably the last thing Stiles expects: He yells - okay, it's almost high-pitched enough to be categorized as a scream - and spins, feet slipping on the slick tile as he goes down, bringing Stiles with him. Derek head cracks painfully against the shelf holding his shampoo and body wash, knocking the bottles to the ground and adding to the chaos. "Fuck! Shit, what the fuck?!"

"What the fuck yourself!" Stiles cries, reaching up with slippery hands to turn the water off. "Oh my god, are you okay?"

"My head hurts like a bitch, but what the shit, Stiles, Jesus - what are you doing in here?" Derek splutters, abruptly realizing that they're both utterly naked and soaking wet, and he gropes for a washcloth that he drops across his crotch.

Stiles has no such concern for his own nudity, and instead gives Derek an incredulous look. "What do you mean, what am I doing? I'm expressing my gratitude!"

"By doing what? Trying to kill me?" Then everything clicks, and Derek looks at Stiles in shock. "Wait, you thought that sex was the perfect way to express your gratitude?" Not that Stiles was unattractive, but Derek didn't want to have sex with him because of Stiles's misplaced gratitude.

"Well, yeah!" Stiles cries. "You're the one who said I could find a way to repay you, and then you left the bathroom door open. You know what I am, Derek!"

"Stiles," Derek says firmly, "I don't want to have sex with you, not when it's just a business transaction, or you trying to repay me. You're attractive, yeah, and if you were genuinely interested in having sex - just to have sex - then I'd consider it. But if you're just trying to pay for a night in a bed, under a roof, then no."

For the first time, a glimmer of realisation passes over Stiles' face, followed quickly by embarrassment and shame. "Oh my god," he breathes, and then he's scrambling out of the shower, slipping in the water and all but spilling out onto the bathroom floor. "Oh my god, I-- I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I can't-- I'm gonna go."

"Stiles, wait!" Stiles is already out of the bathroom, and Derek swears as he scrambles to his feet, darting into his bedroom for a bathrobe that he belts quickly after yanking on a pair of boxers. "Stiles!"

"Just leave me alone, Derek, it's fine," Stiles rambles, trying desperately to put his still-soggy shoes back on in record time. "You'll never have to see me again, okay? Thanks for the bed but I have to go."

"Wait, wait, wait," Derek says, a little desperately, going so far as to reach out and grab one of Stiles's wrists. "Stiles, hang on, don't go running off! Look, I'm not mad at you or anything like that, and I certainly don't want to never see you again."

Stiles looks pained. "Derek, I'm sorry," he says. "I seriously thought-- Why else would you help me?"

Derek's expression softens, and he relaxes his hold on Stiles's wrist until his fingers form only a loose circle. "Because I like you, and I hope we can be friends. And because no one should have to sleep out in the freezing cold."

Stiles sighs. "Well, I am grateful," he says. "And I'm sorry for-- well, for misunderstanding. No one's shown me that much kindness in a long time." He says that last part looking at the floor, and he doesn't look back up.

"It's alright," Derek says reassuringly. "I understand why you thought what you did." Now, he lets go of Stiles's wrist completely, watching the younger man intently. "Would you like to stay for breakfast?"

Stiles looks like he wants to die, but he can't exactly say no. When he walks out of this apartment, he goes back to being a homeless hooker who can barely make enough to feed himself - wouldn't it be best to start the day on a full stomach? "Okay," he says. "If you're sure."

Derek grins. "I'm sure," he says.

Stiles leaves after breakfast, and Derek goes to a nearby clinic to get his head checked; when asked, he answers truthfully, "I slipped in the shower." The doctor doesn't find any sign of a concussion, but warns him to be careful for the next few days. As Derek's paying his co-pay, he overhears an argument in the next pay station; apparently someone's insurance won't pay for a certain expensive medication now, thanks to recent new health care legislation. Derek asks for his clerk to wait for a moment before sticking his head in the next cubicle. "I'm sorry,"he says, "but I couldn't help overhearing that your insurance won't pay for this medication?"

The person in the next cubicle turns out to be a young woman, who looks at him warily. "Yes; Invokana. I don't qualify for the manufacturer discount, either, and it's five hundred dollars for a thirty-day refill."

Derek recognizes the name of a new drug meant to help stabilize blood sugar levels, and he nods understandingly. "I could help," he offers. "I'm Derek Hale." He holds out his hand, and with a startled look of recognition, the young woman shakes it, introducing herself as Casey. "I've actually got a bit of a fund going for expenses like these - medical needs that people can't pay for themselves." He pulls out his wallet and withdraws a card, handing it to Casey. "It's technically a trust, but an open one. If you meet with this man, Chris Argent, he's the lawyer in charge of it and he can help you make the necessary arrangements."

The young woman stammers out her thanks, and Derek gives her a smile before returning to his cubicle. The clerk, Kira, shakes her head fondly. "How are you not broke?"

Derek grins. "Wise investing," he answers.

Derek doesn't see Stiles for the next few days, though he keeps sending boyd and Isaac out with food; not just for Stiles, but also for several other people in that area who don't want to spend the nights at the shelter for whatever reason.

Then Isaac knocks on the door to the office one night after he made his deliveries; when he enters, he looks worried. "You know how Boyd and I keep an eye out for suspicious people? There's one hanging around Stiles; Boyd's seen him too."

"What does he look like?" Derek asks sharply. His stomach sinks as Isaac describes the same guy that had assaulted Stiles the night he'd spent at Derek's. "I'm leaving early," he says. "I'll pay you overtime." Then he's gone without waiting to hear Isaac's answer.

Stiles knows the guy's back, saw him half an hour ago when he made his first round of the block, but he's doing his best to ignore him. They're in a well-lit area, and there are a couple of girls with Stiles and a few guys as well, so he can't approach just yet if he wants things to go his way. It's only a matter of time, though. The numbers on the corner are dwindling by the minute, and no one's coming near Stiles with the way he's been coughing all night; Stiles will be on his own soon enough, and there'll be nothing he can do.

But then Derek's in front of him, looking cold but determined, and once again he's the last person Stiles expected to see. "Change your mind?" is all he manages to get out before another coughing fit takes him in its clutches, and he doubles over with the force of it.

"No," Derek says, "but I'm also not letting you stay out here. It's gonna freeze again, tonight, and you don't sound like you're doing very well."

"I'm fine," Stiles says when he can breathe again. "It's just a cough."

"A cough that's just going to get worse if you stay out here," Derek retorts. "Come on, I've still got that spare bedroom."

Stiles sighs, and manages to splutter only a little. "What's in it for you?" he asks.

"Not worrying about you, plus old Mrs. Harmond will probably want to bring you some of her homemade chicken soup; I can never get her to bring me some just because."

Stiles frowns. "A neighbour?" he guesses. "You really want your neighbours knowing you have a prostitute in your house?"

"They know I bring home random people occasionally," Derek answers. "They won't say anything."

Stiles raises his eyebrows. "Right," he says slowly.

"I'm serious, Stiles, nobody's gonna say anything, and none of them know that you're a hooker. Just - please?"

Stiles wants to bristle at the word, but he's too tired to work out why. "Fine," he says. "One more night, but that's it."

Derek nods. "Great. You ready to go?" He'd noticed that Stiles had been standing out here by himself, and he doesn't want to think about what that guy might have attempted.

Derek nods. "Great. You ready to go?" He'd noticed that Stiles had been standing out here by himself, and he doesn't want to think about what that guy might have attempted.

As if reading Derek's mind, Stiles glances just over his shoulder, to where the guy has been lurking since just after Derek got here. "Yeah," he says, without taking his eyes off his attacker. "Yeah, let's go."

Mrs. Harmond does indeed bring over soup after Derek visits her while Stiles is getting a shower. She fusses over Stiles, bringing him soup and arranging blankets and pillows just so and leaving Derek with strict instructions on how to care for 'this poor young lamb.' When she eventually bustles out of the apartment, Derek gives Stiles a bemused look. "I told you so."

Stiles looks like he would complain if he didn't feel so warm and comfortable now. "You didn't have to tell her I was here," he points out mildly, barely stifling a yawn.

"I didn't," Derek agrees, "but it doesn't hurt to let someone fuss over you every once in a while."

Stiles shrugs. "I guess," he says, but he looks quietly pleased.

Derek smiles. "Let me know when you want to go to bed," he says. "I'm going to finish washing the dishes."

"I could help?" Stiles offers.

"The only thing you - " Derek said, pointing a finger at Stiles and frowning, mock-serious, " - are doing is sitting your ass on that couch and finishing that bowl of soup."

Stiles sniffles meekly but bows his head over his bowl without any further protest. "It is really good soup," he mumbles. "It would be ungrateful to let it go cold."

"Yes it would be," Derek agrees as he heads into the kitchen. "So eat up."

Stiles does as he's told.

By the time Derek comes back into the living room, the soup is gone, the empty bowl resting on the coffee table, and Stiles is out for the count. His nose is red and his cheeks are flushed, indicative of his returning fever or perhaps just the result of Mrs Harmond's blankets, and his chapped lips parted slightly to compensate for his blocked nose, but he looks peaceful.Something twists in Derek's chest at the sight, and he shakes his head. This world sucks, he thinks, and not for the first - or last - time. Someone like Stiles should be in college, worrying about grades and dates, not about where to sleep, or how long until their next meal, or about being taken advantage of.

Sleeping on the couch like that will give Stiles one hell of a crick in his neck, so Derek carefully excavates him from the nest of blankets, picking him up bridal style to carry him to the bedroom.

Stiles stirs in Derek's arms, and turns his head to snuffle against Derek's neck. "Where we goin'?" he asks, his voice thick with sleep.

"Saving you from the evil neck-destroying couch," Derek murmurs, shifting Stiles slightly in his arms so he can open the spare bedroom door. "Gonna put you in the spare bedroom again."

"Mmkay," Stiles sighs, and then he's asleep again.

Derek smiles again, soft and fond, and thinks that if this keeps up, he's going to be well and truly fucked.

And not in the good way.

"You're not going back out there Stiles, and if I have to lock you in here to make sure you don't leave then I damn well will!"

Derek glares at Stiles, who despite his insistence that he's well enough to leave and go back to work, is still slightly unsteady on his feet and suffering from stuffed sinuses. "You can barely walk, Stiles, and you're still sneezing and coughing. You're in no shape to go back out on the streets, much less go back to work!"

"Well I can't stay here," Stiles says, and his voice comes out as a nasal whine. "I've taken up too much of your time already."

"Stiles," Derek says seriously, "I don't mind. I'd rather have you here, where I know you're safe when you're vulnerable - and you are right now, Stiles, I'm sorry - than worry about you out there on the streets with something that could easily move beyond just a cold and into the flu!"

"Why do you care so much?" Stiles asks, not for the first time that day.

"Because that's what I do," Derek answers, just like he has every other time Stiles has asked. "I care too much about people, and then I aggressively try to take care of them."

Stiles raises his eyebrows. "Well I really feel like I want to stay here now."

Derek rolls his eyes. "I know, I know. But it's the way I've always been; I want to help, and sometimes I steamroll people to do it. I'll be the first to say that I am not the most tactful person, and I've offended a lot of people before because I said the wrong thing or made the wrong impression."

"And the impression you're trying to make now is..?"

"Not an overbearing barbarian," Derek sighs. "I'm sorry. If you really want to leave, I won't stop you. I don't think it'd be a good idea for you to leave when your immune system is still compromised, but I can't actually lock you in."

Stiles sighs. "I just don't want to impose."

"You're not imposing," Derek says honestly. "You're using my spare bedroom, and eating the extra food I always buy even when I know I won't be able to eat it all. If anything, you're doing me a favor by keeping me from needing to clean my fridge out in the next few days."

"Are you sure?" Stiles asks.

"I am absolutely, one-hundred-percent sure that you are not imposing on me by using the bedroom that rarely gets used and eating the extra food," Derek says.

Again, Stiles sighs. "Okay," he says. "Okay. But only until I can work again."

Derek nods. "Deal." Of course that won't mean that Derek won't try to find a way to help Stiles find more permanent shelter, but for now, Stiles's promise is good enough.

Stiles spends a week with Derek, just long enough to get back on his feet again, and then he's out of there. Not two days later, though, he's back.

He doesn't mean to be. He's just been wandering for the past hour, since he got ran out of his usual spot by some junkie and it started to snow, hoping to find somewhere sheltered to spend the night. He doesn't even realise he's on Derek's street until he's ten feet from the building, and then he thinks, what the hell. He's exhausted, and the building has quite a deep doorway that would probably keep most of the snow off him, and he'll be gone way before Derek gets out of bed. No one ever needs to know.

Except that as he reaches the building, his head down against the worst of the wind, he walks right into someone and looks up to see-- "Oh," he says, stupidly. "Hi."

Derek had just been leaving to make a late-night snack run, but as soon as he sees Stiles's face, and the exhausted look in his eyes, he scraps that plan. "Hey, Stiles," he says, concern clear in his voice. "Are you okay?"

Stiles nods. "Yeah, I just-- Looking for somewhere to sleep, I guess."

Derek nods, then jerks a thumb behind him. "Spare bedroom's still open if you want it," he offers.

Stiles hesitates, but honestly, it's fucking freezing - he's too proud to actually ask, but if Derek's offering, he isn't going to say no. "Thanks," he says. "I-- yeah. That sounds really good."

Derek gives Stiles a half-smile. "Cool. Come on in, then." With that, he turns and leads the way inside.

Stiles almost doesn't realise just how cold he is until he steps into the warmth of Derek's apartment. The sting in his fingers and nose as blood returns to them is welcome only because it means he can feel them again, and he strips off his coat and shoes before careening onto the sofa. "Fuck," he groans. "Fuck. Is this what sex is supposed to feel like?"


Stiles takes a moment to bask in the warmth and comfort of Derek's living room, and then lifts his head to call through to the kitchen. "Where were you going, anyway? I didn't interrupt something important, did I?"

"Just my quest for those little cheddar sausages," Derek calls back. "I ate the last of them yesterday and wanted some more, but it can wait until tomorrow."

"Ooh, those are good," Stiles agrees. "I'll come with you. Just, let me thaw a little first."

Derek waves a hand. "I trust you," he says, and he means it. "The store is just down the block. You stay here."

Stiles looks surprised, but he nods. "Okay," he says. "Honestly, I might just fall asleep."

Derek grins. "That'd be fine, too," he says as he delivers Stiles's hot chocolate. "Here. I'll be back in a minute."

Stiles is already sprawled out on the sofa like he owns the place and he curls his hands around the mug gratefully, too busy sipping to say anything as Derek leaves.

Derek returns fifteen minutes later, triumphant. "Got 'em!" he announces. "I have some of those ready-bake croissant rolls things, so I was thinking pigs in blankets."

"Huh?" Stiles, as predicted, fell asleep as soon as his hot chocolate was gone, but he rolls over now to peer over the back of the couch and offer Derek a bleary smile. "Don't we need bacon for that?"

"Bacon? Hell no," Derek scoffs. "Sausages and croissant dough is all you need for Hale family pigs."

Stiles sits up, looking sleep-rumpled but interested. "Okay," he says. "I trust you."

Derek grins, disappearing into the kitchen and banging around for a few moments - most of the banging coming from him trying to open the Pillsbury Croissant roll. He finally gets it open, then it's a matter of moments before he has the cookie sheet covered in Crisco, the oven preheated, and all of the sausages tucked into their respective dough rolls and baking. He flops into the armchair, giving Stiles a satisfied grin. "It'll be a little bit before they're ready," he says. "Want to watch a movie?"

"Sure," Stiles says, tucking his feet beneath himself. "Whatever you want."

Derek pulls up Netflix on the TV, and starts browsing through the movies. "What about this?" he asks, letting the cursor stop on Guardians of the Galaxy.

"I haven't seen that one!" Stiles says, suddenly much more awake and very eager.

Derek very carefully does not think about why Stiles hasn't seen this movie that came out a year ago. "Well, that's settled then," he says, clicking play.

Derek, it soon turns out, is right about a lot of things, including movies and food. The film is incredible, and the only thing capable of pulling Stiles' attention away from it is the pigs in blankets when they're ready. Afterwards Stiles is ashamed to realise that he ate more than his fair share, but Derek either doesn't notice or doesn't care, so he doesn't say anything.

Derek actually falls asleep for the last half hour of the movie, but Stiles is riveted, and once it's over he turns the TV off and gently shakes Derek awake. It's difficult for Stiles to not notice how absolutely gorgeous Derek is when he blinks himself back to reality and offers Stiles a sweet, sincere smile, but Stiles can't go there, so he doesn't. Instead, he guides Derek by the elbow to his bedroom door, and spends a few minutes locking up before retiring to bed, himself.

The next morning finds Derek debating with himself as he fusses over the coffee maker before Stiles emerges from the spare bedroom. He mutters to himself every so often, but by the time Stiles comes out, he's reached a decision. "It's not supposed to start getting warmer for quite some time yet," he opens with, because, well, it's the truth. "It's actually supposed to get colder." Again, truth, but he needs to say what he means now or he'll never do it. "So I was thinking that you could take the spare key and if you need a place to sleep then you can use the bedroom." Okay, a bit faster than he would have liked to have said it (faster than he'd practiced, but he won't admit that), but at least it's out there now.

Stiles stares at him, still half asleep and more than a little shocked. "Derek, I love it here," he says honestly. "And I don't just mean because it's warm and there's food, I really like hanging out with you. If I take that key, you'll never see the back of me."

"Maybe I don't want to," Derek says, heart beating a little faster because, if he's being honest with himself, his intentions aren't totally pure, inviting Stiles to essentially move in with him. "I like hanging out with you, too."

Stiles nods. He'd be a fool to go back now, and they both know it. "Okay," he says, "I'll stay. But I'm still working. I'm not a freeloader."

Derek nods. "I understand." And he does; he doesn't exactly like it, but he understands it.

Stiles grins. "Thank you," he says sincerely. "Thank you for everything."

Derek can't help but grin back. "You're welcome."

It honestly wasn't difficult to adjust to living with Stiles; the biggest difference was that he now had to remember to shut the bathroom door behind himself. Not that Stiles had tried to express his gratitude in the same way he had the first time, but it was just the polite thing to do. There was a brief argument over Stiles not wanting to stay completely rent-free, and Derek had finally agreed to let Stiles pay for any breakfast stuff - mostly because Derek wasn't a huge breakfast person and his breakfast usually consisted of a pack of poptarts and a glass of milk.

Stiles generally came home later than Derek did, so it was surprising when, about a week after Stiles moved in, Stiles came home barely an hour after Derek did. "You okay?" Derek asks, worried.

Stiles sighs and throws himself down onto the couch. "Dickhead of a john wouldn't pay me," he complains.

"Why not? Price too high?"

Stiles snorts. "Hardly," he says. "I'm one of the cheapest fucks out there. Nah, he came, and he came to his senses. Freaked out and bolted."

"Wow. That was a dick move. Did he say anything before he bolted?"

"He said he didn't realise my age until afterwards," Stiles says bitterly. "Typical."

"Wait," Derek says, confused, "I get that you're young, but why is that an issue?"

Stiles' eyes widen, and he looks away.

Things click then, and Derek swears silently to himself. "Stiles," he says carefully, "are you underage?"

A flush works its way up from Stiles' neck to his face, and he still doesn't look up. "I can go," he says, very quietly, "if you want me to."

Derek doesn't answer right away; when he does, it's to ask, "Are you at least seventeen? I'm not going to kick you out if you aren't, and I'm not going to report you, but I'd like you to be honest with me."

Stiles screws his eyes shut. "I'm sixteen," he confesses. "Just."

Derek takes a deep breath. "I can't condone that," he says, "but I meant what I said. If you're being safe about it, then I won't report you."

"Of course I'm being safe," Stiles says. "I'm not stupid."

Derek raises his hands placatingly. "I never said you were," he points out.

Stiles hunches in on himself, defensive. "I just-- there's nothing else I can do," he says. "I'm out here and I can't go home and I'm not old enough to get a job, definitely not one that would pay me enough to afford rent and stuff. It was either sell myself or sell drugs, and I'm not going to do that."

Derek hesitates for only a moment before laying a hand on Stiles's shoulder. "Hey," he says quietly, shifting so that he's facing Stiles better. "I can't say that I fully sympathize, but I understand. If you want, I could help you get a job - it wouldn't be much, but it might be better than what you're doing now." He doesn't comment on the 'can't go home' part; whatever it is, Derek doesn't know Stiles well enough to expect an answer to that.

Stiles shakes his head. "You've already done too much," he says. "And besides, no one would hire me. I didn't finish school, I haven't got any qualifications, we're in New York. And if my name goes on any official system, people will be able to find me."

Derek's quiet, then he asks, "Stiles. Did someone threaten you, before you left?"

Stiles sighs. "No," he says, "no one threatened me. But it's for the best if no one knows where I am."

Derek nods, and drops it. "Well, you don't have a phone or anything, do you? I know you can get cheap prepaid ones just for calling or texting."

"You can," Stiles agrees, "but I don't have anyone to call."

"You can," Stiles agrees, "but I don't have anyone to call."

Stiles nods. "True. I'll look into it."

"Good," Derek says with a nod. "You’re my friend, so I worry about you. Well, more than I did before."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Thanks, I think."

Derek keeps a bit of a closer eye on Stiles after that. He'd always known that Stiles was young, but knowing that Stiles was only sixteen made him even more protective. Derek had to talk himself out of sending Boyd to Stiles's usual area more than once a night to deliver food several times.

Stiles did end up getting a prepaid phone - just one that could only call or text, but it was enough to help settle both of their minds, knowing that if something happened then they could reach each other or the police if need be. The two of them spent a lot of time just hanging out at the apartment, and Derek even managed to coax Stiles into letting Derek treat him once or twice - the first time was just when they'd gone for a walk in Central Park and Derek had bought them both hot chocolate and then tickets to a small ice skating show, and the second time was going to see the latest DC movie in theaters.

Honestly, Derek was now certain of his ticket to Hell, especially after the incident at the theater, and the numerous times that Stiles fell asleep on his shoulder when they stayed up watching Netflix. Stiles was sixteen and Derek was seven years older than him - not to mention Stiles's unofficial guardian.

That didn't stop Derek from guiltily jerking off in bed or the shower when Stiles either wasn't home or when Derek was certain that Stiles was asleep. Yeah, that one-way ticket was definitely his.

But he isn't alone, not by any stretch of the imagination. Stiles has been drawn to Derek since day one, but now that he's actually getting to know Derek, he's falling hard. Derek is sweet and kind and breathtakingly beautiful, and he seems to see something of worth in Stiles, because he treats him like he's a person, like he's a friend, and Stiles can't remember the last time someone did that.

And, of course, Stiles has to ruin everything by wanting more than he can have. He can't just be grateful for what Derek's already giving him; he has to desire Derek himself, and there's no way that Derek will ever desire him in return. Maybe he stood a chance at something physical when Derek didn't know how old he was, but he knows now, and Stiles probably wouldn't have been able to settle for meaningless sex anyway. So he keeps his head down and tries to appreciate Derek's friendship above anything else.

But if he pictures Derek whenever he's with a john, or on the few occasions that he touches himself, well. No one ever needs to know.

One night about two months after Stiles moved in finds Derek ready to literally smack his face into his desk; he's been making calls all day, but no one is available to cover Boyd's volunteer shift at the shelter. One of his innumerable siblings has come down with the flu, and it's rapidly spreading throughout the other children. Boyd has been immune so far, and he's requested a couple of days off to help his mother. Derek blithely gave him permission - not that Derek would have ever denied him - and then found out that all of his back up volunteers had something to do that evening or the next day that prevented them from working the ten-three shift.

Derek finally abandons his phone on the dining table and drops onto the couch, burying his face in a pillow and groaning. It's not like they can't handle the shelter without someone to cover that shift, but it would certainly be easier if there was just another person to help hand out blankets and find free spots to sleep and help warm up leftovers for the late night/early morning arrivals. "I'm giving up on the shelter," Derek declares melodramatically - but the effect is kind of ruined by the fact that his face is still buried in a pillow. "Or hiring someone else to organize the volunteers. Jesus, it's not anywhere close to a holiday, why the hell do all these people have plans?"

"No luck, then?" Stiles asks, sympathetic. "Sucks, man."

A thought occurs to Derek then, and he pushes himself onto his elbows to look at Stiles hopefully. "Could you cover? Just for tonight, I mean. Some of the other volunteers can make it tomorrow, but can't tonight."

Stiles winces, seems to shrink in on himself. "I-- I don't know."

"If you're worried about missing any jobs, I can pay you," Derek says. "We do that sometimes if people need it."

Stiles shakes his head. "It's not that," he says. "I just... I don't know if I can go back there."

Derek's expression softens and he mentally kicks himself. "You're right, I'm sorry. That should never have happened; if I'd been there, it wouldn't have."

"It wasn't anyone's fault," Stiles says, shrugging. "I tried to go back the next night, but I had a really bad panic attack. The streets are actually safer, in some ways."

Derek's heart clenches, and he nods. "Okay. If you don't want to go back, then I won't ask you again," he reassures Stiles. "We can get by with one volunteer short for a night."

A voice in the back of Stiles' mind that sounds very much like Scott whispers that he's being a chicken, and he sighs. "I'm sorry," he says. "I never used to run away from my problems."

Derek pushes himself upright, reaching out to put a hand on Stiles's knee and give it a reassuring squeeze. "If it makes you have a panic attack, then it's perfectly reasonable for you to want to avoid whatever is triggering them," he answers. "And it's up to you how you work through the problem."

Stiles nods. "Maybe-- maybe another time," he says. "But not just now. Is that okay?"

Derek nods, giving Stiles a smile and another squeeze. "Of course."

"Derek!" Stiles, when he bursts through the door to Derek's apartment, looks as broken as his voice sounds. He's in tears, his shirt is on inside out, and his jacket is nowhere to be seen. He slams the door behind himself only to lean back against it and slide down to the floor, choking on a sob. "Derek, oh my god."

Derek, who'd all but leapt over the couch when he first heard Stiles's voice, drops to his knees. "Stiles? What's wrong, what's happened?"

"Derek, I didn't know," Stiles sobs. "I swear to God I didn't know, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to let him!"

"Whoa, hey, easy," Derek says soothingly, reaching out to take Stiles's upper arms in a firm but gentle grip. "You're safe now, you're okay. Just slow down and tell me what happened, all right?"

Stiles has to take a few desperate, hiccuping breaths before he can speak again. "The guy I was with," he says, haltingly. "He-- he was a regular, for Christ's sake! I know him! But he f-- fucked me tonight, and he didn't--" He breaks off as the tears start coming faster. "I didn't know until it was over, I swear! But Derek, he didn't use a condom."

Shit. Derek leans forward so he can wrap Stiles in his arms. "Shit, Stiles, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Stiles collapses against him, and sobs into his shoulder. "I'm scared, Derek," he confesses between gasps. "I'm really-- really scared."

Derek holds him tighter, rubbing one hand up and down his back. "I know," he murmurs. "I'm here. I'm here."

Stiles holds on for dear life, and cries until there are no tears left to cry. When it's over, and he can breathe again, he pulls back and wipes his face. "I'm sorry," he croaks. "I-- I didn't know where else to go."

"Hey, no," Derek shushes, "don't apologize for that. I'm here for you, you know that." Derek pulls Stiles back in for another hug, and when they pull apart again, he offers, "Do you want to go to a clinic tomorrow? I can go with you if you want."

Stiles sniffles, nods. "Please," he says. "I don't want to go alone."

"Then you won't have to," Derek reassures him. "Come on; let's move this to the couch, okay? I certainly didn't pick this apartment for the flooring."

Stiles lets Derek help him up and to the sofa, and wastes absolutely no time in curling himself back into Derek's arms once they're sitting down. He's trembling like a leaf, can't seem to stop, but at least he's not crying anymore. "It'll be okay," he whispers, "won't it?"

Derek grabs the comforter off the back of the couch and pulls it over the two of them. "I don't know," he admits, because he's never liked lying even to comfort someone, "but your chances are good. And no matter what, you'll have my support, okay?" Just this once, Derek lets himself put a figurative toe across the line by pressing a kiss to the top of Stiles's head and holding the teenager closer. "I'll be right by your side, no matter what."

Stiles closes his eyes and tries his best to believe Derek. "Thank you," he breathes.

Derek rests his cheek against Stiles's hair. "You're welcome," he murmurs.

They go to the clinic around noon, and it doesn't take long for them to get in; this isn't the first time someone has come in accompanied by a worker from My Friend's Place. Derek sticks by Stiles's side the whole time, and when the nurse comes in to take a blood sample, Derek asks, "What should we be on the lookout for? And what are the chances that some virus has been transferred?"

"Honestly," the nurse says, "all it takes is once. If this guy had something, then unfortunately he could very well have infected you." She tries to give Stiles a reassuring smile. "We're gonna run tests for all of the major STIs, pretty routine, and we should be able to get a result within the hour. I also think it would be a good idea to test for HIV, but we need special permission to do that. Is that okay?"

Stiles, who zoned out somewhere around the middle of all that, blinks. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You think that's a possibility?"

The nurse hesitates. "It wouldn't hurt to check," she says. "Just to be safe."

Derek glances at Stiles. "It's your choice," he says. "I think it'd be good to play it safe, so you know for sure."

Stiles nods, distracted. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, sure."

The nurse smiles like she understands, and maybe she does. This is definitely not the first time she's dealt with someone like Stiles. "Great. I'll fetch you some forms to sign, and then you'll be able to go take a seat in the waiting room until the results are ready."

Derek nods, giving the nurse a smile. "Thank you."

Stiles took Derek's hand at some point while they were with the nurse, and once they're back in the waiting room, he doesn't let go. It's the only part of him that's still; his leg is bouncing, and he's fiddling needlessly with his phone, checking the time every few seconds. "I wonder how many other people in here are hookers," he says quiet enough that only Derek hears, though he hasn't so much as glanced at the other people in the room. "Or people who've been cheated on, or just promiscuous, or maybe rape victims. God, I hope no one's a rape victim. That would suck. Or maybe they're not here for sex reasons at all. Maybe they're virgins. Maybe--"

"Hey, Stiles, breathe," Derek says, giving Stiles's hand a squeeze. "Take a couple of deep breaths for me, okay? You sound like you're ready to hyperventilate."

Stiles does as he's told, squeezing Derek's hand tight. "I'm sorry," he says at last. "I just-- I want it to be over."

"I know," Derek says soothingly, laying his other hand over where Stiles is currently squeezing the blood of out his fingers. "I know you do, and we'll at least have the preliminary results, and that will be more answers than what we have right now. And then we keep going until we have all the answers, and then we make a plan from there, okay?"

"What do you mean?" Stiles asks, frowning, but then he freezes when the nurse comes back into the room.

"Mr Stilinski, if you'd like to come through, please."

Derek gives Stiles's hand another squeeze, tugging him to his feet and then walking with him to the back. "Well?" Derek asks, apprehensively.

"The tests all came back negative," the nurse says, smiling, and beside Derek Stiles deflates like a balloon. "But, that negative isn't a definitive one. Some of the infections I tested you for can take up to twelve weeks after exposure to present. Including HIV."

And just like that, the tension returns to Stiles' body. "What?"

"I'm sorry, but you're going to have to come back in three months so we can test you again. There's a very small chance that any of the tests will come back positive, but you were only exposed yesterday. We need to be absolutely sure."

Derek runs his thumb over the back of Stiles's hand. "We can do that," he agrees. "in the meantime, are there any symptoms we should be on the lookout for?"

"If you ask at the front desk, the receptionist can give you a couple of pamphlets. HIV itself probably won't start giving you any noticeable symptoms for quite a while, but there are some other things you can look out for."

Derek looks to Stiles, who is still worryingly silent. "Okay," he says, turning back to the nurse. "Thank you."

"Thank you," Stiles repeats dutifully, and stands up. "See you in three months, I guess."

Not surprisingly, Stiles doesn't go back to selling himself on the streets; it takes less than a week, however, before he takes Derek up on his offer to pay Stiles for working at the shelter. Stiles doesn't want to be a freeloader, so Derek agrees to swap shelter work for room and board, with extra pay for every extra shift Stiles takes. Usually people who don't want to accept straight charity and want to earn their keep work three or four shifts in return for a week's board, and then they get paid ten dollars an hour for every shift they work after that; since each shift is roughly five hours and Derek pays cash, that's fifty dollars a day, if shifts are available. Unfortunately, there's usually too many people wanting extra shifts and not enough shifts to go around.

The first several days are rough; Derek keeps Stiles working on simply handing out bedding and relieving the food line until Stiles feels able to get more involved. Derek insists on Stiles taking one day off a week, the same as everyone else does. And most days, it's easy to forget about the three-month deadline looming over their heads; though it does have a habit of dropping down unexpectedly to crash the mood. Still, Derek tries to remain positive - that was the first time Stiles had had unprotected sex, according to him, and though, as the nurse pointed out, it does only take once to get infected, Derek thinks that Stiles's chances of escaping any sort of STI are pretty good.

Stiles, for his part, is resolutely not thinking about the looming deadline. He has to once, when he cuts himself at the shelter and freaks out so hard he has to take the rest of the day off, but that's it. The rest of the time he keeps his head down, and does his best to get on with life without thinking about the fact that he might be riddled with diseases.

Derek helps. He keeps him busy at work, and sometimes they take the same day off so that they can hang out and Stiles can't get lost in his own head. It's nice, Stiles thinks, not for the first time as he reclines on the sofa, his feet in Derek's lap. They're closer now than they were before, and Stiles is so grateful; he really needs Derek's support. It's still not everything that he wants, but it's far more than he deserves.

Still, Stiles is tired and loose after a long couple of shifts at the shelter, and they've been watching Breaking Bad for a good few hours now. When the episode ends, and Netflix starts counting down to the next one, Stiles nudges Derek's thigh with his foot. "Hey," he says, smiling softly. "How's it goin'?"

Derek lets his hand fall to Stiles's ankle, giving him a bemused look. "It's going pretty well, considering we're rotting our brains with too much television. You?"

"I'm good," Stiles says, still smiling. "I'm really good."

Derek grins, happy. "That's good." He gives Stiles's ankle a squeeze, and leaves his hand there.

The next episode starts to play, and Stiles thinks about letting the conversation drop, but bone-deep exhaustion apparently gives way to courage, because just as Derek starts to turn away he says, "Hey, Derek? Can I tell you something?"

Derek turns back to Stiles, raising one eyebrow and looking at him curiously. "Sure, shoot."

Stiles' breath catches, nerves fluttering to life in his stomach. "I know it's wrong," he says abruptly. "And I'm not looking for you to say or do anything. I just-- I can't stop thinking about it."

Derek frowns slightly. "I'm not sure I follow," he admits. "What can't you stop thinking about?"

"Kissing you."

"Oh." Derek goes utterly still for a moment, and then he swallows, throat clicking, thinks Fuck it, and admits, "I've been thinking about that, too."

Stiles gaze, which has fallen to his own knees, suddenly snaps back up to search Derek's face. "You have?" he asks, breathless.

Derek nods. "I have," he says, meeting Stiles's gaze.

"In a-- in a good way?" Stiles presses. "Or in a, like, 'where the hell did that image come from oh my god I just threw up in my mouth a little' kind of way?"

"In a 'I'm going to Hell for thinking about this but I can't bring myself to care' way," Derek answers. "So... almost a good way, I guess."

Stiles nods, shifts a little closer. "I-- I understand if you can't," he says. "Or if you don't want to. I know I'm--" He cuts himself off, shudders, and starts to inch away again. "I'm not--"

"Hey, hey, wait," Derek says, sitting up straighter. "The only reason I feel like I'm going to Hell is because you're sixteen - and I'm twenty-three. It's not because of anything else you might be thinking about."

Stiles freezes. "I know," he says quietly. "I know you're not like any of them."

"I'm also your unofficial guardian," Derek points out. "Or at least it feels like that. I don't want you to feel like you're being taken advantage of, or - or like you owe me."

"No," Stiles says, his voice strong now. "No. I-- I've known since the first time that that's not what you want."

"I know," Derek says wryly. "I've still got a goose egg on my head that reminds me i made my opinion on that pretty clear." He sighs heavily, then says, "I don't just - it's not just physical. But it's still, at the least, illegal - at least until you turn seventeen."

"It's not illegal to be close to someone," Stiles says quietly. "To have... feelings. Is it?"

Derek shakes his head. "Not so far as I know," he answers, voice just as quiet as Stiles's.

"I don't want to have sex with you," Stiles admits. "At least, not right away. I've never-- And it might not be safe."

Derek sobers at the reminder of the looming deadline. "And that's fine; a relationship shouldn't be all about the physical side," he says. "But - are you sure? I know you've been on your own for a while, but you're still young, with your whole life ahead of you."

"And that's thanks to you," Stiles insists. "I'd still be in the gutter if it weren't for you, and I-- I don't know what would have happened if you weren't there for me, after..." He shakes his head. "For the first time in a long time, I want a future. And I want you to be in it."

Derek takes a deep breath; this is it, he knows. Make or break. "I want that, too," he admits.

Stiles smiles, and it's a little shy. "Will you kiss me?" he asks softly.

Derek nods, holding out his hand. "Come here," he says softly.

Stiles lets his legs slide out of Derek's lap as he takes his hand and shuffles closer. His heart is racing, and he's nervous again, but mostly he's thrumming with low-level excitement, with how much he wants this. The look in Derek's gorgeous eyes tells him that he feels the same.

p>Derek absently licks his lips as Stiles moves closer, his free hand moving to lay over Stiles's hip. "You're sure?" he asks - has to ask, has to be absolutely sure that Stiles wants this just as much as he does.

Stiles nods, his expression open and earnest. "Please," he murmurs.

"Okay," Derek says quietly, leaning in. "Okay." And with no further hesitation, he carefully presses his lips to Stiles's in a chaste kiss.

It's perfect, soft and simple and exactly what Stiles needs. When it's over and they pull apart, they're both smiling, and Stiles feels something in his heart melt. Derek's looking at him like he's something precious, and Stiles can only hope he's returning the favour. "Well, I don't hear sirens," he whispers after a moment.

That startles a slight laugh out of Derek. "No, I don't either," he says with a small smile.

Stiles grins. "Think we got away with it?"

"For now, at least," Derek agrees, returning the grin.

Stiles catches one of Derek's hands and brings it to his lips. "Thank you," he says quietly, "for taking a chance on me." He isn't just talking about the kiss.

Derek's grin softens into a smile, and he gives Stiles's hand a squeeze. "You're welcome," he murmurs.

The next few weeks pass in a blur. Stiles is happy for the first time in a long time, and it's all because of Derek. They don't do much, exchange soft kisses in the safety of their own home and snuggle up on the couch, but Stiles feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders all the same.

They start talking about the future. Quietly, at first, late at night when they can use their exhaustion as an excuse for hopeless optimism, and then with growing confidence. They've both all but forgotten about the appointment Stiles has with the clinic, and when they do remember they're both certain that Stiles is fine. He hasn't displayed any symptoms, and he doesn't feel any different - there's no way he caught anything off that guy, and therefore there's every reason to assume that they will have a future together. So they talk. Maybe Stiles will go back to school, or maybe Derek will help him get a job, but either way they'll work together to help other people in Stiles' former situation. Stiles even starts to entertain thoughts of going home, once he's done pulling himself back together.

But then the day of Stiles' appointment dawns, and everything falls apart.

"I'm sorry," Stiles says, perfectly calm, "could you repeat that, please?"

"I said it's not good news, Mr Stilinski. You're HIV positive."

Derek knows he heard her perfectly clearly because he thinks his heart has stopped. "There's no chance of it being a false positive."

"I'm afraid not," the nurse says. "I know this must be very upsetting, and if you need to take a minute to get your head around this, then of course I--"

"Am I going to die?" Stiles interrupts, sounding very small and very young.

The nurse's expression softens. "No," she says. "No, Mr Stilinski, you're not going to die. We're going to put you on medication immediately and with proper management, you should be able to live a relatively normal life from here on out."

Stiles falters. "That sounds expensive," he says uncertainly.

"Is it?" Derek asks; he's already planning on helping Stiles as much as Chris will allow him to, but he needs numbers to bring to the lawyer.

"It can be," the nurse admits. "I can get you a print-out of the financial details, if you'd like."

"Please," Derek requests. "Any information we can get will be helpful."

"Of course," the nurse says. Then she hesitates, her gaze resting for a moment on Stiles' hand, which is gripping Derek's so tight his knuckles are white. "Are you... Mr Stilinski's partner?"

"I am," Derek confirms, "though we haven't done anything beyond kissing; is there any risk of transference from that?"

The nurse shakes her head. "The virus is contained within the blood and semen, so not unless you both have open wounds in your mouths. Do you think you might have been exposed, Mr Hale?"

Derek doesn't hesitate. "No, I don't believe so."

"Do you want to be tested, just in case?"

That Derek takes a moment to consider. "Yes," he says finally. "Just to know for sure."

The nurse smiles. "Then I'll take some blood from you now. But Mr Stilinski, I'm going to schedule you an appointment with a specialist right away so that you can discuss treatment options. Will you be okay to go over there straight from here?"

"Um." Stiles glances at Derek. "I guess?"

Derek gives Stiles's hand a squeeze. "We don't have anything pressing today, and I'll go with you if you want me to."

"Please," Stiles says, nodding.

"They'll probably do some tests of their own, just to confirm our results," the nurse warns them. "But please don't get your hopes up. The result is highly unlikely to be any different."

"Thank you for the information," Derek says, giving the nurse a slight smile.

The nurse smiles back. "Okay, Mr Hale, if you'd like to take your jacket off and roll up your sleeve, we can have you guys out of here in a jiffy."

Derek complies and it takes only a moment to have enough blood drawn. As he and Stiles move to the waiting room, he stops Stiles briefly. "Are you okay? For now, I mean."

Stiles shakes his head. "I-- I don't know," he says. "Are you?"

"Right now I'm more worried about you," Derek says. "Let me know if you want to go home early, okay?"

Stiles shakes his head again. "We should go to see the specialist," he says, his voice wooden.

"Okay," Derek says, looking at Stiles a but worriedly. "Let's go do that, then."

"We will," Stiles says. "After we get your results."

"Okay," Derek agrees. "After my results."

Derek's preliminary results are negative, and the meeting with the specialist is uneventful; Stiles is given a prescription to start as soon as possible, and the doctor essentially echoes the nurse's earlier words with slight embellishment.

Derek calls Chris and gets permission for the first three 30 day refills of the prescription to be paid for from the fund, and they make a pit stop to pick it up from their local pharmacy before they head home. When they get there, Derek pulls Stiles onto the couch with him. "How you doing?" he asks quietly.

"I'm okay," Stiles says, but it's not convincing. "I'm glad you didn't get infected."

"Stiles," Derek says, then stops, and sighs. "Come here," he requests, tugging lightly on Stiles's hands. "I don't care about that; I care about you."

"You'd care if I had infected you," Stiles says stubbornly. "I care. I'm putting you at risk."

"Neither you nor I are stupid," Derek points out. "We know how the virus is spread, and we know how to be safe. You're not putting me at risk, Stiles."

Stiles sighs, screws his eyes shut. "I'm scared," he admits.

Derek nods. "I understand that," he says, letting one hand run up Stiles's arm so he can take the back of Stiles's neck in a gentle but firm grip. "But we're in this together, right? We'll get through this."

Stiles dares to look at Derek, and sees nothing but sincerity in his face. "You really mean that," he says softly, awed.

Derek smiles slightly. "Of course I do," he says, and then adds before he can really think about it, "I love you."

Stiles wheezes in a sharp breath, but doesn't hesitate. "I love you, too."

The corner of Derek's mouth twitches up into a smile. "Good," he says softly. "Now will you come here so I can hold you?"

Stiles sinks into Derek's embrace willingly, relaxing almost immediately as Derek's arms come around him. After the stress of the day, exhaustion takes over quickly, and it isn't long before Stiles is dozing against Derek's chest. If he can just close his eyes for a moment, maybe when he wakes up all of this will have been a bad dream.

Derek dozes as well, but when he wakes up and Stiles is sound asleep, he's suddenly struck by the need to talk to someone. Before the accident, he would have called Laura; now, however, he calls Isaac after carefully worming his way out from under Stiles and moving into the kitchen. He trusts Isaac to keep anything Derek tells him confidential, and to be honest with him. So, Derek dials Isaac's number, and then waits nervously for the other man to pick up.

"Hey, Derek," Isaac says easily when he accepts the call. "Listen, man, if you need me to work another shift you can do it yourself. I'm still recovering from yesterday."

"It's not that," Derek says, running a hand through his hair. "It's Stiles. Remember I mentioned taking him three months ago to the clinic to get tested after he got tricked?"

"Yeah," Isaac says slowly, sounding wary. "What about it?"

"The preliminary results were negative, but we had to go back after three months to get the official results - and that's what we did today. It was positive."

"For HIV?" Isaac sucks in a deep breath. "Jeez, man, that's hard. What is he gonna do?"

"That's just it," Derek explains, "he's not sure. Honestly, I don't think it's sunk in. I want to help him as much as I can, but I've never dealt with something this huge before."

Isaac hesitates. "I don't think it's your responsibility," he says carefully. "I know you've taken a special interest in him, but this isn't for you to deal with. If he won't be helped, you can't help him."

Well, that's true, even if it's not what Derek wants to hear. "I know," he sighs. "And that's part of what I'm worried about; he's already been talking about how he's putting me at risk, and there is some risk, but it's nothing that we can't handle."

"Derek, are you sleeping with him?"

"No," Derek says instantly. "I'm not sleeping with him, Isaac. He's underage."

"But you are in a relationship with him?"

"I - yes. Nothing physical, I swear."

Isaac sighs. "You need to think long and hard about whether or not that's a good idea, Derek," he says. "You said it yourself - he's sixteen. And he's just been given a life-changing diagnosis. You've already got so much on your plate - can you really handle dealing with a kid who is homeless and a prostitute and has HIV on top of that? Is that something you can cope with?"

"He hasn't been back on the streets since that dickhead tricked him," Derek argues. "And he's my friend, first and foremost. I want to help him as much as I can, no matter how hard it might be."

"And you think that you'd be the best person to help him?" Isaac asks. "What about his family?"

Derek sighs. "He hasn't been in touch with them," he says. "I asked him about it, and he said that it 'would be best if I wasn't there.' I don't know what happened, but I think he's been gone for more than a year, and I honestly don't know if he would willingly contact them."

"I know you care about him," Isaac says, "but we care about you. And we don't want you to get stuck in the middle of something neither of you can handle and then blame yourself."

"I know," Derek says, "but he's my friend, Isaac. There's more - but even if there wasn't, I would still want to help him. You know me; you know I can't just walk away."

"Even when you think you should?" Isaac asks quietly, and then sighs. "Just don't put too much pressure on yourself, okay? If things get to be too much, don't suffer alone."

"I won't," Derek promises. "It'll be hard, I'm not saying it won't, but I want to help him, even if it's just bullying Chris into using the fund to pay for his prescription."

"Okay," Isaac says. "I trust your judgement."

"Thank you," Derek says. "And thanks for listening."

"Anytime, man," Isaac says. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I'll see you," Derek says before hanging up and rubbing a hand over his face. This diagnosis was huge, and Derek knew that Stiles wasn't actually letting on how much it was affecting him. Things were going to be rough, but Derek thought they could get through it.

Back in the living room, Stiles sits on the sofa, his mind racing. Derek apparently feels like he can't walk away from Stiles, and is willing to bleed this fund dry out of some warped sense of obligation. Stiles can't let that happen - but what is he supposed to do about it?

Derek, oblivious to what is going through Stiles's mind, takes a moment to gather himself before he returns to the living room. "Hey," he says, smiling when he sees that Stiles is awake. "How you doing?"

"Good," Stiles says, though he's anything but. "Still tired, though. Where did you go?"

"Had to talk to Isaac about a few things," Derek says. "You hungry?"

Stiles shakes his head, feeling hollow. "Not really," he says. "I think I'm just gonna go to bed."

Derek nods understandingly. "Want me to come with you?" he offers.

Stiles knows he should say no, but he isn't strong enough to do that. He's never shared a bed with Derek before, and he wants so badly to let Derek hold him tonight, to pretend just for now that everything will be okay. "Please," he says. "I'd really like that."

"Okay," Derek says, holding out a hand. "Let's go."

Stiles takes Derek's hand, and tries to tell himself that he's okay with it being the last time.

Derek wakes up alone.

That by itself isn't enough to worry him, but the fact that the apartment is dead silent for the first time in months is. And when he gets out of bed and investigates, it only takes a glance into the spare bedroom to realize why.

Stiles is gone.

Further investigation turns up the key that Derek had given him, as well as most of the cash Derek keeps in the apartment missing - a total of nearly a grand. Derek doesn't care about the money, however; he's more concerned with the fact that Stiles left without saying anything. Why would he do that?

As the days go by, Derek doesn't see or hear of hide nor tail of Stiles. He still worries, especially when all of his texts go through but aren't replied to, but what can he do? Stiles left, and he obviously doesn't want Derek to find him; he's nowhere near the usual spots from before he stopped working the streets. Maybe Derek did push too hard, trying to take care of Stiles - and a nasty little voice in the back of his head that he desperately tries to ignore suggests that maybe Stiles was using him the whole time, got more than he bargained for, and scrammed.

Still, Derek keeps one eye and ear out for Stiles everywhere he goes, even though nothing ever comes of it, and he continues about his daily life (and if he sleeps over at the shelter, slumped over his desk more often than he does his own bed, well, that's no one's business but his).

Then, two and a half months after Stiles left and three days after the biggest rainstorm New York has seen in years, Derek receives a phone call.

The caller ID shows Stiles's name, and Derek heart leaps into his throat as he fumbles to pick up. "Stiles? Stiles where - "

"I'm sorry," an unfamiliar voice says, "but this isn't Stiles, though we do have him here. This number was listed on his phone as the emergency contact; are you Derek Hale?" Derek confirms that he is, and listens in horror as the woman on the other end details what's happened. He's out the door and hailing a taxi before she finishes.

The receptionist at the hospital's front desk is as helpful as she can be, and directs Derek to a ward on the far side of the hospital. Stiles is sleeping when he gets there, looking deathly pale against the starched white sheets; he's lost a lot of weight, his hair is limp and greasy, and there are dark circles beneath his eyes. They're giving him oxygen and God knows what else, but his chest is barely moving, and if it weren't for the reassuring rhythm of the heart monitor it might be easy to assume that he was dead.

As Derek stands there, letting this all sink in, someone approaches from behind and taps him on the shoulder. "Are you Mr Hale?"

Derek jumps, startled out of his horrified trance, and turns. "Yes, I am," he says, then gestures to Stiles. "What happened?"

"He was found unconscious on the streets yesterday evening - we don't know how long he'd been there for," the doctor says. "He has pneumonia."

Derek swears. "He's HIV positive," he says. "He was staying with me, and shortly after we got the diagnosis, he ran. Jesus, I didn't think - "

The doctor nods. "We're aware," he says. "HIV-positive patients are far more susceptible to infection than HIV-negative ones; likely this started out as a normal cold and progressed very quickly, especially if he hasn't been taking his medication."

Derek swears again. "I bet he hasn't; he left most of it behind when he left. How bad is it?"

"I won't lie to you, Mr Hale, he's in some danger," the doctor says. "If he pulls through, he'll have a long road to recovery ahead of him. But he's in the right place now, and we're doing all we can for him."

Derek nods. "Thank you. Was he brought here by someone, or found?"

"Found. We would have called you earlier but we had to charge his phone up. Are you family?"

Derek shakes his head. "He's estranged from his family; we were friends, and I suppose I became an unofficial guardian."

The doctor hesitates. "Well, we do need to talk to someone about insurance."

"My fund contributes regularly to this hospital to aid in absorbed bills," Derek says. "Chris Argent is the lawyer in charge of it; I can pay for his medical bills myself as a donor, if you'd rather go that route. Money is no object to me."

"Okay," the doctor says. "I'll make sure someone finds you to discuss options. I have other patients to see to - do you need anything else?"

"May I have his phone?" Derek asks. "I'd like to let his other friends know that he's been found."

"I don't see why not," the doctor says. "Will you be around for the next ten minutes? I'll have to send someone to get it."

Derek nods. "I'm not planning on going anywhere."

The doctor glances at Stiles' prone form. "He might wake up," he says. "But if that's what you're waiting for, you might be here for a while."

"I'll wait as long as it takes," Derek says quietly but firmly. He's not going to leave Stiles here alone.

"Very well," the doctor says, watching Derek thoughtfully. "Someone will be with you shortly." He takes his leave, and then Derek and Stiles are alone.

When Derek gets Stiles's phone, he immediately opens the contact list. There are only a few numbers, but the one that catches Derek's eye is labeled 'Dad.' Derek glances at Stiles, who is still deep in sleep, and hits the call button.

The call takes a moment to connect, and when it does it rings for so long that Derek's almost afraid it will ring out, but at last there's a click and a tired voice is saying, "Stilinski."

"Hello; my name is Derek Hale, and I'm calling about your son." Derek figures that'll be enough to get the man to at least listen for a minute. "His name is Stiles, correct?"

"Where is he?" Stilinski demands, sounding suddenly hoarse. "Is he okay?"

Derek swallows. "He's... Well, he's in a hospital. In New York." Derek gives the name, then says, "Right now he's stable, but, well - there's a lot to this story. I'm taking care of the hospital bills, and if you wish I can arrange to fly you out here to see him. I don't know what happened between you two, but I think he's going to need you."

"What do you mean, you'll arrange my flight? What's wrong with my son?"

"Sir," Derek hesitates, but then decides it's best if the man knows now. "Stiles is HIV positive, and has developed pneumonia. The doctors are optimistic, but there is still a chance that it could get worse."

The man on the other end of the phone falls silent, and it's a long moment before he speaks again. "I don't know who you are or what you've got to do with Stiles," he says quietly, "but if you can get me out to see my kid, do it."

"Of course. I'll use this number to text you the details, and you have my word that I won't leave the hospital. I'll try to get you on the next flight out if you can tell me the closest airport."

Stilinski tells him everything he needs to know without hesitation. "I'm leaving right now," he says. "I'll just grab a change of clothes and then I'll hit the road. Call me if anything changes."

"I will," Derek promises. "I'll get you your flight information as soon as I have it."

"Thank you," Stilinski says, achingly sincere. "If he wakes up, tell him-- tell him I love him, and that I'm on my way."

"I will," Derek says quietly.

Derek schedules the flight and passes the information along, but the sheriff won't be there till late that evening, and there's nothing to do but wait.

Untold hours later, Stiles' hand twitches, and then reaches up to pull the oxygen mask away from his face. Almost as soon as he does, he's coughing, but it's weak and sounds painful. "Derek? What-- What's going on?"

"Hey, hey, don't touch that," Derek chides gently, replacing the mask. "You're in the hospital, you've got pneumonia. You need to stay still, okay?"

Stiles lets Derek manhandle him and then grabs at his wrist when he tries to pull away. "I--" He coughs again. "I don't feel so good."

"I know you don't," Derek says gently, settling on the side of the bed. "Just lay down, okay?"

Stiles does as he's told and tries to relax, but after a moment the mask is being rejected once again. "What are you doing here?" he rasps.

"What do you think? I was worried about you," Derek answers. "You scared the hell out of me when you left like that. The hospital used your phone to call me."

Stiles manages a weak scowl. "Shouldn't'a done that," he mumbles.

"They absolutely should have," Derek corrects, then hesitates, glancing at the clock. "I did something you'll probably be pissed at me for, though."

"What?" Stiles asks. "What did you--"


Stiles' gaze leaves Derek in an instant and snaps toward the door; his whole body is tense, but when he sees who spoke his expression morphs from one of defensive exhaustion to open, childlike vulnerability. "Dad?"

The sheriff ignores Derek for a moment as he steps into the room. "Hey, son," he says, voice rough and eyes hot. Stiles looks like shit, but the sheriff has never seen anything more beautiful.

Stiles lets go of Derek to reach for his father. "Dad," he croaks. "What are you doing here?"

"Derek called me," he says, stepping in until he can take his son's hand. "Arranged for me to come out here. How did you even get all the way out to New York?"

Stiles shakes his head. "Long story," he says. "Lot of hitchhiking." His breath catches. "Dad, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for everything, I've made such a mess."

"Hey, hey, that doesn't matter now," the sheriff says, reaching out to run a hand through Stiles's hair, scratching lightly against his scalp. "You're here, I'm here, and no matter what happens I'm not leaving, okay?"

Stiles nods, looking teary-eyed and desperate. "Please don't," he whispers. "I'm really scared, Dad."

"I'm here," the sheriff says soothingly, his grip tightening on Stiles's hand. "I'm not going anywhere."

Stiles falls back to sleep not long after that, soothed by the presence of his father and, not that he'll admit it anytime soon, Derek. Derek, who still hasn't left, despite the emotional reunion between father and son. That says a lot, the sheriff knows.

Once he's sure that Stiles is settled, he catches Derek's eye and jerks his head toward the door: We need to talk.

Derek nods; he knows this has to happen sooner or later, and it might as well be sooner. So, he follows the sheriff into the hall. "I'm guessing you have questions," he says.

"Yeah," the sheriff says, "starting with what how the hell you know my kid."

Derek sighs. "I run a shelter here," he starts. "My Friend's Place. Basically food and a place to sleep for the homeless. I first met Stiles when he spent a couple of nights there, and I figured he was young, so when an incident occurred that made him feel wary about staying at the shelter, I started including him in the usual nighttime routes where either I or one of my employees delivers leftover food to the people who prefer to stay on the streets for whatever reason.

"Stiles was being harassed one night, and as the temperature was supposed to go below twenty that night, I convinced him to stay the night in my apartment. He took the spare bedroom and had breakfast with me that morning, and then left. We kept running into each other, however, and eventually he moved in."

"So he was homeless?" the sheriff asks hoarsely. "What happened then? How did he end up here?"

Derek glances through the doorway at Stiles, and says quietly, "He was selling himself on the streets, and a client - a regular, he said - tricked him. Made Stiles think he was using a condom when he wasn't."

What little blood remains in the sheriff's face drains from it. "Hale," he says slowly. "Are you his pimp?"

"No!" Derek spits, horrified. "Jesus Christ, no. I offered to help him find better work - legitimate work - several times, but he refused. And before you ask, no, I've never had sex with him either."

The sheriff sighs, runs a hand over his face. "I'm sorry, son, I'm just... this is a lot." He looks up, searches Derek's face. "I believe you," he says. "But you can't tell me you don't care about him."

Derek hesitates before admitting, "I do. But I recognize that there are... a lot of bad circumstances. Namely that Stiles, no matter what he thought, was - and is - in a vulnerable position, as well as being underage. But you have my word that nothing happened."

The sheriff nods. "Alright," he says. "I guess I should leave it at that and say thank you, for calling me and for looking out for him. Are you sticking around?"

"I'd like to," Derek says. "Stiles was my friend, before anything else."

"Okay," the sheriff says. "Why don't you go home, get some sleep? I'll call you if anything changes."

"I will," Derek promises. "My number is in Stiles's phone, the one i used to contact you."

"Alright, son. I'll see you tomorrow."

Stiles wakes up again a few hours later, and the sheriff stays by his side while a nurse fusses over him for a moment. When she leaves, the elder stilinski gives his son a smile. "How you feeling?"

"Like crap," Stiles says. "Tired. But I'm okay, I think. What about you?"

"I'm better, now that I can see you," the sheriff says. "You scared the hell out of all of us, kid."

Stiles winces. "I'm sorry," he says. "I just, I had to go. I ruined everything."

The sheriff shakes his head. "No," he says adamantly. "You didn't ruin anything, Stiles. If anything, I'm the one who ruined things, at least between us. I shouldn't have said the things I did."

"I shouldn't have done the things I did," Stiles counters. "I thought leaving would make things better, but I just made an even bigger mess. Dad, I-- I have HIV."

"I know, son," the sheriff says gently, reaching out to take Stiles's hand. "Derek told me, when he first called."

Stiles' mouth twists down at the corners. "Did he tell you how I got it?"

"He did," the sheriff answers, "and right now, I don't care about that. I care about the fact that you didn't get killed, or lost, or find someone who wasn't like Derek. I understand why you did what you did, even if I don't exactly like it."

Stiles nods, wets his lips. "Where is Derek?" he asks after a moment. "Did he-- is he gone?"

"He went home to shower and get a change of clothes and take care of a couple of things," the sheriff answers. "And if you want my opinion, you certainly could have picked a lot worse than him to go to for help."

Stiles sighs. "I really hurt him, Dad."


"I left," Stiles says. "I got scared and I ran. But I overheard him on the phone, telling one of his friends that he can't just walk away from people even when he should, and I-- I couldn't force myself on him. He didn't sign up to look after a disease-ridden prostitute; he deserves better."

The sheriff sighs, taking a moment to sort out his words. "First off, Derek's the one who decides what he deserves," he says. "Second, the doctors mentioned that they're fairly certain Derek broke some speed limits getting to the hospital after they called him. And third, he told me himself that he cares for you, and considers you at the least to be a friend. I think he'll forgive you for running, Stiles, even though you did scare the hell out him."

Stiles looks pained, and it's not just because of the ache in his chest. "I'm in love with him," he confesses.

The sheriff doesn't speak for a moment. "He said that he cared for you," he says finally, "as well as saying he knew that there were 'bad circumstances', as he put it. I can't exactly say I'm thrilled about this, but I am willing to reserve judgment for the moment. And if you love him, then you need to talk to him, figure out what you're going to do."

Stiles nods, takes in a shaky breath. "Let's hope he comes back."

"He will," the sheriff says confidently. "He will."

By the time Derek returns, Stiles has fallen into a fitful sleep; the sheriff stands up when Derek enters the room and stretches before turning to face him. "He's been asking for you," he says softly. "Probably won't be asleep for much longer."

Derek nods. "How's he doing?"

"The same. I imagine he'll feel a lot better once you two have spoken, though, and I'd bet that you will, too."

Derek frowns slightly. "What do you mean?"

"That's between you and him," the sheriff says vaguely. "I'm gonna find some crappy hospital coffee. Just do me a favour, okay? If you're gonna walk away, let him sleep a little longer before you tell him."

Derek watches the sheriff go, bewildered, but he turns and enters the unit, taking a seat next to Stiles. The sheriff was right, and he doesn't have long to wait before Stiles was waking up again. "Hey," Derek says, smiling. "Miss me?"

"So much," Stiles says, addled by sleep and medication. "Didn't think you'd come back."

"Of course I would," Derek says gently. "I didn't just give up on you - us - when you left, you know."

Stiles wheezes out a laugh and struggles to sit up. "I wouldn't blame you if-- Christ, if you had."

Derek reaches for the button to elevate the bed. "Take it easy," Derek reminds him. "You're nowhere near being healed yet."

"Bite me," Stiles grouses, but there's no real heat behind it. "Can you pass me some water, please?"

Derek does so, holding the glass for Stiles to sip some water through the straw. "Why did you leave?" he asks after a moment. "You know I was more than willing to help you figure out what you we're going to do."

Stiles hesitates. "I heard you," he says. "On the phone to Isaac, I think. It sounded like you didn't feel like you had a choice, about staying with me."

Derek swears under his breath, then shakes his head. "I never felt that way," he promises. "Ever."

"I just didn't want to be a burden," Stiles says, looking unsure.

"You were never a burden," Derek says firmly. "You never could be, Stiles."

"You can't say that," Stiles argues. "I'm a kid and I've already thrown my life away. My own dad--"

"Was worried sick about you," Derek interrupts, "and couldn't get here fast enough when he found out where you were. You might have made some mistakes and have bad things happen to you, but you haven't thrown your life away. The only way you could have done would have been by stepping into traffic or something else fatal."

Stiles closes his eyes. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry for leaving, and for hurting you. And I'm so grateful that you came, even after everything, and that you called my dad. I thought I was going to die out there."

Derek lays a hand over Stiles's, squeezing gently. "You're welcome, and you're forgiven," he says quietly. "I'll always come if you need me."

Stiles' breathing hitches, and his eyes are suddenly burning. "I love you," he rasps. "I know you might-- things have changed, and that's okay. But. I love you so much."

Derek's expression softens. "I know," he says. "I love you, too."

Stiles nods, flips his hand over so that he can lace his fingers through Derek's and squeeze, and swallows hard against the lump in his throat. "I missed you," he whispers.

"I missed you, too," Derek replies, tightening his grip as if he's afraid Stiles will disappear if he doesn't. "Don't leave without letting me know again, please?"

Stiles looks around himself. "I don't think I'm going anywhere anytime soon," he says. "But, I won't. I swear."

"Good," Derek says. "That's good."

Over the next couple of weeks, Stiles slowly grew better. He could sit up and do light activity now without immediately lapsing into a coughing fit, and the doctor was thinking about releasing him.

Of course, that left the question of what would happen then wide open. The sheriff and his son had reconciled, but the sheriff needed to get back to Beacon Hills. Stiles was well enough to fly so long as he took it easy, so it was certainly an option - the likeliest option, if Derek was honest with himself - that Stiles would go home with his father. Derek didn't begrudge that, he truly didn't. Couldn't, not when he'd give almost anything to regain his own family.

Still, when Stiles told Derek he had something to say, Derek knew that Stiles had made his decision.

The sheriff left to run some errands over an hour ago, so when Derek gets to the hospital Stiles is half-asleep. He rouses quickly enough, though, and offers Derek a tired smile. "Hey handsome," he says, holding out a hand. "I missed you."

"Hey yourself," Derek says, smiling and taking the offered hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Not great, but not awful, either," Stiles says with a smile. "I think they're gonna discharge me soon."

"Well that's good," Derek says encouragingly. "Means they think you're healing well."

Stiles nods. "But it also means that I need to think about what happens after."

"And have you?"

Stiles nods. "Derek, there isn't an easy way to say this, but... I want to go home. I want to be with my dad and my friends."

Derek's smile turns a bit sad. "I thought you'd decide that," he says quietly. "I'm glad. You should go back to where everyone loves you and you don't have to worry about much."

Stiles nods. "I'm sorry," he says sincerely. "I love you so much. But this is what's best for me, and maybe for both of us."

"Hey," Derek chides. "Don't apologize. You have every right to want to go back home, okay? I'm not mad, or upset, or whatever else you're thinking."

"Okay," Stiles says, squeezing Derek's hand. "I'm gonna miss you, though."

"And I'll miss you," Derek answers. "Promise you'll keep in touch? Skype or text, maybe a phone call or two?"

Stiles looks unsure. "If you think that's best," he says. "My dad mentioned that a clean break might be better, but..."

Derek blinks. "A clean break?" he asks, hesitantly.

Stiles looks down. "We can't exactly be together," he says quietly. "We'll be in different states. And you deserve to be with someone your own age, someone who isn't sick."

"Hey, I'm pretty sure we've had this conversation about what who decides what I deserve," Derek chides. "And besides that - if this is really what you want, I'll respect it, you have my word. But perhaps - well, what about if we try this as friends? We kind of rushed that phase. I do care about you, and I'd like to at least know how you're doing."

Stiles nods, glances up. "I'd like that," he says.

"Then that's what we'll do," Derek says with a smile.

"Okay," Stiles says. He squeezes Derek's hand again and tries to ignore the ache in his chest that has nothing to do with the pneumonia. "Okay."

So Stiles goes back to Beacon Hills, and Derek goes back to his life in New York. They text regularly, about innocuous things, and they Skype once or twice. As September passes into October, Derek receives word that he's needed at a property that his family owns - in Beacon Hills. They've rented that property out for years now, and Derek had forgotten that they'd even owned it. Now, however, it seems that the last renter had skipped out on the last few months of rent, and legal action had been taken.

The appointment for Derek to meet with the local lawyer who had been handling the property in the Hales' stead is set for the last week of November - the week of Stiles's birthday. That gives Derek an idea, and about two weeks before that, Derek finalizes his plans and tells Stiles, Hey; I have to leave New York for a week for the last week of November, so I won't be able to text you much, sorry. Just letting you know ahead of time.

Stiles texts back almost instantly. That sucks :( But I guess I'll be pretty busy that week anyway. I'll tty when you get back?

Derek can't help but smile. Of course.

Things continue as usual, and as promised Derek disappears on the first day of the last week in November. Stiles is sad when his phone falls silent for the first time in months, but he hopes that Derek will be able to find the time to send him a happy birthday message on Thursday.

Besides, he's got more pressing matters to worry about right now. His dad is acting weird. He keeps catching him smiling to himself or, once or twice, exchanging a smug look with Melissa. Stiles is already aware that the two are finally dating, and unless it's about some weird sex thing - which he really hopes it's not - there's something going on that he doesn't know about. He hopes it's not some grand 'welcome home'/birthday present they've splashed all their cash on; he already feels guilty enough as it is.

Two days before his birthday the doorbell rings at some ungodly hour of the morning. It rings again a few moments later, and Stiles bounds down the stairs to answer it only to see his father hovering near the living room, dressed for work but obviously still home. "You weren't gonna answer it?" he asks, confused.

The sheriff just shrugs, smiles that smile he's been smiling for the past week. "I'm just enjoying the fact that there's someone else here now. I don't have to get up every time someone's at the door."

"But you're already up," Stiles says, shaking his head, as he reaches the door. He pulls it open, and barely misses a beat before he's flailing his way into Derek's arms. "Oh my god, I can't believe it!"

Derek laughs, pulling Stiles into a hug. "I told you I'd be out of town," he says. "I wanted to surprise you."

Stiles snuggles into Derek's embrace and makes a deliciously content sound. "Best surprise ever," he mumbles into Derek's chest.

Behind him, the sheriff clears his throat. "Uh, son? Do you wanna invite your friend inside, and maybe put some clothes on?"

Stiles springs away from Derek like he's been burned, his face already aflame, like he's only just remembered that he's still dressed for bed in boxers and an old t-shirt. "Um, yeah, of course. Come in, Derek, please."

Derek grins. "I'll just be in the living room; go get dressed," he says with a laugh. He turns to the sheriff as Stiles disappears upstairs, asking, "How has he been?"

"He's better," the sheriff says. "He's back on his meds and his doctors are pleased with his progress. He still gets tired easily, though."

"That's not surprising," Derek comments. "You remember the property I mentioned, the one my family owns and used to rent out?"

The sheriff nods. "Yeah, I know the one."

"I'm thinking of using it myself," Derek confesses. "I love New York, but lately it's... tiring."

The sheriff raises an eyebrow. "You don't expect me to believe that that's your only motivation?"

"No, I don't," Derek says, "which is why I'm telling you that I'm considering moving. In New York, Stiles would have been of legal age of consent after Thursday, but it's different here. And I'm not considering this with any expectations from Stiles of any kind."

The sheriff folds his arms over his chest. "I think the uniform says it all, kid," he says, but then he sighs. "I can't say that I'm jumping for joy at the thought of my underage son having a relationship with a man almost ten years his senior, but we both know that he won't give me a say in it."

Derek doesn't comment on that last part, but what he does say is, "I know, and I appreciate you giving me a chance like this. I'll do everything I can to make sure you don't regret it."

"Just please," the sheriff says tiredly, "please don't let him talk you into breaking any laws."

"I won't," Derek promises. "For several reasons."

The sheriff nods, satisfied, just as Stiles comes back down the stairs. He's dressed in a loose, long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, and he has a bright smile for Derek when he reaches his side. "Hi!" he says. "Whatever my dad's been saying, feel free to ignore it."

Derek grins. "Actually some of it I probably shouldn't ignore," he chuckles. "How have you been doing?"

"Good, pretty good, y'know, good days and bad days." Stiles runs a hand through his hair, flustered. "Today is obviously a good day, though. Best day. What about you? Are you staying for breakfast?"

"Yeah, I'll stay," Derek says. "I do have a couple of things to take care of today, but I can spend some time here before I head out."

Stiles beams and slips his hand into Derek's. "So how long are you in town for?" he asks as he leads Derek into the kitchen.

"At least until the end of the week," Derek says. "Wanted to spend some time with you."

Stiles preens. "I'm glad," he says earnestly. "I've really missed you."

"I've missed you, too," Derek says, squeezing Stiles's hand. "Now, what's for breakfast? I left my motel without breakfast and I'm starving."

"Bacon!" the sheriff calls through from the hallway. "You can't let him travel all this way and not give him bacon!"

"That doesn't mean you'll be getting any!" Stiles calls back.

There's a pause while the sheriff processes this, and then he returns with, "If you can guarantee that there will be no kissing in this house for the duration of Derek's stay, I'll accept that."

Stiles looks at Derek, startled and unsure. "Uhh--"

Derek considers that for a moment. "I'm willing to give up the bacon," he calls back. "Kissing isn't illegal." He winks at Stiles.

"That's not an option!" the sheriff insists, and they all know he's won.

Stiles tries to glare at Derek, but he's too busy ducking to hide the pleased smile on his flushed face. "I guess he deserves the bacon."

Derek smiles. "Everyone deserves bacon every once in a while," he replies.

"Especially if there's gonna be a mysterious older man feeling up their son," Stiles teases, swaying closer to Derek.

"There will be no feeling up of any kind!" the sheriff barks from the doorway, and Stiles leaps back a pace or two. The sheriff smirks. "Get outta here, both of you. I'm cooking my own bacon."

"Hey! What about breakfast?" Derek protests. "I'm hungry!"

"You'll get your breakfast," the sheriff says, waving a hand in dismissal. "I just don't trust him not to screw me over somehow."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Why don't you show me around?" Derek asks Stiles. "Since we are being chased from the kitchen."

Stiles grins. "I think I can handle that."

By the time Stiles has shown Derek around the house, breakfast is ready; afterwards, Stiles agrees to show Derek around town. They spend the day cruising around Beacon Hills, and Derek gets to know the place his grandmother and Stiles grew up in. It's a quiet little town, very different from New York City, and Derek finds that he likes it. The second day, Derek spends half of it in meetings with lawyers and other officials, sorting everything out from the mess that the last renter left behind and resuming full ownership of the property. And Wednesday night, Derek and Stiles spend the evening in Stiles's room - with the door open, of course - watching Netflix. Stiles passes out around eleven, and Derek follows not long after; he doesn't even realize that he's fallen asleep, just that one moment he's pausing Netflix and the next he's blinking awake to the sun hitting him right in the eyes.

"Ugh," Derek groans, raising one arm to shield his eyes. "Damn, that's bright."

Stiles makes a weak sound of protest and snuggles back into Derek's chest. "Shurrup," he mumbles. "M'sleepin'."

Derek grins at that, rubbing one hand down Stiles's arm. "Morning," he murmurs.

"Nooo!" Stiles whines, but he lifts his head a moment later to give Derek a sleepy smile. "Okay, I can be awake if I can look at your pretty face."

Derek chuckles slightly. "Is it just my face that's pretty?" he teases. "You wound me."

Stiles grumbles good naturedly and leans in to rub his nose against Derek's. "I think all of you is pretty," he says plainly. "Outsides and insides." He pauses then, and looks down at the way their chests are pressed together. One of his legs is resting between Derek's from the knee down and he can't feel his toes, but other than that he's completely comfortable. "Shit," he says. "Were you supposed to stay over?"

"Uh, no, but considering neither of us were rudely awakened by a shotgun, I think maybe just once is okay," Derek answers. "Probably shouldn't push our luck though."

Stiles sighs, and pulls away. "You're right," he says, looking at the comforter instead of at Derek. "You're right. We shouldn't do this again."

Derek frowns, pushing himself up onto his elbows. "You okay?"

Stiles shakes his head, still not looking at Derek. "This, it feels... real. Too real. And it can't be real because you're leaving soon."

Derek pushes himself all the way up into a sitting position. "What if i wasn't?" he asks quietly. "What if i wasn't leaving - not permanently, anyway. What if I came back?"

"Like to visit?" Stiles asks. "You'd better. But that doesn't change anything."

"Not just to visit," Derek corrects. "What if I came back to stay?"

"What?" Stiles' gaze finally meets Derek's, his eyes wide and vulnerable.

"My family owned property just outside of town," Derek explains. "I forgot all about it since it was rented out and handled on this end by lawyers, but the last tenant has been evicted for failing to meet rent and several other offenses. I've decided that I want to use that property for myself."

"You-- here?" Stiles asks. "Are you sure? What about New York, and your friends, and the shelter, and--"

"Hey slow down," Derek says, laughing. "I'm not saying that I'd move in this weekend; arrangements need to be made to put everything in order. I love New York, yeah, but I never planned on living there my whole life."

"And you think that Beacon Hills might be the place for you?"

"My family was originally from here," Derek points out. "It can't hurt for me to at least try this town."

"And us?" Stiles asks.

"I talked to your dad about it," Derek admits, "and he agreed to at least let us try. Nothing physical, not for a while, but we don't need sex to have a relationship, and I'd like to give that a try."

Stiles hesitates. "It-- there's risks," he says. "I'm still sick, Derek. I'm taking my meds again now, but there's no guarantee that what happened back there won't happen again. And what if we slip up, and you get infected? Even if we never have sex, there's-- that's still a risk."

"It is," Derek acknowledges, "but neither of us are stupid, Stiles. A slip-up would always be a risk, no matter what. I'm willing to take that risk, because I believe in both of our abilities to be careful. We can take things as slowly and carefully as you want to, that doesn't matter to me. But I'd like to give this a try. If you don't want to, then that's fine and I'll respect your decision."

"No!" Stiles cries, reaching out to grab Derek's hand. "That's not what I'm saying. I just-- I want you to be sure."

Derek lets Stiles take his hand, turning it so that he can lace their fingers together. "I've thought about this a lot," he tells Stiles. "The pros, the cons, every angle there is to be considered - and I still want to do this. I want to try, at least - and if it doesn't work out, then we can at least say that we tried, that we don't need to think, 'What if?' I'm not saying this is going to be easy, but I believe that we have a good chance of making this work."

Stiles nods, squeezing Derek's hand. "You know I still love you," he says. "I want to try, too."

"Then can we?"

"Yeah," Stiles breathes. "Yes, please."

Derek smiles. "Okay. Then we'll do it."

Stiles leans in for a kiss, but pulls back just before their lips meet. "Hey! It's my birthday!"

Derek gives Stiles a bemused look. "Yes, it is," he says.

Stiles grins. "It's already the best birthday ever."

Derek laughs. "Really? Just because I said I'm moving?”

"Ego much," Stiles says, rolling his eyes. "My dad's giving me a car."

"Really?" Derek asks, interested. "That's great!"

"Right?" Stiles agrees. "But I guess you moving out here is pretty awesome as well."

Derek laughs. "Having a car will certainly make things easier on you," he says. "So what's the plan for today?"

"Nothing spectacular," Stiles admits. "Usually there'd be birthday breakfast with Dad, but he had to work, so Scott might come over this afternoon to hang out. You're welcome to still be here, he knows all about you. And then Dad and Melissa will come home after work so we can all have dinner together. You're also welcome to come to that."

"I don't have any meetings or anything else to do today, so I guess I'll hang around," Derek says, grinning. "Not like I have anything better to do."

Stiles smiles back. "Of course you don't; you'll be with me."

Derek grins, pulling Stiles into a hug. "Happy birthday, Stiles."

Stiles goes willingly, presses a kiss to Derek's cheek. "Thank you."

Derek and Stiles lounge in bed for a bit longer, talking quietly, before Stiles eventually leaves to take a shower - alone - and Derek runs back to his motel for a shower and a change of clothes; when he returns, he and Stiles settle on the couch, watching American Pickers, which is running a marathon. Shortly before noon, someone rings the doorbell, and Derek nudges Stiles. "You wanna get that?"

Stiles makes a soft noise of complaint, but gets to his feet anyway. He already knows that it's Scott at the door, and they hug as soon as he gets inside.

"Happy birthday, man!" Scott cries, giving Stiles an extra-tight squeeze before they let go. He's been like this ever since Stiles got back, and Stiles can't exactly blame him. "You ready to get your ass thrashed at Mario Kart?"

Stiles grins. "You can try. Do you mind if someone else joins us?"

"Derek?" Scott guesses, but he looks surprised. "He's still here?"

Stiles nods and jerks his head toward the living room. "You wanna meet him?"

Scott smiles. "Of course, dude."

The front door isn't all that far from the living room, so Derek hears every word, and he's on his feet and offering Scott a smile as the two round the corner. "Hey," he says. "I'm Derek; it's nice to meet you."

"You too," Scott says, smiling as he offers Derek a hand and they shake. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Really?" Derek asks, raising an eyebrow at Stiles. "I hope it's mostly good stuff."

"Of course," Scott says, grinning. "He thinks the world of you."

Behind them, Stiles clears his throat awkwardly, his cheeks flaming. "Didn't you say something about Mario Kart?"

Derek laughs. "I'll grab some sandwiches or something," he offers.

"Do you want a hand?" Stiles asks.

"You set everything up," Scott tells him. "Me and Derek can handle the food, if that's okay?"

Derek nods. "Of course."

When they're in the kitchen, Scott wastes little time in opening the fridge and his mouth. "So how long are you in town for?"

"The rest of the week, then I'm going back to New York to take care of some things before coming back," Derek answers easily, pulling out silverware and bread.

"Coming back?" Scott asks. "Ham and cheese?"

"Coming back?" Scott asks. "Ham and cheese?"

Scott emerges from the fridge with the ham and cheese, and some lettuce besides. "Does that mean that you and Stiles are going to be together?"

"We're going to try," Derek answers, catching the refrigerator door before it closes so he can retrieve a tomato and mayonnaise.

Scott puts everything down on the counter and turns to face Derek. "I think this is the part where I tell you that if you hurt him, I'll cut your balls off," he says. "And I will. But you saved his life, Derek. You helped mend things between Stiles and his dad and you helped bring him home. And I want you to know how grateful I am for that, how grateful we all are. The year that Stiles was away was... horrific. And when I think that we almost lost him on top of that--" Scott cuts himself off with a shudder. "He's my brother. After what he's been through, I'd be the first person to jump down your throat and tell you to back the hell off if you were anyone else. But honestly? I think he's safe with you. So please don't prove me wrong."

Derek puts the things in his hands on the counter and meets Scott's gaze. "I will do everything in my power not to," he promises. "I told Stiles's father, and I'll tell you, that I know this isn't exactly a good situation. I know that, and I have no expectations from Stiles, of any sort. I'm grateful for whatever he's willing to give me, and I'll do everything I can to make sure that he doesn't regret a moment with me."

Scott searches Derek's face, and nods. "I know you will," he says. "Stiles is... different now, to what he was like before he went away. What he had to deal with, what he's still dealing with, it's... hard. Y'know? We're trying to help him as much as we can, but we don't really understand. We can't understand. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think you being around will really do him some good. You know him better than any of us, at this point."

"I hope I'll be good for him, too, and I'll try my best to be," Derek says honestly.

Scott grins. "Then I declare this bro talk officially over," he says. "We'd better actually make these sandwiches, before Stiles accuses us of slacking."

Derek grins. "Good plan," he agrees.

The rest of the day passes smoothly. Stiles has a great time with Scott and Derek in the afternoon, playing video games and making dinner for when the sheriff and Melissa get home. When they arrive, Stiles opens his presents - including a set of car keys from his dad that are confiscated moments later until he gets his license - and then they all gather around the table to eat. Derek, Stiles is delighted to note, fits in perfectly. He and Scott get along great and Melissa seems quite charmed by him. By the time everyone's ready to either go home or to bed, it's clear that Derek has been accepted into the family by all.

"Goodnight!" Stiles calls to Scott and Melissa as they're getting into their car. "Drive safe!" He closes the door once they've pulled out of the driveway and jumps when he sees that Derek is standing close behind him. "Jeez, man, you almost gave me a heart attack. Are you leaving?"

Derek shakes his head, expression serious. "Not just yet; I was actually wondering if we could talk?"

Stiles nods. "Sure," he says. "What's up?"

Derek hesitates. "You never told me why you left," he says finally. "I mean, this is the happiest I've seen you since I've known you. I can't imagine you running from something like this."

Stiles sighs. "I didn't," he says. "You wanna come upstairs? We can talk there."

Derek nods. "Okay."

The sheriff is already in bed when they get upstairs, having retired early so he can get up for a six a.m. shift, so they're as quiet as possible when they slip into Stiles' room. Stiles sits down on the bed and gestures for Derek to join him. "I got my dad fired," he says without preamble. "There was a string of murders happening at the time and I thought I could solve them, but I ended up getting in the way one too many times and my dad got punished for it. I felt awful, and he was too cut up about it to even yell at me, which just made it worse. But then he did yell at me, and we got into this huge fight and I tried to leave, just to get some air and wait for us both to calm down. And he told me that if I walked out the door, I shouldn't ever come back."

Derek sucks in a breath, reaching for one of Stiles's hands. "And he meant it?" That didn't fit with the sheriff that Derek had spoken to the first time, or any time after.

"I thought so," Stiles says. "It sounded like he did. And I thought that, if he really meant it, then he must not want me around in the first place. So I left."

"Shit," Derek says quietly. "Why New York, though?"

Stiles shrugs. "That's just where I ended up," he says. "I knew they wouldn't look there."

"But you dad got his job back, didn't he?"

"Yeah," Stiles says. "He kept working on the case after he was fired, and he dropped it to look for me after I left, but the work he did was enough to help them catch the guy all the same."

"But I'm guessing you dumped your phone so he didn't have a way to track you or contact you," Derek guesses.

"I didn't even take it with me," Stiles says. "Can't charge a phone on the streets."

Well, that made sense. "For what it's worth, I'm glad that things got sorted out between you," he says after a long, quiet moment. "And I'm sorry that you even felt the need to leave in the first place."

Stiles shrugs, looks down. "I'm not proud of it," he says. "I almost ruined my entire life. And I really hurt a lot of people, including you. But I know I can't keep running away from my problems. I'm working on that."

"Then you're doing better than a lot of other people would be," Derek says confidently. "You're learning, and that's what matters."

Stiles nods. "I guess," he says.

"As long as you learn and you don't repeat your mistakes, then you're doing things right." Derek's voice is quiet but firm as he gives Stiles's hand a squeeze.

Stiles squeezes back and looks up to give Derek a smile. "Stay tonight?" he asks softly.

"Okay," Derek says, smiling. "If you've got a pair of sweatpants and maybe a tank top I can borrow."

"Of course," Stiles says, eyeing Derek's broad chest. "Might be a bit tight, but I won't be complaining."

Derek snorts. "Of course you won't," he says fondly.

Stiles laughs, grinning, and gets off the bed to dig through his dresser. "So, do you know what you're gonna do about the shelter?" he asks. "It's gonna stay open, right?"

"Definitely," Derek confirms. "I'll have to talk to Chris about the specifics, but I'm thinking that there should be a way for me to set up an employee fund, so that Isaac and Boyd and the others can keep the shelter running without needing me to sign off on every little thing."

"That sounds good," Stiles agrees. He turns and offers Derek a pair of sweatpants and the largest t-shirt he owns. "I know there's a lot of people who would be lost without My Friend's Place."

Derek nods. "If my family hadn't been so careful with their money, and we hadn't had the life insurance policies, I would have been one of them," he confesses. "At least for a while, I would have been homeless."

"I didn't realise," Stiles says softly, coming to sit back down beside Derek. "Have you no family left at all?"

"My uncle, Peter, is in a coma in a long-term ward at the hospital," Derek answers quietly. "He's unlikely to ever wake up, and there's been little to no brain activity for years. For all intents and purposes, I don't have any family left."

"I'm so sorry," Stiles murmurs.

Derek shrugs. "It was a freak accident," he says. "Gas leak and an exposed short in the wiring."

Stiles nods. He doesn't know how they've managed to come this far without ever talking about this stuff, but he's glad they're talking about it now. "Was it very long ago?" he asks.

"I was twenty. A few years ago," Derek answers. "It was a family get-together at my parents' place near Thanksgiving. Dad forgot to pick up some pies, so I was out getting them. I came back to the fire department surrounding the building and the news that the leak came from the apartment above us, which still had a gas stove. They were never able to pin down the short, though."

Stiles sighs and lays a hand on Derek's knee. "I won't say I'm sorry, 'cause I know that must be old and tired by now."

Derek chuckles slightly. "It kind of is," he agrees, "but it's still the thought behind it that counts."

Stiles nods. "Well, the thought is there," he promises. "I hate that you had to go through all that, that you lost so much."

"I still miss them," Derek confesses. "But it's been slowly getting easier. Doesn't hurt to talk about them, at least."

Stiles hums in understanding. "It was like that after my mom died," he says. "It's not the same, but. Yeah."

Derek gives Stiles a smile, running his thumb over the back of Stiles's hand. "Thank you," he says, "for telling me why you ran, and for listening."

Stiles smiles back. "Anytime," he murmurs.

They sit in silence for a few moments before Derek asks quietly, "Can I kiss you?"

A light flush blooms on Stiles' cheeks and he nods, his smile softening into something tender and intimate. "Of course."

Derek smiles and leans in, pressing his lips to Stiles's in a soft kiss. "I've missed that," he says quietly when he pulls back.

"Me too," Stiles admits. "I'm so glad you're here."

"I'll be here for as long as you want me," Derek promises.

Stiles grins. "How does forever sound?"

Derek chuckles. "It sounds good to me, but your dad probably won't like it for a few years yet."

"I don't know," Stiles muses. "He likes you a lot. As long as you don't deflower me anytime soon I think you'll be okay."

Derek chuckles again. "I'm not planning on it," he says. "I love you, Stiles, and I honestly don't care if sex never happens."

"I appreciate that," Stiles says sincerely, squeezing Derek's hand. "And it's not that I don't want you. I just... We'll see, okay?"

"We'll see," Derek agrees, leaning in for another kiss.

Derek was back in Beacon Hills by Christmas; Isaac, Boyd, and another of the young people Derek had helped, Erica, took over. Derek made all of the arrangements with Chris to take care of everything financial, and the week before Christmas he officially moved into the house on the outskirts of Beacon Hills.

The next few years passed swiftly; Stiles finished high school and was accepted into several colleges, though he chose the closest one. Derek, no more content to do nothing for the community than he'd been in New York City, joined Beacon Hills's volunteer program and kept himself busy working with the food pantry, library, and helping out whenever an extra hand was needed.

Things were going great - and one day, they got even better. Derek came home from a regular checkup with a pamphlet, and when he saw the Jeep Stiles's father had given him for his seventeenth birthday, he grinned. "Perfect timing," he calls as he walks through the front door, following his ears until he finds Stiles in the kitchen. "I've got something i want to show you."

"Yeah?" Stiles asks, grinning at Derek over his shoulder. "Well, I made you lunch. Come kiss me first."

Derek happily obliges, humming into the kiss. "What's for lunch?"

"Just a salad," Stiles answers. "I felt like something light. But I grilled some chicken to go with it and there's some dressing in the fridge."

"Awesome," Derek says, grinning. "Let's get everything set up then I'll show you this thing."

"Plates, then," Stiles says. "This is pretty much done."

Derek takes the plates and silverware for good measure and spreads them out ok the table, finishing just as Stiles brings out the salad. "Looks good," Derek says approvingly. "Who'd you have to kill to get the good tomatoes?"

p>"Several people, but don't tell my dad," Stiles answers, grinning, as he sits down. "Do you wanna show me this thing now, or after we've eaten?"

"It's a good thing, and we can talk about it while we eat," Derek answers. "I had a checkup today, and the doctor gave me this." He hands Stiles the pamphlet. "There's a new drug that... Well, read it."

Stiles does so, dropping his fork to flick through the pamphlet, his eyes widening with each turn of the page. "Is this for real?" he asks.

Derek nods. "The trials worked, and she said several colleagues had patients who used it along with their partners and highly recommended this."

"Can we do this?" Stiles asks. "Has it been offered to you?"

Derek nods. "She wants to meet with us both, to go over the minutiae, but she thinks this could work."

"This is amazing!" Stiles cries, beaming. "Oh my god, Derek, do you realise what this means? I mean, obviously we'd still have to be careful and take you for check-ups and stuff, but we could finally stop second-guessing every last thing and we could relax and we could--" He cuts himself off, flushing.

Derek grins. "We could," he agrees. "This could be a very good thing."

Stiles grins back, feeling breathless all of a sudden. "I love you," he says.

Derek's grin softens into a smile. "I love you, too," he replies.