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Kiss it Better

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The guests wait for an hour before finally resigning themselves to having to move along; they have officially used up the allotted time-slot. Stiles drags his feet as they weave through the graveyard, scuffing at the pristine turf with his eyes fixed determinedly on the forest beyond. His father's hand on the shoulder of his borrowed suit jacket guides him away from the row of fresh graves. The others, a small group of friends and classmates, disperse at the parking lot, going to their respective cars with sad murmurs. Dad starts towards the cruiser but stops when Stiles grabs his arm, pleading for just a few more minutes. They sit on a bench and wait.

Derek and Laura never turn up. Dad paces the gravel path with his cell to his ear, talking quietly and seriously with social services. Apparently they had last been seen at around noon, fully decked out in their funeral clothes, in the critical ward of the hospital. They'd requested time alone with Uncle Peter, the social worker in charge of the siblings claimed, and she'd seen no harm in letting them spend a little time with the unconscious man, but when she'd come back from the cafe thirty minutes later they'd disappeared.

Stiles is pissed. He lies in bed that night, an absolute wreck with worry, and fumes at the world. How could that woman have been so stupid to imagine that two teenagers who'd just lost their entire family would be thinking rationally? How could Derek be so selfish to just up and run off without a word? Sleep is not an option, not when he's so tightly wound, so Stiles migrates to the living room and curls up around the phone, waiting for a call that never comes.

The thought of Derek leaving for college had used to terrify Stiles. There had been so many nights that he lay in bed unable to sleep, legs tangled up in sheets from the frustrated thrashing, trying to imagine a world where there were hundreds of miles between them. He tried to comfort himself with the thought of phone-calls and skype sessions, not being able to touch him, to reach out for assurance and be met half-way, it was unimaginable. He thought of his mother and how quickly the smell of her hair had faded from his memory, and found himself struggling to breathe at the notion that he might forget what it felt like to be pulled against Derek's chest and enveloped in the deep, woody smell of his body.

As the months pass by and it becomes clear that the Hales were not going to be found any time soon, Stiles looks back on those days longingly. What he would give now for one phone-call, to be able to log online and chat with Derek for just a minute. He'd settle for anything, one email, a post-card, just the knowledge that even if they were across the country from each other, that Derek was safe and alive.

He dreams that it really is just college, that Derek is living the University life out of state, that he is so busy with classwork and making new friends but still manages to call Stiles every day to just talk. They make plans for the breaks, when Derek flies home early to surprise him by showing up at the school, or arranges for Stiles to come visit and camp out on the floor of his dorm. There's the typical loneliness and jealousy as Derek grows away, finding new friends his own age and begins forging a life for himself away from Stiles, but at least he's happy and healthy and within reach.

The days are bearable for the most part; Stiles trucks on through his classes, throwing himself into the work as a distraction. His grades rocket upward, much to his fathers delight. But there's still the emptiness of his now free after-school hours and weekends, so he tries out for the school lacrosse team. The summers of helping Derek practice apparently paid off some because he makes it on, if only just. He's still clumsy and easily distracted, especially when something reminds him of those lazy games of catch in the forest he often ends up fumbling the ball or tripping over his own feet. On the bench during their first game he talks to one of his new teammates; Scott McCall is better than Stiles, but only barely, so they spend a lot of time keeping each other company on the sidelines. Scott is nice, goofy in a way Stiles can appreciate, intelligent enough to not make him want to shoot himself in the face and he puts up with Stiles' rambling.

It helps, to have a friend. When he's hanging out with Scott he can lose himself in the complicatedly simple world teenage boys. They play video games together, suck at lacrosse together, play cards when they should be doing homework, it's easy. Scott makes it easy. But then Scott has to go home for dinner and Stiles' dad works late, leaving Stiles alone with his thoughts. He starts cooking again, digging out the cookbooks dad had used when his mum was sick and throws himself into preparing increasingly elaborate meals. The more complex the recipe, the longer it takes to cook, the more concentration it takes the better so Stiles' brain can't drift into darker thoughts.

Night time is the hardest. He fluctuates between insomnia and slumber full of dreams that leaves him even more exhausted than if he hadn't slept at all. The only nights that he actually gets substantial rest is after lacrosse practice, when the hours of drills and suicide runs drain him so completely that it's impossible not to pass out as soon as he hits the mattress. He takes to running after dinner, around the neighbourhood until he can barely stay upright. It's unhealthy to push his body to such extremes and he knows it, but so is not sleeping so he makes the choice.

The panic attacks come back with a vengeance; after so long without incident the fits seem to be determined to make up for lost time. The smallest things set him off. Realizes that he forgot to study for a test? His lungs constrict. Dad doesn't get back from the station until the clock hits single digits? He comes home to Stiles curled up in the corner of the bathroom. One time he goes into full-out convulsions in the middle of History because he starts thinking about how horrible Derek was at remembering to wear his retainer and now that his mom and Stiles aren't around to remind him all of those years suffering through braces will go to waste.

His dad helps, when he's around, and Scott quickly learns the best ways to bring him down from an episode. They talk him through it, sit with him, speaking soft words of reassurance and rub his back, low voices gradually pushing through the static to drag him back to reality. It's nowhere near as effective as having Derek there, with his uncanny ability to sense when Stiles was feeling shaky and nip the sensation before it had even begun. They'd honed it to the point when all Derek had had to do was put a hand on his neck, or shoulder or knee, and the suffocating would cease, oxygen rush back and his vision clear. Derek had been able to miraculously prevent the attacks from happening, all that Stiles hopes for now is for somebody to find him before he hyperventilates himself unconscious.

He tunes into the eleven o'clock news every evening and watches it from start to finish, through the stupid stories about water-skiing squirrels and the boring ones about the economy. Every time the hour wraps up without a single mention of the missing siblings from Beacon Hill, he lets out a sigh that is equal parts relief and disappointment. Relief that there were no bodies unearthed, and disappointment that another day has passed without the one miracle that would fix everything. He doesn't miss a single broadcast, not for anything. If he's sleeping over at the McCalls he interrupts whatever DVD they have on, much to Scott's displeasure, if they're at a friends or family members' house for dinner he excuses himself to listen to the radio in the car. Even as the weeks turn into months, and the manhunt is called off, the one year mark comes and goes, and even after the Hale siblings have been pushed off the hot list, their case frozen due to utter lack of any hints to where they'd gone. The town stops talking about it, preferring to let the memory fade and blur, a tragedy of the past. But still Stiles dutifully sits for an hour each night, setting aside his homework, eyes fixed on the television.

His dad keeps an entire drawer in his office dedicated to the Hale case, but it's more out of love for Stiles than any real hope that some new piece of evidence will pop up. Stiles knows this but he's still grateful. He's looked through the contents himself, dozens of times in the weeks following the funeral, scouring the documents in vein hope that they would provide some sort of indication of where they could have gone. He's read every word of the fire-marshal's record of the day of the fire, and the inspector's report afterword. He's overanalyzed each line of the social-workers' interviews with Laura and Derek from the weeks after. There were both of their school files, statements from neighbours, teachers and classmates taken in hopes that somebody would have an idea of where they might have gone. Stiles had given one, of course, rattled off a summery of his and Derek's six years of friendship, managing to fill multiple pages with his rambling. Someone had had to go through it with a highlighter to sort out which information was just useless nonsense about their shared love of dungeons and dragons and which might actually point them somewhere. The drawer remains only a quarter-full for four years.

He decides he loves Lydia Martin in grade ten when she breaks his arm. She doesn't do it intentionally, he doesn't even think that she realizes that she had any part in it at all. Hell, most of the time he's pretty sure she doesn't even know what his name is. It happens one day at a pep-rally and Stiles is with Scott dicking around on the top row of the bleachers while the football team is thoroughly trounced by their rivals. Scott is a bit distracted by the cheerleaders, watching them keenly as they prance and cheer the team to defeat. Stiles meanwhile, has climbed up onto the rail at the back and is entertaining himself by trying to balance there. Since Scott consistently fails as his best friend whenever there are pretty girls within sight, he fails to warn Stiles when a heard of kids comes crashing up the bleacher stairs. It's a group of the 'popular' students, and they have their sights set on the row that Scott and Stiles are currently occupying. They thunder passed, causing the rail to rattle unsteadily, upsetting Stiles' stance. He is just about to jump back down onto the bench when Lydia Martin appears, parking her mini-skirted rear right where he was aiming to land. Stiles jerks back in order to not land on top of the girl, overbalancing and is sent tumbling backward over the rail, dropping four metres to the ground with a sickening crunch and a blinding flash of pain.

Scott panics and runs off to find a teacher, and an hour later Stiles is getting his arm secured into a sling by a stern Ms McCall. School the next day is interesting in that all of a sudden the majority of the student body actually knows his name, as taking a nose-dive off the bleachers is apparently enough to raise him from the depths of unknown to the status of nerdy spaz. So okay, maybe claiming that Lydia herself broke his arm is going a bit far, but it makes for a better story. Lydia is beautiful, secretly brilliant (as Stiles discovers from snooping through student files after a busted house-party that had resulted in the suspension of a good chunk of Lydia's friend circle) she's dangerously witty and way out of Stiles' league. There's even a rumour that she and Jackson Wittmore have a thing going on after hooking up over the summer. Lydia is safe for Stiles to develop a massive crush on for presisly the reason that he'll never have her. He can wax crappy poetry about her strawberry blonde hair and cute button nose all he wants because they are so very different than the dark spikes and strong features that still star in his dreams.

Stiles has no photos of Derek. It was never an issue in the past; why would he need a flat, lifeless image when he had the real thing, vivid and alive every day? Of course, now he regrets every missed opportunity, every walk they'd gone on during Stiles' photography phase in the seventh grade, when he'd saved for months to buy his own digital camera. He'd dragged Derek out at all hours, outrageously early to try to capture the sunrise from the top of the ridge, late at night to stand in a field and fiddle with the settings for hours trying to get a good one of the moon. They had spent so many days out in the forest, chasing after deer and documenting the many wild flowers, it would have been so easy just to swing around and snap one of his companion. He didn't realize just how odd it was until his dad had asked him if he had any that would work for a missing persons poster. Stiles didn't, and neither did the school. Apparently Derek had been out sick for every single photo day in his public school career, had missed lacrosse photos due to 'family matters' and so had his sister. in the end Stiles spent the better part of three days in the station talking to a composite artist. On day two he'd had his first panic attack in years when he struggled to accurately describe the angle of Derek's ears (which he'd always hated). The poster had come out all right, the face was recognizably Derek in the straight nose, dark brows and spiky black hair. But they'd failed to do the shape of his cheekbones justice, and the set of his eyes was wrong.

It's a common line of thought during the times that Stiles has nothing to keep himself busy. He wonders how the passing years are changing his friend. Stiles looks different than he had when the siblings disappeared, a couple growth spurts had left him long-limbed and average height, despite Derek's unwavering conviction that he would remain stunted forever. His face remains stubbornly babyish though, his pixie nose and big eyes promoting many an embarrassing problems getting into 14A movies.

He wonders if Derek has grown just as much, if he would still tower over Stiles like he had for the passed six years. Does he still go wild with the hair gel? Has he grown into the ears that he disliked so much, filled out the long, deer-like limbs that somehow managed to be gangly and graceful at the same time? Has Laura forced him to pluck his eyebrows like she always threatened to?

They let him keep the thin binder of sketches that the police artist had made while trying to get an accurate version for the poster. Each one has something not-right, dozens of different almost-Dereks, and some of them are more recent, projections of what he could look like after a growth spurt or two that the police have knocked out over the years to look like they're making progress. There are a few different versions that ended up on the street, from a slim, hungry version to a stocky one that looks like present-Derek has done some serious weight-lifting. They're stretching, making wild guesses.

In the first semester of eleventh grade, three things happen that drastically change Stiles life.

First off, the Argents moved back to town. They arrive in late august, just in time for their only daughter to start the year off at Beacon Hills high school. Stiles is leery of Allison at first, because when Kate Argent is your relative there has got to be an increased chance of being a crazy bitch. But defying genetics, Allison is great. She's the total package, pretty and smart, funny and nice. Of course, Lydia immediately tries to snatch her up and reel her into her group, but for some inexplicable reason she actually chooses to spend time with Scott and Stiles instead. Or rather, with Scott instead because it quickly becomes clear that the two of them are totally into each other. In no time at all Stiles is playing third wheel to a whole load of PDA.

The second life-altering thing that happens is the appearance of a string of dead bodies around the county. There's a heated debate between experts as to what exactly is killing these people, mountain lion is the popular vote, but there are a few who insist that the remains have been treated in a manner too close to human. The entire police force is putting in overtime and the sheriff most of all. They barely see each other anymore, his dad coming come so late and leaving so early that they resort to communicating through notes stuck to the fridge. One day Stiles stumbles into the kitchen to find a can of heavy-duty mace on the counter and the note had said simply /at all times/. An after-dark curfew is implemented for all underaged citizens, which pisses off most of their peers. Stiles thinks of bodies in ditches and what he'd do if Scott or Allison went missing this time and dutifully makes sure to drive them home by dusk.

And then Scott gets bitten by a werewolf.

This is, obviously, the most important one of the three (although all of these occurances are, in hindsight connected, Stiles doesn't know this yet) It happens in the reserve when Stiles, against all common sense drags him into the woods after the party searching for the other half of the most recent murder victim. It's the first time he's allowed himself to break curfew, because his dad and dozens of other cops are out there tonight, armed and flanked by trained attack dogs. By all rights they should be safe as can be, and if the nearby officers fail then he has his ginormous can of mace to fall back on. But that assessment was performed before Stiles was aware of the hulking monster of lore that apparently lurked in the forest after dark. Safe is a very relative term when the supernatural are about.

It's life-changing, to understate, having to deal with a best friend who loses control of his humanity at the slightest provocation. They flail around in the dark, utterly lost as to the correct way to go about controlling the part of Scott that apparently wants nothing more than to run around naked ripping random civilians to pieces. Adrenalin and aggression seem to be the main culprits in spurring him to 'wolf out' so the key (read: only) part of their plan is to avoid any situation that will excite him or piss him off. Normally it wouldn't have been a problem as Scott is a genuinely good-natured guy with very few negative feelings toward anyone, and since he rarely makes it off the bench lacrosse isn't much of an issue. Until it is. Because Scott is an idiot and Allison shows up at a practice and there's something about pretty females that really eats at a guy's sense of self-preservation. Scott uses his newfound super skills to pull some fancy moves and voila, suddenly Mr McCall has been bumped to first line.

A couple tense half-times in the locker room later and Stiles is sure that he isn't going to last much longer. It's stressful and scary dealing with this shit and just to top it off Scott is thinking about asking Allison to go steady which seriously, now is not the fucking time. He's running on fumes, between the edge-of-seat stress that comes from watching the line of Scott's body for shifting all day, fielding his dad's suspicious inquiries about his recent influx of extracuriccular activities and now helping to cover for Scott and Allison to her overprotective parents. His nerves are stretched so thin that it takes him way too long to realize that he hasn't really thought of Derek in over a week.

He feels immediate and intense guilt which prompts a particularily tear-filled panic attack. He then rushes to the police station and yanks the Hale folder out of its drawer and settles in to read the entire thing for the first time in three years. It takes half the day but it makes Stiles feel a little less useless and shitty to pretend that he is looking for clues that may have been overlooked, to dedicate a day to his lost friend. It lasts until that evening when he gets a garbled call from Scott who seems to be losing it after his date with Allison got a little...heavy. Stiles has to speed in and save the day, banishing Derek from his mind for the night. When he gets home he's too tired to dream. Being a werewolf wrangler seems to be the ultimate distraction.

And then everything comes together in a magnificent collision of worlds, all of the dots connect and all sense of normalcy is thrown to the wind.

He goes to the reserve at least once a week, usually on the weekend, parks his jeep at the roped-off mouth of the Hale driveway, and hikes out to the house. The structure of the building is actually in decent shape considering the fire burned through the entire basement and first floor. The north wall was mostly collapsed and the east side was scorched black but the front of the house was still relatively well preserved. He ignores the signs warning him away and opens the front door with the spare key that has never been removed from under the porch. The key had been hanging there since before Stiles started hanging around; the house was like the official Hale family gathering place, and rather than fashion a dozen keys for all members of the family, it had apparently been simpler to have just the one and leave it out there. Stiles had been let on to it's location in the fourth grade when it became evident that he was going to be spending as much time there than at his own house.

As a kid, Stiles had always loved beach combing. His mother had grown up on the coast so his childhood was full of day trips to Belvedere to see his grandparents and frolic in the waves. He developed a natural ability to pick out the treasures from the tide-line, finding handfuls of agates, colourful sea-glass, pretty shells and delicate seaurchins. After the fire he turned his attention to the house, picking painstakingly through the soot and splinters to find whatever possessions remained whole. There's a shoebox that he keeps up on the still- intact bookshelf in the den that is full of his discoveries. There are a bracelets worth of cheap plastic beads, a bunch of half-melted cutlery, shards of porcelain that had been black with soot when he found them but, when polished turned out to belong to the ornate hip-height antique vase that had lived in the foyer. There's a couple of Uncle Peter's guitar picks, a battered up hotwheels that belonged to little cousin Tanner, the harmonica that Uncle Martin had played so badly that Laura had swiped and hidden under the floorboards in the playroom, a scrap of a grocery list written in Marcy's neat hand. Little tokens that had been missed when the house was cleared out, anything left in decent shape packed away in storage waiting for the remaining Hales to sort through and discard as they please.

He hasn't been in nearly a month, due to monitoring Scott having taken up every waking hour. He goes intending to spend the morning; he's packed a sandwich and several bottles of water in his backpack, and brought his algebra on the off chance that he actually works up the motivation to do his homework. He hops up the steps , kneeling to reach between the planks for the key, but fingers closing on empty air. He frowns and gropes blindly, but the bent nail that it usually hangs on is bare. He tries the knob and finds it locked. Feeling a dull ache in his chest he hikes around back and hauls himself up through the gaping hole where the wall had fallen open.

The can of mace is stuffed in the pocket of his kakis, and he curls his hand around it just in case. Tiptoeing carefully around the holes in the floor he creeps through the ruined end of the house into the rooms that have a slightly more stable foundation that is less likely to send him crashing into the basement. He'd replaced the key last time he'd visited, he was positive, so his whole body is on alert, expecting something to jump out at him from around the dusty corners.

The front room is dim, the merest trickle of light filtering throught the stained-black windows. The house's single piece of furniture resides in this room: an old couch that looks like it had once been robin-egg blue underneath the multiple layers of filth. Stiles had spotted it sitting on the side of the highway last summer and stopped to load it into the back of his jeep to bring to the house to use during his visits. It is a beautiful old thing with wooden armrests carved into abstract deco-style patterns, but it's stained beyond salvation, and the stuffing in the cushions is all but gone. Still, it's a considerable improvement from sitting on the grimy floor.

He spots the shoebox first, removed from its place in the next room and open on the floor. The various trinkets have been removed and lined up neatly along the lines of the hardwood. And hanging down, just visible between the floor and the couch, the toe of a chunky black boot. The back of the couch completely obscures the rest of the person. Slowly, Stiles pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and poises his thumb over the speed dial that will instantly connect to the police line. His father had programmed it in back when he'd gotten his first phone, and insisted that it remain so since. His other hand remains in his pocket, ready to snatch the mace out in an instant. Creeping forward as softly as he can, he moves around the sofa.

The man is wearing a beat-up leather jacket overtop of a faded grey sweatshirt, the hood pulled up over his face. A chin generously covered with stubble peeked out from under the fabric, square and resting against one broad shoulder. He's sprawled loosely across the couch, the leg not hanging over the edge bent uncomfortably in order to fit. His hands are curled around the empty gerkin jar, the kind only Granny Rachel had eaten, cradling it to his chest as it rose and fell steadily in sleep.

He could leave. He could call the police from the safety of his jeep, locked doors between him and strange drifters, they would take him to the station and lock him away for the night for trespassing then send him on his way. He hesitates, taking a step backward toward the door, and with a crash that sounded deafening in the silent house, falls through the floor.

It isn't his whole body, just one foot up to the knee. But it's a second of wild terror and a flash of white pain in his shin as a splinter of wood tears into his shin. He yelps and whirls his arms about in an attempt to stay upright, but gravity prevails and his tailbone is painfully introduced to the hardwood. Cursing colourfully he scrambles to right himself, but pulling at his trapped leg causes an agonizing drag against the raw wound. He gasps and the pain is enough that he didn't hear the clatter of the pickle jar hitting the ground, but not quite enough to block out the sound of the voice saying his name.

The term 'kissing it better' was always thrown around by helpless parents faced with scared children with superficial injuries that they really couldn't do anything about. Stiles' mother had wielded the words effectively for the first decade of his life, smooching away his sores like a pro, dabbing at fallen tears and kissing flushed cheeks. It was the affection that helped in reality, the attention from his beloved mama that had calmed him and made him forget the pain in favour of giggles and cuddles. When she got sick Stiles had still been young enough to believe in the magic of kisses, and had dutifully reported in at the hospital for her daily dose of healing via lips. His mama had played along, always brightening when he came in, putting on a good show of strength so that he kept on believing that maybe the kisses were helping, that they'd beat the cancer together. On the days that she was in too much pain to even pretend, they kept him away, saying that she was sleeping, needed rest, that he could come in to see her tomorrow. Eventually, tomorrow had never come.

He met Derek a month later. Stiles at age seven had been thoroughly disillusioned about the notion of healing kisses. It hadn't worked for his mama, despite his dedication to the effort, and hadn't worked since for him. But one day while playing with his new friend Derek, Stiles had fallen off his bike and skinned his elbows, knees and palms badly on the pavement. He'd manfully tried to keep from crying, because Derek was older and would surly think he was a baby if Stiles burst into tears in front of him, but a trickle of moisture had escaped and leaked down his cheek. He'd been sure that it was the end, that Derek, cool, tall, fifth grader Derek with the shiny black mountain bike and best video games would realize that Stiles was just a wimpy little loser not worth his time.

But Derek, in his seemingly infinite awesomeness, had not only stuck around but gotten down off his bike, knelt beside Stiles and grabbed up his aching hands in his own. That was when Stiles' belief in magic healing was restored because at the press of Derek's palms the burn of his cuts had dulled to a faint ache. He had rubbed up Stiles' arms, and then patted his battered knees to the same effect. As the years went by, of course he outgrew the notion that it was actually a physical process that made any hurts that Derek laid hands on disappear, but it was undeniable that the older boy helped. Whether it was by distraction or if he was just a naturally calming presence, Stiles had no idea.

Now, half sunk through the sitting room floor, somehow Derek was by his side again, hands working at the spot where his leg disappeared to break away the jagged boards and make the hole big enough to slip out of. Stiles sits back and lets him work because he's too fucking stunned to do anything but gape at his long-lost friend, apparently not so lost anymore.

Derek gets his leg unstuck in no time, and the familiar feel of his hands light against his calf, chasing the pain away is too much. His breathing speeds up and becomes shallow, as if his lungs are shrinking in his chest to make room for his swelling heart, pounding deafeningly and far too fast. His skin prickles all over his body, perspiration beads on his palms. But then it's Derek's voice in his ear coaxing him back, gripping his clammy hand to press it against his chest and telling him to breath, breath together. The beat of Derek's heart under his fingertips is strong and even, and Stiles' body automatically latches on and matches the pace. It's not a choice not to, he syncs to the familiar rhythm of the body beside him and the attack abates.

None of the posters had managed to accurately captured twenty-two year old Derek. He is haggard, naturally olive skin unhealthily pale making the dark of his eyebrows, hair and half-grown beard stand out dramatically. Even in the poor light Stiles can see the dark bags under his eyes, the hollows where his cheeks are more sunken than would be considered healthy. All Stiles can think when he looks at him is that he's a thousand times more beautiful than he could have imagined.

Later on he won't remember much of the following exchange, but there's a very high possibility that he bawls like a fool. There is a good chance that a large quantity of tears and snot made its way onto the shoulder of Derek's jacket while his face was pressed there, and he probably babbled a whole lot of sappy things that he'll be mortified about in the future. But no matter how long he may have been away, Derek is an old hand at dealing with his theatrics, and he manages to maneuver them across the room, bearing roughly ninety-five percent of Stiles' body weight alongside his own, and sit them down on the sofa.

They split Stiles' lunch because damn, Derek may have bulked up like crazy in terms of muscle mass, but he still has the desperate look of someone who hasn't eaten properly in days. It's a good thing that Stiles, hoping for a growth spurt, had taken to doubling the size of his meals so he actually has more than enough food to feed them both. He still gives most of his half to Derek, who frowns at him for it but is apparently too hungry to decline and scarfs that down as well.

They should talk, Stiles should yell and rant and demand all of the answers he deserves. Derek should answer and apologize and reassure. They should go together to the station and sit down and give a report and call up Laura wherever she is so that she can come back too and they can close the case for good. They should come and stay in the spare bedroom at the Stilinski house until they sort out their funds and organize a place of their own. But Stiles finds that the questions are dying on his tongue and he just doesn't feel up to shouting. He's so overwhelmed with relief that he doesn't want to ruin it by prying, he figures that he can leave it for the boys in blue to sort out; Derek will tell him when he's ready. He wipes his eyes and leans against his friend, marveling at the changes and the things that are exactly the same. Derek rotates the pickle jar absently in his hands.

He convinces Stiles not to tell anyone. He needs time, he says, to be by himself, sort through the emotions of being back in town before he can face the uproar that his reappearance will inevitably cause. Stiles doesn't like it, but he understands. He leaves Derek the picnic blanket and water bottle that he has stashed in his jeep and goes home. It's a good thing that his father doesn't come home until after he's in bed because he doesn't think that he'd be able to keep the new to himself if he saw him.

He plans to go back immediately after school he next day, maybe even cutting last period to get there sooner. But then he sees Scott at lunch, it's the first time all day since he's taken to riding the bus to be with Allison and they have no morning classes together, and Scott immediately loses it. He shows up at their spot by the pitch, Allison-less for once, thank all higher powers, because she's putting in time with Lydia. Miraculously they're the only two on the field, so when Scott goes rigid half-way across there's nobody to witness it. There's also nobody to save Stiles when his friend lunges forward, clearing the last ten meters in two bounds, and slams him into the turf. It's not the first time that he's felt the brunt of Scott's new werewolf strength, but this time feels different. There's a lot of snuffling and snarling but considerably less trying to rip his throat out. Stiles manages to get him calmed down and out of his face, and Scott tells him that he smells funny.

Stiles tries to defend himself, it had been an exhausting night with a mere couple hours of sleep, and he'd passed up a shower in favour of staying in bed. But Scott shakes his head and explains. According to him, most people smell like prey to his wolfy nose, but today Stiles smells like predator. They have no idea what this means, but the best guess that they can come up with it that stopping to pet his neighbour's dog might have been the cause of the change. Stiles has his doubts; Fritz is a Pomeranian.

But Scott is on edge for the rest of the day. He settles a bit when Allison joins them for Econ, but Stiles can see the tension in his body, the way his fingers are clenched in the fabric of his jeans, just barely able to hold the claws back. He was torn, get the hell away from him and hope that the distance would make it easier but at the same time risk him wolfing out and not be there to help, or he could stay and keep tabs on him even though he seemed to be the one setting him off.

He ends up taking Scott home after third period. His dad is going to be at the station for hours still, so they'll have the empty house to themselves, Stiles will shower while Scott comforts himself with junk-food. First, however, he stops off at the Hale property to drop off a tupperware full of the veggie stir fry that he'd made for dinner last night. He'd purposely made way too much, thawing and adding in several chicken breasts that he would have left out if it had just been him and his father eating. He tells Scott to wait in the car, covering the container with the thermal, police-grade sleeping bag that he'd swiped from the station's storage locker a few years back when he and Scott had endeavored to plan a camping trip, but ended up staying in for a Lord of the Rings marathon. Scott knows that Stiles comes here, knows that he'd been friends with Derek, and knows not to ask any questions pertaining to the whole business.

Derek is in what used to be the kitchen, and is starting to chastise Stiles for not being at school when he freezes. His features tighten, eyes and nostrils wide and lips pressed into a tight line. He comes close, right up in Stiles' personal bubble and grabs the bag out of his hands, depositing it on the counter without even glancing at it. When Stiles tries to explain what was in the container he hushes him and demands to know who Stiles was just with. For a moment in the half-light of the kitchen his hazel eyes look strangely blue.

And then there's a crash from the from of the house and Scott comes barreling down the hall and into the room. Stiles flails at him incredulously, trying to block his view of Derek with his own body, despite the fact that he is about as thick as a flag pole to Derek's sturdy frame. He staggers forward to drag Scott out when he spots the golden hue that his friend's iris' have taken on, and Derek's hand grips the back of his shirt and drags him backward. This turn of event is pretty much a disastrous one, as Derek manhandles him so that he is between Scott and Stiles, legs apart as if preparing to block a football tackle. If only it could be so gentle.

Stiles is yelling a whole lot of nonsense in an attempt to defuse the situation, but he's pretty sure that neither of the others are listening. Scott is shaking, shoulders hunched over in a half-crouch, one clawed hand braced on the floor in preparation to spring. His hairline has migrated downward, features broadening and twisting into a fierce snarl, lips parted to expose the canines that are so obviously not human. Derek doesn't back down and flee like any normal person would, just bends his knees, one hand raised in a defensive position and the other still holding Stiles. He struggles to pull away, needs to get between his friends because he feels moderately sure that Scott won't hurt him, but he looks more than ready to tear into Derek. He pries at the fingers in his shirt in vein, Derek's grip is like a fricking vice.

A horrible grating sound is coming from Scott, it's not a human noise and it fills up the room, echoing so that its amplified and sounds like its coming from more than one person...animal...thing. Stiles is screwed, Scott is screwed, there's no way that Derek will believe whatever lies they come up with, and that's if he even comes out of this alive. It's not looking good at the moment, Scott's amber eyes are full of animalistic fury that is fixed on Derek as if he's the only thing in the room. Theres something else though, terror. His eyes are rolled up so that the whites of his eyes flash on either side of his iris. He looks like a cornered animal, which is bizarre because he is the one who has them, two humans, backed up against the ruined cabinets. Scott seems torn between attacking and running, and Stiles is seriously hoping for the latter. Between growls he is asking who Derek is, snarling fiercely at him to get away from Stiles. Instead of complying, Derek pulls him closer, tight against his back where he can only squirm against his leather-clad shoulder blades and squawk helplessly. This is apparently the wrong move because Scott snaps and throws himself forward, claws extended to swipe and slash.

Over the passed couple months Scott has felt the bite of those wolfy claws a few times. The scratches were never more than that, shallow and clean and fast healing. He's also felt the strength that Scott's supernatural body now possesses; he can easily throw Stiles around a room, into walls and furniture. Nobody on the lacrosse team, or any of their rivals can stay on their feet when Scott decides to come their way. He's seen guys who weigh two hundred plus pounds fall and not get up after a check from the guys, but when Scott hits Derek with the full force of his charge, Derek doesn't drop. He shoves his extended arm forward, catching the worst of the mauling, and takes the hit like a brick wall. Stiles barely even feels the impact despite being presses up behind him, but he does hear the grunt of exertion and the whoosh of air leaving Scott's lungs as Derek immediately retaliates with an elbow to his stomach. His leg sweeps out to hook Scott and send him crashing hard to the floor, and then the hand holding Stiles still finally let's go, but it's too late to do anything. Derek darts forward and jumps on top of Scott's back, pining him face-down to the floor.

And then Derek snarls. It's not like the noise Scott was making earlier, that odd half-human shrieking. This is pure animal, deep and rumbling, building up to end in a hiss. It sends a shiver up his spine, and makes Scott fall instantly still where he lies trapped. When he drops to the ground beside them Derek's eyes are glowing icy blue and it is dawning on Stiles that he now has two best friends who are werewolves.