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The Hollow Moon

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Singing outside waiting for the world to call
Living my life trying do what's right
In the hope of a better day
And all I want is that you extend your hand to me
Oooh, show me where it hurts,
We'll make it OK
Tell me that you'll stay
Even when I'm far away
My voice will carry through
Until the end it's me and you
We can make it if we try
-Silhouette by Active Child ft. Ellie Goulding

*

Stiles wakes up, screaming. He shoots up and starts counting his fingers repeatedly.

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

The blankets move beside him, and a mound of red hair rises. Lydia yawns as she covers his hands with her smaller ones. “You’re awake, Stiles. It’s okay.”

“I’ve had this dream before. Where I woke up and you were in bed beside me, but I wasn’t awake.”

“I know.” She takes his hands and lays them flat on the blanket. “See? No extra fingers.”

Stiles stares at his hands, heart pounding in his ears as he tries to convince his brain that this is reality and not a dream. He’s starting to get them mixed up again.

“What was it this time?” Lydia asks quietly as she rests her chin on his shoulder.

Stiles turns his hands over and stares at the palms. They’re clean, familiar. Shaking. Not covered in blood, steady as they held the sword. “Stabbing Scott.”

He hears Lydia tsk softly as she lies back down, tugging on his arm for him to join her. He’s not tired; his body feels alert and excited at the rush of adrenaline, at the elation of the Nogitsune as it watched Scott bleeding and in pain.

Stiles still sometimes has a hard time separating the feelings. He hates the nights when he feels the residual emotions, feels the displaced happiness from watching people scream and die. He can hear Scott’s voice in his ears, hear the small sounds of pain. When he closes his eyes, he sees that bandaged face and it’s staring

staring

and grinning.

Stiles sits up and settles back against the pillows. Lydia turns over onto her back, frowning up at him. “Are you not going to try?”

“Distraction,” Stiles says, grabbing his laptop and loading up Netflix.

She sighs, which turns into another yawn, as she sits up to join him. She rubs her eye as she says, “No action flicks.”

“You’re cutting out the best genre,” Stiles whines. He smiles softly at her, at her tangled hair and makeup-less face. Two years ago, he would have gotten awkward boners and probably shot his load just at the thought of Lydia Martin in his bed, but now he has her natural with no makeup or hair products, and it’s platonic and comforting. He sometimes misses being in love with her, but then he wouldn’t have this.

“Work’s gonna suck tomorrow,” he grumbles, and she turns towards him and snuggles against his side. He puts an arm around her and finds himself yawning.

It takes him three hours to calm enough to fall asleep.

*

Summer jobs suck. He yawns as he stocks the shelves, and considers curling up right there in the middle of the aisle to take a nap. He thinks he could use the offensive Home Depot orange vest as a pillow. The last thing he wants to do is stock door knobs, but hey, it’s not the worst job he could have. Most of the time, the other workers leave him alone and he can sneak in some solitaire on his phone if he’s stealthy enough.

Stiles is sweeping the floor when a girl approaches him. “Stiles, right?” she asks, smiling at him. He looks around, like there’s someone else named Stiles she might be talking to.

“Yes. Can I help you find something?”

“You’re Scott’s friend.” Oh. Oh.

“Yep.” He nods. It’s one of Scott’s many dates, and Stiles definitely doesn’t remember her name. He can’t keep up with all the girls Scott dates these days. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”

“Oh!” She laughs, embarrassed. “Nicole.”

“Right, Nicole.” He nods his head and has no clue when Scott dated her.

“Have you seen Scott around?” she asks. “I haven’t heard from him, and well, the date went pretty well, so…” She trails off, and Stiles feels bad for her. This isn’t the first time he’s had a conversation like this with someone. That’s what Scott gets for being so amazing. The girls just wanna keep dating him when he’s playing the field. Hard.

“He’s just really busy,” Stiles lies. “He’s got an internship and has been going back and forth between here and UC Davis.” She seems to buy it, and Stiles is glad. It’s never any less awkward when girls ask about Scott, here or at college.

“Well, tell him I said hi? And to call me up next time he has some free time?” She gives Stiles another smile and walks away. If she wasn’t so obviously besotted with Scott, Stiles might ask her out himself.

He goes back to his sweeping, humming a tune to himself when his eye catches a guy walking past. Stiles walks to the end of the aisle, unable to shake the sense that the guy looks familiar. When he turns the corner, it feels like he’s been hit with a brick.

He can’t miss the familiar gait, the broad shoulders, the dark hair. As the guy turns down an aisle, Stiles spies the signature stubble. “Derek,” he whispers. The broom clatters to the floor as Stiles runs towards the aisle Derek turned down. But when he gets there, the aisle is empty.

Stiles walks along every aisle, looking for any glimpse of dark hair or grey Henley. He combs the store three times before giving up.

“I’m telling you,” Stiles tells Scott later that night when they’re having their weekly pizza date. “It looked just like Derek.” Scott stares at Stiles thoughtfully as he chews. “Don’t give me that look, Scott. Whatever is under that look, get rid of it.”

“You’re seeing Derek in Home Depot,” Scott says. “You haven’t mentioned the guy in years. What am I supposed to think?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says, tossing his crust to his plate. “Forget I said anything.”

“Stiles – “

“Hey, so one of your many girlfriends found me at work today and asked about you.”

“They’re not my girlfriends,” Scott says with a laugh.

“Tell them that,” Stiles says. “If you’d just stop being so damn charming with them, they wouldn’t want to keep dating you.”

“I’m just being young, dating around, you know.” Scott shrugs. Stiles frowns, but doesn’t press.

It’s been like this since right after they graduated. Scott and Kira broke up, amicably and everything because, well, it was Scott and Kira. Stiles kept waiting for it to happen all senior year. They were cute, but there was always something holding Scott back, something that kept him from committing to Kira as much as she wanted. Stiles knew what it was – hell everyone knew what it was, it’s just that no one wanted to say anything.

Stiles isn’t sure Scott will ever be over Allison.

Scott had dated around through that summer, then dated and hooked up a lot throughout the school year. Stiles was impressed. Scott was getting laid a whole helluva lot more than Stiles was. Stiles hadn’t seen much action since he broke up with Malia a few months before graduation. He’d hooked up at a few parties, but that’s about it. His lack of sex life was something he’d lamented to Scott. A lot. And Scott was just a smug bastard who was taking out another girl.

It had to be his Alpha sexiness. Only thing that made sense. And Stiles just couldn’t compete with an Alpha werewolf. Or any werewolf. And most humans. It just sucked that Scott was trying to replace Allison with as many girls as possible.

“I told her you were busy with internships and stuff,” Stiles tells Scott.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t you tell them you’re just dating around?”

“Most of them get it,” Scott shrugs.

“You just gotta be irresistible, don’t you?” Scott gives him a grin, and Stiles rolls his eyes. “See, you do that. Never do that.”

“Smile?”

“Yes.”

As they walk from the pizza place towards their houses, Scott leans close and inhales. “Lydia sleep over last night?”

“Yeah.”

“Nightmares?”

Stiles nods. Scott frowns, and Stiles knows he’s got that look on his face like he should be able to fix Stiles, so Stiles says, “She’s with Jackson tonight. Fucking douche.”

“He’s not so bad,” Scott says.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Lydia can do better.”

“You know that doesn’t matter,” Scott says. “It’s Jackson.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Upstairs in Stiles’ bedroom, he watches movies on Netflix until he can’t keep his eyes open. When he lies down, he thinks of broad shoulders and stubble, and groans into his pillow. It’s been well over a year since he’s actively thought about Derek Hale, and now his cock seems very interested in his reappearance in Stiles’ thoughts. Stupid cock.

Stiles gives in, tugs his pajama pants down, and starts stroking himself. He never thought he’d be jerking off to thoughts of Derek again, but he guesses some fantasies never die. He thinks of strong hands on his hips, the sting of that beard scraping across his neck. It doesn’t take very long until he’s coming over his hand. He grabs tissues from his bedside table and then tosses them to the floor before rolling over and falling straight to sleep.

Tonight, he dreams of the inside of the loft, desperate kisses as his body is wrapped up with Derek’s in the sheets, and Derek trailing kisses down his spine.

*

Derek finishes the work at the house and calls it a day. They’ve got the external structure up, so they’re making good progress. The contractor left an hour ago, but Derek had spent another hour double checking everything and making notes and adjustments to his plans.

He goes back to the small cabin deep in the woods. The cabin had been his grandfather’s and gone unused until Derek had returned to Beacon Hills a few months ago and set up residence in the cabin while he built a new home. Although the Hale house had been taken by the county a few years ago, Derek still owned a large amount of land in northern Beacon County that had belonged to his family.

It’s better this way. He hadn’t been at the time, but he’s glad the county tore down the house. Derek wouldn’t have been able to let it go otherwise. He didn’t need to keep spending time breathing in the ashes and the smell of the charred flesh of his family. Tearing it down had freed him of that. Let him move on.

Now, he’s building a new house on Hale land. He’d left Beacon Hills immediately after the Mexico debacle. He’d almost died (or maybe he did die – he’s still not exactly sure what happened that night, except that he somehow survived like he always does) and evolved. He left to figure out what all that meant, what it meant to evolve, to figure out more about his wolf form.

He spent some time with Satomi’s Pack, tracking down leads, then spent some time in South America with Cora. When he finally found what he’d been looking for, she left with him. “I’m ready to be Pack again,” she had told him.

They traveled to Nevada, to an address Satomi had given him. They had never met the woman, and he had doubted she had even heard of them. It had been a long shot at best. Not long after they stepped into her territory, they had been met by a woman who Derek assumed was Marjorie, flanked by two other wolves. Marjorie had silver hair pulled back from her face, and dark intense eyes. She eyed them carefully, and both he and Cora let their eyes glow. She responded by staring back at them with red.

“I wondered when you would show up, Derek,” she had said, blinking her eyes back normal. She was their distant aunt, their mother’s father’s brother’s daughter. A Hale.

“I didn’t know you knew who we were,” Derek had responded in surprise.

“Word travels when hunters eliminate entire Packs,” Marjorie had said, stepping towards them. “Especially when they’re family.” Her eyes had glowed again when she touched their shoulders.

They stayed with Marjorie for over a year. He learned more about their full wolf trait, and the Pack had started teaching Cora. Marjorie offered them a place in her Pack more than once, but something held Derek back every time.

“You’re tied to another Pack,” she had said one night. They’d been sitting on the front porch, the Pack grilling and listening to music in the large backyard. Cora was playing badminton with some of the younger Pack members, one of whom Derek had suspected she was sexually involved with.

Derek hadn’t responded to Marjorie’s words. It said something that he hadn’t known which Pack she was referring to – his old Pack, now dead and gone, or the one in Beacon Hills. Scott’s Pack.

It didn’t really matter. There were strings tying Derek to something. He just had to figure out what.

After leaving Nevada, they traveled to England, found Jackson, and stayed with him for awhile. They’d broken the news to him that he was also Peter’s son – “That explains so much,” Jackson had said, three days later, when he finally was able to control his wolf and his anger enough to face Derek and Cora again. Jackson told them about shared memories of the Hale house – Pack memories – and Derek understood what drove him to bite Jackson so many years ago.

Derek was picking up his scattered pieces, bringing them back together, trying to make a whole again. He was different now than he was back then, and he had to try.

Derek couldn’t find Isaac. He’d tried to contact Chris Argent, had tried to find Isaac in France, but Chris and Isaac didn’t want to be found. Derek let it be. He understood the need to disappear and start again.

After a few months in England, Derek had realized they were a Pack. A Pack without an Alpha, but starting to be a Pack anyway. Jackson wasn’t happy about it, but he hadn’t joined a Pack in England, had only sought protection under the area Alpha. His instincts made him gravitate towards Derek and Cora. They were family, familiar, and most of all, reminded him of home.

Then, Derek led his Pack to Beacon Hills. It was the natural end to his journey. Beacon Hills was Hale territory, and Hales should be living there, no matter who the Alpha was. He announced their presence to Scott, but made him promise not to tell anyone they were there. Scott gave him an unreadable look, but agreed.

Derek and Cora stayed hidden in the woods, but like always, Jackson did what he wanted and went to find Lydia Martin the first night they were there. Derek couldn’t blame him. He could smell the longing and pain coming off Jackson in waves.

When Derek returns to the cabin from the house site, Cora’s sitting at the table, reading a book and eating a bowl of fruit. Jackson’s on the couch, watching television. They don’t even look up when he enters.

Derek putters around the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and preparing food for dinner. He’s just put the chicken in the oven when a knocks sounds on the door, then Scott steps into the living room. Derek nods at him as he wipes his hands on a dishtowel, then leans back against the counter and crosses his arms over his chest.

“How’s the house coming?” Scott asks as he walks towards the kitchen, smiling at Cora when she looks up from her book.

“It’s good,” Derek says. “Should be ready to move in to in a few months, if everything goes as planned.”

Scott nods, and Derek knows that’s not why he’s here. Scott would only come if there was a reason, not for a social call. Derek patiently waits for Scott to get to the point. “Stiles saw you yesterday,” he finally says, and Derek tenses, but relaxes quickly enough that he hopes no one will notice.

“I know,” Derek responds. Cora’s staring between them curiously, but Derek’s keeping his eyes on Scott.

“He thinks he’s seeing things,” Scott says. He looks at Derek disapprovingly, but Derek just stares back, keeping his face carefully blank. “I don’t have to tell you what that does to his head.”

“No.”

“Just go say hi to him or something,” Scott says. “Or go shop somewhere other than Home Depot.” Scott stares at Derek for a few beats, and then finally Derek nods. “Okay. Well, see you around.”

Cora waits until Scott is out of hearing range before she tosses her book down and leaps out of the chair. “Why didn’t you tell me you saw Stiles?”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Why didn’t you speak to him?” Her expression is somewhere between calculating and all-knowing, and it’s frustrating. Derek turns away and checks the peas. “Tell me Derek.”

“It’s nothing,” Derek says. “I just don’t want a lot of distractions.”

“Oh my god,” Cora groans as she slumps against the counter. “I’d love a good distraction. I’m so freaking bored hanging out in the woods all day with nothing for distraction except your shining personality and Captain Douche Hair over there.”

Jackson flicks her off from the couch.

“Are you avoiding him?”

“I’m avoiding everyone,” Derek replies.

“I’m going to go talk to him,” Cora says.

“No, you’re not.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Derek – “

“No,” Derek growls, flashing his eyes. She doesn’t back down, her eyes glowing gold and fangs extending.

“You two are not seriously having a pissing contest over Stilinski,” Jackson says with disbelief.

“Shut up,” they both snap.

“Fucking ridiculous,” Jackson mutters as he turns around and settles back onto the couch.

Cora allows her face to morph back to normal, and then she raises an eyebrow as she smirks. “Are you avoiding him?”

“Why would I be avoiding him?” Derek asks, turning back to the stove.

“Because you’re emotionally stupid?” Cora says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Do what you want, Cora,” he says. She claps gleefully. Derek may slam the cabinet so hard that it splinters.

*

That night, Derek dreams of kissing constellations of moles he remembers vividly like he’s had them memorized for years.

*

There’s a logical reason why Derek is at Home Depot five minutes before it opens. There’s also a logical reason as to why he knows Stiles’ Jeep is parked in the back.

Derek needs to start installing the cabinets in the kitchen. Immediately. So, as soon as the doors unlock, he heads straight for that section. He’s standing in front of the display, trying to decide which cabinet style he’d like for the kitchen, when a sales associate approaches him.

“Can I help you with anything?”

Derek turns to the guy – around 30, attractive, and looking at Derek with interest – and glares. “No.”

“Have you ever installed cabinets before? I can – “

“What part of no do you not understand?” Derek snaps. He ignores the muttering as the guy stalks away. He is not in Home Depot this early to deal with incompetent assholes who want to get into his pants.

Derek leaves the kitchen cabinets, and walks through the aisles, searching for Stiles. He catches his scent near lawn furniture and hones in on the rhythm of his heart. It’s too fast with the signature Derek hasn’t forgotten even after all this time. He smells like coffee-scented caffeine mixed with fatigue and boredom.

Now that Derek is standing just one aisle over, he freezes. What is he even doing? He’s at Home Depot minutes after opening just to see Stiles Stilinski. And why? Because Cora threatened to do it first? Why does it matter if Stiles knows he’s in town or not? Stiles doesn’t care about him, and he doesn’t care about Stiles.

Derek ignores the way Stiles’ scent changes and the sound of his name as he rushes toward the exit.

*

Stiles isn’t an idiot. Plus, there’s his dad’s old saying. One’s an incident, two’s a coincidence, but three.

Fuck three, man.

Three is Cora Hale, striding up to him near the end of his shift. “I knew it!” Stiles exclaims as Cora nears. “I fucking knew it.” He had suspected it that first time he thought he’d seen Derek in the store, and after this morning, he had known it.

The Hales were back in town.

“Hey,” Cora greets with a nod.

“I thought I was seeing things,” Stiles says. “And if you’re here, then Scott knows, and the fucker didn’t tell me!” he mutters to himself, wheels turning. He wonders who else knows the Hales are back, or if he’s the only idiot with a dropped jaw feeling left out.

“Ta-da!” Cora wiggles her fingers dramatically.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks.

“Coming to say hi,” Cora replies. “Did Derek not come by earlier?”

“He was here,” Stiles says. “But he didn’t lower himself to speak to the lowly peasants.”

The look on Cora’s face is unreadable. “Huh.” Then she smiles, and Stiles is pretty sure he’s terrified. “Well, I’m back. And we’re gonna hang out.”

“We are?”

“Yep, because if I have to spend one more fucking night with only Jackson and Derek as company, I may go feral.”

Stiles snorts. Poor Cora. “You’re the reason Jackson came back?” Cora nods. “I hate you both so much for bringing him back.” Stiles wonders what in the hell Derek had been thinking to when he decided that going to get Jackson had been a good idea. Stiles was okay with Jackson staying in London. Forever.

Cora laughs. “He’s not too bad. Sometimes. But I’ll deny ever saying that.”

“Your secret’s safe with me.”

“So, when do you get off work?” Cora asks.

Stiles glances at the clock on his phone. “Twenty minutes?”

“I’ll wait,” she says.

“O…kay.”

When Stiles walks to his Jeep later, Cora is leaning against the side of it, looking as much like a creeper as Derek used to. Which is creepy in itself. Stiles bunches up his hideous orange vest and tosses it into the backseat when he gets behind the wheel. Cora climbs into the passenger side without a word.

“So,” Stiles says, drawing out the O.

“Why do you feel so awkward?” Cora asks. “We almost dated before I left.”

Stiles sputters and flails his hands around. “What?”

Cora rolls her eyes. “Don’t tell me you are this fucking clueless.”

“I can honestly say I have no clue what you are talking about.”

“I was into you, and you were into me,” Cora says with a shrug. “If I hadn’t gone to South America, we would have totally dated.”

“Did Jackson put you up to this?” Stiles asks, narrowing his eyes at her.

Cora rolls her eyes again, this time taking her head with them. “Just drive, Stiles. And stop being stupid.”

“You Hales have odd ways of wooing people,” Stiles mutters.

“How would you know how us Hales woo people?” Cora asks, eyebrow quirked.

Stiles’ face heats up. “Well, I don’t, but there’s Peter with his bad touch and possessing, and Derek with his shoving me against walls and general sour disposition, there’s you and your…Cora-ness.”

“For someone who hates us so much, you sure used to find yourself in the midst of Hale stuff.”

Stiles flexes his fingers on the steering wheel. “I never said I hated you.” After a moment, he adds, “Except Peter. I totally hate that dude.”

“Duly noted.”

“Where to, O Wolfy One?” Stiles asks as they idle at a red light.

“You’re taking me to dinner.”

So, Stiles takes Cora to dinner. They go to a chain restaurant, with overpriced mediocre food, but the burger’s not bad and the company is better. Cora tells Stiles about South America, and they discuss indigenous snakes before getting into a heated debate about food. Halfway through the meal, Stiles finds himself laughing and realizes he’s having fun. It’s been a long time since he’s felt so light.

“Where’s your car?” Stiles asks as they drive through town afterwards.

“Don’t have one,” Cora says simply, and Stiles turns to stare at her.

“Did you run to town?”

She shrugs. “You act like it’s difficult.”

“Fucking werewolves,” Stiles mutters, and Cora punches him in the arm.

Stiles drives through the Preserve until Cora tells him to stop. It figures it’s the middle of nowhere, with no discernible path into the woods. Stiles puts the Jeep into park and taps a rhythm on the steering wheel. “So,” he says. “Are you living in a cave? Derek find another burnt out house or abandoned train station?”

“You’re a real ass, do you know that?” Cora frowns, then says, “Derek’s building a house. We’re living in a small cabin on the property.”

Stiles flails, arms waving around the confines of the vehicle. “Wait, back up. What? Derek’s building a house? Like, with his own hands?”

“Yes?” Cora says. “He’s really good with that stuff. He used to help our dad build stuff. I think he wanted to do something with carpentry or architecture.” The before the fire goes unsaid, but Stiles hears it like she shouted it. Of course he’d thought about Derek and the fire, about his family dying, but it hits Stiles in that moment what else Derek lost that night, what else Kate took away from him. Derek should have gone to college, been an architect or worked construction or even made fucking furniture if he wanted to. But instead, he ran for his life, then watched everyone around him die. Derek’s future burned that night, too. Suddenly, Derek Hale starts to look different to Stiles (maybe because he understands that, but doesn’t want to admit it). Stiles feels something inside that pokes at him uncomfortably, and he tries to grasp onto the feeling.

But Cora snaps her fingers in front of Stiles’ face, and it vanishes. “Zone much?” she asks. “I said, what did you think he was doing in Home Depot?”

“I don’t know, being a big creeper wolf like usual?” Stiles shrugs off his thoughts, shoves them out of his mind and forgets about them.

“Thanks for dinner,” Cora says. “We’ll do it again soon, okay? Early next week?”

“Okay,” Stiles finds himself agreeing. She smiles, and Stiles is hit by how beautiful she is. His heart picks up, and he curses because he knows that she’ll detect it. Cora leans over and lightly kisses his cheek before getting out of the car. She stands in the headlights, shifts into her Beta form with a grin, then takes off into the woods.

Stiles finds himself smiling as he drives home. The expression feels odd on his face, because for once, it’s genuine.

*

Stiles’ happiness doesn’t last long. It never does, not anymore. That night, he dreams of burning houses, screams of anguish echoing inside his head. All the while, he just stands there, surrounded by the smell of burning flesh.

He wakes up alone, his own screams loud in the silent house. The clock reads 2:14. His dad is at work, and he’s glad, though he doesn’t want to be alone. But he’d rather struggle with being alone than see the worried look on his dad’s face.

He tries to fall asleep, but he can’t get those horrible images out of his brain. He doesn’t know why suddenly the idea of the Hale fire is stuck inside his brain. He hadn’t reacted this strongly after he’d spent the night poring over the police file, back when he’d first met Derek.

He just can’t stop thinking about Derek. How he’d wanted him dead so many times back then, how he’d quickly come to understand Derek, unlike Scott. Sure, Derek had been an ass, but when Stiles finally stopped and looked at Derek, it was easy to see he was scared and hurting underneath all that leather and glowering expression.

As he lies there, trying to fall back asleep, Stiles wonders what Derek was like before the fire. If he’d been funny, or quiet, or like a normal kid. He wonders who Derek’s best friend had been, if he’d played lacrosse, what subjects he hated. He knows Derek is smart, so he was probably good at school. Was he also popular? Had he always been that attractive, or was he awkward?

Stiles rubs his eyes. Why is thinking about Derek? Why isn’t he thinking about Cora, the Hale he went on a date with? Cora is nice, and funny and intelligent and hot. But she is essentially a stranger. All he knows is that she was angry and tended towards violence like her brother, and that she spent a lot of time in South America. He doesn’t even know if she speaks Spanish or Portuguese or another language. He knows that Derek is fluent in Spanish, and can read Latin (although not as good as Lydia). He’ll have to ask Cora on their next date what languages she speaks.

Stiles finally turns on his television and falls asleep to an infomercial for a golden oldies CD collection.

When he falls asleep this time, he dreams of warm kisses down his neck, the harsh scrape of stubble against his skin, and fingertips pressing into his hips so hard he knows he’ll have bruises the next day.

*

Derek watches Cora and Jackson spar from the front step of the small cabin. Jackson’s gotten better – even maybe good, though Derek would never tell him that – and Cora’s gotten fast and strategic. It’s probably the only thing he’s ever done successfully since Laura died. The two Betas are strong fighters, able to defend their Pack well. Derek had never gotten this close to teaching anyone anything when he was an Alpha. The only thing he taught his Pack had been how to run.

That was all Derek had understood at the time.

It’s not like he understands much now. But he’s stopped running, and the house is supposed to be his way of settling. Derek wants to find something again. If he’s not going to die, he figures he might as well start living – even if it’s pretending.

Jackson goes down with a hard crack, and Derek involuntarily winces in pain. Cora leans back, crosses her arms, and grins triumphantly over him. After a moment of not moving, which Derek knows has Jackson’s broken bones knitting back together, he leaps to his feet and lunges for Cora claws first. He digs his claws into her chest and takes her down onto her back. When they land, he grins down at her. “You got cocky.”

Cora kicks Jackson in the nuts, and he howls in pain. Derek laughs as Cora sits up, rubbing at the healing pierced skin on her chest, her hands streaked with blood. “Worked, didn’t it?” She leaps up and extends a hand to him. “Who’s the one standing now?”

Jackson looks like he’s contemplating attacking her again, but he takes her hand instead, and Cora helps him to his feet. They shove each other playfully as they walk over to Derek, and Derek’s reminded of days out here with his family, the last time he had a Pack, and it almost feels like that. Just smaller and different; it helps to be surrounded by Hale blood again, helps fill some of the emptiness inside, heal some of the wounds.

“Cora’s a fucking cheater,” Jackson says as he drops onto the stoop a few steps down. He presses his back against Derek’s leg and doesn’t move, and Derek lays his hand on Jackson’s shoulder and squeezes.

“No rules.” She shrugs, clearly unconcerned. She reminds him of Laura sometimes, though Cora’s told him she barely remembers Laura. She’d confessed this late at night, sitting around a dying campfire in the middle of a forest when they’d been with Marjorie’s Pack. It was just the two of them left around the fire, and something about the darkness and the late hour and the soft glow of the embers had made her open up. They only talk in the middle of the night, in the dark. Neither of them are oversharers, but that simple statement had opened up something between them.

“I don’t really remember Laura.” It had been a whisper, so quiet Derek almost missed it even with his hearing. His heart broke as soon as Cora said it; he wasn’t sure what was worse, not remembering her or losing her after losing everyone else. Two extremes, Derek had thought. Laura had left her siblings in two extremes.

Those nights are when Derek finally got to know his sister. She told him a few weeks after that first admission that she only had a few memories of their parents, barely remembered who he had been. Derek had decided that night to give her a new family, though he and Jackson were little consolation after what she had lost. “Hard to miss what you don’t remember,” she’d told him, and he knew that had been the moment she had started viewing him as her brother instead of a stranger.

Jackson needed them probably more than they needed him, and Derek and Cora had both desperately wanted another Pack member. They still want more Pack members, he feels it in his bones, but three feels more balanced than two, and being around blood helps Derek remember. It still doesn’t fill the void of lost Pack members – shadows in his soul in vague outlines, lost Hales, Erica, Boyd, Isaac.

Derek basks in the feel of his small Pack around him. Cora is stretched out on the steps, elbows resting back on the top step, her leg draped over Jackson's. They don't say much, just sit there as Cora and Jackson catch their breath and their bruises heal.

"Up," Derek says, slapping them both lightly. "I want you to practice shifting." Jackson groans and is the last off the steps.

Derek pulls his shirt off, then pushes his jeans and underwear down. He cracks his neck before he feels the wolf rise to the surface, morphing his bones and skin. He lands on four paws, the world around him exploding in sound, smell, and color. He looks at Cora and Jackson, who are watching him. He trots up to Jackson's leg and nudges his snout against his thigh.

"Fine," Jackson growls. He leaves his clothes on, they both do, because they haven't been able to achieve the full shift just yet. Jackson's face scrunches in concentration, and he shifts into his Beta form. Derek sits back on his haunches and watches. Jackson keeps trying, but nothing happens. Derek glances over at Cora, and she's faring a little better. Her face is shifted more fully, making her look more like a hybrid than a werewolf. Her snout has extended, and fur covers most of her face and arms. She's still upright, her limbs more human than lupine.

"I fucking hate this," Jackson growls, and he turns slightly and punches a tree, taking out a chunk of bark. Derek huffs through his nose and shifts back to human.

"Anger isn't gonna get you there," Derek says. Jackson turns around and growls at him. Derek rolls his eyes. "Keep being a dick, and you'll never figure it out."

"This is stupid," Jackson says, face returned to normal. "I'm bitten. And Peter never turned into a wolf. I won't ever get this."

"This again?" Cora sighs, back to her Beta form. "Malia was a coyote for like eight years."

"Her mother was also a coyote," Jackson counters. "And she was born that way."

"Doesn't matter," Derek says. "Marjorie said the Hale blood should be enough. You're blocking yourself mentally." He glances at both of them. "Again."

Cora shifts to her half form, and Derek smiles proudly at her. Jackson only manages to get angry. "Screw this," he says, stalking towards the cars in the driveway.

"Where are you going?" Cora calls after him as he yanks open the door to the Porsche.

"None of your business!" He revs the engine and drives away so fast the tires kick up dirt and debris as the car zips down the path.

Cora turns to Derek and says, "Lydia." Derek nods and grabs his jeans from the ground and slips them on.

"You're doing good," he tells her as they walk into the cabin. "You'll be able to fully shift soon." Derek can feel that she's pleased at the praise, and he reaches out to hook an arm around her neck.

Inside, she grabs her phone and checks it while Derek gets a bottle of water from the refrigerator. She types out a message, and Derek tries not to act any differently. "Texting Stiles?"

"Yeah," Cora replies distractedly.

Derek takes a long gulp of water. He can see Cora smiling as she replies to something, and Derek doesn't care what they're talking about. He doesn't even know how Stiles can get anything across in a text message without flailing about and using his ridiculous facial expressions. He probably uses tons of obnoxious emoticons or emojis.

"You can go talk to him, you know," Cora says without looking up from her phone. "He obviously knows you're back. He also knows it was you that he saw at Home Depot."

"Why would I need to see Stiles?"

Cora locks her phone and looks at him. "Why would you need to avoid him?"

"I'm not avoiding him."

"So you keep saying." Derek glares before turning his back to her. "He talks about you, you know. I sometimes think he spends more time asking about you than he does me."

"Do you want me or Jackson to threaten him?" Derek asks as he glances over his shoulder.

Cora rolls her eyes. "Oh my god, you missed the point, dumbass. He likes you, more than I think even he realizes. And I can take care of myself."

"But he's dating you."

"Not like that, Derek. God, not everyone wants in your pants," Cora says. Then she adds, "Well, they probably do, but I don't think it's like that for Stiles. I think he missed you."

"What do you want me to do about it?"

Cora leaves the room. "Nothing. Forget I said anything."

Derek sits on the couch and glares at a book for the next half hour. Cora's in her room, headphones on, while Derek tries to read. But he keeps thinking about what Cora said. And Stiles. And as a result, the dream he had about Stiles. He doesn't even know where that dream came from. It had felt so real, from the feel of Stiles' skin beneath his touch to the placement of the moles on his body. Sure, maybe Derek had developed an attraction to Stiles before he left Beacon Hills; the kid had been smart, resourceful, and stupidly brave. But he'd been a kid. Nothing more. And now, well, seeing him again obviously dredged up those old feelings. But it was nothing. Besides, it didn't matter. Stiles was dating his sister.

That night, he dreams about Stiles again. He dreams they're lying in bed, with Stiles propped on his elbow, leaning over him, and laughing. When Derek wakes, all he remembers is Stiles' smile, like the sun is shining directly from his eyes, and Derek can't quite ignore way his heart flips in his chest.

*

The next day, Derek goes to Home Depot to buy some nails, and when he doesn't see Stiles' Jeep in the parking lot, he turns around, the Camaro’s wheels squealing as he leaves the parking lot.

*

Stiles can’t get out of bed. Taking a shower this morning took too much effort. He stood under the spray, trying to will himself to move, to wash his hair or pick up the bar of soap. After he finally got clean, he stood in the middle of his room, staring at his jeans and the orange vest he’d thrown on the floor. He thought about putting it on, getting in the Jeep, and heading towards work. He thought about interacting with customers and working his shift.

But he couldn't. He just...couldn't make himself do it. He felt like his body and his mind were trapped, and that putting on clothes and leaving the house were the most constricting things he could possibly do. Even the thought made his chest tighten.

So, instead, he calls in and then curls up in bed. His mind reels and doesn't let him sleep. He feels guilty for not going to work, for being weak, for being a failure. His chest feels tight and it's hard to breathe, like there's someone sitting on his stomach and he can't quite take in enough air.

He texts Lydia, and she tells him she'll be over later, apologizes for not being able to come right then. Stiles tells her he understands. What he should tell her is that he doesn't expect his friends to drop their lives just because he's fucked up in the head and can't get it together.

He dreamed of the door last night. He saw it clearly in his mind, standing there ajar, beckoning to him. Part of him had wanted to open it, see what was on the other side, let it in, but the other part of him had fought it all night. He'd woken up crying, soaking wet, and exhausted.

When his dad comes home for lunch, he finds Stiles in bed, curled on his side with his back to the door. Stiles figures it's pointless to pretend he's okay; he doesn’t have the energy to pretend right now.

He hears his dad enter the room, the heavy sound of the items on his belt shifting as he moves. Then, his dad sits on the edge of the bed and places a hand on Stiles' arm. "Why didn't you call me?"

"Nothing you could do," Stiles replies.

"That's not true." They both know it's a lie, but neither say anything.

"I called into work," Stiles says, voice toneless and tired. He's staring at the far wall, but he's not really seeing. "I don't think they're very happy. I'm pretty sure they're gonna fire me if this happens again."

"They can't fire you for being sick."

"I'm not sick."

"Yes, you are," the sheriff says. He squeezes Stiles' arm gently. "Just a different kind of sick."

Stiles wipes a hand over his face. "This is so stupid. I'm so stupid."

"Hey," the sheriff says, pushing on Stiles' arm and forcing him onto his back so he can look at him. "I don't want to hear you talking about yourself like that. It's bullshit, and you know it."

Stiles stares up at his dad, at the worry lines etched into his face that he put there. Stiles has had a few episodes this summer, where he was unable to go to work, but nothing as bad as this one. He can see the weariness on his dad's face, and he hates it. Hates himself for doing this to his dad.

"You know you don't need this job," he continues. "You don't need the money."

"I do."

"We're fine," the sheriff says.

Stiles frowns. "I don't expect you to - "

"I'm your father," the sheriff interrupts adamantly. "The last thing you need to worry about is some dumb summer job at Home Depot."

Stiles gives him a small smile. "What am I gonna do all day then?"

The sheriff shrugs. "Whatever you want. Whatever you need."

"Thanks, Dad," Stiles says quietly.

He nods and runs a hand over Stiles' hair, much like he used to when Stiles was a kid. It makes something inside him loosen, helps him breathe a little bit better. "We'll get through this," the sheriff says. "You've made a lot of progress."

Stiles snorts, but doesn't argue.

Stiles lies in bed until around 3 p.m. His brain is twisting in on itself, about to overload with so many thoughts that he's surprised he's not smoking from his ears. He forces himself out of bed, forces himself to eat a bowl of cereal, forces his limbs to move. He pulls on the first pair of pants he finds lying in the floor, throws on a hoodie over the shirt he's been wearing, and leaves the house. He gets into his Jeep and drives. He doesn't even know where he's going.

He ends up at the Preserve. He parks the Jeep and gets out, walks past the chain and finds a beaten trail. He walks. He doesn't put in headphones; instead he focuses on the sounds of the woods around him. He hears birds, an owl hooting somewhere in the distance, and a woodpecker. There are squirrels jumping from tree to tree and a few frogs. A light wind rustles the leaves gently.

He's never been much of a hiker, and most of his experience in the Preserve has been running for his life. But it feels peaceful out here, so he just walks. He follows the trail, taking forks randomly and turning when it branches off. He focuses on the ground beneath his feet, on the trees around him. Surprisingly, it helps clear his head.

Stiles is deep in the Preserve, unsure where he is or how to get back (which was probably an egregious oversight on his part), when he hears a twig snap. He spins around completely, trying to see into the trees. Everything seems fine, but there's a prickling at the back of his neck, like he's being watched.

Stiles learned a long time ago to always be prepared. He never leaves the house without some form of protection, so he takes the can of wolfsbane-laced mace out of his pocket and holds it in his hand as he stares around.

"Thought you'd be better prepared than that," a voice calls from the woods. Stiles tightens his hand around the can just as he sees movement from the corner of his eyes. He spins on his heel, and all the fight leaves him when he sees who it is.

Derek.

He's leaning against the trunk of a tree, arms crossed over his chest, smirking.

"I'm thinking of using this on you," Stiles says, annoyed.

"Mace, really?"

"Laced with wolfsbane," Stiles tells him. Then, he bends down and pulls a knife from where it was strapped around his ankle. Derek lifts his eyebrows, impressed. "This isn't my first rodeo."

"Planning on fighting off something in the woods?"

"I don't have to tell you that bad shit happens in these woods."

A dark look crosses Derek's face, but it's gone just as quick. “Then what are you doing here?”

“Walking,” he replies. “Thinking. Are you going to tell me this is private property?” Derek doesn’t look impressed. “Actually,” Stiles goes on, “I’m surprised you’re even speaking to me. Didn’t feel like ignoring me like you did in Home Depot?”

“I wasn’t ignoring you.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Stiles replaces the knife and pockets the mace, and keeps walking along the path. It doesn’t surprise him when Derek quickly catches up and falls into step beside him.

They walk in silence for awhile. Stiles follows Derek when he takes a few turns, because Stiles has nowhere to go and it’s hard not to follow when you’re walking with someone. He starts to hear noises that sound like construction as they approach something, and then they enter into a clearing where, Stiles guessed it, a large house is being erected. Stiles stares at it with interest. Construction workers are scattered around the site, doing various things to the house.

Derek doesn’t glance back, but leads the way around the house. Stiles trails behind him, taking everything in. The house looks close to being finished. It needs to be painted, and he sees people laying flooring through the open doors.

Derek stops once they’ve made a complete circle, and he stands staring at the house. Stiles turns and studies Derek. He looks exactly the same, except he’s less tense, his face less angry. There’s something softer in him, and Stiles wants to ask him what happened in the last few years, what changed him. Maybe he could give Stiles something that could help him crawl out of his own hole. If Derek Hale can do it, anyone can.

“Why here?” Stiles asks.

Derek turns to him. “I own the land. It’s Hale land.”

Stiles shakes his head. “That’s not what I mean. Why here, as in Beacon Hills? Why come back to this hell hole? You got out; why did you come back?”

Derek turns back to the house and is quiet for awhile. Stiles doesn’t think he’s going to answer when he says, “I needed to come back home.”

Stiles isn’t sure that’s a good enough answer, but he lets it go. If Derek wants to come back to the place where everyone he ever loved died, who was he to criticize?

Derek surprises him by asking, “Why haven’t you left?”

Stiles isn’t prepared for the question. “Excuse me?”

“You didn’t go off to college. You stayed here.”

“It’s complicated,” Stiles evades. Derek stares at him for a beat too long, then turns back to the house. He talks to some of the construction guys, and Stiles pokes around the house nosily. It’s going to be a beautiful home. Lots of open space, tons of windows. Derek seems to have gone with a lodge-style home instead of something more modern or fancy. It feels like something you’d find nestled somewhere in the mountains, and Stiles decides that fits Derek perfectly.

When he’s heading towards the line of trees, back to the trail, Derek calls out, “I’ll give you a ride to your Jeep if you want.” Stiles almost declines, but since he doesn’t exactly know where he is, he decides to accept.

They’re quiet in the car. The radio is turned down so low Stiles can barely hear it, but if he focuses, he can hear alternative music. It surprises him. The fact that Derek Hale listens to music in his car surprises him. He guesses he never really looked at Derek as a person, just this insanely hot angry dude who had bad luck. Stiles never thought about Derek doing normal things, like programming his radio station or singing in the car.

Halfway to his car, Stiles can’t take the silence anymore, and his head is starting to do weird things, so he says, “I did go to college, by the way. I went to UC Davis.”

“Cora said – “

“I go to Beacon Hills Community College now,” Stiles admits. He feels Derek’s eyes on him, and when he glances at him, Derek’s not judging him like a lot of people do. He just looks thoughtful. Stiles feels his hands shaking, and the sense of overwhelming failure and despair is threatening to swallow him, so he talks. “I thought it would help, after you know, and Scott was there, and Lydia was at Stanford which wasn’t too far. I thought leaving Beacon Hills would…” he trails off, not sure how to finish.

Derek finishes for him. “Fix it.”

“Yeah,” he responds in a whisper. He’s staring out the window, at the passing trees. “Is that how you felt?”

“Yes.”

“Did it? Fix it?”

“The second time,” Derek answers. Stiles glances over at him. It’s so weird to be sitting in a car with Derek Hale and talking. He hasn’t threatened Stiles with bodily harm, and he hasn’t glared or grunted once. Stiles is having trouble wrapping his head around it. “It wasn’t being away from Beacon Hills, though,” Derek says. “It was the people.”

“Oh.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Stiles waves his hand in assent. “Why did you come back?” Stiles scratches his chin absently. He feels his nerves spike, and he hears Derek inhale beside him. “You don’t have to answer.”

“No, it’s okay.” Stiles figures there’s no point in hiding. Derek’s probably the last person who’d judge him. “I had panic attacks, just about every night. It was being away from my dad. I didn’t feel safe there, and I didn’t feel like he was safe.”

“But you felt safe here?”

“I’m not saying it made sense,” Stiles says. “I know it’s fucked up.”

“Sometimes we need what’s familiar,” Derek says.

“Is that why you came back?”

Derek shakes his head. “I stayed with some family, but every time I thought about joining, I couldn’t. The Alpha told me something was tying me to another Pack.”

“So you came back here?” Stiles asks dubiously.

Derek shrugs, and says, “I’m not saying it made sense.” Stiles laughs at hearing his words repeated back to him, and he sees the corner of Derek’s mouth quirk in a smile.

When Derek pulls up beside the Jeep, Stiles hesitates with his hand on the handle. “Thanks for the ride,” he says. “I’d say thanks for the talk, but that was just weird.”

Derek laughs, and it’s a quiet sound, and Stiles has flashes of his dreams, where Derek’s hands are on him and he’s grinning against his skin. He gets out of the car and hurries to the Jeep. Inside, he breathes in and out, in and out, his hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. When he glances out the passenger side window, he sees Derek watching him, and Stiles doesn’t like the look on his face – something like concern. He cranks the Jeep and drives towards the main road, Derek following.

*

Derek’s lost in his thoughts when he enters the cabin. He drops his keys in the bowl beside the door and bends down to unlace his boots. He doesn’t notice Cora until she’s right beside him, sniffing him. “You saw Stiles.”

“Found him wandering in the forest,” Derek says, shrugging like it was nothing. It was nothing.

“That’s weird,” Cora says. “Guess that’s why I didn’t hear from him today.”

Derek stands up and doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t tell her that Stiles smelled like anxiety and nerves, that he smelled miserable. He doesn’t tell her that they talked, that he knows why Stiles is at community college now even though she’s mentioned to Derek that she didn’t know why he dropped out and moved back home. He doesn’t tell her that he smelled better by the time he dropped Stiles at his Jeep, but just barely. Instead, he tells her, “I showed him the house.”

“You did?” Cora asks, surprised. Even Jackson glances over at him from where he’s reading a book in an armchair.

“Yeah.” Derek sits on the couch, and Cora drops down beside him. “He was in the woods not too far off. I smelled him.”

“You smelled him all the way from the house?” Cora asks. Derek notices both her and Jackson are staring at him, and realizes maybe he should have just kept his mouth shut.

“Yeah, that’s normal,” Jackson mutters, returning to his book. “Recognizing someone’s scent from far away over the smell of the construction of a house. Not weird at all.” Derek glares at Jackson, but it’s lost on him when he doesn’t look at Derek.

Cora’s watching him, and the expression on her face isn’t happy. “Is there something you need to tell me?”

“Like what?” Derek snaps.

“If I would have known you liked Stiles, I would have – “

“I do not like Stiles,” Derek growls.

“Very convincing, Derek,” Jackson drawls.

“Shut up, Jackson.” Derek turns his attention back to Cora. “I don’t care about him, and I don’t care that you are dating him. There’s nothing there.” Cora doesn’t look like she believes him, so Derek changes the subject. “No Lydia tonight?”

“She’s with Deputy Doofus,” Jackson says. Derek can smell the frustration and anger wafting from him. Derek doesn’t know what to say, because he knows the Jackson-Lydia-Parrish love triangle is something he doesn’t want to get involved with. He likes Parrish well enough, and he doesn’t blame Lydia for moving on, but Jackson’s Pack. So, Derek just stays out of it. Like he needs to stay out of Cora’s relationship.

While Derek’s making dinner, his cell phone rings. It’s Marjorie. “Something came through right on the edge of the territory,” Marjorie explains. “Smells like wolves. We found evidence of a fight, and there was a dead Omega and some other wolves’ blood. They smelled like Alphas.”

“What do you think it means?” Derek asks.

“I don’t know,” Marjorie replies. “I sent Cathy and Lia after them, but they didn’t come up with anything around our territory. The trail’s moving south. I just wanted to warn you, just in case they come your way.”

“Thanks,” Derek says. “I’ll let the Alpha know. And I’ll keep my eyes open.”

“Tell Cora I said hello,” she says. “We miss you both. Visit sometime, and bring Jackson.”

“We will,” Derek promises. When he gets off the phone, he calls Scott, and then Satomi, to tell them about it.

He spends the rest of the night watching movies with Jackson and Cora. Jackson sulks the whole time, and Cora keeps checking her phone and frowning. He’s glad when they both go to bed. He doesn’t feel like dealing with their drama.

He lies in bed and watches a few episodes of a television show. He’s surprised when his phone flashes around ten p.m. Something pleasant, yet uncomfortable, settles in his stomach when he sees the name.

Stiles.

Scott texted me abt the rogue ww. Remind me again why we came back?

Derek smiles as he replies, Hell if I know.

That night, he dreams of Stiles again.

Stiles sat on Derek's couch in the loft, laptop balanced on his legs. Derek sat beside him and started kissing his neck, and Stiles leaned his head back to give him better access. Derek licked and bit a bruise into Stiles’ skin, and then kissed his way up to Stiles’ mouth. When Derek pulled away, Stiles laughed and said, “Derek, I have to finish the paper.”

“You have until Monday,” Derek said, moving the laptop off of Stiles and setting it on the coffee table. Stiles made a noise of protest, but he let Derek push him onto his back. Derek crawled on top of Stiles, fitting their bodies together perfectly.

“You’re a bad influence,” Stiles said, trying to keep the annoyed expression on his face, but it was slowly cracking as Derek slid his hands under Stiles’ shirt. “Such a bad influence.”

“Shut up and kiss me,” Derek muttered right above Stiles’ lips.

“Ass,” Stiles laughed, then kissed Derek.

Derek wakes up, confused and tingling all over, his cock achingly hard. He rubs his eyes and groans.

Fuck, he thinks. This is not good. Not good at all.

Chapter Text

I’ve been running from it all my lifetime
There’s nothing wrong with you, I’m searching for my right mind
-Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf) by AWOLNATION

 

Stiles goes back to work. He can tell his bosses aren't happy, but he remembers that he can quit if he wants to. His dad gave him permission, and that's enough justification for Stiles.

It's easier after his day off. He still feels like he has an emotional and depressive hangover, but he can get out of bed and go to work and only has to force himself a little. He ends up stocking, which is good because the mindless, repetitive motions help distract his mind. From what, he doesn't want to admit. It should be from the dreams, from the remnants of the Nogitsune, but that isn't it.

It's Derek. He doesn't know why he texted Derek last night after Scott called; it just felt so natural to pick up the phone and type out that text. He didn't even think about texting Cora first, and he knows she wouldn't understand even if he did text her. Derek does.

And that's really the weird thing, isn't it? That he had an actual conversation with Derek. Hell, he hasn't had a conversation that real with Scott in a long time - mainly because he avoids them like the plague. But something about being in the car with Derek just had him opening up like he hasn't in a long time.

Stiles sighs as he places light bulbs on the shelf. He's actually disappointed Derek hasn't shown up at Home Depot today.

Stiles gets a text near his shift's end from Scott, telling him to meet up at the Mexican restaurant in town. So, after work, Stiles tosses the vest in the passenger seat and drives back to Beacon Hills to meet with Scott. When he pulls into the parking lot, he sees the cars of the other Pack members. He can't help the warm feeling that fills him as he parks beside Lydia.

He finds his friends in a large booth in the back. Everyone's here, Scott, Lydia, Kira, Liam, Mason, Hayden, Corey, and Danny. He slides into the booth beside Scott, and Scott leans into his side affectionately. "How was work?" Scott asks.

"Fine," Stiles says, grabbing the near empty basket of chips and the bowl of salsa. "Boring."

"What's your vote for tonight?" Danny asks. "Bowling, swimming, mini-golf, bumming at the park, or movies?"

"Um," Stiles shoves a chip into his mouth as he tries to decide.

"I want to go swimming," Kira says.

"I'm with Kira," Mason agrees.

"No, that sucks, let's go to the movies," Liam says.

Danny responds, "I'd like to see a couple things playing."

Stiles turns to Scott. "What do you want to do?"

Scott shrugs. "Doesn't really matter to me. I'm not picky."

"Surprised you don't have a date," Stiles ribs him. It used to be awkward talking about this stuff in front of Kira, but she's assured Stiles over and over she's okay with it. Plus, she recently started seeing a guy she met at college.

"Pack night," Scott smiles.

"I have a date," Lydia says.

"Shocker," Stiles teases. She purses her lips and glances at him in disapproval. "Which one is it tonight? Captain Douche Hair, as Cora calls him, or Deputy Fire Dog?"

Lydia rolls her eyes. "That name for Jordan is really stupid," she says.

"No, it's not. It fits. He's a hell hound, and literally burns his clothes off," Stiles points out. "I could call him Naked Fire Man, but his supernaturally flame retardant underwear makes that name a misnomer really since he'd be Mostly Naked Fire Man. Or maybe Burning Man, but neither of those encompass his canine qualities."

"Do you listen to yourself talk?" Liam asks.

"Often. I'm a delight, really." Stiles grins at him.

"I'm going out with Jordan," Lydia says. "We're going to the movies, so just make sure you go to a different movie or theater."

"Hey," Stiles asks suddenly, glancing between Danny and Lydia. "Did you know Jackson was living with Derek?"

They both shake their heads. Danny says, "He was always pretty evasive when I asked where he was staying. He always came to my apartment."

"I asked him about it after you told me," Lydia says. "He said Derek didn't want anyone to know he was back. But Jackson said he didn't care what Derek wanted because he was going to see me."

"And me," Danny adds.

"Oh yeah, and you," Lydia says. Danny rolls his eyes.

After dinner, they end up going swimming. Although Lydia's on a date, they go to her lake house. Stiles remains on the dock while the others jump in the water. He lies back, sprawls out, and stares at the sky. Up here at Lydia's lake house, the sky is scattered with innumerable stars, and he tries to pick out constellations.

Scott drops heavily beside him, making slight squishing noises and slinging water on Stiles. Stiles wipes the water off his face with a huff and stares at the wet spots on his t-shirt. "Sorry," Scott says with a smile. He keeps watching Stiles, and Stiles ignores those eyes and hopes maybe he'll just go away.

No luck. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"Why do you always do that?" Scott asks. "You skipped work yesterday. I know you had a bad day."

"Fine, I had a bad anxiety day." He doesn't like admitting it; it feels like exposing all his weakness and he can't stand that. He tries to hide all his weakness behind deflection and sarcasm, but Scott has gotten pretty in tune with how Stiles is really doing over the years. "Couldn't get out of bed. Dreamed of the door. You know, same old, same old."

"You don't have to downplay it or trivialize it," Scott states.

"Yes, actually, I do." Scott sighs. He pulls his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around his legs, then rests his chin on his knees. "I saw Derek yesterday."

"You did?" Scott asks, surprised.

"Guess I'm the last one to know he's back," Stiles says bitterly. "Surprised he even found me in the woods. He did his best to avoid me at Home Depot."

"He asked me not to tell anyone," Scott explains.

"I know," Stiles says. "At least Jackson didn't tell Lydia and Danny, either. That makes me feel better."

"Why does that matter?"

Scott's got that expression on his face, the one that's similar to when Stiles told him he saw Derek that first time. "Don't look at me like that, Scott."

"How? I'm just looking at you."

"I'm kinda dating Cora," Stiles says.

"I know."

"Okay."

"Okay."

"He showed me the house he's building," Stiles says.

"I haven't seen it," Scott replies. "What does it look like?"

"It's nice," Stiles nods. Really nice, which is good. Derek deserves nice things. He deserves a large, airy house filled with Pack, a home.

Scott stands up and extends a hand to Stiles. "Come on. Come swimming with us."

Stiles shakes his head. "No, I'm fine right here."

"Stiles," Scott pleads.

"Scott, you know I don't swim." Scott frowns, like he's failed Stiles somehow. "If everyone wants to go inside and break out some board games, I am all over that." Scott squeezes Stiles' shoulder before running down the dock and cannonballing into the lake.

Stiles lies back and stares at the stars. He doesn't swim, not since the Nemeton. He doesn't like being submerged in water, doesn't like cold water, doesn't even like the feel of taking a bath. He's fine with his showers and staying dry.

He traces outlines he finds in the sky, his eyes scanning the horizon for the crescent moon, as he listens to the voices and laughter of his friends.

*

Stiles is still up when Lydia quietly lets herself into the lake house later that night. The Pack is spread out in various rooms throughout the house, in various degrees of intoxication. Liam, Hayden, and Scott had smoked a joint made with the aconite pot that Brett had gotten Liam, while Mason and Danny shared a huge bottle of spiced rum. Kira and Corey had made margaritas, and Stiles had drunk one of them. It was enough to put him in a sour mood, but thankfully his friends were too drunk and high to notice. They'd sat out on the back deck talking for a long time, until everyone had decided to call it a night. Stiles told them he was going to sleep, but stayed in the living room, curled in a blanket on the couch watching Netflix and texting Cora.

As soon as Lydia sits down on the edge of the couch, she gives him a sympathetic smile. "Can't sleep?"

"Do you even have to ask that anymore?" Stiles replies without taking his eyes off the computer.

She toes off her shoes and crawls up beside him, fitting herself snugly between him and the back of the couch. "What are you watching?"

"A documentary on the migration patterns of African wildlife."

"Thrilling."

"I was trying to lull myself to sleep," Stiles explains. "But I'm fascinated and can't stop watching now."

Lydia reaches out and slowly closes the laptop screen. Stiles protests, but like usual, Lydia wins. "Talk to me," she says as she snuggles closer and yawns. "Then I'm going to fall asleep."

"How was your date?"

"Great," she says, her eyes closed when he glances down at her. "Jordan took me to the movies, then we went for dessert afterwards and a walk in the park."

"Romantic."

"It was." She opens her eyes and smiles at him. "We made out in my car for awhile."

Stiles grins. "Get it, Lydia." She rolls her eyes, unimpressed. "So, things are going well with Parrish?"

She shrugs. "Jordan is sweet."

"I think there's a but in there somewhere."

"But," she continues with a nod. "There's Jackson. And Jackson is..."

"An asshole," Stiles declares.

Lydia frowns. "Different. He's different now."

"It's the fake British accent. Don't let that fool you."

Lydia slaps his chest. "No, he's different. Everything that's happened changed him, too. The kanima, dying, coming back, and leaving...it left its mark on him."

Stiles frowns as he stares at the far wall. "Yeah, but he left, Lydia. He didn't...Things weren't..." He shakes his head. "Things were a fucking walk in the park when he was here."

Lydia doesn't say anything for a long time, and Stiles thinks she has fallen asleep when she says, "You should talk to him."

"Why would I ever want to voluntarily talk to Jackson?"

"I thought it'd be obvious." Stiles stares at her blankly, and she rolls her eyes. "You've both been through similar things." Her voice is barely audible when she says, "There's blood on his hands that isn't really his, too."

Stiles shifts uncomfortably and runs a hand through his hair. "What movie did you see?"

Lydia sighs when Stiles changes the subject, but doesn't press. She tells him a little more about her date with Parrish, and then orders him upstairs. He crawls into her bed and lets his eyes drift shut while she gets dressed for bed in the bathroom.

He thinks about what she said about Jackson. They're not the same, him and Jackson. The kanima and the Nogitsune were completely different.

But...Jackson was being controlled by someone, unaware of what he was doing. Unaware he was killing. Stiles opens his eyes and looks down at his hands. There's blood on his hands that isn't really his, too. But that's the thing, isn't it? Jackson turned into a monster, something different, with claws and scales and a tail. Stiles stayed in his own skin, watched it all happen, remembered everything.

"Hey." Stiles jumps when Lydia's hand lands on his arm. "Stop it. None of that."

"You," Stiles starts, voice unsteady. He clears his throat and tries again. "You don't know what I'm thinking."

"I know you better than you think, Stiles." She smiles and kisses his forehead. "Try to sleep. Think about me naked if it helps clear your mind." She gives him a playful grin, and he rolls his eyes.

"You know I stopped thinking about you like that a long time ago," he says as Lydia turns off the light.

"I know," Lydia says as she snuggles down between the covers. "Which is why I'm allowing you to sleep in my bed."

"How magnanimous of you," Stiles drawls as he settles himself.

"I know."

Stiles huffs out a laugh and closes his eyes. Lydia presses her cold feet against his calves, and he calms slightly, his mind clearing, knowing she's near.

Stiles doesn't realize he's fallen asleep until he feels the bed shifting and someone bodily forcing him aside. "What the hell?" he mutters, half-asleep.

"Sorry," Scott says as he continues pushing Stiles over. Finally, Stiles smacks Scott's hand, then moves over, which requires him to push Lydia over.

"Stiles, stop it," she mumbles. "Stop kicking me."

Stiles settles into his new spot as Scott lies down facing Stiles and pulls to covers up to his shoulders. "What's wrong, Scotty?" Stiles asks, yawning.

"Weird dreams." Even in the dark, Stiles can tell that Scott's eyes are wide open, a faint red glow around his irises.

It's not the first time Scott's ended up in bed with them. Stiles reached out and sought comfort from Lydia first, asking her to hang out, then finally asking her to stay over when he couldn't handle being alone with his head anymore. She'd told him she wished he'd asked sooner. Being a banshee, sensing death - especially of the ones she loved - left an invisible mark on Lydia, too. "I see ghosts," she'd told him.

"What? Like, real ghosts?" Stiles had asked, but she'd rolled her eyes, then stared out into the room like she was seeing something Stiles couldn't.

"Not real ghosts," Lydia whispered. "But impressions, remnants. I don't think they're real, but I can't get them out of my head. I still see Allison, all the time. And Aiden."

It wasn't the same as what Stiles saw when he closed his eyes, but Stiles understood just the same. The first time the sheriff had caught them asleep in bed together, he'd tried to give Stiles The Talk (which Stiles thinks was a way to make up for not giving him The Talk back when he'd dated Malia), but Stiles had explained that it wasn't like that.

"Not anymore," he'd told his dad. "It helps, to have someone real and breathing beside me. It helps keep the darkness away." His dad couldn't argue with that. When Lydia sleeps over, at least he's not alone when he wakes up.

But the Nemeton never affected Scott like it did Stiles, for whatever reason, but sometimes even Scott's haunted by things, images, thoughts, memories, ghosts. Sometimes Scott crawls into bed with Stiles and Lydia, or just Stiles, and trembles because of things he can't unremember or unknow.

Now, Stiles reaches out and slides his fingers into Scott's hair, and Scott pushes up into the touch. The movement makes Stiles smile; it always fascinates him when Scott gives into his instincts and acts more wolf than human. It happens so rarely. "Come on," Stiles says, flipping over and grabbing Scott's arm under the comforter and yanking it across his and Lydia's body. "Pack bonding."

"If Scott farts under this comforter," Lydia says, voice more awake now, "I'm going to kill him."

"You heard the woman," Stiles says as Scott presses his forehead against Stiles' neck.

They're quiet for a long time, and Stiles thinks that Scott and Lydia are asleep, when Lydia whispers, "Did you dream of her tonight?"

"No," Scott replies. "When I woke up, I forgot she was gone."

Stiles feels Lydia grab Scott's hand, and he places his own hand over Scott's arm. "I miss her, too," Lydia whispers.

Stiles doesn't say anything; he can't say anything. It's his fault they've lost her, and it's nights like this that it's so painfully clear that Stiles can barely breathe.

"Hey," Scott's voice snaps him out of his reverie, and it's loud and right in his ear. Stiles doesn't realize that he's having trouble breathing, just on the edge of a panic attack. "It's not your fault. What happened to Al - her, it's not your fault."

Lydia scoots back closer against him, saying with closeness what she knows her words can't make him understand. She finds his hand in the dark and holds it in her other hand, Scott in one, Stiles in the other. Sometimes Stiles wonders where he and Scott would be without her.

Stiles still doesn't respond. He can't say he knows, because he doesn't. Instead, he focuses on his breathing, on the warmth of being pressed between his friends, Scott's face pressed against his neck and Lydia's hand in his, the two people beside him, alive and breathing. He tries to fall asleep, but it's hard when he feels Scott's tears against the back of his neck.

*

Derek walks through Home Depot minutes after the doors open. He has his reasons. He has an entire list of reasons, so Jackson can kiss his ass.

Why he's letting Jackson get under his skin is a mystery to him.

Derek spends time in the bathroom section, looking at faucets and light installations, then walks over to the kitchen area. He smells Stiles as soon as he walks nearer, four or five aisles down. He smells tired and anxious, and Derek's starting to think that's a permanent part of him now, melding onto Stiles to make a new scent.

Derek's on his way to look at paint when Stiles finally sees him. "So, you've returned!" Stiles exclaims, grinning widely as he approaches him. "Were you trying to avoid me? Did I ruin it for you?"

Derek exhales heavily through his nose and scowls at Stiles. It doesn't hold any real heat, more habit than anything. "I'm building a house."

Stiles nods, and somehow he makes even the twist of his lips look sarcastic. "Very good, Derek."

"You work at the only store in Beacon City that sells home improvement items."

"You're on fire this morning!"

Derek spins on his heel to storm away, but Stiles wraps his hand around Derek's bicep.

Derek jolts -

long slender fingers wrapping around his bicep, clutching, as a body trembles beneath him

- the intensity of the flash enough to send him reeling for a few quick moments.

"Derek?" Stiles asks, worry lacing his voice.

Derek shakes his head, wondering what in the hell just happened. "I need paint," he grunts.

"Okay," Stiles draws the word out, but doesn't say anything further as he leads Derek through the aisles towards the paint. "Here you go, big guy. What color are you thinking? Black? Leather black? Camaro black? Wolf black?"

Derek shoots him an unimpressed look. "I need something off-white," he states. "Cora said I can't paint the living room white, it has to be off-white, whatever that means. Jackson said don't get anything ugly and pedestrian, whatever that means. So." He looks at Stiles helplessly. "I don't know."

"Dude, I don't work in paint," Stiles says with his hands up. "Leave it up to me, you'd end up with all the wrong colors."

"It's just paint!" Derek growls, and he feels the pressure of his claws at his fingertips.

"Whoa, calm down. No need to go all lupine over paint swatches." He leads Derek over to the section of whites. "Here." Stiles grabs a swatch and hands it to Derek. "Choose one."

Derek reads the titles, colors like eggshell, mother of pearl, and other ridiculous names. "They're the same."

"They're not," Stiles says, crowding in close so he can look at the swatch. Derek's hit with Stiles' scent like a punch to the solar plexus, and it has him closing his eyes and shaking off the woozy feeling in his head. He wants to push Stiles up against something, growl at him - maybe even kiss him, he's not sure. It's very confusing and unsettling. He's supposed to be choosing paint, not feeling urges for the guy his sister is dating.

"Hey." Stiles snaps his fingers in Derek's face, and Derek opens his eyes, doesn't realize he's closed them. "Um, you might wanna tone down the...stuff." He waves his fingers around his face and then looks pointedly at Derek's fingers, which have sprouted claws. "Pretty sure bright blue isn't your normal color, no matter how pretty they are. I guess you could say they are contacts, but - "

"You think my eyes are pretty?" Derek blurts. And really? That's the pertinent thing to ask at this moment?

"Um..." Stiles' cheeks turn pink, and Derek smells the flush of embarrassment. "Yeah, duh. I mean, I know what they mean and stuff, so it may be weird? It's totally weird. It's just the blue, it's such a pretty color, and with your....you-ness..." Stiles takes a step back and flails a little. "You know what? I'm just gonna shut up." There's an awkward moment of silence where Derek stares at the paint swatch that he ripped with his claws. "Are you okay? You've been acting kinda...weird, since you got here."

"I'm fine." Derek goes over to the wall of paint swatches, grabs another one, and hands it to Stiles. "Pick a color."

"What?"

Derek huffs in irritation. "Pick a color. Something off-white and not pedestrian."

"You're letting me pick your paint color?" Stiles looks positively giddy. "This is awesome. What room?"

"Living room."

"I have so much power!" He cackles maniacally, and Derek wonders why he even bothers with Stiles sometimes.

"You have limited choices," Derek says. "Screw up and you'll have your girlfriend to answer to. And Jackson."

Too quickly, Stiles responds, "She's not my girlfriend." When he realizes what he's said, he looks at Derek like he's afraid he's going to rip off his head. "I mean, we've been on like two dates. And I haven't touched her - I swear! So, I mean, that doesn't exactly make her my girlfriend."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Fine, whatever." He taps the paint swatch. "Pick one."

Stiles chooses Seaside Sand, then gets the guy who actually works in the paint department to mix the paint for him. Stiles goes to get Derek a shopping cart while he waits because, as Stiles put it, "Act like you're a normal human who can't carry twelve paint cans, instead of a mutant."

Derek figures while he has the cart and he's there, he may as well buy some other stuff for the house. Stiles follows him, chattering away about board sizes and door hinges. Derek just listens to the sound of his voice and ignores the content.

"You're not even listening to me," Stiles says when Derek stops in front of the light fixtures. "Typical."

"I didn't come here to listen to obscure facts about hardware," Derek states.

"If I didn't have to be both sides of the conversation, then I wouldn't have to resort to inane facts about door hinges."

Derek stares at the light fixtures with his arms crossed over his chest. Stiles helps him choose one, then they pick out doorknobs and knobs for the bathroom cabinets.

"Thanks for your help," Derek tells him as he wheels the cart towards the register.

"Hey, this is the most exciting thing that will happen all day," Stiles laughs. "I should be thanking you." Derek gives Stiles a small smile, and the scent of satisfaction and contentment wafting from Stiles is more than Derek can stand. He pushes the cart roughly towards the attendant and doesn't look back.

*

Derek is inside the new house when he catches the scent. Confused, he walks over to the window and peers out. A few moments later, Stiles breaks the tree line, studying the house with interest as he approaches.

Derek walks outside and stands on the half-finished porch, waiting. Stiles is sweating slightly and his face is red like he's been outside for quite awhile.

When Stiles sees him, he gapes, then snorts and laughs. "Dude, the fuck? You're wearing flip-flops."

Derek glances down at his feet, which are, in fact, wearing flip-flops. He's working on the house, and it's hot outside, so he's also wearing a white tank top and basketball shorts. Stiles is wearing a t-shirt with oversized khakis, and Derek thinks the day is too hot to be out wearing that.

"Yes." Derek nods. "Very observant."

"I just...you're wearing flip-flops. Mind blown."

Derek rolls his eyes and goes back inside the house. Stiles follows without an invitation like Derek expected. "What are you doing here?"

Stiles is too quiet, so Derek glances over his shoulder. There's a haunted look in Stiles' eyes, but it's gone as soon as he realizes Derek's looking. He's pretty sure he wasn't supposed to see. "I was out for a walk." Derek quirks an eyebrow, and Stiles says, "What? I go on walks."

"To my house?"

Stiles shrugs. "I was wandering around the preserve and ended up here."

Derek holds a paint roller out to him. "Then be useful. Help me paint."

Stiles takes it with no argument, which concerns Derek more than anything. He watches as Stiles dips the roller in the tray, moving it back and forth to coat it, before turning to the wall. There are dark circles under Stiles' eyes and a general weariness about him. Derek doesn't say anything, just grabs his own paint roller and starts to paint.

They paint in silence for a long time. Halfway through the first wall, Stiles asks where Cora and Jackson are, and Derek explains that Cora is back at the cabin and Jackson is with Danny. He doesn't ask any more questions, just continues painting.

The rhythmic rolling of the brush is hypnotic. Derek can hear the construction crew around the house doing various things, the hammering of a nail, the whir of a drill. He can hear Stiles breathing, the erratic beating of his heart.

By the time they're on the third wall, the room feels different. Derek's not quite sure what it is, blames it on the pungent paint fumes. But when he steps beside Stiles, he realizes that it's not the paint - it's Stiles.

As discreetly as possible, he turns his head and inhales. Something's different about his scent. It takes Derek a few more breaths to realize what it is. The scent is less acidic, less sour than when he first showed up. It's softer, not quite sweet, only a shadow of Stiles' usual scent.

After they finish the walls, Derek grabs them bottles of water and they sit outside on the top step. Stiles gulps half the bottle as Derek takes a sip, their shoulders brushing when they move.

"My arms are tired," Stiles whines when he swallows.

Derek rolls his eyes. "Seriously?"

"Not a word from you. I don't know why I helped. You could have probably finished the whole room in half the time."

Derek shakes his head. "No, the speed wouldn't really help with the paint. Needs too much attention, too many coats. You actually helped a lot."

Stiles smells pleased, but he doesn't say anything. He picks at the label of his bottle, then asks, "Why aren't Cora and Jackson helping you?"

"They do, sometimes," Derek tells him. "This is my thing, I guess. What I need to do. Cora calls it my therapy, and maybe she's right." Derek flexes his hands, looks at the paint dried on them. "It just feels like something I need to do."

"And they don't feel the same way?"

Derek shakes his head. "They want the house, and are excited about it. And believe me, they have plenty of opinions about things - "

"Like the paint."

Derek nods and smiles. "Like the paint. But the same need driving me to get up every day, come out here, and fix it, they don't feel it."

Stiles nods as he drains the bottle, and they settle into comfortable silence. The day is hot, but Derek finds the warmth pleasant. He's starting to feel drowsy, but it's nice, sitting here with Stiles on the stoop.

Eventually, Stiles stands up and wipes the back of his arm across his sweaty forehead. He doesn't say anything as he turns and starts walking away backwards, and Derek cringes when Stiles trips over nothing. “So, thanks for this thrilling afternoon. You really know how to entertain.” He spins around and heads towards the woods.

“Do you want a ride?” Derek calls after him.

“Nah, I’m good.” He waves and Derek remains on the stoop until he can’t smell him anymore.

*

Painting the living room starts something. Stiles shows up at the house and joins Derek in whatever that day’s task is. They paint most of the interior rooms. When they install kitchen cabinets, they argue over Derek’s choice of knobs for them.

“They’re ugly, Derek,” Stiles says. “They look like they belong to someone’s Great Aunt Gertrude.”

“Shut up.”

“I don’t understand why you bought them. Have I mentioned that they’re ugly? Because they’re ugly.”

Derek has to breathe through his nose and check himself when he finds himself curling his fingers too tightly around the wood of a cabinet door. Quietly, he says, “They’re the same ones my mother had in her kitchen.”

Stiles doesn’t respond and they work in silence, but Derek can tell by the shift in his scent that he heard and he understands.

Derek goes to Home Depot in the mornings sometimes with lists of things he needs. He lets Stiles choose overhead lights for a few rooms, and they argue over tile for the kitchen. Stiles badgers Derek to let him pick out the molding for the bookshelves Derek’s building in the library, and Derek begrudgingly relents.

“You’re gonna have a library,” Stiles snorts as he scans the choices. “The Hale estate in all its grandeur. Are you going to have a parlor and a sitting room? Can I call on you for afternoon tea?”

Derek pushes Stiles, and then reaches out to keep him from falling over.

One day, they get into a vehement argument about the paint color for Derek’s bedroom right there in the aisle in Home Depot. “You can’t paint the walls tan,” Stiles exclaims. “It’s your bedroom, Derek. You sleep there, and I presume one day you will have sex in there. Give it some personality!”

“What’s wrong with tan paint?” Derek responds.

"Who wants to get it on surrounded by tan walls?"

"Why does my sex life have anything to do with wall color?"

“Oh, I forgot, you have no personality.”

“I didn’t ask for your help or opinions regarding my house!” Derek growls. “And I sure as hell don’t need your opinion about my bedroom!”

“Fine! Fuck you and your house, Derek!” Stiles yells, then storms down the aisle. Derek turns back to the guy working paint, and he's staring at Derek in a mixture of shock and fear. Derek glares at him before storming out of the store.

Later that night, Cora gets home from her date with Stiles and hands Derek something. "What is this?" Derek asks as he grabs it.

Cora shrugs. "Don't know. Stiles was just very insistent that I give it to you. He said, and I quote, 'The fucking sourwolf will understand.'"

Derek glances at it and snorts out a laugh. It's a paint swatch, featuring various shades of blue. Derek can't stop the rush of warmth he feels.

"What is it?" Cora insists.

"A paint swatch."

She doesn't leave, just crosses her arms over her chest and frowns at him. "You both have been spending quite a lot of time together."

"Cora," Derek starts as he gets off the couch. She doesn't take the hint, and follows him to his room.

"He's at the house almost every day, and you spend a lot of time at Home Depot."

Derek sets the paint swatch on the dresser and pulls off his t-shirt. He tosses it on top of his dirty laundry basket, then faces Cora. She's leaning against the doorframe, waiting. "How has Stiles smelled lately?"

"What the fuck kind of question is that?" Cora asks. Derek rolls his eyes and looks at her expectantly. "I don't know. He smells good. Clean."

"Not like sex?" Derek asks, surprised.

Cora rolls her eyes, her head following. "You know we're not fucking, Mr. Nosy. We still haven't kissed, which you know. Even Jackson has commented that he smells less like rampant hormones than he used to."

Derek nods, but returns to his original point. "He smells better," Derek says, thinking of how Stiles had smelled yesterday, when he had been helping Derek with the porch. He was covered in sweat, his t-shirt sticking darkly to his skin. Stiles' scent was heavy on the air, and it was the same as it had been recently.

Sweeter, less acrid. Not as much anxiety, though it was still there. Maybe even a hint of contentment. Derek's not a fool; he knows nothing miraculous has happened to Stiles in the past month. But he also knows progress when he sees it. Stiles may not be unbroken or healed yet, but he's marginally better.

Cora shrugs. "Yeah, I guess he does."

"It's helping him," Derek says. "Working on the house, having a project. It's helping him."

"Maybe. But are you sure you aren't just projecting your own house building therapy stuff onto Stiles?"

Derek pushes past Cora and walks to the linen closet to pull out a towel. "I don't know. He just doesn't smell, feel, or look as bad." He goes into the bathroom and closes the door behind him, ending the conversation.

When he's underneath the spray, he thinks about what Cora said. He might be projecting, a little wishful thinking on his part. But that doesn't change the fact that Stiles has been smiling more, that he doesn't look as gaunt, that the circles under his eyes aren't as dark, that Derek caught him humming a song under his breath the other day.

*

Stiles wakes up, screaming. He leans over the bed, gagging as he tries to get it out, the dirty scraps of cloth. He can't breathe, it's clogging up his throat, his nose, his lungs. He reaches into his mouth, fingers down his throat, as he searches for it. But there's nothing there.

"Stiles!" The sheriff drops to his knees by the bed and grabs his arms. He forces Stiles look at him, and says, "Breathe, Stiles. It's just a panic attack. Come on, son, breathe." The sheriff inhales deeply, then exhales, over and over. Stiles tries to mimic him, and it takes a few moments before he gets the hang of it.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

"That's better," the sheriff says, pushing up so he can sit on the edge of Stiles' bed. He frowns, and Stiles can't look at him, at the worry lines and stress and fatigue. He stares at the floor. "Wanna talk about it?" Stiles shakes his head. "Thought maybe they had stopped. You've been sleeping better lately."

Stiles glances at his father, and feels like he failed him. Again. The sheriff reaches out and grasps Stiles' shoulder. "Don't look like that. You haven't done anything wrong."

"Feels like it," Stiles whispers.

The sheriff squeezes Stiles' shoulder, stands up, and heads towards the door. When Stiles doesn't follow, he turns around and says, "Well? Come on!"

"Dad, you don't - "

The sheriff leaves the room and walks down the hall. "Your butt better be on the couch within the next three minutes."

Stiles doesn't want to get out of bed, but he makes himself get up, exit the room, and walk down the stairs. In the living room, there are two throw blankets sitting on the arm of the couch, and Netflix is loading on the television. Stiles sits on the couch and looks around in confusion.

A moment later, his dad comes into the living room with two steaming mugs. He sets them on the end table between the couch and his recliner.

"Dad, I don't think we need coffee at two a.m."

The sheriff shoots Stiles an irritated glance. "I know that, Stiles. That's why I made chamomile tea."

"You made tea?" Stiles glances at his hands out of habit. "I think I'm still dreaming."

The sheriff shoves the remote at Stiles with a frown. "Pick something for us to watch and drink the damn tea." He grabs one of the throw blankets and spreads it over his lap before pulling up the bottom of the recliner.

Stiles scrolls through the list and chooses Firefly. "I think it's time you watched this," he tells his dad as he settles on the couch with the blanket over him. Stiles sips his tea as they watch. Occasionally, he glances over at his dad to see if he's fallen asleep, but he's awake every time he looks over.

Sometime during the second episode, Stiles falls asleep.

*

Stiles goes over to Scott's house and watches movies with him, Liam, and Mason until after midnight. His dad's in the bed when he gets in, and he quietly opens his door to check on him. From the sound of his breathing, his dad is sleeping deeply. Stiles watches him for a few moments, watches the rise and fall of his chest and listens to his breathing. It's calming, soothing.

Stiles doesn't sleep. He tries for almost two hours, but he tosses and turns, so he loads up Netflix and watches a movie. He's still up when his dad opens his door and pads down the hall. The sheriff leans against the doorframe in his pajama pants and t-shirt, his hair messy, and yawns as he looks at Stiles.

"You didn't sleep, did you?"

Stiles shrugs. "A little."

"You don't have to lie to me."

"I tried, just couldn't fall asleep."

"Well, I'm gonna make breakfast if you wanna join me."

Stiles makes his way downstairs a few minutes later. His dad's making egg white sandwiches on English muffins, with a side of fruit. It kind of freaks Stiles out, but he knows his dad's trying to make Stiles feel better by cooking something heart-healthy.

He tears up when his dad sits down with his plate, and he quickly wipes his eyes before he can see.

*

After his dad leaves for work, Stiles drives over to Derek's. He's got the day off, and he can't stand staying inside the house all day, alone inside his head. He's exhausted, so exhausted that his entire body feels heavy and jittery - but maybe that was just the two large coffees he had.

Derek's upstairs in the house, installing doors. He doesn't look surprised to see Stiles, just hands him a screwdriver. Stiles plops on the floor in the hall across from Derek and leans against the wall. He twirls the screwdriver between his fingers.

"You smell tired," Derek says, voice muffled through the screws he's holding between his teeth.

Stiles shrugs. "Couldn't sleep." Derek flicks his eyes towards Stiles, and he adds, "No dreams or anything. Just insomnia."

Derek takes another screw from between his teeth and starts screwing it into the hinge. "Surprised you're here."

"Scott's at work, Lydia's at her internship. I didn't want to stay in the house."

Derek shrugs and leaves it. That's what Stiles likes about Derek; he doesn't press, doesn't ask questions. Some days, they work in silence the entire time they're together, barely even saying hello or goodbye. Sometimes they talk about books or movies. Sometimes Stiles tells him about his bad days.

He doesn't mind telling Derek things. Probably because Derek's been through a lot, too. He doesn't look at Stiles with pity, or judgment, or guilt, or worry, or anything else. He just lets Stiles talk, and sometimes he offers a comment or advice.

Today, Stiles just wants to work. He pushes up from the floor and joins Derek. "What can I do?"

Derek points to the floor, where there are screws and hinges set out. "I've marked where the hinge goes near the bottom. It needs to be fixed to the wood."

"I can do that." Derek steps aside as Stiles sits on the floor, and because they're both attaching hinges to the same piece of wood, Derek's legs are pressed against his back and he's leaning over Stiles. Stiles grabs the hinge, lines it up with the holes and marks Derek made, and starts twisting the screw.

*

Stiles gets home from Derek's, and he's exhausted. He thinks about taking a shower, but he just crawls onto his bed and loads up Netflix.

He's asleep before the first episode of whatever television show he put it on ends.

*

Stiles is in his room, watching a movie, when his dad sticks his head into the room. "Got a proposition for you." Stiles pauses the movie and glances at him curiously. His dad leans against his doorframe and crosses his arms. "You know we're super backed up on paperwork at the station from the last few years. I thought since you were here for the summer you might want to do some work for the department."

"In the middle of the night?" Stiles asks dubiously.

"Less disturbances for you, easier to get through the filing without people bothering you or looking for files they need." The sheriff shrugs. "It's up to you, kiddo. The department can pay you, though not much."

Stiles stares at the television screen, trying to decide. Despite the fact that he wants to lie in bed and never get out, he forces himself out of the bed. "Okay. But I'm wearing track pants."

"I don't care what you wear," the sheriff says as he walks back down the hall. "Just be ready to go in ten minutes."

The station is quiet on the night shift. Stiles sits in the middle of the floor in the files room, puts in earbuds, and listens to an audio book as he starts filing. He actually finds that he's enjoying himself. There's something soothing and calming about sorting, organizing, and finishing a box as he sets the last file in the correct, neatly stacked pile.

Stiles yelps when a hand lands on his shoulder. He blinks and blearily looks up at his dad. He pulls out an earbud as he yawns. The sheriff says, "I'm going on my dinner break. Want a ride home?"

Stiles looks at the time on his phone. It's after three a.m. He's been filing for four hours. "Yeah."

He starts to clean up his mess, but the sheriff says, "Leave it. You'll be back soon enough."

Stiles nods, pockets his phone and earbuds with another yawn, and waves to the other deputies on duty as he follows his dad out of the station. When they're in the cruiser headed home, Stiles says, "I know what you're doing, with the filing stuff." The sheriff doesn't respond, but when Stiles glances over, he's got a slightly guilty look on his face. Stiles reaches out and clasps the sheriff on the shoulder. "Thanks," he says quietly.

They remain quiet the rest of the way home, and tonight, it only takes Stiles an hour to fall asleep.

*

A couple of days later, Stiles drives over to the Hale house. The new Hale house. It's weird to think that this is the Hale house instead of what he was used to being the Hale house, the burnt out structure the county tore down.

Stiles finds Derek outside, talking to a contractor...and he's shirtless. "Are you kidding me?" he mutters. Stiles stands by the Jeep, unmoving, and just stares. After a few moments, Derek must notice he's just standing there because he turns his head and glares in his direction.

Stiles' eyes dart around, from the ground to the trucks to the workers to the house. Everywhere but at Derek. When he gets to Derek, he stares at the house, which is the opposite direction of Derek.

"What's wrong with you?" Derek asks.

Stiles waves his hands around. "There's a lot wrong with me."

He hears Derek huff in irritation. "I mean today."

"Um..."

"Stiles, look at me." Finally, Stiles turns his head and stares very intently at Derek's face, refusing to let his gaze drop. Derek raises both his eyebrows. "Well?"

Stiles groans and flails his hands around. "This. This is the problem."

Derek looks at Stiles like he's crazy. "What are you talking about?"

"You. This." Stiles finally drops his eyes, and fuck. Bad idea. It's better close up. It's not even the muscles - though, hello - but the thatch of chest hair, and when did Derek grow that? And sweat, so much sweat, and nipples.

"Really?" Derek asks dubiously. "You're acting like this because I'm not wearing a shirt?"

"Have you seen yourself without a shirt?" Derek's eyebrows and mouth get even more pinched. "Okay, fair. Dumb question. I'm driven completely stupid."

"Stiles, you have seen me without a shirt before. Plus, it's not like you're a virgin."

Stiles' face goes red. "One, discussing my sexual history with you is really fucking weird, okay? Let's never do this ever again. Plus, it's been a long time okay? Pretty big dry spell, so yes, I'm a sad pathetic loser, fuck you. Two, I've never seen you like this."

"Dirty, sweaty, and gross?"

"Yes, I mean, no. Not gross." Derek's eyebrows lift in amusement. "Chest hair. You have chest hair."

Derek glances down. "Yeah?"

"You know what? Nevermind. I'm going back home." Stiles turns around, but Derek grabs his arm.

"Stiles, just come inside the house."

"Fine." Stiles walks beside Derek awkwardly, and Derek keeps glancing at him. "What?"

"Chest hair? So, that's what gets you going?" Stiles feels his entire face and body flush, and Derek must be drowning in the smell of his arousal and embarrassment. Because Stiles is definitely aroused, and horribly embarrassed. If the house caved in on him right now, it'd be perfect timing.

"I hate you so fucking much," Stiles mutters, and Derek laughs.

*

Inside the house, Derek asks, "Want to help me paint baseboards?"

Stiles shrugs. "Sure, why not?"

Derek's trying to ignore the scent of Stiles that's bombarding his senses. Stiles smells like arousal, and something more, like interest and compatibility and other things Derek should not be smelling coming off the guy his sister is kinda dating. He shouldn't even be thinking these things and Stiles in the same thought, but something about Stiles being here, being near him so often that he's starting to carry a bit of Derek's scent, makes Derek need it more and more.

It just feels so right.

Derek pushes those thoughts aside as he leads Stiles into the dining room, which has already been painted. When he inhales, he notices that the sweet, warm smell is stronger, and he glances over to find Stiles staring at him again. He should probably put on a shirt, but he doesn't. "Stiles," he says, amused. He shoots Derek a sheepish grin, and Derek rolls his eyes. Then, he hands Stiles a paint brush. "Even though there's painters tape down, you need to be careful. This takes patience and a steady hand. Can you do that?"

Stiles rolls his eyes, somehow using his whole body. "Are you kidding me? Derek, it's paint, not rocket science."

Derek dips the tip of his paintbrush into the paint. "Make sure not to get too much paint on the brush. You want even layers. Coat it like this." Derek waits for Stiles to show him he can coat the brush, and Stiles rolls his eyes again, but dips his own paint brush into the paint.

"See?"

"Good. Now when you - what the hell?" Derek glares, shocked at Stiles, who's stifling a laugh. There's a smear of paint on Derek's arm that Stiles put there. "Real mature."

"Oh, take the stick out of your ass and have some fun, Derek!" Stiles exclaims. "You're so - oh my god!" Before Stiles knows what was happening, Derek retaliates by smearing paint on his arm. "I can't believe you did that."

Derek smirks. "What was that about a stick in my ass?"

Stiles can't keep a straight face. He bursts out laughing, and Derek chuckles, blushing slightly. "I bet you've had some right lovely sticks in your ass over the years." Stiles gives him an exaggerated wink, and Derek glowers.

"Focus," Derek barks, and Stiles taps him on the side of the cheek with his paintbrush. He bites his lip and tries to keep a straight face, and Derek can feel the paint in his beard. When Derek lifts his paint brush, Stiles yells and turns away, and Derek ends up touching his shirt instead of his skin.

"Derek!" Stiles groans. "I love this shirt."

"Should have thought about that before you started this." He raises his eyebrows and stares pointedly at Stiles.

In response, Stiles taps Derek's chest with the brush, smearing paint in his chest hair. Derek's eyes flash blue, and Stiles' eyes widen before he squeals in laughter and starts to run away. Derek's instincts flair, his mind screaming prey, and he easily pounces on Stiles. He wraps one arm around Stiles and takes him down to the floor, landing so the brunt of the impact is on his body and not Stiles'. He wipes the brush against Stiles' cheek and forehead, then on his shirt as Stiles retaliates by painting any bit of Derek's bare skin he can reach.

"Hey, I like what the guys have done - " Derek and Stiles go still when they hear Cora's voice. Derek leaps up so fast that Stiles glances around, dazed. Cora's watching them from the doorway with a confused look on her face, and Jackson's behind her, smirking.

"What are you doing?" Cora asks, looking between them.

Derek glances down at himself, his chest, shoulders, and arms covered in white paint, then down at Stiles, who has paint on his face, arms, and t-shirt. "Painting the baseboards."

Jackson snorts. "Keep telling yourself that."

"You're both covered in paint," Cora states.

Derek rolls his eyes. "Yes, thanks for that astute observation. Stiles started it," he adds lamely.

"Hey!" Stiles shouts. "Don't you blame this on me. Though," he shoots the others a look, "I did technically start it. How could I resist? Derek needs to lighten up."

Jackson leaves, clearly already bored with them. Cora's looking between them, an unreadable expression on her face. Derek grabs his paint brush and squats down to start painting, purposefully not looking at Stiles or Cora. He's embarrassed that he let himself get carried away, that he gave into emotion, gave into Stiles, instead of being stronger. That was his sister, for fuck's sake. He's a horrible person.

"Make sure to paint the baseboards carefully," Derek tells Stiles after Cora has left the room and he can't hear her close by anymore.

"I will." After a few moments, Stiles says, "Hey, I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it."

"Totally worth it though," Stiles says quietly, and when Derek turns, he sees Stiles concentrating on the baseboard, smiling.

*

Derek goes for a run after he finishes at the house. He and Stiles got the baseboards and doorframes painted in two rooms, then Stiles went home and Derek shifted into his wolf form and set off into the woods. He just runs, letting his wolf instincts drown out his human thoughts. The problem is, it's worse in this form. His wolf doesn't care about anything, just thinks Stiles. Stiles.

He runs along the edge of the yard, chasing Stiles' scent, following paths where it's stronger. He lifts his leg and urinates on a particularly strong spot, then continues running.

When he shifts back, he grimaces at the spot he marked. He tries to cover up the smell with water and baking soda, hoping it might mask the scent for the other wolves. The last thing he needs is Jackson knowing that he did that.

When he gets home, Cora is sitting on the couch watching television while Jackson cooks dinner. Derek goes directly to the bathroom to take a shower. When he sees himself in the mirror, he realizes he's still covered in paint. He lightly touches the line on his face, and the dab on his chest, smiling as he thinks about Stiles. The way he felt underneath Derek, the way he fit so perfectly in Derek's arms. The way he'd smelled happy and like himself again, instead of clouded by darkness.

Derek pushes those thoughts from his head as he jumps in the shower. When he walks into the living room later, toweling his hair as he sits on the couch beside Cora, she turns down the volume.

"Derek, we need to talk."

Derek sighs, figured this was coming. "Cora, I - "

"No," she interrupts, shaking her head. "Let me talk. I know something is going on with you and Stiles."

"Cora, there's not. That's the truth."

She raises an eyebrow and studies him. "You may believe that, but there is something going on. I've suspected it for awhile, and today confirmed it. I see it every time Stiles talks about you - which is a lot - and on your face every time someone mentions his name. When you're both together," Cora pauses and shakes her head. "It's like someone has turned on a light inside both of you. Today, if you could have seen the way you both looked, the way you both smelled - even Jackson noticed it."

"Unfortunately," Jackson drawls from behind them, still at the stove. "I'll never be able to bleach my brain enough to erase that."

Cora rolls her eyes. "The point is, Derek, I like Stiles. He's cute, funny, intelligent, and I like being around him. But I don't like him, you know? We're just not compatible like that. Hanging out with him the last few weeks has been like hanging with a buddy, which is all he is."

Derek hangs his head and stares at his hands twisting between his knees. "What are you saying?"

"That you can stop beating yourself up about fucking me over or whatever. You didn't steal my boyfriend." Derek glances at Cora, and she's smirking. "I'm gonna break off whatever romantic thing we have going on, so you can figure out whatever is going on between the two of you." She grabs the remote and turns the volume back up. "I'm still gonna hang out with him and text him, though."

Derek chuckles, and behind him, he hears Jackson mutter, "Fucking Hales and their obsession with Stilinski. I'll never understand it."

Later that night, Derek is lying in bed reading when his phone lights up with a text. He's surprised to see that it's from Stiles, though he's not sure why. He should have expected it.

Cora broke up with me.
Or, I guess said we're better as friends since we weren't really a couple or anything. Idk if you can break up if you've only hung out a few times.

I'm sorry.

Not a big deal. Besides, not your fault.

I'm not so sure about that.

You mean today?

Maybe.

That was nothing. Right?

Derek stares at the text, trying to decide how he wants to answer. Finally, he types out, Right. Nothing.

Don't kick my ass, but I'm not that upset. I like Cora, but not like that, you know?

Why would I kick your ass? She said the same thing.

Oh. Good.

Derek's fingers hover over the screen, and he wants to say something, flirt, tell Stiles how he feels, but instead, he sends, Goodnight, Stiles. Then he adds, Try to get some sleep.

Stiles sends a laughing emoji, then says, I'll try. Good night.

*

Derek looked at the text and frowned. He replied, Don't come. The storm's too bad.

Almost immediately, Stiles texted back, Shut up. I'm already in the Jeep.

Derek paced back and forth in front of the large windows in the loft. Thunder cracked overhead, lightning flashing so brightly it illuminated the whole living room. He smelled Stiles before he even got off the elevator. He smelled like the pizza he shared with Scott earlier that night, and the crackle of electricity, but underneath that, he smelled warm and sweet, like everything Derek had always wanted.

The door rolled open, and Derek didn't stop pacing as Stiles closed the door again and came further into the loft. He didn't stop pacing until Stiles reached out and wrapped his fingers around Derek's arm.

"Hey," Stiles said softly. "It's okay."

"It's not okay," Derek growled, eyes flashing red. Stiles didn't flinch. He just wrapped his arms around Derek and pulled him close. Derek tried to resist, but finally he let himself relax into Stiles' arms. "It's the only lead we had," Derek whispered.

"We'll find another lead," Stiles replied, voice barely audible over the rain pounding against the windows. "We'll find them, Derek."

Stiles pulled back and pressed a kiss to Derek's forehead, then against his mouth. Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles tightly, kissing him hungrily and desperately.

"I love you," Stiles whispered between kisses. "It's okay, Derek. I'm here."

Derek wakes with a start. His heart is pounding, his eyes glowing in the dark room. Blue eyes, not red like in the dream. He blinks, his vision returning to normal.

He lies there and stares at the ceiling. Derek feels weird, like something isn't right. The dream has left him feeling unsettled, a weird thrum of anxiety in his limbs. He can't quite figure out what it is, what's wrong. He's not surprised he dreamed about Stiles, but it's more than that.

The longer that Derek lies there trying to calm down, he starts to wonder about the dream. Because although he knows it was just a dream, it feels real.

It doesn't feel like a dream at all; it feels like a memory.

Chapter Text

I'm building this house, on the moon
Like a lost, astronaut
Lookin at you, like a star
From the place, the world forgot

And there's nothing, that I can do
Except bury my love for you

The brightness of the sun, will give me just enough
To bury my love, in the moondust
I long to hear your voice, but still I make the choice
To bury my love, in the moondust
-Moondust by Jaymes Young

Stiles adopts a routine. He doesn't feel sad that his thing with Cora ended, mainly because although she was hot and available, Stiles just hadn't been that into it. He still texts her and goes to dinner or the movies with her, but it's just as friends. Stiles thinks it's even better this way because there is no added pressure or awkward tension. He can just enjoy himself. Oddly, he and Cora have a similar sense of humor and a lot in common. It's not long before he finds himself wondering how he ever got through life without Cora Hale.

He works at Home Depot three days a week, where at least two of those days Derek shows up to buy something else for the house. Sometimes, Stiles is pretty sure that Derek doesn't really need the item, but just shows up out of habit. Stiles spends three or four nights at the station, filing. And he spends at least five days at the Hale house, helping Derek. In between these things, he hangs out with Scott or the Pack.

One evening, Stiles is finishing helping Derek lay flooring when Derek blurts in a rush, "Do you want dinner with me?"

Stiles blinks, mainly because he doesn't quite understand what Derek is asking him. And because he's never heard Derek trip over his words before. "What?"

Derek looks frustrated, and Stiles thinks it's ridiculously adorable. It's a look he's never seen on Derek before, but over the last few weeks, Derek has slowly started showing Stiles more and more of himself that he'd kept hidden before. Stiles has realized that Derek isn't at all like he originally thought. He tries to ignore that, though, because it does funny things to him and Stiles just doesn't want to deal with that right now.

Derek exhales through his nose, closes his eyes, and then looks at Stiles. "Do you want to come over for dinner?"

"Sure," Stiles says. He slaps Derek on the arm. "See? That wasn't so hard, was it? Words, Derek. They're good for you."

Derek rolls his eyes as he walks out of the room.

Stiles hasn't been to Derek's current home yet, despite spending more days than not at the new house. It's not what he expected. It's a small wooden cabin nestled in a grove of trees and basically hidden unless you know it's there.

"Wow," Stiles says as he steps out of the Jeep. "This is kinda cool."

"My grandfather built it," Derek tells him as they walk up the steps onto the porch. "It was the first house he and my grandmother lived in. My great-grandmother, his mother, was the Alpha at the time and lived closer to Beacon Hills."

"How long has your family been here?" Stiles asks as he enters the house. He looks around, taken aback by how cozy and homey it looks.

"A long time," Derek replies.

Stiles' eye catches something, so he makes his way to a large, stuffed bookcase on the far wall. Each shelf is full of tattered books, but that's not what catches his attention. The shelves are lined with photographs.

There are a lot of pictures of Jackson. Some are with people Stiles doesn't recognize, and he realizes they must be from his time in Britain. There's a picture of Jackson and Lydia, one of the lacrosse team from freshman year (in which Stiles quickly finds himself and Scott), and multiple of Jackson and Danny.

The other shelves are full of pictures of Cora either standing in front of exotic places or with people Stiles doesn't know. There are two pictures of Derek and Cora. One of them in front of a tropical waterfall and another of them sitting on a couch with Derek pushing Cora away and looking grumpy while Cora laughs and lies half on top of Derek. The picture makes Stiles smile.

On the top shelf are, in Stiles' opinion, the three most interesting pictures. One picture is of Derek, Cora, and Jackson. Cora's in the middle with her arms hooked through Derek and Jackson's arms. She has her head on Derek's shoulder, and all three of them are smiling. They actually look...happy. As weird as it is to see Jackson in the same photograph as Derek and Cora and smiling, the three of them look like they belong together.

In another frame is a picture of Derek and Laura. It's a selfie with a busy city street in the background. Derek looks almost like he did when Stiles met him. Laura is smiling widely, and Derek is just staring at the camera. Laura is beautiful, just like her siblings.

The other photo is older. There are two people who are obviously the parents, then five children of various ages. Stiles stares at it for a moment before he picks out Derek, who appears to be about thirteen. The little girl holding on to the father must be Cora.

Stiles is trying to decide which of the other two girls left is Laura when Derek steps up beside him and says, "We got that when we stayed with Marjorie. My mom's great aunt had it in a photo album of the extended Hale family. She gave it to us." Derek reaches out and touches the frame tenderly, and Stiles feels his heart clench in his chest. "It's the only picture we have of them."

When Stiles speaks, his voice is rough. "I didn't know you had other siblings."

Derek nods, a sad smile on his face. "There were five of us." He points to one of the girls. "Laura. Me." Then he points to the other older girl. "My sister, Sara. She was a year younger than me." Next he points to the younger boy. "My younger brother Michael. He was three years younger than me. And Cora."

Stiles doesn't know what to say. Derek's loss feels even more severe in this moment as he stares at the photo with five of the people long gone. Stiles is surprised when Derek's hand lands on his shoulder, and he looks at him in confusion.

"I miss them. Sara and I were really close; she, Laura, and I spent all our time together. Michael and Cora were closer in age and the babies, so they were really close." He sighs. "But I'm glad we have this. It helps. Before I had this..." Derek trails off, and Stiles glances at him. His face is drawn, pinched in conflicting emotions, but Stiles understands.

"You'd started to forget what they looked like, didn't you?"

Derek nods. "How could I forget? They were my family, my Pack."

"Sometimes the memories of my mother don't match the photos of her," Stiles shares. "My dad hid all her pictures after she died. It took a long time to look at a photo of her again. The first time I looked at one, there were things I had forgotten, like the exact shape of her eyes, the exact way her smile looked, and even the length of her hair and how it curled."

Derek's hand remains on Stiles' shoulder, and Stiles tries to rein in his wildly spiraling emotions. To lighten the mood, Stiles points to the pictures of Jackson. "Narcissist much?"

Derek laughs. "You'd be surprised how often he takes photos. He and Cora drive me crazy taking selfies everywhere we go."

"I feel honored I made it to your bookcase," Stiles says, pointing to the lacrosse photo.

"Which one are you?" Derek asks, and Stiles points to him and Scott over on the side in the back, barely visible and almost hidden behind the other players.

"Very noticeable. A high place of honor, obviously."

Derek smiles and then walks towards the kitchen area. Stiles takes a final glance at the photos before following Derek into the kitchen.

"So," Stiles asks as he pokes around the tiny kitchen by opening cabinets and peeking inside. "What's for dinner?"

"How do you feel about manicotti?"

"I love manicotti," Stiles says. "I don't know how you make it though. Seems a bit fancier than spaghetti."

Derek smiles and steps closer to Stiles as he opens the refrigerator and starts pulling out ingredients. Stiles glances curiously at the bowl Derek set on the counter. "No way."

Derek's brows furrow in question as he carries the rest of the ingredients over to the counter and reaches down to pull something from a lower cabinet. "What?"

"You made homemade pasta?" Stiles glances at the pasta machine. "Did you do this? Or was it Jackson? Some fancy thing he learned in Britain? Oh god, Jackson making pasta. I think my brain just short-circuited."

"Jackson didn't make it," Derek says as he tears off part of the dough. "I did."

"Brain still short-circuiting."

"Shut up and come over here." Stiles joins Derek at the counter, brain still reeling from the image of Derek Hale making pasta from scratch. "I'm going to put you on noodle duty. You need to put the dough through this machine a couple of times, making the noodles thinner each time. Can you do that?"

Stiles eyes the contraption skeptically. "You really trust me with this thing?"

"It's just a pasta machine. It's not like you'll lose a finger."

"You'd be surprised."

"No, I really wouldn't be, but I'm willing to take a chance." Stiles frowns at Derek, who's smirking. "It's easy. I'll show you." Derek shows Stiles how to make the pasta noodles, so Stiles carefully tries to get them right, or as close to right, as he can. Derek starts mixing things in a bowl for the filling.

"I didn't know you cooked," Stiles says after a few moments of turning the little crank as the dough flattens through the machine.

Derek shrugs. "I enjoy it. Laura hated to cook, and she was terrible at it. Cora and Jackson both cook sometimes, too, but I do most of the cooking. I like cooking for them."

Stiles grins and says, "Is that an Alpha-kind of thing, since you're kind of the Alpha here?" Derek shrugs. "Or is it a big brother thing?"

"Maybe. I've never really thought about it."

"Maybe it's just a Derek thing," Stiles says.

When Stiles has a few really long pieces of pasta, Derek starts cutting and trimming them into small squares. Then, he places the noodles into water for a few moments before taking them out and laying them on a baking sheet.

"I feel like I'm not really helping," Stiles says as Derek spoons filling onto one of the squares.

"You're doing one of the most important parts," Derek says. "I hate flattening the pasta."

"It's kinda fun," Stiles says as he turns the small crank. "Kind of soothing."

"You're so weird."

"Dude, you make your own pasta, you don't get to judge." Derek laughs as he rolls one of the filled noodles into a long manicotti roll. "That looks perfect. Of course you make perfect pasta."

"Of course."

Stiles kicks out at Derek, who easily dodges. Stiles laughs as he finishes flattening the last piece of dough through the machine.

*

The kitchen is filled with the scent of Stiles' happiness. It's almost intoxicating. Derek feels giddy, not only because of the smell, but because Stiles is here, in his home. And he seems impressed with Derek's culinary skills, which has Derek nearly strutting around with his chest puffed out. He tries to rein it in and act normally, though, just so he doesn't end up making a fool out of himself.

Stiles helps him roll the manicotti when he's finished with the pasta. Stiles grumbles because he tears the pasta when he rolls his first one since he'd filled it too full, but Derek tells him to place it in the pan anyway. "They don't have to be perfect," he says.

"Yours are."

"I've done this before."

"No, that's not it. You're quite possibly the most aggravating individual I have ever known."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Haha," Stiles says sarcastically as he starts carefully rolling the next manicotti.

They're standing close, so close that Derek can feel Stiles' arms bumping against his own as they work. The radio is quietly playing in the background as they continuing rolling. It's so domestic that Derek almost reaches over and takes Stiles' hand or kisses his forehead.

This feels so right, and Derek has to push all his feelings down because he knows that this actually isn't right. Stiles doesn't feel the same way about him, and Derek knows that the thing Stiles needs now is a friend. And Derek is okay with that.

He'll be anything Stiles needs him to be if that means he can be around him.

When Derek pulls the tomato sauce from the fridge, Stiles groans. "Are you serious? Homemade tomato sauce, too?"

Derek feels himself flush in embarrassment. "I like it better."

"Well, duh. Of course homemade sauce is better. You're ridiculous. Ridiculous!"

"If I knew you'd be so opposed to my food, I wouldn't have invited you." Derek spreads the marinara sauce over the manicotti while Stiles sprinkles fresh mozzarella on top.

"Oh, I'm not complaining. I know it's gonna be amazing. I just can't believe you cook. Is there anything you don't do, superwolf?"

Derek shakes his head and fights down an embarrassed grin. "Laundry. And mopping. I really fucking hate mopping."

Stiles snorts as Derek puts the tray into the oven. "I'm trying to imagine you mopping, and it's hilarious."

"Shut up," Derek growls, but it's playful, and he thumps Stiles on the ear as he passes. Stiles hisses in pain and protests loudly, but Derek just grins.

They watch TV as they wait for the manicotti to finish, then they eat it on the couch. Stiles doesn't ask where Cora and Jackson are, and Derek hopes it's not too obvious that he conveniently invited Stiles over when they weren't around.

He knew that the moment Stiles and Cora were in the same room, they'd be inseparable, and Derek didn't want to share Stiles' attention. He's thrilled Cora and Stiles are such good friends - even more glad they are just good friends instead of a couple - but tonight he just wanted to spend some time with Stiles without them interfering.

When Stiles finishes, he sets the plate on the coffee table and then leans back against the sofa. He stretches his long legs and rubs his belly. "Oh my god, Derek. Just...oh my god. That was the best meal I've ever had."

"It wasn't that good."

"It was pretty fucking good. I take back every rude thing I said about you cooking, as long as you cook for me from now on."

Derek forces himself not to preen under the praise.

They're still letting their food settle when the front door opens, and Cora and Jackson enter. They look between Derek and Stiles. Cora grins and Jackson rolls his eyes.

"What are you two doing?" Cora asks as she drops into the empty armchair. Jackson disappears into the kitchen.

"Just finished eating dinner," Derek replies.

"No one ever told me Derek was like a culinary genius. He made manicotti, and it was freaking delicious."

Derek's ears burn as Cora looks at him sharply. "You made manicotti?"

"Yeah."

Stiles glances between them. "What? What's wrong with the manicotti?"

"Nothing," Cora says, shooting Derek a knowing glance.

"How was Malia?" Derek asks, desperately trying to change the subject.

"Malia?" Stiles asks, shooting straight up. He turns to Cora, interest obviously piqued. "You talk to her?"

"Yeah," Cora says as Jackson comes back into the room with a plate loaded with manicotti.

"I go see her once a week," Jackson explains as he takes a seat on the couch beside Derek.

"Why?" Stiles asks.

Derek glances at Jackson. He forgot that Stiles doesn't know, that none of the McCall Pack does. Jackson doesn't look phased, though. "She's my half-sister."

Stiles sputters, arms flailing around. "What? Come again?"

"Are you deaf?" Jackson snaps, and Derek glares at him. Jackson rolls his eyes and ignores Derek. "She's my sister."

"How?"

"Peter," Derek answers.

"PETER IS YOUR FATHER?" Stiles exclaims, but then his face gets that look it does when the wheels are turning and he's figuring things out. "Huh."

"Jackson's about a year younger than Malia," Derek explains. "His mom was a human. After the debacle with the Desert Wolf, Mom apparently gave Jackson up for adoption and took Peter and his mom's memories, too."

"Damn," Stiles says.

Derek remembers when he found out that Jackson was their cousin. It was an accident, really, that they found out at all. They'd been staying with Marjorie and one of their distant relatives had mentioned Peter's kid. The woman she described who carried the child hadn't been the Desert Wolf, but a tall blonde woman with bright blue eyes. The more Derek thought about it, thought about the connection he'd felt to Jackson, Jackson's obsession and desire to be a wolf, the shared Pack memories Jackson had, even the form he took after he was bitten, it made complete sense.

When Derek found Jackson in London, he just knew. He felt the familial and Pack connection in every part of himself, and his wolf instinctually connected to Jackson's. He'd felt a similar connection to Malia when he'd met her, though weaker. If he'd been thinking more clearly when he turned Jackson, he might have known then. But Derek fucked up a lot back then, and this was only one of those things.

"My mind is blown," Stiles says after a few quiet moments. "Like, I can't process that Jackson is actually a fucking Hale!"

Jackson rolls his eyes as he swallows. "Too much for your itty bitty pea-sized brain?" Derek sighs in resignation. If Jackson and Stiles ever started getting along, Derek thinks he might eat his own tail. "That doesn't give you permission to want to bone me, though, Stilinski, so keep it in your pants."

Derek groans and Cora tosses a water bottle at Jackson's head. He sputters and curses at her, and she flicks him off. Stiles doesn't seem to have noticed any of it, though.

Stiles' leg is bouncing quickly, too quickly. Derek knows it's a defensive, nervous habit. He looks like he's lost in his own thoughts, and after another moment, he asks, "How is she?"

Jackson shrugs. "Fine."

"That's it?" Stiles asks. Jackson shoots him a look.

"She's living about seventy miles north," Cora tells Stiles. Stiles' scent changes, and Derek can't quite figure out what it means. Cora smiles at him. "She's good. Really good."

"How does she feel about having a douchebag for a brother?" Stiles shoots at Jackson.

"We get along great." Jackson gives Stiles a shit-eating grin.

"She tried to kill him the first time she met him," Derek tells Stiles. "Cora had to hold her back."

Stiles laughs with glee. "I knew there was a reason I liked her."

"She showed Jackson up again today," Cora grins as she slouches down in the chair.

"Hey!" Jackson shouts. "It's not my fault she lived as a coyote for half her life. That doesn't make her better."

"What are you talking about?" Stiles asks.

Derek reaches out and squeezes the back of Jackson's neck reassuringly, and then leaves his hand there. He doesn't miss Stiles' thoughtful look when Jackson pushes into Derek's touch. "Jackson and Cora are learning how to turn into wolves."

"What? No way!" Stiles exclaims. "How fucking badass is that? But I thought you were the only one who could."

"It's a Hale trait," Derek says as he drops his hand but leaves his arm touching Jackson. "It's why I could eventually do it. It's why Jackson could turn into the kanima. They'll be able to do it one day."

Cora looks at Jackson. "I'll just be able to do it before Jackson."

"Fuck off, Cora." Jackson gets up from the couch and storms towards the back of the cabin.

"Cora," Derek admonishes.

Cora rolls her eyes. "Sorry, Dad."

"You know how he is about turning," Derek says quietly. "You're not helping."

"If he can't take some good-natured teasing, then he needs to get over it." She gets up from the chair and walks behind the couch to ruffle Stiles' hair. "See you later, loser."

"Charming."

Cora burps loudly, then grins. "That's me."

Stiles laughs as he turns back to Derek. "Want help with the dishes? I should probably get back soon. Got work in the morning."

"I'll get them."

"Are you sure? I don't mind."

"Stiles, I have a dishwasher. It's fine."

Stiles nods, then stands up. Derek walks him out and stops on the porch. Stiles stops, too. "So, Jackson. Wow."

"He's never met Peter," Derek tells him. "We don't know where Peter is or even if he's still alive."

"Good riddance."

Derek frowns and stuffs his hands into his pockets. He's tried to hate Peter, but he just can't. His feelings for his uncle are complicated, and he doesn't feel like dealing with them tonight.

"Is that why he's in your Pack?" Stiles asks. He's watching Derek seriously, all humor and levity gone. It makes Derek uncomfortable at the same time it draws him towards Stiles. The way Stiles is looking at him like he's trying to stare right into Derek's soul, trying to get behind Derek's shields and figure him out. He doesn't know why Stiles even cares that much about him and his Pack.

Derek stares out at the dark night. The moon is almost full, only a few days away. "I wasn't sure at first, until I went to London and saw him again. It was..." He sighs and looks at Stiles. "Finding him and trying to make amends was something I had to do. I never thought he'd actually want to be in a Pack with me and Cora. All three of us knew it when we got together, that we were family."

"How?" Stiles asks, eyes wide with curiosity.

Derek shrugs. "I'm not sure. Pack thing, I guess. But we all felt it. It was kind of incredible, actually. Jackson wasn't part of a Pack in London, and he joined us."

"But why?" Stiles asks. "I mean, it's Jackson. He didn't even know you."

Derek shrugs. "No wolf wants to be alone, you know that. He told me he thought about joining other Packs, but nothing ever felt right. Not until he was with me and Cora."

"Huh." Stiles glances out at the woods thoughtfully.

"He's not that bad," Derek says, kicking at Stiles' shoe with his own. "Though, you two seem to have quite an aversion for each other."

Stiles gives him a wide grin. "It's a gift." Derek rolls his eyes. More seriously, Stiles asks, "Did you try to find Isaac, too?"

Derek shouldn't be surprised that Stiles would know that about him. For all of Stiles' Stiles-ness, he's probably the sharpest person Derek knows, including Lydia Martin. "Yeah."

"And?"

"I never found him," Derek replies quietly. That pain is still fresh; there are still holes inside him where his Betas belong.

"That sucks."

"I don't think he or Chris Argent want to be found."

"Chris comes around if Scott calls," Stiles tells him. "He's helped us a couple times. But we haven't seen him in like a year."

Derek nods, and they slip into silence. Finally, Derek clears his throat and says, "If, ah, if you want, I can take you to see Malia." The words feel like rocks in Derek's mouth, and he doesn't want to offer, but Stiles and Malia have a history. He may want to see her again.

Stiles thinks about it for a moment, but then shakes his head. "No. We broke up a long time ago. I'm not really interested in seeing her again. I'm just glad she's happy, and that she's not alone."

Derek nods, trying to ignore the relief he feels. "She's doing well in her new home."

"Good." Stiles nods his head. "That's really good." He takes a few steps down the porch, then turns around to face Derek. "Thanks for dinner."

"Anytime."

Stiles grins widely. "Don't say that unless you mean it, because I will definitely take you up on it. You're gonna get tired of me hanging around."

Derek smirks. "I'm already tired of you hanging around."

"But not for the food." Stiles laughs and waves as he goes over to the Jeep.

Derek goes back inside the house when Stiles is inside the Jeep, and he finds Cora and Jackson on the couch. They're watching television, so Derek gathers the dirty dishes and goes into the kitchen.

"You made him Mom's manicotti," Cora says from the living room.

Derek sighs. "Yes."

"What's that mean?" Jackson asks.

"It means that Derek really, really likes Stiles."

"You have terrible taste in men," Jackson says.

Derek doesn't respond, just keeps loading the dishwasher.

*

Weeks pass.

Stiles' nightmares come and go. He tries to keep them from his dad, but by the way his dad looks at him in the mornings, he knows his dad comes in and hears him struggling during the night. Then one night, Stiles wakes up, screaming at the top of his lungs.

It's everywhere. Blood, death, pain. He thrashes around on the bed, managing to roll off and drop to the floor to get away from him. He can see his metal grin, just grinning

grinning

grinning laughing taunting tempting

above his bed. He's crab-walking backwards, muttering and crying, when he knocks into something solid. He yelps, screaming as he flips over and covers his face as he scoots away.

"Stiles." His dad's voice breaks through the fog, and Stiles tentatively lowers his arms to look at him. The sheriff is crouched down in front of him, holding his hand out like he wants to touch Stiles but isn't sure. Stiles blinks a few times, trying to clear his head and get things into perspective.

He drops his hands and counts his fingers.

onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

The sheriff sits back onto the floor and sighs as he runs a hand over his face. "That wasn't okay."

"No," Stiles replies, voice hoarse and rough.

"Are you alright, son? Is there something going on you're not telling me? This," he points to Stiles, "this isn't good. It's worse, a lot worse. You weren't even having nightmares for awhile."

Stiles rests his elbows on his knees and runs his hands through his hair. "I know, Dad. And no, there's nothing going on. The nightmares are just...worse."

The sheriff sighs. "Should you talk to Deaton? Just to make sure everything's okay?"

Stiles looks at his father sharply. "What, that I'm not being possessed by a psychotic demon again?"

The sheriff frowns. "That's not what I meant, and you know that."

"Yeah, I know, sorry, Dad." Stiles hangs his head. A moment later, a warm comforting hand rests on the back of his skull. Stiles feels lighter at the touch. His dad rubs his fingers along his scalp soothingly, and Stiles breathes and tries to relax into this moment.

He's safe, his dad is here, he's fine.

"So," his dad says finally, removing his hand and pushing himself to his feet with a grunt. Stiles glances up at him. "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling like some Game of Thrones."

Stiles snorts and glances at the clock. "Dad, it's like three a.m."

He looks seriously at Stiles and says, "Winter is coming."

Stiles bursts out laughing and takes his hand when his dad extends his to help him up. "Fine. Game of Thrones. Nothing like gory violence and gratuitous boobs to make me feel better."

The sheriff gives Stiles a flat look before walking out of his room. "I just really want to find out what Ned Stark does to that Lannister lady. I like him. I think he's my favorite character."

Stiles laughs all the way down the stairs.

*

Lydia presses her toes against Stiles' calves, and he groans and moves them. "Stop. Your feet are freezing." They're laying on Stiles' bed, watching some Oscar-nominated film Lydia brought over. Stiles had told her it was a good idea because he'd be asleep in no time.

"I know that, Stiles," she says like he's an idiot. "That's why I'm trying to warm them up."

"Get some socks. There are some in one of the drawers."

Lydia scrunches her nose. "Ew. I love you, but your and Scott's definition of clean isn't the same as mine. There's no telling what's on those socks."

He kicks at her legs as she tries to bury her feet under his legs. "Dude, seriously, Lydia."

"Shut up, Stiles."

Finally, he reaches down and wraps the sheets and blankets around her feet so they'll stop touching him. Immediately, she wiggles her foot out from the blankets and pokes Stiles' ankle. He glares at her, and she laughs.

"You're ridiculous, Lydia Martin. Like, completely."

Lydia rolls her eyes and snuggles closer to Stiles. "I like irritating you," she whispers as Stiles slings his arm around her, eyes still on the television. He lifts his hand and ruffles her hair, which messes up her ponytail.

"Weak," she says. He laughs, and she reaches up and kisses his cheek.

They both shout in alarm when they hear a loud thump at the window. They glance over, and Stiles says, "What the hell?"

"Is that Derek?" Lydia asks. Stiles gets out of bed and walks over to the window where, yes in fact, Derek is hanging on to the windowsill. "What is Derek doing at your window?"

"I don't know," Stiles replies as he lifts the window. Because he has no clue why Derek is at his window. Though that doesn't keep his pulse from racing slightly when he sees Derek's face. "Are you insane?" he asks Derek as Derek glides over the threshold in one smooth motion, landing near silently on the floor. "What are you doing hanging off the side of my house? Because I'm not sure what to tell Mrs. Murphy if she goes gossiping to the neighborhood. That woman has binoculars and sees everything, dude."

Derek glares at him, then turns to glare at Lydia. Stiles is really, really confused about why Derek is in his room in the middle of the night, glaring. Derek from before would have probably shown up and glared (no, Stiles thinks, old Derek never would have shown up at all. Not after that one time.) Derek from now doesn't glare at Stiles - well, glare at Stiles and mean it. But he means it right now. Stiles had just seen him that morning at Home Depot, and he was fine. Sure, they'd teased each other relentlessly as they walked around Home Depot for like an hour, but Derek had seemed fine when he left with his purchases for the house.

"What's going on here?" Derek asks, crossing his arms as he looks disapprovingly at Lydia.

"Huh?" Stiles asks, glancing back at Lydia. Lydia's staring at Derek with that scary, calculating look she gets. "Am I missing something?"

"So Stiles, too?" Derek asks. "Does Jackson know? He hates the idea that you're dating Parrish, so if he finds out you're sleeping with Stiles - "

"Whoa, whoa," Stiles exclaims, jumping in front of Derek with his arms out. "What?"

"First off," Lydia starts, throwing the covers back and jumping out of bed. "I don't have to justify who I'm dating or fucking to you because it's none of your business." She puts her hands on her hips and glares up at him. "And it's none of Jackson's, either. We're not exclusive, and he knows that. Which is also none of your business. Who and what I do is my business."

"It's my business when it concerns my Pack," Derek says. "I can smell Stiles all over you." Derek waves a hand at her. "You're wearing his clothes!"

She narrows her eyes. "Don't put your issues onto me, Derek Hale." She shoots him a weighted look, and Stiles glances between them in confusion. "And don't use Jackson as a scapegoat."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Derek growls.

Lydia huffs in disbelief. "Right. Keep telling yourself that, Derek. Just remember, I'm not an idiot." She moves for the door, then glances back over her shoulder to look at them. "I'll let you two sort out whatever it is you need to." She spins around and walks out of the door, slamming it behind her.

"Dude, what the hell was that?" Stiles asks Derek. "What crawled up your ass and died?"

"Are you sleeping with her?" Derek asks. Stiles notices that his jaw is so tight that it looks like it might crack. He doesn't understand why Derek cares that much about Jackson and Lydia's relationship.

"What? Lydia? No!" Stiles exclaims. "I mean, yes, technically we are sleeping together, but it's just sleeping. No sex. I have not had sex with Lydia."

Derek seems to relax a bit, but his face is still pinched. "Why is she wearing your clothes?"

Stiles looks at Derek like he's grown another head. "Uh, she came over after her date with Jackson, and she didn't have anything to sleep in."

"Do she do that often? Sleep over?"

"Why does it even matter?" Stiles asks, and Derek just looks at him expectantly. Stiles sighs. "Yes. It helps, with the nightmares. Both of us. She gets them, too." Stiles runs a hand through his hair. "Look, you can tell Jackson or whatever that I'm not in love with her anymore. I haven't been for a long time. He doesn't have to worry about me, I'm not a threat, never was where she was concerned."

Derek seems to relax even more, and Stiles is just really confused. "Why are you even here? Are you stalking Lydia for Jackson? Because, I gotta be honest dude, that is some fucked up creeper stalker shit."

"No," Derek spits out. "No one is checking up on Lydia. I came to see you."

"Me?" Stiles asks. "Why would you come to see me?"

"I need your help with something."

Stiles shrugs and runs a hand over his face. "Yeah, okay. Random, but okay. What?"

The door opens a moment later, and Lydia sticks her head in. "I'm gonna go," she says, looking between them.

"No, it's cool," Stiles says. "He wants some help. You'd probably be more help than me."

Lydia exchanges a look with Derek, then shakes her head. "No, I think I'll leave you two to it."

"Lydia," Derek says, walking over and facing her. He braces himself like he's about to throw himself in front of a train. "I'm sorry."

Stiles gapes at the back of Derek's head, and Lydia eyes him carefully. "Fine. Just don't do it again." Derek nods, and then Lydia nods. Stiles wonders if he's sleeping because Derek Hale just apologized.

Lydia waves at Stiles and smiles, then leaves them alone. Derek turns towards him, and Stiles stares at him. The seconds tick by, and it becomes uncomfortable.

"Well," Stiles says, finally breaking the silence as he goes over to his desk and drops into the chair. "This is awkward."

Derek rolls his eyes and shrugs off his leather jacket. Stiles takes a moment to appreciate the way the navy Henley pulls across Derek's shoulders and biceps as Derek lays the jacket on the bed beside him and sits on the edge. "Scott told you about what's been going on, right?"

Stiles nods as he chews on the corner of his thumbnail. "Yeah, that some other Pack warned you about some crazy Omegas on a rampage."

"They're getting closer," Derek says, frowning. He digs into his jacket pocket and pulls out his cell phone. Standing, he swipes his thumb across the screen, then flips it around at Stiles. "Jackson found this tonight while out on patrol."

Stiles frowns as he looks at the photo. It's a symbol with a lots of points, some dots, and a few curved lines. He spins around in the chair and boots up his laptop. "Okay. Where did he find this?"

"Outside our territory lines," Derek explains as he leans against Stiles' desk, and Stiles tries not to think about how close Derek is or that his crotch is like, right there. In tight jeans. "He and Cora were chasing a mountain lion - "

"What? Why?" Stiles exclaims.

Derek levels him with a look and continues without replying to Stiles' outburst. "And they hadn't realized how far they'd gone until they lost it. They were miles north by that point."

Stiles nods as he starts typing on his laptop. "Anything else?"

Derek swipes his thumb across the screen to another picture. "This."

Stiles studies it for a moment, brain whirring through information as he tries to place it. They look like runes, but they're nothing like the runes he knows. They might not be runes at all, maybe some kind of symbols. But they look familiar. "I've seen this before," he mutters.

Derek raises his brows. "Where?"

"I can't remember." Stiles spins around in his chair and grabs an old, worn tome from the middle of a stack of books on the floor he borrowed from Deaton. He sets the book aside as he starts scrolling through web links. "That it?"

"Cora said she smelled something weird, but couldn't place it."

"Okay." Derek stays perched on the edge of Stiles' desk while Stiles works. Stiles has to force himself to focus on the research, not on Derek scrolling through his phone, his leg and arm bumping Stiles occasionally.

After about half an hour, Stiles makes a triumphant sound. "Finally!" Derek gets off the desk and moves behind Stiles, pressing against him and leaning over his shoulder to look at the laptop over his shoulder. Stiles feels himself flush, but he can't help leaning back into Derek's warmth, his skin singing where Derek's touches his. "Pretty sure that's it."

Derek glances at his phone, then back at the screen. "Yeah. It looks like whoever did it was in a hurry, but yeah."

"Look at the way these lines are," Stiles says, grabbing Derek's phone and enlarging part of the picture. "I don't think they're very good at this. Maybe they just learned it or something." He turns back to the screen, puzzled. "But who would carve protection symbols into the trees?"

Derek doesn't respond, just keeps staring at the screen thoughtfully.

"Could it be the other Pack? The one who lives in that territory?"

"Maybe," Derek says, but he doesn't look convinced. "I've never seen this symbol. It's not one Packs normally use."

Stiles grabs the book he set aside earlier and starts to flip through it. Derek goes back to staring at his phone.

Stiles doesn't realize he's fallen asleep until someone shakes him awake gently. His head slips from where it was propped on his hand and he jumps slightly.

"Come on," Derek says softly as he tugs on the underside of Stiles' bicep. "You should get to bed." Derek's voice slides over Stiles like a warm blanket, and Stiles wants to curl up inside it and sleep forever with Derek's arms around him and his voice in his ear.

"No," Stiles protests, but he lets Derek lift him before he collapses against him. And wow, Derek is warm and comfortable and his voice is nice and he smells really fucking good. He snuggles closer against him as Derek chuckles quietly. "What?"

"You think I smell good?"

"Fuck, I said that out loud, didn't I?"

"Yep." Stiles can hear the smile in Derek's voice, and it makes him smile against Derek's shirt. He likes this voice, Derek's secret soft voice.

"You should smile more."

"What?" Derek asks as he moves to put Stiles on the bed. Stiles closes his hand in the material of Derek's shirt, refusing to let go. Derek's leaning over him now, his knee on the bed with one hand by Stiles' shoulder and the other by his head, and Stiles just stares up into Derek's face. He's scowling, but Derek doesn't look unhappy. Actually, Derek hasn't looked unhappy since he's returned.

Neither one of them move, and Stiles barely breathes as Derek stares down at him, his eyes wide and unreadable. Stiles is fully awake now, and he wonders what's happening, wonders what he even wants.

Stiles finally pulls his eyes away from Derek's and instead looks at his mouth. He reaches up his free hand and pokes the side of Derek's mouth. "You should smile more. You smile more than you used to, but not nearly enough. You should smile all the time."

"Why?" Derek asks, eyebrows drawing together.

"Because of the way your face looks when you smile."

"And how does it look, Stiles?"

Stiles flicks his eyes back up to Derek's, his fingers lingering on Derek's scruffy jaw. "Like sunshine."

Derek breathes a few times through his nose, and then he rolls his eyes and starts to stand. But Stiles doesn't let him, instead drops his hand to Derek's shoulder and holds tighter to his shirt. "You don't have to go."

"Yes, I really do."

"You cost me my sleeping buddy," Stiles points out. "It's only right that you make up for it."

"I'm not sleeping over, Stiles."

Stiles really doesn't want to be alone. The nightmares have been really bad and he's afraid to go to sleep. But he doesn't want to tell Derek this; he's too embarrassed. Plus, he just really really doesn't want Derek to go.

He drops his hands and rolls over onto his side, back to Derek. "Never mind. It was a stupid idea. Good night."

He hears Derek move towards the window, and he ignores the tightening in his chest. But when he doesn't hear the window go up, he glances over his shoulder. Derek is standing by the window, looking like he's one good scare from hiding under the desk. "What?" Stiles asks.

"I'm leaving before your dad comes home," Derek says, tossing his jacket onto the computer chair as he toes off his shoes. "And if you snore, I'm gone."

"I don't snore," Stiles grumbles, but he turns his face into the pillow to hide his smile.

Derek stretches out on top of the comforter, then turns away so his back is to Stiles. He doesn't say anything, so Stiles doesn't say anything. The tightness starts to dissipate, and something in Stiles that has felt restless and uncomfortable for awhile seems to finally settle with Derek there beside him. He doesn't think about it, just tries to wrap his head around the fact that Derek stayed, that Derek is here.

Stiles moves around, trying to get comfortable, and ends up with his back and one leg flush against Derek's. He waits for a few moments with bated breath for Derek to tell him to move, punch him, or bite his head off. When he does none of those things, Stiles relaxes into the bed and drifts to sleep.

*

"Your dad is going to find out," Derek mumbled against Stiles' mouth. Stiles refused to stop kissing him, despite Derek trying to leave for the past ten minutes. He kept his arms around Derek's body tightly, even as Derek inched towards the window.

"He's not," Stiles disagreed and then tugged Derek's bottom lip between his teeth. "Plus, you can hear him when he comes home."

Derek sighed and pulled away from Stiles, his eyes faintly glowing red around the edges. "I need to get home and check on Isaac."

"Isaac's at Scott's." Stiles hooked his fingers in the belt loops of Derek's jeans and started walking back towards the bed. Derek didn't put up much fight. "Scott texted me earlier and asked if I wanted to hang."

Derek frowned in disapproval. "You should have gone, Stiles. You should spend time with your friends, not me."

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Shut up."

"I'm serious. You're sixteen, you should - "

Stiles groaned. "Don't give me that spiel again." He dropped onto the bed and nosed at Derek's fly. Derek's hand slid into his hair, his eyes falling shut. "And I don't want you to be alone tonight."

Derek's eyes opened, and he looked down at Stiles, studying him carefully. He tilted Stiles' chin up with his fingers, then bent down to kiss him softly. "I love you," he whispered against Stiles' mouth.

Stiles wakes with a start, his brain chasing the threads of the dream. He glances over beside him, where Derek is asleep.

Fuck! What was that dream? Why had he dreamed about Derek? He scrubs at his eyes as he tries to remember everything. He can only remember snatches of it, being in his room, trying to convince Derek to stay, kissing him...Derek saying I love you.

Asking Derek to stay the night had been a dumb idea, obviously. Stiles drops his head to the side and studies Derek's profile in the dark of the bedroom. He looks young, relaxed, and peaceful. He's switched sides, so that he's facing Stiles now, his hands resting on the bed between them.

Stiles sighs and turns away from Derek. He doesn't want to think about that dream. At least it wasn't a nightmare, he thinks. Despite knowing it's a bad idea, he moves back slightly so he's touching Derek again, and falls back asleep.

*

Derek wakes up with his face pressed into Stiles' hair and Stiles nuzzled up against him, head fitted perfectly under his chin. And Derek's really hard. Fuck, morning wood. He moves his hips away before they can accidentally rub against any part of Stiles, then extracts the rest of himself as carefully as possible. Stiles snuffles quietly in his sleep, then unconsciously moves into the warmth Derek left behind.

Derek sighs. Fuck his life. Fuck it all to hell.

He stares at Stiles for a few moments, eyes tracing over the fan of his lashes, the delicate line of his cheeks, his round open mouth. Stiles' hair is mussed and sticking up, the sleeve of his shirt pushed up to his shoulder.

Derek wishes he could stay in bed with Stiles, hold him as he nuzzles into his neck, and kiss him awake. But he can't. He shouldn't even had stayed the night, but Stiles had looked so small, his eyes full of fear, with a faint scent of something Derek thought might be longing and want. Derek tried to make himself go out that window, but he just couldn't.

Finally, he turns away, grabs his jacket, and lets himself out of Stiles' bedroom door. The house is quiet, the sheriff still at work, so he lets himself out the back door and then jogs around the house to his car.

When he gets home, he's glad Cora and Jackson are still asleep because he doesn't want to explain where he's been, defend himself, or see their knowing looks. Inside his room, he undresses quickly and crashes onto his bed.

He can still smell Stiles all around him, and it makes him smile as he drifts off.

*

When Derek wakes up, he stretches and remains in bed, his face pressed into the pillow. He can't stop thinking about Stiles. About the irrational flare of jealousy he felt when he thought Stiles and Lydia were fucking, the way his wolf growled and howled at the smell of his scent clinging to her skin. It took everything he had not to shift and fight her for Stiles.

That wasn't like Derek. Derek didn't react like that, not about people he was interested in. Derek knows he was a complete dick to Lydia and out of line, and he just hopes she accepts his apology. But the possessiveness he felt about Stiles, that Stiles was his...

Derek shakes his head and sighs. Then, the way Stiles had looked up at him, like he was looking at all of Derek, not just his face or his body, that he was looking past the closed off exterior and mistakes, that he was seeing Derek for all he was and he still wanted to be there.

Derek is an idiot. He should have fled that room, run away from Stiles and never looked back. But something just kept him from doing that; he just feels so drawn to Stiles like he needs him.

Derek rolls up and grabs his cell phone as he rubs his eyes. It's later than he usually sleeps, just after ten, and he's got several messages from Stiles. He swipes the screen and tries not to be nervous as he reads the texts, but his heart pounds in his chest anyway.

-Thanks for staying last night.
-You didn't have to sneak away, though. You could have stayed, or woken me up. Dad asked why the back door was unlocked, and I fumbled through a rambling lie that he believed. That's totally your fault btw.
-I hope it wasn't too weird when you woke up. It was weird, wasn't it? Totally weird. :/
-Look, I'm not crazy or anything. My nightmares are just worse than they have been. Lydia sleeps over bc it helps when I'm not alone. Jackson doesn't have anything to be jealous about.
-Yesterday was a bad day. I just didn't want to be alone. I hope that doesn't freak you out. Bc if so, I'm sorry. Don't hate me.

As Derek reads the texts, he has a strong urge to wrap Stiles into his arms and kiss him until he's settled and relaxed and happy. He texts Stiles back immediately.

-It's fine.

He frowns at the text. He knows he should say something else, but he doesn't know what.

His phone chimes while he's in the bathroom, and he reads Stiles' return text when he's done.

-That's it? Wow, I mean, I know you're not a talker, but I expected more. Are you not a morning person? Do you need your morning coffee? Protein shake with wheatgrass and extra protein with a side of protein? Do you need to catch an early morning squirrel?

Derek rolls his eyes and huffs out a laugh. He starts texting back as he leaves the bedroom to grab a towel from the linen closet in the hall.

-You've thought a lot about my morning routine.

-It's not hard to imagine. Have you run your marathon yet this morning?

-No, I'm waiting until after I eat the grizzly bear Jackson brought home with my tub of protein powder.

Stiles responds with a line of laughing emojis, then texts, A joke. I'm impressed.

-I live for your approval.

-You're on fire this morning.

-Maybe you rubbed off on me in your sleep.

Derek starts the water for his shower and grabs his phone when it chimes again. This time, there's a few surprised, wide-eyed emojis. Then, I don't think you thought that text through.

Derek's brows scrunch in confusion and he rereads the text. Then his eyes fly wide open, and he quickly types out Fuck and hits send.

-That's not what I meant. At all.

-I figured lol but I couldn't let that go.

-Ass.

Stiles sends back a winking emoji. Then, he texts, So, we're okay, then? After last night? No weirdness?

Derek smiles softly to himself, and once again wants to curl his fingers into Stiles' skin and kiss him. We're good.

-Yeah, well, thanks again.
-Have a good day and stuff.

Derek chuckles and sets his phone on the counter as he undresses and steps into the shower, a soft smile still on his face.

*

Cora makes pancakes, eggs, and bacon for breakfast, and they sit on the couch eating as they watch television. When they're finished, Cora returns from the kitchen and drops onto Derek's lap, causing Derek to make a surprised noise. She stretches her legs over Jackson's lap and grabs his arm to pull him closer to her and Derek. Jackson rolls his eyes and looks put out, but he scoots closer anyway.

Derek smiles contently as Cora lays her head on his shoulder and Jackson leans against him. He's surrounded by Pack, and it feels good.

"Tonight's the full moon," Cora says.

"Thanks for the heads up," Derek replies dryly.

Cora bites Derek's shoulder, and he barks out a surprised laugh. "I think we should invite Stiles to run with us."

"What?" Derek exclaims. He can't see Cora's face, so he turns to Jackson, who's trying really hard to look innocent. It's not working. "No."

"Come on, Derek," she says, straightening up so she can look at him. "It'll be fun. You know he'd enjoy it."

"He has his own Pack," Derek points out.

Cora frowns. "That doesn't mean he can't hang out with us," she says. "He wants to be around you, too."

Derek sighs, drops his head back against the couch, and closes his eyes. After a moment, he turns his head and looks at Jackson. "I can't believe you're in on this."

Jackson shrugs. "I don't care one way or another."

Cora punches Jackson in the arm. "He's lying. Listen to his heart, skipping like a motherfucker. He wants you to be happy. He said so."

Derek glances at Jackson, and Jackson glares at Cora. "All I said was that if Derek got laid, maybe he'd stop being such an asshole."

"That's not what you said." Jackson huffs, and Cora says, "He said he thinks being around Stiles makes you happy."

Jackson stares straight ahead and crosses his arms. Derek studies Jackson carefully and asks, "Did you really say that?"

Jackson shrugs and mutters something under his breath, but all Derek catches is, "tolerable when he's around you."

Derek reaches out and claps a hand on Jackson's shoulder. "See, Stiles is even winning you over, Jackson."

Jackson snorts, but doesn't respond. Derek takes that as a win.

*

Derek chickens out. He doesn't call Stiles. So, he's surprised when Stiles sends him a text as he's walking deeper into the Preserve with Cora and Jackson.

Sorry I couldn't make it tonight. But Cora said you will be running in the Preserve, so maybe we'll run into each other. Happy running! It's followed by an emoji of a wolf's head, and Derek rolls his eyes, but smiles anyway.

"You asked Stiles to go with us tonight?" Derek asks Cora.

She shrugs where she's walking ahead of him without turning around. "I knew you wouldn't, so I figured I needed to intervene."

"Cora..."

"He said he'd already made plans with Scott and the others." She turns around and walks backwards. "You snooze you lose, Derek." She gives him a meaningful look, then spins around and takes off into the underbrush. Jackson and Derek don't follow, instead just walk silently through the trees.

After a few minutes, Jackson falls into step beside Derek. Derek's known Jackson long enough to know that he wants to say something, so Derek waits patiently until Jackson feels like speaking.

"Lydia told me about the other night," he finally says. Derek sighs, but remains quiet. "There's nothing going on between her and that waste of space, is there?" he asks. Derek glances over at Jackson, and he's turned in on himself, looking unsure and uncomfortable.

"No," Derek shakes his head, confident about that. "He doesn't feel that way about her."

Jackson nods, then says, "Good. I'd hate to have to kick his ass." Derek rolls his eyes. "I already want to kick that Parrish's guy's ass."

"Parrish is a good guy," Derek counters. Jackson just snorts.

After a moment, Jackson asks slyly, "Did you really get territorial about Stiles?"

"Fuck off."

"I'll never understand your fascination with Stiles."

"Says the man who's still in love with his high school girlfriend."

"Fuck you."

Derek steps closer to bump his shoulder into Jackson's, and Jackson bumps his back with more force than necessary, but he doesn't run or shy away.

Derek glances over at Jackson and says, "Race you to the canyon." Then, he takes off sprinting through the woods. He hears Jackson hot on his heels, because Jackson is fast. He's faster than Derek or Cora, which he never lets them live down. Derek figures that Jackson beating him to the canyon will probably lift his mood, and when he sees Jackson waiting for him at the edge of the canyon, his face smiling and genuinely happy instead of sarcastic or snotty, he knows he did the right thing.

Derek pulls off his shirt and looks at Jackson expectantly. "You should practice shifting. The full moon will help."

"It hasn't before," Jackson argues.

"You've learned more in the last month." Derek pushes his pants down and says, "I expect to see progress tonight," before he lets the wolf overcome him and he shifts.

He drops onto four legs, and he turns his face up towards the moon that's just now visible in the still-light sky and howls. It feels good to be in his wolf form, and he runs towards Jackson and bumps against his legs, nipping at his calves and his hands.

Jackson tries to act unaffected, but he laughs and lets his fingers run along Derek's back as Derek walks around him. Then, Derek takes off into the underbrush, following Cora's scent. He tracks her easily and pounces on her from behind a rock, knocking her onto her back, his paws on her chest.

She curses at him, and he licks her cheek. She reaches up and scratches the side of his neck. "I think I like you better in this form," she says as she pets him, and he nips at her chin roughly. He just looks smugly down at her offended face. He licks her forehead then jumps off of her and bounds through the forest, the sounds of Jackson and Cora's voices warm around him.

Derek runs. He doesn't really have a destination, just decides to stretch his legs and burn off some of his energy. He'll meet back up with Jackson and Cora later to run together under the moon, but now he wants to be alone.

He finds himself at the territory line, and he crosses it to try and find the symbols Jackson and Cora did days ago. He follows the faint scent of their trail, which leads him right to the protection symbol. He sits back on his haunches and tilts his head as he stares at it. It's still not familiar, and he doesn't even know if it's connected. But that, coupled with the runes carved into other trees nearer to the north border of the Hale line, makes it feel less like a coincidence. He stares at the runes, then sniffs around the trees.

Derek smells the scent Cora had picked up on. It feels familiar, but he can't place it, whatever it is. He doesn't know if it's some herb, or the smell of some spell he should know. It doesn't sit well with him, but it's still technically outside his territory, so it's not his problem. Yet.

He turns and runs back into home territory, feeling the threads of his Pack leading him back. They're pulsing strong in the center of his chest and along his limbs, and when he finally reaches them, he barks happily.

Jackson runs over to him and almost barrels into him, but Derek slips aside at the last moment. Cora's on his heels and they're both grinning. Derek looks at them expectantly.

"I did it!" Jackson yells. Derek takes a few steps closer and watches as Jackson's face shifts, his skin growing darker with the excess fur and his features morphing slightly. Even his hands are starting to change appearance. "I finally started to change!"

Derek bumps his head against Jackson's thigh and pushes against Jackson's hand when he drops it onto Derek's head.

"This is brilliant!" Jackson yells as he runs off into the forest. Derek can see the hair appearing and disappearing on his arms. He snorts.

They run for awhile together as a Pack. Derek stays a wolf, and Cora and Jackson howl with him as they make their way through the preserve. Once, they hear an answering howl that Derek is pretty sure belongs to Scott.

A slight breeze starts in the trees, and Derek runs with it, enjoying the chill on his body. Then, he catches a scent on the wind and changes directions as he chases it, ignoring Cora and Jackson's voices calling after him.

Stiles. Stiles. Stiles.

He runs for miles without stop as the scent grows, getting stronger and stronger in his senses. Derek isn't thinking, just running on instinct. His wolf doesn't have the same reservations he does when he's human; his wolf smells Stiles and doesn't stop until he finds him.

Derek breaks through underbrush into a clearing, and the group of people scream. Derek has to dart behind a tree as an object comes flying at him. He growls, his eyes glowing blue.

"Dude, chill out." Stiles. "It's Derek. I'll break your nose if you hit him with an arrow." Derek watches from the trees as Stiles glares at some kid Derek doesn't know. There are others there, too. Danny and Mason, but not Lydia. The four guys are sitting on logs around a small fire.

"How am I supposed to know?" the kid asks.

"Corey, how many times have we been out here on a full moon? Nothing is going to attack us. Pretty sure Scott, Liam, and Hayden have the perimeter secure."

The kid, Corey, points towards Derek growling in the trees. "He got through. He seems like a threat."

Stiles rolls his eyes and stands up. "It's technically his land we're on," Stiles says as he stands up and walks towards Derek. "If you shoot him with an arrow, I'll shoot you with an arrow."

"Real threatening, Stiles," Danny teases easily.

"I'm gonna go hang with Derek because you guys suck!" Stiles calls over his shoulder as he approaches Derek still lingering behind the trees. He glances down at Derek and says, "You did scare the shit out of us, though."

Derek huffs through his nose, the closest thing to a laugh he can manage in this form. He tries not to wag his tail as he turns to lead Stiles through the trees, away from the others. He found Stiles, and Stiles chose to come with him instead of staying with his friends, his Pack.

Derek turns his head up and howls. The answering howl comes from Scott, who's not too far away. Derek's attention is drawn away from that though when Stiles laughs quietly behind him. He looks over his shoulder and waits for Stiles to explain.

"What's the howl for?"

Stiles knows that Derek can't respond, so he trots back over to Stiles and bumps Stiles' leg with his snout. Stiles laughs again and watches Derek with delight. "This is so awesome. You're a wolf. Like, I knew you could turn into a wolf now, but I've never seen it, you know? And it's weird, to think that you're this animal who can't talk, but you're still Derek in there." He shakes his head with a smile and drops his hand, but stops it just before touching Derek. "Can I touch you? Is that weird? Is it - "

Stiles stops talking when Derek pushes up into Stiles' hand. In his wolf form, Derek can smell Stiles' scent so much more strongly than when he's human. Stiles smells so perfect, like cedar and honeysuckle, but also something dark and dangerous, like rain right before a storm. There's that layer of darkness that has accumulated over Stiles, but he smells familiar and comfortable, like something Derek has been searching for all his life.

"Wow, you're soft," Stiles says quietly as he combs his fingers through Derek's fur. Derek growls contently, then he turns his head and licks at Stiles' fingers. Stiles lets out a surprised laugh, then Derek nips gently at his fingers and bounds through the underbrush. He turns around to see if Stiles is following, and when Derek sees he's not, he runs back to him and takes the hem of his shirt between his teeth and tugs lightly. Then, he makes a noise and turns back to walk through the woods.

"You're different like this," Stiles says as he follows. "I think you've said more in the past minute than you've said in the last month."

Derek looks over his shoulder and glares at Stiles. Stiles stumbles, then laughs gleefully. "Oh my god, that was terrifyingly awesome. That was totally a human you expression. Like, I'm kinda terrified." Derek growls and keeps walking as Stiles laughs behind him.

*

Stiles isn't sure why he's stumbling around in the dark after Derek. Wolf!Derek, nonetheless. Derek is a wolf, like an actual wolf. Stiles' mind may actually be blown.

He knew Derek could turn into a wolf, but thinking about it hypothetically and actually experiencing it is two vastly different things. It's weird to look at this beautiful animal and think it's actually Derek in there.

And yes, Derek is a beautiful wolf. Pitch black fur with bright blue eyes. He's stunning. And soft, oh my god, his fur is so soft. Stiles just wants to bury his face into it and go to sleep.

Is that weird? It's probably weird.

Derek's leading him deeper and deeper into the Preserve. He doesn't know where he's going, he's never been this far into the Preserve, even with Scott, but he trusts Derek. So, he follows the path Derek walks, and manages not to trip over anything despite barely being able to see. The moon is a bright silver-white light overhead, but the trees cast shadows all over the ground. Derek must be taking care to choose an easy path for Stiles.

They're walking when Stiles jerks suddenly, feels something tugging at the back of his mind. He stops and looks around, confused. There's a pressure in his head, a loud ringing in his ears, and then -

he's plunging deeper, deeper

underwater, the freezing cold water, cutting, paralyzing him

he can't breathe, there's no air to pull into his lungs, and it goes black

everything is

black

except for silver.

There's always silver glinting in the shadows

grinning, sharp and metallic, mocking mocking, repeating,

let me in, let me in, Stiles.

Open the door.

Let me in.

Let me -

"Stiles!" Someone's shaking him, shaking him so hard that his head is lobbing back and forth on his neck. He inhales sharply, the forest coming into focus, his muttering, the tears on cheeks, Derek's face. "Stiles!" Derek exclaims, worried. "Shit, Stiles? Can you hear me? Stay with me, Stiles, I'm here, you're here, you're safe."

"What?" Stiles glances around, trying to figure out what just happened. His heart is pounding in his chest, and his head feels groggy. He's on his knees in the dirt, Derek crouching in front of him, human not wolf, and - "What the hell, Derek, you're naked!"

Stiles' eyes fly up to Derek's face and he's not thinking about what just happened, he's trying really hard not to look again or think about what he saw. He's thankful that it's so dark that he barely saw anything at all. Derek gives him a fond, exasperated smile.

"You're back. Thank god."

"What are you talking about?" Stiles asks, trying to play it off as he forces himself to look anywhere except at Derek's junk that is right there with nothing covering it. "Why are you naked?"

Derek rolls his eyes and stands, and Stiles yelps as he twists his body to look the other way. The last thing he needs to do is stare at Derek's junk. Derek grabs his hand and tugs him to his feet. "You're an idiot."

"You're still naked."

"I don't transform with clothes on, Stiles," Derek says with a huff. "You stopped walking and zoned out. I shifted back to human when you didn't respond."

Stiles scrubs his hands over his face. "I can't deal with this right now," he mutters. "You're naked. I can't deal with you being naked."

"It's just a cock, Stiles. You have one, too."

"But it's not your cock, connected to you, and yeah, it's no secret I think you're hot, and now you're naked and it's been awhile, Derek, and do I smell like arousal? I bet I smell like - "

Derek cuts in quietly and says, "You smell like anxiety and - " He pauses and sniffs, and Stiles waits, barely breathing. "Something else I've never smelled on you before."

And no no nonono. Stiles starts to panic, but Derek wraps his fingers around Stiles' biceps, steps in front of him, and looks into Stiles' eyes as he says, "Hey, hey. Look at me. It's not that. It's nothing like that. It smells...it kinda smells like something natural, but not you."

Stiles doesn't calm. He stares at Derek wildly, remembering what he saw a few moments ago, his mind whirling into a thousand different directions, all settling on not again not again notagainnotagain. "I saw it," he says in a rush. "I was underwater and then it was there, asking me to let it in, what if it's back, what if - "

"Hey, Stiles, it's not." Derek reaches up and cups Stiles' cheek, and Stiles leans into the warm touch and closes his eyes. He breathes. "Whatever it is, it's not that. I remember how you smelled then. This isn't it."

Stiles opens his eyes and looks at Derek. "You remember that?"

Stiles can't quite read the look on Derek's face. "I'll never forget it."

Stiles searches Derek's face, looking for he doesn't know what, and then he nods. "Okay. If you say so. Okay." Stiles glances around, eyes straining to see in the darkness. "Where are we?"

"We're not close to it," Derek says softly.

"Are you sure?"

Derek nods and drops his hand. "Positive."

Stiles ducks his head and runs his hand through his hair, and fuck, that's Derek's cock. He screws his eyes closed tightly. "You're still naked."

Derek sighs. "Do you want to go back to your friends? I can - "

"No!" Stiles shouts, opening his eyes and looking only at Derek's face. "This...this is where I want to be."

Derek nods, then Stiles watches wide-eyed as Derek transforms into a wolf right in front of his eyes. Stiles watches in fascination as smooth skin gives way to dark hair, to the bones shrinking and reforming, Derek's face going from human to wolf.

"Whoa," Stiles says when Derek's finished and standing on four legs, looking up at him. "That was. Wow." He squats down so he's eye level with Derek, his eyes bright blue now instead of hazel. "You're really in there, huh?"

Derek rolls his eyes and Stiles laughs. Tentatively, he lifts his hand and touches Derek's snout, then his ears, then runs his fingers through the fur on his head. "Thank you, for showing me."

To Stiles' surprise, Derek leans forward and licks Stiles' cheek. Stiles lifts a hand to his cheek as Derek turns around to start through the woods again. Stiles' heart is pounding in his chest, and he smiles to himself as he follows Derek.

Derek leads him to the edge of a cliff overlooking a small valley. From the edge, they can see the moon shining bright overhead. "Wow," Stiles says as he carefully sits down. Derek turns around in a circle before dropping beside him. He lays his head in Stiles' lap. Stiles feels content and happy and safe here with Derek, the terror from earlier subsiding.

He puts both of his hands in Derek's fur, and Derek grumbles low in his chest. "You like that?" Stiles asks, and Derek somehow gives him a flat look even as a wolf. Stiles smiles and just keeps running his hands through his fur.

Derek turns his face towards the sky and howls, the sound ringing loudly in Stiles' ears. A howl answers, then another. "Cora and Jackson?" Stiles asks, and Derek nods his head. He howls again, this time Cora and Jackson answering along with others. "Is that Scott, Liam, and Hayden?" Stiles asks excitedly. Derek nods again, and Stiles grins widely. "Can you tell them I said hello?" Derek nips at Stiles' wrist, and Stiles laughs. "Fine, you're not a howling wolf messenger, got it." Derek huffs in exasperation and drops his head into Stiles' lap.

They sit there for a long time, and then Stiles finally says, "Thanks." Derek lifts his head and looks at Stiles, somehow managing to raise his wolfy brows in question. "For before. And this. Thanks."

Derek looks at him for a few moments with his glowing eyes, then he leans forward and licks Stiles' cheek again. Then, he drops his head back to Stiles' lap, his snout poking against Stiles' torso.

"You know," Stiles says as he stares out over the valley, his fingers combing gently through Derek's fur, "You're a big softie as a wolf." Derek growls and Stiles laughs. "Okay, you can pretend, tough wolf, but I've learned your secret." Derek blows a heavy breath out through his nose, and Stiles scratches behind his ears, smiling.

Chapter Text

Thread by thread I come apart.
If brokenness is a work of art,
Surely this must be my masterpiece.

I'm only honest when it rains,
An open book with a torn out page,
And my ink's run out.
I want to love you but I don't know how
-neptune by sleeping at last

Stiles is stocking flowers in the garden section when Liam suddenly jumps out from behind a display shelf of marigolds. Stiles yelps and almost drops the tray of petunias he's holding. Liam bursts out laughing, and Mason appears a second later, laughing. Even Scott's chuckling when he takes the tray from Stiles and carries it like it's nothing more than a feather. He sets the tray on the display Stiles has been working on all morning.

"I got you," Liam snorts. "You should have seen your face."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Yes, you go me so good. I've been served. In my face, and all that." Liam laughs again. "To what do I owe the pleasure? You bring the kiddies out for a play date?"

"We're on our way to play disc golf," Scott says. "Thought we'd come by and say hello." Scott reaches into his pocket and pulls out a package of Reese's Cups and a can of Dr. Pepper. "The Reese's are probably kinda melted, sorry."

"No, dude, this is awesome. You're the best." Stiles grabs the treats, looks around for his bosses, and when he doesn't spy them, he opens the package of candy and shoves an entire Reese's Cup into his mouth.

"Impressive," Mason says, nodding. Stiles tries to respond, but his mouth is full and he just manages to get chocolate and peanut butter on his lips.

"Want to meet up after you get off?" Scott asks. Stiles shrugs. "It's cool if you have other plans. We'll probably just play disc golf until after dark. Nothing too exciting." Scott gives him an understanding smile, and Stiles feels himself flush.

He knows that Scott is referring to him going to see Derek. Scott knows how much time he's been spending over there, but Scott hasn't said anything. Stiles isn't sure why, but he's not exactly going to be like, "Hey Scott, why don't you disapprove of me hanging with Derek?" But the weird thing is, Scott doesn't seem like he disapproves. He just always gives Stiles these thoughtful glances, and Stiles really can't handle it when Scott goes into Alpha-best-friend-caring-mode, so he usually ignores Scott or changes the subject.

"Yeah, I'll come by," Stiles says when he swallows the Reese's Cup.

"Cool, I can slaughter you in disc golf," Liam says.

"Shouldn't you be watching your aggression?" Stiles asks, poking Liam in the ear. Liam swats at his hand and glares, and Stiles just laughs.

After the guys leave, Stiles continues setting out plants, working through the afternoon out in the sun as he stocks and organizes Home Depot's garden section sidewalk displays. He's squatting down, watering plants, when a shadow covers him. He squints up to find Derek and Jackson standing there.

The first thing Stiles says is, "What's he doing here?"

Jackson frowns, and Derek sighs and rolls his eyes. He says, "You two seriously need to talk, beat the shit out of each, fuck, or do something to work out your issues."

Stiles leans over and mimes retching while Jackson growls curses at Derek. "How could you ever put the word fuck and me in the same sentence as Stiles?" Jackson snaps, glancing down at Stiles with a look of derision.

"Seriously, dude," Stiles says to Derek. "I thought we were friends."

Derek glances between them, frowning deeply. "Idiots."

"So, are you here to buy plants? Or just to play matchmaker with me and Jack-ass?" Stiles asks as he pushes himself up and wipes his hands on his thighs.

Derek ignores the jibe and instead glances around thoughtfully. "Maybe." He turns to Jackson. "You could do something with the yard, couldn't you? You know about that kind of thing."

Jackson shrugs, and Stiles can tell he's trying not to look interested. "Yeah, maybe."

Derek squeezes Jackson's shoulder in a companionable gesture. "Look around. I trust your judgment. Whatever you want to do to the yard, go for it." Jackson nods, then leans into Derek's space, briefly pressing his arm against Derek's arm and side, before disappearing into the garden section.

Stiles stands, staring at Derek with his mouth hanging open. "What?" He glances the way Jackson went and then back to Derek. "Did Jackson just nuzzle you?"

Derek glares at Stiles. "Don't," he says, dropping his voice as he shakes his head. "It took awhile to get Jackson to act like Pack. It's still tenuous at times. He's..." Derek glances the direction Jackson went and inhales deeply. "He's only starting to allow himself to want to be part of our Pack, to accept the affection that goes with it."

Seriously, and slightly contrite, Stiles says, "I didn't mean anything by it. That, uh, that actually sounds like a good thing. That you're doing a good thing."

Derek nods and gives Stiles a small smile. It makes Stiles' insides flip.

"It's just..." Stiles leans close and whispers, "It's Jackson."

Derek rolls his eyes. "You two are ridiculous. I think you do it as a form of affection now."

Stiles wrinkles his nose, but he reluctantly admits, "You might not be wrong."

Stiles leaves the plants he's supposed to be watering and joins Derek as he walks through Home Depot. Derek glances over at Stiles when he catches up, eyebrow raised. "Don't you have a job you should be doing?"

Stiles rolls his eyes, his head and entire body somehow joining the action. "What are they going to do? Fire me? Pfft." Stiles throws up his hand, middle finger extended. "If they do, don't care."

"You're the reason customer service is going downhill."

"Yes, because you're Mr. Pleasant."

"I'm not working a retail job."

"Shut up." Stiles crowds into his space, looking at the list in Derek's hands. It should bother him that he feels so comfortable with Derek now that he can just press against him and stay there and there's no fear that Derek is gonna rip off his head. He's learned a lot about Derek these last few weeks, and one of them is that Derek is a big softie.

Stiles knows better than anyone how Derek puts up a front to hide his pain behind. Derek's is anger and stoicism. Stiles' is sarcasm and intelligence. Maybe that's why Stiles has felt so drawn to Derek lately; they're so similar in a lot of ways.

Talk to Jackson, Lydia's voice echoes in his head. Maybe Jackson's like he is, too, hiding his pain behind hair gel and being a douchebag. Maybe he should give Jackson the benefit of the doubt. If Derek can stand him, then -

"Hey," Derek says softly. Stiles flicks his eyes to Derek. Derek's standing a few feet in front of him, watching him with concern. It makes Stiles feel awkward and exposed, and he shifts on his feet and reaches across his body to scratch his shoulder.

"What?" He presses against the spot where the black had spread from, where there's still a faint scar.

"Are you okay?"

Stiles forces a laugh. "Yeah, why?"

Derek's brows draw together, and he studies Stiles a moment before he says, "You just...zoned out. We were walking, and then you weren't. And you just stood there."

Stiles' hand tightens on his shoulder. He shakes his head. "No."

Derek looks like he doesn't know what to do or say. He takes a tentative step towards Stiles, and Stiles takes one back. He shakes his head again. "No, that's not possible. I was walking with you."

Stiles doesn't like the look on Derek's face now. It's concerned, like really worried. His mind starts spinning, trying to think about the last few minutes. He was walking with Derek, looking at the list, then thinking about Jackson. He doesn't remember losing any time; nothing felt different. He couldn't have just zoned out; it's not possible.

It's not possible.

It's not possible.

It's not -

"Stiles," Derek says quietly, grabbing Stiles' elbow and gently tugging his arm down. "Hey, look at me." Derek's right there, his large hands on Stiles' arms, his voice quiet. His eyes are soft as they look at Stiles, full of so many unspoken words. And Stiles just...can't. The store is suddenly too small, his heart pounding so hard in his chest it may explode.

"Don't look at me like that," Stiles snaps. "Just, no. Fuck you."

Derek takes a deep breath. He doesn't flinch, or snap, and even get angry. His face settles into something more neutral, but Stiles can see it in his eyes. Derek cares about him.

It pisses Stiles off.

"Just, leave me alone," Stiles says. "I've got work to do."

He spins around and storms away, leaving Derek standing there in the middle of the aisle. It's not until later, when his supervisor comes over and tells him he's not being paid to stand there and do nothing, that Stiles realizes two hours have passed and he hadn't realized it. When he goes to start arranging trees, he notices that his arm is crossed over his body, his hand scratching at the same spot on his back.

*

Stiles drives to the park after he gets off work. He doesn't even realize he's still wearing the hideous orange vest until Liam starts laughing at him. He leaves it on because he doesn't feel like walking back to the Jeep and just can't give a fuck about it or Liam's teasing right now.

"You look like hell," Scott says when he approaches. "What's wrong?"

Stiles glances at disc golf hole they're standing around, where Liam is watching Mason line up a shot. "Can we take a walk?"

Scott's brows draw together as he nods. Stiles starts walking away hastily, his hand gravitating towards his back almost unconsciously. "You smell off," Scott states as he falls into step beside Stiles.

"I, uh," Stiles rubs at the spot on his back like it's a compulsion, like he has to do it. They're walking through the park, along a pathway between a few playgrounds and large shaded areas. "I don't know what's going on." Scott tracks Stiles' movements, but only nods for him to continue. "A couple of nights ago, the night of the full moon? I was walking with Derek in the Preserve, and I just kind of...had a flashback? Or something?"

"What kind of flashback?"

"I felt like I was being submerged in cold water," Stiles says quietly, "and I saw it. Derek had to snap me out of it."

Scott's eyes move to where Stiles' hand is messing with his shoulder. "What happened today?"

"Same thing, except less freaking out. My boss jumped all over me for standing around, and I didn't even know I was standing there." He refrains from telling Scott about snapping at Derek, doesn't want to think about it and really doesn't want to talk about it.

Scott stops walking, so Stiles halts and turns to face him. "We can go see Deaton."

"I don't need to see Deaton," Stiles snaps, feeling angry again. "It's fine. I'm fine."

"Stiles, you've been rubbing your shoulder since you got here."

"Yeah? So?"

"You're not okay. It's freaking you out," Scott says.

Stiles glares at him. "Yeah? What makes you suddenly psychic about my state of mind?"

Scott frowns and says, "Because you actually came and talked to me."

Stiles opens his mouth to say something, to yell at Scott, but his anger ebbs and he deflates. He drops his arm and slumps forward. "I feel like I'm going crazy, Scott," Stiles whispers. "I can't go through this again. I can't put my dad - "

"Hey." Scott reaches out and places a comforting hand on Stiles' shoulder. "We'll figure it out. You'll be okay, I promise."

Stiles and Scott drive to Deaton's. When they get to the clinic, they let themselves in the back and find Deaton in the exam room, waiting. He gives them a pleasant smile when he sees them. "Hello," he says when they enter the room. "What can I help you with tonight, gentlemen?"

Stiles exchanges a look with Scott, then explains what's been happening to him. Deaton nods as he talks, but offers no comment. When Stiles finishes, he says, "And you say you were in the forest when this first happened?" Stiles nods. "And it was the full moon?"

"Yeah," Stiles says, scratching his chin. "But I've been having nightmares again. They got better, you know? But now they're back. Worse than usual."

"Do you mind if I take a look at your back? At the scar you mentioned?"

Though Stiles feels uncomfortable removing his shirt, he sighs and pulls his t-shirt over his head. Scott moves around behind Stiles to get a better look. Deaton's fingers are cold on Stiles' skin where he touches the flesh.

Deaton hums thoughtfully. "You may put your shirt back on, Stiles." As Stiles pulls the shirt over his head, Deaton says, "I have a theory as to what may have caused your initial flashback."

"Yeah?" Stiles asks, one part hopeful and ninety nine parts nervous.

Deaton starts opening cabinets and pulling down jars. "Scott told me about the information Derek's Pack connections relayed. I've also noticed some changes in the energies around Beacon Hills, minute adjustments that wouldn't be visible to just anyone." He turns around and looks at Stiles. "You're a spark, Stiles, which means you attract magical energy."

"Yeah, but I'm not magic," Stiles points out.

Deaton gives him a small smile. "True. But a spark is very powerful. Sparks often amplify supernatural powers. But sparks also attract and absorb magical energy."

"I don't understand," Scott says.

"I believe the reason Stiles was targeted by the nogitsune was because of his spark. He's not supernatural himself, but he supplies power."

Stiles glances at Scott, confused. "So, wait, am I like a werewolf juice boost for Scott?"

Deaton shakes his head. "No. True, your spark provides energy and power to the Pack, but it's minimal. If a Pack could figure out how to harness your power somehow, like the nogitsune did when he possessed you, you could provide an immense source of power for the Pack."

"Dude," Stiles says, staring wide-eyed at Scott. "How can we tap into that? That's something that we could use."

"It's not something you just tap into," Deaton says. "The power of a spark is unpredictable and still an enigma to those who practice magic. Because you don't actually wield magic, but still possess the spark, you can't control it."

Stiles crosses his arms across his chest and kicks his heel against the edge of the exam table. "Of course I have a useless thing that just draws trouble to me."

"I think the Nemeton is active again, but I'm not sure in what capacity. I've felt the minor change in magic in the area, and with the way Stiles has described his experiences, I believe he's being affected by whatever magic the Nemeton is releasing."

"Great."

Deaton turns back to the canisters on the table. "I'm mixing you a tea that contains herbs that will help protect you from the magic. It should help stop the lapses in time and maybe help the nightmares."

Stiles frowns as he watches Deaton mix the herbs. Scott comes up behind him, lays a hand on Stiles' shoulder, and squeezes it.

When Deaton finishes, he turns and hands Stiles a silver canister. "Drink this daily, twice if you don't see any results."

Stiles eyes the canister dubiously, but thanks him anyhow.

*

Derek checks his phone with a frown. He hasn't heard from Stiles in two days, not since Stiles told him to fuck off and stormed away after zoning out.

Derek is worried. He knows something is going on with Stiles, but he doesn't know what. When he'd texted Stiles, Stiles hadn't responded. He decides he's tired of waiting on Stiles to text him back, so he's going over to Stiles' house. If Stiles can randomly show up at his house, he can randomly show up at Stiles' house.

Derek knows it's a weak rationale, but he doesn't care. He's going to check on Stiles.

Derek walks into the living room and sees Cora and Jackson glaring at each other. "What is with you two?" he asks as he goes over to the table by the door. He grabs his wallet and slips it into his back pocket.

"Cora is a nosy asshole," Jackson says.

"Jackson is a stubborn dick who has no clue about women."

"What's going on?" Derek asks.

Cora turns to Derek and replies, "I'm trying to help Jackson figure out how to convince Lydia to drop Parrish and be with him."

"And I don't need her help with my love life," Jackson growls, eyes flashing blue.

Cora rolls her eyes. "You are such a fucking drama queen, Jackson. You love Lydia, and you hate Parrish. We can figure out a way to get her to forget about him and be with only you."

"I can't believe you're getting in the middle of that love triangle," Derek says, shaking his head. He grabs his keys. "Don't kill each other while I'm gone. And clean up any blood."

"Where are you going?" Cora asks.

"Out."

"That's not an answer!" Cora yells after him. As soon as he shuts the door, he hears Cora tell Jackson, "He's going to see Stiles."

"Definitely," Jackson replies.

Derek huffs in irritation as he walks to his car. He's not going to respond and give them the satisfaction of being right.

Derek drives to the Stilinski household and feels relieved when he sees the Jeep in the driveway and no cruiser. He parks on the street, walks to the door, and knocks before he loses his nerve and changes his mind.

Stiles looks confused when he answers the door and sees Derek on the porch. Stiles' hair is messy and sticking up wildly, and he's wearing an old, faded Pokemon t-shirt and basketball shorts, and he's barefoot. He looks tired and smells slightly anxious, but he seems okay. Derek breathes a sigh of relief.

"What are you doing here?" Stiles asks.

Derek curls his hands into fists at his sides as he stands uncomfortably. He forces out, "I wanted to see how you were doing."

Stiles eyes him for a moment before he steps aside to let Derek inside. "You could have just called."

"You haven't been answering your texts."

Stiles manages to look contrite. "Yeah, sorry about that. I kind of felt like a real dick because of the way I treated you the other day."

Derek doesn't respond. He awkwardly follows Stiles through the house, into the kitchen. He glances around as he goes, taking in as much of Stiles' house as he can. Stiles' scent permeates every inch of the house, as does the sheriff's. Their smells mix together pleasantly, smelling like family and home. Under it all, he can smell Stiles' anxiety, his sadness. It's stronger now than it has been in a long time. He frowns at Stiles' back, wishing not for the first time that he could erase that scent from his skin, from his life.

"Do you want something to drink or eat?" Stiles asks as he goes to the fridge and opens it. "I was about to make dinner." They look at each other awkwardly for a moment, Derek in the kitchen doorway and Stiles gripping the still-open refrigerator door. After a moment, Stiles holds out a hand and says, "Ugh, yeah, you can stay if you want? I was just gonna make meatloaf and some vegetables."

Derek nods. "Sounds good. Thanks."

"Really?" Stiles asks, surprised. He shrugs and then starts pulling ingredients from the refrigerator and freezer. "Okay then."

Derek walks further into the kitchen. He's never been in this part of Stiles' house, has only ever been in Stiles' room and the hallway and stairs on his way to the door. The kitchen is sparse, but obviously used, with canisters and various appliances on the counter. There are a few dirty dishes in the sink. Derek walks over to the refrigerator and glances at the items held up with magnets.

There are phone numbers jotted down on pieces of paper stuck to the door. A photo of the sheriff and Stiles at graduation with their arms around each other, smiling. Stiles looks about like he does now, maybe a bit thinner, but with circles under his eyes and that haunted look in his eyes. He glances over his shoulder at Stiles at the counter rambling about cooking as he mixes something in a bowl, then back at the fridge to a picture of Stiles and Scott in their lacrosse uniform. Stiles' hair was buzzed instead of long, and he looked happier, younger.

Derek smiles sadly at the photo before he goes to turn back around, but something catches his eye. It's a stick figure of a wolf and a boy holding a bat. Derek's brow creases, and a weird sense of familiarity hits him. "Deja vu," he murmurs to himself.

"Hmm?" Stiles asks absently from behind him, but Derek's still looking at the drawing. There's something about it that Derek can't shake, something nagging at the back of his mind. Suddenly, Stiles is hovering against his back and looking over his shoulder. "What are you looking at?"

Derek points to the drawing, and Stiles laughs. "Oh, that? It's a joke. I drew it for Scott after he turned and had forgotten about it until I found it in my room senior year or something. Scott didn't remember me drawing it, and I didn't remember either, but Scott laughed so hard at it that he fell in the floor. Then he put it on the fridge because he said an art piece like that deserved a place of honor." Stiles snorts and walks back to the counter, but Derek stays there, looking at the picture.

Something about it bothers him, but he doesn't know what. It's just a stick figure drawing, so he pushes it from his mind and turns his attention back to Stiles.

He watches Stiles move around the kitchen. Stiles moves through the space easily, but Derek can tell the movements are automatic. Stiles is a million miles away. Derek can smell it on him, hanging around Stiles like a fog. Derek doesn't know what he should do. He figures if Stiles wants to talk, he'll start talking, but Stiles has barely said a word.

Derek studies Stiles as he stands at the counter, mixing the meatloaf in a bowl with his hands. His clothes look and smell like he's been wearing them for a couple of days, and Derek can tell he hasn't showered. He doesn't smell bad, but the scents on him are old and stale. His hair is starting to get greasy, and the thin scruff on his cheeks is obviously from not shaving. It causes Derek to smile; he's got that much hair on his face ten minutes after shaving.

It's not the fact that Stiles hasn't showered in a few days that worries him. Stiles is a college-aged guy, and even Derek, Cora, and Jackson are known to be slackers if they don't have to leave the house for a few days. No, it's the rigid tension in Stiles' shoulders, the faraway look in his eyes, the circles creeping back under his eyes.

Derek fights the urge to wrap himself around Stiles, breathe his scent into his hair, and protect him from the world. He wants to protect Stiles from these things, but knows he can't. Even if Stiles felt the same way he did and wanted Derek, he knows he couldn't protect him. Derek has learned the hard way he can't protect anyone.

And there are just some things you can't protect someone from.

After Stiles places the meatloaf in the oven, he turns around and looks at Derek. "Can you watch that? I'm gonna take a shower."

Derek smiles and nods, but says, "You don't have to take a shower on my account. You don't smell."

Stiles rolls his eyes and pushes Derek's shoulder playfully when he passes him. "Not everything's about you, Derek, geez. Such an egotist." Derek chuckles as he follows Stiles out of the kitchen. As he makes his way to the couch, Stiles calls out, "If you let my meatloaf burn, I'll put wolfsbane in your shampoo."

Derek snorts and drops onto the couch. He spies a mass market paperback on the coffee table, so he grabs it and starts reading.

A few minutes pass before Derek hears a car turn into the driveway. He knows immediately that it's the sheriff. When the sheriff walks through the front door a few minutes later, his eyes immediately fall on Derek.

"Thought that was your car in the driveway," the sheriff says as he enters the living room. Derek sets the book aside and stands up. "No one else around here drives a car like that." He sticks his hand out, and Derek shakes it. "Nice to see you again, Derek."

"Same, sir." Derek nods and sits when the sheriff takes the recliner. "Stiles is taking a shower. There's meatloaf in the oven."

"Then it's my lucky day." The sheriff smiles warmly at Derek. "What brings you over here? Stiles usually is the one hanging out at your place."

Derek feels his ears burning, but the sheriff doesn't look at him with any suspicion or anger. Finally, Derek replies, "I hadn't heard from Stiles in a couple of days."

The sheriff studies him for a few moments, and Derek tries not to bristle under the man's gaze. The sheriff says after a moment, "You were worried about him."

Derek stares at his hands in his lap. "Yes." He swallows, wonders if he should speak the words weighing on his tongue, and decides to go for it. "How," he starts, his voice rough. He clears his throat, then asks, "How is he?" He lifts his eyes to look at the sheriff.

The sheriff sighs and runs a hand over his face. He looks so weary then, sitting in the chair, his walls completely broken down. Derek understands in this moment the reason Stiles fights so hard to keep his dad from worrying about him. This man loves Stiles with everything in his being, and Derek doesn't have to be a wolf to smell the emotions on him.

"He's been doing better," the sheriff says. He points to Derek. "Since he started helping you. I don't know if it's getting out of the house, having a project, or being around you, but something in him has changed. He looks better, and I catch him smiling now." Derek tries not to let that go to his head and attempts to stay rational instead of letting his wolf howl in elation. The sheriff continues, "I want to say thank you for that. I was afraid for awhile he'd never be the same, but he's starting to get back to himself."

Derek shakes his head. "There's nothing to thank me for. I haven't done anything."

"You've done more than you realize, son," the sheriff tells him with a small smile. He sniffs the air and looks towards the kitchen. "Should we go check the meatloaf?" Derek gets up and follows the sheriff into the kitchen. "I've been taking Stiles to the station on some of my night shifts. It's just busy work to keep his mind occupied, and he knows it. But I didn't want him to be alone, and I know he wasn't sleeping."

"I think it's a good idea," Derek tells him as he opens the oven and checks on the food. "He talks about it sometimes. I think he enjoys it."

"I think he does, too." The sheriff grabs a beer from the fridge and offers it to Derek. Derek takes it and twists the top off as the sheriff takes one for himself and sits at the small dinette table along the far wall in the kitchen, Derek sitting in the chair across from him. "He hasn't been doing as well the last few days," the sheriff confides. "It has to do with whatever Deaton told him."

Derek starts. "What did Deaton tell him?"

The sheriff gives Derek a curious look. "He hasn't told you?" Derek shakes his head as he tries not to panic. But in his head all he can think is, Where's the threat? Where is Stiles? What's wrong with Stiles? What's wrong with him? I need to find the threat and eliminate it right now.

"Hey," the sheriff says gently, then gives Derek a reassuring smile. "He's fine. Stiles can explain it better than I can, because I'll be honest, Derek, I still can't keep up with half the supernatural stuff that goes on around here." He leans both of his elbows on the table and says, "I promise, he's fine. So you can take that look off your face."

Derek flushes.

"Anyway," the sheriff says after taking a swig of his beer, "Even before that conversation, he seemed to be drawing back into himself and getting bad again."

"He started zoning out," Derek tells him as he stares at his untouched beer sweating on the table. "I saw him do it twice."

The sheriff sighs. "He told me." Derek glances up at him, surprised. "Stiles and I don't keep things from each other much anymore. We had enough of that in the past." The sheriff finishes his beer, then says, "I'm thinking of taking Stiles away." At Derek's panicked look, the sheriff says, "Just overnight. Relax, son. No need for," he waves his hand around his face, alluding to Derek's eyes that have instinctually glowed blue.

Derek tries not to feel embarrassed as he asks, "Where to?"

"Thought I'd take him camping up in Oregon," the sheriff says, and Derek feels a touch of apprehension. North is where the threat is. North is outside of their territory, which puts Stiles outside of his protection. "There's this place we used to go when he was a kid. Stiles loved it. We've gone a few times since then, on the anniversary of his mom's death, times likes that. I thought it might do him good to get away for awhile."

The sheriff looks so hopeful that Derek can't do anything but agree.

As he gets up to get another beer, Stiles comes into the kitchen. Derek's hit with an overwhelming urge to kiss him stupid. His hair is wet, and he's wearing a pair of pajama pants with slices of pizza that have smiley faces and a graphic tee. Stiles' eyes slide from Derek sitting at the dinette table to the sheriff at the fridge. Then his eyes narrow. "What have you two been talking about?"

"The weather," the sheriff says. "And baseball."

Derek knows Stiles doesn't believe him. "Mm-hmm," Stiles says as he goes over to check the meatloaf in the oven.

"I didn't let it burn," Derek says.

"Then you are safe from the wolfsbane," Stiles says as he removes the pan from the oven and sits it on the stove. "For now."

"Can I help?" Derek asks, standing awkwardly.

Stiles waves a hand as he cuts the meatloaf. Distractedly, he says, "Set the table."

Derek goes to the cabinet, opens it, and grabs three plates. When he shuts the cabinet, he stares at it in confusion, then glances over at Stiles. Stiles is watching him speculatively. "How did you know where the plates were?"

Derek looks down at the plates, brows drawn together. "I don't know. Good guess?" Stiles watches him as he turns to head to the dining room, and Derek feels that same tugging in his mind. Deja vu.

Dinner is actually nice. Derek enjoys being with Stiles and his father, enjoys being surrounded by the feeling of family and home. They talk about work, both the sheriff and Stiles exchanging pointless stories about their days the way that only families do. It makes him miss dinners with his own family, when his mom would ask each child about their day before she and his dad would talk about work. The sheriff asks Derek about the house, so Derek spends a lot of time discussing the progress and his next plans for the house.

After dinner, the sheriff says he'll do the dishes, so Derek follows Stiles upstairs to his room. Derek sits in the computer chair and Stiles drops to the bed. "Sorry about dinner with my dad," Stiles says as he props a pillow against the headboard and leans back.

"I enjoyed it," Derek admits with a small smile that Stiles returns. After a few silent moments, Derek says, "Your dad mentioned that you talked to Deaton."

Stiles sighs wearily and closes his eyes as he drops his head back against the headboard. "Of course he did." Derek watches Stiles as he waits for him to continue. "He thinks it's the Nemeton."

"What?" Derek asks in confusion.

Stiles opens his eyes and relays what Deaton told him. "So, I'm apparently just a magnet for supernatural bullshit." He flicks his hand towards Derek. "Exhibit A."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Is the tea helping?"

Stiles shrugs. "I guess. I haven't had as many bad dreams since I started drinking it. I don't think I've zoned out."

Derek nods. "That's good." He stares at his shoes thoughtfully. "I wonder if it's connected."

"What? The Omega?"

Derek nods. "It's too much of a coincidence. Maybe they're drawn to it."

"Better them than me." Stiles drops his head back. Derek studies Stiles carefully. His eyes are closed, and though Derek can smell the exhaustion, his foot is bouncing nervously. Derek feels an urge to crawl on the bed, feels something drawing him to Stiles. He wants to hold him, comfort him, murmur whispers against his hair as he falls asleep.

Derek stands. "I should get back."

"Are Cora and Jackson home?" Stiles asks, opening his eyes.

"Yeah, and I hope they haven't killed each other by now." Stiles laughs. Derek says, "Thanks for dinner."

"It was just meatloaf, dude."

"I still enjoyed it."

"No problem. I'd say now we're even, but meatloaf doesn't compare to homemade manicotti."

Derek grins at Stiles. "I'm not so sure about that."

Stiles laughs. "So weird."

"Goodnight, Stiles."

"Night, Derek."

Derek stops by the living room to say goodnight to the sheriff on his way out. As Derek turns to leave, the sheriff says, "Whatever it is you're doing, don't stop." Derek glances over his shoulder, and the sheriff adds, "You're the first person to get through to him in years. I know he snapped at you the other day, but don't let him push you away. Being around you makes him happy."

Derek swallows and says, "I won't give up on him."

The sheriff shoots him a grateful smile. "Goodnight, son."

Derek thinks about the sheriff's words on the entire drive home, and when he falls asleep, he still has the scents of Stiles' house clinging to his skin.

*

Stiles is in the sheriff's station, reorganizing old boxes of files and listening to a random classic he downloaded from Overdrive (Bleak House? Really? Why did he choose that one? But now he's invested and can't stop until he's finished). He looks up from the stack of folders when the door to the small file room opens. His dad leans against the doorframe and crosses his arms.

"Ready to go?"

Stiles nods and replaces the files and sets them up so they'll be ready for the next time he works. He walks through the station and waves to the other deputies, and ends up in a conversation about last night's Mets game with Parrish.

Inside the cruiser, the sheriff asks, "Do you have plans this weekend?"

Stiles looks up from where he's messing with his hands in his lap. "Why?"

The sheriff shrugs and tries for nonchalance. "I thought I'd surprise you by taking you camping. Up in Oregon."

"Oh." Stiles doesn't respond as the information swirls around his brain. Oregon. His dad wants to take him to their camping spot. They haven't been in years. The last time his dad had even suggested it was around senior year, after Donovan and everything that preceded it. He hadn't wanted to go then, had made up some excuse about school or Pack or something - he can't remember. His dad didn't try again after that.

But he's trying now. Stiles knows it's another attempt at making him feel better. His dad has doubled his efforts lately. All night TV show marathons, filing at the station, now camping in Oregon. Stiles finds that he doesn't mind. Maybe his dad is on to something with all these distractions.

"Can you get the time off?"

The sheriff shoots him an amused grin. "Kiddo, I have so much saved up vacation time that I could probably take a year off."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "You don't have that much time."

"I can take two days off." He pauses, then says, "So, I was thinking we leave Saturday morning and come back Sunday evening."

"Sounds good," Stiles says. "Really good."

*

Saturday morning, Stiles and his father load up the Jeep with their camping gear and drive north to Oregon. The campsite is located in a park that's in the middle of a forest. Their campsite is right on the river, and the only thing that surrounds them is trees.

They pitch the tent and then grab their fishing poles. They set up two folding cloth chairs by the riverbank, and the sheriff sets a cooler full of water and soda between them. "You couldn't have brought some beer, Dad?"

The sheriff gives him a flat look as he casts out. "Did I miss your twenty-first birthday?"

"I'm not driving!" Stiles exclaims as he watches his float bob along the river current. "And I'm with the sheriff, so it's not like I'm gonna get into any trouble."

"Nice try."

Stiles huffs. "What kind of fishing excursion is this without beer?"

"You've never been on a fishing excursion with beer."

"It's a thing, Dad," Stiles insists. "They write songs dedicated to fishing and beer." The sheriff rolls his eyes and reels his line back in before casting out again.

They fish for most of the day. They keep a few of the fish to eat for dinner, but throw the rest back into the river. They snack on jerky, potato chips, and other junk food, and Stiles doesn't even comment on it. He figures it's a special occasion, and he'll give his dad a pass this one time.

That evening, when the sheriff is cleaning the fish and Stiles is still sitting by the river reading and purposefully not watching his dad, Stiles gets a text from Lydia.

Jackson broke our date because he had to suddenly go out of town with Derek. Where are they going?

Stiles frowns at the text. He knows nothing about Derek going out of town.

What makes you think I know where they went?

Don't be stupid, Stiles.

Derek nor Cora said anything to me about going out of town.

Tell Derek I don't appreciate his plans interfering with my plans.

You tell him.

Yes, because I talk to Derek so often.
You're the one who hangs out with him all the time.

I don't.

Stiles, he crawls into your window in the middle of the night.

Once.

Whatever. You're still being stupid. If you find out where they are, let me know. Luckily, Parrish is free.

Don't tell Jackson that.

He already knows. That's what he gets for breaking a date with me.

Stiles chuckles and finds Derek's thread in his messages. He types out, You actually went away for the weekend? Where did you go?????

Away.

Stiles groans at Derek's answer, because of course he's being difficult and obtuse. I gathered that much.

Pack bonding trip.

The sheriff announces the fish are ready to cook, so Stiles leaves it at that.

*

"I always forget how many stars there are," Stiles says, staring up at the sky. The only light around them is from the small campfire, so the sky is an inky blackness with hundreds of shining stars. The moon is waning and provides a bit more light. The night is silent except the quiet current of the river.

"I could stare at them for hours," the sheriff says. He's sitting in the cloth chair, slumped down with his head angled back so he can stare at the sky.

"Me too."

"Your mom used to love laying under the stars," the sheriff says. Stiles is slightly surprised like he is every time his father speaks of his mother. It's easier for them to talk about her now, but it's still novel when they do. "Not long after we started dating, I surprised her with a night time picnic. The food was bland, just ham sandwiches I made and some strawberries, but the moment she opened the basket, her face lit up." Stiles can hear the warmth in his dad's voice, and it makes him smile. "She kept talking about the stars and the moon, but she outshone anything else that night. We stayed out there all night." The sheriff pauses, then adds, "It was the first time we spent the night together. It was a really, really good night."

"Dad," Stiles groans.

"You're an adult now, Stiles. I think you know that your mother and I had sex."

"Of course I do. I just don't want to think about it." He grunts, but then says, "But that was a really awesome story."

The fire crackles quietly between them, and after awhile the sheriff gets up to add another log to the fire. Stiles lets himself relax. This is good, really good. Being here with his dad, away from everything, it helps him feel settled in a way he hasn't in awhile. His mind feels clear and the knot in his chest loosens.

As they sit there talking quietly, a wolf howls in the distance, followed by another wolf howling in reply. Stiles laughs to himself. No matter where he goes, he's surrounded by wolves.

A few moments later, he shoots up in his chair and digs his cell phone from his pocket. His dad watches him curiously as he punches out a text.

You totally followed me to Oregon!

He frowns at the phone, aggravated as he waits for the response. It comes a few moments later.

It's not what you think.
The omegas are still north of BH. I just wanted to make sure nothing happened.

Stiles huffs out a frustrated laugh. Derek is the most maddening individual he has ever met. But there's something in his chest that's curling warm and bright.

Stalker wolf.

"What is it?" the sheriff asks.

"Derek," Stiles responds in exasperation, like that's enough explanation. At his father's confused expression, he explains, "Derek, Jackson, and Cora are patrolling around us."

"Why?" the sheriff asks.

"Because there's a rogue Omega causing some issues north of Beacon Hills. He was worried about us." The sheriff hums thoughtfully, and Stiles looks at him sharply. "What?"

"You and Derek seem - "

"No," Stiles interrupts quickly, shaking his head. "Don't."

His phone vibrates with a text from Derek.

I'm not stalking you. I'm a couple of miles away. We're just monitoring the area.

The sheriff says, "Tell him he can come get a s'more if he wants one."

Dad says you can bring your stalkery wolfy butt over and have s'mores.

Thanks, but I'll pass. Enjoy camping with your dad.

Stiles smiles as he slides the phone back into his pocket. "See?" his dad says.

"See what?"

"You're smiling." Stiles rolls his eyes. "I'm not an idiot, kid."

"Can we please not talk about this?" Stiles pleads. He's been trying really hard not to ignore his feelings about Derek, whatever they may be, and acknowledging them by talking to his dad is the last thing he wants to do right now.

"I think it's a good thing," the sheriff says as he pokes at the fire with a stick. "And you can talk to me about it, you know." He raises his eyes and looks at Stiles earnestly. "You can talk to me about anything."

Stiles swallows down his emotion. "I know, Dad."

The sheriff nods, then they settle back in their chairs and stare up at the stars, talking about nothing of importance.

*

Stiles propped himself up on his elbow and smiled sleepily as he looked down at the sleeping form beside him. It was early still, just before dawn. The sky outside the loft windows was purple-grey, a few errant stars still visible. Derek was lying on his stomach, his face turned towards Stiles in his sleep. His breathing was slow and deep as he slept soundly.

Stiles stared at the expanse of his back, at the planes of skin and muscle. He reached out and traced the outline of the Triskelion tattoo with the tip of his finger. Derek's skin was warm beneath his touch, and he leaned down and pressed a kiss to the center of it.

Derek mumbled something as he stirred, and Stiles kissed his way up his back, landing a kiss on the ball of his shoulder just as Derek opened his eyes. "I was sleeping," Derek grumbled as Stiles rubbed his cheek against Derek's shoulder. "You should be sleeping."

"Woke up," Stiles said.

"The search was hard today. You need to rest." Derek reached an arm out and curled it around Stiles' waist, drawing him closer. "What time do you have to be home?"

Stiles trailed his lips along the shell of Derek's ear. "Dad won't be home until the afternoon. If I'm not home when he gets there, it won't matter."

"Good." Derek closed his eyes and tightened his arm around Stiles' waist. "Isaac's with Scott, so we won't be disturbed." Stiles smiled against Derek's hair. "Go back to sleep. I'm not ready to be up yet."

Stiles sighed. "If you insist. You and your outrageous demands." Derek hugged Stiles as Stiles snuggled back down in the blankets and against Derek. Without opening his eyes, Derek puckered his lips and moved towards Stiles, and Stiles met him in a soft, lingering kiss. "Sure you want to go to sleep?" Stiles asked against Derek's mouth.

Derek kissed him once more. "Yes. You can wait until we wake up."

"So lame, Derek."

"Shut up and go to sleep."

*

Stiles wakes slowly, the feeling of a warm body and soft lips still surrounding him. He smiles, his eyes still closed, as he rolls over, towards the body. But there's nothing there, just cold emptiness.

Stiles opens his eyes and blinks, disoriented from the dream and his brain grasping at fading details.

He dreamed of Derek. Again. He rolls onto his back and sighs as he drags a hand down his face. He can hear his dad breathing beside him, deep in sleep. It's still dark outside the tent, the night silent aside from some crickets, the soft rush of the river, and the occasional owl.

It's not the first dream he's had of Derek lately. Makes sense because they have been spending so much time together, but it's making it increasingly difficult for Stiles to ignore his feelings. He knows there's something between him and Derek; he just doesn't know what and whether he wants to deal with it right now. He just knows that a day doesn't go by where he doesn't want to see Derek, and being with Derek has made him start to feel like his old self.

He closes his eyes and tries to fall back asleep. His brain drifts to the dream, to the feel of Derek's skin under his fingers, the feel of his body against him and his lips against his own. In his half-asleep state, he idly thinks how weird it is that he keeps dreaming about being with Derek in the loft instead of his new house.

*

Derek makes another round closer to Stiles and the sheriff's camp. He never gets close enough to infringe on their privacy, just close enough to ensure they are safe. Earlier in the night, he'd been close enough to hear the faint soft sounds of their voices and smell them, but not close enough to hear the words.

He is probably overreacting, but Derek couldn't bear the idea of Stiles and his father being out in another territory unprotected with a threat looming nearby. He thought about calling Scott, but he was pretty sure Scott wouldn't have understood his concern. So far, there have been no reports of missing persons or deaths by animal attacks. But this was Stiles, and Derek couldn't take a chance.

Earlier that day, when he'd grabbed his keys from the bowl by the front door, Cora had asked him where he was going. He thought about lying, but he was trying to be different, trying to be more open with his Pack. So, he answered, "To Oregon."

Cora shot up from where she was sitting on the couch beside Jackson and stopped in front of Derek with her arms crossed. "That's interesting. I think someone else is up in Oregon. Hmm...I wonder who?" Derek glared at her. They stayed in a heated stare off until Jackson got up from the couch with a loud groan.

"Look, I'll save us all some time," Jackson said as he turned off the television. He grabbed his cell phone as he glanced down at his clothes. "I guess this will be okay for running around the woods all night."

Derek stared at him in confusion, and Cora asked, "What?"

Jackson looked at them both like they were mere peons. "Derek's going to protect Stilinski, you won't let him go alone, Derek probably wants us to help but won't ask, and you two will just argue for the next ten minutes or so until everyone's annoyed." Jackson brushed past them both, donning his sunglasses as he went out the door. "I've got shotgun."

Jackson had been right. Derek hadn't wanted to go alone, but was too embarrassed to ask. He still hasn't quite figured out how to ask for help when he needs it, to let down that wall and rely on his Pack. He always feels like he needs to be the strong one who doesn't need anything, but as he drove to Oregon with his Pack, their conversation comforting and familiar, he realized things have changed. He does needs things, he needs them, and it's okay to let them know that. As he listened to Jackson and Cora discuss music, he understood that his Pack knows him better than he realized, and they need him, too.

In that moment, maybe for the first time, Derek truly believed that the three of them were Pack.

The night is pleasantly warm, and Derek finds being out here in the Oregon forest isn't so bad. He never gets closer than half a mile to Stiles, doesn't want to intrude in this important time with his dad. He just needs to know Stiles is kept safe.

Derek runs the closest perimeter to Stiles' camp, with Cora to the north and Jackson to the east. It's quiet up here, no signs of Omegas, no symbols scratched in the trees. Derek calms the longer the night wears on, silent and still.

A few hours before dawn, his phone rings, Jackson's name flashing across the screen. "What's wrong?"

"I found something," Jackson says. "Not a threat to Stiles, but it's something you should see."

Derek breathes heavily through his nose. He doesn't like the thought of leaving Stiles alone, but if Jackson thought to call him, it must be important. There hasn't been a hint of the Omegas anywhere near Stiles' camp, so Derek thinks he will be safe. "I'll be there soon. Text me your location."

Derek shoots off a text to Stiles before he leaves. Jackson found something 20 mi south. Heading to him. No sign of threat nearby. Just be careful.

Derek runs back to the Camaro, drives fifteen miles north to pick Cora up where she's waiting at the edge of a deserted road, then drives near Jackson's location. He parks the car on a grown up dirt lane he finds leading from the main road, then he and Cora take off into the woods.

He follows his GPS towards Jackson's location until he catches his scent, then he finds him by instinct. Jackson is leaning against a tree when they approach, playing on his cell phone and looking bored.

"This way," Jackson says, pocketing his phone and leading them deeper into the woods. The closer they get, Derek starts to smell it.

Rotting flesh, decay, and death.

Jackson leads them to a grouping of trees, and the stench is so strong that Derek has to cover his mouth. He steels himself to the unpleasantness and steps up to look. There's a dead body partially covered by leaves.

"It's a wolf," Jackson says as he points at the body's hand with his shoe. "He's still shifted."

"This is sloppy," Derek tells them. "Whoever killed him, it was sloppily done." He frowns at the body, then ignores the smell as he bends down to get a closer look at the body. This close, he can smell something underneath the stink. "Cora, come smell this."

"Yeah, no," she responds.

"There's something else here," Derek snaps, "I think it's that smell from before."

"God, I hate you so much right now," Cora mumbles as she bends down and gags before sniffing. She gags again, springing up and farther away from the body. "Yeah, it's there underneath."

Derek's own stomach is turning over the smell, and even Jackson has moved back to stand beside Cora. Derek brushes some of the leaves away and looks at the mangled mess that used to be the wolf's chest. Derek can see the remnants of claw marks beyond the bloody mess of flesh and organs. There are other wounds, too, marks of a struggle and blood beneath the wolf's fingers.

"This was one nasty fight," Derek murmurs.

"It looks like whoever killed him stashed the body in a hurry and fled," Cora says. She sniffs the air cautiously, follows her nose as she searches around. "The body isn't that old, but there's not a scent trail. It's like..."

"The scent disappeared," Jackson finishes.

With hands on his thighs, Derek pushes himself to his feet and pulls out his cell phone. It's almost five a.m., but Derek doesn't care. He dials the number for the Alpha of these parts.

After explaining that they were in the territory camping, he tells the Alpha of what they found. After ending the call, he texts the location information to the Alpha, then starts walking away from the body. "Come on, the Pack for this area will take care of it." Cora and Jackson fall into step beside him, and Derek reaches out and squeezes Jackson's shoulder. "You did good," he whispers, and the scent of Jackson's contentment replaces the scent of decay in his nostrils.

*

Derek drives into the clearing in front of the cabin and is surprised to see Stiles' Jeep parked beside the SUV. He feels both frustration and excitement. He hasn't seen Stiles since before the weekend when he went camping, and he hadn't texted him either. Derek had been too nervous and embarrassed to text him after following him to Oregon.

Inside the cabin, he finds Cora and Stiles snuggled together on the couch, watching television. Jackson's car isn't in the driveway, so Derek guesses he's out. He tamps down the flare of jealousy he feels at Stiles and Cora so casually touching one another. Cora is lying against Stiles' side, Stiles' arm slung around her shoulders. It's the same position she's watched TV in with Derek and Jackson numerous times, but Derek likes seeing his sister snuggling up with Stiles as much as he had Lydia.

This time, however, he manages to keep his feelings in check.

"Yo," Cora says, cutting her eyes towards him as he drops his keys in the bowl.

Stiles' face melts into a wide smile when his eyes land on Derek. Derek can't help the flip his heart does at how happy Stiles looks to see him. "Hey, stalkerwolf."

Derek rolls his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

Stiles snorts. "Giving you some payback for always showing up at my work unannounced."

"You always show up at the house unannounced," Derek says as he walks behind the couch towards the kitchen. He suppresses the urge to run his fingers through Stiles' hair and instead runs a hand over Cora's head.

"I invited him over to hang out," Cora says, then punches Stiles in the thigh. "The asshole hasn't seen me in forever."

"I've apologized, oh my god," Stiles responds with a long-suffering groan. "Your sister is terrifying, Derek, more than you."

Derek lifts a brow at him before going into the kitchen. He starts poking around the kitchen looking for something to fix for dinner, trying to ignore the fact that Stiles has come to his home, but not to see him.

"We're gonna order pizza," Cora calls from the living room. "You don't have to cook dinner." Derek stops his search and instead walks to the doorway separating the living room from the kitchen. "I figured I'd go pick it up in a couple hours."

Derek gives them a clipped nod. Stiles is watching him with an unreadable expression on his face. "Okay," Derek says. "Make sure one has sausage."

Cora rolls her eyes, then turns to look up at Stiles. "He acts like I've never eaten pizza with him before." Stiles chuckles, and Derek smiles. With one last look at Stiles, he turns and heads across the kitchen and through the backdoor.

It's his own house, and Stiles is there, but he feels out of place anyway.

Derek follows the rough worn path through the trees behind the house to a small, nondescript shed. He enters the shed and flicks the switch to turn on the overhead light. He breathes in the smell of sawdust and wood and feels some of his energy settle.

After hooking his phone to the speakers and loading a playlist, he walks over to the workbench and surveys the wood he's working on. The table is nearly finished, and then he can start on the matching chairs. He sets to work attaching the legs to the top. He'd carved the legs over the last month, along with cutting the shape of the tabletop. He'd stained them at the end of last week, so now the only thing to be done is putting them together.

Derek makes quick work of attaching the legs. When he's done, he surveys the finished product with pride. His father would be proud.

Carefully, he places the table out of the way in the corner and starts searching through the pile of wood for the base of the chairs. Instead, he finds a piece of driftwood he'd picked up one of the times he, Cora, and Jackson went to the beach. He stares at it for a moment before taking it over to the bench.

He's starting to sand and shape the driftwood when the door to the shop opens. Before Derek can look up, he's hit with the scent of cedar and honeysuckle. He closes his eyes and inhales, feeling a calm settle over him.

"This is where you disappeared to," Stiles says, closing the door behind him. Derek lifts his eyes as Stiles looks around in wonder. "I didn't know that you did woodworking."

Derek shrugs as he abandons the driftwood and sits back. "Sometimes."

Stiles gets distracted by the scraps of wood and planks lying along one wall, then his attention shifts to Derek's workbench. "Where did you learn how to do this?"

"My dad," Derek replies. Stiles' eyes are wide when they meet his, something soft and sincere in them. "It's been a long time since I've made anything. I," Derek shifts uncomfortably, the words stalling. Stiles steps closer, until his legs are bumping Derek's. He reaches out to touch the smooth wood as Derek says, "I tried after, in New York. Laura encouraged me." Stiles glances at him, and Derek shakes his head. "It didn't work. But when I was with Marjorie's Pack, I started again."

"What are you going to do with this?" Stiles asks. Derek stands, and maybe it's the emotion, maybe it's Stiles being here, in Derek's intimate space, sharing things he's barely shared with his sister, but he presses up behind Stiles, bodies close together. He can feel Stiles' warmth against his skin, and he turns his head and inhales.

He reaches past Stiles, arm going around him slightly as he touches the driftwood. Mouth close to Stiles' ear, Derek says, "I'm thinking about making a table, for the den in the new house." Stiles drags fingers across the wood, then turns to look at Derek. He looks into Stiles' bright brown eyes, and his face is so close that Derek can feel his warm, moist breath against his lips.

Everything seems to fade away then until it's just the two of them. It would be so easy to lean down and kiss Stiles, pour everything he feels for him into this moment, but Derek can't. So, he asks, "What do you think?"

Stiles licks his lips and glances down at Derek's mouth, and Derek feels everything inside him screaming to just go for it. The scent of longing and want and mild arousal from Stiles clouds his brain, and he contemplates just giving in, but then he hears a car in the driveway.

He steps away, out of Stiles' space, and his head clears. He takes a deep, grounding breath and ignores the flush across Stiles' skin. "Cora's back with the pizza."

Stiles glances at the door to the shed as Derek hears Cora yell for them. He's not sure Stiles can hear her, so he makes his way out of the shed and towards the house, Stiles following. His entire body is thrumming with energy, his lips and limbs tingling with the heady sensation of how close they had just been.

Cora's already on the couch with a pizza box open, shoving a slice into her mouth. Stiles drops down beside her, and Derek takes her other side. If she notices they're acting any differently, she doesn't acknowledge it. Stiles fills his plate with pepperoni pizza from the open box, and Derek slides out the bottom box that must be contain sausage.

Derek stares at the television as they eat, but he doesn't watch. He's aware of Cora and Stiles talking beside him, but his mind is still on that moment before Cora drove up. He doesn't know what he would have done if she hadn't interrupted them. Would he have kissed Stiles? Stiles had been looking at him like he wanted Derek to kiss him.

Even now, with Cora between them and the moment broken, he can smell the scent of longing and want clinging to Stiles' skin.

When Derek finishes his pizza, he stands up and takes his plate into the kitchen. Cora calls after him, "Hey, lame-o, where are you going? We're in the middle of the movie."

Derek comes back into doorway and looks at them on the couch, still eating. He glances at Stiles quickly and finds Stiles looking back at him thoughtfully. He turns to Cora and says, "I'm gonna go keep working on the table I started."

Cora frowns at him and tries to communicate something with her expression and brows. Derek resolutely ignores it. She says, "The table can wait until tomorrow."

"It's fine, Cora. Besides, I don't want to interrupt your hanging out."

Cora rolls her eyes, and Stiles is still staring at him, and Derek feels his gaze curling down his spine. "You idiot, we don't care, do we, Stiles?"

Stiles shakes his head. "Nope. You can totally hang with us. We do actually enjoy being around you, you know." Stiles grins at him, his eyes twinkling.

"Thanks. Maybe next time." With that, Derek leaves to return to his shed.

He works on shaping the driftwood and sanding it down for a long time. Stiles' scent still hangs heavy in the air, and Derek glares at the wood as he shaves part of it. Things are definitely changing between them; Derek can't deny it anymore. Stiles seems like he may have feelings for Derek, but Derek doesn't know if they should take anything to the next level, if they should go beyond the good friends they've become.

Because that's just it. Derek is scared of losing Stiles. Derek wants Stiles in his life, can't imagine him not being around anymore. He's become such a familiar presence. And that's when the words form in Derek's mind. Stiles has become Pack.

And more than that terrifying realization, Derek has fallen in love with him.

"You're such a fucking idiot," Derek murmurs to himself as he grips the piece of wood so tightly it splinters. He sighs.

Later, there's a soft knock on the door just before Derek smells Stiles' scent. He responds, and Stiles steps inside, closing the door behind him. He walks over to the workbench to look at the progress Derek has made over the last few hours.

"It's looking nice," Stiles says as he touches the rounded edges Derek's working on.

"I've barely started," Derek tells him. "It'll take awhile to get it like I want it."

Stiles steps closer to where Derek's sitting on his stool and smiles at him. "It's a good thing you are a patient man," Stiles says, stepping even closer. "I'd have already given up and gone to IKEA."

"It's not always about the final product," Derek responds. "The process is just as important, maybe even more rewarding."

Stiles steps closer, his body flush against Derek's side. From Derek's perch on the stool, Stiles is slightly taller than him, so he looks up into his face and watches as Stiles' tongue darts out across his lips. "I'm about to go home. I just didn't want to leave without saying goodbye."

"I'm glad you didn't," Derek says, his hands itching to reach out and touch Stiles' sides.

Stiles gives him a small smile and just looks at him before he leans down, closing the distance between them. Derek closes his eyes, parts his lips and inhales just as Stiles' mouth presses against his in a kiss. It's a soft, gentle touch, tentative and unsure. Stiles' lips are warm, and his scent floods Derek's senses, making his entire body feel alive. Neither of them move, just stay there for a moment locked in the press of the lingering kiss.

Too soon, Stiles pulls away, his cheeks pink and his eyes bright. Derek's mouth tingles where Stiles' lips had just been. Stiles' tongue darts out to chase to the taste, and then a small smile tugs at his mouth. "Goodnight, Derek."

Derek doesn't respond, just stares after Stiles as he leaves, his fingers resting on his lips.

Chapter Text

If all your love seizes up,
Take my hand and take enough
Take it all, You know I can break your fall.
-dan michaelson - breaking falls

(you won't love me still)
If I ever recover
-xplor - recover

 

Stiles parks the Jeep beside Kira's car. The lake house's driveway is filled with the Pack's cars, four parked together near the house and others lining the driveway. Looks like most everyone is already here, which doesn't surprise Stiles since he had to wait until he got off work.

He enters the house, and music blares from the sound system connected throughout the house. The kitchen is empty, with food littering the counters, but he spies people outside the windows and can hear voices. He goes to the fridge and grabs a beer before heading towards the back deck. The Pack is spread among the deck and mingling.

Scott's at the grill with Parrish, making burgers and hot dogs. Liam sits in a chair with Hayden in his lap, Mason and Corey across from them as they talk. Lydia and Kira are down in the yard, stretched out in lounge chairs, wearing bikinis and sunning themselves.

"Hey man," Scott smiles as Stiles approaches. He bumps Stiles' shoulder as Stiles nods at Parrish. "Glad you're finally here."

"Me, too," Stiles says. "Work sucked." He lifts the bottle to his lips and takes a swig. He glances at Parrish, then jokingly says, "You gonna arrest me for underage drinking, deputy?"

Parrish laughs good-naturedly. "Lydia told me I could only come if I could put aside the badge if I saw some underage drinking and recreational drug use."

"That's pretty unethical for a man of the law," Stiles points out.

"I'm hanging out with a bunch of supernatural creatures, and am a supernatural creature myself. As long as no one's driving and endangering innocent people, I say it's hardly worth reporting."

Stiles reaches out and clasps Parrish on the shoulder. "Good man." He looks at him seriously. "If my dad asks, we were all perfect angels."

Parrish snorts. "Like he'd believe that."

Scott lowers the lid of the grill and walks with Stiles and Parrish over to a few vacant chairs beside Liam and the others. Stiles takes a deep breath as he settles into the chair and lets himself relax. He's been sleeping better, but he's still tense with anxiety. He knows that the tea isn't blocking everything from his mind, because sometimes he still has flashes of images, and he'll wake up from a confused muddle of dreams. The dreams have been a mixture of cold water, playing Go, glints of silver, and Derek.

Most mornings, he wakes unsettled and confused, images fading away too slowly.

He takes another long pull from his beer and starts into a conversation about the latest Mets loss. He, Parrish, Liam, and Mason constantly argue about baseball, mainly because they all like vastly different teams, and Mason and Parrish prefer American League over National.

They're in a heated discussion about the Mets versus the Giants and the Cubs when Danny arrives. Followed by Jackson. Who is followed by Cora and Derek.

Everyone goes quiet as they stare at the newly arrived group. Stiles' heart is pounding as he looks at Derek, who's looking right at him, so he quickly averts his eyes and turns his attention instead to Danny and Jackson. Danny joins the Pack with natural ease, unconscious of any awkwardness.

Because this is awkward. Parrish and Jackson in the same place? That's a recipe for disaster, or a bloodbath. Full of claws and fire.

Beyond that, Cora and Derek don't know the rest of the Pack well, so that's awkward in a whole different way. Plus, Derek. Stiles' own brand of awkward. Stiles hasn't texted him or seen him since he kissed Derek the other night, which Stiles is still trying to pretend was a dream. Because he doesn't know what he'd been thinking when he just kissed Derek that night.

Madness, Stiles has decided. It had clearly been madness.

But now, the Hale Pack is standing by the door to the kitchen, rigid and looking around uncomfortably. And Stiles had been doing such a great job at the "avoid the problem and hope it goes away" thing. Until the stupid brooding eyebrowed problem showed up at a barbecue. Stiles decides he's never going to a barbecue again. Way too dangerous.

Scott stands with a wide grin and walks up to the Hale Pack. "Hey guys, I didn't know you were coming!" He reaches out to shake Derek's hand, giving him a warm smile that Stiles notices causes Derek to relax just a fraction. He speaks to Cora and squeezes her shoulder before turning to Jackson and nodding. "Hey Jackson, good to see you again."

Jackson returns the nod stiffly. "McCall."

"You guys want beers? I can show you where everything is."

Cora grins. "That'd be great." Derek and Cora follow Scott back into the house while Jackson stands by the door, scowling at the group. Stiles is pretty sure he's actually just scowling at Parrish.

Lydia and Kira come onto the deck as Danny takes a seat and says, "Guys, this is Jackson. Jackson, this is Liam, Hayden, Mason, Corey, Parrish, and Kira." The group murmurs various greetings. Lydia strides up to Jackson, her pale skin pink from the sun. She's got her hair in a loose, messy (yet of course perfectly tousled) knot on top of her head, and slides her large round sunglasses onto her head when she stops in front of him.

"What are you doing here?" she asks.

Jackson turns his attention to her, his face softening significantly. "Danny invited me," he tells her.

Lydia smiles at him, rolling her eyes. "Well, help yourself to the food and drinks. You know where everything is."

Jackson nods and watches her as she goes back to the lounge chair to slip her cover up over her head. Kira has joined them, wearing a tank and shorts over her bikini. The circle has expanded significantly, and Stiles gets up to add two chairs for Cora and Derek next to his.

When Cora, Derek, and Scott come back outside, Cora takes the seat two down from him, leaving the one between them empty. Derek frowns at it as he approaches, but he sits down without really looking at Stiles.

"Hey loser," Cora greets as she scoops dip onto a chip from the plate on her lap. Sarcastically, she says, "Thanks for inviting us to hang out."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Dude, I got the text at work today about a Pack grill out. I didn't know we were inviting other people."

"We can leave," Derek says. He's looking at Stiles, his expression stony and unreadable. Stiles tries to tamp down the flare of hurt.

So, he tries to act normal and rolls his eyes at Derek. "Don't be stupid. You're staying, if I have to tie you to the chair with wolfsbane."

Derek quirks an eyebrow, and Cora smirks behind him. She says, "Sounds kinky."

Stiles flushes as he glances at Derek, and he can see a faint pink tinge to Derek's cheeks. Cora is obviously a menace and needs to die.

Scott checks the burgers, Lydia goes inside the house with Jackson to gather together the things they need for dinner, and Danny, Liam, Parrish, and Corey go into the yard to start a game of bocce ball. Stiles watches them for a bit, and it's unlike any bocce ball game he's ever seen. The guys are brutal.

"Ten bucks Liam takes someone's eye out before the end of the game," Stiles says to Hayden.

"He's got more control than that," she counters, but Liam then rolls the ball with so much force it hits Corey in the stomach. Hayden cringes. "I think." When Danny gets his ball closer, Liam grabs his ball and chunks it into the lake. The others grumble as they grab one of the backup balls.

"That ten bucks has my name on it, Romero," Stiles taunts Hayden. She narrows her eyes and gives him the finger. Stiles just laughs.

Kira comes over and takes the seat beside Stiles. "Hey Derek," she says with a smile. "Glad to see you again."

Derek smiles at her. "You too."

Stiles wonders if maybe he should move so they don't have to talk over him when Kira says, "I've been trying to convince Stiles to invite you out with us, but he never will. I told him he should stop keeping you for himself."

Stiles turns to Kira in disbelief. He's embarrassed and wants her to shut up. "I told you, Kira, Derek's busy and...stuff."

Kira doesn't take the hint. "I'm sure he has time to come to dinner occasionally." She gives Derek a wide smile. "You should definitely come to dinner with us sometime."

Stiles glances at Derek, who looks both flattered and uncomfortable. "Um, okay."

Kira beams at him.

Thankfully, Scott announces that dinner is ready, so Stiles springs from his chair and disappears into the house to see if he can help Lydia. Lydia's not in the kitchen, so he looks for her, but stops in the hall when he hears voices.

"I didn't know you'd be here," Lydia says. "We didn't have plans tonight."

"It still doesn't mean I have to like him being here." Jackson. Stiles feels bad about eavesdropping, but he can't move just yet.

"You know that I'm dating him," Lydia says.

"Unfortunately."

"Jackson - " She cuts off with a muffled sound, and Stiles has a pretty good idea how Jackson got her to stop talking.

He walks back into the kitchen to find Derek standing there, glancing around and looking slightly lost. "Hey," Stiles says as he walks over to a bag on the floor to retrieve the paper plates. "Do you need something?"

"I, uh, came to see if you needed any help."

Derek stands there awkwardly, his face pinched. Stiles sighs and leans back against the counter. He runs a hand through his hair. "This is awkward as fuck." Derek looks surprised at his candor, but he gives Stiles a clipped nod. "I don't want it to be awkward."

"Me neither," Derek responds quietly.

"I'm sorry, about the other night," Stiles says. "It shouldn't have happened."

Derek frowns at him. Stiles thinks that maybe Derek disagrees if that pained look on his face is any indication, but he's still not sure it should have happened. It blows Stiles' mind that he and Derek are friends; he's not sure they can ever be anything more than that.

"Yeah," Derek finally says.

Stiles ignores the sting of rejection he feels, which is stupid because he's the one who said it shouldn't have happened. Maybe he thought Derek would disagree with him - maybe he wanted Derek to disagree with him.

Instead, Derek agrees that they're wrong for one another. Of course they are, Stiles thinks. He's been trying to convince himself of that for awhile.

"Okay," Stiles says, nodding and turning back to the plates. He fumbles with the twist tie, his hands shaking slightly. Derek is suddenly beside him, his hand closing over Stiles', stilling it. Stiles stares at their hands, then looks over at Derek. Derek's brows are furrowed in confusion, and Stiles feels just as confused. "What are you doing?"

"I have no clue," Derek replies.

Stiles barks out a laugh. Derek's looking at him in confusion again, and Stiles lifts his free hand to Derek's cheek. Derek's face pinches even more. "Stiles," he says, voice uneven.

"Derek," Stiles replies breathlessly. He leans forward and kisses Derek. Unlike the other night, Derek responds this time, kissing him back softly. Then, too soon, Derek is pulling away and looking at Stiles, his eyes bright. Stiles studies the unique color, lighter than he has ever really noticed before, and he decides it makes Derek look a bit ethereal somehow.

"We should," Derek starts, taking a few steps backs and indicating the deck. "Before someone comes in here."

Stiles nods, wetting his lips with his tongue. "Yeah."

They're gathering plates and bowls of chips and salad when Lydia and Jackson enter the kitchen. The four of them look at each other, the air tense and awkward. Lydia's face is flush, and Jackson's hair is mussed and his shirt is bunched and twisted.

Lydia squares her shoulders and strides out onto the deck, and Jackson goes to follow. But Derek says, "You should fix your shirt."

Stiles snorts, and Jackson glares at him as he rights his shirt and runs a hand through his hair. "Not a word, Stilinski. It's not like I can't smell what's been going on in here." He raises his eyebrows and gives him a significant look before going back onto the deck.

"Do you really have to keep him in your Pack?" Stiles whines, which causes Derek to laugh.

They eat sitting in a large circle on the back deck. Lydia sits beside Parrish, so Jackson sits beside Cora and glares at them the whole time, and Danny does his best to distract him. Hayden ends up on Cora's other side, and they start bonding over traveling and European football. Stiles sits between Scott and Mason, because Derek had taken the chair beside Danny and Kira had sat next to him and immediately started talking his ear off. Stiles thinks that's probably a good thing, because he was an idiot again and kissed Derek. Again.

How could he be so stupid? What is wrong with him? It's like he can't help himself where Derek is concerned. Every time he's been around him lately, he's just wants to kiss him and touch him, and for some reason, he's given into that.

Stiles is knocked out of his thoughts when Scott's knee bumps against his. "Okay?" Scott asks quietly.

Stiles nods and takes another bite of his burger. After he swallows, he asks, "Why didn't you invite one of your many girlfriends over tonight?"

Scott looks embarrassed and laughs. "Pack night."

"Lydia brought Parrish, and Danny brought Jackson and the others."

Scott glances around the circle before turning back to Stiles. "Still Pack night." Stiles nods, understanding what he means. "Plus," Scott adds, "I didn't want everyone to have to pretend."

"So who are you dating right now?"

"No one," Scott answers. "Went on a couple dates last week."

"Uh-huh," Stiles says, wagging his eyebrows.

"They were still dates," Scott laughs, "even if they ended with that."

"I'm so jealous, dude," Stiles groans. He makes a startled noise when something hits him on the side of the head. He glances over at Liam, who swallows loudly.

"What are you whining about?"

"Don't interrupt the grown-ups' conversations," Stiles retorts.

Liam rolls his eyes as he tosses another cherry tomato at Stiles' head. Scott says, "He's talking about my dates."

Liam laughs. "You mean whining because you're getting laid and he's not."

Stiles chucks the tomato back at Liam, but he moves out of the way. "Shut up."

"You're just mad you're the only one in the Pack not getting laid," Liam says.

"Classy, Liam," Hayden says. Like anyone didn't know they've been fucking since their sophomore year.

"I'm not getting laid, either," Kira pipes up, giving Stiles a smile of solidarity. Stiles groans in embarrassment as he runs his hands over his face.

"He missed his chance with me," Cora says, "I would have fucked him." Derek almost chokes on a potato chip, and Stiles cuts his eyes towards him. Derek looks as uncomfortable as Stiles feels. But when Stiles glances at Jackson, Lydia, and Parrish, they all look pretty uncomfortable, too, and are all resolutely keeping their mouths shut. Stiles knows it's because Lydia's sleeping with both of them, and they know she's sleeping with both of them, and it's just awkward that they're both here tonight. Stiles knows this night isn't lacking in awkwardness. It might win the award for Most Awkward Night Ever.

"Can we stop talking about my sex life?" Stiles exclaims.

"Lack of, you mean," Liam says.

"Derek's not getting any either," Cora offers, giving him a saccharine smile.

Derek looks like he wants to bolt, and Stiles notices his hands gripped too tightly around his paper plate. Then Jackson says, "Like you're getting laid."

Derek seems to relax minutely when the attention switches away from him to Cora. Cora rolls her eyes. "Yeah, so? It doesn't bother me. If I wanted sex, I'd go find it." She shrugs.

Kira grins and says, "We should have a girls night and go into Beacon City. We could go dancing!"

Cora smiles. "Yeah, that'd be fun."

Stiles wonders how in the hell the conversation has turned to all their sex lives.

"What game should we play after dinner?" Lydia asks, and the conversation shifts to what game will accommodate thirteen people. Stiles knows she did it on purpose, and he is okay with that.

Stiles glances over at Derek, and Derek is staring at his plate, and Stiles can see a faint pink tinge to his ears. It makes him want to go over there and kiss him stupid. A moment later, Derek glances up and locks eyes with Stiles, and Stiles gives him a small smile. Derek returns the smile, and Stiles bites his lip and looks over at where Lydia and Mason are arguing about the game.

*

Derek doesn't know why he's sitting in Lydia Martin's lake house, eating with an unfamiliar Pack. He knows Scott and Stiles, and knows Lydia and her scent well enough through Jackson, but the others are strangers. He remembers Kira from the time right before he left Beacon Hills, and she's just as friendly and eager as he remembers. He's on speaking terms with Parrish. He knows of Danny because of Jackson, and has met him a few times, remembers Liam from when Scott first turned him, but the others he's never met until tonight.

It makes Derek feel extremely out of place.

Add to that the fact that Stiles kissed him, again. Derek just wants to shift and run beneath the waning moon and sort out his feelings.

But that doesn't look like it's going to happen because they've all moved into the spacious living room and are arguing about who's on whose team while Lydia and Parrish set up the game board.

Liam, Hayden, Mason, and Corey have already formed a four-person team. "The rest of the teams have to be in threes to be even," Hayden says.

"I've got Danny," Jackson says.

"I'm with Jackson and Danny," Cora adds.

Kira says, "I'm with Lydia."

"Me, too," Parrish says.

Derek awkwardly glances at where Scott and Stiles are sitting in chairs on the other side of the room. Scott smiles easily at him. "Awesome, Derek, that means you're with us."

Derek glares at Cora as he walks past her, and she winks at him. The bitch did it on purpose. The comment about Stiles and his own lack of sex life had been on purpose, too. He knows what she's doing, and he's not happy about it.

"Dude," Stiles says as Derek takes the seat behind him and Scott. "It isn't that bad. You look like you're about to murder someone."

"Yeah, Stiles and I are the reigning Cranium champions."

Derek frowns at the board. "I don't even know what this is."

Stiles gawks at him. "How? How have you never played Cranium before? It's hilarious. Look, I'll explain." The others get everything set up as Stiles leans back in his chair to explain the rules to Derek.

Derek glowers at the board. "I hate games like this."

"I know," Stiles says, patting Derek's leg lightly. "You hate fun. But you'll live." Scott laughs and Derek glares at Stiles' smirk.

Well, at least Stiles is acting like nothing happened in the kitchen earlier. That might make getting through this night easier.

Derek watches as the other teams play. It's all ridiculous, drawing and humming and charades. When it's their turn, they role a purple. "Sweet!" Stiles exclaims. "Wild card. Let's go green."

"No, man, blue."

"I think red or yellow," Derek suggests. Both Scott and Stiles turn to him in disbelief.

"Yellow? Red?" Stiles exclaims.

"But those are the boring cards," Scott says.

"Yeah, Derek, you never willing choose red or yellow," Stiles says. Derek frowns, crosses his arms, and sits back. He doesn't really care what they choose.

After Scott and Stiles argue for a few moments, they decide on blue. It's a drawing one, and Scott grins. Stiles leans back towards Derek and loudly whispers, "Scott is a boss at the drawing ones." He turns towards Derek more fully, then scoots his chair over to make room. "Scoot up and stop being anti-social. Help me guess. Use werewolf telepathy or something." Derek rolls his eyes, but complies.

Scott starts drawing, and Derek watches him intently while Stiles just shouts out random things. "Person, dude, robot, alien, Harrison Ford, Mickey Mouse," Stiles shoots off, and Derek stares at him in exasperation. Stiles slaps Derek's arm and yells, "Guess something, Derek."

"He's barely drawn a line," Derek points out in a huff.

"Doesn't matter. Uniform, police officer, wait, what are those? Flames? Fireman. Ooh! Parrish! You're drawing Parrish!"

Scott gives him a significant look, somewhere between pleading and annoyed, and jabs his pencil against the drawing. It's a person with squiggle lines coming out of their legs. "Pants. Flaming pants. Flaming pants!"

"Hot pants," Derek says suddenly, and Scott jumps up and spins around before pointing at him.

"Yes!" He holds up his hand, and Derek reluctantly holds his up so Scott can high five him. "You rock, Derek."

"What the hell, hot pants? How lame is that?" Stiles grabs the piece of paper, then stands up and reaches across the board to hand the paper to Parrish as Danny rolls the die and Hayden tries to keep all the pieces from scattering. "Here, Parrish. It's your self-portrait."

Parrish takes the paper and laughs while Cora gets into position to act out something from the card.

They get blue again on their next turn, and Stiles grabs the Play-Doh to do sculptorades. At Derek's raised brow, he says, "Dude, I am king of the sculptorades." He winks at Derek, and Derek scowls. Scott guesses Stiles' sculpture with seconds to spare, and Derek just stares at the pile of Play-Doh.

"How is that even a campfire?" Derek asks.

Stiles reaches out and pushes Derek's head. "You have no vision."

As the night progresses, Derek notices that he and Stiles end up sitting closer and closer together. He's not sure if he's the one doing it or Stiles, but Stiles leans into his space more often than not, and Derek can't really complain. He's unable to resist Stiles.

When they get a yellow card, Derek offers to spell the word backwards. Lydia reads the word aloud, and Derek spells it within a few seconds, not even pausing to think about it. "Correct," Lydia says, handing them the card.

Stiles and Scott both look at him with their mouths hanging open. "How did you do that?" Stiles asks. "That's some wolf spelling ninja shit right there."

Derek rolls his eyes. "I learned how to spell in kindergarten, Stiles."

"Not backwards and long words like that."

"Shut up."

"I'm impressed." Derek frowns at him, but Stiles bumps his shoulder and grins.

When a club Cranium card gets pulled for a green sideshow challenge, Scott holds up his hands. "I'm shit at puppeting someone else. Stiles, you and Derek go for it."

Derek panics. "I really don't think - "

"Don't be a pussy, Derek," Jackson says from where he's standing in front of Danny.

"Yeah," Cora exclaims as she watches them with a gleeful smile on their face. "Don't be a pussy."

Derek frowns as he glances up at Stiles, waiting and watching him. There's a light flush to his cheeks, and Derek groans and rolls his eyes as he gets up to join Stiles. Lydia and Parrish are also puppeting while Corey and Hayden are for the other team.

Jackson's glaring at Parrish, who is lightly holding Lydia's arms and moving them around as she leans back against his chest. Derek sees Danny whisper something near his ear, too quiet for even Derek to hear. Jackson seems to relax a bit, and Derek thinks not for the first time that Danny is good for Jackson.

Derek stands beside Stiles, and Stiles is shifting uncomfortably as they wait for the other teams to pass them the card. "I'll puppet you," Stiles tells him. "I've done it before. It's all good, you'll just have to let me push you around. Shouldn't be too hard." Stiles grins, winks, and pushes Derek lightly.

"No," Derek says. "I'll do it."

"I think that my experience - "

Derek glares and says, "I'll be the one controlling you."

"Well, how can I say no to you wanting to so forcefully manhandle me?" Stiles blurts, and Derek feels himself blush. Stiles is going for light, but the matching flush on his skin betrays him.

This is such a bad idea.

Derek takes the card from Danny, and Derek just glares at the card. Stiles bursts out laughing, dropping his forehead to Derek's shoulder. Derek then turns the glare down at the mop of brown hair.

"Oh, this is gonna be classic." Stiles straightens and laughs at Derek's expression. "I can't wait to figure out what's on that card that gave you that expression."

The activity is the twist.

"I hate you and this game," Derek grumbles as he grabs Stiles' shoulders and turns him to face Scott.

"I think I'm starting to pick up werewolf senses because I can hear you lying."

"Focus, Stiles," Scott calls as Kira turns over the timer.

Derek sees the other teams out of the corner of his eyes, pushing their partners into position and making them move. He glares at Stiles' back, trying to figure out how to do this.

"Do something, Derek!" Stiles hisses, reaching back behind him and grabbing Derek's hands. "Manhandle me!"

The others are shouting and yelling, but no one has guessed correctly yet. Derek wraps his fingers around Stiles' thin hips, and tries to calm his pounding heart. Derek tamps down the flare of arousal he's hit with, and he pointedly ignores Scott's thoughtful gaze. Scott can just keep his werewolf nose out of this.

He pulls one of Stiles' hips back, then pushes it forward again, trying to imitate the twist.

Scott just watches them in confusion.

"You can do better than that, Derek," Stiles says, but his voice sounds high. Derek is trying not to get distracted by Stiles' scent flooding his nose. He can smell Stiles' nerves, his arousal. He grits his teeth and drops down to nudge at the back of Stiles' knees to make them bend, attempting to ignore the intimacy of touching Stiles there. Then, he bends Stiles' arms into ninety degree angles and rests his hands back on his hips.

Derek pushes Stiles hips back and forth again, and can't stop himself from turning his face to the side and dragging his nose just behind Stiles' ear. He feels the slight shudder run through Stiles' body as Derek exhales against his ear.

"THE TWIST!" Kira yells, and Parrish immediately starts dancing around. He high-fives Kira, and Lydia smiles as she smugly sits down.

Derek quickly takes two steps back, hoping no one saw what transpired between him and Stiles, even though nothing actually happened. Stiles sits down and avoids Derek's gaze, and Scott looks at both of them knowingly. Derek pretends nothing happened and glowers at the game board.

*

Lydia, Parrish, and Kira win. Stiles crumples against Scott and pretends to cry. "Why? We are the best at Cranium, Scott."

"We almost won," Scott tells him. "We were only one away. They just got the last card before we did."

Stiles leans back up and turns to Derek. "You were pretty good," he says. "You're a master at the yellows."

"Words are my bitch," Derek deadpans.

Stiles laughs in delight, then slaps Derek's arm. "Dude, see? You should have fun more often. It'll soften even your edges."

Derek rolls his eyes, but doesn't disagree.

The party moves back out to the back deck. The group spreads around, and Lydia brings out what looks like the entire contents of her liquor cabinet. Cora gratefully accepts the special wolf-blend liquor Scott offers her. Jackson snatches it from her and takes a huge gulp. Derek notices that Stiles fills his cup, but sits it on the deck and doesn't touch it. He frowns as he watches him, no one else seeming to notice.

Derek watches Stiles throughout the night as he talks to Kira, then Parrish, finally ending up in an intense discussion about lacrosse with Jackson, Danny, Scott, Liam, and Stiles.

When Derek mentions that he played in high school, they all kind of stare at him. "I didn't know you played lacrosse," Stiles says.

"I didn't know you played any sports," Scott says.

Derek rolls his eyes. "I did go to high school."

"Yeah, but..." Scott trails off and glances at Stiles uncomfortably.

"Scott, you can say it. It's okay," he huffs. "That happened when I was sixteen. I played basketball, baseball, and lacrosse before that."

"Impressive," Danny says, eyeing Derek with a little more interest. Derek, however, is definitely not interested in Danny, so he turns to Scott and Stiles.

"You played three sports?" Scott asks. "How did you have time to sleep? Or study?"

Derek shrugs.

Stiles smirks and says, "Let me guess. You were also honor roll, right?" Derek feels slightly embarrassed when he nods. Stiles laughs. "Show off."

Liam eventually gets up and wanders away, Jackson goes to find Lydia, and Danny joins Mason in the search for more beer. Scott starts texting some girl he's dating, so Stiles and Derek are left alone. Stiles fills the void with his chatter, and Derek's thankful for his gift of gab since it helps lessen the awkwardness of the situation.

Because all Derek can do while he watches Stiles' hands flail around as he talks is think about how good he had smelled when they'd kissed, the heat underneath his palms as he gripped Stiles' hips, and how much he wants to feel Stiles' body near his again and kiss him again. He tries really hard not to stare at Stiles' mouth, but finds it impossible.

"Have you completely hated tonight?" Stiles asks him. "I know groups aren't your thing, and this isn't your Pack."

Derek looks around at the McCall Pack, and though he feels the separation of the Pack bonds, he feels comfortable here. "It's not too bad."

"Aww, are you saying you like us?"

Derek frowns, but it's more playful than anything. "I wouldn't go that far."

"Keep denying it, Derek. We'll never get rid of you now." Derek rolls his eyes, but he feels a smile tugging at his lips. "What? What is this?" Stiles teases, hands waving close to Derek's face. He almost hits Derek's nose a few times, and Derek isn't sure that Stiles isn't going to take his eye out. "Is that a smile I see on your face?"

"I don't know what you are talking about," Derek says.

Stiles pokes at the corner of Derek's mouth, and Derek's taken aback by the level of comfort that has built between the two of them. Not only that Stiles feels comfortable enough to poke at Derek's mouth without being afraid of him, but also that Derek doesn't feel the need to bite off his fingers. He doesn't actually mind that Stiles has pushed past his boundaries and encroached into his personal space.

But the hand buzzing around his face like a fly is annoying him. He reaches out and grabs Stiles' wrist, and -

"I suck at this, Derek," Stiles yelled from the other side of the lacrosse field. "That one game was a fluke."

"Stop whining and play," Derek responded, raising his eyebrows and looking at Stiles pointedly. He scooped the ball from the grass to the net, lifted his crosse, and tossed the ball towards Stiles. He watched as Stiles ran to the side and caught it. Then, Stiles threw it back at him.

"I don't like you," Stiles shouted. "It's hot and I don't want to run around this field anymore."

"Oh?" Derek shrugged, hefted his crosse against his shoulder, and turned around. "I'll stop wasting your time then." As he walked away, he heard Stiles grumble, then heard the sound of footsteps as Stiles ran up behind him. He braced himself and tossed the crosse to the ground as Stiles launched himself onto Derek's back, wrapping his arms and legs around Derek's body.

"You're such an asshole," Stiles mumbled as he kissed Derek's cheek, his buzzed hair tickling Derek's face though it was softer now that Stiles was starting to grow it out.

Derek chuckled and hefted Stiles up slightly, holding him underneath his thighs.

Derek blinks, his surroundings coming into focus as he hears the snap of fingers. "Derek?" He glances at Stiles, who's staring at him, and Derek realizes he's still gripping Stiles' wrist. He lets go like it was physically painful, and Stiles looks a bit freaked out. "Dude, you okay?"

"I'm fine," Derek grits out, shifting uncomfortably. The images are still fresh in his mind, being on the lacrosse field with Stiles, then having Stiles wrapped around him. He abruptly stands up without a word and walks into the house to get some space.

He's sitting on the couch with his head in his hands when he smells Stiles' scent waft into the living room. Derek doesn't look up, but keeps his eyes shut.

"I don't want to bother you," Stiles says quietly. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

Derek opens his eyes and glances over to where Stiles is standing tentatively in the doorway. Derek sighs. "You are never a bother, Stiles."

Stiles gives him a small smile. "You okay, then?" Derek nods. Stiles stands there for a moment, looking like he wants to say something else, but then he takes a step back. "I'll, uh, leave you alone then." He turns and walks out of the room, leaving Derek alone.

Derek's ready to get out of here. He finds Jackson first, and Jackson says, "Dear god, yes, get me away from that insipid clown before I claw his face off." Danny rolls his eyes, and though Derek doesn't quite think Jackson's assessment of Parrish is correct, he understands how he feels.

Derek finds Cora talking to Kira and Mason, and he has to drag her away after Cora makes plans with Kira about hanging out later.

As they're walking to the car, Cora says, "You both suck, you know that? You need to learn how to socialize. I was having fun."

Jackson starts bickering with her, and Derek remains silent. He can't quite get those images out of his head and how they had felt so real.

*

Stiles struggled against the hands restraining him. He tugged and squirmed, but to no avail. Those hands were iron-strong around him, and the more he struggled, the tighter they gripped. He barely noticed the pain.

"What do you want from us?" Stiles screamed. He was trying so hard to keep it together, to fight back the tears because he knew that would make it worse. They were already laughing at him, and he didn't want to give them the satisfaction of his tears.

The reply was muffled, Stiles unable to make out the words. His heart started pounding in his chest, his panic rising in response to the indecipherable words. The grip on his arm tightened even more, and he felt the sharp sting of claws against his skin.

Two figures with unrecognizable faces came through a doorway, dragging a man between them towards a pole in the middle of the room. The man was slumped and unresponsive, shirtless and covered in blood and bruises. When one of the figures jerked the man up to tie him to the pole, Stiles screamed.

"Derek!"

"Stiles!"

Stiles wakes up, his brain screaming. His dad is sitting on the edge of his bed, a hand on Stiles' shoulder, but Stiles barely registers that he's there. He rolls over and lunges for the nightstand, searching for his cell phone.

"Stiles," his father says again, more forcefully this time.

"Where's my cell phone?" Stiles mumbles to himself as his hand knocks everything askew on his nightstand as he searches for his phone.

"Stiles, look at me."

Stiles glares at his father, panic still gripping him. He has to call Derek, he has to make sure he is okay.

"Whatever it is, it was just a dream. He's fine, Stiles, I promise."

That was enough to make Stiles pause. "W-what?"

The sheriff sighs and runs a hand over his face. "You were screaming out Derek's name," he tells Stiles, and Stiles flushes as he looks away. "I'm guessing he was in your nightmare."

Stiles swallows and nods. "Yeah."

"He's fine," the sheriff tells him again. "It was just a dream, you know that, right? You can call him, but it's two a.m."

Stiles drops back onto the pillow and blinks up at the ceiling. "No, yeah, you're right, Dad," he says, his voice hoarse. His heart is still pounding in his ears, but he says, "Just a dream."

"One hell of a dream though."

Stiles thinks about how he felt when he saw Derek's bruised and bloody face, his body unresponsive as they attached him to a pole. "Yeah."

The sheriff lightly pats his leg. "Want to watch some more Game of Thrones?"

Stiles shakes his head. "No, I think I'm just gonna go back to sleep."

The sheriff doesn't look like he believes Stiles, but he doesn't press. He leaves the door cracked and Stiles rolls onto his side and doesn't sleep.

*

"Come on," Danny's voice pleads in his ear. "You need to get out. And get laid."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Dude, I - "

Danny interrupts, "Stop. No excuses. It'll do you good, I promise." Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. "Mason and Corey are going, but you know they'll just end up in a corner dry-humping fifteen minutes after we get there. I need a wingman."

"Danny, you are the last person who needs a wingman," Stiles replies. "You'll meet five guys within ten minutes who want to fuck you."

"Good, then that's four for you to choose from when I turn them down."

"You're so magnanimous," Stiles drawls.

"I'll buy the drinks and pay your cover."

"Did Scott put you up to this?" Stiles asks.

"Does it matter? We haven't been to Jungle in over a month."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Fine."

"Cool. I'll pick you up later."

Stiles tosses the phone down in frustration, but immediately grabs it again to send Scott a text. You suck. I don't need you pressuring Danny to take me pity clubbing.

Scott replies back a few minutes later. It's not pity clubbing.

You still asked him to take me.

So what? You and Danny hang out. You go clubbing together a lot.

Stiles rolls his eyes. Then he texts, Who's the date tonight?

Lindsay. Nice girl. Date's going well so far.

Hope you brought the condoms, bro.

Do you think I'm an idiot?

Just checking. Have fun for me.

You're the one going to the club. I have no doubt you and Danny will come home thoroughly debauched.

You're the one getting laid tonight, not me.

Stiles takes a shower and just stands under the spray for awhile. Though he'd been set to marathon a TV show tonight, he needs to go out. Danny's right - it's been awhile since he'd gone out with Danny, and he always has a good time when he goes out with him. And Stiles is pretty sure he needs it.

Stiles needs to get his mind off of Derek. He hasn't talked to Derek since the Pack night last Saturday, which means he's gone almost a week without talking to Derek. He hadn't texted Derek, and Derek hadn't texted him. Derek hadn't shown up at Home Depot, and Stiles hadn't visited the house. Stiles is still confused and embarrassed about the kisses. Maybe by ignoring Derek he's been making things more awkward, but Derek wasn't coming around either.

God, Stiles misses Derek.

He hadn't realized just how important Derek had become in his life until he suddenly wasn't there anymore. Stiles realized over the last week that he has spent more time with Derek over the last month or so than he does with the rest of the Pack (aside from Scott and Lydia) on a normal basis.

He'd gone to lunch with Cora on Tuesday, but neither of them mentioned Derek. And as much as he adores Cora, Cora isn't Derek.

Plus, Stiles has started dreaming about Derek. But of course, it's not the good kind of dreams, like the kissing and touching and sticking dicks in places kind of dream. That'd be too awesome. No, Stiles has been having gruesome, graphic nightmares, the same one every night.

Derek tied to a post, broken and bleeding, covered in black ooze and blood. Stiles unable to get to him because he's being held by someone, and he's shouting and struggling and he just keeps hearing laughter.

He really hates his fucked up brain. Because he knows that's some twisted shit. He's almost texted Derek multiple times to make sure he was okay, but stopped himself each time. He's embarrassed enough that he's dreaming of Derek; he's not sure he wants Derek to know.

Stiles dresses in skinny jeans and a white t-shirt, runs his fingers through his hair with some gel, then watches television until Danny picks him up.

"Looking sexy," Danny says when Stiles gets into the front seat of his car. Stiles rolls his eyes, but it gives him a much-needed confidence boost anyway. They pick Mason and Corey up on the way, and then head to Jungle.

The music is so loud Stiles can feel it pounding in his limbs, his ears, and even his teeth. This is exactly the kind of distraction he needs. Danny pushes his way to the bar while Stiles stands with Mason and Corey along the edge of the dance floor. He scans the crowd, mentally picking out guys who he thinks would be fun to grind up against. Most of the guys are out of his league, but a few stare back with interest when he catches their eye.

When Danny returns with their drinks, Stiles grabs his and takes a long drag. The whiskey burns going down and he makes a face, but he downs the rest of it as he looks around the crowd again. When he slams the glass down against the nearby table, Danny glances at him with amusement.

"Not a word," Stiles says. "You said you're buying the drinks, so I'm expecting another drink soon."

Stiles disappears into the crowd and just loses himself to the music. He doesn't worry about finding a partner; he closes his eyes and moves his body to the pounding rhythm. The music is fast-paced electro dance music, which is easier to dance to than dubstep or house, so Stiles just gives fuck all about impressing anyone and lets go. He needs this, he thinks as he feels the alcohol curling hotly through his veins.

Danny brings him two shots not too long afterwards, and Stiles grins as he says, "I love you right now."

"That's just the liquor," Danny responds with a smile.

Stiles immediately knocks back the first shot, which is strong and pungent and almost makes him gag. Danny laughs at him as they dance, taking his own shot with more grace than Stiles had. Stiles holds his other carefully, waiting a few moments for the first shot to settle before taking the next. Unfortunately, a guy dances back into him, jostling his arm and causing most of the shot to slosh out of the side.

"Thanks, asshole!" Stiles exclaims, frowning at where his hand is covered with the sticky alcohol mixture.

The guy turns around and looks at Stiles' hand, then moves closer to him. "I'll buy you another one," he says against Stiles' ear.

Stiles lets his eyes scan the guy's features. He's not a certain grumpy asshole werewolf, but the guy is cute. And he owes him a shot. Stiles nods, and the guy grins before closing the distance between them and pecking Stiles on the lips. "Be back in a second."

Stiles glances at Danny, and Danny is watching him again. "Not a word," Stiles says, "This is what you wanted in the first place."

Danny shrugs and says, "He's cute. Have fun." Danny slaps Stiles' butt before sliding between a few bodies to give Stiles some privacy. Stiles dances in place as he waits for the guy to return. Stiles loses track of how long he waits as the alcohol starts to blur the edges of his brain, and when the guy returns, Stiles smiles as he takes the small glass.

"Bottom's up," Stiles says before he drains the shot in one gulp. The other guy does the same as Stiles presses through the crowd to the edge of the floor to drop off his glass. When they're back on the dance floor, the guy wraps his arms around Stiles' neck as Stiles settles his hands on the guy's hips. The guy is just a bit taller than him, so Stiles tilts his head to look up into his face.

"What's your name?" Stiles asks.

"Brian."

"Stiles."

"Cool name," Brian says, his lips brushing purposefully against Stiles' ear. Then, Brian takes the lobe of Stiles' ear into his mouth. Stiles' eyes drift close, and he tries to relax into the moment. But Brian is chewing on his ear like he's a dog toy, and -

Stiles laughed as Derek's teeth nibbled along the shell of his ear. Derek pulled back and looked down at Stiles with a confused, slightly hurt pout on his face. That made Stiles laugh even harder. "Dude, I'm not some wolf chew toy."

Derek rolled his eyes and nuzzled his face back into Stiles' neck, kissing along the column and behind his ear. When Derek tugged the lobe back between his teeth, Stiles inhaled sharply. Breathlessly, he said, "Though, I'm willing to change my position on the whole wolf chew toy thing if you keep presenting further evidence."

Stiles stumbles suddenly, overwhelmed by an intense feeling of vertigo. The lights in the club flare a bit too brightly, the sound of the music drowned out by the whooshing in his ears.

Fuck, of course his brain had to go there. Why was he making up images of Derek nibbling his ear while dancing in the middle of a club?

But Brian is totally biting his ear, and it is absolutely not sexy. Stiles closes his eyes and thinks about Derek nipping gently at his ear, his tongue teasing and soft between the sharp sting of his teeth. Stiles' ear starts tingling at the idea, and it shoots straight to his cock.

"Hey," Stiles pushes back, away from Brian's mauling mouth. Brian's frustrated, and Stiles doesn't care. He is so over Brian the Biter, so he just turns and pushes his way through the crowd. He rubs at his ear, which is wet with saliva. He wrinkles his nose as he tries to finish wiping it off.

He's about to order another shot at the bar when two hands grip his hips. He tenses, years of fight-or-flight kicking in, and glances over his shoulder as a pair of lips press against his. Stiles kisses back automatically, partially due to the alcohol and partially because he's desperately trying to distract himself. When the guy pulls back, he smiles seductively and says, "Let me buy you a drink."

Stiles really isn't in the mood for another awkward make out session right now, so he politely declines. The guy doesn't take a hint. He slides his arms around Stiles and wraps him in a tight grip. "Come on," the guy says, "I bet we could have some fun out back. I bet you'd be beautiful on your knees."

Stiles elbows the guy in the ribs. "Get the fuck off, jackass."

"Fucking asshole." The guy lets go of Stiles and pushes him forward, into the two guys waiting in front of him. He mutters apologies as he spins around and looks for the guy. He'd love to punch him in the face or knee him in the nuts. Stiles bets that guy would be beautiful on his knees when he's gripping his aching nuts. Douchebag.

As he scans the faces, he doesn't find the guy. Instead, Stiles' eyes lock on a familiar glowing blue that disappears in the next second.

Of course, Stiles thinks as he turns away and groans. Because apparently, Stiles has the worst luck of anyone in the world.

*

Derek has to use every ounce of self-control not to run after that guy and rip out his throat. He knows Stiles is more than capable of taking care of himself, he'd watched Stiles effectively get rid of the guy, but Derek's wolf is snarling and angry. Derek takes a deep breath, but it does little to calm him. The club smells like alcohol, sweat, come, and arousal, and it almost makes him gag.

He's half-drunk from the liquor he's been sipping from the flask in his pocket. He hadn't known Stiles was going to be here tonight, and if he had, he'd never have come. He'd gone to Jungle to distract himself. It'd been almost a week since he'd seen Stiles, and he just wanted to get drunk, fuck, and stop feeling sorry for himself. Jackson had been threatening to hire him a prostitute, and Derek is pretty sure he was only half-joking at this point.

Derek had danced with a few guys, made out with a couple, but he just couldn't bring himself to become interested in any of them. They looked wrong, they smelled wrong, and they tasted wrong.

They were wrong - they weren't Stiles.

Derek had watched Stiles dance alone, then dance with the guy. He'd turned away when Stiles had kissed him. He's been trying to get the courage to go up to Stiles for the last half hour, but Derek's been too much of a coward. Now that Stiles has spotted him, Derek figures he can stop standing in the shadows being a creep and staring at Stiles.

A man is pressed up against Stiles' side, saying something to him as Derek approaches. Derek knows from Stiles' body language that Stiles isn't interested, but the guy doesn't seem to be taking the hint. But Derek refrains from intervening. He stands on Stiles' other side and waits.

Stiles glances at him, and myriad emotions flicker across his face. Derek's pretty sure it's mostly relief, frustration, and contentment.

When Stiles turns to Derek, the man looks at Derek and glares. The other man steps closer to Stiles and puts a hand on his lower back. Stiles' head whips towards the man, and Stiles steps back until he's against Derek's chest. He reaches down and grabs Derek's hand and pulls his arm across his waist. The man glares at Derek again, and Derek raises his eyebrows in amusement. He wraps his other arm around Stiles, pulls him closer, and kisses the side of Stiles' neck.

The man takes the hint and leaves. Derek chuckles against Stiles' ear, but Stiles wiggles in his arms until he's facing Derek. His eyes are narrowed and he's not happy.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Stiles spats.

"Uh, dancing and drinking," Derek replies like Stiles is an idiot. "Possibly looking for a quick fuck. Same thing you're doing here, obviously."

Stiles sighs and rolls his eyes. "I didn't know you went to gay clubs."

Derek grunts. "Sometimes I emerge from my den to stalk my prey."

Stiles rolls his eyes again. "You're so lame." He glances over his shoulder towards the bar. "So, are you gonna buy me a drink or just stand there?"

Derek lifts a brow and smirks. He drops his arms that are still around Stiles and pushes his way to the bar. He buys Stiles a shot, then takes it back to him. Stiles takes it and looks at Derek expectantly. "Well," he says, flailing his free hand towards Derek. "You must have some wolfy liquor on you somewhere." Derek reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the flask. Stiles lifts his shot glass as Derek unscrews the cap, and his eyes never leave Derek as he drinks the shot. Derek takes a large gulp from the flask, the liquor burning as it quickly works through him.

Without a word, Stiles takes Derek's hand and leads him to the dance floor, dropping his glass off on a random table on the way. Derek shoves the flask back into his pocket and tries to calm his pounding heart.

Stiles is holding his hand, walking ahead as he leads him to the dance floor, and Derek can't stop himself from dropping his gaze to stare at Stiles' ass in those uncharacteristically tight jeans. Derek feels his cock pulse slightly, and raising his eyes to stare at the line of Stiles' broad shoulders and those lean, defined biceps does nothing to stop his cock from growing harder. Stiles' hand is hot and heavy in his hand, and Derek squeezes it. Stiles glances at him over his shoulder, looking both seductive and endearingly hesitant, and gives Derek a small smile. It makes Derek's heart flutter in his chest.

The music is slower and sexy, with a soft beat that thrums through Derek's limbs. Stiles turns to face Derek, steps closer, and places his hands on Derek's hips, so Derek does the same. They stare at each as they start moving slowly and awkwardly. Neither of them are natural dancers, so their bodies are stilted and out of tempo with the music. Stiles doesn't seem to care; his eyes stare intensely at Derek, dark with desire, and it causes Derek's pulse to race until he can hear the blood rushing in his ears.

Derek can feel the tension in Stiles' body, and the alcohol is doing nothing to ease his own edge. He feels so wound up, somewhere between wanting to run away and slam Stiles up against the nearest flat surface to rut against him. The electricity between them is palpable, and Derek has never felt this alive, this turned on and keyed up. And they're only dancing.

Stiles closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, his hands tightening around Derek's hips. It shoots straight to Derek's cock, and he makes a quiet sound. Stiles opens his eyes, and the flashing light reflects in them, flickers of pink, green, and purple dancing beautifully across his irises. Derek wants to kiss him so badly, and as if Stiles can sense his thoughts, he tugs Derek closer until their bodies are pressed together. Derek's moan is lost in the din as their hips meet.

Stiles is half-hard, and Derek's eyes flutter at the feel of it against his hip. Stiles doesn't take his eyes off Derek as he slides his hands into Derek's back pockets, forcing one of them behind the flask, and squeezes his ass. Derek's eyes drift shut as his fingers curl into Stiles' hips, and Stiles leans against his ear and says, "Not sure your pants are tight enough." He licks the shell of Derek's ear, then bites the lobe gently. Derek moans again, and he can tell by the subtle change in Stiles' scent that it didn't go unnoticed. "I'm not complaining, though. I like the way your ass looks in them."

"Fuck, Stiles," Derek growls, holding Stiles' hips harder as he starts slowly grinding against him. Stiles grips Derek's ass as they dance, his fingers switching between massaging sensually and squeezing painfully. Between Stiles' hands, Stiles' hot breath on his neck, and grinding against him, Derek is painfully hard in his jeans.

He slides his hand across Stiles' groin and cups him through his jeans, and Derek's dick jumps where its trapped painfully against his fly when he feels the hard outline of Stiles' erection. He purposefully brushes his lips against Stiles' ear as he says, "You're one to talk about my tight jeans." He rubs his fingers down Stiles' length slowly. "I didn't know you owned pants this tight."

"I bet there are a lot of ways I can surprise you," Stiles replies, turning to catch Derek's lips with his own. Derek kisses him back hungrily, pulling Stiles even closer as he slides his arms around his waist and holds him tightly.

This kiss is different than the other kisses they've shared before. The two previous kisses were light and tentative, but neither of them hold back now. They kiss open-mouthed, desperate and hard like they're afraid they won't get to kiss ever again. Derek licks into Stiles' mouth with no reservations, chasing Stiles' taste and learning the feel of his tongue against his own. Stiles slides his hands up over Derek's ass and beneath the hem of his t-shirt to scratch his nails along the bare of skin of Derek's lower back.

Derek rolls his hips against Stiles', his mouth going slack against Stiles' mouth as he moans. Stiles nips at Derek's bottom lip, then worries it between his teeth before letting it go and dragging his tongue along Derek's already sensitive lip. Derek shudders against him, helpless to do anything but sag against Stiles. He tries to gain more friction against his aching erection, but it's just a delicious tease as they grind against each other to the music.

Stiles pulls back for a moment, looks at Derek's lips as he licks his own, then flicks his eyes up. Stiles' pupils are blown wide with lust, his eyes slightly glassy from the alcohol, and Derek can't help but rest his forehead against Stiles' temple and drag his nose along his cheek as he whispers, "You're so fucking beautiful."

Derek feels the stutter in Stiles' heartbeat and smiles against his skin.

Stiles bends down slightly to lick at where the deep scoop of Derek's V-neck exposes his chest. He looks up at Derek through his lashes, and Derek feels a strong urge to push Stiles to his knees to see what he'd look like staring up at him with his mouth full of cock. Stiles licks up the line of Derek's sternum, then nuzzles into the patch of chest hair. Derek lifts a hand to slide his fingers into Stiles' hair, gripping tightly as Stiles kisses and nuzzles against Derek's chest hair. Derek never thought something like that would get him hot, but Stiles' fascination and arousal at Derek's chest has Derek feeling turned on and preening at the same time.

Stiles licks at Derek's erect nipple through his shirt, then bites down on the bud. Derek tightens his hand in Stiles' hair and gently nudges his head up so he can kiss him again. "How are you real?" Derek murmurs against his mouth.

"I've been thinking the same thing about you," Stiles mumbles through a sloppy kiss. "I want to touch and lick all of you."

Derek growls, his fangs breaking free from his gums as he pulls back and rests his forehead against Stiles', breathing heavily through his mouth. He feels a gentle prod against one of his canines, and when he opens his eyes, Stiles' eyes are so close that's all Derek can see. They're still forehead-to-forehead, and Stiles is carefully dragging his tongue along Derek's fang. "How hot is it that I did that?" Stiles whispers against Derek's mouth, his lips brushing his teasingly.

Derek closes his eyes and breathes as he tries to calm down enough to will his fangs to retract. Stiles has his hands under Derek's shirt again, sliding higher along his back before dipping beneath the band of his jeans to skirt along the top of his ass. "How about we get out of here?" Stiles asks.

Derek pulls back and opens his eyes, raising a brow as he studies Stiles. They're both drunk, and hard, and Derek is past trying to hold back. Maybe it's the alcohol, maybe it's the fact that Stiles is so forward and open, but Derek is tired of pretending. He just wants to cover Stiles with his body and his scent until the two of them are all he can smell.

"Yeah," Derek says, nodding. He reaches down to adjust himself in his jeans, though he's pretty sure his pants aren't hiding much. Grabbing Stiles' hand, he turns to press his way through the crowd. Stiles twists his hand in Derek's so he can lace their fingers together. It sends warmth spreading through Derek's chest, and Derek brings Stiles' hand to his mouth and kisses his knuckles.

The air outside is a welcome relief from the stifling, stale air of the club. Derek takes a deep breath, and his head clears a bit. But then Stiles wraps his arms around Derek's waist and starts kissing his neck, and his senses are only filled with Stiles. He remotely hears a few people make comments to them as they pass, but Derek doesn't care. Stiles is sucking at a spot behind his ear, and Derek's just hoping he doesn't come in jeans before they get to the car.

When they approach the Camaro, Derek clicks the fob and opens the passenger side door. He reaches behind the seat to release it, then steps into the backseat. It's going to be a tight fit, but he's not going to make out with Stiles against the wall of the club.

Stiles laughs as he stumbles into the back of the car, sprawling out on Derek's lap. Derek leans up to kiss him and ends up meeting his shoulder as Stiles twists around to pull the door shut. Derek tugs the collar aside and licks at his collarbone, moaning at the taste of Stiles' skin on his tongue.

"Hey," Stiles says as he turns and drops his body weight onto Derek. He laughs again. "This isn't very comfortable."

Derek grunts out a laugh. His head is pressed against the side of the car at a weird angle, one leg bent against the back of the seat and the other bent and resting on the floor. He can't move very much, but he's got enough room to slide his arms around Stiles' waist and kiss him. Stiles is laying on top of him, his knees bent, feet resting against the window.

"We can go back to your place," Stiles suggests before mouthing at Derek's nipple through his shirt. Derek slides his hands under Stiles' shirt and feels the smooth planes of Stiles' back against his palms. Stiles' skin is hot, and Derek tries to touch it all at once.

"Can't yet," Derek says as Stiles looks up at him, confused. "Still too drunk to drive."

"Oh yeah," Stiles says, eyes never leaving Derek as he kisses his way up Derek's pec. "Sheriff's son, I should have thought about that."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Maybe you've had too much."

Stiles pushes up Derek's body, hovering just above his lips. "Not really thinking about my dad or the law right now." He leans down and covers Derek's mouth, and Derek opens his mouth and growls when Stiles licks into his mouth.

Derek loses track of time as they kiss, cramped in the backseat of the Camaro. They don't move much, but they don't need to. Their hips are rolling against each other's slow and tantalizingly, and Derek can't get enough pressure to build towards his orgasm.

After awhile, Stiles starts whining as he reaches between them and starts fumbling with Derek's fly. "Fucking tight pants," he mutters against Derek's mouth. "Fucking small backseat. My dick is so hard I think it's going to explode."

Derek wraps his fingers around Stiles' wrist and stills his hand. "Hey," he says. "Look at me."

Stiles pushes himself up onto his hands so he can look down at Derek, and Derek's heart catches in his throat. He reaches up with his free hand and cups Stiles' cheek, and Stiles turns his head to kiss the inside of his palm -

Stiles was leaning over Derek, one hand braced by Derek's head on the seat. "Your car is too fucking small," he complained as he rubbed the back of his head. His shirt had been discarded somewhere, and Derek reached up and rubbed a thumb across one nipple. Stiles inhaled sharply, bucking his hips slightly, raising up too fast and bumping his head against the ceiling again. He cursed as Derek slid his fingers into his hair.

"I love your hair," Derek said as he guided Stiles towards his mouth.

"I still hate your fucking car," Stiles grumbled against Derek's mouth.

Derek blinks sitting up quickly as he looks around. He pushes Stiles up so suddenly that he hits his head, and Stiles says, "Your car is too fucking small."

Your car is too fucking small.

"The fuck?" Derek mutters to himself, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head. He rubs his ears, the words echoing in his mind. The image is still vivid behind his eyelids, but Stiles looks slightly different when he closes his eyes and he can't quite put a finger on why.

Stiles is looking at Derek like he's crazy, and Derek thinks maybe he drank too much. "Are you okay?" Stiles cups Derek's cheek and drags a thumb beneath his eye. Derek smiles at Stiles, and pushes those images away and focuses instead on the man above him, warm and breathing and real. Derek cannot believe this is his life, that Stiles is really here, that he's holding him.

"I'm fantastic," Derek answers truthfully, and Stiles' entire face lights up.

He's bent at a weird angle because of his height, but he reaches down and starts trying to unclasp Derek's fly. "Good," Stiles says, "Now help me get these pants off you."

Derek stills Stiles' hand again, waits for a moment before he speaks. Nothing happens this time, so he takes a breath and says, "No, Stiles. Stop."

The smell of rejection coming off Stiles hits Derek like a brick. Stiles' entire demeanor changes, and he shuts off as he backs away. "Yeah, okay. Yeah, you're right. This was a terrible idea."

Still holding Stiles' wrist, Derek tugs Stiles back down on top of him. Stiles is watching him with a guarded expression, and Derek hates it. He reaches up and cups Stiles' face, drags his thumb along his lower lip. Stiles seems to soften as he parts his mouth, and Derek slips his thumb inside.

"That's not what I mean," Derek says as Stiles sucks lightly on his thumb. Derek lifts his hips to press them closer against Stiles, and Stiles closes his eyes with a soft moan. "Clearly, I want to. But," Derek says, cupping Stiles' cheek gently. He waits until Stiles opens his eyes and looks at him. "The first time I'm with you, it's not gonna be in the backseat of my car in the parking lot of a club when you're drunk."

Stiles' cheeks flush as a flurry of emotion crosses his features. "But...you want to?"

Derek nods. "Yes, Stiles. I want you."

Stiles leans down and kisses him, softer this time. Derek slides his hand to Stiles' neck and curls his fingers around it. When they break, Derek says, "Why don't I take you home?"

"No!" Stiles exclaims, panicked. Derek's brows furrow in concern at the sudden change in his scent and mood. "I don't...I just..." Stiles sits up and shakes his head, rubbing at his eyes. "Never mind, yeah. That's fine."

Derek sits up and wraps his arms around Stiles' body. "Look at me," Derek says gently. Stiles looks at him, and that haunted look is back in his eyes, and it breaks Derek's heart. "What? Talk to me."

Stiles sighs and leans his head against Derek's shoulder. "My dad's off, and though he won't really care that I'm drunk, I'm still technically underage. And I don't want to go home drunk." He turns his head to the side. "I don't want to go home at all. I don't want to be alone."

"Okay," Derek says, holding Stiles close to him. "I'll take you to my place. You can stay the night."

Stiles raises his head, smiles, and kisses Derek again.

*

Derek assures Stiles that he's not drunk anymore, and Stiles trusts him. He's known Derek long enough to know that Derek would chew off his own arm before putting Stiles in danger. So, he gets into the front seat, fastens his seatbelt, and closes his eyes.

He's drunk. Derek's elevated metabolism has burned off the alcohol in his veins, but Stiles has plain old human metabolism, so he's feeling all the shots and the mixed drinks. His head is spinning and he really just hopes he doesn't puke in Derek's car.

Stiles doesn't even know what he's doing. Like, he was making out with Derek not fifteen minutes ago? And it hadn't been a chance or brief kiss. Stiles opens his eyes long enough to look at the time, and yeah, they'd been dancing and making out for over an hour.

So, that is a thing then. It only took a whole bunch of shots and some bad club dance music to push him past all his inhibitions and into Derek's arms, where he just climbed all over him like he was in fucking heat. Stiles' mind flashes to licking Derek's nipple, running his teeth through his chest hair, grinding against him, trying to get Derek's pants open.

He groans and covers his face.

"What is it?" Derek asks, voice concerned. Stiles laughs, because of course he does. Sometimes, Stiles just wants to punch Derek because he's infuriating. With his stupid face and his stupid body and his stupid chest hair and his stupid concern and care about Stiles. Sometimes he misses old Derek who had a pinched face and was angry all the time. Stiles knew how to deal with that Derek.

A Derek who kisses Stiles and holds him and doesn't take advantage of him in the backseat of his car and worries about him enough to drag his Pack across territory lines to make sure he's safe and who is just so fucking soft and smiles and cooks manicotti for him - fuck, Stiles can't keep thinking about this because he just can't handle it and he's afraid of what words will come out of his mouth.

"Stiles?"

"I'm sorry," he finally says.

"For what?"

"For dry humping you and trying to undress you in the backseat."

Derek snorts, and Stiles opens his eyes and glances over at him. "You have nothing to apologize for. I'm not exactly complaining."

Stiles frowns. "Still," he says. He scrubs his hand over his eyes. "I'm not sure drunk making out at a club was exactly how this should have happened. If it should have happened at all," he adds quietly.

Derek glances at him sharply before returning his gaze to the road. "It doesn't have to be anything if you don't want it to," Derek says carefully. "We can go back to how it was and pretend it never happened."

Stiles laughs again, a hollow mirthless sound. "Yeah, because that will work. Are you seriously going to be able to pretend we didn't spend the good part of a night rubbing all over each other?" Derek's eyes flick to him quickly, and Stiles says, "I didn't think so."

"I don't want you to feel uncomfortable."

"I'm not uncomfortable," Stiles says, sighing. He closes his eyes again. "I'm just tired. And too drunk to figure out what I should say."

Derek doesn't respond, and after the silence gets too much, Stiles opens his eyes and looks at Derek. His posture is rigid and he's gripping the steering wheel tightly. Stiles reaches over and paws at Derek's hand until he loosens it, then he slips his fingers through Derek's.

"Don't look like that," Stiles says quietly. He squeezes Derek's hand, and Derek seems to relax a little. "We'd both be lying if we said this was a surprise."

"True," Derek says, voice uneven and gravelly.

Stiles doesn't say anything else, just closes his eyes and holds on to Derek's hand tightly.

When they get to Derek's cabin, Stiles quietly follows him inside. Jackson's Porsche and the SUV are in the driveway, so Stiles knows everyone's home, and he really doesn't feel like dealing with either one of them. From the way Derek is tiptoeing around, he doesn't either.

When they enter Derek's bedroom, Derek closes the door and Stiles falls face first onto the bed. He hears Derek moving around in the room, and his face is still pressed into the comforter when he mumbles, "I've never been in your room before."

"It's not that exciting," Derek replies.

Stiles pushes himself up into a sitting position so he can look around. The room is tiny and sparsely furnished, just a bed and nightstand, a small chest of drawers, and an overflowing laundry basket in the corner. For some reason, that makes Stiles laugh. It's such a normal thing, Derek having a full laundry basket, but Stiles still has a hard time thinking about Derek doing normal things. Like having dirty laundry.

"What?" Derek finally asks.

"You have dirty laundry," Stiles says. Derek rolls his eyes as he tosses a t-shirt at Stiles' head.

"You're an idiot." Derek tosses something else at Stiles before walking towards the door.

"What is this?"

Derek turns back with a raised brow. "Wolfsbane," he retorts flatly. "What do you think? It's clothes. You stink of the club and other people," he grits out.

Stiles bites his lip as he smiles. "So you want me to wear your clothes?"

Derek huffs. "Sleep on the couch in those clothes, or go naked for all I care." He yanks open the door and rushes down the hall. Stiles laughs to himself as he stares at the empty doorway. He gets up and undresses, only losing his balance due to his spinning head twice. He's starting to sober up, though his brain is still heavy and sluggish. When Derek returns, Stiles is pulling the t-shirt over his head. The pajama pants and shirt are too big, but he likes the way they feel, likes the fact that he's in Derek's clothes. The way Derek just stands in the doorway, eyes wide and nostrils flaring, he's pretty sure Derek likes it, too.

Stiles gives Derek a small smile, then moves over to the bed. Derek quietly closes the door and hands Stiles a glass of water. "I looked for headache medicine," Derek says, face pinched, "but we don't have any."

Stiles smiles as he accepts the glass. "Why would you?" He gulps down the water as Derek carefully gets on the bed. "Not like you get headaches." He stares at Derek stretched out beside him. He's wearing basketball shorts and a white tank top, and Stiles stares at the swell of his biceps, the dark hair on his legs, and the defined muscles of his chest through the thin material of his shirt.

"It's not polite to stare," Derek teases, and Stiles twists to set the glass on the nightstand, his cheeks flushing.

Stiles settles back against the pillow. It's awkward, lying side by side on Derek's bed. He's not sure what they should do or say. He's not even sure what he wants. He starts to fret about what exactly is going on when Derek reaches over and puts a hand on his forearm. Stiles turns to look at him, and Derek is watching him closely.

"You're broadcasting pretty loud," Derek says. "Don't feel awkward. Nothing has changed. We're still the same people we were last week when you felt comfortable on the couch watching TV with me."

"It's not the same anymore," Stiles says.

Derek strokes his thumb up and down Stiles' forearm, and Stiles' entire body tingles. He's never wanted someone as much as he wants Derek. But it's not just sex. Sure, he wants Derek to push him into the mattress and fuck him until he can't move, but he wants moments like this, small touches and wearing Derek's clothes and sharing his space and Derek doing little things for him like bringing him water. Stiles wants everything with Derek.

"Can we turn off the light?" Stiles asks. He feels overwhelmed and needs something to help level him.

"Sure. We should probably get to sleep."

Derek gets off the bed as Stiles says, "No, I don't want to go to sleep. I want to talk, but...not with the lights on."

"Okay," Derek says, slightly confused. Stiles gets onto his side facing the spot Derek had been sitting earlier. When Derek comes back to the bed, he mirrors Stiles by lying down and facing him.

"I know it's stupid," Stiles says quietly into the space between them. There are only a few inches between them, and he wants to reach across and touch Derek, but he can't, not yet. "It feels like too much with the lights on."

Derek gives him an understanding smile. "You're not the only one who is nervous and unsure, Stiles."

"Really?"

Derek grabs Stiles' hand and places it over his heart. Stiles concentrates as he feels for the pulse beneath his palm. Derek's heart is faint to his senses, but Stiles can pick out the fast, staccato rhythm. He looks up at Derek's face, where Derek is watching him with wide, open eyes.

"That's because of me?" Stiles asks. Derek nods, and Stiles keeps his fingers pressed against Derek's chest. Derek's gaze doesn't waver, and Stiles is in awe at the way Derek is looking at him. It's like he's lowered all the walls that he keeps so expertly wound tight around him, exposing himself vulnerable and raw to Stiles. Stiles doesn't think Derek has ever looked so beautiful.

"I texted you," Stiles finally says into the silence. "After you left. Not often, but occasionally. The first time was a few weeks after you left. I wanted to know where you were. Then, a couple times during the summer. I was worried because no one had heard from you." He pauses, and Derek doesn't respond, just watches him. Quietly, Stiles says, "When we did the senior scribe, I saw your initials on the shelf in the library."

"You did?" Derek asks, his eyes warm yet sad.

Stiles nods. "My friends were all around me, but all I could do was stare at your initials. I smiled and thought about you, and it hit me so hard in that moment how much I missed you." Stiles hesitates, bites his lips as he tries to decide whether to admit the next part. "I, uh, I signed my initials next to yours."

Derek's eyes go slightly wide, then he leans forward and presses a light kiss to Stiles' lips. Stiles closes his eyes and inhales, thinks about that night and the joy he'd felt at seeing Derek's initials, but the ache in his chest at him being gone. Derek pulls away and settles back against the pillow.

"I called you that night," Stiles tells him. "After I left my friends, I sat in the Jeep and finally dialed your number." He pauses, and Derek looks at him sadly. "I called you three times before I believed it. I started to panic and thought you were dead, but then I realized that you couldn't have disconnected your phone if you'd have died." Stiles remembers listening to that recording, The cellular customer you are trying to reach is no longer available. He hadn't realized until that moment how much Derek had meant to him, despite their spotty relationship.

"I needed a break," Derek says slowly. "Mexico was..." Derek trails off, and Stiles rubs his fingers against Derek's chest gently. "I still don't know what happened that night. But I had to get away. I drove Braeden back to Beacon Hills, packed my stuff into a storage locker, left the SUV in the building's garage, and left Beacon Hills."

"I asked her about you when she came to Beacon Hills a few months later," Stiles tells him. "She said she hadn't seen you, but you'd been fine last she'd heard."

"You were too young," Derek tells him. "Regardless of my feelings, I knew it wasn't right."

Stiles blinks at him. "You...had feelings for me?"

Derek nods. "I tried to ignore them, but then I spent two days straight searching for you when you went missing when..." Derek trails off and Stiles knows exactly when he's talking about. When he went missing when the nogitsune was possessing him.

"And you had a girlfriend," Derek says. "Plus, I knew you'd be better off without me."

"That's not true," Stiles says.

"It was then," Derek says. "It's different now. I'm different now."

Stiles gives him a small smile. "You are." He lifts his hand and drags his fingers through Derek's stubble. "I liked you then, but I like that you're happier. You deserve it, Derek."

"You deserve to be happy, Stiles," Derek replies.

Stiles looks down at Derek's shirt and chews on the inside of his mouth. "I don't know if that's an option."

Derek places a finger under Stiles' chin and gently lifts his face. "Stiles, listen to me. If anyone knows how you feel, it's me. I know what we've been through is nowhere near the same thing, but I know what it feels like to believe your life will never get better and feel that you deserve it." He settles a significant look on Stiles, and as much as Stiles wants to look away, he can't. "But you're not alone, Stiles. You won't be like this forever, and you will find your way to heal."

Stiles nods, though he doesn't quite believe Derek. But he knows Derek wouldn't lie to him, and if Derek Hale can drag himself out of the ashes, then Stiles guesses anyone can.

"Can we lay together?" Stiles asks a few moments later. He's still not completely comfortable with what's going on with him and Derek, he still feels awkward and slightly embarrassed and exposed, but he thinks that Derek may feel similar to him, and that's comforting. "I just want to cuddle up next to you and lay there for awhile. Is that weird?"

Derek shakes his head and smiles. "No, not at all. I'd like nothing more than to hold you."

Stiles rolls over onto his side quickly so he doesn't have to see the look on Derek's face. Derek's feelings for him are little more intense than he's capable of dealing with right now, so he scoots back against him and allows Derek to wrap his arms around him tightly.

Stiles sighs and closes his eyes, feeling secure in Derek's embrace. He wishes he could tell Derek the thoughts swirling around in his head. How he feels like he's no good, he's not ready, he's not able to love Derek the way that he needs. He wants to tell Derek that he wants to give him everything he has, but he's just an empty broken shell.

"Whatever you're thinking," Derek says against his neck, "it's not true."

"I think that's cheating," Stiles says. "It's not fair you can read my emotions."

"Not everyone broadcasts as loudly as you do," Derek murmurs, then kisses the knob of his spine.

"Of course they don't," Stiles replies. He closes his eyes and tries to calm himself so he can fall asleep. It's late, too late, and Stiles is exhausted. Derek's rubbing his hands soothingly across Stiles' stomach, and Stiles starts to drift off.

*

Stiles wakes up with a pounding head. He's splayed on his back, his right arm and leg draped over Derek. Derek is sound asleep, also on his back and close to Stiles. Stiles moves as easily as he can so as not to wake Derek. Derek doesn't stir, so Stiles gathers his clothes and shoes, then as silently as possible lets himself out of the room.

He changes in the bathroom, leaving Derek's clothes on the rim of the tub. He looks in the mirror and decides he looks like hell. It's not the worst hangover he's had, but his head hurts and his eyes feel like sandpaper.

Emotionally, he feels like he's been hit by a truck.

Stiles tiptoes into the kitchen to grab something to drink before making his way outside to call Scott, but he freezes in the doorway when he sees Jackson standing shirtless in his boxers at the stove. He looks sleepy and grumpy when he glances at Stiles.

"It's not what you think," Stiles blurts.

"Don't care," Jackson responds, turning back to his eggs. Stiles is turning away to leave when Jackson says, "There's coffee. You look like you could use some."

Stiles contemplates bolting, because the last thing he wants to do is deal with Jackson and he really doesn't want to be here when Derek wakes up, but the draw of coffee is too much. Reluctantly, he walks over to the coffee pot, trying to avoid Jackson.

By the time Stiles has poured himself a cup of coffee, Jackson has placed an omelet on a plate and is offering it to him. Stiles eyes it warily. "Is it poisoned?"

Jackson glares and tosses the plate on the counter. The omelet slides halfway off the plate. "Eat it or not, I don't fucking care."

Stiles stares at the back of Jackson's head for a moment before he takes the plate. "Thanks," he says awkwardly. Jackson nods his head.

Stiles wolfs down the omelet and coffee, and begins to immediately feel better. After Stiles puts the plate in the sink and starts for the door, Jackson asks, "Do you want a ride?"

"I was, uh, gonna call Scott."

Jackson doesn't turn around, but says, "I'm meeting up with Lydia. I can drop you off."

Stiles thinks about declining the offer, but thinks what the hell. "Okay."

Stiles sits outside in the cool morning air as he waits for Jackson. He wonders what the hell his life has become. He was making out with Derek last night, and now he's accepting rides from Jackson. He runs a hand through his hair and hopes Jackson hurries up. He needs some space and some more sleep so he can get his head together.

Jackson comes out a few minutes later, dressed like he's going out in some place like New York instead of going to breakfast with his on-and-off again girlfriend. They don't say a word when they're in the car, and Stiles appreciates that. The last thing he wants is to be on the receiving end of Jackson's bullshit. As Jackson drives down the path leading to the road, Stiles texts Derek.

Sorry I left. Woke up, but you were still sleeping. J took me home. Plus, I need some time to think. Hope you understand.

Stiles frowns as he hits send, hoping that Derek won't take it the wrong way. Stiles just needs some time to himself to process before he does anything. Stiles' mind is on his thoughts the entire drive to his house, and Jackson has to call his name to snap him out of his reverie when they get to Stiles' house.

"Thanks," Stiles mumbles as he grabs the door handle.

"Stilinski," Jackson says, and Stiles looks at him with a mixture of frustration and curiosity. He just really wants to get out of the car. "If you hurt him, I'll kill you." Stiles' mouth drops open, and he stares at Jackson in shock. Jackson shifts uneasily under Stiles' stare, and finally he says, "Now get the fuck out of my car."

Stiles hastily gets out of the car and doesn't look back as he hears Jackson speed off down the street. His dad is still asleep when he gets in, so Stiles goes upstairs, strips down to his boxers, and crashes, too tired to think about anything anymore.

*

Stiles wakes up to a text from Derek that says, Of course. I'm here when you're ready. Stiles rolls his eyes and throws the phone onto the bed. Why does Derek always have to be so...Derek? It would be a lot easier if he wasn't so wonderful.

Stiles thinks about calling Scott or Lydia, but he doesn't really want to talk to them about this. He has a good idea what they'd tell him to do, and Stiles knows what he wants to do, but he just isn't ready yet. His head is still all over the place, and he needs to get it together first.

But Stiles never feels like he can get it together. He's still having nightmares and not sleeping, which leaves him drained and worn out the next day, and when Stiles is at Home Depot and Derek doesn't show up, that makes him feel even worse. It's been almost two weeks since Derek has shown up at Home Depot, and Stiles misses him. It has become part of his routine, and he knows Derek has been giving him space, but he still wants Derek to show up.

Stiles waits for a good day, but one doesn't come. The nightmares get worse, and Stiles wakes up either with the nogitsune laughing in his ears and counting his fingers, or with the image of Derek tied to a pole and dying while unidentified faces are laughing around him.

Finally, around 3:30 a.m. one night in the middle of the next week, Stiles grabs his phone and texts Derek.

I think I'd cry if I got a good night's sleep.

Stiles doesn't get a reply text until the next day after he wakes up from a few hours of sleep.

Can I do anything?

Stiles knows what Derek's asking, and he smiles at the phone, his heart racing in his chest.

No, but I appreciate it anyway.

Stiles makes up excuses when Scott, Lydia, and Cora text him to hang out. He's so bone-tired and his brain hurts. His dad has woken him up from nightmares for three nights straight, and he's been eyeing Stiles wearily, and that makes Stiles feel worse than anything. He'd call Lydia or Scott to help him sleep, but he doesn't feel like seeing anyone.

Stiles doesn't feel like doing anything.

He calls into work again and spends the day in the bed, trying to sleep and erase the nightmares from his brain. He wants to call Derek and crawl into his arms, but Derek deserves better than this. He deserves better than Stiles' fucked up mess of a head. Derek has worked too hard to pull himself out of his own hole for Stiles to drag him down into his own hole.

Scott finally texts him and says, Just remember tomorrow is July 4th thing at the lake house.

Stiles frowns at the phone. He doesn't want to go do anything with his friends, but he can't exactly skip this. That's how he finds himself parking beside Hayden's car the next day. He feels like shit, the nightmares bad again, and no level of caffeine is enough. He's crabby and snapped at his dad earlier that morning, and he still hasn't talked to Derek. He just really wants to disappear.

He passes Jackson's Porsche on the way to the lake house and groans. That's the last thing he needs. The music is loud and everyone is spread out between the kitchen, deck, and lake. Mason and Corey talk to him for a few minutes, then he speaks to Hayden who is sitting on the deck. He walks towards the lake and sees everyone else, including Jackson but no Parrish, swimming. When Scott notices him approaching, he jumps out of the lake and runs over to Stiles, grinning. He flings water on Stiles as he gets close.

"Hug me and die," Stiles says.

Scott's face falls a tiny bit, but he seems to let it just roll off his back. "I'm glad you're here." Scott claps Stiles on the shoulder. "Wanna come in?"

Stiles stares at the dark water and feels panic curling up his throat, and shakes his head quickly. "No, I'll just, you know, hang around out here." Scott's face scrunches in concern. "Mason, Corey, and Hayden are all at the house. I can hang with them."

"I'll come with you," Scott offers, but Stiles notices a pretty, unfamiliar dark-haired girl getting out of the lake and talking with Lydia.

"No, dude," Stiles says, nodding towards the lake. "I'm not gonna cock block you."

Scott rolls his eyes. "You won't cock block me."

"What's her name?"

"Noelle."

Stiles snorts. "Noelle? Okay."

Scott shoves him gently. "Don't be a dick."

"Get back to Noelle," Stiles teases, and Scott glances over his shoulder. She looks at them and waves, and Stiles and Scott wave back. "She's hot."

Scott lowers his voice and says, "She gives great head."

Stiles laughs and punches Scott in the shoulder. "Stud. What was June's total? Five? Six?"

Scott blushes as he scratches his stomach. "Seven."

Stiles whistles. "Seven women. You, Scott McCall, are a glorious player. I bow to your sexual prowess."

Scott looks embarrassed. "Shut up."

"I hope you get an earth shattering blowjob tonight, my friend."

"Thanks," Scott grins. "I want you to meet her sometime today, okay?"

"You must like her if you want me to meet her."

Scott shrugs. "She's cool."

Stiles squeezes Scott's shoulder before making his way back towards the lake house. But he doesn't join Mason, Corey, and Hayden. Instead, he follows a small little used path as he makes his way along the edge of the lake, down past where the Pack is. Eventually, he comes upon a small cove, hidden from view of the lake house by surrounding trees and rock. There are rocks jutting out into the water, and a large boulder a few feet out in the lake. He sits on one of the rocks and takes out his phone.

He finds Derek's message thread, and texts him. I'm at the lake house. I wouldn't hate it if you were here, too.

Stiles holds the phone in his lap until he gets a reply text a few moments later. I'll be there soon.

Stiles tells him how to get to the cove and slides his phone back into his pocket. He bends his knees and wraps his arms around them, clasping his hands in front of him. He stares at the water and waits.

*

Stiles is staring at the lake, lost in his thoughts, when he spies movement to his right. Derek climbs on top of the rock and sits beside him without a word. Stiles turns back to the lake and just stares.

His brain is swimming in images, a confused mass of nightmares and dreams and haunted memories. His brain keeps going back to things he did when he was controlled by the nogitsune, the massacre at the hospital, stabbing Scott, things he said to his father. He thinks about when he took Lydia hostage, thinks about Allison's death.

And all the while he sees those silver teeth and bandages grinning grinning let me in, Stiles, let me in open the door.

Stiles shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair, sees Donovan with the spike sticking out of his chest, but then he sees Derek tied up and tortured, bleeding black as he hangs lifeless from the pole.

But there are other images, of Derek under him in the car as they kiss, grinding against him on the dance floor, cooking for him, sitting beside him watching television.

And other dreams, Derek saying he loved Stiles, holding on to Stiles as they rutted naked together in the loft, the too-real burn of Derek sliding inside him.

He doesn't realize he's shaking until Derek reaches out and takes his hand. He's embarrassed, but he wants Derek here with him, that's why he texted him, so Stiles rests his head on Derek's shoulder as the anxiety thrums through him.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Derek asks him quietly.

"No."

They sit there for awhile, until Derek stands and tugs on Stiles' hand. Stiles narrows his eyes and looks at him suspiciously. "Trust me," Derek says, and Stiles does. Stiles trusts Derek more than anyone in the world.

Derek leads the way back along the path, past the house to his car. Stiles stops and stands in the middle of the driveway, and Derek turns as he opens the passenger side door. "Well?"

Stiles glances back to the house where he can hear his friends' laughter. He doesn't think he can laugh, he doesn't think he can fake it. He fights back tears as a wave of anxiety passes over him and he climbs into the passenger side.

Stiles texts Scott as Derek gets on the main road. Left with Derek. I just can't today. I'll make it up to you.

Stiles tries to figure out where Derek is taking him, and is confused when Derek turns down the lane towards the cabin, but he goes with it. When Derek parks the car, he immediately goes over to the SUV and unlocks it. "Come on."

"I don't understand," Stiles says.

Derek pins him with a look. "Get in the car."

Stiles gets into the other vehicle and decides not to ask as Derek drives back towards the road. He just looks out of the window and focuses on the quiet music playing from the radio.

They've been on the road for half an hour when Stiles gets a reply from Scott. It's cool, bro. I would have gone somewhere with you if you would have needed it.

Stiles smiles as he texts back. I know. That's why you're the best. But no cock block, remember?

Scott sends back an annoyed emoji. Try to have some fun with Derek. Or at least relax.

Stiles slips the phone into his pocket and continues staring out the window.

*

When Derek turns down a steep, rough, dirt road, Stiles holds on to the handle overhead. "Where are we going?" he asks. He doesn't even know where they are because he hadn't been paying attention to where they were going. He had stayed in the car when Derek stopped at a grocery store in some town just off the freeway, but Stiles hadn't paid attention to which town. His mind had recycled the same images it had at the lake the entire drive, and now Stiles feels so anxious there's a slight vibration under his skin that he can't quite control.

Derek doesn't respond, and instead concentrates on driving and not killing them. Stiles knows now why they needed the SUV instead of the Camaro, though he's pretty sure the SUV might now make it out of this alive.

Finally, after going over a rough ditch and a few pot holes in the road, the SUV breaks the tree line and Stiles gasps.

They're at the ocean. The beach is empty save the driftwood that has washed ashore. Derek drives the SUV along the beach a short ways before turning and backing so the back is facing the ocean. He shuts off the vehicle and turns to Stiles.

Stiles gapes at him, unsure what to say. "Why did you bring me here?"

"I thought you might need to get away." Derek drops the keys in the console and gets out. Stiles follows. The wind off the ocean is cool, and but the sun is warm as it starts to set over the water. The beach extends for as far as Stiles can see on either side, and the only other car he sees is probably half a mile down the sand.

"This place is beautiful," Stiles says.

Derek picks up a small stone and tosses it into the ocean. "I used to come here with my family. They liked it because it was secluded enough that we could shift if we wanted to."

Stiles doesn't know what to do now that they're here. He doesn't know what Derek expects him to do on a deserted beach. Derek doesn't press, but turns around to open the back hatch on the SUV. He sits on the back edge and takes off his shoes, shirt, and jeans, leaving him only in his black boxer briefs. He throws a glance Stiles' way before he walks towards the ocean and wades in.

Stiles climbs into the back of the SUV and pulls his knees to his chest as he watches Derek in the ocean. He's beautiful. He swims out a little ways, then ducks under before breaking the surface again. His skin glows golden in the late afternoon sun, and Stiles wonders how warm it is to touch, if Derek's lips taste like saltwater.

Derek swims out in the ocean for a long time. He glances at Stiles occasionally, but he never says anything or returns. He gives Stiles space, but he's there, close enough for Stiles to see him, for Derek to sense him.

After awhile, Stiles thinks maybe he can join Derek in the ocean. He wants to, so badly. He doesn't want to sit in the back of the SUV alone. He wants to feel the sunlight on his shoulders as he swims beside Derek, their limbs brushing under the surface.

Slowly, Stiles stands and removes his jeans, leaving him just in his boxers. He leaves his shirt on because he doesn't want to bake in the sun (and because he doesn't feel comfortable going around shirtless in front of Derek - not yet), and tentatively makes his way towards the water. Derek watches him for a few moments, but then disappears under the surf again.

Stiles gets close enough for the water to wash over his feet. It's warmer than he expected, especially since the air is turning cooler as the sun goes down. He has a flash of water all around him, of drowning, his breath stolen from his lungs. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. When he opens them, he sees half of Derek above the surface of the water, the contours of Derek's back, the black swirl of his tattoo, and he knows he's safe.

Stiles takes a deep breath and steps into the ocean.

The water is cold the more he walks in, but he keeps breathing as he wades out. Derek has turned around and is waiting for him a few feet away. When Stiles stops right in front of him, Derek smiles. "Hello."

"Hello." Stiles looks around him, at so much water. He feels a spike of panic, but then Derek's hand circles his wrist under the surface.

"I'm right here."

Stiles swallows. "I know." Derek's thumb runs along the inside of his arm, and Stiles says, "I don't...I don't really like water." At Derek's confused expression, Stiles says, "Bad experience." Derek doesn't press, but he nods in understanding.

They walk a little further into the ocean, until the water is around their chests and shoulders. Derek dives under a few times, then breaks the surface and slings water on Stiles with a grin. Stiles splashes him, and Derek splashes him back but never tries to dunk him.

They stay out there, splashing and wading without a word until the sun is level with the horizon. Stiles floats on his back and stares up, at the stars already dotting the sky overhead, at the mixture of soft blues, purples, pinks, and oranges. As Stiles floats on the water, his body undulating from the waves, Derek's foot touching his calf from where he's floating nearby, he realizes he feels better. His mind has quieted, and the water doesn't seem to be as terrifying.

"Thank you," Stiles says to the sky.

"You're welcome," Derek replies quietly, and Stiles smiles.

*

Derek grabs the towel that had been in the back of the SUV and hands it to Stiles to dry off while he removes the back seat and sets it on the sand near the front of the SUV. Stiles hands him the towel so he can dry off, then hands Stiles an extra t-shirt he had lying around the back of the SUV.

"Thanks," Stiles says, and Derek turns away as Stiles switches into the dry shirt. He's hit again with the delicious smell of his scent on Stiles' body, and it smells so right that Derek can barely contain himself. He tries really hard not to pop a boner right there.

Derek's underwear are still damp, but they'll dry soon enough. Derek spreads out the blankets he keeps in the back of the SUV along the floor, making a pallet for them to sit on. Then, he crawls into the back, knocking off his feet so as not to get sand in the vehicle.

When Stiles is settled beside him, Derek reaches up near the front seats to find the bags from the grocery store earlier. He hands Stiles a bottle of water, then pulls out the sandwich ingredients and bag of potato chips.

"You thought to buy all this?" Stiles asks in awe as he surveys the spread.

Derek feels his cheeks heat. "It's not much," he says as he opens the loaf of bread and pulls out two pieces. He makes Stiles a sandwich and hands it to him.

"Thanks," Stiles says shyly as he takes it. He waits for Derek to make his sandwich before he takes a bite.

They sit side by side just inside the back edge of the SUV as they stare at the ocean. It's quiet, but pleasant as the waves crash against the sand as the tide rolls out.

Derek doesn't know if this is helping Stiles, but it was the only thing he could think to give him. Derek knows that space and a change of scenery was one of the things that used to help him the most, so he's giving that to Stiles.

The week after he'd woken up alone, with a text from Stiles saying he needed time, Derek had been miserable. Jackson had told Cora what happened, and they both had wanted to know what was going on between him and Stiles, but he told them all he knew, which was that he didn't know.

Derek had given Stiles the space he'd asked for, and when Stiles had texted him earlier that day, Derek had immediately driven to the lake house. Stiles had smelled like anxiety and despair, and Derek had never felt so helpless. He knows this whole trip is probably nothing, but it's all Derek can give Stiles. It will have to be enough.

They both eat multiple sandwiches and share the bag of chips between them. The silence is comfortable. Derek has never been bothered by silence, but Stiles usually fills every silence with
inane chatter. But he remains quiet, but his scent is different now. He smells calmer, more content, and Derek feels like finally, he did something right.

"Want to play cards?" Derek asks when they finish their dinner, and Stiles nods. Derek uses the flashlight on his phone to illuminate the cards for Stiles to see, and they sit cross-legged facing each other in the back of the SUV playing gin rummy with classic rock playing quietly in the background.

Derek hears the whistle before Stiles does, and the look on Stiles' face when he turns to the pop makes Derek's heart skip. Stiles' face is full of complete joy as the first firework fades into the sky.

"Derek, dude!" He stumbles out of the back of the SUV, almost falling in a flail of limbs as his attention remains riveted to the next explosion of pink in the sky. "Fireworks!" Stiles twists and motions for Derek to join him, huge smile on his face before he turns back.

Derek stands beside Stiles and watches as the sky lights up with greens, golds, and pinks. The fireworks are a little ways down the beach, so they're not as large or loud as they would be if they were closer, but Stiles doesn't seem to care. He's grinning, his eyes shining as he watches.

Ten minutes pass, and Derek notices that Stiles' arms are wrapped around his body and he's shivering. "Are you cold?" Derek asks.

Stiles turns to him and shrugs. "A little, but it's no big deal." His attention shifts back to the fireworks, and Derek frowns as he walks back to the SUV. He looks through the large pile of stuff, and he finds one of his discarded sweaters. It's a soft, grey chunky cardigan, and he grabs it and takes it to Stiles.

"Here," Derek says, handing it to Stiles. "Put this on."

Stiles takes the sweater gratefully and pulls it on. Derek once again is hit with the scent of his clothes on Stiles, and he can't help but step close behind him, lean down, and inhale.

Derek's surprised when he feels Stiles take his hand and draw his arm around his waist. "Here, this'll help get your scent on me even more." He throws a smirk over his shoulder, and Derek leans forward and kisses him. The kiss is soft and gentle, and when Stiles parts his lips, Derek slowly slides his tongue into his mouth.

The kiss ends too quickly because Stiles turns back to the fireworks, and Derek wraps his arms around him more tightly.

After the fireworks are over, Stiles turns to Derek, pecks him on the lips, then runs towards the ocean. He's still in his boxers, but with Derek's t-shirt and sweater, and Derek thinks he looks perfect. Stiles only goes into the water enough to cover his ankles, but he kicks at the water...and he's laughing.

It's the most beautiful sound Derek has ever heard.

Derek stands back and watches Stiles amuse himself, a warmth spreading through him with each moment. Stiles looks so free and happy, completely different than he'd been earlier on the rock. And Derek loves him so much in this moment that he can barely breathe.

When Stiles has tired of that, he walks back to Derek, smiling. "I think I stepped on a crab," he says and laughs like that's the most ridiculous thing in the world. Derek can't help but laugh with him.

They crawl back into the SUV and lay side by side on their stomachs, staring out at the night. They're pressed together from shoulder to calf, and Derek hooks his foot over Stiles' ankle.

"Thanks," Stiles says quietly. "I don't know how you knew exactly what I needed."

"I didn't," Derek replies. "It was just the first thing that popped into my head."

"You're awesome, so thanks."

"Stiles," Derek starts. Stiles turns his face to him, his eyes flicking down to Derek's lips then back to his eyes. "I really love the way my sweater looks on you."

Stiles rolls his eyes, but Derek can tell he's pleased. "I think that's kinda conceited, liking the way your clothes look on me." Stiles pulls the cuffs over his hands, then raises them to his face. "Though, I'm kinda in love with this sweater, so you're probably never getting it back."

Derek gives him an easy smile. "I think I can live with that."

Stiles rolls onto his side and watches Derek for a few moments. "I don't want to go back tonight."

"You can stay at my place again," Derek offers.

Stiles shakes his head. "Let's sleep right here."

"In the car?"

Stiles nods. "We'll camp on the beach in the back of your SUV. Sounds kinda adventurous, don't you think?"

"If that's what you want."

Stiles nods. "That's what I want."

"Then we'll sleep here."

Stiles pushes himself up and presses a lingering kiss to Derek's mouth. Then, he climbs out of the SUV, and Derek looks after him, confused. "Come on," Stiles says, and he looks so adorably cute, in his plaid boxers, Derek's white t-shirt, and the oversized grey sweater, his hair sticking up in every direction. "Let's go for a walk on the beach."

"Okay." Derek joins Stiles on the sand, and Stiles grabs his hand, links their fingers, and kisses his once more before they start walking down the beach.

Chapter Text

Reached out a hand to touch your face
You're slowly disappearing from my view

And I ran
I ran so far away
I just ran
I ran all night and day
I couldn't get away
-i ran (so far away) - hidden citizens

Stiles wakes up, and the first thing he realizes is that he didn't have any nightmares. In fact, he didn't dream at all, and it was glorious. He feels rested, and warm and content snuggled close to Derek. The floor of the SUV isn't comfortable, but the blankets softened it some. He doesn't care though, because Derek's got his arms around him, so Stiles closes his eyes as he just enjoys the moment.

Stiles feels happier than he has in a long time. He's not stupid enough to think he's cured or that he's just suddenly going to go home and be normal, but this is good, he thinks. Even if Derek is the reason, this is good. Stiles knows he deserves a little happiness, and he thinks he deserves someone to hold him and kiss him and make him smile (and hopefully touch him in sexy ways. Soon).

Derek's breath is soft and warm against Stiles' neck, and pulses of sensation course through his limbs whenever Derek exhales. Stiles never thought that breathing would be erogenous, but damn if Derek breathing against his neck isn't getting him going. Not like that's difficult with his morning wood, but it's definitely not helping him go down. In fact, he's pretty sure he's harder than he should be.

But Stiles ignores that for now. Instead, he's enjoying the feel of Derek's breath, the feeling of Derek's arms around him, and the warmth of Derek's body along his back. Their feet are tangled together, Stiles' legs between Derek's, and it's so cozy and intimate. He tries to go back to sleep, but his brain is up and his thoughts are whirling around. So, he just lies there with his eyes closed and holds on to this perfect moment.

As he lies there, he thinks that he's pretty sure he's never just lain like this with another person. He's had sex, and he's slept with people and woken up beside them, but never like this. He's pretty sure he's never felt so happy just to lie next to another person. It's a weird feeling, honestly, and Stiles doesn't want to examine it too much.

Stiles knows when Derek starts stirring because he starts moving slightly and dragging his nose along the back of Stiles' neck. Stiles smiles. It's such a Derek thing. Of course he'd nose and nuzzle into Stiles' neck, scenting and growling softly. Stiles is hit in that moment by just how much wolf that Derek actually is.

Though he's part of a wolf Pack, Stiles sometimes forgets that they're half wolf. Stiles knows it's different for his Pack - they're all bitten werewolves, or something else entirely. But Derek is a born werewolf, so the wolf is as much a part of him as the human.

Stiles spends so much time thinking about Derek's wolf side versus his human side that he doesn't realize Derek is awake until a voice says in his ear, "It is too early for your brain to be working that much."

Stiles laughs and snaps out of his thoughts. "My brain never shuts up," Stiles says. "It's one of many reasons I can't sleep." Derek doesn't respond, so Stiles says, "I'm not even looking at you but can feel your frown."

Derek tightens his arms around Stiles and drags his stubble across the back of Stiles' neck. "I don't like that you don't sleep," Derek murmurs. Stiles wants to say something sarcastic and rude, but holds his tongue. Derek asks, "What are you thinking about?"

"You." Derek huffs against Stiles' neck, and once again, a tingling wave pulses through Stiles' body.

"Don't think about me," Derek says. "Sleep."

"Shut up. I'll think about you if I want."

Derek tugs down the collar of the sweater Stiles wore to bed and licks at the back of Stiles' neck as he slides his other hand under Stiles' t-shirt. Derek's hand is cold as it splays across Stiles' stomach. "What were you thinking?"

"About how you're half-wolf."

Derek removes his mouth from Stiles' skin and huffs out a laugh. "That's a weird thing to be thinking about."

"You were growling and rubbing your face on my neck in your sleep."

Derek hesitates, then says, "Sorry."

Stiles wiggles around until he's facing Derek. "Don't apologize. That's who you are. I like it. I like that you're comfortable enough with me to act in instinct instead of trying to hide or pretend."

Derek's smile is blinding, and Stiles' chest tightens. He put that look on Derek's face. He made Derek look that happy. Stiles bites his lip, wondering if anyone has ever told Derek they liked him before - all of him. Not just his looks or body, but liked him, the wolf and the human. Because Stiles can give or take his looks - but the man with the messy hair, sleep crust in the corner of his eye, and an unexpected openness on his face? That's who Stiles wants.

Derek's brows furrow. "Now what are you thinking about?"

Stiles smiles slightly. "Still you."

Derek rolls his eyes, but kisses him.

Stiles hooks his leg over Derek's hip, urging Derek closer. He can feel Derek's half-hard cock against his own, and despite his cock softening while he lay there, he can feel the blood rushing back south as Derek's tongue maps out his mouth and his hands roam his body.

Derek pulls back as Stiles starts to roll him over and climb on top of him. Stiles frowns at him, offended. Derek props himself up on his elbow, his hair sticking out in a few different directions. When Stiles pushes up to kiss Derek again, he turns his face so Stiles' lips land on Derek's cheek.

"We need to talk," Derek says.

Stiles drops back to the floor. "That doesn't sound good."

"It's not a bad thing," Derek says. "I just think before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to talk."

Stiles sighs and rubs his eyes. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Us." Stiles looks up at Derek. "I want to make sure we're on the same page."

"What page are you on so I can turn to it?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "I'm serious, Stiles."

Stiles groans as he flails around until he's in a seated position. He huffs. "So am I, Derek. I want whatever you want, which I hope is what you want, because I know what I want, and you know what you want, and it'll suck if there's a lot of wanting but not of the same kind."

Derek smiles at Stiles' ramble. "That's why we need to talk. To make sure we want the same thing."

"I want to touch your dick." Derek closes his eyes and shake his head. "Don't you shake your head. It's something I want."

Derek opens his eyes with an aggravated sigh. "Is this something you want? You and me, together?"

"What, are we like boyfriends now?"

"If that's what you want."

Stiles snorts. "Can we wear matching shirts or something?"

"Stiles - "

"Look, Derek," Stiles interrupts. "I'm not good with feelings and talking about stuff." He scrubs a hand over his head. "Yes, I want you. Boyfriends, or whatever. I want to be with you and no one else."

Derek nods. "Good." He reaches out and runs his fingers down the edge of his sweater. "There is no one else I'd rather be with."

Stiles feels a rush of emotion, his cheeks burning. He can't believe that Derek said those words to him. Stiles feels like the luckiest guy in the world. "So, that's that," he finally says. "You and me, we're a thing. This is a thing that is happening."

Derek nods, smiling softly. "Yeah, it is."

"Good. Can we touch dicks now?"

Derek drops face first onto the floor. He shakes his head, then rolls onto his side, looking up at Stiles like he is an idiot. An idiot Derek really likes, but an idiot nonetheless. "Stiles, you're so romantic, sweeping me off my feet with your sweet words."

Stiles shrugs. "What can I say? I'm a Casanova." He scoots across the floor and gently pushes Derek onto his back so he can crawl on top of him. "So, can we fuck now?" Stiles waggles his eyebrows.

"Stiles," Derek says, "When I have sex with you for the first time, it won't be in the back of an SUV on a public beach."

"I feel like we've had this conversation before."

"We have," Derek says flatly. "You keep trying to take off my clothes in the back of my vehicles."

"Apparently your cars really get me going," Stiles jokes. He flails his arm towards the windows. "The beach is secluded."

Derek exhales heavily through his nose, his forehead pinched together. Stiles almost laughs. "Stiles, I want to make love to you right, in my bed, where we can take our time. I want to make you beg and fall apart and come only on my fingers if I want you to."

Stiles rolls his hips against Derek's as he buries his face into Derek's neck. "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."

"I want to do it right," Derek says. "For me. Is that okay?"

Stiles lifts his head and stares down into Derek's face. Derek looks so serious about this, and Stiles is definitely okay with this idea. In fact, he loves that Derek wants to make love to him on his bed when they have time and the luxury to enjoy each other's body. It kinda makes the whole idea of having sex with Derek that much better. And there's something exciting about the anticipation of doing it. "That's," Stiles clears his throat. "That's definitely okay with me."

Derek leans up and kisses Stiles softly. When Derek pulls away, Stiles says, "Can we still touch dicks, though?"

Derek drops back to the floor and laughs. "You're an idiot," he says, still laughing.

"But you love me," Stiles replies easily, laughing with him.

"I do," Derek says. And Stiles stops what he's doing and sits up, straddling Derek's lap. He braces himself on Derek's chest, palms flat. Derek is watching him calmly, and Stiles just blinks owlishly down at him.

"You mean it?" Stiles whispers. "You love me?"

Derek doesn't hesitate. He nods and replies, "I do. I love you."

Stiles studies Derek's face and stares into his eyes, looking for any indication that Derek is exaggerating or pulling a joke on him. But what he sees is something Stiles has never seen on Derek's face before, and Stiles knows it is private, meant for him and him alone. The intensity of his gaze, the earnestness of his expression, everything past the walls Derek keeps up when he looks at the world. But he's looking at Stiles, and he's letting Stiles see the real him for the first time. And all Stiles sees is truth. Truth and love.

It's a bit overwhelming, and Stiles can't breathe for a moment.

He closes his eyes and lets it all sink in. Derek loves him. Derek loves him.

Derek freaking Hale - DEREK HALE WTF - loves him. He wonders if he's dreaming, and he opens his eyes and counts his fingers just to make sure.

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Not a dream. This is real.

When he finally looks at Derek again, Derek's just watching him with an easy smile like Stiles is the most fascinating thing on the planet.

He loves me.

Derek knows Stiles, has seen him at his best and worst - he'd been there when he'd been a demon, had seen what Stiles had done, knows the blood that's on his hands - knows his family, his friends, understands his life and its complications. He knows that Stiles is, well, broken. But Derek is a bit broken too, so maybe that's what makes them a perfect pair. Two broken people might make one whole.

Stiles flicks his eyes down to Derek's mouth before resolutely staring at his chest. Because Stiles knows if he keeps looking into Derek's eyes and seeing the look in them that he will say something stupid. It doesn't matter that he might mean the words; he just isn't ready to say them. Not yet.

"Um," Stiles starts, his voice unsteady.

"You don't have to say it," Derek says gently, voice full of understanding. Stiles still stares at the maroon color of Derek's Henley, his fingers playing with the edge of the V-neck.

Stiles breathes in and out a few times. "It's not, um." He closes his eyes, takes a steadying breath, then finally looks at Derek again. He's floored by the understanding and adoration in Derek's eyes. "I've never told anyone I loved them," he admits, looking away again, rubbing the neck of the shirt between his fingers. "I'm not saying that I don't, but it's just that I don't think I'm ready to say the words."

"Stiles, look at me." Stiles bites his lip, not wanting to see the disappointment in Derek's eyes. He would never do anything to hurt Derek, but everything that has happened in the last twenty-four hours is just too much. He knows he's on the edge of a panic attack, and he's still strung out from shitty sleep, and he just - "Stiles, hey, calm down." Derek rubs a hand soothingly along Stiles' arm, and Stiles finally looks at him. "I would never push you into something you're not ready for. I won't say it again until you're ready, but I want you to know how much you mean to me." He smiles at Stiles and cups his cheek. Stiles leans into the touch. "I'll wait for you as long as you need."

"How did I end up so lucky to find someone like you?" Stiles asks with a soft smile.

"I'm the lucky one."

"Nope, I called it first," Stiles says. "I'm the lucky one, though I guess I could consent to share the lucky one title because, let's face it, I am a catch."

"That you are," Derek says, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

"I was being sarcastic, and there you go, ruining it with being romantic." Stiles rolls his hips against Derek's. "I never would have pegged you for a romantic, Derek."

Derek's hands go to Stiles' hips to hold them in place as they rut against one another. "Then I look forward to letting you get to know me better."

Stiles smiles. "I look forward to that, too." He kisses Derek open-mouthed and needy, then pulls back and says, "Dick touching now?"

Derek grunts and rolls his eyes, but says, "Yes. Dick touching."

"Thank god," Stiles groans, rolling off of Derek so he can shimmy out of his boxers. "I haven't had sex in so long."

"You're not the only one," Derek says.

Derek watches him as he hooks his thumbs into the band of his boxers. Stiles doesn't know why he's suddenly shy, but with Derek's hungry gaze on him, he feels shy and unsure. What if Derek doesn't like what he sees? What if his dick is all wrong? What if -

Stiles pulls out of his head when Derek covers his hand.

"You shouldn't feel like anxiety right now," Derek says. "You should feel like arousal and happiness and soft warm breezes."

"Soft warm breezes?" Stiles asks, laughing. Derek blushes, and Stiles leans over to kiss him. When Derek hooks his thumbs into Stiles' boxers, he lets him pull them down Stiles' hips. Derek's eyes flash blue when he looks at Stiles' cock, and he growls quietly. It sends a shiver down Stiles' spine and somehow he grows harder.

Derek's hands wrap around Stiles' hips as he pushes him onto his back, Derek's eyes never leaving his cock. Derek settles himself between Stiles' legs, his hot breath ghosting across the length, and fuck, there's that erogenous breath again causing Stiles to tense and his cock to throb.

Derek wraps his fingers around the base before turning his head so he can drag his lips up the length. Stiles moans quietly, the touch a tease, but oh so good. It's been way too long since he's had anyone touch his dick but himself, and he knows with Derek between his legs this is not going to last long.

Next, Derek buries his nose against the dark curls at the base of Stiles' cock and just inhales, his hand still gripping the base of Stiles' cock. Wolf, he thinks, and it sends a thrill through him. He realizes instantly that he loves this part of Derek, the one inhaling his scent and breathing his own scent into Stiles' skin.

Derek drags his nose along Stiles' length, another teasing touch, before lifting his eyes to Stiles and licking the bead of precome from the slit. And that may be the sexiest thing Stiles has ever seen. That is, until Derek slides his lips around the head of Stiles' cock and sucks lightly. That is definitely the hottest thing.

Derek sucks on the head for a bit before pushing Stiles' cock further into his mouth. Stiles breathes out heavily, his hand shooting out and sliding into Derek's hair. He strokes his fingers against Derek's scalp as Derek slides his mouth along his cock, and Derek growls appreciatively. The growl vibrates against Stiles' cock, and it twitches in Derek's mouth. Derek growls again, and Stiles feels like he's about to come apart.

Stiles is holding back, trying to prolong it. That is, until Derek pulls off his cock with a pop and looks up at him with heavy-lidded eyes, and fuck, that is almost enough to make Stiles come right then. Derek's gaze doesn't waver from Stiles as he licks from the base of his cock to the tip, then says in a deep, husky voice, "Come in my mouth, Stiles. I want to taste you."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Stiles groans, half out of lust and half out of frustration. "You just can't say things like that, Derek." Derek traces his tongue around the head of Stiles' cock, eyes still boring into Stiles. Stiles can't look away; he's transfixed on Derek and his tongue circling his cock.

Then, Derek closes his eyes and slides his lips down Stiles' length again, and it takes Stiles' breath away how beautiful Derek is. Derek's tongue drags along his shaft and around the head as Derek's mouth slides over and over, and Stiles closes his eyes, moaning quietly as he tightens his hand in Derek's hair and comes.

Derek keeps sucking him through his orgasm, and Stiles isn't completely sure that Derek's not sucking his brain out through his dick. Is that a werewolf thing? Can werewolves suck brains out of dicks? Is it like a special power?

Stiles opens his eyes when he feels Derek chuckling against his cheek. "I think you're babbling," Derek whispers before kissing Stiles. Stiles can taste himself on Derek's tongue, and it's so sexy to know that he just came in Derek's mouth.

"I didn't even know I was saying that aloud," Stiles murmurs into the kiss. Derek hums against his mouth, then kisses across his cheek. "I don't know anything. Who am I? Who are you?"

Derek's licking and sucking at Stiles' neck, and Stiles has never realized before now just how sensitive his neck is. He turns his head and extends his neck, giving Derek better access. Derek growls against his skin, and he thinks maybe he has a problem that he finds that so hot.

"Fuck, Stiles," Derek growls, his words muffled, and Stiles opens his eyes to see a bit more hair on Derek's cheeks and pointed ears.

Stiles grins. "I made you wolf out? That's so fucking awesome!"

Derek lifts his face and looks at Stiles like he's crazy, which is a feat considering he's wolfed out with the wrinkled forehead and eyebrows, but there's also something much more guarded there, something vulnerable in his bright blue eyes.

Stiles smiles, thinking he knows what may be going on in Derek's head. "I'll tell you a secret," Stiles whispers. "I think it's hot. I think it's hot that being with me made you wolf out."

"Fuck, Stiles," Derek says again, his face back against Stiles' neck as he ruts against Stiles. Stiles gasps when he feels the nip of fangs on his skin, and that was definitely more pleasurable than Stiles expected.

"Do it again," Stiles says, voice deep and gravelly, barely recognizable, but fuck. Derek growls against his neck, and Stiles can feel Derek's gentle bites down the column of his neck. He wonders how Derek has control like this, but he's not afraid, he knows Derek won't hurt him, won't leave any marks Stiles doesn't want.

But god, Stiles wants them. He wants Derek to mark him up, and that's a weird thought, but he's going with it, mainly because Derek seems to be on board with the same idea.

Stiles thinks he should move and do something to help Derek out, but Derek seems content, growling and whining against Stiles' shoulder, where's he's now biting and sucking and licking. Derek's hands are holding Stiles' hips still, the slight pressure of claws digging into Stiles' bare hips. Derek's fingers are rougher, calloused in his Beta form, and Stiles brings one of his hands up and drags his fingertip lightly along the shell of Derek's ear. Derek growls and nips harder at the middle of Stiles' shoulder, and Stiles cries out. It stings, but it's total pleasure, and Derek starts soothing the bruise with his tongue.

Stiles trails his fingertip to the point of Derek's ear, feels the extra hair and the different shape, and he rubs the point between his fingers. A pleased rumble erupts from Derek's chest, and he starts rutting against Stiles' leg and hips with more urgency. Derek emits a mix of whines and growls as he moves closer to release, and Stiles just lies there as Derek holds him in place with his clawed hands. Stiles lifts his head and angles it so he can drag his tongue along the shell of Derek's ear, then takes the point between his teeth and bites down. Derek howls quietly as he comes, his breath panting out against Stiles' collarbone.

Derek lies there for a few moments, a boneless weight against Stiles as he breathes. Stiles closes his eyes, his hands running through Derek's hair gently as he enjoys the moment.

Finally, Derek releases his grip on Stiles' hips and pushes himself onto his elbows, and Stiles watches as his features slowly shift back to normal. His eyes are slightly glazed and unfocused, and he blinks a few times, finally looking at Stiles like he's this confusing, yet amazing thing.

"What?" Stiles asks, blushing under Derek's intense gaze.

"I, that," Derek closes his eyes and shakes his head. "I've never done that before."

Stiles' face pinches in confusion. "Done what?"

"Had sex like that. As a wolf."

Stiles' eyes grow wide. "What? You haven't?" Derek shakes his head. "Not with Braeden, or like some hot muscular werewolf you had a fling with during your Pack tours?" Derek shakes his head again, and his ears burn bright pink. Stiles cups Derek's face, and Derek turns his face and nuzzles into his palm before kissing it.

"You have to understand something, Stiles," Derek starts, "though werewolves have sex with people, it's not common for the wolf to come to the surface. The wolf doesn't always respond the way the human does."

Stiles blinks, trying to wrap his head around the implication. "So, you're saying that your wolf...likes me?"

Derek ducks his head, and Stiles thinks Derek embarrassed may be the cutest thing in the world. "My wolf responds strongly to you, yes. I feel comfortable with you, all of me."

Stiles pushes himself onto his elbows and kisses Derek softly. "Thank you," he whispers against his mouth.

Derek covers Stiles and kisses him again. "No," he whispers into Stiles' ear. "I'm the one that should be thanking you."

*

Derek thinks he should get his mind on the same page as his wolf. His wolf is howling and preening just beneath his skin, focused only on Stiles Stiles Stiles. His mind though, it's freaking out. Because he and Stiles - they're a thing. And they just had sex, and he couldn't control his wolf enough. But Stiles hadn't minded. Stiles thanked him, for fuck's sake.

Stiles will never stop surprising him.

They're lying tangled together, naked from the waist down. Derek had tossed his come-stained underwear somewhere near his feet, and Stiles had been too lazy to tug his boxers back up his hips. But it's nice, lying here like this with another person, feeling completely at ease. They're kissing lazily, a slow and languid slide of tongues, Stiles' foot absently sliding along Derek's calf.

Until Stiles pulls away with a noise, hikes his underwear up, and reaches out to open the hatch.

"Come on," Stiles says. "We're going for a walk." He clambers out of the SUV and tugs off the sweater as he waits impatiently for Derek to find his jeans to tug on. "You could go naked," Stiles suggests, waggling his eyebrows.

"That'd go over really well with the other people."

"Believe me, no one would be complaining," Stiles says. "But Derek, uh, what other people?" He throws up his hand and exaggeratedly looks around. "You brought me to a secluded murder-sex beach."

Derek climbs out of the SUV and leaves the hatch open. "Murder-sex beach?" he asks as he pulls off his shirt. The sun is too hot to be wearing clothes. He really hates he has to be in his jeans.

"Yeah, because a deserted beach is only good for two things. Committing a murder or having sex. I'm really glad you chose the latter instead of the former, because I think getting my dick sucked was so much better than you killing me."

Derek rolls his eyes and pushes up against Stiles' back to slide his arms around his waist. "Do you even listen to yourself talk?"

"No one listens to me talk," Stiles says, "not even me." Derek turns and kisses his cheek.

They walk for awhile along the beach hand-in-hand, the sun beating down hotly on their bodies. It doesn't escape Derek's attention that Stiles has elected not to remove his shirt, despite the patches of sweat Derek can see forming around the collar and under the arms. Derek doesn't press, though he doesn't like that Stiles feels uncomfortable shirtless in front of him. You've only been together for like, 12 hours. Give him time, he tells himself.

He can feel Stiles thinking beside him as they walk. Stiles rambles about ocean facts, gets sidetracked by a broken sand dollar, an empty crab shell, and some driftwood, but Derek knows it's deflection for what is really going on inside his head. So, Derek listens as Stiles talks. He realizes it isn't that much different than the other times they've spent together, except now they're holding hands and Derek can lean over to kiss Stiles whenever he wants.

It shouldn't really surprise Derek that they've made it to this point; the longer they walk together, the more Derek realizes that they've practically been dating for weeks.

"So," Stiles says after he finishes some diatribe about continental shelves, "When were you going to tell me you were bisexual?"

"Huh?" Derek glances at Stiles in surprise. He wasn't expecting Stiles to suddenly switch from talking about continental shelves, volcanoes, and earthquakes to his sexuality.

"I didn't know you liked guys," Stiles says, kicking at the swell of water with his bare feet. "Until you showed up at Jungle, I mean. Well, and didn't punch me in the face for kissing you."

Derek scratches his beard. "I don't really think about it," he says. "I just like people, regardless of gender and stuff. I don't care who or what they are if I like the person."

Stiles chews his lip as he processes this. "But you went to Jungle, obviously to pick up a guy."

"I mean, I like dicks quite a bit, but I also like vaginas, if that's what you're asking." Derek runs a hand through his hair in frustration. "Like I said, I don't really think about it. I go with instinct. Even when I'm searching for a hookup. There are certain features and physical characteristics I like, but it's also a smell and instinct thing." He huffs. "I'm not doing a good job of explaining this."

"Is it a wolf thing?"

Derek considers this. "Maybe. I know my mom always used to say that our wolves would lead us to partners. That we should trust our wolves." Derek thinks about how he'd always thought his mother was just spouting nonsense whenever she said that. He'd been a teenaged boy with very human and very wolf hormones coursing through him. His wolf hadn't responded to Kate, but his hormones had. But his wolf hadn't tried to warn him either; his wolf hadn't done anything either way. If he'd have listened to his mother -

But no, he wasn't going down that road again. Not with Stiles beside him, smelling like happiness and contentment and Derek.

"So, do all wolves do that?" Stiles asks. "Cora? Scott? Jackson?"

"Scott and Jackson are bitten, so it's different for them," Derek explains. "Cora has only ever dated men, so I'm assuming that's what her wolf responds to. We've never really talked about it."

"But your wolf just responds to a specific person it likes," Stiles states, obviously trying to understand.

"Yeah," Derek says. "I guess that's the best way to describe it."

Something sour enters Stiles' scent, and Derek turns to look at him as Stiles quietly asks, "So, your wolf responds to me as a person?"

"Yes," Derek answers cautiously, wondering where this is going.

Stiles doesn't speak immediately, then says, "Does that mean you don't like, I don't know, find me attractive and stuff like that?"

Derek stops walking and holds Stiles' hand tighter. Stiles glances back at him and Derek tugs Stiles to him and wraps his arms around him. "That's a stupid question."

"Is it?" Stiles asks, his face blank like he is trying so hard to hide his emotions. Derek can smell it though, wafting from him in waves. Insecurity, self-deprecation, feelings of worthlessness. Derek hates it.

Derek drags his nose across Stiles' face, then nuzzles behind his ear. "Stiles, everything about you is attractive," he whispers against Stiles' ear. "You're beautiful, to me and my wolf."

The explosion of sweetness in Stiles' scent makes Derek growl, pleased. Stiles tightens his arms around Derek's neck and jumps up, surprising Derek as he wraps his legs around Derek's waist. Derek places his hands under Stiles' ass to hold him there. When Derek looks up into Stiles' face, his smile is dazzling, and Derek feels a matching smile spread across his face.

"You know you're the hottest man on Earth," Stiles starts, and Derek rolls his eyes. "And we both know I've always thought you were hot and I don't think that means much to you, so instead, I want you to know that I think you're an amazing person, Derek. Everything about you is amazing, and I hope I can show you how amazing you are so you believe it."

Derek has no words, not with Stiles looking at him so earnestly and honestly, so Derek tries to tell Stiles how much those words mean to him with his mouth.

*

Derek has trouble concentrating as he drives back to Beacon Hills. Everything around him smells like StilesandDerek, and it's intoxicating. Stiles is sitting in the passenger side, scrolling through Derek's iPod and either making fun of his choice of music, telling him obscure facts about the artist, or playing the song and singing along.

"Why is it so hard for me to picture you listening to music?" Stiles asks for like the fifth time as he puts on an old Bush song. "You are really into 90s alternative, which legit, I have to say. Did you wear flannel in high school? Did you go through a grunge phase? Because that is like, the best image ever."

"You're the one into plaid, not me," Derek points out.

"Yeah, but I didn't go through a grunge phase. I think I'm more hipster."

Derek snorts. "Yeah, no."

"What? I could be hipster. I'm so hipster, you don't even know."

Derek shakes his head, smiling. "You're not a hipster."

Stiles huffs. "How would you know? Do you even know what a hipster is, Derek? I mean, you're obviously not a hipster with your leather jacket and wardrobe of black, so maybe you're emo. Do you wear black eyeliner? Can you wear black eyeliner? I bet that'd be hot."

"I'm not wearing eyeliner," Derek says.

"Still think I could be a hipster."

"Not a hipster."

"Derek, I'm totally a hipster."

Quietly, Derek says, "Laura was a bit of a hipster."

Stiles doesn't respond at first. Derek glances over at him, and he's staring straight ahead, chewing on his thumb nail. "Oh," he finally says. "I'm sorry, I didn't meant to - "

"It's fine, Stiles," Derek says, reaching across the seats and grabbing Stiles' hand. He threads their fingers together. "I don't mind talking about her."

"You don't?" Stiles asks dubiously.

"It's not as hard as it used to be." Stiles goes quiet again, and Derek looks at him. "What?"

"Nothing."

"Stiles."

"Would you tell me about her sometime?" he asks. "And your family? I mean, you don't have to, I know how hard it is to talk about - "

"I'd love to," Derek tells him.

"Really?"

Derek nods, then asks, "What do you want to know about Laura?"

*

When Derek walks into the house, he's exhausted and just wants to sleep. He'd slept with Stiles, but it wasn't like the SUV was the best place to sleep. Plus, he's happy and drowsy with thoughts of Stiles. He just wants to curl into bed and wrap himself in thoughts of the feeling of Stiles in his arms and the taste of Stiles' cock in his mouth.

But when he walks into the living room, Cora comes to meet him with her arms crossed over her chest. "Nice to see that you're alive," she says, and it's obvious she's not happy. "Jackson had to ask Scott where Stiles went. At least Stiles tells his friends where he's going."

Derek rolls his eyes. "I'm fine. You knew I was going to see Stiles."

"Yeah, but you said you'd be back in a few hours. It's the next day. You didn't respond to any of my texts."

"I didn't mean to worry you," Derek says as he heads towards his room.

"I don't like not knowing where you are," Cora says quietly. Derek pauses and turns around to look at his sister. She's standing there with an expression somewhere between upset and pissed off that she's upset. Derek crosses the short distance between them and wraps her in a hug. She slides her arms around his waist and holds him tightly. He inhales her scent and grounds himself in his Pack, his family.

"Where is this coming from?" Derek asks softly, his hands rubbing along her back comfortingly. His sister isn't exactly someone who shares her feelings or who is overly emotional, so this surprises Derek.

"Marjorie called last night and said the rogue Omega was getting closer to us. And I thought, what if something happened to you, and I - "

"The rogue Omega is close?" Derek asks.

Cora pulls back to look at him. "Marjorie said she tried to call you, but you didn't answer, so she called me to warn me."

Derek hadn't looked at his phone since Stiles texted him yesterday. He'd been focused on nothing but Stiles. He pulls his phone from his pocket, and there's one missed call and a voicemail from Marjorie, two missed calls from Cora, and a few texts from her. He puts his phone back into his pocket and looks at her guiltily.

"I'm sorry I didn't let you know where I was," he tells her.

Cora lays her head back on Derek's chest. "I was lonely yesterday," she admits. Derek is reminded in this moment that Cora has just as many issues as he does, she just keeps them close to her chest. Being separated and growing up away from her Pack, then being taken by the Alphas definitely left a mark on her. But Cora is better at dealing with those things than Derek, and has figured out a way to be well-adjusted. But sometimes, even her emotions get the best of her. And she gets angry, like she's offended that she even has emotions.

"You could have come to the lake," Derek tells her.

"Oh, and what? Tag along with you and Jackson on your dates?"

"You've hung out with Hayden and Kira multiple times. I'm sure Kira would have loved it if you would have shown up."

Cora pulls back and frowns at him, her moment of weakness obviously over. "Well, she didn't invite me, so I'm not going to crash some other Pack's party like some loser." Derek rolls his eyes. "Jackson may be dating Lydia, and you and Stiles may have a thing, but we're not friends with them, Derek, and they're not Pack."

Derek sighs and runs a hand through his hair as he leans back against the wall.

Cora leans closer and sniffs his neck. "Speaking of Stiles, you and he finally hooked up." She pulls back and smirks at his bashful expression. He knew they'd smell it on him unless he could take a shower first, and even then he'd be hard pressed to hide it from them. But as Cora stands there watching him with a mischievous glint in her eyes, Derek realizes he doesn't care that they know. In fact, he wants to run around, howling to let everyone know that Stiles is his.

"We didn't hook up," Derek says. At Cora's obvious disbelief, he amends, "Well, we did, but it wasn't just a hook up. It's so much more than that." He can't quite keep the awe out of his voice or the soft smile from his face.

Cora slaps his arm. "Derek!" she exclaims. "This is awesome." She throws her arms around his neck and hugs him tightly. "I'm so glad you idiots stopped being fucking dumbasses."

Derek chuckles.

She pulls back and says, "And I'm going to text him and give him shit about how I can smell him all over you, and then tell him if he hurts you, he won't have certain vital body parts left."

Derek rolls his eyes and turns to go into his room. "Don't threaten him too much."

"I won't hurt your boyfriend," she sing-songs, then snorts. Derek kicks his door closed and laughs as he falls face first onto the bed.

Stiles is his boyfriend. He likes the sound of that.

*

Derek woke up, sensing something wasn't right. Isaac wasn't home, but that wasn't it. The bed was empty beside him, the sheets barely warm. The spot had been empty for some time.

Derek got out of bed, grabbed his underwear from where they'd been tossed earlier, and followed the familiar scent out onto the balcony. Stiles was leaning against the railing, staring out at the city. He didn't even move when Derek opened the door and stepped outside.

The night was warm, and Stiles was standing on the balcony only in his boxers, his pale skin a stark contrast against the dark night. Derek was glad he owned the whole building so no one would see the underage teenage son of the Sheriff half-naked on his balcony.

Derek pressed himself against Stiles' back and slid his arms around his waist. He kissed the knob of Stiles' spine, his hands splaying across his torso. He automatically started running his hands along Stiles' skin.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Stiles said. His voice was small, hollow, miles away. Derek whined softly, not liking the way Stiles smelled or sounded.

Trying to lighten Stiles' mood, Derek asked, "Why are you half-naked on my balcony? Are you trying to get me arrested again?"

Stiles didn't even crack a smile. Derek sighed and rested his forehead against Stiles' temple. "What's wrong?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Stiles."

Stiles sighed and hung his head, and Derek licked along the line of his neck, then placed a kiss there. "I got into a fight with my dad," Stiles said. "A big one. He knows I'm still lying, and things are still fucking awful between us."

Derek didn't know what to say, so he just rubbed his hands along Stiles' body, his fingers trailing over the pattern of moles and freckles on Stiles’ torso that he knew by heart.

"Come back to bed," Derek said.

"No, I - "

Derek jerks awake at the sound of his cell phone going off. He shakes his head, the remnants of the dream still disorienting him. He knows he was dreaming about Stiles, but it doesn't leave him with a happy feeling; instead, he feels just plain weird.

But he pushes that out of his mind as he grabs the cell phone and checks the ID. It's Scott. Why is Scott calling him at almost 5 a.m.? His first thought is that something happened to Stiles, so he's half-panicked when he answers. "What's wrong?"

"I think you need to see this," Scott says. "Hayden found something in the woods."

"Another body?"

"No," Scott says. "I'll text you the coordinates."

Derek doesn't wake Jackson or Cora, but leaves a note on the couch so they won't worry. It doesn't take him long to find Scott. They're about twenty miles north of the cabin, right at the edge of the territory line.

Scott, Liam, and Hayden are standing around in a circle, waiting for him. Derek nods to them as he approaches.

Scott points north. "Walk that way." Derek looks at him like he's insane. "Just do it."

Derek walks the direction Scott directed, and after a few feet, he takes a step, and feels something like a chill course through his body. He spins around and glances at the ground but he doesn't see anything. He walks back the way he came, and he feels the same chilling sensation. "What the hell is that?"

Scott, Liam, and Hayden share a look. "That's what I wondered," Hayden says. "What does it feel like when you walk through it?"

"Like a chill that courses through me."

Hayden walks towards where Derek is standing. When she goes to step past him, she halts and yellow light glows beneath her feet for a brief moment before it turns green and she continues walking.

Derek looks between Hayden and Scott. "What in the hell is going on?"

Scott and Liam both walk to join Hayden, and the same thing happens. They pause, yellow light glows before turning green, and then they walk past. Tentatively, Derek starts towards them, but he only feels a cold chill run through them.

"We think there's an invisible line here," Hayden says. "Though, I have no clue why it's affecting you differently."

"Maybe it's because it's Hale land, and I'm a Hale," Derek says.

"Maybe," Scott says, though he seems dubious. "It seems like you can pass without any problem, but we have to wait."

Derek frowns as he looks around, thinking as an idea suddenly occurs to him. "Did you check the trees?"

"Why would we check the trees?" Liam asks.

"The symbols you found," Scott says as comprehension dawns on him. "You think it may be causing this?"

Derek heads towards the nearest tree. "I don't know. There's no way it's a coincidence." The other three wolves spread out as they search the nearby trees. A few minutes later, Liam shouts that he finds something, so they run to him.

Carved into a tree is an elaborate design, similar to the others they found with points and curves, but this one is bigger and is over a foot tall. It's jagged and not perfect, but the detail is better than before. Whoever carved it had more time. Below and above the design are more runes. Derek takes out his camera and snaps photos of them.

"There are probably more," Derek suggests, not sure what to make of the symbols on the edge of their territory. "Keep looking."

By the time they finish, they have found four trees with the same runes and symbols carved into them. But they can't find a scent trail anywhere, and Derek thinks the runes or symbol must be covering it up.

They run a quick patrol just north of the Hale territory line, and Scott finds evidence of a fight. There's blood from multiple wolves on the ground, and gashes along with broken and disturbed foliage nearby. But once again, the scent is non-existent.

When they're back across the territory line, Derek walking through with a chill and the others having to wait until the light turns green, Scott says, "I don't like this."

"I don't either," Derek says, frowning at the invisible line. "The Omegas are coming our way. And I don't know what this line means, but be alert for any weird changes to yourselves."

"Do you think it's like some spell cast over us?" Hayden asks.

"Not really," Derek says, "but I'm not exactly sure what it is, so just be careful."

Hayden and Liam both look at Scott, and he nods his head. Betas looking for confirmation from their Alphas. This may be his family's land, Scott may be his ally, but this is not his Pack, and Derek is nothing.

"I'll see if Stiles can figure out what these symbols are," Derek says.

"I'll talk to Deaton," Scott adds. They nod at one another, and then Liam and Hayden take off into the woods. Derek and Scott follow behind, slower.

They walk in silence for a bit, and then Scott asks, "How's Stiles?"

Derek glances at Scott, who's looking straight ahead. Derek turns his eyes back to the trees and replies, "He's better, I think."

"I missed him the other day," Scott says, "But I'm glad you could help him." Derek can smell he's sincere, and he nods.

*

Stiles turns around, yelps out in surprise, and almost drops the bowl of kale he's holding. His dad is standing right in front of him, frowning. "Dad, you almost gave me a heart attack. How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to see you dancing around the kitchen and hear you singing to yourself," the sheriff says, giving Stiles a look.

"Yeah, and?" Stiles hedges as he skirts around his dad to set the bowl of kale on the dining room table. Stiles has been in a good mood, so he'd fixed a large dinner for him and his dad. The sheriff follows him into the room and surveys the spread on the table.

"You haven't cooked this much in a long time." The sheriff sits down and waits until Stiles has seated himself before he says, "Okay, so spill. What's changed?"

"What?" Stiles deflects as he puts a pork chop on his plate. "I don't know what you're talking about, Dad."

"Stiles, don't lie to me. I'm not an idiot and I have two eyes."

Stiles groans as he slings kale onto his plate. "Fine. You win. I, um. Me and Derek are kinda a thing now." Stiles still finds it incredible. Just yesterday they'd been walking hand in hand on the beach and touching one another. He hasn't seen or talked to Derek since Derek dropped him off at the lake house yesterday evening to get his Jeep, but they'd texted this morning about the runes he and Scott had found.

"It's about time," the sheriff says, and that was the last thing he expected his father to say.

"C-come again?" Stiles asks.

"I have eyes, Stiles. You both have been stupid about each other since you found out he's back. It's about time you both did something about it."

"You're not mad?" Stiles asks.

"Why would I be mad?" the sheriff responds. "I like Derek. He's a good kid, and he cares about you a lot. That makes him okay in my book." After a pause, the sheriff adds, “Plus, he makes you smile.”

Stiles chews a piece of meat as he thinks this information over. His dad is okay with him and Derek. Stiles is twenty and has just finished his first year of college; it's not like he wasn't an adult who could make his own choices about who he dates. It's just weird that his dad is approving.

A smile spreads over Stiles' face. He glances at his dad, who's looking at him with a soft expression. "Thanks," Stiles says. The sheriff returns the smile and cuts into his carrots.

*

"I feel like I haven't seen you in ages," Stiles groans as he sits on the couch in Scott's living room while Scott loads up the Playstation. Stiles takes a piece of pizza from the top box sitting on the coffee table. "Sorry I cancelled our pizza date last week."

"It's cool, bro," Scott says, tossing Stiles a controller. "I know you've been going through a rough patch."

"Yeah." Stiles bites his lip as Scott settles on the couch and loads the game. Stiles sets his controller aside and turns to Scott. "So, I need to tell you something." Scott turns to him, confusion written on his face. "Derek and I are together now." He waits with bated breath for Scott's reaction, afraid he's going to be mad because Derek is part of another Pack.

But Scott just smiles and shrugs. "Yeah, I know."

Stiles sputters and waves his arms around. "Wait, what? How? It happened yesterday."

"Derek smelled like you this morning," Scott explains, "and you smell like him. And you both smell slightly like sex."

Stiles wrinkles his nose. "Dude, that is so gross. And such a violation of privacy. Like, what if I didn't want you knowing that Derek sucked my dick?"

This time, it's Scott's turn to wrinkle his nose. "I didn't know that much detail. I didn't need to know that much detail."

Stiles grins at Scott's minor discomfort. "Derek gives great head."

"Stiles, I don't need to know these things about Derek Hale."

"Dude, you told me how that Noelle girl gave you great head."

"We haven't known Noelle since we were sixteen. And do Pack stuff with her on a regular basis."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "You know that Derek and I are gonna be having sex. You know Liam and Hayden, Mason and Corey, and Lydia and Danny all have sex. Except Lydia and Danny aren't having it together, but with other people, but you know that, I just didn't want you to get confused."

Scott chuckles. "None of them give me details."

"None of them are me. You're my best friend, dude. Who else am I gonna talk about Derek's glorious mouth or glorious cock with? Cora, cause ew, that's her brother. And it'd just be weird to talk about that with Lydia, because then she might tell me about Jackson's cock, and then I'd have to throw myself off a tall building."

Scott shakes his head, but laughs. "Fine, you can tell me about Derek's dick. Though how I'm gonna look at the guy after you tell me he sucked your dick, I'll never know."

"It's just a blowjob, Scotty. Seriously. For a guy who has sex with so many women, you are being such a prude."

Scott shoves Stiles playfully, and Stiles laughs.

Later, after they've demolished both pizzas and have taken a quick break from the game, Scott asks, "So, you wanna stay over tonight?"

Stiles glances at Scott, a bit surprised. It's been awhile since they've taken the time just to hang out, the two of them, for long periods of time, that didn't involve Stiles tangled up in his head from nightmares. Between Scott being at school, the Pack, and Stiles' problems sleeping, they just find less time than they used to.

Stiles finds himself grinning widely as he replies, "Hell yeah!"

They play video games until after two a.m., when they're both yawning and making stupid mistakes because they're tired. They finally give up and crawl side by side in Scott's bed. Stiles feels content and relaxed, and he's pretty sure he's gonna be able to fall asleep tonight.

"So, how is the tea Deaton gave you working?" Scott asks into the dark room.

"It's helping," Stiles tells him. "No more zoning out, less nightmares. I still have bad dreams, but it's more manageable."

Scott looks at him seriously and asks, "Are you okay? I mean, really?"

Stiles thinks about it, about how he's been feeling lately. The tea seems to be lessening the severity of the nightmares, and keeping busy with his dad, Derek, work, and the Pack is helping him feel a little bit more whole.

He doesn't answer for awhile. Stiles doesn't find it easy to talk about these things, doesn't like to admit his weakness. He hates that his dad, Scott, and Lydia see him at his worst so often, and now Derek is being brought into the bubble where Stiles just continues to disappoint, worry, and upset those he loves. He and Scott hadn't talked much about what happened after everything happened; they were too busy fighting off the next thing that was going to fuck them up. By the time things settled down, the time had passed. It was easier to pretend they were all fine instead of dredging up old horrors. Stiles knows they are all fucked up in their own ways, but he's the only one who displays it for the world to see.

"I'm better," Stiles finally says. "I think."

Scott is quiet for a few moments. "You were better before, too."

"I know."

"What's changed?"

"Maybe it was too good to be true," Stiles replies quietly. "Like, why would I get better? I've been so fucked up for so long that I'm pretty sure this is my normal state."

"That's not true," Scott says in his always optimistic tone. "You're gonna get better one day. I know it." Stiles reaches out blindly and pats the first part of Scott's body he can find, which feels like his stomach. "Maybe it is the Nemeton like Deaton suggested."

"I fucking hate that thing."

Scott grunts in agreement. "I think Derek is good for you," Scott says slowly. Stiles turns his head to look at Scott, genuinely shocked at the words. "Maybe he can understand you like I can't, give you whatever it is that you haven't gotten before."

"Scott, it's not - "

"It's cool," Scott says. "I get it."

Stiles sighs and runs his hands over his face. "You're still my best friend."

"And you're still mine."

Stiles smiles into the darkness. Maybe Scott hasn't known how to help him or helped him as much as Stiles may have needed, but that doesn't matter. Stiles is just glad he's still around. Maybe that's the way Scott has helped him, just been a constant rock for Stiles through the last few years.

Stiles rolls onto his side, away from Scott, and doesn't say anything when he scoots back and finds that Scott had moved towards Stiles, too. He feels calm as he closes his eyes, taking comfort from his back pressed against Scott's.

*

Stiles has been stocking nails, screws, and bolts all morning. He'd woken up from a dream he couldn't remember and had trouble going back to sleep, so he's tired. Only five more hours. But the hour he's been here already has dragged by, so he knows it's going to be a long day.

"You smell tired." Stiles glances up to find Derek standing over him, arms crossed over his chest and frowning.

"Nice to see you this morning, too," Stiles replies, but he can't help the smile that breaks out across his face. He stands up and leans in for a quick kiss. He lingers, his lips pressed against Derek's mouth for a few moments before pulling back.

"I don't think you should be doing that at work," Derek admonishes, but there's a small smile on his face.

"I don't care. They can fire me for all I care."

"You always say that."

"Because I mean it."

Derek leans closer and inhales. "Did you not sleep well last night?"

"Weird dreams," Stiles tells him. Derek frowns, so he asks, "What are you doing here?"

"Need to buy a few things," Derek says. "Plus, I wanted to see you."

Stiles grins. "Is that why you've been coming to Home Depot so much the last couple of months?"

Derek gives him a flat look. "I'm building a house."

Stiles laughs and pokes his shoulder. "You totally have been coming just to see me."

"Have not."

"Liar. Dirty rotten liar."

Derek rolls his eyes. "You're ridiculous."

"If you wait a minute and let me finish stocking this box, I'll come help you pick out stuff for the house. Because, as you know, I have the best taste." Derek rolls his eyes, but he leans against the shelves as Stiles starts shelving and rambling to him.

As they're walking towards the flooring section, Derek says, "You're not busy tonight are you?"

"Nope."

"I'm coming over so we can look for that symbol."

"How romantic," Stiles says flatly. Derek reaches out and squeezes his side.

"Have you had a chance to do any research on it?"

Stiles shakes his head. "No, yesterday I spent half the day at Scott's because I slept over the night before, and when I got home, I did nothing. Day before I spent some much needed time with Dad and Scott."

"We need to figure out what in the hell is going on," Derek says. "Cora, Jackson, and I have been patrolling, as have Scott's Pack. No sign of the Omegas or anyone who may have left those inscriptions yet."

"They obviously don't want to be found," Stiles says as they stop in front of the different types of flooring.

"That's what's scaring me," Derek confides quietly. Stiles reaches out and grabs his hand, lacing their fingers.

"Hey, we'll figure it out." Derek sighs and doesn't believe him, so Stiles turns towards the flooring samples. "All right, let's pick out some flooring for your house. Which room?"

*

Stiles is in Derek's bedroom, bent over his desk, five books and his laptop open around him. Derek is out in the Preserve somewhere training with Jackson and Cora, so he'd texted Stiles earlier and told him to come over whenever he was ready and that he'd left the house unlocked. Stiles has been in the cabin for a little over an hour, researching and trying to find anything about what Derek and Scott found in the woods.

He's engrossed in a page about the healing properties of aconite when two strong hands land on his shoulders, and Stiles closes his eyes. His attention had been so focused on what he was reading that he's not surprised he hadn't heard any footsteps. He sits up and back as Derek's fingers start slowly massaging his tense shoulders.

"That feels nice," Stiles mutters. "Magic hands." Stiles smiles at the sound of Derek's soft chuckle behind him. Derek's thumbs start rubbing circles into the chords of Stiles' neck, and then Derek's lips press against his cheek. "Also feels nice," Stiles says, turning his head until Derek's lips are covering his own. "Magic lips," he mumbles against Derek's mouth.

Derek pulls away and straightens, but keeps his hands resting on Stiles' shoulders, weight solid and reassuring. Stiles leans his head back against Derek's torso and glances up as he opens his eyes.

"Find anything?" Derek asks.

"Not really," Stiles says wearily. "I've been at this for hours. Where have you been, by the way? I thought you were coming earlier."

"Sorry," Derek says, starting back massaging Stiles' shoulders again. "I was training with Cora and Jackson and lost track of time. I did go by and pick up Chinese for dinner on my way over here."

"I have the best boyfriend in the world," Stiles announces as he starts to get up from the chair, Derek removing his hands. He turns towards Derek, who's watching him with a soft, easy smile on his face that makes everything inside Stiles flutter. "I should have gotten an awesome boyfriend before now."

"An awesome boyfriend?" Derek asks as Stiles leads the way through the short hallway into the living room on his way to the kitchen. "Not me?"

Stiles shakes his head. "Nope. Just any awesome boyfriend that would rub my shoulders and bring me Chinese food." Derek chuckles.

Derek retrieves the bags from where he left them on the kitchen counter and Stiles gets two waters from the fridge then walks to the couch. He watches as Derek pulls out containers, opens them, and distributes them. "I got mushroom chicken and beef and broccoli, and spring rolls. What do you want?"

Stiles holds out his hands. "Chicken!"

They sit side by side on the couch, close enough that they're touching, their feet propped on the coffee table. Stiles leaves the television on a random game show with the volume down low that they barely pay attention to.

"So, is this our first date?" Stiles asks through a mouthful of mushroom chicken. "Or that day you cooked for me? Or the beach? Or the day I cooked for you?" He turns to look at Derek. "How many dates have we been on?"

Derek chuckles. "I'm not sure Chinese on my couch before we go research potentially life-threatening magic symbols carved in trees is exactly date worthy."

"You should take me on a real date," Stiles says. "We should get dressed up and you come pick me up."

Derek smiles and leans closer. Stiles meets him halfway and kisses him. He tastes faintly of soy sauce. "I'd like that," Derek says when he pulls away.

"And you should cook for me again. That is something that should definitely happen. I'm kinda pissed you haven't cooked for me since then. That manicotti was so good. I dream about it."

"You do?" Derek asks dubiously.

"No, not really. Knowing my luck, if I dreamed about manicotti, it'd be trying to kill me." Derek snorts and Stiles nudges his foot. Derek nudges him back and then Stiles drapes his ankle over Derek's. "This is nice though," Stiles continues. "I've missed you."

"It's been two days," Derek says. "And we spent over an hour picking out flooring this morning." He moves his leg so that Stiles' leg flops. "I missed you, too, though."

"I know you did," Stiles says. "You can't live without my awesome." Derek rolls his eyes, but doesn't disagree.

When they finish dinner, Derek tosses the empty containers in the trash, and Stiles grabs two sodas to carry into Derek's bedroom. Derek sits on the bed with a few books and Stiles sits at the desk as they continue working. The only sound is the quiet music Stiles has playing in the background that he sings along with softly as he works.

After an hour, Derek finally speaks. "Hey, this looks like some of the runes." He brings the book over and sets it on the desk while Stiles yawns and stretches. Stiles studies the runes that Derek's pointing at, then opens the photos that Derek had taken at the site. He compares the two.

"I think you might be right," Stiles says. "Or maybe the same family? I don't know much about how runes work, but these two look identical, but drawn by another hand."

"I think so, too. And this one." Derek points to a rune on the next page and shows Stiles the matching one from the tree.

"So, what does it say they mean?" Stiles asks, trying to read around Derek's large, muscular arm.

"They're masking runes," Derek says. "Whoever inscribes them can use their power to mask certain things."

"Mask what?"

Derek gets a look of concentration on his face as he flips ahead a few pages. "Based on what this book says, and what we found out there, I think the Omega that put them there is making their tracks. No scent, no tracks, nothing that gave away their location. That makes sense, because when Cora first found the symbols up in the northern territory, these runes weren't there and we could smell something. When Jackson found the body, I couldn't smell anything but the body."

Stiles tries to wrap his head around this. This could mean a lot of things. And it means it could make it almost impossible for the Pack to find whoever is behind this. "Dammit," Stiles mutters, rubbing his eyes. "If they're masking their scent and trail, that means you could be running near them and never know it. What if they attack you while one of you are out patrolling?"

"I'll text the others," Derek says, pulling out his phone. "Let them know. We shouldn't go patrolling alone."

"They're running from something," Stiles decides. "Dead bodies, signs of a struggle. Whoever it is is running south. Maybe they'll just keep running south, right past us."

"Maybe," Derek says. "There are a few Packs south I've already contacted to give them a head's up. We just have to make sure to be observant until the threat has passed."

They keep searching through the books, looking for the other runes or the symbol. Finally, Stiles finds something and calls Derek over. "Look, this talks about augmenting symbols through additional lines and circles." Stiles pulls up the pictures of the two symbols they've found on the trees. "I wonder if that is what is going on here. Look at how the core is still there, but the one Hayden found just has more added and connected to it."

Stiles grabs a different book, the one he found the protection symbol in originally. Derek starts looking through the book Stiles was just looking through as Stiles reads about protection symbols. Finally, Stiles thinks he has found what he's looking for.

"Derek, I think this is it," Stiles reaches out blindly and curls his hand into the sleeve of Derek's t-shirt. He tugs on the fabric until Derek is standing behind him. "This book says that the protection symbol is used to protect loved ones." He glances at Derek. "What do you think that means?"

"Maybe it's a group," Derek says. "They're trying to protect each other."

"Don't you think it's weird, though, that the augments weren't added until the exact place where the land changes to Hale territory?"

Derek's face gets a pinched look, the furrow between his brows deep and his mouth turned down into a frown. "Who would be protecting Scott?"

"Maybe they're protecting you," Stiles says quietly.

"That's not possible," Derek shakes his head. "I haven't protected this land in years, and I'm not an Alpha."

Stiles flips the page and points to a paragraph. "Look at how it explains how the augments work. Those included in the protection spell can pass after identified. Those friendly to the protected or with no connection to the protected are allowed through after the magic deems them worthy." Stiles bounces his leg and chews on his finger. "Scott told me what happened when you went past the line and what happened when they tried."

"This doesn't make any sense," Derek whispers.

"Think about it," Stiles starts with a burst of energy from a combination of anxiety and adrenaline, "You go straight through with just some weird chill. Maybe that's the identification of you as the protected. Then Scott, Hayden, and Liam are held still by the magic for a moment while it scans their brain or soul or whatever to figure out if they are a threat to you or not. When the magic determines them friend instead of foe, they can pass."

Derek stands up and starts pacing. He runs a hand through his hair.

"If a foe comes upon the line, they can't pass," Stiles continues. He gasps when he reads the next part. Derek stops pacing and looks at him. "It only works on werewolves," Stiles says. "It's a wolf-specific spell."

Derek sits down on the bed and props his elbows on his knees. "This doesn't make any sense," he murmurs. "Who would be protecting me?"

Stiles bites his lips as his brain whirls through possibilities. "Peter?" It's the only thing he can come up with.

"This isn't Peter's style," Derek says. "He wouldn't remain on the outskirts of the territory this long. He'd announce himself, especially with Malia nearby, and now Jackson."

"Do you have any other long-lost relatives?" Derek glares at him, and Stiles puts up his hands. "Dude, it happened once. You found your dead sister in a vault, very much alive."

"If it was another Pack, they'd just call me," Derek says. He repeats, "This doesn't make any sense."

Stiles gets up and crosses the short distance between the desk and the bed. He circles his arms around Derek's neck and crawls into Derek's laps, knees on either side of Derek's hips so he can straddle him. He rests his forehead against Derek's. "We'll figure this out," Stiles says quietly. "Whoever crossed into the territory went out of their way to protect you, so I think for now you don't have to worry too much."

Derek pulls back suddenly. "Stiles, how can I not worry?" he exclaims. "There's someone out there carving crazy protection spells into trees to protect me, and I don't have a fucking clue who it is or how to find them because they're masking their scent!" His voice is increasing in volume and Stiles can tell he's upset and freaked, but he just stays on Derek's lap, his body close and trying to give him support. "On top of that, they're obviously trying to keep something out, which is terrifying. What in the hell is so bad that it needs a spell to keep it out, and why in the hell hasn't whoever this is just come and told me what the fuck is going on?" Derek's eyes are shining blue, and Stiles can feel the sharp points of claws against his hips.

"We've already found one dead body, and signs of fights in two other places," Derek goes on, his eyes still shining, but his voice quieter. "No one else can die, Stiles. Not this time."

"Hey," Stiles says, cupping Derek's face. "No one is going to die. Whoever is here has protected you for the moment. We'll find them, and when whatever is following them comes onto the land, we can hopefully track them and face them.

"Scott's Pack can hold their own," Stiles says. "They're young and they may be pretty unseasoned, but they'll have your back. Plus, there's Cora and Jackson. And most of all, you have me." He leans forward, hovering right over Derek's mouth. "You're not alone, Derek."

Derek kisses him urgently, gripping Stiles' hips as Stiles tightens his arms around Derek's neck. They stay like that for awhile, Stiles in Derek's lap as they kiss. Derek's tongue is warm and strong as it slides against his own, his lips soft and insistent. Finally, Stiles has to pull away to catch his breath. He's enjoyed kissing a lot of people over the years, but none of that had been like kissing Derek. Kissing Derek is indescribable. It may be the greatest thing in the world.

Derek kisses along Stiles' neck, and Stiles closes his eyes and runs his fingers through Derek's hair as Derek sucks, bites, and licks along his neck. Stiles realizes Derek's marking him, imprinting his scent onto Stiles' skin and sucking visible marks. Stiles finds he doesn't care and wants Derek to mark him everywhere.

Eventually, Derek just nuzzles his face into the crook of Stiles' neck and breathes as Stiles holds him.

After awhile, Stiles breaks the silence. "I'm absolutely loving holding you while you are all wolf nuzzling my neck and having you go to town on my neck and all," Stiles starts, "But my legs are going to sleep and the tingling is starting to get on my nerves."

Derek chuckles as Stiles manages to get off the bed without falling on his ass. He starts jumping around, his legs pins and needles. Derek rolls his eyes.

When Stiles gets some feeling back into his legs and it isn't extremely uncomfortable to walk, he grabs his cell phone and checks the time. "So, it's late and I should be getting home," he says, glancing at Derek awkwardly. "Unless, you know, there's a reason I shouldn't be going home."

Derek's watching him from the bed. "Is this your subtle way of asking if you can spend the night?"

"Read whatever you want to into it," Stiles says. "However, if I end up crashing on your bed in the next few minutes, I wouldn't hate it."

Derek rolls his eyes again, stands up, and steps in front of Stiles. "You're ridiculous," he says, then kisses Stiles lightly. "Of course you can stay."

"Sweet," Stiles grins. "I need some clothes though. Think you can accommodate me?" The way Derek's nose flairs as he inhales and the expression on his face causes Stiles' breath to catch in his throat. How can the simple idea of Stiles wearing Derek's clothes turn him on so much?

Derek slides his hands under Stiles' shirt and drags his nose along the side of Stiles' face. "I think that's a fucking amazing idea. You need to smell more like me."

"I'll wear your clothes, sleep in your bed, where you can cuddle the shit out of me. I think that should be enough to get your wolfy scent all over me."

Derek groans and kisses Stiles. "Do you know what you do to me?" he asks.

"I have a pretty good idea," Stiles replies. "But sorry, buddy, you're not getting any tonight. This guy is too exhausted and just wants his awesome boyfriend to hold him while he falls asleep."

Derek trails his lips along Stiles' cheek. "I think that can be arranged."

Ten minutes later, Stiles is lying half on top of Derek, his head on Derek's chest, his arm across his body, and his leg thrown across Derek's legs. "You make a really hard yet comfy wolf pillow." Derek continues scratching his nails down Stiles' arm. "Though you're softer than I expected. It's all the untensed muscle."

"What are you talking about?"

"I honestly don't know, Derek. I'm exhausted."

Derek kisses the top of his head. "Then, ssh. No more talking. Sleep."

Stiles takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and snuggles closer to Derek.

*

"Stop it!" Stiles yelled. Two clawed hands dug into his arms, but he barely felt the pain as he struggled in the grip. Derek was tied to a pole in the center of the large, empty room. His eyes were open, but unfocused, his head lolling on his shoulders. His arms were stretched overhead, bloody at the wrists where he's attached to the pole, and there were slashes and burns across his bare skin bleeding red and black. His jeans were in shreds where they'd started cutting into his legs.

Someone laughed as Derek was zapped with a taser, his whole body jerking from the voltage. Stiles tried to wrench from the iron grip, but to no avail. A second person joined the one with the taser, but this one was holding a knife already covered in blood. The face was blurry when Stiles glared at them, then watched in horror as they started carving into Derek's skin.

The tears were hot on Stiles' cheek, the bile rising in his throat, as he screamed, "STOP! PLEASE, DON'T HURT HIM. I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU FOR THIS, I SWEAR."

Laughter filled the room as Stiles repeated over and over, "Derek, no, please, stop it, Derek, Derek, Derek," the blood running freely down Derek's side and chest, his eyes drooping closed. "Derek, no, Derek!"

"Stiles."

Stiles jerks awake, his body coiled with anxiety. There's a knot in his chest, and he reaches up to wipe the tears from his face.

"Are you okay?"

Stiles glances over at Derek, propped up on his elbow and looking down at Stiles, his brow furrowed. He looks worried and concerned; it's a look Stiles is used to waking up and seeing on the faces of others.

Stiles sits up and wipes his eyes again, the tears still coming, and he notices that his hands are shaking. He's had this dream before, the one where Derek's being tortured at the hands of faceless monsters.

Stiles' voice is hoarse when he says, "Bad dream."

"You were repeating my name," Derek says softly.

"Fuck," Stiles whispers.

"What did you dream?"

The knot in Stiles' chest is still thick, and he glances at Derek before leaning towards him. Derek sits up and wraps his arms around Stiles' shoulders as Stiles slides his arms around Derek's chest. The tears won't stop coming as he rests his head against Derek's shoulder. Derek doesn't press, just holds Stiles as he tries to stop crying and shaking. The emotions from the dream are too real, and he's struggling to control them.

He doesn't know how long they sit there before the dream subsides and passes. Stiles is breathing slowly and carefully. Finally, Derek asks, "Is it always like this?"

"Sometimes," Stiles admits. "Tonight's is one of the worst ones. It usually doesn't take this long to recover."

"I'm fine," Derek tells him softly. "Whatever you dreamed, I'm right here and I'm fine."

Stiles reaches out and touches Derek's bare chest, where he'd seen the monster carve into his flesh. He trails his fingers along the smooth flesh. "You're okay."

"I'm okay."

"I had this dream before," Stiles says quietly. "That you're tied up and faceless monsters are torturing you, and I'm struggling to get to you and I can't. I just watch them hurt you and there is nothing I can do."

Derek's arms tighten around Stiles. "That's not going to happen," Derek tells him. "We're safe. I'm fine. I'm right here."

Stiles moves closer to Derek, and Derek slowly lowers them. Derek holds Stiles as Stiles listens to the constant sound of Derek's heartbeat.

*

Derek breaks the tree line after a long day of working on the house. He's tired and sweaty, and in desperate need of a shower. He is surprised to see Stiles' Jeep parked in the driveway. He had worked that morning, and Derek had found a reason to go to Home Depot. Then Stiles had texted him throughout his day, bored with his shift and rambling to him. But he hadn't said he was coming over.

Derek walks into the cabin to find Stiles and Cora sprawled on the couch. They are on opposite ends, heads laying on the arms, Cora's legs resting on top of Stiles. Her bare foot is on his stomach.

Cora doesn't look away from the television when he enters, but Stiles cranes his head around to look at who entered. When he sees Derek, his face breaks into a wide smile. Quickly, Derek takes out his phone and snaps a picture of them. They're actually quite adorable, lying on the couch like that.

"Did you just take a picture of us?" Stiles exclaims, sitting up and causing Cora's legs to fall away. She growls in frustration and shoves her feet between Stiles and the couch. "I didn't even know you knew how to take a photo."

Derek rolls his eyes, crosses to the couch, and leans down to kiss Stiles on his waiting lips. "What are you doing here?" he asks as he makes his way towards the fridge.

"So polite," Stiles says. "Not a glad to see you, I missed you, you've completed my night with your very presence." Cora snorts and Stiles pinches her leg.

Derek returns to the living room while drinking from a water bottle. Cora and Stiles have gotten into some kind of kick and pinch fight where Cora is kicking Stiles while Stiles tries to pinch her. Cora lands a rather hard kick to his torso, and he curses loudly. "Fuck, Cora. I think you broke my ribs."

Cora rolls her eyes. "I didn't break your ribs, you big baby."

Derek walks over and squeezes her neck with a little more force than usual. "Cora, he's human. He's not Jackson."

"Thank god," Stiles drawls. Cora kicks him again. "Owowowow."

"Sorry I hurt your pathetic little fragile human body." She gives Stiles a shit-eating grin, and Stiles narrows his eyes at her.

"I have access to fourteen different strands of wolfsbane, and I'm not afraid to use them."

She quirks an eyebrow. "Is that a threat?"

"No," Stiles says. "I'm just making you aware that I am dangerous."

Derek rolls his eyes. The two of them together are ridiculous. He refuses to let them know that watching them causes a feeling of warmth in his chest. His wolf preens at the fact that his sister likes Stiles so much, and that they enjoy each other's company. It solidifies that Derek made the right choice with Stiles.

Derek walks over and stops in front of the couch, extending his hand to Stiles. When Stiles doesn't take it, he lifts his eyebrows and looks pointedly at the hand. Stiles rolls his eyes and slips his hand into Derek's, allowing Derek to tug him off the couch. Stiles tumbles into Derek, and Derek immediately slides his arms around Stiles' waist.

"If you're gonna make out, do it in your room," Cora says.

"Ignore her," Stiles whispers. "We should make out right in front of her, just to piss her off."

"I'm gonna kick your ass, literally. Possibly break your tailbone."

"Are all you Hales violent?" Stiles asks. "Cause I'm feeling pretty threatened."

Derek rolls his eyes and grabs Stiles' hand again so he can lead him to Derek's bedroom. Stiles plops onto his back on Derek's bed, and watches as Derek removes his t-shirt and tosses it towards the hamper.

"Are you going to do a striptease for me?" Stiles asks, waggling his eyebrows.

Derek grunts. "No. I'm going to take a shower, but," he crawls onto the bed, knees on either side of Stiles' body as he hovers over him, "I wanted to kiss you first."

"We could have done that in the living room," Stiles points out as his arms circle Derek's neck.

"Not in front of my sister," Derek says. Then, he leans down and kisses Stiles. They kiss for awhile, Derek trying not to get his sweaty body all over Stiles, but Stiles doesn't seem to care. His hands slide along Derek's damp skin, his palms gliding over his chest and his fingers combing through Derek's chest hair.

Finally, Derek pulls away, and Stiles whines. "Don't leave me like this, Derek."

Derek chuckles and pecks him on the lips one more time. "Gotta take a shower."

Derek takes a quick shower and finds Stiles sprawled on the couch again when he gets out. This time, his feet are in Cora's lap. They order pizza, and Derek sits in the middle of the couch between Stiles and Cora. Cora's sitting away from him with her toes buried beneath his thigh, and Stiles is curled against his side. Derek feels like this is a perfect moment.

They are finished with the pizza and halfway through a movie when Stiles' phone buzzes with a text. He ignores it, but soon the phone starts ringing. He groans as he grabs it, glances at the ID, and then answers it. "What do you want, Mason?"

Derek hones in and listens to the conversation. "Where are you?"

"Derek's. Why? Is everything okay?" Derek can feel the uptick in Stiles' heart and runs a soothing hand down his arm.

"Yeah, dude. Bonfire. Everyone's here, even Jackson. You should come. Bring Derek."

In the background, a female voice shouts, "And Cora!" Kira, Derek guesses.

"I don't know, man," Stiles says.

"Yes," Cora says, leaping from the couch and heading towards her bedroom. "We're going out."

Stiles shrugs and tells Mason, "Guess we're in."

Derek frowns at the television. So much for his perfect night. Going to a bonfire with Scott's Pack - Stiles' Pack - isn't exactly how he wants to spend his night. He had plans to watch the movie, then make out with Stiles, maybe a handjob or something, then falling asleep with Stiles in his arms. Seems like that won't be the case now.

"Dude, you don't have to go." Derek snaps out of his thoughts and glances over at Stiles. He's watching Derek, expression carefully guarded. "You look like this is the last thing you want to do."

Derek frowns deeper, not sure how to answer. "It isn't my choice way to spend the evening, no."

Stiles sighs and rubs his face. "I can call them back and say - "

"No, you should go," Derek urges. Maybe he'll just spend the night in his woodshed, working on the table he's been neglecting.

Stiles glances at Derek, bottom lip between his teeth. "I want you to go, too." Derek sighs, and before he can say anything, Stiles continues, "I want you to come as my boyfriend. I want my friends to get to know you."

Derek knows he's too far gone when he gives in so easily. "Fine."

Derek rides with Stiles in his Jeep, and Cora follows them in the SUV. The party is deep in the Preserve, near the western border of the territory. Stiles grabs Derek's hand as they start walking down the trail, Cora walking ahead of them. Derek can hear voices as they grow closer.

They enter into a clearing where logs have been arranged around a campfire. The logs are full of Stiles' Pack, with the addition of Jackson. Kira waves enthusiastically, and Cora takes the empty spot beside her while Derek sits beside Jackson. He pats his thigh, and Jackson squeezes his shoulder.

Derek tries not to feel out of place, but it's hard. Jackson and Cora fit in much better than he does. Jackson has known half the Pack for most of his life, and Cora is always at ease around people. But Derek feels awkward. He doesn't quite know how to get a word in as everyone talks over one another, and he feels so much older than the newest members of Scott's Pack.

Stiles hooks his arm with Derek's and rests his head on Derek's shoulder, and Stiles' hands playing with his fingers provides some comfort. But soon, Derek feels antsy. He turns his head to Stiles and whispers, "I'm gonna go take a short walk."

Stiles lifts his head and looks at him. "I'll come with you." There's a question in his expression, and Derek nods with a smile.

Stiles and Derek stand and walk towards the woods, and Derek hears catcalling behind him. He rolls his eyes. Like he'd sex Stiles up in the middle of the woods with numerous werewolves so close. Stiles turns around and yells back a sarcastic response before giving them the finger.

Since Derek can see better, he leads them along a safe footpath. Stiles trudges along behind him, hand tightly clasped in Derek's. When they're out of earshot, Derek says, "You didn't have to come with me."

"Rather be with you than them," he replies. "Everything okay? You've been quieter than usual."

Derek inhales audibly. "It's just a bit overwhelming. I don't really like large groups, and I don't really know them."

"They like you," Stiles assures him. "I want you to get to know them. You're important to me, and I want them to know you." Derek slows down so he can peck Stiles on the lips.

He's about to say something when he catches a smell on the wind. Immediately, he's on alert. Stiles notices it. "What? What's wrong?"

"They're here." Derek follows the scent, aware of Stiles following him close enough to touch. Stiles has his cell phone in his hands and is punching out a text. To Scott, Derek assumes. They wouldn't want to shout, just in case the Omegas haven't figure out they're around yet.

Derek walks as quietly as possible, though the crunch of Stiles' footsteps can be heard in the silence. The smell is getting stronger as Derek walks, and there's something...off about it. He can't figure out what it is, but it's not settling well with him.

Derek hears movement to his left, and he halts, Stiles right behind him. Derek's eyes scan the woods. While he can't see anything, he can hear breathing and the light, near-silent footfalls of a werewolf.

A breeze blows through the trees, and Derek is hit with the scent again, this time much stronger. Derek is able to parse it out a bit better now, and something twists uncomfortably in his gut. The smell is familiar.

A rustle of leaves alerts Derek to the Omega's intentions. Whoever it is wants to be heard now, is revealing their presence to Derek. Derek's eyes glow blue and he shifts into his Beta form, ready to attack and protect Stiles, just in case.

Two red eyes glow in the trees, and Derek's taken aback. An Omega Alpha. Not what Derek expected. And the smell is still there, in his nose, taunting him. Derek doesn't move, and neither does Stiles. Derek can feel the anxiety and fear wafting from him, coupled with the smell of courage and determination. Stiles' breaths are loud in the quiet night, warm air on the back of Derek's neck.

The sound of footsteps get louder as the red eyes move towards him. Then finally, the wolf steps from between the trees.

Derek hears the shocked gasp from behind as he falls to his knees. Derek can't breathe for a moment, can't speak or even think. The blood rushes in his ears, and the world tilts around him.

"It can't be," Derek whispers, staring. Derek can't react, he can't even think. He's focused on one thing, and one thing only. He stares into the man's face, trying to figure out if it's a trick of the light or if he is finally going insane. But as he inhales and listens to the heartbeat, he knows it's no trick. The man standing before him is real.

In a cracked voice, Derek whispers, "Boyd."

Chapter Text

Father tell me, we get what we deserve
Oh we get what we deserve

Cause they will run you down, down til the dark
Yes and they will run you down, down til you fall
And they will run you down, down til you go
Yeah so you can't crawl no more

And way down we go...
-way down we go by kaleo


Derek stares at the man in front of him in disbelief. There's no way. No way. It is not possible, he's dead, Derek felt it as they made him sink his claws into Boyd's chest, had looked directly into Boyd's eyes. Derek had watched from across the street, hidden in shadows, as they wheeled Boyd's body out in a body bag.

"Hello, Derek," Boyd says, the soft, deep timber of his voice exactly the same.

"What the fuck?" Stiles finally says behind him. Boyd turns his red eyes to Stiles and studies him carefully; calm, collected, and not a threat. Nothing about Boyd screams threat, though Derek doesn't quite believe it's really him, despite his wolf whining and thinking PackPackPack.

"Stiles," Boyd says, nodding his head.

Derek can't speak, his voice gone. He still feels like he's falling, his eyes glued to the man in front of him. A man grown now, not a scared lonely teenager. There's a softness in Boyd's eyes as he watches Derek and Stiles, but the rest of him is jagged edges and scars.

A hand lands on Derek's shoulder as Stiles takes a step closer. Unlike Derek, apparently he has no trouble speaking and calls out, "Who the fuck are you? What are you doing here? You're not him, you can't be."

Before Boyd can reply, leaves rustle behind Boyd as blue eyes blaze through the trees. Derek can't move, can't react, he's too numb. Of course Boyd found another Pack, has people who would follow him to the ends of the earth and die for him. Derek never found that, but Boyd did, and he deserves it. He deserves to not be alone. Derek, Derek is starkly reminded why he deserves to be alone.

Fingers dig painfully into the meat of Derek's shoulder as Stiles tightens his grip. The other wolf steps into the clearing, bright blues eyes shining, blonde hair dirty and hanging in matted tresses, obscuring part of her face.

Derek shatters into a thousand pieces.

The world stops at that moment. What he feels is unlike anything he's ever felt before, unlike when they told him his family had burned alive, unlike the moment he found half of Laura's body bloody in the forest, unlike when he'd seen Erica's body dead in the vault, unlike the feeling of his claws sinking into Boyd's chest as he watched the life leave his eyes.

"Oh my god," Stiles says, his voice giving out halfway through the last word.

Erica looks around sharply, her head jerking in different directions as she scans and scents the air. Finally, her eyes land on Stiles and fade to their normal brown. She takes a tentative step closer, her head cocked to the side. Then a small smile spreads across her face. "Stiles."

Slowly, she walks towards them, her eyes constantly scanning her surroundings like she's expecting something to jump out at her at any moment. Stiles drags his fingers across the back of Derek's neck as he moves to Derek's side, yet never moving far enough away that he breaks contact. Derek is still frozen in place, watching from what feels like a thousand miles away, the voices muffled, everything too bright, too real.

For once, Stiles doesn't say anything. He remains motionless and silent as Erica slowly advances on him, her motions predatory like she's stalking her prey. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Derek thinks that maybe he should do something, protect Stiles from danger, because this can't be Boyd and Erica, Boyd and Erica are dead dead dead. But his wolf is still testing the Pack bonds, taking comfort in the return of Pack after so long. And Derek is numb and frozen.

Erica yanks Stiles to her and wraps him in her arms, in a near bone-crushing hug, and buries her face into his neck. "Stiles," she whispers his name again, and Stiles doesn't move as she holds him. After a moment, she pulls away but doesn't let go. Erica looks down at Derek, then before he knows it, Derek is on his feet and held in a strong embrace, squeezed between one of Erica's arms and Stiles' body crushed against his side. "Derek," she says, dragging her nose and cheek against the side of his face.

"Erica," Boyd says behind her. "That's enough."

Erica growls against Derek's face, but she eventually relents and drops her vice-like grip from both of them and steps away. This close, Derek finally gets a good look at her. There's something wild in her eyes, in the way they constantly dart around, as if Erica is searching for danger or unable to be calm and still. More disturbing though are the scars, three long slashes marring Erica's beautiful face. They start around her temple and extend down her cheek to her chin. There are other scars, on her chest and arms, and Derek would bet there are more scars beneath her tattered clothing.

Boyd steps up beside Erica and settles an arm along her waist, and Erica visibly calms at his touch. He's also got scars on his face, neck, and arms, but they're less severe than Erica's. Derek wants to ask what happened, but he can't seem to make his voice work.

"It was you," Stiles says, his fingers curling around Derek's bicep like he knows Derek needs him to stay upright. "You carved the runes into the trees."

Before they can respond, something crashes through the trees and leaps through the air, landing in front of Stiles in a defensive stance, between him and Erica. Scott's wolfed out, red eyes glowing. Erica wolfs out and snarls, an ugly angry sound. Boyd's eyes are still glowing red, but he doesn't wolf out, just calmly makes a move to step in front of Erica.

"What the hell is going on?" Scott asks through his fangs as Hayden and Liam come up behind them. Erica takes the new arrivals as a threat, and she leaps at the closest wolf, but Scott intercepts her. They roll around in a tangle of limbs, snapping and growling, until Boyd jumps in and wrenches Scott off Erica. Boyd's finally in his Beta form, and he and Scott are about to attack each other when Stiles runs between them, his arms spread wide and palms out. A flare of fear shoots through Derek's chest, and the need to keep Stiles safe finally spurs him into motion.

"STOP!" Stiles yells, and Derek pauses in his tracks. Stiles' voice holds command, enough that the two Alphas pause and look at him. "For fuck's sake, stop trying to kill each other!"

"Stiles, this has to be a trick," Scott growls. "It's not them."

Finally, Derek gets his voice. "It's them," he says quietly, but everyone, including Stiles, hears him. Six pairs of eyes turn to him. "It's really Boyd and Erica."

Jackson and Cora rush into the clearing in their Beta forms, and Cora makes a small exclamation of surprise when she sees the newcomers. "Oh fuck," she says.

"Cora," Boyd says as Erica walks to her and pulls her into a bone-crushing hug like she had Derek and Stiles.

"How?" Cora's asking, and she's crying and shaking as she clings to Erica. Derek has a fleeting thought about what happened in the vault, what the three of them shared together, what kind of bond had formed as they faced torture at the hands of the Alphas, then watched Erica die. Derek realizes Boyd and Erica probably had a closer bond with Cora than they ever did with him.

"What in the hell is going on?" Scott growls, his voice radiating enough Alpha-power that Derek finds himself bending his head instinctively.

"Dude, tone down the Alpha stuff!" Stiles exclaims. "This is intense enough without a werewolf pissing contest."

"Stiles," Scott growls, and Stiles rolls his eyes. Scott turns to Boyd and eyes him suspiciously, his body taut. "Talk."

Boyd glances at Stiles, then Derek. "Erica carved the runes in the trees. We've been on the run for months."

"From who?" Scott asks.

"The Alphas."

Stiles splutters, his hands windmilling around. "What? Come again? I thought those fuckers were done with. Didn't Deucalion leave with his tail tucked between his legs and promise to be a good boy?"

At the mention of Deucalion's name, Boyd snarls, the first show of aggression he's displayed since he's gotten here. "Deucalion never intended to uphold whatever promise he made to you," Boyd tells them. "He's been planning his revenge ever since."

Scott rubs his hands across his face as Stiles and Cora spout various curses. Derek is still standing there, unable to move or process. Finally, Stiles drops his hands in a flourish and says, "This is all enlightening and all, but how the fuck are you two alive?"

"Maybe we should take this somewhere more comfortable?" Cora suggests. "Instead of standing around in the forest?"

"That's probably a good idea," Scott agrees. They turn to Boyd and Erica, and with a calming hand on Erica's shoulder, Boyd nods his assent.

Scott leads the group silently along the path to the bonfire, where Lydia immediately springs to her feet, hand covering her gaping mouth. The others are staring around in confusion. "Who are they?" Corey asks, but no one answers him.

Scott pauses to talk to the rest of his Pack while Stiles leads the others towards the cars. Lydia falls into step beside Jackson, who's trailing behind Derek.

"We'll run," Boyd says, glancing at Erica, who is eyeing Derek's SUV like it's an enemy. Cora tries to protest, but Boyd insists. Derek climbs into Stiles' Jeep, and rests his forehead on the window, feeling the Jeep lurch and groan beneath him as Stiles drives towards the road.

Derek doesn't know how much time has passed when Stiles asks, "Are you okay? Because you're like, really freaking me out."

"I don't know," Derek says, voice raw.

Stiles reaches across the space between them, grabs Derek's hand, and laces their fingers together. Quietly, he says, "This is a good thing, Derek. They're alive. It's a certified fucking miracle."

Derek doesn't respond, just closes his eyes and tries not to drown.

*

Stiles is freaking the fuck out. He's trembling so badly from anxiety that he's pretty sure his bones are rattling inside his skin. He'd ask Derek if he could hear his bones rattling, but Derek is freaking the fuck out, too. He's freaking the fuck out more than Stiles, which is saying something.

Actually, Stiles is pretty sure Derek is in shock. He wonders if werewolves can go catatonic. Or nearly catatonic, because Derek has barely moved or spoken since they first saw Boyd in the woods.

Stiles doesn't know what to think. He only has ten fingers, so he's not dreaming. This is real. Real. Boyd and Erica are alive.

He keeps casting glances over at Derek in the passenger seat. Derek is turned away from him, head resting on the window. His entire posture is turned in on itself, and Stiles knows the only reason Derek's holding his hand is because Stiles is making him. Stiles chews on his lip and tries to figure out something to do or say to help Derek, but there's nothing. He wants to comfort him, but he feels so helpless.

Derek's cabin is the closest house, so Stiles drives there. Derek silently follows him inside and everyone else filters in slowly. Cora comes in right after Stiles and Derek, with Jackson and Lydia not far behind. Scott and Liam arrive after that, and Boyd and Erica are last.

They spread out around the living room. Derek, Stiles, Cora, and Scott sit on the couch, Liam stands right beside Scott, Lydia and Jackson share the armchair, and Cora pulls two dining room chairs into the room for Boyd and Erica. When everyone is seated, they just stare at each other.

Finally, Stiles can't take it anymore. "Well, this is awkward."

Adopting his Alpha voice and posture, Scott starts talking. "Boyd, what happened?"

Boyd rests his elbows on his knees and rubs a hand over his face. "It's a long story."

"We've got time," Cora says gently. "I want to know everything."

"The Alphas never meant to kill me," Boyd starts. "They wanted Derek to think I was dead. I was just a piece in their game to hurt and weaken Derek, and by extension, Scott. They knew that by impaling me on Derek's claws, it'd look like I was dead until my body healed. When I regained consciousness, I was back in a cell.

"I was the Alphas' bitch for, hell, I don't even know how long," Boyd explains. "They had a bunch of Betas they ordered around. They beat us if we did something wrong, or if they were having a bad day, or they'd find other ways to torture or hurt us for fun. Though Kali and Ennis were dead, and the twins had left, there were other Alphas still there, blindly following Deucalion. Deucalion was weakened and beaten, he knew that, but he wasn't going to give up. Oh no, he was pissed and had vowed revenge on the McCall Pack."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Scott interrupts. "He helped us. With Theo and the Doctors, he helped us."

Boyd gives Scott a wry smile. "Did he?" Scott looks lost and frustrated. "Don't you think it was a little weird he so willingly came to help you, Scott?"

"He swore he'd changed," Scott says. "Chris Argent had been keeping tabs on him. He hadn't done anything."

Boyd snorts. "Deucalion knew Argent was watching him. When you asked for his help, you gave him the perfect opportunity."

"For what?" Stiles asks.

"For reconnaissance. Deucalion was able to get a sense of your Pack."

"But he hasn't tried anything," Scott argues. "No one has tried to attack us."

"When Deucalion came back beaten and vowing revenge, things didn't go the way he wanted. Some of the Alphas thought he was unfit to run things because he was so easily defeated by you. There was a lot of in-fighting, and we got the brunt of it.

"Deucalion spent a lot of time away," Boyd goes on. "He was working on building a new Pack, one that would be stronger than the one he had. That meant we were left to the other Alphas. The one who took charge was named Fiona." At the name, Erica shudders and looks like she's turning in on herself. Boyd reaches over and puts a comforting hand on her thigh. "She was worse than Deucalion ever thought about being."

Boyd pauses, and Stiles glances at Derek. His face is blank, his expression stony. Stiles knows it's self-preservation, that Derek is putting up a front to protect himself. Stiles hasn't realized until this moment how much Derek has changed and healed. This is the old, angry Derek, the one that Stiles never got to know, the one Stiles had been afraid of, yet intrigued by, and trusted despite his better judgment. And Stiles isn't sure what to do for this Derek. He's not sure there is anything he can do.

Boyd starts talking again. "Eventually, we got a new Beta, a feral wolf they wouldn't let anyone near. But one night, the feral wolf broke into my room, and there was Erica standing over my bed, growling and eyes glowing blue. I was too shocked to move, and terrified she was going to kill me." Erica snorts, and Boyd squeezes her thigh. "She crawled on top of me and started scenting me."

Stiles and Cora snort. Erica shoots them a shy, embarrassed smile. Stiles says, "So basically, Erica found you and started humping you?"

"I didn't hump him," Erica responds quietly. "I don't think." That causes Stiles to laugh.

"That still doesn't explain how she is alive," Scott says. He glances at Derek, who's as still as a statue. "We saw her. She was dead."

Boyd pulls his eyes from Erica to look at the group. "The vault they kept us in was made of hecatolite. It blocked out the moon, everything that gave us our power. We're not sure how, but after Erica was taken out of the vault, her body started healing. It took awhile, but eventually she clawed her way out of her grave. But the Alphas got her."

"Holy fuck," Stiles gasps. His brain is reeling with this information. He feels sick as he tries to wrap his mind around it.

"They found her north of Beacon Hills. They were taking Erica to one of the Pack compounds, but those Alphas underestimated her. When they finally stopped, she slipped away. She said all she remembers is that she could smell me on them, from them interacting with me at the compound. She started blindly searching for me. And there was some...collateral damage." Stiles remembers Erica's eyes glowing blue, and it makes sense now.

Boyd pauses, and Erica's trembling, her head twitching in a way that makes Stiles feel even sicker. He wants to wrap Erica in his arms and a blanket and make everything go away. He knows that feeling, the one she's exuding. Though, he didn't experience the torture so evident in both her and Boyd. Stiles decides in that moment that any-fucking-body who tries to touch either one of them again will have to go through him first.

Never again.

They may not be Pack, but they're home.

"As soon as I recovered from the shock and realized Erica was alive, I knew that we couldn't stay there," Boyd tells them. "Erica was feral, running purely on instinct. The Alphas were controlling her, keeping her locked up and hurting her. I knew eventually they'd either make her do something terrible or she'd get herself killed. I couldn't let that happen.

"So," Boyd inhales deeply, "eventually, we escaped, along with a few other Betas. There was a fight near the edge of the compound, and..." Boyd's eyes glow red. "I won, and became an Alpha."

He pauses and glances at Erica. She's turned closer to him, her shoulder to the rest of the room. Stiles looks over at Derek, who's still staring, like he's there in body but not really there.

"We went into hiding, while I worked on helping Erica. It took a long time." Boyd lifts his hand and runs it tenderly across her dirty blonde hair, finally settling his fingers around the curve of her neck. "But she came back to me."

"I didn't expect this story to have a romantic ending," Stiles blurts, mainly because the tension and anxiety in the room is at a suffocating high, and Stiles can't stand it. "But there you go, surprising me with every moment, Boyd. You should consider a career in fiction, really."

Boyd glances at Stiles and gives him a flat look, and wow, that's familiar. Good old, Boyd. Glad to know that kid is still in there, the one who just stared at Stiles every time he tried to speak to him. Stiles sees things haven't changed much. It's comforting somehow.

"Why are you here?" Scott asks.

"Why did you carve symbols into the trees?" Stiles adds.

"Almost the moment we came out of hiding, the Alphas found us," Boyd says. "We started running. I didn't know where we were going. We were just running for our lives. There were fights. Some we won, some we lost. But we kept running, and eventually I realized where we were running. We were running home."

Boyd sits back and crosses his arms with an air of finality. "That's it. We ended up here."

"You still haven't explained the runes," Stiles points out.

"I thought that'd be obvious," Boyd replies. He looks at Derek and says, "We were protecting the Pack."

Those words finally get a reaction out of Derek. He stares at Boyd. Then, he stands up and strides quickly out of the door. Everyone watches after him in surprise, and Stiles' mouth is hanging open.

Stiles finds Derek on the edge of the porch, shoulders tense and posture rigid. Stiles hesitates for a moment behind him before he decides to go for what feels right, and then presses close behind Derek. He curls his fingers around Derek's bicep and hooks his chin over his shoulder. "Hey," he whispers. "What's going on in that head of yours?"

Derek relaxes minutely at Stiles' touch and the sound of his voice, but he's still not at ease. He doesn't speak, and while Stiles is trying to decide if they should start trying to convince Derek to come inside, the front door opens behind them. Derek immediately goes stiff and Stiles tightens his fingers on Derek's arm.

Boyd steps up beside Derek, just a bit ahead of Stiles. He turns to look at them with a soft, amused expression. "You and Derek, huh?" Stiles nods, unable to keep the smile off his face. "I should be surprised, but somehow I'm not. Even back then, you were always meddling in our Pack."

Stiles scoffs, offended. "I don't meddle." That comment causes Derek to finally turn around and glance at Stiles incredulously. Stiles rolls his eyes in an exaggerated way. "Fine. But I don't think it's meddling when you're helping your friends with...stuff."

Boyd chuckles quietly, and Stiles decides it's a nice sound.

"We can leave, if that's what you want," Boyd tells Derek quietly. Stiles thinks it's odd, because Boyd is an Alpha, and he's not saying this to Scott who is the Alpha. He's saying it to Derek, like Derek is still his Alpha. Stiles isn't quite sure what to make of it, if this is a normal kind of werewolf politics.

Derek responds, voice hoarse and thin. "That's...that's not what I want."

Boyd nods, once. "Good." He pauses. "We didn't have anywhere else to go."

Stiles feels the way Derek tenses, and Stiles is pretty sure he's interpreting that differently than Boyd meant it, filtered through Derek's cracks and broken edges and layers of betrayal. He squeezes Derek's arm in what he hopes is a comforting gesture.

"This is our home," Boyd says. "My grandma thinks I'm dead for god's sake. I want my family and my life back."

"What do you need?" Derek asks.

"The Alphas have been tracking us. I learned basic rune magic from one of the Betas I met in the compound. She escaped with us, and taught me how to hide. It's harder to hide when you're moving, because inevitably someone spots your tracks or catches your scent. We tried to cover our tracks because we didn't want to lead them here. We weren't even sure who would be here when we arrived." Derek responds with a quiet grunt. "They're going to come for us."

A spike a panic flares through Stiles, and he knows it doesn't escape either wolf's attention. Stiles tries to tell himself that they can face whatever threat the Alphas bring. They've done it once, they can do it again.

"Then we'll fight them," Derek says finally, still staring ahead.

Boyd doesn't respond immediately, then almost too quiet for Stiles to hear, he says, "Thank you."

Boyd returns inside the house and Derek just continues standing there. "Are you going to talk to me?" Stiles whispers.

Instead of replying, Derek strides down the porch and around the cabin towards the back. Stiles sighs and contemplates following him, but instead, he reenters the house. Boyd, Cora, and Scott are talking, with Erica, Lydia, Jackson, and Liam looking on. Stiles drops onto the couch.

"Tell them they can't sleep in the woods," Cora says to Stiles, then turns back to Boyd. "You can totally stay here."

Boyd glances at Erica, who's acting more twitchy and distracted than before. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"But," Cora starts, and she sounds uncharacteristically sad. "You just came back. I..." She looks at Boyd, and he gives her a small smile.

"We're not going anywhere, Cora."

Stiles thinks maybe they should give the three of them some privacy to bond or catch up or whatever, so he stands. "Well, I'm gonna go home. All this excitement has drained me."

"Yeah," Scott says, he and Liam joining him. Lydia pulls Jackson to his feet, and after a round of goodbyes, they leave.

Stiles hangs back and calls Cora over to him. They stand in the doorway, and Stiles chews on his thumbnail. "I'm worried about Derek."

Cora frowns. "Where is he?"

Stiles shrugs. "Took off behind the cabin. He's either in his shed or in the woods somewhere." Cora sighs. "Look after him, okay? He won't talk to me. Maybe he'll talk to you."

"Doubtful," Cora says. "But I'll try."

"Thanks." Stiles gives her a half-smile, and she hugs him.

Scott is leaning against his bike, waiting for Stiles. "Come back with us," Scott says. "We need to talk."

Stiles sighs and runs a hand through his hair. He's exhausted and worried about Derek and just wants to go home. But instead, he agrees. Liam rides with him back to Scott's house. Melissa is at work, so the house is empty. Stiles collapses on the couch with Liam slumped against him as Scott calls the other Pack members and lets them know what's going on.

Stiles has dozed off with Liam a heavy but warm weight against him when Scott finally sits in the living room. "Guys, wake up."

Liam growls and snuffles as he buries his face further into Stiles' shoulder. Stiles laughs, because really, the pup is ridiculous. Stiles resists the urge to pet his head.

Stiles yawns. "What's on your mind, Scott?"

Scott's face looks pinched, and Stiles knows this is gonna be a serious conversation. He sits up and pushes Liam off him, who just curls against the side of the couch. Worthless Beta, really.

"Doesn't this seem a bit odd to you?" Scott asks.

"What do you mean?"

"Boyd and Erica coming back from the dead, saying that Deucalion is planning revenge." He shakes his head. "It's suspect."

"Wait, hold on a minute," Stiles says. "You think it's suspect that our friends went through hell and came back? What, do you think they're some evil monster come to harm us?"

"I don't know what they are."

Stiles rolls his head. "You've got to be kidding me, Scott."

"This just seems wrong."

"Please enlighten me," Stiles says. "What about this seems wrong? Except the part where something good actually happened for once."

"They might not be who they say they are," Scott says. "Or they may be brainwashed."

Stiles rubs his hands over his face. "Derek seems to think they're them, and I'm pretty sure he'd know. He turned them. And Cora wasn't suspicious, and she spent god knows how long locked in a vault with them."

"Derek's not exactly the most reliable right now."

Stiles sputters. "Excuse me?" At Stiles' raised voice, Liam finally wakes up.

"You saw Derek," Scott says. "He was in shock. And he wants it to be them."

Stiles points a finger at Scott. "Don't," he says, rage coursing through him. "You don't know what Derek's been through."

"I know he's your boyfriend and everything, Stiles, but - "

"That doesn't matter! Derek thought they died, but they didn't. He's lost Pack members, you haven't."

Scott's face goes hard. "That's not true," Scott spits out. "You know that's not true."

"She wasn't your Beta," Stiles says. "You didn't bite her."

"That doesn't mean it hurts any fucking less!" Scott yells.

"This isn't a contest!" Stiles yells back. "We've all lost way too much, Scott. And by some fucking miracle or whatever, Boyd and Erica are alive. They're fucking alive! And they're here. And you, you want to be suspicious of them over fucking Deucalion, who you trusted after he promised to run off with his tail tucked between his legs and be a good boy."

"I don't trust Deucalion," Scott says, "but he hasn't done anything."

"Boyd says he has!"

"So Boyd says."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Are you really going to believe the fucking Demon Wolf over Boyd? Or is it something else, like you're pissed another Alpha's in your territory and afraid they're gonna try to take it away?"

"That's absurd."

"Is it?" Stiles asks. He gets up and rubs his eyes. "Look, I'm fucking exhausted. And I have work in the morning. So, I'm going to go. Stop being suspicious of Boyd and Erica. Or hell, check them out or whatever. I know you'll just find that they're Boyd and Erica, just a bit more damaged."

Stiles storms out to the Jeep and drives home. After he crawls into bed, he checks his phone and sees no text from Derek. So, he texts him.

Worried about you. Let me know you're okay. This is a good thing. Please know this is a good thing. Good night.

*

Derek doesn't know how long he's been in the shed, working on the driftwood table. He just...couldn't be in the cabin anymore. He was too confused, too overwhelmed, too guilty. Because, he knows, this is all his fault. Everything that has happened to Boyd and Erica, it's all because of him.

Boyd and Erica were taken by the Alphas because of him. Erica died because of him. She was feral, because of him. Boyd died because of him. They were taken again and tortured because of him.

And they came back anyway. But not for Derek. Yes, the runes in the trees had been to protect the Pack, but they didn't come all the way to Beacon Hills for Derek. This is their home. They deserve to build a life here as much as Derek does.

Derek hears the shed door open, but doesn't look up from the tabletop he's shaping. As soon as he catches the scent and the sound of the heartbeat, he knows it's Cora. Her footsteps fall softly against the wooden floor as she walks towards him.

"Do you know what time it is?" she asks. Derek shrugs. "It's seven a.m."

"Shouldn't you still be asleep?" Derek asks.

"You didn't sleep at all."

"I'll live."

She sighs and hops up to sit on the edge of his work table. "Jackson spent the night with Lydia, Stiles left, and Boyd and Erica went to sleep in the woods. And you were out here. The cabin is so quiet."

"You like quiet."

"Maybe I missed everyone being around." That makes Derek pause and look up at her. She looks like hell, eyes puffy from too little sleep. "I like having a full house, Derek. Reminds me of the way things used to be."

"Things will never be like they used to be," he replies too harshly.

"I'm starting to think that things might be able to be like that. Not like when Mom and Dad and Laura, Sara, and Michael were around, but maybe we can build something important."

Derek shakes his head. "Don't do this, Cora. You'll only end up getting hurt."

Angrily, she says, "There's nothing wrong with wanting something, Derek."

"I like what we have," he says.

"I do, too!" she exclaims. "I love you and Jackson. You're Pack. But Packs grow, they expand, and - "

"No." Derek shakes his head. "End of discussion. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

Cora growls, but she doesn't say anything else. "Will you please come inside and go to sleep?" He doesn't respond, so she says, "You're really worrying me. You're worrying Stiles." At Stiles' name, Derek sighs and slumps. "The last thing he said before he left was for me to watch out for you."

"I'm fine."

"I know that, Derek," she says. "But you still need to sleep."

"Fine." Derek throws down the tools he's using and stomps into the house. He doesn't bother taking a shower, just strips down and crawls onto the bed. As soon as he closes his eyes, he feels a bone-deep fatigue and weariness. He wishes he could just sleep forever.

*

Derek’s been working on the house all afternoon. He only slept for a few hours before running through the woods to the house. He’s upstairs in the master bedroom, attaching the doors on the walk-in closet. He thinks about Stiles, who had made fun of him when he’d first seen the closet. “Derek, you could rent this room out. Do you even have enough clothes to fill up a tenth of the space?”

Derek doesn't hear the footsteps until they're right outside in the hall, and it frustrates him. He’s so distracted and wrapped inside his own head that he didn’t even hear someone approaching.

“You were always quiet,” Derek starts, “but you’re almost silent now.”

“Practice,” Boyd replies as he enters the room. “Too much noise gets you killed.” Derek nods as Boyd walks around the room. “Cora said you’ve been working on the house for months. Did you really do all this yourself?”

“A lot of it,” Derek responds as he turns the screwdriver, fitting the hinge to the doorframe. “I also have contractors.”

“It’s incredible.”

Derek flushes with pride. “Thanks.”

“Can I help?”

At the question, Derek lowers his hands and turns to look at Boyd. Boyd’s standing there with a calm expression, the scars on his neck and head more prominent in the light. “You just got here and you want to work?”

Boyd shrugs. “Erica’s running through the Preserve nearby.” Derek knows this; now that he’s paying attention, he can sense her not far away. Not far from Boyd. “I don’t do well just sitting around.” Derek understands that, so he stands up and motions for Boyd to follow him down the hall into a half-finished bathroom.

“How much do you know about plumbing?”

Boyd chuckles as he says, “Not a damn thing.”

Derek smiles. “That’s okay. No one who ever helps me knows a thing about building a house. I’ll teach you. If Stiles hasn’t sent the house crumbling yet, you’ll be fine.”

As Boyd helps Derek connect some piping, he says, “So, Stiles, huh?”

Derek glances up and lifts his eyebrows in amusement. Boyd’s just watching him. “Yeah, Stiles.” Derek doesn’t know why he feels embarrassed. He’s just not used to having a love life, or having people interested in it - or him. “It’s a recent development.”

“Your scents mix well together,” Boyd says, but doesn’t say anything else. Derek figures that’s his way of saying they make a good pair.

*

Boyd and Derek work in relative silence until the sun sinks far enough below the trees that they can only see because of their enhanced vision. They’ve finished the upstairs bathroom and Derek’s bedroom, so Derek is feeling accomplished as he leads Boyd out of the house.

Erica’s sitting on the porch, leaning against a banister with her legs stretched out. She smiles when she sees them. “I was starting to get bored.”

“You could have come and helped,” Derek says as he takes a seat on the top step next to her.

“Not that bored.”

Derek laughs quietly as Boyd sits back against the house, legs stretched out towards Erica as he faces her.

“I put in bathroom piping,” Boyd tells her.

“Whoa, that’s different,” she says. “Sure that’ll come in handy.”

“Shut up,” Boyd grumbles as Erica laughs.

Derek ducks his head to hide his smile as he stares at his hands hanging between his knees. There’s a part of him that’s screaming run run protect yourself before he can get hurt, but there’s a larger part of him that feels something stronger and brighter. Something that feels like hope.

*

Derek drives home after Boyd and Erica disappear into the woods. He doesn’t know where they’re staying, doesn’t ask because he doesn’t want to violate their privacy. He tries to ignore the warmth in his chest that has overtaken the guilt and fear he’d felt before.

This won’t work out the way Derek wants it to. Derek doesn’t get to have good things happen to him. He’s lucky enough that he has Cora and Jackson, and now Stiles. Derek can’t ask for anything else. He’ll be lucky if any of that doesn’t spectacularly go to shit.

Halfway home, he steels himself and makes the phone call he’s been dreading. But it needs to be done. After the generic cell phone provider voice mail message, Derek speaks.

“Tell Isaac they’re alive.”

Then, he hangs up. He knows Argent will relay the message to Isaac, and that Isaac will know who Derek is talking about. Isaac deserves to know they’re alive, even if he doesn’t want to be found.

Next, Derek calls Stiles. Stiles picks up after the first ring. “Hey!”

Immediately, a smile breaks across Derek’s face. “Hey.”

“You’re talking now.”

Derek rolls his eyes, even if Stiles can’t see. “I was talking before.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree.”

“Are you busy tonight?”

“Depends,” Stiles says, and Derek can tell he’s teasing. “There’s a Storage Wars marathon on, so whatever you suggest needs to be pretty spectacular.”

Derek turns into the driveway, headlights slicing through the darkness as he drives through the trees towards the cabin. “How about Storage Wars marathon on my bed, and I’ll make something quick for dinner.”

“If dessert involves your cock, I’m in.”

Derek laughs. “That can be arranged.”

“I’ll be over soon.”

When he nears the cabin, he finds Cora and Jackson sparring in the front yard. Derek gets out of the Camaro just as Cora lands on her side with a sickening crack. Derek winces in sympathy.

"Too slow, Cora."

"Fuck you, Jackson."

Derek sits on the cabin's steps as he watches Cora and Jackson spar. Jackson fights with an arrogance that he uses to his advantage, though it often has him landing on his ass. He approaches every fight like a sports game, which Derek thinks helps in one-on-one sparring, but wouldn't come in handy in a fight. Cora fights with an uncontained aggression, but less finesse than Jackson. She's stronger, but Jackson's faster. They make great sparring partners because their strengths are the other's weakness.

When Cora gets thrown into a tree, Derek calls to them. "Cora, you need to watch Jackson's movements closer and try to anticipate. Jackson, in a real fight, you're going to have to be less predictable."

"Predictable?" he exclaims with disdain. "I've knocked her on her ass each time."

Derek gets up and walks over to where Cora is standing. Cora steps aside, a gleeful grin on her face. "Okay then," Derek says. "Knock me on my ass."

Jackson shoots Derek a smug grin. "This is gonna be fun."

Derek and Jackson go back and forth for a few seconds, and it's easy for Derek to figure out Jackson's moves. So when Jackson moves towards him, Derek quickly meets him and flips Jackson over his shoulder. Jackson lands heavily on his back. Derek turns around and smirks.

Jackson glares at him. "Fuck you, Derek."

Derek extends a hand to help Jackson to his feet, and Jackson reluctantly takes it. When he's on his feet, Jackson glances at Cora, and then before Derek knows it, he's on his back with two bodies pinning him to the ground.

"Knocked you on your ass," Cora says.

"Hollow victory when it takes two of you," Derek growls.

"Teamwork," Cora states before leaping to her feet.

"Why don't you work on your shifting?" Derek asks as he pushes himself to his feet and the throbbing on his shoulder abates. He hears Jackson swearing under his breath, but they both start practicing. Cora has figured out how to shift about halfway while Jackson is still making progress at a glacially slow pace. He's only managed to sprout hair on his arms when Derek hears the familiar bump of the Jeep coming down the lane.

Jackson and Cora keep practicing, even as Stiles parks the Jeep and gets out. Stiles walks by them slowly, studying them closely as they practice. "Dude, how fucking cool is that?" Stiles exclaims as he drops onto the step beside Derek. "Cora's like half a wolf, and Jackson's in serious need of an arm waxing."

Jackson growls at Stiles, blue eyes flashing. Stiles just laughs and gives Jackson a thumbs up.

Stiles bumps Derek's arm and Derek returns the gesture. Stiles gives him a small smile before turning back to watch Jackson and Cora like it's the most fascinating thing in the world instead of the most boring.

Suddenly, Cora makes a weird sound and Derek's immediately on his feet. Slowly, Cora begins shifting into a full wolf. Derek gasps, and Stiles shoots up, stumbling a few steps forward and grabbing on to Derek's shoulder. Cora turns around in a circle, then glances up at Derek with eyes glowing gold.

Derek stares in shock at Cora, who is now a full wolf. She's quite a bit smaller than Derek, her fur black like Derek's but with highlights of golden brown.

"Cora," Derek says, dropping to his knees in front of her, and she steps up to him and sniffs him, then pushes her nose into his hand. Derek grins widely. "You did it." He runs his fingers through her fur in awe.

His attention is snapped away from Cora when he hears the sound of a tree splintering. He looks up to see Jackson breathing heavily, his growls growing in intensity.

"Stiles, don't!" Derek calls out as Stiles walks towards Jackson, because he's not sure Jackson won't rip off Stiles' head right now. Derek leaps to his feet as Stiles approaches Jackson.

"Dude," Stiles says, and Jackson turns towards him, fully shifted into his Beta form. "Comparing yourself to Cora is like comparing apples to oranges." Jackson just growls, and Derek and Cora take tentative steps towards them. "Or like comparing me to you on the lacrosse field." When Jackson growls again, Stiles quickly says, "No seriously, hear me out. You were born to play lacrosse, whereas I was born to warm the bench until suddenly one day I got lucky and Coach decided to put me in the game." Derek has absolutely no idea where this story is going, but Jackson is miraculously calming down. "Cora is a born wolf, dude. She has like sixteen years of wolfy senses and instincts on you. You were bitten, and then got no formal training because you are a douchewad who didn't think he needed an Alpha or a Pack." And of course, Stiles had to go and ruin it because now Jackson is back to growling.

"So," Stiles continues, "Of course she's gonna turn first. But dude, you've got hair on your arms. Even Scott can't do that, and he's a true alpha. So calm down and be nice to the trees. That poor tree did nothing to you, come on."

Jackson snaps at Stiles, but there's no heat behind it. "You're a dumb fuck."

Derek finally comes over to Jackson and runs a hand along his back. "You're doing great. This isn't a race. You'll figure it out eventually." Jackson grunts and claps Derek on the shoulder. "Come on, let's go for a quick run." Jackson's mood instantly changes at the mention of a run. Derek knows that's the way to make him happy. "Just around the cabin, not too far."

Jackson rolls his eyes. "Fine, stay near Stiles." Jackson snaps at Stiles again before disappearing into the woods. Derek turns and looks at Stiles in amusement before pulling off his clothes and shifting.

Cora knocks into him, and they roll around together, nipping at each other. "This is too good," Derek hears Stiles say, and when he glances up, he sees Stiles with his phone out. With one quick look at Cora, they bound towards Stiles, knocking his feet from under him so he drops to the ground with a curse.

"You guys su - ahh!" Stiles squeals as Cora starts licking his face. Derek growls at her when he smells her scent covering his skin, and she growls back and licks Stiles again purposefully. Derek goes to lick over her scent, and Stiles rolls onto his side, into a fetal position. "You guys are gross! No more licking contest over Stiles. I am not your wolfy prize to claim, no matter how awesome I am!"

Jackson runs up to them, groaning. "Fucking Hales and your obsession with Stiles!"

"I'm awesome, Jackson, don't deny it," Stiles yells as Derek crawls on top of Stiles and covers him completely with his lupine body. Stiles rolls his eyes as Derek snuffles along his ear. “Just don’t lick me, because I will punch you in your werewolf face.”

Bored of messing with Stiles and Derek, Cora takes off into the trees, with Jackson trailing her. Derek remains where he is, his body draped heavily over Stiles.

“You’re a ridiculous wolf,” Stiles says, peeking out from where he’d buried his head in his arms. Derek just licks him. Stiles pushes at him, but Derek doesn’t budge. “Go, run with your Pack. You can scent me after dinner. Storage Wars marathon, your bed, dinner, dick desserts, remember?”

Derek huffs against Stiles’ cheek, ruffling his hair with his breath. Stiles scratches Derek behind the ears, which causes a pleased rumble from Derek, and then Derek jumps off Stiles and bounds into the trees in search of his Pack.

They’re circling close to the cabin, Stiles now sitting back on the steps, when Derek feels the energy of the Pack change. Jackson stops running and swears. “Derek, Cora! Look!” He turns around, and Derek sees that Jackson's managed to shift further. He’s not quite to half-way, but it’s progress.

Derek shifts onto two feet and squeezes the back of Jackson’s neck. “See?” he says with a smile.

Jackson smiles up at him, genuine and open, but only for a moment. Then his mouth twists into a smirk. “Go put on pants, you pervert.”

Derek laughs and lets his fingers drag across Jackson’s neck as he walks away. Stiles is no longer on the steps, and Derek can hear him puttering around inside the house. Quickly, Derek slips on his jeans, grabbing his others clothes before he enters the house. Stiles is standing in the kitchen, looking around.

“You know,” Stiles starts, “I’ve seen you naked more times around your Pack than without them.” He turns to Derek. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen you naked without your Pack around. That’s a whole level of incestuous wolf stuff I don’t want to think about.”

Derek rolls his eyes and then goes over to Stiles. He kisses him as he slides his arms around Stiles’ waist, pulling him close as he opens his mouth. Stiles’ tongue slides easily inside his mouth, soft and assured. Derek breathes a deep, satisfied sigh as he melts into the kiss. “Hey,” Stiles says when he pulls away, his forehead resting against Derek’s.

“Hey.”

“I’m glad you seem better.”

“I’m glad you’re here.” The scent of Stiles’ contentment fills the room. “I need to jump in the shower,” Derek says as he pulls away. “I was gonna make burritos. You can get the stuff together or wait until I’m done.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “And here I thought you were making dinner for me.”

Derek takes a quick shower, and he can hear the sound of Stiles, Cora, and Jackson’s voices floating through the walls. It causes Derek to smile because this feels so right.

By the time Derek dries off and dresses in old sweatpants and a tank, Lydia has joined them in the kitchen. Bowls full of burrito ingredients are set out on the counters, and Stiles is sitting on a stool beside Lydia, who has Jackson’s arms wrapped around her from behind. Cora’s leaning against a counter.

When Stiles sees Derek, he whines. “How do you make sweatpants look that sexy?” Derek feels his cheeks flush at how hungrily Stiles is staring at Derek.

Jackson makes retching noises as Derek says, “I think you’re biased.” Derek walks over to the microwave to take out two burrito shells. He speaks to Lydia as Stiles joins him at the counter, leaning over for a kiss as soon as Derek’s hands are free.

“I hope burritos are okay,” Derek says. “If I’d have known you were coming over earlier, I would have stopped by the store on my way home from the house.”

“Are you kidding me? Burritos are the fucking best, dude.” Stiles grins as everyone starts moving around, bumping into each other often as they make their burritos in the tiny kitchen. Derek watches as Stiles piles absurdly large amounts of food into his shell. He’s pretty sure it's going to burst, and can't help but laugh when Stiles rolls it up and all the stuffing oozes out the ends and then splits part of the shell. Stiles makes exaggerated whining noises, and Derek doesn't stop laughing even when Stiles starts whining at him. "You're a cruel boyfriend," Stiles says. "You're supposed to be nice to me always."

"Not when you're an idiot."

"Why are you so mean to me?" Stiles says, so Derek leans over and pecks him on the lips.

They leave the others as they carry their plates into Derek's bedroom. They sprawl on the bed, and Stiles turns the television to Storage Wars. They eat as they watch, Stiles rambling about the various items they find inside the lockers.

Derek keeps sneaking glances at Stiles. Stiles has kicked off his shoes, so he's in patterned socks that have nachos on them, one of which has a hole near the big toe. He's wearing baggy, worn khakis and a t-shirt, and Derek thinks he's the most beautiful man in the world. He likes Stiles like this, relaxed with his guard down, completely at ease while he rambles and eats. Derek likes that Stiles feels this way around him, that he's not nervous or feels he has to put on an act.

Though there's something exciting about a developing romance where both parties feel nervous and unsure, where every moment is discovery, Derek knows they're past that. He can smell it in the scent emanating from Stiles. He can see it in every movement of Stiles' body, and in the way Stiles burps loudly with sour cream crusted in the corners of his mouth, as he talks with his mouth full and licks salsa off the heel of his hand. This is better, Derek thinks. Much better.

After they finish eating, Derek takes the plates back into the kitchen and grabs two bottles of water, and sees Cora playing a video game alone on the couch and notices Jackson’s door is closed. When Derek returns to his bedroom, he and Stiles sprawl on their backs as they continue watching, the backs of their hands pressed against one another and Derek's leg draped over Stiles'. It's comfortable and relaxing. Derek thinks this is just what he needs.

He doesn't realize he dozes off until something starts poking his cheek. He blinks awake and sees Stiles on his side, head propped in his hand, staring at him. "You promised me dessert cock."

Derek groans. "Are you always going to refer to sex like this?"

"Probably."

"I think I'm going to have to rethink this whole relationship."

Stiles gasps as he leaps on top of Derek, causing a small exhalation of surprise from Derek. Stiles glares unhappily down at him, and Derek's entire body is bracketed by Stiles' limbs. "I think you're lying. You'd be lost without me."

"I'd live," Derek says flatly, but he finds it hard to keep his sour expression with Stiles glaring down at him.

Stiles leans down and bites Derek's chin, and Derek laughs in shock. "What was that?" he exclaims.

Stiles harrumphs. "Payback. Serves you right for being mean to me."

"You're an idiot."

"Kiss me, asshole."

Derek rolls his eyes. "If I must." Stiles smiles as he lowers his body weight to bring their mouths together. Derek's eyes drift shut as his arms circle Stiles' waist. They kiss for awhile, until Stiles is rolling his hips against Derek's and making small needy sounds into Derek's mouth.

"Push up," Derek mumbles against his mouth, and Stiles eagerly complies. They both fumble at their pants, and Derek makes quick work of pushing his sweats down to his thighs as Stiles struggles with the fly on his khakis with one hand. Derek helps him, and soon his hard cock bobs free.

Stiles sinks lower as Derek turns away from the kiss long enough to lick his hand. At the first press of their cocks against one another, Derek's hips buck up of their own accord, and Stiles moans and huffs a laugh against his cheek. Stiles' length is hot against his own, and the small, erratic undulations of Stiles' hips causes just enough friction to be a tortuous tease.

Stiles presses kisses along Derek's jaw and drags his teeth through the scruff on his cheek. Derek finally works his hand between their bodies enough to wrap his hand around their cocks, pressing the shafts together. Stiles makes a low sound in his throat, and Derek turns his head to chase the sound with his tongue.

Stiles is rutting at an uneven tempo above him as Derek works his wrist at an awkward angle. Stiles' tongue is soft and wet inside his mouth, and Derek feels drunk on the taste of it.

The handjob is torturously slow, but Derek doesn't feel the need to get off hard and fast. He likes the feel of their cocks against his palm, the weight of Stiles on top of him, the sound of the quiet noises that Stiles makes as he draws closer to his release. Derek wants to take the time to catalogue and memorize them all, figure out what makes which sounds, and then learn how to make Stiles fall apart until he's a jibbering mess beneath him. But right now, he likes the thrill that curls through him every time Stiles emits a new moan followed by a whimper or a jagged inhale of breath.

Derek can feel when Stiles is getting close. He starts trembling, his hips moving faster into Derek's grip, his moans louder and closer together, though he tries to be quiet because they aren’t alone in the house. Derek decides to stop drawing it out, and works his hand with purpose. He swipes his thumb across the head, combining the slick of their precome, and speeds up his fist as he twists it a bit on the upstroke. After drawing his thumb around the crown of Stiles' cocks, Stiles digs his fingers into Derek's bicep as he comes between them.

The smell of Stiles' come hitting the skin of Derek's stomach sends him over the edge, and he groans into Stiles' mouth. He feels nearly delirious with the way their combined scents smell.

Stiles rolls his hips a few more times as he rides out the end of his orgasm, the kiss turned sloppy and lax. Stiles plops to the side, on his back, star-fished out on the bed. Which means half his limbs are now on top of Derek, and Derek can't really find the energy to care.

"That was," Stiles starts as he stares at the ceiling. "Dessert indeed."

Derek groans, but laughs as he rolls his body into Stiles. Stiles squeaks, saying, "Dude, watch the come! Gross."

"I think you're gonna have to get used to that," Derek says as he props himself up and looks around for something to wipe away the mess on his torso with. When he finds nothing, he sits up and pulls off his tank top. "Pretty sure sex with a guy involves a fair amount of come."

Derek glances over at Stiles, who's watching Derek with his mouth slightly open. But he's not looking at Derek's face, or even his chest. Derek follows his gaze and realizes he's staring at the streaks of white come painting Derek's torso. Derek lifts an eyebrow and asks, "Like what you see?"

Stiles rolls onto his side, closer to Derek, and drags the tip of his finger through the come. "I didn't think it'd be this hot," Stiles says, flicking his eyes up to Derek. "It's never sexy when I jizz on myself."

"I think that'd be fucking sexy," Derek says, hovering just above Stiles' mouth. He licks along the outline of Stiles' lips.

"Do you like it?" Stiles asks.

"I like the way it smells." Stiles wrinkles his nose, but Derek elaborates. "It smells like us, and that smells amazing."

"Werewolves," Stiles says, rolling his eyes, but he's got a grin on his face. “Speaking of werewolves,” Stiles asks, scratching the side of his face awkwardly. “How much of that did they hear?”

Derek shrugs. “None? All?”

“All???”

Derek pulls Stiles close to him, wrapping him in his arms. “Cora is a born wolf and has lived with a lot of Packs. She’s used to tuning stuff out. Jackson is...preoccupied.” Derek smirks, and Stiles groans.

“Oh god, he’s having sex with Lydia, isn’t he?”

Derek shrugs. “Pretty sure, but I’m not invading their privacy.”

“I’m scarred for life,” Stiles complains, and Derek rolls his eyes as they settle more comfortably to keep watching television.

*
Derek waited at the end of the street, watching the house until the sheriff’s cruiser pulled out of the driveway and drove down the street the opposite way. Before Derek could talk himself out of it, he got out of the car and quickly made his way towards the house.

Easily, he scaled the tree outside Stiles’ bedroom and then rapped on the glass. Stiles flailed around, his heart rate spiking with fear. Until he saw Derek, then his expression turned into one of annoyance.

“Dude, I have a door,” Stiles said as he lifted the window. Derek pushed himself through the window and landed beside Stiles.

Derek gritted his teeth as he ground out, “I need your help.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, what else is new.” He sat down in his computer chair with a heavy sigh. “What do you need?”

Derek stood there, glaring at the floor. Stiles fidgeted, but didn’t say anything. Finally, Derek spoke. “They’re gone,” he said slowly. “And the Alphas are coming.”

“What? Who’s gone, and what Alphas?” Stiles ran a hand over his short hair, then leaned forward. “Dude, use your words. If you want my help, you gotta explain things. I can’t read your mind.”

Derek inhaled, and a sense of calm overcame him for the first time in...well, too long. He tried to ignore it, but it was difficult with the sweet scent of honeysuckle curling through him.

Derek sat on the edge of Stiles’ bed as Stiles said, “Tell me everything.”

*

Stiles cried out as Gerard Argent pressed the taser against Erica’s side again. She screamed in agony, hanging heavily from the chains holding her up. Her head lolled on her neck, and Boyd looked murderous.

“Stop it!” Stiles screamed. Gerard snorted, and tased her again while grinning at Stiles. Stiles screamed as he fought against his restraints, and Gerard came over to him, still grinning, and backhanded him.

Pain exploded along the side of Stiles’ face, and he saw bright flashes behind his closed eyelids. When Stiles looked back, it wasn’t Gerard grinning.

No, it was him, all metal silver teeth.

“Let me in, Stiles, let me in.”

“No!” Stiles yelled, trying to run but falling, an excruciating pain shooting up his leg. When he looked down, he screamed. The bottom of his leg was mangled, held in a bloody bear trap. Stiles sobbed and looked up, to find bandages and silver teeth so close.

So close.

“Let me in,” it said. “Let me in.”

Stiles tried to get away, but it only caused the pain in his leg to worsen. He sobbed and screamed.

“Listen to it scream,” a female voice said. “I don’t think it likes what you’re doing to his Alpha.”

Laughter surrounded Stiles, mocking him, laughing as a man with a fuzzy face pressed the taser against a burn wound on Derek’s side that hadn’t had time to heal. Derek screamed, a mix between a howl and a broken human sound. The air smelled like burnt flesh, and every time Stiles tried to move, he was reminded of the two clawed hands holding him.

“I like the way he screams,” a male voice said. “I like the way they both scream. Let’s see if we can make them scream even louder.”

The man clawed through the flesh of Derek’s chest, and Stiles’ voice gave out and he couldn’t scream anymore. His screams were silent as Derek’s dark red blood covered his skin, the sound of laughing smothering him.

*

“Stiles!”

Stiles blinks awake and looks around, heart pounding and breath coming in short gasps. Derek is sitting up in bed beside him, watching him with a scared, worried expression. Stiles reaches out and touches Derek’s bare chest, his fingers gliding over smooth, unbroken skin.

“You’re okay.”

Derek’s brow furrows. “I’m fine,” he says dismissively. “You felt like you were having a panic attack.”

Stiles feels the after effects, the slowing of his heart as he takes deep breaths. “Bad dream.”

“What was it?”

Stiles sits up and rubs his eyes. The dream was a continuous nightmare, bouncing from real memories of when Gerard had taken him, Erica, and Boyd captive to the nogitsune, and his recurring dream about Derek. “Lots of stuff. Doesn’t matter.”

Stiles gets out of bed and walks quickly to the door, mumbling, “I’ll be right back” as he exits. The cabin is quiet. When Stiles enters the kitchen, he glances at the clock on the stove and sees that it’s after two. He opens the refrigerator and just looks inside for a few moments, then grabs a bottle of water. He stands at the sink, twists off the top, and drains half of it. He sets it on the counter, then grips the edge as he takes more deep breaths.

He’s safe, Derek’s safe. It was just a dream.

He starts when he hears someone enter the kitchen. Stiles turns around, fully expecting it to be Derek, but it’s not. It’s Lydia.

“Hey,” Stiles says awkwardly. She’s wearing a thin cotton gown, her hair messy from sleep. Despite spending the night together numerous times before, it’s the first time they’ve crossed paths at Derek’s house. Stiles wonders if this is something they’ll get used to or if it will always be this awkward.

“Are you okay?” Lydia asks as she approaches him. She places a hand on his arm. “I heard you scream.”

“Ugh, how embarrassing you heard me through the walls.”

“I’ve grown sensitive to your screams,” she replies quietly. “How bad?”

“Bad,” he responds quietly. “Confusing.”

Lydia makes a noise in response, then grabs his hand and drags him out of the kitchen into the hall. She leads him into Derek’s bedroom, where Derek is still sitting up, in the same position Stiles left him.

Lydia marches over to the bed and says, “Scoot over.”

“What?” Derek asks.

Lydia rolls her eyes. “Well, I very well can’t get in beside Stiles if you are hogging most of the bed. I’m small, but I do need some space.”

Confused, Stiles crawls into bed and shares a look with Derek. Stiles shrugs and then Derek moves over, making room. Stiles lays close to Derek, almost on top of him, as Lydia gets into bed beside him. “Now,” she says. “You’ll sleep better.”

“He sleeps just fine with me,” Derek growls. Stiles groans and rolls his eyes because of course his boyfriend is a stupid possessive idiot. Derek wraps his arms around Stiles and pulls him close against his chest.

“Derek, I am not trying to encroach on your territory,” Lydia says, “and yes, I know I’m in your bed, messing up yours and Stiles’ scent, but I should smell like Jackson. He made sure that I smelled exactly like him.”

Stiles groans loudly and buries his face against Derek’s chest. “That was way more information than I needed to know, Lyds.”

“Don’t call me Lyds,” she says, as she rearranges the covers.

At that moment, the door bangs open, and Jackson stands in the threshold, growling with blue eyes. Before Stiles or Derek can react, Lydia sighs and says, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Jackson, come get in the bed. And stop being a drama queen.”

“I’m not getting in the bed with them,” Jackson says. “Why are you in bed with them?”

Lydia makes an annoyed sound and sits up, her hair hitting Stiles in the face. “You’re the wolf. You’re supposed to have the instincts.” When Jackson doesn’t respond, she sighs. “Pack pile. Stiles had a bad nightmare, and Derek has been upset since Boyd and Erica came back.”

“I’m not upset,” Derek growls.

“Yes, you are,” Lydia says. “Honestly, you’re as bad as Jackson. Now, come on. You can squeeze on the other side of me.”

“How in the hell is Jackson supposed to get on the other side of you?” Stiles exclaims.

“It’s a good thing Derek has such a large bed,” Lydia says as Jackson grumbles his way across the room. “Did you have this in mind when you bought it?”

“No,” Derek barks out.

“He’s lying,” Jackson says as Lydia scoots closer to Stiles.

“Shut up,” Derek growls as Stiles exclaims, “Oh god, those are boobs.”

“Don’t touch my girlfriend’s boobs,” Jackson snaps.

Lydia says, “I’m not your girlfriend” at the same time Stiles says, “Dude, they’re just smushed against me.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you’re into dicks now then,” Jackson says. “And no, I’m not pushing my dick against you.”

“That’s a surefire way to turn me back to boobs. Or put me off sex forever.”

“No one is pushing their dick against you except me,” Derek says. “And I’m not thrilled about Lydia’s boobs on you.”

“It’s not like I can just take them off!” Lydia exclaims.

Stiles pats Derek’s hand that is gripping him tightly. “It’s okay, big guy. This is a dick-free zone unless it’s attached to you.”

Jackson mutters in irritation as Lydia huffs and Derek bites the side of Stiles’ neck in what Stiles is pretty sure is supposed to be some claiming mark.

“What in the holy fucking hell is going on here?” Cora asks as she steps into the room. “Please god tell me you did not just have a foursome.”

“Oh god, no!” Stiles yells.

“Like I’d get near Stilinski,” Jackson yells.

“What are you doing up?” Derek asks.

“Heard a bunch of growling and yelling and talking. Now what the fuck is going on?”

“Apparently Lydia has started a Pack pile,” Derek drawls.

“Well thanks a fucking lot for inviting me,” Cora snaps.

“Oh, good god, Cora, get in the bed,” Derek says.

“Where?” Cora asks.

“We can kick Jackson onto the floor,” Stiles suggests, to which he gets four annoyed “no!”s.

“Wedge in between me and the wall,” Derek says.

“If I suffocate in my sleep,” Cora says she crawls onto the bed, somehow managing to crush a knee into Stiles and Lydia, “it’s been real.”

“Now,” Derek says as Cora squeezes in behind him, “Go to sleep. Everyone.”

After a few moments, Stiles asks, “Who’s making the pancakes in the morning?”

Everyone groans and sighs, then Lydia says, “You are. Now go to sleep. Good night.”

Stiles smiles, snuggling further into Derek’s arms. He doesn’t have much room to move, not with Derek’s vice-like arms and Lydia pressed against him, and he can feel it every time someone moves. But Stiles feels safe and relaxed, and thinks Lydia might be onto something with this whole Pack pile thing.

Chapter Text

The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
It's strange what desire will make foolish people do
I'd never dreamed that I'd meet somebody like you,
And I'd never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you

What a wicked thing to do to let me dream of you
-wicked game by james vincent mcmorrow

I know sometimes I get angry and I say what I don't mean
I know I keep my heart protected, far away from my sleeve
But don't ever question that my heart beats only for you
It beats only for you

'Cause when you given up, when no matter what you do, it's never good enough
When you never thought that it could ever get this tough
That's when you feel my kind of love

And when you're crying out, when you fall and can't pick your happy off the ground
That's when you feel my kind of love
-my kind of love by emilie sand

The next day, Derek is working on the house when he hears the sound of unfamiliar footsteps. He pauses his hammering and hones his senses, recognizes the scent and heartbeat, and sets his tools aside. He's standing on the porch when Scott breaks through the trees.

"Wow," Scott says, staring up at the house as he walks forward. His face is slack in surprise, and Derek tries not to preen. "Stiles said it was incredible, but seeing it is just..." His eyes scan over the outside structure of the house before settling on Derek. "I can't believe you did this."

"I had help."

"Yeah, still." Scott jogs up the porch and leans back against the railing, diagonal from Derek. "I couldn't even build a dog house the one time I tried."

"I'll remember not to ask you to help with the expansions then." Scott grins, and one side of Derek's mouth quirks. After a moment, Derek asks, "Is everything okay?"

Scott shifts all his weight to the porch railing and crosses his arms over his chest. "We need to talk."

"Okay," Derek says. "Talk."

"It's about Boyd and Erica."

Derek steels himself, adopting the blank detachment that used to be so familiar that he wore it like a second skin. It feels awkward and wrong now, but he ignores the discomfort. "Okay."

"This is weird," Scott says. "That they're suddenly back." Derek doesn't respond, just stares at Scott with a hard expression. "I know you think it's them - "

"I know," Derek states.

"How can you know?" Scott asks.

"I recognize the bonds. I recognize their scent. I bit them, Scott. You have two Betas - you
know how that bond is deeper and stronger than words can describe."

"What if it's a trick?" Scott asks. "I know you want it to be them, hell, Stiles wants it to be them - which is disconcerting to be honest - but we have to be sure."

Derek breathes heavily through his nose and shifts on his feet. "What do you suggest we do, Scott?"

"I don't know," Scott says. "I tried to call Chris, but didn't get an answer." Derek snorts despite himself. "I have to protect my Pack. What if it's magic, or something else?"

"What, you think some random force just decided to use two of my dead Betas to do, what exactly? Kill us? Take our territory?" Derek takes a step closer, his temper rising. "Why my Betas? I've only been back for a few months. I'm not even the Alpha; you are. If they wanted you or your Pack, they'd have tried something different."

"I don't know, Derek!" Scott exclaims. "I just think it's weird, and I have to protect everyone, including you because I am the Alpha. You would do the same. You did do the same, unless you've forgotten how you wanted to kill Lydia just because you thought she was the kanima."

"I'm well aware of my mistakes," Derek grounds out. "You don't have to remind me."

"I just don't understand why you, and Stiles of all people, are trusting them."

"Maybe because it's about time something good happens to us," Derek says.

Scott gives him a tired, sympathetic look. "I just don't want anyone getting hurt." He pauses, and adds, "Especially Stiles."

Derek wants to be angry at him, but he can't. He's too tired, too emotionally wrung out. Maybe Scott is right; maybe Derek is letting his emotions cloud his common sense. Maybe this is why Scott is the Alpha and Derek never quite figured it out. Another reminder of his failures.

"What should we do then?" Derek asks.

"I don't know, man," Scott says. "That's why I came to you."

Derek rolls his shoulders and cracks his neck. "Fine. I'll see what I can find out."

"I'll see if I can get them to go see Deaton, or get Deaton to check them out." Derek nods, and Scott nods, then starts off the porch. Halfway across the yard, he turns and says, "Thanks, by the way. For helping Stiles. I haven't seen him act this much like himself, well, in years." Scott gives him a final wave then jogs into the trees.

Derek stands on the porch for a long time. He doesn't snap out of his reverie until Boyd and Erica approach the house. Erica kisses Boyd, waves at Derek, and then takes off into the trees as Boyd approaches the steps.

Derek thinks about what Scott said as he works alongside Boyd. What if it is a trick? What if it's not really him? But as they put shelving into the wall, then run electrical wiring, Derek listens to his instincts and his wolf. His wolf has rarely been wrong, and now his wolf is content and happy.

Maybe Derek should trust his wolf. It would have saved him a lot of heartache if he had trusted it in the past.

*

When they get finished with the house for the day and Boyd and Erica take off into the woods, Derek sits in his car and pulls out his cell phone. He doesn't like this. He doesn't like feeling helpless and asking for help, but he's learned over the years that maybe that's what making allies is all about, that's what growing and learning means. You use your resources and ask for help when you need it.

Derek grips the phone tightly as it rings.

"Derek!" Marjorie's voice floats across the line, and Derek can feel the tug of the faint familial bond shared between them. "I'm so glad you called. How are you, my dear?"

"Fine," Derek says.

Marjorie sighs softly. "Derek, what's wrong? It's not the rogue Omega, is it?"

Derek drops his head back against the headrest and closes his eyes. "In a way. They weren't rogue Omegas...they were my Betas. My dead Betas. They weren't dead."

"What? Boyd and Erica are alive?" Marjorie gasps. "How?"

"It's a long story, but they were taken by the Alphas."

"Deucalion," Marjorie spits the name.

"Yes." Derek runs a hand over his face. "But that's not really why I called you. Scott, he...he thinks it may be a trick. That I'm thinking with my emotions." Marjorie is quiet, and Derek thinks this is why he's always liked her. She knows when to let you find your words. "How do I know? They feel right."

"It would take strong dark magic to make two wolves into two other people," Marjorie says, "and I'm not even sure that's possible. They may be brainwashed."

"They said they were running from the Alphas. The Alphas may be using them to get to us, but it seems rather elaborate for a small Pack."

"I agree. Unless it's revenge."

"Boyd said Deucalion wants revenge on Scott and me for defeating him a few years ago."

"Then why would they bring you his plan?" Marjorie asks. She makes a thoughtful noise. "I don't know what to tell you, Derek. The Alpha has a point. He has to make sure they are not a threat so he can keep his Pack and territory safe."

Derek sighs.

"But Derek, it is nearly impossible to fake Pack bonds. You can sever them, yes, but to fake them? I've never heard of it. If they are fake, you should be able to tell. If you really look with an objective eye, you will be able to tell if they are real or fake."

In almost a whisper, Derek asks, "What if I'm wrong?"

"My dear child," Marjorie says softly. "One day you will have to let go of the past and learn to trust yourself. Trust yourself, Derek." When Derek doesn't answer, she says, "Why don't you bring them to see me? I can check them out, and my emissary can also evaluate them. I'm sure Alan will look into them, but more eyes couldn't hurt."

Derek stares out of the windshield into the darkness as he turns the idea over in his mind.

"Plus," Marjorie says mischievously, "you can finally bring Jackson to meet us, along with that young man who has stolen your heart."

"What?" Derek exclaims. "How - "

"Cora calls me just to chat," Marjorie says. "Some people do that, you know."

Derek frowns. "I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize. Bring them all to meet us. Bring Scott, too. He needs allies, and I'd love to meet him."

"I'll run it by everyone."

"Good. And Derek?" She pauses, and Derek waits. "Remember to trust yourself."

After Derek hangs up with Marjorie, he drives into town to Stiles' house. He dials Stiles' number as he turns onto his street.

"Hey," Stiles answers. "What's up?"

Derek puts the car in park. "I'm outside your house." Derek sees Stiles run to the window and pull the curtain aside, cell phone to his ear.

"Dude." Stiles hangs up, and Derek walks towards the door. The sheriff opens the door before he steps onto the porch, Stiles flailing behind him as he runs down the stairs.

"Derek," the sheriff says.

"Sir," Derek responds. He sticks out his hand, and as the sheriff takes it, Stiles rolls his eyes exaggeratedly behind him.

"Good to finally see you," the sheriff says as Derek steps into the house. "Stiles told me you two were dating, but I haven't had visible proof yet."

"Uh," Derek stammers.

"Dad!" Stiles groans. "Can you not embarrass me and render Derek speechless? It's hard enough to get him to talk as it is."

The sheriff gives Stiles a flat look. "I hardly think I'm embarrassing you by talking to your boyfriend."

"We've been busy," Derek says. "I'm almost done with the house."

"Really? When do you think you'll be moving in?"

Stiles hooks his arm through Derek's and starts trying to tug him towards the stairs. "Dad, we're going upstairs now."

"Stiles," the sheriff says. "We were having a conversation."

"Great conversation, Dad. Stellar, definitely would recommend," Stiles yells over his shoulder, Derek staring helplessly at the sheriff as Stiles leads him up stairs.

The sheriff crosses his arms over his chest. "I swear, Derek, I raised him with manners. He's not always this rude."

"Oh, I think he is, sir."

Derek sees the sheriff smirk and then say, "He's coming to dinner soon, Stiles." He sets a hard gaze on Derek as he points his finger. "You're coming to dinner in the next week or two. No excuses."

"Yes, sir," Derek responds as Stiles pulls him around the corner.

"Yes, sir," Stiles mocks as they walk down the hall. "Kiss ass much?"

"Well, I would like your father to like me," Derek says. "Though if you refuse to let me talk to him, that may never happen."

Stiles rolls his eyes as he walks into his bedroom. He closes the door behind Derek. "Dude, my dad loves you. Every time I mention your name, it's like he has hearts in his eyes. He talks about what a good kid you are, how he's so glad you're back in town, he's glad you're doing well, I smile so much more since you came back, blahblahblah."

"He said that?" Derek asks with a small smile. "That you smile more since I came back?"

Stiles frowns. "It's a gross exaggeration."

Derek thinks about what Scott said to him about Stiles, then crosses the room to slide his arms around Stiles' waist. He pulls him close and brushes his lips against Stiles'. "I want your dad to like me because I'd like to be around for a very long time."

Stiles chases his lips and kisses him. When he pulls away, he says, "You're still a kiss ass." Stiles wiggles out of Derek's arms and moves over to his desk to shut down his computer. "So, why are you here? What's happened? Did Scott kill Boyd? Oh god, did Erica kill Liam or Hayden? Please say there was no blood shed. I really hate blood."

Derek shoots Stiles an unimpressed look as he sits on the edge of the bed. He unlaces his boots as he says, "No, nothing like that." When Derek glances up, Stiles is watching him half in amusement and half in surprise. "What?"

"Planning on staying awhile?" Stiles motions towards Derek, and Derek feels his cheeks heat up.

"I thought I would at least spend a few hours here. I don't have to if you don't want me to."

Stiles rolls his eyes and pushes at Derek's shoulders until he's sitting straight up. Then, Stiles plops into Derek's lap sideways. He circles his arms around Derek's neck and says, "You're an idiot. I was just surprised is all. I didn't expect you to come over and make yourself at home by taking off your shoes."

"Why?" Derek asks as he wraps his arms around Stiles' waist to hold him in place, because if anyone would slide out of a lap while not trying to, it would be Stiles. "You do it at my house all the time."

"Yeah, but you've never done it here. In fact, you rarely come over here." Stiles pokes Derek's cheek his finger. "That's rude."

"I think - "

"Hey Stiles, I'm not - oh good grief." The sheriff stares at them, Stiles sitting in Derek's lap with his legs dangling off the edge of Derek's thighs, his arms clasped around Derek's neck with Derek's arms tight around his waist. "Out of all the scenarios I expected to find behind this door, this was not it."

Derek flushes in embarrassment and is trying to decide if he should push Stiles off of him when Stiles turns to him and slaps the back of his head playfully. "You're a terrible watchdog. You were supposed to let me know when my dad was coming."

The sheriff groans. "Dog jokes, really, Stiles? That's the best you could come up with?"

Stiles tightens his grip around Derek's neck and hangs his head back so he can look at his father upside down. "Hey, you are the master of bad dad jokes; you don't get to judge me." He uses Derek's neck to help pull himself back upright. "Seriously, what's the use of a werewolf boyfriend if I can't exploit your powers?"

"You were distracting me," Derek says, then immediately regrets it. "That came out wrong, sir."

"Oh, Stiles is definitely distracting," the sheriff says. "Distracting and irritating."

Derek laughs, and Stiles glares at him. "You two do not get to gang up on me!"

The sheriff smiles at Derek. "Oh, this is gonna be fun." But then his face goes serious, and he says, "Stiles, leave the door open." When Stiles starts to protest, the sheriff holds up a hand. "I don't care how old you are or anything else. Just do it because I say so and it's my house." The sheriff looks pointedly at Derek. "Derek?"

"Yes, sir," Derek responds.

"Kiss ass!" Stiles exclaims. "You're a dirty kiss ass!"

"Oh god." The sheriff throws up his hands and turns around.

Stiles' face scrunches in revulsion, and then he yells, "That's just wrong, Dad! You are so so wrong!"

"Door stays open, Stiles! Good night!"

"Night!" Stiles turns to Derek and waggles his eyebrows. "Wanna become a dirty kiss ass?"

Derek stares at Stiles in disbelief. "Your dad was literally in here three seconds ago implying that we should not have sex under his roof. The last thing I'm in the mood for is anything sexual."

Stiles pouts. "You're no fun, Derek. I thought you came over because you couldn't bear to be away from this sexy body."

"Do you ever listen to yourself talk?"

"You sound like Liam and Jackson."

"Maybe they're on to something."

Stiles gasps and flails around as he stumbles off Derek's lap. "How dare you side with Jackson?"

Derek rolls his eyes and goes back to untying his boot laces.

After Derek removes his boots, he stretches out on the bed, and Stiles jumps onto the bed beside him. "So, what's going on? I assume you came over here for a reason." Derek leans over and kisses Stiles. "Good reason."

"Scott came to see me today."

"About Boyd and Erica?" Stiles surmises.

Derek nods. "What do you think about what he said?"

Stiles shrugs. "We got into an argument the other night, but after I thought about it, I wondered if he was right." Derek sighs. "I'm not saying I don't believe it's them, but it's incredible, you know? Nothing good ever happens to us."

"I don't think what happened to them was good," Derek says. "They're damaged, Stiles."

"I know," Stiles says quietly. "I can't stop thinking about Erica."

"I called Marjorie," Derek tells him.

"The one you stayed with in Nevada?"

Derek nods and tells Stiles about their conversation. When he finishes, Stiles is staring thoughtfully at his hands. After a moment, Stiles asks, "Well? You spent all afternoon with them. What did you decide?"

Derek thinks back to standing side by side with Boyd, Boyd quietly humming an unfamiliar tune, the smell of earth and woods hanging to his skin. The way Boyd smiled at him, simple and slightly proud, when they finished installing the stove in the kitchen. The way Erica's face lit up when she broke through the trees and saw them; the way she fidgeted beside him, unable to stay still for more than a few seconds.

Derek had spent most of the afternoon evaluating the connections he could discern between them, with his human and wolf eyes, with his instincts. The connections were different, fainter, frayed and patched together.

Derek had wondered how he hadn't noticed them earlier, but he knew the bonds were starting to fray before Boyd and Erica got taken, that they were well on their way to severing the Pack bond when the Alphas got them. Then Derek carried Erica's body out of that vault, impaled Boyd on his own claws - he thought they were dead. He never knew to look for them, to even entertain the idea that they were alive. If he'd have known -

"I thought they were dead," Derek says suddenly, his voice quiet. "But they were alive this whole time." He shakes his head. "If I had paid more attention, if I'd have - "

"Hey," Stiles interrupts, his voice soft, as he covers Derek's hand. "I was there. I saw Boyd die. Scott saw that Erica was dead, and Boyd and Cora thought she was dead. It's not your fault. You couldn't known."

"But - "

"No!" Stiles exclaims, so vehemently that Derek jerks his head up to look at him. He's staring at Derek with a hard expression. "I can't even imagine what you are going through, but you are not going to keep stewing in your own head. What happened to them may have been because the Alphas wanted to fuck over you and Scott, but there is nothing you could have done. It's not because you were a bad Alpha, or a bad wolf, or whatever. It happened because the Alphas are sick sonofabitches who nearly killed all of us.

"And," Stiles continues, "in case you've forgotten, we were also dealing with Jennifer and she had her magic voodoo shit over you, and things were fucked up. So, don't you dare say this is your fault or think you could have done anything differently. We did the best we could with the shit show that was our life. None of us were prepared for what happened."

Derek doesn't respond, just squeezes Stiles' hand. He stares at their hands, Stiles' paler skin contrasted against his own, Stiles' long smooth fingers next to his larger ones. He slowly drags his thumb across the soft skin.

"It's them," Derek finally says. "The bonds are weak and frayed, but it's them. I still feel the same connection and pull towards them as before." He lifts his eyes and searches Stiles' expression.

"If you say it's them, then I trust you," Stiles says. He places a hand on Derek's chest, right over his heart. "I trust you, Derek."

Derek feels overcome by the sincerity in Stiles' voice, and leans forward to cup his cheek and kiss him.

*

Every morning for the past week, Derek has arrived at the house just after sunrise. A few hours later, Boyd and Erica show up, and while Erica disappears into the woods, Boyd steps up beside Derek and joins him in whatever project he's doing that day.

Derek thinks about Scott's suspicions as he works with Boyd each day. He concentrates on the weak, frayed bond between them, studies Boyd as they work. Though he knows it's them, he doesn't really trust himself. He's afraid he's wrong. Days pass, and Boyd shows up each day, same as always. Steady, calm, strong. The same as when Derek bit him, characteristics that drew him to Boyd in the first place, but just harder and more scarred.

Derek gets used to having Boyd around to help work on the house. With two werewolves, things go a lot faster than when Derek's working alone. And though Stiles has worked hard on the house over the last weeks, he's human and can only do so much.

They work in silence side by side, only speaking when necessary. Derek doesn't find it uncomfortable; instead, he finds it refreshing. Not that he doesn't love the idle chatter of his Pack, or Stiles' incessant rambling, but it's nice to share space with another person and not feel the need to speak.

A few afternoons, Derek leaves to go to Home Depot to get supplies. Well, that's his excuse. He does actually need the supplies, but they could have waited. He really goes to see Stiles. He can't help it; he thinks that Stiles is ridiculously cute in those bright orange vests. When Derek returns to the house, Boyd and Erica are no longer there, but they return soon after Derek gets back.

Today, they're finishing building the back deck. The sun is hot, so Derek and Boyd have taken off their shirts as they work. Derek's skin is damp and he can feel sweat pooling in places across his body.

It's not long before Erica comes out of the trees. Her hair is blonde again instead of a dirty brown color, and it's pulled back from her face with a hair tie. She's wearing a tank top and shorts that she borrowed from Cora and Lydia. They'd let her borrow a few other clothing items, and Boyd had borrowed some shirts and pants from Derek. They were a bit snug on Boyd's bulkier build, but Boyd seemed to think they fit well enough.

Erica comes over and sits on the grass near the deck. Boyd pauses his work and looks over at her. "What are you doing?"

"What do you mean what am I doing?" she replies. Though she's sitting, she's not still. She fidgets every few moments, and she continuously looks around, unable to stay focused on just one thing.

Boyd wipes his face and head with the rag stuffed in his back pocket. "This is the first time you've joined us. What's changed?"

Erica rolls her eyes. "You and Derek weren't shirtless the other days." She grins, and Derek smiles in amusement as he looks between them. Boyd huffs out a laugh.

"You can help us," Boyd suggests, and Erica scoffs. At his pointed look, she rolls her eyes again and pushes herself off the ground.

"I should have stayed in the forest."

When she's on the deck, Boyd wraps his arm around her waist and pulls her close to place a light kiss on her lips. She leans against him as she looks at Derek. "Don't give me anything too hard."

Derek hands her a hammer. "You can help attach the slats to the railing."

Erica wrinkles her nose. "This is a bad idea. I may smash my finger."

"You're a werewolf; you'll heal." He grins at her, and she knocks his shoulder hard enough with hers as she walks by to send him stumbling back a few steps. Boyd just chuckles.

"You gave Erica a hammer," Boyd says. "Brave man."

"It's sunstroke," Derek deadpans, and Erica protests loudly.

The three of them work in silence. After only a few moments, Erica finds an old radio one of the construction guys left inside the house and turns it to a top 40 pop station. Derek kind of hates the music, but Erica dances slightly and starts humming along, so he doesn't have the heart to complain.

The longer they work, the more settled Erica seems to become. It reminds him of Stiles, the way Stiles' anxiety and scattered thoughts seem to abate as he focuses on the menial task of building the house. Her ticks aren't completely gone; she still suddenly jerks her head to the side, listening like she hears something that could be a potential threat. But minutes go by where she doesn't look around or move suddenly and seems at peace.

They finish the deck by mid-afternoon. They're sweaty and red-faced, but all three feel pretty accomplished. Erica is happy because she only managed to smash her finger once.

Derek examines the deck from the yard, Boyd and Erica beside him. "I think I want to cover part of it," he tells them. "That way we can sit outside when it rains." He puts on his shirt and walks to the Camaro, waving to Boyd and Erica as he gets inside.

In Home Depot, he finds Stiles hiding in the bathroom section, playing on his cell phone. "Do you ever work?" Derek asks as he approaches.

"What? Are you the work police? Did Home Depot hire you to spy on me?" Stiles narrows his eyes suspiciously.

"Absolutely." Derek leans forward and kisses Stiles quickly. "Wanna help me pick out lumber?"

Stiles waggles his eyebrows. "I'd like to pick out your lumber."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"Yeah, I know. There's a dirty innuendo in there somewhere, but I'm too tired to come up with it."

Derek frowns over at Stiles as they walk through the aisles. "Did you not sleep well? You said you were going to bed at like midnight."

Stiles sighs and scrubs a hand over his hair, causing it to look more disheveled than usual. "Bad dreams."

"I thought you've been drinking that herbal tea Deaton gave you."

"I have," Stiles says. "Twice a day. But it's not those kind of dreams."

"What are you dreaming?"

Stiles hesitates, then says, "That same dream. Over and over, every night. The only thing that changes is some of the details, and I can hear some of the voices now."

Derek's brow furrows as he looks at Stiles. Derek knows Stiles has been having this same nightmare for over a week now. The one where he watches Derek get tortured. It's such a weird, specific dream. Derek has told Stiles to talk to Deaton about it, but he refuses because he's a stubborn ass.

"It's not a big deal," Stiles says, "so stop looking at me like that."

"I worry about you," Derek says with a frown.

Stiles hooks his arm with Derek's and leans close. "I know, but you shouldn't. I'm fine. I'm used to the bad dreams." Then Stiles pokes at Derek's cheek. "No frown. Although you're sexy no matter what your face does, I prefer your smile."

Derek rolls his eyes, and Stiles pecks him on the cheek before pulling away to start looking at lumber.

As Derek stacks planks on the flat cart, Stiles leans against a nearby shelf and watches. Stiles had tried to help, but it took Derek half the time to haul the planks over so Stiles gladly gave up and let Derek work. "Plus, I like watching your arms flex," he'd said. Derek had just grunted, but flexed a bit just for Stiles' benefit, preening under his gaze.

"I want your opinion about something," Derek says as he sets another 4 x 4 on the cart. He glances up at Stiles, who's watching him with interest, the slightly sweet scent of arousal wafting from him. Derek straightens and walks over to stand beside him. "The house is basically finished," he explains. "There are a few more things that need to be done, but it's ready to be lived in."

"Really?" Stiles asks.

Derek nods. "I was thinking that Cora, Jackson, and I could move into the house, and I could let Boyd and Erica stay in the cabin." He scratches the side of his cheek self-consciously. "What do you think about that?"

"I think that's a great idea," Stiles says. "Cora told me they've been sleeping in the woods. Scott said he found their makeshift den."

Derek inhales deeply and reaches out to pick at the rough edge of a plank of wood. "I don't like that they're sleeping outside," he says. "They deserve a bed. Even if it's temporary."

Stiles steps beside Derek and slides his arms around Derek's waist. "You're amazing," Stiles says with a soft smile. "Do you know that?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "I'm letting them sleep in my vacant cabin. It's nothing."

"It's more than you think."

Derek doesn't understand why Stiles thinks it's such a big deal, but he doesn't argue, not when Stiles is kissing him.

*

Derek is sitting on the couch, watching television with Jackson and Cora, when he gets a text from Stiles. Meet me at the new house.

Confused but intrigued, Derek changes from the worn boxers and t-shirt he’d been lounging in into jeans and a relatively clean Henley. It smells fine to his nose, so he figures Stiles won’t know the difference. As he walks across the living room, Jackson scoffs.

“Stilinski’s got you whipped.”

“How high do you jump when Lydia tells you to?” Derek smirks at Jackson’s scowl, then calls out a “Be back later” before walking to his car.

When he gets to the house, he sees Stiles’ Jeep parked in the driveway, but Stiles is nowhere to be found. Derek nears the porch and catches his scent, so he follows it inside. As soon as he steps through the front door, his eyes fall on Stiles in the far corner.

Stiles is sitting cross-legged on a blanket. There are pillows lining the walls beside him, and small electric candles flickering around the blanket. In the middle of the blanket sits a picnic basket. Derek fully takes it all in before glancing up at Stiles, who's biting his lip and tapping his fingers nervously on his knees.

Derek doesn’t say a word; he’s speechless.

Stiles, as if on cue, raises his hand in a sweeping gesture and starts talking. “The door was unlocked,” he starts, “so I hope you don’t mind that I like broke into your house.”

“Is this for me?” Derek asks dumbly.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “No, it’s for Jackson, I was hoping to get your opinion before you called him over here. Of course it’s for you, dumbass.”

Derek takes a few steps closer, his eyes darting back and forth between everything. “But why?”

Stiles is one part frustrated and one part beaming. Derek thinks he looks cute like this. “I wanted to do something special for you. I know things haven’t been easy for you lately.”

Derek frowns as he toes off his shoes. He steps onto the blanket and slowly sits down. “You’re the one who's been going through stuff.”

Stiles frowns. “And you took care of me when that happened. You took me to the beach. Now I’m fine and this is me, returning the favor. It’s my turn to take care of you.”

“I don’t want you to take of me,” Derek says, shaking his head. He knows immediately it’s the wrong thing to say. Stiles’ scent goes sour, and his face closes off.

Angrily, Stiles says, “If you think that our relationship is gonna be where you just take care of me like I’m some damsel in distress, and you always pull this self-sacrificing bullshit - “

“Stiles,” Derek interrupts. “That’s not - I didn’t -” He growls and huffs a breath loudly through his nose. “I’m not used to people...doing things for me. Taking care of me. Surprising me.”

“Oh,” Stiles responds quietly, chewing on the edge of his nail self-consciously. “I guess I should have asked, but - “

Derek reaches across the space, wraps his fingers around Stiles’ wrist, and gently pulls his hand from his mouth. “You don’t have to ask.” Derek looks around again, a small smile on his face.

Embarrassed, Stiles pulls from Derek's grasp and opens the picnic basket. Derek can smell the sweetness of whatever is inside. Stiles reaches into the basket and pulls out a plastic gallon tub of ice cream, with two spoons sticking out of it. Stiles doesn't look at Derek as he places a hand towel on the blanket before putting the ice cream on top.

"Since it's after eight, I figured you've already eaten dinner, so I brought dessert." Stiles arranges the tub a few times, still refusing to look at Derek. Derek can smell his insecurity and embarrassment, and he wishes Stiles felt more secure. Derek vows to work on that, to help Stiles realize how amazing he is and stop second-guessing himself at every turn. "I know it's not much, just ice cream." Finally, he lifts his gaze, the amber color of his eyes glowing in the soft light from the LED candles. "Ice cream for two."

Derek doesn't respond as he glances at the tub of ice cream. No bowls, just two spoons sticking out of the rapidly softening ice cream.

"It's stupid, isn't it?" Stiles asks. "It's stupid. I should have done something else, but I couldn't - "

"Not stupid," Derek interrupts him. He looks at Stiles and tries to communicate his feelings with his expression in case his words don't quite come out right. “This is...the most romantic thing anything has ever done for me.” Stiles’ entire face lights up. “Thank you.”

Stiles grabs a spoon and slides it idly through the top of the ice cream, making small ditches before turning his spoon over and smoothing it down. “Dude, it’s just ice cream,” he says quietly.

“Ice cream for two,” Derek corrects, and Stiles looks up at him through his lashes, and Derek wonders how there is anyone on this planet who can make him feel so invincible and powerless at the same time.

“I hope you like cookies and cream,” Stiles says as he spoons out a hunk. “Because it’s arguably the best.”

“It’s fine,” Derek says, dragging his spoon across the top.

Stiles looks unimpressed as he shoves the spoon in his mouth. After he swallows, he says, “Just fine?”

Derek shrugs as he licks the spoon. “I don’t have very strong ice cream opinions.”

“Of course you don’t.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “It’s ice cream. Everyone has opinions. What’s your favorite flavor?”

Derek thinks as he spoons more. “I used to eat strawberry as a kid.”

Stiles snorts. “Strawberry?”

Derek frowns. “You can’t make fun of me when I tell you what ice cream I like.”

“I retain the right to mock you whenever I please. Especially when it’s a boring ice cream choice.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “My grandmother used to take us for ice cream. Um, Peter used to always go with us. He loved taking us to this one dairy that had what he believed was the best ice cream in the world. My grandmother wouldn’t ever let him pay or drive.”

Derek vividly remembers her and Peter bickering about taking Peter’s new car instead of her old station wagon, and Grandma yelling that five kids couldn’t fit inside his car because it was dangerous, and no it didn’t matter that they were all werewolves except Michael. Then Grandma pushing Peter’s hand and wallet out of the way when he tried to pay, and Peter getting so mad at her.

He smiles to himself as he drags his spoon through the ice cream. “I got strawberry, sometimes with sprinkles and hot fudge. Laura and Sara always tried the weirdest flavors they had and tried to out weird the other. Michael was a devoted chocolate ice cream lover, and Cora liked whatever her siblings did that day, so she chose one and ordered the same thing.”

Derek takes the bite of ice cream thoughtfully, lost in the images of the memory. Quietly, he adds, “I haven’t thought about that in so long. I’d forgotten about it until now.”

“You should talk about them more,” Stiles says. Derek looks at him, so lost in his memories that he almost forgot Stiles was there. His brow creases as he looks at Stiles in confusion. “You look so...happy? Wistful maybe? Talking about them.”

Derek spoons ice cream into his mouth, then says, “I once vowed I would never think about them, that I didn’t deserve to think about them. That it was pointless to remember them.” He shakes his head. “That was so stupid. But I had to get to the place where I could think about them. Thinking about Laura is harder. It still feels like that all happened yesterday.”

“Allison loved going to get froyo,” Stiles says suddenly. Derek looks at him in surprise. Stiles has never once mentioned Allison. “She never minded that Scott dragged me along. Allison and I once stood in front of the frozen yogurt choices for half an hour debating optimal flavor combinations. Scott had already eaten one huge bowl before we even thought about eating, then he ate another bowl with us.” Stiles stabs his spoon into the melting ice cream and lobs out a huge bite. “Allison and I were always getting into weird discussions like that. Scott wasn’t into hypotheticals and trying to verbally parse out the meaning of the tree patterns in the Preserve and what that meant for crossbow accuracy, so Allison and I always ended up talking for hours while Scott cuddled with her.”

“I didn’t realize you two were friends,” Derek says.

“We were. I think we could have been great friends, but then she and Scott broke up and she started dating Isaac and I didn’t see her as much. I think Scott forgets sometimes that she was my friend, too. He doesn’t realize that I miss her and grieved for her, too. Lydia and I talk about Allison a lot when she stays over.”

“I don’t think he forgot,” Derek says, “but for Scott the grief is so much stronger. He’s blinded by it. He can’t understand anyone else’s grief for her because he can barely understand his own.”

Stiles sighs. “This has gotten depressing. We’re supposed to be having a fun, happy time. I’m supposed to be cheering you up, not bringing you down.”

“It’s okay to talk about the people you miss and acknowledge your grief.”

Stiles scoffs. “You sound like a bad self-help book.”

“Still true.”

“No more sad talk.” Stiles scoots closer to Derek and dips the spoon into the almost ice cream soup. He holds the spoon up and looks at Derek expectantly. “Open up.”

“No.”

“Come on, Derek! I want to feed you ice cream. This is a date. It’s supposed to be romantic.” Derek gives Stiles a flat look, but at Stiles’ pleading expression, he relents. He opens his mouth, and Stiles moves the spoon closer. However, somehow he ends up hitting Derek’s nose, so Derek ends up with melted ice cream goop on his nose.

Stiles, of course, finds this hilarious and bursts out laughing.

“I am so romanced right now,” Derek says sarcastically, which causes Stiles to laugh even harder.

Stiles reaches over to look inside the picnic basket, and comes back with napkins. He gently wipes the mess from Derek’s face, looking amused the whole time. “I’m glad you find this funny,” Derek grumps.

Stiles leans closer and flicks his tongue against the tip of Derek’s nose. Then, he licks along Derek’s chin where some ice cream had dripped. “I feel pretty romanced,” Stiles says.

Derek laughs and thinks that this is ridiculous, but that it somehow fits them.

When Derek’s face is clean, Stiles puts the ice cream back in the basket and stretches out on his side, head propped in his hand. He encourages Derek to do the same. Stiles drags his fingers along Derek’s chest as he starts talking.

Derek loses track of time as they talk. They talk about things they like, hobbies and interests they didn’t know the other had, and funny stories from their school years. It’s all light-hearted happy topics, and Derek realizes it’s a get-to-know-you session. As much as he knows about Stiles, he’s learning a lot about him tonight that helps complete the overall picture.

Stiles’ hands are constantly on Derek’s body, fingers flitting from his chest, to his arms and shoulders, to his face and hair. Derek doesn’t mind, likes the feel of Stiles’ touch. Derek tangles their legs early in the conversation so he can continuously drag his toes along Stiles’ calves and ankles.

After a few hours, Derek’s face is starting to hurt from smiling, and he has fallen even further for Stiles. This feels so normal, unlike most of their relationship has. It’s like they’ve left the supernatural, their baggage, and the world outside the house, just leaving two guys who are really into each other behind.

When Stiles starts yawning, Derek pulls his phone from his pocket for the first time and looks at the time. It’s after midnight.

“I don’t want to go to work tomorrow,” Stiles whines. “So tired.”

Derek gets an idea, but hesitates. Then, he decides to go for it. “We could sleep here?” he suggests.

Stiles looks at him like he’s crazy. “On the floor?”

“We slept on the floor of my car.”

“Yeah, but that was at the beach.”

Derek inhales as he thinks about exactly what he wants to say. “I want to share my first night in my new house with you.”

That causes Stiles to stop moving and just stare at Derek, mouth slightly agape. “Really?” he asks. “Me, and not your Pack?”

Derek thinks, You are my Pack, but doesn't say the words. Instead, he hooks an arm around Stiles’ neck and draws him closer. “Yes. I want to be with you.”

Stiles nods. “Well, when you put it like that.” He pushes himself up to his feet. “Let me go grab some stuff from the Jeep.”

Derek moves the blanket to his bedroom on the second floor and arranges the pillows comfortably while Stiles is outside. He’s sitting down, leaning against the wall when Stiles enters the room. Derek smiles when he sees Stiles wearing his grey sweater. “Nice sweater.”

“I get cold,” Stiles replies as he drops down and crawls towards Derek.

“I’ll keep you warm.”

“I’m counting on it.” Stiles yawns again as he plops down beside Derek. He closes his eyes and inhales deeply. “I like being with you,” he tells Derek.

“I like being with you, too.”

Stiles opens his eyes and smiles.

It takes a few minutes for them to arrange themselves comfortably. They end up on their sides, Stiles behind Derek with his arms around him. Derek’s never been spooned before, and as he settles back into Stiles’ arms, he thinks that he could get used to this.

“Thanks for tonight,” Derek says.

Stiles kisses the back of Derek’s neck, sending a shiver coursing through Derek’s body. “I had a lot of fun.”

“I think cookies and cream may be my new favorite ice cream.”

Stiles laughs, the warm puffs of breath tickling his neck. “It’s the best, dude.”

“Yeah, it is.”

Stiles kisses Derek’s cheek, then Derek turns his head so Stiles can kiss him on the lips. “Good night,” he says when he pulls away, settling behind him.

“Good night,” Derek says as he closes his eyes.

*

Derek wakes up early and cooks breakfast for his Pack. He's finishing the last pieces of bacon when Jackson walks into the kitchen, shirtless and barefoot, his hair flat on his head. His eyes are still heavy with sleep, and he immediately goes over to the coffee pot. When he sees a fresh steaming pot waiting for him, he grunts in what Derek thinks is supposed to be a thank you.

Derek arranges eggs, bacon, avocado, and fruit onto three plates and sets them on the table before walking through the house towards Cora's bedroom. He stops outside her door and knocks on it twice before sticking his head inside the room. All he sees in her bed is a lump of fluffy covers and some dark hair along the top.

"Cora," Derek says. "Wake up. Breakfast."

She makes a noise, somewhere between animal and human, but doesn't move. Derek walks further into the room and reaches out to grab where he thinks her legs are. He gives her a shake. "Cora, wake up."

"Go away," Cora mumbles. "'M sleeping."

"I made breakfast." When she doesn't respond, Derek shakes her once again. "Get up. I need to talk to you and Jackson."

Cora throws the covers back in a huff and glares at Derek. "I don't care if there's a dead body."

"There's no body."

"I still don't care."

Derek squeezes her bare leg with more force than necessary and dodges when she kicks out at him. "Come on, sleepyhead. It's not even that early."

"It's 9."

"Like I said."

"I hate you."

Derek chuckles as he turns to leave the room. "If you don't join us in a minute, Jackson and I will eat your food."

"Eat my food and die."

Derek laughs on his way towards the kitchen.

Cora comes in a few minutes later, hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, wearing an oversized t-shirt that's longer than her shorts. She plops down in the chair and glares at Derek as she takes a long drink from the glass of juice he'd set out for her. "I'm here, asshole."

"Such a sunny disposition in the mornings," Jackson teases, and Cora flips him off.

Derek picks up his fork and takes a bite of eggs of the others start eating. After they've eaten for a few minutes, Jackson says, "So, are you gonna tell us the reason you cooked us breakfast, or make us keep waiting in suspense?"

"Maybe I just wanted to cook you breakfast, ever thought about that?" Derek asks, raising an eyebrow.

Jackson rolls his eyes as Cora says, "You said you needed to talk to us, dummy."

"Well, I thought I'd give you time to eat and wake up." When Cora and Jackson look at him impatiently, Derek sets his fork aside and leans back in his chair. He drags a hand across his face. "Okay. So, I wanted to run an idea by you. I want your opinion because this is a group decision, not - "

"Ugh, we get it, Derek," Cora interrupts. "Get on with it." Cora stares at him in exasperation, and Jackson smirks as he takes a bite of his bacon.

"I was thinking we could go ahead and move into the house," Derek says, "and we could let Boyd and Erica stay here for the time being." He looks at his Pack as he waits for their reaction.

"The house is ready?" Jackson asks. "I didn't know you were that close to being finished."

"There are a few things that need to be finished," Derek tells them. "I've got to finish putting in some doors, laying some molding, stuff like that. But Boyd's been helping me, and we got a lot accomplished. The house is habitable."

Jackson actually smiles. "I definitely think we should move into the house." Derek can tell he's trying to downplay his eagerness.

"Of course we want to move into the house!" Cora says. "Are you kidding? You've been working on that thing for months, and you built it with your own hands."

"I didn't build it with my own hands," Derek mumbles, embarrassed.

"And it's ours," Jackson says. "No one else has lived in it. Our Pack house." Derek looks at Jackson thoughtfully, a warm feeling of affection simmering in his chest, and Jackson's cheeks pink before he quickly adds, "Plus, it'll get me some space from the two of you. I'm tired of sharing every moment of every day listening to everything you two do."

Cora tosses a grape at Jackson's head. "Like you're a joy to live with, Jackson. You're a pain in the ass."

"Wanna talk about pain in the ass," Jackson starts, and they launch into the familiar bickering Derek has grown to love. He ducks his head and smiles as he finishes his eggs.

*

Derek is waiting on the top step of the front porch of the house when Boyd and Erica appear through the trees. Erica grins widely at Derek, and even Boyd smiles. Erica crosses the yard in a whirl of werewolf speed and blonde hair, and in the next moment, she's seated beside Derek on the top step.

"Morning," Derek greets, grinning in amusement. "Did you have too much coffee?"

"I haven't had coffee in ages," Erica says, her eyes darting from Derek to the ground to the woods. "You should make me coffee, Derek."

"I'll make you coffee any time you want."

Erica turns to Boyd, giving him a wide grin. "I think I may leave you for Derek. He promises to get me coffee."

"I don't think Stiles will be happy with that," Boyd responds, crossing his arms over his chest. He's standing on the ground right in front of the steps. Despite his relaxed posture and amiable expression, he exudes power and authority. Derek thinks the Alpha status fits him like a second skin, thinks out of all of them he's probably the most suited to be an Alpha. He wonders if he knew that when he chose to bite Boyd, though he knows that's just wishful thinking. He knows he wasn't thinking that clearly when he bit any of his Betas; he was a fucked up mess during that time.

"I think I can take Stiles," Erica returns.

"Oh?" Derek asks, pulling away to look at her with his brows lifted. "He may look scrawny and fragile, but he'll surprise you."

"I think that's the lust talking," Erica says. "Your brain is clouded where Stiles is concerned."

"That just means I have to challenge Derek for you," Boyd says.

Erica scoffs. "No. I am not some prize to be won. I choose my own man." She gives a dramatic sigh before getting off the stoop and leaping the short distance into Boyd's arms. She wraps her arms and legs around him. "I guess I'll choose you. For now."

Boyd slaps her ass playfully as Erica kisses him, and Derek looks down at his hands hanging between his knees. "Hey Derek," Erica says after a moment, and Derek looks up at where she's still wrapped around Boyd. "I guess Stiles can keep you."

"He'll be thrilled at your generosity," Derek deadpans. Erica laughs as she drops onto the ground. In this moment, it's easy to forget what the two of them have been through, that they've been on the run, that they've suffered so much. Derek can almost forget that they were away from him. Derek doesn't even notice their scars.

It's not until something catches Erica's attention and her head snaps to the side, or she's sitting beside him and unable to keep still as her eyes scan their surroundings that Derek remembers that just because Erica's laughing doesn't mean that she's better.

Boyd leans against the porch at Erica's side, his weight resting on his arm against the railing as he holds his arms crossed against his chest again. Derek looks at him and tries to find the words to tell them they can stay in the cabin. But every time he tries, the words get stuck.

He wants to trust them, he wants to trust his instincts, but he just can't.

What if it is them? he asks himself. And even if it is, it's still your fault. You're the reason everything happened to them.

So, instead of saying anything to them, he says goodbye for the day, shifts into a wolf, and disappears into the trees.

*

Stiles can't stop grinning. He's pretty sure he's scaring the customers, but he doesn't care. If they don't like that there's a guy in the Home Depot bathroom section with a ridiculous grin on his face, well, then they can just take their business elsewhere.

Stiles is happy. It's almost too good to be true - correction, it is definitely too good to be true. He's pretty sure something is going to happen to spectacularly fuck this up, so Stiles is enjoying this while he can.

Derek is amazing. Yeah, things haven't been perfect lately; they've actually been the opposite of perfect, what with Boyd and Erica suddenly rising from the dead, Derek freaking the fuck out, and Scott being all territorial and suspicious. But last night? Last night was perfect.

And Stiles never thought he'd get goofy and romantic about ice cream. But dude, it was ice cream for two. Just him and Derek, on a blanket, in Derek's new house. They'd talked about all kinds of things, not just important Pack business or life-threatening stuff. They talked about their childhoods, about high school, about their likes and dislikes. Then they fell asleep together and woke up together, and made out against the side of the Jeep until Stiles literally had to pull himself away so he wasn't late to work.

But then he ended up kissing Derek for five minutes more, and was totally ten minutes late to work.

In other words, everything is awesome.

Work flies by, mainly because Stiles texts Derek the whole time and thinks about Derek when he's not texting him.

Yes, he's ridiculous. Yes, he's a cliché. No, he doesn't care.

But Derek doesn't text him back. He keeps checking his phone, but nothing. He tries not to worry, because that's not like Derek. He figures he'll give Derek some space since he's been having such a hard time dealing with everything.

His dad's working the nightshift, so Stiles strips to his boxers, turns on the television, and eats a frozen pizza for dinner. When the doorbell rings, he's surprised. Derek's with Cora and Jackson, so it's neither of them, and he didn't have plans with anyone else.

He walks to the door in his underwear, though he was fully intending on ignoring whoever is on the other side, but the doorbell keeps ringing. When he looks through the peep hole, he sees that it's Lydia.

Stiles opens the door, and Lydia immediately gives him her judge-y face. "What are you doing here?" he asks as she sweeps into the house.

"Why are you in your underwear?" she asks.

"Um, it's my house?" Stiles replies as he follows her into the living room. "I wasn't planning on company."

Lydia looks around. "So, Derek's not here?"

Stiles looks around too, like maybe he missed Derek hiding somewhere. "No?"

Lydia frowns at him. "You don't sound sure."

Stiles runs a hand through his hair. "Let me get a shirt and pants. Then we can talk because I don't know what in the hell you are talking about."

Stiles starts up the stairs, and Lydia follows him. "Lyds, what's wrong?"

"Don't call me Lyds," she says as they enter Stiles' room.

Stiles goes over to his dresser, opens a drawer, and searches inside for clothes. Lydia sits on the edge of his bed as he pulls on shorts and a t-shirt. He tugs the hem of his shirt down as he says, "Okay Lydia, spill it. What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," she says. "I just needed an us night."

Stiles nods, grabs her hand, and pulls her off the bed. "Come on. I have some leftover frozen pizza and Dad just bought a carton of ice cream."

They sit on the couch, and Stiles lets Lydia choose something to watch. She puts it on the History Channel, and they watch a documentary on the War of 1812 as they silently share the carton of ice cream.

They're halfway through a program about Prohibition when Lydia says, "I'm confused."

"They're talking about the distribution of - "

"Not about the show, Stiles," Lydia snaps. He glances at her, and she's frowning at him. "I need your advice."

"Oooookay," Stiles says, turning down the volume on the television and turning towards Lydia. She's never once asked him for advice, so this must be serious. "Shoot."

"I don't know what to do about Jordan and Jackson."

Stiles has to bite his tongue not to say something rude and sarcastic. It's an automatic response, but he's pretty sure she'd rip of his head if he said something tonight. So instead, he says, "I thought you were gonna keep seeing both of them."

"I am, or I was. But now, I'm not so sure." Lydia slumps back against the side of the couch.

"Okay. So what's changed?" Stiles asks.

"I don't know. Nothing, everything!" Lydia flings her spoon down. "I really like Jordan. I really, really do. He's sweet and considerate and everything a girl could want."

"But," Stiles says.

Lydia sighs and closes her eyes. Quietly, she says, "I don't love him."

"But you love Jackson?" Stiles guesses.

She opens her eyes and stares up at him. She looks so confused, so lost. "I thought at first it was just residual feelings from before. Of course I'd still feel something for him. He was my first love, my first everything. But he's different. He's not the same person he was when we dated before. I'm not the same person. We've both grown so much, we've changed so much."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

Lydia shrugs. "Good, I think. He's better than he was. He used to be such a dick. He's still a bit of a dick, but I think now it's mostly for show. I think it's a defense mechanism. I think it was back then, too."

"So, what's the problem?" Stiles asks.

"I don't want to hurt anyone," Lydia says, "I like dating both of them and not being tied to one person. But if this goes on any longer, someone is going to get hurt. Jordan and Jackson have been hinting around that they want to be exclusive."

"Do you want to be exclusive?"

"I don't know," she says. "I wasn't planning on it any time soon."

"But you love Jackson, and don't love Parrish," Stiles states.

"Yes, but I'm not sure I want to stop seeing him. I enjoy being with him."

Stiles runs a hand over his face. "Dude, I am shit at advice. I've never dated around or dated multiple people. I don't know how that works. My relationship history is a bit spotty, and this thing with Derek just kind of dropped into my lap. I'm just hoping that I won't fuck it up spectacularly."

Lydia rolls her eyes. "I don't know why I expected you to be helpful."

Stiles bristles, offended. "Hey, fuck you. I am extremely helpful."

"You just said - "

"You know what? Here's my completely biased, unsupported, probably very wrong advice." He pauses and she just looks at him expectantly. "Choose one of them. You can only juggle them so long. You're amazing and I totally respect your decision to date multiple guys, but it's not as simple as it was. It probably was never as simple as you wanted it to be. Parrish and Jackson are just blind and stupid where you're concerned, so they went along with your wishes."

Lydia chews her lip as she thinks this over.

Stiles wiggles around on the couch until he's stretched out along the back of the couch. He grabs Lydia's arm and tugs her down until she's lying in front of him. Quietly, he says, "I think we both know who you're going to choose."

Lydia sighs and closes her eyes as she curls against Stiles' side, her head on his shoulder. Stiles wraps his arm around her and combs his fingers through her soft curls. "Am I an idiot?"

"No," he replies, kissing her forehead. "I've fallen for a guy I tried to get arrested and who I wanted to die on multiple occasions. The heart wants what it wants."

Lydia pinches him. "Don't spout clichés at me."

"You're really limiting my conversation skills."

Lydia huffs out a laugh. "Find us something to watch. I'm gonna eat more ice cream and mope for the rest of the night."

"If I pass out, just elbow me if I drool."

*

The upside to everything that has been going on is that Stiles has been distracted. The downside is that as soon as all of that stops, the silence overwhelms him and Stiles is left alone inside his head.

The dreams have been worse lately, but at least he's been sleeping (some). But tonight, he wakes up screaming, his dad shaking him awake. His dad looks exhausted, having just come off a double shift. Stiles feels the guilt like a stab to the chest.

"Go to sleep, Dad," Stiles says, rubbing his eyes. "I'm fine."

"You were screaming out Derek's name again," the sheriff says. "Is everything okay between you two?"

"Are you really asking me about my love life in the middle of the night?"

"Yes. Seems like it may be a pertinent question."

Stiles sighs as he closes his eyes. He can't get the images out of his head, Derek being tortured, blood covering his bare skin. And he thinks about his dad's question, about whether things are okay between them. It's been two days since he's heard from Derek. "We're fine. It's just a bad dream."

"Wanna watch some more Game of Thrones? We're almost done with season two."

Stiles looks at his dad sitting on the edge of his bed, deep lines etching his face and circles under his eyes. Stiles shakes his head. "I'm good. I think I'm gonna turn on Netflix and go back to sleep."

As the sheriff stands, he says, "Text Derek."

"What? Why?"

"It might make you feel better. Help you distinguish between the dream and reality. He's okay, so there's no reason to worry." The sheriff runs a hand over Stiles' hair and Stiles closes his eyes, relaxing into the touch. "Night, kiddo."

"Night, Dad. Hey," Stiles says as the sheriff starts walking away. "Get some sleep. You need it, too." The sheriff gives him a weary smile before walking out of the room.

Stiles turns on his television and loads up Netflix, but then reaches over to grab his cell phone. It's after one a.m., but he doesn't care.

"What's wrong?" Derek answers after a few rings, voice heavy with sleep.

"Bad dream. I just wanted to hear your voice."

"I'm fine," Derek says gently. "I'm lying in bed, safe and sound."

"I know."

"Hold on a second," Derek says. Stiles focuses on the TV show until Derek comes back on the phone and says, "Just sent you a text."

Stiles pulls the phone away from his ear and opens the waiting message. It's a selfie of Derek lying in bed. He's holding the phone high enough above his body that Stiles can see his face and the top of his bare chest and shoulders. Derek's got one arm thrown over his head and a sleepy smile on his face.

Stiles stares at the photo for a few moments, the knot in chest loosening. He saves the photo before taking a selfie of himself. It's not nearly as sexy, what with his crazy bedhead and old t-shirt, but he sends it anyway.

"Sent you something back."

After a moment, Derek says, "You look exhausted."

"Thanks," Stiles replies sarcastically.

"I'll stay on the line with you until you fall asleep."

Stiles opens his mouth to say no, but then realizes he doesn't want to let Derek go. He wishes Derek was here with him, but he hasn't seen Derek much lately. Maybe that's the whole problem; he's just missing Derek. Since he can't have Derek with him, this will do. "Yeah, okay."

Stiles gets in a comfortable position facing the television, then closes his eyes. "Talk to me. Tell me something, I don't care what."

Derek starts talking about Jackson and Cora fighting in the middle of Target while they picked out kitchen appliances, and Stiles falls asleep to the lull of Derek's voice.

*

Because his friends are insane, they decide it's a great idea to throw a party in honor of Boyd and Erica. It's Kira's idea, because Kira is the nicest person on the planet and wants to make Boyd and Erica feel welcome. There's probably a bit of Hayden, Liam, and Mason, in there too - because this has the Baby Betas written all over it. Any excuse for them together and party. They're hosting it at Lydia's lake house of course, because Lydia is a dirty enabler and probably the ultimate mastermind behind all of this. She's always looking for a reason to host a get together. Stiles thinks she may get off on awkward interactions between people.

Scott's not happy about the party, mainly because he still doesn't trust Boyd and Erica, though they've done nothing to warrant any suspicion except maybe sleep out in the woods and help Derek build the house. Anyone who willingly spends time with Derek in brooding silence and doesn't want to get into his pants probably has issues. Stiles should know; he has issues and he constantly wants to get into Derek's pants.

Derek's also not happy about the prospect of a party. Stiles is still worried about him. He knows that Derek used to make brooding an art form, but he's taking it to some insane levels lately. He's only seen him a few times since the ice cream night, when Derek's come by Home Depot with some house-related item he needed to pick up. Stiles saw right through Derek though - he knows Derek just wanted to see him. Since that's the only time he got to see Derek, Stiles is okay with that.

When Derek comes by Home Depot, he seems fine. But the moment Stiles tries to ask him something - even something as innocuous as "How are you?" - Derek clams up or grunts out a one-word response. And whenever Stiles texts Derek, he either doesn't respond or replies with one or two words.

Stiles had texted Cora throughout the week, checking up on Derek and seeing how everyone was settling into the house. Every night, Cora replied that things were fine, but Derek was shifted and out in the woods somewhere. At least that explained why he hadn't been answering Stiles' texts.

The last thing Stiles wants to do tonight is go to this dumb party. It's either going to be the most awkward event ever held, everyone is gonna get shitfaced (and who knows where that will lead), or someone is gonna kill someone else.

He's tempted to stay at home, but he knows someone's gotta look after Derek and Scott (and by extension, Boyd, Erica, and even the Baby Betas). Stiles guesses he's as good as anyone because obviously he's the only responsible one of the group.

On his way out, Stiles finds his dad in the recliner, drinking a beer and watching the ballgame. Stiles leans against the doorframe, watching the game for a few minutes to catch the score.

"Big date tonight?" his dad asks, and Stiles rolls his eyes.

"Dad."

"It's a legitimate question," the sheriff responds. "You're dating Derek now."

"I wish it was a big date," Stiles mutters. The sheriff raises an eyebrow. "Lydia's throwing a party."

"Another one?" the sheriff asks, frowning. "Do I need to remind you - "

"I don't need a lecture on underage drinking or recreational drug use."

"I'm not so sure."

Stiles rolls his eyes again and sarcastically says, "Yes, because I come home drunk and high so often, Dad."

The sheriff grunts.

Stiles stares at the television as he tries to decide if he wants to tell the sheriff about Boyd and Erica. He hasn't yet, mainly because he hasn't known how or when to tell him. "Surprise, they're back from the dead!" doesn't seem like a good starter.

But, they've promised to stop lying, so he figures he should let his dad in on what's going on. Especially if what's going on is going to lead to an inevitable altercation between somebody at some point. So, Stiles comes over and sits on the edge of the couch. The sheriff looks at him in surprise and lowers the volume on the TV.

"Um, you remember Boyd and Erica, right? Derek's Betas? Used to go to high school with them? Well, the party is for, um, well...it's kinda for them." He watches his dad closely, but his dad just stares at him.

"Excuse me?"

Stiles' face scrunches. "Um, Boyd and Erica are alive? And in Beacon Hills?"

"But they're dead," the sheriff said. "I saw Boyd's body myself."

Stiles wiggles his fingers dramatically. "Surprise. Supernatural!"

The sheriff heaves an exhausted sigh and wearily drags a hand across his face. Instead of freaking out or acting too surprised, he just asks, "How long have they been back and not-dead?"

Stiles scratches the side of his face. "Um...over a week?"

This is when his dad decides to react. The sheriff shoots straight up, his legs kicking down the foot on the recliner. "What? You've had two zombie teens in town for over a week and didn't think to tell me??" His voice rises at the end, and Stiles winces.

"First off, they're not zombies. Just plain old werewolves, except Boyd is an Alpha now, and they're scarred and stuff." Stiles waves his hand around his face like that would give the sheriff a better visual. At the sheriff's unimpressed look, Stiles adds, "Second, they're totally fine. Not dead and stuff. Scott is suspicious, but it's Scott and he's being the Alpha, so you know." Stiles shrugs.

The sheriff rests his elbows on his knees as his shoulders sag. "Kiddo, what did we talk about with keeping stuff from each other?"

"I didn't do it on purpose," Stiles tells him. "It's just been effing insane, okay? Like, I watched Boyd die, you know? And then he's standing there, smiling like he was just sitting across from me in the lunch room the other day. And Erica's alive, too, but she's jumpy and skittish like a scared animal. And Derek is freaking out and shutting me out, and Scott thinks they're some evil plant because they said Deucalion was out to get us and is planning revenge, and - "

"Wait, Deucalion," the sheriff interrupts. "I thought he helped you."

"He did, but Boyd says he was trying to figure out the state of our Pack."

"That was over a year ago," the sheriff points out. "If he was gonna get revenge, why hasn't he?"

"That's what Scott asked. Boyd says that Deucalion is having trouble rebuilding his Pack. He and his Pack of psychotic Alphas had him and Erica hostage. They've been on the run for like a year."

The sheriff reaches for his beer and downs the rest of the bottle. "Good grief. And here I thought the only thing I had to worry about was the fact that you're now in a relationship with Derek Hale."

"Dude, it's Beacon Hills," Stiles says.

The sheriff pins Stiles with a heavy expression. Stiles squirms slightly under his father's stare. "How are you holding up?"

The question surprises Stiles. "Fine?"

"Stiles. Is this where the dreams are coming from? Are you doing okay?"

Stiles shrugs. "You know, everything is fucking bananas."

"Language."

"I promise, that's an accurate description of this situation." Stiles runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know how to feel about Boyd and Erica being back from the dead, but I'm thinking this is a good thing. I mean, something good finally had to happen to us, right?" The sheriff gives him a sad smile. "I wish Derek would stop being a dick - "

"Stiles."

"Still an accurate description," Stiles continues, "because we just started going out and I'm not past the wanting to grin like an idiot every time I see him and climb him like a tree phase - "

"Seriously, Stiles?"

"Yet we're barely talking and seeing each other and, seriously Dad, don't worry because there has been zero climbing of Derek's tree." The sheriff drops his head into his hands. Stiles exhales, and suddenly feels exhausted. He wishes he could just crawl into bed and sleep. "Anyway, I gotta go to this dumb party and make sure no one kills each other and Derek doesn't brood himself to death."

The sheriff frowns as he looks at Stiles thoughtfully. "He's not taking this well?"

"It's Derek; of course he's not."

When Stiles arrives at the lake house, he only sees Jackson's Porsche, Scott's dirt bike, and Kira's car. He's early, and wonders if he could just turn around and come back later, but Scott is already in the driveway waiting for him as soon as he comes into view.

"Dude, you ruined my escape," Stiles says as he jumps out of the Jeep. "I was contemplating turning around and coming back later. Or never."

Scott gives him a flat look, then claps him on the shoulder harder than necessary when Stiles approaches. Stiles can tell he's a bit on edge, so he leans into Scott's space more. Scott keeps his hand on Stiles' shoulder, but seems to relax.

"This is a bad idea," Scott says.

"Thanks, Mr. Doom and Gloom," Stiles drawls. "Can't we be positive? Hey," Stiles turns so he's facing Scott and flails his arms around. "Look at it this way. It's a way for your Pack and Derek's Pack to do some more Pack bonding."

"From the way you and Lydia smell, I don't think the Packs need more bonding."

Stiles barks out a surprised laugh. He slaps Scott's chest with the back of his hand. "See? You can't be that grumpy if you're making jokes. The Betas can get to know the other Pack more, and Boyd and Erica can get used to people and stuff, and you can realize they're not crazy zombie sleeper werewolf agents who are going to maul us in our sleep."

Scott looks at him like he's crazy, but Stiles stands by his assessment of the situation.

Inside, Lydia and Kira are putting out various food and drinks, and Jackson's leaning against the counter in the kitchen, looking entirely too smug. Stiles grabs a beer from the ice cooler and says, "I can tell by your shit-smug expression that Lydia talked to you."

"Fuck off, Stilinski," Jackson says. "Even your obnoxious existence can't ruin my mood."

"I'm surprised you're not running around wallowing on things to spread your scent or pissing on things." Stiles glances at Lydia through the kitchen door, where she's arranging trays of food on the dining room table. "Lydia, did Jackson pee on you?"

Lydia snaps her head up and glares at him. "Stiles, can you please be helpful instead of, well, you?"

"That stings, Lydia, it really does," Stiles says with his hand over his heart.

"You're one to talk," Jackson says. "If anyone has been pissed-marked, it's gonna be you."

Stiles looks at him in horror. "Oh my god, Derek has not pissed on me!"

"Yet," Jackson mutters.

"Ever. Derek is never going to piss on me, I don't care what kind of wolfy instincts he has. This is a no-pissing zone," Stiles exclaims, his hands waving wildly around his torso. "I mean, Derek has barely touched my dick or came on me, so I don't think this is even an issue."

"I think I'm going to be sick," Jackson says, as Scott yells, "TMI, Stiles!"

"Hey, you started it," Stiles shoots at Jackson. Jackson growls, his eyes flashing blue, and Stiles rolls his eyes. Werewolves.

Lydia waltzes into the room, frowning at both of them. "Can you two act like you have class and stop talking about your sex lives? And Jackson, stop gloating, it's unattractive."

Jackson scoffs and keeps gloating like the dick he is. Lydia rolls her eyes and starts to leave the room, but Jackson reaches out and grabs her hand to tug her towards him.

"Jackson!" she exclaims, though her attempts at struggling are half-hearted at best. "I have things to do."

Jackson buries his face in her neck and growls, "Mine."

Lydia sighs in frustration, but Stiles doesn't miss the way she angles her head to expose more of her neck. Jackson makes a pleased rumble as he pulls her closer.

"This is so much weirder when you're watching it happen to someone else than it is when it's happening to you," Stiles comments. Lydia looks at him, blushing slightly.

"Stop being a pervert, Stilinski," Jackson growls.

"I'm not the one scenting my girlfriend in the middle of a group of people."

"At least it's just us," Lydia points out.

Stiles shrugs, completely unaffected, and takes another swig of his beer.

Unsurprisingly, Derek and Cora are almost the last to arrive. Only Danny, Boyd, and Erica have yet to show yet. Stiles is on the deck, talking with Mason and Liam when two hands land on his shoulders and squeeze gently. Stiles smiles and drops his head back against a solid body, then lifts his eyes. Derek's smiling down at him.

"Hello, stranger," Stiles greets. "I was starting to wonder if you got lost."

Cora grunts. "I basically had to drag him out of the house. Now, who can get me some wolf-friendly alcohol?"

Liam gets up to help Cora as Derek glares at the back of her head. Stiles sighs. It's gonna be a long night.

Stiles pushes himself out of the chair, grabs Derek's hand, and drags him through the house and up the stairs. Stiles ignores the interested and amused looks his friends give him as he drags a large werewolf behind him. He isn't worried about them; he's concerned about the big dumb sullen wolf who's letting himself be dragged so easily.

Inside one of the upstairs bedrooms, Stiles closes the door, then leans against it and crosses his arms. Derek just stares at him. Of course, Derek looks gorgeous as always, in a V-neck lavender shirt that shows just a peek of chest hair and the swell of his biceps, and tight jeans that fit his long legs perfectly and rest low on his hips. Honestly, the whole look is getting Stiles going, and he's getting distracted from his original purpose for bringing Derek up here. Which wasn't to jump his bones. Though at this moment, Stiles can't for the life of him remember why.

When Stiles glances at Derek's face, he remembers his mission. Derek looks angry and sullen and overall like he wants to murder the world. Stiles sighs.

"What are you doing?"

Derek looks at him in confusion. "Standing here with you?"

Stiles rolls his eyes exaggeratedly. "Don't be dense. This, the whole 'let me brood and be generally unpleasant and ignore my boyfriend for days' shtick you've adopted. Why?"

Derek sighs and looks to the side. "I'm not brooding or being unpleasant or ignoring you."

"Lies, all of it."

Derek walks over to the bed and sits on the edge. Stiles watches Derek as he tentatively crosses the room and sits beside him on the bed.

"I don't even know what to feel," Derek finally says, his voice barely a whisper. "I've been trying to process, but I can't quite accept that they're real. And even if they are, they aren't the same kids I turned. They're not my Betas anymore, though they still feel like Pack."

"Look," Stiles says, grabbing Derek's hand and threading their fingers together. "I know this is difficult for you. But that's what I'm here for. To help you through the hard times, even though you're a stubborn ass who doesn't want to let people help or doesn't know how to let people help."

"You can't help."

"See," Stiles says angrily, pulling away from Derek and glaring. "That shit right there is the problem. I know I can't do anything, but I can be there for you, so stop being an asshole and pushing me away. Let me in. Let me help you!"

Stiles glares at Derek for a few moments while Derek just sits there, looking lost but determined. Finally, Stiles stands up and throws his hands into the air. "Fine." He turns around and says, "You know what? Fuck you, Derek. If you want to wallow in whatever hell you've built for yourself, then fine. You want to do it alone? Fine. Do it alone. Call me whenever I'm needed again." And with that, Stiles storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

He tries not to let his heart break when Derek doesn't follow.

Everyone turns to look at him as he storms through the living room and kitchen, and he just doesn't care. They can all go to hell.

Outside, Stiles walks along the familiar footpath, away from the party. He's angry, and he's pretty sure half of that argument was witnessed by all the werewolves present, which is kinda embarrassing because it's none of their damn business, so they can all just leave him alone.

He perches on the large rock by the lake, stares out at the water, and tries to calm down. As he sits there and his anger abates, he starts to feel guilty, like maybe he was too hard on Derek. Maybe yelling and storming off after a big "fuck you" wasn't his finest moment. But god, Derek is so maddening. Stiles hadn't realized that this was part of Derek he was going to have to deal with, the broken part he thought was gone. Stiles should have known better. People just don't suddenly get over their issues, no matter how much progress they make. And what a great couple Stiles and Derek are making. At the first sign of trouble, they shut each other out, yell, and storm off. What a great relationship, Stiles thinks miserably.

Stiles is feeling all around lousy when something leaps onto the rock beside him, causing him to yelp and scurry backwards. When he glances up, Erica's grinning down at him in amusement. Stiles glares at her as she makes herself comfortable beside him.

"Not funny, Erica."

"I disagree." She hands him a burrito wrapped in foil before taking one from the small mound of them in her lap and unwrapping it. Stiles feels oddly touched that she came out here to bring him something to eat and is going to sit with him while they eat. There's a small smile around his mouth as he tears the foil from the burrito.

After taking a bite and swallowing, Stiles says, "I gotta give it to Kira and Lydia. These burritos they got catered are fucking awesome."

"I don't even remember the last time I had a burrito," Erica says.

"What? No squirrel and rabbit burritos?" She turns and gives him an unimpressed look, and Stiles just laughs before taking another bite.

"So," Stiles asks after he's eaten half his burrito and Erica is starting on her second. "Why are you here with me instead of at the party thrown in your honor?"

Erica glances in the direction of the lake house. "Too many unfamiliar people and scents. It's overwhelming. It's like I'm on high alert and my senses are in overdrive."

"You seem to get like that a lot," Stiles says, not unkindly.

Erica picks at the foil around her burrito. "It's still hard, to be around others," Erica explains quietly. "My wolf side is still so much stronger than my human side. I told Boyd maybe it would have been easier if I'd just stayed feral."

"That's bullshit," Stiles says.

"Boyd says it'll keep getting easier, the more I interact with people." Erica sighs. "We haven't gotten much of that. Every time we settle down and start doing anything kind of normal, they find us and we have to run again."

"Is that why you're always on alert?" Stiles asks quietly.

"One of the reasons."

"You're safe here, you know," Stiles tells her. "We won't let anyone harm you."

She finally turns to look at him, her eyes wide and scared. The light from the near-full moon brings the three long scars on her face into stark relief. "You feel safe," Erica says. "And Derek and Cora. But everyone else..."

"They're good people, Erica," Stiles says. "You may not know them, but they're all loyal and strong and all around awesome people. I mean, they're my Pack."

"You don't smell like you're part of their Pack."

"What?" Stiles asks, surprised. "What do I smell like?"

"Like Derek's Pack."

Stiles frowns and turns to look out at the lake. He takes a bite of his burrito and thinks about what Erica said. Of course he's going to smell like Derek; they're together, and Derek has been scenting Stiles for weeks now. But shouldn't he smell like his Pack, too?

The more Stiles thinks about it, the more he realizes that he doesn't spend that much time with his Pack. Hell, he barely sees Scott, and only saw Lydia recently because she came to him. Stiles rubs a hand over his hair.

Stiles feels like he's made a mess out of everything: his life, his relationship with his Pack, and even his relationship with Derek.

Suddenly, Erica snaps her head to the side, her entire posture rigid and alert. Stiles glances in the direction she's looking, but doesn't see anything in the darkness. After a few moments, Erica turns her head to scan the area, her eyes glowing bright blue in the dark.

Stiles can't help but stare at her. Just like with Derek, he thinks her eyes are beautiful. She notices him looking after a moment, then closes her eyes and turns away.

"You don't have to do that," Stiles says. "There's nothing wrong with your eyes."

"They're hideous."

"They're beautiful."

Erica scoffs and turns to him with her plain brown eyes. "How can you say that?" she growls. "Don't know you what they mean?" Her eyes start glowing again and her cheeks sprout fur.

"Of course I know what they mean," Stiles replies. "Derek's are the same color. And I told him the same thing I told you."

"They're nothing but a punishment," she says. "A constant reminder of what I did."

"Hey," Stiles says, reaching out carefully and covering her hand with his own. She tenses, but doesn't move as she watches his thumb trailing over her wrist. "You know that nothing that happened when you were feral was your fault, right?" She turns her face again and looks out across the lake. "You can't help what they did to you."

"But I did those things," Erica says quietly. "Unspeakable things. Things I barely remember, things I do remember, things Boyd watched me do because I couldn't control myself."

"The Alphas tried to turn you into some kind of mindless monster like them," Stiles says. "But you didn't let them."

Finally, Erica turns to look at him. "Boyd keeps trying to tell me it's not my fault. But I'm the one who did those things."

"None of us care," Stiles tells her. "You know that, right?" When she doesn't respond, he says, "If I was a werewolf, my eyes would be blue, too. They'd probably be the brightest and bluest eyes in the whole group." He swallows as she looks at him in confusion. "A lot happened while you were gone," Stiles explains. "You aren't the only one who believes they've been a monster."

"What did you do?"

Stiles shrugs, draws his knees to his chest, and wraps one arm around his legs and the other across his shoulders. He idly fingers the scar on his back. "Demon possession, mass murder, you know, typical teenage stuff."

Instead of commenting, Erica scoots closer so they're pressed together.

Stiles says, "Jackson's eyes are blue because of the kanima. Derek's eyes are blue because he believes he killed so many people, or maybe because so many people died and he thinks it's all his fault. Blue eyes are associated with the guilt, not the act. Guilt is subjective. It's a feeling, not a fact. There are plenty of werewolves with gold eyes who deserve to have blue, and too many with blue eyes who don't deserve them." Stiles nudges her gently.

"I think you came to the right place," he says after a few moments. "If anyone understands the way you feel, it's Derek and Jackson. And me." He presses on the scar a bit harder, then adds, "Maybe the Baby Betas don't understand, but they haven't gone through the same things. But we get it."

"If they're Baby Betas," Erica asks, "then what does that make us? Old Betas?"

Stiles snorts and looks over at her. "Don't you feel old most of the time? With everything we've seen, I think we're considered old now."

"Probably," Erica replies. "I don't really feel young."

"You look young," Stiles says.

"I look hideous," she murmurs.

"What?" Stiles exclaims. "You do not look hideous."

Erica gives him a small, sad smile. "It's okay, Stiles. I still have Boyd, and he thinks I'm beautiful despite everything. I've never been beautiful, so it's not like it's something new."

"Erica, you can't be serious. Even with the scars, you're beautiful." Cautiously, Stiles lifts his hand and moves it slowly towards Erica's face, giving her plenty of time to pull away or stop him. When she doesn't stop him, he gently touches two of the scars running along Erica's face. "You're beautiful, Erica. You've always been beautiful."

Erica snorts and rolls her eyes. "That's not true."

"Even before you were bitten, you were beautiful."

"I can tell you're not lying, but I still don't believe you. You never paid any attention to me, even though I wanted you to."

Stiles drops his hand. "That's because I was a moron and wasted too much time on Lydia." He gives her a self-deprecating smile. "My loss, obviously."

Erica smiles at him, a wide genuine smile. Stiles feels a moment of triumph and feels like maybe there's some hope for her after all.

"I think it worked out for the best in the long run, don't you? I think Boyd and Derek are quite lucky to have us."

"Maybe."

"Maybe?" Stiles scoffs. "I know Derek is lucky to have me. You missed his other girlfriends." Stiles shakes his head. "He has terrible taste in women."

"And men," Erica quips, and Stiles acts offended before they both break down laughing. It's a good sound, and it's a good feeling to be sitting out here with Erica, laughing and talking. It hits him in that moment that it is something he never had the chance to do before, and shouldn't have the chance to do now. But for some reason, they have all been given a second chance with Boyd and Erica, and well, Stiles isn't going to squander it this time. No matter how it's all going to end.

*

Derek just wants to sulk in private, but somehow, Kira and Danny pulled him into a group conversation that has been bouncing between movies Derek hasn't seen, sports, music Derek doesn't listen to, and books that at least Derek has read. Kira and Danny are so friendly and easy to be around that Derek kinda hates them right now. Apparently they have made it their mission to include Derek in the party, so every time he tries to sneak off, one of them shows up.

Yet Stiles is nowhere to be found. Why hasn't someone dragged him out of his hiding place and forced him to socialize? Yes, Derek's being petty, but if Derek can't sulk in a corner, neither can Stiles. It's only fair.

The group he's been talking with includes Kira, Danny, Scott, Boyd, Hayden, and Corey. Derek is too proud to admit that talking to the group is helping him feel less edgy and angry. He's even getting used to Scott's Pack, and Scott seems to be looking at Boyd with a little less suspicion than before.

When the group disperses, Derek walks through the house, seeing if he can catch Stiles' scent. He also hasn't missed the conspicuous absence of Erica, and is pretty sure they're connected.

"Where's Erica?" Derek asks Boyd when he finds him in the kitchen.

Boyd points out the window. "Outside. She disappeared with a bunch of burritos right after we got here."

Derek stares out the window thoughtfully. "Think she went to find Stiles?"

"I'd wager one of those burritos was for him. The rest were definitely for her."

Derek walks out of the house and into the yard, trying to catch either of their scents. He hears Boyd's soft footsteps trailing after him. Derek smells Stiles' scent nearer to the lake, and when Derek sees the footpath, he immediately knows where Stiles disappeared to. As Derek and Boyd make their way along the trail, Derek starts to hear snatches of voices.

Stiles and Erica are sitting side by side on the rock, facing the lake. Derek's surprised to find them sitting close enough that their arms are touching. He smiles at the two of them.

"So, this is where you disappeared to," Derek says as he steps up onto the rock behind them.

Stiles twists around, while Erica scoots over to make room. Stiles frowns up at him. Derek sighs. "Can I sit?"

Stiles shrugs and turns back towards the lake as Derek sits down on the rock. He spreads his legs so he can scoot forward, right behind Stiles. Derek settles his legs on either side of Stiles, wraps his arms around Stiles' waist, and hooks his chin over Stiles' shoulder. He pecks Stiles on the cheek. "Hi."

"Hello."

"How's the party?" Erica asks, leaning against Boyd, who is now sitting on her other side.

"Fine," Boyd says. "Everyone is really nice. You should go talk to them. Be social."

"I am being social," Erica says. "I'm talking to Stiles."

"Stiles doesn't count."

"Thanks," Stiles says sarcastically.

"That's not what I mean," Boyd says. "You're familiar to her. She should go socialize with the others." Boyd lifts his hand and run it gently over to her hair. "You should at least try."

Erica sighs. "Maybe."

Boyd kisses the side of her head. "Think about it."

"So, have you been brooding in the woods this whole time?" Stiles asks.

"No, I was talking to people and enjoying the party," Derek replies. "Which is more than I can say for you."

"Don't," Stiles snaps, and Derek sighs again.

"Lover's spat?" Erica asks, smirking.

"Derek's being a broody dick."

"Good to know some things stay the same," Erica replies, winking at Derek. Derek smiles at her, amused.

"I'm still mad at you," Stiles says, crossing his arms over his chest. Derek holds him tighter and presses his face into the crook of Stiles' neck. He hears Stiles sigh. He can smell the frustration, anger, and confusion all over Stiles. He understands the feelings.

Derek doesn't know how to tell Stiles what he's feeling or how to let him help. Derek doesn't know how to accept help or let people in. Lowering his walls around his Pack is difficult enough, and they're his Pack. No matter how much he loves Stiles, it's hard to switch from the role of protector and instead let Stiles protect and take care of him. Derek's still not sure he deserves to be taken care of or protected.

Derek lightly kisses the side of Stiles' neck, and Stiles sighs again. "Don't just think you can nuzzle and kiss your way out of this."

"I know," Derek says against his skin. "But I thought you may want to discuss it in private."

"You can discuss it now," Erica says. "I don't mind."

Derek growls against Stiles' neck, and he feels the shiver that runs through Stiles' body. He gently nips at his neck and immediately smells Stiles' heightened interest. He inhales the smell deeply and suddenly wishes they were alone. He kind of wants to rub himself all over Stiles now.

Instead, he pulls away. "Want to go back to my place?" Derek asks.

"I'm too mad to have sex with you right now," Stiles says.

Derek groans and drops his head against Stiles' shoulder. Erica laughs, and even Boyd chuckles. "To talk, not to have sex."

"I'm supposed to be making sure no one kills each other at this party," Stiles says.

"You've done such a good job thus far, way out here," Derek says flatly. Stiles elbows him in the ribs.

"I don't want to talk," Stiles says. "There's nothing to talk about."

Derek decides not to respond. He knows this isn't the place to argue, especially with Boyd and Erica sitting right beside them. But Stiles is so frustrating. One minute, he's wanting Derek to talk, and then when Derek is ready to talk, he's not talking. Really, he thinks Stiles is just a stubborn ass.

Derek is trying to figure out how to convince Stiles to leave with him when he hears voices and footsteps coming up the path. Cora and Kira come into the clearing, followed by Hayden and Liam, then Corey, Danny, Mason, and finally Scott, Lydia, and Jackson.

"So, this is where you moved the party!" Kira exclaims, smiling as she steps onto the boulder. "Stiles, I haven't seen you at all tonight."

"I was there," he protests.

"For all of three seconds," Lydia adds. Derek can feel the irritation Stiles is directing towards her, so he kisses the back of Stiles' neck.

"Hey, here's as good a place as any to swim," Liam says, then leaps over their heads to jump into the lake. He causes a splash so large it gets them wet. Stiles swears at Liam as the others start running and jumping into the water.

Scott hops up on the rock and sits on Stiles' other side, patting Stiles' shin lightly in greeting. Jackson and Lydia sit on the edge of the boulder, and Jackson dangles one foot off into the water while Lydia leans against him and faces them. Cora takes the space on the other side of Boyd.

"Rock's gotten kinda crowded," Stiles says, glancing over at Erica.

Erica says, "Eh, it's not too bad."

"Yeah," Stiles agrees. "I guess you're right."

The others start talking as Derek tightens arms around Stiles and watches as the rest of Scott's Pack plays in the water. Kira and Hayden are playing chicken on Danny and Liam's shoulders, and Corey and Mason are swimming farther into the lake together. They look happy and content, and Derek thinks about what Cora said, that maybe they could build something larger and important. Scott's done it; maybe Derek could too one day.

*

"Do you really think this is a good idea?" Stiles asks as he places his overnight bag next to Derek's in the trunk of the Camaro. He starts chewing on the edge of his thumbnail. "I mean, taking Boyd and Erica - and Scott, Lydia, and me, who are part of a different Pack - to, wait for it, a different Pack's territory?"

Derek reaches into the trunk to readjust the bag so they can fit more into the trunk. Stiles just kinda threw the bag in there with no thought to actual organization. "Marjorie is an ally," Derek tells him - again. They already had this conversation when Derek suggested they all go to Nevada to visit Marjorie. The phone conversation with her had been over a week ago, but trying to organize everyone's schedule had been harder than Derek had anticipated. "I think Boyd and Erica should meet with Marjorie because she has been an Alpha for a long time and may be able to give them some kind of insight. I think Scott should meet Marjorie because he needs to start making alliances with other Packs." Derek turns to Stiles and places his hand on the ball of his shoulder, then runs his hand up across his shoulder until he rests the palm of his hand against the side of Stiles' neck, fingers splayed across the nape. "Plus, I want Marjorie to meet you."

Stiles blushes slightly and bites his lip to hide his smile. Then, he says, "I'm still mad at you though."

Derek sighs as Scott comes up to drop his bag into the trunk. It's gonna be a long car ride.

Derek is driving Stiles and Scott in the Camaro, Cora is driving Boyd and Erica in the SUV, and Jackson and Lydia are taking the Porsche. Derek had been meaning to take Jackson to meet with Marjorie for awhile, and now that Boyd and Erica are here, Derek thought it was the perfect time. He invited Stiles to come along because he wanted to introduce Stiles to his extended family, and he invited Scott so he could introduce Scott to the Pack. And Lydia said if Scott and Stiles were going, she was going too since her Pack and her boyfriend were going.

So, they're all going on a road trip to Nevada. Derek's not sure what in the hell he was thinking.

Scott and Stiles do most of the talking for the first two hours of the journey. It's not that Derek feels uncomfortable with Scott in the car, because he surprisingly feels comfortable with Stiles and Scott sharing his personal space. He's just lost in his own head.

Derek knows it's risky taking Boyd and Erica into another Pack's territory. But Marjorie has been around a lot longer than any of them. He knows Scott still thinks that Boyd and Erica can't be trusted, and he knows that right now they're all just biding time until the Alphas track Boyd and Erica to Beacon Hills. Derek thinks whoever were following them have probably already figured out where Boyd and Erica are and gone back to Deucalion - or whoever's in charge. Boyd and Erica returning to their original Pack territory, which is protected by an established Pack with an Alpha, poses a bigger threat than a ragtag two-wolf Pack on the run.

In addition to all of this, Derek and Stiles haven't made up or talked about their argument the other night. Stiles had worked the last two days, and when Derek had suggested getting together, Stiles had said he didn't feel like it.

Derek wishes they were on better terms going into this trip. He thinks he could really use Stiles' support right now. But he knows it's his own damn fault for being such a dick in the first place. One day, he thinks, he might get it right. But he's not going to hold his breath. Knowing his luck, he'll probably keep shutting Stiles out and pushing him away until he finally just leaves Derek far behind.

Derek snaps out of his thoughts when Stiles' hand covers his own. "You're a million miles away," Stiles says quietly. Derek glances in the rearview mirror, where Scott is typing on his phone, large headphones covering his ears. "He said he wanted to chat with the girl he's dating and listen to an album he downloaded. I think he's trying to give us privacy because he knows we had an argument."

"I'm not going to talk about it with Scott in the car," Derek responds, "Even if he isn't listening in."

Stiles sighs, but threads their fingers together. He drags his thumb across the heel of Derek's hand. "Are you nervous about going to see Marjorie?"

"A little," Derek admits.

"Well, what can go wrong? Two Alpha werewolves, four Betas from two different Packs, a Banshee, and a human. Sounds like the recipe for disaster."

"Or the lead-in for a joke." Stiles laughs as Derek says, "Two Betas, an Alpha, and a Banshee walk into a bar..." Derek cracks a smile.

"The main reason Scott's here is because he doesn't want me going anywhere with Boyd and Erica without him."

"I know," Derek says. "Though I will always protect you."

"He knows that, and he trusts you," Stiles says. "He just doesn't trust them." Derek frowns. "Plus, I think he's uncomfortable with me visiting an unfamiliar Pack."

"He'll eventually have to get over it," Derek says. "We have a lot of friends, and I'd like you to go with me when I visit them."

Stiles leans over and kisses Derek's cheek. "I like the sound of that."

The GPS says it should take them eight hours to get to where the Pack lives in Nevada, but with three werewolves behind the wheel, they get there in five and a half. "My dad would not approve of this," Stiles had said when the speedometer reached near 90.

"Do you really think I would do anything to endanger you?" Derek had asked.

Marjorie and three of her closest Pack members are standing outside the house when Derek drives up. Marjorie is wearing a simple, flowing cotton dress, her long white hair loose around her shoulders. She looks relaxed and maternal standing there, and Derek is thankful that she chose not to have too many Pack members around because he's still unsure about the way Erica will react.

Derek tells Stiles and Scott to stay in the car and then gets out. Of course, they ignore him and get out of the car right after him. Stiles strides up beside him and stands at his side, and Derek feels a flare of affection mixed with fond irritation for him, and though he'd never tell him, he's glad that Stiles ignored him and got out of the car to stand at his side.

"Derek," Marjorie says, smiling warmly as she steps towards him with her arms outstretched. Derek goes to her and gives her a hug. She grips him tightly, spreading her scent on him now that he's in her territory.

When Marjorie lets go, she turns to the others. "You must be Stiles and Scott." Her eyes bleed red, and Scott answers by flashing his. Stiles watches in fascination and mild apprehension as Marjorie approaches him first instead of Scott and then pulls him into a hug. "I am so happy that Derek found you," she whispers to Stiles, and Derek feels embarrassed as Stiles looks at him, completely at a loss for what to do.

"You're welcome?" Stiles replies as Marjorie lets go.

Marjorie smiles at him before turning to Scott. "You must be Scott," she says. She takes his hand and covers it with both of her own. "I have never met a true Alpha before, and have only heard a few tales of ones so young. I am so glad you joined Derek to visit. It is so nice to meet you."

Scott smiles brightly. "Nice to meet you, too."

"Derek tells me you haven't met with many Packs."

"Not friendly ones."

She gives him a sad smile. "We do exist, I promise."

Marjorie lets go of Scott's hand as Cora gets out of the car. She grins widely as she walks over to meet Marjorie in a large hug. "Where's Jackson? You promised you would finally bring him," Marjorie asks as she stares expectantly at the cars. Jackson and Lydia get out of the Porsche, and Jackson looks embarrassed as Marjorie fusses over him. Jackson looks like he doesn't know what to think with an Alpha werewolf showering him with so much attention, and one who is a distant relative at that. It's the first Hale relative Jackson has ever met outside of Derek, Cora, and Malia.

Boyd and Erica are still in the car. At Derek's nod, Boyd turns to Erica, says something too quiet for even him to hear, and then Boyd opens the door. He gets out first, then waits as Erica stares at the group from the backseat. Finally, Erica moves and slowly opens the door.

Erica stands behind Boyd, his body acting as a shield between her and everyone else. Erica's eyes flit all around her, taking in her surroundings. Derek knows there are so many unfamiliar scents and sounds, and though there are only three other Betas here, he can hear heartbeats of several more close by. Erica eyes the three Betas suspiciously, then her head darts around as she looks for other wolves or other potential threats.

Marjorie just stands there for a few moments, her eyes glowing red as Boyd watches her calmly, his eyes also shining. When Marjorie finally steps forward, she does so slowly and deliberately, making sure not to make any sudden movements. Boyd remains where he is, standing between Marjorie and Erica.

"Hello Boyd, Erica," Marjorie says as she nears them. "I'm Marjorie, Alpha of this territory. You are safe here."

"But we didn't do the runes," Erica says so quietly Derek almost can't hear, her hand flexing constantly.

"We've got our own protection charms around these borders," Marjorie explains. "Our emissary was told of your situation and put extra precautions in place before you arrived. Nothing will harm you while you are within these borders."

Boyd relaxes, but Erica remains alert and tense. After Marjorie and Boyd shake hands and exchange pleasantries, Boyd steps aside so Marjorie can speak to Erica. Erica watches her like she's a half-second away from fleeing, and when Marjorie extends her hand, Erica flinches.

"Oh you poor child," Marjorie says. "What did they do to you?" She doesn't lower her hand, but slowly reaches out to Erica. Erica watches the hand warily until Marjorie touches her and runs her hand along Erica's hair in a tender gesture. Erica seems to relax at Marjorie's touch.

Marjorie stays close to Erica and Boyd as she turns around. She points to the three Betas nearby. "These are my children, Owen and Olivia, and my granddaughter Cathy." Derek knows all three of the Betas well. All three have identical dark brown hair and deep bronze skin. "They'll show you to the guest house, where you will be staying. If Boyd and Erica agree, I would like to talk with them and have them meet my emissary."

"I'll go with you," Derek says, taking a step forward.

"I'll do it," Cora offers. "If they want. You can stay with the others."

Derek glances at Boyd and Erica, and Boyd shrugs. He can tell that Cora really wants to do this, and she's right. He should stay with the others, especially since they are an unfamiliar Pack and Alpha. Plus, he's not sure he really wants to leave Stiles.

Derek nods at Cora, and she smiles gratefully at him. He watches as Marjorie and Olivia lead Boyd and the others towards the main house until he feels a hand on his arm. He looks over to see Stiles standing beside him, and Stiles motions with his head towards where Owen and Cathy are chatting with Scott and Jackson as they walk towards the guest house.

Derek quickly grabs his and Stiles' bags from the back of the Camaro and follows after them.

When Cathy shows Derek to his room, he drops the bags and then Cathy rushes towards him and wraps him in a hug. "It's so great to see you again, Derek!" she exclaims. He returns the hug awkwardly, and then she thankfully lets go. Cathy pushes her dark hair out of her face as she turns to Stiles, who is watching them with displeasure. "And I'm so happy Derek brought more people with him this time! Stiles, I'm so excited to get to know you." Cathy smiles brightly, and Stiles seems confused and suspicious of her friendliness. Derek had forgotten just how exuberant Cathy could be.

"Cathy," Owen says as appears in the doorway. "Don't overwhelm them."

"Ugh, I'm not Uncle Owen," Cathy says. "But we haven't seen Derek in so long. And his friends seem so nice."

"Give them a moment to get settled before you bombard them," Owen chastises gently. "They've had a long journey from Beacon Hills."

Cathy frowns as she walks towards the door. Derek asks, "You'll be at dinner, right?"

Cathy turns around and beams at him. "Yep. Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"I think you owe me a card game. You said you had to gain your respect after I kicked your butt in our last tournament."

Cathy glares at him. "I still think you cheated."

"Sore loser."

"We'll see." She smiles and gives a final wave before she and Owen leave the room. Derek walks over and closes the door, giving him and Stiles some much needed peace. Derek needs a few moments to decompress after everything.

When he turns around, Stiles is staring at him with his hands on his hips, both eyebrows raised and his mouth open. "Care to explain who Cathy is?"

Derek laughs. "You can't be serious."

"Ugh, yeah, I'm serious. She seemed pretty familiar with you, definitely felt comfortable hugging you - and dude, who ever feels comfortable hugging you - and you have a thing? A card thing?"

"She's like 16, Stiles." Stiles just stares at Derek expectantly, waiting for him to answer, and Derek frowns. "You can't seriously be jealous."

"She seemed really happy to see you and really excited about hugging you. And I'm pretty sure she's like 18. And did you miss the fact that she's super cute? And bubbly?"

Derek grabs one of Stiles' arms and tugs him close so he can wrap his arms tightly around Stiles' waist. "I don't know how old she is, I guess she's cute, but I don't care. She's a nice girl. We played a lot of cards while I stayed with Marjorie. I was here for almost a year, so I got to know everyone really well."

"And how well did you get to know Cathy?"

Derek doesn't answer and instead kisses Stiles. Stiles mumbles against his mouth, "That's not an answer."

"I didn't hook up with anyone while I was here," Derek says with a huff. "So there's no one you need to be jealous of. Cora had an on and off again thing with a guy named Esuardo, and they fucked pretty regularly. And yes," Derek says at Stiles' expression, "I'll let you know who he is when we see him."

"So, there's not anyone here I need to be worried about?" Stiles asks.

Derek cups Stiles' face gently. "There's no one anywhere you have to be worried about. I've told you. I'm completely yours."

Stiles wraps his arms around Derek's neck and presses his face against it. "Good. I don't like the thought of you with anyone else."

"Not possible," Derek says breathlessly, tilting his head slightly to expose more of his neck. Stiles takes the hint and kisses his neck, then licks a long stripe up the side before biting into the cord gently. Derek can't help but buck against Stiles.

"You know," Stiles whispers so quietly Derek has to use his enhanced hearing, "I thought we'd be here for more than a few minutes before we fucked in another Pack's house."

Derek pulls Stiles closer to him and moves his hips in an attempt to get more friction. "It's been too long since we've done this," Derek replies quietly. "We should have thought through our frustrated sex hiatus before going somewhere together."

"Well, if Cora can fuck around while here, then we can, too." Stiles pushes at Derek's shoulders until he starts walking backwards, then pushes him down onto the bed. Derek bounces as Stiles places a knee on the bed beside him and crawls over his body.

Derek wraps his arms around Stiles and kisses him like he needs it to survive. It's been too long - too long - since Derek has held Stiles or kissed him. As Stiles kisses him hungrily, his tongue and lips urgent and insistent, Derek wonders what in the hell they were even fighting about and why they had been so stupid to waste all that time - even if it was only a few days.

Stiles enthusiastically reaches between them and fumbles with the fly on Derek's pants, so Derek lets go of Stiles long enough to help him. Stiles sits up so he can get better access to their zippers, and Derek mourns the loss of his lips immediately. "Remind me again why we were fighting?" Derek asks as he gets his zipper down so he can push his underwear and jeans down his hips.

"Because you're a stubborn asshole," Stiles replies, his cock already hanging out from where he hastily pushed down his jeans.

"I think you were being just as stubborn."

Stiles gives Derek an exasperated look and points to their dicks. "Are we really going to do this now?"

"I guess it can wait." Derek grabs a fist of Stiles' shirt and yanks him down, recapturing his mouth as Stiles starts frotting against him. Derek moans quietly in Stiles' mouth as he feels the warm slide of Stiles' length against his own.

Derek knows this isn't going to last long. It's been too long since he's been with Stiles, and his emotions are too high, so he grips Stiles' hips and meets his thrusts. He doesn't know why, but he finds it inordinately hot that they're still fully clothed and rutting against each other. He loves the feel of Stiles' cock sliding against his own, the way Stiles moves his hips and kisses him.

"Fuck, Derek," Stiles whispers, then lets out a muffled sound as his hips stutter. Derek feels the warmth hitting his skin, and then the strong smell of Stiles' scent hits his nostrils and sends him over the edge.

They are both still moving their hips slightly as they come down from their orgasms, Derek's dick warm and slick with their combined come. He's kissing Stiles lazily as he rolls his hips, small bursts of pleasure coursing through him with each drag of his softening cock against Stiles.

"Okay," Stiles says, pushing himself onto his knees before rolling onto his back beside Derek. "This feels gross."

Derek reaches down and fondles himself gently, his fingers sliding through thick, tacky patches of come. He glances over at Stiles, who's watching him with a sated smile on his face, and brings his hand up to his mouth to lick the come from his fingers. It's easy to differentiate between his and Stiles' taste, and just that little bit makes Derek want to bury himself between Stiles' legs and lick him clean. He manages to control himself for now.

Stiles shakes his head, but he's smiling. "Silly werewolf."

"I can't help it that I love the way you taste." Stiles blushes, so Derek rolls onto his side so he can kiss him.

When Stiles pulls away, he says, "You really want to lick all my come up, don't you?" This time, Derek blushes, and Stiles rolls his eyes. "Go for it, big guy. No judgment here. I have zero problemo with you putting your mouth all over my junk."

Derek hesitates for a moment, but at the encouraging, content, and blissed-out look on Stiles' face, Derek gives in. He moves around until he's leaning over Stiles' groin, and as he bends down, he inhales and growls softly at the perfect smell of their combined scents. Stiles reaches out, slides his fingers into Derek's hair, and scratches his scalp as Derek licks the come from Stiles' skin.

His eyes trace over Stiles' cock as he licks around his groin. Derek knows it's his decision to take things slow, but he realizes he hasn't spent nearly enough time studying Stiles' cock. He wants to spend hours laying Stiles out, memorizing every vein and shade of skin, running his tongue long the ridges and bumps as he learns Stiles' taste.

When Derek sucks on Stiles' softening cock, warm and heavy on his tongue, he feels it twitch in his mouth. "If you keep doing that," Stiles says quietly, "You may get another spurt of something to lick up."

"If we were at home, I'd take that challenge," Derek says, giving Stiles' cock one last lick before pushing himself into a seated positing. "I should probably get cleaned up."

"Yeah, I'm not licking dried come from you, sorry." Stiles sticks his tongue out, and Derek leans down and wraps his lips around it before Stiles opens up into a sloppy kiss.

"Would you lick come off my skin if it wasn't drying?" Derek asks, eyes intense as his brain tries to wrap itself around that imagine.

"Dude, if it turns you on that much, hell yeah. I already told you I think it looks hot on you."

Derek smiles, and feels a surprising moment of tenderness for the man lying beneath him. He runs his fingers along Stiles forehead, then along the side of his face. "Thank you."

Stiles' face scrunches in confusion. "For what? Agreeing to eat your come?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "No. Well, yes. But for accepting me for who I am. For what I am."

Stiles reaches out and cups Derek's face, his thumb dragging through the coarse hairs of his beard. "Derek, I love that you're a werewolf. I never want you to hide that from me. This is a two-way thing. You deserve to have your needs met as much as I do mine, even if they're slightly different. I may not get off on it the same way you do, but it doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. And even more than that." Stiles pushes himself to his elbows and kisses Derek gently. "I enjoy making you happy."

Derek bites down the urge to tell Stiles he loves him, and instead kisses him again.

Derek buttons his pants and goes down the hall to wash off, and then changes into a new pair of underwear and shirt while Stiles goes to the bathroom. As Stiles changes his jeans and boxers, Derek stretches out on the bed and closes his eyes.

He smiles when the bed dips and Stiles snuggles up close to him. "Tired?" Stiles asks.

"Not really. Just kinda emotionally drained."

"Is it difficult being back?"

"No," Derek opens his eyes and turns to look at Stiles, who has his head resting on Derek's shoulder. "I'm glad I get to spend time with Marjorie's Pack again. It's nice to be with family, even if it's distant."

They lay pressed together in silence. Derek can hear vague sounds elsewhere, murmurs of voices in the guest house, the sound of three other heartbeats, sounds and smells of other wolves outside of the walls. It's a calming white noise that Derek lets drone in the background.

"I'm sorry," Derek says after they've been lying there awhile. "For shutting you out. I...I'm trying, Stiles, I really am."

"I know," Stiles replies quietly. "Sometimes that isn't good enough."

"I know." Derek sighs and kisses Stiles' hair. "I want to let you help me. I'm just trying to figure out how to do that."

"I shouldn't have been such a dick either. Guess that's what makes us such a great pair."

Derek chuckles. "Guess so. Two dicks."

"I definitely approve of our two dicks."

Derek groans as Stiles laughs.

*

Derek gets a text from Cora while he and Stiles are dozing on the bed. Stiles stretches and yawns as Derek stands. "What's up?"

"Cora asked me to come join them." Derek glances at Stiles, sprawled on his back on the bed, hair half-flat on his head, his t-shirt riding up to reveal smooth pale skin and a strip of dark hair. Derek smiles before asking, "Want to join me?"

Stiles flails around on the bed in his haste to get off.

Derek and Stiles arrive at the main house five minutes later. Olivia greets them at the door and leads them through a rustically decorated living room into a large meeting room in the back. Marjorie is sitting in an armchair along the far wall, Boyd and Erica are sitting on one loveseat while Olivia and Cora share the other. Owen and another Beta, Paul, are standing along the wall, and the Pack emissary, Wendy, is standing beside Marjorie. Derek nods at Paul in greeting as he enters the room, and Paul returns the nod with a smile.

Derek stands against the wall next to Cora on the loveseat, and Erica scoots over enough so that Stiles can squeeze between her and the arm. Marjorie watches all of this with the eyes of an experienced, trained Alpha.

"Hello Derek," Marjorie says with a smile. "I'm glad you brought Stiles with you."

"Like Stiles would have stayed behind," Cora remarks, and Stiles glares at her, but doesn't speak. Marjorie chuckles.

"It's quite obvious that Stiles is a vital part of both of these Packs," Marjorie says, "even if he is a member of the McCall Pack."

Stiles shrugs and says, "What can I say? I'm just that awesome."

Marjorie's eyes twinkle as she looks at him. "You're a spark, are you not?"

Stiles' joking demeanor falls at that, and he immediately adopts a defensive stance. "Yes."

"I don't meet many sparks," she continues, and then looks up at Wendy. Wendy looks like a new age hippie, with flowers threaded in her dark curls, her peasant skirt and flowered top billowing around her. Derek suddenly appreciates Deaton for his lack of theatrics. Well, these kind of theatrics.

"Sparks are rare," Wendy says, her voice dreamy. Derek resists the urge to roll his eyes. He hadn't had much interaction with Wendy when he visited before, and he doesn't regret that. "Little is known about their power."

"That's what our emissary said," Stiles says defensively.

"Ah, Alan," Wendy smiles serenely. "Alan is a wonderful man. A fount of knowledge and information. Your Pack is lucky to have him."

Stiles glances at Derek quickly, and Derek smirks.

"Your power is very strong," Wendy says. Stiles turns to her sharply.

"Excuse me?" he says. "What are you talking about? I don't have any power."

Wendy tilts her head, scrutinizing him closely. Stiles holds her gaze, confident despite the slight stutter in his heart that he certainly must know doesn't escape the notice of a room full of werewolves. Derek thinks his confidence and refusal to back down from wolves is very attractive. If he wasn't already gone on Stiles, this would help things along.

"You have great power," Wendy says. "It's there, right under your skin. And here." She brings her fingertips to her temples, and Derek doesn't miss the uptick in Stiles' heart, the change in his scent.

"There's nothing there," Stiles argues. "You're mistaken."

Wendy smiles. "I am not, dear boy. You've absorbed energy, a lot of it seems. You're drawing it from a source."

"But Deaton said that I'm not amplifying Scott's power."

"That's not the only source of power you can draw from."

Stiles glances over at Derek, confusion written all over his face. Derek shares a look with Stiles before turning to Marjorie and Wendy. He doesn't want to think about the implications. He doesn't even know why this is relevant.

"Something is preventing your ability from being fully realized." Wendy frowns and tilts her head, like she can see straight through Stiles. "And there's dark energy collected inside you, too."

That does it. Derek doesn't care what the hell this so-called emissary says. He lifts his hand and points at Wendy. "That's bullshit. There's nothing dark inside him."

The mood in the room shifts. Everyone watches Derek, though the tension has risen and Marjorie's Betas are on higher alert. Derek can see Erica starting to twitch on the couch, and Boyd takes her hands and rubs them between his own.

"Derek, we know about the nogitsune," Wendy says calmly like she's discussing the weather. "We - "

"That's none of your business!" Derek exclaims, his temper rising. It's taking every ounce of control he has to remain unshifted. Honestly, if Stiles, Cora, Boyd, and Erica weren't in the room, he would have already wolfed out. Right now, they're all staring at him in a mixture of shock and concern. Derek breathes in through his nose and grits out, "I don't see how anything that has to do with Stiles is relevant right now."

Marjorie reaches out and places a hand on Wendy's arm. "Derek is right," Marjorie says. "It is none of our business, no matter how interesting Stiles is." She smiles at Stiles and nods her head. "I hope you don't take offense, Stiles."

"No, it's cool," Stiles replies, but it's terse, and Derek can immediately tell how wound up and on edge Stiles is. He really wants to walk over to Wendy and punch her in her hippie face.

"Now," Marjorie says, turning to the room. The mood has shifted drastically since Derek and Stiles arrived, and it's obvious to everyone. Marjorie goes ahead with the meeting. "We've been speaking with Boyd and Erica, who have given us invaluable knowledge about Deucalion and this Pack of Alphas." Marjorie spits out the word, like it's left a bad taste in her mouth.

Owen steps forward. "After you contacted us a few months ago Derek, we reached out to a few other Packs, just to let them know of the situation. An ally Pack just north of the border in Canada said they've been monitoring the area because a lot of odd things have been occurring."

"Signs of struggle," Olivia tells them, "Changes in wildlife patterns, rise in missing persons. Some of the members living in various towns have reported an increase in new wolves in the area."

"But none of them have announced themselves, their Packs, or their intentions," Owen says. "Wolves pass through territories all the time, traveling or visiting, so the Alpha of the area said it's not uncommon. However, he's suspicious of the growing number of unfamiliar wolves."

Marjorie looks at Boyd. "Does that area sound like where the Alphas may have been holding you?"

Boyd shrugs. "It's possible. The trees and landscape are consistent, but so much of the Pacific Northwest looks like that. Wherever we were was extremely remote."

"There's more," Olivia says. "We've heard some talk of Pack members going missing from their Packs. Never more than one from a Pack, no signs of death, just missing."

"That sounds like them," Boyd growls. "They can't do anything without their Betas."

Marjorie sighs, elbow on the arm of her chair with her forehead resting on her fingers. "What is this world coming to?" she says quietly. "Alphas are supposed to protect, lead, encourage interaction between Packs and promote the prosperity of werewolves." She shakes her head. "Alphas using their power for destruction, stealing Betas, torturing poor innocent wolves." Her eyes land on Boyd and Erica. "It's despicable." Marjorie looks at Cora then Derek, and gives them a sad smile. "I wish your mother was here," she says. "She would be such a valuable asset during this."

Derek sometimes forgets that his family's death affected others than just himself. Having Marjorie speak of his mother always reminds him of that.

"Boyd thinks they're going to come for them in Beacon Hills," Marjorie says. "What do you think, Derek?"

"I think they already know they're here," Derek tells her. "I think they've probably gone back to Deucalion to let him know that Boyd and Erica came here. It gives Deucalion the perfect reason to gather his Alphas and attack us. He can get revenge on Scott while tying up loose ends." Derek crosses his arms over his chest and shifts on his feet.

"I didn't know that's what you thought," Stiles blurts. Derek shoots him an apologetic glance. It's not like he was purposefully keeping it from Stiles. They just haven't had a lot of time to talk, not with all the arguing.

"That's a very good possibility," Marjorie says, obviously impressed with his idea, and Derek feels himself preening under the praise of an Alpha.

"If they attack," Owen asks, "will you be able to protect yourself?"

Derek looks at Stiles, then Cora, then Boyd and Erica. "I hope so."

"We'll keep gathering as much information as we can," Marjorie says. "If you think you can't fight them alone, let us know. We will come to your aid."

Stiles stares at them in surprise. Even Derek is taken slightly aback. He never expected them to get involved. "Thank you," Derek says, and Marjorie smiles.

*

At dinner, Stiles gives Derek a pointed look when Cathy takes the seat beside him. Derek chuckles, put his arm around Stiles, and pulls him close so he can kiss his cheek. Stiles seems mollified, until Cathy starts talking to him. But to be fair, she's also talking to Cora, Boyd, and Scott. Cathy just likes to talk.

Dinner is a loud and crowded affair, with three long tables set up outside the house. There are lights strung between trees around the dining area and tiki torches lit. Most of Marjorie's Pack comes to dinner, and Derek and Cora spend the evening speaking to old friends and introducing them to Jackson. Derek tries to introduce Stiles to everyone, but he loses Stiles after about an hour and doesn't have time to find in between catching up with people.

Scott has been talking with Marjorie and some of the other Betas for close to an hour, and he seems to be at ease and enjoying himself. Jackson and Lydia found their own group, two Hale distant cousins and their partners, and even Erica is talking with two people. Marjorie's Pack is welcoming and friendly, and everyone from Beacon Hills seems to be content and relaxed. Derek feels like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

When Derek finally finds Stiles, he's sitting around a table with Cathy, Boyd, Paul, and another Pack Beta named Yvonne playing cards. Derek goes up behind Stiles and sets his hands on Stiles' shoulders, peering at his cards over his shoulders.

"I think your boyfriend cheats too, Derek," Cathy says.

"Maybe you're just a bad card player," Derek suggests, and Cathy glares at him.

"I'm playing with a bunch of werewolves and kicking their butts," Stiles says. "Maybe I am magic."

"If Stiles doesn't stop bragging about winning, I'm going to toss him in that trash can over there," Boyd says. Derek laughs as Stiles flips Boyd off.

"You're just jealous of my awesomeness," Stiles says, laying down his cards. The others groan.

"Spades game?" Cathy asks Derek. "We can be partners like we used to."

"Uh, if Derek is partnering with anyone, it's me," Stiles interjects, a touch too rude in Derek's opinion.

"I'll be your partner," Boyd tells Cathy, and she grins happily.

"Okay, I'm gonna go grab something to eat and drink. I'll be right back."

After Cathy bounces away, Stiles punches Boyd in the arm and says, "Does Erica know you're partnering with Cathy?"

"Erica doesn't care who I play cards with."

"She would if she knew it was Cathy," Stiles says sarcastically.

"Cathy's cool," Paul says.

"She, Derek, and Cora got pretty close when Derek was living here," Yvonne adds.

"So I've heard," Stiles says.

Derek chuckles quietly and says, "Stiles is feeling a bit jealous."

"You are my partner," Stiles declares, "and no one else's, got it?"

Paul laughs as he sets his beer on the table. "You sound like a wolf."

"Humans get overly attached, jealous, and clingy, too," Yvonne says.

"I'm not clingy," Stiles says.

"You do sound like a wolf," Derek says as he leans down to kiss Stiles' check. "It's kinda hot." Stiles looks at him in surprise as Derek walks over to take the seat across from him.

Derek taps Stiles' foot under the table when Esuardo shows up, and Stiles cranes his head over his shoulder to watch as Cora hugs him and they walk into the house together.

Stiles mellows as they sit there and play cards, and by the second game, he's joking with Cathy. Paul and Yvonne are joined by Claire, Sherman, and Ford, three other Betas Derek befriended while he was here before. They catch up for awhile, then talk with Boyd and Stiles. It hits Derek after awhile that he's having a great time. He looks around at the group, everyone at ease and smiling or laughing, and feels happy.

*

"Told you she wasn't so bad," Derek says as he toes off his shoes in their room later that night. It's after one a.m. because they had stayed outside playing cards with Boyd, Cathy, Paul, and the others until they were so tired they were all making stupid mistakes.

"Still defending your girlfriend," Stiles teases, but he's smiling. By the end of the night, Cathy and Stiles had been throwing insults at each like old friends. "They're nice," Stiles says as he pushes his jeans down. "Marjorie's Pack. I see why you stayed here for long."

Derek pulls his shirt over his head and unbuttons his jeans as Stiles plops down onto the bed on his stomach. "She wanted me to join her Pack," Derek says.

That gets Stiles' attention. He pushes himself up on his elbows and watches Derek carefully as he leans against the headboard and stretches out on the bed. "You never told me that." Derek shrugs. "Why didn't you?"

"I thought about it," Derek tells him. "There was a woman, Jessica, who wasn't here tonight, who was really interested in me."

Stiles frowns. "You were popular in this Pack."

Derek rolls his eyes. "I liked her. We went on a few dates, but I wasn't ready to date yet. At the time, I thought I might could see myself with her later on down the road. And I think Marjorie is a great Alpha, and I really respect her Pack."

"Why didn't you join? Sounds like a great set up."

"There was always something holding me back," Derek explains. "I couldn't figure out what it was. I knew I wanted to go get Jackson, tell him he was Peter's son, and look for Isaac. Marjorie told me it was because I was tied to another Pack."

"Like, your family?"

Derek shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe. I think finding Jackson, going back to Beacon Hills, building the house - it was the right thing for me to do." Derek reaches out and drags the back of his fingers against Stiles' cheek. "Plus, I wouldn't have reconnected with you if I'd have joined this Pack."

"But you'd have Jessica," Stiles points out.

Derek rolls his eyes again. "Stiles, I don't care about anyone but you. How many times do I have to tell you before you believe that?" Derek wraps his hand around Stiles' bicep and urges him up. Stiles crawls up the bed until he right in front of Derek, then kisses him.

Derek may respect and like Marjorie's Pack, but he knows now that he belongs in Beacon Hills. At least for now.

*

Derek was sprawled on top of Stiles, his limbs taking up most of the space of Stiles' bed. He was content, his face pressed against Stiles' armpit, his cheek rubbing along the bare skin of Stiles' torso. Derek liked the feel and sound of his stubble dragging against Stiles' soft skin, and Stiles didn't seem to mind.

"Hey, I made you something." Derek didn't open his eyes as his fingers tapped out the pattern he'd memorized on Stiles' side. "Hey, asshole, I made you something, so look."

Derek raised his head and opened his eyes sleepily. Stiles grinned at him and reached out to mess with Derek's hair. Derek growled and nipped playfully at Stiles' wrist, causing Stiles to yelp. Stiles tapped Derek on the nose. "Bad dog."

"Dog jokes, really?" Derek groaned, dropping his head against Stiles' torso.

"Hey," Stiles thumped Derek's ear. "I really did make you something."

When Derek lifted his head again, Stiles was holding a piece of paper, with a stick figure boy and a stick figure wolf. "It's us." Stiles threw his head back and laughed.

"But I don't turn into a wolf."

Stiles shrugged. "So? Still fitting."

Derek wakes up slowly, his mind foggy and an intense feeling of deja vu plaguing him. Stiles is sleeping soundly beside him, his arms and legs twisted around Derek's body. The clock reads just after five a.m. Derek shifts, trying to get comfortable. No matter how he moves, he can't seem to fall back asleep. There's something tugging at the back of his mind, that sense of deja vu, something in that dream that left him unsettled.

He doesn't want to wake Stiles, because he knows how precious his sleep is, so as carefully as possible, he extracts himself from Stiles' limbs, grabs his pants, and walks out of the room. The house is quiet, and Derek can hear Cora, Scott, Jackson, Lydia, Boyd, and Erica sleeping. He makes as little noise as possible as he walks downstairs and out the front door.

He slips his jeans on when he's on the porch and inhales deeply in the pre-dawn air. He's barefoot and shirtless, but that doesn't bother him as he steps off the porch and starts walking. He doesn't know where he's going, just wants to walk off this mood.

"You're up early." Startled, Derek looks around, searching for the source of the voice. He finds it on the front porch of the main house. Marjorie is sitting in a rocking chair wearing her robe.

"Woke up and couldn't fall back asleep," Derek says as he makes his way towards the porch. "I'm surprised you're up."

"I'm an old woman, Derek," Marjorie says. "I don't sleep much."

Derek leans his elbows against the porch railing and looks out over the dark yard. There are still stars in the sky, the moon already set. The sun is still over an hour from rising.

"I can see now why you didn't want to join our Pack," Marjorie says after awhile. Derek looks at her over his shoulder, surprised. "You have your own Pack."

"I have the same Pack I did when I was here before," Derek says. "Except Jackson."

"You have more than that, Derek."

Derek turns back to the yard and scowls. "They're not my Pack."

He hears the rocking chair creak and then Marjorie is standing beside him. "You don't see what is right in front of your face."

He glances at her. "What are you talking about?"

"Stiles, for starters."

"Stiles is part of Scott's Pack."

"Stiles is a human," Marjorie says, "so the same Pack bonds don't apply to him. He can be part of as many Packs as he chooses, or switch between them." She turns to stare out into the trees. "He is as much your Pack as he is Scott's. It's in his skin. The reason he can't channel Scott's Alpha power through him is because he's channeling someone else's energy." Derek stares at her with wide eyes. "Your energy flows through him, Derek. You're the wolf his spark responds to."

Derek shakes his head. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Wendy saw it," Marjorie says, "and even I can tell. You two have a deep bond. I believe it is part of what was holding you back and drawing you to Beacon Hills when you were here before."

"That's impossible," Derek says. "Stiles and I were barely acquaintances before."

Marjorie shrugs. "Perhaps, but the bond is there, and I believe it has been there for awhile."

A moment later, Marjorie says, "Derek, I think you have forgotten a very important thing about Pack bonds." Derek looks at her warily. "Packs are not just a few people who are related or who have bonded. Packs grow and change. Wolves get married, they join new Packs with their partners, but do you think they forget or sever the bonds with their old Packs?" She shakes her head. "You can have connections to other Packs. It's inevitable. You have a bond with this Pack, though it's weak because we're just allies.

"But your connections in Beacon Hills are much stronger," Marjorie continues. "Scott is not your Alpha, but the two of you share a Pack bond. It's partially influenced by Stiles, and by Lydia's connection to Jackson, but you wouldn't have the bond to Scott's Pack if you didn't have a connection to Scott.

"And you are connected to Boyd and Erica, for obvious reasons." Marjorie reaches out and puts a comforting hand on his arm. "You have more Pack connections than you realize, Derek. Packs aren't as black and white as some would like us to believe. I now know why you couldn't join our Pack. You had stronger bonds in Beacon Hills."

Marjorie turns to leave, but Derek blurts, "What do you know about memory alteration?"

Marjorie stops and looks at him, eyes narrowed. "Not much," she says. "I know it is extremely difficult to achieve. Your mother was the only Alpha I've known who could do it, and even then, it was extremely risky. Only a powerful Alpha can do it, and do it properly."

"What happens if it's done improperly?" Derek asks.

"I don't know," Marjorie replies. "I've never heard of a case where it happened. Why?"

"Just curious," Derek replies, then turns back to stare at the night. He feels Marjorie's gaze on him for a few moments afterwards, but eventually she walks softly back into the house. Long after Marjorie returns inside, Derek remains standing on the porch, his mind whirling with thoughts.

Memory alteration had been a stretch, he knows, but something weird is going on with him. And he's pretty sure something weird is happening with Stiles, too. The nightmares, Derek's dreams - it's too much of a coincidence. Derek should have seen it before now, but even now it feels like an impossibility.

When they get back to Beacon Hills, Derek decides, he'll talk to Stiles. Maybe he'll have a better idea of what's going on than Derek.

*

Derek's still asleep when Stiles wakes up. He smiles as he blinks a few times to dispel the sleep still clinging to him. No nightmares, and Derek the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes. Stiles thinks it's a perfect morning.

He rolls over onto his side, props himself on his elbow, and studies Derek. There's a pinched look on his face, even in sleep, and Stiles wishes he knew how to make it go away. He knows Derek's working through a lot right now, that Boyd and Erica's return has shaken his entire world. He thought maybe by reconnecting with this Pack and spending time with Marjorie, he would be better. Baby steps, Stiles thinks. He knows better than anyone how slow it takes to heal.

Stiles scoots closer and places a hand on Derek's bare chest. Derek growls quietly in his sleep, a content sound, and Stiles smiles. He scratches his nails through Derek's chest hair, then drags his fingers down, beneath the covers until he touches Derek's morning wood. He moves his fingers back up, settles on rubbing the course hairs on Derek's chest under his touch as he brushes his lips against Derek's ear.

He feels Derek move as he starts to wake. Stiles kisses Derek's ear lightly, a barely there touch, and drags his nose along the side of Derek's temple. Derek grunts, an attempt at conversation, but he's still heavy with sleep so it comes out guttural and animalistic.

Stiles huffs a laugh, a puff of warm air against Derek's cheek. Stiles presses his lips idly against Derek's neck and cheek, and he feels Derek relax into the moment. He likes this quite intimacy, the unhurried gentleness with which he can touch Derek - that he can just have this moment.

Stiles has never had this, quiet moments with no expectations, touching just for the joy of being close. Derek's skin is warm under his fingertips, his cheek rough against his lips. He can hear Derek breathing, feel his steady pulse if he pushes his lips against the right spot on Derek's neck.

It's in this moment that Stiles has an epiphany with startling clarity, everything falling into place and making sense. It's been there, right under the surface, for a long time, but he feels it break free like a wave, carrying him someplace new and unexplored.

So quietly, Stiles speaks against Derek's cheek in a whisper. "I love you."

The moment hangs between them, Stiles smiling against Derek's cheek with his eyes closed, the steady rhythm of Derek's heart beneath his palm.

Slowly, Derek rolls over onto his side. His eyes are wide and bright, his hair flat against his forehead. Stiles finds it endearing, and he wants to repeat the words over and over again.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

"I love you," Stiles says again, louder, as he brushes the hair off Derek's forehead.

Derek smiles, and it takes Stiles' breath away. As Derek covers his body with his own, mumbling, "I love you" between kisses, Stiles knows he isn't dreaming. For the first time in a long time, everything feels real.

*

Marjorie suggests a run through the nearby valley, so Stiles goes along with the others out in the mountains. The Beacon Hills crew squeeze into the SUV, all except Cora who has chosen to ride with Esuardo. When she'd told them, Derek had raised his eyebrows and Jackson had looked at the guy with disdain, and Cora had glared at both of them. So, Stiles gave her a high five and said, "Get it, girl." She pushed him so hard Derek had to reach and grab him to keep him from falling over.

The mountains here are of epic proportions. Stiles stares at them, wide-eyed and gaping mouth, the peaks topped with traces of snow even in the dead of summer. The area Marjorie's Pack generally runs in is a small, deserted valley nestled deep in the mountains. It takes them nearly an hour to drive to where they leave their cars, then they hike deep into the woods.

"I didn't know we'd be hiking in the middle of nowhere," Stiles mumbles as he stumbles over another log.

"At least you're better dressed for it," Lydia says. Stiles feels for her in her skirt and ankle boots. Though, she's managing better than he is.

"This place is protected," Marjorie says. "It's difficult to get here, and the only road is from our property. The wolves in my family have run here for generations. It's nearly untouched by humans, save for Pack members."

When they're at the edge of the valley clearing, some Betas shift while other disrobe and turn into wolves.

"More Hales?" Stiles asks, and Derek nods.

"Ready to run together again?" Cathy asks as she comes over. "I'll race you to the Huley's Gorge. I'll beat you again, too."

"Maybe," Derek says as he pulls his shirt over his head. "But you won't beat Jackson."

Jackson stands up a bit straighter and sets an unimpressed look on Cathy. Cathy grins. "Yeah? But I'll be on four legs." She pulls off her shirt and pushes down her shorts, and stands in front of them completely naked before winking and shifting into a small, light brown wolf. She lifts her head and howls and takes off towards the Pack.

"God, I hate her," Stiles mutters. "I saw the way she was stripping for you."

Derek rolls his eyes. "You're ridiculous."

"Don't think I didn't see how you took off your shirt for her."

"But I kept my pants on, didn't I?" Derek lifts a brow, and Stiles sputters.

"You are enjoying this way too much," Stiles accuses. "And I still hate her."

Derek turns to Cora. "Think you can full shift?"

Cora looks embarrassed as everyone else stares at her. "No pressure."

Derek lays a hand on her shoulder and squeezes. "You can do it. I know you can."

Jackson takes off his shirt, throws it angrily to the ground, and shifts into his Beta form. Lydia places her hands against Jackson's chest, and leans close to whisper something into his ear. He visibly calms after that.

Stiles turns to Scott and knocks against his arm gently. "Have fun running with them."

Scott grins. "It's gonna be awesome. They're really great." He glances between Stiles and Lydia. "Are you two gonna be okay here?"

Lydia rolls her eyes. "Scott, you act like we can't take care of ourselves." Scott runs his hands against the back of both their necks.

Stiles goes up to Derek, pulls him close, and kisses him. "Don't get all pumped up on wolf adrenaline and forget about me, okay?" He glances over at Scott and says, "If Cathy comes near Derek, bite her." Scott laughs as he shakes his head.

"You're an idiot."

"Don't worry," Jackson says, "Derek reeks of you. It's hard being near him because he's carrying your stink all over him."

Derek looks at Stiles and says, "Jackson needs to think about what he says, because he doesn't realize that the exact same thing applies to him." He turns to wink at Lydia. "Though I'd never say Lydia stinks."

Lydia scoffs. "I'd hope not. I'd hate to damage that perfect body of yours, Derek." She smiles at him, and Derek laughs.

Derek turns to Stiles and kisses him one last time. "Be back soon."

Then, he pushes down his pants, steps out of them, and shifts into the large black wolf. He bumps his nose against Stiles' leg and Stiles scratches his fur. Stiles notices Boyd and Erica over to the side, whispering as Scott and Derek take off at full speed, Cora and Jackson following. The Boyd kisses Erica and starts running after the others.

"Hey Jackson," Stiles calls out. He turns around and growls grumpily at him. "You better beat Cathy when you race. Don't let her win; I'm counting on you." Jackson grins, all fangs.

Stiles looks over at Erica, who's standing a little bit off from them, her head jerking around as she scans the horizon. "Didn't want to go running with everyone?" he asks as he and Lydia walk toward her.

"Too many wolves," Erica says. "I was afraid if we were running, and they were all around me, I'd get confused. It's a bit too much."

Lydia goes over to her and hooks her arm through Erica's. Erica looks at her like she's halfway between ripping off her head and hiding under the nearest rock. "That's fine. We'll just have our own party here."

Erica glances over at the small group of human Pack members congregating farther into the valley. "Do we have to join them?"

"Absolutely not," Stiles says. "We'll go with you if you want to run. We'll just, you know, not run."

Erica smiles. "I think I'm okay just staying here."

"Good," Lydia says. "My feet are killing me, and I have a deck of cards in my purse."

*

They get back to Beacon Hills around two in the morning. When they get to Derek's, Stiles and Lydia decide to stay the night. Boyd and Erica take off into the woods, and Stiles hugs Scott before he gets on his bike and leaves so he can check on the rest of his Pack.

Stiles plops onto the bed and doesn't even bother taking off his shoes for the moment. He's exhausted, though they had a great time in Nevada. He's just glad to be back home. He doesn't even lift his head when Derek pulls of his shoe. "I was gonna do it," Stiles mumbles. "I swear."

"I'm sure you were," Derek says, chucking as he removes the other shoe. Then, he lays down next to Stiles. Derek's hand rests on his stomach, then he slides it under Stiles' shirt and starts idly drawing patterns with his fingertips.

Stiles is almost asleep when Derek's hand stills, and then the bed jerks and his shirt is being pushed up his chest.

"Derek, what are you doing?" Stiles exclaims, scrambling to push himself up as Derek bends over his torso. Derek's eyes are squeezed shut, but his fingers are moving quickly over Stiles' skin, over and over in the same pattern.

"Turn over," Derek orders, and Stiles doesn't know what's going on, but there's a look of determination and fear on Derek's face that freaks Stiles out, so he turns over to lay on his stomach. Derek pushes up his shirt and once again, fingers are drawing patterns on his skin.

"Derek, you're freaking me out. What the hell are you doing? It's the middle of the night."

Gently, Derek pushes Stiles onto his back again, pushes up his shirt, and closes his eyes. "Watch." Not sure what in the hell is going on, Stiles does as he's told and watches Derek's fingers as they glide over his skin. Stiles isn't sure what he's supposed to be looking at until he notices the pattern Derek traces each time.

Derek's fingers automatically go from one mole to the next, like he's connecting the dots. Stiles glances up at Derek's face, where his eyes are squeezed shut. His voice trembles as he asks, "Derek, what's going on? You've never even seen me without a shirt."

Derek's eyes fly open. "I know."

Derek gets off the bed, grabs Stiles' shoes from the floor, and tosses them onto the bed. "We're going to see Deaton."

Stiles grabs his shoes and starts shoving his feet into them. "What? Why?"

Derek runs his hands over his face and exhales loudly. "You're gonna think I'm crazy."

"Too late for that, buddy."

"I know the pattern of your skin. I've never seen it, but I have it memorized." Derek strides out the door, and Stiles hurries after him, confused. His mind is going a mile a minute trying to figure out what Derek is trying to get at.

"That's impossible."

"It should be," Derek says as they walk down the stairs. Cora comes down the stairs a moment later, followed closely by Jackson.

"What's going on?" Cora asks. Derek's already out the door, keys in hand. "Derek!"

Stiles shrugs and gives Cora and Jackson an apologetic look. He's barely inside the Camaro when Derek hits the gas, wheels spinning on the dirt as it lurches forward.

"Derek, will you please tell me what the fuck is going on?"

"I don't know why I didn't suspect it before now," Derek mutters. He's driving way too fast, and Stiles has to hold on to the handle above the window. "It's so fucking obvious."

"What's obvious?" Stiles yells.

"Our dreams," Derek says. "They're not dreams. They're memories."

Stiles feels like someone punched him in the stomach. He reels for a few moments before he says, voice shaky, "No."

"I can trace the shape of your moles with my eyes closed, Stiles. I dreamed about it, about kissing them and tracing them as we lay in bed together. In the loft. Why did I keep dreaming about you in the loft?"

"No," Stiles whispers again. His mind flashes to his dreams, to images of him and Derek in the loft, in his bedroom, wrapped up in each other. He shakes his head, his entire body trembling. "They can't be memories. There's no way."

But even as the words are out of his mouth, he thinks about how it makes sense. The details of his dreams, the emotions, the way the torture dream has gotten more and more vivid each time he dreams it.

But that means...

"No," he says for a third time. He feel nauseous, and his breathing is coming faster, his throat closing up. But Derek's hand is covering his a second later. Stiles glances over, Derek's profile barely illuminated from the dash lights.

"Breathe, Stiles," Derek tells him. "We'll figure out what is going on."

Stiles doesn't realize they're at the clinic until Derek pulls his hand from his. He'd zoned out, his mind unable to comprehend what's going on.

Deaton is already inside the exam room when Stiles trails in after Derek. Deaton looks tired, but alert. He asks, "What can I assist you with?"

Derek glances at Stiles, his expression wild and terrified. Stiles doesn't know if he's ever seen Derek look this frazzled, and it nearly makes Stiles choke on his own fear. Derek reaches over, takes Stiles' hand, and thread their fingers.

"I think our memories have been altered," Derek states matter-of-factly. Deaton's eyes grow slightly larger, but his expression stays calm.

"That's quite a suspicion," Deaton replies. "What makes you think this?"

"We've been having weird dreams," Derek says. "Not like Stiles' normal nightmares, but highly specific dreams about each other. Stiles keeps dreaming that I'm being tortured, and I've been dreaming...many different things."

"There have been other dreams," Stiles says, his voice quiet. Just the effort of speaking is difficult right now.

Derek looks at him sharply. "You never mentioned other dreams."

"You never said you've been dreaming about me either," Stiles counters in frustration. "Why would I tell you about dreams where we're hanging out in the loft and doing, you know." Stiles feels himself blush because Deaton is standing right there.

"You dreamed about the loft, too?" Derek asks.

Deaton makes a thoughtful sound, bringing both of their attention back to him. "Memory alteration is certainly possible, as you know. However, it takes a powerful Alpha werewolf to achieve, and the effect is permanent."

"What if there was a mistake?" Derek asks. "Or another reason that made the process or magic not stick?"

"Magic," Deaton murmurs to himself. "I wonder..." Deaton eyes Stiles for a moment, then says, "If you believe your memories have been altered, then perhaps the dreams are the ways that your memories are returning. I've never heard of that happening, but so little is known about memory magic and dreams. We already know that Stiles is affected strongly by dreams."

"So, how do we find out?" Stiles asks.

"There is only one way I know of to access your subconscious mind," Deaton states, looking at Derek.

Stiles glances at Derek, who's grimacing. "What? Derek, tell me."

Derek looks at him apologetically. "There's a way I can gain access to your subconscious. But it's not easy."

Stiles doesn't like where this is going. Reluctantly, he asks, "How?"

Derek lifts his hand, his claws sprouting. "We connect through my claws. In your neck."

"That's how Scott and Lydia rescued me from the nogitsune," Stiles recalls, comprehension dawning on him.

"If anything has been done to you and it's trying to break free," Deaton says, "This may be able to uncover it."

Stiles takes a deep breath and steels himself. He jumps up on the metal operating table and drops his head to extend his neck. "Do it."

"Stiles," Derek starts, but Stiles shakes his head.

"I trust you, Derek. And if what you think happened is true...we need to know."

Stiles feels a finger beneath his chin, and his face is lifted so he can look at Derek. Derek leans forward and kisses him. "I'm sorry," Derek whispers. "This is going to hurt."

"I know," Stiles says. He drops his head again. "Just do it."

He braces himself and jerks when he feels the tips of Derek's claws press gently against his neck. "Just relax," Derek tells him, and before Stiles can take a deep breath, four claws sink into his neck and he screams.

The pain is the worst thing he's ever felt. It hurts from his neck, down his spine, and up into his head where it feels like his brain is going to explode.

Then, everything goes black.

*

“What? Who’s gone, and what Alphas?” Stiles ran a hand over his short hair, then leaned forward. “Dude, use your words. If you want my help, you gotta explain things. I can’t read your mind.”

Derek inhaled, and a sense of calm overcame him for the first time in...well, too long. He tried to ignore it, but it was difficult with the sweet scent of honeysuckle curling through him.

Derek sat on the edge of Stiles’ bed as Stiles said, “Tell me everything.”

Stiles sat there, quietly listening to Derek tell him about Alpha Packs and how they took Boyd and Erica. He'd never seen Derek look this upset or vulnerable before. Stiles tried not to focus on the way his chest felt as he watched Derek.

"Fine. Tell me what I need to do."

*

Stiles didn't know how he ended up beside Derek Hale, driving around in the middle of the night searching for psychotic werewolves. It was the summer; he should be playing video games, pigging out, and hanging out with Scott.

"I don't think they're here anymore," Derek said as they circled the block once again. "I don't even smell them."

Stiles ran his hand over his head, the short buzz tickling his hand. "Fuck. This is the fourth dead end this week!"

Derek glanced over at Stiles, wondered not for the first time what he was doing here helping Derek instead of living his life and acting like a normal teen.

He surprised Derek even further when he said, "Tomorrow we'll try something new."

*

"Is this take out?" Stiles asked. "For me?"

Derek glared at Stiles, though he could feel his ears burning. He knew it had been a dumb idea to buy Stiles dinner. "I thought you might get hungry. Eat it or not. I don't care."

Stiles bit his lip and grinned as Derek grabbed his take out container and dropped heavily on the couch. Derek bought him dinner! Derek Hale - hot as fuck grumpy Alpha werewolf Derek Hale - bought him Chinese take out. His favorite dish, at that.

Stiles sat on the couch beside Derek, a little closer than was probably appropriate. "Thanks."

Derek grunted, but didn't push Stiles away when he shifted so his knee was pressing against Derek's thigh.

*

"Why do you only show up when my dad is at work?" Stiles asked.

Derek gave him a flat look. "Your dad arrested me a few months ago. I doubt I'd be welcome here. Plus, he still doesn't know about werewolves."

"And he will never know," Stiles stated.

*

Stiles rubbed his eyes as he woke up, and noticed he wasn't in his room. He glanced around and realized he was on Derek's bed. And he definitely did not remember going to sleep on Derek's bed. The last thing he remembered was sitting on the couch, trying to figure out where the Alphas were based on Isaac's last report.

"I made breakfast," Derek said, and Stiles jumped. Derek sat on the couch, book in hand. "It's in the kitchen."

Stiles sleepily walked into the kitchen, and found homemade muffins on a plate. Well, they were from a mix, but Stiles didn't care. Derek made him homemade muffins for breakfast. He filled his plate with them.

Derek stared at his book, refusing to watch Stiles walk across the floor, his face red with sleep, his feet bare. Derek closed his eyes and focused on the sweet smell of contentment coming off Stiles when he saw the breakfast Derek made. When Stiles sat beside him on the couch, way too close, it was hard to concentrate. Stiles' scent was intoxicating and he just wanted to rub himself all over him and claim him.

After Stiles left, Derek fell asleep on his bed, surrounded by Stiles' scent still clinging to the sheets.

*

Derek punched the wall so hard his hand broke. Stiles watched him, trying to decide what to do. He knew this was the best lead they'd had, but it had turned out to be nothing. But it was the first time he'd seen Derek get so angry.

"Get out," Derek growled, eyes red and fangs exposed.

"No," Stiles said. "You're not going to be alone tonight."

Derek growled and repeated himself. "Get. Out."

"No." Stiles crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm gonna stay to make sure you don't do something stupid."

They glared at each other for a few moments before Derek turned away. Derek remained staring out the loft windows as Stiles sat on the couch and brought up something to watch on his laptop. After a few moments, Derek's anger had subsided and he just felt deflated.

He sat on the couch beside Stiles, and after they finished the episode, Stiles told Derek to choose something to watch. When Derek settled back on the couch, Stiles curled against his side. He took Derek's arm and placed it around his shoulders and rested his head on Derek's chest.

Neither of them said anything as they watched episode after episode. When Derek thought Stiles was asleep, Derek brushed a kiss against his forehead. Stiles said, "Tomorrow, when I'm awake, you're doing that properly."

Derek freaked out for a moment, but as Stiles snuffled against his neck and pressed closer, Derek replied, "Ok."

*

When Derek kissed him, Stiles was eager and overexcited. He'd never been kissed, had been fantasizing about kissing Lydia for as long as he could remember, but here he was, kissing Derek freaking Hale. And Derek was an amazing kisser. Stiles never wanted to do anything else but kiss Derek ever again.

Derek kissed Stiles slowly, softly, trying to keep his wolf in check. Derek felt like he could go nearly mad from kissing Stiles. He'd never felt the way he did when he kissed Stiles, and that terrified him.

*

"Where's Isaac?" Stiles asked in between kisses. They were laying on Derek's bed, a summer thunderstorm raging outside the windows.

"Searching for Boyd and Erica," Derek responded. He rolled over so he was on top of Stiles, their naked bodies touching from head to toe.

"I know we need to get out there and look," Stiles said, "but it's raining. I was thinking we could pass the time other ways tonight."

Derek grinned and kissed Stiles again.

*

"I like your hair," Derek said. They were lying wrapped together on Stiles' bed, and Derek was gently running his fingers through the longer strands.

"Really?" Stiles asked. "I was planning on buzzing it off again this week. I've never gone this long without a haircut. But someone has been distracting me." He grinned at Derek and kissed him.

"I like it short, too," Derek said as he tugged on the strands. "But I really like it this way."

"How about you grow out your chest hair if I grow out my hair?" Stiles asked. "Compromise."

Derek smiled. "I think I can live with that."

*

"I love you," Stiles blurted, then immediately regretted it. Derek stared at him, wide-eyed. He sat up and started to move off Derek's bed. "I'm gonna go..."

"Wait," Derek said, grabbing Stiles' arm. "Don't go." Stiles turned to look at him. Derek was lying on his back, shirtless and in his underwear, his beard thicker and his hair flat on his head. Even though Stiles hadn't meant to say it, he knew it was true. He loved Derek, and he didn't know when in the hell that had happened.

Derek sat up and cupped Stiles' face. "I love you, too."

Stiles sat there stunned as Derek looked at him sincerely. Then, he threw his arms around Derek's neck and tackled him to the bed.

*

"Hey," Stiles said softly. "It's okay."

"It's not okay," Derek growled, eyes flashing red. Stiles didn't flinch. He just wrapped his arms around Derek and pulled him close. Derek tried to resist, but finally he let himself relax into Stiles' arms. "It's the only lead we had," Derek whispered.

"We'll find another lead," Stiles replied, voice barely audible over the rain pounding against the windows. "We'll find them, Derek."

Stiles pulled back and pressed a kiss to Derek's forehead, then against his mouth. Derek wrapped his arms around Stiles tightly, kissing him hungrily and desperately.

"I love you," Stiles whispered between kisses. "It's okay, Derek. I'm here."

*

"Fuck me, Derek," Stiles moaned above him, and Derek lifted his head, Stiles' cock falling from his lips.

"What?"

"I want you to fuck me."

Derek swallowed as he looked at Stiles staring down at him, his pale skin flush, his lips kiss swollen. "Okay."

Stiles held onto Derek tightly, his nerves getting the better of him as Derek slid his fingers inside him one last time. He tensed when he felt the head of Derek's cock push against his entrance, and then Derek looked down at him and kissed his forehead. "I love you, Stiles," he whispered and then pushed inside. Stiles moaned at the burning stretch, but Derek slid in slowly until Stiles got used to the feeling.

"Okay," Stiles said quietly. "You can move now."

Stiles gripped Derek's biceps tightly as Derek kissed him and started rolling his hips gently.

Derek had never felt the way he did as he buried himself inside Stiles. He'd never loved someone so much, had never wanted to be a better man than he did in this moment. "I love you," he whispered against Stiles' mouth, and it scared him how much he meant it.

*

"I hate you," Stiles complained as they started yet another lap around the lacrosse pitch. "Why are you trying to kill me?"

"Stop your whining," Derek said. He leaned over and kissed Stiles' sweaty cheek. "You wanted my help to get better, so this is what you're getting."

"I think you're evil."

"Just for that, we'll do five more laps."

"No sex for you tonight," Stiles grumbled.

"Like you'll be able to carry that through," Derek responded, smirking. Stiles glared at him and flipped him off.

*

"This is nice," Stiles said as he tossed a piece of popcorn up and tried to catch it in his mouth. It hit his cheek instead. "Thanks for buying me popcorn and a Coke."

"You forget the candy," Derek teased. Stiles laughed as he launched another kernel. The movie had come out a few weeks ago, so they were sitting in the back row of the empty theater.

"I'm glad we're going on a proper date," Stiles said. He turned to Derek and bit his lip. "This, um. This is my first date."

"I know," Derek said with a soft smile.

"Does that bother you?" Stiles asked.

Derek shook his head. "I just like being with you."

"I like being with you, too."

Derek reached over and grabbed a handful of popcorn. "When are you going to tell Scott about us?"

Stiles shrugged. "I don't know. I don't see him much. He's working on getting over Allison and doing this Scott McCall betterment plan, which is cool. He spends a lot of time working on school, working out, and working at Deaton's. It's all work with him right now."

"Are you nervous about telling him?" Derek asked.

"A little. You two haven't had the best relationship."

"What about your dad?"

Stiles scoffed. "I'm never telling my dad. As far as he knows, I'm still single, virgin Stiles who's in love with Lydia."

Quietly, Derek said, "You need to tell them eventually. Take it from me. Nothing good ever comes from hiding these things."

"I'll tell them," Stiles said. "Things are just weird right now. When our junior year starts, it'll be a fresh start. It's got to be better than our sophomore year."

"I hope so."

*

The hood was removed, and Stiles flinched from the brightness. He blinked, his eyes hurting as everything came into view around him. Two large wolves were holding him, their eyes burning bright red.

Stiles scanned the room, but there was no sign of Derek. He tried not to panic. "What the fuck? Who are you? What do you want?"

A tall man with a shaved head and a woman with dark hair and the scariest feet Stiles had ever seen led another man from a door on the opposite wall. The man walked with a cane and wore dark aviators.

"Hello, Stiles," the surprisingly smooth, sophisticated voice said.

Stiles struggled against the hands holding him. "Where's Derek?"

The dark-haired female laughed, her eyes flashing red. It was in that moment that Stiles felt a feeling of dread settle over him.

They'd finally found the Alphas. Or more correctly, the Alphas had found them. And from the looks on their faces, amused and hungry and cruel, Stiles guessed they'd been leading him and Derek around in circles for awhile.

Stiles struggled against the hands restraining him. He tugged and squirmed, but to no avail. Those hands were iron-strong around him, and the more he struggled, the tighter they gripped. He barely noticed the pain.

Another woman came in, with full, tight red curls circling her head. She grinned, but it was cold and sharp. "He's so little. I want him."

The man with the glasses sighed. "Fiona, you know they're not to be touched."

"You're no fun, Deucalion." Fiona turned her eyes towards Stiles. "I like the way he fights. Like he actually has a chance against us." Fiona and the other wolves started laughing.

"What do you want from us?" Stiles screamed. He was trying so hard to keep it together, to fight back the tears because he knew that would make it worse. They were already laughing at him, and he didn't want to give them the satisfaction of his tears. But this was bad, very bad.

"Maybe you should show him," the dark-haired woman said.

"Go get him, Kali." Kali smirked and left the room. Stiles' heart started pounding in his chest, his panic rising. The grip on Stiles' arm tightened even more, and he felt the sharp sting of claws against his skin.

Kali and the bald man came through the door, dragging a man between them towards a pole in the middle of the room. The man was slumped and unresponsive, shirtless and covered in blood and bruises. When Kali jerked the man up to tie him to the pole, Stiles screamed.

"Derek!" Stiles yelled. The clawed hands dug into his arms, but he barely felt the pain as he struggled in the grip. They tied Derek to the pole in the center of the large, empty room. His eyes were open, but unfocused, his head lolling on his shoulders. His arms were stretched overhead, bloody at the wrists where he was attached to the pole, and there were slashes and burns across his bare skin bleeding red and black. His jeans were in shreds where they'd started cutting into his legs.

Someone laughed as Kali zapped Derek with a taser, his whole body jerking from the voltage. Stiles tried to wrench from the iron grip, but to no avail. Fiona joined Kali, holding a knife already covered in blood. Stiles glared at them, then watched in horror as they started carving into Derek's skin.

The tears were hot on Stiles' cheek, the bile rising in his throat, as he screamed, "STOP! PLEASE, DON'T HURT HIM. I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU FOR THIS, I SWEAR."

Laughter filled the room as Stiles repeated over and over, "Derek, no, please, stop it, Derek, Derek, Derek," the blood running freely down Derek's side and chest, his eyes drooping closed. "Derek, no, Derek!

“Listen to it scream,” Fiona said. “I don’t think it likes what you’re doing to his Alpha.”

"Fiona, Kali, that's enough," Deucalion said. Kali stepped away, taser still in her hand, and Fiona turned towards Stiles, holding up the knife and licking the blood off of it. Stiles had never felt so much rage as he did in that moment.

"Why are you doing this?" Stiles asked weakly. "What do you want? Why don't you just kill us?"

"I don't want you dead, Stiles. I want you to live. I'm not an evil man." Stiles snorted, and Deucalion frowned. "I'm not interested in you or Derek. It's really your own fault that you are here. Poking around, trying to find us." Deucalion shook his head and tutted. "That's very bad. But the thing that led you here is your relationship. A spark and an Alpha? We can't have that."

"What are you talking about?" Stiles asked.

"I want Scott McCall," Deucalion said. "I need you alive for that, and I need Derek to get to Scott. If I can have Derek, too, then that's just a bonus. But I can't have the two of you together. It's too dangerous."

"Scott will never join you," Stiles spit. "He's twice the wolf you are."

"I think I know why Scott and Derek like you so much," Deucalion said. "Maybe once Scott is mine, I'll take you, too."

Stiles struggled against the wolves' grips again, and Deucalion smiled. "You have spirit, Stiles. That spark burns bright within you. You and Derek are a formidable force together. I can't have that. It'll interfere with my plans, just like Derek's Pack interfered with them. Boyd and Erica, well, they were easy to catch. The other, Isaac, has been quite difficult. But I will get him soon. I have my wolves after him."

"You're a psychopath."

"Wrong," Deucalion said. "I get what I want. And no teenage spark and second-rate Alpha will get in my way." He turned to the tall, bald man. "Ennis. Your turn."

Laughter surrounded Stiles, mocking him, as Ennis pressed the taser against a burn wound on Derek’s side that hadn’t had time to heal. Derek screamed, a mix between a howl and a broken human sound. Tears streamed down Stiles' face, and he could barely breathe from his helplessness. The air smelled like burnt flesh, and every time Stiles tried to move, he was reminded of the two clawed hands holding him.

“I like the way he screams,” Ennis said. “I like the way they both scream. Let’s see if we can make them scream even louder.”

Fiona clawed through the flesh of Derek’s chest, and Stiles’ voice gave out and he couldn’t scream anymore. His screams were silent as Derek’s dark red blood covered his skin, the sound of laughing smothering him.

"Enough," Deucalion said. "They cannot be permanently damaged." Stiles felt his face being lifted, the press of a claws against his chin. Weakly, he glared into Deucalion's dark lenses, at the empty eyes behind them. "I think we've already broken this one."

"You won't get away with this," Stiles said. "Scott, Derek, my Pack - they will find a way to defeat you."

"I think it's quaint how you believe that." Deucalion glanced at the other wolves. "Get them ready."

"Duke, why don't you just kill them and get them out of the way?" Ennis asked as Stiles was dragged into the middle of the floor and shoved to his knees. Derek was taken from the pole and placed on his knees beside Stiles, but he was so weak and near unconscious that he had to be held up. Stiles reached out beside him until he connected with Derek's hand, then he grabbed it and threaded their fingers together. There was no response from Derek, but he didn't let go. He was terrified, but at least he was with Derek until the end.

"I've told you, I still need them. They're both pieces in my game." Deucalion stopped in front of Stiles, and Kali tried to pry their hands apart. "Leave them, Kali. I'm a sucker for romance. It won't matter, because in a few minutes, I'll have taken every memory of their relationship they have. It will be like it's never happened."

Stiles squeezed Derek's hand harder and yelled, "No! You can't do this!"

"Oh, but I can. And I will."

The wolf behind Stiles shoved his head down, exposing the back of his neck. Stiles gripped Derek's hand with all of his strength and repeated to himself, Don't forget him. Stiles, do not forget him. Please don't forget Derek. Remember him. Remember. Remember. Remember...

Stiles screamed as claws sunk into his neck, and then everything went black.

*

"Derek, please," Stiles' voice pleaded. Something in that voice curled deep into Derek, jerking him from the fog that had settled around him. "She has my dad."

Derek listened as Scott and Stiles told him what they'd witnessed, things about Jennifer, but there was something keeping him from believing them, no matter how much truth he heard in their words.

But as he looked at Stiles, visibly shaking and holding back tears, Derek felt it lessen. Maybe what they said about Jennifer was right.

Jennifer had come in, kissed and hugged him, and he felt the need to protect her, to believe her. As Derek stood there, staring between Jennifer, Scott, and Stiles, he felt that same confusion.

Derek looked at Stiles, his head spinning.

"Where's my dad?" Stiles asked, tears rolling down his face.

Derek looked at Stiles again, at the pain - the pleading - on Stiles' face to believe him. In that moment, Derek felt like he was coming up for air for the first time in ages. Derek could taste his pain, almost taste Stiles' tears, and it made something inside him shift.

"Do you know what happened to Stiles' father?" he asked.

*

Derek placed Cora's unconscious body in the back of the ambulance, then looked to Stiles. Cora was the only thing Derek had in this world; she was the most important thing to him.

Stiles reached out and touched Derek, his fingers trailing down Derek's arm. Derek stared at Stiles for a moment, shocked at the way Stiles' fingers felt like fire on his skin.

When Derek ran from Kali, he turned to look at Stiles in the back of the ambulance. They locked eyes, holding each other's gaze until Derek couldn't see him anymore. Derek left Cora with Stiles as he ran after Jennifer, left his sister in the care of a virtual stranger, a human.

Derek somehow knew without a doubt that Stiles would keep his sister safe.

*

Stiles ran down the hospital hallway, the lights dim as his heart pounded in his chest. The doors to the elevator were open, and he skidded to a stop in front of them. Derek was lying on the floor, unconscious.

No, no, nonono, Stiles thought, an unexplainable feeling settling in his chest. He paused. He had to find Scott, he had to, even though Derek was lying there motionless. He forced himself to turn around and run after Scott.

When he finally got back to the elevator and Derek wouldn't wake up, Stiles started panicking. First Scott, then Derek. He had to get Derek out of there; he had to save him.

"We have to get you out of here now," Stiles said, hands on Derek, reassuring himself that he was alive. Derek was okay.

*

"Notice how strong that scent is up here?" Derek asked Scott. The rooftop was covered in Stiles' scent, and he could easily parse out the sweet honeysuckle smell of Stiles' base scent, the sour notes of his fear, the bitter scent of his anxiety.

"There was definitely some kind of struggle up here."

"With who?"

"Himself."

Derek didn't know how Scott couldn't detect Stiles' scent - but stranger than that, he didn't know how he knew every note like he'd spent hours with his face pressed against Stiles' neck, memorizing his scent.

*

Derek hadn't slept in two days, but he couldn't stop. He couldn't accept the idea that Stiles was gone. He had to find him, couldn't let himself rest until Stiles was found.

From somewhere deep inside himself, he found the will to keep looking, a tiny voice inside his head saying, "Protect him. Protect Stiles."

*

Stiles watched through his own eyes like he was a million miles away watching a movie. The nogitsune was filming a message for his dad, touching his things and invading his space.

Stiles glanced at the chessboard, the one he'd used to explain things to his dad, and the same thought that had been scrolling through his mind for the past days (or weeks, or maybe hours or years, he couldn't tell) came into his mind again.

There were screams and laughter, a flash of blood, and the same words repeating over and over in his head.

Don't forget him. Stiles, do not forget him. Please don't forget Derek. Remember him. Remember. Remember. Remember...

Derek. He wasn't sure why he felt this need down to his core, but he had to do something.

Protect Derek. Protect Derek at all costs. Remember. Remember. Please, no matter what, don't let it hurt Derek.

Harnessing the same concentration he had all the other times, Stiles figured out a way to manipulate that thing to leave everyone a message.

Stiles carefully set up the chessboard, leaving the names on the pieces. But on the king, the most important piece in the game, he put the tab with Derek's name.

Protect him. Remember. Remember. Protect him. Don't forget him.

*

"You don't think they killed him, do you?" Stiles asked, suddenly feeling like he could barely breathe. The thought of Derek dead...it was impossible.

Stiles' heart pounded in his throat as he watched Lydia touch the bullets. When she opened her eyes and he saw the look on her face, he felt like time stopped.

No, he thought. Derek is not dead.

Stiles' voice almost gave out as he asked, "Hey, what? Is he dead?"

And when Lydia said he was alive, Stiles gripped on to the edge of the examining table to keep from passing out.

Alive. Alive.

"So if the Calavares have him, how do we find them?"

After Scott mentioned Mexico, Stiles knew what they had to do. "We have to go get him," Stiles said. "I don't care that he's in Mexico." Something heavy and bitter settled in Stiles' chest. This wasn't right. They had to find Derek. Stiles needed to find Derek.

"How exactly do you suggest we get him from Mexico?" Lydia asked.

Stiles drummed his fingers on the table. "I don't care. It's Derek. We can't leave him." Quietly, he added, "We have to help him. We can't forget about him."

*

"Go," Derek exclaimed, struggling to get the words out. "Go. I'll be right behind you." The others ran towards the ruin, but Stiles stood there frozen, a sense of deja vu over him. Derek bleeding, dying. He couldn't leave him, not if Derek was dying.

He couldn't die. Derek couldn't die.

"Hey," Derek said to him. "Save him."

Stiles forced himself to turn away from Derek, to walk away to find Scott, but looked back to Derek one more time.

The emptiness inside him threatened to consume him, a large hole inside his chest where Derek lay bleeding and dying.

So he concentrated on the only thing he could change. He was going to save his best friend.

*

Stiles gasps in pain when Derek's claws pull out of his neck. Derek stumbles back a few steps, until he falls against the counter behind him. Stiles stares at his hands, which are shaking violently.

They were memories, he thinks. Every dream about Derek was a memory. We were together. I've been in love with Derek before.

Stiles lifts his head, the back of his neck twinging in pain. He glances at Derek, whose face is ashen and pained. He's trembling, too.

Neither of them speak as they stare. The room is silent as they stare in disbelief, wrapping their minds around what had been so violently taken from them by the Alphas.

Finally, Derek takes a step forward and reaches out. "Stiles," he says, voice thin and cracking.

Stiles stumbles off the table and almost falls when his feet hit the ground. When Derek takes another step towards him, Stiles takes a step back. He shakes his head, over and over. "Don't." Derek's face twists in agony and desperation, and Stiles takes another step away from him. "I can't. I just...can't."

Stiles turns away, trying to erase the look of pain on Derek's face from his mind as he rushes out of the clinic into the night air.

He feels like he's breaking apart, and so he walks towards his house, counting his fingers over and over again.

Chapter Text

You got me brainwashed, you got me so lost
You got me fucked up like you
You got me drugged up, you got me undone
Falling in love like you do
-wolves by dreams

Stiles can't think. He can't breathe. He just keeps counting his fingers over and over again.

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

His foot catches on something and he stumbles, loses his balance and falls to his hands and knees. The sting of the cement and debris digging painfully into his palms snaps him out of his panic. He stares at the cracked sidewalk, lifts his hand and sees that he's skinned it and it's bleeding.

Stiles drops back onto the ground, pulls his legs to his chest, and rests his forehead on his knees.

In and out. In and out, he breathes. His throat threatens to close, his breath coming in short, difficult pants. He blocks out the images trying to flood his mind, refusing to acknowledge that any of it was real. How can he believe it was real? That would mean...that would mean too many things.

In that moment, Stiles wants Derek so bad he aches with it, but he can't look at him, can't even handle the idea of being near him. Not when...not when they've been together before.

Stiles starts counting his fingers again, trying to keep his fragile grip on reality that's threatening to slip at any moment. When his breathing evens out again, he pulls his cell phone from his pocket. There's one text from Derek, and Stiles' hand shakes as he stares at the name, scared to even read the message.

When he finally forces himself to read the text message, he has to close his eyes and focus on his breathing to keep from falling apart.

Please be careful. No matter what, know that I love you, Stiles.

Stiles opens up his contacts, scrolls through, and finds the number he's looking for. "Dad? Can - " his voice breaks and he takes a steadying breath. "Can you come pick me up?"

"Are you hurt?" the sheriff asks, mostly business, but Stiles can hear the edge of panic beneath his steady cop voice. "Where are you?"

"I'm fine," Stiles replies. He glances around to see where he is. He'd made it a handful of blocks from the animal clinic, but not far enough. He could go back to Derek, if he wanted to. He tells his dad the nearest cross streets.

"Be there in a few minutes, kiddo." Stiles hears the sound of sirens right before the call ends.

Stiles rests his head on his knees again.

He can't resist the onslaught of images - memories - that flood his brain this time. So, he braces himself and lets them come.

Derek driving the Camaro as they search for Boyd and Erica. Derek in the loft, bent over a map and looking weary, and Stiles not knowing how to help him. Derek smiling down at him as they lay in bed. Derek kissing him, hands trailing along his skin in ways Stiles hasn't felt Derek touch him yet.

Except - Derek has touched him. Stiles hasn't had sex with Derek yet, but they have, a few years ago. Stiles touches his collarbone as he remembers Derek worrying the skin there, leaving a bruise that lasted for days. Stiles remembers lying on Derek's bed, how happy he'd felt as Derek kissed and licked and bit his skin, how he'd press it for days afterwards just to feel the dull ache. He liked being marked, liked knowing that Derek had put it there.

His brain tries to wrap itself around the fact that this Derek in his memories - this brooding, angrier version of the man in his life now - is real. The scenarios that keep flashing through his mind aren't fantasies or dreams; they are moments stolen from both of them. Very real moments.

An image pops into his mind, of them in the Camaro, driving along a beachside cliff. Stiles was messing with the radio, complaining about there being nothing to listen to. "We could be quiet," Derek said. "Quiet time is highly desired."

Stiles rolled his eyes and flopped back into the seat. "Do you ever have fun? Do you talk? Or do you just glare and look sexy all the time?"

"Not all the time."

Stiles laughed. "You made a joke."

"It happens occasionally."

Stiles moved until he was pushed back against the passenger-side door. He studied Derek carefully. After a few moments, Derek turned to him and glared.

"There's so much to you," Stiles told him. "It's all anger on the surface. Anger and some hard, macho attitude. But you're smart, and funny - in your own totally lame way - and sweet, and thoughtful, and you care."

Derek tightened his hands around the steering wheel. "I can't afford to be any of that."

"But you are with me," Stiles replied quietly.

"I know." He glanced over at Stiles quickly. "You always find a way to distract me. To make me forget."

"I'm sorry."

Derek didn't respond at first, but eventually quietly said, "Don't be." Then, he reached out and grabbed Stiles' hand and laced their fingers. Stiles looked down at their interlinked hands and dragged his thumb over the dark hair on Derek's knuckles.

Stiles smiles despite himself as he remembers that day. They'd gone swimming at a beach hours away from Beacon Hills, and Stiles had gotten sunburned despite making Derek cover his back and chest in sunscreen multiple times. Stiles can still remember the slow, methodical presses of Derek's fingers against his bare skin. Derek bought Stiles ice cream on the boardwalk, and they walked along the pier holding hands, then watched the fisherman fish for a long time as the sea breeze blew through their hair.

That had been a good day. Stiles knows that he and Derek had good days. A lot of bad ones, too. But not nearly enough days together.

Stiles hears the siren in the distance as it approaches. He takes a deep breath to gather himself and then pushes himself to his feet as the flashing lights from his dad's cruiser come down the street. The car jerks to a stop in front of Stiles, the siren and lights cutting off, and the sheriff opens the door and starts to get out as Stiles hurries around to the other side of the car.

"Stiles, what's going on? It's the middle of the night," the sheriff asks, halfway out of the car.

Stiles opens the passenger side door and climbs inside, his dad's eyes on him. When his dad is back inside the car and behind the wheel, he just watches Stiles. "I'm fine, Dad," Stiles manages. His voice is shaky and thin, and there's nothing about him that says fine.

"Stiles, it's after 4 a.m. You're not fine."

Stiles props his elbow on armrest and drops his forehead in his hand. "Can you just take me home?" The car is quiet for a few moments, but then Stiles feels it roll forward. He's suddenly so, so tired.

The sheriff doesn't say anything while he drives. Stiles gets wrapped in his thoughts again, his mind shifting through more memories. He's overwhelmed with emotions, ones from the present and ones from the past, all mixing in him until he feels like he can't contain everything. It feels like everything is pushing against his skin, threatening to explode out of him. It's almost physically painful and he can barely breathe.

Stiles jumps when a hand lands on his arm. "We're home," the sheriff says gently. Stiles blinks his eyes open and looks at his dad. The sheriff looks worried, his brows drawn together and his face rigid.

Of course, Stiles thinks. I put that look there.

Inside, Stiles automatically walks upstairs and sits on the edge of his bed. He stares at his hands hanging limply between his knees. The bed dips when the sheriff takes the seat beside him.

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" the sheriff asks.

Stiles opens his mouth to reply, but nothing comes out. It's all stuck inside of him, tangled into a mess of memories with one single thread.

Derek. Derek. Derek.

Stiles can't hold it together anymore. He chokes out a sob, and then the floodgates open. His shoulders shake as he cries, and the next thing he knows, he's surrounded by two strong arms, his face pressed against the rough material of his father's uniform shirt. He inhales the familiar, comforting scent, of gun oil and the aftershave his father has always used. His dad doesn't say a word; he just runs a hand along Stiles' arm and lets him cry.

And Stiles cries. He cries because he can't quite accept that any of this is real. He cries as he's overwhelmed with the emotions he remembers feeling while he watched Derek in the hands of the Alphas. He cries because Boyd and Erica are back, and because he misses Allison, and because he misses the person he was before he was possessed by the nogitsune. He cries for the life they had before Scott was bitten, and for how it wasn't fair that any of this happened to any of them.

He cries because he wants to be with Derek but just can't be strong for him right now, can't be the kind of person who can process everything that's happened instead of running away like he feels he always does.

But most of all, he cries for that sixteen year old boy who was so happy the first time Derek kissed him, who fell in love as they searched for their friends, who learned what it felt like to feel loved and wanted as Derek slid into him and touched him and whispered his name against his ear, and who begged himself not to forget just moments before it was all taken away because he didn't want to lose the person who meant the world to him.

He cries for that boy who had those things snatched away, and cries for himself because somehow, that boy is him.

*

Derek stands there, stunned, as he watches Stiles walk out of the examination room. He stares after him, at the empty spot where he was standing, until Deaton steps closer and says, "I assume your hypothesis about memory alteration was correct?"

Derek doesn't want to talk to Deaton. He wants to run after Stiles and tell him he's so so sorry and that he loves him and hold him until Stiles (and maybe Derek) stops shaking. He wants to help Stiles through the panic attack and reassure him that he's okay and this is real. He wants to make sure Stiles is okay, because his wolf is whining and clawing and wanting Stiles Stiles Stiles..

Instead, Derek pulls out his cell phone and sends Stiles a quick text, because he can't let Stiles think that he's alone. No matter what happens, Derek will always be with Stiles, and it seems like somehow that has been the case for almost as long as they've known one another.

As he slips his phone into his pocket, Derek shuts himself off from all emotion, from all the memories, and faces Deaton stoically. Deaton is watching him closely, and Derek forces himself to meet the other man's eyes. "Yes."

"If you don't mind sharing some details, may I inquire how it was accomplished and by whom?"

Derek leans back wearily against the counter and runs a hand over his face. "Deucalion."

"Oh." Derek glances up to see a rare look of surprise cross Deaton's face.

Derek doesn't remember what happened to him during the time the Alphas had him. He doesn't remember having his memories taken away. He remembers fighting Kali, Ennis, and a few others and then being taken, remembers Fiona cutting into him before Ennis tasered him with a huge amount of voltage that made his insides feel like they were frying. After that, he remembers nothing. What he'd seen in Stiles' head had all been Stiles' memories, Stiles' emotions that he can still feel, and it makes him sick. Stiles should never have had to witness that.

"They took me and Stiles," Derek tells Deaton. "The Alphas. Deucalion said that we were a threat to him because I was an Alpha and Stiles was a spark."

"Of course," Deaton murmurs to himself. "Stiles' energy flows through you."

"Marjorie's emissary said something similar. She said that Stiles has great power and has absorbed a great amount of energy."

"Fascinating," Deaton says. "Stiles' power is dormant. He's not magic, so he can't use it. The power in him acts as a so-called power up, in his case I believe, for you. He amplifies your abilities. When you were Alpha, he would have made you quite strong. The fact that you two are now romantically connected means that his spark has absorbed much of your energy and can make you quite powerful. If you were an Alpha, it would be a terrifying weapon."

"We were together," Derek tells him. "Back then. When Deucalion took our memories."

"Ah," Deaton nods. "That makes sense."

Something about that comment triggers something in Derek. He yells, "NOTHING ABOUT THIS MAKES SENSE!"

Deaton doesn't even seem fazed at Derek's outburst, or the fact that Derek has shifted into his Beta form without realizing it. He has to will his fangs and claws to recede. "I know nothing about your relationship with Stiles but what I have observed with my own eyes. If your feelings for one another were in any way similar to how they are now, it is no wonder Deucalion saw you as a threat."

Derek blinks. "What?"

"As I told Stiles previously, little is known about sparks. However, I do know that Stiles can perform basic tasks, such as securing a mountain ash boundary, with just a small amount of intent and belief. If his power and connection to you works similarly, his regard for you combined with his belief in you could send all his power your way." Deaton stares at Derek placidly like they're just talking about the weather.

Derek scrubs a hand across his face. "None of this changes what happened," Derek mutters. "They took our memories. That should be permanent."

"I have a theory about that," Deaton states, and Derek thinks, Of course you do. "I believe Stiles' spark may have played into that. There are other things I need to check into, but I believe a few other forces are at play here."

"More forces? Great."

Deaton gives Derek a sympathetic smile. "Go home, Derek. You have been through quite an ordeal tonight. When Stiles calms, you both should come talk to me. Maybe by then I will have more answers."

Derek nods and pushes off the counter. When he gets to the doorway, he turns to Deaton and says, "Thank you for your help tonight."

Deaton looks surprised, but then he nods. "You're welcome. Seeing as your small Pack has settled in Beacon Hills, it is only natural that I act in the emissary role for you as well." He pauses, then says, "Plus, I owe it to your mother to watch out for you and Cora."

Derek stares at him for a moment before turning to leave the clinic. When he gets into his car, he inhales and smells Stiles all around him. Derek curls his trembling fingers into a fist, closes his eyes, and lets the emotions overtake him. His claws and fangs come out, and his face shifts. Like this, Stiles' scent is so much stronger and Derek misses him so much more.

The dreams were memories. Everything he has dreamed over the last few months, since he reconnected with Stiles, has been glimpses into their past. And when Derek was inside Stiles' head, he not only got to see his own memories, but Stiles' too. He got to see things he remembers from Stiles' point of view, feel what Stiles felt, and think what Stiles was thinking.

Stiles has always loved me, Derek thinks to himself. Even when Stiles didn't remember, it was there, just under the surface. It was there in me, too, Derek thinks as he remembers not sleeping as he searched for Stiles for two days straight, an uncomfortable and confusing fear gripping him because he had to make sure Stiles was safe. And now, Stiles appearing in his mind to comfort him when Kate kidnapped him makes more sense.

I loved him even then. Even if I didn't remember.

What does this mean for them, Derek wonders. What do they do now? They've just started their relationship - Stiles just told me he loved me, Derek thinks miserably. They've already said these things, done things, in the past. Derek has been waiting to have sex with Stiles, wanted the time to be right and perfect. But it doesn't matter because they've already done it.

Maybe that was perfect in its own way, Derek thinks. He remembers the taste of Stiles' nervousness as Derek slowly undressed him, Derek's own reservations about it, how he knew they should wait but he wanted Stiles more than anything he'd ever wanted before. He took his time kissing Stiles' bare skin before they even got close to the sex. Stiles accidentally came while Derek was kissing his stomach and caressing his thighs. Derek had found a place on the inside of Stiles' thigh that drove him crazy, and he was already so wound up and hard that when Derek stroked it a certain way, he couldn't help himself.

Derek smiles despite himself. Stiles' face had flushed a deep shade of red, and he was so beautiful lying there, naked and vulnerable and eager, and just for Derek. Derek remembers how perfect Stiles felt around him, and how Derek knew even then he didn't deserve Stiles.

I still don't deserve him.

But Derek can't help himself, it seems. No matter what, he's going to drift back to Stiles and fall in love with him all over again.

*

When Derek gets home, Cora and Jackson rush out of the house, followed by Boyd and Erica. "Where in the hell have you been?" Cora yells as she storms up to him. But something on his face causes all of her anger to dissipate. "Where's Stiles?"

Derek's voice is raw when he responds. "With his dad." Derek had heard the sirens not long after Stiles left, had stretched all his senses to find the faint sound of Stiles' heartbeat.

"Derek, what happened?" Jackson asks, stepping beside Derek and placing a hand on Derek's arm.

Instead of responding, Derek sheds his clothes in a flurry, shifts into a wolf, and runs towards the woods. A moment later, a small brown wolf with gold eyes catches up with him and nips at his flank affectionately. Clawed fingers stroke along his back, and he sees Jackson, shifted into his Beta form, running on his other side. Derek can feel Boyd and Erica running through the trees behind them.

Derek can't be here right now. He doesn't want to talk because if he talked, he would scream until his vocal cords bled.

It's not fair it's not fair it's not fair is a constant refrain in his head. He doesn't understand why everything in his life turns out this way. All he did was fall in love with Stiles, and that was enough for the Alpha Pack to target him and strip him of the first good thing that had happened to him since his family died.

Derek lifts his head to the sky and howls, a sad broken sound. His Pack behind him howls in response, their voices carrying through the night sky. Derek knows the full moon is coming soon, can feel it down to his bones. It makes all of this feel heavier somehow.

If he thought wishing for things to be different would change anything, he'd dwell on the what should have beens. Because what he had with Stiles was good. It shouldn't have been taken from them, and Derek mourns for them, for himself.

As he runs, he plays every memory in as much detail as he can. Derek wants to remember. No matter how fucked up their lives, he wants to remember and savor every moment he gets to spend with Stiles - now or in the past.

The Alphas may have succeeded in tearing them apart back then, but somehow, something went right in Derek's life and brought Stiles back to him. Derek knows he'd do absolutely anything for Stiles and needs him more than anything else. He loves Stiles in a way he wasn't even aware that you could love another person. The one thing that getting back his memories has made him realize is that he wants to spend a lifetime making as many memories with Stiles as he can.

*

Stiles' dad takes the next day off even though Stiles tries to convince him not to. "Stiles, you just told me you had your memories erased. I think the station can live without me for twenty-four hours."

Stiles had frowned. "You shouldn't be taking all this time off for me," he'd said, thinking of their camping trip to Oregon. "It's not a big deal."

"Stiles, you're my son." He'd given Stiles a hard look, and that'd been the end of it.

Stiles falls asleep on the couch, his dad at the other end, after he's cried all the tears he's capable of. He's not sure there's anything left inside of him.

But as soon as he wakes up and goes to grab his phone to check for any texts from Derek, his eyes water again. There's no text from Derek, and Stiles knows it's because Derek is giving him space until he figures everything out.

He's still lying on the couch, his feet in his dad's lap and his mind only on Derek, hours later when his dad finally stirs. The sheriff pats Stiles' foot before laying his hand on his ankle and squeezing.

"How you feeling, kiddo?"

"Like hell."

The sheriff just squeezes Stiles' ankle again.

After breakfast and three episodes of Games of Thrones, Stiles calls Scott. His dad is putting dishes in the dishwasher, and Stiles still hasn't moved from the couch.

"Hey," Scott answers.

"Can you come over?" Stiles notices his voice is scratchy and thin. He sounds about as good as he feels.

"What's wrong?" Scott's voice immediately takes on the Alpha tone, and Stiles closes his eyes against the emotion welling up in him.

"Everything's fine. I just need to...Last night..."

Scott cuts into Stiles' attempts at talking. "I'll be over there soon."

Scott lets himself into the house when he gets there and looks with concern at Stiles sprawled on the couch, covered by a blanket. After speaking to Scott, the sheriff goes outside to mow the lawn, and Stiles thinks he does it on purpose to give Stiles and Scott some privacy.

"Did something happen with Derek? Did you have more nightmares?" Scott asks. "You look like hell."

"The Alphas stole our memories," Stiles blurts. Scott stares at Stiles in shock before dropping into the adjacent chair as Stiles tells him about the night before.

When he's finished, Scott just stares at him, open-mouthed. "Fuck," he finally says.

"Yeah." Stiles messes with a loose string on the blanket, refusing to look at Scott.

"Fucking Deucalion," Scott mutters. "Stiles, I am so sorry."

Stiles shrugs. "What's one more person in my head, fucking shit up?" When Scott doesn't respond, Stiles lifts his eyes and sees Scott watching him. "What?"

"You're okay, you know that, right?" Scott asks.

Stiles rubs his eyes wearily. "I don't know what to think, Scott. Someone took our fucking memories. I had an entire relationship with Derek and didn't even know it! I've been with him before. I fell in love with him before. He's fucked me before, and I didn't remember!"

"But you do now."

"What good does that do? Doesn't change what happened." Stiles yanks at the string, ripping it from the blanket.

"What happened to you doesn't change anything though, does it?" Scott asks. "You and Derek are together now. Obviously the universe wants you together. Or you're just unable to stay away from each other."

Stiles slumps back. "It doesn't change anything," he mumbles. "I'm just having trouble coming to terms with it, you know?"

"I'm here if you need anything," Scott says.

Stiles smiles at him. "I know. That's why I called you."

Scott stays for a few hours and eats dinner with Stiles and the sheriff. When he gets ready to leave, Stiles walks him to the door. Out on the porch, Stiles quietly says, "You know Deucalion can't get away with this, right? With what he did to us, to Derek?" Stiles shudders against the images that he still has trouble believing are real.

Scott looks at Stiles, his face sad but determined. He takes a deep breath. "I know."

*

Stiles reluctantly goes to work the next day. He thinks stocking the shelves at Home Depot may give him some time to focus and figure things out. The mindless droning work helps to numb him enough so the pain of the memories aren't as fresh, the images don't cut into him every time he thinks of Derek's hands on his skin or remembers walking barefoot across the loft's sparse floors.

Stiles thinks he's finally gotten over the shock. He's worked through the pain and grief of knowing he had part of his life taken away, that he had this intense, passionate relationship with Derek - however briefly. He's stopped counting his fingers every few minutes, and finally started feeling like he's in reality again.

But he still feels like shit.

He's stocking lawn ornaments when he feels someone touch his shoulder. He makes a noise of surprise and flails around, dropping a concrete frog. But a deft, supernaturally fast hand shoots out and catches the frog right before it crashes onto the floor.

Stiles takes a few steadying breaths as he watches Jackson place the frog on the shelf with a scowl. "How do you still have a job, Stilinski?" he asks.

"I'm usually not startled by douchebags with too much hair gel," Stiles retorts. Jackson glares at him, but it's half-hearted at best. Either Jackson is having an off day, or he's starting to like him.

"Whatever."

Stiles waits for Jackson to say something, anything, but he doesn't. He just stands there, staring at Stiles. Finally, Stiles asks, "Is there anything I can help you with? Or did you just come to Home Depot to stare angrily at me?"

Jackson rolls his eyes. "I came to buy stuff for the house."

Stiles glances at Jackson's hand, where he's holding a door hinge and a hammer. Stiles points to it and says, "That's what you need to buy for the house?"

Jackson shrugs. "Yeah. Derek gave me a list, I don't know."

"Derek told you to buy a hinge and a hammer?"

"Obviously, Stilinski. Are you always this stupid?"

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Dude, Derek has already installed all the doors in the house, and even if he tore a door off the hinges in the last two days - which I honestly wouldn't put past him - those are not the hinges he uses to install them. Also, Derek owns like seven hammers, and I'm pretty sure Boyd has bought a few by now."

Jackson is visibly surprised for a moment before he angrily shoves the items onto the nearest shelf.

"Did Derek send you to spy on me?"

Jackson snorts. "I do not do Derek's bidding."

Stiles watches Jackson for a moment before his face breaks out into a grin as a thought occurs to him. "Oh my god. You came to check on me." Jackson glares at Stiles, and Stiles knows he is correct. He laughs. "Aww, I didn't know you cared."

"Derek's been moping around like a pathetic loser and keeps checking his phone, and even Lydia said she hasn't heard from you."

Stiles crosses his arms over his chest as he grins at Jackson. "You were worried about me."

Jackson growls. "Look, Stilinski. Don't be a dick and make this out to be more than it is. You're alive and you look like hell as usual. Great." Jackson turns to leave, but Stiles lunges after him and grabs Jackson's arm. Jackson twists to look at him and then Stiles' hand on his arm like he can't believe that Stiles has the audacity to touch him. Stiles rolls his eyes and lets go.

"Thanks, douchebag."

Jackson stares at him for a moment, then his mouth twists into something that could almost be a smile. "Asshole." Stiles laughs as Jackson takes a step away. "Oh, by the way," Jackson says. "I will kick your ass if you don't talk to Derek soon. Living with him is torture."

"It's so sweet that you care about him," Stiles says.

Jackson flips Stiles off and walks away down the aisle. Stiles watches him until he reaches the end of the aisle and disappears. As soon as Jackson is gone, Stiles pulls out his phone and texts Derek.

Jackson came to check up on me. I think the world is ending. Can you check outside to see if pigs are flying?

That's where he went. He left but didn't tell us where he was going.

Don't tell him I told you his secret.

Are you kidding me? I'm gonna give him so much shit.

Stiles smiles as he reads the text again, his chest warm. I've really missed you.

I've missed you more than you know. You don't know how happy I was to see your name.

Thanks for giving me time to process. I know it wasn't easy.

Are you okay?

Better.
Are you okay?

Fine.

Stiles huffs and shakes his head. Of course Derek would say that.

We should talk. I get off in a few hours. Can I come to the house?

Of course.

You're gonna feed me, right? Cause like, I don't feel like fast food.

I'll feed you. See you soon.

Stiles smiles as he slips his phone back into his pocket. He doesn't care what's happened; he's missed Derek more than anything.

*

Stiles parks the Jeep beside the Camaro when he gets to the house. The Porsche and SUV are both there, so Stiles mentally prepares himself for having to see everyone and not just Derek.

He doesn't even make it to the front door before it flies open, Cora standing on the other side. She rushes through the door to meet Stiles when he steps onto porch and almost knocks him down when she throws her arms around him.

"Hello to you too?" Stiles mumbles with a mouthful of dark hair.

"I'm so glad to see you," Cora says. She squeezes him tighter, making it harder to breathe. "Derek told me what happened."

"Cora," Derek says from inside the house. "Please don't suffocate my boyfriend."

Cora loosens her grip as she glares over her shoulder. "Shut up, you're just jealous I got to the door first and got to hug him."

"There's enough Stiles to go around," Stiles says, "I promise."

"I will never understand why you two are obsessed with Stiles," Jackson mutters from behind Derek.

"Shut up, Jackson. They're not the one who showed up at Home Depot today."

Derek smirks as Cora laughs, and Jackson's cheeks pink. "Fuck you, Stilinski." Then, he spins around and stalks back into the house.

"I'm expecting a friendship bracelet next week, Jackson!" Stiles yells after him. "I'll buy them if you won't."

"Choke on Derek's dick and die," Jackson yells as he starts up the stairs.

Stiles smirks at Cora and Derek. "What a way to go."

Derek rolls his eyes and Cora squeezes him again. "God, I missed you. I've only had these two idiots around for the last few days. It was torture."

"I understand. I brighten everyone's lives," Stiles says as he walks into the house.

"So modest," Derek says.

Stiles stops just inside the door and stares at Derek. Derek looks at him as they both stand there awkwardly. Cora rolls her eyes. "This is just embarrassing," she says. "You two are perfect for one another. No one else would put up with your awkward asses."

Cora walks towards the living room, leaving Stiles and Derek alone in the front foyer, still staring at one another.

Stiles' eyes track over Derek like he's seeing him for the first time. Derek's hair is messy, sticking up in places and flat in others like he hasn't brushed it but has been running his fingers through it. His beard is a little darker and thicker, and Stiles wants to scratch his fingers through it. Derek's wearing a pair of older jeans and a soft, heather gray t-shirt, and no shoes. He's watching Stiles with a guarded expression, but Stiles can see the hope and longing etched into his features.

God, Stiles has never loved him as much as he does in that moment.

"We're so fucking ridiculous," Stiles mutters before crossing the space between them and fitting himself perfectly into Derek's waiting arms. Derek's arms close around him securely, and Stiles presses his face in the crook of Derek's neck as his arms circle Derek's waist. He inhales, Derek's woodsy scent surrounding him. His skin is warm against his face, his beard lightly scratching against his cheek, his arms warm and comforting.

They stand like that for a long time. Stiles can feel the solidness of Derek's body in his arms and against his body, can hear his soft inhalations and feel the pulse beating quickly in his neck. No matter what has happened - no matter their past - this is Derek, his Derek.

He's always been Stiles' Derek.

"I've missed you," Derek whispers against his hair.

Stiles finally moves his head, drags his cheek against Derek's rough beard until he can look into his face. Derek's looking at him with open, raw emotion, his eyes sparkling brightly, and Stiles thinks he's beautiful like this.

Stiles leans closer and presses his lips to Derek's. It's like Stiles can breathe again, like everything has balanced out and he's got his feet under him again. Derek grounds him in a way that no one ever has before.

When Stiles pulls away, Derek cups his cheek, his thumb dragging along his cheekbone under his eye.

"So, I was promised dinner?" Stiles asks, and Derek smiles. He kisses Stiles again quickly before pulling away and leading the way into the kitchen. Stiles sits on the kitchen island barstool as Derek grabs a potholder, bends down, and opens the oven. A pleasant, mouth-watering scent hits Stiles' nose as Derek sets a pan on the stove. "Are those manicottis?"

Derek nods as he places two on a plate and sets it on front of Stiles. Stiles is grinning at Derek and Derek looks slightly embarrassed before turning around to fix his own plate.

"Are you trying to seduce me through food again, Derek Hale?" Stiles teases as Derek takes the stool across from him. "Because I'm pretty sure you were seducing me that night you made these for me."

Derek looks at Stiles for a few seconds before saying, "This was my mom's recipe." Stiles' eyes widen in surprise. "She always made it on special occasions."

"And you've made it for me twice." Derek nods. Stiles glances down at the perfectly rolled pasta covered with homemade pasta sauce and cheese.

"I've never made it for anyone else," Derek tells him, looking down at his manicotti and dragging his fork through the sauce self-consciously.

That makes Stiles smile. "So, what you're trying to say is that you love me, but with pasta?"

Derek glances at Stiles, his eyes wide and eyebrows raised high on his forehead. He looks so surprised and confused, so soft and vulnerable, and Stiles can only smile at him and the way his ears have adopted a faint pink tinge.

"It's okay," Stiles says, picking up his fork and cutting into one of the rolls. "You can tell me you love me through food anytime you want." Stiles shoves an obnoxiously large bite into his mouth and gives Derek a closed-mouthed grin as he chews.

"So, you're okay with this?" Derek asks, and Stiles knows he's not talking about pasta. "With us still being together?"

Stiles swallows and reaches across the countertop to cover Derek's hand with his own. "Of course," Stiles says. "Nothing is going to make me change my feelings for you." Derek smiles and turns his hand over so he can lace their fingers together.

"I'll wait," Derek says slowly, deliberately. "If that's what you need."

Stiles' face softens. "I know. I'm still coming to terms with the memories, but I don't want to be away from you."

"We need to talk about it," Derek states.

Stiles sighs, but squeezes Derek's hand. "I know." He pulls his hand back and cuts into the manicotti. "But after dinner. Right now, I'm gonna enjoy your love rolls."

Derek groans, but Stiles can see the hints of smile in his expression.

*

Derek barely tastes dinner. He's too intoxicated by Stiles sitting across from him, his scent, his emotions, his face. His wolf is content and happy, and Derek has to push down the emotion threatening to bubble over. He just wants to wrap Stiles in his arms, cover his body, and spread his scent all around him. He manages to resist the urge and force himself not to grin like an idiot throughout dinner.

Stiles rambles as they eat, small talk and nothing of importance. He knows he's just filling the silence, avoiding the elephant in the room. He doesn't talk about the last few days and doesn't ask Derek about what he's done. Derek's pretty sure they both can guess what the other one has been doing.

When Stiles is almost done with dinner, he stops in the middle of a sentence and blurts, "What?"

Derek's brows draw together. "What do you mean, what?"

"Are you even listening to me? You're just staring at me with this weird expression on your face."

Derek ducks his head and feels a bit embarrassed. He flexes his fingers a couple of times. Finally, he looks up into Stiles' wide, curious eyes. Derek loves his eyes, wonders how everyone who ever meets Stiles doesn't fall immediately in love with him because of his eyes alone. "I'm just really glad you're sitting across from me."

Surprise flickers over Stiles' face before his expression melts into one of embarrassment and happiness. Derek reaches across the island and drags the back of his knuckles along the warm flush of Stiles' cheek.

They leave the dishes and walk upstairs to Derek's bedroom. Stiles looks around as Derek closes the door. "You've changed around some stuff in the last few days," Stiles says.

Derek shrugs as he sits on the edge of the bed. "Needed something to distract me."

Stiles sits beside Derek and rests his head on his shoulder. Derek wraps an arm around his waist. "I'm sorry I left you in Deaton's office," Stiles says quietly. "I shouldn't have left you alone."

"It's not a big deal."

"It is," Stiles insists. "I just couldn't face you and what happened."

They're quiet for a long time as they sit side by side on the bed, Derek holding Stiles. Derek can feel Stiles' emotions, a confused mixture of feelings that Derek can't even begin to decipher. Finally, Stiles sighs and sits up. Derek looks over as Stiles toes off his shoes and crawls to the middle of the bed. He pulls his legs under him, so Derek leans against the headboard and stretches his legs out alongside Stiles. He moves until his legs until they're pressed against Stiles.

"So," Stiles says, looking at him. "We were together before."

"So it seems."

"Those fuckers took our memories."

Derek nods.

Stiles looks down at his hands in his lap. "At first, I didn't really know what to think. I was just so devastated that we had this relationship we didn't even know about, you know? And that someone was in my fucking head again. And like, how do I deal with the fact that we've already had sex, even though we haven't? I just admitted to myself that I loved you, but now I find out I told you I loved you when I was sixteen? It's fucking insane, Derek."

Stiles finally looks up at Derek, his eyes shining. Derek doesn't say anything, because he's pretty sure Stiles just needs to talk this out.

"Some things make a little more sense now," Stiles admits. "Why I felt things about you that I didn't understand, why I cared so fucking much about you when I barely knew you. Why I hated the idea of leaving you with Lydia after we brought you back from Mexico, hated the idea of her touching you and watching over you. I wanted to be the one to hold your hand, be there when you woke up, and I didn't know why!"

"When Kate came back to get me," Derek starts quietly, "all I remember is trying to find an anchor, a safe space inside myself to hide." He pauses, hesitant to share this. He's never told anyone about this. "It was you, Stiles. You were my safe space. In one of the worst moments of my life, my mind took me to you."

Stiles makes a small gasp of surprise, his eyes wide. Derek tries not to be embarrassed, because at this point, there's no reason for embarrassment anymore. He feels like both of them have been laid out bare before each other. He's pretty sure no one has ever seen him like Stiles has.

Stiles gently rests a hand on Derek's ankle, then slides his hand under the leg of Derek's jeans. He drags his thumb back and forth over Derek's ankle done. "We had some good times that summer," Stiles says with a smile. "The beach up the coast?" Derek smiles at the memory, spreading sunscreen on Stiles' back, watching his fascinated face as he watched the men fishing off the pier. "Star Wars marathon in the loft."

Derek chuckles. "We didn't made it halfway through Empire Strikes Back before we started kissing."

"You put the disc for Return of the Jedi in the DVD player naked."

"And you made a whole bunch of light saber jokes," Derek groans.

"Dude, how could I not? You were hard and it's Star Wars. It's like a law I had to say something about handling your light saber."

"The sound effects were unnecessary though."

"No, the sound effects were awesome," Stiles corrects. Derek laughs. "It's weird, thinking that actually happened. That's something we did that we didn't know about."

"I know," Derek says with a sigh. "I keep remembering these things we did."

"Me, too," Stiles agress. "It makes me sad."

"Why?"

Stiles runs his hand along Derek's shin. "Because we've already done so many things. A few days ago, I was excited about all the new things we were going to experience together, but we've already experienced them."

Derek pushes himself forward until he's changed positions. He's stretched on his side beside Stiles, arm around his waist. "It was only a couple of months," Derek says, looking up at Stiles. He kisses Stiles' shoulder. "There's so much for us to still do. Plus, we were looking for Boyd and Erica, hiding from your father - I mean, fuck Stiles, it was illegal."

"I don't care," Stiles says. "I wouldn't have wanted not to be with you."

"Me either," Derek says. "I'm just saying that things are better now."

Stiles gives him a small smile. "I've been thinking a lot about what happened after our memories were erased," Stiles starts. "I wonder if I was just always searching for you. I mean...your sister, Malia..." Stiles bites his lip. "I think I dated every available Hale, except you. Maybe I was searching for you."

Derek doesn't know how to respond. He presses his forehead against Stiles' chest, and Stiles' hand automatically comes up to his hair. Stiles' fingertips are comforting against his scalp.

"I feel like I've loved you forever," Stiles whispers. "I've fallen in love with you twice, Derek."

Derek tightens his arms around Stiles' waist and listens to the steady sound of his heartbeat. "And I've fallen in love with you twice," Derek says. "Maybe we're supposed to be together."

"Does it work that way?" Stiles asks. "Are people meant to be, made for one another?"

"I don't know," Derek says as he pulls away to look into Stiles' face. "I just know that I don't want anyone but you."

Stiles smiles as he leans down and kisses Derek softly. Derek presses easily up into Stiles' mouth, his lips soft and his tongue warm and inviting. Derek would be lying if he said he wasn't scared over the last few days that Stiles would leave him and he'd never be able to do this again. But it seems he was being stupid, because Stiles is touching his neck and cheek tenderly, his kiss earnest and intense.

When they break the kiss, Derek lays his head down in Stiles' lap, and Stiles' fingers immediately start combing through his hair. "Are you okay?" Derek asks. "You weren't okay when you left me."

"I wasn't at first," Stiles admits. "Panic attacks, general misery, that sort of thing. Dad stayed home with me, and Scott came over. I told him what happened."

"I assumed you would. I told the Pack and Boyd and Erica."

"Yeah, I figured that one out when Jackson showed up at work to check on me."

Derek chuckles. "He's pissed that you told me. He tried to lie his way out of it. It was hilarious."

"Man, what the hell is going on?" Stiles asks, amused. "I never thought I'd see the day when Jackson would care about someone other than himself."

"He's changed," Derek says. "We've all changed."

Stiles' hand stills in Derek's hair. "It's weird, isn't it?" Stiles asks, his fingers once again combing comfortingly through Derek's hair. "You don't feel like anything has changed until one day you look around and realize everyone around you has changed. None of us are the same."

"That's not a bad thing," Derek says.

"I don't think so," Stiles says. "I've been thinking about the way you used to be a lot the last few days. I don't know how it's possible, but I love you more now. I like who you've become."

Derek rolls onto his back and looks up at Stiles. Stiles is smiling down at him, and Derek knows that he loved Stiles then, loves him now, will love him until the day he dies. He's pretty sure there is no Derek without Stiles anymore.

"I love the man you are," Derek tells him. "I love everything about you." Stiles doesn't look like he believes him, but he doesn't argue.

"How are you doing, Derek?" Stiles asks, brushing Derek's hair back from his forehead. "And don't say fine, because I call bullshit. You are not fine."

Derek sighs. "I spent the day before yesterday as a wolf. It was easier and worse to not be near you in that form."

"I'm sorry," Stiles says again.

Derek shakes his head. "That's not what I'm saying. I knew you needed time, and it was easier not to run to your house if I was a wolf. Though..." Derek trails off, his face heating up as he looks at the ceiling.

"What did you do?" Stiles asks, amused. "Did you check on me?" Derek nods. Stiles bends down and places a light kiss on his lips. "This is why I love you, Derek Hale. You are still a creepy stalker."

Derek glares up at Stiles, and that makes Stiles laugh. "I wasn't stalking. I was just making sure you were home and okay. It was the middle of the night, and I just circled your house a few times as a wolf. And I..." Derek doesn't even know why he's admitting this to Stiles. "I may have pissed on your lawn."

That causes Stiles to burst into laughter. He drops back on the bed, his whole body shaking with mirth. Derek pushes himself up onto his elbow to look at Stiles, and Stiles has his eyes closed, his face red and tears leaking from his eyes as he laughs.

"It's not that funny," Derek grouses.

Stiles opens his eyes, still laughing. "Oh my god," he wheezes. "That is the best thing I have ever heard." He laughs again as he pushes himself back into a seated position. "You peed on my lawn! You marked my house. You are so fucking ridiculous I can't even."

Derek glares at Stiles, which causes him to laugh again. "Why did I think telling you was a good idea?" He drops his head to Stiles' lap and Stiles pets his head. Derek inhales, and he's met with such a concentrated scent of Stiles, along with a slightly musky scent and a lingering hint of come. Derek moves his head out of Stiles' lap before he goes and ruins everything by humping Stiles' leg or shoving his mouth on his cock. Derek's pretty sure this isn't the time for that. No matter how horny he is and wants to fuck Stiles senseless - especially since he remembers what that's like now.

When Stiles finally sobers, his hand combing through Derek's hair again, he asks seriously, "Are we okay?"

"Of course," Derek replies.

"How could the Alphas do so much damage to us?" Stiles asks. "They tried to take Scott, tortured you multiple times, kept Cora, Erica, and Boyd in a vault, did what they did to Erica and Boyd, and stole our memories. That doesn't even go into all the Packs they destroyed to build their Alpha Pack. How many Packs have they killed? How many other people's lives have they destroyed?"

"We'll stop them," Derek states. "They'll come for Boyd and Erica, and they won't fucking touch you again."

Stiles reaches out to cup Derek's face. "They won't touch you again, you mean." Derek can feel Stiles' shudder. Derek sits up in a flash and pulls Stiles into his lap, wrapping his arms tightly around him. Stiles is trembling in his arms, and when Derek pushes his nose against his temple, he's met with nothing but anxiety and sadness.

"Stiles."

"I can't get it out of my head," Stiles whispers. "The way it felt to see you being tortured, bleeding, half-dead and out of your mind." He buries himself closer and wraps his arms more tightly around Derek's body. "I just have to keep telling myself you are fine. It was hard to believe it when I couldn't touch you."

"I'm fine," Derek reassures him.

Stiles lifts his face and kisses the pulse point on Derek's neck. Derek growls quietly, his eyes flashing blue.

Derek holds Stiles for a long time. Derek doesn't know what to say, doesn't know if there are words that can convey the way that they feel or what they've been through. Holding each other, reminding themselves that they are real, Derek thinks, is exactly what they need.

When Stiles finally extracts himself from Derek, he looks at him shyly and asks, "Can I spend the night?"

Derek nods. He doesn't want Stiles to leave either.

In the dark, they lay facing one another. Derek is slightly afraid that if he closes his eyes, he'll wake up and realize all this was a dream. Stiles doesn't look in a hurry to fall asleep either.

"Is your favorite candy still gummy bears?" Stiles asks.

Derek huffs out a laugh. "Yeah. Cora loves them, too. We hide them from each other so the other one won't eat them all. Which is what we do if we find them just because."

"Ridiculous." Stiles smiles.

"I can't stop thinking about that pattern on your skin," Derek admits. "Whenever I close my eyes, I see it."

Without a word, Stiles slowly sits up in bed. Eyes on Derek, he grabs the hem of his t-shirt, and with just a moment of hesitation and a flicker of uncertainty, he pulls it over his head.

Derek's eyes track the bare expanse of Stiles' skin. He knows he's seen Stiles bare-chested and naked before, but not since they got back together. Stiles has been so careful to keep them in positions where he has on most of his clothes, and now he's sitting in front of Derek, hiding nothing.

Stiles swallows thickly, and Derek can hear the uptick in his heartbeat. "Why are you nervous?" Derek asks. He doesn't miss the way Stiles makes an abortive movement to wrap his arms around himself.

"I don't like being without my shirt."

"Why?" Derek asks, his eyes roaming appreciatively over Stiles' skin. "You've filled out since then. If anything, you look better."

Slowly, Stiles turns around until his back is facing Derek. Derek gasps and sits up quickly, his hands reaching out to touch, but stopping and hovering just above Stiles' skin. On the top of Stiles' left shoulder is a round scar, threads spidering out from the knotted tissue. The scar tissue is almost translucent, barely visible save for the change in texture. On the right shoulder, there's a slightly larger rounded scar with unfamiliar jagged edges in a starburst pattern.

"Hideous, aren't they?" Stiles asks into the quiet darkness.

"How?" Derek starts, unable to finish the sentence. He never expected that Stiles' shirt was hiding scars.

"I don't heal like you guys," Stiles says with a shrug of his shoulders. He crosses his right arm over his shoulder and points to the left scar. "Nogitsune." Then he points to the right. "Chimera."

"Stiles, I had no idea," Derek says. His fingers are still hovering above them.

"How could you?" Stiles says, his voice flat and trying to hide the obvious pain. "I was dating Malia after the nogitsune, and you weren't around when the Chimeras were here."

"Can I...Can I touch them?"

Stiles nods, and gently Derek trails his fingers along the narrow tendrils on the left shoulder. Stiles shudders when Derek touches his skin.

Derek methodically traces the scars on both sides, trying to wrap his head around what it means that Stiles has these scars. Then, he leans forward and kisses the one of the left shoulder lightly.

"How can you do that?" Stiles asks quietly. "Don't you find them repulsive?"

"Nothing about you is repulsive, Stiles."

Stiles sighs and hangs his head. "Now you know why I don't like to be shirtless. I can't see them, but I can feel them, and I just imagine everyone is staring at them and thinking what a freak I am."

Derek kisses the exposed knob at the base of Stiles' neck, then gently turns his shoulder until Stiles is facing him. The expression on Stiles' face breaks Derek's heart, and Derek takes his face between his hands and kisses him gently.

"Thank you for sharing that with me," Derek says. "But it doesn't change anything about the way I feel about you."

"Can you just hold me?" Stiles asks.

Derek nods and lays down, waiting patiently for Stiles to arrange himself comfortably. He ends up with his back pressed against Derek's chest, their feet tangled together. Stiles takes one of Derek's hands and pulls his arm snug around his body, cradling Derek's hand in front of his chest. Derek presses his nose against the back of Stiles' neck and inhales.

"I'm glad we found each other again," Stiles murmurs sleepily. "I'm starting to think maybe we belong together."

"Me, too," Derek whispers.

*

Stiles wakes up slowly. He's sweating, both from the sunshine lighting the room despite the curtains over the window and two massive arms wrapped around him. Derek's breath is slow and methodical against his shoulder.

This is real, Stiles thinks. I'm here, with Derek. He's safe. I'm safe. We're together.

Carefully, Stiles tries to shift Derek's arms around him so he can squeeze out of bed without waking Derek. But Derek's arms are strong and rigid, and Stiles can't even get them to budge.

"Derek," Stiles whispers. "Hey, Derek. Wake up." He wiggles around, trying to get Derek to wake up, then lightly slaps Derek's hip. "I gotta pee, Derek."

Derek growls quietly, an unhappy, put out sound, but he loosens his arms around Stiles. Stiles throws the covers back and stumbles towards the bathroom, happy Derek has his own bathroom in this house unlike the shared one in the cabin. He doesn't want to run into Cora or worse, Jackson, this early.

After Stiles pees and washes his hands, he's slightly more alert when he walks back into the bedroom. Derek is where he left him, on his side, his face half obscured by the pillow. When Stiles had thrown back the covers, he had uncovered Derek's body, so Stiles stands there, his eyes tracing along the bare expanse of Derek's chest and legs, the small black boxer briefs leaving little to the imagination. Especially since Derek is hard.

Stiles places one knee on the bed and bends forward to kiss Derek's shoulder. Derek pops open one eye to stare sleepily at Stiles.

"Morning," Stiles whispers.

Derek grunts.

"Are you going to get up, or are you going to keep sleeping?" Derek closes his eye in reply.

Stiles chuckles and shimmies back down in the bed close to Derek. Derek throws his arm over Stiles' waist again and presses his forehead against Stiles' arm. Stiles grabs his phone off the nightstand and starts idly surfing the internet as Derek sleeps. After a few minutes, he can't handle the cuteness anymore and tries three times to get a picture of Derek. When he finally gets the shot he wants, he grins.

Derek finally starts stirring forty-five minutes later. Stiles has gotten sucked into watching YouTube videos about table-top gaming.

"You should have gone back to sleep," Derek mumbles from beside him. He still hasn't opened his eyes.

"Wasn't sleepy," Stiles responds distractedly. "I've gotten used to existing on very little sleep. Plus, I think I got more sleep last night than I have in three weeks."

Derek grumbles unhappily, then reaches out the grab Stiles' wrist. "No cell phones in bed."

"Dude, you were asleep. I wasn't gonna leave you or stare at the wall."

"I'm awake now."

Stiles sighs and places his cell phone back on the nightstand. "Are you one of those people, Derek? Really? No electronics in the bedroom? Because we need to discuss a television. It is a thing. There's no shame in putting one - mph!" Stiles glares down at Derek, who has cupped his hand around Stiles' mouth.

"Please stop talking." Stiles continues talking, his voice muffled behind Derek's hand. "What have I gotten myself into?" Derek asks, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. He removes his hand as he sits up.

"I have you know, I'm a fantastic conversationalist," Stiles says. "A delight. No one can carry on a conversation with themselves better than me."

Derek smiles, and Stiles leans forward and kisses him. When Stiles pulls back, he asks, "Can we fool around now?" Derek rolls his eyes, but Stiles knows it's an act by the way he enthusiastically replies, "Yes!"

Stiles straddles Derek's lap and takes a few moments just to kiss him. Nothing in his memory even compares to the actual feeling of kissing Derek. It's not just the way Derek kisses - which is perfect and soft but insistent and needy at the same time. It's not the softness of his lips, the scratch of his beard, or the feel of his tongue.

It's the way Derek kisses him like it's the best thing he's ever done, like kissing Stiles is the only thing he wants to do. It's the way Derek takes the lead, but knows exactly when to let Stiles take over and direct the kiss. It's the way that by just using his mouth Derek somehow makes Stiles feel it all the way to his toes, makes him feel it twisting inside his core until he feels like he's going to burst.

"You're the best kisser," Stiles mumbles against his mouth. "How are you so good at it?"

"Same way you are," Derek responds between kisses.

"No way," Stiles manages. "No way I'm as good as you are."

"I disagree," Derek says. "Your mouth is perfect." Stiles smiles against Derek's lips.

It doesn't take long before they're rutting against one another, so Stiles starts kissing his way down Derek's chest. He hears Derek sigh above him as his hand lands on Stiles' shoulder. Stiles remembers how much Derek loves to have his nipples licked, so he slowly and deliberately drags his tongue across the tiny bud.

"Stiles," Derek moans as Stiles flicks it with the tip of his tongue before circling it lazily.

"I remember some things that might come in handy," Stiles says as he moves on to Derek's other nipple. He never thought he'd be so happy just to lick someone's nipple, but he could stay here like this all day and be perfectly content.

When Derek's hips start lifting in small movements, Stiles continues kissing down Derek's torso. He mouths at Derek's erection through the material of his boxer briefs, sucking gently at the head as he looks up Derek above him. Derek's eyes are half-closed as he watches Stiles, his mouth parted as he breathes heavily.

"You're beautiful," Stiles says as he hooks his thumbs in the band of Derek's underwear.

"You," Derek says. He cups Stiles' cheek, and Stiles turns to kiss the inside of his palm. Then, Derek lifts his hips while Stiles pulls his underwear down his thighs, his cock bobbing free. Stiles takes a moment to just appreciate Derek's cock, erect and red with the foreskin stretched tight around the head. Stiles knows he spent a lot of time sucking Derek's cock before, but now, it's still new to him. There's still that sense of anticipation, that excitement, the thoughts like that's Derek's cock! and I get to have that in my mouth.

Stiles grips Derek's cock just below the base, his eyes trailing over the dark hair on his belly that ends in the thatch of curls at the base of his cock. Stiles leans down and licks along the hair on his belly, drags his other hand through the coarse curls and down so he can cup Derek's balls. He knows he's just teasing Derek, and Derek is moving periodically, soft moans escaping from his lips.

Slowly, Stiles slides his hand up, watching in fascination as the foreskin slides up and over the head then back down. It doesn't matter how many times he's done this; it will never fail to fascinate him - and turn him on tremendously.

"Please, Stiles," Derek pleads, his voice high and breathy. It's ridiculously sexy. So, Stiles complies and slides his lips over the head of Derek's cock. Derek sighs as Stiles opens his mouth and starts working himself lower. He's still not great at this, even with his memories back. He's only given Derek one blowjob since they got together, and the times before are so long ago that they aren't helping much. He gave one half-drunken blowjob to a guy at a party Scott dragged him to, but all his other hookups have been handjobs or with girls. Derek doesn't seem to mind, though, not if his moans or constant use of Stiles' name are anything to go by.

Stiles closes his eyes and relaxes. He likes the feel of Derek's cock in his mouth, the steady, comforting feel of Derek's hand in his hair. He likes Derek's taste in his mouth, the way the head hits against the back of his throat.

Stiles pulls off and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Come in my mouth."

"Are you sure?" Derek asks, and Stiles nods before taking Derek back into his mouth.

Stiles gets into a rhythm, and wraps his hand around the base of Derek's cock so he can jerk him at the same time. He can tell that Derek is getting close. Derek's hips are thrusting shallowly into Stiles' mouth, his grip increasing in Stiles' hair. Then, Derek moans more loudly and the salty, bitter taste of his come hits Stiles' tongue. Stiles swallows as he tries to move his mouth and hand to work Derek through his orgasm. When Derek finishes, Stiles braces himself on his elbows and wipes away the come that dribbled from his mouth.

"Okay?" Stiles asks.

Derek's staring at him with a sated, content expression. "You're an idiot," he says fondly, then grabs Stiles' arm to tug him up. He wraps an arm around Stiles' waist to kiss him. "It was very much okay."

"Good." Stiles idly runs his fingers through the hair on Derek's chest. "I know we did this a lot back then, but now, it's still kinda new. Getting my memories back didn't make me feel like I was any more experienced at giving head."

Derek kisses Stiles again. "I like that it's new. It means it's just ours, now."

Derek rolls Stiles over on his back, then kisses his way down Stiles' chest and belly. He makes quick work of Stiles' underwear, then licks a place on Stiles' thigh that almost makes him come on the spot. "Fuck, Derek!"

Derek smirks up at him. "Glad to know that spot still works."

"You're evil," Stiles glares at him. Derek doesn't respond; instead, he takes Stiles' entire cock in one swoop.

Stiles lies back and enjoys the sensations as Derek blows him. He clears his brain of all other thought until it's just Derek's mouth and his cock, and Derek's fingers that are touching and exploring. He feels Derek's fingers against his sac, then pressing against his perineum, and then Derek circles one finger around his hole. "Derek," Stiles moans, pressing his feet against the bed. "Feels so good."

Derek massages around his hole as he slides his mouth along his shaft, and it feels incredible. Stiles' entire body is taut with sensation, and when Derek carefully pushes his finger past the ring of muscle into him, he cries out.

Derek pulls off with a pop and asks, "That okay?"

"Yes," Stiles manages to say.

Derek doesn't push his finger very deep, just really holds it there as he sucks on the head of Stiles' cock and squeezes his balls. Then, Stiles tenses and comes hard down Derek's throat.

He's breathing heavily when Derek pulls off and crawls up beside him. Stiles rolls onto his side, cups Derek's neck, and kisses him.

"That was awesome," Stiles says. "So very awesome." Derek hums his agreement. "Let's lay here naked for just a little bit before we go downstairs. Then, I'm going to eat everything in sight. I'm starving."

"I'll make you pancakes," Derek murmurs as he curls against Stiles' side.

"Best morning ever."

*

Stiles and Derek doze for around half an hour before they finally get out of bed. They end up kissing and laughing as they try to get dressed.

When Stiles turns his back to Derek to grab his khakis, he tenses for a moment out of habit and waits for the feelings, but they don't come. He turns back to look at Derek, who is pulling his jeans up his legs.

"It doesn't bother me," Stiles blurts. Derek looks at him, brow furrowed in confusion. "Standing naked in front of you. Having you see my back. I thought now, in the daylight, it would upset me, but it doesn't." He stares at Derek in wonder.

"It shouldn't," Derek states.

"It should bother me more with you, because your opinion matters more than anything."

"Maybe you finally realized a few scars aren't going to change my feelings about you," Derek says. He leaves his jeans unbuttoned as he crosses to Stiles. He grips Stiles' arms and rubs his hands along them gently. "We all have scars, Stiles. I'm covered in them, inside and out. They just aren't visible."

"I feel like things have changed between us," Stiles says, staring at where he's self-consciously playing with Derek's chest hair. "Do you feel it? Like, it's not even because we have our memories back. But, just going through that together. I feel closer to you. Is that weird?" Reluctantly, Stiles forces himself to look at Derek's face.

Derek's watching him with a soft expression. Stiles would have to be blind to miss the love and adoration in his eyes. "Not weird. I know exactly how you feel." Derek presses a gentle kiss against Stiles' lips.

When Derek pulls away, he awkwardly asks, "Can I request something?"

"Sure?" Stiles responds, curiosity piqued.

"Will you, um. Will you wear one of my shirts?" Derek's face looks like he's embarrassed and eaten a lemon at the same time. It's completely adorable.

"Yes, you idiot," Stiles says, rolling his eyes. "Why would I not want to wear your clothes?" Stiles waggles his eyebrows. "It's hot."

"Now who's the idiot?"

"Give me a shirt, lame wolf. Get that scent all over me good. You could've come all over me and rubbed it on me."

Derek glares at him, but his cheeks pink. "I hate you." He stomps over to the dresser, grabs a t-shirt, and throws it at Stiles' head. "Here, asshole."

"I'd say I could go get your sweater out of my Jeep," Stiles says, "but it's in my bedroom. I may or may not have worn it around the house for the last few days." Admitting that is worth it for the way Derek's face lights up.

Derek's shirt is loose on him, but Stiles doesn't care. Derek stares at him for a few moments before pressing his face into the crook of Stiles' neck and inhaling. They hold hands down
the stairs, and when they enter the kitchen, the whole Pack is there, including Boyd and Erica. Everyone stops talking and turns to stare at them.

"Oh god, they're sickening," Jackson groans.

"Shut up, they're cute," Erica says.

"Stilinski is wearing Derek's clothes."

Derek rolls his eyes as Stiles takes the stool beside Cora. Derek says, "He forgets that we've been witness to Lydia walking around in his boxers and t-shirts."

"Damn, I'm sad I missed that," Stiles says.

"Hey, stay away from my girlfriend," Jackson snaps.

Stiles rolls his eyes and grabs his phone from his pocket. "Yeah, like I want Lydia. Do you see this huge hunk of manflesh behind me? That's all mine." He glances up from his phone and waggles his eyebrows at Jackson. "And I mean all of it."

The others groan as Stiles shoots off a text to Lydia. Jackson is telling me to stay away from you.

"Oh, we know it's all yours," Cora says. "We can all smell it."

"Fucking werewolves," Stiles exclaims as he pockets his phone. "Nosy noses." Stiles laughs at his own joke. Erica snickers, and Boyd rolls his eyes.

"All of you smell like sex," Cora states. "It's ridiculous. Apparently, I need to go get laid just so I bother all of you with my sex smell."

"We'd be very happy for you if you got laid," Stiles says. Cora flicks him off.

"Stiles! I'm going to kick your ass!" Jackson growls as he angrily taps his phone. "Why are you texting Lydia?"

"Um, because she's my friend? Pack? She deserves to know she's dating a douche?"

Erica groans and leans heavily against Boyd. "Is this what they're always like?"

"Pretty much," Cora responds.

"God, can you two bang already?" Erica jokes. Stiles and Jackson glare at her while Cora and Derek laugh.

"That's what we've been telling them," Cora says. "I think they're secretly bffs. They just don't want to admit it."

"I'm still waiting for my frienship bracelet," Stiles says.

"You're all assholes," Jackson says.

"Look, Jackson," Stiles starts. "I'm not gonna stop being friends with Lydia. If you can't handle that we're close, you can get over it." Jackson huffs and rolls his eyes, but doesn't respond.

Stiles 1, Jackson 0.

Derek reaches around him and sets a plate on the island in front of him. Then, he wraps his arms around Stiles' waist and kisses the side of his head.

"Pancakes," Erica says, grinning. Then she turns to Boyd. "Why don't you ever make me pancakes?"

Boyd shrugs as he takes a sip of a his orange juice. As he sets the glass down, he says, "Maybe because we just got access to a stove."

Erica isn't impressed. "We've been here long enough for you to make me pancakes."

Derek laughs quietly against Stiles' ear as Stiles takes a bite. "I think I got you in trouble, Boyd," Derek says.

"I get myself in trouble with her," Boyd responds. Erica huffs, and Boyd smiles.

"Erica's just jealous I officially have the best boyfriend." Stiles shoves an obnoxiously large amount of pancakes into his mouth and grins at Erica.

"Those are fighting words," Erica says. "Though, Boyd doesn't make me pancakes."

"See?" Stiles turns his head so he can look at Derek over his shoulder. "You win." He slaps Derek's cheek playfully. Then, he whispers, "Pancakes really are delicious."

Derek drops a quick kiss on his lips. "Good. Glad you like them."

"Ridiculous," Cora mutters as Derek lets go of Stiles to make his own breakfast. But when Stiles looks over at her, he sees her smiling.

As he looks around the island, at Boyd finishing his juice and Erica with her head on his shoulder, Jackson on his phone, and Cora rambling to Derek about something she watched on television as he finishes his pancakes, Stiles thinks he's going to enjoy Pack breakfasts at the house.

*

Stiles laughed at Derek's expression. "You're pouting!" he exclaimed through laughter. The pout on Derek's face turned into a glare. "I love it. The big bad Alpha is pouting because he's not getting his way."

"You're an asshole," Derek growled. He moved to get off the bed, but Stiles reached out and grabbed his arm.

"Don't be like that," Stiles said, trying to control his laughter. Derek's face was pinched in frustration, which started off another wave of laughter. Stiles fell to Derek's chest, his face pressed against Derek's skin as he laughed.

But when Stiles looked up, Derek's expression was twisted in pain, a mixture of blood and black ooze seeping from his eyes. Stiles tried to scream, but his voice was gone, his throat raw. Two hands held him, and all around him was laughter. Fiona stepped forward and carved idly into Derek's chest with her claw like she was doodling on a sheet of paper. Deucalion sat boredly in a chair, Ennis and Kali flanking him, as Derek screamed.

"Stiles."

Stiles is shaken awake, and when he opens his eyes, he sees his father looming over him. Stiles closes his eyes again and sighs. Another nightmare, great.

"I thought the nightmares may go away now because of the memory stuff," the sheriff says as he sits on the edge of Stiles' bed.

"I'm not that lucky," Stiles replies. He pushes himself up into a sitting position and glances around, still feeling disoriented.

"What was it this time?"

"Same thing as usual," Stiles says. "Started out nice, a memory I think, of me and Derek from before. But then it turned into the night the Alphas took us. It's always that night," Stiles adds quietly.

"You never got to deal with it," the sheriff says gently. "The memories were taken before you were able to deal with what happened to you. I guess you're having to deal with it now."

"Derek's lucky. He doesn't remember it happening. He just saw what I saw when we were sifting through memories, but it's not the same as living through it."

"That's probably some sort of mercy," the sheriff states. "If they put him through a fraction of what you've described, it's a good thing he doesn't remember. That poor boy has been through too much he does remember. He doesn't need to remember that, too."

Stiles shoots his father a funny look. "That's a weird thing to say. And not at all what I was expecting."

"Why do you say that?"

Stiles shrugs. "Just didn't know you cared that much about Derek."

"He's a good man," the sheriff says. "And you love him, so that means I am obligated to take a vested interest in him."

"I'm surprised you're not running after him with guns and an interrogation."

The sheriff gives Stiles a wry smile. "I could, because I don't approve of what happened before, but that is in the past. And anyone who helps you come back to yourself is okay in my book."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "I'm not myself. I'll never be myself again."

The sheriff glares at Stiles. "Why do you always say that? You're more yourself than you've been in months. I think I have Derek to thank."

"Don't feel like myself," Stiles grumbles as he crosses his arms. The sheriff places his hand over Stiles' forearm.

"You are, kiddo. You're not healed, but it's progress. If I've learned anything in my lifetime, it's to celebrate every positive because they all count." Stiles thinks about his father's words as he father squeezes his arm. "Now, come on. Get out of bed. I'm going on shift, and there's some filing that needs to be done."

"Dad, it's the middle of the night."

"I know that, and you always file in the middle of the night. Why should you stop now?" He stands and makes for the door, then turns around to look at Stiles. "You can't tell me you think you're gonna sleep tonight."

Stiles sighs. He knows his father's right.

*

Derek can't seem to settle. He feels restless, can't sit down for longer than a few moments before he's up again finding something to do. He rearranges and decorates parts of the house that are still in need of it, then goes outside to get started on the landscaping projects he wants to complete.

He texts Stiles throughout the days, and Stiles calls him on his break at work once, but he doesn't see Stiles. He doesn't have to see Stiles every day, but he wants to. He wants to make sure Stiles is okay because he knows he's still not sleeping well and is doing filing at the station during some of the nights. He wants to hold Stiles and kiss him, press his face into his neck and breathe him in, hear him laugh and watch the way his eyes shine when he gets excited talking to Derek about something.

Derek just wants Stiles.

The memories haven't helped that any. Every day, Derek remembers something new. Some thing Stiles mentioned, a flash of them driving in the Camaro, a memory of them seeing a movie or eating takeout on the couch. A moment where Derek remembers the feel of Stiles' skin under his touch or remembers the way Stiles smiled before kissing him or whispering, "I love you." He's dreamed a few memories over the last few days, and it just reinforces his restlessness.

Plus, he can't stop thinking about the Alphas, about what Stiles witnessed that happened to him, that they almost missed being together because someone forced them apart.

Derek is tired of people taking away the people he loves.

Derek is outside, removing grass and weeds from part of the yard that they're going to turn into a back garden and deck area. He hears the back door open and smells Jackson.

"I would have helped," Jackson says.

"I know," Derek responds, leaning on the hoe and wiping his sweaty forehead with the back of his arm. "Figured since you came up with the plans for the back yard, I could work on getting it started. Plus, I thought I'd let you do whatever you needed to today. Thought you may be meeting Lydia for lunch or dinner."

"She's going out with Scott's Pack," Jackson states. Derek doesn't miss Jackson's slightly miffed tone. "Didn't Stiles tell you?"

"He said he was going to dinner with Scott. Didn't know it was with the Pack."

"Doesn't it bother you?" Jackson asks as he comes into the yard to stand next to Derek.

Derek shrugs. "Not really. Stiles is part of Scott's Pack. He's also become part of this Pack. Marjorie told me that it can happen, someone being part of two Packs."

Jackson snorts. "Leave it up to Stiles to fuck everything up."

Derek grunts in irritation. "Lydia's doing the same, you know. She hasn't quite made herself at home as much as Stiles, but she's becoming part of the Pack. Cora said that she and Lydia met Kira for dinner the other night, and she's been helping with Erica." Derek nods his head in Jackson's direction. "Then there's you. She chose you, and that makes her one of us."

Jackson glances out at the woods, his face pinched in a way that Derek knows means he's trying to figure out how to say something he doesn't want to. He's seen that look on Jackson's face way too often. "Are Erica and Boyd Pack now?" he finally asks. He doesn't look at Derek, but continues looking out at the trees. "They're here every day. You and Boyd spend a lot of time together. He even helped you finish the house."

"I do consider them Pack," Derek starts, choosing his words very carefully. "I bit them. I still think of them as my Betas." Derek doesn't miss the way Jackson's jaw twitches, the way his body tenses minutely.

"Of course you do," Jackson says, then quickly returns to the house and slams the door behind him.

Derek sighs. Sometimes, he feels he just can't win no matter what he does.

*

The next day, Derek is in the back yard, digging the hole for the small pond, when Boyd enters the clearing from the trail leading towards the cabin. Derek pauses long enough to wave.

"Need a hand?" Boyd asks.

"Only if you want to help. It's tedious."

Boyd goes over to the tool shed to grab another shovel, then pulls his t-shirt off over his head before he steps to the other side of Derek's marked off area. "This area right here?" Derek nods, and Boyd starts digging.

They work in silence for over an hour. Digging the pond goes much faster with Boyd helping, and Derek is grateful for the help and the silence.

"What made you decide on a pond?" Boyd asks after awhile.

"Wasn't my decision. Jackson came up with the design for the entire back yard. I told him he could do whatever he wanted. It's intricate, but incredibly beautiful. It's going to look like something out of a magazine." Derek pauses and leans against his shovel. "I have to admit, Jackson has more vision than I do. Left to me, we'd have a grill and enough chairs for guests."

"Nothing wrong with that," Boyd says. "But this is going to be nice."

"I think so. He's done a good job."

They're quiet for another stretch of time, and then Boyd asks, "How are you doing?"

"What do you mean?" Derek asks.

"With the memory stuff. I know you and Stiles have sorted things out, but how are you doing? Cora says you've barely stopped for days."

"There's a lot to be done."

"Derek," Boyd starts, voice quiet and serious. "I know distraction and avoidance when I see it."

"Nothing to avoid," Derek states.

"You don't have to pretend with me. I know better than anyone how they can fuck up your life. Even if you've gotten away or things seem better, they've still fucked you up."

Derek throws the shovel to the ground and goes to sit on the edge of the hole. Boyd sits beside him. "I don't have a reason to be upset," Derek says. "They didn't do to us what they did to you and Erica. I don't even remember when they tortured me, wouldn't have known it happened if it wasn't for Stiles' memories. They just took our memories, then left us. It's not that bad."

"Derek, that's just as bad as what happened to us," Boyd says. "Maybe they didn't mess with your body that you remember, but they kidnapped you, and Stiles had to watch them torture you. I watched them torture Erica, and it was the most horrible thing I've ever witnessed. I still dream about it sometimes, and when I wake up, I have to reach over beside me to make sure she's still there."

"I'm sorry," Derek responds, voice thick. "I didn't know."

"They messed with your minds. That's just as despicable. Everything they do is despicable."

"I have my memories back. There's nothing for me to be upset about."

"You don't have to be stoic all the time. You don't expect Stiles to be okay, or Erica and me. You shouldn't expect it of yourself."

"I can't afford to be weak."

"Why not?"

"Because I have a Pack to look after. All of you have been through more than me."

Boyd chuckles. "Derek, we've all been through hell." He reaches out and claps Derek on the shoulder. "I remember the asshole Alpha who bit me told us once that being a Pack meant supporting and trusting each other. But that asshole Alpha was as shut off and hypocritical as he is now."

Derek glares at Boyd, and Boyd just smiles. He says, "I'm an Alpha now, yet you're the one looking after everyone. I'd say it was an Alpha thing, but I think it's just a Derek thing."

Derek doesn't respond, just looks at his hands instead.

"Relying on the people who care about you doesn't make you weak," Boyd tells him. "If I've learned anything, it's that."

*

Derek's in his room reading, unable to sleep, when his phone lights up with a text. He smiles when he sees it's from Stiles.

You up?

Yes.

Wanna go for a ride?

Why? Everything okay?

Can't sleep. I'll pick you up.

I'll pick you up. You choose the destination.

Okay. Don't take too long.

Derek dresses in a pair of jeans and a grey tank top, puts on his boots, and quietly walks out to the Camaro. Stiles is waiting for him on the front porch when he pulls up in front of his house. He's wearing a baggy graphic tee and a red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and he looks like he hasn't brushed his hair in awhile.

When Stiles drops into the front seat, Derek leans over and kisses him. "Hello."

"Hey," Stiles says, trying to fasten his seatbelt and find a radio station at the same time.

"Where to?" Derek asks.

"Don't care. Just don't want to be in my room stuck with my thoughts."

"I couldn't sleep either," Derek admits.

"Really?" Stiles asks. Derek nods. "Thought it was just me who couldn't sleep. Please don't tell me you were having nightmares too?"

"Nope. Just a lot on my mind."

Stiles reaches across the console and takes Derek's hand, threading their fingers. "You can talk to me. I'll take some of what's on your mind."

Derek sighs. "It's nothing new. Thinking about the Alphas, the memories, what they did to us. I've been thinking a lot about Boyd and Erica - and Isaac, too. Then there's Jackson, who's upset Boyd and Erica are sticking around. I think he thinks they'll take his place. I'm worried about you." He lifts Stiles' hand to his mouth and kisses it.

"Don't waste your energy worrying about me."

"Don't be stupid. I'll always worry about you." He pauses, then asks, "What are you dreaming about?"

"Same thing as always. I'm so tired of dreaming about it. You'd think I'd get over it, but no."

Derek squeezes his hand. "It'll happen eventually. It hasn't been that long."

"I'm so tired, Derek. So fucking tired."

"I know you are." Derek doesn't know what else to say. He can smell Stiles' anxiety, his frustration, the depression and exhaustion wafting from him in the confines of the car. There's nothing Derek can do except be there for him. It's maddening.

"Where do you want to go?" Derek asks, turning randomly onto another road.

Stiles shrugs. He rolls the window down and rests his head on his arm on the windowsill. "Anywhere. Just drive. I want to look at the stars."

"Okay," Derek says.

Derek drives for hours. Stiles talks some, but there are long periods where he doesn't speak at all. After Stiles hasn't spoken for half an hour, Derek glances over and sees that Stiles has fallen asleep. Derek feels an intense sense of tenderness and love for the man beside him, asleep in the passenger seat with his mouth parted and his neck tilted at an odd angle. He knows Stiles is sure to have a crick in his neck when he awakes, but Derek doesn't dare disturb him.

Instead, he keeps driving as Stiles sleeps soundly in the seat beside him.

*

"This is stupid," Jackson growls, wolfed out, as Stiles walks out of the house. He drops onto the top step beside Derek and bumps his shoulder. Jackson is standing in the yard while Cora runs around in her wolf form, chasing Boyd and Erica.

"Calm down and try again," Derek says patiently, but Stiles can hear the frustration in his voice.

"I give up!" Jackson exclaims. "Fuck this magical Hale wolf gene. I don't have it. Every other fucking Hale does, but I don't." He rips a branch off the nearest tree, and Derek sighs.

"You turned into a lizard, dude," Stiles says. "You can turn into a wolf."

Jackson growls and snaps his teeth in Stiles' direction, and Stiles rolls his eyes. "Shut your fucking mouth, Stilinski."

"Stiles, you're not helping," Derek tells him. Stiles rolls his eyes again. Stubborn werewolves.

"Try again," Derek instructs. Jackson growls and curses under his breath, but he cracks his neck and starts to try to transform.

Stiles lays his head on Derek's shoulder as he watches hair sprout on Jackson's arms. "Good," Derek says. This is as far as Jackson usually gets, so when Jackson's face starts shifting and his limbs change, Stiles shoots to his feet in surprise.

"Oh my god!" he exclaims.

Derek's still sitting down, but he's watching intently. Even Cora, Erica, and Boyd have stopped running around to watch. The features on Jackson's face have rearranged until there's a snout forming and his face has become more lupine. He's on all fours now, although his limbs still look mostly human except for the claws on his hands. Most of his body is covered in fur.

Then, the transformation stops, and Jackson just stands there, a weird human-wolf hybrid in the middle of the yard.

"Well done, Jackson," Derek says with a smile.

"Dude, you look fucking insane," Stiles exclaims. "Just...you have Jackson!wolf face. What is that even?"

"Stiles," Derek says with a sigh.

"Dude, he's like half human and half wolf, like actually half wolf, not like when you're in Beta form!"

"I know that, Stiles. I can see."

"It's fucking insane!" Stiles says again.

Cora runs up to Jackson and circles him, then drags her snout around his face. He nips at her shoulder affectionately.

"See?" Derek asks. "You can do it. It just takes time."

Jackson replies, his voice deep and animalistic, nothing like his normal tone. "Whatever." He tries to move around in this form, but his body is in too much of an in-between state to allow much mobility. He ends up stumbling. So after a few minutes, he shifts back to normal.

He glances around, half in confusion and half in elation. Stiles thinks Jackson looking happy is just plain weird. Jackson's face looks wrong when it's not sarcastic or sneering.

Derek walks over to him and runs a hand along the back of his neck, and Jackson actually preens. The two of them don't say anything, but seem to communicate through touches and instinct, and it's honestly one of the weirdest things Stiles has ever seen.

A few moments later, Cora comes out of the underbrush, wearing loose-fitting shorts and a tank top. "It's Stiles," she declares as she enters the clearing.

"What?" Stiles asks. "What did I do?"

Cora turns to Jackson and Derek. "Stiles helps Jackson turn."

Jackson scoffs. "No. Not a chance."

Cora rolls her eyes. "It's so obvious. The last time you had a breakthrough he was here. And you weren't getting anywhere today, not until Stiles joined us."

The three of them glance at Stiles, and Stiles just sits there, confused.

"I don't understand," Derek says.

Then, it clicks. "My spark," Stiles says. "It provides power to you, to the Pack. It must help Jackson tap into his power so he can trigger the shift."

"Exactly," Cora says. "Wendy and Deaton both said Derek's power flows through him. Stiles is like a supernatural boost."

"Great, now you're telling me I can't even get it up without Stilinski," Jackson grouses.

"I think he just helps you tap into it," Cora says. "Once you've figured out how to do it, you can keep doing it. Think about before. Stiles was here when you shifted farther, and you were able to do it without him afterwards."

"Dude, I am fucking awesome!" Stiles exclaims. The others stare at him in amusement. "I am like werewolf mojo. How cool is that?"

Jackson rolls his eyes. "I'm never going to live this down, am I?"

"Not in a million years," Stiles grins widely.

"It doesn't matter," Derek says, giving Stiles a significant look before turning to Jackson. "You're almost there. That's all that matters." Cora throws her arms around Jackson and pulls him close as she nuzzles his face. He growls at her and tries to push her away, but she holds on and nuzzles him until he reluctantly gives in.

Erica has dropped onto the top step beside Stiles and is leaning all her wolfy weight on him, Stiles trying to push her off while Boyd laughs at him, when everyone but Stiles goes silent and tenses at the same time. They stare at the same spot in the woods, and Boyd steps in front of Stiles and Erica at the same time Derek moves towards them.

Then, Derek relaxes and walks towards the woods just before Chris Argent steps into the clearing. A moment later, he's joined by Isaac.

"Fuck, it's true," Isaac says when his eyes land on Erica and Boyd. "You're alive."

"Isaac," Erica says, her voice breaking halfway through the word.

"Erica, Boyd," Isaac says in complete disbelief. He's staring at them like he doesn't think they're real. Erica jumps off the step and races across the yard in a flash, throwing herself around Isaac's body and holding on with all four limbs. Isaac holds her tightly, his face pressed into her blonde curls. "I can't believe it."

"What are you doing here?" Derek asks them as Boyd walks to where Erica and Isaac are still clutching each other.

"Got your message," Chris responds as he extends his hand and Derek shakes it. "Scott called, too. I was going to go see him, but Isaac had to come see them first." Chris glances over at where Erica has finally let go of Isaac, and Isaac is clasping Boyd in a tight embrace. "He didn't want to believe it, but he hoped." As Stiles walks up to Derek, he notices the soft expression on Chris' face when he looks over at Isaac.

Chris turns back to Derek as Stiles stands beside him. Chris nods at him in greeting, then looks between them with interest. "How are things here? How long have you been back?"

Derek starts filling Chris in on what he's missed as Stiles makes his way over to where Isaac is talking to Erica and Boyd. He hangs back, unsure what to say. He and Isaac were never exactly friends, but it's nice to see him just the same.

"Why doesn't it surprise me that you're here, right in the middle of things?" Isaac directs towards Stiles with a smirk.

Stiles shrugs, grinning. "Where else would I be?"

Isaac claps Stiles on the shoulder. "It's good to see you."

"You too, man."

"How's Scott?" he asks.

"He's good. The Pack is good."

"Just the fucking Alphas again," Isaac says. "It's like fucking deja vu. Doesn't this place ever change?"

With a shake of his head, Stiles responds, "Doesn't really feel like it, does it?" He glances behind him to where Derek and Chris are talking as Cora and Jackson greet Isaac. Stiles pulls out his phone. "I'm gonna text Scott and tell him to come over. I think he needs to be here."

"Wait," Isaac says, and Stiles' fingers hover over his screen. "Don't call Scott yet. There's, um, there's something we need to show you before you contact him."

Stiles narrows his eyes suspiciously as Derek approaches them. Stiles says, "What do you have to show me that I can't tell Scott about?"

"What's going on?" Derek asks, looking between Isaac and Chris. Stiles can sense the sudden shift in the wolves, now alert again instead of relaxed.

Isaac and Chris share a look. "It's easier to show you than to tell you." Isaac reaches into his pocket to pull out his phone and taps out a text. When he pockets his phone, he glances at Derek and then looks at Stiles before saying, "Just don't freak out, okay?"

Stiles feels Derek take a step closer to him, close enough that they're touching. Stiles is apprehensive, but more than anything, he's plain curious. They wait for a few moments in heavy silence, and then all the wolves turn their attention towards the woods again. Soon, Stiles can hear the deliberate sound of footsteps through the underbrush.

"Isaac?" Derek asks, but Isaac doesn't respond. He just watches the woods as he waits.

Stiles catches sight of someone through the trees as they approach, tall and lean with dark hair. He watches curiously as the woman steps into the clearing.

Then, Stiles can't breathe. Voices surround him, but he can't hear them over the whoosh of air in his ears. The earth is hard under his knees as he drops down, his vision blurry as he counts his fingers.

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten

It can't be. It can't be. It's not possible...IT'S NOT POSSIBLE.

"Stiles!" Stiles hears the voice distantly, like it's miles away. "Breathe, Stiles. Breathe." Hands are on his arms, then cupping his face, and Stiles glances up, sees Derek's concerned face right in front of him. "Breathe."

"Derek," Stiles manages as he drags in shaky breaths. "I'm seeing things." He glances down at his hands, but there are still ten fingers, which doesn't make any sense.

Because Stiles knows he's seeing things. This is impossible. He's seen a lot of impossible things over the last few years, even the last few months, but this, this is beyond impossible. Stiles knows this. Because Stiles was the reason for it.

Stiles is the one who killed Allison.

But Allison is in the clearing, alive and well and beautiful as she stands beside Isaac. Allison, who died in Scott's arms. Allison. Allison. Allison.

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and repeats, "It's not real, it's not real, it's not real."

"Stiles!" Derek exclaims, hands warm against his cheeks then firm on his shoulders. "Look at me, Stiles."

Stiles opens his eyes, and Derek is right there, like it's supposed to be. Except Stiles never wanted Derek to witness this. Because Stiles has finally broken with reality.

"Stiles, listen to me," Derek says gently. "She's real. You're not hallucinating. You're not dreaming. Allison is really there."

Stiles closes his eyes and breathes. "Derek," he whispers.

Quietly, closer to his ear, Derek says, "Stiles, you are fine. Everything is okay. But Allison is real."

"But she's dead." I killed her, he doesn't add.

"No, she's not."

Stiles focuses on his breathing and tries to calm his racing thoughts and emotions. Derek wouldn't lie to him. Trust Derek, he repeats to himself. Which is the only reason he finally opens his eyes and allows Derek to help him to his feet.

Everyone is silent as Stiles stares at the ground. Then, Stiles takes a steadying breath and raises his eyes.

Allison is standing across from him, in a pair of jeans, boots, and a black top. Her hair is long again, hanging in loose curls. She's watching him closely, and after a moment of Stiles staring at her, she gives him a smile, bringing out the dimples on her cheeks.

Allison.

Her smile is still as warm as it ever was. Stiles' eyes water, and then a tear rolls down his cheek. He opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Finally, he says, "But I killed you."

"Oh Stiles," Allison says, her eyes damp. "It wasn't your fault."

Stiles blinks, another tear falling. "Is it really you?" Allison nods, and Stiles asks, "How?" Stiles gasps when Allison's eyes turn gold. "Holy fuck. You're a werewolf."

"I know you're all confused," Chris says. "We've got a lot to explain."

"Does everyone come back from the dead these days?" Jackson asks, effectively breaking the moment. Everyone turns to him. "It's like a fucking bad zombie movie. I didn't know that when I did it, I would start a trend."

"Leave it up to Jackson to make this about him," Cora groans.

"What? It's not like Allison is the first person standing here to come back from the dead. She's not even the first this month."

"I've missed you, too, Jackson," Allison says sarcastically.

Derek directs everyone to the back deck, but grabs Stiles' arm and hangs back. He holds Stiles' hands loosely as he studies him. "Are you okay?"

Stiles glances up to the deck, where Allison is taking a seat beside Isaac. "One of my closest friends who I watched die, who I basically killed, is back from the dead. No, I'm not okay."

Derek pulls Stiles into a quick embrace and kisses the side of his head. "I love you," he whispers almost inaudibly. Stiles holds on to Derek for a moment, trying to draw strength from him, then lets go.

Stiles sits beside Derek on the back deck. Everyone sits there, awkward and tense and not talking. Stiles can't stop staring at Allison. She looks exactly the same. Stiles still can't wrap his head around the fact that this is real and not a hallucination.

Derek reaches out and takes Stiles' hand. He squeezes it, and Stiles grips it with everything that he's got.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Stiles finally asks, breaking the silence. "How could you do that to us? To Lydia? To Scott?"

Allison grimaces and her eyes water, but she lifts her chin as she answers. "I almost died," she starts. "I think I did die for a very short time. Dad was almost too late. When I turned, we went to France." She glances at Isaac and puts a hand on his thigh. "We all needed to be away from this place."

Derek looks at Chris. "You're a hunter. How could you let your daughter become a werewolf?"

"I wasn't gonna lose my daughter, Derek," Chris states, his face and voice hard. "I'd have burnt down the entirety of Beacon Hills if it would have saved her."

"But how are you alive?" Stiles asks again. "You died in Scott's arms."

"She didn't," Isaac says. "She was almost dead. When everyone left and Chris was carrying her body away, I heard it. The faint sound of a heartbeat. It was slow and almost gone, but it was there."

"How did Scott not hear it? She was dead," Stiles insists.

"Oni magic, we think," Chris responds. "Or the Nemeton. Scott was clouded by his grief. Isaac was, too. That's why he didn't hear anything until we were alone and away from everyone. Her life force must have been connected with the Oni and the Nemeton. It kept her alive in a stasis for a period after everything happened."

Stiles shakes his head. "That doesn't make any sense. Scott was so sure. I saw her die."

Chris gives him an understanding look. "I did too, Stiles. When Isaac heard her heartbeat, I didn't believe it. I almost let my own grief get in the way of saving her. I owe everything to Isaac." Isaac looks embarrassed and stares at the ground instead of at anyone, but Stiles notices when he reaches over and grabs Allison's hand.

So that's still a thing, Stiles thinks to himself. He's not sure how Scott is going to take the news that Allison is alive and that she is still with Isaac. His heart is already breaking for Scott.

"Who bit her?" Derek asks.

"An Alpha to the east who owed me a favor," Chris says. "We put her in my car and drove straight there. The Alpha didn't think it would work, but like I said, he owed me."

"What for?" Stiles asks, curious and suspicious at the same time. He wasn't sure how an Alpha werewolf owed a hunter a favor.

"I kept his family safe from my family once," Chris tells him. "They hadn't done anything and didn't deserve to die."

Stiles snorts at the notion, and Chris glares at him. Ignoring Stiles, Chris continues. "We thought we were too late, but the bite took. We hid in the Rocky Mountains until she learned to control herself, then we went to France."

"So," Stiles interrupts. "The entire time that we were here, fighting and grieving for her, when you came back to help us, she was alive?"

"Yes."

Stiles turns to Allison, his emotions an uncomfortable mixture of rage and betrayal. "You thought it would be better to let us think you were dead?" he asks, raising his voice. "To let Scott think that he'd lost you, to leave Lydia? To let me - " Stiles cuts off, unable to go on.

"Stiles," Allison starts, scooting forward in her chair. "Please try to understand. I - "

Stiles hastily gets out of his seat and enters the house, slamming the door behind him. He can't listen to that anymore. He can't listen to reasons and excuses, not when he's spent the last two years with Scott and Lydia trying to figure out a way to process and move on when she was fucking alive the whole time!

The next thing Stiles knows, he's behind the wheel of the Jeep, most of the way down Derek's driveway. The Jeep is idling and his foot is on the brake, his hands gripped around the steering wheel so tightly his hands hurt.

"Stiles, thank god," Derek says minutes later as he opens the driver's side door. "You're not fit to be driving."

"I don't remember driving here," Stiles says, staring at the steering wheel.

"Come on, scoot over." Stiles starts to move, but he lets his foot off the brake and the Jeep rolls forward. He slams on the brake. "Maybe you should put it in park first," Derek says, his voice full of forced levity.

Stiles does as he's told, then crawls over the middle into the passenger side. Derek gets behind the wheel and starts to back up. "No!" Stiles shouts. Derek stops the Jeep and glances over at Stiles. "Not back there. Anywhere but back there."

Derek nods and drives forward as Stiles stares out of the window. Derek doesn't try to talk to Stiles, and Stiles is glad. He's barely holding it together, and he just can't handle it if Derek started talking.

Stiles snaps out of his thoughts when the car shuts off. They're in Stiles' driveway, the sheriff's cruiser not there. Stiles has never been so happy to see his home before.

Stiles walks inside slowly, each step heavy. He looks up at the stairs but doesn't make the move to go up them. He's not sure he could if he tried. Derek gently takes Stiles' wrist and leads him into the living room and sits down on the couch. Stiles sits on the edge, staring at the floor as his mind whirls.

Allison is alive.

Allison is alive.

Stiles starts to cry. Derek's arms are immediately around him, and Stiles turns to him and presses his face into Derek's chest. He cries from deep inside himself, loud ugly cries that hurt as they leave him. Derek doesn't say anything, doesn't move, just holds him as Stiles curls his fingers into Derek's shirt and falls apart.

*

Stiles wakes up, and the first thing he thinks is, I feel like shit.

His eyes are sore, his throat is sore, his head is killing him, and his nose is stuffy. A moment later, he realizes that he's lying on his couch with his head cradled on Derek's chest, and Derek has his arms around him.

Stiles sits up and looks around, disoriented for a moment.

"Stiles?" Derek blinks from where he'd been dozing.

"What time is it?" Stiles asks, his voice scratchy.

Derek cranes his neck towards the clock on the BluRay player. "After 7."

Stiles rubs his eyes. They've been here a few hours. Stiles doesn't feel any better, so he lays back down on Derek. "I think I may have gotten drool and snot on your shirt," he mumbles, his face smushed against Derek's pec.

"Don't care. It'll wash out."

"You're too good to me," Stiles says. "Not every boyfriend will let me snot on them."

"I hope I'm not every boyfriend."

"You're not. You're better."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No. I want to lay here with you." After a moment, Stiles says, "Can you turn on the television? I don't even care what you put it on."

Stiles closes his eyes and listens to the random procedural Derek left it on. He can hear the steady rhythm of Derek's heart beneath his ear, and it's a soothing sound. He's almost asleep again when Derek tenses, then he hears the doorbell ring.

"Fuck," Stiles says. "Who could that be?"

Derek doesn't answer, but he doesn't look happy when Stiles glances at him. Stiles gets up and walks over to the door. He should be surprised to find Allison on the other side, but he's not.

"Hello Stiles," Allison says cautiously.

"Hello Allison."

"May I come in?"

Stiles shrugs and steps aside to let Allison inside. She walks into the living room and stops when she sees Derek on the couch, glaring at her. "Oh, hello Derek."

"Don't act surprised. You could smell me," Derek says.

Allison awkwardly tucks a hair behind her ear. "Actually, I couldn't. I'm not very good with scents."

Derek studies her for a moment before he softens slightly. "Isaac was never very good with scents, either."

"No, he's still bad at them. It's why I haven't figured them out. Isaac's been my only teacher, so my werewolf skills are pretty limited to what Dad and Isaac knows."

"You didn't find a Pack or an Alpha in France?" Derek asks.

Allison shakes her head. "Dad thought it best to keep to ourselves. The less the hunters knew about me, the better. He didn't think they'd take it well that there was an Argent hunter who was also a werewolf."

"Well, Kate was a batshit werejaguar, so why not another supernatural Argent?" Stiles drawls.

Allison actually looks contrite. "I heard about Kate. Dad tried to find her the last time he was in the states, but he couldn't find her."

"No one has been able to find her," Derek says through clenched teeth.

"I know it has nothing to do with me, but I'm sorry that she came back. We're both very sorry Aunt Kate came back." Allison looks at her hands, and Derek glares at the floor.

"You called yourself an Argent hunter," Stiles says to break the tension. "Are you still a hunter?"

Allison nods her head. "Dad, Isaac, and I are hunters."

Derek snorts. "A werewolf hunter who hunts with two werewolves? It's ludicrous."

"We protect those who can't protect themselves," Allison says. "Sometimes that includes werewolves. But there are a lot of supernatural creatures to protect humans from."

"Preaching to the motherfucking choir," Stiles exclaims. Allison gives him a small smile. "Why are you here, Allison?"

She glances at Derek. "I wanted to talk to you."

Derek stands up and walks over to Stiles. "I'll leave you to it then." He links his fingers with Stiles'. "Walk me out." Derek nods to Allison, then leads Stiles out of the house. When they're on the porch, Derek leans close and whispers, "Do you have mountain ash, wolfsbane, some kind of protection?"

Stiles rolls his eyes. "You act like I'm some naive idiot. Of course I do. Why? Do you think I'll need it?"

Derek glances at the door, his face contemplative. "I don't think so. I've stayed in touch with Chris over the years, as has Scott. And I trust Isaac. I don't think there's a reason not to trust them now."

"But?"

"But, we can never be too careful," Derek says. "A lot has been going on. You don't know how much it's killing me to leave you, but you need to talk to her without me around. And I trust you to take care of yourself."

"Against a hunter werewolf?" Stiles whistles. "High praise, indeed."

Derek growls. "Give me a kiss, and shut up." Stiles kisses him, and Derek says, "I'm gonna go check on everyone back home. Let me know everything is okay."

"I will." He kisses Derek again. "Hey, I love you."

"I love you, too."

Stiles watches from the porch as Derek runs down the street and disappears around the corner in the dusk. Then, he returns to the house. Allison is sitting on the couch, and Stiles stops as soon as he enters the room.

"What?" Allison asks.

"I never thought I'd see you on my couch again."

"It's not like I spent a lot of time on it before," she points out.

"Still." Stiles crosses the room and sits on the other end of the couch.

"So, you and Derek?" Allison asks. Stiles nods. "I didn't expect that."

"Apparently, we're meant to be together," Stiles says sardonically.

"He's changed," Allison says. "My dad commented on it one of the last times he saw him."

"You and Isaac are still together, I see."

Allison ducks her head and smiles. "Yes. He's been...I wouldn't have gotten through everything without him. It hasn't been easy."

"Like it's been a cake walk here?" Stiles snaps.

Allison looks at him. "I didn't say that." Stiles turns away from her and looks at the far wall. "I know why you are mad at me, Stiles. I came by to try to explain." She reaches across the space between them and grabs his hand. Stiles looks at her in surprise. "Please, Stiles. You don't know how much you mean to me, and how hard it was to stay away."

"Then why did you?"

"I died, Stiles. Even if I was technically still alive, I died. When I woke up, I was a werewolf. Something in me was different. I couldn't control myself at first. I was angry and I couldn't control the shift. I almost killed my dad multiple times. If it wasn't for Isaac, I probably would have."

"Why didn't you come to us?" Stiles asks. "We could have helped you. You would have had a Pack."

Allison shakes her head, her eyes wet. "Stiles, my family had been destroyed in such a short amount of time. I'd lost Scott. Even before I left, I felt like I didn't belong. I was so scared. Dad told me everyone believed I was dead, and I thought that was for the best. I needed to get away. Dad did, too. He was...not in a good place. And Isaac. He felt he had no place, either. All three of us were displaced. So, we built our own small Pack, I guess you could call it."

Stiles stares at her in disbelief. "That's absurd. Allison, you were one of us. One of the core four. You were part of us to the end. After you died...nothing was ever the same again."

Allison sniffs and wipes her eyes. "I told Isaac I wanted to talk to you first for a reason. I thought you of all people would understand. Lydia, probably. Scott would never understand. But I knew you would."

"Why?" Stiles asks.

"Because of what happened to you before I left. You can't tell me that you never wanted to leave."

"All the time," Stiles says. "But I never did."

"Derek left," Allison says. "Jackson left. I had to get out, too. By the time I had come back to myself, it had been weeks. Dad was a mess, and I was...nearly unrecognizable. Think about how Erica and Isaac changed after Derek bit them, and multiple that by ten thousand, and that was me."

Stiles stares at the woman sitting across from him. A stranger, but not really. Allison, their Allison. Alive and back. He wants to be angry, he wants to rail and hit and tell her to get the fuck out, but somewhere deep down, he understands. He knows why she stayed away.

"Why did you come back, then?" Stiles asks.

"I'm not exactly sure. Dad got the messages, and Isaac wanted to return to see if they were really alive. He missed them terribly. You don't know how much he missed Erica, Boyd, and Derek. And as soon as he said he was returning, I just knew I had to come back, too. It's like something was drawing me back to Beacon Hills, no matter how much I wanted to stay away."

Stiles shakes his head. "How am I supposed to forgive you, Allison? I have blamed myself for your death for years. I've had nightmares and stayed up all night with Lydia and Scott, trying to forget about you."

Allison sobs and scoots closer to Stiles. She takes a breath and wipes her eyes. "I'm so sorry you blamed yourself for my death. Even if I had died, it wasn't your fault. Stiles, none of that was your fault."

"That's what everyone keeps trying to tell me," Stiles says. "I just can't seem to believe it."

"I know you may never forgive me," Allison says. "Lydia was angry, too, and I don't think she's forgiven me yet, but we're working on it."

"You talked to Lydia?" Stiles asks, surprised.

"After you left. Jackson texted her, and she showed up not too long afterwards." Allison blinks back tears. "God, I missed her so much. I think I missed Lydia most of all."

"You can't begin to know how much she missed you," Stiles says. "We talked about you all the time, you know. She sometimes believed she was haunted by your ghost."

"She told me," Allison says.

"What about Scott?" Stiles asks.

"I'm going to see him after I leave here. He doesn't know yet. I want to tell him."

"I don't know what he's going to do," Stiles says.

Allison smiles. "Me either. I love him, even though I'm not in love with him anymore. I want to see him."

Stiles sighs. "I'm furious and hurt, but fuck Allison, I'm so fucking glad you're alive."

Allison barks out a half-sob, half-laugh and launches herself at Stiles. She holds on to him tightly, and Stiles holds her just as close. He can't believe he's got this chance, to touch her and hear her voice. He moves each of his fingers as he counts just to make sure he isn't dreaming.

When they pull apart, Allison looks at him and smiles. Stiles hates her right then, because one smile from Allison and he's melting. She's impossible to stay mad at.

"I hope you understand that I thought I was doing what was best for me," Allison says. "The last few years haven't been easy. At times they were unbearable."

"So they've been for all of us."

Allison hugs him again. "But we're still in one piece," she says. "And somehow, we're all back together. That's something, isn't it?"

"I guess," Stiles says. Allison smiles, then leans forward to kiss him on his cheek. "Thank you, Stiles. You mean a lot to me, so thank you."

Stiles nods, and Allison gets up. Stiles follows her to the door and watches her walk towards the sidewalk. When she's halfway across the yard, Stiles calls to her, and she turns.

"I'm glad you're here, Allison. You don't know how glad I am to see your face again."

Allison smiles, and Stiles feels like crying again. "You don't know how glad I am to see your face again, too." She gives him a wave as she starts down the sidewalk.

Stiles takes a deep breath as he closes the door, trying to pull himself back together.

*

Derek has decided at this point, nothing should surprise him anymore. He should be more shocked about Allison coming back, but after Cora returning, Peter's resurrection, Kate's transformation, his own near-death and evolution, Boyd and Erica...fuck, he just learned that he and Stiles had a relationship a few years ago. Allison Argent coming back from the dead is nothing at this point.

Derek never cared that much for Allison, but he knows that Stiles cared about her deeply, as did Isaac. And Derek figures the less people dead by the horrors of Beacon Hills is a victory for their side.

He's worried about Stiles, though. He had never seen Stiles look so lost or confused. It was like he had snapped with reality and really couldn't distinguish one from the other.

Derek worries about Stiles often these days. People coming back from the dead, nightmares, memory retrieval...he knows Stiles is strong, but everyone has a limit. He just hopes Stiles' is still much higher than most people's.

It's not surprising that Chris Argent and Isaac are still at the house when Derek returns. Jackson's Porsche isn't in the driveway, so Derek can guess where he is. When Derek walks inside the house, he finds Isaac, Erica, Boyd, and Cora in the living room, and can smell Chris towards the back of the house, still on the back deck he guesses.

"How's Stiles?" Cora asks.

"Okay," Derek responds. "I left him talking with Allison."

"You can trust her," Isaac states. "Stiles will be safe with her."

"I trust you," Derek says before walking through the house to the back deck. Just as he guessed, Chris is sitting in a chair, drinking a beer and staring towards the forest.

"Incredible, isn't it?" Chris asks when Derek steps outside. "My family has done everything to protect humans from werewolves until they finally became twisted by hatred and prejudice, and then the last remaining Argent in my line becomes a werewolf."

"I'd go with ironic." Derek takes the empty chair beside Chris.

"You know," Chris starts, lowering his voice. "She tried to kill herself and she tried run away. She didn't think I'd want her now that she was a 'monster' and that I'd try to kill her. She thought it'd be better to leave me." Chris shakes his head and takes a sip from the bottle. "I told her I'd take the bite myself if it would protect her and keep her alive. She's all I have left. She means more than anything. I can handle a bit of lycanthropy if that means I have my daughter."

Derek twists in the chair to study Chris more closely. Though there are lines and edges of worry that Derek recognizes, there's something else underneath it. The longer Derek studies him, the more he realizes that it's something akin to contentment. Chris looks more relaxed and content than Derek has ever seen him.

"Lycanthropy seems to be good for all of you," Derek says.

Chris gives Derek a wry smile. "Never thought I'd say that a werewolf saved my life, but in this case, it did."

Derek nods and looks at the forest. "She has the potential to be powerful. I can see it in her. It's right under the skin. And she's got a cunning mind and a good heart. It'll make her a good werewolf."

"She just needs a teacher," Chris says. "An Alpha. I can teach her how to kill and subdue werewolves, but not be one."

Derek hums in agreement, and then they sit in silence.

Derek loses track of how much time passes. The back door opens, and Derek realizes the moon has risen high in the sky. Without even inhaling, he knows that it's Isaac.

"Have you heard from Allison?" Chris asks.

"Still with Scott. She texted me when she left Stiles."

Chris nods, then stands, and Isaac immediately takes the vacated chair as the back door closes. His legs sprawl out in front of him; Derek had forgotten just how tall Isaac was.

"Allison said her conversation with Stiles went well," Isaac says.

Derek nods. "Stiles texted me and told me when she left."

They lapse into silence. Derek focuses his senses on Isaac, tries to sift the unfamiliar with the familiar, tries to detect that scared boy he bit so many years ago.

"So, Boyd and Erica," Isaac finally says.

"Yeah."

"I spent so many nights searching for them. I remember seeing Erica's dead body in your arms, watching Boyd die."

"I know," Derek agrees. "It took awhile for me to accept that they were real and really back. Seemed too good to be true."

"I know what you mean."

After a moment, Derek asks, "How are you, Isaac?"

Isaac turns to look at Derek. Derek can see that he's older now, more assured, but still lacking confidence. "I'm good. Chris has been really kind, taking me in. He's a good man."

"I know," Derek says, and he means it.

"And Allison is amazing. You should see what she can do. She's a better werewolf than I could ever think of being."

"I'm sure that's not true."

Isaac laughs with self-deprecation.

"Isaac," Derek starts. He shifts uncomfortably, trying to figure out how to get the words he needs to say off his tongue. He's wanted to say these words for a long time. Isaac turns to him, eyes wide in curiosity. "I, uh, I wanted to apologize."

Isaac's faces scrunches in confusion. "For what?"

"For everything that happened before." Derek sighs and runs a hand over his face. "There is no excuse for my behavior, but I want you to know that I was only trying to protect you. When I pushed you away, I did it because I wanted to keep you safe. I knew if you had stayed with me, you'd have died." He twists his hands in his laps and says quietly, "It was the only way I knew to keep you safe."

"I know. I don't think you handled it right, but I understand why you did it." Derek nods, but doesn't respond. "I forgive you, you know. Things turned out okay for me, better than okay really. And I'm here now."

Derek looks at Isaac, feels a complicated, deep connection to and affection for him. There was a reason Derek chose Isaac first, a reason he did everything in his power to push him away and keep him safe. Derek wants to tell him that he still feels the Pack bond as strongly and fiercely now as right after he bit him, but he's not sure he has that right.

Isaac reaches over and grasps Derek's shoulder and squeezes it. "Erica and Boyd are alive, you're here, and I'm back. It's like the Pack's back together again."

"Yeah," Derek replies, mouth dry.

Isaac smiles and lets his hand drop, and they sit side by side on the porch in silence way into the night.

*

Derek is still up, sitting in the living room and reading a book, when he hears Jackson's car coming down the driveway. He speaks when Jackson enters the house, but Jackson doesn't respond as he quickly makes his way up the stairs.

A few minutes later, Jackson hurries back down the stairs carrying a duffle bag. "Where are you going?" Derek asks.

"Lydia's," Jackson replies tersely. He's got a sour look on his face, and he smells upset. "It's getting a bit crowded around here."

Derek sets his book aside. "What are you talking about?"

"We've got three new guests."

Derek sighs. "They're staying at a hotel. Boyd and Erica went home. Cora's the only one upstairs."

"I know," Jackson snaps. "I can smell it."

"I just thought maybe I needed to point it out," Derek replies in frustration.

Jackson huffs in his signature derisive way, then heads towards the door. "I'll be at Lydia's if you need me." Then, he slams the door behind him.

Derek stares after the him, confused. He wishes he knew what had gotten into Jackson lately, because even though he hates to admit it, Jackson is starting to worry him.

Derek picks the book back up and tries to continue reading, but he can't concentrate on the page. Finally, he sets the book aside, defeated. He thinks about texting Stiles, but it's almost midnight and he knows Stiles has work in the morning, so hopefully he's asleep.

Instead, he goes upstairs and gets into bed. But he just stares at the ceiling and thinks.

Boyd and Erica coming back, Allison still alive, Alphas coming this way, his and Stiles' memories returning - it feels too convenient to be a coincidence. Something is going on, Derek just doesn't know what.

He lies in bed and stares at the ceiling for a long time, trying to make sense of everything.

*

Stiles wakes up from a nightmare, screaming and sweating, the sheets tangled around him. His dad is on shift tonight, so he's there alone. He blinks a few times, counts his fingers, then drops back against the pillow. His heart is pounding in his ears, and though he knows it was just a dream, he can't shake the feeling. He doesn't even remember what he dreamed, just knows that it was bad.

He contemplates calling Derek, but it's after 2 a.m., and he can't call Derek every time he wakes up screaming at night. Stiles knows that's a sure fire to run Derek off.

He takes a few breaths, turns on Netflix, and tries to go back to sleep. But he can't. That feeling is still nagging at him, tugging at the back of his brain, and he's filled with anxiety. He can't get comfortable, and every time he closes his eyes, his thoughts are jumbled. He knows his dream was about Allison, but that's all he can remember.

After fifteen minutes of tossing and turning, he grabs his phone.

"What took you so long?" Lydia answers after the first ring.

"I tried to sleep. Just woke up. Nightmare."

"I haven't been to sleep," Lydia says. "Jackson is here, but he's asleep."

"Don't let him know that you are talking to me," Stiles jokes.

"I'll talk to whomever I please. Jackson has no say over the matter."

"I think you need to tell him that."

"You didn't call to argue about Jackson."

"This is true," Stiles says. "But it's so much fun."

Lydia ignores him. "I can't believe she's alive. I screamed for her, Stiles. It was real."

"I know," Stiles replies quietly. He hears Lydia sniffle on the other end.

"I told her I'm furious. I can't forgive her yet. It hurts too bad."

Stiles thinks about what Allison said and his own anger from earlier. "I know where you're coming from, but I think I understand where she's coming from, too. Sometimes, I wish I would have left. I think maybe I would be less fucked up if I'd have gotten out and got my shit together."

"How could she leave us?" Lydia asks.

"I'm not saying what she did was right, but what other choice did she have? Stay here, where we were getting fucked over all the time? Where werewolves were dying left and right? Who was here to help her? Scott and Derek? It wasn't exactly ideal. No wonder Chris wanted to take her far, far away."

"How are you not angry?" Lydia asks.

"She wasn't my best friend, for one," Stiles admits. "But I guess I understand, and well, a small part of me is jealous. She got away from this clusterfuck. She almost died, and she went somewhere safer."

Lydia sobs again, and Stiles lies there and listens to her. They stay on the phone for hours, until Stiles finally drifts off to sleep to the sounds of Lydia talking about which classes she wants to talk in the fall.

*

Stiles is hiding in the storage section. He's standing beside a plastic cube organizer and pretending to work, but playing Solitaire on his phone instead. He's dead on his feet, too tired to concentrate. He's had too much caffeine but it didn't do anything but make him jittery.

"Working hard, I see." Stiles tears his eyes away from his phone to see Danny, Liam, and Mason walking towards him. Liam says, "I need your job. All you do is stand around doing nothing."

"I work," Stiles snaps. "You've seen me here, what? Twice?"

"Children," Danny says with amusement.

"What are you doing here?" Stiles asks.

"We're grabbing a late lunch and knew you were getting off soon. Thought you'd like to join us," Mason responds.

Stiles doesn't feel like socializing, but he thinks it might do him some good to go out with the Pack. He agrees.

Danny, Liam, and Mason are waiting for him in the parking lot after work. Danny hops in Stiles' Jeep, and Stiles follows Liam and Mason to the burger joint down the street. They get a booth in the back, and after the waitress takes their order, Liam turns to Stiles and asks, "Is it true that Allison is really back?"

So, this is what they wanted to talk about, Stiles thinks.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "She's alive. How did you know?"

"Saw Scott this morning," Liam says. "He's...I think he may be in shock."

Stiles frowns. He thought about texting Scott last night, but didn't want to bother him until he was ready to talk. He feels guilty for not texting or calling Scott this morning.

After lunch, Stiles declines going to play disc golf with them, and instead drives to Scott's house. Scott's shift at the clinic is over, so Stiles is pretty sure he'll be at home. When Scott opens the door, Stiles blurts, "You look like shit, man."

Scott glares at Stiles, but lets him in the house anyway. Stiles follows Scott upstairs to his bedroom where Scott drops face first onto the bed.

"That bad, huh?" Stiles asks.

"She's alive. How did you expect me to feel?"

"Dude, I don't know."

They sit in silence for awhile. Stiles doesn't know what to say, so he sits in Scott's desk chair, plays a game on his phone, and texts Derek.

"I'm still in love with her," Scott says finally. Stiles freezes. He expected it, but he had been hoping that maybe he was fearing the worst. Appears that he wasn't.

"Dude - "

"Don't," Scott interrupts him. "She's alive. Anything is possible."

"Scotty, you know your unwavering optimism is one of my favorite things about you, really, but dude, come on. She and Isaac are basically married."

"They're not."

"They've been living in France together. In France. Speaking French and sharing lattes and baguettes and doing French things, romantic and sexy French things." Scott lifts his head and shoots Stiles an annoyed look. "Chris Argent has pretty much adopted Isaac as his son. They're a big, happy werewolf-hunter family, as disturbing as that concept is."

Scott falls back onto the bed miserably. Stiles says, "Scott, buddy, hey, I know how it feels. She was your first love. Lydia was - "

"Not the same," Scott says, voice muffled by the bed.

"True. I didn't lose my virginity to Lydia, or date her, or anything, but - "

"Derek was your first true love," Scott says, turning his head to look at Stiles. "And now you're back together, despite having your memories erased. You both dated other people and spent years apart."

"I don't think it's the same, Scotty."

Scott twists around as he sits up. "I'm still in love with her, Stiles. She's alive, and she's here. There's still a chance. I'm not giving up."

Stiles throws his hands up. "Okay, you're not giving up. I'll be a supportive best friend and sit by and watch the flames." Scott rolls his eyes. Stiles asks, "Wanna play Xbox?"

Scott shrugs. "I guess," he says morosely.

Stiles sighs. He knows it's bad when Xbox doesn't get Scott excited.

*

Derek rings the doorbell, and then runs a hand through his hair and adjusts his shirt. He is picking Stiles up for a date, their first official date since they got together. They've spent a lot of time together, but they haven't gone out on an actual date. Derek had been adamant they change that.

"Dude, we eat together all the time," Stiles had argued. "I've spent the night at your house multiple times, and our Packs get together."

"It's not the same," Derek insisted. "Besides, just a few weeks ago you were talking about how you wanted me to pick you up and take you on a real date. So, I will take you out. I'm coming to your house, picking you up, and paying for you."

"You're not paying for me."

"I am, and you will shut up and let me," Derek stated, raising his brows and leaving no room for argument.

Stiles had rolled his eyes and said, "Fine. Next time, I'm buying for you. And I'm gonna pull out your chair and open your car door and woo the hell out of you."

"That's my plan, too," Derek had replied.

Now, Derek is standing on Stiles' front porch, and he's honest-to-god nervous. When the sheriff opens the door, Derek feels even more nervous because the man is giving him a stern look.

"Hello, sir."

"Hello, Derek." The sheriff steps aside so Derek can enter the house. "Thought I'd have seen you at dinner by now." He gives Derek a pointed look, and Derek squirms under his gaze.

"Dad!" Stiles exclaims, bounding down the steps like a herd of buffalo. "Stop giving Derek a hard time."

"I can give him a hard time if I want," the sheriff says. "You two have not had a traditional relationship, so I've missed all the benchmark Dad moments."

"I know you'll kill me if I hurt Stiles," Derek states.

Stiles laughs, and the sheriff smirks. "Son, I have no doubt you know that. I just think it's time you came to dinner, properly. You two are a thing now, and that means I want to see you at my table regularly." He gives both of them stern looks. "That's non-negotiable."

"Mandatory family dinners, got it," Stiles says, nodding. "We'll make a schedule for Derek so he can clear his oh-so-busy calendar of eating bunnies, brooding, and helping Jackson pick out hair gel."

The sheriff sighs, then reaches out and clasps Derek on the shoulder. "I feel for you, son." Stiles scoffs, and Derek laughs.

Stiles turns to Derek, and Derek finally gets a good look at him. He's wearing a navy cotton t-shirt that fits his arms and chest nicely, and his jeans are tighter than he usually wears. Derek feels his heart skip in his chest as he stares at Stiles.

"Derek, my dad's watching," Stiles mumbles in embarrassment, and Derek snaps his eyes towards the sheriff, who's giving them a flat look.

"Sorry," Derek says, ears burning. "You, uh, you look nice."

"Apparently," Stiles says, and Derek blushes harder. "You look nice, too."

Cora had made Derek change clothes until she and Jackson were satisfied with his outfit. Derek had put on his favorite Henley and jeans, but Cora had said, "You always wear that. Wear something different." They'd chosen him a pair of tight jeans (Cora's idea) and a white v-neck t-shirt (Jackson's idea). Derek had thought he looked too plain, but Cora and Jackson told him he looked nice.

"Go on you two, get out of here. You're embarrassing even me with your awkwardness." The sheriff shoos them towards the door.

"Bye, Dad," Stiles says as they walk out of the house. "Be careful at work tonight."

"Will do. Have fun." The sheriff waves and calls out "Love you!" as he closes the front door.

Derek opens the passenger side door and holds it as Stiles approaches the car. "You really are going to hold the door for me?"

Derek nods. "Yep. And pull your chair out at the restaurant."

Stiles stops before getting into the car and pecks Derek on the lips. "Such a gentleman." Derek smiles as he closes the door.

They go into Beacon City, to a nice Japanese steakhouse Jackson suggested. Derek does pull out Stiles' chair, and he can smell Stiles' happiness as he sits across from him and peruses the menu.

After a few minutes, Stiles drops the menu to the table and Derek looks up. "Dude," Stiles says, eyes wide. "This place is way too expensive."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Stiles, just order."

"I can't let you pay this much for one meal! It's insanity."

Derek sighs, lays his menu on the table, and leans forward. "Stiles, this is our first real date. I want it to be special. The food here is supposed to be really good, and I know you've always wanted to eat at a place like this."

"You remember that?" Stiles asks.

"I listen when you talk, Stiles." Derek picks his menu back up.

"You may be the only one," Stiles says.

"I may be biased."

Stiles doesn't respond, and when Derek looks up, he finds Stiles staring at him. "What?"

"This. This is why I love you. No one but Scott and my dad have ever listened to me talk, and I'm pretty sure they only half-listen most of the time. But not only do you listen to my rambling and tangents, but you remember things and then go out of your way to surprise me with things I mentioned randomly that I wanted to do." Stiles smiles and reaches across the table to grab Derek's hand. "How did I end up so lucky to have you in my life?"

Derek smiles and lifts Stiles' hand to his lips and kisses it.

Stiles looks at his menu and says, "Okay. Not thinking about price. Does that mean I get the most expensive thing or the weirdest thing?"

"Whatever you want," Derek says, "but you're not stealing anything from my plate if you don't like what you order."

Of course, Stiles orders the weirdest thing on the menu. They talk while they wait for the food. Derek always finds it easy to talk to Stiles, easier than it's been since Laura was alive. He enjoys the way Stiles hangs on to his every word like everything that comes out of Derek's mouth is fascinating and important, even if he's just talking about doing maintenance on the Camaro.

After the waiter brings their food, Stiles takes a few bites of his food and pushes it aside. "This is gross," he declares. "Here, try it."

"I'm not trying that," Derek says, eyeing the plate skeptically. "You just said it was gross."

"Seriously, you gotta try it. Live a little, Derek." Stiles digs the fork into the dish and gets a heaping pile on his fork. Then, he holds it towards Derek and watches him expectantly. "Open up, Derek." Stiles wiggles his eyebrows. "I know just how much that mouth can take."

Derek groans. "Are you always going to be like this?"

"Yep. Better get used to it or get out now. There's no changing perfection."

Derek shakes his head, but chuckles in amusement. Despite his better judgment, he opens his mouth and lets Stiles feed him. He almost gags the moment he starts chewing, and he quickly grabs his napkin and spits out the food.

"Weak, Derek." Stiles shakes his head. "I know you can swallow better than that." Derek sighs. "I'm not gonna pass up a perfect opportunity for an innuendo, Derek."

"That is disgusting. Should have gone with expensive."

"This was expensive."

"Expensive and tasty, not expensive and weird."

"I'll just have to eat off your plate," Stiles says, reaching out with his fork. Derek grabs Stiles' fork quickly, and Stiles glares at him.

"Told you, you don't get to eat off my plate."

"You're cruel. I'm gonna starve."

Derek gives him a shit-eating grin. "That'll teach you not to order things you know will be gross."

"You're boring."

"You're annoying."

Stiles reaches across the table and grabs a piece of steak with his fingers before quickly popping it into his mouth. "I'll just eat with my hands."

Derek rolls his eyes and pushes the plate between them. "We're gonna need more food."

"I'll order us something else."

"Nope, I will. I don't trust you anymore."

"So cold, Derek."

After dinner, Derek drives them to the city park, and they walk along the softly lit paths holding hands. The night is warm with a soft breeze. Derek glances over at Stiles, who's talking enthusiastically about something, his other hand moving around as he speaks. The lights from the lamps glow softly around Stiles' features. Derek can't take his eyes off of him. Every time he looks at Derek, Stiles smiles at him.

When they've been walking for awhile, Derek decides to ask Stiles something that's been on his mind for awhile. "Are you planning on going back to school?"

Stiles looks at him, confused. "Yes? I've already signed up for fall classes."

Derek shakes his head. "I mean, back to UC Davis. Not community college."

Stiles glares at him. "There's nothing wrong with community college."

"I know that." Derek sighs. "But you're too smart to stay here. You should go to college somewhere else and go on to get a master's and do great things."

"Derek," Stiles starts, "I know you're doing this because you care about me, but I just got to a point where I feel like I'm not crawling out of my skin every day. Up until a few months ago, I barely smiled. I can't really see past this Alpha thing and the fallout that's going to happen because of this, plus I'm still having nightmares most nights and I'm not sure I've fully processed that my friends have come back from the dead, including one of my best friends for whose death I've blamed myself for years. Moving away for school is the last thing on my mind."

"I just don't want this stuff to affect your future like it did mine."

Stiles shrugs. "Scott, Lydia, Danny, and Kira will go back to school in a few weeks. Liam, Mason, Hayden, and Corey will still be here because it's their senior year, and Dad's here. And you."

"Cora will be here, too. She's starting Beacon Hills Community College in a few weeks, too."

Stiles' eyes widen in surprise. "She didn't tell me! This is great, we can drive together and study together and take some of the same classes." Derek smiles. "What about Jackson?"

"Going to Berkeley. He graduated in England, but he's took the past year off."

"Not going to Stanford with Lydia?" Stiles jokes. "That's good, though. That he's going there, and that Cora is going to Beacon Hills Community."

"I told them we were building a life here, and I wanted them to go to college. I wish Cora would have tried for somewhere else, but I don't think she's into the whole college idea," Derek says. "And I don't think she wants to be that far from me."

"Do you want her away from you?"

"No, but what I want doesn't matter. It's her life." Stiles leans over and kisses Derek on the cheek.

They change to lighter subjects, and Derek thinks that though there was nothing special about the date, it's one of the best he's ever been on.

*

Derek drives Stiles home and walks around the car to open the door for him. "You're ridiculous," Stiles laughs, but he kisses Derek after he gets out of the car. Stiles thinks that Derek's insistence of doing all the date-like things has been really charming. It's weird since they're already together and Derek doesn't need to impress Stiles, but Stiles thinks the whole night has been wonderful. He can't stop grinning.

Derek walks him to the door, and they stand on the porch awkwardly. "You'd think this was our first date and I was nervous about whether or not you're going to kiss me."

Derek smiles. "I'm definitely going to kiss you."

"I know." Stiles rests his hands on Derek's forearms and slides his hands higher, over the swell of Derek's biceps and across his shoulders. Though Derek is dressed casually, he looks amazing. The jeans just remind Stiles of everything he wants to get his hands and mouth on, and the shirt pulls just right over his muscles. Stiles had to fight to keep his hands to himself all night.

Stiles drags his fingers down until he's running them lightly over the small bit of chest hair peeking out from the low neck of the shirt. "Well, my dad's on shift tonight, so there's nobody here," Stiles says. "Would it be too forward of me to ask you if you wanted to come inside on our first date?"

Stiles watches Derek's face. He's staring at Stiles intensely, and there's a slight flush to his cheeks. Stiles lifts his hands and drags his fingers across one cheek.

"I don't have any plans," Derek says.

"Yeah, you do. Me." Derek groans as Stiles laughs and leads them into the house.

Stiles walks upstairs, his heart pounding in his chest. This is it. Finally. They're alone, the night was perfect, and nothing dire is happening at this particular moment. They can finally take some time to focus on them and nothing else.

Inside Stiles' room, Derek slides his arms around Stiles' waist and kisses the back of his neck. "Why are you nervous?"

"I know it's stupid," Stiles says. "It's not like it's our first time having sex, and you haven't even said you want to have sex, and I know you want to wait, but - "

"Hey, calm down." Derek kisses behind his ear. "I'm ready to have sex if you are. But I'm in no hurry."

Stiles turns around in Derek's arms and slides his arms around his neck. "I don't want to wait. I think we've waited long enough."

Derek smiles as he cups Stiles' cheek and leans in slowly. He presses his lips against Stiles'. Stiles' heart doesn't slow; it starts beating even faster, despite the fact that he's kissed Derek numerous times before. But it doesn't matter how many times he's kissed Derek. There's always something exhilarating about kissing him. Stiles doesn't know if the novelty will ever wear off.

"Come here," Derek says when he pulls away. He grabs Stiles' hand and leads him to the bed. He sits on the edge and unlaces his boots. Stiles goes to pull off his t-shirt, but Derek stops him. When Stiles shoots him a confused glance, Derek says, "There's no hurry. I want to take our time."

They lie on the bed on their sides as they kiss. It's slow at first, an exploration of each other's mouths as they enjoy being close. Stiles has to keep reminding himself not to jump directly to sex, which is where he wants to be. He instead makes himself slow down and enjoy the soft presses of Derek's lips, the course scratch of his beard, the soft sounds he makes when Stiles kisses or touches him a certain way.

Stiles loses himself in Derek. He doesn't stop kissing Derek until Derek's on his back with Stiles sprawled on top of him, rolling his hips slowly as Derek's hands slide under his shirt or drop lower to grip his ass.

Stiles lifts his head and looks down at Derek. Derek's eyes are half-closed, the gold flecks standing out while the edges of his irises are tinged with blue. Stiles keeps his eyes open as he leans down and presses an open-mouth kiss against Derek's mouth.

"I shouldn't be nervous," Stiles says. "We've done this before. I remember."

"But it's different now. I'm kinda nervous, too."

Stiles drops his head into the crook of Derek's neck and breathes. He feels Derek shudder against him. "I love you," Stiles whispers against Derek's neck, and Derek growls quietly beneath him, the sound reverberating through his chest.

Derek slides his hands under Stiles' t-shirt, and Stiles lifts enough so Derek can pull it over his head. As they undress each other, they pause to kiss and caress the newly revealed skin. Derek nudges Stiles to roll over, and Stiles lies on his stomach as Derek slowly kisses his scars.

When they're both naked, they lie pressed together as they kiss. Stiles is on his back, legs wrapped around Derek's waist, enjoying the feel of Derek's cock sliding against his. Derek breaks the kiss, and Stiles tries to chase his lips as Derek props himself up on his elbows and stares down at Stiles. Stiles bites his lip to hide his smile. Derek's hair is flat in the front and sticking up in the back, and Stiles just wants to keep running his fingers through it to see how mussed he can make it.

"How do you want to do this?" Derek asks.

"I want you to fuck me," Stiles says. "If that's okay with you."

Derek nods and reaches over to pick up the bottle of lube off the nightstand. Stiles watches Derek as he coats his fingers and then moves his hand under Stiles. Stiles lets his eyes fall shut and tries to relax as Derek circles the tip of his finger around his opening and then gently pushes one finger inside.

Derek carefully opens Stiles up, never adding another finger until he's absolutely sure Stiles is ready. A few times Stiles wants to yell for him to go faster and do something, but he knows Derek wants to go slow with this. He knows how much this means to Derek, so he's not going to rush him.

When Derek removes his fingers and slicks up his cock, Stiles almost cries with joy. His entire body is tense with sensation, and his cock is so hard it's almost painful. But Stiles knows the anticipation has been worth it when Derek holds himself over Stiles with one arm and guides his cock towards Stiles' hole. He's looking down at Stiles with an intense expression, and Stiles feels completely stripped bare and exposed in a way he never has before. It makes his heart catch in his throat more than any physical touch has so far tonight.

Stiles can't help but moan when Derek enters him. He has memories of this from before, but he's pushing them out of his head. He wants to experience this like it's their first time, a special moment that's happening now between them. Derek slides into him slowly, until Derek's pressed as close against him as is possible. Stiles holds Derek tightly; he feels full and it's slightly overwhelming. He's trembling as Derek kisses the side of his face.

Derek slides back out and pushes back in, a slow rhythm that allows them to stay close together because they refuse to let go. Derek kisses his way to Stiles' mouth, and Stiles kisses him desperately, trying to express all the feelings that are threatening to overwhelm him. As much as he tries to just concentrate on the now, his brain swims with the past, bringing together everything that he has experienced with Derek over the years until Stiles understands that this moment is the culmination of everything they've been through. That they are meant to be here, together, in each other's arms, connected so deeply that they're not even sure where one ends and the other begins. They have always been meant to be together.

Stiles thinks he would be embarrassed of his overly romantic thoughts if he didn't feel this moment between them so intensely. He breaks the kiss to catch his breath, and Derek looks down at him in a kind of awe, like he's not even sure that Stiles is real. Stiles knows he doesn't deserve anyone to look at him like that, most of all Derek, but somehow he's been lucky enough to end up with Derek in his life. After everything they've been through, they've made it back to one another, and Stiles never wants to let Derek go.

Stiles has had sex before, but it has never felt like this. Even his memories of being with Derek before can't compare to this. Derek holds one of Stiles' arms above his head, gripping his hand like it's a lifeline as he thrusts his hips. Stiles can't reach between them to grab his cock, but he doesn't even want to. He's not obsessed with getting off like he usually is during sex; something about this feels different. He wants to stay in this moment for as long as he can.

After awhile, Derek pushes himself up slightly so he's on his knees, and it changes the angle so that Stiles cries out when Derek thrusts into him again. "Like that?" Derek asks, the first time he's spoken this entire time. His voice is rough and slightly deeper, and the sound shoots straight to Stiles' cock. That voice is just for him, and something about that idea does things to Stiles.

"Derek," Stiles moans, because it's the only word he can get out. Derek braces himself on the bed beside Stiles' head and pushes his hips faster, hitting Stiles in just the right spot each time. Stiles feels the pleasure building all over his body, from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. He digs his heels into the cheeks of Derek's ass, trying to pull him as close as possible.

Derek balances himself on one arm and reaches between them to wrap his fingers around Stiles' cock. It only takes one stroke of Derek's hand around him before he's arching his back and shouting as he comes hard between them. Derek strokes him through his orgasm, but as Stiles is coming down, he feels Derek push into him with one hard, deep thrust and press his face against Stiles' neck. Stiles squeezes as best as he can around Derek's cock as Derek comes inside him.

Stiles feels Derek's body relax against him as he thrusts with lazy, small movements. He's kissing Stiles' neck, and then he kisses his way to Stiles' mouth. Stiles sighs into Derek's mouth as Derek's tongue slides easily against his own. Stiles has never felt as content or happy as he does in this moment.

A moment later, Derek doesn't break the kiss as he hooks an arm around Stiles' waist and rolls them onto Derek's back. Stiles grunts as Derek slips out of him, feeling sore but sated. Derek's fingers immediately go between Stiles' cheeks, and he drags them through the slippery mess and then gently presses them inside Stiles' loosened hole. He fingers Stiles' lazily as they continue kissing.

"Oh my god," Stiles says when he finally pulls away. He lays his head on Derek's shoulder and closes his eyes to catch his breath. Derek's fingers are still inside him, and though he's sore, it's comforting.

"I love you," Derek whispers as he kisses the top of Stiles' head. He removes his fingers and they both lie there for awhile, the only sounds in the room their heavy breathing.

Before too long, Stiles pushes himself up and walks over to his laundry basket to get a towel. He wipes off his stomach as he makes his way back to the bed, but when he gets to the side, he just stares. Derek is sprawled on his back, one leg bent, his eyes closed and hair mussed, soft cock lying to the side, come drying on his belly. He has a small smile on his face, and he looks happy.

Derek cracks one eye open and smiles even wider when he sees Stiles looking.

"I'm the luckiest man in the world," Stiles says as he bends down to wipe the come from Derek's stomach.

"Funny, I was thinking the same thing." Derek's still smiling as Stiles wipes between his cheeks and then tosses the towel on the floor. He crawls onto the bed beside Derek and wraps his arms around him. Derek curls close, covering most of Stiles' body with his own. Derek arranges the blankets so they're covering them.

"Worth the wait?" Stiles asks as he runs his fingers through Derek's damp hair.

"Yes." Derek tightens his arms around Stiles' waist. "I love you so much, Stiles."

Stiles smiles and kisses Derek's hair. "I'm so glad you found your way back to me," he whispers.

"We found our way back to each other," Derek murmurs, and Stiles hums in agreement. Stiles closes his eyes then and drifts off, Derek's body a warm and comforting weight on top of him.

Chapter Text

And if you lie down with wolves
You learn to howl
-wolves by dreamers

*

Derek jerks awake, the remnants of pain and smoke-filled dreams in his head. He blinks and looks down at Stiles sprawled out over him as he sleeps. Stiles is on his back, starfished out so that his left limbs are thrown over Derek.

Derek smiles. That was just a dream. This is real; Stiles is real. Last night happened. They had sex, and it was wonderful. Derek knows he has to hold on to that, not on to his dreams.

"Stiles," Derek whispers as he nudges Stiles' side. "Move over. You're hogging the bed."

Stiles mumbles something but turns onto his side, back to Derek. Derek reaches out and drags his fingers lightly across the scars. He frowns, thinking about how much his life has hurt Stiles in the past. Derek wonders if he's being selfish by keeping Stiles near him, because he knows Stiles would be safer if he was far away from all of this. But he also knows that Stiles would never leave him or Scott, nor the rest of the Packs.

Derek traces the outline of the nogitsune scar as he promises himself that he's going to protect Stiles for the rest of his life.

The next time Derek wakes, he's surrounded by Stiles' scent. He presses his face closer against Stiles' shoulder and growls contently at Stiles' warmth and the hints of them in his nostrils.

"You're like a clingy octopus," Stiles mumbles, voice still heavy with sleep. In response, Derek wraps his legs around Stiles to trap him further. "That wasn't a suggestion."

Derek growls again and starts to doze.

Stiles, on the other hand, has different plans. "Wake up." Derek playfully nips at his skin. "Did you just...bite me? With your fangs? I'm not one of your wolves. Teeth don't show me affection."

"Go back to sleep."

"Ah, you are awake."

"Hard not to be when there's an obnoxious man in bed who won't shut up."

"I see no such man in this bed," Stiles says. "Though, if there's another man in bed, things have turned out way kinkier way faster than I anticipated. I didn't expect threesomes until at least six months."

Derek growls and possessively pulls Stiles closer to him. "Mine."

"Derek, really? I am my own." Derek growls again, this time more threatening. "Fine, no threesomes. Don't really think you could handle more than me anyway. I am way enough for you. Pretty sure I'd develop some sort of complex if we were having sex with someone else. What if you liked him better than me? What if he had a better cock?"

"What are you talking about?" Derek asks. "It's too early for this."

"I cannot be responsible for what I say before I am fully awake and get coffee."

"Here's an idea. Shut up."

"You're such an asshole." Derek just growls again. Stiles just keeps talking. "Okay, so this is a thing then. The non-verbal growling in the morning. Do all wolves do this? I'm gonna ask Lydia. I guess Boyd and Erica wouldn't know because they'd both be growly. I could ask Allison, but she and Isaac are only like pseudo wolves right now because they've been taught by a hunter, and - "

"Fine, I'm up," Derek barks. He opens his eyes, and Stiles cranes his head to look over his shoulder with a grin. "This is not going to happen every morning."

"I'd already be downstairs if you didn't have me in a death grip."

Derek rolls his eyes and lets go of Stiles. Stiles flails around the bed as he gets out and manages to hit Derek in the face. "Stiles," Derek grumps.

"Sorry." Stiles makes it to his feet, and Derek can't help but smile as Stiles looks around disoriented and completely naked. Derek rakes his eyes appreciatively over Stiles' body, and can't believe this is his future. Waking up with Stiles, getting to hold him and kiss him any time he wants, getting to indulgently watch him walk naked across rooms. Derek doesn't know how he got this lucky.

"You're staring," Stiles says flatly, but Derek can tell he's pleased.

"I like what I see."

Stiles turns around slowly, then strikes a pose when he's facing Derek again. Derek rolls his eyes, but he's smiling.

"Want some breakfast, coffee?"

"Yes."

"I'll go downstairs and makes some. You can join me if you want."

Derek closes his eyes. "I think I'll stay right here."

"You just like lying in my scent, don't you?"

Derek doesn't answer because Stiles is right. Stiles cackles. "You are helpless to my scent, my hot body, and my charms."

"Keep telling yourself that," Derek mumbles as he starts to doze again.

Derek blinks awake slowly when the bed shifts. Stiles is holding a tray, and Derek can smell bacon, eggs, and something sweet. He's still naked, which Derek definitely doesn't mind. He thinks he prefers them naked. Maybe he'll kick the Pack out of the house and make them live somewhere else so the house can be just his and Stiles' to walk around in naked.

"Big guy, my face is up here." Derek drags his eyes from Stiles' lap, and Stiles smirks at him. "I'm gonna put on clothes if you keep getting distracted."

"Shut up. You won't. You like me looking." Derek raises his eyebrows, though he's pretty sure the effect is lost by the way his face is still smushed into the pillow. Stiles flushes and his heart lurches, though his face remains stoic.

"Fine. Maybe I like you looking. There's nothing wrong with me liking that you like seeing me naked."

"I never said there was."

"I wouldn't be opposed to you being more naked." Stiles looks pointedly at the blanket still covering Derek.

Derek rolls his eyes, but flips onto his back and flings the blanket to the floor. He stretches his arms and laces his fingers behind his head. People's reactions to his body have made him feel uncomfortable numerous times in his life, but having Stiles' hungry gaze on him doesn't make him feel like an object or dehumanized. He feels wanted, sexy, and loved.

"How is it that I even find your fucking armpits sexy?" Stiles groans. Derek quirks a brow, but angles his armpit towards Stiles. "Fucking menace," Stiles mutters. "It's the hair. I have a thing for your body hair. Like, it's ridiculous."

Derek pulls his arm from behind his head and reaches out to run his hand along Stiles' thigh. It's covered in dark hair, and Derek thinks Stiles' thighs may rival his with the amount of hair on them. "I guess it's a mutual thing," Derek states as he slides his hand higher, towards the thick thatch of curls at the base of Stiles' cock. Stiles is half-hard, and Derek revels at how intimate and comfortable this is. He knows they'll probably end up having sex again soon, but right now, they're just enjoying this with each other.

"What?" Stiles asks, and Derek lifts his eyes. Stiles is watching him with a confused smile on his face, his cheeks tinged pink. "You look deep in thought. What are you thinking about?"

Derek drops his eyes and mutters, "It's stupid."

Stiles twists away from him to set the tray on the nightstand. Then, he stretches out alongside Derek and presses his palm against Derek's cheek. "Derek, nothing you can say could ever be stupid." He hooks his leg over Derek's legs and scoots closer, then rubs their noses together. "Now, talk."

"It's just that...I've never felt like this."

"What do you mean?"

Derek huffs in frustration as he tries to figure out what to say. He's not quite sure how to vocalize it. "People have always looked at me just for my body. After Kate, I didn't care because sex was just a distraction and meant nothing. I thought I deserved to be used. Then, sex and everything connected to that wasn't something I wanted. I got tired of everyone seeing me and wanting to get into my pants. I was tired of being looked at like that.

"But now," Derek continues, staring into Stiles' eyes which are softening the longer Derek speaks, "I don't feel like that. I never thought it would be possible to feel like anything other than an object. But when I'm with you, I know that's not what you see. And when you look at my body, I feel sexy instead of uncomfortable."

"Derek," Stiles says quietly.

"And just lying here naked with you, comfortable and relaxed with a low level of arousal, but without the need for it to be anything sexual instead of just being together. I never thought that this could happen."

Stiles opens his mouth to speak, but then he closes it. His eyes trace over Derek's face, then he leans forward and wraps his arms around Derek's neck. Derek holds him as Stiles presses his face against Derek's neck. Derek shifts slightly to extend his neck for Stiles, and Stiles presses open-mouthed kisses against it. A low growl escapes Derek's mouth.

When Stiles pulls back, he props himself up on his elbows so he can place Derek's face between his hands. Then, he looks into Derek's eyes and brushes a kiss against his lips. "I love you, Derek. Everything about you. Yes, you are a fucking amazing specimen of manflesh," Derek groans and rolls his eyes, but Stiles keeps talking, "but that is secondary. I love you. You could look like a house plant, and I'd still love you."

Derek raises his brows. "A house plant?"

Stiles huffs and rolls his eyes exaggeratedly. "You know what I mean. I understand what you are saying. I love that you like looking at my body. No one has ever made me feel as sexy as you do when you watch me. But it's because you look past my scars and don't care, and you listen when I talk and don't get annoyed, and you remember things that I say and go out of your way to make things happen for me."

Derek smiles. "I like listening to you talk." He pauses, then adds, "Most of the time."

Stiles frowns, but Derek can see the amusement in his eyes. "Ass." Derek kisses him, and it's slow and sensual, full of things Derek wants to say but can't figure out how. Derek thinks maybe Stiles understands everything he's trying to say with his mouth.

"Now," Stiles says, "let's eat breakfast before it gets too cold. I had this whole breakfast in bed thing planned. And," Stiles pokes Derek's chest for emphasis, "you're distracting me."

Stiles rolls over onto his side to grab the tray, and Derek can't help himself. He leans forward and places a kiss on one of the globes of Stiles' ass as he runs his finger along the crack. He noses at it, at the dark hair there.

Stiles reaches back and slaps Derek. "Hey! We're supposed to eat, but if you don't get your nose out of my ass, you're gonna be eating something very different than bacon and eggs."

Derek groans as he drops his head to Stiles' hip. "I'm never going to get used to your bad sex jokes."

"You can get used to eating my ass, though. It's a thing that needs to happen. Breakfast can wait." Derek lifts his head to glare at Stiles. Stiles smirks and wiggles his ass for him, so Derek slaps it playfully.

"You made me breakfast in bed, so we'll be enjoying breakfast in bed. Then, if I've gotten over your ridiculously unsexy remarks, maybe we can have sex."

Stiles sticks his tongue out but pushes up onto his knees, which puts his ass right in Derek's face. Derek knows he does it on purpose, and this close, Derek gets a concentrated scent of them still lingering from last night. It's almost enough to make Derek push Stiles to the bed, part his cheeks, and start licking him right then. But, Derek doesn't want to give Stiles the satisfaction. Plus, he's fucking hungry and Stiles made him breakfast. He's not going to tell Stiles that he thinks it's one of the most romantic things he could have done for him.

Stiles sets the tray on Derek's lap and says, "I hope it's not too cold. I also brought coffee." He hands Derek a mug, and Derek takes a sip. It's a bit lukewarm, but the flavor is just right.

"Perfect." Derek smiles, and Stiles lights up.

Halfway through breakfast (which is a little cold, but Derek doesn't really care to be honest), Stiles gets up and searches around the room until he finds Derek's sweater. Well, Stiles' sweater now. When Stiles catches Derek watching him, he blushes and says, "I'm a bit cold. I figured putting on pants would defeat the purpose of our comfortable naked breakfast time."

Derek nods as he crunches a piece of bacon between his teeth.

They talk as they eat. Not about anything important; just random stuff like Jackson and Cora arguing over what kind of art to hang in the dining room and the sheriff complaining about some of the deputies at work.

Derek realizes that this is what it's going to be like forever. Pointless conversations they're sharing just because they want each other to know the details of their life, and feeling comfortable in their skin and who they are with one another.

"You're doing it again," Stiles says.

"What?"

"Looking at me like with that look on your face. Are you a secret sap? Like, are you going to always think sappy, romantic thoughts about me and write love poetry in your head about how much you love me?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "I'm not writing love poetry."

"I don't believe you."

Derek reaches out and drags his fingers between the sweater and Stiles' warm skin, and feels Stiles shudder beneath his touch. "Let me enjoy this, okay? I'll be over it in a few days when I've remembered how annoying you are and gotten over the sex glow."

Stiles glares and flips Derek off, and Derek gives him a shit-eating grin.

"Besides," Derek says, stealing a piece of bacon off Stiles' plate, "I'm not the one wearing my sweater."

"That sentence doesn't even make sense, Derek," Stiles says, trying to grab the bacon back, but Derek's too fast. He shoves the piece in his mouth. "You like me wearing your clothes, especially this sweater."

"Guilty as charged," Derek says, leaning forward and wrapping an arm around Stiles' waist as he nuzzles between the edge of the sweater and Stiles' skin.

"See? You're just as lame as me."

Derek presses kisses against Stiles' skin before replying, "It's why we're perfect for one another."

Derek swirls his tongue around Stiles' nipple, and Stiles moans softly. There's still a tray on Derek's lap, so he tries to get rid of it without removing his mouth from where he's laving at Stiles' nipple. Finally, Stiles grabs the tray and twists around to place it on the bedside table. Derek grunts in irritation, but Stiles is lying back and pulling Derek on top of him a moment later.

"This is much more comfortable, right?" he asks with a grin.

"Thanks for breakfast," Derek says before pushing the sweater open on Stiles' chest and rubbing both of his nipples with his thumbs. Stiles' eyes flutter shut and he arches into Derek's touch.

"Anytime," Stiles replies breathlessly. "If breakfast in bed turns you on this much, then we'll make it a daily thing."

Derek grins as he watches Stiles writhing under his touch. He leans down and kisses the middle of Stiles' chest. "So, how about we take a shower, then we come back onto the bed and I can rim you and then maybe fuck you again?"

"Yes, yes to all of the things."

Derek grins as he pushes off the bed. He holds his hand out for Stiles.

In the shower, they kiss and touch as they soap each other's bodies. Derek has a mind to push Stiles up against the wall of fuck him right here, but the thought of Stiles spread out beneath him on the bed keeps his touches mostly innocent. Derek can't help but press his fingers around Stiles' hole as he runs soap along his skin, and Stiles jerks Derek slowly in his soapy fist. But Stiles pulls his hand away before Derek can come, and Derek decides then that they've showered enough and turns off the water.

Back in Stiles' bedroom, Stiles towels Derek off gently as he noses and kisses along Derek's skin. He presses against Derek's armpit and drops kisses there, which causes Derek to moan and his already throbbing cock to harden even more. "Guess I'm not the only one who likes it," Stiles whispers against his skin, and Derek moans again.

Derek doesn't quite know what to do with the emotion that fills him when Stiles gets on his knees to softly dry between Derek's legs and along his cleft. The touch isn't sexual despite their hard cocks and the tension in the air. It's tender, and when Stiles lifts his leg to dry his foot and toes, Derek realizes that no one has ever wanted to take care of him before.

He reaches down and gently lifts Stiles' chin until Stiles is looking at him. "I love you," he says, his voice uneven and full of emotion. Stiles smiles up at him, and it's beautiful. He leans his cheek against Derek's knee as he looks up at him, then he turns and kisses the inside of Derek's thigh.

Stiles is mostly dry by the time Derek goes to dry him off, so he really just wraps Stiles in a towel and holds him as they slowly kiss.

When they stretch out on the bed, Derek rolls onto his back and pulls Stiles on top of him. He breaks the kiss, and Stiles smiles down at him. "I want you to fuck me," Derek says, and Stiles' eyes go round. "If that's okay. You, uh, you don't have to."

Stiles is nodding eagerly. "No, that is, yes. That is definitely okay. I want to. Very much want to. Absolutely positively."

"Are you sure?" Derek asks. "We should have talked about this, but I just...I want to feel you inside me."

Stiles moans, his hips moving in small circles against Derek's. "Okay. Yeah. I want that, too."

"Really?" Derek asks, and he doesn't know why he feels so vulnerable all of a sudden. It's like all of his emotions are on overload, and if he was with anyone but Stiles, he'd probably be running away in anger. But he knows that he's safe with Stiles, that he can let down his walls and Stiles won't judge him or take advantage of him.

It's like Stiles can read the look on his face, because he reaches out and cups Derek's face and smiles. "Derek, I want you in all ways possible. But I especially want you in ways that you want."

Derek nods. "Okay. Good."

"Have you?" Stiles asks, chewing on his bottom lip. "Um, have you done this before?"

Derek shakes his head. "No. I've, um. I've never felt comfortable enough to do this with someone."

"But you feel comfortable enough to do it with me?" Stiles asks, and Derek nods. A smile breaks across Stiles' face. "That's kinda fucking awesome."

Derek chuckles as he rolls his eyes. "Stiles, I trust you completely."

Stiles leans down and kisses Derek, still smiling. Then, against Derek's mouth, he mumbles, "Know what else is great about this?" He pulls back slightly and Derek shakes his head. "It's something we haven't done. An actual first."

Derek cups Stiles' face. "You know that doesn't matter, right?"

"It matters to me."

Derek nods, because even though he doesn't feel like Stiles, he can understand where Stiles is coming from.

"Then, I guess we're doing this then," Stiles says, and Derek feels that he is slightly nervous.

Derek kisses him and says, "Don't be nervous."

"Easy for you to say," Stiles mumbles, and Derek just kisses him again.

They kiss for awhile, and Derek knows that Stiles is trying to settle his nerves, and Derek has no problem kissing Stiles. He enjoys the feel of Stiles' lips, the weight of his tongue in his mouth. Derek slowly runs his hands up and down Stiles' back, rememorizing the way Stiles' skin feels beneath his touch.

"So," Stiles says when he finally pulls away. "How do you want to do this?"

Derek shrugs. "Anyway you want."

Stiles' face scrunches like it always does when he's deep in thought, and Derek thinks he's ridiculously cute. "Can I eat you out? Then finger you open and fuck you?"

Derek moans just at the words, his eyes falling shut as he thinks about Stiles doing those things to him. "Yes."

Stiles kisses Derek's lips again before slowly kissing his way down Derek's body, murmuring endearments into his skin. Derek watches Stiles as he makes his way down his body, then drops his head back against the bed. He closes his eyes and focuses on the feel of Stiles' lips against his skin.

When Stiles gets further down the bed, he lifts Derek's legs and hooks them over his shoulders. Derek takes a few deep breaths to calm his racing heart. This is something he wants very much, something he has thought about more than once. But he still has a moment of hesitation where he's nervous about being spread open in front of Stiles, of being in such a vulnerable position. But then he reminds himself that it's Stiles, and he starts to relax.

Stiles is mouthing at his balls as he runs his hands along Derek's thighs, and Derek doesn't know how Stiles knows he needs to take this slow, but he's thankful. Stiles' tongue licks along Derek's perineum, and Derek moans loudly as his cock twitches.

"I didn't know you'd be this loud in bed," Stiles says, his hot breath ghosting across Derek's sensitive skin. "I like it. It's really hot."

"Stiles," Derek moans, and Stiles pushes his thighs up more for better access. Derek feels Stiles' fingers lightly trailing across his opening, and this causes sparks of pleasure through his entire body. Then, Derek feels his cheeks spreading further right before Stiles slowly drags his wet tongue across his opening. "Fuck," Derek hisses.

Stiles takes this as encouragement, because he does it over and over. Everything in Derek's world is centered right there, at Stiles' eager tongue licking into him. He vacillates between long strokes and quick circles around Derek's opening, and every so often he prods at Derek's hole with the point of his tongue. When he does it this time, Stiles pushes further past Derek's loosened ring of muscle, and Derek whimpers.

Stiles pulls back slightly and drops kisses around the sensitive area, then presses his tongue back against Derek's hole, pushing deeper inside this time. "Fuck, fuck," Derek manages, his voice gravelly and broken.

Stiles continues pushing his tongue into him, then pulls back and says, his voice hoarse and fucked out, "Taste so good, Derek. Fucking love this."

"Fuck, Stiles," Derek moans, unable to say anything else. He's tingling all over, his body alive with sensation. He's pretty sure he could come from this, and maybe he wants Stiles to do just that, to fuck him with his tongue until Derek is sobbing and falling apart beneath his hands.

Stiles keeps licking and kissing over his hole until Derek is shaking. When Stiles tentatively presses one finger against Derek's opening, it goes in easily. Stiles kisses around Derek's hole as he fingers him slowly. Stiles' finger inside him feels like heaven, but it's just a tease, and Derek waits patiently as Stiles adds another finger.

Something so intimate and filthy shouldn't make Derek feel so many emotions. But Stiles is going excruciatingly slow, touching Derek with tender caresses and making sure Derek is comfortable before he goes any further. Derek has never felt so loved and treasured before, like his pleasure is more important than anything else. If it wasn't for the three fingers in his ass and the deep need for Stiles to fuck him senseless, he might just fall apart right here on the bed. He's still not sure he's not going to fall apart before the end of it anyway.

"Ready?" Stiles asks Derek, and Derek nods. Stiles removes his fingers and Derek opens his eyes to see Stiles slicking up his cock. He growls low in his throat, and Stiles looks up at him, like he's surprised to find Derek watching him.

"So sexy," Derek says.

"I have to disagree," Stiles says. "You're the sexy one. I almost came like five times just from eating you out."

"We're gonna have to try that one day," Derek grins, his body loose despite how close he is to coming.

Stiles grins back at him. "Most definitely. But now," he kisses Derek before nudging at his shoulders. "Now I'm going to fuck you until you scream."

Stiles moans as Derek rolls onto his stomach and pushes his hips up. "Fuck, if you could see how you look, Derek. Fucking perfect." Stiles runs his hands along Derek's back and then over his cheeks before he grips them and spreads them apart. He lets go with one hand in favor of grabbing the lube on the bed beside him, and he pours a generous amount on Derek's hole before sliding three fingers inside. When Stiles is satisfied and Derek is gripping the sheets, Stiles nudges the tip of his cock against Derek's hole. Then, finally, he pushes inside.

Derek cries out the moment Stiles enters him. Derek has never felt so full in his life; nothing could compare to this. When Stiles bottoms out, he just stays there for a moment, his forehead against Derek's shoulder as he breathes against Derek's skin.

When Stiles pulls back, he slams back in, and Derek cries out again. Stiles sets up a fast pace, and Derek thinks he may die of ecstasy. Stiles' fingers are digging into his hips, and Derek is pushing back to meet each thrust. The bed squeaks slightly in the quiet room, the only other sounds their heavy breathing and the slap of their skin.

Derek feels his fangs pushing against his gums, his claws breaking through his fingertips. His wolf is howling, and loves the way he's bent over and being fucked by Stiles Stiles Stiles.

The voice in Derek's ear startles him. "Let go, Derek," Stiles breathes against his ear. He slides his hands along Derek's arm until he gets to Derek's claws. He threads their hands together. "I've got you. Let go."

Derek releases a sound that is somewhere between a howl and a whimper. He drops the last of his walls and gives in to the feel of Stiles thrusting into him. His fangs drop, his face shifts, and Stiles just grips his hand tighter. He never thought he could feel this connected with another person.

"So fucking hot," Stiles whispers before dragging his tongue along Derek's ear, then sucking the pointed tip of it into his mouth. Derek growls, completely helpless under Stiles' body. He's trembling, his orgasm building low in his belly.

Stiles kisses his way across Derek's shoulders, then licks up the side of his neck as he moves his hand under Derek's body to wrap around his cock. Loud noises come from Derek's mouth, and he never thought he could make these kinds of sounds. But Stiles feels so fucking good as he pounds into him, and now with his fingers wrapped around Derek's cock, Derek is pretty sure that he's going to die blissfully.

With Stiles stroking him, it doesn't take long for Derek to tense and then come, a choked off scream on his lips as everything except Stiles' cock inside him and hand around him fades away for a few blissful seconds.

When Derek starts to come back to himself, he feels Stiles' hips stuttering behind him, then with one final, hard thrust, Stiles is coming inside him. Derek almost comes again from the way it feels inside him and the way their scents combine.

Derek drops to the bed, and doesn't even care that he's lying in his come. He feels boneless and weak, and he's pretty sure he's not going to be able to move. Stiles sprawls out on top of him, and the weight feels warm and comforting. Stiles is still buried deep inside him, keeping his come inside. Derek thinks he could stay like this forever.

"Told you I was going to make you scream," Stiles mumbles against Derek's back. Derek grunts in response. "I made you wolf out again. Cause I'm fucking awesome." Derek doesn't have the energy to make a smart ass comment. Plus, well, Stiles isn't wrong. "Was...um, was it okay?"

Derek huffs in frustration. "I've never done half the things I just did during sex," Derek says. "So, I'd say that it was more than okay." Derek can feel Stiles' happiness radiating off him, and it makes him smile.

"I don't want to move," Stiles says. "I think I may never move again. I'll just lie right here on your back for the rest of my life. We'll just stay connected forever."

"Sounds good."

Stiles hums contently. "I'm serious about the not moving thing."

"Stiles, shut up and go to sleep."

"See? This is why I love you."

*

Derek wakes up later, and his ass is sore and Stiles is pressed against his back, his arm and leg thrown over Derek's body. Derek thinks maybe they should get up and shower again, because he can feel Stiles' come seeping out of his hole, and he's got his own come crusted on his belly. In other words, he's disgusting. But he smells like sex and them, so Derek can't be too upset about it right now. In fact, he closes his eyes and just inhales. Nothing has ever smelled so right.

Outside, Derek hears the sound of a car slowing down and then turning into the driveway. Derek shoots up and shakes Stiles awake. "Stiles, wake up." Stiles mumbles something but doesn't move. "Stiles! Your dad is home!"

Stiles jumps off the bed, his limbs flailing as he trips. He's still half asleep, his hair completely messed up, and he's looking around in confusion. "Fuck. Where are my pants? Fuck."

"Calm down," Derek says. "He's still outside."

"He wasn't supposed to be home until later," Stiles exclaims as he pulls boxers from a drawer. "He's going to murder me. Shit, what time is it?"

"Calm down," Derek says, quickly pulling his underwear over his hips. "He knows we're together. You're 20."

Stiles shoots him one of his best "are you shitting me right now???" looks. Derek hears the sheriff step on the porch, and he feels a cold fear fall over him. His eyes grow wide as he grabs his pants and shirt. "Shit. He's on the porch."

"Shit!" Stiles exclaims. He flings his hand towards Derek. "You've got come on your stomach!"

"I'll go the bathroom to clean up and get dressed." Derek rushes out of the room and closes the bathroom door just as the sheriff opens the front door.

He leans against the door and takes a deep breath. He hears Stiles flailing as he hurries out of his room and down the steps. Derek looks into the mirror, and then splashes cold water on his face and runs his hand through his hair. He finds a washrag and removes his underwear so he can clean between his legs and then wash the come off his torso. At least the sheriff is human. He will probably suspect, but he won't be able to smell anything. Well, Derek hopes they don't smell too much like sex.

Derek finds Stiles' deodorant in the cabinet and uses it, then rinses his mouth out with mouthwash. He realizes that Stiles hasn't had a chance to go to the bathroom, and fuck, he'd been eating out Derek only like an hour before. Derek groans, and grabs his jeans.

Derek is mostly definitely kicking the Pack out of the house so he can have sex with his boyfriend in peace. Or maybe he'll just build a separate house just for him and Stiles to have sex in. This is ridiculous.

*

Stiles nearly trips down the stairs as his dad walks towards the kitchen. "Stiles?"

"H-heeeeey, Dad!" Stiles says when he stumbles to a stop in the dining room. He managed to put on jeans and a t-shirt, but didn't bother with socks. He's just really glad Derek woke up and that his dad hadn't come home earlier, when Stiles was fucking Derek until he was screaming, howling, and wolfing out.

Yeah, he did that. He fucked Derek until he screamed. He's that awesome. But his dad doesn't need to know that. Ever. If asked, Stiles will claim he's a virgin even after his wedding day, if he has one. Some things his dad just never needs to know.

"You're home early."

The sheriff straightens from where he's bent over and looking through the fridge, then closes the door and stares at Stiles. "No, I'm not. I'm actually home late. We had an arrest that I had to deal with." He narrows his eyes at Stiles. "I saw Derek's car outside. Is he hiding upstairs?"

"No sir," Derek says as he enters the dining room, and Stiles whips his head around towards him. "I was in the bathroom."

Derek, well, Derek looks normal and clean, not fucked out and messy like Stiles. Stiles glares at him, and when he turns back to his dad, his dad's eyes are darting between them knowingly.

"Mmhmm," the sheriff says, and Stiles knows he doesn't believe them for one minute. "Well, since you're here, you can join us for lunch."

"Okay."

As the sheriff walks back out of the kitchen, he says, "Something good, Stiles. No salads. It was a long night." Stiles rolls his eyes and goes over to the fridge.

When he hears his dad climbing the stairs, he turns to Derek and says, "How do you look normal? You don't look like you just got fucked a couple of times. I, on the other hand, definitely look like I've been fucking."

"That was kinda the idea!" Derek exclaims as he tries to keep his voice down. "Though, I'm pretty sure your dad knows."

Stiles groans. "He's going to kill me."

"No, he's going to kill me."

Stiles glares at him. "This is your fault."

"How is this my fault?"

"You are the worst werewolf boyfriend ever! Your lookout skills suck."

Derek rolls his eyes. "My werewolf skills are the only thing that kept your dad from walking in on us naked and covered in come!"

Stiles flushes at that. He's still kinda reeling over the last sixteen hours or so. He really just wants to sit down alone and commit everything to memory. And remind himself that yes, all that did actually happen.

"Also?" Derek says as he comes over to grab the sandwich ingredients from Stiles. "Since you were eating me out a few hours ago, I think you should probably go brush your teeth and wash your face."

"Oh god," Stiles says, groaning and dropping his head against Derek's shoulder. He's pretty sure the floor can open up and swallow him whole now.

*

Stiles walks into the living room of the Hale house. Lydia, Erica, Kira, and Cora are sitting on the couch, and Hayden and Allison are sitting in armchairs. "I didn't know this was a slumber party."

"Sorry, no boys allowed," Erica says, grinning.

"But I'm not a boy," Stiles argues, and they all turn to glare at him. "Okay, I totally am, but you can't kick me out of the slumber party. It's sexist. And like, half of you are my best friends, and the other half are like my really good friends. And I really hope I didn't just offend half of you, because you know, Kira and Hayden, you two are totally my girls, but Kira, we've just never quite reached best friend levels, and Hayden, I am still getting used to the Baby Betas, I'm not going to lie. And Allison, well, I thought you were dead until like a few days ago, and - "

"Oh my god!" Lydia exclaims. "You can hang out if you will just shut up!"

Stiles grins. "Awesome!" He runs over and eyes the couch expectantly. When nobody moves, he decides to just sit on top of them, so he plops into Cora's lap, his legs sprawled over Erica.

"Oh hell no," Cora says, but Stiles wraps his arms tightly around her neck. "Stiles! Get off!"

"No! You are all couch hogs, and Allison and Hayden have the only other chairs."

"I swear to god - "

"What in the hell are you doing?" Derek exclaims as he, Boyd, Jackson, and Isaac walk into the room. Stiles grins at him, and Cora tries to push him off again, but his vice-like grip never budges.

"You obviously need more seating room in this living room if you plan on hosting Pack events," Stiles says. "I have nowhere to sit for the slumber party."

"It's not a slumber party, you idiot," Lydia says with a sigh. "We were watching a movie until you arrived."

"No one invited me." Stiles pouts at them, and Lydia and Erica roll their eyes.

"I invited you," Derek states. He's standing between the couch and the chair, watching them in amusement.

"You don't count. You're boring. You're not having a slumber party," Stiles says as Cora gives up and relaxes against the couch. Erica has already rested her arms on top of Stiles' legs.

"I think you and Derek have plenty of slumber parties," Erica says.

"Yeah, Stiles. You stink," Cora says, wrinkling her nose.

Stiles punches her thigh. "I showered. Shut up. I don't stink."

"We should have a slumber party," Erica suggests. "Right here in the living room."

"Oh no," Derek says, shaking his head.

"Please?" Erica begs, batting her eyes.

"Yeah, please?" Stiles joins her, pulling his best pout face. Because Derek is weak and cannot say no to Stiles (or because he was outvoted, who knows), they end up moving all the furniture and setting up a huge blanket pile in the middle of the living room.

Because Hayden didn't want to be the only one without her boyfriend, she called Liam, who called Mason, who called Corey, so they all arrive around the same time. Danny rode with Mason because Kira called him, and Scott arrived last because Stiles wasn't leaving his best friend out of the massive co-ed, co-Pack sleepover.

Stiles is lying against Derek's chest between his thighs, Scott on his right and Lydia and Jackson to their left. Cora is lying at Stiles and Derek's feet, so close that Stiles keep flicking her hair with his toes. Boyd and Erica are lying near Cora's head, and Allison and Isaac are on their other side, while the rest of Stiles' Pack is on the other side of Scott. They're all watching some dumb comedy that Stiles isn't paying attention to. He's too busy playing with Derek's fingers and poking at Cora with his feet.

"Stiles, I swear," Cora growls as she swipes at Stiles' feet. "I will rip off your feet if you don't stop."

"I don't think Derek would appreciate that," Stiles says. "I'm pretty sure he likes me with both my feet. Right, honey?" Stiles asks sweetly as he pats Derek's arm.

He feels Derek shrugs behind him. "I'll love you with no feet."

"Really?" Stiles exclaims, affronted, as Cora grins at him.

Beside him, Jackson says, "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Will you shut up?" Liam exclaims. "Some of us are trying to watch the movie!"

"This isn't even your house!" Stiles replies. Then someone throws a pillow and it hits Stiles in the head.

Stiles looks at Derek and Scott. "You two need to control your Packs."

"There's only one person who seems to need controlling," Derek says.

"Scott! Are you going to let him talk to me like that?"

Scott puts up his hands. "I am not getting in the middle of this!"

"Dude, you're supposed to be my bro! Always have my back!"

"Stiles!" Liam says again.

"What?"

"Shut up!" Half of the room exclaims.

Stiles rolls his eyes and uses Derek's thighs to help push himself to his feet. "Fine. This movie fucking sucks anyway."

Stiles makes sure to step on as many hands, limbs, and strands of hair as possible as he gets out of the pile. He goes to the kitchen and grabs a bag of Doritos, then makes his way to the back porch. The night is warm, so he sits on the back deck steps and stares at the stars. The moon is half-full in the sky.

He can't believe it's already mid-August. It feels like the summer just started, but if Stiles thinks about it, it really kinda feels like five years have passed since the beginning of it. So much has happened.

The back door opens, and a moment later Allison sits down gracefully. Stiles angles the bag towards her. "Dorito?"

"Sure." She reaches in and then pops one into her mouth. The crunch is loud in the quiet night.

"You thought the movie sucked, too?" Stiles asks.

"Definitely. But really, I just needed some air." Stiles glances at her, and she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear as she says, "It's kinda overwhelming, being around the Packs. It's a lot to take in at once. Smells, sounds, emotions...it's like sensory overload."

"I imagine it gets better with time," Stiles says. "I mean, if Derek, Erica, and Jackson can handle being around all those people, I figure anyone can."

"I'm thankful that we've laid low the last few years," Allison says, "but I kinda think I've been missing out on the Pack thing. Isaac feels like he belongs because he does. He was Pack with Derek, Boyd, and Erica. But lying in there with everyone, I realized how much I don't belong. And it makes me sad."

"You had a Pack, too," Stiles says softly. "Me, Scott, and Lydia. We were your Pack. "

Allison sighs and lays her head on Stiles' shoulder. "It'll never be the same."

"No, it won't," Stiles says sadly. "It hasn't been the same since the night Scott was bitten."

"It wasn't so bad for awhile," Allison says.

"When? When a psychotic Alpha was trying to kill us, when your psychotic family members were trying to kill us, when our friend was a psychotic lizard and trying to kill us, or maybe when our psychotic English teacher - "

"I get it, Stiles," Allison interrupts, her voice sad.

"I'm sorry."

"You're right."

"Still." He wraps an arm around her shoulders and she scoots closer to him. He's been so mad at Allison that for the first time, he wonders what it was like for her, to leave Beacon Hills and not know what happened to her friends, to be a werewolf cut off from everyone but her dad and boyfriend. From what he knows about Pack bonds, he knows it must be difficult.

"Mind if I join you?" Scott's voice cuts into Stiles' thoughts. Stiles glances behind him and smiles.

"Nope," Stiles says. He just hopes Scott isn't there to do anything weird, like try to confess his love to Allison or something. "Take a seat, Scotty."

Scott carefully walks around Allison and sits on the step below them. "It's weird to be back together, isn't it?" he asks. "It doesn't seem real."

Stiles hugs Allison closer to his side. "She feels pretty real, dude."

Scott frowns. "You know what I mean."

"I know."

"Why didn't anyone tell me we were having an original Pack party on the back deck?" Lydia asks as she drops on the other side of Allison. "I could have gotten out of that dumb movie much sooner."

"I didn't know I was starting my own party out here," Stiles says. "Serves them right though, siding with Liam. Like, the fuck? The movie sucked."

"For some reason, I think Jackson is enjoying it. I think Derek may be enjoying it, too."

"He has terrible taste in, well, everything," Stiles says.

"Be nice," Allison says.

"Are you taking up for Derek?" Stiles exclaims. "You have changed."

"Derek's not so bad," Allison says. "I have some perspective now. Isaac talks about him a lot."

"Eh, he's okay," Stiles jokes.

"This is kinda depressing," Lydia says after a few quiet moments. "Is it always going to feel like this when we're together?"

"I don't think so," Scott says. "It can't. It's too incredible that Allison is back. After the shock wears off, it'll be back to normal."

"Scott, I don't know if normal is an option," Stiles says. "I mean, we're two werewolves, a banshee, and a spark. I swear, every time I talk about us, it sounds like the lead in for a fucking joke."

"It's our normal," Scott says. "Being this stuff isn't always so bad."

"Remind me of that when the Alphas show up in a few days to kill us."

"Stiles, do you have to put a damper on everything?" Scott exclaims.

"Just being realistic."

"Maybe I don't want to be realistic tonight," Scott says. "Maybe I want to be optimistic. Allison's back. Boyd, Erica, and even Isaac are back. Derek and Jackson are back. For the first time, everyone is together. That's got to be a sign."

"Maybe," Stiles concedes.

Later, Stiles and Lydia go into the kitchen for drinks, and when they return, Scott and Allison are no longer sitting on the back porch. "Where did they go?" Stiles asks as he sits back on the step. He turns to Lydia, horrified. "You don't think..."

"No," Lydia says adamantly. "I don't think Scott has a chance. Have you seen the way Allison and Isaac look at one another?"

"That's what I told him," Stiles sighs.

"He'll figure it out," Lydia says.

"No he won't. It's Scott. And she's Allison."

"He'll have to figure it out eventually."

Lydia and Stiles sit on the stoop talking until Derek and Erica come outside looking for them. "The movie is over," Derek says as he stops behind Stiles. Stiles leans back against Derek's legs and looks up at him.

"It was terrible. How could you watch it?"

"It wasn't that bad."

"I question your taste."

"Well, he's dating you, isn't he?" Erica quips.

"Don't start, Erica."

"Great comeback, really," Erica says, poking him in the arm with her slippered foot.

"What can I say? That movie broke my brain with it's stupidity."

Derek rolls his eyes and holds out a hand. "Come on, let's go back inside. I think everyone's getting ready to go to bed."

"Dude," Stiles says, putting his hand in Derek's and letting him pull him to his feet. He stumbles a bit from the force, but Derek steadies him. "You do realize that it's a slumber party. We won't get to bed before like three."

"You might not, but I am," Derek says.

"Yeah, because you're a grandpa."

"Can you two not flirt every time you open your mouths?" Erica asks as they make their way back into the house.

"You're just jealous that Boyd is so quiet and doesn't participate in verbal foreplay with you."

"Boyd! Do you hear what kind of smack Stiles is talking about you?" Erica shouts, even though Boyd could hear them without raising their voices.

"I'm not afraid of Boyd," Stiles states.

"Oh, really?" Stiles jumps when Boyd's voice sounds right by his ear, and he turns towards him to glare. Erica and Derek are laughing, the traitors. Even Lydia is smirking. "You all suck."

"Only Derek," Erica sing-songs, but then she stops and says, "Well, that's not entirely true. I could probably give even you a run for your money with your big mouth." She winks at Stiles before hooking her arm through Boyd's.

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Like that's surprising. But this isn't a contest, Erica."

She shoots him a wolfish grin. "Oh, why not? Scared you'll lose?"

Stiles sputters. "Absolutely not. Look, you name the time and place, and - "

"No," Derek interrupts. "You two are not having a sucking contest. End of discussion."

Erica pouts. "You're no fun."

Stiles leans close to Erica and says, "We'll talk later." Derek groans and sighs like being Stiles' boyfriend is the hardest job ever. It's an awesome job. Stiles just wanted to have a sucking contest, where he would be sucking Derek's dick, to prove how awesome he was! Derek should appreciate him more.

Everyone is in their pajamas and under the covers when Stiles and the others return to the living room. Stiles is gonna sleep in what he's wearing, a t-shirt and pair of shorts, so he drops down into his and Derek's part of the makeshift bed. Derek presses himself along Stiles' back as soon as they're down on the blankets, and Stiles immediately relaxes.

Stiles talks to the others for awhile, and after about half an hour, Scott and Allison return. Neither of them look happy. Allison immediately goes over to Isaac and lays down beside him, and Stiles shoots Scott a questioning look. Scott shakes his head, and Stiles knows he'll need to talk to him tomorrow, when they're away from prying eyes and ears.

Stiles shifts in an attempt to get comfortable, and when he settles, Derek scoots closer and wraps his arms around him tightly. "Good night," Derek whispers against his ear before kissing his cheek.

"Good night, Derek."

Stiles hears a chorus of whispered good nights and kisses, and he falls asleep safe and warm with Derek's arms around him and surrounded by his Packs.

*

The next morning, Stiles is lounging on the couch, curled up against Cora's side, with his arm around Lydia, who's against his side. Lydia's feet are in Allison's lap. Derek, Boyd, Jackson, Scott, Isaac, Liam, Danny, and Hayden are all playing basketball, and Kira, Erica, Mason, and Corey are playing board games in the dining room. It's kinda nice, Stiles thinks. Everyone spending a lazy day together, just hanging out.

He's dozing when he's shaken awake. "Stiles," Lydia says. "Your phone is ringing."

"Don't care," he mumbles as he tries to press his face against Cora's arm. She gently pushes at his head.

"Stiles, it's Deaton."

Stiles blinks awake, confused at the moment about why Deaton would be calling him. He should be calling Scott or Derek. But then Stiles remembers he's the one with the erased memories, so he lunges for the phone, managing to hit Cora and jostle Lydia enough to that they're both complaining.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Stiles," Deaton answers. "I have returned, and I have information that I believe you and Derek would like to hear. Can you meet me in my office?"

"When?" Stiles asks.

"Now would be preferable."

Stiles huffs. Leave it up to Deaton. "Okay, yeah, we'll be there soon."

"Bring Scott with you, too."

"Okay. Will do, Dr. D."

When Stiles ends the call, Lydia's waiting for him to tell her what he said, but Cora and Allison are watching him because they obviously listened in. "Deaton's back. He wants to talk to me, Derek, and Scott."

"What do you think he found?" Lydia asks.

Stiles stands up and heads for the door. "I don't know. But he wants to see us now." Stiles shoves his feet into the slippers Derek keeps by the door, and then walks outside. The basketball net is to the right of the house, just past where the cars are parked. They're all shirtless, except for Hayden who's wearing only her sports bra, and Stiles has to take a moment just to enjoy a bunch of sweaty men chasing each other.

"Stop being a perv, Stilinski," Jackson shouts.

"Oh shut up, you like it," Stiles yells. "And believe me, with everyone else on that court, you are definitely not who I'm staring at."

"You mean you're staring at someone other than Derek?" Scott asks.

Stiles shrugs. "We've got hot friends. What can I say?"

"Does that make you jealous?" Liam asks.

"Nope," Derek says, passing the ball to Boyd, who jumps and sinks it into the net. "I'm not threatened by any of you."

"That's right, babe. You tell them!" Stiles exclaims.

"Don't call me babe."

"Hey, I hate to interrupt the game, but I need to steal Derek and Scott."

Derek and Scott immediately stop playing, and Liam manages to barrel into Scott. Stiles sometimes wonders about his werewolf abilities. He might be a natural on the lacrosse field, but basketball, apparently not so much.

"What's wrong?" Derek asks, immediately serious. Stiles tries not to get distracted by his sweaty chest, and instead focuses on his face. Well, and that Deaton is waiting on them with important information and probably wouldn't be too happy if Stiles delayed their arrival by popping inside for a quickie.

"Deaton called. He wants the three of us to come to his office right now."

"Did he find something?" Scott asks.

"Seems like it. But you know how Deaton is. He's worse on the phone than in person."

They all dress quickly, and Derek and Stiles follow Scott's dirt bike in the Camaro. Stiles fidgets the whole way, but Derek doesn't try to stop him. They're quiet, with just the radio playing.

The clinic is empty, so they follow Scott in through the back. Deaton is waiting for them in the exam room.

"What have you found out, Doc?" Stiles asks. He leans against one of the counters and drums his fingers on the metal until Derek grabs his hand to stop him.

"It appears I was correct in my hypothesis about the Nemeton," Deaton begins. "The Nemeton is, in fact, active again."

"Shit," Stiles exhales as Scott asks, "What does that mean?"

"The Nemeton is made of pure magic. It's neither good nor evil, though most of what has occurred due to its reactivation has been negative."

Stiles mutters, "That's putting it lightly."

Deaton, per usual, ignores him. "I believe the negative energy stems from what happened between Derek and Paige, which was what jump started the Nemeton again."

"So, wait," Stiles interrupts, hands flailing around. "You're saying this is Derek's fault?"

"Not at all," Deaton responds. "Derek was only the beginning in a chain of events that extended way beyond one teenage boy. That Nemeton was jumpstarted again when Paige died, but the negative energy was there years before, when the nogitsune was placed inside it."

Stiles can't help the shudder that passes over him, and Derek and Scott both step closer to him. Derek reaches out and puts his hand on Stiles' arm.

"Because the Nemeton exists from magic, it is just energy. And all energy must find a balance eventually. This is what the Nemeton is doing."

"I don't understand," Derek says.

"The Nemeton is trying to bring balance back to itself. If it does this, it will go dormant again until something awakens it again."

"So, how is it bringing balance to itself?" Scott asks.

Deaton looks at each of them. "Isn't it obvious?"

"Doc, nothing is obvious with you," Stiles says.

"Don't you think it's odd that so many people who left Beacon Hills suddenly returned within weeks of one another?"

Stiles stares at Deaton wide-eyed. Scott says, "Are you saying the Nemeton brought them here?"

Deaton nods. "The reasons each of them left Beacon Hills were related to the Nemeton."

"The Nemeton brought them back to life?" Scott asks.

"Perhaps," Deaton says. "That, we cannot know. Erica and Boyd healed because they are werewolves, even despite the time Erica spent dead in the vault. Allison was connected to the Oni. Both the Alphas and the Oni were connected to the Nemeton, but why they are all alive is only conjecture. What I do know, however, is that Boyd, Erica, and Allison, and even Isaac and Chris, were brought back to Beacon Hills by the Nemeton."

"For what purpose?" Derek asks.

"Balance," Deaton says. "When they left, it caused considerable damage to the Packs and the Pack members. Each of them experienced damage in their own ways after leaving Beacon Hills. By bringing each of them back, the Nemeton has returned the lost Pack members to the Packs and begun the healing process, in both the Pack members and the Packs themselves."

"So, what you're saying," Stiles says, "is that the Nemeton brought us back together so we can heal and be happy Packs?"

"Basically."

"The fuck?" Stiles exclaims.

"Is it so hard to believe, Stiles?" Deaton asks. "You have been at the center of the Nemeton's magic this entire time."

"What?" Derek shouts.

"Stiles' dreams have always been connected to the Nemeton. It's how the nogitsune was able to possess him, so it's fitting that the Nemeton should use dreams with you again."

Stiles' hands are shaking, and he feels the edges of a panic attack. "What do you mean?"

"The reason you and Derek regained your memories is due to the Nemeton. Because of your dreams."

"But I dreamed things, too," Derek points out.

Deaton turns to him and asks, "And when did you start dreaming these things? My guess would be after you reconnected with Stiles." Stiles turns towards Derek, and Derek nods at him. "Stiles triggered the memories in the form of dreams in both of you the moment you saw each other again. This may not have occurred if Deucalion had done a better job at the memory erasure spell, but since Stiles is a spark, I suspect the magic would have broken down in him eventually."

"It was my spark," Stiles says, almost to himself. "I think I did something that night." He glances at Derek. "You saw that memory," he says, and Derek's watching him in confusion. "When Deucalion took our memories. I grabbed your hand, and right before they stuck their claws into my neck, I told myself," he pauses, and repeats the words as easily as if he said them yesterday, "Don't forget him. Stiles, do not forget him. Please don't forget Derek. Remember him. Remember. Remember. Remember..."

Stiles glances from Derek to Deaton, who's watching him thoughtfully. After a moment, Deaton says, "I believe it is highly probable that you somehow interfered with Deucalion's spell. As with the mountain ash, your ability is connected intricately with intent and belief. I imagine in that moment, scared and determined, and fueled by your anger and feelings for Derek, with Derek's Alpha power connected to you, you more than likely placed a sort of magic loophole in the spell."

"But if that's true," Derek says, "then why didn't it break down the spell any of the other times we were in the same room after it happened?"

"The Nemeton," Deaton states simply. "Derek, why did you come back to Beacon Hills?"

"Excuse me?"

"You came back to Beacon Hills, what, near the beginning of the year?"

"Yes," Derek says carefully.

"Why?" Deaton calmly stares at Derek as he waits for him to answer.

"I don't know. I just felt it was time to come home."

"The Nemeton probably had a part in that," Deaton says. "And the moment you and Stiles saw one another again, it triggered the reversal of Deucalion's spell. And no doubt, because Stiles' spark is connected to you, Derek, it amplified the dreams and the memory retrieval process."

"So, like, the Nemeton is using me to help balance everything out?" Stiles exclaims.

"Partially," Deaton says. "Because of your spark, you are channeling its energy. That's why your nightmares increased. When you were out in the forest and you blacked out, it's because the Nemeton was flowing through you."

"I really fucking wish shit would stay out of my head!" Stiles yells, shocking everyone. Scott moves close enough that their arms are touching, and Derek grabs Stiles' hand.

"The Nemeton is affecting nearly everyone in the Pack, but you are affected most because of your spark."

"Being a spark fucking sucks," Stiles snaps.

Deaton gives him a sympathetic smile.

"So, what does this mean for us now?" Scott asks. "Is the Nemeton balanced now?"

Deaton shakes his head. "No. I don't know what else it will affect. It may take years. It is unpredictable."

"Great," Stiles says. "Just great."

"For now, I believe it is finished with all of you. Even you, Stiles."

Outside, Stiles stands between Scott and Derek at Scott's dirt bike. "So, that doesn't really change anything, does it?" Stiles asks.

Derek shakes his head. "Not really."

"We now know why Stiles has been off the last few months," Scott says.

"Dude, I've been off since the nogitsune possessed me."

"Maybe part of the balancing process is you balancing out from that," Scott suggests hopefully. "Maybe you can move on now."

"Maybe," Stiles says, but he doesn't feel too confident.

*

There's an unfamiliar car in the driveway when they return to the Hale house. Stiles notices Derek tense for a brief moment before relaxing. When Derek gets out of the car, he just looks confused.

"Dude, gonna clue me in?" Stiles asks, flailing his way out of the Camaro. He jogs after Derek, taking in the SUVs with Nevada license plates. Then it clicks. "Whoa, is that Marjorie? You didn't tell me she was coming!"

"I didn't know," Derek says as they ascend the steps and then enter the house.

Before either of them can react, Stiles hears a squeal and then a body crashes into Derek's in a bear hug. Stiles doesn't even have to see the dark hair to know who it is. Cathy.

He scowls at where Cathy is still hugging Derek and Derek is hugging her back.

When Cathy lets go, she squeals again when she sees Stiles. "Stiles!" Then, she throws her arms around Stiles in a tight hug. "I'm so excited to see you again! I was hoping I'd get to see you, too!"

"You two are all that she's been talking about the last few weeks," Olivia says as she enters the foyer, rolling her eyes as Cathy lets go of Stiles. "Derek this. Derek that. Stiles is so funny. Did you hear that story Stiles told? Derek and Stiles, Derek and Stiles."

"Mom!" Cathy exclaims, clearly embarrassed. Stiles glances over at Derek, and he's staring at him with a smug expression. Bastard. Maybe Stiles had been a little judgmental about Cathy.

"What are you doing here?" Derek asks as he walks towards the living room with Olivia. Cathy turns to Stiles and smiles brightly as she hooks her arm in his. Stiles gapes at her as she pulls him along.

In the living room, more of Marjorie's Pack are standing around. In addition to Cathy and Olivia, there's Yvonne, Ford, Paul, and Esuardo, who is conveniently sitting next to Cora on the couch. Allison is awkwardly sitting in the chair with Chris and Isaac standing stiffly behind it, and Boyd and Erica are on the couch with Cora. Everyone else is standing.

"See, Derek? I told you that you needed more seating for people," Stiles says as he stands near Boyd with Cathy still attached to him. Even for a wolf, she's touchy. Though, Stiles would rather her be clinging to him than Derek. Maybe she's not as evil as he originally thought, but he'd still prefer her to stay away from Derek.

"Mom sent us," Olivia says. "There's been talk of a small Pack full of Alphas moving towards this area, so Mom wanted us to help."

"She didn't have to do that," Boyd says. "We can't let your Pack put yourselves in danger."

"The Alphas are a threat to us all," Paul says. "They haven't taken or hurt anyone from our Pack, but there are a lot of other Packs they have hurt."

"Marjorie wants us to try to find where they are keeping the stolen Betas so we can try to rescue them," Esuardo says.

"You want to...attack the Alphas?" Erica exclaims.

"Not exactly," Paul replies. "If they attack here like we suspect, then after we defeat them, we can find out where they were keeping Boyd and Erica and hopefully rescue the other wolves they have."

"If we win," Boyd says, and Stiles is momentarily surprised at his words. But then he realizes it's the same thing they've all been thinking, it's just that no one has vocalized it.

"That's another reason Mom sent us," Olivia says, "so we can help you defeat them."

"I don't want friends to get hurt fighting our battles," Boyd states.

Olivia smiles at him. "That's what friends and allies do for each other, Boyd."

*

Derek stokes the fire as Isaac and Ford talk about European football and Chris, Allison, and Yvonne discuss hunter-werewolf politics. Olivia is sitting beside him, in the middle of a story about Marjorie and some other Pack members, and Derek smiles at her as he listens. They're sitting on logs in a small clearing just inside the woods, a small fire in a pit in the middle of the circle.

"You've got a nice place here," Olivia says after she finishes her story.

"Thank you," Derek says. "I'm happy with it."

"You know, I always hoped you'd join our Pack," she says, and Derek glances at her. "I know Mom wanted you to join with us since you're Hale blood. You'd have fit in really well."

"I thought about it," Derek tells her. "But it never felt right."

"You belong here," Olivia states. "And it's not just your Pack, and Stiles. You look happier here, more settled. I can feel it, you know. The Hale Pack is in these woods, in the soil, in the air. You belong here, Derek. It doesn't matter if you're Alpha or not. You and Cora, and even Jackson, you belong here. This is your home."

Derek doesn't reply, but turns to stare at the small fire.

After awhile, he leaves the group around the fire to find Stiles. Cora and Esuardo have gone somewhere, and Jackson he assumes is with Lydia or Danny. Stiles is on the back deck, playing cards with Cathy, Paul, and Erica with Boyd sitting with them and watching.

"Having fun?" Derek asks as he stands beside Boyd.

"I convinced Stiles to be my partner," Cathy says. "We're kicking their ass!"

"We're mounting a comeback," Erica says.

"A very very slow comeback," Paul adds. Derek smiles, grabs a chair, and sits beside Boyd.

"Stiles is a great partner, especially for a human."

"Hey!" Stiles exclaims as Derek asks, "Better than me?"

Cathy studies Stiles thoughtfully, then turns to Derek. "Maybe. Besides, he hasn't beaten me in every card game we've played."

"That's just because you haven't played with me yet," Stiles says as he arranges his cards.

"I'm hurt, Cathy," Derek teases. "You've replaced me."

"Not really!" Cathy responds happily. "Since you're together, it's just like I got double the awesome."

"God, don't encourage them," Boyd intones, and Erica snickers.

"I don't know what you've done, man," Paul says as he throws out a card, "But she's been like this since you visited. Nothing but you and Stiles. It's obnoxious. It's almost as bad as Esuardo going on and on about Cora. Ow!" Paul glares at Cathy, who glares back at him.

"Paul," Cathy growls.

"Derek isn't stupid," Paul snaps. "He knew they had a thing while they were with us. And it's not like it's a secret they're together tonight."

"Can we not talk about my sister's love life?" Derek asks, trying to stay calm.

"That's hypocritical," Erica claims. "You can parade around, you and Stiles smelling of each other's jizz, but Cora can't have someone, too?"

"Erica!" Stiles groans, covering his face in embarrassment.

Derek ignores his own discomfort and glares at Erica, who's staring at him, unflinching. "I'm not being hypocritical. I am well aware of Cora and Esuardo's relationship, and I like Esuardo, so that's not a problem. However, I don't really want to think about my little sister like that, okay? So, sue me."

Erica rolls her eyes, clearly not satisfied with Derek's logic. Cathy sighs and says, "That's the way the whole Pack is with me. Every time I date someone, I can't do anything because everyone's sniffing me and trying to figure out what I've done. Being the youngest sucks."

"You're not the youngest," Derek says.

Cathy shoots him an annoyed expression. "The babies don't count. There's no one between me and Hillary, who is five. I'm 18! I'm tired of being a virgin."

"She sounds like you used to, Stiles," Erica teases. "That's obviously not a problem anymore."

"Can we change subjects now?" Derek asks, slightly uncomfortable.

"Please," Boyd adds.

"Agreed," Paul nods.

Erica turns to Cathy and says, "Boys. They're ridiculous."

*

After the Beacon Hills group goes home and Marjorie's Pack are spread out among the numerous guest bedrooms, Derek sits in the quiet living room. Cora and Jackson are still out, so he takes the moment to process.

The information from Deaton about the Nemeton doesn't surprise him or really change anything, except he's still worried about Stiles. He's not sure he fully believes Deaton's theory that the Nemeton drew him back to Beacon Hills. Derek had just felt drawn back home, and every time he thought about settling down somewhere - like Nevada - it never felt right.

Maybe it was the Nemeton. Boyd and Erica had been drawn back to Beacon Hills, and Allison and Isaac had also returned. Derek doesn't care what brought him back. He knows now that he belongs here, in Beacon Hills, on his family's land. He feels settled in a way he hasn't since Laura died - hell, more like since his family died.

He can hear the heartbeats of Marjorie's Pack, and he smiles. When he'd come up with the plans for the house, he had honestly believed it would only be him, Cora, and Jackson forever. Maybe Cora or Jackson would get married eventually, but then they'd leave. He never expected the Pack to grow. But he hoped that maybe one day it would, or that they'd have allies, maybe even the McCall Pack, who wanted to stay in the house and fill it with life and friendship. With the Nevada Pack sleeping upstairs, and the scents of the McCall Pack and the others still in the air, Derek is glad he built the house optimistically.

If he makes it out of this alive, he may finally admit to himself that he's not alone anymore.

Derek is reading on the couch when he hears Jackson's Porsche come down the driveway. He lays his book face down in his lap when Jackson enters the house, and smiles when Jackson walks into the living room, feeling that now-familiar warmth from being in close proximity with his Pack.

"Hey," Derek says. "Have fun with Lydia and Danny?"

"It was fine," Jackson replies, clipped and short. "Is Marjorie's Pack here?"

Derek nods. "They're asleep upstairs. Marjorie sent them to help with the Alphas."

Jackson grimaces at Derek. "Well, wasn't that so nice of her?" Then, Jackson leaves the room and heads upstairs.

Derek sighs and rubs his eyes. He is too tired to deal with Jackson tonight.

But a few minutes later, when Derek has picked his book back up and started reading, Jackson comes back down the stairs. Derek glances up from his book and notices Jackson carrying a duffle bag.

"Where are you going?" Derek exclaims. He tosses his book beside him on the couch as he stands and strides across the room.

"I'm going to Malia's for a few days," Jackson says, turning his head to look up the stairs. "Not like I'll be missed."

"It's the middle of the night!" Derek exclaims.

"So?"

"You don't have to leave because they're here. We need you here. We're stronger with you."

Jackson sneers. "I'll be back before they attack, don't worry. I know my Pack duties." And with that, Jackson hurries out of the door, leaving Derek staring after him in shock. Jackson slams the door on his way out.

Derek doesn't know what to do. He doesn't want Jackson to go, not like this, not now when the Alphas are so close. He doesn't want Jackson leaving the house - his home - because he feels uncomfortable that others are in it. This has been happening too much lately, and Derek knows that he and Jackson need to have a talk. Sooner rather than later.

Derek goes back to the couch and tries to read, but he's too upset. So, he picks his cell phone up from the side table and texts Stiles.

I want today to be over.

Stiles' reply comes a few minutes later. Then go to bed. Duh. Problem solved.

Derek laughs as he taps out a new text. Don't know if that will help. Long day.

Yep. I can't shut off my brain. Too much info and stuff today.

Derek frowns at the phone. Are you okay? Do you want to talk?

No, I'm good. What's on your mind?

Jackson.

That's enough to keep anyone up. And give them nightmares.

Stiles...

I know, but I have to give you shit for it. I will never stop.
But seriously, do I need to kick his ass? Or, more appropriately, have Lydia kick his ass?

No. It's fine. I'll deal with it after everything settles down. I'm just tired.

:(

Is it stupid I wish you were here?

I thought it'd be better if I went home bc of the other Pack. Let you do your wolfy bonding thing. Except, you know, not TOO much bonding with ppl in the Pack, like Cathy. :|

You're absolutely ridiculous.

But you love me.

I do.
Now, go to sleep.

You texted me!

Good night, Stiles.

Night.
I love you too by the way.

Derek locks his phone and heads upstairs to bed. When he's asleep, he dreams of Stiles for the first time since their memories were returned.

Derek was stretched out on Stiles' bed, the television playing a movie from Netflix. Stiles sat beside Derek, knees up with an open composition book pressed against them. He was muttering to himself as he wrote on it.

Derek let the constant verbal stream wash over him, a comforting lull as he watched television. When he glanced over at Stiles though, it wasn't just Stiles in the bedroom. Deucalion was standing behind him, grinning, before he shoved his claws into the back of Stiles' neck.

Stiles screamed, and Derek tried to leap towards him, but Derek was glued to the bed, unable to move. Blood ran down the back of Stiles' neck and Deucalion's fingers, and then with his other hand, Deucalion punched into Stiles' chest and pulled out his heart. Derek tried to scream, but he had no voice, and he was still paralyzed as he watched.

Deucalion took a step away from the bed and bit into Stiles' heart as Stiles burst into flames, the smell of burning flesh suffocating Derek. Then, it wasn't just Stiles' body burning beside him on the bed, but Cora and Jackson, and beyond that, his entire family.

Derek stared into the dead eyes of his mother as the flames licked up his body, burning, burning.

Burning.

Derek wakes with a gasp, wolfed out and sweating. He feels bile rise in his throat as he glances around the room, gathering his bearings. The dream still lingers in his mind, the smell of smoke thick in his nose. He glances down and sees that he has slashed the comforter with his claws.

He forces himself to relax into the bed, and stares at the ceiling as he focuses on his breath. But it's no use. He can't calm down. He keeps thinking about Deucalion biting into Stiles' heart, and he can't get the image of his family out of his head. He used to have dreams about them burning alive often after the fire, but he hasn't had them in a long time. Now, his subconscious has added Stiles and his Pack to the mix.

Derek closes his eyes and tries to go back to sleep. But his brain bounces from thing to thing, from the dream, to Jackson, to Boyd and Erica, to what Deaton said, to Allison, to Scott, to Stiles. He thinks about losing his memories, about what he'd seen through Stiles' eyes, moments he was robbed of for so long. He thinks about Stiles as he trembles and wakes up from a nightmare, the way he looked when Derek first saw him again after so many years, and how Stiles still has bad days where the bags are back and he barely speaks.

Derek feels like he's going to burst from everything in his head. So, he does the only thing he knows. He strips off his clothes and shifts into the wolf. It's easier to shut off his thoughts and worries in this form, but as he turns around in a circle in the middle of his bedroom, he lets out a quiet whine.

Jackson's gone, Cora's not back, and Stiles is at home. His Pack isn't here, and Derek feels so alone, and it's worse in this form. Stiles' scent is all around him, but it just makes him miss Stiles that much more. He trots over to the hamper and pushes his snout inside until he grabs one of the shirts Stiles wore the other day when he'd spent the night.

With Stiles' shirt between his teeth, Derek whines again as he makes for the door. After managing to get the bedroom door open, he pads down the hall, but pauses at the stairs. He can smell the Nevada Pack and a faint scent of Boyd and Erica, the McCall Pack, Isaac and the Argents. But it's the scent of his sister and Jackson that causes him to pause.

Derek turns around, his tail brushing against the wall, as he walks down the hall to Jackson's room. The door is open only a crack, so Derek pushes it open with his snout. Inside, he can smell Jackson's frustration and his pain, and Derek lets out another whine. He spies a shirt draped over the back of the chair, so he takes it between his teeth with Stiles', then leaves again.

He makes his way down the hall to Cora's room. The door is open, so Derek runs the length of the room in a few strides before jumping up on her bed. She's not here, out with Esuardo somewhere, so Derek drops the clothing items and turns around on the middle of the bed a few times before dropping down. He lets out a long breath of air. Then, he moves around until he's lying on Jackson's shirt and his snout is buried under Stiles' shirt.

Lying here, Derek is surrounded by the scent of his Pack. He can smell Jackson on the shirt, and Cora's scent is all around him on the bed, but with his nose pressed against the armpit of Stiles' shirt, his scent is the strongest. The scents are soothing for him, and Derek finds himself calming, the tight grip of panic and despair loosening around his chest.

He still feels so alone, but the longer he lies there surrounded by their scents, the more his wolf focuses on the bright and warm Pack bonds. He can almost see them, three strands pulsing strong and warmly from him to the others. But the longer that he focuses on them, he realizes it's not just three. There are more.

Two bonds are glowing, not nearly as strong as the other three, but strong enough to cast their own light and warmth. Then, beyond that, are two groups of other bonds. One is closer and tied together with red, while the other is farther away but also grouped together with a red strand. Faint and almost imperceptible off in the distance are three more glowing strands.

As his wolf, Derek doesn't analyze what this all means. Instead, he focuses on each of the bonds until he feels warm, calm, and sleepy. He closes his eyes, inhales, and drifts off surrounded by three familiar and comforting scents.

*

Derek's eyes fly open and he bares his teeth when he's jostled awake.

"Hey, hey, it's just me," Cora's soothing voice says as her hand runs along his back. Derek closes his mouth and cuts his eyes to her. She's dressed in her pajamas and is trying to squeeze into the tiny space on the side of the bed. "It is my bed, after all. And since it's my bed, could you maybe move your big wolfy ass over so I can lay down?"

Derek growls grumpily but crawls to the other side of the bed. When he's settled, he reaches over and grabs Stiles' shirt with his teeth and drags it over and lays his head on it.

Cora gets settled on her side and then studies him, eyes glowing gold. She drags her hand along his neck, and Derek grumbles happily. "You okay?" Derek doesn't respond, and Cora frowns. "You haven't shown up in my bed as a wolf in quite awhile." She starts running her hands along his head in a rhythmic pattern, and Derek closes his eyes at the familiar touch. She's right; it has been a long time since he's done this. It's been a long time since he has been unable to get himself under control.

"It must have been bad if you ended up with a shirt of both Stiles and Jackson." Derek opens his eyes and growls at her. "I'm not judging you. I'm just trying to figure out what kind of mindset you're in."

Derek lifts his head then nuzzles against her arm affectionately. "I know, Derek. I love you, too. You can sleep here as long as you need. I'm exhausted."

Cora yawns, and Derek notices for the first time that she smells like Esuardo and sex. He growls again, and Cora rolls her eyes. "I'm not apologizing for Esuardo. So, don't even."

Derek huffs, then licks her cheek. Cora snorts, then scratches behind his ear. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Go to sleep, Derek. I'm right here. No more nightmares, okay? You're safe, and I'm here."

Derek lets out a long breath, then drops his head back to Stiles' shirt, wedges his snout in one of the armholes, and then closes his eyes.

Derek's asleep within minutes.

*

"You should have called me," Stiles says as he stocks faucets in the bathroom section. "I would have talked to you, or I would have come over."

"I didn't want to bother you," Derek says. He's leaning against the shelf beside Stiles, watching as Stiles methodically grabs boxes and puts them on the shelf, messing with them until they are in pristine, straight lines.

Stiles finishes aligning two boxes and turns to glare at Derek. "You never bother me. Besides, I bother you all the time. It's only fair you bother me."

"You don't bother me either, Stiles. You were sleeping. I know how precious your sleep is."

"It's good that Cora was there," Stiles says. "Though, I'd give a zillion dollars to see you curled up on her bed as a wolf. I bet you two were adorable."

"Shut up."

Stiles leans over and kisses him. "Are you worried about the Alphas?"

"A little," Derek admits.

"I think we all are since they're getting so close."

"Can you come over this afternoon?" Derek asks. "I'm gonna call Scott, too. I think we should have a strategy session."

"I think that's a great idea," Stiles agrees.

After Derek leaves Home Depot, he calls Scott. Scott agrees to have his Pack meet at the Hale house in a few hours. By the time Stiles arrives after work, everyone is already there, and Derek and Olivia are explaining their ideas to everyone. Derek smiles at Stiles as he enters, and Stiles waves before dropping into the armchair chair with Erica, forcing Erica to scoot over until she's got her legs sprawled over Stiles'.

"Most of Scott's Pack has never come face to face with the Alphas before," Derek states. "And none of the members of Marjorie's Pack have either. The first time the rest of us faced them, it was not exactly a success."

"You could say that again," Erica snorts.

Derek gives her a baleful look before continuing. "Boyd and Erica have important intel about them, as do Chris and Scott from our previous encounter. Coming up with some strategies is better than going in blindly."

"I think it's a great idea," Scott says with a smile.

For the next few hours, they discuss what they know about the Alphas. Scott, Derek, and Chris talk about their fighting techniques, though their knowledge is limited since Kali, Ennis, and Aiden are dead and Ethan's no longer with them. Boyd and Erica provide a little more intel, and Olivia shares everything she's gained from other Packs.

After that, they work on fighting. Three Packs working together isn't unheard of, but this set up poses its own set of problems. The Nevada Pack and Derek's Pack are all werewolves, as are Boyd and Erica, along with Allison and Isaac. However, the majority of the McCall Pack are not werewolves.

"I'm not sitting out," Stiles exclaims when Yvonne suggests that the non-wolves refrain from fighting. "I didn't last time, and this time I have a reason to fight them. They took my memories!"

Ford says, "The humans - "

"Not a human!" Lydia exclaims.

"Kitsune," Kira pipes up.

"Hunter," Chris states with authority. "Think that's worth at least two wolves."

A few members of Marjorie's Pack flash their eyes and growl, and Derek rolls his eyes and sighs. "Enough," he says. "Save it for the Alphas."

"Fucking hunters," Paul mutters. Derek ignores her. The Nevada Pack hadn't been happy about having a hunter in their midst, even if Derek and Scott swore Chris could be trusted. They found it even more problematic that Allison and Isaac were werewolves and hunters. As Derek looks around, he realizes just how bizarre and unconventional the Beacon Hills group would be to an outsider.

"We're fighting. End of story," Stiles proclaims.

"Stiles is right," Scott says. "They've always fought alongside us. They're Pack. We're stronger with them."

"Well, they're your humans," Ford says with his palms up. "As you wish."

"Hey!" Stiles exclaims. "I'm nobody's human."

"Stiles," Derek says quietly as he reaches out to touch his elbow.

"Besides," Stiles continues, ignoring Derek. "I'm a spark, and Derek is connected to me. With me there, he's stronger."

"I didn't think of that," Derek says.

Stiles turns to him and gives him a shit-eating grin. "That's why you have this lowly human around." Derek sighs again as he shakes his head.

Chris and Olivia work with the humans, while Scott, Yvonne, and Boyd work with the wolves. They train until after the sun goes down.

Finally, Cora drops to the ground beside Esuardo, and Stiles trips on nothing and Liam has to keep him from faceplanting. "I think that's enough for tonight," Boyd says, his voice quiet but full of authority. "I don't think that excessive training is going to give us an edge over the Alphas."

"We'll be ready when they come," Olivia says as she surveys the group. "Everyone here is strong. We're allies, and that makes us stronger. We can overcome them."

"Before we go," Boyd says, and everyone turns to look at him. "The most important thing to remember is that a wolf can't kill one of the Alphas. Scott and I will have to kill them, or one of the non-wolves."

No one says anything, but they nod in understanding.

After everyone leaves, Derek leads Stiles upstairs to his bedroom. While Derek closes the door, Stiles falls face first on the bed. "I'm exhausted," he mumbles against the comforter.

"You trained hard today," Derek says as he goes into the bathroom. When he returns, Stiles is still lying in the same position. He chuckles. "Are you gonna stay like that all night?"

"You can't make me move."

"I can, but I won't," Derek says. He starts to undress, and he hears movement behind him and glances over his shoulder. Stiles has rolled onto his side and is watching him. "I thought you weren't going to move."

"You gave me a reason to."

Derek rolls his eyes as he pulls off his jeans and hangs them over his desk chair. He walks across the room in just his underwear, and Stiles doesn't take his eyes off him. Derek places one knee on the bed and then leans down to kiss Stiles. "You're ridiculous."

"Derrreekkkkk," Stiles whines. "I'm exhausted. Everything hurts. My hair hurts. My fingers hurt. My ass hurts. I think even my dick hurts. You wanna massage it and make it feel better." He waggles his eyebrows, and Derek groans as he falls face first on the bed beside him.

"I'm not touching your dick after that," Derek mumbles. He turns his head, his cheek pressed against the soft comforter. "Besides, you're too tired to fool around."

Stiles is lying on his back, his head to the side so he can look at Derek. "I'm never too tired to fool around."

"You have work early in the morning. You need to go to sleep."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Ugh, you are no fun."

Derek pulls the covers away and settles between the sheets while Stiles gets ready for bed. When Stiles finally gets back into bed, they lie facing one another in the dark.

"I hope we'll be ready when the Alphas come," Derek says.

"We will," Stiles replies. "We have to be."

Derek debates about whether he wants to say anything to Stiles about what's been running through his head all day, and then decides to go ahead. He starts, "Last night, when I was a wolf, I focused on the Pack bonds."

"Okay," Stiles says. "That's good, right?"

Derek nods. "Yes. Cora and Jackson's were shining brightly. Yours, too." Stiles smiles and looks pleased at that. "There were other bonds, though."

Stiles perks up at that. "Oh? To who? Your family?"

Derek shakes his head. "I can't see those bonds anymore. I feel them, they're always there, but it's like negative space, like something is missing. No, I think one set of bonds connected to Marjorie's Pack and one to Scott's Pack."

"Really?" Stiles asks excitedly, pushing himself up on his elbows. "That's great. And it makes sense. You almost joined Marjorie's Pack, and you and Scott were almost Pack before."

"Those bonds are tied up together, so it's a connection to the Pack instead of the individual," Derek explains, and Stiles nods, though his brow is creased as though he's trying to wrap his head around the logistics of Pack bonds. "That's not what surprised me though. There were even more bonds. Two glowing softly, and three fainter ones."

Derek can see Stiles' brain working, and then his expression changes when comprehension dawns on him. "It's Boyd, Erica, Isaac, and the Argents." Derek nods. "Wow. That's...I'm not sure what that is. How do you feel about that?"

Derek shrugs. "I don't know. Confused, I think. It all feels very sudden." He sighs, and quietly, he adds, "I'm scared, too."

"Why?"

"Stiles, when my family died, I thought I'd be alone forever, and then Laura died, and I knew it was true. But then I met you and Scott, I bit Jackson, Boyd, Erica, and Isaac, and I found Cora. But I lost all that, too. There were times I wanted to die because I felt the emptiness and loss of my Pack so sharply. But then I reconnected with Cora, and then Jackson, and we built a little Pack. I was happy. I had a Pack, albeit a tiny one, and I had family. I wasn't alone.

"Now, I have you, Boyd and Erica are back, and Isaac, and I've got allies in Scott and Marjorie."

"This is great, Derek."

Derek shakes his head. "No, it's not. The Alphas are coming. They ruined my life once, and now I have so much more to lose."

Stiles cups Derek's face. "Derek, you won't lose everything this time. I promise you. We will win."

As Derek looks into Stiles' hopeful face, he tries to believe him.

*

The days go by. Nothing happens. Olivia, Derek, Boyd, and Scott discuss how much longer the Nevada Pack should hang around. They're starting to miss their Pack, and it seems a waste to sit around doing nothing.

Because that's what everyone has been doing. Nothing. They have another strategic meeting where Chris provides intel he's gathered on Deucalion. He tells them he's been keeping a watch on Deucalion over the years, but Deucalion has gone off the grid the last few months. Between Chris and Boyd's reports, it appears that Deucalion knew he was being watched, so a lot of what Boyd and Erica experienced was carried out by other Alphas on Deucalion's order so he could keep a low profile. And now, no one has seen him for months.

Stiles goes to work, goes to Derek's, goes home. He plays cards with Cathy and the others, and spends time out in Derek's workshop as Derek expels his nervous energy by continuing to build the table and chairs. He fixes dinner for his dad, and has nightmares about the Alpha Pack most nights. If he thinks about what they're going to face, he has a panic attack.

But Stiles can deal with anything, and he's dealing with this. It just sucks that everyone is on edge, just waiting.

Which is why Erica texts him to pick her up after work. When she's in the Jeep, she slumps in the seat. "I can't take it anymore," she tells Stiles as he drives to town. "I'm terrified. I know this has to happen, but Stiles, I can't go back to them. I'd rather die."

"You're not going to go back," Stiles assures her as he reaches across and grabs her hand. "You're not alone. There are a lot of people between you and the Alphas."

"That doesn't matter," Erica says. Stiles notices that her hands keep drifting absently to her face where she fingers her scars. "You don't know them. You don't know her."

Stiles has nightmares about Deucalion, Ennis, and Kali, and Erica has nightmares about Fiona. He thinks it's unfair that they're scared of different people in the same group, that the Alphas are that horrible. Stiles wonders how many other people dream about them, how many other people cower just at the thought.

Stiles knows he and Derek got off easy the last time. Having their memories ripped from them is almost nothing compared to what they've done to others, to what they did to Derek before they took their memories. As he watches Erica unconsciously rubbing her scars as she trembles, Stiles realizes it could have been so much worse.

And it will be worse this time, he knows it. If the Alphas win, they will either all be dead, or tortured so badly that they wish they were dead.

"Fuck," Stiles exclaims, rubbing his hand over his hair. "This fucking sucks. This waiting and anticipation."

"Exactly," Erica says. "That means we need to distract ourselves today. Lots of food and something fun. Right?"

Stiles nods. "Right."

Stiles lets Erica pick the restaurant, so they end up at a local pizza place she loves. Stiles suggests sharing a pizza, and she looks scandalized. "Get your own pizza," she tells him, then proceeds to order a large meat lovers for herself. The waitress eyes her skeptically, and Stiles orders a small pepperoni and mushroom.

He watches in fascination as Erica picks up piece after piece and just keeps eating. The one thing he's noticed about Erica is that she eats a lot. She puts even Scott to shame, who can eat more than anyone Stiles has ever seen. Stiles finds it oddly endearing, and fucking impressive.

Stiles gets a to-go box for his leftover pizza, and the waitress gawks at Erica's empty pan. She just shoots the girl a wolfish grin that is a bit sharp at the edges, and Stiles can't help but laugh.

As they're leaving, Stiles' phone vibrates in his pocket, and he smiles when he sees it's a text from Derek.

Having fun with Erica?

How did you know I was with Erica?

Boyd told me. I'm finishing up the second chair today and showing Boyd some woodworking basics. Jackson is supposed to come home today, but I haven't heard from him. I think he's still mad.

Jackson is a douche.

I am aware of your opinion of him.

Since you don't share this opinion, I must keep reminding you that fact.

"Are you texting Derek?" Erica asks, looking nosily over Stiles' shoulder. "Tell him to tell Boyd hi for me. And that I love him."

"I'm not your messenger!" Stiles exclaims.

"Stiles, please?" She pushes out her bottom lip and gives him large puppy eyes, so Stiles rolls his eyes and relays the message.

I'm not telling Boyd that Erica said she loves him.

She said if you don't, she'll break your legs.
I don't think she's joking, dude.

Boyd read the message. He smiled.

I think that made Erica happy.

Good. A happy Erica is the best Erica.

Definitely, especially since I'm the one that has to be with her.
Here's another message you can relay from me. Tell the moody werewolf with the beard that I love him.

:)
I'll do that if I see him around.
He said to tell you he loves you, too.

Stiles laughs at their ridiculousness, glad Erica isn't reading his texts over his shoulder anymore. It's embarrassing enough for Stiles and Derek to witness, and they're the ones doing it.

Pocketing his phone, Stiles says, "So, why don't you and Boyd get cell phones?"

Erica shrugs. "Don't want to."

"But - "

"Look, Stiles," Erica says, her tone harsher than he expected. "My parents don't even know I'm back yet. Boyd can't even think about telling his grandmother, not yet. Not with the Alphas around. It'll either get them killed when the Alphas find us there, or it'll kill them when we disappear again, or die this time."

"That's not going to happen."

"You don't know that!" Erica exclaims. "It's better for them to think that we're dead until it's all over. If we're still standing, then...maybe."

Stiles glances around the street in downtown Beacon Hills. "Aren't you afraid they'll see you around?"

Erica shakes her head. "I look different, and it's not like I'm out all the time."

"You don't look that much different." Erica frowns, and he knows she doesn't believe him.

They go to a movie, and sit in the back of the abandoned theater and eat too much candy. Erica eats three boxes, and Stiles only manages to make it through part of his box by the end. But it's enough sugar to have him bouncing off the walls.

"Let's go get ice cream," Erica suggests afterwards, and Stiles looks at her like she's crazy.

"How can you possibly still be hungry?" he asks.

"Werewolf!"

Stiles smiles after her and opens his mouth to reply, but never gets the chance. Because in the next moment, everything goes black.

*

Derek finishes attaching the first leg to the third chair and looks at his cell phone. It's after ten, but there's no text from Stiles. He knows Stiles spent the evening with Erica, but he hasn't heard from him in a few hours. He's texted Stiles a few times, and it's not like Stiles to not text back, even if he's busy.

Derek goes back to working on the chair legs.

After eleven, Derek calls Stiles. The phone rings and rings, then goes to Stiles' voicemail. He thinks about leaving a message, but doesn't. Stiles is with Erica, so he's fine. His battery may have died. They may be in a movie.

Derek tries to keep working, but something feels wrong. Derek doesn't know what time Stiles expected to be home because Stiles doesn't give him itineraries when he goes out with his friends. They have their own lives that don't include each other. Derek doesn't tell Stiles when he does things with his Pack, and Stiles doesn't keep him updated about what he does with his Pack.

But they generally text off and on throughout the day, Stiles more so than Derek, random comments and thoughts that pop into his head. They usually text a bit before bed. So something about Stiles not texting him for hours and not picking up his phone worries him.

Derek steps outside the workshop, shifts into his Beta form, and runs through the woods to the cabin Boyd and Erica are staying in. Boyd is standing on the porch waiting for him when he breaks the tree line. He stares at Derek with glowing red eyes.

"Derek, what's wrong?"

Derek shifts back, trying to get his heart to calm. He knows he's overreacting because of everything that's been going on lately. Everyone is on edge, and Derek is letting it get to him. "Is Erica back?"

"No, she's still with Stiles. Why?"

Derek inhales slowly, glancing up at the sky, at the waxing moon. "I haven't heard from him. I texted him and called him."

"You think something's wrong."

"I think I'm being a fucking crazy boyfriend," Derek admits. "I hope that's what I'm being."

Boyd studies Derek, then says, "It could be them."

Derek shakes his head. "No. They can't have Stiles. Or Erica."

Boyd rubs his eyes, and when he looks at Derek again, he's wolfed out, and instinctively Derek lowers his eyes in deference to the Alpha. "We can't afford to be unsure." When Derek looks at Boyd, he's human again. "It's not like Stiles not to contact you."

"No, it's not."

"What do we do?"

Derek runs a hand through his hair. "I don't want to alarm anyone if I am just being a crazy boyfriend. So, let's go look for them."

Boyd nods. "I'll meet you at your house in a few minutes."

As Derek sprints through the woods, his mind runs wild with scenarios. Stiles and Erica strung up and tortured by the Alphas. Stiles and Erica dead on the side of the road. Stiles and Erica drunk or stoned in Stiles' Jeep, and Stiles getting angry that Derek didn't trust him.

Please let it be the last one, Derek thinks.

Derek bursts into the house so quickly the door bangs against the wall. He doesn't think about the others sleeping in the bedrooms as he runs upstairs and quickly changes into his boots. As he stands at the dresser to slip his wallet into his back pocket, Cora leans on the doorway, yawning. "Where are you going?"

Derek glances at her and thinks about lying, but he can't. She's Pack, she's family. She deserves for him to trust her, to talk to him. A part of him thinks he deserves to be able to rely on her.

"I don't know for sure," Derek starts, and Cora straightens immediately, picking up on Derek's worry. "But I haven't heard from Stiles in awhile."

"So?" Cora asks slowly.

"He was with Erica all afternoon," Derek explains as he moves past her and down the steps. Cora follows. "She's not back. Stiles hasn't replied to my texts, and he didn't answer when I called."

"Derek, you don't think - "

Turning to face her, Derek replies brokenly, "I'm thinking a lot of things, Cora."

Immediately, Cora engulfs him in a hug. It's brief, and then she's pulling back. "What can I do?"

Derek starts to tell her nothing, but a voice in the back of his mind whispers, Pack. He sighs heavily. "Boyd and I are going to look for them," Derek explains, and as if on cue, Boyd comes walking into the yard. "You can help."

"Do you want me to call Scott?"

Derek shakes his head. "Not yet. It may be nothing." But the longer he stands there, the less he believes it.

"He's fine," Cora says as she touches his arm. "They both are."

"I hope so."

"What should I do?"

Derek shares a look with Boyd. "Check Stiles' house. Boyd and I will drive through town, check the theater, the restaurants, that kind of thing."

"Okay."

Derek glances upstairs, to where he hopes the Nevada pack hasn't woken. "Keep it to just yourself right now." She nods. "And call me when you find anything."

Derek and Boyd don't talk as they drive towards town. The tension in the car is high, and Derek knows Boyd is just as worried he is.

They find nothing as they drive through town. No sign of Stiles' Jeep, no sign of anything. Cora calls as Derek is driving through the movie theater parking lot. Stiles' dad is at home, but no sign of Stiles.

Derek calls Stiles' cell phone again, and it goes straight to voicemail. It's almost midnight. "Something's wrong," Derek states. "Stiles would answer his phone. I know he would."

"What do we do now?" Boyd asks.

"I'll go to Stiles' house and tell his father. I'll call Scott, Olivia, and Argent."

"Let me out in town," Boyd tells him. "I'll see if I can pick up a scent."

Derek nods, trying to stay focused on this makeshift plan instead of his fears. The next step in the plan is all he has right now. If he thinks beyond that, he's not sure he'll be able to hold it together.

Cora is waiting for him on the Stilinski's front porch when he pulls into the driveway behind the cruiser. He'd texted Scott, who said he was on his way, as are Olivia and Chris Argent. Cora doesn't say anything as he strides towards her.

Derek rings the doorbell and pounds on the door since he can sense that the sheriff is upstairs sleeping. A few minutes later, he hears heavy footsteps on the stairs, and then the porch light flicks on. The sheriff opens the door, half-asleep and rumpled in a t-shirt and pajama pants. The resemblance between him and Stiles in this state is so strong that Derek feels panic for the first time. Cora looks at him sharply while the sheriff looks surprised, then immediately worried as his eyes dart between them.

"Where's Stiles?"

"We don't know," Derek says. The color drains from the sheriff's face as he steps aside to let them in.

"What do you mean you don't know?" the sheriff exclaims. "Derek, what in the hell is going on?"

Derek runs a hand through his hair and looks around, lost. "I don't know. I haven't heard from him."

"Where is he? I assumed he was with you."

Derek shakes his head as he hears the distinctive sound of Scott's motorcycle approaching. "He was with Erica. I haven't seen him since the day before yesterday."

Scott comes bursting into the house a moment later. "What's wrong?" He glances around, his face instantly creased with worry. "Where's Stiles?"

"He's missing," the sheriff says.

"What?" Scott exclaims. "What happened?"

"I don't know!" Derek yells, and everyone turns to him. Derek knows he can't lose control, not with so many eyes watching him. "I heard from him this afternoon, and he was fine, and I haven't heard from him since."

"I texted him this morning," Scott says.

"I haven't talked to him since I left for work," the sheriff says.

"Dammit," Derek says.

"They're here," Scott states. "Aren't they?"

"I think we have to assume so," Derek says as he drops into a chair. The sheriff looks as wrecked as Derek feels as he stands there, and then he disappears upstairs.

"We'll find him," Cora says as she rubs Derek's back.

Derek sits there helplessly with Cora rubbing soothing circles on his back while Scott calls his Pack. Before too long, he hears the SUV park outside and then Olivia is entering the house. Cora explains what's going on because Derek is trying not to fall apart.

All he can think about is Stiles' memories from the last time, how the Alphas tortured him instead of Stiles, and that if Stiles has been taken, then Erica has been taken, and she's been tortured so many times by the Alphas. And he couldn't protect Stiles, and now Stiles may never...

Derek shakes his head. No, he tells himself. Stiles will come back to me. I can't lose him again.

"I called Parrish," the sheriff says as he comes down the stairs. He's dressed in dark civilian clothes, but he's got two guns in holsters on each shoulder, and a black duffle bag in his hands. "This has got to be off the books because we're dealing with the supernatural, but Parrish is coming."

"What are you planning?" Cora asks at the same Derek's phone rings. Derek's heart soars for a moment, thinking, Stiles is calling, but Lydia's name flashes across his screen.

"Lydia?"

"I think they have Jackson, too," Lydia blurts, her voice near hysterical. Derek's eyes fly to Cora as her hands comes up to her mouth. "I just got off the phone with Scott, and I called Jackson, but he didn't answer. He left Malia's this morning, and I called her and she said everything was fine, and Danny hasn't seen him, and oh god."

"Stiles, Erica, and Jackson," Derek murmurs. "Fuck."

"Where are you?"

"We're at Stiles' house."

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

Derek ends the call, and Cora says, "Not Jackson, too."

He forces himself out of the chair and crosses into the dining room to tell Scott what Lydia said, and Scott frowns. "I can't get in touch with Liam or Mason."

Isaac, Allison, and Chris arrive then, dressed in their hunter gear and carrying more weapons than any three people need, and Derek thinks, It's finally beginning.

*

Stiles groans as he comes to, his head killing him. He reaches around to prod at the sore spot, and immediately feels wetness. "Fuck."

"Thank god, Stilinski's not dead," Jackson's voice drawls.

"You're here," Stiles manages, though his voice is rough and strained. "This definitely isn't heaven."

"Oh, it's definitely hell," another voice says. Stiles blinks and looks around, everything fuzzy.

"Liam?"

"And me," Mason says.

"Who else?"

"Just Erica," Jackson says. "Though she's been catatonic since you two were brought in."

Stiles sits up, a wave of nausea hitting him. He closes his eyes and inhales, trying not to roll over and puke. When it passes, he opens his eyes and looks around. They're in the corner of a spacious room. Jackson is sitting across from him, looking dirty but otherwise unharmed. Liam is on the other side of Stiles and looks about the same as Jackson, and Mason is right next to Liam and has a bloody lip. Erica is huddled in a corner, her back to them.

"Hey, Erica?"

"We tried that," Liam said. "She hasn't spoken or moved."

"She's petrified," Stiles says.

"Oh, we can feel that," Jackson says.

"They tortured her before. God only knows what's going through her head," Stiles mutters. He stands up to get a better look at their surroundings. It looks like a standard empty room in any number of buildings. It's about the size of a classroom or conference room, with no windows or doors other than the door leading out.

"Is it lined with wolfsbane?" Stiles asks, and the others nod.

"And locked," Mason adds. "I tried to open it, but nothing happened."

"How long have we been here?"

"Hours," Jackson replies. "You two came in after I did, and they came in last."

"They have to know we're missing by now," Stiles says as he sits back down. "Derek would have realized it when I didn't text or call him, or when Boyd realized Erica wasn't coming home."

"I was supposed to spend the night with Lydia tonight," Jackson says.

"Corey and Hayden will wonder why we're not answering our phones," Mason says.

"Okay, so the Packs know we're missing," Stiles says, wondering why they were taken in the first place. It's obvious who took them, but Stiles wonders why. "At least there's that. Now let's hope they can find us."

Stiles spends the next fifteen minutes trying to talk to Erica, but she doesn't respond. He's just given up and acknowledged his pounding headache when the door opens. Liam and Mason skitter towards each other, Jackson looks panicked, and Stiles tries not to shake. Erica doesn't move.

The woman who walks in is short and small, with a frizz of tight black curls on her head. Her eyes are bright green, until they burn a vibrant red when she approaches them. There are three other wolves behind her, but Stiles can't take his eyes off of her. Her mouth curls into a cruel smile.

Fiona.

Stiles thinks, I've overcome the nogitsune and regained my memories. I can bear this until the Packs come. As he looks at her, he just hopes he's strong enough.

"Well, well, well," she says. Her presence isn't commanding or domineering, and it surprises Stiles. From the way Boyd and Erica talked about her, he expected someone much different. He figures she uses it to her advantage, lets people underestimate her. Stiles knows not to make that mistake.

Fiona eyes them all carefully, and then stares at Erica's form, huddled and trembling in the corner. "Ah, my favorite toy is back. Erica," Fiona purrs, and Erica makes this gut-wrenching half-sob, half-whine.

Stiles jumps to his feet, wobbling slightly when he's upright. "What do you want with us?" he demands, though his head is spinning.

Fiona cuts her cruel eyes toward him, and faced with the full force of her Alpha stare, he now knows why she's so terrifying. He knows he should shut up, back down, but he can't. He's got to deflect her from Erica. Maybe buy them some time until they can get out of this and save Erica from any further harm.

Fiona tilts her head and inhales. "You're Hale's human," she says. "Duke used to speak of you sometimes."

"Ah, my old friend Deucalion. We go back, me and old Duke. Kidnapping, torture, memory erasure. Good times, good times," Stiles babbles. "Where is he?"

Fiona ignores him and glances at the other three. "Either you're a brave human, or incredibly stupid. The wolves know not to speak to me, and the other human is terrified." Stiles glances at Mason, where he's curled up with Liam.

"They're babies, so they just don't know how to talk to you, and well, you don't want to talk to Jackson, so count yourself lucky that you're not talking to him."

Fiona laughs then, her red eyes wide. "You're amusing." She steps closer to Stiles, leans close, and inhales. "Duke said you were powerful, but I think he was wrong. You just smell...empty, flat." She pulls back, and Stiles tries to keep control of his panic.

You smell empty, flat. The words curl around his throat, threatening to suffocate him.

Empty, flat.

Fiona knows she's hit on a nerve, and her mouth twists into a smile. "Oh, you know it, don't you? That there's something wrong with you." She leans close again, and Stiles shudders, his skin crawling. There's only one person he likes this close, and now her words are echoing in his head and he has to resist the urge to punch her. "There's darkness in you, human. I can almost taste it."

"Don't listen to her, Stiles!" Liam exclaims.

Fiona rounds on him, baring her teeth and growling. Liam drops his head in submission, and one of the other Alphas goes over and slaps Liam across the face.

Fiona turns back to Stiles and grips his face in her clawed grip, sharp points digging into his skin. "You'd make a great Beta," she says, and his heart rate triples. "All this darkness would make you powerful, with the right leader. My own personal wolf soldier." She laughs as she lets go of Stiles' face, then the Alpha moves to him and punches him in the stomach and shoves him to the floor. He rolls over and throws up part of his lunch from earlier.

"Now," Fiona says, turning back to Erica. "Back to why I can down here." She squats down and runs a clawed hand over Erica's hair and down her back. Erica audibly whimpers, and Stiles tries to get up again, but the Alpha shoves him back. Stiles cracks his head on the cement wall behind him, his vision blurring.

"Erica," Fiona sing-songs. "I've missed you, pet." Erica tries to press into the wall to get away from Fiona, but she's unable to go anywhere. "You've disappointed me. Running away like you did with Boyd." She makes a tutting sound as she shakes her head. "I'm just going to have to remind you what happens when you make me unhappy."

To Stiles' surprise, Jackson lunges towards Fiona. "Leave her alone!" He knocks Fiona back, but before Stiles can blink, two of the other Alphas have Jackson by the arms while the other punches him in the face time and time again.

"Enough," Fiona says, standing up and straightening her shirt. She snarls at Jackson, and though his face is bloody and his eye half-obscured, Jackson snarls back, refusing to submit even though Stiles can only imagine how hard that is for him.

Then, to Stiles' disbelief, Fiona smiles. She reaches out and grabs Jackson's chin, her claws digging in deeply enough to draw blood. "Looks like I just found a new toy," she says. " You'll be fun to break. And you're so pretty. Almost too pretty." She nods to the Alphas holding him. "Take him away." She glances down at Erica and sneers. "So pathetic, cowering like a wounded animal. I'll come back for you soon, Erica. But right now, I'll play with your friend."

"No!" Stiles shouts and tries to get up, but he can't see straight from his head hitting the wall, and when he puts his hand down, it slips in vomit. "Don't you touch him!" They ignore him as they lead Jackson out of the room. "Jackson!" Stiles screams. "JACKSON!"

The door slams, then the heavy sound of the lock sliding into place echoes through the room.

"Stiles, are you okay?" Liam asks as he and Mason come over to help Stiles upright.

"I slipped in my own vomit," Stiles says, his head threatening to split open. The lights in the room are too bright, and he really hopes he doesn't die with vomit on his hand. "I'm not sure this night could get worse."

Then, he hears the unmistakable sound of Jackson's screams as the lights flicker, and he bends forward and pukes again, right on Liam's leg.

*

The sheriff, Parrish, Chris Argent, and Scott are bent over the Stilinskis' dining room table, pouring over a map of Beacon Hills. The Nevada Pack are with Boyd, Hayden, and Corey, trying to pick up a scent. Kira and Cora are sitting on the couch with Lydia between them, with Allison sitting on the floor by Lydia's feet. Isaac sits so close to Derek their shoulders touch, and right now it's the only thing keeping Derek from going crazy.

The whole house smells like Stiles, and he keeps glancing at the stairs towards where he knows Stiles' bedroom is. He wants to shift into a wolf and burrow in Stiles' bed, but he knows that it won't help and that he can't. He thinks of Jackson, of Erica, and knows what the Alphas are probably doing to them, and it makes him sick. Sitting here, doing nothing and waiting until someone figures out what to do is driving him mad. Whenever it gets too much for Derek, Isaac reaches out and squeezes his shoulder.

Derek doesn't even glance up when the front door opens. "Sorry I'm late," Danny says. "I was up in San Francisco. I think I know how to find them."

"What?" Derek shouts at the same time as the sheriff. Scott starts asking Danny multiple questions at once while Danny sets up a laptop, attaching multiple cords leading to external devices Derek doesn't know the name of.

Derek comes to stand beside the sheriff as Danny's computer finally boots up. Danny smacks Scott's hand away when he reaches towards the screen.

As Danny types away on the keyboard, he explains, "Senior year, Stiles came to me and wanted my help in doing something to ensure that if he ever went missing again, like with the nogitsune, we could find him."

"I didn't know that," Scott says.

Danny takes his eyes off the screen for long enough to glance at him. "Nobody did, except me. I told him it was a stupid idea because the likelihood that he would get possessed again was slim, but Stiles insisted. He said he didn't want to put his dad through that again if he went missing.

"So," Danny continues as he reaches over to touch a button on one of the external devices, "we kind of microchipped him, I guess is the best way to describe it."

"You microchipped my son?" the sheriff exclaims.

Danny smiles at the sheriff. "In a way. Stiles and I implanted this small device under his skin. It's untraceable unless you know it's there, and it's dormant until activated with the password. I'm the only person who knows about it, and I don't even know the password."

"Then how are you going to find him?" Derek grits out.

"He left the password in an encrypted file on this hard drive." Danny taps one of the devices. "With the password, the tracker activates and I can find him."

"That's genius," Scott proclaims.

"Not genius," Lydia states as she enters the room, and everyone looks at her. "But convenient." Danny gives her a crooked grin.

"I can't believe he did that," the sheriff says, shaking his head.

"I can," Derek says. "His biggest fear is becoming that again. He wouldn't want to lose control again and would do anything to prevent it."

Danny curses a few times as he clicks the keys, and then he points to the screen. "There," he says. "I found them."

"Thank god," the sheriff says as he hurries around the table to crowd in with Scott, Parrish, and Chris. Derek just stares at them, unable to believe they know where they are now.

"I know where that is," Chris states.

Scott is in the background calling Hayden while Derek walks over to the sheriff, who is still staring at the screen. A lone green dot blinks on a map, and Derek thinks, That's Stiles.

"It's like he knew," the sheriff says quietly. "That he'd get taken again."

"I think Stiles has learned to be prepared for anything," Derek replies. "Everything we have been through hasn't left him much choice."

The sheriff runs a hand over his face. "Do you think - "

"I think," Derek interrupts him, unable to allow the man to utter the words. He knows the sheriff is also thinking that Stiles has been hurt or worse, but he can't let him focus on that. "I think that Stiles will deal with this just like he has everything else he's been faced with. Stiles is the strongest man I've ever met." The sheriff frowns at the screen, the worry clear in his face, but there's determination in every fiber of his being. "I think it runs in the family."

The sheriff turns to Derek and holds his gaze for a moment, before reaching out and placing a hand on Derek's shoulder. "Thank you, Derek. Now, let's go find our boy."

*

Stiles thinks that Liam's thighs make a very comfy pillow and tells him. Liam snorts. "I'll make sure not to tell Derek. I like my face the way it is."

"Derek wouldn't hurt you," Stiles says. "He's a Pack dude. Like, he may growl and look all grumpy, which is really just the eyebrows because his eyebrow game is strong, but the dude puts Pack before everything. You're a wolf, Scott bit you, and Scott and Derek have this weird connection thing that no one understands, but that means like, by default, you are Derek's Pack and he wouldn't mess up your face. Maybe just push you around a little."

"How hard did you hit your head?" Mason asks.

"Fucking hard," Stiles replies. His head really, really hurts. Like, he thinks his brain might be seeping out of the wound on the back of his head. Liam presses his palm to the back of Stiles' head and drains some of the pain, but like the three times he's done it before, it just makes it manageable instead of excruciating.

The lights flicker overhead again, but Stiles can't hear Jackson screaming anymore. He thinks Liam can, based on the way he tenses and glances at the door in what Stiles thinks is supposed to be a surreptitious manner.

Mason talks to Stiles in an attempt to keep him from falling asleep, or maybe unconscious, and Stiles starts to lose track of time. He wonders why Derek hasn't found him yet, why the Alphas have taken them without using them for ransom, and what their plans are.

When the door opens again and Fiona and her minions come into the room, Stiles decides to ask. "Why did you take us?" he asks as he pushes himself up. Liam tries to stop him, but he shrugs off his touch. The lights are still too bright, and everything kinda sounds hollow, but Stiles doesn't focus on that. "What's the point of holding us if no one knows we're gone?"

Fiona sets that same amused expression on him. Stiles really wants to wipe it off her face. He's not amusing. He's fucking angry. "What makes you think they don't know you're gone?" All the blood drains from Stiles' face. "We've been watching them search around town for the last few hours, trying to catch any trace of a scent. But there's nothing."

Bored with Stiles, Fiona turns to Erica, who hasn't moved from her place in the corner. "Time to go, Erica."

"No!" Stiles exclaims, trying to move in front of Erica, but managing to lose his balance and fall to the floor. He crawls in front of her and glares up at Fiona. "You won't touch her."

Fiona's eyes bleed red and she growls. "I am losing my patience with you, human. Greg, grab the boy. I'll make him watch and then I'll bite him."

Stiles starts kicking out as one of the Alpha minions reaches for him, but then the Alpha stumbles back when Liam attacks him. "Liam, no!" Stiles yells, but then two of the Alphas are beating Liam while Greg yanks Stiles up, a sharp pain shooting up his arm and through his skull. He watches, horrified, as Fiona tries to grab Erica while Erica, half-feral, turns to snarl and lash out. Fiona's laughter rings through the room.

Then, her laughter is cut off when the sound of shots ring out. Stiles whips his head to the door, where his dad is standing next to Chris Argent, holding a shotgun. One of the Alphas who was fighting with Liam drops, and everyone stares at the door. Scott, Boyd, and Derek appear behind his dad and Chris, their eyes burning.

Nobody moves for a moment. Suddenly, Stiles feels the ground lurch beneath his feet, and then he's being dragged away. The next thing he knows, there's a loud crashing sound and he's being shoved through a hole in the wall, the cheap sheetrock, wood, and plaster crumbling around him as the Alpha runs into the next room. Fiona runs ahead of him, Erica in tow.

He hears one of the wolves growl, and he thinks it's Boyd, followed by a growl he knows is Derek's, then Scott's. The pressure in Stiles' head increases, and everything around him starts to spin. I'm going to pass out, he thinks.

He gets thrown to the floor beside Erica, and glances up to see Jackson chained up in the corner, hanging limp with his eyes closed. Stiles turns towards the door when he hears footsteps enter, and he realizes they're in a huge open room. There are boxes and furniture scattered around, and more Alphas than he ever realized. Even with the Nevada Pack and the Argents, they are severely outnumbered.

Fuck, Stiles thinks. We're all dead.

"Boyd," Fiona says, smiling. When the sheriff and Chris run through the door, they point their guns at her. "Ah-ah! If you kill me then," she glances over her shoulder and suddenly, Stiles is being yanked off the floor and there are claws at his neck. "The human dies. Which is a pity, because I want to make him my Beta so badly."

"Get your hands off of him!" Derek yells as he lunges forward, but Boyd reaches out and grabs his arm to keep him from going further.

"Derek Hale," Fiona says, then flicks her eyes over their faces. "And Scott McCall. I've heard a lot about both of you. Duke always spoke so highly of you. The sad, lonely, pathetic excuse for a Hale Alpha, who's so pathetic he's not even an Alpha anymore, and the True Alpha." She spits the title like it offends her. "I will never understand his obsession with you two. If he'd have done his job and killed you the first time, it would have saved us all this trouble. But no, he wanted Scott, and the last Hale Alpha."

"Where is he?" Scott demands. "Tell him to show his face."

Fiona laughs, and nobody moves. "Deucalion. He was worthless, came back to us beaten by a teenage True Alpha and a pathetic sad Alpha-turned-Beta. All his talk of revenge for you two, ignoring everything else and focusing just on you." She scoffs. "He wasn't fit to lead us. He proved that the moment he got part of our Pack killed dealing with you."

"Where is he?" Scott asks again.

Fiona grins. "Why, I killed him, of course." Stiles watches the shock ripple across his Packs’ faces. "He was a spineless, pathetic excuse for an Alpha. In the few months I've been the Alpha, I've cleaned up most of his messes. Except," Fiona's eyes land on Boyd and then on Erica. "The two that escaped. But it turned out for the best, because their escape brought me a True Alpha, the last of Talia Hale's line, and," she says, glancing at Olivia and Cathy, "part of the extended Hale line."

"You won't win, Fiona," Boyd says, his voice deep and sure.

"Oh Boyd, how you've grown up. Look at you with those stolen Alpha powers. I don’t know how you managed to kill one of my Pack, but if a Beta could overtake them, good riddance. Too bad you won’t join me. I could use a strong Alpha like you. It'll be a shame to kill you. I always liked you, but I like Erica better." Boyd snarls, and two of the Alphas charge him. Then, chaos breaks out.

Stiles is thrown to the ground, again, as the Alpha who was holding him charges forward to protect Fiona. Stiles crawls towards Erica, and then shakes her. "Erica, hey, Erica. Shit's going down, and we need you. Boyd needs you."

Erica snaps her head up, fully wolfed out and growling, her eyes bright blue. "Erica, you can't just charge in there half-feral. I can’t bear it if you get killed when I’ve just gotten you back. Please, Erica, come back to us."

"I'm here, Stiles," she says, her voice half a growl. "My Pack needs me." She howls, loudly enough that Stiles has to cover his ears, and then she runs away, leaping into the fighting.

Stiles doesn't know what to do, because he's injured and doesn't have a weapon, but he knows he's got to do something. He stands up and surveys the fight, where he can tell that his Pack is getting their asses kicked, even with the help of the Nevada Pack. He watches Lydia run across the room, dodging bodies flying through the air, as she makes her way towards Jackson. His dad is shooting wolfsbane bullets at wolves with Hayden and Kira at his side, and Stiles watches in horror as Yvonne goes flying through the air and crashes into a wall.

Think of something, Stiles tells himself. His eyes scan the crowd for signs of Derek, and he finds him fighting with two different Alphas. As Stiles starts to walk towards him, he sees one of the Alphas suddenly grab Derek's arms from behind and the other go for Derek's throat.

"DEREK!" Stiles screams at the same time he feels like the inside of his skull has split apart. He screams, his body too hot, everything too bright.

Then, once again, everything goes black.

*

Derek fights against the Alpha's grip as he watches the claws come towards his throat. His brain is screaming while his body fights, because this can't be happening. Somewhere in the background, he hears Stiles screaming his name.

And then Derek gets slammed back onto the ground by a strong force. The Alphas have been knocked down too, and Derek pushes himself up immediately. Everyone in the room is getting up from where they have been thrown to the ground, and they look around at each other in confusion. When Derek looks at Stiles, he gasps.

Stiles is standing off to the side of the fray, and there's a faint gold glowing around him. It looks like tiny gold flakes swirling slowly around him in a cloud of translucent, shimmering dust. His eyes are closed and he's still as a statue, unmoving. When Derek takes a step towards him, he feels it.

It sings in his veins, in his muscles, through each of his limbs. And when Derek glances down at his hands, he can see faint traces of gold shimmering on his skin.

Stiles' spark.

Derek looks in awe at Stiles just as one of the Alphas lunges for him. When Derek fights back, he doesn't have to see the way the Alpha goes flying across the room to know he's stronger. He can feel the power Stiles is providing him with each breath. He turns to the other Alpha, who looks freaked out and runs the other way.

Derek runs towards Stiles, and gets there at the same time as the sheriff and Scott. "What's wrong with him?" the sheriff asks. He reaches through the golden haze to grab Stiles' shoulder and shake him, but Stiles doesn't budge.

"It's his spark," Derek says. "I can feel it flowing through me."

"I feel it, too," Scott says, and Derek looks at him for the first time. It's there, the faint golden hues on Scott's skin.

Derek glances around, and it's there, a faint shimmering gold on each of the Pack's skin. "He's giving us all power," Derek tells him. "It's strongest in me, but it's dispersing through the Pack."

"How long will it last?" Scott asks. "And why is he shining gold?"

"He's shining gold?" the sheriff asks, and fires a shot at a wolf who comes towards them. Derek looks at the sheriff and realizes humans must not be able to see the aura.

"We've got to use this to our advantage," Derek says. "Before it runs out."

The sheriff stays by Stiles' side while Derek enters the fray again. He easily fights off an Alpha who attacks him, then runs over to help Mason, Hayden, and Cathy fight off a cluster of Alphas. Hayden's glowing faintly too, and as Derek passes Boyd and Cora, he realizes they are, too. Maybe with this, they can defeat the Alphas.

"Derek!" the sheriff yells, and then a shot rings out. "Scott!" Derek glances over to the sheriff and Stiles, where the sheriff shoots again as Fiona and four Alphas close in on them.

Derek roars and bounds towards them, shifting into a full wolf midrun. As a wolf, he feels the full force of Stiles' spark coursing through his blood. He jumps over the Alphas’ heads and lands in front of the sheriff, putting himself between the Stilinskis and the others. He bares his teeth and growls.

"I will kill you," Fiona states as she stares at Derek while the others fight further inside the room. He fights his natural instinct to bow to her Alpha power, feels Stiles’ spark giving him the power he needs to protect him and the sheriff.

Scott and Liam are creeping up behind them, and one of the Alphas standing next to Fiona turns around and growls. Fiona says, "Duke was wrong about the human. He is much more powerful than Duke ever realized, because he would not have let him go if he'd have known. What an idiot. It's a good thing he's dead or I'd kill him this instant for his stupidity."