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A Wolf and His Boy

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Stiles waves from the front door as his Dad drives away in the airport shuttle. He isn't worried about being alone in the house, this big old house all alone, as his Dad had described it. No, he is glad; five days without having to explain anything weird away. Five days without having to lie to the only family he has.

Of course, this would be the time that nothing untoward would happen and thus belay the need to lie about anything. This is just Stiles' luck, right? But it's no reason to tell his Dad not to go to the Sherriff's conference in Seattle, especially not since it is really the first time his Dad has been away from home since mom died.

So. Four days alone. four days of utter privacy, non-werewolfness, four days of just him. Normally he would have scheduled how many movies he would see on Netflix, or how late to sleep in, how much junk food to buy, and how often he might cajole Scott away from Allison. All in an effort to have the perfect stay-cation. And all of which are doable.

Except the last one, because in spite of having broken up with Allison, now that school was out for the summer, Scott is finding many, many, many excuses to wheedle his way into Mr. Argent's good graces. As for Allison's good graces, she is, was, always has been and always would be, a pair of open arms to Scott. If Stiles is able to get one good movie night out of Scott the whole summer it will be his lucky day.

But, other than a movie night with Scott, this isn't Stiles' plan anyhow. After his comment to Scott about sarcasm being his only defense, Scott had gotten stuck on the fact that Stiles only weighted 147 pounds. And kept razzing Stiles about it, well past the point where he shouldn't have, well past any best-friend leeway. Stiles is sick of it, so now he's is going to do something about it.

He is going to start running. His is going to do sit-ups and pull ups and eat raw eggs, all of it. He is going to use these days to get into a rhythm so that when his Dad gets back, it'll be all under way and any questions his Dad might ask will be answered by Stiles' progress. And then he is going to put on muscle, so that when school rolls around again, he won't have to sit on the bench all season. And then maybe sarcasm won't be his only defense. This is his current plan.

So he goes into the house and has breakfast, an enormous breakfast: eggs, bacon, fried tomato, grilled mushrooms, and toast. He makes himself eat it all. He cleans up after, because that's what disciplined athletes do, then he takes vitamins. He takes a double dose, even though it makes his stomach hurt a bit. Then he goes and takes a shower, so that on his run, he'll sweat clean.

All of this takes a whole lot longer than he had anticipated. Not to mention that while walking around in a towel, his computer had pinged him about updates to his RSS feed, so after he checks that out, he realizes it is early afternoon. Time to run. Getting properly dressed in his old red lacrosse shorts and a t-shirt with enough holes in it to let his skin breathe, he laces up his sneakers and heads out.

His route is going to be multi-surface, because, as indicated by his research, this will keep his body guessing and thus provide a better run. It's all mapped out in his head, two miles over sidewalk, two miles through the park, and then two miles up and around through the preserve. He's not worried about the preserve at all, in spite of all the weirdness and drama that goes on there. It's the middle of the day, after all, and he'll stay well away from the Hale property, so no one will accuse him of trespassing. Besides, the preserve is the perfect tough part of the route; it's so variable that it will keep his body guessing all the way home.

The first two miles are easy, in the relative shade of the leafy streets; he's pacing himself and isn't even breathing hard. The park is a little more difficult, partly because it slopes uphill, and partly because he has to avoid all the moms and strollers on the blacktop path. He can't stop to chat or look at the babies or watch the Frisbee players; he's on a mission and today is day one.

The preserve is more difficult, as he knew it would be. The path is a literal path, little more than a foot wide, and uneven with rocks and tree roots and the ruts of other runners all trodding the same ground. Plus, there's the heat. There is little shade in the pines, and no breeze whatsoever. The sun bakes down on the hillside, and cooks in the pine cones, sending out piney scent and bearing down on his skin like hot rain.

Pausing to wipe his sweat on the edge of his sleeve, he eyes the path. He can feel the sweat prickling along his scalp as it dries. He has little more than a quarter mile to the top of the path he plans to take today, and then, the last mile is downhill, into the shady part of the preserve, to the paved street that circles around it. The distance from there, the edge of the preserve, to his house, he'll walk, as a cool down. Cool downs, according to just about everybody, are integral to muscle growth and avoidance of injury.

With a little sprint, which he thinks of as a version of the wind sprints Coach Finstock likes to assign, only this one is better because it's self-assigned, Stiles makes it to the top of the slope. The trees are thick here, reaching for the sky with their branches, and almost blocking out the sun. There is little undergrowth, but the heat rises from the ground, trapping itself around the tree trunks, making his head swim a little bit. But he wants to push himself; this isn't supposed to be easy, so a breather is unnecessary.

He starts, going fast down the slope, along the path that leads around a thicket, then around a mound of huge boulders with smaller pines growing out of them. The sun is behind the hill, blocked, and while the shade should be cooler, it's not. The heat turns soupy and damp, as though rising from a body of still water, complete with gnats and some sort of bright green fly that goes straight for Stiles' eyes.

Swiping at it with his hand, he keeps running. The ground is growing a little muddy, even, as if the spring rains have never had a chance to soak into the ground and dry up. He slips, almost banging into the boulders on his right side, but stays upright. Keeps running because that is what he is here to do.

There is a sound, snaking through the rough-barked trees, to the left of him, where the ground curves up towards a little ridge. He keeps running, thinking it must be a bird or small animal, like a raccoon. Only raccoons are nocturnal, and he doesn't hear the flutter of feathers as he might if a bird had taken flight. In fact, there are no birds, no chirping, or warbling, of any kind. There's not a breath of wind, or the buzz of a fly.

The back of his neck announces it to him, that he's not alone in these woods. Someone or something is nearby. But he tells himself it's okay, because, really, it's the middle of the day, and the preserve is perfectly safe. Old ladies take nature walks in it, and yes, they do it around the edges, but still. Birders haunt the woods for the next blue-breasted whatever, and they are all armed with binoculars and cell phones. On top of which--well wait. It is two days to the full moon. He realizes this as he hears the sound again and then is pissed at himself for being so jumpy.

He's down in the very bottom of a gully, now, running and looking up. There is a shape at the top of the little hill, where the path curves before it heads downhill; he's headed that way, and he recognizes the shape for what it is. It's a person, with broad shoulders, and he makes a face because, of course. This is his luck. A good run, the first day of his new regime and naturally, he'd run into Derek Hale. For who else would be skulking about in the woods like some creeper, spying on Stiles as though Stiles were the one up to no good?

He keeps running, to get away from Derek, pushing himself to maintain a pace as he goes up the last little bit of hill, even though his thighs are burning, and his chest cannot possibly pump in another ounce of oxygen. As he rises the hill, there is a small moment of victory that he's made it this far, and done so well. Yes, tomorrow he will pay with sore muscles and the schedule that demands he do it all over again, but for this moment, he feels the rush of success. So he pauses to savor it, the breeze that comes up at him from the downbending slope, mixing with the slight dampness to create a nice bit of cooler air. He tastes the taste of salt as his own sweat slips across his mouth. Only a mile to go now; a mile more, then a walk, then home.

There is a roar from behind him, and he has only a second to think bitter thoughts and ask himself what the hell is Derek up to now before he is knocked down. Flat out on his face, his hands plowing into last year's leaves, the dark brown loam spraying into his mouth, his eyes. There is a body on top of him now, a heavy weight, and he turns his head, spitting, with plans to tell Derek exactly what he thinks of this type of romping in the woods, when he sees that it's not Derek. Not even close. Yes, it's a man, partially wolfed out, with sparks of claw and edges of fur, and those eyes, bluer than eyes should be. And it's growling at him. Growling and smiling with human teeth, and there's a sudden motion as Stiles is yanked backwards through the dirt and loam; his hands scramble for purchase as his lungs make wheezing sounds, as his throat attempts to protest.

It's not a werewolf Stiles has ever seen before, let alone heard of. Wolves have territories, there are rules, and you can't just-- But the wolf doesn't care, doesn't stop. He paws at Stiles, snuffling at the back of Stiles' neck, and with a yank so quick Stiles can feel the back of a claw, the heat of breath, the wolf takes Stiles' shorts and underwear down. There is a whoosh of cool air on his bare skin, just for a second, and then the wolf is on top of him again, clawed hands on his shoulders, that breath on his neck, and a pair of thighs between his thighs. They are human thighs, or at least he thinks so, but that's when his brain begins to short out.

The wolf presses his thighs open with weight and the spread of muscle, and then the wolf takes his hand away from one shoulder, just for a second. Stiles starts to struggle, thinking he can get away, but the wolf is too heavy, and Stiles' thighs are too far apart for much leverage. He feels the bulk of the wolf's hand right up against the junction of his thighs, where his skin is tightening up, his whole body tightening up, but it's of no use. The wolf guides himself and jabs right into Stiles' body, with a hammer force that shocks him into silence.

Then the wolf begins to move and the cold emptiness of disbelief turns into a burning heat between his legs, a kind of acid rip that goes back and forth, and pressure, that pushes in and in and never seems to let up. Stiles can't find a voice to protest this, or even one to express the wild astonishment building in his chest. He can't find any breath at all; his whole body is focused on the wolf, on the pushing, when there is a sudden pull, a hot rush, and then another push.

He wants to scream as he feels himself tear open. His hands scrabble as if they can find the breath for his lungs to scream, but all they find is twigs and loam, and they are useless and can find no hold.

The wolf grunts, and the motion of his hips speeds up; he moves his clawed hands to Stiles' hips and circle around, pressing into bone, bruising skin. Now Stiles can only hang on to something inside of himself, as his forehead is ground into the dirt, and his eyes water, there is loam in his mouth and nose, and there is simply not enough air--

All he can feel or see or hear is the wrenching, wet sound of the wolf fucking him and he focuses on that; everything else has gone dark, his skin is numb. He imagines he sees shadows dancing around the edges of his vision, as if his eyes were wide open, and he was standing quite still. There is a shadow there, and it is moving, moving towards him. The shadow is coming. It can smell the wolf, and it can smell Stiles, and it can smell the blood--Stiles can smell it himself, now, somehow bright and red as a lantern in the darkness.

There is a low growl, and from behind his open, sightless eyes, Stiles hears it. Then there is a burst of energy that Stiles can feel, even though for a second, the world is still, perfectly still, with no sight, no sound, no movement. It explodes with the motion of the wolf being pulled out of him and away, the rip of skin on skin, the flurry of leaves and loam that Stiles tries to duck under as though his body wants to use it as camouflage.

He crawls. Away from the growling and the snapping, the crack of bone breaking. Away, because, of course, away, what lunatic would want to stay near that? He rips up his knees as he scrambles to pull on his clothes, turning himself so he's half on his side, looking at the blood on his hands, and on the inside of his thighs. The lacrosse shorts just cover the red, but of course, they are red too, and have soaked some of it up.

There is another growl, and a howl, and then the ricocheting echo of rifle fire, and Stiles looks up. Makes himself focus. There is Derek Hale, standing up, uncurling his spine, cracking his jaw back into place; there is blood dripping off his hands, the tips of his fingers. Then there is Chris Argent, coming down from the top of the ridge, straight at Stiles. He is dressed for tracking through the woods, and he carries his long range rifle in both hands. The strange wolf is nowhere to be seen.

Both of the men are coming at him, but Derek is faster, is already kneeling down, and Stiles crawls towards him, letting himself be taken up in Derek's arms, hiding in their curve.

"Don't tell him, Derek, don't tell him." His whisper is fierce and low in Derek's ear, lips brushing skin. Derek dips his dark head towards Stiles as if to hear. "He'll tell Allison and she'll tell Scott, who'll tell his mom, and she'll feel she has to tell my Dad, and he can't, he just can't know--"

Derek's arm tightens around his waist as Derek props him up. Chris Argent comes up, his boots kicking up leaves, his rifle cocked, held at the ready, almost pointing at Derek. Argent is a good shot, Allison has mentioned, more than once, his training regime and awards, and simply, how fucking good he is with that thing. If he wants to shoot Derek, then Derek is dead, and there isn't anything that Stiles can do about it.

He makes himself sit a little taller, even though his ass is literally burning, and his body shakes, and his brain starts taking notes on how odd it is to be this close to Derek Hale and not be on the receiving end of some sort of blow.

"Anything I should know about, Hale?" says Argent, his blue eyes narrow and glinting. "Any wolf I should know about?" He almost looks at Stiles while he asks this, but with Argent, you never know.

"Some rogue omega," says Derek, in that short, clipped way he has, when he's giving out information, the kind of information that Stiles imagines Derek feels is all his own. As if he'll be weakened by the sharing, somehow.

"Thought you wolves had territories."

"We do," says Derek. Stiles can feel Derek's hand tightening on his arm. "That's why it's a rogue; sometimes wolves go feral, sometimes they roam. I was tracking this one when--"

"You okay, Stiles?" asks Argent now, his attention focused all on Stiles. As if Stiles had spoken or moved, neither of which he had.

There's a small pause as Stiles opens his mouth, without any real idea of what to say to put Argent off. Normally, he'd have a pack of lies, all waiting trippingly on his tongue, just bouncing around, desperate to be released. And now, nothing.

"I came up just as the rogue came out of the bushes at Stiles." Derek fills the silence, his voice low and cool as though he were merely reporting on the weather. "Startled Stiles, I think, but I fought the wolf off, I just wish I'd been able to--"

"And my shot missed." Argent says this without any apology in it whatsoever. If there is blame in this, it's not his, that's easy to see. "I'll have to keep tracking him; maybe I can flush him out so that you--"

"I'll be there," Derek says, his mouth barely moving.

"Can you get him home?" asks Argent. His hands move to uncock his gun; he lets the stock rest against his shoulder. "Clean him up before his Dad sees him. I need to keep tracking."

"Yes," says Derek. He clenches and unclenches his jaw. He looks down, and Stiles follows his gaze; there is blood on the leaves next to Stiles' thigh, and then there is a little more. Derek shifts as if he's about to stand up, to bring Stiles with him. His sneaker kicks leaves so that the blood can't be seen. As if a little fright in the woods by a rogue werewolf was all that ailed Stiles. Nothing that a cup of hot chocolate wouldn't cure.

Argent turns on his heel and starts marching straight up the hill as though it were as easy as flat ground. Barely a twig snaps in his wake; he'd been so quiet that Stiles had not heard him. Nor heard Derek, who apparently had been tracking the wolf Stiles had heard. All four of them had been in the same area of the preserve, but only Stiles had been unaware. Couldn't someone at least send him a memo, a text message, something? No, they had not, which does not really surprise him. Stiles has no claim to Argent's plans, and as for Derek, well, he isn't into sharing to begin with, let alone with Stiles.

Derek waits till Argent's fully gone from sight, then he hauls Stiles to his feet with one, clean pull. Which sends arcs of pain shooting up Stiles back, sends sparks to dance in front of his eyes, and he's pawing at Derek, pawing to stay upright. Derek doesn't push him off, but pulls him closer, just for a second, looking him over with eyes that are missing nothing. Yes, Stiles had put Argent off, with Derek's help, but Derek had been the one to pull the rogue wolf off him, so Derek knows--knows what had happened, and how Stiles had flopped around like a doll, unable to rescue himself.

"Can you walk?"

Stiles nods. His teeth chatter, and his lungs still burn with his run and the lack of air, and for some reason he can't make his mouth work. Or his arms. Or his legs. And there's blood trailing down his leg, curling along the inside of his thigh, spreading thinly from beneath his red lacrosse shorts.

"Take that as a no. Fine. I'm taking you to my place."

The Hale House is the last, the absolute last place he wants to go. Not like this. But as Derek pulls one of Stiles' arms over his own shoulders and they begin to move in that direction, Stiles can make out where they are. For the last quarter mile, he's been less than a hundred yards or so from the edge of the Hale property. From that ever-invisible boundary line that Derek protected so fiercely, as if he weren't the only Hale left in the entire state, as if some day, one day, the whole of the Hale family would return.

He can't struggle against Derek's pace, but his feet drag, until Derek is half carrying him, as Stiles toes catch on twigs, and then the grass of the half-wild front lawn. Derek carts Stiles up the steep steps, through the empty, smoke-smelling front of the house, and all the way to the back. And all before Stiles can think of any protest he might make; Derek is a stubborn wolf, so it would have been mighty difficult to dissuade him in any case. But Stiles would like to be able to tell himself he tried.

There is a moment of sharp pain, as Derek shifts him and lays him down. His back meets a mattress on the floor, and he hisses and curls up on his side; his feet will drag mud and his body is bleeding, and what will Derek's mom have to say to that? Only there isn't a Derek's mom, or a Dad, or anyone. There is just Derek, who stands over him, just for a second, sweating, t-shirt ripped, with a swath of blood on his arm, though whether it belongs to Stiles or the wolf, he can't tell. Derek can, though, and Stiles knows this. Derek slips off Stiles' shoes and socks and throws them against the wall.

"Stay still," says Derek, barking out the order as he usually does. This time, instead of protesting, Stiles does as he's told, feeling the roughness of the cotton sheet beneath his cheek, feeling the rattle of his lungs settling into a more stately, regular pattern. His knees are raw, his left arm hurts like crazy, taking just this moment to announce that there is something wrong with it. There is spit in his mouth now, and he reaches to take a bit of bark that he can feel on his lip, but the movement moves other parts of him, and he determines that he should best stay still, like Derek says, right about now.

But his eyes can move, and he tracks Derek as he walks to the edge of the room, or what was a room. The back of the house is now a set of three rooms, open areas, with beams and plaster in some places, but whose floors all drop off into the greenery of what once was the back yard. There is netting, hanging down from the exposed beams above, that is tacked in places to the jagged edges of the wooden floor, and a graceful breeze, bringing in the cool of the shadowed lawn, once a properly groomed garden of some sort, now a wild tangle of bushes and overgrown flowers and tall grasses that no one has seen fit to cut back in years.

And there is Derek, bending over a tap that juts up from the ground. As though it once stood close to an outside wall, but now, had no wall to be near. He holds a metal bucket under it and the water gushes out of the tap, banging into the bucket with a roar. The bucket fills fast, and Derek comes back over to him. Stiles cringes against the mattress, thinking that surely Derek will simply splash the bucket of cold water over him and tell him to man up, and then march himself home.

Instead Derek puts the bucket down in a place where the sun can hit it; the metal makes a small clonk as it hits the wood.

Derek kneels down, on the mattress, right next to Stiles. "Going to take care of this," he says, fierce, eyes dark. "And you're going to let me, understand?"

He looks at Stiles as through Stiles were a small stray and probably rabid dog that might bite him if Derek moves too quickly, doesn't announce his intentions. He questions, now, his decision to go to Derek instead of Chris Argent.

Stiles opens his mouth, but his brain catches on the idea of him bleeding and how on earth will Derek stop it? Shouldn't someone call an ambulance? Shouldn't he be in a hospital? Oh, yes, right. He can't go to a hospital, because Scott's mom works at one and if she found out--well, Dad will find out, and Stiles can't let that happen. So he has to let Derek do whatever weird werewolf thing he plans on doing. And he can't bite Derek, because Derek will just manhandle him to keep him in line. He's done it in the past, what's to stop him now simply because Stiles is bleeding to death? Nothing.

"Here." Derek knees down on the mattress next to Stiles. He reaches out his hands, both of them, slowly, as though Stiles is setting the speed of them. Then, with a quick twitch, he pulls Stiles up, and lays him across his bent thighs. He presses Stiles down, into stillness with one hand, and with the other, he peels Stiles' shorts and underwear down. Stiles gasps, his whole body shocked, his brain insisting that none of this is right. At all.

"Don't say anything," says Derek. "Just breathe. This will hurt, but the bleeding will stop."

For a second, Stiles struggles, to get his left arm back so he can push off from Derek's waist, to get enough leverage under his right hand to push up and away--but his left arm hurts and as Derek touches the curve of his bottom, Stiles finds himself clutching at Derek's belt loops. Bending to press his forehead to the folds of Derek's jeans. Shutting his eyes as tight as he can, to bring the darkness, some sort of oblivion, and to block out what Derek is doing to him.

Derek's fingers are hot as they curve around the edges of his skin. His hip tingles as Derek's wrist brushes against it, and clenches his whole body and tries to shift away.

"Relax for a minute," Derek says and Stiles can hear the snap of his teeth. "I can't--if you--"

Stiles takes a breath, keeps his eyes closed and tries to relax. With a shudder of every muscle he has, he makes himself do it. Makes himself not jump as Derek's fingers, three, he thinks, move along the roundness of his bottom and between his legs. He knows what Derek is doing, why he is doing it, Scott had told him about this, but no part of him likes this and when Derek presses in with just one finger, Stiles yelps, and grabs hold of Derek's t-shirt enough for it to rip.

"I told you--" Derek says, his voice low. A growl.

Stiles thinks yes, I know, I'm trying, but it hurts and you--

But all that comes out is a shaky sound that is more like a sob than he wants it to be.

The hand that Derek presses between his shoulder blades eases up, and Stiles almost thinks Derek gives him a pat.

"Think of something. Let it anchor you. Stay there with it, and I'll be as fast as I can."

Then Derek is pressing between Stiles' shoulder blades again, and Stiles has only a second to latch on to the lacrosse game where he won the big goal and how proud Dad had been. That second scatters when Derek's finger is inside of him, pushing, and it doesn't feel at all gentle. Then there are two fingers, moving, doing little pressing things, leaving cool spots behind, taking away anything sharp, and, Stiles knows, making the blood stop flowing.

Stiles grits his teeth; the sensations are too much, too many, to allow him to linger in his lacrosse memory for long. But Derek pulls his fingers out, leaving the coolness of healing flesh. He smoothes an imagined spot along the curve of Stile's bottom, and pulls Stiles' lacrosse shorts up. Then he rolls Stiles off him, quickly, and crawls off the mattress to sit back against one of the few walls. He props his elbows up against his bent knees, and buries his face in his hands. There's a thin trail of bright red blood running down one of his elbows, and it's Stiles' blood.

This healing thing takes it out of wolves; Stiles knows this because Scott told him. Wolves can take away pain, but only an alpha could do something like this. Derek looks like it's taken everything he had to do this for Stiles. He's white, his bones press up against his skin, and Stiles can see a flash of teeth as Derek grits them against the drain, and against the shivery pain of his body building back up again.

Stiles feels hot and cold by turns, and tries to focus, and cannot believe where he is. What Derek just did to him. He really wants to crawl off somewhere, where he can be horrified and mortified in peace, but his body is too limp to move, and in this state, well, Derek said not to move. Any adjustment, even the slightest, might bring Derek's wrath storming out. Because he's on the edge, Stiles can see it; he's in control, but a wolf-out is not out of the question.

The worst of it is, Stiles has no idea how to say thank you. He wants to be able to do that and to make a graceful exit, all with the minimum of fuss. And all without Derek growling or lunging or doing anything scary.

When he hears a growl that sounds like a sigh, Stiles realizes he has dozed off. He opens his eyes; he's curled on the mattress facing the wall where Derek is sitting. Derek takes deep breaths. His hands come away from his face, and he brushes the drying blood from his arm with several gruff sweeps. Then his eyes alight on Stiles.

"What were you doing in the woods anyway?" All alone like an idiot. Stiles can hear the add-on quite easily. Derek sounds tired, still.

"I was running," Stiles says. His voice comes out scratchy, unused. "To build up, so I can be on first string next year. All the time, instead of sometimes, like an accident."

Stiles fully expects Derek to mock him for this, to say something pithy and derisive about how that's a long shot at best, and Stiles is too distractible to concentrate on anything for long, so why set goals? Why bother?

But it doesn't come. Instead, Derek seems to nod, though he's looking at his hands when he does it, somewhat grim and resigned. Stiles doesn't get the idea that Derek is enjoying any of this. Derek's color is coming back, though, and he moves, albeit slowly, towards Stiles. Kneeling next to the mattress, he reaches for the pillow above Stiles' head and takes off the case, which he rips between his teeth into strips.

"Give me your arm."

Derek says this like it's a command, which it is, but it has the undertone of so I can eat it going on, and only someone who is around werewolves on a regular basis might understand. Stiles has never considered it before, but he does now. There's always a tone in a werewolf's speech that seems to be describing how it might obtain its next meal, and how raw the meat will be, and how tender the muscle. That's how the command comes out and Stiles presses his left arm to his chest, and tries to pull back, but it's not fast enough. It's never fast enough.

"Knock it off," says Derek. He barks it, actually barks it, and Stiles draws in a sharp breath. He's never gotten over being terrified of Derek, not really. Scott scares him a lot of the time too, but beneath Scott's growl and sharp teeth, there are years of friendship holding him back from actually doing any damage. At least on purpose.

For Derek, though? There's only a nine month school year, just that, and an amazing amount of lying and potshots and defiance, all at the cost to Derek. And Stiles has never gotten over the feeling that between him and Derek's true anger there is but the thinnest barrier. Like the netting along the back of the house. Thin and insubstantial. It keeps out flies and bugs and butterflies, but take a good sharp knife to it and it will be history.

Stiles looks through the gauze, focuses on the back garden while Derek wraps up his left forearm, twisting the cotton strips in a diagonal pattern, pressing them tight before tying it off with a small knot. Then he bends close, breath hot on Stiles' wrist as he bites off the tail end of the cloth with sharp teeth.

"Greenstick fracture," says Derek. "It'll heal." He sits back, his hands on his splayed thighs. He's all right now, Stiles can see his energy has come back. And he's looking right at Stiles. "We have to get rid of those clothes."

He pulls on Stile's good right arm to get him upright, and Stiles eases to his feet, rather than to be sitting, which would hurt right about now. Everything hurts now, but standing on a box spring mattress in his bare feet means at least one part of him doesn't hurt. He wants to ask why, but Derek is already pulling him toward the part of his shelter that Stiles can see is an area for cooking and eating.

There is only one solid wall, on the far side of the room, but there are beams in between that seem to mark out the difference between the kitchen, where the camp stove and wooden table are, and the bedroom, where the box springs is laid out on the floor.

In the kitchen there is a shelf with low boxes, and cooking supplies, and clothes, and except for the two chairs and the wooden table, that's it. The Coleman lantern in the center of the table is the final touch that lets Stiles know that Derek is camping out here. Well, half camping; there is a roof and there is a floor, but there is no obvious electricity, and only the standing pipe for running water. There are no doors or windows, just the netting from the floor above that lets in the breeze.

Stiles is distracted for a moment by this, when Derek pulls Stiles' shirt off him in one motion. Stiles doesn't even have enough time to squawk in protest before Derek is stuffing the shirt into a black plastic bag. Then Derek points at Stiles' lacrosse shorts, which are drying in stiff and uncomfortable ways across his thighs. It's not that he wouldn't mind a change of clothes, it's just that he doesn't want to be standing there in the altogether suffering under Derek's scrutiny. Which he already is; Derek is frowning at him, at his chest.

Stiles looks down; there are bruises on his ribs, and small dots, like fingertip bruises, creating a half-arc that disappears under his shorts.

He looks up at Derek. "Why?" he asks. It comes out shaky.

"Because," says Derek. His mouth is stiff, and he's not quite looking Stiles in the eye. "You've been--attacked by a werewolf. He's left his seed--his mark all over you. You've probably bled most of it out, but it's in your clothes now, on your skin." Now his eyes flick up, and they are hard eyes. "You are marked but unclaimed, and any wolf that can smell you might be inclined to claim you." The bag crackles in his hands as his fingers curl into fists. "Any wolf for miles."

As Stiles remains frozen in place, his mind moving at an alarming pace as to just what it all means, Derek slams the black plastic bag on the table, and pulls out a cardboard box from the bottom shelf. It has neatly folded clothes, and Derek digs out two articles, a blue t-shirt and some pale grey sweatpants that have been cut off at the knee. Then Derek goes over and grabs Stiles' bloody socks and muddy sneakers and stuffs them in the bag.

He gestures at Stiles' shorts. "Take those off and put them in here. I'll burn them later. And use the water to wash up with. You can wear something of mine; I'll take you home before your Dad misses you."

This makes Stiles blink and his eyes grow hot. This was why he chose Derek over Chris Argent. It's because Derek has no need to obey any code but his own, and yes, even though it's unwritten and known only to himself, there is a code. This is proof of it; Derek will do anything within his power to keep Stiles' Dad from finding out. And not because he's the sheriff, but because Stiles asked him to.

Not only that, there are no platitudes of this is a difficult time, but you'll be fine, and I know this is hard, this too shall pass, or even it'll be better soon. Because, as he knows, for Derek, it's been a hard time for a long time, since the Hale House fire, and it's not gotten better yet.

He can feel the tears coming, lining his eyes, making them hot and itchy, but he doesn't cry. Derek brings the bucket closer, and then takes a metal pan from a nail on the wall. He lays it at Stiles' feet. It looks like an overflow pan for a hot water heater, and indeed it might be. When Derek hands him a washcloth, he realizes that he's just encountered the entire of Derek's indoor facilities: the washcloth, the bucket, and the pan.

Ducking his head, he can't quite understand why it hurts to think of it. With that Camero and leather jacket, anyone might think that Derek was rolling in it, but he isn't. The car is just for show. Derek must have his pride, after all.

Stiles waits, but Derek has turned his back, is messing with the bedding, rolling up the sheets that have blood and mud on them, and stuffing them into the black plastic bag. He is quite ignoring Stiles and for a wolf with no manners whatsoever, this is something. Before he can think otherwise, Stiles pulls off the lacrosse shorts, and his once-white underwear, both of which are bloody and marked, as Derek put it, by the wolf's seed. That's fine; Stiles tosses them both on the table, bound for the black plastic bag. He steps into the metal pan, and bends to soak the washcloth in the bucket, where he knows the water will be cold.

It's then that he sees there are leaves and blood matted in his pubic hair. That there are black bruises on the inside of his thighs, and dried streaks on the inside of his legs, all the way down to his knees. He stands up straight and the room starts to rock, back and forth, as if someone where taking his head and banging it against the floor. His arms flail as he tries to catch his balance; he knocks his good arm against one of the beams, and Derek comes running.

As Derek grabs both his shoulders to keep him upright; they are pressed chest to chest. His lungs heaving, Stiles looks him right in the eye. Because he knows it's better to look a werewolf in the eye, even if you are naked, than to look down at yourself and see the marks and the bruises and the blood that is all over you. Better to look a werewolf right in the eye, even though he's inches from you and can smell the blood on you, than to break down and collapse where you stand.

Derek's mouth moves and Stiles thinks that he's asking a question. Derek moves closer and asks it again, his mouth next to Stiles' ear.

"Still blood-shy, even when it's your own?" As Derek draws back a little ways, his eyebrows go up as he looks at Stiles, and it makes him look young, as though Derek might really care and would never mock him for something like that.

Stiles nods. Swallows. Blinks very fast to keep himself from coming apart. He's made it this far; he can keep going.

"I'll do it," Derek says. His mouth makes a little downward curve. "Okay?"

Without understanding truly what Derek is saying, Stiles hands him the washcloth. Derek dips the washcloth in the bucket and wrings it out most of the way. Then he steps behind Stiles and pulls Stiles' whole body against him. Stiles stiffens, thinking, in some wrecked part of his brain, that if there was ever a time that Derek could rip his throat out, this was it. But while he can feel Derek's breath along the side of his neck, there are no teeth. There isn't even force, just Derek's wide palm on Stiles' chest, keeping him in place as Derek washes him.

Derek uses long, firm strokes, starting just at Stiles' waist and moving down. First along the outside of his leg, then down over his hip, and then from his waist, down his leg, and along his pubic hair. The water is freezing when it touches his skin. Then there's a pause while Derek pulls out the twigs and the leaves in Stiles' pubic hair, then he bends quickly to rinse the washcloth.

He presses Stiles against him again an drepeats the motion from before, going down along Stiles' balls and in between his legs. Always gentle, always quick. Stiles can feel the pull of Derek's chest muscles, can feel him breathing, thinks of the effort, thinks of how Derek is never like this, never. His mind feels like it's shutting down, parts of it in overload. But there's another part, one that is insistent and paying attention. Is this what it's like, that part wonders, to be a wolf? To trust another wolf to be so close, to be tended to without the slightest worry of coming to harm from an errant claw?

Derek is finishing up the other side of Stiles and after rinsing out the washcloth again, he turns Stiles to face him.

"Find an anchor," says Derek. As if he knows that what comes next will be almost impossible for Stiles to bear.

Stiles jerks his chin; he hopes Derek will see it as a nod, because he's lost all use of his vocal chords. Lost any sense that this will not end until Derek is satisfied that no wolves will have Stiles in their sights any time soon. Derek nods back; Stiles can feel his breath across his breastbone as Derek pulls him close till Stiles is pressed against his chest, and Derek can continue washing him.

He has to close his eyes this time, because Derek is right there, closer than any other human being has ever been to him. He's right there, where Stiles can see the texture of his skin, the way the dark hair lays against the back of his neck. The scent of his skin. And, except for his Dad, and Scott, no one else ever touches Stiles. No one has ever touched Stiles like this. With long strokes of a cool washcloth, down his back and between his legs. A few times, so Derek can make sure all the blood is gone from Stiles' skin. So no other wolves will get him.

By the time Derek drops the washcloth in the bucket and releases the pressure of his palm from Stiles' back, Stiles is shaking all over. He can't even protest as Derek helps him put on the cut-off sweat pants, or the blue t-shirt, which is too small for Derek, surely, but is also almost too big for Stiles. He can't even protest when Derek drags him to the bare mattress and makes him lay down on it. Or when Derek throws a woolen blanket over him; surely in summer it is too hot for something like that. But Stiles pulls the blanket around as though he is cold and watches and listens as Derek goes over to the table.

After he closes up the black plastic bag and lays it aside, Derek's doing something to the lantern, pumping it, and flicking a stick match against a box, and making the sock inside the glass burn. Stiles can smell the kerosene, and wonders at Derek's use of it, rather than something battery powered. When Derek steps back from the table, Stiles can see that beyond the netting, it's getting dark. The lantern is for him, as it's not that dark for wolves.

"Close your eyes," says Derek. "Will your Dad worry, should I call him?"

"No," says Stiles, almost mumbling into the blanket. "He's at a conference till S-Sunday."

But in spite of that, in spite of the wide opportunities available to Derek, in that he could take Stiles home at any time, there is no movement. Stiles senses that Derek is leaning against one of the beams, with his arms crossed over his chest. That there is a bucket of water and a bloody washcloth that need emptying and washing. That there is a boy in his bed for whom Derek has no attachment. And yet there is no going. There is only Stiles, breathing until his shaking subsides, and the heaviness of his eyelids, blocking out the light from the lantern, and the long, narrow shadow that is Derek.

~ ~ * ~ ~

A phone rings. Stiles jerks awake, and thinks that it is his phone. Except, when he goes running, he doesn't take his phone with him, and besides, that's not his ring. He half sits up, pushing the woolen blanket down to his waist, and looks. Rubs his eye with the heel of his hand.

Derek is sitting at the wooden table, in a clean t-shirt, the blood stained one from Stiles' bath probably stuffed in the black plastic bag. His shoulders are bent in the circle of light of the Coleman lantern. The light throws beam-width lines in circles all around him.

From beyond the netting there is the cooler air of evening, and the sound of bugs and rhythmic cicadas and whatever else crawls around at night. Raccoons, probably, and maybe a werewolf or two, gearing up for the full moon. But Derek has his back to the netting, as though he is unconcerned about what danger might be lurking in the darkness.

He's talking on the phone, and his eyes flick over to Stiles. Stiles makes himself get up, every muscle protesting, his ass screaming at him, and his pride making his face feel hot. It is too dark to see this, of course, but Derek will know it; one of his senses will tell him that Stiles' skin is flushing, or that his heart is beating a little too fast. That there is stiffness in his muscles that would mean that Stiles couldn't run very fast, which is useful information if Derek decided to chase him down. Bring him to ground.

Derek frowns into the phone. "Which side of Trinity Ridge has he gone to? And how do you even know this?"

He listens for a moment and then snaps at the phone with his teeth. Stiles stops, and stands there, scuffing his bare feet along the wooden floor. He doesn't want to come too close to that; that's the way to get yourself bitten, even accidentally.

"Look, Chris, I could go up one side, and you go up the other. Take your hunters, whatever. We'll flush him out--I'll let you have the kill, I don't care."

There's another space where Derek's attention is focused elsewhere, and Stiles creeps forward, as though he's playing a game of Red Light, Green Light. Which, with a werewolf is pretty stupid; they are probably color blind anyway, and will move any time they damn well please.

"Fine, that's my point, and--yes, I'm taking him with me. If the wolf circles back, well, that's not going to happen."

Then Derek stands, and he snaps his fingers at Stiles, as if he's been trying to get him to do something all along. "His Dad's out of town, besides, so there's no way I'm leaving him in that empty house, all alone. Not with a feral wolf out there."

Chris Argent must be saying something daunting, because Derek looks at Stiles and for a moment, he isn't saying anything. "Uh…it matters because I think he might have left his scent on Stiles. But, he's feral, he's not thinking clearly and anyway, I don't want to risk it. You want to be the one to explain it to Stile's Dad when the body turns up? I don't. So I'll see you at the north end of Trinity Ridge."

With an overly hard press of his thumb, Derek hangs up his phone and clonks it on the table. Then he reconsiders and sticks it in his back pocket.

"I want to go home." Stiles swallows against the thickness in his throat. He is thirsty and he aches all over; Derek hasn't offered him any Advil, but considering everything, considering werewolves, there probably isn't any.

"No." There is no gentleness in Derek's voice now, no arched brows making him look young and a little kind as he marches over to where Stiles is standing. There is only those shoulders all bunched up with his anger, and a hand on the collar of the blue t-shirt, dragging Stiles into the light. "Put these on, and we have to leave now."

Derek throws a pair of worn flip flops at him, and Stiles catches them with both hands; his left wrist twinges.


"What part of this don't you get, Stiles?" Derek shouts this right in his face. "I thought you were smarter than that. Feral wolf, and you with his scent all over you, how do you think that's going to turn out."

"But we washed it off." His voice rises high and breaks. "With th-the--" He points in the direction of the wet patch on the floorboards and the metal pan that is once more in its place on the nail on the wall.

"Not all of it," says Derek, his teeth biting off the words. "It's in your skin till it wears off. If it ever does. Now get in the car. Don't make me tell you twice."

Stiles slips on the flip-flops and hurries out of the house and down the front door, with Derek at his heels. He can see that Derek is going to be stubborn about this, and that there might be issues about Chris Argent getting there first, but he has to make Derek understand that there are limits. And obligations, Stiles has obligations.

"But, Derek, wait a minute--"

Derek slams Stiles against the Camaro, curving over Stiles, baring his teeth. Stiles makes himself talk quickly.

"I got it, I'm going, okay, yes, getting in the car. But I have to go home and get my phone If I don't talk to my Dad every day? He's going to think something is wrong, that something has happened to me and then he'll come home early. And I won't be there, and that's when he'll send out the search party."

"You can use my phone."

"He won't understand. Don't you get it? If it's not all systems normal, because me calling from your phone when we aren't even friends is going to alert him that all is not normal., he'll come home. That's what Dad's do, they want you to check in with them. They didn't want to leave you alone in the first place, but this was his first vacation since my Mom--"

Stiles stops, realizing that he's opened far too many personal things for anyone to deal with, let alone Derek. Now he's practically just explained to Derek how things run in the Stilinski household, and how nothing has been the same since that horrible day.

"Fine. We make a stop. You have two minutes to grab that phone. Got it?" Derek's mouth is a line, a single line, behind which are teeth that could rip Stiles' throat out before he could say another word.

"Okay." Stiles practically gasps this, and makes himself get into Derek's black car.

He doesn't even have time for the seat belt before Derek takes off in a spitting cloud of gravel. He drives so fast through out of the preserve and through town, the streets are a blur and suddenly the Stilinski house looms in front of him, with all the lights off. He was supposed to have turned on the porch light come darkness, but he hopes none of the neighbors are watching, or they'll report back to Dad. It's bad enough as it is.

"Two minutes," says Derek. He doesn't get out of the car; the engine is running, and Derek guns it once or twice, impatient to be on their way.

Stiles runs as fast as he can, flip flops and all, trying to remember where he put his phone as he mounts the steps. The door is unlocked because of course, he'd planned to be back within the hour. He flips on the porch light, but the house is dark and quiet and big and empty and he wants nothing more than to sink down into the couch, turn on something mindless and watch it until he falls asleep. TV is exactly what he needs to erase today; it's probably the only thing that could.

But there is a quick succession of a car's horn just outside the partially opened door, so Stiles looks around. Then he runs upstairs; his phone is on its charger because, unlike Scott, he knows that a battery will last longer if you keep it charged up. He grabs it and runs down the stairs, and out the front door, closing it behind him, just in time to see Derek pulling out of the driveway. This doesn't mean that Derek is leaving him behind, no. The passenger side door is opening, and Stiles can see the slight red gleam of Derek's eyes.

He hurries, tripping in the flip flops and throws himself into the passenger seat. Closes the door with a weighty clonk, and locks it as Derek takes off.


~ ~ * ~ ~

They head out of town, past the preserve, and drive in the darkness for a long time. Stiles calls his Dad, but gets voice mail. He leaves a message that he hopes is chirpy and normal, and wonders where his Dad is at this very moment. Probably at the bar, yakking it up with his newfound friends. He puts the phone in the space under the dash and turns it off.

Derek takes them up Trinity Ridge Road, along the east side of the ridge. Stiles thinks that Argent's SUV will be better suited to the mountain roads on the other side of the ridge, but it also means that he will have more opportunity to find the feral wolf first. But then, Derek said he didn't care, the kill itself was what matters here. And he wonders why he's thinking about this at all, instead of being furious that Derek is dragging him into this.

He watches Derek take his phone out of his back pocket and lay it in under the dash next to Stiles' phone, and all while not taking his other hand off the wheel or his eyes off the road. Which is good, because they are going 70 miles an hour on a very windy, two-lane blacktop in the pitch darkness that is a mountain road.

But Stiles makes himself small on the seat, curving up on his side, because in the last hour, his whole body has started to stiffen up, and each bruise can be traced by the thumping of blood beneath the skin. Each place the feral wolf touched him has become its on marker of a twisted heat that simply won't let up. Isn't letting up. Stiles can't even begin to contemplate searching in the glove compartment to see if there is any aspirin or anything, because Derek's likely to smack him upside the head for being so intrusive.

And never mind that he's, yes, going almost 80 now. If they get into a crash, Derek will walk away from it and Stiles will be covered with glass and punctured by metal. But far be it from him to remind Derek that he's not got a wolf's healing powers.

And how does Derek know where the feral wolf will have gone? Oh, yes, Argent told him, but even then, how optimistic can Derek be that Argent is being straight with him? Or that the feral wolf might surprise them all and just hoof it on down to Disneyland? In some part of his brain, Stiles is sniggering at his own joke, though he knows to express it with bring down Derek's dire temper upon himself, rather than upon the Camaro. Which he's pushing to its limits, as evidenced by the dials pressing upwards and the rev of the engine around those hairpin turns. But the car was built for this. For the chase. Just like werewolves are.

Finally it's at the point when Derek rounds a tight curve and the tires go sliding off what feels like the edge of the road, that Stiles lets out a sound that he cannot admit is a whimper of fear. Nobody was meant to go this fast, not even wolves. And especially not tender-boned humans, who've been recently smacked around and raped--

He bites down on the sound and squirms in his seat as Derek looks over at him for the first time. The car slows down and Stiles can see by the digital numbers that it's almost one in the morning. Then Derek's phone rings. Derek doesn't stop driving but he slows down to answer it; he's going 60 miles per hour, which seems so slow that Stiles feels as though he can get out of the car and walk alongside it, to allow Derek some privacy in his conversation.

"Argent," says Derek into the phone. Then he listens. And listens some more, as the Camaro slows down and finally pulls over into the darkness of the shoulder. "Can't you just--he'll be miles by morning. Just give them something to keep them--yes, he's--"

Derek looks over at Stiles, his eyes gleaming red in the dashboard lights, and thought that red fades away after a minute, though Stiles has no idea what Derek is thinking. There is a raking look as Derek considers him and the nuisance that he is, although Stiles knows for certain that the last hairpin turn was the only time he made any noise at all--

"Yes, it's late. Fine. We'll start again at sunrise. Sunrise thirty."

The Camaro starts up again, revving with Derek's impatience, at the delay. There is to be a delay in the hunt, but Derek drives for a little while, looking beyond the headlights for something, Stiles doesn't know what. There is a little side road, and Derek turns off on that and parks along the edge.

"We'll stop till sunrise. You can sleep in the back; I've got a blanket in the trunk."

Derek gets out and Stiles contemplates this. He's been in the back seat of this car, and he knows exactly how big it isn't. But considering the situation and Derek's mood, and the fact that there's obviously no motel for miles, it's his only option. Now Stiles gets out and scoots the passenger seat up and forward. He's about to scramble in the back, even catches the blanket as it's tossed at him.

"What?" Derek asks. "Get in already." Derek obviously doesn't want Stiles' scent, with the smell of the other wolf pressed into his skin, to loft about the dark pines and over the ridge to where the wolf is. But Stiles is not a wolf, he's not any kind of a wolf.

"I'm thirsty, is there any water in that trunk? And--I have to pee."

He swears that Derek rolls his eyes, though it's really too dark this far up in the mountains to be sure, though there is a glow coming from over the treeline.

"Fine," Derek says, which Stiles is coming to understand is Derek's shorthand, for yes, we'll do this stupid fucking thing you insist on doing, but you better make it quick because my patience is running out. But Stiles realizes that, in spite of the irritation, Derek isn't trying to be mean, that if there was any water in the Camaro, Derek would have offered it to him.

He grabs the blanket from Stiles and tosses it in the back seat where it lands with a thump. Then he grabs the back of Stiles' neck with a firm hand and begins pushing him towards the nearest tree.

"What?" Stiles tries to shrug the grip off. "I can pee by myself, I'm not two, you know."

Derek stops him with a jerk of his hand. Now there's enough light by the almost full moon coming over the trees to see his expression, his eyes. Lowered dark brows and the stubborn firm line of his mouth.

"You think I'm letting you out of my sight? Up here? At this hour?" He makes a face that is obviously meant to tell Stiles how foolish he is being to even consider this. And then, of course, there is the unsaid but understood, if you don't do as you're told, I'm going to rip your throat out.

Stiles allows himself to be walked up to a tree that is not too far off the road. With Derek's warm hand on the back of his neck, Stiles undoes the strings to his sweatpants and pulls himself out to pee. He doesn't have a lot of anxiety about peeing in front of other guys, at least not normally. This is a little different, although Derek has seen if not touched every inch of Stiles, so what should it matter. But it does, and it takes Stiles several deep breaths and images of running water to pee against the tree.

He can smell the salt in his urine that means he needs to drink more water; he's looked that up a bunch of times on the internet, that hydration is a very important part of being a true athlete. Derek can probably smell it too, that much is obvious.

He shakes himself off and ties up the sweat pants, then, turning, he wipes his hands against his thighs. His toes and calves and arms are cold, but he knows that's the mountain air and wonders how many feet they gained in altitude on that drive.

"Just a minute," says Derek. He lets Stiles go.

"What, I peed already. I'm done." Stiles shrugs, annoyed, and flashes his palms at Derek.

"You're not going anywhere." Derek's neck bends forward; his hands are on his belt, undoing it. "I mean it, grab hold of my shirt, I don't want you more than an inch away."

For a moment, Stiles feels himself bunching up, angry, intruded upon. But then, as Derek looks at him, he knows it's not about any need that Derek has to boss him around. It's about the feral wolf, and how it's actually unsafe for Stiles to be out on his own right about now. They are in the mountains, hot on the tail of a feral wolf who has, apparently, marked Stiles for his own, and in spite of what Argent might think as to said feral wolf's whereabouts, there is simply no telling. Derek knows this, and is unwilling, it seems, to take absolutely any risks whatsoever.

Chewing on his lower lip and casting his eyes into the darkness of the forest, Stiles moves behind Derek and grabs hold of his t-shirt. Tightly, so Derek won't have to wonder for a second where Stiles is. He hears Derek undoing his jeans and hears the stream as Derek pees against the very same tree where Stiles had a moment ago. Now it's his turn to catch what Derek smells like when he's been on the go all day and hasn't had any water. And just how had a day that started out with such good intentions ended up where Stiles is standing in the middle of nowhere, smelling what Derek smells like when he pees against a tree?

Derek's shoulders move as he finishes up, and redoes his pants. Then he turns and grabs Stiles' neck again, more loosely this time. And yet they hurry to the car, to the open door and Derek practically shoves him in the back seat. Stiles tries to arrange himself, but the space is small and the blanket isn't very big so in the end, he wraps it around his shoulders like a shawl, and leans against the window as though he were on an airplane. Waiting for some cute stewardess to bring him one of those pillows that are, in real life, no bigger than a mint, but are exactly the right size for sleeping on a plane.

Outside of the car, Derek's shadow moves between Stiles and the moonlight. Derek paces, walks all around the car, paces some more, circles back around the other way. Stiles can't sleep with all that motion, the intention to kill anything that gets within fifty feet of the car, but he can't tell Derek to knock it off either. Derek will get pissed and only ignore him anyway, and then pace even harder, probably, just to annoy Stiles. And besides, there's only Derek between Stiles and the feral wolf. Stiles isn't about to raise any objections to that.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles memory of the long, dark, cold, almost sleepless night is splattered with images and sounds of Derek getting out of the car every so often to circle around the car. Stiles' eyes stay closed, but he imagines that Derek stands there and looks down the road, tests the wind, and senses for any movement in the woods with his skin.

When there's even the least bit of light, the kind that make it look like there's a mist among the trees, Derek hops in the driver's seat, revs up the engine and takes off, again spitting gravel, and speeds up till the tall pines are merely grey and green picket posts passing by in a blur. He doesn't make Stiles get in the front seat, thought Stiles imagines it's less out of a considerate gesture to give Stiles more shut-eye time than the fact that Derek simply doesn't want to wait. The north end of Trinity Ridge is his destination today, and Stiles is along only for the ride. And to be protected, though what Stiles should make of that, he's not sure.

The road flattens out, and Stiles can't believe that he sees a gas station up ahead, but he does. He pulls himself up on the back of Derek's seat and looks for the gas gauge. Yes, it's almost on empty. He points at it and is about to say something; Derek bats his hand back, and pulls into the bay next to a pump.

When he turns the engine off, there's an almost deafening sound of nothing. With adding to that to the lack of engine reverberation, Stiles feels like he's still jiggering and juddering along the road, stuck in the back seat. The space is really too small to be in for any length of time, so Derek has to pull the driver's seat forward and drag Stiles out. He almost uses Stiles' left wrist but switches in time. Which doesn't make it any less agonizing; Stiles is all pins and needles and the sharp, angry pounding between his legs, inside of him, that doesn't let him forget, not even for a moment, what the wolf did to him.

As Derek begins messing with his car, and working the handle of the fuel pump, Stiles stays at his side for a moment. He stands to one side, watching Derek's shoulders work and the turn of a strong neck as it watches the numbers roll by on the pump. But Stiles' mouth is as dry as cotton, and he needs something to eat. More than that, he needs Advil or something. His head is a pounding mess, and the rest of his body is screaming and twisting around itself; sleeping in the back seat of the Camaro only made it worse.

"Can I--?" He jabs his thumb at the gas station. "Can I get some--?" He can see Derek in the growing light and under the ultra bright lights of the awning over the pumps. Derek's five o'clock shadow is now a midnight one. There are sweat stains under his arms, and circles like big purple smudges under his eyes.

"Are you hungry?" he asks, suddenly thinking that Derek might be.

Derk barely looks at Stiles, instead keeping his eyes on the turning numbers on the pump.

"Do you have any money? I'll get us something. And waters, too. So we can keep driving."

This seems the most sensible course of action to Stiles, especially if Derek is set on driving like he is, they'll need those waters. Beef jerky. Gatorade. Maybe some cheesy puffs, but maybe Derek doesn't like food in his car at all so the cheesy puffs are definitely out. But they have to eat.

He opens his mouth to suggest maybe getting just the water and the beef jerky, when Derek reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He does this with a little flip to turn it upright and pulls out a twenty and gives it to Stiles.

"Get waters, whatever." This comes out as a preoccupied mumble. Derek's already looking up the road and Stiles can see his nostrils flair as he smells the morning air, which is warming as the sun comes up.

"But what do you want?"

Derek looks at him as though Stiles has asked him to share something very personal, and, again, as if sharing it will hurt him. Stiles doesn't know exactly where this comes from and doesn't have the energy or the guts to start digging, but the guy deserves to have something he likes. Because for all they know, the coming encounter with the feral wolf might end up very badly for everyone concerned. In fact, it probably will. So he's going to get himself the biggest Kit Kat they have, and a bucket of coke, and something crunchy. And for Derek?

"Red Vines." Derek spits this out through a very tight mouth.


"Licorice," Derek says again. "Only Red Vines, not the other kind."

"You got it," says Stiles. He almost smiles as he hurries off, his flip flops slipping on and off his feet at will. But then his brain reminds him, his body reminds him as he tries to walk fast, that he can't walk fast, and that his whole body hurts. And that there's no reason to be smiling.

He goes in and scans the shelves, his flip flops smacking against the linoleum. He pulls out the Red Vines, which, thankfully, feel fresh. He calculates his funds and gets a small packet of Advil, a huge coke, bag of potato chips, and a small Kit Kat. As he piles his loot on the counter, Derek comes in.

"Where are the waters?"

"I only had a twenty."

"Give me the twenty." Derek sighs as he holds out his hand. "Go get waters, get a bigger Kit Kat. Idiot."

Stiles turns to go back to the shelves, and makes a point of poking the package of Red Vines. To which Derek responds with a jerk of his chin. It's a thank you, but not an obvious one. Then he brings up the waters and the bigger Kit Kat, and pushes them all at the cashier, while Derek stands almost patiently by, waiting to sign the receipt.

"You boys on a road trip?" asks the cashier, pleasantly. He must be able to see the bandage on Stiles' arm and the sweat and road dust all over the both of them, but he doesn't say anything about that.

"Yes," says Derek. Stiles can see him turn on a smile, the kind that he wanted to use at the Deputy at the station, and had, to the deputy's bad luck. That wasn't Derek's fault. Neither is the situation right now, with them on the road with junk food aplenty and the open road and a blood bath at the end of it.

Derek signs the receipt and puts away his wallet. The cashier kindly puts everything in a thin plastic bag, which he hands to Stiles. Stiles holds it, mostly in his right hand, balancing it with his left. For a moment, in the gas station, it had felt normal, but walking up to Derek's car, which is now dusty around the wheel wells and looks like someone spat mud across the chrome, he remembers everything. Where they've been. Where they're going.

He feels a little woozy as he gets in, but tightens his throat against it. He puts the bag between his feet and buckles himself in. As Derek takes off, Stiles opens the Red Vines and lays them in the flat space between the seats. He puts one of the smaller Kit Kats in the space where the cell phones are, in case Derek wants it.

"Open one?" Derek asks without taking his eyes from the road. "And give me one of those."

Stiles opens a water for Derek and puts it in the foremost cup holder. That's the way he and his Dad do it, to avoid confusion over whose drink is whose. The driver always has the first cup holder. He puts his own water in the second cup holder, and moves his coke to the holder in the door. He wonders if Derek will notice Stiles' amazing organizational skills. Probably not.

He hands Derek a string of red licorice, which Derek lays across his thigh as he drinks some of his water. When he's finished half the bottle, he hands the bottle back to Stiles, and sticks the Red Vine between his teeth, like a very long red cigarette. He chews on it absently while he drives.

Then, finally, Stiles takes the packet of Advil and downs two with a huge swig of water.

"You have a headache?"

He doesn't want to complain, Derek has to be more tired than he is. But he's not only tired, he hurts all over. He doesn't want to sit anymore or move or be in this car. But all he says is, "My whole body is a headache."

This only pisses Derek off and he drives even faster. Angrier. And any pleasure Stiles might be expecting from the eats and treats dissolves deep inside of him. None of this is his fault either. Only it is.

~ ~ * ~ ~

The sun comes up on their side of the ridge, smashing into the trees, lighting everything up. At one point, Derek asks Stiles to get a map reading as to where they are. Stiles does on his phone, which he knows better than he knows Derek's. The map shows their location on Highway 3, and a series of dirt roads that lead off along the left. Some of which wind towards different peaks, others of which follow the thin blue lines of rivers.

He looks at Derek. "Which one?"

"Which one what?"

"Which road do we need, where is the--?"

Derek pulls over, and it surprises Stiles how calm he seems because not once does he make a face or indicate any impatience whatsoever. In fact, he's more calm than he's been since last night.

With an open palm, Derek demands Stiles' phone from him and Stiles hands it over.

"Argent said the wolf was headed towards Lake Eleanor." Derek says this as he studies the map on Stiles' phone. He turns the phone so that it's in landscape mode and pushes at the map with his thumb.

Stiles thinks about Lake Eleanor, thinks about the map. Wonders how Argent even knows that this is where the wolf is going, but thinks that asking Derek, who probably doesn't know either, will just piss him off. So he doesn't.

"Then we need Swift Creek Road to get up near there," Stiles says. "I think it was back a mile, near Trinity Center. I saw a marker."

"More water," says Derek.

He does a three-point turn in the middle of the two-lane road, and shrieks the tires into motion. When he sees the sign for Swift Creek Road, he peels off and heads up the side of the ridge. The road is gravel, and well maintained for a few miles, then it gets rutty.

The speed of the Camaro slows, but not Derek's intensity on where they are going. Switchbacks on blacktop are nerve-wracking, but switchbacks on gravel are pure hell, so Stiles doesn't say anything. Just opens two more waters and puts them in the appropriate places. He takes the empty bottles and puts them neatly in the bag, not wanting Derek to be distracted by plastic bottles rattling around under the seats.

After an hour of driving, during which Stiles estimates they've only come about 30 miles, Derek pulls onto an overlook. There's and a flat place to park, and a barrier. But beyond the barrier, the trees slant at an angle that indicates the slope is steep, maybe 45 degrees.

They both get out. Standing there, Stiles can see for a long way, there are trees and more trees, green and green, and humps and hills and mountains. And a hot breeze that smells clean and new. They are way inside the wilderness, further from home than he's ever been. The feel of this makes him empty inside, as though everything he knows is now gone and there is only this. This journey, the road, the car. And Derek.

But Derek's not looking at the view. No, his eyes are barely open as he walks upwind of the car and from Stiles. He lifts his head and Stiles realizes he's smelling the wind. Palms open, testing the feel of it. He's looking for the feral wolf that way, with his whole body, as if everything else, everything but his senses is simply unimportant. As if he's forgotten Stiles is even there.

Only he hasn't.

Derek turns, sharp, his eyes on Stiles.

"Get in the car. Now."

"Can you smell him?" asks Stiles, his voice rising. But with Derek's look in his direction, he knows better than to hesitate because it's obvious that the answer is yes. And if Derek can smell him, they can find him. Which means that the battle, the killing, will be soon. Today.

The bottom of Stiles' stomach drops way down and he clambers into his seat. The smell of them being trapped in the car for hours is stronger, now that he's had some fresh air. Especially with the sun beating down. They are both sweaty and unwashed, and the salt from the potato chips wafts out from the open bag. It's making him sick, all of it, but he can't ask Derek to stop and find something for his stomach, and in fact, there is no place to stop. They have to keep going. So they do.

Derek drives more slowly now, maybe 15 or 20 miles an hour with the windows open. Stiles breathes as quietly as he can, watching as Derek lifts his head, smelling the wind, the heat of the breeze through the pines. The stillness of an open area of brown and green grass as they pass by it.

Stiles feel all of his muscles tightening up; his mouth is dry. But he doesn't let himself take a drink of water or grab more Advil or even take a sip of his coke. Because to do that would be to distract Derek, and he doesn't want to do that. Because he doesn't want that intensity, that killing glare, to be focused on him.

It takes another hour until Derk pulls over again, on the right side of the road, this time in a little gravel lay by at the side of the river. The lay by is flat, but slanted toward the river, and there's some shade from the pine trees, which is good because the sun is directly overhead and it's getting hot. But instead of getting out to sniff the wind, this time, Derek parks the car, rolls up the windows with the button on his armrest, and turns off the engine. He gives the keys to Stiles.

When he turns to look at him, his eyes are sparking with red lights.

"Stay in the car. Lock the doors. Don't open the windows. If I'm not back in an hour, go home."

Stiles blinks as he takes the keys and his mouth falls open a little. His brain churns with all kinds of things he wants to say; he doesn't know where to begin. Good luck. Don't leave me here. You're coming back, right? Make sure you come back, because I can't drive those switchbacks myself. In the jeep, sure, but not in this car. I'm liable to go off the edge, and then what'll my Dad say. So you're coming back, right?

But all he says is, "Okay."

Derek gets out, sneakers crunching on the gravel, the low rush of the river coming into the car, right before Derek shuts the door. Stiles watches as Derek crosses the road to the other side, and imagines he can see Derek's claws come out. There's even a flash of fur and teeth as Derek heads into the trees and disappears.

Silence falls all around him. He can see the breeze, slight though it is, tossing the branches on the pine trees, can see the sun sparkling on the rush of water, can sense movement all around him. But the Camaro is a fancy, new car, and so the metal and glass, it's all soundproof. Or nearly so. There's a kind of low sound that might be all of the outside world blended into one single, note, but that's all Stiles can hear. Or feel.

He settles in his seat, hears the creak of leather, and watches the digital clock reform into the next minute. And the minute after that. By the third minute, he's going crazy, he knows he is. There's no way he can wait for an hour, no way.

But he does. He makes himself drink water and slowly polish off one of the packets of Kit Kats, which is going a little mushy in the heat. The potato chips are starting to wilt, but he eats some of those and has some coke, which is going flat and watery. This uses up about fifteen minutes, not nearly enough time to start worrying about Derek, because Derek can take care of himself. But Stiles is worried anyway.

He leans forward to look out the direction that Derek has gone, looks at the slope, which goes up and up and up and disappears at the top of the driver's side window. Then he looks the other way, towards the river, where, across the spangled, boulder-dotted water, there's another slope, which doesn't seem to slant quite so steeply. He's trapped in a sun-drenched valley is what he is. Trapped in a brand new Camaro that he can't step out of on account of there's a feral wolf, another very pissed off wolf, and oh, yes, he isn't about to forget the band of hunters, all fully armed and very likely to mistake him for a wolf, should he try walking around just to cool off.

Then he thinks about calling his Dad. This would be a good time, because it's so quiet and there's nothing Dad might hear over the phone that would alert him to anything weird going on. He thinks his Dad might be getting wise that there's something going on, because towards the end of the year he started getting this look in his eye. It wasn't the lies that Stiles told, not exactly. It was the type of lies, which were, by anyone's reckoning, at least 75% more intense than they used to be. Before Scott got bitten. Before they trespassed on Hale property. Before everything.

But he doesn't call his Dad. And not only because of the noise, but because the conversation would quickly turn into something like oh, yeah, me and Derek. We're on Swift Creek Road, yes, the one out by Trinity Ridge. He's hunting a werewolf, yeah, you know, the one that raped me? Well, anyway, I'm hanging out here trying to pretend I'm a fawn in the tall grasses or something. Not supposed to attract any attention to myself, see. Yeah, so that's me. How's the conference?

He also doesn't call his Dad because the noise of the phone, yes, would bust open his fawn-in-the-grasses disguise. All those bleeps and pings of the phone would ricochet along this valley and alert anyone with good hearing, werewolf hearing, to the exact location of some mighty raw and vulnerable, marked-but-unclaimed human. He's pretty sure his scent is out there; Derek's drummed that into him hard enough, so there's no point making it worse by making a phone call. He can make one later, when it's all over. If he makes it that far.

It takes another fifteen minutes before he's sweating, truly sweating. Under his armpits, in the hollow behind his knees, the back of his scalp. All the black leather isn't helping the least little bit, and the dappled shade from the pine trees isn't helping at all.

He's got the keys in his hand. He's been holding them this whole time, gripped in his palm until the skin bears the imprint of them. With a gasp he unclenches his fingers, and looks at the keys. With them, he can uncrack the windows just a little bit. He can let some air flow in here, in his little space, his hidey-hole of mock-grass that is the Camaro. And he'll roll the windows back up well before the hour mark. Derek will never know. Stiles certainly won't tell him.

So he leans over and puts the key in the ignition and turns it one click. Waits a second, and then leans even further to press the button on Derek's side, the one he saw Derek press, because for some reason he can't even begin to figure out the buttons on his side.

The windows roll down. Stiles waits till they're down on both sides about an inch and a half. The breeze, sweet and bright and cool, comes in right away and swirls around the car. He thinks about it, and rolls the windows down another half an inch. Which is enough. The car is much cooler now and Stiles' skin thanks him.

His headache doesn't thank him, so he takes the last two Advil from the travel packet and swallows the last from the bottle of water. There are two more bottles of water left in the bag, which should be enough for a while. He can't bear thinking of drinking any more coke, so he makes a face at the sweating plastic container with the straw that he's chewed on a bit, and thinks about dumping it out. Which would be wrong. He's cracked the windows, the least he can do is be sensible and stay in the car. No matter what.

After a bit, he messes with the levers beneath his seat and finds the button to slant the seat back. He won't sleep, but he will be out of sight, which will be an added bonus. The air will still cool him, but no one will be able to see him so he'll be safe. Until Derek gets back. Which he will. Of course he will.

He stares at the reflection of the river water on the ceiling of the Camaro and thinks about how spotless the car is. In spite of Derek probably getting blood and fur all over the place all the time. In spite of everything, it's a very clean car. Then his eyes close and he takes a few deep breaths, tries to relax. Thinks about whether or not he should be doing anything more productive than hiding, when the door swings open with a huge metal crunch, and a pair of clawed hands reach in to yank Stiles out and slam him against the side of the car.

There are red eyes, and white teeth and, black hair, and that face, all angles and bone and growling at him. It's Derek, and he slams Stiles against the car again. And growls. Right into Stiles face with spit and breath and those teeth.

"I can smell you all the way up the mountain." Derek's teeth snap and his tongue is red against them and there's a fury rolling off him. "It's a simple order, Stiles. Simple." He slams Stiles again.

Stiles' hands come up with the impulse to push Derek off him. But his palms encounter claws and shaking rage, and he looks away. He can't look Derek in the eye this time, because he screwed up, he knows this. If Derek can smell him, then so can the feral wolf. And the fact that Derek had to come all the way back down here to remind Stiles of this? It's not just wrong, it's a waste. Of time. Of Derek's energy. A waste of Stiles' narrow grip on something approaching being calm.

He's shaking and Derek throws him to the ground, claws curling, hair bristling along the back of Derek's neck. Stiles raises his arm to shield himself, waiting for it, he deserves this, when he sees a dark shape lumber out of the woods to start splashing through the river.

"Derek." Stiles croaks this out, pointing, and to Derek's credit, he looks. Looks and turns and drops, putting his body between Stiles and the feral wolf. Who races up to them on all fours, bristling with fur and an open bloody mouth, eyes rabid and wet.

Now that Stiles can see the wolf, this is the wolf who raped him, his whole body goes liquid and when he tries to scramble out of the way, it's like trying to crawl through sand. Only it's gravel that jags open his knees and the palms of his hand and his face is wet by the time he's shoved himself under the car, holding on to the rear tire like a life preserver.

He can't look away as Derek, down on all fours, shifts fully into a wolf, making Stiles whole body shudder with the strangeness of watching hands becoming paws and shoulders becoming coated with fur. And the sound, growling that comes from deep within Derek's chest. And then Derek attacks.

The two wolves are only feet away, and as they move the air and the blood flies, bits of fur and skin spatter the gravel inches away from Stiles' face. The pair tumble and bang into the side of the car; Stiles skitters back to press against the other wheel, rubber and gasoline, oil, all of it filling his nose. The weight of the fight smashing into him as one of the wolves, it's Derek, using the car as leverage to lunge at the other wolf, smashing his face into the gravel with a swipe of a claw. That doesn't keep the other wolf down for long, but slows him to warily back up.

Derek follows, pacing forward, and Stiles doesn't know if it's a lack of fear or a complete sublimation under the wolf side of him. The wolf that doesn't know fear, isn't hesitating in his attack. Is growling thunderously in his chest, but is still and watching the other wolf. The one that dared attack Stiles.

Stiles is stilled by this thought. Realizes that this is partly what this is about. That Derek is not just ridding the world of a rabid werewolf, but also. Well, maybe also, trying to undo some of the damage the wolf caused.

The thought flitters right out of his head as Derek moves in for what Stiles can think he sees as a killing blow, a murderous bite. But the feral wolf rears up, and half human, half wolf, swipes at Derek right across his chest, and Derek falls back with a fierce sound and a ripple across his body as he collapses against the gravel. Turns human. And becomes quite still.

For one second, Stiles imagines that he'll grab a handful of that gravel and fling it at the feral wolf, so that he can drag Derek to safety. Because if Derek is going to bleed to death, he deserves to do it in peace, and not with some whacked out rabid animal slavering over him in triumph. But when he grabs the gravel, he hears a shot ring out and the revving of two engines as they shriek into the lay-by, blocking off the way to the road, leaving only a path to the river and the far slope.

There is one truck and a mud-splattered SUV, and as someone gets out, rifle against a shoulder, Stiles sees that it's Chris Argent. Who is accompanied by three hunters, all of them with heavy boots and sweat-stained t-shirts, and assault rifles with eagle-eye sites and all of them aimed at the feral wolf. There are two more shots, deafening at close range and Stiles clamps his hands over his ears, scraping his elbow in the process, and watches. Waits.

The bullets have stilled the feral wolf, but he's writhing around and shifting back into human form. One of the hunters takes out a machete and without further ado, or even a blink, slices the wolf in half. There's a gush of blood and a smell, something dying. The wolf spasms once, a blood drenched hand in the air, and then is still.

The hunters uncock their guns all at once, and the sound bounces and echoes sharply against the rocks.


Chris Argent calls out to him, never taking his eyes off the wolf and the blood laking around the body, sinking into the stones. The other hunters are still and silent. Attentive to their boss; all hands at the ready.

"Yeah." Stiles' response comes out cracked and whispered.

"Come get your wolf. He's hurt."

Derek, now fully human, tries to sit up. "No--I'm--" Then he falls back, and as Stiles scrambles out from underneath the car, Derek tries to sit up again. His arm is wrapped around his stomach, and he's bleeding, red on his white t-shirt, spreading out like a tide.

"You don't look good, Hale." Chris Argent's mouth barely moves as he says this. His rifle lifts as if he intends, quite possibly, to put Derek out of his misery. For he's only a werewolf after all, and not high on Argent's list of protected species.

Stiles makes himself run the few feet, realizes his flip flops have gone missing, and skitters to a stop next to Derek like he's sliding into first base. The gravel spits up at him, and he hovers over Derek, on his knees, and sees the gapped cloth over Derek's middle, and the pink new flesh exposed over white bone. He even sees a tumble of guts as Derek breathes and tries to hide this from the hunters. From Christ Argent. Who will surely use that rifle, if he sees the need.

There's a flash of Derek's eyes, red, the sweat along the side of his forehead, as he looks up at Stiles. Stiles kneels close and wraps his bandaged arm around Derek's chest, putting his back to Chris Argent.

"He's okay," Stiles says, swallowing. His hands leave red finger tracks on Derek's t-shirt and he realizes he's petting Derek. He makes himself stop, and feels Derek's forehead against his hip. "It's healing already. I'll take him home."

"See that he gets there," Chris Argent says. "Okay boys, get those hooks."

The hunters scurry to obey, and one of them brings a pair of what looks like enormous ice tongs, like the kind ice men used to use to deliver blocks of ice. Back in the day when that kind of thing happened. They use the tongs, sharp iron picks, to chunk into the body parts and haul them into the back of one of the trucks. A tarp is thrown over the body parts and tied down with efficient twists of cord and wire. Those body parts are going nowhere until they're unloaded somewhere, probably to be burned. Stiles holds on to Derek until the trucks peel off and head down Swift Creek Road. Back to civilization and their uncivilized deeds.

The dust is just settling, when Derek takes a jagged breath. Lifts his head.

"Can you drive?" This comes out as a desperate, husky gasp of air.

Yes, Stiles can drive. He can drive anything, anywhere, even barefooted in a sleek black Camaro down a gravel road made up of a whole bunch of switchbacks, if it means getting them out of there. But first, he needs to get Derek into the passenger seat, which means doing all the lifting, because Derek can't. If Derek exerts any pressure on his stomach muscles, his guts are going to come spilling out, splashing blood all over the place. And Stiles has had enough of bleeding.

"Gotta get you up," says Stiles. He wraps his arms around Derek's chest, his face tucked in Derek's sweaty, grit-dappled neck, and lifts with his knees. Derek tries to help, using his thighs, but most of that weight, 200 pounds of muscle, is on Stiles. On his sore back and messed up arm. On his bruised thighs, which quiver under the strain. On his feet, which are being cut into by the gravel. But he clamps his jaw tightly and doesn't complain. Can't and won't. Not until they are both way far away from here, and out of this.

Shuffling, like two drunk men, Stiles manages to get Derek into the passenger seat. He even picks up Derek's legs and swings them in, because Derek isn't moving, can't move. He can only sit there, with his arms wrapped around his middle, bent over, breath gurgling as though he were choking on his own blood. Stiles thinks about tipping the seat back so Derek can breathe, but maybe even this movement will be too much, so he doesn't.

The keys are still in the ignition, so after Stiles closes the door carefully on Derek's slumped form, he hobbles around and opens the driver's side door. The car pings at him insistently, reminding both him and Derek, probably, that Stiles had been messing around with not only the car, but his own safety. There's no telling whether that action had led to Derek being injured, but it's more likely than not. That's Stiles luck, and has been ever since Scott got bitten.

Still, he shakes this off as he gets in, buckles the seatbelt and starts the car. It revs up right away, as though it were biting and pawing at the ground, wanting to go fast. Stiles knows he needs to go fast, as fast as he can, and even though Scott was the one who drove this car last time, he needs to drive it now. Like he knows what he's doing.

Which he does. Stiles can fake it, for as long as it takes, but the switchbacks take their toll as does Derek's ragged, burbles of breathing, and his complete lack of movement, and the way that the blood is leaking into the fine creases of the black leather seats. And of course only Derek, someone like Derek, who lives in a tent, for crying out loud, would spend every penny he has on a car like this. This stupid car.

Stiles would slam the steering wheel in irritation, but his hands are now white claws around it, and he can't let go. Not till he gets back to Highway 3 and sees the sign for Trinity Center, and the arrow, and the list of places to eat and fun things to do. It's one of those signs that only become important when you don't know where the hell you are. Which Stiles does in a way, but this is definitely not his neighborhood. So as he drives towards the town, he reads the signs as fast as he can.

He sees one, a list of cabins for rent, and two of them have a vacancy. The signs look weather worn so there's no telling if they're up to date or not. But one of the cabins is only a quarter of a mile along, on the right, so Stiles goes that way, and finds the cabins. They are in a setting like an old fairy tale, a little circle of small timbered wooden buildings meant to look rustic, but which only look run down. There's a Vacant sign here too, and Stiles reaches over to take Derek's wallet from the space beneath the dash, and goes as fast as he can into the office. His feet ache as they slap against the blacktop.

The man behind the counter is on the phone, and smoking, and watching TV all at the same time. He's not unfriendly, just distracted, and when Stiles tells him he wants a cabin with two beds, the man takes the credit card with Derek's name on it, does the paperwork and hands over a real key. All without exchanging a single word with Stiles. Which is just how Stiles needs it right now. Because if the cashier comments on his age, or how the credit card isn't his, or on the blood on Stiles' shirt, Stiles will be unable to explain any of it.

He looks at the hand-drawn map when the cashier points, and marks the location of the cabin in his mind. It's all the way at the back of the compound, where the woods start up again, and if there was a feral wolf still out there, this might be a concern. But there's not. So Stiles gets in and drives them, and doesn't let himself be the least bit concerned that Derek's not questioning any of Stiles' decisions today. Well, then, he can't. He's barely breathing, still not moving, and there's more blood than before.

What Derek needs, it seems, is to lay flat and still, so he can heal. The one time that Derek had been stabbed through the back at the school, it had only taken an hour or so before he'd been able, apparently, to get up and heigh himself home. But today, it's all on Stiles.

At the cabin, he slows them to a stop, and turns off the car. Derek raises his head a fraction, and a sigh seems to come from deep within him, as if to apologize for being unable to move. To heal any faster than he is. But then, Stiles is probably imagining that Derek would think anything like that; apologies are not Derek's strong suit.

Stiles gets out and opens the door to the cabin. It's a simple space with a kitchen and table at one end, and two queen sized beds at the other. There is a narrow door from the kitchen that probably leads to a bathroom. There is a TV along the near wall. And that's it. But that's all Stiles needs. He's particularly interested in the huge linoleum floor which lines the entire cabin. Yes, there's a floor rug between the beds, but that can be moved. The linoleum floor means that Derek can bleed all over the place and it will be easy to clean up. And if Stiles needs to throw up at any point and can't make it to the bathroom, then that will be easy too.

He goes out to the car. Derek's managed to get his door open, feet out and slumped over, but that's it. He shouldn't have done that much, and if Stiles had been quicker, like he should have been, Derek wouldn't have had to do that. He struggles with Derek's weight, which is just as heavy as before, only now the smell of blood, as it dries on him, is a cloying thickness in his nose.

They make it to the door and as Stiles tries to lower Derek to the floor, gently, he crumples to it, groaning, wheezing a bit, and bleeding. Hurriedly, Stiles knees down, pretending he doesn't mind that there is blood on his knees, or that he's got his arms and elbows around Derek and the bandage on his left arm is turning a soaked red. Never mind that, he arranges Derek so he's laying flat on the cool floor, flat and still, so he can heal.

Stiles gets up and runs to the bed to rip off a pillow, and then to the bathroom to get a wetted washcloth and some towels. Then he runs back to Derek's side. He takes the pillowcase off, like Derek did, and lifts Derek's head gently, and shoves the pillow under. Derek seems to sigh when Stiles lowers Derek's head back down. Then, sitting on the floor, he takes a breath and rips Derek's shirt back. It falls in red tatters, spreading from Derek's chest.

It takes him a minute, a full minute, with his blood-stained hands over his mouth, before he can do anything but stare. There is blood oozing up from the deeper cuts that the wolf's claws had left, and bits of stray flesh, and the white edges of dead skin that aren't being reabsorbed into Derek's body. Swallowing back the sudden flush of saliva in his mouth that's always a precursor to throwing up, he tries to clean the blood away. Tries to think.

Gently. He does everything gently. Wiping the dirt away, old blood, dead flesh, so there won't be an infection, feeling how hot Derek's skin is where Stiles touches him. How Derek is sweating along his forehead the sides of his ribs, how pale the skin is after Stiles wipes the blood away. His teeth clench up, his shoulders bunch as he does these things, thinking of what Derek did for him, thinking what it means. And what else he can do to help.

Finally he realizes there is nothing much more, except to finish up and watch over Derek. So he tears the pillowcase into strips with his teeth, thinking of Derek's sharp teeth and how easily he had done this, and places a folded towel over Derek's chest. It's not going to do much more than absorb the blood and, truth be told, keep Stiles from having to look at the torn skin while it heals. He ties the pillowcase strips together and then, carefully, eases one of the strips under Derek's back.

Derek blinks up at him, confused, as though he were coming out of anesthesia, and when his brows start to lower, Stiles bends his head close.

"It's me Stiles. I'm putting a bandage on, see? Just a towel and some pillowcase strips, but it should do something. Maybe not more than remind you not to move while you heal, but it's okay, see? It's just me, just me."

Turning his head away, Derek almost nods, but his brows are still furrowed and his mouth is a thin line. Stiles doesn't know what that might mean exactly. Maybe he's pissed that Stiles is fussing over him, or maybe he's just concentrating on healing. It could be either, or both.

He ties the one strip across the middle of Derek's rib cage, and then laces another one, just under Derek's waist. He's careful not to leave the knots under Derek's back, or to tie anything too tightly that might make Derek feel he's being restrained and piss him off even more.

That done, Stiles gets up to rinse out the washcloth, then realizes it is so stained, he has to throw it away. So he gets a new clean one, and wets it with really cold water. Going back over to Derek, he folds it longways, bends down, and lays it on Derek's forehead.

Almost instantly, Derek's eyes snap open, and he turns towards Stiles, though he doesn't seem focused enough to really see him. "What?" he asks.

"It's a cold cloth," says Stiles. "I didn't know what else to do." He feels pathetically stupid and incapable, right about now. Cold cloths were supposed to be good for fevers, but maybe for wolves--

Derek reaches up and tears the washcloth off his head. It plops to the floor. "Blanket."

It's not an order or a command. More of a request, a suggestion even, so quietly does this come from Derek. Stiles runs to tear off the counterpane from one of the beds and grabs the slightly rough, motel-stiff blanket and hurries back to throw it over Derek's body. It's at this point that Derek, his head dark against the naked pillow, looks more like a patient in some kind of ratty hospital, than a wounded werewolf on the linoleum floor of a run-down rental cabin.

For a moment, Stiles stands there, looking at the shape of Derek under the blanket, the stillness. And Derek's face, pale with smudges of blood that Stiles should have wiped off but is only now just seeing. But his legs are quivering beneath him, and his arms are smeared with drying blood, and the whole of him just wants to collapse.

And he realizes he's shivering, but looks over and thinks that it might be the air conditioner, turned up full bore so that anyone coming in wouldn't be hit with the dank still air that cheap cabins have if they've been shut up too long. He goes over, a little unsteady, and turns up the temperature from 55 to about 69. The machine clonks along for a bit, and then the humming gets softer and right away, the air in front of the air conditioner is softer, not quite so cold. That should help Derek.

He goes back over. Thinks about how hard the floor must be. Thinks about tucking the blanket in a little bit, so as to allow Derek to build up some body heat. He does this, slowly, trying not to jar Derek. He's on his knees now, which are raw from the gravel in the lay by, and his hands, which are also raw. Thinks about a shower. His mind is bouncing around so much he feels he already thought about this and then dismissed it, because he doesn't want to be under the roaring water in case Derek needs him. Doesn't want to be as far away as the beds in case Derek needs him. Doesn't want to be--

Doesn't want to be here. In this moment, in today. There's too much raw skin and blood and way too much absolutely still Derek on the floor. What would the maids say if they came in, just now?

He makes himself get up and opens the door just wide enough to slip on the Do Not Disturb sign. Closes the door. Rests his head against it, just for a second. Then he grabs a pillow from the undone bed, grabs the thick, faux quilted, polyester counterpane. Goes back over and makes a little folded over bed on the floor alongside Derek. Puts the pillow on the floor next to Derek's head, and crawls between the layers. And lays his head down.

The floor is cold and hard, but at least it's not moving. Not going 80 miles an hour. Not growling. Not attacking him. The air conditioner is churning out some not-so-cold air and blocking any noises from outside. Derek's breath sounds a little less raspy than it did before, and his chest is rising and falling just as it ought. When Stiles looks up, he can see the edges of Derek's jaw, the dark lashes against his skin, a swirl of dark hair just in front of his ear. The dark rose of his mouth that is slightly open. It must be a red-letter day if he can be so close to a Derek that is so still to the point where Stiles can mark these small details.

He makes himself close his eyes and curls the blanket up under his chin. As Derek rests, he will rest and when Derek gets up, he'll get up. After that, he doesn't know what they'll do.

~ ~ * ~ ~

There's a sound from somewhere, outside, like scatter shot or an engine's backfire. Stiles has only a second to open his eyes before something is on him. Something with powerful thighs straddling his, and broad, clawed hands pressing his shoulders to the floor. And teeth, a dark growl, and a pair of fiercely red eyes. A threatening push that clonks his head against the floor. And the heat of Derek's breath as he hovers, inches away, and ready to attack.

Almost worse, almost, is the fact that Derek is hard inside of his jeans, and is starting to press down on top of Stiles' thighs. Derek's teeth are sharp, and his breath is warm on Stiles' face, as if that scent he'd told Stiles about has soaked into his brain and now, while out of it, while healing, he's unable to resist the urge to fuck Stiles right into the ground. Stiles can feel the hardness of Derek's cock against his thigh, Derek feels bigger than the feral wolf had been, and if this push along his body becomes something more, then Derek will tear Stiles up from the inside. And then there will be no going home. There will only be Derek getting rid of the body in the mountains somewhere, and an unconcerned shrug when the Sherriff asks anyone if they've seen his son.

"Derek." Stiles says this in voice so shaky that the word warbles in his mouth. "Derek," he says again. He's tightening up his whole body, waiting for the slam, the bite, the push, when Derek pauses above him. He's still, but so close that Stiles can smell the wild on him, the bite of salt, the dust of the battle in the lay by. And feels a drip of sweat from Derek as it falls on his collarbone.

Slowly, as though attempting to tame some timid thing, he moves his hand up, covering his mouth, palm up. His fingers are curled inward. Which will just make them easier to bite off, so he uncurls them, twists his wrist, and places his right hand along the right side of Derek's face. He trails his fingers down, along Derek's chin, feeling the edges of fang and saliva. He knows this is the bravest thing he's ever done. Then he makes himself talk.

"P-please, Derek, d-don't hurt me. You know you don't want to hurt me. You brought me with you so the feral wolf couldn't get me. Hell, you made me pee with you, and wouldn't let me an inch away from you so the wolf wouldn't get me. You jumped between that wolf and me, even though I had the window open like an idiot. You hid what he did from Chris Argent so my Dad wouldn't find out. You've done everything for me. So please don't kill me now."

The werewolf above him almost blinks. There is a movement around his eyes, and a twitch that makes Stiles twitch, startled. Then Derek bows his head down to grind it against Stiles' chest, and there's a surge of heat from the rough fur that feels as though Stiles is being wrapped up in a blanket heated by the sun. Derek growls, and pushes down, pressing his forehead against Stiles' sternum, almost too hard for Stiles to breathe properly. Then Derek yanks himself up, and rolls away, tumbling fully human on the motel blanket, his head half landing on the pillow.

For a moment, Stiles can only breathe. Then he gets up on his hands and knees. Derek's eyes are closed, and he still looks pale, pulling his mouth against his teeth as if he's in great pain. The wolf is gone from him, though his brows are dark and lowered over his eyes, and the rush of anger from him almost hits Stiles full in the chest.

When Derek rolls up to a sitting position, Stiles skitters back, out of the way. He's crouched on the cold floor, sitting on his heels, hands wrapped around his shins when Derek opens his eyes to look.

"What are you doing?" Derek asks. His voice is rough.

Stiles can't speak. He shakes his head. Nothing, nothing, I wasn't doing anything. Only sitting here, weak and pale and harmless.

Derek shakes his head and gets to his feet. It's slow going and looks like everything hurts when he does it. His t-shirt and Stiles' makeshift bandage falls completely away from him in tatters, leaving him bare-chested and mawed by marks and dried blood and dust. But other than the five long lines crossing over his stomach, the feral wolf has not harmed him.

Stiles lets out a breath. "I'm sorry about the car windows," he says.

"Don't let it happen again." Derek's response comes through his tightly drawn mouth and he looks ready to add some more recriminations to Stiles' list of faults and mistakes, but he turns away from Stiles with a jerk of his head. Starts opening cupboards and drawers, and the door to the small fridge.

"Is there any food?" he asks, slamming a cupboard closed. "And where are we?"

Stiles was using Derek's distraction to get up from the floor, and he's halfway there, still bend over with the flat of his hand on the floor when Derek turns on him. He snaps upright and wants to back away, just in case Derek lunges for him. But Derek is human now, pale and dark eyed, looking confused. And is obviously hungry. Doing that healing thing is probably draining; you have to eat afterwards, and Stiles imagines that a huge porterhouse steak probably wouldn't go amiss.

But yes, now Derek is walking towards him, intent, sweat drying along his neck. Wanting answers, any fool can see that.

Stiles holds out his hands, showing his palms, so Derek, and whatever remnants of the wolf that is bouncing around behind those eyes, will know that he's not a threat.

"The wolf attacked," he begins. "You stopped it from getting to me. It swiped at you, and Chris Argent shot it. Do you remember that part?"

Derek nods. He's slowing his pace as he approaches, and his eyes are fully on Stiles, scanning him up and down. Focused. Tracking. Right until the motion brings him less than half a foot from Stiles, which is when he stops. Derek gazes down, then up again, and then looks Stiles right in the eye.

"Where are your shoes?"

"What?" Stiles asked, feeling panicked. "My shoes? They came off. In the lay by. When the wolf attacked, or something, I don't know!" He is not responsible, he cannot be held responsible for this. Everything else, yes, sure, he'll take one for the team. But not those flip flops. They were too big to begin with. He almost opens his mouth to say this, to smear the blame all around, starting with the damn flip flops. They were made for bigger feet. Bigger werewolf sized feet, not the feet of this puny human.

But he doesn't. The whole of everything, from when he went running in the woods of the preserve to this very moment, has been because of his own stupid mistakes. Trying to blame the single issue of ill-fitting footwear on Derek would be self-indulgent at best and would draw some scathing comment from Derek at worst.

"You were hurt," he says, his voice coming out very small. "I didn't have time to find them. I had to bring you down off the ridge, to get you someplace. To hide you so you could heal."

"You drove my car? On those switchbacks? In bare feet?"

"Yes." Stiles sounds more indignant than he meant to. It was quite an accomplishment, him and that gravel road and those stupid hairpin turns. "I got us here in one piece, didn't I?"

"Bare feet slip on pedals, you could have taken us over the edge!" Derek bares his teeth when he says this.

Of course Derek would be concerned about his dumb car, would never be impressed with Stiles, no matter how miraculous the act. Stiles' whole face frowns, and he pushes on Derek's shoulder, intending to move past him, into the kitchen area. Where he'll get a drink of water and pray that an earlier visitor has left behind some pain killers.

But Derek stops him, a hand circling Stiles' bandaged wrist, but gently. If Stiles presses the issue, it'll be him hurting the fractured bone, not Derek.

"You ripped up your knees, and where did all this blood come from?"

Now, for the first time, Stiles looks at himself. His feet are raw, he knows this without looking at them, but he sees that his knees are raw too, and there's blood splashed on his thighs, and the bandage that Derek had put on him is dark brown with dried blood.

"You." Stiles says this, not as accusation, but as explanation. "When Chris Argent said you were hurt, it seemed like he might shoot you, put you out of your misery. And you looked at me, like--well, I made like it wasn't as bad as it was, made him go away."

"But how did you get blood soaked into that?" Derek points at it, and his mouth is curled down in a frown. Stiles is used to that frown, it bespeaks of Derek's anger, held back by the very thinnest of werewolf hairs.

"I--" Stiles stops, gasping a little bit. "I pressed it against your stomach, where it was all gaping open, pressed it closed so he wouldn't see the guts and the bone--Told him it was only a flesh wound. Didn't let him see."

If he hadn't been looking directly at Derek, he would have missed it. That small rise of dark eyebrows, and the small bit of softness, like from before, when Derek remarked that Stiles was blood-shy.

Then the look vanishes, and Derek lets go of Stiles' arm, flicking it away. "You faint at the sight of blood," he says. And then, putting a hand to his bare stomach. "Damnit, I'm hungry. Go get me something to eat."

"You get you something to eat," says Stiles. His brain is messing him up, remembering that look and thinking of Derek bleeding out.

"I don't have a shirt!" Derek barks this out.

"Well, I don't have any shoes!"

For a second, it's a stalemate, then Stiles peels off his shirt. This makes him cold in the cool room and his skin prickles as he hands the shirt over. Watches as Derek's eyes flicker as he takes this in. There's a pause. Derek takes the shirt and slides it on.

Derek holds out his hand. "Where are the keys."

Stiles closes his eyes. The keys are in the ignition, as an invitation to any fool who might pass by and think that taking a werewolf's brand new Camaro was a good idea.

"They're in ignition, aren't they. Tell me you didn't lock the car with the keys inside."

Stiles knows what the problem would be if he has. A locksmith always wants not just a name and phone, but all kinds of I.D and verification that the person who needs the lock unopened is actually the person who is the verified owner of that lock. Locksmiths are nosy, by profession; it's their neck on the line, after all. And Derek most definitely does not like nosy.

"I don't know." Stiles opens his eyes as Derek pushes past him, roughly, on his way out the door in a hurry, because, of course, the car is the issue here. Stiles might have taken it over a cliff when he was driving it, or gotten it scratched up in some way, or left the keys inside, none of which Derek will thank him for. Not that Derek ever thanks him for anything anyway. His mouth starts wobbling, but he tightens up. Stands up straight, with his hands dangling at his sides. Waits till Derek comes back.

Which he does, a minute later, the keys in his hand. Now he looks confused.

"Where do I go? Where are we?"

"Trinity Center." When Derek just looks at him, those eyes of his blazing, Stiles shrugs. "It's a mountain town at the bottom of Swift Creek Road. I think I saw places to eat or get food or whatever. It's not a big place." He barely remembers driving through the town to get here; trust Derek to want a blow-by-blow description.

Derek turns on his heel, but then pauses. "What do you want?"

"Anything," Stiles says. He's not really hungry; his body really doesn't want to eat. "But a giant coke, whatever else they have."

Derek nods, then goes out, shutting the door behind him. The Camaro quickly revs up outside and then speeds off. Derek is starving, regardless of anything else.

Stiles decides he's got enough time to take a shower, and goes into the bathroom. He turns on the light, and the fan starts up, whirring like crazy. When he takes off his sweat pants, he hangs them carefully on the rack next to one of the thin towels, and doesn't look at himself in the mirror. Yes, he already knows that his feet are tender, and his knees look like hamburger, and that there are flecks of blood on his bare thighs. But he doesn't need to look at his own face to know what it would reflect. That he's been through hell during the last circle of the sun around the earth, and that his eyes in the mirror, like burned holes in his head, will show him that. But he doesn't need to be shown. He already knows.

With the shower up as hot as it will go, Stiles gets in and with the shower curtain pulled fast, scrubs himself with the cheap-smelling motel soap. The washcloth is scratchy where he applies it and the soap stings on the various cuts and scrapes. He even manages to dig a pebble or two out of his left knee, and hisses while he does it. Soap floats into his eyes, and he puts his whole head under the spray. Now the soap is in his mouth, making him spit, but he keeps scrubbing, using more soap, till his arms are shaking with it and he knows he'll never get cleaner than this.

Once out of the shower as he dries off, Stiles lets himself look in the mirror. Luckily, the fog of the hot dampness has covered up any image he might see. Setting him free to dry off, to lift his feet, one at a time, to check them. They're bright red, but not as bad as his knees, or his elbows. As for the bandage, it's now a damp clump around his forearm, a drippy brown mass that he can't untie, not even with his teeth. He'll have to look for scissors; maybe the cabin hides a pair.

When he gets dressed, he goes slowly, but it only takes a second, since all he has to wear, all that's shielding his skin, his vulnerability, from the world, is a pair of cut-off, cast off, thin grey sweat pants that don't even belong to him. As he walks out of the bathroom, into the cooler air of the rest of the cabin, his skin tightens up, and he feels cold and naked. Which is not how he wants to feel, not with Derek stomping around at close range.

There is a pile of blankets on the floor, the bare pillow that was Derek's and the other one, which had been his. The pillows have ended up close together, and he thinks of Derek unconscious while he heals, and himself, his brain on so much overload that he'd determined, for some reason, that bunking down on the floor with a werewolf had been a good idea. He shakes his head and gathers all the bedding to dump it on the unmade bed. The other bed, still made up, is close to the TV on the wall. Stiles finds the clicker, and, ignoring his headache and sore knees and elbows, pushes up against the fake wooden headboard and turns on the TV.

The TV has something mindless, he thinks it is about the wild buffalo in Yellowstone, but it could be the middle of Dances With Wolves, he doesn't know. It doesn't matter, either because the second Derek comes back, he will most likely want to watch something else.

He finds a semi-sharp knife in one of the drawers and cuts off the matted clump of damp pillowcase on his arm and throws it away in the trash can in the bathroom. His arm feels naked then, as he turns it experimentally. It twinges a bit, but if he remembers not to use it, he should be okay.

Stiles spends a good 45 minutes flicking between what turns out to be an animal documentary and the real movie of Dances With Wolves, which is on another channel, before he hears the Camaro growling to a halt outside the cabin door. He thinks about getting up to let Derek in, to help carry the food, but remembers that Derek will not thank him for it. And will very likely think that Stiles is just in the way. Like he always is. In the way and messing things up and putting people in danger. Including himself. When will ever learn? Never, probably.

Derek barges into the cabin, frowning, brows lowered, like he owns the place and has always lived there. His arms are carrying two brown paper bags that are each stapled shut, and from his fingers dangles a six pack of cans of coke.

"Stopped at two places," he says, going over to the table to lay everything down. "They only had Pepsi, not Coke, so I went to--well, here it is. There's an ice machine by the main building, so you can--" He stops and looks at Stiles' bare feet. "Well, I'll get it."

Stiles sits there as Derek grabs the ice bucket from on top of the fridge and goes out again. He is astonished and truly flabbergasted. As hungry as Derek must be, and he still went to all that trouble? It's probably out of self-defense, so that he won't have to listen to Stiles complain.

Stiles gets up, now, and goes over to the bags and flips at the receipts stapled to each one. The bags smell of fried food and grease hits him, it's not altogether unpleasant, so he might be able to eat something. He undoes the bags and starts pulling Styrofoam as well as cardboard containers out and piles them on the table. The table is swallowed up fairly quickly because there are a lot of containers. They have writing on them like "X-Ch" and "No-tom" and other markings that he can't make sense of. He wonders which containers are his, and what Derek ordered for himself, and his mouth begins to water, just a little bit.

He wouldn't dream of starting without Derek, not just because it's rude, but because Derek will rip his throat out if he does. And he definitely will if Stiles were to bite into something in one of the containers that Derek has reserved for his own particular consumption. Like a steak. If there is a steak in one of the containers, it is Derek's, and that goes without staying.

So he gets two glasses, so they'll be ready for the ice. If Derek wants coke, then coke he shall have. Three cans will be enough for Stiles, he's willing to share. He puts those on the table, and then gets plates, and eating utensils from the drawers, thinking for a moment as to where his Dad is right now, and whether he's eating with anyone who will think to remind him to eat something leafy as well as something else that's green. Probably not. The Sheriff's convention is more like a vacation than anything else, and his Dad deserves to live a little.

Derek is back within minutes with the ice, and looks at the assembly on the table, and there's a small tick of a smile. Just a small one. "Guess I went overboard, a little."

"Not if you're hungry," says Stiles. "But I didn't know--" He points to the containers and opens his mouth to explain his theory about the steak.

"Just these, and this, and this one," says Derek, as if he understands. He pops open one of the bigger containers that, yes, contains a porterhouse steak, dripping with rareness, along with a baked potato with everything, and a pile of broccoli. "I would have gotten you one, but the second place had this."

This turns out to contain a cheeseburger with everything except tomato on it and a pile of--a pile of curly fries. Curly fries.

Stiles blinks, his mouth falling open. For just a second, in that one flicker of time, it's as if Derek is his friend, is acting like a friend, acting like Scott would have. Knowing what Stiles loves to eat, and gotten it for him. Just to be nice. He feels wide open and vulnerable, and it's not just the lack of clothes he's wearing. It's the steady still look that Derek gives him, and the sudden hot dampness in his own eyes.

Stiles scrubs at his eyes because he's not going to come apart like some girl, on account of a huge basket of curly fries, and what, is that melted cheese on top?

"They wanted to add it, so I said yes."

So, what? Can Derek read minds now? Probably not. More likely, he's smelled curly fries constantly coming off of Stiles' skin because Stiles will eat a curly fry any time he can get one. The melted cheese is just a bonus that he's never been able to find in Beacon Hills.

"Thanks." Stiles reaches for the fries. The cheeseburger looks good, but those fries-- "What else did you get?"

"Salad. Some cheesecake. Some fried macaroni and cheese. And, some pie. I think it's pecan." Derek is grabbing up the container with the steak and taking it over to the rumpled bed. Maybe he can smell Stiles on the other one, Stiles doesn't know. But he sits down, cross-legged, muddy sneakers still on, and starts to eat. With his bare hands. Just tears the steak at the edges with his teeth, and sits there chewing, and lets the juices drip down his forearms.

Stiles takes his time getting his coke and ice. Turning his back on Derek's feasting because it's sending a shiver up his spine. Wolves eat meat, anyone knows that. Werewolves eat meat, too. Werewolves that live alone, are on their own, maybe forget what a knife and fork is for. Or, what is probably more likely, a healing werewolf has got to get it in as fast as possible and doesn't have time for niceties. Stiles nods. Yeah, that makes more sense.

He fills another glass to the brim with ice from the bucket and then pops a can of coke. He carries both of these to set them down on the nightstand between the beds. He pushes it towards Derek.

"That's for you," he says, ducking his head. "In case you want it."

Derek pauses, and Stiles can see that is mouth is full. Derek is still just eating the steak; there's a film of grease along his mouth, and Stiles has the sudden thought that as he's gone along, Derek has had blood on that mouth. Maybe even human blood, and so he knows what it tastes like. Stiles wonders if human blood tastes different than rare steak but he's not about to ask because he's not an idiot. At least in this, he knows that for a fact.

There's a jerk of Derek's chin that Stiles takes as a thank you. He goes back and gets his cheese covered curly fries and takes that and his glass of ice and his coke and goes back to his spot.

There is only about two feet between the beds and so Stiles almost knocks Derek's knees as he lays everything out for himself and climbs on the bed. Derek is still eating, chewing and swallowing, his eyes focused on nothing. Stiles almost forgets to eat his fries, because he can see the scars on Derek's stomach healing up as he eats, and it's mesmerizing, as well as nauseating, watching the skin move and close and knit itself together like that.

Stiles makes himself eat and concentrates on that.

When Derek finishes off the steak, there's nothing left in his hands but a bit of curved bone. He sucks on the bone till it's white, smacks his lips, and licks into the corner, and then places the bone in the Styrofoam container. With a small sigh, he wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and looks at Stiles. His eyes are focused now that he's had some protein.

"That's going to get cold," he says, looking at the curly cheese fries.

He polishes off the baked potato and broccoli, then he gets up for more food.

While Stiles manages most of the curly fries, and some of his cheeseburger, and about half his coke, Derek manages to demolish just about everything else off, using his fingers for everything, salad with dressing, pecan pie, everything. Where he puts it, Stiles doesn't know, but he eats and eats, and then keeps eating. When he starts eating the fried mac and cheese, Stiles feels his mouth watering. Derek flicks his eyes up, almost in the way an animal might who is guarding its food, but he gives what's left to Stiles. Stiles takes the container, and, with his fingers, to be in keeping, eats the whole pile. Derek doesn't share the pie or the cheesecake, but that's okay, Stiles is full.

When all the food, except for half of Stiles' cheeseburger, is gone, Derek half-shoves the containers away from him. Some tumble off the bed, others roll on their sides, half-heartedly. Then Derek, with a low grunt, shifts on his side, face to the wall, and lays down. There's only the one pillow there, but Derek ignores this, resting his dark head against his own arm, curling up in a ball. He breathes once deeply and then is still.

Stiles thinks he's gone to sleep, resting up, letting his body heal. If this was the way it had gone when Derek had been stabbed by the kanima, then who had helped Derek get food? Who had watched over him while he rested and healed? And how had he gotten himself in the car and driven all the way home with a big gaping hold in his chest?

The questions won't bear asking; Stiles knows that if he does ask, Derek will only clam up and glare at Stiles as if he'd asked something not only fairly rude, but also nothing to be brought up in good company. Even if that good company had just spent the last half an hour eating with his hands. Instead, Stiles crawls from the bed, wincing as his knees rub on the counterpane, and cleans up a little bit. This consists of putting the empty containers in the paper bags and putting those by the front door. There is still the glass of coke by Derek's bed, still full, almost overflowing as the ice melts. Stiles empties this out, and the rest of his own, in the sink. And after that, there is nothing to do.

He sees the clock on the stove. It is about eight o'clock at night, still a little light, this far north. Stiles turns off most of the lights, turns the volume on the TV down to low, and crawls into bed. He props the pillows up so he can lie in the bed and have his head up enough to watch the TV. There is nothing on TV; he knows this without checking any of the other channels. So there is nothing for him to do but watch Derek sleep. Watch over Derek sleeping. Listen to the sounds of his breathing, watch the movements of the cloth of the blue t-shirt as his chest rises and falls.

He turns off the TV with the clicker. He rolls over on his side, facing Derek, and reaches up to turn out the light. With a snap, the room is dark, with some light coming from outside, through the slight crack in the curtains. His body feels heavy and dense, as though someone had just slammed him into the bed. As if, were he any heavier, he would sink with gravity through the mattress. It's uncomfortable, being this weighted down; one of his legs twitches and bangs against the wall.

This brings a sound from Derek, and Stiles freezes. He makes himself breathe in and out, very slowly, trying to relax each of his muscles so that he doesn't disturb Derek. Disturb him and wake him up in a teeth-gnashing fury that there was the tiniest sound to disrupt his slumber. No, he doesn't want to face that again, because it wasn't any fun. At all. Being a werewolf sucks, Stiles knows this from watching Scott struggle through it. But being stuck way up in the mountains with a healing werewolf who doesn't like you anyway? Sucks even worse.

Stiles swallows. His mouth is dry and his head is pounding again and every muscle in his body aches. But at least he's in a bed. Flat in a bed, and his stomach isn't empty, and there's no immediate danger. He closes his eyes, and keeps breathing. He'll sleep now. And in the morning, Derek will drive him home. And his Dad will never know where Stiles had been. What had happened to him. Derek won't tell him and Stiles certainly will not. If he can keep his cool and just get through this.

~ ~ * ~ ~

There is a white heat burning in his chest. Stiles gasps, opening his mouth wide, but he can't get enough air. His heart is churning as though he's been running at top speed, and he sits up, a raw sound escaping him, and he clutches at his chest. His skin is bare and sweating and it takes him a second to remember where he is. Remember what the reasons are behind him being bare-chested and sleeping in a motel room at least a good 10 or 12 hour drive from home. The world smashes in on him, and while half of his mind tells him he's having a panic attack, the other half doesn't give a crap about that, it just wants air. Badly.

There's a panic in his legs, his thighs, that scrambles him out of the bed, as if somewhere else in the cabin, this small space, is a pocket of air he can get to. Somewhere he can find and duck down and breathe. Somewhere that will slow his heart down from rabbity fast to a nice, doable slow speed. Where his scalp isn't freezing from dried sweat and his back isn't as stiff as a broken board.

Stumbling, he bangs into the kitchen table, sending some cutlery clanging to the floor, and it's at this sound that the other bed moves and Stiles has enough time to crouch down and press his back against one of the kitchen cupboards before the light on the nightstand clicks on.

As Derek's shadow looms over him, Stiles tries to cover his mouth with his hands, eyes watering with the effort, because he's not making any noise, no he is not. But his hands are uncoordinated and he can only grab the sides of his head with clumsy fingers. His whole body is shuddering and there's a squeaking sound coming out of his mouth, the slippery sharpness of every breath of air leaving him and none coming in. In a second or two more, he will pass out; it's happened before, when the panic attacks were really bad. It's happening now, he knows it is. As the bright lights spark in front of his eyes, and he can only see patches of Derek as he bends close.

Derek might not know what a panic attack looks like, or ever seen Stiles having one, so Stiles doubts, in the part of his brain, the very small part, that is working, that Derek even knows what to do. His Dad would know what to do, but Dad is miles away, and Stiles is alone on this. The frustration ripples through him and the sheer terror because he knows he is dying, and the idea of it plants an icy fist in his gut and squeezes hard.

Derek leaves his side, and oh, yes, well, whatever, right? Humans have panic attacks all the time and what a nuisance this one is. Derek doesn't have to say a word for Stiles to know what he is thinking.

Then Derek's near him again, crouching down, and Stiles steels himself for the battering of recriminations and contempt that he will soon get. Which will be when Derek opens his mouth. The second Derek has had enough. Which will be any second now. Any second.

But this doesn't happen. Instead, Stiles feels a cloud of soft weight over his shoulders, and the broad brush of something being tugged down his back. In fact, he's being held, pulled forward, resting his head on something solid and warm for a second, as the weight, a light, cottony thing, is wrapped all around him. Then Derek tips him back. As his head rests against the cupboard again, he realizes that one of Derek's hands is on the back of his neck. The other is rubbing his chest and that the hand is warm and slow against his skin.


This is a command. It comes from Derek and is, thusly, not to be ignored. So Stiles takes a breath, a jerked-in motion of his chest, and chokes on it. His heart pounds in his chest. He senses that Derek is looking at him, with narrow, irritated eyes, and tries again. Concentrates on the warm hand pressing carefully right on his sternum, and shakily takes a breath in.

"Keep doing that. Don't stop."

With a shuddering of his chest, Stiles takes his first, true breath. It isn't deep, but it helps clear his head, his vision, and there is Derek, right in front of him, staring at Stiles, and frowning, his mouth curved downward, eyebrows lowered. Black hair spills over his forehead, mussed from sleep. Of course, Derek is pissed that Stiles woke him up from a sound and healing sleep, of course he is.

"S-sorry, I'm sorry." Stiles manages this between gasps.

There's a flicker in Derek's eyes, and Stiles doesn't know what it means. Can't decipher it the way he can sometimes with Derek, and most of the time with everyone else in the world. That's when he starts to cry, with big, hot tears that come out of his eyes and plop onto his chin and smash their way onto his chest.

For a second, the air is split apart, because it has finally happened, Stiles is crying in front of Derek and he hates himself for it. But he is at his end, tipping over the precipice he's been fighting since yesterday, since the first, astonished second when he realized what the feral wolf was doing to him, and the next, terrified one when he knew there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening. Add that to everything else, the werewolves fighting, and Chris Argent's unspoken threats, and it's simply become too much. His body feels like it's in overload, and with one corner of his senses, he sees Derek actually reaching out, taking his hand up from Stiles' chest, as though to make a gesture, or a petting motion, something gentle, or concerned, and that's what breaks Stiles, that's what does it.

With a fierce shriek, almost a scream of rage, he bats, shoves, Derek's hand away, pulls his knees up hard, wrapping his arms around them tightly, tucks his head, and bawls. Into his skin, where the tears are hot in the darkness near his body, and the slanted light in the room smacks into him over and over again, like a harsh slap, a rude blow. He can't stop crying, it's coming up from somewhere dark and horrifying, a fierce attack on everything that's been holding him together, and he can't stop.

At his side, Derek moves, a quick shift, and part of Stiles realizes that there is warmth along his right side. Weight. Gravity. Derek doesn't wrap an arm around Stiles' shoulders, the way Scott or his Dad might have done. Would have done, had they been there. But instead, he is simply there, pressed close, his body weight echoing Stiles. There is a pulling motion as Derek's hands tug in the blanket a little closer, and suddenly, with the weight, and the pressure of Derek's shoulder, and the blanket--

His throat feels raw as he tries to tumble through some words. Stop it. Go away. What are you doing? Thank you. None of them come out, except as low sounds, shoving up through his chest, pushing up, and it hurts when he does that. As he swallows, the tears start to stutter off, falling in hot plops, and then stopping. A few more, and then slowing, as his chest heaves, and his nose feels stuffy, and his mouth is so dry, so very dry.

He doesn't lift his head as Derek gets up from the floor. There is the clink of glass, and the sound of running water, and it only takes a second before Derek is again at his side. The warmth of Derek's weight is right there, pressing up against him, in a way that should feel pushy and intrusive, but which is anything but.

"Drink this."

It's another command, not a request, Derek style. Stiles lifts his head from his knees. He wipes the side of his face with the back of one hand, and sniffs up the snot from his upper lip.

Derek is holding out a glass of water, fresh from the tap. It glitters as the light comes through it and Stiles takes it without saying thank you. He downs half of it in two gulps and realizes that any more might be too much for his stomach. He takes a breath and gives the glass back to Derek. Who finishes it off with one swallow and puts the glass down on the floor.

Derek doesn't say anything, doesn't make Stiles look at him or demand an explanation. But that's Derek, the way he is. Being still and watchful, waiting for it, not pushing until he has to. And then he'll push and push until everything around him breaks open.

With Stiles, it's the other way around. There's something in him that pushes, and breaks open, and comes out of him with a rush of words. It does this now, as he opens his mouth, all the questions and the wondering and the complete and utter lack of any way to control any of it whatsoever. The world is spinning around him, as fast as it can, with this little cabin in the middle of some dumb mountain town that he'd never even heard of before today.

Stiles takes a breath. The water has helped, but his brain is now going rabbity fast. He can't help it. He must know.

"Will the wolves keep coming, because of the marking thing, the way I smell?"

"Yes." Derek says this, short and terse. "You will draw them in, until a wolf marks you and claims you. And then they can take you with them, make you go with them, wherever they go."

Stiles shudders in a breath, rewraps his arms around his knees and considers this. He doesn't need to clarify what Derek means when he says marking and claiming; in this context, it's werewolf for fucking. He's going to have to let some werewolf climb on top of him and pin him down shove into him. "But I don't want to leave Beacon Hills, leave my Dad--" The thought of it chokes in the back of his throat, and he has to swallow hard. He must get clear, he must make his brain clear, so he can think. "How do I stop it from happening?"

He assumes that Derek will tell him something along the lines of there's no way you can stop it, you're doomed to be blood in the water to a wolf. Stiles prepares himself for this, stiffens his shoulders against the cupboard. And looks straight ahead.

"If--" Derek starts. His voice is low and breaks off, then he starts again. "If a wolf and a human mate, it's something they do together. And then the human already wants to go wherever the wolf goes. This feral wolf, he was crazy, those kinds of things usually don't happen--"

Stiles waves Derek's answer away. This part, he's assumed all on his own. It's the other part he needs to know. "How do I stop it from happening, it can't keep happening, because I can't let it."

There's a long, slow moment where Stiles can hear Derek breathe in and then out. He can't look at Derek, doesn't want to, just wants the truth. So he makes himself wait.

"You have to--" Again there's a hesitation in Derek's voice, something which almost never happens. Unless Derek is about to lie, or when there's something he simply does not want to say out loud. "You have to mate with a wolf who'll let you go where you want to go."

The simple sentence sinks in, all at once, as though someone poured hot oil on top of him and his body was made of something porous and fragile. It moves all the way through him, slamming into everything that he is all at once. Then he feels cold, even where Derek's shoulder is pressing against his.

Derek's whole body jerks, and then he's still. Moved into stillness, waiting for Stiles.

"Does it have to be an alpha?" Stiles asks. The question comes out low, but Derek hears him.

"It's better if it is. Safer."

Of course this is true, Stiles doesn't doubt it for a second. All the hardest things are true. He thinks about Derek's answer, about it being safer if it's an alpha, and of course, there's only one alpha he knows. And frankly with all the bossiness and pushiness, one alpha is more than enough.

Stiles turns to look at the only alpha he knows. Derek is sitting shoulder to shoulder with him, his legs bent at the knees, as Stiles' are bent, like a solitary, companionable echo. Derek is looking back at him, with his face still, and eyes open, everything neutral, as though Derek will be receptive to whatever Stiles decides. For whatever else Derek is, angry, unpredictable, dangerous, he has never been the type of person, from what Stiles can see, who would take what was not being offered.

"And--and if I picked you, could I ever be with anyone else?" Stiles' mouth feels very dry, at that moment. "Could I ever love anyone else? Could I ever go away from Beacon Hills and go to college?"

Derek's face twitches at this question; Stiles waits for the answer. He's so cold, now, as if the water that Derek gave him to drink were freezing in his veins. He can't feel his feet, even, and the cupboard feels like a wall of ice at his back, coming through the blanket.

Finally he sees Derek open his mouth. The room his so quiet that he can actually hear this. Hear the slight, indrawn breath, the sound of moisture as Derek licks his lips.

"Yes," says Derek. "I would never--never call you to heel, like that."

This response clangs into his head so hard, his head snaps back, and his teeth clack together. With slitted eyes he looks over at Derek, who is still sitting there, so very close and absolutely motionless, tracking Stiles with dark and watchful eyes.

"And you?" he asks. "Can you ever be with anyone else?"

"No." The answer is immediate and Derek shakes his head with a jerk. "Wolves mate for life."

Now Stiles feels stupid, because of course he knows that, he's always known it. He knows everything, watches the Discovery Channel all the time. Wolves mate for life. So do swans, and maybe a whole passel of other creatures do too, but especially wolves do. So here is Derek, offering to mark and claim him, giving up everything so that Stiles can stay human, stay in Beacon Hills, go to college one day, love and get married, and not ever have to worry about getting torn up by some stray wolf that happens to cross his path. Or the thundering herd of wolves that will definitely cross his path, because, evidently, he now carries a scent that will make him a wolf's mate, whether he likes it or not. But at least he'll be safe.

And Derek Hale will remain alone for the rest of his life.

This realization churns in Stiles' gut. His mouth is filling with saliva, now, as well, so he scrambles on his hands and feet, across the floor, away from Derek. The bathroom looms ahead of him; he is able to get to his feet and sprint the last three feet before the cheese curly fries and the coke come out of him, splashing in the toilet, spraying the seat. He kneels down, his knees are killing him, but he's got to get closer to the bowl or he'll make a mess on the floor. It's happened once or twice before, and he knows now that he has to circle the toilet seat and get his head low. The rest of the contents of his stomach come obligingly up, with a force so hard that his neck cracks with the effort.

There is a swath of darkness on the linoleum floor; Derek has come up to stand in the doorway, looming like he does, as though he's not got the faintest idea what that does to a person's heart rate. But Stiles' stomach is settling in spite of this and he reaches up to flush the toilet, and grab a towel to wipe the seat. Then he sinks back on his ass on the cold floor and wipes his hands on his thighs and tries to sooth the tumble his body has become.

He sees Derek's hands reaching to pull him up, and shoves himself back, slamming against the bathtub. He looks up at Derek, a seething rage clenching his teeth.

"Don't you touch me, don't you dare touch me. Or I'll rip your heart out with my bare hands."

Derek appraises him for a moment, then, cupping his hands under Stiles' arms, reaches down and hauls Stiles to his feet, in spite of Stiles' threats. Stiles feels his body go all out of control, sputtering and flailing, but Derek just holds him there, against the bathroom door, till all of this works its way to stillness. Till all he is left with is the sound of his own, harsh breathing, a line of sweat trickling down the side of his face. And Derek, only inches away, a swath of beardgrowth and dark hair, warm skin, and eyes that look, and see, and don't blink.

"You need to rest." Derek says this as though he were in charge of everything now.

"You're not the boss of me," Stiles says. But there is no heat in it. There is only a sinking weight pulling him down that he's pretty sure no amount of sleep could ever cure.

Derek shrugs and lets Stiles go. "That's up to you. Just don't go running off in the woods."

Stiles wants to ask what, with no shoes, you think I'm crazy? But he can see that Derek is still tired, still healing way down deep, and that he's not got a whole lot of energy for Stiles right about now. Getting up to sit with Stiles while he had a panic attack probably took the last of what he had. Now he goes to the bed and pillows back down on it, shoes and all, and curls up, with his dark hair on the pillow and the blankets bunched all over the place.

"Here," says Stiles. He goes over and yanks the bunched up blanket out from under Derek's back and legs and flicks it open to land out straight, covering every inch of Derek. He even takes a moment to tuck it in around Derek's back and thighs, hesitating in his mind, thinking of teeth that can bite off unsuspecting fingers, but Derek doesn't move, doesn't look back at him as if to ask what are you doing? But he does sigh, deep in his chest, and Stiles takes that as a thank you. Not that he's sure why he thought to do it in the first place. He's falling over himself, and now that he has his answers, difficult though they may be, he thinks that he can finally get some sleep.

He stumbles to the bed on the other side, flicks off the light, and falls in. Pulls the covers way up high and ducks his head down inside the cave of warmth his body is starting to create. He's had enough of today; he's pretty sure tomorrow will be as exhausting, although, hopefully, not as dangerous.

~ ~ * ~ ~

In the morning, Stiles wakes to the sound of Derek moving around the room. His eyes blink open to take in the sight of Derek picking up bloody towels and pillowcases to bundle up next to the door. When Derek comes over to Stiles' bed with his best frown in place, Stiles holds up his hand as though shielding himself from an overly bright light.

"I'm up," he says, croaking. "I'm ready."

He's so ready that he can barely crawl out of bed, but far be it from him to hold up the morning set in motion by Derek. He even does his part by making an eye-check of the room, in case they've left anything incriminating behind, then visits the bathroom where he shuts the door to pee and splash his face.

There's the mirror, clear of bathroom fog, but he won't let himself look at it. Still, he catches the bruised smudges under his eyes, and the white papery panic of his face, before he's out of the bathroom.

"We'll get breakfast on the way." Derek says this as anyone might, in a way that indicates it's meant to be a suggestion or question. But with Derek, it's a command, like it always is, and Stiles shrugs. It's all the same to him; he doubts that his stomach would be able to hold very much anyway.

There's a small stop at the door when Derek tells Stiles to wait, and confused, Stiles waits, till Derek starts the Camaro up and pulls around so that Stiles won't have to walk in his bare feet on the gravel. No, he can just step from the smooth concrete step into the carpeted and leather interior of the car; Stiles' feet aren't normally that delicate, but today, he appreciates the gesture.

Derek stops at the main building to pay and, Stiles presumes, to give a little extra on account of all those missing towels and torn up pillow cases, which are now in the trunk of the Camaro. But missing items are much easier to explain, or pay, away, than leaving bloody ones behind, so it only makes sense.

They stop at a coffee stand for coffee and breakfast sandwiches to go; Stiles takes the coffees and puts them in the holders, then unwraps Derek's sandwich for him. Because now that they've hit the road again, Derek is already speeding up, eating while he drives, and in a few moments, they are already at 70. Stiles doesn't say anything, just leans back, feeling the leather seat sticking to his bare skin, takes the smallest sips from his coffee, and watches the world go by.

When the sun is high in the sky, Derek stops at a gas station, where they fill up, and Derek buys Stiles a t-shirt, so he won't be sticking to the leather seat the rest of the way home. It's another small nicety that Stiles didn't expect, but he thinks that Derek is more concerned with the wear and tear and marks of sweaty skin on the seat than with Stiles' actual comfort.

The engine hums and Derek drives, both hands on the wheel. Stiles calls his Dad, but gets voice mail again, so he leaves a short message to the tune of all is well, how are you?

"When's he due home?" Derek asks this; his eyes flick over to Stiles as he puts the phone under the dash.

"Today's Friday, right? Then, Sunday. Day after tomorrow."

"Plenty of time," says Derek. Stiles hears the relief in his voice, and of course Derek must have been going crazy with the thought of being the one to actually lose Sheriff Stalinkski's son.

And they drive, mile upon mile, without stopping.

By the time Derek pulls up in front of the Stilinski house, it's around nine o'clock at night, and pretty dark, even with the street lights. Or maybe that's just Stiles' brain, shutting down, overloaded from the landscape speeding by. Or from Derek's silence all the way, all 11 hours of driving. And the thoughts inside of Stiles, now pushing up through his exhaustion as he grabs his phone and gets out, juddering on two bare feet, like he's still going 80 down a two-lane blacktop.

Derek doesn't say goodbye, or let me know what you decide, or anything. Just peels off down the suburban road, tail lights blinking against the black of his car, like two alpha eyes, watching him.

Stiles shakes his head. He needs a stiff shot of ice cold milk and about 24 hours of sleeping in his own bed. Not moving. Not listening for danger. And especially not thinking about the problem at hand. Because if he doesn't think about it, it'll go away, right?

Like that's ever helped him before.

~ ~ * ~ ~

When he wakes up on Sunday morning, he vaguely remembers downing a glass of milk and crawling up the stairs to his room, and putting himself to bed. That he'd slept on and off for all of Saturday, sometimes out of it, and sometimes, wide awake, staring at the ceiling. But it's Sunday now and his Dad's plane should be landing sometime that morning, and Stiles needs to make like everything's normal.

So he puts on clothes, a thick t-shirt and his longest shorts, that he's worn at least two times before, without them being washed, so they'll smell like summer and boy, and not like anything else. Then he goes to the kitchen and puts a bunch of stuff out to set the tableaux. There's peanut butter and jelly, with a knife in the peanut butter, to show that he used that last, his Dad hates it when he does that. There's a banana, which he peels and leaves the peel on the counter.

He moves the kitchen table chairs all askew, then takes a few days worth of papers from the front step and stuffs them all in the kitchen trash can till it's overflowing. Lastly, he takes out his hidden stash of Fruit Loops and pours it into a bowl. After turning the TV on to some innocuous movie, which turns out to be Planet of the Apes followed by Return to Planet of the Apes, he stands by the open kitchen window and listens. And waits.

It's about two hours before the sound of an engine pulling into the driveway rumbles through the open window, so it's at that point that Stiles pours milk into the bowl of Fruit Loops, grabs the bowl, the box of cereal, and a large spoon, and throws himself on the couch. When he takes a bite of cereal so big that the milk drips down his chin just as his Dad opens the door, the tableaux is complete.

His Dad takes a look at the mess.

"Did you even do dishes one day while I was gone?"

"Hi, Dad. Is it Sunday?" Stiles mumbles this through a mouth full of Fruit Loops. "I thought it was yesterday!" He wipes milk from his chin and makes like he's going to get up.

"Kids these days," his Dad says, shaking his head. "Did you even leave the house?"

"No," says Stiles. "You want some Fruit Loops?"

"You have Fruit Loops?" His Dad puts his suitcase down, dumps his beige Sherriff's jacket across the back of a chair, and comes over. "I thought Fruit Loops were forbidden in this house."

"Not when the Sherriff's gonna be out of town," Stiles says, smacking and putting a big smile on his face. "But I think there's plenty left here, so we should eat as much as we can before he gets back."

His Dad goes into the kitchen. Stiles can hear him getting a bowl and a spoon, even kicking his shoes off, before he comes back and settles himself on the couch next to Stiles.

"Sherriff's due back tomorrow, you say?" Stiles' Dad asks.

"Yes, sir," says Stiles. "Tomorrow. I have that on good authority."

Stiles' Dad pours himself a bowl of Fruit Loops, then splashes it over with milk. Then he puts his socked feet up on the coffee table. He smells like airplane air and stale coffee, and Stiles is very glad to have him near.

"In that case," says his Dad. "I think, since we're breaking all these rules, that we should go make a fast food run for dinner and get some curly fries. You know, before the Sherriff gets back."

Stiles makes himself nod and smile, though curly fries are the last things he wants to eat.

But he'll eat them, and eat a cheeseburger, and have a large coke, like he always does, so his Dad won't wonder what's up, what's wrong, and start asking question.

"What's this on?" His Dad points to the TV with his spoon, and chomps through a mouth full of forbidden cereal.

"Return to the Plant of the Apes," says Stiles.

"Has Dr. Zaius shown up yet?"

"Nope. Soon, though."

The tableaux is finished. Stiles' Dad is home and doesn't suspect a thing. The bruises around Stiles' thighs are starting to fade. He's catching up on his sleep. He's still not had his movie night with Scott, so there is still plenty of success to aim for this summer. It's not so bad, everything is not so bad, right?

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles spends a week relearning the width of his room, and the length of the shadows on his floor when he lies in bed at night. In dreams, he runs through a low ravine, with rocks and mud falling in on him; he can never run fast enough. When he wakes, there's never enough air, and the stillness of the air around him chokes him, makes him pant and wheeze. And there's no one to calm the panic, no one to press a broad, warm hand against his breastbone and give him the very order he needs to follow: breathe.

And in the morning, he refuses to look at himself in the mirror, because he knows that he will see circles under his eyes, and a hopeless, desperate flash in his eyes. Because, in addition to the weight of the memory of that day, is the understanding of the limited options he has. Behind him, a feral wolf chases him along an endless road, and up ahead, standing in a silhouette, is another wolf, an alpha. Between the two is the choice that Stiles must make. Must determine. Because, eventually, any delay is going to catch up with him, and people he cares about are going to get caught in the middle, in that sea of indecisiveness, with him. Starting with his Dad, and Stiles simply cannot allow that to happen. Only he can't seem to make himself move forward, either. So he stands still. Very, very still.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles thaws frozen chili in a pan for supper, and wonders whether the cheddar cheese has expired, when his Dad comes home, jingling his keys in his pocket and waiting for supper to be ready.

"Mrs. Winterston says hi," the Sherriff says.

"Yeah?" Stiles isn't interested. Mrs. Winterston is a busy body, always spying on everyone, and carrying tales that no one is interested in.

"She says she saw you went running on Wednesday, and that she never saw you come back."

Stiles turns the wooden spoon around a few circles in the pot, and then looks at his Dad. He makes himself appear unconcerned because Mrs. Winterston is frequently way off line with her spying and her stories.

"I did," Stiles says. He thinks about that day, and what had happened and how long he'd been gone, in an almost academic way. Measuring distance and time as he listens to his heart beat. "I guess I overestimated how far, because I pulled something and had to walk home. I guess she didn't see me come back."

Stiles' Dad waves this away. "No, no. You went running. What about that? The running part?"

"Oh." This stops Stiles a little bit. Naturally the answer his Dad is looking for is so much simpler than the one that Stiles was prepared to avoid giving. "That."

"Yes, that. So?"

The chili is bubbling, so Stiles gives it another stir, and gives himself a minute. His Dad pulls down some bowls, makes a show of getting some lettuce and salad out that neither one of them will eat. And, when they're seated at the table, with the pot of chili sitting on a hot pad between them, his Dad waves his spoon in Stiles' direction.

"I thought I would go running," Stiles begins. He shrugs to show how unimportant this is. "I thought I would build some muscle before school started, so maybe I wouldn't be on the bench all the time."

"That's a good plan," his Dad says.

"Two problems, though," says Stiles. He takes a bite of chili and a large swallow of milk that his Dad poured for him. "I pulled that muscle, which threw me off. And you weren't supposed to find out till I was well underway."

"What do you mean, like a surprise?" His Dad's eyebrows fly up.

"Sort of. Mostly I didn't want any rah-rah speeches about it. I just sort of wanted it to happen, and for you not to be very impressed or excited about it, because of course, Stiles runs a lot of miles each day, and of course, he builds muscle during the summer. Like it's an ordinary thing. You see?"

"Is that why you haven't left the house all week, on account of you didn't want me thinking you were doing anything extraordinary?" The usual puzzled expression settles on his Dad's face, the one he gets a lot of the time, especially when Stiles is talking, as if the things Stiles thinks and says and does are inexplicable to him. And that he's one step away from consulting some professional about it.

"Yeah." Stiles close his mouth on anything else he might say. What his Dad is thinking is the truth is partly true, and Stiles counts that as a point in his favor. Several points. That the truth is so much more complicated needn't be discussed by anyone. Let alone anyone at this table. In this house. Under this roof. With his Dad. "I didn't want to draw any attention to it."

"Well," says Stiles' Dad as he shovels in some chili. "I promise to ignore you completely and to not ask any questions about it. But do you have good enough shoes for the blacktop?"

Because of course, the blacktop is where a kid like him should run and not in any wooded preserve that happens to be near enough to get to on foot. Stiles shakes his head. "Plenty of good tread left, but the research I've done says that they should be replaced after a certain number of miles, so when I hit that mark can I have new sneakers?"

"Yep." That's all his Dad says about the subject, then and there, and Stiles feels a warm place inside of him. How nice to have a Dad who gets it. Though, at the same time, he feels bad because everything else, other than the talk about running and getting into shape, is a lie. But then, it usually is.

~ ~ * ~ ~

After talking with Scott, Stiles hangs up the phone with a press of his thumb. The subject matter of Scott's conversations have been sadly derailed by a specific topic of which Stiles has had enough about nine months ago. He often feels as though Scott and Allison have set sail on the cruise of love, right into the tropical sunset, leaving him alone in a sea-worn dingy pulling into Elephant Island just in time to meet up with Earnest Shakleton.

But during the conversation, between the opening blah blah Allison and the closing Allison blah blah blah, there had been a cursory how are you and a little bubble of excitement as Scott told Stiles about the new Good Times in Beacon Hills.

Together, he and Scott have waited a year for the Good Times to appear in town, after it had been announced that the franchise was moving to northern California. They might not have curly fries, but all other sources indicate that their cheeseburgers are out of this world, they have onion rings, and, the key topper is the frozen custard.

It had been his and Scott's plan to go there together and spend an obscene amount of money on food that is bad for you, but food that tastes very fine indeed. Now this plan, like their conversations in general, has been derailed, and whether Allison is the cause directly or indirectly, she is, of course, the cause. Stiles can't hate her because she lights Scott up inside, and truly loves Scott in spite of the fact that Scott is kind of an idiot, and, oh, yes, is a werewolf. So he can't fault Allison for being a good person, though he can remain peeved that his best friend has been stolen from him.

Still, Allison will not stop the Good Times Campaign. Stiles promises himself this. He shoves ten dollars in the pocket of his shorts, leaves a phone message for his Dad, and heads out the door. Today he will eat junk food. He will get a double order of the custard for desert. He will enjoy every bite. And then tomorrow, he's on a training schedule again. His Dad had surprised him with a new pair of running sneakers anyway, and after staring at the half-opened box for two days, Stiles can't stand it any longer. He has to leave the house. He has to live his life. He wants to run. And, moreover, he doesn't want his Dad to get suspicious as to why he's not doing any of these things.

The Good Times is about two miles from his house, so Stiles puts on his new sneakers walks, as a sort of trial, break-in period. All the research says to break in sneakers before you run in them, so Stiles is doing that. It's a hot day already, but there's a good breeze and plenty of shade. He doesn't let himself think about the Hale house and the back of the open structure, where Derek lives and has set it up like he was camping.

This thought is hard to push back, especially when it's hot and stuffy in the Stilinski house because the whole house fan isn't working properly. Or when the smell of warm pine wafts through his open windows because the whole house fan is working properly. Or pretty much any time that Stiles gets a sense of peace in whatever corner of the world he's occupying, which doesn't happen very often these days.

But it does happen. At the library, or sitting in his room reading a book. Or once, during the past week, when he and Dad had a cold beer each and sat on the back porch watching the storm clouds build over the trees. He'd gotten a flicker of that memory, being in the Hale house, in the cool air wafting off the deranged and unkempt garden. What was he supposed to do with thoughts like that?

They are best ignored.

When Stiles gets to the Good Times stand, it is pretty much packed with moms and kids and couples and junior high school girls, and a grandma and grandpa pair sitting under the shade of one of the tables. There are balloons and coupons fluttering in the breeze. Stiles grabs a coupon and reads it to see what's on offer. Yes, there it is, a two-for one special on the custard, and 25% off anything else. He's in luck.

He stands in line to place his order, his hands in his pocket, feeling his house key in one hand and the ten dollar bill in the other. After he eats, he'll call Scott to crow about how good the food is, getting a little dig in there about how Scott should have been with him. But in the meantime, he's going to enjoy himself.

He orders his usual, cheeseburger, fries, and a large coke. He goes and sits down, sharing the back end of the table where the grandma and grandpa are just finishing up. The food is excellent, with just the right amount of heat and grease. A lot of pepper and salt and something else he can't identify. He eats everything in front of him, wipes his mouth with a napkin as he throws his trash away, then goes to again stand in line.

His double order of custard is soon in his hands, and he goes and stands in the blanket of shade on the north end of the building, where the dumpsters are. It's a little quieter back there, with a scattering of moms and strollers. Two kids that he might recognize from school stand a little ways down from him, also in the shade, giving that chin jerk that stands for hello in teenage boys.

Stiles returns the chin jerk, feeling like he can actually pretend he belongs for about a minute and a half. Then he returns to his custard. It's pretty damn good, a cross between French vanilla ice cream and smooth, slippery yogurt. It takes him about five minutes to finish the mound he holds in his hands, and he knows Scott will be sorry he missed this feast. He'll probably have it later with Allison, of course, but he missed it, this time, with Stiles. That's his bad luck, though, right? Not Stiles'.

Just as he's finishing up the last little scoop of custard, a car pulls up. It's like something else, Stiles has never seen anything like it, except in movies. Because, yes, it's a golden Trans Am, with that decal of an eagle or phoenix or whatever plastered on the front hood.

The two boys from his school scatter as the driver guns the engine. When the driver gets out, his head is turned towards Stiles. He's dressed in a funky way that makes him stand out from everyone else at the Good Times stand, with black boots made for walking city streets, the flash of his belt buckle, and a pair of sunglasses that would look good in L.A, but that in Beacon Hills make him look a little bit like he got off at the wrong stop.

As the man comes over to him, Stiles maintains his ground. This is his spot of shade, and he's going to enjoy it while he can.

"Hey, there," says the man. "I hear there's a sale today. Is the food any good?"

"It's okay," says Stiles, completely belying the lip-smacking enjoyment he'd gotten out of it only five minutes ago. He swallows as his shoulders tense under the stranger's scrutiny. "The custard's really good."

He looks the stranger up and down, and the stranger smiles at Stiles, like he knows him and is glad to see him after a long absence. The teeth in that smile reminds Stiles of the way that Derek smiles, sometimes, or of the way Scott is starting to smile. In a way that seems to say, yes, I've got them. Do you want to see them? They're very sharp.

When the stranger catches him looking, he pulls his sunglasses a short way down his nose, and gives Stiles an even bigger grin. The stranger's eyes are brown, but they flash blue, and then go brown again.

"Shall we go for a ride?" the stranger asks.

Stiles jerks back so fast his head smacks against the building. "No," he says, knowing that if the stranger presses the issue, Stiles' calm pretense is about to crumple him down into a little ball at the stranger's feet. Begging not to be taken.

"Oh, I think so," says the stranger. He reaches out, and grabs Stiles' forearm. His left one, like he knows there's a fracture still healing beneath the skin. Like he knows he can grab it and twist it and Stiles will collapse under the pressure, and follow.

Stumbling, Stiles tries to hold back, to keep from following, but the stranger gives a hard yank, and white and black spots fizz in and out of Stiles' vision. He feels his shins barking up against the bumper of the Trans Am, the heat of the chrome, the scrape of the edge of the license plate. Stiles yanks backwards, his arm screaming at him, lands with a palm against the hood of the Trans Am, and tries to think how fast he can dodge to the side of the car, roll under it, break some glass, anything.

But the stranger grabs him by the back of the neck and pulls him up close, holding him fast. Breathing into his face, and then inhaling, smiling, as if of the sweetest perfume.

"Quit making a fuss, boy, you know it's inevitable."

It is, of course, it is. Derek had told him it would be a done deal, if any wolf got wind of his scent. He made it sound like any wolf within miles, an indeterminate radius, could track Stiles down to his very bedroom, if necessary. The week he'd mostly stayed in the house had been a respite for Stiles, but it had given this wolf the time to get there, and to track Stiles, so he could corner him, on the quiet side of a Good Times stand.

Stiles feels something slam into him from the side, and there's a quick rush of air before his whole body meets the cinderblock wall of the hamburger stand. His left wrist is crumpled under him, cracked with searing angles, swelling up. As he scrambles back, he sees Derek, of course, Derek, laying into the stranger as though he had Stiles' permission to defend his honor. Stiles can see the flash of teeth, the low growl, but there are moms and kids, so the scatter of wolf that Stiles sees will be of such a low resonance that no one else will even notice.

Derek punches and swings his fists, and the stranger pushes and stomps; flecks of blood go flying past Stiles to land on the sidewalk. And just as Derek lands a good, solid uppercut, there's the sound of a siren, the screech of tires, and the warbling circle of red lights. The stranger hops in his Trans Am and goes racing off, mindless of pedestrians still trying to enjoy their fast food outing.

For a minute, everything is still. Stiles is on his ass, cradling his arm, and Derek stands a few feet away, with his back to Stiles, his legs spread, his hands, bloodied and raw, in fists at his sides.

The sheriff gets out of his car, and yes, it is Stiles' Dad. It's as if, at times like these, there is no other sheriff in town, even though there's a passel of deputies who might be better suited to driving around town, looking for trouble.

His Dad walks over to him, and he looks like he's weary already, from the thought, the repeated and onerous thought, that Stiles has found himself some trouble to get into, and that Derek Hale is connected with it. As he nears Stiles, he speaks into his radio and eyes Derek.

"You stay right there," he says to Derek. There's some more communication into the radio, too low for Stiles to hear, but he imagines it's about the Trans Am racing off at speeds too high for a suburban development. And that he might be calling for reinforcements, on account of Derek Hale is standing there, with the stance of a man who wouldn't mind killing something. If it came close enough.

"You need an ambulance?" Stiles looks up, realizing his Dad is talking to him. "Get up."

Stiles struggles to do this, but with one hand, it's harder to manage than he'd like to admit. Against the sheriff's injunction to stay right there, Derek is at his side, carefully hauling Stiles to his feet, cupping his hands beneath Stiles' arms. Because he knows better than to grab Stiles' arm, and this is because he was there when it got injured.

"Hey, you, what did I say--" Stiles' Dad comes up, ready to arrest Derek., right then and there, it looks like, reinforcements or no.

"Dad," says Stiles. His head is spinning because his worlds are colliding just a little too quickly for comfort. Too quickly for anything but the hot flush on his cheeks and the pounding his heart makes against his breastbone. A pounding that he knows Derek can hear. "It wasn't Derek, it was some random dude--"

"Why do you always say that?" asks the sheriff. He's unhooking the handcuffs from the back of his belt. "And why do you always defend him?"

From behind Stiles there is a rustle of paper napkin and the smell of talcum powder.

"Excuse me, Sheriff."

Stiles watches Derek's eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. Then Stiles turns and sees why.

It's the grandma from the shaded table. She's got gold-rimmed spectacles and that flyaway, grey hair, and a round, soft bosom that lets you know, in about two seconds flat, that she makes the best pies you have ever tasted.

She walks right up to Derek, and pats him on the shoulder, heedless of the rip in his t-shirt and the blood flecked across his chest. Pats him, nice and gently, as though he were her own well-beloved, flesh and blood. As though, even if she knows Derek could rip out a human throat with his teeth, he won't make a move against her. And Stiles knows she'd be right. Derek's looking down at her, with a strange, foreign expression, but Stiles knows what it means. This elderly woman could give Derek a smack upside the head and tell him to be on his way, and he wouldn't raise a hand to stop her.

"Yes?" Stiles' Dad has little patience, it seems, for pie-making, wolf-smacking grandmas.

"It wasn't this young man causing all the trouble." Her fingers beat a small tattoo on Derek's arm. "Nor that one either." She motions to Stiles with a graceful flip of her small hand. "It was that hoodlum in the Burt Reynolds car, coming in here with his city boots, messing with people. This one." She smoothes Derek's arm now, in case she caused him any pain. "Came in to save his friend is all, because the man in the Burt Reynolds car was going to take him away." She nods for emphasis. "I was sitting right there and saw the whole thing."

There's a crowd gathered around them now, and everyone in it is nodding. There are exclamations of yes, that's what we saw too, and I heard the noise and came running, and that was a cool car, but that guy was a jerk. Derek Hale is the one who saved the day.

The sheriff's mouth hangs open for a second, and then he snaps it shut. He puts the handcuffs back on his belt, and gets out his notepad and a pen.

"I'm going to need statements from everyone," he says. This causes the crowd to scatter, except for the grandma, who is joined by her elderly mate, a man with a straw fedora and red suspenders, looking like he knows his way around an old-fashioned soda fountain.

While the sheriff escorts the couple back in the shade of the nearest table to take their statements, the paramedics come in their red and white truck, eager to have something to do on such a calm, summer's day. They seat Stiles on the bumper of the paramedics wagon and wrap up Stiles' arm, much like Derek had, except this time with a real bandage instead of a ripped-up pillow case. They use scissors instead of teeth, which causes a pang in Stiles' heart that he can't identify. But if he can keep from getting wet and/or bloody, for three weeks, he is informed that he'll be fine. Then they have him sign some statements and peel off, cocking their heads for the next traumatic accident.

Which leaves Stiles standing there, again cradling his wrist, although it feels a lot better, a lot more firm, than it has in days. Sweat is drying on his skin. He's scraped up a bit, his head feels smashed in, but a couple of Advil and he'll be fine.

And then there's Derek. Waiting. With that scowl firmly in place, he looks at Stiles, and stands close enough that Stiles can smell the sweat from the fight on him. See the slight heave of his chest under the stained t-shirt, and see the tips of Derek's teeth pressing against his lips. Derek never wolfs out not on purpose, but the fight has obviously stressed him; the way Stiles smells can't be helping, and it occurs to him, not for the first time, that the way he smells must be affecting Derek, too. And yet Derek, with a grace that seems the realm of a certain kind of alpha, has held himself back.

He's holding himself back now, but that's mostly because he's pissed off. Pissed off that Stiles can't scrub his skin off any harder, can't stay out of the woods when there's trouble to be found. Can't be strong enough to fight off a feral wolf.

Stiles nods at Derek, he agrees with all of these things. There's nothing he can do, and he's sorry for it. But he can't say that to Derek now, not with his Dad in earshot. Not with Derek looking at him, like that, as though Stiles were the bane of Derek's existence, and the next time, Derek might just be tempted to let Stiles to be taken away, so as to avoid any further trouble. Because any time Stiles is around, Derek is in trouble. With the sheriff.

The sheriff comes up, tucking his notebook in his back pocket and his pen in another pocket. Stiles concentrates on this, on the thought of all those pockets, but it's no use. The conversation continues anyway.

"Stiles. You going to be okay? I got statements, but what happened?"

"Just like they all said." Stiles shrugs, shaking his head, trying hard to look his Dad in the eye so his Dad will believe him, but he's failing miserably. "I was eating custard, and he came up, wanted me to go with him."

He feels Derek's whole body stiffen; Derek's standing less than a foot from him, and Stiles thinks he can even smell the anger rolling off him.

"Why would this guy want you to go with him?"

That's the million dollar question that Stiles does not dare answer. So he slides over it and keeps going.

"I fought him off, but he grabbed my arm, something went crack, and--" He stops; beneath the current of air, he can hear Derek growling, but at least he was able to pin the injury on this wolf, without having to refer to the other one. "Then Derek showed up."

He allows himself to look at Derek now. At those dark brows and green eyes that are sparking flashes of anger that almost ignite in the air. At the blood splashes, and the raw fists. Derek's thighs, tensed, almost on his toes, as if ready to take off on a moment's notice. As if sensing Stiles and his Dad looking, Derek takes a breath and unclenches his fists. Making them back into those hands that Stiles remembers, the hands on his chest, the hands wrapping a blanket around him, the hands on the back of his neck.

"To beat some passerby to a pulp." The remark comes out harsh, but Stiles knows it's meant to be. He's heard his Dad use this tone before, when looking for answers, when questioning suspects, when he thinks his son is lying to him.

"He wasn't a passerby," says Derek. His chin juts out like he's not going to back down on this. "He drove up and grabbed Stiles. On purpose."

"And what the hell were you doing, since you were so at the ready to perform a rescue."

Stiles doesn't think for a minute that his Dad isn't grateful for the help. It's just that, as Stiles knows, there's been too many times when Stiles has been involved in something not quite kosher, that Derek Hale has been within a certain radius, and involved to one degree or another. His Dad is sensing a pattern that is truly there, and his assessment of that pattern is getting more accurate each time he encounters it.

There's a glare in Derek's eyes that his Dad can't help but see.

"He's getting some custard. Right, Derek?" Stiles steps up his game. "Scott couldn't, 'cause he's with Allison all the time, so I called Derek to join me. Right, Derek?"

Stiles has never seen Derek eat anything sweet, except for Red Vines, in his whole life, let alone fast food custard. Derek is silent. He's not a mind reader, and Stiles is not a very good mime and can't telegraph the kind of response that might be useful right about now, so Stiles shrugs. "Derek loves custard," he says, feeling foolish.

But then Derek gives a little movement of his head, assent and agreement all at once. He looks at Stiles, still glowering, his mouth a thin line.

"And this is the story that you're sticking to. The both of you." Stiles' Dad puts his hands on his hips and Stiles almost lets himself breath a sign of relief; the hands-on-hips gesture is the sign that his Dad is backing off, even if only for now. That he believes them, in spite of the trace of disbelief behind his eyes, because if Derek Hale is involved, there must be more to the story.

"Well, I guess I owe you an apology, then." He holds out his hand for Derek to shake. "Guess I misread you, so thanks for saving my son."

Derek looks at his Dad's hand, his eyebrows flickering up. For one, reality-rattling second, Stiles gets the impression that Derek is about to confess all, that he didn't save the sheriff's son. That because Derek wasn't fast enough to stop the feral wolf, Stiles had gotten raped in the woods and was now at risk of it happening again, if he doesn't pick another wolf and mate with him. Stiles can see this sparking in Derek's eyes, a confession of guilt that Stiles is only now seeing; Derek thinks that this is all his fault, that someone got hurt, and he wasn't fast enough to stop it. Which is why--

Stiles' mouth falls open. He feels the rush of air leave him, and his head starts swimming just as the sidewalk jumps up at him. Hands grab him just in time, a hand on his chest to catch him, a hand between his shoulder blades to balance him. He thinks for a second that these hands belong to his Dad, but as he's pulled upright and pressed gently against the cool brick of the wall, he sees that they are Derek's hands. Because they're always Derek's hands, aren't they.

Just over Derek's shoulder, he can see his Dad, mouth open in surprise that's a comic echo of Stiles' mouth, and his eyes narrowing as he watches. Not because he wasn't quick enough to catch Stiles in his un-manly faint, but because Derek was. His eyes are on Derek as Derek mutters hey, hey under his breath, a kind of verbal snapping fingers to get Stiles to focus.

A squawk comes over the sheriff's radio, and Stiles' Dad hesitates. But duty calls, and while the expression on his face struggles with that duty, it wins out, as it usually does.

"Can you--"

Derek looks over at the sheriff, his hands still on Stiles. At the sheriff's expression, the hands slide away, leaving a trace of their warmth as Stiles wipes his forehead with the back of his undamaged hand.

"I do owe you my thanks," says the sheriff. "Can you get him home?" The sheriff looks around for Derek's black Camaro, which must be around someplace, because, of course, Derek couldn't have run all this way. "We'll talk later," he says over his shoulder to Stiles as he gets in the squad car.

And talk they will. Stiles knows this, even as he knows it's up to him to make sure that the conversation feels conclusive without actually coming to any real conclusions.

The second he's alone with Derek, Derek grips both of Stiles' shoulders and presses him against the wall. Stiles' head doesn't clonk, so he's grateful for that, but he can't move. Derek's face is close to his, so close he can see the press of Derek's red mouth, fan of Derek's eyelash, the fine thin skin next to his eyes. And the sound that comes up from Derek's chest, it's almost a groan, but it's thin and it stretches out and Stiles realizes, to his horror, that it sounds like a whimper. The kind a hound will make when it senses something is wrong, very wrong, and that it's close to attacking, if it only knew which way to lunge.

Stiles has to stop him, because the sound is raising the hairs on the back of his neck. "Don't, Derek, please, it's not your fault. It's mine. I went in those woods. I'm the one who wasn't paying attention." He tries to get his hands up, to push Derek back, so this feeling inside of him won't be so intense, but he bangs his bandaged arm on Derek's thigh, and smacks his other hand against Derek's stomach. And as he drops his hands and sweats and moves against the pain, Derek lets him go. Takes a step back.

"Derek." Stiles' voice breaks on this. "It's not your fault. Please tell me you understand me. Because if you made your offer, that offer in the cabin, because you think this is all on you? Then you're wrong, and it's not right, you can't just throw it at me and expect me to take you up on it, knowing that your whole life will be lived like a monk and that you'll be all alone? Forever? I'm not doing it, and I don't care. I'm not doing that to you."

Derek advances, now, growling low. His lips curl up from his teeth, wolf teeth, white and sharp, and dangerous to pale, human flesh. "Then some wolf will take you and you'll never see Beacon Hills again. Or your Dad."

Stiles' throat fills up with a fist, and his eyes get hot. He knows this, he understands it very well. It's the kind of duality that has battered his life ever since he and Scott went roaming in the woods looking for two halves of a body. And it's been that way, been that way, in a one-hand-and-the-other way. Make your choice. Either this person dies, or that person becomes cursed forever. Human flesh held for ransom, choices beyond his control in some werewolf-laced, full-moon struggle for power and control. This time is no different, except for the fact that it's become so personal, that he can't even find the words for it.

He flicks his eyes around, can see people lingering at the edges of their conversation. Derek senses it too, because he straightens up and lets go of Stiles.

"I still don't need you to walk me home," Stiles says. He has to diffuse the thoughts in his head and he has to get out of here

"Doesn't matter," says Derek. "I told your Dad I would, so I'm going to."

It's almost pointless to argue it at this point, though how Stiles will manage to shake Derek off before his Dad gets home is another issue. Because on days like today, Dad gets off early, to come home and make sure everything's alright. And if Derek's not gone before then? The conversation that ensues will get so uncomfortable, so fast, Stiles is apt to want to poke himself in the eye with a sharp stick rather than have to go through that.

They walk. Along the sidewalk, side by side, with Derek near the street, swiveling his head back and forth, watching for predators. No, not predators. Rapists.

"I thought you said that wolves aren't normally like that." Stiles asks this, finally, breaking the silence, the power of Derek's frown.

Derek shakes his head. It's a small motion, but Stiles can translate. It speaks of all the ways that Derek has failed this time around, and the fact that he can't fix this and it's killing him. That's the head shake. Then there are the hands which are fists at Derek's sides. And those teeth, still making little dips in Derek's lower lip, a prelude to something fierce and horrible.

"So you were wrong." This statement comes out, all on its own, smashing into the air, and Stiles winces as Derek looks at him. "Not that anyone could have known." He tries to make amends by saying this, but it doesn't do any good, because Derek feels he should have known, that much is obvious. That he should have memorized all the werewolf lore that there was to be memorized, and be able to bring up the appropriate information as easily as Stiles can find naked skin on the internet.

They walk the rest of the way in silence, under the shade of the trees, the pines sending out that dark, spicy scent that they do when the wind picks up and the heat is everywhere. At Stiles' front door, he pauses. He's got the key in his pocket, with his change from Good Times rattling around next to it.

In the stillness, as Stiles pauses, Derek reaches up. He might have been intending to smack Stiles, or shove him against the door, or even something as harmless as remove a stray eyelash from Stiles' cheek. But Stiles' body doesn't wait to find out. His whole frame jerks him back, his head ducks, and he throws his arms up in defense and all with a small cry that tears out of his throat.

Derek freezes, hand still in the air; Stiles shudders against the door, and wants to close his eyes, so he won't have to see the look on Derek's face. See those shoulders tensing up, and that chin coming down as Derek prepares to attack whatever it is that's coming at him.

But when Stiles does look, he sees that expression from before. When Stiles had been trying to clean himself up after the wolf attacked him, and had been unable. But Derek had, with straightforward gestures, and a practical hand to Stiles chest to keep him upright. There had been no soothing words or stupid comments that everything was going to be alright. But there had been this. Derek's face like this, gentled by concern, looking so human, so worried.

"Hand-shy, now, I see." This comes out small, but marked, as if it's another tally in the column where Derek's keeping track of all his mistakes.

Stiles shakes his head. He wants to grab Derek's hand and put it on him, somewhere, not just to prove the point, but to have it there. Where he can feel it. "No," he says. "It's today, all those people, staring, the wolf--everything."

But Derek drops his hand, and stands there for a moment, absolutely still. "Keep your window closed," is all he says. Then he turns and walks away. Leaving Stiles standing on his own front step, licking the sheen of sweat from his lips and fighting the urge to throw up then and there.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles makes it into the shower without throwing up, and turns the water on as cold as he can stand it. He keeps his bandaged arm out of the stream of water and washes off the sweat from the day, the stickiness of the custard, the grit from the sidewalk. But he can't manage to lather up enough soap to wash the look on Derek's face from his brain. It's going to stay there till it's ready to leave, that much is obvious.

Later, when his Dad gets home, the conversation goes much as he thought it might. With questions like so you and Derek are hanging out now? And statements that come close to approaching the idea that the fact that Stiles was grabbed was somehow his fault. After which his Dad apologizes profusely, especially after Stiles comments wryly, that nobody would want Stiles that badly. Which, somehow diffuses the conversation right then and there. Stiles hopes that the next time, he can remember how he managed it.

~ ~ * ~ ~

When it gets dark, and a wind picks up, portending the coming of a storm, Stiles decides he can stop pretending to not be as tired as he is and go up to bed.

"Were you able to break in your new sneakers, at least?" His Dad asks from the dining room as Stiles passes through the kitchen.

"Almost," Stiles says in his chirpiest voice. "I'm going to walk in them another few miles, then they should be ready."

"Well that's good." Stiles' Dad does not add the obvious fact, that running shoes are somewhat more expensive than those that might be easily abandoned in favor of other pursuits.

This all works; it's good and quiet and Stiles' Dad is preoccupied, and now Stiles can take another shower and throw himself under the covers till morning. When his problems will still be exactly as they are now, but much more illuminated by daylight.

The problem is, he has no one else to ask what to do, no one to talk to about this. He's certainly not going to ask Scott, even if he might have some tidbit of werewolf lore pointing in the direction of a much simpler solution than the one Derek has suggested. The internet, as well, his faithful friend, has come up blank, even after two hours of research. Stiles was careful to erase his history and all those cookies, just in case his Dad ever decices to become a computer expert and wants to see what kept his son in front of the computer for all those hours.

But now, he wants to go to his room, where he can just be and not have to pretend that everything's okay. Just as he's at the bottom riser, his hand on the banister, he sees something out the living room window. It's a flicker, just that, and is probably caused by errant lightning or a plastic bag in the bushes. Or even Mrs. Winterston's cat, Moses, who is ugly as sin but who has big, green, reflective eyes. Then he hears a bang against an outside wall, loud enough for his Dad to get up and look at Stiles. As if Stiles were the cause of the sound.

"What the hell was that?" His Dad's hands are on his hips, so he's not too worried.

"I'm betting a nickel that it's Mrs. Winterston's cat." Stiles makes a face, shaking his head.

"That wasn't a cat," his Dad says. He starts walking to the front door, with his hand out, intending to open it and take a look around. Stiles waits at the bottom of the stairs, gripping his t-shirt with both fists, because that's what sheriffs do, that's what Dads do, and Stiles knows that nothing less than a whole entire nuclear bomb will stop him.

He watches his Dad go outside on the front step, into the blustery summer storm, and look around with cautious confidence that he will find nothing. And indeed, he does not. He's able to close the door against the wind and lock it and look up at Stiles and smile.

"Nothing but the wind. Or the cat; I'll get your nickel in the morning, okay?"

"Sure, Dad." Stiles jerks his chin up at his Dad as though everything's alright. As though his heart wasn't pounding like a train, even as he's standing perfectly still. "Night," he says, his jaw stiff.

He races up the stairs as fast as he possibly can without it looking like he's running for his life. Like something was after him. But Stiles runs up the stairs all the time, even when he's not freaking out, so his Dad won't worry. He takes the time to close his door quietly, and then lets himself slip to the floor, propping himself up against it.

He pulls up his knees and buries his head in the darkness of his body, like he had when he'd cried in front of Derek. But he's not crying now, his whole body is frozen through, he's too cold for tears. Too cold to think, too cold to pull a blanket around himself, to sink into even the memory of the small comfort that Derek had given him at the cabin.

Because he can see the truth of it now, which is much darker than the picture Derek had painted. Yes, Stiles is sending his scent, his werewolf allure, out into the ether, and one werewolf might come, or two, or a dozen. He will be in danger, and his Dad, the protector of the family, will also be in danger. And that's bad, he knows this.

But the worst part of it is? The very worst part? Is that he won't be able to predict when it will happen. It's not a full moon thing, or a when-the-sun-sets thing. He's just had it proven to him today, via a Burt Reynolds wanna be, that no block, no street corner, no bench, no where is out of bounds. There's no training for this, no initiation. A wolf will just come along one day, and it will be all over for Stiles Stilinski. And his Dad won't ever know what happened to him.

Beyond this conclusion, he cannot think.

Below, he hears his Dad's phone, and the low rumble of male conversation. When he hears the booted tread on the stairs, he gets up, hurriedly, feeling the uncoordinated flail of his arms as he searches for something to do, something that would look normal. Completely normal.

His Dad knocks at the door. Stiles opens it, smile firmly in place. But he feels a little shaky because he thinks he knows what his Dad is going to say.

His Dad stands there, looking somewhat rueful, scrubs the back of his head with one hand. "Hey, Stiles."

"Hey. You gotta go to work?"

"Yeah." Stiles' Dad shakes his head. "We've had some traffic lights out and some call-in-sicks, so they need me to cover. I told them I'd take a double, but it means I won't be home till tomorrow."

Stiles nods, fighting off a choking feeling that comes with the realization that the universe is closing in on him.

"You going to be okay on your own?"

"Yeah," says Stiles. That Stiles has had trouble sleeping since way before that is something his Dad is better off not knowing. He waves at his Dad as if shaking off these concerns because they simply are of no consequence. "You go on; I'll be fine."

It comes out a little stilted, but just as lacrosse and school and the internet, but especially the internet, have always been a Stiles trap, work has always been a Dad trap, something that can suck him in in an instant, leaving the rest of the world behind in a poof of cartoon dust.

On the heels of this, Stiles says, "I thought I'd go over to Derek Hale's tomorrow."

His Dad pauses. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I never did tell him thank you for holding off that guy, and so--"

"Derek Hale." As if there were any other Derek in town.

"Yeah, and he's working on his house and so I thought I'd help him with that. You know, like a kind of--"

"Guy thanks."

"Yeah. Guy thanks." Stiles holds on to the door and almost holds his breath, waiting for the diatribe of Derek Hale is a scoundrel and no way are you going over there and words of that ilk. But they don't come.

Instead, his Dad looks at him, focused on the idea of Derek Hale, which is still a part of his work horizon, so it is still a Dad trap.

"If he wants to be part of the community, which it seems like he does," his Dad says, nodding, "then the community should welcome him. As best they can, considering." His Dad makes an odd frown, the nervousness of the gesture telling Stiles that his Dad knows he's doing the right thing, but that he's not yet figured out the personal cost. "Guess you'd better invite him to dinner tomorrow; he never did let me shake his hand."

"But it's meatloaf night." Stiles makes this mundane statement, as if this were the real issue, because everything else, everything that's happened to him, must never be brought into the light.

"Exactly. There's no man nor beast who can resist my meatloaf."

This statement, made in all innocence, causes Stiles' mouth to twitch. He can't imagine Derek Hale sitting down at their dining table to partake in a meal and wonders, suddenly, whether he'll be shocked at the sight of Derek using a knife and a fork.

"He might not say yes," Stiles says, thinking in part of his mind that he might just forget to ask Derek and pretend that he refused.

"Ask him anyway, okay?

"Okay, Dad."

His Dad heads down the hall to get a clean uniform shirt. Leaving Stiles standing there next to his open bedroom door. His mind is a blank, comply unconscious of what his body knows, down to the bone, what it must do.

~ ~ * ~ ~

It takes Stiles an hour after his Dad leaves to grab the keys to the jeep from the hook beside the kitchen door. He stared at them for a good ten minutes, walked around the house for a half an hour, and then stared at them, while the clock on the stove marked the minutes. In the end, it's the gust of wind that smacks a tree branch against the outside wall; it's the same sound from before, but Stiles knows it's a branch, because his Dad had called to tell him so. Now he knows. But he can't erase the hammering of his heart about it.

In the end, his body does these things for him, picking up the keys, opening the door, locking it behind him. Getting into the jeep, starting the engine. His feet work the pedals and his hands hold the wheel, and some not-out-of-kilter area in his head does the steering. The wind smacks and blows the branches around as he drives, and there's lighting flickering along the treeline, lighting up the sky in bright, soundless splashes of light. There's a smell of rain, coming through the hot, summer air, like it's been building up all day, but can't quite let go enough to really rain.

When his headlights find the narrow paved road that leads through the preserve and up to the Hale property, Stiles keeps driving, though his stomach has plunged way low, so low he feels like it's dropping to his knees. Everything else is on automatic, like a robot drives the jeep, and Stiles' consciousness is merely along for the ride.

By the time he pulls into the little area of bare dirt in front of the Hale house, he can barely feel himself breathing. The Hale house is dark, though the lightning flickers from the far side of it, lighting up the empty windows, and making the house seem like it's looming at him. It's spooky in a bad way, and if he didn't already know how creepy the Hale house is, this minute, this one right here, would be telling him loud and clear. Who the hell would want to be out on a night like this anyway, let alone coming here?

Stiles sees the shifting of the darkness on the front porch, and hears a thin scrape of wood on wood. He knows, from the faint shaft of light now spreading out from the front of the house, that the front door is open and that Derek is standing there. So he can either wait for Derek to come out and ask him what the hell he's doing there, or he can get out of his jeep and march himself up those stairs. Maybe Derek will do that shift of his shoulders, where he half-turns away, which means that you are invited in, or he will push Stiles off the porch to tumble down the stairs, which means that you are not invited in. Either is equally possible with Derek.

If he waits much longer, more than a second or two, Derek Hale is going to march down those steps and yank Stiles out of the jeep, whether he's ready or not. And then demand, harshly, with several slams into the jeep, what Stiles is doing there at this hour, and why is he being such a bother. Stiles gets out of the jeep, and walks on legs that feel like rubbery, disconnected masses. They get him up the steps, where he stumbles on the top riser, to have Derek haul him up by the collar of his t-shirt. It rips a little. He can hear the seam popping as Derek lets him go.

It's too dark to see Derek's expression, but by the push of his shoulders, as he turns to lead the way into the house, Stiles knows he's not happy. Everything Stiles does seems to make Derek angry these days, though, so his reaction to Stiles visiting him at this hour is, really, the least of Stiles' worries.

Derek leads the way to the back of the house; Stiles follows. There's the thick smell of dust and smoke, pushed around by the summer wind. Wood creaks beneath their feet. Smudged lighting bleeds easily through the plastic-covered windows, others, with boards nailed over them, leak light through like pointed fingers. When they step into the circle of light created by the Coleman lantern, Stiles lets go a breath, his lungs feel like they're collapsing. He's made it this far, and now he can feel everything. The bottom of his feet, the sweat at the back of his neck, the leaching cold in the pit of his stomach.

He sees that Derek was doing dishes, or what passes for that, in this half-camping world. There are two white sink tubs on the table, and it's obvious, by the dark stain of water around the edges, that Derek was washing up after supper. This mundane task stops Stiles for a second; he stares. He never really thinks about what it would be like to live in the Hale house, the way it is. It's always just been the place where he and Scott, either alone or together, have managed to find a whole lot of trouble.

"What will you do come winter?" Stiles asks, without really thinking it through.

Derek shrugs, and looks at the tubs. Then he moves and dumps the water from the tubs into the metal bucket, which he places on the edge of the floor, near the standing pipe. "That's too far ahead to know," he says. As if the future, as well as his existence in Beacon Hills, is, of course, an uncertain thing.

The tubs get stacked on top of one another and placed in the shelf along the one wall, and Stiles moves his wobbly legs to the nearest chair and sits down. Derek turns to face him, arms crossed over his chest, scowl firmly in place. The Coleman lantern makes his eyes glitter, though Stiles knows that could just be the wolf coming to the fore.

"So?" Derek asks. He stares at Stiles, and Stiles knows that Derek's not going to give him anything. Not an inch, or a clue, or even a get-out-of-jail-free pass. Derek doesn't play games; he never has, which leaves Stiles with the job of getting it out there. Not that he has any idea what Derek will say to it. Or maybe he does, which is why his brain can't seem to get to work.

So his mouth does.

"I always thought," he says, waving his hands around in front of him, even though they are useless and paint no picture that anyone can see. Not even him. "I always thought that when I had--that when I fell in love with someone, that there would be this honeymoon, in the Poconos. You know, the ones with the ads in Playboy with pictures of heart shaped beds and naked people sharing hot tubs?"

Derek's brows go low, as if, perish the thought, he's never heard of, let alone looked at, a Playboy.

Stiles feels the back of his neck grow hot, so his mouth goes for more levity. "I always thought there would be, oh, I don't know, feathers drifting down, and diamond sparkles in the air. Because that's what love is like in the movies, so that's what I was hoping for me."

He pauses a second, because, if he were talking to Scott, Scott would, at this point, if he was paying attention, add some clever quip and ask Stiles whether Stiles might like a tube of glitter to spread around, and whether a busted up feather pillow might help. But Derek doesn't make quips; his sense of humor is bound by darkness and sharp teeth, so the irony of there being no hearts or flowers or glitter, is seemingly lost on him.

"What do you want, Stiles?"

Stiles wants this never to have happened. Stiles wants never to have walked with Scott in those woods over nine months ago, and never to have gone running that day. Stiles wants to not care about people so badly that every bump in the wind has him pushing everyone in front of him to safety. So he tries to explain.

"There was a branch, only I didn't know it was one. It smashed against the house tonight, and I thought it was another wolf, lurking around outside. Doesn't matter if it was the same wolf from before or a different wolf. Because what if my Dad tried to get between that wolf and me? What if Scott did? What if they got hurt or--worse, trying to protect me? That'd be on me. And."

Stiles stops and looks up at Derek, who has backed up and is now standing half out of the circle of light. He's next to one of the bare beams, and it's almost as if he's hiding behind it, and Stiles can't figure out why.

"What if," he begins again. "What if that wolf hurt you? There'd be no you and that would be my fault." He looks down at his hands, which he's spread across the surface of the wooden table. He can feel the dampness, and the rough, scarred surface, and wonders where this table was before it was here, where Derek got it from. And whether it had been in the fire, and survived. Which is why Derek is using it. Out of sentiment.


Stiles looks up. He swallows against the stiffness in his throat. "I can't let people get hurt because of me."


For a moment, there is stillness. Some lightning flashes through the netting along the back of the house, flickering over the ruined garden like some out-of-kilter, old-fashioned strobe movie. But it's Derek's stillness that makes Stiles blink. Derek is not moving from where he stands, and seems even more firmly entrenched in the half-darkness of the beam's shadow.

"So can we do that, like you suggested?" Stiles keeps his head up, but his eyes feel blurry. "I mean, I know it will hurt, and I don't like--I don't know about you, but I can't stand to watch someone else be in pain. I'd rather it be me, that I can take. More people would be helped, that way, so me, you know, it doesn't matter so much about me. I can take it."


Derek still hasn't moved, but there's something about the outline of his body, the half of his body that Stiles can see in the circle of the Coleman lantern. Derek's shoulders seem to relax, and he dips his head down; Stiles can see his eyes moving across the floor as if he's tracking something there. Then he looks up, half through his eyelashes.

"I would never hurt you."

This isn't true. Derek has hurt him, so many times, sometimes slamming him into walls, with brute force and snarling teeth, other times with the barest twitch of his hand, mashing Stiles' face into a steering wheel. The outright lie causes Stiles to take in a breath, because what exactly is Derek's definition of pain anyway?

"Doing that," Derek says.

Then he hesitates over what he's going to say next, Stiles can see him, the flicker along the side of his face that's in the light as he actually considers what he might say next. Stiles feels the shock run through him; Derek says what Derek wants and he never gives a damn how uncomfortable it makes anyone else.

"I'd be--gentle."

Stiles almost laughs out loud, a nervous bark, because Derek and gentle are two words that make up the most perfect oxymoron he's ever heard of. But, just like he knows better than to put his fingers in a wolf's mouth, he knows better than to mock Derek on his home turf. At the same time, he feels a shivery lance up his spine at the thought of it.

"I'm not doing this because I want to," Stiles says, his mouth taking over, a sort of self defense mechanism that kicks in at the worst moments. "I'm doing this because I have to."

"I know."

This short response makes Stiles collapse in his seat and he bends forward to bury his head in his arms. The table smells like soap, and like smoke, and he can see the spaces between the wood, where the Coleman lantern makes spikes of the table legs, the chair legs. Derek's legs.

"Okay, good." Stiles lifts his head, but not all the way. The surface of the table seems to demand serious study, and Stiles lets his eyes do that. "So, okay, so we should--"

"Stiles." Derek stops him by saying his name; it's almost a mean snap. "You have to come to me. That way, there's no question."

As if this whole mess will be, one day, reported up line somewhere, and Derek is concerned how this will reflect on him. He wants to be able to say, yes, the human was willing. Only this human, right here and now, is so not willing that Stiles can't get himself to move. He has to get up and walk over to Derek, and tell him he means it or, almost worse, show him he means it, and he has to do it before Derek looses the last of his patience and throws Stiles back out in the storm. And he can't even move. People are going to die because he simply cannot move.

Into the silence and Stiles' motionless state, Derek says, "Either you get up and come to me." Derek pauses, then says, "Or you leave."

There is a feeling in Stiles' bones that feels like dead weight, as if the force of gravity could pull him right through the floor. The buzz in his head, the tightness of his chest, tells him he's that close to having a panic attack. The darkness of the house, the echo of the thunder in the distance, and Derek's form standing there, just standing, makes it all worse.

Stiles gets up, somehow. His feet shuffle along the floorboards as he gets closer. Derek, half in light, half in shadow, is watching him with careful eyes, marking the distance between them. When Stiles is within arm's reach, closer than that, really, Derek takes a breath and exhales through his nostrils, as though he's just scented the air and knows his prey. His eyelids fall half closed, in a way that tells Stiles that Derek is letting his body reckon the distance between them, and in the half-darkness, the sight of Stiles in front of him is the least of what is there.

"Get on the bed." Derek's mouth barely moves as he says this, and he's not really looking at Stiles.

Stiles has to stifle the whimper anyway, because this is the hardest part. But this is all he has to do, right? After that, Derek will take over, and tear into him, and Stiles just has to get through it, and in the morning, all will be well. Everyone will be safe, including Stiles.

He goes over to the bed along the far wall. It's almost in an alcove by itself, the light of the Coleman lantern barely touches it. It occurs to Stiles, for the first time, that this half camping of Derek's is more than that. He's made his lair, his wolf's den, and Stiles is inside of it. There is no way out but through, now. He's made his deal, and must complete it. That's the only way any of this is going to work.


Stiles can hear the impatience in Derek's voice, even without looking over his shoulder to see Derek's expression.

Stiles puts his hands to his waist and pulls up the ends of his t-shirt, pulls the shirt all the way off and lets it fall to the floor. He's bare neck to waist now, but that's what wolves do right? He's seen it on the Discovery Channel, so he knows. Not that wolves take their clothes off, but most wolves in the pack submit to the alpha. Then bend down, duck their heads, come up from under the alpha wolf's jaw to show that they understand their position. Stiles doesn't walk on all fours, so this is his way. He's partially naked now, to show that he knows his position in the pack, his position in relation to Derek. At least for this, at least for right now.

He sits down on the edge of the mattress, and takes off his socks and shoes. Now he's only got his shorts and underwear on, and it reminds him, his body reminds him, that this is how it was in the cabin. With him wearing only Derek's cut-off sweat pants and nothing else. He'd been vulnerable then, and Derek had never so much as lifted a hand to him. Well, yes, he'd slammed Stiles against the Camaro, but then, at that point, Stiles had put himself and Derek in danger. In the cabin, though? Stiles had been at Derek's mercy, but had never felt safer.

He lifts his head to look up at Derek, but only makes it halfway up, to Derek's thick belt, the waistline of his jeans. He watches as Derek puts his hands to his waist, pulls out his t-shirt, and takes it off, up over his head.

Stiles' mouth makes a little oh shape, some shock going through him, because now Derek has made them more equal. Well, not exactly equal. Stiles knows those shoulders, has seen them bare, has felt their heft when he held Derek up in the swimming pool for hour upon hour. He doesn't need to look to see how powerful they are. How dangerous.

When he sees Derek's hands undoing his belt buckle, the last ounce of bravery in his spine seems to collapse. Derek undoes the top button of his jeans, and Stiles comes apart.

He half falls back on the mattress, hating himself for being so scared, wanting only to crawl into a dark, smoky corner and let someone else's body take over at this point.

"Stiles, I'm not going to hurt you." The voice comes from above the bareness of Derek's chest, to where Stiles cannot look.

"Yes," says Stiles. He gasps for air. "Yes, you are."

Now, he can't stop himself from moving away, from trying to get off the mattress, because he cannot do this, he simply cannot. It will be undignified and it will hurt, and Derek will--Stiles' brain stops him right there. He knows Derek can hurt him, has hurt him, that those hands and those arms, were practically designed to bring the physical world to heel. That world is now Stiles, just Stiles. And Stiles can't bring himself to submit to it.

He starts using his hands to pull him back, tries to use his heels to scoot off the edge of the mattress, the far edge, where there is an open passage to the hallway that leads to the front door. He's not stupid enough to try to get away from Derek by force, but this backwards way is the way he knows. Skittering, on the ground, flailing, looking foolish, but getting away.

Only he can't, he doesn't. Derek is on his knees, dark bent thighs, on the mattress next to Stiles, and grips his shoulders. His hands slip up to Stiles' head, and this freezes Stiles cold. Derek could snap his neck with just a twist of his strong wrists. So Stiles makes himself stop, mouth open, shuddering for air.

"Stiles, look at me."

Stiles shakes his head. Tries to lift his gaze, but gets no further than Derek's collarbone, where the muscles are playing over bone and right beneath the skin. It's almost worse than if he'd actually looked Derek in the face, but it's all that he can manage.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the lower edge of Derek's mouth, the drop of lip, Derek's mouth open as though he were going to speak. Or kiss. This thought is like a dash of cold water, because he didn't imagine that kissing was going to be any part of this. Because he wouldn't like it. He does not want Derek to kiss him.

"Don't," he says. "Please don't."

Derek's hands are splayed, holding Stiles' head there, but he doesn't kiss. Instead, he bends his head into Stiles' neck and takes an indrawn breath. Lets it out slowly, streaming his hot breath on Stiles' skin. Then he takes another, deeper this time, and as Stiles looks down, he can see Derek's eyes falling partially closed, dark lashes fanning out. There's a flush on his cheek, and realizes that Derek is having with Stiles the last sex that he'll ever have. Wolves mate for life, and Stiles is not his mate.

"We don't have to do this," Stiles says, speaking clearly and slowly for the first time that night.

"Yes, we do. There's no other way to keep you safe."

This pronouncement lingers in the air, but it's the force of Derek's hands that distract Stiles now. Derek's hands push him down on the mattress, on his side, facing the wall. The blankness, the shadowed darkness of the space between the mattress and the wall absorbs Stiles for a moment, as he feels Derek, the weight of Derek's body on the mattress behind him. There's a clink and a slither, sounds that are loud in the silence between beats of lightning. It's Derek undoing his belt further, pulling down his zipper, shifting his jeans out of the way. And then his hand is on Stiles' waist, just resting there, palm warm, fingers splayed.

It's confusing because this is, really, nothing like what the wolf had done to him in the woods. He'd thought, he realizes now, that Derek would do it the same way. Push him on his face, rip off his clothes. Shove and push and tear, just like that. But Derek's not doing any of that. There is a shift of weight as Derek moves up, over Stiles, and his thighs are on either side of Stiles' thighs, Derek's palms flat on the mattress on either side of Stiles. Just resting as Derek lowers himself.

Stiles can feel the length of Derek's body on his. Half clothed, half bare, skin shifting heat and salt down. Derek's face, the side of his cheek, maybe, drawing a line up Stiles' shoulder. It's almost like a caress, but it must be more of the marking, as though Derek were leaving his scent behind, smoothing Stiles' skin, marking it as Derek's.

But he doesn't know, figures he'll never know. Werewolf lore is confusing as it is; the internet is no help, and a great deal of the time, it seems like both Derek and Scott, and god help him, Peter Hale and even Chris Argent, are making it up as they go along. So the gesture, the sweep of skin on skin, Derek's body pressing almost gently on top of him, seems to be something Derek feels is useful right now. As a way of touching but not touching, getting Stiles used to the feel of Derek's body. He thinks that he should feel grateful, but all the signals his body is giving him want him to shrink away, to press into the mattress to get away.

Derek's body presses closer, slides up a little, like a whole body kiss, as though their bodies were mouths, and this gentle gesture is Derek kissing him, in a way. A small press, the heat of Derek's skin mixing with his own, their bodies doing what lips do.

Stiles blinks away the heat in his eyes, mouth opening and closing over words his brain simply cannot find.

Still pressed close, he feels Derek's weight come up, and Derek's hand fall on his waist. Derek's fingers slip down, circling around Stiles' belly, to undo the button and zipper on Stiles' shorts. Of course, Stiles could have been smart and worn something with an elastic waist, but he'd not wanted to admit, when he left the house, the full of what he'd intended to do. But Derek doesn't fumble, or falter, the button comes undone and the zipper comes down, and Derek's hand slips down, inside the elastic of Stiles' underwear. And starts to pull down Stiles' clothes.

The gesture is firm, maybe a little rough, but Derek is doing what needs to be done, and it can't be easy undressing someone with one hand. Someone who really, really doesn't want to be undressed for any reason, let alone this one. But Stiles has to keep going so he shifts his own weight, coming up enough so that Derek can pull with one long move and take Stiles' shorts and underwear all the way off.

Now he's bare, exposed in the soft shafts of light from the Coleman lantern that barely reach the bed. He doesn't look down at himself because he knows what he will find. What he will see. The paleness of his skin against the white sheets, and Derek's dark jeans cutting an outline above him in the half-dark. The leftover bruises from the attack in the woods, and the pale, fragile skin that is a blank canvas for the bruises to come.

Derek slides down, there are more clinks as he takes down his jeans, and then Derek presses Stiles forward into the mattress. Just enough, just gently, so that Stiles is sprawled, legs apart, as though seeking a cool spot of sheet, spreading out in the heat of summer, letting the warm air be his blanket. He feels Derek's fingers curling around his left hip, circling back, slipping between Stiles' bottom, feeling the warm softness, touching him in a way that no one ever has. Not like that, like this, the pads of Derek's fingers lingering just a fraction of a second before pulling away.

Stiles shudders, he can't help it, and his forehead presses into the mattress. He has no idea where the pillows are, they are a forgotten detail, maybe Derek has thrown away the pillows since Stiles bled all over everywhere. Another wolf's scent cannot be allowed to linger in Derek's den, that much makes sense. But Stiles could have used that pillow right about now, to bury his head under, to block out all the light, the shadow of Derek's body across his own. And the sound of something moist that startles Stiles.

He looks back, over his shoulder, and can see, in a picture flash before he turns away, that Derek has his fingers in his mouth. He is sucking on them, his eyes down, intent on what he is doing. Sucking his fingers, getting them wet. So he can put them inside of Stiles, so it will be easier to fuck him.

Stiles' whole body shudders and a sound escapes him, a whimper, a small sound from trembling, and he tries to stop it, but it's too late. He can't press himself into the mattress any harder, and Derek's hearing is sharp enough so that the sound cannot possibly go unnoticed. Derek's hand, lifts off from the other side of Stiles and spreads itself along the lower part of Stiles' back. It's not a caress, not like that, no, but it's not a smack either. The warmth of Derek's hand, his skin pressed to Stiles' skin, soaks in, spreading out; Stiles is not easier, but part of his body responds, almost rising up into that touch. It's what his body knows, something simple, this touch not asking anything from Stiles.

There's a small, wet sound, that Stiles imagines is Derek taking his wet fingers out of his mouth, but he doesn't turn to look. He feels Derek shift behind him, and tries not to tighten up, because it won't do him any good. Derek is doing this because Stiles asked him to, because it's what needs to be done, Stiles knows this, even as his body protests.

A small touch of dampness startles him, then the cool spot on his thigh makes him quiver. Derek moves his hand up, and presses his fingers, still wet, against Stiles' body. Stiles takes a breath, thinks of resisting, knows he can't, and lets the breath out. Derek pushes one finger in, in a slow, almost careful way that has Stiles body quizzing its own memory. Is this the way it happened before? It seems not, especially as the weight of Derek's shadow bends close, spreading some warmth between them, though their bodies aren't touching. This is not the way it happened before. It's new, and careful, and warm. And slow. Much slower, so that Stiles can senses the tiny shifts in weight, hear Derek breathing. Feel the finger inside of him, moving back and forth.

When Derek takes his finger out, Stiles thinks that's it, that the fucking will start, and that it will soon all be over. But Derek presses two fingers in, broadening the stretch in Stiles' body, caressing him open, getting him ready. Again, the fingers are slow, crooking and curving, with insistent pressure, but also with care. Stiles feels part of him, shudder and sigh, his skin, his legs, coming undone from their tight curl. But his shoulders are hunched tight, and just as he senses this, Derek's hand, his other hand, sweeps up between his shoulder blades. To hover and warm and touch, before sweeping down again to circle around Stiles' hip.

When Derek pulls his fingers out, Stiles doesn't have enough time to clench his body up again before Derek's weight is moving down, like slow gravity, the sense and heat of him pressing close. Stiles knows almost exactly what Derek weighs, or at least his body knows, from holding him up in that pool, but there's only half of it now, pressing on him. Then he feels the round, moist heat of Derek's cock pushing into him, and all thought of weight and pools skitters away as he tries not to hold his breath.

Derek's hips move, cant forward, and breach Stiles' body, moving quickly in, pushing all the way in, and with a small grunt, Derek is inside of him. Stiles can feel the cool circle of the roundness of the metal button of Derek's jeans, the zig zag teeth of Derek's zipper. The scratch of pubic hair, the warmth and press of Derek's strong thighs. All up against him, the full roundness of Derek's cock filling him, just there, still for a moment, and all the weight of the day, and Derek's body, and Stiles whole life, seems to slam into him, and Stiles cannot help it, he circles his head in his arms and wants to cry.

There's a soft push-push, and a sigh, as Derek moves into him and then pulls out. Then again, the friction between their bodies not eased very much by Derek's spit, but enough to keep the skin from tearing. Stiles can feel Derek's thigh muscles bunching up behind him, as Derek pushes up into him, curling his hips forward and back with growing urgency but no haste.

Derek's weight is pressing on him more, pushing him forward, rising up behind him, so that Stiles is rising too, almost kneeling now, as Derek's hands clamp onto Stiles' hips and Derek's body almost slams into his, the muscles on Derek's hips pressing close and curling away, and doing this again, thrusting up, and then up, and then Derek makes a sound in his throat, his whole body almost tightening around Stiles, and Stiles can feel Derek pulsing inside of him, hot pulsing as Derek releases his seed, and then stills. Breathing against the back of Stiles neck, his hands still clenched around Stiles' hips. Just breathing, spreading his scent all around Stiles, making sure his marking stays.

There's the smallest of motions; Stiles senses Derek releasing his hands from Stiles' hips and then Derek pulls out, and moves backwards on his knees. Leaving Stiles spread out on the mattress, open and empty, all alone, the mattress soaked with Derek's come, but Stiles now, marked and claimed, with a life ahead of him and safety for his friends. And the knowledge of what it feels like to have Derek Hale come inside of him.

"Go home, Stiles," Derek says, from somewhere behind him.

For a second, Stiles wants to protest, because in all the books he's read or peeked at, movies he's seen, tell him that there is a period of languor, where the lovers share their bed and rest, keeping the connection between them as they fall asleep. And for that second, he forgets that Derek and he are not lovers, but realizes that though there has been this connection between them, there is nothing else that they share. He shifts backwards so that he can see Derek's expression and it is as it always has been. Tight-lipped, closed off, eyes half-shuttered against anything that Derek might be thinking or feeling.

"Get dressed. Go home." Derek's mouth barely moves as he says this.

Derek gets up from the bed, and stands on the wooden floor, looking down while he tucks himself away, and adjusts his jeans, and does up the button and the zipper. Fingers weaving as he does up his buckle, and it's just as he's reaching for his shirt, that he pulled off, as Stiles pulled his off, that it hits Stiles, a cold splash amidst all that warmth and skin. But he can't be mad at Derek, any more than he can be mad at himself. His body wants to curl up on the mattress, and maybe have Derek curl up too, because it can't be easy to have just had sex and get up, to stand up, like that, and not feel dizzy in the head, wobbly in the knees.

But Derek is standing there as though none of this has affected him in the slightest, and Stiles supposes, that for wolves, it might be different. They recover faster, can move on easier. This is life for a werewolf, this is what must be done, killed, fucked, and on it goes. Just like that.

Chewing on his lower lip, Stiles reaches for his underwear and shorts, and struggles with it, still lying on the mattress. But he manages, scooting to the edge of the mattress, and stands up on his own. To find Derek waiting with Stiles shirt in his hand. He holds it out, shakes it, as though he's impatient.

Stiles makes himself look Derek in the face. His throat hurts because he can't get any words out. They're trapped inside of him, chasing each other around, and he simply isn't used to not letting his mouth run amok for him, distracting and chatting and letting it go that way. His body wants warmth and touching and his mouth can't talk, and this world, this moment, is so upside down, that Stiles feels a moment of vertigo. But he takes the shirt, and slips it on. It feels cold against his skin, and he takes a shuddery breath and looks for his socks and shoes.

They're behind him, so he crouches back on the floor and puts them on, ties the laces, and is standing again, not thinking, not thinking much of anything right about then. When he stands up, Derek is looking at him, calmly, as if this were any other day, any other moment.

"Go home now. No wolves will bother you now, not like that." Derek shakes his head, his mouth twitching. "Well, they might try and kill you, but they won't--they won't be marking and claiming you. Not anymore."

Stiles can't manage to say thank you. His mouth, falling open, is trying to remember how, but how do you thank someone for something like this? He can't, but neither can he simply walk out to his jeep and drive away, without acknowledging it somehow. He reaches out with one hand to touch Derek somewhere, and his fingers brush just above Derek's waist, where the cloth of his t-shirt is bunching up.

He looks at Derek, thinking about the two of them in that cabin in the woods, how Derek had rolled over on the bed, and slept with his back to Stiles, like he knew that Stiles would watch over him. And how he, Stiles, had turned his back on Derek, like he knew that Derek wouldn't hurt him, wouldn't sink his teeth into Stiles' spine.

It's kind of like a miracle, really. But he also knows that this moment, right now, is transitory, moving forward, and that soon it will disappear, and be like it never was. He can't imagine them ever talking about it, and as Derek has indicated, it only takes the one time. So this is it, really. All she wrote. Stiles wants to shrug it off, and say something that will deter the swamp of whatever's welling up from inside of him. Instead, he lets his fingers press into the muscles of Derek's waist. And makes himself say it.

"Thank you."

Derek swallows and shoves Stiles' hand away. "Go home, Stiles. Go home now."

There's an undercurrent of anger that Stiles had not sensed until that moment, so he nods and pats the pocket of his shorts, touching the outline of his keys, and moves away from those hands and that skin, and the curve of Derek's jaw, and the hands he sees curling into fists. Because only a fool would stick around when he's clearly not wanted, and when the next second will bring the oft-feared snap of teeth and the crunch of bone as Derek tears into him.

Stiles hurries away, feeling the heat of Derek's glare at his back, the ribbons of the light from the Coleman lantern weaving around his ankles as he goes. As he reaches the front of the house and opens the door, he can feel the push of air, the storm passing without leaving any rain, see the flicker of lighting as the clouds move off, sparing glimpses of the waning moon, turning into a silver sickle against the blackness.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles sleeps till noon, naked in the sheets, till he hears his Dad's squad car pull up to the house. Then falls out of the bed, and fumbles into some clothes, to stumble down the stairs, rubbing his head, trying to look more awake so that his Dad doesn't think he spent the day sleeping.

"Thought you said yesterday that you were going to be over at Derek's," his Dad says, looking up at Stiles from the bottom of the stairs.

Stiles lips are dry and he licks them, trying to think. Oh, yes. Yesterday.

"He didn't want my help." Stiles tries on a yawn, as a type of distraction, because, yes it would be better if his Dad was irritated by Stiles lazy habits, than by the fact that he didn't follow through with the planned Guy Thanks.

"What about supper?"

"I never asked him." Stiles wants to follow this up with and really, Dad, after a guy fucks you into the mattress, but gently, you'd think he'd be hungry, but he just wanted me out of there, so I didn't have a chance. It's not my fault, can't you see that?


Stiles shrugs, because it doesn't matter, and he can't talk about it anyway. Yesterday, last night, in the dry heave of the storm, had been something unique, like a black swan, but one that will never be seen by anyone but Stiles.

"Alright," says Stiles' Dad. "Do we have the stuff for meatloaf?"

Stiles nods.

"If you get the meatloaf going, I've got to swing by the city electrical plant to make sure everything's up and running. Did we have any problems here last night?"

Stiles shakes his head. He'd been at Derek's, where electricity didn't matter, and by the time he'd gotten home, any darkness had just been a barrier to crawl through on his way to his bedroom, and his bed.

"I'll see you at supper, then."

As Stiles' Dad turns to go, Stiles frowns. His Dad has already worked his shift, and then some and is still heading off to take care of things, to take care of his people, his town. Even if he is tired, there is still work to be done and it's his responsibility to do it.

The front door shuts and Stiles listens to the echo of it, and the silence as it falls. The soft tick-tick of the kitchen clock, the heat as it settles. He thinks that he'll take a shower and do some chores, and ignore his new running sneakers for at least one more day, so he can hide inside these walls and let his skin get used to the touches as they fade from his body.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles checks the meatloaf one more time and stirs the groiled potatoes around, and thinks about putting more salt on them. Salt is bad for you, but then, so are groiled potatoes, which are basically cut up chunks of boiled potatoes that are set to bake with a meatloaf and soak up all that fat to make nice crispy outsides.

They are so bad for you, they are typically illegal in the Stilinski household, but Stiles has made them anyway. Because, as he figures, his Dad has worked hard, and Stiles did something very difficult, and when the day is done, this will be their reward. He's even heating up some frozen corn, though anyone knows that corn with butter is just another form of sugar. Add that to the sourdough rolls he's putting in? It's a grease and sugar fest and there's no getting around that.

When he hears the squad car in the driveway, Stiles takes out the meatloaf and the potatoes and puts them on the stovetop. He gives the corn a stir, and then pours it in a bowl, checks for the gallon of milk on the table, salt and pepper, and a whole stick of butter. It's a heart attack waiting to happen, and Stiles' mouth is watering for it.

As the front door opens, Stiles takes the rolls out and puts them in a bowl and covers with a towel. As he puts the bowl on the table, he hears his Dad talking to someone.

"Come along in; it won't be fancy, like I said, but a meatloaf is the least--"

Derek Hale steps into the Stilinski kitchen, and looks at the place settings at the table where they usually eat breakfast, but sometimes, like tonight, Stiles wants the warmth of the room while he eats. And Derek looks lost. Stiles snaps upright, feeling surprise all over his face, and he's not able to hide it before his Dad finishes his sentence.

"--the least we can do to thank you, for saving my son. For saving Stiles."

In the frozen moment, Sheriff Stilinski says, "Get another place setting, Stiles. Derek, you're old enough for a beer, right?"

"No, thank you. Milk's fine."

Derek's voice is a rough burr that cuts through the bestilled parts of Stiles' body. Stiles breaks into motion, getting a plate, and cutlery, another glass. He places it on the far side of the round table from where he'll be sitting, and watches his Dad look at the food and smile to himself. Yes, it's a heart attack on a plate, but his Dad obviously isn't going to say anything and give Stiles an excuse to trade some of it away for steamed broccoli or other good-for-you-but-not-so-good-tasting thing.

His Dad washes his hands at the sink and goes over to the table, gesturing as he sits down as to where Derek should sit. As he's slicing the meatloaf into servings, Stiles wipes his damp palms on his shorts, and makes sure everything is on the table before he sits down. And the two of them watch as Derek washes his hands at the sink. There is utter silence, except for the splashing of water, the slightly acrid smell of soap, the flutter of paper towels.

When Derek sits down in his assigned seat, he seems to fill a space that was empty before, with his broad shoulders, and the spill of his dark hair across his forehead. He looks like he shaved, his shirt is clean, and he keeps his elbows off the table. Stiles wonders what he'd been thinking, that Derek might just start grabbing food and shoving it in, but he waits till Stiles' Dad gives him a large helping of meatloaf, the prized crusted slice from one end of the loaf, and then Derek serves himself to everything else.

Stiles is distracted from getting the prized other end of the loaf, but only just. He watches Derek out of the corner of his eye, trying not to stare, trying not to remember.

When everyone is served, they don't say grace, but then, they haven't for years, not since Stiles' Mom died, for reasons his Dad and him have never discussed. The prayer just faded away and was never said again. But there's a pause, and so Stiles' Dad says, "Dig in." Which is kind of like grace, in a way, acknowledgement and permission.

Stiles picks up his fork and takes a mouthful of buttered corn, and chews, picks up the salt and pepper and covers his corn with both. Then he watches as Derek picks up his knife and fork, one in each hand, and starts, with some finesse, the muscles in his bare forearms twitching, to cut up his meatloaf. Of course, a werewolf would go for the meat first, even if it is anything but rare, and yes, he goes for the crisp end piece absolutely first, as any fool knows it's the best part of a meatloaf.

He's using his knife and fork, with his napkin in his lap, like he's born to it, and of course he must be. Werewolves are people, and must move among them, and so manners are important. But it flicks across the back of Stiles' mind, the memory of Derek, sitting on the bed in the cabin in Trinity Center, eating with his fingers, getting grease on his hands, gorging himself so his body can heal. And then rolling over to sleep, with only Stiles to watch over him.

Derek cuts a large piece from his regular piece of meatloaf, and, looking up at Stiles through his dark eyelashes, picks it up with his fingers and puts it in his mouth. Stiles feels his eyebrows fly up into his forehead, and just hopes his Dad isn't watching, because the gesture resonates inside of him, and for a second, he's back there, in that cabin, with Derek, and the thin pillows and the food wrappers everywhere, and the isolation. Just the two of them, slipping out of the regular world, into that narrow space where all rules are suspended and it's just Stiles and Derek. Eating and sleeping and being.

Then Derek looks away, and picks up his knife and fork and eats like a regular person again. Stiles shakes the feeling off, and sneaks a look at his Dad, to make sure, but his Dad is involved in the meal, enjoying it, because it's good, of course it is, but it's also illicit. He's eating like Stiles might take it away at any second and replace it with a nice, healthy salad, and that makes Stiles feel bad. He doesn't mean to be so mean, but someone has to look out for his Dad's health; Stiles isn't about to lose both parents before he has to.

There's not a lot of conversation, but then, Stiles and his Dad talk all the time, so they can stop every now and then. There's mostly pass the butter, and pass the rolls, and I'll just finish these potatoes because it's a shame to let them go to waste. Between the three of them they polish most of it off, leaving just enough meatloaf for two cold meatloaf sandwiches, either later that night or for lunch the next day.

His Dad doesn't bring up the attack on Stiles at the Good Times stand, because, of course, he and Derek must have already talked about it on the way over. Because of course, his Dad went over to the Hale house to pick Derek up, and invite him to dinner. The scenario is so out of place, another black swan, that Stiles realizes that he can't even imagine it. And yet here Derek is, sitting at their table, sharing a meal, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin and folding it next to his plate just as polite as you please. As if this were an ordinary, everyday event. Which it most certainly is not.

"So, I'm full," says the Sheriff, patting his tummy. "But desert. Stiles, what is it, sliced mango or something?"

For a second, it feels normal and Stiles snorts his derision. "What? After this meal? No mango is going to make any difference whatsoever. I made iced brownies."

Because really, if you're going to be bad, you might as well be very bad. Stiles gets up and goes to the counter where he's hidden, in plain sight, a Saran-covered pile of iced brownies. They'd not yet been quite cool enough to frost, but he'd done it anyway, and so the frosting is thin in places and too thick in others. Yet when he unwraps the pile and places it in the center of the table, both Stiles' Dad and Derek, make little indrawn-breath sounds, which is gratifying, and makes him think that it might not be so bad, sharing a meal with both Derek and his Dad.

Stiles moves the plates and serving dishes out of the way, and the cutlery, and puts them on the counter, next to the sink. He thinks about getting little plates for the brownies, but when he turns back to the table, both his Dad and Derek have already taken a brownie and are eating them, straight from the pile into their mouths. There's no dainty setting down of anything, let alone on a plate, so Stiles sits down too, and takes a brownie and puts it right in his mouth. His teeth sink in, cracking through the frosting, and he sighs around the bite. There's nothing better than a frosted brownie.

They each manage to finish off three iced brownies, and the gallon of milk is mostly gone. Stiles wipes the milk moustache from his mouth with the back of his hand. Sees Derek watching him do this, and drops his hand in his lap.

"So, that's a thank you, done Stilinski style," Sheriff Stilinski says, waving his hand over the small pile of brownies that are left. "Like I said in the car, it was nice of you to step in, on Stiles' behalf." He looks over at Stiles, as if he'd like to say something, to add some scold in Stiles direction, but he's not going to, on account of there's company present. And really, it's not as if Stiles had known someone was going to attack him that day. Except, yes, he might have known it was going to come at some point.

"Glad I was there," says Derek, sitting back. He's eyeing the remains of the brownies, but it looks like he's being too polite to take any more if no one else is having any. "Any time." He looks at Stiles as he says this, and maybe he means it. There have certainly been enough occasions in the past nine or so months when Derek was there, just in time, to save Stiles from certain disaster. Stiles thinks that he might wrap up the brownies for Derek to take home; even if it's not much, it's the least he can do. Besides which, his Dad certainly shouldn't be eating any more of them.

"So, I'll do the dishes, and you can take Derek home, okay Stiles?"

Stiles can only nod, naturally it would come to this. Stiles Dad setting it up so that Stiles has the time to gear himself up to say thank you also. But then, Stiles' Dad doesn't know that Stiles already has and had nearly gotten his hand bitten off because of it.

"Okay." Stiles pushes his chair back, feeling Derek's eyes tracking him as he grabs the plate of brownies. "Let me just get those--you can take 'em home."

Derek's eyebrows go up, but he doesn't say no; who ever thought that such a sour wolf would have such a sweet tooth.

Stiles wraps the brownies, and his Dad starts in on the dishes. Derek doesn't have anything to do, so Stiles hands him the plate, which he's covered with fresh Saran wrap.

"Just bring it back whenever," he says, because that's what you say. "See you in a bit, Dad."

It's not necessary, because with Derek at his side, Stiles will be back home in no time, safe and sound. That is, if he makes it through he drive to Derek's house. As he grabs his keys from the rack by the door, and leads the way out to the driveway, he can sense Derek behind him.

"Goodnight, Sheriff," says Derek, and maybe he lifts his hand like a wave, or maybe he doesn't.

Stiles doesn't look back to see; his body is wired up on chocolate and the thought of it, how Derek and he made it through that meal without his Dad even coming close to guessing. And his body is also remembering the sensation of Derek's hand on his bare skin, the sweep of warm breath, the closeness of their bodies, the rumpled sheets. Stiles shakes his head, and goes out the front door and hops in the jeep to start it. As though he were alone and heading off to Scott's house and nothing more.

Derek gets in, and shuts the door. "I don't need any more thanks," he says.

"I know," Stiles says. He starts the car, and listens to the belt as it screams a little before it warms up. He pulls out of the driveway and heads down the suburban street, thinking of the difference as to how he lives and how Derek lives, and the wider gap than that, that separates them. It's not just indoor plumbing and hot suppers and the convenience of an outlet in the wall. It's everything else, everything that they are.

The inside of the jeep is silent, marking the time in Stiles' memory when he and Derek had waited on some side street in town somewhere, for Scott to find the special bullet that would save Derek's life. They'd sat in that jeep for several hours, not talking most of the time, until Stiles had gotten hold of Scott and bitched about the whole situation. The silence now is almost the same as it was then, except that now, Stiles isn't bitching and Derek isn't dying, and it's a very uneventful drive. Except by the time Stiles reaches the bare spot in front of the Hale house that serves as a drive, every nerve in his body is firing, as though Derek might suddenly jump up and bite him. That, or invite him inside.

Derek does neither. Instead he turns his head towards Stiles, but not looking at him and says, "Thank you again for dinner. It was very nice of your Dad to--"

"Bet it scared the crap out of you when he pulled up in his squad car today." Stiles can't help but say this; the idea of it is still ringing in his head. "It would have scared me, you have to know that. I didn't know he was going to do that, or I would have let you know."

"I know that," Derek says, because far be it from him to admit he's scared, even when it's obvious that anybody else would have been. "Good night."

Derek gets out of the jeep and Stiles watches him go up the steep flight of steps till the darkness of the Hale house swallows him. Then he drives home, with the radio on low, worn out, brain fried till it's done and no more thoughts can come to him, not about tonight, not about yesterday. Besides, yesterday is done, it's over with. Stiles can move forward now, with the hard part behind him, and new running sneakers just on the verge of being broken in. He'll start running tomorrow, and will go through the cupboards looking for illicit Fruit Loops and throw them, and all the other bad foods, out, when his Dad is at work and can't stop him. And he'll keep calling Scott until movie night happens. He'll be normal, and he'll put all of the stuff with Derek behind him.

That is his current plan.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Stiles runs. He runs every morning at nine a.m., before the sun gets too high, before the air gets too hot. He runs on the road when it's early and goes up on the sidewalk when the traffic is thick. He runs in the shade when he can, but he's building up the miles and so it's getting to the point where there isn't always shade where there is blacktop.

And he sweats. Under his arms, behind his knees, down the back of his neck. And worst of all, into his eyes. His hair is shorn short, so there's nothing to keep the sweat from spilling into his eyes, and on his mouth, where he can taste it. He takes a shower both before and after his runs, because his research told him that this was a good idea, and he likes the ritual of it.

What he doesn't like are the way his cotton shorts hang up between his legs when he runs, or how the long thigh-length pair he sometimes wear bang into the back of his legs in an annoying way. Both of these remind him of his old lacrosse shorts, now gone and disposed of. They had been the perfect running shorts, but Stiles isn't about to ask his Dad for some new ones because then his Dad will ask what happened to the lacrosse shorts you had from school and Stiles won't be able to answer that question. Ever.

So he keeps running and tries not to let his stupid cotton shorts irritate him too much.

And one day, he's able to get hold of Scott before lunchtime, and the big surprise is that Scott is actually Allison-free for one whole night. And it's not that Stiles doesn't like Allison, he rather does, but does she have to be such a big Scott-hog all the time?

Scott comes over that night, and they order pizza and eat it in front of the TV in the living room and watch every version of the Three Musketeers that they can find and laugh like anything. The best version, they both agree, is the one with Oliver Reed, because he makes such a great, drunken musketeer, with the right amount of swash and buckle, as well, so irreverent in the face of all those elegant lace collars.

It's like the old days, the B.A. days, that Stiles feels more like his old self. Until Scott brings up what his Mom told him, which is that Mrs. Leeman told her that she'd seen Stiles getting attacked at the Good Times stand. And was it true that Derek was the one that had thwarted the attacker?

Stiles nods that yes it was, and when Scott wants to know if it was a werewolf, Stiles says yes again, and then Scott gets mad and why didn't Stiles tell him? Stiles has to tell him then that his Dad invited Derek over to dinner as a thank you for the rescue, and he'd gotten distracted by this, and the weirdness of it distracts Scott and appeases him, and they go back to the movie.

In the morning, as he steps out on the front step to do a little jogging in place to warm up, Stiles finds the plate. It's the one he'd given Derek with the leftover iced brownies, and there it sits. Perfectly clean and sitting there waiting to be found. There's no note that says thanks or anything, but then, Derek isn't very talkative in person, so a note would be out of the question.

Stiles takes the plate and puts it away and wonders whether Derek had any ice cold milk to drink with the brownies and thinks probably not, since Derek doesn't have a fridge. And also, he thinks about when Derek had returned the plate; probably in the middle of the night, with Derek skulking around the windows, wondering whether it was too late to knock on the door. And if he'd been there at the right time, he would have been able to hear Stiles and Scott laughing at the TV. And most likely, Derek had done exactly this. Stiles shakes off the lonely feeling this gives him off and goes running.

His mileage is pretty good that day, but the sun is baking him as though the air around him was an oven, so at the corner, Stiles pauses, and leans forward, hands on his knees, to breathe. This, according to the internet, actually bunches up the lungs and so you shouldn't do it, but Stiles needs to not have the sun in his eyes for one damn minute. So he'll bend forward, and breathe, and then he'll walk it off.

As he's bent forward, feeling the sweat build on the back of his neck, he senses a car pull up next to him. He looks up. It's a red SUV, pulled up with the driver's side on the wrong side of the road. And this is so Chris Argent can roll down his window and look at Stiles.

"Hello, Stiles," says Christ Argent. The smile he gives Stiles is stiff and fake, as it usually is.

"Hey," says Stiles. He keeps it short, doesn't wave a greeting or anything. Talking to Chris Argent was never any fun, but now Argent knows something about Stiles that Stiles' Dad should never find out, and if Argent takes it in his head to have a talk with Stiles' Dad, on account of Stiles was rude to him? That would be bad. So Stiles says it again. "Hey."

"You still running with the wolves, Stiles?" Argent asks. He's completely serious.

Stiles shakes his head, trying to look anywhere but those ice blue eyes. "No," he says, trying to keep it casual, trying not to let his voice rise an octave in panic. "Just running. Getting in shape for lacrosse."

"I see." Which means, of course, that Chris Argent sees, alright, but it's what he wants to see. "Well, you be careful." He means with the wolves, but any passerby might think it's a warning to Stiles about simply the running.

Argent rolls up the window and pulls back into traffic, quickly pulling into the proper lane, without any problems, in spite of driving a very large car.

Stiles walks and runs and walks till he gets home. He writes down his mileage and takes a shower. And tries not to think.

~ ~ * ~ ~

The next day when he goes running, his shins are killing him. He cuts the mileage short, and looks it up when he gets home. The internet tells him he's got shin splints and that it is strongly recommended that he vary the terrain he runs on. Which means that Stiles is going to have to mix it up again, and go running in the woods. Which shouldn't be a problem, seeing as how he's marked and claimed by an alpha and no wolf would dare lay a hand on him. He'll be perfectly fine. Besides, the internet has told him what he must do, and his shins hurt so bad, he's got to put ice on them and knock off the running for two days.

When he's able to run again, he goes through the park and along the edge of the preserve. This works out pretty good, and he's able to just about get up to his prior mileage. So, on the next day, he takes it further into the woods, pounding along the pine-packed path, dodging tree branches, and hopping over stones. His lungs are heaving, but he feels good; the woods are shady and much cooler than the streets are and there are no pedestrians to mark his passage and say, well, there goes that Stilinski kid, what does he think he's doing, why is he bothering? No, the woods make no judgment, so Stiles can just run.

He runs along the paths in the woods frequently enough until he knows them pretty well and can remember which ones go uphill to push his lung capacity, and which ones are rugged, to test his thighs and nimbleness and which ones are flat, for when he needs to do some mindless running. It's on the latter of these that he runs now, pounding along, finishing up for the day, thinking of his shower, and whether he's got enough eggs and protein in the house, when he sees something moving among the trees.

Stiles runs a little faster, and then, when he hears something on the path behind him, he looks back over his shoulder. It's Derek, and for a second, Stiles doesn't know whether to slow down or speed up.

If he slows down, Derek will catch him, but if he speeds up, the result will be the same, except that Derek will probably be irritated at having to make the extra effort. The conundrum makes Stiles feel like his body is being jerked in two directions at once; there's an urgency where his body tells him to run as fast as he can, and then there's connection between him and Derek that feels like it suddenly got drawn tight, and there's no running that will take him anywhere far enough, fast enough, and why should he want to.

It takes a split second of this indecision, and Stiles tumbles forward, and he rolls with it, coming to stand on his two feet, but crouched by the path, panting. His knees have gotten roughed up, but he's okay, and has just enough time to consider this, when Derek rushes up, and before Stiles can protest, has him pinned against a tree.

Derek's hands are on him, almost as sharp as claws digging into Stiles' shoulders. His whole body presses against Stiles, and though they are both clothed, the warmth of Derek's skin soaks through to Stiles.

"You're trespassing," says Derek; his upper lip curls back for a second to show his white teeth, to show he means business.

"No, I'm not," Stiles says. "I'm a good mile away from your place, your property."

"No," says Derek, pressing into Stiles with his chest. "You're on it, by twenty feet. The preserve is that way."

This throws Stiles into a limbo world; Derek and he aren't friends, but they'd done something together that Stiles had never done with another living person. Derek had saved his life and he'd saved Derek's. He would have thought that a little twenty-foot lapse in geographical awareness wouldn't have amounted to much after that.

As Stiles struggles to push Derek off him, he sees the flicker, the half-shadowed blink of Derek's eyes, right in front of him. It's that look, he's seen it, when everything around Derek is bad, and there's nothing Derek can do about it. The only thing near Derek is Stiles himself, which means that Stiles is the problem, and not the twenty feet.

In that still moment, Derek frowns, looking at Stiles' face as if mapping it. Looking down at Stiles, all mucky with sweat and dust from the path, and he looks away and then looks back, and something pushes up with a huge fist in Stiles' chest.

"Just stay away," Derek says, barely moving his mouth. He gives Stiles another shove against the tree and then releases him. "Can you just do that one thing?"


"I said go."

Stiles tries to think for a minute, but his legs start to go, because his body knows that it's safer not to be within claw-reach of an irritated werewolf. Even one that's saved you from being attacked in the woods not just once, but forever. So Stiles turns and runs and thinks that he's leaving a big, gaping hole behind him. One that's filled with questions and no answers.

~ ~ * ~ ~

By the time Stiles reaches home, he's all out of steam. As he stands on the front step, he looks down at his feet, at his dust-covered sneakers, at his knees, which are all banged up, and at his chest, where his t-shirt is a v-shape of sweat.

He's been running for weeks, now, with the kind of regular passion and commitment that he'd previously reserved for nights spent with the wedded bliss of his right hand and thoughts of Lydia Martin. But the running has got him to where he is now, which, really, is no further along than he was before. Because no amount of running will make Coach Finstock pull him off the bench, not when the only thing standing between Stiles and being the worst player on the team is Greenburg. Stiles knows he's only been kidding himself if he ever thought otherwise.

Now, all he's left with is the sweat rolling and drying along his back, on his knees, and the image of Derek, in the woods, pressing close against Stiles and telling him to stay away. Pressing and pushing away, at the same time. The exact same time. It's an oxymoron of sorts, a juxtaposition that doesn't work, and as Stiles goes into the house and shucks off his sneakers with his toes, he thinks he might know the reason why.

Wolves mate for life. And while Derek might have said to Stiles that he would never call him to heel, he can only do that if Stiles stays away from him. And since Stiles lives in the same town, this will be, and has become, impossible. The price for Derek's one-sided commitment to Stiles, however safe if might make Stiles in the interim, is too high. There must be another way.

Stiles goes upstairs and takes a shower, then gets dressed in something clean and not sweaty. He thinks everything through again, and figures he must be wrong. He puts on his old sneakers, and searches for the pair of cutoff sweats that Derek had loaned him. They have been laundered, and as he digs them up from his bottom drawer, he sniffs them. They smell like soap to him, but to Derek, there is probably more signals, and memories of the cabin and Stiles' bare skin inside of them. Stiles doesn't know, but Derek will.

He drives over to the Hale house, with the afternoon sun slanting through the trees, and the grasses growing brown in the heat, and the complete and total lack of a breeze making the pine scent smack against his skin. The black Camaro isn't parked alongside the house, but Stiles parks the jeep anyway, and goes up and knocks on the door. He puts the sweatpants down where they will easily be found, waits a minute, and then knocks again, turning to look at the woods and feel the dense, still air in his lungs.

Stiles knocks one more time and gets no answer. He takes to pacing up and down the porch, because it is shaded and because he will be able to see the Camaro when Derek arrives home. Derek'll be pissed to find Stiles there, because of course, he always is, and especially now, when Stiles' presence must surely spell out some kind of torment.

Stiles really has no idea, but it occurs to him, as he walks along the porch, his sneakers making loud clonks on the wood, that Derek didn't quite know what his rescue of Stiles would bring. Derek doesn't know everything, and is especially slow to admit it. The alpha-ness was thrust upon him and any lore he'd gained growing in a house full of werewolves must have been filtered through the short attention span of a teenager or a child. So Derek doesn't know how his sacrifice on Stiles' behalf will work out. For either of them.

All of Stiles' running has not been able to leave that behind him. He's used Derek for his own safety, and then abandoned him to deal with everything else on his own.

And Stiles? All he wants to be is back on the road with Derek, screaming along in the Camaro at 80 miles an hour. Or stuck in some ratty cabin, with Derek's hands, warm and calm, helping Stiles still his own ragged breathing. And then there's the cool haven of the inside of the Hale house, along the back, where it's shady and private and the whole world could be galloping around and around outside, and you'd never know it, to be back there. In Derek's den, with the half-walls and the wooden table, and the utter peace and quiet and the stillness. And Derek's face, eyebrows lifting up, his green eyes on Stiles.

And whether it's crazier to want to be with Derek on the road or in the Hale house, Stiles doesn't know. But it's been what he's been running from, the emptiness inside, and no matter how many miles he covers, or how religiously he sticks to his schedule, the jagged edges of that time, those hours with Derek, have been clawing their way inside of him.

He bows his head, and looks at his hands. They are capable hands, and can do a lot of things. But they cannot save him from this.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Supper with his Dad is a silent affair, and Stiles makes small talk as best he can. He talks about his shin splints and about the heat, and, after a small hesitation, gives up his uncertainty as to whether or not any of this will make any difference whatsoever with Coach Finstock. His Dad, in return, says supportive things. His Dad also pushes around the green beans on his plate as if he hopes that they could magically turn into fried cheese sticks, and Stiles would tell him it's no use.

After the dishes are done, as Stiles is getting ready for bed, he thinks he might keep on running anyway, because it is fun to work with the record-keeping, and he does feel a lot more fit. But maybe he won't push it quite so hard. After all, in spite of what his Dad said, there really isn't any point. He brushes his teeth with somewhat less than his usual fervor, and opens his window, because the whole house fan is working tonight, and he might be able to get some sleep without waking up in a pool of his own sweat.

It's hot enough that he strips down to his underwear and pushes off the light cotton blanket in favor of just a sheet. He lays face down on the pillow and waits for the coolness to move across him, like it does when the whole house fan is on high. The fan also fills the upper hallway with a kind of hazy low hum, which is the perfect white noise to sleep by. He thinks this could be the night he gets a full night's sleep, even though he still doesn't know what to do about Derek.

When he hears a clunk on the windowsill, his whole body goes tight. It could be something, but it could be nothing, and he'll feel like a fool if he flails around for the light on his nightstand, just to check it out and it's a branch moving on a non-existent wind.

A second later, and he's proven utterly wrong as Derek's body covers him, neck to toe, a solid mass of bone and muscle. And heat. With a quick thrust, Derek's hand covers Stiles' mouth, and Derek pulls him back against his own chest. Now Stiles can't help but flail a little, but it's hard, because his legs are tangled in the sheets, and his arm is trapped beneath him. He grasps Derek's forearm with his free hand and tugs, which is foolish, because it only makes Derek clamp tighter.

"Listen to me," says Derek low, his breath coming in harsh pants along the side of Stiles' neck. "You have got to stay away, understand. I can't do this--and it's not safe if I can't--do you want to see me come apart, is that your game?"

Derek is holding on so hard that one more twitch of his forearm will snap Stiles' neck; his neck muscles strain to hold still so Derek won't think he's struggling. But there's sweat building up along his scalp, the back of his shoulders, heat from the contact with Derek's body. Stiles can feel his own breath streaming across Derek's hand, and the edges of his own palm, and he tries to tug with his hand, just a fraction, to let Derek know that he's hurting him.

He has to stay still, very still, or Derek will come apart. It doesn't bring the usual sense of accomplishment, that he was right about what was wrong with Derek, because now, it's fully Stiles' fault and Derek's already on the edge because Stiles hadn't been able to figure it out fast enough.

He tries to move his head, so he can look up and catch Derek's eye, but Derek's body jerks and he presses so hard with his hand that Stiles' eyes water with the sharp pain he's sure precedes his skull being crushed in. As he sees, out of the corner of his eye that Derek's fingers are now claws, he realizes he's sobbing, deep in his throat, but with Derek's hand over his mouth, it comes out strangled and helpless.

Then there's a knock on the partially open door to his bedroom, and his Dad's voice. "Goodnight, Stiles. Keep up with the running, you'll be fine, I'm sure of it."

For a moment, Derek is still, then he releases Stiles' mouth. Stiles knows better than to make a sound other than the one that will send his Dad away. His throat feels tight, and his mouth is full of spit, so he has to swallow and brush the back of his hand across his eyes.

"G-goodnight, Dad, and thanks."

Derek shifts on the bed, and is gone, a shadow over the windowsill, even as Stiles rolls over and reaches, in the dark, to catch him.

By the time the roaring in his head is replaced by the low hum of the whole house fan, Stiles' body slows down from shaking, and his eyes are dry. He sits there, for a long while, on the edge of the bed, facing the open window, telling himself that he's waiting to feel sleepy. Knowing, really, that he's waiting for Derek to come back. But Derek never does.

~ ~ * ~ ~

It takes Stiles a long time in the morning to get going. By the time he gets to the Hale house, it's early afternoon, and hot with the sun pouring down. There is no shade as he walks up the steep wooden steps, carrying his peace offering in his hands. It's likely that Derek won't accept it, and will throw it against the wall, and will then use the cooler to cart off Stiles' body parts in.

He knocks on the door, and waits. The Camaro is by the side of the house, so he knows Derek is home. Or at least he thinks he is, but it's possible that Derek is in the woods, or miles from home, and Stiles could be standing there all day without a response. He could just leave, but he wants to do something, make some gesture, because Derek, who is alone in everything else, shouldn't be alone in this. Not when Stiles was there, too.

He's still shaky from the night before; the edges of his jaw are stiff from where Derek grabbed his face. So his hand, when he lifts it to open the door, is not quite steady; what kind of crazy person simply opens the door to a werewolf's house? But he does it, pushing the door open slowly, it's not locked, because what is there to steal? A propane stove? A Coleman lantern?

Stiles walks through the house, carrying the small cooler in both hands. It bangs against his knees; his head pivots as he watches the shadows in the corners of the rooms, senses the heat coming through the plastic over the windows. Smells the dust and hears the silence. Turning to go through to the back of the house, he thinks he smells smoke. Not old smoke, choked with dust and age, but new smoke, bright and heavy on a still wind.

By the time he gets to the back of the house, he can see it; there's some container, a barrel, maybe, in the center of the lawn of the ragged garden, and small, narrow flames leap up from it. The fire is untended, and Derek slams into him, grabbing Stiles t-shirt, making Stiles drop the cooler as Derek pulls him away from the netting. Stiles' mouth falls open, and he grabs Derek, trying to stay upright.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Derek growls this; he doesn't really want to know, but that's his way of greeting trespassers. And Stiles, even Stiles.

"I c-came to talk to you, to see what I, what we--"

"I told you to stay away, Stiles." Derek bares his teeth, his whole body vibrating against Stiles as though he were one second away from wolfing out. "But you never can follow orders, can you."

Stiles shakes his head; he's bad at it. "But there's a reason, a good reason, Derek, I know what you said, but--"

With a growl, Derek pushes him, walking forward so that Stiles has to walk backward, his legs tangling between Derek's legs, ankles knocked by Derek's calves, until, with a shove of Derek's hand, Stiles loses his balance and tumbles to the mattress.

He lands with a rude thump. Pushing up on his elbows, he tries to get up, but he's not quick enough. Derek is on the mattress, his jeaned thighs straddling Stiles' thighs, denim scratching against bare skin. As Derek hovers over him, his hands go to his belt. "Did you come for this? Did you come to take more of this?"

Derek stops, and leans forward, planting a hand on either side of Stiles, pressing his body down until Stiles is forced back upon the mattress. "Curious now? Come to see how many pieces you can cut off of me?"

"No." Stiles shakes his head, wincing as his jaw aches. "I came to help, to talk to you--"

"It's too late for talking," says Derek. He looks down as he undoes his belt. Undoes the brass button on his jeans. "This is it for me." He frowns as he undoes his zipper; a curl of the cotton of his boxer shorts white at the edge of the opening. "This is always it for me. Just like this."

Completely confused, Stiles is almost frozen as Derek pulls his t-shirt over his head. He's been at the fire, tending it perhaps for a long time, and Stiles can see flakes of ash where the sweat is along Derek's collarbone. Can see the grit from half-burnt logs on the backs of his hands. When Derek leans down to pull off Stiles' t-shirt, there's a tang on Derek's skin, his shoulders, of heat and burning wood, and something lost and old that Stiles can't identify.

For a moment, Stiles can't think it, but when Derek tosses his t-shirt away, and he's bare to the waist, he looks up and sees it in Derek's eyes. What he means to do. Derek saved Stiles from other wolves raping him in the woods, but it seems that it won't stop Derek, if his blood is up and he can catch Stiles' scent for miles and it's driving him half-crazy. Derek's eyes are wild and glinting with red, and Stiles takes an indrawn breath, and his whole body feels cold.

"Derek," he says, hating the way it sounds, thin and shaky. "Derek, don't."

But Derek shakes his head as he shimmies his jeans down a little way. His mouth is curved down in a frown, and he looks down at Stiles, almost calm, as if considering it. "No," he says. "It's too late."

Stiles could scream, but there's no one to hear him, not for miles. He could struggle, but that will only make Derek more likely to pin Stiles down and break bones, tear flesh. He makes a sound anyway, before he can clamp his mouth down over it, and this makes Derek's eyes flash fully red, and he comes back down to cover Stiles body with his own, to press his scent to Stiles skin; he's hot all over, like a brand, marking Stiles, claiming him.

As Derek goes up on his elbows, he reaches down to the waist of Stiles' shorts, and Stiles can feel the edges of claw on Derek's fingers. See the glint of fang pressed against the inside of his red mouth. It's all there, everything Stiles has been running from all summer; his heart hammers, he's shuddering all over, Derek is going to do it now, going to hurt him, and there will be no one there to save him this time. Or comfort him after. There will be no circle of strong arms to crawl into. No one to hide the blood on the leaves.

Derek breaks the plastic button and the zipper as he tears Stiles' shorts off, leans back to toss them away; no one will be needing them anymore. Stiles' mouth opens; the cotton sheet is rough on his bare skin. He sees the prickle of fur along the back of Derek's shoulders, it's only a faint trace but Stiles' whole body tenses. He tries to skitter back, away, but Derek grabs his knee and yanks him back down.

Stiles is bare and vulnerable beneath the shadow of Derek's body, he can feel the power there, in the shoulders, the spread of Derek's thighs, the bunched muscles in his arms. The heat of the bare skin of his chest. Stiles blinks up as Derek looks down at him, the show of white teeth and dark brows flashing into Stiles like a bite. Stiles feels his mouth wobble, and tries to tighten it. He's turned down the bite before; he thinks that this time there won't be an option.

It flashes across him, making his whole body start. Wolves, and teeth, and fur, and biting. And not biting. Stiles pushes himself up, on his elbows until he's pressed against Derek, the curve of his neck against Derek's shoulder. Comes even closer, with his hand clasping the back of Derek's neck. Holds on tight. And bumps the top of his head beneath Derek's chin.

Derek freezes. Stiles does it again, this time slow, the crown of his head brushing, velvety slow, along the curve of Derek's jaw. He's close to those teeth now, vulnerable, his neck open and turned towards Derek's mouth. He shuts his eyes, eyelashes twitching as he tries not to tense up; it might not work, this might not work. So he does it again, almost not moving, but turning his head so that his neck is bare and turned and Derek could, if he wanted to, could rip Stiles' throat out with his teeth.

"What--" Stiles can hear Derek swallow. "What are you doing."

Stiles lets out a breath; it comes out in a whoosh; he lets his spine sag a little, but stays where he is.

"You could do it," Stiles says. "I would let you. If you wanted to hurt me, I would let you." The words echo the gesture that Stiles has just made, but he thinks that the gesture alone has already worked. "If you wanted to, I would let you. So go on, go on, go--"

"Stiles." This comes out almost as a bark, a question and a command all at once.

Stiles butts his head up against the bottom of Derek's jaw again, harder this time, and pulls back, letting go of Derek's neck, casting his eyes over Derek, watching the fur move into Derek's skin. Watching the fangs become teeth, and the heavy brow become Derek's dark brows again. And Derek's eyes, now fully green with no trace of red. Derek has that look, that expression, where his eyebrows go up, and he looks a little young and gentle.

"How did you know--how to do that?" Derek presses his mouth fully closed after this question as if he can't believe he just asked it. Because, as Stiles can see, he's still straddling Stiles' whole body, still has Stiles trapped between his arms. He still was on the verge of raping Stiles, and though only he and Stiles know this, it is still known.

"I figured it out just now," says Stiles, forgoing the usual, longer explanation where he might mention how he watches TV and has the internet, a whole world of information, at his fingertips. Because it occurs to him that Derek might not like it to be so known, to be so exposed to the world. Even if Stiles is the only one who knows how to see what is there.

Derek sits back, resting his weight on Stiles' thighs. Stiles squirms and Derek shifts up, but it's still uncomfortable. He's fully naked and so pale and, well, naked, and Derek is a long length of muscle, and it's not a sure thing that he won't tear into Stiles. Not yet.

"So we can still--I mean, if you need to. If you're gentle with me." Stiles feels his face get hot, and his jaw tenses; he feels foolish because if Derek could do this with anybody else, he would. He doesn't need Stiles, or want him. But then, who would?

"Don't come to me like this out of pity," says Derek. He frowns, mouth curving down, eyebrows low over his eyes. "Don't."

He sees Derek looking at him, all human now and pissed off, as Derek's eyes look Stiles up and down. They still when they come to Stiles' jaw, and Derek reaches out a hand; his fingertips trace the edge of Stiles' jaw, making Stiles wince. He looks at Stiles but doesn't ask did I do that? Because both of them know he did. They're the only two in the world who know.

Stiles tries to move, backwards or sideways, anywhere but directly under Derek, but Derek isn't moving. Isn't shifting his weight or letting Stiles go free.

"I don't know what this is," says Stiles, feeling his own confusion flooding him. "But it's not pity." He relaxes his body completely now, lying back on the mattress, not even trying to get up. But he looks up at Derek through narrow eyes, studying him, like he sometimes does with people when he's trying to figure them out. "It's not pity," he says again.

"Then what is it?" Derek crinkles his forehead as though Stiles were the most confusing thing he's ever come up against. Stiles has seen that expression before, even in people who've known him for years.

"I don't know." Stiles shakes his head and tries to wave his arms to emphasize this, but his arms knock against Derek's thighs so he lays his palms out flat and curls his fingers around till he touches the outside seam of Derek's jeans. "But I'm here, so we can figure it out, you and me. You know? Like we did before?"

"In the cabin," says Derek, in a low soft voice that Stiles is not used to hearing. "I remember."

They hadn't had sex in the cabin, but there had been that connection between them, as though what had happened to Stiles, and what Derek had done about it, afterwards, had woven something between them, with strong threads and Stiles can hear his own heart pounding as he thinks of it. Knows that Derek can hear it too, and thinks that maybe they'll be together, but that this time Stiles won't be scared. Maybe.

"Just be gentle," Stiles says, his voice shaky. "Okay?"

Derek nods, looking down, away, in that way he has that always makes Stiles think that he really hasn't heard, hasn't been listening and is agreeing just to get Stiles to shut up. But then he looks up, and there's a small lift in the corner of his mouth. "I will," he says, and there's almost a question in his voice, as if he can't believe he just said that, agreed to it.

Derek leans forward again, till he's low against Stiles' body, covering him, but not pressing down. He's holding himself up on his elbows, like a gentleman, and with the edge of one palm, sweeps his hand over the curve of Stiles' jaw.

"Yes?" he asks.

"Yes," says Stiles.

Derek dips his head, bending close, tracing his face, his mouth, across Stiles' chest. Stiles' skin pebbles up, shivering with the slightness of the touch, and tries not to gasp, but it's too late.

"Okay?" Derek asks, his eyebrows flying up, and Stiles thinks he might be the slightest bit worried that Stiles will back out. As if he would. After all this.

"Yes," says Stiles, nodding. "Yes, yes. It's just--" He swallows, opening his mouth to relax his jaw. "You're a little--" Stiles lifts his hand to wave it at Derek, as if the gesture will explain what he's trying to say. But Derek just looks confused, so he finishes with, "Much."

This almost makes Derek smile, almost. It comes out as a frown, but a funny one, where Derek's eyebrows go up and his mouth goes down, as if he's fighting laughing outright at Stiles. That's okay, laughing is always better than tearing and ripping and killing. Always. So Stiles makes a face also, crumpling up his mouth, scowling as if Derek should know that he's too much and should try to tone it down a little.

Stiles sees something spark in Derek's eyes, they're so close now, and he realizes that he's flirting with a werewolf. He's not completely at ease but this is miles away from the point where he was sure he was going to get his throat ripped out, miles. So he sighs, and arches his head back, and Derek is there, stroking Stiles' skin with his face, breathing in, and exhaling warm breath, and this time, when Stiles shivers, it's warm and relaxes his body all over.

Derek moves down, clasping Stiles' ribs between his hands, and urges him with the slightest of pressure, to turn over on his stomach. Stiles does. He's just offered up his neck to Derek, so turning over is nothing, should be nothing. There's a body memory there, though; it remembers, and tightens up until Derek, still straddling Stiles' thighs, sweeps his hands up and down Stiles' back.

Then Derek moves between Stiles' thighs, spreading them, but carefully, as if Stiles is fragile and might break. Stiles hears the clink of belt buckle, the shift of cloth against skin, and then he feels Derek's groin against the curve where his bottom meets his thighs, and the heat and hardness there, and Derek leans forward till Stiles can feel the denseness of chest muscles against his spine.

"Like this," Derek says, shifting one of Stiles' legs. "Here."

And Stiles lets him do this, burying his head in his arms, pressing his forehead into the mattress, feeling the back of his neck flushing. Because he's all exposed and Derek is on top of him, reaching down between Stiles' legs, using his fingers to stroke and push a little, and draw back. He hears the wet sound of Derek sucking on his fingers again, and tries not to tighten up, because even if Derek will be gentle, will keep his promise, Stiles body knows how this could go, how it's gone in the past.

"Easy," Derek says, his breath a moist whisper on the back of Stiles' neck as he bends down.

"Yep," Stiles says, almost grunting.

Derek presses one wet finger in and then two; it's almost hasty, but the fingers are soft and press and move, sending flickers up Stiles' spine. He can feel the heft of Derek's forearm, the muscles against the inside of his thighs, and knows that Derek could break him in two, but he's not. No, he's moving slow, spreading his fingers, relaxing Stiles' body from the inside, bending down, breathing warm breaths on Stiles' skin.

He feels Derek shift, and then feels the heat of Derek's cock and opens his eyes and blinks into the darkness of the circle of his arms. His mouth falls open as he tries to keep breathing, to keep calm, and it's not easy. But Derek makes it easy. He snubs his cock in, just a little way, and pulls out, as if to show Stiles how it will be. It will be slow and it will be easy, and it will feel like this, and this, and this. Stiles shivers and pulls his leg up, and lets Derek in.

Derek pushes his cock into Stiles' body and waits; Stiles thinks he can hear Derek's heart hammering in his chest, or maybe it is Stiles' own heart, pounding, slamming against his ribs.

"Okay," says Stiles. His mouth is dry, so he licks his lips. "Yes, okay." He wants to reach back to touch Derek, somewhere, anywhere, to let Derek know that yes, yes, yes, please.

Derek reaches around and pulls Stiles up, yanking him up by his hips till he's on his hands and knees. The darkness of Stiles' arms falls away, leaving him blinking in the light, his face cool in the open air. Behind him, Derek holds on, hands circling his hips, and moves, slow, slow, pushing in, pausing, and then pulling out. And then again, gently, as if Derek's body is asking Stiles' body to join him in the movement. Stiles sighs, and when Derek pushes in, Stiles, moves to join him, curling his back, pressing down with his hips.

Derek makes a sound at this, low, in his chest, a cut-off sound, like a cry, so Stiles does the motion again, feeling himself smirking a little on the inside, at himself being so clever, doing this like he knows what he's doing. Because he's smart like that and bodies are bodies; he knows what his body likes, so it might be the same, for Derek.

But as he shifts down again, Derek grabs his hips, fingers pressing harder into the bone of Stiles' hips, and with a quick jerk, really thrusts this time, right against something inside of Stiles that causes his brain to spark, to spill over from his head, down his spine, everywhere.

"Holy--" He snaps his mouth shut, then opens it to get more air.

"There you go," says Derek, and if he's not smiling on the outside, because he seldom does, then Stiles thinks he's doing it on the inside. Because he moves again, in just that same way, a quick thrust to touch that spot, his cock banging right into it, and Stiles' whole body, jumps.

Faster now, Derk moves, in and out, pubic hair bunched along the curve of Stiles' bottom, the dusky scent of his skin being pushing into Stiles, the warmth of his thighs against Stiles' thighs growing to heat, with the friction and the pulse of Stiles' heart. As Derek moves, the sensation becomes a blur, and Stiles bends forward, stretching out, dipping his head down, showing the back of his neck, shivering all over. Then he can feel Derek's cock pulsing inside of him, pumping out his seed, marking Stiles. Claiming him.

Then he pauses, above Stiles, and as Stiles reaches between his own legs, he's hard now, for the first time being with Derek or the other werewolf, and he wants to move his hand on his own cock and do what he knows how to do, to satisfy himself, as has done, all his life. But before his fingers can do anymore than brush his own hard length, Derek pushes his hand away, and pulls out, quickly, leaving the back of Stiles' legs shivering in the sudden coolness.

Derek's hands are a little rough, as they push Stiles on the bed and flip him over, sprawling legs all akimbo, making him feel foolish, and vulnerable. But Derek's on him again, shoving off his own jeans all the way off this time, his legs bare as he scrambles between Stiles' legs, moving so quickly that it leaves Stiles gaping, a little shocked.

He sees the flash in Derek's eyes, yes, there's red there, and a small, small flash of teeth, but then Derek bends his head, kneeling between Stiles' thighs, and pushes his fingers back up into Stiles', shoving quickly. Stiles is wet and open, but he's not expecting this, so a start runs through him, and he tries to push himself up on his elbows, but then, oh, then, Derek's mouth is on his cock, going straight down without a pause, and he starts sucking.

Up and down with his hot, wet mouth as his fingers, curled around each other, shove in and out and Stiles' head collapses back, and he groans for a long, long time, feeling it reverberate all the way through him, every nerve ending, every square inch of him, thrumming and shivering. His body is starved for this, so starved, so when he comes, he's not surprised that it's so fast, but he's shocked, almost frozen with it, when Derek's mouth suctions against the pulse of Stiles' cock, and swallows. And then swallows again. Stiles falls back on the bed, his mouth a round circle, and for a second, he can't breathe. If he could come again so soon, he would, right then and there, from that, the circle of Derek's lips tight against his cock.

When Stiles' body has stilled, Derek pulls out his fingers, and wipes them on the inside of Stiles' thighs. Then he lifts his head and looks at Stiles, still crouched between his legs. There is sweat beading on his forehead, dark hair plastered down, and there's a flush on his cheek, and a tiny, small quirk to his mouth, as though he knows what he's just done to Stiles will set the bar sky high forevermore. It's the alpha ego, Stiles knows this, but, he thinks that this time, it's deserved.

And as usual, his mouth opens, to spill out the words to cover his state, overwhelmed and confused, because Derek was so gentle with him, so good to him, he's not used to it. Doesn't know what to think. So he talks.

"Will there be kissing, at some point?" He asks this, lifting his head up a little way from the mattress. He waves his hand over his own body as if he's used to being naked like this, with a dark-haired, green-eyed man, also naked, poised between his thighs as if just waiting for the right opportunity to strike again. "I mean, with all this? There should be kissing. I like kissing. I mean, I've never kissed anyone, except for Scott on his birthday, but we were in the third grade, and his Mom had given him a kiss on the mouth, so I did. You know? But that's been it."

A small silence falls over them, on the mattress in the quiet bower of Derek's den. Stiles looks at the ceiling, at the half-circles of scorch marks, and thinks that maybe he's pushed it a little. Derek likes to be in charge of things, and probably, especially, things like this. So he should shut up now, and just be grateful for what he's gotten.

"You want kissing?" Derek asks that, in the way that he does, all growly and pissed off, but half-exasperated too, as if Stiles was the most obvious of idiots.

"Yes." Stiles' voice comes out very small. Not sure, suddenly, if he actually wants to be kissing a werewolf. But it's in all the stories. After sex comes the closeness, the shifting of bodies until they are side by side on the bed, the passion calming into something gentle, where there's petting and stroking and no urgency at all. Just warm, skin on skin. And kisses. "Yes," he says again.

"Kissing." Derek says this in way, that way he has when he's about to say no, so Stiles tightens his mouth, and turns his head away, ready to be resigned. But then, Derek is sliding up his body, the weight of his spent cock making a trail along Stiles' thigh, as if to remind Stiles of what they'd just done. As if he needed reminding, and then Derek is next to him. On the bed, lowering himself down, reaching over to trail his fingers along Stiles' arm.

"Kissing," Derek says again, and Stiles turns his head, now to look at Derek, eyes bright, lashes dark, that swirl of hair pressed against his forehead. Almost vulnerable, like a regular guy. And then, showing the tips of his white teeth, he licks his lips.

"Oh," says Stiles, and he closes his eyes, thinking that now would be the best time to get up and get dressed in whatever's left of his clothes and say thank you, that was good, I must be going now.

But Derek stops him, a hand in the middle of Stiles' stomach, pressing, just a fraction of weight, before Derek moves, half on Stiles, covering him, keeping him there. And that mouth comes closer, red lips, white teeth, a grin that can't be described as anything other than feral, Stiles can't even stop himself from thinking it: feral. And then Derek tips his head down, and kisses Stiles. Taking every bit of air and bravado out of Stiles, sweeping that all away with the most gentle, feathery touch. Derek's mouth, those killing teeth, brushing just softly, pressing, letting Stiles moan, and then touching him, touching his lips, with a warm tongue.

"You wanted kissing," says Derek, almost smug, pulling back.

"Mmmph." Stiles' eyes are closed now. Of course the internet would never tell him this, would never have known this. That a werewolf's kisses are a vortex and he's about to be sucked in. "So I did. Stupid, stupid Stiles."

"Open your eyes," Derek says. "Stiles."

Swallowing, Stiles' eyes stutter open, and he looks up at Derek through his eyelashes, feeling bested by this, feeling undone.

"It's okay," says Derek. Looking soft and young, accepting, as he sometimes does, albeit unexpectedly, of Stile's foibles, his vulnerabilities. "I'll--" Derek moves his mouth over what he's going to say, because it might be, as it sometimes is, something kind and soft that he might want to deny later. Stiles will let him, he promises himself this. "I'll hold you while I do it."

Stiles nods, and realizes he's chewing on his lower lip, and tries to stop it as Derek leans down and kisses away the bite. Kisses away Stiles biting himself, and the irony makes Stiles want to snort, laughing, but he doesn't. Derek's mouth is sweet, and press against Stiles' mouth in a way that is tender, so tender that Stiles thinks he's making it up, just for himself. Or dreaming it, pretending, but no, Derek sweeps his tongue along Stile's lower lip, the one he was biting, and then licks right into Stiles' mouth, taking Stiles, right then and there.

His hands come up and he grabs hold of Derek, fingers digging into the muscle of his arm, as Derek kisses him, feeling the bunching and lengthening, feeling the shiver of Derek's skin as Stiles loosens his hold and strokes with his fingers. Derek must feel Stiles shiver, now, because Stiles' can feel the echo of himself against Derek's body, chest to chest, his heartbeat pounding against Derek, pushing his scent into Derek, claiming Derek in return.

Derek kisses him and tastes him, till Stiles' brain is sparking lights in his head, and he tips his chin back, showing Derek what he wants, how he wants, though he cannot even think what he is doing, why he's doing this. Derek pauses for a second, then moves his mouth from Stile's mouth and drags the moistness of his lips down Stiles' jaw. Over the bruises that Derek had left there the day before, and under Stiles' chin. Down to the length of Stiles' neck, where the blood is pulsing hot and fast just beneath the skin.

With a press of his mouth, he kisses there, and traces the surface of the vein with his tongue. And with the edges of his teeth, Stiles can feel him baring his teeth, his human teeth, and he nips. And just as he does, he reaches down and strokes Stiles' cock, moving up, hard between his legs, and Stiles comes, just from that, his head spinning, eyes feeling like they're slamming into the back of his head. His hips rise up from the bed, as he comes, and then, with his come cooling on his stomach, he sinks back into the bed.

With the sensations drifting all over him, he feels Derek settle at his side, pushing Stiles forward so that Derek can curl up behind him. Over him, laying an arm over Stiles' shoulder, pushing his leg over Stiles' hips, nestling between Stiles' legs with his heavy thigh, holding Stiles there. Staying with him, keeping him safe. Stiles tries to blink, to keep the light coming, but it's surging away, pushed away by the strong arms that hold him, circle him. Stiles lets his eyes close. It's okay, he's okay. Derek will watch out for him.

~ ~ * ~ ~

When Stiles wakes up, the air is hot on his skin, and Derek, pressed closely against his back, is hot, too. There's a sear of sweat between their bodies, but Stiles doesn't move away, doesn't break contact. Doesn't want to. He wonders if it will never not be a strange sensation, being this close to Derek, to all that power and neck-snapping strength. It will probably be better if it's always strange, because, as gentle as Derek was, there's always the wolf, right behind, staring out from behind Derek's eyes.

Stiles opens his eyes. He can sense that the shadows outside are long on the ground, and tries to think where his phone is, whether he should call his Dad, or whether he can risk not calling, whether his Dad will be at work. Maybe he can use Derek's phone, if he has to, because he'd not left a note on the table, and yes, his phone is still in his room at home, charging up.

It's these ordinary thoughts that ground him, as Derek, coming to wakefulness, stirs behind him. His arms, corded muscles bunching in his forearms, tighten around Stiles. Stiles doesn't try to shift away, even though Derek's hold is a little tight, because a second later, Derek's grip lessens, and Stiles can breath again.

"What's in the cooler?" Derek asks this as he moves his open mouth against the back of Stiles' neck.

"Something," says Stiles. "A surprise."

"It's not a bag of wolfs bane to keep me away, is it?" Derek's joking, of course he is, but there's a little click deep in his throat as he says the word keep, and Stiles hurries to soothe this sound away.

"No, of course not. It's something good. Something for you, but, you know, for me too."

They lay there for a moment longer, Derek's front to Stiles' back, breathing in sync, and when Stiles realizes this, he smiles to himself. And thinks about what he might say if Scott finds out that Stiles has come to the Hale house all on his own and walked away unscathed. Because when Stiles reports in, his Dad will tell someone and then that someone will tell Scott's Mom, and Scott will want to know. And Stiles knows, deep inside, where there is no light, that he will lie to Scott.

Oh, sure, he'll admit that he came over, to lay his gift at the foot of the gods, hoping for their mercy, but that'll be it. But Stiles is admittedly terrified of Derek, so it's nothing Scott won't understand, nothing that he'll remark upon. Or even think about, once the sun rises on Allison's smile. That distance between him and Scott because of Allison still hurts. But maybe it'll start feeling not so bad now. Now, that he can feel Derek's breath on his shoulder, as it feels like Derek is lifting his head to look at Stiles, the side of his face under the wolf's scrutiny.

"Stiles." Derek says this as he moves his hand along Stiles' arm.

"Okay," says Stiles. He moves forward, breaking the contact between their bodies, a part of him wanting to lie back down, but his stomach rumbles and shifts, and he knows Derek must be starving. "Let's get up, I'll give you your surprise."

He sits up and then back, his elbows on his knees as he looks at Derek. As if sitting naked in bed with Derek is the most ordinary, unremarkable thing in the world. As if the fact that he can see almost every inch of Derek's skin, the ripples of muscles just under the skin, the long line of his thighs, the thick line of hair leading up from his pubic hair to just under his belly button. There's something so physical, so human about this, that Stiles has to bite the inside of is lip to keep from exclaiming over it. To point it out, his amazement and his delight that Derek would shed to his skin like this, in front of Stiles.

"Is there anything I can wear. Somebody," he jerks his chin in Derek's direction. "Somebody ripped my clothes."

With a snort, Derek gets up, pushing off the bed, and standing upright with one fluid motion. Stile's feels his eyebrows go up, but it's obvious by the way Derek simply walks off, that this ease of movement, this grace, is normal for Derek. All that skin, just walking, because that's what he is. Movement and grace and power. Stiles swallows back a sound of astonishment, but he's not sure what to do with it either. Except to keep his eyes open and keep watching.

Derek bends to put on his underwear and jeans, does up the button and zipper, then the belt. He's still shirtless, though, as he pulls out a box on the shelf, and brings something for Stiles to wear. Stiles takes it and sees that it's the cutoff sweat pants and the blue shirt that Derek had loaned him from before. His mouth tightens against the surge of memory, both good and dark, and the thoughts of how they'd been, together, surviving together crash over him like a seawave over the rocks.

Derek looks at him, like he's going to ask a question, and Stiles shakes his head.

"They smell like you, now," says Derek. "Every time I tried to put them on, they said, Stiles owns me." Derek shrugs, like it's not something he'd expected, but a man's scent is a man's scent, so there you go.

"Get up," Derek says now. "Get dressed. I want my surprise."

This is more like the Derek that Stiles is used to, which helps to steady him. So he gets up and does as he's told, slipping into the familiar weight of the cutoffs and blue t-shirt. Then, barefooted on the wooden floorboards, he goes over and gets the cooler. Gesturing to Derek, he puts the cooler on the table with a small clonk.

"It's not wolfs bane, right?" Derek asks this, with his scowl in place.

Stiles laughs under his breath. "No, I already told you no. Can you smell any wolfs bane? No, you cannot. And now look--" Stiles rotates the handle and slips off the boxy white lid, which he lets drop to the floor. "There you go. Cookies and milk."

"Cookies?" Derek's eyebrows fly up into his hairline. He pokes at the quart sized zip-lock bag.

"Homemade," Stiles says, pulling the bag out. "Homemade chocolate chip cookies, because I know--" He pauses to unzip the bag, pulls out a cookie and holds it out to Derek. "I know a sour wolf who has sweet teeth."

Derek reaches out to take the cookie and then pauses, his fingers inches from taking it. "Won't this spoil our supper?"

Stiles' throat feels thick, because there's that look again, young and soft, and asking, because, of course, you never want to spoil your supper, especially not with sweet things. It has to be some vestige from when Derek was younger, and followed someone else's rules, and it makes Stiles' heart pang to think of what Derek had lost when he was not any older than Stiles is now.

"No," Stiles, shakes off the feeling. He snorts and shakes his head. "With your appetite, that'll never happen."

"Okay." Derek says this, but he still doesn't look sure, so Stiles puts his hand on Derek's hand and urges the cookie to Derek's mouth. There are those red lips and those white teeth, so close to Stiles' hand, biting into the best of Stiles' cooking efforts, if he does say so himself. Before, when he'd been making them, he'd been numb all over, with not much of an appetite, but as he takes in the crumbs on Derek's mouth, he thinks that maybe he can partake in his share now.

"Got glasses?" Stiles pulls out the half gallon of milk. "Were going to need them."

Derek shoves the rest of the cookie into his mouth and actually hurries to pull down two red Solo cups from the top of the shelf. He brings them over, chewing, and slams the cups down, as if demanding that Stiles stop messing around and fill them up, starting with Derek's.

As Derek sits down, Stiles fills the cups to the brim, and then sits opposite of Derek, taking his first cookie. He breathes across it, smelling the sugar and the chocolate, and smiles at Derek as he bites into it.

"This is how it's done," he says. Then he eats his cookie to the halfway mark, slowly, and takes a big gulp of milk. Then he smiles at Derek as he swallows, and munches away on the second half of his cookie.

"These are good." Derek is on his third cookie, and they're not small, so Stiles knows he likes them. Even if his mouth is firmly set in a straight line, as if he doesn't want to be caught giving Stiles too much praise. Then he spoils this as he gives a little hum under his breath as he reaches for his fourth cookie. Stiles does a little jig in his seat and lets himself smirk, watching Derek trying not to smile as he looks at Stiles being an idiot across the table from him.

Halfway through a bite, Derek pauses and looks at Stiles. He does it in that way that he does, his jaw shifting, and a tightening under his eyes. As though he were about to slam Stiles with something fairly unpleasant, but unavoidable. And since Derek is Derek, his way is to march through the unpleasantness; it's what he does, it's who he is. Stiles leans back a little, tightening up, feeling the wariness build.

"So," says Derek. He shoves the last of the cookie in his mouth and takes a big gulp of milk. For a second, there's a milk moustache, which Derek wipes away with the back of his hand, so fast that Stiles thinks he imagined it.

"So?" Stiles asks.

Derek sits up in his chair, and Stiles sees him swallow. "So," says Derek again. "Are you going to be hungry after these?" He waves his hand over the graveyard of crumbs on the table.

There's two ways Stiles can react to this. He can harass Derek and push all his buttons and grin and grunt and tease and torment, like he usually likes to do, and make Derek spell it out. Or, he can be kind, take the kindness that Derek has shown him, the small, scattered seconds, and simply agree. He looks up at Derek from behind lowered lashes, letting himself flirt a little bit, because it feels like it's on the edge of something, dangerous and scary, and he feels alive when he does it, all the way through.

"I like pizza," Stiles says. "But I have to call my Dad first, because I didn't take my phone, and he'll want to know where I am."

Derek blinks, as if he's taken aback by the normalcy of this. And he too, Stiles knows, can play it two ways. Either he becomes his normal growly self and scoff at Stiles' assumption. Or, he can do what he's doing, what he's doing to Stiles' secret amazement, as he reaches behind him, to grab the phone on one of the shelves.

"Better hurry. I usually charge it when I'm driving."

Stiles takes the phone without saying anything about it, and dials his Dad's cell phone. He can see by the numbers on the dial that this number is not new to this particular cell phone, and while he doesn't have enough time to dig down and find out exactly how many times, he's certain that his Dad is not a stranger to receiving calls from Derek Hale.

After two rings, his Dad answers the phone. "Stilinski."

"Hey, Dad."

"Hey, kiddo, what's up, this isn't your number. Everything okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine. I'm over at Derek's."

"Yeah?" His Dad is less surprised at this than he might otherwise have been, but that's because it's not a new subject. His Dad knows about how busy and distracted Scott's been with Allison, besides which, Derek Hale has been on the Stilinski event horizon for a while now. He's even been over to supper at the house, for crying out loud.

"I came over to help Derek with the house, like we talked about, and now we're thinking we should go get pizza."

Stiles' Dad humps deep in his throat. "You going to bring any leftovers home for your old man, or are you going to kowtow to the Sheriff's strict dietary requirements."

"Oh, I don't know," Stiles pretends to consider this, watching Derek as he watches Stiles, completely confused by the one-sided conversation. "I'm pretty sure there'll be a mistake on the order, and an extra sausage and mushroom that I'll have to lug home."

"Sounds good. Be safe, Stiles."

"Okay, bye." Stiles presses the End Call button with his thumb and hands the phone back over to Derek. "Okay?" He breathes out as his body tells him he'd tightened up during that call. He'd not realized how it made him nervous, to talk about anything to do with Derek Hale, especially with his Dad. "Shall we meet there?" he asks, to cover this.

"I'll drive," says Derek. He gets up and starts zipping up the bag, and puts the bag on his shelf because of course, he's keeping the rest of them for himself. Stiles doesn't mind. He closes up the milk carton and puts it in the cooler, puts the lid back on. He holds it out to Derek.

"The milk should be good for a day or so," he says.

Derek nods and takes the cooler, puts it on the floor next to the shelf.

"Get your shoes," Derek says to Stiles, and as Stiles grabs his sneakers and socks, he sits on the floor and puts them on. Watches out of the corner of his eye as Derek find a shirt in one of the boxes, and slips it on. He's seen Derek taking off and putting on shirts before, but not like this, as Derek does it slowly, as though he likes feeling the slide of the cotton on his skin. As though, maybe, he likes the feel of Stiles watching him. But this thought makes Stiles feel shy, so when Derek looks at him, Stiles looks away, and gets to his feet, flushing.

Derek's holding his cell phone in one hand, half-tossing it, as if to heft the feel of it in his hand. As though, and this makes Stiles blink as he thinks it, as though he's absorbing the heat of Stiles skin lingering along the surface.

"Okay?" asks Derek.

"Yes," says Stiles. He looks around, sees the crumbs on the table that nobody's worried about, sees the tumble of sheets on the bed that will be left unmade. Thinks of Derek living like this, on his own, and how it might feel to go to get something to eat and then to come back. To watch Derek light the Coleman lantern, and to hear the hiss and smell the propane, and to lie on the bed with Derek, while it got darker and the scent of salt on their skins became sharper in the coolness. And Derek, watching Derek, blinking against the light, but easily, relaxed, as he reaches for Stiles, brushing the sheets with the back of his hand, reaching for Stiles to touch him with the slightest of touches.


Stiles blinks. "Yep, I'm good. I'm thinking Pasquali's right? You been there?"

Derek shakes his head, and reaches for his keys on their hook.

"It's good," Stiles says, making himself concentrate on what's in front of him, because that's amazing enough. "You won't be sorry."

Derek snorts, as if he's already sorry, but he's leading the way out of the house, as if knowing, without looking, that Stiles is close behind. The step out on the front porch, where the evening's smoky twilight makes everything soft and still. Derek is standing in the shadow of the porch, and Stiles is standing there with him, feeling, somehow, that this time he does belong. Even if it's only for a little while.

Stiles looks at Derek's car and thinks he'll try to find the seatbelts without making a big deal of it, because Derek likes to go fast, and Stiles does not want to slow him down, ever.

As Derek closes the front door behind them, he pauses. "So--"

"Yeah?" Stiles waits, looking up at Derek, caching his gaze, holding it with his own.

"You going running tomorrow?"

It startles Stiles to think of what Derek is asking. That Derek might actually want to come with him, to do that with him, to spend that kind of time. But who is he to say no? Derek might be able to give him some pointers, to keep him going when he feels fatigued. And, best of all, Stiles won't have to worry about what's in the woods, and he does love running in the woods.

"Yes," says Stiles. "Nine o'clock?" He asks this, as he'd done before, without making Derek spell it out. "Shall I come here, or--?"

"I'll come get you at your house," Derek says, and for a moment, it's normal, so normal, two guys arranging to meet for a run. Then Derek smiles, showing his teeth, like he does, when he thinks he should be threatening and just hasn't the heart for it. "But you better be ready, I don't go slow."

Now it's Stiles turn to snort. He knows how fast Derek can run, but he also has seen Derek moving along at the most casual of lopes. But he shakes his head and doesn't say anything; challenges make Derek stand up and smash his way through them, and while Stiles knows this, it doesn't have to be a fight between them all the time.

Stiles hurries down the stairs, getting into the passenger seat of the Camaro, letting himself be excited while Derek saunters through the evening shadows, casually, and gets into the driver side.

As he starts the engine, revving it to prove how perfectly tuned it is, Stiles turns in his seat and asks, "You like garlic, right? I mean, 'cause we can't be friends, you and I, if you don't."

This makes Derek pause. He fiddles with the headlights and checks the rearview mirror, and it's a little dark as he looks at Stiles, but there's something in his eyes, and he seems like he's hesitating before he says it anyway. "So we're friends now?"

Stiles thinks of saying yes, but I won't tell if you won't. Except after, well, after everything, being on the road, the cabin, today, Stiles can't bring himself to tease, even a little bit. He doesn't imagine, anyway, that Derek is going to march around announcing this to the world regardless; he's too private a person for that. Still, if Stiles makes a joke, then Derek will react, drawing back, like a small kid whose hand has just gotten smacked.

"We are," says Stiles, with a jerk of his chin as he nods. "I don't bake cookies for just anyone."

"You bake for Scott?" This comes out with a snap.

"Not anymore," Stiles says. "Not in a long time. I mean, we're still like brothers, but--" He stops; he'd not meant to say that. But he thinks Derek understands anyway. To cover the whirl in his head, he adds, "We going to sit here, wasting gas, or are you going to drive?"

"Drive," says Derek, and Stiles stifles a smile at the thought that Derek has just instantly complied with one of Stiles' requests. If Stiles were to point it out, it would be a blue moon, ha, before it ever happened again. So he rests back in the seat, letting the familiar contours hold him in place. Forgets about the seat belt, as Derek steers the Camaro along the dirt road among the trees. Watches the slice of silver and white headlights as they brighten up the path before them. Nods to himself and thinks that he likes it like this, Derek and him, separated from the world, making one of their own.

And tomorrow they will run together. And perhaps for many days after that. And although he doesn't really understand where this, whatever this is, will take them, Stiles knows that this is just fine with him.

The End