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Derek's pacing, adjusting and readjusting his cap while his agent taps away on her computer, appearing wholly unconcerned by his rapidly rising temper.

"Erica!" he snaps; she flicks her eyes to him to tell him she's listening, then looks back at her screen. "This guy? I know you said you'd trust him with your life, but he's fifteen minutes late - fifteen, Erica! If he can't even be on time for his first day--"

Derek's cut off by the door swinging open and a young man stumbling across the threshold. "Sorry I'm late, I just--whoa," the guy stands up straighter, his already huge doe eyes widening. Derek finds himself stunned into silence, not sure where to start. He's uncertain whether he wants to push his hands through the guy's hair and pull, or let his tongue travel the expanse of exposed neck and bite down on that perfect looking jaw. While the sudden heat sparking through him tells him that option C: all of the above is a good idea, Derek forces himself to look away lest he decide to reach out and rip that impeccably tailored suit from him.

Professional, he chides himself. Derek is a professional, and he will have a professional relationship with this man.

He forces all thoughts of hair tugging and clothes ripping out of his head and looks at the guy--kid, Derek thinks: he doesn't look a day over the age of eighteen--again, aiming for an air of ambivalence and landing somewhere between irritated and brooding. The guy looks to be around two seconds from a heart attack. Erica told him that his new bodyguard is a fan of the team, though she'd neglected to mention that he was also a fan of Derek himself. Over dinner last night, she may have mentioned, offhand, that the guy could wax lyrical for hours over the Beacons, that he could reel off every team members' stats for the past season, but Derek had been more intent on eating than talking, which in itself was nothing unusual, and Erica knew that.

"Are you done fanboying, or should I give you a few more minutes?" Erica asks, the smirk and her words clearly directed at the newcomer, who's still standing and gaping, but Derek can't help but feel there's a jibe at him hidden in there somewhere, too. The words snap the guy out of his daydream - and Derek is absolutely not wondering what was going on in his head - and he clears his throat, arching an eyebrow. "Derek, I'd like you to meet your new bodyguard, Stiles Stilinski. Stiles, as you know, you'll be watching over Derek, keeping him away from the crazier fans, making sure he doesn't disappear for days at a time following any losses."

Stiles holds out a hand, his face a mask of nonchalance. "It's good to meet you," he says. Derek shakes the offered hand, absently noting the firm grip, and makes it his mission to get rid of that mask.

"Pleasure," he says, belatedly realising he still hasn't said anything. Erica's giving him a considering look. "You look a little... skinny."

Stiles' eyes glint at the almost insult, but the rest of his expression stays neutral. "I have military training, am a master at mixed martial arts and can use almost any item in this room as a weapon," he says with the air of someone who's used to being underestimated. "On paper, you won't find a better match than me anywhere for what you're looking for, and I could probably incapacitate you blindfolded. With my hands behind my back. Sitting down."

Derek lifts his eyebrows and glances at Erica, who's surveying them over steepled fingers with the same interest that might be paid to a new and exotic zoo exhibit. "He certainly has a mouth," he says and she looks at him, ruby lips splitting to display a grin that's more teeth than anything resembling joy. She knows he prefers quiet company. Derek's almost certain she picked the mouthiest bodyguard she could find.

"You wanted the best," she says, lifting her chin. "And I'm not just saying that. Stiles can be relied upon, that's all you need to know. Stiles, your new car's out back."

Derek watches her toss him a set of keys and opens his mouth to protest. Erica flashes him another pointy grin. "He's even trained in defensive driving," she says this as though Stiles is her child and he's just graduated all eight Ivy League schools. Simultaneously. Whilst saving orphaned children and kittens from burning buildings. Derek turns his glare to Stiles, who appears unaffected; he just raises an eyebrow and gestures to the door, stepping through it before Derek.

"I'm going to kill you," Derek grunts at Erica, who doesn't even have the good grace to pretend to be worried by the threat. Derek trails after Stiles, watching him as his new bodyguard goes so far as to don a pair of dark sunglasses upon leaving the building.

"So, what's your story?" Stiles asks, waiting at the car door for Derek to get in before circling around to the driver's side and sliding behind the wheel. "What's a baseball player need a personal bodyguard for?"

"Didn't Erica tell you?" Derek asks. "My story is all over the tabloids."

"What part of the fact ‘I'm a master of mixed martial arts and am militarily trained’ suggests I have time to read the newspaper?" Stiles asks, shooting a look at Derek. "Or would you prefer I spend the time I'm meant to be watching your back following your every move on social networks?"

"Erica tells me you're a fan."

"I am," Stiles says. "Of the BH Beacons. As long as I'm at work, though, I'm a bodyguard, not a fan. Nice deflection, there. Where am I taking you, by the way? There's no game on tonight, right? I didn't actually get a chance to check, but Erica didn't tell me there was, so...."

"Off day," Derek says. "Just to my apartment. Tomorrow's game is in the city."

Stiles makes an acknowledging noise. "You want anything to eat? I'm gonna go grab something. My place is further out, so it's easier for me to get something, drop you off and then head home."

Derek turns his head to study Stiles, whose eyes never seem to stop moving from what little Derek can see of them. Everything about him screams that he's aware of every single detail going on around him and the car. Abruptly, Derek realises he's probably aware of him staring too; he turns to gaze out to the traffic. "I could eat."

Stiles pulls into the parking lot of a Red Robin. "It was this or TGI's," he explains. "I would have happily gone for Burger King or something, but Erica threatened me - I'm not allowed to feed the pet star player actual junk food."

Derek narrows his eyes at being called the pet, but Stiles is already out of the car. Derek fights his way free of his belt and door before Stiles can get to it. Stiles levels him with a look, but says nothing. He pushes his sunglasses up into his hair and leads the way into the restaurant. Derek's palms itch to follow the sunglasses' path. "If Erica asks, we at least went to Olive Garden or something," he says, holding the door for almost as an afterthought. Derek passes him, lifting an eyebrow. "I don't class Red Robin as junk food, even if it is burgers, because you have to sit down at a table to eat. I don't think Erica agrees with me."

Derek's quiet through dinner, but Stiles is more than chatty enough for both of them. He has his back to a windowless corner, facing the door, and Derek can't help but marvel at the way he keeps conversation going without looking as though his attention to the world around them has lapsed even slightly.

Having put away a truly impressive portion of curly fries, managing to wolf down a burger almost as big as his head and following it up with a bowl of ice cream, Stiles leans back in his chair, legs sprawling under the table. He laces his fingers behind his head, eyes scanning the restaurant before falling on Derek.

"What am I?" Stiles asks after a few moments' consideration. "To anyone who asks, I mean. Are you comfortable with people knowing you have a personal bodyguard, or would you rather me be a distant cousin you're showing the ropes to?"

Derek looks up from folding his unused napkin into a pale imitation of a crane. "You're my bodyguard," he says, shrugging. In truth, he hasn't given it much thought, but insinuating that they're in any way related is a bad idea - Derek knows this, because he's still having thoughts about raking his fingernails through Stiles' hair and seeing what other tricks that agile tongue of his has. "I already have an agent and a press officer, there's no one else who would have a reason to be with me every second of every day. Unless you'd rather be my boyfriend."

Stiles startles at that, nearly swallowing the straw he's been paying far too much attention to.

Derek grins. "Don't worry, I'm not going to commit career suicide," he says. Stiles makes an indecipherable face and rolls his eyes.

They lull into silence again. Stiles goes to pay, but Derek beats him to it, merely smirking when Stiles mumbles about overpaid assholes. He determinedly doesn't think about the connotations of paying for Stiles' meal.

*

They're nearing his apartment when Derek sighs. "I got involved with my former coach," he says. Stiles glances at him - it's the first time Derek's seen him take his primary focus off the road. "She, uh... as a coach, she was good, I guess, but we got drunk at the end of last season and things got a little crazy. She tried to steal my money, break all of my ties with my family. I confronted her, said I wouldn't go to the authorities if she left and didn't come near my family again, she pulled a gun on me and told me I wouldn't be going to the authorities anyway. I started getting personal threats in January - my family's home was set on fire by an anonymous arsonist at Christmas. Nobody was killed, and the arsonist was never caught, so we had no case and there's no proof it was, uh, my former coach. When the threats started in January, we didn't really take them seriously because I was always with the team, training, you know? They started to get really bad a few weeks ago and Erica, for all she's tough and claims not to give a shit, well - she went all out and refused to let me out of her sight until she could find someone to be with me at all times."

Stiles is frowning. He's not looking at Derek, but he's frowning. "Your coach," he says, and the slow recognition in his tone feels like someone's dropped a lead weight down Derek's throat. "A baseball coach, good enough and local enough to be associated with the Beacons, meaning it has to be an Argent... and you're saying 'she'. Allison's not old enough, and I don't think she's taken up her father's mantle of baseball-or-nothing--Kate Argent? Your former coach was Kate Argent?"

Derek curses Erica. "You know her?"

"I've sat at the same dinner table as her," Stiles says, his face is contorted in a way Derek's not sure how to identify. "Her niece is my best friend's girlfriend. Kate came back into town a few months ago, said she'd just had a bad break up. Jesus. I knew she was a little screwed up, but..."

Derek stays rooted and tense in his seat, already fifteen minutes ahead of himself and on the phone to Erica begging her to get rid of Stiles.

He says nothing as Stiles follows him up to his apartment, making sure he gets inside okay, and getting himself acquainted with the building's doorman. Stiles tells him he'll be out in the car for half an hour if he needs anything, and that he'll pick Derek up in the morning. Derek locks his door behind himself, staying pressed against it for a long few moments, listening to Stiles' tuneless whistling fade down the hallway before fumbling his phone out of his pocket.

Erica answers within two rings. "I was sure you'd be screwing each other's brains out by now, the way you were looking at each other in my office," she says. "Unless you're calling me for a condom run, in which case I want details, Hale."

Derek covers his eyes with one hand, pinching the bridge of his nose hard. "He knows the Argents," he says. "Erica, he knows Kate."

Erica is silent for a long time. "Derek, I told you you can trust him," she says. "I trust him more than I trust my own mother. He isn't like that."

"His best friend is dating her niece," he says, sitting on the floor with his back still against his front door. "He's compromised - between his best friend and me--"

"--Derek, stop," Erica says. "Stiles is a professional - you don't get to his level without being completely dedicated to the job. Stiles isn't the type for mind games - he's gonna tell you what he thinks, he's gonna be a pain in the ass, but he's an honest one. Stiles guards secrets like they're gemstones and he's a dragon - anything you tell him in what he surmises to be confidence will go to the grave with him. He isn't going to tell Kate about who he's protecting, Derek. I doubt he'll even tell Scott."

"She'll know," Derek says. "She'll see photos of him near me. She still has eyes and ears everywhere - she'll know. I'm not going to let her hurt someone else, not what happened to Peter, Erica, I can't do it."

"Der, listen to me," she says, and for once he lets her abbreviation of his name slide. "Stiles is more than capable. Believe me when I say he's faced tougher nuts than Kate Argent and come out on top. Stiles is not the type to pander to anyone, least of all someone he knows to be a manipulative psychopath - I'm surmising you've told him, if you're talking about both of you knowing Kate. Derek, are you there? Don't freak out on me. I swear I'll call Stiles and tell him you're having a panic attack. He'll break the door down - don't make me do that."

"Erica, I need you to get rid of him," Derek says. "If not for him, then for me. I can't trust him - whatever he says or does, it could be a ploy. I don't care if you knew him the instant he was out of the womb; Kate could talk her way around anyone - she could sell the Sahara to Africa."

"Not Stiles," Erica says. "You've met the guy. Does he really seem easily manipulated to you? Stiles could talk Africa into buying Africa, Derek. Give him a week. If you're still not convinced, I'll ask him to resign and appoint someone I don't know or trust implicitly."

He can hear the irritation in her tone, and, under that, the hurt and betrayal she feels at him not trusting her. "A week. What's he going to do in a week?"

Erica stays silent. Derek's sure he can hear the rhythmic drumming of her fingernails on her desk.

"Fine," Derek huffs. "A week."

"That's what I thought. See you later, sugar," she says, sickly sweet, and hangs up. Derek drops the phone into his lap and stays there for a long time, just breathing.

*

Stiles is perched against the hood of the car when Derek gets out of the apartment the following morning. He's sipping from a cardboard cup and is holding another loosely by his hip. He has those ridiculous sunglasses on again and his suit is just as immaculate as the one he wore yesterday. Derek suddenly has an image of Stiles' wardrobe being much like a cartoon characters', in that he opens the doors and it's the exact same outfit over and over.

"Morning, Captain Cheerful," Stiles says, straightening to his full height. Derek's eyes instinctively run the length of his body. If Stiles notices - which Derek has no doubt about, annoyingly - he doesn't say a word, just holds out the cup he hasn't been drinking from.

Derek accepts it, sips, and scowls.

"Non fat, soy, sugar free," Stiles says, circling around to the driver's side. "All your favourite things."

"What's yours?" Derek asks, getting into the car and casting a longing look at the cup Stiles' fingers are curled around.

Stiles' smirk broadens as he drops his cup into the holder. "Non fat, soy, sugar free."

*

They're at the park and halfway to the locker rooms when Stiles shoots him a sharp smirk.

"So, I heard you tried to have me fired," he says and Derek wants to throttle Erica. Stiles glances at him and quirks an eyebrow. "You should know I have no plans to sell you out, no plans to talk to Ms. Argent about you. Even if she asks, anything we discuss, anything you tell me, is completely confidential. I would be breaking my own contract to tell her anything, even your coffee order."

Derek nods, saying nothing.

"Besides, Mr. Hale, I'm a Beacons fan - what good would come out of me letting everyone's favourite cleanup hitter be terrorised?"

Derek manages a forced half smile. Stiles glances along the corridor and ducks into the changing room, sweeping the place before returning to Derek's side. "I'll be down the hall," he says. "And close enough to hear you yell for when you're on the field."

Derek nods and watches Stiles go, the way his hips move, every step seemingly calculated for maximum efficiency. The roll of his shoulders keeps Derek transfixed for as long as it takes Stiles to reach the end of the corridor.

Cursing himself, Derek goes to psych himself up for the match ahead, forcing himself to focus on the game rather than wondering what his bodyguard would look like completely undone. He throws himself under a cold shower for that thought alone.

Soon, Whittemore and Mahealani arrive. They're carrying on, shoving one another and joking. Boyd and Lahey arrive not long after that. Lahey nods at Derek as he passes and Boyd punches his shoulder gently.

An hour later, Derek can't hear himself think for all the commotion in the room. He settles on the bench nearest his locker, already dressed, and closes his eyes.

"Hey, Hale! Hear you've got yourself a bodyguard!" Jackson says, ambling over. Derek opens his eyes to watch his approach.

"Jackson, leave him alone," says Danny, catching Jackson's arm. Derek likes Danny.

"I heard it was Stilinski, I'm just curious," says Jackson, shaking his friend off. He stops before Derek. "How is the little twink? How he ended up with a bodyguarding gig, we'll never know."

"If I remember right, that little twink broke a dude's arm in two places for stalking your girlfriend and her friends," Lahey says coolly; Derek looks around to find Isaac standing just behind him, a hand hovering near Derek's shoulder. Derek has a moment to wonder if there's anyone in Beacon County that doesn't know Stiles before Jackson's skulking away, scowling. Isaac drops onto the bench beside Derek. "You good?"

"I'm good," Derek confirms, nodding. "Thanks."

"Stiles went to college with Jackson and I," Isaac says. "He and Jackson had a thing - it didn't end well. Afterwards, all anyone would talk about was how badly Stiles was coping with the break up, particularly because Jackson started dating Lydia less than two months after they split. Lydia was Stiles' high school sweetheart."

Derek turns his head to look at Isaac, lifting a wry eyebrow. "All sounds very incestuous."

Isaac laughs. "Stiles was on the team," he says, grinning as he talks. "Star player, really - Coach's favourite. Great pitcher, even better on the plate - batting average kicked the ass of anyone else on the team. You know the story of how Jackson and I got spotted - the final game, right? I got two home runs and Jackson knocked three out in a row. The other side to the story is that Stiles wasn't there. Stiles was busy being cornered by Matt, a photography student. The rest is just what Stiles told the court: for weeks, Stiles had been threatening Matt, because Matt had a creepy obsession with Stiles' high school crush and her friends - he had thousands of photos of them because they attended every game, so Stiles had been telling him to back off or he'd go to the authorities - Stiles' father's the Sheriff back home, so it's not like he'd have had any trouble getting someone to listen."

Isaac's cut off by the arrival of their coach. Derek wants to protest - when Isaac had begun talking, Derek hadn't been interested, but now he wants to know the rest of the story. There's so much more to Stiles than he'd have Derek believe.

Derek's attention wanders as Coach gives them his customary pep talk - by this point, Derek's confident he could rattle it off by heart. His mind is full of Stiles - if he'd been a star player, surely he'd have gotten another shot at being spotted. A realisation dawns on him, sickening - Isaac had said Stiles had broken a guy's arm. Was Stiles unstable in some way? What had happened to result in Stiles breaking some guy's arm?

"Lahey--Isaac," Derek hisses as everyone's standing and gathering towards the doors. "What happened? With Stiles, I mean."

Isaac shrugs. "Matt cornered Stiles in the hall before the game. He had a gun, Stiles had his bat. Lucky it happened in the hallway, really - no cameras in the locker room. No audio, but Stiles said Matt tried to threaten him into not going to the cops, said he'd hurt someone if he did, Stiles said Matt threatened to hurt Lydia. Stiles says he saw red - grabbed Matt's gun arm and just kept twisting until something popped. He smashed up Matt's camera with his bat, and got Matt's arm when he tried to save the camera. Stiles dropped the bat and started freaking out. Called the ambulance himself. Matt tried to shoot him - brought security running. The rest was mostly hush-hush: Jackson's dad represented Stiles because as much as Jackson's kind of a dick, they liked each other once, and Stiles was defending Lydia. Stiles was tried for aggravated assault and destruction of property. He got off with it, because Matt was brought up on attempted murder, threatening with intent and stalking. Lydia, Erica and Allison all filed for restraining orders, even though Matt's now doing time. I think they all testified against him, too.

"Stiles was allowed to come back to school and continue playing for the team but he didn't," Isaac says. Derek's head spins with connections - Allison, Stiles' friend’s girlfriend, an Argent; Erica could only be Derek's own agent, which means Erica knows, or at least knew, the Argents as well. Derek's head's beginning to ache. "That's really the last we saw of him. He dropped out and completely disappeared. I think the only one he kept in contact with was Erica until about a year ago when he came back. He didn't give anyone any reasoning or explanations, just went about things as though nothing had happened. We all went for dinner to catch up - Lydia had told us all something vague about private security and told us to shut up about it, so, predictably, Jackson asked about it over said dinner. Stiles looked at Lydia like she'd just broken something precious, like she'd just kicked an already beaten puppy, you know? Left without saying a word. Don't think he's said anything to Jackson or Lydia since - he hasn't really said anything to any of us."

Derek's head swirls with all of the new information. Isaac claps him on the back and jogs out onto the field. Derek trails after him. Boyd jostles his shoulder and Derek shakes himself, taking a few deep breaths and pushing Stiles out of his mind. He's got a game to win.

*

Derek manages to keep it together enough to score his fair share of runs. He doesn't remember much about the first seven innings, too focused on keeping himself in the moment to think about much else - he can always catch the highlights later if there's anything worth watching. He gets thrown out at first at the start of the eighth, winding up back in the dugout before he really has any idea what's happened. All he can remember is catching sight of Stiles behind the dugout, looking unruffled and immaculate.

He takes a moment to just ground himself as he sinks down onto the bench next to Danny, who jostles his shoulder good naturedly and turns his attention back to the game.

Boyd scores a run and, jubilant, drops down on Derek's other side. Derek pushes all the white noise out of his head, forcing himself to tune in on Danny and Jackson cheerfully trash talking the other team. He knows it's partly for his benefit, to try and make him feel better, and makes an effort to gratify them with a little smirk.

*

Derek's still feeling a little disorientated, a little lost, when they take to the field He's pulling on his glove, taking position between second and third when Boyd, on his way towards second, curves a hand over his shoulder.

"You with us, Hale?"

Derek snorts and shakes his head, flexing his fingers and staring down at the dirt between his feet. "Yeah, I'm here, sorry," he says. "I just want to play, and my head's everywhere right now, what with the new security following my every move, you know? I'm here, though. Now."

Boyd gives him a deceptively easy smile. "Not all of us are talented enough to end up getting death threats," he says. Derek scowls. "Lighten up, man. You'll never hit the ball if you're not paying any attention."

Derek takes Boyd's advice to heart and winds up scoring himself a homerun - it would have been a grand slam, had Jackson not risked running an extra base when Boyd had stepped up. It makes him feel marginally better, even more so to see Stiles cracking a broad grin from behind the hot dog he's procured. Pleased with himself, he sinks back down onto the bench, joining Jackson - who gives him a grudging back-clap - Danny and Boyd to watch the rest of the inning unfold.

*

They win the game. Derek's not quite sure how, but one moment he's watching Isaac sprint to second base and what feels like ten seconds later, Derek's in the locker room changing back into his jeans. There's a quick debrief and a whole lot of congratulating themselves, then everybody begins filing out of the locker room. Derek, the last to leave the showers, finds Stiles all but cornered by half of his team. Stiles spots him over Isaac's shoulder.

"Sorry, guys. Gotta go," Stiles says, a little too quick and a little too loud. He ducks under Jackson's arm and catches up to Derek, who's striding towards the exit.

"That looked like an interesting reunion," Derek says, deciding that diverting the topic from the game is the best course of action, even before such a conversation has started.

"I'm sure it would have been," says Stiles with a shrug. His sunglasses are firmly in place and his expression gives nothing away. "What's the reason for you running out of there like your ass is on fire? You played a good game."

Derek curses himself inwardly, and then Stiles for shutting down his only escape route. "I was zoned out for most of it," Derek says. That disorientation he felt during the eighth inning is back and he decides it's dehydration. "I remember the first couple of hits - don't remember much of the rest. Do you have any water?"

Stiles is frowning and he grabs Derek's arm to stop him and pull him around. "You're not on anything, right?"

"What? No," Derek says - yelps, really - and swats at Stiles' hand. "There's just a lot going on. I zone out and you think I'm on drugs? I'm an athlete, Stiles."

"And I'm a bodyguard, Mr. Hale," Stiles says. "Got to be sure my clients don't wig out. Particularly when said clients have the scariest agent on Earth. You're important to her, she's important to me - you should know that. It's my job to make sure you're able to do your job - whether that's verifying you're not doing drugs or protecting you from scary ex girlfriends."

"That's reassuring."

"It should be," Stiles says, shrugging. "Back seat today - you get to graduate to passenger seat when we're not surrounded by crowds, all of whom could potentially maul you. Wouldn't want that, now, would we?"

Park security does most of the work when it comes to keeping Derek from being jumped on. There are a handful of autographs, but for the most part, Derek's in a hurry to get away, so he pastes a smile on his face and allows Stiles to manhandle him through the small crowd into the back seat of the parked SUV. Stiles ensures the door's secure before hopping in behind the wheel. Derek is left to sit back and marvel at the way Stiles manages to avoid running anyone over on the way out.

*

"This isn't the road back to my place," Derek says warily, eyes on the side of Stiles' face. It's been a few days since Derek found out about Stiles' past - he hasn't made any allusions to it and Stiles hasn't really been forthcoming about his personal life, so he's let it go for the most part, filing things away in his mind for future reference if need be. In that time, Derek's had a couple of games and hasn't zoned out, so he's taking it as a one-time thing. Stiles has taken to shoving him into the backseat immediately after games. If Derek had ever witnessed Stiles acting anything other than painfully professional - the first minute or two of knowing one another aside - he would swear up and down that Stiles enjoyed pushing him around. Derek only gets the passenger seat in the mornings or after dinner if they go out. This has happened three days in a row not including the first time, and Derek's already tired of trying to coerce Stiles into changing his mind: Stiles is the unstoppable force and Derek has come to realise there are no immovable objects when it comes to him getting his way.

"It's the road to the restaurant Erica asked to meet you at," Stiles says. "She called me during the game and asked me to bring you. Said she needs go over something with you."

Derek frowns. He doesn't recognise any of the buildings they're passing. Suddenly anxious, he pulls his phone out and switches it on. There's a text message from Erica telling him to trust Stiles with lunch and however vague that seems, Derek settles, a little reassured.

"You actually spoke to her?"

"On the phone, yeah," Stiles says. "She didn't sound worried or stressed, or even forced calm, but in the event your life has turned into a slasher flick and we're being lured into a warehouse, I've got your back. If it is a creepy warehouse we end up at, you will stay in the car and I'll find Erica."

"I'm not--"

"Derek," Stiles says, managing to look amused but sound serious. And while the use of his first name rather than his title and surname catches him a little off guard, the contrast between his tone and expression is something Derek's gotten used to in the space of a few days: Stiles looking one thing but saying and sounding something else entirely seems to be something of a theme. "In the movies, the whiny bitch who refuses to stay in the car either dies or gets her masculine, dashing boyfriend killed protecting her. I am not playing the part of your fearless boyfriend, and you're not playing prom queen. I am your bodyguard and this is what I do. You will trust me to get Erica out safely or I will strip you of any illusions you still have that I'm a skinny wretch and put you in the trunk, are we clear on that?"

"That's unprofessional."

Silence.

Derek grunts. Stiles nods, satisfied, and continues following his GPS.

*

They pull up outside a restaurant and Stiles glances at Derek in the rearview, slipping out of the car. He opens Derek's door after looking around himself, and turns to lead Derek into the little bistro. Stiles spots Erica first and guides Derek over to her, pulling a chair out for him seemingly on reflex.

"I'll go wait in the car," Stiles says, brushing his suit jacket down and taking a more detailed sweep of the room.

Derek looks at Erica, opening his mouth to tell Stiles he can stay. Erica places an envelope on the table between them, a familiar handwriting on the front. He clenches his jaw. "Stiles, you should stay," he says, clearing his throat. Stiles' eyebrows are high behind his sunglasses. "You want to know what kind of stuff you're dealing with, right? That's Kate's handwriting."

"This one's different," Erica says, and Derek realises for the first time that her hair isn't perfectly coiffed and she's not wearing any make up - a first since Derek started paying Erica's medical bills because she couldn't afford them on her own. "This one's still written to you, but it's a threat to me. I found it pinned to my front door this morning."

Stiles snatches the envelope before Derek can, and it's the closest to anger Derek's seen him. Erica's watching him with wide eyes. Stiles drops the letter into Derek's lap after scanning it. "This is the first one aimed at anyone other than Mr. Hale?"

"Kind of," Erica says. "She's threatened Derek most of all, and when that didn't appear to be working, threatened to hurt Derek's family, then the Hale house burned down and Peter Hale was caught in it. Most of them have been directed at Derek, but this is the first one that's not directed at immediate family."

"Mr. Hale," Stiles says, his sunglasses off and hand hovering near his hip as though he's expecting someone to jump out and try to kill Derek or Erica any moment. "You have a spare room?"

Derek nods, watching Stiles run a hand through his hair and hating himself a little for wanting to do the same, despite the gravity of the situation. "Stiles, sit down," he says quietly. "We'll have dinner, then we'll head to Erica's and she can move into my place until we're sure it's safe for her."

Stiles lowers himself into the booth beside Erica, his back to the wall. He puts his sunglasses on the table and runs a hand over his face; it's the first Derek's seen him wilfully inattentive to his surroundings. "There's no way you can tie these back to her? You can get her for harassment at the very least."

"She's too careful," Derek says. "There's no hint to the house fire in her letters, nothing on them that traces them back to Kate except my name on the front. She doesn't appear to want anything from me, either. God, I'd give her unrestricted access to my bank account if it would just make her stop. She just wants me to know she still has power over me. She won't hesitate to try and get rid of me once I'm useless to her - the papers exploded over me going to the managers and having her fired, destroyed her reputation as a good coach, so she's using threats against me to try and ruin me the way she thinks I ruined her. She doesn't seem to care that I wasn't the one doing the firing, or that I wasn't the one who wrote the articles. I threw her out - she's the one who went crazy at me when I was loading her stuff into the cab, made sure everyone in a ten mile radius heard all about it."

"There has to be a way of stopping her," Stiles says. Derek watches as Erica rests a hand on his arm. Stiles deflates and goes back to staring around the restaurant like Kate Argent is going to burst out of the shadows brandishing a gun.

Erica forces a smile and plucks the menu from the middle of the table. Derek glances at the note still in his lap:

Dearest Derek,

Don't think I don't know about your new bombshell. Pretty. Epilepsy, is it? Is she on drugs for the rest of her life? What would happen if they stopped?

*

Over the five days he's spent being herded around by Stiles, Derek has never witnessed him so quiet. There's an intensity about Stiles that's easily overlooked amidst his dry humour, his ever present sunglasses, the way he doesn't pander to Derek's whims simply because he plays on Stiles' favourite team, but Derek's had glimpses, fleeting glances of the reality underneath Stiles' easy-going facade. Stiles' focus is like a laser - it's like several lasers all going in different directions: he knows what's going on in every possible direction with no visible effort. Stiles is serious, though he makes no move to correct anyone who says he isn't; since the first meeting outside the locker rooms, Stiles has relaxed enough to have lighthearted conversation with Isaac, Jackson and Danny whilst waiting for Derek to crawl from the showers.

If the suit and glasses were taken away, Derek notes, Stiles wouldn't look even slightly out of place - anywhere. He exudes control and confidence, even if he's throwing his arms in the air to exaggerate a point; even if he's letting Jackson jostle his shoulder a little too hard. There's something fierce and centered in Stiles' eyes, no matter what the situation around him is. It's like he’s a lion waiting patiently behind cage bars; like he knows there's another shoe that'll drop and he'll be ready when it does.

Stiles is angry. Derek knows because he let Derek take shotgun without so much as blinking; Derek knows because Stiles' hands are tighter around the wheel than they usually are; Derek knows because Stiles switched the radio off when he got into the car and his sunglasses haven't come off his face since they finished dessert; Derek knows because Stiles is silent, and Stiles' silence means his body language is easier to read than when he's talking a hundred miles an hour with the hand gestures to match.

The set of Stiles' jaw and the line of his shoulders look tense enough to break and as inappropriate as it feels, Derek still wants to bite the soft flesh where Stiles' jaw meets his neck. He compromises by reaching over and gripping Stiles' shoulder, squeezing. The muscle gives under his touch and Stiles' stature relaxes by a fraction, but he nods and lets out a long, slow breath as he accelerates into the early evening traffic.

Stiles stays silent, but he switches the radio on and drums his fingers on the wheel as they make their way to Erica's apartment. Erica's silent, too, in the back seat behind Derek. She's tapping away on her phone and tablet, probably running her office with her usual faultless efficiency.

As much as Erica protests, saying they're not living in a spy movie, Stiles does a full sweep of Erica's apartment before going to stand guard outside the door while she packs a small suitcase.

Derek hovers. He goes between standing in the middle of Erica's living room to standing by the door with Stiles, whose facade cracks enough to give him an amused look.

"How come you haven't insisted on doing a sweep of my apartment?" Derek asks to cover up any remaining skittishness at Erica being threatened. The letter from Kate is in his breast pocket - he has all of them in a box in his apartment, just in case.

"You have a doorman," Stiles says. "Any strange activity would be told to you by him. Erica's building has an easily fooled security door. If you'd like me to sweep your apartment, just ask."

Derek shakes his head. "You're protective of her."

"Have been since she threw me against a wall and called me Batman," says Stiles with a silly grin, and Derek has no way of telling whether or not he's being genuine or just being an ass. Stiles cocks an eyebrow. "She then had a seizure and I refused to leave her hospital bed until I knew she was okay. She's like my little sister. We had a system: I kicked the ass of whoever tried to tease her about her seizures and she kept the rumour mill quiet when it came to my sixteen year old self's sexuality crisis."

"It didn't happen quite like that," Erica says, striding towards them, suitcase rolling after her. "I seem to remember you got your ass kicked more often than not when you stuck up for me, but the sentiment is sweet."

Stiles smiles at her, and Derek's taken aback at how genuinely warm he looks in that instant. Part of him - the part he's denying; the part that wants to bite Stiles' jaw, pull his hair and find out exactly what he looks like under that infuriatingly impeccable suit - wants, desperately, for Stiles to smile at him like that. Wants anyone to smile at him like that, but mostly Stiles. Stiles' warmth attracts him, and he has to force himself to look away before he does something stupid like voice his thoughts.

Derek focuses on Erica instead, catching a tousled curl between his fingers as she tosses her hair back. She's wearing her make up and has tamed her hair into a sleek ponytail with only a few ringlets escaping to frame her face. "What?" she asks, catching him watching her. "If I'm going to be spotted walking into your apartment with you, with a suitcase, I'm going to look hot doing it. If the media are going to have a field day anyway, we may as well not show them anywhere to poke holes."

"Erica, I'd be seen with you in sweats and a tank top with no make up and your hair unwashed," Derek says. "You don't have to--"

Erica cuts him off with a broad smile and a wave of her hand. "I know," she says. "And believe me, there'll probably come a day where you are seen with me looking exactly like that, but for now? Kate Argent knows about my epilepsy and had no trouble at all exploiting it - I'm going to at least look hot while I live up to her expectations, okay? This isn't for you - it's for me. I'm under no illusions: you get a lot of publicity - I should know; I deal with most of it - and I know that if a woman is seen walking into your apartment with you holding a suitcase, something's going to be in the press within the hour. I'd rather they write me as sexy and mysterious than looking like a junkie, as much as it's nice to know you'd still love me if I did."

Stiles snorts and then rubs a hand over his mouth to hide a smile. "Ready to go?"

Erica nods; Derek reaches to take her suitcase for her as she locks up. She kisses his cheek when she turns and begins walking back out to the car, Stiles leading the way.

*

A lot of Stiles' behaviours strike Derek as eccentric, whether it's because Derek's not used to having a bodyguard or it's because Stiles is genuinely convinced his life is a Mission Impossible movie, he's not sure. He ponders this as he opens the door to find Stiles on the other side holding the take out Erica ordered half an hour ago.

"Have you been sitting out in the car all night?" Derek asks. Stiles had taken Derek and Erica to the gym that morning, had been constantly vigilant when Erica dragged Derek for a spot of shopping, driven them to the park, then driven them home after the game; that had been at seven in the evening, and it was just going eleven.

Stiles shrugs. "I didn't know until today how messed up everything is," he says. "I take threats seriously, particularly when they involve Erica."

"I don't know whether to be indignant that the threats directed at me don't inspire this reaction, or grateful that threats to Erica do," Derek says, accepting the bag Stiles hands over. He watches Stiles turn and start heading down the hall. "Stiles," he calls; Stiles glances over his shoulder. "Come on in - if you're gonna stand guard all night, you may as well eat and be comfortable. You should sleep sometime, too - I have it on good authority that my couch is comfortable."

Stiles hesitates, glancing along the corridor. Derek snorts and steps back, leaving the door open as he heads towards the kitchen to dish out the food. He doesn't really mind sharing his food - particularly because Erica would glare at him if he ate it all himself.

Erica walks out into the open plan kitchen and living room in just her nightclothes - in true Erica fashion, her nightdress is as flimsy as possible, though she has Derek's bath robe draped around her shoulders like a cape. She raises an eyebrow at the open door and then the third plate being set out.

"Gotta feed the guard dog some time, right?" Derek says, shrugging, just as Stiles steps through the door and locks it behind him, taking a few moments to scan his surroundings with his back to the door. Once he deems himself safe, he makes a beeline for Derek.

"It's bizarre to see how much you've changed since high school," Erica says, her eyes on Stiles, whose mouth curls into a little smirk. Derek pushes Erica's plate towards her and nudges one slightly to his left, watching Stiles' hand enter his field of vision to curl over the edge of the plate, his other reaching to grasp a fork. Derek's mouth absolutely does not go dry at the thought of Stiles' fingers wrapping around other things. He shakes himself and picks up his own plate and cutlery, making his way to his sofa to slouch in front of the television. Erica curls herself up in an armchair and Stiles drops down beside Derek.

Erica retires to bed first and Derek cleans up supper, getting out some blankets and a spare pillow for Stiles, who's watching the TV with glazed eyes.

"Hey, I'm heading to bed," Derek says; Stiles blinks and turns to look up at him. "It's a late game tomorrow, so don't worry about having to get up early or anything. Erica probably won't roll out of bed until after ten anyway."

Stiles nods and looks back at the TV, reaching over to switch it off. Derek escapes to the safety of his own bed. He sits on the edge of his bed for a few minutes before jolting, realising Stiles has nothing but his suit to sleep in. Derek goes to his dresser and gropes around for a pair of sweats and a t-shirt before ducking back out into the apartment.

"Hey, Stiles?"

Stiles hums, still sitting in his suit, in the same place and position Derek left him; he looks over the back of the sofa.

"You don't have any clothes," Derek says, and then clears his throat. "To sleep in, I mean - so, uh, here..."

He drops the clothing on the arm of the couch and Stiles smirks at him, saying nothing. Derek beats another hasty retreat, closing his door firmly and feeling his way into bed. He's been lounging around in his own pair of sweats and a Henley all evening, so he strips off the top and buries himself under his duvet, willing sleep to come so that he doesn't have to associate the shuffling around in the living room with Stiles taking his clothes off.

*

Derek spends half an hour staring at his bedroom door, not yet sure whether it's safe for him to venture out into the kitchen to make himself coffee. He hasn't heard Stiles making any noise, but that's nothing new: for all Stiles is a fan of filling silences with inane chatter, Derek's never heard his footsteps make any noise.

He hears Stiles clear his throat and decides to go for it, making a beeline for the kitchen. The blanket and pillow from last night are folded on the coffee table and Stiles is sitting at the kitchen island in his suit pants and Derek's borrowed t-shirt, one hand curled around a paper cup of coffee and the other holding today's paper.

"You been out?" Derek asks, wondering where the glasses Stiles is wearing came from and why he's wearing them now, when Derek hasn't had a chance to prepare himself.

"Yeah," Stiles says. If he pauses to take in Derek's bare chest and the way his sweats are riding low on his hips, Derek hardly notices because his mind's still tripping over the glasses. "I didn't want to wake anyone up, and I don't have the first clue how to work your coffee machine. I got bagels. No coffee, didn't know when you'd be up."

He gestures at the paper bag in the middle of the counter and then goes back to his newspaper. Derek goes about making coffee. He grabs a bagel and leans against the counter near Stiles, staring out over the city.

Erica bursts out of the guest room at that moment, making both Derek and Stiles look around. She falters, then a grin spreads across her face. "Okay, one: I wish I had a camera right now," she says. "You two look so domestic it's nauseating."

Stiles turns to look at Derek, who has half a bagel hanging out of his mouth. They share a look of mutual I-Have-No-Idea before turning to look back at Erica, who still looks like a kid who just found out that every day is Christmas.

"Second?" Derek prompts, having had to try twice to say it because his throat had done something strange at the idea of having mornings like this with Stiles regularly enough for it to become domestic.

"Second," Erica says, eyes alight with glee. "The internet has officially labelled you as a playboy - and I'm your latest arm candy!"

Derek blinks owlishly at her.

"Listen, listen!" she waves a hand and pulls out her tablet. "Hale was spotted yesterday leading his fiery, sassy agent Erica Reyes, 24, into his apartment. The pair laughed and joked even as Hale carried her bags and held open doors for her - could this be romance on the horizon for everyone's favourite playboy?"

Derek stands there, stunned and staring, only jolted out of his thoughts when Stiles cracks up. Erica's grinning and Stiles has had to put down his coffee and paper in order to not fall off his chair from how much he's laughing.

"Playboy?" Derek asks after a few moments. "Am I regularly seen with multiple women at any given time?"

Erica shrugs, sidling over to take a bite of the bagel Derek's still holding. "The only articles that have really crossed my desk are ones about Kate," she says. "Maybe one or two before that with the women you had habits of being seen with on team nights out. There was even one from when Laura was visiting."

"People actually think I've slept with all of those women?" Derek asks, feeling a little dazed. "Laura's my sister."

"I'm aware of that, sugar," Erica says, pouring herself a cup of coffee. "But can you blame them? Have you seen yourself? The media like to think of you as some heteronormative party boy with a preference for blondes who wear leather."

Stiles' laughter turns into choking. Derek thumps him on the back absently. "I'm none of those things," Derek says with a scowl. Erica gives him a What-Can-You-Do? shrug and swipes Stiles' newspaper, taking the seat beside him.

Stiles disappears to go home and change at some point. He returns having showered and wearing a completely new suit; the early morning casualness replaced by an air of professionalism.

*

"It's been a week," Erica comments. They're on their way back from the game, Erica and Derek in the back seat, Stiles seemingly in his own little world in the front. Derek looks around at her, lifting an eyebrow in question; Erica glances up from her tablet, where she's been tapping out an email. "Stiles has been your bodyguard for a week. We agreed on a week for you to decide if he stays or if he goes."

Derek rolls his eyes. She knows exactly what his answer is. "He stays," he says, just to appease her. Derek catches a glimpse of Stiles grinning in the rearview, but the smile is gone as soon as he blinks. "He's good for my self esteem."

Erica opens her mouth to question him.

"He knows more about my career than I do," Derek says with a shrug. Erica laughs and Stiles gives him a mock scowl in the mirror, not looking in the least shamefaced.

"Hey, we should pick up some groceries. I don't remember the last time you cooked for me, Der."

"--Ek," Derek says. "I've never cooked for you."

"Exactly," Erica says, grinning. "You can cook for me and Stiles tonight! Laura keeps telling me you're amazing in the kitchen, but I've yet to witness it. I've seen take out and restaurant leftovers in your apartment--and your trainer is gonna have some interesting words for you--but never anything homemade."

"Cooking for one is pointless and boring," Derek says as Stiles parks outside a grocery store. "And I only have take out once a month - I'm allowed cheat days. Pizza's what cheating was invented for."

"Amen," Stiles says, holding up a fist to show solidarity.

Derek smirks and then turns to look at Erica. "What do you want to eat, then? If I'm cooking, you're deciding."

Erica lights up and all but leaps from the car when Stiles opens her door. She's halfway across the parking lot by the time Derek's out of the vehicle and Stiles is locking it up. By the time he and Stiles reach the store entrance, Erica's at the end of the first aisle. Stiles actually thinks to collect a cart, trailing around the store after Derek and Erica, a serene smile on his face as he watches them go from trading glib jibes over a chicken-based meal or a vegetable-based meal to playfully arguing over who should pay while their purchases are being rung up.

Derek pays.

Erica complains the whole way back to the apartment that there's no chicken.

*

Erica tries to pick at the food as Derek cooks, so he chases her out of the kitchen and into her room, encouraging her to do some work. Stiles, however, simply sits at the counter island and watches, looking genuinely interested in what Derek's doing, so Derek doesn't try to force him away.

"You cook?" Derek asks, more for something to say than anything: Stiles' quiet stillness hasn't yet abated and Derek's decided it doesn't feel right.

Stiles shrugs. "I did, when I had someone to cook for," he says. "But then I left home, left college, and it's just me. Like you said, there just never seems to be a point in cooking for one. I'm guilty of take out binges."

"What'd you do at college?" Derek asks, genuinely curious. It's the first outright fact Derek can recall getting about Stiles' life, and he wants to know more.

"Sports science," Stiles says, and Derek's a little surprised at how easily the information's coming, though he doesn't show it. "I was really interested in physical therapy and nutrition. Sounds kind of geeky when I say it out loud. I was good at sports - wanted to play something professionally. I figure the odds are you know what happened when I was in college - Isaac or Jackson have to have told you by now."

"They mentioned it," Derek says, shrugging. "Why'd you drop out?"

Stiles rolls his shoulders and directs his gaze to the window. "I got picked up by an organisation who specialise in, well, the best way of putting it is 'private security'," he says. "They offered me a good package. Guaranteed employment, whatever training I wanted, they'd pay off all my student debts, give me a place to live, and pay me on top of that. All I had to do was give them four years of my life. Four years I'll never be allowed to tell anyone about."

Derek's quiet while he takes all of this in. The more he's getting to know Stiles, the more intriguing he finds him.

Stiles glances at him, gives him a wry smile. "I shouldn't even be telling you this," he says. "Feels good to even vaguely mention it, though, and you're not likely to broadcast the fact your bodyguard sat in your kitchen whining about his life. It'd ruin the entire effect of having a bodyguard."

Derek frowns.

"That being said," Stiles muses, eyes in Derek's direction but not looking as though he's seeing Derek. "It is always nice to be underestimated. Maybe you should tell everyone I'm really emotional and easily distracted."

Stiles' eyes refocus, finding Derek's, and he grins. It's a warm, soft look on him; Derek finds himself wanting to reach over and touch him. He sets down the knife he's been using to slice carrots in order to occupy himself at the other side of the room. Stiles seems to have perked up; Derek can practically hear the thoughts whirling around in Stiles' head.

"You know," he says, and Derek momentarily regrets prompting Stiles out of his silence, because now he’ll never hear the end of it. "You're not even half as growly or scowly as the media makes you out to be. You're like, this noncommittal, snarky dude on TV and in all your interviews, and stuff, but you've yet to be an actual asshole."

"Like I could get a word in sideways with you around," Derek says dryly.

"Okay, so maybe you're a bit of a sarcastic asshole," Stiles amends. "But you're nowhere near as angry as your eyebrows suggest."

Derek looks up. "My eyebrows? What's wrong with my eyebrows?"

Stiles is grinning. "Nothing, dude, I think it's just your default expression," he says. "On TV, you always look like you're scowling at someone or something--oh God, it's your concentrating face! You scowl when you're concentrating - you're doing it now!"

Derek attempts to school his expression into something less firm looking, but he has no idea how to because he has no idea what his face looks like to begin with. Stiles cracks up. "Shut up," Derek grumbles, ignoring the flush of pride at making Stiles laugh. "I'm not scowling."

"You totally are," Stiles says, mirth creasing the edges of his eyes, making his lips curve pleasantly. "Oh, man, it's like watching a puppy become self aware. This is gold, man - I wish I had a camera right now."

Derek flips him off, glaring at his saucepan and turning his back on Stiles, whose breathing is still interrupted by the occasional snicker.

If Derek happens to mention Stiles really loves cooking over dinner to Erica, he'll deny it was said with vindictive glee until the bitter end. If he happens to agree to making dinner for them at least once a week because Stiles calls his food orgasmic, well, that's another thing that'll stay with him to his grave.

*

Dinner becomes a competition. Really, Derek thinks, he should have seen this coming. Stiles went to college and was the star of his college baseball team, then ended up in private security and was good enough at his job for Erica to hire him, so of course he's competitive. Erica, being Erica, has declared herself the official food judge and demanded she be present for any and all taste testing going on. Derek wouldn't go so far as to say cooking is a passion of his, but winning? Winning is definitely a passion.

They've each made dinner twice now, having taken an evening off in between to eat out. Derek's feeling good about this round: his lamb tortellini had kicked Stiles' paella's ass. When he gets to the car the morning after his pasta triumph, however, it's to find Erica sitting sidewards in the passenger seat, Stiles leaning on the door holding a tupperware box. Stiles has his sunglasses on, but Derek's fairly certain there's a sly, smug expression there.

Derek has to listen to Erica waxing poetic about Stiles' brownies the entire two hours it takes to get to that day's venue.

He then has to watch Jackson more or less throw Danny across the locker room to get to the brownies. Derek sits and watches as Jackson starts telling the team all about the amazing things Stiles can do in the kitchen. Stiles, the gargantuan asshole that Derek knows him to be, stands in the doorway of the locker room looking smug, managing to act nonchalant and casual about Jackson's ravings, but Derek knows different. Derek knows he's reveling in the attention. Stiles has thrown down a gauntlet. A chocolate-chip-filled, fudge-covered gauntlet.

Derek goes out onto the field and envisions every baseball that comes towards him as a brownie.

It's cathartic.

They win the game.

Stiles drops down onto the bench beside Derek after the rest of the team have filed out and Stiles has been sent to locate him, and holds out the box with one remaining brownie in it. Derek takes it for no reason other than he wants to know what all the fuss is about.

Now he knows. He swallows a mouthful of chocolate Heaven and scowls at Stiles. "You didn't fight fair. You knew I was going to kick your ass. This is bribery. I was going to win."

"Not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is there?" Stiles says, taking his sunglasses off to look sidelong at Derek. Derek frowns at him. "Come on, big guy - you have some post-game interviews you're contractually obliged to give before I'm allowed to cart you out of here."

Stiles walks--no, swaggers--no, sashays out of the room, whistling tunelessly. Derek glares after him. Has the asshole just made Derek the Will Turner to his Jack Sparrow?

Before he can think anything into the reference and its possible implications, Derek lurches after him, swinging a kit bag over his shoulder.

*

A few days later, the team are treated to a rare occurrence: two days off together. This, of course, means Jackson sends a text around asking who wants to go for a pickup game - and usually, when Jackson says 'do you want to...?', it means 'you're going to'. Derek brings Stiles, who asks if he can bring Scott, who comes as a package deal with his girlfriend Allison--who Derek makes an effort to smile at when she shakes his hand with a wide, dimpled grin of her own, even though his mind is screaming that she's an Argent and not to be trusted--and Erica tags along to make sure nobody kills anyone.

Stiles still wears his suit - after all, Stiles points out, he is technically still working - but it's a mere twenty minutes before Stiles is stripping off his suit jacket. Nothing on Earth could have prepared Derek for the sight of Stiles' fingers curling into the knot of his tie to loosen it and pull the loop over his head. Derek's glad he's sitting down on the bench as he watches Stiles loosen his cuffs and roll his sleeves to above the elbow, watches the corded muscle in Stiles' forearms ripple as he takes the bat and the way his slender, capable hands--no, Derek forces his mind elsewhere.

"You gonna go bat, Blue Balls?" Erica asks from where she's sitting on the grass beside him. Derek snaps out of his daze and looks up. Stiles is hopping from foot to foot on second base. He's watching Derek with a small smile on his face.

Derek clears his throat and stands. "Blue balls would imply there's something going on," he says to Erica, then jogs towards their makeshift home plate before he can hear Erica laugh or respond, or both.

"You drag me out here and don't even watch me play," Stiles calls. "I'm hurt, Hale."

Derek gives him a falsely cheery smile along with a two fingered salute, taking up the bat.

"Want us to take it easy on you so you don't crash and burn too bad in front of your bodyguard?" Isaac asks from behind Derek. Derek whirls around, narrowly missing whacking Isaac in the head with the bat.

"Et tu, Lahey?" Derek says, pushing a hand over Isaac's mask and shoving him. Isaac laughs and pinwheels away. Derek rolls his eyes and turns to the front, trying to convince himself that the look in Jackson's eyes isn't gleefully predatory. Derek adjusts his grip and smiles as he watches Boyd begin taking steps backwards from his position at center field, poised to run. For the split second before the ball leaves Jackson's hand, Derek half considers attempting to bunt it simply for the fact the fielders seem to be expecting him to go for the power hit, but instinct takes over; there's a sharp crack and he's watching the ball disappear into the distance.

Derek takes great pleasure in his leisurely jog around the bases as Boyd has to sprint off to the other end of the field they've appropriated for their game.

"Nice flexing out there, asshole," Stiles says, knuckling his fist against Derek's shoulder when he reaches the bench. "I'll take it as express permission to kick your ass next time."

Derek fixes him with a glare. Their teams are only small, so it's not going to take long for them to be at the plate again.

"So, what about when we're on the field? Want to be my catcher? Are you catching what I'm pitching, big guy?" Stiles asks. Derek only just manages to not choke on his own spit.

"I don't think that metaphor means what you think it means."

Stiles lifts an eyebrow. "Don't you?" he asks; the question's accompanied by the tiniest uptick of his lips, and Derek is so gone it's not even funny anymore.

"I'm a better pitcher," Derek says, pointedly not looking at Erica, who has her face buried in her knees in a vain attempt to hide her silent laughter.

Stiles glances at him. "I'll catch," he says with a shrug. Derek wants to die. He wants the sky to fall on him, or the ground to swallow him, or something.

"Hey, what's got Hale looking like he just swallowed his tongue?" Danny asks, sitting beside Derek but otherwise ignoring the fact that he's quite clearly present.

"I asked if he wanted to catch my balls," Stiles says with all the casual air of someone discussing the weather. Derek's not a religious man, but he's starting to pray for a lightning bolt, even more so when Stiles continues: "I'm gonna catch his instead."

Danny hoots. Derek glares at him. Danny laughs harder, and that sets Erica off: she lifts her face from her knees and starts laughing aloud with him.

"Baseball," Stiles says, a small serene smile playing about his lips. "A real man's sport."

He flounces away to take his place at the plate between Jackson and Isaac, his stance relaxed even as he positions himself.

*

"Hey, you want to know what I noticed?" Stiles says. They're on their way back from dinner at a restaurant Jackson picked. Stiles still hasn't put his tie or jacket back on - he's actually undone his top three buttons, and Derek has to pinch himself every time his eyes are drawn to Stiles so his attention won’t wander.

"No."

There's a beat. "I'm going to tell you anyway," says Stiles. "You scowl and look all imposingly broody when you're getting competitive or irritated because you're being beaten. That's why baseball fans all over the place think you're a noncommunicative clam."

"A noncommunicative clam."

Stiles exaggerates his looking around. "I could have sworn there was an echo in here just a second ago."

Derek rolls his eyes and lazily swipes at Stiles, who ducks his head forward, smiling. Thankfully, they're at a red light, so Derek doesn't feel too bad giving him a extra little shove. Stiles grabs his arm and twists it away from himself, shoving Derek right back, one hand still on the wheel.

Erica sighs from the back seat. "Can you two keep your hands off each other for ten seconds? My battery's dead."

Derek turns in his seat to find Erica giving him a look that manages to portray both amusement and boredom. Idly, Derek wonders how everyone but him seems to be able to say about six things with their expressions where he has trouble just putting one emotion across accurately.

The rest of the journey back to Derek's is filled with Stiles' off-key humming along with the radio, fingers tapping out a rhythm against the wheel while Derek tries not to stare and resolutely refuses to look at Erica.

*

There's an envelope taped to his apartment door. Stiles is the first to see it, recognise it for what it is. He throws out an arm, catching Derek across the chest and making Erica bump into his shoulder. Derek watches as what seems to be every muscle in Stiles' body tenses up. Stiles' hand goes to his hip in the same motion as he drops his suit jacket and tie; he's not wearing his gun or any other kind of weapon, and cold, hard anger flashes across his face. He darts across the hall and snatches the envelope.

"She won't be here," Derek says quietly, watching Stiles' eyes flitting all over the place. Derek steps up and touches Stiles' shoulder. "She's not here, Stiles - this is what she does. Just a letter, nothing else."

"You have a door man," Stiles says, and Derek's taken aback by the sheer rage in his voice. "She can't have gotten by him unnoticed, which means he let her in, which means he did exactly the opposite of what I told him to do."

"Stiles--"

Stiles grabs Derek's key, unlocking the apartment, and strides in. His movements are abrupt and sharp as he checks every room, checks the vents and the windows. Derek and Erica just watch him from the doorway. Stiles appears before them suddenly.

"I need to talk to the door man."

He pushes between them and strides away towards the stairwell, completely disregarding the elevator they just arrived in. Derek looks at Erica, who lifts her eyebrows and shrugs; she goes to move away when Stiles reappears, mouth still set in a thin, firm line. He marches up to Derek, shoves the envelope, crumpled but unopened, at his chest, and whirls away again.

Derek looks down at the envelope where he grabbed it out of reflex, still reeling from seeing Stiles so incensed. He hadn't even been that angry when Erica had gotten her threat. Erica takes the letter and opens it.

"Dearest Derek," she reads, glancing over it at him. "I know about your little security boy, too. Not even the mysterious, enigmatic Stiles Stilinski will see me coming. How's his father, by the way?"

"Get Stiles to call his father," Derek says, finally feeling able to move. He leaves Erica by the door and goes to take a shower, unable to get the image of Stiles' eyes shining with vitriolic fury out of his head.

*

Stiles is standing by the front door, his back to the wall, when Derek finally drags himself out of the bathroom amidst a cloud of steam. His eyes flicker to Derek, but quicker than Derek can blink himself, Stiles is staring dead ahead again, out the window opposite him.

"Did you call your dad?" Derek asks. Kate's letter is lying open on the coffee table with Stiles' jacket and tie.

"He's fine," Stiles says. "He's promised to stay home tonight. I doubt it was more than a scare tactic, anyway. Like when she threatened about Erica's epilepsy."

Derek nods and heads into his room, decidedly not thinking about how he hates seeing Stiles' expression so guarded and blank. Derek changes into sweats and a hoody, emerging from his room with a change of clothes for Stiles.

"Couch is all yours," he says, dropping the shirt, pants and blanket onto the coffee table. Out of habit - drilled into him by his mother and sister - he picks up Stiles' jacket and goes to get a hanger, hangs it in the bathroom where the air's still dense with steam. He watches Stiles cross to the coffee table, watches as Stiles unbuttons and shrugs off his shirt, barely giving Derek a chance to ogle the definition of his muscles before he's pulling the old, faded Dodgers tee over his head. It fits his chest and shoulders well, and Derek grits his teeth as he makes his way to the kitchen area to get a glass of water. He very deliberately turns his back on Stiles as he hears the sound of Stiles' zipper being pulled.

"She left another note with the doorman," Stiles says. Derek turns; Stiles has folded his discarded clothing and is back by the door. He glances at Derek and then at the coffee table. There's an envelope Derek didn't see when he put the change of clothes there. He moves around the island to cross the room and pick it up. It's still sealed.

"Tell Stiles not to blame poor Pedro," Derek reads, glancing up. Stiles' laser focus is on him. "He was incapacitated at the time. Poor baby Stiles is probably taking this personally. I know more about little Stiles than you do. It's almost too easy. Oh, and Derek? Don't play tomorrow. You'll regret it."

A muscle in Stiles' jaw tics.

"Stiles, did anything happen? Did she do anything to you?" Derek asks. Kate has six years on Derek, and Derek has two on Stiles, but age won’t grant Stiles any sort of amnesty from her. Stiles' silence speaks volumes and Derek sighs. "Look, it's none of my business, I know, but believe me when I say whatever she did to you wasn't your fault. She's good at the games she plays. I have a therapist who tells me the same things - and I think I'm starting to believe it."

Stiles remains stoic and silent.

Derek sighs. "Stiles, come sit down. She won't be back tonight. It's tomorrow we have to worry about, apparently," he says. Stiles reluctantly approaches and perches on the edge of the sofa. "Look, I know nothing I say can make it better. With me, she crawled inside and picked me apart to see how I worked, she tore me into pieces and nearly brought everything I worked for crashing down. I don't know whether your story is any more or any less extreme, but it's her, not you."

Stiles upper body seems to melt at that. He leans forward and pushes his hands through his hair. The grief and anger on his face keeps Derek from wanting to follow the path with his own hands.

"She did a year at... at the Academy," Stiles says. "With me. God, she was gorgeous and seemed interested in me. That never happened, you know? When I turned up, she had already been there a few years. She was attractive and dangerous, and I got off on that. I fell for her, really believed she fell for me... then she almost got me kicked off the program. She hated that I was so young, that I was getting all of the attention with none of the experience she had. She really, really hated me. We used to spar and she wasn't trying to just beat me - sometimes she really was throwing everything at trying to kill me. I just thought it was her aggressiveness until just before she left." Stiles pauses, seeming to come crashing back into the moment. He glances at Derek and Derek does his best to not look as though he's holding his breath. The silence stretches and Stiles closes his eyes, looking physically pained. "She put a bomb in my room. Killed my roommate. It should have been me - it was meant for me."

Tentative, Derek reaches over and just rests his fingertips on the inside of Stiles' wrist, thumb brushing the back of his hand.

"I shouldn't be telling you this," Stiles sighs.

Stiles looks ready to wipe the vulnerability from his face, so Derek squeezes his wrist. "Stiles," he says. "Jesus, have you told anyone about this? You've been living with this for, what, five years? By yourself?"

Stiles' eyes are on Derek's fingers around his wrist. "I'm not allowed to talk about it," he says. "Top secret - all very hush hush. I've said too much as it is. They'd kill me if they knew how much I've told you."

"I'm not going to tell anyone," Derek says, watching Stiles' face. "Stiles, I'm not that kind of person. I'm not going to do what Kate did - I won't benefit from fucking your life up, and even if I could, I wouldn't do that to you."

Stiles sets his jaw and then sighs, shoulders relaxing, shaking his head. Everything about him seems to shift, except his arm; his arm stays where it is, almost as though Stiles is doing everything he can to not break the connection they have.

Stiles turns his head and Derek realises how close they're sitting. He lifts his gaze from Stiles' mouth, where it usually rests because Stiles is usually talking a mile a minute, to his eyes in time to catch Stiles doing the same. Derek's heart starts working double time, feeling like it's leapt up into his throat.

Something in Stiles' eyes changes and he makes a short, aborted movement, standing up. He seems to hesitate, looking like he wants to say something, before just hurrying towards Erica's room. Derek sits silently, stunned. Had he been about to kiss Stiles? Had Stiles been about to kiss him? He shakes himself, standing to go and brew some tea - some lethal sounding combinations of flowers or fruit or herbs that Derek doesn't even like but Erica swears by, and he needs something to do with his hands.

He doesn't see Erica or Stiles at any point after that, so he retires to bed.

*

Derek leaves his room the following morning to be faced with the choice of a fresh espresso or a protein shake on the counter island. He figures it’s a test of some sort and picks the shake, though he desperately wants to knock back the espresso. Sure enough, not thirty seconds later, Erica swoops by and takes the espresso dilemma off his hands.

"Where's Stiles? I wanna hit the gym before the game."

Erica raises an eyebrow. "You're playing tonight?" she asks.

"No, I was thinking I could man the jumbotron," Derek deadpans. "Yes, I'm playing tonight. Where is he?"

"You got a threat, one that specifically told you not to play tonight, Der."

"Derek," Derek stresses. "And Kate's made plenty of threats before. What's she gonna do, take over Stiles' brain and have him talk me to death? Where is Stiles?"

"Home," Erica says, frown marring her delicate features. "I sent him to go get changed. Derek, this one feels different - there's something different about this to all the other ones."

Derek rolls his eyes and goes to grab his phone, texting Stiles that he's going to the gym in half an hour whether Stiles is there or not.

The car's parked out front when he gets downstairs. Stiles has favoured a suit the colour of tempered steel today; it makes him look like a lawyer, Derek thinks. Stiles has his head tipped back against the headrest, exposing the smooth column of his neck. Derek tamps down on the urge to find out what it tastes like. He slides into the passenger seat. Without saying a word, Stiles fires up the car and they're on their way.

Stiles doesn't seem surprised when Derek tells him he's going to play. In fact, Stiles doesn't seem much of anything the entire drive to the gym.

"Come on," Derek says. They've been there twenty minutes and all Stiles has done is stand by the door looking suspicious and on edge. "I have a spare shirt and track pants in my bag - you're even making me nervous just standing there. I don't want to be asked to leave because people think my bodyguard's perving."

Stiles looks at him as though just realising Derek's there, and then sighs. "Mr. Hale," he says, and Derek hates the way he sounds so formal. "You have been personally threatened on my watch. It's my job to--"

"--I never thought I would be telling anyone this, but you need to lighten up," Derek says with a small smile, gently jostling Stiles' shoulder. "Come run with me. I seem to remember you promising to kick my ass."

Stiles cracks the tiniest of smiles at that. Derek gives him the key to his locker and goes to claim two treadmills.

Stiles joins him ten minutes later in a pair of red track pants Derek doesn't recognise and a grey hooded sweater. "I keep work out clothes in the car - I usually go for a run as soon as I get home."

Derek quirks an eyebrow but shrugs. "Race you?"

"I'll flatten you," Stiles says matter-of-factly. "And you have a game tonight, so we can't burn you out. Pace yourself. On your next day off, we can race, but today we're just running, no competition."

"Yeah," Derek says, dragging the sound out as he climbs onto his treadmill. "Sure, okay. I believe that."

Just like he believes the grin on Stiles' face twenty minutes later isn't because he beat Derek to five kilometers.

*

Derek's feeling good. The atmosphere at the park is amazing, and his run with Stiles earlier has allowed a pleasant ache to settle into his bones, energising him. This, coupled with Stiles' promise to make dinner tonight, has Derek more relaxed than he’s been in a while. On top of all of this, the Beacons have a three run lead going into the ninth inning. It's Derek's turn at the bat and he feels settled, zoning in on the ball flying towards him.

The crack of the bat seems to echo, resounding over and over, but Derek can't move, suddenly on his back.

Someone screams his name. It sounds like Stiles. Derek's vision blurs around the edges even as Stiles's face appears above him, huge eyes even bigger with panic. His hearing is doing funny things: he can see Stiles' mouth moving but it all sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher, like someone has their hands cupped over his ears.

"Kate," Derek manages, just as blazing pain reaches him. Stiles gestures and looks at someone Derek can't see; Derek's helmet is removed.

"Derek? Derek, I need you to stay with me," Stiles says - or at least, that's what Derek thinks he says: he's having trouble focusing and singling out words at the moment. "Don't you dare leave me."

"Kate," Derek says again. "Sniper. Kate. You have to--S-Stiles..."

His eyelids feel heavy and his body feels like it's on fire. He hears - or thinks he hears - Stiles saying something, and what he thinks is Erica's voice snapping something about CPR. Stiles gives Derek one last, fiercely searching look before he's up and sprinting away. Derek has a moment to wonder where Stiles got red gloves, and why he's wearing them, before a head of blonde hair is in his field of vision.

Erica's kohl-lined eyes are huge and glassy, but her lips are set in a determined line. She lifts a hand to push her hair out of her face and Derek realises her hands are the same colour at Stiles'.

"Don't you die on me, Derek Hale," Erica's saying. "Don't you dare. I'll kill you myself."

Derek feels dizzy. Closing his eyes and going to sleep seems like a good plan. Erica's begging him not to leave her; he wants to reach up and find her hand, tell her it's okay - he's okay, he just needs to sleep, and she can yell at him when he wakes up.

He tries to smile even as the blackness overwhelms him. The darkness chases at the pain and Derek lets everything fade away, even as Erica's voice tries to pursue him.

*

Frantic voices, too much light, Stiles' voice is back - are those Stiles' hands on his chest? Stiles is saying something - he catches his name - but he doesn't know what. He catches glimpses of Stiles' face, brow furrowed in concentration. He's not wearing his suit jacket, there are red splotches all up his shirt. Derek feels his head loll to the side, feeling weak and still dizzy.

Sleep still seems like the most viable option.

*

Through a haze of strange voices and beeping, Derek eventually surfaces to relative silence. His body feels both stiff and weak, his mouth feels like he's been sucking on sandpaper. He must make some sort of sound, because suddenly there a pair of eyes identical to his own above him.

"Oh my God, if you weren't recovering from being an inch from death, I would punch you so hard right now," Laura says, looking as though she's about to swoop down and hug him but thinking better of it. Derek gazes at her, frowning and trying to form words, but everything's foggy and he feels like he's been hit by a truck.

"Laura," he says, and her worried, pinched features melt into relief. "Stiles--did he?"

"Got her," Laura says. "The game’s broadcast got cut as soon as you were shot, but your boy got her before she could sneak out. Apparently he caught her, incapacitated and dragged her over to make sure you were still breathing before escorting her personally to the cop car. He's outside - hasn't left since you were brought in. Erica tried to convince him to go home and get some rest, but ended up not able to take her own advice. She’s curled up in the waiting room with half your team."

Derek goes to lift an arm and finds he can't, too weak to do much more than pull his arm into his lap. Laura leans over and fiddles with something, and suddenly Derek's sitting slightly more vertical. She pushes a cup of water into his hand, holding it loosely so as to catch it if he drops it. Derek loves his sister.

"Want me to get Stiles?" Laura asks, and there's something warm and teasing in her eyes and in her tone that tells Derek that he's okay. "The only time he's left this hospital these past few days was to get a change of clothes."

"Suit?" Derek asks, feeling a little better now that he's had something to drink.

Laura gives him a knowing look. "He wears it well."

Derek can't find it in himself to deny it, so he hums in acknowledgement, feeling a small smile tug at his lips.

"I'll send him in--"

"--Laura!" he says, eyes wide. "No! I'm..."

"Derek, the guy's hands were almost inside your ribcage," she says. "He's been here making sure you’ve been getting looked after. He's gonna be more relieved you're awake than care about how your hair looks."

"I wasn't gonna--"

Laura grins and slips out of the room. The door barely has a chance to close properly before Stiles comes barrelling in, lacking even a morsel of his usual grace. They stare at each other in silence for a long few moments before Stiles all but trips over himself to get closer to the bed.

"Hey," Stiles says, his eyes everywhere, probably reassuring himself that Derek's there, that he's alive.

"Hi," Derek responds, not sure what else he's supposed to say. Thanks for saving my life? Derek doesn't even know if Stiles did save his life. He barely remembers what happened. He gets the impression Stiles was instrumental to him surviving, but didn't think to check it with Laura. There's also the fact that Stiles' glasses have made another appearance and Derek's pretty certain that if he could think of anything to say, the words would get stuck in his throat.

"I'm glad you're okay," Stiles says after another bout of silence. "Erica was threatening to not give me my pay check if you died. I mean--not that that's the only reason--I, uh, I'm really glad you're okay."

Derek laughs, helpless to do much more. He wants to pull Stiles close, wants to push his hands through his hair and strip him of that wonderful, irritating suit he's wearing. He settles for smiling and watching the worry around Stiles' mouth melt away. "Laura says you've refused to leave."

Stiles ducks his head, scrubbing his hand through his hair and this - this is a side of Stiles Derek hasn't yet been introduced to: he's never seen Stiles bashful, hasn't ever seen him display a single nervous tic. "I'm still technically your bodyguard," he says. "Technically, once the threat was eliminated, my contract was meant to be up, but Erica's extended it for the course of your physical therapy. Doctors expect you'll make a full recovery because of how fit and healthy you are. You won't be playing baseball for the rest of the year - I think there are talks of putting you on the disabled list, or something, but if you make your recovery, Jackson says you still have a place on the team. He said he'd heard it from your manager, or something. I wasn't really listening."

Derek settles back in his pillows, watching Stiles through his eyelashes. Stiles' talking is a comfort, making him feel even more settled.

Stiles takes this as a cue to launch into a detailed recount of the past few days' games. The Beacons had postponed the game on the day after Derek was shot, but Stiles talks about what seems like every other game across the minor and major leagues.

Derek's almost asleep when he feels cold fingers wrap around his warm ones. He opens his eyes, blinking a few times, to look at Stiles, who's perched on the edge of his chair, chin resting on the mattress.

"She's gone," Stiles says softly. "She's gone for good - she'll never get out of prison. If she does, it'll be straight into an institution."

Derek smiles and squeezes his hand. "Thanks."

It's thanks for saving his life, thanks for catching Kate, thanks for staying, thanks for being there. Stiles tips his head in acknowledgement and gives him a little grin. Derek misses his hand as soon as Stiles takes it away.

"You should get some rest," Stiles says, standing. "You were shot, you know. I'll let the others know you're alive. You're awake - that's the scariest part over with. Now you should get some proper rest and we'll see what the doctors want to do with you after."

Derek nods and watches Stiles leave. He closes his eyes, telling himself it's just for a moment, because Erica's probably going to turn up.

*

He sleeps for sixteen hours.

There's a brunette by his bed when he wakes up. She reminds Derek of a doe with her huge dark eyes and delicate looking bones.

"Hi," she says. "Um, I'm Allison - we only met for about ten seconds. I just--I heard, about my aunt, what she did to you. Scott and Stiles told me that I don't have any sins to apologise for, but I feel like I should, like it's the right thing to do, you know? Apologise, I mean. Oh my God, I'm rambling - I'm sorry, I just... I just want you to know we're not all like that. Stiles talks about you a lot, and Scott's his best friend - they're practically brothers. I don't want things to be awkward. I'm sorry - am I talking too much?"

"It's okay," Derek says eventually. "Stiles has never had anything but good things to say about you. You don't have to apologise for something you didn't even know about."

Allison springs to her feet, wringing her hands together. "I should have!" she says "Kate was like my sister - I was probably as close to her as anyone, you know? I should have noticed she was a complete psycho! I do have to apologise - I was the only one close enough to Kate that I could have even plausibly noticed, and I didn't."

"Allison," Derek murmurs; Allison freezes, stopping her pacing to look at him. "I don't blame you for not noticing. I don't blame you - you couldn't have known. Kate was good at what she did - no one could have known. I dated her for a few months, I was closer to her than you because she was actually living with me, and she pulled the hood over me. What Kate did, none of it is your fault. But I accept your apology, if that helps you feel better about it."

The worried crease between Allison's eyebrows smooths out and she draws closer, pouring a cup of water for him. She holds it out to him and he accepts it as the peace offering he's sure she intends it to be.

"Since... since you got shot," Allison says, hovering uncertainly by his bed. "I've found a lot about my family. I've found out a lot about where Stiles went when he dropped out of college--I can't tell you about it, but he might if you give him time. Derek, you need to get him out. He respects you, he'll listen to you - he just thinks Scott's being paranoid and that I'm just pandering to Scott, but he'll listen to you. You have to try."

Derek gazes at her, alarmed. "What? How? Why?"

Allison perches on the edge of Derek's bed, lowering her voice. "At the moment, he's okay, but the company who recruits people like them - they're called Hunters - they generally don't live very long. My dad's the oldest anyone knows, and that's because he got out. My grandfather, perhaps, but he hasn't taken to the field in a long time - he runs the company - the Academy, I think Stiles and Kate called it. Kate was old for a Hunter. My dad says that they very rarely get gigs like this - they usually end up in all sorts of secret services. Stiles accepted the induction into the Academy because they paid off his fathers' mortgage, they paid all of the debts he'd incurred being a student - it was the best option for him at the time. Stiles needs out, and he won't listen to us.

"What makes you think he'll listen to me? He's closer to Erica - closer to Jackson - than he is to me."

"Jackson broke his heart," Allison said. "They're friends now, but Jackson could tell Stiles to pull up his fly and Stiles would do the opposite just to get under his skin. Look, there are about three people on the entire planet that Stiles would stand outside the door, day and night, for - Scott, his father and Erica. He hasn't left that hallway, even now he knows you're okay, so that little group has expanded to four. He doesn't want Erica to see him as weak, so he won't go to her. We could possibly ask his father to talk to him, but Stiles is a smartass and always has been, so it's possible he'd just tell his dad not to worry and continue doing what he's doing."

"I still don't see what's going to make him listen to me over his childhood friends and his family," Derek says.

Allison fills his cup with water again. "I'm not asking you to actually do it," she says. "I'm just asking you to try. You have a common link - Kate. Stiles looked as though he wanted to rip her head off with his bare hands when he told us what happened; I don't know what history they have together, but you both have her as a common link. No one else can reach him on that link. Encourage him to go back to school, or direct his talents elsewhere - just try, please. That's all I'm asking. I'm getting married next year, and I need Stiles to be there; Scott needs him to be there. You'll have a few weeks, maybe a few months, of physical therapy and then Stiles' contract with you is up - he could end up anywhere in the world, we might never see him again. Please just try."

The idea of Stiles dying or disappearing off the face of the Earth sends a pang through Derek. "I'll see what I can do - I can't, won't, guarantee anything."

Allison inclines her head. "Thank you," she says. "That's all I ask."

Derek sips his water and studies her, taking in the room around them. Allison's jacket is around the back of the chair by his bed and there's a battered paperback over the arm, her bag under the chair. "Have you been here long?"

Allison follows his gaze to her chair. "Stiles has been dragged out to lunch by Jackson, Lydia and Scott," she says with a grin that reminds him of Laura. "I promised I'd make sure nobody disturbed you. I've already called security on one reporter. Stiles isn't the only one who can kick ass and look innocent."

She retires to the chair and picks up her paperback.

*

Derek's released from hospital after a few days of intense observation. Erica moves back into her own apartment though she visits daily, and Laura takes up residence in Derek's guest room. He doesn't see much of Stiles - he picks Derek up and drops him off when he needs to go to his physical therapy sessions.

"So you've been demoted from bodyguard to chauffeur," Derek says on one such return trip; Stiles glances over at him, quirking an eyebrow. "Want to get dinner?"

The look Stiles gives him then is curious, all traces of amusement washed away. "Red Robin?"

"I was thinking Burger King," Derek teases. "Pick anywhere. Somewhere nice - I want dessert. I may as well take advantage of not being able to play the rest of the season."

"Want me to call anyone?"

"No," Derek says. "Just you and me. You saved my life, Stiles, the least I can do is buy you dinner."

"I can pick any restaurant?" Stiles asks.

"Any," Derek says, nodding. "If you pick a health food place, I might actually have to undo all your hard work and throw myself into speeding traffic, but pick anywhere - pick the most expensive place you can think of, I don't care."

They end up in a 50's style diner. Stiles professes disappointment that their waitress isn't wearing rollerskates, but he settles when he's served what he claims to be the best chili cheese fries on the west coast.

Stiles relaxes gradually, having demolished a portion of buffalo wings, two portions of his coveted fries, a burger and a root beer float. Derek catches Stiles watching him a couple of times, but Stiles diverts his attention before Derek can actually think anything of it. Stiles makes Derek try his fries in exchange for permission to pick at Derek's food, and Derek doesn't protest. Stiles laughs as Derek gets brain freeze from his sundae, and Derek gets to laugh when the same thing happens to Stiles a few minutes later.

It's nice. Derek wants more of it. They leave the diner and Derek insists on going for coffee - real coffee, he says, not the non fat, sugar free, decaf crap Stiles has been getting him - so they walk together for a while.

"You should start coming to my physical therapy with me," Derek says. "It was your area of interest at college, right? It might be interesting for you."

Stiles hums in a way Derek knows to be noncommittal. Derek changes the subject, talking instead about baseball - neutral territory. Stiles latches onto the conversation like a lifeline.

*

Six long weeks of physical therapy later, and Derek barely feels a twinge when he stretches anymore. Laura went home to New York after making sure Derek was eating right and being cared for.

Following what Laura and Erica have been calling their date and Derek's been trying not to dwell on too much, Stiles actually started sitting in on Derek's physiotherapy sessions, brimming with questions for his therapist. They don't talk about it, but Stiles seems to thrive with the new knowledge - the few times Derek drags Stiles shopping for various things, he catches Stiles poring over medical journals and biology textbooks.

Derek gets a text from Jackson, forwarded from Allison, which says that Scott caught Stiles poking through University websites and to keep doing whatever it is he's doing. Derek has no idea what it is he's actually doing, but he agrees.

*

Stiles turns up at his apartment a few days after Derek's last physical therapy session. He's frowning, looking anxious. Derek steps back to allow him entrance, backing away towards the living area. Stiles follows.

"What's up?" Derek asks, because Stiles being silent is never a good thing; Stiles fidgeting and being silent can only mean bad things.

"I just - I wanted to come and thank you," Stiles says, eyes darting to Derek's and then skittering away. Derek watches as Stiles appears to make a conscious effort to steel himself, dropping his tie and squaring his shoulders. "I've really enjoyed working with you - not only because I got to spend time with my favourite team, but you're a pretty cool guy, you know? Surly and kind of an asshole, but you're pretty cool."

"Stiles, what--?" Derek steps closer; he could reach out and touch Stiles, but he refrains.

"My contract's up," Stiles says. "I'm no longer employed by you or Erica - I'm not your bodyguard anymore."

"Oh, finally," Derek sighs. Stiles' eyes widen and his mouth drops open, a frown beginning to crease his brow. Derek reaches out and snags the knot of Stiles' tie, pulling him in. Stiles still looks surprised, but he's not moving away, so Derek takes that as a win and closes the distance, kissing him. Stiles makes a quiet, startled sound but he opens his mouth and his arms sort of flail around before he closes his eyes and tentatively rests his hands on Derek's biceps.

"This is a bad idea," Derek murmurs when they part for air, resting his forehead against Stiles', opening his eyes just enough to see the way Stiles' eyelashes appear to fan out over his cheeks, the way his lips are darker than usual, parted. Stiles' eyes flicker open to look into Derek's.

"You could lose your job," Stiles agrees, making no move in protest of Derek loosening his tie and using both undone ends to pull him into another kiss.

"You're some kind of secret agent - we can keep it under wraps for a while," Derek says, taking immense satisfaction in pushing Stiles' jacket from his shoulders; Stiles curls an arm around Derek's neck, his other hand slipping under the front of Derek's wife beater. "You'll never be home."

"I'll quit," Stiles pants. "Go back to college, get my nutritional science degree."

Stiles pulls back abruptly, narrowing his eyes at Derek. Derek can almost see the thoughts speeding through his head even as he backs Stiles up against the closest wall, nipping at the soft skin under Stiles' ear, finally - finally - grazing his teeth along his jaw, tongue flitting out to taste.

"You asshole! You knew what you were doing - you convinced me to go to your therapy with you so I'd want to do it!" Stiles' words tail off into a guttural whimper as Derek takes a patch of skin between his teeth.

"There was no convincing," Derek says, smiling as Stiles clutches at his shoulders. "I suggested it, you froze, I changed the subject. No convincing at all."

"Still," Stiles' voice is harsh and Derek decides he likes it, pressing his forehead to Stiles' again as his fingers quest for the buttons on Stiles' shirt. "You knew what you were doing."

"Maybe I did," Derek says, pausing and looking at Stiles properly. "Maybe I wanted you to go back to college; maybe I want you to pick me."

Several emotions flicker through Stiles' eyes before he's groping for the hem of Derek's wife beater. "Up, up," he says, arching away from the wall, pressing himself against Derek even as Derek lifts his arms and lets Stiles dispose of the offending article. Shirt off, Derek leans in and kisses Stiles again, grasping his thighs and pulling him up; Stiles takes the hint, wrapping his legs around Derek's waist. Their mouths part with the movement, but Stiles has ducked his head away anyway, his eyes focused on Derek's chest, where Derek knows there's a vaguely circular scar.

"If you were planning on staying in security, I was planning on finding a new psychopath to piss off," Derek says; Stiles looks up sharply and then must spot the teasing grin on Derek's face, because he laughs.

"Asshole," he mumbles, and then presses his mouth to Derek's, undoing the last few buttons of his own shirt and letting it fall before curling his hands around the back of Derek's neck. "I got my acceptance letter this morning - UC Beacon would be delighted to have me back."

"Oh, and I'm the asshole," Derek says; they're talking into each others' mouths, but it's not as awkward as Derek imagined it would be; the little undulations of Stiles' hips against his are definitely helping. "Making you do what you wanted to do - how dare I."

Stiles laughs, his entire body vibrating against Derek. "My contingencies have contingencies, dude. I submitted the application on the off chance we'd get to the end of my contract and you'd man up and do something about all the eyefucking you've been doing these past few months."

"Well, when you put it that way..." Derek lets go of Stiles' legs - normally, he'd happily insist upon carrying Stiles to the bedroom, but he's been told repeatedly that he shouldn't do too much heavy lifting and Stiles' lithe frame belies its hard, corded muscle. He grabs Stiles' hand and makes a beeline for his bedroom, locking the front door on his way past. Stiles' pants are missing by the time Derek is shoved down onto his own bed - a quick glance past Stiles' hip shows them to be on the floor just outside the room.

Derek's given no chance to ponder how Stiles managed to get his button and fly undone without him at least hearing it, because Stiles is suddenly perched on his thighs, mouth crashing down onto Derek's as his stupid, distracting, wonderful fingers work open Derek's belt and jeans.

Derek lets his hands trace up Stiles' spine and he buries one in Stiles' hair, tangling his fingers in it and tugging. The sound that Stiles makes at that has Derek arching off the bed and grunting impatiently, making Stiles chuckle, and their teeth clash, which only makes Stiles laugh more. He sits up and moves back to get rid of Derek's jeans entirely, leaving them both in just their underwear, Stiles kneeling between Derek's spread thighs. It feels good, Derek realises, it feels right.

"You want this, right?" Derek asks in a moment of clarity - vulnerability - that threatens to have him throwing himself across the room. "Tell me you want this."

"Do I want to fuck the dude I've been dreaming of fucking since he started with the Beacons?" Stiles reiterates with a grin that seems to take up half his face. "Yeah, Derek, I want this. Do you?"

"I wanted to rip your clothes off the second I saw you," Derek says and Stiles' grin gets impossibly bigger. "Ridiculous suit. Bane of my life. Get down here."

*

There's a kind of silence Stiles has that Derek finds he doesn't mind: it's a silence that means he's exhausted, sweaty and naked, sprawled across the bed like he owns it, half on top of Derek, head on his shoulder with an arm curled over his stomach, left leg tangled with Derek’s right. He’s awake, Derek knows, because his fingers are tracing an endless nonsense pattern across Derek’s bare hip, and Derek can feel it every time Stiles’ face moves, breaking into a smile for no apparent reason.

It’s the kind of silence that Derek's content not to interrupt.

It's not going to be easy, keeping his relationship out of the public eye when he's so often the centre of attention, and maybe they'll have days where they fight and Stiles blames him for keeping him in California, but--

"I think we should send Kate flowers," Stiles says, his voice managing to be both blissed out and rough, holding endless amounts of mirth. "The card can say 'thanks for all the great sex we're about to have'. Oh! Or a singing telegram. Do they still do those? We'll get someone just to sing The Lonely Island at her. Do you think the prison would let us do that?"

But--

Derek gets the feeling that things will work out just fine.