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state of readiness

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"Dude," Scott complains.

He's trying to keep his head hidden under a pillow, which Derek mercilessly plucks away, shuffling his way through the living-room puppy pile and jostling each of them awake. Erica actually goes so far as to bare her teeth but Derek just rolls his eyes. Isaac manages to look adorably confused, and the expression on Boyd's face is one of mild shock combined with unwelcome recognition, like he's just now remembering what it's like to be a beta for Derek Hale.

Namely, a life of frustration and too-little-information.

Alpha-pack defeated, Derek has apparently allowed his pack a single night of celebratory shenanigans before cracking the whip. Seriously. One night and one night only to spend relaxing, relishing the strategic return of Erica and Boyd, the unexpected willingness of Scott to take direction from Derek, and the success that it all brought.

If by given values of 'success' one means 'luck', and that everyone still has all their respective parts, and that law enforcement is not currently interested in anything in Hale territory, then they are legitimately knee-deep in it.

So with all that, you'd think they'd get more than eight hours of downtime, but when Derek rouses them all at ass o'clock the next day with growls about "pack meeting" they are, well, surly.

And Stiles? Well, Stiles' head hurts. Adderall- and near-death-fueled adrenaline hangovers suck.

"Don't get me wrong, O fearless leader, but what is so friggin' important that we gotta start it before breakfast?" Stiles asks, yawning and stretching. "I mean, we are the champions. Another one bit the dust. We floated like butterflies and stung like bees. It was the Eye of the Tiger up in here last night, names were taken and asses were kicked. Ding, dong, the witch is dead. The One Ring is all melty in the fires of—"

"Stiles."

"I'm just sayin'. There's this thing called downtime. You take a moment to live a little. Chase the rainbow. Stop and sme—"

"The next war starts today," Derek interrupts ominously, crossing his arms across his chest (at which Stiles is resolutely not looking) and tilting one lean hip (also, not looking) against the side of the giant sofa. He seems very stern.

So much for downtime.

"Fuck that," Isaac says, stomping out of the living room toward the kitchen. "I'm not having another war until I get some coffee." Stiles couldn't agree more, and one by one they all extricate themselves from the formerly cozy nest of blankets and follow him in.

They make short work of throwing breakfast together. Everyone's got their own role, and Stiles for one is glad to have Erica back on bacon duty because while she was gone he always ended up getting burned with popping grease. Stiles is the king of toast, and happy to stay that way.

"I like toast," he croons to the butter dish. "I'm good at toast. I'm the toas—"

"If I hear you call yourself the Toastmaster General one more time, I'm gonna pull your lungs out through your nostrils," Jackson grumps, reaching over Stiles and snatching a piece—perfectly browned and buttered to the very edge, because Stiles is a culinary god—from the platter.

Stiles just smiles serenely over Jackson's shoulder to Lydia.

"Jam?" he offers, holding out a little glass jar that Jackson pretends not to see and is rewarded when Lydia and Allison giggle and roll their eyes in sympathy.

The Hale house is only partially rebuilt so far, but Derek obviously knows his pack's priorities. The giant, warm kitchen—big enough for the pack to grow even more—was the first thing finished, and the equally big family room they'd all just been roused from was the second.

Stiles always feels a little extra happy when he's in the kitchen. He and Jackson, surprisingly, are the best cooks in the pack. Stiles' talent is born solely of a fierce desire to keep his dad from eating himself to an early heart bypass. He's not really sure about Jackson's culinary inspiration, but it doesn't hurt the whole metro-sexual vibe he has going.

When Derek refused to let any of them pick out countertops or cabinets, everyone waited in apprehensive solidarity, expecting to show up the day after installation and see black granite and black cabinets and maybe stainless steel everything. Instead they found warm maple wood everywhere, with leather barstools pulled up to pebbled, chocolatey-brown granite and bronze fixtures.

Their amazement must have shown on their faces, because Derek flushed and ducked his head.

"What? I'm building a house for a pack family, not a bachelor pad for a lone alpha," he'd muttered defensively. Secretly, Stiles thought it was adorable.

Eventually everyone's settled at the big table adjoining the kitchen except Derek, who's leaning up against the granite breakfast bar, watching his pack. Stiles can't read his expression, and, given that Derek only has a handful of them, it really shouldn't be that hard.

Stiles searches for something indicating pride, safety, satisfaction, relief…anything he'd expect at having everyone whole and under one roof again for the first time in forever, but he can't find it in Derek's face. Derek must sense Stiles' curiosity, because he turns and gives Stiles the patented Alpha 'back off' glare, and Stiles flushes, quickly cutting his eyes away.

That expression he recognizes.

"So, um, Derek," Allison asks, trailing off as the clink of silverware dies out, everyone's attention now directed toward Derek and away from eggs and hash browns.

"It's the War on Weakness," Derek says without preamble, and very seriously. Stiles can tell. Those are totally his serious eyebrows.

There's a long moment of silence, which really should be a signal to Derek, because when you have the whole pack in the room with bacon and no one's even chewing, well, something is about to get sideways.

"The war…." Isaac parrots, and trails off, head tilting to the side like the very bird itself as Derek makes his way over to his place at the head of the table.

"…on weakness?" Boyd finishes doubtfully, a forkful of eggs suspended mid-air on the way to his lips. They have ketchup on them, which Stiles has always found mildly nauseating ever since that one time he cracked an egg open while making brownies and found a bloody, half-formed chick inside.

Suddenly everyone is talking at once.

"Is this another workout regimen?" Erica sighs, clearly underwhelmed after such a dramatic initial pronouncement.

"Because you really need to make them more human-friendly—" Allison chimes in, and Scott of course agrees with her immediately.

"Do I get to kill the weak things?" Jackson sounds way too excited, and yes, Stiles can totally feel his evil robot-lizard-wolf eyes laser-beaming him in the forehead but he will not give Jackson the satisfaction of reacting.

"Is this anything like the War on Drugs?" Stiles asks instead, because he's suicidal, obviously, but death-by-Derek is marginally more appealing than death-by-Jackson. At least Derek won't pee on his cooling corpse.

Probably.

"Because," Stiles continues, "that's cost the U.S. billions of dollars over the last twenty-five years for exactly zero return-on-investment. Legalizing marijuana alone and taxing it would totally erase the deficit in about—"

"Legal pot would be awesome," Isaac interrupts with a drawl, high-fiving Stiles. "I could be down with some patriotic debt-erasing."

Stiles briefly wonders if anyone's ever tried to get werewolves stoned on the full moon, as a control method. It would incur a lot of residual costs in Cheetos and Reese's Cups, but it'd be better than cells in a burned-out basement.

"THIS IS NOT—" Derek shouts them all down, glowering at them over his coffee mug, visibly restraining himself as the hubbub dies out.

"This is not like the War on Drugs," Derek starts again after a long-suffering deep breath, which doesn't seem to bring him any serenity. Stiles is just secretly gleeful that he can hear the capital letters in Derek's voice.

"And we are not legalizing pot," he adds unnecessarily, which totally deflates everyone. Derek is the worst motivational speaker ever. Really. Like, the TED-talks people probably use game films of Derek as cautionary tales.

"If there's one thing I learned with this whole alpha pack thing," Derek says, more quietly, and that has everyone's attention, because Derek usually only breaks down and talks about what he doesn't know when someone in the pack is bleeding, "it's that there are different ways to get to each of us. We were lucky. Lucky to get everyone back and lucky to end up together, with each of us in one piece."

Boyd and Erica look abashedly grateful, both nodding. Everyone else is silent, and for once Stiles feels no great need to speak. He's certain Derek Hale has never said so many words at one time in his life, and it feels like the whole pack is holding its collective breath, as if inhaling or exhaling would break the spell.

"As your Alpha," Derek continues, looking each of them in the eye turn by turn as he pulls out a chair for himself at the head of the table, "it's irresponsible of me to trust to luck to keep each of you safe. I'm supposed to ensure you're ready to meet any threat. Therefore…"

And that's starting to sound a little more ominous. Glances are beginning to be exchanged around the table in apprehension. Derek's concept of fixing things is usually by the most direct route possible—pain, mental fatigue and inconsequential barriers like blisters and brick walls notwithstanding.

"...therefore," Derek repeats over the sounds of unrest, "we will be eliminating the group training sessions." Stiles steals a glance at Erica, who poorly masks her excitement with a sudden need to study her cuticles.

"Instead—" and it's sorta funny to see everyone's heads pop up and snap to attention; it's like watching Meerkat Manor. "—you'll each take turns, spending full days training with me, one-on-one. The sessions will be individually customized with the end goal of eliminating your biggest weakness."

He pauses, for what would seem suspiciously like dramatic effect if it were anybody but Derek.

"For some of you this will mean physical training," Derek says, and Stiles narrows his gaze, "but for others, it might mean something else entirely."

That made sense. The Alpha pack had come at them from all angles; they threatened Scott's mom, had hacked Derek's phone and convinced Isaac that Derek had abandoned him, and they'd thrown so many red herrings at Stiles that he was practically incapacitated without a clue as to which way to look for real answers. He'd had not one, but two separate panic attacks in the midst of all the chaos.

The only consolation was that Peter was so freaked out when they came after him that he took off and hasn't been seen since. It's an ill wind that blows nobody, yada yada.

There are varying reactions to Derek's proclamation. Boyd is staring at Derek like he's analyzing the tactic, Isaac is smiling and unabashedly worshipful, and Jackson has that constipated expression he gets when he really likes something and doesn't want anyone to know. As much as he hates Jackson, that look always makes Stiles' heart hurt a little, wondering what in his life has conditioned Jackson to disguise what he loves.

But Stiles?

Stiles is deeply, unbelievably, incredibly turned on.

Let's face it—he's a seventeen-year-old virgin. It would be abnormal if he didn't have inappropriate sexual fantasies about a mysterious older authority figure who looks like he moonlights in those soft-core Abercrombie ads.

He's imagined a lot of things about Derek Hale. Because Stiles is an open-minded guy with the attention span of a goldfish and unfettered access to hi-speed internet. Derek regularly climbs through Stiles' window, after all. And if you a) are ridiculously hot, and b) repeatedly invite yourself into a horny teenager's bedroom, you are thereby granting blanket permission to be permanently added to said teenager's spank bank library. It's probably even legally binding. Stiles doesn't feel a bit guilty about any of those fantasies.

Not even the one with Derek's fur.

And, whoa, suddenly he needs to move this little gathering along before every wolf in the room starts sniffing out Stiles' newfound competency kink.

"What happens when you…er…train us all out of our biggest weaknesses?" Stiles asks, which, retrospectively, was maybe not his best idea ever because now Derek is staring right at him and Stiles is pretty sure he's pinned to his chair. Like a butterfly in one of those glass display cases. With something long and stiff stabbing deep into its abdomen. And hey, that right there is a simile gone one step too far. Yes indeedy.

Derek is getting that little what is with you Stiles wrinkle in the bridge of his nose, but after a moment he shrugs and lets it go.

"We start on your second biggest weakness," Derek answers, and, thankfully, that sounds enough like endless work and perpetual suffering that the pack is now collectively groaning in response and no longer momentarily enraptured with their Alpha and his leadership skills. Stiles breathes a sigh of relief.

"Who decides what our biggest weakness is?" Boyd, ever the practical one, asks. Derek leisurely sips his coffee before responding.

"I'll meet with each of you privately to discuss that," he says.

"And we decide together, right? What we're working on?" Lydia sounds dubious, and with good reason, because Derek leans back in his chair and breaks into the sort of slow, wide, predatory smile that apparently comes with the whole Alpha kit. You can see his teeth and everything.

Everybody shifts uncomfortably in their seats, utterly silent and suddenly endowed with perfect posture, as if a nun with a ruler has just entered the room.

"Of course we do, Lydia," Derek says soothingly; you can practically hear the imaginary head-pat he gives her in his voice. Derek pushes back from the table, and something happens that's never happened before. Everyone—Stiles included—instinctively scrambles to their feet.

It's just like Carson rising from the breakfast table at Downton.

"We start tomorrow," Derek calls back over his shoulder as he exits, off-handedly, like he's just proposed tossing the pigskin around or catching a movie. For once Stiles doesn't check out Derek's ass, because he's simply too terrified to think about nice things.

They are so very, very screwed.

Chapter Text

As much as he hates to admit it—and Stiles really does, because he's supposed to be Idea Guy in this pack, it's his thing—this plan of Derek's is actually pretty solid.

Of course, that only means that the potential for any one of them to fuck it up in execution is comparatively high, but still. It has good bones.

Even though Stiles is feeling a little territorial about his resident brainiac status, he has to admit that it's good to see Derek finding some leverage with the whole leadership thing. Boyd and Erica coming back didn't hurt, but Stiles is pretty sure that Derek's finally getting his feet under him either way. Even Scott and Jackson—who probably won't be signing up for the Derek Hale fan club anytime soon—at least seem reluctantly interested in what's going on, instead of continually hovering one rung above coercion.

Derek starts the one-on-one discussions the next day, as promised, but not until they have another all-pack meeting at the house. It begins a lot more relaxed than yesterday ended; Derek waves them all into the living room where they sprawl in their favorite spots, trying to look casual. It's a lost cause; even Stiles' human nose can smell the apprehension in the room.

For his part, Derek seems to be trying to put them at ease. He deliberately sits on the sofa instead of the big, throne-like armchair they usually leave for him, squeezing between Stiles and Scott after they're already seated. He's barefoot, and even wears a shirt with color, a nice, autumn-y gold, which Stiles has to admit definitely does wonders for his own personal mood.

"Before we meet individually, I wanted to lay out some ground rules for how this is going to work," Derek begins.

Because he knows his pack, he pauses strategically that moment for the obligatory grumbles about rules, instead of trying to talk over them. He quirks a brow sarcastically after they trail off, but Stiles is pretty sure the left corner of his mouth twitches a little bit while he does it, and he gets some tentative smiles in return before continuing.

"And…" he pauses again, picking at a hole in the knee of his jeans before looking up at them, "…I thought I'd listen to what you had to say. About this. The sessions, I mean…"

Derek trails off uncertainly, while the jeans-picking fingers are moving more nervously. Stiles can see why.

Crowd-sourcing has never been Derek's M.O. He's traditionally been all "I'm the Alpha" and "Grrrr!" and for the most part, it's worked for them. But he was right about what he said yesterday…they got stupidly lucky with the Alpha pack. It was chance more than Derek's leadership style that saved the day and clearly he's realized that.

None of which is helping him now.

Self-awareness has always been painful as far as Stiles is concerned, and sometimes there's things about himself he wishes he was less aware of, frankly. But he never realized that participating in someone else's self-awareness could be worse. Apparently the pack is feeling the same thing, because no one answers, and everyone just stares at Derek as if he's grown a second head.

The silence stretches on so long that Stiles physically aches for Derek at this point, for opening himself up and because nobody's giving him anything back and…

"I think we should be able to keep it secret, if we want," Stiles blurts, running all his words together.

He only meant to end the endless silence, to—fuck—to have Derek's back, as hopelessly, mushily loyal as that sounds. But once it's out he realizes he means it. At the sound of his voice suddenly everyone's unstuck, thawing out from their frozen shock and chiming in to agree.

"Stiles is right." Jackson's voice, rising above the others, quiets everyone again with a different kind of surprise. Even Derek—who's not always the first to recognize a meaningful moment—acknowledges the weight of that endorsement.

"Agreed," he nods. Derek squeezes Stiles' nape for a moment in approval, but it's long enough for Stiles to feel the nervous tremor in his palm. Derek had to know Stiles would feel it, but he did it anyway.

Which is weird.

Now that everyone's talking and participating, they get a rough plan sketched out: they'll each take turns with Derek for one-on-ones; anybody who's not up that day will still practice together as a group using their normal schedule.

That, of course, starts the pack squabbling about who will lead the sessions in Derek's absence.

"What would be the best for the pack?" Derek raises his voice above the din, and for a moment no one answers. Usually Derek tells them what's best for them. And then tells them how they're going to do it. And that they'd better like it. Or else. Then Lydia clears her throat.

"I think we should take turns leading. It could be part of our development," she says. Stiles is pretty sure he's not the only one quaking in fear at the thought of being under Lydia's control, but he can't argue that it isn't a good idea.

"Good thinking, Lydia," Derek says quietly, and the discussion moves on.

They end up hashing out a lot of potential what ifs and developing solutions to problems before they actually occur, which, Stiles has to admit, is already an improvement over their usual method.

"What if your mom calls in the middle of your day because she needs a ride?" Scott asks.

"Really?" Derek smirks.

"It happens all the time, man!" Scott protests.

"We'll deal with it," Derek says. "Maybe on your days you make sure you don't take her car. I'll come and get you, or something."

It only gets really hairy right at the end, when Allison asks whether she should tell her dad what's going on; depending on her goals, maybe he can help. Everyone falls silent. The idea of Chris Argent furthering the pack's welfare is not exactly easy for any of them to envision.

"I think that's your call," Derek says calmly, but Stiles feels the tension rolling off of him. The hole in Derek's jeans calls to him; Stiles wants deeply to poke his finger through it and scrape his nail over the skin of Derek's kneecap.

Where does his brain get this stuff?

Allison stares at Derek for a long moment, and he stares back, but it looks like that was the answer she wanted to hear, and so when she nods once that's pretty much it.

Derek stands and reaches for his boots.

"Jackson," he says, "you're up. Let's take a walk."

~~~~~~~~~

It's full dark when Derek walks into the house and flops onto the sofa.

Whether by design or on a whim, Derek has saved Stiles' 'consultation' for last. No one returned to the house after their walks with Derek, and Stiles is pretty sure there's a ten little werewolves joke in there, but he's too sleepy to articulate it.

"We goin out, or…?" Stiles gestures vaguely from where he's sprawled on the other end of the couch, wondering where his coat and shoes are. He was the only one left when Derek walked out with Boyd, and he ended up dozing off. His head's a little cloudy.

"Nah," Derek says. "Nobody left but us…figured we'd just stay here if that's okay with you."

"Sure." Stiles answers. "You, uh, hungry? Unless you took a spin through White Castle with Erica, you missed dinner."

"Did you eat?" Derek seems a little hyper-focused on Stiles suddenly, as if he's trying to determine something, but Stiles is damned if he knows what it is.

"Made myself a roast beef sandwich." Stiles yawns and stretches. "How do you get roast beef that rare at the deli counter anyway?"

"I make 'em cut open a new block and slice it from the middle." Derek grins, all teeth. That smile makes Stiles' belly do a little flip, a bastard blend of fear and desire.

"So, basically you're a dick at the deli?"

"Pretty much."

"Quelle surprise." Stiles grins.

"Sandwich sounds pretty good," Derek says, lifting a foot up onto the coffee table like the heathen he is and picking at his boot laces. Stiles rolls his eyes but pushes to his feet.

"You must have one of those misprinted dictionaries I heard about, the ones with a picture of an anvil next to the entry for 'subtlety'," he calls out as he heads to the kitchen.

He does, however, enjoy the look of surprise on Derek's face when he comes back in less than thirty seconds carrying his dinner. Stiles sets a soda and a plate holding a giant sandwich down on the coffee table and throws a bag of chips at Derek's head.

"Awwww….you do care." Derek catches the Fritos and grins again, reaching for the sandwich. He's awfully smiley tonight, which makes Stiles nervous, as if Derek's disarming him intentionally, leading up to an attack.

If he'd known tonight was his last meal, he would have skipped the sandwich, maybe fired up the grill and thrown on a t-bone.

"Don't look so surprised, man. I've seen you eat. I don't actually feel one hundred percent safe in a room with you when you've missed a meal. All this—" Stiles triangles a gesture from Derek to the plate to himself and back—"is really just self-preservation on my part."

Derek mumbles a thank you around a gigantic bite of the gigantic sandwich that Stiles had made earlier and put aside for him. The roast beef really is rare; the blood has soaked into the soft white deli roll and is turning it pink. Stiles had to throw his in a skillet for a minute before he could eat it, but he's not telling Derek that. He steals a few handfuls of corn chips and munches from the other end of the couch while Derek basically inhales his sandwich.

"I didn't realize that hours of talking would make me so hungry," he says between bites. "That's a normal day for you. How are you not two, two-fifty?" He grins.

"Funny wolfie," Stiles grumbles, flicking a chip at Derek's face. "Go ahead. Mock the ADHD kid." Derek sobers immediately, setting his plate back on the table.

"I would never do that," he says, sitting up and leaning toward Stiles, as if to drive home his words. Stiles feels badly for accidentally ending the light-hearted moment.

"Dude, I know this," Stiles assures him with what he hopes is a manly smack to the shoulder. "We're cool. Jokey fun times, no problem." Derek stares at him long enough for it to be uncomfortable, but apparently hears the not-lying heartbeat and relaxes.

"Okay," Derek says, sitting back, but doesn't reach for his plate again. Not that there's much left, maybe a few human-sized bites. Or, alternately, one wolf-bite. "Good. Might as well get started then, I guess?" he says.

"Uh…"

Stiles is caught off-guard and ends up wiping his greasy Frito-fingers on his pants. He glances at the napkin he'd brought for Derek, but napkin-sharing seems like it would be a couples thing, like putting his mouth where Derek's mouth was and rubbing it would be stepping over the nice, safe line Stiles keeps in his head. Stealing a drink of Derek's soda, however, is totally a guy thing and Stiles doesn't hesitate. He's anxious and his throat is dry.

"You don't need to be nervous," Derek says with a smile.

Stiles wonders if Derek has any idea how terrible his "kindly, good-intentioned" man-smile really is. If he realized how scary and plastic it looks he wouldn't even try. He'd leave the awkward librarian-charming to Scott and his puppy-face. Stiles should make him do it in front of a mirror someday.

"I bet you say that to all the girls," Stiles cracks. Nervously.

"What do you think we should be working on?" Derek asks, ignoring Stiles' lame deflection. Derek's sad attempt at a soothing tone, coupled (ha! coupled!) with the fact that Stiles is semi-reclined on a sofa make him feel weirdly like he's seeing a psychiatrist. A hot, barefoot, underwear-model therapist who shares the sofa with you.

Stiles is pretty sure this is the plot of at least three percent of the gay porn he's seen.

"Look, why don't you just tell me what you want me to do and we'll get started, okay? We both know that's how this is going to go."

Stiles is gruffer than he means to be, but he's just on edge, what with the new fear of the process combined with the always-there fear that Derek will smell his interest and freak the fuck out.

If Derek figures out that the jailbait sheriff's kid has a crush on him, Stiles is certain he'd be out of the pack in a heartbeat. No way is Derek going to risk the entire pack's stability on one human kid.

The effect on Derek is immediate. Immediate, and also completely unexpected.

"That's not fair," he says, his face cloudy. And hurt.

"I don't hear you denying it." Stiles wants to kick himself at this point. It's like he's at Vegas and can't resist going all in now that he's picked a strategy, even if it's starting to look like a bad one.

"I thought—" Derek pauses, genuinely confused. Stiles has seen that face enough times to recognize it. "I thought you were with me on this."

"I am. The idea, it is good. It's a good idea. And the pack kids get one-on-one time with Daddy, which they desperately need and there is finally time for, thank God," Stiles agrees, struggling to stay calm and reasonable. He knows he's sorta close to being an asshole right now, and he hates it but can't quite walk himself away from the edge.

"Why do you say it like that?" Derek squints at Stiles.

"Like what?"

"Like that," he responds. "The pack kids," he mimics. "They. Like you're not one of them. One of us."

"I'm not." It hurts to say it.

"Since when?" Derek says softly.

"Since always," he answers, but he can't look Derek in the eye when he does.

"Because you're human?" Derek prods. "Do you think Lydia doesn't belong here either? Or Allison?"

"That's—that's not up to me. It's up to them if they feel that way."

"I'm pretty sure they don't," Derek says, like that will help somehow.

"Yeah, well, maybe they have more of a reason to belong than I do," Stiles says pointedly.

This is awful. It was never his intention to talk about this. He hadn't even been thinking about it, hasn't articulated it to himself yet, that he's the only one in the pack who is neither supernatural nor a sexual partner to someone who is. And now that Derek has helpfully illustrated it along with him, he can't unsee the gulf between him and everybody else.

He can't imagine what Derek is smelling and hearing right now. Stiles is sweating; he can feel his own erratic heartbeat in his chest and the heat of tears building up and the effort to keep them in is overwhelming.

"If you think—" Derek stops, raking a hand through his hair, obviously frustrated by Stiles' imminent breakdown. "If you think you are less valued than anyone else, just because—" he breaks off again, apparently at a total loss. And that's Stiles' pressure-release valve, right there.

The betas always key their moods off of Derek's. Stiles figures it's a wolf-thing, that they're wired to him and can't help it, and a lot of what he's read supports that interpretation. In practice, it means if Derek's grumpy—something with which they have a good body of experience—the rest of the betas are cranky as well. If he's calm, they're relaxed. If he's moody, they worry.

Stiles…has always taken the opposite approach, like tacking a sailboat into the wind to make progress. If Derek (and his pack) are grouchy, Stiles becomes a source of unending optimism. If they are giddy, he's chill. If Derek's sad, Stiles tells a happy story, or acts the fool until the pack's frowns turn upside-down.

He's a walking counterweight, is what Stiles is, and seeing Derek looking lost is enough to snap Stiles out of his self-pitying spiral.

"Look, forget it, okay? I didn't mean to dump all that on you," Stiles says, taking a deep breath. "It's my crap to carry, not yours."

Derek blinks at him, as if Stiles is speaking a different language. He shifts on the sofa, folding his bare feet up to sit cross-legged across from Stiles, elbows on his knees.

"You don't get it, do you?" he asks, staring at Stiles. It's apparently a rhetorical question, because he doesn't wait for an answer. "I'm supposed to help you deal with your crap. You're supposed to dump your shit on me. I'm—" and he stops himself, presumably just before uttering the three-word sentence that would prove Stiles' original point about who was really going to decide what Stiles' biggest weakness is. Instead Derek asks a question.

"What am I to you?"

Object of desire? Source of endless annoyance? Reason the bedroom windowsill is drooping? Stiles has no earthly idea how to answer that question without incriminating himself or making both of them more miserable than they clearly already are. He shoots for something neutral.

"My friend?" The question mark is clearly audible, and Derek frowns but sighs his acceptance, apparently unwilling to dig below surface-level for more.

"I can work with that," he says, his eyes on Stiles'. Stiles' relief is cruelly stunted a moment later. "But," Derek continues, "if I were doing my job right, your instinctive answer would have been 'my Alpha'. I guess it's no wonder you feel disconnected from the rest of us."

Stiles doesn't feel any great need to correct Derek on his reasoning; nothing he's said is wrong, per se. It just isn't the complete picture. It might not be fair to let Derek shoulder all the blame for whatever issues he has with inclusion, but at the moment Stiles is barely treading water in this conversation.

He'll take what he can get.

"It does, however," Derek says, "make a strong case for my original idea for your focus."

"Wow," Stiles replies. "You sure do know how to segue, don't you?"

"Shut up," Derek says, but it's cautious, like, he thinks things are starting to be more okay but isn't willing to take it for granted yet.

"No, really," and Stiles smiles widely, throwing Derek a bone (Ha! dog-puns: always funny, even in his head.) "That's some major brass wolf balls, there. Power right through the quicksand, boo-yah!"

"I didn't mean to—"

"Too late!" Stiles reaches out and flicks Derek's ear, which pack-evidence has shown is a sure-fire way to end up in a headlock. Sure enough, his next breath is actually a squeaky laugh from the vicinity of Derek's armpit.

"What were you saying about quicksand, pup?" Derek growls it a little bit, playful, and Stiles is so happy to be back in a good place with Derek for the moment that he actually feels like a puppy, gnawing obliviously on the Alpha's ear. Derek pokes him in the ribs for good measure, and Stiles warbles a protest, trying and failing to struggle up to his knees on the sofa cushion.

Derek noogies him in return.

"Uncle!" Stiles laughs breathlessly. He's still pinned against Derek, who has fallen back a little against the cushions, and smells…not armpitty at all, actually. "Okay, I give, I give! Uncle, dammit!"

Instead of letting him go immediately, which, hey, there's a code to these things, Stiles thinks, Derek stills. Stiles can feel Derek resting his cheek against the back of Stiles' head, rubbing it and the edge of his manly stubbled jaw against Stiles' hair like he's seen Derek do with the betas. It gives him a very weird, shivery feeling—but nice, definitely the nice feeling, not the creepy feeling.

He kinda gets the deal with all the ear-flicking, now. Light bulb: so on. It's an LED, even.

Derek still doesn't let him go, and when he starts speaking in the next moment—the words little puffs of air right behind Stiles' ear—the shivers change course and head straight to Stiles' dick.

"Will you just listen? Just listen to my idea, and if you hate it we'll do something else, I promise," Derek says softly. "Okay?"

Stiles is just putty at this point. A Stiles-shaped ball of goo. A lemon-lime Jell-O mold of Stilesness. If Derek had crooned 'I'm just gonna cut off your right arm, and see how it goes. If you don't like it, you can keep the left one, okay?' Stiles would have been all, 'yeah, okay, whatev, so long as you rub your face on me sometimes'.

"Yeah, okay, whatev," Stiles sighs.

He lets himself relax into Derek's side for a moment, like it's just part of his humiliating headlock defeat, instead of contact he's suddenly craving like air. The most Stiles is hoping for is to be tolerated there for a moment, so when Derek shifts and folds him a little more comfortably against him Stiles is lost. The headlock is definitely over, and whatever this is now is much nicer. It doesn't go so far as to be a snuggle. And it's not quite a hug either. But close. It's definitely hug-adjacent.

It's also fucking awesome.

Stiles has no idea how long they stay that way. There may be some sort werewolf stealth-endorphins hitting him right now that he experienced before and doesn't understand. He doesn't say anything because he doesn't want to be the one to break up whatever this thing is.

It isn't the first time Derek's touched him, but it's usually pushing him out of the way of danger or feeling him up strictly for purposes of discovering life-threatening injuries. There may have been—once or twice—a 'thank god you aren't dead, dumbass' hug.

But nothing has ever been…this.

"I should have been doing this all along," Derek says. Stiles jigs a little in surprise. He and Derek are so fundamentally different that it always shocks him when they end up thinking along the same lines. Derek pets him—there really is not another word for it, and Stiles tries really hard to find it but there just isn't—soothing him back to his previous position.

Stiles doesn't say anything. Speech is beyond him. Derek doesn't seem to expect a reply though, because he just continues. Funny. Alpha-snuggles make Stiles quiet and make Derek run off at the mouth. Who knew? It's like Bizzaro-world.

"I should have remembered. It's no wonder you feel disconnected," Derek mutters. "I screwed up."

Now this is familiar territory, Derek assuming all the guilt in the world without sufficient cause or explanation to anyone else.

"I don't know how not hugging me constitutes screwing up," he says into Derek's chest. "Not that I am advocating a return to the not-hugging state of affairs. In fact, I am highly in favor of the current activity. And, also, I offer blanket permission for any future acts of hugging that you may be considering." He feels the shake of Derek's silent laughter under his cheek. Mission accomplished. "I can even put it in writing, if you want."

"Noted," Derek says dryly. He finally straightens a few minutes after that, settling Stiles upright again, and Stiles immediately feels the loss. He feels it keenly, just like all the old romance novels say. He covers it like he covers everything…by talking.

"What did you mean when you said you 'should have remembered'?" Stiles asks.

Derek has settled them close enough for their knees to touch, like he knows about the keenness. Stiles imagines that the one of Derek's with the hole in the denim is a little warmer against his, because he's a layer closer to Derek's skin.

"You…remember that my dad was human?"

Stiles nods. Aside from what the pack has managed to pry from Derek himself (and what Stiles gleaned from the reports of the fire he lifted from the police station) he's read every scrap he can find on the Hale family. He even braved the wrath of Allison's dad by asking to borrow books from the Argent's private library.

"One of my sisters was born human, too. Some of the aunts and uncles who married in, a few cousins," Derek says softly, looking down at where their knees are touching. "It's not unusual in the larger packs."

Stiles nods, hoping it looks supportive and attentive. Derek's only ever willingly talked about his family in situations involving imminent death that required it.

"My mom told me once…she said that we had to hug them, spend time with them—touch them even more than the wolves in the pack," he explains. "She said they needed it more, and would ask for it less, than wolves would."

Stiles doesn't know what to say to that. He thinks back on all of his interactions with the pack over the last few years, seeing them through a new lens. How most of the physical contact was accidental on his part, but always intentional on theirs; how free they were with each other, but how Stiles himself rarely initiated anything. Even being part of the Puppy Pile o' Victory slumber party was a first for him, brought on by the high of winning, and having Erica and Boyd back.

He feels a little cheated, and then he feels crass for feeling cheated, like some asshole guy in the ice cream shop who gets mad and yells at the teenage girl scooping his rocky road because no one ever told him sprinkles were free on Wednesdays.

He could have been having free sprinkles all along.

"I should have remembered that," Derek says again. "I should have remembered and taught the rest of the pack, too. Lydia, and Allison...they do okay. They get touched anyway, since…"

"Uh, yeah, you really don't have to elaborate on that part of the theory, thanks." Stiles rolls his eyes, and gets a quirk of a smile in return.

"Yeah," Derek says. "But you don't. Ironically—"

Stiles can feel another clunky, Derek-style segue coming on, but seriously, at this point he'll take anything that'll move this conversation along. The alternative is that Stiles is going to start suggesting several various ways Derek can make up for the neglectful lack of touching and that's where the map says, "here be dragons".

Dark, GQ-esque dragons with cut abs and growly voices.

"Ironically?" Stiles repeats.

"Ironically, this is directly connected to my idea." He pauses to rub his face. "Even though I didn't make the connection until now."

"That would be the part where there's irony," Stiles grins, getting a reluctant twitch of lip-corners in return. "So what's your idea?"

"I wanted to work on strengthening your connection to the pack," Derek says. And, wow, there is pretty much nothing he could have said to make Stiles feel more like a heel at this moment.

Stiles had started off this whole confrontation out of a secret fear that Derek might kick him out of the pack.

Derek had started off this whole confrontation trying to figure out a way to tell Stiles he wanted to bring him closer into it.

Wires, they be crossed.

"Okay, but how does that work?" Stiles doesn't know how to apologize for thinking the worst of Derek (again) without confessing his secret lust, so the best thing to do is to swallow his guilt and forge ahead as long as Derek seems oblivious.

"We build the bonds," Derek says and stops, like that answers everything.

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Bond-building. Everyone knows that." Stiles drips sarcasm. "No way, buddy. You're gonna have to do better than that."

Derek crosses his arms and looks disgruntled. Stiles doesn't care.

"You're going to have to channel that other Derek who was just here, who put two or three sentences together at once, and start explaining this to me like I'm a five-year-old."

"Touching is a good start," Derek sighs reluctantly. "You need more contact with the pack, not just touching but also just being in physical proximity."

"Like, hanging out in the same room and stuff?"

Derek nods.

"And sharing meals. Games. Even sleeping. Basically, spending some time together that doesn't involve running for your life."

"Okay…" Stiles says expectantly. "And?"

"And—eventually you should be able to feel us. Be connected. Know when we're hurt, or happy. Maybe not as strongly as the wolves can feel you, and maybe it'll never work between you and Allison, or you and Lydia, but there should be something there, between you and the wolves," Derek says. "We need to work on that." He sounds almost a little regretful.

"At the very least, you should be able to feel me," he finishes grudgingly.

"Disappointed, pops, that I can't hear you calling without a cell phone handy?"

Stiles is only half-joking. He really wants to hear the answer. Well, he really only wants to hear one answer, but he put it out there; he can only blame himself if he doesn't like what he gets back.

"Sometimes," Derek says, staring at him. Stiles' throat is suddenly too tight. "I can feel you. When you're hurt or scared, confused…sometimes when you're happy."

He waits, maybe sensing the horrified frission of fear that races through Stiles, who's wondering just how finely Derek can parse the feelings he gets from Stiles. There are things Derek really should not know. But when he doesn't get any actual response Derek continues.

"It's not as clear as it is with the others, but you're always there. Buzzing around. Sort of like a fly." He grins slowly, carefully, and Stiles barks a laugh.

"Okay, okay," he concedes. "I guess it would be nice if it went both ways." Derek nods quickly.

"It would help steady you, too, if you could draw on the pack. When you're stressed, like when the alpha pack was coming at you from a dozen different directions, it could help." Derek is selling it now, coming down the home stretch like a used-car salesman who knows he's got a decent Carfax report to offer up.

"Or if you had a big exam you were studying for, or if you had to stay up late for pack research." Derek's left hand was back on him again, squeezing his bicep for emphasis. Stiles would like to get lost in that, but something was niggling at him.

Physical danger, school-related stress, lack of sleep…Derek had just hit his three biggest anxiety-inducers. Stiles doesn't think it's an accident.

"What made you think of this?"

Derek looks blankly at Stiles, but it's the careful blank, not the honestly-I-have-no-freaking-idea-what-you're-getting-at blank. Something inevitable starts to wash back and forth in Stiles' head, like when you hold a shell up to your ear and think you can hear the ocean. Stiles feels the dread building, circling ominously from below like a great white.

"You said you hadn't made the connection, about me feeling like I didn't belong. So, why did you come up with this in the first place?"

"I—I told you," Derek stammers, and Stiles' gut churns. He knows, just knows from looking at Derek's face, that the next words out of his mouth are going to be lies. It's horrible. Stiles is pretty sure Derek has selectively edited information before, no doubt in the name of keeping them safe and carrying all the weight himself, but he doesn't think Derek's ever outright lied to them. Until now.

"It was after the alpha pack attacked and you were all—"

"My god," Stiles sneers. "You are a fucking terrible liar." Stiles shoves at Derek's hand and leaps to his feet. He's so angry, he's shaking. "This is about my ADHD!"

"Stiles, no, you don't—"

Derek is still seated on the sofa, holding his hands up as if pleading for a chance to be heard, which is the only reason Stiles' punch lands at all. Not only does it land, it makes a sickening crack and sends a fountain of blood gushing from Derek's nose.

So much for that nice, golden shirt.

Derek blinks and shakes his head, trying to clear his vision. He doesn't wolf out, and that alone tells Stiles how guilty he feels, as if even his wolf knows Derek deserved it.

"You asshole," Stiles snarls. "You don't want to connect with me. You don't want me to be closer to the pack!" Derek's shaking his head, one pleading hand still raised in the face of Stiles' fury as the other holds the hem of his shirt under his nose. The quick bloom of blood that soaks it makes Stiles nauseous.

"You want to fix me," he grates, forcing back bile. It's so cruel, to have gotten that little bit closer to Derek tonight, just before it all gets ripped away. Derek's whole pack is a collection of broken or blemished teenagers, carrying both physical and emotional baggage. Until now, Stiles has always thought he fit.

"Stiles, I swear that's not it," Derek tries to argue, rising from the couch. It sounds all wrong through his broken nose, like he has a bad cold. "Please, just listen—"

Stiles is beyond listening.

"Liar." Stiles spits the word at Derek with a two-handed shove at his chest. But Derek's ready for it now. It doesn't even make him sway. He grabs Stiles by the wrists and shoves him back.

"Somehow you're always ready to believe the worst possible thing you can about me. Well, fuck you, Stiles," he grinds out from between quickly sharpening teeth. "Because you're wrong. Again!"

"Oh, there it comes. You think I'm scared of your pointy teeth? Why don't you just go ahead and bite me and have it over with?" Stiles goads. "Fix me for good like you did Erica. You wanna get rid of my ADHD forever, take all my weaknesses and distractions so I can just be a research machine for the pack, instead of a liability?"

Derek's red-eyed and growling a warning now, claws out and fangs fully dropped, but Stiles doesn't give a fuck. He's just done. Fucking done. Derek is shaking his head; it's either him fighting back the shift, or deny-deny-deny, but Stiles doesn't care either way.

"You want to build a better Stiles? Stronger? Faster? Your very own Six Million Dollar Man?"

He can't think of anything right now, can't feel anything but betrayal. He drops to his knees, which should mean surrender but it's pure defiance. Challenge. A slap in the face of an Alpha.

"Then go on, you motherfucker, do it!" Stiles rages. Stiles punches at Derek's thigh and turns his neck up, jugular bare and taunting.

"Fuckin' take your shot, you pussy—"

The massive roar rattles the china in the kitchen cabinets.

Stiles squeezes his eyes shut instinctively. Something upstairs tips over and breaks. All the night sounds that were bleeding in through the screen door and open windows—the frogs, the crickets, the moths batting against the porch light—they all cease.

The momentary silence that follows is deafening, a physical thing, like a punch to your belly that takes your breath away. The next thing he hears is the rattle of both of their cell phones as they skitter across the coffee table, blowing up with messages and calls.

When he finally opens his eyes, Derek is on his knees in front of him, tapping out a text to someone before he tosses his phone back down. He leaves a bloody fingerprint on its surface that turns Stiles' stomach.

STAY AWAY, it says.

Their phones go as silent as the frogs.

Derek raises his head and looks at him. Stiles can see his nose is already healed, but the blood is still everywhere, the smell of freshly rubbed pennies overwhelming, even to Stiles. Derek's fingernails are crusted with it and his palms are turned up and open, resting on his thighs as he finally speaks, voice raw from the roar.

"I would never do that," Derek says, low and shaky. "I would never. If you were on the ground dying, bleeding out in front of me—if it was the only way—I still wouldn’t bite you," he chokes. "I'd let you go. I'd fucking let you go."

He's telling the truth. As sure as Stiles knew Derek was lying before, he knows he isn't now.

Stiles finally has to drop his eyes; the wounded look is too much. "I know," he says quietly. He ends up staring at Derek's throat, which is swallowing convulsively.

"How could you do that to me?" Derek says. He's not talking about the punch.

"How could you lie to me?" Stiles shoots back, but it's softer than the words he used before, more like a question than an accusation.

"I wasn't," Derek says, and he must see the protest forming on Stiles' face, because he hurries to continue. "Not the way you think."

The boiling fury has well and truly drained out of Stiles at this point. He realizes suddenly that they're both still on their knees beside the sofa, and he feels like he's going to topple forward into Derek at any moment. Groaning, he pushes himself to his feet, Derek following. He realizes when he's standing that he doesn't want anything to do with the sofa again tonight, and looks around the room at a loss.

"C'mon." Derek leads the way out through the kitchen, gesturing towards the back porch. "Go ahead, I'll get us something to drink."

Stiles wanders around the railing, listening to the night sounds slowly return as he lights the citronella lamps he'd demanded for the porch. Like most everything else, werewolves were apparently immune to mosquito bites.

Stiles hears water splashing in the kitchen sink. It puzzles him before he realizes, with a hot flush of guilt, that Derek is washing the blood from his face. When the screen door opens again, the frogs and insects go silent once more, sensing the arrival of the apex predator who scared the shit out of them a few minutes ago. It's a little spooky.

Derek sits down on the swing next to Stiles, holding two bottles. Stiles' eyes go wide.

"Are you giving me a beer?" he asks breathlessly.

Derek may turn a blind eye to what the pack gets up to with the contents of the Whittemores' bar, or the Martins' wine cellar, but he adamantly refuses to let any of them drink in the house.

"Everything that's gone down tonight, and this is what scandalizes you?" Derek rolls his eyes, holding out the sweaty bottle.

"But you're giving me a beer!" Stiles repeats stupidly, reaching for it before Derek changes his mind.

"If you tell any of the others I'll break your nose," Derek growls. He means it to be funny, and it is, but—

"Stop thinking about it," Derek says before Stiles can even apologize.

"But I am. Sorry, I mean. I'm really sorry," Stiles looks up to find Derek's gaze on him.

"It's okay," he shrugs.

"But it isn't," Stiles insists quietly. "And you know it isn't, so just say you accept my apology, okay?"

"I accept your apology," Derek says stiffly.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

They're both silent for a while, sipping quietly as the night creatures finally decide that Derek's not going to eat them and re-start their chorus. It's long enough for Stiles to notice that Derek's got a clean t-shirt on. He's glad. The cushions on the swing are brand new –Lydia had chosen them. He doesn't want to think of her reaction if she came back and they were all bloodstained.

"So…" Derek offers, dragging a little more momentum into the swing with his heel against the floor.

The chain squeaks a little. Erica thought it was annoying, but Boyd had claimed that porch swings were supposed to squeak, and fought her off one day when she stomped out brandishing the WD-40. They'd ended up rolling around on the porch laughing, both of them covered in the stuff, and now there was a new, dark stain across two of the floorboards.

But the chain still squeaks. It makes Stiles happy.

"Erica—" Derek says, and not for the first time, Stiles wonders if mind-reading is part of the Alpha toolbox. Derek runs his hands through his hair, frustrated. "You know her epilepsy was serious? Life-threatening? That she could have died trying to catch the fucking bus?"

Stiles does know. He remembers the panic in gym class, the horrible, whole-body earthquake that went on and on.

"Yeah," he says quietly.

"So it's not the same. We leave her—and the fact that now her brain isn't going to randomly up and kill her someday—out of this, okay?" Derek bites the words out. "My offer to prevent that forever was not because I found her lacking." He's heated and Stiles can't blame him. It's an ugly thing to be accused of, and Stiles isn't proud of doing it.

Still, he's torn. Stiles' first instinct is to point out that any number of things are trying to kill Erica in her new life, and probably far more often than the epilepsy did. And he knows that Derek's original motives—regardless of how he feels about them now—for turning the betas were mostly due to self-interest. But he can't argue that Erica probably has a better chance of surviving than she did before—or that at least she's gained some agency over her potential demise—so Stiles lets it go.

"Okay," he nods. They fall silent again; only the rhythm of the chain fills the silence.

"So…?" Stiles says when he can't stand it anymore.

"Do you think you'd be willing to listen to me for a minute?" Derek eyes him over his beer as he drinks, waiting for Stiles' answer. A light dawns.

"Did you just give me a beer so I'd be all mellow?" Stiles asks suspiciously.

"Could be." Derek makes a small, cautious smile. "Is it working?"

"I'll let you know after the second one." Stiles wags the near-empty bottle under Derek's nose.

"You're evil," Derek complains as he heads back inside for another round.

"Must be the company I keep," Stiles counters.

They share a few more minutes of squeaky peace when the second bottles are opened.

"I have to admit," Stiles ventures finally, when it looks like Derek's chickening out, the bastard, "to being a lightweight. You should make your point soon, before I end up drooling on your shoulder and you have to tuck me in."

Derek shudders and the swing squeals, the perfect wolf-twitch detector. Stiles sees a glint of the Alpha-red in his eyes for just a moment, but then it's gone. Derek reaches out and sets his bottle on the side table, so Stiles does the same. If Derek doesn't think he can juggle a beer with this conversation, then Stiles doesn't stand a chance.

"Turn around," Derek says, suddenly, like he's just had an idea.

"Sorry?" The beer is taking effect quicker than he thought it would. "Turn where?"

Derek is clearly not of a mind to wait long enough for him to figure it out. He huffs impatiently and grabs Stiles around the shoulders, shifting him forward long enough for Derek to swing his leg up and extend it behind Stiles, so it's laying long-ways against the back of the swing. He shoves some cushions behind his own back, then he manhandles Stiles into laying against him, Stiles' back to his front.

"Oookay…?" Stiles says hesitantly. He can't see anything except the underside corner of the porch roof. It's pretty cob-webby. Stiles hopes that spiders sleep at night. Or that they're afraid of werewolves, like the crickets. But spiders are pretty badass, so he's not counting on it. "This is…nice."

"Shut up." Stiles has learned that Derek, when pressed, often reverts to a few favored phrases.

Derek seems to have used up all of his confident initiative from a few moments ago, and hasn't yet decided what to do with his hands and arms. They shift restlessly from threading through one slat of the swing to the next every few seconds. Stiles finally takes pity on him and grabs them, folding Derek's arms across Stiles' stomach and letting his own hands curl up around them. He's careful to keep them a respectable distance away from anyplace that could be problematic.

"I mean it," Stiles insists. "It is nice. Like before."

"Good," Derek says gruffly. "I—I just think that sometimes it's easier to listen if you can't see."

Stiles ponders that for a moment. "Is that a wolf thing?" he asks carefully.

"No," Derek huffs indignantly. "It's an everyone thing. You know, when someone goes blind their hearing improves, blah blah blah."

"Okay," Stiles says blithely. "I'm willing to go with it. Carry on."

"You're a terrible person," Derek grouses again.

"Literally lying on a werewolf here. Pretty sure the cosmic scale of goodness is going to tilt in my favor."

He deliberately snugs down an inch or so to a more comfortable position, making Derek gasp quietly, just to test his theory. Nope, no lightning bolts.

Still not the most evil.

"I can smell it on you," Derek says suddenly, blurting the words out like he's been working up to it and they finally popped loose.

Derek's right arm starts to drift slowly lower, toward previously unexplored territory and for one brief, terrifying second, Stiles thinks he means Stiles' arousal, but then Derek's fingers tap on something hard in Stiles pocket, and it rattles.

"The Adderall," Derek says quietly. "I can smell it. On your breath, in your sweat. Even your hair."

"So?" Stiles retorts, trying to brazen it out and knowing, fucking knowing he can't.

"So I know when you take extra," Derek says calmly, refusing to rise to the bait. "I know every time. You took some tonight, waiting on me to get back, because you were nervous. It crashed you and you got hungry and ate and then you fell asleep."

Somehow, without Stiles realizing it, Derek has closed his arms around Stiles again, with Stiles' arms pinned beneath Derek's.

He's not going anywhere until Derek decides to let him.

"It's none of your business," Stiles says through clenched teeth. "And nice try, by the way, trying to distract me. We're supposed to be talking about why you lied to me, asshole."

"We are," Derek says, still infuriatingly in control of himself. He gives Stiles a quick, listen-to-me squeeze. "This is why I wanted to try to teach you to draw stability from the pack…to give you another way to ground yourself that didn't involve abusing your meds."

"So you're calling me an addict?" Stiles struggles against him. He used up all of his hot fury earlier; now he's just cold inside, and hurt. "Let me up asshole." But it's useless, and Derek doesn't.

"Stiles," Derek says, holding him with very little effort. The swing's chains squeal in protest, ironically making it sound as if they're doing something else entirely. "Stiles!"

Eventually Derek loses patience, and crosses his legs over Stiles' shins, eliminating any leverage Stiles has.

He's defeated.

"Stiles, listen to me. Listen," Derek hisses. "I don't think you're an addict. And I know you don't use it for fun, or for kicks. I know when and I know why."

Stiles remembers thinking that Derek hit the trifecta earlier…school, epic battles, exhaustion.

"Then why are you even bothering me about it? If you know?" he asks.

"Because it could become a problem. It's already headed that way. You know this, Stiles, you're too smart not to know this."

"But—"

"You carry the fucking bottle in your pocket, Stiles!" Derek snaps at last.

"It's a once-a-day dose, and you carry it in your fucking pocket 24/7," Derek repeats, his voice dropping to a harsh whisper, like the words are painful to him, cutting his throat on the way out. "That frightens me, and it should frighten you."

Neither of them say anything for a long time. So much time passes that Derek finally decides that Stiles is no longer a flight risk, and he drops his left leg back down to the floor and pushes off, swaying the swing back to life. Stiles takes deep, shaky breaths, timing his inhalations with the swing as it glides back and forth.

If Stiles is honest with himself, he has to admit that he knew this day was coming. There's just no way that a bunch of people who can sniff out what you ate for breakfast yesterday are going to stay oblivious when he's sweating out extra doses of legal speed.

He just thought it would be Scott.

Ending up being pinned down physically and emotionally by an Alpha werewolf was not in any of his imagined scenarios. And said Alpha seeming to be genuinely distraught about it instead of just pissed off is even further beyond anything he envisioned happening.

"I can't remember you ever saying you're scared of something," Stiles says at last. Derek's admission has played on a continuous loop in his head this entire time.

"I was telling the truth," he answers simply.

"I know." Stiles starts counting the squeaks of the chain.

"You weren't like this," Derek says, just as Stiles makes it to forty-two in his head. "Before."

"B.W.?" Stiles prompts, and Derek, bless him, laughs softly into Stiles' hair.

"Before Werewolves, yeah."

"It's not your fault," Stiles says. "You don't always have to be so quick to claim responsibility for everything that's bad in Beacon Hills."

"I stay away sometimes," Derek says a few minutes later, which makes absolutely no sense as an answer. Stiles only got to seventeen squeaks that time; he doesn't think he could have fallen asleep long enough to have missed that much of the conversation.

Or maybe he did, and that's why he only got to seventeen.

"I stay away when I need your help, or when I just want you to be around. I keep the pack away, too." Stiles suddenly sees the wisdom in how Derek's positioned them. He's dead certain that if they were facing each other right now there's no way he'd be hearing this confession.

"I don't want that," he says, but Derek ignores him.

"I do it because I can sense it on you, that tightness that tells me you're close, that staying up too late again or one more obligation or favor or thing to stress over is going to make that bottle rattle."

"That…it's not your responsibility, to keep that from happening. You know, that, right?" Stiles says softly. He closes his hands around Derek's wrists and squeezes. Somebody's trembling. He's not sure who.

"You want me to be more selfish? Less responsible?" Derek asks, rubbing his jaw against Stiles' head again. "To come through your window at all hours of the night? Text you whenever I think you can help, and send the pack to drag your ass out of bed on a Sunday morning just so we can have you with us at breakfast?"

"Yes," Stiles whispers immediately, without letting a single squeak pass. "I want that."

"Then I need to believe it's not hurting you to do it," Derek whispers back. "That I'm not hurting you."

It takes Stiles seventy-eight squeaks to answer him.

"I'll do it," he says.

"Okay," Derek breathes back, squeezing him again.

When they wake up in the swing the next morning, the last number Stiles can remember is seven.

Chapter Text

When Stiles shows up at the house after school on Monday, he's not sure what to expect. He doesn't know how his personal little war is supposed to be a secret if he needs to connect and build bonds and whatever else passes for new-agey with werewolves.

No one seems all that surprised to see him, though. Curious, maybe, but not surprised. Isaac and Boyd give him a chin-nod and go back to the Xbox, and Erica ignores him altogether, engrossed in her Facebook wall. Jackson strolls in just behind him and shoulders rudely past Stiles to get to the fridge. It feels like any other day, really.

Stiles' first instinct is to head upstairs to the room he usually claims when there's pack shenanigans and it's too late—or he's too bloody—to go home. He's pretty sure he's not going to get any homework done sitting around the main floor with the betas, and it's his first session night; Derek will be here for dinner and then god only knows what will go down at that point. If he doesn't get it done now, there'll be no getting it done.

He knows it's a bad idea, though. The whole purpose is to spend more time with the pack, and there's no point driving across town just to hide away in a half-finished bedroom. He plops his backpack down on the granite bar-top and pokes around for a snack of his own, settling on a banana and a cheese stick.

He gets lost in an essay for American History, and is surprised to find himself three thousand words in when suddenly he feels a hot gust by his ear.

"You better put something about the watershed period in there, or Hartel will take off at least ten points," Jackson offers, exhaling Cool Ranch Dorito-breath as he continues reading over Stiles' shoulder.

"Since when do you care about my academic future?" Stiles snipes, pulse still racheting back down after being startled out of his writing zone. "And how do you know anyway?"

"Had it last semester," Jackson answers, shrugging and backing off. "It's your GPA, dude," he says, and wanders away into the living room.

Stiles does a couple three-sixty-degree spins on the stool, trying to decide whether to trust Jackson's advice, before sighing and looking up "watershed period" in the text's index. Derek doesn't get involved in a lot of their teenage squabbles, but it's a pack rule that everyone do their best in school. Bad grades would draw the attention of parents and teachers whose obliviousness is crucial. He doesn't think Jackson would risk Alpha-wrath by deliberately tanking Stiles' grades.

On the other hand…he didn't have to help, either. Jackson could have just walked away and not said anything. Stiles shrugs off that confusing train of thought and goes back to work. He doesn't pause again until the pack invades the kitchen, Derek at the center of their noisy orbits, like he's their sun or some other stupidly mushy analogy.

"Stiiiillessss," Erica sing-songs, draping herself on Stiles' shoulders and hooking her chin over the tendon of his neck, "cook us a real dinner, pretty-please? There's only so many nights a week a girl can eat pizza and still look this good." Her blond curls cascade over him, and she smells nice.

"Yeah, man," Boyd chimes in. "Real food would be awesome." Stiles looks questioningly at Derek, who shrugs and gives him a tiny smile.

"Fridge is stocked. Pretty sure you can find something to work with," he says. Stiles remembers what Derek said, that sharing meals was important. He figures if sharing food helps the pack bond, that giving them food he made himself is probably even better.

"Alright, alright, let a man work, then," he says, extricating himself from Erica's embrace and checking out the fridge and pantry. He ends up making Mexican meatloaf (two actually, because they'll cook faster than one giant one). It's just regular meatloaf with Rotel and black beans blended in, coated in salsa instead of ketchup and cheddar broiled on top of that.

A huge pot of cilantro rice goes with, mixed with tomatoes and chiles and a can of sweet corn that he threw under the broiler for a minute. Stiles has no idea who in the pack would have put avocados in the grocery cart, but all is revealed when Derek takes them out of his hand. When he turns back around Derek has expertly slipped them from their skins in perfect slices.

"You did that with your claws, didn't you?" Stiles says suspiciously. Derek flat-out grins.

"Cool, huh?" Stiles rolls his eyes, but can't keep from smiling back.

Jackson and Isaac disappear outside with a pack of flour tortillas. Stiles hears the clank of the grill lid and they return shortly, tortillas diamond-seared on both sides and stacked high on a plate covered with wet paper towels.

By the time the meatloaf's being pulled from the oven Scott and Allison arrive with Lydia, and it's time to eat.

Stiles has to admit he'd never conceived of meatloaf burritos but they end up being pretty tasty, and there are a lot of oooh's and mmmmm's around the table so he's feeling pretty good about his culinary endeavors. There's the usual banter but Stiles stays quiet and tries to soak up the general vibe.

He's shared a lot of meals with the pack, but it's usually junk; fast food or post-apocalyptic pizza, fueled by adrenaline and ego and seasoned with a spicy survival high like red pepper flakes. He isn't sure what to do with this nice family feeling, and keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He should have known it'd be Derek's big black boot.

"Sooo…." Derek says, and even though he didn't raise his voice the pack stills. They feel something, even Lydia and Allison, and it makes Stiles jealous that he has nothing but their bleed-off to go by.

"I got a call from the Rodriguez pack."

The Rodriguez pack is old, Stiles knows, as old as California itself. And huge. Their territory butts up against the traditional Hale southern border—the one they've barely maintained in the last few years. Not because they had any particular trust of the Rodriguez wolves, but simply because a) no other pack was stupid enough to invade through Rodriguez territory, and b) if the Rodriguez's themselves decided to encroach on Hale land there wouldn't be a damn thing Derek and his ragamuffin betas could do about it.

Except die. There's always that.

The table erupts all at once in frenzied discussion.

"—need to stockpile wolfsbane—"

"I'll ask Mom for any med supplies she can—"

"—Deaton won't help unless one of us is already dying, that's a waste of time—"

"—to get Stiles and Lydia on reinforcing the spellstones along that side of the territory—"

Stiles, however, doesn't say anything. He just watches. Derek, that is. Derek who doesn't look at all grim, nor like he'll be standing in front of a mirror later, practicing a dozen different ways to die bloody while hot and shirtless.

"They wouldn't call," Stiles says thoughtfully, although he doubts if anyone can hear him over the din. Derek can though, because he's been watching Stiles watch him. He gives Stiles a tiny nod and an even more miniscule smile, jerking his head indicating the rest of the pack.

"They wouldn't call!" Stiles repeats, louder, as the pack begins to notice him. And then, as they quiet, "They're not attacking. If they were, they'd have hit us already, when we were at our weakest, and they sure as hell wouldn't give us a courtesy call first."

Everyone's heads swivel to Derek, who leans back in his chair with his fingers laced behind his head, the soul of relaxation.

"And that," he says, looking right at Stiles, "is why Stiles will be sitting as my second while they're here."

"But I—I'm—" Stiles stutters.

"Annoying?" Jackson finishes immediately.

"Scrawny?" Boyd adds.

If anyone should be Derek's second, it should be Boyd. But everyone—including Boyd—knows that Derek can't very well present a recently-runaway beta as his right hand to a visiting Alpha. No matter how thoroughly the pack has re-embraced Boyd and Erica, it sends the wrong message to another Alpha who's not privy to all the circumstances. Derek may as well sit in a rocking chair on the porch, sipping from a teacup and braiding daisies into a chain.

"I was going to say 'human', thank you all very much." Stiles says, grinding his teeth.

"You know it's not unusual to see a human in the role of second," Derek says serenely. Everyone else shifts in their seats, murmuring, but no one argues. It's not uncommon. However—

"Those humans are usually mated to the Alpha," Isaac says, with a careful look at Derek. Stiles feels his face heat. Erica skewers him with a sharp grin.

"Usually," Derek says, completely without inflection, existing somewhere out on his little island of calm, his atoll of Zen. "But not always."

"You said 'while they're here," Lydia interjects. "You invited them? Isn't there some sort of a hierarchy, like, the lesser pack goes to the stronger?" Derek raises a brow and directs a chilly look her way. "No offense meant, of course," she adds.

"None taken," he says tightly. "We are the lesser pack. Currently. But they knew my parents, and I get the feeling they are curious about the revival of the Hale pack."

"Curious?" Scott repeats.

"I might even go so far as to say 'cautiously supportive'," Derek allows.

"And," Stiles adds, "curious about how a ragtag bunch of teenagers most everyone else has written off managed to defeat a pack of Alphas, no doubt."

"No doubt," Derek agrees. "But, if we can establish, or, I should say, re-establish, good relations with them, they could prove to be valuable allies."

"Well, lord knows those are thin on the ground," Erica says dryly. "What do we have to do to impress them?"

"Maybe…" Allison trails off, but as intuitive as they may be, no one picks up on her train of thought this time. Everyone just looks at her, until she has to continue. "I think I should sit this one out," she says more firmly, squaring her shoulders. "Having an Argent around can't be helpful. And if they know about the fire…"

Stiles has to hand it to her. Most girls, hell, most people, fuck the gender distinction bullshit, would be a little woe-is-me, I'll take one for the team, blah-blah-weepity-blah about it. But Allison is a BAMF, so of course she just up and says it, all blunt and matter-of-fact. Stiles wants to be president of her fan club. Which is probably why he exclaims…

"Fuck that!" at the same time that Derek says…

"Not happening."

Derek gives him the hairy eyeball and a grudging nod before continuing.

"No one is hiding or pretending to be anything other than what they are—a full-fledged, equally valued member of my pack. If the Rodriguez's don't respect that, then we'll go on without their support."

Bless him, but sometimes Derek accidentally stumbles on just exactly the right thing to say.

"Except you, Isaac," Derek adds darkly. "If you don't get a haircut I'm telling them you're one of the contractors."

~~~~~~~

Opportunities for disguising Isaac as a plumber aren't actually that much of a stretch. What has been a long, haphazard remodel process turns into an outright frenzy of electricians and painters and landscapers traipsing in and out of the house at all hours of the day. Apparently sheetrock guys work after dark if you've got more money than God, which, as it turns out, Derek does.

Derek is antsy and restless in the house because there are strangers roaming all over it and he can't watch them all at once. Whenever he's not occupied with somebody's war-on-weakness session (they call them WoWs—as in 'I'm getting WoWed today'—but only where Derek can't hear), he stalks from one end of the residence to the other. He spends most of his time in the open loft that branches the two upstairs sections of the house, where he can see as much as possible all at once.

Derek paces and scowls, occasionally following a particular tradesman to see if he does anything unacceptable around one of his pack, before returning to beetle his brows at a different one. It reminds Stiles of a momma cat when her humans come over and start picking up her newborn kittens and carrying them around in every direction.

It's really kind of adorable.

All of his anxiety means Derek is completely useless at any home improvement efforts himself. He rips open the hardware packet that goes with the new bunk beds with such aggression that the pieces scatter everywhere, and it takes Stiles and Scott twenty minutes to find them all. Jackson and Danny look at Derek in horror when he offers to help set up the media room, so he stomps out of there with a growl. Then Lydia outright bans him from painting when he presses the roller so hard it leaves furry tracks in the satin sheen.

Derek is so uptight that when the landscaper plants the wrong bushes along the back walkway the pack actually fears for the man's life, and comes to Stiles instead.

"What the hell do you want me to do about it?" Stiles hisses, surrounded by betas.

"You're the second-in-command," Jackson snipes. With quote fingers. "Fix it."

"Yeah," Boyd chimes in, but he's not as obnoxious as Jackson, just genuinely worried, going by his expression. "Before Derek gets home and sees it. He's already fired two landscapers. Beacon Hills isn't that big."

"Exactly," Scott says, which irritates Stiles. Scott should be taking his side, dammit. "At this rate we're going to be hiring the Beacon Hills FFA to finish the yard."

And, seriously, this is weird, because he's a seventeen-year-old kid that doesn't even own this house, and yet they're all staring at him like he can deal with this, like he's their freaking den mother or something. Stiles squares his shoulders and approaches the landscaper, who's been watching them sourly as they whisper-argued.

"So, um, dude, not trying to be a jerk about it, but these are the wrong bushes."

"No they're not. Says so here on the requisition."

"We did not order sago palms."

"Paper says you did." Stiles sighs and reaches deep into his patience-vault. It's sort of weird having to do it when Derek's not even around.

"I can guarantee you we didn't. I know a little about plants. And those kind are poisonous. To dogs."

"Don't see no dogs around here," the guy says grudgingly, looking around warily just in case. Stiles slaps a friendly hand on plant-dude's shoulder and turns him towards the nearest offending mini-palm. Then he smiles at the man, hot and slow like he's got a really good secret to share.

The landscaper freezes under his gaze, suddenly about two shades paler under his sunburn.

"Trust me, man, you don't get those bushes outta here by the time Tall, Dark, and Terrifying gets back? You're gonna meet the scariest frigging dog you have ever, ever seen."

~~~~~~~

Despite his pack's utter dismay when he tries to help, Derek still seems to want them around as much as possible. He comes up with little jobs that he absolutely wants done on some particular evening, no exceptions. Or he tempts them with late-night pizza and they all fall into food comas and end up sleeping over. One night he suddenly declares the new media room must be tested, and they all smoosh together on the leather sectionals with bowls of popcorn and watch Jurassic Park.

"You're not fooling anyone, you know," Stiles says teasingly as the two of them wait by the microwave for the next bag of popcorn. "Check that. You may be fooling some of them, because they're not me. But Stiles knows better."

"Self-referential third-personing is weird." Derek replies.

"Whatever. You play it like this is just regular pack stuff. But you want us here because it doesn't smell like us and it's driving you nuts. It smells like Horacio the subcontractor and Jenny the electrician and mostly a lot like plaster and paint."

Derek flushes as the microwave dings, turning his back to fish out one popped bag and immediately start the next one.

"So?"

"You do realize you don't have a subtle bone in your body, right? You have to know this. You can't possibly be that un-self-aware."

"Shuddup," he grumbles, crossing his arms in front of his chest as he leans back against the counter. Stiles smiles softly and steps into his space. Derek goes very, very still, but he doesn't actually stiffen.

"You're the one teaching me about pack bonds and den and smells and scenting and security," Stiles says. "You can't expect me to ignore it all just because it's inconvenient for you at the moment."

"How about because I'm the Alpha?" Derek says, half grouchy and half hopeful.

"Fat chance," Stiles says, and tackle-hugs him. He rubs his face against Derek's chest, feeling the buttons on his henley scrape his cheekbone. Slowly, Derek's arms stretch around him, resting lightly in the small of Stiles' back, but he inhales deeply right away, nosing against the crown of Stiles' head.

"Better?" Stiles grins into Derek's collarbone.

"Maybe," Derek says grudgingly.

"What do I smell like?" Stiles asks as the microwave dings again. "Something manly, like cedar, or bourbon, am I right?"

Derek inhales deeply, dropping his head a little to nose at Stiles' temple. Stiles can feel the grin gathering, Derek's cheek muscle bunching up against the side of Stiles' face.

"Artificial butter," Derek laughs.

Chapter Text

"I'm not really sure how becoming the world's best authority on the Rodriquez pack is helping me bond with our pack," Stiles grumbles. The current source of his frustration is a dusty tome borrowed from the California Gold Rush Museum. The Rodriguez pack (family, in the book) emigrated to California before it was California, and made their money in the gold mines.

They are also rich enough to make the Hales look like paupers.

Stiles is beginning to wonder if wealth and werewolves go hand-in-hand in some magical way. Derek is a little cagey when he asks.

"Not…not the way you think," he says. "It can be useful. Physical strength. Knowing when someone is lying about a business deal; feeling the blackjack dealer's heartbeat kick up, stuff like that. Most packs make a point not to take advantage."

"Draws the wrong kind of attention?" Stiles ventures, interested now that it's not all ancient history. Derek nods.

"It was easier in my parents' and grandparents' time. Now any hunter with a smartphone can google your life story in a few seconds. The rich and famous float to the top of any search engine results."

"But the Rodriguez's? And the Hales?"

"The Rodriguez's made their money from gold, way back before it would have flagged anyone. And our money—"

" 'Our'? " Stiles says slyly, but Derek just looks confused.

"Well, yeah. It's pack money. It was never mine."

Stiles opens his mouth to say something impudent about a new video game he's been wanting, but Derek is so utterly sincere that he can't bring himself to tease.

"You were saying…?" he asks instead.

"Um, yeah. The Hale money actually came from my dad. My paternal grandparents were filthy rich, and he was an only child. No lycanthropic misdeeds involved." He pauses awkwardly. "Then there's the insurance."

"So, we're new money," Stiles says hurriedly, before Derek can get lost in a dark place.

"I guess. Does it matter?"

"I was wondering if it would matter to the Rodriguez's, actually." Derek appears to give it a moment, but shakes his head confidently.

"No, I really don't think so. Like I said, they and my parents were friends."

Stiles nods, and goes back to the leather-bound asthma-inducer—the book, that is, not Derek—but can't stop himself from complaining again, mostly because someone's there to listen.

"Still don't know how this is supposed to help me with finding my balance," he mumbles uncharitably.

Derek sighs his most put-upon sigh, the one he employs when he actually has to deign to explain something to one of the pack.

"What?" Stiles says sullenly.

"You are what," Derek grinds out in return.

"Sorry, that you—you know—actually have to explain something once in a while. Not like the role of the Alpha is supposed to include things like guidance and education and sharing of werewolf lore and stuff," Stiles snaps.

"Do you have any idea how long you've been in here reading?" Derek asks, refusing to take the bait. The "here" is the newly finished library, which is Stiles' favorite room in the whole house. It's already filling with books, though it should be much more stocked. The lives of all but two of the Hales weren't the only things lost in the fire—nearly their entire family history burned as well.

"Coupla hours," Stiles shrugs. There are no clocks in the room, and he'd left his phone in his backpack, trying to avoid the temptation of Plants vs Zombies.

"Five and a half hours," Derek says with a small smile. "You missed lunch." He gestures to the nearby sandwich and water bottle Stiles hadn't noticed him carry in. "With no breaks, no bathroom, no internet, no snacks, no texts, no calls. When's the last time you did that?"

"Um, never, actually." He's a little stunned.

"Your big three triggers—what are they?" Derek continues, gaze narrowing on Stiles who shifts in his seat, uncomfortable for the first time in…well…five and a half hours, apparently. He doesn't answer, instead looking down at the floor, feeling his face heat. He'd basically asked for this attention from Derek, but now that he's got it he's not sure he likes it.

Derek pulls a chair over and sits down across from Stiles. He reaches out and gently taps under Stiles' chin, forcing him to raise his head and look at Derek.

"I can say it for you, if you won't. School, pack research overload, and encounters with other supernatural creatures."

Stiles gulps and nods, but doesn't say anything.

"Prepping for this visit is pushing on two out of three of these buttons. You're researching as much as you can to be ready for a position of responsibility—one which puts you in extended contact with other werewolves for the first time. Not to mention—" he pauses, "—one in which you'll be considered equal to them."

Hearing it like that makes Stiles' bowels churn, and he knows Derek can smell the sour fear. He's starting to realize he's got a fourth trigger now—the fear of letting Derek and the pack down.

Or maybe that's been a facet of the others all along.

"You're fucking nuts for giving this to me," Stiles says, meaning every word. There's a lot of evidence that Derek's sipping the crazy juice anyway. This is just one more thing. "I'm not ready."

Derek rises and toes the chair back to where it was before. Suddenly his hand is under Stiles' jaw again, but this time it stays, cupping his face gently instead of just tapping for Stiles' attention. It works just the same; Stiles couldn't look anywhere else if he tried.

"You know what you're doing Stiles," he says quietly. "And so do I."

Stiles feels a tiny frission of something skitter through him, not from his jaw, or even his dick, where something like that might be expected. Hot guy caressing his face? It's a totally natural reaction, after all. But it blooms instead from his belly and zings outward in a rush, a warm feeling of belonging and security and affection.

It has a sensual edge to it, but Stiles thinks that's from his own feelings toward Derek rather than inherent to—whatever it is—itself. But it is undeniably intimate—a connection that wasn't there before. He gently pushes back against it, not in rejection, but rather reciprocation, like taking a slinky in your hands and spooling it back into the direction it first uncoiled from. He peers up at Derek, who's still cupping Stiles' jaw, looking a little wide-eyed himself.

"You just whammied me, didn't you?" Stiles asks breathlessly. "Gave me a little Alpha-juice?"

"You did feel it," Derek says, and Stiles watches, amazed as a huge smile utterly transforms Derek's face. "I thought—I thought I felt something back. Finally…" Derek swallows.

And that makes Stiles ache a little; he wonders how many times Derek's reached out—even just in the last few weeks, here at the house—and Stiles hasn't felt him.

"Well, now that the Derek-Stiles Alpha-ooomph Express is operational—" Derek snatches his hand away, appalled.

"Please don't ever call it that again."

"Alpha-oomph Express?" Stiles repeats deliberately, just to see Derek twitch.

"I'll pay you money."

"But it's a very apt moniker, at least from my side of things," Stiles continues gleefully. Making Derek cringe is often the best part of his day. "What would you describe it as? From your point-of-view?"

"Ill-advised?"

"That's not very nice," Stiles admonishes.

"Temporary Insanity Highway? Lack of Foresight Cruiselines?"

"I'm kicking you out now."

"Pretty sure it's my library."

"OUT." Derek grins and ruffles Stiles' hair as he turns to go, like he's a puppy he's proud of or something. Stiles tries to be indignant about it but finds that he can't.

"Dinner's in three hours. Eat your sandwich before you pass out."

~~~~~~~

It was going so well, really.

If anything, Derek had undersold the potential of the visit, something that—if you know Derek at all—should not have been a surprise. After all, if you ask the internet for the definition of Pollyanna a picture of Derek will pop up under the 'antonym' heading. But apparently Alpha Marta Rodriguez does indeed have a soft spot for the Hales, which now means Derek and a bunch of borderline-delinquent betas she's never met.

There's a brief moment of solid awkward on the first day, wherein Derek just has to imply that the Rodriguez support sure would have come in handy a short while ago. Stiles is filled with an immediate sense of doom and despair; he's pretty sure this is the sort of thing a second is supposed to see coming and deflect gracefully. As it is he's left floundering for a way to intercede that does not involve fangs and bloodshed.

"Ah, Marta—I think what Derek is saying is—"

"Stiles, please. I understand completely," she says. Her bracelets clink musically as she waves a graceful hand in Derek's direction. "He's right to ask. I only wish the answer were not so…unkind." She turns to Derek, who's sitting next to her at the big kitchen table, steaming mugs of coffee between them.

"Derek, querido, the last we knew, your uncle Peter was Alpha, and had killed his own niece for her power. We—we were not eager to align ourselves. I hope you can understand."

It seems like the entire room is holding its collective breath until Derek gives a grudging nod. Marta continues, an outstretched hand gentle on Derek's forearm.

"But we were looking for you, Derek. You were not easy to find, not until we learned of the house being rebuilt; we thought perhaps you'd gone." She didn't say 'gone again', which was nice of her, Stiles thinks. That Marta hadn't considered looking in burnt-out buses or abandoned train depots surprises pretty much no one.

"I don't understand," Derek answers. "If you didn't want to ally yourselves, why look for me?"

"If things had gone differently, I would have offered you a place. I would not have left you alone. With him." She practically spat the word, instantly becoming Lydia's new best friend in the process. "Talia would never have forgiven me."

She says it like it still matters, what her dead friend's opinion of her would have been. Derek flushes and ducks his head—pretty much his typical reaction to any affection, but the effect is immediate and the tension dissipates.

"Thank you. It would have been an honor," he answers.

"But, happily," Marta says, gesturing around the room at the pack with a warm smile, "not at all needed now. Why don't you show me what you've done to the house?"

The next few days of the visit are a—ha!—goldmine of information for Stiles. Marta's mate is her mate, and her second her second, two separate entities completely. And though they are both wolves, she didn't bat an eye at Stiles' introduction. Stiles asks a million questions which could have been impertinent but the Rodriguez's are happy to talk about family and pack and don't seem offended at his curiosity.

In addition to the two of them, she also brought her two youngest children, four-year-old twin boys, who are currently racing with glee across the wrap-around porch while the adults finish lunch. Which is pretty funny, when Stiles thinks about it, that Derek's teenagers are being presented as responsible, grown pack members and are not somehow relegated to the kids' table themselves.

It was Stiles who ended up that first night whispering to the rest of the pack about the power of that gesture, something he'd learned in his endless hours of preparation. Bringing vulnerable children to another pack's den is the ultimate sign of trust and friendship. Marta really could not have paid Derek a greater compliment—or sent a stronger signal to other packs about the state of Rodriguez-Hale relations.

"It's the wood," their father, Omar, says, rolling his eyes with a sigh as the boys seemingly compete to see who can make the loudest smacks.

"What do you mean?" Boyd asks curiously.

"Our home is stone, with terracotta floors. Most southern homes are- the stone is cooler. They aren't used to hearing their little stomps thump and echo. I'm afraid their ears are finding it very exciting."

"Well then," Boyd says, sharing a smiling glance with Erica, "let's give them the whole experience." They slip out of the kitchen and a moment later the shrieks and stomps amplify times a thousand, as what sounds like a game of werewolf-tag begins.

Derek rolls his eyes but can't hide a smile. It makes Stiles wonder if most of his days had been like this before the fire—a full house, visitors coming and going, big meals, squealing children underfoot.

"I thought it might be nice to have the sound of children's laughter in the new house, yes?" Marta says with a soft smile. "Since it may be a little while before you have children in the pack…you're all so young…"

Scott and Allison moon-face dreamily at each other—ugh—while Lydia absolutely refuses to make eye contact with Jackson, but Derek is…staring at Stiles, with a studiously blank look on his face that could represent anything. Mortification? A plea for intervention? Constipation?

"Marta, don't embarrass them," Omar chides, and Derek shares some sort of a sympathetic man-smile with Omar before he answers.

"No, you're right. It is nice, and it will be a while before there are children in the house, since everyone is going to graduate college first." Derek gives the aforementioned 'everyone' the stink-eye, as if any of them would dare protest.

"But what about you, querido?" Marta asks Derek. "Surely you have plans for yourself?"

"Me?" he chokes, and Isaac coughs his coffee all over himself. "I didn't…I mean, I don't…I'm not seeing anyone at the—"

"Derek, man," Stiles jumps in hurriedly. "I think she means your plans for education, not procreation."

"Oh, um, yes. Of course," Derek says faintly, but is apparently too put off his groove to actually answer the question. Marta lets it go, smiling innocently at both Derek and Stiles, and by the shrewd way Omar is glancing at his mate Stiles is pretty sure the ambiguity was no accident.

He kinda loves Marta.

Which makes his epic fail the next night completely inexplicable. It's time for the formal part of the Rodriguez-Hale meeting…and the one thing that Derek really needs to walk away with from this visit—successful border negotiations. Derek had wisely delegated this discussion to Stiles a couple of weeks ago.

~~~~~~~

"I—I know we might have to give up some territory. We just aren't strong enough—I don't have enough betas, especially when everyone goes to college—to hold it all," he'd said grimly to Stiles.

"Well, if we have to cede some away, it makes sense for us to give it to a friendly pack that we don't think will try to take even more," Stiles agrees. He wonders if he's said the wrong thing, though, because Derek is staring at him.

"What? Um, was I supposed to disagree? Talk you out of it?" he asks, nervous. "Should I give you a 'not going down without a fight' speech? I've got Aragorn's whole black gate monologue from the Return of the King memorized. There's even a line about wolves!"

"What? Uh, no. No, you're exactly right," Derek mumbles, still staring. "And I want you to do it because I—I might be too close to it to do what needs to be done, to maybe have to give up part of the territory I grew up in," he grimaces. "I know you'll do what's best."

"Appreciated, thanks, and not a single square inch more of our land than we have to, you can count on it," Stiles answers. "But that doesn't explain why you're looking at me all weird and stuff."

Derek fidgets, looks down, fidgets some more. If only there was a conveniently placed patch of dirt nearby, he'd be scuffing a toe in it.

"It's just…" he looks up at Stiles finally, and his eyes are gleaming. "You said 'we'," Derek smiles.

"I what now?"

"You said 'we'. And 'us'. And 'our' and then 'we' a few more times after that," Derek elaborates. "Instinctively, that's what your subconscious put in your head. Instead of 'you' and 'they' and 'the pack'.

"Oh," Stiles says faintly. "I—yeah. I did." He grins. "This is a thing, isn't it? A pack thing?"

"Yeah," Derek reaches for him, pulls him in and inhales deeply, arms tight around Stiles' shoulders. "It's definitely a thing."

"Good," Stiles mumbles into Derek's t-shirt. "Because I'm ready."

~~~~~~~

It was probably that—that deep, burning desire to keep that pleased, proud look on Derek's face, that leads Stiles to pop the cap on the Adderall a second time that day. He'd have thought that it would go the opposite way, that his realization that the pack connections were solidifying daily would give him the confidence he needed all on his own.

But instead, somehow it just gives him another thing he could lose if he can't focus enough to hang onto it.

If Marta and Jamie, her second-in-command, notice anything—that Stiles is far less animated than he'd been before, or more apt to cut directly to topics instead of wander aimlessly in their direction—they don't react.

Maybe they chalk it up to a lack of finesse stemming from his novice status in such matters. Or maybe they even think it's a deliberate choice, that Stiles had disarmed them with charm and meandering conversation in the first days of their visit in order to surprise them with focus and a sharper-than-expected diplomatic mind now, when it counts.

Either way, the end result is a huge win for the Hales. Stiles knew going in that money wouldn't be a temptation to the Rodriguez's, so he offers them only other currency the Hale pack has: knowledge.

"I have the perfect person in mind for the—apprenticeship." Marta beams, after Stiles lays out the terms of his offer. He wonders uncharitably if said person will coincidentally be an attractive female of marriageable age. But Marta seems like an honorable person, and Derek turned her down on her offer already, so all he can do is hope for the best.

"I just—I feel like I should remind you that a lot of what I can do is dependant on, um, inherent ability. I'm willing to teach anyone, share spells, books, online resources, but unless you take someone into the pack with their own abilities in the meantime, they won't be able to replicate a lot of what I can do."

Stiles pauses, because to him that sounds pretty conceited, and also misleading. He's not Hermione Granger. He's only a smidge above Professor Lockhart, when it comes down to it.

"Which, well, it isn't really all that much, just so you don't get the wrong idea."

"I'm sure you're being modest, Stiles," Marta smiles. "Nevertheless, we currently have no practitioners in our pack, so anything we learn will be more than we had already."

"In that case…" he stumbles, unsure for the first time, because he hadn't thought this part through before, "—if you don't already have someone in mind—send a human."

He watches them carefully for signs of offense, trying to ignore the sudden prickle of nervous sweat in his armpits that they are clearly too gracious to acknowledge smelling. They don't seem ruffled, though, and Stiles breathes deeply in relief. He tries to center himself on the comforting vibe from his pack downstairs, but the Adderall makes the connection fuzzy and he can't.

"Why a human?" Jaime asks, but it sounds curious, and not like a challenge.

"Something I learned from—" he pauses, unsure if they know Deaton, or if Deaton would want them to know him, "—a mentor of mine. The wolf magic doesn't always play well with spellwork. There's a good deal of stuff about organic and manipulated magics clashing, things going boom." They nod. "One time I got hit over the head and Derek tried to finish casting the relocation spell to get us away from the mountain troll, and, ugh. It relocated the troll. We found parts of it in the grille of his car the next day. It was parked a mile away!" Stiles shudders and they both smile grimly in sympathetic understanding.

"Anyway, moving on…Allison will visit and give a presentation on hunter strategy tactics, and information on the latest in weapon trends," Stiles confirms.

"Two visits, please," Marta replies. "And charming Lydia, with her beakers?"

"Of course, two it is," Stiles agrees. "Lydia will provide the recipes for some of her weapons."

"Only some?" Jaime raises a brow.

"The ones safe for wolves. There are many that aren't safe for you to handle," Stiles explains. "Wolfsbane-based, or other things that aren't wolf-friendly. We even hide them from our own betas."

"Ahh, I see. Of course. And a demonstration, no? We would prefer not to explode the homestead."

"And a demo," Stiles acknowledges. "And I have a personal gift as well." He hands them a small box with a set of six charm-stones inside.

"You can place these wherever you'd like, the instructions are inside. Once you set them up to recognize your pack signature, they'll alert you to anyone non-pack who crosses nearby. They have a good range, about five miles in any direction."

"What a thoughtful gift, Stiles!" Marta exclaims, and then surprises him with a warm hug. "You must visit with Lydia or Allison and teach us how to make more of these. They'll be very useful to us while guarding your southern border."

And of course, Stiles can't say no to that, because the Hale pack is walking away with their territory intact and having purchased security for their entire southern border for the next ten years.

The pack celebrates long into the night after Marta and clan depart, but for every high five and hug Stiles gets there's a look of concern as well. Not quite disappointment, but worry, radiates from the betas. The irony is that he can feel it, now that the extra Adderall has worn off, like the emotions themselves have a physicality to them that he's never noticed before. Stiles doesn't even have to look at their faces to know.

Derek won't look at him at all.

Stiles finds him on the back porch after everyone else has finally crashed; no one's gone home tonight, either unwilling to let go of the victory high, or afraid to leave Stiles and Derek alone. Maybe a little of both.

"Guess this is the spot for deep conversations," he ventures. Derek doesn't say anything, but he's seated himself wholly on one side of the swing, so Stiles interprets it to mean he can take the other.

"So. You, uh, want to huff and puff about this?"

"Not really."

Stiles doesn't know where to go from there, so he ends up getting right back up. The chains squeak unhappily at his indecision.

"Oooookay then. Guess I'll crash. G'nite."

"Just about right on time," Derek says, looking pointedly at his empty wrist where a watch has probably never rested. That Stiles even recognizes the gesture of sarcasm is only due to all the hipsters bringing back wristwatches. No one Stiles' age has ever even owned one. Derek Hale: beholden to hipster fashion trends.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Stiles asks.

"You popped your extra pills, you defeated your enemy, you ate until you couldn't move—it's about time for you to crash. Same pattern as always."

Derek says it with a truly ugly sneer. Stiles has spent hours, days even, trying and failing to imagine how Derek could ever look anything but beautiful to him. Now he knows: he's the one with the power to put that look on Derek's face.

"Nothing has changed," Derek says flatly.

"That's—that's not true," he rebuts. "I can feel the pack. I AM pack, now. I feel you, Derek."

"I trusted you!" Derek snarls. "I trusted you, not your pills, to get this done. I believed in you, Stiles. Why couldn't you trust me?"

"Everything's not always about you, you know," Stiles snaps. "It's not about trusting you, it's about trusting myself not to fuck this up, okay? That's what this is. I'm the weak link here, not you, not the pack. Me."

"Then—fuckit, Stiles—" Derek rises, paces to the other side of the porch and back, and runs a frustrated hand through his hair before turning back to Stiles. "Fine. If you don't trust yourself, I—I can't make that happen. But the thing about having a pack is that you're supposed to trust them. You're supposed to trust your Alpha."

Derek's jaw works, some secret struggle to get the right words to come out that Stiles can't help, as much as he wants to reach out and smooth the tension away.

"You're supposed to believe in us, until you're ready to believe in yourself."

"I—I just knew I could make this work, I knew I could negotiate for help without losing any of our territory, I just had to stay sharp, is all—"

"Did I do this?" Derek interrupts with a soft voice.

"Do what?" Derek sits down again, pulls Stiles down with him and doesn't let go of Stiles' arms. He's gonna have thumb bruises on his biceps tomorrow.

"Did I do something to make you think that land is more important than you? Than any member of my pack? Is that how you see me?"

"What? No, don't be stupid, of course not."

"Then why would you sacrifice your health for dirt and rocks?"

"It's more than just that and you know it."

"Dirt and rocks, Stiles." Derek repeats. "And you're—" Derek squeezes his arms again. "You're more than that."

"I know, I really do. I didn't do this because I didn't think I was important, believe me."

"Then why? Why would you risk backsliding after all the progress you've made?" Derek sounds so deeply unhappy that Stiles imagines the betas whimpering in their sleep in subconscious empathy.

"I just…I wanted to surprise you, okay? Maybe I just wanted—for once in your life—for you to walk away from something with more than what you thought you'd ever get." Stiles hates the teary tremor he can feel in his voice, but dammit, he wants Derek to understand. "Instead of getting stuck just being grateful that you were able to walk away at all."

Derek makes a soft sound low in his throat and suddenly Stiles is being pulled forward, Derek's arms wrapping around him as he tucks Stiles' head beneath his chin. They stay that way for a long time, the swing squeaking softly as they sway.

"You could have done it. I believe it, with all my heart, that you could have made this happen without the extra meds." Stiles hears the words, even feels them rumble against the ear he has pressed to Derek's chest, but he doesn't know what to say in return.

"But the next time you think you can't, I want you to tell me, okay? This isn't just for you, Stiles. I need this too. So does the pack. Until you're willing to trust us when you're most vulnerable, it—things won't feel solid. Does that make sense?"

Derek's no idiot, as many times as Stiles has (with deep affection) told him he is. The surest way to get Stiles to do something is always to equate it with being a need for someone he cares about. And rubbing his stubbly jaw back and forth in Stiles' hair probably aids in the general feeling of contentment Stiles is experiencing.

Regardless, it does make sense, and even if it didn't, at this point he couldn't bring himself to say otherwise. He doesn't want to see that hurt look on Derek's face anymore tonight.

Or ever, really.

"Yeah, I get it. It—it makes sense," Stiles agrees. "I promise," he adds, even though Derek didn't ask him to. "I promise to trust you. All of you, from now on."

"Good," Derek says, pulling him to his feet. Stiles groans his unhappiness at the sudden verticality of his world. "Don't take this the wrong way, but: you stink. Go take a shower and get to bed."

Stiles remembers what Derek had said before, about smelling the medicine in his hair and on his skin, and appreciates the unscheduled cuddling even more. He sketches a salute that is probably too sloppy-tired to be considered jaunty, but whatever.

"Aye, cap'n," he says sleepily, only to be snagged by the wrist before he can go.

"I meant to say…I didn't like your methods, but…" Stiles saves Derek from his own awkwardness in the interest of getting to go to sleep as soon as possible.

"You're welcome, Pound Cake," he smiles. Derek, predictably, rolls his eyes, even though Stiles is pretty sure he doesn't know who Pound Cake actually is. He's got a sixth sense for insults, apparently.

"Not just for tonight," Derek says grudgingly. "The whole week. I'm proud of you. You were—"

"Awesome? Incredible? Deeply talented?" Derek sighs his most put-upon sigh and hauls Stiles in for one last nuzzle.

"I was going to say: 'Exactly what I expected.' "

He whispers the words right into Stiles' ear and then he's gone, leaping off the porch, stairs-schmairs. Stiles barely has time to hear the rustle of shed clothing before he sees a swift, inky shadow tear across the lawn and into the woods beyond.

The wind kicks up and makes the swing sway and squeak, seemingly in unhappy protest at Derek's departure.

"Me too, man," Stiles tells the swing. "Me too."

Chapter Text

"I've never been so exhausted in my life," Derek moans from his sprawl on Stiles' bed.

"So why aren't you being exhausted at your house?" Stiles whines. "You've got a late-night session with Lydia tonight. You could be napping."

Stiles is making it a point to keep his back to Derek and stare at his computer. When Derek climbed through his window just after school and flopped backwards onto his bed, his shirt rode up and Stiles cannot look at that strip of skin right now. He has a chem exam tomorrow, for God's sake.

"Somebody might find me there," Derek mumbles forlornly.

"Somebody might find you here," Stiles retorts, spinning around in his desk chair to make his point. "On. My. Bed. Somebody with a month's supply of wolfsbane bullets and a gun to put them in."

"Your dad is working a double-shift, Stiles. He won't be home until tomorrow." Derek's got one arm thrown up over his face but there's a sliver of a smile that Stiles can see beneath it.

"I'm finding it a little uncomfortable that you know my dad's schedule," Stiles says primly.

"I don't know why. There's a copy of it hanging on your fridge next to the grocery list. You're out of milk, by the way. I couldn't find the dry erase marker."

Stiles opens his mouth, but closes it again without speaking.

"Besides, he told me himself," Derek adds, "right after he asked me if we were having sex."

Stiles feels all the blood drain from his head and he's immediately dizzy; Derek is right there, pushing his head forward and down to his knees.

"Deep breath," he says calmly.

"He—"

"Don't talk," Derek shushes him, rubbing circles at the small of Stiles' back. "Breathe."

"You—"

"Maybe you should lie down," Derek says, helping Stiles stand and then reclining him on the bed.

"How? How did you even have this conversation?" Stiles asks weakly.

Derek stretches out beside him on one elbow, rubbing his belly like you might do for a small, scared child. These little touches that Stiles gets now? Are absolutely the best thing to come out of the War on Weakness. Hands down. But even they aren't enough to distract Stiles from the impending doom of a sex talk with his dad.

"How do you and my dad have any conversation?" Stiles squeaks. "I mean, maybe 'Hey Sheriff, nice day out' and 'Hello Derek, thanks for not eviscerating anyone this week'. That I can see. But how do we go from that to 'By the way, Derek, I've been meaning to ask, are you by any chance boning my underage son?!!' "

Derek huffs a laugh that he promptly swallows when Stiles glares at him.

"I went to see him, okay?" Derek says calmly.

"You…sought out…the company of my father?" Stiles' eyes are giant in his face right now; he can feel it. He has anime eyes.

"I wanted to ask for his help," Derek continues. Stiles just stares more.

"What are you saying? I don't understand what you're saying," he babbles. "Are you speaking a foreign language? Am I? I feel like I'm stuck in that episode of TNG where the universal translator wasn't working."

"I don't know what that means."

"SEE?!!? Foreign language!" Stiles rises up part way, then gives up and slumps back down again. He kinda regrets it, because for whatever stupid reason, Derek takes that as his cue to stop touching him. "What did you tell him?"

"I said you liked it rough."

"I hate you so much right now." Stiles can feel the bed shaking from the force of Derek's suppressed laughter.

"No, you don't."

"Seething," Stiles emphasizes. "Seething and acidic hatred."

"That sounds dire," Derek says solemnly.

"You don't come back from hatred like this," Stiles declares. "I mean it, Derek. You should probably start looking for the pack's new google-shaman as soon as possible."

"I'll try Craigslist."

Stiles is no match for a funny Derek; he—he's just really cute when he's funny, and Stiles loves it because he's pretty sure he's the only one Derek lets himself be funny with. He can't prove it, but still. Stiles cracks up, and then they're both howling (ha ha) until Stiles is actually wiping tears.

"Seriously, though," Stiles asks, after the hilarity mellows and he's got his breath back, "why did you go talk to my dad?"

Derek's got his hands behind his head, fingers laced as he reclines against Stiles' pillows. It's a good look for him, comfy in Stiles' bed. Stiles would like to see it more often. Daily, even. Perhaps with a smidge less clothing, but beggars can't be choosers.

"It was right before we started your sessions, before the Rodriguez's came," Derek says. Stiles tenses; Derek's eyes are closed but Stiles can feel that he's very alert, waiting for Stiles' reaction. "I told him that I was trying some new things, and trying to make it so the humans in the pack would feel a stronger bond, be more supported, without having to drain them so much physically."

"Derek…" Stiles can feel his pulse pick up, and Derek obviously does too. He sits up and squeezes Stiles' shoulder.

"I didn't tell him, okay? I didn't. I wouldn't do that." Derek the Shitty Liar stares him right in the eye, and Stiles sees nothing, so he knows it’s the truth. He relaxes and Derek lets go.

"Did he buy that? I mean, the man snoops out cover stories for a living, you know." Stiles grins lopsidedly.

"It had the virtue of being true," Derek shrugs, "if a little lean on a couple details."

"How lean? Inquiring minds want to know."

"Not that lean," Derek grumbles. Stiles just stares, pointedly, and Derek sighs.

"I told him I'd been reading up on ADHD, and making sure I took that into account—" Stiles flushes, unsure whether he should be angry or appreciative. He's quite certain Derek did exactly that. "—but I'd appreciate it if he would let me know if he saw any changes in you, good or not."

"Wow." Stiles realizes his mouth is open in surprise and snaps it closed.

"What?" Derek says gruffly.

"That's pretty good," Stiles says admiringly.

"I feel like I should be a little insulted by how amazed you are."

"No, I mean really. You didn't even have to lie." Stiles grins.

Derek does an odd thing right then, sort of a head-duck and a shrug. It seems almost…deferential, which is a word that exactly no one ever has used to describe Derek Hale.

"I kind of…don’t really want to lie to your dad," he says quietly. "Ever. I respect him."

The 'and I want him to respect me' goes unspoken, but it's clearly there. Stiles doesn't know what to do with that; it makes him a little skittery.

"I guess it's a good thing we're not having sex, then!" he blurts out.

Derek jolts in surprise and flushes a tiny bit. "Yeah, good thing," he says stiffly. "Can I go back to my nap now?"

Stiles remembers Derek's original reason for coming through the window and takes a critical look at him. The werewolf juju can do a lot, but it can't completely eliminate exhaustion. With dark circles under his eyes, dull hair, and his scruff looking more neglected than rebelliously unshaven, Derek's a little ragged.

"That master schedule could have used a little more foresight," Stiles says, as Derek kicks off his shoes and resettles himself. "We all rotate in and out, but you didn't plan for any days off for yourself."

"So?

"Soooo, you've been working for…" Stiles does some quick mental math "…fifty-three consecutive days, some of them eighteen hours long or more. You don't need a nap; you need a medically-induced coma."

"Your nagging housewife shtick needs work," Derek snipes.

"I'm serious, dude."

"Don't call me dude."

"Derek—"

"Alphas don't get days off," Derek growls.

"You know what? That's it! Even God took a day of rest." Stiles rises and looms over Derek where he's struggling to get his head under the covers and shut Stiles out. "Gimme your damn phone."

"What?" Derek peers up at him, fingers tangled in Stiles' bedspread. "Why?"

"Phone, now." Stiles snaps his fingers. "Or I'm going digging for it," he threatens, flexing his fingers and looking pointedly at Derek's hip pockets.

Derek gives him a toothy smile.

"I oughta make you do it, too, pup," he says, but fishes it out himself and tosses it to Stiles, who promptly starts typing. "How do you know my passcode?" Derek asks, glaring.

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because it's 'W-O-L-F'?" Stiles rolls his eyes. "Way to be cryptic, man."

Derek flushes, growling something vague and unintelligible. Stiles taps out a message and sends it to the entire pack.

THIS IS STILES. I'M KIDNAPPING DEREK FOR THE NEXT 24 HOURS AND MAKING HIM SLEEP. EVERYBODY BACK THE SCHEDULE UP BY ONE DAY. THIS PHONE IS TURNING OFF UNTIL TOMORROW NIGHT. CALL ME INSTEAD IF YOU ***REALLY*** NEED HIM, BUT IF YOU DO THEN SOMEBODY BETTER BY GOD BE DEAD.

He thinks for a moment, then sends an addendum:

OR AT LEAST MISSING A LIMB

…then another…

OR ACTUALLY MISSING ALTOGETHER

Derek's phone immediately blows up with the pack's responses.

"Thank u baby jesus…"

"I'll get the keg, ppl"

"Nite-nite cranky-Daddy! <3"

"FINALLY!!"

"YES! Pay up motherfuckers!"

Stiles smirks and shows the screen to Derek, who frowns at his phone as if confused. "They know I can see this, right?"

"They're probably counting on sleep deprivation to strip your memories."

Derek sighs and rolls his eyes, resuming his fight with the blankets and beating Stiles' pillow into submission in an attempt to get comfortable.

Stiles switches Derek's phone off as promised, and twirls his chair back to his computer, where the chem study sheet stares at him. He listens to Derek toss and sigh and generally ruin a freshly made bed for as long as he can stand it before rounding on him.

"You're pathetic, you know that?" He tries for mocking, but he's pretty sure it ends up sounding indulgent. Derek just stares as he approaches the bed.

"Get up, c'mon, get up," Stiles says, motioning for Derek to rise.

"You're kicking me out?" Derek says, and now that does sound pathetic. Stiles has a sudden mental picture of Derek, head down and shoulders drooping, shuffling sadly out his window like Werewolf Eeyore.

"Don't be ridiculous," Stiles scoffs. "You're so exhausted you'd break your neck climbing out. Take your pants off."

Derek's eyes go wide, then narrow in suspicion.

"Is this where you stealth-cam me onto your Facebook?" But he obeys anyway, hopping clumsily out of one leg of his jeans while Stiles starts retucking sheets.

"If only. Shirt too, c'mon." Stiles doesn't want it to seem creepy, and makes a point to just glance at Derek for a progress-check, not lingering. Even though Shirtless Derek is incredibly linger-worthy, as per usual.

"I'm having uncomfortable Miguel flashbacks," says Derek, who nevertheless removes his shirt and his socks as well.

"Derek, man," Stiles says as he snaps the blanket out and smoothes it back, "you need twelve solid hours, minimum. You're not gonna get it crawling into bed with your jeans still on. Now get in, I'll be right back."

When Stiles comes back upstairs with two bottles of water, Derek's watching the door, but his eyelids relax and start to droop as soon as Stiles enters and closes it behind him. Stiles puts one bottle within Derek's reach, and goes around the foot of the bed to set the other down before unbuttoning his own jeans and sliding out of them.

Derek's eyes go back to alert status.

"What are you doing?" Derek asks softly while Stiles bats his laptop shut and closes the shades. Derek's got only his boxer briefs on, but Stiles keeps his t-shirt as well. Too much skin-to-skin and this'll go wrong. Sure, it might be one of his many Derek-centric fantasies, but it's not what he wants to happen today.

"I'm demonstrating my learnings to my teacher via practical application," Stiles says. "Scoot." Derek does in fact scoot, making room for Stiles, who climbs into bed.

"When you're tired and/or stressed and/or have trouble sleeping, you should seek out the pack," Stiles paraphrases from Derek's first session with him. "Being around them will be familiar, will make you feel safe and cared for, and you'll sleep better."

Stiles curls himself into Derek's side. Derek's arm lifts and wraps around him, his palm fitting comfortably in the small of Stiles' back.

"Proximity is good; physical contact is better," Stiles recites, smiling against Derek's chest, which quakes momentarily as Derek laughs.

"You're a good student," he says, relaxing a little into the mattress. Stiles continues to quote Derek's lessons.

"Don't be afraid to be the one to reach out. The more you do, the more the pack will reach back." Derek doesn't acknowledge that quote at all.

"You were doing all right up 'til then," Stiles says softly, nudging Derek with his chin to make his point. "It'd be nice if we knew when you needed us sometimes."

"I came here, didn't I?" Derek protests, but it's weak, like he's only doing it out of contrariness, not in actual rebuttal.

"And it took me an hour to figure out what you really wanted. Shoot for making things a little less obscure next time and just tell me, how 'bout it?" says Stiles. "Consider it bolstering my self-esteem, if you have to."

"I'll work on it," Derek mumbles, shifting onto his side and facing Stiles. He starts to manhandle Stiles into rolling over.

"Oh, no you don't," Stiles protests, digging into the sheets with both hands. "You came to me hoping for nice comfy pack feels. That means I get to be the big spoon and you get to be the little spoon."

Even as he says the words, he knows it's a lost cause. Derek's having exactly zero trouble shifting Stiles into little spoon position.

"Not gonna happen." Derek is unperturbed as he yawns. His breath is warm against the back of Stiles' neck and Derek noses there for a moment, breathing deeply as Stiles squirms against him, struggling to think unsexy thoughts.

"Not fair," he grumps, relenting with a sigh.

"Alphas are not little spoons," Derek says, his arm warm and heavy across Stiles' waist. Despite it being the middle of the day Stiles is pretty sure he's going to nap happily, all snugged up to a nice warm werewolf giving off Alpha vibes.

If only the Alpha would nap.

They lay there for another fifteen minutes during which Stiles knows Derek isn't asleep. "Derek. What's up? Seriously."

Stiles is genuinely curious as to what sort of conversation they're going to have. About sixty-five percent of any random interaction between them is Stiles gleaning information from Derek's endless variations of frowns and glares. He's facing away from Derek , though, so once again—like the night on the porch—Derek will have to use actual words.

"I guess…I'm not really sure what I'm accomplishing." Derek rubs his face in Stiles' hair again, as if he might find the answer in there. Stiles gets lost in the euphoric tingle it causes for a minute before Derek's words sink in.

"The sessions?" he asks. "I think they're great. Allison seems to have more empathy for the wolves after all the reading you gave her. Scott's started thinking of the pack and not just himself. Isaac is a billion times more secure, and though I question the sanity of anyone teaching Lydia how to use actual weapons, it definitely rounds out her ability to defend herself with something besides chemical compounds."

"Stiles…" Derek interrupts.

Derek's always interrupting, always has to be a fly in the sweet, syrupy flow of Stiles' stream of consciousness.

"…do you know everyone's weakness?" He is clearly surprised, and Stiles feels him go very still behind him.

Stiles isn't sure how to answer. He knows it was supposed to be a secret; hell, that part was his idea. But everyone just kept telling him. It wasn't like he was prying it out of them. He hadn't even asked.

"I didn't ask!" Which is basically him saying yes without actually saying yes. "Honest. They just all sort of told me what they were working on. Without provocation or invitation from the Stillinski side of things."

Derek rubs his nose behind Stiles' ear and runs a hand down from his shoulder to elbow and back, soothing him.

"Shhh, hey, it's okay," Derek assures him. "I wasn't accusing you of anything. In fact, just the opposite."

"I don't know what that means," Stiles duplicates Derek's earlier comment, while trying not to get lost in the ear-rubbing.

"Did you know that none of them have told anyone else?" Derek asks. There's an odd note in his voice that Stiles can't quite place.

"What do you mean?" he asks.

"I mean, you know the focus of every pack member, and you're the only one besides me who does."

Derek lets that sink in for a moment, but Stiles doesn't really know what to say. Derek's arm returns to its place around his belly, and he snugs Stiles a little closer, speaking softly into his ear.

"Everyone—even Jackson—trusts you with the knowledge of their biggest vulnerabilities," Derek says. "That says a lot about your place in the pack…how they feel about you. How much it's changed."

Stiles isn't sure what to say to that, his mind whirling. It makes sense that maybe Scott would tell Allison, or that Lydia would tell Jackson, but he didn't go into this expecting to be everyone's confidant. The day Boyd came around asking Stiles for tips on how to "think outside the box" when it comes to battle strategy was definitely a ten on the surreality scale.

But as packmates came and went in a steady parade to confide their fears or seek his advice, Stiles had only been thinking about what it meant to each of them. He hadn't really considered it as a reflection of Stiles himself. It makes him feel warm inside, and also proud that Derek saw it first. He's turning out to be a pretty canny Alpha.

Before Stiles can bumble out some meaningless platitude in reply—or ruin the moment with a cheap joke—Derek is whispering again.

"Even me," he admits.

"I d—don't know where you're getting that," Stiles stutters.

"Stiles, your Alpha just admitted to you that he's exhausted and that he's not sure he knows what the hell he's doing," Derek says dryly. "It doesn't get much more vulnerable than that. People trust you; I trust you."

"Thank you," Stiles says softly. Derek squeezes Stiles in reply.

"I think you're doing alright, for the record," Stiles says, wriggling back into Derek's chest to emphasize his point. "Especially for being an unplanned Alpha."

"You make it sound like I only have a pack because somebody didn't wear a condom," Derek says wryly.

"You know what I mean." Stiles snorts. "It's not like you were trained, or had anyone you could go to for advice once you became the Alpha. And no, Voldemort Hale doesn't count." Lydia and Stiles had shared two bottles of red wine one night soon after Gerard vanished, and ever since then Peter had been referred to as He Who Shall Not Be Named.

"You've had to figure everything out on your own. And yeah, you made some pretty questionable life choices in the beginning, of which I may have been a vocal critic—"

"Stiles…" Derek groans.

"—however, in the last couple months you've really started to come into your own. Everyone thinks so. They're all a little stoked about it, actually."

"Really?" Derek asks. It's just a tiny bit disbelieving. Stiles will never tell him, but right then Derek sounds like a teenage girl whose best friend just told her that the captain of the football team was going to ask her to the prom.

"You just said that I have the ear of the entire pack, so you'll just have to trust me on this one, okay?" Derek could hear if he was lying, of course, but there's nothing to hear. It's the truth.

"Yeah, okay."

Stiles doesn't need to see his face to picture the smile on it. He can hear it in Derek's voice, feel it pressing lightly against his nape. Derek's asleep minutes later, knees tucked just behind Stiles'.

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry," Derek croons, way too softly. "What, exactly, did you just say?"

It's been three more weeks since Stiles kidnapped Derek for a sleepover. The first round of the war on weakness is over, having proven a wild success. Getting their Alpha to agree to the next course of action, however, is a completely different ball game.

Derek is glaring hotly at Stiles, advancing slowly into his way-too-personal space. Stiles can't truly sense behind him like the others—fucking werewolves and their unfuckingfair advantages—but he still knows everybody is slowly backing away from the two of them, leaving him holding the bag like the sacrificial lamb when it faced down Goliath in the lion's den on the sinking ship and fuck them all sideways with jaggedy-ass mixed metaphors.

"You said…you want to what now?"

Derek growls the words at him. And then he just growls. It's almost subsonic, not exactly audible so much as tickling like a gnat's bass-line under Stiles' breastbone. A giant, furry gnat with red eyes and very, very sharp claws.

"N-n-no! Not just me!" Stiles squeaks.

Derek's breath is hot on his neck, just under Stiles' right ear and Stiles is pretty sure he saw a glimpse of fang when Derek leaned in that last little inch and that…that should really not feel good. It should not be arousing. Something is really effed up with Stiles' wiring, because he should absolutely not be getting hard right now.

He thinks that exact sentiment really emphatically at his dick but then Derek huffs again on his neck and all Stiles can do is wonder if Derek will relent and lick his jugular instead of tearing it out with his teeth if Stiles bends his neck a little more and makes it look like submitting.

Self-preservation is a powerful thing.

"Not me, us. This here, this is totally an "us" thing! It's everybody!" Stiles exclaims, hopping back at last because a man's gotta breathe, dammit. He emphasizes the totality of his traitorous comrades' participation in this offense with wind-milling arms.

"Everybody is in agreement up in here."

"We feel like we should b-be able to help you," Scott stammers, "and not have it be just the other way around."

Stiles closes his eyes in abject relief. Scott. Stiles loves Scott. Has never loved him more than he does at this very moment, when his BFF shifts Derek's attention away from Stiles.

"It's our duty," adds Boyd. Good 'ole Boyd.

"It just makes sense Derek," Allison says softly, Erica murmuring agreement along with her.

"It's only fair," Lydia declares, and, seriously, her little chin is so cute when she tilts it up defiantly the way she does that even Derek wouldn't bite it off. Probably.

"And because we care about you," Isaac chimes in, his expression so sincere it makes Stiles ache to look at him. It apparently works the same way with Derek, because he watches Isaac for a long moment before he suddenly deflates, plopping down into the closest chair like a puppet with severed strings.

"Is this going to turn into an intervention?" he growls, rubbing his forehead like a migraine is imminent.

"Nope," Boyd says, reaching out to clap Derek on the shoulder before stepping back. "It's a one-on-one, private gig, remember?"

Derek blinks at him, nodding slowly and Boyd dips his head respectfully, call and response, before he turns to go. The others take that as their cue, and the rest of the pack starts moving slowly towards the door.

Everybody except Stiles, who drags a footstool over and sits down across from Derek, almost knee-to-knee.

And waits.

Derek stares at him blankly for a moment, until Stiles sees…actually watches the understanding dawn on Derek's face. Derek's pupils widen in surprise and then his eyes narrow, his mouth slackens and then there's a firm press of his lips. Little micro-reactions, really, that Stiles has only ever read about in books, until now. He'd never thought it'd really work that way in real life, or that he'd know somebody well enough to read them when it did.

Three months ago, he wouldn't have.

"Drew the short straw, huh?" Derek's eyes crinkle a little and he almost smiles and Stiles feels rather than sees the others hesitate at the threshold.

It's Jackson who answers; Jackson who hasn't said a word this entire time and is the only member of the pack who didn't bother to back Stiles up when Derek was all fangy at his throat.

"Derek, man, sometimes you're just oblivious," he says coolly, as if he's simply recounting a fact of life—like gravity or the sun rising in the east or that an upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament is guaranteed to fuck up his bracket every year—instead of edging on disrespect to his Alpha.

Derek looks too stunned at this revelation to be angry.

"We're not stupid. Everybody here figured out a long time ago that Stiles is your favorite." Jackson pauses before tossing out one last pithy observation as he glides out the door.

"Everybody but you."

~~~~~~~

They break into the high school's indoor pool just after nine, turning on just enough lights to see what they're doing. Stiles tosses Derek a duffle bag and heads back out of the locker room to wait. He's got trunks on under his track pants and he's already stripped down to those when Derek emerges.

"Olympic-style," Stiles nods. "Good choice." The knee-length spandex trunks are positively bursting with the effort of containing Derek's muscles. Somewhere Michael Phelps is quietly weeping, binge-eating and piling extra cheese and double-mayo onto his Subway foot-long.

"There was no choice," Derek growls, tossing the bag back at Stiles. "The first ones had giant pink flowers, and the third had less material than most of Erica's panties."

"It's the off-season," Stiles protests. "The choices were limited."

Derek huffs.

"Also…how exactly do you know about Erica's panties? Are you even sure she wears them?" he says dreamily. "I always kinda pictured her going comman—"

"Pack laundry days, Stiles." Derek snaps his fingers under Stiles' nose. "Focus."

"Uh, right. So let's start with a few questions."

It had been a shock to learn that Derek—even without kanima venom—would still have drowned in the pool if Stiles hadn't been there. Stiles found it hard to fathom, that there was a physical activity, a sort of athleticism, at which Derek was thoroughly incompetent.

Given the number of lakes and rivers scattered throughout Beacon County, and that the pack territory is littered with them, it's hard to believe Derek never learned to swim. It makes him seem more vulnerably human, somehow, and less like a supernatural being. At least until Stiles was unanimously elected to be the one to change all that.

Derek narrows his eyes skeptically, crossing his arms over his chest. It's clear to Stiles he has to lead off Derek's own War on Weakness with a strong show of competence or Derek is gonna bail.

"Can your wolf swim?"

And, seriously, he doesn't even know where that came from.

Stiles has plotted out this entire scenario, with flow charts that offered alternatives for any of Derek's possible actions. He took an online instructor's course. He's watched countless videos on YouTube. He has eight friggin' lesson plans, which he's memorized, for God's sake. None of them have anything like this as part of the script.

Derek looks too surprised to be pissed, which is kind of a surprise in and of itself. Generally speaking, Stiles has zero trouble at all when it comes to pissing Derek off.

"I…no. I don't think so," Derek says, but he doesn't sound all that sure.

"You don't sound all that sure," Stiles says, feeling the immediate urge to face-palm. Why does his private Stiles always end up becoming public Stiles whenever Derek is around? It's like he's physically incapable of not babbling every thought aloud.

"It's…not that easy to say for sure," Derek answers slowly. He sighs and squats down to sit at the corner of the shallow end, dangling his feet into the water.

"Try me." Stiles joins him, taking the adjoining side of the same corner so he can see Derek's face. Stiles paddles his feet a little, but Derek doesn't answer until they accidentally bump ankles underwater and it seems to shake him out of wherever he's been.

"You don't…that is, you can't always remember everything that happens when you're a wolf." He pauses, cutting a glance toward Stiles, gauging his reaction.

Stiles is working hard to suppress one, to be honest. Derek Hale voluntarily self-editing the word "don't"—meaning could but choose not to—to the word "can't"—meaning incapable of—is sort of a big deal.

Stiles isn't sure what to make of it.

"Well." Stiles looks up from the water to find Derek's gaze very intently fixed on him. It's sorta tingly and sorta creepy. Which basically describes their entire relationship.

"Why don't you start by telling me things that you usually do remember?"

Derek's face clears immediately. "Visceral things. Fighting. Hunting; taking down a deer, its hot blood in your throat…" He pauses for another Stiles barometer check but is apparently satisfied with Stiles' carefully schooled expression. "Pack, family…not necessarily everything we did, but some things. Always the knowledge that they were there, you know? People I loved, sharing experiences."

Stiles nods, at once exhilarated by the amount of words spilling from Derek and gutted by the past tense when he speaks of people he loved.

"I-I used to remember more, when it was all of us out together. When it's just me, it's sort of…vague, later," Derek says.

Stiles feels an urge to pat Derek's knee or something else ridiculously comforting and potentially non-consensual from Derek's point of view. A few months ago he'd have ignored it, but now he knows better. This is a pack-touch moment staring him in the face. He reaches out, brushes the backs of his fingers down Derek's forearm, and raps his knuckles softly against the back of Derek's hand where it's gripping the pool's edge. Derek turns his palm up and squeezes Stiles' hand for just a moment before letting go.

He tries to think of something to say that won't sound trite, but he remembers part of another lesson…the pack doesn't always need words. Sometimes just being there is enough.

"Anything else?" he asks instead, clearing his throat.

"The shift itself, and shifting back. I always remember that. Pain, fear, smells. Aching muscles. Danger."

"Sex?"

Derek side-eyes him again.

"I…would assume it would fall under visceral, that I'd remember."

"But you haven’t…" Stiles makes a deliberately vague hand-wavy motion "…as a wolf?"

"No," Derek says tightly.

"I see."

"Stiillles… That long, slow, half/drawl, half/growl thing Derek does to Stiles' name when his patience is fading is really not the way to distract him from thinking about sex.

"What about things you don't remember?" Stiles continues quickly.

"It's kinda hard to recall," Derek says, and Stiles is already opening his mouth to ask the next question before it hits him.

"You made a funny!" he says, shocked. "Derek Hale cracked a joke."

"Don't tell anyone," Derek flashes a tiny smile, and Stiles wonders how many times his heart has to flutter for Derek to notice it. "I've got a reputation I want to keep."

"He's a color-phobic bad-ass with a secret sense of humor on the wrong side of the law…" Stiles mumbles.

"And he's a stubborn sheriff's son with a tendency to save the day…" Derek takes up his half, shocking Stiles.

"And together…THEY FIGHT CRIME!" they exclaim together, laughing.

"Dude. I had no idea that you and pop-culture were on speaking terms," Stiles grins, truly amazed. That momentary, searing vision of Derek—head thrown back and laughing—was brighter than the sun itself.

Stiles now knows how Riddick felt when they took his glasses away.

"My whole life changed when we got indoor plumbing," Derek deadpans, splashing Stiles in faux annoyance.

"Who are you?" Stiles laughs again. "These last few months, it's like you've been replaced by an updated version that includes social interaction modules for the first time," he says. "I feel like I went to bed with a Blackberry Pearl and woke up with an iPhone 5."

"I'm housebroken, too."

"You…you're a Stepford Wolf!"

They grin a little more at each other, splashing quietly for a few more minutes before Derek breaks the silence.

"Stiles," Derek says. It almost sounds gentle, so Stiles figures he's in trouble. "We've been here over an hour already and I haven't even gotten in the water."

The rubberized edge of the 3 on the 3 FT marker decal is coming up, and Stiles can't resist picking at it. It's like that episode of The X-Files where Mulder throws sunflower seeds at the vampire and it compulsively has to count every one.

"Do you trust me?" he blurts out.

"Absolutely."

"Because I kept you alive in this very pool for going on three hours and I would never—"

"Stiles." Derek stops him. "You don't have to convince me, okay? I already said I trust you. Land or water," he finishes, index finger making an "X" over his heart.

"Oh. Okay then." Stiles momentarily forgets what required Derek's trust.

"What do you want to do?" Derek prompts him.

"Oh, um, yeah. I thought maybe you could shift, in the water, and we could see once and for all if your wolf swims," he says.

Derek looks dubious.

"I'll be right here, I won't let anything happen…"

"I believe you," Derek says. "I just don't see the point. I've already said I don't remember lots of what happens when I'm shifted. Even if I can swim in wolf-form, it doesn't mean I'll remember how when I'm back to human."

"But you said…" Stiles trails off. It's even starting to sound stupid in his head now, where it's just him in there. He can't imagine what it'll sound like out loud to Derek. But Derek nudges him, toes kicking Stiles' calf underwater, one eyebrow lifted like a much, much hotter Spock. Quinto10th, at least.

"I said what?" he asks. Stiles' face heats.

"You said that sometimes you do remember things, when you're with pack, or people you...care about…" He trails off into a mumble.

Derek stares at Stiles, expression completely, carefully blank.

"Okay," he nods, a single decisive dip of the chin. "Let's do this." Derek tips forward off the edge and into the shallows, bouncing on the bottom of the pool.

Stiles' heart sinks. He knows that look. Everyone in the pack has seen it individually directed at each of them at one time or another, many of them recently during their individual little wars.

Sometimes Derek is pretty sure you're gonna fall flat on your face. He can totally visualize your idea—he's actually really good at that—but at the same time he realizes what you have yet to grasp: that your plan is basically just popsicle sticks and duct tape, destined to fall apart at the slightest deviation from the blueprint you probably drew up with a dull crayon.

A lot of the time he lets it ride anyway (never, ever if danger is imminent), supporting you quietly and by example, ensuring the rest of the pack does, too.

When it's over and you're eating failcakes for breakfast, he'll clap you on the back and if you're lucky, you get one of those tiny little smiles and that stupid, stupid craving for the Alpha's approval will soothe your bruised ego enough that you're not afraid to try again.

It's one of the few aspects of leadership that seems to come naturally to Derek—unexpected, untrained, mentor-less (Stiles flat-out refuses to count Peter) Alpha that he is. Stiles wonders if he remembers his parents raising the pack kids that way. Someone should remind Derek that he's good at something for a change, and Stiles decides he'll do just that as soon as—

"Holy Mother of God, why are you suddenly naked!?" The wet splat of Derek's trunks hitting the pool deck interrupts Stiles' interior monologue.

Waist-deep and au naturale, Derek looks completely unperturbed.

"It's the only pair of trunks I have. I'm not going to shred them in the shift, Stiles," he says reasonably.

"But you…I…you…I have to hold onto you, Derek. And you're naked," he hisses.

"I'll be naked once I shift, too," Derek says. He's so often bereft of logic that it completely infuriates Stiles that Derek suddenly has an endless—and flawless—supply in a situation like this. "What's the difference?"

"Fur," Stiles says immediately. "Fur is the difference. That, and the fact that when you shift you are not in a form that I would have certain thoughts about."

"You have thoughts about my form?" Derek says, amused.

"I'm a seventeen-year-old virgin. I have thoughts about the form of Mr. Clean. And the Old Spice Guy."

"Together?" Derek sounds genuinely curious. Stiles can't even make words for that. He just groans painfully, something that echoes across the water and probably sounds like a dying animal to Derek.

Like prey.

"The Old Spice Guy is pretty ripped." Derek nods understandingly.

"Ohmygod shut up now. Please shut up. How is this my life? This is the worst conversation I've ever had."

"Can we get on with this, so I can shift before you have an aneurysm?"

"Yes, yes. That. Let's do that." Stiles hops down into the water alongside Derek. "Shift into the non-naked, wolfy form that I don't have thoughts about," Stiles babbles.

"So you say," Derek smiles. It's a horrible smile. A horrible, knowing little smile. "I've seen the porn folder on your hard drive."

"What?"

Stiles is appalled. There are things you just don't do. Things that people—normal people, human people with two legs and no tails that don't have boundary issues—don't do.

"You wouldn't," he gasps. "You didn't…"

Finally Derek relents. "You're right," he confesses. "I didn't. I'm just yanking your chain, Stiles. I had no idea what kind of porn you like."

"OhthankyouGod," Stiles breathes fervently. A beat later, the past-tense registers and Stiles' head snaps up.

"But, now…?" Stiles says weakly.

"Now I do," Derek smirks.

"Excuse me," Stiles whimpers.

"To where?" Derek asks.

"I'm gonna go drown myself in the deep end of the pool," he moans. "Make sure Scott gets all my comic books."

In the end Stiles' bone-deep mortification is almost worth it, because Derek ends up laughing so hard he has to lean against the side of the pool, arms clutching his belly.

It's much hotter than the Old Spice Guy.

~~~~~~~

"Think about buoyancy," Stiles urges a short while later, trying to keep Derek afloat on his belly. Without touching any special naked fun-time places. It's not easy. Derek flails every few moments, and keeps dropping his mouth into the water and sputtering, and then again with the flailing.

To be fair, it's not as easy to float on your stomach, but they both agreed it'd be better for Derek's wolf to start out that way when he comes out of the shift instead of on his back.

"You think about buoyancy," Derek grumbles, sputtering and coughing. "It's probably—" cough "—natural for you—" cough "—with all that hot air."

Stiles doesn't say it out loud, but he's got a point. Derek has about negative three percent body fat, so there's not a lot of anything to help him out, floatation-wise.

"Okay, new tactic," Stiles declares. "This is what we're gonna do."

Derek freezes, and it's the most still he's been since he laid down across Stiles' arms. Stiles has a momentary spike of hope that they're going to get this done. Then he watches Derek slowly twist his neck to gaze at him. It's murderous. Like, Post-Office-Wanted-Poster murderous, and in that moment Stiles comes to a stark realization.

Someday, if Derek ever snaps and takes out the entire city council after a particularly bad day at the DMV, CNN will not be able to find a single Beacon Hill resident willing to give the obligatory "I could have never pictured him doing something like this" interview.

He helps get Derek upright and back on his feet.

"You don't think this is going to work," he says quietly, a statement, not a question. Derek's jaw tenses; it's a tic that he probably doesn't know about, a tell that gives him away whenever he feels like he's got to tell one of the pack something they don't want to hear.

"No, I don't," he admits, nostrils flaring in frustration.

Stiles can't help it; he knew all along, but hearing Derek say it out loud is still, well, crushing. And, frankly, it's more than a little unfair that it affects him that much. Winning his first little personal war and being more connected to the pack—and Derek—means he's now subject to all these moods and influences and Alpha-induced feelings just like the rest of the pack when he doesn't even get the superpowers.

"I figured," he mutters.

"But you do," Derek says. "You think it can work."

"I'm not sure," Stiles answers honestly, shrugging. Derek's eyes are glittering, his lashes all spiky and stuck together from the water. It's a little distracting. Even moreso when Derek reaches out and rests a wet hand on the back of Stiles' neck.

"It wouldn't be the first time you were the only one with the right idea," he says quietly. And Stiles remembers what Derek said about him before, about his 'tendency to save the day', and smiles.

"Can you hold your breath while you're shifting?" Stiles asks suddenly. Derek looks puzzled.

"I don't really know," he says after considering it for a moment. "I never thought to try."

"Hold, or hold not. There is no try."

Derek rolls his eyes.

"Why don't I just stand by the pool, shift, and then jump in?" Derek asks.

"I, uh, was thinking that if you aren't sure whether or not your wolf can swim, then your wolf might not be either," Stiles says. "If wolfy-you thinks you can't swim, then you, er, he, I mean…what is the politically correct way to talk about your other self here, anyway? I always feel like I'm stepping in a steaming pile of fresh faux pas when this comes up with one of you guys."

"Either. Both." Derek shrugs, like it doesn't matter one way or another to him.

"How can both be right?"

"Some days it can feel different even to us. One minute I'm in complete sync with my wolf. The next the wolf wants something so completely foreign to what I want that it feels like a different person is inside me."

"How do you—the, er, two of you—decide who's right?" Stiles knows they are way off script here, but Derek's revealed more about the nature of lycanthropy in the last two minutes than he has the entire time Stiles has known him. The research geek inside him is quietly orgasming.

"Sometimes we compromise. But usually if it's a wolf-thing, I trust the wolf's instincts," Derek answers. "Or if it involves humans, the wolf mostly yields to the human me."

Stiles nods; it makes sense, to each his own, but the way Derek doesn't look at him when he says it makes him wonder how often it doesn't work. Derek's next words confirm his suspicion.

"It's not foolproof, though. Sometimes…" Derek trails off, looking out across the water, at the starting platforms, the lane dividers—anywhere but at Stiles. Stiles clears his throat.

"Right. Well, anyway, like I was saying, if your wolf doesn't think it can swim, it might not jump in. But if you're already in the water then the natural swimming instinct might kick in and, boom, Mark Spitz is your daddy."

"You do know that I'm not a Labrador retriever, right?" but Derek is smiling a little when he says it, obviously overcome by the ol' Stillinski optimism.

Together they decide that instead of Stiles holding Derek afloat, that Derek will try just tipping forward into the water while shifting, and Stiles will make sure he doesn't drown, somehow.

"As soon as you shift, you should probably, you know, start…" Stiles mimes a familiar swimming motion that any small child would instantly recognize, smiling and nodding encouragingly.

Derek glares.

"If the next sentence out of your mouth has any form of the words 'dog' or 'paddle' in it, I will bite your nuts off the moment my fangs drop."

"Roger that." Stiles salutes briskly.

Stiles holds his arms out, palms up and floating on the surface of the water just in front of Derek, who's standing on the pool steps at a right angle to Stiles' shoulder.

"Ready? Set? G—"

"Steady," Derek interrupts.

"I am steady!" Stiles exclaims. "I'm rock-steady! Why are you interrupting again? We're finally making progress here!"

"No, I mean, it's 'steady'," Derek explains.. "Ready, steady, go!"

"It is not!"

"Is too."

"Only weirdoes and spoiled rich kids say "ready-steady." Derek lifts one eyebrow ominously, and Stiles feels it might be wise to qualify his statement.

"Ah, um, wolves, of course, who aren't at all weird. Probably a, uh, cultural thing."

When Derek does finally tip and shift, falling into Stiles' arms, it's pretty horrible. He can hear—and worse, feel—all of Derek's bones crunching and grinding against his forearms and his chest, and it seems to go on forever, joints popping and muscles rending. The repeated assurances that the wolves have all given, saying it doesn't hurt, have never stopped the sympathy pangs Stiles always undergoes when he's close enough to see or hear it happening.

Feeling it happen? Up against his own body? It's a billion times more awful.

Stiles is suddenly, deeply nauseated and gets an immediate flash-forward to the remains of the pizza he had for dinner floating on the water's surface.

Imagining that makes him gag and gagging leads to near-heaving and then it's pretty much becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as he hops unwillingly on the lead-up-to-upchuck train.

Just as his stomach begins to surrender, the shift stops, and he hears a whimper. A cool wet nose snuffles softly under his jaw and when he opens his eyes there's a giant black wolf paddling (doggy-paddling, there's no denying it now, Derek) in his arms, trying to comfort him.

"Oh," Stiles says weakly, gripping tightly to thick, black fur as Derek's tongue licks gently at the corners of his eyes. He didn't realize he'd been crying until that moment. "There you are."

Derek's legs are churning happily and he doesn't seem to be having any problems staying afloat, so Stiles indulges himself for a minute and buries his face in the ruff at Derek's neck, inhaling deeply and trying to get a grip. He knows it's stupid, that Derek's totally fine, but he never, ever wants to hold him through the change again.

Derek huffs against his throat—that's clearly his attention-getting huff, Stiles has heard it enough times—and then whines softly, nosing once more at Stiles' neck when Stiles lifts his head.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm okay," he says, scratching behind Derek's ears and laughing weakly. "My plans suck." Derek laughs too, at that, a weird little half-bark and wide-open jaws with a lolling tongue.

"Laugh it up, fuzzball." Derek snorts again. Apparently being a wolf doesn't mean he can't remember Star Wars dialogue. Too bad. Stiles might seriously consider asking for the bite if it could permanently sear any memory of Jar-Jar Binks from his brain.

Seemingly satisfied that a psychotic break is no longer imminent for Stiles, Derek nips playfully at his shoulder and pushes off with his rear legs, paddling behind and then circling Stiles twice before swimming to the nearest wall. Stiles shouts and claps, whooping in amazement. When Derek gets to the wall he promptly gives Stiles a heart attack by ducking underwater in a bastardized, four-legged flip turn before popping up like a cork and swimming to the other side.

"Aw, see, now you're just showing off." Stiles laughs, but throws up his victory arms anyway and Derek yowls proudly before hiking himself up and out onto the deck at the shallow end. Like every other wet dog Stiles has ever seen, he shakes as much water from his fur as possible. Stiles starts to swim the few strokes it will take him to get there, but Derek warns him off with a sharp, rough growl…

…and shifts.

When he's done, he's belly-down and naked on the concrete, panting and staring at Stiles. Stiles gets a fleeting impression that it's still the wolf in there, gazing out at him, then Derek coughs and blinks and the spell is broken.

Stiles clears his throat and reaches for the towel conveniently left near the edge (thank God for planning) and sort of—tosses it—across the part of Derek needing covering at the moment. Derek's lip corners twitch, but he doesn't otherwise react as Stiles pulls up to drape his arms over the edge next to him.

"Sorry to snap at you there a second ago," he says. And that's…surprising. "I just didn't want you to be that close again when I shifted back."

"Oh."

"Are you okay?" He leans forward on one arm, still stretched out on his belly, and gently palms the back of Stiles' head with his other hand. If being wolfy makes Derek Hale this handsy on the regular, Stiles is 100% in favor of it. "I didn't realize it affected you like that," Derek says softly, thumbing at the little knob behind Stiles' ear.

"I didn't either," Stiles says, and no, he is not rubbing into his Alpha's hand like a kitten, thank you very much, that's just him trying to get a crick out of his neck, is all.

"I mean, I've always hated how it looks and sounds. Every time one of you do it—especially you or Scott, with the full-blown version—it makes me think of Denethor eating that chicken in The Return of the King, with the cartilage tearing and the bones breaking and joints pop—"

"Stiles." Derek shakes him a little, but it's not unkind. "Breathe."

"Right." Stiles breathes. "It was just…so very, very much worse, having to actually feel that happening to you."

"I'm sorry," Derek says. It's kind of nifty that Derek doesn't bother telling Stiles that it doesn't hurt. He understands that Stiles knowing it isn't the issue. "For a minute there I thought I was going to be swimming through regurgitated pizza."

When he squeezes Stiles at the neck and gently pushes him back with a little grin, Stiles knows it's just part of the punch line, but it still feels like loss when Derek lets go.

"How did you know I had pizza for dinner?"

"I can smell the pepperoni on your breath."

"I brushed my teeth!"

"Doesn't matter."

"That's disturbing," Stiles mutters.

"Can we get back to me?" Derek asks patiently, and Stiles brightens immediately, bouncing on the balls of his feet in excitement. Water sloshes gently out of the pool.

"Oh!" Stiles exclaims. "Right. Yes. YES. You swim like a fish, dude." Stiles holds out the rock and Derek reluctantly bumps fists. "A four-legged fish, with fur, so, you know, one of those weird creatures that lives at the bottom of the ocean where it's pitch black and they have no eyes."

Derek gives him the "really, Stiles?" eyebrow with which Stiles is intimately familiar, but Stiles just beams at him.

"But hey, swimmy swimmy! Go you!"

Stiles grins and Derek ducks his head and grins back the way that he does when he's a little more pleased than he wants to let on. It's usually only when something goes really (unexpectedly) well with the pack. Stiles has never seen that expression on Derek's face for himself.

"You, uh…you do remember, right?" Momentary angst overtakes him as he wonders if Derek doesn't and is only going off of how Stiles is bleeding excitement all over the place.

"I remember everything," Derek answers softly, staring at Stiles.

"Is…is swimming…visceral?" Stiles asks, frozen into staring back. Why is there not enough air in this pool area? Athletes need their oxygen. Someone should do something.

Think of the children.

"I…I think it's because…the other reason." Derek leans forward again. He's looking at Stiles' mouth, and that—there's something wrong here. Derek Hale does not look at Stillinski lips. Not in this universe.

"Because I'm p-pack?" Stiles stutters. The alleged lack of oxygen is probably immaterial at this point. Stiles is pretty sure he hasn't actually in- or exhaled recently anyway.

"Because I was with someone I care about." Derek's eyes break from Stiles' to flick down to Stiles mouth again, and then back. There's a small, steady rivulet of water that's trickling from Derek's hairline down the side of his neck. Stiles would really like to clean that up. With his tongue. Oh, oh God, bad. Bad Stiles.

"Is this the part where you kiss me?" Stiles' alter-ego asks, moving in until his chest is pressed against the edge of the pool and leaning forward (forwardly) into Derek's space. Stiles doesn't know where this guy came from, but from the way Derek's eyes widen with interest, Stiles is willing to give Bad Stiles a trial run.

"Potentially," Derek says.

"Potentially?"

"Yes."

"You know, market conditions change. The best properties are here today, gone tomorrow. You should think about that."

"Are you offering to be my property, Stiles?" Derek drawls and Stiles chokes at a sudden vision of himself kneeling naked in front of Derek's motorcycle boots. He wonders if getting hard underwater will prevent Derek from being able to smell the spike of arousal.

"If you're not up for it, that's cool," Stiles says, in his best nonchalant voice. (It's so not cool.)

"It's not you, it's me."

"You're not even funny right now."

"Stiles." Derek laughs, because apparently he thinks he's funny, "I'm currently lying wet, dick-down and naked against a concrete deck, so I'm not sure kissing you at this exact moment in time is really in my long-term best anatomical interests."

"Holy shit." Stiles' eyes bug and he howls with laughter.

"What?" Derek looks affronted at suddenly losing the upper hand in their banter.

"That might be the single longest sentence I've ever heard come out of your mouth," Stiles answers.

"Shut up, Stiles." Derek rolls his eyes, but his lips are twitching again.

"I'm serious. There were, like, adverbs and dependent clauses and prepositional phrases and everything."

"Fuck you." This time, Derek does laugh, and then he hauls Stiles in and kisses him anyway.

It's…wow. Derek wraps his arm around Stiles' neck, keeping Stiles close as their lips brush. The air between them is thick and humid with the water from the pool, warmed by Derek's excessive wolfy body heat. Whether it's his newly-honed, pack-sourced steadiness or not, for once Stiles doesn't feel the need to do something. He just lets something happen, and follows Derek's lead.

He's gentle and easy with Stiles, small soft kisses tasting of chlorine at the corners of his mouth at first, then tiny presses again and again across his lips. When just the very tip of Derek's tongue taps at the bow of Stiles' bottom lip, Stiles moans and opens for him. Stiles can feel Derek's quicksilver smile, and then Derek's tongue slicks along his, sinuous and hot, and ohgodfuck he had no idea there was a nerve highway that connected his tongue to his dick.

And he's in the fucking HOV lane, man.

 

Stiles flails a little, hears a splash in the water that is undoubtedly him, and finally breaks the kiss in search of oxygen. He's gratified when he opens his eyes and sees Derek is flushed and blinking owlishly, as if wondering exactly where he is.

"I—" Derek says, then stops, panting a little.

"Yeah," Stiles gasps. Derek's let a little bit of space open up between them, and now Stiles is goosebumping at the loss of heat. "Me too."

"We should probably…" Derek trails off and Stiles deflates a little.

"Oh. Yeah. Of course." Because why would Derek want more of this? But before Stiles can get away, Derek is reeling him back in.

"Stop that," he growls right against Stiles' ear. And nuzzles.

"What?" Stiles says faintly, unable to prevent himself tipping his head away to give Derek more room.

"Stop thinking that I'm stopping because I'm not interested," Derek says, his nose tracing Stiles' jugular. "You are not that stupid."

"You underestimate me," Stiles gasps. "I've been way more stupid than that on several occasions."

"There are other things to consider here," Derek grumbles, clearly struggling to be alpha-reasonable-ish without being alpha-prick-ish.

"Such as…?" Stiles says innocently. Confidence bolstered by Derek's reluctance to let him go, he's feeling a little steadier now, so he thinks he'll make Derek work for it a little. Stiles doesn't often have the upper hand.

"You mean, aside from my dick and concrete…"

"Comma, drilling through?" Stiles grins, and Derek rolls his eyes but still breathes a laugh.

"Getting there," he says gruffly, repositioning carefully on his belly. "But there's more than that."

Stiles folds his arms and lays his head down on them, letting his feet float out behind him in the water. He's pretty sure his entire body is pruning at this point, but the water is warm and Derek is close and he doesn't want to do anything to burst the bubble just yet. Derek makes an approving-sounding noise, resting the underside of his chin against the top of Stiles' head and rubbing.

"I don't want your first time to be in your high school locker room, for starters," Derek whispers into Stiles' hair. "You deserve better than that. Can we slow down a little?"

"You think we'd make it all the way to the locker room?" Stiles jokes breathlessly. "I'm not sure I'd make it past the bleachers."

"Seventeen-year-olds have good recovery time," Derek says, unconcerned. "I'm not worried."

"How would you know?"

"I was seventeen once, you know," Derek says dryly.

Stiles is struck with a sudden, exquisitely clear vision of a younger Derek jacking off daily in the shower and is instantly hard again. Derek sniffs once against Stiles' neck and makes an interested growly noise that has Stiles vibrating with want.

"Okay then," Stiles says quickly. "We should—"

"Yeah," Derek says, sniffing and nuzzling one last, carefully chaste kiss under Stiles' ear before they leave.

Everything after that is a little fuzzy. Fuzzy and glowing in his memory. Stiles doesn't remember climbing out of the pool or walking to the locker room to change. He doesn't remember his feet being on the ground at any point. It's possible he just floated home.

He's feeling very buoyant.

Chapter Text

That first week they meet every other day. A lot of what Derek remembers from swimming as a wolf isn't applicable, of course. The mechanics alone, of four legs versus two arms and two legs make it tricky, and Derek Hale lacks the natural buoyancy that Alpha Wolf Hale gets from his thick fur coat. But the confidence carries over; the knowledge that he can swim makes the difference.

Each day's session includes ever-increasing time spent making out; sometimes in the locker room while they're changing, sometimes in the pool itself. Hands have almost been in places where no man has gone before. Stiles is starting to be so aroused for so long, so regularly that he wonders if there are any long-term health risks.

Stiles comes home from lacrosse practice one evening to find Derek in the Stillinski kitchen, having cake and coffee with his Dad. There's a fancy yellow box on the counter from the most expensive bakery in town and a bottle of something brown that seems to have found its way into the coffee, judging from the level of liquid remaining. They seem to be comfortable together in their mutual near-silence; whatever conversation they had was clearly done and settled before Stiles walked in.

"Stiles," they both say at the same time, nodding greetings, and Stiles is too freaked out to call jinx as tradition demands. He just pours a glass of milk and helps himself to a giant piece of cake so his mouth has something to do besides talk to either of them.

Later that night, he and Derek are taking a break in the deep end of the pool, draped over a pair of long, skinny pool noodles.

Derek's pretty much where Stiles had hoped he'd end up. He can dive without belly-flopping. He's got respectable back- and breast-strokes down, and his butterfly is simply stunning to see. When Derek 'flys, his entire torso rises from the water, flexing and cascading water down his shoulders and six-pack. It's powerful and sensual to watch, like someone deliberately combined the Olympics and porn.

Oddly, his freestyle is still clumsy, so much so that initially Stiles suspected that Derek was deliberately underperforming, in order to draw out their sessions. The freestyle is the easiest and the most useful stroke to have, after all. If you have to jump in a pool to save a paralyzed drowning pack member you're not gonna want to be back-stroking over.

But eventually Stiles realized that Derek just really does suck at freestyle. Knowing that his Alpha has a quirky, inexplicable shortcoming is somehow endearing and triggers all sorts of weird, nurturing feelings inside him.

He is so screwed.

"So, I've been wondering…" Stiles says, paddling closer to where Derek is reclining backwards on a noodle, "did you by any chance buy my virginity from my father with a German chocolate cake and a bottle of cheap bourbon?"

"Stiles, you wound me." Derek rolls over to drape his arms over his noodle. He directs what can only be categorized as a wolfish grin at Stiles. "That bourbon cost me sixty bucks."

"Who told you you're funny?"

"It's instinct."

"But you're not."

"I'm a little funny," Derek says reasonably.

"Not even close."

"That's not what you sai—"

"Ohmygod. Tell me what you said to him right now or I'm gonna take away your noodle and drown you in this pool!"

Derek stares at him and Stiles knows from the way Derek's lips are twitching that he's debating a double-down on noodle-entendre. "I told him…that things were changing." Derek stalls out, clearly trying to decide how much to say. "With us."

"And?" Stiles is a little breathless here, staring at Derek. Everything feels…suspended…quiet and expectant. Stiles can hear the pool filter chugging and the buzz of the light fixtures.

"And…that some things I said in the past that were true then might not be true anymore." Derek pauses. "Soon."

Stiles has no wolf's nose, but he doesn't need it to know that talking to Stiles about having sex with Stiles—is kinda doing it for Derek. His pupils are huge, and Derek's holding himself still in that very careful way that he has when he's trying to keep something secret.

"How soon is soon?" Stiles can't resist asking, derailed momentarily by the possibility of total, mutual nakedness in his near future. Maybe even very near. Like, before they get out of the pool, please be to God.

"Stiiiiles." Derek is almost whining.

"Okay, okay. What did he say?"

"Well, I, uh…" Derek stops, and licks his lips. "I might have said some more things." Derek is struggling. "Before he, you know, said anything."

"Things like what?" This is going sideways on him, he can feel it, like his Jeep hitting a patch of black ice.

"Like, maybe, that if he…if he asked, I'd…that I'd wait," Derek shoots a look at Stiles, glancing away quickly when he sees Stiles' expression.

"You'd wait?" Stiles exclaims. Derek stares at nothing over Stiles' left shoulder, wisely remaining quiet.

"How long?"

"You're eighteen in October."

"So, it's only up to you now, whether I have sex today or seven months from now? You and my dad? What the actual fuck, Derek?"

Derek does not get to claim Alpha rights on every goddamn decision, fuck you very much.

"I'm not your beta!" Stiles shouts. Pool acoustics make his anger echo oddly. "And you're not always Mr. Good Choices Guy to start with. I'm not even sure if there's a point to going on with this—this thing between us, if you think you're going to just make all my decisions for me."

Stiles regrets saying it the moment it's out of his mouth, but it's too late to take it back. He watches Derek's face crumple for a split second, before Derek's ever-present defenses kick in.

"Then obviously I made the right decision," he grinds out, lips flat and eyes dark. "At least you didn't pop your cherry for somebody you were gonna end up dumping in a few weeks," he sneers. "Aren't you glad?"

He whips the noodle he'd been resting on away from him; Stiles ducks instinctively as it flies over his head, all the way across the pool, and slaps wetly against the deck. Derek bursts into a brutally powerful butterfly, hard and angry and going the length of the pool just to get as far away as fast as he can. Stiles is struck dumb by the sudden recognition of why it's Derek's favorite stroke.

The motion of it, the powerfully sinuous bowing and extension of his body, mimics the fluid lope of the wolf when Derek's fully shifted. It's stunning and gorgeous and Stiles can't believe he's never grasped the stark similarities before now. He thinks maybe Derek doesn't know either, and it's just instinct for him to move this way, that he falls into it because it feels right. Stiles gets this crazy idea to take video of Derek swimming like this, to show him. He feels like the wolf, especially, would enjoy seeing it.

He doesn't get a chance. Derek reaches the shallow end and literally launches himself out of the water on his final stroke, shifting in mid-air to hit the ground running on four legs.

Stiles was right.

Swimming away from Stiles or running away, Derek moves just the same.

Chapter Text

Barring Derek, everyone in the pack has called him at least five times and dropped by at least twice. Even Jackson. It's Stiles who doesn't go to the house anymore or show up for training or meetings. He returns only the bare minimum of texts—just enough to keep them from assuming he's dead in a ditch somewhere and starting a manhunt.

He was scheduled to start his next round of sessions—(learning to 'better evaluate' his potential for safety in battlefield situations before acting)—with Derek last week but he didn't show and Derek never sought him out.

It's been three weeks (and two days and four hours), of feeling like part of him's been amputated, and he can't concentrate enough to study for his economics final. The lure of extra Adderall whispers seductively to him, not for the first time since the Rodriguez visit, but it's the first time he hasn't been around pack to help him through it. He's severed himself from the wolves, can barely even feel Derek. He can't draw on the pack—the family—like Derek taught him, and he needs something. He needs help.

He knocks on his dad's bedroom door and hands the bottle over.

"I—I need you to take these," he says. His dad drops his book to his lap, takes off his glasses. His hand is as steady as his gaze as he reaches out and gently accepts the bottle.

"Just lay my dose out before you leave, okay?" His dad's eyes go wide and he stares at Stiles for a long moment, like he's finally putting something together, but he just nods slowly. Stiles flees back to his own room before his dad can say anything, and thankfully, he lets Stiles go.

The look his dad gave him was telling, and Stiles feels it like a punch—the irrefutable knowledge that Derek had never said anything, that he'd kept the secret like he'd promised.

It only makes him ache more.

Stiles sits at his desk and stares at the principles of micro- vs. macro- economics all night, absorbing nothing.

In the morning, he flunks his test.

~~~~~~~

"So," his dad says, over that night's meatloaf, and from that one syllable Stiles knows this conversation isn't going anywhere Stiles wants to be. "I haven't seen Derek around for a while."

"The swimming lessons are over," Stiles says around a bite of mashed potatoes. Stiles has drowned them in gravy, but they're still stuck in his throat, refusing to go down until he gulps half a glass of milk.

"Son, I may be an old man, but I'm not blind yet," his dad says kindly. "I'm pretty sure that's not all that's over. You wanna talk about this?"

That right there? That makes it tough. Because he wants to be as mad at his dad for this whole thing as he is at Derek, but he also needs his dad. Derek's got the pack for solace, and Stiles has nobody.

(Whose fault is that, Stiles?)

"I don't know what that will accomplish," Stiles says quietly. He lays his fork down, certain that if he tries to dry-swallow more food and talk at the same time he's going to end up getting Heimliched by his father.

"Maybe you're right," his dad agrees easily. Too easily. "Maybe I'm not the one you need to talk to."

"Why did you think it was appropriate to make decisions about my body with my boyfriend?" Stiles blurts out. Huh. Turns out he had things to say to his dad after all.

His dad looks at him, his own mouth open a little in surprise.

"No one did that, Stiles," his dad says. "I don't know what you think we talked about, but I didn't do that." He pauses. "As much as I might want to."

"It's not your call! Jesus, Dad," he shouts.

"I know that."

"And it's not Derek's either!" Stiles shoots back.

"And there's where we part ways," his dad raises a hand, giving Stiles the universal slow-your-roll gesture that cops everywhere possess. "Just because you're younger, doesn't mean yours is the only consent that's important. It's Derek's body too, Stiles. And, frankly, his decision to break the law with it or not. With a sheriff's son, no less."

"He should have talked to me first. And…or…we should have talked to you together. He had no right…" Stiles trails off.

"Now we're back on the same page," his dad agrees softly, nodding.

"How can you start out on my page and then go hang out on his page and then come over and be back on my page again?"

"Every page isn't the same, Stiles. They all tell a different part of the story."

"I—I just don't think this one has a happy ending," Stiles whispers. He feels like he's going to burst into tears at any moment.

"Son, I want to be very clear on this," his dad says, squeezing his shoulder. Stiles looks up, blinking and praying he doesn't lose it right here in the middle of his meatloaf. "There is no power on earth that could make me choose anyone's side over yours. In no situation, in no way, ever," he says firmly. "When this book cover closes, you and me are always going to be in that epilogue together. On the same page. You get me?"

He pauses, to make sure that part's sinking in, and Stiles nods carefully.

"I have absolutely no problem believing that Derek did a crap job handling this. He made some poor decisions, and it's clear that he didn't communicate well at all with you. Because of that, both of you—probably even the others in your pack—are hurting. And trust me, the dad in me is furious about that."

"But?" Stiles says, because he's pretty sure there's one coming, and so far his dad's been pretty much a champ in this situation and he figures he can take that one word off his plate.

"But…" his dad acknowledges how Stiles steps up with an appreciative nod, "I believe that he's head over heels in love with you, and was trying to do the right thing—by you and your family. And I think not factoring that into whatever decision you end up making would be a mistake."

He rises and pulls Stiles' dinner away without asking. Neither of them have finished their meals. Stiles helps, covering the plates in cling wrap for late-night microwaving ease while his dad clears the table.

"Dad?" His dad shuts the fridge on the last dish and leans against it, watching Stiles carefully. Stiles feels badly; it seems like he's put more lines on his dad's face just since last night. "Can I ask you something?"

"Always."

"What answer d-did you give Derek?" Stiles stammers. "About being with me?" His dad pulls him into a hug.

"You mean after I chewed him out for not talking to you first?" Stiles feels the smile against his forehead and nods against his dad's shoulder.

"I told him that I had a smart son who was ready to make decisions like that for himself."

"And?" Stiles prompts.

"And that I trusted him to do right by you, whatever the two of you decided." Stiles squeezes tighter.

"Annnnd?" Stiles repeats, looking up at his dad.

"And that there wouldn't be enough wolfsbane in the world if he ever made me feel I had misplaced my trust." his dad grins.

"That's my dad." Stiles laughs softly and steps back. There's still a Derek-sized hole in the middle of his chest, but he feels a million pounds lighter. "You uh, ready for that movie?"

"Nope, going to the station," his dad answers briskly, assembling keys and badge in the beginnings of his usual leaving-the-house routine.

"But it's movie night!" Stiles isn't even faking disappointment at this point. He'd really like some father-son time right about now.

"Son, between last night's thing with your meds—and we are so going to be talking about that in your very near future, don't even think you've gotten off the hook on that one—and tonight's angst-filled heart-to-heart, if Derek Hale isn't already standing on the porch freaking out when I open that door I'll eat my hat. I do not want to be here for that reunion."

Sure enough, Derek is quite literally shuffling from foot to foot on the welcome mat when his dad opens the door.

"Sheriff," Derek says, dipping his chin respectfully.

His dad shoots Derek a dark look.

"Don't fuck it up again, Hale," he growls. Stiles can't remember laughing at anything in the last few weeks, but the look of sheer terror on Derek's face actually has him holding it in.

"N—no sir," he stutters.

Stiles steps back to let Derek in, closing the door behind him. Paternally-induced panic aside, Derek looks like shit. His face is almost gaunt; if somebody told Stiles that Derek hadn't eaten or slept since that night in the pool he'd believe it instantly.

"I suppose you heard all that," he says, not doubting it.

"I—I tried not to, but—" Derek shrugs.

"I know."

"I was worried." Derek almost pleads to be understood, and Stiles hates it, hates seeing his grumpy, defensive sourwolf transformed into someone so broken.

"I know, it's okay, really. I'm not mad," he says, offering up a crooked smile that Derek drinks in greedily, staring.

"You hungry?" Stiles says. It's idiotic, but it's the first thing he could think of to say. Derek is already starting to shake his head, then stops, apparently reconsidering. His expression looks suspiciously like he's remembering getting instructions from someone, like maybe that he's supposed to be 'approachable' or something. Stiles suspects Lydia.

"I made meatloaf," Stiles cajoles, not about to surrender the advantage. "But you're supposed to cook ground beef well-done, so, you know, maybe not your thing."

"I could eat," Derek says, and his slow, hopeful smile immediately makes Stiles feel better than he has in weeks.

Derek sits at the table while Stiles makes a ridiculously huge plate and nukes it for a few minutes while he pours the biggest glass of milk he can find. Derek arches a skeptical brow at the mound of food placed in front of him.

"What? You're skinny!" Stiles says defensively and Derek raises a hand in surrender, digging in with a tiny smile. "Have you eaten anything?! I'm gonna kick your betas' asses when I see them next."

Derek smiles again (that's three, three smiles in five minutes and Stiles is now counting them with single-minded, Sesame Street determination) and shakes his head, digging in.

"They miss you," he says between bites.

"I know."

"So do I," he says quietly, glancing up at Stiles from under his lashes as he gulps down a good quarter of his milk. "Stiles…even if we aren't going to work…you belong with the pack. You are pack. They're miserable without you there."

Stiles is miserable too, and, judging by Derek's appearance, it's been a round-robin of misery for everyone. He doesn't know what to say to fix it, though, so he thinks back to his lessons, Derek's voice echoing in his head.

"Being pack means sometimes you don't have to talk at all. Just be with each other. Be happy, be sad. Hurt. But do it together."

Stiles stretches his arm out, lays it on the table-top. Reaching.

Derek reaches back, tentatively, thumbing the small bone on the outside of Stiles' wrist, the pads of his fingers seeking the pulse on the underside. Stiles feels it like a live wire, like Derek isn't just touching the surface of him, but his very atoms and molecules themselves.

Having physical contact with Derek again—and yeah, Stiles has to admit that part of it isn't only Derek, but the pull of the Alpha, too—after so long without is a nearly overwhelming high; if he could distill or grow or compound it somehow he'd be a drug cartel of one, the richest in the world.

"Are you okay?" Derek asks, eyes bright and wide on Stiles' face. "Last night…I could feel…"

"I know. It was close. But I didn't, just so you know. And I told my dad. But I know I made you worry. And the pack. I'm sorry—" Stiles apologizes, and Derek's grip tightens just a fraction.

"No, don't be sorry, I'm just...fuck. I'm glad you told your dad," Derek says, then sighs. "This is hard."

"Can't we just eat first?" Stiles says plaintively. He really does want to see Derek with a full belly when he leaves, regardless of what else ends up happening.

"We?" Derek asks, amused. On cue, Stiles' stomach growls loudly.

"Wow, you wanna try that again, little wolf? I'm not sure the pack heard that growl back at the house," he grins. (Four! Four smiles for Stiles, mwah-ha-ha!)

"Shuddup and gimme that spoon," Stiles grumbles.

Derek's smiles have warmed his belly, and he's suddenly ravenous. Derek laughs softly (five, mwah-ha-ha) and moves his chair closer, scootching the plate to middle distance between them and tangling their legs together under the table.

They eat in near-silence but it's a comfortable one. Stiles loses track of the smile-count after it hits double digits and they end up clinking flatware together as they go after the same stray kernels of buttery corn, knocking knees under the table. The meal's demolished in short order; they wash it down by sharing the same glass of milk. It isn't sexual in any way, and yet it feels like the most intimate thing Stiles has ever done.

He stands and Derek does too, pushing back his chair with an appreciative groan that makes Stiles smile. There's a tiny smidge of milk moustache in the corner of Derek's mouth that's tormenting Stiles. He can't decide if he wants to leave it there and let Derek look like a little boy after ice cream, or if he wants to lick it off and then continue to make his way into Derek's mouth.

"You wanna come upstairs?" he asks softly, finger catching in Derek's belt-loop.

"Very much." Derek leans in, like he's not close enough unless he's breathing in the same air that Stiles breathes out. Derek kisses his temple, hands light at Stiles' waist.

"Okay then," Stiles turns, not letting go of the belt loop, and leads Derek across the hall. He turns back and pauses at the bottom of the stairs. "You sure you wanna do this?" he says, jiggling the belt loop for emphasis.

Derek looks panicked for just a moment, but then he leans back to get a better look at Stiles as his eyes narrow suspiciously.

"Why do you ask?"

"I just thought you might be more comfortable going outside and climbing through the window, is all," Stiles says innocently. Derek growls.

"Stiles…"

"What?" Stiles shrugs, grinning. "Maybe you have, uh, stair-phobia. It's a thing."

"Move." Derek forcibly turns Stiles toward the stairs and crowds him right up the two flights to his room.

Chapter Text

They sit cross-legged and facing each other on Stiles' bed. A few minutes into their aimless chat, Stiles realizes he's finally given into his obsession, and is poking his finger into the hole in Derek's same worn-out jeans. He flushes and starts to pull away, but Derek stops him with a hand on his wrist.

"I—I like it," he says simply. "I like it when you touch me."

"Could have been touching a lot more, these last few weeks…" Stiles trails off as Derek flushes and sits up a little straighter, looking anywhere but at Stiles. "C'mon, man, you've got to know we're not going fix our shit without this conversation happening."

"I know," Derek says tightly. "But can't we just say I fucked up and let it be over already?"

"We could," Stiles says quietly, and Derek's head snaps up and he has a tiny gleam of hope in his eyes until he looks at Stiles. "And that would probably work, this time. But I'm more of a long-term-solution guy." Derek swallows but doesn't reply.

"Unless…" Stiles is suddenly terrified that he's misread everything and is asking for something Derek wasn't really putting on offer. He's ninety percent certain he's not. Okay, maybe eighty percent. For sure, a solid sixty-five.

"Unless what?" Derek really doesn't get it, is completely puzzled and that in itself is probably Stiles' answer and he doesn't need to really go any further, but now that he's planted that ten-to-thirty-five percent seed of doubt in his own mind about Derek's intentions, he discovers he really does need to hear it.

"Unless long-term isn't—"

"It is!" Derek snaps immediately. "Fuck, Stiles, I went to your dad. Your dad the sheriff!" he hisses. "You think I did that for a one-night-stand?" Derek looks more hurt than pissed, and Stiles feels a little guilty.

"Okay, okay," he says, "you're right. I—just—sometimes I like things a little more spelled out."

"I'm a crappy speller."

It's so endearing that Stiles struggles to stay on track; he just wants to gather Derek up and kiss the top of his head or something ridiculous like that.

"You should have talked to me first," he says instead, more firmly than he intended and he feels bad because Derek registers it immediately and flinches and Stiles was only speaking so sternly to keep himself on task, not Derek, and—

"I know. I'm sorry." Derek says and it's clear he's terrified that he's fucked up irreparably. Stiles can't stand that look on his face, hates it, never wants to see it again.

"I believe you, Derek. I…I just want to understand why you didn't, is all." Stiles moves closer, until their kneecaps are actually kissing each other, and lays his hands on Derek's thighs, just above his knees, squeezing softly. It grounds the both of them.

"I was sixteen," he says on a deep, shaky exhale, and Stiles knows immediately where Derek is going. He nods, to show he understands, but it's a little like Pandora's box because Stiles asked for it and he can tell that now Derek is just going to go ahead and open the lid and give it all up.

"With Kate. I was sixteen, and she was just a little younger than I am now, and I thought I was absolutely in love for life. I thought she was the best person in the world, the best person for me. I was so sure that I didn't even bother to get the opinion of anyone else I loved."

"Derek…" Stiles squeezes his legs again, butts his head gently into Derek's jaw like he's seen the betas do when they try to get him out of his own head, but Derek ignores it.

"I figured if…if your dad…if your dad looked at me and saw someone he'd trust—with you—then maybe it would be okay this time."

"You versus Kate…this isn't even an apples to oranges thing. It's more like—" Stiles struggles to find the most ridiculous analogy ever, "—it's like, apples to elephants. Not even remotely close. You know that, right?" he asks. "You believe it?"

"Yeah, I do, but that's not the point," Derek says stubbornly. "The point is that someone else believes it. Someone else that's not me or you."

"And now that you've gotten the stamp of approval?" Stiles asks, and maybe Stiles is actually the bad person in this whole thing, the one whose intentions are questionable, because he moves his hands ever-so-slightly more to the insides of Derek's thighs.

"I wouldn't go that far. It's not like he took me out to buy condoms or anything," Derek says. He's manfully trying to ignore Stiles' brazen hands, but Stiles sees his pupils widening.

"But I didn't come home to find you missing and a mysterious new plot of azaleas planted in the back yard, either." Stiles grins. "That's practically an endorsement in itself, trust me."

"If you say so." Derek laughs a little, and it's a real one because Derek's forced laughs don't crinkle his eye corners that way.

"Okay, so, to summarize—" Stiles ignores Derek's sardonic brow thing that's really hot, because he has a point to make. "—you aren't going to make decisions for me, about me, anymore."

He waits for Derek's nod, which is very cautiously surrendered. Stiles might be offended at Derek's hesitation, if he weren't running his hands up and down the inseam at the thigh of Derek's jeans. His motives probably deserve a little skepticism at this point.

"Agreed. And…?" Derek prompts, shifting carefully. Stiles very studiously does not look down.

"And I reward you with sex," Stiles confirms, leaning in to mouth along Derek's jawline.

"D—don't you feel like you're sort of—" Derek pauses to get in a kiss of his own, hands gentle on either side of Stiles' face, before pulling back to finish his thought. "I dunno, undermining your moral high ground with a deal like that?"

"Absolutely not. You got yourself a bedrock of morality here, buddy," Stiles says, licking into Derek's mouth in a decidedly immoral way. Derek's sudden sharp intake of breath at the touch of Stiles' tongue to his is followed immediately by a huff of laughter.

"If you say so…" Derek says, nipping at Stiles' earlobe.

"You disagree?" Stiles asks innocently, thumbing closer to the vee between Derek's legs.

"Not if it makes you stop…ahhh…doing that," Derek says wisely.

"But when considering my morality, the word 'bedrock' isn't what immediately comes to mind?" Stiles doesn't let it drop, sliding his hands up and under the hem of Derek's shirt.

"I was picturing something more like 'sinkhole', if you really want to know." Derek grins against the corner of Stiles' mouth.

"You're not right."

"Werewolf," Derek says succinctly, tracing the seam of Stiles' mouth with his tongue as he tugs Stiles closer.

And really, who can argue with that? Who in this room currently has the capacity to, for that matter?

Certainly not Stiles.

He knees himself up to straddle Derek, wrapping his arms around his neck and settling down with a soft groan. Derek's face immediately turns into Stiles' neck, his tongue tracing his pulse point as Derek softly rumbles against his throat. The noise goes straight to Stiles' dick, and he grinds down into Derek's lap as if someone pushed a literal button.

Derek's hands are more than willing to help, cupping Stiles' ass and helping to press him down against the hard line of his cock.

"Clothes…off," Derek growls, but he's kind of lost the plot himself, sticking his hands down the back of Stiles' jeans to get at his skin instead of doing anything to help move things along. Stiles is about to point this out, until the moment when one of Derek's hands slips into his crack and down and ohmyfuckinggod Derek's finger is—

"Derek." No response, just more teeth scraping at the point of Stiles' jaw and more rubbing against Stiles' hole. "Derek!"

"Mmmmm?" Derek answers, but doesn't stop…well, anything. He's still worrying at Stiles' neck and his middle finger is pushing with slightly more intent than it was just a moment ago.

"Derek, I am seriously about three seconds from coming in my pants," Stiles says, finally getting his hands up enough to push at Derek's shoulders and get his attention.

"Told you before," Derek laughs, "not worried about your recovery time."

"I don't want my first orgasm with you to be in my pants, okay?" Stiles' hands drop to Derek's belt buckle with a feverish fumble. "Someday, when we're stealing a quickie in the bathroom at Tractor Supply, fine. But not today."

"Why would we ever be in a Tractor Supply?" Derek pauses, brows knitting in puzzlement.

"So not the point, man."

That gets Derek's attention, and he finally withdraws his hands from inside Stiles' jeans, closing them instead over Stiles' where they tremble at Derek's waist.

"Where do you want your first orgasm with me to be?" he says softly. It's the dangerous sort of soft, the kind that lures you in and seduces you before you even know you're trapped. Derek's eyes are dark, slitted and gleaming, and Stiles is more than half-certain it's partly the wolf who's looking out at him.

It's too cunning to be purely human.

"I—I—don't…" Stiles stammers, and Derek shushes him with a finger to his lips, his other hand working Stiles' zipper down.

"Uh uh," Derek sing-songs, as he slips Stiles' cock free and strokes it too softly to do any good, "you know what they say. If you're not ready to say, you're not ready to pl—"

"In your mouth!" Stiles blurts, before he can change his mind and suddenly, he's on his back, Derek's full weight on his legs, pinning him.

Oh fuck, fuck he's dreamt of this, a million times, Derek on his knees, Derek on top of him like this, him kneeling over Derek's head. He's even imagined Derek underwater at the pool. In that one, Derek fishes Stiles' cock out of his trunks and holds his breath as he sinks beneath the surface, Stiles' balls heavy with their own ballast as he dicks deep into Derek's mouth.

And okay, maybe that last one is anatomically unlikely, even for a werewolf, but still. Fantasy. Derek's mouth on him is very, very much reality, however, hot wet heat and a slippery tongue sliding down, and tight lips sucking on the upstroke. Both of his hands shove Stiles' jeans down under the curve of his ass as he lifts Stiles up, closer to him, as if his nose could somehow bury itself any fucking deeper against the base of Stiles' cock each time he swallows him down.

When Stiles opens his eyes and looks, Derek is looking back up at him, rolling his own hips against the mattress where he lies between Stiles' legs. It's filthy, and from the eyefucking Derek's giving him, deliberately so. Unlike Stiles, Derek apparently has no compunction about coming in his own pants. Judging from the way he's humping the bed? After swallowing Stiles whole, it seems to be his only mission in life.

"Don't," Stiles groans, burying his fingers in Derek's hair and tugging to get his attention. Derek likes it, fucking loves it, if the way he sucks cock is any indicator. He gives up the hand-job-head-suck fusion he has going on, and just swallows Stiles down, and growls. The thrum of it vibrates from the center of Stiles out, like a pebble in a puddle, waves of arousal getting bigger and bigger as they radiate through him.

"Not…not you either," Stiles begs, even as his own hips jerk upward in uncontrollable response to the way Derek's throat is squeezing around him. Derek's hands press him back down. "Want you…want your come in me," he gasps, yanking Derek's hair again.

The symmetry appeals to him even though he knows that he should be beyond logical thinking at this stage. But Derek coming in his shorts when Stiles gets to empty himself into the most gorgeous mouth he's ever seen…it feels like Derek's getting cheated.

Derek's been cheated out of enough in his life, Stiles thinks.

Derek moans again, deep and long, and Stiles can't help it, can't hold back anymore and Derek doesn't make him. Instead, Derek's hands help him, they push Stiles up as he lifts and fucks himself up and into Derek's mouth.

It's rude, what he's doing, the way his cockhead thrusts into the Derek's soft palate, gagging him, the way his fingers tangle in Derek's hair and hold him there, the way he shouts and spurts without a single PC word of warning to the guy with your dick in his mouth, who maybe might not want to be water-boarded with your come.

Derek—completely unsurprisingly—doesn't give a damn about PC niceties. He sucks like Stiles' dick is a straw in his favorite milkshake, dark-stubbled cheeks hollowing around Stiles like it's his fucking job.

When Stiles softens in Derek's mouth he gentles, but doesn't release his cock until Stiles whines and bats at his head. Even then he doesn't retreat, face rooting around the base of Stiles' cock and under his empty balls, snorting great lungfuls of his scent and licking up stray droplets of Stiles' come.

"You…god, come up here," Stiles whines, tugging again at Derek's hair, but more gently this time. When Derek slides up Stiles can finally reach his pants, and works the button and zipper while Derek rucks up Stiles' shirt and sucks his nipple. Stiles shoves at Derek's clothing in return, briefs too with his jeans, all at once. When he gets them down far enough, Stiles squirms one leg between Derek's, hooking his foot into the crotch and kick-shoving them the rest of the way down to Derek's ankles.

*"That's…that's pretty impressive," Derek laughs a kiss into Stiles' mouth as he helps wriggle them all the way off. "You sure you haven't done this before?"

"Saw it in a porno," Stiles admits, lips curving where they press against Derek's. "Didn't think it would actually work. Now move."

Stiles pushes up and tilts them, tipping Derek onto his side so Stiles can get at his cock.

"Pushy," Derek grins, but only for a moment until Stiles' fingers close tentatively around him. Derek is steadily leaking pre-come; Stiles thinks reaching for the lube at this point would be insulting, possibly even some breach of werewolf sex etiquette, since Derek's cock is obviously working diligently to make sure things are nice and slippery.

Derek grunts, and it sounds encouraging, so Stiles continues to squeeze and stroke. Derek whips off his own shirt like it has personally offended him by staying present all this time, then gets to work on Stiles' clothes. Eventually he seems to realize that Stiles will have to stop stroking him for a moment if he wants Stiles naked, and he smacks Stiles' hand away, growling, and tugs Stiles' shirt off as fast as he can.

Instead of letting Stiles reach for him again, he jacks himself while he holds Stiles close with the other arm. Just the very tip of his cock brushes against the thin skin over Stiles' hipbone, leaving wetness behind each time it taps him. Stiles watches, sees how Derek is a little rougher than he was, committing it to memory.

He also sees something else.

"Is that—" Stiles stammers, "—is that a…ohmygod…"

Anyone who's seen dogs fucking (and come on, who hasn't googled that?) knows what that is.

Derek goes completely still, his own hand on his own cock squeezing too tightly to feel good now, Stiles is certain. His eyes are huge, shifting from Stiles to his cock and back to Stiles, shock and fear evident in his expression. Stiles gets the distinct impression that the shock is because Derek didn't expect this either, and the fear is because he's not sure what Stiles is going to do.

Well, fuck that.

"Can I?" Stiles breathes, leaning close. He doesn't know what he's asking for, and surely Derek can't either, but he still nods permission anyway. Stiles hears him draw in a sharp breath when he reaches out, but at the last moment Stiles shimmies down to where Derek's fingers are curled around himself, just above what is—irrefutably—a knot.

Derek is outright gasping for breath now. Stiles leans forward, delicately mouthing the knot, teasing it with his tongue. It's hard and hot and slick and swollen and suddenly Stiles just has to have it in him as fast as possible.

So he sucks, just puts his mouth as far around Derek's knot as he can, lays his tongue against it, and sucks. He immediately feels Derek yanking at his hair, hears him groaning and humping awkwardly into Stiles face and then everything is dark, and then everything is wet.

"F-fuck, Stiles, fuck!"

Derek is coming all over Stiles' face, has slapped his unoccupied hand over Stiles' eyes at the last moment and in the middle of scorching, kinky sex Stiles is overwhelmed with the simple gesture of protection. Because, yeah, a previous masturbatory mishap has proven that come in the eye burns like hell.

Derek moans, more of Stiles' name, more of sounds that Stiles is pretty sure come from the wolf side of things. But that's to be expected, he guesses, given the whole, well, knot aspect of things and evidence that Stiles is apparently way more than just okay with it.

He's a fan.

Derek's starting to come down, his movements slowing and his growls turning into something more like whimpers. Stiles tries to pull away but is stopped by a firm hand on the back of his neck.

"Be still," Derek says, voice shaky and rough.

I did that, Stiles thinks, I made him vulnerable, and he let me, and knowing it is almost as hot as the sex itself. He feels (because he still can't see) Derek fumble around the bed and then Derek's hand lifts away, one of their t-shirts carefully wiping at Stiles' face.

"Are you okay?" Derek's gruff, but that voice—the one that hides worry with the sound of sandpaper—is one Stiles is already intimate with. Stiles curls into him.

"I'm way past okay, buddy. I'm all the way over into the territory of excellence."

Derek huffs and, predictably, starts to lick at whatever remains on Stiles face and neck, and, ew, inside the whorl of Stiles' ear. Which sort of does it for Stiles, the ear thing, and he tries to communicate that by squirming closer.

Derek growls, a warning-but-not, the kind that means 'I don't necessarily disapprove enough to put a stop to this entirely at this time but know that there may be consequences'. Stiles has heard that one a dozen times at least, though generally while wearing more clothing.

"You can, you know," Stiles pants, staring down between them at where Derek's cock has not gone down at all, the knot if anything, more prominent. "I'm, I'm ready. I'm willing. Totally. I'm a first-class passenger on the willing train." Derek shakes his head, leans back away from Stiles.

"Are you sure?" I mean, it—you've already come, and it didn't help. It looks like you need to. Like maybe it hurts if you don't?"

The last is a question Derek doesn't answer right away. He just refuses to look Stiles in the eye and shakes his head again.

"That's…it's not time for that yet," he mumbles, folding himself down to lay his head on Stiles' chest. Stiles isn't even sure he means to, but his cock is rutting into the space behind Stiles' balls. And he's moaning.

"You can't be serious." Stiles is skeptical. "Because it looks like it's been time for a while now. Like, it might be time for it all night if you don't."

Derek huffs in annoyance, but somehow keeps petting and rutting while being frustrated with Stiles. Stiles thinks that's a good sign for him getting regular sex in the future, that sexy-type activities are not exclusive of Derek being annoyed with him. Because that would be a frequent cock-block, otherwise.

"I mean, you're too young," Derek says softly, licking Stiles' nipple like it might take the sting out of his words. "It's too soon."

Derek might know what he's doing at that, because Stiles is definitely distracted for a good five minutes by the burn of Derek's beard across his chest, and the hint of teeth around first one nipple then the other. His balls are soaked too; he can't imagine how much pre-come Derek is putting out, to make a wet spot that big in the sheets already.

"I'm not too young to fight, or die trying, but I'm too young for kinky werewolf sex?" Stiles complains, arching his back to emphasize his point.

Derek takes a deep, shaky breath and shifts to lie fully between Stiles' legs, wrapping his arms under him to cradle him at the small of his back. He rubs the sweat of his arousal from his face against Stiles' belly before staring up at him, dark eyes forlorn, resigned.

"It's not because it's kinky, Stiles," he says softly. "It's what it means."

"I don't know what it means, besides 'hot'," Stiles says. "And, possibly, 'ouch'," he admits after a beat. "But I'm okay with ouchyness. I trust you to balance it with the appropriate amounts of 'oh my god'."

Stiles puts all of his sincerity behind it, turns the Stillinski Brown Eyes of Capitulation up to full wattage. He looks at Derek's face, and can tell that Derek believes him, doesn't hear even the hint of a lie.

He can also tell that it doesn't matter.

"It means mate Stiles," Derek says softly. "It means forever."

Stiles is thrown.

"It…it does?"

Derek nods, a tiny, soft smile curving his lips. Stiles licks his own, struggling to find a thread to follow.

"How? How do you know?" he asks finally, laying a hand at Derek's jaw. Derek rubs into it before he answers.

"I don't," he says, then sees Stiles' expression, half-hurt and half confused. Stiles can't see it himself, of course, but it feels like his half-hurt, half-confused face.

"I mean, I do, I do, but—" Derek stammers, and then Stiles grins, slow and amused, and some of the tension drains away. Derek groans, dropping his face into Stiles' sternum, rubbing into Stiles' chest. Derek mumbles some more, and there's some stubble-burn inflicted as Derek noses around. Stiles finally can't wait anymore.

"So what did you mean?" he asks, genuinely curious. "That it's 'not you'?"

Derek takes a deep breath. This is clearly one of those topics that will require the expression of actual feelings while using full sentences, perhaps even a verbal paragraph or two. Stiles hums quietly to himself, petting Derek absently on his face and neck, generously allowing him time to collect himself.

Stiles is pretty awesome, really. It's no wonder he's good mate material.

"It's isn't me that chooses to knot a mate," Derek says finally. At Stiles' quizzical look he amends himself. "Not this me," he says.

"Come again?" Stiles asks, feeling a little lightheaded, because he thinks he's figured out the answer already.

"It's the wolf."

Yep. That's what he figured alright.

"I'm sorry," Derek says sincerely. "I know it's a lot to throw at you. I wasn't ready for this," he explains. "If I'd known it was going to happen, I'd have talked to you beforehand."

"How did you not know?" Stiles says. And then, because he's Stiles: "That there would be a knot?"

Derek glares at him, but Stiles just smiles winningly back.

"It's never happened before," Derek says. He shrugs, trying to inject it with casualness, but, whoa.

"But…at least…I mean, Kate…you loved her?" Stiles is breathless. Derek looks at him, gaze open and hard. Bitter.

"I did. My wolf didn't." Derek spits the words out. "I ignored the most basic part of me, the sharpest instinct I have and I didn't listen—"

"Derek, no, Jesus. C'mere."

Stiles reaches for him, pulls Derek up and down onto his body and tucks his face in against Stiles' neck, urging. Stiles thinks every calming, comforting word he can at Derek.

Forgiveness. Absolution. Understanding, acceptance, compassion.

Mercy.

He peppers the thoughts at Derek, hopes the words have smells and auras that he can sense and absorb, rubs his chin and jaw into Derek's scalp and his gentles his hands across the triskele.

Derek shudders once against him, a full-on body tremor, and then he breathes deeply against the pulse in Stiles' neck, in and out, scenting Stiles again and again. Stiles thinks love and worth and want at him as fiercely as he can, willing him to soak it up.

Then he thinks mine, and yours, and finally, mate.

Derek must get it, must get some of it at least. He sighs, presses an achingly gentle kiss to Stiles' jugular before rising up on his elbows to look down at Stiles.

"You were just a kid, Derek," Stiles says softly, now that he can see Derek's face again. "You couldn't have known. You were too young."

Instead of protesting and clinging to his guilt, or even looking relieved at Stiles' forgiveness, Derek just stares at him for a long moment, eyes tracing the contours of Stiles' face.

"Like you are now," he says sadly, pained by his own success at walking Stiles into his perfectly awful, perfectly inescapable verbal snare.

Cunning, cunning wolf.

Stiles wants a do-over, aches to take back those last words and say the same thing but better, smarter. But there's no way out.

"If that's true, Stiles? Then you can't know yet either, not for sure," Derek continues, driving his point home. Stiles opens his mouth to try anyway, but Derek covers it gently with his fingers, shaking his head.

"This is my line, Stiles," Derek says, and it's the most confident, the strongest he's sounded for a while now, so Stiles doesn't interrupt. "It's what I'm comfortable with. It's my line in the sand, and I'm not going to step over it, not matter what you say or do."

Stiles stares up at him, still stunned by finding himself in a trap of his own making. Derek knows it's forever, for himself. Stiles can tell by the little smile he had when he told Stiles what the knot means. The wolf knows. Stiles knows.

But Derek can't bring himself to believe that Stiles is certain. He isn't ready to. Not yet, anyway. Derek stares at him, waiting for a challenge, but Stiles doesn't give him one, and Derek continues.

"If you can't accept this, if you're going to fight me and tempt me and pick at me every time I turn around, then I can't be with you," he finishes. He's not angry, or defensive, or threatening. He's just, well, honest, and as clear-headed as Stiles has ever seen him.

Stiles has a flash of memory back to the earlier conversation with his Dad, and his Dad's reminder about how Derek's consent was as essential as Stiles'. And he wonders…wonders how much Kate pushed, how much she demanded and seduced and if she took what wasn't hers.

He wonders if Derek had ever really had the freedom to consent at all.

Suddenly Stiles is so fiercely proud of Derek that his chest aches with it. Finally, almost eight years gone, Derek has the good sense and the strength and the self-worth to take care of himself first.

"Okay," Stiles promises. He presses a palm up flat against Derek's heart. Hello, movie cliché, but it feels right so Stiles does it anyway. "I won't push."

Derek's face softens with relief, and he nods. A droplet of sweat falls from his hair onto Stiles' face, and Derek chases it with his tongue. It ought to be gross, but as usual Derek's intimately interested in anything that makes their smells combine, and Stiles has lost the ability to pretend it's not hot. He moans, turning his head into Derek, who's followed the drop down and is now sucking a bite onto the meat of Stiles' shoulder.

Stiles scrabbles a hand between them, purposeful and seeking. When he gets their cocks lined up, he arches up beneath Derek.

"C'mon, man…" Stiles gasps, and is immediately rewarded by a growl and the full weight of Derek grinding down into him. Stiles is fully hard again in an instant. Derek has never softened this whole time; he gasps and presses into Stiles, hips rolling with need.

Derek puts his mouth wherever it will reach, with seemingly no purpose beyond feeling and tasting Stiles' skin with his lips and tongue. He goes from biting Stiles' shoulder to licking his clavicle to sucking at the hinge of Stiles' jaw. Some places get a moan from Derek, some get a growl. There's even a whine when Derek rubs his face against his sternum. Stiles is fascinated by all the different sounds for all the different places; he wants to catalogue and diagram them and figure out a correlation.

Every few thrusts Stiles feels Derek's knot, either rubbing fiercely along Stiles' cock, or pressing down into the soft skin of Stiles' belly. Either way it feels so hard, so thick, that when he imagines that part of Derek inside him it makes Stiles' balls draw up so fast that he's dizzy.

"Derek! I…fuck, Derek—" Stiles tries to tell him he's there, he's gonna come, in case, in case—he doesn't know what in case, maybe if Derek knows he can do something, get something from it that will ease the wolf, but then it's happening and it's too fast, too late to do anything but burst with it.

Derek groans, rutting eagerly into the suddenly soaking wet space between their bellies. Stiles whines and just lets go, arms tight around Derek's neck, pulling his face down where Stiles can breathe right at him, rolling through his orgasm. He feels Derek tense and bow on top of him, then—

"Stiles!" Derek says, and comes.

Derek buries his face in Stiles' neck, mouth open and gasping his release against the sore place of a bruise he's already put there. They rut against each other, little frissions like earthquake aftershocks twitching at Stiles for a few more minutes.

It's a mess between them, and Stiles just knows that any minute now Derek is gonna be down there, sniffing and snuffling and licking. He feels his cock twitch once, valiantly, at the idea. Derek must feel it too. He raises his head a little, but instead of the amused, mocking eyebrow that Stiles is expecting, Derek looks…hopeful, like Stiles being ready to go again so instantly is exactly what he wants.

Or needs. Because now Stiles realizes that despite just coming all over Stiles a second time, Derek is still painfully hard, and still in possession of a very hard knot.

"Oh my god, Derek!" Stiles gasps, pushing up against Derek's chest. Derek looks glum, horny, and frustrated at the same time, which should be impossible to pull off, but somehow he does it. He raises himself up and off of Stiles. A few sticky, spider-webbish strands of come stretch between their bellies as he pulls away, gleaming silver in the moonlight that leaks through the blinds, before eventually snapping.

"Clearly something needs to happen here," Stiles insists, even as Derek shakes his head. They've somehow ended up facing each other, both of them kneeling on the mattress as if they couldn't have this argument lying down. Stiles feels their come cooling on his lower belly; Derek reaches out to rub his fingers in it.

"I said no, you…you're too…no." Derek looks as if he might burst at any moment. He palms Stiles below his belly button, pressing and smearing the come to stickiness, before licking his own hand spotless.

It derails Stiles for a minute, until Derek shifts again, his painful-looking cock bobbing heavily between his thighs.

"I understand, I swear. I'm not trying to do an end run around my promise," Stiles insists, squeezing Derek's shoulder for emphasis. "But what?"

Stiles stares at where the knot remains, the skin over it so tight it's almost translucent. He remembers all the admonishments from sex-ed; teachers, pre-scolding the boys against claiming physical harm from withheld sex and warning students that it was a lie.

It sure doesn't look like a lie right now.

"Maybe…your hand?" Derek is flushed and panting, leaning forward heavily, hands on his quads. But Stiles can see his face growing even redder.

"That—will that work?" Stiles stares, eyes ping-ponging from Derek's face to his cock to Stiles' own hand and back. "It'll help?"

"Yeah," Derek grunts. "It'll help."

"But…how do you know, if you haven't…"

Derek stares at him, wild-eyed, beads of sweat dotting his forehead, then back down to the swollen base of his cock. Stiles reaches out and closes his hand carefully around the steadily growing bulb on Derek's dick.

"I haven't! I told you I haven't!" he gasps, urging Stiles to squeeze tighter by wringing his own hand around Stiles'.

"Okay! Okay, but how do you know about this?" Stiles squeaks. He's staring too, can't quit thinking about how it would feel inside him—that hard, big, (scary-big) knot of cock. He bats Derek's hand away, making him groan unhappily for the three seconds that there's no pressure on his knot, but then Stiles has him to himself.

He strokes Derek a few times from tip to almost-base, tightening just above his knot but not slipping over it the way Derek so clearly wants him to, grunting and hipping up each time Stiles strokes down.

"I—" Derek ducks his head, gnaws with blunt teeth into the tendon of Stiles' neck, hips stuttering as he jerks his knot up against Stiles' grip.

"I—I may have watched some stuff," Derek admits, panting. Stiles puts his other hand on Derek's shoulder, holding him where he can get a good look at him, and gawks at him.

"Werewolf porn? Real werewolf porn? Wolf-on-wolf action?" Stiles narrows his eyes, squeezes Derek's cock meaningfully. "Wolf-on-human?"

Derek looks pained but he doesn't deny any of it, just glares and shifts his knees on the bed, trying to get more comfortable during what is clearly an unwelcome lull.

"So, all this time," Stiles says, "time during which, to be clear, you mocked me for looking for werewolf porn, it has actually existed?"

"Yes," Derek says tightly. He glances furtively at his own junk, currently being pleasantly—if not completely satisfyingly—squeezed by Stiles' left hand.

"There's, what? A Werewolf Sex Cabal? The Lupine Illuminati? They sponsor a secret, firewalled section of YouPorn where you need a member referral and a set of encrypted passwords that rotates daily?"

"Stiiiiles…" Derek whines, but Stiles is so not caving for that, mister.

"Oh, no. No way buddy. You are not holding out on me after this," he threatens. "As soon as you're done coming every milliliter of fluid from your body, you are gonna hook me up," Stiles commands. "Or else."

Stiles has timed his demands perfectly; Derek's balls are filling again, drawing up, and his cock is leaking steadily, pre-come dribbling down over Stiles' knuckles. Staring at the knot, and thinking about exactly why Derek's body thinks it needs that much slick, is mesmerizing.

Derek's cock is starting to swell even more at the base. It's like the knot has a mind of its own. Apparently—despite Derek's protests—the wolf has decided that it's in the presence of its mate and is determined that the knot do its duty.

"Yessss…" Derek hisses, "yes, okay, just—" he pauses, gulping air in and keening it right back out into Stiles' neck "—Jesus, Stiles, please…"

That breaks him, hearing Derek beg for release. Any resolve Stiles has been clinging to, to draw this out, to take Derek apart with literally his own bare hands, evaporates at the gravelly sound of that plea.

It's like flipping a switch, reversing polarity; now all Stiles wants is to drive Derek to orgasm as fast as it's inhumanly possible for him to get there.

Without warning him, Stiles sinks his tight, slippery hand down to press against Derek's knot. He pumps his fist against it a few times, tugging part-way up Derek's sheath and then butting back down to the knot, before—squeezing enough to make it feel like he's forcing it—he pops over the knot, fingers and thumb immediately ringing tightly below it.

Derek gasps and moans low and long, with what sounds like abject relief. Stiles jerks up against his knot repeatedly and squeezes, Derek's slick making it wet and lewd.

Derek is wrecked; non-verbal in the face of Stiles' obscene knotting simulation, groaning nonsense syllables in a haze of pleasure-pain. His hands reach out, trembling, and seize Stiles' forearm, not trying to guide him, but just seeking an anchor.

Derek tugs his cock back against Stiles' grip, breath hitching each time at the futility. Once. Twice. Both of their heads are bowed, foreheads leaning against each other as they stare in tandem at where Stiles' fingers cage Derek's swollen cock. Derek tests Stiles' grasp a third time, hips stutter-canting backward repeatedly as if to get away but Stiles' fist holds him in place, tying him with his hand.

"You're stuck," Stiles says, as Derek collapses back onto the bed, panting. "Knotted." Stiles drops to his side. keeping his grip tight. He's untouched, and yet he's achingly hard again too, all from watching Derek come unglued. It's all he can do to stay focused. Stiles props himself up on his elbow and slots himself against Derek's hipbone, hips rolling as he ruts mindlessly against him.

"So fucking dirty, Stiles, fuck—" Derek rasps. "Close, God so ready—"

"Buried so fuckin' deep," Stiles goads him to the edge, "tied to me."

He licks the words into Derek's mouth, Derek's lips bitten and open for him. Stiles is ready to come again, barely staying on this side of it, face hot with shame at the sound of his own smut, but he squeezes mercilessly, jerking against Derek's knot.

He wants to see Derek come undone first.

"Whatcha gonna do now, Alpha?"

Derek's entire body goes rigid, every perfectly cut muscle taut and gleaming with sweat. His eyes shift to red and Stiles shivers at the sudden glint of fangs. He's not sure if it's the wolf or the man who answers him.

"Breed," Derek snarls, and comes, howling.

Chapter Text

Stiles can feel Derek's heart thud, slow and sure under his ear. It's hypnotic, so much so that it takes a minute to realize Derek's talking to him and apparently repeating something that Stiles didn't catch the first time, so he makes a vaguely interrogative grunt in reply.

"I said…I have a question. About the weakness." That gets Stiles' attention, and he blinks and leans up on an elbow to listen. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing to talk about if you aren't looking the other person in the eye. Derek is staring, staring at him like everything is riding on this question. Stiles hopes like hell he's ready for it.

"Shoot," he says softly.

"Why? Why water? Why didn't you pick…" Derek stumbles and trails off, which makes Stiles' heart skip, because he realizes what's coming, what Derek wants to ask, but he also knows that Derek needs to say it, so he just waits while Derek collects himself and tries again.

"It should have been fire," he whispers, and Stiles can hear the tears in his voice before he sees Derek blinking them back so they can't fall.

"Why didn't you pick fire?"

Stiles has a million answers, from the simple to the complex. He could tell Derek the truth. He could tell him about the three—yes, three—pack meetings they had without him, and the painful, bitter arguments they all had about this very subject. He could tell Derek a lie, that he was too chicken to take that one on. (He wasn't.) Or Stiles could pass it off, deflect him by telling a joke and Derek would let him, if for no other reason than he didn't have the strength to ask that question more than once.

In the end, what Stiles tells Derek is a story.

"I heard my mom tell a story once about how she learned to swim."

And he's so glad he'd looked Derek in the eye for this, because there was that gaze, that pure, unwavering empathy that Derek's always had for him every time he's ever mentioned his mom. Even back when they were barely even frenemies. He feels Derek's hand tighten just a fraction where it rests on his hipbone, and continues.

"Her favorite uncle threw her in the deepest part of the lake when she was only ten, and waited for her to sink or swim," Stiles says bitterly. He feels rather than hears Derek stop mid-breath in shock.

"What happened?" he asks, nosing softly under Stiles' jaw. It was a very wolfy, comfort-y thing to do, and he doesn't even think Derek realizes he's doing it. Stiles is so absurdly in love right now he just wants to forget about everything and cling; he can barely find it in himself to finish his story.

But Derek is waiting.

"She figured it out, managed to dogpaddle and flounder to the shallows and climb out," Stiles says softly. Derek noses some more, exhaling sharply in a way that is clearly disapproval, but doesn't interrupt.

"Someone always ended up asking her to tell the story at family reunions, or Christmases, and she always would, and she'd smile, like it was funny, but I could tell…" Stiles chokes and stops, struggling.

"He wasn't her favorite uncle anymore," Derek whispers softly, and presses a kiss to Stiles' forehead, his hand squeezing the back of Stiles' neck.

"No," Stiles says, shaking his head. "No, he wasn't." Stiles looks up, finds Derek's eyes already waiting for him. "You shouldn't do something like that to someone you love," Stiles grits out, fierce and sure. "You shouldn't betray their trust."

"No, you shouldn't," Derek agrees, voice unsteady.

"You were thrown into the fire already, Derek," Stiles says hoarsely, and watches Derek's Adam's apple bob as he swallows. He wasn't, of course, not literally put into the fire, because Derek's still here and the rest of his family is dead. But he burns just the same, Stiles knows.

"You wanna walk back in someday? You tell me you're ready? I'll be right beside you."

"Okay."

Derek's voice has never been so small, his eyes on Stiles' chest and his head down, and he has to snap it back up when Stiles speaks again.

"But as long as I walk this earth, no one will ever put you there again against your will," Stiles promises.

"I mean it Derek. I mean it so hard."

Derek pulls him close, hands scritching in Stiles' hair and stroking aimlessly up and down his back for so long that Stiles feels himself falling toward sleep. Being petted by a werewolf is irresistibly relaxing. Unfair and underhanded. Probably banned by the Geneva Convention.

When Derek finally does answer, so much time has gone by that it startles him. Stiles had assumed he wasn't going to.

"I believe you," Derek whispers, leaning in and dropping the words into the shell of Stiles' ear, so intimate it's like Derek's voice is simply materializing in his head. It makes him tremble, full-body tremors which have him feeling ridiculous, but Derek just tucks him closer and pets some more. NBD.

"Damn straight," Stiles concurs finally, once his heartbeat steadies again, and steals a kiss. Derek's right there, after all. Who wouldn't? During which he yawns in Derek's face. Oh yeah, Stillinski. Smoooooth.

Derek snorts, laughing right into Stiles' open mouth and kisses back anyway, right through the yawn.

"Mmmmph. Can it be sleepy-times now?" Stiles punctuates the question with some nuzzling of his own.

"Absolutely," Derek agrees, folding himself and maneuvering both of them. Stiles is surprised to find himself on the other side of the spoon metaphor, Derek's hips wriggling back into his groin.

"I thought Alphas didn't little-spoon." He smiles into the space behind Derek's ear.

It's nice, being this for Derek. Stiles knows—despite the near-constant pull to curl into the Alpha for security that the pack always feels—he knows that he's tall enough, has the linear span to enclose Derek, if not the same breadth. He rubs his face into the back of Derek's neck, breathing and scenting like he's seen the wolves do (though never unto Derek. Not that.)

Stiles feels the wolf inside Derek twitch sharply but then subside, recognition calming it. He's pack. More than that, Stiles is mate; even if Derek won't let Stiles declare it yet, the wolf already knows. It's good to be trusted with this.

The knowledge that Stiles can feel that connection already, without being a true wolf himself, ought to be enough to prove to Derek that he's sure. But Stiles isn't going to pressure him. One day soon Derek is going to be ready to realize it on his own.

Stiles can wait.

"Too wiped to be the Alpha tonight," Derek mumbles. "Can I just be Derek?"

He laces fingers with the hand that Stiles has draped over him, working himself back even more snugly into Stiles' chest. His toes press into Stiles' shins, and he turns Stiles' palm upward to drop a moist kiss in its center.

"Absolutely."