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i.

Derek comes back to Beacon Hills after years of travelling. Comes back with his hair longer than he’s had it in his life and a beard that has overtaken his face. He hardly recognizes himself these days.

He’s only just set foot in the loft, only just put his bag down and taken a minute to glance wordlessly around the place he’d briefly called home, when the door slides open and his living room is filled with people; some he barely recognizes, some he doesn’t at all.

And one he’d know anywhere.

The pack has grown since he’d last seen them, in every way. There are nine now, and none of them children. Stiles is no exception, his face sharp and tired and grown, but still achingly familiar though he’s changed so much; a body that finally caught up to the size of its’ frame.

He supposes it’s his own fault for not assuming they would come. Should’ve figured they’d have some kind of alert system in place. And still, Derek is so caught off-guard by their sudden appearance, it doesn’t even occur to him that they may not know him on sight, that he’d need to defend himself.

He finds himself flat on his back in a matter of seconds, the Alpha’s hand around his throat before he even knows what hits him, and Derek is grudgingly impressed at his speed.

“What do you want with Derek Hale?” Scott snarls down at him, eyes blazing red. It’s a clear display of power; threatening, but calculatedly so; control finally mastered after all these years. His claws and fangs aren’t even extended.

Derek feels a small surge of pride.

“Aw, man, are we killing someone today?” asks one of the new ones, sounding mildly put out. “Because I am not wearing the right shoes to go traipsing through the woods at night to bury another body, okay? I like these ones too much, Scott. They’re new, and expensive.”

“Shut up, Mason,” someone else grumbles, “If I have to dig, so do you.”

Derek snorts, in spite of himself.

So maybe they are still children, despite appearances. It’s almost a relief.

Stiles approaches at the sound of Derek’s amusement, hovering a few feet behind his best friend and studying the stranger on the floor through narrowed eyes. Derek thinks, for one agonizing moment, that Stiles won’t recognize him either, won’t see him.

But not even a second has passed before his eyes widen almost comically and he surges forward, shoving Scott off of Derek. “It’s him you, jackass; get off.”

Scott looks doubtful, but he lets Stiles move him, eyes shifting back to their natural brown. He regards Derek skeptically. “Are you sure?”

Derek doesn’t blame him. He’s seen better days.

Stiles just gives Scott a look in response and turns back to the man on the floor, offering his hand. Derek only considers it for a half-second before accepting it and letting Stiles help him to his feet. He expects the boy – man, now, maybe – to let go once he has, but Stiles was always unpredictable at best.

He yanks Derek forward easily, stronger than Derek is anticipating, and pulls him into a tight hug, not seeming to mind that Derek’s arms hang awkwardly in the air around him.

“You’re back, I can’t believe you’re back,” Stiles breathes, face planted firmly into Derek’s shoulder. Relief and happiness are pouring off of him in waves, and it’s another thing Derek hadn’t been expecting; someone to be genuinely glad of his return. He slowly relaxes into Stiles’ embrace and gruffly pats him on the back, letting his guard down the way he always does, eventually, around Stiles.

He pulls away suddenly, too soon for Derek’s liking, and holds him at arm’s length, looking annoyed. “What took you so long?”

Derek barks a laugh and rolls his eyes, going without a fight when Stiles tugs him back in. Stiles is pulled out of his arms, too soon, maybe, and replaced by Scott, Lydia, Isaac, Kira; briefly by Malia, the cousin he’d barely had a chance to know.

A man he belatedly realizes is Liam, the little bottle of rage he’d briefly tried to help Scott train back in the day, gives him a firm handshake and an easy smile. He steps back and a woman he doesn’t know—wolf, he notes—wraps her arms around his waist, matching silver bands glinting on their ring fingers.

The one who’d spoken earlier, worried about his shoes, waves somewhat sheepishly from Liam’s other side, and Derek is starting to remember him, too, running around with Liam when they were younger.

Liam and his wife and best friend take off soon after that, but the others stay and make themselves comfortable, harass him into telling them what he’s been doing these last eight years, order food and take over his apartment before he can even consider settling in.

Stiles stays beside him the entire night, staring more often than not, as if reassuring himself that Derek is really there. He seems reluctant to let Derek out of his sight, even for a moment. He follows Derek to the kitchen when he goes looking for somewhere to put the drinks that came with the take out. Derek doesn’t have the heart to tease him about it. Can’t really, when he feels the same.

He finds some glasses in the cupboard, dusty but still in good use, and rinses them out, figuring if anyone was opposed, they could always go home and use their own damn dishes. Stiles wraps his arms around Derek from behind suddenly, just holding him, and Derek stills, the glass he’d been washing nearly slipping from his fingers.

“I know I’m being weird; I’m just really glad you’re back,” Stiles mumbles against his shoulder.

Derek lets out a tiny, amused huff and sets the cup down, patting Stiles’ hand. He means to let go, but for whatever reason, finds his fingers settling and curling around the boy’s wrist instead.

The little smile Stiles gives him before they return to the others tells him that he understands.

-

Stiles falls asleep on Derek’s shoulder sometime around midnight, snoring and drooling the tiniest bit, but strangely Derek doesn’t mind much. He catches himself nodding off right alongside him more than once.

It’s near one when Lydia finally stands.

“We should let Derek get some sleep,” she says with the hint of a smile. He looks at her gratefully, but his thanks die in his mouth when she follows that up with, “Who knows, maybe if we’re lucky he’ll even have time to remove that dead thing on his face before he goes to bed.” She grins as Derek strokes his beard protectively.

Stiles wakes just enough to mumble an indignant, “Hey, leave Derek and his beard alone. I like it.”

Scott rolls his eyes, muttering, “Yeah, well, you would.” It’s pointed, accusing almost, and Derek is abruptly confused.

Stiles is looking more alert by the second, face slowly turning red. He avoids meeting Derek’s questioning gaze, manically agreeing that it’s time for them to get going. Derek decides to leave it alone.

They give Derek smiles and hugs and kisses on the cheek, respectively, as they file out. Stiles is the last to leave, lingering at the door, smiling at Derek goofily.

Derek presses the corners of his own mouth down. It’s harder than it should be.

“What?”

Stiles ducks his head, trying to hide his smile. “Nothing,” he says, unconvincing. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“You said that already,” Derek points out, but the smile wins out, his eyes crinkling with it, despite his best efforts. He pretends he doesn’t hear the way Stiles’ heartbeat falters and picks up because it’s the polite thing to do and he’s not really sure what to do with that information.

“I know,” Stiles manages after a beat, with a little roll of his eyes, “I just—” He cuts himself off, shaking his head, and moves in for another quick hug.

He tugs lightly on Derek’s beard as he pulls back. “Night, Sourwolf.”

Derek snaps his jaws in annoyance and Stiles runs away, laughing, before he can retaliate.

Later, when he’s unpacked the essentials and showered, Derek cuts his hair and shaves the beard down to stubble, the way he used to when he cared. He studies his reflection a while. He still barely recognizes himself.

-

“Well, holy shit,” Stiles whistles lowly when Derek grumpily opens the door the next morning. “Your face is still- wow,” he finishes lamely.

Derek lifts an eyebrow and he backtracks.
“I mean, don’t get me wrong, you looked good with the beard, but- Just. Good job,” he manages, giving Derek a goofy smile and an awkward thumbs up. “Good job on the face.”

Derek laughs, albeit reluctantly. It’s too early, only six in the morning for Christ’s sake; no normal person is up at this hour without reason and Derek does not have a reason. But still, he can’t feel as irritated about being woken up at such an awful hour, not with the way Stiles keeps smiling at him.

Stiles magically produces a couple breakfast burritos from the little brown bag Derek hadn’t noticed him carrying, lightly complaining about not having factored in Derek’s lack of coffee to the morning. He leaves for work, the true reasoning behind the early house call, and comes back at a quarter to five with a coffee maker that has Derek, on sight, resigning himself to reading a manual, and a five pound bag of Kona.

Stiles just grins when Derek lifts a questioning eyebrow, and says, “Trust me. You’ll need it.”

Derek believes him, strangely enough.

ii.

It becomes something of a routine.

Stiles shows up daily—sometimes several times a day if he has to work or tend to his other friends (in which case, he leaves for a while, coming back with fond eye-rolls and talk of clinginess). Stiles hugs him in greeting and in farewell, and, at times, for no discernible reason at all. Scott and the others hug him now, too, though far less than Stiles. It’s a lot to get used to after being on his own for so long.

He hasn’t really been alone, not the entire time, anyway. He had Braeden briefly, and after they parted ways, he stayed with Cora and her pack a while. He’d spent the following years moving around, going places he’d always wanted to go, working through his issues and traumas, learning to accept and love himself, to stop blaming himself for the things that happened when he was a child.

He still does despite everything, but he doesn’t feel that all-encompassing self-loathing so much anymore, and it took years to get to that point.

-

Derek shuffles to the door, eyes still partially closed, and thinks that whoever’s knocking on his door at three o’clock in the morning better have a damn good reason. (He knows exactly who it is.)

Stiles is waiting on the other side, humming under his breath, a pink bakery box in hand. He looks happy to see Derek, if exhausted, uniform rumpled from a long day at work. His smile becomes contrite as he takes in the wolf’s bleary state.

“Sorry,” Stiles says sheepishly. “I just got off work and for some reason I assumed you’d be awake, too. My bad, homie; I forget you’re old now.”

Derek crosses his arm and leans against the doorframe. It’s less to appear menacing and more the result of sheer exhaustion. Maybe he has gotten old.

“Oh, I’m sorry for not sensing your imminent arrival and failing to have the house prepared,” Derek replies. Sarcasm is becoming second nature again, undoubtedly the result of spending so much time with Stiles. “Someone woke me up at five a.m. yesterday expecting me to entertain them because they just couldn’t sleep anymore, and then had me spend the afternoon helping his parents move into their new house while he took a nap.”

Sure, the Stilinskis had packed up their belongings, but Derek had almost single-handedly loaded and unloaded the moving truck, hauling boxes up and down stairs and into the rooms in which they belonged. He wasn’t sore, exactly, but he could feel a phantom ache in his lower back where the pain would’ve been if he were human.

Noah had tried to slide him some cash for his trouble, and Derek had predictably refused. He doesn’t need it, for one, and he wouldn’t accept money from Stiles’ dad even if he did. Melissa had insisted on feeding him though, the best home-cooked meal he’s had in a long while, and sent him home with lots of leftovers, making Stiles promise to bring him over more often.

Stiles sighs at him heavily, eyes rolling backward in his head. It’s been less than a day, and already this argument is old.

“I told you, Derek, I can’t do any heavy lifting; I rolled my shoulder the other day when I was arresting a bad guy. You’re welcome for making this town a safer place, by the way.”

Derek doesn’t dignify that with a response.

“Besides, I don’t hear you complaining about Scott not helping and they’re his parents, too,” Stiles points out. “Just because he was out doing an ‘emergency procedure’ on a ‘schnauzer’ that got hit by a ‘car,’” he scoffs. “And somehow I’m the selfish one.”

Derek continues to stare at him impassively.

Stiles makes a face and starts whining, “I’m sorry I fell asleep, okay? I was tired; I woke up at five!”

Derek’s gaze flattens. He takes a step back and begins to close the door in his face.

Stiles wedges his boot in the doorway, visibly trying not to laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I can’t help it sometimes. You’re just so cute when you’re mad.” He grins at Derek, head resting against the wooden frame. “Come on, man, you might as well let me in. Don’t make me stay outside your house all night, testing my sirens.”

Derek gives no sign of stopping. Either Stiles will remove his foot or Derek will remove the foot for him. Permanently.

Stiles looks down in alarm. “Hey, hey! I brought you doughnuts.”

Derek stops trying to take Stiles foot off and rubs a hand over his face tiredly. “This feels like coercion.”

“Glad we’re on the same page,” Stiles agrees cheerfully, clapping Derek on a weary shoulder and elbowing his way inside.

Derek slides the door closed behind him with a sigh. At least the little punk had brought donuts. Ironic, considering his occupation.

He’d grown anxious when he first learned that Stiles had decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, and tried to hide it, getting angry at himself. What right did he have to worry after he left for so long, going years without a single word?

He had reason to leave, good reason; any sane person probably would have cut their losses years earlier. But despite all of the terrible things that had happened there, Beacon Hills was his home, the place he grew up and the place he planned to die, just as the rest of his family had. He just had to get out of there for a while; heal. Little had he known he’d be healing for eight years.

Despite his best effort, Stiles had seen his reaction, and instead of laughing or pointing out that Derek had no right to be upset, he had placed his hand on Derek’s leg, patted it comfortingly, and said, “Don’t worry; that’s why Dad made Kira my partner. She doesn’t let me get into to trouble, no matter how much I try.”

He always could read Derek better than anyone else.

“Star Wars marathon, fuck yeah,” Derek hears Stiles say from the living room, and then, “Dude, you have any more of that pollo asado Mel sent home with you yesterday?” His pronunciation is clumsy, at best, but Derek still finds himself smiling. He realizes with some alarm that he finds it... cute. Adorable might actually be more fitting. Huh.

“Promise I won’t talk through the entire movie,” Stiles wheedles, taking his silence as refusal. “I’ll do your laundry for a week. Two weeks! I’ll sit here quietly and let you go back to sleep. I’ll rub your feet. I’ll draw you a bath. I’ll—”

As amusing as it would be to see just how much Stiles is willing to offer him in exchange for some, admittedly, amazing food, Derek cuts him off.

“I’ll make a plate for you, just shut up already.”

“You’re the best,” Stiles calls. “Maybe a couple tortillas, too? And those beans I know she sent with you? With just a smidge of rice and salsa on the side? Thanks!”

Derek rolls his eyes, inexplicably fond, and goes to fetch the poor, starving man on his couch some food.

-

He becomes accustomed to being woken at odd hours. He gives Stiles a key, eventually, if only to get a few more minutes of sleep before Stiles comes crashing upstairs to jump on his bed and bother him until he gets up. He doesn’t hate it as much as he could.

This time, Stiles lands on one of Derek’s legs. Derek tries to kick him off half-heartedly and gives up. Stiles isn’t budging and he’s too tired to make him.

“Kira and Malia want us to go out drinking with them tonight,” Stiles says by way of greeting.

It had come as a surprise, learning his cousin was dating the kitsune, but not an unpleasant one. Malia is different now. Softer, more open. Still blunt, unfortunately so at times, and ruthless when it comes to combat, but she seems more at peace with herself, and that’s what matters.

Derek groans internally. “Not that shady shifter bar they keep talking about.”

“Mm. The very same,” Stiles says, words muffled.

Derek lifts an eyelid to glare at him. “How many times do I have to tell you to stop bringing food into my bed.” Derek hears the lie coming before Stiles even opens his mouth.

“Last time; swear.” He takes another bite of his Danish. He notices Derek scowling at him and blinks owlishly, glancing between the werewolf and his pastry. He sticks it under Derek’s nose. “Want some?”

Derek rolls his eyes and accepts, making sure he takes a bigger bite than strictly necessary and giving a warning look that tells Stiles he’d better not complain. Stiles just grins and pops the last bit of Danish in his mouth.

“Thought you had to work tonight,” Derek grunts.

“Switched my shift. Is that a yes?”

“I guess,” Derek grumbles, “If we have to.”

“Good, because I already told them yes and I didn’t really feel like spending the entire day trying to persuade your grumpy ass,” Stiles says, eyes on his phone screen as he taps out a message.

Derek’s expression darkens. “You little-”

Stiles dives off the bed with a cackle before Derek can grab and strangle him.

-

The bar’s not as bad as he’d been expecting. It’s a dive, sure, but that just means the drinks are cheaper. Plus, it’s a space made specifically with their kind in mind, in the middle of nowhere, so Derek doesn’t have to worry too much about the moment one of them inevitably gets too drunk and does something that no human being should be able to do.

He, Malia and Lydia start the night off by doing a line of shots, three each, which is about the point Stiles realizes he’s expected to play DD tonight.

“Should’ve probably guessed when the words ‘shifter bar’ started getting thrown around,’” Stiles says ruefully. “That’s my bad, I guess, huh,” he says, smiling and nudging Derek and Derek laughs harder than is probably necessary, already feeling the alcohol’s effects.

Lydia buys him another round.

At some point, Parrish joins them and Lydia and Kira decide they want to dance. Derek shakes his head fondly as Kira stumbles around the small dance area with his cousin, both of them laughing uncontrollably, and tries to figure out how she’d gotten so drunk, so quickly.

Derek is on his way there, too, but at least it isn’t from a single coke and whisky. He’s still in that float-y stage where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.

It ends too soon.

He notices her sizing Stiles up from across the bar, gaze definitely interested, and has to fight down a snarl. The shame follows quickly. It’s not his place to try and keep anyone away from Stiles. Stiles is a grown man; a police officer, and most importantly, Stiles isn’t his.

Derek smiles absently, eyes on his drink, as Stiles talks about some pool they have going at work— apparently they were taking bets on how long it would take Greenberg to make his first arrest, now he’s officially off desk duty (Stiles is betting three weeks and that he’d somehow manage to harm himself in the process; Derek has met Greenberg a couple times, and it’s not unlikely.)

It’s not long before she’s coming over and introducing herself. Vanessa. Derek decides he’s never liked the name.

Derek is graced with a perfunctory glance as Stiles offers up both of their names in return, but he smiles politely and hopes Stiles can’t see the tension rolling off of him. He doesn’t trust her, and it doesn’t take him long to realize it has nothing to do with whether or not she’s an actual threat. He just doesn’t like how she holds Stiles’ attention, doesn’t like the way they smile at each other and speak as if they’ve known each other for years.

He sticks around as long as is strictly polite and then excuses himself with the lame excuse of checking in on their friends, who are now very poorly playing pool at a table in the back of the bar.

Stiles seems put out for a moment, but he only smiles cheerfully and says, “Hurry back.”

Derek watches a while as Lydia and Malia play eight ball against their respective dates, until he grows tired of being the dragging fifth wheel to two such happy, healthy couples, and goes looking for another drink. He settles at the opposite end of the bar and orders a beer, staring oh, so subtly at the back of Stiles’ head as he and his new friend laugh and talk.

Three beers later, Vanessa finally looks away from Stiles long enough to catch sight of Derek, drinking alone, watching them like a sad loser. He looks away too slowly to even pretend he hadn’t been.

She leans in and says something to Stiles, nodding in Derek’s general direction. Stiles glances over his shoulder and double-takes.

He shoots Derek a quizzical look. What are you doing over there?

Derek lifts his drink, the gesture somehow sarcastic, and takes another long swig. Stiles’ gaze drifts downward, almost seeming to follow the movement of his throat, but snaps back up so quickly, Derek is sure he’d been imagining it.

Stiles jerks his head toward the empty seat to his right with a roll of his eyes and a smile tugging at his mouth.

But Derek really doesn’t need to be around to witness, first-hand, the beginnings of this particular relationship. It’s bad enough having to see it from his current seat.

“I’m good,” he mouths, downing the rest of his drink and signaling to the bartender for another.

Stiles’ smile dims and he looks...hurt. Just for a split second and then it’s gone. He lifts his eyebrows good-naturedly, suit yourself, and turns back to Vanessa.

Derek watches them fall seamlessly back into their conversation, the uncomfortable tightness in his chest growing until he has to force himself to look away. He focuses on the lone flat screen mounted above the bar and pretends to be interested in whatever game they have on at the moment, though he couldn’t care less.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watches as Vanessa moves closer to Stiles, putting a hand on his arm, and then Malia is stepping in his field of vision, Kira and Lydia and Parrish in tow, yelling about doing more shots. Derek takes another look at Stiles and Vanessa, heads bowed together, and decides he’s one hundred percent on board with that.

They order drink after drink after drink, until things start getting fuzzy around the edges and room is spinning idly and he can barely recall what had been bothering him so much in the first place.

He blinks and his cousin and the others have disappeared, though he can hear their drunken laughter somewhere in the room. He blinks again and Stiles is at his side, sighing and taking the drink Derek hadn’t even realized he was holding out of his hand and setting it on the bar.

“Come on, big guy, I think it’s time to call it a night.”

Derek nods numbly and pats Stiles’ cheek, jerking back in surprise when he sees the contrast of his hands, strange and ugly and clawed, against Stiles’ soft, pale skin.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, hurriedly sticking his hands back at his sides and out of sight.

“For what?” Stiles asks curiously.

“That I’m like this.” He means shifted, mostly, but in a way, it also feels like he’s apologizing for his entire existence.

“Don’t be,” Stiles says simply. “I like how you are.”

And even though he knows Stiles doesn’t mean it like that, he feels a crinkly smile overtake his face, undoubtedly stupid-looking in his current half-shifted state, but he can’t find it in him to care.

Stiles looks at him disbelievingly, turning red.

“Aw, come on.”

Derek hears him grumbling under his breath as he sinks down into the seat beside him, only catching the odd phrase; like, “doesn’t even have eyebrows,” and “the freaking sideburns” and “what’s wrong with me?”

Derek looks at him confusedly, but Stiles just shakes his head and flags down the bartender.

“Can we get a couple glasses of water, please? Big ones. A round for those idiots, too,” he adds, gesturing to their friends, back on the dancefloor, still standing by some miraculous force, though it looks as if that could change at any moment.

Stiles keeps looking over at him while they wait, smiling and reaching up to touch the hairless ridge of his brow or tug at his sideburns. Derek can’t even pretend to mind.

The bartender sets two large waters in front of them and Stiles pushes the extra one over to Derek, too.

“Drink up. I’m not a hundred percent sure I can carry you all the way to the car and I really don’t need my pride wounded any more today than it already has been.”

Derek doesn’t completely understand what he means by that, but he sips his water obediently.

“Where’d your friend go,” he asks a few minutes later, super casual-like.

Stiles aims a small smile at the bar. “I don’t know. Home, I guess.”

Derek frowns into his water, hating the voice that pops up in his head saying Stiles probably has plans to meet her there later.

“You get her number or something?” he grunts.

“Nope,” Stiles says easily. 

“Oh.”

Derek looks down.

“I didn’t mess it up for you, did I?” he asks, quiet.

Stiles laughs like he’s remembering a private joke.

“In a way.”

Derek is hit with a fresh wave of shame. “Sorry.”

Stiles just stares at him, smile softening. “I’m not.”

Derek hides his red face in his last cup of water.

He loses some time and before he knows it, the cup is empty and Stiles is putting a tip down for what has to be the world’s most patient bartender and getting to his feet.

“Alright, ready to go?”

Derek nods woodenly and allows Stiles to help him from his chair. He’s a little wobbly on his feet, which is probably why Stiles just laughs at him before grabbing Derek’s arm and putting it over his shoulder. Derek isn’t sure how they make it to the parking lot; he certainly isn’t being any help.

Stiles props him up against the car while he gets the door open.

“Where’s everyone else?” Derek asks, once he’s in his seat and safely buckled in courtesy of Stiles. (He’d tried arguing that it wasn’t necessary, but Stiles had just fixed him with a stern look and said, “Cop, Derek.” And that had been that.)

Stiles chuckles. “Scott’s on his way to pick them up, remember?”

Derek vaguely recalls listening to Stiles argue with Scott about coming to help him because, “all four of them are completely shitfaced, dude — Oh, oh, cause it’s just that easy, right? — I’ve yet to see you make Malia do anything she doesn’t want to do when she’s sober. And let me tell you, Scott, she is not sober and she does not want to get in this car. — No, I’m taking Derek home; the rest of them are your responsibility. — Well, tough titties, bro. I have my priorities; you have yours. — I know you are, but what am I? — Yeah, whatever, shithead. Love you, too.”

“Oh, yeah,” Derek says sheepishly.

They drive in silence for a while, Stiles’ off-key humming lulling him to the edge of sleep.

“Are you gonna pass out on me?” Stiles asks him, glancing over concernedly.

“No,” Derek lies, sinking down more comfortably in his seat and letting his eyes slip closed just for a moment.

A bony finger jabs him in the shoulder and Derek grunts in mild annoyance, swatting at it seconds too slow.

“Dude.”

“Hmm.”

“Derek, wake up.”

“Yeah.”

“Derek,” Stiles whines. “You promised you wouldn’t fall asleep.”

Had he? When?

“Shh,” Derek mumbles, “Just for a second.”

Stiles huffs. “Fine. But don’t get mad when I leave your furry ass inside this car while I sleep in your nice, warm bed.”

Derek would laugh, but it seems like too much effort at the moment. “You wouldn’t do that.”

Stiles sighs. “I know,” he says glumly. “I hate you.”

The corners of Derek’s mouth twitch. He falls asleep before he can call Stiles out on the lie.

-

Derek wakes with a hangover for the first time in his life and decides that humans are stupid for doing this to themselves, voluntarily and repeatedly. It’s a struggle, crawling out of bed and getting clothes together for a shower, but he manages somehow.

After he’s showered and clean, mouth minty and no longer tasting of death, Derek trudges downstairs in search of coffee. Instead, he finds Stiles passed out on the couch, one half of his body balanced precariously at the edge and the other contorted in a way that is not at all endearing.

Derek’s cheeks warm as he begins to remember Stiles helping him up the stairs, despite his many insistences that he wouldn’t, and tucking him into bed. He gets distracted, watching Stiles’ chest rise and fall, fingers twitching restlessly, and trips over the rug Lydia had brought him last week that he keeps forgetting about. He curses loudly, arms swinging out to stop himself from falling on his face.

Stiles bolts upright, looking more alert than he has any right to be. He catches sight of Derek, arms out in front of him, frozen, and grins.

“Why, good morning, princess. I went to check on you a little while ago, but you were still out so I went back to sleep. The coffee’s ready to go, though, all you have to do is turn it on. Oh, and I went out and picked up some bagels from that place you like. They’re not super fresh anymore, but I have a feeling that doesn’t matter to you right now.”

It does not. “You’re the fucking best,” Derek mumbles, stomach growling, and follows his nose to the bag Stiles had placed in the microwave and nearly cries, they smell so good. He pops a couple in the four-slice toaster Stiles had bought for “convenience” (the impatient little bastard) and leans against the counter.

Stiles laughs. “Don’t I know it,” he says dryly, joining Derek in the kitchen and hopping up on the countertop beside him. “How you feeling?”

Derek ducks his chin and grumbles about the headache he’d woken up with as he prepares his and Stiles’ bagels. It’s already faded, for the most part. A little bit of coffee and he should be fine.

“Cool, cool, cool, cool. Hey, so uh, how much of last night do you remember?” Stiles asks, fingers drumming nervously on his legs. Derek notes with interest, too much maybe, that Stiles has gotten ahold of a pair of his sweatpants.

“Things are pretty foggy after we left the bar,” Derek admits, ears burning. “Why? Did I-” he hesitates. “I didn’t say or do anything bad, right?”

Stiles laughs, though it sounds a little off to Derek. “Nah. Nothing bad. Anyway, Scott’s mad because Parrish puked in his car last night and he’s choosing to blame me, for some reason.”

“Gee, I wonder why,” Derek says dryly.

Stiles scoffs indignantly. They spend what’s left of the morning bickering and eating all twelve of the bagels Stiles had picked up for them.

-

Stiles talks him into going out again the following weekend. Derek’s stupid, too.

-

One night, when his tongue is loose from too much wolfsbane-laced beer, a gift from his cousin, Derek asks Stiles why he hasn’t settled down yet.

He knows there’s been people. Lydia, for one. Stiles had admitted that they’d dated for a little while towards beginning of college, but had quickly realized they were better off as friends. Derek had been irrationally irritated with Lydia for a few days after that, but she hadn’t taken it to heart. In fact, Derek got the impression that she’d found the sudden chill amusing.

Stiles just shrugs and looks away, saying, “I don’t know. I’ve dated around, I guess, but I’ve kept it casual, for the most part. No one ever really fit. You know?”

And Derek does.

After Mexico, after dying and being reborn and saying his goodbyes, he felt different. Lighter. Like there wasn’t as much guilt and anger weighing him down inside. It made it easier to form casual relationships, a luxury in which he hadn’t really allowed himself to indulge before. And it was good, great at times, but they were flings, not anything that was meant to last.

He catches himself thinking that if it were Stiles, maybe it would, and decides it’s time to stop drinking.

Stiles pouts when he announces they’re done for the night, calling him a killjoy, but doesn’t push the point too hard. He downs the rest of his own hard apple ale (which Derek had poked fun at mercilessly— until he actually tried it) and stands, wobbling dangerously on his feet.

Derek jumps up, drunk, but still more sober than Stiles is, and says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Where do you think you’re going? You can’t drive like this.”

Stiles gives him the most sarcastic look he can muster, which is impressive in his current state. “I know that Derek; I’m a cop, are you fucking—?” he turns, still grumbling under his breath.

Derek huffs in amusement and follows him as he heads for the spiral staircase.

“Where are you going?” Derek asks him, tone conversational.

“Where’s it look like I’m going? If you think I’m sleeping on your shitty-ass couch again, you’ve got another-” hic, “-another thing coming, bud.”

Derek rolls his eyes, but follows Stiles up the stairs, a hand on his back to make sure he doesn’t stumble down them and die.

Stiles makes a beeline for the bed, plopping facedown and wrapping himself up like a burrito in Derek’s blanket. Derek doesn’t acknowledge the feelings that bubble up at the sight of Stiles looking so warm and at home. It’s not the first time Stiles has been in his bed, not by a long shot, but it will be the first time he’s slept in it.

Derek doesn’t let himself to dwell. He sticks around long enough to make sure Stiles is alright, and sighs, resigning himself to spending the night on the sofa.

“Where are you going,” Stiles slurs like they’re continuing a conversation, face mashed against Derek’s best pillow.

Derek looks over his shoulder, eyebrow quirked. “To the couch?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Stiles says from his little cocoon. “The bed’s plenty big enough. Comfortable, too. Need to get...” he mumbles, passing out between one word and the next.

Derek snorts, fond and disbelieving, and grabs a pair of sweats, heading to the ensuite to get ready for bed because he, unlike Stiles, is not trying to fall asleep in his jeans.

As he’s washing up, muttering about blanket-stealing humans while Stiles snores heartily (on his side of the bed, he realizes resignedly), he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

He looks...better.

iii.

She arrives in the autumn, soon after Derek, having heard rumor of the Nemeton—the pack had neutralized it years ago, but as Derek well knew, it didn’t take much to wake it. They still weren’t sure what the witch wanted with it, only that she did, and badly. It quickly became apparent that she was both willing and able to cut down anyone that stood in her way, evidence provided by the trail of dead hikers she left in her wake.

The pack steps in before the bodies start piling up too high. They try to reason with her, offer her an out where all parties leave unharmed; Scott’s idea of course. She hadn’t found the Nemeton yet, no harm, no foul. So she’d killed a few people. They’d be willing to look past that if she swore to walk away and never come back. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best way to ensure the safety of the town and the pack.

She doesn’t take the deal.

She goes after Stiles first, stupid, stubborn Stiles who should know better than to point a gun at a witch. She sends a dagger at him with little more than a wiggle of her fingertips. He dives out of the way, but not quickly enough. It slices through his arm, landing in the tree behind him with enough force to sink it into the wood to its’ hilt.

He lays on the ground, holding his shoulder, blood dripping across his fingers, and Derek sees red.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he’s saying, but Derek can barely hear him past the blood thundering in his ears.

Scott snarls and the pack moves on her in one, well-practiced motion.

She might’ve been able to handle all of them, the pack in its’ entirety, but she’d gotten arrogant. The witch holds them off with little flourishes of her fingers and Derek sneaks around her while she’s distracted, toying with them, and comes up behind her, snapping her neck as easily as if it were an exceptionally frail twig.

She crumples to the ground like a puppet with its’ strings cut, and Derek stares down at her until Stiles wraps his arms around him and gently pulls him away. He’s managed not to kill anyone in a decade, but just one month back in this town and he’s already racking up a body count.

“We’d better hope she doesn’t have any friends,” Lydia says, rubbing her arms at the wind chill.

Derek gives her a dull, questioning look, and she mutters something about witches being the herpes of the supernatural community. He wouldn’t know. Hasn’t had much experience dealing with witches up until now. Their kinds tend to steer clear of each other, a prejudice likely instilled in all natural-born witches as it was in born-wolves from a young age.

A cold hand touches his arm, and Derek startles. Lydia is studying him worriedly, though she seems to be doing better, in the general sense. She’d been on edge for the last couple days, and now they knew why. Death must feel different to a banshee when the people they’re close to are involved.

Derek wants to ask why she hadn’t told them, if she knew it would be him, but doesn’t. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference either way.

“He’s gonna be fine, you know,” she tells him, looking at Stiles, and Derek keeps his head down, but nods. She gives his arm another squeeze and leaves him to go and find Jordan.

The pack takes care of the body. He doesn’t watch. Instead he focuses on Stiles, numb, as Scott stitches up the relatively small wound on Stiles’ shoulder and bandages it.

“See that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Scott asks him, grinning when Stiles nods indignantly, and for a second, Scott looks like the dopey kid Derek had first met in the Preserve near the burned out remains of his childhood home. “We’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”

Stiles grimaces and nods at the ground.

“I guess luck might be a strong word,” Scott sighs, and just like that, he’s back to his older, wiser Alpha self. “Thank you.” This is directed to Derek, and the look Scott is giving him, it’s as if he can see how much this is affecting Derek, though he’s doing his best to hide it.

Because Derek is glad Stiles is alive, is glad she, the witch– Christ, he doesn’t even know her name. He’s glad she hadn’t seriously hurt Stiles or any of the rest of their pack, but all Derek can see is the her body lying in the leaves, small and still, and know that he did that.

Stiles takes him home and orders food, puts a movie on to serve as background noise while Derek hides in the shower and scrubs invisible blood off his hands. When he comes out, Stiles wordlessly hands him a plate and a glass of water. They sit in silence, Derek more moving his food around than actually eating. He looks over and sees that Stiles’ plate is looking pretty full, too.

Derek packs the leftovers up and Stiles takes care of the dishes. They haven’t said a word in hours. Derek’s half expecting him to take off after that, but he doesn’t. He steals some of Derek’s clothes and heads off to shower, too.

Derek is lying on his side, trying to put the day’s events from his mind when Stiles finds him. He hesitates one agonizingly long moment before climbing into bed and curling up behind Derek, carefully putting an arm around him, testing the waters.

Derek only realizes how tense he’s been after he relaxes into it. Stiles smells like Derek’s shampoo and Derek’s soap, like Derek, and it settles something inside of him, something he’s not ready to acknowledge just yet. It’s not the right time.

Stiles breaks the silence finally, voice soothing, tells him it wasn’t his fault, she wouldn’t have stopped; she’d already killed three people in the last week, just random hikers that had the misfortune of stumbling across her during her search for the Nemeton. She was dangerous and deranged, and there’s a difference between self-defense and murder.

But it wasn’t self-defense, and it wasn’t about those dead, defenseless humans. He had killed someone, after years of not using violence unless absolutely necessary, years of not causing any more damage than a badly broken nose. He had killed that woman because she’d hurt Stiles.

And that’s what scares him. He’s not sure there’s anything he wouldn’t do to protect Stiles.

iv.

Stiles doesn’t really leave after that day, spending his nights at the loft with Derek more often than not. Soon the only times he leaves at all is when he runs out of clothes or needs to go into work.

Derek doesn’t mind, relishes in it, in fact. The company’s nice, for one thing. He grew up with a big family, and he never did quite get used to the quietness that comes with living alone. Stiles fills the silence like it’s his one true mission in life.

The other part of it is just Stiles. He doesn’t know what had changed; why he’d come back and Stiles just fit, but he’s glad for it. Glad about a lot of things, suddenly.

Stiles makes him... happy.

It’s both strange and not strange at all how easy it is to settle into this pattern of waking with Stiles, spending their days together, falling asleep beside him. You’d think he would’ve grown tired of it by now, but he hasn’t and the thing is, he’s not sure that he ever will. Another frightening thought.

He hangs around the Sheriff’s department so much, that eventually, Noah just flat out hands him some paperwork and tells him to start filing. It makes the days Stiles is at work go by faster.

Stiles has nightmares sometimes, but it’s fine because Derek does, too.

It’s a gift, in a way, having someone around that gets it; the nightmares and the guilt and not wanting to go back to sleep even when they’re so exhausted it’s all they can do not to pass out, afraid of what they might see if they close their eyes.

On one of those nights, Stiles tells him about his recurring dream of being stuck in an empty train station and knowing he’ll never be found because no one’s out looking for him; they don’t even remember his name.

He tells Derek about the Dread Doctors and the chimeras, Cory and Hayden and Donovan, Mason and the Beast, and Derek finally gets why Stiles has been so reluctant to tell him about that period in the pack’s history, why Mason’s boyfriend smells so strange and Stiles seemed to be speaking from experience when he’d told Derek that there was a difference between self-defense and murder.

Neither of their hands are clean: Derek had been used time and again to hurt his family, his pack, just as Stiles had been used to hurt all those people, Allison, by the Nogitsune. But there’s something different about having to make the decision between someone else’s life – even someone that’s trying to kill you – and your own.

Mostly, Derek just hates that Stiles had suffered so much more than he knew, hates that he hadn’t been there, thinks that maybe he could’ve helped Stiles if he had come back just a little sooner.

“I’m doing better,” Stiles says defensively, not seeming to comprehend that Derek is holding him, nosing at his shoulder, taking in his grounding, warm scent, to comfort himself, too. Or maybe he does because he squeezes Derek around the middle and runs a hand down his back, soothing.

“You should’ve seen me after the Nogitsune,” Stiles jokes roughly. “Now, those were some night terrors. This is small fries compared to that.” He’s distracted, then, his face taking on a dreamy quality. “Mmm, fries.”

He rolls out of Derek’s arms suddenly and jumps up, pulling on the nearest pair of pants.

“Come on, Derek, I’m hungry,” he says impatiently when he sees that Derek hasn’t moved.

Derek sinks deeper into the bed. “How is that my problem?”

Stiles raises his eyebrows, disbelieving. “I’m hungry,” he says indignantly, like that should be enough in and of itself, and Derek laughs and goes easily when Stiles grabs his hand and yanks him out of bed.

It becomes another of their regular things, leaving the house in the middle of the night when neither of them can sleep or Stiles gets off work at a weird time to go to Stiles’ favorite greasy spoon, ‘open 24/7, even on holidays!’ as the hand-painted sign on the window declares. Their visits become so frequent that they now both know the name and basic life story of every member of the wait staff.

Derek starts taking Stiles running with him in the mornings. 

“Can’t have you passing out while you’re out there playing cops and robbers,” he reasons when Stiles asks him a plaintive why?

“I am an officer of the law, Derek,” Stiles pants as he barely manages keep pace with Derek’s light jog, “You should show me some respect; I could have you arrested.”

“Oink, oink,” Derek says seriously, picking up speed as Stiles tries and fails to sprint after him and tackle him.

“Hate you,” Stiles grumbles later as Derek tosses him an ice pack to press to the shoulder he’d banged up nicely with his ill-fated attempt to take Derek down.

“I don’t know why you’re complaining, I’m the one who had to carry your ass home,” Derek huffs.

“Oh, like it was hard for you and all your stupid muscles,” Stiles snaps, glaring when Derek just laughs.

Stiles sets himself gingerly down on the couch, groaning loudly. “Oh, my god, this couch sucks. We need new furniture, Derek! I’m tired of this shitty ass couch. And why don’t we have chairs? Or bookshelves! Or—”

And that’s how they end up making a daytrip to the IKEA in Sacramento, and before Derek knows it, the loft is furnished and looks like an actual, inhabitable living space.

Scott gradually starts bringing the pack over to train—as they’d been doing in his absence, he learns. Derek doesn’t mind, even invests in some heavy duty equipment for them, werewolf tested and approved. God knows they have the space.

One day he wakes up and looks around and realizes that Stiles’ things have taken over his room, his clothes all mixed in with Derek’s, that stupid glass writing board of his stuck in the corner, newspaper cutouts and Stiles’ cramped writing covering it from top to bottom, their books already taking over every available shelf in the massive mahogany bookcase that runs along the entire east wall, the one Stiles and Isaac and Scott had helped him put in just last week (mostly Isaac; Scott and Stiles had been too busy goofing around the entire time to be of much assistance).

His bed smells like him and Stiles, his house smells like pack and it occurs to him that he is well and truly content.

He doesn’t know how it happened, or why, this thing they have. Doesn’t know how or when he started building a home with Stiles, or how the reluctant acquaintanceship he’d formed with an unruly teenager had grown into something so big and clean and right.

He supposes it could’ve been born out of necessity, mutual need and, later, trust, but if he’s honest with himself, he and Stiles felt like an inevitability from the first moment they set eyes on each other. He’d realized it years ago, what he was starting to feel for Stiles, though he’d tried not to because of the age difference and his own damaged sense of self-worth. But they’re older now, settled; Stiles is here with him of his own freewill, and Derek is running out of convincing arguments when he tries telling himself it doesn’t mean what he wants it to mean.

Derek carefully removes Stiles’ arm from around his stomach (when had that become normal?) and stands, needing to get out of here and move, his thoughts too big for what is, suddenly, too confining a space.

He sheds his skin once he’s got the door closed and locked up tight behind him, unworried about someone seeing him in his wolf form. It’s early, still dark out, and even if anyone does suspect what he is, Scott and Argent have things under control on the supernatural and hunter fronts, respectively.

He only makes it a few miles into the Preserve before he turns around, wanting to be back home with Stiles. Which is pathetic; it’s barely been an hour and Stiles probably hasn’t even realized he’s gone, but there it is. And that’s how he knows it’s time.

Stiles is, predictably, drooling on Derek’s pillow when he returns, and Derek is still frightened of how much he doesn’t mind, but unsurprised. This has been a long time coming.

Derek lets him sleep, showering and whipping up a stack of pancakes to kill some time. Stiles is always trying to get him to make breakfast anyway.

He sets the table, puts the coffee on and trudges upstairs, stomach fluttering with nerves in a way it hasn’t since he was a teenager.

Derek sits beside Stiles at the edge of the bed and shakes him gently.

“Wake up. I made food,” he grumbles.

Stiles’ only response is a light snore. Derek huffs a laugh and pushes his hair away from his forehead, touches the tip of his strange little turned up nose and the moles lining his jaw.

“Come on, Stiles,” he murmurs, thumb smoothing over his cheekbone.

Stiles snuffles softly against his pillow, unconsciously pressing closer to Derek’s hand. He blinks himself awake a few seconds later.

He squints up at Derek, expression immediately softening. “Morning, big guy. Sleep well?” he asks around a yawn. “Is that pancakes and bacon I smell or am I dreaming? Because I’ve been bugging you to make me breakfast for months and you never do—”

It never ceases to amaze him, how Stiles can be dead asleep one moment and unable stop talking the next.

“I make dinner,” Derek points out, amused.

“You do,” Stiles agrees, “And I love you for that. But imagine how much more I’d love you if you regularly made breakfast, too.”

Derek’s eyes widen in amazement. Stiles has already moved on to another topic, happily complaining about something Derek’s brain can’t make sense of because Stiles loves him.

He supposes he knew that. Why else would Stiles have all but moved in with him and be sleeping in his bed? But hearing it is an entirely different animal.

And Derek can’t help himself. He leans in to place a soft kiss on the corner of Stiles’ still-working mouth.

Stiles breathes in sharply, freezing, and Derek quickly pulls away, wanting to give Stiles the chance to tell him ‘no’ if he wants to, which he might because they’ve never talked about this, whatever they’re doing; they just sort of fell into it, and what if Stiles doesn’t want him that way? What if he only shares Derek’s bed and his clothes and his home because he feels safe here and now Derek has taken that from him?

What if he leaves?

But before Derek can work up to a decent panic, Stiles smiles up at him, happy and bright.

“What took you so long?” he asks, an echo of a past conversation.

The panic fades to background noise as Derek realizes, wondering, that Stiles wants this, too; as long as Derek has, possibly longer. He’s just been waiting on him. On Derek.

And it’s kind of like a punch to the gut, because in all his life, with all of the flings and failed relationships—even the good, if short-lived one with Braeden—he’s never really had anyone that was willing to wait for him, that didn’t pressure or push or take in some way without asking.

Stiles sits up slowly and puts his hands in his lap, twitching like he wants to reach out and touch, but not sure if he should. “You okay?”

Derek nods to convey that he is, just a little overwhelmed.

“Take your time, okay. I’ll be here,” Stiles says firmly, and Derek’s never believed anything more.

“I’ve never had- this,” he says at last.

The words aren’t right. He’s never been good with expressing feelings, but he’s willing to try because this is different. It’s Stiles.

Another bright burst of panic hits him in the chest.

It’s Stiles.

He could ruin this. Given his track record, he will ruin this.

“It’s okay.”

Stiles is still looking at him, expression soft like it always is for Derek. There may be overlying emotions, playfulness and warmth, occasionally mild irritation or hurt—but there’s always a softness underneath. Stiles is so soft, so human.

It terrifies him, but if there’s one person Derek could ever get past that fear for, it’s this one.

“I’ve never— I-” Derek’s chest constricts, breath shaky. He closes his eyes. “Fuck. Fuck. I’m messing this up.”

Stiles shakes his head, mouth opening as if he’s about to say something, but Derek speaks again before he can.

“You looked back.” Stiles’ eyebrows furrow in confusion. “In Mexico,” Derek hurries to explain and Stiles’ expression clears. “Your best friend’s life was on the line and you looked back and I knew just from the look on your face that you would stay if I asked.”

Stiles looks away, biting down on his lip. “Scott would’ve been okay probably,” he jokes, mouth turning up at the corners. His heart is beating erratically and Derek’s is struggling to match its pace.

“Maybe,” Derek says, “but maybe not. It’s Scott.”

Stiles laughs and Derek could probably listen to the sound of it forever and only barely get annoyed.

“No one’s ever meant as much to me as you do,” Derek admits quietly before he loses all nerve, and Stiles looks like he’s had the breath knocked out of him.

Derek feels like he’s had the breath knocked out of him.

He redirects his gaze to the top of his blanket. “I just. I don’t—”

“Hey,” Stiles says softly, ducking in to press their forehead’s together. “Hey, if you think I don’t feel the same—”

Derek shakes his head and pulls away slightly. “That’s not it. I was so ready to just tell you. Just get it out there and see if there was a chance, but... What if I do something? What if I fuck this up? What if you change your mind about me and I—”

Stiles takes Derek’s hand in his, smiling like he knows something Derek doesn’t. “I don’t think you understand just how invested in this I am, big guy. You can try fucking it up all you want, but I’m my father’s child; stubbornness is in my blood.”

Derek snorts a laugh, agreeing with him, and Stiles’ mouth curves almost wistfully.

“Better get out while you can, Derek, or you’ll never get rid of me.”

Derek lets his lips brush against Stiles’ when he replies. “That so?” he says seriously, eyes shining a soft blue.

“Then again, you never did know when to quit while you’re ahead,” Stiles mutters. “Oh, well, no use trying to fight it now,” he says in a brighter tone, arms winding around Derek’s neck as Derek pulls him in for another kiss, deeper this time and filled with intent.

They lose a few days, making up for lost time.

-

It’s winter when they share their first kiss.

The witch’s sister comes in spring.

Chapter Text

The witch wakes, feeling a presence at the foot of her bed. Her fingertips brush the handle of her blade.

“Who’s there?”

She gets no answer.

At first, she’d thought it might be another human, come to buy her services, seeking someone to help them find success or riches, bring them peace of mind, poison a loved one, ward off a monster.

But the sudden chill in the air tells her that this uninvited guest is no human.

“Speak or die,” she says, careless. Either way, she will go back to sleep.

A dark shape moves in her periphery. A shape she recognizes all too well.

Horror fills her.

“No.”

Yes,” her sister’s distorted voice garbles. Her voice is guttural, barely recognizable and it doesn’t take a moment to find the reason, her neck twisted, bone protruding beneath the skin of her throat.

The witch leaps from her bed, and reaches for her sister, but her hands find no purchase.

“How? Who?”

Her sister’s ghostly limbs stretch out toward her, her fingertips passing through her skull and leaving her shuddering violently with cold and contempt.

Destroy the wolf.”

With the imprint of her sister’s last memories still hanging at the forefront of her mind, the witch agrees.

“I will.”

v.

Stiles comes home, complaining loudly of yet another lost bet as he sheds his outer layer. Boots are impatiently tugged off and thrown near the neat line they try to keep along the wall, his gun is set on the counter and not the safe Derek had bought especially for that purpose, his jacket is thrown haphazardly over the back of a chair and not the coat rack Stiles had insisted they get because it looked exactly like the one from Beauty and the Beast and they had to, Derek.

“All he had to do was not eat a burger for a week, Derek. A week,” Stiles rants. “This is what I get for having faith in my own father: my wallet is fifty bucks lighter and I have to do extra paperwork for a month. I cannot believe my own partner bet against me. And Jordan, that fucking asshole. What does he even do with all of my money? He’s still driving the same truck he came here in ten years ago!”

“Sounds like you had a rough day,” Derek says, struggling to keep a straight face as he approaches his- Stiles and rubs his shoulders.

Stiles narrows his eyes, but visibly chooses to ignore Derek’s complete lack of sympathy and slumps against him. “I can already feel the carpal tunnel coming on,” he grumbles into Derek’s chest.

Derek lifts an eyebrow judgmentally. “Isn’t Kira the one who usually does both of your paperwork in the first place?”

Stiles nods against his chest glumly. “Exactly.”

Derek’s shoulders shake with silent laughter that becomes not-so-silent at the bitch face Stiles aims at him.

“You’re ridiculous,” he sighs, way too fond.

Stiles jabs him in the chest, muttering, “Your face is ridiculous,” because Derek is secretly hooking up with a five year old.

Derek gives him a loud kiss and takes his hand, dragging him toward the kitchen. “Got something that’ll make you feel better.”

Stiles’ cheeks turn red, mind immediately diving into the gutter. “Oh, yeah?”

“Not like that,” Derek mumbles, his own ears burning in response.

Christ, the way they act, you wouldn’t know they’ve been fucking like bunnies for nearly two months now.

Stiles wiggles his eyebrows. “Whatever you say, bro.”

Derek gives him a flat look. “I’ve literally touched your dick. Don’t call me ‘bro.’”

“Hey, who says that’s not just two bros helping each other out. Lending a hand, so to speak,” Stiles adds, cracking a grin because he thinks he’s hilarious.

“You’re making me regret this.”

“Regret what?” Stiles asks as Derek pulls him into the kitchen.

He doesn’t disappoint, eyes widening dramatically, mouth falling open with a gasp as he catches sight of his gift.

“Did you get me a new stove?”

Derek bites his lip, tamping down a grin. “Well, you were bitching about it so much.”

Stiles expression goes from ecstatic to offended in a split second. “Are you kidding me? We’ve been living on take out for a week. Three of the burners were out, Derek. Three. Out of four. That’s seventy-five percent of the stupid thing—”

Derek saunters toward him slowly, hands in his pocket, “And who’s fault is that?” he says, amused.

Stiles flushes. “Shut up, I slipped.”

And somehow managed to spill an entire pot of soup directly on to the outlet behind the oven, shorting it out and fucking up their lives, but Derek refrains from mentioning that.

“It was old anyway.”

Stiles bites down on his lip, smiling, “How’s it work? I bet it’s amazing,” he sighs, running a hand over their new stove’s shiny surface.

“Don’t know.”

“You haven’t used it yet?” Stiles asks, sounding surprised.

“I thought you’d wanna break it in,” Derek shrugs, ears turning red.

Stiles hums, considering, and tugs Derek closer by the front of his shirt. “I can think of a better way to break it in.”

Like Derek said; he doesn’t disappoint.

-

Derek wakes well before Stiles.

He stares a while, at the curve of his back, the moles and marks dotting his pale skin, fingers skating over them, and it strikes Derek all over how much his life has changed. He never thought he’d get to have something like this, wasn’t sure he deserved it after all the damage he’d done.

He’s glad he was wrong.

Stiles wakes, spine curving like a cat’s as he rolls into a stretch. “Mm, morning,” he groans happily, coming to face Derek.

Derek hums a quiet good morning and tugs Stiles closer, until their limbs are tangled and their chests are flush together. They trade slow kisses, heat building low in Derek’s stomach. Stiles notices his growing interest with a happy sound.

“Want me to, uh, help you out with that?” he offers, doing a goofy little shimmy that Derek is obviously supposed to find enticing. He does.

Derek hums. “Shower, I think. We just changed the sheets; I think we should give them a break.”

“‘We,’” Stiles scoffs. “Didn’t feel much like a ‘we’ effort last night.”

“Didn’t feel like a ‘we’ effort when I made you come three times before bed either, but you don’t hear me complaining about that.”

Stiles scowls at him, face immediately turning bright red. “Oh, like you didn’t enjoy it.”

“You got me there.” Derek bops him on the nose and rolls out of bed.

Stiles snorts, “I swear to God, people would shit themselves if they actually knew how much of a dork you are.”

Derek rifles around their closet, looking for clothes for the both of them, since Stiles is usually too lazy to do much besides handle a remote and Derek’s junk on his days off.

“It’s too bad no one will ever believe it.”

“I knowww,” Stiles groans, flopping around on the bed.

Derek smiles to himself.

“Your dad called last night,” he remembers suddenly. “He mentioned something about you promising to clean out the gutters this weekend?”

Stiles sits up quickly, suddenly alert. “He’s lying,” he says immediately.

“Is he, now,” Derek says, amused.

“Who are you gonna believe, Derek, him or me?” Stiles asks wildly. “And before you answer, I’d like to remind you that only one of us regularly sucks your dick.”

“Gross,” Derek comments. Stiles tilts his head sheepishly as if agreeing it wasn’t the best phrasing. Derek puts a knee on the bed and leans in to give him a kiss.

“Come on, you gotta go help your dad,” Derek murmurs into his hair.

Stiles flops onto his back with a groan, throwing his arm over his eyes dramatically. “But I don’t want to,” he complains. “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because he didn’t ask me and I’m not his child,” Derek points out.

“Might as well be,” Stiles grumbles. “He’s always liked you better.”

“Can you blame him,” Derek asks drily.

Stiles gives him a mortally offended look and finally gets out of bed, sullen. “Fine. I’ll go help my stupid dad.”

“That’s the spirit,” Derek says, swatting him on the ass as he skulks across the room.

Stiles gives him a dirty look, ruined by the twitching corners of his mouth, and disappears into the bathroom where Derek can hear the shower being turned on.

“You gonna get in here, big guy,” Stiles calls, “Or am I gonna have to take care of myself?”

Derek rushes in there like his life depends on it.

-

It’s well past ten by the time they’re both finally dressed and presentable.

“I’ll see you later?” Stiles asks, voice low, eyes flickering from Derek’s to his mouth, and Derek nods slowly, his eyes doing the same.

They kiss, slick and sweet, and Derek almost tells Stiles, fuck it, he’ll just pay someone to clean his dad’s goddamn gutters. Stiles must see it in his face, because he pulls back and laughs, and says, “Later,” like a promise.

Derek huffs. “Don’t forget, we’re going to Lydia’s for dinner.”

Stiles groans.

“Do we have to?”

“Only if you don’t want her coming over and shattering our windows.”

Stiles huffs. “Ugh. Fine.”

He gives Derek another quick kiss and leaves.

Derek slides the door shut behind him, sighing. He’ll have to tell Stiles he’s in love with him soon. Not like the little punk doesn’t already know, but still. He’ll have to say it at some point.

“He’s cute,” a voice he doesn’t recognize comments, and Derek whirls around, snarling into a half-shift. A familiar-seeming woman is sitting at the table, peeling an apple with a sharp-looking blade. “I can see why you keep him around.”

“Who the hell are you?” he asks, falling back into his human form almost out of surprise.

“Maybe I’m a friend.”

Derek sincerely doubts that. His skin prickles, the wolf itching to get out and deal with this looming threat.

She flicks her hand out and he finds himself on his back.

Witch.

Goddammit, Lydia was right. They really are the herpes of the supernatural community.

“You seem doubtful of my good intentions, Derek.” She sounds genuinely hurt; an act, but a good one. The heels of her boots thud softly on the wood panels of his floors, circling him like a vulture.

“Life has taught me to be cautious of strangers that break into my home. I’m funny like that.”

“Oh, I’m no threat. Trust me, I’m not here to kill you.”

There’s no hint of a lie in her words, but Derek’s guard doesn’t drop.

“No, really. Here, let me show you.”

She appears in his line of sight, smiling at him widely as she drives her knife into his side. The pain is immediate and blinding. He blinks the white spots from his eyes, and finds her watching his expression with an intense look on her face.

“Some friend,” Derek manages a snort, despite the phenomenal amount of pain he’s in.

“Okay, you caught me,” she sighs, “I don’t really want to be your friend so much as I want to ruin your whole life and watch you die miserable.”

Derek eyes her warily as she kneels beside him, fighting the urge to flinch when she traces her finger over the hilt of the knife. The pressure is barely-there, but still enough to send a fresh wave of agony through him.

“This is my favorite dagger,” she tells him conspiratorially. “My sister gave it to me as a gift when we were children.” She leaves it in his stomach, twisting it idly.

And she’s talkative. “That’s great. That’s a great story; mind telling it to me some other time when I’m not dying,” Derek grinds out. Stiles would be proud of the level of sarcasm in his delivery if he were there.

He feels a pang of regret, realizing he probably won’t see him again. It’s outweighed by the relief that the witch had waited until he was gone, which means she doesn’t want him, just Derek for some reason.

“Oh, no,” she says, seeming horrified that he’s drawing all the wrong conclusions. “This is just a warning,” she assures him with a smile. “So you know I’m serious.” And she twists the knife deeper.

Derek clenches his teeth together to keep from making a sound.

“Now, you’re going to tell me what I want to know,” she says calmly. “Did she have any last words? Why was she here?

Derek looks at her in confusion. “What?” But he starts to put it together, the familiarity, the magic.

The woman’s expression changes, no longer eerily calm. “My sister,” she spits. “What did she say, before you killed her?”

Derek’s eyes roll shut in understanding. There’s no way he’s coming out of this.

Fuck.

vi.

Stiles comes to him, mouth curved mischievously, hands as eager as always. He reaches for Derek, attempting to draw him in, press a kiss to his lips. Derek lets him, too weak to let their last kiss be their actual last.

They fit together easy as breathing, Stiles complimenting and completing him in ways he hadn’t known he was lacking.

He wishes he’d never learned any better.

Derek breaks the kiss first, knowing if he doesn’t, neither of them will. He keeps his eyes on the collar of Stiles’ shirt as he tries to level his breathing. The kisses and the touching and the sex might be new, but their friendship isn’t. Stiles can tell immediately that something isn't right.

“Hey, what is it?” Stiles asks softly, pressing his forehead to Derek’s.

Derek turns away from him, crosses his arms over his chest.

“I’m going away for a while,” he says, voice steady and even. If Stiles were a wolf, he’d know it was a front. If Stiles were a wolf, maybe things would be different.

But Stiles is as human as they come, and Derek loves him that way. Loves him every way.

“Oh,” he hears Stiles respond.

“So where are we going?” Stiles asks brightly. He smiles, but it’s tight around the edges. He knows something’s off, even if he can’t put his finger on it just yet.

We’re not going anywhere,” Derek says firmly.

“I can take time off,” Stiles argues, “I have vacation time stored up; I can help with, whatever this is—”

“No,” Derek bites out, voice harsher than he means it to be, and then more subdued, “I have some things I need to take care of. By myself.”

Stiles steps back, almost imperceptibly. He probably doesn’t realize he’s distancing himself from Derek, but Derek does, and he hates it, even if it’s what needs to happen.

Stiles tries to smile at him, but his eyes can’t quite focus on Derek’s. “When will you be back?” he asks, a forced lightness in his tone.

“I’m not sure.”

Stiles presses, of course he does. “What does that mean?”

“What do you mean, what does that mean?” Derek evades, pacing away from him.

“What does it mean for us, Derek?” Stiles snaps, dropping the pretense of civility.

Derek doesn’t want to answer that question, but he has to, has to sell it. “You shouldn’t wait for me,” he answers, inflectionless.

“What if I want to?” Stiles says, stubborn to the last.

His dad is always saying that stubbornness will get him killed. Derek won’t let that happen.

Stiles.”

“You can’t make me—” Stiles starts, and Derek jumps in.

“This is done, okay?” Derek snaps, gesturing between the two of them. “It was a mistake.”

Stiles flinches. “A mistake?” He blinks rapidly, eyes beginning to shine. “Is that what you’re calling it? Derek, we- this isn’t just some drunken one night stand you’re talking to here. We live together. Okay? We have a home together.”

“We were lonely,” Derek snarls back, “We took comfort in each other and it was fun while it lasted, but it’s time to move on.”

“What about last night? What about this morning?” He sounds so lost and his eyes are wet. Derek has to look away. “Hey, look at me. I know you feel it, too.”

He knows what Stiles is talking about. Not the fucking, the fucking is phenomenal, but that’s not all it is. It’s the moments after, when Stiles holds him and Derek presses soft kisses to his face, and how he feels safe with Stiles the way he never has before, the way he knows Stiles feels the same.

And now he has to end it.

Derek swallows past the shame and despair in his throat and puts on a smirk.

“The sex? Come on, Stiles. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding someone else to crawl into bed with you.”

The light in Stiles’ eyes dies a little bit, and Derek has to bite down on his tongue to keep from taking the words back. They do their job, though, replacing the last of Stiles’ softness with the beginnings of anger, scorn.

“Don’t do that, okay, don’t talk down to me. Yeah, I’ve had sex with a few people, we both have. So I know that you know what we have is different.”

It was different, it was- fuck, it was everything. These last months were the happiest Derek’s been in his life, including the years leading up to the fire.

He forces flippancy, forces himself to shrug like it doesn’t matter to him either way.

“Not for me. It was good, don’t get me wrong. But I think we both know this little thing has come to an end.”

He leaves Stiles with that, hoping it’s enough to drive him away. God, let it be enough. He’s not sure how many more lies he has left in him.

He pulls a bottle of water from the fridge, fumbles with the top until it comes loose. His hands are shaking, claws pushing from beneath his fingertips.

There’s nothing but silence around him for a long, long moment, and then he hears stomping and Stiles is grabbing his arm, whirling him around, holding Derek’s face in his big, warm, human hands.

“Did someone put you up to this?” Stiles asks, desperate. “Huh?” he demands. “Is someone making you do this?”

Derek closes his eyes and breathes as calmly as he can.

-

“You’re going to end it with him,” the witch tells him, her foot on his windpipe.

Derek bares his teeth, struggling to get the words out. “I won’t.”

“You will,” she tells him confidently.

Derek shakes his head. “You don’t know him," he says. “He won’t let me.”

She glares down at him and yanks the blade out as punishment for contradicting her. An odd pressure starts building up in his chest. She’d punctured his lung. There’s the barest hint of aconite in the air, not enough to kill him, he doesn’t think; just enough to hurt him and slow his healing.

“I’ve done my ‘research,’” she replies, dismissive, and Derek has no doubt that she’s been watching them. Weeks, days, who knows how long. “He’s stubborn, I’ll give you that. He’ll probably never stop trying. Unless,” she says, holding up a finger, “he truly believes you don’t love him. So you’re really gonna have to sell it. Can you do that for me, pumpkin?” she murmurs, pinching his cheek.

“Why don’t you just kill me,” he gasps, blood at the corners of his mouth.

She crouches in front of him, smiling warmly.

“I don’t want you dead, Derek,” she says, combing his hair back, the gesture maternal and kind. It feels like spiders crawling across his skin. “Not yet anyway. For now, I just want you to suffer.”

-

“Who would be putting me up to this?” Derek asks, rolling his eyes and pulling his face from Stiles’ hands.

Stiles scrubs his fingers through his hair manically, pacing away. “I don’t know, there’s just something not right here, okay? You’re not telling me everything.”

Derek leans against the counter tiredly. “Do I have to?”

“Don’t treat me like I’m dumb, alright, I know you.”

And he does, he does.

Derek lifts a shoulder, contradictory. “Maybe you don’t.”

“Why are you doing this?” Stiles asks him, pleading.

-

Why are you doing this?”

The witch shrugs, getting to her feet. “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. You killed my sister; I kill your happiness.”

“Please. I can’t.” Derek’s voice cracks pathetically. Not now, not when they were finally settled, not when Stiles was finally starting to be- his.

She shoves her finger into the wound in his side, and the breath he sucks in sounds like a sob.

She takes his chin between her bloody fingers and yanks his face towards her, squeezing tight. “You’ll do it. Or I’ll make you watch as I kill every person he’s ever loved, one by one. Which would hurt worse, Derek? Losing you? Or losing his father, losing Scott and Melissa and Lydia and Kira; your little pack of ingrates and failures,” she says mockingly.

He shakes his head, chest heaving. “No. Scott is too strong an Alpha, the pack’s too strong. They’ll stop you before you get a chance to hurt anyone.”

She shrugs. “Then I’ll just kill him. Your human,” she sneers.

“I won’t let you hurt him.” Derek struggles to stand, but he’s lost a lot of blood, too much. His hand slips in it and he collapses all over.

She smiles absently, as if she finds him and his threats charming, adjusting her clothes by her reflection in the window.

“You think so?” she asks, almost conversational. “And what are you gonna do about it.” She turns to leave, and the panic crests.

“Wait, wait.”

She swivels around slowly, smiling expectantly. “Yes?”

“I’ll do it. I’ll end it with him.”

She smirks, triumphant. “Of course you will,” she says, like there had never been any other possible outcome.

And then she’s gone, and his lungs are finally starting to mend themselves, but he still feels like he can’t breathe.

-

“Don’t do this,” Stiles says, grabbing Derek’s wrist, “Please, we can just talk, okay? We can just sit down and talk about this.”

Derek puts his hand on Stiles’, gently pushes it away.

“Let it go, Stiles,” he says. “I have.”

“I told you,” Stiles tells him, voice shaking, “I told you to get out while you could, before you— before-” he doesn’t finish, unwilling or unable.

“I should have listened,” Derek says quietly.

It pains him physically, the look on Stiles’ face, the anguish rolling off of him, but he keeps his resolve. Has to. Can’t risk it, can’t risk Stiles.

I’ll know, the witch had said with a smile. I’ll know if you don’t go through with it. And I’ll find him and bleed him dry.

Better Derek hurt him now. Better he hurt him now than be the reason he’s dead.

He leaves before Stiles can, a coward to the end.

vii.

The Preserve is larger than it looks, stretching for miles and miles, and Derek can’t pick up the witch’s scent for the life of him, can’t find tracks, can’t find anything that will lead him to her. The only reason he knows she’s out there is that she’d told him herself.

Come find me when it’s finished. I’ll be waiting in the woods.

He enlists the help of Deaton and his enigmatic sister, Marin, who Deaton assures Derek is far more adept at dowsing, to track the witch down. It still takes a few days to get Marin on the same continent, and then another couple for the lunar cycle to be in alignment for the ritual.

Derek searches on his own in the meantime, barely sleeping, eating only when he stops in at Deaton’s to check on their progress and the doctor forces food into his hands.

Eating is his last concern. The witch is all that matters. Killing her is the only way he’ll get back to Stiles. Maybe if he begs enough, Stiles will take him back.

He has to.

-

She’s sleeping soundly in her witches’ warren when Derek finally reaches her. Without the doctor and his sister, he would never have found her hiding place, a collection of adjoining caves at the very edge of the Preserve.

The witch seems unsurprised to see him, strangely at peace with waking up to the sight of a furious, blue-eyed werewolf with his claws around her throat.

“So you finally found me,” she greets him dryly. “I was beginning to wonder if I’d covered my tracks too well.”

He doesn’t tell her that she had, that he’d had help. He doesn’t waste time with pleasantries. “I’m sorry I killed your sister. We tried to offer her a peaceful retreat, but she wouldn’t accept.”

“My sister and I have that in common,” the witch says, and Derek wants to break her neck and be done with it, end her like he had her sister, but doesn’t. He wants to believe that the person he is now, the person that he wants to be, someone deserving of the life he’s built here, someone deserving of Stiles, would at least try.

If she doesn’t accept, he’ll take her to Deaton, let him lock her up in Eichenhouse.

“I regret it,” he tells her, letting his sincerity coat every word. “I wish I could take it back.”

The witch’s good humor is dwindling fast. “Your wishes don’t keep my sister from being dead now, do they,” she replies flatly, swinging her hand out and Derek is across the room, spine slamming into the cave wall in the blink of an eye.

She’s on him in an instant, dagger digging into the flesh beneath his eye.

“This is no fun,” she pouts, “You were supposed to put up more of a fight and do that thing the heroes do in the movies. You know, trying to stall by getting me to explain my nefarious plan and all that.”

“Go ahead,” Derek snarls. She clearly wants to.

“Well, the first part, was, of course, getting you to destroy your budding relationship, which you did exceedingly well, kudos,” she compliments him, and Derek struggles not to break her neck right then and there. “Now the second part, and this was gonna be tricky because I did a read on the boy and, I gotta hand it to you, he is so in love with you.”

Derek’s eyes sting. He lets out a warning growl, but the witch continues on, oblivious to the absolute, real danger she’s in. She might get her shot, but Derek will do everything he can to make sure he’s not the only one who dies here tonight.

“I spent days trying to figure out a way to pull this off, and the only solution I could think of was wiping his memories of you. But they’re so embedded in there,” she says exasperatedly, “I could probably only manage to diminish your role in his life. Now, my sister, she could’ve done it, no problem. But I’m not half the witch she was, rest her soul.” She looks towards the heavens contemplatively.

“You’re looking in the wrong direction,” Derek mutters, and the witch looks at him sharply.

“It’s rude to speak ill of the dead,” she chastises. “Anyway, once I managed to weaken his mind enough to cast the spell, all I’d have to do is find a woman for him. Not just any woman, no. This woman would have to be something special, someone pretty and kind and willing to give him lots of babies. That would kill you, wouldn’t it?” she asks.

It kills him just hearing about it.

She lets out a crow of delight, seeing the admission in his expression. “It would have! It would’ve broken your pathetic little heart.”

Derek growls.

“Alright, fine. I guess it’s not good sportsmanship to mock the losing team,” she relents. “And then, after all that was said and done, I would bind you to Beacon Hills.”

Derek can feel his eyebrows furrowing, fury momentarily shifting over to confusion.

“You would’ve stayed, year after year, watching Stiles fall in love, get married, live a happy and fulfilled life, all with someone who wasn’t you,” she laughs. “He’d move on, but you never would.”

Derek snaps his jaws at her, snarling.

“That was my favorite part,” she shares conspiratorially. “A true stroke of cruelty. Hazel would’ve been so proud.” Her grin fades into a scowl. “But that would’ve taken much too long. No point in dragging out your demise. Besides, I think you’ve effectively broken the boy. It’s not much, but it’ll do.”

Derek’s heart hurts just thinking of it, the look of betrayal in Stiles’ eyes, the pain and misery. “Why? Why couldn’t you just leave us alone?”

“You took the only person who ever saw any good in me,” she says simply. “I wanted to return the favor. Looks like I succeeded, huh?” She laughs and laughs, until she’s gasping and tears stream from the corner of her eyes.

The pressure of the blade lets up for a fraction of a second and Derek takes that opportunity to rush her. The dagger clatters to the floor and they crash to the ground in a snarl of limbs, Derek’s claws embedded into her heart. He pushes her away in disgust and stands, chest heaving.

She wheezes and makes pitiful sounds, and Derek looks down at her with only an ounce of pity. Like her sister, she’d brought this on herself.

Her eyes find Derek’s in the darkness. “Knowing I destroyed your one chance at happiness was enough,” she tells him. “But I think I can die peacefully, knowing you’ll be close behind.” She swings her hand, and all Derek hears is a blade cutting through the air as it moves toward him.

He feels oddly disconnected as the dagger slides between his ribs. With her last bit of strength, the witch uses her magic to rip the blade from his flesh, and Derek stumbles backward, holding his hand tight over the wound, trying to stem the bleeding. It flows freely through his fingers despite his best attempts.

She laughs, coughing blood. “What was his face like when you finally convinced him you felt nothing for him?” she asks curiously. “Did he cry?”

Derek snarls weakly.

The witch dies with a smile on her lips.

Derek slides down the cave wall just as she takes her last breath. He’s losing a lot of blood, and quickly. He forces himself to move. The witch’s dagger had pierced his heart. It beats sluggishly in his chest as he drags himself back out into the Preserve, dried brush and rocks cutting his palms as he follows his weak scent trail. Or maybe it’s not weak, maybe his senses are just failing him. Somehow he gets out, through sheer force of will or with the mercy of a guardian angel, and manages a full shift.

He doesn’t know how far he makes it, running in the general direction of town, his home, Stiles, before he stumbles and collapses, unable to drag himself off the ground.

He struggles to keep his eyes open, but the darkness takes him. He dies, knowing he’ll never see Stiles again, but proud that if there was one good thing he’d done in his lifetime, it was that he’d kept him safe.

 

viii.

Derek comes ‘round to the sound beeping machinery and subdued conversation. The sound of Stiles’ heartbeat is a welcome distraction from the steady ache in his chest that he feels even with the medication he can tell is working against it.

It takes a few minutes to work his eyes open, but he does it. Whatever drugs they’re pumping into him make his mind work more slowly than he’d like. His eyes roll around, trying to find Stiles.

“He’s awake,” Lydia says.

Stiles is in an armchair beside his bed, leg jiggling agitatedly. He has his hands clasped together beneath his chin, staring at the blanket covering Derek’s legs, rather than look at Derek himself. He looks rough, hair a mess, clothes wrinkled and ripe, dark circles around his eyes standing out in stark contrast to his paler-than-usual skin.

Derek can’t keep his eyes off him.

“What happened,” he asks, voice rasping with disuse.

“Well, son,” Noah sighs, “We got a call from someone who found a naked man on the side of the road near the Preserve. Melissa called when she saw it was you.”

“How long?”

“This is day three,” the sheriff says, pointedly side-eyeing his son. “Some of us haven’t been home or slept since you got in.”

“You had to have heart surgery. Something about the aconite in your bloodstream not allowing you to heal yourself properly. Liam’s dad and Deaton took care of it with the help of Scott and Mel, but in secret because technically you’re in for a ‘minor knife wound,’” Lydia informs him.

“Your heart had tried healing itself, but the aconite had messed with the process. There was a nick in your aorta that we had to go in and close. Once we got that done you started healing properly,” Scott says. Derek barely hears him, noticing the way Stiles grows tense, misery becoming more pronounced as he listens to his best friend describe the procedure, even in those vague terms.

Derek reaches for him, paying no mind to the surge of pain and the stretch of too-tender tissue. Stiles gives no reaction when Derek finally gets his hand on his wrist.

“I think,” the sheriff starts, glancing between the two of them, “we should go see if that coffee machine is working now.”

Isaac blinks in confusion. “But Derek just woke up.”

“Isaac,” Lydia barks, and he obediently shoots out of his chair. Scott pats Stiles on the shoulder, gives Derek a stern, ‘Fix This’ look and bolts, too.

“We don’t all have to go to check on the stupid coffee,” Malia tries, but Kira puts an arm around her waist and steers her to the door.

Derek stares at Stiles’ beautiful, unhappy face. He knows Stiles, knows that he has things to get off his chest, knows that he should be in control of this conversation. Derek waits him out.

“Deaton told us about the witch,” Stiles says, tone clipped. Harsh.

Derek nods slowly, watching him. “I figured he would.”

You should have told me,” Stiles says angrily. “I had a right to know.”

“She threatened you. Your family, the pack—”

“Which is even more reason to tell me,” Stiles snaps.

“You would’ve gotten yourself killed,” Derek says tiredly. “I had to take care of it by myself, I couldn’t let you—”

“Couldn’t let me?” Stiles cuts him off, incredulous. “You couldn’t let me?”

“I—”

“Let’s get something straight, Derek, right here, right now.” Derek lets his mouth snap shut. “I am a grown man. I know you’re older than me and you actually believe you make good, solid life decisions and can handle situations like this all by your lonesome, but let’s be honest: between the two of us, I’m the one that’s least likely to get us killed, okay?”

Derek starts to protest, point out that he’d survived, hadn’t he? But Stiles steamrolls right over him.

“So if this is gonna work, you’re gonna have to start trusting me! And I know, I know, you trust me more than you trust anyone else and blah, blah, blah, but that’s not always going to be good enough. You have to trust that I can make my own decisions especially when they’re concerning my life. If I wanna risk getting everyone we know and love killed just so that we can be together, you’re just gonna have to let me, Derek.”

“I,” Derek falters, confusion growing as Stiles’ words sink in. “You still want to be with me? Even after,” he averts his eyes, tone going low. “Even after everything I said, you still—”

Stiles rolls his eyes.

“God, how am I in love with you when you’re this dumb. Of course I still want to be with you, Derek. Would I have spent the last three days, crying on Scott’s shoulder, scared out of my mind that you weren’t going to wake up if I didn’t? Never mind the last eight I spent getting drunk on his couch while I watched Golden Girls reruns and sobbed into a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s. I used up most of my paid vacation time, by the way. You’re lucky my dad is my boss.”

Derek warms down to the tips of his toes, and smiles happily, eyes downcast and crinkling at the corners. “I mean, maybe that’s your idea of a good time; I don’t know your life,” he mumbles stupidly.

Stiles groans and says, “Shut up, loser,” and leans over the hospital bed to plant a warm kiss on his mouth.

A piece clicks back into place, like an ache easing, knowing he still gets this. He moves over and pulls Stiles onto the hospital bed next to him. Stiles settles a hand below the bandage on his chest and rests his forehead against Derek’s shoulder. The wound is mostly healed, Derek can feel that, but it’s sobering knowing how close he came to death.

“Please, don’t do that to me again,” Stiles says, so quiet, Derek can only just hear him.

The pain of what he’d done, the things he’d said, comes back to him.

“I didn’t mean it, not a word,” Derek says. “I love you. I never would have—”

“You love me,” Stiles repeats, stunned.

Derek only stares, wondering how he hadn’t known. “For years.”

Stiles’ eyes grow wider. “Years?”

Derek smiles wryly and touches Stiles’ cheek. “You’re what I came back for, you’re the only person I would ever even consider coming back to this place for. And you managed to make me so happy that I never want to leave.” Stiles smiles to himself, a soft, knowing thing and Derek is so in love it’s pathetic. “I’m so sorry for the things I said. It killed me to lie to you. And I won’t do it again. I’ll find a way next time, I swear.”

Stiles peeks up at him, eyes hopeful. He nods. “Good. I’m not saying I don’t understand, but you’re gonna spend a lot of time groveling once you get out of this hospital bed.”

Derek ignores the ache of his chest and brushes Stiles’ hair back from his forehead. Stiles takes his hand and presses his lips to it.

“Looking forward to it.”