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some kind of karmic-chi love thing

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Derek Hale comes back to Beacon Hills driving a beat up VW camper van with ‘Bann the Bom’ written on the side in spray paint. He’s suntanned, has a proper mountain man beard and is smiling so much his eyes crinkle at the corners and his nose gets a line right near the bridge. He’s wearing sandals. Stiles leans against the camper van and watches as Scott welcomes Derek back with actual open arms, kicks idly at the slightly too bald tire as Scott picks Derek up and spins him around, both of them laughing. Stiles keeps his hands in his pockets to hide the way they shake, slips away before Derek notices him.

Sitting in his room watching the shadows crawl across his wall, Stiles wonders if he’d be happier if Derek had come back when they were fighting the centaurs, or trying to avoid dancing to death, or keeping everyone indoors when the Wild Hunt came rampaging through the town. If he’d be happier if it had been in the middle of a storm, or someone was bleeding, or if Derek had come back because he was needed, desperate and grim. He hugs his knees to the chest and wills himself to stay awake.

Scott and Isaac are waiting for him when he gets into school. Scott’s got a muffin and a bottle of Gatorade, and they wait for him to have breakfast before anyone says anything. “Derek Hale, man,” Isaac says at last, twitching the ends of his scarf. “He said sorry for being a shitty alpha, told me he’d been way harsh with the glass, then asked me if I played bass, because this song he’d written sounds lame with just the bongos. I just.”

Stiles crumples the muffin casing, unscrunches it and starts tearing it into tiny pieces.

“He’s happy, Stiles. We had a really great talk, he’s written all this stuff down that’s really helpful. He’s opened up.”

Opened up. Been smoked out. Not much difference. “I don’t care,” he says, throws the bottle and the fluttering scraps of greased paper in the trash. Scott sighs behind him, and he knows he and Isaac are having a conversation with their faces. He doesn’t care.

*

He wakes up at three in the morning by the lake, screaming. He isn’t wearing shoes, but his jeep’s parked nearby. He drops to his knees, stones digging into his bones, and keeps his hands on the cold damp rocks and counts to a hundred, goes through everything he can hear, see and smell until he’s convinced himself he’s really awake, and really present.

“You okay, man?”

He straightens up. “Fine. Never better. Just thought I’d see what these rocks looked like up close in the dark,” he bites out, turning to face Derek. Derek nods.

“Cool. They look good when the moon’s up. Guess it’s because they’re, uh, damp or something? I’ll drive you home, buddy,” he says, ambles over and takes Stiles’s keys like it’s a completely normal situation, like Stiles hasn’t been losing his sanity for a year.

On the way back home, Derek keeps up a steady stream of words. He rambles, voice soft, a little halting.  He tells Stiles about Laura nearly wolfing out at the model UN thing she went to in San Francisco, about how one of his cousins used to dress up as Santa every Halloween from the age of six upwards, about how Cora’s learning trick riding in Argentina, and keeps sending him picture messages of tree bark and making him identify them. Stiles doesn’t say a word, watches the darkness go past and keeps himself still and silent, hands clamped on his knees to stop them shaking. His throat feels hoarse and his feet have cuts and scrapes on them. He can remember exactly what he saw, why he went to the lake, but his mind shies away from it.

When the jeep stops, Derek turns to Stiles, still smiling. “So how’ve you been?” he asks. Stiles presses his lips together for a few seconds, ruthlessly tamps down on any sound that might escape.

“Thanks for the ride home,” he says in a voice that only shakes a little, then he gets out, walks barefooted through his still open front door. It’s only after he’s cleaned out the cuts on his feet that he realizes that he just stormed out of his own jeep. His keys are on his pillow when he wakes up, on top of a piece of paper with a smiley face drawn on it. The face has fangs and exaggerated eyebrows. He swears and stuffs it behind his bookshelves.

*

The next time he sees Derek, he’s expecting a comment, some kind of reference to his minor breakdown. He assumed he’d tell Scott, but no, he’s distractedly pleasant, sitting in a deckchair in his new loft apartment telling Isaac about the time he met Willie Nelson, and how he gave things a real sense of perspective, like, a scale. There’s a haze of weed around him, and all he does when Stiles comes in with Scott is wave over at the beanbag chairs that are scattered around the place along with a stupid number of cushions. There are stacks of books all over the place, several sets of bongos, a giant poster of Brigitte Bardot on one wall and a picture of a bear cub with ‘don’t worry, be happy’ written underneath it taped to the refrigerator. He sits and stares at the hole in the knee of his jeans as Derek gestures and laughs, is open and relaxed, easy. It’s like that night never happened. Maybe he smoked it away.

Maybe if Scott or Isaac, or hell, Allison or Lydia, had been anything other than amused and happy for Derek, he wouldn't feel quite so aggravated by the whole thing. Maybe if Isaac didn’t spend his time slipping in and out of Derek’s hesitant drawl, or Scott wasn't so enthusiastic about how many werewolves Derek had made friends with over the last few months, or Allison hadn’t been wearing a friendship bracelet Derek made for her out of hemp twine the last time he saw her, or Lydia hadn't been charmed because he’d carried her groceries three blocks in the rain for her, maybe then it wouldn’t have been so bad. As it is, he’s getting hotboxed every time he goes to Derek’s apartment and Derek’s feeling more and more like an itch he can’t scratch.

*

He wakes up on the ceiling, briars cutting into his chest, he wakes up again drowning, he wakes up again and Lydia’s screaming and his dad’s throat’s been cut, he wakes up on fire, he wakes up again and he’s crying and his dad’s holding him tight and Scott’s stroking his hair and he makes them tell him every single thing they can see on his desk before he’ll open his eyes. The three of them sit on his bed until morning, then. He won’t let them leave.

His dad tells him he saw Derek yesterday, sitting on a park bench, talking to an old lady about frogs. He says Derek looks happy. Stiles says he’s glad and tells himself he means it. His dad doesn’t call him out on it, but Scott raises his eyebrows and starts telling his dad how Derek’s more settled, how much he’s teaching Scott now things are calmer and he’s got a chance to breathe and plan. Derek’s happier as a beta. He doesn’t flinch when he’s touched; he lets Mrs McCall fuss with his hair, slings his arm around Isaac, has long hugs with Scott that they both come out of flushed and a little spaced out. He’s happier as a beta; he respects Scott, is mending bridges with Isaac and things are balancing out and everyone’s leaving Stiles behind, trapped in a constant state of high alert.

*

He’s writing a paper for AP history when he gets diverted onto Odysseus. He reads an article about the Lotus eaters and almost prints it out to give to Derek but he knows he’d just ramble about symbolism and the worst fucking thing about not knowing what’s real is not knowing what’s reasonable, or what he’s got the right to be angry about. He knows how he feels, but not if he’s meant to or not, and he knows that whatever he says to Derek right now, he won’t get his anger or that old hunted look, he won’t get slammed against a wall or snarled at. He’ll get a smile, or a book recommendation, or a look from Scott and a painfully earnest talk on pack unity once they’re alone.

Sure enough, he ends up sat on Scott’s bed two nights later, with Scott making the most sincere listening face he has ever seen, trying to put the tangle in his head into words. “Scott, I just—” he breaks off, lets his head drop onto his hands. “I’m trying. I really am.”

“You want to poke a wasp’s nest with wasps in it, instead of one without any?”

Stiles looks up. “I wish they’d never taught you about metaphors,” he says. Scott grins.

“You love metaphors, don’t lie buddy. You love them like Lydia loves shoes.”

“That’s a simile.”

“It was ironic subversion of expectations,” Scott tells him with a triumphant smile.

“And you’re a butthead who swallowed a dictionary when I wasn’t looking.” He flops back onto Scott’s bed. “I should be happy for him. I know I should be happy for him.”

Scott props himself up on one arm, ruffles Stiles’s hair. “Keep trying, buddy. And maybe give yourself some space until you’ve worked it out?”

“You mean stay away from him?” Stiles asks, and tries to be angry. Scott’s bed is too comfortable to get angry in. “I’ll give us both space. We need it.”

*

It doesn’t work. Stiles keeps running into him, day and night. Daytime he can’t settle, night time he can’t sleep, and he finds himself drawn to him, like a scab he just can’t resist picking. He knows where Derek keeps the spare key to his apartment, lets himself in and needles at him, tries to get something out of him, some of that old anger, but all he gets is Derek talking about his feelings. Stiles is at the point of putting wolfsbane in his toothpaste, because every time he thinks he’s even close to getting Derek to be anything other than distracted but pleasant, Derek launches into yet another fucking anecdote about how his dad did woodwork, Laura loved the Spice Girls and his grandma had a torrid affair with Dick van Dyke which means he could possibly be a werewolf? But no one in the family's ever gotten close enough to check, even if they’ve tried on multiple occasions.

Stiles sits on the beanbag and just looks at him sometimes. He’s put on a little weight, lost a little of that muscle. He’s softer around the middle, wears sweaters that look like they’d be good to stroke. Derek doesn’t seem to mind him looking, just sits, lips curled up in a smile, or wrapped around his joint. He stays silent, then, breathing steadily, smoke wreathed around his head, drifting up through the soft dim lights. Stiles goes there after a nightmare sometimes, once he’s showered and can breathe a little better. Derek never mentions it, never comments on the weird hours he keeps. Stiles hates that too, hates that he’s grateful for it.

He thinks Derek seeks him out too, sometimes. He climbs out into his backyard one bad night, knuckles still bleeding, finds him there sat leaning against a tree, looking up at the sky. “Why are you here?” he asks, but he sits next to him anyway. Derek hums thoughtfully, takes a long drag in, eyes half closed. He exhales, lips pursed. Stiles watches him hungrily, chases the shadows across his face with his eyes.

“Followed my feet. You and me, Stiles,” he says, then trails off, looks up at the stars again. “Maybe this is all nothing,” he murmurs, takes another hit.

“Maybe you’ve been reading too many bullshit undergrad philosophy blogs,” Stiles says, pulls up a handful of grass and lets it drop through his spread fingers.

“Maybe. I guess you don’t want it all to be for nothing if it’s hard.”

“I guess not,” he echoes hollowly.

Thing is, it's not like there's anything particularly life and death happening at the moment, so it's not like Derek's being irresponsible. It's just...he wants someone else to feel like one wrong decision could end up with someone dying, and if that makes him a horrible person, so fucking what, because he wants Derek to be a bit more like his brother in arms, not the weird guy down the road who impulse bought ten bubble blowing machines that he's put in his backyard with an oddly ingenious refilling system so they're on a continuous loop.

Derek scratches at his beard, touches his lips a lot, blinks slowly and has started wearing fucking plaid. He’s stopped shaving his chest. He looks like a lumberjack. He's slowly becoming comfortable in his skin, slowly settling into his bones. His fingers are deft and sure when he rolls joints, and his eyes narrowing in the smoke are just...Stiles feels helpless, and bitter, and more turned on than he can cope with. They could fall into bed together, now. He could touch Derek on the arm and he wouldn’t glare, could probably kiss him and it would be simple and easy, and Derek would let him do what he wanted and let him go when he wanted. He wouldn’t ask questions, or expect anything from him. He’d make out with Stiles with no aim or purpose for hours. He would let Stiles choke himself on his dick if he wanted, or hold him down with his broad, warm hands. He’d roll over for Stiles, let him fuck him and make it something easy and sweet. He would keep doing something if it felt good, stop doing it if it didn’t. He’d sprawl on Stiles’s bed and let him look as much as he wanted. They could fuck, and it wouldn’t have to mean anything complicated.

Stiles hates the new Derek.

*

Stiles still patrols the woods. It's partly because he can't sleep all that much, not without having dreams that make him wonder what's real for days after he's had them. It's also partly because he's somehow developed a taste for fresh air and exercise that would horrify his thirteen year old self. He jogs the territory lines Scott and he worked out last summer, with his baseball bat, dog whistle and several baggies of mountain ash, looking for trouble he's not sure how he'd deal with. Scott joins him sometimes, but he knows Scott doesn't feel the same gnawing worry he does, the jittery paranoia that comes from having instincts that have been proved right far too many damn times, the dark clutch of the Nemeton around his heart.

He finds Derek one day, crouching on a large log, looking intently at something on the ground, stops at the edge of the clearing. "Derek, what is it?" he says quietly, adjusting his grip on his bat. "Should I call Scott?"

Derek shrugs. "I don't know man, is he into ants? These little buddies have been at it for days, man. I'm impressed, I might, like, offer them a job?"

Stiles kicks the base of the tree he's next to, leans into it so his face is up against the bark, its smell filling his nose. "What's wrong, Stiles?" Derek asks softly, rubs his back in slow circles. "It's gonna be fine."

He could almost cry.

*

They're satisfying Derek's three in the morning need to visit the playground near the cemetery when the two betas come. They look like extras from a Village People porno. It's just Derek and Stiles there, sitting on the swings, scuffing their feet along the floor. Stiles can't sleep, Derek won't. Derek probably know they're coming minutes before he does, before a prickling at the back of his neck makes him look up at the darkness at the edge of the tarmac. Derek's in the middle of his joint, leaning against the chain of the swing, humming quietly. He looks at Stiles when he tenses, nods once then takes another long drag. "How many?" Stiles asks, drawing out a bag of mountain ash and his phone.

"Two," he says quietly, doesn't move or even seem to tense. Just scuffs his feet and inhales, exhales. With a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach, Stiles realizes something: he doesn't trust Derek to keep him safe. Not like this. A few swipes of his phone and he's sending out an SOS to Scott and Chris Argent, then he looks down at his hands, breathes deep. "Calm down, man," Derek says, grips the back of his neck. "I've got you. We'll be fine."

"Hale," one of them says, stepping into the light.

"Hey, man, want a toke?" Derek asks, still not moving. There's none of that feral, animal awareness there. It's like he's at a fucking tea party. Stiles taps his fingers on his thighs, waits for his cue, for something to change. That sick, tight feeling is spreading to his chest. He could die. After everything, he could die in a fucking playground, killed by two hair metal rejects. 

"Damn, we'd heard rumors, but this...I hear you've got high schoolers running this territory right now," one of them says. Derek raises his eyebrows.

"A true alpha, man. With a pack. Nothing wrong with that. Your one and a half horse town get too small? You people and your territories. Like, what are we really fighting for?"

"Spare me the fucking hippy bullshit. We want in."

Derek doesn't move. Doesn't move when the betas advance, claws out, just stays as relaxed as before. Stiles throws up mountain ash just before they spring, desperation tight in his throat. The barrier holds and he sags back, shaking. "I said I've got you, Stiles. Break the line," Derek says, eyes soft and earnest, grips his shoulder then the back of his neck. "Now."

He can't look away, can't break eye contact. The smell of the weed hangs over them. Derek drops the lit joint on the floor, stubs it out with one foot. The betas prowl the edge of the circle, wolfed out now. "Don't make me ask again." Something dark and feral flickers in his smile and Stiles uses the wild hope in his heart to give him courage to put out a foot and make a break. The two betas spring forwards, all claws and teeth, going straight for his back, for his hamstring. He smells blood in the air as Derek staggers back, throws them off and pushes Stiles out of the way. The betas circle again, and as they do, the gashes on Derek's side heal, clear skin coming up under the ripped plaid and Derek's stance slowly changes.

His back straightens, legs move further apart and his arms come up, bent slightly. His head tilts to the side and there's suddenly that snapping, predatory awareness that's fuelled many a late night jerkoff marathon. The next time the betas dart in, he dances with them, evades every swipe and snap and gives them little injuries in return, wounds that seem more like insults. He tires them out, then he changes again, fights grimly and without mercy, hamstrings one of them and dislocates the other's arm, slams him down against the concrete until there's no fight left in him. It's like he's never stopped fighting, like he's never had the munchies so bad he cleared out the grocery store's poptart stock, never played the bongos for two solid days. By the time he's finished, the betas are limp and unmoving and he's covered in blood, standing like he's Batman. Stiles wants to fucking cheer, feels like the worst person in the world because Derek's expression, once lazy and fond, is closed off once again.

That's how Scott and Chris Argent find them, Stiles standing wide eyed and desperately turned on, Derek a pillar of physical strength, silent and grim by his side.

"I said I've got you, and you still call for help?" Derek bites out, slams Stiles up against the frame of the swings. Stiles tries not to get his boner on Derek's thigh, is suddenly so angry he wants to punch him, over and over.

"Forgive me if I didn't fucking trust the word of someone who's been baked for the better part of a fucking year," he hisses, walks off without even acknowledging the others, kicks the slide on the way out and tries to hold it together until he gets home.

*

He's not sulking. He isn't. Sulking is meant to be satisfying, anyway. He just feels hollow, sick with guilt. He stays in his room for three days, lines it with mountain ash, turns his phone off and presses at the bruises Derek left, jerks off with the memory of Derek's heat and proximity, all that lovely anger directed at him. On the third night, he has a nightmare, the worst in a while. It's long and involved, twisting and turning until he's bitten his tongue, screamed himself hoarse and skinned his knuckles trying to escape, and his dad, when he's finished holding him as he shakes and cries, frogmarches him out of the front door, into the car and over to Scott's. Stiles is shaking too much to do anything about it. It's two in the morning, but the light's still on in Scott's bedroom and Scott opens the door before they've even got out of the car. Stiles is scared to close his eyes, and his knuckles are still bleeding sluggishly.

"Stiles," Scott breathes out, pulls him into the house, whispering his thanks to his dad, closing the door quietly. They pad up the stairs and into Scott's room. Stiles stops moving, his already shot to shit nerves making his hands tremble again. Derek and Isaac are there. They've never really seen him as bad as this; at the lake he was weird, but not out of control. He uses the sleep deprivation as a punchline to a pretty tragic joke if he mentions it at all. Scott's usually the one who puts him back together after a nightmare. "C'mon, sit down, I'll get your knuckles cleaned up."

Derek won't stop looking at him. He can't work out what Derek's thinking, how he feels, if he's even stoned, or sober, angry or closed off and scared. It's not fair; pretty much everything shows on his face. He can't hide anything. "Fuck, you're a mess," Derek says softly at last. He can see Isaac backing out of the room out of the corner of his eye.

"I'm a mess? Fuck you," he spits out, stands up and gets right up into Derek's space. "I'm not the one who took a vacation from reality—"

"Stiles, I was completely fucking aware of reality. I was also relaxed and happy, and you obviously have some kind of problem with trusting someone who isn't three steps away from a mental breakdown—"

"Guys."

"—and you wouldn't stop looking at me, all the time. Looking and wanting and being scared, and angry and wanting some more—"

Scott physically separates them, pushing Stiles down into the chair.

"Do you wanna talk about it?" Scott asks as he holds Stiles's hands steady. Stiles shrugs, acutely aware that Derek's still watching him. He licks his lips, remembering at the last second the pain in his tongue.

"It's a bit of dream A with some of dream C," he says with a shrug. Scott winces. "Yeah, buddy. It...I think I'm getting worse at waking up. A year's practice."

"Slow learner," Scott says with a soft, fond smile. He finishes cleaning Stiles's knuckles, tapes them up.

"A year? You've...for a year?" Derek's frowning, his frame tense like he's going to explode out of the chair.

"Nothing I can do about it. You think the Nemeton would let me go with just a lock of hair? A promise to send a Christmas card? This is...this might be it for me. The rest of my life."

Derek looks at his hands. "I had no idea. You don't— you don't tell me these things any more. You shut me out."

Stiles sighs, looks at him, at the familiar curves of his face. "So do you," he says, feels like he's on the edge of something, like another word could crumble everything. Scott's hands anchor him as he tries to convince himself he's still here, flickers of the dream flashing at the corner of his eye.

"I talk all the time," Derek says with a helpless shrug.

"But you don't say anything. It's like your face, your body— they've gone quiet. Something I learned to read before you left has gone back to fucking hieroglyphs. I can't— I watch you all the time, yeah, but I don't understand you."

Derek doesn't move for a few seconds. Then, he smiles, a half smile that doesn't look happy at all. "You understood me because I was scared, pretty much all the time," he says in a terribly kind voice, "and I don't think you've stopped being scared in about ten years," then he stands, nods once at Scott, and leaves. Stiles can't move for a minute. Scott just watches him, without judgment, as he quietly falls apart again.

"Just— fuck him. I fucking— if I could stop being fucking scared— does he think I like it?"

Scott scrubs a hand through his hair, pulls back the comforter, gets into bed and beckons Stiles in.

"I think I might have to make a snap cup," he says as Stiles gets in, nestles close, "and it's a little worrying that I'm getting most of my leadership tips from movies aimed at teenage girls."

"Pfff, nah. It's the thing I respect the most about you as a leader. That and your regular fits of toplessness."

“I’m oiling my chest for the pack recruitment drive poster,” he says as he strokes Stiles’s back in slow circles. They’re quiet for a few minutes. Stiles keeps his breathing pattern even, listens to the steady swish and thump of Scott’s heart. “Stiles, uh. You know I’m totally on your side? Like, I’ll never not be on your side, ever. But you know that weed’s kind of different for werewolves, right?”

Stiles mashes his face into Scott’s chest, tries to burrow down under the comforter. Scott sighs, pulls back and waits until Stiles is looking at him. “I know. Just—don’t try and make me be the adult here,” Stiles says, hates the plaintive tone his voice has taken on.

“He’s happy, Stiles. And I can’t believe you’d ever think I’d do that to you, buddy,” he says, ruffling Stiles's hair with a grin as Stiles slaps his hand away and hunkers down again, his ear against Scott’s chest, their feet tangled together.

Scott leaves the nightlight on as he settles into sleep, wrapped around Stiles, weighing him down. At some point in the night, he sleeps, doesn't dream. He feels like shit waking up, but a slightly better grade of shit than before. Scott makes him breakfast and brings it up on a tray. He’s put a daisy in an eggcup. Stiles isn’t sure why, but it makes him feel weirdly better.

*

He comes out from detention the next afternoon feeling less strung out than expected. Scott's taking the design for his snap cup pretty seriously, and Isaac seems to have been infected with the madness, because he's convinced he overheard them planning a trip to the craft store in the next town. Allison brought him chocolate and Lydia stroked his hair all the way through lunch. That's probably why he isn't more concerned when he turns the corner to where he's parked and sees Derek leaning against the jeep, one leg crooked up. He looks relaxed, but not with the too-pliant slouch he usually gets, and his focus is as sharp as it ever was when he watches Stiles approach. Stiles puts his hands deep into his pockets, hunches his shoulders a bit. "Hey Derek," he starts with, in a voice that isn't as steady as he'd like. Derek steps away from the car and opens his arms. Stiles doesn't move, is half wondering if he's moved on to waking dreams. "Derek, are you...okay?"

Derek raises his eyebrows, doesn't put his arms down. "It's called a hug, Stiles. We should hug."

"Do...I get a choice?"

"No. You don't."

Stiles puts his backpack down. "I don't know if that's how hugs are meant to work, man," he starts to say, but Derek jerks his head, keeps his arms open, so he steps in and tentatively puts his arms round Derek, slouches down so his face is pressed in close to his shoulder. Derek gives good hugs. They feel secure and steady, like he's going to keep everything bad away through sheer willpower and eyebrows. He's muscular, still a little soft around the middle, and his scruff feels weird on Stiles's skin. He smells nice, too, the slight sweetness of weed offset by the smell of his clothes, of the woods and whatever douchebag hair product he uses.

They don't move for a long time. "How was your day?" Derek asks after a while. 

"We're doing this, too?" Stiles mutters.

"Yes," Derek says.

Stiles thinks for a while. "Better than I thought it would be," he says eventually, relaxing into Derek a little more. "Allison gave me chocolate and let me ask her questions about recurve bows for half an hour. Lydia gives awesome headrubs. She fucking schooled me on quarks at the same time. It was pretty interesting- like, on the one hand I was confused as hell and on the other I'm pretty sure I've never been more comfortable."

"Cognitive dissonance," Derek says and puts his hand on the back of Stiles's neck, rubs gently with his thumb. "Or something like it."

Stiles closes his eyes as Derek sways them a little like they're dancing, like the stars are out and the violins are playing. "How, uh, how was your day?" he asks to fill in the space where the music should be.

Derek hums, doesn't answer immediately. "It was...it was okay. I started a new commission, did a few sketches. I think this one's gonna be good."

"Wait, commission?" Stiles asks, wants to pull back so he can side eye Derek properly. "What, you make stuff?" How did he not know this shit? It's his business to know as much as he possibly can about people.

"It's not all weed and bongos, Stiles," Derek says with a slight edge to his tone, the wounds they gave each other still a little too fresh for careless words. They keep hugging, though, their bodies close, even if their words can make chasms if wrongly used.

Stiles spends the next few minutes in silence, trying to work out what he makes. His first thought, and he'll lie about this to anyone who asks, is that Derek carves artisan dildos out of wood with his claws. He considers and discards chairs, footstools, sculptures of dead presidents, paintings done with mulch and fox droppings, paintings of kittens with comic sans captions, and, lastly, plaster casts of his own penis, painted bright orange with 'despair' written in sharpie up the side. He...may have gone a little overboard with the speculation. "Can I...can I see what you make?"

Derek's quiet for a long time, so quiet Stiles is on the point of taking it back, laughing it off. "Sure. We can go to my workshop now," he says, and Stiles has a terrible reverse R Kelly moment: his body doesn't want to ever stop hugging, his mind wants the knowledge. "We'll take the jeep; you know where it is." He steps away from Stiles, smile relaxed. "At some point I'd love to know what possible careers you just thought up for me," he says, smile turning to a grin as Stiles shakes his head vigorously.

He keeps thinking they're going to turn off, even as they're taking the bumpy track through the preserve, but the looming facade of the Hale house comes into view. "This is your workshop?" he asks, unable to keep the disbelief out of his tone. Derek does a little half shrug.

"It's quiet, and it's mine."

At first look, the house doesn't seem any different, then he sees the colored glass strung up over the broken window panes, the delicate metal vines that curve up and around the railings. He gets out of the jeep without waiting for Derek, walks eagerly forward and into the house, opens the door and stands still, stunned. Inside, suspended from the charred beams, scattered over the floorboards, are hundreds of delicate little mechanical sculptures. There are little planes, their propellers powered by wind, the mechanism making the wings lift up and down, and tapering metal springs that twist lazily in the dust mote filled air. There are some humanoid figures; some look like they're dancing, some look like their bodies are contorted in agony, limbs gnarled and mouths opened wide. It's eerily beautiful, light glinting and metal delicately clinking and whirring.

"There's more," Derek says softly, and Stiles doesn't know quite how he's going to survive a whole house full of these elegant and unnervingly lovely pieces of Derek's mind.

"I'm fully expecting to see a filigree lifesized figure of Scott with 'the true alpha' picked out in semi-precious stones on his torso at some point," Stiles tells him as they climb the stairs.

"I do take commissions."

Stiles pauses on the stairs, turns so he can see Derek's face. "Speaking of alphas...those two betas. They were the advance party, right? What did you do with them? Which pack were they from?"

Derek looks down at the floor, a slight tick in his jaw. "They were from the Doherty pack. They’re not a threat. Ten years back, they mistook an Alsatian for a full shift werewolf. Tried to make it their Alpha. They’re dumb as a box of rocks, don’t have even the slightest handle on their instincts. They try and take territories from other packs every month, pretty much. And I put the betas tied up on a freight train to Arizona with $200 worth of weed stashed in their clothes."

Stiles gapes. "You— Jesus, that's...creative. And horrible"

Derek looks at him, eyes suddenly sparking with that old slow burn fury. "I was angry. Or had you forgotten?" he adds with a soft bite.

"I won't apologize." Stiles isn't budging on this one, not even when Derek leans in close, menaces with his sheer bulk. They stare at each other in the quiet house, the whirring and clicking from downstairs softly filling the space. At last, he slumps back against the bannister, summons up a smile. "I think we were better at this when we were hugging," he says, turns and goes upstairs before he can see Derek's expression.

He's being pulled in three directions: he wants to see the rest of Derek's work, wants to find out all he can about the Dohertys and go into full crisis planning mode, wants to needle Derek enough to get him angry, to use all that physical strength, get another dose of that clean, pure fear, shake things up and see what survives. "I wouldn't, Stiles," Derek says. He whirls around, almost tumbles down the stairs but saves himself at the last minute, which hurts his knuckles but saves the remnants of his dignity.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

Derek raises his eyebrows. "I know you, Stiles," and really, that shouldn't be as comforting as it is. He feels briefly touched and then incredibly pathetic. "You know me, too. We were just...extrapolating based on flawed data."

"Scott's making a snap cup," Stiles blurts out to fill the quiet.

"Huh," Derek says, and the fact he doesn't have to ask what a snap cup is adds another bit of information to Stiles's mental Derek Hale spreadsheet. Well. Mental as in password protected and buried in several layers of files. Stiles reaches the top of the stairs and pauses, just takes it all in. Derek's put a clear plastic corrugated roof over the remains of the upper floor, some of the gaps in the walls have been filled in with colored glass bottles, in some the vines still grow through. A trestle table stretches the length of the house, scattered haphazardly with pliers, coils of copper wire, rusted tin cans and broken bits of machinery, twisted metal, soldering irons and, alarmingly, a miniature anvil. There are drawings at one end, piled up and weighed down with a housebrick. The half-finished sculptures are all incredibly delicate, close work that Stiles would never have thought Derek could do, would have the patience for. Derek's claws and blunt force, not pliers and wire that loops and curves in on itself. His eye's caught by a little stylized wolf, made out of beaten copper, mouth open in a lolling grin. There's a moon, too, and stars.

"It's for a baby from a pack in San Francisco. It's gonna be a mobile for his crib. First born wolf for them in fifty years; it's an important occasion."

Stiles traces around the edge of the wolf with one finger. "Is this a commission?"

"No. It's a gift. From the Hale pack." Stiles almost points out that there isn't really a Hale pack left. He's pretty sure Scott's Derek's alpha, Cora's gone to Argentina and no one knows where Peter is. "A wolf that was bitten by a Hale becomes a Hale. Regardless of last name, Scott and Isaac are Hales. That's important."

So Derek bit himself some more family. Then two of his little family got killed, two ran away and two stayed.

"So they'll always be Hales?" Stiles asks with a frown, picks up a piece of green glass, worn smooth by water. "Like, when you're a Hale you're a Hale all the way?"

Derek ducks his head, covers his mouth briefly with his hand. "From your first cigarette to your last dying day," he says, then spends the next few moments smiling at his own joke. Stiles side eyes him, moves over to the couch in the corner of the room, where there's a kettle, microwave and stack of books.

"Hey, is that a set of bongos?" he says suddenly. Derek sighs.

He does his homework while Derek works, stopping every few minutes to watch him. He figures it's a rewards system, an incentive to get his work done. Derek doesn't look up, but Stiles knows he's precisely aware of where Stiles is, his every movement and a few of his more basic thoughts. Derek's sketching on a piece of rough cardboard, his pencil sharpened to a stump, looking comically small in Derek's hands. It's all broad swoops at first, then it becomes more refined, measurements and a grid system, sorting out little details. By the time Stiles has finished his history work, an essay on eighteenth century moralist literature and its use in the modern evangelical movement (it's sort of related to the 1920s? A little?) Derek's making a little model out of wooden coffee stirrers, and it's getting dark.

"I'm gonna drive home now. Dad's cooking tonight. He's been taking classes," he adds, because hey, he can share information. He can almost talk about feelings; he's a real boy.

Derek smiles at him. "That's good. I'll get a bit more work done here I think," then he steps away from the table, stands in front of Stiles, opens his arms again.

"I'm uncomfortable with this on a profound spiritual level," Stiles tells him, but he feels pressured by Derek's eyebrows into moving closer, wrapping his arms around him and having another awkwardly long but enjoyable hug.

*

Scott comes round after their only slightly burnt dinner, flops in through his window with a tired groan and claws himself onto the bed. "I want an alpha pass from homework," he says into Stiles's pillow. "Also, man, how many times have you jerked off this evening?"

"Twice, I was bored, and to get an alpha pass we'd have to have a werewolf principal. And the only adult werewolves we know are Deucalion and Peter, which no. That's a lawsuit waiting to happen."

"Derek's an adult," Scott says, toes off his sneakers and kicks them onto the floor. Stiles gapes at him.

"Uh, no. He isn't. Did you get hit by a tree on the way here?"

Scott flips him the bird, lets his arm fall back onto the bed, middle finger pointing up like he's saving it for the next thing Stiles says, which, rude. Stiles huffs, goes back to updating his ‘Movies Seen’ section of the spreadsheet that doesn't actually exist, then goes into the 'Known Skills' section. So far, he's got 'not dying', 'exceptional use of eyebrows', 'being oddly hilarious', 'sad exercising', 'growing grief beards', ' glaring and other threatening behavior', 'dating incredibly inappropriate women', 'playing the bongos', 'hotboxing' and 'surprisingly good at footrubs'. He doesn't know quite what else to put. He starts with the easiest; 'determined hugger', then he sags back in his desk chair. He doesn't want to cheapen what he saw, doesn't know how to distil it into a few words on a computer screen. In the end, he puts in 'catching the light with his hands', shakes his head, puts in ‘artist’ instead, and knows he'll still remember what it meant to be in that house today.

"You updating the spreadsheet?" Scott asks sleepily. Stiles shushes him frantically, saves it and clicks out of it.

"It doesn't exist," he hisses. "You saw nothing."

"Okay," Scott says agreeably, sinks down further on Stiles's bed.

Stiles shuts down his laptop and he and Scott go and brush their teeth together, making faces at each other in the mirror. The night after a really bad nightmare, Scott shares Stiles's bed, because otherwise he just sits in their backyard all night listening to him sleep, which is a) creepier, and b) ends up with him getting a really sore neck from sleeping awkwardly against their fence. They even have preferred sides of the bed, and Scott has a favorite pillow, which Stiles sometimes hides to make him sniff it out because he's an asshole and watching Scott in Lassie mode is never going to get old.

They turn the light off after his dad's said goodnight to them both, lie in the darkness facing each other. "What do you know about the Dohertys?" Stiles asks, rubbing his feet against the sheet in a repetitive swishing motion.

"They're the pack the betas came from. Derek told me about them once he'd, uh, calmed down— the snap cup's done, I forgot to tell you, it's way cool— it sounds like they're kind of terrible at being werewolves. Like, they know nothing, and we’re not talking Derek levels of nothing here, we’re talking them getting treed every full moon, me trying to be a werewolf without you around level of nothing.Every few months, they try and take another pack’s territory from them and get sent back to Oregon with their tails between their legs because they think being a werewolf is all about grabbing land and eating deer without cooking it first. Derek's kind of...he was talking about them like he was Carson and the footman had dropped the soup course.”

"Scott, I'm taking your boxset away from you. But...yeah, he didn’t think much of them, like, at all. Is there a werewolf class system?"

"I guess? I think being a Hale is a big deal."

"And you're a Hale," Stiles says, wondering if Derek's had that particular conversation with him. Scott's eyes flash red, briefly.

"Yeah. The Dohertys are going up against a pack of Hales."

He missed the point when Scott accepted the whole werewolf package. He could've been in the middle of a nightmare, doubting reality, he could've been quietly hating Derek's stupid face, or distracted by research. At some point, Scott grew up. "You're sure they're coming back?"

"Derek put weed down the betas' pants, stole their wallets and their shoes and put them on a freight train. They're not gonna just roll over," Scott says. Stiles is pretty sure a part of Scott is looking forward to it.

*

The next day he goes around to Scott's after school. Derek's already there, sprawled on the couch with a familiarly lazy smile. It looks suspiciously like he's playing cat's cradle with himself, or trying to. Stiles huffs, catches the apple Isaac throws him and bites into it viciously, thanking him with his mouth still full. Derek looks straightforwardly happy to see him, pats the couch. "I saved you a seat, man," he says in that slightly unfocussed drawl. Stiles really wants to sit on one of the wooden chairs, but his strong principles are nothing compared to how much his ass hurts from an exceptionally undignified lacrosse tackle. He sits on the other end of the couch, arms folded, but as soon as he's settled in, Derek hooks him with one leg, yanks him so he's lying on Derek's chest. "Hugging rule," Derek explains, "Isaac had one too. We bonded, man."

"You're really taking that rule seriously," Stiles says tentatively. Isaac nods, looking a little skittish about the whole thing. Derek makes a little pleased hum.

"It's my responsibility. I decided."

Stiles feels like a shitty person for taking advantage of Derek's mellower half-baked mood, but hell, he's curious. "Did you...how did you come up with the hugging rule?" he asks, letting Derek lace their fingers together, then trying to free his hand as Derek uses their fingers to scratch at his beard.

"I read it, man. I thought I'd take a leaf out of your book. Huh. Yeah, that's, like, literal."

He's not asking which book. Or did Derek google it? How would you even begin with that? "Is there a werewolf google? Or have you all got myspace accounts to fly under the radar?"

"It's a mailing list," Derek says. Stiles props himself up on Derek's chest to stare at him.

"Are you shitting me?" From the way Derek collapses into wheezing little giggles, he is. Isaac's laughing, too. Stiles would fold his arms, but Derek's still trapped his hand, and is using it to wipe tears from his eyes. He can feel Derek's body shaking from all the places they're touching, his breath huffing out onto his hair. "Asshole," he mutters. It only makes Derek laugh harder.

Scott and Mrs McCall come in at the same time, Scott carrying her groceries. She makes her standard 'Why did I let so many people cut keys to the front door without changing the locks?' expression, but Stiles grins at her then settles back onto Derek, because she loves them, he knows she does. "Hey buddy, we're cuddling," Derek says in a confidential tone. Scott comes over, tilts his head so he can see Stiles's face where it's mashed into Derek's cardigan.

"You okay there?"

"We're good," he says, because he might possibly have Stockholm syndrome.

"We're still using the snap cup. I got a glue gun to make it, and they're not cheap, man."

"Fun to use, though," Isaac says, coming up and looming, pressed in close to Scott's shoulder.

"We can still use the snap cup," Stiles says, tries to sit up again. This time, Derek lets him, but he keeps hold of his hand. Stiles will take his victories while he can, even if Derek spends a weirdly long time stroking it.

He wanders off to help Mrs McCall put away the groceries; he knows their cupboard system better than they do. He designed it when he realized they were literally putting shit in the first space they found. He regularly has to re-sort their kitchen; they'd starve without him, for sure, unable to find their food in among their other food.

"I like the chart you made," Mrs McCall says, bumping her hip against his. "It's pretty detailed."

He beams at her, plucks up the can of borlotti beans, puts them on the pulses side of the shelf, a little clumsy because of his knuckles. "You're a good kid," she says in that soft, slightly helpless voice she uses sometimes. He ducks his head, blinks rapidly, because he first started hearing that voice from her when his mom got sick, and he knows she doesn't know what to do with him, but she's never tried to change the way he is, and he loves her in a way that makes him miss his mom.

She kisses his cheek and he clutches his heart, eyes comically wide, staggers back a few steps. She's not fooled, but she lets him believe she is. He goes back into the living room with the bag of popcorn he swiped on his way out under his hoodie, whistling quietly.

Once they've kept Derek from taking sole possession of the popcorn, they settle down, Derek sprawled on top of Isaac, Scott and Stiles on the loveseat, knees and sides touching. Important business settled (whether Batman or Superman would make a better cake, whether Han Solo or Westley would win in an arm wrestling contest) they move on to the Dohertys.

"They're buttheads," is Derek's considered opinion.

"Okay, yeah. Could you maybe expand on that?"

"Well, in August, on the full moon, they go into the forest and sniff skunks. For fun. I mean, skunks, man. That's, like, way buttheady.'

Scott looks very patient. Stiles is acutely aware that he doesn't, because Isaac looks at him with an incredibly smug expression. It makes him look like Jackson.

"How many werewolves are there in the pack?" Scott asks.

Derek scrubs at his beard. "What kind, man? There are, uh, well, the ones who get treed every full moon— the fire service have blocked their number now— and then there are the ones who can breathe and shift at the same time, but they're all buttheads. They, like. They wear jeans to bed, man, because their Alpha was high on peyote once in the eighties and told them denim was protection against wolfsbane. That's not...I mean, I wear boxers, that's way better, but I like wearing socks to bed. Is that weird? I...man, they're just comfortable, but that could be weird. I don't...I run hot, I guess socks are weird. Like, I don't need them. Stiles, your face. I, uh. We're good, right?"

He really wants to lie and say they are. It's— Derek's face is so open, so sincere. "I like your beard," he says instead. Scott clicks his fingers twice, grins like Christmas has come early.

"Snaps for Derek!"

Stiles puts his head in his hands.

*

They know pretty well how this thing with the Dohertys will go down. They’ll come to Beacon Hills in about a week, mark up a few trees with whatever they use as spirals, possibly pin a dead squirrel to someone’s door. Then, they’ll do some posturing, make a few speeches, frighten the local wildlife, have a few fights and then leave, back to their old territory. That’s how it’s happened before, anyway, multiple times. That was when it was more a land grab than a grudge match, though. That was before Derek tied their betas up and put them on a train.

Stiles keeps patrolling, wants to crawl out of his skin, tells the Argents to watch out for the Dohertys and he doesn’t care if he’s gone behind Scott’s back, he needs to do something. It’s not paranoia if they’re out to get you. Chris Argent claps him on the back in a way that’s probably meant to be fatherly but just feels weird, and Allison smiles at him and asks him what he thought of the assigned history reading. He ends up staying over for dinner and it’s surprisingly not awkward. Maybe it’s different when you’re not a werewolf who’s boning Christ Argent’s only daughter. They tell him not to worry when he leaves, and he nods, tells them it’s fine, he’s fine, then he goes home and waits for the Dohertys to make their move. Waits to be surprised. Doesn’t sleep at all.

*

He gets a phone call from Scott after detention (people are so protective of fire hydrants) the next day. The first few seconds are heavy breathing, and Stiles assumes at first he meant to call Allison but then the growling kicks in and he doesn't think she goes for that shit. "Scott? You okay, buddy?"

There's a pause, more growling. "I, uh, yeah I'm fine. It's just...Derek's not at home."

"Have you tried calling him? He said he was picking up some— oh, hang on. Is this a metaphor?"

"If by metaphor you mean Derek's gone into some kind of feral state and is being incredibly weird, then yeah, it is."

Stiles sags briefly against his jeep, gets in and taps the steering wheel with one hand. "I'll bring the mountain ash and some dried mango. He's kind of into mango at the moment. Could work as a bribe."

"Stiles, do you think it's safe?"

"Pff, yeah, he loves me," Stiles scoffs, pauses for a second and shakes his head to dislodge the thought. "I'll be there in ten. You at his loft?"

"Yeah. See you soon."

He's not entirely sure what he's expecting when he gets to the loft, but only making it three steps in before he's tackled from the side, carried up to Derek's bedroom and thrown on the bed definitely isn't it. Isaac and Scott are already there, Isaac looking incredibly put out by the whole thing. Derek then lies back down at Scott's feet. "Um...he's...he's still wearing socks. Guess he wasn't kidding about liking them. But...clothes?"

"Derek doesn't like clothes at the moment," Isaac says in the tone of someone who has tried to put the case forward for wearing clothes and has had it shot down.

"He's a forceful nudist. Damn. Scott, I just, what?"

"I know," Scott says, looks down to where Derek's nuzzling his foot. "I almost miss the bongo playing."

Isaac shudders. "No one misses the bongo playing."

It takes half a bag of dried mango before Derek lets them put at least a robe on him. It takes to rest of the bag to convince him to stay still while Deaton examines him. "Well, it looks like he's a little...altered," he says at last, after lots of staring soulfully at nothing. Stiles glares at the floor, because no fucking shit he's altered. "My guess is a wolfsbane based drug, given via either food or inhalation. Keep an eye on him, don't let him out of the house until he’s settled down. He's pretty mellow, and he's in fine shape physically, so just...let him do his thing. Call me if anything changes, but he should be fine in a few days. You might want to suggest he switches supplier," he adds, then leaves in a swirl of oddly attractive leather and frustratingly insufficient information.

As it transpires, 'his thing' involves nudity. They turn around after the door to the loft snicks closed to the soft thud of Derek's robe hitting the floor. "I'm instigating a no boner smelling rule. I’m also fully blaming the Dohertys for any ensuing boner related weirdness should that rule be broken," Stiles says grimly, because, fuck, the guy's built, and he's naked. Stiles isn't made of stone. Even without every other tangled bit of their relationship, Derek's an attractive guy.

"...okay," Isaac says tentatively. Stiles exchanges a nod of bro solidarity. Scott doesn't need to promise; he's followed the boner smelling rule for months. They'll be fine. It's only a few days.

*

They won't be fine. Derek is a) naked, and b) affectionate in a way that involves sticking his tongue in Stiles's ear. Neither werewolf seem to find this in the least bit weird, which means Derek's firing on all his wolfy cylinders, and this is just an impulse that all werewolves have and he has never before been so grateful for Scott and Isaac's self-control. Tongues stuck in ears are unacceptable. Derek also thinks Scott is the best thing ever. He keeps bringing him little things from his apartment, like three of his forks, a little plant pot from his oddly well cared for herb garden, six buttons, a single white sock. Every time Scott accepts them with a smile, he just seems so straightforwardly happy it breaks Stiles a little bit. It's unlikely that Derek will ever be like that again, that simply joyful, and Stiles has to leave the room to get himself together again when he realizes, leaning against the wall and just breathing until it's not quite as horrible in his brain. When he goes back in it's like he's been gone for days; Derek's making whining, chuffing noises, rubbing his cheek against Stiles's and looking closely at him like he's checking for injuries.

When they order pizza in, they find out that not only is Derek on a leave of absence from normal human interaction, he's also basically a Werewolf Carson (Scott's words.) He actually bares his teeth at Isaac when he goes to take a slice of pizza before Scott, growls at Stiles when he does the same, and they get into a weird pizza based Mexican standoff until Scott, pretty oblivious to the whole thing, grabs the slice with the most pepperoni on it and gets melted cheese down his shirt. Derek then looks from Stiles to the pizza until he takes a piece, takes one himself and then Isaac, who has by this point sunk his head into his hands, is allowed to take one. "Was that...what just happened?"

"I think we just scraped through werewolf etiquette 101," Isaac says sulkily, glaring at Derek as he bites into his pizza. "And we nearly used the knives closest to the plate first."

"I am definitely taking that boxset away. Do you guys have marathons or something?"

Scott looks down at his pizza, then to Derek. "Is this what Derek thinks should happen all the time? Are we rude werewolves?" he asks, aghast. Stiles looks at Derek, who's got his face in a piece of pizza, a tomato sauce massacre happening on the table. 

"Well, he's kind of a werewolf snob, but I...maybe?"

"We're basically the Dohertys," Isaac says morosely, snagging a piece of pizza when Derek's distracted by a bird outside. "We've been badly brought up." 

Derek doesn't respond. He's busy growling at a seagull.

*

That night, his dad has to pull him out of the bathtub before he drowns in his sleep. He'd filled it with cold water, got in and immersed himself completely. It's the closest he's come to real danger from his skewed sense of reality. His dad's crying, great shaking sobs and he feels like he's wrapped in cotton wool, like he's seeing everything from above as he gasps on the bathroom floor, coughing as his throat burns, spewing water on the floor. Stiles is saying something over and over again, words that take a while to make it through to his fogged up brain. He's saying "it's not your fault," over and over and he keeps on saying it once he's worked out why. His dad's still in his shirtsleeves. His cuffs are soaked through with the icy water and they're both shivering but they don't move from where they're clutching each other on the floor.

"It's getting worse," his dad says at last, moving so they're up against the wall, legs tangled on the floor.

"Don't tell Scott," Stiles says, doesn't know why.

"You don't mean that, kid," his dad tells him, and he's right, but it would be easier if he could pretend he didn't need Scott, didn't need a reality check. It would be easier if Inception didn't give him a panic attack.

"Just...go and see Melissa when I’m with Scott. Please. You...you need someone too. We get a McCall each. You get the version who looks better in a dress."

His dad sighs. "You're a good kid, Stiles," he says. Stiles has never wanted to believe something so badly in his life.

"Clothes," his dad says at last, and they help each other up off the floor. Stiles lets the bathwater out without looking at his dad, gets two of the fluffy towels they bought the last time they went on their 'let's try and be functioning adults not bachelors' trip to bed bath and beyond. They don't use them much, but using one of those bad boys is a little bit like being dried tenderly by angels while John Mayer sings a song he wrote just for him. Stiles puts his on like a cloak, gives his dad the deep blue one and is on the point of saying 'winter is coming' when he remembers his dad probably wouldn't find it all that funny given that it's a) spring, and b) he's just had a minor breakdown, so he just swirls it dramatically then goes to his room to put on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie.

His dad's waiting downstairs in his favorite comfortable sweater. His right hand's in his pocket, so he must have a tremor, but he doesn't seem too bad apart from that. "I think they're at Derek's," Stiles says, shoving his hands in his pockets, catching the string of his hoodie in his mouth and biting down. "He, uh. I should've told you before, but he's gone a little...feral— nothing too bad! He's kind of mellow actually, but I have seen him chase an imaginary tail..." he trails off. His dad's gone into Sheriff mode, reddened eyes bright, sharp.

"Why would that happen, son?"

Stiles digs at the floor with his foot. He's pretty sure his dad knows Derek's currently walking on the stoned side, but he goes with the more innocuous "Someone slipped him some wolfsbane. Pretty sure it was the Dohertys, the skunksniffers I told you about. I think they assumed he'd go a bit more...ragey, considering. Assuming they assumed anything at all."

His dad's on the point of asking more questions, visibly decides not to. They go out to the car, his dad's hand a warm grip on his shoulder. "You'll go to Melissa's, right? Please," he says when he's belted up. His dad nods.

"Sure, son," he says gently.

*

The cold is in as deep as his bones when he gets to Derek's loft. He forces himself to stand without shivering, steps away from the car, keeps his focus on the door as whispers flicker at the edge of his hearing, shadows dance just behind him. Upstairs, he can hear a low, continuous growl so he walks towards the creatures with teeth and claws and away from the safety of his home. "Stiles?"

"Hey buddy," he calls back.

"Stiles, it's four in the— why are you wet? Hey, Derek— Derek—"

Derek walks all around him, close enough that he can feel his breath on the back of his neck. His eyes remain bright blue; the dim light from the small table lamp gives his skin an oddly glowing sheen. He's wearing one red and one blue sock, and the underpants battle is clearly ongoing. Stiles opens his arms, hopes that some part of Derek still knows what that means. Derek tilts his head to one side, eyes flickering from his face to his arms and back again. Then, with a satisfied little chuff, he stands a foot away and mimics Stiles's pose. "Yeah, that works too," he says, closes the distance and wraps his arms around Derek's waist, presses himself close so there isn't a part of them not touching. Derek stands frozen for a few moments, then, with precise delicacy, wraps one clawed hand around the back of his neck, places the other in the middle of his back. It's tentative, tender almost.

"Come to bed and warm up," Scott says, voice still groggy from sleep. Without disentangling themselves, they manage a shuffling, swaying walk. It's almost like dancing.

Isaac gives them a sleepy wave, and Stiles almost tells him he has ridiculous bedhair but he decides not to, even if it is making a weird ski slope thing, because he is currently teaching a naked werewolf with a sock fetish the art of hugging. Scott gets into bed, holds back the covers. Derek's not letting go; he has his face tucked into the crook of Stiles's neck and Stiles can feel his weird brow thing against his skin, his breath as he inhales and exhales, warm and damp. Not knowing quite how this is going to go, he walks them backwards until his knees hit the end of the bed, lets himself fall, assuming Derek will take his weight and move them to a legitimate sleeping position. He closes his eyes as they twist and land with a thud, lets Derek arrange him so he's being comprehensively spooned. Derek takes the outside.

He opens his eyes to see Scott looking at him, eyes still sleepy, half-closed. He still feels cold, burrows into the covers. One of the stories his mom read to him was from an illustrated book of fairy tales. A boy had a shard of mirror through his eye and in his heart, was saved by love. His mom always used to say it was the only story the author ever wrote where the girl won, then his dad would deliberately bring up the little match girl just to see her get animated about it then stand with this grin on his face while his mom turned into a swirl of long limbs, dark hair and rapid words. Stiles watched her, feeling like he was in the eye of the storm but drinking in everything she said as his dad waited for her to realize that he'd played her then glare at him until he kissed her back into sweetness. The ebb and flow of them punctuated his childhood. It all felt like a game they welcomed him into, a joke that he was on the inside of because he was theirs.

Derek makes a slight whine, pushes his hoodie up so he can put his warm hands on Stiles's bare belly, the claws ten distinct points of slight pressure. He stops moving, breathes shallowly, not quite afraid. Another whine, then he can feel the claws retreating and he breathes again, because the instinct not to hurt remains even when so much of Derek has been obliterated. He puts his hands over Derek's, twines their fingers together and sighs, swishing his foot back and forth on the sheets in time with Derek's slow breaths.

He warms up slowly and slips into sleep between one breath and the next. Doesn't dream.

He wakes up to a hand slipping into the waistband of his sweats, and to the delicate press of teeth on the back of his neck. The still sleepy, animal part of him wants to go limp and accept, to take his pleasure. He puts his hand around Derek's wrist. Derek stills immediately, puts his hand back on his belly, strokes the soft skin on his stomach a few times, moves his teeth to the meat of Stiles's shoulder, just a gentle anchoring press. "I'm invoking and extending the boner ignoring rule," he says quietly without opening his eyes.

"Cool. Uh, oddly I'm not really weirded out by this. I guess I should be?" Scott says.

Stiles's eyes fly open. "Seriously?"

"Werewolf thing," he tells Stiles wisely.

"You've got to stop using that as an excuse," Stiles says, reaches behind him and finds the spot just under Derek's ear that makes him go pliant and hazy eyed with pleasure. "But if one of us boned in the bed you'd be cool with it?"

"I guess. Huh."

"Why the hell are you even awake?" Isaac asks, voice muffled underneath his pillow. "And why the hell are you talking about hypothetical boning?"

"Werewolf thing," Stiles tells him, scratches Derek until his leg starts to twitch.

*

When he's had his first cup of coffee, he sits on the couch in the living area, puts his hands on his knees. Scott and Isaac have gone to do a sweep of the preserve, leaving him with Derek. Scott had actually told Derek to be good for Stiles while he was out, which made Stiles feel a little like a babysitter. Derek's looking out of the window, but he turns around when Stiles huffs out a courage-giving breath, and tilts his head to the side, alert. "It's okay Derek, nothing's wrong."

Derek ambles over anyway, hops up onto a chair and crouches, looking expectantly at Stiles, like it'll make sense if he stares enough. Maybe it does in some way. Maybe all the lurking and creepy glaring was just an attempt to make sense of things that words didn't make clear. "Derek, I. When I turned you down this morning, and man, I'm assuming you'll remember this when you're back from your vacation because otherwise I've just bared my soul for nothing, I didn't mean 'No,' I meant 'not now'. I think every bit of you deserves the choice here, not just your wolfy side. I think...sometimes you haven't been given that choice. So if you don't want me when you're back to yourself, that's fine. But if you do, that's fine too. I...I can want you, I think I'm ready now, but you don't have to want me back."

Derek whines, leaps from the chair to the couch and butts his forehead against Stiles's shoulder. "Yeah, I'm fine buddy," he says shakily, puts his arm around Derek, which he reads as his cue to flop down on the couch, head resting on Stiles's lap. "I...I know three of you now. You know two of me." Maybe there are more of them to come. Maybe this happens to everyone, just not in as sudden and violent a way, just a slow slip into something other but still recognizable. Derek rolls onto his back, reaches up and touches his mouth, lifts his upper lip and taps his teeth. "Still no fangs, buddy," Stiles tries to say around his fingers. Derek stares at the shapes his mouth makes. "Yeah, good talk." He strokes the ridge of Derek's brow, feels him go limp and pliant. "Glad we got that sorted." Derek touches his upper lip again, scratches lightly at the skin just under his nostril. He assumes that means he agrees.

At midday, Derek gets restless. He won't let Stiles near the windows or the door, herds him back to the couch whenever he tries to leave. When he needs to go to the bathroom, Derek follows him in, stares intently as he pees, standing between him and the door. (First day of Derek's mental vacation, they had to leave the door open when they were peeing so Derek would get the idea about the right place to go. Scott called it marking their territory. Isaac had a chronic case of shy bladder). He keeps looking out of the window growling, is tense, unhappy, trapped. Desperate, in this quiet, miserable way. Stiles realizes with a jolt that this is the first time since Derek came back that he's been like this.

"We need to go out," he says, glaring at the door. "You can't stay here. You need to go stare at some trees."

He texts Scott, puts on his shoes, then looks at Derek. He's developed a kind of immunity to Derek's naked state. He just feels an odd sort of helpless affection for him. He is still aware he'd be arrested for public indecency, socks or no. Stiles goes up to his room, gets out a Henley and a pair of jeans. Derek follows him, crowds him against the wall, sniffs at the clothes and then at Stiles. "We're doing this," Stiles says, shakes the jeans at him. Derek sniffs him again, then goes to the window, looks out and growls, a continuous rumble of sound. His fingers have been clawed for most of the morning; not even stroking the backs of his hands has made them retract.


 Stiles looks at the clothes, then at Derek. He sighs heavily, drops the clothes, picks up the robe from the pile of pillows and blankets that form their sleeping nest. "You can look like a weirdo not a nudist," he says firmly. Derek licks the side of his face, sniffs the robe and huffs, then crouches down a little. Getting his arms through the armholes is a battle that ends with one of the sleeves a little shredded, but Stiles feels that with Derek and clothes, his victories will always be small. He ties the robe quickly before it can slip off again, looks at the pair of boots sticking out of the closet, and shakes his head. Some battles are losing battles. At least he's wearing socks.

They don't get pulled over, thank fuck. Derek won't put his seatbelt on, insists on having the window of the van open when he drives. It's probably the smell of the weed that does it. He already seems better, not as trapped. He taps at the prayer beads that are wrapped around the gearstick, then gets distracted by a squirrel on the side of the road. "We're not fucking chasing that, dude. Have some standards."

They park at the edge of the preserve. Stiles gets out first, lets Derek out of the car then watches in helpless resignation as he basically takes off running, claws ripping through his robe as he goes into that weird hopping rabbit run. He sets off at a slower walk through the forest, picking up scraps of soft towelling fabric as he goes. He tucks them into his pocket, a kind of nudist breadcrumb trail. He's not afraid. He should be, but he's too busy seeing if among the fabric on the ground and tangled in branches, there are any that look like they've come from a pair of socks.

He comes to the Hale house by accident. Derek grasps his hoodie, pulls him in and presses him against a tree trunk, one hand to his chest, claws going through to touch the bare skin of his chest. "Hey. Hey, it's okay buddy. You know this place. C'mon. It's okay. We can go around it." Derek's panting, streaked with mud. He's gone into a defensive position, scenting the air. He doesn't let Stiles move. "Derek. C'mon. You— this was where your pack lived. Your family. You...terrible things happened there. But you were happy there before, and you've found a way to be happy there now. Come and see."

Word by word, Derek relaxes. When Stiles can move more than a few inches without being shredded, he steps from the tree, takes Derek's clawed hand in his and leads him up to the house. "Look," he says softly, traces the vines Derek made with a gentle finger. Derek does the same, his claws making an odd singing scrape on the metal. "You made all this," he tells him. Derek leans into him, makes him stumble then catches him, making what Stiles assumes is a werewolf version of a laugh. "Yeah buddy," he says, smiles across at him.

The front door swings open at his touch. He takes Derek's hand again, leads him in, stumbles almost immediately as Derek stops moving, looking up and up again, transfixed by the gold glints, the constant, gentle movements of cogs and propellers. It's beautiful and baffling to Stiles, so what it must be like for Derek to be in a place that smells of him, but contains things that are completely out of the range of his experience. Alien and familiar. Derek tugs him over to one of the sculptures on the floor, crouches down for a better look at it. His touch is tender, incredibly gentle. He traces the curve of the metal with one finger. It reminds him of seeing Derek with a baby, the summer before the Alpha pack. He had been having coffee with an old school friend. Stiles saw him through the window, the baby on his lap, and he just looked at it like it was the most precious and dangerous thing in the world. He'd had to walk on quickly, the image of Derek's huge, bluntly elegant hands cradling something so small stirring something in his heart.

Derek wanders through the metal on the floor, lets go of Stiles's hand and does a weird bounding step to get up to the next floor. Stiles follows him up. "I never thanked you for showing me this," he says as he climbs, knowing Derek can hear him. "It's beautiful. All of it's beautiful, and you didn't have to trust me with it, but you did. I— I have no idea why. Scott asked me, once, if the weed was the only reason I was angry with you. I said yes, instantly. Probably said yes sarcastically, too."

He finds Derek looking down at the long trestle, picking things up at random, holding them up to the light. Some of them he sniffs, some he licks. He's particularly confused by the anvil, which makes two of them. Stiles walks over, leans briefly into Derek, picks up one of the pieces of the mobile he's making, putting the end of the string between Derek's thumb and forefinger and pressing them together.

"I think..." he breaks off, scrubs a hand through his hair. Derek watches the crescent moon twirl as he holds up the string, confused and enchanted. "I was jealous. I was jealous that you found a way to be happy and I wasn't there when it happened. And that's— that's wrong. I hate that I felt like that. I wanted you to stay the same, like you'd come back and be all 'this is private property', or 'everything I do turns out horribly'. I didn't want you to evolve, or get better, without me there to see it. I was selfish, and I'm sorry. But I'm trying to be better at this. I swear."

Derek puts the moon carefully in Stiles's hand. Stiles spins it, watches Derek's face transform with delight. "Yeah buddy," he says, and he can feel his lips twitching up, doesn't fight it. Derek bares his teeth back, then licks a long stripe up his cheek. They'll be okay.

When they leave the house, Stiles rings it with mountain ash. He doesn't know how the Dohertys work as a pack, but he won't risk it. Derek follows him around, sniffing at currents of air. Derek's on full alert again, not the trapped kind of vigilance he had in his apartment but a sharp awareness of his surroundings. Circle complete, he follows Derek, as quietly as he can. They're close. Stiles has learned to trust that feeling he gets, that instinct that's deeper than his baseline level of fear, so he pauses when Derek pauses, doesn't break the silence between them, concentrates on Derek's body language, on the space between his shoulders, the tension in his calves, the tilt of his head from side to side as they weave through the trees.

When they find Scott and Isaac, Scott's stood reading a notice that's been nailed to the tree. It's been printed out and laminated, which means the Dohertys visited the library at some point, because there's the distinctive bubbling on the lower right corner from where Greenberg broke the machine trying to laminate a twig when he was left unsupervised for too long in third grade. "Huh. D'you think Margery made them get a library card before she let them do that?"

Scott shrugs. "She's pretty fierce."

"She likes me," Isaac says, a little smug. Of course she likes Isaac. "She used to let me stay past closing time. One time, she let me use the scanner."

Derek just flicks at the notice, tugs a little at the nail, then grunts a little . Stiles rocks back on his heels, hands in pockets. "So this is a challenge, written in times new roman, font size...sixteen I think. Wait till Derek finds out they're better at this shit than the Alphas. I mean, spirals."

"I think everyone's better at this shit than the Alphas," Scott says firmly. Derek pats him on the shoulder, mimicking, face oddly serious. "Good point, Derek," Scott tells him absently, runs his finger down the bubbling. He suddenly pauses, stands still. All three werewolves lift their heads, stand, fully alert, facing the direction Stiles and Derek came from. Stiles sends a stand by message to Chris Argent and his dad. Allison's probably hiding in a tree right above their heads, knowing her. He puts his phone away, grins as the approaching werewolves all do a double take, slow down. They weren't expecting a full pack. Fragments of one, at best. Certainly not Scott, with Isaac behind him on one side, Derek on the other. They ignore Stiles, which is totally fine by him, looking from one werewolf to the other. There's a minor scuffle between three of the lower ranking wolves that only ends when the Alpha growls, a hissed conversation that he assumes Scott and Isaac can hear. There are seven wolves in total, but they seem a little too intent on arguing with each other to present an imposing show of unity, or even do that swagger that seems to come with being a werewolf (Stiles has tried. It doesn't work.)

Scott steps forward. “My name’s Scott McCall, of the Hale pack. Why are you trespassing?”

The Doherty alpha laughs, showing a distinct lack of teeth. "You can’t trespass on a dead man’s land. Been a while since there were enough Hales to fill a pot with piss, boy," he says, shoulders forward, knees bent. "And the blooded Hale who's up on two legs should be on all fours licking trees."

"About that," Scott says, mirroring his pose. "Didn't work out the way you wanted it do, right? I'm his alpha. You think a Hale wouldn't respect the pack structure? Even when he was feral? We're strong. We're a pack, and we're Hales. And you're still trespassing."

One of the betas leaps forward, launches himself straight at Scott, who doesn't move, doesn't even flinch, because Derek comes in from the side, pins him to the ground with no effort, holds him immobile. Scott hasn't looked away from the alpha for the whole time, and if he was a douchebag like Peter, he'd probably say something, do a slow clap or creepy touch the back of Derek's neck. As it is, he just raises his eyebrows and smiles. It kind of turns into chaos at that point, and if the Dohertys weren't dumb as a box of bricks, Stiles would be worried. As it is, he steps out of the range of wolves and arrows, gets most of a mountain ash circle set up, ready to close as needed, and watches dispassionately as the Dohertys work with the 'if at first you don't succeed, do it the same twenty more times' strategy.

Then, he hears his dad's patrol car pull in to the other side of the clearing, and he doesn't feel anywhere near as dispassionate. Everything slows down a little as he abandons his circle, runs as fast as he can around the fighting, dodging trees and claws to get to his dad. He gets a shallow cut down his side, a shard of wood in his calf, narrowly dodges a swipe to his throat, and he might not even have enough mountain ash to keep his dad safe, and all the willpower in the world can't keep his dad from doing his job. This could be it. He's too far away. His dad's voice comes through the loudspeaker, tinny and distorted, and everyone stops, faces the car. "Drop your weapons, break this up. We've had two call ins about disturbances in the woods, and I want to be able to say it was rival gangs kicking off, without having another murder investigation on my hands." Stiles keeps moving. His fingers feel numb. Five yards away, the car door opens, his dad steps out, closes the door. His posture's open and nonthreatening, and he looks like he's just going for a drink with friends. It seems to be working.

The packs are slowly separating, drifting to opposite sides of the clearing. Stiles can't quite make his feet move, stays in the middle of it all, between the two packs, just staring at his dad. This isn't over. He knows it isn't over, wills his dad to just get in the damn car before something breaks this fragile peace. His dad jerks his head to the side, in the direction of Scott's pack, and he tries to remember how to move his feet. He walks backwards, not taking his eyes off the Dohertys for a second. He can feel his pulse in his ears in the eerie silence of the forest. Everything hangs suspended for a few beats, a few beats more. The crackle of the car radio breaks the pause. His dad turns to open the door, it's probably a poxy fucking status request but it makes his dad turn his back, gives one of the dumbfuck betas the opportunity to leap forwards, wolfed out, coming towards his dad with such force and speed that he can't do anything, can't move or even shout. He's seen his dad's death so many times, so many different ways. He always knew he'd be there to see it, just like he was for his mom's, and for a moment every nightmare's overlaid until all he sees is blood. He doesn't register the pale blur moving across the clearing until the beta's on the ground coughing up blood, and even then it doesn't make any sense. His dad's dead. He saw it. He drops to his knees, stares at his hands. They're bloody, streaked with mud. Shaking.

Things happen around him. There are voices, but they don't matter. He's cold, and he hurts, and everything's sharply focused to the red on his hands, the sharp thud of his heart, the rasp of his breath. He doesn't know how long he's there. Could be seconds, could be hours. He fights weakly against the strong arms that wrap around him, tearing him out of his stasis and into something real and painful. "Dad," he whispers, muffles his sobs, bites down on his hand, hard enough to draw blood, just to keep the rabbit-scared whine in.

"Stiles. Stiles, look at me, son. It's okay. I'm okay." Someone tugs his hand out of his mouth, strokes his head and hums gently. "Stiles, you're in the forest, and I've got you here. You can smell me, right? I've got that cologne your mother liked on. You might be able to smell coffee, too, because those paper cups don't hold anything worth a damn and I always spill a bit on my jacket when I carry too many things to my office at once. You can hear me, too. My heart's beating, and you might be able to hear the odd upbeat to it, and I'm talking to you. Can you feel it against your head? The vibrations? I'm wearing my jacket, so it's a little rough against your skin, and that metal thing digging into your forehead's my badge. I've got my arms around you, and I'm stroking your hair. You're in the forest, and I'm real. Open your eyes, Stiles."

He shakes his head. "Don't make me use your full name, Stiles," the voice says teasingly, rough warmth threading through it. "You know I only get it right three quarters of the time."

"Two thirds," he whispers, pulling back, eyes still closed. He opens his eyes before he can change his mind. "Dad," he says again, touches his face with fingers that don't quite feel like they're his own. He lets out a shaky breath. "How—" he stops, clears his throat. "I saw— there was no way anyone could—"

"I guess he didn't have any clothes weighing him down," his dad says thoughtfully. "I'm a little concerned you've been spending all your time with a nudist werewolf."

Stiles looks across at Derek, who's crouched down looking intently at him. He kneels up, and opens his arms. His side twinges as he moves. Derek knows the score, surges forward now he has permission and tackles Stiles to the ground and pins him, pats him down for injuries, which wasn't quite what he had in mind. "It sort of looks worse than it is, Sheriff," Scott says earnestly.

"So a naked man isn't molesting my underage son?"

"Not...completely?"

Stiles just lies there and lets him. He really doesn't have the energy to do anything else.

*

Cognitive dissonance. That's what Derek had called it, voice soft and a little smoky, close and warm. This is the second night he's sat awake outside his dad's door, baseball bat next to him on the floor, chin resting on his knees. Tonight, Derek's here too, or at least a part of him is. Here and not here, leaning against him in a sort of sitting crouch, docile but watchful, accepting that tonight they weren't sleeping without asking why. Stiles misses him with a sharp ache, like he missed the old Derek before all this with a deep and bitter anger. Maybe if he'd known him better, Stiles would have missed the kid Derek was before the fire, before his edges and desperation. He stares at the shadows, listens to the creak of the house settling down for the night. He doesn't want to sleep. He never wants to sleep again. Derek doesn't move. Maybe he used to do this with Laura after the fire, when they ran, hunted and scared. Maybe he sat outside her door, guarding her. Maybe they took turns to keep watch, or sat together, eyes gritty from lack of sleep.

He could probably get an answer from Derek once he comes back to himself. He's more open about his family now, and Stiles used to think it was because he didn't care enough to guard his secrets any more. He's spent the past few months hating Derek for trusting him with the things that hurt him the most. "I'm sorry," he whispers, because Derek can't ask why. Derek looks at him, face shadowed, eyes a bright, beautiful blue, squeezes the back of his neck once, then goes back to looking at the door, keeping a vigil, solid and calm by his side. The Doherty pack have all gone. It still feels as if they are under attack.

*

The next day slips in and out of focus. Finstock gives him detention for 'not being a pain in the ass, you're freaking me out', then they're eating lunch and Lydia turns to Scott and says 'everything I say is a lie', then smirks as he sneezes, stares at her with wounded eyes and says 'never do that again', Allison kisses him on the cheek and puts her jacket on the table so he can rest his head on it then he's in detention, thumb pressed to his pulse under the desk, listening to the clock and tapping out a completely different rhythm with his foot, then he's in his jeep and Scott hasn't let him drive home, has put him in the passenger seat with no effort at all, then he's in his room, and there's a werewolf in his bed, blinking slowly at him and everything pauses. Resets. He toes off his sneakers, strips down to his boxers as Derek watches with sleepy eyes, sprawled out on his comforter. He's probably been there all day. "Waiter, there's a werewolf in my soup," he mutters, kicks his clothes into the corner and falls into bed, tired down to his bones. "You'll stay here, right? Please," he says, curving his body to fit into all the hollows Derek's left.

He might be too tired to sleep. He hears a familiar swishing sound, feels Derek's leg moving as he brushes his foot back and forth on the sheets, burrows in closer. If he gets close enough, he might get pulled down under with Derek, chase rabbits in his dreams, sleep the straightforward sleep of a wolf in a den. Derek makes space, pulls him in and welcomes him with a nose to the side of his neck, a hand resting against his flank, breathes steady and slow. He'll miss this too, when it's gone.

He wakes up in a circle of mountain ash, surrounded by werewolves. He's in the forest, in the clearing. There's old blood on the leaves, new blood from his feet and knuckles. Scott's got his hand pressed against the barrier; he can feel it strain and bend, feel his belief and willpower shift and distort with the force of Scott's determination. He swallows, twice, remembers how to speak. "Scott— I'm awake. Step back—  please. I'll break it, just give me a minute, okay?"

His breath mists in the air and he shivers a little with the cold, looks at the circle. It's better than he could ever manage awake, and he almost wishes he could remember throwing it, but his dream was full of blood and running, the sound his dad made as he crumpled to the floor. He presses absently at the scabbed over bite he made on his hand the last time he was here. Derek's growling, a drawn out, rattling sound, shoulders forward, knees bent, and for the first time in a long time Stiles doesn't know if he's the one being growled at, if he's become a threat.

"Did I hurt anyone?" he asks, but he means Derek. Scott doesn't answer straight away. "Scott, please. I'm losing time. Just tell me I didn't—let's run away. We'll make a treehouse, or find an island. Get on a boat. Get away. I don't— I don't know if I can do this anymore."

He's never said it out loud, and he wishes he could unsay it now. Naming something gives it power, a shape. He can feel the grit of the mountain ash on his fingertips.

"Have you been to the Nemeton? Since that night?"

He shakes his head. Derek's got his palm flat against the barrier, seems calmer now. Stiles concentrates on his breathing, rubs his thumb and forefinger together. 

"There's a shoot there. New life. I go up there and just sit there, watch it. Allison comes too, and it feels weird, you know, staring at a tree, but it's growing. It'll keep growing. It feels...clean. I sniffed it a few times a month ago, and it has a sort of spring smell, like everything's about to happen again, and everything'll be new. I think about that shoot a lot. It keeps me going, because it's not just hope, it's a real thing, a natural thing. Hope— hope's in the mind. This is a little tree, and soon it'll be a big tree. And you can wait, Stiles, because this'll get better. I promise."

Stiles dashes the back of his hand over his eyes. "We can make a treehouse, right? If it's a big tree?"

"You and me, buddy," Scott says with a smile that hasn't ever changed and never will. Stiles takes a breath, breaks the line.

Derek drops a bathrobe on his head. He's sitting on the ground, letting Scott look at his feet properly, flails it away to see Derek looking at him, head tilted to one side. He drops it on his head again, looks at him expectantly again. "He'll keep doing it," Isaac says, not looking up from his phone. "He's kind of weird about people wrapping up warm."

"Dude, it's already pretty strange that he made a pitstop to get it while he was chasing me through the preserve," Stiles says, but he picks it up, puts his arms through the sleeves, ties it up and lets it fan out behind him. "Happy?" He puts his hand in one of the pockets. "Seriously?" he asks, pulling out a pair of socks.

"That's pretty much a complete outfit right there," Scott says, then he takes the socks off Stiles and puts them on for him. Neither of them notice until it's happened that it's in any way unusual. By the way Derek presses his nose to both their cheeks, he completely approves, regardless of weird.

"You're coming back," Stiles tells him quietly. "Incrementally, but you are. This must be pretty confusing, big guy."

Derek puts his hand round the back of his neck, presses their foreheads together.

"I know. Hang in there. Things'll start to make more sense soon. As much as they ever do."

It's ass o'clock when they get back to Stiles's house. They climb in through his bedroom window in the pale light of dawn, crawl into his bed, heedless of mud, blood and leaves. Stiles stares at the ceiling as his pack dozes around him. "Waiter, there are three werewolves in my soup," he murmurs, smiles and drifts off.

He's on his front, and there are teeth pressing into the skin on the back of his neck, sharp teeth, with a teasing pressure that makes him roll his hips into the mattress, mind a little foggy with sleep still. He's weighed down, skin to skin, and there's a part of him that wants to keep going, to let Derek do this and damn the consequences, shake things up, burn them down and see what survives in the end for them. He sighs, sagging into the mattress briefly, then wriggles out from underneath Derek, sits up and meets his curious eyes. "Again, this is a 'not now'," he says, kisses him on the forehead. "And I hate having a conscience. It blows."

Derek presses his lips to his forehead, not quite a kiss but close, then tugs him down so he's being spooned from behind. His breath is warm, breathing steady. It would be incredibly relaxing if it weren't for their mutual boners.

"Man, you two smell like a brothel," Scott says, a slight yawn in his voice.

"A classy one, I hope. With a piano."

"And a pot plant that isn't plastic. Yeah Stiles, a classy one."

"Thanks buddy."

"Any time. God, this is what it'll be like all the time when Derek's completely back to normal."

Stiles tenses, doesn't respond. Truth is, he doesn't know what it'll be like, if anything will change. He doesn't know if he wants it to. He doesn't know much anymore really.

*

The first thing he smells when he wakes up again is bacon, and the first thing he sees are Derek's eyebrows. He may or may not croon at them, but seriously, they deserved welcoming back. "You're about halfway there," he says to Derek, holds back from smoothing his fingers over the furrow in his brow. He's gotten used to touching whenever he wanted, whenever he thought Derek needed it, had used proximity and contact in place of words, a language they could use with each other. Now, Derek looks quietly unhappy, confused, but in the way a child might. "You'll be fine. It'll be okay."

Derek presses a hand to Stiles's chest, taps out a disjointed rhythm, a slight stutter. "Well, it might be? I wasn't totally lying. C'mon big guy, let's get you some bacon."

He manages to get Derek in sweatpants, mentally says a wistful goodbye to Derek's glorious ass, then goes down to glare at his dad for using the dad points he'd accrued over the past few months to eat unhealthy foods. And to eat some bacon.

"Scott and Isaac have gone to school. I phoned in sick for you, okay? And don't think we won't talk later about why you've got mud on your knees."

Stiles nods, mouth full of bacon, gives him the double thumbs up. His dad kisses the top of his head, ruffles Derek's hair, leaves whistling, because a Sheriff who's got away with unhealthy food is a happy Sheriff. "It's you and me today," he says, swigs his coffee then takes a deep breath of it. "I think...we should probably stay inside, yeah? Things are a little confusing out there."

Derek steals his coffee, sniffs it and scowls. "Nectar of the gods, buddy. Now give it back." Derek brings the mug over, puts it in Stiles’s hands then leans against him as he drinks, helps himself to the last of the bacon, trails a finger down Stiles's neck, skin a little slick with the grease of it. "I'll miss it being simple when we touch," he says. Derek hums quietly, sways a little from side to side.

*

It's just the two of them, sat on his bed. "It's like— John Donne, right? He wrote a sonnet where things kind of got bigger then got smaller again, like, the bed became the whole world. All his love sonnets are like 'heyyyyy, get in my bed', or 'heyyyyyy, stay in my bed'. He wanted to stay in his room with his lover, because he hadn't done anything important before he met them, and there was nothing important to see or do in the world after he had. My mom used to like hearing me read them to her, when she was sick. All these old poets, and I probably totally garbled the meaning, or got the rhythm wrong, but she'd always smile at me when I'd finished, clap if she was strong enough. I must've read a whole poetry book to her, but that one stuck in my mind, the idea that even if you were in a little place, doing nothing but lying in bed, that could be more important than being somewhere far away, doing something amazing, if you were with the right person."

He settles back, warm and lazy, watching Derek rolling a lacrosse ball back and forth on his comforter. Scott's been sending updates on the classes he's missed, including which page of the textbooks they're on. Finstock seems to be basing his lesson plan on the Fibonacci sequence. He grins, puts his phone back on the night stand. "How about a game of fifty two card pickup?" he says brightly. Derek growls. "Yeah, you're nearly back, buddy. We'll play catch instead, huh?"

*

“A picnic," Stiles says flatly, looking over Derek's head at Scott, who's grinning just like he did when he  realized aged nine that if he had money, he could buy cookies for himself.

"A picnic," Scott agrees.

"Look, are you dumbasses going to just say 'a picnic' to each other for the whole afternoon? Because I could be staring at a wall crying somewhere," Isaac says, leaning in the doorway, all giraffe legs and stupid scarf. "Just...go. I'm going to the loft with Derek. We've still got some pingu episodes to watch on youtube. I'm taking your jeep." He snags the keys, smiles at Derek. "C'mon Derek. It's another one with the seal. You like the seal, remember?"

Derek licks his neck, sits up and pulls on Stiles's favorite too-big hoodie, looking down at at the way the fabric stretches on his chest, then rubs his cheek across Scott's neck and follows him out. Stiles slumps forward, face first, ass in the air.

"A picnic at the Nemeton."

"I thought it'd be nice. I take Allison there. It's...kind of romantic?"

Stiles hums a few bars of The Look of Love, rolls so he's on his side then figures he might as well let gravity do the work, rolls out of bed, sprawls on the floor, trying to remember which limb goes where. Scott takes pity on him, takes his hand and pulls him up. "You really smell like Derek," he says, sounding way too pleased. "It's...I like it. It's like, people liking each other. It's good."

"That nice young Derek Hale," Stiles croaks in his best Aunt Gretta voice. "Such a sweet boy. Right, let's go. The Nemeton. You, cookies, milk. A bit of spiritual growth. I couldn't hope for anything better."

Scott beams. "I know, right, buddy?"

They park Scott's bike and walk the rest of the way. Scott carries their picnic, says something about treating Stiles like a lady. Stiles is too distracted to comment. He can feel a crawling sensation, running across his brain. He concentrates on breathing, on putting one foot in front of the other. It's a beautiful afternoon, the sun low in the sky, shining through the mist that hangs gently in the air. The ground smells warm, a rich, earthy smell. There isn't much noise here. His skull feels like it's swelling, temples pressing outwards, skin too tight. His heart's leaping and falling and he's so close to running, his feet are on the point of making the decision for him and he can't

"Stiles. Look at me. C'mon buddy. Eyes up."

Scott stands, not close enough to crowd him, but close enough to stand between him and danger, backpack on the ground next to him. Stiles clears his throat, dashes the back of his hand across his eyes. "I— yeah, sorry," Stiles croaks.

"Wanna hold hands? One time offer; I'll make this romantic for you," he says with an easy smile. Stiles takes a step closer, puts his hand out. Scott's grip is warm, strong, and he swings their arms back and forth as they walk up to the Nemeton. It feels...it feels jagged and discordant, a Hitchcock screech chord, calls to him and repels him, but Scott's right. In the middle of the stump, new life grows. He stares at it, concentrates, blocks out all the background, the old layers of nightmares and bleeding hands and feet, the sweat and tears. He pushes them aside and listens with his whole soul for something that's alive. He breathes deep, closes his eyes, and there it is, quiet still, not tentative but small. There you are. He breathes out, opens his eyes and looks at the shoot, reaches down and brushes his fingertip along one of its leaves. He smiles across at Scott, squeezes his hand. Scott squeezes back, and they go back to staring at the tree stump.

Scott's brought a picnic blanket, because he's ridiculous. He's also brought a packet of cookies and a full thermos of milk, but no glasses, so they take it in turns sipping out of the flask top. The sense of urgent unease is still there, but it's not the only thing that's there anymore. There's the sense that this could pass soon, that it won't be immediate, and it won't be easy, but it will happen. And after, there'll be something good.

"We're staring at a tree," he says out loud, breaks a cookie in half and dips it in the milk, gives Scott the other half. "That’s growing in an evil tree stump."

"This is my A game. I'm leaving nothing on the field here, romantically speaking."

"Wanna make out?"

They grin at each other, flop back on the blanket and watch the sky gradually darken over the crossed and twisted branches. They're still holding hands.

*

Stiles wakes up in his bed at four in the morning. He doesn't wake gasping from a nightmare, slips easily from sleeping to waking between breaths. His window's open a little and the papers on his desk flutter slightly in the breeze. He finds a cool spot on his pillow, smiles, stretches his legs out, toes pointed, arches his back and brings his arms above his head, then lets it all go, falls back to his bed, boneless and lazy. He's happy, chases the feeling like he's pressing against a loose tooth with his tongue. His pillows smell like werewolves, there's mud on his comforter, scattered leaves on his bedroom floor and he wants to stay here forever, feeling just like this.

He follows his feet down to his jeep, only stopping to grab a hoodie, toes on his sneakers, treading down the heels at the back instead of putting them on properly. He doesn't know where he's going until he takes the left turn and then it seems obvious, like there's only one place he could possibly want to be. He parks half a mile from the Hale house, walks the rest of the way, hands in his pockets. The moon lights the path, turns everything to gray and black, depths rather than colors. There are shadows, and there might be danger in them but he doesn't look, just keeps following his feet. The Hale house is still ringed with ash. He breaks the line, feels the give in it, the way the house reaches out to him and expands to fit the space he's made for it. Moonlight glints off the twisted vines, shines on the broken house Derek hasn't tried to mend because he's put beauty around the cracks and scorches and that's enough, that's just right.

Stiles sits on the porch, legs crossed, looks out at the shadows in the forest and waits, trails a hand idly along the wood, traces the whorls of the grain. This is a different vigil. No less important, for all that it doesn't come out of fear. He loses track of time. His legs go numb, so he shuffles back to the doorway. The door swings open as he approaches, but he doesn't go inside, leans against the frame so he's half in, half out of the house, crooks up his leg and rests his chin on it. He doesn't sleep. He feels safe enough to sleep, but he doesn't. He tips his head up so he can see the stars through the holes in Derek's house, and thinks, and waits.

He hears him coming before he sees him. Derek's boots crunch on the ground, and he walks with that slightly bow legged gait, hands in his pockets. "This is private property," he says, but his eyes are crinkled at the corners, the hint of a smile around his mouth.

"I missed you," Stiles says, looks up at him and can't look away.

"And do you miss me now?" he asks, leans against the railings, a finger trailing down the metal vine. Stiles doesn't know quite what to say, but Derek huffs a soft laugh, shakes his head. "Sorry, I'm— my mind is in a bit of a tangle right now. I came back to myself completely in the middle of a cartoon about a clay penguin, so..." he trails off, shrugs. Stiles can't help it, his laugh's loud in the still air, and he can't seem to stop the smile that spreads across his face, wide and pleased. "God, I love seeing that," Derek says, takes a step closer and traces his lips, gesture achingly familiar.

"So I should do it more, right?" because that's the fucking line. That's what people say.

Derek sighs, but he still looks happy, a lazy warm affection making his movements loose and relaxed. "I think you should do it as often as you feel like it," he says, leans against the house so his Henley rides up a bit. "It's your face."

He could stand up right now and kiss him. It feels like it would be easy now. "How much do you remember? I— do you remember any of it?"

He doesn't know which answer he's more afraid of. "I remember," Derek says softly. "You talked to me. I— you were warm, and simple, and you were in my pack, and I knew you loved me and would protect me, and I would do the same."

"I'm not simple."

He can't look away. It feels, in this moment, like they'd die for each other, and oh, what a beautiful way to go. "I thought you were."

He looks away first, feeling too big for his skin. He bites the string of his hoodie, presses the string up against his teeth with his tongue, shapes his mouth around it until his mind feels a little quieter. Derek's eyes are wide, and he's gone from a lazy sprawl to something tense, poised for something. "Something wrong?" he says around the fabric, spits it out and swipes across his mouth with his hand. "Seriously, you look a little, uh— you okay?"

Derek scratches the back of his neck with one hand, moves back to an approximation of relaxed. "Everything's fine, Stiles. I'm fine. I just...man, this was easier when you did all the talking. When I could just, I don't know, do." Derek offers him a hand, pulls him up. "C'mon, I've got that commission to finish. I'll make us both some coffee, how does that sound?"

Stiles doesn't step away, is close enough to kiss him. He could count all Derek's eyelashes if he wanted to. "I said 'not now' before, not 'no'," he says. "We could share a bed tonight. You could bite my neck, hump me, growl at my coffee and see where we went from there?"

It's starting to get light around them. Stiles blinks slowly, leans in so their foreheads are touching, so there's no space between them. Derek lets him, breathing a little faster than before. That old familiar heat's curling up his spine; he feels drugged with it. "I want to. We will, I swear, but there isn't time now— I have to— the mobile."

"I don't think it'll take that long," Stiles says, shifting his hips a little. Derek's laugh sounds raw, a little wrecked.

"I...I want to take our time. Do it right. I don't...I don't want to get this wrong, okay? You and me, buddy," and Derek dips his head, presses his nose to the side of Stiles's neck, twines their fingers together and leads him up to the workshop.

Derek's got a ridiculous number of rugs that he keeps in a cardboard box. They smell a little musty, a little bit of weed. Stiles wraps himself up in them, sits cross legged on the couch and watches Derek work. He's got a little battery powered radio, tuned into a late night jazz station and turned down low so it's a background hum. There's a muted trumpet, a piano and a double bass, just a snare drum played with a brush to keep the beat going. The melody meanders, doesn't really go anywhere but it's wistful, like it hopes some day it'll get there anyway. Stiles sips at his coffee, studies the angles of Derek's face as he looks what he has of the mobile so far. He's suspended the copper cutouts from a frame and they spin lazily in the light. He's made a wolf, the moon and some stars, and now he's sketching out a rough design for a raven. His movements are sure as he leans his elbows against the trestle, goes from rough shape to fine detail.

"I'm gonna do a rabbit and a hare. They've always been significant, in the stories we tell cubs."

"I remember. You told me some, before, when you were stoned. We were on a picnic bench. There was the one about the briar patch."

Derek looks up. "You were listening?"

Stiles tries to shrug, but the blankets kind of restrict him. "I guess I was," he says, looks down.

"Huh," Derek sounds quietly pleased, but when Stiles looks up, he's holding a square of copper to the light, examining it critically.

"I kind of always have."

"Even when I'm wrong?"

"Oh, man, especially then."

They drift back into silence. The radio announcer has a voice that sounds like it's been dragged from the depths, more rumble than words. Stiles half expects him to start saying shit like 'night time's the right time...for makin' love', but he's talking about Charlie Parker instead. His eyes feel gritty, but he's mesmerized by the swift, sure movements of Derek's hands as he cuts the copper sheeting, uses viciously sharp tools with a force and precision that's more of a turn on than he's fully comfortable with. A few times, he's certain Derek knows exactly what he's thinking about, can probably smell him from across the room. He doesn't say anything, but he levels Stiles with that predator's gaze a few times, watchful and patient, weighted with promise. Stiles kind of wants to instigate the boner ignoring rule, because those warning looks are pretty counterproductive.

He wants. That's the essence of it. He wants to pin Derek's hips to the bed, to take him down his throat as deep as he can, because he knows Derek would let him, would let him control the pace of it. He wants to press his face into the curve of Derek's hipbone, to go down further and just breathe him in, to bury his face in where his smell is strongest until all he knows is him. He wants to kiss him. He wants Derek to kiss him back, and he wants to know what it's like with Derek when he's careless, when he's tired, when there's not enough time but they want to anyway or it's in the morning before they're properly awake. He wants Derek's hands on his hips. He wants to rut against his leg till he comes, and wants Derek to jerk off on his back, to lick spunk off his skin, to come on his face as he kneels, baring his throat. He wants them to fuck in just about every—

"Stiles!"

It's almost a shout. His fear responses are completely fucked; his hips jerk forwards in his blanket cocoon and he ends up sprawled across the couch, one hand resting on the floor to break his fall, head hanging off the edge, looking up at Derek. "Hey! How's it, uh, how's it going?" Derek's frown is literally upside down, but it still doesn't look like a smile. "I'm sorry about my boner?" he tries. The side of Derek's mouth twitches.

"Apology accepted. I'm nearly done on the hare— I'm going to use the blowtorch, get some color and depth in it, so I need to concentrate. Do you think you could maybe stop having a boner?" he asks with infinite and exaggerated patience. Stiles frowns. He has no idea how to stop having a boner at this point. Derek sighs, comes over and helps him into a sitting position. "Tell me everything you know about snuff," he says, squeezes the back of his neck briefly. Stiles leans into the touch, eyes slipping shut with pleasure as he goes through his mental index cards.

"You may regret asking me that," he says, cracks his knuckles then his neck, and grins up at him.

*

 "Wait, when did we get on to Agamemnon?" Derek says suddenly around the end of a thin length of copper wire. Stiles blinks, taps out a twitchy rhythm on his right knee.

"Greek fire, I think. You asked for this trip down the rabbit hole, dude. Can I see it?"

"When it's finished. Nearly there. Tell me more about Menelaus."

"Once upon a time," Stiles starts. The radio is playing a big band piece, something about angels at the Ritz. He shifts, shrugs off the blankets and stretches until his back is arched up, head back, one foot digging into the arm of the couch. He can feel the air on his exposed stomach as he lifts his hips, groans at the feeling of his spine clicking back into place. He hears a metallic snapping sound, turns quickly to look. Derek's carefully expressionless, holding two pieces of wire in his hands in what looks like a death grip. "You okay?"

Derek swallows. "Yes. I actually meant to divide it. I just thought I'd be using scissors. Should be immune by now," he says, smiles ruefully.

"I wasn't even trying. To, uh, give you a boner."

"I've had a while to get used to that," he says, dry as dust, coils the wire around the wooden crosspieces until it's actually pressed right in, does the same to the other length of wire.

"Do you want to be immune?"

Derek's smile makes him shiver. "Not anymore."

"It's done," Derek says softly. Stiles stands up, bounces on the balls of his feet a few times, comes over and leans against Derek. There's a beat, then Derek leans into him too, a solid press, kisses the side of his head. It's beautiful. The wolf chases the rabbit and the hare underneath the moon and stars. The raven flies above the wolf. It's blackened in some places, bright copper in others, and it catches the light as the figures twirl lazily.

"Derek, it's perfect. Just...can I touch it?"

"Yes. It should smell like the pack. It's tradition."

He sets the wolf spinning, turning one way then the next, losing momentum until it's just swaying gently as if in a breeze. He yawns. "So now...can we?"

"When we're married," Derek replies, steals a kiss as Stiles is trying to work out exactly what swearword to use. Derek tastes like coffee. His lips are a little chapped, and his beard's soft. His hand's large and warm as he presses it to the side of Stiles’s neck, strokes down with his thumb as he kisses Stiles as if he's smiling, like it's a joke they're both in on. Stiles has kissed people before, but it's never felt so much like a conversation. Derek takes and he gives, presses in close and steals short kisses, oddly sweet ones, just a swift press of lips, brushes their noses together. Stiles slips his hands under his Henley, eager to touch that expanse of smooth, warm skin that he's been looking at for so long, to map him out with his hands, not just with his jealous, acquisitive eyes. Stiles could have been doing this for months. He could have fallen into this, used Derek as an escape from his own mind and Derek would have let him. Maybe Derek would have kept him warm, just for a little while, kept the darkness at bay, but it wouldn't have been like this.

Derek's kissing him like he's something special, one hand curled around his waist, a steady warm grip as he presses his face into the side of Stiles's neck, breathes him in. He makes Stiles gasp with the slight scrape of human teeth, soothes him with his lips, sucks marks into his skin until it feels like Stiles is going to come from that alone, from the shivering edge of pain, the suction and pressure, the slight movements Derek's making with his hips. He wants this forever, Derek holding him up as they take each other apart.

"Please tell me there's a bed," he gasps out, clutches helplessly at Derek's head as he sucks the messiest possible hickey into his skin. "I'm not coming in my pants. I could have dignity at some point— oh sweet mother of fuck."

Derek pulls back with an obscene sounding pop, the spit on his skin cooling quickly. "There's kind of a bed," he says, looks at Stiles's neck, his lips like he's starving. His mouth's shiny, lips red, skin flushed and hair sticking out in all directions. He's sweating a little. Stiles leans in, licks the skin of his neck, at a rivulet of sweat that's making its way down to his collarbone. Derek lets his head drop back, pliant, and Stiles rewards him with a kiss, the scruff on his neck soft beneath his lips.

"Bed," he reminds him, presses in close and puts his teeth gently against Derek's pulse point, gasping as Derek thrusts against his thigh. Derek steps back suddenly, lowers his head, breathes deeply.

"There's a mattress. In the next room."

Stiles strips as he goes, just drops his clothes like a breadcrumb trail. Derek's doing the same, hopping out of his jeans, toeing off his socks and they don't touch because they know if they do, they'll never make it to the mattress. Stiles is used to Derek being naked now, but Derek's staring at him, and maybe his never nude tendencies have given him a kind of loch ness monster mystique, because he's pretty sure he isn't worthy of that kind of expression. Stiles stares back, keeps his hands by his sides, doesn't cover himself.

"I'm keeping this a secret. No one can ever know about you— your— Stiles," Derek says like he's in actual pain, tackles him to the mattress, twisting so he takes the force of the impact. "Stiles, just let me—" he rolls them so Stiles is face down on the comforter, reaches under him and wraps his hand around Stiles’s dick, gives him a tight, warm grip to fuck into, ruts into him, dick sliding up his asscrack, smearing precome over his skin. Derek sets his teeth delicately into the back of Stiles's neck, jerks him off with each thrust of his hips until he's coming onto the sheets, biting down on the pillow, whining as Derek keeps on moving through his orgasm, his dick sensitive in a way that sends an odd cold fire shooting down the nerves in his leg. Derek comes soon after, into the space between his legs, on his ass, his back. Stiles closes his eyes and relaxes, relishing the rare quiet calm in his head.

"Derek, are you watching your come dry on my back?"

Derek doesn't respond. Stiles shakes his head, crooks his leg so he's more comfortable, ignores the weight of Derek's gaze on him. He half expects Derek to lick it off him. He did just bite the back of his neck and hump him, after all.

He wakes up in full daylight, to a cold washcloth on his skin, comes to full flailing awareness. "Stay still, you know warm water does weird things to come," Derek says from somewhere behind him. He has a point. Stiles subsides with a sigh, spreads his legs.

"Have at it then," he mutters into the pillow, tries not to yelp as Derek cleans him off with definite movements, almost brisk. "My dick's stuck to your sheets."

"Pretty sure it's not. I think maybe your torso is; you came a lot."

"Always do," and fuck it, he's proud. He could win competitions. Derek pushes at his shoulder until he rolls over, one hand shielding his face from the sun, grumbling all the way as flakes of spunk pull at his skin, stick him to the fabric as he moves. "Gross." He lies still meekly, jerking at the shock of the cold until Derek just puts his hand on his sternum and keeps it there, and damn, there's no give to it at all, nothing he can do to get free until Derek lets him.

"Again?" Derek sounds vastly amused. Stiles peeps out from under his arm. He's basically pinning him to the mattress and staring at his dick, which is oddly not offputting at all.

"I don't want to leave this room. Can we just stay here?"

"Like that poem you talked about— the Donne one."

He tries to sit up, and after a little glaring on his part, Derek lets him. "You know it?" he asks, sitting cross legged on the mattress and leaning back on his hands. Derek mirrors his pose. The light catches his eyes, turns them that odd translucent green. 

"I looked it up. After. I might have made a list. Of— you talked a lot. You told me a lot. I looked some of it up, and I asked Scott about the rest."

Stiles doesn't quite know what his face is doing right now. "Research? You did research?"

The tips of Derek's ears turn pink. "I figured you wanted me to know about you. I know— when you talk, it's stuff that matters. To you. So I read, and I asked Scott, who spent an hour telling me how amazing you were, by the way, and it's funny, however much he said about you, I wanted to know more. Because you stopped talking to me before. Stopped telling me things, trusting me. I missed it. Having it back was—"

Stiles can't help it, he reaches over, pulls them so Derek's on top of him, strokes his hair back from his forehead then brushes a finger along his eyebrows. "Did you take notes?" Stiles asks softly, kisses his temple, quietly marveling that he gets to touch Derek now, that it's getting easier, simpler. A warm breeze drifts through the room, mainly because of the broken pane that Derek's put what looks like a spray painted lacrosse net over. There's chalk on the walls, loops and spirals that might mean something to other werewolves. He hopes it's something good.

They drift. Stiles basks. It’s simple animal companionship, all skin to skin. The Dohertys sleep in their jeans, and Stiles feels oddly sorry for them, missing out on all of this. Assuming anything Derek had said about them was true. “I know all the words to The Boxer, and I have no idea why,” Derek says suddenly, sounds incredibly surprised by the realization. Stiles keeps carding his fingers through his hair, strokes his hand down Derek’s beard and grins as Derek moves closer, angles his face so Stiles can reach the right spot.

“It’s like a collective memory thing.” He sifts through his brain. “I think I know them too. But, like, are Simon and Garfunkel evil? Is it mind control? I don’t remember learning them, or even listening to the song much. Damn,” he mutters, stares up at the ceiling, thinking through the ramifications of evil musicians until he’s thought of a few contingency plans, then he stretches out the leg that isn’t pressed into the mattress, pointing then flexing his toes, bites his lip at how good it feels. Derek props himself up on one arm and stares at him, eyes hungry. “Really? It’s just stretching.”

“And your mouth is a mouth and your eyes are just eyes and I want to make a sculpture that’s the same shape as the moles on your back, and your neck’s an invitation and I want to take you apart and see how your bones fit together,” and Stiles lets his head fall back onto the mattress, digs his toes in to anchor himself with this breathless feeling of want that courses through him. “That last part was a little creepy,” Derek says, but he still runs his hand down Stiles’s side, touch deft and sure. Stiles puts his hands behind his head and lets him have free rein, lazy and indulgent. He kind of wants to see what he’ll do, what he likes.

Derek likes joints, likes tracing the lines of his muscles and tendons. He likes the hollow of Stiles’s hipbone, licks the skin there then presses his mouth against the shape of the bone there. He buries his nose in Stiles’s armpit in a way that sends shivers through him, that makes him arch up because it almost tickles. He moves Stiles’s fingers, fascinated with the way they splay out, the span of them, takes three of them into his mouth and presses them against the roof of his mouth with his tongue as Stiles swears breathlessly because he’s on the point of coming just from that. All the time he watches, intent, as Stiles reacts, and takes. Stiles would beg but he honestly doesn’t know what he wants.

“Roll over,” Derek says at last, voice hoarse. Stiles does, brain a little hazy, notices distantly that the comforter has still got his dried spunk on it from last night, that his dick’s pressing into the same spot. He rests his head on his arms, rolls his hips lazily, rubs his foot up and down on the fabric. Derek starts with the back of his left knee. The space between the tendons is soft, with a yielding give to it. Derek digs his thumb in, presses down until Stiles is on the point of pain then licks, buries his nose in like he doesn’t want to smell anything but sweat and skin. He does the same thing to Stiles’s other leg, but this time he bites the tendon lightly, sucks the skin there, almost too hard in a way he knows will bruise. Stiles couldn’t keep his hips still now, even if he wanted to.

“Please.”

Derek kisses the side of his head. “I’ve got you,” he says, and Stiles nods, sighs, his breath hot and damp in the crook of his elbow. It’s quiet again, then. Derek runs the tip of his fingers along his shoulder blades, traces the shapes his wings would make, brushes down further to his lower back, fits his thumbs in the hollows just above his ass. He doesn’t press down, doesn’t try and stop Stiles from moving his hips— the lazy thrust of his dick is just enough to stop him from losing it completely—just watches, the weight of his gaze nearly a solid thing, another point of pressure.

When he does push down, it’s to stop Stiles from startling away as he suddenly puts his hands on either asscheek and presses his face between them, his stubble scratching the delicate skin of his upper thighs. He leans on Stiles with his full strength then, pins him to the mattress as he presses in with his tongue with steady force as he yields and yields, opens up as Derek rims him, alternates licks with shorter stabbing motions. He doesn’t know which way he’d move if he could. His asshole feels wet with spit, keeps clenching down on nothing and then opening again as Derek uses his whole mouth, scrapes his beard against him and he’s so eager; it’s like there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing, and Stiles has no idea how long he’s been there, what he’s been saying, promising. He’s on the point of crying by the time Derek lifts up his hips and wraps his hand around his dick, still pressing his tongue down flat over his hole. Stiles is close; it only takes a few strokes before he’s coming, shuddering all the way through his body as his balls draw up tight, as he arches his back and whines high in his throat as he comes.

Derek catches nearly all his spunk in his hand, flips him back over effortlessly as he pants harshly, shivers with aftershocks. He watches Derek through half closed eyes as he starts jerking off, using Stiles’s own spunk as lube. “I’m touching your dick next time,” he mumbles, as Derek twists his hand at the top of his dick. “You can come on my face if you want. Always wanted to try that.”

Derek groans, tilts his head back. “Close your eyes,” he bites out, speeding up with his hand until it looks almost painful. Stiles wants to watch, but Derek stops moving, raises his eyebrows at him until he obeys. He’s on the point of suggesting goggles for next time when the first stripe of come hits him on the chin, on his slightly open mouth. He licks his lower lip, keeps his mouth open as Derek swears and comes on the bridge of his nose, his forehead and finally his tongue.

He opens his eyes, smiles. “Hey,” he says softly. Derek picks the washcloth up off the floor, cleans his face with it as he basks in the patch of warmth, loving the shine of Derek’s skin in the light. “Was it workman’s wages or the bit about the clothes in the second verse?” Derek throws the washcloth into the corner, sits cross legged next to his knees.

“Workman’s wages,” he says after some thought. “It’s a good song. Now one song no one should know all the way through by heart is American Pie.”

“That’s, like, a definite sign they’re evil.”

They nod wisely at each other as Derek traces patterns on his left thigh, starts humming the chorus.

*

His phone rings at midday, brings the world back into their little room. There's grit and dust under his bare feet, the strange light from the broken windows and splintered walls dapples his skin as he stands in the middle of Derek's workshop and answers it.

"Hey dad, is everything okay?"

There's a pause, the crackle of his dad sighing. "Stiles, I was planning to open with that question. Your jeep was gone this morning. I looked in your room, didn't see any blood or— well, you know, but I just wanted to check in."

He's intimately familiar with the hot clench of guilt, curls his toes into the floorboards as if he could sink into them if he wished hard enough. "Sorry dad, I should've called. I...this was hijinx. Shenanigans. You know, the birds singing, it's four in the morning, no nightmares so let's go for a drive youthful high spirits? So I'm more a terrible son than certifiable, this time."

"Okay. That's— son, leave a note next time, okay? Save an old man from worrying. And be home in time for dinner, I'm making the tagine we learned on Wednesday. Invite your friends, because I'm pretty sure I made four times the amount by mistake."

"Dad, how does that even work?"

"Son, if I knew that I'd be in the next class up and Melinda wouldn't shout at me so much. Be home by seven, yeah?"

"Yeah, sure. I'm sorry. Love you."

"Love you too," his dad says, and by the creak, Stiles knows his dad is leaning back in his chair, head tilted up, eyes closed. Stiles knows he looks rumpled, worn out from his double shift. He's probably changed into the sweater he always wears after a difficult night, and that he's wearing glasses, and he'll start to read the newspaper but he'll be asleep by three.  Stiles ends the call, lets his phone drop back onto his hoodie. Derek comes over, still naked, leans into him.

"You're coming round for dinner tonight. Sheriff's orders."

Derek hums, sniffs him then hooks his chin over his shoulder, puts his hands low on Stiles's belly. "Does that mean we have to wear clothes?"

"Not just yet."

The radio's still playing. "That's Chet Baker," Derek says, sways them gently, presses his lips to one of the marks he sucked onto Stiles's skin. They stay close to each other, even when they’ve stopped dancing. Stiles wonders if he should feel different, like a new person. He just feels like something’s been resolved, like he’s remembered a word that’s been on the tip of his tongue for a while. He can look at Derek and smile, and knows Derek will smile back. It feels good.

Derek's in the middle of an argument with the radio— “No, but seriously, I don't care if you think Brubeck could do chords, which he couldn't, the best chord sequence on piano without a damn doubt is on Blue in Green— that rising cadence with the suspended notes is flawless— Brubeck isn't chords, he's fucking hand clapping—I can do five four time on the bongos. Stonedwhen he stops suddenly, and howls, like, a full on howl that makes the hairs on the back of Stiles's neck stand on end, makes him want to run, to bare his belly, his throat. It rings in the air for long, still moments after he's finished. Stiles can feel shivers running up and down his arms. "I had no idea you felt that strongly about Take Five," he says at last, to hide how small he feels, how exhilarated.

Derek's got his head tilted, listening, but he grins at Stiles all the same. "Almost as bad as jazz flute," he says, then goes back to listening, scenting the air. "They're coming," he says at last.

"The jazz police?"

"The rest of the pack. I heard the courier’s bike a few miles off, so I called them here.”

The questions trip over each other in a rush to get out of his mouth, but he must make the right kind of incoherent vowel sounds, because Derek smiles at him, starts pulling on his clothes, handing Stiles his boxers and sweatpants, talks quietly as they get dressed. "Howling like that—it’s not a distress call. It’s more a kind of—it’s happy.”

 “So they’ll come running because they think, like, an ice cream van’s coming?

Derek sighs, pulls his Henley over his head, tries to smooth down his hair, looks at him, fondly stern. "In an incredibly simplistic nutshell, yes."

*

Scott shakes Derek's hand when he they meet him outside the house. Like, a proper enthusiastic congratulatory handshake. Stiles raises his eyebrows at Isaac, in the hopes that this makes some kind of sense to someone, but Isaac looks as confused as him. "Dude, what?" Stiles asks Scott, who's still got Derek's hand in both of his. Both of his, like he's some kind of gladhanding senator.

"I'm happy for you," Scott says with a grin. "You two, I mean, you— I'm happy."

"Thank you," Derek says quietly, sincerely, the tips of his ears pink.

"So, I hate to interrupt the manly touching, but why are we here? I mean, it wasn't a distress signal, but we dropped everything and ran. I was making lasagne; I barely managed to take the pan off the heat before I went. You didn’t howl just to tell us you had two had finally gotten round to banging, I mean Stiles might, but…"

Scott drops Derek's hand. "It felt...it felt like when the carnival comes to town. Like something good is coming and you have to go see."

"It's the Linney pack. They're having a cub, and I made something for them as a gift. From our pack, the Hale pack. It's an important tradition, first born wolf in that pack for decades. There’s a courier coming to collect our gift soon so they can deliver it to them, and our pack needs to be here to see it first, to scentmark it. I'm sorry, I would've told you before, but uh. I couldn't."

They all nod sagely, fall into thoughtful silence. "Dude, did you fix up your house?" Scott asks suddenly, wide eyed.

Stiles grins, looks across at Derek, relishing his quiet pride. "Did he ever," he says, lets everything he feels shine through in his voice.

Stiles hangs back and watches as Derek shows them around. Shows them around in the sense that he says "this is my house, uh, studio," then smiles to himself for half an hour as they explore, follows them around and smiles extra hard when Scott says he loves something, which he does a lot. Derek made this. He made it because he wanted to, not because he had to. He wasn't forced, wasn't coerced, didn't have to do it for the pack, or because he felt threatened. Somehow, Derek has carved out a little sanctuary in the middle of a battleground, at the site of the biggest atrocity of the whole war. Stiles sits on the bottom step and leans back on his elbows, watches his sculptures catch the light and the wind, make them into movement and sound. He feels the dark grip around his heart clench and ease, the pulse of it a thrumming discordant note. He stares at a propeller, the flutter of metal wings and wills it away, just for a while. Not now. It could work.

He stands up, takes the stairs two at a time and watches Scott look up at the sky and smile, nothing but wonder on his face. Isaac stands next to Derek, head bent as Derek shows him the wolf and the moon, touches it with the tip of his finger. He stays in the doorway, something sweetly sad pulling at him, an old ache he presses on from time to time, then Scott calls him over to look at the anvil and Stiles shakes it off, lets it ripple and dissipate. Derek's watching him, he knows, so he hums a snatch of one of the old songs that they listened to last night and hopes he understands, then he leans against Scott as they put their hands into the green and blue lights from the window and pretend to be mermen.

The courier biker walks a little bow legged, and Stiles kind of wants to ask about the suspension on the bike going along the mud track, but he never takes off his helmet and he’s honestly kind of intimidating. He nods respectfully at Derek, tilts his head to the side for Scott then he’s off in a spray of dirt, the throaty roar of the bike fading away as he bounces along the track and out of sight. Derek watches until he’s out of sight, smiling quietly to himself. “I like cubs. Cubs are good,” is all he says when he catches Stiles looking at him. He guesses that’s enough of an explanation, leans into him and smiles as Derek’s arms automatically go around him. He feels cold still, tries to ignore it.

 They decide to go to Isaac’s favorite diner. Isaac is working his way steadily through the whole menu. As he won’t let himself go more than once a week and there are sixty items on there is very much a long term project. They walk together to his jeep, Scott and Isaac pulling ahead as they discuss a dirtbike race through the preserve. Derek stops walking, waits until they’re round the curve in the path, his hand on Stiles’s shoulder to keep him there. When they’re out of sight, Derek takes his hand off, scrubs it through his hair.

"You smell sad," Derek says when they start walking again. He's looking straight ahead, talking lightly, like he's just commenting on what Stiles is wearing.

"Nemeton-sad, not reasons-sad. It kind of gathers around me sometimes."

"What can I do?"

"Be here. Just...be here. Be a reality check for me when I ask for it. Be in my pack. Be you."

Derek pulls him closer, rubs his hair up the wrong way, kisses the side of his head. "I was angling for a punching things option," he says, side of his mouth twitching a little. "I'm pretty good at it. I took a survey."

"You're good at lots of things," Stiles says, and watches the smile grow on Derek's face.

They catch up with Scott and Isaac just as Isaac’s sketching a map of the preserve with a stick on a patch of bare earth. “Not there,” Derek says. “There are some orchids there.”

Stiles listens with growing disbelief as Derek scraps the entirety of the track because of the presence of rare flora ranging from orchids to stinkwort, flatly rejects three compromises because they cut through the migratory path the elks take every third year. Gaping a little, he watches Scott and Isaac’s faces fall. As they trudge to the jeep, shoulders slumped, he catches Derek looking down at the map and grinning to himself. He looks up at Stiles, winks, then saunters off to the passenger side.

They all eat item eighteen on the menu, out of solidarity with Isaac. It’s blueberry syrup pancakes with bacon, and he can fully understand why Isaac’s so intent on eating all their food, with such delights as ‘avocado fritters with strawberry syrup and bacon pieces’ to look forward to. The pancakes are actually delicious. He presses his thigh against Derek’s, hooks their ankles together and lets the meal drift by in a slight haze. He knows he’d be happy if he didn’t feel that familiar dread. It’s getting easier to imagine.

He walks out of the diner and is surrounded by crows, stays still as they peck at him, scratch him with sharp claws, their calls a raucous laughter in the air. He stays still, panting, even though can feel blood drip down his face and body from multiple wounds, because Scott's standing, relaxed and quiet, a little confused, and Derek's got his hands in his pockets, watching, wide eyed, trying to see a threat that isn't there. He closes his eyes and waits for the wingbeats and the brush of feathers to dissipate. He doesn't know how long he's there for before they go. He opens his eyes. He's standing in the parking lot. He can't even see any feathers, no sign that they were there. He brings a hand up to his face. It's dry.

"What was it?" Scott asks, stands close, not quite touching him yet. They've got a set list of questions for this.

"Crows. A lot of them."

"What did they do?"

He can feel the phantom pain singing through him still. There may be no visible cuts, but his body's still reacting to the assault. "Mobbed me. Pecked me and scratched me."

"Was it a warning?" and this one's the hardest. He breathes deeply, tries to sift through the pain and fear to what his instincts were telling him, what he sensed.

"No," he says at last, scrubs a hand through his hair, slumps a little. "It had been a good day," he says quietly, a little defeated. "It shouldn't happen on a good day."

"It can still be a good day," Scott tells him, pulls him close, hands going unerringly to the places where he was pecked the worst. He sighs as his pain's leeched out. "We've got your dad's cooking to look forward to. That's a good day, buddy."

"You haven't eaten any yet. Hey Derek, ready to meet my dad in a non-professional capacity?" 

Derek blinks, slowly, an oddly pleased expression crossing his face. "Does he know about the weed?" he asks. "I'll ditch the leather jacket for tonight, maybe wear a button down. Wouldn't want your dad thinking I'm a bad influence."

Stiles drops his head onto Scott's shoulder because he's pretty sure his laugh sounds demented. "No, wouldn't want that," he says once he can speak.

*

His dad did cook way too much. Every pan in the kitchen is in use; his dad's glaring at a giant bowl of rice and the room's full of steam and smells. It's chaos, a reassuringly normal chaos. For some reason, his dad's humming a Christmas carol. His glasses rest on the top of his head, and he's wearing mom's apron, the one with 'good morning, sunshine' spelled out in rashers of bacon. He's still in his work shirt, sleeves rolled up. Stiles lays the table, takes his time. He wants to make this moment last, wants to slow his brain down, stop it skipping and jumping, to draw it out until it's slow and sweet as molasses. He goes over and gets a glass of water, gives his dad one, too. He puts ice in both, so the glass goes translucent, and he draws lines down it with the tip of his finger. "I think...you know Derek's brief nude period? And how you were super amazing and didn't ask questions? Even if he was sort of handsy? And naked?"

His dad pauses just as he's about to taste the tagine, spoon right next to his mouth. "Yes?"

He stops, tries to think about the best way to put this. "He's. We're pack. We've been pack for longer than either of us realized. But now, we're more than that— something more complicated, but we're together. A couple. Stepping out. Partners. Boyfriends. I'd go on with more synonyms but I'd probably get to a terrible one within a few sentences. But I thought I should tell you. He's...he might be it for me, dad," he says quietly. “Like, he’s pretty much my first and he might be my last.”

His dad puts the spoon down on the counter, rubs a hand over the back of his neck. "Son, I'm not as surprised as I should be," he says eventually. "We Stilinski men fall hard. Your mom...when she was in the hospital, at the end, she talked about me finding someone else. It made me mad, that she’d think I would ever love another person, that I could ever move on from her, ever recover. I tried to hide it, but I think she knew. She called me her albatross, mating for life. We're built loyal, and we don't choose the easy way."

"I don't think easy and simple suit me. I'd always be looking for the catch," Stiles says, and his dad nods with a wry grin. "I know it'll be difficult. But I think Hale men are loyal, too. And I don't think they love wisely either."

"So this is the only chance I'll get for an initial interrogation."

Stiles decides not to mention the whole Derek being accused of murder and brought in for questioning thing. There is such a thing as being too accurate.

He waits outside the house for Derek, sits on the steps and listens to the muted chatter from inside. Lydia and Allison are trying to persuade Scott and Isaac to take ballroom dancing classes with them, and are pulling out the 'building stamina and grace to help with fighting and lacrosse' argument, which no one is really falling for. Stiles slips out before anyone can look in his direction, because the contemplative look girls get when they're planning something strikes a healthy amount of fear into his heart. He may be reckless, but he isn't stupid, and while he likes to think he has a graceful way of tripping over himself, he knows the rest of the world disagrees.

He's been for too long without a whole night’s sleep. It feels like months. His eyes are gritty, and his heart feels like it's beating in quicksand. He leans his elbows against his knees and looks out into the night for Derek, lets heaviness weigh down his limbs. He's content, has that rare feeling that he is in the right place at the right time, not running to catch up or clawing at the ground to slow himself down. There's fear there, too, but he's learning to unpick how he's feeling, to follow each thread to its root and discount each one that’s floating free without a thought or reason to hang it on.

He senses Derek before he sees him. He doesn't know if it's the prey instinct, some hindbrain reflex, or if it's a sort of latent pack bond, but Derek's presence is a clear deep bell in the clamor of his mind, stilling everything for a few seconds as he walks up the street, hands by his side with that odd rolling swagger that makes Stiles's mouth dry every time he does it. "Hey," he says, watching him come closer. He isn't in a button down shirt, but his jeans are clean, hair slightly damp. Derek sits next to him on the step, mirrors his posture and looks at him, smiling a little.

"Did you get put in time out?" he asks, nudges back when Stiles elbows him.

"They still talking about the Viennese waltz?" Derek tilts his head, nods after a few seconds. "It's voluntary time out, dude. The girls are trying to make dancers out of the pack. Isaac secretly wants to, Scott's on the point of saying yes, and I'm having no part in the suppression of my natural moves."

"They'll get you in the end."

Stiles narrows his eyes, pokes a finger at Derek's chest. "You're going down with me."

Derek laughs softly, leans back on his elbows. Stiles stares greedily at the long sprawling line of his legs, the arch of his neck, the shadow of his lashes. "I don't need to learn," he says, smiles smugly at Stiles's baffled expression.

"You— ballroom dancing? You?"

"I can do all kinds of things. I'm considered quite the catch."

Stiles leans forward, kisses him, frames his face with his hands, strokes his cheekbones with his thumbs and marvels that he can touch, can just lean forward and give and take. Derek's lips are soft, because he secretly uses expensive chapstick that Isaac keeps stealing, and he kisses carefully, thoroughly. Derek lets Stiles set the pace, keeps his hands on the step and lets Stiles find out what he likes. He'd never thought patience would be hot. He pauses, rests his forehead in the curve of Derek's neck, wants to climb into his lap and stay there.

"They've gone onto which of the Olsens is the evil twin, and your dad just asked Scott where you are," Derek says, the vibrations from his voice strange against Stiles's skin. "Also, you look like you've been making out," he adds, sounding a little proud, a little dismayed.

"Because we have been," Stiles points out, leans forward for another kiss, another surrender.

They get up to go in after a few more minutes. His lips are tingling and he must look ridiculous, lips wet, face flushed with stubble burn, hair sticking out in all directions, because Derek keeps looking at him and smiling. The tips of his ears are pink. He stops Stiles by the door, crowds him up against it and tugs the hem of his shirt down, fixes his collar, adjusts the shoulders and makes sure the fabric’s lying flat. "There you are," he murmurs, kisses him once on the lips then lets Stiles open the door and they slip back in and try and look like they've been there all the time, which for Derek means standing still in a corner and staring. Stiles sidles over to stand next to him, close enough to touch.

"There you are," he says out of the side of his mouth, puts his hands in his pockets. "Who are we glaring at today?"

"I don't glare," Derek grumbles. "I look. I can't help having..." he shrugs.

"Intimidating eyebrows?" Stiles suggests delicately, steps in close. Derek lets him lean against him as he huffs, annoyed.

"It's my face. I can't fix my face." 

"Baby, it's a lovely face. If I had a thousand ships I'd launch them, I swear."

He flutters his eyelashes, finally gets the quirk at the side of Derek's mouth he was aiming for, then a full smile that warms him right through.

Isaac starts humming Papa Don't Preach when his dad asks Derek and him to help with the clearing up. After a few seconds, Lydia joins in, doesn't stop even when he glares at her. "I'm not pregnant," he hisses as he backs out of the room with the plates and two ladles.

"Glad to hear it, son," his dad says. Stiles scowls, starts putting the dirty things on the worktop going from non-greasy to greasy, because Derek's really particular about washing up. He gets the pans soaking in hot water then gets out a fresh dishtowel while Derek gets started washing the glasses, which is a multistage process that Stiles has learned not to question. He forgets his dad's watching them as he works, taking the glasses as they're handed over, drying them quickly so they don't streak. They don't talk. They've finished the plates and Derek's refilling the bowl by the time Stiles remembers his dad's there, watching them.

It's a shock when people notice him. Really notice him, not the surface level flailing or the sarcasm. Stiles notices other people, makes a habit of it. He looks, and he wonders, and he puzzles out. His dad taught him that while they sat with his mom in the hospital. They'd sit watching people, try and work out what they were doing, who they were with, whether they were married, what they were hiding. He forgets that his dad taught him all that, and that his dad knows him better than anyone else, so when he sees his dad looking at them both with sheriff eyes, it makes him feel like prey for a few seconds. Like a suspect.

Derek puts a hand on his shoulder, damp from the water, then he turns around, looks at Stiles, then at his dad.

"Don't go to bed angry," is all his dad says. "The rest sorts itself out."

Stiles pinches himself. If it wasn't for the lack of scary things trying to kill him and his loved ones, he'd think he was hallucinating again. "Dad. I just— what."

"Son, you'd think you wanted this to be difficult."

"Dad, he wears a leather jacket. You questioned him in a murder case. He smokes weed. And you, what, give us relationship advice I'm pretty sure you lifted from Little Women? I thought you said this would be your last chance for this kind of talk."

Derek startles, looks at him. He looks a little terrified. "Last chance?" he asks, voice distant.

"I'm an albatross. And the water's overflowing, turn it off."

Derek turns off the tap, starts rinsing out the pans. "Last chance?" Derek says into the pan his mom used to use to make preserves. "Apparently, I'm a leather jacket wearing former person of interest who gets stoned for fun, and you're saying you— what— I'm—"

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see his dad backing out of the room, the coward. "Stilinskis mate for life. That was where I was going with the whole albatross thing, but I didn't know if you'd get the bird thing."

"It's not an ornithological reference I got immediately. Partly because I've never heard anyone compare themselves to a giant long distance flying seabird in a romantic way before," he says, still not looking up from the pan.

"Ornithological. Well, that does it buddy," Stiles says, puts down the dishtowel and launches himself at Derek, who still seems a little dazed, but grabs onto him with wet soapy hands, returns his kisses as he takes his weight, hands strong as they grasp his thighs and lift him up so he's looking down at him, kissing him with all he's got. "I'm ridiculously in love with everything about you, with every single person you’ve ever been and will ever become. Don't tell anyone, they'll get jealous," because he can be brave for one more night, and he might get pecked to death by crows tomorrow, or strangled by briars, or drown in a lake, and he loses everything Derek’s already lost most nights as he sleeps, but Derek put himself back together, and maybe he can too, every morning.

"I won't tell if you don't," Derek whispers as Stiles cups his face and touches their foreheads together, makes a little space just for them. "You and me, Stiles. You and me."