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By a Law Divine

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The fountains mingle with the river

And the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

Why not I with thine?—

 

See the mountains kiss high heaven

And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

If it disdained its brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth

And the moonbeams kiss the sea:

What is all this sweet work worth

If thou kiss not me?

 

Love’s Philosophy | Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

 

Derek will be doubting this moment forever, because the thing is: Derek's not entirely sure of them which moved first.

One moment they were standing there on the edge of the lake, drenched through with a stunning combination of dirty water and kraken viscera, and the next—

No, it's not even as fast as that. Or Derek's mind is going over it in slow motion, even though he's still halfway through the most bizarre thing that's happened to him in weeks, and that includes a half-naked Lydia dropping on his bed in the middle of the night to scream the baby, the baby's in the tree (fucking brownies, always stealing babies at the most inconvenient time.)

Stiles makes these soft, addictive noises in the back of his throat and all Derek wants to do is lick them out of him; Stiles' mouth is soft and eager against his and when his tongue catches against Derek's, it's like electricity fizzling down his spine. He's powerless – Stiles could do anything to him right now and Derek would let him — and Stiles' body against his is a welcome heat in the cold of the lakeside.

The heat and friction is great and then Derek curls his hand around the back of Stiles' neck, brushes his thumb along Stiles' jaw, and changes the angle of the kiss – and the friction somehow gravitates to amazing. He swallows up another of those charming noises and delves deeper into Stiles' mouth, nerve endings alight with the delight of this improbably pleasant kiss: holy fuck how is anyone this good at kissing, let alone Stiles Stilinski?

It shouldn't feel this good, not with Derek's back still sliced apart, and if Stiles doesn't bruise from when he was thrown against a tree it'll be a fucking miracle. Derek lost one of his shoes in the battle and his sock is squelching into the mud. The stench of blood and guts is thick in both of their nostrils.

The victory cut it close to the alternate outcome – while Derek kept the arms and tentacles ("They look the fucking same—""They're different, Derek – the arms hug you to death, the tentacles are just there to pull you close enough to the arms—") occupied, Stiles managed to stab it in the eyeball with one of its own teeth – and as the kraken exploded all over them, they both landed hard on the riverbank, the creature's innards raining down on their heads.

Derek helped Stiles to his feet and that's when it happened.

No.

Wait.

There was looking, first. A second of looking. An eternity of it. Their faces were close together and Derek looked down to check how Stiles was, only he got sort of hooked on Stiles' mouth and he couldn't move his gaze any further down. And Stiles, Stiles was looking too, his cheeks darkening as his gaze caught on Derek's mouth too. And then—And then—

No, Stiles' mouth against his is blowing his mind. He doesn't know who moved first.

"Oh, my god," Stiles moans, right into his mouth, "oh, my god—"

"I know," Derek says back, not sure how he's even making words, or breaking far enough away from those absurdly compelling kissable lips to say them. He dives in again and Stiles responds in heat and kind. "I know, I know—"

"We should—" Stiles starts, dragging his mouth away enough to kiss the corner of Derek's mouth. Pulling away is unreasonable, so Derek yanks him back in, his hand sliding through Stiles' hair – and really, despite the kraken intestines, it's a lot softer than it looks.

"We should what?" Derek says and takes Stiles' lower lip in human teeth, applying enough pressure to be noticed, not to break the skin. Stiles makes this sound which is incredibly satisfying.

"No, but really—" Stiles says, trying to pull away again, but Derek just gives him this look that doesn't really have a name but used to get Laura to quit trying to stop him doing stupid shit, and it works on Stiles too, because Stiles vehemently murmurs, "Fuck this," and rests his hands on Derek's hips, pushing up onto his toes so he can fight into the kiss, which, crap, a familiar feeling is already zipping down Derek's spine, warmth readying to pool in his groin. Stiles moves against him, heat and temptation, and Derek's contemplating sliding a hand down to see if Stiles' alluring ass is as firm as it appears to be when a voice breaks through the moment, shattering it like glass.

And thankfully, it's as effective as a turning a hose on a pair of fighting dogs. Derek and Stiles spring apart, and it's just in time to see Lydia, Scott, Malia and Kira crest the top of the hill.

They definitely didn't see. Otherwise there'd be much more yelling going on.

"Stiles," Scott yells, again. "Are you okay, man?"

"Uh," Stiles says. He looks at Derek, just for a moment, and then turns all his attention to the four moving down the hill. "Yeah, yeah. I have slain the beast and saved the day, etc. etc."

Derek shoots him a look. Stiles' mouth is swollen and his cheeks are pink. The others are hopefully putting that down to the battle. "I?" Derek prompts. Annoyance flares up instantly. "Excuse me?"

"Uh, I was the one that landed the killing blow while you were getting your cuddle on with little miss tentacles—"

"Little?" Derek blinks rapidly. And then: "Miss?"

"Yeah, the males spray poison from their nostrils, and are about the size of a house." Stiles gestures back at the dissolving mass. "Plus you almost got swallowed by the kraken's massive vagina—"

"You said that was its mouth."

"I think I said lips," Stiles says, holding up his hands.

"Stiles, I swear—" Derek starts, stepping forwards menacingly, kraken guts dripping from his clothes and hair with each movement.

"All right!" Scott yells. "Enough." Scott hurries down the slope and starts directing the others to start on the clean-up. He spares a moment to glare dirtily at both Derek and Stiles. "Dealing with you two is like herding kittens," he murmurs under his breath.

Derek is about to protest, but Stiles' mouth drops open and getting out of there instead just seems like a better idea.

"Hey," Malia says as Derek starts to stomp past her up the hill, "why do they get to skip out on clean-up?"

"Because we smell like ass," Stiles says. Derek almost startles on seeing that Stiles is following him up the hill.

"And I'll concede that point," Malia says, covering her nose with both hands.

"We're gonna get cleaned up," Stiles yells to Scott, throwing a bit of kraken which might be one of its sucker pads at the mud. Scott winces and gestures at them to get on with it.

They bicker when they reach the Jeep, which Derek thinks is ridiculous because Stiles is the one that yelled at him until he agreed using one car was better than taking two, and besides, there's definitely been worse gunk on Stiles' seats. Especially during the Epic Gnome Incident of 2012 that they do not talk about.

The drive itself is silent until they get to the loft and Stiles slides out the Jeep first, bitching about getting to use the shower first and since when has Derek's bathroom been the pack bathroom?

Adding insult to injury, Stiles does grab the shower first, and he leaves the bathroom steamed up and with a generous splodge of shower gel streaking across the floor which nearly makes Derek slip, goddammit Stiles.

And then his stupid brain reminds him that Stiles was naked in here like, five minutes ago, and apparently sheer irritation boners are a thing that Derek suffers from now.

Stiles fucking Stilinski. The perennial pain in Derek's ass. Only his brain is now interpreting that thought a completely different way and oh my god, there's only one response to the humiliation of the horrible brain gymnastics that his mind is currently inflicting on him.

He reaches out a hand – slowly, tentatively and intensely aware that Stiles is still clattering around outside – and yanks the cold water on.

"Son of a—" Derek yells and outside, Stiles starts laughing.

"Told ya you should do something about the water pressure in this place if you were going to insist on staying," Stiles says, leaning against the breakfast bar. He's not entirely useless because there are two mugs of steaming hot coffee by his elbow and Derek's drawn to that like Scott is drawn to any young child or animal in distress.

Derek thinks about telling Stiles he chose the cold water voluntarily, but he manages to hold back that impulse just in time. Stiles would want to know why and Derek is not ready to give any answer. He's not even sure he could muster up a convincing-sounding lie.

"So—" Derek starts, edging wary looks at the door, not wanting this discussion to be overheard. He doesn't even want to hear this conversation.

Stiles gives him a flat look. "I don’t know what you're talking about."

"I only said one word."

"Yeah," Stiles says. "About something which didn't happen."

"Okay."

"And will never happen again," Stiles adds, wagging a finger at Derek like it's all his fault.

Derek pulls a face. "Agreed."

#

It's definitely Stiles that moved first this time. Derek's nearly ninety five percent sure of it. Ninety-two. Eight-five. Maybe as low as seventy.

Well, Derek did trip on the trail of troll slime, which might have made him stumble forwards, but he's fifty-three percent sure that it's Stiles' fault. Maybe fifty-two. He could concede that fifty-one was an acceptable number.

Stiles makes an ungainly sound as Derek sucks a vicious kiss into Stiles' jawline, before Derek lifts his head to chase that sound. Stiles kisses him back helplessly, clinging onto Derek's back like he'll fall over if he doesn't.

Well, it is Stiles. It's not impossible.

Stiles makes an odd flailing movement with his legs and Derek pulls away from the kiss long enough to help Stiles out of the netting he's somehow gotten entangled with – just whose bright idea was hiding in the gym storage closet, anyway? – before pushing Stiles up against the cushioned edge of a nearby pommel horse and taking Stiles' face between both hands.

There's another of those strangled sounds coming from Stiles' throat, which is followed by Stiles' hands sliding over Derek's ass and squeezing, and Derek would be mad, only it's difficult to be mad at Stiles when kissing him feels so good. Derek's dizzy with it, with the way Stiles' tongue slides against his, with the way it's just a different way of fighting.

Oh. Fighting. That's what Derek had meant to do, right before slip-sliding on what's possibly a troll's booger and colliding with Stiles, and Stiles lifted a hand up to stop him—and Derek's brain apparently decided to translate that hand movement as let's kiss now. Even though he doesn't remember consciously making that connection.

Derek pulls his mouth away and scowls, right up-close to Stiles' panting and pleasingly pink face. Despite what he thought earlier it's so not difficult after all to be mad at Stiles. Even though he somehow kisses like he was freaking made to do it, the asshole. "You told me the book said that trolls don't come into enclosed spaces."

Apparently Stiles can handle a one-eighty from kissing to fighting without losing a beat. "I said they didn't like it, not that they didn't."

"If the semantics of a phrase are important, you bring it up before we duck and hide in a place which I think is troll-free, and turns out to be probably one of its favorite places," Derek hisses, lifting up his shoe and pointing at the gooey slime that leads from the floor to the sole.

"I thought you were leading us in here because it seemed likely the troll would come here," Stiles hisses back.

"Right," Derek says, "because trapping a troll in a tiny space with the two of us, that seems like a good plan."

"Well excuse me if my plans only come half-thought-through," Stiles yells, jabbing a finger at Derek's chest. "That shouldn't be a big surprise to you, buster. Scott's only a werewolf because I don't think plans through."

"Are you seriously yelling your incompetence at me?"

"Next to your plans, mine make me look like a fucking genius," Stiles says, casting around and finding a wooden hockey stick.

"Oh, please," Derek starts, "who—"

"You bit Jackson Whittemore," Stiles shrieks.

"Like you've never had the urge," Derek sniffs.

"Yeah, with my human bacteria-covered teeth which might have at best given him an infection, not given him enough mad skills to be even more of a giant dick."

"The bite can kill someone though. Good odds." Derek bares his teeth, letting his canines lengthen meaningfully. "Wanna run those odds yourself?"

"You'd never dare," Stiles says, smirking confidently. "Because there's always the chance it would work and you couldn't use your—" Stiles waves his hand. "Everything against me."

Derek pauses and can't help but flicker his gaze down Stiles' body. He flicks his gaze back up to Stiles' face, which wavers in its smugness when Stiles notices Derek's expression. "My everything?" Derek stalks forward, pushing into Stiles' personal space, using his body to connect with Stiles', pushing him back into the pommel horse again.

It's possibly painful, considering how hard Stiles collides with it and the startled squeak that leaves his mouth, but Stiles isn't complaining. Instead he's looking at Derek's mouth again and licking his own lips, and Derek's groin tightens in anticipation, and Derek grabs at the lapels of Stiles' jacket, thumbs smoothing into the thin skin of Stiles' throat, and Derek's unsure whether he's going to throw Stiles against the wall, or down on those gym mats in the other corner, or, hell, the pommel horse is kinda horizontal enough if he lifts up Stiles' legs enough, and—

And the universe just wants to keep on cockblocking him, because the door slams open and Derek just freezes.

Stiles elbows him sharply and Derek sends him a glare, his hands sliding just a bit closer to the part of Stiles' neck where he's pretty sure he could just squeeze and tiny bit more and Stiles would be dead. It actually takes Stiles coughing pointedly for Derek to remember he was mentally whining about being cockblocked.

Oh. Yeah. Goddammit Stiles and his distracting… everything. Derek can't even keep his thoughts straight.

Yeah, Stiles is interrupting him for a reason: someone has walked in on them. Oh, god, his brain is frazzled.

The janitor who opened the door is staring at the both of them like he's probably going to need the Sheriff stat. He makes a whistling sound behind his uneven, yellowed teeth and his bushy white eyebrows are raised so high that they're practically part of his thinning hairline.

"Uh," Derek says, belatedly pulling his hands away from Stiles' throat. "Uh—"

"I got us shut in hours ago," Stiles says, batting at Derek's arm, shoving him to one side and straightening his clothes self-consciously. "Buster here just doesn't like small, confined spaces."

"Most people get themselves locked in here to make out, not fight," the janitor says, and Derek has to fight hard not to flush, because yeah – that's what it would have looked like, his hands around Stiles' neck, thumbs pushing into the soft pale skin, and Stiles gripping a hockey stick like it was a weapon. If the janitor had opened the door just seconds later, it probably would have been an entirely different story.

He catches a glimpse of Stiles' stubbornly clenched jaw and the faint pink blush on both cheeks and yeah, probably is a lie.

Definitely is the word he's looking for. Fuck his life.

Except you'd apparently rather be fucking Stiles, his brain helpfully points out. Derek tells it to get lost in equally flowery language, because what the fuck. Stiles is annoying and irritating and – after they double-back on the janitor escorting them out and sneak back into the hall and help take out the troll (who was apparently hiding in the kitchens) – Derek is going to take a very cold shower and forget anything about kissing Stiles Stilinski, ever again.

#

"It just strikes me as weirdly convenient," Stiles says. He makes a half-choking sound, and shifts his hips a little so they're at a better angle. Derek clutches at Stiles' shoulders, even though it's not doing much, and sucks a kiss into Stiles' throat that makes Stiles hiss in the back of his throat. "Trolls turn up in Beacon Hills, and an artifact that summons trolls ends up on the front page of the Gazette?"

"Hmm," Derek says, noncommittal, and lifts his head up to kiss Stiles' mouth, because Stiles is talking, and that's irritating. Especially when there are so many better things he can do with his mouth. Stiles kisses him enthusiastically, hungrily meeting every move Derek makes, and the sounds he makes are ridiculously addictive.

Stiles tears his mouth away and leans his forehead against Derek's, panting heavily, his reddened, swollen lips close and distracting. "Thanks for helping us convince Danny to get us the blueprints for the museum." One of Stiles' hands slips under Derek's t-shirts, splaying out over his abs, heat curling in and through Derek's body; Derek reclines back even further onto the couch and Stiles' body just follows the movement.

"No problem," Derek manages to gasp, even though when Stiles had offered Derek's services – to complete Danny's chore of mowing the lawn, shirtless, naturally – Derek had wanted to do more than slam Stiles' face into a steering wheel. He wanted to take Stiles apart.

That had been his intention, when he manhandled Stiles into the loft. He'd gripped the nape of Stiles' neck in one hand, and he'd wanted to do so much to Stiles—

"Thought you were going to kill me," Stiles says, his breath warm on Derek's face. Derek's hard, his erection thick and throbbing in his pants, and Stiles is just as hard against him: his hips jerk involuntarily as Stiles' tongue darts out to wet his lower lip. They both make a soft, unintentional sound at the feel of their arousal pressing together. Stiles huffs out a sound which might be a laugh – with their faces so close together, Derek can't make out Stiles' full expression. Stiles is a patchwork of light and shadow and blushes of color.

"Thought about it," Derek says, and lowers his hands to grip Stiles' hip, grinding them together deliberately even though they're both mostly fully-clothed. His shirt is rucked up almost to his nipples and Stiles' hands are skirting mind-bendingly close to them, just stopping short of where Derek wants them.

He always knew Stiles Stilinski would have the ability to drive him mad. Derek had just always erroneously thought it would be Eichen House mad, not this, being reduced to a feverish, desperate, sweaty mess.

"This should be off," Stiles says, pushing at Derek's shirt.

"Thought you'd seen enough today already," Derek says, but he dutifully tugs it off. Stiles' knees, straddling him on the couch, press more tightly into Derek's hip, and his usually-annoying smirk as he looks down is not as annoying in this context as Derek thought it might be.

Stiles shakes his head a little, like he's in shock, but he's smiling so it's not a bad shock. "If I didn't know you weren't fully human, I'm pretty sure this would prove you weren't," he says, and Derek should be insulted, he thinks, because he's human enough, but Stiles is looking at him with an expression like Derek feels, like Derek is maybe blowing his mind to pieces, and it's a giddy sensation. Stiles tilts his head to one side. "Are you ticklish?"

"Am I—" Derek starts, and Stiles' hands dart into his sides, and the answer is embarrassingly yes, and oh god, no one's known this about him since Laura—and maybe he should be angry, but Stiles' fingers are a dart of lightning and Derek's shouting a laugh before he can stop himself. He turns his mouth into Stiles' neck and barks the laugh into the skin there, Stiles' scent thick in his nostrils."Quit it."

"Yeah?" Stiles says, making no move to stop tickling. "What ya gonna do, huh?"

"Stop you, that's what." Derek grabs in one smooth moment, taking Stiles by the wrist and tumbling them over in one smooth motion so now Stiles is underneath him, and his erection hasn't dwindled an inch. He can feel Stiles' heartbeat underneath his fingers and he looks down at Stiles, meaning to taunt him about how he'll never win in a tickle match, and he gets hooked on Stiles' eyes instead, somehow. Stiles' eyes are trained on his and his ever-present smirk has faded into something more serious. As Stiles licks his own lips, Derek tracks the movement automatically, and something shifts in the atmosphere, slow, intense like a friction burn. Derek finds himself lowering his face to Stiles' with measured intent, and Stiles is nodding, like yes, this is the direction he wants things to go in, and Derek swallows, because this feels suddenly, painfully perfect, too perfect, and—

What buzzes between them at the junction of their hips is not Stiles' very interested boner, nor Derek's matching one.

"Scott," Stiles breathes and the name is like a bucket of ice water. Whatever thing was just happening between them is gone in an instant. Derek fights the ridiculous fancy that Scott's burst in on them while Stiles wriggles out from under him, landing in a sprawl on the floor as he paws at his phone. Derek would be vaguely irritated at the interruption, but Stiles' jaw goes tense, which means it's something supernatural-related.

"What is it?"

Stiles pulls a face as Derek reaches for his shirt. "Malia and Lydia were planning to do the supply shop, but Lydia's car is still in the shop and Malia's dad just grounded her for coming back too late after the kraken thing."

"Liam and Mason?"

"That's how come we had the five sacks of rock salt handy for those fire slugs last spring," Stiles sighs. "Scott sent them for saltpeter, so we could make smoke bombs."

Derek leans over Stiles' shoulder to see the bottom of the text. need u to do the shopping. "So Scott's sending us to get the supplies?"

"Uh," Stiles says and Derek freezes, realizing his mistake. You was intended to be singular. Scott had no idea Stiles was with Derek. Mainly because it's kind of ridiculous and bizarre. But also ridiculously good. "Yeah," Stiles finishes. "Is it okay if I use your bathroom first?"

Derek nods and Stiles scurries off, unable to look Derek in the face. Maybe because he's still shirtless. Derek's skin feels clammy now that they're not touching. He's aware now of how cold it is in the loft, aware of his own heartbeat and how clammy his fingers feel and how little a grasp he has of what's going on.

Stiles, for some ungodly reason unbeknown to werewolf or man, keeps up the charade that Scott meant you plural, and they take Stiles' Jeep back into Beacon Hills, because there's no point Derek heading back into the city after getting what they need. Derek was going to drive into Beacon Hills in an hour or so anyway.

Which begs an explanation to why Stiles had even come back with Derek to the loft in the first place after they were done conning Danny for the blueprints. Derek can't remember the reason Stiles gave. Something about talking over what Derek could remember of troll lore? Logistics for the museum heist tonight? Looking over the blueprints? Maybe that had been it – Stiles had been lifting up his phone when he got too close to Derek's mouth and the inevitable happened—

"We're here, daydreamer." Stiles voice is soft when it jolts Derek out of his thoughts. He looks up, eyes probably comically wide, to a fond expression on Stiles' face that makes Derek feel too much and turn away, clumsily getting out of the Jeep, feeling like he's made of nothing but limbs. Sometimes he feels too small for his body. Like he's just a small thing rattling inside of a larger, hollow shell.

He blames that feeling for the way he's edgy in the supermarket. Supermarkets have never suited him well; the crowded aisles, the fluorescent lighting, the constant noise. The argument – over what brand of foil to best bounce back the not-too-sensitive laser sensors across the second floor staircase – shouldn't even accelerate the way it does.

One minute Stiles is in his face and the next it's just as easy as it's always been to grab his hands into Stiles' shirt and shove him up against the nearest vertical surface, only this time he knows what the tension thrumming through his body means: that it's 50/50 chance whether he's going to fuck Stiles up… or just try and fuck him.

Stiles drops the basket (which doesn't look suspicious at all, because what would two guys be doing with that much lotion and oil?) so he can yank Derek's hair in both hands and Derek nigh-on growls, right there in the too-fluorescent light of the non-food groceries aisle, and Derek honestly doesn't know whether he's going to slam Stiles' head into the shelf of boxed napkins or shove his thigh in-between Stiles' legs when someone interrupts them with a pointed cough.

Derek jumps back automatically, the spell of the moment broken, and opens his mouth uselessly.

It's the janitor from the school with the bushy eyebrows. He looks from them to the mess of their tipped-over basket. "Do you boys ever do anything but fight?" he asks.

Derek looks to Stiles to answer, because he's the one that's handier with his words. Stiles shoots Derek an ambiguous glance which makes Derek's stomach curl heatedly. "Yeah," Stiles says, in a cold voice which makes Derek feel like he's swallowed a chunk of ice. "You could say that's all we do."

"Stiles—" Derek starts, but aborts the attempt when Stiles throws him an emotionless look. Like Derek's a stranger and Stiles doesn't know him at all.

He doesn't, Derek thinks, but that's mostly a lie. He shouldn't is much closer to the truth.

#

The heist to break into the museum and retrieve the troll-summoning artifact doesn't go smoothly, but none of their heists ever do. Stiles says it's because most of the team is made up of teenagers, and teenagers are only good at heists in the movies, and that's only when they're loaded up with impossible gadgets.

Derek would have thought their combined supernatural abilities might give them an edge, but he's wrong about that. He's wrong about a lot of things. He's used to it.

Derek's on the roof when it starts, creeping along with Kira towards the roof door, which has an electrical fault and can be opened at ten past the hour, every hour, without setting off the security system. They're halfway across the roof when what Derek had been assuming was an air vent uncurled itself into an eight-foot-tall figure.

A baby troll, then, Derek thinks, unfurling his claws and baring his teeth – and then a familiar voice grabs his attention. Stiles. Yelling for help. Derek freezes. He looks over Kira, who's already unsheathed her katana, and she nods at him tersely. "Go," she says, "I've got this."

He nods gratefully and runs to the edge of the roof. Down below, Stiles – who of course was supposed to stay in his pathetic excuse for a car and is currently out of said Jeep and pressing up against the museum wall, holding up his laptop like it's a weapon and really they're going to need a serious talk with Stiles when all this is over as to what constitutes an appropriate weapon – is being chased down by a troll which is decidedly not baby.

And its fourteen-foot-high head is just the perfect thing to land on.

At least, that's what Derek thought before backflipping off the roof to land on it. The resulting ride is like being on a bucking bronco. Derek manages to hold on, kicking back off the wall and pulling the troll away from Stiles, making it lean over with his weight until it stumbles down an incline. It swipes at him but Derek manages to leap off and roll out of the way of its flailing limbs as it falls down a short slope.

Derek doesn't look back: he runs towards Stiles and grabs him by the elbow, tugging him into a swift run.

"Less of the manhandling!" Stiles yells and then is only saved by being punched by another troll coming the hell out of nowhere by Derek yanking him down. "Okay, I might be a fan of the manhandling after all."

"Are you ever quiet?" Derek demands, backing up and tugging Stiles through a small gap between two of the museum buildings, hopefully too small for the bigger trolls to get through.

"If you have to ask it's like you don't know me at all," Stiles says, as Derek stops abruptly as a dark shape drops down in front of them.

Of course a baby troll could fit in the small alley. Its grey, sagging face opens a mouth full of large, square teeth and it lets out a strangled yell.

Derek makes a quick decision between being arrested (again) or dying (Stiles could throw an again on this one) and makes for the nearest window. To his surprise it opens with a bare minimum of force, and he barely has to gesture at Stiles for him to get it; Stiles hops through the window with a surprising amount of grace and Derek follows him, slamming the window back closed without a second to spare.

They both huddle together and back up in one, synchronized pace as the baby troll pushes up against the window and screams.

"What is this place?" Derek asks, quickly trying to gauge if the window will hold up against troll, if the troll's intellect is good enough to try and open the frame, and just how many security cameras are pointed on them right now.

"The secondary storage annex," Stiles says, heading for the door. "No security to speak of past the front door."

"Then why didn't we try and enter through here in the first place?"

Stiles throws Derek an askance look. "Because it's not connected to the main building. I guess we could tunnel through to the museum from here. They basically use this place for school tours." As Stiles gestures, Derek can see the classroom set-up. "I remember the blueprints. There's a storage room further in without windows that we can barricade ourselves in, figure out our next step."

"Okay," Derek agrees, as the baby troll's hands start prodding at the wooden frame of the window.

Stiles hurries out of the room, quickly checking as he peers his head through that the no-camera thing is correct. He seems to be right about that. Derek can see why as they step out into the hallway. At the far end, there's a door with an obvious sensor on it. Derek could force it open but the alarms would go. There are a few other classroom-type rooms that Derek can see leading off from the main hallway that they're on. They could easily break a window to get out, but there are more trolls out there than the pack prepared for. Derek might risk if it he was alone, but he's not alone.

Derek would much rather look like a coward as long as it means keeping Stiles safe.

The storage room is the easiest room to fortify. Not that much space for a back-up plan if it doesn't hold, except the door should bottleneck any enemies that could potentially come through.

Stiles is already dialing Scott as Derek shuts the door and moves a few of the heavier boxes in the storeroom against it. Derek can hear Scott's voice, can make out what he's saying, but he doesn't interrupt Stiles when he relays the message.

"Apparently the trolls are just circling this building," Stiles says. "Which doesn't make me nervous at all."

"One day you're going to run into someone who doesn't recognize sarcasm and you're going to be in a ton of trouble."

Stiles huffs. "Okay, buddy," he says, and Derek doesn't even know if Stiles is talking to him or Scott. "They've got half the pack keeping an eye on the trolls, making sure they don't come inside, and the rest are going after the artifact."

"Good idea," Derek comments. "They can call them off if they find it."

Stiles nods distractedly. "We'll poke around, see if there's a reason why they're fixated on this place." He disconnects and balances his laptop temporarily on the nearest surface before looking over at Derek with a weird expression that he can't decipher. "I can't believe you did this."

Derek frowns, not following. "What do you–?"

"You let me lead you somewhere without an escape route," Stiles says. "Do you have any idea how much personal growth that illustrates? All that trust? I'm proud of you."

Derek rolls his eyes and turns to look around the storage room he has, admittedly, trapped them in without thinking too much badly of it as a plan. He's gotten sloppy. Lazy. There's no way he would have done this a year ago. He'd just been thinking purely of Stiles, getting him out of the way of trouble, and he'd automatically figured the pack would have their back.

Huh. That's kind of a mind-melting realization.

"Are you okay?" Stiles asks, as observant as usual.

No is probably the answer he should give because yes more than I've ever been is too close to a truth Derek's not ready to look at. Derek's not 100% proud of himself that instead of the answer he should give, or at least the answer he shouldn't give, he goes for the easy option.

Namely shouting at Stiles.

"What were you thinking? Wasn't the plan for you to stay in the car?"

Stiles, thankfully, always knows how to handle being told off. He glares at Derek like he can peel off a layer of skin just with his eyes. "Yeah, awesome plan, stay in the metal box and let the twenty foot troll throw me around.”

Derek's stomach twists painfully and he's at Stiles' side before he's even really noticed that he's moved. He checks Stiles over automatically, hands briefly glancing over the usual spots – Stiles' arm, his face, his hip – and Stiles jerks backwards.

"It's a little weird concept called using your words," Stiles snits and Derek growls under his breath, the rumble coming out before he can stop it, and Stiles looks startled, Derek's worry obviously, horribly evident, because Stiles hurries on to say, "I'm okay. I swear. I got out. I banged my forehead getting out, but I don't need a troll to be that clumsy– and you're getting handsy again."

Derek refuses to look guilty as he tilts Stiles' face towards him to check for damage. He tries to surreptitiously siphon some of Stiles' pain, but only gets a feeble rumble of it.

"See, I told you," Stiles says, "I'm fine."

"Yeah," Derek murmurs, hand still resting on Stiles' face, "you are."

Stiles' eyes brighten and a smug grin quirks onto his face. "Derek Hale," Stiles says, sounding delighted, "are you flirting with me--"

Derek doesn't give him a chance to respond, leaning in and kissing him, starting out soft and sweet, his lips tingling as they move against Stiles' eager response. He's definitely the one moving first this time. There's a hunger in his gut, something low and desperate, urging the kiss on. Derek feels light-headed as Stiles' hands find their way to his back, holding on, fingers scrabbling for purchase as Derek surges forwards, gripping Stiles' face between his hands as he kisses him, thoroughly, possessively, the softness giving way to demanding, precise kisses which might as well be called devouring. Stiles is a banquet and Derek is a starving man.

Stiles lets out a keening sound that has to be unintentional because his heartbeat spikes and Derek can't help himself; his hands slide from Stiles' face to his waist to his hips and Stiles pushes up off the floor, letting Derek lift him, letting Derek push him against the nearest wall, and he doesn't make any move to get away, not even when Derek takes Stiles' mouth with his, over and over. One of Stiles' hands grasps the back of Derek's neck, fingernails digging in almost painfully, while the other one ghosts down, searching, seeking – when Stiles finds the curve of Derek's ass, Derek moans right into Stiles' mouth, turned on so fast it's almost painful.

And Derek's probably distracted by that, because Stiles pushes back now, a cocky smirk on his face as he pulls back from the kissing for a second that a year ago Derek would have punched from his face, hell, even last week he would have punched it from Stiles' face. Or at least shoved him against the nearest surface, like how Stiles is doing to him now.

Derek's back hits the wall and the entire door shudders.

"Fuck," Stiles hisses, pulling his addictive mouth away and glaring at the shaking door.

"Not now, we're a little busy," Derek jokes and Stiles rolls his eyes as he reaches for his phone, dialling Scott as Derek casts around. He sees the panel in the roof almost immediately and starts hauling a couple of boxes over to the center of the room; he can leap up and dislodge the panel but Stiles will need help getting up, and Derek knows from (painful) experience that Stiles doesn't really take werewolf assistance in situations like this very gracefully.

Even when there's a baby troll coming after them.

"Impending doom, ours," Stiles yells down into the phone as Derek climbs up to dislodge the roof panel. At least Derek's not covered by dust when it comes loose, although there is an ominous smashing sound above them. Maybe Stiles' general clumsiness was catching. "Derek's opened up the roof, is there anything up there – do you have the blueprints?"

"There's an attic up here of some sort," Derek calls back down, looking around to see an assortment of boxes stacked pretty close to the opening. Along with a lot of breakable-looking items, not wrapped up, and the shards of something blue that must have been the source of the ominous smashing sound. Derek shrugs. If the museum wanted their artifacts safe, they should have stored them correctly. He pulls himself up and tests the boards. They're secure enough, but whether they'll hold for a baby troll smashing through them is another thing entirely. "And a crawl space, maybe."

"Kira and Malia are headed our way but they don't think they'll get here in time," Stiles yells, climbing up on the boxes, his hands appearing to grip onto the edge of the attic. "A little help, maybe?"

Derek doesn't even look back. "You can handle it," he says, checking out the crawl space. It's fine for the first few meters, but then it's blocked up by something that looks immovable. "Ask Scott if we can get through the roof."

"A little busy," Stiles says, sounding strained. He flinches as the troll bashes at the door down below behind them, and struggles to pull his phone out and haul himself up at the same time. Derek sighs, comes back and takes the phone from him.

"The south side," Scott says, sounding breathless, "too many cameras pointed to the west, and there's a full-sized adult at the north. South's your best bet."

"Got it," Derek says, cutting off the call and throwing it back to Stiles as Stiles finishes pulling himself up, nearly knocking over a large vase as he straightens.

Stiles looks around the room and the obvious lack of exits. "So what's our escape route?"

"You're probably not going to like it," Derek says, picking his way over a box and a set of china figurines towards the south wall. He's always been good with directions, even without the stars to guide him. Stiles usually says he has a good nose. Derek doesn't like to repeat that, just in case it really is a badly-concealed dog jibe.

Scratch that, it is a badly-concealed dog jibe and Stiles is the worst. The absolute worst and Derek's apparent new obsession for putting his mouth on Stiles' is weird.

"Not going to like – fuck, no," Stiles says, as Derek balls his fist and contemplates the brick wall, "no, I don't like that."

"You might want to step back," Derek says and Stiles does that automatically, but in the dim light, his eyes focused warily on Derek's fist, his leg connects with something, and nearly every box in the center of the weird storage room is knocked with the movement.

The sound of a hundred fragile objects nearly falling over alerts the troll trying to get into the room below them, because the thumping sounds increase.

When Derek looks, Stiles has his eyes screwed shut. "Did I break anything?"

"Better hope not. I don't think you could afford to replace any of it," Derek says, eyeballing the wall and listening through. He can hear movement outside, but Scott's right - this is the best direction to escape in.

"They'd wrap it up if it was expensive," Stiles says, "and— oh, god, I'm never getting used to that," he finishes with a whimpering sound as Derek punches through the solid brickwork, sending a spray of bricks down to the ground.

"Come on, climb on my back," Derek says. "They'll have heard that, we have to go."

Stiles flickers a look between the hole to the room below, and the hole to the drop outside. "I'm good here. Really."

Derek frowns, realization kicking in as he notices Stiles' nervous glare at the hole to the outside. "Are you— Are you scared of heights?"

Stiles looks indignantly at him. "No." Derek's about to open his mouth to call bullshit when Stiles' face does a weird wiggle and his shoulders slump as he confirms, "Just falling from them?"

Derek sighs and steps forward neatly around a line of vases to put his hands on Stiles' shoulder. "You don't have to be scared. I've got you." Stiles' gaze flickers nervously over Derek's face, like he's trying to desperately read a lie in there somewhere and coming up empty-handed, and Derek can feel Stiles' nervousness now he's touching him. He reaches for Stiles' face, cupping it with both hands, thumbs steadying his jaw, and he leans in for a deliberate slow kiss. Stiles returns in, tentative at first but then melting into it, his body going lax. Maybe some objects fall at that point, crashing around them, but Derek barely hears them.

When Derek eventually pulls back, Stiles' mouth is pleasingly wet, and some of the nervousness has seeped away.

"Climb on my back," Derek says.

Stiles looks unconvinced, until a loud roar comes from below them and a hand reaches up through the gap from the room below, large cracked brown nails scratching into the wooden slat flooring. "Don't have to tell me twice," he says, and lets Derek help him up until he's clinging ungainly to Derek's back, Stiles' breath hot and distracting on the back of his neck.

The troll's head smashes through the floor and Derek leaps.

For a moment Derek thinks this might have been easier in his wolf form, but his control over that hasn't been as smooth as he'd like it to be – it comes and goes, mostly with his calm, and usually as such it's most uncertain around Stiles. Plus there would be the utter indignity of Stiles riding him like a pony (and not in the fun description of that phrase) and the sheer embarrassment of being naked in front of Stiles, not because Derek has anything at all to be ashamed of, more the fact that there is a part of Derek's body that he can't always control around Stiles, and that would be more humiliating than being ridden like some sort of tame animal.

He lands as steadily as can be expected, but doesn't get to drop Stiles as quickly as he'd hoped – because the sound of smashing bricks has alerted attention of the worst kind.

"Are all the freaking trolls after us now?" Stiles pants, right by Derek's ear. "Seriously, guys, shoo, we don't have anything."

"Shut up!" Derek yells.

"They're already seen us," Stiles says, leading Derek to have to very quickly adjust his gait, because Stiles' shrug is off-balancing.

"I meant because your voice is so annoying," Derek says through gritted teeth. Looks like he's suffering the humiliating of Stiles riding him like an animal after all, but he can't risk Stiles' all-too-human pace with the trolls crashing after them.

After them! Why would the trolls even be coming after them? It's a good thing Derek knows these woods back to front, because he can dive into the thickest, lowest-hanging branches in an attempt to lose the bigger ones. There may be nothing for it but to outrun the smallest one, which is easier said than done, especially with Stiles clinging to his back.

He can't risk dropping Stiles now. Nor can he risk letting Stiles go so they can run in different directions. For some reason the trolls are after them, and Derek can't know for sure if it's him or Stiles, so he puts his head down and just does his best to outrun the trolls.

Maybe he does too well, though. Because by the time the trolls stop chasing them – not because Derek's managed to outrun them, but presumably because Scott's managed to get to the artifact and turn it off – Derek's not entirely too sure where they are. After he's sure the trolls are wandering off and away from them, Derek lets Stiles down off his back, who gives him a surly look and starts dusting himself off and digging for his phone.

"You got it then?" Stiles says, dialing Scott as soon as he locates it. "Yeah, they chased us for miles. I'm not sure." He looks over at Derek. "Scott wants to know where we are."

"Him and me both," Derek reluctantly admits, cupping a hand over his eyes, trying to use the stars for guidance. Derek knows the woods in Beacon Hills like the back of his hands. It probably means they're not in Beacon Hills anymore. Maybe they're into the preserve that surrounds Beacon Hollow, Derek thinks.

Stiles arches both eyebrows at Derek, unimpressed. "Derek doesn't know," Stiles says into his phone. "Yeah, I know." Stiles sends another unenthusiastic expression in Derek's direction. Derek rolls his eyes. They're alive, aren't they? What the hell else is Stiles complaining about? "No, not getting any GPS signal. We'll try and find a road. Yeah. I'll call you back." Stiles hangs up, sliding his phone into his pocket, and throws a defiant look at Derek.

Derek shrugs back, not entirely wanting to waste energy arguing with Stiles over something trivial. Not when they came so close to being troll playthings. The sooner they get down to business, the sooner Derek can try and figure out why the trolls came specifically after them.

"Scott says if we can get to a road we can recognize, his mom might be able to pick us up," Stiles says, kicking at the ground a little. "Can you use any of your wolf senses to—" Stiles gestures.

"Sense a road?" Derek asks, frowning.

Stiles huffs, like he knows it's ridiculous. Derek doesn't even need enhanced eyesight to see that much – the night is already starting to turn to light. The cool colors of the night are still clinging to Stiles' skin, making his expression angular and harsh. Derek doesn't like it. He much prefers Stiles in muted light, the way his eyes come alive and his wayward hair shows all the color of the woods.

"How about climbing a tree?" Stiles asks. The accusation on his face has calmed a little, probably in response to Derek's embarrassing period of silence. Anyone would need some time to process at realizing they had a favorite time of day for someone's face, right? "You can do that, right? Maybe without any unnecessary backflips?"

Derek scowls at him but shrugs off his jacket, dropping it on Stiles' head like he's a chair, and leaping up into the tree gracefully.

He may or may not somersault his way out of the tree deliberately. No one's around to prove or disprove anything. Stiles splutters and smacks him with his jacket, but Derek doesn't have time for that.

Not when they need to hide. And fast.

"Get down!" Derek hisses, and when Stiles just spins uselessly in a circle, Derek ends up bodily grabbing Stiles, ignoring his yelp of "hands not claws! hands not claws!" and shoving his palm over Stiles' mouth. Stiles licks him automatically, which panics Derek into thinking maybe he should double check Stiles' passport for his date of birth. (Derek might have sort of checked that a couple of years ago to see when the world would have to cope with an of-age Stiles Stilinski; no one can prove that he did any such thing. Or can prove his real motivation behind the age-check.) Derek ignores the fact that Stiles has been picking up life lessons from toddlers and hustles them both down and into a hollow just in time as a couple of the trolls Derek saw coming their way from the top of the tree thunder into the clearing.

"Mmmf," Stiles says, stubborn about having the last word even if it's incoherent and will probably get them in trouble, but then he falls silent, eyes wide as he tracks the movements of the trolls through the branches of the thicket Derek's manhandled them both into.

There are two of them, smaller than the others, and they prowl back and forwards, sniffing like they think they'll be able to smell their prey, but the thicket Derek chose is intertwined with a heady bouquet of aromas, some twisting small herbs that will mask their scents.

Stiles remarkably stays quiet for a long period of time as they both stare out at the trolls, save for a small huff of despaired annoyance when the two monsters sit down in the clearing. Derek risks moving a little, pulling a branch to the side so they can escape in a different direction to the two settled trolls, but the sound brings the trolls back to their feet and sniffing.

Essentially, they're stuck. Stiles looks about as frustrated as Derek feels; Stiles pulls out his phone and pushes it onto silent, because they've learned their lesson on that front a few times over this past year the hard way, and starts to text Scott an update.

Scott predictably tells them to lay low, because they've nearly scored the troll-summoning artifact, and then they'll take it to Deaton to get it turned off. Derek smothers a smirk as he reads Stiles' reply over his shoulder.

>Wait quietly and be patient??? IT'S LIKE U DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL!!111

Apparently that's just one of Stiles' in-phrases, then. Derek feels a little disappointed suddenly it's not a them thing. Then he pulls a face at himself, because he and Stiles are definitely not a them. No. That's ridiculous. Sure, Derek's kind of been tripping and falling on Stiles' face a lot, but that's totally not anything serious. In fact, it's going to stop. Right now.

Stiles shuffles a little closer and Derek can feel himself settle a bit as Stiles' weight rests against the side of his body.

Maybe it can start tomorrow. After they've escaped the trolls. A little yay we're rescued kissing isn't a bad thing and doesn't mean he feels anything for Stiles. It would just be… celebratory. Yeah.

<LOL DRAMA QUEEN

Stiles pulls a quiet face at Scott's reply and keeps glaring at his phone in his palm, like Scott's going to keep him updated while the pack finishes the museum heist. He tuts under his breath when it inevitably doesn't happen. After a while, Stiles starts shuffling, patting at the ground and leaves beneath them like a cat kneading at a cushion. Which kind of describes Stiles well, actually. There was definitely a time during the nogitsune possession when Stiles went full asshole cat on everyone.

He still obviously has asshole cat tendencies. Derek's jacket is still lying out there from where Stiles just let it drop before their rush to hide. Anyone else would have held onto it. Anyone else isn't Stiles Stilinski. Stiles had better hope that the trolls don't mess it up, or Derek will— probably just sigh, to be honest.

"What are you doing?" Derek hisses, and then pushes his mouth shut when Stiles looks at him like Derek's lost his mind. Derek doesn't really blame him. There's a lot of recent incidences which might support that as an argument. Derek risks a look out to the trolls. One of them perks up an ear but doesn't move.

Stiles holds up his phone and types in getting comfortable, guess we're gonna be here for a while. wake me when we can escape.

Derek glares but Stiles just throws him a look and nestles into the branches and Derek's side until he can sit comfortably enough for a nap, and then proceeds to actually fall asleep, because Stiles is the actual crazy person. How can he sleep at a time like this? Derek looks between the trolls and Stiles for a long moment, at the way Stiles' neck is tipped back invitingly as he rests his head against a thicker grouping of branches. There's no absolute way it can be comfortable, but Stiles' breath shallows out.

He's actually falling asleep, the weirdo. Derek stares at him and it takes him a while to process that his regard could only be described as fond. He actually has to sit on his hands to stop from reaching out and pushing Stiles' hair from his forehead. Ugh, Stiles' crazy is obviously catching.

Derek doesn't quite know how long he sits there, alternating between glaring at the trolls for being annoying supernatural menaces and glaring at Stiles' for being an annoying non-supernatural menace to his sanity, but when the trolls get to their feet, Derek shakes Stiles awake, and realizes that it's nearly dawn.

Stiles blinks awake, stretching carefully, and his eyes widen through the branches as the trolls start moving towards them. Derek slides his claws out and stares at the trolls, readying to transform into a wolf, because he's pretty sure he can leap and tear one of their throats out before the other can take him out, and Stiles at least would have a chance at escaping in that mêlée, but the trolls suddenly turn right, going back the way they came.

Derek finds himself holding his breath. He's never lucky, but if Scott and the pack have figured out how to deactivate the troll summoning artifact, then it's not exactly luck. Although Peter deciding to bite Scott in the first place might be luck. Derek's not entirely sure any of the other teens in Beacon Hills would have taken to it so well. He side-eyes Stiles judgmentally. Yeah, he's pretty sure biting Scott McCall was somehow one of Peter Hale's best life decisions. That's probably not a massive compliment, though.

Stiles glares back at Derek before shaking his head, something almost fond in Stiles' eyes before he turns his attention to his phone and squints at it in bafflement. Derek turns his attention to getting out of the copse now it seems like the trolls are headed away. He moves quietly, cautiously, and winces when Stiles expels himself from their hiding spot with a loud burst of noise, but it doesn't seem to have made any difference.

The trolls aren't coming back. Stiles points at the tree Derek climbed before, and Derek sighs, but climbs back up. He can catch a glimpse of movement of the trolls, definitely heading away from them, before he loses sight of them. He drops down out of the tree without a backflip, but with a quiet graceful crouch landing that makes Stiles roll his eyes like Derek had, and Derek huffs back at him and picks his jacket up, brushing it off as Stiles does something with his phone.

"How can I have no cell reception but a GPS signal? Ugh. Technology bites sometimes," Stiles says, glancing at Derek when he says bites as if werewolves are responsible for all teeth-related disappointments in life. "Huh. Beacon Hollow. We're not as far away from town as I thought."

Stiles flashes his cellphone at Derek and Derek squints at the map as he slides his jacket back on.

"We should make for the main road," Derek says. "Wait for you to pick up some signal and then call the others, find out the sitrep."

"Sitrep," Stiles repeats, as if he hasn't used the military term for a situation report himself before. He eyeballs Derek contemplatively. "Will you give me a piggyback again?"

"You have feet," Derek says and starts walking, just far enough ahead of Stiles that he can smile unnoticed when Stiles starts spluttering.

They make it to the road as dawn cracks a little further, light spilling lazily onto the empty road. Derek can't even hear the buzz of a distant car but he keeps them on the left side of the road anyway. Stiles is fixated on his phone as he walks, alternately tapping on it like it will increase the reception and chewing on his lower lip in consternation as he watches the dot that signifies their location move closer to town.

"Black's diner has WiFi, it can't be too far, then I can make a call if we don't get proper cell reception back," Stiles says, after ten minutes of walking quietly down the road. Derek just nods, distracted by the way the morning light changes the color of the world, gradually stripping shade upon shade away of different things. The trees become warmer, the sky above them less oppressive. Stiles' demeanor goes from haunted to luminescent, his fair skin almost unearthly under the wakening Californian sun. As they make a slow turn around the road to a downward incline that feels more familiar to Derek, Stiles has to raise a hand to shelter his eyes. Derek almost automatically offers him the sunglasses in his pocket, but a selfish thought snakes out and snags the offer back before it can leave his throat, because Derek likes being able to see Stiles' eyes. Even when he's not talking, Stiles' facial expressions can be loud.

The road lurches up familiarly, and when they crest the top of the next incline, Beacon Hills unfolds like a paper map across the horizon, its familiar architecture unfolding from the center of town outwards in radial parallels, the forest enclosing it like a creeping darkness, a vaguely ominous hug of foliage and shadows. Derek lets out an exhale that feels like relief, and he thinks home is in sight, which is a pang to his gut, because where he lives is out near Beacon City: the Hills aren't home to him anymore.

Derek tucks away that sadness like it's a paper record he can file away, shoving it to the back of his brain, overwriting it with acknowledgement of fatigue and a faint thrumming under his veins, like the beginning pangs of a headache.

"There it is," Stiles says, even though Derek's just as versed with the location of Black's diner as anyone else. Stiles starts pushing buttons on his phone with a triumphant smirk playing on his face, and it's only when the smirk freezes in place that Derek knows something is wrong.

"What is it?"

Stiles looks up at him, frowning. "There's still no cell reception. And Black's WiFi network is down. Normally you can hit it from this far away."

Derek mirrors the frown back at him. "Maybe it's… offline?"

"I'll check with Oliver," Stiles says, sliding his phone back into his pocket and walking with more purpose now a goal is in sight. Derek keeps up with automatically, but hangs back when Stiles gets to the diner, staying outside for some reason that Derek can't identify. He stays outside instead, loitering awkwardly in the almost-empty small parking lot, and rubs at his temples. The headache's a little more persistent now, enough that Derek starts trying to mentally calculate when the next Full Moon is. As a born wolf he's affected by the pull of it before the bitten wolves are, but not normally this early. It's a week away. Maybe Derek's just overtired.

He's antsy, pacing a little, watching through the darkened glass of the diner and seeing nothing but shapes and reflections. Derek focuses his hearing, even though it makes his headache worsen, just in time to hear a little heavy breathing and then a distinctive clatter of Stiles crashing into furniture — an elbow into a table, his feet tripping over a chair. It's not an in danger sound set, it's Stiles being clumsy. Derek turns his face to the door just in time to see Stiles stumble out, brushing at his jacket and looking a little wide eyed.

"What happened?" Derek asks, his voice sharp with urgency.

"Uh," Stiles says, looking flustered. "Uh, the router was unavailable." His cheeks are flushed with pink. It's a good look on Stiles, Derek thinks, although he likes it better when he puts the blush there himself. "Oliver was kind of… busy."

"Busy?"

"With the new waitress Anna," Stiles clarifies.

Derek suddenly catches a couple of high-pitched noises and then a grunt with his enhanced hearing and Stiles' blush is contagious. Derek can feel the heat of it graze the apex of his cheeks. "Oh," Derek says. "Busy."

Stiles nods urgently, trying to convey his distress at what he saw. "Let's just say Oliver's tan is not all over and leave it at that."

"Thanks for the mental image."

"I aim to share," Stiles says. "Bonus: my phone's out of power. I don't suppose—"

"Left it in my car back at the museum," Derek clarifies, preempting Stiles' question about where his cell phone is hiding. "There's probably a phone box down on Carter and Fourth."

Stiles shakes his head. "Might as well go to my place. It's only half a street's difference at this point. Plus I can get a quick change of clothes before we find Scott."

"I wasn't going to say anything," Derek says.

Stiles narrows his eyes and shoves at Derek playfully. It's probably wrong that the play violence eases Derek's headache a little.

It's when they reach Beacon Hill's neat suburban streets that Derek realizes something else might be going on. The diner incident was vaguely weird but understandable, in the way that sex generally is, but they pass a woman on the sidewalk who just brushes past Stiles, almost angrily elbowing him into some nearby bushes. Derek has to grab onto Stiles' arm to keep him upright, and annoyance fully replaces the headache.

Derek watches the woman go with his spare hand automatically clawing out, hyperaware of potential threat, but she grasps at her head and runs unsteadily up to the door of a house, banging at it until another woman opens the door — and promptly yanks to woman in to a blistering kiss. Derek slowly looks back at Stiles, who just shrugs at him wordlessly. Beacon Hills is crazy at the best of times.

Suspicion claws at Derek from that moment, a faint buzz in the base of his spine, something not sitting right with him. The air of the town seems denser, heavier, thick with some sort of anticipation, and the urge to take Stiles' hand in his seems almost overwhelming.

Derek opens his mouth a few times to say something, to try and voice what he's feeling, but it's Stiles walking beside him. Talking about feelings is something Derek might risk with Scott or Kira, but Stiles is a zone designed for conflict and friction, not softness and emotional outbursts.

When they get to the Stilinski house, Stiles invites Derek in with an incline of his head, and Derek hangs awkwardly in the hall as Stiles heads straight for the phone, punching in Scott's number like he doesn't have to think about it. He probably doesn't. Derek doesn't actually know how long Stiles and Scott have been friends. It's not the sort of fact that comes up when they're in mortal danger, which tends to be why Derek and Stiles are in each other's vicinity. Mortal danger and, more recently, making out like Derek doesn't know Stiles is barely nineteen and starting his second year of college in a few weeks.

This weird kissing thing absolutely has to stop. Really. Stiles is still young. And while he's attending a local college with Scott and Malia, and is around in Beacon Hills practically all the time, he's got his own life to live. That's probably what all the kissing's about. Derek trying to regain his youth, or vicariously recouping some of the teenage years he missed out on. It's unfair on Stiles that he's the target of Derek's weird feelings.

But does he have to actually tell Stiles that? Derek frowns at the blank walls of Stiles' house. It's not like they talked about starting the random kissing thing. Derek just has to stop doing it. And stop wanting it.

"They're at Deaton's," Stiles announces, tilting his head at Derek when Derek stares at him somewhat blankly. Oh. Scott. Stiles was phoning Scott while Derek was getting lost in his own head, apparently. "He said not to hurry over." Stiles raises his eyebrows at Derek and then passes him, running up the stairs leaping three at a time.

"I thought he said not to hurry," Derek calls after him, as Stiles throws open his bedroom door with a loud thud. Derek can hear him quickly rifling through his drawers.

"Uh, when Scott says not to hurry, hurrying is the first thing I do," Stiles yells back, his voice going muffled in the middle. He doesn't smell much better when he bounds back down the stairs, taking each step this time, but Derek doesn't mind it, because at least Stiles smells like himself and not like a bunch of chemicals from the soap and deodorant that masks his slightly-woodsy natural scent. "C'mon, the Jeep's still at the museum, we gotta hustle."

"You do know I can run faster and for longer than you, right?" Derek asks Stiles' already retreating back. He shakes his head as Stiles flips him the double bird and follows him out of the house. The sooner they get to the Deaton's and find out what's going on, the sooner Derek can start stopping himself from kissing Stiles.

#

When they get to Deaton's Animal Clinic, Scott and Kira do a hilarious slapstick routine when they both try to come out of the front door at the same time to greet Derek and Stiles, which leads to Kira rubbing her forehead dolefully and Scott kissing her on the forehead and doing his very best not to swoon in public when she crinkles her face at him adoringly.

"I could puke at how cute they are sometimes," Stiles huffs under his breath, and he pulls a face when Scott leans over and nuzzles Kira's neck in front of them. "C'mon, Scotty. Do I have to give you the PDA riot act again? Because I swear, I can ninja so much garlic and tunafish into Kira's food that you will be shitting tears for a week."

Derek shouldn't feel quite so proud of how disturbed Kira is by that threat, but she rallies quickly when Stiles tries to move past them to get inside the clinic.

Kira and Scott shoot each other a glance that they probably think is subtle and secretive.

"I thought we could stay outside for a while," Kira says, brightly. "It's a lovely day."

"And Derek and I have been outside all freaking night, thank you very much," Stiles says, squinting at her in disbelief.

"But it's so warm in there," Scott says. "And smelly. From the chemicals. Let's just recap out, uh—" Scott swings his arms around the parking lot. "By your Jeep! Which I brought here, because I'm such a good friend." He produces Stiles' keys with a very wide, very fake smile.

Stiles leans forwards to grab the keys and then does a spinning move to push past his friend and move towards the door. Scott's face falls. "You're acting weird, buddy," Stiles calls back. "What's happening in here that's so bad that you're resorting to your terrible acting skills to keep me out, huh?"

"Nothing," Scott tries, but his voice falls flat.

"It better not be anything to do with—" Stiles starts, but he falters when he gets through the door, his shoulders sagging. "Oh," he finishes, quietly.

Alarmed, Derek skirts around a now defeated-looking Scott and Kira, hurrying in after Stiles.

"It's happening all over town," Scott says, sounding a little miserable.

Derek doesn't know what is happening all over town, because he doesn't entirely see what's wrong, beyond the obvious of hey, two people making out in the corner of the room like it's the end of the world in the next half hour. It's only when Stiles inhales sharply that Derek bothers identifying the two girls necking desperately in the corner.

His heart leaps on Stiles' behalf. Damn. Damn.

Derek turns his back politely, not really wanting to watch his recently discovered cousin put her tongue quite so far down someone else's throat. Even if watching Lydia Martin kissing is never a hideous sight to behold.

It's gotta sting. Stiles' ex and his dream girlfriend, wrapped around each other as if they're trying to merge into one person? Yeah, that's gonna hurt. Derek would reach out, take Stiles' hand, if he thought they had that kind of closeness, but apart from some accidental kissing of their own, they're barely even friends. Stiles and Derek are more like colleagues from different departments who occasionally have to say hi in the photocopy room.

"We don't know how far it's spreading but most of Beacon Hills seems to be affected so far," Scott says, entering the room with a ton of regret seeping into his voice. He grabs onto Stiles, but Stiles pushes his best friend away, his gaze dropping to the ground. Derek watches him from the corner of his eye, chest burning with sadness for Stiles. "Deaton's identified the artifact to blame already and he's gone to put some feelers out on where it might be. Lydia."

"Hmm?" Lydia pulls her mouth away from Malia, lips swollen and lipstick smeared. She looks across at Stiles, looking almost upset for a moment, but she tilts her head with classic Martin defiance. "Yes. Um." Her cheeks flush. She steps forward, away from Malia, but Malia growls, eyes flashing blue. Lydia glares back at her, and Malia's eyes don't fade until Lydia's hand grabs hers. Without looking in Stiles' direction, Lydia flips open a book to show Derek an artifact. It looks like a globe, decorated by an intricate Celtic knot. "It's an old Celtic piece, two-part, this is the part we're looking for. There used to be more of them, but the Argents destroyed most of them in the 1800s after several towns immolated themselves. There are two ways it can go – people either want to kiss all the time, or—" Lydia falters.

"Or they fight all the time," Kira says, unconsciously fingering the sheath of her katana, still strapped to her back from yesterday's museum heist. "Deaton says we're lucky it's set to kiss. The other towns that ripped themselves apart, they were all set to kill."

"But—" Derek gestures at the way Malia and Lydia are clinging onto each other, at the way Scott's sidled around the room to put his hand on Kira's waist. He thinks about Stiles and his heart pumps a little faster. No, no, that's not something he wants to look at closer. "This is weird enough. And dangerous?"

"Affected pairs need to stay at least in proximity to each other," Lydia says, holding up her hand, where it's looped tightly in Malia's. "The kissing urge doesn't fade though."

"It doesn't seem to be everyone," Scott says. "Deaton thinks it's just people with... strong feelings." He shares an appropriately cloying look with Kira.

"What happens if pairs aren't in proximity?" Stiles asks, his voice cold. Derek can't bear to look at Stiles directly, because if he does, he's not too sure what he'd do. He wants to run up to Stiles, to hold onto him, to pick him up and take him away, far away, away from this madness. Hold him down and keep him safe until everything's over. He wants to kiss him, really kiss him, take his time and kiss until the whole world knows that Stiles is his, only his. His head aches a little with the thought of not getting to do that.

"Kira and I already felt it a little this morning," Scott says. "It starts with a headache."

Derek resists the urge to rub at his forehead. Maybe it's a coincidence, Derek thinks, but he doesn't really believe in coincidences.

"An hour after no contact, it manifests like a stomach cramp that spreads round your whole body," Kira says, continuing on from Scott. "And then after a couple of hours of that—" She turns a foot beneath her, squinting at Derek almost fearfully.

"Agony," Malia says, and Derek turns to her sympathetically, because her voice has the ring of experience in it. "It's agony. If Lydia hadn't found me this morning—" She shudders.

"People in town are kinda figuring out the kissing and proximity parts," Kira says. "We think. It's like people are just being drawn to each other without knowing why. Deaton said it's about perception? If you can't wrap your head around the idea of the supernatural, your brain just fills in the blanks. Takes it for granted. They don't see anything weird about the kissing until afterwards."

People kissing. Helplessly. Without it seeming weird. Derek goes cold. Shit. Shit.

The kraken. The storage closet. Derek's loft. Then he thinks with painful clarity about the kiss below the attic room, the one which he definitely initiated, and the low rumble of want in his gut that felt like it came out of nowhere.

He'd wanted Stiles to kiss him. He must have wanted Stiles to kiss him. There's no other way— It's not some magical object compelling him. It can't be. Can it? Just how long has this artifact been working? Derek wants to look over at Stiles, to see what he's thinking, but he can't make himself do it, the horror of it crawling up the inside of his throat. The idea of kissing Stiles, of Stiles only kissing him because an artifact compelled him to?

He thinks back to the kiss on the beach, after the kraken. Which one of them started it? Did either of them start it?

"As far as Deaton can tell, when it's set to killing, it only affects people who hate each other. But for kissing, it's only affecting people with mutual romantic feelings," Scott offers. "But he says that's only for now, and that's... much less fun to think about."

Stiles shifts awkwardly, chewing at his cuticles, before looking up at Scott. "At the moment is it… definitely mutual? Because—" He trails off, cheeks going pink.

Derek feels like he's watching a tennis match in slow motion, like he has to drag his head through water to hear the answer. He doesn't want the answer. Two-sided would mean maybe Derek hasn't been kissing an unwilling partner, but one-sided…

One-sided it would all be on him. He feels suddenly, terribly sick, and appalled with himself. Stiles wouldn't be wanting to kiss him at all. It's basically assault. Like Derek's quiet, hidden admiration for Stiles has forced the intimacy on him.

Oh god, oh god. Derek forces himself to keep calm, but he's appalled. Two-sided is going to be difficult enough to deal with. One-sided would be a nightmare. His stomach slowly churns with the anxiety. Maybe it's zero-sided? Derek's not wanted to kiss Stiles before this week. Not really. Or has he? Derek's head is nigh-on pounding now, a mushy rhythm making his reactions and thoughts sluggish. This is all a mess. If Derek could abolish everything to do with magic and curses in the world, he would. All magic ever seems to do is ruin things.

Derek quietly watches Stiles, the way the pale skin of his neck tightens, his shoulders brace themselves and his hands clench into fists as he braces himself for the answer.

"At the moment…" Kira starts but trails off, shuffling. She looks over at Malia and Lydia.

Lydia's chin is still tilted in that way she holds herself when the whole world is going to judge her for something and she doesn't care. "The lore is ambiguous at the length of time it only affects mutual admiration. But for what we've seen… so far the cases we've observed have been two-sided," she says, with exaggerated calm. "So my guess is that so far it seems to be entirely mutual."

That had been the best of any of the options, Derek thinks, but he doesn't feel any better. He doesn't remember secretly being in love with Stiles. And the idea of Stiles being in love with him in return is ludicrous.

There has to be different rules. Maybe Derek and Stiles activated it somehow. Maybe the compulsion to kiss and touch affects the people who activate it differently, overriding any need for love. That makes sense. It's still so beyond messed up, but Derek's beginning to be overly resigned to people using his body without his explicit permission. He's not feeling brilliant that this artifact is making him take someone down with him, but that's a matter for therapy after they've found the damn artifact and smashed it to hell.

Malia winces as she looks over at Stiles and that's when Derek slides an extra helping of sympathy in Stiles' direction, because if Lydia and Malia are two-sided, then his cousin's probably been in love with Lydia for a long time. Probably back when Stiles and she were dating. "I didn't mean—" Malia starts, but Stiles shakes his head.

"Don't even—" Stiles trails off himself and then mimics Lydia's brave chin tilt. "Love is love. Gotta take it where you can find it, yeah?" He holds himself bravely for a moment, and then shakes his head. "I've gotta go home. Find my dad. Take a shower."

"We'll text you the plans for research," Scott says, smoothing a hand down Stiles' elbow; Stiles doesn't shake off the touch, but it looks like it takes him a lot of effort not to do that. "The effects seem to be worse in different places of town. Deaton thinks if we can graph the strength of it, we can work out where the effect is radiating out from, pin down the location of the artifact."

Stiles nods and ducks away from Scott, heading out of the room. An itch sets up place behind Derek's eyeballs and he swallows, hard. It really wouldn't do to cry.

Especially when he doesn't know how to explain that he'd be crying mostly on Stiles' behalf.

Derek's so wrapped up in thoughts that he almost misses Kira sidling up to him.

"Is he gonna be okay?" Kira asks, looking at the now empty door. Scott looks over, wide eyed and worried.

"We did just spend the whole night hiding in the wood from trolls," Derek says. He looks over to where Malia's also watching him, wide-eyed and guilty. "I'm sure he'll be fine. Just give him a little time. Trolls and magical kissing artifacts are kind of weird even for us; the need for adjustment time is a given."

"Lydia and I are gonna start mapping the affects around town," Malia says, although the look she gives Lydia says that it won't all be work, work, work. "You should get home, wash up, change your clothes." She eyeballs him. "You're kinda lucky Braeden's out of town."

"Unless the artifact starts widening out from town," Lydia says, smiling brightly. "In which case, let me know, so we can track how long it is until you pass out from the pain."

Derek's glare is apparently threatening, from the way Malia's nails and teeth coyote out, and he holds up his hands. "Okay, I'm going. I'll let you know if I'm in crippling pain," Derek promises.

#

When Derek gets outside, Stiles is gone, and Derek clamps down on the impulse to follow him. Stiles obviously doesn't want that, so Derek has to let him go. Besides, this might all be an overreaction. The kissing hadn't felt like an overriding compulsion. Maybe Derek and Stiles are just run-of-the-mill weirdly attracted to each other, no magical artifact compulsion in sight.

And pigs might fly.

There's definitely a headache asserting itself as Derek drives back to his loft, a low pulse in the base of his skull that Derek doesn't want to attribute to the curse. He mostly attributes it to the mental whiplash he's had from recent events. To go from kissing Stiles to pretending it didn't happen to it happening again to looking for trolls and hiding from them in the wood… and now this cursed artifact nonsense. If Deaton knows these stupid things exist, why hasn't he had them looking out for them? Destroy them before they can be activated and get people in this situation?

Even though it's not the killing version of the artifact, there are still a thousand ways this kissing thing could go wrong. Imagine if the person you loved had murdered a member of your family. Or if you had opposing religious views. Or if you hadn't come out to your parents and the spell made you kiss someone in front of them they wouldn't approve yet. And there's the whole horrible consent aspect. For those in the know about the artifact's affect, it could be controlled by touching, but for those who didn't know about supernatural things…

Derek grits his teeth. He'll have a powernap to get rid of the headache and then he'll drive back to town and help Lydia and Malia do their search for the affects of the artifact. He tries to rest on his couch, but his thoughts race, and are distinctly too-colored by the memories of Stiles on the couch.

How had that even happened? Derek only remembers it in jigsaw fragments, can only remember how nice it felt to press up against Stiles, how his skin was smooth and warm and Derek hadn't wanted to stop touching. The sounds Stiles had made, low and urgent and addicting, urging Derek on. The way he swallowed Derek's tongue, teasing it with his own talented mouth, pressing their lips together in a slow, teasing drag that sparked Derek's body into a hyper-awareness of everything Stiles was. A flutter of eyelashes on skin, a dappling of moles, strong knowing limbs pressing him down, further, down. Derek's body washing with heat. Stiles' laugh brightening the air. Moving together like a dream soaked in molasses and sunlight.

When his vague doze is disturbed by a loud insistent knocking at the door, Derek has to take a moment to gather himself. The headache is pounding now, mimicking the fist beating on the opening to the loft, and his breath is shallow and panting. Feeling a little sweaty and uncollected, Derek means to move slower to the door than he might normally, but there's a weird tug in the base of his skull pushing him forwards. When he turns the latch and slides the door open, it's like he's letting oxygen into the loft and he can finally breathe again.

Stiles is standing there shaking, looking as frazzled and discombobulated as Derek feels, and then he just lurches forwards, all limbs and elbows as he grabs Derek into a hug, and just like that, the confusion and the headache slide away. The air feels suddenly cool against Derek's exposed forearms and cheeks, and Derek can finally sort out his thoughts a little more. It feels like the world has finally righted itself again into vertical order.

"This is the curse," Stiles grunts, his voice still a little shaky. His long fingers press into the muscles of Derek's back, almost grasping, enough to bruise if Derek was human, but barely enough pressure to Derek's werewolf strength. "We have to touch, or everything falls apart."

Stiles is shaking less now and Derek goes cold, even though the press of Stiles' body against his is warm and endlessly, impossibly reassuring. "I'm sorry," Derek says, because he doesn't know what else to say, but Stiles tenses, somehow that making him angrier. Stiles pushes away.

"That should do it," Stiles says. "It's like a top-up. We don't have to—" His eyes track to Derek's mouth and then lurch away, and Stiles clenches his fists before walking further into the loft, and he folds his arms and glares out of the massive windows, eyes locked on some imaginary horizon point. "We don't have to be all over each other like everyone else. All we have to do is touch occasionally, before the headache goes into confusion and pain, and we can proceed as normal."

Proceed as normal, Derek repeats in his brain, but what does that even mean?

"We've got some work to do," Stiles says, still not turning to look at Derek even though he moves, drawing up alongside him. Derek mimics him and looks out, pretending to stare at what Stiles is looking at. "The others think it started sometime last night," Stiles continues, his voice a little unsteady. "But… we know different, right?"

Derek's body goes cold as soon as he thinks about it again. He remembers Monday like it happened in technicolor, even though some of the details are vague.

He can't remember who started the kiss.

He can only remember needing it.

"But we don't have to tell the others," Stiles says, and he turns to Derek. Inside, he looks nothing like his wild, warm self. Inside Derek's loft, Stiles is harsh lines and angles. Cool blocks of shadow. He's determination and a cold black line. "I vote we go out to the kraken site, find the artifact, and return to Deaton's as conquering heroes."

Derek swallows, tries to hide the motion, and tries to hide the pang of disappointment when Stiles' eyes dip momentarily to Derek's mouth and Stiles steps backwards, decisively. His fingers itch to reach out and touch Stiles, but their touches are obviously to be measured now, to be doled out in tiny sharp bursts, designed to salve and minimize the fall-out. Derek's happy and wrecked by this decision in equal amounts.

"Okay," Derek says, his throat dry, the words he wants to use feeling cracked and broken. He forces them up anyway, relics of a sentence fitting together enough to do while coherency has failed him. "Let's go and find the thing."

Stiles makes it easy to spend the drive in silence, just quietly sliding into Derek's passenger seat without even arguing about taking both cars. Derek guess it makes a sad, depressing kind of sense, although that's the only variety of sense in his life. They'll need to touch before the night is over. They need to know how long they can survive without it. If it's just a couple of hours, Derek might have to stay in town and risk the Sheriff finding the ex-murder suspect loitering in his son's bedroom again. Stiles spends the whole ride staring out of the window frowning, and Derek spends in clenching his steering wheel like he needs to hold on to survive the ride.

He clears his throat as they approach the parking lot they used last time to come and fight the kraken. "We'd better do this quickly," Derek says. "Malia and Lydia are probably still roaming the town. Do you remember what the artifact looks like?"

"I got Lydia to send me a picture," Stiles says, waggling his already-charged phone as Derek pulls into a spot and checks to see if there's a parking meter. They hadn't exactly had time to check the last time they came here, what with the kraken trying to eat a couple of joggers. "There are two parts, but they both look like that. One's the catalyst, one's the power source. The lore says it has to be open to the air, so that should help, and by my reckoning, the catalyst has to be down the riverbank somewhere. If we follow the path we took on Monday night, we'll find it."

"By your reckoning?" Derek questions, and then wants to swallow the question back, because Stiles just shoots him a dark look and then climbs out of the car, muttering something under his breath which Derek deliberately concentrates so as not to hear. Enhanced hearing can be a bitch sometimes, but at least Derek has some control over it now. He locks the car and moves around to stand near Stiles.

"This way," Stiles says, indicating the path with a nod of his head. He hesitates before moving, though, glancing up at Derek nervously before darting in and squeezing Derek's hand for a second and then darting away. The faint clouds of a beginning headache are immediately swept away, leaving Derek feeling lighter. Derek inhales and exhales shakily, shoves the hand Stiles touched in his pocket before he does anything hideously embarrassing like lick it.

It's not like there's a super amount of ground to cover, but Derek wishes he had a scent to follow, because two pairs of eyes suddenly don't seem like a lot. The path that had seemed so short before when they hurtled along it to the sound of shouting suddenly seems wide, long and annoying bumpy, so it's not like Derek can even keep an eye out for an incongruous lump.

Stiles keeps to the right of the path, so Derek stays to the left, even though Derek's fingers itch with the burn to go over and touch Stiles. Not to soothe the ache in his own bones, but to seep away whatever Stiles is feeling. Because it's not a good look on him. The strain of this stupid artifact is already showing on his forehead, on the tense line of his back, and shit, Derek's supposed to be scanning the ground and the surrounding area, not staring helplessly at Stiles.

"Guess it must be on the slope or down by the riverbank," Stiles calls back. He's already several paces ahead of Derek and he pauses at the top of the slope down to where the river is calmly rushing past, unaffected by any curse and Derek's horribly jealous of it for a moment. "C'mon, speed it up. The faster this is over with, the quicker you'll stop staring at the ground like a gormless idiot."

Derek doesn't rearrange his face but does lift his rather lax expression so that it's pointed directly at Stiles. "Y'know," Derek says sourly, "I really don't wanna know how you treat people you don't like."

Stiles side-eyes him. "Who says I like you?"

Derek's kind of feeling like a devil. Mentioning the attic is dangerous territory, because it's too much of a reference to the kissing that they're driving in circles not to talk about it, but he can't help himself. "Back in the attic you said I was your favorite."

Stiles glowers. "There was kissing. And impending doom. I was distracted. And didn't I take it back immediately?"

Derek shrugs and resumes glaring at the ground for anything round and Celtic-looking, or maybe for the remnants of one. Stiles is probably right about it being a catalyst, and it's likely that they could have broken something during the kraken fight, because it had been protected and messy as hell. But look as he might, there's nothing here.

If something had been here, it's gone now, Derek's sure of it.

Stiles keeps them out looking for longer, though, and Derek indulges him. It would be nice to find the catalyst. Then Derek will know for sure his urge to kiss Stiles is purely part of the curse and he doesn't have to wonder about it. It'll be another chapter in the volume of Derek Hale, Failwolf Extraordinaire, but at least he can apologize to Stiles for letting him be caught in the crossfire of another supernatural incident and firmly close the book on these last few days.

Eventually even Stiles has to give up looking when they find Derek's lost shoe from the fight but zero creepy artifacts. He glares at Derek like it's his fault. It probably is. Somehow nearly everything cycles back to being Derek's fault in this place. Just for once, Derek would like someone else to be at fault. Maybe someone unrelated to the group.

Nah, it'll be Derek's fault somehow. You could put money on it.

When they get back onto the path, they're not alone anymore, which is surprising. Stiles moves a little closer to Derek on the walk back to his car, but they don't touch, even though Derek wants to, badly. Especially when they pass four separate couples, all holding hands or kissing tenderly or just walking pressed up against each other, arms around each other's waists. Derek would normally vomit in his mouth at all the tender PDA but he just feels ragingly jealous instead. Stupid curse. Stiles is walking ahead of him, all grim and jaw clenched, and Derek swallows back the urge to tell him to stop doing an impression of his brooding, because then he'd have to admit that he does brood. On occasion. When the situation demands it.

It really feels like the situation demands it this time.

"Ugh," Stiles says when they get back to Derek's car. Stiles flings himself down into the passenger seat with feeling.

"I know," Derek says, solemnly. Stiles shoots him a look which is almost amused, but he tampers that down immediately.

"I meant Scott is summoning us to a pack meeting," Stiles clarifies, wiggling his phone again like it explains everything. "At his house. I guess we'd better go."

Derek contemplates what his response should be. "Ugh," he offers.

Stiles hides his smile out of the window, which is kind of useless, because the Toyota's windows are really reflective. Derek tucks away the memory of the smile and guns the engine.

#

Derek should have taken Stiles' hand before the meeting started, because he hadn't thought it was going to take so long. He was wrong. Lydia and Malia have a forty slide long Powerpoint display. Derek glares at Stiles at that realization, because Stiles had been the one to pay Danny to teach Malia how to use the computer. He must have been hoping Danny would teach her how to hack, but instead, Danny just gave her a crash course in Windows Office and MSPaint.

Derek's fridge is covered with Malia's first MSPaint pictures, because Malia's-dad-who-isn't-really-her-dad is still locked in their tragic past, and won't take down her sister's crayon art.

"We've been tracking the range and severity of the affects as rigorously as possible," Lydia says.

"For science!" Malia breaks in, putting two thumbs up at everyone.                         

Lydia frowns at the interruption, but the firm line she's trying to push her mouth into fails at the ends, curling up into a fond smile as she gazes at Malia. "For science," Lydia says, bouncing on the balls of her feet, sounding quite satisfied. She clicks a small device in her hand and the laptop on the table turns on, displaying a map with concentric circles of different colors, all emanating out from—

Oh. Derek knows the shape of that building, and the small building off to the side. "Is that the museum?" Derek asks.

Lydia waggles her eyebrows.

"Twice is just a coincidence, though," Stiles says. "But that still sounds like a solid starting point. Two artifacts in the same place — it has to be someone with access." He rubs at his temples almost distractedly, and that's when Scott notices what Derek's been surreptitiously tracking for the meeting so far: the fact that Stiles is growing more tense and pale as time crawls on.

"Dude," Scott breathes, interrupting Lydia's next attempt to start talking again about the magnitude of the curse's affect at the moment. All attention suddenly focuses on Stiles and Stiles scowls, unimpressed. "Dude, I didn't know. You should have said something. You should go, we'll catch you up later."

"I'm fine," Stiles snaps, tersely. He scowls at Scott, which makes his best friend flinch, and then Stiles shakes his head, forcing a warmer expression on his face which ends up highlighting how extra-pale Stiles looks. "I can last out the meeting. Then I'll, uh, go and—" He gestures vaguely at Scott and Kira, then at Lydia and Malia, looking extremely uncomfortable. Much like Scott's expression at the beginning of the meeting when Stiles asked him where Mason and Liam were.

Some questions were not meant to be answered.

"You've got a girlfriend?" Malia blurts, looking at Stiles with eyebrows raised. "Why didn't you say anything? I felt guilty about Lydia."

"I've been taken notes, I can give you the cliff notes," Kira offers.

"I'm fine," Stiles yells, receiving dirty looks for the privilege. He quiets, surly. "I'm fine," he repeats, in a more controlled voice. "I can handle a little bit of pain for the rest of the slides, and then I'll sort this thing out. It's no problem."

Scott automatically opens his mouth, looking stubborn. Stiles sighs, looking shifty, and he glances over at Derek hesitantly, and he's starting to look awful. Not quite nogitsune-bad, but his the bags under his eyes are starting to look like a make-up mistake.

Feeling suddenly self-conscious and bashful, Derek steels himself. There's going to be teasing for this, he knows, but he can't bear to see Stiles in pain any longer. Taking a quiet, controlled breath Derek straightens from where he's leaning against the sideboard and moves over to Stiles, slowly offering out his hand. It feels like everyone's eyes are on them, and Stiles swallows nervously as he locks eyes with Derek, tentatively offering up his arm. As soon as Derek's palm touches Stiles' forearm, Derek can feel the tension seep from Stiles' skin.

"Dude," Scott breathes, his eyebrows furrowing, "I know you mean well, Derek, but you kinda gotta let Stiles be a grown up."

Derek glances at Scott in confusion.

"The pain draining?" Scott clarifies, gesturing at where Derek's hand is still curled possessively around Stiles' arm.

"Uh," Derek says, and blinks unsteadily. "I— We're on a deadline?"

Stiles glares at Scott again and then glances back up at Derek. "Uh. Thanks. I feel better."

"You're still a cowardy-coward and I'm getting the name of your girlfriend out of you when this is done," Scott tells Stiles as Derek warily slinks back to the sideboard. Kira and Malia are still watching Stiles in concern, but Lydia spares Derek a curious glance. He meets her glare defiantly, which is possibly a mistake, because one of her eyebrows quirks up and she looks back at her slide, smiling to herself.

Stiles looks at Scott solemnly. "Some of us aren't as lucky as you, Scott," Stiles says, and Scott winces, leaning forwards to squeeze Stiles' knee apologetically, and Derek's gut pangs.

Scott pats Stiles awkwardly on the shoulder. "We'll solve this thing, I promise," he says, low and earnestly.

"I know we will, bro," Stiles says, soothingly clapping Scott on the back. Scott beams.

"Is the bromance over, can I continue?" Lydia asks.

Stiles and Scott roll their eyes in tandem and gesture for her to continue, although Stiles stage-whispers, "The bromance will never be over," and high-fives Scott even as Lydia starts to explain how the effects seemed to lessen the further from the museum they got.

"I've had Liam and Mason doing some random polling, for as much help as they've been," Lydia says, taking a pause to wince, illustrating just how much help the duo have been. "So far, the affects seem to still be two-sided. Even in the random sample of thirty-four affected couples, of the ones that answered, it was two-sided. The pairs affected have been in deep romantic mutual love. We have to hope that continues for now. If it starts to affect one-sided attachments, or even no-sided attachments, I have no idea how bad it could get."

"I think it's bad," Malia says, "but that's because I pictured my dad trying to kiss me, and eww."

"Definitely ew," Kira says, "and I don't know which dad you're talking about."

"It's confusing having two," Malia agrees. "Especially when they're both kind of dickhead jerks."

Lydia keeps talking then, about the second artifact they're looking for, about how the first one may be broken, but Derek tunes out, because his thoughts are racing. Two sided. That idea again.Derek risks a glance across at Stiles. His chest twinges with the idea of it, his skin tingling with a triumphant two sided, it's not just me, he likes me back song, and he has to fight hard to stop the sudden tears that sting at his eyes involuntarily, because it's more than he's dared think about. Ever.

So maybe he likes Stiles. That's something he's been in denial about for a long, long time. For so long that it's just habit and his brain denies it now for him. But the hope thrilling across his skin, lighting his nerves from the inside out, dwindles almost as fast as it came out. Crunches down in his gut until he feels sick and dizzy with it. The joy in his heart is now a clamp on his chest and there is still water threatening to spill from behind his eyes, but this is now a burn of hatred and self-loathing that he has to swallow several times in a row, hard, so as not to throw up.

Stiles likes him. But he doesn't want to.

Oh god. Oh god. Derek can barely breathe. He forces himself to count through his breaths, to keep them rhythmical consciously when his body wants to so badly betray him. He loses some of the peripheral conversation, too focused on not losing control.

It's Kira that snaps him out of it, sidling up to beside him, her eyes wide with concern. "Are you okay?" she asks, voice deliberately low as the others pore over the museum blueprints that Lydia's projecting onto Scott's sitting room wall.

Derek has to tear his gaze away from Stiles' head, bowed down low over his phone screen displaying the image, too close for his eyes. He'll end up needing reading glasses if he's not careful, Derek thinks, and that too-practical thought is the final push he needs to not cry.

Even though his heart is breaking.

Well, at least it's proof he has a heart. Stiles would get a kick out of that, at least, if the situation wasn't as crummy.

Then he realizes Kira's still sitting waiting for him to respond and her worry has dragged Scott's attention over in her direction and where Scott goes, the pack follows, it'll only be a matter of time until everyone's staring at him, and he can't take that. Not when he's quietly shattering apart on the inside.

Derek looks at her and shrugs. "I will be," he says, after a moment. Kira's eyes narrow, like she wants to press further but she's holding herself back, and eventually she nods.

"Don't hold everything in forever," she says, still in a soft voice but with a downwards expression, probably because Scott's listening in now. "You're not alone." She bumps his shoulder with hers and sidles back over to Scott, distracting Scott's attention by sliding her small hands into his pockets.

Derek looks away. He doesn't think Kira's the type to do that sort of PDA around the pack, but then again, they're all under a curse.

"Okay," Lydia says, "so we're all cogent with the plan and know our parts? Good. Let's go."

Derek blinks. Lydia had been talking, but he'd sort of assumed she was still waffling out statistics about the museum. He looks around helplessly and Stiles comes over. Distracted by their own parts in Lydia's plan, Stiles takes the time to ghost his fingers across Derek's hand only slightly. He looks up sharply when Derek jumps from the touch as if scalded, and his eyebrows furrow as if he's hurt by that, but Derek forces his glance away.

It's difficult to look at Stiles without the blinders and denial as a brick wall in his head, because he'll probably just stare adoringly and that won't do. Not if Derek's going to get out of this situation with any sort of dignity intact. They need to get through this, destroy the artifact, and separate. Stiles will be buried back into his studying soon enough. Derek can step back into the shadows and keep enough distance and give Stiles enough time that Derek will be nothing but a vague memory.

"We're all going to the museum to look for the artifact in pairs," Stiles says, keeping his voice low. "You're to swing me by my girlfriend's house first and we're to meet them there. We're taking the third floor of the museum because it's smaller."

"But first to your girlfriend's house," Derek says, a little unsteadily, as he chances a look at Stiles. The world doesn't shatter, but Derek's heart does embarrassingly speed up, and Lydia gives him an almost knowing glance again from where she's packing up her projector.

"Yeah," Stiles says softly, his hand ducking down again, his little finger curling around the base of Derek's thumb just for a moment. "For some touching and kissing." With the newly re-acknowledged feelings for Stiles crashing around in Derek's brain, the touch is almost pure torture. It's like all of Derek's skin is suddenly tuned to Stiles FM and one brush of one finger is enough to almost undo him. Derek can feel the giddiness of the touch spread throughout his body and he's overly aware of his lips. It feels like there's static electricity building up beneath them and all he has to do to set off the fireworks is to take Stiles' mouth with his own. Wring some of those addictive noises out of him.

Derek can barely swallow and the atmosphere is so charged in the small space between them, Derek feels like it must be impossible not to notice, but Malia, Kira and Scott at least seem completely unaware. "We should go," Derek manages to say, and moves away before he does something that he'll absolutely regret later.

#

Despite the almost-invitation in that last moment at Scott's, Derek doesn't take Stiles anywhere private to meet his "girlfriend". Instead, he takes them both to a diner that has survived the curse — either its employees aren't in love, or they're manageably in love with each other — and Derek forces down a too-strong coffee while Stiles shoves various breakfast meats into his face in a way that shouldn't be attractive, but Derek's been a lost cause for too long now. It is distracting and disturbingly attractive and Derek focuses on holding Stiles' hand occasionally under the counter-top and thinking of things like roadkill and Gerard Argent's dribbling face to try and kill the inappropriate reaction to Stiles' manner of drinking soda. Surely it isn't necessary for Stiles to basically fellate every straw he comes across?

When they finally leave and get to the museum, Derek regrets not taking more time, because it's insane. It's vacation time for a lot of people, so the museum is busy, and because the town is under this stupid kissing curse, people are displaying their affection in public all over the damned place. Derek pays their entry fee, glances guiltily at the yellow tape he can see over the side-building, and hustles Stiles up to the quieter third floor as quickly as he can.

As they move through, Derek scans the rooms intently, trying his best to ignore the other couples milling around the place casually kissing or touching each other in soft, gentle ways. He and Stiles cut a swathe through them, not quite touching, but not too far from each other either. This is worse than New York on Valentine's Day, because there the public displays of affection were at least punctuated among the regular hustle and bustle, and here the romance outnumbers everything else. It's the people not making romantic gestures of any kind that stick out: of those it's mostly kids, milling around and making puking faces at each other, although there are a few obviously married couples not even within reaching distance of each other, which makes Derek think about what his mom used to say, that there were many kinds of love, different from and better than romantic love. The couples look happy, so maybe she was right. 

Besides, romantic love seems to have done nothing to Derek but twist him up from the inside out.

It's calmer up on the top floor of the museum, but not much quieter. Derek distracts himself by looking through all the drawers of preserved insects. He likes the variety when it comes to the smaller invertebrates and he knows he's not alone in that; his mom used to like to quote J.B.S. Haldane, a scientist who was asked what his studies had taught him about God. Apparently the guy had said he wasn't sure, but if there was a God, he seemed to be inordinately fond of beetles. The museum placard says there are over 35,000 types of beetle, so maybe Haldane was onto something.

Then again, Laura used to say Derek had over 50,000 forms of bitch face. Variety is relative.

Stiles ends up hovering near him, and in the busy atmosphere, it seems easy for their hands to stay near each other, and then when they move from the insect repository to one of the artifact rooms, it's easier still to hold Stiles' hand, right up until the moment a kid nearly bumps them together.

Derek can't tear his eyes away from Stiles' for a hot, heavy moment, and he's almost sure they're going to kiss again, because they're swaying closer like they're opposing magnets, and Derek thinks almost, almost—

"No," Stiles says, and Derek startles back like someone's thrown frozen water over him. Appalled at himself, Derek moves to pull his hand away, but Stiles' face twists at that one and he repeats, "No." Stiles then looks unsure and turns away to inspect the next cabinet which is full to the brim with small items which might be Celtic in origin.

They walk slowly through the final two rooms of the third floor, Derek still hyper-aware of Stiles' every move, and he thinks it might be working the same in reverse, because when he scratches his cheek, he can feel Stiles' hand clench involuntarily. It's almost a relief when Scott and Kira bound up the stairs to come summon them down to the second floor.

The six of them bundle around the small unassuming glass case in the almost exact center of the museum for a couple of minutes before Lydia realizes the artifact might be under surveillance, and they casually disperse to meet at the small café operating at the back of the ground floor.

Stiles orders another breakfast. Derek just has to try his best not to look too fond when he does that. Or too aroused. It helps having his cousin nearby. Especially because then he remembers in technicolor that Stiles and Malia used to date and oh god, Stiles has a type. Derek can't quite imagine anyone else but Stiles foolhardy enough to have a type for tall, conventionally attractive, brusque shapeshifters.

"For the curse to continue any longer than a week and to work at a further distance," Lydia says, "Deaton says it has to be re-spelled after activation. As Malia and I have already checked, the effects are limited, so this can't have happened yet. All we need to do is to see who does it and stop them."

"Is that all?" Kira asks, sounding dismayed. "We can keep a rota watching it during opening hours, but they changed security after the heist."

"So we do what we did last time," Scott says, and turns to Stiles and Derek with a hopeful expression.

Derek's expression flattens, unimpressed. "You do realize last time I had to pay Danny to get us the blueprints by mowing his lawn? Half naked?"

No one else seems moved by his distress. "We need the information," Lydia says, gently. "Unless you want the curse to continue?" Lydia, the little manipulative minx, slides her eyes surreptitiously to over where Stiles is aggressively making love to another plastic straw.

Derek glares at her. "Stiles, hurry up," he sighs through gritted teeth. "We need to go ask your friend Danny another favor."

#

"No," Danny says, as he opens the door. Stiles isn't put off, but that's because it seems to be Danny's version of hello.

"C'mon," Stiles whines. "At least let me in to play with the boys."

Danny glares at Stiles, and then almost commiseratively flashes Derek a look, like he's sorry Derek's stuck with Stiles in a social capacity. "Okay," Danny relents. "But only because Sarah's half in love with you." Stiles whoops and pushes past Danny to head to his porch, where Danny's little sister is probably still playing with her birthday present, three Dalmatian puppies that Derek didn't get to play with last time they came, because he was too busy mowing Danny's lawn. Shirtless. "If you don't make her fall out of love with her by the time she hits double figures, I'm getting you barred from the Jungle."

"I can make anyone hate me in minutes, that's the Stilinski guarantee," Stiles promises as he disappears off to see Danny's young sister and the dogs. Stiles gets on very well with people in his IQ range, Derek thinks meanly, but then takes it back, because the Mahealanis are an absurdly intelligent family. Danny's mom has three doctorates and speaks nineteen languages. Derek would have such a crush if his heart wasn't already busy pretending it wasn't occupied.

Danny huffs a sigh and then turns a neutral expression in Derek's direction. "I presume this sudden interest in museum schematics has something I don't want to know about to do with the kissing thing that's going on."

Derek's hit by a sudden twist of empathy. Danny does look tense, like he's being bothered by a particularly sharp migraine. He looks around, makes sure no one's looking, and he leans forward to take Danny's hand, seeping some of the headache away.

"Neat trick," Danny says, looking up at Derek impressed as Derek tugs his hand away. Derek's relieved to know the pain-seeping does work on the curse, because it would have been awkward if Scott tried it on someone affected and it didn't work. "Come on up."

Derek follows Danny into the house and up towards Danny's bedroom, feeling a little self-conscious even though Danny's now very of-age. It still feels weird going into a teenager's bedroom. Danny's bedroom smells a little stale, but that's to be expected — Danny got a full ride at MIT, and doesn't live at home like the pack does. They're lucky to have encountered this problem while Danny's on vacation, really.

"First of all, if it turns out this is your fault, I don't want anything more to do with any of you," Danny says, sitting in his wheeled computer chair and resting his hands on the arms like he's some kind of Bond supervillain. Derek likes Danny, meaning he probably has great villain potential, actually. "I keep ending up making out with my last boyfriend and that might be great, except for the part where he's in the closet and hates me for making him realize he's gay."

"So you might be amenable to helping us," Derek says, sounding the idea out slowly, like he might spook Danny away if he says it too fast. "Preferably without me having to cut your lawn while shirtless again?"

"If it stops the kissing, I'm amenable," Danny says, rubbing his eyebrows with the back of his fist and staring out at the back yard. "There's a reason we have a choice in love." Derek follows his gaze, not quite for the melodramatic angsting reason as Danny, and his gaze ends up on Stiles, tumbling around on the grass with Danny's sister and the three puppies. Derek's stomach twists like something's knotted up inside him.

Everyone he loves ends up hurt; if Stiles follows that pattern, he wouldn't be able to bear it.

"Because sometimes it does more harm than good," Derek finishes for Danny, his throat thick with emotion, and when he turns back to look at Danny, Danny's already looking at him, eyes soft with compassion.

"Yeah," Danny says, looking between Derek and Stiles with an astute expression that Derek wants to wipe from Danny's face with the truth, that what he's suddenly thinking is wrong, that he and Stiles – who Danny probably still thinks is his cousin – aren't anything like that, they're not forbidden love—

Except maybe they should be. Because everyone he loves ends up hurt. And he loves Stiles.

Oh, god, he does.

He loves Stiles.

It's not just like. He should have known before now.

He didn't want to.

His hands tremble into fists and he digs his fingertips into the soft heel of his palm, just in case they become claws.

"You sure you can stop this?" Danny says, voice low with hope, eyes dark with intent. He's desperate for this cure, but so is Derek. Derek nods, unsure whether he can trust his voice. The buzz of being apart from Stiles is already settling in low in his skin, unpleasant like a bad headache, not quite up to migraine-level pain.

"Then I'm in," Danny says, "no shirtless lawn-mowing incentive required."

Derek sighs with his whole body and nods his thanks.

Danny returns the nod and settles deeper into his computer chair, looking over at Derek speculatively. "I wouldn't be able to watch you work from here, so it would be a waste. Shirtless lounging around my room, however..."

Derek sighs, but reaches for the bottom of his shirt to the sound of Danny laughing and booting up his desktop.

Stiles enters the room just as Danny's finishing up. He's a little unsteady on his feet – Derek's reaching for him before he even realizes, and he curves his hand around Stiles' wrist, touching enough skin-to-skin to start the mutual pain relief, and he adds in an extra burst of the werewolf pain draining whammy, not wanting Stiles to suffer for any longer than he has to. Stiles shoots him a grateful look, followed by a weird moment where Stiles looks away. His heart skips a beat and a pink color streaks across Stiles' cheeks, and Derek is confused until Stiles looks back, just for a second, before looking away again. His gaze dips down that time, and—

Oh. Yeah. Derek took his shirt off.

Now he's the one blushing and he lets go of Stiles just long enough to snag his shirt and pull it back on, feeling acutely embarrassed. It's only when he looks back again that he even notices that Stiles is still holding one of the puppies.

It should be illegal. Who the holy hell lets Stiles go around holding puppies?

"You're going to have to give that back," Danny tells Stiles without even turning around.

"But I'm in love," Stiles whines, nuzzling at the baby dalmatian.

Derek quietly tries not to die there and then, and it's a mental fight not to flash his eyes at the dog and assert his dominance.

Danny pulls out a USB pen from his tower and tosses it over to Derek, who catches it nimbly. "That's apparently the problem around here that you're going to fix," he says.

"We're going to try," Derek says. Danny makes eye contact with him and nods. "Thanks, Danny."

"No problem, Miguel," Danny says, dimpling. Derek grits his teeth while Stiles hides his giggling into the puppy in his arms. Danny pointedly takes the dog from him.

"Let's go and save the day by breaking the law," Stiles declares, snagging the USB drive from Derek and scurrying out of the door.

Derek and Danny share a glance of deep empathy before Derek follows Stiles back outside.

#

"Danny's got us into the feed and no one's been there since closing," Stiles says as the six of them crowd around the laptop Stiles ducked home for.

Stiles won't say what he saw inside his house that made him cry, but Derek heard Sheriff Stilinski's voice even though he was waiting outside in his car, and Sheriff Stilinski definitely said Melissa, and he might have also said Natalie, and there were two cars in the Stilinski driveway. One of them definitely seemed like the hunk of junk that Scott occasionally drives around Beacon Hills, too.

When Stiles had stopped sobbing, he loaded up what Danny gave them, which was updated schematics, the new security guard rotation, and access to the servers and security cameras, and they drove to the parking lot and surreptitiously watched the pack watch over the artifact until closing down. Some of them (read: everyone but Malia) were sneakier than the others. (Yeah, apparently Malia's picked up the fact that coyotes tiptoe and has kind of misinterpreted it. Just a little bit.)

"So what's the plan?" Kira says, drumming her fingers on the hood of the Jeep, and then backing up when Stiles shoots her an annoyed look.

"In about half an hour we've got a gap," Derek says, as Stiles pulls up the security guard's rotation timetable up into a tiled window on the screen. "If three of us go up to the roof, we can drop down there—" he points at the appropriate part of the bluescreen "— and attach the USB drive Danny gave us to the guard station on the rear end of the third floor. Then two hours after that, we'll put the lights out on the second floor and lock the guards in the special wing, and Lydia, Kira and Stiles should just be able to come through the front door."

"Two hours," Lydia says, folding her arms and looking worried. "That's pushing it for the boundaries of the curse."

"We'll be rocking some pretty bad headaches," Scott admits. "But unless we stop the person spelling the artifact, we run the risk of them setting off more curses in Beacon Hills. And the next one might not be as nice as this one."

"This curse isn't nice," Malia says, looking confused. Lydia just looks at her fondly and rubs Malia's hip with her thumb until Malia grins dopily at her. "Oh, sarcasm. I'm still getting the hang of that. Coyotes aren't sarcastic. We tend to just do what we mean. If I hate ya, I'm gonna rip your throat out, y'know?"

Derek rubs surreptitiously at his throat and he isn't the only one.

"In the meantime," Stiles says, "we watch the footage, see if anyone comes close to the artifact. If we can stop them in the parking lot, fair enough. If we have to confront them inside, then we have to confront them inside."

"And if no one turns to spell the artifact?" Kira asks, looking between the pack.

"Then we assume for now that it's one of the security guards," Derek says. "They would have constant access to the artifact."

"Okay," Scott says. "Game on."

"Game on?" Stiles eyes his best friend judgmentally. "I think you need a better catchphrase."

"Yeah," Scott sighs in agreement.

When it comes time for the heist, Derek's almost thrumming with impatience. The wait's excruciating enough out in the cool outside air, where he can ghost touches against Stiles' hand when the pack aren't looking. Inside the museum, separated from their others, with a probable two hour time difference until they can be together again... It's going to be tough. But this is probably the best plan they've got.

When it comes to time, Scott clears his throat awkwardly.

"We've got a long wait ahead of us," Scott says, failing to meet anyone's eye contact. "We should, uh. Say goodbye. Thoroughly. It's gotta last us."

Malia moves easily into Lydia, sweeping her off her feet and into a dipped kiss which has the two girls laughing hysterically.

Derek looks over to where Scott and Kira are wrapped around each other, happiness so obvious on their faces, and something twinges in his chest. Is he jealous of teenagers? Derek needs to stop looking at where he's made wrong turns in his life and just settle into looking for any of the sparse right decisions he's made.

Right now, he's coming up somewhat empty-handed.

Kira leans up into Scott, taking control of a kiss, and Derek swallows hard and looks down at his hands. They're trembling a little.

It's not quite jealousy.

Maybe envy is the right term for what he's feeling. Envy in the casual way they can lean into each other, in the joyous way they can just be together, awash with careless, all-encompassing hope for the future. No cynicism blocking the way.

Looking away doesn't entirely help either, because he can hear the soft sounds of Malia and Lydia kissing now too, and Derek clenches onto his knees. This will all be over soon and Derek will be able to get some space, deal with his feelings for Stiles in the only way that will work: time and lots of it.

For now, he just has to endure the almost overwhelming wash of sadness that once again he's managed to give his heart away to the wrong person. At least this time maybe he can focus on minimizing the collateral damage.

Derek's so busy in his head space that he doesn't realize Stiles has moved closer again until Stiles' fingers close around his. Derek looks at him with a sharp exhale of surprise and something on Derek's inner anguish must be showing on his face, because Stiles looks at him with such a kind expression it's almost painful to see it.

"Hey," Stiles says, squeezing his fingers around Derek's like this is something normal, like it's something they can do. "I know this whole curse business is freaking you out. It'll be over with soon, then we can all move on."

Derek forces himself to meet Stiles' eyes, but Stiles looks away at just that moment, and Derek is left staring at his profile. Stiles had looked good in the forest, all wild warmth and fall colors, but out here in this gray urban space with the waxing moon hanging low and pregnant in the sky, he doesn't look wrong. The moonlight etches every detail of his face into sharp relief. He looks like a creature of the night magic. Like he was born to run with werewolves. It's all Derek can do not to reach out and try and tame Stiles' unruly brush of hair.

There's so much Derek should say, so much Stiles deserves to hear, but there's no time now, so Derek just turns his hand over and links his fingers with Stiles' properly. Stiles looks at him sharply, the obvious question there in his widened eyes, and Derek almost says it, just says something about how he's feeling, something damning, something he can't come back from—

"Time to go," Scott says.

"That's probably worse than game on," Stiles says. He looks at Derek with a bafflingly reluctant expression that he can't parse, like it has something of a promise mixed into it, and then pulls back, stepping back towards Lydia and the laptop to leave a space between them that suddenly feels mountainous, a cavern widening with each space.

Maybe it's the distance Derek needs to get his head into gear. Stiles has had every chance during this curse to get close to Derek if that's what he actually wanted and he hasn't, so it's clear. Derek will just have to get over Stiles and give them both the distance and time for that to happen.

#

The next few hours crawl. That's the only way Derek can describe the time passing, like an absolute crawl. The plan somehow goes to schedule, maybe because this time Stiles didn't use the word heist to describe it, and after they lock the security guards in the special wing (bless whomever sound-proofed the wing along with heat-sealing it to protect the exhibits within), Scott lets the other three into the museum, and they wait in the guard's room on the first floor, huddled over the monitors, for maybe fifteen minutes until a hooded figure pushes onto the second floor and heads straight for the artifact.

The pack move as one instantly, honed from their years of practice rooting evil out of Beacon Hills, and it's a matter of moments for Scott and Derek to hold the figure away from the artifact and for Kira to neatly wave her katana and frighten the figure's determined grip on what looks like a very large magical volume.

Stiles leans forwards and rips the hood off the figure with a triumphant expression, holding up to the piece of material like a limp fabric trophy.

"You," Stiles gasps dramatically, like it's the end of Scooby Doo and they've pulled the head off the alien to reveal… well… the janitor.

"Hey," Derek says, squinting. "Aren't you the janitor at the school?"

"Part-time janitor there," the janitor says, puffing out his mustache defiantly, "part-time janitor here. Beacon Hills got a lot of dirt to tidy up. Someone's gotta do it."

"But…" Stiles shakes his head in disbelief. "But why would you want people all over town to kiss uncontrollably? What's your motive, huh?"

"My motive?" The janitor looks around like he's contemplating making a run for it, but then he clocks Derek and Scott's combined muscle, Kira's sword and Malia's imposing death glare, and sags, thinking better of it. "Charlotta, that's what happened."

The pack share a communal, confused glance.

"Who's Charlotta?" Scott asks, finally remembering he's supposed to take points on interrogations, especially because Stiles gets too into the bad cop role if he's left in charge of the questioning.

"My baby kraken, that's who," the janitor says, jabbing at the air. "My asshole neighbor Jodie flushed her down the toilet. Have you any idea how much krakens cost on the supernatural black market? At all? The troll stuff was cheap next to that, I tell ya. He flushed her down the toilet and killed her. Killed her dead!"

Stiles and Derek exchange an uneasy glance, because they're kind of the reason the kraken is dead. Although if the neighbor hadn't flushed her into the sewer system, and thus out into the Beacon river, there'd have been no problem.

"I wanted Jodie to suffer," the janitor says, loudly, gesturing as he starts to get more into his villain motivation monologue. "So I thought was best but to use that stone thingamajig. I summoned my best trolls to find two people who were always fighting, 'cuz that's the game of it, see. Whatever the folks were doing last as breaks the damn thing, that's the curse it puts out. So I needed to find a couple of fellas who weren't disused to a bit of fighting."

"Oh," Stiles says.

"Oh?" Scott repeats, eyebrows reaching for his hairline.

"Uh, we, uh, well," Derek adds, helpfully. He shrugs to indicate he's spoken his piece.

Scott looks between Stiles and Derek. "Oh," Scott says, understanding. "Gotcha."

"Anyway, it didn't go as planned, but that's okay, because people can kiss each other to death just as easily," the janitor says, with a shrug. "The curse intensifies over time, even if you don't re-spell it every so often. Soon people will be so fixated on the kissing that they'll forget to eat, they'll forget to sleep, and everyone in love will die. Different method, same outcome."

"Except I broke the artifact so the curse is over," Lydia interrupts, inclining her head at where the artifact is neatly broken in two.

Derek thinks about it. Even though he's not touching Stiles, there's no ache in the back of his brain and there's no magnetic tug in his gut to be closer to him. He still wants to kiss the hell out of him, but apparently that's a natural urge, not the curse.

Oh, well. Maybe with time the urge will go away. Derek's sad at the thought, but he's sadder at the idea that he might have forced Stiles into kissing he didn't want.

"But it's your fault it went wrong," the janitor says, pointing at Stiles and Derek, angry now that his plan is foiled. "You were meant to be fighting. The trolls were sent to lure you to the side-building, so that you would be trapped and fight each other again and then you'd have to break the artifact when the troll chased you into the attic and then it would have worked! If you'd been fighting like you were supposed to, not necking like goddamned teenagers!"

The pack slowly turns to glare at Derek and Stiles in slack shock. Apart from Lydia, who just smirks at Derek, like he's been just that transparent all along.

"Um," Derek says, helpfully.

Stiles winces as Scott turns a slack-mouthed glare in his direction that slowly grows more accusing.

"Dang, busted," Stiles says. He flickers an amused glance at Derek. "Can you believe we nearly managed to get away with it?" He turns his grin to the janitor. "If it hadn't been for you meddling kids," Stiles adds cheerfully, wagging his finger at the janitor. When he gets nothing but blank faces in response, he sighs. "Because he looks like Old Man Withers? Scooby Doo? Hello?"

"I get the reference," Derek offers. Stiles looks relieved. "But I tune out whenever you make a dog reference because it's usually an insulting pun."

"That's fair," Stiles admits.

"Okay, Mr. Withers, you're coming with us," Scott says.

"That's not my name," the janitor says, "and if you think I'm coming easily, you've got another think coming, boy!" He lurches towards Stiles because he's closest to him, but before Derek can do anything, Malia leaps forwards and knocks him out with one solid blow.

"I like punching," Malia says, standing over the janitor's prone body with a triumphant smile. She looks over at Lydia, a little hesitantly. "But I like you more."

"And quite right too," Lydia says, beaming at her.

"Just to get things straightened out before we go any further," Stiles says, holding up both of his palms defensively. "The kissing under the influence of the curse is definitely over now?"

"Definitely," Lydia says.

"Good," Stiles says, in a thoughtful tone, before turning to Derek and leaning in, his intention unmistakable as he slides his hands around the back of Derek's neck. Kira may or may not make a cooing sound in the background that Derek decisively blocks out.

Derek grabs Stiles' wrist, even though his mouth is an inch away and not kissing Stiles seems like an awful thing. "But… throughout this whole thing… You've been acting as if kissing me would be a horrible idea?"

"Well, yeah," Stiles says, shaking his head like he does when he says duh. "You have past consent issues. For very understandable reasons."

Derek's cheeks flush a little at the memories. He's damaged goods, really. Stiles would be so much better off elsewhere.

"I'm not going anywhere," Stiles says, like he can read Derek's mind. Stiles' hands slide a little lower to his shoulders, keeping Derek close to him, like he wants as much as Derek does to be by his side always. "I didn't want to be another dubious thing in your past. I want you to be as sure of me as I am of you."

"I'm already sure," Derek says. "I think I have been— for a while now." Stiles smiles and kisses him and kisses him, able to stop now, but not wanting to.

"I'll put garlic in Derek's food," Scott yells after it becomes apparent Stiles doesn't plan on stopping soon, "and tuna. So much of it. So much."

"You two give each other the weirdest threats," Derek says, reluctantly pulling back from the kissing. Scott flashes him a double thumbs-up for the correct response to the warning.

"I can't believe Derek's your girlfriend, though," Scott says. Derek frowns across at Scott. "He didn't correct me so it's his fault I'm calling you that from now on." Derek turns his frown back to Stiles, judgment fast on his face.

"Eh," Stiles says, wrinkling his nose kind of adorably if Derek's being honest with himself, and that seems a good life direction to take. "Scott and I are kind of a package deal. You'll grow to love it."

And Derek doesn't doubt that at all.