1. Peanut Butter
Stiles digs the heels of his hands into his eyes and hopes that, when he opens his eyes and his vision clears, Derek will be gone and the little issue of a particularly difficult translation regarding a particularly unpleasant Monster of the Week (commonly referred to in Stiles Shorthand as the MW, because keeping track of these things gets kinda difficult) will have disappeared and he’ll be free to suffer through his Chem homework, like he was going to before he came up from dinner and found Derek brooding in his room.
That had been three hours ago, and Derek and the problem translation are still there when he opens his eyes. No luck. Stiles groans. “Can I take a break? If I stare at this for another minute my eyes are gonna jump out of my skull and explode and then you’ll have no choice but to replace me, and not just anyone can bring my own special brand of awesome to your pack, so it’s really in everyone’s best interests if my eyeballs stay safe in my skull.”
Derek makes a face at that, but it’s not one of the dangerously-constipated faces so Stiles takes that as an all-clear. “Awesome, I am getting snacks; snacks need to be a thing right now, snacks are required for my sanity. Want anything?” He pauses, hand on the door, and is mildly surprised when Derek grunts, hauls himself from where he’d been stewing on Stiles’ bed, and follows him downstairs.
Thankfully Sheriff Stilinski is on the late shift tonight and the coast is clear, so Stiles won’t have to explain why Derek Hale is in the house at - he glances at the stove’s digital clock - 12.43 in the morning, and why he’s feeding him. Derek isn’t always in the Stilinski house at 12.43 in the morning, and Stiles does not always feed him, but it’s still a conversation with his father that Stiles is tactically delaying for as long as humanly possible.
Derek remains silent and furrow-browed like that grumpy cat on the internet (which is totally Stiles’ new favourite name for him, totally, except he won’t actually use it to his face) as Stiles roots through the fridge, pushing aside tupperware containers of leftovers and half-empty bags of salad mix in the crisper. There’s a package of celery hearts that, miraculously, haven’t gone all wilted and moldy, and he pulls it out triumphantly, already formulating the perfect snack to keep his eyes from exploding.
“Want some ants on a log?” he asks, holding the celery aloft, and Derek gives him this look, this why do I even put up with you you are a five year old child what are you offering me look.
“Some what?” he asks incredulously, like Stiles is actually asking him to eat insects glued to a stick.
“Ants on a log? Raisins on peanut butter on celery? The beloved childhood snack of elementary schoolers all across America?” Still holding the celery, Stiles starts digging for the peanut butter in the pantry, making a mental note that he’s going to have to ask his dad for some grocery money because they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here. And then, “Eugh, really, chunky peanut butter, Dad? No one eats chunky peanut butter, not a single living human being even likes it - oh thank god.” There’s a decimated jar of creamy peanut butter hiding behind a box of stale crackers, but Stiles’ snacking standards are pretty low, so it’ll do.
“Pretty tasty, right? Riiiight?” Stiles waggles the jar of peanut butter at the werewolf in his kitchen, before setting it down. He starts to trim the celery of its greens before rinsing it. “There’s enough for you too, we don’t have raisins so it’s just gonna be logs and peanut buttery goodness, if that’s okay with you -”
Derek interrupts, swift and low and startling. “I don’t like peanut butter.” He’s glowering at the ancient jar of peanut butter, sitting open and innocent on the counter, like it has done him a great personal wrong.
That’s so far out of left field that Stiles doesn’t even know what he’s more surprised by, Derek interrupting or his hatred of peanut butter. It takes every fiber of his concentration and control to dry the celery stalks with a paper towel, instead of following his initial impulse to ask what kind of childhood Derek must have had if he hated peanut butter, because he knows exactly what kind of childhood Derek has had.
Instead, he grabs a butter knife, and coats the celery with liberal smears of peanut butter. “Is it a, ‘I just don’t like it,’ thing, or a ‘I’m secretly allergic and it would ruin my ferocious alpha image if I broke into hives around a peanut butter sandwich,’ thing? Because werewolves probably don’t get allergies - well, there’s the wolfsbane thing, and the mountain ash thing, but those aren’t allergies -”
“Stiles,” Derek interrupts him again, “Shut up.”
“I’m just saying -”
“I’m not allergic, I just don’t like it,” he snaps. Stiles thinks it’s a marker of how much time they’ve spent together lately that Derek snapping doesn’t scare him any more, and Stiles’ smartmouthing doesn’t drive Derek closer to actual homicide.
“What sort of sandwiches were you sent off to school with if you don’t like peanut butter, then?” Stiles asks him. He shoves a stick of celery into his mouth and crunches loudly, because he has no self-preservation instincts when it comes to Derek, apparently. Some buttons are just too irresistible to not push.
“Ham, cheese, roast beef. Cold cuts of annoying teenagers who ask too many questions about pointless things,” Derek huffs. He crosses his arms over his broad chest and looks pointedly at the hall, like Stiles is wasting his time when he could be helping Derek with the MW. Which, yeah, to be fair, Stiles is probably wasting his time.
But Stiles can see the corner of Derek’s mouth twitching, just a little, so he lobs the box of stale crackers and a Coke from the fridge at Derek and heads back upstairs.
Nothing, Stiles decides with the air of weary finality that only the witness to untold horrors can muster, is more frightening than a wolf pack at a barbecue.
It’s a beautiful day, like straight out of a Disney movie or something, all white fluffy May clouds and warm breezes, and the mood is high because summer vacation is finally, blessedly here. It’s another week until the impending fallout from report cards in the mail, of course, and something left a brutally mangled body in the sewer that they’re going to have to deal with eventually, but so far today everything is sun-warmed grass, soda in the cooler and a bucket of chips and salsa, and the smell of charcoal briquettes heating in the fire pit. It’s the nicest day Stiles has had in a while, he thinks. He dozes in the sun next to Scott because moments like this? They’re meant to be savored.
And then the wolf pack shows up with grocery bags laden with what must be half of a cow, and everything goes sloppily downhill from there.
Boyd and Isaac are play-fighting - or Stiles assumes they’re play-fighting, he can’t actually tell what constitutes play-fighting with werewolves but he’s sure it involves this amount of violence - next to the picnic table. Scott and Derek are arguing - loudly, but with no real heat, the sort of arguing of siblings who are loathe to admit they’re related in any way. There’s a mountain of raw and bleeding steaks covering every square inch of the grill, Erica prodding them with a two-pronged fork and making pained, hungry faces. Jackson and Lydia show up in Jackson’s fancy car and because Lydia is wonderful and Stiles sent her an SOS text, she brings normal things like hot dogs and buns and macaroni salad for the people who are not used to digesting raw meat.
She and Stiles evacuate to safer ground near the grill when Jackson involves himself in Scott and Derek’s squabbling, and then it turns into a real argument. Stiles scoots further away from them and waits for the inevitable fur to fly. Between the playful snarling and flailing of limbs as Erica involves herself in Isaac and Boyd’s puppy fight and Derek and Jackson squaring off, Stiles is pretty sure he’s not gonna be able to get back to his nap.
The argument is effectively ended half an hour later when Derek snarls and stalks off into the woods just beyond the clearing of the park, and Lydia drags Jackson away by the ear when a pretty sizable cloud of smoke starts spewing from the grill. The steaks end up charred on the bottom and still bloody on the top because seriously? No one knows how to flip a steak here? But the pack divvies them up onto paper plates before abandoning pretenses and tearing into them with claws and fangs. Scott, at the very least, has the decency to coat the bottom of his steak in A1 before ripping into it. And yeah, that’s going to give Stiles nightmares for weeks - the look he and Lydia exchange assures him the feeling is mutual.
“Promise me you won’t eat like that?” Lydia asks Stiles, opening the hot dogs she brought and arranging them on the non-charred areas of the grill. He raises his eyebrows, considers.
“Smart as you are, you forget that I am a teenaged human of the male persuasion. I will make no such promises,” Stiles replies, then adds, “I’ll try to remember to use a napkin, at least.”
“Napkins are very much appreciated,” Lydia says. Her voice is raised just high enough for Jackson to take the hint; he wipes at the red streaks running down his chin and knows better than to roll his eyes. Stiles is, admittedly, very impressed with the way that Lydia has him trained, but he probably knew better than to expect anything else from Lydia Martin.
Erica’s face, on the other hand, is a lost cause. Her red, red lipstick is smeared and accented with essence of cow; she grins at Stiles a little too toothily and gestures at the last burned steak sitting on the picnic table. “Anyone else gonna eat that? Anyone?”
Stiles is about to give her the go-ahead, because the best way to deal with a bloody Erica is to give her what she wants, when Scott pipes up helpfully. “Actually, did Derek eat?”
Lydia gives Jackson a Look, like it’s his fault the Alpha is brooding in the woods somewhere now. But it probably is his fault. “He left too quickly to eat. Stiles?”
For a second Stiles thinks they’re asking him to weigh in with his opinion, but Scott is holding the paper plate of steak towards him, and away from a disappointed Erica, and he realizes that somehow he’s just been given Alpha-feeding duty. “Why am I the one who has to feed the Derek?”
“Because he’ll go for you if he doesn’t like the steak, and it will be a good day.” Jackson’s allowed a brief smirk before Lydia smacks him with the back of her hand.
“Because he’s probably not in the mood to talk to pack and Lydia’s cooking,” Scott says helpfully, like he’s not part of the reason why Derek’s currently off in a grump. “Don’t worry about finding him, he’ll find you.”
“That’s comforting,” Stiles shoots back, but he knows when he’s beaten. He piles macaroni and fruit salad on the plate next to it, and grabs a stack of paper napkins and a plastic fork from the table because Alphas should have higher standards, damn it, he will not watch Derek eat an entire steak with his bare hands in the middle of the woods, he absolutely will not.
In the shadow of the trees the temperature drops and the floor of the forest is dappled in spots of sunlight dancing through the gaps in the leaves. And even though it’s beautiful and bright in the light of day, Stiles wishes he wasn’t walking around aimlessly with a plate of steak like a moron: He’s developed a Pavlovian response to being in the woods by himself, and that is to get out as quickly as possible.
So when he turns around, trying to figure out which way he came into the woods and finds Derek leaning against a tree, hands in his pockets like he’d been there the entire time, his reaction of yelping like a little girl and recoiling is entirely justified.
“Don’t do that,” he wheezes, wishing he had a free hand to clutch his chest with as Derek raises his eyebrows. Luckily, he didn’t drop the food, and so he shoves the plate towards Derek along with the fork and napkins.
The little plastic utensil is utterly dwarfed in Derek’s hand, and it makes Stiles want to laugh when he starts eating with it, like a giant eating with human-sized cutlery, but it’s probably only funny to him so he settles for awkwardly watching Derek eat.
He eats the steak with minimal animalism, thank God, and gets through the macaroni salad okay, but when he reaches the handful of fruit on the plate he just pokes at a grape with his fork and looks up at Stiles. His eyebrows speak entire volumes, and they all consist of one word repeated over and over: Really?
“What, you don’t like fruit either?” Stiles asks.
“Not really,” Derek says. He spears a cube of pineapple and sniffs at it suspiciously, like he’d never even seen a cube of pineapple before.
“My God, if this is like the peanut butter thing, I am officially revoking your diet right now and making you start a new one,” Stiles sighs, rolling his eyes.
“I like some fruit,” Derek says - and this is the first time he’s ever heard Derek sound defensive, about fruit of all things, so he’s forgiven if he falls to the carpet of leaves laughing when Derek methodically picks all of the strawberries out of the salad, and eats them.
“You are going to get scurvy,” Stiles wheezes, when he’s able to breathe again. “Actual, honest to God scurvy, like you’re a pirate, oh man, that explains so much about the yellow wolfy eyes -” Derek just narrows his eyes at him, and stalks off, still holding the plate and the tiny little fork in his giant hands
When daylight fades and they’re all packing up to leave the park before it closes, Stiles is dumping the empty tub of macaroni salad into a garbage can when he sees Derek’s plate - still with its little pile of fruit, sans strawberries, in the bin. He laughs so hard he nearly cries.
The height of July, school looming uncomfortably on the horizon, and Stiles thinks he might actually melt in the California summer. The heat is oppressive enough for Stiles to turn temporarily nocturnal, sleeping until four or five in the afternoon, much to Sheriff Stilinski’s chagrin and frequent allusions to getting a summer job.
And boy, it’s a good thing Stiles’ social circle mostly consists of night-stalking man-beasts, otherwise he would be sorely put out for social interaction. He takes to spending the night at Scott’s, like their week-long sleepovers during the summer when they were both eleven, only more often than not halfway through the night the rest of the Beacon Hills pack crawls through the window and it turns into a mishmash of sleepover with terrible movies, and serious werewolf business.
Derek, in particular, does not seem to share Stiles’ enthusiasm for old corny kung fu flicks. Hopefully that’s a cureable condition. But Erica and Isaac, however, snort and giggle while in poor approximations of Crane stance while Boyd and Scott try to talk above them, so there’s that.
They wake sometime after Mrs. McCall leaves for work in the afternoons, toothy yawns and godawful morning breath, and Stiles is usually the only one drinking coffee because the rest of them just...awake, fully alert after a minute of yawning, and that’s both unnatural and unfair. Usually, Derek doesn’t stick around to sleep because he is King Antisocial and somehow that extends to letting people see him sleep, but somewhere around 2pm he swings through Scott’s window and joins them all to watch reruns of Maury in the living room.
Stiles’ attention span doesn’t do well with the sort of reality TV where people yell at each other and it’s a good thing, in his book. He gets twitchy between three and five minutes after the opening theme, unable to bring himself to care about which baby belongs to which daddy, and six minutes into the program, removes himself to the kitchen to refill his coffee and quell his growling stomach.
A huge stack of heirloom tomatoes, charmingly asymmetrical and a bright, bumpy green, is sitting on the counter. He runs his thumb over the velvety leaf of one, inhales the musky green summer-smell. Further digging through the kitchen gives him almost everything he needs to make fried tomatoes - almost everything, who has buttermilk just hanging out in their fridge nowadays? - and so he sets to beating eggs and stirring cornmeal and spice together and heating up a healthy serving of Crisco in a pan. If Scott doesn’t have Cajun seasoning, well, they can all deal with it, because Tobasco is just as good if not better, and Scott has plenty of that on hand anyway.
He’s slicing tomatoes when the hairs on the back of his neck start to prickle. It’s familiar enough to know he’s being watched without his knowledge. Knife in hand, he whirls, and is unsurprised to see Derek just...looking at him.
In ratty sweatpants and last year’s gym shirt as pajamas, Stiles is aware he doesn’t cut an impressive figure, but he does have a knife. “I thought I said to stop doing that?”
“You’re in a kitchen, not in the middle of the woods,” Derek points out. Stiles snorts.
“I’m armed,” he says, waving the kitchen knife.
“So you are,” Derek agrees. “It’s very scary. Terrifying, actually. You should join up with the Argents.”
“Damn straight,” Stiles mutters, turning and slicing another tomato in half. The flesh is firm but yields to the blade with very little give, and it’s kind of satisfying. It’s been ages since he’s had fried tomatoes, it’s not really a Californian thing, but visiting his grandparents in Georgia one time had left quite an impression on what a summer brunch should be.
“What the hell are you making?” Derek asks. Suddenly he’s a lot closer than where he was - Stiles looks up, and he’s leaned against the counter next to the sink. His T-shirt strains tight over his biceps and shoulders, and the jut of his hip just over the waistband of his jeans - like he’s impervious to the heat, the bastard - is suddenly very prominent. Stiles is sure Derek can smell him start to sweat. He swallows.
“Fried green tomatoes,” he says. It took a few attempts to get his words to work right, what the hell. “It’s - it’s not really a West Coast thing, but Scott’s mom must’ve brought these home from a coworker, and -”
Derek’s nose wrinkles. “Green tomatoes?”
“Let me guess, you don’t like those either?” Stiles hazards. Derek shakes his head. Surprise surprise.
“Do you actually eat plant matter?” Stiles asks, dipping a slice of tomato in egg bath. He doesn’t really wait for Derek to respond as he coats it in breadcrumbs and drops it into the hot oil. “Like, seriously, I’m starting to suspect your diet is all red meat. You’re a terrible wolf specimen.”
“I’m a terrible wolf because I....don’t like tomatoes outside of ketchup.” Derek repeats. He matches Stiles for sarcasm pretty well; Stiles is pretty impressed.
“Mhmm.” Stiles breads another tomato slice, which crackles appetizingly when it hits the oil. “Wolfpacks will actually eat the contents of deer stomachs, all the half-digested vegetation in them. They probably get more nutrition than you do. Wikipedia says so, it is law.”
Derek huffs a laugh. “Well, the next time I bring down a deer, I’ll be sure to go for that first. I wouldn’t want to disappoint Wikipedia.”
“You better,” Stiles warns, turning the tomatoes in the oil with a set of tongs. “Because, you know. Scurvy.”
There’s a beat between them in silence, except for the bubbling oil and the hum of the fan above the range, and Stiles could - he could reach out to Derek, in that moment, could take that little half-smile currently on his ridiculous, grumpy face and just hold on to it.
And he would, but he’s also holding a knife, and there’s the frying tomatoes to watch and flip. And though Derek is a picky eater, Scott and the rest fall on any food in the vicinity like an actual pack of ravenous wolves, and he can already hear Scott sniffing the air hopefully, so he takes his moment with the picky wolf, and lets it go.
So it turns out that Allison feels really, really bad about that whole clusterfuck with Gerard and the kanima and effectively being brainwashed into shooting Boyd multiple times. Stiles can’t say he blames her. Watching her and Scott dance nervously around each other all summer, all angst and passive-aggressive pining like the worst kind of Taylor Swift song has been aggravating, so it’s a huge breath of relief when Scott tells everyone at the beginning of junior year that she wants to apologize and make nice.
Apparently, in Allison-speak, that means making everyone a fancy dinner and not killing them while they eat.
Stiles watches the puppies look at each other nervously when the news is broken, and Scott rushes to say that they mutually decided it would be at his house, neutral territory and all. When Boyd, Erica, and Isaac leave - presumably to report this to Derek - Scott heaves a sigh. Stiles hasn’t seen him pine this bad since...well, half of Scott’s relationship with Allison consists of pining, but this has been agonizing since they started communicating again.
“What, what’s that for?” he asks, opening his history textbook. “You two are on talking terms, that’s great, it’s better than what happened before -”
“She hates me.” Scott actually drops his head onto his open book, right onto the diagram of Fort Sumter. There’s an audible thunk when it connects that makes him wince.
“She wants to make dinner for everyone at your house to apologize,” he points out. “Yeah, she hates you. That is actually the worst thing she could have ever done.”
Scott tilts his head towards Stiles, pulling the stupid puppy eyes that only mean that something super sappy is coming. “What would I do without you, dude?”
Stiles shrugs. “Suffer a horrible death by drowning in your own angst? I wonder what you would do without me too.”
Scott’s about to reply when the junior year history professor walks in just as the bell rings and collectively, the entire class sits up a little bit straighter. It’s the first week of a new school year, uncharted territory, and no one’s quite sure what they can get away with yet. Stiles has a few hunches, but he’s willing to wait and see what other people are able to pull off before he risks getting detention. Somehow, he’s on first string in lacrosse, and he doesn’t want to blow that in the first month of school.
It’s still a little awkward when they come back to Scott’s house late that Friday evening, tired and sore from practice, to find Derek and the puppies sequestered in Scott’s dining room while Allison bustles around, alone, in the kitchen.
Actually, it’s a lot awkward. Stiles graciously lets Scott shower first so he can jump in to help Allison with dinner because, news flash, post-workout werewolf isn’t the most appetizing scent in the universe, and Stiles is a good friend. Stiles is the greatest friend in the universe, really, because that means he has to sit at the table for fifteen minutes in his practice gear and pretend like he can’t see Boyd and Erica glancing at each other and Derek’s jaw tense whenever a pot rattles in the kitchen, like Allison is going to kill them all with kitchen utensils or something. When Scott comes downstairs smelling like he hasn’t been rolling in sweaty gym socks, Stiles was certain the tension would actually kill him, and he can’t get out to shower fast enough.
He’s starting to question the wisdom of this, honestly. Stiles is definitely a creature for self-doubt, but in certain areas he’s pretty confident, and one of those areas is the inevitability of Allison and Scott to get married and have their own little puppies which he’ll have to babysit on the weekends. On the other hand, there is the pack downstairs, and he understands it’s taking a lot for them to even be in the same house as Allison - Boyd is a fucking hero for being downstairs right now, man - and he doesn’t know how pack-versus-girlfriend dynamics will work out this time. Either way, it’s gonna be a long-ass dinner, he thinks. He rinses, dries, and goes back downstairs to face the inevitably awful meal.
Which, actually, smells great. The smell of seared meat wafts from the kitchen and his stomach growls, loudly, when he hits the bottom step. Scratch that, then. The meal won’t be awful, but the company might.
The only seat left free at the table is next to Isaac, so he sits just in time for Scott to come out of the kitchen with the biggest bowl of salad he’s ever seen. It is a veritable bucket of greens, and there are things like cranberries and walnuts that he sees when Scott doles it out between the salad bowls, and seriously, it is the fanciest-ass salad he’s ever laid eyes on. He’s pretty sure the chunks of white mixed into the spinach is some kind of cheese he’s never tasted.
Then Allison brings out a platter of brisket and vegetables in some sort of creamy sauce and it’s all very impressive for a kid who grew up on curly fries and canned soup. Allison’s a great shot and apparently an even better cook, and Stiles sort of wants to shake her and Scott until they get over their issues and start dating again, because really, if he had someone who could feed him like this, he’d latch on and never ever let go of them.
They all wait to start eating until everyone’s served - everyone is on their Very Best Behavior, which is kind of funny for how awful it is - and Stiles can’t help but notice how cleverly Derek has seated himself between Allison and Erica and Boyd, his sheer mass effectively breaking up any line of attack between them. Which is kind of a good idea, he gets props for that.
No one’s killing anyone else so far, or yelling, so Stiles tears into his salad with gusto, and it’s a little weird but pretty good. The soft cheese is surprisingly sour and melts all velvety on his tongue, the dressing just sweet enough to offset the strange tartness, and he turns with his mouth full to say something to Allison about how good it is.
“No talking with your mouth full,” Isaac mutters wryly, nudging Stiles with his elbow. His mouth twisted into a hint of a smirk as he spears salad onto his fork. Stiles swallows.
“Allison, this is aweso -”
He stutters to a halt. Amid a pack of good little werewolves eating their vegetables, there is an Alpha who is very obviously not eating his, and Allison notices it. The salad in Derek’s bowl is untouched; mostly, he’s just sitting back in his chair with his arms folded, watching everyone eat.
“Derek, dude.” Stiles clears his throat. “This is really good, and I think you’re hurting Allison’s feelings by not eating it.”
Allison looks like she wants to say something about that, but Derek just raises an eyebrow at him. It’s not the what do you want me to eat? or really? eyebrow; it’s something else that Stiles doesn’t really know how to quantify.
“I don’t...like spinach,” Derek says tentatively.
“It’s good. Awesome, even,” Stiles says slightly desperately, feeling vaguely like he’s trying to cajole a picky toddler into eating their green leafies. He’s more than gratified when Scott and Erica back him up, mouths full.
“It smells good,” Derek offers, but there’s something in his tone that suggests that’s all they’re going to get from him until the main course.
Stiles coughs, tries to play it off under bravado. It’s worked, after all, for him in the past. “Come on, one bowl of salad isn’t going to kill you.”
“I didn’t poison it, Derek,” Allison says softly. Boyd’s gaze slides over to Erica, an I told you so that everyone notices. The air in the room suddenly grows stale and awkward.
“I would have smelled poison,” says Derek brusquely. “I’m just not a fan. No offense intended to you, Allison.”
“Is there anything that you’ll actually eat?” Stiles grouses loudly, because somehow...somehow he’s really annoyed. This is annoying. Derek is annoying. Isaac’s eyes are widening, like he can smell the argument that’s coming, like he’s steeling himself for it. Scott, because he is unhelpful, just eats his salad faster. The tines of his fork scrape the bottom of his bowl and it’s nails on a chalkboard, or worse.
Derek levels Stiles with his gaze. He’s an intimidating guy on the best of days, even without the scary werewolf mojo, but Stiles is just so past Derek’s bullshit. He’s past the point of being enemies or even begrudging allies. He feels like Derek is his friend sometimes, like Derek is supposed to be his friend on most days. Then this sort of shit happens, and he can’t help but think he’s kidding himself with that whole friendship song and dance. It doesn’t feel great, if he has to be honest with himself. Derek is a jackass, and is apparently the reason why they can’t have nice things.
“Obviously,” Derek breathes, “Do I look like I’m starving to death? You’re being stupid about this, Stiles.”
Everyone’s eyes are darting between him and Derek, back and forth like a reliable metronome, waiting for the reveal, who’s going to show their belly first? Boyd’s mouth is still full of food he hasn’t chewed, Stiles notices. The realization that he’s going to be the guy who has to curl around the grenade this time isn’t pleasant, but it’s there. It’s the feeling of being the obviously, painfully human element in a room full of werewolves, throwing yourself under the bus half the time.
“Sorry for caring,” he says, careful to keep his tone neutral. He stands, pushing his chair out. He sets his fork and napkin down. He turns to Allison. “Thanks for dinner, Allison, I really appreciate it.”
And he leaves, but he’s not sure what the hell just happened.
Two hikers in the state park go missing over Labor Day weekend, and suddenly it’s mountain lion mania in Beacon Hills all over again. Campgrounds are posted with printout warnings and Stiles’ dad starts wearing the thin, worn expression he’d developed when the Alpha was running wild around the area and the body count started rising.
Their campsite yields little in the way of clues, even after Scott and Stiles sneak under the police tape boundary to search for a whiff of anything that might prove useful. There’s a blue cooler, a tent and two sleeping bags, a kerosene lamp and a pack of cards on the rough-hewn picnic table, and nothing else. The scent trail, when Scott gets a whiff of the cards and follow the bare shadow of smell, winds back and forth on the forest trails and only manages to be confusing as hell. It ends by a nondescript pine tree about a mile away from the lake -
“It just vanishes,” Scott insists to Derek on the phone, while Stiles drives them both back to town in the Jeep. He pauses, while Derek replies. “I couldn’t smell anything else, just the trees and the lake a little ways off. No? Yeah, I mean. Maybe you could take a look around there, maybe I missed something.”
Derek responds, and Stiles can’t hear everything he’s saying, but his tone has to be growing heated. Stiles snorts, and then concentrates on the road again because he’s still mad at Derek and doesn’t want to give the asshole the satisfaction of making him crash the Jeep. Scott probably picks up on his annoyance because he glances over and then says abruptly, “Sorry, Derek, I think we’re getting into an area with bad reception, I’ll give you a call when we get back to town -” and hangs up.
“Derek thinks -”
“Yeah, what does Derek think?” Stiles says, tightening his grip on the steering wheel and glaring at the path the headlights carve through the darkness.
“ - he thinks that it’s probably another shifter, probably one that doesn’t moonlight as a human that often. Sometimes they spend so much time outdoors that their scent becomes almost imperceptible.”
Stiles exhales. “That’s...peachy.”
“Super peachy,” Scott agrees. They spend the rest of the drive in silence, mulling over what that means, even when they get back to town. Sheriff Stilinski is reading a stack of paperwork at the kitchen table with the sort of efficiency that means he’s not absorbing a word of it when Stiles gets home. For a second, Stiles thinks this is a whiskey night, but there’s no glass next to his father, no plate, no pans in the kitchen - nothing to indicate that he’s eaten even though it’s going on ten o’clock.
“Where’ve you been?” Sheriff Stilinski looks a little dazed when he looks up from the papers. He looks at the clock. “Christ, at this hour too, where on earth -”
“Oh, you know,” Stiles shrugs, “it takes a while to get back from the park and my baby doesn’t go as fast as a department truck -”
“No, no, don’t tell me any more, I’m not even surprised,” the Sheriff groans, dropping his face to his palms. “I don’t want to know what you were doing at a crime scene in the middle of the woods. I will hear if you contaminated any evidence, mark my words.”
Stiles tries, and fails, to look innocent. “Who, me? Never, Scott just felt like going for a nature walk, you know how they go on about teenagers not getting enough exercise -”
“At a crime scene.”
“At a crime scene,” Stiles agrees. “Hey, you want dinner?”
“If you’re trying to sweet talk your way out of something, making dinner will help,” his father sighs. “I can’t look at this any more, just call me from the living room when it’s finished?”
There are things like cholesterol that Stiles is trying to cut from his father’s diet, but tonight looks like a good reason to use the healing power of butterfat. Mushrooms, too, sliced into thick quarters and as many cloves of garlic as a human stomach can handle - Stiles may not be a great cook or put cranberries on his salads, but there are a few things he make very well, and mushrooms on toast is one of them. No rhyme or reason to it, just a shitload of butter and clove after clove of garlic into the press, bread in the toaster and even more butter spread over it, a few healthy grinds of pepper, he makes it up as he goes along. The kitchen soon smells so strongly of garlic, Stiles is glad that he’s single for perhaps half a second, because this much garlic would be enough to break up over.
He and his father eat side by side on the couch, in the glow of the evening news. There’s so much weariness in the Sheriff’s eyes that Stiles has to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep in the living room with his uniform on, like he has before when mysteries start to crop up in Beacon Hills. Upstairs is a lingering smell of garlic - Stiles laughs and makes sure to gargle with mouthwash, because while it was delicious waking up with a mouth like a French food hangover isn’t that fun.
He stops laughing when he emerges from his bathroom, towel slung around his hips and designs to forego pajamas and crawl into bed on the front of his mind. Because Derek is there, and Derek is the last person he wants to see right now.
...especially because he’s only wearing a towel.
“Oh my God, seriously, turn around, I’m staying dressed all the time if you’re going to keep sneaking in through my window like this,” Stiles complains. He hipchecks the bedroom door closed and beelines for his dresser, while Derek dutifully turns to the window and ignores his state of undress.
(And that’s irksome, too. For as much as this started out like a porno, it is most definitely not a porno, Stiles silently grouses while he pulls up a pair of shorts. Because it should be a porno. Stiles could definitely go for some angry sex right now.)
“Why all the garlic?” Derek asks, back turned. “The entire block reeks of it, it’s enough to kill a vampire.”
Stiles stops. Stares at him. “There are not vampires. Vampires absolutely can not be a thing, I will not allow it. Also, you can turn around now, I won’t offend your Puritanical virtues any more.”
“Not really,” Derek admits, when he turns around. It takes Stiles a second to realize he’s talking about vampires, and not virtues, because now that he’s looking at the asshole’s stupid handsome face, he’s realizing how much he likes Derek still. Derek and his face are still very nice to look at and it’s easier to stay mad at him when he’s not right there.
“We’ve already got half the Twilight cast running around town, can’t blame me for worrying about vampires,” Stiles says loftily, instead of staring. “If you must know, I made garlic and mushrooms for dinner, because my dad needed the butterfat. I’d offer you the leftovers except for you -”
“Don’t like mushrooms,” Derek says, at the same time as Stiles.
“If I can be honest? I am very surprised you haven’t died of malnutrition yet.”
“Yet you seem to be the only one who is,” Derek says. He’s uncomfortable, but Stiles reads it more in his face than in his voice.
“You don’t eat anything!” Stiles says at last, exasperated. “Somehow I’m the one who keeps offering you food and yet it’s like, Derek Hale is too good for the food pyramid! I don’t get it! I know that Scott’s not a picky eater, but if he was I’d worry too -”
“I like carrots,” Derek interrupts. “And whole grain bread, and oranges, and low-fat yogurt, even. I am even known to put away a salad from time to time. Why is this an issue?”
“Because the common denominator is always me giving you food, and you turn it down, or mostly turn it down,” Stiles snaps. “And I am weirdly offended by it now. Well, partially offended on Allison’s behalf because that salad was off the hook and there was goat cheese and you were a total asshole about it, and you’re being a total asshole now that I’m worried about what you eat.”
Derek opens his mouth angrily, like he’s going to snap back, but he closes it. And then he opens it again, and closes, and grinds his teeth. He looks like the picture under the dictionary entry for anger management, counting to ten.
“I didn’t realize it was even something to be offended about,” he grits through his teeth. “If you’re done, can I actually say what I came here to say?”
There’s anger draining away that Stiles didn’t even know he had, he didn’t realize he was angry until he looks down and sees his fists clenched at his sides. He sighs, loosens his grip, shakes it out and off. There’s bigger things than Derek being a five year old that they have to deal with now, damn it. “You might as well, since you’re here.”
The Alpha doesn’t even seem to want to look at him, now. When he talks he’s actually addressing the poster on the wall next to Stiles’ head, which is kind of maddening. “We went to the park to check out the scent trail that Scott mentioned.”
“He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t right. The scent does disappear, but not where he said it did,” Derek says. He’s still looking at the poster. Stiles wants to jump in front of it, into his line of sight, but that would be childish.
“He said it disappeared by that tree, right?”
“Yeah, he did. It’s just a pine tree, where did the trail actually -”
“It gets much fainter at that tree,” Derek says smoothly over him. “It actually disappears at the side of the lake, western shore. Boyd was the one who picked up the trail again, it was barely perceptible, but it was there. The hikers must have met up with something with no discernible scent at the tree, and were taken to the lake, probably by force. We can’t smell anything through the water, so that’s where we lose them.” He exhales, spreads his hands in a sort of helpless what can you do? gesture.
Stiles thinks of the lake, chilly no matter the time of year. He thinks of drowning, and then just as quickly doesn’t think of drowning. “What do you think it is? Scott said a shifter, what sort of things can shift and drag two people into the water?”
Derek sighs. When he looks at Stiles again, actually looks at him, he doesn’t look angry or upset, just...sort of lost. Off-balance. “I have a few ideas,” he admits, finally. “But each is as unlikely as the next. Half of them don’t even live in this corner of the world. If I could get a proper scent on it...” He breaks off, frustrated. “I’ve never been able to not smell anything like that before. It made coming into your garlic mushroom house kind of relieving.”
“Yeah, well, I aim to please. You know me, Mr. Helpful,” Stiles says, before he can help himself. The grumpy, constipated look Derek is wearing melts away, and he’s not quite smiling, but it’s a close thing. He huffs.
“I don’t like mushrooms but it was good to smell them, so yeah, thanks for that.”
“Mushrooms are delicious, though,” says Stiles.
“They are fungus,” Derek says. Really? He’s lived in the mother of all burned-out fixer uppers for months, Stiles is pretty sure he wouldn’t be the type to get all skeeved out by mushrooms. “They grow on dead things,” he adds for emphasis when the teenager doesn’t look impressed.
“What’s the first syllable in fungus?”
“.......you are not making me say it.”
“Fun!” Stiles says, grinning. “There you go. Mushrooms are fun, and you are missing out. You are missing out on the mushrooms and awesome salads and so much more, picky wolf. You are missing out on a whole new world of shining, shimmering, splendid vegetables. You could even say that you’re missing out on being a....fun guy.”
“I am leaving now,” Derek says firmly. “You are too ridiculous to be in prolonged contact with.”
Stiles gives him an ironic little salute when he starts climbing out the window, and goes to bed wondering how to best approach advising his father to send divers into the lake. Falling asleep, though, he thinks of the little breath of laughter and the flash of Derek’s teeth in a not-quite smile and the entire house smelling of garlic and butter.
It’s a kelpie, and she is angry.
She is very, very angry.
She’s angry enough - or hungry enough - to drown the only two mounted officers that the Beacon Hills P.D. has employed in addition to the campers over Labor Day weekend, and has the Sheriff floundering in piles of paperwork and more than his usual serving of stress.
And usually the wolves would jump all over driving the MW out of their territory - there’s only room for so many monsters in this square milelage - but the fact that she’s a water-dweller is screwing with them and their super-smell so badly, Stiles has never seen them this off their game before.
Then there’s that grenade thing again. Stiles hates being the one to fall on it, but he doesn’t see any way past it this time. There are families with little kids still camping in the State Park, and the pack is so, so tremendously fucked with this one that a kid will definitely disappear before they get a handle on the kelpie and which area of the lake she’s staying in.
The horse stands like a statue in the thick of the woods like it’s waiting for him, huge and black and dripping water in the chilling autumn air. There’s a saddle, and a bridle, both fashioned out of some sort of material Stiles has never seen before, which glisten in the moonlight like opals, or little oil slicks on asphalt.
Stiles’ heart is hammering away so hard in his chest that he’s afraid he’s going to give the game away, but when he touches the dark horse’s neck it doesn’t shy away, just leans into his touch. The coat is wet and frigid, seaweeds glisten wetly where they’re tangled into the inky mane, and thank Christ his hand doesn’t stick to the coat like half the legends said it would. He wraps a hand in the mane and sticks a foot in the stirrup - swinging a leg up and over is easier than it looks, like a bicycle, or a bicycle that’s going to run into the water and kill him and eat him, but he doesn’t fall on his ass. He doesn’t think he can deal with an evil water-dwelling horse laughing at him right now.
The kelpie seems to hesitate, sidling from foot to foot exactly as a horse would, shaking her mane and flinging sprays of lake water everywhere. Stiles has no doubt she’s hungry, it’s been a week since the last officer disappeared.
Stiles’ cell phone is in the front pocket of his hoodie.
Derek’s visit a few nights ago and a few hours of trawling the internet left Stiles with a hunch, and it turns out, his hunch was pretty well-informed. Walking into the thick of the woods he’d thumbed a text into his phone, praying his reception held up long enough for a text to go through -
Kelpie. West shore. Get here fast, I’m going in with her.
Stiles slides a hand into his pocket and finds the Send button by memory alone. He pushes it.
She takes off as if spurred by the press of Stiles’ hand on his phone.
He’s seen werewolves run, and this is nothing like it, it’s smoother and wilder at once. He jolts in the unearthly saddle, whipped back and forth and side to side when the selkie abrupt-turns and changes directions, winding a crazy corridor through the thickets of trees, until he can see it, he can see the moonlight glistening off of the lake’s smooth surface through the gaps in the tree trunks.
He wants to bail, wonders if it’s too late to jump, but she’s going so fast he doesn’t think he can jump without getting trampled or smacking face-first into a tree, but it’s useless anyway - he lifts his hands from the mane to find that he can’t, the weeds are wrapped around his wrists now, and the legs of his jeans stick to the saddle when he tries to untangle his feet from the gleaming stirrups. The legends were right, they are always fucking right in the end -
The lake is suddenly right there.
Stiles gets one good look at it between the kelpie's pointed black ears before they hit the water and instantly sink further down than he ever thought possible.
It’s cold and he’s being weighed down by a thousand rocks, his sodden clothes drag his limbs down. The black horse has disappeared from beneath him, he can’t see anything in the murky water but can feel a webbed hand gripping the front of his sweatshirt like a vice, pulling him further down, holding him away from the surface. He flails up, to where he thinks the surface of the water will be, but his equilibrium is gone and he’s all turned around, and drowning is exactly as terrible as how he described it to the counselor, but it’s worse. It’s worse because it’s actually happening to him, and he just hopes - hopes beyond hope - that Scott or Derek got his text and can get a bead on this thing before she gets hungry again.
His eyes are closed tight against the lake water so he doesn’t have to see anything, but that’s really no consolation when his head starts feeling like it is, honest to God, exploding. His lungs are in agony, but his head is worse, and Stiles’ last conscious thought is that this is some sort of cosmic retribution, it has to be.
His head breaches the surface and he breathes air instead of water, the feeling of gulping full, clean mouthfuls of oxygen wonderful and agonizing on his splintering lungs.
None too gently he’s thrown ashore and as the water drains from his eat can hear an almighty furor in the shallows; a staccato of cold and shivering screams punctured by familiar, snarling growls, the snap of teeth and something thrashing wildly in the shallows, a pounding that he realizes is his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. The snarls grow louder, angrier, he hears the solid and fleshy collision of a blunt object and a body.
He sits shivering on the shore, eyes shut tightly - and he must be crying because there’s hot water dripping down his face with the cold - until he hears a final bubbling wail and a sickening crack, then silence and the lapping of the lake against the shoreline. A hand pulls him up and an arm wraps around him, hot despite being soaked through. It’s so sturdy, even when he staggers against it. Then he’s picked up like a rag doll, like he weighs nothing, and carried. He’s still crying.
Derek - it can only be Derek, only Boyd also has the mass to haul people around like this and he and Stiles are hardly bosom buddies - deposits Stiles somewhere soft, if a little lumpy. He fumbles to wipe his eyes and shakes without the contact, Derek is so warm and his body needs warmth right now, craves it - he opens his eyes and finds his clothes are stripped off and he’s laying on what appears to be a thick but worn horse blanket.
“You,” Derek says, yanking another blanket over him, “Are the stupidest thing I have ever seen.”
“General consensus is that I’m actually quite intelligent, so that’s - ” Stiles breaks off to shiver, bringing a damp hand up to wipe his watering eyes, “ - that’s just your opinion, you’re entitled to it.”
The floorboards creak under Derek’s weight when he goes to his feet and stalks back and forth along the length of the cabin, which isn’t really a cabin so much as a wooden box with a stove and a cot. Derek dwarfs the place; three people would make it positively claustrophobic. It smells faintly of woodsmoke and grease and, strangely enough, wet dog. The blanket pulled up to Stiles’ chin is dusty and makes him want to sneeze. Derek’s snarling and muttering something, still all wolf’d out and angry as he paces. Fine, then. Let him stew. Stiles just basically lead him straight to the kelpie which is now presumably dead in the water, so seriously, fuck that, Stiles is a goddamn winner.
Of course there was that whole issue with not being certain anyone would got his text before he went on the worst pony ride of his life, but hell, it worked and everyone’s alive. Sometimes being the one to jump on the grenade pays off, so Stiles is still a goddamn winner.
“You got my text,” he mumbles into the dusty blanket. At the far end of the cabin, Derek pauses in his pacing.
“I got there just in time to see you hit the water and disappear,” he says, low and dangerous. “Christ, Stiles, did you even think that through, what the hell would you have done if no one had been there, if no one had gotten your text?”
“Contingency plan? Make friends with her and join the circus,” Stiles offers, shaking a little and trying to stop. “I always liked ponies. I’m not fond of potentially being Horse Chow, but I could’ve made it work.” He neglects to mention that he actually couldn’t get off of the horse, because the legends about the sticky coat were right, the legends are almost always right in the end and he knows Derek won’t react well to hearing that, so he saves it for later.
“You are so stupid,” Derek growls, pacing again. His eyes are red, feral and ferocious in their intensity. “You are so fucking stupid I am almost regretting pulling you out, because you don’t learn your fucking lesson and next week you’ll throw yourself in front of a vampire coven to save Beacon Hills’ teenage girl population or something, or you’ll do something equally stupid as running into a lake on a kelpie and we’ll have to pick up the little pieces of you, if there are any left at all. You can’t fucking run off and expect me do that any more. I won’t.”
It is the most Stiles has heard from Derek in a long time, and there’s an uncomfortable honesty coloring the whole tirade, honesty that Derek looks like startled about, like he accidentally revealed a card that he was keeping close to his chest Pulling the blanket further around himself Stiles shivers, curling into as small of a ball as he can manage.
“’M cold,” he mumbles. Derek looks slightly relieved, less startled and shuttered, and opens the little wood-burning stove when Stiles cocoons himself into the blanket.
He peeks out a few minutes later and finds Derek still all wolf’d out, back turned to him like the other night. But he’s striking matches with clawed fingers, coaxing a little flame to roar in the wood-burning stove. Soon the fire’s banked and the cabin’s warm enough that Stiles’ face glows with the heat, and suddenly he feels exhausted - no, exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it. Nearly drowning takes a lot out of a guy.
“Stay here,” Derek barks, shutting the stove.
“Mmm,” Stiles agrees. He’s not going anywhere, nope nope nope, not when the fire is warm and his limbs feel like they’re made of lead.
“I won’t be gone long.”
“So stay here.”
“Mmmmf. You told me that vampires weren’t real,” Stiles says, muffled and slow.
He hears Derek pause at the door, trying to figure out what the fuck he just said. “Go to sleep, you moron, I’ll be back.”
When he wakes again Derek is back to normal, and trying to coax him to sit up. The cabin smells even stronger of smoke, and of roasted meat. “Eat this.”
Stiles blinks at him, but takes the little tin plate anyway. “You’re naked,” he points out. Derek snorts.
“My clothes got wet too and I didn’t have time to towel off. Everything’s drying right now. Eat, Stiles.”
“I’m naked, too,” Stiles murmurs, prodding a bit of the meat on his plate. “What is this?”
“Rabbit, you nearly just died, and you need to eat,” Derek says, and yeah, that wakes Stiles up a little.
“You caught and killed me a bunny? I’m not sure I wanna be naked with you any more,” he says, but even through the post-drowning exhaustion, that’s a total lie, and they both know it.
“I caught and killed you a bunny which you should be eating after saving your ass, don’t you dare start getting picky now,” says Derek, making the grumpy cat face again. Stiles really can’t laugh at the face right now, so he just grimaces and does as he’s told. He chews, swallows, and makes a face. More than anything the idea of it throws up his mental objections, and now he can’t stop thinking about Thumper from Bambi and feels kind of awful about it, even though it’s not as bad as he thought it would be for a fuzzy woodland creature that had been hopping around an hour ago.
Derek keeps raising his eyebrows and looking pointedly at the plate until Stiles finishes the entire thing, and when he’s finished, banks up the fire in the stove for a little bit and motions for Stiles to scoot over on the tiny bed.
And, yeah, they’re naked, and now they’re in bed. That’s a thing.
“Are we going to have manly survival cuddles,” he asks, after Derek’s arranged himself under the blanket. “I read that, somewhere. To keep from freezing to death, you have to cuddle naked, only it’s all manly and to survive. Manly survival cuddles.”
Derek’s huff of laughter is warm on the back of Stiles’ head. “It’s barely autumn, you’re not going to catch hypothermia. But you did almost die earlier, so you need to shut up and go back to sleep now.”
“You are actually really upset about that,” Stiles mumbles, marveling a little.
Pulling him a little closer, Derek rumbles low and soft, sort of like no shit, but he doesn’t want to say it. Because that would be an admission, which makes Stiles’ chest go all warm, like he’s glowing from the inside or something stupid. “Your death would be an inconvenience,” he acquiesces at last.
“Whatever, you totally want to cuddle. We are actually cuddling right now. I am entirely on board with this cuddle. I dig this cuddle and I dig cuddling you.” Stiles mumbles, happy suddenly, and very tired. His stomach is full of questionable rabbit meat and Derek is so warm he almost makes the fire in the stove obsolete. A comfortable weight that might be Derek’s arm is settling over his waist, and his limbs are heavy with exhaustion. It feels right there, like he should fall asleep just like that.
“I’m still going to kill you if you pull any more stupid shit like this. You absolutely cannot do this any more,” Derek says, in a softer version of his ‘I’m the goddamn alpha you will do as I say’ tone, lips centimeters from the back of Stiles’ neck. And Stiles can kinda see this now, is Derek’s emotionally-stunted way of dealing with how he cares about someone, like how Stiles gets bent out of shape about Derek’s diet that’s stupid and overreactive, but that’s just how he works. No one ever said they were equipped to deal with emotions in a healthy way.
“Just don’t drown me,” says Stiles. “I’m cool with anything except drowning. But mark my words: There will be more cuddles at some point, preferably also naked. They will be entirely, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically consensual. We don’t even have to be in a cabin and cuddling in a manly way to survive. It’s gonna be some awesome cuddling.”
“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek says, but Stiles can hear a strange sort of fondness in his voice, like he’s choking on it and just barely managing to keep it in. “Don’t make me regret pulling you out of the water more than I already do.”
Stiles is tired enough to shut up, and feels Derek’s breathing even out against him, the solid weight of him hot and so comfortable at Stiles’ back. He doesn’t want to think ahead to tomorrow and talking to his dad about this, doesn’t want to think of the water horse dead in the shallows, doesn’t even want to think about the innocent little rabbit on his plate. But that last, in turn, causes something to occur to him.
“I ate rabbit,” he murmurs. Derek shifts against him, so he knows he’s still awake. “I ate proper werewolf food, so now you have no fucking excuse to not eat your vegetables.”
“I’ll eat your stupid mushrooms,” Derek said, brushing his lips against the back of Stiles’ neck. His stubble makes Stiles squirm a little bit, but in a good way. “Once, and only once, if you cut back on the garlic.”
“No garlic, no deal,” Stiles says flat-out. But Derek did just save him from being eaten by a mer-pony, and the exhaustion combined with the way Derek is kissing his neck is making Stiles brain short out, so it’s a fair enough deal. He’ll let it go just this once.