Stiles sinks back onto his bed, legs bending at the knee and hanging off the edge. Everything hurts. His cheek is pulsing, his lip keeps bursting open, a headache is blossoming just behind the black eye that is sure to form by morning, merging with the sharp ache at the back of his skull from where his head was smacked. His ribs are aching deep into his chest. Every breath he has taken since the third blow to his side feels shaky and weak. His wrists are rubbed raw, blue and purple starting to seep from the edges. He hasn’t felt this awful since...ever. He has literally never felt this awful.
It had been a long summer. Derek was gone with Cora, no one sure when or if they’d return. Scott was only half trying to live up to his ‘True Alpha’ potential, the majority of his attention being wired between Allison and pretending not to be a werewolf at all. The empty holes where Boyd and Erica should be rubbed at Stiles in a way he hadn’t anticipated. He often felt the ghost of Derek’s shoulder under his hand when he tried to sleep at night. He mostly felt like he was floundering, untethered, wandering around waiting for school to start back up or for the next hellmouth to open up. Whichever came first, really.
The hellmouth opened first.
A group of hunters kidnapped him. They had somehow heard that Derek had left town, leaving Beacon Hills defended by only two Argents and one recently bitten, barely hanging on True Alpha with a decimated pack. They had believed that if they got to Scott through Stiles, they could take him down and take over the territory.
Stiles had told them it wouldn’t work. That Scott was stronger than they thought, that Allison was a force to be reckoned with, anything he could think of to keep himself talking through the beatings and the long nights and the even longer days.
It ended up not working for an entirely different reason.
It took Scott five days to find him.
They had been so sure that Scott would come barreling through the door within a day that they had started to give up on their plan. Half of their force had petered off, and they were talking about where to dump Stiles’s body when Allison had finally burst through the doors, hitting three of the hunters in the legs with arrows, Chris and the Sheriff behind her with guns drawn, Scott running through behind them, Isaac trailing even further behind him, and something fractured deep in Stiles’s gut.
He didn’t tell Scott.
He didn’t tell him that he was sure he had at least two broken ribs and a concussion from getting his head pounded into concrete. He didn’t tell him that they were getting ready to kill him because they were so sure that if Stiles was as important to Scott as they thought he was, he would’ve found him already. He didn’t tell him that he could still feel the edge of the knife breaching the thin skin of his neck. He didn’t tell him that they got lucky.
Instead, he hugged him tightly and thanked them for finding him. Gave them weak smiles. Asked them to take him home, he was okay, really. He’d gotten food and water every day, and it was just a few scrapes and bruises, nothing severe. He’d go get checked by a doctor in a few days if he was still feeling crummy.
They let the hunters walk with nothing more than a thinly veiled threat from Allison, and the group parted ways with Stiles and his dad at the front of the warehouse.
His dad tried valiantly to take them to the hospital, but Stiles just gave him a small smile, promised him it looked worse than it was, really, you should see the other guy. His dad shook his head, but the corners of his mouth lifted up.
He dropped him at home, apologized up and down and sideways that he had to go back to work, but Stiles waved him off. He was just going to sleep anyway, they could talk in the morning.
The weight of it all knocked him back on his ass the minute his bedroom door closed.
He lets his eyes slide shut. Tries to breathe as much as he can. Tries to forget the feeling of a steel toed boot ramming into his side, the twisted sneer on the hunter’s face when he told him Scott was never going to come for him after all, when he asked him for advice on what parts of the woods were the most secluded.
He’s just working on gathering enough strength to sit up and get ready for bed when he hears the quiet scrape of his window being pushed open.
“Scott, I told you, I’m- oh.” He cuts himself off when he opens his eyes and turns to find Derek standing by his open window, brows furrowed dangerously, jaw clenched, nostrils flaring.
His breath catches painfully somewhere in his throat.
He winces almost imperceptibly as he struggles to sit up. Derek still catches it, and his eyes flash red.
His fucking life.
The silence is stifling. Stiles, sitting on his bed, struggling to breathe while Derek stands there glaring as if he didn’t just suddenly reappear after two and a half months of traipsing the globe. It’s making Stiles’s chest tighten and his heart pound a little too hard. He resolutely does not think about how relieved he is to see him again, how he might have even missed him while he was gone, how terrified he had been that part of the reason the hunters had been here was because they knew that Derek was never coming back.
Stiles clears his throat.
“You’re not Scott,” he croaks out. Like an idiot. It does, however, jostle Derek into action. He pulls off his leather jacket, tosses it into the corner, and crosses the room in two quick strides, stopping right in front of Stiles. He crouches down, so close Stiles can smell the rainy pine, warm campfire scent of him. It makes him feel so safe it scares him.
Carefully, gently, as if he’s precious, Derek touches his fingers to Stiles’s jaw and tilts it to the left so he can see the bloody, bruised side of Stiles’s face. Stiles barely breathes, skin heating furiously under the roughness of his fingertips. He self consciously, and stupidly, bites his lip, tearing open the recently healed split once again. Derek swipes his thumb across it, catching the drop of blood before it rolls down. His other hand settles softly on Stiles’s ribs, drawing out a shallow groan, and then the pain starts to ebb away.
Stiles flicks his gaze down and, sure enough, blackness is crawling up the veins in Derek’s hand, disappearing underneath the edge of his henley. Stiles considers, distantly, that in all the times he’s gotten injured over the last two years, Scott has never done this for him.
With the brunt of the pain slipping away, Stiles takes the first deep breath he has in days, his eyes fluttering closed. Derek’s fingers move from his jaw to his cheek, tracing the bruises and scrapes littering his pale skin. His hand finally settles against his neck, fingertips brushing his hairline, thumb at his jaw. The gesture forces Stiles’s eyes open and he finds that Derek is already looking at him, eyes blazing red. Stiles would be terrified at the hardness in them if it wasn’t for the gentleness of his hands.
“Stiles.” His voice is a dangerously low rumble.
Stiles holds his gaze.
“Who did this to you.”
It’s more command than question, and it sends a shiver down Stiles’s spine. He may not be a wolf, but any time Derek allows that much alpha to seep into his voice, it makes him feel more compelled to comply than he likes to admit. He lets out a shaky breath and tries to force the same tiny smile that got his dad to drop it earlier.
“It doesn’t matter. Not even a big deal, man. I’ve dealt with worse,” he shrugs with one shoulder and winces at the movement.
Derek catches it at the same time he catches the skipping in Stiles’s heart, and his eyes narrow. If at all possible, he scooches closer. Stiles wonders why in the world he thought the same trick would work on Derek that worked on everyone else. Derek has always been able to cut through his bullshit.
“Tell me who did this to you.”
Stiles swallows thickly. He unintentionally thinks back on Scott telling Allison, Chris, and his dad to let the hunters go. That they weren’t worth it. He compares it to Derek, crouched in his personal space, leeching pain from his body, eyes burning red, every muscle in his body tense except for where it connects with Stiles’s, where it is calm and warm and comforting.
His resolve starts to crumble.
“Just..it was just some hunters, Derek.”
Derek releases a breath through his nose, nostrils flaring. The hand on his neck clenches just enough to feel it before relaxing again.
“What would hunters want with you, Stiles? You’re a human. They’re supposed to leave you out of this,” he contends, voice brimming with barely contained rage. Stiles knows he should be afraid, scared of the pulled-so-tight-he-might-snap alpha werewolf with his hands all over him, but he hasn’t been afraid of Derek in a long time.
“It was just a stupid power play. It didn’t work.”
“How long did they have you?”
There is not an ounce of Stiles that wants to answer that question.
He stays silent, which is just as damning, but he can’t bring himself to say the words.
Claws graze against his skin before they’re gone in a flash.
“Where the hell was Scott?” Derek demands, and it causes an itch to form under Stiles’s skin. He shifts slightly, throat closing.
“It’s not important. He found me. It was just-“
“It wasn’t just anything!
Derek growls low in his chest, and Stiles’s mouth snaps closed.
“Stop minimizing it, Stiles. You were held hostage. You were beaten. You could have died, and Scott wasn’t there.”
Derek is seething, every muscle in his body tense enough to snap. Stiles knows he’s right, but he doesn’t like it. He clenches his jaw. Derek’s eyes narrow.
“How long, Stiles.”
The itch bursts forth, and Stiles’s eyes flash, catching Derek’s in a deadlock.
“It doesn’t fucking matter, okay, Derek? Scott may not have been there, but neither were you.”
He regrets the words almost immediately. Derek flinches. The hand on Stiles’s neck drops, and everything suddenly feels cold. The hand on his ribs remains, steadily drawing the pain away.
The red bleeds out of Derek’s eyes, and his gaze shifts to just over Stiles’s shoulder. He works his jaw silently. Stiles tries not to grab his hand and put it back on his cheek, his neck, his anything.
When Derek finally speaks again, his voice is quiet and distant and broken.
“You’re right. I wasn’t. I’m...I’m sorry, Stiles. I thought, if I left, that you would be safe- safer with Scott.”
The apology catches him so off guard that his heart squeezes in his chest. The Derek Hale he met in the preserve two and a half years ago didn’t have it in him to apologize. He reaches out and places a hand on his shoulder, weak fingers digging into the muscle as hard as they can, an echo. A reminder. A promise. He finds his voice.
“They took me to get to Scott. They thought the land was vulnerable. They thought if they took me, they could lead Scott into a trap, take him down, and take control of Beacon Hills. It was a stupid plan, and it obviously failed, but…” he takes a deep breath, grimaces. “They had me for five days.”
His words land heavily on Derek’s shoulders because he hears what Stiles doesn’t say- that they thought the land was vulnerable because Derek left. Stiles can practically see him slip the burden around himself like an old, worn blanket. He digs his hand in harder.
“No,” he commands. Derek’s eyes snap back to his, startled. “This is not your fault.”
Stiles breathes out and braces himself.
“ You were right. Scott should have found me sooner. I don’t...he’s not…” He doesn’t know how to say that his best friend is a shit alpha, but Derek seems to get it. He relaxes minutely under Stiles’s hand. Stiles watches him take deep breaths and screw his eyes closed, watches him lean a little closer. Stiles’s heart thunders in his chest.
Eventually, Derek’s eyes open again. This close, in the dim light of his bedroom, they are dark green and ringed in gold flecks and they are beautiful. Stiles wonders what it would be like to spend the rest of his life cataloging what color his eyes are in every light, in every room, at every time of day. Derek lifts his hand to Stiles’s neck again for just a second, just long enough to sigh heavily and shake his head. Then he’s standing, lifting Stiles along with him.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” he mumbles. Stiles just nods and lets himself be supported along to the bathroom. Derek leaves him to lean against the wall while he starts the shower; he returns to slip him out of his clothes and nudge him into the warmth of the spray. Stiles avoids the worst of the injuries, glides over his ribs and his raw wrists and the left side of his face, but he scrubs diligently at the rest of his skin, washes his hair twice before the water runs clear.
As he closes his eyes to tip his face under the running water, the panic finally starts to seep in. All he can feel are hands scraping across his skin, boots digging into his ribs, concrete striking the back of his head. He can hear their voices, taunting and slimy. Laughing coldly at the useless human getting left behind by not one, but two alphas. His aching side is screaming in agony as he struggles to gasp for air, and then there are soft hands around his arms, strong when they pull him out of the shower. Derek reaches behind him and shuts the water off, then wraps a towel around Stiles’s waist. He presses Stiles’s hand over his beating heart.
“Stiles, I need you to breathe, okay?”
Stiles stares at him with wide eyes, the words sounding almost foreign to his ears, but Derek’s heart is beating slow and steady under his shaking fingertips, so he takes one unsteady breath in and out in unison with it. One of Derek’s hands rests on the side of his neck, the other on the small of his back. He nods encouragingly.
“There you go, Stiles. Again. Deep breath, okay?”
Stiles nods back and mimics the heartbeat with his breath. He focuses on the warmth from Derek’s hand, the scent of him growing heady in the steam from his shower. It grounds him, slows his own beating heart, gentles the rushing of the blood in his veins. He counts to 20 before the world stops spinning, and the memory of the last five days feels distant again.
He lifts his gaze to meet Derek’s, feels a little breathless at the earnestness, the genuine concern he finds there. He offers a watery smile.
“Thank you,” he whispers. Derek nods once in return.
“I’m going to patch you up now, okay?”
Stiles nods back, grateful and relieved he doesn’t have to do it himself.
Derek helps him into clean underwear and warm sweats, settles him onto the closed toilet seat, and then turns to dig under the sink. He knows exactly where the first aid kit is, knows exactly how long he needs to wait at the sink for the water to warm up, knows where to grab extra towels. Something about Derek’s familiarity in Stiles’s space makes his stomach swoop.
Derek clears the excess blood away from his face, his lip, his wrists with soft swipes of a damp towel. He grimaces and apologizes quietly before he follows with cold, burning antiseptic, and Stiles grits his teeth and screws his eyes closed against the spikes of pain. Derek’s strong fingers are tender against his skin as they press bandages and gauze to open wounds; his eyes are completely focused and attentive. Stiles feels so thoroughly cared for that it is borderline overwhelming. He watches Derek’s jaw clench and unclench when he finally looks closely at the bruises decorating his entire right side in dark blues, purples, and greens, like Monet’s water lilies have been embedded into his skin.
“Can I..?” Derek trails off, eyes catching his own, soft edges and hard lines and so...open. Stiles doesn’t know what he’s asking but nods anyway because he trusts him so implicitly that the answer is yes. He wishes he knew how to say that the answer will always be yes.
Derek prods as gently as he can at each of Stiles’s ribs, runs his fingers along them, waits and watches for the winces and the sharp intakes. His other hand reaches around his waist and does the same to his back as he checks the back of his ribcage. His breath is hot on Stiles’s chest as he bends down to look at the skin, assessing damage in a way that makes Stiles’s heart ache because how many times has he had to do this?
Derek lifts himself up but leaves the hand on his side, starts draining the pain away again as it flares back up with the examination. He holds Stiles’s gaze for a beat longer than necessary, another step in the familiar dance they’ve been orchestrating for years. He clears his throat and looks back down.
“We’re going to the hospital. You have three broken ribs, and we need to make sure they didn’t puncture anything,” he tells him softly. Stiles winces.
“Can it wait until tomorrow?”
Derek raises an eyebrow.
“It’s just...Melissa is working tonight, and I don’t...I don’t want Scott to know how bad it is.”
He can practically feel Derek’s hackles rise, and the crimson bleeds brightly into his eyes.
“An alpha is supposed to take care of his pack, Stiles. He has to know that he failed or else he will never learn,” he seethes.
And there it is. The clarity Stiles has been missing, the truth he’s been sidestepping all summer. He finally sees it as clearly as if someone wrote it out in front of him.
He presses a hand onto the side of Derek’s neck, attempting to ground him the same way Derek has been doing for him all night and steels himself.
“I happen to think my alpha is doing a pretty good job at taking care of me,” he whispers, eyes locked on Derek’s. The crimson glows brighter for half a second before fading entirely. He looks caught, like he’s right on the edge of a cliff and doesn’t know what’s on the other side, and Stiles doesn’t want to leave him guessing.
“Scott is my best friend, and he may be a true alpha, but he’s not mine. I don’t...he never really has been. You’re the one who always comes back for me. You’re the one who always believes me and trusts me. You’re the one who has put your life on the line time and time again to save me. Scott tries, but it’s not his instinct. You can’t really be an alpha when you don’t even want to be a wolf.” The words rush out of him, a dam broken, the things he’s been afraid of saying out loud pouring out of him. “You are my alpha, Derek. Always have been, always will be.”
Derek’s eyes flash bright red again, and the corners of Stiles’s mouth lift up. He feels it ring true between them, a tether finally snapping into place. Their eyes lock again, and this time, Stiles holds it steady. He watches Derek watch him, watches his eyes slide across his face, drop down to his mouth, back up to his eyes. And Stiles recognizes the ledge they are standing on for what it is. They’ve been skirting it for two years, toeing right up to it, then stepping back. Feeling it without looking directly at it because jumping off was always too uncertain. But now he knows what’s on the other side, and he feels ready. Unafraid. Sure in a way he didn’t think was possible.
He leans forward slowly, deliberately dropping his gaze to Derek’s lips and knows he’s gotten the message when he feels the sharp intake of breath against his mouth. He hesitates one final moment, and then he closes the gap.
It’s nothing more than a gentle press, but even so, Stiles feels it like an electric shock down to his toes. It’s like his world has finally, finally tilted back onto its axis, like he’s been out of step his whole life and is suddenly righted. Derek’s arm wraps around his waist and pulls him just close enough that their chests press together. His tongue sweeps across Stiles’s bottom lip swiftly before he eases back, leaning their foreheads together.
It only lasted a few seconds, and yet Stiles can’t catch his breath. His eyelids flutter open, and when he catches a glimpse of the small, secret smile lifting the harsh edges of Derek’s mouth, he feels like he is staring into the sun. His heart stumbles over itself, and Derek’s eyes fly open.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Stiles cuts in quickly. He tightens his grip on Derek’s neck and pulls him back in. It remains hardly more than an easy slide of lips against lips, so much so that Stiles would call it casual if it weren’t for the heat starting in his gut and spreading out through his entire body. He licks at the seam of Derek’s mouth and can’t hold back the moan that’s pulled out of him when their tongues slip against each other. Derek breaks away again, and Stiles groans.
“Why are you always not kissing me?”
Derek actually chuckles quietly at that.
“Excuse me for not being totally convinced you’re up for this right now,” he grumbles, pressing one last quick kiss to the corner of Stiles’s mouth before standing.
“You are absolutely incorrect. I am 100% up for it. I am so up for it you have-” He’s cut off by a wince when Derek helps him stand, and he glares down at his own bare ribcage like the traitor it is. Derek shakes his head, dare he say it, fondly . Stiles decides to forgive all guilty parties for the fact that he isn’t currently getting all up on that in lieu of quietly gloating to himself over the fact that Derek is totally, completely, and obviously smitten with him.
Derek all but carries him back to his bedroom, setting him down on his bed. He putters around the room, shuffling through drawers until he comes up with Stiles’s most favourite, softest flannel. He thinks to himself that he is so touched by Derek knowing his best flannel that he could kiss him. Then he remembers he can. So he does. The sparks of warmth are still there, igniting and catching through his entire body.
Derek slides the shirt over his arms and buttons it gently.
“Don’t I need to wrap my ribs or something,” Stiles mumbles instead of thinking about how much nicer it would be for Derek to un button his shirt. Derek shakes his head.
“It’ll actually make it harder for you to breathe, which can cause more problems.”
“Oh...how do you know that?”
Derek’s fingers still on the last button. Stiles holds his breath without realizing it, terrified that he’s screwed this up so quickly. But then Derek releases a breath, and Stiles follows suit, and Derek shrugs with one shoulder.
“One of my older brothers was human. He played football, so he got hurt a lot. I used to help my mom patch him up. Picked up a few things along the way.” His voice is soft and warm, tinged with a familiar melancholy that makes Stiles ache deep into his bones.
“I was really accident prone. My mom would always patch me up, too,” Stiles whispers back, if only to keep Derek from feeling too alone, too far away in memories and regrets and guilt. It does the trick. His eyes settle back on Stiles’s, and he smiles that same small smile from before.
It is easily Stiles’s new favorite thing.
Derek helps him sit back into his pillows, then turns away, and the gesture hits a nerve deep in Stiles’s gut. He is suddenly and completely terrified, not knowing where they stand, where Derek stands, if he’s turning so he can pull his jacket back on and slip away into the night, never to be seen again.
“Are you staying,” he blurts out. Derek turns back around and raises an eyebrow in question. “I mean, in Beacon Hills,” he pauses, wrings his hands together. “Well, I actually think I mean both. In Beacon Hills and tonight. With me. Here. In my bed.”
Honestly, his mouth.
Derek laughs quietly as he presses his lips firmly to Stiles’s once, hand gripping the side of his neck in a way that is rapidly becoming familiar.
Derek rolls his eyes.
“Yes to both, Stiles.”
Stiles allows the air to rush out of his lungs at once, pinching at his ribs uncomfortably.
“So, you’re back for good then,” he hedges.
“And also you’re staying here. Tonight. With me. In my bed.”
Derek raises an eyebrow again, smirk playing at his lips, eyes twinkling.
“I could certainly not, if you would prefer.”
Stiles’s hand tightens around Derek’s.
“No, no that’s okay. I would…” He rubs his fingers along his jaw absentmindedly. “I would like for you to stay.”
Derek’s face softens at that, and he nods once. He pulls his boots off and sets them by the chair where his leather jacket has been tossed haphazardly. Stiles is decidedly unprepared for Derek to shed his pants, his pants , but they are quickly replaced with a pair of Stiles’s sweatpants, which. Well. That gives Stiles a whole rush of other not unpleasant feelings. Derek, of course, follows this display by yanking his shirt off in one fluid motion and….not replacing it. Stiles, uncooly, feels his mouth water at the sight of Derek’s unfairly beautiful abs so close to him, just existing in his space, the thin fabric of his grey sweatpants pulling tight across Derek’s muscular thighs, his hair dishevelled from his shirt being pulled over it, and honestly, Stiles can’t be blamed. He has had actual dreams about this, and now it’s here. Right in front of him.
Derek finally moves close enough for Stiles to touch, and he is only mildly embarrassed at the sound he makes when he gets his fingers pressing into Derek’s abdomen because the muscles clench at his touch with an intake of breath, betraying his calm exterior, and that is wildly satisfying. When Stiles chances a look up at Derek, his eyes are blazing, bright crimson tinting the edges of his dark green irises. He trails his fingertips across the dips and rivets of the muscles, down into the v of his hip bones, back up along his sides and firm pectorals. They dance across Derek’s collarbones, down his arms, brush across his palms before they are back on his abdomen.
He can’t help it. He leaves one hand there and brings the other to Derek’s neck and yanks him down, pressing their lips together forcefully, split lip be damned. He can taste the tang of his own blood on his tongue and just doesn’t give a shit- licks his way into Derek’s mouth, feeling a thrill down to his toes when Derek groans into him and kisses back just as forcefully. While their other kisses have been tame and chaste and easy, this one is hard and fast and hungry. It is a deluge after a drought, the crescendo to a two year dance they all too often tried to pretend they weren’t dancing at all.
Derek uses one hand to support his lower back, and he eases him down across the bed with more finesse than Stiles could ever dream of being capable of, somehow managing to get him horizontal without jostling his broken ribs. Derek supports his own weight with one hand, the other slipping under Stiles’s shirt and gliding across his skin, raising goosebumps in its wake. Stiles gasps when it slips under the waistband of his boxer briefs and teases at his hip bone. One of Stiles’s hands flies up to tug at Derek’s hair while the other wraps around his waist and presses into the dip of his spine.
Stiles is burning from the top of his head to the curling tips of his toes. He has never felt so simultaneously turned on and at ease in his life. Derek’s mouth is hot and slick and wet against his own, his tongue sliding against everything it can reach. Stiles breaks off just to catch his breath, and all Derek does is shift to his neck, sucking a bruise into the space where it meets his shoulder. It draws a whimper from Stiles’s mouth, and Derek presses a gentle kiss across it, then makes his way up the side of his neck, licks a stripe along the vein he finds there, then follows it back down. While Stiles traces the lines of Derek’s skin with his hands, his fingertips, Derek gets his mouth on every inch of Stiles’s skin that he can. Stiles presses in close, pushing his hips against Derek’s and moaning when he finds the exact friction he’s looking for.
“ Stiles ,” Derek groans back, and hips grind back down against his once, twice before he pulls back, puts too much space in between their bodies. Stiles attempts to chase it, however the hand on his hip presses him down into the bed gently, but firmly. Derek lets his head fall to Stiles’s collarbone, breathing heavily, and Stiles cards his fingers through the hair at the nape of Derek’s neck.
They breathe quietly together, Stiles working to calm the rapidfire beat of his heart. Derek finally lifts his head and his eyes bore into Stiles’s.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he confesses, eyes earnest and bare. Stiles offers him a soft smile and a nod.
“I know, sourwolf. I get it.”
Derek huffs at the nickname, but presses another kiss to Stiles’s temple before he shifts them around in the bed. The broken ribs keep Stiles from plastering himself to Derek the way he wants to. He eventually settles on his back, with Derek curled around him, one arm wrapped around his waist, hand resting on his ribs to take the edge off of the pain.
Stiles can’t help but laugh at the irony of the fact that he just got home from being kidnapped for five days, and yet he feels the calmest he has in years. It’s a true testament to how well Derek knows him that he doesn’t even quirk an eyebrow in his direction, just leaves him to his chuckling.
When he finally settles, the quiet around them warm and inviting and easy, Stiles turns to drop a kiss to Derek’s cheek.
“I missed you, you know,” he whispers as his eyes start to droop closed, exhaustion finally creeping up on him.
“I missed you, too, Stiles. More than you could ever know.”
Stiles falls asleep with a smile on his lips.
He dreams, briefly, of soft lips on his temple and the squeak of a window and a warm body pressing back into his, but his body and mind are so deeply asleep that he barely remembers it come daylight.
The morning passes in a blur. Derek forces him awake at 10, helps him dress, and takes him to the hospital. He stays by his side throughout the entire mind numbing process, touching him softly and constantly, and it makes warmth blossom in Stiles’s chest because it really wasn’t just a fluke. It wasn’t a dream or a one off. Derek is here and he’s staying and he’s real.
The hospital confirms Derek’s diagnosis. Three broken ribs, but thankfully, nothing has been punctured. They’ll heal on their own with time and a lot of rest. His concussion is mild, and it turns out that the days of doing nothing while kidnapped in a dark room actually helped it get pretty far along in the healing process. They had stopped cracking his head against the concrete flooring after he blacked out on the first day, and they got worried they would accidentally kill him too soon. Small victories?
He calls his dad when Derek is waiting inside Stiles’s favourite diner for take out because he knows that he’s already gone back to the station. He assures him that he went to the hospital, but he’s okay. Confesses that Derek Hale is taking care of him and maybe also dating him and no, Dad, please just be cool and yes, we will both see you for dinner.
They eat lunch on the living room couch, bodies pressed close together while the TV murmurs in the background. He drifts to sleep again, warm and full and with Derek’s fingers brushing softly through his hair.
“What the hell did you do, Derek?!”
Stiles startles awake, wincing when his ribs protest his sitting up too quickly.
Derek is standing directly in front of him, resolutely between Stiles and Scott, who is seething on the other side of the living room, eyes blazing red. Although he can’t see his face, Stiles is willing to bet that Derek’s are normal. He can tell by the line of his shoulders that he’s tense, but his arms are crossed in front of his chest, and his stance is powerful, but not threatening. He’s maintaining control, so he’s clearly not all too concerned about whatever Scott’s issue is.
“Uh, hi Scott.”
Scott barely glances at him.
Derek takes one step back, closer to the couch, closer to Stiles.
Stiles wonders if Scott catches it.
“I tied up your loose ends, Scott.”
Stiles’s interest peaks at that.
“What loose ends,” he asks.
Scott barks out a laugh, claws lengthening.
“Are you gonna tell him, Derek, or should I?”
There is only a beat of silence before Derek turns his head to look at Stiles.
“I took care of those hunters.”
“Oh,” Stiles breathes out.
“Took care of them, Derek? That’s how you’re going to phrase it?” Scott is furious, control slipping more and more by the second. Derek turns back to him, takes another step closer to Stiles. “You almost killed them!”
Stiles’s eyebrows shoot up.
Derek’s tone goes ice cold.
“And they almost killed Stiles. You think I’m going to let that go? Wait for them to do it again?”
His words push at Scott’s chest, and he stumbles back a tiny step.
“I don’t- Stiles said he was fine!”
This more than anything tests Derek’s restraint.
“Stiles has three broken ribs, a concussion, and severe bruising across half of his body, not to mention the nightmares you and I both know he will have for months,” Derek bites out. “You left him there for five days when they weren’t even trying to hide him. You should’ve been able to find him in a few hours. You should’ve known the second he was taken.”
“How was I supposed to know, Derek?”
“Because I did!” Derek roars, and this time Stiles is positive that his eyes burn red. Alpha challenging alpha. But then his words sink in, and Stiles scrambles off the couch and presses himself into Derek’s space, forcing him to look at him.
Derek holds his stare and nods, once.
“I knew the second you were taken. I could feel it. That’s why I came back. But it was...I was far away, and it took a while to get back.”
Stiles’s heart hammers in his chest. Scott gapes at them like a fish.
“You came back for me.”
“Stiles. I will always come back for you.”
Stiles winds his arms around Derek’s waist, pulls him close, and slots their lips together. He is vaguely aware of Scott sputtering somewhere behind them, but with Derek’s hands resting on the sides of his neck, thumbs pressing at his jaw, Stiles can’t find it in himself to care. He knows what it means, that Derek knew instinctively that something was wrong with Stiles. He was right about Derek being his alpha. It’s not just that he wants Derek as his alpha or feels like he is. He is. It’s in Derek’s bones just as much as it’s in his.
He doesn’t know if Scott understands the same thing.
He breaks off from Derek and rests his forehead against his. Smiles.
“What the fuck is going on?” Scott is raging, starting to move into their space, eye red, claws elongated. Derek’s eyes flash deliberately as he moves to stand in between them again, with Stiles just behind him at his left shoulder.
“You don’t come near him until you can get yourself under control,” he commands, and while Scott may be a true alpha, he’s no match for Derek. The growl in his voice forces Scott back three steps, forces the red out of his eyes. It’s a tense few seconds before Scott’s claws are gone, and although he is still fuming and confused, betrayal lacing the edges of his eyes, he is under control.
Stiles is a little amazed.
Scott finds his voice again.
“You had no right to swoop back in here and attack humans out of nowhere. I had it handled! They knew to leave Stiles alone. They knew that this territory was still under control. They were leaving! It was dealt with! Now you’ve started everything back up again, and they’re probably going to come after all of us.” Stiles has a hand on Derek’s back and can feel it tensing more and more as Scott rants. He presses his palm more firmly between his shoulder blades, right over the triskele. “You’ve put every single one of us, Stiles included, in danger with your shitty decision making - again!”
Derek takes one deep breath, and then moves across the living room to stand inches from Scott.
“When you left those hunters after you finally found Stiles, did you ever go back? Make sure they were leaving?”
Scott’s mouth opens and then closes.
“Last night, I went to make sure they were gone, and it turns out they decided they weren’t done with Beacon Hills yet. When I got there, they were planning on finishing what they started with Stiles, and let me be clear here, Scott. They were planning to take him again, kill him immediately, and leave him on your doorstep. Then they were going to do the same with Allison and Chris and Isaac until you had no one left.” Stiles’s heart is in his throat. He feels dizzy and nauseated. If Derek hadn’t come back…
Scott’s mouth is hanging open.
“Now they’re actually gone, and I can guarantee you they won’t be coming back. I did what I had to do to protect my pack, Scott.”
“Your pack? You don’t have a pack anymore, Derek! In case you forgot, you got every member of your pack killed.”
Stiles is the first to react. Ribs be damned, he’s across the room in two seconds, squeezed in between Scott and Derek.
“Erica and Boyd abandoned their alpha, put themselves in danger, and paid dearly for it. Derek would have died to protect them if he could have, and you and I both know it,” he seethes, finger pressing hard into his chest.
“Why are you defending him, Stiles? His psycho girlfriend almost killed your dad!”
“And when I told him that she did, he believed me. Without a second of hesitation. Scott, you are my best friend, but Derek…” He squares his shoulders, pressing himself back against Derek’s chest, and looks Scott directly in the eye. “Derek is my alpha.”
Hurt flashes across Scott’s eyes.
“Seriously? Stiles you...you’re choosing him over me? Because he, what? Made out with you?”
Stiles tries to soften himself. This isn’t how he wanted to have this conversation, but he’s this far in, and the only way out is through.
“I didn’t choose anything. Why do you think Derek could tell that I was in danger and you couldn’t? He could feel that something was wrong from the other side of the globe, and you couldn’t feel it from two streets away. That means something, Scotty.”
Scott’s face falls, and the fight sinks out of him. Derek takes a small step back, but stays close enough that Stiles can feel his heat at his back.
“You will always be my best friend, Scott. But honestly...do you even want to be an alpha? Because I don’t really think you do.”
“It doesn’t matter what I want, Stiles. I am one. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
He looks miserable and defeated and tired. So, so tired. Stiles clasps a hand onto his shoulder.
“Maybe there is. With all the other shit we’ve dealt with, you think we couldn’t handle a pack with two alphas?” He takes a deep breath. “I think if you choose, if you...submit to Derek, it could work. You wouldn’t have to shoulder everything. You wouldn’t have to pretend like this is what you want. I know it’s not ideal, but...it’s something.”
The silence is heavy. He watches Scott think it through, turn it over, then he shakes his head.
“I-I have to go.”
And he’s gone.
Stiles releases a long breath and sags back into Derek’s chest. His arms wrap possessively around his waist, his face buries into his neck.
“Well that was shit,” Stiles mumbles. Derek huffs against his skin.
“That’s one way to put it.”
As Stiles’s life goes, his dad chooses that moment to walk into the living room. He takes in the scene, Derek Hale wrapped around his underage son with his face squished into his neck, and raises one eyebrow.
Stiles grimaces. Derek slowly raises his head.
His dad sighs and runs a hand down his face.
“Either one of you feel like telling me why Scott just stormed out of here?”
“Uhm, we had a fight,” Stiles explains unhelpfully.
Derek releases Stiles and comes to stand next to him instead, facing the sheriff head on.
“It was my fault, sir. I...dealt with the men who took Stiles in a way that Scott did not agree with. It made him angry, and Stiles defended me. Understandably, that also made him angry.”
The sheriff squints his eyes.
“Are there going to be any missing persons reports from how you dealt with them?”
Stiles holds his breath. He doesn’t actually know the answer.
But Derek shakes his head, and Stiles releases the breath.
“No, sir. No missing persons.”
John considers him for a moment. Stiles watches a silent conversation happen between the two of them, just a lot of intense staring and eye squinting. Eventually, for a reason Stiles will never fully understand, his dad crosses the room, pats Derek on the shoulder and gives him his fond dad smile.
“Good man, son.”
The corners of Derek’s mouth soften and then lift. Stiles turns on his father in full on shock.
“I’m sorry- what?”
“What, kid? You think after 20 years as a cop I can’t figure out what I need to figure out without asking a million questions? Derek clearly loves you and would do anything to protect you, already has as far as I can tell. He took care of you today, when even Scott didn’t. He’s a good kid from a good family, but he’s been through hell and back, which means he won’t take you for granted. He’s a werewolf, so heaven knows he can look after you. Far as I can tell, there isn’t much more I need to know. Now, pizza?”
Derek is smiling genuinely now, open and kind and flattered. John is smiling right back at him. Stiles is 100% sure he has entered the twilight zone.
“Huh? No ‘I will kill you if you hurt him?’ No ‘Stiles, he’s way too old for you, what the hell are you thinking?’ Who are you, and what have you done with my dad?”
John heaves a sigh.
“He already knows I’ll kill him if he hurts you, but I don’t think that’ll be an issue. And he is too old for you, but you’re almost 18, and somehow, I don’t think that you’d listen to me anyway. So, again I ask, pizza?”
Stiles is still in such a state of shock that he just nods dumbly, and his dad gives a self satisfied smirk and immediately dials the phone before Stiles can realize what’s going on.
“I’m...did my dad just give the a-okay for this?”
Derek chuckles, wraps him close, and presses a kiss to his temple.
“Yeah, I think he did.”
“What the hell is going on with my life today,” Stiles muses rhetorically, and Derek just laughs again.
It’s...a revelation to see him this way. Clearly, there are things he worked through while he was gone. But there’s also such a sense of relief coloring his lightness, his openness, that Stiles wonders if half of what he was waiting for was just a safe place to land, people to catch him, a family, a pack to make him feel like he can let his guard down.
He feels more than a little honored to be that place for him.
Scott shows up a week of radio silence later.
Cora has already returned to Beacon Hills and found a new apartment for her and Derek to live, a place without the bad taste and the memories. Not that Derek’s been there at all. He’s been stuck to Stiles’s side like glue while he’s started to heal. The bruises look almost nastier now than they did a week ago, but the cuts are healing, and his headaches aren’t as frequent. He’s had three more panic attacks, and wakes up almost every night with nightmares, but Derek is always there to help him breathe through it, to bring him back and wipe the sweat soaked hair from his forehead and hold him until he drifts back to sleep.
The healing is slow going, but it’s getting there.
The same goes for Scott.
He stands in front of them in the living room again, but this time, he looks almost sheepish and still more like himself than Stiles has seen in months.
“I uhm...I talked to Allison and Isaac. About everything. About what you said. And...you were right,” Scott says, and it’s directed at Derek. Derek, who stands in front of him with arms at his sides, cautious but open. “I should’ve been there for Stiles. I should’ve known. I should’ve done more to find him. And Stiles, I’m sorry that I didn’t. I can’t..I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for not protecting you like I should have.”
Stiles grins at him, pulls him in for a hug, quick and as tight as he can.
“It’s alright, man. I’m okay.”
Scott pulls back and nods, a watery, tentative smile. He turns back to Derek.
“I also thought about what Stiles said. And...and I think he’s right, too. First of all, what I said to you...there is no excuse. I was completely out of line, and I’m sorry. It was a dick move, especially bringing up Boyd and Erica.”
Derek relaxes minutely and consciously softens his features.
“Thank you, Scott. That’s...thank you.”
Scott gives him his sad puppy dog eyes, and forges onward.
“I don’t want to be the alpha of a pack, Derek. I don’t want to be in charge of everyone. I don’t...being a werewolf is just something I have to learn how to be okay with, and I don’t feel like it would be fair to anyone to try and lead a pack that way. I want...if you think it’s possible, I want us to just be one pack. And I want you to be our alpha,” Scott finishes. He looks terrified and anxious and, for the first time since he was bitten, hopeful. Stiles is so proud and relieved that he feels like his heart is going to burst right out of his chest. Derek is...cautious.
“Have you talked to Isaac?” He sounds almost scared, but he’s trying not to let it show. Stiles places a hand on his arm.
“Yeah, dude. He’s all for it. He really missed you, actually. Things got bad for a while there, but to be honest, I don’t think you ever really stopped being his alpha,” Scott explains, and he’s looking more and more hopeful by the second, encouraged by the fact that Derek didn’t immediately shut him down.
Derek clears his throat.
“What about Allison?”
Scott’s jaw drops a little.
“Uhm, to be honest, she didn’t really think you’d want her?”
“Allison is pack,” he insists. “Not only is she an incredible asset, but she’s important to all of you. It doesn’t work if she’s not okay with it.”
Scott beams at Stiles, and Stiles sees the moment Scott realizes how much Derek really has changed, now that everyone has had a chance to step back and breathe.
“If you’ll have her, I know she’s in.”
Derek nods, and then steps forward, grips Scott’s shoulder. Scott, instinctively, tilts his head just enough to the side that his neck is exposed. Derek moves his hand up to grip the space and allows himself to smile.
“I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship,” Stiles grins, and Scott laughs with his whole body.
“Yeah, buddy, I think it is.”
Derek rolls his eyes and drops his hand, and Scott throws his arms around Derek, pounding him on his back three times before pulling away. Stiles knows there’s a long way to go, but the relief rolling off of both of them is palpable. Scott looks lighter, more at ease. Derek looks more pleased than he will ever openly admit. Stiles can't remember the last time he felt this settled.
Scott stays. He and Stiles play a few rounds of Mario Kart before a fight breaks out over Scott’s well-timed blue shell, and Derek deems it officially off limits until Stiles is healed. They turn on a movie instead. (“ Star Wars , Scotty. I’m injured!”)
Isaac shows up 20 minutes into A New Hope . He looks small and terrified shuffling at the entry to the living room. Derek had tensed the moment he sensed him close by, and now they’re just staring. Scott is looking between them like a lost puppy. Stiles squeezes Derek’s knee gently, and then Derek is up and across the room in the blink of an eye. He grabs Isaac in what appears to be a truly bone crushing hug (Stiles literally thinks he might’ve heard a rib crack,) and Isaac clutches back just as tightly.
When they settle back on the couch, Derek has arms around both Stiles and Isaac, and Stiles is happy to share because Isaac looks like a kid on Christmas morning, Derek on one side, Scott at his feet.
Allison slips quietly in at the start of The Empire Strikes Back and leans against Scott on the floor. Derek pats her shoulder twice.
Cora commandeers the sheriff’s favorite armchair just after Allison shows up. Even Lydia trails in part way through Return of the Jedi .
Suddenly, Stiles’s living room is so full he can hardly hear the dialogue over the murmuring. Cora makes fun of Luke Skywalker endlessly. Lydia argues with Stiles over the scientific validity of lightsabers. Derek critiques fight techniques just to get Stiles to laugh. Allison joins him after the first few fights and, honestly, Stiles is pretty sure they should do it professionally.
Stiles gets up to go to the bathroom, and Scott is waiting directly outside the door when he exits. Stiles can only assume he is waiting to give him a heart attack.
“Holy shit, Scott. Give a guy some warning,” he jokes, hand over his racing heart. Scott just grins.
“So. You and Derek?”
Stiles feels his face flush, and he can’t help the smile that stretches across his face. He knows it’s the stupid, dopey one, and he doesn’t even care.
“Uh, yeah, man. That cool?” He scratches the back of his neck. If at all humanly possible, Scott’s smile widens. He clamps a hand on Stiles’s shoulder and jostles him.
“Dude! I know I was a jerk about it before, and, again, I’m really really sorry about that,” he says, and Stiles waves him off. “But this is like, huge. And awesome. I’m really glad you finally got your shit together!”
Stiles sputters, and Scott laughs at him.
It’s good to have him back.
When they re-enter the living room, Isaac and Lydia are looking particularly smug. The tips of Derek’s ears are red. Stiles groans and decides the only logical course of action is to bury himself in Derek’s shoulder and throw popcorn at Isaac’s head. Both make him feel better, but the soft kiss Derek presses to his temple when he squeezes back into the couch definitely takes the cake. He’s never going to get used to Derek’s easy way of showing affection, like he was starved for it and now that he has it, he just can’t help himself.
When the sheriff gets home, he smiles and shakes his head, then wanders into the kitchen to order Chinese. Stiles allows it because Derek’s been cooking healthy food all week, and Dad has been remarkably cool about the whole older-werewolf-boyfriend thing. By the time he gets back, Cora has shifted to the loveseat with Lydia, and John settles into his chair.
Stiles leans into the solid line of Derek on his right, breathes in his familiar scent, looks out over his pack, their pack. It’s still broken in places. Isaac still steals glances at Derek like he’s sure he’s going to leave again. Allison won’t quite let herself lean back against Derek’s legs. So far, Cora will only get close to Lydia. But they’re together, and they have two alphas who care enough about all of them to make it work, and it’s warm, and it feels like coming home.