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His Password is Also Derek

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When Stiles gets back home from visiting Lydia in the hospital three days after the formal—there’s been no change in her condition yet, and they still can’t tell what’s wrong—Derek is in his room. At his desk. On his computer. Clearly all werewolves are Mac guys.

“What are you doing?” Stiles demands, before he remembers this is now Derek Fucking Alpha Hale he’s barking at, and he’s got no bite to back it up. Derek was bad enough as a beta, and could probably have peeled men’s flesh off their bones just with his abs, not to mention what those giant fangs could probably do, and now he’s some kind of super-powered Hulk wolf with Terminator eyes, it’s awesome. Except not really, not when those eyes (even if they’re not red at the moment) and those teeth (no fangs in sight) get leveled at him from over Derek’s shoulder in a glare that just dares Stiles to keep objecting.

“But whatever it is, I am so totally cool with it,” Stiles finishes up, and tries to lean back casually on the door before he remembers he never shut it. The ensuing flailing he makes to recover would’ve been embarrassing if Derek was even looking anymore, but he’s not. He’s just a broad expanse of shoulders covered in leather jacket, the glow of the computer screen around his head. Stiles can’t see around his stupid gelled and spiked haircut to the screen, to catch a glimpse of what he’s even looking at.

“Just clear the history when you’re done if it’s furry porn,” Stiles adds. He tries not to think about his own browser history too much. It involves a lot of strawberry-blond models doing flexible things.

Derek, unsurprisingly, does nothing but give the mouse a pointed click.

“You’re not even gonna explain yourself,” Stiles says resignedly, and apparently to himself. He drops down on the end of his bed. Since the whole deathmatch thing up at the Hale house and Derek being crowned King Alpha of the Werewolf Prom, neither Stiles nor Scott have actually seen the guy until now. Granted that most of what Scott’s been seeing is probably really intense close-ups of various parts of Allison, and Stiles has been seeing lots of hospital vending machine food, but that’d never really stopped Derek from lurking around them like a pro.

Stiles’d figured Derek would be all over Scott twice as much about the whole pack thing, now that his uncle’s gone, but no, apparently Derek just wants to get a bit of internet surf on and be all mysterious and broody in his leather. In Stiles’s house, because it’s not like Stiles’s dad isn’t still the sheriff or that Derek’s house had a couple of violently dead bodies strewn around it a few days ago or that Derek’s already been arrested once for suspected murder. Naw, it’s cool if he just wants to break in here any time he wants and play FreeCell, or whatever it is he’s doing.

Stiles,” Derek growls. “Shut up.”

And Stiles realizes that some of that, maybe all of it, might have been said aloud.

“Hey, buddy, you’re in my room in my house and you—you can do whatever you want,” Stiles amends when Derek does something guttural and throaty and what basically sounds like a kind of werewolf equivalent of a rattlesnake’s tail. God, alphas. They really are Stiles’s least favorite things. Betas aren’t that great either, even when they’re your best friend. Maybe especially when they’re your best friend, trying to kill you. In fact, werewolves are pretty much shitty all around.

Stiles really hopes that one didn’t make it out of his mouth.

If it did, Derek either didn’t hear (unlikely), or doesn’t care (more likely). He’s done with the computer, getting up from Stiles’s chair and cracking his neck and shoulders like someone rolling their fist around on typewriter keys, pulling that jacket back into place against his neck.

“Oh, good,” Stiles says, as Derek heads for the window. “You know, my dad’s still at work, you could totally use the front door like a regul—no, yeah, a window’s just like a tiny door on the second story, that’s perfect too.”

Derek quits giving Stiles that threatening glare, gets a foot on the ledge, and propels himself right through the window. He practically sails down to the ground in a leap that really should look stupid, but no, it’s sort of stupidly flawless instead, and he sticks the landing from a near twenty-foot drop like nobody’s business. Then he’s off, just gone from the yard, in the two seconds that Stiles took to roll his eyes.

“Enjoy having shin splints!” Stiles calls after him, and slams the window hard enough to rattle things on his desk. “Jerkwolf.”

Stiles throws himself down in his desk chair, which is still ridiculously warm from Derek’s body and how uncomfortably intimate is that; werewolf-ass personal seat-warmer. He scrubs a knuckle into his eye and shifts around and starts trying to figure out what exactly Derek was doing on his computer. Clearly, the guy doesn’t own one himself. Just a Camaro and several leather jackets and a six-pack full of superiority.

Well, Derek clearly was on the internet. He closed the browser, but didn’t clear his history.

Stiles opens up the last couple URLs all at once in tabs. One’s Google maps but whatever Derek was finding didn’t save, so Stiles finds himself looking unhelpfully at the entire continental US. He closes that and moves on to the next tab, which is...the Beacon Hills Police Department. The third is an article from a newspaper based locally in Brooklyn, and honestly couldn’t Derek have gone to the public library for this? It’s not furry porn at all, he really could’ve—

Then Stiles sees a name in the article, because he’d already started skimming through it out of habit. It’s right there in the second line. Hale.

#

“But Derek’s family all died in the fire,” Scott says in chemistry the next day. Stiles’d slid into a seat at the table behind him right off and told him all about Derek’s bizarre night visit as fast as he could manage, maybe excluding all the parts about how he's still so easily threatened by Derek because that's not really awesome at all.

“I know,” Stiles says, watching from behind Scott’s shoulder as Mr. Harris prowls around up at the front of the classroom in that total-distain-for-humanity-especially-students way he has. The bell hasn’t rung yet, and they’ve still got like a minute or so left to talk before it does. “But it’s what Derek was looking up, and her name is Elizabeth Hale. Coincidence, probably not.”

“What was the article even about?”

“Some woman staying in Brooklyn who got her hotel room broken into. She wasn’t there at the time, and nothing stolen. Like five sentences in the whole thing, it was barely a footnote.”

Scott shrugs his shoulder. “So does it even matter?”

“No, not at all. I think it’s totally irrelevant that Derek broke into my house, yet again, to use my computer to look up articles about someone named Hale in the last place Derek lived before coming back to Beacon Hills.”

Something clips hard against Stiles’s head right then, and he jerks around to see Jackson shouldering his pack he struts to the table at the back of the room, looking smug and pleased with himself. Stiles doesn’t want to know what’s got him acting so happy, because it can’t be anything good. Danny’s already sitting back there, and he only glances up at Jackson with his usual mildly skeptical look before just going back to looking at his textbook.

“Derek lived in Brooklyn?” Scott is saying meanwhile. “How do you know that?”

“Research,” Stiles says, rubbing at his hair. “It’s kind of what I do.”

The bell rings then, and Stiles shuts up before Mr. Harris can decide to threaten him with an eternity and a half of detention.

#

Stiles knows Scott is pretty much over Derek right now and doesn’t want to hear about anything to do with him, and honestly Stiles doesn’t blame him much because Derek did kind of ruin Scott’s only possible chance at a cure for his furry little problem and now he has to pretend to be broken up with Allison just so Mr. Argent won’t kill him, but Stiles has to run this all through someone. He thinks better sometimes when he’s talking out loud.

“Do you know how many Elizabeth Hales there are in the United States?” he starts with as he hustles along after Scott out of the chemistry classroom.

“Maybe ten?” Scott says idly, clearly clocking out of this conversation early. With the familiar dreamy dumb look Scott’s got on his face, Stiles is just glad his response wasn’t ‘Allison’. Pretending they’re broken up is just making the mooning so much worse.

“Lots,” Stiles says. “Lots and lots and then even more than that. So, pretty impossible to find anything on this woman or where she came from or if she’s maybe kind of possibly related to Derek.”

“Dude, we haven’t even seen Derek,” Scotts says. “Well, you have, but the guy doesn’t seem like he’s up to anything. Allison said a bunch of her family is coming into town; maybe he’s lying low.”

“But what if there are more Hales too, and they come here? What if they make a giant super wolf pack and press-gang you into joining? Against the Argents? What if this turns into a werewar?”

Scotts gives him that ‘I can’t believe you say words sometimes’ look that Stiles been getting a lot of recently, and doesn’t even bother to answer. They’ve hit Scott’s locker and Scott starts spinning the combination lock while Stiles leans against the cool metal and just keeps on rolling.

“Just saying,” he says. “Because if this gets more out of hand, the normal people are going to start figuring that something is really up around here. People like my dad. I mean Jackson figured it out, and I swear to you that my dad is smarter than he is.”

“I still don’t know how he did that,” Scott mutters, and yanks his locker door open. A little piece of paper flutters out, and probably would’ve ended up on the floor if Scott didn’t snatch it out of the air with a ridiculous reflex time. And the goofy smiles he gets on his face tells Stiles right away who that note is from, because Scott can no doubt smell Allison all over that paper.

“All right, buddy. See you later,” Stiles says, and heads off to his own locker, because clearly Scott is going to be useless after this. And maybe Stiles shouldn’t care that much either about what weird secrety werethings Derek is up to. Really, it only caught his attention because it was happening in his house. And other than the news that a bunch of Argents are going to flood into town soon, there’s really nothing going on that needs to be worried about. Yet. So maybe Stiles should just back off this.

Yeah. Sure.

When Stiles finishes up at his locker and slaps the door shut, Allison is on the other side of it.

“Ah!—llison,” Stiles says, and rubs a hand over his hair and braces his elbow on his locker. “Hey. What’s...going on?”

He really can’t forget she’s an Argent, and Stiles has still got werewolves hanging around him and frankly all of this just makes him a little nervous. Especially the day after one of said werewolves broke into his room and looked up shady things on his computer. Scott trusts her, but her family doesn’t seem to be above total violations of privacy to find out the kind of information they want. What if they planted some kind of bug on her that she doesn’t know about, just in case she talks to anyone about something they want to know? Stiles would really not put that past them.

“Are you going to visit Lydia today?” Allison says, which is not really the question he was expecting.

“Huh?” he says, and is pretty sure his mouth is hanging open more than usual.

“I just heard you’ve been there every day.” Allison tucks some of her dark hair behind her ear, and plays with a strand of beads around her neck. “I was thinking about going after school, today. I haven’t, since...not since it happened.”

“Well, I... was going to go after practice.”

“I can pick you up,” Allison offers. “We’ve just been planning Aunt Kate’s funeral and there hasn’t been time, and...I just don’t want to go by myself,” she finishes, and there’s a little tightness around her mouth that he can’t say no to. Stiles knows Scott has work today, so that’s probably why Allison isn’t asking him to go with her, other than the fact that they have to keep up this fake break-up thing.

“What was that about?” Scott says, sliding up behind Stiles’s shoulder with his super silent wolf powers, once Allison is already walking away and halfway down the hall.

“I think she just needs a friend,” Stiles says. For some reason, he thinks about Derek. Who doesn’t have anyone; not a family, not a pack, and definitely not a friend. Derek doesn’t really come across as friend material, anyway. More like a leather-wearing vagabond who lurks around high schools.

But it doesn’t really matter, because none of that is Stiles’s problem.

#

Except it is his problem. Because when he dashes upstairs to his room much later that afternoon, still sweaty and sore from practice, it’s sitting in his desk chair. Again.

“I am buying a deadbolt,” Stiles tells Derek first off. He throws his backpack across the bed and dumps the lacrosse gear on the floor. “Don’t you have a home to go to?”

Well, that was maybe insensitive or something, since Derek Hale’s house is a burned out shell of ghosts and loss and he wouldn’t honestly blame the guy if he’s not itching to soak up those memories 24/7.

Derek just glowers from under those hefty eyebrows and Stiles thinks he sees a pec muscle do one of those involuntary ripples under his shirt, like Derek’s very physique is irritated with him.

“I can’t go back there,” Derek says, and tersely drums the fingers of his left hand on his leg, just once.

“What, for right now? For ever?” Stiles says despairingly. “Do you realize you keep hiding out in a cop’s house, it’s really the worst strategy and you’re two for two with it now, and you also keep depending on my willingness to keep my mouth shut and lie for you.”

“You lie for Scott,” Derek says.

“He’s Scott,” Stiles says.

“I help him survive,” Derek says. “And you’ll help him by doing this.”

“By letting you break into my house? What’s the problem now?”

“The Argents.”

Well, of course, the Argents. One of whom personally witnessed Derek become the alpha by murdering his own uncle. Scott might have some kind of ridiculous clemency because Allison’s dad has some morals to go along with his GI Joe Kung-Fu Grip—Stiles still has bruises from that encounter, for which he totally blames Jackson’s complete ineptitude at lying—but Derek holds no special place in any of the Argents’ little werewolf-slaying hearts. He’s probably just a cold-blooded killer to them, one that just got several times more dangerous and alpha-y.

“I thought they were busy planning a funeral,” Stiles says.

“Not busy enough,” Derek says. “And the family is much bigger than you think.”

Stiles doesn’t know what that means and doesn’t like the sound of it, but it’s not his problem. It’s Derek’s. And Stiles has really had enough of getting mixed up in Derek Hale’s problems, especially when he and Scott just finally got out of the last one.

“Whatever,” Stiles says. “I don’t have time for this. Alli—a friend’s coming by, I just came in to drop off my stuff. We’re going to the hospital.”

“Fine,” says Derek, and doesn’t move.

“You’re not staying here,” Stiles says. “Creeping hours at the Stilinski house are from Never O’Clock to Get Out PM, because you’re probably going to end up leading the Argents right here, to me and by association Scott, and then they’ll kill him on principle or something because they’ll think he’s actually become your murderous furry Padawan. And I’m Yoda.”

Derek is looking at him like he thinks Stiles has seriously lost his mind, and maybe he really has. The whole process probably started back when Stiles thought it would just be so awesome to check out a dead body in the woods. Worst. Decision. Ever.

“I don’t see why it should bother you if I stay, since I’ve already been here,” Derek says finally.

“You’ve already been—oh my god, how long have you been lurking in my room? The whole day? You should probably find a hobby,” Stiles says. “Other than howling at the moon and shedding little werewolf hairs everywhere.”

“I do not,” Derek says, and his jacket makes an ominous leathery rasp, “shed.”

“So you don’t deny the howling,” Stiles says. Derek’s eyes narrow dangerously.

#

Stiles probably shouldn’t tell Allison Argent that Derek Hale, possible future Scourge of Beacon Hills, is chilling up in his room reading the B section of the dictionary.

So he just won’t mention it. Her Mazda is idling in the street when he gets back downstairs, and it’s about ten minutes after their agreed on pick-up time. He slides into the passenger seat and Allison startles up off the frame of the door, where she’d been leaning on her hand.

“Sorry,” Stiles says, either about scaring her or taking so long. “There was a—I had to—we can get going now.”

It’s a little weird, right; riding shotgun with his best werewolf friend’s forbidden girlfriend to the hospital to visit her best comatose friend, and then they all walk into a bar, bah-dum-ching. Allison just stays quiet on her side and keeps her hands closed tight around the wheel and Stiles thinks about how her best friend is really in a coma and her boyfriend is a creature of the night and her aunt is dead and her family is really kind of their own special pack of psychos. That’s not a lot easier than anything Stiles has been dealing with.

He’s not real sorry that Kate Argent is dead, though. Frankly she seemed just a little unstable. And way more comfortable with recklessly murdering people than should be normal. But he is sorry that Allison’s aunt is dead. Because no one should ever lose anyone, ever. Not like that.

“I’m really sorry. About what happened to her,” he says, and Allison glances quizzically over at him. “Not Lydia. Obviously Lydia too, but I meant...your aunt.”

Allison sighs. “I almost can’t believe it,” she says. “She didn’t always live in the same town as us, but she was always there. I knew she was there. That she would always be. But now she’s...not. It was so fast.”

“I know,” Stiles says. “It’s always too fast. Then sometimes you feel like you don’t know who you are for a while, or who you’re supposed to be without them. Then it’s always looking around and remembering too late. And you can never get back that time you didn’t spend with them.”

Allison glances at him from across the front seat, but doesn’t say anything. Stiles leans back in the seat and kind of wishes that sometimes he didn’t let his mouth run so damn much.

#

Stiles doesn’t know why they’ve got Lydia in this viewing cube, like, honestly, who builds a hospital room like this? Way too many windows, and her bed in the middle like something on display. He doesn’t usually go into her room, since a lot of times Lydia’s parents are here or there are doctors or nurses, or even if it’s just Lydia alone Stiles feels weird in there by himself.

But Allison wants to go in, so they do.

The Get Well balloon Stiles brought the day right after the attack is now wilted and hovering a couple inches above the floor, listlessly bumping against the corner of the wall where the air is sucking into the cooling vent. Stiles rescues it and ties it to a chair while Allison sits herself at the bedside and leans on her hands, folding them under her chin. She seems uncomfortable, like she doesn’t actually know what to do now that she’s here. She doesn’t touch Lydia at all, and looks at Lydia’s hands lying limp at her sides instead of at her face.

“You could talk to her,” Stiles suggests. “You know, they say sometimes people can hear that.”

“Oh,” Allison says.

“I can go,” Stiles says. That row of familiar and uncomfortable chairs out in the hall still has his name on them. It won’t be much different from a usual visit if he leaves the girls alone together and waits out there. Allison just nods faintly and Stiles takes that as a yes.

#

His dad knows where he’s been, of course; it’s been this kind of unspoken thing for the last few days and as long as Stiles gets home relatively soon after dark it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. The Beacon Hills PD still doesn’t know who attacked Lydia or who killed Kate Argent and Peter Hale or his Stepford nurse and there’s kind of this anxious undercurrent that’s been building up through the whole town, and suddenly everybody’s off the streets by like 8 PM and doors are locked up tight and windows are bolted, and even sheriff’s kids have a kind of implicit curfew.

But it doesn’t even matter, because windows are clearly not werewolf-proof. Stiles really should get a deadbolt. Do those work on windows? He’ll research it.

He bypasses his dad in the kitchen, where he’s sitting looking over some papers and eating things out of a greasy take-out bag that he’s definitely probably not supposed to be eating but Stiles is really done with this day and he’s still going to have to deal with Derek most likely, and he doesn’t want to have any more arguments than he needs to. But then—

“Stiles,” his dad calls after him, and Stiles backpedals to the doorway and pokes his head around.

“Yeah?”

His dad has got his Very Serious Police face on, so right away Stiles knows that this isn’t going to be a casual conversation. “I almost hate to even ask, but you mentioned that you...are on familiar terms with Derek Hale.”

Stiles expects all kinds of questions to follow that up, most of them completely nonsensical, like; I found him up in your room eating a rawhide chew, can you explain that? or why is his Camaro in our driveway? Even though Stiles was just out there and Derek’s car was definitely not, but these are the kinds of places his mind goes when it’s right on an edge of a total outbreak of stress.

“That still true?” is what his dad actually asks, with an air of I really wish it wasn’t but don’t you even try lying to me this time, buddy.

“Yeah?” Stiles says hesitantly. “What’s he done?”

“We haven’t been able to locate him since the weekend. Since the formal,” his dad says, a little bit too pointedly. The formal, when a lot of people were attacked or killed mysteriously and some of that was left lying around at Derek’s house. Right.

Stiles winces. “Is he a suspect?”

“No, but we want to bring him in for some questioning. If you know anything, it’s in everybody’s best interest if you share. That kid is trouble, Stiles.” The last half of the sentence is muffled as his dad rubs a hand over the lower half of his face, and Stiles sees the glint of the wedding ring he still wears, and isn’t actually sure if he said trouble or troubled. But since Derek Hale is all kinds of both, packed in a problematic box and wrapped with an aggravating bow to boot, Stiles really can’t disagree.

“I really don’t know where he is,” he says. Technically, this is not a lie. Derek could be in his room, and in all likelihood still is, but Stiles won’t know for sure until he goes up there. It’s like Schrödinger’s werewolf.

Stiles thinks Lydia would appreciate that joke. If Lydia ever wakes up again.

“You’re sure,” his dad says. “Not even a guess.”

“Not one,” Stiles says, with all the earnestness he can muster. Again, not a lie. He has two guesses on Derek’s whereabouts—in his room or not in his room. Still, he’s trying to remember the last time he told his dad the full honest truth about something, and can’t. This supernatural bullshit is really doing awful things to their relationship.

His dad lets him go after that and Stiles gets upstairs fast just to find out that, yes, Derek is still here. Right in his desk chair where Stiles left him. He clearly hasn’t been able to get back on the computer because the newly set-up password prompt is still up on the glowing screen. So Derek’s possibly just been sitting here for the past two hours, in the near dark, doing nothing.

Stiles doesn’t even want to ease into this conversation; if Derek’s going to be forcing favors out of him then Stiles deserves some minimal information about what’s going on, why he’s here and what he’s up to.

So he shuts the door of his room, sets his shoulders, and turns around to face Derek. “Who’s Elizabeth Hale?”

Chapter Text

He’s being shoved against the wall with an arm against the base of his throat in about two seconds flat, and Derek hasn’t wolfed out on him at all but he is showing a lot of teeth and breathing like a furnace and Stiles just grits his jaw hard and meets Derek’s eyes. He’s really getting tired of being slammed around into things by angry older men. This is not a kink he actually has.

“How do you know that name?” Derek seethes at him.

“Because I read it in the article you looked up on my computer,” Stiles says. His heart is thudding embarrassingly fast; he’d’ve thought he’d be immune to these sudden violent outbreaks of Derek’s by now. “You really gotta work on your enigmatic air of mystery. ”

To his total surprise, Derek backs off. He draws his arm off Stiles’s neck and eases away, sliding back into the shadows of the room. But the shadows start all of two feet away, because Stiles didn’t get a chance to flip on the lightswitch and really the only light in the room is coming from his computer screen, so it’s all harsh white shapes and lines along the folds of Derek’s jacket and they’re barely three steps apart.

“You gonna tell me what’s going on?” Stiles says. “Who is this woman?”

Derek turns his back to Stiles. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“She called me,” Derek says. “A few days ago. She left a message that didn’t make any sense. I managed to track the number back to a hotel, but she wasn’t staying there anymore. I tried to look her up, but I only found that article.”

“In Brooklyn.”

“Yes.”

“Where you used to live.”

Derek’s head snaps back around and Stiles almost expects to see red flashing at him, but there’s none of that. Derek’s face is mostly a shadow and just little glimmers of reflection in his regular, non-glowing eyes.

“I wasn’t being a creeper or anything, I swear,” Stiles says. “I was just...reading some things and happened to—look, whatever, is she part of your family or something?”

Derek huffs through his nose. “I don’t know.”

“How do you not know any of this stuff? Okay, well, what’d her message say?”

“It was nothing.

“Derek!” Stiles explodes, and then remembers that his dad is downstairs and that yelling out random guy’s names at night from his bedroom when he’s supposed to be alone is probably not a thing he wants to have to explain. Ever.

“If you keep breaking into my room you’re gonna have to talk to me,” Stiles says then. “Because talking is kinda what I do, okay, and maybe it’s hard talking about your family—“

“My family is supposed to be dead,” Derek says through gritted teeth. “I don’t know anyone named Elizabeth. I don’t know who she is.”

And the Derek’s gone again. Just right out the window like it’s Cirque du Soleil out there and Derek’s late for auditions.

“So the conversation’s over then,” Stiles says uselessly after him.

#

The next day at school goes by as normal as always. Or the same as it has been going recently, which is nowhere near normal, but even abnormality is becoming dangerously usual. Stiles is pretty resigned to it.

Jackson’s at his regular level of insufferable, or maybe even more so, swaggering around like he’s King Argyle of Cardiganland. Mr. Harris still has it out for him and gives Stiles detention basically for just being present on the planet. Scott and Allison pretend to stay away from each other and meanwhile relay soppy verbal notes through Stiles which is getting awkward, so awkward, and Lydia...well. Lydia’s still gone. There’s a distinct lack of her swanning through the hallways, looking fabulous and disdainful of everyone, and Stiles can’t even visit her in the hospital today.

The funeral for Allison’s crazy aunt Kate is this afternoon, and apparently he and Scott are going, despite that being one of the worst ideas Stiles can imagine. According to what Allison mentioned it might be Grand Argent Station there, and maybe it’s awesome on a boyfriend level for Scott to want to go, but it’s awful on a survival one. Maybe the self-preservation instinct just can’t compete with hormones.

When Stiles finally gets out of Mr. Harris’s detention after school, he has to book it to the cemetery, and then turn right around when he sees all the cop cars and press filling up the area. He parks a mile or so away on the side of the road instead, and then hikes back in on the other side through the woods.

This takes longer than expected. He’s starting to wish he’d remembered how far a mile actually is on foot when something snags the collar of his shirt and yanks him backwards. He gets a quick flash of dark hair and leather before he’s being whirled around in the opposite direction.

Ho—Jesus, Derek!” Stiles says, slipping on wet leaves and loose soggy soil as he tries to get his feet back under him. And then, naturally, the next thing that’s happening is he’s being crammed face-first against the rough trunk of a tree. Nice.

“Would you stop with this?” Stiles bawls out, and Derek just puts pressure against the back of his neck and grinds Stiles’s jaw a little harder against the bark.

“Shh,” Derek hisses. Fingers—just regular, human fingers—dig into the skin along Stiles’s spine. They’re blunt and warm with short ragged nails.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Derek’s voice is low right near his ear.

“Cemetery. I’m supposed to be meeting Scott behind a statue or something so he can give Allison emotional support at her psycho aunt’s funeral,” Stiles says, with the side of his cheek still mushed into the tree.

“No,” Derek says, and sounds weirdly calm about it. “You’re staying here.”

“Clearly,” Stiles says dryly. “You’ve got me doing some literal tree-hugging, and I can’t move.”

Derek lets up on him. Stiles steps back from the tree in surprise, and when he looks back at Derek, he almost looks surprised. Then they just stare at each other. And it’s awkward. Boy, is it awkward. Neither of them are doing anything; Derek isn’t speaking, or giving a hint as to why he’s here or why he doesn’t want Stiles at the funeral.

“So,” Stiles says, jamming his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and rocking on his heels. “Come here often?”

Derek gives an exasperated grunt. “Stiles,” he says.

“I know, I know, shut up. I got it.”

A bitter breeze blows past them then, chilled and damp. Stiles shudders and hunches his shoulders, while Derek lifts his head and turns his face to the wind. “It’s not safe there,” he says.

“What? Why?”

Derek levels a long, intense look at him. “Fine. If you really want to see,” he says. “Let’s go.”

#

They get to the cemetery just in time to see Scott being dragged off by Stiles’s dad, back to the ring of patrol cars behind the safety barriers where all the press photographers are clotted up. Clearly he got caught trying to funeral-crash. Stiles is almost glad Derek waylaid him, because if he shows up coincidentally at any more odd places his dad is going to start side-eyeing him even harder than he is already. He and Derek stick back in the trees, far enough away that it’s impossible to make out what anybody over there is saying, and they’re probably unnoticeable themselves from this distance.

The couple rows of seats arranged in front of the monolithic casket are occupied by Allison’s family, and then there’s a bunch of what looks like Secret Service agents standing around them, like several gorillas crammed into nice suits. Allison looks small and meek between her red-haired Amazon of a mom and her terrifying dad who asks really weird questions about dogs in the middle of physically threatening people.

And there’s some old guy Stiles has never seen before. Also wearing a sharp dark suit, with equally sharp eyes. The guy’s skin and what’s left of his hair are a near equal shade of white, and Stiles kind of gets a chill just looking at him.

At his side, Derek does this kind of full-body shudder and shakes his head. It’s all pretty dog-like, and Stiles is pretty sure that if Derek actually had hackles they would all be on end.

“Who’s the old guy?” Stiles says, and when Derek only curls his mouth a little, he adds, “you know him?”

“I know of him,” Derek says. “Gerard Argent.”

“You shouldn’t talk with your mouth full,” Stiles says, and the look Derek gives him puts all of the disparaging looks Stiles has ever gotten in his life to shame. Even with a sheriff for a dad. “What? I’m just saying, it’s hard to take a guy seriously with a name that sounds like kind of like gargling.”

“You should take him seriously,” Derek says. “Because he’ll kill you if you don’t.”

“Is that like a theoretical you or an actual threat on my life from this guy, because I don’t even know him and I’m not actually a bloodthirsty werecreature so maybe this is actually not my problem.

Derek’s eye actually twitches. “Do you ever stop talking?”

“No,” Stiles says petulantly.

“Come on,” Derek says, and twists his hand into Stiles’s hoodie and drags him off.

They’re still walking through the woods minutes later. Just walking. Well, Derek is walking in a smooth silent gait and Stiles is doing something more like trudging, shuffling through slick shiny leaves and squelching in hidden puddles. He doesn’t know where they’re going, but every time he tries to ditch Derek and escape he gets a heavy hand clamping down on his shoulder. So he’s stuck here, with a werewolf who apparently likes long walks in the forest, piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, and probably not those last two at all.

“So, there are more Argents in town,” Stiles says eventually, because he can’t take this weird quiet anymore. “How bad it this gonna be?”

“Bad,” Derek says flatly.

“Scott was saying they have this code, or something, where they don’t kill anyone not trying to kill them first—“

“The code’s irrelevant. It’s more like guidelines,” Derek says, and Stiles nearly double-takes at him, because did Derek just kind of make a reference? Derek and pop culture are like two things Stiles can’t associate together, like Derek can’t possibly have any knowledge of normal, human things. “Some of them don’t follow it, or dismiss it if it gets too restrictive.”

“And that’s not the problem?”

“They’ve been watching my house. I can’t go back. They’re probably watching Scott too, because of his idiot relationship with that girl.”

“Aaaand that’s why you’ve been hiding out in my room,” Stiles says. “Naturally. The Argents are chasing you around and I’m the most innocuous place you can think of.”

“They don’t want me making a pack,” Derek says. “Other than Scott, they don’t want anyone else in this town getting the bite.”

Scott’s not in your pack, Stiles doesn’t say, because Derek is clearly running on some kind of deep delusion and maybe breaking that will have severe traumatic effects. Like waking up a sleepwalker. By punching them in the throat.

And then Stiles thinks of something. “Have you been trying? To make a pack? Oh my god, who did you bite?”

Derek doesn’t respond. Stiles suddenly thinks about how smug and cocky Jackson’s been over the last few days, way more than usual, and what it was that Jackson was so intent on wanting before now. Seems like he might have gotten it.

“You bit Jackson, didn’t you?” Stiles says hopelessly.

Derek’s mouth tightens. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Do you know what kind of life I’m going to have to live when Jackson is gonna be a rampaging Beastmaster on the full moon? Thanks, man, I really appreciate that; that is really perfect casting for your personal werewolf flick, I want a refund on my ticket for this show.”

“The bite didn’t take.”

“—and it...what?”

Derek inhales sharply through his nose. “Something’s happening to him. His body is fighting it. He doesn’t even...smell right. He’s not going to turn.” He sounds unsure for the first time Stiles has ever heard, which is just weird.

“Yeah, well, he’s acting like it enough,” Stiles mutters. “You’re positive on this?”

“No,” Derek says.

“Dude, you’re the one who was all Growing Up Werewolf—don’t they teach you how this stuff works?”

“Things like this aren’t supposed to happen,” Derek says, and god, what is with all this vulnerability Derek is doing right now? It’s making Stiles very uncomfortable, because the guy honestly sounds like he needs a hug or at least a manly shoulder clap and Stiles is not the person for that, not at all. Derek would probably peel his face off if Stiles tried to touch him, and wear it as a hat.

“Shouldn’t you, I don’t know, talk to Scott about all this pack business?” Stiles says, even though there’s that whole thing where Scott isn’t his pack, but whatever, at least Scott’s the same species. Or something.

Derek gives him a look. “Scott wouldn’t listen to me.”

I’m only listening because you won’t let me leave,” Stiles says, and then regrets it. Because he knows what it’s like not have people listen to you or pay attention, and here’s Derek who doesn’t even have a family anymore because he had to kill the last one of them himself, and the only other werewolf in town doesn’t want anything to do with him.

Stiles really needs to stop empathizing with Derek Hale, because there’s no way that’s good for his mental or physical wellbeing.

“Look, okay,” he says. “I don’t know, I mean—I don’t think I can really help you out much, here. With the Argent free-for-all thing. But I could like...research for you, or something.”

“Research,” Derek echoes, side-eyeing him.

“Yeah, I’m totally a grade-A researcher, two thumbs up and four stars and all that. And I know how to hide my browser history.”

Derek snorts, but it’s actually an amused sound. Or close enough to one. “All right,” he says. “On what, exactly?”

“The whole bite thing, man! Why it wouldn’t work and...you know. Stuff.”

“Stuff,” Derek repeats, and then makes a face that kind of looks like, sure, why the hell not?

“I’m totally on this,” Stiles says, and then nearly reaches out to kind of jostle Derek like he would with Scott, until he remembers that will get him killed. He sticks his hands in his pockets and keeps to himself.

#

So Stiles researches.

He researches most of that night and then right into morning.

He researches so hard that he oversleeps and wakes up incredibly, ridiculously late for school.

His dad must’ve been called in on something otherwise he would have been kicking Stiles out the door hours ago, and when Stiles is racing through the house trying to pull on about three pieces of clothing all at the same time, his dad is definitely not around. It must’ve been something pretty big to get him going in off-shift, and Stiles doesn’t put much hope into the idea that it’s something not supernatural related. Beacon Hills might as well be on a Hellmouth these days.

Dude,” Scott whispers to him when Stiles finally slithers into the back of the classroom and gets to a desk while Coach Finstock’s back is turned.

“I know,” Stiles mouths back at him, and then just slumps down in his seat and puts his head down. He’s not sure if he really found anything relevant in his marathon research spree, there’s a lot of stuff about werewolves but not much of it is consistent. There’s folklore and pop culture and weird RPGs and all sorts of legends from all kinds of countries and most of it is about ways to harm them, not better them. Nobody seems to want to improve werewolves. Stiles wasn’t real surprised about that.

Stiles was so late to school that the next period is actually lunch. He yawns all the way to his and Scott’s regular table and only checks into what Scott is saying when he hears the words Gerard Argent.

“Wait, what?” Stiles says.

“I saw him in the woods last night,” Scott says. “Allison’s dad, too. And Derek was there, and—“

Of course he was, when is Derek ever not there?

Scott is still talking. “—totally sliced this guy in half. In half. With a sword. Just because he was a werewolf, I mean—just some random guy who happened to be there. He didn’t have anything to do with anything, I think he was just passing through town or something.”

“Should we be talking about this in the cafeteria?” Stiles says. Suddenly he doesn’t want much of his lunch anymore.

Scott doesn’t seem to mind. “We always talk about this kind of stuff in the cafeteria. Or in class,” he says.

“Yes we do,” Stiles says, and drops his head down to the table. Seems like Derek was right about the Argents not playing by the poorly defined rules anymore, and he has no idea what it’s going to mean for the future, for his idiot best friend who’s not very good at keeping himself alive, or for himself. Or for Derek, but Derek should really not be Stiles’s problem anymore. That guy should be taking care of his own issues and not running around biting teenagers, what in hell is wrong with his brain that he thinks that’s a good choice for a pack?

Speaking of that; Jackson is looking as smarmy as ever, sitting with Danny over in another part of the cafeteria. Despite what Derek said, Jackson clearly thinks he’s gotten some kind of boost up the species hierarchy, that now once and for all he’s actually better than everyone else as he always thought.

Try again, Jackson, Stiles thinks. You’re still just like the rest of us.

#

Stiles is running through the halls towards the locker rooms for after-school practice when he hears the police sirens. Faintly, distantly, and he can’t tell if they’re getting closer or further away. It sounds like a bunch of them though, definitely two or more, which means something pretty massive is going down.

He squeaks to a stop on the linoleum floor, straining his ears to listen. While he’s doing that, a door bangs open at the end of the hallway, crashing against the wall and echoing down to him. Stiles whips around and sees just about the last thing he expected or wanted; Allison’s dad coming towards him in a fast, purposeful stride. When the front of his jacket flaps aside, Stiles can see he’s totally packing at least one Glock under there in a hip holster, and the lump on his other side is probably a shoulder harness holding a second.

Oh god this looks bad. Stiles basically freezes like a deer in headlights, unable to think or move as Mr. Argent bears down the empty hallway and comes to a terrifyingly close stop right in front of him.

“Mr. Stilinski,” he says.

For a second or two, Stiles only manages to flap his mouth soundlessly. Then, “you know, those guns are totally inappropriate for a school campus,” he says. “I got detention once just for having a water pistol. And it didn’t even have any water in it.”

Mr. Argent’s eyes flick downwards for a second, then back up to Stiles.

“Familiar with firearms?” he says.

“Dad’s a sheriff.” Stiles shrugs a shoulder; it’s so much easier to be blasé with a guy who can’t unnaturally sense panic through your heartbeat. “Kinda becomes an acquired skill.”

“Are you also familiar,” Mr. Argent says, and seems to loom just a little bit closer, “with the location of Derek Hale?”

“It’s probably not at a high school,” Stiles says. “The guy’s in his twenties, so that’d be weird, right?”

Mr. Argent makes a slight throat clearing noise. “We followed him here,” he says. “Minutes ago.”

“Well, I haven’t seen the guy,” Stiles says. We; that’s not good. That probably means the intense old guy who apparently carries a sword is around here somewhere. Maybe also some of those hefty-looking guys Stiles saw at the funeral. “He’s not exactly on my buddy list, if you know what I mean.”

“I’m sure,” says Mr. Argent, and doesn’t look impressed. He braces his hand on his hip, under his jacket, which of course means his gun is in total full sight and Stiles tries hard not to fidget.

“And Scott hasn’t seen him either,” he adds. “In case he was your next stop. You’re still on with the whole truce with Scott thing right? Because he’s not even around here anyway.”

Mr. Argent does a strange smile and moves back a step, which is about the friendliest thing he’s done this whole time. The police sirens seem a little louder, or maybe that’s just Stiles hoping that his dad is nearby.

“So am I free to go, here?” Stiles asks, and before he gets an answer he starts slinking backwards, one careful step at a time.

“For now,” says Mr. Argent, and Stiles basically whirls on his heel and power-walks away as fast as he can, the same kind of stiff-legged movement you do when you’ve been told not to run around the pool. He heads for the door at the end of the hall that Mr. Argent came in through, the one that leads to the parking lot.

He can feel Mr. Argent’s eyes tracking him the whole way.

#

After that, screw lacrosse practice. Stiles just wants to go home. The sirens in the distance are still going, and this is probably gonna be a long work night for his dad because of it, and Stiles’ll have the house to himself to do whatever he wants. Like hide under a bed or something. He admires Allison for having survived her own family for so long, he really does.

He mutters heatedly all the way to his jeep, fumbling his keys in shaking fingers and just ridiculously thankful that Jackson wasn’t around this time to totally screw up that situation. Stiles managed to lie passably to Allison’s dad and didn’t get slammed up against any walls, which has actually got to be some kind of record for him. He should get himself one of those factory workplace accident signs, like It’s been 1 day since Stiles Stilinski was last violently shoved into something. He doesn’t think the count would ever get very high.

As soon as Stiles slides into the jeep, he knows something is completely bad in here. A shadow uncurls from the opposite side of the front seat, claws extended, rising up and lifting its head until Stiles can see its face.

Derek had literally been crouched up in a ball on the floor of the passenger side, completely unnoticeable until Stiles got inside. And now he’s in Stiles’s jeep. Again. And this time he’s not half-dead.

“You. Are going. To drive,” Derek says, and when the claws dig into the jeep’s upholstery, that’s exactly what Stiles does.

Chapter Text

When Derek said drive, he didn’t just mean go and get out of the immediate area. He meant drive and don’t ever stop, not ever, because they’re actually on the highway now and have been for about ten minutes. Every time Stiles tries to stop or pull over or slow down, Derek just growls at him and Stiles rolls his eyes and floors the pedal again. He almost hopes one of his dad’s deputies catches him speeding like this and pulls them over. Then at least Derek couldn’t object unless he wants to end up on World’s Most Exciting Werewolf Chases.

But they left the sirens behind them at least five minutes ago and it had honestly sounded like maybe every patrol car in town. So that’s probably not gonna happen.

“Derek, okay, use your big boy words,” Stiles says finally, when they pass the city limit sign for Beacon Hills and are officially driving into wilderness. “What the hell is going on?”

“What do you think?”

And that’s finally when Stiles takes a good actual look at Derek and notices the dirt in his clothes, the thin scratches on the leather of his jacket probably from running around in the woods, the circles under his eyes and the frayed, panicked look to him. Derek’s running scared, and it’s the Argents that have got him like this.

And maybe the actual police too, come to think of it, and now Stiles is pretty sure he knows why his dad was out of the house this morning and why those sirens were going. Because it’s the Derek Hale manhunt, all stations, all times. The guy was hiding in Stiles’s jeep, that had to be the desperate act of a totally desperate person.

“You know, skipping town is actually the worst way to look innocent,” Stiles offers. “From whatever it is you did, which I’m sure you totally didn’t actually do. Right? Right.”

“Just—stop talking and keep driving,” Derek says, pinching at the bridge of his nose.

Stiles only does one of these things. “You know, you have your own car.”

“It’s been impounded.”

“What, with extreme prejudice?” Stiles says. “They can’t just do that, there’s got to be reasonable suspicion—“

“There was a body in the trunk.”

Stiles nearly slams on the brakes right then and there. “Oh my god!”

“I didn’t put it there,” Derek says through his teeth. “Is that what you were thinking? They did.”

“The Argents?”

“They want to turn the police on me again. They want to frame me for Kate’s murder,” Derek says. “And for my uncle, for my sister, for the fire. They want Kate’s name cleared, their name cleared. And I’m the best one to do it with. They get what they want for their family, and get rid of an alpha at the same time.”

“You totally have an alibi for that fire! And you were a kid, you had nothing to do with it.”

Derek squeezes his eyes shut for a second and doesn’t answer. Then, “you think that matters?” he finally says. “If the rest of it can be tied to me, it doesn’t. It’s a six year old case. The Argents make things happen the way they want; it’s what they do. If they want to have all of Beacon Hills believing that I’m some kind of complete psychopath who wanted to kill off my entire family, they’ll get it done.”

And then Derek slams the palm of his hand into the dashboard and Stiles nearly swerves them off the road when his adrenaline spikes.

Whoa,” Stiles says. “The jeep, man. C’mon.”

“Sorry,” Derek mutters, and almost kind of sounds it.

Once Stiles feels like his heart isn’t going to do a Kool-Aid Man impression through his ribcage, he tries again. “Look, Derek. The Argents aren’t like the mafia, all right? They can’t just make people ignore hard evidence. Let me go to my dad, okay, we can make sure that this—“

No,” Derek barks out.

“Why not?”

“Because I did kill my uncle, if you don’t remember that!”

“Oh. Right. That happened,” Stiles says, and scratches at his hair.

“That—“ Derek says suddenly, and takes in a deep and swelling breath which kind of puffs out his chest. “That’s what it smells like in here. It smells like him.”

“Oh, yeah. That’d make sense, ‘cause...he was. In here.”

What.” It’s not even a question, it’s just like Derek punched the word out of his own mouth into Stiles’s face.

“The—on the—back at the formal, last week. After he...mauled Lydia. He wanted to find you and you had Scott’s phone, so...and I was there, and he figured I knew how to...yeah. That’s what happened,” Stiles says, hating every stupid word more and more as he says them and Derek only keeps staring. “I was coerced into helping him.”

And then mentioning Scott makes Stiles think about something that hadn’t even crossed his mind back when he was so eager to get away from school and the Argents, the fact that Scott was still there.

He nearly veers them off the road again. “Oh, my god. Scott. Scott! He’s back at school, with the Argents and all their guns and I have to warn him, he has to get out of there—“

“They’re not after Scott,” Derek says. “Not today. Or they won’t be, if he doesn’t do anything stupid. Keep driving.”

“He’s dead for sure,” Stiles says morosely.

“You should have more confidence in him,” Derek says. Well, that’s unexpected. So Derek Hale has at least a modicum of faith in Scott. But Derek probably wouldn’t want him in his pack anyway if he didn’t think Scott was worth something.

“I do, it’s just—the whole Allison thing,” Stiles says. “She’s great, obviously, like who doesn’t love a girl who can fire deadly bolts into tender flesh with disturbing accuracy and has the world’s most alarming family, but he really gets stupid about her. It’s her first all the time, even when it shouldn’t be, even when she doesn’t need it.”

“He thinks he’s in love,” Derek says, and his voice is so weird, somewhere between being furious and sarcastic; basically way too much vitriol going on here. Stiles detects a dicey subject that he is not going to touch.

“Oh yeah,” he says instead. “I’m aware.”

For some reason, that just slams a big awkward silence around them in the jeep. Not that Derek being here in the first place isn’t awkward enough, and that he is basically forcing Stiles to kidnap himself—all of that is awkward. But then talking about Stiles’s best friend’s adventures with the fairer sex, well, apparently that’s just crossing a line.

So Stiles just concentrates on driving. He doesn’t know where he’s going, only that he’s on the freeway headed north. He doesn’t know how long Derek wants him to do this, when they’ll have gone far enough or when it’ll be okay to go back home. Because that’ll have to happen, right? They can’t just drive forever.

But Derek isn’t giving him any hints about any of this, and actually after about half an hour he lists to the side, leans up against the door, and falls asleep.

Really? ” Stiles mutters. “That’s just rude.”

Once about ten more minutes have gone by and Stiles is absolutely positively sure that Derek is very very asleep, he slides his hand into the pocket of his hoodie and fishes carefully around for his phone. If he calls anybody Derek’ll probably wake up, so he’s gonna have to try and text. That technological function is beyond what his dad is comfortable with, so—Scott. He can warn him about the Argents and try and get across that Derek has commandeered both him and his jeep for totally shifty purposes.

Turns out, he can’t do either.

Stiles hits about three buttons on his phone before Derek snaps his eyes open like some kind of nightmare zombie, leans out of the corner of the jeep and takes it right out of his hands.

“I—what, excuse me, what?” Stiles says while his phone disappears somewhere onto Derek’s person, and there’s no way Stiles is going to start a fight for it back.

“For now, you’re not calling anyone,” Derek says, and then closes his eyes again and settles back.

All Stiles can do is open and close his mouth like some kind of really angry fish because there’s just nothing he can actually do, is there? The only thing he could really try is stopping the car, or turning around.

But just like with the phone thing, Derek is hypersensitive to anything that sounds or feels even vaguely unlike driving straight ahead at a constant speed, and wakes up any time Stiles tries it. And then there’s snarling and arguing and sniping and it always ends up with them back on the road anyway. So eventually Stiles resigns himself to doing just that; driving without stopping.

For hours.

Hours.

Through tree-coated mountains and trees and twisty roads and trees and more trees and Stiles has never driven this far out of town on his own, ever. There’s basically just one main highway to follow and he’s on it, constantly going north. At some point they’ll have to stop, because either Stiles or his jeep are gonna run out of go; neither of them can do this all night. And it is getting to be night—they’ve plowed right through sunset and into dusk and he already can’t tell the mountains and the trees apart, and the sky is just starting to get indistinguishable from them at the horizon.

About a half an hour later, he sees lights off the side of the highway. The first he’s seen in miles.

“Um, Derek.”

Derek doesn’t even respond with words; it’s just a low sleepy growl in his throat. He’s pretty much been sleeping this whole time.

Stiles pushes on anyway. “We gotta stop. I don’t even know where we are, it’s dark, and I’m almost out of gas.”

“Fine,” Derek says shortly, and rolls over to face the window. That’s probably the best answer he’s gonna give.

So Stiles pulls off onto a road running along the highway, into a little dirt shoulder at a crossroads, and Derek shakes himself awake. There’s a couple of gas stations around that Stiles can take his pick from, but more than that he really wants to know where they are. He mutters that question out loud, to himself mostly, but Derek has supersonic wolf hearing and answers him.

“Oregon,” he says, rolling his neck around and cracking what sounds like every bone he’s got.

“What, d’you know what Oregon smells like or something?”

“No, I can just read,” Derek says, and jerks his thumb across the street, where several of those green interstate signs pointing different directions are stuck in at the crossroads. One of them reads S. Oregon University, with an arrow pointing right.

“Right,” Stiles says. “Oregon.”

His dad is going to kill him.

#

They check in at a little motel right next to a Texaco. Or more like Derek checks in and Stiles dithers around out by the jeep and tries not to feel like this is some kind of seedy one-night stand they’re arranging for here, because frankly that’s kind of what it looks like. Stiles looks like a teenager and Derek looks like an older creep with money who’s going in and renting a cheap motel room in some tiny middle-of-nowhere town right off the state line. It’s all so classy Stiles just wants to die.

There’d been no arguing with Derek once he’d said they were going to stop here for the night. Stiles had been pretty ready to turn the jeep around and just head back to Beacon Hills even if it meant another couple hours of straight driving. But trying to argue Derek out of something is like talking to a brick wall, and Stiles gave up after only a couple minutes of pointless protesting. For one night, at least, he’s stuck here.

There’s actually a pool here at this motel, penned right into the middle of the parking lot with a white iron fence, the water dark and silent and eerie. There’s a couple of out-of-place boulders stuck alongside the fence on the outside, like they’re trying to disguise the fact that everywhere else is blacktop. The motel itself is a basic two-story line of identical doors, brown paint and red roofs. Stiles is trying to average out how many of these rooms are possibly containing legitimate sleazy sex acts at this very minute when Derek comes back outside to the jeep.

“Two rooms,” Derek says. He holds out a set to Stiles, with a big plastic thing with a room number hanging off the ring. “Your keys.” And while Stiles is reaching out for them, Derek swipes the jeep’s keys from his other hand. “My keys.”

“Oh come on,” Stiles says, making a halfhearted grab for them that he knows has no chance of succeeding. “You really think I was gonna cut and run like that?”

Which was kind of almost exactly what he was planning, so he does have to give credit to Derek for preemptively ruining it.

“Yes,” Derek says. His hand falls heavy and hard onto Stiles’s shoulder, and his fingers grip in very deliberately. “Don’t try it.”

“You know, the threatening me with bodily harm thing, ‘s getting kinda old,” Stiles says, and Derek’s hand tightens even more. “But still very effective.”

Their rooms are upstairs, next to each other, halfway along the outdoor walkway that vibrates and clangs as they walk along it. Stiles’s key says 17 on the big plastic thing and Derek’s is 16. Derek just stands in front of his door and waits and stares, until Stiles has very exaggeratedly opened his door and stepped through. He shuts it behind him and flicks the lights on.

Every surface in the meager room is cheap and rough and worn. Not dirty, just very very used. The cover on the bed is scratchy and some of the plastic threads in the stitching are popping up in places. Stiles sits on the very edge and wiggles the toes of his sneakers into the carpet. The room is so bland it barely seems to have colors; everything is kind of a dingy oatmeal shade.

Oregon. And I had an instance tonight,” Stiles mutters, and flops backwards on the bed. Then he thinks about all the hideous things that might have occurred on this cover and never been washed off—he’s seen those 60 Minutes specials—and changes his mind. He gets up and paces around for a while, and the floor makes sad little creaking noises under his feet. And the carpet is cheap and builds up static electricity, so that when Stiles goes to poke at the television he gets a crackling shock and yelps in surprise.

He doesn’t really want to watch TV, but he sprawls on the bed (after totally stripping that suspicious cover off and flinging it into a corner) and flips mindlessly through the selection of channels about three full times. He goes into the bathroom, splashes some water on his face, smells all the free soaps—one stone-hard bar in a slippery paper wrapper and a tiny bottle of generic white shampoo—and paces around some more.

Finally, Stiles balls up enough and goes next door.

The light in Derek’s room is glowing through the curtains. Stiles hammers on the door a couple times, and after a few seconds it pulls open. Derek’s stripped down to just a white undershirt and his black jeans, and he fills the whole doorway in a defensive position with his arms braced on the frame. Welcome to the gun show.

“We gotta talk,” Stiles says, and Derek actually moves aside and lets him in.

Derek’s room is a sad dingy oatmeal-shaded mirror of his own. The only difference is that Derek’s jacket and shirt are thrown over the back of a chair. Derek still has his shoes on and, unlike Stiles’s room, absolutely nothing in here is disturbed. Stiles doesn’t exactly know what to do, if he should sit down or what, and he just ends up standing near the end of the (totally untouched) bed. Derek himself is now leaning up against the door, the undone chain-lock swinging back and forth just behind his shoulder. He seems to be waiting for Stiles to explain himself.

First off,” Stiles says, “you have to let me call my dad. Or Scott. Or someone. Just let them know I’m not dead in a ditch somewhere, because honestly there have been a lot of murders in town and that wouldn’t be a ridiculous conclusion to come to in Beacon Hills these days.”

“Fine,” Derek says. “Later.”

That’s a step, at least. “Okay, then,” Stiles says. “Secondly, we’re in Oregon. Was this the plan? The land of no sales tax and no self-serve gas? This some kind of mecca for fugitive werewolves?”

“You were the one driving,” Derek says, and Stiles actually stalls out for a second, because that’s cute. It’s Stiles’s fault they’re in Oregon because he was the one behind the wheel, totally ignoring that Derek was doing some pretty psychopathic backseat driving earlier on.

Derek moves away from the door and sits down in the lone chair that’s against the wall under the floor lamp, and leans over his knees. Stiles stays right where he is. Then Derek says, “the plan is Brooklyn.”

“We aren’t driving to Brooklyn!” Stiles says wildly. “Do you know how far—well, clearly you do—do you know how long that would take? How completely inconvenient that is?”

“I have to find this woman,” Derek says.

“Yeah, that’s good, that’s great. Good luck with those hopes and dreams. They don’t involve me!”

“I need you for this.”

“No, you don’t. You need a car, and mine is not up for grabs,” Stiles says. “And if you growl at me as a counter-argument, you’re absolutely cheating at life.”

Derek surges up smoothly to his feet. Stiles takes a step back, just out of self-preservation, but Derek only goes around to the window and hooks a finger at the edge of the curtain and draws it back. Stiles has no idea what Derek’s looking for out there, but it doesn’t seem to comfort him. He tosses the curtain back into place with a grunt, and faces Stiles again.

“I’m going to tell you something,” he says. “And it’s not going to leave this room.”

“Okay,” Stiles says slowly. “Who am I gonna tell, my jeep? She’s pretty taciturn anyway, I don’t think she’ll gossip.”

Derek makes the tiniest sound that could almost be a laugh, or maybe like he’s just swallowed a bug or something. Then he reaches around into the back pocket of his jeans, pulls something out and tosses it at Stiles. Stiles makes a grab for it, fumbles it masterfully, but manages to hang onto the thing. It’s his phone. The plastic is uncomfortable warm from being tucked right against Derek’s ass.

“Oh.” Stiles appreciates getting his line to civilization back, but not the whole phone-warmed-by-an-ass thing.

“You can talk to anyone you want,” Derek says.

Stiles stares at the phone for a couple long seconds. Then he slides it into the pocket of his hoodie. “Okay,” he says. “I’m listening.”

Derek seems honestly surprised for about one quarter of a fraction of a second. Then he turns back around to face the closed window curtains and says, “it wasn’t just Jackson that I gave the bite to.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” Stiles mutters. “You can’t just do this, man, run around and bite everyone you happen to see, or you’re gonna get a pack full of Scotts who don’t know what’s going on and then don’t want to be in your werewolf flock.”

“They both wanted it,” Derek says sharply. “I made sure they knew what it meant. I’m not my uncle.”

“You know, he actually asked me,” Stiles says. “Your uncle did. If I wanted it.”

Derek whirls around so fast Stiles is positive he’s just given himself whiplash. “What?”

“Yeah, that night when— when he was hauling me around.” A lot like you’re doing right now. “I guess he thought I deserved to have it.”

Derek stares at him for so long that Stiles starts to get physically uncomfortable, and fidgets his sneakers around on the worn carpeting.

“I said no,” Stiles says, finally. “Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Derek repeats, looking at Stiles like he absolutely can’t comprehend that. And maybe he can’t, because Derek has never not been a werewolf and really has no idea what it’s like to be plainly human, or why Stiles might want to stay this way. Derek was born this way, and great, now that song’s in Stiles’s head and it’s not gonna leave.

“In my defense,” Stiles says, “he didn’t have the greatest sales pitch. Lots of creepy vibes going on.”

Derek seems to be done with this subject anyway. “It was Isaac Lahey,” he says. “He goes to your school.”

“I think he’s on the lacrosse team,” Stiles says idly. Another guy that just sits on the bench and doesn’t ever play in games, but he shows up around school looking like he does, sort of bruised and battered and it’s always made Stiles uncomfortable for not knowing why, but he’s never really talked to the guy. Isaac’s maybe even more of an outcast than he and Scott were before all of this werewolf business, and really keeps to himself.

Derek takes a second before he says anything more. And when he does, it sounds like it’s a real bitch to even admit. “It didn’t take with him either. He fought it off, the same as Jackson.”

“Whoa, what?” Stiles says. “The bite’s supposed to turn you or kill you, right, so—neither of those things happening twice has gotta be weird.”

“Yes,” Derek says, looking mildly exasperated. “That’s my point, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

Stiles states at him for a moment. “...I’m not getting it.”

“It’s me,” Derek nearly growls, and Stiles lurches back another half-step. “ There’s something...wrong with me,” he finishes, quieter but not any less angry. But Stiles thinks...yeah, he’s pretty sure it’s a scared anger. Derek actually sounds scared. And his breathing is tight and controlled and there’s something in his eyes that’s not anything near what Stiles is used to seeing there.

“I don’t know who this Elizabeth Hale is,” Derek goes on, because Stiles is honestly empty of words at the moment, “but if she’s my family, or an ally, in any way...I need her. I need to find her. I need to know what’s happening, why I’m...what’s happening.”

Stiles opens his mouth, closes it again. Still no words. What is he even supposed to say? It’s like Derek is actually for the first time being a person, not just a stoic thing made out of abs and claws who barely even flinched at the idea of cutting his own arm off and seems to know exactly what he was doing all of the time and always being pretty condescending about it. But he’s just a guy, even if he is a werewolf, and he’s not all that much older than Stiles in the long run, and he’s out of his depth, and he’s scared, and what is Stiles supposed to do with any of that?

“Will you help me with this,” Derek says, and it sounds like it’s practically hurting him to say these words, especially the next one. “Please.

In Derek-land, this probably constitutes begging. Maybe this is the most humble moment of Derek’s life, and it’s being aimed at Stiles.

Still, no is the only logical and sane answer he could possibly give.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

There’s a loud knock on his motel room door at about 6:30. 6:30 in the morning.

“For the love of god,” Stiles yells into his pillow. “What is wrong with you?”

Because it’s Derek of course, couldn’t be anybody else but Derek. And the knocking just keeps going. When Stiles has flopped himself out of the starchy sheets, struggled into his jeans and thrown his hoodie on without a shirt underneath, he staggers to the door and undoes the chain lock and throws it open.

The world is misty and cold and grey outside, and Derek looks kind of miserable. Not miserable in the normal way, where his face is stuck in an angry emoticon, but physically drained and wrung out. He’s standing just to the side of the door, fully dressed, but his hair isn’t all gelled up like usual and is kind of flat and deflated instead. He obviously hasn’t shaved, and he looks exhausted and unhappy.

“Well, you seem super chipper,” Stiles grumbles at him. “Not a morning person?”

As a reply, Derek sneezes.

Stiles stares at him. “You...have a regular honest-to-god cold, ” he says.

“Shud ub,” Derek snaps, then sniffs vigorously and rubs at his nose. “I spent four nights in the woods. In winter.”

“You can’t get drunk, but you can get the sniffles?” Stiles goes on, barely able to contain the ridiculous glee that this information gives him. “This is ingenious biology at work here, who even designed werewolves?”

Derek gives a hearty roll of his eyes and a completely pathetic snuffle. Stiles is never going to look at him the same way after this, not after seeing with him a runny nose and bleary eyes.

“It’ll go away in a day or so,” Derek says. “Faster immune system.”

“But until then you’re gonna look like a Puffs Plus commercial,” Stiles says, and Derek honestly looks like he’s too unhappy to be annoyed.

“Hah,” he manages, and sniffs again. “Come on. We’re leaving.”

“It’s six in the morrrrning,” Stiles whines, and clings unhappily to the doorframe. “I haven’t, I can’t even—can I at least eat something?”

As an answer, Derek swings a white plastic bag out from behind his back and tosses it at Stiles. He manages to snag it in the middle and not totally lose everything it’s holding all over the walkway, then he pulls it open and peeks inside. There’s a bottle of water, a weird dented orange and a sad little muffin in a crinkly plastic sleeve. Derek clearly got it all at the stop n’rob hitched to the Texaco.

Derek turns on his heel and starts walking away. “I’ll be in the jeep. Don’t take long.”

“What about you?” Stiles calls after him, glancing up from the bag.

“I ate,” Derek says over his shoulder, and Stiles really doesn’t want to think about what that could mean.

#

“This is really bad,” Stiles says, covering the speaker of his phone with a finger and grimacing in Derek’s direction for added effect. “I’m getting the first name and everything.”

They’d been on the road for a little over an hour before Stiles realized he had no idea how to even get to the next state over, never mind Brooklyn. So they’d pulled over to pick up a couple of maps. Stiles’s phone has a GPS but he doesn’t have his charger because of basically being kidnapped from school, so he’s gonna have to hoard his batteries like a dragon on its treasure. So big paper maps it is.

Stiles had also taken the opportunity to finally call his dad. Who, predictably, was in kind of an irritable mood. First it had been about the fact that Stiles hadn’t come home last night and hadn’t called, and now it’s because Stiles is in a different state. And Stiles couldn’t even hide that fact, because his dad tracked his phone when Stiles hadn’t been picking it up and Scott hadn’t had the presence of mind to cover for him when asked. So now he’s leaning against the side of his jeep in the gravel parking lot of an autobody shop/gas station and everything is green hills and trees and pretty scenery, except for Derek who’s just lurking a few feet away like a dark leather blotch on the landscape.

“Who are you talking to?” his dad says then over the line, because he somehow managed to hear despite Stiles’s finger over the speaker.

“Uh...Derek,” Stiles says, with no other immediate answer coming to mind.

“Derek Hale?” his dad roars, and Stiles yanks the phone away from his ear. “Is that who you’re with? Are you aware that his car was just impounded for evidence in a crime, a crime which involves a murder victim stored in the trunk of it?”

“Yes?” Stiles says, thunking the side of his head back against the door of the jeep. Derek is just watching all this with the most unimpressed look, like he can’t believe Stiles decided to not make up some kind of ridiculous story to explain the situation. Frankly, Stiles is just tired of the lying. All of it, especially to his dad. And it’s safer to tell the truth when he’s over three hundred miles away. Or part of the truth. Werewolf stuff, still not on the table. Nowhere even near the table.

“Stiles—“

“Look, dad, Derek didn’t have anything to do with it. And yeah, the whole skipping town and going on the lam thing looks bad—“

Bad? We need to work on your definition of bad,,” his dad says, and Stiles scrubs at his face with one hand. He should have thought this through more, really. “Do you realize that this makes you look like a possible accomplice?”

“Well now I do,” Stiles says, even if it wasn’t like he had any choice about his actions yesterday. “But is there any actual evidence against him yet?”

“No,” his dad admits. “Not yet. But not everything’s back from the lab.”

“Then, just—hold off on this. On deciding he’s a suspect. Does it really make sense that a guy who already avoided one murder charge would just cruise around with a body in his car? Unless he was a psychopath, but he’s totally not a psychopath, this is becoming a terrible argument, but what I mean is that this whole situation is really really not what it looks like, really.”

There’s a long heavy pause on his dad’s end. And then, “are you safe?”

“Safe? Yeah, totally. Completely safe. Dad, Derek’s a...friend. He needs help. He’s not going to do anything to me, or anyone else. Please don’t put out an APB on him. Please. I can’t tell you much more than that; you’re just gonna have to trust me on this one.”

His dad sighs deeply over the line. “Stiles, this is not a trust thing. This is a legal, part of my job, obstruction of justice thing. At the very least, he’s a material witness to yet another murder. Even if he’s innocent, he’s person of interest right now.”

“I know, I know. But he’s being set up, and not just in a do not pass go do not collect 200 dollars way. He had to leave town or it would’ve been even worse.”

“Set up? By who? Stiles, if you know something—“

“We don’t know who,” Stiles says, after Derek makes a sharp gesture across his own throat with one hand. “Just—someone’s trying to pin him for this.”

“Besides you and Scott this time.”

“Yes, besides me and Scott this time,” Stiles mutters, and rubs a hand over his hair.

“Well,” his dad says slowly. “The estimated time of death was sometime very early yesterday morning, and there’s been no sign of Derek Hale being in town for at least four days. That does make him less of an immediate prime suspect.”

Seems like Derek’s constant lurking in the woods and in Stiles’s own house paid off. “Okay,” Stiles says, trying not to sound too hopeful.

“But you’re going to stay right where you are. You’re far enough away as it is, being a minor.”

“Right,” Stiles lies, again. Maybe he could just ditch his phone here, so it’ll look like he hasn’t left the area. But since Derek doesn’t seem to have one, that’s not a great plan. Maybe his dad won’t think to track him again. That’s absolutely unlikely, so he’ll just have to take another distressing conversation later on for the team. Not that he and Derek are a team.

“When you come back, we’re going to have to sit down and talk,” his dad says. “I mean a real talk. I feel like I don’t know what’s going on with you anymore.”

“Yeah, okay dad,” Stiles says. “We will.”

And then he hangs up, because if there’s anybody he’s not going to have this conversation in front of it’s Derek Hale. No doubt Derek heard most of what his dad was saying too, due to super wolf hearing. But it still doesn’t make Stiles feel any less bad about the whole thing. He slumps against the side of the jeep and runs his hand over his head again. “Shit.”

The jeep rocks slightly under his back, and Stiles glances up to see Derek leaning on it next to him, his arms folded low across his chest. Well, not next to him next to him, there’s enough space for about another entire person in between, but it’s almost a comradely thing going on right here.

“Thanks,” Derek says. It’s subdued but sincere.

“For what?”

“Defending me. You didn’t have to.”

“Well, I just want to make sure my dad doesn’t think I’m eloping with a serial killer who dabbles in arson,” Stiles says. “It would make this impossibly bad situation impossibly worse. We’d’ve had every cop in the country looking for us. Now my dad’s just, you know, covering your ass illegally.” Stiles tips his head back against the jeep and closes his eyes.

“What is your first name?” Derek says, out of nowhere.

“What?” Stiles says. The question was such a curve ball that Stiles nearly answered, just on reflex. “Ah, no. No way. That is privileged information that people who kidnap me don’t get to be privy to.”

“You’re not kidnapped,” Derek says, and nearly rolls his eyes.

“I would tell you the definition of kidnap,” Stiles says, “but I have this feeling it won’t really help.”

Derek makes a kind of obstinate huffing sound. “Are we ready to go yet?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says, and climbs back into the jeep.

#

“Why didn’t you want me to tell my dad that the Argents are involved in this?” Stiles says a while later, right about the time they’re passing a town called Wolf Creek which is honestly kind of darkly hilarious. “That would have cleared up like, half this mess.”

“Because the Argents aren’t sloppy like that. They don’t leave evidence either,” Derek says. He’s looking out of the window, watching endless trees go by. “The police won’t find anything tying them to this. Then it would just be my word, your word, against theirs. And I’m a previously suspected murderer and you’re a sixteen year old kid.”

“They’ve got Kate as a total stigma on their side too, remember,” Stiles says, but he’s got to admit that Derek’s kind of right.

“If you pointed them in the direction of the Argents, it would have made things worse,” Derek says, with a real tone of finality to it. And this is a situation where Stiles really does have to listen to Derek because he just knows more about this stuff.

#

Derek basically doesn’t speak unless Stiles speaks first, so that makes for not much conversation and just a lot of awkward snuffling noises coming from his corner of the jeep, because of this hilarious cold he somehow has.

About two hours later, Stiles has had enough of it.

“If you sniffle one more time, ” he says to Derek, “you are going to be riding on the roof for the rest of this trip. I will belt you up there with bungee cords if I have to.”

“I can’t smell anything,” Derek says, clearly infuriated by this blow to his wolfihood. Stiles figures losing a super-powered sense of smell has got to be annoying, but then again, so is the constant snuffling.

“Again with this werewolf biology thing,” Stiles says. “Wolves are kind of outdoor animals, right, so how is it possibly convenient you can’t stay out of doors?”

“I’m human too.”

“Why didn’t you just do a wolf thing? Don’t you have some kind of wolfly form to run around in now?” His sister’d apparently been able to turn into a real legit wolf and everything, and then there was Peter Hale’s hideous whatever form that was sort of wolf-like if you maybe squinted and looked at it upside-down in a funhouse mirror. While drunk.

Derek doesn’t answer, of course.

Stiles sighs. “Fine, reject logic and substitute ridiculousness.” Still no reply, so Stiles can’t resist adding, “also, your house doesn’t even have a roof. How has this not happened to you before?”

This time Stiles gets a sharp little side-eye and kind of an exasperated eyebrow thing, and he just drops the subject.

#

The first time he stops for gas, Derek disappears from the passenger’s seat while Stiles is busy dealing with the service guy, because they’re still in Oregon and this weird ritual happens here. Derek had unexpectedly handed him some cash to pay for the fill up, and the next time Stiles had looked around again the jeep was empty.

“Whaaat,” Stiles says to absolutely nobody. The door isn’t even swinging around on the hinge like it usually does when Scott runs out on him; it’s like Derek was never even in here at all.

Is this some kind of test? Like if he tries to drive away Derek will just pop out of nowhere and trounce his ass? Derek is literally nowhere in sight, but that doesn’t mean much because Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if the guy could turn himself invisible or become one with shadows or something; Derek not being visible means he’s probably right there.

So after his tank’s filled again Stiles just cruises the jeep over to a parking space at the edge of the gas station and sits there. And sits there. Derek continues not to be anywhere around. It’s not like his jeep blends in or anything, it’s pretty noticeable, so Derek couldn’t possibly have lost track of him. Where did he even go in the first place?

It’s twenty minutes later, maybe even more, just when Stiles is starting to snooze off against the steering wheel because he’s been up since way too early, that Derek shows up again. Just swings right on into the jeep all casual like he hadn’t just disappeared for at least half an hour.

“What was that all about; where’ve you been?” Stiles says, leaning back and wiping at the corner of his mouth where he was definitely positively not drooling at all, not even a little bit.

“Nowhere,” Derek says, and makes a little head-jerking motion forward. “Go.”

“Yeah, I’m already really sick of you,” Stiles mutters, twisting the keys in the ignition.

#

Just before they hit Portland, Derek starts getting irritated.

“Why are we still going north,” he says, tapping his fingers against the window and getting the whole ominous eyebrows going on.

“Because it makes the most sense,” Stiles says, and really shouldn’t be surprised that Derek doesn’t take his word for it.

“If we were going to Canada,” he says.

“Arrgh,” Stiles says, and pulls off the next exit he sees and into the parking lot of a Denny’s, and unfolds one of the maps across the windshield right in front of Derek.

“Look, I’m just saying we should go up more before we can over,” Stiles says, dragging his finger pointedly across the map as he talks. “Because if we head east right now, the main highways get all bizarre and twisty here in the middle and we’d end up doing a lot more useless driving, so the straightest and easiest shot is actually to get up here, to Seattle, then east. Unless you want to double back, going north makes the most sense right now.”

Derek glares at the map for a minute, like he thinks it might be lying to him too, and then settles back in his seat.

“Fine,” he says gruffly, and Stiles counts that as a semi-victory. At least Derek listened to him.

“Hey. About finding this Elizabeth Hale person,” Stiles says then, and Derek glances over. “You don’t even know if she’s still in Brooklyn. Right? And even if she is, how are you going to find her there?”

“I just will,” Derek says, but it’s not as confident as he usually sounds. Clearly they’re dancing around that strangely vulnerable spot that Derek has, the one that flares up when stuff about his family or Derek’s competency comes up.

“Okay, sure, it’s your thing,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes a little. “I’m sure you’ve got it perfectly planned.”

Derek just huffs a little and doesn’t answer, but this time Stiles thinks it may be from him not actually having an answer rather than just being generally irritable.

#

Stiles gets a few texts from Scott over the day, mostly things like where r u?? and stiles answer me srsly and everyones lookng for derek and ur not here whats going on?! He even gets one from Allison that just says Scott thinks this is some sort of payback can you please just reply to him he’s freaking out. But Stiles doesn’t want to call Scott until both of them can actually talk. That means waiting until school is out and Derek isn’t literally lurking a foot away from Stiles at all times.

That doesn’t happen until they finally hit Washington. Despite the early start, all the starts and stops and time-wasting along the way has already gotten them into late afternoon. Stiles is wondering how much driving Derek expects him to do every day anyway, since his brain already feels like it’s going to leak out his ears from endless hours of staring at endless roadways, and he definitely needs a break right about now. The jeep needs more gas anyway, so he pulls over into the next lonely little cluster of buildings that includes a station.

While Stiles is filling the jeep up, Derek disappears into the gas station. He comes out a minute later with a key, and goes around the side to where the restrooms are. And for some reason Stiles just finds that hilarious. Seeing Derek do a totally regular and mundane thing is bizarre in its own right, since Derek is almost always behaving not normally to the point where that is his norm.

Suddenly, Stiles’s phone rings from inside his pocket.

“Dude, where have you been?” Scott says when Stiles picks up, without even a hi to preface it.

“A highway, mostly,” Stiles says. “It’s a really long story, but I’m in Washington.”

“Washington like the....”

“Like the state, yeah,” Stiles says, wondering where Scott could even begin to be misunderstanding that one. Well, maybe like Washington D.C. or something, but that makes even less sense.

“What are you doing in Washington?” Scott says bemusedly.

“Also a really long story, but man, this is kind of a bad situation here. Derek’s here, with me. The Argents are doing something pretty shifty, they’re getting the police involved and trying to get him arrested or killed, or both, I’m not even sure, but it’s bad, and it might end up being bad for you too, since you’re the only werewolf in town now.”

“Derek’s there with you in Washington?”

“That’s really what you’re focusing on, Scott, really?” Stiles says. “Look, you have to be really careful about the Argents right now. Derek said they’re not after you, but they will be if you call attention to yourself, and you should probably stay away from Allison. Seriously this time.”

“But—“

“Do you want to make out with Allison a couple more times and get killed horribly, or do you want to get through sophomore year alive?” Stiles says, maybe a little more snappish than usual but he has been in a car with Derek Hale all day and that kind of thing happens. “’cause those are kind of your choices right now, buddy.”

“Okay, okay!” Scott says. “I get it. I don’t want to be anywhere around Allison’s grandpa anyway, he’s like a freaky robot or something.”

“Good,” Stiles says. “Since I’m not gonna be around to watch out for your hormonal self for a while.”

“What—how long are you going to be gone for?”

“Not even sure,” Stiles says, and then gives Scott the fastest rundown ever on Derek’s mysterious possible-family member and the whole Brooklyn thing and how most of this is a totally involuntary.

“Why did Derek go to you,” Scott says, sounding puzzled.

“’cause you’ve pretty much made it clear you don’t want anything to do with him,” Stiles says. “Also I’m just that much more easily intimidated, not being a dark creature of the night and all that. I think you could’ve actually said no to him.”

“Oh, yeah,” Scott says, and then laughs because sometimes he’s kind of a jerk friend. Then two seconds later he changes gears again. “Right, I should tell you this, since it happened today when you weren’t here. Lydia woke up.”

Stiles nearly drops his phone. “She what? Is she okay? How is she?”

“Um.” Scott’s voice is hesitant. “She. Uh. She’s missing.”

#

When Derek comes back, Stiles is sitting with his forehead pressed to the steering wheel and the phone held to his chest. He startles when Derek pulls the jeep’s door open and swings inside, and tries to look like he wasn’t sitting there doing exactly that. But Derek must have noticed, or he senses stress or something like that, because he gives Stiles one of those intense stare-downs and says, “what happened?”

“Lydia woke up, but now she’s gone. From the hospital. Nobody knows where she is,” Stiles says towards the steering wheel. He’s not even sure if Derek has met Lydia or knows who she is. It doesn’t matter, because he’s going to talk about it, because he needs to.

“It’s my fault she was even hurt in the first place,” he says. “She was with me at the formal, but I let her go off looking for Jackson and that was really such an excellent decision with your uncle running around, she wouldn’t have been out in that field and Peter wouldn’t have been anywhere near her. She wouldn’t have gotten hurt, and now she wouldn’t be missing.”

“You couldn’t have known any of that would happen,” Derek says, which is....weird, right?

“But it still did,” Stiles says.

There’s silence in the jeep for about a minute, and then that shifty sound of Derek’s jacket as he settles back.

“Why don’t,” Derek says finally, “you get something to eat.”

“What,” Stiles says, because that was unexpected.

“You’ve been driving all day,” Derek says, and then points through the windshield. “There’s a place right there.”

As bizarre and un-Derek-like the suggestion is, Stiles actually likes the idea. He likes it a lot. So he drives maybe fifty yards out of the gas station and over to the tiny burger joint that’s right next to it. There’s a fair amount of cars in the dusty lot. Stiles can already smell grease in the air through the open window of his jeep. There’s a giant neon sign on the roof of the restaurant that just spells EAT. It’s all lit up, and the A is flickering in the dusky light.

“Something doesn’t seem right,” Derek comments when he climbs out, glancing around and frowning. He sniffles uselessly a few times and frowns harder.

“This was your idea, and it seems fine to me. And until you figure it out, I’m going in,” Stiles says, slamming his door closed. He’s going to have the biggest greasiest burger he can order. He deserves it for all of the trauma he’s experiencing. Actually, today the trauma’s been almost palatable and mostly didn’t come from Derek, but whatever, Stiles wants a burger. He heads towards the front of the diner.

Derek jogs after him, and catches up just as Stiles is pulling the front door open. A surge of warm air rolls out from inside, all the smell of oily fries and grilling meat with it. The interior of the place is small, lots of bright red vinyl booths with chrome-edged tables and a checkerboard floor, and that’s about all Stiles has time to see.

Almost every booth is full, and as soon as he and Derek step through the door, every head in the place snaps around to them on cue like the creepiest of horror movies. And Stiles is suddenly looking at a lot of glowing eyes in supernatural gold and blue.

They’ve just walked into a diner full of werewolves.

Chapter Text

Stiles doesn’t have to be a werewolf to sense the immediate hostility in the air, and how all of it is focused right on them.

He does the only thing he can think of, because most of those eyes are leveled at Derek more than himself. He grabs Derek by the arm, whirls him around and shoves him back through the door. ”Out!” he orders at the same time, and then pulls the door shut between them, efficiently trapping himself in a tiny room full of totally unpredictable supernatural maybe-enemies. It’s not the smartest thing he’s ever done.

“Stiles!” Derek yells through the door, and Stiles can hear the wolf in his voice, but there’s no way Derek can take on a whole room full of these guys and Stiles can at least play human mediator, you know, if they don’t maul him first. He does expect Derek to maybe burst back through the door or something, but he doesn’t, and Stiles is in here all by himself.

“Okay guys, whoa,” he says, holding up his hands to the room at large, all eyes now on him. “We accidentally come in peace, and all of that. We totally had no idea...that you all were here, and...being wolfy. In here. Around in this whole general area. Uh. We’re just gonna go—keep on passing through, no harm done. Okay? Ooookay.”

Is this one pack? It’s gotta be at least fifteen people. Several of them have the gold eyes he’s so familiar with seeing on Scott, but most of them have blue—the way Derek’s used to be. A woman suddenly rises from one of the booths, and Stiles can see her red death-eyes even from this distance. She’s the alpha. Her brown hair is twisted forward over her shoulder in a thick braid and she’s dressed real sensibly, jeans and a white shirt and hiking boots, and doesn’t look a thing like Derek or his uncle in all their moody dark clothes and MTV hair.

Stiles thinks for a second about just turning around and making a run for it. But these guys are fast, and there’s a whole fleet of them, and they’d definitely catch him. Maybe Derek could get away, but Stiles is kind of screwed either way here. So he might as well stand his ground and not look like a complete coward now that he’s already started with this.

The woman gets up to him, and she seems...less aggressive, somehow. Maybe because she just looks so regular, probably in her late forties and just like any person you could see walking down the street, but Stiles is still pretty damn terrified of her. All his experiences with alphas have been unpleasant, and that includes Derek, who’s just a pain-in-the-ass unpleasant rather than just coolly-psychopathic unpleasant like Peter, but either way when alphas show up it always turns out with Stiles’s face slammed against something by the end of it.

“Your friend’s one of us. But you’re just human,” the woman says, calmly and almost curiously. From over her shoulder Stiles can see all the shifting glowing eyes of the rest of her pack. Hers, now that they’re not red, are a really normal dark brown. “What’s your name?”

“S-stiles,” Stiles says. Oh come on, he did not just stutter. He survived an entire night with Peter ‘Do You Want The Bite’ Hale and never lost face like that.

“Stiles,” the woman repeats, probably because it really is kind of a weird thing to tell people to call you by. “Well, Stiles. I’m Susan Whelan.”

“Oh,” Stiles says dumbly. Not what he expected to hear. Suddenly it’s like show and tell in here, even with a whole room full of werewolves. Next she’ll be telling him her whole WDate profile. W, obviously, for werewolf.

Susan suddenly leans to the side, peering past Stiles’s shoulder and obviously looking outside at Derek and whatever Derek is doing out there in this meantime, Stiles doesn’t even want to know.

“And him?” she asks.

“Derek,” Stiles says. “Hale.”

Susan’s eyes blaze red again for just a moment, and Stiles thinks wildly that this is it, it’s over, he’s just gotten him and Derek killed at the hands of Washington werewolves.

“I know that name,” she says, her eyes narrowing slightly like she’s trying to remember. “That pack. Something happened to them, years ago.”

“A fire. And some other pretty awful things recently,” Stiles says. “Derek’s the only one left.” Maybe. There’s still that Elizabeth Hale, the reason for this whole psychotic roadtrip in the first place.

“Well,” says Susan, sliding a smooth step forward and flashing Stiles a mouthful of bright, perfect teeth. Stiles back into the door on reflex. “Don’t just let him hang around outside.”

#

Derek is pacing around in the parking lot, a little hazy cloud of dust hovering around his knees where he’s been circling. He’s about half wolfed out, there are some claws and some fangs and some extra hair going on, but when Stiles comes out the door by himself and Derek sees him, it all goes away in about a millisecond.

Stiles,” Derek says, and is that relief in his voice? His hand clamps down on Stiles’s arm. “We’re gone. Now.”

“No, actually—they want us to stay,” Stiles says, resisting as Derek tries to drag him towards the jeep. “I’m serious, they want to meet you. You, uh—are officially invited into their territory.”

Derek stops in his tracks. The flickering light from the neon sign wiggles along the folds of his jacket. “They want what?”

“Unless that’s some sort of werewolf code for ‘we’re actually going to rip your throat out and gnaw on your bones and drink from your hollowed out skull’, that’s what they said. That it’s cool if you’re here. The woman, the alpha, she knows your name. And what happened to...I mean, you know.”

Derek looks...well, Stiles isn’t sure what he looks. It’s a face he isn’t used to translating off Derek, because he’s never seen Derek look like this. He’s staring back towards the diner, one hand still cinched around Stiles’s wrist, and he seems like he has absolutely no idea what to do.

“You ever meet up with another pack before?” Stiles ventures, and Derek shakes his head slowly. Then he makes a relenting face.

Yes, but...not on my own,” he says.

“You know how to—okay, sorry,” Stiles says when Derek throws him a look. “Touchy.

Derek lets go of Stiles’s arm, but doesn’t make any moves to go back towards the diner.

“We can still get out of here,” Stiles says. “I doubt they’ll run down the jeep or anything.”

“No.” Derek gives a little tug to his jacket like it’s some kind of nice business suit he’s adjusting before a real important corporate meeting. “I shouldn’t reject the offer.”

#

Turns out that the Whelan pack is mostly one big giant family (those are the blue eyes), with a few outsiders that they’ve adopted in (the goldies), and that for being werewolves they’re all surprisingly nice. Most of them seem to be cousins or siblings of Susan, which would make sense if the alpha thing got passed on to her, she must be the oldest living member of the family. If that’s how this stuff even works. But they really did mean it when they said Derek was welcome.

It’s still the strangest meeting Stiles has ever seen. There’s a lot of teeth showing, mostly on Derek’s part, and circling each other and then shoulder-checking and lots of firm nudging and Stiles basically stands in a corner and watches as every person goes through this with him. It takes a while.

There’re some younger ones, too. Like Holly, Susan’s daughter, who’s just about Stiles’s own age and has a mass of curly brown hair and a dimpled smile. She’s one of the few who bothers to come over to Stiles to say hello; not a lot of them do. He’s just the tagalong human sidekick here and while a couple of them seem puzzled to why he’s even there at all, most of them don’t seem to mind either way about his presence. He’s just kind of unremarkable scenery in the background. They’re not at his throat, at least, and that’s all Stiles really cares about.

“So,” Holly says, leaning against the same wall that Stiles had been making friends with for the past several minutes, “how’d you end up being friends with an alpha?”

“It’s a long story,” Stiles says. “And we’re not exactly friends.”

“So where’s the rest of his pack?”

“He doesn’t really have one yet,” Stiles says, and Holly’s eyes get a little wider.

“Ohh,” she says. She glances over across the room, where Derek is now in some kind of bro-huddle with a couple of the older pack guys. A little bit of a blue flash goes on in Holly’s eyes, and Stiles reminds himself that cute werewolf girl is still cute werewolf girl no matter how friendly she is. And that he only has room in his heart for Lydia anyway. Even if she’s really, really out of touch right now. And missing.

When Holly turns back to him, her eyebrows are all scrunched together. “Wait,” she says. “If you’re not pack and you’re not friends, then—“

“Holly!” somebody calls from a booth, a guy who looks a year or two older than her, waving to catch her attention.

Holly ignores him and keeps on talking, “—why did you put yourself between him and us when—“

Holly!”

“—you didn’t even know if we’d be friendly or—“

“YO, SIS!”

“All right, god, Luke, I’m coming,” Holly calls over her shoulder, with an amazingly world-class eye-roll to go with it. She gives Stiles an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”

Stiles just holds up his hands—no big deal, and he didn’t really want to answer the question she was asking anyway. Mostly because he doesn’t know how to. Holly goes off to go talk to the guy who’s clearly her brother, and leaves Stiles all by himself again.

He amuses himself for a while by checking out all the mid-20th-century memorabilia that’s scattered around the place, framed newspaper headlines and classic movie posters on the walls mostly, and there’s even a jukebox stuck over in a corner that’s all lit up and kind of looks like it might even play. He’s still being totally ignored by pretty much the whole pack, and he’s not even sure how to go about getting that food that he was originally supposed to be here for. Are the people working here also part of the pack? If he sits in a booth will somebody come take his order? Or at least give him a menu?

He decides to give that a shot, and slides onto a red vinyl bench in an empty booth. He messes around with his phone for a minute before he remembers he’s supposed to be saving the batteries, and puts it back in his pocket. The general noise level inside the diner is a little overwhelming; the Whelan pack is all kind of noisy and rowdy in the way a regular large group of people are, especially if they’re related. He can’t believe Derek’s even comfortable with so many people, since the guy seems to prefer lurking and creeping as an individual event. He’s not even sure where Derek is, there’s so many people just kind of hanging out over there.

Stiles finally spots him, and surprisingly he’s talking with Holly. They’re over near the stools along the counter and Holly looks like she’s asking him a question, and she turns her head just a little in Stiles’s direction. Derek follows suit, and Stiles doesn’t do a suave look-away fast enough, or even at all, and ends up locking eyes with Derek from across the room. He suddenly feels kind of stupid in his corner booth, all alone and separated from everything.

Derek looks back to Holly and clearly answers her, in one word that looks a lot like a ‘yes’ even though Stiles can’t hear it from this distance. His mouth sort of goes yes-shaped, at least. Holly grins at him and then flounces across the room, right to the jukebox that Stiles noticed before. He can’t see what she’s doing because her back is to him, but after a couple seconds of fiddling with it, Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog suddenly starts up playing.

“Oh, cute. That’s cute,” Stiles says to himself, but he’s smiling anyway because it actually kind of is. “What’s next, Hungry Like The Wolf?”

Holly leaves the jukebox and sashays her way across the diner to him, arms bent up at her elbows and sort of twirling her hips back and forth with the rhythm of the song and Stiles is just charmed. He leans on his hand and grins until Holly actually gets up right beside him and holds out her hand, like she wants him to get up, like she wants him to come dance with her.

“Me, really?” Stiles says, and puts his hand in hers.

And she’s a werewolf, so—she’s unreasonably strong, and twirls him right up and out of the booth like it’s nothing. Of course, Stiles almost ruins it when his thigh catches on the edge of the table and he nearly buys it face-first into the floor, but Holly catches him in sort of a reverse dip so he’s practically arced over backwards and his head is hanging upside-down. He‘s looking directly across the room at Derek this way, and from what he can tell Derek just looks kind of entertained by this whole thing. Entertained.

Stiles kind of feels like he’s tripped into an alternate universe where Derek Hale displays positive emotions and Stiles is actually starting to have fun hanging around with werewolves. Fun with werewolves.

That shouldn’t even be legal.

Then Holly reels him upright again and Stiles has to start remembering how to swing dance, and he stops thinking about Derek at all.

#

Later on, Stiles is eating some kind of double-decker greasy bacon cheeseburger heart attack in a bun and it’s delicious so he doesn’t even care how unhealthy it is and Derek is paying for it and the werewolf diner is giving them a discount anyway. Also there are fries and a milkshake and Stiles is just pretty awesomely happy right now.

And then suddenly Derek is beside him in the booth. There’s not much room on the end there and Derek is doing a very un-Derek-like sprawl across the vinyl, so there’s a real warm thigh right up against Stiles’s own and an arm running along the seat behind his shoulders and Stiles isn’t sure how exactly to feel about that. Derek being all personal-spacey in a non-violent way is really unsettling. And he seems almost relaxed. Less angry-facing all over, and he’s not sniffling. In fact he doesn’t look sick at all anymore.

“I always knew you were capable of handling yourself,” Derek says, basically out of nowhere.

“Really.” It sounds more like rhuhh-yee because Stiles has still got a giant mouthful of burger. He swallows it and chases it down with some milkshake.

“Not a lot of people survive a friend going through the change without training or knowing what to expect,” Derek says. “Usually at least one person, or both, end up dead. That you survived, and even managed to teach Scott basic things he needed to master—that was impressive.”

“...thanks,” Stiles says, wondering if he sounds as floored as he feels. Of all the people he ever wanted or expected recognition from, Derek Hale was not one of them. But it feels just as good to hear, and he’s kind of dismayed at how gratifying this is.

“What you did tonight,” Derek goes on, “wasn’t that smart. But it was admirable despite that.”

“Only you could compliment and insult someone at the same time,” Stiles grumbles, slightly less pleased than before, and turns back to his food.

“You have good instincts,” Derek says. “In a human sort of way.”

“Okay, wow, I didn’t think anybody could actually be as bad with the foot-in-mouth talking thing as me, but you are running a real close second,” Stiles says. “I’m gonna suggest you quit while you’re behind.”

“I’m not insulting you, if you would just listen.” Derek cuffs the back of Stiles’s head, but it’s light and not at all like the way Derek usually slams him into things. “You can admit that facing an entire unknown pack by yourself, completely undefended, was not the best move.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says grudgingly.

“And the only instincts you can have, by definition, are human ones,” Derek goes on.

“Okay, fine, yes.

“So it’s not an insult.”

“You gotta learn to say it less insultingly then,” Stiles says, and Derek shrugs. His leg pulls away from Stiles’s slightly, but his arm stays along the back of the booth. Stiles decides to just ignore it.

“Cold’s all gone,” he says instead.

“We’re stronger in groups,” Derek says. “Even if I’m not part of this pack; it helped with the healing.”

“Oh. Handy,” Stiles says. He sure is learning a lot today. The most surprising thing was ‘werewolves can be decent’. That was probably even on top of ‘werewolves can get colds’. And maybe somewhere in between that is ‘Derek isn’t always epic-level grumpy’. Stiles would almost classify this as a good mood.

When he and Derek finally leave, at least an hour or more later, there’s even a little bit of nuzzling that goes on between Derek and Susan’s pack. Derek clearly had like a great night of socializing and Stiles even thinks he collected some phone numbers. It’s the alternate universe again; Bizarro Derek. Obviously there must have been a time in Derek’s life where he knew words like fun and knew how to smile, but looking at him these days it’s hard to even imagine. Stiles didn’t come away empty-handed either—Holly said she was going to find him on facebook, and that’s pretty cool.

Derek’s calm mood slowly ebbs away once they’re back in the jeep. By the time they’re turning up the drive to the B&B place that Susan recommended to them for the night, he’s fully back to being tense and surly. Stiles kind of misses relaxed casual Derek already, but at least this version of him is the one he knows how to deal with best.

The B&B looks like some kind of kitschy ranch home at the end of a lane crowded with trees, a long bungalow with a stoop roof lots and lots of wood. Stiles peers through the dusty windshield at the place, which is all lit up along the outside with lights that look like camping lanterns and basically continue the whole outdoorsy log cabin theme. It looks a hell of a lot nicer than a motel, that’s for sure. But when Stiles glances over at Derek, the guy just looks annoyed. At life, the universe, and everything in general.

“You know, I’m starting to get it,” Stiles says, and Derek turns to him.

“What?”

“You have no people skills. I mean, legitimately, no people skills. You have no idea how to deal with anyone who isn’t partly wolf in there somewhere,” Stiles says. “So all the growling and snarling and manhandling—it’s just a wolf thing. You’re not actually that irritated all the time.”

He knows he’s right when Derek doesn’t answer. Or maybe Derek just fell asleep again over there. But when Stiles glances over, Derek is definitely not sleeping. He’s just watching Stiles from the shadowed corner of the passenger side, with those little glinty reflections that his eyes always seem to pick up in low light.

“Don’t do that,” Stiles says, and just barely sees Derek raise his eyebrows. “That, with the shadows and the creepy corner watching and the eyes and just—yeah, don’t do it,” Stiles finishes, and climbs out of the jeep.

#

Everything inside the place is more and more wood in a continuing rustic cabin feel and it all smells intensely of cedar and lavender, and Derek actually reels when he walks through the door. Stiles doesn’t blame him, it’s hitting his nose pretty damn hard too. There’s a big deer head mounted on the wall that Stiles kind of hopes is fake; it’s right above the long solid wood desk that’s set up at the side of what’s basically like a living room. A living room with a big giant deer head on the wall. There’s a guy near the desk, kind of puttering around and straightening up stuff, and he looks like he’s definitely not expecting new guests because he appears to be in pajama pants. Well, it is kind of late at night.

So right off there’s some hilarious hijinks where the guy at the desk (whose name is Pat) thinks they only want one room, and Stiles has to try to explain that they aren’t gay together without actually saying those words aloud because Derek is actually prowling around the front room and smelling every single thing he finds and not really paying them all that much attention. He’s probably overindulging on having his super-senses back. But if he gets involved in this conversation, Stiles is pretty sure it won’t be fun. At all.

This guy Pat isn’t a werewolf but he’s in on the secret and is on good terms with the Whelan pack and apparently dated Susan back in high school and she broke his heart back then but oh he remembers young love and it’s practically a whole life story Stiles gets out of the guy, all while he’s desperately and quietly trying to get across the fact that he and Derek are not love of any kind, young or heartbroken or otherwise; they just want two rooms, possibly in different hemispheres if available.

This guy is me in like thirty more years, Stiles thinks miserably as he slumps against the desk and slowly slides his face down into the crook of his elbow. I’ll be running a heartbreak hotel for werewolves in the middle of nowhere and telling kids how gay they are and never shutting up oh my god. Help meee.

Help comes in the form of Derek, who is the worst answer to any prayer, ever.

“Stiles,” he says, suddenly appearing right at Stiles’s shoulder. “What’s the holdup?”

“Our passionate burning love, darling,” Stiles mutters hopelessly into his forearm, and Derek pauses calmly in the middle of taking his wallet out of his pocket. Only for a second or two, and then he just keeps going with flipping it open and coming up with some super crisp bills and tossing them onto the knotty wood of the counter. This guy’s getting a tip and he hasn’t even given them a room yet? Derek clearly doesn’t understand how these kinds of transactions should work.

The room thing finally gets straightened out; they get two of them, and apparently that’s lucky because they’re the only two left available. The B&B isn’t really that big. Pat seems a little confused at the fact that neither Stiles nor Derek have any sort of luggage, but he just takes it in stride and leads them down a hallway. The whole wood-paneling thing is a continuing theme, and there are little antlers mounted around the wall lights. Is this something that constitutes as werewolf-friendly? Stiles almost wants to ask, but actually thinks better of it for once.

The rooms are a pair of matching doors on opposite sides of the hallway from each other, and Pat hands them keys. “Here we go, Mr. Werewolf,” he says brightly, because of course Derek never offered his name. Mr. Werewolf. This guy really is Stiles. An older and paunchier and slightly greying Stiles. Stiles is so embarrassed by his own self and his ridiculous doppelgänger right now.

Pat goes back down the hall, whistling as he does, and Stiles just wants to get into his own room and roll into a bed and be done with this day. But Derek stops him before he goes inside, catching Stiles by the hood of his sweatshirt so that he has to stop or get choked to death.

“What was that you said back there?” Derek says, and there’s only one thing he’s possibly talking about.

“That guy is under the completely erroneous impression that we’re dating,” Stiles says, kind of in a big awkward rush. “Just in case he says anything about it. I did not encourage him on this idea, he just kind of made it up. I know that’s probably the last thing you want to hear—“

“It’s fine,” Derek says. And he really doesn’t look disturbed at all. “It doesn’t bother me, and it honestly doesn’t matter.”

“Really? Because me either, totally, Danny’s like the awesomest guy I know, but I thought you’d be a little more. Uh. Hrnnm. Nrm.” Stiles gestures around with his hands, because saying what he actually thought suddenly seems like an awesomely bad idea.

Derek looks at him for a long, long moment. There’s a weird set to his mouth that doesn’t look angry, but Stiles isn’t sure what it is. “You really don’t think much of me, do you?”

“I—“ Well, shit, that’s uncomfortable. Derek just called him right on out and Stiles has absolutely no defense lined up. “I don’t know you very well,” he finally manages, lamely.

Derek’s expression hasn’t changed. “Goodnight, Stiles,” he says, and disappears into his room. The door shuts behind him, hard.

Stiles is left standing alone in the cedar-scented hallway, gripping his key and intensely wishing he could undo the last five minutes of his life.

#

Bed and Breakfast actually means there is a breakfast, why didn’t Stiles actually realize that?

Derek is already there when Stiles tromps into the dining room area—he’s starting to get the horrible, horrible suspicion that Derek is a morning person, as if he needed to get any more abnormal—and there’s a young couple at one end of the table, and that seems to be all the guests currently staying here at Heartbreak Hotel. Pat’s here too, and Stiles really doesn’t want to meet his eyes because he’s pretty sure that even with the separate rooms, all this guy sees when he looks at Stiles is Mr. Werewolf’s gay boyfriend. Which is—whatever, that’s totally fine, but it just reminds of him how Derek looked last night. And how awkward Stiles still feels about it.

“Hey,” Stiles says as casual and blasé as he can, sliding carefully into a chair next to Derek.

Derek just gives him a look and doesn’t say anything, which is kind of par for the course but it still feels more hostile than usual. Stiles moves over a seat. Just in case.

Derek doesn’t have a plate in front of him, and Stiles can’t figure out if he already ate or just hasn’t started yet. Then it occurs to Stiles that he has actually never seen Derek eat anything. Or drink anything. Ever. Even at the diner last night. That’s kind of strange, right. Maybe Derek is also secretly a robot. That would actually explain some things about him.

Well, Stiles is definitely going to eat. His appetite is kind of subdued by Derek’s glowery presence, but he still puts away as much as he can in case they do another one of those driving all day without stopping to eat deals. Which is totally possible since Derek is clearly a non-eating android.

He actually wants to apologize to Derek, but just has no idea how to even start. Because it’s not like Derek himself is a member of a minority group that gets persecuted and hunted down just for being what they are. No, Derek totally has no idea what that’s like at all.

Yeah, Stiles is basically a huge idiot.

It’s quiet in the jeep when they first get back on the road. Deathly, awfully, claustrophobically quiet. And it stays that way for about an hour, until Stiles is nearly itching out of his skin with guilt and unease. He hasn’t even looked over at Derek even once and he’s been white-knuckling the wheel. He absolutely can’t handle this roadtrip if it’s gonna be this tension and pressure the whole time. Derek is difficult enough without it, and Stiles is like literally going to have a heart attack if he has to sit here for one more second of it.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles suddenly blurts out.

Derek shifts slightly, but doesn’t say anything. And that’s basically an open invitation for Stiles to start rambling.

“Look, I was totally off-base with the assuming, okay, but I really don’t know you well and yeah, how terrible of me to go right to the bad option, that’s really uncool and unfair, and clearly I suck, and I know you’re mad and everything so if you could just get the whole payback thing over with, I’d like that,” Stiles says. “There’s a nice steering wheel right here, I know how you like to use those.”

“Why do you think I’m mad?” Derek says, finally.

“Because you...I don’t know,” Stiles says. He gives up, seriously, he just gives up with Derek.

“I wasn’t mad,” Derek says.

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Well. That’s excellent. Could you stop with your angry shoulders and angry eyebrows then? ‘cause it’s totally sending mixed messages.”

“Angry shoulders,” Derek echoes, in some kind of disbelief.

“Yeah, your shoulders are super expressive,” Stiles says, and already everything feels like its sliding back into the usual vibe—Stiles making jokes and Derek refusing to have a sense of humor, and with less of that brittle tension that was there before. Maybe because Stiles apologized, or maybe because Derek just got over it. Whatever it was, Stiles is just glad it’s over with and gone. Now all they have to do is survive another round of several more hours on the road together. Not as easy as it sounds.

Chapter Text

“Stiles, your phone is currently in the greater Seattle area,” Sheriff Stilinski says. “And since I’m speaking to you on it right now, you are also in the greater Seattle area.”

“Yeah, about that,” Stiles says, wincing. Rain is pattering down on the roof of the jeep and Stiles is alone in it, sitting in the parking lot of a strip mall. Derek, just like in Oregon, completely disappeared about fifteen minutes ago and hasn’t come back yet.

“What happened to staying right where you were?” His dad doesn’t sound all that mad, just exasperated and resigned, like he was pretty much expecting something like this.

Stiles tries to keep this light and casual as he can. “Didn’t work out.”

There’s a sigh from the other end of the line. “There was another reason you just up and lit out of town together, wasn’t there.”

“If I say yes, do I have to tell you what it is?”

“I’d certainly appreciate it,” his dad says.

How does he explain this without saying very much of the truth at all? “Derek wants to reconnect with some family?” Stiles offers. “That’s...where we’re going.”

“And he dragged you along because...because we’ve got his car,“ his dad says, coming up with his own answer to the question. Then he says something quieter, more like muttering, that sounds like a sarcastic, ‘truly upstanding citizen’.

Stiles ignores that part. “What’s going on with that, anyway?” he says. “Any results yet? Like, uh, anything that would look really unfortunately bad for Derek? Traces of...stuff?”

“Results from the lab found traces of Hale on the body, but it’s the kid’s own car,” his dad says. “Of course there’d be traces of him. But as for who did the actual crime, they can’t link it to Hale. Or anyone else yet.”

Stiles lets out a breath and closes his eyes, tilting his head down against the steering wheel. That’s one good thing, at least. He remembers what Derek said about the Argents not leaving any evidence at all. Seems he was right.

“Who is this person anyway?” Stiles says. “It’s someone from town?”

“Looks like he’s just a drifter, a John Doe. No ID, no known family in the area. Frankly, no clear reason that anyone would want to kill him, especially in the way it was done.”

“How was it done?” Stiles says. No one, not Derek and not his dad until just now, mentioned anything about how this body became a dead one in the first place.

His dad hesitates for a second. “Current best guess is a sword,” he says, and what Scott said only two days ago suddenly pops back into Stiles’s mind.

Totally sliced this guy in half. In half. With a sword. Just because he was a werewolf, I mean—just some random guy who happened to be there.

“Oh, my god,” Stiles says, sitting back up straight.

“What, Stiles, what?”

“No, just—oh my god, you know? That must’ve been...pretty yucky. Who even uses a sword to do things with anymore? You outta get an APB out on a ninja or something.”

“Uh-huh,” his dad says. He sounds skeptical, but Stiles’s thoughts are focused elsewhere now. At least he knows Derek wasn’t lying to him about the Argents setting him up to take the fall for this. Not that Stiles really thought he was lying in the first place, but now his story is totally corroborated and it just makes Stiles feel that Derek actually does need help. Really, really badly. Even just somebody on his side who actually knows for sure that he didn’t do anything.

Speaking of Derek. Stiles sees a shadow sliding around the outside of the jeep, and that’s gotta be him finally coming back.

“Dad, I gotta go,” Stiles says.

“Stiles—“

“I’ll call you later,” he promises, and ends the call and drops the phone into his pocket. The jeep door pops open and Derek slides in, completely casual just like before, like he hasn’t been making Stiles just sit here and wait for half an hour.

“What—oh, dude, you need a towel or something,” Stiles bemoans, because Derek is totally wet and dripping and it’s getting everywhere.

Predictably, he gets a look in response to that. “Do you have a towel?”

“No,” Stiles admits, twisting the keys in the ignition. “Just don’t shake in here, okay?”

He doesn’t bother to ask where it was that Derek went, because he knows he won’t get any answers.

#

From the Seattle area, Stiles gets onto I-90, which according to the maps is about the longest damn highway in all of America. It’ll get them just about most of the horizontal way across the country, by way of a whole bunch of the really square-shaped Midwestern states. Stiles isn’t sure how many days it’s going to take to get all the way to New York, and frankly he doesn’t want to. Too many, is definitely the answer.

But at least they’re going east now, finally, and that seems to make Derek act a little less like...well, like some kind of caged animal. He’s not bitching about their progress anymore and has quit second-guessing Stiles’s directional sense. On a Derek-scale, he’s actually being downright pleasant.

When Stiles starts getting hungry he pretends he’s not for a while, just to keep them uninterrupted on the road for a little longer. But while they’re rattling through the narrow stovepipe part of Idaho his stomach gives him away with a long gurgling growl. Derek’s eyebrows have a very incredulous opinion about it.

“Whaaaat,” Stiles says defensively, giving Derek a look back. They’re passing a huge lake that the highway cuts right along the edge of, and behind Derek’s head is all cool still water and thin muggy light through clouds. There’s even patchy snow clinging to the landscape here, beneath all the dark trees. Snow.

“Next town, pull over,” Derek says.

“All right, Mr. Bossy,” Stiles says. “You buying again?”

Derek nods.

“I’m gonna start turning into a really expensive date really fast if you keep on with this,” Stiles says, which Derek doesn’t deem worthy of a reply.

There actually is no next town for a while, just endless snow-spotted brownish hills strewn with dark evergreens scrolling past both sides of the highway. Stiles’s traitor stomach continues to make ridiculous noises every so often, and sometimes Stiles is almost sure Derek is judging him for it. When the signs of a town start to rise up on the sides of the road, Stiles spots a sign for a Subway and pulls off the exit.

The clouds overhead are thick and tumbled and grey, and the air is bitter and brisk. Melting blotches of snow cling to the ground around the buildings and roads, and what isn’t snow is brown and wet. Further from the road, up in the darker hills and mountains, the snow is thicker between the trees. Stiles can see every bit of his own exhaled breath as he climbs out of the jeep and quickly jogs across the parking lot and into the shop. Derek just stays in the jeep, because Derek still doesn’t seem to actually eat.

Stiles gets himself a sandwich and goes back outside, where Derek is now leaning on the passenger door with his arms crossed. He pushes himself off the jeep right away and holds his hand out towards Stiles. “Keys,” he says. “I’m driving for a while.”

“You are absolutely in no way driving this jeep, ever,” Stiles says, stopping in his tracks. “No scenario in this world exists in which that would happen.”

Derek’s face gets tight and prissy in that way it does when he’s losing patience. “Just while you’re eating,” he says. “We’ve wasted enough time already.”

“Then like ten more minutes isn’t going to hurt, okay,” Stiles says. “No, hey, back off!”

Derek is still coming towards him with his hand out, and Stiles jigs backwards a few steps, clutching at his plastic take-out bag. “No,” he says, and nearly adds bad dog if he didn’t think Derek might overreact to that joke. Badly.

“I’m serious,” Derek says, and ticks his fingers impatiently.

“So’m I!” Stiles fishes in his pocket with his free hand and curls his fingers protectively around his keys, jangling them together. “I will put these keys in my underwear, don’t think I won’t,” he warns. “Then think how awkward it’ll be trying to get them.”

The face Derek makes then is pretty priceless. He looks like he doesn’t know whether to be more dumbfounded or grossed out.

“Why would you even—“ Derek stops himself, and turns away. “Never mind. Never mind. Just eat fast.”

“I win,” Stiles says, vaguely triumphant.

#

An hour and a half or so and sixty miles later, they’re out of this narrow strait of Idaho. The jeep whisks under an overpass with a blue metal plate in the shape’s state hanging from it, the word Montana curved over it in yellowy-orange letters.

Stiles always thought crossing state lines would be more exciting, that maybe someone would’ve painted a big black line across the road and the ground so it’d actually look like maps of the US do, all cleanly sectioned off. But it’s actually impossible to tell when one state transitions to the next, it all fades together until suddenly you’re somewhere different without hardly realizing it.

Stiles drums his fingers along the top of the steering wheel and throws out another movie title. “Alien and Aliens. The other ones you’d get a pass on.”

“Yes,” Derek says. He’s got his shoulder up against the door of the jeep and his head tilted to the window and is managing to make himself look like a really sulky little kid.

“Right, then, Back To The Future. All three of ‘em.”

Yes. Do you think I grew up on Mars or something?” Derek says, but without much real scorn.

“No, I think you were raised by wolves. Literally,” Stiles says. “So I’m just, you know, testing out your knowledge pool.”

“Which is just a long list of popular movies made around the 80s.”

“Hey, you gotta like the 80s. Bad hair, bad clothes, bad music, great movies. You’re probably a product of the 80s yourself, huh? How old are you, anyway?” He knows Derek’s at least in his twenties, but he’s never been sure of the exact age difference.

“Older than you,” Derek says.

“Ah hah. Haaah hah,” Stiles says. “You’re adorable. Okay, fine, next one—Bladerunner. But if it’s not the director’s cut it doesn’t count.”

#

“Do you have a radio or something?” Derek asks some time later.

“Nope,” Stiles says. “But I can totally sing if you want.”

No,” Derek says.

“Okay, that was a joke that time, Derek, jeez. A sense of humor honestly wouldn’t kill you.”

Nope, Derek is like one of those Easter Island statues.

“Anyway, really no radio,” Stiles says. “Which is really too bad, because I bet we could have had some kind of great comedic movie-type moment where our music tastes totally clash and we keep fighting over what station to tune in to. Good times, man, such an opportunity missed.”

Derek doesn’t seem too bummed out over it.

“I bet you like Mozart,” Stiles goes on, watching Derek out of the corner of his eye.

That gets Derek looking irritatedly perplexed, like he can’t even imagine why Stiles would say that. “Why?”

“Because his name is Wolfgang,” Stiles says, with the straightest face he can manage.

And then Derek laughs. Not loud, and not for long, it’s really more like a stilted little chuckle in his throat. But it’s the first time Stiles has ever heard Derek make that particular human sound and for a second it scares him. Because at first he doesn’t recognize it as an actual laugh. And then he just kind of finds himself looking at Derek in amazement.

“What?” Derek says, but it’s not defensive at all and Stiles has never actually seen him look as normal or approachable as he does right now. He makes a mental note to make more stupid wolf-themed jokes in the future. Clearly that tickles Derek’s likewise wolf-themed funny bone.

“Nope, nothing,” Stiles says. He really can’t get over the fact that Derek laughed.

“Hey, watch the road,” Derek says sharply, and Stiles jerks on the wheel and pulls the jeep back inside the lane. And just like that, he totally ruined the whole moment where Derek Hale actually seemed human.

#

By the time they hit the first actual town inside the Montana state line, Stiles feels like his eyes are about to ooze out of his head. He’s done about nine hours of driving through three different states and he wants to die. Preferably in a bed, preferably without Derek waking him up the next morning at a ridiculous early hour and tumbling him back into his jeep for another endless day of road. Stiles has definitely knocked ‘trucker’ off his list of possible careers in the future.

It’s freezing outside when Stiles swings out of the jeep in the parking lot of another rustic two-story motel, the nearby mountains dark and nearly invisible against the sky. It’s been getting colder and colder the further north and east they got, but up until now Stiles’s been handling it okay with just his hoodie and the jacket. All those nights sitting benched during lacrosse games probably helped build up a tolerance. But he’s definitely not prepared for rural Montana, at night, in late February.

“Ah-h-h-h shit,” Stiles says, hunching his shoulders and sliding his hands under his armpits. His breath clouds around him in the air and he’s suddenly really regretting his short haircut. He flops his hood up over his head and pulls on the strings.

Derek, of course, is fine. In just his leather and his lycanthropy. Stiles resents him just a little.

They’ve got this stopping-for-the-night thing down to some kind of weird exact science, and not a hell of a lot later Stiles is slumping through the door of another worn and dated single room, this one at near sub-zero temperatures. Derek’s got the room right next door again. Stiles turns on the heater right away but it doesn’t do much instant good, and he rolls himself up in the bed and chatters his teeth for a while until he feels as least part-way defrosted.

His phone battery is getting dangerously low by now, but he goes ahead and calls Scott. Just to check in, see how his increasingly ridiculous and dangerous hometown is fairing without his logical presence. Oh, and making sure Scott hasn’t got himself killed by the Argents in the interim, which frankly Stiles would not put past him. He doesn’t really buy that Scott would actually not see Allison despite Stiles’s ample warnings about doom and murderous intent and all that good stuff.

But Scott answers his phone and Scott is totally fine and totally alive.

And apparently, so is Lydia.

Scott tells him that the police found her a couple hours ago, when she stumbled out of the woods naked and dehydrated and exhausted, but otherwise fine. Perfectly fine. Stiles is so relieved to hear it that he actually has to sit down and put his head in his hands, breathing slowly while Scott tells him all the details that he knows.

It doesn’t seem real. Lydia being awake, Lydia being missing, Lydia being found again—none of it. In Stiles’s head she’s still lying quiet and pale in that hospital bed. He won’t be convinced she’s not until he can see her, hear her voice. But that’s not gonna happen until he’s back in Beacon Hills, and who knows how long that’ll be from now.

Stiles’s phone warns him about his battery just after that, so he hangs up with Scott to preserve whatever poor tiny shred of charge it has left. He’s not sure exactly what he’ll do about it when it does run out—which is definitely going to be later tonight, or tomorrow morning at the latest. He’ll just think about that when it happens.

Stiles takes a really hot shower to further thaw himself out, because seriously, screw Montana. And all states with inclement weather. When he gets out again the heater’s finally had a chance to get something done, and the room is slightly less of the same temperature as a polar bear’s ass and more like the inside of a cooler after all the ice has melted and there’s just a couple of sad leftover cans floating around in it.

He pokes around the room a little, rubbing at his hair with the undersized motel towel. They’ve actually got HBO here—who’d’ve thought that ever. He hears a couple thumps from behind the wall that sides with Derek’s room, and decides he doesn’t even want to know. Then he notices there’s a missed call on his phone. Maybe it was Scott again, or his dad. Stiles winces—he hopes it’s not his dad. That’ll just be messy.

But the call is from a blocked number, and there’s a message with it. It’s probably a spam thing, and the message is probably about something he’s won or some opportunity he just has to take advantage of. He’ll just make sure, then delete it. Stiles loops the damp towel around his neck and sits down on the bed to listen.

A minute later, he’s back up on his feet and prickling all over with adrenaline. He can’t think of any way to get Derek over here faster, so he just raises a hand and slams on their shared wall a couple times. Derek’s at his door almost faster than Stiles can get to it himself to let him in. He’s not wearing a shirt at all this time and he’s kind of ridiculously sweaty and now Stiles really doesn’t want to know what he was doing over there, nope, not at all.

“Get in here,” Stiles says, holding up the phone. “You gotta hear this.”

Derek of course has already halfway pushed inside before Stiles finishes talking, and he has to kind of trip backwards out of Derek’s way and ends up sitting on the nightstand. But he’s still got the phone, so Derek then has to come over to him, and he crowds right up close so that Stiles is stuck between him and the wall. Why is it that they’re always getting real close when Derek doesn’t have a shirt on? Some sort of hilarious cosmic planning.

Stiles tries to start replaying the message, and Derek gets a hard grip on his wrist and steadies Stiles’s hand between them.

“Ow, could you—owww, god, Derek, my arm doesn’t bend that way, quit brutalizing me!”

But they both go silent and still when a woman’s voice speaks, soft and with some effort. She sounds faint, as if she’s not all that close to the phone on her own end. But what she says is clear enough. “Derek?”

Derek’s eyebrows leap upwards, and his grip on Stiles goes loose enough that he can twist his arm into a better position between them. Derek sinks down on the edge of the bed, effectively keeping Stiles sitting the nightstand, and there’s heat just baking off the guy. Stiles might even appreciate it if it wasn’t coming from, you know, Derek Hale. Who’s still sweaty and shirtless and wow, Stiles really wasn’t asking for any of this. He just wanted Derek to hear this message.

Derek? I hope this gets to you. I don’t have much time, and you keep moving. But you’re closer now. We still need to talk; it needs to be in person, and it’s very important. We need...we need to see each other.

“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more, but it’s not safe, and you need to be here. It’s not safe for either of us, and—“

There’s a fumbling sound then, and the woman’s voice from further away, like the phone was dropped, “wait, don’t tou—!”

A heavy bang like a door being thrown open, a sharp burst of unintelligible noise, then a crackle of static and the message ends.

There’s silence in the room for a couple seconds afterwards. He and Derek are all hunched together over Stiles’s phone like it’s some kind of treasure map they have to decode for their adventure—which it kind of is— but Derek doesn’t even need to be this close to hear and he’s barely even dressed, and they both realize it at about the same time. Derek leans back enough that Stiles can slide off the nightstand, and then he gets right to his feet.

“Call back,” Derek says. His voice is sharp and anxious. “Call back now.”

“I can’t,” Stiles says, genuinely sorry about it. “Blocked ID.”

Derek snarls, but it’s not really directed at Stiles. It’s a lost, aimless sound. His hands curl into fists, tendons straining out on the insides of his wrists, and he plants his elbows on his knees and hunches over.

Stiles edges over to the wall and leans back on it. He’s still got a stupid wet towel around his shoulders and even though the room is much warmer now, it’s giving him chills. “But...that was her, right? The same woman who called you before? Elizabeth?” he says, and when Derek nods a single time, he adds, “why’d she call me? And...how does she even know who I am? Or my number? Or that I’m with you? Or any of this? Is this making any more sense to you than it is to me?”

Derek’s just shaking his head constantly at every question, leaning over his knees and looking down at the carpet. Beads of sweat are sliding down the swirling tattoo in the center of his back. He’s just kind of glistening in general, all over his millions of muscles. Stiles really can’t believe the shape this guy is in. And he’d thought all the guys on the lacrosse team were fit.

“How’d she even call you the first time? Do you even have a phone?” Stiles says.

“I did briefly,” Derek says, finally an answer in word-form.

“And what? You lost it?”

“I had to get rid of it.”

“I’m gonna go ahead and guess it had something to do with the Argents,” Stiles says, and Derek just huffs a little. “Okay, question time. Why don’t you just move out of town again? That’d kind of fix this whole Argent problem you have. What’s even keeping you there?”

“My family,” Derek says, and Stiles stalls right out. At first he thinks, what family? and then he realizes that Derek means every known member of his family has now died in Beacon Hills. They’re all there, in one way or another.

Stiles rubs a hand down over his hair and grimaces against the edge of his knuckle. Well, they’re already on the incredibly touchy subject and Stiles has already been totally heartless about it accidentally, so why not push a little more?

“What did she say the first time?” he asks.

Derek just looks up at him from under those broody brows, clearly prepared to not answer that question ever. Did Derek just get lessons on how to be the most aggravating person on the planet, or was he just blessed with a really flawed personality? Stiles is just getting pretty sick of this one-sided relationship they have, where he does all the trying and the helping and Derek sourly contributes nothing.

“Fine,” Stiles says. “Fine. You don’t wanna trust me on this, I get it. Despite the fact that I have already helped you a lot, including sheltering your fugitive ass several times and baby-sitting you when you got yourself shot and totally helping you take down your insane uncle and now I’m playing your personal transcontinental chauffeur —none of which, I’ll remind you, was I required to do! I did it all out of the goodness of my dumbass heart, because I have a dumbass werewolf for a best friend.”

Derek looks totally unimpressed. “You also got me arrested.”

One time! And, just so you know, you make horrible first impressions. Werewolf business aside, you pretty much come on with the creepiest serial killer vibe in the whole world, so you shouldn’t be surprised when people mistake you for an actual serial killer, especially when they find a body buried in your yard,” Stiles says. “And the lurking, don’t even get me started with the lurking, all of which happens mostly around teenage boys, do I really have to keep listing reasons why someone might possibly believe you to be a shady individual? Because that is how you behave. Shadily.”

“Are you done?” Derek asks, when Stiles literally has to pause for breath.

“I could be,” Stiles says edgily.

“And you think I’m insulting,” Derek says, and gets pretty close to rolling his eyes.

“I’m highlighting your worrying behavioral patterns,” Stiles says. “For your own good.”

Derek huffs. “Right.”

“Hey, you know what? No matter what you think about me, I’m the only one here,” Stiles says. “And you came to me, remember? You picked me for this; brought me into these shenanigans in the first place. So at least, some part of you thinks I’m okay, and that you could maybe tell me things.”

“Why do you even want to know?” Derek says, and his eyebrows start getting involved in the conversation. “Why does this matter to you?”

“It—“ Stiles starts, meaning to say it doesn’t, but that’s a terrible answer and it’s not exactly true, is it? If it didn’t matter he wouldn’t care. He wouldn’t want to know at all.

Stiles sighs and sits down on the end of the bed. Far enough away from Derek that it’s not weird like before, but Derek is watching him closely. “Because, honestly? I think we’re heading in a direction where we’re gonna end up being around each other for the foreseeable future. Don’t even look at me like that—Scott’s my best friend and he’s the only other werewolf in a town you won’t leave, so clearly we’ve got a permanent common interest, and your problems keep becoming our problems, so if we get rid of your problems then it gets rid of ours. Everybody wins.”

Derek’s eyes are narrowed at him, but Stiles can’t figure out if it’s because he doesn’t like that answer or because he doesn’t actually believe it.

“Look,” Derek says abruptly. “Her first message didn’t make any more sense. All she said was her name, and that she needed to speak with me. That it was important but she didn’t know why. That I was in danger, but not from what.” Derek shifts, the muscles in his arms flexing. He does that on purpose, right, he has to—like some kind of tactical misdirection thing. “There’s nothing to say about it.”

“But you took it seriously,” Stiles says. “So what she said meant something.”

“She knew some things that she couldn’t possibly know. Enough that she had to have known someone in my family, at the very least,” Derek says, reluctantly.

“So, basically, it was just as weird and vague as the message she just left me.”

Derek rolls his shoulders around, and Stiles can hear bones popping. “I said it didn’t make any sense,” he says.

“It’d make sense if she was like some kind of half-assed psychic or something,” Stiles mutters. “Then she’d just be stalking us supernaturally.”

Derek snorts.

“Hey, you throw in a better idea,” Stiles says.

“I don’t have one,” Derek says. “Except what I’m already doing.”

They look at each other for a couple seconds. The tension in Derek’s shoulders and around his eyes is different than usual, but Stiles isn’t actually good enough yet at the Derek’s body language game to figure out what it means. Before he can even try, Derek holds out his hand. “I want to listen to it again,” he says.

But when Stiles glances down at his phone, the screen has gone dark. The battery has finally given up the ghost. It’s dead, and no amount of wheedling will turn it back on.

“This is unacceptable,” Derek says, frowning heavily as Stiles shows him the screen apologetically. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Are you kidding me?” Stiles says. “I’ve got about ten dollars in my wallet, and what was I supposed to do? Demand you buy me a charger? I didn’t think that’d go over real well!”

Derek just shakes his head. “You should have said something. We’ll stop for one first thing tomorrow.”

“Sure we will,” Stiles says. “While we’re at it, we should get by a laundromat or a Goodwill, because I’m getting real tired of wearing these same clothes every day. You’re probably tired of smelling these same clothes every day.”

Derek’s face kind of says that yes, he was.

“That’s your fault, dude,” Stiles says. “Do you remember the whole kidnapping me thing? I don’t come with a player 2 outfit.”

#

Shopping with Derek is a weird experience that’s surprisingly a lot less torturous than Stiles expected. The charger is easy; Stiles just ducks into a Radio Shack and picks one up while Derek waits in the jeep. Right across the street is a Target, which is convenient for everything.

They pick up some necessities, and Stiles is pretty amused when Derek tosses a thing of hair gel into the cart. Clearly, that’s a necessity for him. Stiles has to admit his hair looks pretty cool most of the time.

Stiles’s necessities include a heavier jacket, which he expects to have to fight for but Derek doesn’t say a word about it. He actually hasn’t said much of a word since last night, and he must be all tied up in his brooding head about Elizabeth’s message. Stiles doesn’t really blame him—after all, he’s kind of tied up in his own head about it. He’s the only one of them who got to hear it twice, and the second time was when he started really thinking that the woman sounded scared. Not just about whatever she’s calling Derek about, but for herself.

And there were those weird sounds at the very end of the message, and the fact that the first hotel room in Brooklyn she was staying in was broken into, and that she called from a blocked number...

Maybe she’s in just as much trouble as Derek is. If she’s really a Hale, she could likely be a werewolf, and maybe there are hunters after her too. Maybe this is one big giant mess of a situation that Stiles really has no place being in, but that’s not a lot different from the way his life’s been for the past couple months. All he’s been doing is keeping his head above water, and that’s all he can do now. And try and help Derek do the same, if he can.

Derek pays for everything they pick up in cash, and Stiles gets a quick glimpse at the inside of his wallet while he does. He definitely sees a couple bills with a 100 in the corners of them. He whistles softly, then pretends he didn’t when Derek side-eyes him. He spins away casually and starts picking up the bags of stuff from the end of the checkout.

#

Really?” Stiles says sometime later, as the jeep zips along under dreary grey Montana sky. “You really do?”

“It’s not preordained or anything,” Derek says, clearly hating the conversation they’re having. But it came up in the research Stiles had done before all this started and he was interested and he had to ask, what with an actual werewolf available right here for querying.

“But you actually do the whole mating thing?”

Yes,” Derek says. He’s got his elbow braced on the jeep’s door and his palm firmly planted on his face. “But you’re making it sound like we just...that there’s just one person that exists for you and that’s it, you don’t have a choice. That’s not how it works.”

“Well, how does it work?”

Derek makes a little sound that’s somewhere in the outskirts of a growl. “Why are you so interested?”

“Dude, how could I not be interested? You mate for life. That’s pretty interesting. You’re like a freaking swan or something.”

“We’renot like swans,” Derek says immediately, which was so incredibly predictable Stiles probably could have said it along with him.

“Then what is it like?”

“Like any relationship,” Derek mutters towards the window.

Stiles just waits, tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel and trying to convey a sense of not good enough of an answer, don’t half-ass this without having to say it. There is no way mating for life is ‘like any relationship’. That sounds majorly serious.

“Will you not talk for a while if I tell you?” Derek asks after a long couple of moments.

“Yep,” Stiles says. “I’ll be quiet for....ten miles.”

“Fifty,” Derek says immediately.

“Twenty.”

“Forty.”

Stiles is biting his lip against a laugh because Derek is actually playing along with him, and that’s a first. “All right, thirty. Five,” he adds as an afterthought. “But it has to be a good answer, all right? Like, at least six sentences. A whole paragraph.”

Derek resettles himself in the corner of the jeep and makes a low kind of sound in his throat. Sort of a sigh, sort of a growl.

“It’s for life, but we have a choice,” he says, after a couple seconds. “It can be anyone; werewolf or human. Anyone could be a mate, but a mate can’t just be anyone.

“We have to be careful. Because you don’t just choose your own mate, you’re also choosing another pack member. What’s good for you is not always good for the pack,” Derek finishes, and then shuts off. His whole answer was exactly six sentences, and Stiles is kind of impressed that Derek has honed such an exact skill. A little annoyed too, but definitely impressed.

”So, like—do you think Scott’s picked Allison forever and ever? Is that what’s going on there?”

“No,” Derek says. “She’s an Argent. He’ll figure out soon enough that she’s not even a choice.”

“Yeah, but—”

“You said you’d stop talking,” Derek says, and Stiles has to admit he’s right. Derek said six whole sentences and now Stiles has to shut up in return. He sighs, glances at the odometer, and starts to keep track of the next thirty-five miles.

#

I-90 cuts through a corner of Wyoming, and that’s where Stiles stops them that night. He’s learning that he can’t go for more than about eight or nine hours in a day, because it starts feeling like he’s literally driving himself insane. He never thought he’d get tired of seeing the inside of his jeep, but man, it’s happening. The last couple hundred miles of landscape weren’t even that interesting either.

He’s even thinking of getting out and wandering over to where Derek is, inside the brightly lit office-lobby thing of their motel stop for the night. Stiles was waiting in the jeep because Wyoming: almost as cold as Montana. The air that came in when Derek got out was enough to keep him huddled up in here and far away from it.

Derek comes back out then, but he’s not holding sets of keys the way he usually is. Stiles cranks down his window and leans out into the chilly air.

“Brrr-rrrugh. What’s the problem?” Stiles says.

“They only have one room here,” Derek replies. “We’re leaving.”

Stiles was looking forward to his couple of Derek-less hours tonight, but the thought of driving even just a couple more blocks to another motel sounds worse right now than giving that up. And, really, Derek hasn’t been so bad today. Elizabeth’s bizarre message definitely got him worked up and on edge, but instead of making him irritated and snappy it just....subdued him. Other than the couple of times Stiles got him to talk, Derek spent most of the day being even more sullen and broody than usual. Stiles didn’t even get insulted or threatened once.

“Oh, whatever,” Stiles says, rapping his fingers down against the outside of the jeep’s door. “I don’t want to have to look for another motel, I’m not going to drive anymore today, just get the stupid room. It won’t kill us.”

Derek pauses right at the front bumper, his breath heavy and white in the dark air around him. His shoulders set themselves, but what Stiles can see of his expression doesn’t change. “Really.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles waves his whole arm back towards the office. “s’fine. But if you snore or start chasing rabbits in your sleep, you’re camping in the jeep.”

“Always a dog joke with you,” Derek mutters, but he turns around and heads back inside. Stiles watches him go, fidgeting his fingers against his knee and wondering if he just made a huge giantly large epic of a mistake with this. Even when Derek busts into his room or commandeers his jeep these are still Stiles’s places, his things, and he has a sense of being in charge there. That’s practically the only reason he can get himself to stand up to Derek; the guy is, technically, in his territory. Stiles doesn’t know if that kind of thing even counts with humans, but even pretending it does is confidence-boosting when dealing with Derek.

But a shared motel room is neutral. It’s neither of theirs. This could work out fine, or be really absolutely very very terrible and unpleasant. Stiles gnaws on the cuff of his jacket and leans back inside the jeep, reaching down to crank the window back up.

At least he’ll learn what Derek spends his time doing at night.

#

What Derek does is pull-ups on the bathroom door.

“Well, naturally,” Stiles mutters to himself as he flips through the meager channels the TV has to offer, lolling on his bed (the room is, thankfully, a double—somebody would have been sleeping on the floor or in the bathtub if it wasn’t and it wouldn’t have been Derek) with Derek heaving himself up and down just off in the corner of his vision. Stiles isn’t even sure how he’s even managing to hold on to the frame, but he’s doing it somehow. His tattoo is like a three-pronged bullseye in the middle of his back because of course Derek’s forgotten what a shirt is again or how to wear one.

“Could you give it a rest there, Rocky?” Stiles says, after a good while of Derek just going at it like a machine over there. “You’re giving me motion sickness.”

Derek mutters something quiet that sounds an awful lot like ‘what about my prime, Mick’, and drops down from the doorframe.

“What was that? Was that a joke?” Stiles calls gleefully as Derek disappears into the bathroom.

“No,” Derek says, just before he shuts the door. Stiles just turns back to the TV with a grin as the sound of the shower starts up. Maybe this won’t actually be so bad.

Chapter Text

If Stiles’s life was a movie, a ridiculous one about a werewolf buddy roadtrip that he would ironically be calling My Cousin Miguel, right about now there’d be a montage of soggy flatlands, motels, and driving. Because that’s all there is. That’s what Stiles’s life has become; those three things in an endless circle. Oh, and the werewolf, of course. But Derek’s actually becoming a highlight in this whole rote experience.

They completely survived the night in the Wyoming motel room together. They didn’t kill each other at all and Derek really spent most of his time either listening to the message Elizabeth left on Stiles’s phone in a sort of obsessive way, or just being very quiet. Not the usual dark and dour Derek type quiet, but in a way where he seemed lost in himself, shut down and kind of checked out from everything. Stiles didn’t even try to talk to him. Most of the time.

But the whole thing was painless enough that now they’re just...doing that. Doing a shared room thing. It’s not even that bad. If someone had told Stiles a week ago that he’d be in the near 24-hour-a-day presence of Derek Hale and be fine with it, he’d’ve had some choice sarcasm for them. But now it’s pretty normal. In the scheme of things that Stiles’s has seen in the past couple of months, it’s downright normal.

So they get through Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota. Painlessly.

Stiles keeps in pretty good contact with his dad—who seems to have given up asking exactly where it is Stiles is going—and Scott and even occasionally Allison, who’s been assuring him that she and Scott are on the down low with the whole dating thing. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. Stiles tries to ask her with some degree of subtlety about what her family’s been up to, hoping for some kind of insider intel about what kind of trouble with them Derek’s gonna have to handle when they get back to Beacon Hills. Allison says they haven’t really been letting her in on anything, but her grandpa takes long calls behind closed doors and her mom and dad are always talking quietly just out of earshot. Something’s up, she just doesn’t know what.

She’s also been letting him know how Lydia’s been doing. Because he still worries—of course he does, it was his fault Lydia was out on the field that night, his fault that Peter was even able to get to her. And even though Allison assures him that Lydia is mostly back to her normal self, it’s still—

“Wait, mostly?” Stiles interrupts.

“Sometimes she...spaces out,” Allison admits. “Just goes quiet. The other day I heard her talking to herself. But she had a traumatic experience, that’s probably normal, right?”

“Right,” Stiles mutters. He glances towards the closed bathroom door, where Derek disappeared a few minutes ago. They’ve all had traumatic experiences, but Lydia doesn’t even have the comfort of knowing where hers came from or even why it happened. Somewhere along the line it was unspokenly decided to not let Lydia in on anything, which is probably the worse plan ever, but Stiles can’t exactly do anything about it while he’s half the country away.

#

When the jeep’s engine gives out on them somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin, Stiles isn’t all that surprised. He has to coast her off the side of the road next to a slushy ditch, brown and white with patchy snow, and try and start her up again. Nothing happens.

“Piece of shit,” Stiles grumbles, which is emphatically not true— he’s been pushing the jeep pretty hard recently and she’s in remarkably good working condition for her age in the first place. He’s surprised that the breakdown didn’t happen before this, actually.

“I’m sorry,” he says at once, and doesn’t even care that Derek is sitting right there watching him apologize to his jeep and pet the steering wheel in regret. “I’m sorry, come on, no,” he goes on as he turns in the key again in the ignition again and gets nothing. “Nooooh my god, why.”

Stiles piles out of his side of the jeep and into the brisk air, and goes around to the hood. A bunch of skinny trees cling up against the freeway on either side, and he can hear weird crackling sounds coming out of them, and sometimes mushy snow slips off of branches and plops to the ground. It’s kind of creepy. There are hardly any cars on the road and it kind of feels like they’re stuck in the real middle of nowhere.

He pops the hood of the jeep and waves away the steam that smokes right off the hot engine into the cold air, hoping it’s just steam and not anything else. He peers around in there, looking at the couple of problem points he actually knows about. Spark plugs seem fine, the distributor cap is on tight. Other than that—

“I have no idea what I’m looking for,” Stiles admits about five minutes later. He slams the hood of the jeep down and slumps against it. “Where even are we?”

“Rocky Arbor State Park,” Derek says. He’s leaning against the passenger’s side door now, looking over the roadmap. Even though Stiles’s phone is readily available to use now, Derek’s gotten really fond of the map. He marks their progress off in pen and always seems to be accurate about the distance they’ve gone without even consulting the GPS. Maybe it’s a wolf thing. Being really good at mileage.

“Well that is fantastic,” Stiles says. “....where is that?”

“The nearest town is Wisconsin Dells, if we need to get a tow,” Derek says, starting to fold up the map.

“Aw, baby,” Stiles says, and Derek hikes an eyebrow until he seems to realize Stiles is clearly talking to the jeep. “We don’t want to get towed, do we? No, come on.” He stretches himself out on the still-warm hood, like maybe if he gives his jeep a hug it’ll decide to magically fix itself.

Derek is uninspired by this tactic. “Where’s your phone?”

“On the seat,” Stiles says to the metal.

The jeep jiggles under Stiles as Derek pulls open the door and leans in to grab it. He hears some booping going on with the interface and then finally, Derek making a call. His voice is just a low murmur near the back of the jeep, while Stiles keeps flopping around forlornly. Finally he pulls himself together and pushes himself up off the hood just as Derek is hanging up.

“Said it’ll be about twenty minutes for someone to get out here,” Derek says, and hands Stiles’s phone back to him. Stiles drops it into his pocket and then settles his back against the door next to Derek, his hands tucked under his armpits.

“I really can’t afford this,” he says after a minute or so. A single car wooshes by behind them on the highway, and a soggy piece of trash flutters in the roadside ditch. “I mean, literally, cannot afford this.”

“I’ll pay for it,” Derek says, giving Stiles kind of a look. “Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Stiles echoes. “Well, sure, obviously. Why is that obviously?”

Derek turns away from the tree line, looking back down the highway in the direction they came from. “You wouldn’t even be out here if not for me.”

“Yeah, but—“ Stiles starts, and then actually can’t think of an argument against that. He’d almost forgotten that this whole thing started off involuntarily. “Okay. Then, sure. Thanks.”

Derek nods once. He’s closed off again, the same way he did the night he was listening to Elizabeth’s phone message on endless loop, and that just means some sort of Real Big Issue has come up because Derek actually doesn’t do this kind of thing for no reason.

Stiles slides a little bit closer to him against the jeep’s door. “Hey, you worried about getting there?” he says to the back of Derek’s head. “It’ll be fine. She breaks once in a while—“ and sometimes Derek’s nutty uncle rips out her battery and throws it through a high school window but that’s a whole other issue, “—but she’s far from the scrap heap. Just a little set back.”

Stiles almost goes in for a friendly shoulder clap, and then just changes it to a firm shoulder grab instead. Hitting Derek is something he’ll only risk when the guy is unconscious and dying hideously on the floor of veterinary clinic. And Derek glances at him, although it’s not as sharp as Stiles expected. It’s just a look. Stiles holds on to Derek’s shoulder for another couple of seconds then lets his hand slide off.

“We’re gonna get there,” he says.

#

The tow guy brings them to a local repair shop called Tash Auto Body. It’s near the edge of town in a dirt lot with a stumpy little water tower out near the back of it. The snow here’s mostly turned to complete mud, and the mid-afternoon sun glints off hundreds of puddles that fill up tire tracks and potholes. The ride over here was pretty cozy with three people crammed up in the little cab of the truck, and Stiles naturally ended up crushed in the middle between the sweaty trucker and the sullen werewolf.

The jeep gets dragged into the big open door of the garage and Stiles and Derek go into the little attached office. It’s a warm cramped space covered with faded vintage car posters, safety guidelines, and newspaper articles—most of which seem to be reviews of the garage. Right away Stiles gets a bad vibe from the whole place. The owner, predictably named Tash, is a slightly heavyset guy with a big sandy handlebar mustache. Stiles starts thinking of him as Mustache Tash just about instantly. And the guy actually cards Stiles, like he doesn’t believe Stiles is old enough to drive or even own a car in the first place, and spends kind of a creepy amount of time staring at the license when Stiles hands it over. He also keeps throwing Derek squinty looks, which Derek doesn’t see, because he’s looking out the office door towards the garage area.

A younger guy—probably about Derek’s age—wearing grease-stained coveralls saunters in through the door a couple minutes later, with an equally grease-stained rag flopped over his shoulder. He’s got the same sandy-colored hair as Mustache Tash, and Stiles is sensing family relations here.

“Your alternator’s dead,” he says, and then looks right at Derek. “Battery too.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Good. That sounds...real good. Perfect.”

“It’ll be a couple hours,” says Tash the Younger, still mostly ignoring Stiles and sort of doing this weird staring thing at Derek. It’s almost suspicious, or maybe like he thinks Derek looks like somebody famous and is trying really hard to figure out who. It’s weird either way. “We’ll get you an estimate in a second here. You can wait outside.”

There’s two weathered plastic chairs outside of the office door, and Stiles slumps into one and Derek into the other.

“You said I had good instincts,” Stiles mutters out of the side of his mouth. “And they’re instincting right now. I don’t like this place, I don’t like these people; let’s get out of here.”

Derek looks at him for a long second. “Okay,” he finally says. “How, exactly?”

“...shit.” Stiles sort of overlooked the part where their transport’s in traction. “Okay, maybe we can’t get out of here, but just—you know, keep your wolf sense tingling and all that.”

Derek huffs through his nose, but it’s almost an amused sound. “Right,” he says. “I’ll do that.”

“Hey, I’m not even making this up,” Stiles says. Tash the Younger walks out of the office again and, sure enough, gives Derek a good long stare as he goes by. Derek misses it again, this time because he’s looking at Stiles. Stiles lowers his voice and leans in a little closer to Derek. “That one dude keeps looking at you. And not in like a cool friendly or check-him-he’s-totally-hot way. It’s definitely a creeper stare. A creepy creeper stare.”

Derek frowns. “What was that second thing?”

“Oh come on,” Stiles says. “That’s fishing. Have you not ever seen a mirror? No. Anyway, creeper dude and mustache dude who looked at my driver’s license way too long and the girl who’s now messing around in my trunk—hey! Can you not touch my stuff?” Stiles shouts across the garage, where the twenty-something brunette is just lifting his lacrosse stick out of the back of his jeep. It’s been there this whole time; Stiles had practically forgotten he even had it with him.

“You might want to take all your valuables out of your car then,” she calls back. “We’re not responsible for what happens to them.”

“Oh my god, seriously rude,” Stiles says, and gets up from his chair.

A minute later he’s shuffling back over to Derek with his arms full of lacrosse equipment, and dumps it all down in one of the sad plastic waiting chairs. Derek’s now holding a yellow estimate slip, and he tucks it into his jacket before Stiles can even try to look at it.

“Either these people are all bad news or just impolite,” he grumbles, and Derek huffs again. Stiles is starting to think that this is the noise Derek has substituted for normal laughter, because the guy doesn’t really laugh, but he does make that noise at times when a fitting reaction would be to laugh. At least, for most people.

Derek gets to his feet then, stretches his shoulders around, and sticks his hands in his pockets. “Let’s get out of here.”

Stiles glances up at him. “Where?”

Derek lifts a shoulder. “Wherever.”

“You seriously wanna just go for a stroll around Wisconsin Dells right now.”

“Why not,” Derek replies. “Is there something else we should be doing?”

“Solid enough argument,” Stiles admits, and they leave the garage.

#

The sun is wintery and pale overhead, and it’s pretty nice to spend some time not sitting down in a car for hours on end. Stiles probably hasn’t walked more than about two hundred feet at a stretch in a good five days, and most of that has been from his jeep right to a motel bed. But he’s not gonna admit to Derek that this was a good idea, even if he does have to walk around with his lacrosse stick stuck through the back of his backpack and is getting some odd looks for it.

They walk though quiet neighborhoods and past a park, and finally come out onto some kind of main downtown shopping area less than fifteen minutes after leaving the garage. It’s early afternoon, and people are milling around, in and out of shops. Stiles watches a family walk down the sidewalk ahead of them, a man and woman and two little kids in the middle, all of them holding hands. The little kids are in bright jackets that make them look like puffed up marshmallows with little blond heads on top. The taller one keeps leaning close to whisper in the other one’s ear, and then they giggle together and swing their arms back and forth.

Eventually, Stiles and Derek end up sitting down again anyway, in a little area that kind of looks like a Bavarian town took over decorating for a block or so. Stiles sprawls out on a bench near a big clock tower and gets comfortable while Derek sits on the other end like a patient in a dentist’s waiting room. Like he’s really not looking forward to what’s gonna happen in the near future.

“What was your sister like?” Stiles asks, and Derek looks over at him like he’s grown another head. “Okay, that was kind of out of nowhere, but I’m asking seriously. A lot of shit’s been going down since and it’s only been a couple months and—there probably hasn’t been a lot of time to deal with it. Or really...talk about it? With anyone.”

Because, honestly, who does Derek have to talk to? Pretty much nobody. And his sister didn’t die all that long ago—only like three months back. That’s some really rough stuff, not even considering nutty Peter in the equation. And Laura didn’t just die, she was murdered. Derek must spend a lot of time thinking about how it could have been avoided, how he could have stopped it from happening, if he had been there that night instead of just slightly too late. He’ll probably think about it for the rest of his life.

Derek is still staring at Stiles like he’s never seen him before. “Why are you asking?” he says, gruff and almost defensive.

“Because nobody ever really asked me about my mom,” Stiles says. “They still don’t. I guess they all think it’ll be too hard, too painful or something. But sometimes you want to think about it, all the good things. Because they’re gone and it hurts but you can’t just condense everything they meant to you into just the loss. It’s not even fair to them, to make their whole life about the end of it.

“When people do talk about her, it’s always the sad stuff. How sorry they are, how they miss her, how hard it must me. But I want to tell people how great she was. How her hair smelled and her laugh and, and how she used to pack little notes into my lunches for school and only Scott didn’t think it was weird because his mom did the same thing, and—“

Stiles sits back on the bench, kind of regretting even starting this whole conversation because he got just a little too into it. In front of Derek. “Anyway, I just thought you might...wanna do that, okay, never mind, clearly a bad idea.”

The look on Derek’s face is rigid and strange, and Stiles thinks that maybe he should apologize for even mentioning his sister except that, suddenly, Derek actually starts talking.

“Everyone liked Laura,” he says, slowly, easing the words out like they’re made of fragile glass. “She was always popular at school. Smart, strong, and capable. Pushy, sometimes. Kind of a know-it-all. But she knew how to push for the right things, and she knew how to take care of us...after. And she was always there for me. Whatever I needed, she put it first.”

“She sounds...really great,” Stiles says carefully.

“The two of you probably would have gotten along,” Derek says. He’s looking down at his hands, but his expression seems almost peaceful.

Neither of them say much after that, but the silence isn’t uncomfortable.

#

It’s nearly five o’clock by the time they get the jeep back, way too late to get back on the road. At least that’s the argument Stiles uses, and Derek only mildly fights back about it. It actually seems like he only resists because it’s kind of expected—he and Stiles can’t actually just outright agree on anything too fast, the world might end. And Derek does pay for every cent of the repairs, just like he said he would.

There are a lot of motels in this town. There’s a cluster of them only a couple blocks from the auto body shop, which Stiles specifically bypasses. The further they can be from those creepy people, the better. Stiles ends up picking a motel near the river, at least a mile away and tucked out of the way off a back road.

Derek doesn’t even say a word about Stiles’s slight outbreak of paranoia. Maybe it’s because both of them are conveniently ignoring each other’s strange behavioral quirks, like Derek’s new obsession with Stiles’s phone. He pretty much gets to be the lord and master of it at night. He keeps it within reach at all times and every so often his eyes slide over to it, and then flick away fast like he’s embarrassed that he keeps doing it.

Stiles knows why he is, and he isn’t saying a word about it. But Elizabeth hasn’t called since the night back in Montana. Stiles hasn’t voiced his thoughts about her maybe being in trouble to Derek, because that’s gonna do the opposite of help, and Derek probably is doing enough depressing thinking on his own.

An hour or two after they check in, Stiles gets bored of circling through the channels the TV offers, gets up off his bed and heads for the door.

“I’m gonna go get something to eat,” he says to Derek, who’s been sitting propped up on his own bed with his eyes closed. Stiles hesitates, then adds, “you want anything?”

Derek just shakes his head, and Stiles kind of expected that.

“’kay,” he says. “I’ll be back in like, twenty.”

Derek absently waves him out, which inexplicably makes Stiles smile. One more nearly regular interaction with the guy. Stiles really should have started keeping a list.

#

About fifteen minutes later, Stiles is walking back down the sidewalk to his jeep with fries in one hand and buffalo wings in the other. He took the jeep just to drive her around a little, to make sure the repair job wasn’t shady and everything seemed regular up in there. Once it checked out, Stiles drove back to itty bitty Bavaria because he was pretty sure he saw a stand back there earlier today that was all about fries—and there was.

When he gets back to his jeep, the brunette from the auto body shop is right there next to it, leaning against it like she’s waiting for him. She smiles when she sees him, in a sort of openly inviting way. Stiles stops right at the edge of the sidewalk, not even sure how to handle this.

“Uh,” he starts. “Hi?”

“Hey,” says the girl. “Jeep’s kinda noticeable, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, she’s a...hot...rod,” Stiles says, then kind of hates himself.

“Uh huh.” The girl leans off his jeep and Stiles almost wants to take a step back, but there’s not anywhere to really go except the side of a building a few feet away and he feels silly running away from this girl. Except this is pretty weird, right, and maybe he should be. Mechanics don’t usually stalk you to fry stands. There’s nobody really around on the street at this moment so he’s on his own here.

“I, uh,” Stiles begins. “Can I help you or so—“

An arm slings around the top of his shoulder from behind, cinches up tight and hard against both sides of his neck. Stiles can’t even choke out a noise before he’s being dragged bodily into the narrow space between his jeep and the SUV next to it. It’s the last thing he’s aware of before the solid pressure on his neck starts making him light-headed, his vision greys out, and he’s gone.

#

Slowly, groggy consciousness fades back in like bad radio reception. The world is jiggling around him and Stiles is lying down on something that feels like the backseat of a car. It’s dark and he can’t see anything at all, and there might actually be something tied over his eyes.

“Brenda, check him,” says a voice somewhere distantly.

Stiles feels hand on him suddenly, turning his head and then pressing some kind of rag right onto his face and holding it down over his mouth and nose. It’s wet and has a strong smell—cloying and sweet and overwhelming. Stiles can’t do much but lie there and breathe it in. After a couple long awful seconds, he feels his eyes rolling back in his head, and he’s gone again.

#

Stiles becomes fully conscious tied to a chair in the middle of what looks like a small warehouse. He has a ridiculous headache and his throat is dry and raspy. There’s huge stacks of tires everywhere around him and racks of auto parts and goddammit he’s just been kidnapped by an evil band of mechanics. This situation is clearly super. What’s even the point of it—what the hell do they want out of him? Did they not notice how Derek was the one with money?

But he finds out what’s going on pretty fast. As all his senses start clearing up and getting back into proper working order and giving him reports of his surroundings, Stiles realizes that someone is talking behind him.

“—squirrelly kid with a buzz cut and a jeep. Yeah, he’s here. Pretty sure your alpha was with him earlier. We only found the kid, but we can get the other here. We can kill him, or catch him for you—just tell us what you want.” A pause and then, “ right. You got it.”

Stiles manages to crane his neck around so that he can see back over his shoulder, enough to see three—no, wait, four—people standing around in the dimly lit garage. Of course it’s dimly lit, when are places of kidnapping and possible torture ever well-lit? They might as well get some creepy smoke and some dripping pipes to go along with all this excellent ambiance.

But he can make out who the people are. They’re all the same ones from earlier—Mustache Tash (he’s the one talking, into a phone), the young creeper, and the brunette—and then at least one other dude that Stiles has never seen before. They’re all armed to the teeth and talking about alphas and, clearly, they’re hunters.

Shit.

Stiles’s head already aches from the sleeper hold and the dose of what was probably chloroform, and now he’s got anxious panic running through his veins and clobbering in his chest. He’s lashed up to the chair around his wrists and ankles and chest, and he’s definitely not going anywhere. It’s just rope, but there’s layers of them and they’re thick and well-tied. He can really only move his head around. The garage only has tiny rectangular high-up windows, and the huge metal roll-up door on the one wall is closed down.

A shuffle of footsteps on concrete echo around the garage, and suddenly Stiles is surrounded on all sides by hunters. Mustache Tash is right in the front, the others grouping up behind him. Stiles can actually see the young creeper’s name—it’s embroidered on a big patch right on the front of his coveralls. Rowan. And when he briefly woke up before, he heard someone call the girl Brenda. The last guy is wearing a Packers cap, sandy hair poking out from under it.

“Mr. Stilinski,” says Mustache Tash, because he creeped all over Stiles’s license and of course saw his name. “Associating with an alpha is a dangerous business. You ought to be picking your friends more carefully.”

“Pretty sure it’s not illegal,” Stiles says. “This kidnapping thing might be, though.”

“You’re gonna bring your alpha here to us,” Mustache Tash goes on, like he didn’t hear any of that. He gestures at Rowan, and when the kid steps up closer he hands him the phone he was using earlier. “You’re gonna tell us a number, and we’re gonna call him up and you’ll get him here. Just like everything’s real regular.”

“He doesn’t even have a phone,” Stiles says.

“Then we’ll call wherever you’re staying, and get put through to the room,” the girl, Brenda, says. “Don’t act stupid.”

“What am I supposed to say?

“Whatever you can to bring him here. No funny business,” Rowan adds.

“Funny business is kinda my middle name,” Stiles says, and then grunts when he gets a slap at the back of his head for it. He’s not even sure who did it—maybe Packers Cap guy. “Fine, fine, okay, I got it, I totally got it.”

He starts trying to remember the name of the motel, still kind of woozy and headachey. He’s been to so many of them that they all just kind of blend together by now. And then he remembers—oh, right. Derek actually has his phone. Stiles left it with him back at the motel. That’ll work too.

Stiles grudgingly recites his own phone number and Rowan types it in. Brenda presses her revolver firmly against one side of Stiles’s face while Rowan holds the phone up to the other. It’s gotta look ridiculous, but Stiles isn’t laughing.

He has to act casual enough to satisfy the Tashes and act weird enough to get Derek on some kind of alert. Because if Stiles can’t tip him off, Derek is going to walk right in here and probably get outright murdered. And these people have no idea what his and Derek’s relationship is actually like, so there’s a lot of leeway in what he can do. He just has to do it casually.

For a second he thinks about doing something totally outlandish, like pretending Derek is his boyfriend and calling him ridiculous pet names, but even in this terrible situation Stiles isn’t sure he could keep a straight face doing that.

No, he has a better idea. He’s gonna pretend like Derek is Scott. That’s a level of conversational ease that they definitely haven’t reached, so maybe it’ll be enough.

Derek picks up in the middle of the first ring.

“Who is this?” Derek’s voice sounds demanding but also slightly higher pitched than normal, and Stiles get a weird pang in his chest, thinking about Derek hovering over the phone every night and hoping for a random call out of nowhere just like this, except from someone totally different who isn’t Stiles, someone who claims to be Derek’s family, maybe the only one he has left.

“Dude, Derek. It’s me,” Stiles says, putting just a little of you dumbass into his tone. He’s sorry about it, but Derek is Scott right now, and their survival kind of depends on this.

“Jeep clunked out again; I guess that auto body place fucking sucks,” Stiles goes on, and gets the tip of the revolver ground against his skull for it. He grimaces silently, grinding his back teeth together. “Anyway, I’m back there again.”

There’s kind of a hefty silence. Then, “this late?” Derek says, and Stiles can hear the raised eyebrow in his clipped tone.

“I was persistent. Anyway, buddy, can you swing over here? Kinda need your support on this.”

Derek does something that can only be classified as an agonized sigh. It doesn’t seem like he’s picked up that anything is weird; granted Stiles hasn’t had a lot of time to actually talk. “Fine,” he says, and Stiles hears the quiet babble that was going on in the background abruptly shut off. Oh, adorable, Derek was watching TV while Stiles was getting chloroformed and antagonized and threatened at gunpoint and—

Stiles realizes something.

The Tashes aren’t actually going to shoot him. They’re banking on Derek coming for him. If he’s dead, Derek’s not going to show up at all. Not that it was a sure thing he would in the first place, but it really won’t happen if the live bait is no longer live. They could definitely shoot Stiles in a way that doesn’t kill him, but that’s a secondary worry right now.

So in the two seconds between Rowan taking the phone away from Stiles’s face and going to touch the ‘end call’ button—Stiles honestly feels like he’s watching it in slow motion, the guy’s grubby thumb slowly descending towards the phone—Stiles yells out one word. Just one, all he figures he has time for. And he knows Derek’ll hear it.

TRAP!” he bawls out, the sound of it echoing like a slap in the concrete space.

They don’t shoot him. But Brenda does pistol-whip him across the temple, and everything goes black.

#

Stiles swims back awake an unclear amount of time later.

He’s still in the garage.

He’s still tied to a chair.

And now his head hurts even more.

He’s also got an itch right next to his nose that he’s incapable of scratching, and no amount of wriggling and stretching his face around helps.

The hunters are grouped in a little cluster about twenty feet away from him, talking in heated mutters about whether “the Argents’ alpha” is even going to show up. They probably don’t know Stiles is conscious again. He’s just about to call out to them that Derek’s not that stupid and they’re gonna need a new game plan, when he feels somebody lurking right over his shoulder.

“That was a cute move,” says a girl’s voice next to his ear. A hand grabs his arm and then there’s pressure and a slow sharp pain that’s narrowed down to a single hard point, and Stiles realizes that it’s a hypodermic needle, and it’s being shoved right into his arm.

“Hey, hey!” he says, but knows better than to try and squirm around with this going on.

Now he’s injected with something. Awesome, that’s so awesome Stiles can’t even articulate it. These guys are hunters; who knows what they think is acceptable to shoot into people. He’s still clinging on to that one hope that they’re not going to kill him, and that they haven’t just put something ridiculously lethal into him and he’s on the way to a slow and hideous death. He doesn’t feel deathy...yet.

Brenda steps away from him, an empty syringe in her hand.

“I hope you step on a Lego,” Stiles says after her.

“You better hope your alpha shows,” Brenda replies. She comes closer, puts her hands on the arms of the chair and leans forward right into his personal space. She smells like a weird mix of gasoline and a flowery perfume. “Or otherwise, we’ll go find him ourselves. And we won’t need you anymore.”

“Is being completely psychotic just part of this game?” Stiles says, trying to hold her gaze. “All you hunters, man—do you come like this or is there like a special school for gifted psychopaths you all attend?” And is this what they’re going to try and turn Allison into, he wonders. Heartless like her aunt, like this woman.

Brenda just smiles at him—and frankly, that is more terrifying than anything else she could have done—and walks away. The rest of her family have stationed themselves around in strategic positions by now, mostly covering a door in the opposite wall that’s actually been propped open just a crack, all inviting-like. Either there’s no other doors in this place or they’re all thoroughly blocked; they’re herding Derek to this one. And Stiles sees what they’re doing—he’s in direct line of sight of that door and if Derek walks through it Stiles is the first thing he’ll see. And no matter what, that’ll be a distraction.

But hopefully Derek isn’t even gonna come. Because he would be stupid to, and Stiles gave him a clear warning. It’ll really only aggravate these guys if he doesn’t show, and even with that vaguely ominous thing Brenda said, Stiles is still pretty sure they’re not going to murder him. Hunters are supposed to protect innocent people; that’s the whole point, right right? And Stiles is innocent. Ish.

It’s only a couple minutes, when Stiles is yet again testing the complete inflexibility of these ropes he’s tied up with—somebody sure knows their knots—that he sees it. Or he thinks he sees it. A flash of glowing red eyes in the darkness outside one of the tiny garage windows. It’s fast, fleeting, just like the quick reflective glint of cat’s eyes. Stiles finds himself holding his breath. He tries not to stare too obviously in that direction; keeps the dark square of glass just in the very corner of his vision. Just to make sure.

No, he definitely saw it that time.

Derek Hale, actual moron, showed up.

If they both get out of this alive, Stiles is going to kill Derek himself. What part of trap didn’t he understand?

And there’s four fully armed hunters in here, just waiting for him.

“Hey. Heyyy,” Stiles shouts to nobody in particular, and starts rocking himself around in the chair. It’s heavy and solid and he can’t do a lot with it, but he can be distracting as hell. Only Brenda comes back over to him, but that’s enough, because the other Tashes look pretty annoyed with his noise level and it’s catching their attention, making them lose focus even just a tiny bit.

“Stop,” she says, and moves her gun clearly into his view. But Stiles can see the safety is on, and it’s just another empty warning. Because they’re probably not going to kill him.

“I gotta pee,” Stiles complains to her.

Brenda looks completely exasperated. “Hold it,” she says.

“Can’t,” Stiles says. “My hands are tied up.”

Brenda makes a tch sound, then rolls her eyes and starts to say something, what sounds a lot like ‘you’re not getting out of that chair’, except Mustache Tash has turned in their direction and is snapping out a command over her, “Brenda, shut the kid up and get—“

Glass shatters on the other side of the garage, way in the back behind the piles of tires. It’s loud and sudden and surprising, and the Tashes react lightning-fast—Brenda’s gone from in front of Stiles, dashing past him, leaving Rowan covering the door alone. Stiles didn’t see where Packers and Mustache Tash went, but he can hear the sound of running, the pounding of footsteps echoing off the concrete.

A second window crashes and breaks open on another wall of the garage—the same window Stiles originally saw Derek through. A large rock flies through the air and skids across the concrete. Thick glass rains down on the floor, and Rowan takes his eyes off the door and turns towards the sound. Just for a second, a fast glance, but it’s enough to be a complete mistake.

The door slams open and a snarling red-eyes shape bounds inside. Rowan doesn’t even get off a shot or manage to make a noise before he’s getting backhanded by a werewolf and knocked to the ground several feet away. He doesn’t get back up. Stiles blinks, and in the half a second it takes to do that, Derek disappears from Stiles’s slightly wobbly vision. He blinks again, harder. Did he imagine Derek or what?

There’s a sudden soft shriek of something sharp against wood, the chair rocks slightly under Stiles, and the ropes around his chest fall into pieces. No, really—how did Derek get over to him that fast? Werewolves are fast, but they can’t teleport. Then Derek moves around in front of Stiles—he’s wolfed out the whole way, all the muttonchops and Bajoran nose—and rakes his claws along the sides of both the chair arms simultaneously. Stiles’s arms are free at once, but for a couple of slow seconds he isn’t sure what to even do with them. His thoughts are getting all slow and tangled, but by the time Derek’s slashed the ropes around his ankles, he’s managed to figure out that he should stand up.

And Derek helps him with that; grabbing him by the arm and yanking him along. Not towards the open door of the garage but towards the back, to the piles of tires stacked up there. Footsteps are pounding towards them, maybe that’s why; the door’s further away and running for it probably would’ve gotten them both shot. Not that it’d matter to Derek that much.

Keeping up with Derek, even the fifteen feet to the tire stacks, is bizarrely hard. Everything in Stiles’s vision keeps fuzzing and blurring and he can’t focus or control his legs very well. Once they get around into the smallish space behind the tire pile and the wall, Stiles slumps back against them, dizzy and panting.

“Where’d he go?” he hears Mustache Tash yelling from far away. “Where’d they’d both go? Daniel, check outside! And where the hell did Rowan get to?”

“Hey, that was almost like a plan,” Stiles says to Derek, even while he knows he shouldn’t be talking right now, but the words just come right out, and it’s probably whatever drug was in that hypo taking effect on him.

Derek mouths a dismayed and agitated shut up, and Stiles opens his mouth to try to explain that he’s sorry, he’s drugged, he can’t help it, and Derek’s response is to press his whole hand over Stiles’s lower face. He smells like dirt and engine oil and something more metallic. Stiles’s back pushes against the tires and he feels the hard rubber edges pressing into his skin from far away, like it’s maybe happening to someone else.

Then Derek steps away from him, and his mouth makes some sort of word shapes and Stiles maybe hears them or doesn’t, he squints at Derek and thinks he should ask him to repeat it, it was probably important. But Derek’s already moving away, creeping long behind the stacks of tires and clearly, maybe, quite possibly, Stiles is supposed to follow him.

So he tries. And it’s right about then that the drug really kicks in.

Stiles’s next step is straight into a concrete wall. He pats at it, trying to poke his fingers through, because he’s got to find a way past it, but it’s not a wall, oh, it’s the floor, how did it get way up here by his face? That’s strange, the floor doesn’t belong there. He laughs, because that’s funny—moving floors. They should really stay put.

A foot suddenly digs into his ribs and kicks him over. Stiles sprawls out onto his back, cold from the concrete floor seeping through his clothes. A greasy pair of coveralls is looming over him, the barrel of a gun at the end of them. Pointing right at Stiles. Rowan’s face blurs in and out of focus above it; he’s bleeding from a gash along his temple and looks furious beyond words. Stiles thinks dimly that he should be processing this, doing something, feeling something—but he can’t. All he can do is watch.

A dark blur barrels into Rowan out of nowhere, plowing him off his feet. A sharp cracking sound explodes in Stiles’s ears at the same time, and he realizes after a few dulled seconds that Rowan fired a shot. When Stiles rolls his head around, he sees a bullet hole in the wall of the garage about a foot from him. Stiles scrambles away from it, but his body is heavy and lumbering and he only manages to tumble out from behind the tires into the open again. He flops out onto his stomach and tries to dig his fingers into the floor, because he honestly thinks he might fall off the planet if he doesn’t.

The world sounds like it’s ending around him. Shouts and deafening gunshots echo from everywhere, and growls and roars and the clashing metallic orchestra of an entire shelf of auto parts being scattered across the concrete. He hears Brenda scream. A heavy thud of something large and human-soft hitting a wall with an unnatural speed and force. Stiles keeps his face pressed to the cold concrete, panting through his teeth until, a minute or so later, the noises slowly stutter out. Something tinny and metallic clinks along the floor near the front of the garage, and then everything is just quiet and still.

After several long and eerie seconds, Stiles hears footsteps slowly shuffling in his direction and a thin dragging of something metal against concrete. Before the sounds can reach him, something drops down on top of Stiles; a clawed hand slams down to the concrete right next to his face, and three more points of impact thud down all around him. There’s a cage of a human body coiled over him, but it’s tensed and snarling and doesn’t sound human at all. Derek.

Stiles manages to turn his head just enough to get his face off the concrete and see more than just the floor near his face. He sees feet, legs, a whole body, standing a couple yards away. It’s Packers, the guy who hasn’t said a single word this entire time and who Stiles practically forgot about. He doesn’t even have a gun anymore; he’s gripping a tire iron like a baseball bat, sweating and practically shaking. It doesn’t seem like he’s aiming to attack—he looks defensive and terrified.

Get. Out,” Derek’s insane distorted alpha voice snarls from somewhere above Stiles’ head, and Packers clearly agrees. He drops the iron and turns tail, bolting straight for the open door of the garage. The darkness outside swallows him up at once. In a couple more seconds, Stiles hears a car engine rev up and tires sloshing and skidding through slushy dirt. Headlights wash briefly through the open door and then disappear. Then there’s just silence. Someone, somewhere, groans softly. But everything seems to be over.

A hand, fully human, suddenly grips his shoulder and rolls him over. “Stiles. Stiles.

“Your princess’s inna ‘nother castle,” Stiles says, or thinks he says, honestly it’s really hard to tell with the world being upside-down and inside-out like it is. His tongue kinda sloshes around in his mouth and he might even be drooling. This is like the worst trip to the dentist times a thousand.

“Were you hit? Where?” There are hands on his face, his neck, patting down his sides, and he realizes that he’s being checked for injuries. Couldn’t Derek smell if he was bleeding or not? Whateverrrr.

“Noooo, no, ‘m fine,” Stiles manages to drawl out. “Just all like.... they gave me somethin’.”

A hand goes under his chin, tilts his face up, and Stiles blinks and tries to comprehend the sorta Derek-y face-shaped blobby thing in front of him, but he can’t make his eyes focus and any light at all is way too bright and leaves trails dragging like afterthoughts. The Derek-thing leans in and makes sniffing sounds near him.

“Yeah, they did,” he hears Derek mutter. “You are really drugged.”

“m’not drunk!”

Drugged,” says Derek’s patient but much louder voice, and then suddenly warm arms are sliding under Stiles’s armpits and he’s being lifted bodily to his feet. “Can you stand at all?”

“Mmyeah.” The hands disappear carefully from his sides and Stiles goes right back to the ground like a wet noodle. “Nooope,” he revises to Derek’s feet, and laughs helplessly. If he doesn’t laugh, he thinks he might cry. “Oh my god, little werewolf shoes.”

“Seriously?” Derek mutters, and grabs Stiles under the arms again.

He has to carry Stiles piggy-back out of the garage. Stiles clings to his neck and really has to focus all his energy on just holding on, his muscles are like silly putty and don’t want to do much of anything. He definitely doesn’t want to look at the aftermath of the fight that just went down.

“Told you thosh people were bad bad newsh,” he does manage to say.

“Yes, you did,” Derek says, sounding both annoyed and contrite together.

“Nobody’ver lishtens to me,” Stiles complains, and then some of Derek’s hair gets in his mouth and he tries to spit it out with a tongue that doesn’t work well. “Pllleeehh. Plehhh.”

“I did listen to you,” Derek corrects, and slings Stiles down off his back and props him up against something cold and uncomfortable. “You got yourself kidnapped. That wasn’t my fault.”

“I—oh, shut up,” Stiles says. Whatever he’s leaning against rocks slightly, he hears the metal creak of hinges. “Don’ take away my right to complain, mhh. I got drugged. An’ slapped. An’ nearly shot.”

“Slapped,” Derek says incredulously.

“With a gun.” He pats clumsily at the sore and lumpy spot at his hairline. “Here, right here.”

A hand curls around his own and pulls it away. “Stop it,” Derek says. “Just hold still, for once.”

“’mmkay.”

Derek’s up against him suddenly, arms going around Stiles and hoisting him up, almost fully back on his feet. Stiles’s head lolls forward against Derek’s shoulder and that’s kind of a nice place for it to be. He tries to nestle in there but Derek moves him away again, hoists him up onto something that kind of feels like the seat of a car.

“This m’jeep?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, heaving Stiles the rest of the way inside.

“You’re a pretty good guy really,” Stiles says, the last thing he remembers saying, even though he remembers being conscious for a long long while after that, but not any of what actually happens. It’s a long confusing and echoing blur into eventual darkness.

#

Stiles wakes up under something warm and dark that smells like leather and just a little bit like dog. The world is rumbling softly around him and he realizes he’s in a moving vehicle, and it’s dark, and he’s exhausted.

He pulls whatever’s covering him down a little bit, and peers around. He’s been propped up in the corner of his jeep that he’s come to think of as belonging to Derek, and Derek is driving. If that wasn’t weird enough, Stiles is also cuddled up under Derek’s jacket.

“Grinds in second,” Stiles mumbles. His mouth is dry and stale and the inside of his head feels like a ringing gong, just wobbling everywhere.

“I noticed,” Derek says. Slowly, Stiles shifts upwards in the seat, still beneath the jacket and strangely warm and relaxed. His jeep is purring fast and easy along the dark highway, the headlights washing yellow out in front of them. He’s still woozy and out of it, just not as bad as before he actually lost consciousness. It’s kind of the feeling he usually gets when he hasn’t slept enough and has been staring at a computer screen for too much of the night.

“I was really drugged, huh,” he says.

Yes,” Derek says, mildly exasperated.

“And I bet I talked a lot.”

“Yes.”

“Probably about Lydia.” Because that seems to be what he talks about whenever he gets all his inhibitions removed. Sometimes his mom. Or there was that one time that he tried to singlehandedly reenact the battle of Endor, but that was when he and Scott mixed some stuff together that shouldn’t have been mixed and he was sorry afterwards.

“Yes,” Derek says, but that one came after a hesitation and there was a weird tone in his voice. Stiles’s stomach sinks a little. He wonders exactly what it was he said about Lydia, and really hopes it wasn’t too much of an embarrassing loser diatribe of lonely virgin whining. Who is he kidding, that’s probably exactly what it was.

“Where are we?” he says, just to change the subject. The dark scenery outside is scrolling by fast under the headlights, and Stiles is pretty sure Derek is driving at least twenty miles over the speed limit. If not more.

“I’m not sure,” Derek says. His hands are tight on the wheel, and there’s a strain in his voice that Stiles doesn’t like hearing. “I just got us out of there.”

“And how long ago was that?”

“About two hours.”

“Derek,” Stiles says, and reaches out with hand that’s still all kind of dopey and drunk from whatever drug it was that hasn’t totally worn off yet. But he does manage to touch Derek, even if it’s on his leg instead of his arm where he was actually aiming. Derek’s eyes flit over to him. “I think we’re out of there.”

#

It turns out they’re not all that far from Chicago, but it’s also past midnight. They decide to stop for the rest of the night despite a few objections from Derek about not having gotten enough distance between them and the hunters yet, but he’s pretty easily talked out of them. All Stiles has to do is sag heavily against the door of the jeep and look pathetic. And it’s not much of an act.

Getting from the jeep to the motel room is another awkward event of maneuvering where Stiles basically has to hang all over Derek and let the guy do most of the heavy lifting. Of Stiles’s self. When they finally stumble through the door of the room together, neither of them manage to hit the lights. Derek spills Stiles down onto the nearest bed in the dark, and Stiles rolls around on the blanket and flops onto his back. Derek takes a second to make sure he’s not going to slide off the edge, and then starts moving away into the shadows of the room.

“Wait.” Stiles flings out an arm, grabs for him. He manages to snag just enough of Derek’s jacket to sink his fingers into and hold on. There’s no way he can actually keep Derek in place, but it at least gets his attention.

“Don’t go away,” Stiles says, when Derek glances down at him. “I almost got killed tonight. I’m always almost getting killed tonight. And I can never tell anyone that I almost just got killed tonight and I just have to go home alone and deal with it by myself because my dad doesn’t know about any of this and Scott has Allison and I don’t have...anyone. Don’t go away.”

So, turns out that drug really hasn’t worn off at all. Stiles rolls over onto his side and plants his face in the pillow because god how mortifying, sometimes he really shouldn’t be allowed to have a mouth.

Then a hand touches down on his shoulder and rubs down his arm to his elbow, then back up again. Sort of a reassuring stroke. Stiles grits his teeth and closes his eyes because no, NO, that’s just making it worse. Derek doesn’t really care in the long run, it doesn’t really mean anything, Derek—

Derek just walked into a completely obvious ambush set by a whole gang of werewolf hunters, for Stiles. Just Stiles. Not for Scott, not anyone else involved. Just him.

So maybe Derek does care, just a little. Maybe this whole awkward comforting thing is genuine. But Stiles just wanted him to stay nearby in the room, not—not do whatever it is Derek thinks he’s doing. The touching thing. That’s unnecessary. None of that needed, Stiles just wants another living human being close by. And maybe a week ago Stiles would have joked that Derek barely even qualified as one of those, but...well. Not anymore.

Derek’s hand goes away and Stiles relaxes. Maybe that was it; that was all he was going to do. Stiles starts hearing a shuffly, leathery sound and then there’s a soft flop of something landing on the floor, and when Derek suddenly settles down close to him on the bed Stiles realizes it was the noise of Derek taking his jacket off. And now—

And now.

Derek’s lying right up against him, careful but there. Just up against his back, not doing anything else. But he’s in the bed with Stiles, or on top of the bed with Stiles.

Stiles tries to remember that whole ‘tactile werewolf’ thing and thinks that this might just be a cultural thing he doesn’t really get—werewolves are basically like their own culture, right?—and that Derek is honestly trying to help and not trying to be weird and intimate or anything like that. And it’s not intimate, not really. Stiles isn’t getting creeped out by it or anything, it’s...it’s really kind of nice.

It reminds him of his mom and his dad and when he was little and would crawl into their bed after a bad dream and there’d be his mom’s arms around him and his dad would sleepily drawl something about how he had a gun and would shoot any monsters that came around and Stiles would feel safe.

He feels safe now. He feels safe with Derek Hale, and he’s not sure how that happened or what it means. But it’s real.

But then Derek moves, and Stiles is flooded with a sudden cold and paralyzing fear that he’s leaving anyway. So he rolls right over and flings his arm out as best he can, gets it around Derek’s ribs and grabs onto the back of his shirt. His forehead knocks into Derek’s chest.

“Don’t go away,” he says through gritted teeth. “Don’t.”

“I wasn’t,” Derek says.

Chapter Text

When Stiles opens his eyes, it’s daytime and the room is filled with filtered, dusty sunlight. Stiles can’t see the clock, but he expects it reads pretty amazingly late. Derek is warm and steady at his back, his nose and chin pressed into the back of Stiles’s neck. He sounds asleep, breathing heavily enough that it’s almost snoring but not quite, and his arm is thrown loosely over Stiles’s side.

Stiles doesn’t do anything for a couple of minutes. He could get up, but that might wake Derek up, and that might be weird. Would it be weird? Honestly Stiles isn’t sure if it’s gonna be weird. He’s kind of okay with this—though the cuddling’s kind of much—but Derek might not be. Especially since Derek is the one totally doing it. Stiles is the cuddlee here,and the one getting hot air blown down the back of his shirt every time Derek breathes out.

He’s also the one with a massive headache and pains all over and he’s so, so hungry. He didn’t get to eat his dinner last night before getting kidnapped. Again. He’s honestly more concerned over the noises his stomach is making than the fact that he and Derek are doing some kind of morning-after snuggle here. Or even that Derek seems to be waking up.

His arm drags off Stiles and he rolls over, and then Stiles hears a grunt and feels the whole bed jerk as Derek nearly falls off the other side. It’s a small single bed, after all. Stiles uses the opportunity to scramble up, getting up into a sitting position with his back against the wall. Derek’s now sitting on the edge of the bed, facing away from Stiles and moving his head around, stretching his neck back and forth. There’s a dark brownish stain on the back of his shirt that looks a lot like dried blood. After a few seconds, he turns around and looks at Stiles.

Even though it’s completely obvious what the answer is, Stiles still asks the question. “You stayed all night?”

Derek just nods.

It should be awkward. It should be really, really awkward. They’re two grown men—okay, a grown man and a sort of nearly grown man—who slept in a bed together all night and held each other and it should absolutely be Awkwardville, population them, elevation of several hundred feet of awkward.

But Stiles nearly died and there’s the whole demonstrative werewolf tendencies in general so maybe that’s why it’s not. Or maybe there’s another deeper and more complicated reason that Stiles is just not going to think about, because it involves how his opinions about Derek have kind of done a total 180 in the past few days and he’s not ready for dealing with that. Not nearly ready for that.

So Stiles just says, “thanks.” Simple and sincere. He leans forward and rests against his drawn-up knees. Derek moves around so he’s sort of sitting up next to Stiles on the bed, back against the wall, and they look at each other. It’s still not awkward.

“D’you think they’ll come after us?” Stiles says then.

“Maybe. Or they might call up some other hunters if they figure out which direction we headed.” Derek pauses, then says, “I might have killed at least one of them.”

Stiles can’t actually feel shocked or upset about that. The Tashes were clearly going to kill him and Derek both. Or at least mortally wound them. Or give them to the Argents. Something really bad and terrible, basically. Whatever Derek did was self-defense. “You had to,” Stiles says.

Derek nods. “I know.”

Stiles takes a second then to check Derek over, because even if Stiles was the one who got kidnapped and drugged and slapped around, Derek was the one who took on four fully armed hunters by himself. But he looks fine. Other than the fact that his grey shirt has four visible bullet holes in it, raggedy and dark with dried blood above perfectly smooth and scarless skin. Stiles can’t help staring a little. The healing thing is still seriously awesome.

“Good thing they weren’t using wolf’s bane bullets,” Stiles says, and idly pokes his fingers through two of the holes. Derek raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t comment.

“They weren’t trying to kill me,” he says instead. “They were just trying to slow me down, incapacitate me. It might’ve worked if I hadn’t split them up first.”

Stiles takes his finger out of Derek’s shirt holes. “I hope you didn’t get the room looking like this.”

“I had my jacket on.”

“Should’ve gone the other way and walked in without the shirt at all,” Stiles says. “We’d probably have gotten the room for free.”

“You’re an idiot,” Derek says, but Stiles sees the way his mouth is threatening to turn up at the edges.

So he just starts laughing because—what the hell, he’s alive and Derek wasn’t caught or killed by hunters and that’s a good day in Stiles’s book. That’s a great day. Also he just stuck his fingers into Derek’s shirt for no real reason and Derek didn’t even mind, so that’s also pretty good. He tips his head back against the wall and just laughs himself out, and doesn’t even care that is makes his headache worse. Derek just sits right there next to him and watches.

“Oh, shit, wait,” Stiles says, once he’s got the joy of life out of his system. “I just remembered. They told the Argents about you being here. I heard part of it.” And me, he doesn’t add, because he figures he’s just a description point on the Argent’s ABP for Derek that they clearly sent out to like every hunter in the country they know. Squirrelly kid with a buzz cut. “I think that’s why they weren’t trying to kill you.”

“Bad decision,” Derek says, and Stiles has to agree.

“I don’t think they know where we’re headed, though,” he says. “I think they were honestly kinda surprised we popped up in their garage. That was just the worst luck ever, by the way, I can’t even believe that happened.”

“There are a lot of hunters out there,” Derek says. “Usually where you don’t expect them.”

“Yeah, I totally expect all mechanics to be shady, but not that shady,” Stiles says. “Usually I just figure on overpaying for my muffler.”

Derek huffs, and then strips right out of his bloody and bullety shirt in one easy move. He wads it up between his hands, stares down at it, then lobs it in a perfect arc towards the trash can sitting in the far corner. It drops in effortlessly, barely rattling the plastic.

“Dude,” Stiles says. “You should totally play basketball. Just like that movie with Mi—”

No,” Derek says, but he’s trying not to smile; Stiles can see him working hard at it. Derek gets to his feet then, and he pads across the room to the bathroom. Stiles watches his tattoo shift between his shoulder blades, over all those dumb and perfect muscles the guy has.

“Hey, Derek,” he calls out, and Derek pauses in the doorway and glances back. “Thanks. By the way. For coming for me at all.”

“Stiles,” Derek says. “I had to.”

#

They’re back on the road a half an hour later. Derek is driving again, because Stiles feels like absolute shit after yesterday and all the various and sundry abuses he endured. The sides of his neck are sore, he’s got a headache that won’t go away, aching bruises everywhere, and a big tender lump on his head. Driving is the last thing he wants to do, so he gets to curl up in this passenger seat and devour an entire box of mini-muffins that they’d grabbed on their way out of town.

It’d been nearly noon when they’d woken up, so they’d totally blown the checkout time, and Derek had just thrown more money at the front desk to cover for it. Stiles isn’t sure he wants to know how much money in total Derek has put into this entire trip, because it has to be a lot and how much does the guy have, anyway? His only possessions seem to be his really nice car and his really nice clothes and his hollow shell of a ruined house.

Plus, they’ve been running on cash this whole time. Derek can’t have an unlimited wallet of holding here. Especially after paying for the jeep’s repairs, whatever Stiles glimpsed in his wallet several days back has got to be gone. Where is all of this money coming from? Just another one of Derek Hale’s infinite mysteries.

Except he and Derek talk now, right? Derek even told him about the mating thing and that was like three whole days ago and before Derek arguably saved his life, so money is a way less weird topic at this point. Especially when it’s constantly relevant.

“ATM,” Derek answers, when Stiles asks.

Thank you, Derek,” Stiles says dryly, and tosses a tiny muffin at him. “I would never have guessed.”

Stiles gets a flicker of a smile at that, the little bend to Derek’s mouth that means he’s actually joking, or at least doing this deliberately to get a rise out of him.

“Ha-hah. No, seriously,” Stiles says. “Do you have like a secret werejob that pulls in the big bucks? Are you a werestripper?”

“Adding were to the beginning of everything doesn’t actually mean what you think it means.”

“It totally does.”

“Do you even know where the word comes from?”

“Sure I do. It’s from Old English. Means man. I do my research. And it’s still a funny joke.”

Derek, who’d looked surprised when Stiles actually knew the origin, rolls his eyes.

“And don’t change the subject,” Stiles adds. The muffin he threw at Derek before is rolling around on the floor of the jeep, and he leans down to grab it, cranks down the window and lobs it out.

You changed it,” Derek says while Stiles is busy doing that.

“I did...not.” But Stiles actually can’t remember. “Anyway, are you gonna answer the question?”

Derek takes in a breath though his nose before he answers. “Life insurance claims.”

“For your fa—oh.” Stiles shuts himself up, hard. Clearly he should have foreseen some kind of tragic answer here. And now he feels pretty bad about pushing for it. “God. I’m sorry.”

“For what,” Derek says, suddenly a little on edge.

“Just—all of it,” Stiles says. Your whole life, he doesn’t say, but it’d be pretty accurate if he did. “Everything that’s happened to you. And that includes me and Scott trying to pin you for murder. Even if we thought we were right. I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Derek says. He sends Stiles a sidelong glance. “Thanks. For apologizing.”

“Yeah, figured it was about time,” Stiles says lightly. “You wanna...reciprocate at all? Anything about steering wheels or petty domestic crimes or other vaguely violent occurrences?”

Derek’s got that tiny little smile-twist to his mouth going on again. “Not really.”

Stiles laughs. “You’re still kind of a jerk, you know,” he says. “But you’re pretty okay too.”

#

So right after it became apparent that Scott was going to be having some monthly moon problems for the foreseeable future, Stiles got an app on his phone that tracked the moon phases. Just to be prepared. He hasn’t looked at it in a few days, mostly because Derek’s been commandeering his phone so much, but while he’s sitting there riding shotgun and getting bored, he pulls it up. And sees something slightly worrying.

“Hey, it’s a full moon tonight,” he says, glancing over at Derek. “Is everything gonna be...cool with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just, Scott sorta turns into a complete dick on the day of and it only gets worse and worse and more and more violent and he sometimes makes out with certain people and destroys other certain people’s hopes and dreams, and obviously you’ve been a werewolf since forever and know how to deal, but you’ve never been an alpha on the full moon before and—you know. You’re not gonna try and kill me or anything, are you?”

“Probably not.”

Probably not? Dude, so not reassuring.”

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” Derek says.

“Okay.” Stiles sits back against the seat, starts tapping the backs of his knuckles against the window.

Derek sends him a hard look. “’Okay’? That’s it?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and shrugs one shoulder. “You say it’s not gonna be a problem, then it won’t be a problem. Does there need to be more?”

“I guess not,” Derek says after a thoughtful pause, and turns back to the road.

#

“I think,” Stiles declares some time later, “that being a passenger is more boring than the actual driving.”

“I put up with it,” Derek says. “For days.”

Stiles tilts his head off the window, where he’d been watching squat industrial buildings and power lines roll by under low grey skies. “Yeah, but you suffer manfully. I get annoying.”

“At least you’re aware of it.”

“Maybe I liked it better when you didn’t talk,” Stiles says.

Derek snorts. “No you didn’t.”

Ughh,” Stiles groans as a reply, rolling his head around and drumming his fingers on his legs.

“You really are freaking out over there.”

“Hey, that’s a little strong,” Stiles protests, but he forces his leg to quit jiggling up and down. Then he sits on his hands for good measure.

“We can switch after Chicago,” Derek says. “If you’re up to it by then.”

“Oh, man. Chicago,” Stiles says. He’d practically forgotten that I-90 took a direct path right through it. “We’re gonna stop, right?”

“I was thinking we’d just go around entirely. Avoid it.”

“No way! It’s Chicago,” Stiles says. “When am I ever gonna be back here again? We gotta stop. Like an hour, something, just—I know you want to get to Brooklyn as fast as possible. I know. But maybe we deserve kind of a break, you know? After yesterday.”

Derek looks like he’s going to argue for about another second or two, then he just relaxes back in the seat. “All right,” he says, sounding surprisingly genial about it.

“I want a pizza,” Stiles declares immediately. “Like a real deep-dish Chicago style pizza. And maybe we could see Wrigley Field, and—what else is there? There’s gotta be more stuff.”

“There’s a really big silver bean,” Derek says offhandedly, and there’s just something about Derek saying that which makes Stiles start laughing.

#

“I don’t understand the really big silver bean,” Stiles says a while later, shading his eyes against the soft glare that the really big silver bean is throwing right in his eyes. His and Derek’s reflections are curved in black and red up the side of it, the plaza looks huge and expansive behind them, the sky white-grey and endless over the curved city skyline, and somebody’s leftover handprint is smeared right across Stiles’s reflected face.

At his side, Derek actually laughs. A kind of closed-mouth, trying-really-hard-not-to-but-can’t-help-it, shoulder-shaking noiseless laugh.

“It’s modern art,” he says, when he’s controlled himself. “You’re not supposed to get it.”

“Oh. Well then,” Stiles says. His breath clouds around him in the air. It’s still early afternoon but absolutely freezing. Even Derek’s wearing his second jacket—maybe to not appear like he’s freakishly cold-resistant. “Why are we here?”

Derek gives him kind of a look. “We didn’t have to be.”

“I thought you wanted to see it,” Stiles says, feeling sort of turned around in this conversation, not even sure what’s happening, really. And he gets an even weirder look out of Derek then, something like surprise, or disbelief, or maybe both.

“Well, I’m gonna see what’s under this thing. Maybe a really big silver chianti,” Stiles says, after another couple seconds of that weird silence. Derek does that soft huffing thing of his and sticks his hands in his pockets. Stiles nudges Derek’s shoulder as he moves forward, and Derek just kind of comes along with him.

A group of girls bundled up in bright scarves duck out from under the sculpture as Stiles and Derek get up closer, two of them holding hands and all of them speaking a language that sounds a little bit Slavic though Stiles has no idea what it is. One of them smiles in their direction as they pass by, and Stiles smiles back because, hey—a werewolf girl in a diner gave him her facebook so maybe he’s not as completely invisible as he’s always kind of thought.

Underneath the sculpture is a weird indented hollow, kind of like a bizarre bellybutton, and it stretches his and Derek’s reflections apart and puts them back together in a dozen strange ways. Stiles spends a minute or so looking up at it with his neck craned back, turning himself slowly in a circle and watching the reflections slide and warp around.

“This is even weirder and I understand it even less,” he announces finally, and Derek starts silent-laughing again.

#

Stiles gets his deep-dish pizza at a place within walking distance of Millennium Park, a tiny parlor restaurant tucked between towering office buildings and lit up by half a dozen neon signs in the windows. It’s gotta be about forty degrees warmer inside than it is outside, especially with the heat of the ovens coming out of the kitchen, and Stiles is glad for a chance to thaw out. It’s a pretty long wait for the pizza, sitting at a tiny table together in a warm corner of the room, but even then it’s just like being in the jeep or in a motel room or anywhere else at this point. Having a conversation, basically just hanging out with each other like regular people, isn’t even a big deal anymore.

When the food shows up it’s clearly way too much for one person, and when Stiles tells Derek he’s totally welcome to pitch in here, Derek actually does. He levers a slice out onto a plate and Stiles is just kind of sitting there waiting for the punch line, because this is new. He keeps expecting somebody to jump out and tell him he’s been punk’d, because honestly what is going on right here in front of him?

“You know, this is first time I’ve ever seen you eat,” Stiles finally blurts out, and Derek pauses with his fork halfway to his mouth. “No, really, it’s kind of fascinating how you managed to totally hide that you do, in fact, consume food. This whole entire time.”

Derek sets his fork down carefully, and Stiles thinks, great, I shouldn’t have said anything, why did I say something?

But then Derek says, “I just don’t like eating in front of others.”

“What—why?” If that isn’t the weirdest personality quirk Stiles’s ever heard of.

“I don’t know. Maybe it comes from being born part wolf. An instinctual thing about other predators or scavengers. I honestly don’t know. It’s just a thing I do.”

Stiles is absolutely, absolutely, not going to open his mouth and say anything about how it’s gotta mean something that Derek’s eating in front of Stiles now. He’s pretty pleased that what comes out when he does speak is, “I guess that makes sense. The instinct thing, you know.”

Derek’s picked up his fork again, but he’s just twirling the tines around on his plate and not eating yet.

“So...that’s what you’ve been doing?” Stiles says. “Every time you just kind of disappear for twenty or thirty minutes, you were having a sneaky lunch break?”

Derek lifts his eyebrows and one shoulder, and Stiles sits back in his chair.

“Truly you are a master of unnecessary subterfuge,” he says. “All that effort, man. You could’ve just...I don’t know. Said something. It wouldn’t’ve been that big a deal.”

“Just easier not to,” Derek says, and pokes awkwardly at his pizza slice.

“What, you think I don’t understand stuff that people can’t really control? Those kinds of mental things— I used to get panic attacks, I know what that’s like. Not that it’s really the same, but I’ve got empathy over here.”

“Panic attacks,” Derek echoes.

“Yeah, with my mom, not so much anymore but they were bad for a while, and—if you’ve got a weird thing, it’s okay to have a weird thing, is all I’m saying.”

Derek doesn’t say anything to that, just goes back to eating. But he keeps his eyes on Stiles, looking at him in a way that makes him a little anxious, because it seems like Derek is waiting for something more from him, something that Stiles can’t figure out and can’t actually provide because he doesn’t know what it is. Or maybe he’s overthinking it, and Derek isn’t looking at him in any certain way at all.

Still, he focuses on his food for a few minutes, and when he glances up again he catches Derek looking with some interest at the wall above the table, which has got some old baseball paraphernalia hanging up there; looks like White Sox stuff.

“So who’s your team?” Stiles asks.

“I mostly...stopped following baseball,” Derek says, and oh god, here’s that raw territory that Stiles sometimes unwittingly stumbles across, it really crops up in the weirdest places, like baseball, honestly, how did this become a Bad Place in Derek’s mind? That’s just...depressing.

Well, Stiles isn’t gonna push it this time. No, he’s really not. He’s not, he’s noooottt—

Bu then the “why?” just falls right on out of his mouth.

Derek stretches his neck around to one side, avoiding Stiles’s eyes, and pauses before he answers. “It was just a...family thing,” he says. “Something we all did together. Going to games, or watching them. It’s not—I don’t like thinking about it.”

“Hey, buddy, remember what I said about not making it all about the loss? This is a really good example—“

“This is different,” Derek says curtly. He puts his fork down again.

“How’s it different?”

“Because Laura wasn’t—“ Derek shuts off again, staring down at the table and looking frustratedly lost. Stiles just waits for him to pull it together, chewing absently on a bite of pizza. It’s delicious and amazing and he can barely enjoy it because Derek is upsetting him. Derek being upset is making him upset. That’s...what does that mean, exactly?

“Laura made her own decisions,” Derek says finally. “I couldn’t have stopped her from doing anything she did, or what happened to her.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Stiles says. “It’s okay to talk about her because, what—it wasn’t your fault? What happened to the rest of your family wasn’t your fault either!”

Derek’s whole expression tightens, and he sits back in his chair, terse and breathing thinly through his nose. It’s not anywhere near an answer, but it still screams like one to Stiles.

“Derek, oh my god, why do you think it’s your fault?” Stiles says. He’s suddenly nowhere near hungry anymore, and he slides his plate to the side and leans on the table. “How did you get that idea?”

“It’s not an idea,” Derek nearly growls, and a woman sitting at the table behind him half turns, looking alarmed. “It just is.”

“There’s no way—“ Stiles starts, but that’s as far as he gets before Derek is shoving his chair back—bumping into the poor lady behind him—and surging to his feet, grabbing his jacket and just about bolting out of the door of the restaurant. He just leaves. And Stiles is left sitting there, blinking at the spot where he was, wondering what in the hell just happened. Is this a full moon thing, that Derek just has to take off when he can’t handle a conversation? It’s gotta be one of the least mature things Stiles has ever seen, and he’s in high school. That’s saying something.

Derek is definitely going to be buying him another pizza later to make up for this, Stiles tells himself as he throws everything he’s got from his wallet onto the table, grabs his jacket, and runs out into the street after him. But Derek, being Derek with his teleporting skills that allow him to just show up places where he wasn’t a second previously, can also just disappear whenever he wants. He’s completely gone. The street outside the restaurant is filled with gusting wind and people leaning into it as they walk, the twirling ends of scarves and flapping jackets. No Derek at all. The guy can clearly book it like a pro.

Stiles doesn’t have much of a lead to go on here except to just go back to the jeep and hope that that’s where Derek headed. But it’s not. He’s not anywhere around the jeep when Stiles troops back to it; he’s not anywhere at all. And suddenly Stiles is faced with the prospect that he has actually lost Derek, in the middle of Chicago, and the guy doesn’t have a phone or a map or anything at all, plus he’s the one with all the money and Stiles is gonna be pretty boned for various reasons if he can’t find Derek before sundown, when it’s gonna be even colder and dark and dangerous and also the full moon. That part is bad on Derek’s end, even if he assured Stiles it might not be a problem. Keyword, might.

“Derek, aurrgggh,” Stiles says, scrubbing his hands furiously over his hair. “What were you thinking?

But Derek honestly couldn’t have gone that far—he was on foot, and unless he dropped to all fours for a werewolf run in a major metropolitan area, he has to be in a reasonable distance from the jeep and the pizza place.

So Stiles is just gonna have to track the idiot down himself.

#

It takes him nearly an hour and a half to find Derek. At a bar.

Derek is such a cheater.

“The only place I can’t legally go,” Stiles says to himself, dithering around out on the sidewalk and keeping an eye on the back of Derek’s artfully styled hair. Derek’s sitting at the long glossy wood counter, less than five feet inside the frosted glass doors, slumped on one elbow. The bar is on a street right under the low set ‘L’ tracks and Stiles’s jeep is right around the corner in a side alley; it’ll probably get towed if he keeps it there for long, but he really only put it there so he could take a quick lap around this particular block that was within the realistic travel radius from the pizza parlor. Actually finding Derek here was kind of an accident, and now he has a shitty parking space.

“Sometimes you’re the worst, Derek,” Stiles mutters. The bar isn’t exactly empty at this time of day; there’s only a couple of empty seats in there so maybe Stiles won’t get noticed right away if he just slides in there as subtle as he can. Not that he’s ever been great at that.

A train clanks and chugs and squeals by on the tracks overhead, and a gust of wind smelling like engine grease and stale air pushes past Stiles. Somehow that gets him to make up his mind; he’s just not going to stand out on the cold street like an idiot waiting for Derek to come out. Nope. So Stiles marches through the front doors of the bar like he belongs.

There’s stained-glass insets in the wood paneling above the bar and wine glasses hanging down from a rack, glinting in all the warm yellowy light. The flat-screen TVs mounted on the walls add to the ambient chatter and noise of the bar. No one’s sitting next to Derek—he probably looks moody and dangerous enough to have created a buffer zone that no one wants to be in.

“Tag, you’re it,” Stiles says, swinging onto the empty stool next to Derek and nudging him with his elbow. “Now I’ll hide, and you can spend an hour or two tracking me down in a totally unfamiliar city. Or not, because you’d find me right away with your super-sniffer, but you get the idea.”

“What are you doing here?” Derek says. He has a drink in front of him, but it’s only a third gone, and he can’t get drunk anyway. The glass is sweating a lot, all the moisture running over his fingers and down to the countertop, so obviously he’s had it a while.

“Looking for you, you big dumb stupidwolf,” Stiles says. “You can’t just say ridiculously tragic things like that and then run away, what the hell was that?”

Derek swipes a wet hand over the back of his neck, rolling his head to the side. “Stiles—“

Stiles opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, a bartender swoops down on them. Well, on Stiles, because he’s got this face of his and clearly doesn’t look anything near twenty-one. The bartender’s thick hair is done back in a million tiny braids and held there with a blue headband that’s striking against her brown skin.

“Hey,” she says to Stiles, and it doesn’t sound like she’s kicking him out. “You want to order something? I need to see your ID either way, if you’re going to sit there.”

“I am so ridiculously underage you don’t even want to know about it,” Stiles says. “But I don’t want a drink, I just want to make sure this guy here doesn’t overindulge. I’m kind of his designated everything.”

She eyes him. Hard. “It’s still illegal even if you’re not drinking.”

“Can you just pretend I showed you a fake ID?” Stiles wheedles. He slides a hand over Derek’s shoulder and pats the back of it. “I gotta take care of him.”

The bartender glances back and forth between them, and Stiles tilts his head and tries to give her the best puppy dog eyes that he can. Derek, of course, does nothing helpful.

“Okay, five minutes,” she says. “After that, you better be out of here; with or without him.” And she spins on her heel and head down to the other end of the bar.

“Could I get a water?” Stiles calls after her, with no hope that he actually will. Then he leans off Derek and turns him, and the guy looks like he’s pretty upset about the bartender bending the law a little bit for Stiles. Clearly he just wanted to like, sulk in here for another few hours. All by his lonesome. Thinking about how the death of nearly his entire family is somehow his fault. While Stiles ran around in 30 degree weather looking for him.

“Derek,” Stiles says, and gets a hand around his arm when Derek makes no sign he’s actually paying attention. “Derek, come on. Talk to me here.”

Derek just hunches over his glass. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“And clearly that’s why you’re such a well-adjusted person,” Stiles says, and then hates that he said it. “Look, not talking, it’s—it’s not good, you know? And you don’t talk about anything, or you literally flee the area if you let something slip, so—”

“You don’t talk about anything either,” Derek says, and Stiles totally sees what he’s doing with the whole trying to turn the conversation around thing, but he has to let it happen for a second.

“Like what?” he says. “Have you even met me? I can’t ever shut up.”

Derek’s shaking his head towards the bar counter. “Yeah, you talk,” he says. “But you do it to cover up things you don’t want to be seen. When you’re scared, when you’re defenseless, when you’re unprepared. That’s when you do the most talking, about the least serious things.”

They’ve been constantly together for a week now and it really shouldn’t surprise Stiles that Derek could have picked up on stuff about him, the same way he’s been picking up stuff about Derek. But Stiles never figured Derek would be trying. Derek’s always been a brooding mystery and something to solve and figure out, but Stiles has never felt enigmatic enough that anyone would ever need to unravel him. Sure he’s got some things he doesn’t talk about, but so does everybody. Derek just has so much of it, more than anybody really should.

“Okay, fine, so I misdirect and you undershare,” Stiles says, after the couple of seconds it takes to recover from the shock of Derek even knowing that about him. “It doesn’t make what I was saying any less true.”

“What do you want to hear?” Derek says, but he isn’t as bitingly defensive as Stiles expects. He just sounds tired.

“Start with, how do you even remotely think that the fire was your fault?”

Derek’s already shaking his head, his hand clasped tensely over the back of his neck. “No,” he says.

“God, Derek, I’m not trying to be your counselor here. I want to know what’s going on with you, just to know it. I’m just trying to be—“ Stiles sighs, and presses his hands down on the counter. “Your friend, okay? I’m trying to be your friend.”

Derek goes really still for a second, and then shakes his head. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Then what does it work like? What’s it gonna take to get this more mutual? Because I’m trying here, I really am.”

“You know more about me than I know about you,” Derek says. “That’d be somewhere to start. The most open I’ve ever heard you get was last night, when you were drugged.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says, because somehow he knew, he knew, that was gonna come back to bite him in the ass. He could have said anything, and Derek was right there to hear all of it. “What did I say? No, wait, I don’t even want to know.”

Derek just keeps looking at him, and Stiles deflates a little.

“You’re going to tell me regardless, aren’t you?”

“You seemed to really want me to know it at the time,” Derek says, and Stiles really doesn’t appreciate his stupid deadpan humor. Well, he does actually, just not now. Worst timing ever.

“Most of it was probably just—delusional rambling,” Stiles tries to rationalize, but Derek is shaking his head again.

“Some of it, but it meant something. A lot of it was about Lydia, but less about her than how she treats you, how you think people are always going to treat you. That they don’t listen to you, or see you, and nothing you do will ever change it.”

“I actually said all that?” Stiles mutters. It sounds pathetic.

“More or less.”

“It’s just been a really long time. With Lydia,” Stiles says helplessly. “I—she...barely knows who I am. She might not have known my name before this year. Of course I’m gonna think all of that, maybe it seems really sad but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to not feel like this about her.”

“But you don’t deserve that,” Derek says, and his eyes look dark and serious. “Nobody does.”

“Yeah, well,” Stiles says. Doesn’t he wish it was that easy to stop.

Although...the way he’s been thinking about her recently hasn’t been the same as before. He’s been worried about her safety, about her health, about whether or not she was alive, worried about it being his fault that those were even things he had to worry about in the first place, but...but not a lot about Lydia the way he had since he was about eight years old. She’s still in his thoughts, a lot, but differently. His life has had a distinct lack of pining over the last week, and...maybe that’s a step forward. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe he does actually deserve to not invest so much energy and emotion into something that doesn’t give back.

Except he’s doing the same thing with Derek now, what kind of stupid pattern is this, Stiles has got to figure out how to not form these weird warped one-sided things, they’re clearly not healthy. And apparently he can’t seem to function without one. He doesn’t see Lydia for a week and suddenly it’s Derek instead, god.

“So is that all you wanted to hear, or—“ Stiles starts carelessly, and suddenly Derek’s arm comes down across the bar and he’s leaning pretty close into Stiles’s space.

“No,” he says. “You want me to let you in so badly, but you can’t even do the same. Why are you doing this? Why do you care?”

“I don’t know, okay?” Stiles gets out through gritted teeth. “I don’t know why I want this, I don’t know why I’m trying so hard, I don’t know what I want out of you! It doesn’t make sense for us to be friends, it doesn’t make sense for us to be anything, and we wouldn’t be except for Scott, but it’s more than that now and I just wanna be—I want to matter. To you, to anyone, I can’t—I want to be more than this.” He can’t look away from Derek now, the way his eyes are dilated in the low light and how they’re focused on Stiles, only Stiles.

“You matter to me,” Derek says, and his voice is so quiet and weirdly sincere and Stiles just wants to believe him, and they’re leaning so close together and it seems like...it just feels like...something. Something stupid that Stiles is gonna do, because when is he not doing something stupid, when is leaning closer in towards Derek’s mouth going to be a good idea in any universe, when did trying to do this seem like a good plan?

And in the next second Derek jerks back from him, his elbow knocking his glass and sending it skidding wetly a few inches down the counter. Stiles watches it in faint horror, because he can’t look at Derek anymore, because did he really just try to—did he really just do that?

“Oh, shit,” Stiles says, heart pounding. “I am sorry, I totally read that whole thing wrong, didn’t I. Can we just—forget it, no harm done, okay? It was a stupid—it was a mis—“

And then Derek’s palm is hot against his cheek and there’s an even hotter mouth against his. Stiles’s surprised hands flail out and find a shirt to grip on to, a way to brace himself from falling forward right into Derek because somehow this is happening, oh god it’s really happening, he’s getting kissed by Derek Hale.

Derek’s skin is raspy and warm, and the hand on Stiles’s face is hot and dry but the other one is wet from the glass and drags wet fingerprints along Stiles’s jaw when Derek goes to cup his face. Stiles shivers, twists his hands into Derek’s shirt and huffs out a whining little breath while his head starts to cloud with a pleasantly blissful haze. Yes. Just...yes.

He didn’t even know he wanted this until it was happening. But maybe even that’s not true. He’s sure he did know in some really subconscious way, that something that was slowly starting to change between them. He knew whenever he tried to make Derek laugh or smile or tried to connect with him at all, maybe even when he put himself between the guy and a whole diner full of other werewolves. He knew when Derek let his sense of humor show and could talk about his sister and whenever he took Stiles seriously, listened to him, realized he was capable of things. When Derek saved his life, for no reason other than he just did, and put himself in danger to do it.

Stiles isn’t sure how long this all goes on for, but it’s a while, and he finally has to pull back to breathe. He’s somehow ended up gripping Derek practically by the ears and Derek’s got a hand around the back of Stiles’s neck and even now they’re way too close to each other, one of Derek’s knees slotted in between Stiles’s and his other hand is splayed around Stiles’s hip. They’re just panting into each other’s faces, staring like they’ve never seen each other before. Stiles moves his thumb carefully over Derek’s cheekbone, and Derek’s hand comes up and closes around Stiles’s wrist.

“Boys,” says the sudden voice of the bartender, pointedly. “You probably don’t want to do that in here.”

Stiles looks around dazedly. There are people staring. Some of them definitely not in a good way. He’s not really that worried, because Derek could take on absolutely anybody blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back and wow that’s a really, really interesting image and Stiles kind of likes it but holy shit they should really get out of this bar.

“And your five minutes are up,” she adds, which hardly matters because Derek has already tightened his grip on Stiles’s wrist and is pulling him off the barstool and tugging him towards the exit.

#

“I don’t think this is a—nguh— better place,” Stiles says about two minutes later. Derek now has him pinned down across the front seat of his own jeep, mouthing hotly at Stiles’s jaw and smelling him a lot, and Stiles’s neck is kind of cricked up against the driver’s side door and Derek’s knee is firmly lodged between Stiles’s legs. There are hands everywhere. Stiles is going out of his mind a little bit, except for this one fact that keeps tethering him back. “Derek? Derek, dude—“

Because they’re necking in his jeep, which is still parked right in the open just around the corner from the bar, in plain view of anyone with eyes, and it’s like five o’clock in the evening and the sun is setting but it’s still definitely light out, and as much of a seven-layer cake of awesome as this is—Stiles is no way doing this in front of like half the population of Chicago. No. Not for his first time with this, not for his any time with this.

Derek comes back to his mouth then, and Stiles forgets to protest for a good half a minute because hell, Derek tastes amazing. Stiles curls up around him, knees up along the sides of Derek’s thighs and arms twisted around the back of Derek’s shoulders, hands in Derek’s hair. His own shoulder hits the door handle and he can’t move his leg past the gear shift and the steering wheel is completely in the way of everything. This is really not as sexy as it looks on TV and movies and all that.

“Derek—Derek, okay, stop,” Stiles manages, this time with a little more resolve.

And Derek stops.

“Can we—can we just—go somewhere—?” Stiles manages to say, and Derek eases off of him, face unreadable. “I’m not backing out, I swear. I want, just—not right here.” He gestures, weakly, around at the inside of the jeep and the side alley and the whole totally public place they’re in.

“Yeah,” Derek says. His voice is rough and there’s a glint of red in his eyes. “Yeah, okay.”

#

They stop at basically the first small reasonable looking motel they find, a seriously narrow and incredibly tall grey building facing the river, about a block and a half from the bar. Derek gets two rooms for the first time since Montana, and in some far back part of his mind Stiles goes into a lot of analysis about this and what it means—that what started in the bar is just completely over, or it’s not over but Derek wants his space, or that he thinks Stiles wants space, or that he thinks this is really gonna be some kind of one-night stand that doesn’t even last the night, that they can fool around but then staying in one room is too intimate, his mind just keeps on whirling with this until he’s pretty much decided that it’s the first option, the option where this is just completely not happening.

Because it’s stupid, right? It’s stupid. Stiles screwed up, he shouldn’t have stopped Derek in the jeep, he should have just—he broke the moment and now it won’t come back, he only had one chance, now it’s too awkward and Derek’ll have changed his mind because honestly what could he possibly be seeing in Stiles in the first place, god, maybe they get along now but maybe all that stuff that Stiles just realized was going on with him isn’t actually going on so much with Derek, why would it be?

But Derek follows him from the elevator to his door, hovering right beside Stiles’s shoulder and breathing shallowly near his ear. Stiles doesn’t have the power to hear heartbeats, but he thinks Derek is just as nervous as he is. They’re barely inside cramped little room before Derek grabs Stiles under the arms and hauls him around against the wall. All right then, this thing is fucking on.

And Stiles throws himself into it wholeheartedly. He’s not gonna think about what it means, where it came from, or where it’s going. It’s just good and he wants it. But he doesn’t want it against a wall because, man, that’s just too strenuous to deal with after yesterday’s damaging shenanigans to his person.

Stiles pushes his hands against Derek’s hips because even all the werewolf strength in the world can still be shoved off-balance, right. And Derek goes, back until his calves hit the bed and he’s folding down backwards to the mattress and Stiles is going with him. Derek slings a leg around and rolls Stiles beneath him, and their mouths are together again and Stiles doesn’t even mind the rasp of Derek’s stubble anymore. Hands push under Stiles’s shirt and drag up his ribs, and Stiles claws his own hands into Derek’s hair and yanks at him, holding him desperate and close.

He’s never been kissed before today, not the kind where it really counts, and he’s definitely never been made out with before. But even if he had been he doesn’t think it would have been like this. It’s like they’re sinking into each other, Derek’s warmth and weight trapping him down and pressing into him, he takes up more room against Stiles than he possibly should, he’s overwhelming and everywhere. And Derek knows how to do this, he’s older and he must have experience, with a face and body like he’s got there’s no way he hasn’t been with more than a few other unfairly attractive people in his life.

It all makes Stiles think he should let Derek know that he’s not the same way. Like really far from it.

But he’s having trouble getting those words out, they’re getting stuck somewhere between his head and his heart, and he knows that any time he talks is just another opportunity to ruin this. Right now, the only thing he’s managing are half-hearted little grumbles and complaints when Derek’s fingers and mouth and teeth touch any part of him that still aches from yesterday; either through clothes or bare skin it doesn’t matter, all of him hurts.

“Why does everything I do get an ow?” Derek mutters, dragging his fingertips in long shivery scratches down Stiles’s sides. “I’m being gentle.”

“Excuse me for not being able to take a beating and Wolverine myself back to full health a minute later,” Stiles bites back against a tender area on the slope of Derek’s neck, all hot skin and sweat. The guy is mostly one large two hundred pound muscular slab, but there are soft parts of him in places. “Evil mechanics, remember, evil mechanics.”

Derek actually eases up then, and his fingers touch down on the lumpy ache on Stiles’s temple. And Stiles sees anger in his eyes and the set of his mouth, a sort of fierceness that’s overwhelming because it’s about him, it’s Derek upset over him.

“But it’s fine,” Stiles hurries to say, breathlessly. “I’m fine. And um,” he goes on, since they’re already kind of doing a pausing thing right now and he might as well say it, “also, there’s the whole, just—it’s just that it’s the first—you know, with me, and can we just remember that this is basically a whole new...everything, so I might need like. Coaching. Or patience. Or both.”

“You’ve never done this,” Derek says, and there’s actual disbelief in his voice, like—wow, apparently Derek thinks Stiles is just getting it all the time or something, why else would he be surprised.

Derek leans up then, basically crouching on his hands and knees with Stiles flopped out underneath him. But they’re not touching at all anymore, all contact severed. “And you’re sixteen,” Derek says, like he’s just now recalling that. It’s clearly not a good recollection.

“Seventeen pretty soon,” Stiles mutters, but he can see that’s not going to make any difference at all. This is clearly not going further. It’s done. It’s over. For real this time.

Derek closes his eyes. “Sixteen,” he repeats, but it sounds like it’s more to himself than anything.

“I started it,” Stiles offers. “If you want to...blame me.”

“There’s no one to blame,” Derek says. “We both—this just isn’t going to happen.”

“Yeah. I got it.”

Derek looks at him for a long half minute. “You should go to your own room,” he says, finally.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. His throat feels suddenly tight. “Okay.”

Neither of them move. Stiles hears his heartbeat loud in his ears, and Derek’s eyes are dark and shifting and won’t meet his own. He’s still a cage of limbs around Stiles, and doesn’t seem to realize it.

“You have to move,” Stiles says eventually. “You’re, uh...on me.”

“...right,” Derek says, and then climbs backwards until he’s standing at the foot of the bed. Stiles sits up, rests his hands on his knees. He can’t believe he’s actually managing to hold still right now, but every part of him feels heavy and dull. Bricks in his stomach and lead in his chest.

“You know,” Stiles says, and glances around, remembering the key in his pocket. “This one’s...actually my room.”

Oh,” Derek says.

“We can make it yours, if you want,” Stiles says hurriedly. “No big deal, we’ll just switch keys, or—“

Or Derek can just practically run out of the room, yeah, that’s an option too. The door shuts hard behind him, and a picture frame rattles slightly on the wall. Everything goes softly quiet except for Stiles’s uneven breathing and the pounding of his heart.

He put his hands over his face and slumps back down to the bed. It’s completely dark outside now , but the lights of the towering office buildings across the river are enough to keep the room in passable light. Stiles’s phone slid out of his pocket at some point during all the rolling around and now it’s lying next to his head on the blanket. The screen is glowing softly and Stiles can see it, the lunar phase app reminding him so conveniently that that it’s a full moon tonight, right now. And that maybe not all of what just happened was the human part of Derek.

Stiles curls up in the rumpled sheets, grits his teeth and gets a hand down his jeans. Because it’s the only thing he can do now.

Chapter Text

Stiles crawls out of bed early the next morning after an absolutely sleepless night. It’s just dawn. The sun is coming up on another side of the hotel, so all Stiles can see out of the window is a slow light at the horizon, the spaces between the monolithic office buildings turning watery and grey and bright.

It just feels like it’s all catching up to him now—what happened in Wisconsin, how he honestly nearly died and it was at the hands of people, just regular people, nothing supernatural about them at all. Sure they were hunters, but they were still just human. The Argents are just human too, and yet Stiles has a feeling that they wouldn’t look kindly on him having helped Derek this much already. It seems like all his enemies are human these days—wow, his enemies, it’s such a serious word and it’s basically the truth. Stiles legitimately has enemies. Maybe he isn’t anybody’s enemy back, but that’s not gonna stop really bad shit from happening to him at the hands of these people.

Stiles takes his phone and pulls up a chair next to the window, curling up in it and watching lazy traffic pass by on the grey streets below. He scrolls through his contacts until he gets to his dad. Then he hesitates, his finger hovering over the call button.

What’s he going to say? What is there to say about all this? How does he explain it, or even talk about it? What exactly can he tell his dad that isn’t just going to end up with him worrying about Stiles’s safety and more reasons for him to never ever ever let Stiles do anything again, or trust him again? What he said to Derek during his drug trip is still true—he doesn’t have anyone to go to when he nearly dies. Not even Derek now, probably. Not after last night.

Stiles wipes at his eyes and slides the phone back into his pocket. He tilts his head against the window and watches light creep up the buildings across the river, the red and yellow lights from cars blurring into twinkling blobs when he lets his eyes go unfocused. His head is heavy and slow, still drowsy. If he could fall asleep in this chair, even that’d be awesome. He definitely didn’t get enough sleep in the bed.

His mind goes back to Derek, because why not, right? He thinks about yesterday—not the stuff that happened later, but the stuff that happened that lead up to later. The things Derek said about his family, the fire, how he blames himself for it.

Kate Argent set the Hale fire, that’s pretty much a bona fide fact. So if Derek thinks it’s still somehow his fault, then...then that’s tangled up with her somehow. Scott did say that Allison told him Kate used to live in Beacon Hills once, so it would have been possible for her and Derek to have met before. Known each other? Been enemies before this? But it would have been long ago, six years back would have made Derek not a lot older than Stiles is right now, and he would have had his whole family—his pack—surrounding him and protecting him and Kate would have been several years older than him anyway, her early twenties.

Stiles can’t see the connection yet, but Derek sure thinks it’s there. That makes it real for him.

Stiles doesn’t sleep again, but he drifts. Chicago wakes up somewhere past his half-closed eyes. A few minutes before eight o’clock there’s a sudden sound at the door that jerks him alert and aware again. It’s not even really a knock, it’s like someone just slapped the door once, hard.

Stiles drags himself across the room to open it, and Derek’s out in the hallway.

For a couple seconds it’s the most awkward stare down in the entire world. Derek looks like he got just as much sleep as Stiles did, his face looks drained and thinner than usual under the dark growth of stubble, and his entire body is one long line of tension from his jaw to his stance. Stiles is a little dismayed, but not surprised this time, that he still finds Derek attractive under all that. It’s been a slow sneaky thing, thinking of Derek like this—not just physically attractive but attractive—but it kind of blew its cover yesterday with the full on make out session and now Stiles is aware, really aware, that this is a thing with him.

But probably not with Derek, not at all. He’s completely closed off now, shuttered behind a hard and neutral expression. The guy doesn’t even speak, he just jerks his head in a ‘come on’ gesture, which obviously means they’re leaving, right now, and Stiles is just supposed to fall in line.

“Right,” Stiles mutters. “Be right there.”

#

They head out under an ominously dark sky, with a harsh chill in the air that bites like frost. The first hour out of Chicago is just a horrible, sweltering silence. So is the next. And the next. They make it the rest of the way across Indiana and into Ohio without saying one single word to each other. It’s the worst. It’s even worse than the first day when everything was just sniping and arguing and with Stiles wanting to do nothing but ditch Derek’s broody ass and go home. Now there’s a whole other menagerie of thoughts Stiles is having about Derek’s ass and none of them are appropriate at all. But he’s sixteen, he can’t help it if that’s where his mind wants to constantly go.

But Stiles can barely look at Derek now, and Derek won’t look at him either. The strange but real friendship that was starting to happen with them is clearly just...ruined. And that’s terrible because Stiles was starting to get that Derek is actually a decent person even if he shows it a little funny and it comes under a werewolf coating with a layer of nougaty heartbreaking past under that and a heavy sprinkling of trust and anger issues on top of it all. Where was he going with this? Oh, yeah, apparently Derek is just tragic candy.

But whatever he and Derek were starting to have is now just a major motion screw-up playing on all screens across America. There’s no going back on it, really no pretending they didn’t end up sloppily making out on a hotel bed last night, with Derek basically drunk on the full moon—or whatever it was doing to him. And they still have almost a fourth of the country left to drive across together. In this jeep. The jeep that they were also making out in, just a little over twelve hours ago. Derek can probably still smell that in here, and maybe that’s why he looking like he wants to escape so badly that he’d chew his own foot off to do it.

It just had to be Derek, didn’t it. He just had to pick Derek to do this all over again with. Stiles really has the worst taste. Not that the people themselves are bad, no, he picks great people—driven and strong and loyal—but people who are just stupid to want like this. Unavailable and beautiful people, who are way out of his league or out of his species. He’s just made yet another wrong choice, a choice that’s going nowhere.

#

The first time they stop for gas, Stiles calls Scott. To see if he got through last night okay himself, and just to hear somebody’s voice. Because Derek isn’t speaking. At all. He did stonily hand Stiles some cash for the fill up, and now he’s just sitting in the jeep while Stiles leans on the back bumper and tries to keep the conversation quiet but it’s probably all futile because werewolf.

Scott seems fine. Allison took over the chaining-him-up duty last night and then kept safely out of the way nearby, but apparently even having her that close made it easier for Scott to hang onto his control, keep himself more human. No issues with nearly escaping, or nearly mauling anybody. So she was more helpful than Stiles has ever been, basically.

“Hey. Can I ask you something?” Stiles says, trying not to let that fact sink in too much. “Do you like it now?”

“Huh?” Scott says, brilliantly.

“Do you like it. Being a werewolf,” Stiles presses. “I mean, now that your monthly gift doesn’t cause you to want to murder people constantly. Just occasionally.”

Scott sighs. “I don’t know,” he says. “I mean, with Allison’s family—“

“For the love of—again with the Allison thing,” Stiles mutters under his breath. Then, “Scott. You’re probably going to be this way for the rest of your life, you know? It seems kind of undoable at this point. You should probably decide what you think about it in direct unrelation to your ungirlfriend.”

Scott takes a second. “It’s...okay, I guess,” he says finally. “And last night was better. The asthma thing’s pretty nice too.”

For a second, Stiles wonders what would have gotten cured about him if he’d gotten the bite instead of Scott, like Peter Hale said could have easily happened. What would it have fixed, or changed? How different would he be? Could he be stronger, more capable, just...more? Something more than just a clowny kid who gets kidnapped as bait because he’s not a threat, who can’t seem to be of any use to anybody, who can’t do any good at all.

And how would Derek see him? As pack, like he wants to see Scott? Like a brother, a family? Something more?

Stiles still wouldn’t want it. He thinks he can do okay being how he is. Maybe not the best, but okay. Because he just doesn’t know if the exchange would be worth it. Losing control of himself in the way he’s seen Scott do, even Derek do. Power for a price. But there is that wonder, that what if. If it had happened...

“Are you doing okay?” Scott asks suddenly, maybe because Stiles has gone quiet for several long seconds on the line.

“Yeah, man, I’m—never drive across the country as a vacation. It’s hard work,” Stiles says lightly.

“And Derek—?”

“Same as always,” Stiles says. “I can deal with it. No problem.”

There’s a sudden scuffle on Scott’s end of the line, and then, “Allison’s calling, hang on,” Scott says. “I’ll call you back later—“

“Sure, buddy,” Stiles says, and hangs up without waiting for a reply.

When he drops back into the driver’s seat and twists the keys in the ignition, Derek says the first words he’s spoken since last night.

“We need to be more careful.”

“I—right, what?” Stiles says, startling badly and trying to hide it by turning his flailing arms into a cramped little stretch.

“It was a bad idea, just walking around in the city like that. We can’t do it again,” Derek says. He’s looking straight ahead, not at Stiles at all. “We have to keep a lower profile now.”

“Right,” Stiles says. “Yeah, of course. That makes sense.”

And he waits, but Derek seems to be done. Quarter’s run out, end of the show. Stiles sighs and puts the jeep in gear, and heads them back out onto the road.

#

That night in his Ohio motel room—alone in a single with Derek in another room across the hall, like this whole trip has regressed back to the very beginning—Stiles can’t hold himself still. He can’t stay sitting down, can’t watch TV, can’t even try and go to sleep early. There’s an itchy sense of wrongness running under his skin. He’s just anxious. And he knows exactly why, and that’s only making it worse.

He misses Derek being here.

He misses making stupid jokes and then watching Derek out of the corner of his eye to see if they’ll make him smile or roll his eyes or do that little huffing sound, he misses the way Derek’s own sense of humor would sometimes slide out of nowhere with some kind of wry comment and the way he could complain about what Stiles was watching on TV with just his eyebrows, and he misses the way these barren motel rooms felt more friendly when Derek was filling up parts of them, even if it was just with the sounds of the shower running or squeaks of cheap mattress springs on the other side of the room.

Stiles never really realized how strong Derek’s presence was, how noticeable he was even doing nothing, until it wasn’t there to notice at all. And Stiles is used to this kind of constant quality alone time, but this is the first time he’s really wanted to exchange it for something specific, where he knows exactly what he’s missing and all he really wants is for it to come back. And maybe it’s a stupid, totally insane thing, but that’s just how it is.

He tried calling his dad earlier, but hung up before the call went through because he still doesn’t know what to say, and Scott never called back at all, and Stiles just can’t sit in this room alone for much long, he’s going to go nuts. He just needs...a person. Derek’s the only one here. And he and Derek have to talk sometime. Today was torture. Although Stiles can’t imagine Derek is actually going to want to talk. He was close-mouthed enough when they were actually getting along.

So Stiles goes across the hall and knocks on his Derek’s door and prepares for another brutal hardcore rejection. He’s good at getting those. In fact that’s pretty much the status quo for him; constant rejection. That’s where his life bar is set. He’s just gotta double check on this one. To make sure of what he already knows.

It takes about a minute for Derek to open the door, right about the time that Stiles is trying to decide if he should knock again or just leave. But then the door creaks open and yellow light slices out around Derek’s familiar silhouette. At least he’s wearing a shirt this time, Stiles thinks crazily. He’s not sure he could even handle this if he wasn’t.

“I figured you’d do this sooner or later,” Derek says before Stiles gets out a word, and just stands aside to let him into the room. For a second Stiles stays right in place, dumbly, because this is not a rejection. He doesn’t even know how to take it.

“Okay,” he finally says, and moves inside, careful not to bump into Derek or really touch him in any way. Derek shuts the door behind him, and for a second he just leans on it with his arm, back to Stiles.

“So we should maybe talk about how we kind of almost had sex or something,” Stiles says, finally, and Derek sighs heavily in his throat. “At least the making out thing should be...addressed.”

“It was a mistake,” Derek says, and Stiles grits his teeth and sinks down on a chair that’s against the wall. “I’m not going to do this to you.”

To me?” Stiles says, startled. That’s not the kind of mistake he was expecting to hear. “This is not exactly a one-way street. This is a multi-lane highway of reciprocation. You aren't doing anything to me that I am not fully embracing. I’m sure you can probably smell how much of a one-way street it’s not—“

“Stiles,” Derek says. “Don’t.”

Stiles sighs and sits back, rubbing a hand over his hair. The legs of the chair are uneven, and it wobbles under him. “Look,” he says. “I’m just gonna keep the honesty thing going in the same direction as it has been, all right, because I can’t do the attractive brooding thing the way you do, my face just wasn’t built for it.” He thinks he might be getting somewhere when Derek does a reluctant mouth-twitch thing that’s not really a smile but is sort of trying to start. “So just, lay it on me here. I can handle hearing the truth.”

“You’re too young,” Derek says immediately, and Stiles tries not to wince. He knew that was at least part of it, and it’s something he can’t change. “Even if you weren’t, it’s not a good idea.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Stiles says, and he’s not even just saying that because of how unexpectedly awesome making out with Derek was. He thinks they’re actually...good for each other. They get each other somehow. He can make Derek laugh. Derek makes him feel safe. They were proving to each other that they were each reliable, that they could start trusting each other. If nothing else, they make an unexpectedly good team. It just seems that this—that they—could have really had something. Been something good.

“You’re too young to know why it’s not,” Derek says, and Stiles feels that one like a punch in the gut. Right, so maybe he is young, but Derek doesn’t have to start insulting him for it, treating him like an idiot just because there’s what—slightly over half a decade between them? It’s not like Derek is much better than a teenager himself sometimes with all his brooding and his moods and his stupid short temper he can’t keep in check and how he just runs away from everything.

“Goddammit, Derek,” Stiles says. “You have to give me a real reason, not just excuses, because you were pretty into it—you practically started it—so don’t bullshit me here.”

Derek’s head snaps up. “I didn’t start it!”

“All right, maybe yeah, I started it a little, but I wasn’t the one who kept it going or the one who was saying things that...that felt like...that you...” Stiles has to stand up again, too jittery to stay seated, and he paces around at the foot of the bed while Derek just watches him through hooded eyes. He hasn’t moved from the door, so Stiles is kind of trapped in here until they get something figured out.

“Okay, look,” Stiles says finally. “I can’t do this if it’s going to be like today was. I just can’t do it like that. Can we just—“ here it goes, the worst phrase ever created, “can we just be friends? That’s it, just that.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, and he sounds so relieved that Stiles heart sinks. So it really was that big of a mistake on Derek’s end. Well. That’s good to know. Good to know.

“Great,” Stiles says, trying to mean it. “Absolutely fantastic.”

#

The ‘being friends’ idea sort of works. Sort of.

It’s not exactly like before, but it’s better. They talk. They banter. They argue. Derek gets exasperated with Stiles’s endless rambling and Stiles gets exasperated with Derek’s endless disparaging silences. But they don’t tease each other anymore, not the way they were starting to. Stiles is overly careful with what he says, and Derek just says even less. Sometimes the silences are awkward, so Stiles only talks more to fill them up—pointless, empty things. Sometimes his hands sweat on the wheel, and sometimes he can’t think of anything but how Derek felt against him, all around him, involved in him and only him for just those few breathtaking minutes. Sometimes the memory is so much that it’s like a pressure in his chest, and he can’t talk at all.

Pennsylvania rushes by around them, thick trees and open barren farmlands. They put all of the state behind them in a day and make it into New Jersey by evening.

When they stop to eat, Stiles goes into the bathroom and throws cold water on his face, then clings on to the wet edges of the porcelain sink and just breathes. He’d thought that nothing could get much worse than his thing for Lydia, a distant unnoticed one-sided hopeless pining, but he’d been wrong. The worst thing is one-sided hopeless pining after a tiny, tiny taste of what it could have been like. And being told that the tiny taste, that one moment of completely focused attention, was a mistake. And then having to sit in excruciatingly close quarters with that mistake for hours on end. Trying to be friends with it.

Still, all of that’s easier to think about than the trail of danger they’ve been collecting, what they’re barely keeping ahead of and what will have to catch up with them at some point—the Argents, the Tashes, whatever’s going on with Elizabeth Hale and the trouble she’s probably in, even Derek’s problem where he can’t get the bite to take with anyone. There’s so much, and thinking about it is overwhelming, and frankly his stupid inappropriate drama is easier to be upset about. It feels manageable. Not like the end of the world, and not like it’s gonna kill him out of nowhere when he’s not paying attention.

When Stiles gets back out into the crowded little roadside restaurant, their food’s showed up. Derek’s still eating in front of him, which is at least something. He barely looks up when Stiles drops back into the seat opposite him. A baby wails briefly from somewhere across the noisy room and both of them flinch.

“So I was thinking,” Stiles says, looking down at his plate of sliders and realizing he’s never been less hungry in his whole life. “I know we’re less than an hour from Brooklyn, but let’s just stop for the night now, and drive over in the morning. Start off with a whole day there that way.”

“Fine.” Derek is clearly not paying him much attention. He’s also not paying his food much attention, pushing it around on his plate absently. He seems to be focused inward, wrapped up in whatever’s going on in his head. Now that they’re so close to Brooklyn, he has to be seriously anxious. They haven’t heard from Elizabeth in days, there’s no telling if they’re even going to find her, or what it’ll solve—if anything—when they do. Plus Derek’s got a possible murder on his hands now, and Stiles is pretty sure that even with all Derek’s temper and violent tendencies, that that’s something new for him.

No wonder neither of them can eat. There’s no room in them for anything else but worry.

#

Stiles calls his dad that night from the motel—still two rooms, the ‘being friends’ thing doesn’t include that again yet—and forces himself to hold on the line and not hang up before his dad picks up this time.

“I just wanted to let you know I’m still okay,” he says, when his dad answers. “I’m doing okay.”

“You don’t sound okay,” his dad says, with a rough concern.

“I’m just tired. You’re probably still tracking my phone, look at how much driving I’ve been doing,” Stiles says, and makes himself laugh. “I’m just tired.”

#

“I could drive,” Derek says the next morning at the jeep, and Stiles wonders if Derek heard his conversation with his dad. It’s not like the walls were very thick, and Derek has super-hearing on top of it. The most Stiles can feel about that invasion of privacy is kind of a resigned exhaustion.

“It’s fine,” he says, and climbs into the driver’s seat. “We’re almost there.”

Chapter Text

They come up from the shiny tiled walls of the Holland tunnel and just about right away Stiles sees a green freeway sign that reads BROOKLYN, THIRD RIGHT. Even just seeing the word itself jump-starts a little flick of adrenaline and something else in Stiles’s chest, and he can’t really imagine what it must be doing to Derek to be so close, for the first time since he left, for the first time since Laura has been gone.

“Hey. Derek,” Stiles says aloud. “We’re getting pretty close, so where should I be going? Direct me, here.”

“We’re not that close, just follow the signs,” Derek says from his corner of the front seat. “We still have to get through Manhattan.”

“At least man the GPS.” Stiles tosses his phone into Derek’s lap. “If I get lost, I wanna know where I’m lost at.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” But Derek picks up the phone and starts poking at the screen, however unenthusiastic it might be. Stiles tries not to look at him or focus on him too much, because he doesn’t want Derek’s werewolf radar picking up all the sympathy Stiles is probably beaming out right now, if that in fact is a thing he could sense like jealousy and arousal or whatever.

#

Stiles should have expected Derek to be really really awful at giving directions. He says them at the last possible second, which barely gives Stiles enough time to get into the right lanes and driving in these cramped rushing city streets is already bad enough without nearly sideswiping other vehicles off the road. City driving, man. It’s not like the big rangy streets or the narrow hilly roads in Beacon Hills, and Stiles got a little bit of a taste of it in Chicago but this is lower Manhattan he’s going through, and nearly every other car is a taxi. And they all sure know where they’re going. Loudly.

“Could you possibly try not to piss off every single person on the road?” Derek says as yet another horn blares noisily from behind them. He’s giving off a real strong impression of having his ears laid back. Even though that’s literally impossible.

“Could you possibly try not to give the worst directions on the planet?” Stiles shoots back at him. He waves through his back window at the taxi he just blatantly cut off, adrenaline still fluttering under his skin.

Derek’s making his prissy annoyed face. “We’re just about at the bridge anyway.”

“What bridge?”

“What bridge—what bridge do you think?”

“I’m sorry that 99% of my brain power is going to keeping us alive,” Stiles says, as another taxi cuts around him purposefully.

“The Brooklyn bridge,” Derek says, almost under his breath.

“Oh,” Stiles says. That’ll be cool to see outside of a movie screen.

And it is, when they get to it. Stiles gapes a little too much at the heavy arced stone towers and the huge fans of metal cables, and Derek has to elbow his attention back to the road when he nearly rear-ends a Subaru.

After the bridge they get on a complicated series of expressways (Derek is still really bad at giving directions, but Stiles is getting more used to it now) that mostly run along the west edge of Brooklyn with a lot of ocean off to the right. Then Derek directs them down to the regular streets and to a six-story motel of striped grey and brown brick. It’s practically next to expressway, on the other side from a big industrial shipyard and rows of old warehouses. The motel’s side is slightly nicer—sitting in a neighborhood of worn but decent-enough narrow houses and a couple of businesses for roofing and scaffolding and auto repair. Stiles gives that one a suspicious glare as he climbs out of the jeep in the tiny front parking lot of the motel.

Auto repair. Why did it have be auto repair. Bad memories about auto repair.

But they’re here. They finally made it here, after—what, exactly, Stiles has kind of lost count—ten days? A long damn time.

“So,” Stiles says, leaning across the hood of the jeep and knotting his fingers together against the still-warm metal. Derek’s climbed out on the other side but not doing anything—he’s just standing there, looking. Back towards the freeway, hands in his pockets. “Hey, Derek, buddy—you checked in to the planet right now?”

For another five or so seconds, he’s definitely not. Then the muscles of his shoulders roll back and settle, and his head does a sharp little tilt to the side—almost a twitch—before he turns around and looks up at the motel. Still not at Stiles at all.

“Yeah,” he says. Then he strides away across the parking lot with absolutely no more preamble.

“Right, let’s...settle in, or whatever,” Stiles says, shouldering his pack and heading after him.

#

Settling in consists entirely of Stiles throwing his backpack down on the paisley bed cover in the single—why single, what does that mean—room and flopping down after it, while Derek leans up against the window and stares out at the auto shop across the street and the expressway beyond that. He’s strangely unenergetic for actually having made it here; even checking into a motel first off wasn’t what Stiles had expected to happen. Ten days on the road to get to Brooklyn, and now all Derek wants to do is look at it from behind glass.

“So what’s the first move?” Stiles says from the bed, propping himself up on one elbow.

Derek’s head comes up, and his expression is very carefully...unexpressive. “You don’t have to be involved anymore,” he says, slowly. “You should probably just go home.”

Well, that would definitely explain why Derek only got one room.

“Derek, stop it,” Stiles snaps, and sits all the way back up. “I’m already here, okay, and do you really think I’m just gonna sit back and chill, or leave, while you run around Brooklyn with no idea what you’re doing? You know you need help. You asked for help. So shut up and take it.”

Derek’s mouth is set in an unhappy little bracket. The light from the window is grey against his skin. “I thought that after what happened in Chi—“

“Nope,” Stiles cuts him off and slaps his hand down on his leg for emphasis. “Just forget about that. I’m totally forgetting about it.” Giant lie. “In fact I don’t even know what you’re talking about. It’s just not an issue, okay?”

Could he lie more? But it doesn’t matter—he really can put this whole thing aside for now. Slide it right on that backburner and just let it goop and thicken somewhere and maybe when he finally gets back to dealing with it it’ll be all burnt and gross and he won’t want it anymore. Yeah, sure, that’s how it’ll go.

“Fine,” Derek says tersely. “I was going to start at the hotel.”

He must mean the hotel that—forever ago—Elizabeth was staying in when her room got broken into, which made it into a tiny newspaper article that Derek had looked up on Stiles’s computer. That was really the beginning of this whole mess, and does actually make sense as a starting point.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Sounds good. Let’s go.”

“Right now?” Derek says, and he sound so unenthused and grudging about it that Stiles suddenly feels like he’s dealing with a whiney five year old and he honestly can’t understand why suddenly he’s gotta be the one making stuff happen when he didn’t even start off this trip as a willing participant.

“Whaddya want, an engraved invitation?” Stiles says, and hops up off the bed. “You’re not getting one, so suck it up and let’s go.”

Derek scowls, but he follows Stiles out of the room.

#

The hotel Elizabeth had been staying at is only a couple of blocks from their own motel. That’s probably why Derek even picked it, and the fact that he can actually demonstrate a little bit of foresight is comforting. That still doesn’t mean that Stiles is gonna let Derek do any of this on his own. No way.

And Derek does an okay job at the front desk—at least he doesn’t outright terrify the woman at reception. He just goes right up and straightforwardly asks if they can tell him anything about Elizabeth Hale because he’s her nephew and hasn’t been able to get ahold of her for a while and is worried, and slides the woman his ID to prove he’s got the same name and isn’t some shady creep.

But none of it matters anyway, because Elizabeth is clearly not staying here anymore, and when she was she paid in cash and didn’t leave a phone number or really any information at all including her real last name and the woman at reception—who does remember a woman named 'Elizabeth' whose room was broken into, because she was working when the cops showed up—tells them that she kept pretty quiet and scarce and never let the cleaning crews into her room and took off right after the break-in and it all sounds pretty suspicious to Stiles, but pretty much par for the course on how the Hales act. Based off the one of them he knows.

So, basically, the whole thing is an absolute 100% bust.

#

“So I have an idea,” Stiles says a couple minutes later. He and Derek are back in the jeep, still parked on the street outside the hotel. Derek leans up off his hand and looks over at him without a word. So Stiles just plows on ahead. “She filed a police report about the break in, right? She had to, obviously, the crime was reported. And you have to write information down on those things. Like who you are and where you live and how they can get in touch with you. So, somewhere in a Brooklyn precinct, all that information about her is floating around. And we just gotta go get it.”

“Just that easy, right,” Derek says.

“Dude, are you kidding me? That’s not easy. What were you thinking, we’d just walk in and charm some desk jockey into complete distraction? Police work is serious business,” Stiles says. “But I’m just saying. It’s an idea.

Derek raps his fingers against the window a couple of times, and then grunts and makes a ‘go ahead’ gesture. “Fine,” he says. “I can’t think of anything better.”

“Yeah, see, you totally still needed me. Admit it,” Stiles says as he puts the jeep into drive and pulls them off the curb. He’s not sure if Derek’s response of silence is good or not.

#

The 72th Precinct is a chunk of blocky grey stonework and there’s barely a sign on the front that identifies it as a police department. Most everything else around it is warm red brick and iron-wrought fire escapes and signs for delicatessens, pizzerias, Chinese food restaurants. The air smells like all those foods and gas and exhaust mixed together. All the parking spaces out in front of the station are painted yellow lines half in the street and half over the sidewalk, and there are regular cars scattered in with the NYPD cruisers. The front entrance is an arched doorway with an American flag stuck over it a story up, flapping wretchedly in the cold wind. A little flight of stairs leads up to the recessed doorway, which Stiles and Derek are now standing in front of.

“I’ll do it,” Derek says, after they’ve been dithering on the sidewalk for at least half a minute, and starts forward.

“Oh my god, no you won’t,” Stiles says, catching his arm. “Worst idea ever.”

“Look, I’m maybe related to her, I have the ID to prove it, I’m the better choice for this even if you think I have no people skills,” Derek says, shrugging Stiles’s hand off. Stiles just grabs him again and hauls him back a step, which must have only happened because Derek let him.

“That’s not what I meant,” Stiles says, hating that Derek actually remembers that comment from all the way back in Oregon. “What I mean is that you probably shouldn’t walk right into a police station when there’s an actual possibility that you killed someone in Wisconsin and you’ve already got a shady record in California.”

Derek shutters faster than a camera lens. “Oh,” he says.

“Yeah. I’ll go in,” Stiles says. “I got connections anyway—my dad’s a sheriff, remember.”

“Of a rural town on the other side of the country, no one cares,” Derek mutters while Stiles pushes past him and up the steps.

“Hey, watch it,” Stiles turns around to warn him. “He probably kept you off the FBI’s 10 Most Werewanted. A little respect, now.”

“Your jokes are really losing their edge,” Derek says, but then he rolls his shoulders around and says, “sorry.”

“Forget it.” Stiles looks at Derek for another few seconds then, satisfied he’s going to wait right there like a good dog, goes up the steps and into the precinct.

#

“I am awesome,” Stiles announces twenty minutes later, clomping back down the steps of the police building and back to the sidewalk. Then he realizes Derek isn’t even here to hear him—he’s standing on the opposite side of the street near what looks like a realtor’s office, hands in his pockets and looking like some kind of surly serial lurker. A girl sitting a bench in front of the window has scooted as far away from him as she can, and has both hands clenched in her bag as she stares in any direction but at him.

Stiles glances down at the copy of the incident report in his hand—the incident report that has a full address and phone number listed with Elizabeth Hale’s name, and it’s here in Brooklyn—then waves a hand at Derek, gesturing for him to get over here. Derek notices him, but shakes his head, makes the same gesture back. Stiles really doesn’t want to fight a who’ll-give-in-first battle, so he grits his teeth and rolls his eyes and then blatantly jaywalks right in front of a police station. Nobody seems to notice.

“What are you doing over here?” Stiles says, when he gets up next to Derek.

“Cop thought I was loitering. Made me leave,” Derek mutters, and Stiles chokes on a laugh and manages to make a really unattractive honking sound.

“You sure make life fun in a really stupid way,” Stiles says. Then, ignoring the look Derek gives him, he presents the incident report like a hard won trophy. “Tah-dah.”

“You…got it,” Derek says, with all the surprise of someone who seriously doubted a thing could be done. “How?”

“Stilinski magic.” Stiles offers a winning grin that Derek doesn’t seem charmed by at all. He’s barely even looking at Stiles. The only thing he seems to care about is the incident report, so Stiles lets him have it. Derek rakes his eyes over the thing and all the angles in his face seem to slowly go harder and more severe.

“This is my address,” he says abruptly. “Mine and Laura’s. Here.”

“Whoa, really?” Stiles catches the flapping corner of the paper and leans in to read it again. “What about the phone number?”

“Also ours.” Derek crumples the sheet in his hand and tears partially through it with his fingernails.

“Oh, dude, come on,” Stiles says. “Only got one copy of that.” And then, “so who lives there now?”

“It’s still ou—mine,” Derek says. “Technically it’s still where I live. When I followed Laura to Beacon Hills, it wasn’t supposed to be permanent.”

“Oh,” says Stiles. Right, naturally, of course. “So are we going there?”

No answer, and when Stiles looks up Derek is already striding away down the sidewalk towards where the jeep is parked. “Yeah, we’re going there.”

He trots after Derek and catches up with him, falling into step at his side. They’d parked about a block and a half away in front of a walled-off construction site, and a cherry red crane looms up against the overcast sky. The cap and arm of a yellow excavator peeks over the top of the temporary wall. Nobody’s working in there, so it all gives off a real creepy abandoned vibe.

“How far’s your place from here?” Stiles says to Derek’s very tense shoulder.

“Not that far.”

Stiles reaches into his pocket, digs out his car keys, and holds them out. “What? You know how to get there,” he says, when Derek makes a heatedly suspicious face at him. He jingles the keys invitingly. “They don’t bite.”

After a second, Derek takes them.

#

The phone GPS—which Stiles is surreptitiously tracking their location on while Derek drives—tells him that they’re now in Windsor Terrace. For being right in the middle of Brooklyn there sure are a lot of trees around. Then again Stiles never knew that much about Brooklyn to begin with. He kind of imagined severe grey walls of endless concrete and glass everywhere, a gritty metropolis like Manhattan, but so far it’s been lots of red bricks and brownstone and colorful awnings over businesses and restaurants in a mix of old city and modern life, and nothing’s very tall at all.

Derek’s taking them through a quiet neighborhood now, rows of neat little rowhouses all stacked up next to each other on shady streets, and then turns them into a street with smaller duplexes sharing walls. It’s still a pretty nice area, and Stiles can’t picture Derek—the Derek he knows—living here. It’s too...normal. But then Stiles wonders what he did expect, maybe some kind of broken down lonely shack completely separared from other people, and feels a little ashamed of himself.

The jeep stops moving and settles into stillness, and Stiles glances up to see that Derek’s parked in front of a narrow little house in yellow-brown brick. The steps going up are tiered, like all the houses here, going up a few then plateauing out in a square of concrete where people keep trash bins or potted plants or whatever, then going up again. This one they’re in front of has a nice little white porch at the very top.

“Nice neighborhood,” Stiles comments idly, throwing a sidelong look at Derek.

Derek grunts a slightly agreeing sound, hands still tight on the wheel.

“Is this it?” Stiles says, peering out the window at the little brick house.

Derek nods once, tightly.

“Hey,” Stiles starts. “Hey, I know this is probably hard for—”

And then Derek just gets out of the jeep without another word and slams the door behind him. Right, why was Stiles ever feeling sorry for him again? He’s still a complete jerk. Stiles rolls out of his side of the jeep and scrambles after Derek, who’s already halfway up the steps to the house by now. But he stops at the top, a handful of feet away from the front door, and Stiles nearly runs into his back. He edges around Derek’s side then and glances at him.

“Gonna ring the bell?” Stiles says.

“It’s my own house,” Derek says, but he looks like he’s actually considering it. Then he reaches deep into his jacket pocket and pulls out a couple of keys on a simple ring. House keys.

But before he can even get one of them anywhere near the lock, the handle suddenly clicks and turns and the door throws open.

The woman standing on the other side is tall, blondish, and if she’s related to Derek she sure doesn’t look it. Her face is round and her nose is upturned a little and she kind of reminds Stiles of one of those cherubs on Christmas cards. She looks so...sweet. Probably not a lot older than thirty or so, wearing a sweater and jeans.

She sees Stiles first because he’s not lurking off to the side of the door like Derek is, and she frowns slightly. It’s still kind of a cute frown.

“You’re not—” she starts but then her eyes slide to Derek, and widen. “But you are.”

“Are you Elizabeth?” Derek demands, and for a second Stiles thinks he’s gonna have to grab onto Derek to keep him from just lunging through the doorway at this woman.

“Oh, yes, yes, I am,” Elizabeth says. “I’m so glad you’re finally here, I felt terrible about being in your house, but I had to go somewhere safer and this seemed like a good place and I thought you’d be here, or come back very soon.”

Her voice is familiar, but the way she’s talking isn’t—the message she left on Stiles’s phone was very smooth, calm, and assured. Now she sounds nothing but scattered and exciteable, a little nervous. Derek is still staring at like her like he wants to shake her around until all the answers he needs fall out of her. That, or he just wants to turn around and run.

“Who are you?” he nearly barks at her, and Elizabeth doesn’t even flinch somehow. Stiles gives her a lot of credit for that.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Elizabeth says, and she sounds sort of sad. “But we only met once before, you were very little. I suppose you wouldn’t. And I live in Canada usually.”

“You live in Canada,” Derek repeats, almost blankly.

“We are family,” Elizabeth assures him. “Oh, I’m sorry this isnt going very well, I wish there had been an easier way—”

Her eyes flick back over to Stiles for a second. And Derek is clearly not going to introduce him, so Stiles gets on it himself.

“I’m Stiles,” he says, holding out a hand to her. “I’m...a friend.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth says, and takes it. Which is a pretty strange response, but whatever, this whole thing is pretty weird. Elizabeth is not like he’d expected at all, and he still has no idea why she summoned Derek from all the way across the country and she doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to talk about it, despite how urget her message sounded.

“Why don’t...why don’t you both come in, so we can talk?” Elizabeth offers, and then laughs unevenly at the unexpressive look Derek is still giving her. “But you live here, I shouldn’t be inviting you in.”

“Don’t worry, not frowning is basically smiling for him,” Stiles says to her, but Elizabeth doesn’t look much more reassured.

The inside of the house in narrow but nice; a staircase right inside the hall goes to the second floor, and the room immediately to the right is a living room. Elizabeth leads them there, and Stiles tries to unsuccesfully catch Derek’s eye as they follow her in. He’s not looking at anything but the back of Elizabeth’s head, like he wants to bore a hole through it with his eyes.

The living room is small and has a haphazard theme of decoration that definitely looks like a couple of siblings tried to fight over what got put where and what style they were going for, so there’s really no style at all. None of the furniture really matches, there’s throwpillows in just about every color. There’s classic photgraphy mixed with weird modern paintings on the walls. A TV case holds both books and DVDs around big old boxy television that probably weighs sixty pounds.

Elizabeth sits down on a faded mustardy-colored squishy armchair, and Derek takes a hard brown leather one. Stiles is left with the couch, which is baby blue. There’s an orange throw on the back and a couple of pillows in black and green and beige. It almost hurts to look at, but Stiles kind of likes how ugly it all is. At least there’s color—that’s probably all from Laura. Stiles guesses that severe leather chair is probably Derek’s contribution to the room.

“Why are you here?” Derek asks Elizabeth while Stiles is still marveling around at the ugly decorating.

“At first I came here for Laura’s help, as an alpha,” Elizabeth says. “That was the first reason.”

“She’s dead,” Derek says flatly. Stiles hates how his voice sounds—so unemotional it can’t possibly be.

“I know. As soon as I came here, I knew.” Elizabeth pulls a little handkerchief out of her pocket and starts winding it around her hands. “There was something terrible happening again, I knew it. That’s why I was trying to get in contact with y—”

“What did you want her help for?” Derek sounds cagey, like he wants to know but doesn’t want Elizabeth to ask the same thing of him.

“For my son, Terry,” Elizabeth says.

Stiles glances around the room. He doesn’t see a kid anywhere. Or signs of one. And there’s been no other hints that Elizabeth had a kid with her—even the hotel they were just at didn’t mention it. Elizabeth was the only one staying there. Derek seems just as skeptical.

“He has the blood; he’s a werewolf. I’m not,” Elizabeth goes on. “So I—well, it’s hard for me to know what it’s like for him, what he needs. There was a problem at his school back at home...he hurt someone, accidentally. But it got the attention of some hunters, and they were going to come after him. We had to leave.

“I hadn’t been in contact with your part of the family for years, but I knew Laura was the alpha and I thought she would be able to help him. When we came here, I had to make sure it was hard to track us, and try to keep moving around. I’m sure that made me look very suspicious...” Elizabeth finishes uncertainly, and Stiles has to keep himself from nodding vigorously.

“You keep saying you knew all of these things,” Derek says. “How did you know it—any of this?”

“Oh. Well.” Elizabeth flutters her hands a little in her lap. “I’m actually—it’s because I’m clairvoyant.”

“...I was actually right?” Stiles says, but nobody is listening to him. That joke he made forever ago about Elizabeth being a half-assed psychic suddenly isn’t so funny.

Clairvoyant,” Derek repeats, sounding as skeptical as Stiles would have been a couple months ago if someone had told him outright that they were a werewolf. So do psychics get a bad rep even with the supernatural community? What a bummer for them.

“Oh. Well. Yes,” Elizabeth says, and fidgets. “It’s not very strong, and usually I get the most with family. But no wonder it was so difficult with you, if you were so far away most of thi—”

Derek leans forward. “Why are you here?” he asks again.

“I didn’t know you weren’t here!” she says. “Brooklyn, that’s what everything—“

“I followed Laura back to California a few months ago,” Derek says. “That’s where she—that’s where we drove from.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth says, looking back and forth between them. “That’s a...long trip.”

“You have no idea,” Stiles mutters, and hears another voice say the same words at the same time, and then he and Derek end up glancing at each other over Elizabeth’s head and then looking away awkwardly.

Elizabeth laughs nervously, and twists at the handkerchief she’s holding between her hands.

“I am so sorry,” she says to Derek. “If I’d’ve known, I would have—“

“Wait, wait, wait,” Stiles interrupts this time. “But you were calling us. At California area codes. How’d you not know where we were?”

“It’s a trance thing,” Elizabeth says. “When I‘m reaching to someone purposefully, it takes a lot of concentration on a different...well, plane of awareness, I suppose. I didn’t know what numbers I was calling, only that it was the right one to reach you.”

Stiles has to wonder how his own number was somehow ‘the right one’, it’s not like there weren’t land lines around at that motel, more actual direct ways to Derek than through him. Sure, it worked, but it wasn’t the most efficient. Then again, it’s not like psychics are really known for competence.

“I meant,” Derek says, through his teeth, “why were you looking for me? What is this about?”

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth says. “I know there’s something. But that’s why it was so important for me to see you, so I could find out, and then tell you. Try to help you. Because you know there’s something wrong, too.”

What is it,” Derek nearly snarls at her.

Elizabeth reaches a hand out towards him. “Will you let me see?” she asks.

Derek throws a sidelong look over at Stiles. And yeah, this is obviously werewolf business, or at least Hale family business, and it’s not his place to be here.

“Yeah, I can absolutely get out of here,” Stiles says, getting to his feet.

“Whoa, no no no,” Elizabeth says, reaching out after him. “You should be staying, yes, definitely you should be staying. Come on back.”

Stiles hesitates, but he looks to Derek because this is really his call. Derek doesn’t meet his eyes again and doesn’t really do anything at all, so Stiles figures that’s as good of an okay as he’s gonna get. He sits back down, pressing his palms together and sliding them between his knees.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, has gotten to her feet and gone over to Derek. He’s recoiled back in his chair a little and holding himself very tense, and flinches when she touches his face.

“It’s all right,” she says, and now her voice is a little more calm and confident like it was in her phone message. Derek sure doesn’t look like he agrees, but he lets Elizabeth put her fingers on his face and trail them all over, and wow Stiles shouldn’t be feeling jealous of her, what a stupid thing to focus on, he’s really gotta get past this.

Elizabeth does that for a good five minutes, and under her hands Derek actually starts to look kind of sleepy and relaxed. When she finally lets go of him, his eyelids flutter around like he’s waking up again, and he blinks hard a few times like he’s forgotten where he is or what he’s doing here.

“You’re an alpha,” Elizabeth says to him, and frowns lightly. “But you’re not.”

“What,” Stiles says to himself.

“Something...happened,” Elizabeth goes on, peering at an unspecific spot in the air like she’s trying to recall something from years and years ago. “Something got in the way. The lineage went to you, but not all of the power, the meaning. It’s...lost, somewhere. Separated.”

Stiles looks back to Derek because is he buying any of this, really? There’s no way he’s not an alpha. But Derek doesn’t look like he thinks Elizabeth is crazy, at all.

“I thought so,” he mutters. “The bite wasn’t taking with anyone. I...lost more control than I should have on the full moon.” He doesn’t look at Stiles at all, but Stiles’s face heats up anyway. “I knew there was something...off.”

“That’s it?” Stiles says, because it sounds more like Derek just doesn’t know how to be an alpha, not that he isn’t one at all. It’s not like there was anyone around to really tell him what it should be like or how to do it. He’s been making it up, pretty badly, as he goes.

Elizabeth seems like she also wants to know the answer to Stiles’s question; she tilts her head at Derek with an eyebrow raised.

“And I don’t—” Derek scrunches up his mouth briefly, lips tightening into a frustrated squiggle, “—have an alpha form.”

What,” Stiles blurts out, and then as both Elizabeth and Derek turn to look at him, “oh my god, that makes sense.”

Because Laura could turn into a full-on wolf and Peter had his funhouse carnival monster suit, but Derek...well. Derek just looks the same as he always has when he goes Wolfman. And if there was ever a time to bring out the big guns, it would have been back in the mechanic shop in Wisconsin. Sure Stiles was drugged during that, but not that drugged. He would have noticed if Derek had actually turned into an animal.

“No it doesn’t,” Derek snaps at him, and Elizabeth puts a hand on his shoulder and gently says, “shh.”

And it must be some magical Hale family mojo she’s working there, because Derek actually sits back and stops looking quite so hacked off. Stiles decides right then that he likes Elizabeth. She seems a little scatterbrained, but maybe being psychic will do that to you.

“How do I fix it?” Derek heaves out between his teeth.

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth says. “But I want to help you, Derek, I do, if you’ll let me. And—” she pauses, glances at Stiles, “—he wants to help you too.”

Before Stiles can really rev up some real embarassment over that, Derek shifts and replants his shoes on the carpet. “Stiles,” he says. “Can you just go now, for a while.”

“Yep, sure, right,” Stiles says, getting to his feet. “I’m gone.”

Elizabeth doesn’t try to stop him this time, but she does seem puzzled at Derek’s sudden change of mind. Stiles isn’t. He’s just not family, and maybe without Chicago Derek wouldn’t be so closed up with him now, but maybe he would be. He already let Stiles hear a lot more than Stiles ever expected, and that’s good enough for now. Whatever he wants to talk to Elizabeth about alone, he should have that.

So Stiles goes upstairs, because why not. There’s three doors at the top in a tight little space. Two are open, one is closed. The one that’s open has a tiny person standing right inside it, staring up at Stiles.

It’s a little blond boy who has to be Elizabeth’s son, Terry. He’s clinging to the doorway, arm wrapped around it so that only his big pale eyes are visible over the sleeve of his Batman shirt. He’s probably been in a great spot to be listening to everything that’s been going on downstairs. Stiles can hear the quiet mumblings of Derek and Elizabeth’s voices from here himself, but he doesn’t have expert werewolf hearing like this kid’ll have.

“Hey there, buddy,” Stiles says, crouching down to about Terry’s eye level. The kid is probably about four or five, can’t be much older than that. “I like your shirt.”

“Bemmen,” says Terry, mouth mushed against his own arm.

“Yeah,” Stiles says with a wry laugh. “Guess that makes me Robin again, huh.”

Terry looks at him for another couple seconds, then dashes around Stiles and disappears into the room on the other side of the landing. The door pulls awkwardly shut because Terry’s probably just too small to be able to reach the door handle well. There’s a little sound of feet running around in the room and then, nothing.

So he’s another slightly unfriendly Hale. Not so startling. And if he and Elizabeth have been on the run for weeks, then he probably just doesn’t like strangers.

Stiles gets to his feet and idly glances into the room Terry came out of, the one with the still-open door. It’s a bedroom; Stiles can see the corner of a sloppily-made bed and a little bit of a desk. He eases a step or two inside, just out of...whatever, curiosity. There’s some band posters on the walls, and general decorations and colors that mark it as definitely a guy’s room.

Then Stiles realizes that this has to be Derek’s room.

Stiles wants to shut his eyes and get out of here before he sees any more, and at the same time he can’t stop looking. Derek’s room. Somewhere he was living only a couple months ago. It’s too personal and Stiles shouldn’t be here. Except he can’t get himself to turn around and leave.

There’s nothing on the floor but the place is still kind of a mess; it’s the room of someone who put everything away in a hurry before leaving. So there’s stuff crammed into shelves and stuck on top of things where clearly it isn’t meant to go, unless Derek really does keep shoes in his bookcase and empty water glasses in his sock drawer.

Stiles takes a slow, casual loop around the room—looking, but not doing any long creepy lingering or anything. Just a fly-by. He’s got nothing else to do around here while Derek and Elizabeth are talking, anyway. Derek’s window has a nice view of a tree and the street outside, and his closet looks befittingly full of dark monochrome clothing that Stiles has to fondly roll his eyes at. But it’s at the corkboard near the desk that he gets hung up on.

It’s cluttered with things; pinned up papers and receipts and ticket stubs, but in a corner is a glossy photograph dangling at an angle. It looks like some kind of restaurant or diner or something, and the color of the seats and the view out of the plate-glass windows even looks familiar—maybe Stiles has been there before. Derek is in one half of the picture, sitting on one side of the booth. He looks younger but not drastically, just a lot less stubble and a little more roundedness to his face. Teenaged. Still wearing all black, but actually smiling a little, without all the weight of tragedy underneath it.

There’s a dark-haired girl in the picture too, across from him in the booth, and it has to be Laura. She’s got her arm out, hand around the back of Derek’s neck like she’s physically dragging him into the picture with her, and the way her smile is almost too wide and toothy makes it seem like she was genuinely entertained at the moment this was taken. Derek was right—Stiles does like her. Just from a single photograph.

Stiles peels up the edge of the picture and looks under it carefully. There’s a date stamped on the back, and he has to twist his head around almost upside-down to read it, but he can. It’s dated about seven years ago. No wonder they look happy, no wonder Derek seems more relenting and amused than angry and guilty all the way through. He has no idea what’s going to happen within a year, and how it won’t stop happening.

His phone rings in his pocket, and Stiles inhales a huge gulp of air and nearly keels backwards over Derek’s desk chair. He fumbles the phone out, checks the screen quickly, and answers.

“Hey, Allison,” he says as casually as he can manage. He tucks the phone between his jaw and shoulder while he carefully unpins the photograph from the corkboard. “What’s up?”

“Stiles, I don’t want to worry you—“ Allison starts, which, great, now he’s instantly worried, “—but my parents just decided to take a weekend trip. They used to do that all the time, before I knew about—well, what I mean is that I’m pretty sure they’re not actually taking a vacation.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Well. That sounds sufficiently bad.”

“Yeah,” Allison says. “They booked a flight today, and left an hour ago. I heard them talking, and—they’re flying into La Guardia.”

“…shit.

“I didn’t tell them, Stiles, I swear—“

“No, Allison—I know you didn’t,” Stiles says. He does, he really does. If there’s one thing he’s learned about these people it’s that they’ll get anything done in any way that they can. They didn’t need Allison’s help to find Derek, even if things might have gone faster with it.

“One more thing—“ Allison says, and Stiles squeezes his eyes shut and drops his head against the doorframe. How much worse could this get?

“Yeah?”

Allison takes in a little breath. “Gerard went with them.”

#

When Stiles goes back downstairs to the front room, Elizabeth and Derek aren’t there anymore. Someone’s clinking stuff around and running water in the kitchen area around the corner.

“Um, hey,” Stiles says to no one in particular, and the clinking stops and Elizabeth pops her head around the wall.

“Oh, hi,” she says. “Are you...looking for Derek?”

Oh god why is that her first thought, even if it’s true? Stiles does not want to know what she knows about them—if she’s psychic, maybe she knows everything that happened. Or maybe she knows nothing. What she’s tuned into seems to be pretty patchy, after all. Stiles would definitely appreciate it if all that stuff was staying between just the people it’s not actually happening between.

“Yeah,” he admits.

“He wanted some air,” Elizabeth says, and nods towards the front of the house. Through the narrow glass panes in the front doors, Stiles can see a dark Derek shape hunched at the bottom of the front steps. Oh. Okay. Naturally. He’s having a nice brood out there. At least he didn’t run away to go have it. Stiles starts for the door.

“Oh, you maybe shouldn’t—“ Elizabeth says, stretching out her arm like she could actually reach Stiles and stop him from all the way across the room.

“Lemme guess, he’s in a really bad mood and being nowhere near civil,” Stiles says, and Elizabeth looks rueful. “Yeah, I’m used to that.”

Elizabeth’s expression at that is just plain bizarre; some kind of mix of thoughtful and sad and regretful and understanding and how does a person even get that many emotions on their face? Maybe he’s really just been around Derek for too long.

“It’s okay,” Stiles assures her. “I know how to talk to him.”

Sort of, he finishes to himself, and then goes out the door.

Derek doesn’t react to the sound of the door, or to Stiles’s feet clomping down the steps, or even when Stiles drops down right next to him and brushes their shoulders together.

“Hey,” Stiles says.

Derek finally looks at him, and Stiles really isn’t sure what’s going on in his face. He doesn’t want to ask if Derek is doing okay, because that seems patronizing and the answer is clearly no. In hindsight he’s not sure why he came out here at all. Derek obviously wanted to be alone and here’s Stiles just forcing himself in where he’s not wanted. Again.

But then Derek says, “hey” back and that’s about as downright friendly as Derek ever gets except for the time he had his tongue in Stiles’s mouth but, whatever, that no longer happened. And so Stiles figures he can stay, that Derek doesn’t mind him here. Maybe likes that he’s here. Even Elizabeth, who’s his family, doesn’t fully understand what’s been going on and what they’ve come through to get here, and this whole roadtrip is something that Stiles and Derek share alone. And it’s not exactly over yet.

Stiles leans forward over his knees and rests his elbows on them, and the side of his fingers bump Derek’s leg. And then Stiles just...rolls his hand up onto Derek’s knee and gives him a little pat. That’s all, just a little friendly thing. Derek looks down at his leg, then back at Stiles, and doesn’t seem to mind. They sit there in quiet for a while, sort of looking at each other under the overcast sky.

At the far end of the street, a car shrieks around the corner with a harsh squeal of rubber on cement. Stiles jerks a little but keeps his hand on Derek’s leg because—why not. He’s not being told to stop. He thinks about the photo he put in his jacket pocket and wonders if he should give it to Derek, if Derek even wants to see it or if it would just be too much right now. Or if he should tell him what Allison said about her parents coming here, because that’s definitely a Bad Thing, and they’re gonna need to be ready for it.

A dusty black SUV roars down the street and screeches to a stop in front of the house, right on the other side of where Stiles’s jeep is parked. Both he and Derek lift their heads, turning away from each other. The passenger’s side door flings open and a woman rises out of the car, brown-haired and familiar, even though Stiles mostly remembers her face through a drug trip it’s still seared into his brain.

Brenda Tash steps into the street, the semi-automatic in her hands pointing right at them.

Chapter Text

The next seconds happen fast.

GET DOWN,” Derek bellows, and then Stiles is being shoved—a full hard push right in the middle of his back that sends him flailing over the tiny rail of the front steps and into the metal trash cans clustered up underneath. Stiles lands hard on the cement, mostly on his face, his arm twisted under him and his shoulder totally wrenched back, just as open gunfire roars somewhere above his head.

Gunfire, this much of it, is not like the movies. Stiles heard it before, back in the warehouse, but all the drugs pumped into him at the time must have dulled it down, distanced it, made it something less immediate and terrifying. Because now, this is…this is like the end of the world. It’s all Stiles can hear, sporadic bursts of it cracking down the quiet street and echoing like endless thunderclaps. He curls into a ball, half inside a knocked over trash can, hands clawed over his ears. His dad’s a sheriff, so of course Stiles is familiar with guns, and that makes this worse. He knows exactly what can be done with them.

Broken glass is raining down all around him and the air is filled with a sharp metallic smell and under all the noise Stiles swears he hears a bullet or two ping off the trash can he’s huddling inside of. Brenda is apparently just strafing the entire house with her semi-auto, and god Derek was still right on the steps and Elizabeth was just inside and there’s the little kid upstairs and not to mention any neighbors that probably live in the nearby houses.

But what can he do? He can’t do anything. If he moves, he’s dead. Even if he doesn’t move, he’s probably dead anyway. His only protection is a trash can, he should really be dead already.

The gunfire abruptly stops. The magazine has to be empty. In the sudden deafening silence, Stiles hears a male voice say faintly, “Jesus, Bren.”

“I got him, didn’t I?” Brenda’s voice snarls, and Stiles think she sounds just a little bit unhinged. Maybe unhinged is too kind of a word. She sounds like she’s out of her mind.

The second voice, who Stiles now thinks is probably the sandy-haired mechanic named Rowan, says, “well, yeah, but—“

“That’s for our father!” Brenda shrieks, and Stiles suddenly has no doubts that somebody died back in Wisconsin, and the blame is being heaped all on Derek. Her voice echoes down the deadly quiet in the street. From somewhere very far down the block, the muffled wail of a baby cries from inside a house.

Up on the steps, Stiles hears a faint sound. Half a growl, half a groan. Derek. He sounds—well, partially alive. How much damage can a werewolf take, anyway? At what point does the healing super-power just throw up its hands and go ‘nope, I quit’? Is Derek recovering up there, or is he just...dying?

Stiles risks raising his head above the curved edge of his safety trash can. Brenda and Rowan are standing together by the passenger door of the SUV. They’re not looking at the front steps; they’re kind of having a disagreement over the semi-automatic Brenda’s still holding. Rowan seems to want to take it from her. Stiles actually agrees with the guy.

But he can’t really see up the steps, not without getting out of the trashcan. He can’t see Derek at all. Can’t see if he’s alive or dead. And Brenda and Rowan’s argument in the street is getting louder, more heated.

You finish it, then!” Brenda finally says, hotly. “It shouldn’t take much.”

So Derek’s not dead. Just close to it. And then Rowan pulls out a black and chrome revolver that looks all kinds of custom made, even from this distance. It’s huge and heavy and the barrel is about twice as big as it should be. If anything is going to finish Derek off, Stiles bets that gun could do it.

You need to get up and stop him, part of Stiles’s head tells him as Rowan takes a few steps towards the house and aims the revolver at the porch with an easy, practiced move.

How the fuck am I supposed to do that, Stiles thinks desperately, because from the way Rowan handles that pistol he’s probably a good shot and he could probably get Stiles and Derek both without a lot of trouble and what is Stiles supposed to do? He’s completely powerless, he can’t—

Something flies over Stiles’s head from the direction of Derek’s house, bounces off the front steps and down to the sidewalk. It’s small, metal, greenish-grey; almost looks like somebody threw a thermos out the window. Rowan stops, stares down at it. A second one follows and before it even lands, the first one is hissing and plumes of thick smoke start to belch out of it. Rowan stumbles back, shouting. And then the second one goes off. In only a few seconds Brenda and Rowan are both completely masked by a thick shield of grey; Stiles hears them yelling to each other. A burst of gunfire squeezes off, flashes in the smoke.

Stiles heaves in a breath and dashes out from behind the trashcan, managing to nearly trip over another one as he goes. The thick smoke is filling the street fast, curling up the gutters and sidewalks and curving over the sides of the nearby houses and Stiles can barely see the cars in the road, let alone anything else. The air smells like fireworks, a heavy smoky smell of summer that’s disturbingly out of place here. Stiles tugs his shirt up over his nose and tries not to breathe too much.

The outline of the stair railing juts out of the gloom and Stiles nearly runs into it stomach-first. He grabs onto it; a safety line. Then he hears a growl, a low animal snarl from somewhere really close by. Something rushes past him, a dark shape that bounds through the heavy smoke in powerful leaps. Derek, it has to be Derek, what is he doing? Why in god’s name would he run towards the guns?

Somewhere in the foggy grey limbo, Brenda shrieks. Stiles hears a shot go off like a canon blast and guesses that’s the sound Rowan’s custom revolver. Part of the smoke lights up like a lightning bolt inside a cloud. There’s a snarl, a grunt, the sound of something slamming against metal. Rowan’s hand canon goes off again, and again. The breeze is starting to thin out the smoke a little, shapes and shadows are starting to fill in around Stiles and he can see the vaguest outline of the SUV the Tashes drove up in. There’s a human shape crouched on the ground, doubled over and coughing. Two other silhouettes are dancing around each other in the smoke—one upright, the other moving low and predatory. Both are slow, limping, like there’s injuries on both sides.

Rowan—because Stiles is pretty sure that’s who it is—lifts his arm and fires one more time. Derek’s silhouette jerks back hard at the shoulder, and then he goes down with a clipped howl. The smoke consumes him, and there’s no more movement.

What happens after that is kind of a blur. Rowan’s shadowy shape runs back to Brenda’s shadowy shape crouched by the SUV, but all Stiles can look at is the spot where Derek went down. It was just a bullet, right, it couldn’t have hurt him that bad. He took semi-auto rounds and recovered, what’s a single bullet? Unless it’s a bad bullet. Like before.

Tires squeal and fingers of smoke whirl and curve around the escaping tail-end of a black SUV. The Tashes have fled. And Stiles sees a hunched, shadowy shape in the last of the smoke, drawing itself up off all fours and trying to stand. Not doing it very well, either.

“Derek!” Stiles rasps, and staggers towards him.

They meet bodily in the wispy smoke. Stiles nearly rebounds off the plane of muscle that is Derek’s entire body, but Derek grabs on to the back of Stiles’s shirt and keeps him close. Derek’s all wolfed out now, Stiles can see that through the haze around them—the teeth and ears and epic muttonchops. None of it scares him anymore. It’s comforting to see it.

But Derek honestly doesn’t look good. In fact, he barely looks conscious. He’s reeling and colorless and the way he’s holding on to Stiles now is a lot more like it’s out of necessity than anything else.

“Hang on,” Stiles says to him through gritted teeth. He shrugs Derek’s arm over his shoulders and twists a hand hard in the back of Derek’s jacket, getting a good grip on him. Then he drags Derek out of the street and up the front steps of his house, through broken glass and scraps of leftover smoke and a sharp cloying smell of copper. The door barely closes behind them before Derek goes down like a sack of really muscular bricks, practically crushing Stiles under him and collapsing them both down to the floor.

“Whoa!” Stiles yelps, trying to catch at him, steady him. There’s broken glass all around them; Stiles can feel sharp silvers of it through his jeans. “All right, all right, take it easy, you’re okay.”

Derek’s clearly not okay at all, but when has telling someone that ever been helpful? He might have werewolf healing superpowers but Stiles isn’t sure how effective that is against how many direct hits he just took. Derek’s jacket is like the aftermath of a shooting range target paper; it’s practically leather confetti by this point.

Stiles starts tearing it off him to look at the damage, and that’s about when he realizes Elizabeth is in the room, and so is Terry. They’re huddled together way back behind the stairs. Terry’s making little snuffled whimpering sounds against his mom’s side and Stiles does not blame the poor kid, not at all.

“Did you throw those smoke bombs?” Stiles asks, which is stupid, because who else could have done it?

“Grenades,” Elizabeth says faintly. She’s clutching another one to her chest. Stiles makes a note to ask why she even had military-grade smoke grenades in the first place, later. Way later. “Did it help?”

Stiles nods distractedly; he’s gotten Derek’s jacket off and most of the remains of his shirt and now he can see what exactly happened. It looks like the results of Rowan’s huge pistol. Derek got three direct hits—once in the flesh of his left side, once right under his ribcage, and a final time in the right shoulder. The bullets aren’t in deep; Stiles can see them burrowed just inside Derek’s skin. But they’re burning a hot red-orange and the air around them wavers with heat, like they’re still just as hot as when they came out of the gun. But this is clearly some kind of crazy hunter anti-werewolf ammunition because angry red veins are spreading out from every single wound and Derek’s flesh is starting to blister and scorch.

Derek is whining and panting against Stiles’s shoulder, which is telling him that this is bad—really really bad. Maybe as bad as that time with the Nordic blue monkshood bullet, which was terrible. An experience Stiles does not want again, no way, but Derek doesn’t do this kind of thing unless he’s really hurt. Actually, he didn’t even do this when he was inches from dying before. He just got paler and weaker until he nearly dropped dead, literally. So this…it has to be worse.

Of course it’s worse; he’s got three bullets in him that aren’t healing and seem to be trying to boil his skin off. Stiles’s only thought is that they need to come out of him, right now.

Someone’s at his side suddenly, kneeling down next to him. “Here,” Elizabeth’s voice says, and she forces something into his hands that’s got a plastic coated handle and a long pointy end. Pliers. She just handed him needle-nosed pliers.

Really?” Stiles says, and hears his own voice going on the border edge of hysterical.

“It’s all I could find!”

Stiles pushes them back at her. “You do it,” he says. “You do—you have to—I gotta—“ He can’t finish the sentence but he also can’t let go of Derek, which should hopefully tell Elizabeth what he’s gotta.

“They need to come out,” Elizabeth says. “They’re going to kill him.”

She probably knows what she’s talking about; either psychically or just from being in a werewolf family, whatever, Stiles believes her.

“Can we just—can you do—“ he tries, one last attempt at this, because the last time he had Derek’s life in his hands he didn’t do so well. There was almost an amputation.

Elizabeth shakes her head quickly. “He doesn’t really know me, or trust me. He wouldn’t let me.”

She touches Derek’s shoulder. Lightly, barely grazing him with her fingertips. Even then, Derek snarls and tries to twist away from her, like a wounded animal gone feral from fear and pain. But Stiles is touching him, right now, kind of all over the place, and—there doesn’t seem to be a problem.

So Stiles takes a deep breath, and gets a grip on the pliers.

“Okay,” he says, and presses on the back of Derek’s head until the guy is molded down across Stiles’s lap and shoulder, leaving Stiles with one arm that can get a pretty good reach to his torn up, blistering back. “Okay. Derek. I have to get these out now, right? Okay?”

Derek grinds his forehead into Stiles’s shoulder and Stiles figures that’s something sorta like a nod, close enough, whatever, he’s going for it.

Please don’t kill me for this, Stiles thinks wildly, and goes in for the first bullet in Derek’s shoulder.

At least it’s not deep, not all that hard to get a hold on with the blunt needle ends of the pliers, but just the sound and the feeling of digging through flesh, all the blood coming out—it feels like a honest nightmare. It’s not cutting off Derek’s arm with a hand-held saw, but it’s like the next worse thing. Stiles tries to block it from his mind even as he’s doing it, doesn’t let himself think about it, just does what he knows needs to get done while Derek makes terrible noises and claws at Stiles’s back.

The last bullet’s the hardest, everything is so slippery and hot and Stiles can barely get a grip on the thing and manages to push it deeper into Derek’s muscle before he can. Derek’s hand slaps around the back of Stiles’s neck, wet and warm and slick with his own blood, and he makes an awful wounded sound and Stiles says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, just a couple more seconds, hang on, you’re okay—just hang on—“

Derek roars when the bullet comes out, twists his hands in Stiles’s clothes so hard he hears them rip. But it’s done, it’s finished, it’s over.

“God,” Stiles breathes as the lump of metal tips out of his slippery hand and clinks softly to the floor. Derek’s back still looks like a torn-up flayed mess of pink flesh and blood and Stiles can’t look at it; he’ll throw up if he does. Derek has gone completely limp and boneless in his arms, maybe he’s not even conscious. He doesn’t seem to be healing, even if the bullets aren’t hurting him anymore. Stiles curls a hand around the back of Derek’s sweaty head, sticky with blood, and closes his eyes.

But not for long.

“We should leave,” Elizabeth’s voice says. Stiles looks up; she’s standing in front of him with Terry hefted up in her arms, his face hidden in her shoulder. “The police are coming.”

Stiles doesn’t argue with the psychic woman.

#

Stiles can’t drive, because Derek won’t let go of him.

So they take Elizabeth’s car, which is parked around the block. She drives a Volvo station wagon—beige inside and out and scattered with bits of colorful plastic toys and dinosaur coloring books and receipts from fast food and gas stations and stray makeup containers. It’s such a mom car that Stiles suddenly aches.

They leave Stiles’s jeep parked in front of Derek’s house. They’ll be able to come back for it. Eventually. Hopefully. Stiles did take an awkward second to grab some of his and Derek’s stuff out of it, with Derek still hanging like dead weight off his shoulders, but that’s all there was time for. And now Derek is sprawled across the backseat of the Volvo, half on top of Stiles, unconscious. His back is still the same fleshy awful blistered mess it was before, and it’s not healing.

Stiles watches out the back window as Derek’s house recedes into the distance. He wonders vaguely what the police will make of that scene—windows blown out, the siding riddled with bullets, leftover smoke grenades in the street and blood everywhere, but no bodies. Suddenly he feels a little worse for his dad, stumbling onto these same types of scenes with no idea what happened and trying to hopelessly piece it all together—especially when the supernatural is involved, it’d never make sense.

Elizabeth drives them a fair ways out of the neighborhood and then a few blocks more for good measure. She pulls up in front of a motel, which—of course, motels are Stiles’s life now, he should have expected this.

Elizabeth is obviously the most presentable of all of them. She goes in to get a room while Stiles is left huddling in the back seat of the station wagon with an unconscious werewolf and a baby werewolf. Terry’s gravitated naturally towards Derek even if they haven’t spoken an actual word to each other and never even really met—he’s in the front seat peering over the back of it with bright little eyes, but he’s wriggled his arm between the seat and the door and keeps trying to touch the leg of Derek’s jeans. And maybe it’s just a werewolf instinct thing but Stiles almost feels left out.

When Elizabeth comes back out, Stiles is more than ready to get out of the car. It smells like blood and death in there, and he’s pretty sure the upholstery isn’t going to be the same ever again. Derek still isn’t really conscious, so Elizabeth and Stiles have to split his heavy weight between them. They drag Derek in through the back entrance of the hotel so they won’t have to go by the front desk, Terry tagging along behind like a quiet little shadow, and fortunately make it up to their room without running into anybody.

Elizabeth got them a suite, with a second off-shoot bedroom and a kitchenette—why hadn’t they thought of that this whole time, could’ve saved some money every time Derek had rented two completely separate rooms—and a nice bland view of the parking lot and the back of several nondescript industrial buildings. Right away Terry climbs up onto the bed in the main room, curls up on the pillows, and goes right to sleep. The poor kid is probably traumatized beyond all belief now. Stiles hasn’t even heard him say a single word since the Tashes showed up. Not that he’d said much before that, either. But a kid shouldn’t be going through anything like this.

Stiles and Elizabeth heave Derek into the side bedroom and ease him down onto the bed, face-first. His back still looks awful, bloody and torn-up, and he’s still not conscious. Stiles is too tired to speak, almost too tired to think. He leans against the wall and scratches absently at his arms, exhausted down to his core. Meanwhile, Elizabeth pulls something out of her purse—where’d that even come from— a squat glass jar that has a faded jam label on the side. Inside is a white handkerchief that’s filled with cuttings of some kind of plant. As Elizabeth takes a few of them out, Stiles thinks hazily that it almost looks like mistletoe.

And then she lights one on fire. Stiles squints, blinking, wondering if he’s gone totally out of his mind now and all of this is a very involved hallucination. The spiky green plant in Elizabeth’s hand is giving off a really weird smell as it burns, and a lot of smoke. She’s holding it very close to Derek’s back so that most of it curls and brushes against his skin, over the bullet wounds and even sort of gathers into them. Stiles hears kind of a hiss and a gross squishy fleshy sound as this happens, but Derek makes a soft noise and doesn’t seem to be hurt by whatever’s going on. Maybe it’s actually helping him. Stiles doesn’t know what this plant is or where Elizabeth got it or how she knew Derek needed it, but he’s guessing it’s maybe part of the psychic thing. He’s sort of starting to be a fan of it.

It doesn’t take long for the plant to burn itself out and the room to be filled with a weird charred scent. Stiles wonders vaguely about the smoke alarm, but there actually isn’t a lot of smoke in the room. It all seemed to be absorbed right into Derek’s skin. And the wounds look…better? Or maybe that’s just Stiles’s imagination.

Elizabeth brushes her hands off against her jeans and looks exhaustedly pleased as she stands, and then notices Stiles standing dumbly against the wall, useless and overwhelmed.

“You can have the bathroom first,” Elizabeth tells him gently, and he’s not even sure what she’s talking about until he actually gets in there and looks at himself in the mirror. He’s covered up to the elbows in drying blood and there’s a huge bloody handprint smeared down the side of his face and neck.

Stiles wrenches the tap on and throws water on himself until the sink is tinged with pink and his shirt collar is soaked, and then he slides down the bathroom wall and laces his shaking hands around the back of his neck, bends his forehead to his knees. His heartbeat pounds through his body like the deep ring of a gong, over and over again. The original adrenaline’s faded by this point, but what it’s left him with is a sick shaking hollow pit in his stomach.

A while later, he picks himself up off the floor and leaves the bathroom. He goes straight into the side bedroom just to make sure that Derek’s actually alive, that he didn’t just hallucinate him somehow surviving all of that. There was so much blood.

But Derek looks all right. He’s sprawled on the bed huffing out those heavy not-quite-snoring noises that he does sometimes, and even though there’s still dry brownish blood smeared all over him, the bullet holes have finally healed up and disappeared. Maybe thanks to what Elizabeth did. But he’s probably gonna be just fine. Stiles, on the other hand, is possibly scarred for life after that MacGyver surgery—he pulled bullets out of the guy with pliers; pliers!—and he can’t forget the feeling of Derek’s blood welling up through his shaking fingers or the sounds Derek made as it was happening.

Stiles wipes at his forehead and the sweat that’s beading up there just with the memory of the whole thing. Then he goes across the room and sits down on the bed, pushing one of Derek’s arms out of his way. Derek instantly tries to move it back—man, he’s stubborn even in sleep—and ends up with his whole forearm pressed along the side of Stiles’s thigh which is awkward and weird but Derek’s asleep and has no idea about it.

And again, because everything that’s been happening around him is too real and overwhelming and desperately over-intense, Stiles finds himself thinking about this whole, whatever, giant crush he has on Derek now. Because this is the thing he can deal with. Even if it’s stupid and ridiculous and he should really just get over it already. He should just pick up that familiar torch for Lydia; sharp, pretty, unattainable Lydia who he’s starting to realize he doesn’t know a damn thing about and never did. He knew she was smart, yeah, smarter than people expected—but that was something right out there to see. And while Stiles was busy patting himself on the back for getting her and seeing how special she was, he hadn’t seen the rest of her. The real her. As a person, he has no idea who she is. Only who he made up in his head.

And Derek, well. Derek’s not on a pedestal at all. Pretty much the opposite. He’s like a broken statue that fell right off its pedestal and Stiles can see him up close, all the cracks and the worn places and missing pieces and every imperfection. And there’s a lot of those. Stiles doesn’t think he’s even seen all of them yet—his guilt about the fire, for example, is a broken piece that Stiles doesn’t even know how to start looking for.

Really carefully, Stiles puts his hand on Derek’s hair. It’s softer than he expected, even with all the gel in it. The back of Derek’s neck is damp and Stiles puts his thumb there, in the soft spot between two cords of muscle. Derek makes a soft noise, a huffy little snort, and Stiles finds himself smiling. Just appreciating a sign that Derek is alive and presumably just fine. It feels stiff and unfamiliar on his face, like he barely even remembers how to do it.

After a moment, Stiles feels a little prickle at the back of his own neck, like there are eyes on him. He turns around. Elizabeth is hovering back by the doorway, watching them. Watching him, pawing at Derek while the guy is wounded and half-naked and unconscious and —

“Oh, god.” Stiles snatches his hand back, burning in embarrassment. Way to be super creepy and then get caught at it, how excellent, just what he needed. He jams his hands between his knees and can’t think of anything to say to her. Nothing at all.

She just looks back at him, almost through him, like she barely notices that he or Derek are there at all.

“It’ll all work out,” she says, kind of distant and vague like she’s not really talking to anyone at all. And then she disappears from the doorway, just like that. Leaving Stiles blinking and completely confused. If that was a psychic thing, what was she even talking about?

Stiles tries to move off the bed and go after her, and something warm and strong slaps around his wrist. He startles and glances back down at the bed. Derek is awake and watching him, just one eye peering out from over the edge of the pillow.

“Hey man, lookin’ better,” Stiles says, which is not much of a lie at this point. Derek’s hand slips off his arm and Stiles can still feel the heat from where it was, and he grits his teeth and closes his eyes for a brief second.

“Hmmf,” Derek replies from deep in his throat. He sits up, carefully, like he’s testing out his muscles one at a time, shifting and rolling each part of his body very precisely. He’s still not wearing a shirt, so Stiles has to look away because that’s just too much, he can’t watch that.

“There’s a—you know, shirt for you—there,” he says instead, jerking a thumb blindly over his shoulder at the nightstand, where his and Stiles’s stuff is all piled up together.

“Thanks,” Derek croaks out, sounding like he hasn’t had a drink of water in about a hundred years, but he’s sincere. You do kinda have to be sincerely thankful to a guy who pulled three magic death bullets out of you nearly bare-handed.

“No problem,” Stiles lies. What’s he gonna say though, really? Thanks for the extra nightmares I’ll now be having for the rest of my life, never do that to me again, I don’t think I could handle it if you died or even got hurt? No, definitely none of that. Wrong time, wrong place, wrong person.

Then Derek turns to him and Stiles holds in a breath, wondering if some of that slipped out of his mouth anyway, because it’s not like running his mouth in front of Derek would be a new thing.

“Thank you,” Derek says again, and it’s slower and a lot more pointed and Stiles can’t pull in another breath or let the one he’s already got go again because…because Derek is looking at him in the exact same way he did in the bar in Chicago, like Stiles is the only other person on the planet and that there’s something really there. That they aren’t just two guys who got thrown together because of circumstance—well, they are, but it’s more than that now. Stiles could have gone home, he could have left Derek in Brooklyn to do this by himself. And he didn’t. And back in Wisconsin Derek could have easily taken Stiles’s jeep and gone on without him when the Tashes nabbed him. And he didn’t. They’re not here now, together, because anything forced them to be. This is their choice.

And in all of his ‘it’s not a good idea, you’re too young, we’re not doing this’, Derek never once said that he didn’t want it.

It’s like being punched in the chest with a fist made of hope. Maybe Derek’s excuses weren’t that at all—maybe they’re real concerns that Derek takes seriously. Like the being too young thing; it really would be illegal right now. So. So, maybe Stiles really isn’t on a one-way street of pining here. And maybe it’ll have to hold on for a year or so until it’s not a felony, but Stiles can wait for that, god. He is a fucking pro at waiting and constant reckless hopefulness when it comes to situations like this. And this time at least...the other person sees something in him. Looks at him. Notices him.

And Derek walked into an obvious trap set for him by a dangerous group of werewolf hunters, and also took like an entire clip of semi-automatic rounds for him, all for Stiles, so can Stiles really blame himself too much if he’s maybe a little bit in love with the guy now or something? Old school heroics. It’s attractive in a real lizard-brain kind of way.

Then Derek looks away again and Stiles is left wondering if he just imagined all that, if it was just a moment of wishful thinking and fantasy. He thinks, briefly, about just asking—throwing out some blunt to-the-point inquiry about if the age thing really is the deal-breaker here and could Derek at least admit making out was nice and ease some of Stiles’s burn from the rejection.

Then he decides he just doesn’t want the truth. Not right now, not yet.

“I’ll be...yeah. Elsewhere,” Stiles says, as Derek reaches to the nightstand for a shirt. He manages to get out of the room without Derek stopping him this time, and sits down at the small table in the main room. His heart is still beating quicker from that whole moment in there, and maybe Derek’d heard it and that’s why it ended. Because Stiles getting ideas is probably not in Derek’s current plans.

Terry is still sacked out on the bed, curled up in a little ball, and the bathroom door is shut and the water’s running, so that’s where Elizabeth must be. Stiles is on the last dregs of his energy but he’s not sure which bed he can even use, the one with Derek in it or the one with the baby werewolf in it, and so several minutes later he’s still slumped at the table and pushing the motel pen around in errant circles. Then his phone rings from inside his jacket. It’s Scott.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Stiles stays when he picks up, and then winces at that total parent sentence that just came out of his mouth.

Scott laughs. “Dude, it’s the weekend.”

“Is it?” Okay, so, he hasn’t been keeping real close track of the days because frankly he’s had more pressing shit to attend to. It might not even be February anymore, but hell if that actually matters.

“And Allison’s at Lydia’s. Again.” Scott doesn’t sound annoyed, exactly, just...resigned. Like this is common now and he’s used to it. And maybe why he’s calling Stiles right now. ‘cause he’s bored.

“That’s nice,” Stiles says distantly, picking up the free motel pen and starting to doodle on the free motel paper pad. If Scott is in high Allison-gear again then that’s fine, Stiles can handle it. He really does miss Scott at this point, misses their stupid immature jokes and running out into the woods together to be idiots at all hours of the night. Everything in the past week has been so grown up, so stressful, so intense. Stiles kinda wants to go back to being a teenager again. And listening to Scott obsess about his girlfriend is pretty on-point with that.

“I guess she’s really worried about Lydia,” Scott goes on. “She’s been acting pretty weird in school.”

“Like, weird how?” Stiles says. “Weirder than before?” Does Scott not remember that Lydia got bitten by Peter and yet somehow didn’t actually become a werewolf and then went missing in the woods for several days and came back perfectly fine because that’s totally normal and—

Stiles drops the pen. He’s suddenly a lot more awake than he was a second ago.

“Oh, my god. Scott,” he says, interrupting something Scott was saying about Greek on the blackboard. “Tell me exactly what Lydia’s been doing. Or saying. Anything. All of it.”

“I don’t know,” Scott says. “You should talk to Allison, she’s the one who’d really know. Why? Is this some kind of new level in your Ten Year Plan—”

No, god, it’s—” Stiles says, suddenly hideously embarrassed by the existence of that Plan at all. His mind is whirring and tumbling and trying to slot things into place faster than he can make sense of it all or why this should even matter, but it does, it has to, it’s the only thing that can explain—

“I think Lydia’s an alpha,” he says.

Chapter Text

“But Lydia’s not even a werewolf, what?” Scott protests.

“I’ve gotta call you back, man,” Stiles says, and hangs up on him. He takes in a breath, lets it out, and then gets up to his feet. He has no idea how to deal with this, if he’s even right, but he thinks he knows where to start trying.

“Stiles,” says a voice from behind him, and when Stiles turns around Derek is standing a few feet away. His stance is rigid and his hands are half curled at his sides. He must have heard at least some of the conversation. “What was that?”

“One second,” Stiles says, and goes across the room to the bathroom door. The water’s still running in there, but it doesn’t sound like the shower or anything he shouldn’t interrupt.

Derek follows him. “Stiles—“

Stiles ignores him. Instead he raps on the bathroom door with the back of his knuckles.

“Elizabeth, hey, you done in there? ‘cause some maybe totally important discussions need to happen out here,” Stiles calls through the door.

Stiles—“ Derek starts again, more aggravated this time.

“Just chill, dude, okay?” Stiles says to him. “We’ll talk about this all together; I’m not gonna do it twice.”

Surprisingly, Derek quits pestering him. A second later the bathroom door opens and Elizabeth pops her head out. Her face is damp and blond hair sticks to the sides and across her forehead, and there’s still a streak of soap on her chin.

“What?” she asks, and pats at her cheek with a hand towel.

“I had this thought,” Stiles says. “You ever get any psychic vibes about a girl named Lydia?”

“No?” Elizabeth says. “But that doesn’t mean she’s not...important, somehow.” She turns and tosses the towel back into the bathroom, and then comes out into the main room. She sits down on the edge of the bed, where Terry is still curled up and sleeping, and puts a hand on his head and strokes his hair a little.

Stiles turns away from them quickly. He grabs the chair that he was sitting in before and spins it around so it’s facing the bed. He drops down in it as Derek slinks closer and doesn’t really sit anywhere, just leans edgily against the arm of the couch and stares expectantly at Stiles.

“Okay,” Stiles starts, and taps his hand against the side of his leg a couple times before he launches right in. “I think Lydia’s an alpha. Lydia’s a girl I go to school with,” he adds to Elizabeth. “She kind of got mixed up in all this, and maybe she’s a lot more mixed up than I even thought. She was involved when the whole…transfer of alpha powers thing happened, too.”

“How?” Elizabeth says, sitting forward a little.

Stiles glances at Derek, who doesn’t seem inclined to explain for himself. But maybe Derek doesn’t even know—Stiles knows he mentioned Lydia being hurt to him but maybe never that she was bitten.

So he says, “Peter—his uncle—bit Lydia a couple weeks ago.” A shiver of guilt wriggles its way down Stiles’s spine, and he grits his teeth against it. “The same night Derek got the whole alpha thing. But she didn’t actually become a werewolf. I mean, obviously. But there’s gotta be a reason for that; maybe it’s tied to...y’know, this problem.”

“He died later that night,” Derek says, and it strikes Stiles as telling that Derek didn’t say I killed him later that night. But Elizabeth is right here and that’s probably not the best way to win over family members you never knew you had, by admitting you killed the last one that you thought you had.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Would that matter?”

“I don’t know.” Derek glances away, mouth hard. “I didn’t know he bit her.”

“Yeah.” Stiles has to throw off that guilty twinge again; he’s probably never not going to feel it. Especially if Lydia is still being affected by what he let happen. “Scott and I checked that out. He definitely did, but it didn’t super heal up in any way. She was unconscious for a long time, and then missing, and according to Allison and Scott she’s been acting really weird...but nothing that actually spells werewolf.”

“If she didn’t heal, she isn’t,” Derek says.

“Okay, but there’s still definitely something going on with her and there’s no way it’s not related,” Stiles says. “The lore is you can reverse the whole thing by killing the alpha that bit you, right? So the connection’s important. I mean, maybe it never got enough time to sink in for her, or something, since—Peter was dead like an hour later.”

“That’s not a bad theory,” Elizabeth says, and Stiles feels pretty proud of himself. For not actually being a werewolf he’s getting pretty good at this behind the scenes stuff. Maybe he’s more like Alfred than Robin. Or Lucius Fox. Yeah, he could totally be Lucius Fox.

Then Derek, naturally, ruins it. “She didn’t kill him,” he says. “So the lore, if it’s even true in the first place, is irrelevant.”

“And Derek ‘Stormcloud’ Hale rains all over the only useful theory anyone has,” Stiles says with an eyeroll, and is a little surprised when Elizabeth laughs.

“It’s a hobby,” Derek throws back, and Stiles kicks his foot into the side of Derek’s leg. It’s only when the look Derek gives him is less disparaging and more reluctantly amused that Stiles realizes this is closer to flirting than arguing, and they should probably stop. He clears his throat a little and focusing back on the topic at hand.

“Let’s pretend it’s true,” Stiles says. “And that Lydia got bitten, but didn’t turn, but she got something else. Like Peter’s....alphaness. Is that even a thing? But then when you—when he died, it couldn’t go to you because she had it. And that’s why you’re...not. An alpha.”

“I’ve never heard of that happening,” Elizabeth says, and casts a sidelong glance at Derek. “But...”

Derek’s clearly not all that happy about being talked about like some kind of uncertain lab experiment. He clenches his hands around the arms of the chair he’s sitting in and keeps shifting his shoulders, stretching and rolling them back.

“None of this matters unless it means there’s a way to fix it,” he says finally.

“Don’t even suggest killing her,” Stiles says.

Derek scowls. “I wasn’t going to. It probably wouldn’t work anyway, since she’s not a werewolf.”

“So...so what, then. Has this kind of thing ever happened before? Do you guys have any idea how to transfer alpha-ness around without outright murder or death being involved?”

Elizabeth and Derek look at each other. Clearly, they don’t.

“No? Great,” Stiles says. “But I’ve been doing so much werewolf research in the last couple months, I bet I totally have found something relevant to our needs and didn’t even know it.”

Derek rolls his head back and forth, cracking vertebrae and not looking all that encouraged. But he does say, “all right.”

“Only one problem,” Stiles says. “It’s all back in Beacon Hills.”

#

It’s kind of a huge problem. Stiles could probably get Scott or Allison to go through all the research he’s got on his computer for him, or at least send him some of it, but then there’s the problem of somehow accessing it here immediately. Maybe he could get some of it on his phone, even if that would be slightly obnoxious to deal with. There’s probably a public library around somewhere, but that’s gonna take even more time to find, get to, use.

Elizabeth comes to the rescue—again, is there nothing she’s not carrying around with her that’s not convenient?—by producing a slightly battered tablet from her purse. She offers it to Stiles and says, “if you need any help with using it—Terry’s much better with it than I am.”

“He’s like four,” Stiles says.

“Seven,” Elizabeth says. “And believe me, he knows what he’s doing.”

Terry—who’s no longer napping and is instead doodling on one of the free motel pads—looks up at the mention of himself—and nods very seriously at Stiles.

“Okay, buddy,” Stiles says to him, because it’d probably take him about thirty seconds to figure out the tablet but why not let this poor kid feel like he’s useful. “You wanna show me how to use this thing?”

Elizabeth’s right—Terry is pretty suave with the tablet, poking expertly at icons and buttons with his awkward little kid fingers. He doesn’t look seven, but he is kind of small and wispy and Stiles isn’t that great at guessing kids’ ages anyway. Terry even informs him very sincerely and quietly that’s he’s actually ‘almost eight’, and Stiles remembers how important age was when you barely had any of it and just goes with it. Derek keeps to the corner of the room, staring out the window at the darkening sky, ignoring everyone.

After not too long Stiles thanks Terry for the tutorial, then retreats into the side bedroom by himself with the tablet and his phone. He calls Scott’s phone like six times, and doesn’t get an answer. He only hung up on the guy like an hour ago, where could he have gone?

On the seventh try somebody finally picks up, and it’s not even Scott.

“Jackson, what the fuck’re you doing answering Scott’s phone?” Stiles nearly bellows, but keeps it down for the sake of the likely thinness of the motel walls. “Where’s Scott?

“I’m not his keeper!” Jackson snipes back.

Why do you have his phone?

Jackson mutters something that sounds a lot like, ‘stole it from him at school’ and Stiles can only reply to that with a garbled series of incomprehensible angry noises.

Why,” he says, when he finally manages human words again.

Sullen silence from the other end of the line. Stiles starts thinking that Jackson might just hang up on him, and then he’ll have to waste time calling everybody else who might know where Scott is trying to track him down and Stiles just doesn’t have the patience for that right now.

“Guess what then, you get to help me instead,” Stiles says. Jackson is already in on the whole werewolf thing anyway, and he’s right here. “And if you don’t cooperate I’ll have my dad arrest you.”

“For what?” Jackson sneers.

I will make something up,” Stiles says. “And who you wanna bet my dad believes more, me or you?”

That’s a little bluff he hopes Jackson won’t call, because honestly he’s not sure if his dad would at this point take his word over Jackson’s. This little roadtrip hasn’t done a lot for their father-son bonding.

“Also I have friends who are werewolves and they could probably kill you,” Stiles adds, in case the threat of unlikely repercussions from the law isn’t enough.

“....what do you even want?” Jackson says resentfully.

“All you have to do is go to my house,” Stiles says, both relieved and frustrated that Jackson is on board. His last choice in the worldfor this, but he doesn’t know where Scott is or how long it’d take to track him down and for all Stiles knows he’s off with Allison somewhere and they can’t just wait around on this. They’ve got Argents and Tashes to deal with and those are not things that are taking their slow sweet time in coming after them.

But now he has to get Jackson to break into his house. Stiles is for sure not telling Jackson where the spare key is, so he coaches the guy on how to sneak into his room instead, using the Derek window-creep method. Naturally Jackson gripes constantly about it, with a lot of guarantees that if he gets caught breaking into the sheriff’s house then his attorney dad will have some strong legal opinions on who’s actually at fault.

At some point, Derek slides noiselessly into the room. Stiles doesn’t even see him do it—he’s just suddenly there, leaning against the wall and listening in. It makes Stiles nervous; the back of his neck prickles whenever he’s not facing Derek and his heart beats a little too hard whenever he is. The compromise is to keep Derek at the very edge of his vision and just pretend he’s a piece of furniture made of leather and inner turmoil.

Finally Jackson reports, very angrily, that he’s in Stiles’s room.

“Okay, on my computer,” Stiles says, and gives Jackson a second to get there. “There should be a folder in—”

“No.”

“What do you mean no?

“You have a password on here, idiot,” Jackson says. “What is it?”

“Oh my god,” Stiles says. If this situation wasn’t so important he might, in fact, die of humiliation. Right here on this spot. He almost forgot about the stupid password that he put on his computer that first night after he found Derek unwelcomely using it, which feels like four thousand years ago. Stiles tries to cup his hand around the speaker of the phone and say the password as quietly as he can, which naturally only enrages Jackson.

“Speak up, ballsweat,” Jackson says. “Stop whispering.”

Stiles grits his teeth and rolls his eyes and then spells it out, instead. In the loudest mumble he can manage.

Derek?” Jackson says loudly, when Stiles has grumbled out the last letter. “Your password is Derek?

“Shut up,” Stiles says hopelessly, because Derek’s already looking across the room at him with his brow furrowed—clearly, he heard.

Stiles presses his hand over the speaker, ignoring how Jackson is bleating at him about what he’s supposed to do next. “I only did it because I was trying to keep you out of my computer and it was kind of a joke and the last thing you would’ve ever guessed,” he says in Derek’s general direction without meeting his eyes.

“Yeah,” Derek says. “It would’ve been.”

“Don’t read into it,” Stiles mutters. “It was before. You know. Anything.”

And in the brief second before Stiles turns away, Derek actually looks sorry.

#

Directing someone by-proxy through all his compiled werewolf research isn’t as easy as Stiles thought it would be. Especially when it’s Jackson, who bitches and bellyaches and runs his mouth the whole time and Stiles is really starting to understand why people get annoyed with him when he does the same thing. Only Jackson’s just about 100% more caustic about it. Maybe asshole is the only language Jackson is fluent in.

“I will straight up murder you, slowly, with your lacrosse stick, through the least pleasant orifice you can think of, if you don’t stop whining,” Stiles snaps at him finally, and on the other side of the room Derek laughs. When Stiles turns around, sufficiently startled, Derek’s face is mostly turned away but his shoulders are jiggling a little.

Stiles continues to instruct Jackson on how to compile all his research together and get it somewhere that’s accessible to him online and with a tablet. The stuff Stiles found in books will just have to wait until Scott or Allison can get to it. But this’ll be something to start with.

“You owe me a huge favor for this, Stilinski,” Jackson says, when everything that can be done is done.

“Next time don’t steal Scott’s phone!” Stiles bawls at him, but it’s too late, Jackson’s already hung up with extreme prejudice.

Ughh. Why’d you want to give the bite to that twerp again?” Stiles says, pocketing his phone and flopping back on the bed.

“Because he wanted it,” Derek says from where he’s still leaning on the wall. “And I thought he’d also want a pack, a family. He didn’t seem comfortable with the one he had.”

“Newsflash,” Stiles says, rolling onto his back. “Jackson doesn’t play well with others unless he’s completely in charge of everything. He would have been the worst cadet in your werewolf brigade.”

“I’m starting to see that,” Derek says. The bed dips slightly somewhere above Stiles’s head and Stiles’s heart starts to go a little faster because this is probably the closest Derek has willingly gotten to him since Chicago. Sitting a foot or two away on the same piece of furniture. And of course it’s a bed, god, that would be how his life works out. The air feels warmer already and his skin is prickling with nerves.

Stiles breathes slow and keeps his eyes on the ceiling and absolutely hates that he’s sixteen and his body is stupid.

Then he remembers Derek will be able to hear and smell this, and to him Stiles might as well be a live-action porn happening right here in the room for all the subtlety he’s got going on at the moment. Stiles hates werewolves and their stupid overactive senses; he really, really does.

At least he can’t see Derek’s face. That’d be even worse.

“Soooo,” Stiles says, after what feels like an eternity of wondering when Derek is gonna get skeeved out by his semi-boner and just leave, “how the hell’d the Tashes find us, anyway?”

“They had your jeep for hours in Wisconsin. They probably put a GPS tracker on it.”

“Oh.” Stiles drums his fingers against his stomach. “Right. Of course. So they just...followed us.”

“Probably.”

“…my jeep’s still at your house.”

Derek shifts, and the bed moves under Stiles’s back. “Then we don’t have to worry right now.”

“Dude, I’ve been doing nothing but worry for the past two weeks.” A lie; it’s more like the past several months, or maybe even years, who knows, he almost can’t remember a time when he wasn’t worrying about something. But Derek doesn’t have to know that. “Plus there’s also like...the Argents, and then whoever was after Elizabeth—we don’t even know them or where they’re at.”

“You never should have gotten involved with this,” Derek says, and when Stiles arcs his head back far enough to see the guy, he actually looks upset. His eyebrows are doing a crumply thing and his shoulders are hunched. Or maybe that’s just ‘cause Stiles is looking at him upside-down.

“Wow, remember how this started with involuntary kidnapping? Done by you?” Stiles says, and even though it’s a joke Derek just looks more unhappy. “That was supposed to be funny.”

“It’s not.” Derek draws himself up, hands clenched together on top of his thigh. His jeans still have dark brown bloodstains on them. “I shouldn’t have done that at all. I could have done anything else; there were other ways to get out of town. I just didn’t think. I went to you because—”

“—you didn’t have anyone else,” Stiles finishes for him. He sits up on the bed, and turns so he and Derek are side-by-side. “Look, I get it. You had cops and Argents on your ass for murders you didn’t even do and were getting creepy calls from a psychic lady and I think anybody would have made really bad decisions in that situation. This bad decision forgives you, okay? So don’t even worry about it.”

Derek’s silence still feels regretful.

“And,” Stiles adds on an impulse, “you know, you have someone now.”

Derek frowns. “Elizabeth? I barely know her.”

“Oh, my god. Me, you moron! Me,” Stiles says, burning fingers of embarrassment sliding up his neck to his face. Does Derek really not get it? How much effort and danger does Stiles have to put into this to prove himself? “How can you not know this by now?”

“...I know,” Derek mutters. “But I was hoping that wasn’t what you meant.”

I want to help you!” Stiles nearly roars at him, and Derek actually shuts up and looks startled.

“I want to help you. Why else do you think I’m still here, idiot,” Stiles mutters, scrubbing his hands over his hair. Maybe the yelling was going too far. Or is it more genuine when you scream your good intentions at the person who won’t accept them? Yeah, maybe he should tone it down.

“You’re just going to get yourself killed,” Derek says in frustration.

“Whoa, hey, I’m a little more competent than that,” Stiles protests.

“I know you are!” Derek nearly snarls at him, then he sinks back and digs his fingers into the mattress. He takes a breath, and lets it out again. “Stiles. I don’t even know if I’m going to survive this. I’m not what I’m supposed to be, I can’t do the things I need to be able to. I don’t know if I can protect you, or anyone else.” He glances at the half-open doorway, towards where Elizabeth and Terry are. “Even if I was an alpha, I don’t know if I could.”

“So we can help each other, like I’ve been trying to say,” Stiles says, but he’s a little overwhelmed by how much Derek is worried about protecting everyone. “Look, this is kinda what Scott and I do now—I do the planning and he does the actual...doing. But not everything has to be a big knock-down drag-out furry fight, we can get through this smart. Or at least try.”

Derek is still clearly not buying what Stiles is selling. “How, exactly?”

“First of all I think we gotta get you to be an actual alpha. Then we’ll worry about...all those other worrying things,” Stiles says. He drops a hand to Derek’s shoulder and grips for a second before he lets go again. “Okay? That’s like the number one thing right now. First priority. You might even say it’s our—”

No.

“—alpha priority.”

“I’m leaving,” Derek says, but doesn’t get up at all.

“I am funny and someday you’ll admit it,” Stiles says, and elbows Derek in the side. Derek mildly raises his eyebrows and surely has a retort to come back with, but Stiles doesn’t get to hear it because Elizabeth pops her head through the half-open door and asks what kind of take-out they both want and that’s about when Stiles realizes how ravenously hungry he is and that, for the moment, werewolf stuff is on hold.

But not for long. Stiles is already poking through some of it on Elizabeth’s tablet before the food delivery—Chinese, because it were closest and took cash, since a paper trail is definitely a bad idea for any of them to be leaving at this point—even shows up. And now, thanks to Elizabeth’s tip on Celtic lore still being relevant, Stiles has some new ideas to check out. Derek keeps leaning over and trying to see what Stiles is looking at, and Stiles keeps elbowing him away and poking him with the chopsticks. He tries not to notice Elizabeth watching them, and thinks about how Derek is eating in front of them with no problem. But they are his family, technically, so…special case, probably.

About halfway through dinner, Scott suddenly calls. From Allison’s number. Stiles expresses his confusion immediately about how Scott called before.

“I called you from my house phone,” Scott says, like that should be so incredibly obvious. “I lost my cell somewhere at school.”

“Actually Jackson stole it from you at school, because he still hasn’t forgiven you for being a werewolf while he isn’t, and this was his petty revenge and it was awful. Totally ineffectual on you, direct hit on me.”

“What,” says Scott.

“Never mind,” Stiles mutters. He pushes his box of greasy lo mein away, suddenly not very hungry anymore. “Wait, so are you at Allison’s right now?”

“Lydia’s, actually,” Scott says. “Allison wanted me here for like…moral support, or something. With Lydia.”

“Great, that’s perfect,” Stiles says. “’cause we have some things we need to talk about, and Lydia needs to hear them.”

#

It’s long overdue, but finally Lydia is completely clued in on Werewolfgate and seems to be handling it with as much sarcastic grace as Stiles might have expected. Also she’s understandably pissed off about all the various times her life has recently been endangered because of it. And that her boyfriend attempted to be a werewolf and didn’t even tell her.

“Why do I even hang out with any of you,” Lydia says exasperatedly—Stiles can hear her in the background even though Scott is the one technically on the phone.

“We’re telling you now,” Allison’s voice offers, which even Stiles has to admit is a terrible platitude. Lydia seems to agree, because there’s only a very disparaging silence over the line.

Finally, Lydia says, “and so I’m—what? Nothing happened to me on the full moon, except—well, I certainly didn’t become a werewolf.”

“We think you just have the…like the alpha power,” Scott says. “Stiles thinks that, anyway.”

“Hey, nobody else is coming up with anything!” Stiles points out.

“And what would that mean?” Lydia interjects.

“Well, Derek’s supposed to have it. He’s supposed to be the alpha,” Scott says, and sounds pretty unenthusiastic about that idea still.

“Well, he is welcome to it,” Lydia says. “I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“That’s kind of the problem,” Stiles puts in, but he doesn’t know if she can even hear him. “This is like some kind of weird freak-of-nature thing.”

“Uh, yeah,” Lydia says, when Scott relays that. “Werewolves.”

“Other than the werewolf part! None of us really know why this happened or how to fix it.”

In the nearby chair, Derek shifts irritably and drags a hand down the side of his neck. “If she actually got the bite again, and became a werewolf, that could do something,” he says. His voice is low and he’s talking towards the carpet. “She might be a full alpha then.”

Stiles lowers the phone, staring at him. “Then you wouldn’t be.”

“Does it really matter now?” Derek says. “Even if I was, I wouldn’t have a pack. I don’t have—“ he raises his head, and hesitates when Stiles catches his eyes and stares him down, “—much of a reason to be one.”

“Do you want to be, though,” Stiles says, leaning forward a little. Derek still hasn’t broken eye contact with him, and there’s something hard and desolate in his expression that Stiles doesn’t like. But he gets it—if Derek ends up an alpha without the actual power of it, without a pack…that’d really make him an omega. Having lost everything, with absolutely nothing or no one. And maybe Derek’s hit a point where he thinks that’s all he can ever get, but Stiles doesn’t actually believe that, and he’s not gonna let Derek give up.

“STILES!” Scott’s voice suddenly bellows from his lap, and Stiles nearly slaps his phone across the room in surprise.

“Oh my god what?!” Stiles roars into the speaker.

“Lydia thinks that’s a terrible idea anyway.”

That’s right, he forgets Scott has the super-hearing too. And he can hear Lydia in the background now, going on some kind of dynamic rant about how much the idea appalls her.

“—and what do I get for all that, a furry face once a month? There’s no way—

“It is kinda cooler than that, actually—” Scott starts up.

No,” Lydia interrupts him. “You don’t get to tell me what’s cool. It’s not cool.”

“…okay,” Scott says. “Sorry?”

“I don’t want the nightmares, I don’t want the hallu—I just don’t want it,” Lydia says tightly. “And thanks to none of you, I didn’t even know what was going on.”

“We’re really sorry,” Allison says sheepishly.

There’s a couple seconds of silence in which Stiles imagines there are some excellent disapproving looks going on, and then Lydia says; “so do you need my help looking into how to fix this Derek guy or what?”

Yes,” Stiles says, because if there’s someone else who’d be better at this than himself, it’s Lydia. And she’ll be extra doubly motivated because it’s about her. Stiles is pretty sure she doesn’t actually care about how it affects Derek, and there’s no reason she should.

“Then somebody give me a book already,” Lydia commands.

#

Researching with people on the other side of the country is just a tiny bit tricky. Scott had to make a run to Stiles’s house to get all his books and go back to Lydia’s with them, so that half of the party has plenty of material to search through. Derek and Stiles have to share the tablet to do anything, which is…well. It’s awkward. Stiles tries to use his phone too, but everything’s so small and cramped on it and hard to deal with.

Also, Derek continues to seem worryingly defeated. Stiles isn’t sure what got him like this all of a sudden, but maybe it’s been a slow thing happening that he’s only just seeing. After all, it’s not like things have been getting better in any kind of way. Just worse and more desperate and complicated, and Stiles can’t really blame the guy for losing a little bit of hope. Especially when they’ve been at the research for a while and nothing promising about alphas minus murder has come up.

“What about this?” Allison says, after they’ve been at it for a good long while. It’s completely dark outside now, though it’s three hours earlier for Scott and the rest of them. “This symbol. I keep running across it.”

“Looks like your tattoo, Derek,” Scott says. “Just one less spiral thing.”

“A double spiral,” Derek says.

“Not a real imaginative name,” Stiles says, and Derek gives him a look. “So what’s it mean?”

“It can mean a lot of things. To us, the balance between the alpha and the pack. How we make each other stronger. That’s probably why you’re seeing it a lot,” Derek adds towards the phone.

“You guys sure love your spirals,” Scott mutters, and Stiles smothers a laugh against his hand.

“Hey, Lydia, can you translate this?” Allison says. “There’s a whole part in Latin in this book.”

“Hand it to me,” Lydia’s imperious voice says. It’s weirdly comforting, hearing her in her element and sure of herself, when the last impression Stiles had of her was still and unconscious in a hospital bed. He still wishes he could see her, just to get that image out of his mind, but this is almost as good.

“You think this double spiral thing could maybe be useful?” Stiles says to Derek. “I mean, if it’s about balance and...stuff. Could be relevant.”

Derek scrubs a knuckle against the corner of his eye. “Explain why that makes sense to you.”

“Well, ‘cause you and Lydia are unbalanced right now,” Stiles says. “You have the werewolf part and she’s probably got the alpha part, instead of one of you being an alpha werewolf and the other person being...just a person.”

“That actually did make sense,” Derek says. “As a theory. But the symbol’s really about the alpha and the rest of the pack.”

“Derek, technically you’re like a beta right now. None of the alpha perks are working. You are the rest of the pack.”

For a second Derek looks like he’s going to object, then he clenches his jaw together and looks away. “Yeah,” he says.

“It’s some kind of ritual,” Lydia’s voice breaks in then. “For ‘harmonization of power’.”

“What does that mean?” Scott says, and Lydia huffs.

“I’m just doing the translating,” she says. “Not explicating.”

“What?” says Scott.

Lydia sighs. “I can tell you what it says, not what it means. And what this says is that it’s for balancing forces. You can figure out what that’s supposed to be about.”

“Can you send this to us somehow?” Stiles throws in. “‘cause it kind of sounds helpful.”

“It’s in Latin,” Lydia reminds him, and Stiles makes a face.

“Yeah, well—could you maybe send us a translation?”

Lydia sighs harder. “Give me a few minutes.”

“Thanks!” Stiles adds quickly, but still gets the feeling he’s offended her. It’s hard to tell with Lydia sometimes. Possibly all times.

“Stiles, where did you even get some of these books,” Scott says. “‘cause, dude, they’re pretty weird. You know that, right?”

“I have ways,” Stiles says. “Also, dude, have you noticed you’re a werewolf? ‘cause that’s pretty weird too.”

“Your face is pr—”

“Done. It’s not really that complicated,” Lydia interrupts them. “It’s mostly just about drawing symbols with salt, for some reason.”

“Salt is a pure element,” Elizabeth says. “That’s not unusual.”

“Okay, we’re sending it,” Allison’s voice says, and after a couple seconds an email pops up on Stiles’s phone. Lydia was right, it really isn’t very complicated. In fact it seems almost too simple to even be useful. Also—

“There’s no way this can work,” Stiles says, and Derek shakes his head from where he’s leaning forward over Stiles’s shoulder to look. “I mean, both of you would have to be in the same place.” And that’s if this idea was even gonna pan out in the first place.

“Well, actually,” Lydia’s voice says from somewhere far in the background. “It says a part can represent a whole. So just like...hair or something.”

“But you’d still have to be in the same place,” Stiles says. “I’m sure this isn’t meant to reach over three thousand miles.”

“Not necessarily,” Elizabeth says, and both Derek and Stiles turn to look at her. “Well, when I didn’t know where you were and was trying to contact you—I knew you had to be further away than I could get on my own. By myself—“ Elizabeth touched her temple, “I can’t go that far. So I had things to help me, expand my reach.”
“What things?” Derek says.

“Well, they’re in my car right now,” Elizabeth says, “but they’re focus crystals. Terry accidentally knocked one over when I was using them before. Breaking the connection like that took a lot out of me; that’s why I couldn’t contact you again before you actually got here.”

Stiles remembers the phone message that’d abruptly cut off, which had sounded so ominous and disturbing at the time. But it was really just a seven year old poking at something he shouldn’t.

“But I think I could adapt them for this,” Elizabeth finishes. “I think it’s worth a try.”

“So we got a plan then,” Stiles says. Maybe it’s not a perfect plan, and maybe way too much of it is complete guessing and optimism, but it’s doing something.

“But where are we supposed to find Derek’s hair?” Scott interjects.

“I do own a comb,” Derek says dryly. “And it’s in my house.”

“…oh.”

Derek catches Stiles’s eyes and tweaks an eyebrow at him, like he really wants Stiles to explain why he’s got such dopey friends. Stiles shrugs back—he’s not gonna admit he wouldn’t have thought of that either. Then again, he keeps his own hair so short that he kind of forgets combs exist at all.

Scott still has more questions. “Yeah, but what about Lydia’s hair? How’re you guys gonna get that?”

“Cut off a little and overnight it to us!” Stiles snaps. California’s three hours behind, there’s probably time to do that still. “Come on, guys, do I really have to do all the thinking here?”

Derek suddenly puts a hand on Stiles’s shoulder and Stiles is so startled by it that he shuts up. And Derek just gives him a little squeeze, and then lets go again. It shouldn’t make Stiles feel better, because that’s just stupid, but it does anyway.

”Just do it, okay?” Stiles says into the phone, in a much more civil tone, then hangs up. He’s kind of done with all of them, entirely. Plus he feels like he hasn’t slept in days and he’s just about dead on his feet. He can’t believe it was only this morning that he and Derek got into Brooklyn. He’s exhausted, it’s dark outside, he wants to go to bed. They can do more of this tomorrow. At least they’ve got a start on things.

“I’m just gonna go to…sleep…somewhere,” Stiles says, realizing as he says it that they haven’t exactly worked out sleeping arrangements yet. “Okay, how’re we doing this?”

Terry’s sort of decided it for them, actually. He’s asleep again on the bed out here; he dropped off at some point during the research party. His thumb is almost in his mouth and Stiles thinks, again, that this poor kid should not have to deal with all this. But he is a werewolf, and a Hale, and both of those things seem to guarantee a pretty terrible existence as far as Stiles has seen.

Elizabeth looks between Stiles and Derek. “I guess we’ll be out here. Are you two all right with the—that—” she says, gesturing hesitantly towards the side room. “Or there is the couch....”

They all turn to stare at it. It’s a scratchy green thing that looks about as comfortable as a slab of concrete. Stiles itches and aches just thinking about a night on it. Derek doesn’t seem too taken by it either, and he doesn’t object to the bed sharing idea.

So Stiles says, “it’s no problem,” and carefully doesn’t meet Derek’s eyes at all. “We can share. It’s fine.”

#

The full bed looks awfully small now that Stiles is standing at the end of it and realizing he really has to sleep in it, and Derek has to sleep in it, and they have to do that at the same time.

“Derek are you sure about this,” Stiles asks in the most forced monotone he can manage.

“You said it was fine.” Derek’s already down to the undershirt and Stiles can’t even handle this, no, there’s just no way, there’s not enough room in this bed for all those muscles and Stiles’s inappropriate feelings.

“I think I may have lied,” Stiles croaks out.

Derek turns to him, frowning, but not in an annoyed way. He just seems mildly baffled. “I can take the couch,” he points out, and Stiles remembers that the guy was pumped full of automatic rounds and then shot three times in the back with death bullets earlier today and it’s probably rude to make him sleep on a cheap motel couch. Even if he has super-healing.

“No, don’t do that, just—” Stiles raises and drops his arms helplessly. “Doesn’t it bother you?”

More baffled eyebrow scrunching. “What?”

“That I’m—” Stiles makes a frantic circular gesture at all of himself, but mostly in a lower area, “—like, all the time, around you now, I mean you obviously can’t be missing it and I can’t hide it, and clearly nothing is happening on that front but for some reason you’re all on-board with this?” Stiles stabs a finger down at the bed.

Derek flattens his mouth out. “I’ll just take the couch,” he says.

“No, wait, can we talk about this,” Stiles says, and it really sounds a little desperate.

Derek is clearly getting irritable by now, and way less accommodating. “We already did.”

And Derek’s answer was no. Which Stiles totally accepts, totally, except for the part where Derek did not actually say he wasn’t into it. Stiles just needs that. He needs to hear I do not have any interest in you whatsoever and then he can work on that whole getting over it thing. Without that, his brain is gonna hold onto that stupid hope that it’s really just his age and the timing and he really wishes Derek would stop being so casual about sleeping in the same bed because it’s not helping, not helping at all.

Also maybe Derek just doesn’t understand the severity of Stiles’s hopeless crush. ‘cause it’s pretty big and bad at this point. Like kind of more than a crush. It’s not something Stiles can just laugh off anymore and it had to be dealt with somehow.

“No, you talked about how it was a bad idea and then basically refused to acknowledge that it happened,” Stiles points out. “That’s not a discussion. That’s kind of bullshit.”

“What needs to be discussed?” Derek really getting agitated now; he’s practically tearing his shirt apart in his hands.

“How about the fact that it happened at all,” Stiles says kind of wildly. “You don’t think that’s kind of relevant? So maybe you think it was a mistake but we still gotta deal with why the mistake even happened! There was a reason!

“I know why it happened,” Derek says, and Stiles abruptly stops talking. “You’re a teenager and hormonal and you’ve spent years obsessing on a girl who’s not going to pay you any attention and now you’re just focusing all that on me because I made a mistake.”

“You think it’s just this?” Stiles flaps a hand at himself again. “Well, yeah, okay, it is a lot of this, but oh my god, it’s not only that. I actually li—”

Stop.” Derek almost looks a little taken-aback. He moves out from around the side of the bed. “We’re done talking. I’m taking the couch,” he says, and this time it’s definitely a final statement. He heads for the door as Stiles sinks down to the end of the bed, wondering how he managed to mess this up so fast and why couldn’t’ve just kept his stupid mouth shut.

Derek steps out of the room, but hesitates in the doorway. “Goodnight, Stiles,” he says, and then the door closes behind him.

“Goodnight,” Stiles says miserably.

#

The next day is waiting. Just hanging around until Lydia’s hair shows up and they can give this bizarre half-assed plan a shot. Also hoping the Argents, who have to be in town by now, don’t find them yet. Or, hopefully, ever.

Derek spends most of his time pacing around in front of the dingy motel windows and occasionally tripping over Terry when the kid tries to mimic his path around the furniture. Stiles thinks it’s kind of cute, and Derek clearly has no idea what to do with a pint-sized werewolf who’s equally as talkative as himself.

Nobody’s mentioned last night. Certainly not him or Derek. And if Elizabeth thought finding Derek on the couch this morning was weird, she doesn’t say anything.

But in retrospect, Stiles is glad Derek wasn’t in the same bed with him all night. Because every time he closed his eyes all he saw was bright blood and thick smoke and the flash of gunfire, and whenever he did manage to drop off he’d wake up again in a cold anxious sweat, clutching at the sheets and panting into his pillow, and twice he had to stumble into the bathroom and dry-heave over the toilet. The last few hours he’d just lay wide awake in the dark, staring at the lumpy ceiling and listening to the shush of traffic and the occasional wail of a siren.

So he’ll be running off adrenaline and cheap motel coffee today, lots of it. Maybe being half out of his mind will make this whole thing easier to deal with somehow.
Stiles actually spends some time with Elizabeth, mostly when they go out to find some of the things they’ll need for this ritual thing. Like lots and lots of salt. He’s almost kind of surprised Elizabeth would willingly leave her son alone with just Derek to watch him, but he’s also not surprised at the same time—they are both werewolves and Derek is getting better at being capable at things.

And Stiles gets a chance to ask her just what the hell it was she set on fire and waved at Derek’s back to heal him yesterday and, apparently, it actually was mistletoe. Which Stiles had sort of thought it looked like, but it hadn’t made any sense at the time. Or now, even.

“You mean you healed him with a kissing plant,” Stiles says, as they’re walking down the block to the nearest corner convenience store. It’s kind of a blustery cold day and Stiles is all hunched up inside his jacket, hands jammed into the pockets.

“Well, yes,” Elizabeth says, and then goes on assure him that mistletoe was a very potent healing plant in Celtic and pagan lore and is still plenty useful against harmful supernatural things. And Stiles saw how useful it was for himself, so he can’t really argue. It’s just, kissing plant. Maybe he can tease Derek about that later. And then he thinks he probably shouldn’t.

“Why did you have it?” he asks.

“I didn’t, not really. It was in Derek’s house,” Elizabeth says. “I just found it there and...I knew it would be helpful.”

“All right.” Sounds legitimate enough. “How about the smoke grenades? Derek have those in his house too?”

She laughs, but it’s not much of a cheerful sound. “Oh, no. Those were mine.”

“You just happened to have military-grade smoke bombs with you, in a situation where they were really convenient,” Stiles says.

“It’s a...I suppose a side-effect of being psychic,” Elizabeth says. “Sometimes, I just know that I need a thing. It’s just a feeling, or a...like I’m being drawn towards something. It’s almost like a craving for food. But I might not need that thing for...oh, years, sometimes. But I always do need it.”

“That sounds like it might be really annoying.”

“I’m used to it,” Elizabeth says. “And I know it’s worth it to follow these feelings.”

Stiles glances at her. “So one day you just felt like buying smoke grenades.”
“Well, it wasn’t that easy,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. And they’ve hit the convenience store anyway, so conversation is interrupted while they hunt around for the biggest bag of salt they can find, which ends up being rock salt meant for roads or something. Stiles also grabs a pack of permanent markers.

It’s only on the walk back to the motel that Elizabeth speaks up again.

“Terry’s father is a hunter,” she says, in a rush like this was a confession she wasn’t sure she was going to make.

“Oh,” Stiles says. And then, “oh.

Elizabeth sighs, kind of sadly. “Neither of us knew when we met. There was no reason to, after all—I’m not a werewolf and hunters are rather secretive about their other lives. Of course, I knew I might have to tell him if Terry inherited the bloodline.”

“Which he did.”
Elizabeth nods. “It didn’t go well when his father found out.”
Please do not tell Derek this,” Stiles says. “Because it’s going to majorly prove a point he’s been trying to make forever, and I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of being right.”

“Why not?” Elizabeth says.

“Because he’ll be smug about it,” Stiles laments. “Also, it isn’t gonna change the situation he thinks is a terrible idea.”

She doesn’t reply to that, and the rest of the walk back to the motel happens in a slightly somber silence.

#

An overnighted package from California shows up at the front desk in the later afternoon. Elizabeth goes down to retrieve it, and in the five minutes she’s gone Derek nearly paces a hole in the carpet. Stiles can’t even try and reassure him because he’s pretty much just as anxious. This is his idea and his plan they’re running off of and if it doesn’t work they'll have to start all over again with something completely different and it’s not like they’ve got the time to waste throwing ideas until one sticks.

When Elizabeth comes back Derek nearly pounces on her and the cardboard envelope she’s holding. He rips the end of it shakes the contents out onto his hand. A glossy curl of strawberry blond hair slides out, about three inches long, tied nicely at one end with a little bit of yarn. Stiles wonders if Lydia sheared off that much of her hair all the way around or if she’s going around with one stunted lock. Probably that first one. He can’t imagine Lydia would tolerate being unsymmetrical.

And then Stiles makes the call to Allison’s phone, just in case Scott’s is still in Jackson’s clutches.

“We only found like two strands of hair, is that enough?” Allison says, almost right away when she picks up. “And we’re pretty sure it’s Derek’s.”

“Oh good. Pretty sure,” Stiles says. But it’s not like there’s anything they can do about it. “Sounds fine.”

“Are we even sure this is a good idea?” Scott’s voice suddenly breaks in from nowhere. “I mean, do we really want Derek to be an alpha?”

“He and I might have a chance of surviving Allison’s family if he is,” Stiles says. “No offense, Allison.”

“Understandable,” Allison mutters.

“Also,” Stiles goes on, more carefully. “Yeah. The whole kidnapping thing notwithstanding, Derek’s a decent guy. He just has really bad luck and even worse circumstances. It’s not gonna be a bad thing for him to have this.”

“Okay,” Scott says, but he still sounds dubious.

“Just trust me on this,” Stiles says, wondering when exactly he turned into such an advocate for Derek, but he still knows he’s right.

Then suddenly he hears a familiar voice in the background that sounds like it’s talking to Lydia. “Oh my god why did you invite Jackson to this party,” Stiles says despairingly.

“He just showed up!” Scott sounds equally unhappy. “I think Lydia might have told him to.”

“I guess he can’t make anything worse,” Stiles admits. He wonders vaguely if Lydia and Jackson are dating again, but the answer is not as important to him as it once was.

Also there’s no time to think about it at all, because they’ve got to get this crazy idea started. Elizabeth tucks Terry away in the side room and Stiles hears her talking reassuringly to him before she closes him in there, while he and Derek are pushing all the furniture against the walls to clear a big space on the floor. The motel carpet is a thin greyish weave that they’re probably going to end up destroying, but it does make a decent canvas to pour salt all over.
“So who’s going to do it?” Stiles says, hefting up the bag of it. Elizabeth and Derek both look pointedly at him. “Oh, me? Great.”

More responsibility for this idea working on piled on him. Just what he wanted.

But somebody has to do it and so Stiles draws the shape out first in the permanent markers they bought earlier, because it’s not like he’s a master at free drawing with salt. It takes him a couple tries to get it all right and the shapes equal on both sides, and finally it’s as good as it’s going to get and the carpet is pretty much ruined already. Time to pour rock salt all over it.

He tears off of a tiny corner of one of the bags and then pulls it carefully around the drawn line, starting from the middle of the first spiral and working outwards, leaving a trail of rocky salt. It takes a lot of careful stepping and precise dragging but eventually Stiles’s got a more or less functional (if maybe a little lumpy) representation of the double spiral outlined on the floor.

Each individual spiral is about four feet wide and the whole thing is over twice that long. It fills up most of the space on the cramped motel floor, a coiled bright white line. While Stiles is admiring the decent outcome of his efforts, Derek comes up beside him and stares down at it like it’s the last hope he has in the world. Stiles reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. Derek takes a deep breath under his touch and lets it out again. Stiles keeps his hand where it is, and it doesn’t even seem that strange to be doing it.

In the meantime Elizabeth’s been setting up her long-distance calling card crystals, or whatever they are, in a huge ring around the spirals. They honestly look like she picked them up in a new age shop, but whatever, apparently they work for her. She’s done at about the same time Stiles finished, and about half a minute later Allison reports that everything on their end is done too.

“All right,” Stiles says. “I think that’s….everything.”

Elizabeth and Derek exchange looks, and then both turn towards the spirals on the floor. Elizabeth gives Derek a little nudge, just barely a tap with one finger on the back of his shoulder. Derek huffs slightly, straightens his back, and moves forward. Stiles figures that’s a cue.

“Lydia should get in one of the spirals now,” he says into the phone, at the same time Derek steps carefully into the center of one himself.

“You should get in one of the spirals,” Jackson relays. There’s a pause, and then—

“Jackson, don’t escort me, I can get in the spiral myself!” Stiles hears Lydia declare, and he has to smile.

“Why don’t you put me on speaker,” Stiles suggests. “That’d make this a lot easier to coordinate.”

“Aren’t you just the brains of this little operation,” Jackson says. “Why are we following your orders again?”

Then suddenly Derek is right up next to Stiles, slamming an arm down beside the phone and growling from between bared teeth. “Listen to him,” he snarls at it, and even though he’s not exactly an alpha he can still do the voice, that growly powerful voice, and Stiles’s whole spine vibrates with it.

“Oh, there’s Derek,” Scott says unexcitedly.

Jackson doesn’t talk again for at least five seconds, and then, “all right, all right, I am putting this on speaker, are you all happy now.” There’s a rustle and a hiss of static and suddenly the sound across the phone line is much larger and full of echoes.

“Get back in there,” Stiles mutters to Derek, pushing him back towards the spirals because how embarrassing that Derek had to come and whip Jackson into cooperating, because Stiles doesn’t command enough authority on his own.

“Where are you guys, anyway?” Stiles asks then, then because he’s really hoping they didn’t go out in the school parking lot or something to draw magic salt spirals and perform some kind of witchery, but frankly he would not be surprised.

“Derek’s house,” says Allison. “Sorry, Derek, it was the best place.”

“Derek is back in his spiral now and can’t come out to play,” Stiles says, and Derek makes a face at him. Stiles just makes one back, and Derek rolls his eyes. It’s good to know that on the brink of a potentially life-changing event, they’re still completely immature.

“You know, helping you with this doesn’t make me part of your pack or anything!” Scott suddenly yells over the line, clearly to Derek. “Just so you know!”

Derek rolls his eyes to the ceiling, heaves in the most exasperated breath, and says, “fine, Scott.”

“Hey, dude, not the best time,” Stiles mutters, but he’s not sure Scott is even listening. So he makes an apologetic shrug towards Derek, hoping to convey some kind of ‘sorry my best friend is a jerk sometimes’ meaning. Derek makes a little dismissive motion with his hand and shakes his head slightly—‘don’t worry about it’, is what Stiles gets from that.

“What are we supposed to be doing next?” Scott breaks in then, and Stiles glances to Elizabeth. She holds up Lydia’s glossy curl of hair.

“Put Derek’s hair in the middle of the other spiral,” Stiles says, while Elizabeth carefully places Lydia’s in the one opposite Derek.

“Okay, done,” says Allison’s voice a moment or two later. Stiles is actually kind of enjoying this explosion of teamwork here. Even if Jackson is ruining the mood a little bit, it’s still nice to be a part of.

Elizabeth settles herself down on the floor, kneeling between two of her crystal things across from where the two spirals join, right in between them. Then she gestures to Stiles, then at the spot across from her in the circle. “Sit there,” she says.

“What? But I’m not—“

“Balance,” Elizabeth says pointedly, and Stiles glances around and gets what she means. So he gets down on the floor across from her between two more of the crystals, and sets his phone down near him. Derek says on his feet, shoulders set back and tension stretching down his entire body. When Stiles catches his gaze, he can practically feel the stress radiating off the guy and wishes he could come up with something helpful to say. But he can’t.

So he looks across the circle towards Elizabeth instead. Her eyes are closed, and she looks like she’s meditating, or at least concentrating really deeply. This goes on for...a while. A pretty long while.

Everything in the room is still and quiet. Stiles finds he’s holding his breath, and lets it out slowly. Nothing’s happening. Nothing that he can tell, anyway. Derek’s eyes keep flicking back and forth between him and Elizabeth, the crease between his eyebrows getting deeper every time. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe this was just a long-shot, some idiot’s half-assed idea that really had no chance of ever—

Lydia’s hair goes up in a burst of red light and catches on fire. It lights the line of salt it’s resting on, which starts burning outwards, catching with a thick orange flame and fizzy little white sparks. Derek and Stiles both stare at it warily, especially when the fire speeds up once it hits the second ring of the spiral. Elizabeth hasn’t moved.

“Is this happening on your side too?” Stiles says towards his phone. “I really hope this is supposed to happen.”

“Well, uh, the salt under Lydia caught fire,” Scott says, and in the background Lydia huffs a little and mutters something. “Now it’s kind of...burning.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. It’s almost hypnotizing, watching it. There’s a strange kind of power growing in the air, radiating out from the fire, building up inside the lines of the spiral as the salt burns. Stiles feels like he could reach out and touch it, actually grab something physical there. The air shimmers with something like heat lines, though the room itself stays surprisingly cool.

Derek suddenly lowers himself to the floor, bracing a knee and a hand on clean patches of the carpet between the salt lines. He’s breathing harder and starting to sweat. Stiles starts forward automatically, then checks himself. He’s not supposed to move. He wants to ask Derek if he’s okay, but he can’t push any words out of his throat. The air is too thick, like everything’s congealed around them, even sound won’t move through it. Stiles is pretty sure he’s not breathing, either.

The fire hits the middle between the two spirals, and stops. The flame dies out, neatly in the dead center. One of the spirals is now a charred black line, the other pristine and white. Stiles’s chest is aching and strained—he can’t let any air out or take more in. The whole room is on pause, waiting, tension stretched through the air.

Then the entire half of the spiral that Derek is in suddenly goes up in a curtain of flames and smoke. Stiles yelps and lurches back, catching himself on his palms. A thick cloud of dark grey smoke boils up from the carpet, stretching to the ceiling in a thick angry column. Red sparks flitter around inside of it, drying up into little flakes of ash that swirl wildly through the air, some of them spinning out and coating the furniture. All the thick power in the room seems to suck itself into the spiral, drawn into a compact core.

“Derek!” Stiles chokes out. The smoke’s so thick that he can’t see the guy at all. Elizabeth’s still just sitting there, completely still. Stiles thinks, suddenly and wildly, about the fire alarm. But the smoke seems to be stuck inside the salt, stretching from floor to ceiling in a darkly roiling pillar, and the detector is on the opposite side of the room.

“Lydia!” Allison shrieks then over the line, and Stiles startles and fumbles the phone. He forgot he was even holding it.

“I am fine,” says Lydia’s prim voice, although she sounds woozy. And that’s about when Stiles drops the phone completely.

A shadow is rising from the smoke and dying sparks in front of him. It’s a lot bigger than Derek usually is, and not exactly the same shape either. Two glowing spots of red suddenly flare up from the darkness, locking right onto Stiles. As more of the smoke fades and curls away, Stiles can see the bristling wolf shape of the head and legs, the hulking mass of what’s now standing in the burnt remains of the salt spiral.

Even though it falls to all fours as it comes forward, there’s something about it that still moves like Derek. The paws are...longer, jointed, more like human hands, still with claws and dark skin but mostly hairless, and maybe it should be strange and unsettling but it’s not, not at all. He’s not exactly a regular wolf but he’s nothing like what Peter looked like either. There isn’t a single ounce of fear in Stiles—everything that’s going on inside him seems a lot more like awe and elation.

Derek treads carefully across the room, moving like he’s testing out every new motion of his body, but at the same time focused on coming to Stiles. The last of the smoke is turning white behind him, breaking into little ash flakes which are piling up in a heap on the charred carpet. Stiles stays still, sitting frozen on the floor, as Derek gets up close to him. He’s larger than a normal wolf and there are odd human parts to him, like the hands, that make him…unusual, not wholly an animal. Even his eyes, though still red, seem human. Seem like Derek’s eyes.

Stiles closes his own eyes, feeling Derek’s hot breath huffing down his face and against his hair, a giddy laugh trying to come up from somewhere deep inside him. It actually worked; they actually did it.

Derek nudges his large dark head gently against Stiles’s. Stiles lifts his hands, twists his fingers up in rough black fur. Derek is warm and solid against him, his sides heaving with breath as Stiles clutches at him. There’s sort of a musky animal scent everywhere under the smell of charred hair and acrid smoke, but there’s still something that smells like Derek under that; leather and sweat and whatever it is that he puts in his hair to make it all nice and styled.

Stiles becomes vaguely aware of a tinny clamoring from the phone on the floor. It sounds like Scott and Allison and they’re shouting his name. He thinks maybe he should pick up the phone, let them know he’s fine, everything’s fine, that it worked—but he doesn’t want to let go of Derek. So he doesn’t. This wouldn’t be happening if Derek was in a human shape, so Stiles is gonna get the most out of it he can.

Then Derek moves against him; more than just moving—there’s a sudden crunchy, wet, fleshy sound, and Stiles feels bone and muscle and skin twisting under his hands as Derek’s entire body changes shape. Shifting back to a human form. For a moment he passes through the phase that Stiles is so familiar with—the furrowed skin, thick wiry hair along his jaw, sharp teeth and glowing red eyes. But only for a moment.

Then it’s Derek in front of him, just human Derek, breathing hard with streaks of ash on his face and catching in his eyelashes, and his hands come up to cup Stiles’s face. Stiles’s own hands are now resting on Derek’s shoulders, which are hot and sweaty and really really naked. All of Derek is naked, actually, but Stiles is pretending he doesn’t realize that.

“So that worked,” he finally manages, and his fingers move up and grip hard into Derek’s hair. Their forehead keep bumping lightly together and sometimes even their noses do too. And Derek doesn’t back away. Doesn’t run, doesn’t throw Stiles off, doesn’t tell him to stop. His hands are hot on Stiles’s face, and his thumb moves over Stiles’s cheek and presses against the bone there. Stiles suddenly can’t breathe again, for an entirely different reason.

He’s not sure who actually moves forward, him or Derek, but the kiss is definitely a mutual thing.

Derek’s skin is hot and he still smells like burned hair and tastes like ash. Stubble rasps against Stiles’s skin and he doesn’t care, not even slightly. He digs his fingers in deep and holds on while Derek grips wildly at him in turn, scrabbling them both closer together and practically pulling Stiles up to his knees and crushing them hard together.

They keel back to the floor together, and the scratchy carpet rubs against Stiles’s neck and arms as Derek’s whole heavy weight presses down on him. Now the phone’s right by Stiles’s ear and he can hear the voices coming through as actual words instead of just garbled nonsense.

“Ugh, what’s that noise?” That one’s clearly Jackson.

“I believe it’s called kissing; you were familiar with it once,” Lydia says, and then Scott’s voice saying, “wait, who’s kissing?” and then Lydia again, “who do you think?

“Make them go away,” Stiles mutters, and Derek stretches out an arm and slaps the phone with the back of his hand. It skids across the carpet, disappears under the bed, and Stiles promptly forgets about it. He forgets about everything except that, for the first time in a while, things seem to be going right.

Chapter Text

But the whole awesome kissing thing stops pretty fast. Really fast. Like almost instantly.

Because Derek is a big naked muscular guy sprawled on top of him and Stiles may or may not be trying to wrap his leg around the back of Derek’s thigh and Stiles is so glad Terry is tucked away in the side bedroom, but Elizabeth’s not. She’s right there. And when Stiles hears her polite little cough that’s when he realizes that they are making out inappropriately in front of other people. Again.

Derek apparently realizes it at the same time. Because he reels off Stiles quick, and rolls up onto a knee in a half-crouch. His eyes are huge and dark and even though he’s fully human there’s still something about him that seems wild; almost feral. Then Derek shakes his head, and that goes away. He huffs out a hard breath, snuffs another one back in, looks around warily, then says, “where are my clothes.”

“Here!” Elizabeth says without really looking at either of them. She bends down and picks up something from the middle of the ruined and blackened salt spiral. It’s Derek’s shirt, and it’s pretty much ripped in half. The other dark lump still on the floor must be his jeans, and they probably aren’t in much better shape. “Oh.”

“Should’ve seen that coming,” Stiles mutters, while Elizabeth frowns at the tattered fabric. He still feels like he’s blushing hard enough to burn a second hole through the carpet. Why is it that they always have to do this in front of people? A whole bar of people in Chicago and now Derek’s…what exactly is Elizabeth, anyway? His cousin? Aunt? Either way, embarrassing relative.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Derek would meet his eyes. Or even look at him. But he’s not.

That’s about when Stiles hears the tinny voices gabbering from his phone, and realizes he’s still on the line with Scott. He has to reach under the bed to grab the phone from where Derek threw it, and fumbles it to his ear. “Guys,” he says. “We’re good. It’s okay.”

“What the hell was going on,” Scott bawls at him. “And were you really making out with Derek?”

“Uh...” Stiles says, and when he looks up at Derek and the guy still won’t look at him, all his frustrated anger just takes over and pours out of his mouth. “Yeah, actually. And not for the first time.”

Stiles sees the set of Derek’s jaw and the irritated flex of his neck, and gets a thrill of bitter satisfaction out of it. Derek just can’t do this kind of thing to him without some repercussions, Stiles can only take so much fucking teasing.

“...oh,” says Scott. Like that was not the answer he expected at all. And then, cautiously, “are you serious?”

“Okay, give us the phone,” says another voice, and there’s a staticy scramble and then Allison comes on the line.

“Stiles,” she says, and Stiles really welcomes her voice of reason.

“Allison,” he says thankfully, and another voice clears itself pointedly. “And, Lydia, hi, wow. Both of you. How’s...things...going?”

“This better be over,” Lydia says, and though she sounds as controlled and self-assured as ever, there’s exhaustion running beneath it. “Tell me I didn’t just ruin this dress for nothing.”

“Uh...what exactly happened?” From the corner of his eye Stiles sees Derek gathering up his shredded clothes and loping back into the side bedroom. Terry scoots out of it a second later, clutching the iPad.

“Lydia almost caught on fire,” says Scott’s helpful voice in the background, and then Allison shushes him.

Almost implies it didn’t happen,” Lydia says tightly. “There was fire. On me. Therefore, I was on fire.”

“Jackson tackled her to put it out,” Scott pitches in again, and Stiles jolts into a bark of unexpected laughter. Of course he did. Of course Jackson leapt into the action like the angry slab of handsome meat that he is, to clobber some magical salt-spiral fire off his (ex?) girlfriend with his slabby meaty handsome self. What even is Stiles’ life, honestly. What is any of their lives?

“But you’re okay, right? Everyone’s okay,” Stiles says, and hears an affirmative prim hmf from Lydia that makes him smile, and Allison assures him that yes, everyone is okay and they also managed to not burn down the rest of Derek’s already burnt house. Stiles winces at that, and is kinda glad that Derek wasn’t in the room to hear it. There’s still that weird prickly territory that Stiles accidentally unearthed back in Chicago, where Derek somehow feels like that fire was his fault.

God, he and Derek really need to have an honest conversation. About everything.

“Hey, Lydia? Can we talk a second,” Stiles says then, and after a smear of static, he can tell that Lydia is the only one on the phone now. Even her silence has a commanding presence.

“I just wanted to say…I’m sorry,” Stiles says, and there’s still only expectant silence on the other end. Waiting for him to elaborate. “For, well, a lot of things, but mostly not telling you about anything that was happening because obviously you can handle it, probably way better than the rest of us can, and...also for doing shit like that.”

“Oh?” Lydia says, like she knows exactly what he means but is gonna force him to say it.

“Idolizing you,” Stiles manages to say. “Like…you aren’t even a person. Just this like, perfect flawless idea. I’m not special for seeing that you’re smart, or capable. It’s not like you hide it. But then I never treated you like you are. I guess ...I just always wanted you to see me, too.”

“Stiles,” Lydia says, stopping him. “You’re weird. And you try too hard. And there are people who don’t like it when someone tries to swoop in and do everything for them, like they’re a child. But.” She puts a hard emphasis on the but, and Stiles tries to stop wincing at all the direct hits she’s scoring, “you’re really not all that bad.”

“Really?” Stiles says, and he doesn’t feel the excited jolt he would have two weeks ago, a week ago. He just feels…content. That Lydia actually does know his name, that she even knows things about him even if they’re overall kinda insulting, that they can have a conversation like this and he doesn’t feel an overwhelming sense of panic to somehow be the kind of person she’d pay attention to.

“Well.” Lydia sounds a little more relenting. “You did just, probably, end a truly horrendous and inexplicable month of my life. You were the only one with even an idea. And you weren’t even here.”

“I wish I had been,” Stiles says. “I mean—I wish that any of this was easier, or less messy and confusing and dangerous, and that it wasn’t actually really necessary to go three thousand miles away to fix any of it. But I guess it was.”

“Don’t get too full of yourself,” Lydia says, but she sounds more amused than chiding. “Just, for everyone’s sake, tone it down sometimes.”

“Yeah. I can probably do that,” Stiles says, with something like a half-laugh, half-sigh. ”So anyway, welcome to the Werewolf Secret Circle. Scott and Allison can get you a membership card and teach you the special handshake.”

Stiles,” Lydia says, and it’s so intensely like the way that Derek says his name, all disbelief and irritation and maybe some amusement mixed in, that Stiles can’t catch his breath for a moment.

“Sorry, sorry,” he manages, trying to laugh through it. “Just, take care of yourself, okay?”

“Oh, I do,” Lydia says, and Stiles thinks he hears a smile in her voice.

The phone gets scuttled back to Scott and Allison then, and they tell him they should probably get out of Derek’s house and get Lydia home and they’ll check back later. When they hang up, Stiles just sits with the silence on the line for a few long seconds, trying to breathe steady and his heart still pounding and blubbery from Derek rolling him around on the floor not two minutes ago. He can still feel where Derek’s fingers were in his hair, the burn of Derek’s stubble against his skin, the warm weight of him holding Stiles down.

Stiles shivers, and starts to get to his feet. He’s been sitting on the floor this entire time, in the burned remnants of the magical salt spiral. Elizabeth gathered up her crystals at some point and is sitting nearby on the couch, packing them neatly away in a case while Terry peeps over the couch arm and watches her. There’s salt all over the back of Stiles’ hoodie, ground deep into the fabric, and some of it rains down onto the floor when he stands.

“Uh. Hey,” he says, and Elizabeth glances up at him. Terry reaches out while she’s not looking to poke one of the crystals. “I—I’m really sorry. That we—uh. That. Derek and I, we—um. Did that. Right in front of you. It’s just—“ Stiles scratches at his neck, getting flushed and antsy and still running a low voltage of frustration under his skin and also so deeply, deeply embarrassed that this woman watched him nearly get dry-humped on the floor of a motel.

“Don’t apologize,” Elizabeth says, with an unexpected sort of kindness. It’s maybe the first time someone’s reacted to any expression of sexual existence in Stiles without seeming amused or grossed out by the general state of being a teenaged boy. Stiles doesn’t even know what to do about it.

“Kinda uncalled for, though, right?” he offers, weakly. “I mean, nobody likes seeing their family do weird PDA in salt.”

“These forces are very primal, and deep,” Elizabeth says, and somehow that runs a hot shiver down Stiles’ spine. “They can pull things out of you that you didn’t know were there.”

“Trust me, I knew this was there,” Stiles mutters. He sinks down on the edge of the scratchy couch and rubs his hands over his hair a few times. More salt flays off him.

“Did Derek?” Elizabeth says, and Stiles just kind of gapes at her. Is this…is this an actual adult conversation about feelings? Someone taking his seriously? The exact kind of thing Derek won’t do with him?

“I don’t, I mean—kinda?” Stiles finally comes up with. “I—he mostly won’t deal with it or talk about it but he keeps doing it so it can’t mean nothing and this doesn’t weird you out at all, that I’m in high school and Derek’s—“ he still has no idea exactly how old Derek is, “—not?”

“You’re both kids to me,” Elizabeth says with a half a shrug and a little smile. “And, well, I don’t know you very well, but…you’ve taken care of him.” Her eyes flit to the shut side room door, and there’s a sudden painful lump in Stiles’ throat. “He needed it. He still does. And you were mature enough to do it.”

Stiles snaps his mouth closed and clenches his hands around his knees. He doesn’t…feel mature. More like—just like everything else in his life—he’s been desperately pretending to have everything under control. He took care of Derek because it had to be done, not because he was good at it. And now Lydia’s words are rattling around in his head, that he tries too hard, does too much. Maybe he’s done that with Derek, too. But he just wanted to help.

Elizabeth seems to read some of this in his expression, because she gives him another kind smile that almost hurts to see. “Go talk to him,” she says. “You’re the only two that can work this out.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. He inexplicably wants to hug her. “I—I don’t know that anything’ll be different, though.”

That kind smile doesn't leave her face, and Stiles can barely look at it. “You don’t know that it will be the same, either.”

She has him there. She’s also also psychic, so maybe Stiles gives her words a little more weight that he would anyone else’s. He gulps in a deep breath and gets to his feet, trickling more salt off him.

“Okay,” he says, more to himself than to Elizabeth. He turns to face the side bedroom, squaring his shoulders and letting out a breath. “Okay.”

“Terry, what have I said about touching those?” Elizabeth says behind him, and then the sound of scampering feet and giggling as Terry runs into the kitchenette.

The closed door looms in front of Stiles, brown and worn and boring and terrifying. Stiles grits his teeth, digs his nails into his palms. He can do this, he can do this, he’s not a coward, he is a world class athlete in powering through uncomfortable situations and dealing with people who’d really rather not deal with him. People he cares too much about. People who can hurt him much more than he can hurt them.

He doesn’t knock, just pushes the door open.

Derek is standing in front of the dresser, facing the mirror hanging over it. The window behind him is shoved halfway open, and the heavy curtains flap unenthusiastically in a chilly breeze. Derek’s at least wearing clothes now, probably the last set he’s got that isn’t bloody and bullet-holed or ripped to pieces or otherwise destroyed. He’s looking down at his hands, turning them around and around, but looks up when the door opens. Right at Stiles.

“Stiles,” Derek says, and Stiles’s legs just kind of take him across the room automatically. Seeing Derek brings everything back harder—how he’s still reeling from the kiss, can still feel Derek’s hands all over him, still kind of feels like he’s trapped in some kind of hormonal nightmare where his body can only scream at him about why did all the good feelings stop and demand that they come back. He obviously comes closer than Derek actually wanted, because Derek holds up his hand and Stiles walks chest-first into it and jolts to a stop. Derek’s warm palm stays spread over his heart for a second, before his hand drops away.

“You wanted something?” Stiles stays stupidly. At least Derek got dressed. Stiles couldn’t take it if Derek had been naked for one more goddamn second and tried to speak words to him.

Derek gives him an odd look. “You came in here first.”

“…right. I did do that.” Maybe he can ease into this by starting with important things, things that actually seem to matter to Derek. “You just, sorta, left, and I wasn’t sure if you even—I mean, this really did work, right?” That almost-a-full wolf Derek had turned into seems like a real good sign, but how’s Stiles really supposed to know? “You’re an alpha for real.”

Derek does that thing where he carefully shifts every muscle in his body, testing them all out, and Stiles nearly has a goddamn heart attack.

“I feel different,” he says finally, and yeah, so does Stiles right now, god.

“Good?” Stiles offers, pleased that his voice only cracks slightly. “That’s good,” he says, a little stronger. “It’s really good.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, and then they’re just standing there, looking at each other. Just a little too close together. Stiles should…back up, maybe, or…get closer? Elizabeth suggested that they talk but Stiles, for once, has no idea what to say. And Derek’s not good at talking, anyway.

Stiles reaches out to Derek, but Derek kind of gracefully slides out of his reach, turning away towards the window. Stiles lets his arm drop, something bitter and heavy coating down his chest and congealing around his heart.

“I need to get some rest,” Derek says towards the window, and Stiles is afraid Derek might see his reflection in it so he manages to keep his expression mostly normal and calm and fine, completely fine, everything is fine. “Could you—”

“Sure,” Stiles says, heart punching down to the pit of his stomach. Again. Again, Derek’s doing this. “Sure, that’s—sure. I’m outta here. Get some rest, absolutely.”

When he slips back out of the room and leaves Derek alone, Elizabeth tries to catch his eye and he can’t, he just can’t. Instead he goes to check on Terry where the kid is curled up on the couch with the iPad, swiping through some kind of interactive kid’s book with bright cartoony pictures. It looks like it’s about wizards and dragons. Stiles can get behind that.

He wonders if Terry has any idea what’s happening, what did just happen, because even if he’s a tiny baby werewolf he still is one, and must have some kind of senses or instincts or just...awareness. But he seems perfectly content to be swiping a little finger across the greasy screen, unbothered by anything going on. It must be nice.

Then Stiles realizes that Elizabeth is attempting to clean up the remains of the ritual with what looks like a towel from the bathroom and some of the leftover napkins from their take-out food.

“Oh, my god. Wait, wait. You shouldn’t have to—” Stiles joins her on the floor, taking the towel—which is already covered in black soot and burned crusty plastic fibers—and trying to do something with it.

It’s pretty much a futile effort. The carpet has completely burned away, down through a layer of what might at one point have been some kind of padding, and charred the plywood beneath. What has survived is a melted, crispy black mess of carpet fibers and salt. There’s no way to clean it or fix it. It’s a good five by ten foot rectangle that’s just…ruined.

“You didn’t, by chance, give your real name or...a credit card...to the front desk, did you?” Stiles says, when they both mutually give up the attempt. Because he can’t imagine any of them can explain or pay for this.

Elizabeth shakes her head. “No,” she says, and Stiles remembers that the first hotel, the one that led Derek to Elizabeth in the first place, also didn’t have her full real name or a paper trail on her. The only reason Derek knew about her at all, or what led them to find her, was—

“Is that why you filed the police report?” Stiles blurts out. “I mean, so we could find you?”

“I just knew I should do it,” Elizabeth says, tapping lightly on her temple. “I didn’t know... where Derek was, or that he was so far away. I hadn’t even been to his house yet then.”

“Huh,” Stiles says. She’d filed that report before he and Derek had ever left Beacon Hills. Before Stiles wanted anything to do with Derek at all, when he kept coming back home and finding Derek lurking in his bedroom to avoid the Argents. Before he’d put a stupid fucking joke password on his computer to keep Derek out of it. And yet, it’d been Stiles who’d realized the report existed. Derek might never have.

“I gotta say I really don’t understand how your...how this even works for you,” Stiles says, mimicking Elizabeth’s temple-tap. “But...I don’t think the way you were reaching out even would’ve worked if I hadn’t been with Derek. What does that mean?”

Elizabeth only offers him an apologetic shrug. “I can’t tell you what it means. I’m not always right, and I don’t always interpret what I sense in the right way. Or understand until it’s already happened. And things aren’t always set in stone, or unavoidable or changeable. But I’ve learned that what comes to me is...usually tied to the likeliest of paths.”

“Huh,” Stiles says again. Somehow, that’s more comforting that hearing there’s a fixed permanent future she’s scrabbling glimpses at. That things could be different, but just aren’t. That this all wasn’t an inevitability, just a possibility. However likely or unlikely it was, choices still matter, and things can be changed.

By now it’s getting later in the day, a day that’s felt like it’s stretched over years, and Elizabeth and Stiles realize it’s been way too long since they’ve all eaten. Elizabeth volunteers to go out and bring back more take-out, and bundles Terry up into more appropriate clothes to bring him along with her. They’re only going to go a block or so away, but Stiles is still nervous about it. The Tashes are out there somewhere. But Elizabeth is a grown-ass adult and seems to be perfectly able to handle herself, and Stiles doesn’t say a word.

With them gone and Derek still sleeping off the aftermath of the ritual, Stiles takes the opportunity to call his dad.

“When are you coming home? I’ve put up with this pretty patiently, I’d like to think,” is nearly the first thing Stiles gets to hear, after all the assurances that he’s safe and fine and everything is normal, so very incredibly normal. And his dad is right; he really has been patient. Stiles is sort of surprised his dad hasn’t actively come after him to drag him home, but then again he doesn’t know about the evil mechanics or the Argents. He still thinks this is a poorly conceived, but otherwise unordinary, road trip. With a guy who used to be a person of interest in a murder.

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, rubbing a hand over his hair. What they came for is done—they found Elizabeth, and Derek’s an alpha. But this doesn’t feel like it’s over. Even if they came back to Beacon Hills right now, Derek still has the Argents and the Tashes after him. And neither of them clearly has any qualms about using Stiles to get to him.

“Do you know how much school you’ve missed?” His dad goes on. “Or how it’s getting more and more suspicious that you disappeared, and have been disappeared for the exact same amount of time as Derek Hale, who is still wanted for questioning.”

“’m still getting better grades than Scott I bet,” Stiles says, but then is kind of sorry about it. Scott was forcibly turned into a werewolf and that distracted him from all that stuff like studying and doing well on tests. Stiles has no excuse. Except for the fact that Scott being a werewolf nearly got Stiles killed, several times. Near-death experiences definitely hurt a guy’s GPA.

Stiles,” his dad says, and Stiles winces and scrubs the back of his hand against his eye.

“I’ll…be home soon. I know that I really haven’t been—“ –a good son, “—telling you much. About…anything. And I’m sorry, and I want to change that. It just...isn’t a good time yet.”

It’s a terrible excuse, and he can hear his dad’s disappointment heavy over the line for a couple of agonizing seconds, before the door clicks open and Elizabeth and Terry tumble back into the room with a half dozen cartons in plastic bags. Terry is unusually noisy, probably because of the idea of food. Stiles can relate. The noise disturbs Derek from his mighty were-slumber, because he’s suddenly standing at the bedroom door and staring at them all with glinting eyes and epic beard stubble. Stiles turns away from them all and cups his hand around the phone to shield the sounds from his dad.

“Is that a child,” his dad says anyway, like that is the worst possible thing he could imagine Stiles being in the same general area with.

“Nope, gotta go,” Stiles says, and hangs up.

Derek glances over at him, and Stiles shakes his head and makes a little ‘nothing’ gesture with his hand. It really is nothing. Sure, Derek’s still wanted in Beacon Hills for questioning, but Derek knows that already. It’s not new information that Stiles needs to convey, and everything else is personal. Which Derek has made pretty clear is not welcome between them right now.

Derek eases over to the table and slides himself into a chair. Stiles tries to ignore him, instead helping Elizabeth unpack all the take-out boxes—Chinese, again, but Stiles doesn’t mind—and pulling a couple glasses out of the tiny kitchenette cabinets and filling them with water for everyone. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he sees Terry park himself in a chair next to Derek and tug lightly at his sleeve. Derek leans an elbow on the table to slide closer down to listen to him, and they do seem to have a quiet conversation of some kind. Werewolf bonding, maybe.

It shouldn’t be that surprising that Derek feels different, but it is and he does. There’s something calmer, more settled, about him. The nervous and frayed energy that’d been dogging—hah, dogging—him for the last few weeks is mostly gone. He seems to breathe easier, move easier. Every once in a while, he’ll look down at his hands, his shoulders, twists them around, like he’s settling into a new and more comfortable skin. There’s also something brighter in his eyes, quick and alert and focused.

So he absolutely, absolutely, notices Stiles staring at him. Stiles can’t help it—if Derek was just unfairly attractive before, there’s something almost mesmerizing about him now. A magnetic pull, that even Stiles can feel with just his regular human senses. It’s not even that kind of attraction—though, of fucking course, that’s there too—but an energy that’s deeply alive and enthalling.

Derek suddenly sets down his glass, kind of loudly, and stands up from the table. “Stiles can I talk to you for a minute. Over here. Now.” His voice is even, but sounds like he didn’t bother moving his jaw to speak.

Stiles grips uselessly onto the edge of the table. “But there’s fo—“

Over here. Now.

“Right, sure, we’re just gonna—“ he flails, uselessly, when both Elizabeth and Terry look curiously at them. Derek catches Stiles by the strings of his hoodie and nearly drags him off into the side room, slams the door after them.

“Stiles.” Derek turns on him, both exasperated and nonplussed. “What’s wrong with you?”

Stiles boggles at him. “Oh my god, Derek, you fucking know. And we’re not even gonna talk about it, are we,” he adds, kind of despairingly.

A muscle in Derek’s jaw visibly tics. “There are more important things going on.”

“I know. I know.” Stiles takes a deep breath, then another, and scrubs a hand up over his hair. Tone it down, just tone it down a little. “Just…forget it.”

He is not going to become Scott, one-track-laser-focused on his libido, and ignoring actual life-changing events that could possibly end up in life-changing death. They still have huge, huge problems on their hands. The Tashes. The Argents. Maybe even whoever was after Elizabeth. None of it’s good, and all of it could kill them. Stiles tries to remember how infuriated he was with Scott when he ignored the safety of literally everyone, for Allison. He can’t do the same.

And then, surprisingly, Derek rests a hand on his shoulder. Tightens his fingers until it almost hurts. “We will,” he says. “When this is…when everything is over. We’ll talk.”

“Okay,” Stiles says weakly. He doesn’t think Derek is really gonna follow through on that promise. Because he’s Derek, king of running away from things, duke of repression, earl of bad decision making, currently being knighted in tactical misdirection. But Derek’s hand is warm and heavy through his shirt and all Stiles wants to do is believe him, trust him. He wants to believe Derek so badly that in the next second, he totally ruins it.

“Just tell me if it means anything,” Stiles manages. “It does, right? It’s not just a…”

He can’t say fluke or mistake, just can’t get his mouth to form around the words, but he’s acutely aware of how every time they’ve done something it’s on the heels of Derek being influenced by some kind of powerful supernatural force. That maybe it’s not really Derek, it’s just some kind of werewolf instinct to act territorial over something. And Stiles is…well. Convenient to be acted upon.

But Stiles immediately knows the question was a mistake because of the face Derek is making. It’s a tight, shuttered expression.

“You’re putting me in a position that I—“ Derek breaks off and sighs so deeply it nearly becomes a growl. “I can’t do this right now, all right?”

“All right,” Stiles says. “I’m dropping it, okay? It’s dropped.” It’s dropped so hard that it’s broken all over the floor like a sad, sad carton of eggs.

“Thank you,” Derek says, but he still sounds angry and frustrated and not at all thankful.

“No problem,” Stiles says miserably. When Derek goes back out to the main room, Stiles just follows him.

Despite Elizabeth and Terry’s generally pleasant vibes, the mood over the table feels strained and distant. Stiles can’t bring himself to look at Derek at all. He can get over this, he can, he just needs more time than he’s gonna get. He just needs any amount of time away from Derek. They’ve been together nonstop for so long and maybe if Stiles just got ten, twenty minutes on his own…he could fucking breathe, and shove all of this to some less raw and desperate place.

When they’ve mostly finished eating, Stiles gets to his feet, pats his pockets for his keys, and lightly clears his throat. Three pairs of eyes look up at him.

“Hey, uh, I’m gonna go back and get my jeep,” Stiles says, and right as Derek opens his mouth to protest, “I will find whatever stupid tracker they stuck on it first, okay? I’m not that dumb.”

“I know you aren’t,” Derek says, with only a hint of irritation. Mostly he sounds unexpectedly sincere. “I was going to say, be careful.”

“Yeah. Oh. Then, okay. Thanks,” Stiles says, startled and a little embarrassed. “I’ll do that too.”

“They might be watching the place,” Derek says, and gets to his feet. God, the way he moves. “I should come with you.”

“No, no you shouldn’t,” Stiles says, backing away. “Because guess what, it’s you they want to kill. Not me. Nobody cares about me.”

Derek opens his mouth and shuts it again immediately, and boy Stiles is glad he did. They’re not gonna have this conversation again, it was terrible enough the first time. Especially since Stiles literally meant nobody’s interested in killing him, not that he’s some lonely loser with no friends that care about him. He knows that’s not true.

“I’m also, you know, less obvious,” Stiles says, because he’s pretty sure if Derek tried to be in public right now, with the way he’s smoldering and radiating those intense magnetic vibes, complete strangers would be flinging themselves at him like he’s an entire boy band. Stiles is pretty incongruous by comparison.

“Call if anything happens,” Derek says, his palms anchored flat to the table like he’s forcefully keeping them there. “Anything.”

Stiles waves his hand as he heads to the door. “Yeah, yeah. Dad,” he adds, and Derek gets a vaguely aggravated look on his face before he turns away.

“Just go fast. And come back fast,” he says, without looking at Stiles.

“You got it,” Stiles says, and heads out without another word.

#

He catches a cab with some money Derek handed him at some point that Stiles can’t even remember, and directs the driver back to Elizabeth’s house. Well, it’s really Derek and Laura’s house, but Elizabeth was living in it and Laura’s dead and Derek is—it’s just a really complicated house.

It is also a completely trashed house. Clearly, police were here at some point, because there’s yellow caution tape everywhere and there aren’t as many bullet casings as Stiles was expecting to see. There’s still broken glass and bits of twisted metal all over the sidewalk, splatters of dried brown blood on the cement. Stiles shudders to look at it, bile rising at the back of his throat, remembering his hands slippery and hot with blood and Derek’s heaving whines as Stiles dug into skin and muscle and the acrid stench of smoke burning all around them.

He grits his teeth and tries to shake the memory out of his head. God, even apart from Derek he can’t actually get away from him.

Stiles’d had the cab drop him off further down the street, and he spends a solid few minutes just lurking on the corner with his sweatshirt hood flipped up, looking down the sidewalk at the house. It’s nearing sunset now, long shadows and thin purple clouds low in the fading gold sky. He doesn’t see anyone around, not even any cops to go with all the crime scene tape. And there’s no suspicious looking cars—like vans with no windows or the big black SUV the Tashes drive. If anybody’s watching his jeep, Stiles sure as hell can’t see them. He’s just gonna have to risk it.

The jeep is still parked at the curb in front of the house. It’s somehow untouched. Stiles had almost expected to see all the tires blown out and bullet holes ripped through the doors. But it looks the same as it always has. He gives it a nice solid pat as he walks around the hood, strangely reassured.

“But you’re still compromised,” he tells it. “And we’re gonna fix that.”

Stiles checks all around under the wheels and under the hood, which are all places he figures a bunch of evil mechanics might stick a GPS tracker. But there’s nothing there. He even gets on his back and wriggles under the chassis, and even with all the little road pebbles digging into his shoulder blades and the smell of bitter metal and oil everywhere, there’s still nothing to find.

“Well shit,” Stiles says, and the dusty undercarriage of the car throws his voice hollowly back to him. “Fantastic.”

He scoots his way back out, nearly clips his head on the bumper as he clambers to his feet. He and Derek were just assuming a tracker was how the Tashes found them, and either there’s no tracker or Stiles just can’t find where they put it. Either way, it means the jeep’s gotta stay here for now. It sucks, but they’re nowhere near safe yet even with Derek’s new alpha-ness. But Stiles can at least grab the rest of his and Derek’s stuff before heading back to the motel.

Most of it is his lacrosse gear, but he’s not leaving it here where someone could just walk by and steal it. He’s just wrangling his stick out of the back when a shadow suddenly shifts over him, and he hears the soft crunch of a shoe on gritty cement. Stiles freezes, breath dragging to a stop in his throat, and for about the first time curses the fact that he doesn’t have Scott or Derek’s wolf sense that could have alerted him to someone sneaking up on him.

A hand drops down to his shoulder, heavy and terrifying.

“Mr. Stilinski,” says a voice that Stiles knows a little too well, a voice that semi-threatened him back in Beacon Hills while obviously packing a Glock, just minutes before Derek kidnapped him.

The Argents have finally made it to Brooklyn.

Stiles’s reaction, while idiotic, almost impresses him later on when he gets the time to think about it. He rams the butt of his lacrosse stick backwards, right into Argent’s stomach.

It definitely wasn’t what the guy was expecting. He makes a real startled oomfph sound and folds up on himself, staggering back and flopping out his arm like he’s looking for something to grab. Stiles tries to bolt, pushing past that flailing arm and running, as far away as little human legs can take him—but a hand snags into the collar of his shirt and hauls him back, fabric biting deep into the soft squishy flesh of Stiles’ throat.

Stiles chokes, stumbles, manages to whirl around and swing down hard with the lacrosse stick again. He meant to smack Argent’s shoulder or arm or something, get him to let go, but of course that’s not what happens. The net end of the stick comes down right on Argent’s head. At the same time Stiles hears a metallic snick and something cold and distinctly gun-barrel-shaped presses through his clothes. Stiles freezes, panting and still partially strangled by his own shirt, but he knows that sound way too well to move.

So now Argent has a lacrosse net over his face and Stiles has got a Glock shoved into his ribs and the whole thing would be hilarious if Stiles wasn’t absolutely panicking.

A low sound vibrates through the air, and Stiles realizes Argent is laughing.

“Mr. Stilinski,” Argent says, slightly muffled by the net. “You’re certainly not someone to underestimate.”

“Cop’s kid,” Stiles grinds out through his teeth. “Also, lacrosse player. We know some dirty tricks.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Argent says and then, bizarrely, unjams the gun out of Stiles’s ribs and lets him go. Cautiously, Stiles lifts the net off Argent’s head and pulls the lacrosse stick in close to his body, gripping it tight with both hands. He’ll still peg the guy in the gut again if he has to. Or the face, whichever.

“Now as I understand it,” Argent goes on, like that whole ridiculous scenario never happened. The Glock is already tucked neatly away out of sight somewhere, probably in that side holster of his. “You’re here with Derek Hale.”

“Nope,” Stiles says. “Who is that, even?”

“Not the time for jokes, Mr. Stilinski.” Argent glances around the quiet neighborhood street, the fluttering police tape and leftover chunks of shattered glass, and gestures with his head towards the sidewalk. Stiles backs up onto it because it’s not like he has much of a choice. And Argent doesn’t actually seem to want to kill him. He put the gun away. Although he did take it out in the first place, which isn’t that reassuring. Who pulls a gun on a teenager, honestly.

“Where I come from it’s always jokes o’clock,” Stiles says tightly, and Argent makes the same kind of aggravated throat-noise that Derek is so fond of. Oh, fuck, Derek. He’s not gonna be happy about this. It’s exactly what Stiles promised him wouldn’t happen.

They’re now both up on the sidewalk and several feet away from the crime scene tape, and Argent is absolutely not any less intimidating over here. Strange, after more than a week trapped in a car with a werewolf, that a regular human can still scare him. But Argent’s an adult who has his shit together. Stiles has absolutely never thought of Derek as an adult. Just a misfit outcast who definitely has none of his shit together.

“Derek didn’t do what you think he did,” Stiles says. “Mr. Argent, you were there. He didn’t kill your sister.”

“I know,” says Argent, so unexpectedly that Stiles feels his jaw actually flop open. “But it’s not me you’d need to convince.”

“Old Argent?” Stiles flounders, startled. “Yeah, he doesn’t seem like he really takes people’s words about stuff. Whole killing a guy with a sword thing, you know.”

“You know about that,” says Argent, managing to sound almost surprised while not actually asking a question.

“Oh yeah. I got...sources. Inside...guys. All that stuff,” Stiles says. “I know all.”

Argent stares at him in an unimpressed way that also reminds Stiles a little too much of Derek — at least, the Derek he knew before this whole road trip thing went down. And that makes Stiles uncomfortable, because if Derek isn’t actually the emotionless hard-ass Stiles thought he was, maybe Argent isn’t either. It’s already weird enough that he’s Allison’s dad.

Also, it seems to be just him here. Stiles is pretty sure if Mrs. Argent or Old Argent were around, he’d know by now. Or those hefty silent bodyguards that’d been at Kate’s funeral. But Argent being here on his own doesn’t make much sense. Why would he come to Derek’s house? How would he even know where that is? The Tashes could have told him, probably, but….

“Where’s your backup?” Stiles hefts his lacrosse stick in his hands. “Out here all alone?”

“Where’s yours?” Argent says, which sounds a lot more threatening and inappropriate when aimed at an unarmed teenager.

“If you can’t see him, he’s there,” Stiles shoots back, because all he can do is bluff. Argent doesn’t seem impressed, but his eyes do a fast flick around the street.

“Look,” Stiles says then, because out of all the Argents he knows besides Allison, this one seems almost reasonable, “once upon a time I totally thought Derek was a creepy shady murderer too, and that was before I knew about the whole—” he bares his teeth in a little snarl, not really wanting to say werewolf out loud even on an empty street. “But I was wrong. It’s not what he is. That’s not what his family was.” Mostly. Peter was…special.

Argent is just watching him, unexpressive. Stiles can’t tell if anything he’s saying is making an impression, or a difference, so he just barrels ahead.

“Derek’s saved my life a couple of times. He never had to. He doesn’t even like me. And I’m just a regular human, which supposedly is your code to protect. And yeah, Derek’s a little different because of what he is, but he’s not inhuman. He’s just a—” what Elizabeth said earlier about them flashes through Stiles’ mind, and it’s as good as anything else, “—kid.”

“There’s a certain family that might disagree with that,” Argent says, and cocks a pointed eyebrow towards the crime scene tape, the glass-littered sidewalk.

“That’s—” fuck, “—they were gonna kill him first. He didn’t want to hurt them. It wasn’t by choice.”

“I know,” Argent says again. “I also know what they did to you.”

“Then,” Stiles says, completely at a loss, “then why are you here?

“Let’s just say, not all hunters agree on how to...follow through,” he says, and Stiles stares hard at him. “Even within a family.”

“Were you—” Stiles can’t believe these words are gonna come out of his mouth because it’s so unlikely, but here they fucking are, “—here to warn Derek?”

Argent’s face does a subtle but uncomfortable twitch, mostly around his eyes. “That’s a vaguely inaccurate way to describe it.”

“We—” Stiles bites back on saying we didn’t even need it because the person who warned them the Argents were coming here was Allison, and Stiles really does not want to get her in trouble with her family, especially Old Murder Argent. But even she clearly doesn’t know her dad might not want to murder Derek, because she absolutely would have told them that. Right?

“He’s not actually nearby, is he,” Argent says, not glancing around this time.

Stiles scowls, but figures his tether on lying has run out. “Not exactly.”

“What I would like is a conversation,” Argent says. He takes a step back from Stiles, so he’s not looming over him so much. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to take me to him.”

Stiles eyes him. “You could just threaten me into it.”

A slight raise of eyebrows. “That would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?”

Stiles slides his arms crossed and considers, hard. Argent seems on the level. At least, he’s doing a great job of pretending to be. But the fact that he’s here alone, that he truly could force Stiles into doing pretty much anything, but isn’t… if it’s not sincere, it’s a really impressive ruse.

“What’ll you do if I say no?”

Argent shifts, sighs slightly. “Nothing. To you.”

Not comforting, but also not…worsening. If Stiles believes him. Which he kinda does.

“I can take you to him,” Stiles says, grudgingly. “To talk. You got a car?”

“Something wrong with yours?” Argent says, like he knows exactly what.

“Your buddies are wrong with it,” Stiles says shortly. “How d’you think they knew we were here?”

“Sloppy,” Argent says. Stiles almost takes offense until Argent reaches behind the tail light mount, there’s kind of a metallic pop, and a small black plastic box rolls into his hand.

“This?” Argent says, with a semi-smug quirk of his eyebrow.

“Yes. That.” Stiles refuses to break eye contact. Who would put a tracker in such a stupid place? Or ever look for one there? It’s so stupid that it was actually effective.

Argent’s eyebrows tell Stiles he isn’t being believed, not at all. Then he sticks the tracker back behind the tail light with a solid clunk of metal.

“Wait—what are you doing?” Stiles starts forward, then thinks better of it.

“Leaving it,” Mr. Argent says. “For now. It could be useful later.”

So Argent—at least this Argent—really isn’t working with the Tashes. He used them for information, to track down Derek, and maybe that’s where the alliance ends. There’s absolutely no reason to show Stiles where the tracker is, and then insinuate it could be used against them. Unless this is a real devious triple-cross play, but Stiles is pretty sure Argent is too straight-forward for that.

But he can just imagine how Derek is gonna react to this.