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Barefoot Walk by Two

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Jackson steps on his tail at practice because Jackson labors under the delusion that Lydia enjoys being fought over, and also because Jackson is an unmitigated ass.

Stiles can’t breathe for a horrible mini eternity. He tries to remind himself that his nose, a ninety-degree angle off and freely leaking blood, will heal in five, ten minutes tops, and pushes himself off the damp grass. What hurts the most is actually his throbbing tail bone, where it meets his ass and where it almost detached from his body.

He gets up slowly because then Scott will run to help him before trying to knock Jackson’s head into concrete and metal and gets detention until he graduates.

“Disgusting piece of cocksuck,” Jackson hollers from twenty feet away and oh, Stiles was so, so wrong. Jackson really didn’t have Lydia in mind when he tripped Stiles over and Stiles wants Scott to put his silver plated teeth through Jackson’s throat, right that fucking second.

 “Jackson,” Lydia says warningly, vaulting into the field. “Stiles, he didn’t mean it.”

Stiles can tell Jackson didn’t. He looks scared more than anything, seeming to have forgotten what to do with his hands, his pupils blown wide and the bow of his lips twitching in an aborted sneer.

This version of Jackson, Stiles thinks, feeling sick to his toes, is unbearably attractive in that haughty rich boy life ruining way.

“Then he’d better take it back,” Stiles’ voice breaks from trying to shout across the field.

“He’d better,” Scott growls from behind him.

Jackson’s head flicks from Lydia to Scott and determinedly avoids Stiles’ eyes. Jackson also doesn’t look at the entire lacrosse team watching eagerly for schadenfreude values but none of them, not Stiles or Scott or Lydia or him, misses the attention twenty alpha males.

“Fuck all of you,” Jackson spits out, and in the millisecond it takes Scott to tackle him he adds viciously in Stiles’ direction, “But you would like that, wouldn’t you.”

***

Stiles is a sixteen-year-old male. His wolf form is tall and slim and has a copper tint to its chestnut coat.

He knows he isn't supposed to look at the other boys and want.

It isn't fair. Scott hits Turning bare months earlier than Stiles, but he gets to cure his asthma and puts on thirty pounds of muscle to go with it. Stiles hits Turning realizing his wolf form isn't going to beat out a ten-year-old girl and jerking off five times a day because he’s surrounded by the finest selection of burgeoning manhood in the continuous East coast.

It says something very complimentary about the effectiveness of America’s propaganda that Stiles didn’t even realize that it was a possibility. At eight, the very idea was so ridiculous that he and Scott talked about marrying each other when they grow up, and that was supposed to be just another of the thousands of expression of friendship, another way to articulate how very much they loved each other, how very glad they had the other as friend. At eleven and twelve and thirteen and at the intervening ages that can’t be defined by a number, Lydia was his sexual awakening. Jackson was so shallow, Stiles thought, when all he talked about was her breasts while the way she sashayed about the room could write poetry and her IQ combined with her quiet love for Math would someday remake the world.

Stiles didn’t realize, so he didn’t know it probably wasn’t a good idea telling his guidance counselor about his dreams, how in them strong hands touched him and stubble would ghost across his cheeks, and a hot, heavy cock would drag across his belly before he comes awake, gasping and heart going mile-a-minute.

The school encourages dream sharing. How could he have known what for?

“Stiles,” Scott says hesitantly after school, “I’ve got a date with Allison.”

Stiles’ locker shuts with a soft clink. He can’t take his hand off the handle or really, move at all.

“It’s not that,” Scott says wretchedly, “you know it’s not that.”

It really isn't. It just reminds Stiles all the ways of how normal is supposed to be and how Stiles doesn’t check any of the boxes. It scares him in the way that physical examinations used to, still do, that strangers are going to look at numbers Stiles doesn’t have the privilege to and has no control over and decide if he’s defective or needs to be fixed or handled or put down. Stiles has trouble concentrating and an excess of energy and he has always desperately wanted to just be normal, the good kind of normal, the Scott and Jackson kind of normal.

“Of course I know,” Stiles says brightly, “I was just contemplating which of your grades are going to plummet this semester.”

“And which I can afford to have plummet,” Scott grins.

“Aren’t you excited I taught you that word.”

***

Dad is waiting at home, practically in sulky sullen teenager ambushing position when Stiles barrels through the front door and guns it for the fridge. He has been planning on eating his feelings.

For the record, Dad should definitely stop prefacing disasters with “You know I always love you, son.”

“What did I do this time,” Stiles chokes around the lump in his throat.

Dad looks at him like he can’t believe Stiles. Frankly, Stiles can’t believe himself either.

“I told Ms. Morrell I was joking,” because Stiles isn't stupid, “and she told me everything was fine. Then apparently she told the entire school.”

“Stiles,” Dad catches him by his shoulder, “did someone give you a hard time?”

Stiles fights an automatic flinch, “Yes,” he looks at Dad in the eye, “and no.”

Dad smiles sadly, no, rueful, Stiles’ going with rueful, “Kid,”

“What’s this about, Dad?”

“Stiles, I want you to know that there’s nothing wrong with you,”

“Who told you, Dad?” he blurts out, “how did it get to you already?”

“I got a call from the Council,” Dad rubs his eyes tiredly, “I was getting to that. I got a call from the Council and they want you to go to school on Sunday.”

“Can’t you do something? Wait, you already would have, so this thing is so big that even you can’t make it go away?”

“I can’t make anything go away, Stiles. But yes, I did try.”

Dad,” Stiles’ voice has never been so whiny, he cringes, “I’m being punished for telling a joke, and who knows what they’re going to do to me there? Would there be a test that if I didn’t pass I would be shipped off to reeducation?” he shudders, “Are they going to castrate me? Should we be saying goodbye right now?”

“You’re going to your school where it’s safe, and maybe it’s not even for what you said, Stiles. You may be getting detention for all the black marks you racked up since kindergarten.”

Standing up to Jackson earned Stiles the first one. He hasn’t looked back since.

He can tell though, that Dad’s barely hanging together himself, hanging enough for the both of them, so Stiles spazzes and hopes that fills the spazzing quota for the both of them too.

“Stiles,” Dad reels him in for a hug. Stiles throws an arm over his shoulder and snakes the other under his arm, messing up the folds of the uniform in an attempt to squeeze out all of the air in Dad’s lungs. He smells of low grade alcohol and earth and rain and bone seeping weariness.

“Stiles, remember, there’s nothing wrong with—“

“I was joking.”

***

But no one was laughing—no one’s laughing now.

Stiles wishes he could laugh.

“This is your Companion,” Ms. Morrell says, politely gesturing to Derek Hale from five years above Stiles who looks like he’d rather eat his own head—and Ms. Morrell’s, and Stiles’—than acknowledge that any of this is happening.

Stiles is kind of well acquainted with that look, because Derek was a high school junior when Stiles was in sixth grade and their classes shared the gym every Thursday, during which time some commotion could reliably be heard over the sweat soaking through Derek’s shirt.

They’re in the same gym now, but it has gone way past its prime days. Half of it is covered in ripped up floorboards and broken equipment. The only source of light is the high up line of scratched up windows.

“Derek’s had six years in the program already,” she continued, “and he will mostly be acting as your guide.”

“What’s the name of the program,” Stiles asks Derek innocently.

The small secretive smile wipes straight off Ms. Morrell’s face. “I see what they mean about you,” she says, ominous, and it’s fantastic, really, the effect of the first sentence Stiles utters.

Derek’s flatteringly lost his homicidal storm cloud. “Some of us think that the program can’t exist in official government reports if it doesn’t have a name.”

He’s grinning all teeth. It makes Stiles’ knees go liquid and he thinks he needs to stop being attracted to aggressively hostile people. Also, whoever that’s in charge needs to rethink this Companion strategy.

***

Companions turn out to not actually do much besides making sure their partners take their TTR-2 pill every day after lunch. That, and a mind-bending impossible amount of exercise crammed into a Sunday morning session that turns Stiles into a limp, angry noodle at the end.

“Should I be worried?” Scott asks dutifully, they’re sliding into their bench at the cafeteria, “Derek Hale’s a jock, isn't he, and jocks keep wanting to maim you and/or break your nose.”

“Dude,” Stiles throws up his hands and then brings them down when he forgets what he wanted to do with them, “You’re a jock, besides, Ms. Morrell is there supervising like ten percent of the time.”

“Wait, Hale’s one of the Packs.”

“Yes?” Stiles hedges.

“Stiles, you’re going to be assassinated for back talking the royalty.”

“Scott,” Stiles says reasonably, “One, they’re nowhere near as backward as they were ten years ago and two, you’ve got too little faith in me.”

“You’re going to be assassinated,” Scott repeats.

“Must you be fixating on that?”

“Stiles!” Scott’s voice climbs higher, gaining ire, which Scott ignores, from half of the werewolves in the cafeteria.

“Oh,” Stiles has saved the best for last, “And don’t make that face when Derek comes over to perform the super exciting and important task of witnessing me swallow my pill.”

“He’s coming to your house?” Scott squawks in the way he hasn’t done since they were twelve. God, Stiles’ missed this. “Is your dad going to be there,” he demands.

Stiles spears a baby tomato on his spork and relishes the bite, looking ridiculous in the process, but, “No, he’s coming here. By the way, ETA is like, five seconds.”

Scott whips around. Stiles waves at Derek with his half eaten tomato.

Neither Scott nor Derek is impressed.

But Stiles is. By third period, the whole school will be abuzz with the name Derek Hale and the question what the fuck is that gorgeous hunk of man flesh doing at Beacon Hills High School and with that loser with the unpronounceable name.

***

Sans the Sunday, sans the pill, sans Derek, everything goes on as normal. Upon that kind of retrospect Stiles has to conclude that he might have freaked out without due cause before, and how’s being punished for something he didn’t even know was wrong fair or have made any sense anyway. And the Council even notified his father, so it wasn’t like Stiles could have been whisked away into the dead of the night and then people would forget that Stiles existed. It’s not like Stiles spent a night tossing and turning playing out the possibilities. It was kind of freezing in the house, is all, and his elbows kept peeking out of the heavy blanket and his feet sweated cold through the night.

But it’s fine now. Derek’s even warming up to him a little. Given time, Stiles believes, they all will.

There’s no, per se, any indication in what Derek says out loud, but a week in and Derek’s lost the wary set to his eyes, if not the frost to his bite, every time Stiles opens his mouth to speak. And Sunday even sees Derek adjusting Stiles’ grip on the dumbbell and letting Stiles keep a running commentary on the sadism of the people designing these torture devices masquerading as instruments of greater health. When Stiles suggests that he should sit on Derek’s back seeing as how Derek goes through the exercises in half of the time and half of the sweat, Derek just barks out an incredulous laugh.

Stiles figures it’s permission. He figures wrong, and no one came out of that with their dignity unscathed.

In the span of two Sundays and fourteen TTR-2 pills, Stiles learns that Derek is more in touch with his wolf than they normally are, his growls guttural and instinctive and his feet always feather light, the natural disposition of a predator, but that’s no less than one would expect from a member of a Pack. The boogeyman stories about Packs, to the girls in Stiles’ class’s chagrin, don’t apply to him at all though, that Pack members are more physical and will seize your arm, will lead you by your elbow, because Derek leans away from touch even though he seems to crave it, shies from leadership roles even when he seems to be fantasizing about wringing the necks of the people in them.

(At lunch, Scott also no longer jumps out of his skin every time Derek makes a too fast move. Stiles theorizes that Derek’s actually disappointed.)

Stiles gets righteously indignant at Derek once, but even Derek says he deserves it.

It’s over Jackson, of all the stupid things.

Stiles’ vitriol for Jackson is almost second nature considering Jackson stands for everything Stiles wants and can’t have, and it’s spilling out of him, effortless. Stiles’ segueing into Jackson’s criminal negligence of Lydia with an overabundance of words like “perfect” and “brilliant” and “goddess” when Derek cuts in petulantly with something acerbic.

And Derek’s interrupted Stiles’ rants before, accusing Stiles of setting up strawmen and committing basic crimes against the rules of grammar when his sentences grew a second head and a sixth toe for its third foot. Stiles’d pouted and drawn up a detailed flowchart. Once, Stiles’d even managed to draw him into a Truth or Dare game that didn’t actually start because they’d been busy coming up with parameters No, you can’t ask that, no way, and they’ve always successfully tiptoed around why they’re there every Sunday without fail, talking to each other in the first place.

And Stiles’ always respected Derek’s pithiest comments, cherished them, but this time Stiles says, “You don’t know anything about her, and you don’t know anything about their relationship,” and chokes on his tongue for the rest of the morning.

Derek asks Stiles about Lydia and Jackson’s relationship the next Sunday after one week of trying to catch Stiles’ eye at lunch. It’s been a stupid as hell week during which Stiles alternately berates himself for expecting whatever it is that he expected from a total stranger and for freaking out his Companion already, possibly ensuring his own imminent demise.

Stiles stops doing push-ups and awkwardly maneuvers himself onto his back, sprawling on the gym floor because this is something that should take his full attention.

“Promise you won’t tell anyone,” Stiles says. It’s not Stiles’ secret to tell, and he only finds out about it by accident and by having MENSA IQ, but at the same time it’s not a secret, not really, because Lydia’s never ashamed of who she is or how she has to claw her way through the world.

“Okay,” Derek says, “I don’t even talk that much to that many people though.”

Stiles recognizes the self-deprecation and thinks that he may not be killed in his sleep yet.

“They’ve known each other practically since they were born,” Stiles mulls this over, uncharacteristically measured for wanting to find the exact words, “Westermark, you know, and you can’t really see the other as a sexual partner anymore. But Lydia, especially, she’s got dreams, and if she’s mated into a Pack they’ll take her freedom away from her. Packs are so powerful and rich that the Martins might try. They’re new money, any Pack would do.

“It’s the same with Jackson, I think. Jackson wants to play lacrosse professionally, but nobody in entertainment’s got any respect. They have to pleasure the Pack that sponsors them, so they’ve got to have an understanding mate or one that couldn’t care more or less. The Martins know the Whittemores. These families can accept each other.

“Lydia and Jackson are simultaneously the only chance the other’s got.”

“They have to stay with each other,” Derek breathes out, “But unable to consummate their Bond, that would be—“

“There are different kinds of love,” Stiles shrugs, says it casually like it doesn’t violate half the things he’s taught and half the things he isn’t, the things that remain implicit.

“You think?” Derek says, and it’s so hopeful Stiles’ heart breaks a little.

Stiles allows himself to look at Derek, look at him properly, look his fill until it hurts, because Derek’s got a jaw line that puts Jackson’s to shame, to say nothing of Scott’s, and Derek has eyes that are framed with dark lashes and that are expressive, that Stiles thinks through it he can pull out Derek’s soul and keep it for himself, clutch it close to his chest like the greatest treasure. But Derek’s not a bully like Jackson and Derek’s even more awkward and vulnerable than Stiles. Derek’s told him about the extravagant gifts he’d gotten for his birthday that he hates and loves in equal measures, about his sisters’ mean streak, about things that he hadn’t planned on telling anyone else.

It’s the first time Derek lets Stiles skip three-quarters of the exercises and sit on Derek’s back while he’s doing one-armed push-ups, the freak.

***

Then one day, it stops being fine.

It starts with the tiniest things, like Stiles having to shave more and actually accumulating hairs on his legs. He doesn’t just wake up and finds all the boys at school unattractive though, the list of people who could get his dick interested just gradually drops one extremely endowed lacrosse player after another. The twins’ faces are really just too puffy, he thinks, like they’re swollen, and his jerk off sessions stop featuring twins fantasies. Danny’s just a really good friend, his dick decides yet another day, and Stiles can’t wait for Jackson and his stupid cheekbones’ turn.

Stiles doesn’t mind those things, because they may be foreign to him, but they are normal to his dad and Scott and even to Derek now, right? (Never mind that sometimes Stiles blushes deep and uncomfortable when he remembers that Derek must be here every day for the same reason as him, and he toys with the idea of Derek wanting him back the way he hadn’t dared to with the other boys, who by default wanted nothing to do with balls and a dick.)

Everything gets pulled from under his feet when he snaps at Dad.

Stiles never snaps at Dad, not since Mom died and half of their food stamps went into alcoholic beverages. He knows Dad works harder and becomes a Sheriff so that they could go through more Johnnie Walker than half of Beacon Hills and still afford to have someone come over once a day to cook and clean. The job’s hard because it mostly consists of middleman wrangling; Dad can’t tell the family of the bereaved more than he knows, which isn't a whole lot considering he’s not allowed to do a whole lot, and sometimes he doesn’t want to do a whole lot because God forbids anyone that scratches the Whittemores’ rides. The police promise the Whittemores they’re doing everything they can, while Dad has a very stern conversation with Cora Hale, shoos her out of the station and calls it a day.

The point is, Dad’s job is taxing and he telegraphs it, even if he doesn’t mean to, with the way he sags out at home and thinks Scott’s over so often for homework. Stiles thinks he wants to be like Dad, trying the best that he can with what he’s got, and Beacon Hills needs someone like his dad right now, so home must be a refuge for him.

It takes effort being the perfect son while not actually being a model citizen. Stiles has his black marks, but he keeps concern a constant and at minimum because he knows no one expects such a thing as a low maintenance kid, but it helps if the trouble’s familiar and well trodden grounds.

Two months into taking the pills, Stiles can’t stop being angry all the time.

Jackson gets the brunt of it first, as he very well should. Stiles thinks he shocked the whole lacrosse team into silence when he returns Jackson’s accidentally-on-purpose tackle with a vicious whack to the head by his lacrosse stick. Stiles quits the team before Jackson can remember the use of his vocal chords.

Dad gets home early for once, but he’s talking about these baseball geniuses whose names Stiles can’t hear through the ringing in his ears, and then the conversation turns to her highness can’t-do-thing-wrong Laura, his new deputy.

“Then why don’t you switch me in for her as your daughter,” Stiles slams the bowl down on the table.

***

Scott asks, “Stiles, what’s wrong,” and Derek just grunts and pushes past Stiles to the bench. Stiles prefers Derek’s approach.

Sunday morning still has Stiles emasculated and miserable and out of breath, and it’s the only time he’s not acutely aware of how much he’s changed. Before he’s been out of his mind because how could people not notice, how could his best friend and his father not notice that Stiles hadn’t been lusting after Jackson’s ass anymore, but Stiles could take one look at Derek, his eyes trailing the drops of water down Derek’s throat and tracking Derek’s triceps and reveling in the outlines of Derek’s abs through his shirt, and Stiles could feel okay.

Now everybody’s registering the changes for all the wrong reasons.

Derek doesn’t comment when Stiles just sits dejectedly by the debris and occasionally pluck at the tennis racket with a handle that’s been taped up at least three different times by three different clumsy people, one of them with a weakness for Hello Kitty.

And it comes rushing out without Stiles’ having made a conscious decision. I’m scared, Stiles says, This isn't me, how can a couple of pills do this to me, and What else can they do to me, I hate who I am now, would I even retain any memory of the person I once was and How would I know, I haven’t got any constants, because the constants are I will always love my dad and I will always crush on people so far out of my league we’re not even playing the same sport and I will always find you devastatingly lovely.

Stiles says, “I can’t imagine a world where you walk into the room and don’t take my breath away.”

He can’t bear to look at Derek after saying something like that, not a confession, he thinks, because people expect an answer with a confession and Stiles just wants somebody to know he’s not alright, that he’s been screaming inside.

“Stiles,” Derek says, with more notes of tender than Stiles can ever remember hearing in his life.

But Stiles says “Sorry,” and “Please forget it,” and “Please let’s just go back to work, I’m so, so sorry,” and stuffs his fingers in his ears for good measure. For the first time he’s scared of Derek.

For the first time Derek touches him forcefully. There are strong and warm hands closing around his wrists and wrenching them away from his ears, but Stiles’ a fuck-up and a failure and the worst possible son, the worst possible lacrosse player, the worst possible Companion and he can’t understand why his Dad and Scott and Derek still stick around and why Derek’s bothering with him, right now.

Stiles hears a very soft, “Do you trust me,” and Stiles’ head jerks up, startled to see Derek’s grey eyes that hide constellations so close.

Does Stiles trust Derek?

“Yes,” for reasons Stiles can’t name, “I do,” he does, has done since the day they met, for reason he doesn’t care to examine.

“Meet me in the Preserve at three today,” Derek whispers into his ears.

***

No one runs in the Preserve but the Hales and Stiles that one time when his mom died and he took off into the night, waking up to the glare of Mrs. Hale’s flashlight and Dad’s weary concern.

In school, they make up stories about the Preserve in the way that creatures who are meant to roam in the forests do when they’re imprisoned in buildings and tiled rooms with too-small windows. They say that a kamina lurks in the canopy and preys from the shadows, that wood nymphs wilt and die for lack of companion, that huge as the forest is, it’s a breath of a tear from one edge of the forest to another, that the undergrowth caresses every footstep.

Stiles’ five minutes late because Dad’s five minutes late for his shift and as he’s sprinting toward the Preserve he realizes that Derek should have specified a location other than the general geography of the largest natural habitat in California. Stiles can’t smell another werewolf beyond a twenty yard radius, Pack members can sniff out others at about twice the range and both can pick out their mates at about ten times that distance.

Stiles doesn’t let himself dwell on the fact that he and Derek will never be able to find each other in a crowd however close Derek might allow Stiles to grow to him.

It doesn’t matter, because Derek, framed in blotches of ever green and the dying glare of midday sun, is waiting for Stiles when his legs stutter to a stop at the main road to the Hale house.

“Take off your shoes,” Derek says. Stiles spies a pair lying by Derek’s bare feet.

It doesn’t occur to Stiles to not listen. He quickly undoes the laces on his sneaker and wrenches them off and then, hesitating for a second, slips off his socks, too.

The soles of his feet meet hot, grainy asphalt, but it gets cooler where forest grounds steal into road. Stiles shudders when dead leaves crunch against his toes and stray, sharp rocks graze his skin

Derek doesn’t say another word, just cocks his head at Stiles and takes off into the thick canvas of branches and leaves. He can outpace Stiles easy, Stiles knows, and when forest space opens up before them, endless and effortlessly comforting, it’s near impossible to go less than as fast as their eyes devour the view and as fast as their legs can carry them.

Stiles doesn’t quiet manage to catch Derek, but Derek’s always never more than five feet ahead of him, Stiles aching whenever Derek’s within arm’s reach. Stiles’ eyes strain on the horizon that hovers on the edge his vision, sometimes chasing the glimpse of Derek’s back that slinks right and then slinks left of his periphery. He doesn’t feel his legs making one stride after another but they must be, confident, not tentative at all from the first step, and furs are wiggling to the surface and out from the pores of his face, the palm of his hands and his feet, his ears elongating because even though he’s never had the chance before, this, this is still the most natural thing in the world.

Before she died, his mom told him, “Wolves were born to run and look at the moon,” and “I don’t regret leaving the world, I only regret leaving you.”

Stiles didn’t know life could be this beautiful. He suspects when he dies, he will miss the world.

The sun’s kissing the horizon and simmering everything in gold when they finally stumble into a clearing, drunk on wind and speed and being free.

Stiles plans on flopping down next to Derek, an inch away from the contours of his body but Derek reach out his left arm to catch Stiles, rolls him until his head’s lolling on Derek’s chest.

He doesn’t think thank you suffices, doesn’t have the vocabulary for more, so he says, “You get to do this how many times and you’re still broody,” and hopes Derek hears what he means.

“A few times a year,” Derek admits, his voice tripping over humanwords, “I run to where no one can hear me to scream.”

“So you’ve been screaming too,” Stiles murmurs, so glad he could cry.

Derek’s arm tightens around Stiles’ shoulders. Stiles doesn’t feel small, he feels dangerous that he’s so safe.

“You could scream if you want,” Derek says.

Stiles does.

The keening, Stiles thinks, isn't an unhappy one. It’s wrapped up in bewilderment and burns with anger until anger gives way to grief. Then it breaks into a high-pitched whine, its echoes tumbling around the trunks and down the hills. It scorches his throat and numbs every other part of his body, leaves him a violently shaking mess.

A mess held together by two hundred pounds of heat and muscles.

Stiles opens his eyes—he hadn’t realized they’d been closed. It’s like the first time Mom took him shopping for first grade stationary and his fingers were ghosting over white, beautiful new notebooks and caressing unmarked, soft 4B erasers, only it’s better because this time it isn't just paper and rubber, it’s everything begging to be discovered and cherished and felt.

He’s beaming wide, uninhibited at Derek, “Do you trust me?” Stiles asks. His voice’s ruined and he loves it.

“Yes,” Derek says simply.

“You’ve been taking the pills for six years, it doesn’t end, does it.”

Derek tenses, “It’s been better with you.”

“I want to stop taking the pills.”

Derek’s palm slides down the length of his arm, squeezing him quickly, “Okay.”

“Do you,” Stiles says.

“Yeah.”

Later, Stiles will learn about Kate. Derek will tell him that he trusted her enough to convince himself that he loved her, and maybe he really did, and he will tell him about how she had deduced what he didn’t even know about himself, took that secret back to her Pack and tried to sell it to anyone who would listen. And Stiles will learn how huge it is, that Derek trusts him.

***

Without the pills, Stiles find he can still write sonnets to Jackson’s shocked face, the briefest flash when he’s vulnerable, but Stiles has written actual sonnets to Lydia’s suspicious, narrowed eyes and more recently, Derek’s bell clear laugh, so he’s not concerned.

Neither are Scott and his dad when they see Stiles bouncing back from an oppressive bad mood because Stiles’ always bounced back—it’s just a matter of time and how many people he has driven to homicidal fantasies by then. It turns out Stiles takes to fact checking his teachers and calling the Math and Physics proofs on the board an embarrassment to the educational system when he’s under the weather, and the teachers take to quadrupling the students’ homework when they’re pissed, so the tally this time is the entire Beacon Hills High School, bar Scott.

Scott just wants him back on the lacrosse team.

“You mean the lacrosse bench,” Stiles rolls his eyes, “Look, there’s got to be someone else on that team who’s not a complete asshole that you can talk to.”

“Stiles,” Scott frowns, “It’s not that, I mean, I’m kind of talking to this guy named Isaac. It’s that I want to play lacrosse with you.”

Oh my God,” Stiles hugs him. They haven’t done this since Stiles bent awkwardly over Scott’s hospital bed where he was recovering from a fall so bad he couldn’t heal himself back to health for two weeks. Stiles sniffs. Best friends are the best, especially when they’re not so much close as codependent.

Then Jackson shouts, “Get away from him, McCall,” and calls Stiles something he doesn’t understand. It sounds archaic and ugly rolling from Jackson’s tongue.

Stiles lets go of Scott like he’s on fire but Scott, determined in his best friend duty today, yanks Stiles back.

“Go to hell, Jackson,” Scott says.

Jackson raises an eyebrow, “Looks like you’re heading there yourself. I mean, if this gets to Finstock he’s going to throw you out of the team. And even if he doesn’t, how do you think you’re going to be allowed back to the locker room. I hear it’s disgusting, you know, these people do get fucked and they like it. They get fucked in the butt—“

Stiles shoves Scott away because Scott doesn’t deserve this, and he throws up in his mouth.

***

Danny corners Stiles after Chemistry, being subtle about it in the way Stiles hasn’t figured out how to.

“You’re not…with Scott,” he says, which is a weird opener.

Stiles digs his heels into the wall at his back, taking stock of his surroundings. They’re in the old Chem lab. Last year the principal still insists that the lab is getting renovated once new funding comes through, but by the second quarter, half of it is already stacked with broken desks and the faucets don’t turn out water anymore.

He thinks Danny is actually attempting to talk about it.

“Look,” Stiles sighs when Danny seems to expect an answer, “Jackson’s the biggest motherfucking douchebag so I wouldn’t—“

Then Danny’s kissing him. Stiles registers a tongue in his mouth and a hand at the back of his neck. He opens up like it’s instinct, even though it can’t be, and lets Danny’s tongue sweep the ceiling of his mouth and Danny’s teeth chew his lips.

Derek, Stiles thinks mindlessly, and his body freezes.

Stiles pulls back, says, “I can’t.”

Danny says, “That’s alright,” and grins even though it’s a bit wistful. Stiles understands, that it’s a hi, hello, I’m here kiss, an I’ve got you kiss more than a declaration of intent.

It occurs to Stiles that Danny’s best friend is Jackson, that Danny probably will never stop loving Jackson because that’s what best friends do, and Danny’s still here and grinning at Stiles.

Stiles grins back.

***

At lunch, Stiles sits closer than normal to Scott and apologizes with two and a half Kitkat bars.

“I’ve got to go somewhere today,” Stiles says when Scott’s still busy gaping at what Stiles’ choosing to believe as his generosity and not the half bar (“See, you can give two to Allison and keep that one for yourself.”)

“Where,” Scott says suspiciously.

“I’ll tell you later,” Stiles promises.

***

Stiles knows Derek enters school ground through the back at the basketball court because the arrival of a Pack member usually raises enough eyebrows without the Pack member having been out of school for years and being in possession of a body that rivals Greek gods; and one of the advantages of being persona non grata in high school is that Stiles can sneak there under notice while not actually exhibiting stealth.

If Derek says no, Derek won’t ridicule him about it. Derek will even be kind about it. Derek will say thank you, say that he’s pleased, and mean every word of it.

If Derek says yes, it’ll be awesome.

(He doesn’t have a Boolean Y/N question yet, though.)

Stiles promptly forgets all of the pep talk when Derek shows up. In his defense, no one would expect a dorky Derek trying to climb sneakily over the fence in the manner of one having been scarred for life by hordes of admirers. Stiles’ seen him sneaky before, is the thing, downright ninja, probably only when he isn't thinking about it.

Derek scowls, “Stiles, are you listening? I’m trying to tell you something.”

“Oh God, shoot,” he says, tearing his eyes away from Derek’s chest.

“You are unreal,” Derek says weakly, catching the movement of Stiles’ eyes.

Stiles narrows his eyes, “Is that what you wanted to—“

“No,” Derek says, his brows softening and immediately furrow like he thinks Stiles’ adorable and is profoundly annoyed at himself for it. “No, look, Stiles, ever since I met you…okay, no, I don’t want to put that much pressure on you.”

Stiles thinks he knows where Derek’s going with this. While Derek bulldozes gracelessly through his speech, Stiles tests the hypothesis by ducking his head and blinking his eyes slowly, exaggeratedly on the way up, parting his lips open in the way he’s practiced in front of the mirror. Derek makes a strangled noise in his throat, seeming to be in physical pain. Interesting.

“Goddammit,” Derek says, valiantly trying to stay on track, “This isn't what I want, this isn't all what I want and, I want something permanent, Stiles. We have the instinct to mate, but if we do this we won’t be able to mate, and it should terrify you,”

Stiles has difficulty breathing. He doesn’t hear the bulk of what Derek says after that, but he catches the key phrases, together and all the time and love.

“Did you just ask me out or propose to me,” Stiles says, hoarse.

“I have no idea,” Derek says honestly.

Stiles clears his throat, “Derek, I don’t want to mate with someone who’s not you.”

The kiss is an afterthought.

***

They can find time for more than two stolen hours on Sunday, but if they’re not dodging Ms. Morrell and stumbling behind unlocked doors, it won’t be thrillingly illicit and they might get stupid. They never do, most of the time Stiles just deposits his head onto whichever body part of Derek’s that’s his favorite at the moment, noodles out, and talks. They plan trips that they couldn’t possibly make in between secrets and confessions. Stiles tells Derek how sometimes he unashamedly longs for war, where projectile weapons make the size of your claws moot.

And they make out. A lot. Like now, Stiles is arching his neck and listening to Derek gasp brokenly into it, whines when Derek scrapes his teeth over the tendons in tease, tease for them both because there can be no marks.

(They don’t, per se, know what they’re doing. All they’ve gleaned from friends and that one frustrating government issued manual is about productive sex, and Stiles has half a mind to ask Jackson where he gets his info from—fucking in the butt, what a curious idea, only it also sounds really hot—but that would be more suicidal than holding hands in front of Ms. Morrell. Maybe Stiles’ll ask Danny and maybe he and Derek will just figure this out like champs like they always have, because while they’re not ready for anyone else to know they’re prepared to experiment and hypothesize the shit out of this thing. The objective is getting off, the condition is that they help each other get off; it doesn’t take a great mental leap to conclude that the solution is they do what they have always done to get off, but they do it to the other.

Stiles’ tried taking Derek’s cock in hand and he thought it was good—Derek obviously did—even though Stiles’d always treated tending to that smelly, sticky, embarrassing part of himself as something of a chore. But Derek was hard for him and that made him hard, that and Derek’s breathy moans and choked up pleas, that and the fact that Stiles’ legs were splayed wide off the edge of the table, with Derek standing, spearing in between, and when Derek came, Stiles felt his muscles ripple and his fingers clenching on Stiles’ biceps and on Stiles’ wrist, and felt the throbbing pulse of the hard length in his hand, the hot come that shot into his jeans. And when Derek dipped his fingers in the come and smeared it onto the corner of Stiles’ lips, eyes dark and adoring, Stiles stopped thinking of it as gross, not Derek’s and not Stiles’.

Stiles says this because apparently Derek didn’t think that Stiles’ come was gross either, since he had it in his mouth. Right after he came Derek’d dropped onto his knees and mouthed at the bulge digging into the zipper of Stiles’ jeans, looking shy and mumbling about something a girl had done for him once. Stiles thinks there was licking and sucking and teeth, and Derek was eager like having a cock in his mouth turned him on, like having Stiles’ cock in his mouth turned him on. When Stiles came he threw his head back even though he really wanted to see Derek’s face, intent eyes beneath dark lashes.)

And Stiles still doesn’t how this is wrong: he’s never been told.  It feels so good, like tearing through the woods and like howling at the moon, like this is what they were put on Earth to do and how could that be wrong, how did all of this come to need to be rationed out, as if happiness is a privilege.

Derek doesn’t answer him. He says, “Do you want to hear how I fell in love with you?”

Stiles feels his cheeks burn pleasantly, and burrows his nose deeper into Derek’s neck because he’s ready to take anything the world throws at him from inside Derek’s arms. He folds his legs and tucks his feet under Derek’s thighs, sliding completely into Derek’s lap.

“You’re the kind of person the world hates the most,” Derek hums, his arms locking them together, “you don’t conform to any of its rules and you don’t care for anything it throws your way, and then you dare to demand something back from the world. You think you’re owed happiness for you and for the people you love, and you think you can carve out a place for them, and--” 

Derek takes a breath, “And you make the world accommodate you, accepting no less. The fact that you’re alive is a miracle and the first time I thought, I had to keep you that way, and maybe you could show me. And,” he huffs, “and then you went and you winked at me.”

“Was it over something stupid,” Stiles asks.

“Yes,” Derek’s starting to pet Stiles’ hair. He nearly purrs.

“I remember that then,” he sinks impossibly closer into Derek.

Tomorrow, Stiles thinks, tomorrow they’re going to push at the world until a continent or a shoreline gives, and they’re going be scared every step of the way and the world’s going to trample until the doubt who they are and forget why they’re alive. But today until lightning strikes them down, they’re hunkering in a dilapidated gym in stolen time and borrowed courage and they’ll trade kisses and promises like the only currency that matters.