The local news covers the showdown at the elementary school and the surviving hunters’ arrests as a bizarre gang war. The unregistered weapons violations alone take up a few pages. He’s not sure who came up with that angle, but it works in the pack’s favor. The Sheriff’s Department takes a special interest in anyone unfamiliar coming through town, and Derek stops catching sight of hunters around every corner. If there are others left, they’re staying under the radar. No new tracks appear around the warehouses downtown, and the tripwires at the old rec center aren’t reset after he disables them.Things get quiet. It’s the first time since he became Alpha that there’s been no looming threat. It’s… unsettling. He keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop; if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s to never doubt the world’s supply of crises. More often than not, he winds up prowling around town or the woods like he can walk off the prickle under his skin.
When he comes back to the train station two weeks in and gets hit at the door with the twin scents of Stiles and anxiety, it’s almost comforting. Disaster he can handle.
Stiles is hunched over on one of the old crates on the ground floor, waiting for him. The second he catches Derek’s steps on the stairs, though, he’s on his feet and meeting him at the bottom.
“You realize being here cancels out everything we did, right?” Derek says.
“Yeah, not so much giving a damn right now,” Stiles returns. His hand is fidgeting in the cuff of his hoodie sleeve; as Derek gets closer, it’s obvious he’s been biting his nails again.
“What’s Scott done?” It’s unfair, maybe, given how much he’s grown up in the last year, but there are a limited number of things that can put Stiles in this kind of state, and none of Derek’s pack feel like they’re actively in pain right now. Scott’s the best bet for a slow-burn crisis.
Stiles shakes his head, though. “It’s not… He’s fine. They’re all okay, I think.” He licks his lips. “It’s my dad.”
That’s definitely on the list of those limited things. Derek just hadn’t expected to be involved, in that case.
“He hasn’t touched his backup gun since they fired him.” Stiles swallows. “He’s been carrying it the last two days.”
Derek nods to show he’s listening.
“I followed him to work last night,” Stiles says, “and I wasn’t the only one. The guy I told you about, Sullivan - he was there, too, and he… Look, I know what somebody on the hunt looks like by now, okay? And he’s going to try something.”
“And you’re going to stop it.” Derek wishes that were more of a question.
Stiles’ chin comes up. “With what happened with the Department…” He shakes his head slowly. “There’s nobody watching his back.”
“Where do I fit into this fantastic plan?”
Stiles blinks, like that part was obvious. “I have kind of a long history of getting in over my head when left to my own devices.”
“Scott turned you down?”
“I didn’t ask him.” That determined set is back in his shoulders.
Derek’s beginning to see where this is going. “You don’t want his help?”
“Scott wouldn’t be able to hurt anybody, not on purpose.” Stiles doesn’t flinch. “You would.”
Because Derek’s always good for something in the end. “You’re calling in your favor.”
There’s a sick satisfaction in knowing the world still works the way he knows it does. To his credit, Stiles looks uncomfortable. “If I have to,” he says with conviction. And then he softens. “But I’d rather ask a friend for help.”
He doesn’t mean Scott.
He doesn’t mean Scott, and he’s dead serious. People don’t ask Derek. They demand or they order or they suggest, if they’re feeling somehow entitled, but they don’t ask. Whatever ground they’re on here, it’s nothing like solid.
Stiles’ right hand is wrapped around the railing of the stairs hard enough to turn his knuckles white. If he were a wolf, he’d be denting it. Derek should not be thinking about that.
“This is my dad, Derek. My dad. He can’t…” His mouth is a tight line, and his expression is helpless.
My, what big eyes you have, Derek remembers. Nobody’s looked at him like an answer in a long time.
“He won’t,” he says, before he knows he’s going to.
He grabs his jacket and heads back upstairs without letting himself analyze it too much. Stiles jogs to keep up with him, but doesn’t complain.
“I’m not your weapon,” Derek says over the Camaro’s roof, trying to regain some ground.
Stiles shakes his head, though. “No, I know. With luck, I can get Sullivan on video breaking his parole and he’ll never even know we’re there. I just need some backup.”
He slides into the passenger seat and gives Derek directions, and then doesn’t speak again for the next hour.
Stiles’ dad’s overnight gig is apparently an art museum out in the valley. Derek parks at the closed restaurant down the street to get the lay of the land. The museum entrance is well lit and designed perfectly to make a theft difficult; the parking lot is pitch black and designed perfectly to make an ambush easier than hell.Derek takes one look at the place and makes an executive decision.
“Stay in the car.”
“What?” Stiles genuinely blinks at him.
“Was that too complicated?” He raises an eyebrow. “Sit. Stay.”
“Look at you, with your ironic deployment of dog jokes.” The humor doesn’t go near his eyes. “No.”
Derek growls, but Stiles refuses to be intimidated and short of leaving him in the trunk, there’s not much Derek can do about it. Doesn’t stop him from thinking longingly of the idea as they circle the perimeter and Stiles fails to move with any kind of stealth, but to be fair, Derek gets the impression he’s trying.
It’s really obvious, then, when Stiles freezes in place. His heart speeds up, and Derek follows his eye line to a car parked a block down the street. “Sullivan’s?” he asks, and Stiles nods.
They’re at the back of the building, facing a set of loading docks maybe a hundred feet away. He can see the red lights of surveillance cameras from here; he can also see that the one above the folding door is out. As they get closer, it’s clear the door itself has a good two-foot gap at the bottom, plenty of room for someone to roll under.
“Who’d you say got your dad this job?”
“An old friend from the Depart… Shit. He’s in on it,” Stiles realizes.
Derek tilts his head in agreement. He can’t hear anyone waiting inside, and nothing happens when he slips under the door with Stiles behind him. He gets a whiff of gun oil heading into the main museum and follows it. Sullivan’s accomplice must have taken care of the internal cameras, too, because no alarms go off.
They’re crossing from a room full of paintings into one with aggressively modern statues when they catch up with Sullivan. He’s waiting by the room’s far exit with a pistol in his hand, posed like the definition of an ambush.
Derek recognizes his own fury right about the time he crashes into Sullivan’s unsuspecting back. The gun goes spinning off into the dark, and he’s dimly aware of Stiles sprinting after it, but mostly he’s focused on getting a good grip on the spineless asshole writhing out from under him.
Sullivan manages to get a hand free and then suddenly there’s a flare of pain in Derek’s ribs and he’s automatically letting go. They wind up crouched face to face with a few feet between them, and the muted floor lights glint on the blade in Sullivan’s hands. Derek’s all but healed already, but he’d rather not shift if he can avoid it and Sullivan’s not going to go down without a fight.
“Shit shit shit,” Stiles says somewhere off to the left, and then there’s a splintering crash and an alarm that could wake the dead.
Sullivan looks back and forth between Derek and the room’s exit, decides it’s not worth it, and takes off for the loading dock. Derek and Stiles are only a few seconds behind him, but his car is right there. There’s no time to do anything even if they could catch him, not with the cops probably on their way. Derek drags Stiles to the Camaro and gets busy retreating at as sedate a pace as he can manage.
“So I think I just destroyed something really expensive and artsy.” Stiles’ eyes are wide. “In my defense, it was also ugly like the mutant spawn of hell.”
“Shut up,” Derek says, trying to listen for sirens behind them.
They all seem to be headed straight for the museum. At the next red light, Stiles clears his throat.
“I know where Sullivan’s staying.” At Derek’s look, he shrugs. “It’s amazing what you can find out when breaking the law is a relatively minor consideration.”
Sullivan’s place turns out to be a trailer in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t any lights on and no sign of his car, and Stiles scrambles out of the Camaro before it’s fully stopped moving. He’s halfway across the yard before Derek catches up with him.“What are you doing?” Derek hisses, keeping his voice low just in case.
“Getting proof that he’s a parole-violating son of a bitch before he tries again. You got a better plan?”
Derek really wishes he did. This one feels like a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s confirmed when Stiles is reaching for the door handle and Derek suddenly becomes aware that he’s hearing one more heartbeat than he should. Derek holds up a hand and Stiles freezes, but Sullivan’s already walking around the end of the trailer. He’s got the knife out and a mean grin on his face.
“Thought you might be along.” He cocks his head, gesturing between them with the knife. “Now this one I don’t recognize, but you… You look just like your mom, don’t you?”
Stiles straightens, anger pouring off him in waves. “You’re not getting away with this.”
Sullivan actually laughs. “You’ve got no proof, kiddo, not a damn thing that will stand up in court. Trust me on that.” He bares his teeth like a shark. “I’ve heard about you, too. You think anybody’s going to listen to you when I do put a bullet in Daddy?”
Derek is momentarily distracted by the thought of how satisfying it would be to break this man’s neck. He only sees it in his peripheral vision when Stiles moves; by the time his head is turned, the gun from the museum is out of the pocket of his hoodie and leveled at Sullivan.
Sullivan’s face doesn’t change, but Derek hears the trip in his heartbeat. “You going to shoot me with the safety on, kid?”
Stiles’ arm doesn’t waver. He doesn’t even glance at the gun. “Yeah, that always works in movies, doesn’t it? Never hurts to be sure, though.” He shifts just slightly and fires over Sullivan’s shoulder. “Nope, it’s off.”
That shakes Sullivan up. It’s obvious that his calm is cracking, but he’s still aiming for slick conviction. “Come on, now. Little junior lawman like you? We both know you don’t want to do this.”
“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Stiles says in a flat voice Derek’s never heard from him.
It sets something off in Derek’s spine, a little spark of intention that has him shifting into the form that could never be mistaken for human. He stalks forward with a low rumble in his chest.
Stiles just draws himself up straighter in surprise, but Sullivan takes it badly. He gets in one good swing with the knife before Derek grabs his wrist and wrenches until it snaps, and then he flattens himself against the wall and scratches like he can claw through it. He reeks of fear and makes a strangled, high noise when Derek leans into his personal space. It’s immensely rewarding.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Stiles recalibrate on the fly. It’s only a beat before the confidence comes back into his stance. “I didn’t want to have to do this, but you left me no choice. Meet my friend, Cujo.”
Derek’s growl kicks up a notch in irritation, but it has the added benefit of making Sullivan piss himself a little. Derek would roll his eyes if it weren’t completely breaking character.
“Yeah,” Stiles continues, “Cujo here, he’s really protective and surprisingly resourceful. Like a big, hairy velociraptor, only better with doors.”
Derek obligingly holds one hand in front of Sullivan’s face and flexes his claws.
“And this is the best part: Once he’s got your scent, there’s pretty much nowhere he can’t find you. You ever see that Mythbusters where they try to get away from the bloodhound? Spoiler alert: nothing doing.” There’s a grin in Stiles’ voice now. It’s full of sharp edges, but Derek will take it. “I don’t actually have to spell out what happens when Cujo catches you, right?”
Sullivan is barely daring to breathe. His eyes flicker from Derek’s eyes to Stiles and then back to Derek’s teeth.
“So here’s how this is going to work,” Stiles says, taking that for an answer. “You’re going to find religion or head for Mexico or join a circus, I don’t really care, but we never hear from you again. And if anything happens to my dad or me… well. No one will hear from you again. Okay?”
Sullivan doesn’t move. Stiles grunts. “You can let up a little there, big guy.”
As soon as Derek takes a step back, Sullivan bolts. Derek blocks his way to Stiles, but he heads in the opposite direction. He doesn’t stop running until he gets to his car somewhere far back in the woods, and then tears out with a spin of tires. If they’re lucky, he’ll get picked up on a traffic violation.
Show and tell over, Derek shakes off the change and works his jaw to get the kinks out. When he looks over, Stiles is staring at his feet, scrubbing one hand through his short hair. The gun is still in the other, hanging at his side.
Stiles blows out a long breath. “So. I think that went well.”
Stiles spends the first half of the drive back taking the gun apart and rubbing all the pieces with the bottom of his shirt. It’s obviously not a new skill, long fingers confident and comfortable with the motions. He catches Derek watching.“Cop’s kid,” he reminds him, and doesn’t say anything else until he tells Derek to stop before the next bridge. It’s late enough that there’s no traffic. He crawls out of the car and over the barrier to reach the outer edge, and then drops the gun’s parts into the water. He smells like the night air when he climbs back into the passenger seat, and something else underneath that makes Derek uneasy.
He holds off on starting the car.
“I would have done it.”
When Derek glances over, Stiles is staring at his hands. Palm-up and empty, they’re perfectly steady.
“I know.” Derek’s not sure what response he’s supposed to give. It’s just the truth.
“I could have killed him and not even felt bad about it.” The hollow note in his voice is distracting. “I always knew I could do it, if I had to, but I thought… You’re supposed to feel bad, right?”
“There’s not –“
“What does that mean? What does that make me?” Stiles asks, talking more to the dashboard than to Derek, but sounding like the answer is vital.
The familiarity of it hits Derek hard, steals the words from him for long enough to let silence fall again. Something else occurs to Stiles then, judging by the way his head snaps upright.
“Oh, Jesus. My dad can’t know… Whatever else happens, I don’t care, he just can’t ever know, okay?” He links his fingers behind his head, movements sharp and sudden. His neck bows again, and his heart takes off like a horse from the starting gate.
“Shit.” One hand rubs over his chest, and the look on his face melts into disbelief. His laugh is ragged around the edges. “This is stupid. God, this is so stupid. People keep dying in front of me and I keep almost dying and this is what I fucking can’t deal with?”
Derek wants to do him the courtesy of ignoring him right now, but his heartbeat is rabbit-fast in Derek’s ears and the feel of him is raking over every nerve Derek has. He’s like a thunderstorm rising fast, or an earthquake coming on.
“Oh, fuck,” Stiles says, curling over his knees. His breathing hits a hitching rhythm and Derek lays his hand over the frantic rise-fall of Stiles’ back on pure instinct. He gets a low, choked noise in return. He runs his hand up and fits it around the bones of Stiles’ neck and just holds there.
For long, suspended minutes nothing changes. Derek squeezes and releases and can’t come up with a single other thing to do or say, and then the tension seeps out from under his palm. He works his thumb in slow circles until Stiles lets out a shuddering sigh and draws an almost normal inhale after. He should take his hand away, then; he doesn’t.
It’s been long enough that the car’s stopped ticking in the cooler air, and the loudest sound around them is the chirping of the river frogs from under the bridge. When Stiles’ body loosens to a softer curve, Derek finally reaches for the key.
“It makes us strong,” he decides at last, miles down the road with nothing beyond the headlights. Stiles rolls against the headrest to face him. “We do what we have to, and if they’re safe at the end of the day...”
“What happens to us then?” His voice is a soft vibration over the engine.
Derek hates him slightly for asking. Hates himself more for wondering the same thing.
“I’ll let you know when I find out.”
Stiles’ father’s SUV is in the driveway when they get back. There’s a lamp on in the living room, too.Stiles stares at the house for a long time. The light is gray this close to dawn, and it gives him a resigned, distant look that Derek doesn’t like. Stiles reaches for the door handle without a word and Derek grabs for his arm.
“What are we going to tell your dad?”
He blinks like Derek’s said something unexpected, but some of the blankness melts out of him, at least. “I ran out to the store, I guess. The Jeep broke down and I forgot to charge my phone. You were just driving by.”
There’s a questioning note in that last part, and Derek nods to show he’ll go along. It’s a decent story; he doesn’t have any other explanations on hand that won’t get Stiles in just as much trouble and himself possibly arrested.
“Okay, then,” Stiles says, and gets out of the car.
Stilinski must see them coming up the driveway. He meets them on the porch, and if Derek couldn’t spot the stark terror around his eyes, he might mistake it for anger.
“Where the hell have you been?” His voice is hoarse, and Stiles flinches.
Derek watches the mask come over him as he opens his mouth. “The milk smelled funny and we’re out of cereal, so I was going to get some, but the Jeep started making this grinding sound and Derek drove by and saw me but that took, like, hours, and we had to move the Jeep so it wasn’t on the road where –“
Stilinski holds up one hand. “Okay.” His heart rate’s dropping back down, and weariness is settling over his shoulders. “Upstairs. We’ll talk about it after we’ve both gotten some sleep.”
Now that the bullshitting is out of the way, Stiles deflates at the reprieve. He heads into the house with one last look back at Derek, and a grateful little nod once he’s behind his dad’s back.
“Thought you weren’t seeing each other anymore,” Stilinski says when they’re alone, tone neutral.
Derek matches it. “We’re not. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
He’s expecting to see relief, maybe even some kind of triumph. Instead, Stilinski just looks more tired. After a moment, he nods and offers his hand to Derek.
“Thanks for getting him home.” His grip is firm, but not challenging. Solid and comfortable, and it occurs to Derek that he likes this man.
He returns the nod, his eyes tracking to the stairs without his permission. “He’s a good –“ and he can’t finish it, can’t say kid, because Stiles isn’t. Not like he should be. He’s always refused to be what Derek expects.
He realizes he’s been silent too long. Stilinski’s just watching him, though.
“Yeah, he is,” he says quietly.
Derek goes back the next night to check, but there’s no sign of Sullivan at the trailer or near the museum. It’s possible he’s still running like hell. The rest of that night is like a sore tooth that he can’t stop working at, but that much at least was fantastic.He stays away from Stiles. Keeping his distance is the smart thing to do, Derek knows it, and he’s on a new mission to only do the smart things. None of them can afford otherwise. When Derek cares, he makes mistakes.
He hadn’t counted on Stiles disrupting the plan, but he’s also somehow completely not shocked to find the train station once again smelling like him. Derek doesn’t see him at first, but there’s a flash of movement from inside the train car and Derek follows it.
He’s barely through the folding doors, lips curling involuntarily, when he recognizes his mistake.
The man sitting in the train isn’t Stiles. He’s wearing a lacrosse jersey with Stiles’ number on it; under it, though, is tight black clothing. Derek has half a second to comprehend exactly how fucked he is before something small and sharp sinks into his back and his vision tunnels.
He makes it one snarling step towards the hunter in front of him, but the man just smiles. “Night night.”
He’s shifting forms before he’s fully awake, on his feet before his eyes are open. It doesn’t do him any good. The manacles around his wrists hold, and the chain leading from them to the floor pulls him up short the second he gets upright. At least his hands are in front of him.The same hunter’s waiting calmly a few feet out of reach. He’s taken off the jersey, but the all black motif and faint air of smug asshole haven’t changed.
“Morning, sunshine.” He smirks. “Well, middle of the night, actually, but who’s counting.”
Derek knows where he is at a glance. The old condemned rec center gym spans out around him in all directions. They must have torn up the wood flooring to bolt his restraints into the concrete, but the rest of the place looks undisturbed. He glances at the second floor balcony expecting more hunters, but there’s only a clutter of old weightlifting equipment.
“Why not just kill me?” He has a hunch he knows. He’s hoping he’s wrong, though.
He’s not. “Now that wouldn’t be very efficient, would it?” The bastard tuts. “No, we’re going to wait right here for the rest of your pack to come charging in.” He holds up Derek’s phone. “I love technology. Don’t you?”
He isn’t stupid enough to have programmed anyone in under their real names, but he doubts it matters.
“With Papa Wolf out of commission, how long do you think it’ll take for us to pick them off?” Derek’s hands jerk unconsciously, and the hunter’s smirk widens. “It’s a chilly night. Maybe we’ll have a nice, big bonfire right here in this old firetrap.”
Derek won’t give them the satisfaction of seeing him react further. Hollow victories may be all he gets.
“There’s a nice symmetry to it, don’t you think? Poetic,” the hunter keeps going. “You could even –“
And then there’s a whistle of air and something white and round bounces off his head. His expression melts into confusion, and he drops like a stone.
A voice comes out of the darkness to the right. “More of a limerick guy, myself.”
Derek knows that voice. Stiles jogs the rest of the way over to his side and grins wildly. “Like, ‘These hunters, they each have a gun / I wish they were so much more fun.’” He’s got a lacrosse stick in his hand, but he drops it to reach for Derek’s manacles. “Lame, I know. Sue me later.”
“You hit him with a ball?”
Stiles shrugs. “Hey, you don’t schedule your heroic rescues in advance, you take what you can get.”
Somewhere outside the rear of the building, there’s an explosion, and then a grating reptilian scream. Closer to the front, a scattering of gunshots is followed by Isaac’s roar. He sounds more angry than hurt, at least.
“And that’d be the cavalry. Not subtle, but effective.” Stiles’ fingers brush his wrist around the manacles. “Damn it. They couldn’t just go for handcuffs like normal people?”
There are footsteps headed toward them. Whoever’s coming, Derek doesn’t recognize them and they smell like gunpowder. They’re out of time.
Stiles grits his teeth and doesn’t answer. He switches from the manacles to the padlock on the chain running to the floor. It snicks open just as a blonde dressed in black walks out of the corridor, shotgun first. Two others, both men, trail her out a beat later.
Her smile is casual. “It’s almost cute, really. You know what they say about a boy and his dog, Stiles.”
Above them, Derek sees Scott start weaving through the exercise equipment. He catches the shape of a longbow out of the corner of his eye, working around the balcony to get a clear shot at the hunters.
Derek snarls through his fangs to get their attention back on him, but Stiles doesn’t play along. He raises his chin like an idiot. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced.”
“Oh, we’ve heard all about you. Turns out, radio signals aren’t very secure. Who knew?” she asks flippantly.
And suddenly it all comes together. Why this group never made a move, why they’d never been seen in significant numbers… They’d just had to hang back and let all the others do their dirty work for them, mapping out the opposition and waiting for their moment to strike. He should have seen this coming.
The realization almost distracts him from the flush of anger that washes over Stiles’ face. He knows the instant Stiles opens his mouth that things are about to go sideways.
“Yeah, see, here’s the thing. That whole part where I exhibited some basic human decency and didn’t just leave somebody to die in a fucking elevator shaft? I keep trying to tell everybody: That was not a declaration.”
And then he steps in front of Derek.
The hollow chill that surrounds every shitty thing in Derek’s life settles in his chest. “Stiles.”
Stiles ignores him. He stares the woman down, solid and unblinking. “You want him, you go through me.”
The hunter cocks her head. “Fine.”
Distantly, Derek registers the sound of the shot, the sound of Scott’s scream, the sound of an arrow released. It’s drowned out by Stiles, knocked back a step into Derek and already falling as Derek twists a hand into his shirt.
It’s instinct to drag him to the ground, to hunch over him before looking up for the next attack. The other hunters won’t be far behind.
Except they will. They’re standing frozen with their guns only half raised, and Derek tracks their line of sight up to where Allison holds steady aim. “Put it down,” she says, and there’s steel in her voice.
Nobody moves. In the silence, the dripping of Jackson’s claws somewhere in the shadows and Stiles’ ragged breathing are suddenly deafening. It’s gone silent outside, too, and his pack feels closer.
One of the hunters stares hard at Allison’s face. “You think there aren’t others? You think you can win this?”
“I think I’ll give you three seconds before I drop you next to your boss.”
Another beat, and the men ease themselves into a crouch and lay the guns down. By the time they’re fading into the shadows, Derek’s back to human form.
“Boyd, Jackson: follow them. Erica, pull the arrow and get rid of the body,” he rattles off without looking away from Stiles. The hole in his shirt is so small that Derek’s hand fits over it with room to curl over his ribs, but the ground under him is already staining dark.
“We’ve got this. Take my car,” Allison says, suddenly beside him and handing her keys to Scott, and Derek blocks out the sound Stiles makes when he lifts him.
The ride to the hospital seems impossibly long.
People like to pretend that blood smells like copper. It doesn’t; it smells like blood. It feels slick and warm on skin if there’s enough of it flowing continuously. There’s enough of it, in the back of the car.
The closer they come to the center of town, the more streetlights there are to see by. They paint Stiles’ skin strange shades of orange, but it’s better then the ashen contrast with Derek’s jacket between lights. They catch in his wide, dark eyes and on his lips where he’s mouthing Derek’s name.
He’s afraid. He’s dying, and he’s afraid, and Derek wants to break everything he can get his fingers on because he can’t fix the damage under his hands right now.
“My dad,” Stiles murmurs, barely louder than the tires over the road. “Watch him, okay? Please.”
Derek doesn’t have any more promises to give. He makes it anyway. “Yes.”
And Stiles relaxes, goes that little bit heavier against Derek’s hold, and Derek snarls, “Don’t.”
From the driver’s seat, Scott makes a noise that no one would mistake for human, and then the car is slowing and Derek is already springing for the door handle. He turns toward the hospital and Scott’s blocking his way, only the color of his eyes giving away the wolf. “You can’t go in there.”
Derek moves to slip around him. Scott steps in closer. “If you want them to let you anywhere near him, you need to go right now.”
He’s right. It’s the smart play, and a detached part of Derek is even proud of Scott for seeing that. It doesn’t make it any easier to lay Stiles in his arms and watch him go.
The morgue is private. There’s not much traffic, little chance of him getting caught, and it’s quiet enough that he can focus on a specific rhythm two floors away. He cleans himself up as much as he can, finds bolt cutters in a closet for the manacles, and settles in a dark corner, closing his eyes to focus better.When he opens them again, Allison is watching him from a few feet away. He tenses automatically, but she only folds herself slowly down to sit on the floor.
“Have they said…” he starts, voice rough to his own ears, but she shakes her head.
“No word yet.”
He nods, and watches her take a slow look around them. She frowns. “You get that this is creepy, right?”
He avoids that one. “How did you know I was here?”
“Erica. She said it’s your favorite place to make friends.” The frown gets deeper.
“Inside joke,” Derek says, even though it isn’t. “Why are you here?”
When she straightens like that, raises her chin just right, he can see the fighter in her. “We need to talk.”
“I don’t think we’re going to get a better time.”
She’s probably not wrong. He nods.
“We’re both going to have enemies after this,” she says. “They don’t have to be each other.”
Of all the people he would have expected that from, he hadn’t seen it coming from her. It’s no secret how little she likes him. “You want an alliance.”
“Before… before Kate,” and he can respect the way she rides through the pain, “things were okay. Your family lived here, and we left you alone. Nobody got hurt.”
“You think we can go back to that?” He doesn’t bother to cover the bitterness.
“No.” She shakes her head. “I don’t think we should. We can do better.”
Despite himself, he wonders where this is going. He keeps his mouth shut.
“My family’s been trying to save the world for a really long time. We’re an army against the darkness out there. We go where we need to and we do what’s right, when we follow the code.” She looks him straight in the eyes. “But you want to know what I think?
“I think I don’t care. I think if everybody else wants to tear each other apart, they can go for it. I’m eighteen and I’m in love and I want to wake up tomorrow and not wonder if anyone I care about is going to die. I think you can understand that.”
“I’m not eighteen,” he says. He hasn’t been that young or that innocent for a long time.
She smiles faintly. “That’s not the part I meant.”
He swallows, not thinking about a room two floors away. “And you think you can stop it?”
“No.” Her smile tightens. “But I think we can. Your pack, Scott, the hunters who’ll follow me… Jackson, Lydia, Danny. Stiles. We make a decent team.”
It’s a nice fantasy. “Let me guess who’ll be in charge.”
“Does it matter?” She doesn’t flinch, and her voice doesn’t rise. “Why did you give them all the bite, Derek? The truth.”
“Power,” he says easily, and lets his eyes flash.
She just stares him down, though, waiting.
Go to hell is on the tip of his tongue, but somehow stays there. “Survival,” he grits out, finally.
She nods like she already knew. “So pick the one that means more to you,” she says, and stands up.
It hits him, sudden and painful, that it’s not Kate that he sees in her. It’s Laura.
“Come on,” she says, and deliberately holds out her hand. “Let’s find you something else to wear.”
They pass deputies at various points in the halls. The cover story is apparently that Scott and Stiles were in the woods and happened to be very unlucky; in the grandest possible sense, it’s even true.Their worry makes it easy to feel Boyd somewhere close, Erica and Isaac farther away. Neither of them are fond of hospitals.
Jackson and Lydia are holding hands from adjoined chairs in the waiting room. Whatever they are or aren’t to each other at any given moment, apparently they’re still this. Jackson meets Derek’s eyes and nods. Whether that means the other hunters are gone or dead, Derek doesn’t actually care right now.
He’s not prepared for Stiles’ dad to be sitting next to Scott. When he raises his head, his eyes are raw and frightened, and he’s making no effort to hide anything.
“Sir,” Derek says, for lack of anything better. He wishes, suddenly, that he were wearing his own clothes.
Stilinski clears his throat roughly and nods. “Have a seat.”
It’s a strange comfort, being allowed to share this.
An hour passes before he has to move again. The vending machines are visible down the hall, and they make as good an excuse as any. He doesn’t comment when Scott stands and follows him.
They’re contemplating the relative merits of candy neither of them will probably eat when the rhythm he’s been following for hours now slows, stutters, and Derek holds very still until it picks back up. Beside him, there’s the sound of a long breath, and when he looks Scott is watching him.
“He’s still here?” Scott asks softly.
“You can’t hear him?”
Scott shakes his head. “Allison’s the only one I can pick out of a crowd.”
Most heartbeats sound alike from a distance. Stiles’ doesn’t, although Derek can’t explain why. He realizes he’s been silent too long when he feels Scott’s eyes drilling into him. Derek knows what’s coming before he opens his mouth.
“Give him the bite,” Scott says quietly.
Derek doesn’t look at him. “I can’t.”
“Bullshit,” Scott growls, still keeping his voice low. “Bullshit, Derek. You can, and you will, because you are not letting this happen, you can’t… You can’t…. I know he matters to you, you can fake it all you want but I know, and he did this for you. He’s dying for you, don’t you –“
“It won’t help!” He doesn’t realize he’s shouting until the silence settles in after. Down the hall, Stilinski and Mrs. McCall freeze and turn toward him. He focuses on the floor until they go back to talking, and he’s quieter when he tries again. “How long was it before you started healing the first time?”
The understanding rolls through slowly, dragging the fight out of Scott’s shoulders. “It won’t be fast enough, will it?”
Derek shakes his head. “No.”
There’s nothing more to say. He buys a cup of coffee and goes back to listening for that specific cadence. Scott follows him back after a while, and this time his posture isn’t warning Derek away.
The cup’s long gone cold in his hands by the time a doctor comes out to pull Stiles’ dad aside. The doctor’s too seasoned to give anything away in her own body language, but the wave of relief coming off of Stilinski would be heavy enough to take Derek out at the knees if he were standing.
Stiles sleeps for the first two days. He’s high as a kite for the next three, and then they start to wean him down from the good drugs. He’s hurting, but more exhausted than anything; once the effects of blood loss and shock fade, he’ll still have a course of physical therapy to get through. They’re optimistic he’ll be okay in the long run, though.Derek knows most of this second-hand. At first, it’s just more practical to come by at night. Stiles’ father is there during the day, and the others drop by in the evenings after school. It makes sense for Derek to take the night shift, slipping in unnoticed between nurse’s rounds.
It’s on the sixth night that he gets caught. Stiles shifts in his sleep and whines softly behind his teeth when the pain hits, and Derek goes still in the shadows at the corner of the room.
He thinks he’s in the clear until Stiles grins.
“Chair’s over by the window,” he says, voice rough with sleep. He doesn’t bother to open his eyes, and he’s out again within a few breaths. There’s no question he knows who’s there with him; Derek can tell just by his tone.
It leaves him unsettled, although it’s hours yet before he can put his finger on why.
He needs a way to keep Stiles as far from all of this as it’s possible to be in Beacon Hills. Stiles will never do it by choice – not when everyone he knows is in the firing line – so Derek can’t give him one. The solution, when it comes to him, is ridiculously simple. It’s even got the added benefit of fulfilling the letter of a promise made.
Stiles won’t forgive him for this. Derek’s paid worse prices for less.
He waits until Stiles is scheduled to be released. Stiles’ dad comes back from the hospital pharmacy, and Derek stops him in the empty corridor a few turns down from Stiles’ room. “We need to talk.”
Stilinski nods, stepping around him. “Just let me get him settled in at home.”
He keeps walking, eyes on the prescriptions in his hand. Underneath the atmospheric disinfectant, Derek can smell the gun oil on him. He’s been armed since Stiles was shot.
“It wasn’t Sullivan.”
Stilinski freezes. “What did you say?” he asks without turning around.
“It wasn’t Sullivan. He had nothing to do with this.”
“And how do you know that, exactly?” Now he does turn, and the air is the shade of still before a bomb goes off.
“Because I know that he’s not a threat anymore.” Derek doesn’t blink. “And because I was there.”
Stilinski’s face hardens. He doesn’t need to ask where.
“Your son has a habit of picking fights that aren’t his,” Derek says. It’s a struggle, not to look away from the man’s expression. “If it means anything, I wouldn’t have wanted him anywhere near this one.”
“The person who shot Stiles was after you.”
“Because I exist,” he says, and it means something that it comes out more resigned than bitter. Maybe just that he’s tired of being angry.
“This person… Where would I find them?”
Derek gives a shake of his head. “You won’t.” Stilinski doesn’t look like his law-abiding tendencies are going to kick in. Derek keeps going. “There are others who could still be a problem, though.”
“Others. Jesus.” His jaw clenches tighter, and the paper bags in his hand rustle. “You’re going to tell me everything.”
“I think it’s time someone did,” Derek agrees. “I said I’d protect you; I didn’t say how.”
“Protect me.” Stilinski looks almost amused. “That’s nice, son, but –“
Derek lets the change come over his face, eyes and teeth and all. Stilinski doesn’t flinch away or reach for his gun, just stops breathing and stares for a long time. His heartbeat kicks into a new range, though, and the color drains from his face.
Derek shifts back. “That’s only the beginning.”
He keeps his guard up – no one goes out alone, everyone checks in at least once a day, no one gets directly connected with him if they can help it – but there’s every indication the hunters are actually gone this time. With Allison’s last name in play again, there’s a chance any others will hesitate to make a move. It might be politics that saves them in the end after all.He’s too cautious to say it aloud, but he thinks they might have weathered this particular disaster.
That’s why it comes as such a shock to feel Erica’s agony loud and clear from halfway across town in the middle of an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon. She doesn’t answer her phone, and he doesn’t waste time calling the others.
When the feeling leads him to the trees behind Stiles’ house, his racing heart stutters. It’s sheer confusion, though, that stops him in his tracks at the back yard. Erica is definitely there, and she’s not alone. Lydia’s next to her, both of them relaxed and apparently swapping tips for their next Bio exam.
“What’s going on?” His voice can’t seem to choose between alarmed or bewildered.
Lydia smiles at him sunnily. “Oh, good. You’re here.”
“Yes,” Derek agrees slowly. That much he’s sure of.
“Conveniently, so is Stiles,” Lydia says.
“First window after the garage. You know the way,” Erica continues.
They move away from him in synch, light with the confidence of a job well done. Derek decides that irritation is definitely the emotion to go with. “The idea is to stay away from him.”
“Oh, we know,” Lydia says, and underneath the brightness is a layer of pure fury. “He’s not up to tracking you down yet, and we’re all sick of watching him be miserable. You clearly weren’t ever going to get over yourself, so we fixed it.”
He’s expecting Erica to have the decency to be sheepish, but her arms cross defiantly over her chest. She’s not giving ground, either. The absolute lack of a sudden appearance by the rest of his pack clues him in to how premeditated this must have been.
“How did you fake the pain?” he asks at last, grudgingly impressed. He wouldn’t have thought that was possible.
Lydia looks at him like he’s too stupid to live. “We didn’t.” She shrugs. “I stabbed her with a barbeque fork until you got close.”
He can’t help staring at Erica. “It’s for a good cause,” she assures him.
The slow, terrifying realization comes over him then: They’ve bonded.
He sighs and crosses his own arms. “I have my reasons.”
“And they’re bullshit,” Lydia says, nodding. “But at least go tell him what they are. You can sort it out with him now or wait until he goes looking for you, but if he tears his stitches you’ll only feel like more of an idiot.”
He remembers a time when they were all afraid of him. Well, when some of them were afraid of him. He tries to tell himself he feels nostalgic for it as he swings up onto the roof, but even he’s not buying it. Besides, giving Stiles whatever closure he’s looking for here isn’t a terrible idea.
Stiles’ window is open. He’s sitting at his desk with his back to Derek, mountains of paper and books covering all available surface area. His hair is a little longer than Derek’s ever seen it, his shoulders are set in a tired line, and the white strap of a sling stands out against the arch of his neck. Derek stops at the windowsill, cataloguing it all.
“Telling my dad was a dick move,” Stiles says without raising his head.
Despite himself, Derek’s lips quirk up at being caught. “You don’t think he needed to know?” It’s the truth, even if it’s not all of it.
Stiles is silent for a minute. “I thought he could fix it, you know, back at the beginning? But then...” He shrugs with just the good shoulder, and winces anyway. “I couldn’t let him try to protect me, not with what was at stake.”
What’s at stake is exactly the problem, Derek thinks. Stiles finally meets his eyes, though, and it’s like he heard anyway.
“I get what you were trying to do. It’s not going to work,” he says levelly. “I keep trying to tell you, Derek, your plans usually suck.”
The smile teasing at the corners of Stiles’ lips is frustrating. Derek can’t pinpoint exactly when he lost control of this conversation, but it’s slipping through his fingers nonetheless. “He won’t let you be involved with this.”
The smile doesn’t fade. “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Turns out, though, that he still knows me better than either of us thought.” There’s a note in there, a little rueful, a little awed. “He gets that I can’t leave this alone. Doesn’t like it, but he gets it. He was a cop for a long time, remember? And we both think I’m safer with backup.”
He’d been so sure that he could count on Stilinski to be stronger than Derek in this. “You’ll get killed.” He doesn’t pull the punch, lets it be stark and honest. “You want to leave him alone like that?”
“No,” Stiles says, just as honest. “Alone is the last thing I want anyone to be.”
And just like that, Derek knows he’s going to lose this fight. He can taste it in the panic on the back of his tongue, but he’s never been able to just lie down.
“Maybe I just wanted you out of the way.”
“Maybe it’s a little late to pretend not to give a damn,” Stiles returns gently, and Derek closes his eyes and goes under.
“You weren’t supposed to do this,” he says eventually.
This thing where you get under my skin and then shatter like glass, he means. This thing where you itch and sting and I still can’t find all the pieces to get you out.
Stiles laughs. “It’s not in my lifeplan to get shot again in the near future. For one thing, Dad’s insurance is going to get suspicious eventually.” He turns woeful eyes on his desk. “For another, the homework buildup is ridiculous.”
He goes back to sorting through the stacks on his desk, apparently content to let Derek have his silent breakdown. Derek leans back against the window frame and tries to decide which direction is up. With his guard lowered, it’s easy to spot the circles under Stiles eyes, the lines of pain that haven’t faded from around his mouth yet. He makes a frustrated noise and shifts the sling’s strap an inch higher, rubbing at the skin exposed.
Of all things, it’s that sound that finally gets to Derek. He swings the rest of the way into the room and hovers with no real intention other than to be less far away, to be inside instead of out. Closing the space between them unlocks his ribcage a fraction. His finger reaching for the line of bruised skin on Stiles’ neck eases it a little further, but it’s still not enough until he’s bending down to fit his closed mouth to the same place.
Stiles smells like blood just under the surface, and still like soap and sweat and cut grass.
It’s terrifying, not hiding this weakness. Derek noses along the arch of his spine and over the hollow where it dives into his skull and is careful not to touch him anywhere else. He keeps his intrusion contained to just this necessity.
Stiles sighs quietly. “You have the worst timing.”
It’s not at all what Derek was expecting to hear. “This isn’t the first time I’ve tried,” he says against skin, the only thought that comes to mind.
“Last time, you tried to Pretty Woman us out of being friends,” Stiles corrects him, still gentle.
“It was safer.”
“Probably,” Stiles says, and tips his head back onto Derek’s shoulder like it’s a bone-deep relief. The weight of him is solid, perfectly settled into the curve of Derek’s collarbone. Derek’s arms curl around him of their own accord, carefully and with the chair still between them.
A minute later, Stiles hums tiredly, and Derek realizes he’s falling asleep right there. He’s pliant when Derek pulls him to his feet and over to sit on the bed, but easing the sling off brings him back around. He jolts fully alert when Derek sinks to a crouch between his knees.
“You had to pick the only time since puberty when I could not be less interested in sex?” His eyes are wide and tragic.
“Stiles,” and Derek can’t keep the grin out of his voice, feels it in the lines around his eyes, too. “Shut up.”
“Yeah, okay.” His breath moves Derek’s hair when he talks, their heads bowed close together, and there’s a flash of déjà vu to it all. Derek’s fingers are dragging one sock over a boney ankle when he places exactly why this is familiar. The last time they’d been like this, Stiles had smelled like exhaustion and pain and want, too.
Stiles’ good hand comes up to lie cautiously against the back of Derek’s head, though, and abruptly it’s not the same at all. Under all the rest, Stiles smells like the powder softness of contentment, too weary for happiness but open to the possibility. Derek presses his nose to Stiles’ wrist and breathes that in, and long fingers weave through his hair in reward.
Stiles’ palm slips along Derek’s face and tilts his chin up, eyes searching, and then he leans in until his lips are just shy of Derek’s. “Can I?” he whispers.
It’s the fact that he asks, that he means it, that catches the yes in Derek’s dry throat. It must be all over his face, though, because Stiles’ eyes crinkle into a grin and he closes the gap.
Derek has never kissed anyone like this. It’s careful, warm lips moving against his like an exploration of new ground, slightly chapped and real as they find a new angle, try a new pressure. Derek keeps his eyes open, and the reaction when he brushes his tongue against Stiles’ bottom lip is fascinating. Neither of them breathes until Stiles suddenly remembers to, a shaky exhale rushing over Derek’s mouth.
He feels it when Stiles leans that little bit too far and reminds himself that he hurts. Derek pulls back enough to rest their foreheads together, and Stiles beams at him. “We are going to be amazing,” he breathes.
Derek huffs a laugh and goes back to getting the other sock off. When he’s done, Stiles lies down without protest, curling over on his good side toward the center of the bed, and Derek feels every ounce of his gaze as he crosses to the other side and toes off his own shoes. He stretches out facing the center, too, and there’s a moment where neither of them breaks the silence.
True to form, Stiles finds his words first. “This isn’t some fucked up gratitude thing, right?”
“No.” He leaves out the part where he is both fucked up and grateful. It’s irrelevant.
Stiles groans softly. “Good enough for me. Crash time now.” His eyes are already closing, the words slurring into a yawn. “Guessing that was your game plan, brief diversion into foot fetish territory aside.”
He makes one last nudge across the bed that ends with his head tucked under Derek’s chin. Everything about the move is confident of its welcome, but his heart gives him away. Derek strokes a thumb over his hip in answer, and Stiles relaxes into the real heaviness of sleep like a light switched off.
It’s still early evening. Derek’s not at all tired, but he has no intention of moving. The sun is lazy on its way down, and the bed is comfortable.
They’re not safe. He’s not sure that he believes in safety anymore. At worst, Allison’s plan will fail horribly and leave them all scattered in the wreckage. In this one specific moment, though, he’d rather think that it won’t.
Downstairs, the sounds of running water and the gas stove ticking to life tell him that Stiles’ dad is starting dinner. In a little while, Derek will wake him and they’ll head down. Derek may have to explain his presence; then again, he may not.
For now, he presses his cheek against the top of Stiles’ head and lets himself enjoy this.
We are going to be amazing, he tries out, and it doesn’t feel like a lie.