Stiles was glad he found him. He was large, scary looking, and quiet. The boys who use to pick on him at the bus stop always run straight home now. And best of all, he doesn’t even care if stiles occasionally asks to sit on his shoulders the walk home.
Weeks have gone by since the last time stiles was running from the bullies in his neighborhood. Only to hide behind Mr. Large, Scary and Quiet near the park gates. That day was the only day he had spoken since. or well, made a noise.
Stiles had pleaded for the man walk him home; terrified and ignoring the things his dad told him about strangers.
The small grunt in return lead to Stiles anticipating the bus ride back from school to see him in the same spot everyday from that point on.
Derek doesn’t know how to talk to little kids, isn’t much of a talker to begin with. But that’s okay, because the kid talks enough for both of them.
“We played with magnets today in class,” the kid says. His feet bounce off Derek’s chest, kicking him lightly. It doesn’t hurt or anything, so Derek doesn’t complain. “Turn them to side and they stick, another and they push away. Weird.”
He chatters on about magnets, and other things - glitter comes into it at some points - and it makes Derek’s thoughts disjointed, far-back memories of first grade and a time when safety meant looking both ways before crossing the road.
At the gate to the kid’s house, Derek lets him down. The kid pulls on the collar of Derek’s t-shirt, insistent, until Derek bends and lets the kid plant a smooch on his cheek, throw enthusiastic stick-thin arms around Derek’s neck. Kid’s an affectionate little thing; Derek allows it. Time enough for the world to punch the softness out of the kid.
Derek hangs back, watches the kid get into the house. He can see through the windows, if he tries, sees a father working at the kitchen table turning to hug his son as he walks in the door. The house is lit, and it’s turning dark outside. Easier to see them than it would for them to see him.
He takes his time walking back home.
Laura’s still asleep when he gets there. She sleeps a lot these days, nearly as much as uncle Peter. Derek nudges her, goes hunting when she doesn’t stir. There’s rabbit cooking over their hotplate when she gets up.
Her shoulder brushes Derek’s. “Good day at school?” Her voice is far off, but Derek thinks it’s nice she pretends to care.
Derek shrugs. Laura doesn’t push.
He comes with her after dinner, to sleep on the damp mattress and the pile of blankets they salvaged. Derek thinks, fleetingly, of the kid’s warm little body, the soft bundle of his clothes, the well-lit house he walked into.
Laura clings close, like she can feel Derek’s thoughts. “Are you okay here?” Here, in the burnt down remains of their house, on the mattress that used to belong to their parents.
In a voice rusty from lack of use, Derek says, “It’s home,” and clings closer to his Alpha.
There’s never been any cause to think about it, before now, and so Derek just…hasn’t.
Now, though, after almost two months of picking Stiles up like clockwork, a man waits inside the window. He’s never been standing, before, always laid out in a chair with his face turned down.
It doesn’t hit Derek how bad, how weird, how damning it all looks until he’s leaning down to offer his cheek to Stiles, the kiss today stickier than normal because Stiles got grape juice all over his mouth and never washed it off.
Even through the thick door of the house, Derek hears the sudden intake of breath.
Stiles goes inside, smiling at his dad, announcing, “I brought Derek! I brought Derek!”
Derek hears Stiles’ father say “I thought Derek was imaginary”, to which Stiles laughs, innocent.
And that leaves Derek alone with Stiles’ father, Beacon Hills’ newest sheriff.
Five minutes pass. The Sheriff oscillates between banked anger and pity. He offers to help Derek find grief counseling, to get him a mentor.
None of that will help. Derek only wants a certain kid’s smiles, maybe. His silly stories and his joy.
Those are the exact things Derek loses that day.
Stiles’ dad is quiet but firm when he tells Stiles he’ll walk him home from now on. Stiles protests, naturally.
Naturally, it doesn’t help. “It was very nice of Derek to help you,” Stiles’ dad says. “But you know you shouldn’t go with strangers.”
“He’s not a stranger!” Stiles comes perilously close to stomping his foot. “And he’s not dangerous either, he’s been walking me home for ages and nothing bad’s happened yet!”
Stiles doesn’t know why, but it makes his dad’s face crumple. His dad goes to his knees, hugs Stiles close and strong. “Stiles,” his dad says, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Anything.”
Stiles swallows and nods. “I’ll stay safe,” he says in a small voice.
He means to be good, and mostly, he is. Stiles lets dad walk him home, doesn’t do more than glance at Derek as he heads in the opposite direction. He always thought Derek lived near them; it made no sense for him to walk Stiles home otherwise.
Then there is a snow day, and school lets out early. Stiles slips out amongst the throngs of happy kids, unnoticed. Determined.
It’s not like he goes back on his promise when he goes into the woods. Following Derek. Because Derek isn’t actually dangerous. Stiles will show his father, somehow.
He doesn’t account, however, for the forest itself.
Stiles shouts when the ground collapses under his feet, tumbling into a pit in a mess of snow and dead vegetation. The wet gets under his coat and in his boots, and he squaks. Broken branches pin him in place; he tries to get away, but can’t find a purchase in the slick leaves.
It’s not so bad, though. Stiles is starting to feel warm again when something grabs him by the back of the neck.
“Kid,” someone says, frantic and hoarse. “Kid, you’re cold. Where’s your cellphone?”
Stiles fishes it out of his pocket. It takes a minute; his fingers are numb. He hears a tone being dialled, thinks he catches his father’s gruff voice on the other end.
“He’s in the woods. His hands are turning blue,” he hears that someone say.
Stiles frowns at his hands. They are. He must have lost his mittens. It’s kind of cool, but that voice sounds so scared. Stiles turns his face upwards, grinning to see Derek. He puts his hands on Derek’s face, trying to reassure, and Derek flinches before putting his hand over Stiles, chafing. That doesn’t feel nice, makes Stiles’ palm feel like pins and needles.
Derek says, “I can bring him over,” and then his face turns blank at what Stiles’ dad replies. He blinks, rapidly. “If you’re sure,” he says, and waits for answer before hanging up.
“C’mon,” Derek says, hauling Stiles up like a sack of potatoes. “You’re coming home with me. Your dad said getting you warm as fast as possible was the main thing.”
Derek’s house isn’t very warm - it’s drafty, because the walls have holes in them - but there’s a bed which is really more like a nest. Derek’s sister is in it, sleeping.
Derek takes off Stiles’ wet coat, gives him an old pair of pants that smells like mildew but is dry and nearly Stiles’ size. He helps hold Stiles up while he changes, looking away.
Then he puts Stiles into bed with his sister - “Laura,” Derek says softly, “company,” - and she just snuffles and puts and arm over Stiles. Derek slides in at Stiles’ other side, chafing his hands over Stiles’ back.
“Hurts,” Stiles complains. His entire body feels like it’s being stabbed repeatedly, now.
“Sorry,” Derek says, but when he takes his hands away it doesn’t help at all, so Stiles asks for them back.
He knows he must have slept, then, because he wakes up to his father’s frowning face. It’s not a bad frown, though. A considering frown.
It lets Stiles know he has a bargaining point. He clutches Derek’s shirt when he tries to stumble out of the bed.
“I never got hurt when Derek was around,” Stiles says, looking Derek clear in the eye. “I only got hurt when you made him stay away, and then he helped me better.”
Stiles’ dad still doesn’t look convinced.
That means Stiles has to sweeten the deal somehow. “What if both of you walk me home together?” Stiles bargains. “And maybe he could stay for lunch. I’ll eat my greens every day if he can stay for lunch.”
It’s like ice thawing when the sheriff cracks a smile. “Oh, kid.” He shakes his head. “What do you think, Derek?”
Close as he is, Stiles can feel Derek’s nod. Stiles shouldn’t grin at his victory - that might mean Stiles’ dad changing his mind - so he plants a smooch on Derek’s cheek.
Okay, and then he grins anyway. But his dad just sighs, and doesn’t take any of it back, so that’s good.