"Come on, Derek, just let us in, okay? We can't help you if you don't let us in!"

Scott banged on the loft door again, the metallic clank echoing around the spacious room, but Derek did not get up to open it. Instead he stayed pressed against the wall of windows, as far away as he could possibly get.

"How would that possibly help, Scott?" he called back. "The closer you are, the worse it gets!"

Even from this distance he could still hear whispers, brushing up against his mind, thankfully indistinct enough to be ignored for the moment. Earlier, in the sorcerer's lair, the voices had been loud and persistent and completely inescapable at close range. This was better. Obviously it wasn't a perfect solution, but at least he was no longer hearing things he didn't want to hear.

Normally, Derek liked to think of himself as a cautious person. Maybe not in all aspects of his life, but on the whole Derek prefered to think before he acted and thereby not act in stupid ways. So what the hell he had been thinking toying with unidentified magical artefacts found in the home of the malicious sorcerer they had spent a week tracking down and eliminating, he couldn't say. Judging by the suddenly-audible thoughts of everyone around him in the moment the pendant had started glowing and whistling, he hadn't been thinking at all.

So now here he was, behind the locked door of his loft, hiding from anyone and everyone whose mind he might involuntarily invade. Because that was his luck.

"We need to figure out what exactly is going on," Scott argued in that annoyingly reasonable tone of his. "If Deaton can determine what curse it is—if it's even a curse! It might not be! But if he can do that, then he can work on reversing it. But he can't do that from all the way out here."

Derek gritted his teeth against a snarl. He didn't want to be within a mile of anyone else right now. He didn't want to hear what other people thought of him; he had long had his suspicions on that matter, and the last thing he needed was confirmation of those depressing facts. But Scott had a point. If he didn't want to live the rest of his miserable life as an unwilling telepath, Deaton was his best shot.

"Fine," he bit out. "But for the love of all that is holy, Scott, try to keep your mind off Allison. "

The mental images Derek had from the ten seconds between the onset of the curse and when everyone else had realized what was happening had scarred him for life.

With every step he took toward the door, the voice in Derek's ear got that much louder, strangely light and insubstantial in a way that was hard to define but made it obvious even without seeing Scott's closed mouth that the words weren't being spoken out loud.

I don't think about Allison that much, do I? Just because her hair smells good and she was wearing that shirt today with the — like the blue one better, it makes her look like — probably stay over at her place tonight if her dad doesn't try to shoot me again — need to take milk home to mom, though, don't forget —

Derek yanked open the door and immediately backed away, hoping that even a few feet would make the thoughts less demanding. He was thoroughly caught off guard to see Deaton standing quietly at Scott's side; he couldn't hear a single thought from the man. When Derek turned his attention on him, he just got a very strong impression of a brick wall.

Deaton smiled that cryptic little smile of his, like he was the one reading minds now.

"A mental block," he said. "A technique for shielding the mind, perfected through years of practice and meditation."

"Like Occlumency?" Derek asked.

"Not unlike it," Deaton said easily. "Sadly, not something that can be picked up by novices in a few hours."

Well, there went his last hope.

Derek let himself be tugged down onto his own couch by Deaton and sent up a prayer of thanks when Scott took the hint to not crowd him. That didn't stop him from catching stray thoughts— really should get some curtains or something, this place is depressing — smells like sad in here, god, I hate chemosignals —but it was better than a constant deluge of them.

There was some poking and prodding, some following the light exercises, and some sort of obscure, extrasensory magical goings-on before Deaton sat back with another almost-reassuring smile.

"It's not a permanent spell," he said, "nor a complex one. However, it is one that requires the source to be destroyed."

"The source?" Derek asked. "The sorcerer is already dead. Why am I still being subjected to this?"

"By source, I mean the artefact in which the curse was contained," Deaton clarified. "Luckily, we have the artefact on hand. Now it's only a matter of destroying it."

"How long should that take?" Scott asked.

"Shouldn't be long," Deaton said, standing up and dusting off his lab coat. "A week or two at the most."

"A week or two?" Derek repeated, horrified.

Don't know why he's so upset by that, we go weeks without seeing him anyway — kind of a hermit, honestly — oh god, he can hear me, can't he, fuck —

"It'll be fine," Scott said bracingly, and Derek had a strong urge to punch him in the face. Luckily, Scott seemed to sense it and started hastily backing up toward the door, thumbing over his shoulder. "Deaton will get you fixed up in no time! In the meantime, I'll just get out of your hair."

"Please do," Derek muttered.

The silence, when Scott and Deaton were gone and the door shut firmly behind them, seemed emptier than it usually did, but Derek was grateful for it nonetheless.

Derek made it four days with no direct human interaction. It wasn't too bad because, in a way, Scott had been right: he was sort of a hermit in that he tended to keep to himself most of the time. Not because he didn't like people or want to spend time with them, but because socialization was a minefield of faux pas and misunderstanding that just wasn't worth the effort most of the time. People didn't like him as a rule. What was the point in trying to make nice when everyone involved knew the score?

But Scott had also been right in thinking that his loft was a little on the sparse side, and that included the pantry. Four days was all it took for him to run out of bread, cold cuts, and poptarts. He considered ordering takeout, but the delivery girl who had showed up at his door last time had looked at him like she wanted to eat him alive and there was simply no way to mentally prepare himself for an uncensored version of her internal monologue.

A quick trip to the corner market couldn't be that bad, right? Just in and out, a few minutes to lay in some supplies and then he could go back to his hiding. Not a problem.

He was so wrong.

He made it through the parking lot to his car without running into anyone, and then got through the drive without hearing more than some whispers from the drivers around him. But once he entered the shop, it was another story entirely.

People had always stared at him. He was used to the stares, no matter how judgmental they sometimes were, but he had not been nearly braced enough for the thoughts behind the looks.

— that Hale boy, the last one, poor dear — still can't believe it — such a tragedy —

— no good, I tell you, it's all that leather — probably in a gang —

— arrested for murder, twice, I mean, the Sheriff couldn't be wrong twice

— looks just like his mother — his father's eyes though, such a pity, really —

— wouldn't let him near my daughter without a shotgun in hand, the thug, I'd sooner —

— heard he killed his sister — what a nutjob, how is he allowed to —

Derek was out the door and back in his car before he realized that his hands were shaking and his breath coming fast enough to make him lightheaded. He ran a red on his way home, but it was worth it not to be stuck at the traffic light next to the old lady who had apparently known his grandmother when they were kids.

He locked the loft door behind him and set music to playing as loud as he could stand it, trying to drown out the thoughts that were as much his as anyone else's.

The next day, he caved. Stiles had been spamming him with texts every since he heard about the whole magic-induced-mind-reading thing, demanding to know if it was as weird in real life as it looked on TV, if he had been driven insane yet, or if he was planning to use the illicit information he gathered to conquer the world. Derek hadn't indulged him much over the past few days, but now he was hungry and miserable and frankly terrified of facing anyone from town. In this case, Stiles was probably the lesser of two evils.

So he sent Stiles a mayday text demanding food. He hoped, rather optimistically, that Stiles would just leave the bag of groceries outside his door and leave him to his hermitage. He should've known he would not be so lucky.

He was roused from his nap by an uneven tempo being knocked on his door that might have been the beat of a top-40 song and Stiles yelling, "Better let me in or you're not getting any of this tasty grub I so kindly went and got for you cuz I'm a great friend!"

Derek groaned into his pillow but knew from experience that Stiles' knocking would only get more insistent the longer he let it go on. He hesitated halfway to the door, though.

Stiles was a friend, he couldn't deny that. Of all the people in Scott's pack, Stiles was probably the one he liked the most, and probably the one who liked him the most. But Stiles was also a hormonal teenage boy with at least some attraction to men, and Derek knew beyond a doubt that Stiles was attracted to him because he reeked of lust half the time they were in the same room.

He had never really minded much because Stiles had never actually made a pass at him, never done or said anything unduly suggestive beyond some light innuendo that was more for the sake of not letting a good pun opportunity pass him by than any real flirting, never been anything but respectful to him. But that was out loud. There was no telling what went on in the privacy of Stiles' mind, where he was normally free to fantasize as much as he wanted without anyone knowing or judging him for it. Derek wasn't sure he was ready to hear that kind of thing, especially not from Stiles whom he had always sort of considered a safe space from that sort of treatment.

Stiles was still banging on his door, though, humming absently under his breath as he waited to be let in. Derek's stomach growled. He took a deep breath and closed the distance to the door.

Mmm-bop, dooby-dop doo-wah, dooooo-wop, dooby-dop doo-wah, doo-wop, dip-dap buh-dah doo-oo-ooo!

Derek pulled the door open and said, "Hansons, really?"

Stiles' face split into a huge grin.

"Dude, you really can read my mind!" he said, delighted. "That's so freaking cool!"

He brushed past Derek and into the loft, hefting three bulging bags of groceries in his arms, and immediately set about restocking the kitchen.

Does this guy not eat? I mean, really, he's got to — muscles like that, he's gotta drink protein shakes or something — do rabbits have protein? — red meat equals protein, or is it nuts? Might be nuts — dude, I wonder if weresquirrels are a thing —

Derek let the door fall shut behind him. He opened his mouth to say something, but he couldn't seem to get a word in edgewise even though Stiles wasn't saying anything out loud.

Three different kinds of poptarts, hell yeah, 'cause everybody deserves their choice of poptarts in the morning — wonder what kind of poptarts he had as a kid — did they watch Sunday morning cartoons? — he would totally be the Tom to my Jerry, I'm just saying, unless the wolf in him would be offended at being cast as a cat — Isaac's totally the road-runner, meep-meep —

"There," Stiles said, the verbal speech a little jarring to Derek's ears after so much of that strange mind-speak. "You will definitely not starve for at least five more days. Surely Deaton will have figured his shit out by then."

"God, I hope so," Derek said, already exhausted just from trying to keep up with Stiles' racing thoughts.

Stiles came out with one last bag, this one with a fast food logo on the side.

"Lunch for you and for me," he said happily and pulled out what smelled like cheeseburgers in foil wrappers. "Chow down, buddy, this one's on the house."

Derek was hungry enough that he didn't protest Stiles' continued presence. At least there had been no sexual thoughts so far, so he was already a better food delivery person than the last one. He unwrapped the second burger and began eating, trying to focus all his concentration on that instead of on whatever he might hear from Stiles.

"You know, I was beginning to think maybe you'd already starved to death and we just didn't know it yet," Stiles said around a mouthful. "That's what happens when you don't answer my texts, you know, I worry."

I mean, I kind of always worry about him, but more of an existential sort of worry than the imminent threat of starvation.

Derek frowned at him; he wasn't really sure what that meant, or if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

He wouldn't have to starve if he would just come over from dinner sometime — he's probably kinda scared of Dad, though — don't blame him, I mean, the man did arrest him — wonder if Derek likes kale —

Okay, Derek was not scared of Sheriff Stilinski. Maybe the man had a forceful sort of presence to him that put Derek a little on edge, but that had nothing to do with his various arrests. He opened his mouth to say so, but Stiles interrupted him.

"Oh, you've got a little…" He tapped at his chin.

Derek wiped the ketchup away from under his bottom lip, tongue chasing the last of it away, and was going to ask if he got it when—

Dude, his beard looks so soft, I wanna pet it.

Derek almost choked on his food. His face suddenly felt hot.

Oh shit, he totally heard that.

Derek cleared his throat to speak up, but his brain was sort of frozen on the image of Stiles petting his beard. It was honestly not a thing that had ever occurred to him, with Stiles or with anyone else, but he couldn't deny to himself that it was sort of an appealing prospect.

Fucking ADHD, god I hate my brain sometimes — but like, he's got such great hair — must have really good hair follicles, high quality — do werewolves get male-pattern baldness? Or would the healing thing take care of that — Isaac's got good hair too, but I don't want to pull on his like I do on Derek's — FUCK

Derek dropped his burger and made a beeline for the sink, suddenly in desperate need of a glass of water or really anything at all to distract him from the way he felt like he might actually spontaneously combust.

"So, uh...what have you been doing all day lately?" Stiles said in a valiant attempt at normal conversation, but his thoughts were going

Those biceps though — bet he could play tug of war with a truck and win — probably has hella good horsepower — wolfpower? — wonder if he does squats, dat ass looks like he does squa— NO, bad Stiles! Do not objectify the hunky werewolf!

"Nothing," Derek choked out. "I've been doing nothing. Avoiding people, mostly."

Sitting here all alone and shit, day after day — gotta be lonely — maybe he could get a puppy — or a kitten, oh god, Derek with a kitten, I'm gonna implode from the cute, I would totally pet them both —

Derek turned around to stare at Stiles, honestly a little baffled. Stiles just sat there at the kitchen island, cringing just a tiny bit and with color high on his cheeks as his thoughts ran away from him. They weren't exactly the kind of thoughts Derek had expected from him. Well, the strange tangents on things like cartoons and werewolf horsepower were, but beard-petting and kittens and worry on his behalf?

Man, even when he's confused he's still pretty, how is that fair?

There was the blush again, Derek's face aflame with it; no one had ever called him pretty before. Handsome, sure. Hot, all the time. A walking wet dream, two disturbingly memorable occasions. But never something as innocuous as pretty. Then again, no one in recent memory had worried about his eating habits or wanted to pet his facial hair either.

"Uh, Derek?" Stiles' fingers were twisting together in his lap, over and over again. "Do you...want me to leave? It's just...you look really uncomfortable right now and I can't make my brain not do the thing so I should probably go."

"No!" The word was out of Derek's mouth before he knew it and he was always as surprised by it as Stiles looked. "No, I'm not… You're not…"

He didn't know what Stiles was. What he did know was that Stiles in the last ten minutes alone had shown more genuine concern for him and his well-being than most people had in the last seven years combined, his sister excluded. He'd even consciously stopped himself from thinking about Derek in a sexual manner, and Derek was almost certain that it was not just because he could hear.

Someone needs to wrap him up in blankets and make him cocoa, he deserves that — call me Katniss, 'cause I volunteer as tribute — just someone please protect this man and look after him in every way — would he let me?

Stiles covered his face with his hands, letting out a groan that might have been frustration with his own thoughts or humiliation at Derek overhearing them.

"Fuck, man, I am so sorry for—"


Stiles stopped talking, and even his hectic thoughts skipped a beat. "Wait, what?"

Derek swallowed with some difficulty, his mouth dry and his heart in his throat.

"I would let you," he said. Because he didn't want Stiles to leave. He didn't mind hearing what Stiles thought of him because, in all the time he had been here and all the things that had gone through his head, not a one of them had been bad. Of all the people he had encountered in the last several days, from the townsfolk to his own pack members, every one of them had had something negative to think about him, but not Stiles. Derek didn't know how to react to that, honestly, but he knew he didn't want to lose it.

"Seriously?" Stiles asked, breathless, and Derek nodded. When Derek stepped closer, edging tentatively into the space between Stiles' spread legs, Stiles' thoughts became a steady stream of omigod, omigod, omigod, omigod, om—

Derek had to laugh. "Are you short-circuiting right now?"

"Maybe a little bit," Stiles said hoarsely, staring up at him with wide eyes. "Can you blame me?"

Biting his lip and wondering idly if this might actually break Stiles for good, Derek reached for his hand. He pulled it up and rested it on his cheek.

OMIGOD, IT'S EVEN SOFTER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE, FUCK ME, MAN — I mean, not with the literal fucking — okay, maybe with the — that fucking smile though, jesus christ, that should be illegal but also not 'cause I want to see it all the damn time —

Derek laughed, and this time Stiles laughed with him, despite the steady stream of curse words he was aiming at himself for being such a sap when Derek could hear every word of it. Suddenly Derek wasn't so worried about Deaton and the artefact. He wouldn't mind a few more days of this.