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Rise Above

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Title: Rise Above
Author: Rabid1st
Rating: Mature
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Derek/Stiles
Warning(s): Unhappy stuff. Arguments. Harsh Language. M/M sex.
Spoiler(s): AU S3b no spoilers in this part. Some in earlier parts.
Beta Babes: Birthsister & Elsecarlass
Word Count: 24629
Summary: After Derek is severely injured, Stiles can’t forgive himself. He finds a spell to break their bond. The spell has a nasty backlash and Derek is determined to put an end to it. But will Stiles resist his every attempt to reconnect? How far will Derek go to restore them both to sanity?
Disclaimer: Teen Wolf and these characters are not mine. This fic represents fair use for fan purposes.

In a time of treason, is there room for trust? Is there time for reason or has your heart had enough? Is it time to let go and rise above? And you say rise above, open your eyes on love.

PART TWO

 

Stiles made it through the weekend one hour at a time. Once or twice he took it minute by minute. After Derek and Argent left Friday night, he managed to check the waterworks. He hated blubbering. Men were allowed to weep, of course. His dad and mom never shamed him for showing genuine emotion, and he'd be the first person to defend anyone else who wanted a good cry. But he had never appreciated his vulnerable side, because ready tears plagued him. He wanted to show more self control. But he just couldn’t manage it today. The pain of the lash and Derek's woeful expression ham-stringed any stoicism he might have mustered.

God, he’d screwed this up so badly. He should have thought it through. Should have waited, consulted Deaton or researched more options. It hurt more than he could bear to think he would have to avoid Derek forever because of this damned spell. No more pack meetings. No more stolen kisses. He snuffled into a tissue and wiped his eyes. Time to consider a bath, he thought, nose wrinkling. It had been three days and he was starting to reek, but a shower was out of the question. A soapy soak might sooth his ravaged skin.

Not so much, as it turned out. His slashed back burned more than ever when it hit the lukewarm water. Unable to handle the scalding, Stiles knelt to finish rinsing off. The non-skid tub bottom abraded his knees and he winced and cursed his way through the ordeal. Feeling 80 years old, he lurched out of the tub to drip dry. He blotted his hair, arms and legs with a towel, but let everything else stay damp for an hour. Back in the bedroom, he slipped Phantom Menace into his laptop to kill the time. His injuries stopped throbbing during the epic Darth Maul lightsaber battle. By the end of the film, he was ready to try clothing again. He dressed in his oldest, softest t-shirt and boxers. Doing a bellyflop into bed, he pillowed his head on both arms, but sleep continued to elude him. He woke several times. Between the dreams and rolling over into agony, his night passed in torment.

His dad came home around midnight. When he popped in for a chat, Stiles feigned sleep, but first thing Saturday morning, his dad said, “Take off your shirt. Let me see.”

“Geez, Dad! And good morning to you.”

“Stiles!”

That meant don't test my patience. It was a tone Stiles heard several times a week. His dad waved an arm up and down to indicate stripping was required.

“I don't know what Derek told you, but...”

“He told me you were an idiot. I want to see it for myself.”

“It's not as bad as it looks,” Stiles said, finishing his thought. His beseeching eyes didn't sway his dad one bit. “The pain only lasts for a few seconds and then it goes away.”

His father made a little spinning motion with one finger. Stiles huffed, but turned his back, lifting his shirt. He moved slowly to avoid cracking open any scabs.

“Jesus Christ! Stiles?” His dad closed the distance between them. Stiles shrank away and his dad checked the impulse to latch on and shake him until his teeth rattled. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Stiles yanked his shirt back down. The angry gesture was a huge mistake. He hissed as the bunched fabric brushed his wounds. So much for the 'no pain' lie. He'd have to stop grimacing to sell that one to Scott. Features schooled, lips pressed so tight to his teeth they felt numb, Stiles did his best to model one of Derek's stone-faced expressions. He crossed his arms, set his jaw and turned around to stare blankly at his dad. He'd learned a lot about masking emotions from the Hales. Unfortunately, he didn't have the same control over his tongue.

“I was thinking about him, Dad. The fucking little werewolf tattletale. Dying. Screaming. Burned to the bone.”

His father cocked his head, squinting. Both hands reaching out, he grasped for some deeper reason. When he finally spoke, there was a note of resignation in his voice.

“So Scott was right?”

“Scott?”

“You did this for Derek. Do you love him that much?”

The question caught Stiles off-guard. “Do I—what?”

“You'd do this,” his dad said, again with the uncomprehending hand gestures, “to yourself, to spare him?”

“I did this to break the bond,” Stiles said. “Because I hate it. It forced him into that fire. It's evil.”

Confusion softened the lines on his dad's craggy face. But he wasn't buying that excuse. “No, I know you. You're a good kid. Brave. Loyal. But you aren't a saint.”

“I don't have to be a saint. You risk your life every day for complete strangers.”

“No. I would have done this for your mother. I'd do it for you. But, not for Deaton. I don't think you would do this for Scott.”

“I might.”

“You would run into a burning building to save him. But...this?”

“I didn't know this would happen,” Stiles said. “That's all it means. I'm an idiot, like you said. I thought it would be...quicker, a sacrifice.” He had been foolish, impulsive. If only he'd taken more time to think it through, but he hadn't. “I was stupid. Okay? I don't blame you for being mad at me. I could have lost you or my eyesight or anything.”

His dad shook his head again and turned away. His boots thudded on the tile floor as he paced to the refrigerator. He opened it and looked inside, but closed it without taking anything out. Stiles knew he was trying very hard not to explode. Their relationship had evolved past that. His dad was starting to pay attention to him, show him more respect. They'd grown closer in the last few months. But this new twist was testing them. Stiles watched his dad wrestle with his duties as a parent as he walk up and down the room. He paused once, opening his mouth to speak, but reconsidered and took another lap. A smile tugged at the corners of Stiles' mouth when his dad chewed on a knuckle, before taking another stab at conversation. Sometimes they were so much alike.

“I need your keys,” his dad said, holding out a hand.

“Why?” Stiles asked, but he was already digging them out of his pocket, because he knew the answer. Derek had spoken to his father, told him everything. Hadn’t Stiles suffered enough without having to deal with a distraught dad on top of everything else?

“You know why? If I don't take the amulet to Deaton today, Derek is coming here tonight. I'm assuming neither of us wants that.”

Okay. That was logical. And more reserved than Stiles had expected. “I got rid of it, already,” he said, jingling the keys to show his father the amulet was gone. “Threw it in the river. The current will cleanse it. I'll call Deaton and tell him.”

His dad took a deep breath. “Alright. That's one thing settled. Melissa is coming over to look at your...at those....” The lift of his chin indicated the lash marks he couldn't bring himself to name. His gaze flickered to the side, eyes straining to look around Stiles as if they could still see his covered injuries. “And you're going to see Dr. Price, again,” he said.

“What? That’s ridiculous. I can’t tell him anything about this. And I already see....”

“I know you work with Deaton’s sister, the guidance counselor, but I want you in normal human therapy.” He leveled a stern finger. “No arguments.”

“Fine. When he has me committed for self-injury you can feel bad about that decision.”

His father ground his teeth together, but didn’t respond to the jab. “What do you have planned today?”

Stiles shook his head. Surviving? Resting? Trying not to think about Derek. The skin on his back twitched. Oh, God, do not think about...that...thing. All of those things that you are not supposed to think about. Dad is on the ragged edge. If I take a hit now, he'll never recover. No. Okay. What would Obi-Wan do? Think about Obi-Wan. The lightsaber battle. Try to sound casual. What are your plans for today?

“I've got a ton of homework. Then, some research on the Kitsune. Might phone Scott. Play some Halo, I guess.”

His dad nodded. The tilt of his head told Stiles he wanted to say more, but he held his tongue. They paid an uneasy attention to breakfast. His dad set the table, made coffee and pretended to read the paper. Stiles fried eggs and turkey bacon in a nonstick pan. The smoky aroma made his mouth water. He was physically hungry, but didn’t have much appetite. He managed to wolf down an egg and some toast before the churning in his head and his twitching back made him queasy again. As he gathered the dirty dishes, his dad set the paper aside and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“If I can refuse to answer it.”

“Fair enough,” his dad said. He gestured at a chair, inviting Stiles to sit down. Stiles sighed audibly and glanced at the clock, trying to suggest they didn't have time for a heart-to-heart chat. “This won't take long, I hope,” his dad said, reading his impatience. Stiles sat down. His dad took a deep breath and asked, “Why Derek Hale?”

“Excuse me?”

“I get that there's a bond of some kind,” his father said, holding up both hands to show that wasn't what he wanted to know about. “But there's something else, too. I can see there’s something… It's like you’re drawn to him.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Okay. So, I'm biased, I know. But I can see what he gets out of this. Dumb ass moves like this one aside, you're shaping up to be a pretty great catch. Good looking, smart, brave, capable. There's this magic thing. Deaton tells me you are very talented.”

Stiles squirmed, uncomfortable with the praise. He chewed on his thumb nail and gave a little shrug.

“Of course, there's also the sarcasm and the recklessness and the constant chattering. How you never think things through, how you…”

“You had a question?” Stiles said, cutting him off and flashing him the stink eye for good measure.

“Right.” His father braced his elbows on the table. “Deaton said the bond means you two are...suited for one another. Compatible. But I don't see it. You're like night and day. He's athletic. You're a nerd gamer. He's almost mute. You can't stop talking. He's smart. I can see that. You're both smart. But he’s dangerous. And bad tempered. I get the feeling it would suit him just fine if everyone outside your little magic circle dropped dead.”

“He stepped between me and that fire, Dad. That’s a pretty big deal.”

“No. You're right. That was out of line. He obviously has some redeeming qualities, probably a lot more than I can see. That's why I'm asking.”

Eyes shut, Stiles sighed. He wiped a hand over his face; pinched the bridge of his nose. “You get that I'm trying to not think about him, right?”

“Yes. I do get that. But, this spell you did is serious business. I just need to know why you did it. How this bond works on you? Because I noticed you were talking about him a lot. At first, I thought you hated him. Then, this last year, I thought it was a crush. You've never even looked at another man that way, as far as I can tell. But maybe I missed it. You used to like Lydia Martin so much. What changed?”

“Seriously, Dad? You want to know about my sexuality?”

“It just confuses me. I want you to be happy. I want to know if Deaton is right about the bond. Is it forcing you into something you would never choose on your own? Or would you chose this anyway?”

Stiles shook his head. “I don't know what to tell you.”

Pushing away from the table, he stood and went to the sink. He washed the dishes, silently, while his dad pulled together lunch, jacket and keys. They feigned a hug. The sheriff ruffled his hair. Stiles used to hate that. It was one reason he'd opted for a buzz cut at fourteen. But it made him feel better now. Loved. He caught at his dad's sleeve as he turned to go.

“It's not the bond, Dad. It's him. He and I clicked, because,” Stiles spread his hands in helpless confusion, “because he's Derek. Maybe the bond makes it about sex. I don't know.”

“So, you don't know if you want to mate with him because of the bond? Or if you just like him?”

“When it comes to sex, I think I'm...flexible. I've always been a little fixated on Lydia. But, if you really want to know the truth, I noticed guys, too. Whatever I feel in here,” he said, putting a hand to the center of his chest, “it's about a person.”

“But Derek Hale? He’s ten years older than you. And have you taken a good look at our house lately? Or his house? He's a werewolf. A monster.”

Stiles felt his temper flare. It was funny how this one issue really irked him, when people missed Derek's humanity. He was broken and vulnerable more often than he was scary. But how could he make his dad see that? Stiles drew on logic instead of his emotions. Why Derek? Surely, he could answer that question honestly. Why would he be attracted to Derek? Why didn't he see him as a monster, too?

“I don't even get how you can say that,” Stiles said in a quiet tone. “You’ve seen him hurt and lost. To me, he's always been that kid from the fire. You remember? When he came to the station? I was there that day, when he and his sister signed the papers for the bodies.”

Stiles could tell by the look on his father's face that he'd forgotten that detail. “You shouldn't have been there.”

“Look, I get it. He’s an apex predator. I was scared, too, when I found out. I thought he was a killer. But he's not. I understand how you might worry about werewolves.”

“Maybe it’s the cop in me. All I see is domestic violence in this. He threw a bed through a wall. You’re covered in slashes. I've seen his teeth. There wasn't a trace of humanity in him the other night. Just rage.”

“Yeah, but...that's only the wolf.”

“Only?”

“He doesn't lose control like that. Ever. That's not him. He's too controlled sometimes.” Stiles sighed. “That's one of the reasons he's so angry. He can't let anyone close, because the people closest to him were hurt or hurt him. But he’s not a killer, Dad. He’s not a violent person.”

“The wolf doesn't scare you?”

“Hell, yes, it scares me. He could kill me like that,” Stiles said, snapping his fingers. “Rip out my throat with his teeth. Throttle me with one hand. One swipe of those claws and I'm a goner.”

“This is not reassuring me.”

“But, the thing is, dad, he doesn't. He blusters. But he let's me come close. He listens to me. We’re on the same side. I have to be careful, but that's okay.”

“I will never understand you,” his dad said. “Times like this, I wish your mother were here. She'd explain this to me.”

“I wish she were here, too, especially today. Just remember Derek's a good person. Don't blame him for this. None of this is his fault.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Now, I'm late. Call me at work, if you need anything. Anything at all.”

Stiles hugged his dad, tight, happy they'd talked even though it had been awkward for both of them. He felt like they’d cleared the air. His dad squeezed his upper arms in lieu of hugging back and left for work. Stiles sat staring at the wall for a while, but his thoughts turned to Derek and he had to distract himself quickly. To keep his mind busy, he focused on chores he could do. He stacked the dishes away, swept the kitchen floor and set the trash out. The kitchen looked neater than it had in weeks. What next?

He checked the clock and called Deaton's office to tell him what had happened to the amulet. Expecting to leave a message, he was surprised when Scott answered. Stiles was about to ask him why he was answering on a Saturday. But, instead of the usual happy greeting, Scott spoke in clipped sentences and seemed distracted. He said they were in the middle of an emergency, but Stiles knew he was lying. They never answered the phone during an emergency so why start on the weekend. He was getting the brush off from his best friend. What the hell? Scott said he had to go, but he would give Derek the message.

“Whatever, Scott,” Stiles said to the dial tone. “Guess you’re on Derek’s team, too.”

Melissa arrived around noon. She cooed over his back, but didn't ask him any questions. No doubt Mr. Tall Dark and Grumpy or one of his minions had filled her in on everything. What else could he expect of a species that howled to communicate? The motherly attention went down easy though. He couldn't help smiling as Melissa fussed over him. She treated his back with a cooling spray. It numbed as it healed and he could apply it himself. Once they'd dealt with his injuries, Melissa broke out her secret weapon, a cooler keeping a half gallon of ice cream cold—mint chocolate chip, his favorite.

To his surprise, three scoops went down without a trace of nausea. Only concern for his straining stomach stopped him from going back for seconds. Maybe it was the company, but he felt much better. He asked about Rafael, but they didn't talk about their exes. Melissa recalled the first time Stiles insisted on tasting this flavor of ice cream. He'd been a strictly vanilla child, until he'd turned six.

“You had the five food groups of Stiles,” she said, laughing. “Vanilla ice cream. Chicken nuggets. Cherrios. Peeled apple slices. And what was the other thing?”

“Plain Teddy Grahams,” Stiles said.

“Right. All beige foods. And then one day you asked for the bright green ice cream. I was sure you’d been replaced by a pod-child.”

They discussed family trips, especially the one they took to the Grand Canyon. It was the last time Stiles' mom had been well. The last time he'd been a real kid, in some ways. Melissa had been his worry on that trip. She'd turned her ankle during the Great Horny Toad Lizard hunt. And he'd tried to nurse her. There'd been a little arguing, too, between her and Mr. McCall, which later made him more aware of the divorce issues. Until that trip, Stiles had always assumed parents were eternal.

Melissa groaned and patted her belly. “I'd better get back to the house,” she said. “Scott will be home soon and I haven't even thought about dinner.”

“Pizza always works,” Stiles said.

“Once in a while, a mom has to provide vegetables or Child Services pays a visit.”

“Make it a veggie deluxe,” Stiles said, walking her to the door. “Scott will eat anything. Not me, I'm a purest.”

“Meat lovers, extra pepperoni, yeah,” she said, touching light fingertips to his cheek. “Maybe I'll bring that next time.”

He skipped school on Monday and nearly died of boredom. His back had healed to the point where it itched constantly. There was only one new slash, because he’d gotten very good at distracting himself. By Tuesday the house was immaculate and he couldn't take another day at home. To his surprise, it was a lot easier to avoid thinking at school. Or maybe that didn't surprise him so much. He enjoyed the routine drudgery, though, and that was a first. The teachers bored him in a droningly pleasant way.

The rest of the week went by smoothly. His dad made pancakes three out of five mornings and, despite having very little appetite, Stiles choked them down. True to her word, Melissa brought him a pizza on her next visit. And Derek ignored him. Weirdly, Scott and Lydia were, also, ignoring him. And they often had their heads together as if plotting something. Stiles hoped they weren't discussing him, but he didn’t care enough to intrude on them. If Scott had chosen this particular hour of need to bail as best friend, so be it. Lydia ignoring him was nothing new. It almost felt normal. By Friday’s lunch hour, Stiles had settled into a comfortable routine as a loner. Nobody asked him intrusive questions and he didn’t have to make small talk. He hummed “Radioactive” as he filled his tray with fries and baked beans.

His back was nearly healed and his appetite had returned with a vengeance that morning. Locating an open and relatively clean table, he sat down to enjoy a solitary lunch. He'd just taken a huge bite of fish sandwich when Scott dropped into the seat next to him. He asked how Stiles was doing, as if he hadn’t been avoiding him for a week. Stiles glared at him, but twiddled his fingers at Lydia as she sat down opposite them. She placed a small, flat box on the table by Stiles’ tray. It was deep violet, with a black and purple candy-cane striped ribbon tied in a bow around it. Very understated. Totally masculine. No gift tag. But there was no question in Stiles’ mind about who it was from. The wrapping screamed Derek Hale. It even smelled like him.

And there he is, Stiles thought, back in my head. The mingled aromas of fresh herbs and warm, furry animal wafted from the box. The smells weren’t just in the air. They were on Stiles, in his nose, all over his body. They bypassed his brain and headed straight for his groin. Derek. Fucking. Hale. His place. His bed. His pillows. Scott and Lydia might as well have transported Stiles directly into Derek's arms. He tried to swallow, but the food refused to go down, choking him as he grabbed for his water bottle. Before he could veer his thoughts away from the craving it leaped to the front of his mind. It pounced on him. And the lash fell, ripping down his back, slicing away flesh. He dropped his water. It fountained up soaking one leg of his jeans. He shoved his chair back. Hand to his mouth, he stumbled to the nearest trash can to spit out his food.

The sounds of laughter and chatter died away around him. He looked up. It seemed like everyone had turned to stare at him. One or two people tittered nervously. The mocking noise followed him as he stormed out the double doors into the hall. How could Scott and Lydia do this to him? A sneak attack? The traitors. Why would they do this?

“Stiles? Wait,” Scott called, running to catch up, because Stiles was moving fast.

“Get away from me, Scott,” he yelled. “Just...stay away.”

“Dude, you're bleeding. I can smell it. You have to take this.”

“I don't want it,” he said. “Take it back. Shove it down his throat.”

“I can't do that. It's your new amulet.”

“You're supposed to be my friend, Scott,” Stiles said, whirling to confront him as they reached the lockers. “Take my side. You can make him leave me alone. You’re the Alpha. You can do that.”

“And I would,” Scott said, “if I thought it would help you.” He held out the box, making Stiles groan and turn away. “This will help you.”

Lydia clattered up on her ridiculous heels. Stiles shook his head and turned away. He didn't dare look at them, united against him, or he would say something he’d regret. Breathing audibly, he pressed his lips into a moue and focused his attention on his lock, spinning the dial around too quickly. He missed a number in his combination and had to start over. Son of a bitch! Fuck it all! He slammed his palm against the locker door. That little son of an Alpha and his presents. Stiles was going to skin him alive. They'd see who had the last word in this throw down. What he'd done to that salamander would pale in comparison.

“Is it the box?” Lydia asked. “Have you seen the wrapping before? Does it smell like him or something?”

This time Stiles smacked the locker door with his forehead. It hurt, but he not as much as his injured back. Closing his eyes, he sent up a silent prayer of thanks for Lydia’s quick intellect. Maybe she’d take the hint and the box and leave. But she and Scott just hovered, murmuring to one another. From the gist of their conversation, Stiles could tell they were hoping to reconcile him with Derek. How thoughtful. And annoying. The fight abandoned him, draining away like someone had pulled a plug inside his chest. He sighed, resting his cheek against the cool metal of his locker door.

Who was he kidding? He was so full of crap. He might be fighting the idea of reconciliation, but he would never go after Derek with his rage. Any more than Derek could go after him with teeth and claws. No wonder people were meddling, trying to help them both deal with this mess. They were obviously still crazy about each other. Two inept losers trying to break up, it would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. He cast his gaze down and fiddled with the lock again, finally cracking it on his third attempt. Shifting backward, he opened the door, but didn’t try to remove anything from the locker. Just stood there, staring into it.

A second later he sneezed, because Lydia had saturated the air with her perfume. Derek would hate that, Stile thought, and endured another slash of pain. Come on. That wasn't even lust, was it? Maybe a little. Stop thinking about how he...anything. Stop thinking about anything.

“I can't. I just can't,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Maybe if we open it for him,” Scott said.

There was a ripping noise as they tore the wrapping, totally ignoring his fury and distress. This was what it meant to have friends. This was why being alone this week had been so relaxing.

“Wow! Can I get one?” Lydia said. “Not in black, obviously. Maybe a nice silver herringbone chain.”

“You're crazy. I can't even look at it,” Scott said. Sounding a little alarmed, he added, “Hey, we aren't supposed to touch it.”

“I'm holding the band. What is it going to do to me that's worse than a werewolf mauling?” Lydia asked, before addressing Stiles. “Hold out your arm.”

“I don't...”

“Just do it, before this thing gives me split ends or worse. It's making my teeth ache.”

Stiles sighed. Drawing on all of his courage, he turned around to look at his present. A black leather bracelet dangled from Lydia's pinched fingers. It didn't make his teeth ache. It sent a shot of adrenaline straight down his spine. And all sorts of sinful feelings swirled in his gut. One hand went to his mouth, fingers sliding along his lower lip. The bracelet mesmerized, arresting his attention. It was beautiful. He wanted it. Needed it.

“I'll take it,” he said and meekly offered his wrist.

As soon as Lydia buckled him into Derek's gift, Stiles felt his anxiety bleeding away. He slumped against the lockers as a shower of soothing energy rained down on him. He held his wrist up, turning it so they could all admire Derek's impeccable taste in tagging. A silver buckle clasped the braided leather bracelet closed. It wasn't a heavy piece, no more than a half inch wide, made from eight, thin, interwoven strips of black leather. The amulet, a sea-blue gem, had been worked into a complicated series of knots opposite the buckle. The leather was finished to a bunny softness. It caressed his skin and accented his wrist bones, making them look raw and masculine.

It was miraculous how quickly his head cleared. His back stopped throbbing, but the expected lethargy didn't buckle his knees. He felt invigorated, rather than half asleep. The reason for that became clear as he considered what Derek had already told him. Unlike the last one, this amulet was designed for an emissary. He wasn't completely human anymore. This amulet recognized that. It recognized him, when he stared into it. Stile could feel it surging into him as it consumed his inner darkness. It ebbed and flowed within his mind, elusive, there and gone, moving like surf. It seemed as vast and deep as the ocean and, yet, it did not overwhelm him. It quickly disposed of the burdens he'd been bearing for months. A brass bowl or icy bathtub would not stand against the tide of this cleansing.

The amulet spoke to Stiles. As soon as it touched his skin, it stirred the currents around him, focused them. When he closed his eyes, he could see them swirling with bright colors. Derek Hale owns you, the amulet told him. You can't escape him. As long as your blood flows you are bonded. Nobody else knows you like he does. Stiles nodded his agreement.

Yeah. I admit it. I’m his. Now everyone will know, because he's branded me. My power evident and his power over me, out there for all the world to see.

“Tell him I have it. And I'm fine,” Stiles said.

“You want to go finish lunch?” Lydia asked.

Stiles shook his head. “I’m late for…something.” He yanked his backpack from his locker, slammed the door and locking it closed, before he bolted away from them.

He did his best not to look at his wrist for the rest of the day. The amulet kept up a steady soothing murmur. It sorted him, stacking his emotions, shuffling his thoughts. By the end of the day he was feeling better than he had in weeks. He practically danced out of the building when the final bell rang. But he stopped cold when he reached his jeep. There was an envelope on his windshield, tucked under the wiper blade. He took one look at the handwriting before whipping it away from his car. Mouth pursed, he huffed a breath. No. He carried the missive to the nearest wastebasket and deposited it unread. No notes. No contact. Stiles felt steadier than he had since casting the spell, but that didn't mean he was ready to go back to Derek. He could do this. He didn't need a lash to break free of the bond.

His buoyant confidence lasted until he and his dad ran into Derek in the grocery store on Saturday. Stiles broke away from the cart and pretended to look for chips down another aisle. Derek didn’t try to follow him. Stiles sought out reflections in the security mirrors, watching Derek until he exited the store. He breathed a sigh of relief. But it was premature. Derek had left another envelope on their car. Before Stiles could stop him, his dad tore it open. A photo spilled into his dad's hand. It was the one Derek kept in his journal, or a copy of it. Stiles asleep.

“Someone’s stalking you,” the Sheriff said, handing the photo over. He didn’t sound very alarmed. Probably because it didn't take a degree in Forensic Detection to figure out who the stalker was.

“No,” Stiles said, flipping it over to look for identifying notes. There was nothing on the back. “Scott took this. He’s just—I don’t know…returning it?”

“Guess that’s what you do when you break up,” his dad said. “Jettison the reminders.”

“I guess.”

“You have anything of his?”

“A shirt,” Stiles said, remembering the day he'd gotten drenched by a sudden shower and Derek had offered him a dry layer. He had sort of forgotten to return the shirt, despite many opportunities. It was loose on him, long-sleeved, soft and purple. It smelled like the loft, like Derek. Not that Stiles sniffed it, because that would be weird. And he didn't wear it often. It was too big in the shoulders, stretched out by Derek's massive arms. But he liked the feel of it next to his skin sometimes after a bad dream. Or he used to like that. Now, the herbal smell would trigger pain. “I have a few books. And a couple of CD mixes. Susie Suh, Cowboy Junkies. Moping music.” He laughed as he added, “He’s got the worst taste. Emo all the way.”

One of the things Stiles enjoyed most about Derek was his determined moroseness. Teasing him could be so much fun, especially when he tried to stay stone-faced. He did his best to never offer Stiles a full smile in response to rapier wit, but sometimes he nearly doubled over fighting the urge to laugh. Stiles lived for those moments. He loved when a well-aimed barb cracked the facade, forcing Derek to smile. Sometimes there was tickling afterward. In pursuit of a break in the gloom, he'd started remixing Derek's CDs, shuffling peppy rap and pop songs between the mournful tracks. There was nothing quite like Derek's reaction to his speakers suddenly blaring “I'm Sexy and I Know It.”

“Scott could take the stuff back to him,” the Sheriff suggested, putting the car in gear and rolling out of their parking space.

“Yeah,” Stiles said, not quite agreeing with this plan.

He was in no particular rush to rid himself of the residue of their relationship. Derek’s small gifts weren’t acting as reminders, triggering the bond. There'd only been one lash this week. His dad had worked late and Stiles had taken advantage of the time alone. In the shower, soap sliding down his chest, he'd simply had to give in to his desire. Of course, his mind had gone to Derek. Despite making every effort not to recall that moment, his mind went there again as he fingered the edge of the photo. He wondered why Derek had felt the need to return it. Were the cravings worse for him? Stiles braced for a blow, but it didn’t come. Huh? He hadn’t thought this much about Derek since he’d cast the spell. And, yet, no pain. Maybe the new amulet really was countering the blood spell as well as the darkness pooled around his heart.

Late Sunday, after his father had gone to work, Stiles decided to push his luck. He stretched out on his bed and popped Derek's latest CD mix into his laptop. He let the music pour over him. Always before, intent on his joke, he'd never paid much attention to the lyrics. This time he noticed they followed a pattern, easily detected in the Susie Suh & Robot Koch song, “Here With Me.” Caught in the riptide, I was searching for the truth. There was a reason, I collided into you. It was a song about devotion. The singer was never quite separated from her love, even in their darkest hour, even when they were miles apart. Every song in the mix was like that. It was a love letter. How had he missed that? When he removed the CD from his laptop, he studied the label burned into it. It showed a silhouette of trees against a full moon with his name across its face. Stiles.

“God,” he said on a breath. “I'm such an idiot.”

Monday, after school, there was another envelope on his jeep. This one contained a picture of Derek sleeping. It wasn't a printout. It was a glossy wallet size photo, suitable for framing. It had been taken with Cora’s phone. Stiles recognized it as her screensaver shot. He’d snatched her phone once for a better look at it. And he'd thought of asking her for a copy, but hadn’t known how to start that conversation. Yes, I would like to stare at your sleeping brother for like...hours. She would have wanted to know more and what could he say? As it was, she'd given him a very long appraisal as he returned her phone. She was always doing that he realized, always cocking her head to the side or lifting an eyebrow whenever his conversation turned to Derek. Like she could smell it on them both. Maybe she could.

Stiles thought about throwing the picture away. But he'd wanted it so badly. And there was no twinge from his back, so he decided to ask Cora about it by text. She answered quickly, but didn't know what he was talking about. She hadn't sent the photo to him or anyone else. She and Derek had the only copies of that picture. Derek must have sent it to him. But she claimed to have no idea why he would do such a thing. Stiles didn't know either. Despite the gift of the amulet, he thought they were over. He'd certainly made his position clear. But this was the sort of picture you gave your lover as a reminder of your special connection. Imagine me sleeping next to you, it said. Unzipping the side pocket of his backpack, he tucked the picture inside and tried to put it out of his mind.

On Tuesday the envelope contained a card. He didn’t have to open it. Stiles could tell by the heft of it in his hand and the outline of flexible cardboard. He walked toward the trash can, but stopped short. Maybe he should, at least, look at the card. Curiosity got the better of him and he tore the envelope open. It was of those musical ones. The cover had a picture of a grinning orange tabby being prodded by a yellow duckling. Opening it, Stiles heard the first few bars of “I’m Walking on Sunshine.” He snapped the card closed quickly. What the hell? He looked at the envelope again. Definitely Derek’s writing, Stiles recognized the exaggerated loops and misplaced dot in his name. Using more caution than was warranted by Katrina and the Waves, he lifted the front of the card just enough to peek in and read the printed blurb. “You are my sunshine.”

“Seriously?” Stiles said, not caring that he sounded, and probably looked, crazy. His life path had just taken a turn into Bizarro world.

He started to rip the ridiculous gift in two, but, instead, thumbed it all the way open. It played that relentlessly cheerful tune again. Had Derek lost his mind? Had the break up sent him completely around the bend? Or was someone punking Stiles? He thought about Lydia and Scott with their heads together. He whipped around, hoping to surprise the prankster lurking. And saw Scott heading his way. Busted. Scott had forged Derek’s signature. He and Lydia had concocted some plan to play matchmaker. But why?

“Very funny, Scott,” Stiles yelled, brandishing the card.

“What?” Scott said, smiling in a bemused, rather than a knowing way.

“This card,” Stiles said, shaking it under Scott’s nose. “Why? Why would you do this to me?”

“Dude, I don’t know what you are talking about. Is it from Derek?”

“No, it is not from Derek. Derek would never send me a card with…sunshine inside.”

“Sunshine?” Scott said, snickering. “Like a happy card?” He made a quick grab for the envelope as he added, “Give it. This I have to see.”

Realizing his mistake, Stiles initiated a frantic game of keep away, but he was too slow or rather Scott was too nimble. Alpha wolves would always be stronger and quicker than him. Scott snatched the card and danced away. The merry melody played again, accompanied by Scott saying, “Oh, Dude? No!” before he burst into loud guffaws.

Stiles took advantage of Scott’s helpless mirth to sweep under his guard and retrieve the card.

“Yes, Scott. Very funny. My heartbreak is so amusing. If you didn't do this, who did?” He caught himself. “No! You know what? Never mind.”

His mouth twisted to the side, trying to contain his frustration. He ripped the card in two and threw it in the trash. The music played on as he stormed to his jeep. He opened the door to get in, but didn't. Katrina and the Waves sang the entire chorus while he stood there listening and puffing air through set, pursed lips. Son of a bitch. Son of a... Mumbling obscenities, he left the jeep open as he stomped back to the wastebasket. A brief rummage located the mutilated card. Stiles closed it and stuffed it back into its soiled envelope. Mercifully, that put an end to the relentless melody. Returning to his vehicle, he got in and roared off, determined get to the bottom of this before it escalated. He was halfway to Derek's place when he remembered it was no longer his place. Lips pulling back in a feral snarl, he wrenched the steering wheel over and parked on the side of the road.

Passing cars honked at him. He shot one of them a rude hand gesture. Then, he took out his phone and scrolled back through voicemails to the one that included the new address. Thankfully, he hadn't erased them. Fifteen minutes later he was pounding on Derek’s door at #15 Riverview Condos. Derek's car was parked out front, but Stiles double checked the address anyway. He just couldn't believe what his eyes were seeing. It was hard to imagine Derek, brooding creature of the night, living in the cute cottage-style condo. Where would he train his minions? Elsewhere, Stiles assumed.

That begged the questions: What would Derek be doing here? Besides taking his sweet time answering a knock? Waiting on the stoop, Stiles fidgeted, leaning back to admire the tasteful style of the new place. There was nothing uncomfortable or even slightly creepy about Number 15. The light blue stain on the wood exterior faked Cape Cod weathering. There were window boxes. The sort that would bloom with daisies or daffodils or tulips or something in the spring. Derek had window boxes. Through the glass above them Stiles could see a window seat. It had green upholstery with patchwork cushions. And beyond that he saw a home, cozy living room furniture, a TV and a number of open crates full of dishes and books. Not to say that Derek belonged in a burned out ruin or a loft with holes punched in the roof and walls, but here he had neighbors, close ones. What about spontaneous attacks? This place was open. There was a river view. A breeze stirred the leaves of sheltering trees around the porch. It had been designed to resemble a tiny veranda. The perfect place for a porch swing. Great! Now, he was redecorating.

Thank God Derek finally opened the door. He seemed younger and achingly human, that nice college kid next door. Stiles forgot to breathe for a second. He just stared at Derek. He was scruffy and barefoot, wearing checked, flannel pajama bottoms and a loose, dark blue t-shirt. He looked half asleep.

“Stiles? What?”

“You tell me,” Stiles said, handing him the remains of the card. “What the hell is this?”

“It’s a card.” Derek said, turning it over in his hands.

“Did you send it?”

“I suppose.”

“You suppose?” Stiles said, stretching out the verb, giving it a few extra syllables. “It plays music, Derek. Pop music. Katrina and the Waves. And there’s a duckling on the front. And what're you doing in your pajamas at this time of day? Are you sick?”

Derek chewed on his bottom lip. His nose wrinkled a little as he squinted down at the envelope. He looked confused. Shaking the card into his hand, he stared at it for a long minute as it sang for him. Self conscious at last, he silenced it by stuffing it back into the envelope.

“I can explain.”

“You can explain “Walking on Sunshine?” Stiles said. He crossed his arms. “Let’s hear you.”

“It’s…sunny. A sort of apology,” Derek said, obviously grasping at straws. Stiles prompted him with a one-handed, scooping motion that indicated he should keep going. “A peace offering. See? I’m the cat. Not grumpy anymore. And you are the duck. And, the song is a happy song. Everything is sunny. No hard feelings.”

“You,” Breath and reason ebbed and flowed for Stiles as he acted out his dismay with flailing. “You expect me to believe that you went into a store, walked down the card aisle, found that,” Stiles threw a gesture at the sad mess in Derek’s hands, “opened it, listened to the song, and thought, this will soften Stiles up?”

“Yeah?”

“No! No, you didn’t. You didn't do that. Was it Scott? Lydia? Isaac?” Stiles heard his voice break as he took a few wild stabs at who might have done this. “Why are you covering for them? Or signing envelopes when you have no idea what’s going to go inside? And why are you still in bed at 4:00 in the afternoon?”

“I was up late,” Derek said, still infuriatingly calm. “Shopping for cards. I’m sorry you don’t like it.”

“You are sticking to this story?”

“Yes,” Derek said. His sleepy gaze caressed Stiles' lips. Then, it floated away. Derek stared past Stiles toward his jeep as he asked, “Are you sticking to never seeing me again? Because you are seeing me right now.”

Stiles blinked and Derek glance at his lips again. “Oh, right!” That had been his plan.

“I don’t mind seeing you,” Derek said, soft and sexy. “Or being seen.”

“No, I guess that’s all me,” Stiles said. Caught off his stride, he forgot about his indignation. He turned to leave. “I need to get home.”

“You can come in, if you want,” Derek said, holding the door open wider. “We could talk. Are you sleeping okay? Are you healing?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, tempted to go inside. He rubbed at his neck. He'd been doing nothing but ogling Derek's scrumptious body for the last few minutes. The lack of painful lashes seemed curious. Because Derek looked like a potential boyfriend to Stiles. But no hunger sparked up between them, only some concern. “Actually, I’m good. Just tell whoever did this to stop. I don’t want any more cards or photos. Nothing left on, in or around my jeep. Okay?”

“The jeep is off limits,” Derek said.

“And my dad’s car,” Stiles added, narrowing his eyes because that was too easy. Derek was being way too nice, too cooperative.

He nodded his assent to these terms, yawning as he said, “Or your dad's car.”

“Seriously, Derek, are you sick or something? I mean, you look amazing, uh, healthy. But--?”

“I’m good,” Derek told him. He held out the envelope. “Want your card?”

“Sure…yeah,” Stiles said, taking it back. He hadn't wanted it before, but now, with Derek gazing placidly at him, it would feel rude to reject it. They stared at one another for longer than was comfortable. Something in Derek's lingering gaze told Stiles he also looked amazing, uh, healthy. Lust flared then and almost took control, but Stiles checked it in time. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

“It's okay,” Derek said. He stayed at the door, in his bare feet and pajamas, watching as Stiles walked back to his jeep. He lifted a hand as Stiles drove away.

There was nothing in, on or around his jeep the next day. Stiles ignored his twinge of disappointment and congratulated himself. His smug sense of accomplishment lasted until he arrived home to find a crated puppy on the porch. Not a picture of a puppy, but a living, breathing, squirming little ball of fur. It had puppy breath, sharp milk teeth and a blue bow around his neck. It started yipping as soon as it saw Stiles. Oh, my God! Derek wouldn't! Did he?

His hand went to his cellphone. Before he could stop to think it through, he'd punched in Derek's contact number. He paced along the porch as the call rang through.

“Have you lost your mind?” he said, when Derek answered.

“Maybe,” Derek said. “I got dumped so....”

“No, uh-uh, don't play with me, Derek. Just explain yourself. What is going on in that head of yours?”

“I'm wondering what this is about.”

“Did you get me a puppy?” There was a significant silence. “Derek?”

“Is there a bow?”

“A blue one. Yes.”

Derek sighed. “Then, I guess I did.”

“You guess? You are going to just...seriously, Derek? Oh, my God!”

“Lydia's dog had puppies.”

“This is one of Lydia's little bastard pups? How could you fall for her sales pitch? Prada breaks out and impregnates half the neighborhood twice a year. And she is always stuck with the litters.”

“It's a purebred poodle. Good blood lines. I thought you'd like a puppy.”

“You thought...? You? Prada's a Pomeranian, Derek. And from the look of this dust rag, its mother was a tribble. Did Lydia charge you for this thing? Are you on drugs of some kind?”

“If you don't like it, I can give it back.”

Stiles held the phone away from his face and glared at it. He mimed strangling someone. Then, he took a few mind cleansing huffs of air and spoke into the phone again.

“Oh, no, Derek, I love the puppy,” he snarled with exaggerated sweetness. “We are going to be best friends. In fact, I need someone to puppy sit while I'm at school. I hope you're available until I can find someone else.”

He heard Derek's sharp inhale and waited for the explosion. But, after another long pause, Derek said, “Sure. No problem. Shall I pick him up or do you wanna drop him by on your way to school?”

“You think I'm bluffing?”

“Why would I think that? Are you saying you don't need a puppy sitter?”

Stiles ground his teeth together. Somehow he'd ended up in the middle of a Monty Python sketch. Well, two could play the clueless game. He didn't have to be the straight man in this comedy act. “Oh, no, you are sitting on this puppy, Mister. You are taking little...uh...what's his face...? Fido or Spot or Rover for walkies in the dog park tomorrow. So, just get used to the idea.”

“Sebastian?” Derek said.

“What?”

“It's a nice name for a Pomeranian.”

“His name is Sparkles,” Stiles practically snarled. “See you at 6:30 am, sharp.”

“I'll be here.”

************************************************************

Derek sighed as the call ended. He fished in his pocket for his pill bottle. He had a headache. And it wasn't from the Stiles yelling at him. He looked across the room to his new kitchen bar. Scott, Lydia, Isaac and Allison sat watching him, all wearing assorted expressions ranging from pity to disdain. Weaving a little on his feet, he tried to focus on Lydia alone.

“You gave him the puppy? After I said, very clearly, no puppy.”

“He's just a tiny little thing. Sweet and quiet. A boy and his dog. It's wholesome. And Prada is a Papillon.”

“I don't care if he's a parsnip,” Derek said. “You are going to be here before noon tomorrow to take the little nuisance back to wherever he came from.”

“You can't give away your boyfriend's dog,” Allison said.

“Yeah, Dude, that's cold.”

“He's not my boyfriend. And it's barely his dog. He's had it for 45 minutes. And, here's the crucial point, I didn't give it to him. He doesn't want a dog. And I don't want him to have a dog, especially a Papillon.”

“I think someone is feeling a little territorial,” Lydia said, pinching her fingers down on the word 'little.'

“Tell me about it,” Isaac said. “You should see how manic he gets if you put your feet on his furniture.”

“Not feet,” Derek said. “Shoes. Muddy, greasy boots that have tramped, God knows where. Tracking scent all over the house. You left your underwear in the sink. You stirred your tea with my toothbrush.”

“Tea is food. It goes in the mouth,” Isaac said, obviously not seeing the problem. “The water had just boiled. How is that unsanitary?”

“Time out,” Scott said. “We're straying a little off topic here. We need to address the card. If Operation: Puppy Buddy fails how do we make up for Derek's tacky musical mistake?”

“You said pick out something sunny and bright,” Derek said. “So I did.”

Allison covered her mouth with her hand, but her smile leaked out as she cut her glance toward Isaac, who was bouncing in his seat with laughter.

Scott just shook his head and turned back to Derek. “How many of those happy pills are you taking?”

“Three a day.”

“Three? Dude, Deaton gave me one of those once and I was flat on my ass wasted. I'm surprised you can even stand up.

“What's he on?” Isaac asked. “And where do I score some?”

“Wolfnip,” Scott said. “It's a variant of wolfsbane. Makes us all mellow and neutered.”

“Does not neuter,” Derek grumbled. Though, come to think of it, he did sense a little space between his legs. He glanced down and his brain stopped working. The room got a slightly swimmy. Of course, the gang went babbling on about whatever it was they were on about, now.

“On second thought,” Isaac said, glancing at Allison. “Only, hang on, why don't the hunters just dose us with that at the full moon?”

That brought Derek back to the conversation. “Because, you idiot, the only thing worse than a 200-pound killing machine is a stoned 200-pound killing machine.”

“The mellowing properties only work during the waning moon,” Allison added. “The closer we get to the next full moon the less effective the pills become, eventually they'll start making him paranoid.”

That was depressingly true. In a few days, he'd have to come off the pills. Once he did it would only be a matter of time before he would need to get close to Stiles again. The Iron Bond's blood call would take over and they'd be back to pushing one another.

“We need to work fast,” Scott said. “Who has a new idea?”

“Right.” Turning all business, Lydia opened the file she'd brought and drew out a stack of papers. “Take one and pass it on,” she said, sliding the stack to Isaac on her left.

“What's this?” Isaac asked.

“I took the liberty of doing some online research. I wanted to find out what wooing techniques worked for other couples.”

Derek and Scott both nodded their approval. Lydia was no Stiles when it came to this stuff, Derek thought, but she was competent. Which is more than the rest of them were.

“So, what did you find?”

“I Googled the top 100 ideas for romantic dates. Some of them were questionable, in my opinion. I sorted the acceptable ones according to financial feasibility and, also, appropriateness for gender and age. Finally, I narrowed the list down to 87 suggestions. 'Give him a puppy' is number 33.”

“Is that because you put it in there?” Derek asked, snatching the paper from her hand. So much for her competence, he thought.

Lydia calmly took another sheet from her folder. “It might have said stuffed animal,” she admitted. “And is anyone else bothered by the fact that their couple name is Stale? That doesn't portend well.”

“I thought it was Diles,” Allison said. “First names, right? Brangelina?”

“Why are you looking at me?” Isaac asked. “I have no idea.”

“You guys would be Illison or Asaac,” Scott snorted. “Ass sac? Allsac? Largent?”

“Shut up, Scott.”

Derek stared down at the list in his hands. One of the ridiculous suggestions jumped out at him. “A hot air balloon ride? How am I supposed to get Stiles into a hot air balloon? Knock him out, first? Even if I could find a hot air balloon just sitting around somewhere.”

“I like number 28,” Isaac said, snickering. “A romantic moonlit walk.” He read from the page, “'Imagine a starry night and the full moon overhead.'”

“You have got to be kidding me?” Scott ran a fingertip down to the correct number and laughed.

“Nope,” Isaac said. “I can see it clearly. Your loved one screaming in terror as you chase him or her through the crunchy fall leaves, hoping to snack on a tasty liver.”

“I thought I edited that full moon part out,” Lydia said, peering down at her paper. “This is just...Oh, great! I printed the original copy. I can't believe I didn't notice the font. This is what happens when I have to squeeze your problems in between school, dating, and my Zumba class. It's rush, rush, rush. Moonlit walks can be romantic. But whatever, werewolves might not see it that way. How about horseback riding?”

“I'd scare the horses.”

“Ice skating?”

“Didn't you and Stiles already do that one?” Scott said. “That's a recycled date.”

“That wasn't a date?”

“Sure it was. You and Stiles. Me and Allison. Double dating. Peter was driving you crazy. Derek beat the crap out of me.”

“Good times,” Derek said in a monotone. “Moving on. All I've got so far is picnic and body painting.”

“Body painting?” Scott said, shooting Derek a ‘you dog’ wag of the eyebrows.

“Beats a pottery class for hands on.”

“Speaking of pottery,” Lydia said. “Does Stiles have any hobbies you could share?”

“His hobby is researching the supernatural,” Scott said. “They already share that. And he likes surfing and snowboarding and video games.”

“What about a sporting event?” Allison said. “Number 12. Stiles must like some team or other. Football? Hockey?”

“Basketball,” Scott said. “He likes basketball. The Trail Blazers.” He pointed at Derek as he recalled something vital about him. “And so do you. Something in common. You know, I bet that’s where all of this started. His dad used to take him to all of your home games.”

“You think he was crushing on Derek when he was six?” Isaac said.

Lydia wrinkled her nose. “That’s disturbing.”

“Basketball?” Derek nodded. “Not the worst idea. We shoot hoops at the park. I can get tickets to some game...somewhere...”

Isaac was already flipping through the search responses on his phone. “Portland Trail Blazers? Here we go. Playing next Wednesday at home.”

“You’re suggesting an eight hour drive on a school night?” Lydia asked, widening her eyes at Isaac, who blinked back at her. “And should Derek be driving at all in his current condition?”

Isaac turned his embarrassed squirm into a shrug and grumbled, “Why couldn’t Stiles be a fan of the Lakers? Who follows Portland?”

“They’re not a bad team,” Derek said. “Check Hill Valley College. The Rovers.”

Isaac’s fingers tapped out the request. “Yep. In town for a game on Saturday. Want tickets? I’ll need your credit card.” He held out a hand and made ‘gimme’ fingers.

Derek wasn’t stoned enough to fall for that one. Isaac might not hate him, exactly, but give him free access to a credit card and Lord knows what he'd do. He'd once signed Derek up for home deliveries from the Fruit of the Month Club. Eighteen bartlett pears and six tangerines a month for a year. This time it could be seven hundred magazine subscriptions. Derek lifted a knowing brow and crossed his arms.

“I can get tickets downtown, if he agrees to go,” he said.

“Suit yourself,” Isaac said, shrugging off his disappointment.

“Good. Progress is made. The sporting event is a definite maybe,” Scott said, he snickered again as he added, “Body painting and a picnic.”

“Speaking of hands on experiences,” Allison said, “What about number 75? Massage?”

“Oh, a spa day,” Lydia suggested. All three guys shook their head at her. “You don’t know what you're missing. It’s heavenly. And they have products for men.”

“Have you actually ever seen a man there?” Scott asked.

“Alfonzo, my masseur.”

“I’m not interested in Alfonzo getting his hands on,” Derek said.

“Or his hard on,” Scott added, high-fiving Isaac.

Derek squeezed the bridge of his nose as his headache spiked into the red zone. Why was he indulging these children? Oh, right! Because he sucked at dating and all of his relationships ended in painful tragedies.

“Sorry you let us in?” Allison asked him in a soft aside. Derek returned her little smile. He was a fan of the understated Argent humor.

“Well, this has been…no fun,” Derek said. He tipped his head at Lydia. “Thanks for the list. I think I can take it from here. Scott, go make your jokes somewhere else.”

“Come on, buddy, don’t be mad,” Scott said, reaching across the table to pat Derek’s arm. “We care about you. We just want you and Stiles to be happy.”

“I don't,” Isaac said, holding up a hand. “I'm just here for the laughs and free food. By the way,” he added, poking a bag of Doritos, “these chips are stale...like your couple name.”

“Get out,” Derek said, going to the sink for a water glass. He needed another pill.

He'd spoken softly, but everyone scrambled to gather up their things. Isaac tucked his phone into his pocket and headed for the door with Allison close behind him.

“Can you try not to be such a jerk all the time?” Allison hissed, elbowing Isaac in the ribs.

“He threw me out in the middle of the night,” Isaac said, “into a raging storm, without a change of underwear. And that was after he tried to smash my head open with a glass. And he made me a werewolf. He was my Alpha. Excuse me if I find this love sick puppy curse of his hilarious.”

Scott exchanged a look with Lydia, who was pointing at the retreating couple. She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes when he shook his head. Derek watched the exchange with limited interest. Lydia seemed to be urging Scott to some action, though Derek was too tired to care about teenagers and their drama. He had his hands full with Stiles. Privately, he agreed with Isaac. This whole situation was embarrassing. A grown man infatuated with a reluctant seventeen year old boy deserved to be humiliated, not indulged. And his chips were a month old.

He closed his eyes and leaned into the counter. Behind him he heard Lydia hesitate at the door and then sashay over to his side. He looked down at her when she placed a light hand on his arm. “What I said earlier about the portents,” she said. “I was just kidding. They're all good. He's coming back to you. I can feel it.”

“Thanks,” Derek told her, sincerely. And she patted him and followed her friends out into the cooling afternoon.

****************************************************************************** 

At 6:30 sharp the next morning, Stiles pounded on Derek’s door. It was cold and rainy out. Derek loved miserable weather, but he generally didn’t need to walk a dog every few hours. He hugged himself against a cutting wind, as he answered. Wishing he’d put on a robe, he squinted into the watery light. Stiles looked good. He wore Derek’s favorite shirt, the black one with lighter stripes and the v-neck. It was the only thing he owned that showed off his muscles. And it hinted at a light dusting of chest hair. Come to think of it, that shirt might be the only v-neck he owned. Over the shirt, he wore a grey hoodie and puffy red vest, because you couldn’t take the nerd out of Stiles. He was gazing into the middle distance as Derek opened the door, but he had his amulet on and seemed less exhausted.

He turned as the door squeaked and said, “Good morning, Sunshine. Ready to puppy sit.”

He offered Derek a pet carrier. It rocked like a ship at sea with the shifting weight of the skittering, yipping animal inside it. Derek took the burden. Their fingers brushed at the exchange and Derek felt his knees weaken. Damn, he had it bad. Even hopped up on wolfnip, he could get morning wood. He held the carrier at eye level so he could peer through the wire door. A mostly beige fur ball launched itself at his face, snarling and barking. I will kill you! the little shit screamed at him in canine-speak. I’ll rip off your eyebrows. And stuff them up your furless, fleshy nose. Derek curled his upper lip and growled a warning at it. Anything that size with an ounce of sense would have backed off with a subservient whimper. But Sparkles doubled down on savagery. His canine curses became incoherent, full of boasts and posturing. I am the Alpha. I will always be the Alpha. Touch my squeaky and die.

“Am I going to have to soak you two with a bucket of water to break this up?” Stiles asked.

Derek lowered the carrier and said, “Cute. Reminds me of Peter. We’ll be best friends by this afternoon.” He didn’t add, or I will have murdered the little monster, but Stiles seemed to hear it anyway.

“Don’t kill him, okay? He’s just a puppy. He doesn’t know any better.” He handed Derek a tote bag, which had been resting by his foot. “Here. His food, leash and squeak toys.”

“You bought toys?”

“They have a puppy starter kit at Petco.” Stiles nodded at the logo on the bag and Derek turned it so he could read the store name. “He’s not paper trained. So keep him in the crate, but he has to go for a walk every three hours or after he eats.”

“We’ll be fine. Go to school.”

“Uhm…okay. Thanks.” Stiles tapped the side of the cage and said, “Goodbye, Sparkles. Be good.”

He started down the porch steps, but stopped on the first step, twisting at the waist to look back at Derek.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.

Derek flashed him the brightest smile he could manage while dealing with the idea that Stiles showed every intention of keeping the puppy. “Positive.” Stiles didn't move. Derek tried to think of something else to say, finally settling on, “How's your back?”

“Better.” Stiles held up his arm to flash the amulet. “This thing is great. Drains the darkness out of me. No more pain.”

Derek wanted to tell him to stop lying, but what he actually said was, “Do you want to go to the Rover's game on Saturday?” He couldn't believe it just popped out of his mouth like that, so easy.

Apparently, it shocked Stiles, too. He did a double take. “What?”

“I scored a couple of tickets. It's Sacramento. Should be a good game.”

“Like...a date?”

“Or two guys at a game. You can meet me there. Buy your own popcorn. I promise not to get handsy.”

“What part of 'I don't want to see you any more' do you fail to understand?”

“The part where you keep coming to my house.”

“I can find someone else to pet sit.”

“That's not what I meant.”

“I don't know, Derek,” Stiles said. “I don't think going to a game a good idea.” He shifted his shoulders. “I still get...side effects, sometimes. I can deal with it, but….”

“Just a thought,” Derek said, shrugging. He turned away to avoid any trace of disappointment showing on his face. “See you after school.”

*********************************************************************

“Yeah. Uhm,” Stiles said, feeling a little hurt by the dismissal, but he was talking to the door. “Don’t try to convince me or anything,” he muttered.

Though why Derek should bother trying to convince him, he couldn't imagine. He'd made his position very clear. They weren't going to date. Still, he waited, thinking Derek might open the door again. When he didn’t, Stiles puffed out a sigh. Faking nonchalance, he bounced down the sidewalk to his jeep. He hopped in, but didn’t key the ignition. Instead, he sat gripping the wheel and gazing down the road to the river.

“I know you didn't give me that dog, Derek,” he said, because werewolf ears would certainly still be tuned in to him. “I don't know why you're playing this game. Why you're acting so weird. I mean, sure, maybe I deserve to be jerked around a little. I was stupid, reckless. I should have talked to you about the spell. But you're driving me crazy with this meek and mousy act. Don't ask me to a game. Yell at me. Mock me. Let’s get this fight out in the open.”

There was no way for him to tell if Derek was moved or amused by this speech. There was no chance Stiles would hear him if he replied and he didn't come to the door or window. Stiles considered going back to the condo. He could set off a showdown. That's right, he thought, I could make you want me again. This spell doesn't cover you, does it? And then you'd do something. He watched the window for a minute or two longer, but the curtains didn't twitch. His eyes burned a bit and he brushed at them impatiently. His mouth contorted as he fought back more choice words. The silence stretched until he started feeling foolish.

With another curse, he punched his palms into the steering wheel. The pain cleared his head. He started the jeep, slammed it into gear and roared away from the curb. Throughout the day, he imagined what Derek might be doing. How he might be feeling. There was no pain when he thought about him, now, because his thoughts were more curious than obsessive. Sparkles acted as a buffer on lustful cravings. The picture of Derek walking the tiny pup on a leash or cleaning up his messes kept making Stiles smile, despite the turmoil in his heart.

When he picked up Sparkles that evening, he asked, “Are they good tickets?”

“Pretty good. Row six, just left of center.”

“Wow!” Stiles exclaimed, impressed. Those were good seats. Derek lifted an eyebrow of inquiry. Stiles studied him, trying to work out what his angle might be. Finally, he said, “Okay. I'll go to the game. No touching. None.”

“I'll stick to undressing you with my eyes,” Derek said, handing over the dog carrier and tote bag.

Stiles didn't know what to say to that. He glared at him, lips pressed together. He knew everything he was thinking was plain on his face. Derek's smart ass remarks were a blatant challenge. Stiles subtly worked his jaw back and forth, trying to relax the bunched muscles. He wanted to lash out, start a fight, but he honestly couldn’t justify it. So, he reigned in his temper. This blandly sarcastic Derek made him want to scream or smack him, or better yet kiss him. Kiss him until he broke and was begging for it. Anything to snap him out of this polite detachment he was cultivating.

Derek might be simmering on the inside, but from the outside he seemed to have no romantic interest in Stiles whatsoever. Where had all of his passion gone? He was like a neutered dog. It might be taking every ounce of his willpower not to break, but Stiles couldn't sense any anger in him. What he did feel was his own resolve melting away. He'd been expecting active resistance to the break up, an all out assault. And it hadn't developed. In fact, the walls Stiles had painstakingly erected to protect himself from Derek's attempts to reconnect seemed to have no foundation. Derek had not only behaved like a perfect gentleman, he'd secured a date. And left Stiles speechless. For the first time in their acquaintance, Derek wasn’t anchored by anger. He'd become hard to read and Stiles felt compelled to pursue him. He could never resist a mystery.

END THIS PART