It looks like Jackson’s gone for good this time. Sure, he and Lydia have had some epic fights over the years, but most of them didn’t result in Jackson actually leaving town, and he’d never actually stayed gone for more than a week. The final sign that this time it was for real was when Jackson sent Danny, his best friend and business partner, to the house to supervise the movers packing up Jackson’s closet full of Hugo Boss, his framed college lacrosse jerseys, and all the expensive electronics in his douche-tastic “man cave.” Danny even got to drive off in Jackson’s Porsche.
At least Danny’d had the grace to look slightly apologetic about it. Stiles has always been strictly forbidden from even touching the Porsche.
Now Lydia’s en route to Chicago to meet with clients, and she’s left Stiles with very specific orders to have the house completely redecorated by the time she gets back. Which is just great. Just what he needs. After he drops Lydia off at the airport in Redding, Stiles doesn’t waste any time telling his housemates precisely how screwed he is.
“This is bullshit! Just because I sometimes like to do it with dudes doesn’t mean I know anything about interior design. Fucking Queer Eye. How am I supposed to live up to that?”
“Sorry, dude,” says Scott.
“I’m here, I’m queer, and my life is a mess! Deal with it!” Stiles shouts. “Really, Lydia should know better. She’s seen how I dress. She knows I don’t know about style.”
“But she’s hurting, Stiles,” says Allison, “even if she doesn’t like to show it. And she trusts you.” Allison’s right, of course, like she so often is. Being Lydia’s assistant was never in Stiles’s life plan, but he does a damn good job. He’s earned that trust.
“I don’t know why she’s crying over that jerk.” Metaphorically, he means. He’s never actually seen Lydia cry. “He was never good enough for her.”
Isaac looks confused. “I thought you weren’t into Lydia anymore,” he says, pointing an accusing finger in Stiles’s direction.
“I’m not! This is one hundred percent not about me being in love with Lydia, because that was over in high school. But that doesn’t change the fact that Jackson is the world’s biggest douchecanoe and isn’t worthy of even talking to Lydia, let alone dating her for so long.”
Stiles has matured enough to know that even if Jackson wasn’t around, he and Lydia wouldn’t have worked as a couple, but that doesn’t mean Stiles had to like the guy. Beneath Lydia’s tough facade was a smart, ambitious woman who demanded to be taken seriously. Beneath Jackson’s was a bitter, insecure asshole. Lydia deserves only the best, and Stiles hates seeing her disappointed or upset.
“He’s not lying,” says Scott.
“Of course I’m not lying, wolf-boy.”
It’s really annoying that Scott can do that. Stiles is not the best liar in the world, but growing up he often took advantage of the fact that Scott was more than a little bit gullible. (“Just because I see the best in people doesn’t mean I’m gullible, Stiles.” “Au contraire, mi amigo, that is exactly what it means!”) Ever since that rogue alpha bit Scott during college, Stiles has had to deal with the sad fact that he can’t lie to Scott anymore, at least not if he expects to get away with it. It makes playing pranks on him that much harder.
“I don’t know what you’re stressing about,” says Scott. “Just call Laura.”
“Laura?” asks Allison. Stiles isn’t the only one who doesn’t quite see how Scott’s obvious solution is either obvious or a solution.
“Yeah, Laura Hale. Talia’s daughter.”
“Is she the older or the younger one?”
“The older one,” says Scott. “She and Derek have a decorating business. She’s an interior designer, he’s a painter.”
That’s news to Stiles. “Laura Hale, scion of the local alpha werewolf, has a decorating business?”
“Uh, yeah. Where’ve you been, man?” Apparently Allison gets a free pass since she didn’t grow up in Beacon Hills, but Stiles is just expected to know these things.
“Oh, I don’t know. Managing Lydia’s life? Writing my novel? Not getting invited to all your wolfy meetups?”
Stiles wasn’t bitter about being mostly excluded from Scott’s new pack. Back in San Francisco, it’d been Stiles helping Scott through those first terrible full moons, and it’d been Stiles who found the werewolf support group—it turns out that you get enough kids together on a college campus, at least a handful of them turn out to be werewolves living away from their packs for the first time—and went to all the meetings with him.
Werewolf support group was how they’d found Scott’s new pack in the first place, which made Stiles indirectly responsible for that as well. One of the born werewolves from group told Scott and Stiles about the Hale pack back in Beacon Hills. Their alpha, Talia Hale, was well known around California and the Pacific Northwest despite coming from an otherwise under-the-radar town. Scott and Stiles knew the Hales, of course. Beacon Hills wasn’t that big, and the Hales stood out, living on all that land out in the middle of the woods—plus the whole family was freakishly gorgeous and athletic. They’d had classes with Cora in high school, but never suspected she and her siblings were anything but human. When they came back home, Scott went to Talia, who accepted him into her pack, but apparently the pack didn’t need Scott’s human sidekick. Definitely not bitter about that.
“Just call her tomorrow morning. You’ll like Laura.” Scott’s doing that thing with his face, that thing where he looks just like puppy, all bright smile and imploring eyes. It’s manipulative bullshit, is what it is, because Scott knows Stiles can’t say no to that face.
Stiles isn’t sure he wants to like Laura, but liking her is probably irrelevant, because if she’s half as good as Scott claims she is, she’s just what he needs to save himself from Lydia’s wrath and a future of tragic unemployment.
Stiles does call Laura first thing in the morning while he’s heating up Prada’s breakfast—sometimes he thinks the elderly canine eats better than he does—and explains the project’s scope and urgency. Lydia’s back from Chicago in a week, and she wants every room in the house redecorated. No reminders of Jackson Whittemore.
Maybe because she picks up on the slight edge of panic in Stiles’s voice, Laura agrees to meet him at Lydia’s in a few hours. Even that seems too long to wait around doing nothing, so Stiles decides to use the time to get a head start on packing up Lydia’s books and personal items. She said the furniture needed to go, but she’d probably be pretty upset if she came home to find her stuff was gone with it. Come to think of it, maybe he should start with her shoe collection, which just might be the thing Lydia would miss most.
Not for the first time, Stiles wonders how this is his life.
Okay, it’s not that big of a mystery, not if you read the news, like, ever. He graduated at the tail end of a recession with a BA in creative writing and more student loan debt than he cares to think about it. Scott has the same debt problems, but at least nursing school had qualified him for an actual job and he didn’t have any trouble finding one. Stiles was busy working on the novel that’s destined to land him his big break, a mystery novel featuring a werewolf detective—exactly the type of commercial fiction most of his classmates despised—but in the meantime, he had to pay the bills.
Enter Lydia Martin, Stiles’s former high school crush. Much to his surprise, Lydia and Jackson had also returned to Beacon Hills after four years of reigning over the MIT Math Department and captaining Harvard’s lacrosse team, respectively. Before graduation Lydia had started her own consulting business, and she easily relocated its headquarters from her Cambridge apartment to her new home office. Stiles was a Humanities major, so he still doesn’t completely get the point of the whole “consulting” thing, beyond the fact that it meant Lydia travels around the country earning lots of money telling other companies’ research divisions that they’re all idiots. It also means she needs her own personal assistant and can afford to pay for the privilege.
In another life, Stiles thinks he’d have been her butler or something.
Laura shows up right on time, and Stiles doesn’t feel one bit less like a butler when he goes to answer the door. (Do butlers answer doors? He’s not sure. He mentally reminds himself that he ought to get around to reading The Remains of the Day sometime.)
“Hi, I’m Stiles. Come on in.”
“Thank you,” she says, stepping into the foyer. “Laura Hale, Hale’s Decorating and Painting.”
Stiles never really knew Laura before. He’d been to the Hale house a couple times in high school and met a few of the assorted family members, but Laura was already away at college by then. He’s immediately struck by how much Laura looks like Cora. She’s got the same long brown hair and dangerous looking brown eyes, she’s just older and taller.
“The werewolf decorator.”
“Not what you expected, huh?”
“You’ve gotta admit interior design doesn’t exactly scream ‘creature of the night.’”
“What, you think we all live in decrepit old buildings? Personally, I’m not partial to cobwebs, and disaster chic is so last year.”
Stiles snorts. “Okay, Scott was right. I do like you. So you really think you can give this place a makeover in a week?”
“To be honest, we’ve never done anything this big before, but if we work overtime all week, yeah, we can do it.” She pauses and glances around the room. “There’s a lot of nice stuff here already. You’re sure Ms. Martin said the whole house?”
“She told me she wants everything gone. When I asked if she wanted anything specific she just said ‘I don’t care, Stiles. Do whatever you want, just don’t make it look like that stupid frat house you live in.’”
Stiles had protested that it wasn’t a frat house, but Lydia insisted that it may as well be considering he literally lived on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Technically, the street didn’t have a name, but somehow Stiles knew that wasn’t really going to help his argument. So what if he and his friends were renting their house from the bank? And so what if it happened to be one of the only finished houses in an abandoned development? It wasn’t a frat house.
He’d fought back with, “But we don’t even have a beer pong table,” which at least made Lydia laugh. (He may have a milk crate nightstand, but he’s nearly 25 now. He has some standards.)
“Got it, no beer pong tables,” says Laura, when Stiles tells her as much. “What’s her style?”
“She’s pretty high femme. I think it’s her way of saying ‘fuck you’ to anyone who thinks she can’t be feminine and the smartest, most manipulative asshole in this town. So maybe less, like, glass and chrome or whatever, and more, I don’t know, throw pillows?”
Laura’s taking notes while Stiles talks, but stops to let out a laugh at that last bit.
“Look, I don’t know shit about decorating, that’s why I called you.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll do all the heavy lifting, you just lend me your knowledge of Lydia’s tastes, and it’ll be great.”
“Okay. You ready for the nickel tour?”
Laura’s grinning when she gets back to the office.
“This is going to be a fun one, Der,” she says, already plugging her iPhone in to her computer to download her photos of Lydia’s house.
“The client wants her whole house redecorated while she’s out of town on business this week. It’ll be just like one of those HGTV shows!”
“Not Design On A Dime, I hope.” Derek grimaces. If the job involves stenciling nautical themed shapes on walls or spray painting particleboard with fake wood grain, he’s out.
“Definitely not. Stiles said not to worry about the money. Lydia’s given him full reign to make all the decisions and spend her money.”
“Stiles? The Sheriff’s kid? The one Scott won’t shut up about?” Derek likes Scott, alright? They’re pack now, and he’d really like for them to be brothers, but if Scott’s not going on about how beautiful and perfect his girlfriend Allison is, he’s telling stories about his amazing, hilarious best friend Stiles. To hear Scott talk about him, you’d think Stiles is the smartest, funniest, most creative guy in Beacon Hills. It’s infuriating.
“The one and only. He’s Lydia’s assistant.”
“Scott’s best friend is Lydia’s assistant? I thought he was supposed to be some kind of genius writer.”
“Derek, you’re a painter. Don’t be a snob,” says Laura. “And no speeches about the purity of working with your hands.”
Derek’s tempted to have a go at it, just to spite her. He’s not the best at dealing with people, he knows that, but put a paintbrush in his hand and he’s in his element. He knows all the DIY enthusiasts and weekend warriors think that anyone can paint a room, but he’s a professional, and he takes pride in his work. It may not be the fucking Sistine Chapel, but he knows a well painted wall can completely transform a room.
Laura’s already moved on. Heedless of Derek’s internal debate, she’s flipping through books of swatches and paint samples on her desk. “Wait. Are you jealous?” she asks.
“Who’s Derek jealous of?” asks Cora as she saunters into the office and perches at the edge of Derek’s desk.
“Stiles Stilinski. Scott loves him more than Derek.”
“Scott doesn’t… I’m not jealous.” Derek hates it when his sisters gang up on him. It happens at least twice a day.
“I think you’ll like him. He’s pretty funny.” He may not share it with everyone, but Laura happens to know that Derek has a pretty sarcastic sense of humor. She looks to Cora for confirmation.
“He talks too much,” is all Cora has to say. She shrugs.
Laura gets back to business, catching up Derek and Cora on the particulars of their new job. Almost all of the furniture is going, with a few notable exceptions, like Lydia’s grandmother’s antique writing desk. They’ll be repainting every room and replacing fixtures. Stiles says all the major appliances are staying, as is the kitchen cabinetry. If Laura wants to replace flooring, that’s her call, but he thinks most of it is fine.
“Cora, I need you to call Erica and Boyd. We’ll need them for this one. I want you and Boyd to start getting furniture out of there first thing tomorrow morning. Derek, you can start priming walls as soon as rooms gets emptied, and you get the others to help you as soon as they’re done with furniture.”
“What about you?” asks Derek.
“Oh, I’m taking Stiles shopping!” she says with obvious glee. Laura’s wrong. This doesn’t sound like fun, it sounds more like torture.
Derek pulls up to the house just after Cora and Boyd, who’ve parked a rented U-Haul at the front of Lydia’s driveway, next to Laura’s Camaro and a beat up looking blue Jeep. Derek’s own Toyota Tacoma is much more practical than Laura’s car, and it’s currently full of the all the painting gear he’ll need to get started on the house.
“You know, I thought you guys had a big house,” says Boyd. “Pretty sure you could fit your house inside this one at least twice.”
It’s excessive, Derek thinks, especially since he got the impression from Laura that Lydia has all this space just for herself.
Derek leads the way to the front door. He knocks, and a young man answers, gesturing with a pack of post-it notes as he talks, loudly, to no one visible.
“... notes on anything I want for the house. Make sure they don’t throw it out.”
Derek doesn’t remember the Stilinski kid having such curly hair, but… “Stiles?”
“Isaac. Hey, Boyd. Cora,” he says, nodding at them. “And I guess you’re Derek. Come on in.” He raises his voice again to shout, “Hey, Stiles, the rest of the Hales are here!”
Derek hears a muffled voice shout back “Coming!” followed by the footsteps of someone jogging unevenly down the stairs. Stiles—this time it must be him—claps Isaac on the shoulder then runs a hand through his already messy brown hair. There’s a slight morning chill, and Stiles has apparently defended against it by layering his clothes like it’s going out of style, with a baggy cardigan over a plaid shirt, and an SFSU tee peaking out from underneath.
Belatedly, Derek realizes that all this time Scott’s been talking about Stiles, he’s imagined him as the gangly kid with a buzz cut that showed up once to work on a school project with Cora. Clearly he’s grown into his long limbs, even if his fashion sense hasn’t matured all that much. Not that Derek has much room to talk fashion wise, dressed as he is in crisp white Dickies and a Hale’s Decorating and Painting tee. It’s not exactly haute couture.
And Derek should maybe pay attention, because Stiles is explaining something to Boyd and Cora.
“Most of the furniture’s gonna be consigned. There are few things Lydia wants to keep, but I marked those already. Isaac’s putting post-its on stuff that’s going back to our house, so don’t worry about those either. I guess I’ll try to put them in the Jeep later.” He reaches up to muss the back of his hair some more before continuing. “Prada’s upstairs sleeping in Lydia’s bedroom. She’s a little nervous around new people, so just try not to startle her. And her stuff stays, obviously.”
“Prada?” Derek asks, when Stiles finally pauses for breath. Who or what the hell is Prada?
“Lydia’s dog. I don’t know what she was thinking with the name. It was high school, and she did always love her designer labels. Still does. I would know, since I’m the one packing up her closets. Like I said, she’ll probably just sleep, so long as you don’t get all ‘grrrr’ on her.”
Did he actually just make claw hands while he said that? Derek doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just stares. It’s too bad Derek’s previously disposed to resent Stiles, because beneath all the plaid he’s clearly attractive. He has these moles on the side of his face and… no, that is the wrong direction for Derek to take his thoughts.
Fortunately, Laura appears behind Stiles to break the silence. “Stiles and I are going to go look at new furniture. We’ll be back around noon with lunch.” She pushes Stiles past her team—and Isaac—and out the door.
“Oh, okay, I guess we’re leaving. See you guys later! Isaac, don’t try to label Jackson’s stupid fainting couch while I’m gone. That thing is not going in my house.”
As Laura and Stiles drive off in the Camaro, Derek finally steps beyond the foyer into the living room. There are, indeed, neon green post-its with “ISAAC” written in block letters tacked onto several pieces of furniture around the room, and Isaac’s back to scouting out more.
“I told you he talks too much,” says Cora.
Derek’s not quite sure what just happened, but “too much” isn’t all that bad of a descriptor. Too much time that he’s going to spend thinking about Stiles running long fingers through messy brown hair, or those moles on his face, perhaps. But still, apt.
Laura Hale is terrifying. Not because she’s a werewolf, but because she drives a sports car and has an all too casual relationship with the local traffic laws. For once it might be a relief to get pulled over by his father, but apparently the Sheriff is too busy with other things to save his son from maniac interior decorators.
Laura drags Stiles across the entirety of Beacon County to look at furniture, or at least that’s what it feels like. There’s the consignment store, the huge outlet, and that weird little boutique on Main Street that Stiles somehow never noticed before. She says she’s got a tentative vision for the house, but wants to get Stiles opinion on some furniture choices, since he’s the one who knows Lydia best.
Based on his extraordinarily limited knowledge, Laura’s suggestions seem pretty good. At the very least, none of the furniture they look at strikes him as actively ugly. He’s better at making judgements based on comfort rather than aesthetics, and on that front he thinks he can actually help Laura out. He’s kind of an expert at sitting on couches, and he’s proud to ensure that Lydia will have a comfortable place to crash and watch The Notebook on Netflix at the end of a long workday.
It’s getting close to noon, so they stop by the deli near the Sheriff’s station—still no one appears to stop Laura’s rampage through Beacon Hills—to pick up lunch for Laura’s crew.
“You know, crazy driving aside, you’re really not as awful as I thought,” says Stiles while they’re waiting for their order.
“Wow, you really know how to flatter a girl.”
“That is so not what I meant. I mean, it was, but it came out wrong.” Trying to backtrack isn’t really doing him much good. “In my head, I did not just give you some cheesy rom-com line. It’s just always made me mad that Scott gets to be part of a pack and I don’t.”
“You’re not a werewolf, Stiles,” says Laura, matter-of-factly.
“Well, duh.” He knows that. That’s not the point. “Scott’s my brother, and when he got the bite in college, I was the one who made sure he didn’t kill anyone. I’m the one who dragged his furry ass to group. I even made brownies! From a box, but still.”
“Okaaay.” Clearly Laura’s not quite getting it yet, so Stiles continues.
“I was his pack, but then we came back here, he got a new one without me! I thought your whole family must really hate humans or something.” He shrugs. It all sounds kind of stupid out loud like that, but it’s the truth.
“Okay, first, have you talked to Scott about this?”
“I have dropped the heaviest of hints.”
Laura eyes him, eyebrows arched.
“And it’s Scott,” he says, “so it’s possible he didn’t pick up on them.”
“Scott definitely thinks of you as part of his pack. He talks about you almost as much as he talks about Allison.”
Laura nods. “Second, we don’t hate humans! But most of the pack is family. We’re born wolves. None of us has a choice about being part of the pack, it’s just who we are. You want in? You’ve got to actually say so.”
Stiles jumps when he hears their order number called out and runs to grab their food.
“Seriously, Stiles,” she says on the way to the car. “Talk to Scott.”
“Yeah, okay... yeah.”
“If you don’t, I’m decorating Lydia’s house as a hunting lodge.”
“Is that a challenge? I really hope Lydia likes antlers.” Laura’s got a predatory glint in her eyes that makes Stiles believe that not only would she do it, she’d probably hunt down the deer herself. And enjoy it. Maybe it’s wiser not to cross her.
Isaac’s still at the house when Stiles and Laura get back, apparently having decided to help Cora and Boyd load up furniture. They’re getting paid and Isaac’s not, but the situation clears itself up when Stiles notices how Isaac hangs on Cora’s every word during lunch.
What Stiles doesn’t understand is why every time he looks up, Derek is staring at him. Derek seems confused, and it’s making Stiles really self-conscious. Laura’s explaining something about a woman named Erica and draperies that Stiles can’t really follow, because he’s too busy trying to figure out what’s wrong. He’s not eating his meatball sub any differently than usual. He triple checks for marinara sauce on his shirt, but for once his style is safe from the red menace. He can’t figure out what’s up, so he goes to his standby for awkward situations involving hot werewolves: mindless chatter.
“But once we’re at the party, Scott abandons me almost immediately to go make out with Allison in the corner. Seriously, I love him, but he is the worst wingman ever. I get a couple of tequila shots in me and decide it’s time to turn on the ol’ Stilinski charm, shut up, Isaac, and go get the shit kicked out of me by love.”
“You did not just quote Love, Actually,” says Isaac.
“Fuck you, Richard Curtis is a genius.” Isaac is a philistine, but Stiles isn’t really offended, of course. He can tell he’s got his audience. Laura, Cora, and even Boyd are laughing, and Derek’s momentarily left off looking so puzzled, though his rapt attention hasn’t changed.
“Anyway,” Stiles continues, “I’m talking to this guy who’s got this whole young Robert Downey, Jr. slash taller Daniel Radcliffe with an American accent thing going on…”
“By talking he means ‘making out,’” says Isaac, earning him a glare from Stiles.
“Who’s telling the story here?” He’s really not the type of guy who makes out with random strangers in bars on a regular basis, so he was trying to tell the story without giving that impression.
“I’m just trying to help,” says Isaac, sweetly. Damn him and his cherubic curls. It makes it so much harder to be truly pissed at him.
“So he says he thinks I’ve got this great energy, and he’d love to feed off of it. Which, okay, that’s not the smoothest pick up line ever, but like I said, he was hot. Also tequila. But then he says he’s a vampire, not like the Twilight kind, a real one, and I’m like ‘hell, no’ and pulled a knife to his throat. He panicked and started shouting for help and pleading that he didn’t have to actually drink my blood, he could justy psychically feed on me and please don’t kill him.
“Somebody called the police, and they ended up taking both of us to the station. I told them what happened but they weren’t really buying my ‘defending myself from the undead’ story, but thank God I convinced my Dad to call the station, and he talked them out of actually arresting me.”
“You’re just as weird as I remember,” says Cora.
“I’ll take that as the compliment it obviously is,” says Stiles. He’s not embarrassed about being weird anymore. It’s his personal brand.
Derek looks puzzled again. “Why did you have a knife at a party?”
“Didn’t they teach you in werewolf scouts to be prepared, Derek? Swiss Army Knife. I couldn’t have actually cut his head off with it, but apparently vampires aren’t as tough as they’re cracked up to be.”
“He wasn’t a real vampire,” says Laura, matter-of-factly.
“How do you know?” Stiles asks. The guy had seemed pretty convinced at the time.
“Because the whole psychic vampire thing is a bunch of New Age crap.”
“She’s right,” says Derek. “They say they’re real and vampires just get a bad rap from Bela Lugosi films, but no vampire is actually interested in your aura, and a pocket knife wouldn’t do you any good against one.”
Wow, it turns out Derek Hale actually does speak in full sentences. That’s the most he’s said to anyone through the entire meal.
“Good to know.” Apparently Stiles is just really attractive to delusional goths? “Next time I’ll bring my stake.”
“Don’t forget your garlic. And a cross,” Derek adds.
Is he for real? From what little Stiles has read about vampire lore he really thought those were just superstitions, especially the garlic. What the hell do Mediterranean vampires do? And why just garlic, and not onions or chives?
“You’re just messing with me, aren’t you?” He has to be.
The corner’s of Derek’s mouth are turned up, and it looks like he’s suppressing a laugh. He ought to do that more often. Not that the scary, grizzly man look isn’t working for him, but Derek is almost irresistibly attractive when he smiles.
“Jesus, Isaac, how much of this shit are we taking home?”
Isaac’s not around to hear Stiles complaining, since he took off for his shift at his actual job hours ago. It’s late, but when Laura left for the night with Cora and Boyd in tow, Derek opted to stay and finish priming the dining room walls, so he’s the only one left to pick up on Stiles’s distress. Since he’s finally finished for the night, Derek figures it wouldn’t hurt to stick around just a little bit longer and help Stiles out with his furniture problems.
It isn’t hard to find Stiles. Derek just follows the sound of Stiles grunting as he tries to pick up a bookshelf without dropping it back on his foot.
“Do you want some help with that?” he asks.
Stiles jumps, throwing his arms up in the air and turning to face Derek. “Oh my God, warn a guy, why don’t you!” he shouts. “Not all of us have freaky werewolf hearing.”
Derek bristles at the accusation that he’s freaky. He’s heard it before, of course, that doesn’t make him like it.
“I was just trying to be nice,” he says. But there’s no real need to stick around if Stiles is just going to make fun of him.
“Wait man, I’m sorry,” says Stiles, just as Derek’s turning to go. “Yes, I could use the help.”
Together they load the furniture, including two bookshelves, a desk, the kitchen table and chairs, a bed frame, a small loveseat, and several pieces of strange abstract art—Derek can tell those were definitely Isaac’s picks by the strange faces Stiles’s pulls—into Stiles’s Jeep and the back of Derek’s truck. Stiles is stronger than Derek expected, and once he sheds his two outer layers, Derek can see why. He may not be a werewolf, but Stiles has some very well defined arm muscles. He must work out when he’s not busy catering to Lydia’s little lapdog.
“What do you need all this stuff for anyway?” asks Derek.
Stiles laughs, “Just wait, dude, you’ll see.”
Derek follows Stiles to a development on the outskirts of town. There are just three houses in the neighborhood, and only one, all the way at the back abutting the edge of the preserve, shows any signs of habitation.
“Here we are,” says Stiles, jumping out of his Jeep. “I know it’s a little Arrested Development, but the price was right, so it’s home.”
Stiles busies himself for a moment letting Prada out from the passenger seat, then follows her up the front walk. “Come on in. We’ll get Scott and Allison to help.”
Together they get all the furniture unloaded quickly. Most of it goes in the empty side of the garage for now, except the table which goes straight to the kitchen, where Derek sees immediately what Stiles meant before about the house. It looks like up until now, they’ve been eating around a card table seated on some mismatched lawn chairs.
Derek can’t help but notice the comfortable way the three friends move around each other. It’s not just Scott and Allison—though their little touches make it obvious they’re a couple—it’s Stiles too. They have an awareness of each other that doesn’t always need to be spoken. Derek recognizes it because he’s seen it before with his family—his pack. It’s suddenly a lot clearer that he’s never going to be successful at getting closer to Scott by trying to be better than his human friends. Scott’s never going to replace them, because they’re his pack too. And strange as it is, just in one day, Derek is starting to maybe see the appeal of having a Stiles as a pack mate. Even if he doesn’t own real furniture.
“You can see why I needed Laura,” says Stiles.
“Yeah,” says Scott, “if it was up to him, Lydia’d be stuck with nothing but badly built IKEA furniture and Star Wars posters.”
“Don’t disrespect Star Wars, man. Just cause you haven’t seen it.”
“Or played the games. Or read the books.”
“Shut up, Scott.”
Derek looks over at Allison, who’s rolling her eyes in exasperation at what’s clearly a familiar argument. “I like Star Wars,” he says, because he is one smooth mofo.
Allison’s knowing smirk is annoying, but it’s worth it for the big grin it earns him from Stiles.
“See!” Stiles crows, triumphant. “Derek was literally raised by wolves and he knows what’s what. Allison, I weep for your future werebabies.”
Did Stiles really just make a raised by wolves joke? And did Derek really just laugh at it? Derek seriously needs to get a grip on things. Just because Stiles has nice hair and arms and an expressive face and he fanboys about Star Wars is no reason for Derek to forget he’s supposed to resent the guy. Crap.
Stiles invites him to stay for a beer, but Derek declines. It’s a hundred percent because he’s got an early morning tomorrow and not at all to prevent him from fawning over Scott’s best friend more.
“Next time, then. Thanks for your help, Derek.”
“It’s no problem. I’m just doing my job.”
“Painting’s your job, not hauling around furniture for my house. I owe you one, man.”
Somehow Derek doubts he can ask for repayment in Scott-whispering lessons.
Stiles wakes up way too early the next morning. Prada’s still curled up asleep at the foot of his mattress, and he’d love to rejoin her in slumber were it not for the insistent chiming of his phone’s alarm. He’s glad Lydia’s not here to see this, because it would definitely violate their unspoken agreement never to acknowledge that Stiles actually gives a shit about her stupid little dog. He just couldn’t bear to leave her all alone in the empty house all night. Because he is a grown man and a huge sap.
After Derek left last night, Stiles took Laura’s advice and talked to Scott about the pack. It turns out Scott thought he was doing Stiles a favor by leaving him out of things, figuring that now that Scott had other people to look after his furry ass, Stiles wouldn’t have to worry. But worrying is practically Stiles’s raison d’etre, so he assures Scott that he wants back in. At least that way he’ll know what exactly it is he’s worrying about.
Scott promised to talk to Talia about introducing Stiles to the rest of the pack, and they’d hugged it out before Stiles headed to bed. Which he probably should have done earlier, because he really has not had enough sleep but needs to get to Lydia’s ASAP before the Hales get there. He’s overdue to hit the grocery store, but there’s no time left, so instead he grabs breakfast from the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way to Lydia’s and feeds Prada small pieces of the bacon from his sandwich at the red lights.
Stiles still needs his morning caffeine, and the Hale crew are due to arrive soon, so he plunders Lydia’s stash of gourmet coffee and puts a large pot on to brew. An obnoxious part of his brain supplies that this is good practice, because if Lydia ever decides she doesn’t need him any more, he may well end up as a barista, as is custom for many of his wannabe novelist peers. But hey, at least he’s starting out with pleased customers.
“That’s the stuff,” says Boyd after a large swig of black coffee. Stiles has never been able to drink it plain—too bitter. He’s definitely more like Derek, who’s still fussily adding milk and sugar to his mug.
Stiles remembers Boyd from high school. They weren’t really friends, but then again Stiles’s social circle didn’t extend very far past Scott, Harley, and eventually Allison and Isaac. But he’d had a few classes with Boyd through the years, and they’d been well acquainted enough to exchange nods when they passed each other in the halls. So he’d remember Scott ever mentioning that Boyd is a werewolf.
“So Boyd, how’d you get hooked up with the Hales?” he asks. “Seems like it’s mostly a family operation.”
Best not to mention furry transformations, just in case he doesn’t know all his coworkers are werewolves.
“Erica Reyes?” According to Scott, she’s one of the other bitten werewolves in the Hale pack. Unlike Scott, she wasn’t attacked, but actually asked Talia for the bite.
Boyd nods. Okay, he is clearly just as much of a talkative dude as Stiles remembers. It’s nice to know that some things haven’t changed.
“She’s Boyd’s fiance,” supplies Cora.
“So you’re not…”
“A werewolf? No,” says Boyd. Yet here he is, clearly accepted by the pack. Laura must’ve been telling the truth when she said they don’t hate humans.
Not long after, Derek declares that high school reunion time is over and they need to get to work, so Stiles pours himself another mug of coffee, grabs his laptop, and heads out to the patio. He doesn’t usually work poolside, but it’s the only place left in Lydia’s house that still has chairs. When Lydia said to get rid of everything, she really didn’t have Stiles’s working needs in mind.
He’s got emails to answer and conference calls to schedule, and there’s a bid on a project that he hadn’t quite finished drafting before redecorating the house took over his attention. Thankfully, with Lydia away, there’s not a lot else to do, so once he ticks those off the list it’ll just be him and his skeleton of a novel.
He’s going to make some progress this week if it kills him, because if the redecorating goes to hell, he is not becoming a barista.
Derek may have accepted last night that he’s attracted to Scott’s weird friend, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to arrive at the house to find Stiles sitting on the kitchen counter in a pair of tight red jeans, a Camper Van Beethoven tee shirt, and a soft gray hoodie. And he’s made coffee.
Derek once again adopts his traditional strategy for dealing with attractive acquaintances: silence. It works about as well as always, that is to say fantastically, if the expected result is not letting anyone be the wiser about your interest. And if the other party doesn’t know you’re interested, it’s not possible to screw anything up. It’s the perfect plan.
Stiles makes great coffee. Derek thinks he might be in love. With the coffee. He hardly knows Stiles.
Stiles spends most of the morning sitting out by the pool, and Derek successfully pushes him out of his thoughts. Laura can tease him all she likes about his penchant to wax poetic about manual labor, but painting really does clear his head. They’re trying to finish cleaning and priming all the walls today, Derek working on his own and Boyd and Cora down the hall. He can hear Katy Perry blasting from Cora’s iPod, and the two of them are involved in a heated argument about the latest season of Game of Thrones. (They’re both wrong.) So a good workday, if a little bit faster paced than many.
Laura shows up with lunch for everyone and brings Erica, who always does the textile work for Laura’s projects, with her so they can all go over Laura’s design ideas for each room. Stiles seems happy with Laura’s ideas. Each time she asks if there are any changes he’d like to make, he reminds her that he doesn’t know anything about design, which is starting to get out of hand.
“He’s right Laura,” Derek interrupts, finally. “I’ve seen freshman dorm rooms with more style than his place.”
Laura flashes Derek a look that clearly says she wants to know why he was at Stiles’s place and that they’ll be talking about this later. Meanwhile, Stiles seems torn between happiness that Derek backed him up and chagrin that support comes only at the disparagement of his taste.
Derek does have a few suggestions for the wall colors and patterns in a few of the rooms, but overall he agrees with Laura’s choices. One of the fun things about working with Laura is she’s not afraid of color. Lydia, or Lydia’s previous decorator at least, had favored varying shades of white and light gray, which in Derek’s book is just boring.
He’s all ready to get to priming the living rooms walls—it’s the last room left on the first floor—and to return to tactfully ignoring Stiles in the afternoon. Stiles, it seems, has other plans. Derek hears him wander back and forth between the patio and the kitchen several times, opening and closing the fridge at least once per trip, before he appears in the living room.
Stiles doesn’t say anything at first. He’s too busy attempting to juggle a few rolls of painters tape, which he gives up once he knocks himself in the eye.
“So why’s this stuff blue anyway? That’s not some sort of trade secret, is it?”
Derek answers without pausing his work. “So you can tell painters tape from regular masking tape easily.”
“You were expecting something more exciting?”
“Dude, you’re a werewolf painter. Kind of, yeah.”
“Scott’s a werewolf nurse. Does that make him that different from other nurses?”
“Okay, first that’s a terrible example. Scott can hear if somebody’s heart beat is off and can smell infections and do that magic werewolf pain thing. Melissa can’t do any of that.” Stiles looks pretty pleased with his explanation so far.
“Second,” he continues, holding up two fingers, “you sound just like Laura yesterday. You guys don’t get it. Scott’s only been a werewolf since college. He’s still like… a baby, in werewolf years. He’s a teen wolf at best. I’m good at research, but there’s no way I could find out all the wolfy secrets you know.”
Derek’s not really sure what to make of that, so he doesn’t answer right away. He doesn’t really think his life is full of so-called ‘wolfy-secrets,’ but then again, he’s never been a regular human, so he can’t really judge what he might be taking for granted.
“I’m bugging you, aren’t I? If you want me to get out of your hair, just say so. I should probably get back to writing anyway.”
Derek may not understand why Stiles is here, but he didn’t mean to drive him off either, but when he turns to say so he’s immediately distracted by what Stiles is doing.
“Stiles, that wall hasn’t dried yet.”
“What? Oh, shit!” Stiles jerks away from the wall he’d leaned against thoughtlessly. He tugs off his hoodie to discover several splotches of white on it. Derek takes a moment to casually check the back of Stiles jeans, but all is well there. Also, there is no paint on his jeans.
“Aww, man, I really liked this hoodie.”
“You can probably get it all out if you go wash it now. Warm soapy water, and if it’s still sticking around, rub some hairspray on it.”
“You’re making that up to get rid of me.”
“I’m not. Do you want to save your hoodie or not?”
“If this doesn’t work I’m blaming you.” Stiles points a finger accusingly at Derek.
Derek could protest that it wasn’t his fault, Stiles is the one who leaned on a wall in the room Derek was currently painting, but Stiles’s grin implies that he’s really just joking about holding a grudge.
Stiles must go back to whatever he’s working on, because Derek doesn’t see him again after the incident with the hoodie. It’s too bad, because it might’ve been worth it answering awkward werewolf 101 questions if it meant getting Stiles to smile at him again.
The next day, the routine is much the same, only Derek, Cora, and Boyd have moved on to painting with actual colors. For Stiles, it really is more of the same. Once he’s checked in with Lydia and taken Prada for a walk, it’s just him and his laptop, and so many blank pages in Scrivener.
If Derek doesn’t want Stiles hanging around, he really ought to say so. Cora certainly didn’t have any qualms about telling him to either stop talking about Benedict Cumberbatch, get out, or both. Derek doesn’t say Stiles should leave. He really doesn’t say much at all. It makes him hard for Stiles to read, but he appreciates a good listener nonetheless.
Derek does speak up when Stiles starts bugging him about painting stuff again, specifically wondering how Derek can wear white and not end up looking like a rainbow threw up on him by the end of each work day. “Not that I of all people have problems with rainbows,” Stiles adds. Even if he hadn’t finally come out as bi during college, he’d have been hard pressed to spend four years in San Francisco and fear a rainbow flag.
“I don’t end up covered in paint,” replies Derek, “because I’m actually pretty good at my job.”
Stiles sticks his tongue out at Derek for that. Sure it’s juvenile, but so is Stiles. Just ask any of his friends.
He decides to take some pictures of the redecorating progress to send to Lydia. He really likes the bright colors that Laura’s chosen for many of the rooms—jewel tones, she called them—and he’s happy to find out that Lydia agrees. He demands that Derek pose for a picture and laughs when Derek awkwardly throws up a peace sign with the hand that’s not clutching a paint roller. He sends it to Lydia with the caption “hottest painter ever, y/y?”
Lydia tells him to stop ogling the help and get back to work. (And yes.)
Late in the afternoon, Derek surprises him by actually asking a question.
“Scott said you’re a writer. How’d you end up working for Lydia?”
“It’s kind of a long story,” says Stiles.
“I’m not going anywhere.” Derek’s running his paintbrush in a perfectly straight line across the edge where the wall meets the ceiling. He hasn’t even taped it off. Stiles is officially impressed.
“Okay.” Stiles drops down to sit on a step stool, wise enough not lean on the wall this time. “So it turns out the San Francisco’s a pretty expensive place to live. My job at the campus library only went to the end of the summer, so I applied for some other stuff, but there’s no shortage of jobless writers, you know?”
He could’ve tried for some sort of retail job, but it probably wouldn’t have paid the bills anyway.
“Scott was coming back up here for his new job”—Scott lucked out and got what was basically a dream job in the pediatrics department at Beacon Hills Memorial—“so I figured I should too. Couldn’t afford rent without him.”
And he didn’t really want to move back in with Dad. He loves his Dad, but after four years of independence, Stiles was reluctant to move back in with the town Sheriff. Even if Stiles can legally drink beer whenever he wants now.
“I’m getting there, dude. So we moved into the house, and I got a job as a cashier at Safeway. I am a whiz at memorizing produce codes, by the way. But, yeah, it was pretty boring. Allison and Lydia met at yoga and got kind friendly, and she found out that Lydia was back in town and needed an assistant now that she’s some sort of crazy rich consultant. So here I am.” He throws his arms out for emphasis, you know, just in case Derek missed his presence here in Lydia’s house.
“Do you like it?” Derek asks.
“Well, it’s more interesting than ringing groceries. And I get paid better.”
“Yeah, but do you like it?”
“It’s fine,” he shrugs. “I admit I never expected to spend my days keeping Lydia’s schedule and walking her dog. Or redecorating her house. Back in high school she wouldn’t even talk to me.” Despite all Stiles’s best efforts to grab her attention.
“We’re friends now though, which is pretty nice, even if she is super high strung. And she’s cool about giving me time off when I need it.”
“So no more writing?” asks Derek.
“I’m working on a novel, actually, but I’m kinda stuck.”
“What’s it about?” Derek seems like he’s honestly curious, not just asking to be polite, like so many people Stiles talks to.
“A guy who gets bitten by a werewolf then, uh, uses his powers to fight crime.”
“A Hispanic guy with floppy hair and an uneven jaw?”
“And let me guess, his partner is a fast-talking human with a funny name.” Damn, Derek is really hot when he smiles. Even more than he is the rest of the time.
“You got me.” Stiles laughs. “All names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
“Innocent? I’ve heard some of Scott’s college stories.”
“Lies! Everyone knows not to trust werewolves.” And if Stiles didn’t know any better, he’d almost think Derek was flirting with him. Before he can examine that thought any further, Laura arrives, carrying several large shopping bags and a lamp.
“Hey, Stiles, can you take this from me?” she asks, passing him the lamp. “How’s it going little brother?”
“Just finishing up the second coat in here,” Derek replies. The master bedroom is now a really nice shade of blue. Not so dark that the color overpowers the room, but not so light that it looks like a nursery. “Boyd and Cora are down the hall working on the last of the other bedrooms. We’ll get everything cleaned up in the morning and you can start moving furniture in.”
“Excellent!” says Laura. “Macy’s is coming to deliver all the bedding tomorrow. You’d better finish up soon, though. Mom’s expecting all of us for dinner.”
“The monthly pack fiesta?” asks Stiles. “Have fun howling at the moon and all that.”
“Oh, you’re coming too, smartass.”
“Scott talked to Mom who talked to me, and you’re coming. She’s expecting us all by 6:30, so you’d better come help me unload my car so we can get out of here.”
Well, if the alpha says Stiles is coming to dinner, who is he to argue?
Laura’s driving is not an acquired taste. Stiles regrets whatever he’s done in his life that’s made him deserve this and is incredibly thankful when they arrive at the Hale house in one piece. It’s been years since he’s been here to their big, old house out in the preserve. Unlike Lydia’s house, which is all ostentatious affluence, the Hale house has age and character. Also unlike Lydia’s house, the Hale house is overflowing with people.
Derek and Cora have their own place in town, Laura explains on the trip over, but Laura and her daughter Maura live with her parents, Talia and Jacob.
“You named your daughter Maura?” Stiles interrupts her to ask. She’s got to be pulling his leg with that one.
“Hey, she’ll probably hate me when she’s a teenager no matter what. May as well start giving her reasons why now. Anyway, Mom started it.” Along with being the eldest, Laura is undoubtedly the most mature of Talia’s children.
Talia’s younger sister Leah and her wife Jenny also live at the house, along with their two daughters Liz and Becca, who are both students at Beacon Hills High. Peter and his wife Amy moved to Paradise a few years back with their daughter Sarah, but they always come back to Beacon Hills for the full moon. Laura’s thirty, the eldest of the Hale cousins and the future alpha; Sarah, the youngest, just turned eleven. And then there’s Erica, of course. She and Boyd have an apartment in the same building as Derek and Cora.
“Wait, so are you saying that all the Hale kids are girls, except Derek?” he asks, after Laura finishes her rundown of the pack roster. Some of the names are familiar, but clearly Scott has been leaving out important details along the way.
“And Erica joined the pack…?”
“After her junior year.”
“This all explains so much about your brother.”
“Poor little Ricky.” Laura fakes pouts. “We did kinda gang up on him sometimes.”
Little Ricky? That is truly evil. “How would you feel about being my new best friend?” Stiles asks. “I only have one condition. Never drive me anywhere ever again.”
As soon as they step out of the car, a miniature demon with braided pigtails, gold eyes, and tiny fangs barrels across the lawn. “MOMMY!”
“Hey little monster,” says Laura as she wraps her daughter in a hug. “Maura, this is Stiles. He’s Uncle Scott’s friend.”
The little girl promptly reaches for one of Stiles hands and begins to sniff it. “You’re not a wolf,” she declares.
“Hey, what’ve we talked about?” asks Laura.
“No smelling people without asking first.” Maura follows the statement with a put upon sigh.
“That’s right. And what do you say to Stiles?”
“That’s my little monster. And you’re right. He’s not a wolf.”
The familiar exchange makes Stiles feel a moment of sympathy for his own parents. Sure, he didn’t go around smelling every new person he met, but he had been a curious kid with way too much energy and his own fair share of weird habits.
Laura takes him into the house and leads him to the kitchen, where Talia appears to be supervising as one of her nieces—Stiles can’t be sure which—mixes a batch of cookies. Laura announces that she’s brought her mother a present, gently pushing Stiles toward Talia.
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Stiles,” she says. “I know Scott joining a new pack has been difficult for you, but as part of Scott’s family you are always welcome here.” Then she adds, with a fierce glint in her eyes, “If anyone in my pack suggests differently, they’ll have me to answer to.”
“And me!” says Maura.
Maura drags Stiles around the house, insistent on introducing him to every member of the pack. Despite the sketchy background he’s picked up from Scott and Laura’s more detailed rundown of pack personnel, he knows he won’t be able to match every face with a name. The strong Hale family resemblance that all the blood-related members of the pack seem to share doesn’t make telling them apart any easier. Luckily, Scott arrives not long after and takes up his place at Stiles side, where he’s more than happy to remind Stiles of names.
Scott arrives just at the same time as Erica and Boyd, and seeing them together jogs Stiles memory of high school, when Erica, Boyd, and Cora had formed one of the more unusual trios in the school cafeteria. Boyd and Erica were drawn together because they had no one else, Cora joined them because she didn’t really like, well, people. When they worked together in class, Stiles always got the impression that she tolerated his personality only because of the quality of his schoolwork.
Unlike Cora and Boyd, neither of whom have changed much since high school, Erica is not a lot like he remembers. Then, she faded into the background. Now, she’s bright and assertive. When Maura solemnly introduces Stiles to her honorary aunt, Erica greets him with a radiant smile. Apparently, she even brings out the warmth in Boyd. His conversations with Stiles this week have mostly been limited to monosyllables, and even now he’s not exactly convivial, but he’s definitely less restrained.
Stiles is surprised when Derek and Cora pull up in Derek’s truck and unload several huge stacks of pizza boxes. Turning to Scott he asks, “Your big wolfy full moon dinner is pizza?”
“Everyone loves pizza! Plus, no fighting over who gets to go howl at the moon and who has to stay back to do the dishes.”
Stiles really can’t fight with that kind of logic.
Dinner is chaotic and enjoyable. Stiles has never been part of a large extended family like this, and now that he’s here he can see it’s really nothing like the SFSU werewolf support group. That was a substitute for pack, this is the real thing.
And it’s nice, being part of this. The weather’s beautiful, so they eat along several large picnic tables in the backyard. Everyone seems to want a chance to talk to him, especially the younger Hale’s. Maura has decided that Stiles smells nice, even though he’s not a wolf, and needs to sit by her. Little kids are not usually Stiles’s thing—that’s really Scott’s department—but Maura’s working this combination of Scott’s puppy dog innocence and Laura’s I’m gonna rip out your throat viciousness that makes her impossible to refuse. And really, there are worse places to spend an evening than smashed between his best bro and a werebaby.
“So your family has a lot of girls.”
Derek has been so absorbed in his thoughts and in watching the girls chase Erica and Cora around the yard, barking and howling in excitement, that he didn’t notice Stiles dropping down beside him on the porch steps. They didn’t have much chance to talk during dinner. Derek really can’t compete with his niece for attention.
Derek looks at Stiles and blinks. “What did Laura tell you?”
“Just that they all liked to gang up on poor little Ricky,” says Stiles.
Derek groans. “You know, my family actually stopped calling me that around when I started school, but Laura brought it back the moment I got taller than her. She thought it was hilarious. If I didn’t love her so much, I’d probably kill her. I did hate her for awhile,” he says. “You know how it is.”
“To be honest? Not really, man. No siblings. It’s just me and Dad.”
Right. Everyone in town knew about ‘that poor Sheriff Stilinski’, raising his son on his own.
“What about Scott?”
“I picked him. He’s stuck with me for life, whether he likes it or not, but I can’t really tell you if it feels the same as having actual siblings.”
“Oh.” Derek’s feeling a lot of things, foremost of which is worry that he’s totally an ass for bringing up Stiles’s family.
“Dude, it’s okay. I’m not trying to make you feel bad for me.”
Stiles has the ease of a person who doesn’t put much stock in what other people think of him, beyond his Dad and his chosen family. Derek, on the other hand, has always been a guy who wants to be liked, which sometimes makes him a little too conscious of what other people think of him. Derek’s aware he’s got a lot of rough edges, and in the past that’s meant scaring away some of the people he’d most wanted to keep close. And right now he’d really like to keep Stiles close.
“You’re not going to go run around with the other wolves?” Stiles asks.
“Nah, not yet. There’s plenty of time.” He glances up at the darkening sky, then continues. “We all feel the pull of the moon, but it’s only the younger wolves that feel more compelled to shift. They haven’t learned to control it as well yet.” Even Scott, who’s got amazing control for a bitten werewolf, still feels it more than Derek. “And somebody has to keep an eye on you and Boyd.”
“Don’t feel like you have to stay here on my account. I’m sure Boyd and I could, uh, sit in silence together.”
“It’s not exactly a hardship,” Derek admits.
“You’re not a bad guy, you know, once you get to know you,” says Stiles, after a minute.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I kinda resented your whole family for keeping me out of the wolf loop, but I guess I didn’t need to.”
“Trust me, Scott is never replacing you with us. He talks about you all the damn time.”
“You and Allison. Do you know how irritating that is, trying to mentor a guy when all he wants to talk about is his perfect girlfriend and his amazing best friend?”
“The sonnets about Allison’s eye do get pretty old but… dude! You were totally jealous of me!”
Just a few days earlier, Derek had denied it to his sisters. Jealousy seems beneath him. Even if it’s completely true. “I… no. Of course I’m not jealous!”
“God, Derek, you are a terrible liar. You’re even worse than Scott.”
Derek glares at Stiles. Somehow this conversation has gotten away from him very quickly. See, he mentally projects at Laura, this is why I don’t like to talk to people. Laura doesn’t answer because… werewolves aren’t psychic.
“What’s the point of lying when everyone you know can call you on it immediately?”
“It’s like you’ve been talking to my dad,” says Stiles. “I’d have made his life sooo much easier if I’d thought that way back in high school, but I never stopped trying to pull one over on him.” He pauses. “So I think we both need to agree that I don’t need to be insecure about my lack of lycanthropy, and you don’t need to be insecure about not having that certain Stilinski je ne sais quoi. We can both embrace the truth that Scott is like a cute puppy who is happy to drool all over both of us.”
“Okay, you’re right. But… dog metaphors, Stiles?” Derek really didn’t need that bit of mental imagery.
Stiles shrugs. “It’s how I deal. And I’m sorry, is your family not busy running around on all fours scaring small woodland creatures right now?”
“This really doesn’t bother you at all, does it?”
“What, werewolves? Nope.” Stiles says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, like he can’t fathom why sitting around in the woods with a pack of shapeshifting predators could possibly be a problem.
“A lot of people are less accepting. Normal people,” says Derek.
Sometimes it turns out love isn’t enough to sustain a relationship through the revelation that werewolves are real. It’s why Laura’s raising a daughter on her own, and it’s why Derek’s learned it’s better to cut-and-run before any relationship gets truly serious. He was well-liked in high school, but over the years he hasn’t really stayed close to anyone outside the pack. It’s not worth it.
“Nobody’s ever accused me of being normal,” says Stiles.
Who would? He’s smart and gorgeous, loves movies and the sound of his own voice, doesn’t care what people think of him, and isn’t afraid of werewolves. And up close like this it turns out Maura’s right about at least one thing: for a non-wolf, Stiles smells incredible. Derek’s admiring Stiles in profile, thankful that his enhanced vision enables him to count the freckles on the side of Stiles face, even in the low light, when Stiles turns to face him. Their eyes catch, and suddenly Derek wants nothing more than to kiss Stiles.
Derek freezes. Just because they’ve been shooting the shit while painting and because Stiles is tentatively part of the pack now doesn’t mean he’s actually interested in Derek. He’s just trying to be friendly to Scott’s pack. Derek can’t make himself move though, still just staring back at Stiles, until the moment stretches out too long. He can’t take it anymore.
“I’ve gotta go,” he says, standing up abruptly. He mumbles an excuse about someone calling for him and flees from the porch into the darkness of the woods.
Not long after Derek leaves Stiles alone on the porch, bewildered, Stiles tracks down Scott, and they make their goodbyes. Talia reiterates how glad she is that Stiles could make it tonight, and Laura, Maura, and, to his surprise, Erica, have all shifted back to hug him goodbye.
Scott gives him a lift back to Lydia’s house to collect Prada and the Jeep, and on the way Stiles decides to impart some brotherly wisdom.
“You should be nice to Derek,” he says.
“What the hell are you talking about? I’m nice to Derek!” It’s true. Scott is nice to everyone. Scott doesn’t have a not-nice bone in his wolfy body.
“Just, like, invite him over to hang out or something. He wants to be wolf-bros with you.”
“He said that? Derek’s not usually very talkative.”
“Yeah he did. We had a good talk. And, uh, then I think he almost tried to kiss me.” He may have buried the lede there. Just a little.
“Is this why you wanted in on the pack stuff? To mack on Derek? You just want me to hang out with him so you can hit on him.”
“Hey! My intentions were pure.”
Scott gives him a doubtful look.
“Okay, I may have ogled him a little bit. It takes a damn good ass to rock a pair of white Dickies like that. But I didn’t even know he was interested in me until tonight!”
“Now I have seen his ass in jeans, and it looks even better.”
“Oh my god, Stiles, shut up about Derek’s ass! I mean what’re you going to do now?”
“Well first I’m going to sleep, cause Lydia’s back in two days and her house still has no furniture in it. Then I’m coming up with a plan. Hopefully one that doesn’t involve Derek freaking out and running away from me again.” He’ll just have to work out a few important details.
Derek’s not sure what’s wrong with him. He’s only known Stiles for a few days, in the span of which he’s somehow gone from really resenting him to really wanting him. But Derek refuses to project his feelings onto Stiles and risk being rejected yet again, just because for some reason he’s lost control of his senses.
Things get pretty crazy for the next few days, which is actually good for Derek. For one, he’s got so much to do that he can’t really stop to stew about how he’d totally made a fool of himself in front of Stiles that night on the porch. Fortunately, Stiles is also busy now. Between helping Laura and Erica arrange furniture and hang curtains and re-populating Lydia’s ample closets, he doesn’t have the time to wander in and chat with Derek again.
When they do talk, there are so many other people around that it’s easier to act like nothing happened. Or maybe the awkward intensity of that moment was all in Derek’s head? Stiles doesn’t seem to be treating him any differently, so it’s possible he just didn’t notice anything strange about Derek’s behavior. He’s the same mix of friendly and sarcastic as ever.
So Derek will just deal with it. It’s good practice really, being around Stiles like this, watching him from across the room and acknowledging to himself that Stiles is just another member of the pack now. He doesn’t take it as any sort of sign when Stiles asks him about his strié technique—Stiles is a just curious guy. When Stiles pushes the extra crab rangoons, Derek’s favorite, over to Derek’s side of the new kitchen table at dinner, it’s probably just that Stiles doesn’t really care for them. And on Saturday afternoon when Stiles takes off his plaid shirt to reveal only a single layer below, a snug black tank, it’s probably because the shirt was getting in the way or something while Stiles was arranging all the cables for the TV and stereo.
It takes until late Saturday night, but finally, the house is finished. The walls have been painted, and all the paint, rollers, and ladders are back in the truck. The drop cloths have been picked up from the last of the rooms, and almost every window in the house is open so that Stiles might finally stop complaining that the house reeks of paint. (Really, what did he expect?) Cora and Boyd successfully changed the last stubborn light fixture in the downstairs bathroom, and Laura and Erica have made up all the beds with fresh linens. Derek takes a moment to rest while Laura does her last inspection of the house, and despite his boasts to Stiles several days ago about being good at his job, he’s not going to tempt fate by sitting on Lydia’s new furniture in his painting clothes, so he’s sitting out on the pool deck, absently scratching Prada behind the ears.
Derek hears the screen door open and close behind him. “She’s afraid of the vacuum,” says Stiles, gesturing toward the dog. “Always hides out here when I run it.”
Stiles pulls another chair right up next to Derek and continues, “I think what my novel’s missing is another werewolf. One to be a mentor to not-Scott and a foil to not-Stiles. Whadd’you think?”
“I don’t know Stiles, I’m just a painter.”
“Shut up, dude. You are an awesome painter, and you are not just anything, so stop fucking fishing for compliments.” Derek wasn’t, but he doesn’t get a chance to say so before Stiles continues.
“So this new werewolf, he needs not-Scott and not-Stiles to help him find his missing sister, who’s also a werewolf. She’s been kidnapped by their ancient enemies for nefarious reasons, and if they don’t save her, she’ll, uh… die. I maybe need to work on the details some more. It’s gonna be awesome though. I stayed up really late last night working on my outline.”
Stiles is giving him this ridiculously hopeful look, and Derek may have resolved to keep his distance a bit, but even if he’s good at being gruff on the outside, he’s not heartless. A little validation couldn’t hurt.
“That sounds, great, Stiles. Really.” Cool and casual. After today, he can go back to not being around Stiles all day.
Stiles beams back at him, then quickly runs a hand through his hair, suddenly all nervous energy.
“Okay, well I better go check in with Laura, make sure everything’s okay. Thanks for all your work, man. Lydia’s gonna love it.”
Stiles retreats back into the house. Even if they’re never anything more, Derek figures having Stiles as a friend isn’t the worst thing to come out of this job.
Stiles drives Lydia’s car—an Audi sedan that he admits is pretty fun to drive—to pick her up from the Redding airport. She refuses to ride in “that deathtrap,” as she’s taken to referring to his Jeep. Rationally, Stiles knows that it’s silly to have such a sentimental attachment to a car he bought off one of Dad’s deputies for eight-hundred bucks ten years ago. Lydia’s car has heated seats and GPS, the Jeep doesn’t even have a working radio anymore. That doesn’t mean that Stiles is anywhere near ready to let the Jeep go without driving it into the ground first.
Lydia’s glad to be back home. According to her, the team she’s been working with in Chicago was a bunch of neanderthals, but hopefully she’s given them enough of a push in the right direction that they can survive without her presence until her next trip out in four weeks.
“What’s the story with the hot painter?” she asks.
“Story? What makes you think there’s a story?”
“Please. You went from texting me photos and regular updates of what hot painter was doing to complete radio silence. Something happened.” It’s really much easier to hide things from Lydia when she’s two thousand miles away.
“We almost kissed,” Stiles admits. “A couple nights ago.”
“Do not fuck with me Stiles, I’ve been stuck in the midwest with friendly idiots all week, I do not have the patience for this.”
“I have a plan, okay? And I will not sully it with your judgement.”
Stiles didn’t pursue Lydia Martin for the better part of his high school career without learning how to make a grand gesture. He also learned that grand gestures sometimes turn people off, and they’ve certainly never helped him change an uninterested party’s mind, so during college he toned things down a lot. But now? Now Stiles has a thing for a gorgeous, taciturn werewolf, and he’s been dropping hints like crazy for the past few days that he’s into Derek, but Derek doesn’t seem to get it. If it didn’t seem ridiculous, Stiles might think Derek’s being this dense intentionally. Hence the plan.
Lydia’s not convinced, but Stiles refuses to tell her what the plan is, so she’ll just have to deal.
Laura’s waiting for them at the house to take Lydia on a tour of her newly decorated home. She uses all kinds of terms to describe style choices that Stiles doesn’t understand, but what’s important is that Lydia actually seems really pleased with how the project turned out. Stiles is glad he didn’t even attempt to do this all himself, because Lydia definitely would have killed him. Or at least maimed him a little bit.
A pleased Lydia means a pleased Laura and a pleased Stiles, and as much as he hates to interrupt all this pleasantness and risk either of the two women deciding to interrogate him again, he’s got a plan to execute. He stopped at Home Depot this morning for supplies and everything.
Cora answers the door. “Oh good, it’s you. Don’t fuck it up,” she tells him. Stiles treasures these moments with her, he really does.
She turns back into the apartment. “Derek, you’ve got a visitor. I’ll be downstairs at Erica’s if you need me to kill him,” she says. She walks out the door then shoves Stiles inside with the parting words, “Seriously, I will end you.”
“Good talk.” Cora may be retreating, but Stiles knows she can hear him even if he doesn’t raise his voice.
“Stiles?” asks Derek, walking into the living room. Stiles can’t help pausing to admire how hot Derek looks in a plain v-neck and jeans.
“Hey, Derek,” says Stiles. “I, uh, brought you these.” He holds out a bouquet of paint brushes. “I wasn’t sure if you were into flowers, but I know you’re into painting. Do you like them?”
“Thanks. They’re nice brushes.” Derek’s gazes jumps between Stiles face and his new brushes several times. He seems slightly confused about what’s going on here.
“Okay good,” says Stiles. He spent a long time standing in that aisle of paint brushes trying to pick out good ones. “So will you go out with me?” The plan had called for that particular overture to be a lot more… suave.
“What?” Derek gapes at him. “I thought you just wanted to be part of the pack.”
“I did want to be part of the pack. I do. But I also want to date you and kiss you and… other things with you. If you want.”
“You never said.”
“How did you not notice I’m into you too? I was kinda not subtle with the questions and the staring the last couple days. I tried pineapple and jalapeno pizza for you because you said, and I quote ‘Stiles, no really, it’s good.’ Dude, I’m writing you into my fucking novel.”
“You liked the pizza,” Derek says, matter-of-fact.
“I like your face,” counters Stiles.
That was terrible yet… Derek’s cheeks are actually coloring slightly. He’s blushing.
“Oh, god, we are the worst at this,” says Stiles. “We totally deserve each other.”
“I like your face, too,” says Derek. Stiles is pretty sure his stupid grin matches Derek’s to a T.
“For the record, does that mean you’ll go out with me?”
“Yes, Stiles, that means I’ll go out with you.”
“Awesome!” He knew his plan would work. “You’re actually gonna kiss me this time, right?”
Derek doesn’t say anything, but when he raises both his hands to Stiles’s face and leans in to kiss him firmly, Stiles figures that’s a clear enough answer.
5 months later
“My dad is taking your dad fishing tomorrow morning,” says Stiles, moments after hanging up his phone. “Don’t worry, I got us out of it,” he adds, noticing Derek’s look of concern. Derek’s assiduous about not eavesdropping on Stiles’s phone conversations. Just because werewolves can easily listen in on most human conversations doesn’t mean it’s polite.
“You know what this means, though, right?”
“They’re both walking dad cliches?”
“No. Well, yes. But no. Our dad’s are bonding. Over the most boring activity known to man, and I’ve literally watched paint dry before.”
“Pretty sure you literally just undressed me with your eyes that whole time, asshole.”
“Whatever. You say potato, I say french fries. If the dads are bonding, it means you’re officially stuck with me for the long haul.”
While they’re not exactly picking out curtains yet, that much was already obvious to Derek. He was besotted after knowing Stiles for a week, once he found out Stiles liked him too, it was pretty much all over for Derek.
“Half an hour ago you were leaving me for CJ Cregg,” Derek teases, gesturing toward the awkwardly paused frame on the living room TV. Stiles had his doubts about The West Wing, cause he’s never been really into politics, but Derek convinced him to give it a chance, and now he’s hooked.
“That was just cause you won’t do ‘The Jackal’ for me,” says Stiles, pouting dramatically. “But I guess you did help me paint the living room, so I’ve decided to keep you. Plus, you know, the dads. Oh, if your dad asks, brunch was great.”
“But I haven’t had brunch. It’s the middle of the afternoon.” Derek doesn’t really know why he bothers prodding Stiles for explanations sometimes, because the result is always bound to be ridiculous.
“I told my dad we couldn’t come cause we’ve got a brunch thing with Erica tomorrow.”
“Stiles, we don’t have a brunch thing with Erica.” Why does Stiles think Derek will be able to lie to his father? Not once in his life has that worked.
“Well I’ve got plans for us, and at some point tomorrow morning we’ll probably be hungry,” says Stiles, leering at him.
Put that way, Derek is really glad Stiles went ahead and lied to his father.
“What I mean is we’ll be having lots of sex,” says Stiles. In case he was being too subtle before. Seriously, Derek can’t fathom how they were ever oblivious about their attraction to each other. “And then I’m making pancakes.”