According to their fansite, Two Bros in the Know (or TBK, as they were referred to by those in the know) grew out of an idea Scott had their senior year of high school. It made for a good story – two best buds, the titular bros, stay in a supposedly haunted house overnight because they lost a bet with the school douchenozzle, and when confronted with the paranormal, make it their life's mission to discover all the other little haunted nooks and crannies of America.
The truth was much less cinematic: Stiles wanted to impress Lydia Martin, and thought being famous would do the trick. His now-deleted YouTube channel featured Bro-Bro (a talk show featuring Stiles and Scott interviewing all their friends – 'friends' being a very loose term – that one fizzled when Fluffy the Pomeranian from next door bit the head off of Stiles' beloved Batman action figure while Scott was in the middle of asking Batman to describe his favorite sandwich); Two Bros and a Baby (The baby was an egg. It rotted. Not even Stiles remembers why he thought it was a good idea, and it was his.); Get Real, Bro! (an advice column turned into a show, during one of Scott's break-ups with Allison); and Everything's Coming Up Bros (Gardening. Stiles originally wanted to call it Bros with Hoes, but he was talked down off that ledge.).
Lydia's the one who named their current iteration, the summer after their sophomore year of college (a vast improvement over Hey, Bro! Boo!), and she brought along Danny, money to upgrade Allison's camera equipment, and a second-hand Winnebago. For that, she earned Producer credit. But it wasn't until the next summer, during an epic tour of farmhouses in the Dakotas, that TBK's popularity went through the roof. Thanks, in large part, to their "rivalry" with Natural, the show featuring real-life siblings Derek and Cora Hale, and their mission to debunk all the same kinds of places TBK said were haunted.
The Bros met the Hales by literally running into them during a bad storm. They were outside of Harris, North Dakota, and Stiles was at the wheel. Scott was sleeping off a head cold in the back of the Winnebago, and Allison, Danny, and Lydia were gathered around their high tech editing equipment (a pair of laptops), splicing together Allison's footage to make an engrossing narrative. Or so Stiles thought. They were really watching YouTube vids of cats crawling into boxes on one computer, and posting behind-the-scene vids to the TBK website on the other. The BTS snippets were Lydia's brainchild, but even she was taken aback by the popularity of a few of them – they all featured Lydia and Danny, waiting in the Winnebago while Allison followed Scott and Stiles with her camera. The two with the most hits were "Lydia and Danny Play Quarters" and "Lydia and Danny Sing Kanye, with British Accents."
Rain was really limiting the visibility, that was Stiles' story and he was sticking to it. He was most definitely not distracted by the news story playing on NPR (It was about myths and legends – werewolves and banshees and magic – that shit was cool!) and maybe drifting into the other lane when another, totally tricked-out tour bus came at them and grazed their bumper. The tour bus did the grazing. Yes, sir.
Stiles slammed on his brakes. The other driver slammed his, and then they were both climbing out of their vehicles to yell at each other in the middle of the road. (Thankfully it was a country road in North Dakota and no one else was coming.)
"Were you trying to run us off the road?!" The angry driver yelled at Stiles. Hot angry driver. He may have had the hottest body Stiles had ever seen, even doing his best impression of a drowned cat. His face was obscured by a dorky looking fisherman's hat, weighed down by water, but the neck, chin, and stubble on display made Stiles… have to remind himself that he was pissed off.
"Hey, now, you grazed us!" Stiles retorted.
"You were in my lane!"
"A-ha! So you admit it!"
"That you're a terrible driver? Yes, you got me on that one." Hot angry driver folded his arms over his chest. And it was a magnificent chest, matched only by the muscled gloriousness of the arms.
"Derek?" a woman called from the tour bus, opening a large umbrella before joining them in the road. And wow, she was also extremely hot. "Is he giving you his insurance info?"
Stiles bristled. 'Derek' should be down on one knee, begging forgiveness… Stiles' daydream shuddered to a stop when Derek took off his hat, safe beneath the shelter of the umbrella.
"Derek Fucking Hale?" he said. Probably should have kept the fucking to himself, as both Derek and the woman narrowed their eyes at him, and okay, they were both very fit and strong.
"You guys are the Hales from Natural?" Scott asked, coming up unnoticed behind Stiles, something Stiles always complained about, but praise all that was holy now, his best friend had his back.
"Do you watch the show?" the woman asked, flashing a brittle smile. The camera must take years off her because Stiles did not remember Cora looking so, well, older than him. Still hot, though.
"No!" Stiles and Scott both exclaimed at the same time. Derek scowled even fiercer than before. "Not that there's anything wrong with your show," Stiles continued. "Except it's wrong."
"We're from Two Bros in the Know," Scott said, and sneezed violently. "We're the bros."
"Is that a show?" Derek asked, and holy crap, it was genuine. Derek fucking Hale, arch-nemesis, had no idea who they were.
"It's a web series," Cora said, sudden recognition in her eyes and a knowing smile playing on her lips. "Cora watches it."
Oh my God, she referred to herself in the third person. This night was getting worse and worse.
"Let's get a move on!" Another voice called from the tour bus. "Davis Grove isn't getting any closer."
"Wait, you guys are going to Davis Grove, too?" Stiles asked, exchanging a loaded look with Scott. Fuck.
"Hell, yeah, we are," the third Hale said, and oh, that was Cora, Stiles recognized her hotness now. Which made the other one… Derek's wife? Figured a man who looked like that would be taken. Not that Stiles wanted to take him anywhere. "Hey, don't I know you?"
"Apparently you're our biggest fan," Stiles said, throwing his arm over Scott's shoulders.
Cora's eyes narrowed. "You're the idiots from that ghost web series."
"Okay, you just got ten times less attractive." Stiles scowled at her, then at the other two Hales for good measure.
"What did you mean by 'too'?" Derek asked suddenly. He clearly hadn't been paying attention to Stiles' riveting conversation with Cora, great. "Are you going to Davis Grove?"
"No, we just like driving around North Dakota at night in a rainstorm," Stiles said seriously. "Speaking of which, we're going to get back to that." Screw the scratch on the Winnebago; the Hales were going in the wrong direction. TBK was totally going to beat them to the punch. "See you around, but probably not, Mr. Hale, Mrs. Hale, Ms. Hale."
He pulled Scott back to the Bromobile, and thought he heard Derek's wife say, "Did he just call me Mrs. Hale?"
"Okay, gang," Stiles said, slamming the door. It sprang open again, rain blowing in, and Danny reached out and carefully shut and locked it. "You'll never guess who that was. I'll tell you. The fucking Hales! Derek, Cora, and Mrs. Derek."
"There is not Mrs. Derek," Danny said in a bad Russian accent, and sometimes, Stiles forgot that he could be as much of a geek as Stiles himself. It was – wait, what?
"What do you mean?" he demanded. "How do you know that? Is he single? Is he interested in dudes?"
"Keep your libido in check, Stiles," Lydia said, rolling her eyes. "They don't post personal shit, you know that, but if you looked other places, you'd see their producer is the older sister, Laura."
And fine, when they'd first been mentioned on the TBK message boards and Stiles and Danny had decided to investigate, Stiles may have been distracted by the pictures on the Natural site. So sue him. There was this one candid of Derek asleep on the tour bus… but whatever. He'd completely put it out of his mind after reading through the Hales' message boards. There were multiple threads trash-talking TBK. Multiple!!
Scott laughed. "Laura and Cora. I just got that. Laura, Dora, Cora." He blew his nose loudly.
"Might want to lay off the Nyquil, sweetie," Allison said.
"Anyhow," Stiles said, waving his hands to draw the focus back to himself. "The Hales are going to Davis Grove, too."
Danny groaned, but Allison and Lydia exchanged excited looks.
"Whoa, why are you happy?" Stiles asked. "The Hales, remember? They have actual funding. Their show is on TV. They're intimidatingly hot. We don't like them, you know this, right?"
"It's David and Goliath," Allison said dismissively.
"This will be great for us, Stiles, use your imagination," Lydia said, leaning in, eyes sparkling. Her cheeks got a little flushed when she was passionate about something. God, she was beautiful. "The rivalry will only boost ratings and drum up interest. We can't prove we're the best until we go toe-to-toe with the best on the same case. We are going to beat them so hard!"
She was also a little scary from time to time.
"So what you're saying is we need to get back on the road?" Danny asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Okay, I'm going to see it your way," Stiles said, pointing his finger at Lydia. "It would be awesome to rub Derek Hale's perfect face in the mud." His eyes glazed over as he thought about it – Derek, on his stomach, ass in the air – he snapped to attention, his cheeks heating. "Um, yeah, and they're going the wrong way, so we'll totally beat them to Davis Grove. Get ourselves established before they're even there!"
That was the plan. What actually happened, however, was this: ten miles down the road, Stiles slammed on the brakes, cursing softly, rising in volume until it broke through even Scott's Nyquil haze. Which everyone else was grateful for, as Scott had a Ph.D. in handling Stiles.
Davis Creek, the tiny little trickle that cut through the gently rolling hills around Davis Grove, had swelled up and overflowed its banks, effectively blocking the road. No wonder the Hales were taking a detour.
"And they didn't even warn us, those assholes!" Stiles snarled, building up to another string of profanity.
"Put a sock in it, we wouldn't have warned them, either," Lydia snapped. "Allison, can you turn us around while Stiles gets his shit together?"
It was nearing midnight before they finally pulled into the parking lot of the one and only motel in Davis Grove. A familiar tour bus sat like a sleeping dragon at one end of the lot. Stiles shot it a baleful glare while Lydia and Danny walked briskly into the reception office and rang the bell for service.
"That thing is huge," he grumbled. "I'm sure they could just sleep in it. Why do they have to share a motel with us?"
Scott snored and rolled over in his sleep.
"You're getting Sleeping Beauty tonight," Allison said, dividing up their overnight bags into two piles.
"Girls' room and boys' room tonight?" he asked. It'd been that way off and on through the summer. Allison and Scott were officially broken up (again), but according to Scott, it was just a temporary thing. And sometimes, Allison seemed to agree. Just not when Scott had a head cold, apparently.
"Except we get Danny," Allison said. "You know how light a sleeper he is."
Boy did he ever. Danny had slept in the bathtub on more than one occasion to escape the sound of Scott's snoring.
Stiles almost mimicked him when, three hours later, he was still awake. Scott snored blissfully on from five inches away. Just one bed was the perfect cap to his day. Stiles gave up at 4:00 in the morning and left to sleep in the Winnebago.
He was woken up at 7:00 by the sound of people talking directly beneath the little window he'd managed to crack open for some air circulation. Along with the fresh air came the sound of an argument.
"Derek's going to be pissed at you, you know that, right?"
The name tugged at Stiles' consciousness. Derek. The only Derek he knew… Hales! He sat straight up in the bunk, narrowly avoiding ramming his head against the bottom of the top bunk.
"Stop being such a fucking wet blanket, Isaac!" a female voice said. "I'm not hurting anything. It's not like I'm putting sugar in the gas tank or something."
Oh it was on! Stiles yanked at the window until he could get it open wide enough for most of his face to fit through.
"Hooligans!" he yelled. "Miscreants! Denizens of the deep! People who don't signal before turning! What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
He caught a glimpse of a blonde girl about his own age before she was pulled away, laughing, by a tall kid with curly hair who hid his face. Stiles tripped down the hall of the Winnebago and stumbled outside. The guy and the girl were no longer in sight, but the Winnebago now had three new bumper stickers: a generic Natural one featuring Derek and Cora, looking pensive and brave, and two text-only stickers, one sporting "Derek Hale is so dreamy!!!!" and the other stating "Cora Hale is a badass."
Really? Was that the best they could do?
Stiles reached for the dreamy Derek and yanked. Or tried to, as his fingers stuck. The hell? He pulled again as his skin protested. It was rubber cement or super glue or some kind of sticky clear adhesive and Stiles was going to kill the Hales. That was all there was to it.
He stood there in his pajamas for ten minutes, debating the pros and cons of just ripping his hand away when footsteps approached from the other side of the Winnebago.
"I'm serious, Erica, it's juvenile and unprofessional, and someone could get—" Derek Hale stopped abruptly as soon as he rounded the corner and spotted Stiles. The two assholes from earlier stuttered to a stop behind him, careful not to bump him.
"Returning to the scene of the crime?" Stiles asked snidely.
"He went for the dreamy Derek first," the girl muttered. "Cute."
"Erica and Isaac were just on their way to apologize and stop you from touching one," Derek said, scowling.
"How gracious of you," Stiles snarked. "Were you going to melt the glue with your laser eyes?"
The girl – Erica – laughed. "I like this one," she announced. "Can we keep him?"
Derek rolled his eyes and knelt in the dirt next to Stiles to inspect his hand. This close, Derek smelled like cologne and cinnamon buns. Stiles' mouth watered. He was acutely aware that he hadn't showered since yesterday morning.
"I think he's pretty much attached to his own show," the curly-haired demon – Isaac – said, and Erica laughed delightedly.
"Very witty," Stiles muttered. "Seriously, I – whoa, what the hell is that?"
Derek looked down at the knife-like object in his hand and gave Stiles a wolfish grin. "Just relax and I won't cut you. Unless you want to stay here listening to Statler and Waldorf all morning."
Derek's hands were surprisingly gentle and true to his word, he didn't draw blood. He wiped his knife – or maybe it was one of those things that spread frosting evenly, but that was ridiculous, why would he have one of those – off on the ground and stood up, slipping it into his back pocket. Which was quite a feat as, not that Stiles had really noticed, his jeans were super tight. Stiles almost put his hand on the ground to lever himself up before he thought better of it. He was still rather sticky, just not stuck to the Winnebago anymore. Derek grabbed him beneath the armpits and hauled him up as he was debating the least clumsy way to get up in front of the Hales.
"The fuck?" Stiles gasped, flailing and accidentally stumbling back against Derek's chest. His rock-hard, finely-sculpted-even-beneath-a-Henley chest.
"Awww," Erica cooed, and snapped a picture on her phone.
"Erica," Derek growled, shoving Stiles upright.
"Enough with the manhandling!" Stiles snarled. "You!" he pointed at Erica. "You are evil incarnate, woman. You better watch your back." He turned to Isaac. "Same goes for you, Curly Sue. And you," he addressed Derek. "Stop touching me."
Derek flushed. "I wouldn't have had to touch you if you hadn't fallen for the oldest prank in the book."
"Oh, no," Stiles said. "The oldest prank in the book is 'got your nose.'"
Derek caught his sticky hand by the wrist a mere centimeter from his nose. Which, at a later date, Stiles would be grateful for, as he hadn't fully thought through the implications of touching Derek when he still had glue gunk on his hand. But that would be at a later date.
"Stop touching me!" Stiles yelled.
"You stop touching me!" Derek yelled back.
"We should've sold tickets," Erica whispered to Isaac.
Across the lot, two motel doors open and shut and two pairs of high heels clicked rapidly across the asphalt to the Winnebago. Lydia and Laura rounded the corner, eyeing each other warily, before taking in the scene. Derek dropped Stiles' wrist and took a step back.
"Is there a reason your crew is holding Stiles against his will, Ms. Hale?" Lydia asked.
Laura looked at her brother and the other two, then at Stiles.
"I don't know why a grown man runs around outside in Batman jammies. Clearly my crew was saving him from himself," she said.
"Really?" Lydia nodded at the bumper stickers. "It would appear to me that you can't control your crew, or you and your crew have the maturity of a doughnut. Either way, you need to stop defacing our property or I will be forced to press charges."
Laura gave her a death glare, and apparently that was a Hale family trait. Now that he knew, Stiles couldn't believe he hadn't spotted the family resemblance earlier.
"Derek! Cretins!" she barked. The four of them walked away, Isaac's shoulders slumped, Erica dragging her heels. Derek shot one unreadable glance over his shoulder before they disappeared into the bowels of their tour bus.
"Earth to Stiles." Lydia snapped her fingers in his face. "What the hell happened? And what the hell is that on your hand?"
"Glue," Stiles said succinctly.
He filled her in on the whole story as she led him back to her motel room, where Allison helped him wash off the sticky gunk, and then rubbed his hand with GooGone to make sure they got everything before washing again. Allison always had little tricks like that, a result of being raised by semi-survivalists. Stiles had once been trapped in a tiny supply closet with Allison, and not only did she talk him out of a panic attack, but she also managed to pick the lock.
Stiles really hoped this last Scott-Allison break was the final one before their happily ever after.
"So how are we getting them back?" Danny asked. He'd been standing in nothing but a towel during Stiles' whole story, skin still damp from the shower, as he carefully applied product to his hair. Stiles once timed him, and Danny took as long as Stiles, Scott, and Allison combined getting ready in the morning.
"By being better than them," Lydia said tartly. "Stiles, hurry up and get a shower; you can use ours. Allison, help me get Scott up and ready. I want us over at the Davis house ASAP."
"So," Allison whispered as Lydia bickered with Danny about using some of his product for Scott, "on a scale of one to ten, how hard was Derek's chest?"
"Eleven," Stiles said honestly.
Allison flashed him a dimple and rather nonchalantly swiped Danny's hair gel.
"Let's go, Lyds," she said. The two women left, Allison bending to whisper something to Lydia as the door closed.
"Hey, wait a second, where did I put…" Danny muttered as Stiles squeezed past him to the bathroom.
The shower was surprisingly good, decent water pressure and Danny hadn't even used all the hot water. And since it was just Danny on the other side of the wall, Stiles had no compunctions about rubbing one out in the shower, thinking about Derek's chest and smell, the feel of his hands and that slightly predatory grin he had. It was scary-sexy, definitely. Stiles wanted to destroy him.
By the time he got out of the shower, someone had brought his bag over from the other room. He joined the others at the Winnebago just as Danny was straightening up from plastering over the Hale bumper stickers with some TBK ones a fan (Scott's mom) had sent them.
It was a ten minute drive to the haunted Davis Mansion, and they spent it getting Scott up-to-date on the antics of the Hale crew.
"Oh my God, Stiles, are you okay?" Scott exclaimed. "Which hand was it?"
"The good one," Stiles said. "But never fear, I got it back in ship-shape. Worked fine in the shower."
He and Scott exchanged snickers as the others groaned.
"If we could please move on," Lydia said sharply. "When we get to the mansion, let me do the talking if anyone's there. According to the sources Danny found, it's public property, but a Deuc and Kali Lion have made overtures of buying it from the town. I'm not sure what resistance they'll put up to our filming, but we have the proper permits."
"You got it. Lydia's in a telling-people-off mood today," Stiles agreed. "I love it when that's directed at someone else," he said to Scott.
"Looks like you'll get another chance, Lydia," Allison said, pointing through the window.
Two guys, roughly college-aged and damn near identical, were lounging on the front porch. They didn't stand up, even when Stiles parked the Winnebago at the side of the road and killed the engine.
"Hmmm," Lydia said, assessing them through the window. "Danny, with me. The rest of you stay put."
"Why does Danny get to go?" Scott asked.
"I'm Danny. Everybody likes me," Danny said with a shrug and a dimple. "Hell if I can figure out why."
Stiles, Scott, and Allison watched the other two approach the twins and work their charm.
"Oh!" Allison exclaimed, smiling suddenly.
"What? What?" Stiles asked.
"I get why she asked Danny."
The twins were on their feet now, smiling and flirting with Lydia and Danny. At least, it looked like flirting from the vantage point of the Winnebago.
"Oh, Twin Number One, is your skull as thick as your muscles?" Stiles asked, making his voice light and airy.
"Why, yes, beautiful creature! All the better for you to tell me what to do!" Scott answered in a dopey deep voice.
"You guys are so immature," Allison said, rolling her eyes, but she was smiling.
"What about you, Twin Number Two? Care to tell me everything you know about this haunted mansion?" Stiles asked. His Danny-voice was actually pretty decent.
"You're so dreamy, I'd tell you anything for a glimpse of those dimples!" Scott simpered.
"Heh, heh, the dimples on my face or on my—"
"Oh my God, Stiles!" Allison protested as Scott and Stiles cracked up.
"Dude, dude, they're coming back!" Stiles tried smoothing his face and poked at Scott to get him to sit up.
The twins smiled smug little smiles when Danny called them out of the Winnebago for introductions. Straight twin was Aiden and gay twin was Ethan, and Stiles was never going to be able to tell them apart without Lydia or Danny around. Or even with them around; they could be bi. Whatever they were, if they thought they were going to try to pull the wool over the eyes of Lydia or Danny, they had another think coming!
Scott pinched him in the side. His BFF radar pinged when Stiles went off on a mental tangent, it was super helpful. Besides, maybe they'd never see the twins again. After all, three minutes of flirting did not equal dating. Well, normally, sometimes with Stiles… and he'd kind of flirted with Derek, maybe sort of, and it'd lasted longer than three minutes…
Scott threw his arm around Stiles' shoulders and gave him a little shake.
"Thanks, man," Stiles muttered.
"At any rate," Lydia said, "Aiden and Ethan work for Deuc, and they are more than happy to let us take a preliminary look around the premises. So gracious of you," she cooed. One of the twins smirked at her. Aiden. What a tool. "Allison, why don't you grab a camera, and we can get started?"
The first walk-through was usually just to get the lay of the land, but Stiles and Scott mic-ed up, just in case. Some of their best footage came from this off-the-cuff stuff.
Davis Mansion, so the local legend went, was haunted by a member of the Davis family -- a writer -- and his muse. The last of the Davises to live in the house moved out due to inconsistent heating, despite a complete overhaul of the radiators, then an attempt at central air/heating. Nothing made an impact. "We could handle the randomly disappearing china, floating candles, and strange wailing noises, but the constant temperature flux was the last straw!" Bob Davis was quoted as saying. When people asked about sightings of the ghosts themselves, Davis would scoff. "Maybe I see them, maybe I don't! Why does the presence of ghosts matter? I just told you it was haunted!"
"The Davis Mansion, Davis Grove, North Dakota, July 15, 2013," Stiles said as they approached the door. Allison followed on his heels, recording with the lightest-weight of the hand-helds for the daytime exploratory footage. "What perverse delights will we find behind this door? What evil wonders? What debauchery of the senses?"
Behind Allison, Lydia rolled her eyes. There was a reason she usually waited in the Winnebago. Stiles opened the door with a flourish and Scott promptly sneezed.
"What dust!" he said, his voice thick.
"Yeah, these aren't especially tidy ghosts," Stiles said, casting a critical eye over the foyer and the gray chandelier hanging from the second floor. The carpeted staircase, color impossible to tell, was split in the middle with a flight running along either wall, with what looked like stone wolves holding up the banisters. They could have been mice. They were really dusty. A drawing room opened up on the left, a closed door on the right, and the hallway proceeded beneath the staircase, beckoning with several other darkened doorways.
"Well, gang," Stiles said, rubbing his hands together, "let's get to work! This place looks ripe for ghosts! And can you hear that?" He cupped one hand over his ear and paused dramatically. "Sounds like ghosts!"
"I hear thumps," Scott said, frowning. "Hey, are you picking that up over the mic?"
Allison nodded wordlessly. Stiles bounced excitedly on his feet and threw his arms wide.
"It even smells like… cinnamon buns?"
A door swung open at the end of the hall, and Scott would later deny (despite the recorded evidence) that he gasped.
Derek and Cora Hale stepped through, freezing when they spotted their company. Their cameramen – two, of course they could afford two, and of course Stiles immediately recognized Erica and Isaac – bumped into them.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Lydia demanded, pushing herself forward.
"Recording our show," Derek said, scowling. "I thought you said doing pranks was beneath you."
"This isn't a prank!" Scott said hotly. "We're taping our show!"
"Oh, how embarrassing," a new voice said.
Stiles turned back to the front door. A blind man stood in the entranceway, leaning on a very attractive woman a good ten years younger than him. A very attractive and scary woman, Stiles amended, as she swung her gaze over the TBK crew much in the way a fisherman eyes a worm before spearing it with a hook.
"We seem to have double-booked," the blind dude continued. "No doubt one of you talked to one twin, and the other talked to his brother."
Lydia and Danny had to flirt with the Gruesome Twosome for nothing. Oh that was cruel and unusual punishment right there.
"This is public property, and we have permits to film." Laura Hale joined them, Isaac and Erica stepping aside to let her pass from the shadows into the half-light of the foyer.
"So do we," Lydia said, clearly peeved that she didn't get to bring up the permits first.
"Mmmm, one always must have the proper paperwork," the blind guy murmured. "Wouldn't you agree, Kali?"
She just smirked, which struck Stiles as a pretty poor reaction from the wife of a guy who couldn't see her face.
"Totally," Stiles agreed. "We love paperwork. In fact, we have consent forms that we ask people to sign if they're going to be hanging around the set. You know, in case they wind up in our footage. Like that time – Scotty, you remember Oklahoma?" Stiles barked a laugh. "We accidentally caught this dude cheating on his wife. She used it in the divorce settlement, made a lot of money. It's crazy what people think they can get away with, man."
Usually, Stiles prided himself on taking the subtle approach (no one else agreed he was subtle). Slinking around the mansion and setting the Doublemint Twins on them did not earn the subtle approach. The blind man – he had to be Deuc, if the woman was Kali – stared unseeingly at Stiles.
"Indeed it is," he said finally. "Enjoy your shoot. Kali."
Kali took him by the elbow and led him back outside. Danny closed the door, and they all piled up against the front window to watch the Lions get in a Ford Focus, driven by the Terrible Two.
"That dude was creepy," Scott declared, and sneezed.
"I can't believe he thought that was intimidating," Lydia said.
"He must be holding something over Ethan, to get him to work for him," Danny said. Stiles rolled his eyes.
"Do you think he knows he gets driven around in a crappy Ford Focus?" Cora mused.
The TBK crew turned to stare at her.
"What?" she asked. "It's a legitimate question."
"This is our side of the mansion," Stiles said bluntly. Dammit, why'd she say exactly what he'd been thinking? Fucking Hales, stealing all his best material!
"The mansion isn't divided into sides, grow up," Derek said, crossing his arms. Stiles wished he'd stop doing that; it just emphasized Derek's perfect biceps and… every muscle ever in his arms.
"That's rich, coming from you guys," Stiles said, recovering enough to glare at Derek. And Erica and Isaac, but he was mostly focused on Derek.
"Well, this is getting us precisely nowhere," Laura cut in. "We should—"
"We need to compromise," Lydia said as if Laura hadn't even spoken. "Since we got here first, we'll do a tour this morning. You guys get it after lunch."
"You just interrupted my sister," Cora said flatly. Derek's face was a smoking hot thundercloud.
Stiles exchanged an uneasy glance with Scott. They were hardly wimps, but the Hales were very… physically impressive. This had bloodbath written all over it.
"No, it's all right." Laura laid a hand on each of her siblings. "We'll come back after lunch. Enjoy your morning… Lisa, wasn't it?"
Lydia ground her teeth, but didn't say anything. They left the way they came, Erica turning to shoot a smirk at Stiles before the gloom swallowed her up. Derek didn't turn this time. Not that Stiles craned his neck for every last glimpse of him.
"That woman is infuriating!" Lydia bit out.
"Hey, I thought you were very diplomatic," Stiles told her.
"You would," Danny muttered. Stiles narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to retaliate, but Scott beat him to it.
"Okay, so, how about we finish the tour! That sounds good, right, guys?" Scott said hopefully. He was flashing the puppy dog eyes. Stiles was a sucker for the puppy dog eyes. Lydia took Danny by the arm and the two of them took up position behind Allison, who counted down from three on her fingers.
"Right, so." Stiles paused, mentally reviewing where they were in the footage. "Anyhow, this place has all the earmarks of a good, old-fashioned haunting. Scott, my man, shall we see what's behind Door Number One?"
"Yes!" Scott leaped forward, and together they pushed open the double doors. Scott sneezed.
"Gesundheit," Stiles said.
"Bless you," Scott told him. That never got old. The room, on the other hand… maybe in its heyday it had been considered impressive, but now it was just a bunch of empty (except for the dust) space. It went on far enough down the side of the house that Stiles could see another pair of doors, which also opened into the main hallway. The back corner appeared to house a decrepit baby grand piano. The walls looked weird. Stiles rubbed at a section with his trusty TBK bandana (those actually came from an ex-boyfriend of Danny's), dislodging enough dirt and grime to make out that the walls were literally covered in mirrors.
"Cool!" Stiles enthused. "It's like a fun house! Most of these mirrors are warped. If we could see in them, I bet we could find one that'd make Derek look two inches tall. Or as wide as a hippo. Or his head," he started to laugh, "the size of a peanut!"
He looked around at the others, still laughing. Scott was grinning, but Lydia looked like she wanted to strangle him.
"Um. I mean, this would be awesome for having a masquerade ball, and then you realize that none of the dancers have hands and feet because vampires don't show up in mirrors."
"Yeah!" Scott chimed in. "Wait, didn't we see that in a movie once?"
"We promised to never admit that we'd paid money to see it," Stiles said. "Remember? Forty-fourth pinky swear?"
"You're right. We just heard about it," Scott said.
"Yeah, we heard about it." Stiles nodded.
Allison snapped her fingers, drawing their attention, and pointed up. They both immediately looked up. Well, that was going to be obvious. Danny would have to play with the editing to make it look more natural.
"Whoa," Scott breathed. "Are those demons?"
Stiles squinted. "I think they're supposed to be cherubs, but hard to say under that much dirt."
The entire ceiling was a mural, filled with dark blobs and swirls. Maybe it had once been Beauty and the Beast-worthy, but now it looked straight out of a horror film. Score!
"Hey, Stiles, tale as old as time, bro!"
Scott took him by the shoulders and wheeled Stiles around in a grotesque parody of a waltz. Scott grinned broadly. Awww, he thought he was a good dancer. It was cute.
"What's next, you're going to light my torch and swing me around to see the beautiful paintings?" Stiles asked him.
"Only if—" Scott started, stopping abruptly when loud, discordant music sounded from the corner of the room. Allison whipped her camera over and Danny raised his flashlight, flooding the back corner with light. Stiles sprinted over. The music had stopped before the light even got there, but he was sure he'd seen—
"A-ha!" he exclaimed. "The curtain is still moving!"
He pushed it aside, disturbing layers of dust, as Scott and the others caught up to him. Scott sneezed three times and Stiles raised his own flashlight. It wasn't as heavy duty as Danny's but it clearly showed the entrance to a secret passage behind the curtain.
"Look," Stiles said, crouching down. "The dust in the passage is all messed up, but the dust on the curtain was still there when I touched it!"
"That doesn't make sense," Scott wheezed.
"I know!" Stiles crowed. "Isn't that awesome?"
"So you wanna see where it goes?" Scott asked.
The passageway was too narrow for them to go through side-by-side, so Stiles went first, followed by Allison, then Scott with Danny's high-powered flashlight. Lydia took one look at the dirt floor and shook her head.
She and Danny were really missing out, Stiles thought as he eagerly pressed forward. Although the air in the passageway was rank. It must have been closed up for a long time before they came. Or before whoever had been there first had come. The dust had definitely been disturbed by something solid, perhaps several somethings solid.
"We don't film in smell-o-vision," Stiles said, starting up his patter for the camera again, "but if we did, y'all would be reaching for your hankies. It's completely rank in here. Smells like that time Scott accidentally boiled his sneakers."
"Yeah, that's fairly accurate," Scott mumbled. "But I was going to say it smells like your laundry when we got back from Camp Walden that summer you discovered your dick."
"Rude, I've always been on a first-name basis with Little Stiles." Stiles winced as a foot came down hard on his heel. "Okay, enough about my dick. It stinks in here. And look, we've reached the end!"
Allison was too much of a professional to express her relief in words, but she picked up her pace. Stiles was watching her feet, making sure she didn't fall out of the passage into what looked like a large kitchen, and that was why he missed the five second warning Allison caught on camera. A ghost rose from the shadows, moaning eerily, and knocked Stiles over.
Later, watching the footage from the safety of the Winnebago, Stiles could clearly see "the ghost" was hiding behind the island counter in the kitchen. It was wearing a white bed sheet, for Heaven's sake. But in that moment, Stiles felt like he was under attack from a vengeful spirit, and he did what any sane person would do: he let out a bellow of rage and brought his arm up in a vicious right hook, who the hell cared if it was an incorporeal being?
Except that it was very corporeal, and swore in a woman's voice.
Scott reached past Allison, hooked his fingers in the sheet, and tugged. Cora Hale blinked up at them, her hair escaping her ponytail in little frizzies.
"What the hell are you doing?" Stiles demanded. "We're trying to film a show here!"
"If you hadn't socked me in the jaw, you'd have a ghost in your show," Cora said petulantly.
"We hunt for real ghosts!" Scott said.
"Cut the crap, there's no such thing as ghosts," Cora said.
"What – you've seen all our episodes! Your sister said! We hunt ghosts, that's the whole damn point!" Stiles said, gesticulating wildly and narrowly avoiding slapping Cora in the face.
"But you fake them!" Cora protested.
"We're not fakers!" Scott said, his face the very picture of indignation.
Cora stared at them. Stiles and Scott stared at her. Finally Allison lowered her camera.
"You guys agreed to leave us alone for the morning. You're breaking your word," she said calmly. "Get out before I throw you out."
A loud crash sounded from somewhere else in the house, followed by Lydia's scream.
"Let me guess: Laura," Stiles said flatly.
"Don't be an idiot. Laura wouldn't wear a sheet," Erica said, popping around the fridge, her camera still rolling.
Stiles and Scott exchanged a glance, and then Stiles was leaping over Cora and running full throttle for Lydia. Scott was right behind him, lighting the way and catching Stiles by the elbow whenever he veered into things, and Allison followed at their heels, camera raised.
They found Lydia and Danny in what looked to be a library, surrounded by the biggest cloud of dust Stiles had ever seen. Scott immediately began hacking and sneezing. One of the bookshelves had fallen forward, hence the crash. Old books littered the floor and scattered pages still fell lazily through the air.
"You're not hurt?" Stiles asked, pulling Lydia into a hug and changing it to sweeping the dust off her clothes. Lydia didn't really do hugs.
"Just surprised," she said a little shakily. She stiffened suddenly beneath his hands and pulled away. "What are they doing here?"
Stiles didn't even have to glance at the doorway to know that Cora and Erica had followed them. Assholes.
"Sabotage, Lyds," he said.
For his last birthday, Danny had given Stiles a compilation video of Lydia losing her shit at non-Stiles people. It was beautiful. And it was nothing compared to the sheer operatic intensity with which she ripped Cora and Erica new assholes. They escaped with – no, Stiles didn't think they escaped with any dignity intact, actually. It was glorious.
The rest of the morning was rather anti-climactic. Scott went through two more packs of Kleenex, Danny investigated the bookshelf and determined there wasn't a catch or lever that sent it falling, and they discovered some creepy bedrooms upstairs, no more secret passages, plus one strange doll that freaked Allison out. Weird dolls with the eyes that rolled in their sockets were her Kryptonite. Stiles had high hopes for finding something in the writer's study, the alleged room where the dead bodies of the writer and his muse had been found, but nada. Or almost nothing – there was a locked wardrobe in the corner that Allison eyed consideringly. The lock had rusted shut, however, and she would need more time to get it open without damaging it. They decided to save it for their night shoot, and left the house, stomachs rumbling.
"So I've been thinking," Lydia said as Stiles shifted the Winnebago into drive. "We need to get back at the Hales."
Stiles shot Scott an excited look. Scott gave him a double thumbs up.
"Sneakier than the shit they pulled," Allison said, nodding her head. Oooh, a swear from Allison. This meant war.
"Exactly," Lydia agreed. "I say we do the blitz."
Allison gasped and Danny groaned.
"Wait, what? What's the blitz?" Stiles asked. "How come I don't know about it?"
"Freshman year of college," Danny said, massaging at his temples like he had a headache. "When Jackson and Lydia broke up for good."
He didn't elaborate. Huh, after freshman year, Jackson transferred to a college in Canada. Stiles hadn't seen him since, and good riddance.
"I'll be the first to admit that Jackson Whittemore is my least favorite person," Stiles said, "but what did you guys do to him?"
"Everything," Lydia said with deep satisfaction. "Exchanged purple dye for his shampoo and foot cream for his toothpaste, glued the edges of his textbooks shut, changed his passwords for his computer and voicemail, shrunk his dress shirts, stole his keys, short-sheeted his bed, put saran wrap over his toilet bowl, poured out his milk and replaced it with buttermilk, dropped little baggies of dog poop in his shoes, took the screws out of his desk chair – we blitzed him."
Scott looked at Allison. "You helped with this?"
"He cheated on her. It wasn't just a break up," Allison said, her cheeks a little pink.
"Not gonna lie, Lydia," Stiles said, putting on his signal to turn back into the motel parking lot, "none of that makes you any less attractive in my book."
"Phew," Lydia said drily. "Now I suggest we start – what is he doing there?"
They all looked out the windows. Derek Hale stood in front of their motel rooms, carrying a basket.
"That is the last man I would expect to own a basket," Stiles said. "The hell? What's his angle?"
"Only one way to find out!" Scott said, hopping out of the front cab of the Winnebago. The others followed, Stiles walking briskly to get in front of Danny, but hoping he looked nonchalant. He probably didn't pull it off.
"Here," Derek said, thrusting the basket at Stiles. "Cora said she messed up your filming this morning."
"And you… bought us apology cookies?" Stiles asked, looking into the basket. Cookies and muffins and it looked like scones. Stiles' mouth watered.
"Sure," Derek said after a pause.
"Wait just a minute," Lydia said sharply. "There's flour on your hands."
"Oh my God, you're trying to give us poisoned baked goods!" Stiles yelped, dropping the basket.
"Dude, that's harsh!" Scott exclaimed.
"What are you – of course I didn't poison them!" Derek protested, scowling.
"Like we believe that!" Stiles said.
It was a stupid thing to do, he knew even as he raised his foot, but he couldn't stop himself. The basket cracked beneath his sneaker, cookies crumbling and muffins turning to mush, ground into the parking lot by his heel.
Everyone stared at the baked good disaster, except for Stiles. His eyes were drawn to Derek's face like a moth to the flame. Derek looked… like Stiles imagined he looked his first day of kindergarten when a big kid stole the cupcake his mom had packed for him. Only there was no Scott to share his Kleenex and fruit snacks with Derek, and make pinky swear number one: you and me against the world. Derek clenched his fists, turned on his heel, and walked away.
"Okay," Danny said finally. "I'm going to walk to that diner we passed and bring us back some food."
"I'll help," Allison offered.
"Bro?" Scott asked Stiles as Danny and Allison walked off.
"Yeah, I'm gonna – I think I need a nap. You guys get with the plotting without me," Stiles said, plastering on a fake smile he knew both Scott and Lydia could see through, but for once Lydia didn't call him on it, just let him retreat to the Winnebago and the bunk in the back.
God, he was such an asshole sometimes! Even if Derek had deserved it. He'd probably deserved it. Right? Who the hell bakes for their rival? It was unheard of! And the Hales, Cora at least, thought they were fakers. Granted, not every place that was reportedly haunted was, in fact, haunted. But ghosts existed. Stiles was sure of it. He could feel his mom sometimes, just out of reach. Someday they'd come face to face. It could happen!
He threw himself down on the bottom bunk and had barely closed his eyes when he heard a door bang open to his left, from the direction of the tour bus.
"I will throttle his scrawny little neck, I fucking mean it!"
Laura Hale. Shit. She must have found out about the basket incident.
"Laura, just let it go!"
And Derek. Great.
"Let it go? Let it go? You spent all morning on that basket! I only got one of those cookies! I'm not going to let it go!"
Fuck, if Derek let Laura eat one, they definitely hadn't been poisoned.
"Could you drop it for me, please? I'm a stress baker, I'm under stress, they didn't want to eat what I made. End of story."
"Oh, Derek." They'd stopped walking just past the window. Stiles strained his ears to hear. Laura sounded less angry and more sad now. "You don't deserve to have your heart stomped on. You really don't."
"My heart had nothing to do with it. I just had excess baked goods. That was all."
"So you didn't go onto their message board to find Stiles' favorite kind of cookie?"
Oh my God. OH MY GOD. Stiles was vibrating from the pressure of holding in the exclamation.
"Okay. Fine, little brother. I'll drop it for now." Laura sighed. "Come on, let's get back to the house and get our own scenes shot."
Stiles waited, paralyzed, until they walked back past the Winnebago and he could hear the tour bus start up. Holy shit, someone liked him! Derek Hale liked him! He had a crush! On Stiles! And Stiles… had basically farted in his general direction. Not to mention Lydia's planned blitz.
Fuck, the blitz!
Stiles ran out of the Winnebago and across the lot to their motel rooms, getting there just as Danny and Allison approached with bags from the diner.
"You're here! Great! Get inside!" he gasped.
"Stiles, what—" Allison started.
"No time!" He pushed them into the girls' and Danny's room. Scott and Lydia looked up from some typically Lydian complex contraption for exacting revenge. "We have to call off the blitz! Derek Hale has the hots for me!"
"Way to go, man!" Scott exclaimed, then frowned. "I thought we hated him?"
"Hush, Scott, we do hate him," Lydia said. "What makes you think he has a thing for you?"
"He baked me cookies! My favorite cookies! Actually, hang on." Stiles opened the door and poked his head out. Damn. The birds had already been into the mangled remains of the basket. There was the five second rule, and then there were bird cooties. He couldn't even tell if they had been peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip. "The cookies aren't salvageable," he reported, stepping back into the room and locking the door. "But he researched my favorite kind and made them for me! Because he likes me, but is too embarrassed to say so!"
Thankfully, none of them were Jackson and went for the obvious comeback to the embarrassment comment, though Danny really looked like he wanted to.
"But how do you know?" Lydia asked finally.
"I heard Laura and Derek talking outside the Winnebago," Stiles answered, leaving unsaid 'And I felt like a real jerk for hurting his feelings.'
"Do you think he still feels that way after what you did to the basket?" Allison asked.
"I have some things to make up to him, this is true. But Scotty, pick out your tux, because the love train is leaving the station!"
"First off, that doesn't even make any sense," Lydia said, raising her hand to forestall his comeback. "And second, maybe they staged that. They could've seen you go into the Winnebago. What better revenge than to get you thinking that Derek wants you back, before he leaves you cold?"
"So, what, you don't think a guy like Derek could find me attractive?" Stiles asked slowly. Nice, Lydia. Real nice.
"That's not what I meant at all, and you know it," she said evenly.
"Yeah, sure," Stiles muttered.
"Stiles, don't be whiny about this—"
"Oh, no. No, I'm sure you're right. After all, I've done nothing but argue with him and mock him since the moment we met. Those aren't very attractive qualities." He felt cold. And queasy. But hungry at the same time. "Which of those is mine?" he asked, pointing to the diner bags.
Allison handed him one. "Stiles—"
"Nah, I'm just… going to go eat this in the Winnebago. Tootles."
Lydia was right, he thought, as he collapsed once again onto the bottom bunk of the Winnebago. He was totally undesirable, in body and in personality. Was that a thing people said? Stiles has an undesirable personality. It sounded weird. His sandwich was weird, too. Allison always got them with hummus, and though Stiles personally loathed mayo, he'd rather have it plain than with hummus.
"Stiles?" Scott asked, knocking on the door even as he opened it. "You okay, bro?"
"I'm a terrible human being."
"No, you're not. I wouldn't scrape the hummus off my sandwich for just anyone." Scott held out his bag like a peace offering. Truly, he was the perfect best friend.
"I love you, man. Blessings be upon your house."
Scott beamed, and they ate in companionable silence for a few minutes before Stiles couldn't take it any longer.
"What do you think?" he asked. "Do you think Derek Hale could possibly like me?"
"Dude, if I was into guys, I would totally want to sex you up."
"Thanks, man. I appreciate it."
"So… does this mean you want to sex Derek Hale up?"
"Argh!" Stiles fell back against the pillows with a thump. "Well, who wouldn't? He's hotter than Hades!"
"Okay, but you tend to look deeper than that."
Stiles closed his eyes. "I can't look at you when I say this: I think I really hurt his feelings with the basket thing. And this morning, with the stupid bumper stickers? Derek's the one who got me free. And he smelled awesome while doing it."
"You're really serious about calling off the blitz, aren't you?" Scott asked after a moment. The pause was telling. Shit.
"What have you guys done already?" Stiles asked, sitting up and digging his phone out of his pocket.
To Lydia: STOP THE DANN BLITS!!!
"We only did one thing!" Scott protested. "It's, um, online."
It was a GIF, showing Scott pulling the sheet off of Cora, with the words "And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those pesky kids!" along the bottom.
"Well, that's not so bad!" Stiles said. "And wow, Lydia works fast."
"Uh… there's another one."
On the surface, the next one wasn't bad, if you didn't know the context. It was just Derek walking away after the basket incident. The only thing was, Lydia had turned it into a meme, called "The Derek Hale Walk of Shame." It was already attached to dozens of posts – a vid of a kid crying over fallen ice cream, a clip of an older (read: cougar) woman puckering up her lips, footage of a building getting demolished.
"Oh my God," Stiles breathed. "He's going to kill me."
"Maybe it won't be that popular," Scott said, puppy dog eyes turned full force to optimistic.
Stiles refreshed the page.
"Fuck," he whispered. "Scott, he's being paired with Grumpy Cat! Grumpy Cat wins the internet! I'm fucking doomed!"
And nothing Scott said was going to make him feel better.
Stiles moped in the Winnebago all afternoon, burying his head in all the pillows from the bunk when Danny, Lydia, and Allison came in to use the laptops for less nefarious purposes than ruining Stiles' love life before it could even get off the ground.
At around 6PM, Stiles heard the tell-tale crunch of gravel signifying the return of the Hales' tour bus. Stiles groaned and buried himself deeper, but no one came over. Maybe the meme had already crashed and burned? Stiles poked his head out of his cocoon. Lydia and Danny were still gathered around the monitors, reviewing the secret passageway footage and eating dinner. Mmmm, pizza. The smell finally dragged Stiles out of bed. He took two slices, mushed them together and took a big bite. Tomato sauce dripped on his shirt. Over towards the front end of the Winnebago, Scott was helping Allison test her lock pick tools to practice opening the wardrobe. All in all, a normal evening.
There was a knock on the door.
Stiles' heart tried to leap out of his throat and he stuffed it down with a last swallow of pizza. Allison hurriedly hid her tools, Danny minimized the screens, and Lydia answered the door, a smile plastered to her face.
"Lydia Martin?" a tall black man with a soft-spoken voice asked. He had to work for the Hales. Everyone who worked for the Hales was preternaturally beautiful, and this guy was smoking.
"That's me," she said with a haughty flip of her hair. Stiles winced. Lydia was great at reading men, usually. But no way this dude was going to be impressed with a hair flip. He wasn't Stiles.
"Boyd," the dude, Boyd, said. "I'm head of Research for Natural. We took a vote—"
"What, Laura doesn't rule with an iron fist?" Lydia interrupted.
Boyd gave her a deeply unimpressed look. She actually flushed.
"Go on," she said quietly. It was the closest he was going to get to an apology, and Boyd seemed to recognize that.
"We decided to warn you—"
"Oh my God, he's really pissed, isn't he?" Stiles asked, sliding off the bunk.
"You Stiles?" Boyd asked. Stiles nodded. "You're an asshole." Stiles flinched. "We're still warning you, though." He sighed, shaking his head. "You shouldn't have gone viral. It takes it out of our hands. Peter Hale saw your handiwork. He's contacted your sponsors."
Stiles felt his stomach drop to the floor and Lydia's face went white. She had provided the initial start-up funds for the series, but gas, especially for a Winnebago, was damn expensive. Not to mention the cameras, computers, midnight snacks.
"That's playing dirty," Lydia said through gritted teeth.
"That's Peter Hale," Boyd replied. "Maybe you should have stuck with shitting on cookies."
And on that note, Boyd exited. Gracefully, of course.
"Who the fuck is Peter Hale?!" Lydia snarled, shaking with rage.
Danny was already at the computer.
"CEO of Hale Pictures, the production company behind Natural," he reported. "He's also got a sleazy Girls Gone Wild knock-off, what looks like a Gay or Straight guessing game reality show, and uh, I think this is sorority sisters bouncing around? Wait, it's a boob job show. A reality show about boob jobs."
Lydia clenched her fists and screamed. Allison laid a conciliatory hand on her shoulder.
"He's a smarmy ass," she said. "We'll skewer him, Lyds. Remember Harris? That TA from freshman Psych? That guy you dated after Jackson? We got them all."
"This is all my fault," Stiles moaned. "Why am I such an asshole?"
"Don't beat yourself up, bro," Scott said. "He totally could have poisoned the cookies! And you didn't make that meme, it was all Lydia."
"Thanks," she bit out. "But if I recall, you laughed at it."
"Okay, so it's all our faults," Scott said diplomatically. "Now how are we going to fix it?"
"I don't know," Stiles admitted. "I think I need inspiration."
Lydia's cell rang. She briefly closed her eyes in the universal "give me strength" appeal, took a deep breath, and walked outside.
"Finstock!" They heard her say before the door slammed shut. The head of Webslinger Webseries, awesome.
Stiles grabbed Scott and a laptop and retreated back to his pillow fort on the bunk bed. Allison and Danny exchanged a look, and dived right in after them.
Stiles had skipped ahead to his favorite part, and Sean Astin was just starting the speech that launched a thousand tears and childhood shenanigans ("Folks in those stories had lots of chances to turn back, only they didn't…") when Lydia came back, surprisingly soon.
"One does not simply threaten Finian J. Finstock," she said, grinning broadly.
"There's good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for!"
"Preach it, Samwise!" Lydia said.
"Are you high," Stiles stated.
Lydia rolled her eyes. "Get out of that ridiculous pillow fort and join me at the adult table. I have big news."
Danny made to get up, but Stiles tugged him back down. "Uh-uh. I'll pause the movie, but you're joining us in the pillow fort. It's good for the soul, Lydia."
"Fine." She sat primly on the edge until Scott pulled her onto his lap.
"That's better," he said. "Now you look like what you are." She raised her eyebrows. "One of us!"
She let her head fall back against Allison's shoulder, pleased. If you had told Stiles in high school that Lydia Martin would someday be one of his best friends, he never would have believed you. But she was in his pillow fort now, stretching her legs over his lap, and smiling at them all.
"Okay," she said. "So Peter Hale apparently called the toothpaste company and that travel agency, plus a few others who put their ads on Webslinger series, to lodge a complaint against us. And they called Finstock. And when they told him who was protesting us, Finstock called Peter Hale an amateur porn king. If he was protesting a group, it meant all 'good' people should support it. I can't believe it, but people bought it! We only lost one sponsor, and Finstock is rubbing his hands in glee at the thought of provoking Peter Hale."
Stiles let out a great sigh of relief, which was echoed by Allison, Scott, and Danny.
"That's not all," Lydia said, digging her toes into Stiles' thigh. "He told me some gossip about your boyfriend's family."
"Oh my God, do I want to hear this?" Stiles asked. "And he's not my boyfriend. He hates me now." Stiles thought he did a pretty good job at keeping the bitterness out of his voice, but both Scott and Danny gave him awkward little half-hugs.
"We'll fix it," Lydia promised, which, what? What on earth had turned Lydia onto the side of the Hales? "Finstock said Dr. and Dr. Hale were well-known archeologists who died on an excavation. Peter was put in charge of the trust they left for their kids – I think Laura was about sixteen or seventeen at the time – and he squandered the whole thing on his stupid production company. The kids are working to pay off three sets of college loans, forget about the inheritance."
"I fucking hate Peter Hale," Stiles said passionately.
Danny grabbed the computer from Stiles and did a quick Google search.
"Oh, cool, they look like Indiana Jones and fem!Indiana Jones." He turned the screen to show the others. Stiles' heart lurched at the happy smiles on the faces of the Dr.'s Hale. Whenever he looked at old pictures of his parents, he got the same queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach – did the Hales have any idea of their fate? Were they thinking of their kids in that picture? Stiles' mom once told him that he was the first thing she thought of when she woke and the last thing before she fell asleep, and at least five hundred times in the hours between – wondering what he was thinking, planning adventures they'd take, making up songs about how much she loved him, dreaming of what his future would be. The Hales had three kids. That was a lot of thoughts.
"Stiles? You okay?" Scott asked softly.
"Yeah," he said, his voice a little gruff. "I wish – Danny, is your pocket vibrating, or are you just happy to see me?"
"Har, har," Danny said, pulling out his phone. A dimple appeared in his cheek when he saw who it was. "Got a text from Ethan."
"You gave him your number?" Stiles asked. "Dude, he was creepy!"
Allison reached over and whacked him gently on the side of the head.
"Pot, kettle, black," Danny said succinctly, and opened his message. "Huh."
"Okay, now I'm curious," Lydia said. "Spill."
"He wants to know if I want to go to a celebration lunch with him tomorrow. The Lions are closing the deal on the house at noon sharp, but after that, Ethan would like to take me out," Danny reported.
"They can't close tomorrow; we have a permit for three more days!" Lydia protested.
"We haven't even done the night shoot!" Stiles said. "I want to see Allison open that wardrobe."
"Yeah!" Scott agreed. "Though, hey, awesome on getting a date."
"Thanks," Danny said drily. "His employer is totally screwing us over, though."
"Order the most expensive thing on the menu," Stiles suggested.
"That's great," Allison cut through their chatter. "But what are we going to do about the show?"
"We'll have to go over tonight," Lydia declared, struggling to her feet.
"And we need to warn the Hales," Stiles said, giving her a hand up. Everybody looked at him. "This is not because I have a soft spot for Derek Hale and his grumpy face. We owe them for the Peter warning."
"That didn't wind up hurting us," Lydia quickly pointed out.
"Fine, I'm going to warn Derek because he made me cookies and I crushed them, like a complete jerkface," Stiles snapped. He crawled off the bed and straightened his shirt. "I'll be back in five."
He hadn't gone a step from the Winnebago before Scott and Allison caught up with him.
"Thanks, guys," he muttered, touched at their support.
"Lydia does feel bad about that meme, you know," Allison said. "She's just not going to admit it."
"You saying it is just as good," Stiles said, and threw an arm over each of their shoulders.
The tour bus door opened as they approached, and the cast and crew of Natural came spilling out. Stiles' eyes immediately searched for Derek's face. Derek's eyes were downcast, his mouth set in a hard line. He stood just behind and to the right of Laura, Isaac at his side, attempting to mimic his stance. Stiles swallowed nervously. Allison gave his waist a squeeze and Scott rubbed his back. Thus fortified, Stiles launched into his speech.
"Uh, so… thanks for the Peter Hale warning." He nodded his head jerkily at Boyd. "But apparently Peter Hale is a giant douchebag." Allison pinched his waist. "And your uncle! I shouldn't have said that. Anyhow. He didn't succeed at screwing us over 'cause everyone hates him." Scott cleared his throat. "I mean. I don't think you guys have particularly fond thoughts for him, either, though he is your uncle. Okay. Ending the family commentary, getting to the point." He took a breath to clear his head. "It's come to our attention that the creepy blind dude—" Allison elbowed him. "Hey, I don't think I'm being un-PC here. He would be creepy even if he wasn't blind. Am I right? Okay, I'll call him by his name. Mr. Lion. Which just sounds weird. That guy that we all know, um, and his scary-hot wife, are buying the mansion. Tomorrow, noon. So no more filming."
Laura took a step forward. "You're almost amusing, kid." Kid? KID? "But Peter will just threaten a lawsuit if they try to prevent us from filming."
"You want to hide behind Peter?" Scott asked. Laura's eyes darkened. "Sorry, no offense."
"Nobody wants to rely on Peter for anything," Cora said. "That's just the way it is, and it's none of your damn business."
"But what if you could get your recording in before noon tomorrow?" Stiles asked. Allison side-eyed him. "We're going over right now and pulling an all-nighter. You guys could come, too! I promise, no funny business, no messing up each other's shots. It's a big mansion, we could totally share."
Sweat pricked the back of his neck as they stared at him.
"Why do you care?" Derek asked finally. "What's it to you if we get our episode shot?"
"Because you're supposed to be the best," Lydia said. Stiles looked over, startled. He hadn't even heard her and Danny join them, too busy trying to come up with an answer that wasn't I feel guilty and I'm attracted to you, and I want to know why you like me, because maybe I like you, too. "But I think we're the best. I won't be able to prove it if you have to scrap your episode."
Laura raised her eyebrows. "Okay then; you're on, Ms. Martin. See you at the Davis Mansion."
She extended her hand and Lydia shook it, flushing slightly. Oh, Stiles was going to tease her about that, make no mistake! First things first, though.
"You're not pissed I invited them?" he asked in a whisper as they clumped together to walk back to the Winnebago.
"It was inevitable," Lydia said. "You're a grand gestures kind of guy, Stiles." She smiled at him, her hands going to her ears to touch the earrings she wore. Emerald earrings that he bought her when Jackson took off for Canada and never came back. He'd thought, maybe, at the time, but then Lydia became his friend and almost as much of a partner-in-crime as Scott. And that was great, better than great, to be honest.
"Well, as long as you're happy," he said. "Ms. Martin," he added in a higher pitched voice.
Danny grinned and gently nudged Lydia's shoulder, echoed by Allison's twin dimples.
"You totally blushed! Even I caught it!" Scott cackled.
"Only because he knows you," Allison assured her. "It was definitely not obvious."
"That's because there's nothing there," Lydia said, head held high. "We're competitors, and professionals. Not that the way you and Derek stare at each other isn't professional, sweetie," she continued, placing her hand on Stiles' arm.
"It's professional, all right, just not for this kind of show," Danny muttered.
Stiles let the banter wash over him, throwing in a zing or two at Danny about Ethan's text messages after Scott stole his phone ("He's watched the clip of you playing Quarters two hundred times? No wonder that thing was so popular. Mystery solved!"), and by the time the Winnebago lurched to a stop in front of the Davis Mansion, he was pumped and raring for an all-nighter of ghost hunting spectacular.
Except for one thing.
"Dude, we never stocked up on midnight snacks!" Stiles exclaimed, smacking Scott across the chest.
"Ouch!" Scott said automatically. It'd totally been a love tap. "I have a bag of Skittles."
"We're screwed. That's just – Allison could eat that by herself in ten minutes."
"More like five," Allison muttered.
"Stiles, you just ate dinner. You'll be fine," Lydia said impatiently. "Come on. I want to get set up before they get here."
"What happened to being all 'we have to compete with the best'?" Danny asked, raising his eyebrows.
"We are! And the best gets set up first; now grab a box and chop-chop!"
Their super fancy equipment featured a few pairs of night vision goggles, a pair of lights and a reflecting screen, a more advanced camera than the cheap one Allison used during day scenes, Allison's lockpick kit, their usual mic packs, and the EMF's Stiles had ordered online way back in high school as a practical joke, then heavily modified when they started the show. Both he and Scott were convinced they really worked – maybe the ghost they encountered were more ephemeral or even just presences instead of outlines of real people, but by George, they counted!
They were gathered in the front drawing room around a large, and extremely dusty, painting of a tree, listening to Scott's EMF detector gurgle, when the Hales showed up. Stiles lifted his hand in greeting and immediately felt stupid for it, changing into a stretch and yawn.
"Boring yourself, Stilinski?" Erica drawled.
The stretch changed to flipping the bird. Erica let out a low laugh. Stiles tried to catch Derek's eye and had to resist crowing with excitement when the other man looked over at him. With a confused look that quickly changed to lowered eyebrows and a downturned mouth. Stiles opened his mouth to ask what he'd done wrong when he realized he was still gesturing with his middle finger. Great. He hurriedly clenched his fists and gave a sheepish shrug. Derek's eyes were too hooded for Stiles to read them. Dammit, he already needed an intervention, or—
"What's that gurgling sound?" Cora asked.
"Huh?" Scott asked. "Oh!" He waved the EMF detector in his hand. "It's Fezzik! He says the painting is mostly normal."
"Which means it's slightly haunted," Stiles finished for him.
"Yeah, that never gets old," Danny mumbled.
"No, I get the EMF detector," Cora said with a dismissive wave. "I meant the gurgling, grumbling wall of noise."
"I know what you mean," Laura said, nodding. The rest of her crew were carrying their own equipment (heavier and more expensive looking than TBK's), but Laura just had a Tupperware container, which she opened with a sly look at Stiles. The smell of cinnamon, sugar and yeast hit him full in the face, and his stomach made a very loud protest.
"Dude!" Scott exclaimed, laughing. Cora, Erica, and Laura cackled as Stiles' face heated up.
"Okay, okay, you got me," Stiles admitted. "Those smell amazing."
"Of course they do," Laura said, digging into the container for an ooey, gooey cinnamon bun. "Derek made them." She took a step closer to the drawing room before Derek reached over, snatching the box from her hands and pressing down the lid.
"Stop taunting them," Derek said gruffly. "Come on, we can go to the ballroom."
Ouch. Isaac and, surprisingly, Laura threw Stiles sympathetic looks before going into the ballroom.
"Um." Stiles cleared his throat. "We're getting nothing here. Let's go upstairs and open that wardrobe. Ten bucks says it expels R. Kelly."
"Twenty bucks says it leads to Narnia," Scott countered.
Lydia pulled on Danny's sleeve, and the two of them hung back. Stiles tried not to freak out about it as he and Scott traded increasingly outlandish bets about what could be in the wardrobe on their way up the stairs. Lydia was being much more hands-on this episode, admittedly because of the presence of the Hales, but the scowl she directed at Derek still made Stiles a little antsy. A lot antsy. There was only so much more Stiles could do before turning Derek off past the point of no return, and leaving him to Lydia wasn't going to help. It was already clear that warning the Hales about the impending sale wasn't enough to get back in Derek's good graces. Stiles went with his preferred method of coping and tried to put it out of his mind to fester in a forgotten corner of his brain when Allison handed the camera off to him and made a rare appearance on the other side of the lens.
"Excitement fills the air as each tool is painstakingly chosen and inspected," Stiles said breathlessly, giving his best mash-up of sports commentator/nature documentary prattle as Scott held the light and Allison went to work. "The elusive Allisonius Argentus in her native territory. With a delicate flick of her wrist and twist of her fingers—" He stumbled over the wording as Scott shot him an alarmed look. Right, that didn't sound good. "You can hear the dead bolt turning over!" he recovered.
"It's not a dead bolt," Allison murmured.
"You can hear the snick of tumbling things! The crowd, and by crowd I mean Fezzik, goes wild!" Stiles crowed, and wow, Fezzik really was reacting wildly. Stiles backed up a step to get the EMF detector, Scott, Allison, and the wardrobe all in the same frame, the wood creaking alarmingly beneath his feet. Allison stilled suddenly, her hand flat against the door as she pressed her ear to the wardrobe.
"What do you hear?" Scott asked, raising his voice to be heard over Fezzik.
"It's not the rain," Allison replied, touching the lock gently.
The door sprung open, Fezzik went off the charts, and an amorphous dust cloud came flying out of the wardrobe. Stiles yelled in excitement, shifting back to capture it all on camera, and the floor gave beneath his weight. Fezzik and Scott were both making enough noise to literally wake the dead as Stiles plummeted down to the first floor and landed on two metal bars attached to a brick wall. Stiles swung the camera up. Oh. Derek Hale blinked down at him, little shards of wood and plaster dust in his hair, looking just as bewildered to find Stiles suddenly in his arms (the metal bars) as Stiles was to be in them. He pulled Stiles closer to his chest (the brick wall) and moved back from the gaping hole, and Stiles thought he might just stop breathing. Derek looked like an angel. He was an actual angel, made flesh to cuddle Stiles and protect him from dust monsters.
"Stiles!" Scott yelled, the hysteric note piercing through Stiles' muzzy thoughts. He blinked. There was a light behind Derek's head, giving him a halo, and up at the hole in the ceiling, Scott and Allison leaned over the edge to see down. Fezzik gurgled quietly.
"I'm okay!" Stiles yelled back. "And I got it on tape!"
They were in the ballroom with the rest of the Hales, Stiles realized, looking around. Isaac was filming the hole in the ceiling and Erica was filming – Derek still clutching Stiles to him. Derek's sisters watched them, Cora wearing a frown and Laura with her hand up to hide a smile.
The double doors flew open, and Lydia and Danny ran in, trailed by Boyd. That was… an interesting combo.
"Stiles!" Lydia exclaimed. "Are you okay? What the hell happened?"
She skidded to a stop, her eyebrows climbing almost up to her hair at the sight of Stiles, held like something precious in Derek's arms. Stiles expected to get dropped on his ass, but Derek surprised him, setting him carefully on his feet and brushing lightly at the dust in Stiles' hair and on his shoulders. He completely ignored Lydia. Stiles felt a warm glow, though he wanted to tell Derek that ignoring Lydia was a bad call.
"Here," Stiles said, handing the camera over to her. "I got it all on tape."
He turned his attention to Derek, abandoning his own internal advice, and brushed at the plaster and wood in Derek's hair and on his clothes. They were the same height; it was so easy to reach. And Derek was letting him, even, maybe, leaning into the touch a bit. He wasn't pulling away, at any rate. Stiles wished he could read the expression on Derek's face. Yearning? Was that it?
"I'm going to be sick," Cora announced.
"Shut up," Derek said. He brushed one last piece of crud off Stiles' chest and stepped back. Stiles immediately felt the loss, but didn't have long before Scott barreled into his side, breathless from running down the stairs.
"Stiles, bro, I was so worried! It was a malignant spirit! It pushed you through the floor!" He released Stiles only to throw his arms around Derek. "Thank you! You saved my Stiles, you precious human being!"
Laura laughed outright at that. "Aww, precious," she echoed, grinning. Derek looked less than pleased, but he endured it with as much grace as he could muster. He really was precious, Stiles silently agreed. Then silently poured a metaphoric bucket of cold water over his own head before he did something embarrassing. Or even more embarrassing than falling through a floor and swooning in the arms of the most beautiful man he'd ever seen.
"What did you mean by 'malignant spirit'?" Lydia asked sharply. "Someone want to tell me what happened?"
"It was awesome, Lyds, and I got it on tape!" Stiles said excitedly. Though the truly awesome part had been Derek holding him, not the falling part.
"We're watching it in reverse," Danny reported, looking up from where he and Boyd had their heads together over the camera. "So far it's still an ode to Hale's face."
Stiles flushed. "It's before that," he said, scratching at his head. He never knew what to do with his hands when he was embarrassed. Which was a lot of the time, it turned out.
"Holy shit," Boyd said. Stiles admired his calm in the face of the paranormal. "Derek has nose hair."
"Give me that." Stiles snatched the camera out of his hands and rewound until the ceiling was on the view screen. Scott and Lydia jostled his shoulders to get a look, as did Cora, and over her shoulders, Derek and Laura.
It was kind of freaky watching it in reverse – the ceiling moved closer and closer and falling debris scattered across the screen, then the camera slowly righted itself, catching the top of the wardrobe, Scott's head and shoulders, and then The Thing. Stiles hit pause.
"It's just electromagnetically charged dust particles," Cora said dismissively.
"Then how did Stiles fall?" Scott shot back. "We were up there earlier today, and no one fell through the floor!"
"Poor construction," Cora snapped. "This place has been abandoned for years."
"Okay, kids," Laura interjected. "I'm going to make a suggestion: why don't we split into two teams and look for the reason Stiles fell through the ceiling?"
"That's what we were doing," Lydia said, frowning.
"No, I mean in these teams: Scott, Cora, Allison, Boyd and me on one team, and Stiles, Derek, Erica, Isaac, Danny and you in the other team," Laura said.
"You want to make a crossover?" Lydia asked.
Laura shrugged. "When are we ever going to get the opportunity again?"
After a moment, Lydia nodded. Stiles barely resisted punching his fist in the air in triumph.
"Awesome," Erica declared, finally lowering her camera. "But first we need some group bonding. And snacks."
It was a little awkward, sitting in a loose circle on the floor, well away from the detritus of what Erica was already calling Stilinski's Hole, and passing around their joint snack supply: a full jug of what Isaac bashfully explained was his homemade moonshine (just one sip was enough to make Stiles a bit light-headed), one bag of Skittles and three different Tupperware containers of Derek Hale's baked goods. It was actually really, really awkward, and then Stiles finally sunk his teeth into one of Derek's buns and let out an involuntary moan that went straight past foreplay to orgasm. Everyone stared at him.
Erica giggled, deep and throaty, and said, "You know what this reminds me of? Last Thanksgiving at Grandma Boyd's house."
"Boyd's grandma gets excited about her cinnamon buns?" Stiles asked, because if he's going to get mocked, he'll get in front of that train, thank you very much.
"No, his sister Valerie and her new boyfriend skipped out on the family tag football game because they weren't feeling well," Erica explained, her eyes shining. "But then Boyd's little brother kicked the ball into the neighbors' yard, so the game ended early."
"And we all went back to the house and saw Val giving Jesse a blow job," Cora finished up, rolling her eyes. "This is nothing like that, Erica."
"It was the sound," Erica explained. "And you forgot the best part."
Boyd groaned. "Do you really have to?"
"Everyone is just fucking frozen, okay," Erica continued, relentless, "and Grandma says—"
"'That is one very full ding-a-ling,'" Cora chimed in, and they finished in unison. Cora was even smiling, both of them were.
"I swear, sometimes I think you're the same person," Stiles murmured, a smile tugging at his lips regardless because: ding-a-ling.
"Don't be stupid; we're totally two different people," Cora said with a sniff. "I have brown hair and she's a blonde. It's very obvious. Besides," and a wicked gleam entered her eye. Scott, sitting next to her, actually scooted back a few inches, "never have I ever had sex at Grandma Boyd's house."
Erica groaned and reached for the jug, taking a sip before passing it to Boyd, who passed it to Derek, who passed it to Laura.
"Well, Isaac?" she asked, holding it out.
"Nah, we wound up playing Mario Kart all night," he said. "Maybe this Thanksgiving."
Stiles was still processing the fact that Derek had had sex at Boyd's grandma's house when Lydia asked the obvious question.
"Do you all spend the holidays together?"
"Yeah," Erica said shortly. "And it's my turn. Never have I ever seen a ghost."
Stiles reached for the jug defiantly. It really did burn going down. Scott took it from him next, smacking his lips when he was done.
"That stuff's not half bad," he said.
"Thanks!" Isaac said, sitting up a little straighter.
"It's like burning gasoline!" Lydia said with a wheeze, handing the jug over to Allison. "Did you follow a recipe? Because I've made some stuff in the lab that's very smooth—"
"But with a nail polish aftertaste," Allison said, smiling to take the sting out of her words. "I'm with Scott, this stuff isn't so bad."
Danny held his nose and took a sip. "No, Lydia's right," he decided. "My turn. Never have I ever kissed everyone in my crew."
"Fine, hand it over," Erica told him. Shit, that meant she'd kissed Derek. He'd had sex at Grandma Boyd's and kissed Erica? Stiles hoped the incidents weren't related. "Any other takers?" Erica asked.
"Oh, shit, yeah," Stiles said. He'd almost forgotten. That would have been embarrassing. Scott was tugging at his arm, nearly causing him to spill some of the precious, precious moonshine. Precious like Derek! It was a Thing. "What, man?" he asked. "You haven't kissed Danny."
"You kissed Allison?" Scott protested, his eyes wide with hurt and betrayal. "Stiles, that's like rule number something in front of one!"
"Uh-oh," Erica muttered.
"No, this is awesome," Cora whispered back.
"Enough from the peanut gallery," Stiles said firmly. "Scott, bro, you were there. It was your idea! Pinky swear number 215, remember?"
"Stiles is right," Allison said. "About the kiss. Nobody shares pinky swears with me, so I can't speak to that," she added, a little frostily.
"Why on earth would I want my best friend to kiss my girlfriend?" Scott asked, his voice getting a little louder.
"Ex-girlfriend!" Allison said. "We were on a break!"
"I hate to be the one to tell you this, Ross," Scott snarled, and whoa, Scott never lost his temper like this; this was bad, bad, bad. "But you and I have never once successfully taken a break!"
"Scott, man, calm down," Stiles said, getting between them and placing a hand on Scott's shoulder. "It was freshman year of college, you'd never been that drunk before, you were reciting that line, from that thing—"
"What? What line, what thing?"
"It was freshman year! And I was drunk, too! An eighties' movie. 'Something something moon. Without you I dwell in darkness.' Ring a bell?" Stiles asked.
"I was quoting Willow to her?" Scott asked, calmer. More confused. It was a good start.
"No, dude. To me," Stiles said. "My power enchanted you and you were helpless against it." He remembered suddenly, snapping his fingers.
"That makes no sense," Scott said. His face broke out into a slow grin. "I wasn't making sense!"
"Yeah. You were drunk," Stiles told him again, and they really needed to stop passing around that jug if they were going to get a decent episode out of this. "It was just a dare."
Scott threw his arms around Stiles in an exuberant hug. Erica and Cora looked a little put out that they weren't going to see a fight. Served them right.
"I think group bonding is officially over," Laura said, rising to her feet.
"Definitely," Lydia agreed. "My team will take this floor."
"That seems safest for Stiles," Laura said. Nice.
"You guys have fun with the Skittles," Stiles said. "We'll take good care of the cookies and the hooch."
"Yeah, no more hooch tonight," Lydia said firmly. "But we can keep the cookies." Derek cleared his throat. "Swallow a frog?" Lydia asked.
Derek just rolled his eyes and joined Laura for a whispered private conversation that quickly sucked in their entire crew.
"Should we be worried?" Danny muttered, glancing over at the Hales as TBK formed its own loose huddle.
"I feel perfectly safe with them," Stiles declared. "Especially since Cora's going with Scott and Allison."
"And you get your knight in shining armor," Allison said with a small smile.
"There is that," Stiles agreed. His face fell as a sudden thought occurred to him. "I bet Erica's going to try to catch my boner on camera."
"TMI," Lydia said crisply. "Now focus, everyone. We're still trying to make the best episode ever. We need to get whatever that thing was on camera again. Got it?"
"Ay, ay, Captain!" Stiles said, saluting.
"You guys ready?" Laura called out.
Stiles looked at Derek. Damn was he ever ready. Lydia elbowed him in the side. "Wipe your drool," she whispered. Stiles patted at his wet chin.
Working with two cameramen – people, two camerapeople – was a little hard to get used to. Erica walked in front and to the side, slowly, going backwards, to get their faces. Isaac walked behind to capture their viewpoint, though to be honest, Stiles was mostly looking at Derek. The shadows from Danny's light really emphasized his gorgeous cheekbones, and his strong, biteable neck. And the jut of his chin, when they stopped walking because he was waiting for Stiles to say something back to him. About… something.
"Um," Stiles said, wracking his brain. Ghosts. They were talking about ghosts, as made sense on a show that purported to search for them. "Yeah, I wouldn't call everything we encounter a full-fledged 'ghost.' Sometimes the paranormal is just a feeling – like an echo that something bad happened somewhere. The person behind it isn't powering it anymore; it's just the natural world protesting injustice." That sounded smart. "But whatever it is, it's not there because it's happy. They're usually just really sad and confused. Unless they're vindictive."
Derek frowned. "I thought you said once that you were looking for someone you'd known."
Stiles tripped on empty air. He'd never told Derek that, which meant Derek had to have looked through the TBK site. Stiles' mom was only mentioned in one interview – and they'd taken that one down, too, though the internet was forever. Apparently, and at Derek Hale's fingertips.
"A ghost like that isn't going to appear to a stranger," he managed finally. "Like we're strangers here. The writer and muse don't know us from a hole in the wall – or ceiling, as it were."
"Then why look for them?" Derek asked.
"Because they're here! Don't you think it's interesting?"
"I don't think they're here at all," Derek said with a bit of a smirk.
Erica bumped into the dining room door and swore softly. Ha, Allison never swore on camera. Stiles was just about to say so when he fell through another floor. This time his flailing hands landed on another arm, but instead of staying on solid footing, he pulled Derek down with him. They tumbled in the dark, rolling to a stop with Derek spread eagled on the floor and Stiles clutching his chest.
"Ow," Stiles whimpered. "I mean, sorry I squashed you."
Derek grunted in reply.
"Oh my God, are you seriously injured?" Stiles fumbled for his own flashlight, not anywhere near as powerful as what Danny used during filming, but it did the trick, and scrambled back until he was kneeling over Derek. Which lined their groins up pretty well and was a decidedly bad idea.
"I'm fine. Just winded." Derek looked up at him from beneath his long, dark lashes. If this kept up, Stiles was going to write a Harlequin in his head. Hell, maybe he could get it published. What kind of money did Harlequin writers make? He'd look into it.
"Stiles?" Derek laid a hand on Stiles' leg, just above the knee. He caressed my thigh with his huge, meaty paw, an expression of concern on his statuesque face, Stiles wrote in his head.
"Mmmm," Stiles said.
"They're yelling for us. Can you hear them?"
It was like getting doused with a bucket of cold water. Very faintly, he could hear what was definitely Lydia calling his name. It sounded much more muffled than it really should – had they rolled down a hall thing? There had been tumbling, and Derek all around him. Huh. Derek had cradled Stiles' head. That was a thing that had happened.
"Um, yeah, I just," Stiles said, struggling to his feet and offering Derek a hand up. He was pleasantly surprised when Derek took it. "Lydia!" Stiles yelled, turning his head. "We're okay!"
"Whrrrellooo?" came back.
"I have no idea what she just said," Stiles told Derek.
"Where the hell are you?" Derek asked.
"I'm with you!" Stiles protested.
"No, that's what she said," Derek said.
"That joke doesn't really work like that," Stiles said.
"Shut up!" Derek glowered at him. Crap, they were getting back into Angry Eyes territory. "Lydia yelled 'Where the hell are you?' I could hear her."
"Oh." Stiles hunched his shoulders and turned away from Derek on the pretense of looking around, aiming his flashlight over the walls. Derek, of course, had a much better flashlight. It emitted a warm, golden color and flooded the corners of the room as opposed to Stiles' standard silvery blue, narrow beam. "Hey, we're in a wine cellar. With no wine," Stiles finished sadly. Unlike the rest of the house, though, it wasn't very dusty, and the empty racks were pushed together against one wall. A ghost wouldn't have done that. Interesting.
"Here's where we fell," Derek said, pointing out a wide, smooth chute. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled up it. "We're in the wine cellar! Beneath the kitchen!"
There was some muffled back-and-forth, and then Lydia yelled back. Stiles leaned shamelessly into Derek's personal space so he could hear, too.
"Isaac thinks he saw a storm entrance outside the house," Lydia yelled. "Do you see a door?"
Stiles looked around wildly. "There!" he exclaimed, pointing. He ran across the cellar and yanked on the small wooden door set into the far wall. It didn't budge. Derek joined him and gave a mighty heave, his muscles flexing. It was a beautiful sight, but the door still didn't open. It did, however, make a telltale clinking noise.
"Lyds!" Stiles ran across the floor – it wasn't a very large cellar; some of it must have been bricked off as Stiles couldn't imagine a family sheltering in this space during an actual storm – and yelled back up the chute. "There's a door, but you'll need bolt cutters or something. It's chained shut on the outside!"
"Okay! We're coming to you! Don't break your idiot necks trying to climb back up this thing. Just stay put!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Stiles muttered. "I swear sometimes she doesn't trust me at all."
"Erica!" Derek yelled up the chute. "You let Isaac use the bolt cutters, got it?"
A grumbled "Fine" floated down the chute, and then they were left alone.
"I take it there's a story behind that," Stiles said, after a pause that was just shy of being awkward.
"Erica can't be trusted with heavy objects that could potentially maim someone," Derek said.
Well, that was a terrifying mental image. "So, um," Stiles said, searching for a different topic. "What do you suppose that chute was for?"
"Laundry," Derek said.
"Oh! Cool." Stiles nodded his head and had to remind himself to stop nodding his head at Derek like… he found everything he said to be the most fascinating thing ever. It was embarrassing. Was he a grown man or a bobble head doll? In fact… "Where did they do the laundry? There aren't any sinks or machines or things down here."
"Probably behind that bricked-up portion," Derek said, pointing his light. Something in front of the bricks threw a tiny shadow.
"Hold the light there," Stiles said, approaching the bricks and crouching down to pick up the object: a small rubber tip, like what would be on the bottom of a cane. "Huh."
"What is it?" Derek asked, stepping closer. "Is that from Lion's cane?"
"Looks like it," Stiles replied. "And look at how clean it is down here." Derek raised an eyebrow. "Well, relatively clean."
"You're saying the Lions were down here, and their hired muscle pushed the wine racks aside. Why?" Derek asked.
"Um. To brick up the other door?" Stiles guessed, but Derek shook his head.
"Those are old bricks. And look at the mortar." He directed his light beam at it. "Much older than just a few months."
"Maybe they were down here looking for something – like a secret door or something – and they think it's behind the bricked up door?" Stiles suggested, rubbing his hands together. Ooh, a mystery! It was almost as good as a ghost.
"What could they be looking for?" Derek frowned again. "Boyd did the research on this house. A Davis and another man died here, and a Davis cousin inherited. He got spooked, took what he wanted when he left, and let the town have the rest. There's nothing to find here."
"Oh, well, if Boyd says so—"
"I've known Boyd his whole life," Derek argued. "He's smart, and meticulous, and doesn't leap to crazy conclusions."
"Crazy?" Stiles muttered underneath his breath. At Derek's darkening face, Stiles changed tactics. Besides, he was a little curious. "You've known Boyd his whole life?" he asked.
Derek blinked. "I – yes. Our families lived down the road from each other when we were kids. Cora and Boyd have been best friends since forever."
"Aww, really?" Stiles blurted out, and winced. "I mean, awesome." Oh, someone take the power of speech from him. "I just think – that's great. It's like me and Scott. Scott and I? BFF's, doing a show together." Shut up, Stiles. "So is Erica like the Allison?"
Was it just him, or was Derek's mouth almost upticking into a smile?
"If by 'the Allison' you mean she's Boyd's girlfriend, then yes. She was Cora's roommate their freshman year – all their years – and we haven't been able to get rid of her since."
"Aww," Stiles cooed – again, what was wrong with him? "You must really like her."
Derek rolled his eyes, but he was smiling now. It wasn't just a trick of the light. Stiles gave himself a mental pat on the back and sat on the floor, leaning against the brick. He patted the floor next to him, and couldn't help his wide grin when Derek sat down close enough to feel his warmth.
"And Isaac, your preferred bolt cutter? Did he live next door?" Stiles asked, resting his chin on his hands, elbows on his knees. It was a coy look. So sue him.
"I TA-ed for Isaac's history class his first semester," Derek said. "We had a lot in common." He must have seen the question on Stiles' face because he shrugged uncomfortably. "Both orphans."
"Oh." Stiles picked at the frayed edge of his jeans. He'd botched that one up good, and though he'd had lots of experience with people bringing up his mother only to feel bad when he said she was dead, he didn't really know what it felt like to be on the other side. Wow, it was really awkward. "We all went to high school together," he said, trying for a save. "In California. And then we all chose schools in Boston."
"Yeah, I know."
Derek grimaced, like he hadn't meant to give that away, and Stiles' heart did a weird little patter.
"I looked you up after you sideswiped us," Derek said.
"Hey! I still maintain that wasn't my fault!" Stiles protested, grinning. "And I knew who you were once I saw your face, though that stupid hat was a good disguise," he added, poking Derek in the side. "Your fans have been dragging us through the mud for months, I'll have you know."
"I asked them to stop." It was Derek's turn to pick at his jeans, only they weren't frayed. "But that was before you made that meme thing, so who knows."
"Lydia made that without my knowledge," Stiles said quickly. "I'm really, really sorry about it. And, um, thanks. For talking to your fans."
Derek shrugged. Okay, change of topic number fifty. Stiles could do that; he was more than used to carrying a conversation with little to no help.
"How come you don't believe in ghosts?" Stiles asked. "Come on, fair's fair."
Derek frowned. "You were talking about differences in ghosts, not why you believe in them."
He'd been paying attention before they fell! Stiles could have crowed with delight. "I asked you first," he said. "Lay it on me, Hale."
"It's really not any of your business," Derek snapped. Stiles recoiled like he'd been slapped.
"It's only the whole premise for your stupid show, but no, really, it's personal," Stiles said, taking refuge in the bitter cloak of sarcasm. "God forbid you say anything that means anything."
"Takes one to know one," Derek said. Stiles hadn't used that insult in twelve years. He'd been so annoying at nine.
"You already think you know why I really believe in ghosts," Stiles said. "Yeah, that's right. You gave yourself away, you little cyber stalker."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Derek bit out.
"Up there!" Stiles pointed to the ceiling, feeling ridiculously like Mikey Walsh. "Up there you said I was looking for someone. We took that vid down. It was too fucking personal. But you found it!"
The fight went out of Derek's eyes and he slumped back against the wall. Stiles was left gaping at the sudden change and still simmering with anger.
"If you… feel… your mom or whatever, that's great," Derek said tiredly. "But I've never felt my parents. Did you know that, after they died…" He stared intently across the room at the chute, and Stiles held his breath. "We went to live with our uncle, but he was – a lot younger than our mom; he just wasn't ready for that kind of responsibility, and we moved halfway across the country. Cora was pissed to be away from Boyd, but she looked – she was a cute kid. It was really easy for Peter to find people who wanted to adopt her." Stiles didn't dare breathe. "Laura was furious. It took a year, but she got emancipated and we got Cora back. Of course Peter hadn't gone through the courts to get rid of Cora. He got his revenge, though…" Derek's voice trailed off.
"He spent your inheritance," Stiles said.
Derek shot him a glance. "Yeah. Among other things. Laura hates to rely on him for anything, but he helped us out of…" Derek squeezed his eyes shut. "Something stupid I did. And now we have six months left on this contract."
"And you think, what, your parents should have interfered?" Stiles asked, though his curiosity was screaming about the 'something stupid' he'd done. "Derek, I—"
"I know," Derek said quickly. "It's not very rational. I guess I just wanted a sign. From them. It really – it doesn't have anything to do with ghosts. I'm just…"
"Stuck in the anger stage of grief?" Stiles suggested.
"Something like that." Derek avoided his eyes, shrugging again. "Sorry, I'm not – I don't usually talk about this stuff. I shouldn't have said anything."
"It's okay. I wanted to know! I feel like we're kind of… becoming friends? Emphasis on kind of?" Derek didn't say anything. "I mean, we've both managed to piss each other off in equal amounts – okay, no, I probably pissed you off more." He gave a little self-deprecating laugh.
"You're not so bad," Derek said slowly. "Your friends are annoying as hell."
"Watch it, buster. Those are my, uh, friends you're talking about," Stiles said in his best gangster accent. "So thanks." Stiles smiled and took a stab at lightening the mood. "Besides, I'm special! You know my favorite cookie."
Derek nodded silently, looking away to stare intently at the end of the chute. That wouldn't do.
"I'm glad you cared enough to tell me that stuff," Stiles admitted, his heart rate speeding up. Derek made a sound low in his throat. "Hey," Stiles said, and reached a shaky hand out to cup Derek's jaw.
The response was immediate and electric, as Stiles found himself being pulled onto Derek's lap, Derek's lips on his, hungry and possessive and holy shit, it was really happening. Every part of Stiles was enthusiastically on board with the impromptu make-out session. He slid his other hand around to tug at the hair at the nape of Derek's neck and wow, did he like that. Derek groaned, a low, primal sound that went straight to Stiles' groin, and Stiles ground his hips down. They were both getting hard, just from kissing aggressively. Things were about to cross firmly into NSFW territory when Derek slid a hand up under Stiles' shirts to splay across his back, and Derek's other hand hovered right above the button of Stiles' jeans, but the loud crack of splintering wood signaled the end of privacy.
It wasn't quite enough warning, though, and they were still tangled together, no doubt looking all sorts of debauched, when Erica and her camera scrambled through the hole in the door. She hooted with laughter at the sight of them.
"Sorry for interrupting, gentlemen, but we're trying to make a show here," she said.
"Did you use the bolt cutters?" Derek asked, and okay he wanted to play it cool. Stiles could play it cool, like Sodapop or a Jet. And now he wanted to snap his fingers. Instead he buried his face in Derek's neck and tried to regulate his breathing.
"Isaac did," Lydia said, coming through the broken door and freezing when she spotted them. Her eyes darted over to Erica. "You have that on camera, don't you?"
"Oh yeah!" Erica said, patting her camera. "I got tongue, too. I'd tell you whose, but they were so tangled up it'd be impossible to say."
"Please stop talking, Erica," Stiles said, finally lifting his head, just in time to catch the beam from Danny's flashlight right in the face. He squeezed his eyes shut. "Leave Derek alone; I'm impossible to resist."
Derek snorted, but helped Stiles clamber somewhat gracefully to his feet. Stiles blinked, adjusting to the brightness with Danny in the room. He could finally see the chute better. It was a miracle Derek hadn't been brained when they tumbled out. And who the hell made a laundry chute with twists and turns?
"We're pretty far beneath the house, aren't we?" Stiles asked.
"Yup," Danny confirmed. "Lydia and I were talking with Boyd before you swooned the first time—"
"Swooned?" Stiles protested.
"And he showed us the blueprints to this place. The cellar is supposed to end at the first turn in the chute, and the outside entrance goes to that cellar. Lydia noticed a side passage, though. That's why it took so long to find you. Not that you were complaining," Danny finished with a smirk.
Stiles waved it aside. "Whatever, so what you're saying is there's another secret passage, and this is a whole secret room?" He patted his pockets. He'd put it there, hadn't he?
"That's exactly what we're saying," Lydia said. "What are you looking for, Stiles?"
Derek wordlessly handed him the rubber tip from the cane. Oh, there it was.
"Thanks," Stiles said, smiling. Derek even smiled back. Damn, he had cute teeth.
Lydia sighed. Loudly.
"Right," Stiles said. "Look what we found down here."
The rubber tip sat on his palm, all unaware that it was truly a damning piece of evidence.
"So… the Lions knew about this room," Lydia said, squinting at the tip.
"Yeah. And they probably got your boyfriends to move things around down here. They had to be looking for something, Lyds."
"They're not our boyfriends," Lydia said absently, now peering into the shadows. "Though they were probably looking for something. Why else would they want to buy this place? And prevent us from looking around?"
"What kind of thing are we looking for?" Erica asked, sweeping her camera over the walls. "Treasure?" She caught Isaac's eye. "Rich stuff?" they said in unison.
Damn them all to Hades, Stiles couldn't dislike any of the Hale crew now. Goonies never say die!
"Wait, go back," Derek said suddenly, grabbing Danny and Erica by the shoulders and pointing them and their lights in the same direction. Stiles gasped.
"That's a different kind of stone!" he exclaimed. Both he and Derek knelt down, nearly bumping heads, and Stiles set to work clearing the dirt away from the floor around the bottom edge of the stone. Derek reached into his back pocket and pulled out that same strange knife he'd used on Stiles' glued hands just that morning.
It had been a long day.
"Do you keep that around for your emergency stress baking needs?" Stiles asked as Derek scraped at the mortar.
"That, and rescuing gentlemen in distress," Derek said drily.
Stiles laughed, drowning out Lydia sighing again. They'd have to cut Lydia's feedback in the editing process. Suddenly, the stone shifted. Stiles and Derek exchanged looks – Derek looked almost excited; it was the best look ever – and Stiles slowly wiggled the stone out of the wall. Erica took an inadvertent step forward, crowding them, before remembering she had a zoom on her camera.
They all held their collective breath as Derek aimed his own light into the small crevice behind the stone. It contained a box, wrapped in decaying cloths. Stiles pulled it out very carefully. Just his luck he'd drop it, but he didn't this time and laid it down in the middle of the floor. They all gathered around it.
"Well?" Lydia whispered. "One of you should do the honors."
"I pulled it out," Stiles said. "Derek should get to unwrap it."
The box wasn't locked, just an old wooden box, shut tight. When Derek pried open the lid, it revealed a bundle of papers, held together with knotted twine. Stiles shivered. Had the temperature dropped, or was that just him? Temperature drops preceded ghosts, but nothing jumped out at them.
"The Davis who died here – he was a writer, wasn't he?" Derek asked.
"That could be his final manuscript. The one that drove him over the edge!" Stiles reached forward, thumbing the dust away to reveal the title page. Derek raised his eyebrows at him. "What? No harm ever came from reading a book." Erica snorted and Stiles leaned down to peer at the spidery scrawl. "Young Man-Beasts in the Woods," he read. "I take it back. It sounds very destructive."
"How much do you think that'd be worth?" Danny asked. "I mean, I'd never heard of this Davis guy before – is an unpublished manuscript by him really worth what the Lions are going through to get it?"
"Maybe they didn't know what to expect," Stiles mused. "Think about it – if you're expecting treasure-treasure and you find Man-Beasts instead…"
"Young Man-Beasts, Stiles," Erica interrupted. "Worth a lot more."
"You sure talk a lot for being invisible," Stiles complained.
"Hey, Isaac and I are characters in our own right, thank you very much!" Erica retorted. "Isaac has a fanbase even."
"My curls are cute," Isaac informed him.
"Moving on," Lydia said crisply. "Let's bring this upstairs and see what the others think."
Derek carefully replaced the lid on the box and stood from his crouch, holding box and flashlight in a protective cradle against his chest. Then he reached his hand down to help Stiles up and didn't let go. Fireworks went off in Stiles' head. Massive fireworks, set to a score by John Williams. He had no idea if Lydia or Danny said a single word to them as they trudged through the secret passageway and up the stairs. It was just a tiny bit cooler outside, and Derek tugged him closer to his body as they walked around the house to the back door.
That was it. Stiles was in love.
Well, maybe not love-love, but he did have a history of falling, completely and irrevocably, in love. He should probably hesitate about this more. Probably, but Derek gave his fingers a light squeeze and Stiles really didn't care about anything else.
Behind them, Lydia's sigh sounded much more like "Oh, shit" than anything else.
"Hey, what were you guys doing outside?" Cora called from the foot of the stairs. The other group followed her down the hall to them, Scott's eyes widening when he spotted the hand-holding. He flashed Stiles a really obvious thumb's up, but Cora, at least, was not echoing his enthusiasm. "What the fuck?" she asked pointedly.
"And we'll have to edit that out," Laura said with a sigh. What was with all the sighing? "Cora, nickel in the swear jar when we get back. Stiles, you fuck this up and I will rip your throat out with my teeth." Stiles blinked. "Derek, I'm so happy for you. Did you get me a present?"
"It will cost a nickel for the swear jar," Derek told her. "And yes."
He held out the box as Stiles filled the others in on the secret wine cellar, the laundry chute express, and finding the manuscript. He left out the bits with talking about feelings and making out. The making out, at least, was readily apparent.
"And we're thinking the Lions were looking for this?" Boyd asked, turning the cane tip over in his hands. He eyed the box dubiously. "I don't know, man. That title…"
"It sucks," Cora supplied. "Even by twentieth century standards."
"Well, why else would they be trying to get rid of us earlier?" Scott asked reasonably. "What are we missing?"
Allison lowered her camera. "How easy was it to get that box?" she asked.
"We fell through the floor," Stiles said. "So pretty difficult."
"But we were wandering all through the house, and the Lions knew that," Allison pointed out. "The odds of one of us stumbling upon that passage are pretty high. Especially if they had someone come in and modify the infrastructure, which it sounds like they did or you would have wound up in the laundry room."
"They set us up." Stiles frowned. "If they already found the book…"
"Then they'd know it's a total piece of crap," Erica chimed in. She turned the camera around to look at her face. "Insight provided by me."
Stiles rolled his eyes. "Okay, so, they think they're going to find treasure and they plan to buy the house. But then they find what it really has, and it's junk."
"But they've already committed," Lydia continued his train of thought, "and they need a way to make their money back. The last Davis sold the house and everything in it to the town. The Lions are probably bargaining for the same deal to get their treasure."
"And we come in… because they're using us for the cameras," Laura said. "Those fuckers."
"Exactly," Stiles nodded. "Free publicity to turn this crappy book into a bestseller."
Stiles looked around at the others. Did Derek look impressed? Stiles kind of thought so.
"Now that we've figured it out, though, the joke's on them!" Scott said excitedly. "Um, except we did find the book, and we need to make our episodes."
"We'll convince the town not to sell," Lydia said, snapping her fingers. "Then if they decide to publish the book, whatever profit will benefit the town, not the Lions. Which is fine by me. Stiles could've broken his neck on that damn chute." Her eyes flicked to Derek. "Derek, too."
"Brilliant plan," a new voice said, and with a tap-tap-tap, Kali and Deuc Lion appeared in the hall behind them. "Except we've already bought this house, and you're trespassing."
Everyone stood frozen for a moment. Kali smiled, wide and predatory, and opened her mouth to say something that would no doubt be earth-shattering, but the silence was split by the high-pitched screech coming from Scott's back pocket. Or, more specifically, Fezzik in Scott's back pocket.
"Oh my God!" Stiles exclaimed, jumping back and pulling Derek with him.
It was the Thing from the second floor! Probably! Isaac knelt on one knee to try to capture it on his camera while Erica swung hers around to get everyone's reactions – a hodgepodge of glee, disbelief, shock, fear and pure, unimpressed skepticism (Cora, naturally). Stiles was torn between staring in fascination and getting the hell out of there with their equipment intact, before the Lions could pull any other fast ones. Lydia grabbed his free arm, obviously having had the same thought.
"To the Winnebago!" Stiles shouted. "Run! Run for your lives!"
A touch dramatic, but he'd always wanted a chance to yell that on camera. Derek rolled his eyes and helped Erica and Laura out ahead of them, shooing the others out after them. The house grew dim as the lights from the cameras, and Danny's heavy duty flashlight, exited the building.
"Stiles!" Scott exclaimed, pointing.
Stiles paused on the threshold with Scott and Allison, Derek and Cora practically breathing down his neck, to look down the hall. The Lions were cornered in front of the kitchen by the Thing. The light from Allison's camera passed right through its ephemeral form, and as Stiles and his friends watched, it reared up, looking for all the world like a shadow-bat spreading its wings.
"Holy crap!" It came out like a squeak; Stiles wasn't proud of it, but he wasn't ashamed, either.
"Stiles, we have to help them!" And that was Scott in a nutshell. It didn't matter that the Lions were trying to screw them over and steal their footage, or that their machinations could have got people seriously hurt. They were in trouble now, and Scott was going to help. Scott started forward and Cora's hand lashed out, fisting in his shirt and bringing him to a staggered halt.
"Are you fucking insane?" she hissed. "We're getting out of here. That ghost thing isn't real. They're just trying to lure you in!"
"Oh my God, it's totally real!" Stiles glared at her. It was Cora that wasn't real, shit. What a lack of imagination.
"There's another one headed right towards us," Derek broke into their glare fest. Sure enough, Thing Two was coming right at them. Fast. Stiles found himself unceremoniously shoved into Derek's chest along with Allison and manhandled out the door. Cora pushed Scott through in front of her before slamming the door shut.
"The Lions!" Scott protested.
"Were at the back door!" Derek snapped. "Move it, before they circle around and come at us again!"
"With what, mean words?" Stiles asked. "We could at least go check—"
A loud crack sounded from the side of the house. Gunfire!
Lydia opened the door of the Winnebago. "Move your damn asses!" she screamed.
They didn't need telling twice. All of them piled into the Winnebago and Danny floored it. It was definitely an emergency if Danny was driving. Stiles winced as they rounded a corner. The Natural crew immediately reached out to hang on to things, though Isaac wasn't quite fast enough and bounced against a cabinet only to slam his head into a higher cabinet.
"Ouch," he muttered.
It was like he opened a floodgate, as they all began talking at once.
"A gun! A fucking gun!"
"I can't believe you left your tour bus just sitting there!"
"How can you not believe in ghosts? It almost ate us!"
"It totally looked like Batman!"
"You guys, there were two! Two ghosts!"
"Can they really demand our footage? Legally?"
"I broke a fucking nail!"
"This thing's a deathtrap on wheels. And it stinks."
"Did anyone get that all on tape?"
Laura put her fingers in her mouth and whistled. Everyone broke off and covered their ears (except Danny). Stiles and Scott switched from glaring daggers at Cora to shoot Laura dirty looks.
"Great," she said. "Now that I have everyone's attention, would someone mind explaining to me why you guys took so long to get out of the house? You were right behind us, and then you weren't. And then we got shot at. Not my favorite thing."
"Here," Allison said. "We'll watch it."
She plugged her camera into one of their monitors and backed up to when Thing One first appeared. Stiles had to admire how steady her camerawork was in the midst of the ensuing chaos. Even running down the hall – and, oh, there was Derek's face after he got Laura and Lydia out, panicked until Stiles came into frame – Allison was steady. Then the shot was swinging around at Scott's cry, and the best view yet of Thing One filled the monitor. Allison froze the frame.
"That!" Cora exclaimed, jabbing her finger at a blurry object in the bottom right corner of the picture. "What do you call that, huh? They're projecting it!"
"You haven't spent much time around guns, have you?" Stiles asked. "That's part of the barrel of a gun. Something old-fashioned, too."
"A musket." Allison nodded. "Would explain why they only took one shot. They could have found it in the house on one of their other visits and stole it. Davis Mansion is the type of place that would have old guns like that."
"Enough about guns; what I'm more interested in is the fact that there were two ghosts!" Stiles said, steering the conversation back to the important things. "One that just, I don't know, acted like a really stereotypical ghost with the whole jumping out from the wardrobe and menacing the Lions. And the other one wanted us to get out of the house."
"Isn't that also supposed to be stereotypical ghost behavior?" Erica asked after a minute. Cora elbowed her in the side. "Quit it!" Erica exclaimed. "I'm not saying I believe in the ghost. Ghosts-es. I'm just saying I've seen enough movies with that shit."
"You still have the book, right?" Scott asked Laura. Erica huffed at being ignored, but she turned to Laura, too.
Laura pulled the box out from beneath her jacket and opened the lid. There were a few banged heads as everyone involuntarily leaned forward.
"I'm thinking the book is the key," Stiles said.
"Yeah," Scott agreed. "That second ghost wasn't trying to scare us. He wanted us to get the book out."
"So the crazy ghost," Stiles mused out loud, "was probably the writer who went nuts. And the helpful ghost--"
"--the muse who never got the book he inspired published!" Scott finished.
"Are they always like this?" Laura asked the Winnebago at large, her eyes flicking back and forth between Stiles and Scott.
"Every episode," Cora confirmed. "It's really annoying. And ghosts aren't real."
Stiles opened his mouth to press the point.
"Enough," Lydia cut him off. "Arguing whether this thing was real or not is a waste of time. We need to figure out how to stop these psychos from stealing our episodes!"
Ah, Lydia, practical as ever. Danny pulled to a stop in the motel parking lot and joined them in the back of the Winnebago.
"According to Ethan, the Lions weren't closing until noon—" He glanced at the dashboard clock. "—today."
This whole plan sounded vaguely familiar to Stiles. He frowned, turning it over in his head, as Cora and Erica snarked about taking the word of one of the twins as gospel truth. Gospel. Huh.
"You know what?" Stiles interrupted them. "This whole 'they're changing the date so they can confiscate our footage' thing? Didn't I see that on an episode of the Muppet Show?" He looked around at the others. Laura looked a little skeptical, but intrigued, Scott gave him an encouraging nod and Derek raised his eyebrows. Stiles chose to read that as an interested raise, not an exasperated raise. "Yeah, it was definitely the Muppets. And they went to heaven. Anyway," he continued hurriedly, "the bad guy tried to get away with changing the date or something in order to… get something. I don't remember exactly."
"Well, how'd they get out of it on the Muppet Show?" Scott asked eagerly.
"I don't know, I think it was something about the power of love," Stiles said. His eyes most definitely did not skip over to Derek. And he definitely didn't shiver at the small smile Derek gave him.
"That's not a real thing, Stiles," Lydia said dismissively, and Stiles was distinctly reminded of her face the night after Jackson had left.
A knock sounded at the door to the Winnebago.
"Davis County Sheriff's Department," a voice called out. "Open up."
"What is this about, deputy?" Stiles asked loudly, taking a step towards the door.
The deputy sighed. "Come on, kid. I have a guy here who said his boss fired a shot at you and your friends outside the Davis Mansion tonight. Everyone in there still have all their limbs?"
Allison slunk over to the window next to the door and peered through a crack in the curtains. "Ethan's outside with a couple of patrol cars," she whispered, glancing back at Danny.
Stiles opened the door.
It was kind of anti-climactic. They'd have to edit around this part. First off because only one of the deputies who showed up signed the consent form, and secondly because it turned out Ethan and his brother were undercover cops, chasing the Lions across four states for fraud and identity theft. It turned out they weren't even married, and their last names weren't Lion. Stiles was a little disappointed by that, honestly. There were so many jokes he could've made with 'Lion,' and then they couldn't include anything about Ethan or Aiden, either, since – undercover.
"Well, that sucks," Stiles said as he watched the patrol car with the erstwhile Lions in the backseat pull out of the parking lot, followed by the twins taking Derek and Laura back to the mansion to pick up the tour bus, Danny squeezed into the backseat for what had to be an extremely awkward car ride.
"What are you talking about?" Lydia asked, raising her eyebrows. "Now that they're out of the way, we can go back to the mansion and get some good footage."
"Yeah, I guess," Stiles agreed. His eyes were drawn across the parking lot to the group around the camera-friendly deputy. Both Allison and Isaac were recording him talking to Cora and Scott. The man looked completely flustered, probably due to Boyd and Erica, standing out of camera range, Erica eating an apple in the most suggestive way possible. Stiles' stomach growled. Where the hell did she find an apple?
"Relax, Romeo," Lydia said, rolling her eyes. "I meant the fake Lions. I told Laura I'd meet her for breakfast to go over the joint episode. You'll still get to spend more time with your lover boy."
"You're so giving," Stiles said, though his heart rate picked up regardless. "Really, sacrificing yourself for the team there. Breakfast with Laura. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"Then that means I won't spill anything on myself or make any dick and fart jokes," Lydia retorted.
"You love my dick and fart jokes," Stiles said, risking the wrath of Khan by pulling her into a hug and ruffling her hair.
"Ugh, Stilinski, now I need to go fix my hair!" Lydia pulled away.
Their deputy finally wrapped up whatever he was explaining and shook Scott's and Cora's hands before giving Erica a wave, tripping over his feet, losing his hat, and finally getting into his patrol car, face flaming.
"Tootles!" Erica called as he drove away.
Isaac finally lowered his camera, yawning. "Naptime?" he asked.
"Not if I get there first," Cora replied, and took off for the Hale block of rooms which… were a lot closer to the TBK rooms than Stiles had thought. Isaac trudged after her, yelping when Boyd and Erica came up on either side of him to lift him off his feet. They looked like some kind of three-headed monster as they ran across the parking lot, the sun just beginning to come up over the top of the motel.
"Hey, Stiles?" Scott asked, gesturing Stiles over. He was grinning an enormous doofy smile that threatened to take over his whole face. Stiles had a feeling he knew what Scott was going to say. "Um. Would you mind giving me the room? Allison said she wanted to talk. Like a good talk. Not a bad talk!"
"That's awesome, man!" Stiles said. His own smile was wide and genuine. Please, please, please, for the love of all that was holy, let this be the 'we're getting back together' speech that stuck. "I'll just pillow fort it in the Winnebago."
"You're my best friend for life, you know that, right?" Scott asked solemnly.
"Pinky it," Stiles replied. When they were ninety, they'd still be doing pinky swears. "Now go on. You're delaying my beauty rest! Not that I need it."
He watched Allison and Scott make their way to the room Stiles still hadn't slept in, holding hands.
"Ah, young love," Lydia cooed, joining him. "Think it'll work?"
"It better." Stiles glanced down at her. "Power of true love and all that."
"Jury's still out on its power." Lydia looked up at him. "But I'll concede that if anyone has it, they do. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go fix my hair for my breakfast meeting."
"Meeting." She stood up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "Sleep well."
Like he was going to get any sleep this morning, Stiles thought, stretched out on the bed in the back of the Winnebago ten minutes later in nothing but the emergency boxers he and Scott had stashed in the supply closet. His head was whirling with thoughts about their two ghosts -- had they been lovers? Would they ever show up again, now that the book was out of its hiding place in the secret wine cellar. His mind kept returning to the wine cellar, which led to the all-too-brief make out session with Derek. Was it temporary madness? Was Derek, even now, regretting it?
Stiles didn't think so. There'd been hand-holding! Instigated by Derek! Which was a great sign, but they had three or four more days together, tops, and Stiles really had no idea where it was going to go from there. Or if he was getting way ahead of himself for no reason. Maybe Derek only wanted someone to make out with for a bit.
God, Stiles hoped that wasn't the case. He really needed to talk to Derek.
Someone knocked on the door of the Winnebago. Stiles fell out of the bed. Cursing, he stumbled to his feet and staggered down the hall to yank the door open.
Derek stood in front of the bottom step, looking tired and grumpy and utterly gorgeous. Stiles had two options before him – ask Derek in and sit him down for an adult conversation about what they both wanted out of any potential relationship, or jump into Derek's arms and get to the talking later. He chose the latter.
Derek staggered under the sudden weight, surprise replaced with lust as his hands gripped Stiles' ass and squeezed.
"You're wearing Garfield boxers," Derek murmured against Stiles' neck, sucking and biting.
"Shut up, he's the original Grumpy Cat." Stiles threw his head back, giving Derek full access. That was going to show up on camera, but he couldn't really give a shit. He slid his arms around Derek's shoulders, imagining what it would feel like without the shirt in the way. "Inside," he muttered. "I'm supposed to invite you inside."
Derek carried him, which was – okay, a major turn-on, apparently. Until Stiles banged his head and there was muffled cursing and apologies, which, also – par for the course in Stiles-ville. Stiles dropped to his feet and took Derek by the hand, tugging him back to the bed.
"Are we—already?" Derek asked, eyes a little glassy and hair already mussed (that kind of thing happened when a Stiles leapt into your arms). Stiles paused. Maybe he was misreading the situation?
"You want to, right?" Stiles asked. "I mean, I know I want to, but I don't want to do anything you don't want to do. So if you don't want to do me, um, you know what I mean—sex, if you don't want to, we can—I build pillow forts back here." Brain—take mouth and shut it. Thanks. "And then we cuddle and watch movies."
Derek stared at him, his eyebrows pulled slightly down.
"That was the least sexy thing I could say to you, wasn't it?" Stiles asked.
"It was close." Derek cleared his throat. "I'm not… averse to having sex with you."
"Well, that's a ringing endorsement." Stiles could feel his erection wilting in his stupid Garfield boxers.
"That—it came out wrong." Derek huffed in frustration and gripped the hem of his shirt, pulling it up and over his head and flinging it to the side. Stiles gaped. Holy shit. Derek was utter perfection. Stiles wiped surreptitiously at the drool on his chin. "I just meant," Derek continued, hands going to his belt buckle in his weirdly angry little strip tease. "That I've been up for over twenty-four hours, and so have you." Derek had to peel off his jeans, they were so tight – and covering strong thighs that would be perfect for… everything. Every sex act ever. "Maybe we should sleep first." Stiles was going to talk to Scott about subbing in some black boxer-briefs for the emergency underwear stash because wow. Talk about the perfect underwear. They molded themselves to Derek's dick, which was, hello, already at half-mast.
"I gotta be honest here," Stiles said. "I don't care how tired I am, I am rubbing myself over every inch of your body before I go to sleep."
Derek honest-to-God blushed at that, but then his face clouded. He reached out for Stiles and tried to pull him into another kiss, but Stiles, much to his chagrin, knew what it looked like when someone had reservations, and no matter what Derek's dick thought, Derek's brain and/or heart were second-guessing.
"Hold up," he said, pressing two fingers to Derek's lips. "Nothing's going down until we turn that frown upside-down. That was a couple of downs. You know what I mean."
From this close, Stiles could pinpoint at least six different shades of green, gray, and brown in Derek's eyes. They were… very beautiful and distracting.
"Stiles," Derek said, running his hand up and down Stiles' spine, which really wasn't fair. "We'll talk about it later." His hand slipped into the top of the boxers and slid down to grip Stiles' ass. "Promise."
And dammit all, Stiles was only human. Besides, a promise was a promise. They'd get to it later. With a groan and a tug, Stiles fell on his back onto the bed, pulling Derek down on top of him. Which lasted about ten seconds before Stiles was flipping them over because rubbing? Much easier without two hundred pounds of muscle on top of him.
Derek's skin was soft and smooth and though Stiles personally had never seen the point in any kind of manscape before, it felt good to grind against Derek and work up a sweat between them. They were both so tired it took them three tries to divest themselves of their underwear and Stiles was laughing, just bordering on hysterical by the time Derek successfully wrapped a hand around his dick.
The laughter quickly changed to a moan.
Stiles dug one hand into Derek's hair (also soft! Derek was missing his calling; he should sell hygiene products on late night TV with skin and hair like this) and used the other hand to pull Derek even closer, rolling them onto their sides and causing the Winnebago to rock. Their kisses got increasingly uncoordinated, turning into gasps in each other's mouths.
Derek's hand – Stiles needed to write an ode to Derek's hand. Perhaps a sonnet. Or a series of haikus:
Your hand on my dick
Jerking me off with your dick
Best feeling ever
It could use some work, but Stiles was distracted. Derek's hand was strong but soft and incredibly messy with pre-cum. When Stiles was more awake, he was going to investigate Derek's dick because right now it felt electrified and hot, and was definitely short-circuiting his brain each time Derek squeezed them together. Stiles wanted to touch, too, but that would mean putting distance between their chests and their mouths and he was so close, he just needed a little more friction. He opened his eyes (when had he closed them?) to find that Derek was staring at him, hot and intense, and oh, that was what he needed.
His mouth fell open on an embarrassingly loud groan as he came. Derek wasted no time in pushing him onto his back and throwing a leg over his hips. He buried his face in Stiles' neck as he thrust down into the cut of Stiles' hip once, twice, three times before latching his teeth in Stiles' shoulder and coming all over Stiles.
Stiles blinked, coming out of the post-orgasmic haze. Wow, he was a mess. And Derek was very heavy. It took all of Stiles' hard-won coordination to hook an ankle around an article of clothing they'd dropped (the grumpy Garfield boxers, perfect) to do a half-assed job of cleaning them up before they both fell fast asleep.
Stiles woke up four hours later to find Derek still passed out, though not as much on top of him as before. It gave Stiles an excellent view of Derek's naked back, and the large tattoo between his shoulder blades. Stiles traced it absently with one fingertip. He had no idea what it meant, just as he had, mostly, no idea about who Derek was, apart from one conversation in a hidden wine cellar. Not a lot to base a relationship on, but then, this was a one-night stand. Maybe.
Stiles could admit to himself that he didn't want it to be, and categorizing it like that was a little melodramatic. After all, there'd been hand-holding, and goofy looks, and homemade cookies. That was most definitely not one-night stand material! Stiles shifted until he was out from under Derek and ran his hands over Derek's shoulders. Broad and strong. Did the man work out in his sleep? The joint between Stiles' neck and shoulder throbbed and Stiles glanced down at it, remembering what sent Derek over the edge. He leaned down and kissed the nape of Derek's neck, then bit it for good measure.
"Mmmmmm," Derek said in his sleep.
Stiles ran his fingers gently down Derek's spine, then cupped the swell of Derek's ass. It was… pretty hard, honestly. Harder than Stiles'. What it needed was a good love-tap. Derek snorted at the slap (it was maybe done with a little too much force) and rolled over. Stiles scrambled away, then crawled forward. There was some nature documentary voice-over that would fit this moment, Stiles thought, as he eyed Derek's half-full cock.
But someone else would have to provide it, as he was busy.
He'd done a better job of cleaning them up earlier that morning than he thought, Stiles decided, as he lapped a wide strip up Derek's cock and then sucked the tip into his mouth. He glanced up the bed. Derek's eyes were open now, in narrow slits, that slowly closed as he groaned with pleasure. The noise, predictably, went straight to Stiles' own cock. He pulled his lips away from Derek.
"There are condoms in the emergency underwear stash," he said, hopefully sounding nonchalant. He probably didn't sound a bit nonchalant.
"Okay," Derek said hoarsely.
Stiles scrambled off the bed and walked on wobbly legs the three steps it took to get to the supply cabinet and the shelf with the lube and condoms. He'd just closed his fingers around them when he felt Derek's hands grip his hips.
"Why—how do you want me?" Derek asked, his breath warm against Stiles' ear.
"On your back," Stiles decided. He grinned, turning in Derek's arms to face him. "When the Winnebago's a rockin', don't come a-knockin'."
Derek groaned. "I don't know if it's worse that you said that, or that I'm still going to let you fuck me."
Stiles kissed him lightly on the nose. "You're going to fuck me. I just had your dick in my mouth. I cannot even fucking imagine what it's going to be like in my ass. So slick up!"
The answer, Stiles discovered about fifteen minutes and one more trip to the emergency stash later (Who the hell had used all the lube? Stiles was going to have words with his crewmates. Words!) was, put succinctly, mind-blowing. Derek had thighs that were built for fucking up into someone, just like Stiles had thought, and the bend of his back was downright poetic. His hair curled damply at his forehead and his mouth fell open as countless moans slipped past his lips. But best of all was the way his eyes never stopped looking at Stiles like Stiles was God's gift to man. Or to Derek specifically. No one had ever looked at Stiles like that before, and when Derek gripped his dick and started jerking him off in time to his thrusts, Stiles lost it completely. He was still mumbling incoherently when Derek slid out and pulled Stiles off his lap.
"Nngahealf," Stiles said intelligently as Derek laid him out on his stomach on the bed, then gripped his hips, pulling his ass into the air. "Hwwwulf!" he exclaimed as Derek proceeded to pound into him. The bed was definitely rocking and Stiles was slobbering into his pillow. The entire Winnebago was probably doing a little dance as Stiles got fucked into the mattress before suddenly—stillness. Derek was completely silent when he came, his body draped over Stiles' back, cheek pressed to Stiles' cheek. Their faces were so close, their eyelashes were practically touching. Butterfly kisses, Stiles thought inanely.
Finally Derek caught his breath enough to pull out and get rid of the condom. He sat on the edge of the bed, shoulders hunched, until Stiles sat up and draped himself over him.
"Ten bucks for your thoughts," Stiles said.
"It's supposed to be a penny," Derek mumbled.
"Inflation. It's a killer." Stiles waited a moment. "Okay, I know that's not my best effort, but it usually gets at least a smile."
"From who?" Derek asked, looking down at his hands. Ah. Stiles had an inkling now. Maybe.
"Not from my other one-night stands, because they don't exist. And it wouldn't apply to you anyhow," he added hurriedly. "Because we're going to do that again."
Derek looked at him finally, twisting around to assess Stiles with his stupidly beautiful and inscrutable eyes before kissing him very, very gently.
"Can I use your shower?" he asked.
"You can certainly try. It's on the small side," Stiles said apologetically. "My towel's hanging on the door in there; you can use that."
Derek kissed him again on the lips and once on the forehead before slipping into the microscopic shower. Stiles waited until the water turned on before bolting off the bed, grabbing a shirt and the lone pair of underwear off the floor (they were both Derek's) and awkwardly pulled them on as he stumbled down the short hall to the station with the laptops.
And… Scott wasn't on Skype right now. Which was fine; it was another McCall that Stiles desperately needed to talk to.
NurseMel has accepted your request for a video chat.
Video? Stiles hastily patted down his hair, not that it was going to do him any good.
"Stiles!" Melissa beamed at him over hundreds of miles of wilderness and towns. She was still in her scrubs, but her hair was down – end of shift then. "To what do I owe this supreme honor?"
"Oh my God, I need advice!" Stiles blurted.
"Uh huh." Melissa pursed her lips. "Is it the video quality, or did you just roll out of bed at noon your time?"
"And not alone?"
"Hence the need for advice."
She sighed. "Lay it on me, Stiles."
"I have to make this quick. He's in the shower." Melissa's eyebrows shot up. "You know Derek Hale?"
"From that TV show you boys talk about all the time?" Melissa asked. "The one with eyebrows so sexy you want to hate them right off his face?"
"Did I really say that?"
"Trust me, Stiles, if I could forget it, I would. Wait. Is that who you were in bed with?"
"Hypothetically, if I were to say yes…"
"Then, hypothetically, I would say it's a damn good thing your father's at the station right now. Stiles, that man is sex on a stick."
"Oh my God, you did not just say that!" Stiles held his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut, but, ugh, it was still playing in his head.
"You're the one who called me!"
"Not to talk about sex!"
"But you just said…" Melissa sighed and massaged her head. "Okay. You rolled out of bed with Derek Hale, a man you detested while secretly apparently lusting after. What kind of advice do you need?"
Melissa was silent for a moment. "Honey, are you sure?"
She didn't try to talk him down, or question his motives, or remind him of his past failures in the realm of romance. That was all she asked, and Stiles loved her for it.
"I'm sure that I really want to try."
"Okay." She looked across the miles at him, and it was like they were in the same room and she was listening to him spill his guts about Lydia, his study partner in Psych 101, or the barista at his local coffee shop. God, he really hoped this time was different. "How about this: you ask him for a date in the future. Not while you're filming together – Scott said something about a crossover episode? – but after that. And then use that time to get to know him."
Stiles opened his mouth to ask her how long, or to tell her something about Derek, but the water stopped.
"Holy shit! Thanks, Melissa, I have to go!!!!"
Stiles minimized the screen and hurtled back down the hall, tripping on Derek's pants and falling face first into the bed. Ugh, he really needed to change the sheets.
"Was someone else here?" Derek asked, stepping out of the bathroom in nothing but Stiles' towel. And glistening waterdrops. The waterdrops were very important.
"Um…" Stiles shook his head, trying to focus. "There was no one, physically, here."
Derek raised his eyebrows.
"However, I was talking to Scott's mom. Over the internets," Stiles said, going for the full disclosure.
"Scott's mom saw you looking like that?" Derek asked, frowning.
"What's wrong with how I look?"
"You look well-fucked," Derek said bluntly.
Stiles scratched at his neck. Oh, crap, was that dried come? It probably was. "Ah. Well. No use crying over spilled come—milk. Milk. Hey, can I talk to you?"
"We are talking." Derek shifted on his feet, eyeing Stiles' crotch. Or maybe his old underwear. It was hard to tell, as Stiles was wearing them.
"I mean, before we had two mind-blowing rounds of sex, you wanted to talk. So let's talk! You go first."
Derek sighed and sat down on the bed. "I'm really bad at this."
Derek gave him a sidelong glance. "Defining 'this,'" he said.
"Fair enough. I mean, who likes labels? Not this guy!" This wasn't really going all that well. Stiles needed to make a gesture. Derek had made one by showing up at the Winnebago in the first place. The ball was in Stiles' court. "You want the truth?" He waited for Derek to nod. "I can't do a casual relationship to save my life. You fucked me, Derek, I'm yours. Sorry about that. You break it, you buy it."
Stiles swallowed hard. That was… perhaps a bit more brutally honest than he'd intended to be.
"I freaked you out again, didn't I?" he asked in a small voice.
Derek fell back on the bed. Did that mean… Stiles scooted over to stretch out at his side when Derek gestured impatiently. Okay. This was nice. Semi-naked cuddling. Derek's hand circled Stiles' waist and slid up his shirt to lie flat against Stiles' stomach. This was promising.
"You looked good," Derek said. "In the rain. And Boyd had everything off your website saved in a separate drive, even the stuff that was deleted right away… so, yeah. I did find your favorite type of cookie." Stiles' heart was hammering in his chest; it was impossible to play this cool. "It's… I don't really like people and I'm consistently a terrible judge of character. I'm in this business, too. I know how fake that behind the scenes stuff can be. But you always seemed to be exactly what you said you were, and I liked that, even when you annoyed the shit out of me. When I fall for someone, I fall hard and fast and it doesn't really make sense."
"Are you saying here, that you've fallen for me?" Stiles risked.
"Against my better judgment."
Stiles snorted. "Which you've already admitted is rather lacking. So basically, we're screwed."
"Because I've totally drunk the Kool-Aid here. Written your name in a heart on my Trapper Keeper, the whole enchilada."
Instead of looking upset, Derek smiled. It was, dammit, a very sweet smile. Stiles took a deep breath.
"I'm feeling the stirrings of a plan," he said. Derek raised his eyebrows. "You get out of your contract in six months. We leave here in a couple of days, we go our separate ways. We meet again in six months. And we figure out then… what we are."
"Six months?" Derek asked. Stiles nodded. "With… I mean. We'll be in contact. Right?"
"Absolutely! I will text you every day. Send you pictures of my dick." Derek rolled his eyes, but he was smiling, and Stiles pressed his advantage. "I've already written you poetry. It kind of sucked. I'll write you better poetry, and send it to you in cards. With glitter and-slash-or sound effects."
Derek pulled him down into a kiss, which Stiles quickly turned dirty. He'd just pulled out the knot in the towel and pushed the offending fabric away when there was a knock at the door. Stiles ignored it in favor of touching Derek's dick, all smooth and clean and really, he needed that in his mouth three minutes ago. The door flew open.
"Oh my God!" Cora yelled.
"Holy shit, we didn't say to come in!" Stiles yelled back.
Derek grabbed the towel and held it over his crotch. If looks could kill, his sisters and Erica would be at least missing a limb or three.
"I swear, Erica, if you even think about saying it…"
"That is one mighty full ding—"
Laura smacked her hand over Erica's mouth.
"Please be ready in half an hour," Laura said. There were bright spots of color high on her cheeks, from amusement or embarrassment or both, Stiles couldn't tell. "We're all going to lunch, and then it's back to the Davis Mansion."
"You freaks still need to spectacularly fail at convincing me that thing was a ghost," Cora said, staring intently at the ceiling.
"Groovy. We'll be ready," Stiles told her. "Oh, and Cora? Would you mind asking Scott to bring me some fresh underwear?"
Derek started to laugh. Finally, after a long moment, Cora did, too.
"You two deserve each other," she said. "Wheels up in thirty, Stilinski. Don't be late."
Epilogue: six months later
"You don't think it's possibly a little over the top?" Allison asked, eyes on the huge banner Stiles and Scott were attempting to hang up. 'Attempting' being the operative word. They needed a third ladder for the middle to really even it out.
"It's New Year's Eve, Allison," Stiles told her. "That means glitter. Lydia will agree with me."
Allison made a face. She clearly did not think that Lydia would agree with him. Which was nuts, because this banner was the mother of all banners and would be the piece de resistance for Lydia's annual New Year's Eve bash.
"Besides, Scott likes it. He chose the colors!" Stiles added.
"Whoa, dude, leave me out of this. No putting Scott between the best friend and the fiancée," Scott said.
"Oh, wow, are you guys getting married?" Stiles asked, feigning shock. "You haven't mentioned it!"
Allison laughed, reservations about the banner forgotten in a giddy rush. Good.
"You're a riot," Scott said. "Allison—"
"Wait, is this lovely creature named Allison? I thought she was The Fiancee?" Stiles asked.
"Ugh, Derek can't get here fast enough," Scott muttered. But he was still smiling. Scott had been smiling non-stop since Christmas, when his foolproof proposal plan actually went off without a hitch. Unless you counted Stiles, his dad, Scott's mom, and Allison's dad almost shivering to death outside the McCall house while shaking buckets of fake snow down off the roof as a hitch. Allison assured them (later, after the heartfelt proposal and the kissing, which neither Scott nor Allison seemed to recall that their families were literally right outside the window for and therefore saw everything – everything) that the effect was beautiful.
Stiles was considering using the fake snow as part of his decorations for Lydia's house. Derek liked snow. And as evidenced by a picture Laura had sent him, cold weather liked Derek right back; he looked positively edible in a warm wooly cardigan. Plus, the fake snow was hard to clean up and Stiles was currently mad at Lydia for leaving him with the decorating while she ran out to pick up the food.
"How many hours to go, Stiles?" Allison teased him, her dimples cutting into her cheeks. Her ring caught the light, temporarily blinding him.
"Eight," Stiles grumbled. He fished in his pocket for the nail he'd chosen for the sign – admittedly, not the best place to store it – and hammered it into the wall. "Dude, think fast," he called, and threw the hammer across to Scott, who caught it easily and hammered in his own nail. The banner drooped in the middle. One more nail. Lydia was going to go ballistic when she noticed the holes. "Now, personally," Stiles continued, scrambling down his ladder, "I think he's taking Peter's 'through the end of the year' a little too seriously."
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," Scott quoted at him. Both Stiles and Allison stared at him. "What? My abuela always says that."
"Absence makes the body grow hornier and grumpier, is more like it," Stiles said. Allison held her tongue. Allison was the best, really, as she knew full well how horny and grumpy it had made Stiles.
"Yeah, but… you guys sexted all the time," Scott said. "Didn't that help?"
"You shared your sexts with my fiancée?" Allison asked, arching her brows.
"No!" Stiles assured her. "Dude, Scott, pinky swear #312!" he hissed at Scott.
Allison just rolled her eyes and tugged the ladder to the center of the floor and held it steady.
At first, they really had sexted a lot. Well, Stiles had sexted a lot, and Laura had sent him curious texts asking what on earth he was sending her brother to make him look like that. 'That' being Derek, looking approximately like Fernando the Bull catching the scent of a flower.
It was cute.
Then Derek started to call him, talking about anything that occurred to them, work, Stiles' classes, and various theories on ghosts and ghost-hunting, which inevitably ended in phone sex and Stiles getting packages of homemade baked goods in the mail.
But for the past month, things had been… serious. They'd talked about their families, for one thing, and on Stiles' last night in Boston before winter break, Derek had told him about the 'stupid thing' he'd done that'd required Peter's assistance and led to the Hales making the show together. It wasn't stupid. It was heartbreakingly sad, and Derek really was a poor judge of character before Stiles. Instead of scaring him away, Derek's confession had bumped Stiles into the 'I see a future with this man' level of serious. Stiles was almost glad they were in separate locations so Derek couldn't see how freaked out ("Not scared!" he declared to Allison. "Not running away! Just a little overwhelmed at the depth of all these… things!" "Hmmm, they're called feelings.") he was by the whole thing. At least until Christmas and helping with Scott's proposal, then a strange calmness settled over him. He felt suspended in mid-air, waiting for Derek to get there and catch him.
Stiles pounded in the last nail and leaned back on the ladder to admire his handy work. HAPPY FUCKING NEW YEAR!! proclaimed the banner in sparkly purple glitter. Scott had a thing for glitter.
"I think I hear the car," Allison said. "You might want to get down."
"Hang on, it's dripping a bit," Stiles said absently and poked at a gob of wet paint.
The front door opened and at least half a dozen people entered, talking over each other and laughing.
"Oh my God, Stilinski." That was Cora's voice. Cora wasn't supposed to be there for another eight hours, with Derek.
It was a dream. Or a hallucination! Stiles was going to twist around on the ladder and see Scott and Allison looking up at him, and that was it. And then he was going to lose his balance and fall.
He was half right. He did lose his balance and fall, but Derek caught him because Derek was there.
"Holy shit, you're real," Stiles breathed.
Erica was snapping pictures and Lydia was muttering about the damn holes in her walls and Boyd was asking to see Allison's ring, but Stiles tuned them all out in favor of focusing on Derek.
His stubble was a full beard now, not bushy. It looked soft and when Derek set him down, Stiles reached up and stroked it. Really soft, especially for a beard. And he was wearing the cardigan! Plus glasses, hiding his beautiful tired eyes; they must have driven all night to get to Lydia's so early. Then Derek smiled at him, little crinkles appearing at the corners of his eyes. He hadn't had those before. Stiles had put those there, over six months of ridiculous texts and conversations, and that was just – he had to hold him. Right now. Naked holding to commence in ten seconds.
"Okay, everybody, great to see you all, let's catch up, can't wait to get drunk with you all tonight, hope you brought your moonshine, Isaac, my dad's coming," Stiles said without pausing for breath. "We'll see you in a couple of hours."
He slipped his hand into Derek's and squeezed.
"Not so fast," Lydia said, a teasing lilt to her voice, though her eyes narrowed at the sign. "You're not done decorating."
"Danny will be here in an hour. Consequence of being late." Stiles' feet were itching to go, and one glance at Derek showed he wasn't much better. "Um. Tootles."
He pulled Derek along easily, and they ran up the stairs to catcalls from their friends. Stiles caught one thumb's up from Scott, and then they were on the second floor.
"Where are we going?" Derek asked him.
"Lydia's sister's old room," Stiles said. "So. Um. Hi." He closed the door and leaned back against it.
"Hi," Derek said, his eyes dropping to Stiles' mouth and back up to Stiles' eyes. Stiles made an undignified whimpering sound and then finally, finally he had Derek's mouth on his own and they could breathe the same air.
It was just like that movie. And that other movie. And that one TV show. And, okay, at least fifty pornos Stiles had watched in the last six months alone. That's what happened, when your boyfriend was hundreds of miles away.
"So, hey," Stiles said between kisses. "I guess this means we still like each other."
"Did you seriously have any doubts?" Derek switched to Stiles' neck. Three cheers for turtleneck and scarf weather!
"No. I didn't," Stiles said a little wonderingly. "That's kind of weird for me."
Derek pulled away, just enough to speak. "For me, too." He bit his lip, looking as shy as Derek-Hulking-Beautiful-Badass-Hale could look. "I like it, though."
The next half an hour was a bit of a blur, honestly, and Stiles was exceedingly grateful that he'd thought to plan ahead and stock the room with lube and condoms because he never would have had the presence of mind to find them in the heat of the moment. And it was really, really hot, leaning over Derek and fucking into him with the force of a freight train. Or as much like a freight train as Stiles could muster with his brain completely melted by the sight of Derek on his back, face slack in ecstasy and sweat dripping down his chest. Then Derek was tightening around him with a grip like a vise and Stiles saw stars at the edge of his vision as he came.
By the time he felt like he just might be able to form a complete thought again, Derek had already wiped them down and manhandled them into the positions he wanted – Stiles on his back now and Derek's head on his chest.
"So," Stiles said, running his fingers through Derek's hair. He had great hair for this, especially when it was still a little sex-sweaty. "Is it too early for me to ask what you're going to be doing next year?"
Derek huffed a laugh that Stiles felt on his bare chest. He shivered, though Derek's breath was warm. "Next year's just a few hours away," Derek said. "Not too early." He was quiet for a long moment. This was the one thing they hadn't got around to talking about – what Derek would do when his contract ended. Stiles knew what he wanted Derek to do – in a word, Stiles – but it was a lot to say. A lot to mean. "Laura thinks I could get into grad school in the fall."
"You totally could, dude. But is that what you want?"
Derek sighed. Stiles was going to get some rather unattractive goose bumps if this continued.
"I think, if I went back to… academic life… I'd just be going to prove a point," Derek said. "And I'm not sure I need to prove anything anymore."
"You don't," Stiles assured him. "Derek, can I be blunt? What am I saying; I'm always blunt. I'm just going to come out and say this – remember in the wine cellar, when you told me that Peter bailed you out after something stupid you did? And you didn't say anything, and you didn't say anything until a couple weeks ago? Well, now I can look you in the eye and say: Kate was not something stupid you did. Kate was a fucking tragedy that happened to you, and you didn't deserve it." Derek opened his mouth to protest, but Stiles held two fingers to his lips and he stilled. "Please, I have to spit this out. Look, you managed to get your degree despite her evil machinations and you paid back Peter's loan, so fuck her. The best revenge is being ridiculously in love with a totally awesome human being that makes you happy and won't steal your money or shit on your reputation. And though I wasn't planning to say the 'L' word, I'm kind of like – why hide from that? I may not have seen you for six months, but we've been together for six months, and I can say I love you if I damn well please. And I do! So there." He moved his fingers. "Okay, you can… I'm done for now. Carry on bravely."
Derek looked at him silently. Holy shit, Stiles had said 'love.' Love, love, love, love. He'd like to be able to look away from Derek's face and its amazing super power to hide emotion, but even scared shitless and waiting for a reaction, he couldn't bring himself to. And then Derek smiled and it lit up his whole face. His eyes crinkled and his lips turned up and he showed his cute little teeth.
"Thank you," he said, heartfelt.
Someone knocked on the door.
"Uh, Stiles?" Scott called. "Your dad's here for the pre-party party. Sorry. And Danny. You'll never believe who he brought as his date."
"Awesome," Stiles said, raising his voice. "But I just told Derek I loved him and we were having a Moment that was about to escalate into more Sexy Tiems."
"Awesome," came his dad's voice through the door. Hoo boy, he could make himself sound drier than the Sahara. It wasn't a skill Stiles had inherited. "But how about you put that on hold for a couple of hours so I can meet this paragon of virtue you just happen to love?"
Derek was already scrambling off Stiles and searching for his clothes before the Sheriff had said two words. Stiles grabbed his hand and pressed a kiss into the palm. "It's okay," he whispered.
"First off," Stiles raised his voice again, "Scott is fired. Where was my warning, bro? That was pitiful." He stood up and started looking for his own clothes. "And second, if you're trying to shame me, it won't work! The second you see Derek, you'll be wishing you were bisexual and twenty years younger." Derek gave him a Look. "And that came out wrong. Strike it from the record."
Derek thrust his own shirt at Stiles and slipped Stiles' shirt down over his chest. A tight fit, but not too noticeable under the cardigan, and Stiles' heart gave a little backflip at the sight. He pulled the door open with a flourish and gave his dad a hug with a lot of back-thumping.
"Father! Fancy meeting you here!" he exclaimed.
"Fancy that, son," Dad replied. What was drier than the Sahara?
"So! This is Derek. Derek, this is my dad," Stiles said, gesturing between them.
"Derek," Dad said, gripping Derek's hand in a too-tight handshake. "Is that your bus in the driveway?"
"Yes, sir," Derek said. "We drove up from Los Angeles."
"L.A. Long way to go for a little party," Dad said. "Is that where you live?"
"The others do," Derek said. "But I'm moving to Boston in the new year."
Stiles' jaw dropped.
"Cool, we live in Boston!" Scott exclaimed.
"I think he knows that," Dad said, leaning into Scott. Because Stiles had kind of accidentally knocked into him in a rush to get his hands on Derek. Derek, who smiled that same blinding smile, and said, "That was what I really wanted to do in the new year."
"Dad, you're really great and Imma let you finish meeting Derek," Stiles said. "But I need him for another hour."
Scott laughed and Dad rolled his eyes, but they both vanished downstairs lickety-split as Stiles drew Derek back into the room and proceeded to give him the most enthusiastic blow job of all time. Or of all Stiles' times, at any rate. It certainly worked for Stiles, as Derek barely touched him before he was making a mess over a patch of Lydia's sister's carpet. Stiles snickered uncontrollably when Derek pulled a little throw rug over to hide the stain and they discovered the rug was already hiding what looked like spilled nail polish.
Then Derek told Stiles he loved him back, and it was another two hours before they finally made their way downstairs and found the pre-party (a bit of a misnomer, as it was everyone who was going to be at the party, unless the parents left on the early side, Chris Argent was an indisputable night owl, so Stiles didn't think there was much hope for that) gathered around the huge TV in the Martin living room, watching the Natural cut of their crossover episode.
"Hey, boys. So glad you could come," Erica said, her eyes sparkling.
"Don't be so sick," Cora scolded her. She caught Stiles' eye, snapped her fingers and pointed to the empty cushion between her and Laura. He should probably get this over with. And sit closer to Laura, to avoid decapitation. On the TV screen, Scott was explaining about Fezzik. Stiles settled in amongst the Hale sisters and watched Derek sit next to Dad. This could be interesting.
"Relax, Stiles," Cora whispered, and patted his knee. "I've decided I like you."
"And I started liking you about twenty-four hours after I met you," Laura said in his ear. "There's just one thing I have to tell you: if you hurt my baby brother, I will tear you in two. We clear?"
She smiled sweetly and patted his head. Stiles swallowed noisily.
"Everyone thinks I'm the scary one," Cora complained. "But Laura just tries to charm people before pouncing. No wonder she and Lydia get along so well."
Stiles snorted. Cora should be thanking him for taking the Hale intimidation so well. When they finally got around to having this conversation with Lydia, she was going to – actually, it would probably be pretty awesome to watch. Though at the rate Laura and Lydia were going, it wouldn't happen for another six years.
"If you're done whispering on the couch," Dad said, "Scott's informed me I should really watch this next part closely."
Stiles looked over at Scott and got a wink. On the TV screen, Stiles fell through the ceiling and landed in Derek's arms. Stiles had seen this many times, of course (he may have GIF-ed it), but he had never seen the Natural edit with Journey's "Open Arms" playing on the soundtrack. Isaac sniggered, Erica cooed mockingly, and Melissa told them to ignore everyone else; it was really sweet. Stiles watched his Dad.
"Thanks for not dropping my kid," Dad said finally, turning to Derek beside him. "You look like you're good at that."
"I've had to do it more than once," Derek said, and hey, someone to rival Dad in the dry voice department. Scary thought.
"There will be no ganging up on Stiles," Stiles declared. "I just got a death threat from the Hale contingent. No fair that Derek and Dad are buddy-buddy now."
"Do you really want me to give your boyfriend a death threat?" Dad asked, raising his brows.
"Fair point. Let's watch the rest of the show."
Stiles' favorite bit was a shot of Cora on the last day of filming, standing in a doorway with a completely suspicious blur over her shoulder. She said it was just a trick of light and dust. Well, she was entitled to her opinion and Stiles wouldn't complain. Especially as he was eighty-eight percent certain that the ghosts had found whatever peace they were looking for and had ceased to exist. As ghosts, at any rate.
Also, she wasn't the Hale that'd threatened him with dismemberment.
The episode ended with a voiceover by Derek:
"Was there a ghost in Davis Mansion? We never saw… whatever it was… again. The Bros think it's because the town agreed to publish the discovered manuscript, which was what the ghost really wanted. Cora thinks it's because the Lions wound up in jail and couldn't manufacture a ghost from prison. If you want to romanticize the whole thing and think the book wouldn't have been protected or we wouldn't have found it without a supernatural being, go ahead. I like this story, with or without a ghost."
The closing image was Cora, Derek, Stiles, and Scott walking out of frame, into the sunset in a total slo-mo hero shot.
Two hours into the new year found Stiles in the sunroom, sitting in the wicker loveseat with Derek, and Scott in his own wicker armchair. All three of them had their feet up on the wicker coffee table. Everything in the room was made of wicker. It was a little overboard.
"Here's to the end of the reign of Peter Hale!" Stiles said a little drunkenly, raising his bottle of beer.
"Good one," Scott approved. "And here's to Derek coming to my wedding!"
"And here's to you not having a karaoke machine at your reception," Derek said, wincing as off-key notes floated into the room from the back patio, where Ethan the undercover cop was serenading Danny with some Barry Manilow to hoots and cheers from Cora and Erica.
"Got it," Scott agreed. "And here's to more crossover episodes in the future."
"That will be difficult, since Peter canceled the show," Derek said, downing the rest of his beer. Scott gave him a concerned look.
"Aww, man, Scott, don't cry!" Stiles said, hurriedly adding, "Their contracts were up and no one wanted to work with Peter anyhow. Right, Derek?"
Derek nodded. "Cora thinks this shit is juvenile and Laura's going back to school. No more show."
"You can be on our show," Scott said immediately. "We'll change the name and everything."
"How about 'Two Bros and a Boyfriend'?" Stiles asked.
"'Three Bros, Except Two of Them Are Sleeping Together,''' Scott suggested.
"Or something that actually describes the show?" Derek said, rolling his eyes and stealing Stiles's beer. That was okay with Stiles. He liked Derek a whole lot.
"'Naturally Ghostly Bros,'" Stiles said firmly.
"Ick-Snay the bros," Derek said.
"'Better Than Natural,'" Stiles countered. Scott shook his head as Derek glared. "Or wait. 'Super!Natural.'"
"You say that like there's an exclamation point somewhere in there," Derek said slowly.
"I like it," Scott declared. "It's catchy."
Derek shrugged. "Okay. Here's to 'Supernatural.'"