“What in the hell is this?” Derek yells at no one in particular, and silence immediately descends over the whole office. Derek glares at the tinsel draped along the walls and the wreathes hanging on doors. There are even sprigs of mistletoe dangling from the ceiling, and in the corner, a tree strung with multi-colored lights. “This is a publishing house, not Santa’s fucking Village!”
No one even dares to look at Derek. He storms across the room towards his corner office. “Greenberg, I want all this down by the end of the day.”
“Yes, Mr. Hale.”
Derek groans when he reaches his office door. There’s a large wreath in the center. He yanks it off and tosses it in the nearest trashcan before entering his office and slamming the door.
An hour later, Stiles comes sweeping into Derek’s office, with tidings of “Merry Christmas!”
Annoyed, Derek drags his eyes away from the manuscript he’s proofing. Derek takes in Stiles’ garish Christmas tie and the bright red and green of his Christmas socks peeking out from beneath the hem of his pants. He even has an annoying tie pin that’s flashing various colors at Derek. “So, I’m guessing you’re to blame for the mess out there.”
Stiles glances out into the larger office. “What mess?” He turns back to Derek. “The decorations? You can’t be serious. It’s just a few things here and there to make the place a bit more festive.”
“It’s clutter, and a distraction. I told Greenberg to take it down.”
“Aww, Derek, come on!” Stiles whines, but with a quick glance at Derek’s sour expression, he shuts up.
“By the way, you’re late,” Derek says when Stiles sits in the chair across from him.
“Only by about half an hour,” Stiles says. “I didn’t think it’d be a problem.”
“You thought wrong,” Derek snaps. “And try over an hour late.”
Stiles runs a hand through his hair as he checks his watch. “I’m sorry, but my daughter’s first grade class had a Christmas party this morning. I stayed up half the night helping her bake cookies for the entire class, and she insisted that we decorate each of them individually, and then I knocked the icing on the floor, and – “
“I don’t care,” Derek interrupts, already turning back to his manuscript. “And that’s not a valid reason to miss work. I expect more dedication from my junior editor. You’ll have to make it up.”
“Okay, that’s fine.”
Without looking up, Derek points to a stack of manuscripts sitting atop the filing cabinet. “Those need to be dealt with.”
Stiles scoops the folders into his arms and leaves Derek’s office.
Later that day, Derek returns to his office after a meeting and finds a holiday-colored cardboard cup from the coffee shop down the street next to a festive bag of cookies. When he picks up the bag, he notices that the bells and trees are obviously decorated by a child, and the tag attached reads Merry Christmas, love Charlotte Stilinski in messy script.
He grunts as he tosses all of it into the trash.
A few days later, Derek gets to the office before the sun comes up. He likes the early morning hours, with no inane chatter, no annoying gossip, no sound of other people avoiding doing the work that they should be doing. But as he crosses towards his office, he notices a wreath on the break room door and a small Christmas tree sitting on a table inside.
Stiles, damn him. But at least he put them in a place where Derek wouldn’t see.
Derek’s so lost in trying to get a publicity campaign together that he doesn’t hear the intruder in his office until said intruder sets a cup of coffee near his elbow. Derek sighs at the disruption and looks up into Stiles’ smiling face.
“Thought you might need a cup of coffee,” Stiles says as he takes a sip from his own cup. “I know you’ve been here since before the sun came up, because Bob told me.”
“Who’s Bob?” Derek asks.
Stiles looks at him in disbelief. “The doorman? He’s only worked here since before the building was built or something. How do you not know Bob?” Stiles shakes his head as Derek glances at the clock. It’s still early; only 7:30.
“Why are you here? It’s still a few hours until you usually come in.”
Stiles takes the seat across from him. “Decided to make up some of that time missed because of my late morning the other day, so I got my neighbor Mrs. McCall to help Charlotte get ready for school, and when I was getting my coffee, I thought since you’d inevitably be at work already, I’d bring you one too.”
Derek ignores most of what Stiles says as he lifts the cup to his nose and sniffs. Mint. “You thought wrong,” he replies, pushing the cup towards the edge of the desk.
“Ah, come on, Derek. Don’t be a Scrooge!” Stiles exclaims. “Who doesn’t like peppermint coffee? It’s tasty and sweet, but not too sweet. Perfection in a cup, really. Only puppy kickers hate peppermint coffee. And Scrooge-y Senior Editors.” Derek glares, but Stiles just grins his stupid self-satisfied grin.
The hideously ugly red and green plastic necklace around Stiles’ neck catches Derek’s attention. “What are you wearing? It’s hideous.”
“Hey! My daughter made this for me last night.”
“It’s still ugly,” Derek says.
“Don’t you have any Christmas spirit? How can you look at something a kid makes you and say it’s ugly? She worked on this all evening.” Stiles picks up the plastic thing with a goofy grin on his face and fingers it fondly. “I love it.”
“You shouldn’t tell children something is good when it’s not,” Derek says. “It encourages them to be bad at the things they do in adulthood and to crave constant praise.”
Stiles shakes his head. “I think ten angels just lost their wings because of that speech.”
“Don’t think I didn’t see that wreath and the tree you put in the breakroom,” Derek says. “I should fire you.”
“You’d be lost without me.”
Derek opens his mouth to reply, but he doesn’t get the chance. At that moment, his office door flies open, and Cora sweeps in.
“Derek!” She’s wearing a black faux fur shrug and a fashionable dress with stockings and stilettos, even though it’s before 8 am. She quickly crosses the room, not deterred by the fact that Derek remains seated. She comes around the desk, throws her arms around his neck, and kisses his cheek. “I’m so happy to see you!”
“What are you doing here?” Derek asks. “How did you even get in?”
“The doorman,” Cora says.
“Bob,” Stiles pipes up.
Cora glances over her shoulder with a smile before turning back to Derek. “Yes! Bob. He’s such a lovely man. I’ve been in the lobby talking to him for the last few minutes. He told me he couldn’t believe we were related!”
“I’m firing Bob as soon as you leave.”
Cora slaps Derek’s arm. “Don’t you dare fire than nice man!” She opens her ridiculously expensive Alexander McQueen bag and pulls out a box of cordial cherries. Derek eyes them suspiciously when she hands them to him. “I got these for you. I know they’re your favorites.”
“You mean Derek likes something associated with Christmas?” Stiles asks with mock surprise. “Will wonders never cease?”
“Has he been anti-Christmas again?” Cora asks as Derek takes the cherries. He stares at them while Stiles and Cora talk, then carefully opens the box and pops one of the candies into his mouth. He closes his eyes and smiles, the sweet, cherry-flavored confection bursting on his tongue. It reminds him of his mother, and he can almost hear her laughter ringing in his ears.
“Whoa,” Derek hears Stiles say quietly. His eyes fly open, and Stiles is staring at him, unreadable expression on his face. “Those things must be magical,” he says. “That’s the only explanation.”
Derek swallows and throws the box in the bottom drawer of his desk. “Cora, why are you here? Shouldn’t you be nursing a hangover in your penthouse or something? Wasting that ridiculously expensive education I paid for?”
“Such a comedian,” Cora says. “For your information, Lydia is at a photo shoot at Rockefeller Center right now. It’s a huge deal. Her photos are going to be in Vanity Fair.”
“That’s amazing,” Stiles says. “Who’s she photographing?”
“It’s a fashion shoot. I don’t know who the models are. But she’s ecstatic, so I wanted to surprise her with coffee and a bagel, but decided to come visit you first since I was in this area of Manhattan.”
“Thanks for visiting,” Derek says. “But if you’ll excuse me, I have work – “
“Derek!” Cora whines. “Can’t you not work for a few minutes? I haven’t seen you in months!”
Stiles stands from his chair. “I’ll leave you two alone then,” he says as he kisses her cheek. “Cora, it was good to see you. Tell Lydia congratulations for me.”
After Stiles leaves, Cora turns to Derek and shakes her head. “Still haven’t done anything about that then?”
“What are you talking about?” Derek asks.
“You can’t be that stupid.” She pauses, and then laughs. “You really are. That man is smitten with you, Derek. Why haven’t you asked him out?”
“Stiles?” Derek asks in disbelief. “You can’t be serious. I’m his direct superior, and besides, he’s not interested.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” Cora says as she eyes the cup of coffee on the edge of Derek’s desk. “He’s probably too good for you anyway.”
Derek sighs heavily through his nose. “Why are you here, Cora?”
“As you know, Christmas Eve is only two days away. Lydia and I would like you to come for dinner.”
“Derek!” Cora whines. “It’s Christmas! You’re the only family I have left!”
“I have to work.”
“On Christmas Eve?” she asks doubtfully.
“Yes. Do you have any idea how many new books we have to get out by the beginning of the year? I don’t have time for Christmas.”
“That’s bullshit, Derek.” Cora gets off the desk and glares down at him, hand on her hip. “You’re an asshole.”
Cora softens a bit and says, “Derek, please? Everyone’s been gone for so long, and it’s the first year since Laura...I just want us to be a family again.”
“We have no family,” Derek says, a hard edge in his voice. “And we can never get them back.”
Derek ignores the tears sliding down Cora’s face as she spins around on her heel and storms out of the office, slamming the door behind her.
Derek isn’t watching where he’s going; he’s got his head bent over a contract as he navigates the pathway through the office he’s had memorized for years. He doesn’t look up until he hears Stiles’ voice, followed quickly by Matt, one of the copy editors. Derek stops just outside Stiles’ office, and remains out of sight while he eavesdrops.
“He’s a dick,” Matt says.
“He’s not,” Stiles argues.
“Who cancels the traditional holiday party?” Matt asks. “That’s one of the only perks of working at this hell hole. I heard from Danny in accounting that he’s also cancelled our holiday bonuses.”
“Shit!” Stiles sighs. “I really needed that bonus. Ugh!” Derek hears some movement in the office, and then Stiles says, “Maybe the company is in trouble. Or maybe Danny was pulling your leg.”
“Why do you always take up for Hale?” Matt asks. “I swear, Stiles, you’re the only person who likes him. He’s a fucking asshole, even worse than fucking Peter Hale. This place has gone to shit since Laura died. She was the only one in that family who acted like an actual human being.”
“He’s been through a lot,” Stiles says. “He’s lost his whole family. It’s not easy losing people you love.”
Derek can’t listen to any more. He turns around, walks back to his office, and sits at his desk for most of the morning. He’d cancelled the party because it had felt wrong to host it again without Laura there. It had been her favorite thing in the world, even back when they were kids and their parents would bring them and make them stay in their dad’s office all night. Laura had always found a way to sneak into the party, dragging Derek along behind her.
And the bonuses…why would he give all his employees even more money? He already paid them ridiculously well, he thought. Plus, their profits were down this year, most of them whined about every little task, and Derek just didn’t see the point of bonuses.
There were no bonuses in life.
His eyes drift distractedly over to Stiles, who is standing behind the computer at Matt’s cubicle. They’re discussing a manuscript, and Derek watches the way Stiles’ long fingers point to things on the screen, takes in the long line of his back, his legs.
Stiles said he’d needed the bonus. Maybe Derek had been too harsh, cutting off their bonuses. Stiles had a kid, a daughter, right? What was her name? Carrie…Claire…something with a C. Derek wasn’t even sure how old she was.
At lunch, Derek goes into the break room to buy a soda from the vending machine. A few of the employees give him tentative smiles or waves, but most ignore him. Derek notices Stiles and Matt sharing a table by the far wall, Matt sitting closer to Stiles than Derek liked. Derek watches them out of the corner of his eyes as he slips the coins in the machine, and he sees Matt lean close to whisper something to Stiles. Stiles throws his head back, laughing openly and fully. Matt touches him then; small, flirty touches that seem just a little too intimate for Derek’s liking.
Derek snatches the can from the vending machine and stalks out of the break room.
Just before quitting time, Stiles enters Derek’s office. Derek lifts his eyes from his computer and glares.
“Just thought I’d come in and say goodbye before Christmas. Wish you Merry Christmas and all,” Stiles says. He stuffs his hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. “What do you hope Santa brings you?”
“Santa is for idiots,” Derek says.
“Hey! My daughter believes in Santa!” Stiles says. “I hope she never stops believing. I still believe.”
Derek just stares at him.
Stiles sighs and says, “Anyway. I got you something. You can open it whenever.” Stiles sets the brightly wrapped package he’d pulled from his pocket on Derek’s desk.
Derek stares at it for a long time. When Stiles turns to walk out of the door, Derek calls out, “Stiles, wait.” Stiles turns around, an expectant and hopeful look on his face. “I need you to come in tomorrow.”
Stiles’ face falls. “But…it’s Christmas Eve. You can’t be serious.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?” Derek points to the stack of manuscripts on a nearby table. “We’re behind. Apparently, my entire staff thinks work is a glorified excuse to get paid for surfing the internet, checking Facebook, and playing Candy Crush. We have deadlines, Stiles, deadlines I’m afraid we’re not going to meet. Yet, is my staff concerned about that? No. They’re too busy whining about the holiday party and the bonuses.” Derek pauses, his anger building. Stiles is gaping at him open-mouthed. “Maybe if my staff would have done their work this year, they would have deserved bonuses. Now, I’m having to pick up the slack and do their jobs. So, you can thank your colleagues for your overtime.”
“Derek,” Stiles says in exasperation, “I have a little girl. She has her first Christmas pageant tomorrow. We’ve been practicing for weeks. I can’t miss it.”
Derek shrugs. “She’s a kid. She’ll get over it.”
Stiles’ face hardens. “I’m not missing it. I’ll work extra hours after Christmas.”
“I know you will,” Derek says with a nod. “And you’ll be working tomorrow. Or you’re fired.”
Stiles blanches. “You can’t do that.”
“Either you show up tomorrow, or don’t come back.”
Stiles squares his shoulders and walks out of Derek’s office.
The foot traffic on Christmas Eve in Manhattan is insane; Derek has to dodge last minute shoppers and people bursting with Christmas cheer as he tries to get to work. On every corner, people are ringing bells and asking for money for this or that charity.
The whole spectacle makes Derek sick.
The building is empty when he arrives. Even the doorman – Stiles told him his name, but Derek can’t remember – isn’t there. When Derek steps off the elevator onto the floor of Hale Publishing, he walks through the silent office and suddenly feels an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
There was a time when Derek spent every Christmas Eve at the Hale house in upstate New York, the entire family crowding into the large house. The mantle could barely hold all the stockings lining it over the roaring fire; the smell of his mother’s cookies filled the air while he played cards with his dad, Laura, and his Uncle Peter.
That felt like a lifetime ago, someone else’s life. It was like watching a movie; the memories didn’t feel real anymore.
Derek walks over to Stiles’ office, and is startled by what he finds. The entire office has been cleared out. Stiles’ awards no longer hang on the walls, the bookshelves empty, the copious amount of pictures of his kid no longer clutter his desk.
So, that’s that then. Stiles left him, too.
Derek shuts himself up in his office and drowns himself in his work.
Midday, Derek takes a break and walks down the street to grab a sandwich from the local deli. When he sits down to eat and moves some of the papers out of the way on his desk, he finds the gift Stiles had left him the day before. Hesitantly, Derek tears off the paper. Inside is a pair of silver cufflinks in the shape of wolves, the logo for Hale Publishing.
They’re expensive and thoughtful and perfect.
Derek throws them in the trash.
A noise sounds out in the outer office. Derek rubs his eyes and glances at the clock. It’s after 11 p.m., and no one should be there. Maybe he’s just been at work too long and is hearing things. But he doesn’t like the thought of going back to his empty apartment, so he turns back to his computer.
A few moments later, he hears the noise again. This time when he looks up, he screams.
Peter. His dead uncle Peter is standing in the doorway, his skin charred and burnt, and chains hanging from his body. Derek blinks, rubs his eyes, but every time he looks, Peter’s still there.
“Hello, Derek.” Peter walks in, the chains rattling behind him and the smell of burnt flesh wafting into the room. It makes Derek sick to his stomach, brings up images of the house fire, of Peter’s fiery car crash. He sits in the seat across from Derek and smirks. “Burning the midnight oil, I see.”
“I’m dreaming. Or there’s a gas leak,” Derek says.
“I’m afraid not,” Peter says, brushing a piece of ash from the arm of his suit. “It’s all real. I’m a messenger now, isn’t that horrible? Not only do I have to spend eternity rotting in hell in this burnt out shell of a corpse, but I’ve been demoted.” Peter sighs in an exaggerated way. “I used to be the president of a multi-million dollar publishing company, and now look at me! I’m running errands like some intern.”
Derek blinks, unable to comprehend what is exactly going on.
“I’m glad to see that you’ve taken over my role,” Peter says. “Workaholic, no sex life, no social life, no life at all really.” Peter waits for a reaction, then shakes his head. Bits of ash and puffs of smoke waft from him. “That’s sarcasm in case you missed it. You really should take a vacation, hire a prostitute, go to a movie.”
“That’s pretty rich coming from you,” Derek says, deciding to embrace his episode of insanity. “Who do you think taught me my worth ethic?”
“Well, I know it wasn’t my dearly departed sister,” Peter says, hand on his chest. “Talia was a lot of things, but she was too kind hearted. If she had her way, the whole company would have had all of December off so she and my dear brother-in-law could bake and decorate for a month.”
Derek laughs. “Laura was the same way.” He smiles at the thought of her in an ugly Christmas sweater and antlers.
“I think they had the right idea,” Peter says after a few moments.
Peter looks at him seriously. “Death changes you, Derek. You get a different perspective of things, a change in priorities. If I could do things differently, I would.”
“I never thought I’d hear it,” Derek says, shaking his head.
“Oh yes! Your message,” Peter says, reaching into his pocket and pulling out an envelope. He pulls out an official looking document, with a proper header and a signature at the bottom. He clears his throat and reads, “Derek Hale, you will be visited by three spirits before the night is over. Yadda yadda yadda, a bunch of legal talk, a few clauses that aren’t any of your concern…yes, you have appointments with three spirits tonight.” Peter refolds the letter and lifts his eyes. “There you go.”
“This is stupid,” Derek says. “I don’t have time to be visited by three spirits, and I have no desire to talk to dead people. No offense.”
Peter lifts his hands and nods. “None taken.” He stands then. “Derek, I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this, but I’m going to warn you anyway. You need to change your ways.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Derek growls, arms crossed over his chest.
“I didn’t think that either,” Peter says, but then he lifts the chains. “We see how that turned out.” Suddenly, the rooms gets dark and cold, and fills with smoke. Derek coughs and chokes. “You, Derek Hale,” Peter says, flames flickering around his feet, his eyes burning red, “will suffer the same fate.”
Derek stares in horror as flames consume Peter, and his body contorts while his screams fill the room. The smoke is so thick Derek can barely breathe, and then Peter disappears into a pile of ash.
The room immediately clears of all smoke, and the lights return to normal.
Derek grabs his leather jacket and runs out of the office.
Back in his apartment, Derek realizes he must have been having an exhaustion-induced hallucination. There was no way he actually saw his dead uncle. Or that the office was filled with smoke.
It was just the stupid holidays and Derek’s tendency to overwork.
Derek changes out of his clothes, takes a shower, and by the time he fixes himself a glass of scotch, it’s almost midnight. He stands in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows in his living room and stares out at the New York City skyline. Those are the only lights he likes. The lights of the city.
“That’s a lie,” a voice says from behind him. Derek jumps, the glass falling from his fingers to the floor. The scotch soaks into the white carpet.
A tall, lanky man with brown curls and an enormous scarf wrapped around his neck is standing in the middle of Derek’s living room.
“How did you get in here?” Derek says. “I’ll have you arrested!”
The man rolls his eyes. “The boss said he sent Peter to tell you about our arrival. Figures Peter would screw up something as simple as visiting his nephew.” The man shakes his head and digs into his pocket. He pulls out a small, bent business card. “I’m Isaac.” The man, Isaac, hands Derek the card. Embossed across the front are the words, Isaac Lahey, Ghost of Christmas Past. “I’m also available for séances, Halloween hauntings, and guardian angel duties.” Derek looks from the card to the man. “What? Eternity is a long time. You have to keep yourself busy.”
“So, I wasn’t dreaming?”
“Afraid not,” Isaac says. He takes the business card back and slips it into his pocket. “We need to get started. Erica will not be happy if I’m running behind and get her backed up.”
Isaac waves his hand dismissively as he walks over to one of the large bookcases in Derek’s living room. “Don’t worry about that now.”
“So, what? We’re going to sit and talk about all my happy past Christmases like some therapy session?” Derek asks as he watches Isaac eye the books along the shelves.
“Not quite,” Isaac replies distractedly. He finds what he’s looking for, and pulls a book from the shelf. He opens it, and thumbs to the first chapter. Then, he touches his finger to the page and the room around Derek starts to fade away.
“Whoa, wait a minute!” Derek yells as he turns around in a circle. “What in the hell are you doing to me?”
“Calm down, sheesh,” Isaac says as a new room starts to appear around them. “They said you weren’t high strung. They said you were the grumpy and silent type.” Derek glares at Isaac. “Yeah, that’s more of what I expected.” Isaac grins and then reaches into a newly materialized candy bowl. He grabs a handful of candies and starts eating them.
Derek immediately recognizes the room. It’s the living room in the old Hale house.
Slowly, he walks further into the room, turning in a circle as he stares at everything in disbelief. Familiar decorations hang along the walls, Christmas knickknacks litter the tables, and the Christmas quilt his grandmother made was thrown over the back of the couch he’d laid on hundreds of times. His dad’s recliner was in the corner like it always was, and lining the mantel were five stockings. Derek approaches them with heavy feet. Michael, Talia, Laura, Derek, and Cora – names written in gold glitter paint on red and white stockings. Derek reaches out and touches his parents’ names, then Laura’s.
“I want to leave,” Derek croaks out, his voice hoarse from emotion.
“No can do,” Isaac says as he pops another candy into his mouth.
“Laura, give it back!” Derek hears himself yell. He spins around as Laura comes running into the living room, followed closely by a sixteen year old Derek. Laura runs over to the fireplace, passing right through him like he was some kind of ghost.
“No!” Laura says, holding the handheld video game behind her back.
“Why are you such a jerk?” Derek yells. “I’m going to tell Mom!”
Laura rolls her eyes. “Real mature, Derek.”
“You’re the one stealing my stuff. Just because you’re home from college doesn’t mean you get to steal my stuff.”
“You’ve been on this thing for hours,” Laura says. “You’re ruining Christmas! I just want to spend time together.”
“What is going on in here?” Derek’s dad asks loudly as he comes into the living room.
Derek gasps. He wants to walk forward, to get a closer look at his father, but he’s frozen to the spot.
“How long has it been?” Isaac asks as he steps beside Derek. Derek startles, had forgotten Isaac was even here.
“Ten years,” Derek replies quietly. “They died in a house fire when I was twenty six.”
Michael looks between his children with a stern expression. Derek, of course, is the first to break. He could never last as long as Laura. “She stole my PSP.”
“Laura,” Michael says.
“Da-ad!” Laura yells. “Derek’s been on it all day long. It’s supposed to be Family Christmas Day, remember? We were supposed to make cookies, and play games, and go get the tree! Everyone’s into it except Derek!”
“Derek,” Michael sighs. He rubs his temples with his thumb and forefinger. “Can’t you put away the game for your sister?”
Derek rolls his eyes dramatically. “Fine!”
Laura grins and hands it back to him.
Beside him, Isaac flips a page in the book, and suddenly the room dissolves and they’re outside. Michael is leading the way through the woods, Derek beside him with a saw slung over his shoulder. Laura and Talia walk behind them, and a twelve-year old Cora keeps running ahead of Michael and Derek, and then back behind Talia and Laura, before doing it again. She’s singing Jingle Bells off key.
Despite the fact that all five family members are dressed in thick winter clothes with snow crunching under their boots, Derek walks along beside them in his wife beater and bare feet unaffected.
Cora bends down and packs a snowball. She turns and launches it at Derek; it smacks him right in the back of the head. “Ow!” Derek yells, while Cora doubles over laughing.
“You’re gonna get it!” Derek drops the saw and takes off after Cora. Laura runs after them, and soon, the three are them are pelting snowballs at each other, hitting each other in the face again and again.
“Are we going to have a snowball fight or look for a tree?” Talia asks. Just then, Laura lands a snowball right in the middle of her face. Everyone starts laughing, and Derek’s parents join them. A few minutes later, they’re all laughing and panting from dodging snowballs. Derek picks the saw back up and they start walking again.
“What about this one?” Talia says suddenly. Derek will never get tired of hearing that sound again; he had forgotten what her voice sounded like, and every time she speaks, he feels an ache deep inside. Derek walks closer to her as his sixteen year old self looks at trees a few feet ahead. He forgot so much about his mother, forgot the color of her eyes, the exact shape of her smile. He reaches out to touch her, but his hand just goes through her shoulder.
“You can’t touch,” Isaac explains. He’s now eating a piece of cake as he stands beside Derek. “We aren’t really here. We’re just revisiting your past, kind of like watching a movie. You can get close, but you can’t interact.”
“I don’t want to be here,” Derek snaps, storming away from his mother. But he only gets a few feet before he hits an invisible barrier, preventing him from going any further.
“Sorry,” Isaac says, licking crumbs from his fingers. “No flipping ahead. You’re stuck here until the scene is over.”
Derek crosses his arms and refuses to turn around and look back. He doesn’t want to be reminded in startling detail of what he’s lost. He’s quite familiar with what he’s lost without seeing it replayed like he’s been transported twenty years in the past.
“I like it, Mom!” Derek hears himself exclaim. Even though he’s facing away from the scene, he can remember that day clearly in his mind. Remember how cold the air was, remember standing beside his mother, remember how bad his arms ached the next day from sawing down the tree.
“It’s perfect!” Laura yells.
“It’s so big!” Cora says excitedly. “Can we name it Rupert? Please let’s name him Rupert.”
“You’re such a weirdo,” Derek says along with his sixteen year old self. He turns around just as he pushes Cora. “Only weirdos name Christmas trees.”
“Are you too cool for Christmas trees now?” Michael throws an arm around Derek’s neck and ruffles his hair. As if drawn by an invisible force, Derek walks slowly back to where his family is gathered around the large tree.
“Dad,” Derek murmurs, trying to push him off.
“Derek’s not too cool for anything,” Laura says. Derek gives up trying to weasel out of his Dad’s grip and just stands there with his dad’s arm around him.
“Talia, this is the one?” Michael asks.
Talia nods. “Does everyone like it?” A murmur of agreement spreads among them. “Derek? You like it?”
“I do.” Talia squeezes his arm and kisses his cheek. Derek finds himself touching his own cheek, the ghost of his mother’s touch against his skin.
“Do the honors, then,” Michael says, patting Derek on the back. His younger self crawls on his hands and knees under the tree, the low branches catching on his coat and getting needles all over him. Then, he starts sawing the trunk. But Derek’s not watching himself; he can still remember the strong smell of pine from that position, can still feel the vibration of the saw in his hands. Instead, he watches his family.
One by one, he steps in front of the members of his family, studying them. He compares the now-hazy remnants of their forms from his memories with the people standing in front of him in the flesh. His dad was slightly stockier than he remembered, his mom shorter, and Laura just looks younger than she had a year ago, right before her murder.
“Timber!” Talia and Michael yell together, and they both look so happy as the tree lands with a soft thump behind him.
Their faces begin dissolving, and Derek reaches out as he glances over at Isaac, turning to a new page. They are now back at the house, in the living room. Brenda Lee’s singing Rockin Around The Christmas Tree, and his dad dances around the tree as he strings lights on it. Cora’s holding the lights for him, singing the song loudly.
Derek walks into the kitchen and finds Isaac already there, stealing cookies from the fresh batch Talia has just pulled from the oven. Laura and Derek are covered in flour.
“That’s too much peppermint extract!” Laura says, trying to grab the bottle from Derek.
“They’re peppermint cookies, Laura.” Derek moves the bottle out of her reach.
“Children!” Talia exclaims as she places a new batch of cookies in the oven. “Behave.”
“Mom, tell Laura to stop telling me what to do!” Derek laughs slightly, forgot how whiny he used to sound, had forgotten how often he and Laura used to fight. “I can read a recipe.”
“You’re reading it wrong!” Laura reaches for the bottle again.
“The recipe is wrong!” This time, Laura grabs the bottle, and they fight over it until the bottle slips from Derek’s greasy hands, and falls directly into the dough. “Look what you did!” Derek yells, his face blood red.
Talia just bursts out laughing, and then Laura joins her, but Derek looks like he’s about to explode.
“Oh, Derek,” Talia says, picking up the bottle and then leaning down to sniff the mixture. “Whoo. That’s quite strong.”
“You ruined it, loser!” Laura smirks at him.
“We can fix it, honey,” Talia says, slinging an arm around Derek and pulling him into a half-hug. She kisses the top of his head. As Derek watches, he’s reminded of just how tactile they’d all been, how much affection they’d shown each other regularly. He doesn’t even remember the last time he touched someone outside of a handshake.
“Grab me the flour,” Talia tells Laura as she directs Derek’s attention to the recipe. “We’ll just make more cookies for more peppermint flavor!”
Derek hears the rustle of paper as Isaac starts to flip a page. “No! Isaac, please,” Derek says helpless as he watches himself dump flour into the bowl with his mother. “Don’t take them away from me again.”
“Sorry, Derek,” Isaac says, and when Derek looks up at him, he actually looks apologetic. “Rules are rules.”
Derek reaches out to touch his mother as the scene begins to fade, his hand slicing through her head as she laughs.
“Did the recipe work?” Isaac asks as they wait in darkness.
“We had over one hundred peppermint cookies,” Derek says. His eyes are damp, and he wipes them hastily, hopes Isaac can’t see in the dark. “We ate every single one. We had to freeze some. It took until March.”
The next room starts to materialize, and this time Derek’s a bit more emotionally prepared for what he’s presented. But only just.
The chapter Isaac has turned to takes them to his apartment from grad school. He sees the cheap furniture in the too-small rooms, his research books stacked on the floor. They are in his old bedroom, and Derek sees two lumps in the bed.
His heart drops to his feet.
“Isaac, please, no,” Derek begs, his voice barely above a whisper.
Isaac doesn’t respond, just picks up the bag of chips from the nightstand and starts munching. One of the lumps in the bed moves, and Derek hears the sound she always made waking up.
“Morning,” Derek hears himself say. He moves closer behind Paige and kisses her shoulder.
“Morning,” she says, her voice sleepy. She’s barely awake, and her eyes are still closed. The sound of her voice cuts through Derek like a knife, prying open a part of his heart he’d covered in scar tissue a long time ago. It was never supposed to be revisited – it was supposed to remain numb.
“It’s Christmas,” Derek sing-songs. He doesn’t ever remember being that happy to wake up. There’s an ache in his chest as Paige pushes the comforter away and rubs her eyes. “Our first Christmas together,” Derek continues. He kisses the side of her neck, her cheek, and then the diamond engagement ring on her finger. “One of many.”
“I like the sound of that,” Paige says. She smiles, and Derek feels his heart break in two. Just the sound of her voice is enough to undo him.
He turns around just as Paige cranes her head over her shoulder to kiss him. Derek remembers that morning. They had lazy sex for hours before finally leaving the bed.
He has to get away, can’t be reminded of the feeling of her body beneath his, of how she felt, of how warm and soft she was. Of how much he still misses her.
Isaac turns a page, and suddenly, Derek and Paige are in front of the lighted Christmas tree in the living room.
“I think we have time to exchange presents before we have to go to your parents’ house,” Paige says.
“It’s your fault we’re just now getting out of bed,” Derek says with a satisfied smile as he slips his arms around her waist. He kisses her again, and Derek feels the weight of her body in his arms. He inhales and can smell her shampoo in the air.
“Isaac, I can’t watch this,” Derek says, turning away.
“Where is she now?” Isaac asks, eating one of the muffins Paige and Derek were sharing for breakfast.
“She’s dead,” Derek replies. “We were engaged.” Derek scrubs a hand across his face. He hears Paige giggle and turns around.
She is dancing with Derek around the living room. “This is so cheesy,” she says. “You know that right?”
“Don’t care,” Derek says.
Derek walks closer to them, stands behind his younger self and looks at Paige. She’s even more beautiful than he remembered, her smile still making him weak in the knees. She smiles then, and from where Derek’s standing, it’s like she’s smiling at him again. The weight of her loss crashes over him again.
“I love you, you huge cheese ball.”
“I love you, too.”
“This is the last happy Christmas I ever had,” Derek explains to Isaac as he watches himself kiss her. “Paige is the only woman I ever loved. She dies a few months after this, and then a year later, my family dies in a house fire.”
“Tough luck,” Isaac says, laying a hand on Derek’s shoulder.
“Look at me,” Derek spits, pointing at himself as he spins Paige in a circle, a wide, happy smile on his face. “I’m such a fucking fool. So in love and so naïve. I was so happy, I thought I was going to live happily ever after with Paige. God, if I’d have known then what I know now…”
“It’s better you didn’t know,” Isaac says. “If I’ve learned anything since dying, it’s that.” Isaac starts flipping through the book again, and Derek studies him closely.
“How did you die?”
Isaac glances at him, and an unfathomable sadness fills his eyes. “It wasn’t pretty.”
Isaac sighs. “My dad locked me in a freezer. I never came out.” He finds the chapter he’s looking for and touches the number.
This time, the room that appears around them is unfamiliar. There’s a man waiting by the tree, putting final touches on a Batman playset while a sickly woman sits in a recliner covered with a blanket.
“Santa came! Santa came!” A little boy with buzzed hair and Batman pajamas bounds down the stairs and comes barreling into the room. He’s got wide brown eyes that are too large for his face. He looks at the toys briefly before finding the woman sitting in the recliner. “Merry Christmas, Mom!” He launches himself on her, and it looks like it pains her, but she wraps her arms around him and kisses his cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Stiles.”
“Stiles?” Derek asks. He looks at Isaac in surprise, and Isaac just shrugs as he grabs one of the cookies left out for Santa. “What in the hell am I doing in Stiles’ past?”
Isaac sighs. “How are you still this stupid?”
Stiles climbs off his mom and runs over to the man standing beside the Christmas tree. “Merry Christmas, Dad.”
“Merry Christmas, kiddo.” The man kisses the top of Stiles’ hair. “Aren’t you going to look at what Santa brought you?”
Stiles glances back at his mom before looking at the toys. He nods, and then sits down and starts picking up different toys, exclaiming things like, “Awesome!” and “Cool” and “No way, dude!”
“How did you know I wanted this?” Stiles asks as he picks up a large Batmobile. He starts rolling it across the floor, making car noises. Stiles doesn’t notice how pained his mother looks when he’s not looking, because the moment that he turns towards her, her face morphs completely.
“What’s wrong with her?” Derek asks.
“Cancer,” Isaac answers. He reaches into the stocking with Stiles’ name across the top and pulls out a letter. He hands it to Derek.
My name is Stiles Stilinski (I would tell you my real name, but it’s hard to say and spell, so I don’t want to make it hard for you), and I am eight years old. I don’t want toys like usual. This year all I want for Christmas is for my mom to get better. My dad said she’s really sick, and she’s in the hospital a lot.
I swear, I will never ask for another present as long as I live if you make her better.
I’m leaving out wheat crackers for your reindeer. They need treats, too!
PS. I would really like a cool Batmobile if you wanted to throw in a surprise. I’ve been extra good this year, I swear!
Derek glances over at where Stiles’ mother is in the floor with her son, playing with some Batman action figures. For the second time tonight, his eyes feel damp.
“Did she get better?”
“Nope,” Isaac says. “She dies by the summer. Stiles was with her at the hospital when she died.”
“How can he still love Christmas? He told me yesterday he still believed in fucking Santa Claus! After this??” Derek balls up the letter and throws it across the room. He’s suddenly furious. Furious that he lost his family, that he lost Paige, that Stiles lost his mother as a child. “Why in the hell are you even showing me all this? Is this some kind of punishment?” Derek yells. “Am I in hell? Did I die, and my punishment is to live my painful memories over and over again?”
Isaac shakes his head. “You’re missing the point,” he says as he flips to another page.
This time, they end up in a cozy little house. Every surface is decorated for Christmas – garish lights are everywhere, along with reindeer, santas, snowmen, and nativity scenes.
The front door opens, and a beautiful blonde woman sweeps in. She’s covered in snow and holding shopping bags, and when she takes off her coat, Derek sees that she’s pregnant. “Stiles! I’m home!”
“Heather? Everything okay?” Stiles runs into the living room, his hair sticking up in every direction. He looks almost exactly as he does now, just a bit younger. “I’ve been worried sick! Why did I let you talk me into letting you go shopping while pregnant, on Christmas Eve, in the snow?”
Heather huffs with fond exasperation as she waddles towards Stiles. They hug each other, but the belly makes it a bit difficult. “You worry too much.”
“My two favorite people were out in that weather,” Stiles says, rubbing his hand over the woman’s stomach.
“That’s Stiles’ wife?” Derek asks. “She’s beautiful.”
“She’s dead,” Isaac says, mouth around a candy cane.
“What?” Derek exclaims. “That’s not true. Stiles would have told me.”
“Have you ever heard him mention a wife?”
“Yes.” Isaac gives Derek a hard look. “Fine, I don’t remember. He just talks about that kid all the time.”
“Charlotte,” Isaac says as Stiles and Heather walk over to the couch. Stiles covers her with a blanket and then grabs the remote to turn on the television. “Heather’s pregnant with her right now.”
“What should we watch?” Stiles asks as he cuddles close to Heather.
Heather takes the remote from him, smiling. “Christmas movie!”
“Ugh, god, not another one of those lame Hallmark Christmas movies.”
“You said you liked them,” Heather says as she turns the television to the correct channel. She tosses the remote onto the foot of the couch.
“I do, but not every single night!”
“Oh shut up. I’ll let you give me a bath later if you shut up,” Heather says with a grin. Stiles zips his mouth shut, making Heather laugh. She kisses him before laying her head on his shoulder.
“I don’t understand,” Derek says. “Why wouldn’t Stiles tell me?”
“You know he’s in love with you, right?” Isaac asks. His lips are stained red from the candy cane. “Did you think he was cheating on his wife?”
“I thought they were divorced.” Derek suddenly feels an overwhelming sense of regret. He’s worked with Stiles for the past two years, and he’s never once heard Stiles mention a dead wife, or someone named Heather. Though, in Stiles’ defense, Derek usually tunes him whenever he starts talking about things other than work. “How have I completely missed something so important in my junior editor’s life?” Derek asks himself. “Stiles is…”
“The best person you know?” Isaac asks.
“The closest thing to a friend I have,” Derek finishes.
Isaac flips the page and they are back in the first house, the house from when Stiles was a child. Stiles is on the couch, his back towards the room. His dad, now quite a bit older, is holding the hand of a small girl with light brown hair and Stiles’ eyes.
“Dada feel bad?” she asks. Derek figures she can’t be more than two.
“Yeah, sweetie, he does.” Stiles’ dad lifts Charlotte in his arms and carries her over to Stiles. He bends so Charlotte can reach out and touch Stiles’ shoulder.
“Dada!” she exclaims. Stiles rolls onto his back, and Derek gasps. He’s pale and drawn; he’s so skinny his face looks almost skeletal. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Stiles replies, and tears start flowing down his cheeks.
“Uh-oh!” Charlotte says, patting the tears lightly. “Dada got boo-boo!”
“Yeah, Dada’s got a booboo,” Stiles says. Charlotte leans down and kisses both his cheeks. “I make it feel all better like Mama made it feel all better.”
At that, Stiles rolls away from them and curls in on himself. Stiles’ dad stands up and whispers to the little girl as he takes her upstairs. Stiles remains on the couch, sobs wracking his body. His dad returns downstairs a few minutes later.
“Stiles?” he asks as he sits on the edge of the couch. He runs a hand over Stiles’ hair. “Kiddo, you’ve got to pull it together.”
Stiles just lets out a heart wrenching sob. Derek recognizes that sound – it’s the sound of a man completely broken by the loss of the woman he loves.
Stiles’ dad just rubs Stiles’ hair as he sobs. Derek turns to Isaac. “Why are you showing me this?” He glances back at Stiles. “I’ve been through this.”
“You weren’t married,” Isaac points out.
“We were engaged,” Derek snaps.
“You didn’t have a two year old.” Derek doesn’t have a reply for that. “Derek, you’re not the only person in the world to lose the woman he loved. Both these men lost their wives. Heather was everything to Stiles. They grew up together, their mothers were friends. Stiles loved her for most of his life. But has he shut out the world? No.”
Derek grunts. “He didn’t lose his entire family.”
“He lost his mother at nine,” Isaac says. “You don’t know what that’s like.”
Isaac nods. “My mom died when I was young, too. You never get over it.”
Stiles finally rolls back onto his back. His face is blotchy, his nose runny. “I can’t do this, Dad.”
“You have to,” Stiles’ dad says. “Even if you feel like your whole world has ended, because it has since she’s not in it anymore, you have to keep going.”
“What’s the point?”
Stiles’ dad hits his arm, and then points up stairs. “That little girl’s the point, that’s what. When your mother died, I felt like crawling into that casket alongside her. But I knew I had to keep going, because I had a little boy crying every night. And I couldn’t let him see me fall apart. I had to be strong for you, and now, you have to be strong for your little girl.”
“Dad, what is wrong with us? We’re cursed.”
“We’re not cursed, son. We’re Stilinskis. We can weather anything.”
“Can I at least cry tonight?” Stiles asks. He sounds so small, so broken.
His father nods. “But tomorrow morning, you’re going to be a man, and be a father to that little girl. It’s Christmas, and she’s going to want her dad there smiling when she discovers Santa’s come.” Stiles curls back into a ball.
Isaac turns to another page and then they’re suddenly in the office. Christmas music blares from the speakers, and the sounds of laughter fills the room.
It’s one of the holiday parties.
Derek scans the room and finds himself along the wall, glaring at the room in general. He recognizes his suit; it was two Christmases ago.
Laura saunters through the room, wearing a hideous Christmas sweater and flashing antlers on her head. She speaks to all the employees, and they all love her. Derek looks behind him and sees Peter in his office, on his computer. Working, like usual.
“Derek!” a familiar voice cuts through the crowd. Stiles approaches him, carrying two glasses of punch. “Why do you look like someone kicked your puppy?”
“What do you want, Stiles?” Derek crosses his arms and just glares. Stiles isn’t deterred, though. He hands Derek the glass of punch.
“Thought you might like something to drink.” Derek sighs, but takes the glass.
“There you are!” Laura says loudly when she finds him. She gives Stiles a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re trying to draw him out. But you’re new here, so I have to tell you, Derek is the biggest party pooper you will ever meet.” Laura grabs Derek by the hand and drags him out of his corner.
Derek didn’t notice it at the time, but Stiles follows him around the party. He brings Derek drinks and plates of food, and once, he even makes Derek laugh.
“I forgot he made me laugh that night,” Derek says. He smiles as Stiles tells his other self a story, gesturing wildly with his hands. Derek is more interested in Stiles than he’s been in anything else the entire night. Derek doesn’t remember any of this.
“Stiles is the only person who can make you laugh,” Isaac says, making his way through a huge plate of food. “He made you laugh the first day you met. You just never took the time to notice him.”
Stiles spies Derek under the mistletoe, and he casually makes his way over to him. They stand there talking to Danny and Aiden from accounting for a few moments before someone realizes. “Look who’s under the mistletoe!” Greenberg shouts. Derek and Stiles both look up, and then at each other. Stiles’ face turns bright red. Derek just glares.
“What are the odds, huh?” Stiles asks.
“How did I not see through this?” Derek asks Isaac as the other Derek just storms away.
“I’ll kiss you,” Matt jokes, and a flare of jealousy and irritation flows through Derek as Matt and Stiles kiss under the mistletoe.
“I can’t believe you didn’t kiss Stiles,” Isaac says. “I mean, that guy, really? If you weren’t so stubborn, you’d have asked Stiles out the first time he made you laugh.”
“Because no one other than Laura has made you laugh since you family died.”
Beside Derek, Isaac closes the book, and the room fades away. When Derek looks around, he sees that they’re back in his apartment.
“That’s it?” Derek asks. “No more torture of Christmas pasts?”
“It’s not torture, Derek,” Isaac says. “Think about what you saw. You’ll figure out what it all means.” Isaac claps Derek on the shoulder, and then he disappears. The book falls to the floor with a thud, and Derek is alone.
Derek spends an hour just sitting on his couch and staring at the wall. He’s dreaming. That’s the only possible explanation. Or possibly going crazy.
But what he saw…that was real. That Christmas with his family, the Christmas with Paige was exactly how it happened. And watching both those scenes ripped open parts of him he’d purposefully left buried for a long time.
He’s furious. Who decided they had the right to show him things he never wanted to see again? The day his family died, he made a vow never to think about them or Paige again. And now some spirit had forced him to relive some of the most painful memories in his life. There’s a reason he never wanted to think about them again.
“Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Derek jumps up from the couch to see a tall, leggy blonde in a short, tight leather miniskirt and a low-cut bustier striding towards him. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What?” the girl asks with a fake pout. “You don’t like what you see?” She cocks her hip to the side and studies her nails. “Isaac more your type, hmm? I thought they said you liked both men and women.”
“Is this my next punishment?” Derek asks. “I have to listen to you?”
The girl rolls her eyes as she struts up to him. “I’m Erica. The ghost of Christmas present.” She crowds close to him and licks her cherry red lips. “And believe me Derek, I am a gift.” She smacks her lips together and goes over to pick the book Isaac had been using off the floor. “Isaac always picks the most boring novels. He has no taste, you know.”
“You know each other?” Derek asks.
Erica stops leafing through the book and looks up. “Yeah. We work all these cases together, the ones that are all, ‘Hello! Stop squandering your life! See how things really are!’ It’s a pretty lame gig, I’ve got to admit, and Christmas time is fucking packed with cases like you. But it beats some of the other jobs you get when you die.” She shrugs.
“You died, too?”
Her eyes go wide and she looks at him like he’s stupid. “Well, duh. How else do you think people become spirits, or ghosts, or whatever you want to call us? Management doesn’t just pick us out of a cabbage patch.”
“How did you die?” Derek asks softly.
Erica’s hand pauses, and he doesn’t miss the quiver in her fingers. “I had epilepsy. Got bullied a lot at school, had an episode, the kids decided it would be funnier to watch me piss myself than call for help.” She looks at Derek, and the confident girl is stripped away, just the shade of a haunted, scared girl left in its place. “Everyone’s got a sob story, Derek. But at least some of us, like me and Isaac, we get to sometimes make a difference now.”
Erica turns to a page, and Derek watches as she touches Chapter 10. They are transported to an unfamiliar house. Derek looks around. It’s a cozy little house, with lots of personal touches. Derek thinks it looks cluttery and messy.
A dark haired woman with curls walks into the room just as the front door opens, and Stiles walks inside.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Mrs. McCall,” Stiles says, going to the woman and kissing her on the cheek. “Had to work late.”
“That awful boss of yours working you to the bone again?” she asks, her mouth a disapproving line.
“It’s not his fault,” Stiles says. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before the end of the year.” At that moment, a little girl runs into the living room. Derek recognizes her from his visit with Isaac; it’s Stiles’ daughter Charlotte, just older.
“Daddy!” Charlotte yells as she wraps both her arms around Stiles’ legs. “I missed you so much!”
“I missed you too, Charlie Horse.” Stiles bends and scoops Charlotte in his arms and then covers her face in kisses. “Did you have fun with Mrs. McCall?”
Charlotte nods. “She helped me make you a present.”
“She did?” Stiles asks, surprised. He leans close and rubs his nose with hers. “What did you make me?”
Charlotte giggles. “I’m not gonna tell, Daddy. Mrs. McCall said that if I leave it out, Santa will wrap it special for me!”
Charlotte nods her head emphatically. “I wanted to make sure Santa brought you something too, Daddy. You’ve been very good this year!”
“He’s a great father,” Derek says as he watches Stiles take Charlotte into the kitchen and eat the dinner the babysitter had prepared. Stiles dances around the kitchen, does stupid voices with matching faces, and never even shows that he’s been working for ten hours.
“The best,” Erica responds. “And he’s had to do it all by himself, too.” She flips the page, and they’re in the office. Derek thinks it was a few weeks ago. Stiles is in the break room with Matt, Greenberg, and a few others.
“Did you hear the fucking asshole cancelled the Christmas party?” Matt says.
“Said it’s supposed to save money,” Greenberg adds.
“He’s a cheap asshole,” Danielle says. “Those parties were the best. I bet he’s not even gonna give us bonuses either.”
“Guys, don’t be so hard on him,” Stiles says.
“I knew there was a reason I liked Stiles,” Derek tells Erica. Erica rolls her eyes.
“Why do you always defend him?” Matt asks. “It’s not like he treats you any better.”
“I think he treats you worse,” Danielle says. “You couldn’t pay me enough to be his junior editor. Having to work with that asshole so much? I’d kill myself.”
“It’s not that bad.” Stiles shakes his head.
“Stiles doesn’t get paid enough for it,” Greenberg says.
“How do you know what I make?” Stiles asks.
“Danny in accounting. Told me what everyone makes. Hale pays you nothing.”
“Not for what you do,” Matt says. “You could make twice what you do now if you go to another company. You should.”
“I can’t leave Derek,” Stiles says. “He’s been good to me. He gave me a promotion when I was still younger than most junior editors. He relies on me.”
“He abuses you,” Danielle says.
“He’s lost a lot,” Stiles says. “His family, his uncle, I mean, you guys, his sister was murdered a year ago. Cut the guy a break.”
“He feels sorry for me,” Derek says. An intense feeling suddenly comes over him, but he’s not sure what it is. And he doesn’t want to find out. So, he pushes it down.
“He understands you,” Erica replies as Stiles continues arguing with his colleagues. “And because of that, he cuts you too much slack.” Erica flips to a new page, and they’re back in Stiles’ home.
Stiles is bent over a sewing machine, and Charlotte is on the floor beside him, making paper chain garland. Stiles is concentrating on the line he’s sewing, and Derek can tell from one glance how tired Stiles is.
“You work too much Daddy,” Charlotte says.
Stiles huffs out a laugh. “Why do you say that?”
“I didn’t say it. Mrs. McCall said it. I think she’s right, though.”
Stiles stops what he’s doing and looks down at Charlotte. “Why?”
Charlotte shrugs. “You come home late. We never watch TV anymore. You never have time to take me to the park.”
Stiles runs a hand over his face. “Oh, Charlotte. I’m so sorry. It’s just…”
“You like the boss man,” she says. “Mrs. McCall said so. She said that’s the only reason that you put up with him. And she said that you are stupid.”
“Did she now?” Stiles sighs.
“Do you like the boss man more than me?”
“Oh, no, sweetheart.” Stiles gets down on the floor and sits beside her. She looks up from her paper chain with tears in her eyes. “I don’t love anyone more than you. I love you more than anything in this whole wide world.”
“Then why do you work so much?”
“Charlotte.” Stiles pulls the little girl into his lap, and Derek doesn’t like the way it makes him feel. He’d never thought about what making Stiles work had meant for him, had meant for his daughter. Sure, he known Stiles had a small kid, but he’d never taken the time to care. The only thing he’d cared about was profits and more book sales, and he’d done nothing but taken advantage of Stiles.
“Want to try on your costume?” Derek can hear how unsteady Stiles’ voice is, but Charlotte doesn’t seem to notice. She jumps up enthusiastically, and Stiles pulls the white material from the sewing machine, followed by gold wings.
Stiles helps Charlotte into the gown, and then hooks the wings onto the back. “There. You look beautiful.”
“Oh, Daddy, you did it! You really did it!” Charlotte runs towards the bathroom, but on the way, her wings fall apart, and the seam up the side of her costume falls out. “Oh no, Daddy, I broke it!”
“Oh no,” Stiles says. He looks utterly defeated as he walks towards the ruined costume.
“Daddy, I’m so sorry!”
“You didn’t do anything, sweetheart. This was all me.” Stiles picks up the material and goes back over to the sewing machine. “Your mother wouldn’t have screwed this up. She could sew anything. If she was here, you’d look like the angel you’re supposed to be.”
Charlotte walks over to Stiles’ chair and lays her head on his arm. “I’m going to look beautiful because you’re making my costume.” Derek watches as Stiles blinks back tears. “I didn’t know Mommy liked to sew.”
Stiles stills, and it’s a few moments before he replies, “Yes. She loved it very much.”
Charlotte turns her face and looks up at Stiles. She’s smiling widely. “Did she sew my clothes? Did she sew your clothes?”
Stiles laughs. “Not my clothes. But your clothes. Lots of them. And your stocking.” Stiles points to the mantle where three stockings hang. “She made that the Christmas she was pregnant with you.”
“I’m glad I know Mommy liked to sew.” Charlotte pets his arm lightly. “I don’t know a lot about Mommy. Grandpa says you don’t like to talk about Mommy because it makes you sad. Does it make you sad, Daddy?”
“Yes, it does. I miss your mother every day.”
“I miss her, too. Even if I don’t remember her. Is that stupid?”
“No, Charlotte. That’s not stupid.” Stiles wraps her into a hug.
“I won’t talk about her if you don’t want me to.”
“No, we should talk about her more,” Stiles says, his voice thick. “I’ll tell you anything about her you want me to.”
Erica flips a page; it’s later that night, and Stiles is still at the sewing machine, trying to finish the costume. He messes up a seam, and he curses and then pushes away from the desk. He gets up and takes a walk around the room, and then stops by a shelf. Derek walks over to see what he’s looking at. It’s a picture of Stiles and Heather with baby Charlotte.
“Oh Heather,” Stiles says. “I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing.” He runs his finger across her face. “I wish you were here. Our daughter is going to be the worst angel in the whole play. Send me some sewing mojo, okay?” He sets the photo back on the shelf and returns to the sewing machine. Tears are flowing down his face as he works on the pair of wings.
Derek looks at the clock, and it’s 2 a.m. The calendar says that it’s the morning of the 23rd. Yesterday, the day Derek fired Stiles.
“He stayed up all night sewing a costume for his six year old and crying over his dead wife, and I fired him because he wouldn’t come in on Christmas Eve,” Derek says.
“Yep,” Erica says, staring at her nails boredly. “You’re a real asshole.”
“I’m beginning to understand that.”
“Good. Come on,” she says as they now materialize in a large church. “Know what this is?” Derek shakes his head. “Remember when Stiles said his daughter was in a Christmas pageant? This is it.”
Derek and Erica are sitting in the pew in front of Stiles’ dad and a dark-haired man Derek has never seen before. Stiles comes rushing into the church, looking upset.
“You’re late,” Stiles’ dad says. “Where’ve you been?”
“Work,” Stiles answers. He looks like he’s barely holding it together. Derek realizes he must have cleared out his office before coming to the church.
“On Christmas Eve?” the dark-haired man asks.
“Scott, not now,” Stiles snaps. Scott and Stiles’ dad both look at him with concern, but at that moment, the pageant starts, and the kids start filing down the aisles. When Charlotte walks through, Stiles cries.
Erica flips another page, and they’re at an unfamiliar house. Stiles is in the kitchen with his dad, Mrs. McCall, Scott, and a dark-haired woman.
“He fired me,” Stiles says. The look of abject horror on the others’ faces makes Derek feel worse than he has since Erica showed up.
“He can’t do that!” Scott yells. “You are the hardest working employee that place has!”
“But why?” the dark-haired woman asks. “You kill yourself for that job.”
“He said I had to work today, and I told him no.”
“Did you tell him about Charlotte’s Christmas program?” the woman asks.
“Of course I did, Allison. He didn’t care.” Stiles scrubs his hands through his hair. “He doesn’t care about anything.”
“Oh Stiles,” Allison says.
“I’ve been so stupid!” Stiles exclaims, slamming his hands onto the table. “I thought that maybe he’d eventually come around. He was different with me sometimes. Sometimes I saw through the cracks and saw that there was a decent human beneath all those black suits and glares.”
“Oh sweetie,” Mrs. McCall says. “You can’t help it if he didn’t return your feelings.”
“Yeah,” Scott says. “He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
“I should go kick his ass,” Stiles’ dad says. “Find a reason to arrest him and throw him in jail.”
“Not helping, Dad!”
Erica circles through the small kitchen, dragging a perfectly manicured finger along the surfaces. “Sounds like you’re about to lose the only friend you had,” she sing-songs.
“Shut up,” Derek snaps.
Charlotte runs into the kitchen then, still wearing her angel costume. The wings are off-center and messy, and the hem is too short. “I have wings! Daddy made me the perfectest wings! I’m gonna fly, like Santa Claus!”
“Like Santa Claus?” Stiles’ dad asks. “With a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer?”
“Nine, Grandpa,” Charlotte laughs. “You forgot Rudolph.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” he bellows as he leans down so he’s eyelevel with her. “Wanna go help me and Mrs. McCall find a present Santa won’t mind if you open tonight?”
“Yeah!” She takes off through the house, and Stiles is left alone with Scott and Allison.
“Guys, what am I going to do?” Stiles asks with his head in his hands. “How am I going to pay my mortgage? Pay for Charlotte’s clothes? She’s growing like a weed! She needs new shoes like every other day.”
“What about savings?” Scott asks.
Stiles laughs bitterly. “With what Derek paid me? Yeah right. I can barely make ends meet as it is. And he didn’t even give us bonuses this year. Oh god, what am I going to do? I can’t lose my house. Or my car, god I’m still paying it off. It’s almost paid for.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Scott says. “You’ll find a new job in no time.”
“Yeah,” Allison says, covering Stiles’ hand with her own. “And until then, Scott and I will help you.”
“Guys, I can’t ask you to do that.”
“Stiles, you’re family.”
“You’re quiet,” Erica says. “Cat got your tongue?”
“What do you want me to say?” Derek growls. “I’ll give him his fucking job back tomorrow.”
“You’re missing the point!” Erica exclaims. She slaps the back of his head. “You shouldn’t have to, dummy. And losing his job isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.”
“No, I guess not.”
“Plus, he’s got a beautiful kid, and a wonderful family. They will make sure he’s okay. And now, maybe he’ll be able to spend more time with Charlotte.”
“Then I don’t get why you’re making me watch this,” Derek says.
“Because you could have been part of this, Derek,” Erica says, hooking her arm through his as they walk through the house. “You could have been part of a family again, if you weren’t so fucking stupid.” Erica slams the book shut, and Derek is in his living room again, alone.
“Erica?” he calls out, but she’s not there. Derek turns around, and yelps when he sees a man standing silently in the doorway. “You’re not Erica.” The man just stares at him. Derek steps closer, sees a nametag stuck to the man’s sweater that reads HELLO, MY NAME IS BOYD. “Boyd. Let me guess. Ghost of Christmas Future.”
Boyd nods, and steps into the living room to pick up the book left on the coffee table. He opens to the end, and shows it to Derek. Epilogue: What could be. Without a word, Boyd touches it, and they materialize in a kitchen. Derek looks around, notices that it’s familiar. Then Stiles walks in, covered in flour. It’s Stiles’ kitchen.
The back door opens, and Derek walks inside. He’s covered in snow, but the weirdest thing of all is that he’s smiling. Derek steps closer to himself. He looks happy, and something opens up inside of him.
“Oh good, you’re home,” Stiles says, stepping close and kissing him.
“I see you’ve made a mess.”
“Why do you automatically assume this is me?” Derek gives him a look. “Fine, it was me. But I had help.”
At that moment, Charlotte bounds down the stairs. She’s older now, probably around twelve. “Hey Derek!” Charlotte says as she hugs him. Derek kisses the top of her head. “Good day at work?”
“Fine. Snow’s coming on down out there.”
“Awesome,” Charlotte says. “We are so building a snowman tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Derek says. He sets his briefcase on the dinette table and starts pulling off his layers. “Are you helping your dad cook?”
“Yep. We’re making a cake from scratch.”
“Mom’s fruit cake recipe,” Stiles says.
“It’s a disaster,” Charlotte says.
“Looks like it,” Derek laughs as he brushes flour off Stiles’ cheeks and from his hair.
“Boyd,” Derek says as something uncomfortable settles in his chest. “This is my future? But how?”
Boyd remains frustratingly silent as he turns a page. It’s later the same night, and Derek and Stiles are sitting on the living room floor, wrapping presents. Christmas music is playing in the background as Stiles pays no attention to the folds in his paper, or the color of the bow in regards to the paper. “He’s doing it wrong,” Derek tells Boyd.
“You’re doing it wrong,” the Derek on the floor says. “Your ends look messy, and that bow doesn’t even match.”
Stiles sticks out of his tongue. “Charlotte’s going to rip the paper off in T-minus three seconds anyway. Why does it even matter?”
Derek huffs and purses his lips. “It’s all about presentation.”
“Yes. My mother used to love to wrap presents,” Derek explains.
“She did,” Derek tells Boyd. “She’d wrap presents every chance she got during the holidays. And if she ran out, she’d go buy more.” Derek watches himself on the floor; he looks at ease, completely at home. Free from all the things that keep him like he is now. “I can’t believe I’m talking about her like this. It’s like I do it all the time.”
The Derek on the floor keeps talking. “She said that a beautifully wrapped present made the gift inside more special. I always believed her.”
Stiles smiles as he grabs a new roll of wrapping paper. “My mother was obsessed with wrapping paper. She couldn’t even walk into a store around Christmas time without buying a new roll. It didn’t matter how many she had at home, and my dad would get so mad at her!”
“My dad was the tape fanatic,” Derek says. “He would put so much tape on our presents that you couldn’t even get them open.”
Derek watches the scene in shock. He hasn’t talked that openly about his family since the fire; he doesn’t think it’s possible to talk about them like that without feeling like the hole inside him will swallow him up.
The power flickers, and then goes out completely. Other than the dying fire, the room is completely dark.
“Storm must have knocked it out,” Derek says as he stands. “I can go check.”
“I have a better idea.” Stiles sets the wrapping paper aside and grabs Derek’s hand to tug him back down on top of him. “How about we take advantage of this storm, hmm? All snowed in during a blizzard, no power, no way to get out. How shall we ever stay warm, I wonder?”
Derek smiles as he covers Stiles’ body. “Charlotte’s upstairs.”
“She’s been asleep for a few hours. You’ll just have to be quiet.” Stiles kisses him then, and Derek can barely believe his eyes. He realizes in that moment that it’s everything he’s been missing, everything he’s been wanting. Someone to spend his nights with, someone to love him. A family.
“Me?” Derek laughs. The sound is so foreign even to his own ears. “You’re the one who likes to yell and moan.”
“I love you,” Stiles whispers as he runs his hands through Derek’s hair. He’s looking up at Derek in complete adoration, and Derek knows he doesn’t deserve it, that he’ll never deserve someone looking at him like that, especially not Stiles.
“I love you, too.” Derek leans down and kisses Stiles deeply then, and they quickly start shedding their clothes. Derek feels himself flush, watching himself writhing on the floor with Stiles, and he looks over at Boyd. Boyd is staring around the room in detached disinterest.
Derek’s attention turns back to the couple on the floor when he hears himself moan, and then Stiles giggles and starts panting. He wonders how that is even possible, how something so wonderful could happen to him.
Derek steps closer, reaches out to touch Stiles, but his hand just goes through him. He hears Boyd move behind him, and he’s flipping pages.
“No, please, Boyd,” Derek begs, his voice wrecked. “Please don’t make me leave this.” He looks back down at the Stiles and Derek on the floor. They’re naked now, in the throes of passion, and Derek can see how much they love one another, can see from his own reactions that this future version of himself has fallen completely in love with Stiles. “This is as close to happiness as I’ll ever get. Please don’t take it away from me yet.”
Boyd steps beside him and rests a hand on his shoulder. He holds out the book, open to the new chapter. Epilogue: What will be.
Derek jumps up and glares. “You’re probably going to show me Stiles’ death, and me alone with Charlotte, right?” Derek snaps, already building up walls against wanting this. “Everyone I love gets taken away from me, why wouldn’t Stiles? Why would I ever be happy?” Derek storms away. “Why show me this if you’re going to take it away just like every other happy moment of my life?” Derek’s shoulders slump in defeat then, and he just stands at the window, watching the snow fall to the sound of his happiness behind him. “Have I really been so bad that I deserve this?”
The scene fades around him, the sound of Stiles moaning his name a distant echo as a new scene materializes around him.
It’s the offices of Hale Publishing, but the logos on the wall are different. They read Daehler and Stilinski Publishing instead. Derek walks towards his office with heavy feet. Instead of him behind the desk, it’s Stiles. He’s older, starting to grey around the temples, shallow lines etched in his face. Derek steps close to him, and he longs to know this older Stiles; he still finds that he wants him, finds that age and salt-and-pepper hair suit him.
The phone rings, and Stiles picks up it. “Hello?” As soon as the voice on the other end starts talking, Stiles’ shoulders slump and he rubs his eyes. “Was there any damage…did she need any medical attention…what about the other girl? Okay, thanks, I’ll be there as soon as I can…Yes, I am aware the school closes at 5 p.m...I understand that she can only be released to a parent…Fine, I’m leaving now.” Stiles slams the phone down and rubs his eyes again. When he looks back up, Derek sees for the first time the weariness he holds like a second skin.
“How did Stiles turn out this way?” Derek asks Boyd. Boyd just looks at him and smiles a close-lipped smile. Derek sighs heavily through his nose and follows Stiles out of the office and into an office down the hall. Matt is sitting behind the desk.
“I have to go get Charlotte,” Stiles says. “She got into another fight.”
“Another one?” Matt says angrily. “You need to do something about that kid.”
Stiles sighs. “I know that, but what in the hell do you want me to do?”
“We can send her off to boarding school like I suggested,” Matt says.
“We?” Derek scoffs. “We?”
“I don’t want to send her away,” Stiles says. “I just need to spend more time with her.”
“And when are you going to do that, hmm? In between meetings? After you get home from work? You knew when we took over the company that you were going to have to make sacrifices.”
“I know,” Stiles sighs. He walks over and leans down to kiss Matt. Matt kisses him distractedly, his attention on the papers before him. Stiles stands there a moment, looking down at Matt. Derek recognizes the look on his face; it’s loneliness and regret. Derek knows that look well.
“I’m going to take the afternoon off and stay with Charlotte,” Stiles says. “When will you be home?”
Matt shrugs, never taking his eyes from his work. “I don’t know. Late, probably. Got a few meetings this evening.” Matt looks up and smiles. “Don’t wait up, okay?”
Stiles nods and leaves the office. Derek is about to follow when he notices Matt grab his phone. He walks over and reads the text he sends over his shoulder. Free all evening. My office, 6 pm?
Justin replies with, I’ll bring the wine.
Derek reaches for Matt, but only makes contact with air. He’s so angry that someone would be so callous, so stupid to treat Stiles that way.
“Stiles deserves better than this,” Derek says. He turns to Boyd, furious. “Change this! This can’t happen! I don’t even care what happens to me, but Stiles deserves better than Matt fucking Daehler. He deserves to be happy, not miserable.” Derek runs through the office to catch up with Stiles, who’s just gotten on the elevator. He looks straight at Derek, but Derek knows he can’t see him. “Please, Boyd. Just tell me Stiles gets a happy ending.”
Boyd touches Derek’s shoulder and flips a page. They’re standing on the side of the road at the scene of an accident. A car is engulfed in flames, and Derek stares at it in horror. He doesn’t need to be any closer to know who’s inside.
“Boyd, I’ve seen enough,” Derek says, turning away. “I get it now.”
Boyd shakes his head, and then reaches out and touches Derek’s forehead. Suddenly, Derek is trapped inside the car. The car is flipped upside down, and Derek’s crushed between the dash and the ceiling. Flames burn around him, licking painfully at his arms and legs, and the smoke burns his lungs with every breath.
“Boyd, no please!” Derek screams, looking around in a panic. It’s his worst nightmare coming true, being burned alive like his family. He always thought the only positive thing about Laura’s murder was that death came quickly. Seems like the same thing wouldn’t be true for him. “Erica! Isaac! Please! Anyone!” Derek screams, trying to grab on to the edges of the car to pull himself out, but every time he touches the metal, it sears his hands. “Please, I don’t want to die. I’m not ready,” he cries out as it gets harder and harder to breathe, the flames encroaching closer and closer until they’re consuming him.
Derek wakes with a start. He pats his body, no longer on fire, and takes a deep breath, his lungs clear and free. He jumps out of bed and runs to the window. Outside, the sun has just come up over Manhattan, and a light snow is falling. Derek rushes into the living room and finds his cell phone on the coffee table. It’s a little after 8:30, and more importantly, it’s Christmas morning.
“I’m alive,” Derek says. He smiles and looks around at his apartment for what feels like the first time. “I’m alive.”
When he sets his phone back onto the table, he sees the book from the night before on the edge. He picks it up and opens the cover. There’s an inscription that wasn’t there previously.
We make our own endings.
Merry Christmas, Derek.
Isaac, Erica, and Boyd
Derek feels odd, like there’s something wrong with him, a weird tingling sensation cascading through his body. He soon places the unfamiliar feeling. Sorrow, regret, but also something that might be hope. He wipes his eyes, not ashamed that they’re wet.
Tears mean he’s not as unfeeling as he’d convinced himself he was.
Derek quickly showers and changes into nice jeans and an ugly Christmas sweater he finds buried in a drawer. He doesn’t know why he never threw it out, but he’s thankful now for the oversight. It had been a gift from Laura a few years ago. She had a matching one, just as hideous. He smiles when he looks in the mirror. The expression looks odd on his face, but he knows with a bit more practice it will begin to feel familiar again.
On the street, he finds himself smiling at the strangers he passes. He just wants to share his new found happiness with everyone. He’s alive, and he has a second chance. And this time, he’s going to make it right.
First, Derek goes directly to Cora’s apartment. She only lives a few blocks from him, but he never sees her. He’s hoping to change that.
Lydia answers the door. She doesn’t hide her shock and disdain. “What are you doing here?”
“Lydia, who is it?” Cora calls out. When Cora steps into the hall and sees Derek, she just stops and stares at him.
“I know I’m a little late,” Derek says. “You said dinner was on Christmas Eve. Maybe I should have called?”
Cora runs to the door so fast that Lydia has to flatten herself against the wall to avoid being barreled over. Cora jumps onto Derek and wraps her arms around him tightly. “You came,” she manages through tears. “You’re here.”
“Yeah,” Derek responds, trying to blink back his own emotion. “I am.”
Cora drags him into the kitchen and immediately puts him to work on the dinner she and Lydia are preparing.
As Derek’s washing his hands, he says, “I should have brought a present, but I realized I didn’t know what you liked.”
“That’s okay. You’re here, that’s all that matters.” Cora smiles brightly, so obviously happy that Derek wonders how long it will take him to forgive himself for the way he’s treated her over the last few years. “Just know, next year I expect you to buy me the perfect gift.”
When Cora leaves the kitchen to take a phone call, Lydia strides up to him, jabbing her finger in his face, her eyes narrowed. “You’re welcome in our home because you’re Cora’s brother and she loves you, despite the fact that you are the biggest asshole ever.”
“I know, Lydia. I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated her, and you. I hope to make it up to both of you.”
“You better,” Lydia responds, “because you’ve got her hopes up now. And if you hurt her, I will stick a stiletto through your eye. Do you understand?” Derek smiles and nods his head. “Good. Now help me set the table.”
After dinner with Cora, Lydia, and their friends, Derek leaves, to many protestations from Cora. “Do you have to go?” she asks again as she walks him to the door.
“I have someone else I have to see,” Derek replies, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Stiles?” Derek nods, and Cora grins widely. “Finally!” She raises up on her toes and kisses his cheek. “Good luck. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Before Derek goes to Stiles, he drops by and picks up a few presents for Charlotte, and then buys Chinese takeout. He drives out to Stiles’ house, which is north of the city in the suburbs. It’s the familiar house from the visions, and Derek feels at home the moment he pulls into the driveway.
He sits in his car for a few moments, collecting himself. There was no guarantee that Stiles would ever speak to him again, and even if he did, that Stiles would want to be with him. There’s a very big possibility that Derek blew it where Stiles is concerned. But he thinks about Isaac, Erica, and Boyd, thinks about that future Christmas where he, Stiles, and Charlotte were a family.
We make our own futures.
With those words in his mind, Derek opens the door to his car, grabs all the bags, and hurries through the heavy snow falling around him. After he rings the doorbell, he stands there with his heart pounding and his stomach feeling like it was going to drop right out of his body.
Stiles opens the door, and is first surprised, but then angry. “What in the hell are you doing here? It’s Christmas, Derek. Did I steal something by accident?”
Derek lifts the bags of takeout. “I brought Chinese.”
Stiles’ brow furrows in confusion, and Derek can see the battle on his face, but eventually, he steps away and opens the door further so Derek can enter. The house is warm and toasty after standing out in the freezing cold. Snow is melting from his hair and coat and dripping on the floor. Derek hands all the bags to Stiles as he sheds his damp outer things.
“Derek, what is all this?” Stiles asks in exasperation. “Are those presents? And what in the hell are you wearing?”
“A Christmas sweater,” Derek replies as he turns back to Stiles. “And those are for Charlotte.”
“You bought my daughter Christmas presents?”
“And brought Chinese.”
Stiles shakes his head. “Derek, what – “
“Daddy! There’s an emergency. We have to go into surgery!” Charlotte runs into the room, dressed like a doctor and carrying an armful of baby dolls. When she sees Derek, she stops and looks at him for a few moments before running behind Stiles and hiding.
“Charlotte, this is Derek, from Daddy’s office.”
Charlotte peeks out from behind Stiles’ legs. “Is this the boss man you like?”
Stiles’ face goes as bright red as an ornament. “Yes, Charlotte. This is the boss man.” Charlotte glares at Derek, and Derek instantly likes her. She’s beautiful, and obviously loves her father very much. “He brought you a present.”
“Really?” Charlotte asks, and apparently, that’s enough for her to momentarily forgive Derek. She takes the large bag full of wrapped presents into her already full hands and runs into the living room. Derek follows Stiles just inside the living room, where he stands and watches Charlotte start ripping off the paper.
Stiles turns to Derek. “What are you doing here?”
Derek finds that he doesn’t know what to say. He can’t just tell Stiles he got visited by three spirits that changed him. He can’t tell him that he’s seen their future, and that they were so happy, and so in love.
“I’m so sorry,” Derek whispers. “I’m so sorry for everything.”
Stiles crosses his arms over his chest and leans back. He shakes his head, a look of utter disbelief on his face. “So, you think Chinese and presents for my daughter will just fix everything? Like I’m that cheap.”
“That’s not – I just thought – See, last night – “ Derek stops talking and huffs in aggravation. He runs a hand through his hair. “I’ve been an idiot, Stiles. And the biggest ass – “ He cuts off and looks over at Charlotte, who’s completely ignoring them in favor of playing with the new princess playset Derek bought her. “The biggest asshole on the planet,” he finishes quietly. “I…I don’t deserve you to forgive me, but…I was kind of…It’s just that I, and you, and I think – “
Stiles cuts him off by grabbing his cheeks and kissing him. A huge, pressing kiss against his lips, urgent and hard and slightly angry. Stiles pulls back and glares at him. “I swear to God, Derek Hale, I will kill you if you’re not serious.”
“I swear, Stiles, I’ve never been so serious about anything in my life.”
Stiles smiles then, and he slides his arms around Derek’s neck as he leans in for another kiss. “Good.”
Derek feels like the ground has been taken away from him and that he’s floating on air. Stiles is so warm and solid in his arms, and his lips are oh so soft. But the best part is that he is real. Derek pulls away for a moment to catch his breath, and something just outside the window catches his eye.
Isaac, Erica, and Boyd are standing out in the snow, watching with smiles. When they notice him, they wave, and he grins. Thank you, he mouths. Isaac gives him two thumbs up, Erica claps excitedly and then hits both Isaac and Boyd, and Boyd just nods with his close-lipped smile.
Stiles notices Derek’s attention has wandered, and he turns around to look behind him. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” Derek says, turning back to Stiles. “Just you.”
Stiles’ entire face lights up. “Does this mean I have my job back?”
Derek rolls his eyes. “What do you think?”
“I think that my boss is a huge jerk, and that – “
“You have your job back,” Derek interrupts. His fingers toy with the hairs at the nape of Stiles’ neck. “And a raise. And more time off to spend with Charlotte. And everyone gets a Christmas bonus, and we’re throwing a New Year’s party.”
Stiles’ just gapes at him. “What in the hell happened to you yesterday?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Stiles just huffs out a laugh with a shake of his head before leaning in to kiss Derek again.