need help. can’t know I contacted u. deleting msg. don’t text back. track this # D says u can do that. C
Stiles had to read the message three times before he was satisfied that he knew what it meant, even if he was still confused by it. Why did Derek and Cora need his help? What could he do that two werewolves couldn’t do?
“What can I do that two werewolves can’t do?” Stiles asked Scott when he got to the animal clinic the next morning.
“I don’t know,” Scott said distractedly as he carefully held and soothed a tiny Maltese, all white fur and big blue eyes, while Deaton finished putting a cast on its leg. “Maybe he wants to start a baseball team.”
“Oh, haha,” Stiles said. “Don’t mock the bat, man.”
Scott grinned at Stiles (and Stiles thought he saw the corner of Deaton’s lips twitch), but then he turned serious. “How do you even know it’s really Derek?” Scott asked.
“I did think of that,” Stiles said dryly. He would’ve checked it out anyway, but it was especially necessary after the ritual they’d performed back in December when Jennifer had their parents held captive. “I called the number.”
Twice, actually, because Stiles had been so surprised when he’d heard Derek’s voice growling out his own name when the call went directly to voice mail that he’d panicked and hung up the first time.
“So, uh, that hang up was me,” Stiles had said when he called back a moment later. “Obviously. Just thought I’d let you know that we all passed. Yes, even Scott. We’re going to be seniors next year. And then the world, mwahaha! Are you scared yet? You should be. Did you know that Scott and Chris Argent collaborate now? I can hardly believe it, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Well,” Stiles had wound down. “That’s really all I had to say, I guess. No, there’s one more thing. Would it kill you to call once in a while, Sourwolf?”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to contact them?” Scott said now.
“I wasn’t supposed to let on that they’d contacted me,” Stiles said. “That’s different.”
“Okay, well, maybe they forced Derek to say his name,” Scott suggested.
“I thought of that.”
Despite hearing Derek’s voice, Stiles had double-checked the account when Danny had hacked the number for him. (It was a family plan taken out six years ago by Laura Hale. Laura’s line had never been canceled and she was due for an upgrade she’d never take advantage of.)
“So where are they?” Scott asked.
“Up near Crescent Lake,” Stiles told him. “In southern Oregon.”
“Are you going?” Scott asked.
“How often has Derek asked us for help?”
“Never?” Scott guessed. “You shouldn’t go alone.”
“I was kinda hoping your boss might give you some time off so you could go with me,” Stiles said loud enough for Deaton to hear.
“No,” Deaton said without taking his gaze off the cast.
Scott looked almost as surprised as Stiles felt at the immediate refusal. “You won’t give me the time off?” he asked.
“Whether I would or not isn’t the issue,” Deaton said. “That territory is held by the Palmer pack. Despite the regard in which they once held Talia Hale, they would not look kindly upon another Alpha entering their territory uninvited.”
“That makes sense, I guess,” Stiles said.
“Take someone else,” Scott suggested.
“I’ll ask Allison,” Stiles said. Before Deaton could say anything, Stiles sighed. “They probably wouldn’t be any happier to have an Argent come calling, would they? Isaac, then.”
“Theater camp,” Scott reminded him. “He won’t be home until Sunday.”
“Oh, yeah.” Who knew Isaac had a secret love of theater. No one, that’s who, until Isaac had received a mysterious scholarship to a prestigious summer theater camp that Scott had seen before he’d been able to hide it.
Isaac almost hadn’t gone until Scott convinced him that they all needed to take a few weeks off to recharge, and that they’d take it in turns, starting with Isaac’s trip to theater camp.
With Stiles’ first, second and third choices shot down, that left the Wonder Twins, who he wasn’t quite comfortable trusting yet, even after six months (and who Derek probably wouldn’t trust since his most recent memories of them included them helping Kali force Derek to kill Boyd), Danny, who was human, and . . .
“I’m not taking Lydia,” Stiles said, even though no one had suggested that he should. “Are you telling me that in our entire group, there’s no one I can ask?” he said frustrated.
“What about . . . ?”
Stiles counted off on his fingers. “Lydia’s out of the question, so don’t even. Danny’s human. And I know you trust Voltron!wolf, but I’m not there yet, and I’m pretty sure Derek isn’t either.”
“Fair enough,” Scott said, neither judgmental, nor having taken offense.
“So, I’m going alone,” Stiles said.
“Or you could wait a couple days,” Deaton said. “See how things play themselves out. Or until Isaac comes home.”
“That’s . . . how is that even a possibility?” Stiles said. “I mean, do you really think that Derek would’ve contacted me if the situation wasn’t dire?”
“You’re probably right,” Deaton said with that same level of equanimity. “Derek doesn’t like to ask for help.”
“No, Derek does not,” Stiles agreed. “So? I should definitely go, right?”
“It’s not my job to make the decision for you, Stiles, but to make sure that you . . . .” Here Deaton looked at Scott as if to make sure they both knew that ‘you’ encompassed Scott and his entire pack. “. . . have all the information necessary to make the best decision possible.”
“You . . . all the . . . Well,” Stiles said when he’d wiped the gobsmacked expression off his face and recovered his ability to form complete sentences. “How about you tell me everything you know about the Palmer pack, then?”
It took Stiles four and a half hours to make the drive to Crescent Lake. It had taken him longer than that to convince his dad, even with Scott’s help, that he should be allowed to go in the first place. Especially since he was going alone into an unknown situation. Stiles had only gotten his dad to agree by promising to go in for recon solely, and to call for backup if he needed it. And to call home twice a day to check-in.
Stiles pulled off of Route 58 and stopped for food at the first place that sounded good. He called Scott the moment he’d put the Jeep into park.
“I’m in Crescent Lake,” Stiles said when Scott answered on the first ring, as if he’d been waiting for Stiles’ call. “I’m stopping to get something to eat.”
“How was the drive?”
“Okay,” Scott said, satisfied. “Call when you get to your motel.”
“I will,” Stiles said.
“Be safe,” Scott said before ending the call.
They’d worked out a code before Stiles left where they basically talked around Stiles’ actual purpose in Crescent Lake, just in case there was anyone around to listen in. Stiles turned the engine off, which he’d hoped would make eavesdropping on his call even more difficult, and then got out. He locked the doors and patted Betty’s hood as he left her in the lot.
Inside Milt’s Diner, Stiles took a booth that put his back to the wall and allowed him to watch the door. And still he had an itch between his shoulder blades. It wasn’t paranoia, he thought, if they really might be out to get you.
Stiles looked at the menu when the waitress set it before him, but he only gave it part of his attention When the waitress returned, Stiles closed the menu and ordered his usual, a cheeseburger done medium with extra pickles, their homemade french fries, and a strawberry milkshake. As soon as she stepped away from his table, Stiles took out his phone and sent a text to Derek’s number.
road trip. food @ milt’s in crescent lake or looks good
Less than fifteen minutes later a tingle went down the back of Stile’s neck. He glanced up from the burger he’d made a dent in and froze mid-slurp of his milkshake when he got his first glimpse of Derek standing in the doorway, the usual glare directed at him. Stiles sat up straight and set down the milkshake as he watched Derek stalk towards him. (Stiles wasn’t the only person watching, either.) A shiver slid down Stiles’ spine, but he shook it off, smiling in the face of Derek’s frown because he found himself inexplicably happy to see Derek again.
“What are you doing here?” Derek growled when he reached Stiles’ table.
Stiles’ smile actually grew wider. “It’s good to see you again, too, big guy. Why don’t you have a seat?” Stiles indicated the bench seat across from him.
Derek glared at the seat, and then looked back at Stiles. “Move over,” he grumbled.
Stiles slid over as quickly as he could to keep from being shoved over by Derek. He should’ve realized that Derek wouldn’t want to sit with his back to the room, either, especially if there was trouble brewing, of which Derek was in the middle of. Stiles pulled his plate closer and shoved a fry into his mouth.
“What are you doing here?” Derek repeated.
“I told you,” Stiles said blithely. “Road trip.”
“And you just happened to end up in Crescent Lake?” Derek said suspiciously.
“I didn’t end up here,” Stiles said. “This is my first stop.”
“Where are you headed?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles said. “Wherever the wind takes me, I guess. I just got in my car and started driving. Seattle, maybe?”
“Seattle,” Derek said dryly. “Then you should’ve stayed on the main highway. Your father let you go off by yourself?”
“How do you know I’m by myself?” Stiles said. Derek just continued to glare silently at him. “Okay, fine, yes, my dad knows exactly where I am. So does Scott,” Stiles said meaningfully. “Want a fry?” he offered.
“You need to leave,” Derek said.
“I will be,” Stiles said.
Derek’s shoulders relaxed minutely.
“But I should probably say ‘hi’ to Cora, since I’m here.”
“No,” Derek said.
Stiles braved Derek’s glare and grabbed another handful of fries. They were the fresh cut kind and deep fried to a perfect golden brown crunchiness, which was worth the risk of losing a finger or two.
“These fries are amazing,” Stiles said. “You sure you don’t want some?”
Stiles stuck the straw into his mouth and Derek’s eyes dropped to his lips.
“No,” Derek snarled as he looked away.
“Your loss,” Stiles said.
“How long have you guys been in Crescent Lake?” Stiles asked, ignoring Derek’s warning and changing the subject.
The corner of Derek’s jaw worked. Finally he said, “A couple weeks.”
“Where were you before that?” Stiles asked, finding himself curious.
Derek shrugged. “Around,” he eventually said.
“That’s informative,” Stiles said lightly, telling himself that he wasn’t disappointed that Derek wouldn’t tell him.
“We just drove,” Derek said, surprising Stiles. “We stopped in New York. The pack we were staying with, I told them about Laura. And I picked up some of the stuff we’d left behind when we . . . .”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “So, you were on the east coast, and now you’re on the west coast. Were you coming back to Beacon Hills?”
Derek’s silence was answer enough.
“You were,” Stiles said happily. “You missed us.”
Derek’s lips twisted as if he’d just bitten into something sour.
“Don’t worry,” Stiles said, bumping his shoulder into Derek’s arm. “We missed your broody, grumpy ass, too.”
Stiles looked up to see Cora swiftly approaching their table. “Cora!”
“What are you doing here?” Cora said.
“Road trip,” Stiles said.
“Cool.” Cora slid into the booth across from Stiles and Derek, and held out her fist. Stiles bumped it with his own. “How long are you staying?”
“Well,” Stiles said, “I guess that depends on you guys. Wanna show me around?”
“Sure!” Cora said with a tad too much enthusiasm, at the same time Derek said, “No.”
“Don’t be such a sourwolf, Derek,” Stiles said.
Derek glared. “Don’t call me that.”
Cora tittered. “That’s so precious, really.”
Stiles insisted on finishing his burger and fries even though they’d gotten cold, and Cora decided that she was hungry so she ordered a turkey sandwich that she made short work of. Stiles was slurping up the last of his milkshake, eyes wide on Cora as she shoved the last bite of sandwich into her mouth, and followed it with the crumbs of the chips and a piece of tomato that had fallen out, before licking her fingers clean and leaning back in her seat with a satisfied sigh.
“Wow,” Stiles said.
Cora glared at him. It really was obvious that she was Derek’s sister.
While they’d waited for Cora’s order to arrive, Stiles had told them a bit about what had been going on back in Beacon Hills since they left. At least, what he could without giving too much away. That he’d been taking self-defense classes and going to the shooting range (though he could only ever hit anything when his mind calmed down and he could really concentrate) and training with Deaton. That his fear of the Wonder Twins joining the lacrosse team and cementing his position on the bench hadn’t materialized because they had no interest in playing lacrosse. How it had been like old times when Scott and Stiles both went to the prom stag when all their friends appeared to be paired up.
Now the waitress stopped by to see if they needed anything else (which was probably the only thing that kept Cora from doing more than kicking Stiles under the table for his comment), and then dropped off the check. Cora waggled her fingers at Derek, who rolled his eyes as he pulled out his wallet.
“Ow,” Stiles said, rubbing his shin as he worked his own wallet out of his back pocket. “She’s clearly been hanging around you too much,” he told Derek.
Derek just glared at Stiles, then turned the glare onto Cora when she snatched the wallet out of his fingers and drew out enough bills to cover the entire meal and leave a hefty tip. Cora tossed the pilfered wallet back to Derek and slid out of the booth.
“Oh, wait, I . . . ,” Stiles began.
Cora sashayed up to the waitress, handed her the check and payment (along with a smile that made the girl blush), and said, “Keep the change.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles said.
Derek shook his head. “Welcome to my life.” He stood up and shoved the wallet back into his pocket, then reached out and dragged Stiles out of the booth.
“Hey!” Stiles said. “No manhandling, you might damage the goods.”
“I’m going to damage something,” Derek grumbled, but he released Stiles and followed nearly on his heels as Stiles exited the diner behind Cora.
“So, where to first?” Stiles said, letting them take the lead.
“The park,” Cora said, climbing into the back of the Jeep when Stiles unlocked it and not waiting for Derek to argue.
Stiles looked at Derek over Betty’s hood.
“Come on!” Cora said.
Stiles shrugged and got into the Jeep. The engine was already purring when Derek slid into the passenger seat and closed the door. He was silent, but the corner of his jaw was clenched.
“Just like old times, huh?” Stiles said.
Derek didn’t even look at him, just continued to stare out the front window.
“Okay, then.” Stiles put Betty into gear and backed out of the parking spot.
The entire trip to the park was quiet save for Cora telling him where to turn. Derek got out of the Jeep as soon as Stiles pulled to a stop, and took off across the park. Cora and Stiles looked at each other, and then followed him. Derek was pacing in front of a picnic table set beneath a tree when they caught up with him.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Derek said as soon as Stiles was within hearing distance.
“And yet I am,” Stiles said. He looked around them, at the other people enjoying the park. “Can we talk here without being overheard?”
Derek frowned. “Talk about what?”
“About . . . why you want my help?” Stiles said.
“I don’t want your help,” Derek said.
“Okay,” Stiles said. “Maybe you don’t want my help, but you obviously need it.”
“I don’t need your help, either,” Derek growled.
“Then why did you . . . ?” Stiles broke off as realization hit. “You didn’t send me a text asking for my help, did you?”
Stiles sighed. “So when you said ‘couldn’t find out,’ you weren’t talking about whatever big bad you were up against, but about Derek.” Stiles raised his eyes to Cora’s face.
“You sent Stiles a text?” Derek said. “Why would you do that?”
“Because you wouldn’t!” Cora said. “Because we needed help!”
“Now he’s in danger!” Derek said.
“Danger?” Stiles said.
“I didn’t think he’d come alone!” Cora said.
“Hey! I’ll have you know that I can take care of myself.”
Both Derek and Cora broke off arguing to give him twin looks of disbelief. On the plus side, at least they were no longer yelling at each other.
“Now. Does anyone want to tell me what’s going on?”
“No,” Derek said. “Go home, Stiles.”
Stiles looked at Cora. “You brought me here.”
“Where are the others?” Cora said.
“Waiting for me to call them and tell them what’s going on.”
“Why aren’t they here?”
“Did you want to start a pack war?”
“I want to get my brother out of here.”
“Then tell me what’s going on,” Stiles said patiently.
“Either you tell him, or I will,” Cora told Derek.
They held a staring contest, and to Stiles’ surprise, Derek was the first to break. “It’s nothing,” he said.
“Very convincing,” Stiles said. “Try again.”
Derek drew himself up like he wanted to argue, but then he deflated. “The local Alpha, Ursula Palmer, wants to join her pack with what remains of the Hale pack.”
“Okay, so, like a treaty?” Stiles said.
“A marriage,” Derek said.
“A marriage,” Stiles repeated. “They want one of you to marry into their pack.”
“She wants Derek to marry into her pack,” Cora clarified.
“Derek,” Stiles said, feeling as though the air had been knocked out of him. “Why?”
Derek glared at Stiles.
“That might’ve come out wrong,” Stiles said. “It’s just, have they met you? I mean, sure, you’re all . . . .” Stiles flailed towards Derek. “With the muscles and the stubble, but you never smile, you think growling is an actual form of communication instead of using words, and you do things like push people into walls . . . .”
“The Hale pack was very influential in this part of the country,” Cora said. “Our mother was well respected.”
“Yeah, no,” Stiles said, “I get that. But, I mean, why a marriage? If they wanted to align themselves with the remaining Hale pack, why not sign a treaty, or make you godfather to one of their cubs, or something?”
“It’s not that simple,” Derek said, at the same time Cora said, “They don’t just want a treaty.”
Stiles waited, but they both just stared at him, Derek because he probably really didn’t want to explain, and Cora because she probably expected Stiles to get it without having to volunteer more information.
“This would be a good time to use your words, Derek,” Stiles said.
“Go home, Stiles,” Derek said.
“They want Derek’s genes,” Cora said.
Stiles’ gaze dropped to Derek’s jeans. He had to admit that they really were a nice pair of jeans. Rather, what was inside them was pretty fine.
“Not those jeans, you idiot!” Cora said, slapping the back of Stiles’ head.
“Hey!” Stiles said, but it was Derek’s growl that made Cora step back and lower her head.
“What kind of jea–, oh,” Stiles said. “Genes.”
Cora gave him a glare that said it was about time he figured it out.
“So basically they want you for breeding stock,” Stiles said. “Have you thought about just telling her no?”
“No, Stiles, we never thought of that,” Derek said.
“Okay, well, then we just . . . . Oh, that was sarcasm.”
“Yes, that was sarcasm,” Derek bit out.
Cora snorted. “Why did I text you again?”
Stiles ignored her. “Okay, I can admit it, the Hales are a very good looking family,” he said, drawing an amused look from Cora and a glare from Derek. “But why is it so important that Derek marry into the pack?”
A moment of silence followed Stiles’ question, but then Derek spoke. “My mother had the rare ability to shift into a full wolf form. And so did Laura.”
Stiles remembered hearing that about Talia Hale before, now that Derek mentioned it again, and he definitely remembered digging up Laura’s body and seeing her in wolf form. “And they want that for themselves.” It was an obvious statement that no one thought necessary to affirm. “And they won’t take no for an answer. Why haven’t you just packed up and left?”
“It would be unwise,” Derek said.
“When has that ever stopped you?” Stiles joked, but Derek just looked even more miserable.
“If we aren’t on good terms when we leave, it might affect how the Palmer pack interacts with Scott’s pack in the future,” Derek said.
“So werewolf politics,” Stiles said. “How have you managed to hold them off this long?”
“She didn’t bring it up right away,” Cora said when it became clear that Derek wasn’t going to answer. “We were on our way back to Beacon Hills . . . .”
Stiles’ gaze shot to Derek, who refused to meet his eyes.
“. . . and we stopped to pay our respects. We remembered that our two packs were allied back . . . before, and we figured that it couldn’t hurt to have allies.” Cora snorted. “The Alpha, Ursula, she invited us to say, to take a meal with them before we continued on. She asked a lot of questions about Beacon Hills, about our family, about Scott. She suggested an alliance. We couldn’t believe our luck,” Cora said with a self-deprecating laugh. “Derek even suggested they invite Scott up to talk terms. Ursula made it clear that she wasn’t interested in Scott McCall. She probably didn’t want to encourage the ability in any of her own betas to rise to alpha status.
“Then she told Derek that she wasn’t interested in something so ephemeral as a treaty, that she wanted to bind our two packs together the old fashioned way.”
“Marriage,” Stiles said.
“I told her I was honored by the offer, but that I wasn’t interested,” Derek said.
“What Derek actually said was, ‘I am deeply honored by the esteem and respect you bestow upon my family by your offer’,” Cora said. “I could practically see Mama standing behind his shoulder, waiting to praise him if he got the formal words right, or give him her disappointed look if he didn’t.”
Derek glared at Cora and continued. “She told me to think about it.”
“And?” Stiles said.
“She invited us back the next day,” Derek said.
“What happened?” Stiles said, unable to contain his interest.
“Derek lied his ass off!” Cora crowed. “He was so good you couldn’t even tell!”
Derek shifted uncomfortably.
“I couldn’t tell, anyway,” Cora said, “and I remember Derek’s tells from when we were kids. And from the look on Ursula’s face, she didn’t think he was lying either.”
“What?” Stiles said. “What did he say!”
“I told the Alpha that I was already spoken for,” Derek said.
“He told her that he had a mate!” Cora said.
Derek glared wordlessly at her.
“And she believed it?” Stiles asked.
“She believed it,” Derek said.
“Then why didn’t she let you leave?”
“Just because she believed it doesn’t mean she accepts it,” Derek said.
“How can she not accept it?” Stiles said, flailing.
“It’s complicated,” Derek said.
“I know that,” Stiles said. At Derek’s look he went on. “I mean, I’ve done some research. And asked Deaton a ton of questions. For Scott,” Stiles explained when Cora looked confused. “So I know that being mates isn’t always enough, okay, but what does that have to do with this Alpha, Ursula, wanting Derek to become the love slave to someone in her pack?”
Derek sighed. “That’s not . . . .”
“She wants to see if she can break the bond,” Cora said.
“The non-existent bond,” Stiles clarified.
“Right,” Cora agreed.
Derek didn’t say anything.
“Can she do that?” Stiles asked.
“It can be done,” Derek said, carefully adding, “if there was a bond to be broken.”
“She’s been parading all the eligible females who are young enough to bear young in her pack past Derek,” Cora said. “She’s probably hoping he’ll fall in love with one. Or at least find one of them appealing enough to sleep with.”
“She wouldn’t . . . force you, would she?”
“No,” Derek said calmly. “For this alliance to give her any standing, it needs to be agreed upon by both sides.”
“But if you continue to refuse,” Stiles said. “How badly does she want your, uh, genes?” Stiles didn’t want to think about what she might do to get them. “Okay, then, back to this broken bond thing. So basically she’s just trying to make you fall in love with someone else or act like a horny male and break whatever bond you have with your non-existent mate.”
“Okay, so I get that falling out of love, or moving on, or whatever, would make the bond moot, but what else is there? I mean, if she can’t make you bed one of her pack, what else might she try?”
“Death,” Derek said.
“I, what, death?” Stiles said.
“Unless the bond was . . . very strong,” Derek said. “Death would break it.”
“Okay, so. Death is not good.”
“Death is not good,” Derek agreed.
“But wait,” Stiles said. “If she’s above forcing you to have sex with one of her available females, wouldn’t she be above assassinating your mate?
“Oh, she wouldn’t have to assassinate anyone,” Cora said. “She’d just have to invoke the ritual.”
“And what ritual might that be?” Stiles said.
“The challenge. By tradition, all she’d have to do is have one of the females issue a challenge to Derek’s mate.”
“A challenge,” Stiles said, nodding as if he understood when in fact he was so far from understanding it wasn’t funny. “Of course there’s a ritual for that. Okay, but,” he went on. “There’s no mate to challenge. Because you lied.”
“That’s a pickle,” Cora said.
“Can’t you just refuse to allow the challenge?” Stiles said.
“It’s like a survival thing,” Cora added.
“So mystical mate bond loses to survival of the fittest,” Stiles summarized.
“Something like that,” Derek said.
“What if I kidnap you?”
Derek’s eyebrows went up.
“She can’t blame you for leaving if you were kidnapped, right?”
“Somehow I don’t think she’d find that a convincing argument,” Derek said. “Not to mention that she’d have to believe that we were really kidnapped.”
“Hey, I could!” Stiles said. “A little wolfsbane powder blown into your face, electrically charged chains to keep you from shifting during transport . . . Not that I would,” he added at their twin looks of horror. “I’m just saying that it’s possible, is all.”
“And it wouldn’t look at all suspicious that we were returned to Beacon Hills, unharmed,” Derek said.
“I could rough you up a little bit,” Stiles offered.
Derek’s eyebrows said, I dare you to try it.
Cora snorted, then choked, then fell off the picnic table she’d perched upon. “Holy shit,” she said from her back on the grass. “Holy shit,” she repeated as she climbed to her knees and peered over the top of the table at them.
“Cora,” Derek warned.
“It didn’t sound like a lie because you weren’t lying.”
“Cora,” Derek said again.
Derek and Cora were engaged in a staring contest, so neither answered him. Derek hadn’t been lying about what? Stiles replayed their conversation in his head. The only lie he could remember was the one Derek had told Ursula about his mate, but if that wasn’t a lie, then . . . “You have a mate?”
Derek growled low in his throat, and Cora actually looked away, chagrined.
“I’m sorry, Derek,” Cora said. “I didn’t know. I never would have . . . .”
“Quiet,” Derek said. “We’ll talk about it later. After Stiles leaves,” Derek said, pinning Stiles with his gaze.
“What? I’m not leaving! Dude, I just got here.”
“And now you’re leaving,” Derek said, as if he was being completely reasonable, and Stiles the unreasonable one.
“No,” Stiles said stubbornly.
“No. What I need is more information,” Stiles said, “so we can figure out how to deal with this challenge thing, because she won’t let you go until you’ve produced your mate, right? So, are there exceptions? To the challenge? Like, if you’ve jumped over a broom or whatever the werewolf equivalent is, or if you’re engaged, maybe? Something?”
“Stiles, stop, please,” Derek said.
Stiles ran out of words, less because Derek had asked him to stop than because he’d said please.
“Go home,” Derek said, his voice low, intent. “Don’t ask why, just please, go home?”
“Don’t ask why?” Stiles repeated. “Have you even met me?”
When Derek didn’t respond to that, just stared at Stiles as if he could make Stiles do his bidding with the intensity of his gaze, Stiles swallowed hard. “What happens if I don’t?”
“They’re going to try to kill you,” Cora said.
“What?” Stiles yelped at the same time Derek growled, “Damn it, Cora!”
“Why would they try to kill me?”
“Tell him,” Cora urged Derek.
“Leave us,” Derek said. When Cora didn’t move fast enough Derek growled at her.
When Cora had moved away, though she was probably still close enough to hear them, Derek turned back to Stiles. He was quiet for a moment, just looking at Stiles. Stiles wanted to break the silence, say something funny or sarcastic, get Derek to speak, but Stiles wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to hear what Derek had to say.
Finally Stiles couldn’t take it anymore. “So who is your mate, and why would they want to kill me?”
Derek sighed. “This isn’t how I expected this conversation to go.”
“I get the feeling that you planned to never have this conversation.”
“It’s . . . complicated,” Derek said.
Stiles snort of laughter was tinged with a hint of bitterness. “It always is with you werewolves. I think I have a right to know why someone wants to kill me,” Stiles added with as much reasonableness as he could muster.
“It’s nothing personal,” Derek said.
“Nothing personal,” Stiles repeated dully. “Well, okay then. Except, I have a feeling that when I’m getting killed, it’s going to feel pretty personal. Who’s your mate, Derek?”
Derek looked like he wanted to throw up.
“It can’t be me,” Stiles said, unable to keep his brain from putting two and two together. “You don’t even like me,” he said, trying not to sound the slightest bit hurt by that.
“I like you,” Derek said. “Well enough.”
Stiles laughed at that, and once he started he couldn’t stop. Derek’s frowny face only made Stiles laugh more. “Oh god,” Stiles said as the laughter slowed down. “You like me well enough,” he repeated. “High praise. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to contain myself.”
Derek folded his arms over his chest and glared at Stiles. “You need to go home, Stiles.”
“Alright,” Stiles said, chuckling inside at Derek’s expression of surprise. “Say I do leave. What happens to you?”
Derek opened his mouth to answer, then shut it.
“You’re stuck here, right? Until the Alpha realizes that you’re not going to give up the identity of your mate.” Which they were apparently not going to discuss. That was fine with Stiles because he had no idea what he’d say anyway.
“The reason you haven’t just walked away in the first place is because you don’t want to create bad feelings between her and you, and ultimately, her and Scott, right?”
“Won’t maintaining radio silence on who your mate is . . . .” Stiles was proud that his voice only cracked just a little bit. “. . . create bad feelings anyway? I mean, you’re basically bucking the werewolf way by not allowing the ritual, the challenge, to take place. Can she, I don’t know, force you to break the bond somehow?”
“Yes,” Cora said when Derek didn’t answer.
Stiles didn’t jump, but it was a near thing.
Derek glared at her, but Cora continued. “There are ways to break the bond without a challenge. Rituals.”
“Is that what you want me to do?” Derek ground out.
“What? No,” Stiles said. “I’m just trying to point out that sending me home doesn’t change your situation, you’ll still be stuck here with an Alpha who wants you to breed with her unattached females.”
“That are young enough to conceive,” Cora clarified.
“Small mercies,” Stiles said, with a nod to Cora to acknowledge the comment. “The point being,” he repeated.
“It doesn’t matter,” Derek said. “You’ll be safe.”
“That . . . almost gives me the warm fuzzies,” Stiles said, clapping his hand to his heart.
“Answer me this. Do you want to become Ursula’s stud?”
A look of distaste crossed Derek’s face.
“I didn’t think so,” Stiles said. “Which means we need to figure a way out of this that doesn’t start a pack war and make your willingness to sacrifice yourself moot.”
“Fine,” Derek said, his easy capitulation stunning Stiles to silence. “We’ll figure something out. But we’ll need the Bestiary. And you’ll have to speak with Deaton. And see if there’s anything on Peter’s laptop. So you need to go back to Beacon Hills and coordinate the research, and then call us when you’ve found something.”
A slow smile spread across Stiles’ face.
“What?” Derek snarled.
“I think I should be insulted at how eager you are to get rid of me, and yet I find myself oddly complimented.”
“This isn’t a joke, Stiles.”
“I’m not laughing.”
The calm statement enraged Derek. He grabbed Stiles by the arms and shook him. “You are going back to Beacon Hills! Right now.”
“No,” Stiles said.
“Damn it, Stiles! I can’t . . . !”
“You can’t what?” When Derek didn’t answer right away, Stiles clamped his hand around the back of Derek’s neck and pulled until their foreheads nearly touched. “Can’t what?”
“Protect you,” Derek said, and he sounded just a little bit broken. It surprised Stiles, that amount of emotion for him, but he couldn’t think about that now.
Derek went on. “If she, or any of the females in her pack, issue the challenge, there’s nothing I can do. You have to leave. Please.”
“That’s the second time you’ve said please,” Stiles said in amazement. “I’m almost inclined to agree just because of that.”
Derek looked almost hopeful. Stiles hated to wipe that expression from his face.
“But I’m not leaving without you, big guy, so why don’t we get started figuring this out so we can all go home?”
“Stiles,” Derek growled.
“I know,” Stiles said. “I’m irritating.”
“I have an overwhelming urge to knock some sense into you,” Derek said.
“Because you want me to be safe,” Stiles said.
“Has it ever occurred to you that I want the same thing for you? Or that I’m no safer in Beacon Hills than I am here?”
“I . . . what?”
“That ritual we did,” Stiles said. “Beacon Hills is a beacon once more. If you thought Kanimas and Alpha Packs and evil Darachs were bad, well . . . .”
“If a Darach is a dark druid, is calling her an evil Darach redundant?” Cora said.
“Shut up,” both Derek and Stiles said at the same time.
“The point is,” Stiles said. “I put my life on the line everyday, for my dad, for Scott, for Beacon Hills.”
“I don’t want you to do it for me,” Derek said.
“That’s not your call,” Stiles said gently. “So we can either work together, or you can leave me here alone. At the mercy of Ursula’s goons.”
“Ursula doesn’t have ‘goons’,” Derek said.
“Then I should be perfectly safe . . . .”
“Fine, Jesus,” Derek said. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“It’s called wearing you down,” Stiles said.
“We need a reason for you to be here,” Derek said, ignoring Stiles’ comment.
“You mean besides trying to get you out of Ursula’s evil clutches?”
Derek massaged his brow, right over his eyes. “Yes, besides that.”
“The road trip story won’t work?”
“Not if you never leave,” Derek said dryly.
“Admit it, you missed me.”
“He could be here to see me,” Cora said. At their looks she said, “What? He can’t be here to see you because that’s too close to the truth. Which we don’t want Ursula to figure out.”
Stiles ignored Cora’s allusion to him being Derek’s mate. He still wasn’t ready to think about that. Luckily there were a lot of other things he did have to think about.
“Okay, sure,” Stiles said. “Cora and I have been talking, she told me you guys were gonna be stuck here for a while because of unspecified werewolf stuff, and I took it upon myself to visit. And you’re both very happy to see me,” he added for good measure.
Derek growled. Cora snorted.
Same old, same old, then.
Stiles was scouring the information Lydia had sent him off Peter’s laptop when Derek’s phone rang. Stiles would’ve laughed at the way all three of them jerked and froze, but his throat was too tight.
Derek checked the screen, and then glanced at Stiles before answering the call. “Ursula,” Derek said respectfully, turning his back on Stiles as if that might somehow keep her from realizing that Stiles was there.
“I appreciate the invitation,” Derek said with more politeness than Stiles had ever heard him use before. Under other circumstances he could’ve appreciated it more. “But we’ve already got plans for the evening.”
Derek’s shoulders went stiff and Stiles wished he had enhanced hearing so he knew what was going on. Especially when Cora swore softly.
‘What?’ Stiles mouth at her.
“Yes, with our visitor,” Derek said.
Stiles froze like a rabbit being stalked by a wolf. Which was pretty accurate, actually.
“We’d be happy to,” Derek said, sounding anything but happy.
When he disconnected the cal Derek looked grim.
“Well, I guess that answers that question,” Stiles said, trying to lighten the mood. They’d wondered earlier whether Ursula already knew of his arrival in town, and if not, just how long they could hide it from her. The answer was ‘not long,’ apparently.
When Derek’s only response was to glare at him, Stiles said, “What would we be happy to do?”
“Have dinner with Ursula’s pack,” Cora said.
“All of us?” Stiles said with a sense of foreboding.
“All of us,” Derek confirmed. “Keep reading.”
As if Stiles was going to find anything before he met the Alpha that wanted to make Derek (and most especially the Hale family’s ability to shift into the full wolf form) part of her pack.
“Maybe Deaton’ll call,” Stiles said, grasping at his own straws.
While Stiles and Cora studied everything they had found on Peter’s laptop in hopes of finding anything that had to do with mates, and specifically challenges to the mate bond, Lydia was doing the same back in Beacon Hills. Allison was checking the Bestiary for anything they’d missed, as well as picking her father’s (and Gerard’s) brain for anything he might have learned over his years as a hunter. And Scott was going to ask Deaton, as well as the Wonder Twins, what they knew.
(Though Stiles had stopped short of telling Scott that Derek thought he, Stiles, was his mate, he did explain Derek’s predicament of not wanting to become a stud for the Palmer pack, yet being unable to leave without creating discord that might impact Scott’s pack.)
“Maybe,” Derek said, but he sounded just as doubtful as Stiles felt.
Stiles turned back to his computer, but he didn’t see the screen. He wondered if he should call Scott again to let him know the latest news. He didn’t want to worry Scott, but he also didn’t want to disappear into Ursula’s compound and never been seen again. Not that he thought Derek would let that happen. And that had nothing to do with the [alleged] mate thing of which Stiles was not thinking, and everything to do with the kind of person Derek was.
Derek didn’t let Stiles drive his Jeep just in case Ursula’s pack was still unaware of what vehicle he drove. Derek still had the Toyota, so there was plenty of room for the three of them. Still, Stiles found himself missing the Camaro.
“Do you miss the Camaro?” Stiles said.
Derek glanced in the rearview mirror, and since Stiles was sitting in the middle of the backseat, leaning forward with an arm slung over each front seat, he looked right at him.
“It wasn’t big enough to fit everyone,” Derek said.
Stiles didn’t remind Derek that Boyd and Erica had already left by the time he’d purchased the Toyota because he knew that Derek had held out hope that he’d find them. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said.
“What does it matter?” Derek said as he drove them out of town.
“Just curious,” Stiles said. When Derek didn’t reply, Stiles answered his own question. “You did,” he said. “Part of you, anyway, misses that whole bad boy image.”
Cora snorted. “Bad boy? Derek used to cry if Mama looked at him sideways.”
“Shut up, Cora.”
“You shut up.”
Stiles sighed. “Aren’t the two of you too old for sibling squabbles?”
“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek and Cora both said, then grinned and high-fived each other.
And . . . apparently not. “Oh, real mature,” Stiles said, but at least they’d stopped looking like they were leading Stiles to the gallows, because that had started to creep him right the fuck out.
Fifteen minutes after they’d pulled out of the motel parking lot Derek turned down a gravel path.
“That’s where the Alpha lives?” Stiles said when he caught sight of the cute little (little being the operative word) bungalow sitting not twenty yards back from the road.
“No,” Derek said. “She lives in the big house.”
A two minute ride down the gravel driveway (given the way it crunched under the tires, it was the perfect early warming system) and the big house came into view.
“Holy crap,” Stiles said. “That’s big.”
Even more impressive than the house, though, was the number of people standing outside to greet them.
“How many people are there in the Palmer pack?” Stiles asked, his voice low in hopes he wouldn’t be overheard.
“Thirty-two,” Derek said, not lowering his voice at all.
The group congregating on the front porch parted like the Red Sea when a woman who radiated power despite the apron tied around her waist and the bunny slippers (which Stiles hoped weren’t real), stepped out of the house. She neither said nor did anything, just looked towards the car expectantly. Stiles was suddenly very glad that he’d taken the precaution of calling his dad before they’d left the motel.
Stiles’ dad had asked about the drive, had enquired after Derek and Cora, and had only hesitated a moment when Stiles said, “I’m going out to dinner tonight with Derek and Cora, meeting some of their friends.”
“Well, you guys have fun,” his dad had said. “I’ll let Scott know you’re having a good time. Call me when you get in. I can’t wait to hear all about it.”
“Will do,” Stiles said. “Dad . . . .”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Son.”
Now Stiles said, “Is that . . . ?”
Instead of answering, Derek turned off the engine and got out of the car. He didn’t wait for Stiles (who scrambled out of the car on Cora’s side to better sell their friendship) or Cora, but approached the house, stopping a few yards away from the porch steps to greet the Alpha of the Palmer pack.
“Ursula,” Derek said respectfully. “Thank you for your kind invitation.”
Stiles allowed himself a mental snort at that. Kind invitation, my ass, he thought. When he glanced up, Cora was staring at him.
“Behave,” Cora said.
“You behave,” Stiles said, and then gave Cora a little shove when she turned away from him.
Without looking, Cora reached back and shoved Stiles hard enough to startle an, “Eep!” out of him.
When Stiles looked up, Derek was glaring daggers at them.
‘Sorry,’ Stiles mouthed, then said to Cora in an undertone, “That’s gonna bruise.”
“Good,” she hissed back.
When they reached Derek, he was very valiantly trying to pretend that they weren’t with him. Cora greeted Ursula and inclined her head politely.
Derek said, “Stiles, this is Ursula Palmer, Alpha of the Palmer pack. Ursula, this is Stiles Stilinski of Beacon Hills.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” Stiles said. Out of the corner of his mouth he hissed, “Am I supposed to bow or something?”
Stiles didn’t know the proper protocol of meeting an Alpha that wasn’t trying to kill him. Though, technically, this Alpha might want to kill him one day in the future, but hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.
Ursula’s face did something that might’ve been amusement. “A handshake should be sufficient,” she said in a voice that wasn’t nearly as deep as he thought it’d be given the power he felt coming off her.
Stiles stuck out his hand and tried not to think about how easily she could sprout claws and tear him to pieces. Instead, Ursula took his hand in an easy, almost gentle, grip that said she didn’t have to flaunt her strength.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, as well, Stiles. Welcome to our home. That’s an interesting name,” Ursula said as she released Stiles hand.
“Nickname,” Stiles said. “I’m taking my first name to the grave.”
Stiles wished he hadn’t said grave, but he kept a smile pinned to his face. He expected Ursula to grill him, but she merely said, “I’ll let the others introduce themselves as you meet them. Don’t worry if you don’t remember all their names.”
Ursula turned her attention to the others gathered around. She snapped out a few names – Carol, Hank, Paula – to finish dinner preparation, but they all moved too fast for Stiles to put a face to any of the names. Suddenly Stiles was left standing alone (except for Derek and Cora, though they seemed a small consolation at the moment), surrounded by another pack.
None of them looked like they wanted to kill him, but Stiles knew from experience how quickly that could change. Besides, he told himself, no one had a reason to want him dead. Yet. They didn’t know that he’d come to Crescent Lake in response to a distress call from Cora, much less that he might be the mate Derek had claimed to have. If Derek wasn’t out of his freaking mind, which was a possibility that couldn’t be dismissed.
“So,” Stiles said nervously, addressing the entire pack. “I’m Stiles, as you probably already heard. I’m a Scorpio. I like puppy piles . . . .” (Stiles ignored Derek’s growled, “Stiles!”) “. . . long walks on the . . . Holy crap, what’s that?”
That appeared to be the biggest, most awesome jungle gym that Stiles had ever seen.
A young boy of around seven pushed his way through the gathered adults. He studied Stiles for a moment, then said, “You wanna play on it?”
“I absolutely want to play on that!” Stiles said. He took a stumbling step towards the jungle gym. With a few mutters of, “How old was he again?” the crowd parted to let them pass.
“Go watch him, make sure he doesn’t get hurt,” Derek said.
“Why me?” Cora said, indignant.
“You invited him to come visit,” Derek said pointedly.
Stiles could imagine the expressions on both their faces, but he paid them no mind. The boy introduced himself as Samuel, and soon they were both reaching for the metal frame of the jungle gym. Samuel clambered to the top of the structure like a little monkey, skipping over some of the bars.
“Oh, you cheater!” Stiles said as he climbed. When he reached the top, Samuel was hanging upside down, watching Stiles’ slow progress. Stiles hooked his knees over one of the bars and swung himself upside down as well. “This is so cool,” he told Samuel.
Derek was watching him with his arms crossed over his chest and an almost frown on his face. When he realized that Stiles had caught him staring, the frown formed fully and he jerked his eyes away from Stiles and snapped something at Cora before storming away from her.
Stiles didn’t have any time to think about Derek’s reaction because Samuel challenged him to be the first back to the ground before letting go and just free falling, giving Stiles a heart attack even though Samuel flipped in mid-air and landed on his hands and feet without a problem. Samuel grinned up at Stiles, whose heart was pounding furiously.
“That’s not funny, mister,” Stiles said as he grabbed the bar in his hands and swung his feet down. Stiles let go and landed beside Samuel, bending his knees to absorb the shock, to the boy’s surprise. It hadn’t been that high a drop, and if there was one thing Stiles had learned over the past six months, it was how to take a fall.
“First one across the bars,” Stiles said, and leapt before Samuel could respond. Against a werewolf child, Stiles needed all the help he could get.
Before long a couple other children appeared out of the throng and, after watching Samuel and Stiles for a few minutes, one of them scrambled up the side, which broke the stalemate, and soon all of the children were swarming over the jungle gym.
Too soon Cora called them in for dinner. Stiles was one of the last off the gym, but Samuel waited for him and slipped his hand into Stiles’ as they walked over to the house. Instead of going inside, however, the throng of kids led them around to the back. A huge sunroom that contained three rows of tables opened onto a patio that held one of the largest bar-b-que grills that Stiles had ever seen.
Derek stood on the patio near the grill speaking to one of the men manning the grill. Stiles didn’t think it was his imagination that Derek’s shoulders relaxed a little bit when he saw Stiles round the corner.
A pretty woman who was very much pregnant approached them with a smile on her face. “Did you guys have fun?” She gave Stiles a look, then turned her attention to Samuel.
“Yes!” Samuel told her. He released Stiles’ hand and hugged the woman, placing a kiss on her (very) distended belly before taking her hand and letting her lead him over to the table where the children were being settled, parents fixing plates and pouring drinks for them.
Once the children had been fed, the adults took their places at the other two tables. Derek was sat at Ursula’s left hand, a place of honor, Stiles knew that much. The man at her right was her husband, if the kiss she gave him as thanks for grilling was any indication. The seat of wooing, Stiles called it in his head. Stiles was seated further down the table, and Cora was placed at the other table. Stiles was nervous, but it was overshadowed by the sight of all the food loading down the tables.
“It’s not much,” Ursula told Stiles.
Stiles looked at the plates heaped high with burgers and hotdogs and sausage, and wondered what she considered ‘much’. “Oh, no,” he said, “it all smells so wonderful. Thank you for including me in the invitation,” Stiles added politely, even though they both knew that the invitation to dinner had been mostly because of him. Still, it didn’t hurt to keep up pretenses.
After the initial rush of passing dishes around, there was a hush as everyone dug in. All at once conversation started. It was all so normal – childcare and work and vacations – and Stiles wasn’t singled out for special attention. Nor was he ignored.
By the time the meal was over – dishes cleared and dessert set out while the children ran around the back yard – Stiles was forced to come to the conclusion that these people were actually . . . nice. He hadn’t expected that.
Also, it was impossible for Stiles to tell which of the girls Ursula had in mind for Derek, because he spoke with everyone (and wasn’t that another surprise), with no one person showing him any more attention than the others.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Derek couldn’t tell a joke to save his life, much less pull off such an elaborate prank, Stiles would’ve thought that Derek and Cora were pulling one over on him. Until everyone was so full they’d need to be rolled to the car (or that might just be Stiles who had to try ‘just a tiny piece’ of each dessert set out on the table), when Ursula, along with her husband, took Derek into her private study to talk. Stiles had never wished more that he had werewolf hearing.
“It wouldn’t matter,” Cora said as she sat beside Stiles on the couch in the large family room. “It’s sound proofed.”
Stiles didn’t bother asking how she knew what he’d been thinking. “Even for you?”
“Especially from us,” Faith said as she carefully lowered herself onto the couch on Stiles’ other side.
Faith was Samuel’s mother, and she was pregnant with twins, Stiles had learned during dinner. Her husband, Gabriel, was Ursula’s youngest child.
“Can I ask you a question?” Stiles asked Faith. “It’s kind of personal.”
“I have no interest in bedding Derek Hale,” Faith said.
Stiles’ eyes went wide.
Faith ignored the muttered, “You better not,” from across the room. She grinned at Stiles’ reaction. “Not your question?”
“No!” Stiles said. “Oh my god, why would you *say* that?”
Faith laughed. She grabbed her belly and groaned. “Don’t make me laugh. It makes them think it’s time to get up and run around.”
“Now I don’t even feel bad about asking my question,” Stiles said.
“What is it?” Faith said, a tiny smile still curving the corners of her lips.
“I have a friend,” Stiles said slowly, trying not to be too blunt. “She’s human, but she’s dated two werewolves so far. Could she get pregnant, I mean, is there any kind of species barrier? And would she be alright?”
“Are you asking me if humans and werewolves can mate?”
“Yes? More like, procreate.”
“Yes, it’s possible,” Faith said. “And in my experience, both personal and inside the pack . . . .” She indicated the children falling asleep in front of the television. “It’s not any more difficult than a fully human pregnancy. Although I would bet my first child on the fact that they’re more active,” she added as she rubbed her belly. “Does that answer your question?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Stiles said. “I just . . . .”
“He’s nosy,” Cora said.
“I’m not nosy,” Stiles said, offended. “I just like to know things. Especially when the information might help my friends.”
“What kind of information?” Derek said from right in front of him, making Stiles’ heart leap into his throat.
“Oh my god!” Stiles said, clutching at his chest dramatically. “Don’t do that!”
Somehow Derek managed to give Stiles an amused glare. “What information?” he repeated.
“If you must know,” Stiles said, pausing just long enough to make it clear that he at least didn’t think Derek needed to know, “I was asking Faith about pregnancy.”
Derek’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Are you planning on getting someone pregnant?” he asked ominously with a glare at Cora.
“Oh my god, no!” Stiles said. “Not that you’re not . . . ,” he said to Cora, then stopped, unsure where that sentence was gonna go. With his luck, nowhere good. “I’m gonna shut up now.”
Cora rolled her eyes at both of them.
“We should be so lucky,” Derek said, and then moved off.
Apparently their night with the Palmer pack wasn’t over yet. Awesome.
Faith changed the subject to school, which seemed safe enough. Stiles told her about the classes he wanted to take next year (he’d filled out a schedule, and being a senior should get first choice, but it depended on how many other seniors singed up for those classes), cross country and lacrosse. He asked Faith where she worked (she and Gabriel owned a landscaping business), and she told him how she’d met Gabriel (a werewolf conference). When the conversation turned to college, Stiles got uncomfortable. He’d had hopes of attending school on the East coast, or maybe LA, but since they’d done the ritual he’d bene wondering if he’d be able to ever leave Beacon Hills.
Faith covered Stiles’ hand with her own. “Even werewolves leave home for a few years,” she said comfortingly. “Everyone has to find themselves, and most of the time they come home.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Thanks.”
Thankfully, enough time had passed that Derek decided they could leave. After protracted goodbyes, Stiles slumped into the backseat. “God, that was exhausting!”
“I didn’t expect them to be so nice,” Stiles said when they were safely back in their motel room, Derek having done a perimeter check and satisfying himself that there were no other werewolves in the vicinity.
“What did you expect?” Derek said.
“I don’t know,” Stiles said. “Some outward indication that they were evil, not dinner and advice on where to go to college.”
“Small price to breed the Hale line into their pack,” Cora said.
“They’re not evil,” Derek said. “Just looking for any advantage they can get.”
“Are you inclined to give it to them?”
Derek glared at Stiles, who raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, geeze, I was just wondering.”
“What did Ursula want?” Cora said.
Stiles wanted to know that, too, so he sat stock still and hoped that Derek’s silence didn’t mean he wasn’t going to answer. Finally he spoke.
“She reiterated her offer.”
“Offer,” Cora scoffed. “What did you say?”
“I told her that I did not choose to renounce my mate,” Derek said.
(Stiles did not feel a shiver go down his spine at the word.)
“I told her that I would not tell her who my mate was, so she couldn’t issue a challenge.”
“Geeze,” Cora said, sounding impressed. “What did she say to that?”
“She said she wouldn’t think of challenging my mate bond,” Derek said, which earned a snort from Cora. “And she suggested that we look into other ways to tie our two families together.”
“Like what?” Stiles said.
“Derek didn’t answer, merely looked at Cora.
“Are you kidding me?” Cora said. “Either you put out for her, or I do? What the hell did you tell her?”
“I told her that you were too young, and that in any case I wouldn’t arrange a marriage for you.”
“She asked if she could speak directly to you, then.”
“I couldn’t very well refuse, having just asserted your independence. Your refusal,” Derek went on, ”must be given respectfully.”
“When is she going to speak with me?” Cora said.
“She agreed to give you a chance to give me a heads up?”
“She knows I’m gonna say no.”
“Which means she’s got something else up her sleeve.”
“Probably,” Derek agreed.
Stiles spoke up. “Would she lie about not challenging m–, uh, your . . . .”
“I don’t know,” Derek said. “I don’t think so. But having someone else in her pack issue the challenge would mean she’d technically abided by her agreement.”
“Awesome,” Stiles said.
“Call Scott,” Derek said. “See if they’ve found anything else out. While you’re talking to him, I’m going to go for a run.”
“Dibs on first run!” Cora said. At Derek’s look, she said, “Hey, you just dropped a pretty big bombshell on me, the least you can do is let me go first. Besides, you should be here for the phone call. When I get back I’ll babysit so you can go.”
“Hey!” Stiles protested distractedly as he got out his cell phone and opened his contacts.
Derek sighed. “Fine. Be careful.”
“I always am.”
Derek rolled his eyes. Having been the recipient of Derek’s eye roll on many an occasion, Stiles gave Cora a look of solidarity (despite the babysitting comment), but she’d already gathered up her clothes and gone into the bathroom to change. Stiles didn’t have too much time to think about it because Scott answered on the first ring.
“Hey, Scotty, how’s it going?”
“How’s it going?” Scott repeated. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, “but I was hoping for some good news before we got into that. How’s the dog doing, the one whose leg you guys put a cast on?”
“Oh!” Scott said, successfully distracted. “She’s doing really well.”
Stiles let Scott ramble on about various dogs and cats (and one boa) that they’d seen in the last couple of days. Each of them (except the boa, Scott had a phobia, okay?) was the ‘cutest thing you’ve ever seen’, which was patently untrue, because Stiles had seen some of the pets people brought in and they were definitely not cute, but Scott saw them all through some kind of special rose tinted glasses for animals. That was the great thing about Scott – Stiles thought Scott might have a pair of those glasses for him, too.
Finally Derek’s glare got too heavy for Stiles to ignore any longer. When Scott took a breath Stiles interrupted before he could continue with his story about the kitten that was really testing Scott’s determination to not take home every animal that looked at him with their big eyes.
“Does Deaton know anything?”
Scott hesitated a moment before answering, and Stiles didn’t think it was merely because of the change of topic. Which meant the answer wasn’t going to be good.
Even though he knew it was coming, and had steeled himself for it, Stiles was disappointed when Scott said, “No. Sorry. He said he wasn’t privy to all the werewolf traditions and rituals, and challenging a mate bond isn’t something that came up when he was Talia’s emissary. But he’s going to ask around!” Scott quickly added, as if that could ease Stiles’ mind. “To some other emissaries. He’s already put in a call to Morell, so maybe we’ll know something soon.”
“What about the Wonder Twins?” Stiles asked.
“They didn’t know anything about it, either,” Scott said. “With their old pack, well, they just took what they wanted and killed anyone who got in their way anyway, and then the Alpha Pack . . . .”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. He glanced at Derek, who’d overheard the bad news, but his expression didn’t give away how he was feeling.
“How was dinner?” Scott asked.
“Dinner was weird,” Stiles said. “Everyone was really nice.”
“Is that bad?” Scott said.
“I like my bad guys to look and act like bad guys, Scott. It’s confusing when they act like kindly grandmothers.”
“Yeah,” Scott said. “I guess not everything’s black and white. How’s Derek?”
“Derek is . . . .” Stiles glanced at Derek. “. . . Derek.”
Derek rolled his eyes, which made Stiles grin.
“Which means he’s hiding his main pain behind his grumpy cat face?” Scott guessed.
Stiles laughed so hard his belly hurt, especially when Derek frowned so hard he looked even *more* like a grumpy cat.
“Oh my god, Scott,” Stiles said breathlessly, wiping tears out of his eyes. “I really needed that. Because things have gotten even more complicated, if that’s even possible,” he said, sobering. “There’s been a change in Ursula’s tactics. She suggested that if Derek didn’t want to marry into her pack, then maybe Cora would.”
“Derek would never let that happen,” Scott said decisively.
“No,” Stiles agreed. “Which is why we think it’s just a strategy to get him to acquiesce.”
“How’d Cora take it?”
“About like you’d expect,” Stiles said. “How’s my dad doing?”
“He’s worried about you,” Scott said honestly without trying to spare Stiles, as he might once have done. “But he knows we’ve got your back, and that you’ll call us if you need us, right?”
“Right,” Stiles said.
“Lydia’s still working on the stuff she got off Peter’s laptop, and Allison’s on it. We’ll figure something out.”
“I know we will,” Stiles said. They didn’t have another option, because Stiles wasn’t leaving Derek, or Cora, in the clutches of Ursula Let-me-woo-you-with-kindness-and-food Palmer.
“Can I talk to Derek?” Scott said.
“Uh . . . yeah,” Stiles said, surprised by the request.
An expression of surprise, quickly masked, had cracked Derek’s stony facade, so Stiles knew he’d heard the request and was just as surprised by it. Stiles handed his phone over to Derek without comment.
Derek took the phone and placed it to his ear. “Scott.”
Stiles watched Derek’s face, which gave nothing away after the initial surprise. The conversation was short, but frustrating, because Stiles had no idea what Scott was telling Derek. Derek grunted once in what Stiles thought was a reply, but he didn’t know what it meant.
“What did he want?” Stiles said when Derek handed back the phone.
Derek just gave him a look.
“Oh, come on!” Stiles said. “You heard everything he said to me.”
“Cora’s coming back,” Derek said instead of answering Stiles’ question. “I’m going to change into my running clothes.”
“Running clothes?” Stiles said dumbly.
“Yes, Stiles,” Derek said with exaggerated patience, “running clothes. The clothes I wear when I go running.”
“I thought those were the clothes you wore when you went running,” Stiles said, indicating the burgundy t-shirt (and hadn’t Stiles been shocked when Derek pulled on a clean, colored t-shirt for dinner), blue jeans, and boots Derek wore.
“Yeah, when I’m running for my life, rather than for fun,” Derek said.
“I thought running for your life was fun for you,” Stiles said, but Derek had already closed himself in the bathroom so he couldn’t see his reaction to the zinger.
Stiles went back to looking through the information Lydia had sent him while Cora showered. He tried not to think about how Derek looked in the tank top and shorts he’d changed into for his run. Stiles used to be able to objectively take note of Derek’s hotness factor and then dismiss it from his mind, but this whole mate thing had thrown him for a loop.
Stiles was almost tempted to delve into Google to find out anything he could on mates and the mate bond, but he knew it was more important to get Derek (and now Cora) safely out of the spot of trouble he’d found himself in. Through no fault of his own, and wasn’t that Derek’s life in a nutshell? So Stiles turned his attention back to the file on his laptop.
Stiles barely noticed Cora come out of the bathroom, steam billowing out after her, and make herself comfortable on one of the Queen sized beds, taking up her own computer to resume searching through Peter’s files. On the other hand, Stiles couldn’t stop thinking about Derek in the shower when Derek came back, and without a word to either of them, closed himself in the bathroom.
“Please stop thinking about my brother naked,” Cora said without looking away from the screen.
“I, what? I mean, I’m not,” Stiles said.
“If you say so,” Cora said in a tone that meant she thought Stiles was a liar, liar, pants on fire.
“No, seriously,” Stiles said. “Totally non-naked thoughts going on here.”
Cora raised her eyes to glance at Stiles over the top of her computer. She dropped her gaze back to the screen without a word.
“How did you know?” Stiles hissed.
“I could smell it,” Cora said without looking at him.
“Oh god.” Stiles waved his notebook in the air to disperse any lingering scent of arousal. “Can Derek tell?”
“He’ll be able to when he gets out here,” Cora said with an evil, evil smirk.
“Oh my god, he’s going to kill me!”
Cora rolled her eyes. “He thinks you’re his mate,” she said, her tone clearly stating just how mental she thought that made Derek.
“That won’t stop him from killing me!” Stiles said.
“If I kill you, I have no excuse not to marry one of the females in the Palmer pack,” Derek said.
Stiles flailed and nearly fell out of the chair. “Oh my god, how long have you . . . how long has he been standing there?”
“Long enough,” Derek said.
Long . . . what did that even mean? “What does that even mean?”
“Get ready for bed,” Derek said.
“I . . . what?”
“It’s been a long day,” Derek said slowly, as if Stiles needed the time to process the words. “And it’s late. So get ready for bed.”
“I . . . don’t really require much sleep,” Stiles said, though he didn’t deny that it had been a long ass day, if only mentally, what with learning that he was . . . might be Derek’s mate, and having dinner with the enemy, and worrying each moment that they were there that Ursula would somehow twig to the fact that Derek, at least, thought that Stiles was his mate and call him out for it then and there.
“Stiles,” Derek said. “Shut down your computer.”
“Fine, sheesh,” Stiles said. He closed his laptop and left it sitting on the small table which was made even smaller by the clutter he’d spread across it, plugged into the outlet to charge.
Stiles took his duffel bag with him into the bathroom and brushed his teeth, and then took a quick shower to wash the day’s sweat and travel grime off his skin. He’d be going to bed with wet hair, which mean it’d be sticking up all over the place in the morning, but he didn’t want to turn on the complimentary hair dryer and disturb the others.
Stiles pulled on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt, the material sticking to his damp skin, his usual sleeping attire not taking into account sharing a room with Derek and Cora. Stiles turned out the bathroom light and stuffed his duffel under the table with his backpack, then turned to study the sleeping options. “Uhm.”
“Just get into bed, Stiles,” Derek said.
“Which one?” Stiles said. Both options seemed equally dangerous, if for different reasons.
Derek raised his eyebrows. “Do you really want to attempt crawling into bed with Cora?”
“He’d better not,” Cora said with a smile that wasn’t in the slightest bit nice.
“No?” Stiles said. Not that sharing a bed with Derek, who only wore a pair of lounge pants, was the safer choice.
“Get into bed so I can turn out the damn light,” Derek growled.
Stiles pulled back the blankets on his side of the bed (Derek had taken the side nearest the door, because, of course he did), and carefully crawled under them. “How come Cora didn’t have to put her computer away?” Stiles asked.
“Because I was waiting for you, ding bat,” Cora said, closing her laptop with a soft ‘snick’ at the same time Derek said, “What are you, twelve?”
Derek waited until Stiles was lying stiffly on his back, as near the edge of the mattress as he could get without falling off, before turning out the light. Cora punched her pillow into shape and then her even breaths filled the room.
Stiles didn’t know how she’d been able to fall asleep so quickly. He was never going to be able to sleep, not with so much on his mind and a shirtless Derek sharing his bed.
The next thing Stiles knew, it was morning. “What?” Stiles mumbled as he pushed the pillow off his face.
“Get your ass out of bed,” Cora said. “I’m hungry.”
Cora reclaimed her pillow and tossed it into the middle of her unmade bed. Stiles pushed himself up until he was sort of sitting and looked around the room. Derek sat in the chair Stiles had vacated last night, feet on the table, Stiles’ laptop on his knees.
“What are you doing?” Stiles asked, his voice still raspy from sleep.
“Looking at LOLcats,” Derek said, then gave Stiles a raised eyebrow that said, what the hell do you think I’m doing?
“Find anything LOL worthy?” Stiles asked.
“No,” Derek grumbled.
Stiles threw back the blankets and stumbled into the bathroom. He splashed his face with water in an attempt to speed the waking up process, then just remembered to shut the door before he took a piss. He thought about the frustrated expression on Derek’s face, and wished they’d been able to find something in Peter’s notes, which didn’t appear to be organized in any sane manner. Peter would probably know exactly where to look, Stiles thought.
In his excitement, Stiles didn’t bother washing his hands (though he made sure he was fully tucked in because that hadn’t been fun the first time). He snatched up his phone, still hooked up to the charger, and texted Scott, FIND PETER
Derek looked at the screen when Stiles tossed the phone back onto the table. “You think he’s going to tell the truth?”
“No,” Stiles said. “But there’s likely to be a kernel of truth in any lie Peter tells us. If we can determine what that is, maybe we can figure out what to do.”
“Maybe,” Derek said, but he didn’t sound convinced.
Stiles wanted to yell, “Then think of something else! Tell me what to do! Stop throwing yourself into the line of fire! Stop trying to save everyone else!” Instead he just heaved a sigh.
“What?” Derek said.
“I want to yell at you,” Stiles said resignedly, “but I realize that asking you to not be a martyr would be like asking a leopard to change its spots.”
“I’m not a martyr,” Derek grumbled, his eyebrows meeting in the center of his forehead.
“Are you telling me that if Ursula discovers . . . who your mate is, you wouldn’t do something stupid, like renounce the bound or whatever, just to keep them safe?”
“I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping them safe if they’d *listen* to me,” Derek snapped.
Stiles thought about that for a second. “Touche,” he said. “I guess your mate is just as much of a martyr as you are. It’s a match made in heaven.”
Stiles stomped into the bathroom and leaned against the door with his eyes shut as he considered drowning himself in the sink. Why had he said that? His darn mouth had gone on without his brain’s consent. And to make matters worse, his clothes were in his duffel bag which he’d stowed under the table where Derek was sitting.
Stiles was grateful that Cora slid into the booth seat beside him, until he realized that meant he’d spend their entire breakfast staring at Derek. Stiles and Derek were very careful to keep their conversation away from anything mate-related. Even if Cora snickered silently next to Stiles once in a while, the entire booth shaking with her mirth at their expense. She jerked once and glared at Derek and Stiles figured he’d connected the toe of his boot to her shin. Stiles would’ve high-fived Derek, but he was doing his best to ignore the situation as much as he could.
“Apparently Kelpies and Trolls are real,” Stiles said when Derek asked him what had been going on in Beacon Hills. “As are Basilisk. And let me tell you, finding the remains of one of their victims is not pleasant.” Stiles grimaced.
“So it’s true, then,” Derek said. “Beacon Hills has once again become a beacon for the supernatural.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said, trying not to feel guilty for his role in that. He’d do it, and much worse, again if he had to, to save his dad. “And don’t take this the wrong way, because I know it’s not a day for you if you haven’t flagellated yourself for some perceived wrong-doing, but we could really use your help.”
Derek raised his eyebrows. “That’s new.” At Stiles’ questioning look, he added, “You thinking I’d be a help, rather than turning me in to your father as the problem.”
“That was a long time ago,” Stiles said.
“One more person on the side of thinking before acting wouldn’t go amiss, is all I’m saying,” Stiles said. “Of course, you’d probably bring Cora with you, so it’d be a wash.”
Cora flicked Stiles’ ear. Hard.
“Ow!” Stiles slapped his hand over his ear, then tried to rub away the sting.
A low growl rumbled in Derek’s throat. Both Cora and Stiles stared at him in surprise. Derek looked away in embarrassment and the growl faded.
“Really?” Cora said, amused, and a little bit horrified.
“Where were you when Jackson was making my life miserable?” Stiles said.
Derek glared at them both.
Derek’s phone rang before they finished eating. He glanced at Cora, who went stiff beside Stiles, before answering it. It was clear from Derek’s demeanor, distant but polite, that he was speaking to Ursula. It was also obvious from his end of the conversation that Ursula wanted to meet with Cora.
“Ursula wants to meet with you now,” Derek told Cora after he’d ended the call. “Refuse politely,” he reminded Cora after taking a sip of his coffee and signaling for the bill.
“Should I stay in the room and keep researching?” Stiles asked as they walked the short distance from the restaurant to the motel.
“No,” Derek said. “It’s safer if you’re with us.”
“You mean you’d feel better if you knew I hadn’t been kidnapped by Faeries while you’re away,” Stiles said.
Derek didn’t deny it.
Stiles insisted on brushing his teeth and using the toilet before they left. He had a feeling that seeing Ursula in Alpha-mode, rather than grandmother-mode, might make him want to piss his pants.
Caleb, Ursula’s husband, was waiting for them on the front porch when they pulled up. The relaxed, smiling man of yesterday who’d helped with the grill, and kissed his wife, and swung his grandson into the air was gone. He greeted them cordially – polite with a touch of brisk – as the representative of one werewolf pack to another.
Yesterday had been for fun – and possibly surreptitious sizing up. Today there was no pretense that this meeting was anything other than pack business. Caleb led them into the house and through to the living room.
“Ursula will see you in her office,” Caleb told Cora. “If the two of you wouldn’t mind waiting here.”
“No,” Cora said.
The three of them looked at her in surprise.
“I’d like to have Derek there. And Stiles,” she added.
“The Alpha would like to discuss this mater with you privately,” Caleb said.
“That wouldn’t be proper,” Cora said. “Since I’m still, technically, underage. Any agreement I make with your Alpha would have to be approved by Derek, as my guardian, anyway, so let’s not waste time.”
“And I agree about Stiles,” Derek said. “I’d rather not leave him alone. He gets into trouble when left to his own devices.”
“Hey!” Stiles said, but Cora had already taken him by the hand and started dragging him down the hall. “The office is this way, right?”
Derek sighed heavily behind them.
Caleb managed to get to the door ahead of Cora. He opened it and stepped into Ursula’s inner sanctum. “Cora and Derek Hale are here,” Caleb announced, and then added, “And Mr. Stilinski.”
Ursula didn’t look the slightest bit surprised to see them all traipse into the room behind Caleb. “Welcome,” she said. “Won’t you please take a seat.”
Cora looked around the room, then dragged Stiles over to the couch. She sat in the middle with Stiles on her left and patted the cushion on her right for Derek.
Ursula waited until Derek had taken the seat beside Cora to speak. “Thank you for coming.”
Cora jerked beside him, and Stiles was certain that Derek had just pinched her to keep her from saying something like, they hadn’t had any choice in the matter.
“You’re welcome,” Cora said stiffly.
Ursula’s mouth looked pinched, and Stiles wondered if she’d really expected Cora to perpetuate some fiction that she was pleased to be there. It was probably best that she understand just what she was getting herself into, should Cora, god forbid, agree to marry into the Palmer pack.
“I’m sure you know why I’ve asked you here today,” Ursula said, ignoring Cora’s soft snort at the word asked.
“Yes,” Cora replied, staring straight ahead at Ursula and ignoring Derek and Stiles as if they weren’t even there, even though she’d asked for them both to be there and had literally dragged Stiles along. “You want me to act as a broodmare for your pack.”
“Cora!” Derek hissed.
“That’s not exactly true,” Ursula said, maintaining her calm.
“Are you telling me that you wouldn’t expect me to produce babies for you so you can breed the ability to shift into a full wolf into your line?”
“Then please,” Cora said as she squeezed Stiles’ hand, “tell me what it is exactly that you want.”
“Of course we’d love any children that you brought to our family, but our main concern is to create an alliance between our two packs. I knew your mother . . . .”
“Leave my mother out of this,” Cora said.
Stiles gave a little squeak of pain as Cora’s grip on his hand tightened.
“My mother’s dead. My entire family is dead. Me and Derek are all that’s left.”
“And Peter,” Stiles said. Under scrutiny by four werewolves, he added, “But we don’t really count him.”
“You have a family,” Cora said. “A large family. Our family might be that big now.” If they hadn’t all perished in a fire was implied. “Derek’s all I have left, and I just found him again. And when I do get married? It’ll be for love, just like my mother did, not because of my genes.”
Cora got up and stormed out of the door, leaving the rest of them sitting there stunned.
Derek rose from the couch. “I apologize for Cora’s disrespect,” he said stiffly, the words not coming easily to his lips. “But I will not apologize for her decision.”
Derek turned to look at Stiles, his brow furrowed in confusion. Stiles refused to think that it looked cute. Derek’s gaze landed on the hand Stiles cradled to his chest. “What’s wrong?”
“I think Cora just broke my hand,” Stiles said with a pained laugh.
“Caleb,” Ursula said.
“Ice pack, on it,” Caleb said, and quickly disappeared out the door.
“Let me see,” Ursula said to Stiles as she sat beside him and held out her hand.
Stiles glanced at Derek before gingerly setting his hand in hers.
“Don’t be afraid,” Ursula said. “I’ve raised four children, and trust me, a potentially broken bone in the hand is small potatoes to some of the things I’ve seen.”
“Yeah, but they healed without needing a cast,” Stiles said.
“You’re not going to need a cast,” Ursula said as she gently tested the bones in Stiles’ hand as he winced with each careful poke and prod.
Suddenly the pain was gone and Stiles was light headed with it. “Thank you,” he said. “But why didn’t you do that before you poked at it?”
“You wouldn’t have been able to tell me if something was broken if I’d taken your pain before I was done examining your hand,” Ursula patiently explained.
Ursula took the ice pack from Caleb, who’d returned to the study during the examination, and gently applied it to the back of Stiles’ hand. “Keep it on for at least 20 minutes to keep it from swelling,” Ursula said, then rose to her feet.
Ursula turned to Derek. “We’ll talk again.”
“I look forward to it,” Derek said, fooling absolutely no one in the room. “Can you stand, or do you need someone to carry you?” Derek asked Stiles.
“I can walk, asshole,” Stiles muttered, then realized where he was and just how good the hearing was of everyone else in the room. “Uh . . . ,” Stiles said, trying to come up with something that would get him out of whatever pile of faux pas he’d stepped into.
Stiles gave up. “Oh, screw it,” he said as he pushed to his feet. “Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Ursula, Caleb, it was a pleasure that I hope never to repeat.” Stiles held up his hand. “Thanks for the ice pack.”
“You’re welcome,” Ursula said with a hint of amusement, but Stiles was already out the door and headed down the hall. Cora’d had the right idea, Stiles thought as he made his escape.
Cora stood next to the Toyota, arms crossed, shoulders stiff, her back straight as if she’d been strapped to the pole that was often shoved up Derek’s ass. She looked like she wanted to hit someone. Stiles didn’t stop walking until he reached the backseat door on the driver’s side. Derek was right behind him and he carefully closed the door after Stiles had gotten settled.
Cora got in and slammed her door. Derek closed his own with controlled anger. He waited until they were a couple miles down the road before speaking.
“What did you think you were doing back there?”
“I was being honest,” Cora snapped.
“You could’ve broken Stiles’ hand!” Derek said, to both their surprise.
Cora glanced into the back and looked at the ice pack on Stiles’ hand as if it was the first time she was seeing it. “I . . . .” Cora turned back around and started out her window. “Sorry about your hand,” she finally said.
“It’s okay,” Stiles said. “Not in the okay to do it again way,” he quickly clarified. “I just meant, I know you didn’t do it on purpose.”
The rest of the drive back to the motel was made in silence. Cora threw herself out of the vehicle the moment it had come to a stop.
“Cora,” Derek said. “Wait.”
Surprisingly, Cora did, but her entire body vibrated with the need to take off and burn off some of the nervous energy that had built up over the last hour. Derek got out and opened Stiles’ door as if he was some damsel in distress before walking around the car to Cora.
They spoke softly enough that Stiles couldn’t hear them, but when he glanced over the hood Derek had pulled Cora into a hug. Stiles wanted to stare, because the idea of Derek giving anyone a hug was a foreign concept to him, but instead he turned his back to give them the illusion of privacy and leaned against the side of the Toyota.
“Don’t go too far,” Stiles heard Derek say, and then Derek strode past Stiles to unlock the door to their motel room.
Stiles glanced over his shoulder before following Derek into the room, but there was no sign of Cora.
Stiles was sprawled across the bed on his back, his head hanging over the side, bored because Derek had commandeered his laptop when he’d produced the re-frozen ice pack for Stiles to put back onto his hand (there almost hadn’t been room for it in the tiny frosted over freezer area inside the small refrigerator that was in their room, but Derek had used his claws to dig out enough of the ice to make room for the ice pack and to allow him to close the door) when his cell phone rang.
“I got your text,” Scott said, “but I couldn’t call you back because I was working. Why do you want Peter?”
“I didn’t say that I want Peter,” Stiles clarified. “But I do think he might have some information we can use.”
“You think he’ll actually tell us?” Scott said, sounding skeptical.
“Only if it somehow benefits him,” Stiles said. “Oh, hey!” Stiles said, sitting up so quickly that the room spun. He looked at Derek, who was glaring at him with almost-concern. “Peter! Can we give them Peter? He has the same genes, right?”
And it would kill two birds with one stone; get Peter out of their hair, and Ursula off Derek’s back.
“Oh, can we?” Cora said enthusiastically.
Derek sighed. “We’re trying to prevent a pack war.”
“So that’s a no?” Stiles said, disappointed. “Derek says we can’t give them Peter,” he told Scott.
“Too bad,” Scott commiserated.
“It was a good idea,” Scott said.
“Damn skippy,” Stiles said, lying back down, this time so his head wasn’t hanging over the edge. “Do you think you can find him?” he asked. Peter had so many bolt holes it was impossible to find him sometimes.
“We’ll find him,” Scott said determinedly, even if ‘I don’t know why we’d want to’ was still implied.
“What’s been going on in Beacon Hills,” Stiles asked.
“You’ve been gone less than a day and a half,” Scott said dryly. But then he proceeded to tell Stiles everything he’d missed in the last 24+ hours, including the fact that they’d taken dinner to Stiles’ dad at the Sheriff Department where he was working a second shift so he didn’t go home to an empty house and worry about Stiles.
“Thanks,” Stiles said.
“No problem, man,” Scott said. “You don’t have to thank me, you know I’ve got your back.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “I do know. I’ll let you get back to work. Just . . . call me as soon as you find Peter.”
“Or if Deaton hears anything.”
“Or if L–.”
“Stiles, I will!”
“Find anything?” Stiles asked Derek after he ended the call with Scott.
“You mean in the five minutes since you asked me last time?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “No.”
“I found something,” Cora said, sounding a little bit horrified.
“What?” Stiles and Derek both said.
“Did you know that some werewolves are born with self-lubricating anuses?”
“Oh my god,” Derek said. He looked as horrified as Cora had sounded.
Stiles sighed. “Cora, I pointed out the porn so you’d stay away from it, not consult it for research.”
“I can’t believe some of the stuff I’m reading.”
“Then stop reading it,” Derek suggested.
“Are you kidding me? This stuff is pure gold.”
Stiles rolled off the bed and stuck the now warm ice pack back into the tiny freezer box. “I’m going for a walk,” he announced.
Derek immediately closed Stiles’ laptop and stood up. “I’ll go with you.”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” Stiles said.
“You’re getting one, anyway,” Derek said.
“Think of him as your bodyguard,” Cora said. “You can be Whitney Houston.”
“Haha,” Stiles said. “Shouldn’t Cora be the one to go with me, then?”
Derek actually looked . . . hurt by that suggestion before his mask was back in place. “If you want . . . ,” he began stiffly.
“I just meant,” Stiles interrupted, “since I’m supposedly here to see Cora.” Which was their cover story.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Cora announced.
“If any of Ursula’s pack asks, we’ll tell them she’s in the room sulking.”
Cora shot Derek the finger without taking her eyes off the screen.
“Don’t read werewolf porn all afternoon,” Stiles said as Derek pushed him out the door. “It’ll rot your brain.”
“What did you have in mind?” Derek asked when they stood in the parking lot.
Stiles shrugged. “I was just feeling cooped up.”
Derek nodded. “Pick a direction and we’ll explore.”
Stiles chose left and they started walking. “You’ve probably seen everything already.”
“You haven’t,” Derek said, and then he didn’t speak another word for the next ten minutes.
When Derek did speak, it was to point out places he thought Stiles might enjoy checking out while he was in town. A video game arcade (“You’d go to a video game arcade with me?” “I’d send Cora.”), a gym with a rock wall (“Have you climbed it? Oh, right,” when Derek’s eyebrows spoke for him. “You’re too good for the rock wall. You eat rock walls for breakfast.” “Shut up, Stiles.”), a movie theater (Stiles had no comment for that because he was too busy checking out the ‘currently playing’ posters), and the public beach (“Will you put sun screen on my back?” “If it’ll keep you from bitching about sunburn.” “My nose *blistered, Derek. And every time I went outside for a month I had to cover my nose because it was sensitive.” “Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.”).
They stopped at a gift shop and Stiles picked out postcards to send to his dad and Scott. One advertized the local dog park. Stiles wrote on the back ‘Wish you were here!’ The other advertized some of the local eateries and had pictures of an ice cream sundae, a pie, a cheeseburger, and pizza on the front. Stiles carefully X’d out each of the photos and wrote on the back, “No matter what the Mrs. Smith and Deen say, sugar and grease are not your friend. Big brother is watching you!’
“Creepy,” Derek said. “And if you sent me the other one, I’d punch you in the face.”
“Still a little sensitive to the dog jokes?” Stiles said.
Stiles also found a t-shirt for Derek. It had pictures of some of the local attractions on the front and said, ‘Once you visit Crescent Lake, you’ll never want to leave!’
“Hey. Truer words,” Stiles said as he held the t-shirt up for Derek to read.
Derek frowned. Stiles laughed.
“I mean, the irony.”
Derek’s frown deepened. Stiles laughed harder. Derek took the t-shirt out of Stiles’ hand and hung it back on the rack before steering Stiles out of the shop.
After they mailed the postcards, Stiles said, “I’m hungry.”
Derek called Cora and said, “Lanie’s,” and then hung up.
Despite it being after one o’clock, Lanie’s was still busy. They ordered cold drinks and sat on a bench in the shade to wait for a table to open. They’d just been seated on the patio, the umbrella tilted to block the direct sunlight, when Cora arrived. Stiles thought it was patently unfair that she’d probably run the entire way and she wasn’t even out of breath. But he wasn’t stupid enough to say so out loud.
They each ordered a sandwich, which came with pickles and homemade chips, and shared a huge basket of homemade fries. And by ‘shared’, Stiles meant that Cora ate her share and some of Stiles’. She probably would’ve eaten some of Derek’s if he hadn’t growled and flashed his eyes at her.
“Sheesh, it’s just fries,” Cora said, as if she hadn’t just sprouted claws when Stiles tried to reach into the basket at the same time she did.
Stiles didn’t even feel the slightest bit guilty about denying his dad the treat when they stopped for ice cream on the way back to the motel.
As it turned out, Stiles did have time to go to the beach and try out the rock wall. You could only stare at the computer screen for so long (or share a room with two other people) before you went crazy, and with four people searching through Peter’s files, they eventually covered all of them, each then double-checking the others’ work. (Stiles even braved the folder labeled ‘Porn’ thinking that it would be just like Peter to hide something there. Unfortunately, it was just porn, and Stiles could honestly say that he’d never wanted to know what kind of porn Peter preferred.)
The next afternoon, when the walls were closing in on them and they’d started sniping at each other over nothing, Derek said, “Come on,” and took them to the gym. Stiles climbed the rock wall with Cora beside him offering what she called encouragement and what Stiles called mockery, just before she scampered to the top, and with Derek standing below to catch him if he fell. Stiles wasn’t sure which was more emasculating, really.
That evening, after dinner they stopped at the arcade and Cora accepted Stiles’ challenge while Derek sat on a bench outside and kept watch. To both their surprise, Cora kind of sucked at video games. She had better reflexes than Stiles, but she was too impatient. After the rock wall incident, Stiles was not a gracious winner.
Getting nowhere fast was easier to bear at the beach than it had been in the small motel room. Derek sat on the towels with them, and he even put sun screen on Stiles’ back (and a glob on his nose), but he refused to join them in the water. So Stiles brought the water to Derek by shaking all over him. Cora took it one step further and squeezed the water out of her hair over Derek. Derek grabbed them both and easily carried them into the water and dunked them, getting himself soaked in the process and all three of them thrown off the beach. He claimed it was worth walking back to the motel in wet clothes.
Ursula left them alone for two days. “I’m sure she has other pack responsibilities,” Derek said.
Softening them up for the kill, was Stiles’ take on the matter.
Stiles thought it was ironic that not two minutes after Ursula called to invite them to dinner the next evening, Scott called to tell them that they’d found Peter. Stiles put Scott on speaker.
“What did Peter say?” Derek asked.
“He, uh, said that he was only aware of one exception to the challenge, but it’s tricky. Some people consider the mate bond unchallengeable once the relationship has been consummated,” Scott said, sounding uncomfortable. “Others require the female to become pregnant before the bond is, uh, inviolable. Does that help?”
“No really,” Stiles said, disappointed. “Tell me his exact words.”
“Does it matter?” Scott said.
“Yes. Peter uses words like a weapon, and he likes to hide meanings in them, like a riddle.”
Scott sighed. “Okay. He said the thing about consummating the relationship, but for the other he used the words ‘get knocked up’. Does that mean anything?”
Stiles looked at Derek, who shrugged, and then Cora, who said, “Not to me.”
“I don’t know,” Stiles said to Scott. “I’ll have to think about it. Did he have any suggestion for getting out of this situation without it coming to a challenge?”
“No,” Scott said. “Actually, he seemed to think it was kind of hilarious. Sorry.”
Stiles sighed. “Of course he did. Probably the only thing he was upset about was not being here to watch, or to manipulate everything behind the scenes. Deaton?”
“Nothing yet,” Scott said. “Unless you don’t think we need to be discreet anymore.”
They were constrained by the fact that they didn’t want Ursula, or anyone in the Palmer pack, to get wind of the fact that they were looking for a way out for Derek.
“No,” Derek told Scott.
“Let’s continue to be cautious,” Stiles said. “There may come a time when we need to rethink that, but for now . . . .”
After the call was disconnected, the three of them sat there, glum. It wasn’t as if Stiles had held a lot of faith that Peter would be a big help, or any help at all, but it was disappointing nonetheless.
“I could use a drink,” Stiles said. “But since you guys can’t get drunk and I’m underage, I’ll accept popcorn as a substitute.”
“Popcorn?” Derek said suspiciously.
“Yep. We’re going to the movies.”
Stiles needed to do a load of laundry before they went out to Ursula’s. Derek and Cora went with him and did a load of their own. They went next door to Gino’s Pizza while their clothes washed. Cora hit up the convenience store for drinks and snacks while Derek and Stiles dried and folded the clothes, and they met back up in the motel room to get ready for their next meeting with Ursula.
While they were alone at the laundry mat, Stiles asked Derek, “Does Peter know about, well, me? The whole . . . .” He gestured between him and Derek.
Derek raised his eyebrows. “No.”
“Are you sure?” Stiles said.
“I didn’t tell him,” Derek said. “I didn’t tell anyone.”
“It’s just, what he told Scott, it’s like he knows more than he’s saying.”
“Peter always knows more than he says.”
Stiles couldn’t argue with that.
The gathering this time was smaller than the last time Stiles had been “invited” to join them for dinner. It only took Stiles two seconds to figure out that the only other people in attendance, besides Ursula and Caleb, were unattached males and females of marriageable age. He snorted.
“A singles mixer, are you kidding me? No, it’s cool,” Stiles said at Ursula’s look. “I love these things. I never feel out of place at all.”
Stiles grabbed a bottle of iced tea from the ice cooler wishing that werewolves could get drunk so he could’ve snagged a beer – it’s not like anyone here would try to stop him.
“Mingle,” Stiles told Derek and Cora before he left. “And don’t forget to use your words.”
Stiles went out the back, through the large sun porch – slash – dining area and onto the back patio. He stepped out onto the grass and wandered from tree to flower bed to arbor, until he eventually found himself back at the jungle gym.
Stiles made sure the tea was capped tight and then climbed to the top. He sat there, surveying the grounds of the Palmer homestead and finished off his tea. He tried to imagine Derek and Cora making small talk with the young men and women of Ursula’s pack. He couldn’t. In his mind Derek stood in a shadowy corner, arms crossed defensively over his chest, a familiar glower on his face. Cora’s expression was much the same as Derek’s, though she’d accept the comfort of one of the chairs and dare anyone to talk to her.
Before Ursula had dragged Cora into this mess, probably in hopes that Derek would sacrifice himself for his sister, Cora would probably have made an effort, but if the way she muttered, “I’ll show her broodmare,” before they got into Derek’s Toyota was any indication, she was no longer in any frame of mind to try to smooth things over.
And neither was Stiles. He’d been fine until they got here and he realized that Ursula had upped the ante. Instead of the family get-together Stiles had been expecting, he, they, had been blind-sided by what was essentially a blind date, if you didn’t mind dating more than one person at a time.
Stiles had no idea why he was as upset about this as he was. It wasn’t as if Derek hadn’t been dealing with this sort of thing for the past few weeks. And it wasn’t like Derek couldn’t handle it. Or would suddenly change his mind and choose to marry one of the eligible females in Ursula’s pack. Or that it was any of Stiles’ business if Derek did change his mind. It wasn’t as if Stiles actually believed he was Derek’s mate, or that he wanted to be.
“Arrgh!” Stiles growled.
He recapped the bottle and slid backwards until the back of his knees were hooked over the bar and let himself fall until he hung upside down. Stiles stretched his arms above his head and let the bottle fall the short distance to the ground, giving it enough of a push that it rolled away from him. The last thing he needed was to fall and land on the bottle and cut himself. He’d never live it down.
Stiles left his arms hanging down and swung from the bar. The stretch in his back actually felt good. He closed his eyes and just breathed.
A soft crunch in the grass reached Stiles’ ears and he slowly opened his eyes. His view was filled with a pair of denim-covered knees. He raised his gaze until he could take in Derek’s surly face.
“Hey, sunshine,” Stiles said.
Derek looked like he wanted to smack Stiles upside the head, but instead he said, “You left.”
“Yeah, I felt like a fifth wheel in there.” Or would that be seventh, since there had been two males and two females for Derek and Cora to get to know? And he’d been upset, which was something he wasn’t going to explore too deeply, or tell Derek about.
“It’s time to eat,” Derek said.
“Done playing Spin the Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven already?” At Derek’s look, Stiles said, “I’m not hungry.”
“Cora ruined one of the throw pillows.”
Stiles imagined stuffing going everywhere when Cora clawed the pillow and smiled. The corner of Derek’s mouth curled.
“What did you ruin?”
“Nothing,” Derek said.
“Did you talk to anyone?”
“One word answers?” Stiles guessed.
Derek didn’t say anything, which was answer enough.
“Join me,” Stiles said, indicating the jungle gym. “We can hang out here.”
Derek gave Stiles a look. “Weak,” he said. “And I’m not climbing the jungle gym.”
Derek’s gaze moved from Stiles’ face to where his shirt had fallen to the effects of gravity and exposed his belly. Stiles didn’t bother trying to pull it back down because it would’ve been a wasted effort the moment he let go of it.
“I guess it is,” Derek said.
It took Stiles a moment to remember what Derek was even replying to. For some reason, the way Derek was looking at him made Stiles feel all tingly in places he wasn’t used to getting tingly on behalf of Derek Hale.
“Come on,” Stiles cajoled.
“Your eyebrows say no, but your eyes say you can be convinced.”
Stiles just grinned when Derek crossed his arms over his chest and glared.
“Um,” a soft feminine voice said. “Sorry to interrupt.”
Stiles first reaction was irritation, but he tried to tamp it down.
“Keira, right?” Stiles said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.
“Yes. Aunt Ursula asked me to let you know that dinner is ready,” Keira said, carefully not looking at Derek, who’d originally been sent to get Stiles.
“Did she,” Stiles said. “How’s your boyfriend?”
Keira’s face did the same thing Cora’s did when she wanted to smack Stiles upside the head and was only holding herself back out of sheer determination.
“Sorry,” Stiles said. He sighed. “Sorry. I know this situation isn’t your fault. Join us,” Stiles added.
“We should get back,” Keira said, glancing at the house.
“Isn’t the whole purpose of this shindig so you can get to know Derek? Well, if you join us for a few minutes I’ll go inside like a good boy, and Derek will tell you one personal thing about himself.”
“No,” Derek growled.
“Alright,” Stiles amended. “I’ll tell you one personal thing about Derek.”
Keira leaned against the jungle gym, hooking her arms around the bars and studying Stiles. “Will you tell me why you’re hanging there like that?”
Stiles stretched his arms above his head, fingers reaching for the ground. “It’s relaxing,” he told Keira. “Stretches the spine, the muscles. Or I could be part bat. A were-bat. Is there such a thing?”
Derek rolled his eyes. Keira looked like she wondered what she’d gotten herself into.
“You probably don’t have to worry about your bones crunching together or achy muscles.”
“No,” Keira said.
“Are you in college?” Stiles asked.
“Yes,” Keira said.
“Wow,” Stiles said. “You and Derek have that monosyllabic thing in common, at least.”
Derek and Keira both glared at him, and Stiles laughed. “Oh my god, don’t!” he said between chuckles, grabbing at his belly. “Something else you have in common.”
Derek unexpectedly and suddenly leapt to the top of the jungle gym and swiped at Stiles’ legs. Stiles flailed – hands and feet – and nearly fell on his head.
“Oh my god!” Stiles said as he swung from the one knee still hooked over the bar. “What the hell, Derek!”
Keira covered her mouth, but Stiles still heard the small laugh.
“It’s not funny,” Stiles grumbled as he got his other leg hooked back over the bar. “Something else you two have in common,” he said as Keira’s soft laughter turned into a little bit of a chortle and Derek smirked down at him. “Awful senses of humor.”
“We don’t have to take this,” Keira told Derek.
“You’re right. Let’s go eat. Stiles can hang out here,” Derek agreed as he jumped to the ground.
“Oh, haha,” Stiles said. Derek and Keira both ignored him. “Hey! You guys! Wait for me!” Stiles nearly broke his neck trying to get down quickly so he could catch up to Derek and Keira.
All three of them had headaches by the time the evening was over.
“I didn’t think werewolves could get headaches,” Stiles said.
“If they hang out around you long enough, it’s inevitable,” Cora said.
“Werewolves,” Stiles said, “a laugh a minute. But seriously, does aspirin help?”
“No,” Derek said. “Silence does, though.”
“Grumpy wolf,” Stiles said.
“I’ve got the first run,” Derek said.
Cora flopped down on her bed. “Fine. Whatever.”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” Stiles said. “You can both go for a run.”
What they both did was ignore him. Derek got changed and Cora turned on her laptop. Stiles thought about checking his own laptop, but after finding a lot of nothing, even the thought of making another attempt was discouraging. He could call Scott. In fact, he should call Scott, but talking about how little they’d found out didn’t seem like fun. He could read, but right now even that didn’t hold any appeal for him.
“I’m gonna sit outside,” Stiles told Cora. “I need some air.”
“Don’t go far,” Cora said, not taking her eyes off the screen.
Stiles chanced waving his hand between Cora’s gaze and the screen, earning himself a glare, but thankfully emerging with all of his fingers intact. “Seriously,” he told her. “Rot. Your. Brain.”
Cora bared her teeth at him and returned to her reading.
It had cooled off a bit with the setting of the sun, so only one determined family was left at the pool. Stiles claimed a spot away from them and stretched out on a lounge chair. He twirled his phone between his fingers and gave some more thought to calling Scott. He ended up calling his dad because he wanted to speak with someone, but he didn’t want to think about the werewolf mess he was embroiled in. Mostly because he didn’t want thoughts of mates and Derek taking up the same brain space.
Aside from a Troll sneaking back into Beacon Hills and trying to lay claim to one of the bridges just outside of town and scaring a pair of young lovers who’d been walking across it in violation of some Troll-ish rule of remuneration, everything was quiet in Beacon Hills. At least on the supernatural front. There were the usual traffic accidents, domestic calls and shop lifting incidents with bored students looking for something to occupy their time now that school was out for the summer.
Stiles didn’t mention the werewolf business that had brought him to Crescent Lake, and his dad didn’t ask about it. Almost as if he knew that Stiles needed a break from it. After they hung up Stiles stared at his phone and reconsidered calling Scott. He really should update Scott on the latest, and find out if they’d discovered anything pertinent, even though he was certain Scott would’ve called to tell him if they had.
“You should go home,” Derek said at Stiles’ shoulder.
Stiles fumbled the phone and it nearly hit the concrete pad around the pool twice before he got a firm grip on it. “Jesus, Derek!” Stiles hissed, then checked to see if the kids were still in the pool – they weren’t, their corner table vacated when it got too dark or too cool.
When Stiles glanced at him, Derek didn’t even look amused by the fact that he’d startled Stiles.
“You should go home,” Derek said again. “It’s just a waiting game now. If she doesn’t find out who my mate is, she can’t do anything. She’ll eventually tire of trying to convince us.”
“You can’t be sure of that,” Stiles said. “That she’ll get tired of the game. Seems to me she’s the type of person who doesn’t like to be told ‘no’. It might be the principle of the thing now.”
“Either way,” Derek said. “There’s nothing you can do unless we find something in the lore. And you’ll be safer.”
“I don’t care about that,” Stiles said.
“I do,” Derek said. “You’ll go back tomorrow.”
Stiles stared at Derek’s back as he walked away. It was the out he wanted, wasn’t it? Derek wasn’t in any danger, he was just being inconvenienced. He could pack up tomorrow morning and be back in Beacon Hills in time for a late lunch. He could go bowling with Scott and play video games and forget all about Derek and mates.
Stiles sighed and called Scott. “Find anything new?” he asked when Scott answered.
“Nothing yet,” Scott said, apology in his tone. “Peter’s disappeared again, though.”
“Congratulations,” Stiles said.
They talked for almost half an hour before Scott had to go.
Stiles did not stay there and wait for Cora to return solely because he didn’t want to be alone with Derek in the small motel room.
“Derek wants me to leave,” Stiles told Cora when she came back from her run.
“He wants you to be safe,” Cora said.
Stiles waited a few minutes more before following Cora to the room and getting ready for bed. It almost didn’t seem strange to slide under the covers next to Derek.
Derek was glaring a hole through Stiles the next morning in an attempt to convince him to leave, when suddenly he went rigid. He looked at the door as if he could see through it, head tilted to the side like a Labrador Retriever. Suddenly Derek surged up out of the chair and placed himself between the front door and where Stiles and Cora were sitting on their respective beds. Cora leapt off the mattress and stood stiff and agitated between the beds. Stiles, not wanting to be at a disadvantage should something be going down, slid off the bed and stood beside her.
“What is it?” Stiles whispered, wondering if Ursula had finally tired of playing nice.
“Uncle Peter,” Cora said with distaste.
Before Stiles had a chance to make those words make sense, Derek threw the door open and growled, “What do you want?”
“Is that any way to treat one of your few remaining relatives?” Peter said.
“Great,” Stiles muttered. “Just what this situation needed.”
“Ah, Stiles,” Peter said as he pushed past Derek and stepped into the motel room. “How I’ve missed your wit.”
Peter looked around the room, taking note of the clothes scattered about (though they tried to keep things picked up lest the room start feeling even smaller, some mess was inevitable) and the two beds. “Well, isn’t this cozy.”
Derek ignored the innuendo. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to help, of course.”
Three snorts filled the silence in the room at that statement.
“What are you really doing here?” Cora said.
“I got bored,” Peter said. “Beacon Hills has been lonely without you.”
“But not quiet,” Stiles said. “If you were so bored you could’ve lent a hand at any time.”
“I wasn’t that bored,” Peter said.
“Of course not,” Stiles said.
“Seriously, Peter,” Derek said. “What do you want?”
“What, I can’t want to visit my family, offer assistance when they’re in need?”
“Only if there’s something in it for you,” Derek said.
“The well-being of my family isn’t enough?”
“Not usually,” Cora said.
“I’d like to meet the prospective in-laws,” Peter said.
“What?” Derek said. “No! Absolutely not.”
Which was, of course, the wrong thing to say. Because Peter would’ve gone with or without them, Derek did what he could to minimize the damage. He called Ursula, told her that Peter had come to town, and asked if they could dome out for a visit. From the self-satisfied smirk on Peter’s face, and the frown on Derek’s, Ursula agreed.
“We’re meeting her for lunch at one o’clock,” Derek said, and then he turned his unhappy glare onto Stiles. “By which time you will be halfway back to Beacon Hills.”
“Will not,” Stiles said, just to watch the steam come out of Derek’s ears.
“You might as well let him stay,” Peter said. “He’ll be no safer in Beacon Hills.”
“What?” Derek and Stiles both said.
Derek growled the word, from Stiles it was more of a squeak.
“The mate challenge can be made in absentia,” Peter went on as if they hadn’t spoken.
“What?” Derek and Stiles said again, in approximately the same tone as previously.
Stiles cleared his throat. “I mean, what do you mean by that?”
“What I mean,” Peter said, “is that Derek doesn’t have to produce his mate for Ursula, or one of her pack, to issue the challenge.”
“So just the fact of issuing the challenge can break the mate bond?” Derek said.
“If the mate isn’t there to defend it, yes,” Peter said.
“So, what, uh, what does that have to do with me?” Stiles said.
“Oh,” Peter said. “Are we still playing the game where we pretend we don’t know that you’re Derek’s mate?”
“How . . . ? You said he didn’t know!” Stiles hissed at Derek.
“Oh, Derek didn’t tell me,” Peter said.
“Then how did you know?”
“I felt it, the moment Derek realized he had a mate, and you were it.”
“You felt it? When?” Stiles demanded.
“Stiles . . . ,” Derek began.
Stiles slashed his hand through the air to silence Derek. “When?”
“That night in the hospital,” Peter said. “The night of the storm.”
“The night Jennifer took my dad,” Stiles said, the memory of his fear making his voice quaver. “What . . . ?” He looked at Derek.
“If Ursula can challenge the bond with or without the mate present, Stiles is still safer in Beacon Hills,” Derek said stubbornly.
“Why?” Stiles said. “So she can just break the bond without a fight? If you want to break the bond so badly, why don’t you just accept her offer?”
“Because I don’t want to accept her offer,” Derek said.
“But you do want to break the bond,” Stiles said, feeling more upset about that than he thought he should.
“I don’t . . . .” Derek sighed. “Can we talk about this later?”
“No,” Stiles said. “If I’m going to fight and die for you, then I deserve to know.”
“You’re not going to fight or die for me,” Derek growled.
“Why don’t you show me where I can get breakfast,” Peter suggested to Cora. “I’m famished.”
“Fine, but you’re buying,” Cora said.
Stiles barely heard the door close behind them when Peter and Cora made their escape.
“Do you want to break the bond?” Stiles demanded.
“No, Stiles, I don’t want to break the bond,” Derek said angrily.
“But you’re not happy about it,” Stiles said.
Derek sighed. “Stiles, you’re 17. And things change. Just look at Scott and Allison.”
“Are you afraid that’ll happen to us?”
Derek gave a humorless laugh. “To be honest, Stiles, I didn’t think anything would ever happen between us.”
“Why not?” Stiles said, trying to sound more offended than hurt. Why should he be hurt? He’d never thought of Derek as a potential love interest (spank bank material, yes, but that didn’t count) before he’d found out about the bond.
“It’s difficult to imagine a future with someone who doesn’t even like you,” Derek said.
“I like you,” Stiles said. “Well enough.”
Derek gave Stiles a look, and Stiles couldn’t help grinning.
“Okay,” Stiles said. “We’ll figure the whole bond thing out later. Once we’ve saved you from a fate worse than death.”
Derek’s eyebrows said that listening to Stiles might be a fate worse than death.
“Just don’t . . . don’t ask me to leave again,” Stiles said. “Because I’m not leaving, and we shouldn’t waste precious time arguing over it.”
“It’s not your turn to save me,” Derek said.
“Who’s keeping score?” Stiles said.
“I thought you were,” Derek said.
“Yeah, well . . . .”
Stiles and Derek got breakfast. They stayed away from the motel (and Peter) until it was time to leave for lunch with Ursula and whoever she’d rounded up.
“I hate you both,” Cora said and took the front seat so Stiles had to sit in the back with Peter.
Stiles pushed into the house ahead of Derek when Caleb opened the door. “I’d apologize on behalf of myself, Derek and Cora, and all of Beacon Hills, but frankly, you’ve brought this on yourself,” he said.
Stiles didn’t hang around for introductions, and instead found Keira in the family room indulging in a Firefly marathon. Cora soon joined them, and then some familiar faces from the Palmer pack (including Gabriel and an ever bigger, if that was possible, Faith). Derek eventually wandered in.
“Is it safe to leave them alone with Peter?” Stiles said, turning his gaze back to the television screen after taking in the tense line of Derek’s shoulders.
“I’d say that he couldn’t possibly make things worse, but I’m afraid of jinxing myself,” Derek said.
“I still think we should give ‘em Peter,” Stiles said, as if he wasn’t sitting amongst some of the ‘them’.
“Oh, gross!” Keira said, which set Stiles off.
“We found your missing werewolf,” Stiles told Scott when he called him later that afternoon.
“Yeah, he drove up to show Derek and Cora his ‘support’,” Stiles said dryly.
“Where is he now?” Scott asked, probably wondering if they could speak freely.
“He’s out at the Palmer house,” Stiles said.
“You let him go out there alone?” Scott said.
“First of all, no one lets Peter do anything, and secondly, no. What do you think we are, idiots? Peter wanted to meet Ursula, so we all went out together, only when it came time to leave Peter wanted to stay and visit some more.
“Oh my god,” Scott said.
“Tell me about it. The reason I called . . . .”
“That wasn’t it?” Scott said, sounding alarmed.
“Yes, that was it, but the reason I was calling to tell you was because, you know, the reason Derek didn’t just hightail it out of here after the first time he declined Ursula’s offer was because of werewolf politics. He didn’t want to make trouble for you with the Palmer pack. But I don’t think Peter will have the same compunction.”
“You think he’ll cause trouble?”
“You think he won’t? Peter will do whatever benefits him,” Stiles said. “And there’s something else.”
“Oh, god, what?”
“Peter said that the mate doesn’t have to be present in order to issue a challenge, that they could do it in absentia.”
“Which means what? In practical terms, I mean.”
“It means that Derek’s claim to have a mate doesn’t mean diddly squat because even if he doesn’t tell them who it is, especially if he doesn’t tell them who it is, because he doesn’t want them to get killed, they can still forcibly break the bond. If his mate doesn’t show up to defend their bond, it’s effectively broken.”
“That’s not fair!” Scott said.
Instead of reminding Scott that life wasn’t fair, Stiles said, “Tell me about it.”
“So Derek’s screwed either way,” Scott said. “Because he doesn’t have a mate at all.”
“Yeah, about that,” Stiles said.
By the time he and Scott hung up, Stiles had a headache. Derek, who’d sat right there on the bed and listened to both sides of the conversation, walked over to the chair Stiles sat in and dug his fingers into Stiles’ scalp.
“Oh my god,” Stiles moaned. “Could you, like, feel my pain, or something?”
“No,” Derek said.
“So you’re not doing this because my having a headache is giving you a headache?”
“You always give me a headache,” Derek said automatically, but he didn’t stop massaging Stiles’ scalp.
“Is this one of the perks of being a mate?” Stiles said, too punch drunk on Derek’s fingers to keep track of what his mouth was saying.
Derek’s fingers barely hesitated. “No.”
“Bummer,” Stiles sighed.
“Okay, I need to go for a walk,” Cora said. “You guys aren’t even naked and you’re worse than porn.”
“Shouldn’t that be ‘better than porn’?” Stiles said.
“Not in this case,” Cora said.
“Scott’s got a plan,” Stiles said.
“So I heard.”
“Do you think it’s gonna work?”
“We don’t even know what it is,” Derek said.
Stiles bit back a moan of protest when Derek ended the head rub and took the seat across from him.
“Yeah, but generally speaking, Scott’s plans tend to work out in the end, right? Even if it is dumb luck.”
“I’d rather not rely on dumb luck,” Derek said.
They sat in silence for a moment as they both contemplated that.
“So, are we going to leave?” Stiles said.
After going ballistic over the whole ‘Stiles being Derek’s mate’ thing, Scott had told Stiles to tell Derek to just leave, that he didn’t care whether it affected future relations with the Palmer pack.
“He doesn’t understand werewolf politics,” Derek said. “He flies by the seat of his pants and crosses his fingers.”
“We’re kind of screwed, though, if Ursula issues a challenge in absentia.”
“You’ll be fine,” Derek said. “You’ll go back to Beacon Hills and . . . .”
“Fuck that!” Stiles said. “I thought you said you weren’t a martyr?”
“I’m not going to throw myself on the sacrificial altar, if that’s what you’re worried about. I just want you out of Crescent Lake and well on your way back to Beacon Hills before we pull that.”
Stiles shook his head. “It’s not going to work. And not just because I’d worry about you,” Stiles added before Derek could argue. “Uh, you guys. But because it might look fishy and she might realize something’s up if you send me off ahead.”
Cora pushed the door open and entered with one hand over her eyes. “Is it safe?” she said.
“Funny,” Stiles said, but he felt heat creep up his neck.
Cora threw herself on the bed. “I think Ursula had one of her goons following me.”
“What?” Derek said, coming half out of his chair in his agitation.
“I thought they weren’t goons,” Stiles said.
“They are now that she wants to turn me into a baby-making machine,” Cora groused.
“Did they do anything?” Derek asked.
“No,” Cora said, waving her hand. “They stayed just out of range, like an itch under my skin. It was just really aggravating.”
“We’re leaving,” Derek said. “Right now. Pack your bags.”
“Yes!” Stiles hissed and gave a little fist pump.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Cora said.
Stiles looked at Cora as if she’d lost her mind. “Have you lost your mind?” he said. “We’re getting Derek out of here. We’re getting you out of here. Before Ursula decides to hold a shotgun wedding, or two, complete with wolfsbane bullets and mountain ash circles!”
Cora held up both hands in a ‘slow down’ gesture. “Hey, I’m the first in line to get out of town and avoid a marriage, but that kid doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing. His first thought is to protect you because you’re his friend. He’s not seeing the big picture here, the consequences of making an enemy of Ursula.”
“And I’d be the last person to argue that Scott isn’t impulsive, but I’m totally on Team Get Out of Town,” Stiles retorted. “We’ll take care of the fallout when that bridge presents itself.”
Cora and Stiles both turned to Derek.
“Chances are low that relations with the Palmer pack will remain cordial now that Peter’s on the scene, anyway. We’re getting out while we still can. If we still can. The fact that Ursula had you followed is a concern,” Derek directed to Cora.
“It feels like the net’s closing in,” Stiles said.
Almost as if it had been timed, Derek’s phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and glared at it. “Peter,” he said, the glare intensifying. “What?” Derek barked into the phone.
Stiles couldn’t hear Peter’s response, but he figured it was suitably snarky, given the expression on Derek’s face. During the course of the one-sided conversation, Derek’s expression went from irritated to thunder clouds.
“Fine,” Derek said, and then he ended the call, staring at the phone as if he wanted to throw it.
“What is it?” Stiles said, frustrated that he was the only one in the room who hadn’t heard both sides of the conversation.
“We’ve been summoned to the Palmer house for dinner,” Cora said.
“Peter accepted an invitation on our behalf,” Derek said, clearly not happy about it.
“Can’t we just decline?” Stiles said.
“We need to say our goodbyes, anyway,” Derek said. “We’ll do it then.”
He noticed Stiles’ look of surprise. “What, you thought we’d just skip town without a word?”
“Yes!” Stiles said. “That’s exactly what I thought!”
“We have to salvage as much as we can,” Derek told Stiles. To both Stiles and Cora he said, “Pack. I’m going to do a perimeter check.”
Neither one of them moved until the ‘click’ of the door closing behind Derek startled them into motion. Most all of Stiles’ clothes were in his duffel bag already. He brushed his teeth one last time and then tossed his toiletries into the bag. Stiles took more care packing his laptop into his backpack alongside some of the books he’d brought before he knew what kind of supernatural mess Derek had gotten himself into.
Stiles plopped down onto the bed and texted Scott, Dinner w Palmer pack then leaving
Stiles’ phone rang almost immediately. “Hey, Scott!”
“It’s Allison,” Allison said. “Scott’s driving and I wouldn’t let him talk on the phone.”
“Hi, Allison!” Stiles said.
“Hi, Stiles,” Allison said, and Stiles could hear the smile in her voice. “How are you doing?”
Stiles wasn’t sure if she meant in general, or whether Scott had told her about the whole mate thing.
“Okay, considering,” Stiles said vaguely.
“Considering what?” Allison pressed.
“Considering that I might have to watch Derek or Cora be married to people they don’t love,” Stiles said.
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Did Scott forget to tell you that Ursula made the offer to Cora, as well, probably in an attempt to force Derek’s hand?”
“I think he might have,” Allison said wryly. “What did Cora do?”
“She refused. In no uncertain terms,” Stiles said. “The term ‘broodmare’ was thrown around a bit.”
Allison chuckled. “Did Ursula know what hit her?”
“I don’t think so,” Stiles said, glancing at Cora, who was pretending not to listen to his conversation.
She let her eyes slide towards him, and then returned her attention (or most of it) to her computer.
“Scott wants directions to the Palmer place,” Allison said.
“In case they’ve already got the shotguns primed when we get there?”
Allison laughed. “Something like that.”
Stiles gave her directions, then said, “I’ll text you if we need the cavalry.”
“You do that,” Allison said. “Oh, and Stiles?”
“Be careful out there.”
“Haha,” Stiles said.
Derek came back and paced the room like a caged tiger.
“So, what time’s dinner?” Stiles said.
“Six,” Derek said tersely.
Stiles checked his watch. It was already going for five, but the hour stretched interminably long in front of them. “What are we going to do?”
Derek glared at him.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Stiles said. “We need to do something to take our mind off the upcoming confrontation.”
“There’s not going to be a confrontation,” Derek said.
“Then why are you so nervous?”
“I’m not nervous,” Derek said. “I’m just eager to get it over with.”
“Po-tay-to, po-tah-to,” Stiles said. “We could go to the arcade.”
“Hurts my ears,” Derek said.
Stiles’ mouth fell open. He soon closed it so he could talk. “I didn’t know that. Makes sense, I guess. Does it bother you?” he asked Cora. “I mean, you could’ve said.”
Cora shrugged. “I can block most of it out. Derek’s always been a little ‘sensitive’,” she added.
“I’m going to beat you unconscious,” Derek said, which just made Cora grin.
“Yes, I can see what you mean,” Stiles said.
In the end, they walked the village one last time. It marked the goodbye they were planning to say and got them out of the room, inside of which it felt like the walls were closing in. They loaded all their bags into Derek’s Toyota and rode out to the Palmer house together. In case anything went wrong and they had to make a quick getaway, Derek wanted them all in one vehicle. If everything went well, they’d stop for Stiles’ Jeep on the way out of town. If Stiles had to leave Betty behind, they’d send someone who wasn’t Derek or Cora or Stiles back to get her.
They were greeted warmly at the Palmer house. Stiles couldn’t help but feel like the other shoe was about to drop. Apparently Derek did too, because he tried to get Ursula aside so he could break the news to her that they were leaving, but she brushed him off gently and expertly with a kind, “Pack business after we’ve enjoyed the meal Geoffrey has prepared. It’s a feast fit for a king.”
Stiles’ guts clenched at her comment. Why would they have put together a feast unless she expected all her efforts to culminate in success tonight? Stiles wanted to leave right then. He touched the sleeve of Derek’s jacket to convey his unease, but Derek just pinched his lips together and gave a minute shake of his head. Stiles wanted to insist, but Peter appeared then and dragged Derek away with some comment about meeting someone. Derek had been there for over two weeks, did Peter really think there was someone Derek hadn’t met yet?
Before Stiles could protest, Faith was at his side. She drew Stiles further into the house and introduced him to Sheila, Geoffrey’s wife. Geoffrey was Ursula’s second son, and he was a chef, which boded well for dinner. Samuel showed up and hounded Stiles to push him on the swing. Keira eventually joined them with another rugrat, and the two children competed to go the highest.
Stiles had lost sight of Derek and Cora, though he suspected they were both being courted, if not by their intended partner, by the entire Palmer pack. It was almost as if Ursula knew they were planning to leave and was doing everything she could to prevent it. Stiles didn’t like it.
“What’s going on?” Stiles softly asked Keira.
She shrugged and whispered back, “I don’t know.”
She appeared tense, though, which meant she was lying, or she was just as worried about what was going down tonight as Stiles was. Before they could talk about it further, they were called to dinner. Eager to be done with the evening, Stiles checked his watch: 6:30.
Stiles was sat between Keira and Faith at the dinner table. Despite the tension in his own shoulders, dinner was a raucous event. Only the first few minutes when everyone dug in were silent. Between passing the plates around and conversation about their day and Peter and Ursula unexpectedly sharing stories about Talia Hale, dinner was jovial, despite Derek, Cora and surprisingly even Stiles, not contributing much.
After the meal was over, Stiles helped clear the table because he needed something to do. On one trip back to the table for another load, Ursula pulled him aside.
“Stiles,” Ursula said smoothly. “I feel like we haven’t had a chance to talk.”
Stiles raised his eyebrows in a poor imitation of Derek’s. “Your concentration was elsewhere.”
“Yes,” Ursula said, her gaze unerringly finding Derek, as if she knew where he was every moment. “How long have you and Derek been friends?”
Stiles snorted softly to himself. Of course she wanted to talk to him about Derek.
“We’re not friends,” Stiles said. “Not exactly. More like reluctant allies who end up saving each others’ lives. A lot.”
“That happens often?”
“You’d be surprised,” Stiles said wryly.
“Hmm. Oh, look, they’ve already set out the dessert. Shall we/”
Stiles thought he actually heard the tables groan with the weight of all the desserts. His stomach had been too twisted up with nerves to eat much of the dinner Geoffrey had put on, and his stomach reminded him of it now.
The children were called back in from playing and served first, then the adults dug in. There was a three-layer chocolate cake, two fruit pies – cherry and apple, a bowl of fresh sliced strawberries, and an angel food cake with the most delicious dip that Stiles later learned was made out of the unlikely combination of fluff and cream cheese, brownies and ice cream. There wasn’t a crumb left, and Stiles had a lot to do with that.
There were a few minutes of peace after dessert was eaten (or inhaled, in some instances), when those present sipped coffee and conversed in low tones. Ursula shattered Stiles’ zen when she pushed her chair back. Everyone still in the room, even the children, looked to her.
“Geoffrey cooked,” Ursula said, and her pack immediately stood and cleared the table, bickering good-naturedly amongst themselves as to whose turn it was to do clean up duties.
Ursula looked at Derek, Cora and Stiles one by one. They could hear her clearly over the hubbub when she said, “Won’t the three of you please join me in my office? And you, too, of course, Peter.”
Of course, Stiles thought snidely, wondering just how far up Ursula’s ass Peter had insinuated himself while he’d been there with her all afternoon. Stiles glanced over at Derek, but he was staring at Peter’s back, probably wonder what Peter might’ve told Ursula, and just how screwed they were. Stiles glanced at Cora, who met Stiles’ gaze with an expression nearly as worried as his own.
Ursula and Peter took the lead, with Caleb and Gregory, Ursula’s oldest son, bringing up the rear. It didn’t feel as if they were being led to the guillotine at all. In the hallway they met Keira just coming out of the kitchen. Ursula asked her to join them. Keira looked startled for a moment, and then she ducked her head and fell into line ahead of Stiles. But not before he saw the dread in her eyes. It looked like their plan to escape had just gone pear-shaped. With Peter there to ‘lend a hand,’ Stiles couldn’t even pretend to be the slightest bit surprised.
Ursula led them into her office, and then stopped in front of her desk and turned around to face them. The door shut behind them with a finality that made Keira jump. No, it didn’t feel like a firing squad at all.
“Now,” Ursula said. “Derek, dear, what was it you wanted to tell me?”
Derek didn’t hesitate, just straightened his shoulders (though that could’ve been Stiles’ imagination, since Derek’s shoulders had been pretty rigid to begin with), and plowed forward. “I wanted to let you know that we’re leaving. We appreciate the hospitality you’ve shown us, but it’s time that we return to Beacon Hills.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ursula said.
She didn’t sound sorry. She didn’t sound like someone who’d just lost, either.
“Before you head out, just one more thing.”
Stiles did not like the sound of that. He glanced over at Peter, but Peter had his back to the room, ostensibly studying the painting hanging above the fireplace, most likely hiding a smirk.
“Did you know that your mate doesn’t actually need to be present in order for someone to issue a challenge?”
Stiles didn’t realize that he’d taken a step towards Peter until Derek reached out and reined him in. Ursula glanced at Stiles and the corners of her lips twitched ever so slightly.
“It doesn’t matter,” Derek said.
“And why is that?” Ursula asked.
“Because I’m not interested. I appreciate the honor you bestow upon me and my family,” Derek said, and to Stiles the words felt important, like a ritual, “but I must still decline.”
Ursula inclined her head, in acceptance of Derek’s words if not the sentiment behind them. “Still,” she said. “Without that pesky mate bond getting in the way, it will be easier to pursue a . . . merger of our two families.”
“It won’t make a difference,” Derek said. “Words alone aren’t enough to break the bond, there must be an intent, and even if you were able to break the bond, I. Would still. Decline.”
“Be that as it may,” Ursula said, and then she looked at Keira. “Keira, dear, please issue the challenge.”
Keira didn’t look surprised, but she did look as if she might actually throw up. Stiles knew how she felt. Keira took a tentative step forward and then visibly steeled herself. She opened her mouth to recite whatever ritualistic words Ursula had put on her tongue.
“Don’t,” Stiles said.
“Stiles!” Derek hissed, and grabbed Stiles’ arm.
Stiles didn’t try to pull his arm out of Derek’s grip, but he also didn’t take his eyes off Keira. She looked surprised by Stiles’ interruption, but determined.
“I . . . .”
“Don’t do it,” Stiles said.
Derek growled under his breath, but Stiles just patted his side, since he couldn’t reach Derek’s arm due to the death grip he had on Stiles’ own arm. Keira glanced at Ursula, but Ursula didn’t give her any guidance, just watched them as if she was at a play. So Keira turned to Stiles.
“Why not?” Keira said, and she sounded very hopeful that Stiles have a good answer.
“Because I doubt the challenge consists of a rousing game of Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit, and I don’t want to have to hurt you,” Stiles told her.
Keira looked surprised, whether at the fact that Stiles was Derek’s mate (allegedly), or that he thought he might actually be able to hurt her, Stiles wasn’t sure. A sound from behind them told Stiles that at least one other person was surprised. But there was one person who didn’t appear to be the slightest bit surprised.
“How long have you known?” Stiles asked.
Ursula gave a slight tilt of her head and shrug of her shoulder that Stiles interpreted to mean, ‘since you showed up.’ Awesome. They’d been playing whatever game this was by her rules all along.
Stiles didn’t offer a protest when Derek pushed Stiles behind him, and he felt Cora step in until their shoulders were touching.
“So what was this all about then? You were willing to risk Keira’s life just to show us you know we were hiding something from you?” Derek demanded.
“Oh, I knew Keira was safe,” Ursula said, waving off Derek’s concern.
“Hey!” Stiles said, trying to step around Derek only to be pushed back behind him.
“I merely meant that Stiles wouldn’t hurt Keira because he has developed a certain . . . fondness for her.”
She made ‘fondness’ sound positively lascivious. Stiles went up on his toes and peered at Ursula over Derek’s shoulder.
“I said I didn’t want to hurt her,” Stiles clarified. “Not that I wouldn’t.”
Keira’s eyes went wide, and then she narrowed them at Stiles, as if he’d just impugned her werewolfy ability to kick his ass.
“Noted,” Ursula said, earning a glare from Keira that she quickly wiped from her face before Ursula could see it.
“So what happens now?” Derek said. “Because I’m not letting Stiles accept any challenge, and I’m still declining your . . . most generous offer.”
Ursula smiled widely. “Somehow I doubt you’d be successful stopping Stiles from doing something he wanted to do.”
Stiles slapped Derek’s shoulder. “See, she understands me. Why don’t you? That said.” Stiles turned his attention to Ursula. “Don’t think for one moment that I’d put any member of your family, no matter how ‘fond’ I might be of them, ahead of Derek.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Ursula said. She inclined her head towards Peter. “You were right about him. He’s a feisty one.”
“Excuse me?” Stiles said, glaring at Peter.
“Yes,” Peter said, ignoring Stiles. “He refuses to accept any limitations, and therefore he has none.”
“A boon to the pack, as is his protective instinct,” Ursula acknowledged.
Stiles was about to attempt once more to interject himself into their conversation when every werewolf in the room went on alert, bodies tense, heads tilted as they used their senses, which would’ve been hilarious under other circumstances.
Stiles tugged on Derek’s shirt. “What is it?” he hissed.
“We’ve got company,” Ursula said.
By the time they all spilled out onto the front porch, Stiles finally heard the sound that had alerted the others – the crunch of tires on gravel. He’d latched onto Derek’s shirt and pressed up against his side, wondering what was going to happen next.
Finally the car came into view. “Isn’t that . . . ?”
Stiles couldn’t see Derek’s face, but he heard the eye roll in his voice when he said, almost disgustedly with a side of resigned, “Scott.”
“What the heck is he doing here?” Stiles hissed to Derek, carefully looking around to gauge the reactions of the others. Their group seemed to be divided into two camps – him, Derek, Cora and Keira, who looked confused, and Peter, Ursula, Caleb and Gregory, who looked various levels of pleased, but one thing those four didn’t look was surprised.
Scott got out of the driver’s seat with a huge smile on his face. “Stiles!” he called, waving as if he hadn’t just interrupted the prelude to a challenge that might see Stiles fighting for Derek. Still, Stiles couldn’t resist Scott’s smile, and how happy he seemed to be to see Stiles (or maybe, see him still in one piece), and so he pulled away from Derek and shoved Peter out of the way so he could bound down the steps.
Stiles let Scott hug him, getting in a few back thumps of his own, before hissing, “What are you doing here?”
Before Scott could answer, a very familiar voice said, “Stiles.”
Stiles jerked his head around. “Dad? What are you doing here?”
“Scott said he was going for a drive. I thought I’d tag along,” Stiles’ dad said before dragging him into a hug. “You okay?” he whispered against the side of Stiles’ head.
“For the moment,” Stiles said.
“Whose ass do I have to kick?” his dad said, which made Stiles snort a laugh.
“I thought you didn’t hit girls?”
“I make an exception for werewolves that are messing with my son,” Stiles’ dad said, not bothering to keep his voice down.
Message sent, Stiles thought.
“You!” Stiles said when he caught sight of Allison standing next to Isaac. “You are in so much trouble, missy!”
Allison’s expression was a mixture of ‘who me’ and ‘you and what army’.
“Scott,” Derek said, interrupting Stiles and Allison’s stare off. “What are you . . . ?” His gaze took in all of them. “What are you doing here?”
“It was a nice day for a drive,” Scott said. “Besides, I thought it was time that I pay a visit to our neighboring pack.” Scott faced Ursula. “Alpha Palmer.”
“Alpha McCall,” Ursula said.
“I hope you don’t mind that we didn’t call ahead,” Scott said, making it clear that he didn’t actually care.
When, Stiles wondered, had Scott grown such a huge pair of balls? And would it get them all killed?
“I don’t mind at all,” Ursula said. “In fact, I’ve been expecting you.”
Scott inclined his head. “You’re already met Derek, Cora and Stiles, let me introduce the rest of my pack. Isaac Lahey, Allison Argent, and Sheriff Stilinski.”
“I’m not the Sheriff up here,” Stiles’ dad said, which sounded like more of a threat than it should. “Call me John.”
“John,” Ursula said. “It’s a pleasure to meet Stiles’ father. And the rest of you. This is my husband Caleb, my eldest son Gregory, and my niece Keira. Keira, dear, will you go see about putting coffee on for our guests?”
“Of course,” Keira said, sounding relieved to be released from whatever duty she’d been forced to perform.
“Won’t the rest of you please come in?” Ursula invited.
“After you,” Scott said.
Ursula, followed by Caleb and Gregory, entered the house. Scott, with Allison and Isaac at his back, followed them. He nodded to Derek as he walked past. Stiles’ dad stopped in front of Derek.
“What kind of mess have you gotten my son into?”
Derek looked torn between defending himself and throwing himself on his sword.
“Dad! He’s joking. You’re joking, right?”
Cora moved in front of Derek. “It’s my fault. I asked Stiles for help. Derek didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t know about the . . . .”
Stiles frantically gestured for Cora to shut up. He ran a wildly gesticulating hand through his hair when his dad glanced his way.
“Yes,” Stiles’ dad said. “About the. I think we need to have a talk.”
“Oh my god!” Stiles said. “Scott told you about the . . . the?”
“Let’s get inside before we miss all the fun,” Stiles’ dad said.
“Fun? Wait, dad!”
Stiles didn’t want to talk to his dad about the whole mating thing ever, much less where Ursula and Peter could hear, so he showed his dad to Ursula’s office without another word about it. Derek and Cora followed them, though neither looked much like they wanted to, and Peter skulked along behind them.
When they reached the office, the others were still standing, as if everyone was waiting for the others to sit before they did.
“Ah, we’re all here now,” Ursula said. “Peter, be a dear and shut the door, would you?”
Peter didn’t respond, but almost immediately the soft murmur of voices from the kitchen and the sound of children playing was cut off, so Stiles presumed Peter had done as Ursula asked.
“Thank you,” Scott said. “For the hospitality you’ve shown Derek and Cora, and now Stiles. I know you were friend to the Hale pack.”
“Talia Hale was a great woman,” Ursula said.
“So I’ve heard,” Scott said. “I’m sure that many would be honored to have either Derek or Cora in their pack.”
Ursula inclined her head in a silent response.
“But as they currently belong to my pack,” Scott said.
Stiles felt Derek stiffen in response beside him.
“They belong to the McCall pack?” Ursula said.
“The McCall-Hale pack,” Scott said. “Or perhaps it would just be easier to call it the Beacon Hills pack.” Scott glanced to Derek for confirmation.
The expression on Derek’s face didn’t change, but Scott seemed satisfied.
“So you’re Derek’s Alpha, then?” Ursula pressed.
“If you’re asking whether I’m the boss of him, then the answer’s no,” Scott said, causing someone, Gregory, Stiles thought, to make a sound of surprise.
“If you’re not his Alpha, then what are you?”
“Derek’s my . . . brother,” Scott said.
Stiles kept his own surprise masked, but he reached out to set a steadying hand against Derek’s arm in case Derek fell over in shock.
“If you’re not Derek’s Alpha, then he’s able to make his own decisions,” Ursula said.
“He is,” Scott agreed. “As is everyone in my pack.” Scott glanced at Stiles. “In our pack. But since I am the Alpha . . . .”
Stiles snorted at that and Allison pinched him.
“. . . in future, it would be best if you approached me before approaching anyone in my pack.”
Scott stared unflinching at Ursula and she stared back. For a moment Stiles feared that this meeting would still end in bloodshed. Instead, Ursula did something that surprised nearly everyone in the room. She laughed. It wasn’t cruel, or mocking, but as if she was delighted.
“Oh, Peter,” Ursula said when she’d calmed down. “You were right. He’s adorable.”
Peter gave a noncommittal shrug, but he looked extremely pleased with himself.
“A democratic pack, it’s never going to work,” Ursula said, but it was almost as if she was talking to herself.
“We’re doing okay so far,” Isaac said.
“A human, a hunter.” Ursula shook her head. “All bound by ties of friendship rather than by blood. Well, I’d like to be there to see how things work out for you,” Ursula said. “Alpha McCall, welcome, and may the Palmer pack call you friend.”
Derek went rigid beside Stiles.
“What is it?” Stiles hissed.
This time his dad pinched him.
Scott glanced at Peter, then said, “Thank you for your hospitality. May the Beacon Hills pack call you friend.”
Stiles leaned into Derek. “What just happened?”
“Scott just formed an alliance with the Palmer pack,” Derek said, sounding as if he still couldn’t believe it himself.
“So no one’s going to be challenging anyone else?” Stiles said.
“There will be no challenges,” Peter said. “Not between our two packs. Not now, not ever.”
“Our?” Stiles said. “I didn’t think you considered yourself part of Scott’s . . . our pack.”
“Oh, Stiles,” Peter said. “Indeed I do. I have always been, and always will be, a part of any pack in Beacon Hills.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound ominous at all,” Stiles said.
“Scott,” Ursula said, “it really is a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since Peter suggested the alliance.”
“Wait, what?” Stiles said.
“Scott’s young for an Alpha,” Peter said, looking way too smug, “and the pack is new. The Alpha Pack was only one of the challenges you’ll all face in the future. You needed allies, but you wouldn’t have known where to look. I did. Talia spoke quite highly of the Palmer Alpha. And so I took the liberty of approaching her on your behalf.”
“So you never wanted Derek in your pack,” Stiles said to Ursula.
“On the contrary,” Ursula said. “We’d love to have Derek, or Cora, in our pack, should they ever choose to join us.”
Stiles took an unconscious step closer to Derek. “But there was never any challenge.”
“No,” Ursula said.
“So this whole thing was, what, a test? Just to see how we’d all react?”
“Essentially, yes,” Ursula said. “As Peter told you, he approached me with the idea of an alliance, but as you know, both sides must bring something to the table. I needed to know what your pack had to offer.”
“How about I offer to slit his throat,” Stiles snarled, taking a step towards Peter before Derek reeled him back.
“Been there, done that,” Peter said, sounding bored.
“I’m sure the coffee’s done by now,” Ursula said, ignoring Stiles and Peter as if two of her children were having a spat.
“And what is it that you think we bring to the table?” Scott said, not moving.
“Well, ingenuity for one,” Ursula said. “And that fact that you stick together despite some personal issues.”
Ursula glanced at Allison, and Stiles wondered just how much she knew about them. How much Peter had told her.
“It doesn’t hurt that you all took on an Alpha Pack and have been protecting Beacon Hills from some particularly nasty supernatural entities for the past six months,” she added. “I’d be honored to have your back, and to have you stand at ours.”
“Coffee now, hammering out the details later?” Caleb suggested.
“Of course, dear, thank you,” Ursula said. She took the arm Caleb held out to her, and they led the exodus from the room.
Stiles tried to lunge for Peter when he walked past, but Derek grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back.
“Let me at him,” Stiles said. “Just five minutes.”
Peter gave Stiles an indulgent smile. “I’ve always liked you, Stiles. Perhaps, if things don’t work out between you and Derek . . . .”
“Oh god.” Stiles shuddered. “Now I need a shower.”
“Me, too,” Cora said.
“Did he just say what I think he said?” Stiles’ dad said.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it,” Cora said, but she didn’t sound too sure.
“Speaking of meaning anything,” Stiles’ dad said to Derek.
Derek gave Stiles a look that said ‘this is all your fault.’
“How is any of this my fault?” Stiles said.
“Talk about this later,” Scott said. “Unless you want to leave Peter alone with them.”
“I really don’t,” Stiles said.
“I don’t want to leave Peter alone with anyone right now,” Stiles’ dad muttered. “Except maybe me.”
“Get in line,” Stiles said.
“So, Derek, what are your intentions towards my son?” Stiles’ dad said.
If Stiles thought coffee two nights ago with the Palmer pack, cementing their preliminary agreement to become allies and laying plans for a trip to Beacon Hills to meet with Scott and Deaton, had been bad, this was way, way worse. Stiles’ dad had given Derek one day to settle back into the loft before inviting him over for a chat. To everyone’s surprise (Derek probably most of all), Derek showed up.
Now Derek looked like he wished he hadn’t. His eyebrows did this thing, and then did the other thing when Derek realized that it probably wasn’t a good idea to glare at Stiles’ father on the one hand, and the Sheriff on the other.
“I don’t . . . he’s 17,” Derek finally said.
“I know how old he is,” Stiles’ dad said. “I was there when he was born. In fact, I was there when he was conceived.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles said, and slunk down further in his chair. “Dad!”
“I know,” Derek said. “I can see the resemblance.”
Which wasn’t at all what Stiles expected. “That’s what you got out of that?”
“Would you rather I faint at the notion of your parents having sex?” Derek hissed.
“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned again and covered his eyes. “I wish I could faint right now.”
“Sissy,” Derek said snidely.
“Is he allowed to call me names?” Stiles said. “Isn’t there some mate rule that says he can only call me nice names?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles’ dad said. “I don’t know very much at all about this mate business, so why don’t you tell me?”
“I . . . how would I know?” Stiles said.
“Are you telling me that you didn’t spend all day yesterday researching this up, down and sideways?” his dad said.
Stiles blushed. He had, but Derek wasn’t supposed to know about it. “There was nothing about name calling,” Stiles said, wishing he could hide under the table.
“So,” Stiles’ dad said. “Back to my original question.” When Derek and Stiles both stared at him blankly, he sighed. “About your intentions.”
Derek’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. Stiles jumped in.
“He has, like, zero intentions, dad,” Stiles said, trying to not sound disappointed at that. “He wasn’t even going to tell me about it, ever, were you?” he directed at Derek, who opened his mouth but didn’t get anything out before Stiles steamrollered over him. “The only reason I found out was because Cora contacted me and I got myself embroiled in the same mess they were already in.”
“I told you to leave,” Derek growled.
Stiles ignored him. “He doesn’t even like me,” he said. “I mean, we’re not even friends, much less on the fast track to whatever you’re thinking, so you can untwist your panties on that front.”
Stiles’ dad raised his eyebrows at that. “You ran up to Crescent Lake the moment you heard that Derek was in trouble,” he said.
“Not the moment,” Stiles refuted, blushing. “Derek and I, we have this mutual life-saving thing going on. And it was my turn.”
Stiles’ dad looked like he wanted to smile. “But as it turns out, Derek’s life wasn’t in danger, his virtue was.”
Stiles scoffed. “Derek has no virtue.” He ignored Derek’s snarled, “Hey!” and went on. “Look at him, I mean, with the stubble and the . . . everything, his virtue has left the building.”
“And hey again,” Derek said.
“Whatever,” Stiles said. “Those abs don’t lie.”
“And what exactly are they saying?” Derek said, sounding as if he didn’t really want to know the answer and couldn’t believe he was asking the question.
“That they sold your virtue down the river,” Stiles said.
Derek rolled his eyes. “You’re being ridiculous.”
“Yeah? Well, your face is ridiculous.”
“Boys,” Stiles’ dad said before the insults could escalate. He rubbed his hand over his face. “I’m almost sorry that I opened this can of worms.”
“Only almost?” Stiles said. “Look, you don’t need to worry because nothing’s going to happen between Derek and me. Not now, not when I’m 18, not ever. Not only does he not like me, he’s not interested in me that way. This whole mate thing is a cosmic kick in the nuts. I mean, look at Scott and Allison if you don’t believe me. And they were in love.”
Stiles pressed his hands flat against the table and stood up. “Let me assuage your worries, Dad. Derek has no intentions towards me at all. He can’t even ask for help when he needs it, he’s hardly going to ask for my hand in werewolf marriage, or whatever.”
With that, Stiles turned and walked away, tripping over his own chair but catching himself before taking a header, only to come to an abrupt halt when Derek spoke.
“Everyone close to me gets hurt.”
Stiles turned around. Derek was staring at the table, and Stiles’ dad was staring at Derek.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Stiles said.
Derek’s eyebrows said that he was very sorry he’d said anything.
“No, seriously,” Stiles said. “Does that mean you’re fighting an overwhelming attraction to me?”
Derek’s glare intensified. “If I was, it would end the moment you opened your mouth.”
Derek rose smoothly from the table, gave Stiles’ dad a polite nod, and then strode out of the kitchen without tripping once. Stiles was snapped out of his stunned silence when the front door closed softly.
“That wasn’t a no!” Stiles called, knowing Derek would still hear him. And then it hit him – that hadn’t been a no. Derek had never actually said that he didn’t like Stiles, or that he wasn’t interested in Stiles that way, because Stiles had done all the talking. Stiles had put words in Derek’s mouth and Derek had let him because Derek was emotionally constipated and had been romantically screwed over on more than one occasion.
What Derek had said was that everyone close to him got hurt, implying that he didn’t want to let Stiles get close to him because Stiles might get hurt. He hadn’t said that Stiles wasn’t his type, he hadn’t agreed with Stiles at all. What if Derek did like him, just a little bit, enough to want to keep him safe? What if . . . ?
Stiles’ heartbeat sped up, his breathing labored, like he was trying to suck in oxygen in a vacuum.
“Stiles?” his dad said, voice sounding like it was coming from a long distance away.
“Panic attack,” Stiles managed to get out.
Stiles had given Derek (actually, himself) a couple of days before approaching him again. Derek gave Stiles a long-suffering, resigned look when he pulled the door open and let Stiles into the loft.
“Hi,” Stiles said as he stepped past Derek, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt. “So.” He watched Derek push the door shut. “What are your intentions towards me?”
If he hadn’t been looking for it, Stiles would’ve missed the clench of muscles in Derek’s shoulders before he forced himself to relax.
“My intentions,” Derek said, “are to save your life when my turn comes, as it inevitably will, and to keep from killing you myself when you annoy me.”
Stiles considered that, then nodded. “I can work with that.”
Derek narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Instead of answering the question, Stiles said, “I realized something.”
“What?” Derek said, sounding as if he dreaded the answer.
“I did all the talking the other day.”
“And that’s surprising how?” Derek said dryly.
“That’s not the surprising part,” Stiles said. “The surprising part is that you didn’t agree with me. I said you didn’t like me. I said you weren’t interested in me. You didn’t so much as give my dad a ‘what he said’.”
“So?” Derek crossed his arms over his chest in a defensive posture.
Stiles smirked. “Oh, nothing. I just thought it was interesting. Don’t you think it’s interesting?”
“Know what else I think is interesting?”
Derek sighed. “I have a feeling I’m going to.” The words had the tone of a friendly jab, but the stiffness of Derek’s shoulders said otherwise.
“From the moment I got to Crescent Lake you were trying to get me to go back home.”
“And like usual, you didn’t listen.”
“Mmm. You know what would’ve protected me?” Stiles said. “If you’d renounced me, broken the bond. But you didn’t,” Stiles said, and the slight confusion and wonder in his voice wasn’t faked.
“But you didn’t,” Stiles repeated. “That means something.”
“No it doesn’t,” Derek said, dropping his arms to his side and walking away from Stiles. “You’re making this out to be a bigger deal than it is.”
“Am I? Wanna know what I think?”
“I really don’t.”
“I think that you didn’t want to break the bond. I think that, even if you were never going to tell me about it, even if you were never going to act on it, you wanted it. You wanted it to exist. Because it meant something to you.”
“You’re wrong,” Derek said, not all that convincingly.
“Because I mean something to you.”
“How did Peter know? About the bond?”
Derek’s head came around in surprise at the question, then he shrugged. “I don’t know. How does Peter know anything he knows?”
Stiles had to give him that one. “But you didn’t tell him?”
“Okay, then how did you know?”
Derek gave the patented deer in the headlights look, which Stiles had thought he’d never see on Derek’s face. Then he looked like he might be willing to throw himself in front of a car in order to escape this conversation. Derek actually glanced towards the door, as if gauging the distance.
“Was Peter right?” Stiles said, trying to engage Derek before he did run. “Was it that night at the hospital?”
Derek hesitated before answering, but he must’ve realized Stiles wasn’t going anywhere, and if he didn’t answer his questions now he’d only have to at some time in the future, because Stiles was relentless in his quest for information, especially when it had to do with him.
“Yes,” Derek ground out, then shook his head. “No. Not exactly.”
“Thanks for clearing that up,” Stiles said dryly.
Derek glared at him, and it felt so familiar that Stiles couldn’t help but smile.
“What?” Derek said suspiciously.
Stiles shrugged. “Nothing. It’s just . . . nice to have you back, is all. I mean, we could use another pair of claws around here, and Scott means well, but he’s not as good at the life-saving as you are.”
Derek raised his eyebrows. “So you’re glad I’m back because you have a tendency to get into trouble and need your life saved on a regular basis, and Scott’s not quite up to the job?”
“Plus the fact that you’re an excellent conversationalist,” Stiles said with as straight a face as he could muster.
When a grin threatened to break out at how Derek’s eyebrows did this weird dance on Derek’s face, as if they didn’t seem to know whether they wanted to raise up further or pull down, Stiles turned away and flopped down on the couch, bracing his feet against the edge of the coffee table.
“What’ve you got to eat in here?”
Derek’s eyebrows finally decided what they wanted to do – they glared at Stiles. “Nothing.”
“You’ve been back four days and you haven’t done any shopping?”
“Do you see a refrigerator?” Derek said.
“Hmm. You need a kitchen.”
“I don’t need a kitchen,” Derek snarled.
“Sure you do.”
Derek sighed. “Why do I need a kitchen?”
Stiles beamed at Derek. “So you can feed me when I come over, of course.”
“You’re not coming over,” Derek said, as if just saying it might make it so.
“And yet, here I am. I might even bring Scott with me one day, and he eats more than I do.”
“Why did I come back to Beacon Hills again?” Derek asked the ceiling.
“Because you missed us, of course.”
“That’s a lie,” Derek said, but he actually sounded like he was trying not to smile. “And if it’s not, I merely had a moment of temporary insanity. I’m over it now.”
“Too late,” Stiles said. “You’re stuck with us now.”
Derek looked like he didn’t know what to do with that information. He swallowed hard. “Is that right?”
“Yep!” Stiles said.
Derek cleared his throat. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Where?” Stiles said, suspicious.
“You talking about food has made me hungry.”
Stiles popped up off the couch as Derek threw himself into his leather jacket.
“You’re buying, right?”
Derek gave Stiles a look before pushing him out the door.
“This isn’t your way of trying to get rid of me, is it?”
“Would it work?” Derek asked hopefully.
“Somehow I didn’t think so.”
Ursula and her small entourage – Caleb, Gregory (who Stiles had learned was next in line to be Alpha), and the emissary Stiles hadn’t met – were expected in Beacon Hills two and a half weeks after their return home from Crescent Lake. They were arriving on that Friday and staying through Sunday. They’d be given a tour of the town and introduced to the rest of the Beacon Hills pack on Friday, and then sit down to hash out the terms of the alliance on Saturday.
Stiles hadn’t been invited to the actual negotiations, for which he was glad. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing Ursula again. Though he’d liked her even when he thought she was some evil Alpha trying to trap Derek into a loveless marriage so she could tap the potential in his genes, he found himself angry with her ever since he’d discovered that it had all been some sort of test.
Stiles didn’t deny that they were young, and untested if you didn’t know about the things they’d had to protect their home from the last six months, but there had to be another way to determine their worth as allies than the underhanded method Ursula had employed. It didn’t help her case that Peter’d had a part in her machinations.
Still, he’d have to be there for the introduction to the pack, and for the picnic scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Normally Stiles would’ve been upset at having to miss the negotiations, but he’d sat in with Scott and Deaton (and Derek, though he’d lurked in the back) during their meetings to prepare for the talks, and he’d learned a lot about what an alliance meant, what each pack received and gave up.
He just hoped that Scott wouldn’t let Ursula walk all over him. Scott was nice (too nice, sometimes), but he had steel in him when it was needed. Plus, he’d have Deaton and Derek there to keep him from agreeing to too much.
As the local Alpha, it was Scott’s responsibility to show the visiting pack around town and host the welcome dinner. Melissa had been thrilled when she learned about that (insert sarcasm here), and so she’d made Scott sit down with her to plan the menu. Since they were having a picnic on Sunday, and Melissa didn’t have the facilities to cook for eighteen people (nineteen if Peter deigned to show up, though no one had seen him since their return and they certainly weren’t inviting him), she decided on Italian, and then she spread the fun around.
Melissa was going to make two large pans of ziti; Stiles was tasked with meatballs because his mom had the best recipe; Allison was making sweet sausage with onions and peppers; Lydia was providing (aka ordering) an antipasto salad and Italian bread; and Isaac was put in charge of drinks.
When Isaac approached her for help deciding what kind of drinks to get, Melissa said, “I don’t care what you get as long as it’s wet and enough for twenty people. I’m going to break into a bottle of wine I’ve been saving for a special occasion. I think I’m gonna need it.”
When Stiles complained about the Wonder Twins not having to supply anything, Melissa put them in charge of arranging enough seating for everyone.
Ethan said, “Where are we supposed to get tables and chairs?”
Melissa threw her hands up. “The church, fire department, school, hell, I don’t care if you steal them from the neighbors!”
“She didn’t mean that,” Scott said after Melissa left. “No stealing from the neighbors.”
Scott worked Friday morning so he wasn’t just sitting home waiting for the representatives of the Palmer pack to arrive. Stiles stopped by to keep him company and ended up playing with a puppy that had been brought in for his shots.
“Derek needs a puppy,” Stiles said.
Scott gave him a look. “Where’d that come from?”
Stiles gave a noncommital shrug. “He just seems lonely.”
“He’s not alone,” Scott said. “He’s got Cora, and he’s got us.”
Stiles didn’t try to explain that while Derek might not be alone physically, he was lonely in his soul. When he glanced up from where he was rubbing Oscar’s ears, Deaton was giving him a strange look.
“It’s a nice idea,” Deaton said. “In theory. Derek might try to kill you if you attempt to execute it, though.”
Stiles laughed. “It’s almost like you know him.”
“It’s almost like you do, as well,” Deaton said.
“What was that about?” Scott said when Deaton left the room after making that cryptic statement.
Stiles shrugged. “I don’t know.”
When it was time for Scott to leave to go home and change before meeting the Palmer pack, Stiles went home to make meatballs. It wasn’t cowardly at all, Stiles told himself. It was self preservation, though, because if he saw Ursula he might attempt to tear her head off with more than his words and thus get himself killed.
Stiles mindlessly mushed the breadcrumbs, eggs and grated cheese into the ground beef and then rolled the meatballs and put them into an aluminum pan. He put the pan in the fridge with the extra pan of ziti Melissa had dropped off that morning to heat up in their oven because she was afraid of not having enough, until it was time to put them in the oven.
Stiles checked his phone – there was no message from Scott. Or anyone else. He couldn’t help wonder how Derek was handling what Stiles had dubbed in his head as ‘The Tour of Beacon Hills.’ (He’d even suggested some tour stops, such as ‘spot where Peter Hale was set on fire and later resurrected himself’ and ‘abandoned distillery, site of Alpha Summit and eventual showdown between Deucalion and the Darach’, and ‘Sheriff Department, site of Kanima attack,’ but he didn’t need Deaton’s disapproving look or Scott’s stammered, “Uh, Stiles, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” to realize that each area of supernatural activity was also a spot that reminded them all of something they’d lost, so he shelved it without too much protest.)
Stiles had been hiding in the kitchen since he arrived at Scott’s and was still there when his dad appeared carrying a stack of bakery boxes in his arms. Melissa, harried from trying to make a good impression on Ursula on Scott’s behalf, nearly burst into tears.
“Oh my god, I forgot all about dessert!”
“We’ve got it covered,” Chris Argent said, entering the kitchen loaded down with yet another stack of bakery boxes.
Stiles’ dad set down his stack on a bit of empty counter and put a reassuring hand on Melissa’s shoulder. “We’ve got your back.”
Melissa gave a little laugh. “Thank you. Both of you.” She gave Stiles’ dad a hug, then Chris.
“Stiles,” his dad said.
“Hiding in the kitchen?”
“Yep! Wanna make something of it?”
“I don’t blame you, kid,” Stiles’ dad said, ruffling his fingers through Stiles’ hair.
Which, surprisingly, didn’t make him feel any better. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me to put on my big boy panties and face my fears?”
“I’m not concerned with you being afraid,” his dad said. “I’m more worried about you being recklessly fearless and starting a pack war.”
“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the Palmer Alpha yet,” Chris said. He put his arm around Stiles’ shoulder and eased him towards the door. “Why don’t you introduce me?”
“Um . . . ,” Stiles said. “Keep him away from the baked goods!” he called back to Melissa as he was dragged out of the kitchen.
Melissa shrugged. “He brought them.”
By the time they reached the backyard, Chris had released Stiles, but walked shoulder to shoulder with him. Stiles looked around the people gathered in the McCall’s backyard. Scott was talking to Gregory; Deaton stood beside a woman Stiles had never met before and so presumed she was Ursula’s emissary; Ursula and Caleb were talking to the Wonder Twins; Lydia was giving Ursula the evil eye from her position beside Danny, Isaac and Allison; Cora was talking to Keira, who was a surprise Stiles hadn’t expected; and Derek, shockingly to no one, stood off by himself, both posture and facial expression discouraging anyone from approaching him.
When Stiles’ gaze found him (though he could admit, if only to himself, that he knew where Derek was from the moment he’d stepped outside), Derek was looking back at him. Stiles gave Derek a slight nod to acknowledge him, and then made his way, however reluctantly, towards Ursula and Caleb. Ursula smiled when she saw him, and the Wonder Twins looked almost relieved.
“Stiles,” Ursula said. “What a pleasure to see you again.”
She sounded sincere, but even after two weeks home Stiles wasn’t over what she’d done to him, and especially to Derek. “You, too,” Stiles said, not even trying to make it believable. “Caleb,” Stiles greeted. “I’d like you both to meet Chris Argent. Chris, Alpha Palmer and her husband Caleb.”
“Ah,” Ursula said, extending her hand. “The hunter.”
“We don’t hunt anymore,” Chris said, smiling wide as he accepted Ursula’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Alpha Palmer, Caleb.”
“And you. But please, call me Ursula,” Ursula said, and then released Chris’ hand so he could shake Caleb’s.
“Dad,” Allison said as she approached, a reluctant Isaac beside her.
“Sweetheart,” Chris said, hugging Allison.
Without Stiles realizing it, Scott and Gregory had also drawn near.
“What an eclectic pack you have,” Ursula told Scott.
Stiles couldn’t tell whether it was a compliment or not, but Scott appeared to take it as one. He smiled and said, “Thank you. I think it makes us stronger.”
Was that steel Stiles heard in Scott’s voice? He was almost impressed with his BFF, watching him stand toe-to-toe with Ursula, who’d make more seasoned Alphas piss their pants. Stiles threw his arm around Scott’s shoulder, earning him a smile before Scott gently bumped their foreheads together.
“So, how was the tour?” Stiles said.
Before Scott could answer, Ursula said, “Beacon Hills is a lovely town. It’s been several years since we visited, but it was nice to see some familiar landmarks.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Stiles said, surprised to discover that he meant it.
Ursula gave Stiles a small smile, as if she realized that was the first sincere thing he’d said to her that evening. Before Stiles had to respond, Melissa and Stiles’ dad appeared carrying dishes of ziti. Lydia followed them with two bowls of bread, and Aiden was behind her with the antipasto salad. Danny and Ethan followed with the trays of meatballs and sausage.
“Dig in, everyone!” Melissa said.
Stiles found himself seated between Keira and Cora. He gave Keira a hug after setting his plate down. “What are you doing here?”
Keira shrugged. “I guess Aunt Ursula thought a friendly face would be nice.”
Stiles laughed, only partly cynically. Ursula had thought of everything. Still, he couldn’t blame Keira for that. The tables had been shoved together, and Scott sat at one end with Ursula at the other. Ursula’s emissary sat to her right, Caleb to her left, and Gregory beside him. On the other end, Deaton sat at Scott’s right, with Derek at his left. Everyone else was scattered along both sides.
Stiles ate and chatted with Cora and Keira, calling out his opinion when something someone else said caught his attention. Occasionally he looked up to see Derek glaring at him. Stiles mouthed, ‘What?’ but Derek just grumpily shoved another fork-full of ziti or bite of bread into his mouth and looked away.
At one point, Ursula asked where Peter was and an uncomfortable silence fell over the table.
“Who knows, with Peter,” Cora said, breaking the silence. “I’m sure he’s doing something right now to further his own aims.”
“And what might that be?” Ursula said.
“World domination, probably,” Derek growled. Stiles grinned at that, but only got a glare in return.
They went through all three pans of ziti, as well as all the meatballs and sausage, leaving only a few scraps of lettuce and crumbs of bread. Stiles couldn’t believe how much food had been put away by nineteen people, even if ten of them were werewolves. After everything was put into the trash, a collective sigh went up by nearly everyone when trays of pastries and cookies were brought out, as well as an industrial sized coffee pot and hot water for tea.
Several minutes later Stiles groaned and stretched, rubbing his distended belly. “The only time I’ve ever seen food disappear this fast was when I showed up at the station unexpectedly that one time and dad had to hide all evidence of curly fries.”
“Slander,” Stiles’ dad said, but he sounded as lethargic and full as Stiles felt.
“I hope we don’t have any supernatural emergencies tonight,” Isaac said. “I don’t think any of us would be able to move. We’d be sitting ducks.”
“What?” Isaac said.
“Why must you tempt fate like that?” Stiles said while Chris reached around Allison and smacked the back of Isaac’s head.
The murmur of easy conversation resumed, and Stiles noticed Derek attempting to sneak off. Stiles pushed his chair back and gave Keira a quick, “Excuse me,” before going after him.
Derek was almost to his car when Stiles caught up to him. “Hey.”
Derek glanced over his shoulder, but kept walking.
“Derek, hold up.”
“So we can talk?” Stiles said.
Derek heaved a sigh and turned to face Stiles, deliberately crossing his arms over his chest. “What?”
“Why are you sneaking off?”
“I’m not sneaking. I told Scott I was leaving.”
“You didn’t tell me,” Stiles said.
“You looked busy,” Derek said, and then looked like he wanted to kick himself.
“Doing what? I was only talking to Cora and Keira. Speaking of which, don’t you have to take Cora home?”
“Okay. So, seriously, what’s up with you?”
“Nothing is up with me.”
“You’ve been glaring at me all night.”
“I always want to glare at you.”
“Uh huh. Because I annoy you.”
“So what was I doing tonight that annoyed you? Eating? Breathing? Talk–?” Stiles cut the word off because Derek’s reaction, though infinitesimal, was noticeable to Stiles. “Talking,” he said consideringly. “To Cora? To Keira?”
Derek actually flinched.
“Oh my god,” Stiles said. “Were you jealous?”
“No,” Derek snapped.
“You were,” Stiles said, surprised.
“I wasn’t,” Derek said, and then started to turn away.
“Wait,” Stiles said, putting out a hand to stop him.
“What?” Derek said, glaring at the hand on his arm.
Instead of removing his hand, Stiles stepped closer. Derek narrowed his eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“I have the strange, but irresistible urge to hug you,” Stiles said, confused.
“Don’t,” Derek said.
“Just . . . let me,” Stiles said.
Derek was stiff as a board when Stiles slid an arm around his waist and moved close enough to let his head fall onto Derek’s shoulder.
“This is nice. Isn’t this nice?”
“I wanted to kill her for what she did to you,” Stiles said, wondering why he was even telling Derek that.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Derek said gruffly, his hand coming up to rest on Stiles’ back.
Stiles thought he might be delirious, but it almost sounded like ‘don’t get yourself killed.’ It was almost sweet.
Before Stiles was ready for the hug to end, Derek gently pushed him back. “The party’s breaking up,” Derek said, and before Stiles’ brain was working again, he was gone.
Cora showed up with Keira early the next morning.
“We’re bored,” Cora announced. “They’re gonna be in meetings all day.”
“What do you want to do?” Stiles said.
“Shopping,” Keira said.
Despite his protests that they should invite Lydia, or even Allison to go with them, they dragged Stiles to the mall. (Thankfully not to the abandoned mall, which had also been a site considered for Stiles’ tour map.) Stiles’ feet were grateful that Cora and Keira were both werewolves, and because of their enhanced metabolism were starving by lunchtime. After lunch they went to the lake (small by Crescent Lake standards) where Lydia and Aiden, Danny and Ethan, and Allison and Isaac were already there sunning themselves (Lydia and Allison), trying to drown each other (Aiden and Isaac), or making out (Danny and Ethan).
Stiles had been texting Scott all morning with things like my ft r klg me and so hngry do u gt lunch. Now he sent danny n ethan, ugh, so jlz
Scott didn’t reply, but Stiles got a kick out of imagining Scott reading them.
whens ur mtg over Stiles texted. He was dying to know how things had gone.
After hearing nothing from Scott all day, Stiles suddenly got a flurry of texts.
mtg over fnly!!!
lunch catered but too nrvs to eat strvg now
meet @ mine?
Before Stiles could send his answer, he got another text from Scott. neg, apply they r tkg me to dnr why me?
bcs ur the alpha now Stiles couldn’t resist replying.
hilarious was Scott’s reply. call u ltr
Stiles was bummed that he had to wait to grill Scott. Then he had a thought. derek 2?
Stiles made sure that Cora and Keira, whose presence was apparently not required for dinner with Scott, could get a ride home with one of the others, then packed up his stuff. If he couldn’t grill Scott, he’d grill Derek. He’d have to do a lot more interpreting of eyebrows and one-word answers, but at least he wouldn’t have to wait until Scott was free. (Stiles didn’t even seriously consider Deaton as an option. Derek hated to use his words, but at least he wasn’t purposely cryptic.)
Derek wasn’t back yet when Stiles arrived at the loft, so he let himself in and made himself comfortable on the couch to wait. Stiles’ heart rate picked up when he heard Derek’s footsteps outside the door. Which was a perfectly normal reaction, he told himself.
Derek slid the door open, stepped through, and then slid the door shut behind him. He didn’t even look in Stiles’ direction as he crossed the room to the table while . . . sorting mail?
“You get mail?” Stiles said.
Instead of answering the question, Derek said, “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to get the low down on how the meeting went,” Stiles said. “Which was over, like, an hour ago. Where’ve you been?”
Derek raised his eyebrows at Stiles and dropped the pile of mail onto the table. “I didn’t realize that I needed to keep you apprised of my comings and goings.”
“Get used to it,” Stiles said. “Now spill.”
“About my activities, or about the meeting?” Derek said as he shrugged out of his leather jacket.
Stiles’ mouth went dry. “Uh . . . both?” he said.
“Post office,” Derek said.
“For an hour?”
“The line was long.”
“It’s alright,” Stiles said. “If you don’t want to tell me.”
“Oh, come on, tell me!” Stiles said.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Is that the new alarm system?” Stiles asked, sitting up in, well, alarm.
Derek rolled his eyes. “It’s a doorbell.”
“When did you put in a doorbell? Why did you put in a doorbell?”
Derek ignored him. He opened the door, traded some bills for a bag, and then closed the door. Derek opened the bag as he carried it over to the table and started removing cartons from it. Stiles’ stomach growled when the scent reached his nostrils.
“Self-service,” Derek said as he set paper plates and plastic forks on the table.
“You’re sharing?” Stiles said, cautiously rising from the couch.
Instead of answering, Derek filled his plate. Stiles went over and filled his own plate and then joined Derek on the couch.
“So, the meeting,” Stiles said after he’d eaten a few fork-fulls. “How’d it go?”
“Good,” Derek said, shrugging.
“Good,” Stiles repeated. “That’s it?”
“What do you want?”
“Details!” Stiles said. “All the details!”
“They agreed to the basics,” Derek said. “Sharing of information, mutual defense. An exchange program.”
There was something fishy about the way Derek tacked that last one on there. “What kind of exchange program?”
“To foster good relations,” Derek said. “Some of our pack visits them, some of their pack visits us.”
“I don’t like it,” Stiles said. When Derek didn’t say anything, Stiles went on. “I don’t ever want to go back there. I won’t have to go, right?”
Derek reached out and took Stiles’ hand, which made Stiles forget what they’d been talking about. Derek raised Stiles’ hand to his nose, inhaled.
“You smell like her.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Who should I smell like?”
There was a slight hesitation before Derek said, “Yourself.”
Stiles was almost certain that what Derek really meant was, “Me.”
What freaked Stiles out was that it didn’t freak him out nearly as much as he thought it should have.
All the werewolves went for a run in the Preserve the next morning. Scott hand-delivered a draft of the agreement for Stiles to read the night before after he’d escaped from his dinner with Ursula and they’d stayed up late talking. Now Stiles drank a cup of coffee at the kitchen table and skimmed the agreement before carefully reading it. He was on his second cup of coffee when his dad came in.
After his dad had fixed his own cup of coffee and sat down across from him, Stiles slid the agreement across the table to him. “Tell me what you think about this.”
“Before my first cup of coffee?” Stiles’ dad said as he set his fingers on the top sheet and drew them closer.
“There’s bacon in it for you,” Stiles said as he set a pan on the stove and turned on the burner.
“Real bacon?” his dad said, like a man who’d been fooled one too many times.
“It was still oinking this morning,” Stiles said.
“More than I needed to know,” his dad said, but he dutifully started reading the agreement while Stiles started the bacon frying.
Between flipping the bacon, Stiles scrambled eggs and shredded cheese, got out bread, butter and blackberry jam, poured orange juice, and set the table. When the bacon was done, Stiles set it on a paper towel-covered plate to drain and poured the scrambled egg mixture into the hot pan, and then popped bread into the toaster.
Minutes later they were eating. “So, what did you think?”
“It sounded reasonable to me, though I have to admit to knowing very little about werewolf culture and treaties. What bothered you about it?”
Stiles tore off a piece of toast and chewed it slowly before answering. “The exchange,” he said.
“It’s only for a weekend twice a year,” Stiles’ dad said carefully.
“And the annual get-together.”
“It seems like a good way for the packs to get to know each other,” Stiles’ dad said. “You don’t want to put your trust in virtual strangers.”
“That’s just it,” Stiles said. “I don’t trust them.”
“I don’t blame you for being angry,” his dad said. “But you have to think about what’s best for the pack.”
Stiles sighed. “I know.”
When Stiles arrived at Scott’s house, he and Isaac were manning the grills.
“Is that a good idea?” Stiles asked Derek.
Derek’s eyebrows judged Stiles for everything.
“What?” When Derek didn’t deign to answer, Stiles said, “How was your little wolfy run this morning?”
“I caught a rabbit,” Derek said.
“And did what with it?” Stiles said suspiciously. “Just tell me you didn’t eat it.”
“I didn’t eat it,” Derek said dutifully.
“Oh my god, you totally ate it!”
Derek smirked, but before he could say anything else, Keira caught sight of them.
“Keira!” Stiles said, trying to cover Derek’s low growl.
“Is everything okay?” Keira said, looking between them.
“Everything’s fine,” Stiles said with forced cheerfulness as he elbowed Derek in the side.
“Okay, well, I just wanted to say hi,” Keira said skeptically.
“And we’re glad you did,” Stiles said. “Hi, back.”
“Okay, well, I’ll talk to you later, I guess.”
“We look forward to it,” Stiles said, and then watched her wander away and join Cora. The two of them seemed to have bonded over not wanting to be forced into a loveless marriage. When Stiles turned to say something along those lines to Derek, he realized he was alone.
When Stiles couldn’t find Derek anywhere, he ambled over to the grills to talk to Scott and Isaac. Lydia came over and dragged him off, and then Cora. Stiles managed to stay camouflaged in groups so he didn’t find himself alone with the possibility of having to speak to Ursula. That lasted only until Ursula sought him out.
“Stiles,” Ursula said. “I was hoping we could talk.”
“Love to, but I think I see my dad . . . ,“ Stiles lied.
If she’d said anything else, like attempted to play the ‘I’m the Alpha’ card, Stiles would’ve been able to walk away. He sighed. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Ursula said to Stiles’ surprise. “I know my reasons for the ruse make no difference to you, but I am sorry that I had to deceive you.”
Stiles wanted to tell Ursula to shove her apology, but it wouldn’t do for him to unravel the alliance over one person’s feelings. And she sounded sincere. Damn it.
“Look,” Stiles said. “I thought you were a bitch.”
Everyone within hearing range (meaning all of the werewolves and some of the humans) gasped. Ursula just returned Stiles’ gaze placidly, waiting for him to continue.
“Before I met you, when you were just someone in a story I heard, someone who was trying to make a friend of mine do something he didn’t want to do. And then I met you, and I liked you, I liked all of you. Which was very confusing, because I thought I was supposed to hate you. And then you used the fact that I liked you, that I’d grown to like Keira, against me. All for nothing, because it had all been a stupid test. A test to see how we’d react. If we were good enough.”
Stiles took a deep breath before going on. “But for us, for me, it was real. I thought I might have to kill Keira to protect Derek. So while I appreciate that you’re sorry, and I know that we need you as allies, it doesn’t really change what you did to Derek and Cora, and what you did to me.” He shrugged. “Plus, you trust Peter, so there’s that.”
Ursula nodded. “Your points are taken, but I think you underestimate me and how much renown Beacon Hills has gained in the last year. People are watching to see what happens.”
“Other packs. To see if your pack of misfits can hold the land here. The only reason you haven’t been challenged yet is the token Hale presence that remains, and the fact that you somehow managed to defeat the Alpha Pack. There’s talk.”
“First they thought you might be weak enough to take advantage of. Now there’s concern that you might be too strong. Neither will win you any friends.”
“Then why are you here?” Stiles asked.
Ursula sighed. “In part, nostalgia. I miss Talia a great deal. Not only her wise counsel, but her sense of humor.”
“Derek seems to have missed out on that one,” Stiles muttered.
Ursula smiled. “I think you’ll discover that Derek does know how to smile and tell the occasional joke.” Her smile faded. “He carries a great burden. I think you’ll be able to lighten it.”
Stiles snorted. “I doubt it. So, nostalgia, that’s all this is, then?”
“No. I have to admit, you, all of you, impressed me. The way you rushed to Derek’s rescue, the way Scott rushed to yours. Derek’s determination to protect you at all costs. Your father. I’m not sure whether his willingness to take on a werewolf qualifies as brave or stupid.”
“Probably a little of both. Though I feel I should tell you, since we’re allies now, that I keep him supplied with wolfsbane bullets.”
“Duly noted,” Ursula said. “Your pack isn’t a family in the traditional sense, the way the Hale pack was, the way our pack is, and yet you’ve managed to create a family out of disparate elements. I mean, who ever heard of a hunter affiliating with werewolves? Or a pack, a strangely configured pack, with more than one alpha? You’re making history here in Beacon Hills, and the eyes of the werewolf community are upon you. I, for one, would like to see you succeed.”
Stiles thought about that for a second, then nodded. He could understand that, even accept it.
“Now that our packs are allied, perhaps you and I could call a truce,” Ursula suggested.
“I’ll try,” Stiles said.
“Good. Oh, and Stiles, if you think I underestimate Peter, you’re wrong. I knew him back when Talia was still alive, and he was a manipulative little shit then. I doubt he’s changed much, except to become even more ruthless. You shouldn’t underestimate him, either.”
“I won’t,” Stiles said.
Ursula nodded. “Good. I’m glad we talked.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said to Ursula’s back as Caleb came to escort her to the tables. Stiles felt . . . lighter, somehow, as he followed them towards the table loaded down with food. Most people had gravitated towards the food, but some were missing. Stiles looked around to see Derek having an intense conversation with Isaac. Stiles wondered what it was about, but was distracted by Scott’s arm thrown across his shoulders, and the smell of burgers and his mom’s baked beans.
Now that they weren’t practically strangers, this meal was a lot more animated than the previous one they’d all shared right here in the McCall backyard just two days ago. They even remained around the tables after the food was gone, conversing, until finally Ursula announced that it was time they were on their way.
Keira was practically in tears as she hugged Cora goodbye and they made plans to visit and made sure they had each other’s contact details, including phone numbers and Facebook. Keira even got a hug from Allison and Lydia (and Isaac, which was actually less surprising). The adults all shook hands, the humans holding their own on the intimidation front. Lastly, Ursula extended her hand to Scott.
Scott glanced at Ursula’s hand before accepting it, then pulled her into an awkward one-armed hug. Ursula looked surprised for a moment, but then she returned the hug.
Scott walked to the street with the Palmer pack and Stiles moseyed along behind them. Melissa, Chris and Stiles’ dad followed as well, mostly to make sure they really left, Stiles thought. The entire weekend, no matter the good that had come of it, had been kind of stressful for everyone. Before she got into the car, Keira threw her arms around Stiles.
No one missed the low growl coming from the shadows. Keira pulled back and smiled at Stiles. ‘You’re welcome,’ she mouthed, and then they were gone. The street was empty and everyone drifted to the backyard. The only ones remaining out front were Stiles and Derek, still hidden in the shadows.
Stiles shoved his hands into the front pocket of his jeans and casually meandered over to his dad’s car, which was closer than Betty. He leaned his back against the car and gazed up at the sky. “I’m glad that’s over,” Stiles said. “I’ve spent the last couple of weeks feeling so conflicted. I was so mad at her. I wanted to punch her in the face. Except for how that would probably break my hand and not even give her a bloody lip. And yet, I liked her.”
Unsurprisingly, Derek didn’t respond, yet Stiles could still feel him, knew that he was there.
“I feel better after our talk, though,” Stiles said honestly. “At first I wasn’t sure about that whole exchange thing,” he went on slyly, “but now I’m having second thoughts.”
The shadows parted and Derek was just suddenly there.
“I’m thinking I might put my name in the hat for the first exch—mmph!”
Stiles’ words were cut off by Derek’s mouth. It wasn’t completely unexpected, except for how Stiles wasn’t entirely convinced he hadn’t been reading things wrong. Apparently not, because Derek’s lips were pressed against Stiles’ lips and the kiss was making him feel things he’d never felt before. Stiles eagerly parted his lips when Derek’s tongue slid across them and sought entrance. He brought his arms up to encircle Derek’s neck just in case Derek realized what he was doing and tried to run away and pretend nothing had happened.
Derek finally drew back so they could breathe. Stiles would stipulate to Derek’s greater lung capacity because, while he was breathless, only Stiles was gasping for air.
“I thought you were never going to do that,” Stiles said.
Instead of running off, Derek grabbed the backs of Stiles’ thighs and lifted him up. Stiles’ legs went around Derek’s waist and Derek pressed Stiles into the car, and everything lined up perfectly.
“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned.
Derek shut him up by shoving his tongue back into Stiles’ mouth. Let the record show that Stiles was fully on board with that.
Until Stiles’ dad cleared his throat.
Derek jerked back as if he’d been doused with a bucket of ice water. Stiles’ felt pretty much the same.
“Okay, well, that took care of my boner,” Stiles said. He shifted his hips. “Oh, wait, no it didn’t,” he said, surprised.
Stiles’ dad heaved a resigned sigh. “TMI, Stiles.”
Derek glared at him, and gently set Stiles’ feet on the ground.
“Just FYI, if you’re going to ravage my underage son, you might want to consider not doing it in public,” Stiles’ dad said. “Or against my cruiser,” he added dryly.
Derek stepped back until the only places he and Stiles touched were Stiles’ arms around his neck and his hand on Stiles’ hip to steady him.
“Sir,” Derek said to Stiles’ dad.
“I’m leaving now,” Derek said.
And then he was gone. Stiles sighed after him.
“I need a cold shower now,” Stiles said. “Really cold.”
“Yeah? Well I need brain bleach!” Scott called from the backyard. “And I didn’t even see anything!”
Stiles didn’t give Derek time to brood. He showed up at the loft the next morning.
“What’s that?” Derek said when he opened the door to Stiles’ knock. Well, his kick, since his hands were full.
“A . . . refrigerator,” Stiles said, staggering under the weight since he’d just carried it up three flights of stairs. “Could you . . . maybe . . . .”
Derek took the refrigerator from Stiles and held it as if it weighed nothing. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Plug it in and fill it with food,” Stiles said.
“It’s . . . little.” Derek gave the mini-fridge a skeptical look.
“It’s bigger than what you have now,” Stiles said. “Which is nothing. You’re welcome, by the way.”
Derek looked around the minimalistically furnished loft, then strode over to an empty section of wall beside the couch. Stiles didn’t even bother trying to tell himself that he wasn’t staring at the muscles in Derek’s back.
“By the couch?” Stiles said despite the way his mouth went dry when Derek squatted to set down the fridge and plug it in.
“Convenient,” Derek said as he stood back.
They both listened to the hum as the fridge started cooling.
“There,” Stiles said, satisfied. “Now you have someplace to keep your leftover takeout and my favorite soda. Next up,” Stiles said as he climbed over the coffee table instead of walking around it, “a kitchen sink.” Stiles plopped down on the couch with a sigh.
“I have a sink,” Derek said flatly.
“In the bathroom,” Stiles said. “Which reminds me, you need a towel rack.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do.”
“Stiles . . . .”
“What?” Stiles said defiantly.
“This is . . . .”
“A bad idea?”
Derek looked at him. “Just because . . . . It’ll still be . . . difficult.”
“So, like any other relationship, ever?” Stiles said.
“I’m not . . . .”
“Easy? I’d never have known,” Stiles said. He shrugged. “Neither am I. Looks like we deserve each other. Hmm, maybe we were made for each other.”
Derek actually cracked a smile at that. It wasn’t a no. Stiles could work with that.
“How about we go shopping and fill up your refrigerator,” Stiles suggested.
“Won’t take much,” Derek scoffed.
Stiles wondered if he should be insulted on the refrigerator’s behalf. He reached over the arm of the couch and patted it. “Don’t listen to him, baby. Okay, then,” he said to Derek, “how about we go get pizza and bring home the leftovers like normal people who have refrigerators and stop to pick up some soda on the way.”
“You’re buying,” Derek said as he shrugged into his jacket.
Stiles squawked indignantly as Derek pushed him out the door. “Dude, I got you the refrigerator! You should be buying me lunch as a thank you!”
“I didn’t ask for a refrigerator,” Derek reminded Stiles as they walked down the stairs.
“Sometimes you don’t need to ask for things, Derek,” Stiles said. “They will still be given to you.”
“Awesome,” Derek said dryly.
It still wasn’t a no.