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An Unpredictable Amount of Turtles

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“My soulmate likes turtles,” Stiles says, flopping down on the bed next to Scott. Stiles woke up that morning knowing this. His soulmate has five of them: Sam, Lilah, Jim, Pokey, and Ivan.

“My soulmate likes swords.” Scott sounds dreamy and also a little scared. “What’s this?” he asks, holding up his tablet.

“A katana,” Stiles says.

Cool.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, not at all bitter. “Cool.”

*

Stiles is one-forty soaking wet. He’s all uncoordinated limbs and sticky fingers and he’s failing Chem and excelling at bench-warming and his soulmate is a dork.  He’d been hoping to trade up in this world, when he finally found his cosmic link, but apparently he’s doomed.

“It’s not like I care,” he cares a lot, “but I woke up this morning reciting the pledge of allegiance—”

Scott cocks his head and says, “What?”

Stiles throws up his hands. “He’s a patriot and I have socialist leanings, Scott, do you know what this will do to my social life?”

“You have a social life other than me?” Scott looks hurt.

Stiles jabs his finger at him. “I have a five year plan. A five year plan to popularity that will tank the minute I meet this guy.”

“I feel like you’re exaggerating,” Scott says, but Scott has a katana-wielding badass waiting for him at the other end of the rainbow, and Stiles has terrariums.

Ugh.

*

It started like this:

When Stiles wakes up on his sixteenth birthday he knows his soulmate is a guy and has a car he sort of loves but pretends not to. It’s promising in a dude-bro way.

In the next six months he adds: obsessed with wolf documentaries, good with kids, nervous around girls, and has a disturbing morning fetish for reciting sonnets or pledges or annoyingly catchy tunes, right when he rolls out of dreams and into the real world, before their unconscious link is severed.

Stiles tries real hard not to think drama geek.

And now, a little over a year into their pre-bond, his soulmate moves out of his parent’s house. So—older man, Stiles thinks, only half intrigued, since he knows the main reason it happens is because he needs more room for his box turtles.

Stiles is seventeen, terminally uncool, and so far things are not looking up.

*

“I’m so close, Scotty,” Stiles says, lying back on his bed and pinching his thumb and forefinger together. “Like, Lydia said hi to me today, and Danny told me ‘nice moves’ in practice. I feel like senior year is going to be it for me, you know?”

“Right.” Scott doesn't look up from his phone, and Stiles throws a balled up sock at him.

“Scott. Scott, feel my pain.”                                

“I’m feeling you,” Scott says absently, which means he’s not feeling Stiles at all. “Do you think I should start mixed martial arts?”

Stiles says, “Sure,” but only because he knows Melissa will kill him.

Stiles knows all the pathetic contents of his soulmate’s fridge.  Kale. Asparagus, gross. Five pounds of ground chuck, which is baffling, but not interesting enough to counteract the fact that he drinks vitamin water.

Stiles is going to put off meeting him in person as long as he can.

*

On his daily dose of Soulmates Are a Blessing, otherwise known as health class for the Found—or technically pre-Found, since only about a third of their tiniest of classes has actually managed to meet their soulmates face-to-face, outside of sleeping—Stiles gets to confront the reality of what his soulmate is seeing of him.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says. It’s been a year, a full motherfucking year, and Jackson’s looking at him like he’s crazy.

Jackson’s looking at him like he knows his insults never hit home, and now he’s totally stumped when presented with a frazzled, panicked Stiles who’s finally realized that his soulmate probably knows about his naked gaming, his ability to swallow curly fries whole, and that pimple he had on his ass for a month last June. Oh god.

“Seriously, Stilinski?” Jackson says.

There’s no going back now. Stiles and his soulmate are going to be the worst couple ever.

*

The dream-link between soulmates who haven’t fully bonded yet isn’t really dreaming.  Stiles knows, logically, that his soulmate can’t tell when he wakes up shaking, fresh off a nightmare of his mom. That he can’t see that. Will only know that Stiles’s mom died, at one point, and that it still occasionally fucks Stiles up.

In the weak morning light, Stiles’s nightmares mix with impressions, random fading thoughts, Mr. Roboto stuck on repeat. He clenches and unclenches his hands in the sheets, takes deep breaths, blinks wetness from his eyes.

He thinks:

His soulmate’s car is black.

Lilah has a half-moon chunk missing from the left side of her shell.

His ex-girlfriend tried to burn his house down. No wonder he’s nervous around girls.

Stiles presses his palms into his eye holes and groans.

*

“Holy hat stands,” Stiles says, screeching into a parking spot. “Is that Isaac’s foster dad?”  The dude looks too young to be a foster dad, even behind the thick stubble. He’s sporting a leather jacket and a half smile, the tightest pair of jeans Stiles has ever seen, and Isaac looks like he’s in heaven. “Are they dating?” Who is that tall slice of muscle, is what Stiles wants to know, and is he allowed to lick him.

Scott frowns and says, “I think Isaac's straight?”

Stiles slants him a look. “Are you kidding me?” Isaac has been trying—and failing spectacularly—to get into Scott’s pants since they all turned thirteen.

And then the guy squeezes the back of Isaac’s neck while Isaac fucking blushes, and Stiles practically falls out of the jeep.

Both Isaac and the guy jerk their heads up to look over at him.

Stiles waves and tries to remember how feet work.

The dude has a monster scowl, and the sad thing is that Stiles still wants to feel his beard all over his body. Stiles has a soulmate, this shouldn’t be happening.

He tells Scott that and Scott says, “You're in pre-bond, man, you’re not dead,” which, fair point.

Isaac has a hand over his face by now, though, and the guy is scowling even more, and Stiles silently slinks by them, feeling stupidly self-conscious even though he doesn’t know why.

*

You can totally have a platonic soulmate. Nobody really wants one, of course, no matter how many counselors tell you it’s okay. But it could happen. That could be what Stiles will have to live with. Turtles and friendship, the deepest sort of bros with no sexy times. He can learn to live with that. Right?

Scott stares at Stiles. “I can't believe I have to tell you this,” he says.

“Tell me what?” Stiles narrows his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“Me. Me, Stiles, Scott McCall, I have to tell you this. This is,” Scott tilts his head up to the sky, like he’s freaking bewildered by what is happening right now.

“Scott!”

Scott sighs, squares his shoulders and takes hold of Stiles’s arms. He tucks him in close, looks straight into his eyes, and says, “He recites sonnets.”

“Uh, yeah.” Because he’s probably an English major, ugh.

“The pledge of allegiance,” Scott says, waggling his eyebrows.

“I’m not sure—”

Styx songs, Stiles.” He shakes him a little. “Are you picking up what I’m putting down?”

Stiles squints one eye, and then the other one. “Uh.”

“Do you think he could be trying to hide something from you? In the early morning?” Scott’s starting to look even more pained in the face region.

“Are you—” Stiles starts and stops and then starts again: “Are you saying he’s trying to hide how he’s… getting off? To me? That is—that’s what you’re saying.” That is what Scott is saying. His heartbeat is a revelation and his palms are suddenly sweaty and his soulmate is a totally uncool dork who—“Oh my god.”

Scott drops his arms and says, “Yeah.”

*

It’s not that Stiles never wakes up hard. He’s seventeen. Soft sheets get him revved up, a change in the wind gives him a half-chub, thinking about flowers or soap or hot dogs or pretty much anything can make him pop a boner. It’s just that Stiles is a gentleman.

Stiles jerks it in the shower after he wakes up, like civilized people with pre-bonds.

Because there’s a quirk to the dream bond that always kind of freaked Stiles out: only one of them has to be asleep.

The pre-bond is supposed to adjust melatonin levels in each of them accordingly, which was neat when Stiles’s insomnia nearly disappeared, but grossly unfair when he started waking up at 5am. He has morning energy now. He runs, because what the fuck else is he supposed to do with all the hours before school starts?

But it’s not exact. Stiles can start yawning but keep himself awake, if he really wants to. He can space out to the way his soulmate breathes, even and steady, echoing in the back of his mind. But he gets weirded out, can’t concentrate, has a prickling sensation along his spine, so it usually doesn’t take long for him to stagger to his bed and fall asleep, too.

And here his soulmate is, trying to cover his creepy half-awake tracks by reciting things and Stiles wonders if this happens every time he has an early morning wet dream.

He should probably be more disgusted by that than he actually is. Huh.

*

It’s not surprising, how much of Stiles’s mood is influenced by everything that happens overnight. How sometimes he’s uncharacteristically quiet over breakfast, across from his dad’s increasingly suspicious eyebrows. Sometimes he wakes up smiling, mouth aching, reflecting all the joy from one of his soulmate’s newly rescued turtles. All the residual weirdness from meeting new people occasionally causes Stiles to take too long in the bathroom, staring blankly into the mirror instead of getting ready for school.

He knows:

His soulmate is not good with strangers.

He gets teased by his family for being practically a recluse.

He doesn’t really know how to deal with feelings.

He always thinks anything that goes wrong is his own fault.

Sometimes Stiles wakes up queasy, longing and guilt at the base of his spine.

*

“Derek Hale is an asshole,” Stiles says, stomping into his house in front of Scott, sopping wet.

Scott says, “Yeah,” and starts stripping off his clothes.

Asshole, Stiles thinks, scowling, and toes off his mud-covered sneakers. He says, “I’m not hearing enough conviction in your tone, Scotty.”

“Well,” Scott shrugs, “I mean, we were trespassing.”

“We cut across his backyard,” Stiles says. “He didn’t have to turn the hose on us.” Stiles had official met Derek Hale three days ago, when he’d yelled at him in the school parking lot to stop calling him Foster Dad. Stiles had never said that to his face before, though, so he doesn’t really get all the frustrated animosity being sent his way. It’s not Stiles’s fault that Derek Hale is a terrible eavesdropper with suspiciously good hearing.

Stiles doesn’t feel embarrassed about it at all.

Scott frowns at him. He says, “Dude, what's up?”

“Nothing’s up.” Stiles loses his jeans and runs a hand through his damp hair.

They’re both down to their boxers, and they wordlessly start up to Stiles’s room, where Stiles tosses a pair of sweatpants over Scott’s head before tugging on some himself.

Scott says, “I'm pretty sure you normally would’ve found this funny.” Scott is all chiseled manly chest now, and Stiles quickly pulls on a shirt to cover the fact that he isn’t quite done growing into his shoulders.

He drops onto his bed and sighs, leaning his arms onto his spread thighs. He says, “I think…I don’t know, man, I think my soulmate’s in love.”

“With you?” Scott says, a puzzled scrunch to his face.

Stiles groans. “With someone who smells like coffee and sugar. With someone who drives him crazy.” He can feel it lingering all over him in the morning now, the reluctant want, the self-disgust, the helplessness. 

Scott sits down next to him and carefully squeezes one of his hands. “That doesn’t sound like love,” he says softly.

Stiles’s soulmate likes wolves and turtles and dogwood blossoms and dark-haired strangers, apparently, and all Stiles has going for him right now is that he’s been running so much he was actively recruited to the track team.

“It’s like not even an undeniable loser can see my appeal,” he says.

“Hey,” Scott says, “if he can’t see how awesome you are, then he’s not worth it.”

Stiles gives him a look. An I’m gonna be stuck with this ungrateful jerk forever look. It doesn’t actually matter if he’s worth it or not.

“I mean it,” Scott says, squeezing Stiles’s hand harder. “No one says you ever even have to meet him. It’s not like you’re going to waste away!”

No, of course not. He’ll just keep pre-bond dreaming about how awesome his soulmate’s life is without him until the day he dies. It sounds like a real fun time.

Stiles sighs and says, “Okay, no more moping.” He grins a little. “Let’s think of something good to get back at Hale.”

*

There’s something vulnerable in the too-long sleeves of Derek’s leather jacket. The way he swings his arms when he walks, scowls even when he thinks no one is looking; the way his hair is ridiculously over-styled, and how his ears stick out just a little bit. Stiles takes all this in as he hides in the bushes outside Derek’s house with Scott, waiting for him to leave.

He could feel bad for what they’re about to do, but he doesn’t.

Scott says, as they watch Derek drive away, “Are we sure this is a good idea?”

“This is definitely not a good idea,” Stiles agrees, getting to his feet. He leads the way around the back of the house and then jimmies open the back door.

“Stiles,” Scott says, a whine, and Stiles looks over his shoulder at him with a manic grin.

They’re just gonna loosen all the spigots in the house so Derek gets a healthy dose of what he’s so fond of dishing out to unsuspecting travelers. Harmless fun.

And then they’re stepping into a sunny solarium with tall, arched windows and a fifteen foot long glass case. It’s got low sides and a carefully landscaped interior, and Scott and Stiles say, “Whoa,” at the same exact time.

Heart beating like crazy, Stiles says, “Is that…?”

Scott says, “Dude, I think so,” sounding breathy with awe.

There’s a burn in the back of Stiles’s eyes when he sees a turtle with a half-moon notch taken out of its shell. When he sees Pokey’s three-legged lurch across a flat rock. “Fuck,” he says.

Derek Hale is his soulmate.

And Derek Hale is in love with somebody else.

*

There’s five raw steaks in Derek’s fridge, a puppy calendar on his wall, and Stiles hyperventilates into a paper bag at the round little kitchen table while Scott awkwardly pats his back in sympathetic commiseration.

Holy fuck.

Holy fuck, Stiles thinks. “My life is fucking shambles.”

Scott squeezes his shoulder. He says, “Okay. Okay, but Stiles, my dude, you found your fucking soulmate,” like he still can’t believe it. Like Stiles is actually lucky.

Stiles just groans, long and low, and then pulls himself together. They still have several faucets to sabotage.

*

Stiles doesn’t want to go to sleep that night. He never wants to sleep again ever, is the thing, and he’s not sure how he’s going to swing it, but for starters he’s going to drink copious amounts of coffee.

He wakes up in the morning with drool on his pillow and a roaring in his ears.

*

It’s crazy, it’s super crazy, but you can’t lie in a dream-bond, so either Derek Hale lives in an elaborate delusional fantasy world of his own creation or he’s an actual werewolf. It’s really hard to interpret the flashes of claws, the reflection of glowy eyes and fangs, any other way.

When Derek cages him up against his jeep, all angry eyebrows and flaring nostrils, Stiles thinks, this is how I’m going to die, even as every nerve ending in his entire body feels like it’s bursting into flames.

Derek growls into his ear, “Are you fucking kidding me, Stiles? Did you think I wouldn’t know it was you?”

Honestly, why would he?

Unless he was a werewolf with a freakily strong sense of smell. Stiles would’ve liked to have known that before he broke into his house.

Stiles smirks with as much bravado as he can muster and says, “Gonna maul me right here in the school parking lot, big guy?”

Derek stares at his throat like he can see every pulse of blood through his jugular, like he can tell Stiles is on the verge of flat-out panicking.

Derek’s body gets heavy all along his front, and his eyes melt from rage-fueled to curious within seconds.

Every time Stiles heaves a breath their chests press together even more.

Stiles says, voice half-strangled, “I like your turtles.”

Derek says, “Huh,” as he peels himself back, head cocked with narrowed eyes, and then he turns and walks away.

*

That night, melancholy spills over Stiles in waves as he’s brushing his teeth. He’s tired and sad, and he’s not entirely sure it’s all his own emotions. There’s a creepy-crawly feeling at the base of his skull, like Derek’s already asleep. There’s a tightening in his chest, like Derek’s frustrated, and Stiles spits out the toothpaste into the sink and staggers back to bed.

In the morning he’s kicked all his covers off and he’s freezing. His eyes feel raw, like he’s been crying, but his cheeks are dry.

He knows:

Derek loves someone with a rabbit-fast heartbeat. With soft skin and a long throat. The echo of his feelings pulse from loathing to intrigue to bitterness; from surprise to lust to shame.

It’s been a while, Stiles thinks, since he’s woke up with a song in his head.

*

Stiles doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but he’s waiting for ice cream and Isaac looks like a kicked puppy in the line ahead of him, and Derek looks like a dream—only definitely not—and Stiles has his fingers curled into the tops of his thighs, every molecule of his body tingling, aware.  Aware of his soulmate, standing ten feet away, jaw clenched as he nods absently along to whatever Isaac is saying.

Stiles catches about every other word. He hears ‘Scott’ and ‘fox’ and wrinkles his nose.

And then, and then, Derek growls out, “Isaac, soulmates are garbage,” and Stiles sucks in a startled breath. Blinks rapidly around the various gasps of shock from everyone else in line. His knees are locked. Someone jostles his side, but he can hardly feel it—all he can see is Derek, turning to look straight at him, eyes an unreadable shade of hazel.

It feels like seconds and hours, staring at him.

He has to leave, he thinks, before he has some kind of public mental breakdown.  He jerks his head to the side, breaking eye contact, and then gracelessly stumbles away from the milling, gossiping crowd—Derek Hale doesn’t believe in soulmates—and back to his jeep.

He rests his forehead on the steering wheel and wonders if it’s safe to drive like this, like he can’t breathe. His hands shake despite his white-knuckled grip on the leather. He’s clammy, flashing too hot and too cold, and he swallows down bile, hoping against hope that he can make it home before throwing up.

He feels like his insides are dying. Like his heart is too big, drowning out everything but the rush of blood through his veins.

And it’s like—

He knew.

He knew this would happen. In no world would Derek Hale, possible werewolf badass, be happy to be his soulmate. Two totally uncool losers against the world. Growing old with their turtles and board games and matching granny sweaters and sensible shoes.

He thinks, fuck it sideways, and jerks the jeep into drive.

*

Stiles doesn’t remember getting home. Doesn’t remember skidding to a halt next to his dad’s cruiser. Doesn’t remember his dad asking if he’s okay. Doesn’t remember answering, “I don’t think so,” before going up to his room, burrowing under his blankets, fully clothed, numb and exhausted.

He sleeps through dinner, through breakfast the next morning, and wakes up with an overwhelming feeling of concern, like a warm blanket, and the lingering weirdness of hands touching his face. He barely makes it into the bathroom before choking up what little he ate the day before.

He leans into the cool porcelain of the tub, swipes an arm across his mouth. He forces deep breaths until it no longer feels like he’s eating his own heart.

There’s a hesitant tapping at the door, but Stiles can’t bring himself to speak or move.

Okay, so. 

This is just like before. Nothing’s actually changed, right? It’s just a little more… absolute.

He ignores the burning of his eyes and forces himself to his feet.

*

His phone has five missed calls from Scott, and twice as many texts.

He’s skipping school. Obviously. He can hardly move, curled up on his bed again—he’s allowed at least one day to wallow, he thinks, and his dad just pats his shoulder sympathetically and calls him out.

Scott comes over after school and sits on the end of his bed and says, “So you think he figured out it was you?”

Stiles starfishes out on his back, stares blankly up at the ceiling. “Pretty sure.” How else could he interpret that look? That extremely pointed look, after telling Isaac that his soulmate was the worst? And, oh god, what if—“Do you think it’s Isaac?” he asks, finally flailing up into a sitting position.

Scott’s forehead crinkles. “Do I think Isaac what?”

“That Derek’s…” He waves a hand around, unwilling to say the words ‘frustratingly in love with’ out loud.

Isaac can be a smirky douchebag, Stiles can see how Derek might find him both attractive and annoying.

“I don’t know, man,” Scott says, skeptical, “it’s kinda like they’re brothers.”

“Yeah, but they’re not.” They’re not brothers at all, and Derek seems touchy enough about the foster dad rumors that dating makes so much more sense. He takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” 

“Sure, dude,” Scott says. He squeezes his ankle. “Wanna order some food?”

“Yeah.” Stiles sighs. “Just let me shower off all this lingering despair first.”

*

Stiles is fairly sure he could have stayed out of the way of Isaac and Derek forever if he didn’t accidentally get Scott bit by a werewolf.

“What the fuck was that?” Stiles yells, waving an arm toward the bloodied remains of some sort of large hairy beast. Stiles can be blamed for the reason he and Scott were trouncing around in the forest in the dead of night, but he can’t be blamed for rampaging rage-monsters.

Chris Argent—resident creeper, dad of Scott’s ex-girlfriend—and Derek Hale stare at each other with mounting hostility on either side of the still-steaming carcass.

“A wolf,” Argent says without taking eyes off of Derek.

Derek growls low in his throat.

Stiles says, “Yeah, no, sell me something else,” because in no world is that a wolf. “It bit Scott!”

Argent and Derek swing their gazes to Stiles in eerie unison.

Derek says, “What.”

From behind Stiles, Scott lurches into view and groans, “I’m okay, it’s just a scratch!” when Argent lifts his rifle and aims it at him.

And that is how Scott forcible joins a werewolf pack and Stiles hesitantly befriends Cora Hale.

*

The Hales are scary as fuck. Derek’s mom and alpha, Talia, is viciously polite. His dad, Call-me-Rob, is over six and a half feet tall of solid muscle, and his uncle Peter has the dead eyes of a sociopath. Derek has an older sister, Laura, who inherited Talia’s toothy grin and double-edged compliments, and a younger one, Cora, who Stiles vaguely remembers graduating high school the year before. He also vaguely remembers rumors of her cutting some guy’s dick off.

Compared to the rest of his family, Derek is a bunny rabbit.

Despite disturbing rumors, though, Cora seems like the only one willing to humor the outlying human, because Scott and Stiles are a package deal; sooner or later all the Hales are going to have to accept that.

Cora says, “Why are you acting so weird around Derek?” and stares at Stiles with all the focus of a—well, a hungry wolf, obviously. Only not like she wants to eat him, but like she thinks he’s an idiot.

“Uh, maybe because I’m pretty sure he wants to bite my head off?” It’s not Stiles’s imagination; Derek’s gotten progressively more aggressive since Stiles has been hanging around the pack.

Cora continues to stare at him. Finally, she says, “Is this because of Derek’s dream-bond?”

Stiles’s eyes fly wide. “What?”

“Because Derek’s stubborn as fuck,” she says.

“Right.” Stiles has no idea what she’s saying, and her flat eyes and mouth and inflection don’t really give anything away. Plus they’re standing right outside the Hale house, can’t all the werewolves hear them talking?

She shrugs and says, “I read if it isn’t meant to be, eventually it’ll just fade away.”

Stiles can’t figure out if she’s trying to help him or twist the emotional vice around his heart until it finally bursts. He clutches at his chest and swallows hard. “Good to know,” he says, tongue thick and throat dry. And, you know, why not have that happen? At least it’d be better than dreaming about Derek and Isaac for the rest of his life, along with watching them live and in person.

“Are you sick?” she says, a tiny furrow between her brows. “You better not throw up on me, Stilinski.”

Stiles coughs, trying to dislodge the lump of bile gathering in his throat. He’s handling this rejection fantastically. This is a living nightmare. He says, “Your concern is touching,” and then forces a grin that he’s fairly sure isn’t fooling anyone.

*

A couple weeks into Scott’s pack assimilation, Stiles’s dream-bond gets both muted and intense, like Derek’s forcibly trying to pull away from him, and the backlash is that Stiles occasionally gets flashes of guilt so vivid that he wakes up sweat-drenched, a migraine pounding in the back of his skull.

His insomnia comes back.

He’s not entirely sure if it’s because of Derek or because of him.

*

Cora says, “You look like shit,” and Stiles just shrugs.

Yeah, of course he looks like shit. He hasn’t slept in thirty-six hours, lost his 100 meter race spectacularly, and spaced out in Chem so bad that Harris gave him an entire week of afterschool detentions.

Stiles eyes Derek across the clearing where he’s tussling with Scott, and tries to see if he’s feeling any of the same wear and tear he is. Maybe werewolves just shoulder sleeplessness better than humans—they can heal wounds in minutes, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. Either way, there’s nothing in the set of Derek’s spine that suggests he’s as on edge as Stiles, but Stiles knows…

He knows that Derek is never going to forgive himself for this, for somehow letting Stiles down. He idly wonders how long it’s going to take for Derek to snap—for the beast to come out and get rid of Stiles once and for all.

It’s almost definitely the insomnia talking, but Stiles thinks maybe he’d actually welcome that kind of end.

*

To Stiles’s utter dismay, Derek starts standing obnoxiously and suspiciously close to him. He hovers while trying to not actually look like he’s hovering, Stiles can tell from the forced casual slouch and the way his eyebrows always connect in the middle. He’ll bring Stiles drinks and sandwiches, sometimes, when his stomach grumbles, and every single thing he does reeks with guilt, like he’s trying to make Stiles feel better, or like he’s trying to fatten him so they can eat him. In some of Stiles’s more sleep-deprived delusions he imagines Derek taking a claw to his throat. Like, whoops, Derek accidentally nicked an artery, oh well, Stiles was totally useless, anyhow.

Scott says, “Are you sure he wants to murder you, though? I mean, wouldn’t you be able to figure that out with your dream-bond?”

Stiles’s dream-bond has faded to the point where he actually thinks maybe Cora was right about the whole eventually stopping thing, and it’s been both terrifying and a sadistic relief.

Scott pokes him. “Dream-bonds don’t lie,” he says. “Maybe you should just, uh, talk to him in person.”

“Maybe I should just punch your face,” Stiles grumbles. And the thing is, fresh off two hours of surprisingly deep sleep, Stiles can see Derek’s behavior for what it probably is—rising concern for Stiles’s obvious state of mind; guilt, which Derek seems to collect like turtles; and honest-to-god genuine kindness.

Stiles wasn’t wrong before. All these weeks hanging around the Hales and Derek, Stiles can see Derek for what he truly is: a little lonely, moderately a jerk, all of it covering a heap of hidden compassion. He’s the epitome of what Stiles has always wanted, inadvertent asshole tendencies and all.

And now all Stiles can think of, weary, sick to his stomach, is that if Derek can’t be happy with him, then he needs to be happy with somebody else.

*

Stiles is, under normal circumstances, the least likely to be selfless. In any given situation, he’s gonna hoard all the good stuff for himself and for his family: for his dad, for Scott, for Melissa. Everyone else can get fucked and die. He doesn’t care.

He approaches Derek at home, far away from the Hale house and all the big-eared werewolves littering the grounds.

He says, “Look,” just as Derek opens the front door, speech all prepared and rehearsed in his bathroom mirror, “I get it, okay?”

He watches Derek’s eyebrows silently arch in question, and refuses to be deterred.

Stiles clenches his hands into fists and thinks about not crying, because there’s no direction to go but forward, and no way this doesn’t end today, right now.

He says, “I get it,” again, cheeks hot from the helpless hoarseness of his voice, “but you have to stop. You just—”

“Stiles,” Derek says, and Stiles bites the inside of his bottom lip hard enough to bleed.

He tips his head back to look up at the sky, the ominous rain clouds rolling in to match his mood. He says, simply, “Please.”

Derek says, “Okay,” so softly Stiles almost misses it. He says, “Stiles,” and he says, “Only I’m not sure what I’m supposed to stop.”

Stiles jerks his head down to look at him, at Derek’s baffled face, like he hasn’t been pushing and pulling Stiles in all different directions since the day they met—since the day Stiles first saw him, glaring at him across a hot asphalt parking lot.

Stiles takes a deep breath. He says, “Do you think I can’t feel it?”—is Derek being deliberately fucking stupid? Does he think Stiles is?

Derek’s ears pink. He says, “I’m sorry,” in a way that’s equal parts aggressive and sheepish.

Stiles wants to tear his hair out. He throws his arms up and says, “Yeah, I know! I got that part, Derek! But you need to stop fucking dreaming about it!”

Derek goes from pink to pale in seconds and says, “What?”

*

Jim is separated from Pokey by a glass wall, because apparently Jim is a fucking bully, and Stiles isn’t even in the mood to find that either tragic or hilarious: the weird world of rescued turtles and the werewolf who loves them.

He says, “What do you mean, what?” after Derek has tugged him inside his house by the wrist and shoved him onto the solarium couch.

Derek is still staring at him like he’s a ghost, bone-white, mouth slack, and Stiles wants to hurry up and find Scott a new pack so he never has to see Derek’s face again.

He’d been ready to concede defeat, vacate the field, be that perpetual bench warmer everyone always expects him to be—but he’s a fucking track star now, he doesn’t have to settle for whatever this is.

What. Like Derek doesn’t know exactly what the fuck he’s been putting Stiles through for fucking months.

Isn’t anger supposed to come before acceptance?

His hands shake as he clasps them in his lap, elbows leaning into his knees, and repeats, “What do you mean, what?” in a rasp that makes Derek flinch, just a little.

Derek clears his throat awkwardly and says, “Stiles, I’m not sure… I think that, uh…”

Stiles narrows his eyes, says, “Yeah?”

Finally, Derek says, hesitant, “How do you know what I’ve been dreaming?”

*

The sudden and unexpected release of all his built up rage, all his feelings of impotence, of grief, leaves Stiles a puddle of jellied confusion.

His, “Are you kidding me right now?” comes out soft and shamefully hopeful.

Derek closes his eyes, like he’s pained. He says, “You’re my soulmate,” and it’s not a question, but Stiles says, “Yeah,” anyway.

Derek says, “I’ve been—” He looks at Stiles, expression almost awed, and Stiles is suddenly hit with the ridiculous thought that…

“Have you been wooing me? Are you—have you felt guilty about fucking wooing me?” He doesn’t know how that’s possible, how they could have fucked this up that much without even really trying. Wow.

Derek says, sitting down carefully on the coffee table in front of him, sliding his hands over Stiles’s, “I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, but I think my sisters are never going to let me live it down.”

Stiles stares at their hands, turns his over to lace their fingers together on his knees. There’s a gentle fusing warmth, a satisfaction, like puzzle pieces locking together—unassuming.

He thinks: is this the first time we’ve ever really touched?

He wants to say: ‘My god, you’re an idiot.’

And: ‘There was never any Isaac, was there?’

But he only says, voice thick, “They really never should.”

*

“My soulmate loves turtles,” Stiles says, elbowing Scott in the side as he climbs onto the picnic table next to him. Derek has seven turtles, now: Sam, Lilah, Jim, Pokey, Ivan, Han and Chewbacca. Stiles wants to figure out how to knit all of them little sweaters.

They’re at the annual Hale Family BBQ in the middle of Beacon Hills Veteran Park, and it’s basically pandemonium.

All the extended Hales’ little kids are running around screaming like they’re being murdered.

Derek is manning one of the grills with Stiles’s dad. They’ve each got serious business faces on, nodding, and Stiles has to sit on his hands to keep his unabashed joy in check. Cora would make fun of him even more than she already does.

As if he senses him staring, Derek turns and looks up at him, one eyebrow arched, a smile pulling at one corner of his mouth.

Stiles ignores Scott’s, “Gross,” and says, “love you,” with a wink, knowing that Derek’s enormous wolfy ears will hear him across the field, across time and space, and he knows that Derek’s blush and head dip means: I love you too.