It was the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Nor was a Stiles, despite the fact that it was barely nine thirty.
Sheriff Stilinski was working as he usually did on Christmas Eve. There was no other way he could take Christmas Day off, because even in the season of goodwill and cheer crimes were committed. And of course there were the occasional bouts of citizens filled with too much cheer, brought upon by too much eggnog that had been mixed with far too much liquor.
As with every other year, his dad's work schedule left Stiles free to take advantage of an empty house and the spirit of Christmas in the way he thought every teenager should; by eating an obscene amount of take out and a dozen candy canes, washing it all down with more peppermint hot chocolate than he'd let his dad have all month, indulging in a little self-love and passing out in a food and afterglow coma before nine.
Stiles loved his pre-Christmas ritual.
On a normal night, nothing short of debilitating illness or lack of an internet connection could force Stiles to sleep before the early hours of the morning, but Christmas Eve had never been a normal night and Stiles had never gotten over the childish idea that the sooner he went to sleep, the sooner it would be Christmas. And if part of that was because it reminded him of his mom – of the years when she'd tuck him in with a gingerbread man on his bedside table and a reminder that Santa wouldn't visit unless he was asleep – well, it wasn't hurting anyone.
With each year as Stiles had grown older it had gotten harder and harder to fall asleep so early, but once he'd discovered the joys of an all-night gaming marathon he'd learned to adapt. Spending the night of the twenty-third flailing over the Christmas-type things he hadn't gotten around to yet followed by video games until breakfast was a sure fire way to get an early night on the twenty-fourth.
Also, it was fun.
Sleep hadn't been easy after he, Allison and Scott had willingly sacrificed themselves to save their parents; the Darkness Deaton warned them about had come at Stiles hard and fast and he hadn't had a single dreamless night since.
Christmas Eve was no different; except that for the first time in a very long while, Stiles' dream didn't turn into a nightmare.
Stiles opened his eyes and looked at his bedside clock. It wasn't even ten o'clock yet, his dad couldn't be home, couldn't be the cause of the footsteps and light clatter of what sounded like cookware in the kitchen. He was used to random people in his house at night – the werewolves in his life had made that almost normal – but none of them would be in his kitchen…opening and closing the oven?
He got out of bed to check on his dad – because who else could it be? – but realized halfway to his door that he was dreaming. He had never been able to tell before the problems with the Nemeton, but he'd taught himself out of sheer necessity. How else could he stay sane?
Of course, that meant that his visitor could be anyone, anything. He could be about to walk into his worst nightmare. Again.
He grabbed his bat, the one that had saved their lives in the root cellar – or the dream representation of the bat, anyway – and slowly headed down the stairs. When he peered around the edge of the kitchen wall, his heart caught in his throat.
She looked exactly like he remembered.
There had been nothing since his childhood that quite measured up to watching his mother in the kitchen. She loved to cook and to bake, and Stiles loved to watch and help. More than anything he loved to sit with her once everything was done and taste whatever she had made; sampling the tasty treats with her while the dishes waited patiently in the sink.
It was a low blow, he thought, that the Darkness would show him this on Christmas Eve; as though he hadn't been tortured enough each night.
He gripped the bat tighter, ready for whatever horror was going to appear.
She was humming, like his mother always had. Maybe this was the entire point of the nightmare – reminding him of what he'd never have again.
"What do you think, Kochanie? Sugar cookies or gingerbread?" she asked, glancing over at him with a soft smile that tore shreds into his chest. He hadn't heard that endearment since a few moments before she died, hand clutching weakly at his.
There was nothing he could say to that so he just stared at her blankly, trying to process what he was seeing and put together some kind of reaction.
"That was a silly question, wasn't it?" she grinned, shaking her head at his expression. "You'd never say no to gingerbread."
The bat slipped from Stiles' fingers before he could stop it, but the noise it made as it hit the floor didn't quite cover the sob he couldn't stifle.
"Oh, no," the thing that wore his mother's face said, looking sad. "I'm sorry. This was meant to be comforting, not hurtful."
A warm hand – his mother's warm hand – cupped his cheek. It couldn't be her, he knew, but it didn't seem dangerous, either.
"So," he said as he pulled back from her touch, finally able to speak, "I guess I've been reading too much Charles Dickens."
She laughed. It sounded exactly the way Stiles remembered it; loud and filled with joy. He wondered if the pain from this nightmare would ever fade the same way the pain from the others did eventually. He doubted it.
"I'm not the Ghost of Christmas Past," she told him, with a half-smile he'd seen thousands of times – the one he'd secretly started to worry he was forgetting.
"You're not real."
"I'm not alive," she argued with a sad smile. "That doesn't mean I'm not real."
Stiles wanted more than anything to believe that it was his mother standing in front of him, but he hesitated. What could the Darkness manipulate him into doing by taking the form of his mom?
Almost anything, he realized with a start. He would do almost anything to make his mom happy.
But there was no way he could know for certain whether the vision in front of him was the spirit of his mother, an emotional manipulation to target his worst weakness, or just a dream brought on by too much sugar. Any question he could ask as proof would be pointless; if she were really his mother she'd know the answer, and if she was nothing more than a dream – or worse, a nightmare from the Darkness – the answer would be pulled from his mind easily.
He already knew that his nightmares were built around his fears and insecurities, taken right out of his head.
Still, until she did something dangerous, what could he do except play along? If this were a harmless dream – or less likely, a visit from his mom from beyond the grave – then he didn't want to waste it.
Just in case.
"So, uh…Mom," he began, the word feeling sharp and prickly in his throat, "what brings you to my nighttime slumber?"
"The Nemeton," she answered without hesitation.
Stiles swore, his fingers curling uselessly around nothing. He wished he was still holding his bat and couldn't help mumbling something to that effect under his breath.
And then, suddenly, it was in his grasp.
He blinked down at the unexpected item, confused. He hadn't picked it up, but there it was, dangling precariously between barely gripping fingertips. He tightened his hand around it instinctively.
"Whatever makes you feel safe," she told him with a wave at his makeshift weapon. This time, he believed her. Stiles had never had enough control to successfully alter his dreams before; it was obvious to him that she had done it instead. "Now what I meant, Kochanie, was that I'm here as a gesture, not as a punishment. I came to reward you for your sacrifice."
"You what?" he croaked, his heart in his throat. There was no way that he was getting his mother back; it had to be a trap. "If you think that I'm stupid enough to believe that my mom is being resurrected eight years after she died – my mom was human, by the way, and humans tend to stay dead – so if you think you can fool me into—"
"Oh, no. I'm so—I'm sorry. That wasn't what I meant at all, and I should have been more careful with what I said. I just—it's so good to see you again, face to face instead of watching you from above. And you're all grown. It's…it's overwhelming. But I should have been more considerate of my words. I—I'm not coming back. I can't. It was my time, Kochanie."
Stiles nodded; he knew as much. He'd researched resurrection like a madman once Peter Hale had crawled out of his grave like a fashion-forward and surprisingly astute zombie.
"What I meant," she continued, "is that your sacrifice was an honorable one. You made a choice to save lives at the risk of your own, even knowing that you would suffer for it. You didn't only save your father and your friends' parents, but everyone in Beacon Hills. That kind of selfless deed doesn't go unnoticed. You knew you would suffer terribly because of the decision you made, but you did it anyway. We can't take that suffering away without negating your actions, but we can give you something. A gift of your choice. As a thank you."
It sounded too good to be true, which meant that it probably was.
"What's the catch?"
"Only that our interference cannot last after Christmas Day. Tangible items will stay, as long as they do not go against nature, however any intangible effects that we cause will disappear at midnight."
"So if I wished for a car, I'd get to keep it?" he joked. Stiles would never ask for something so shallow – not when he was being offered a gift that sounded like, well, like a Christmas miracle.
"You would keep it. But is that really what you want?"
"Of course not. I…I don't know what I want."
That wasn't entirely true; Stiles had a very good idea of what he wanted, but he wasn't sure if it was even possible.
"What if…" He hesitated. "What if I asked for someone…someone I love who died…to come back to life?"
She looked at him sorrowfully. "Then you would get the chance to spend Christmas Day with them, but only from midnight tonight until midnight tomorrow. After, any physical evidence of their visit would disappear and you would be left with only the memory."
Stiles cleared his throat; it felt dry and itchy. "Would—would Dad remember, too?"
"Anyone in your life who is aware of the sacrifice you made will remember."
A wave of nausea hit Stiles hard. There was nothing he'd wished for more often in his life than to have had more time with his mom, but there was nothing he wanted less than to see his dad have to say goodbye to her one more time. It would be hard enough for Stiles to say goodbye once his dream was over, and he wasn't even sure this was actually her. He knew that there was no way – no way at all – that his dad could handle losing her again.
There were others he could bring back. Erica. Boyd. Heather. But there was no one he could bring back that wouldn't hurt someone twice as much as it made them happy. He just couldn't do that.
"Why me?" he asked eventually. While he'd been lost in thought, his mom had started rolling out dough. Stiles could smell the spice. If he didn't know it was a dream, his mouth would have watered. "Or are Scott and Allison having their own midnight visitors as well? To be honest the idea of Mrs. Argent offering Allison anything she wants is sort of terrifying."
"No," she said as she shook her head, looking at him fondly. "This gift is only for you. Scott has already been rewarded; his sacrifice was the final step that elevated him to alpha status. And Allison…while her actions were just as noble as yours, it was clear as she made her decision that she wanted desperately to atone for her past. Her reward is her peace of mind; those in charge have siphoned the worst of her guilt from her. They couldn't take it all, they left just enough to remind her of where her choices can lead. The Darkness will use what is left to torment her, but the hold on her will be lessened. Without her reward, Allison would suffer the worst of all three of you."
Stiles could read between the lines. He knew that the Darkness capitalized on their fears, their guilt, their insecurities.
"It'll be me, now, won't it? I'll be the one who suffers the most?"
She nodded, and the sadness in her eyes knocked the breath from Stiles' lungs. It was the same sadness he'd seen when she'd told him she didn't have much time left; when she'd apologized for all the times she couldn't be there for him as he grew older.
"It's alright," he told her. "I can handle it. I'm—I'll be okay."
He hoped that was true.
"I know you will," she said. "You're stronger than you believe, Kochanie. And I know you must have your doubts about what I'm offering you; I'd be shocked if you didn't. But you can believe me. You can trust me."
And he did, he realized. Maybe he was being naïve, but at some point in their conversation, he'd understood that yes, she was his mom. She wasn't a manipulation or a monster made to look like her.
There was no Darkness controlling her. Stiles couldn't say exactly how he knew; he just did. But despite that sudden knowledge, Stiles would never forgive himself if he made a poor choice that ended up hurting the people he cared about.
"How long do I have to choose?" he asked.
His mom smiled, tugging him to the kitchen counter by his wrist. Her hand was smaller than he remembered, which made sense, he supposed, but other than that it felt like any number of memories from his childhood.
"We have a little time, yet. Why don't you help me with these cookies while you decide?"
Stiles couldn't say no to that.
By the time they were done and the cookies were baking in the oven, Stiles had come to a decision. Whatever he wished for needed to be innocuous, just in case he was wrong about this being his mom, and whatever he chose, he wanted it to matter…to make a difference to someone.
While he was cutting out gingerbread and remembering fond memories from when he was little, it came to him. He remembered something he'd learned months ago, something that had made him incredibly sad. Maybe…maybe he could make it just a little better.
He leaned over and kissed his mom on the cheek, whispering his wish into her ear. She beamed at him, smile bright and full, then stood on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
"You've grown into a wonderful man, Kochanie. I'm so proud of you."
Stiles pulled his mom into a tight hug, wishing he had more time but knowing he didn't. He squeezed his eyes closed and tried to memorize the way her arms felt around him and the strange way her perfume and the smell of gingerbread fit perfectly together, somehow.
When Stiles opened his eyes again, he was in bed, arms practically strangling his pillow. He tried to ignore the pang of loss he felt, but he was startled by a noise in the kitchen.
He scrambled out of bed and fell, sheets twisted around his legs, almost braining himself on the edge of his desk in his hurry. He rushed downstairs and into the kitchen, but was stopped short by the sight of his dad.
"Oh," he said, trying not to sound too disappointed. "Are you only just getting home?"
His dad frowned at him, looking confused. He glanced at the clock on the wall and back at Stiles.
"Only just? Stiles, I'm more than four hours early."
Stiles' head twisted to look at the clock so hastily – and violently – that he felt his neck pop. It was only nine forty-five. How was that possible? He'd gone to bed around nine, had fallen asleep maybe fifteen minutes after that. His dream had felt like it lasted the whole night; he'd spent what seemed like hours rolling cookie dough and cutting gingerbread with his mom, but he'd been asleep for less than thirty minutes. Stiles wasn't sure what to make of that.
"Right," he said quickly. "Sorry. I was just…I fell asleep and it felt like the whole night, I guess. So…why are you home so early?"
"Maria had only taken one call by nine, so I was going to send Davids or Stephenson home, but they ganged up and said if anyone was going to leave early it should be me. Then they shoved me out the door."
"Well, you've been working a lot…"
"I know. We're still understaffed. But I guess they just got sick of seeing my face," he joked.
Stiles gave his dad a grin, though it was a little forced. Now that he was awake he was starting to think that the whole dream had been just that – a dream.
At least it hadn't been a nightmare, he supposed.
"I'm going to head back to bed, I guess," Stiles told his dad, who nodded.
"Yeah, I think I'll do the same. It'll be nice to have a Christmas dinner where I'm not falling asleep in my eggnog."
Stiles made his way upstairs and through his dark bedroom, crawling back under his covers and trying to ignore the disappointment he felt.
He could still smell the gingerbread.
Fumbling around for the glass of water he kept on his bedside table, Stiles froze. He sat up abruptly and grabbed his phone, using the screen as a makeshift light.
There was a gingerbread man by his glass of water.
Stiles hadn't put it there, and his dad knew better ever since the first Christmas after his mom died, when he'd bought Stiles some gingerbread and it had resulted in a panic attack of disastrous proportions.
He reached out with a shaky hand and took a tiny bite. Just one leg.
It tasted just like the ones his mom used to make. She was sending him a message.
Stiles got out of bed just as gracelessly as he had ten minutes before, trying to ignore the sting in his eyes. This time he switched his light on and got dressed quickly, barely glancing at himself to make sure he was decent before he hurried down the stairs once again.
"I thought you were going to bed?"
He froze halfway to the front door, with no idea of what to say. His mom had sent him a message, which meant his dream had been more than just a dream, and his wish…well, it might actually come true. But Stiles had no idea how much of his wish would unfold on its own, and how much he needed to help it along. He didn't want to take any chances.
"I was. But…I need to get to the store."
"What store? Stiles, it's almost gone ten on Christmas Eve, the stores are closed."
Stiles shook his head. "Just…just a store. There's stuff I still need. Last minute gifts. And somewhere will be open, even if it's just that weird store down on Main where the guy always smells like Cheetos. They have some cool stuff."
His dad folded his arms, giving Stiles his patented, 'quit bullshitting me' look. "You've been bragging about having your Christmas shopping finished since August."
"I forgot someone. Something. It's just—this is different. Anyway, why the interrogation? Can't I just decide I want to make tomorrow extra special instead of regular special? Quit looking at me like I'm about to launch some kind of Christmas Eve Commercial Revolution, there are no shenanigans here."
He didn't look fooled for a minute, but he gave a resigned sigh. Clearly, he knew when Stiles was on a mission and fighting against it was pointless. "Be home soon."
"Soon-ish," Stiles agreed, letting his hand waver a little between them for emphasis.
"Just try to get at least a little sleep, alright?"
"That goes double for you!" Stiles said on his way out. "Christmas morning pancakes are going to be earlier than normal, since you're actually home in time to sleep at a decent hour!"
He closed the door behind him, ignoring his dad's muttering about who exactly was the parent in their household. If Stiles left everything up to his dad they'd live on artery clogging takeout and microwaveable meals. Both of which Stiles was fond of, but what he wasn't fond of was the possibility of his wrong-side-of-forty father ending up with any form of heart disease.
By the time Stiles got home and had everything wrapped it was almost two in the morning. It was already Christmas Day. He wasn't under any illusion that his wish was already having any effect; after all, he was probably the only person he knew still awake, but he felt lighter and happier than he had in a while just at the idea of it.
There was really only one thing that was still missing, but he didn't have what he needed and neither did the few stores that had still been open when he'd gone looking. That was okay, though, there was at least one store that would be open on Christmas morning where he could get it. Homemade would have been better than store bought, at least in terms of thoughtfulness if not quality, but he was running against the clock and he'd take what he could get because beggars couldn't be choosers. Besides, he could send his dad to get it while Stiles was making the breakfast trip he'd already planned, so at least he wouldn't lose any time.
Although he was as prepared as he possibly could be, Stiles was up bright and probably too-early on Christmas morning. He didn't want to lose any more time than he strictly had to. He only had one day; he had to make it count.
Every year since Stiles' mom died, he and his dad had a tradition. They had pancakes and opened presents early on Christmas morning (although with his dad's schedule, early usually meant around ten thirty, not six thirty like Stiles was aiming for that day), then they'd relax until it was time to go over to the McCalls' around one in the afternoon. They'd usually just have light snacks for lunch then gorge themselves on a huge dinner early in the evening and watch Christmas specials and DVDs until they fell asleep in the McCall living room somewhere in the wee hours of the next day.
Stiles didn't want to give up that tradition; he just wanted to work around it. And maybe add to it, a little, which admittedly was already going to happen, considering this year it would be more than just the four of them. Isaac would be there, Lydia, Allison and Mr. Argent were also planning to make an appearance. Derek had been invited when he arrived back in town a few weeks earlier, but he'd given Scott a gruff thanks then turned him down.
If nothing else, Stiles was going to change that.
By a record-breaking six twenty-five, Stiles had a neat stack of pancakes on the kitchen table, and a large amount of batter sitting in the fridge to be cooked a little later. He had dragged his grumbling dad down the stairs, silencing all protests with coffee that he'd graciously added some cinnamon, nutmeg and full-fat creamer to, but only because it was Christmas.
And because maybe it would buy him enough goodwill that his dad wouldn't argue much about being sent on an errand on Christmas morning.
Once they'd enjoyed their breakfast and shared their gifts, Stiles had a shower and got dressed (which in itself was almost a Christmas miracle, since one year he'd almost worn his pajamas to Scott's) then cooked up the rest of the pancake batter. By eight fifteen he was packing the finished products into a container and shoving the whole thing in a heat saving bag. He'd also filled a large thermos of the same super awesome coffee he'd made his dad.
"Going somewhere?" his dad asked with a raised eyebrow. Stiles was glad he'd snuck all the presents out to the car before he'd forced his dad out of bed – less suspicious that way, he figured.
"Yeah, I'm just going to spread some Christmas cheer. And pancakes."
His dad blinked at him slowly, as though he were trying to work out what Stiles' angle was. "You're going out voluntarily on Christmas Day, without the promise of free food? What exactly are you trying to make up for, kid?"
Stiles huffed, trying to act like he was at least a little bit offended. "Can't I just do something nice?"
"Sure. Just not usually on Christmas."
"Christmas is the exact time to be doing nice things!" Stiles argued.
"Cut the crap. Last Christmas when I said we should spend some time volunteering at the local shelter, you said the homeless would still be hungry the next day and that Christmas was strictly a day for families and laziness."
"Still a perfectly valid statement. But I'm taking these to my new and occasionally frightening extended family," Stiles admitted with a shrug. When his dad just waited patiently, he rolled his eyes. "Fine. I feel bad that Derek's going to be alone at Christmas, okay? He said no to dinner at Scott's, so I'm going to take him some chocolate chip filled breakfast-y goodness and try to convince him not to be a scrooge."
The expression on his dad's face softened. "You're a good kid. I don't think I tell you that enough."
"I'm not always. But you do."
"Yeah, well," his dad said, clearing his throat, "just make sure you're back well before lunch. I'd like to spend a little more time with my son on Christmas Day."
"I will if you will."
"I'm not planning on going anywhere."
"About that…" Stiles grinned, handing his dad a piece of paper with instructions on it. "I kind of need a favor."
His dad took the note, looking over it suspiciously. "Stiles…what? Why do you need—"
"If I actually have to answer that, I'll be questioning your position as Sheriff."
"Who do we know who—?"
Stiles cut him off by holding the packed pancakes up pointedly.
"Aw, hell. That's just—okay, kid."
Stiles beamed. "You're the best, Dad. Seriously, like super levels of cool."
By the time Stiles trudged up the stairs to Derek's new apartment carrying the gifts and food – all in one trip because a) he was lazy, and b) he didn't want to spoil the surprise by having to go back to his car – Stiles' arm was tiring. He had a sack of presents slung over one shoulder, Santa-style, but the other arm was holding the food up with the thermos balanced precariously on top. Still, the only thing he'd dropped were his keys when he'd first climbed out of his car, so he considered the trip a success so far.
The door opened before Stiles knocked, which was for the best, really, since he had no free hands. He almost flailed when he saw who was behind the door, but he caught himself just in time to prevent an incident that would involve Stiles needing to chase a wild thermos down the stairs.
"Hello, Stiles," she said, looking puzzled. Stiles thought that if anyone should be puzzled, it was him, considering that when Derek had come back to town he'd been sans Cora. She had apparently decided to stay in Chicago permanently.
"What are you doing here?" he paused then shook his head. She didn't owe him an explanation for being at her brother's home. "I mean—Derek said—I thought—"
She rolled her eyes. "It's Christmas," she said slowly. It sounded more like, 'You're an idiot,' to Stiles, but he could see her point. "It's a family day," she added softly, and Stiles could hear what she wasn't saying. He was twice as glad he'd wrapped a gift for Cora, even though he'd expected Derek to have to either send it along or hang onto it for a while.
"Uh, yeah, that's—that's why I'm here, actually," he told her. "I mean—not the family thing. The Christmas thing. And it's awesome you're here, because I have a present for you."
"You do?" she asked, sounding surprised. She stepped aside to let him through the door, and grabbed the coffee and food from him. He groaned in relief, shaking his arm a little to get rid of the burn that had started in his bicep.
"Of course! It's not much, but…oh, and I almost didn't bring it because Derek didn't mention you were coming, but I did, so it's here! And, well, hopefully you like it."
Cora's face softened a little, just enough for Stiles to remember that she was a girl his age, and not just a scary werewolf with a tendency to get her claws out. He knew hardly anything about her, but she reminded him of Erica, and he hoped that meant his present would be well received.
"Derek didn't know…I wanted to surprise him," she said, following it up with a smirk. "I pounced on him at midnight like I used to do when we were kids. He squealed like a girl."
Stiles' throat felt thick – Cora had surprised Derek the moment that his wish kicked into effect. That had to mean something, didn't it? It could be a coincidence, but Stiles liked to think it wasn't. He grinned as she finished speaking and looked at her doubtfully. "I can't imagine Derek squealing."
She shrugged. "He said I kneed him in the junk."
He winced in sympathy and she laughed.
"He was lying," she clarified.
"You're kind of evil. So where is he? Off licking his wounds?" As he spoke, his face twisted. "That...is absolutely not what I meant. I'm positive there has to be a better way of saying that but my mind is blank and I can't come up with one."
Cora made a face at him then grabbed the big bag he'd forgotten he was still holding. "I don't know if you're funny or mentally disturbing. But he's in the shower, hopefully not licking anything. These are the presents, right?"
Before he could react, she was settling on the sofa, bag at her feet.
"Yeah. But maybe you should wait until he gets out? He probably won't be long since he knows I'm here."
"He won't be listening. Derek likes to tune out the rest of the world when he's in the shower, and he knows I'll warn him if something's wrong. So he might be a while," she grinned. "Besides, he smelled like cat when he came back from his run. I may have teased him about it…for ages. So he probably won't come out until it's completely gone."
Stiles had no idea what that meant. "I—okay?"
Cora rolled her eyes again. Stiles was beginning to see why people thought he was an asshole when he did that. "Derek loves cats. He's a big old dork about them, but he pretends he's not, because cats hate him. Well, they hate us. They can smell the wolf, you know?"
"Right, Scott said the cats at the clinic went a little crazy around him at first. But they stopped not long after he got turned. I think Deaton did something."
Cora's expression shifted from amused to thoughtful. "You think he can do that? If you give Derek shit about this I swear, Stilinski, I will end you. I'm the only one who is allowed to make fun of him for secretly being a cat person…but he looked happy when he got back. He doesn't look like that a lot. I think whatever cat he saw had no sense of self preservation, because he reeked like it had crawled all over him and scent marked the hell out of him. He can't usually get close enough to a cat to pet it without it freaking out. If Deaton can fix that, it'd be…nice. For him. He'd like it."
"I'll find out," Stiles promised. His mind was racing, jumping between frankly adorable images of Derek cradling and petting a fluffy kitten, and the knowledge that his wish was definitely doing something. Cora's visit might have been a coincidence, but surely the cat's unusual friendliness couldn't be.
Something about the idea of Derek with his own little cat – and Stiles automatically pictured the Grumpy Cat because that's just how his brain worked – made him feel light and warm inside. Not for the first time, he tried to shove those thoughts aside, because Derek would probably never see Stiles that way.
"So," Stiles rubs his hands together, "let's get this organized before the big guy gets out of the shower. Do you know which cupboard Derek keeps his plates in? Because I have a bunch of chocolate chip pancakes that should still be warm, and lots of coffee. There should be enough for you, too. I mean, I've seen how much Scott eats so I made enough for like, four, in case Derek is even worse."
Cora was eyeing Stiles. She looked speculative. "You made his favorite?"
"I did? I uh—I didn't know…" he trailed off when she raised an eyebrow. He sighed. "We always make pancakes for Christmas morning. I may have, possibly, seen Derek eating chocolate chip ones before. Thought it was a safe bet."
She smirked as she pulled plates and mugs down from one of the cupboards. "You've gone to an awful lot of trouble. Shouldn't you be with your dad?"
Something about her tone screamed a warning at Stiles. He paused, partway through pulling one of Derek's gifts out of the bag to create a pile on Derek's coffee table, beside the tiny pre-decorated plastic tree Stiles had found at the store the night before. As he'd suspected, Derek didn't have a Christmas tree, so it was the best he could do.
"Oh…I already spent some time with Dad. And we're going to spend more time together after this. He doesn't mind."
When Cora didn't answer, Stiles glanced over to see her staring intently at the gift in Stiles' hand. It was wrapped in bright paper that clearly didn't fall under the category of Christmas.
He cleared his throat, quickly stacking the rest of the gifts, only two of which were wrapped in Christmas paper. He felt awkward all of a sudden. "It's uh—it's his birthday, right?" Cora just nodded, looking struck, and Stiles felt compelled to explain. "I just figured, he has to share his special day, so I thought, you know…I should…I mean." He took a deep breath. "I guess I thought I should make it more special?"
Cora's eyes were drifting over the small stack of presents. She looked a little wistful, and Stiles assumed that was a good sign.
"You guys should come to lunch at Scott's," he added. "Scott already asked but Derek said no. You'll help me convince him, right? I kind of figured we could do a birthday breakfast, then a Christmas lunch and dinner. It's the best of both worlds."
When Cora looked back at him, her face was bright and she nodded. She was smiling; an actual sincere and non-sarcastic smile. Stiles had never seen her like that before, and it reminded him that it wasn't just Derek – the entire Hale family was blessed with dangerously beautiful genetics.
"So how long have you been in love with my brother?" she asked casually, and Stiles had to catch himself on the edge of the coffee table before he knocked over all the presents.
"I—I'm not—that's not—"
"Stiles," she interrupted, pointing at herself. "Werewolf."
His shoulders fell. "I don't know how long." Then he tensed suddenly, remembering that Cora wasn't the only werewolf in the apartment, and turned his head in the direction of the hall that led to the rest of the apartment.
"Relax. He's not listening. He's too busy humming 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'."
"Derek likes Nirvana? Never mind, of course he does. Wait—Derek hums in the shower?"
"I told you, he looked happy. And don't think you're going to distract me."
Stiles grimaced and collapsed dramatically onto the sofa. "It's stupid and pointless, I know."
"You never know. I don't think anyone outside of our family has cared enough to do something like this," Cora said. It sounded strangely blunt, but there was something about her expression that told Stiles she approved; that she was just trying to build back her uncaring attitude after she'd let it slip.
"That's not why I did this, you know." Stiles flushed. "I mean…I did it because I care, but I'm not trying to win him over or something. I just think he should have a good birthday, that's all. He's had a pretty shitty year. Years. In general."
"I know you're not. That's why you're sitting on the sofa instead of out on your ass in the hall. And I'll probably never repeat this, but I'm glad he has someone like you around. Even though you're sometimes the most irritating person I've ever met."
"I'm just going to focus on the positive in that statement."
"Wise choice," Cora smirked. "Derek's out of the shower and getting dressed." She tilted her head and smirked even wider. "He just realized you're here. Because he's hopeless and didn't notice you arrive twenty minutes ago while he was in the middle of the longest shower in history."
The last part was obviously directed at Derek, who came down the hall moments later, scowling.
"Don't be so cranky, Der. Or do we need to get a kitten in here? It could be your birthday present."
Derek glared at Cora, darting his eyes briefly towards Stiles.
"Oh relax," she told Derek. "He already knew what today was. Or did you miss the pile of birthday presents he brought over?"
At Cora's words, Derek spun around to face Stiles, looking surprised. Stiles tried to gesture casually at the pile of gifts, though he suspected he looked something like a game show assistant on their first, painfully awkward, day.
"You know it's my birthday?" Derek asked, expression blank. Stiles didn't think he was imagining a flicker of something happy in his eyes, but it was gone too fast for him to be sure.
"Yeah, man. I uh—I may have snuck a look at your file when my dad arrested you that time. Have I mentioned recently that I was sorry for causing that, by any chance?"
Instead of an answer, Derek just stared at the pile, which Stiles was suddenly wishing was either bigger or completely non-existent. "And you…bought me presents?"
Before Stiles could decide that his surprise visit had been a worse idea than the time he'd dragged Scott out into the woods looking for a dead body, Cora snorted. "For fuck's sake Derek, be weird about this later. Stiles brought over your favorite breakfast and I for one want to eat before it gets cold."
Just like that, the tension that had been building in the room dissipated, and everyone relaxed. Derek sat at the kitchen counter, where Cora had set out plates for all three of them.
"Oh, I've already eaten with my dad," Stiles said. "You guys go ahead though."
"We're not going to sit here and eat without you," Cora told him, looking as though she thought he was stupid for even suggesting it. "Just have a coffee and at least one pancake."
She nudged the plate towards him and exchanged weird looks with Derek, but Stiles had no idea what was going on below the surface, though something obviously was.
"Stiles doesn't have to eat with us if he doesn't want to," Derek said firmly, and Cora's expression shifted into the kind of glare Stiles and Scott shared when they were trying to make a point to each other. Derek glared right back until Cora gave up with a huff and stabbed her stack of pancakes. Derek cleared his throat and looked over at Stiles. He seemed hesitant. "But, it would be nice if you did."
There was something that Stiles was missing, he knew, but he couldn't begin to guess what it was. Regardless, there was no way he'd willingly disappoint Derek on his birthday, so he picked up his fork and ate, ignoring the way Cora grinned smugly behind her coffee.
After breakfast was finished they sat around the coffee table; Cora and Derek on the sofa and Stiles grinning from his spot on the floor opposite them. The coffee table was in the middle, and Stiles was rubbing his hands together, feeling more excited than Derek and Cora looked.
"Okay, so where do we start?" he asked Derek, who looked a little uncomfortable at being made to choose. Stiles found it endearing, though he kept that to himself.
"I wouldn't want Cora to cry waiting for her present," Derek said, nudging Cora with his shoulder.
"That was one time!" She punched Derek hard enough in the arm that Stiles was sure it had to hurt a lot, even for a werewolf, but Derek just grinned. "Besides, I was five and you took forever to open your presents!" She narrowed her eyes at Derek then turned back to Stiles to explain. "We always celebrated Derek's birthday first, because Mom never wanted him to feel like second priority. So he got to open all his presents before anyone got to open their Christmas ones. And he deliberately took forever, because he was – is – an asshole."
Derek laughed. It wasn't the kind of deep and full laugh that Stiles was capable of; instead it was half suppressed like Derek couldn't quite muster up all the happiness he needed to let go, but it was still an honest laugh. Stiles tried not to have a heart attack from sheer amazement.
"Well, I'm letting you open your gifts first now, if you missed that."
"Don't be dumb," Cora said with a frown. "You're still not second priority. Open your fucking birthday presents before I open them for you."
Stiles wasn't going to risk his throat by commenting on the sentimentality that Cora was trying to cover with her attitude, but it was definitely there. Derek looked a little thrown, but Stiles agreed with Cora completely.
"Well, that's settled then," he said, breaking the ice by throwing one of the birthday gifts at Derek, who caught it easily. "Quick, before Cora gets sick of waiting."
As Derek began pulling off the paper, Stiles realized which gift he'd handed over and he wished he'd paid more attention when he picked it up. He should have grabbed one of the safer ones.
"The Art of War?"
Stiles looked at the book in Derek's hand and swallowed awkwardly. "I uh—I saw Boyd reading a school library copy one day during lunch. It was his favorite. That was—I was going to give it to him for Christmas, but I figured you should have it." His mouth twisted wryly. "He thought you needed a tactician in the pack, so he'd agree with me, I think. But I'm sorry—I didn't realize which one I was picking up. I should have given you a fun one first."
"No," Derek said quickly, voice a little rough. "This is—thank you."
When Stiles looked at Cora, she was pale but gave him a shaky smile. She and Boyd had been through a lot together, he was reminded. They'd been friends.
"Here," he said, looking over the gifts carefully before he picked the next one. "This one next."
Once it was unwrapped, Derek held up the DVD twin pack with a raised eyebrow.
"I figured that since you moved on to a more sensible soccer-mom car, you needed something to relive your glory days," Stiles joked.
Derek snorted and Cora laughed. "Don't let him fake you out. Derek was obsessed with 'The Fast And The Furious' when it came out. And he didn't even have his license then."
"I hate you," Derek told Cora, bluntly.
"You won't hate me once I get you the third, fourth and fifth ones," she grinned.
Stiles already had the next two gifts ready, and he shook them in Derek's direction. Derek had barely managed to get the paper off the first one when Cora snatched the box out of Derek's hands and started picking at the tape holding it closed.
Cora ignored Derek's protest in favor of popping one of the Ferrero Rochers into her mouth. "You snooze, you lose," she said around a mouthful of chocolate, but she didn't put up a fight when he took the box back off her and shoved it under his thigh protectively.
"Get your own," he muttered, but he had a half smile on his face and Stiles could tell he didn't really mind. When he opened the next gift, Stiles laughed at the expression on his face.
"Oh come on, dude, it's not that bad! You like henleys."
"It's dark purple. Like…eggplant."
"Eggplant?" Derek repeated dubiously.
"Sure. You need some color in your wardrobe. This way you can keep up being all 'stealthy creature of the night' after dark and still give a pleasant 'I'm not a gang-member or serial killer' vibe during the day. I'd have gone for a lilac or neon green but I thought I'd ease you in slowly."
"Thank you?" Derek told him, looking like he had no idea whether he should be grateful or offended, but opting on the side of positive because Stiles had given him gifts.
That attitude would probably change with the next one. Stiles briefly considered not giving to him, but his self-preservation lost the internal battle dismally and Stiles handed Derek the second last birthday gift with a smirk. He must have looked suspicious because Derek eyed him cautiously before he pulled the contents out of the gift bag.
The look that Derek shot Stiles could only be described as the sassiest 'bitch please' look Stiles had ever seen. And he'd seen Peter Hale.
On the upside, it didn't look as though Derek would actually kill him. On the downside, Derek eye-rolled so hard Stiles thought Derek might give himself a headache from it.
Stiles couldn't help it, he laughed so hard he almost cried.
"You're the only person who finds you funny," Derek told him flatly, once Stiles had settled down.
"Don't be like that," Stiles said with a grin. "And anyway, I didn't get it as a dog joke," he added, grabbing the collar out of Derek's hands and shaking it so that it jingled. "Well, mostly. I got it because I need you to wear a bell for my own sanity. Otherwise one day when you jump out of the shadows I'm legit going to pee myself and no one wants to see that."
"Maybe I do," Derek deadpanned.
"Seconded," Cora added.
Stiles had the worst friends. But Derek was smirking again, so he couldn't quite find it in himself to act offended. He couldn't drag his eyes away from Derek's; behind all the snark and joking there was something upbeat there, and despite his gag gift Stiles felt like Derek really appreciated the effort he'd gone to.
He ignored the swooping feeling in his stomach and was almost grateful when Derek broke eye contact first.
"Okay, one more!" he said happily, picking up the gift and handing it to Derek carefully. He was a little worried about it – it was more personal than the others, but Stiles also thought it might be the best. "It's uh—if you like it, you might want to make a copy for Cora. I mean, I probably should have done that already but there was nowhere open last night that could do a good one when I went and bought the frame."
By the time Stiles was done speaking Derek was staring down at the frame in his hands, unblinking. He looked a little wrecked, and Stiles hoped that wasn't a bad thing. The moment was bittersweet, probably; Stiles knew how much it could hurt to look at that sort of thing, even while it could mean the world to the person hurting.
"How did you—where did you…?" Derek didn't finish speaking – maybe couldn't, if the crack in his voice was any indication – as Cora gently plucked the photo frame from his fingers to look at the photo more closely.
Before he answered, Stiles got up off the floor and stepped around the coffee table, sitting on the edge so he was closer to both Derek and Cora. It felt like a more personal conversation, and it seemed wrong to sit so far away when he told them.
"After Scott was bitten, we went looking for a guy…we thought he might have a cure. He was a professor and he had a history of studying werewolf stuff, but seriously and in depth. Not like the regular mythology classes. Anyway, he told us a story about a woman he helped one day, who healed right after he helped her. Then he showed us that photo." Stiles paused. "I uh…I saw you were in the picture and then realized who she was, so I swiped it. I figured it was safer if he didn't have it. I would have given it to you sooner, but we didn't always get along great and I thought you might think I was being an asshole. But I just…I know what it's like to lose your mom. I figured it would probably be worse losing all the pictures and things as well."
Cora got up suddenly and walked into the kitchen, getting a glass of water. Stiles felt as though she was giving them a moment of privacy just as much as she was taking a moment for herself. Even though she was still only a few feet away from them, it gave at least an illusion of space.
Derek's jaw clenched once, then twice. "I don't know how to say thank you for this. It's—it's a lot."
Stiles shrugged awkwardly. "You don't need to. It's your birthday," he said as though that explained everything. For just a moment Stiles was surrounded by warmth and strength, but it was gone before Stiles could reciprocate.
Derek had just hugged him. Completely voluntarily. Stiles thought he might be losing his mind, but then he saw the open and vulnerable expression on Derek's face. His eyes stung and Stiles wiped at them quickly and furiously. He wasn't the one who should be feeling so emotional that morning, though it was hard not to when Derek was looking at him like that.
"So," he said, pushing up off the coffee table and re-finding his spot on the floor, "it must be Christmas time, right?"
"I don't have anything for you," Derek said, looking guilty.
There was no way Stiles was going to let Derek wallow in guilt; he'd done enough of that since they'd met. He waved his hand dismissively. "Forget about it, man. I'm the one who scratched your Camaro that time when you thought it was someone at the gas station. Your Christmas gift can be not killing me. It totally counts."
For a few seconds Stiles regretted the confession; Derek's eyebrows were doing something that looked frankly dangerous, but then his face smoothed over and the anger just washed away.
"In that case, your next birthday must be covered, too."
Stiles just beamed at Derek, who stared back until his lip twitched. It might not have been a proper smile, but Stiles would take it. He grabbed the two gifts that had yet to be opened, giving the small box to Derek and the squishy gift to Cora.
"I didn't really know what you'd like," he told her. "This was…it was going to be for Erica. But I think she would have really liked you. You guys…you would've been friends. So I'm pretty sure she'd want you to have it."
Cora nodded, slicing through the tape carefully with one transformed claw. When she peeled open the paper she gave a tiny grin. She held the shirt up against her torso; it looked like a good fit.
"She really liked Catwoman," he added. He supposed that must have been obvious by the character across the front of the shirt, but he couldn't help himself.
"So do I," she said. She folded the shirt up carefully but didn't put it down, holding it tightly instead. "Thank you. And…I think you're right. She and I would have been friends. Boyd told me the same thing, once."
It looked to Stiles as though Cora needed a chance to gather her thoughts, so he shifted his focus back to Derek, who had paused halfway through opening his gift when Stiles had mentioned Erica. When he saw Stiles' eyes fall back on him, Derek finished tugging the ribbon off the small box and opened it.
He pulled the small silver lighter out and looked it over. He looked a little confused, but not unhappy with it. Stiles had found it months earlier and had bought it without even thinking. It had cost more than he'd expected, but he hadn't cared because it was perfect, and came with free engraving. He and Derek hadn't really been friends then, but the design etched onto the front was a wolf howling at a full moon, and Stiles figured that was practically a sign from the universe.
"I know you don't smoke, but I figured you should always be carrying a lighter. For, you know, wolfsbane related emergencies."
The almost-smile on Derek's face became broader, more real, as he flipped the lighter over and ran his finger over the triskelion Stiles had asked the engraver to add in lieu of a name. It wasn't the fake smile he'd seen Derek use when he needed something; it was small and almost shy. It did things to Stiles' insides that he wasn't willing to think about while Derek was in the same room as him.
"Thank you," he told Stiles. "This was very thoughtful of you. All of it."
Stiles shrugged. He didn't know how to handle Derek's reaction, nor Cora's. If it were Scott he'd make some joke-not-joke about how much he loved him, then would crawl all over him in a ridiculously and exaggerated hug, but he couldn't do that with Derek and Cora. So instead, he did what he did best; he drew their attention to something else.
"So, are you both ready for a fun Christmas at the McCall household? Mrs. McCall makes this amazing—"
"I already told Scott I couldn't make it."
Stiles snorted. "Yeah, I'm aware, dude. But I know for a fact he told you to come by anyway if you changed your mind, plus I told him I'd drag you in, even if I had to make some kind of mountain ash cage and wheel you there under protest. And before you say anything, you know Cora is welcome, too."
"I don't want to get in the way of anyone's fun."
"Well, I guess you're coming, then. Otherwise I'll spend the whole night moping about how you are sitting at home when you should be with your friends and you'll officially be the reason that I have no fun. All settled, yes? Good."
Derek folded his arms. "I can't. I got a flat last night and my spare had a leak."
"Werewolf, dude. Worst excuse ever. Besides, I parked next to you and I didn't see a flat. Are you just making this up? Because I swear, I can make that cage."
"Cora and I aren't running to Scott's on Christmas Day in the snow. Someone will see us and think we're insane. And no, I'm not making it up. I got back from the store last night and the front passenger side tire was completely flat."
Stiles' eyes narrowed and he pointed a finger at Derek, accusingly. "Lie. I know for a fact that tire is in perfect condition, because I dropped my keys right next to it this morning."
Derek frowned. He didn't look like someone who was lying. He looked certain. "Not possible."
"Go and check, dude," Stiles told him. "If it's flat, I promise I'll leave you alone about this afternoon. If it's not, you're totally coming along. And don't even think about using a claw, because I will know."
While Derek was gone – because of course Derek couldn't just believe him, he and Cora threw away the used wrapping paper and stacked the dishes from breakfast in the sink. Cora was leafing through a small stack of mail on the counter when Derek came back inside, looking confused.
"Did you replace my tire?" he asked Stiles.
Stiles snorted. "Are you seriously asking me if I came over here with a spare tire that fit your car, somehow magically knowing you'd gotten a flat and didn't have a spare, then changed your tire so I could use it in a bet against you to come to Scott's house? I'm flattered that you think I'm capable of being so diabolical, but no. No I did not."
He had a suspicion as to what happened, was pretty sure his wish had covered it, but he wasn't going to mention that to Derek.
"So, I'll see you guys at Scott's place, then. We normally have snacks around one thirty, and dinner around six, but you can get there any time between one and five thirty, really. We'll just be relaxing. You have to be there by five thirty, though, or else Mrs. McCall will give you her angry face."
"We'll be there," Cora said. Stiles was fairly certain she was speaking to him, although she was staring Derek down as though daring him to disagree.
Derek gave a tiny nod and Stiles fist pumped. Mission accomplished.
"I'd better go," he told them both, reluctantly. "Dad wants to spend a bit more time together before we head over to Scott's place. But I'll see you guys there."
Cora and Derek both nodded, but Cora seemed a little preoccupied with a letter. She was staring down at the envelope with a strange look on her face. Stiles wanted to ask, but it wasn't any of his business, he reasoned. Not that that had ever really stopped him before, but things were going well so far – he didn't want to jeopardize that.
Stiles grabbed his bag and the empty food container and thermos then headed to the door. He didn't realize Derek had followed him until he was in the hall, turning to close the door behind him, finding himself startlingly close, face to face with Derek.
"Dude. This is exactly why I bought you that bell." He took a small, flailing step back.
Derek smirked at him, the smug asshole. Then his face changed and his smiled turned more real. Stiles wasn't sure he'd ever get used to seeing that, or how it made him feel.
"I wanted to say thank you, again," Derek said. It seemed awkward, probably because Derek wasn't used to thanking people. But then, Stiles supposed he wasn't used to people doing nice things for him without underhanded motives, either.
"You're welcome. It wasn't any trouble."
"That was a lie," Derek said, poking Stiles' chest gently, right above his heart.
"Yeah, okay," Stiles admitted. He hated werewolf senses sometimes. "But it was worth it. And I wanted to do it."
Stiles knew Derek wouldn't hear a lie there, because there was none. They stood quietly for a few seconds, neither quite knowing what to say, when the sound of a door opening and closing one floor up got their attention.
"That's Mrs. Bates, the landlady. She lives upstairs," Derek said.
"Right. Well, I should go," Stiles said, already halfway to the stairwell. "Happy birthday, Derek. And don't you back out on Christmas dinner. I'll come and find you if I have to."
"We can't have that," he heard Derek say behind him.
When five o'clock rolled around and Stiles had already been at Scott's house for almost four hours, he began to worry that Derek had changed his mind. If Cora hadn't looked as determined to get Derek to the McCall house as Stiles was, he might have already left to drag the birthday-wolf over kicking and screaming.
Thankfully, that hadn't been necessary. Just a few minutes later he could hear Cora complaining as she rang the doorbell. When Scott let them in, beaming, it became obvious she was muttering about some Nine Inch Nails back-to-back song marathon on the radio station.
"Don't look so smug, Derek," she huffed. "They might be your favorite band, but you're going to be stuck listening to the cheesiest carols for the rest of the day if I have anything to say about it."
Derek was smiling again – or maybe still, Stiles thought in awe – and he was carrying a very large platter of sugar cookies.
Stiles didn't miss the fact that Derek was wearing the purple henley he'd given him. Derek caught him looking and the tips of Derek's ears turned pink. Stiles was pretty sure that he'd still be grinning about that by the time school started back.
"I didn't know either of you could bake," Stiles said eventually, taking the platter from Derek and putting it on the kitchen counter, away from where Mrs. McCall was putting the final touches to some of the dishes with Mr. Argent's help.
"We can't. Derek's landlady has a crush on him."
Stiles smothered the pang he felt at her words and grinned. "Can she make snickerdoodles? If so, you should totally keep her around."
Derek rolled his eyes and shot Cora a look. "Mrs. Bates is sixty and married, and does not have a crush on me. She baked everyone in the building cookies."
"Yeah, but she made you three times as many as anyone else."
Glancing around as though he was unsure of the others' reactions, Derek shrugged. "She knew it was my birthday. Said she noticed it on my rental application."
"Speaking of which, son," Stiles' dad said, clapping Derek on the shoulder genially, "how has your day been?"
Derek's expression seemed to flounder between confusion and relief that no one had reacted to the news about his birthday.
"It's uh…it's been good," he answered, and Stiles didn't want to dwell on the fact that Derek sounded surprised by that.
"He got a letter from Beacon Hills Trust," Cora piped up when Derek clearly wasn't going to go into any detail. "Mom had a safety deposit box there. They would have contacted us about it sooner, but apparently it was paid in full up until this year. They hadn't—the paperwork must have gone missing otherwise they'd have gotten hold of Laura right after the fire."
"Are you okay?" Stiles asked tentatively, and Derek nodded immediately.
"It's not—it's good, I think," he said, and Cora nodded in agreement as he spoke. "The letter didn't say much; just that she had listed the contents as personal effects and family property on the insurance forms. There were some old family things that Laura and I thought must have been lost in the fire. But I think some of them could be in that box."
"That's wonderful," Stiles' dad said. Scott and Isaac were sitting on the couch, but they agreed, turning away from the television for long enough to send Derek and Cora matching grins. Stiles wasn't sure when Isaac and Scott had become almost the same person, but he suspected it was something that came from being ass over face in love with Allison, who was also smiling at Derek and Cora, though much more cautiously than Lydia beside her.
The psycho twins weren't there. Stiles didn't ask why; he was just glad.
He tried not to smile proudly at Derek for all of the positive things that had happened; he had to dial his face back to normal-happy from what was probably deranged-happy. He knew he had a tiny hand in all of the good that was happening, and he felt wonderful for it. There was nothing more powerful than seeing Derek so pleased, he realized, because it happened extremely rarely. He only hoped that his smiles weren't one of the effects that would disappear after midnight.
Dinner was a resounding success, and despite the fact that there were four werewolves at the table, there were plenty of leftovers. There had been minimal awkwardness, even between Derek and Mr. Argent, which Stiles was sure had to be chalked up to divine intervention.
When it was time to clear the table everyone offered to help, but Mrs. McCall declared the cleanup to be Scott and Isaac's job, ushering the others into the living room before disappearing back into the kitchen to help the boys.
Mr. Argent, Allison and Lydia were settled on one sofa, while Stiles threw himself onto the other. His dad was in the armchair and Cora had winked at Stiles, sitting on the opposite end of the sofa he was on, leaving the only empty space for Derek right between them.
Stiles couldn't decide whether Cora was an angel or a demon. Or maybe a mutant hybrid of the two.
"Love Actually is about to start," Lydia told them and both Cora and Stiles groaned. She'd somehow claimed the remote and Stiles cursed himself for not being more diligent. Now they'd be stuck watching some romantic comedy that was actually really miserable and filled with assholes who treated each other like shit.
His dad and Mr. Argent both looked resigned; like they knew it wasn't worth fighting over. Stiles gave it about ten minutes before they both found excuses to be somewhere else. When Stiles glanced over at Derek he felt terrible. Derek's face was flat, expressionless, but there was a strain around his eyes that Stiles didn't like the look of.
Cora didn't even look at Derek, but her hand inched over. Stiles couldn't quite see between them, but he was sure if he stretched across he'd catch their fingers curling together. Whatever was wrong, it was a family thing.
Before Stiles knew it, Derek was out of his seat.
"Where are you going?" Stiles asked. Derek looked uncomfortable.
"I'm just getting a glass of water." Which Stiles guessed was Derek-speak for 'I have an emotion and I want to beat it to death it before anyone notices'.
Derek disappeared into the kitchen, and hell no, Stiles wasn't going to let the day be ruined because Lydia was dictating their movie choice. Stiles didn't usually go against Lydia; he knew well enough how pointless it was, but this time he wouldn't give in. He'd be the unstoppable force. The immovable object. The—
"Huh," Lydia said, checking the channel information. It clearly said 'Love Actually', but although Stiles hadn't seen the movie in a long time, he was one hundred and ten percent sure it didn't star any Muppets.
"The Muppet Christmas Carol!" Allison squealed.
Which made a lot more sense than Stiles' first thought – that someone had bothered to remake 'Love Actually' with Muppets.
"I guess the schedule is wrong," Lydia said, delicate eyebrows drawn together as she raised the remote.
Before she could press anything, Cora spoke. Her voice was honeyed but hard. "If you change the channel, I will change your face."
Lydia glared at her, but Cora didn't back down.
"Why don't we take a vote?" Stiles' dad suggested.
"Fine," Lydia bit out. "All in favor of pretending they are six and watching this?"
Allison, Cora and Stiles all raised their hands. Lydia's eyes narrowed at him, but he shrugged. Any other movie Lydia would be happy with would be some rom-com that just made Stiles acutely aware of his own lack of a love life.
"And all who want to watch something else?" she asked. She, Stiles' dad and Mr. Argent raised their hands. When Derek came back in, Lydia huffed. "You need to vote, Derek. There are three votes each way between watching a childish Christmas movie starring Kermit the Frog and finding an actual movie for people with an I.Q. of three digits. Pick a side."
Derek smirked at her, and Stiles could see the moment where she realized she'd lost.
"This is my favorite Christmas movie," Derek said with a shrug as he sank back into the sofa between Stiles and Cora. "Stimulates all of my apparently meager I.Q. points."
Lydia made a noise of disgust, but she conceded the vote and dropped the remote in Allison's lap with disdain. Partway through the movie, when Scott and Isaac appeared from the kitchen to sprawl on the floor while Mrs. McCall squeezed onto the sofa beside Mr. Argent, Stiles noticed a tiny smile on Lydia's face. He didn't call her out on it, but she was secretly enjoying the movie almost as much as Derek, who kept stifling a smile while Cora poked his ribs with a grin.
Best Christmas movie ever.
Just as Scrooge was getting out of bed on Christmas Day, Mrs. McCall disappeared into the kitchen once more, with Stiles' dad in tow. They'd be having dessert right after the movie, he figured.
Stiles was right; as the credits began rolling, Mrs. McCall poked her head back into the living room. "Time for dessert, everyone."
As they all made their way back to the kitchen table, Stiles subtly watched Derek and hid his smile. The look on Derek's face when he saw the dessert was equal parts priceless and painful. Derek's mouth was open slightly, like he'd be gaping if he were anyone else, and his eyes were wide. It hurt Stiles' heart to see how shocked Derek was that they were celebrating for him, even after the birthday surprise he'd had that morning.
The cake wasn't anything terribly special; they hadn't been able to be too picky considering there was only one bakery open in Beacon Hills that morning. But it looked good, and Stiles was sure it would taste amazing. His dad had managed to get 'Happy Birthday, Derek' on the cake instead of the standard 'Happy Birthday' despite how busy the store would have been. Stiles figured that was probably by virtue of being the local sheriff. He'd have to reward his dad with an actual beef-filled burger one day in the near future.
"Sorry the candles don't match," Mrs. McCall said with a wry smile. "We had to pool our respective candle resources to get twenty-three."
"You didn't need to go to all this trouble," Derek said, directing his words to everyone in the room. He looked floored.
Stiles promised himself that they'd make a big deal of Derek's birthday every year until he stopped reacting that way.
"It wasn't any trouble," Mrs. McCall told him sternly. "Although you should have mentioned your birthday, so we had a little more time to plan."
"I didn't—I wasn't expecting—"
"You weren't expecting anything. Clearly we need to do something about that," she interrupted, voice chiding. "Just about everyone in this room could have died at some point if you hadn't helped them. Stop thinking of yourself as an outsider."
Scott clapped Derek on the back, first grinning at Derek then beaming at his mom. Stiles grinned at her as well for a moment, but then he locked eyes with Derek, who looked embarrassed but grateful.
"Happy birthday, man," Stiles told him.
Derek nodded and cleared his throat. "Thanks. Again."
"On that note, I have something for you," Stiles' dad said. "It's not a gift exactly, since it's technically yours already, but I didn't get a lot of warning," he said, shooting a glance at Stiles, "and I wanted to do something. So…here."
Stiles had no idea what his dad had organized, but when Derek peeked into the little bag he was given, his eyes shone.
"I—" Derek's voice cracked and he swallowed before trying again. "I thought her stuff was long gone. I know they found her without—without anything."
Oh, geez. Laura.
"Those were recovered later. You should have been notified when her case was closed. I don't know why you weren't, and the deputy who was supposed to handle that didn't make it out of the attack on the department, so I can't find out. But I saw the box last week when I was in the evidence room and when Stiles told me this morning that it was your birthday…well, I just thought you might want them."
"I do. We do. Thank you."
Derek pulled a necklace from the bag. It was gold, shiny enough that Stiles suspected his dad had cleaned it, and had a round medallion pendant with the triskelion punched out of the center hanging from the chain.
He hooked the chain over Cora's head, and she gripped the pendant tight.
"You sure?" she asked.
Derek nodded. He dropped a kiss onto her forehead and Stiles had to look away. The Hales were never very demonstrative and he felt like he was intruding, though neither Derek nor Cora seemed to care that they were surrounded by others. Maybe that was a good sign.
Once he'd moved away from Cora, Derek reached back into the bag and pulled out a small wallet. It was short and narrow; just big enough to carry some bills and a few cards. Derek flipped it open and ran his fingers along the inside. He tugged something out of one of the slots and showed it to Cora with a half-smile. It looked like a photo, though Stiles didn't see what of. Derek pulled out his own wallet and slipped the photo inside. He slid his wallet into his pocket then placed Laura's wallet back in the bag, which he kept hold of in a tight knuckled grip.
"We wanted to get you something, too," Scott said while Isaac nodded. "We didn't know what to get you, but Stiles gave us an idea today and we talked to Deaton and…umm…it's a surprise? But you should come with us to the office tomorrow. Lydia and Allison pitched in, too."
Cora caught Stiles' eye with a questioning look and he grinned, flashing her a quick thumbs up. Deaton had agreed to work his mojo so that Derek could be cat friendly, and Scott, Isaac, Allison and Lydia had pooled some cash; enough to pay for Derek to adopt one of the kittens that would soon be looking for a home. They were only five weeks old, too young to leave the vet's care for another few weeks, but Derek could pick one straight away and visit it whenever he wanted.
Stiles hoped Derek wouldn't be mad that everyone knew about his secret love of furry felines, but he figured that if he was he'd get over it once he got to hold an itty bitty kitten without getting scratched all to hell.
"This is all too much," Derek said quietly.
"You're our friend. Don't be dumb," Scott said. Then he gave a crooked grin and flashed red eyes at Derek. "That's totally an order."
"You're not my alpha," Derek shot back, and although it was true he said it teasingly. Stiles wasn't sure how to deal with a Derek that joked with no malice behind it, so he just dropped his hand casually onto Derek's shoulder, squeezing when Derek looked over at him.
Derek's eyes were bright. He was happy.
"How long have you been waiting to turn that on me?" Scott groaned, though he was clearly struggling not to smile.
"Oh, about seven weeks. Give or take."
"So, ever since you knew I was becoming an alpha?"
Stiles, in his infinite clumsiness, had somehow managed to spill eggnog on his shirt. He didn't even have brandy in it as an excuse. The others were downstairs laughing and talking loudly. Mrs. McCall was trying to encourage everyone to sing Christmas carols as she did every year – something about fitting a little tradition into Christmas– and Scott was trying to appease her. When Stiles trudged up the stairs, Scott had just started a deafeningly off-key rendition of 'Oh Christmas Tree'. Stiles was in Scott's room looking for something to change into when his dad came in and closed the door behind him.
"Er…this looks ominous," Stiles commented, pulling off his wet shirt and tugging on a light grey one that smelled pretty clean.
"It says something about your behavior that you automatically assume you're in trouble."
Trying to suppress a grin, Stiles shrugged. "I've come to terms with my flaws."
His dad laughed and shook his head. He made his way to Scott's bed and sat on the edge, patting the space beside him. Stiles eyed him warily, but sat down.
"You went to an awful lot of effort for Derek today, Stiles."
Stiles tried not to squirm in his seat at that comment. He didn't want to look as uncomfortable as he felt; his dad wasn't the sheriff because there were no other options – he was observant.
"Someone had to."
"You're seriously gonna try to pretend you don't have a crush a mile wide on that man?" his dad asked, disbelief coloring both his tone and his expression.
"Don't be— Why would you— I don't— There's no crush," Stiles finished eventually, trying not to fall off the edge of the bed as he turned to stare at his dad. The last thing he needed was to be told all the reasons why it was a bad idea; starting with the age difference and ending with the fact that Derek wasn't into him. Stiles already knew.
"Son," his dad said dryly, "I don't need to be a werewolf to know you're lying through your teeth. Teeth you're grinding, by the way, which you always do when you're lying and freaking out at the same time."
He tried to stare his dad down, but it had never worked before and it apparently wasn't going to start working then, either. His shoulders sagged in defeat.
"Yeah, okay. What do you want me to say? I'm head over stupid heels in love with the world's grumpiest wolf-man. But it doesn't matter. You don't—you don't need to worry. He doesn't feel the same." Stiles glared at the floor, wishing it would open up and swallow him. Avoiding the rest of the conversation would be worth spending some quality time with all of Scott's missing socks.
"I wouldn't be so sure."
Stiles' eyes shot up to his dad's face. "What—you—what?" He looked over his dad's face carefully, but he didn't see anything except sincerity. Stiles narrowed his eyes in suspicion, because that made no sense. "If that's true, shouldn't you be horrified? Why does it sound like you're trying to play matchmaker?"
His dad sighed. "I'm not trying to play matchmaker, son. Not exactly. It's just, well…maybe I'm losing my mind, but you're almost an adult. And you may not be eighteen yet, but considering the life or death decisions you make, I think you're old enough to make these kinds of decisions, too." He hunched over and dropped his face into his hands, scrubbing with his palms for a moment before he sat up straight and looked back at Stiles. He was twisting his wedding ring absently.
"I dreamed about your mom last night," he added, eventually. He sounded more nostalgic than sad, and Stiles wondered if maybe she'd taken a little of his pain, the way those in charge had taken some guilt from Allison. "She was so proud of you. Just like I am. It just reminded me how short life is and how much you've grown. There are only two things that matter to me, Stiles. Your safety and your happiness. And I can't always keep you safe, but I can always do my damned hardest not to stand in the way of your happiness." He put his arm around Stiles' shoulders, pulling him into his side. "Does Derek make you happy?"
"I…we aren't anything, Dad," Stiles sighed, leaning into his father's warmth. "But, I think that if he was interested in me, then he would. Or at least he'd try his best. He's uh…he's not an easy person, you know? But he's a good one, where it matters."
"I know, kid."
The arm around Stiles' shoulders tightened briefly before he was released.
"So…you're what?" he asked his dad. "Giving me your hypothetical blessing to date an older werewolf who doesn't even want me, anyway?"
"If that's how you want to look at it. But personally, I look at it like I'm giving my blessing early enough that when you two sort out your crap you don't feel like you gotta sneak around behind my back."
Stiles wasn't sure how he could feel both genuinely happy and kind of glum at the same time, but there he was, sitting on the back porch and pondering his inner conflict as he stared at the big tree Scott had fallen out of when they were seven. The day had turned out almost better than he'd expected and Stiles was pleased to see how much everyone had enjoyed themselves, but it was nearly over. And for the last hour or so, Stiles hadn't seen more than a flash of Derek.
Not that he expected Derek to spend all of his time with Stiles when there were other people who cared about him, too, but it had gotten to a point where it was obviously deliberate and Stiles had no idea what he'd done. Derek had seemed comfortable with Stiles all day, or as comfortable as Derek ever got when confronted with nice things. But it had felt easy.
So why was he suddenly avoiding Stiles?
He sighed, letting his head fall back against the wall with a thump and wrapping his arms tighter around his knees. Someone would come out looking for him eventually, he knew, but for the time being he wanted to mope just a little.
As it turned out, 'eventually' was only another few minutes. The last person that Stiles had expected to try to find him, however, was Derek.
"What are you doing out here all alone?" Derek asked, sliding down the wall to sit next to Stiles.
Stiles' lips quirked. "What's the matter? Worried you'll lose your title as King of Brood? Don't worry, I'm not really in the running."
He didn't need to look at Derek to know he was getting an eye roll of epic proportions.
Then, Derek was moving, pulling off his jacket. "At least put this on. You can't be warm enough out here." He dropped the jacket over Stiles' knees.
To say that Stiles was confused would be an understatement. He looked over at Derek, trying to figure out what was going on in his head, but nothing came to him. Instead, he got more and more frustrated as Derek stared him down and Stiles caved, pulling the jacket on then leaning back against the wall with an irritated huff. "You know, I just don't get you. You've been avoiding me – and don't even try to deny it – and now you're out here giving me your jacket like I'm your best gal. What the hell, dude?"
Derek looked a little ashamed, which wasn't exactly what Stiles was aiming for, but it would do.
"I wasn't trying to…I didn't mean for you to notice. I just needed to think about some things, and I didn't think I could with you being all…you."
"Wow. Nice." Stiles knew he could be a bit of a handful, sometimes, but he thought he'd been pretty damn awesome all day.
"That's not—it wasn't an insult." Derek winced. "I'm not saying this right."
"Maybe if you used your words for more than witty rejoinders and sarcastic quips, occasionally, you'd manage. You know, practice makes perfect." Stiles caught Derek staring at him with a raised brow and he shrugged. "Yes, I realize the irony of that statement coming from me. But the point stands."
Derek didn't say anything for a few moments, and Stiles thought he might either need to find a way to break the tension, or find somewhere else to mope – possibly somewhere that he could establish a mountain ash perimeter. But just as he was mentally preparing himself to come up with something, Derek spoke.
"I went to find you earlier. To say thank you for…for everything, without everyone around. You went upstairs so I thought it was a good time. But…I overheard you and the sheriff. I didn't mean to listen, but…you were talking about me. I uh…I should have walked away, but I didn't."
Stiles groaned, smacking his head against the wall harder and more deliberately. No wonder Derek had been avoiding him. He was trying to think of a way to tell Stiles he wasn't interested without fucking up the weird relationship Derek had managed to build with Scott and Scott's pack. Fuck.
"Look, this doesn't need to be weird, okay?" Stiles told him. "I'm not—"
"You said you were in love with me."
And Stiles had been hoping Derek missed that part, but of course he hadn't, because that's not how Stiles' life worked.
"I was uh…I was trying to be funny." Which was true, sort of.
"Yeah, I know," Derek said, although he shifted a little closer, which was about four levels of unexpected. "But you also weren't lying when you said it."
"I—" Stiles had no idea what to say. "Well, fuck. You don't need to…I mean, I won't…fuck."
"I know what you're going to say, dude, and to be honest, I'd rather skip it and get straight to the chocolate and alcohol stage of the rejection, if it's all the same to you."
"You don't know shit, so shut up and listen."
Stiles' mouth snapped shut, but he did manage an impressive glare. Well, he thought it was impressive. Derek just ignored it.
"I wasn't avoiding you because of that. Or, I was, but not because of what you're thinking. I just needed to figure it all out in my head. You told your dad that I'd never be interested in you, but I am. Much more than I should be, considering your age. But you already know that when I get involved with people it's…it doesn't work out very well. At all."
Stiles pushed the idea of Derek being interested in him right to the back of his head to focus on later – because holy shit – and instead latched onto the words he had some chance of being able to actually process.
"I swear to God, Derek, if you compare me to…I am nothing like Kate or Jennifer fucking Blake—"
"No," Derek interrupted. "But you're enough like—like someone else I knew, that I needed a little time to work my head around it."
The little well of anger that Stiles had filled with his embarrassment and frustration ran dry, and instead he felt like an asshole. "You mean Paige?" he asked quietly, and Derek's head snapped towards him.
"How did you…?"
"Peter. I mean the guy's untrustworthy as hell and probably twisted the whole story, but I think I got the important bits."
"I got her killed."
"You can't spend the rest of your life hating yourself for what happened. If you're right and I'm anything like she was at all, I can tell you now she'd be calling you an idiot. You made a bad choice, yeah, but you were just a naïve kid. And between you and me, I think Peter might have gotten into your head, because I don't trust the little smirk on his face when he said he tried to stop you from getting her bit. Maybe he wasn't like...completely insane…before the fire, but he didn't learn to be a manipulative puppet master during a six year coma. Just saying."
"He said he tried to stop me?"
At the look on Derek's face, Stiles made what he felt was a very clear, 'this is exactly my point' gesture. It involved his arms and head moving rapidly enough that he almost smacked Derek in the ear.
Stiles swallowed when Derek grabbed his wrist to stop the movement and didn't let go immediately.
"Let's face it, Derek," he said quietly, trying not to focus all his attention on the warmth of Derek's fingers on his skin, innocent as it might be. "If I die anytime soon, it's probably going to be because I chose to do something dumb. And if you try to take responsibility for my life choices, then we're gonna have to have a whole different conversation about agency. There will be a slideshow." Stiles paused, still not quite grasping how Derek could want him, but it was even less likely that Derek would lie about it, so Stiles just needed to go with it and save the internal self-doubt for later. "If you really…I mean, if you were serious about being interested in me, it's not fair to play the martyr without even giving me a choice. It's not like I don't know what I'd be getting into. And in case you hadn't already noticed, it's not like I'd stay on the sidelines even if we don't…anything."
"Believe me, I've noticed," Derek joked. He moved even closer, until his hip was pressed against Stiles', and he let go of Stiles' wrist to lace their fingers together. Stiles hadn't realized before that something so simple could make his heart try to crawl out of his throat. "I didn't come out here to be a martyr. I wanted to…your dad said he was okay with it, and I want us to try. You make me crazy all the time, but you also make me happier."
"Dude, that's…I don't know what to say to that."
He was pretty sure Derek could tell that Stiles meant that in a good way, because Derek looked a little shy then shook it off. "Stop calling me 'dude'."
"Would you prefer snookums? Honeywomble?"
"Is there something wrong with 'Derek'?"
Stiles smirked. "You know, we've all been wondering that for a very long—" His words cut off with a squeak as he suddenly found himself on his feet, Derek pressing him against the wall. Stiles hadn't realized how sexy that was – okay, yes, he had, but he hadn't realized it was even better when it was meant to be sexy.
"I feel like this is the part where you tell me to shut up, and I tell you to make me, and that either ends in violence or, well, I'm hoping for something more fun. But can I just…I mean…not yet?"
Derek frowned. "Stiles, I'm not going to push you for anything you aren't ready for. I was only going to kiss you."
"No, I know! I'm totally aware that you're not Sexual Assault Guy, geez. I meant with the kissing."
"You…don't want me to kiss you?" Derek took a step back with a flinch, and Stiles cursed under his breath.
"I do. I just…" he trailed off, glancing at his watch. It was eleven forty-nine. "Can we wait for, like, twelve minutes?"
Considering how specific he was, Stiles wasn't surprised when Derek looked suspicious, pulling Stiles' wrist into a position where he could read the time.
"Stiles, why don't you want me to kiss you on Christmas Day?"
"I just…want to make sure this is real."
"What?" It said something about their lives that instead of laughing, Derek looked immediately alert.
There was no way to salvage this, he figured, so he told Derek the truth. He told him about the dream, about speaking to his mother, about being offered one wish for the day. He didn't tell Derek what he wished; hadn't told anyone just in case there was some kind of void-clause like when you blew out birthday candles or wished on a star. But he told him everything else, despite the way Derek looked ready to freak out.
"For someone so smart," Derek said through clenched teeth, "you do some really stupid things. Why would you trust someone approaching you in a dream after all the fucking things you've been dreaming lately?!"
"I didn't at first. But then…Derek, it was her. I know it was. And I didn't wish for anything that could have ended badly, I promise."
Derek still looked mad, but Stiles could tell by the set of his eyebrows and the way he kept leaning closer, like he needed reassurance, that it was mostly out of worry. After a few deep breaths he seemed to let it go. Stiles could almost see the tension melt out to be replaced with sadness.
"So you think that whatever you wished made us feel this way? You think it's not real?"
"No! I already…I felt this way before that. I just…"
"You just think that my feelings aren't real."
Derek had gone against his nature and basically opened himself up to Stiles, and now he was hurt by Stiles' doubt. That was the very last thing Stiles wanted. "I just need to be sure. You get that, right? Just in case there is something influencing this, I can't take advantage of it."
"Stiles, did you wish for me?"
The implication of that made Stiles' stomach turn, although Derek didn't look accusing.
"No! What? No! That's…I couldn't take away your freewill like that!"
"Then what are you so worried about? You said that you already felt this way before. Well, so did I."
"You did?" He sounded more surprised than he wanted, but Derek just nodded and Stiles felt himself sag in relief. He hadn't even realized how scared he was that it was all some weird side effect until that moment. "Oh."
Derek stepped forward; right into Stiles' space again until Stiles was pressed into the wall. There was just an inch between them and he could feel Derek's body heat radiating off him.
"So can I kiss you, now?" Derek asked. "Or do I have to wait another…two minutes?"
"I'm a little scared you'll change your mind."
Instead of waiting for Derek to move, Stiles felt a rush of courage and pulled Derek into him by the shoulders, pressing his chapped lips to Derek's soft and smooth ones.
Objectively it wasn't too different from any other kiss Stiles had had before, except that this was a guy, and that guy was Derek. That meant it was already his favorite, even before Derek reacted, wrapping an arm around Stiles' waist and drawing them even tighter together. Stiles made a small noise that he refused to acknowledge as a whine and Derek grinned against his mouth. Then Derek deepened the kiss, darting his tongue along the seam of Stiles' lips until they parted and his tongue was in Stiles' mouth, exploring. It was so much gentler than Stiles had ever imagined kissing Derek would be – and that was something he imagined often – but it was more than enough to send shivers down his spine and make him dig his fingers hard into Derek's shoulders.
Stiles' watched beeped midnight as they pulled apart. Derek smiled down at him – a real smile, broader and more overwhelming than any Stiles had seen on him before – and pressed another quick, chaste kiss onto Stiles' mouth. "Well, this feels real to me."
"What if…" Stiles licked his lips, staring at Derek's mouth and willing him to stay close instead of the terrible possibility of moving farther away. "What if my watch is a little fast?" It wasn't, he knew, but he wasn't ready to stop kissing Derek, not even close. "It might not have been midnight."
Derek snorted at him, clearly amused as he captured Stiles' mouth in another kiss. This one didn't even begin chastely. It was deep and slow, and Stiles could feel Derek's hands tight on him, hips flush against his and stubble rough against Stiles' face. It felt fucking amazing.
He leaned into it, letting his hands wander from Derek's shoulders; one into Derek's hair while the other moved down his chest. It was definitely too soon to keep it drifting in the direction he wanted it to, so he let it slide across to rest on Derek's waist. Derek still had an arm tight around Stiles' middle, but his other hand was running up and down his neck.
When Derek finally pulled away, Stiles felt a little dizzy.
"Now it's definitely after midnight," Derek told him, "and I still want to kiss you. Maybe even more than before."
"I'm—I'm happy to hear that," Stiles breathed, clutching at Derek's hip while his other hand tugged through the short hair at the base of Derek's skull. "Like, really, really happy," he punctuated with a small roll of his hips. He blamed his unexpected bravery entirely on being kiss-drunk. That was a thing, right?
"So, can you tell me what you wished for, yet?" Derek asked. Stiles could hear the smirk in Derek's voice as he nosed at the skin behind Stiles' ear, dropping gentle kisses on his neck.
"I…" Stiles could feel a blush start at his cheeks and work its way across most of his face. He cleared his throat, glad that Derek wasn't looking at him as he answered truthfully. "I wished for you to have a good birthday."
Derek pulled back just enough to lock eyes with Stiles. He looked a little stunned until he shook his head with a tiny smile. He pressed their foreheads together, nose bumping against Stiles' and fingers curling against Stiles' jaw. It felt like a thank you.
"Your wish came true."