Actions

Work Header

We Pick Ourselves Undone

Work Text:

Derek Hale’s life was destined for fame from the day of his birth. Though, perhaps not the type of fame his family was accustomed to.

The Hales were one of California’s most powerful and wealthy families. They’re from old money- bluebloods, and when Talia Hale found her society sweetheart, she married him and they started a family of their own.

But the Hales were followed by one dark spot: a local legend said that generations ago, a curse had been put on the Hale family. According to the tale, Talia’s great-grandfather, John, had begotten a child with one of his father’s servants, a woman named Sarah Argent. When he refused to marry her, the poor girl leapt to her death, forcing John to face the wrath of the girl’s family. Unfortunately for John, Sarah’s family had magic running in their veins, and the Argents vowed to take vengeance for the death of their daughter. They promised that just as John had thrown their child to the wolves, so they would do to one of his own. The Argents put a curse on John Hale, that the next Hale son would inherit the face that John deserved- the face of a wolf. The boy would have this face until one of his own kind claimed him as one of their own, till death do they part.

Thus, every Hale pregnancy was fraught with tension for fear that the legendary curse was real. But for generations, the Hale women gave birth to baby girls, followed by girls, and then more girls. That was, until Talia’s younger brother Peter was born, without any apparent wolfish feature. However, unknown to all but Talia’s parents, Peter was not a Hale. With little patience for urban legends, they adopted a baby boy and passed him off as a Hale to ensure that the story of the curse would die, leaving the Hale name unblemished. The curse was assumed to be merely a myth, and was soon forgotten.

And so, it wasn’t until Talia and Richard Hale were preparing to welcome their second child into the world that the curse was finally activated, and the legendary life of Derek Hale began.

~~

Derek is bored. It’s a Saturday, and much like every Saturday for the past three years (barring holidays or family events), Derek is on a date.

Well, calling it a date would be charitable. It’s more like a polite interrogation. Today’s victim is Candidate #67 (Jackson, his mind supplies helpfully), and he’s gotten through more Saturdays than most of the candidates have. Still, Derek has learned that it’s better not to call them by name- it hurts less when they run. And they always run.

“Derek, I feel- I feel like you understand me. Like we understand each other!” Candidate #67 is talking to the one-way mirror in the small library adjacent to Derek’s bedroom, alternating between pleading earnestly towards where he can only assume Derek is sitting and checking that his hair is properly combed.

Derek sighs. He presses the intercom button to answer. “And how, exactly, do we understand each other?”

“We’re both trapped, Derek!”

Derek lifts an eyebrow, mostly for his own benefit, seeing as how the point of this whole arrangement is that the candidates can’t see him. “And what are you trapped by? Your money and good looks?”

#67 smirks, as if Derek’s comment was complimentary. “Yes! No one is able to see past that- no one understands me the way you do.”

Derek’s skepticism climbs- Jackson Whittemore is an entitled, spoiled rich kid who drove here in a Porsche. And judging by the way he is preening in front of the mirror, Derek doubts that he would mind being valued for his appearance.

When Derek doesn’t immediately respond, #67 starts looking nervous. “Derek? Please, let me in. Just let me- let me see you! If you can see me for more than my face, then surely I must be allowed to see you for more than yours.”

Derek knows that he can only put off the inevitable for so long, and with that thought he pushes himself up from his chair, going over to the door that leads to the room #67 is waiting in.

No matter how many times Derek has had to do it, this part of the vetting process never gets easier. The part where his male and female suitors see his face for the first time: he sees the horror, or disgust, or pity- he’s never sure which reaction he hates the most. And yet, there’s a traitorous voice in his head telling him that this could be the one and he could be different and this one might stay.

Derek takes a breath to steel himself, pushing into the library. “Hi,” Derek says, quietly. #67 turns, startled for a second to see that the door actually opened, but the stunned silence quickly turns into very vocal terror.

“You’re a wolf!” Candidate #67 shrieks, spinning to flee the room as he shouts for help. He looks over his shoulder once, to check that Derek isn’t following him, before running into the hallway. Derek sighs. #67 hadn’t been the most promising of candidates- too vain, too shallow- but he was one of the last eligible options on Lydia’s extensive list of potentials.

Derek throws himself down on a couch in the waiting room, throwing an arm over his eyes. He knows he only has a few minutes before his mother, Lydia, or- if his luck is really bad- Laura or Cora, comes to check on him, so he savors the few moments of silence.

All too soon, he hears heels clicking on the hardwood hallway flooring.

“Derek,” Lydia says, and shit, she does not sound happy. Derek knows better than most, Lydia can be fearsome when she’s angry.

“Yeah, Lydia, I know… That could have gone better.” Derek lifts his arm and moves to make room for Lydia next to him.

“Could have gone better? Derek, how could it have possibly gone worse?!” Lydia starts pacing in front of him. “He ran before we had him sign the nondisclosure agreement!”

“So?” Derek asks, feeling rather mutinous. “Scott can chase him down, and-“

“That’s not the point Derek! Don’t you want to break the curse?”

“Yeah, Lydia, of course I want to-“

“Then why won’t you learn?! You have to give warning before you lunge at them!” Lydia is getting shriller, and her pacing picks up speed.

This is an old argument between them, so Derek just sounds resigned when he says, “I didn’t lunge, Lydia, as you well know. And if a candidate’s reaction to seeing my face is to run, I don’t think it would have worked out, you know- long term.”

Lydia finally stops, sighing as she flops down next to Derek. She settles down into the cushions and rests her head on his shoulder.

“Sorry,” she says, softly. “I just- you know I worry about you.” And Derek does know. Lydia was hired by his mother when Derek turned 21; she is a certifiable genius, a mathematician by birth and a matchmaker by trade. When Derek had asked her why she wanted to be on his mother’s retainer, she said that it was perfect- working with Derek was certain to be a challenge, and she had the downtime to work on a mathematical theorem that Derek couldn’t even vaguely understand. And three years later, she is his best friend (sometimes his only friend, depending on how Scott feels about Derek on any given day).

Lydia’s phone chirps, and she pulls back from Derek to fish it out of her purse. Lydia blanches when she sees the text she’s gotten. “Derek, I- Scott wasn’t fast enough.” She looks like she might be sick. “Whittemore didn’t sign the form.”

~~

The Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Station is almost empty when Jackson arrives. Not that he thought that a Saturday afternoon would be rife with crime in the middle of this Podunk little nowhere town.

No officer appears to offer help, so he resorts to shouting. “Excuse me?! Is anyone here? I need to report a crime.”

There’s the sound of a chair sliding across the floor, and an officer opens a door into the main waiting room. Or, not an officer, Jackson realizes, nothing the sheriff’s badge on his lapel.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes. I need to report a crime, Sheriff…?”

The sheriff sighs. “Stilinski. Right this way.”

“No need to look so put out when I’m doing your job for you,” Jackson mutters, making to follow.

When they get to a desk, Stilinski pulls out assorted paperwork. “So, do you want to tell me what happened?”

“It’s the Hales! They’re keeping a monster in their house!” The sheriff gives Jackson a blank look, so Jackson rolls his eyes and continues. “Derek Hale- he’s, he’s got these fangs, and pointy ears, and his face is all-“ Jackson gestures to his forehead, “wrinkled.”

Sheriff Stilinski is glaring. “Listen kid, this is a small town, so when I say I don’t know you, I assume that means you’re not from around here. You don’t know the Hales- you don’t know what that family means to us. And when I say that Derek Hale is dead, I hope you understand that you’d better drop this little stunt you’re pulling, real fast.”

Jackson splutters. “But that’s the thing! He’s not dead! They faked it to cover up the fact that he’s a monstrosity.”

The sheriff has long since abandoned the paperwork, and now he moves around the desk to grab at the neck of Jackson’s (very expensive, thank you) jacket. He hauls Jackson out the front of the building, ignoring Jackson’s indignant squawks of protest.

Stilinski leaves Jackson in the parking lot, giving a hard glare. “Word of advice, kid: don’t let people in this town hear you spreading lies about the Hales. You’d best just head back to where you came from.”

Jackson glowers at the sheriff’s retreating form before climbing into his car. To have that, thing, living here, right in the middle of a town (and more importantly, only an hour from where Jackson lives)- it’s unacceptable. He could be dangerous, really, Jackson is doing the world a public service. He picks up his phone and calls a family friend, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Doug! Yeah, it’s Jackson. Look, I’ve got a story I want you to write.”

~~

Weekday morning breakfasts are something of a tradition in the Hale house. Dinners where the whole family is together are scattered, but breakfasts are sacred.

His mom is in the middle of recounting a horror story of a Hale Enterprises investor when Laura runs in. Her cheeks are flushed from the morning cold, and she looks like she’s holding back a smile. “Sorry I’m late,” she says, throwing herself into the empty chair next to their dad, who smiles at her. “But it was so worth it.” She tosses a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle onto the table.

Derek scrunches his nose up in confusion. Laura pushes the paper towards him. “Page 9,” she says, gleeful.

Derek opens the paper to a column entitled “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” with a picture of Candidate #67, Jackson Whittemore, underneath. Apparently he had tried to sell the story of Derek, the “wolf-faced boy,” and had come off sounding a little, well- deranged. Derek can’t help but laugh- the story of parents who had faked the death of their monstrous child, kept him housebound and only allowed men and women in as potential marriage prospects sounds absolutely ridiculous.

His mother picks up the newspaper, glaring at it through her glasses. “This isn’t funny, Derek, Laura. This could be serious- anyone could find out about Derek, and he’d never be left alone again!”

Laura huffs a laugh. “Mom, come on, if anything this shows that no one will believe the truth even if it’s shoved in their faces!” His mother has turned the glare on Laura now, but as usual, Laura is completely immune to the power of Talia Hale’s withering looks. “Mom,” Laura wheedles, “they called him ‘the boy who cried wolf.’ Even you have to admit, that’s a little funny.” Finally, under the power of Laura’s brilliant smile, his mom cracks a grin.

The rest of breakfast is uneventful. His mother leaves for work first, headed into the city today for a board meeting. Next is Laura, who has the morning shift at work today. His dad takes his time cleaning up after breakfast and packing some of the leftover pancakes for Scott to have when he gets in. When Derek was born, his father had given up work- they couldn’t trust outside help to keep the curse a secret- and had elected to home-school Derek. When Derek finished high school and was able to take responsibility for his own studies, his dad became a volunteer at the library. After Derek’s dad heads out, it’s just Cora and Derek left at home.

“Wanna watch a movie or something? I don’t have class till this afternoon,” Cora says. “We could get an early lunch with Scott, whenever he gets his lazy ass over here.”

Derek smirks. The only one who enjoys ribbing Scott as much as Derek does is Cora. “Yeah, sounds good.”

Cora pops in a movie they’ve both seen a million times, but neither of them mind. They mostly like watching movies in silence, and seeing as how Derek has never actually left his house, their DVD collection is extensive. On the plus side, Derek is extremely well-versed in pop culture references.

Scott eventually joins them- his job description is vague at best, and his hours are generally whatever he wants. Scott is the Hale family gardener, mechanic, handyman, and the runner who chases down candidate escapees.

Before she leaves for campus, Cora makes them lunch, and the three of them eat together. Scott tells them about the trellis he’s fixing in the backyard, and when they finish eating, Cora heads to class and Scott goes to work, leaving Derek alone.

Derek doesn’t mind being alone in the house. He makes to go up to the small library when he stops by the massive gilded mirror in the front room. There aren’t many mirrors in the Hale house, but this one was an heirloom from his paternal grandmother, so it stayed. Derek doesn’t make a habit of looking at his face- why would he want to?- but occasionally after a bad candidate interview, he can’t stop himself.

Derek wishes he didn’t understand how someone could find him terrifying, but he does. His nose and brow are furrowed in a constant snarl, his canines are extended into sharp fangs (which he has cut his lips on too many times to count), and his eyes glow an eerie yellow-gold.

His face (“not your face, Derek, your great-grandfather’s face,” his mother would chide) isn’t a sight Derek can stomach easily. He never wonders why people run from him- he wonders how his family can stand to look at him, why they don’t see the reason that they have all had to sacrifice so much. His mother gave up control of so much of her company when Derek was born, moving from San Francisco to this house, an old family property in the Beacon Hills forest, to allow for Derek’s seclusion. His father had loved being a stockbroker, but had given it up to take care of Derek. Laura is driven, and she had excelled in med school, but she chose to do her residency at Beacon Hills Hospital, to stay close to Derek. And Cora is brilliant, she had her choice of universities, but she goes to Beacon Hills Community College. When Derek sees his cursed face, he doesn’t just see the reason that he can’t leave his house- he sees the reason that his family is just as trapped as he is.

Derek shakes off his gloomy thoughts, choosing to go read and check up on his plants, killing time until Lydia comes by to go over the plans for next Saturday.

He’s in the middle of carefully watering his favorite cyclamen plant when Lydia texts to tell him that she’s here.

Lydia greets him with a smile and a stack of candidate files that she promptly drops into his arms as she sweeps past him into the house.

“So! I spoke with your mother this morning, and we’ve come to a decision.”

Derek shuffles in behind Lydia, trying to balance the papers and close the door simultaneously. “I’m glad you’ve made this decision about my life without consulting me.”

Lydia shrugs in response. “Your mother is the one who pays me, as you well know. I’m hired to get you married- not do what you want. Now, do you want to hear the new plan or not?”

“I do,” Derek says, sighing.

“Next Saturday, we’re doing a rush job. Twenty men and women, all in the library, hopefully you can find a few among them that are worthy of call-backs.”

Derek raises an eyebrow, and Lydia continues, “I know, I know- it sounds awful. I’ll make you a deal: do this mass date, and if you hate all of them I’ll give you a month off.”

“Make it two.”

“Six weeks. Don’t push your luck.” Lydia grins. “Come on, Derek, smile! It’ll be fun! I’ve got some good ones.”

Derek rolls his eyes, but he can’t help his small smile. “Whatever you say, Lydia.”

“Hey, Derek, I finished the trellis, do you know where your Mom wanted it?” Scott hollers as he comes in from the backyard. When he sees them, or more specifically, sees Lydia, he stops short. “Lydia! I didn’t know you were here,” he says, beaming and blushing faintly.

“Scott! We were just going over plans for this Saturday. Talia and I have decided to have the candidates for this date sign the nondisclosure agreements beforehand- no need for you to be there, the runners will already be legally gagged.”

Scott’s face falls, but he still looks hopeful. “I could still come by, if you want me. I mean- if you want my help.”

They’ve been doing this dance for years. Scott moons over Lydia, and she lets him. “Sure, Scott,” she says, smiling. “We could always use you around.”

Scott positively glows. Derek coughs politely, getting Scott’s attention. “I think Mom wanted the trellis against the east wall.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks man,” Scott replies, bounding off like an eager puppy.

Derek leads Lydia up the stairs to the library. “Are you ever going to put Scott out of his misery?”

“How do you mean?” Lydia asks, looking genuinely confused.

“He’s never going to ask you- you’ll have to be the one to do it,” Derek says as he pushes through the library door and into his bedroom. His room is massive, sparsely furnished so Derek has room for his true passion- plants. Solar lamps are scattered throughout the room, the rest of the space filled with potted ferns and mosses, vines and flowers, perennials and annuals. Derek carefully picks his way through the room, seating himself on the small divan by a shuttered window.

Lydia sighs as she primly seats herself next to Derek. “You don’t know Scott like I do, Derek, he’s not- he’s not serious about the women he’s dated.”

Derek takes a moment to regret his decision to ever begin this conversation. “Lydia, you know I have quite literally zero experience in this area- but, Scott looks at you, whenever you’re in the room. He always volunteers to work Saturdays, so he can see you. Fuck- you’re probably the only reason he still works here. I think- I think he’d be serious, if it was you.”

Lydia looks taken aback. “That was a lot of words for you, Derek.”

He rolls his eyes, sarcastic comment at the ready, but at the last second he bites it back. “Well, it was important.”

Her blithe demeanor slips for a second. “Do you really think so?”

“Yes, I do. You deserve someone who thinks the world of you, Lydia. And I think that person is Scott,” Derek says, looking down at his hands.

Lydia bumps her shoulder against his. “He’d never understand my work. But he would look pretty, clapping when I win my Fields Medal,” she says, laughing. “But, seriously, Derek- thank you. I’ll think about what you said.”

“That’s all I ask.”

“And… that’s what I want for you too. Maybe Saturday could be different.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, quietly. “Maybe.”

~~

Monday morning finds Jackson Whittemore resting his head on the steering wheel of his Porsche, trying (and failing) to ward off his impending stress headache. This Hale family set-up had spiraled far out of his control- what was supposed to be an opportunity to connect himself with one of the city’s most powerful families and finally get his father off his back had turned into a nightmare.

Jackson had tried calling his friend at The Chronicle, demanding to know why his name was being slandered, all he had been told was that it had been an editorial decision- apparently his story was too outrageous for a serious newspaper to print.

It’s amid these thoughts that Jackson’s phone rings. He checks the caller ID, and of course, it’s his father.

He takes a breath to steel himself as he slides his thumb across the screen to answer. “Hey, da-“

“Jackson,” his father’s voice cuts in, sharply. “What did you do?”

“Look, it’s not my fault, I was just-“

“Just what, Jackson? How is this not your fault?! The investors think you’ve gone batshit, they’re- I was grooming you to chair the board.”

“What, do you mean, ‘was’?” Jackson asks, feeling faintly ill.

His father sighs over the line. “Fix this, Jackson.”

“Yes, sir, I will,” he replies, quickly, but his father has already hung up.

Jackson gives himself a few minutes to quietly panic- he feels he’s earned it. No board position means no job, no income, nothing. He will be nothing. If fixing this means taking down the Hales for their lying and subterfuge, then so be it. Jackson won’t lose everything he’s worked his whole life for over some monster.

So he calls in some favors, chats up some old contacts, and eventually gets the names of some of the candidates that the Hales are interviewing. Apparently he left an impression, as apparently there are going to be twenty candidates interviewed all at once on Saturday. Not that he can imagine those fangs or the creepy, glowing eyes being any less horrific when you’re in a group.

One of the perks of having a father with a large share in a Fortune 500 company is that if Jackson, say, needed to find some dirt on a few bluebloods to make one of them his mole in the Hale house, he has people who will do that. Which is how Jackson finds out that one Michael Greenberg comes from a family of polo shirt-wearing, club membership-holding, bona fide upper-crusters who have recently fallen on hard times, leaving their only son with a serious gambling habit.

Jackson follows his intel to a seedy back alley gambling den that looks like a place where good decisions and family money go to die.

He steps up to a woman sitting behind a surprisingly clean desk. “I’m looking for Michael Greenberg. He here?”

She glances up at Jackson briefly before scanning the room. “That table,” she answers, jerking her head in the direction of a table towards the back, where Greenberg is just standing up, stretching his arms over his head before grabbing his coat and heading in Jackson’s direction.

Jackson waits until Greenberg passes him and gets closer to the entrance before calling out to him.

“Greenberg!” The man looks around, apparently startled, but seeing no one else around, he turns towards Jackson.

His hair is stuck up in all directions, like he’s been running his hands through it for hours. There are dark circles under his eyes, and he looks ragged. Fuck. This guy will never pass in a Hale interview. “You’ve got the wrong guy, dude,” he says, making to turn away again as he shrugs his coat on.

“Pretty sure I don’t,” Jackson replies easily. “Michael Greenberg? I’m not here to collect on debts or anything- I have an opportunity for you to make some quick money.”

Greenberg smiles wanly. “You don’t seem like the type used to people saying no to them.”

“I’m not.”

The smile disappears. “Well, get used to it,” he says, turning on his heel.

“Wait, ten thousand dollars! Just to go on a date with this guy.”

Greenberg stops, looking back at Jackson. “Ten grand? For a date? You’re fucking with me.” He looks at Jackson, considering. “What’s wrong with him?”

Jackson’s smile is huge, and probably more than a little self-satisfied, but he couldn’t care less. “That, Greenberg, is why I need you.”

~~

Derek is thumbing through a well-worn copy of The Hobbit on Saturday morning, because he is a firm believer that comfort reading reduces stress. And “stressed” does not encompass Derek’s current state of mind. This is the quiet before the storm. Soon his beautiful little library, with its bookshelves filled equally by dog-eared books and knickknacks, the cherry wood piano that he had never had the patience to play, the sofas with indentations from regular use- it will all be overrun by twenty some-odd men and women, all vying for his attention.

The logistics are still a little unclear, such as how Derek was supposed to interview all of these people at the same time, and Derek is hoping to get it over with as quickly as possible. He can think of one way that they would scatter quickly, but, well, Lydia might actually kill him.

Ten o’clock rolls around all too quickly, and Derek shuffles off the couch, leaving his book on the coffee table and heading into his room. He seats himself in his preferred armchair, which is set up in front of the one-way mirror that looks into the library, with an intercom button on the outside of the frame.

At ten o’clock on the dot, Lydia opens the library door and starts waving the candidates in. Derek counts them off as they come in- twenty-three in total, making them #68 through #80. When they are all seated or standing somewhat comfortably, Lydia starts on her usual spiel: there is a camera set on the bookshelf so the Hales will always have oversight over what’s happening; the entire room is bugged with mics, so no one needs to shout; etcetera, etcetera.

Derek is about to start a game of tic-tac-toe against himself on his notepad when he’s startled into attention by someone’s hurried, less than graceful entrance into the library.

“Hi! Sorry I’m late- you must be Ms. Martin.” The man says smilingly, making to shake hands with Lydia. Lydia, for her part, looks a bit taken aback that one of the candidates is bothering to make niceties with her. “Really sorry for the interruption, hit some traffic coming out of the city. I’m, uh- I should be on your list? Michael Greenberg?”

Derek scrunches his nose at that. His name doesn’t suit him at all. But the way he says his name- like a question, like he’s unsure of his place in this uncomfortable social convention, gives Derek a sudden and unexpected feeling of kinship. That, plus the fact that he has been nice to Lydia, is enough to bias Derek in this guy’s favor.

Lydia chooses that moment to look significantly at the mirror, and not for the first time Derek has to wonder if Lydia possesses some latent psychic abilities. After checking her list and seeing that Michael really is on there, she leaves the room, wishing everyone luck, but smiling in Derek’s direction.

“Right,” Derek mutters to himself. “Let’s get this over with.”

Derek clears his throat and pushes the intercom button. “Hey- hi. I’m Derek.”

And just like that, the room becomes a zoo. Twenty-three people are all greeting Derek at once, launching into detailed descriptions of their qualifications and desirability, and Derek is overwhelmed and very, very grateful for the barrier he has between himself and the room that looks, for all intents and purposes, like the New York Stock Exchange.

Suddenly, his earlier idea to clear the room doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Towards the back of the room, Derek notices Greenberg (#81, he reminds himself) is, well, he’s not shouting at Derek. He appears to be fiddling with something in his inner jacket pocket. Derek knows it’s unwise to get attached, but he looks so harmless. And hell, Derek knows better than most how deceiving appearances can be, but he’s still taken with the way that #81 looks gentle, and really, really beautiful.

Damn. When they run, Derek’s going to regret not getting a chance to talk to him. Whatever- it’s not like he can’t get his file from Lydia. If she’s still speaking to him when he pulls a stunt that’ll lose him twenty-four dates in one go.

He pushes off his chair, going swiftly to the door, and moves into the library before he has a chance to second-guess himself.

“Hey there,” Derek says, grinning widely enough that he knows his canines will show.

In a flurry of shoving and screaming, the mob moves themselves out of the library. There are a few shouts of “animal” and “monster,” but it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. Derek wonders idly if it’s a bad thing that he’s all but immune to hearing those words now. He returns to his room, settling in his chair, and waits for the inevitable shouting match with Lydia.

Except, she doesn’t come. There are no angry footsteps, no phone call, which- she wouldn’t be angry enough to quit? Derek knows she had put a lot of work into this, but she must have seen how bad the commotion got from the camera feed, and no one has ever said that Derek reacts well under pressure.

He’s still panicking over Lydia’s non-reaction when he sees movement from behind the couch. Oh god, one of them stayed. One of them stayed after seeing his face.

“Hi,” Derek says to whoever the remaining candidate is. “Are you alright?”

“Yup, no I’m good- my mistake. Should’ve known better than to get in the way of that stampede, anyway,” he says, getting up. It’s #81. Greenberg stayed.

“I’m more surprised that you didn’t run with them.”

“Don’t see that there was much of anything to run from.”

Derek’s heart plummets. “You didn’t see, did you?”

“See what?” Greenberg asks, and he looks so adorably confused that Derek forgets his disappointment for a moment.

“My face,” Derek sighs. “You didn’t see my face.”

“Oh,” he replies, and now he looks embarrassed, his face pinking as he rubs the back of his neck. “I was sorta too far back to see you when you came in? And then I got knocked down by some asshole who decided to pull a parkour leap over the couch, and, yeah.”

Despite himself, Derek smiles a little. “Well, did you want me to come out? Since you didn’t see me the first time?” Derek sounds reluctant, even to his own ears.

#81 smiles though, walking around the couch and towards Derek. “Nah, no need to rush. I’ve got nothing better to do today.” He stops in front of the mirror, and touched his pointer finger to the mirror. He smiles wider then, letting out a triumphant, “ha!”

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing, it’s just, I knew it! One-way mirror. You know how you can tell, right? When you touch the mirror, if you see a space between your finger and its reflection, it’s a normal mirror. If you don’t, it’s a one-way mirror.”

“How’d you know that?”

“Would you believe me if I said that I watched a lot of Law & Order as a kid?”

“Yes, but I have too, and I didn’t know that trick.”

Greenberg laughs. “Fair enough dude. It’s a thing you pick up as a cop’s kid.”

“Mother or father?” Derek asks, legitimately curious.

“My Dad,” he answers, and looks so damn proud that Derek’s heart clenches a little, not that he would ever mention as much to Lydia.

“Does he work around here? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an Officer Greenberg.”

#81 looks suddenly uncomfortable. “Uh, no- he’s a city cop.” He clears his throat, and his expression clears. “Hey, would you mind- I mean is it too weird- would you mind calling me Stiles? It’s my middle name, and it’s what everyone calls me anyway.”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Greenberg- Stiles- smiles at him, or in his general direction, looking unreasonably happy. Something settles in Derek. Stiles fits him much better than Michael or Greenberg, and certainly better than #81.

Stiles strolls over to the coffee table, sitting in the armchair next to Derek’s favorite spot on the sofa (which he is not taking as any sort of sign), and reaches out for the copy of The Hobbit that Derek left on the table. “Yours?” he asks, turning the book over in his hands.

“Yeah. You’ve read it?”

“Dude, it’s only a classic. Hasn’t everyone read this?” Stiles asks, sounding disbelieving that anyone would go through life without willingly reading Tolkien.

“You’d be surprised- I live in a home of Tolkien hold-outs.”

Stiles gasps in mock outrage. “A sacrilege! Is it too late for you to run away?!”

Derek can’t help the laugh that bubbles out of him. “Only a decade or so too late.” Normally a joke about Derek leaving would set him off, but the way Stiles says it, like Derek was a normal teenager who could have run away had he wanted to, only serves to make him like Stiles more. “The movies aren’t half bad either.”

Stiles shrugs, still looking over the book in his hands. “Haven’t seen ‘em.”

“No?”

“I’m not a big movie fan,” Stiles says, as if that explains it.

“Don’t- you don’t like movies? Of any kind? At all?!” It’s a hard concept for Derek to grasp, when he’s spent so much of his life only getting to experience the outside world through books and movies.

Stiles chuckles. “Is it that big a deal?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. Look, I have the movies, why don’t you borrow them?” Derek offers immediately and unthinkingly.

“Seriously? I mean if you’re sure- I’ll totally watch them,” Stiles says, and he looks so earnest that Derek doesn’t have a chance to regret his offer.

“Yeah Stiles, I’m sure.”

“But, um, how will I- how will get them back to you?” Stiles asks, looking unsure of himself.

Derek smiles hugely when he answers, “I guess you’ll have to come back next Saturday.”

~~

Derek spends way too long getting dressed for his second date with Stiles. Which is stupid, he knows- it’s not like Stiles will even be able to see him, but he settles on his forest green cashmere sweater that his mother got him for his last birthday.

It’s almost ten by the time Derek runs down to the kitchen to grab something before Stiles shows up. He is just grabbing a muffin and moving to head upstairs when Laura ducks her head in from the living room and grins in a manner that can only be called predatory.

“Morning,” he says, hoping that a quick brush-off will be most effective in making her leave him alone.

“It is a good morning, isn’t it baby brother?”

He rolls his eyes, making for the stairs. “What do you want, Laura?”

“I want nothing more than your everlasting happiness, which if I’m to believe Lydia, you may have found.”

“I’ve found nothing of the kind.”

“Oh really? Then why are you wearing your special occasion sweater? I see right through you Derek,” she says, sounding positively gleeful.

“Why do you live to torture me?” he says as he pushes through the library and into his room, where Laura follows.

“Because it’s my right, as your older sister, to tease you about your first crush.”

“I do not have a crush,” Derek says, indignant. He flops down into his armchair and crosses his arms.

“Oh Derek, you so do. I know all the signs- you’re dressing nicely, you leant him a movie, and I can’t be sure, but I think that under all that manly stubble you’re blushing.”

“Laura,” Derek says, and dammit, that came out whinier than he had intended. “Come on, he’s gonna be here soon.”

“Then he can damn well wait a few minutes. This is important.” Derek knows Laura’s determined face when he sees it, so he knows that there’s no use fighting her.

“Fine,” he huffs petulantly.

Laura sits on the arm of his chair, reaching over to pet his hair gently. “I’m really happy for you.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” she says, and when he looks up at her she’s smiling softly. “I know it’s hard for you, Derek. Trusting someone, liking someone, none of that has ever come easy to you. I’m just- happy that you like this kid.”

“Doesn’t mean it’ll work out,” Derek says quietly.

Laura laughs. “Derek, it’s never guaranteed to work out. But I’m proud of you, for even trying.” She leans down, looking like she’s going to kiss him on the forehead, but at the last second she grabs him in a headlock.

“Damn it Laura, get off,” Derek says, but he can’t help laughing along with her, though he does take the opportunity to push her off of the chair.

She’s still smiling when she gets up. “I’ll leave you to your date then.” She goes through to the library before she looks back at the mirror with a wicked smile. “Oh, and by the way- Stiles has been here for twenty minutes. Don’t worry, Scott’s taking care of him!”

If Derek knows Scott at all, then “taking care” of Stiles probably means he’s waxing poetic about either his date with Lydia from last night, or the gazebo he’s planning for the backyard. Derek loves him like a brother, but Scott can be a little single-minded sometimes.

Derek grabs his phone to text Lydia:
I know you helped Laura plan this. Go save Stiles.

He uses his time waiting for Stiles as a chance to fix his hair (not that it matters), and then Stiles is there, in dark jeans and the same maroon suit jacket he wore last week.

“Hey Derek,” he says easily as he comes in, setting the movies on the table and collapsing in a chair.

“I’m really sorry for being late. My sister can be devious when she wants to be.”

Stiles smiles warmly, and any worries Derek had about not being forgiven for abandoning Stiles to Scott are forgotten. “No worries, I was just hanging out with Scott- who is all kinds of awesome, by the way.”

Derek doesn’t detect sarcasm, and he’s surprised. “Seriously?”

Stiles makes a noise of disbelief. “Hell yeah, are you kidding? He showed me your sweet retro game collection- I hope you don’t mind. We were playing Mario Kart, which I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. You’ve got great taste, by the way.”

Derek blushes. “Uh- thanks.”

“Speaking of great taste! The Hobbit has totally changed my opinion on movie adaptations of books,” Stiles says, eyeing the movies appreciatively.

“Yeah?” Derek asks excitedly. “What was your favorite part? I’ve never actually gotten to talk to someone else who likes this stuff.”

Stiles launches into a detailed depiction of all of his favorite parts, how he got real tears in his eyes during the final death scenes, and how badass the CGI dragon looked.

Stiles is an exuberant speaker, and if Derek likes watching him use his hands to illustrate whatever point he’s making, well then it’s only because Stiles has objectively nice hands. “And that first scene in Smaug’s lair! I got chills, man,” Stiles says, pausing. “I’m sorry, dude, I should’ve warned you- I talk a lot when I get excited.”

“I don’t mind,” Derek says, pleased when Stiles flushes.

“Well, uh- what did you like about the movies?” Stiles asks.

Derek sighs. “It’s stupid.”

“What’s stupid?” Stiles asks, looking genuinely interested in Derek’s answer.

“I guess I just- I’ve always liked fantasy. I think, maybe… I liked seeing people that all looked kind of- different- living together, having adventures. That sort of thing.”

Stiles smiles, looking a little bit sad. “I don’t think that sounds stupid Derek.” He pauses before saying, “So, uh, not to completely change the subject but, do you mind me asking- why are you doing this?”

Derek isn’t sure what Stiles is referring to, and he says as much.

“I just meant, why are you trying so hard to get married? You seem pretty happy here.”

“I- it’s the only way I can break the curse.”

Stiles frowns. “And you believe that?”

“Yes,” Derek replies, his brow furrowing (more than it already is). “The Argents’ curse is very specific. I have to be accepted by ‘one of my own kind, ‘till death do us part.’ I have to marry, and it has to be a blueblood- one of my own kind.”

Stiles seems upset by this explanation, which is a confusing reaction, so Derek continues, “Wasn’t this explained to you by the agency, when they put you in contact with Lydia?”

“Huh- oh yeah, I just, it seems really shitty,” Stiles says, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s really bothering him. Derek may not be a cop’s kid like Stiles, but- oh. Oh.

“Stiles?” Stiles looks up from where he’s been wringing his hands. “Is this about your dad’s job? Because that’s not a problem. You don’t have to have a lot of money to count as being a blueblood- you have the pedigree, which is what’s important.”

Stiles’ expression clears, and even if his smile looks a little forced, Derek will take what he can get.

“Thanks, Derek. Oh! Before I forget, I made you something,” Stiles says, clearly eager to change the subject. He reaches into his jacket pocket, and pulls out a CD in a jewel case. “I don’t know what kind of music you like, but I thought- ‘cause you loaned me your movies, this wouldn’t be too weird. You, uh, seem like a classics kind of man.”

Derek, not for the first time, has no idea what to say. “I- thank you, Stiles. No one’s ever made me a mixtape before.”

Stiles groans, running a hand through his hair. “Is there any way we can call it something other than a mixtape? Even if that’s totally what it is, I’d just rather not call it that. I’d never live it down.”

Derek smiles. “I promise not to tell anyone. But there are six people watching us right now who will probably not be so kind.”

Stiles looks up at the camera, as if he’d forgotten it was there, and gives a little sheepish wave. “I’ll just, leave this here,” he says, setting the CD on the table next to the movies. “I guess I should get going, you know- places, people etcetera.” Derek doesn’t think he’s imagining the way Stiles looks reluctant to leave.

“Stiles!” Derek calls when Stiles is almost to the door. “You’ll be back next week?”

Stiles’ smile is brilliant as he nods, turning to leave again.

“And Stiles!” Stiles looks amused as he turns again. “Thank you. For the CD.”

Stiles smiles softly at him. “See you next week, Derek.”

~~

Scott decided a long time ago that working for the Hales was kind of the perfect job. When he was fresh out of high school, it had been a steady income while he took his veterinary technician classes over at the community college, and then Lydia started working for Mrs. Hale and Scott had another reason to stay. But the one part of his job that Scott consistently hated was dealing with the candidates- until Stiles.

For one thing, the candidates could reliably be counted on to be rude and dismissive not only to Scott, but also to Lydia. The first point that Scott had counted in Stiles’ favor was when Lydia had told him over dinner that Stiles had actually apologized to her and called her “Ms. Martin” when none of the others had even addressed her. For another thing, the other candidates were usually runners, and Scott really hated having to chase these assholes down. Some of them were really fucking fast.

Plus, Stiles likes Mario Kart. No one can be all bad in Scott’s book if they don’t turn into a total jackass while playing Mario Kart.

It’s Stiles’ third date with Derek when the doorbell rings thirty minutes to ten.

“Stiles!” Scott says, pleasantly surprised, as he opens the door and waves Stiles inside. “You’re early.”

Stiles smiles at him and shrugs. “Yeah- traffic was lighter than I thought it would be.”

“Well, I don’t think Derek’s ready yet…”

“Oh, right, of course,” Stiles says, looking embarrassed. “Should I like, wait in my car or something? Wait no- that’s dumb.” Scott looks out the door at Stiles’ car, a powder blue Jeep.

“Nice ride, dude,” Scott says appreciatively.

Apparently it’s the right thing to say, because Stiles lights up. “Thanks man! That’s Roscoe, kinda my baby. What do you drive?”

Which is how Scott and Stiles end up in a thirty-minute discussion about Scott’s motorbike, only stopping when Lydia comes downstairs and waves Stiles up to Derek’s room.

“Hey babe,” Scott says, smiling widely at Lydia and kissing her on the cheek. She smiles back at him before looking up the stairs speculatively at where Stiles has gone. “What is it?” Lydia just looks blankly at him. “You have your suspicious face on.”

Lydia frowns, pausing before she answers. “There’s something… off about him.”

“Who, Stiles?” Scott asks, confused. “But he’s cool! He’s the first of these dates I’ve actually liked.”

“I know Scott- doesn’t that seem a bit odd to you?”

“What, that he’s a decent guy?”

“That he’s polite to me and goes out of his way to be friendly towards you. That he apparently only owns that single maroon jacket. That ‘Stiles’ doesn’t sound like a nickname that came from ‘Greenberg’.” Lydia’s forehead is creased, which Scott knows is her puzzling face. She sighs as Scott slips an arm around her waist, leaning into his side. “I don’t want there to be anything wrong with him,” she says, quietly.

“I know babe. You’re just looking out for Derek. Like you look out for all of us.” Scott kisses the top of her head. “It could be nothing. I really like him.”

“I like him too. More importantly, so does Derek.”

They stand like that for a minute, until Scott pulls her towards the kitchen. “Come on Lyds, I made us brunch,” he says, kissing Lydia on the nose, earning him a soft, private smile and a swooping sensation in his gut.

~

“Hi,” Stiles says when he enters the room. Derek has been… nervous isn’t the word. Oh god, he’s been excited about seeing Stiles, for the better part of the week.

“Hey.” Derek hasn’t been excited about one of his dates since the very beginning, and that was more of an excitement at the prospect of breaking the curse, just the possibility of having a human face was so new and seemingly attainable when he was younger. But now, he feels excited just about the prospect of seeing Stiles, and honestly, Derek hasn’t thought that much about where this whole arrangement was supposed to be heading- marriage.

“Did you get a chance to listen to the CD?” Stiles asks casually, but he’s rubbing the back of his neck in what Derek is learning is a nervous habit.

“Yeah- it was great,” Derek says, and Stiles smiles at him brightly. Turns out, Stiles is animated talking about music much like he is talking about anything else, and Derek is just as happy listening to Stiles talk as he is when he actually has something to contribute.

“Is that- what you do? Do you do music?” Derek asks, inwardly cursing himself for saying something as stupid as “do music.”

Stiles doesn’t seem to notice the way Derek trips over his words, or at least he doesn’t mind much. He looks wistful as he says, “Yeah- I do. Or, I did. I haven’t played much in a while.”

“What do you play?”

Stiles quirks a smile. “Piano.”

“Would you play me something?” Derek asks, sounding more confident than he feels.

Stiles looks nervous. “I haven’t actually, uh, played, in a long time. I don’t really- do it anymore.”

Derek’s disappointment at not hearing Stiles play is replaced with concern. “Why?” he winces. “I mean, if you want to talk about it.”

Running his hand through his hair, Stiles props his chin on his hand and sighs. “I got in a bad place, about a year ago. My mom, she died, and my dad and I- well I couldn’t really handle it. She’s the one who taught me how to play, and I guess it just- reminded me too much of her.”

“God, Stiles, I’m sorry for asking-”

Stiles shakes his head. “No Derek, please don’t be. I just- I’ve got some baggage. After my mom, I started some bad habits.”

Derek’s mind goes full-speed ahead with increasingly grave possibilities: alcoholism, prostitutes, drugs-

“I, uh, I gamble.” Oh. Well, that’s less awful than most of the scenarios Derek had imagined.

Derek’s momentary relief disappears when realizes the implications of Stiles having a gambling problem. “You… you aren’t- are you here because you need money?” Derek asks, feeling slightly ill. “I don’t mean- I wouldn’t blame you, if you are, but- if you feel like you need the money I’d rather give you the money you need than force you to marry me for it.”

“Oh, Derek,” Stiles says, moving to the chair that’s closest to the mirror. He looks upset, and it should be alarming how much Derek wants to make that look go away. Should be, but isn’t.

“Derek, I don’t know how to make you understand. I came here for money… I came here for money, but that’s not why I’m still here.” He looks up, smiling softly, and Derek feels a warmth spread in his chest.

“Okay,” Derek says, and it doesn’t seem like enough. He wants to say that he does understand- he understands feeling trapped and wanting to get out. He wants Stiles to know that he trusts him. But maybe Stiles gets it anyway, if the way he’s looking at Derek (or in Derek’s direction) is any indication.

“Maybe I could teach you to play,” Stiles suggests.

“Poker?”

“Yeah, poker. Five card draw is my best game.”

“Never played five card draw. I’m pretty good at Texas Hold ‘Em though.”

“You know how to play cards? Maybe you could teach me a thing or two,” Stiles says, grinning.

“Of course I know how to play poker,” Derek says, rolling his eyes. “I’m a recluse, that doesn’t mean I’m totally talentless.” Stiles laughs at that, throwing his head back, and Derek is helpless to stop his answering smile.

When he stops laughing, Stiles clears his throat and sobers a little. “It’s, uh- hard to play cards through a wall, though,” he says, tapping at the glass.

From his side of the one-way mirror, it’s easy for Derek to forget that Stiles can’t see him. “Maybe soon, we can play,” he answers, trying his best to tamp down the sudden burst of fear he feels in his stomach.

Stiles looks excited at the prospect, and says as much. “And I can take you to the Full Moon! You haven’t had a real beer ‘till you’ve gotten a beer on tap from the Full Moon, dude.”

Derek can’t help but laugh a little at the idea of the wolf man getting a drink at the Full Moon bar. “The Full Moon? Really?”

“Yeah, kind of a dumb name- the owner, Danny, his last name kinda means ‘full moon’ in Hawaiian. Dumb name, but cool people.”

It’s nice to imagine- that Derek is a normal guy who can take Stiles to a normal bar and have a normal date. But making Derek normal is sort of the point of this whole endeavor, anyway.

“It sounds great,” Derek says sincerely.

~

Stiles is whistling as he bounds down the steps of the Hale house. It’s been a good morning with Derek- well, they’re all good mornings with Derek. He’s nothing like Jackson made him out to be; Derek is nice, and has a dry sense of humor, and is actually interested in the dumb stuff Stiles enthuses about.

Stiles gets to his car, still smiling when his phone rings. He sighs dramatically before answering.

“Hey Jackson.”

“Well?” Jackson demands. “Did you get a picture?”

“No, he didn’t come out today. I would’ve called if he had,” Stiles says, resisting the urge to smack his head on his steering wheel. Jackson is that frustrating.

“How is it taking this long?! He attacked me after two weeks!”

“Well,” Stiles drawls, “maybe he just liked you more.”

“Listen to me, Greenberg. You don’t get the rest of the money until I get a picture of that thing, understand? Lure him the fuck out of his little cave, and then just raise your arm and the camera will go off. It’s idiot-proof.”

The dress jacket Jackson had presented him with before Stiles went on the first date has a camera sewn into the breast-pocket, set to go off when the left arm is raised. Stiles’ job is to hand the jacket back to Jackson after he takes the picture, so Jackson can take the memory card and have proof that Derek is real.

“Thanks, I got that part.”

“Make sure you do, Greenberg,” Jackson hisses. Like, actually sounds a little reptilian. It’s creepy. “And hurry up. Every week you fuck around at the Hale house, my reputation is being dragged through the mud. It’s my future on the line here, so I will do whatever is necessary to get it back. Got it?”

Stiles rubs at his temple absently. “Yeah, got it.”

Jackson hangs up, leaving Stiles with a headache and not a little guilt. He really does need the money, though. Everything Stiles had told Derek about his mother is true, and he has almost nothing left. Jackson is offering Stiles survival.

Stiles is trying to stave off a panic attack. He should call his dad, but his dad would yell at him- he’s always had a soft spot for the Hales. More than anything, Stiles wishes he could talk to Derek about this whole stupid mess.

~

“Hey,” Scott says as Derek comes into the kitchen. “What’s today? Fifth date?”

Derek nods, making a passable breakfast of cereal when Laura breezes in. “There you are, Derek.” She makes to pinch his cheek, and Derek bats her hand away. “Fine, touchy. I was hoping Stiles would soften some of your- edges, but clearly that’s a hopeless cause.”

“Maybe it’s you that’s putting me on edge, Laura.”

Laura makes a thoughtful noise. Derek hates it when Laura sounds thoughtful- it usually means she’s about to say something he really doesn’t want to hear. “I don’t know, baby bro. You seem a little sharper than normal.” She smiles, all teeth, and now Derek knows he’s not going to like whatever she says. “Unless this is a feelings type of edginess.”

Derek groans around his mouthful of cereal as he sets the bowl down and crosses his arms.

Laura just rolls her eyes at him. “Oh, don’t get all defensive Derek- I’m not about to interrogate you about your great love for Stiles.”

Derek splutters unintelligibly for a minute before he can speak. “Laura, I am not in love with Stiles,” he says, looking to Scott for help.

Scott looks down at his bagel as he says sheepishly, “I don’t know man, I could definitely see it.”

“Helpful as ever, Scott.”

“Anytime,” Scott replies easily, clapping Derek on the back as he heads out.

Laura is still watching him, so Derek pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to keep calm. “I’m not having this conversation right now. Stiles is coming soon, and it would take more time than I have to wash your blood out of my clothes.”

Laura laughs and punches him on the arm. “Don’t think I’m letting this go- I’m gonna corner you soon!”

Derek goes in search of Lydia, and in his hurry he all but runs into his mother. “Mom,” Derek says, “Hi.”

“Don’t you have a date you should be getting ready for?” she asks, smiling indulgently at him.

“Yeah, yes- I was just looking for Lydia.”

“She’s upstairs already. Probably wanting to gossip with you before Stiles comes by.” His mom brushes imaginary dust off his sweater, seemingly unaware that she’s doing it. “Do you think we’ll get to meet him soon?” she asks, and dammit, she sounds so hopeful. Derek can’t do anything but smile at her and nod. She pulls him in for a quick hug before waving him upstairs. “I’ll send him up when he gets here,” she calls after him.

Derek jogs up the stairs and finds Lydia perched on the armchair, idly looking around at the books in the library.

“You look nice,” she says approvingly.

“Other than the fangs and the glowing eyes, you mean?” Derek says as he sits on the sofa near her.

Lydia swats at him. “That attitude is not helpful, Derek,” she says. She looks at him for a long moment before asking, more softly, “What’s wrong? You’re usually happy to have Stiles come over.”

“No, it’s not- I am happy, it’s just- it’ll sound dumb,” Derek says, and Lydia moves from the armchair to sit next to him and wrap an arm around his shoulders. “Laura and Scott think I’m in love with Stiles. Mom wants to meet him.”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing,” Lydia says, cautiously.

Derek leans into Lydia. “It wouldn’t be,” he sighs, “except that I’m not.”

“Not in love with Stiles?” Derek shakes his head. “And that’s what’s bothering you?” Derek nods.

They sit there like that for a minute, Lydia occasionally stroking Derek’s hair. “Do you think you could be in love with him?” she asks him, quietly.

“Yeah,” Derek says, pulling back so that he’s facing Lydia. “But I don’t- I don’t think he could be in love with me.”

Lydia’s face sort of crumples as she grabs Derek into a hug. “Derek Hale, don’t think that for one second. You are the best friend I have ever had. You’re smart, and good, and if Stiles doesn’t love you then he’s the idiot here and you’ll always have us.” She pulls back, eyes looking a little wet. “Just, don’t assume that you know what he’s feeling until he tells you, okay?”

Derek nods. He grabs one of Lydia’s hands. “I think I have to show him.”

“Are you sure, Derek?”

“Yeah, it’s- I have to know. If there’s a chance, for real feelings, or a chance to break the curse- any of it.”

Lydia squeezes his hand before gently letting go and standing to leave. “I’m really proud of you,” she says.

“Thanks.” Derek’s smile is real as he goes through the door to his room, sitting down in his chair on this side of the mirror. One way or another, today will be the last time he sees Stiles like this.

~

Stiles shrugs on the suit jacket in his car, and it’s like slipping on a heavy feeling of guilt. Stiles wouldn’t say that he’s a bad person, usually. But this whole Derek situation is starting to feel more and more like inexcusably bad person behavior and less like a morally dubious situation he can excuse away under stressful circumstances. Stiles lifts his left arm, hearing the soft click that means that the camera in the jacket is working properly.

When he gets to the house, Scott is there to greet him at the door.

“Hey man,” Scott says, smiling and looking at Stiles knowingly. Which is a disconcerting look on Scott.

“Hey,” Stiles says, drawing out the word. “What’s up Scott?”

“Oh, nothing. I think Derek’s about ready, Lydia’s up there with him now- and here she is.”

Lydia descends the stairs much like Stiles imagines a queen would, head held high and never looking down to check where she’s going. “Stiles,” she greets warmly. “Why don’t you head upstairs- Derek’s expecting you.”

“Right- uh, thank you, Ms. Martin,” Stiles says, stumbling only a little at the smile Lydia gives him that at once manages to look approving and menacing.

Stiles knocks at the open library door to announce his presence, calling out a hello.

“Hey, Stiles,” Derek says, his voice projecting from the speaker near the mirror. “How are you?”

Stiles goes over to the couch, making to sit down and answer when he sees them- on the table is a terracotta pot with purple irises in it.

“Stiles? Are you alright?” Derek asks, sounding concerned, which is when Stiles realizes that he’s been silently staring at the flowers for minutes.

He swallows past the lump in his throat. “Yeah- they’re just, uh- are these for me?”

“They are. You said they were your mom’s favorite, right?”

Stiles nods- he can hardly breathe. It’s not the pre-panic attack feeling, it’s- god, Derek is way too good for him. Not that any of this was ever real, but Derek just deserves so much more than this.

“Sorry, if it’s too much, but I wanted you to have them, in case… in case you don’t come back,” Derek says, and he sounds so nervous that Stiles laughs a little, which comes out more like a sniffle because apparently all it takes is some thoughtful flowers and Stiles starts tearing up.

“Why wouldn’t I come back?” Stiles asks.

“Well, if you came back- you’d be the first,” Derek says, and his voice isn’t coming from the speaker. He sounds like he’s right next to Stiles. Stiles looks down, only to see Derek’s foot next to his own. He’s wearing wingtips, and for some reason it goes straight to Stiles’ heart that Derek dresses up for their dates even though Stiles can’t see him.

“Stiles?” Derek says, his voice soft. “Can you look at me?”

Heart in his throat, Stiles looks up to see Derek close to him, but still keeping a distance in case Stiles freaks. He’s- well, he isn’t what Stiles was expecting. Jackson had described a monster- gnashing teeth and howling and animalistic. It’s not that Stiles had ever fully believed that, at least not once he’d talked to Derek, but he hadn’t realized the extent of Jackson’s deceit. Stiles feels a surge of fierce anger towards Jackson and a sudden need to protect Derek.

Stiles shuffles a little closer to Derek, taking in the golden eyes, furrowed brow and fangs that protrude from his mouth. He lifts his arm to touch him, and Derek’s face is so pathetically hopeful- like none of the other candidates had been able to look at him this long; it’s probable that none of them had. His hand is about to reach Derek’s cheek when he hears a soft click.

Stiles jerks his arm away, frantically backing away in an attempt to stop the picture or find the camera or something- the money isn’t worth doing this to Derek.

“God, I’m- I should go, you don’t-“ Derek says, panicked, as he runs from the room.

“Derek! Wait!” Stiles calls, but Derek’s gone down the hall. “Damn it.”

Stiles needs to find Derek. He needs to tell him- tell him anything, anything that doesn’t look like Derek just got rejected by the first person he really decided to trust. He’s running haphazardly down the stairs when Jackson calls.

“Not really a good time, Jackson, I’m kind of in the middle of something here.”

“I just called to thank you, Greenberg. You did a great job.”

Stiles’ blood runs cold. “What- but I-“

“Do you really think I’d trust you not to take any pictures you got and try to sell them? The camera is remotely connected to my computer,” Jackson says, humming thoughtfully. “You got a good angle- his weird fucking dog eyes glared out some of the surrounding area, but you avoided the worst of it. You can still tell what he is.”

“Jackson, what are you gonna do with that picture?” Stiles asks, hearing the desperation in his own voice.

“Whatever I damn well please. Don’t worry- you’ll still get your money. I’m a man of my word.”

“Jackson? Jackson!” Stiles all but yells into the phone, but he’s hung up. Stiles leans on the banister, fuming and this is all his fault.

“Stiles?” At the bottom of the stairs is Lydia, and she’s fixing Stiles with an icy stare.

Stiles runs down to where she is. “Lydia! Please, please you have to help me- I have to warn Derek-“

“Oh, I have to? Why, so you get a chance to get more pictures of him?! I hope whatever Whittemore- that was him on the phone- is paying you, is worth it,” she says, turning on her heel. “Scott! We have an unwanted visitor who needs escorting from the premises!”

“Lydia, please, listen to me, I just need to talk to Derek, please-“

“Stiles?” Derek’s on the second floor landing, looking surprised that Stiles is still here.

~~

Relief washes through Derek at the sight of Stiles. “Derek! I really need to talk to you.”

Lydia is glaring at Stiles, looking positively murderous. He doesn’t know where the rest of the family is, but they can’t be far away and will gravitate to the yelling. “He’s working for that asshole Whittemore, Derek. He got a picture of you,” Lydia calls.

Derek looks at Stiles, because it can’t- Stiles wouldn’t- but Stiles just looks miserable. Derek thinks he’s going to be sick.

“So, all of it… wasn’t real? That was just you getting a picture?”

“No! I mean, yeah at first, but you were all you and I really didn’t think and- god I’m so sorry Derek, I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” Stiles says, running his hands so violently through his hair he looks like he might pull it out.

“So you… do- care about me?” Derek asks, hesitantly.

“Derek! You can’t be serious,” Lydia hisses.

Stiles ignores her, looking only at Derek. “Yeah I do, Derek.” The relief and hope Derek feels are almost enough to mask the roiling feeling of betrayal in his gut.

“Marry me.”

“What,” Lydia practically shrieks, before stalking off, probably to find Scott or more likely, Derek’s mother.

“Marry me, Stiles. Help me break the curse- we can work the other stuff out later,” Derek says, and he hates the pleading note his voice makes.

“Derek, I-“ Stiles says, voice breaking. “What if we get married and the curse doesn’t break? What would happen?”

Derek has to swallow down that same sick feeling. Of course Stiles cares what Derek looks like- Stiles is beautiful, he could land anyone he wants. He can’t be stuck with Derek looking like the fucking wolfman for the rest of his life.

“I’ll- I don’t know. We’d get a divorce- you’d never have to see me again. There wouldn’t be any hope for me anyway, I’d probably just come back here- there’d be no point in trying anymore.” Derek feels the pain of every word he’s saying. It’s not like he’s never thought about the possibility of being stuck with this face, but- it’s always seemed a somewhat distant prospect. Now it’s here.

“Derek, I… I can’t. I can’t give you what you want,” Stiles says, looking close to tears. “I’m sorry, god Derek you have no idea how sorry- I should go.” He starts to move towards the door, and when he’s almost there he turns around. “Thank you for the flowers- they were beautiful,” he says quietly, and then he’s gone.

Derek slumps down on the top of the stairwell, feeling completely numb.

~~

Stiles slams Roscoe’s door and tears out of the preserve, driving roads that have long since been familiar to him.

He takes turns that he hasn’t made in almost a year, fighting the sting of tears in his eyes as he shakily stops the car.

He knocks on the door, knowing he must look a wreck when the door is answered.

“Hi Dad,” he says weakly, and his distress must show on his face because his dad pulls him into a firm, long hug.

“Been too long, son. You okay?”

Stiles can’t stop the crying now, so he sobs into his dad’s shoulder, right there on the porch.

“I’m so far from okay, Dad,” Stiles says, his words slightly muffled by the fabric of his father’s uniform. “I really messed up, and I don’t know how to fix it.”

His dad is rubbing his back in soothing strokes. “Hey, just tell me about it. We’ll figure whatever it is out. Promise,” he says, pulling back so he can lead Stiles off the porch and into the kitchen.

“Well,” Stiles says, shuffling after his dad, “You know that old Hale legend?”

His dad nods, looking confused.

“I guess I should start there.”

~~

Derek still hasn’t moved from his place at the top of the stairs when Lydia rushes back into the foyer with half of the Hales and Scott in tow.

“Derek,” Lydia says, a little out of breath, “are you alright?”

He doesn’t answer- he feels like he can’t answer, like his chest is being crushed and he can’t stop it.

“Derek!” she says, a little more harshly. “I need you to tell me what happened, tell me if you’re okay.”

He manages a stuttering nod, and when she pulls him onto her shoulder he crumples into her. Laura and his mother are just over Lydia’s shoulder, looking at him with anger and sadness, respectively.

“So who’s fine with me going and murdering this Greenberg kid? Anyone have objections?” Laura says, visibly fuming. “I know how to do it- I could get away with it.”

Derek whines pathetically, and his mother comes over to his other side. “Maybe not the time for violent threats, Laura. Though the sentiment is appreciated, I’m sure.” She gently takes Derek’s chin in hand and tips his face towards her. “Derek, I know you’re hurting, but you have to tell us what you want, okay?”

“My room,” Derek says, because apparently heartbreak has made him even more laconic than usual.

Back in his room, he has a perfect view of the library and the irises. Derek is clearly a masochist, and Lydia says as much. She stays with him when his mother and sister leave, offering to keep him company until he feels a little better.

“So are you going to tell me what happened, or do I have to torture it out of you?” she says with a slight smile and a bump to his shoulder.

“He said no. Obviously.”

Lydia looks confused. “But… he must have helped Jackson for the money. Why wouldn’t he marry you- your marriage would have guaranteed him thousands, enough to get him out of whatever debt he’d piled on himself.” At Derek’s questioning look, she gestures to the camera on the bookcase. “We watch because we care.”

“Right,” Derek says, putting his head in his hands. “He just- he said he couldn’t.” Couldn’t stand the idea of being married to Derek, no matter how much money was involved. Stiles had as good as told Derek that he cared, but that Derek was too- monstrous- to be around. That was even worse, somehow. That Stiles was so disturbed by Derek’s appearance that any feelings he had were totally eclipsed by his disgust.

Lydia still looks vaguely puzzled, but she seems to put the Stiles questions aside for the moment. “You shouldn’t be here,” she says gently, looking at the irises.

“You’re right,” he says slowly. “I should get out of here.” Derek stands and goes over to his closet, pulling out various sweaters, jeans and his one coat that was for emergencies. Coats tend not to be used often by those who never leave their house.

“Wait- Derek, what are you-”

“I need to get out of here. Whittemore’s going to do something public with that picture, and there’ll be a storm of reporters concentrated here. The best thing I can do for you guys is to leave,” Derek says, unable to stomach the idea of making his family’s lives so much more difficult, when they’ve sacrificed so much for his safety before.

“Leave?! Derek, hon, you’ve never even bought groceries before, how are you going to survive on your own? Where would you even go?”

“Lydia- this is my last chance to be out in the world with any sliver of anonymity. I’ll go to the city- Mom still leases that apartment. You know- that one for business meetings that go long. It’s… the whole world will know about me in a few days. This is my chance! To see or do, well, anything.”

Lydia looks at him appraisingly, before giving him a bright smile. “Well. In that case, you’ll need a crash course on life survival skills. And you’ll need my help convincing your mom that this is a great plan, so let’s pretend like it was my idea all along- okay?”

Derek smiles at her, and he’s never been more grateful for Lydia in his entire life. “Okay.”

~~

The car pulls up in front of his mom’s apartment late enough that most of the morning commuters have come and gone. It’s a slightly upscale residential district of San Francisco that’s still a walkable distance to a shopping and restaurant area. Lydia had insisted on coming with him, as had Cora, who Derek knows for a fact is skipping class to be here, despite her protests to the contrary.

“Hey- you okay?” Cora asks, which is when Derek realizes he’s gripping the seat so hard that his knuckles are white.

“Yeah,” he says, clearing his throat and reaching for the wide, dark-knit scarf his mother had given him as a goodbye present. He wraps the scarf carefully over the lower half of his face and up over his ears. Derek pulls up his hood, hefting his duffel bag over his shoulder. As he opens the car door he ducks his head, staring down at the sidewalk. Luckily, the winter chill keeps his outfit from being too suspicious.

Cora and Lydia scurry after him, instinctively flanking Derek in defensive positions. He can’t help but smile a little under his scarf.

Once they’ve unpacked, Derek hugs both of them firmly, knowing that if he lets them linger he’ll find it impossible to have them leave.

“Take care of yourself. Be careful. And call me,” Lydia says, hugging him back tightly.

“I will. And take care of my plants,” Derek says, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Derek could swear her eyes look a little watery, but because he values his limbs he says nothing.

“Don’t look so sad big bro,” Cora says, laughing a little as she pulls back from his embrace. “This is… this is something we’ve all wanted for you for a long time. I’m happy for you. Just- promise me you won’t turn this place into another prison for yourself, okay?” Derek nods, a little dumbfounded at his sister’s maturity. Apparently it shows on his face, because she continues, “No need to look so shocked, honestly. Have fun, Derek. We love you.”

Derek pulls her back into another quick hug. “Love you too,” he mutters into her hair.

It takes Derek all of five minutes to get bored of being alone with none of his books and without his TV hooked up, so he gets his warmer clothes and scarf on and heads out.

As he steps into the brisk evening air, his immediate reaction is to tense up and wait for someone to start screaming bloody murder. But no one notices him. He’s unseen in the crowds pushing through the sidewalk, it’s- incredible. It’s the most normal Derek has ever felt in his whole life.

He’s disturbed from his revery when someone bumps his shoulder. Derek starts off in a random direction, choosing to follow the general direction of foot traffic, which appears to be going towards the shopping district. Derek can’t stop himself from looking at everything- buildings and shops he’s only ever seen on TV or heard about. About two blocks from the apartment is a florist’s, and Derek makes a mental note to stop in there soon and see what their arrangements look like.

Derek spends hours walking past the bustling restaurants where tables spill out onto the sidewalks and trolleys and cars rush past. It’s getting late, and uncomfortably cold, when Derek sees a sign for the Full Moon Bar. It’s a fresh and painful reminder of Stiles, who Derek has tried with varying levels of success to put out of his mind over the last few days. Curiosity wins out, and Derek opens the door to a smallish, but homey looking bar.

The interior is well-worn, but cared for in a way that makes it look loved. Booths line two of the walls, with the third wall taken up by a dark wooden bar and the fourth wall is made up of the doors Derek has just entered from, with a piano in the corner.

The guy at the bar looks up as Derek takes a seat at the far side of the bar. “Hey man. Can I get you something?”

“Uhhh…” Derek says, realizing that he has no idea what kind of drink he actually likes. “Can I have a beer on tap? Please?” He realizes belatedly that he’s ordering per Stiles’ suggestion from weeks ago.

The bartender comes back with a beer in hand, setting it in front of Derek with a smile. “I’m Boyd, by the way,” he says, reaching out a hand. Derek shakes Boyd’s hand, his own hand covered by a thick gardening-type glove that Scott had suggested as a way to cover the claws. “I’m Derek.”

“Good to meet you Derek. New around here?”

“Is it obvious?”

“Only to types like me- you know, the ones who see locals every day. We learn how to pick out the confused, wide-eyed newcomers.”

“I’d hardly call myself wide-eyed,” Derek says, scoffing.

Boyd snorts. “Sure you aren’t. By the way- are you gonna be able to drink that? With the scarf in the way?”

“Oh,” Derek says, trying to look down at his scarf. “Uh, could you bring me a straw?”

“You wanna drink beer with a straw?” Boyd says, smirking.

“Only if you don’t mind.”

Boyd shakes his head, looking amused as he plops a straw in Derek’s glass. Derek is about to thank him when the door slams open and a highly put-out looking blonde practically throws herself at a bar stool. “Boyd! I need something strong and I need it fast.”

“Rough day?” he asks, looking sympathetic as he starts pouring bottles into a glass.

“You have no idea. I was doing a shoot for a wedding party- and you know I hate getting assigned weddings. Because everyone’s hassling me to get better shots and better lighting and at some point you want to tell them they’ll have to get better faces if they want nicer pictures.” Derek snorts and she looks over at him for a minute before launching back into her story. “So anyway, everything’s tolerable until the fucking groom makes a goddamn pass at me in the middle of taking his own wedding portraits. Ugh, I feel like I need to take a million showers right now.”

Boyd’s face of general calm slips a little as she talks about her harassment. At one point he reaches out like he’s going to touch her, but he drops his hand in favor of wiping down the counter.

When Boyd has gone back to work, the woman seems to realize that Derek is the only other company she’s likely to have, and moves over to sit next to him. “Hi,” she says, much more brightly than earlier. “I’m Erica, and I swear I don’t usually rant and rave that much. Well, that’s not true, but I don’t rant and rave about work that often.”

“Derek,” he says, offering his hand, which she takes in a firm grip. “And I didn’t mind- that guy sounds like a jerk.”

She smiles at him. “Definitely! Glad we can agree that men are the worst.” She looks suspiciously at his scarf and hoodie combo. “So, not to pry- or definitely to pry, whatever- what’s with the sith lord look you have going on,” she says, gesturing to his clothes.

“I, uh- I have a skin condition,” Derek says. It’s the answer he and Lydia rehearsed, and it rolls smoothly enough off his tongue.

Erica looks unfazed, making a slightly pitying face. “Rough luck. Next round’s on me.”

An hour later, Derek and Erica are getting along swimmingly, and Boyd has chimed in a few times. Erica introduces him to Isaac, who waits the tables here, and Danny, the owner who works mostly in an adjacent office but also tends bar.

Derek finally starts picking up his few belongings, when Erica grabs him by the elbow. “Hey, Derek, so- this was fun. We should hang out sometime. Boyd mentioned you’re new here. You should stick with us.”

They exchange phone numbers before Derek leaves, and as he goes he gets a small wave from Isaac and a nod from Boyd. Derek’s never had to make friends before- and that’s what he’s done. He texts Lydia and his mother, telling them that he’s good, that he met some nice people, and trusts that they’ll tell everyone else. He ignores the nagging thought that the person he really wants to tell about his night at the Full Moon is Stiles.

~~

Stiles stays with his dad for a week. Having not really seen each other for almost a year, they have a lot to talk about. After leaving his dad’s house, Stiles heads back into the city with a slightly lighter heart and a new determination. He and his dad have plans to get lunch next weekend, and post-crying breakdown Stiles raided his dad’s fridge for the unhealthy food he’d been hoarding since the last time Stiles had come to the house. It hadn’t been a conscious decision, after his mom died, but being around the house- around his dad, had been so hard after her death. Everything reminded Stiles of her, so he’d quit his job and tried to lose himself however he could.

“What are you gonna do now?” his dad had asked.

“I’m- I want to help him, if I can,” Stiles said. “And I need to get my life back together.”

“Are you gonna tell him the truth?”

Stiles shook his head. “Not if I can help it. He deserves someone who can give him what he wants- and it isn’t me.”

“You’re making the decision for him, son. I still think you should tell him,” his dad reached out and pulled him into another hug. “But I’m proud of you for trying to do the right thing. And don’t even think about staying away for so long again.”

Back in the city, Stiles pulls up in front of his tiny apartment, parking and setting off on foot towards the bar. It’s just after noon when he gets to the Full Moon, but he’s sure Danny is in the back, so he knocks despite the early hour.

Sure enough, Danny comes to the door, looking distractedly at his phone. “Sorry, we don’t open for another- Stiles!” he shouts when he looks up. He immediately yanks Stiles inside and gives him a quick hug. “I haven’t seen you in forever- how are you?”

“I’m, uh- better. I’m better.”

“Good,” Danny says, his smile warm. “That’s really good.”

“Look, Danny, I know this is really awkward and you can totally say no, but-”

“You want your job back?” Danny asks, surprised. “I thought you didn’t play anymore.”

“I, uh- guess I found a reason to try again,” Stiles says, rubbing the back of his neck. “But I know I totally left you hanging when I quit, I understand if you want me to start somewhere else- wiping tables or sweeping floors, whatever-”

“Stiles.” Danny rolls his eyes fondly. “Your mom died, it’s not like I blamed you for leaving. We haven’t held down a decent piano player in months- you’d be doing me a favor by coming back.”

Stiles smiles at him, feeling some of the weight lift off his chest.

~~

When Derek had imagined the picture of the wolf-faced boy getting out, he pictured it being much more dramatic than it ends up being.

Sure, there’s local news coverage, and some national stations and newspapers pick the story up, but without the actual wolf-faced boy to interview, the story never gains much traction. Jackson gets his reputation restored, and he milks his five minutes of fame for all it’s worth. The Chronicle does a story on the history of the curse and of Derek’s life, with partial interviews from his family members trying to dispel rumors that Derek is feral or a danger to society. Every news source asks where Derek is now, but with the picture partially glared-out from Derek’s eyes, the chances of someone identifying him remain slim, and thus Derek’s actual daily life remains unaffected.

Of course, it doesn’t last.

Derek is at the Full Moon in the evening, waiting to meet Erica, who has quickly become his best friend in the city. She reminds him of Lydia, and has taken it upon herself to show him around his new surroundings.

Someone shuffles into a stool near Derek, waving Danny down. “Danny Boy!” Derek freezes at the familiar voice, trying to shield himself without drawing attention.

Danny rolls his eyes at the nickname. “Real original Stiles. Don’t you have a set to get ready for?”

“Born ready, Danny.” Stiles turns then, and as soon as he sees Derek he practically falls out of his seat and towards Derek.

“Derek?!” he whispers. Derek turns a glare on him that he hopes is menacing, but the effect is probably ruined by the scarf. “What are you doing here?” Derek is about to answer when Stiles grabs his arm and leads him away from the bar. “Danny! I need to have a chat with one of your patrons- cool if I use your office?”

Danny looks confused but waves them back anyway.

Once the door is closed, Stiles turns on Derek. “Why are you here, Derek?! Someone could recognize you!”

“Why am I here? Why are you here?!” he says.

Stiles crosses his arms. “I work here. You shouldn’t be here- you’ll get found-”

“Since when do you care about me being found out?” Derek hisses, and Stiles visibly recoils. “You’re the one who took the damn picture in the first place!”

Stiles runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. “I’m just worried about you Derek, I mean-”

“Don’t bother,” Derek says, pushing past Stiles.

Derek tries to make his way through the crush of people to get back to the bar. He just needs to find Erica and leave. There are too many people, it’s too hot, he can hardly breathe with this fucking scarf on. Derek hasn’t been this angry in years, he wants to tear his claws through his gloves and scream. He trusted Stiles, trusted him with so much, and his reappearance and mixed fucking signals are too much to deal with right now.

Derek has almost made it back to the bar when he starts to feel his breath come in short bursts and his vision blurs.

“Derek!” he hears Erica call. “Derek, hey, you okay?” She’s grabbing his arm, but he can’t focus enough to see her. “Shit, he looks like he’s gonna pass out.”

He hears another voice, probably Boyd, say, “He probably can’t breathe through that scarf.”

Derek blacks out before he can tell them to leave the scarf on.

~~

When Derek wakes up, his mom is in a plastic chair next to the bed he’s laying in.

“Mom?” he asks, his voice scratchy.

“Hey sweetheart,” she says, her voice tired, as she hands him a glass of water. “You’ve been out for a couple of hours- I drove up as soon as I heard.”

“What happened?”

“You fainted, and they took you to the hospital. But… your friend. The blonde woman-”

“Erica.”

She smiles at him. “Yes, Erica. She was worried that you weren’t breathing, and she pulled off your scarf. You’re- the whole bar saw you.”

His stomach drops. “And?”

His mother grimaces, but she reaches for his hand. “There are reporters outside. Your father is here, he’s coordinating with the hospital staff. We can sneak you out the back, get you home. I’m so sorry, Derek, this is all my fault- I never should have let you leave-”

“Mom,” Derek says, squeezing her hand. “I’m an adult, I can be responsible for myself.”

“I know love, but don’t you think you’ll be safer at home?”

He sighs. “Maybe? But I know I don’t want to leave, Mom. I have friends here, and- I want to try.”

His mother brushes the hair off his forehead. “Okay. If you’re sure that’s what you want. Your father and I will support you, however you want us to.”

“Love you, Mom,” he says, letting go of her hand. “Where are my pants? I’d rather not brave the press in a hospital gown.”

~~

It’s a week after the hospital that Derek asks Lydia (and by extension, Scott) to come stay with him for a few weeks. The calls for interviews and photos have gotten out of hand, and Derek needs someone to field his options for him. Lydia’s reply is to say that she doesn’t have anything better to do- it’s not like Derek needs a matchmaker anymore- so of course she’ll come.

Over the next few weeks, Derek does dozens of interviews and tries (and mostly fails) to get used to being a local celebrity.

“Do you think I should look for a job?” Derek asks Lydia one night after they get back from recording a surreal satellite interview with Brian Williams and have flopped on the couch.

“Do you want a job?”

He shrugs. “It’d be nice to have something to do, I guess. Maybe I could find something I’d like doing.”

She nudges his shoulder. “I’ll look around.”

When the calls for interviews have slowed, Derek takes Lydia and Scott out to the Full Moon.

“Just so you both know, Stiles works here,” Derek says quietly before they enter.

Scott looks at him with wide eyes, but seems to think better of saying anything. Lydia has no such compunctions. “Then why are we here?!” she asks, grabbing Derek so he can’t go inside.

He sighs. “I have friends here, Lydia. Besides, he’s probably not even working tonight.”

Of course, Derek has no such luck- his eyes are drawn to where Stiles is sitting at the piano as soon as he enters. Because the universe hates him, Stiles looks up when they come in, and falters over a few notes before ducking his head and going back to playing.

Lydia crooks an eyebrow at him, and Derek just shrugs.

“Derek!” Erica shrieks, throwing herself at him, and Derek only just manages to keep from toppling over. When she pulls back, she sobers. “I’m really sorry, Derek, about exposing you. If I’d known who you were-”

“Erica.” He smiles at her. “It’s fine. Really fine.”

She still looks unsure, so he loops an arm around her shoulders, pulling her towards the bar. “Come on, you can buy first round.”

Boyd grins at him when they approach. “Derek! How’s it goin’?”

They exchange pleasantries and Derek introduces Erica and Boyd to Scott and Lydia.

“Lydia, let’s see if we can’t grab a booth. I think you and I have a lot to gossip about,” Erica says, hooking her arm through Lydia’s.

Derek looks to find Scott, only to see him deep in conversation with an off-shift Isaac, who Scott then drags to the booth where Erica and Lydia are sitting.

“Well, I guess I’m buying,” Derek huffs, failing to be annoyed in light of seeing his friends getting along so well.

Boyd clears his throat, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Derek, I know Erica has already apologized for what happened when you fainted, but-”

Derek waves it off. “Boyd, it wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

“I know, but we should have listened to Stiles.”

Derek stills. “What?”

“Stiles told us we should leave your scarf on, but Erica and I thought you wouldn’t be able to breathe with it on so we took it off.”

Derek can’t manage an answer, instead taking the drinks and weaving through the crowds of people staring at him as he goes back to their booth.

He sets the tray on their group’s table, purposefully choosing a seat where he has a clear view of Stiles at the piano. Stiles is staring determinedly down at the keys as he finishes his current song to polite applause, and won’t look up even as he smiles at the approval. He pauses for a minute, his fingers hovering over the piano, before he starts a familiar song. Derek knows this song- it’s from the CD Stiles gave him.

Apparently Derek hasn’t been subtle in his staring, as Erica and Lydia are looking between him and Stiles with twin looks of confusion. Derek ignores their questioning glances, preferring to listen to Stiles. Derek can’t claim much knowledge of music, but it’s clear that Stiles is talented. Stiles finishes his song and reaches for his water, stealing a look over to where Derek is sitting. Derek smiles at him, and when Stiles gives him a small smile in return, Derek can’t help the familiar warmth he feels.

~~

The Chronicle calls Jackson for a follow-up interview a month after Derek’s big reveal, when the hype has died down a little.

His position at the company has been secured, no thanks to Derek Hale and his general attention-whoring.

The journalist who called him for a phone interview asks him a series of questions, from general ones about himself to specific ones about his quest to re-establish himself after having his credibility and sanity questioned.

“Have you reached out to Derek in any way?” the journalist asks.

“No,” Jackson says. “And I don’t intend to.”

“Why?”

“Well, I just don’t think it’s right, you know? To have a freak like that out with the normal people.”

The interview runs, and Jackson feels pretty satisfied with how it turns out. His dad calls fifteen minutes later, Jackson assumes to congratulate him on keeping the family name clearly differentiated from that abomination.

“Jackson,” his father seethes. “How you have managed to royally fuck up in regards to Derek Hale not just once, but twice, astounds me.”

“What? But sir, you’ve said yourself, that thing isn’t even human-”

“But I don’t go saying it to reporters, Jackson. We have a public image to maintain; for some reason this wolf boy is well-liked, and now we’re the bigoted idiots who want to ostracize him!”

“I’m- I’m sorry, I thought-”

“I don’t care what you thought! Fix this,” his father says, hanging up.

~~

According to Danny, having Derek be a frequenter of the Full Moon is great for business. Derek occasionally gets asked for autographs, or for pictures that end up being ruined by his eyes’ glare, but Danny gives him free drinks, so he isn’t about to complain.

“Erica,” Derek says, idly playing with the stirrer in his drink. “How well do you know Stiles?”

Erica makes a thoughtful face as she finishes the drink in her hand. “Pretty well I guess. Or, I did before he left, and we’ve hung out a few times since he’s been back.”

“Do you…“ Derek pauses, choosing his words carefully. “Do you think he’s a good person?”

“Huh. Not the question I was expecting. But yeah, he’s good. Had a rough time of it last year, told me he did some dumb shit in stupid situations, but he’s good.” She gives him a lecherous grin. “Lydia told me you two knew each other, but wouldn’t say how. He’s cute, right?” Derek levels her with his most unimpressed look, but she isn’t bothered by it. “I totally had a crush on him when I started coming here, before my attention as drawn in other directions,” she says, winking at Boyd where he’s mixing a drink at the other side of the bar, and he smiles bashfully back at her.

“Yeah, we uh- know each other. But he’s confusing.”

Erica laughs. “Confusing is a good word for Stiles. But his heart’s in the right place.” She taps out a rhythm on her empty glass, looking away from Derek as she continues, “Lydia says you know Stiles, and when you came here Stiles knew to leave your scarf on. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you two knew each other pretty well.” She looks up at him, and Derek is hit with the genuine concern in her expression. “You’re both- really good, Derek. And if you give Stiles a chance to prove that, he might surprise you.”

Derek rests his chin on his hand, turning to face Erica. “I’m starting to think you might be right.”

She smiles and punches him on the arm. “The sooner you learn that I’m always right, the better off we’ll be.”

Derek laughs. “I’ll remember that.”

Erica cranes her neck, looking over to the door. “Speaking of, I’ve gotta run.”

“But, it’s only eight-“

“Yeah and now I’m doing you a solid. Don’t fuck it up,” she whispers. “Stiles!” she calls, and Derek wants to thump his head on the bar, because Erica is nothing if not unsubtle.

“Hi Erica! Derek,” he says, giving Derek a tentative smile.

“Hey Stiles.”

“I’m really late to my friend’s dinner,” Erica says with a grin, ignoring Derek’s glare. “I’ll leave you kids to it.”

Stiles still looks reluctant until Derek waves to the stool Erica has vacated.

Stiles is fidgeting and nervously tapping on the bar when he turns to Derek. “Look, I know this is late and all, but I just wanted to apologize for that fight we had-“

“No need, Stiles. Really, it was my fault too.”

“Well yeah, you’re seriously stubborn when you wanna be, but I still feel like you being taken to the hospital was my fault.”

Derek shakes his head. “It really wasn’t, Stiles. And besides, having my secret come out didn’t turn out so bad.”

Stiles laughs, and dammit but Derek still really likes the sound of his laugh. “Yeah, I mean you’re something of a legend around here. Hopefully legendary status comes with some perks.”

“Free drinks, for one,” Derek says, lifting his glass in Boyd’s direction.

Stiles gasps in mock affront. “You get free drinks here?! I work here, and I don’t even get free drinks.”

Derek smiles at him. “Well, when you’re a famous pianist, maybe Danny will give you free alcohol too.”

Stiles’ smiles slips for a second. “You- when I’m a famous pianist?”

Derek feels his cheeks heating up, and clears his throat awkwardly. “Well, yes- I mean, you’re really good. That song you played a while ago- I liked that one. I think it was on the CD you gave me.”

Stiles is staring determinedly down at the bar as he says, “Yeah. I like that song too. It’s, uh- it’s actually about needing someone’s forgiveness, without knowing how to ask for it.” He blushes furiously, running a hand through his hair as he stands.

“Stiles, I-“

“I’m really sorry, Derek- I’ve gotta go start my set.” He gives Derek a small smile, heading back to the piano, and Derek is left feeling totally lost once again.

~~

“What’s up?” Lydia says, somehow managing to collapse onto the couch with total grace.

“What do you mean?” Derek asks.

“You’ve been looking all,” she gestures towards his face, “I don’t know- troubled.”

Derek sighs. “I talked to Stiles.”

“And?” Lydia scoots closer to him on the couch, and Scott comes in from the kitchen and curls on the couch around Lydia.

“And, I think there’s something Stiles isn’t telling me.”

Lydia starts nodding, and even Scott has his thoughtful face on.

“I thought something was off as soon as he turned down your proposal,” Lydia says. “If he were just in it for the money, he would’ve married you and gotten rich off of Hale money.”

Scott hooks his chin over Lydia’s shoulder as she leans back into his chest. “I think so too- Stiles was always such a nice guy, I can’t imagine him hurting you for anything other than a really good reason,” Scott says.

Derek leans back into the couch. “It’s confusing as hell. The photograph I can forgive- I think he was desperate and didn’t know what he was getting into-“

“But he still took the picture of you when he already knew you- already cared about you. I don’t think you should let that slide so easily,” Lydia adds, and Derek winces.

“True,” Derek says. “But then he tried to help me keep my identity a secret. I think he maybe regrets it? The refusal?” He tries to keep the hopeful note out of his voice, but judging by Lydia’s expression, he doesn’t entirely succeed.

“Just- make sure that if he’s reconsidering anything,it’s for the right reasons. There’s something he isn’t telling you, Derek, and if he decides that the money is reason enough to marry you then you should know what you’re marrying into.”

“What Lydia said,” Scott agrees, smiling a little dopily at her.

“But don’t you think-“ Derek begins, as Lydia’s phone rings.

“Hold on a sec Derek,” she says, picking up her phone. “Hello?” Her easy smile when she answers the phone disappears, and Lydia pales slightly. “Yes, he’s here.” She hands the phone to Derek.

“Hello?”

“Hi Derek.”

“Whittemore?” he asks, immediately on guard- Derek has read enough of Jackson’s interviews to know that whatever he’s calling for, it can’t be good. “What do you want?”

“I was thinking of taking you out some time.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Well, I like you, and-”

“You have a funny way of showing it. What with the running away, attempts to expose me and then your very clearly expressed opinions in regards to the question of my humanity.”

Jackson sighs. “Look, Derek- I know that what I said in those articles was harsh, but it was all about keeping up appearances! I didn’t actually mean it.”

“And now you’re, what? Letting your feelings get the better of you? Willing to be seen with a monster despite your family name?”

“Derek, don’t you think people can change? I was, surprised, and a little scared when I first saw you, that’s understandable. It’s how anyone would react!” Derek thinks back to when Stiles first saw him, and how his only reaction was unabashed curiosity. “Derek- I can understand why you’d be cautious about me. But you know I’m not after you for your money, or for your name. And I’m willing to marry you.”

“I, uh- don’t know what to say-” Derek says, stumbling over the words.

“Say yes to a date with me. When and where?”

“Friday, I guess? Do you know the Full Moon? We can meet there,” Derek says, opting for familiar territory.

“See you then.”

Derek hands Lydia back her phone, seeing that she had been pacing behind the couch. “That was Jackson Whittemore.” Derek pauses, trying to make sense of what just happened. “He was calling to ask me on a date- and possibly asking me to marry him.”

Lydia looks stricken. “Why did you say yes? Derek, he has been nothing but awful to you.”

“He says he wants a second chance… and it’s not like I have a lot of competing offers.”

“Derek,” she says harshly, sitting close to him. “That’s no reason to say yes! You have so many things going for you- you have us, and your family, and Scott just got you an interview with that florist down the street.”

Derek smiles at her. “Lydia, it’s not that. Really, it’s not- I just- I still want to know what real freedom would be like. Not being gawked at everywhere, getting to have a normal life- those are just things I can’t do.” He doesn’t add that his family, his friends, could stop feeling responsible for him. He could unburden everyone.

Lydia still looks skeptical. “What about Stiles?” Scott asks.

Derek sighs. “Stiles- I don’t even know what Stiles wants from me. At least Jackson is direct. But- I’ll talk to him.” Scott smiles at him, and Derek gives him a tired smile back.

~~

Stiles is late for his Friday night set, and he practically has to run if he wants to make it on time. Well, not on time, but early enough that he can hopefully chat with Derek before his set.

Stiles is so distracted by thoughts of what he can say to Derek when he sees him that he almost doesn’t notice Jackson Whittemore standing by the entrance.

“Jackson?” Stiles asks, and seeing him renews all the rage Stiles felt towards him months ago.

Jackson laughs, because he’s an asshole. “Greenberg! Should’ve known I’d find you in a place like this.”

“What are you doing here?” Stiles manages to grit out.

“Oh, I’m here to pick up Derek.” Jackson smirks and Stiles’ stomach drops. “For our date.”

“You need to stay away from Derek.”

Jackson steps closer. “Why? You couldn’t manage to tie the knot with the boy-beast. The way I see it, you won’t marry him, and I will. So I’m the one doing him the favor, and you just want to keep him from being human.”

“He’s already human, you massive-“

“Fine,” Jackson says, waving his hand dismissively. “Whatever- semantics. Point is: you don’t tell me when I need to back off. Unless you’re willing to take my place.” When Stiles says nothing, Jackson’s smile widens. “That’s what I thought.”

Stiles pushes past Jackson and into the Full Moon, making straight for Danny.

“You’re late,” Danny says, without looking up.

“Danny, I need a favor.” Some of his desperation must be in his voice, because Danny stops what he’s doing and looks at Stiles seriously.

“I need the weekend off. I can do tonight’s set, but then I need a few days.” Danny just raises an eyebrow. “I know it’s last minute- but it’s important. It’s for Derek.”

Danny seems to understand the urgency, because he nods. “Be back by Monday, yeah?”

Stiles smiles at him. “You’re the best, Danny! But please, don’t tell Derek, okay?”

“Okay, Stiles. But only because it’s you, and for some reason I’ve chosen to love you.”

“Love you too buddy,” Stiles says, smacking Danny lightly on the arm before heading back to the piano. It’s going to be a long weekend.

~~

Derek drags Lydia and Scott to the Full Moon on Saturday night, finding them a booth near the piano. “I’ll get first round,” Scott offers, bending down to kiss Lydia’s cheek.

“I hope that includes me,” Erica says, swinging into the seat next to Derek.

“Hey,” Derek says as Erica loops an arm around his shoulders. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Yeah, well, Boyd finally got around to asking me out last week, so I’ve been kind of busy.”

“Last week?” Lydia asks, impressed, as she leans forward. “And you’ve been busy all week?”

“Oh yeah,” Erica says smugly. “There was this one time-“

“I’m gonna see if Scott needs help!” Derek yelps, pushing Erica out of the booth in his rush to get away from this conversation. Behind him, he hears Erica and Lydia laughing.

When he gets to the bar, Derek finds Scott successfully balancing the tray of drinks by himself. “Need a hand?” he asks, but Scott shakes his head.

Derek sees Danny at the other end of the bar, and ducks around people in an attempt to get to him. “Danny!” he all but shouts, and Danny looks up with a bright smile.

“Hey, Derek, how’s it going?”

“Alright. I was wondering, is Stiles around tonight?”

Danny immediately looks uncomfortable. “Nah, he took this weekend off.”

Derek frowns. Stiles hadn’t mentioned anything. “Did he say why?”

“Nope, sorry. Wish I could talk Derek, but we’re pretty busy tonight.”

“Right- sorry. Thanks, Danny.” Danny gives him an unreadable look, but he smiles and goes back to work.

Derek takes his seat next to Erica. She nudges him softly. “Do you need me to beat up Danny for you?”

“What?”

“Well, you seemed happy enough when you went to talk to him, and now you look like someone kicked your little wolfy puppy.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “It’s not- Danny didn’t do anything. I just wanted to talk to Stiles, but apparently he’s not here this weekend.”

Erica frowns. “What did you wanna talk to him about?”

“I went on a date with Jackson Whittemore.”

“You mean that total jerk who talks shit about you in any paper that’ll listen to him? Why the fuck would you do that?”

“A perfectly good question Erica,” Lydia chimes in.

“Anyway, I went on a date with him- and I guess I wanted to talk to Stiles about it.”

Erica’s expression softens. “Well, how was your date with Jackson?”

“It was, uh- okay, I guess? I mean, he mostly talked, which I guess I don’t mind.” He really didn’t mind being around someone who talked a lot (or a specific someone), but talking to Jackson had felt more like being in another interview, but one where the interviewer was most keen to talk about himself.

“So, what did you wanna talk to Stiles about? It sounds like your date went alright.”

Derek shrugs. “I don’t know- I thought, maybe- it just seems like sometimes he could see me, like that. You know- as a date. And if he did, I’d far rather have been on that date with him than with Jackson.”

Erica looks like she is about to explode in glee, and Lydia looks vaguely approving. “I knew it!” Erica squeals. “I knew you guys liked each other! He always looks at you so mournfully when he’s at the piano, and you always stare at his hands while he plays- not that I blame you.”

Derek puts his head in his hands. “This was a terrible idea.”

“No! No it wasn’t! This was a great idea. I feel like we’re a superhero team. Like, super-friends who work to ensure Derek Hale’s future happiness.”

“What a wonderful thought, Erica.”

“I wanna be Catwoman,” Erica says thoughtfully.

“I’ll be Superman!” Scott volunteers, and Lydia pats his arm and smiles at him sweetly.

The table devolves into a conversation of which one of them would be which hero (Derek unsurprisingly gets made Wolverine), but Derek mostly thinks about what he’ll say to Stiles next time he sees him.

~~

Saturday morning, Stiles arrives at a rather small green house on the outskirts of a quaint town. When he knocks at the door, a dark-haired woman roughly his same age answers.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

“Yeah, hi, I’m looking for Allison Argent?”

“That’s me,” she says, leaning against the doorframe and crossing her arms.

“I’m Stiles.” He offers her his hand, which she takes, eyeing him suspiciously. “I need your help.”

“With what?”

“I need you to help me break the curse that your family put on Derek Hale.”

Allison looks taken aback. “I- I don’t really do magic, I don’t think I can-“

“Please. Please just- help me try? Somehow?”

“Why are you trying to get help for him? Why hasn’t Derek come himself?”

Stiles sighs. “Because he doesn’t know I’m here. I can’t get his hopes up for an end to the curse if it doesn’t exist.”

Allison nods, apparently satisfied with this answer. She steps aside, gesturing for Stiles to come inside. He follows her through the entryway and into a living room where the walls are lined with bookcases. “I don’t even know where to start looking- my family’s not really in the magic business anymore, but I’ve managed to keep some of our older and handwritten texts.”

Stiles runs an appreciative hand over several well-worn leather spines, picking out a few at random to start looking through.

When they’ve been thumbing through books with no luck for several hours, Allison offers to make them tea. “How’d you find me?” she asks as she brings in the tea set.

“Sheriff’s son,” Stiles answers. “I did some researching that was technically less than legal on any Argents still living in California.”

“Sounds like a lot of trouble to go through.”

“Not so much.” Only a few hours of research, followed by a six-hour drive to Allison’s house, and now several hours of fruitless and brain-numbing research.

“Well, Derek must be really important to you for you to go to this trouble for him.”

“He’s a friend. And he deserves to not have this burden to carry with him all the time, especially since it’s not his punishment that he’s suffering.”

Allison winces. “Yeah, this curse seems like a particularly cruel one. No one can fault my family for a lack of vindictiveness.”

They go back to looking, and hours later Stiles is getting a headache from the reading and his lack of sleep.

“Stiles, I think I found something,” Allison says, pointing to an entry in one of the handwritten books on original Argent spell creations. “It’s for a vendetta curse.”

“A vendetta? Does that mean it’s a connection between your two families?”

Allison nods, still reading the passage. “It says that the curse remains active as long as the Argent line is around to power it.”

“Does that mean you can break it, as part of the family that’s fueling the curse?” Stiles feels the excitement bubble inside him before he can stop it.

“I… don’t think I can.” Stiles’ excitement fizzles out immediately, replaced by a lead weight in his gut. “I’m so sorry Stiles, but it says that only the original caster can break the curse, and that the family acts only as indirect power for the curse. What’s the wording of the curse, again?”

“Uh- it says that he’ll have the face of a wolf until one of his own kind accepts him as one of their own, until death do they part.”

“So, marriage?” Stiles nods. “I really wish I could help you… The curse is ironclad, the only leeway you’re given is the actual wording of the curse.”

Stiles hums in understanding. “Thanks for trying, Allison.” She gives him a sympathetic smile as he stands to leave.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

“No- this has made some things much clearer. Thank you,” Stiles says, giving her a strained smile as he leaves.

~~

Derek and Jackson go on several more of their lackluster dates. Jackson does most of the talking, and when he asks Derek questions they’re mostly about his mother’s company. Jackson also seems to find it impossible to make eye contact with Derek, or look at him for more than a few seconds at a time, his gaze instead flitting about whatever upscale restaurant Jackson has chosen that night.

It’s a relief, then, for Derek to be back at the Full Moon when Jackson is away on a business trip and can thus take a break from his relentless and uninspired wooing of Derek.

Derek spots Stiles at the bar chatting with Danny and makes to join him. Danny spots him first, greeting him with a wave, and Stiles turns and gives him a tight smile.

“Stiles, hi.”

“Hey Derek, sorry I don’t have time to talk just now- I’ve got a set to prep for.”

“Oh,” Derek says, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “Actually- I really need to talk to you. Maybe after the show?”

Stiles nods distractedly, already moving towards the piano.

Derek takes a seat at the bar, making passing conversation with Danny and Boyd when they aren’t busy.

Stiles finishes his set, and looks up to where Derek is sitting. Derek gives him a small wave, and Stiles aims for a smile in return, but it comes out as more of a grimace.

Derek goes to sit at a booth, and Stiles follows him. “Are you alright? You seem a little off tonight,” Derek says, concern evident in his voice.

“Mhmm, fine- better than fine, even,” Stiles says quickly. “So, what’s up?”

“Well… this might sound totally crazy, but, uh- Jackson Whittemore wants to marry me.”

Stiles’ eyebrows climb. “That’s new.”

“You know as well as I do that Jackson hasn’t always been out for my best interests-“

Stiles winces. “Derek, one thing I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time: I took that picture for Jackson, but it was an accident. The jacket,” he gestures to his sleeve, “it had an automatic camera. When Lydia heard me on the phone with Jackson, I was freaking out because he said he’d gotten the picture remotely.”

Derek smiles at him. That makes much more sense in light of Stiles’ hurried apologies and his desire to help protect Derek’s secret. “I forgave you for that picture a while ago, Stiles. But it’s good to know, anyway.”

Stiles smiles slightly and clears his throat. “So- marriage. Has Jackson decided to be decent?”

“Yeah. He’s alright.” Derek shrugs.

“Well, if he’s offering, maybe you should say yes. It’s the only way you can break the curse- which is what you really want, right?” Stiles asks, looking down at his hands.

Any hope Derek had entertained of Stiles reconsidering marrying Derek vanishes. “Right.” Derek stands. “It’s getting late- I should get going-“

“Derek.” Stiles’ hand shoots out and grabs his wrist. “I- I hope you get everything you want.” Stiles doesn’t seem to notice that his thumb is rubbing small circles where he’s gripping Derek’s wrist.

“Yeah. I hope you get what you want too, Stiles,” Derek says. He can feel his eyes burning slightly, and he pulls away.

That night, Derek calls Jackson to accept his proposal.

~~

In the last month, Scott has learned more about wedding planning than he ever needed to know. Derek and Jackson’s wedding has been planned with incredible speed (made possible by even more incredible amounts of money) and fueled by the an eagerness for the curse to be broken. Jackson doesn’t seem to believe, or care, that the curse could be broken- his eagerness is for the PR opportunity of a high profile wedding.

The press coverage was surprisingly favorably. Derek has been credited with causing Jackson’s change of heart, and Jackson is being portrayed as a reformed man in love. Scott finds it sickening.

Scott, Derek and Lydia have all moved back to the Hale house- Talia insisted that the wedding be there, and not even Jackson’s stubbornness can match Talia’s.

Scott finds Lydia on the couch the day before the ceremony, lying down with a cold compress over her eyes.

“Hey babe,” he says, kissing her forehead before moving to sit next to her. “What’s wrong.”

Lydia groans. “This is wrong, Scott. Derek shouldn’t be marrying this guy.”

“I know.” He runs his hands through her hair- that usually makes Lydia feel better.

“He’s miserable. He just mopes around the house, he and Jackson hardly speak to each other, and he’s barely talked to anyone from the Full Moon except to invite them to the wedding.”

“Did he invite… all of them to the wedding?”

Lydia removes the compress so she can look at Scott. “He didn’t invite Stiles, no. Derek never told me everything that happened, but I don’t think I would want anyone I was in love with to be a guest at my wedding.”

Scott is quiet for a minute, until Lydia nudges him with her foot. “Do you think maybe Stiles could talk some sense into Derek?”

Lydia shrugs. “Well, Derek certainly isn’t listening to me. You don’t have any last-minute wedding activities to do today. It might be worth a shot.”

Scott smiles at her. “I like that you appreciate my ideas.”

Lydia kisses him. “I certainly do. Go- go find Stiles. If you leave now you should catch him before he’s set to play. But if you’re not here to keep me sane, and I go into a frenzy and kill Jackson’s mother because the place settings aren’t the right font, again, then I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”

Scott gets to the Full Moon an hour before Stiles is set to go on.

“Isaac!” Scott calls, spotting him clearing a table. Isaac looks up and smiles brightly at Scott. “Is Stiles here? I really need to talk to him.”

Isaac cringes. “Yeah, he’s here. Been ordering drinks for the last two hours and hasn’t said much of anything to any of us.”

“Does he usually drink before he plays?”

Isaac shrugs. “Not like this- he’s drinking to get drunk. Last time I saw him like this was after his mom passed. Now might not be a great time to talk to him, but he’s back there if you wanna give it a shot,” Isaac says, pointing out a dark booth in the corner.

“Thanks Isaac,” Scott says, clapping him on the back.

“Hey there Stiles,” Scott greets, sliding into the booth.

Stiles looks up a little blearily. “Scott? What’re you doing here?”

“I came to see you. Are you alright?”

“Psshh- me? I’m fine- great, even,” Stiles says, listing a bit to the side.

“Here, lemme get you a water, okay buddy?” Scott says, flagging down Isaac. “Just, drink this, you might feel a little better.”

“I feel fine already,” Stiles grumbles, but he drinks the water anyway.

“So. Derek’s wedding is tomorrow.”

Stiles nods. “S’what I hear.”

“What happened, Stiles? You like Derek- it’s pretty obvious. And you’re not a massive douchebag- so why are you just sitting around while he gets ready to marry Jackson?”

“You don’t get it,” Stiles says.

“So explain it to me.”

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I’m- I gotta go.” He wobbles a little as he stands.

“Hey dude, why don’t you sit down, okay? Just give me your wallet, I’ll go handle your tab.”

Stiles nods, handing Scott his wallet.

Scott pays for Stiles’ drinks with his credit card, but as he goes to replace the card in Stiles’ wallet, his eye catches on the name.

“Stiles,” Scott says when he’s back at the booth.

“Hmm?” Stiles asks, making grabby hands for his wallet.

“Why does your credit card say your name is Genim Stilinski?” Stiles pales, and Scott continues. “Stiles, who is Michael Greenberg?”

Stiles drops his head into his hands. “I’m- I’m not Greenberg. Jackson found me at a gambling den where Greenberg plays too- totally unnoticeable guy, I mean he just blends into the background. Anyway, Jackson thought I was him, offered me money, and I just decided to do it, you know? I needed cash, and Jackson had it.”

“So, I’m guessing you’re not a blueblood.”

“Not so much, no.” Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair. “My dad’s the Beacon Hills sheriff, I don’t have any kind of claim to being a blueblood.”

Scott pauses. “So… that’s why you said no to marrying Derek.”

“If I could break Derek’s curse by marrying him, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I even found an Argent woman, to see if she could break the curse, but she can’t. He has to marry a blueblood, and I’m not one,” Stiles says, looking completely miserable.

“Why don’t you just tell him the truth? He’d understand- he might not even go through with the wedding.”

Stiles shakes his head vigorously. “No- that’s not- what he wants is to have the curse broken. If I tell him that I- how I feel about him, then what? If he picked me he’d be stuck with the curse forever.”

Scott feels himself getting angry on Derek’s behalf. “So, what? You get to make these decisions for him?! Does his face really bother you that much?”

“No! Scott, his face doesn’t bother me,” Stiles groans. “Derek is a beautiful person. He’s smart, and nice and he’s really funny if you’re paying attention. And if his face never changed, I wouldn’t even care- I think he looks nice, because I know him, and his face is a part of him. But if breaking the curse and having a normal life is what he really wants- which he has told me- then I can’t stop him from having it. Even if I was selfish enough to keep him, he’d resent me for it later, and I don’t think I could live with that.”

Scott looks at Stiles thoughtfully, the concern and affection so evident in the way he talks about Derek. This is the kind of person Derek should be marrying. “So you won’t talk to him,” Scott says, and it’s not a question. It’s clear that Stiles has made up his mind.

“Please- please don’t tell him.” Stiles looks so earnest, Scott has to nod in agreement. Stiles slumps down in relief. “Thanks, Scott. And hey- enjoy the wedding,” he says, huffing out a humorless laugh.

Scott gives Stiles an awkward one-armed hug. “You’re a good guy, Stiles. Even if I’m not sure that you’re doing the right thing.”

When Scott gets back to Beacon Hills, he sees Derek sitting morosely on the steps of the house. Derek gives Scott a slight nod before he resumes his brooding.

Lydia is waiting for him in the kitchen with a mug of tea. She smiles when she sees him. Stiles didn’t say anything about Scott not telling Lydia, and if there is one thing Scott has learned from this whole mess, it’s that keeping secrets from your loved ones makes everyone’s lives much more complicated than they need to be.

“Hey, so I figured out what’s wrong with Stiles.”

“Tell me everything.”

~~

Derek tries to stand still as Lydia fixes the rose into his buttonhole, smoothing her hands across the fabric of his expensive suit.

“You look perfect,” she says, giving him a watery smile.

He rolls his eyes. “As perfect as I’ll be looking, I suppose.”

“Nope. Objective perfection.” Her thin smile slips.

“I’m not sure you look appropriately happy, Lydia- for someone who’s about to see the crowning achievement of her matchmaking career,” Derek says drily.

“Yes, well, you don’t look very happy for someone about to be married. You know what they say about people in glass houses, Derek.”

His mother enters then. “Derek, dear, you look very handsome,” she says, kissing his cheek. “Everything is ready- it looks lovely, Lydia.”

“I’ll give you two a minute- ceremony starts in ten, Derek,” Lydia says, shutting the door behind her as she leaves.

His mother settles serious eyes on him, looking at him with a sad smile. “Derek, are you sure this is what you want? Because you know that if it is, we will support you unfailingly, but I just want to know that you’re sure.”

“I want the curse broken, Mother,” Derek says, firmly.

Her expression softens, and she pats his face lightly, touching his pointed ears and his wrinkled brow. “Sweetheart, you don’t love him.”

He scrunches his nose in confusion. “What does that matter?”

“Derek, that’s the only thing that does matter.”

“Mom- I can’t- I have to break the curse, and if marrying Jackson is the way to do it, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“Have you been so miserable, that you’ll marry this man out of desperation?” she asks, confusion and hurt on her face. “Did we make you that miserable?”

Derek grabs her hands. “Mother, no, that’s- you’ve all had to give up so much for me. I just want to be able to let you live your lives without having to worry about me.”

His mother’s expression clears into one of motherly concern as she says, “Derek, love, is that really what you think? That you’ve held us back?” He nods, looking at his feet. “Sweetheart, I have failed you.” Derek looks up at her in confusion. “You’ve never been a burden to any of us- your sisters have stayed close to home because they love you. Your father quit his job and I stepped back from the company to take care of you, but that could never make you a burden.”

“But wouldn’t things be easier, for you- if I had been born normal?” Derek says, and he hates how small his voice sounds.

His mother leans in and kisses him on the forehead. “Easier only for you sweetie. You’re not holding any of us back. Us loving you, however you are? That’s not a burden. That’s family.” She looks him straight in the eye. “Make the right decision for you, not for any of us.”

Derek doesn’t realize he’s crying until his mom wipes tears away with her thumb. “Now, what do you want to do.”

He takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to marry Jackson. I’m- I don’t mind the way I look. I’ve made friends with this face, I’ve lo- cared about people with this face. I have you, Dad, Laura and Cora. I want to stay the way I am.”

Derek feels suddenly lightheaded, and the last thing he hears before he blacks out is his mother calling his name.

~~

“Derek?” He opens his eyes, and his mother is above him where he’s apparently been lying on the ground.

“Hmm? What happened?” Derek asks, feeling incredibly groggy. His mouth feels weird; his words seem clearer, almost like they’re not being muffled by-

His mother has a hand clasped over her mouth, and she’s crying. “Oh sweetheart.” She opens her purse, pulling out a makeup compact, which she opens to the mirror inside and holds in front of his face.

The first thing Derek notices is that his formerly gold eyes are now the same green as Laura and his father’s. His nose and brow are smooth, and his fangs are gone. Derek flexes his hands- the claws have disappeared as well.

“Mom?” he asks, hopelessly confused.

She moves forward, crushing him in a hug. “Derek, the curse said ‘one of your own kind.’ You accepted yourself, sweetie. You broke the curse yourself.” He hugs his mother back, holding on to her tightly and not caring if he wrinkles his suit.

“Hey Mom, do I have to go break up my own wedding?”

She laughs into his shoulder. “Of course not sweetie. I can do it for you.”

He shakes his head. “I think I’d like to do it myself.”

His mother pulls back, shaking her head even as she smiles and wipes at her eyes. “Is this a newfound love for dramatic flair? I think you’ve been spending too much time around Lydia.” She gets up, moving to leave. “I love you.”

He smiles, the first time he’s felt this light in months- maybe even years. “I love you too, Mom.”

Derek brushes off his suit as he stands, adjusting the rose as he leaves. He pauses in the entryway, fully looking at himself in a mirror voluntarily for the first time in years.

As he steps into the yard, the band starts playing, and Derek gestures for them to stop. The guests all turn to look at Derek, and as one they all seem to freeze in shock. He smiles widely, and from the front row his mother smiles back at him.

Derek gets to the altar, where Jackson is currently gaping at Derek and shamelessly checking him out.

“Jackson,” Derek says, and Jackson’s mouth snaps shut.

“Derek, wow- you look… wow.”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “Thanks. But I actually just came to say that I’ve reconsidered your offer, and I don’t think marriage is really the best idea for us.”

Jackson’s shock starts giving way to a scowl. “I don’t-“

“You don’t want to be here any more than I do, Jackson,” he says, looking to where Jackson’s father is glowering at him. Derek turns to the gathered guests. Danny, Isaac, Boyd and Erica are all seated together, looking on in shock and, in Isaac’s case, some tears. Cora and Laura are holding each other’s hands. Scott has an arm around Lydia, who is beaming at him. His mother is whispering in his father’s ear, and his father smiles. “Thank you all so much for coming, everyone, but this is a wedding that isn’t going to happen.”

Derek steps back, making to go back to the house, but he hasn’t gone more than a few steps when a hand grabs his arm.

“Derek!” Jackson says, gripping Derek tightly. “You can’t walk out on this, we agreed-“

“To a sham of a marriage so you could get some good publicity. We never would’ve made each other anything but unhappy, Jackson.”

“Who cares about happy?!” Jackson screams. “I can’t face my father after this- I have to do this, Derek, please-“

“And none of that is a reason to marry someone. I’m sorry, Jackson.” He pulls away from Jackson’s grip, and as he enters the house he hears Jackson’s father berating him. Any anger Derek felt towards Jackson is suddenly replaced with pity.

“Derek!” Lydia shrieks as she runs in after him, throwing herself at him. “What happened?!” Scott, Laura and Cora tumble in after Lydia, and his parents come in at a much more sedate pace.

Derek gives them a brief recap of his conversation with his mom. “So all you really needed was a good self-esteem boost?” Cora says, nudging him in the ribs. He smiles at her, and suddenly he’s enveloped by six people hugging him fiercely.

Most of them are sniffling when they pull back. “Well, I guess we’ve got a ceremony to disperse,” his mom says.

Derek pauses, before reaching out for his mother. “Mom- wait. One thing: do you think you could get Jackson a job?”

Her brow furrows in confusion. “Why would I give Whittemore a job?”

“He really cares about his work- it’s pretty much all he talks about. And I think that most of the stuff he’s pulled have been efforts to please his dad, who’s a real piece of work.”

His mother grimaces. “I know his father- not a likeable man. If you think Jackson could be useful, I’ll call him.” She smiles at Derek. “There’s an opening in the London office- maybe Jackson would appreciate a change of scenery.”

Scott taps Derek on the shoulder. “Derek, uh, if this isn’t a bad time- there’s something Lydia and I need to talk to you about.”

Derek looks between the two of them in confusion. “What, are you engaged?”

Scott flushes and Lydia’s eyes widen, as Cora and Laura squeal. “No, no- not an engagement,” Scott says, and Laura and Cora make noises of disappointment. “It’s about Stiles, actually.”

~~

Stiles has been studiously avoiding calls and texts from his friends all day. He really doesn’t want to hear about how lovely the ceremony was (most likely very lovely), or if Isaac cried (he probably cried), or whether Derek ever genuinely smiled (Stiles doubts that he did).

Erica calls him, and Stiles ignores it in lieu of packing- he is taking a much needed vacation, because damn it if Stiles wouldn’t rather just ignore a problem until it goes away.

There’s a knock at the door. “Danny, if that’s you I still don’t wanna talk about it.”

“What if it’s not Danny?” Shit.

Stiles’ heart is in his throat. “Derek?” he says, already going to open the door.

Derek is standing in his hallway, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head and his scarf almost completely obscuring his face.

“Derek? What’s with the get-up?” Stiles says, waving Derek inside.

“Didn’t want to be recognized.” Derek shoulders his way inside. Of course Derek wouldn’t want to be seen coming to some random guy’s house just after he got married, which- why is Derek still wearing the scarf if he already got married?

“Wait- why are you wearing the scarf?! Derek, you did get married, right? Did the curse not break?” Stiles’ voice is getting shriller, his panic rising at the thought of Derek’s curse being unbreakable.

“No, Stiles, I-“

“You didn’t get married? Why? Derek, it’s not too late- you can marry Jackson, get the curse broken, have the normal life you want-“

Derek starts making calming gestures at Stiles. “Woah there, Stiles, breathe.” And because he’s Derek, he actually waits and watches Stiles take several deep and measured breaths before he continues. “Why are you so set on me marrying Jackson?”

Stiles pulls on his hair. “Because you want that, right?! Don’t you want to break the curse- and this is how you do it.”

Derek moves closer. “What about what you want, Stiles?” This close, Derek’s eyes look more green than Stiles remembers.

“Doesn’t matter what I want,” Stiles says quietly, looking down at his feet. “You’re a good person, Derek, and you don’t deserve any of the stuff that’s happened to you. You should have whatever you want.”

“Stiles,” Derek says softly. His gloved hands reach for Stiles, stopping and instead going to his face. When he lowers his hands, he’s holding the scarf. “Stiles,” he says again, now removing the gloves. “Look at me.”

When Stiles does look at him, it’s not the Derek he knows. His eyes are green, his face is clear and smooth, and more than that- this Derek doesn’t look like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Stiles’ hand reaches out of its own volition, fingers landing softly on Derek’s cheek. Derek leans into the touch, smiling brightly at Stiles.

“What… what happened,” Stiles says, suddenly finding it hard to speak.

“It was about me, Stiles. ‘One of my own kind.’ I broke the curse myself.” Stiles laughs, and Derek smiles wider. “I really love making you laugh.”

Stiles runs the pad of his thumb along Derek’s cheekbone. “There’s so much I have to explain-“

“I talked to Scott,” Derek says, his smile turning into a smirk.

“So you just planned this to what- interrogate me? Make me suffer?!”

“Something like that.”

“I take it back! I take back everything nice I ever said about you- you’re clearly an asshole!”

Derek lowers his gaze, looking at Stiles through his lashes, which is just not fucking fair. “Also wanted to make sure Scott was right.”

“And?”

“Well- he said you’re, uh- that you love me.”

Stiles bites his lip and shrugs. “Guess Scott was right then.”

Derek honest-to-god beams at Stiles. “Good.” He carefully places his hand on the back of Stiles’ neck, rubbing his thumb in circles, as his other hand goes to Stiles’ waist. He ducks in quickly, pressing his lips to Stiles, and before Stiles can react he’s pulling back, blushing furiously.

“I-“ Stiles cuts off whatever Derek’s about to say with another kiss, making an embarrassingly needy sound that makes Derek tighten his grip on Stiles and pull them impossibly closer together. Derek is enthusiastic and responsive, like he needs to make up for a lack of experience with a steep learning curve, and when Stiles opens his mouth Derek licks in with a broken moan.

They break for air eventually, resting their foreheads together. Stiles can’t help his huge grin. “You know,” he says, touching Derek’s face reverently, “I kinda miss your old face. But maybe not when we’re kissing.” He touches one of Derek’s newly blunt teeth. “Would’ve made the whole experience and lot more painful- possibly bloody.”

Derek laughs. “There are a lot of good things about my new look.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for one- I can hold your hand now- without slicing you.” Derek waggles his fingers in front of Stiles face, and Stiles catches his hand and kisses his knuckles.

“Are you gonna be this ridiculous and sweet all the time?”

Derek shrugs. “Probably not. I mean, I know your real name now, so that will definitely be used against you-”

“You will not,” Stiles says, and Derek grins before kissing Stiles again, like he can’t even help it.

Stiles smiles down at their linked hands. “Oh, and Stiles?“

“Hmm?”

“I love you too.”

~~

Two Years Later

Derek squirms on the picnic blanket, trying to make himself comfortable despite the too-bright sunlight.

“Forget your glasses, babe?” Derek turns to look at Stiles, shading his eyes as he nods. Stiles reaches for his backpack, fishing through it until he produces a pair of sunglasses that he tosses to Derek.

“Thanks.”

“Mhmm. I’m here to provide for you,” Stiles says, patting Derek’s arm.

Derek loves a lot of things about his life. He loves that they can do this- just spend an hour lying in the park, having a picnic. The press hasn’t cared about Derek in years; the wolf-faced boy is decidedly less interesting when he’s a non-wolf-faced florist. However uninteresting the press may find it, he loves the work, and Stiles loves the flowers Derek brings home for him.

Derek rolls over, leaning above Stiles. “Here to provide what, exactly?” Stiles looks at Derek and his eyes go dark, and Derek loves that he can do that too- that anyone, much less someone as beautiful as Stiles, would want him, is sometimes hard to believe.

“Come on,” Derek says, tugging Stiles up and gathering their stuff. “Let’s go home.”

“Isn’t your lunch break over soon?”

“Kira will cover for me.” Derek gives Stiles a wide grin, and Stiles just laughs and follows him.

They hold hands on the walk back to their apartment, because they’re sappy. “Don’t forget- when you’re off tonight we have dinner at Scott and Lydia’s. Should we get her a gift?” Stiles asks.

“I don’t know- what’s the appropriate gift that says ‘congratulations on a Fields Medal nomination’? Flowers don’t seem like enough.”

“Well, Scott’s getting her a puppy. If he’s getting her a gift from his work, I think we can do the same, right?”

Derek loves how seamlessly he and Stiles have fit into each other’s lives, until it seems hard to remember a time before their existences were entwined.

Their apartment is small and cozy- large enough for the two of them, but not large enough for Laura and Cora to invite themselves to stay when they’re in the city. On the front table are the irises that Derek planted for Stiles all those years ago. Taking up most of the living room is the cherry piano from Derek’s library, which fills their home with music that Stiles writes for Derek. The walls display pictures of the two of them together: at Erica and Boyd’s wedding, with Stiles’ father on his birthday, kissing in Christmas sweaters while Laura makes a face in the background.

And that’s what Derek loves the most: that he gets to have this, everyday, with Stiles. That he is in love with a person who reminds him every day of just how loved Derek is in return. It’s more than Derek every imagined for himself, and certainly more than he used to think he deserved.

Stiles comes up behind him, looping his arms around Derek’s shoulders and kissing him lightly on the neck. “What’re you thinking about?”

Derek smiles at him. “You,” he says, turning to kiss Stiles properly, running his hands up Stiles’ sides. “Always you.”