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The Natural Binding Properties of Pine Sap

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It starts when Derek accidentally earns the gratitude of a European wood nymph.

It’s five days before Christmas, and the trees in the preserve have been whispering for his attention for twenty minutes by the time he finds the source of the agitation. They don’t always speak to him, and he doesn’t always understand them when they do, but after the thing with the cave troll, he learned to pay attention.

This time, when he kicks through the snow, he finds only a group of human teenagers and an ax.

No wonder the trees are pissed.

Derek sighs and resigns himself to being a cliché. “You know, cutting down a tree in the preserve is an indictable offense.”

The guy with the ax jumps about three feet in the air. Nobody takes tool safety seriously these days.

Then the guy proves he’s even dumber than previously anticipated by cocking his head to the side, shifting his grip on the ax, and saying, “Only if we get caught.”

Ugh, teenagers. Thank God the pack have grown up a bit by now. Though Derek gets the feeling Stiles would take undue delight in this much later parallel of their first meeting. He’s still a shit disturber.

That’s probably why he badgered Derek into joining the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department, though if he thought Derek would be easier on him than his father… he’s totally right. Dammit.

Derek reaches into his jacket pocket and flips out his badge. “Today’s just not your day, kid.”

The kid with the ax droops almost comically. It doesn’t take much more coaxing for Derek to get them to vacate the preserve. He listens until he hears their car start, makes sure they’re gone.

Then he turns to the tree. “You okay?”

It rustles a little. They don’t often use actual words. Derek gets the impression of gratitude as a little pile of snow shimmies off a bough.

“Glad to hear it,” Derek says. “You celebrate Christmas?”

Another rustle, bigger this time. Derek takes that as a no.

“Well, happy Solstice, then.”

He’s just about to turn and trudge back to the house when the tree seems to sigh and its nymph steps out. It looks up at Derek with wide brown eyes but doesn’t speak, just holds out its hand. It’s holding a single sprig of mistletoe. In thanks, Derek hears in his mind.

Derek knows better than to reject a gift from a wood nymph. “Thank you,” he says, and takes the twig.

And that’s how it starts.

*

Of course, Derek doesn’t notice. Not at first. How would he, when he’s alone? The mistletoe can’t do anything to him when he’s alone. It just sits in the house, hung above the fireplace, next to his tiny Christmas tree. Only when he shows up at Scott’s to return Melissa’s stepladder—Lydia and Stiles insisted he put up Christmas lights—does he realize the gift’s true purpose.

Melissa lifts one corner of her mouth in a wry smile and tells him, “You’ve got a little something right—” and reaches up above his head.

Derek looks, even though he already knows what he’ll see. The mistletoe emits a cheerful, squawking chorus of “NOW KISS” that, as Melissa doesn’t flinch, he assumes only werewolves can hear. “I saved a wood nymph from being chopped down on the solstice,” he says apologetically as he hangs the ladder on the hooks in her front closet. “I didn’t know it would lead to….” Awkwardly being forced to lock lips with his alpha’s mom. Well, coalpha’s, now that Peter’s dead again.

“Ah.” She nods sagely, but there’s mirth dancing in her eyes. “So are you gonna pucker up or what?”

Derek snorts despite himself and leans down to kiss her cheek. The screeching stops, and when he looks up, the mistletoe is gone and Scott is coming down the stairs.

Figures.

But Scott only rolls his eyes. He probably heard the whole explanation from upstairs anyway. “I leave town for a couple months for school and you put the moves on my mom. So much for pack loyalty.”

“Your mom is way out of my league,” Derek says gravely.

Melissa rolls her eyes at him. “Scott did tell you to come for Christmas, right? At the Stilinskis’ this year.”

“Cora and I will be there,” Derek confirms. “She said to tell you she’s bringing snickerdoodles, so John might want to stock up on replacement cookies.” The four years since Cora’s return have softened her up significantly, but she can’t bake for shit. Luckily everyone’s still just terrified enough that they won’t mention it. “And I’ll bring the sweet potatoes.”

“You’re a saint. They never turn out right when I make them.”

Derek suspects that’s because she doesn’t use as much butter as the recipe calls for, but she does have human arteries, so that’s probably sensible. Besides, that frees her up to make enchilada casserole.

Scott makes a face. “Ugh, Mom, no flirting with Derek. That’s gross.”

Derek catches Melissa’s eye, and they share a grin. Then Derek winks at Scott. “See you at Christmas.”

“You’re the worst!” Scott yells at his back as the door closes behind him.

Derek just smirks to himself and gets back in his car.

*

The mistletoe stays thankfully out of sight while Derek makes his final pre-Christmas grocery run, but it shows up again the next day, at Derek’s scheduled quarterly meeting with his financial planner.

Lydia answers the door with two glasses of expensive Champagne. “Congratulations, you’re still rich.”

Derek takes the glass she offers him, clinks it against hers, and follows her into her office. “Thanks to you.”

“Unfortunately, that means the tax man cometh.” Lydia drops elegantly into her office chair, puts her feet up, and levels her gaze at him. “I’m going to need you to pick a tax shelter soon. Did you read through the options I gave you?”

Derek nods. “Yeah. I think starting pack 401(k)s—”

Lydia blinks in surprise at the same time the ungodly squealing starts. Derek groans. “Oh, God. Did Melissa tell you?”

“That your Good Samaritanism backfired and saddled you with a magical matchmaker?” Lydia buffs her nails on the collar of her blouse with an insouciant smile. “It may have come up in casual conversation.”

Right. Derek sighs. “I’m sorry. I probably only have to kiss you on the cheek to get it to go away.”

Lydia snorts. “As if. Stand up, Super Abs. I don’t do anything by halves.”

At this point Derek’s too used to doing what she tells him to resist. Lydia doesn’t hold back when she lays one on him, but it’s more awkward and too familiar than anything, and she soon pulls back with a huff. “No chemistry.”

“You can’t possibly be surprised by that.”

“Not surprised,” Lydia corrects, resuming her seat. “Just resigned. Now, you said 401(k)s?”

*

Derek’s only been home from Lydia’s for twenty minutes when his cell rings. He answers and brings it to his ear with no small measure of trepidation. “Stiles.”

“Lydia, Derek? Are you kidding me?”

Derek plops down onto the couch Stiles picked out and kicks out to turn on the Christmas tree with his foot. The stupid Star Trek ornament buzzes at an irritating frequency.

“The two of you are freakishly codependent for people who aren’t dating anymore,” Derek grumbles, then feels bad about it. Stiles hasn’t dated since, and that was going on four years ago.

But: “Wow, way to rub salt in the wound,” Stiles says without heat. He doesn’t let Derek change the subject. “Anyway, did you seriously get yourself cursed by a wood nymph and decide not to tell your pack emissary? What the hell, Derek? It’s my job to help you with this shit.”

And he does too—he and Derek have spent an obscene amount of time together ever since Deaton declared Stiles’s training complete and retired to Boca. “It’s not a curse,” Derek says patiently.

“Uh, excuse me, I’m the one with the magic mojo, so I’ll be the judge of that. Besides, it’s making you kiss people against your will. Right? You don’t need that.”

Buzz, buzz, buzz, says the ornament. How did Stiles convince Derek to put that thing up again this year?

“It was meant as a gift, not a curse. I kissed Melissa on the cheek. It’s fine, Stiles. It hasn’t revealed the supernatural world to anyone or made me do anything, and I’m not going to insult a wood nymph by refusing the gift. The thing with Lydia was all her.”

“What!” Stiles yelps. Then he harrumphs like the old man he secretly is. “She should know better.”

“You can beat her up for me later,” Derek says with a roll of his eyes. “But seriously, a nymph’s power is strongest at the solstice. The effects of the mistletoe will probably wear off by the day after Christmas anyway.” And until then… well, it’s not that it’s nice, exactly, having to kiss people to make the terrible noise stop. But Derek doesn’t hate that it gives him an excuse to get close to people either. Readjusting to a mostly nonviolent life hasn’t been easy.

“Fine,” Stiles says eventually, “but I’m taking a picture if you have to kiss Scott and blackmailing you both forever.”

That seems more than fair.

*

As luck would have it, the next time Derek gets caught with his mistletoe out, he’s in his boss’s office. With his boss.

John blinks, but otherwise he looks completely nonplussed. “Stiles told me this might happen.”

Wish I’d thought of it, Derek thinks bitterly. He might’ve let Stiles talk him into lifting the spell. This is awkward. “We probably would’ve been safe if we’d left the door open.” He winces at the noise.

“That does make it a bit difficult to talk about those troll attacks, though,” John points out with a half smile. Derek can just hear him over the increasingly loud shrieking of the mistletoe. He hunches forward at the desk with a wince, instinctively trying to escape the sound.

John stands up, leans over, and kisses the top of Derek’s head. The noise cuts off just as John’s ruffling Derek’s hair like Derek’s a kid being told to go play.

“Melissa said that would probably work,” he says nonchalantly as he sits down again, but he doesn’t quite meet Derek’s eyes, and his cheeks are a little pink. Derek’s heart beats a little too fast. “Now, what do you think sounds best for the official report? Rockslide?”

*

Under the circumstances, Derek thinks it’s perfectly normal that he’s nervous to see Stiles. But he promised they’d go last-minute shopping, even though Derek’s had his Christmas shopping done since November, because Stiles gets too distracted on his own to get anything accomplished.

Derek makes sure they meet at the mall, just in case. He finds Stiles at a crappy table in the crowded food court and takes the seat opposite.

“How have you not bought a single gift yet?” Derek says incredulously as he looks at Stiles’s list, which is essentially the names of all the pack members, minus Derek, plus Stiles’s dad, who is essentially pack by now anyway.

Stiles scoffs. “Why would I waste my time shopping by myself when your ideas are so much better?” Then he smirks. “And you can stop acting surprised since this is the third year in a row I’ve made you help me.”

Derek doesn’t have a comeback for that, so he just makes a grumpy face and holds his hand out for Stiles’s pen. “Your dad needs an ergonomic office chair. That’s why he has backaches. Allison used Isaac’s chef knife in the fight with the cave trolls, so you can get him a new one. For Scott, you can donate to the SPCA. That Sarah McLachlan commercial came on again two days ago and he was almost in tears.”

As Derek speaks, Stiles takes out his cell phone. Derek knows from experience he’s hunting down the best deals to be had on kitchenware and office furniture. “Two-for-one sale on knives at the Chop Shop.” He grins. “So I can get one for Allison too. Which just leaves—”

“Lydia,” Derek says, and nods to the expensive shoe store one shop down, where a shiny pair of Louboutins in spring’s must-have color (according to the sales associate) are on display.

“Dude, are you nuts?” Stiles says, gesturing emphatically. “I can’t afford those.”

“I got her the shoes,” Derek says patiently. Then, off the noise Stiles makes: “What? She made me like two million dollars this year. After taxes.” She deserves the shoes. Maybe Derek should get her another pair?

Stiles shakes his head. “So your idea was?”

“As I understand it, she’ll need a purse or scarf to go with them.” Both. Derek knows Lydia—it’s both. But Stiles doesn’t have to get her both.

Stiles spends the next three minutes plotting the most efficient route through the mall. Derek spends those three minutes increasingly agitated. It hasn’t happened so far, but what if the mistletoe makes an appearance here? This would be the worst possible place for it, with everyone around to see. With Stiles sitting across from him, biting his lip as he sketches out a map of the mall on the back of his shopping list.

Stiles would probably say he told Derek they should break the spell.

“Hey.” Fingers snap in front of Derek’s face, and he shakes himself, startled. “Are you okay? I need you on your A-game, man.”

“I’m fine,” Derek lies, standing. “Let’s get this over with.”

The mistletoe lurks at the back of his mind until Derek’s alone in his car, but it never makes an appearance.

Not that Derek really expected any different.

*

In fact, the mistletoe doesn’t appear again at all, and by Christmas morning, Derek figures the nymph’s power was weaker than he thought, and he doesn’t have to worry about any more surprise kiss attacks. He tells himself he isn’t disappointed and sets to work preparing the sweet potatoes.

Cora comes out of her room after he’s finished the first step, takes one look at him, and declares he’s a sad sack and should get over himself. Derek doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He’s just mashing sweet potatoes. That’s not any more pathetic than usual.

Then Cora elbows his side and busses his cheek and says, “Merry Christmas, Der.”

Derek promises himself to eat at least three of her terrible cookies. “Merry Christmas.”

They load up the Toyota with presents just after three. Derek carefully covers the sweet potatoes in tin foil since he can never find the damn lid for the casserole dish. He spends so long in the pantry trying to pick out a couple bottles of wine that Cora honks at him. Finally he grabs two at random before squeezing himself into the passenger side—Cora never puts the seat back far enough—and they head to Stiles’s.

This is the first Christmas since Derek became a deputy that he and the sheriff have both had Christmas Day off, and he answers the door wearing a Santa hat, a glass of wolfsbane-spiked eggnog in each hand. Of course, Derek and Cora have their hands full, so they can’t exactly accept.

John looks at Derek and Cora, looks at his hands, and then frowns slightly. “I may have made a slight error in judgment.” Then he shrugs to himself and says, “Stiles! Scott! You’re needed for bellhop duties.”

Isaac appears instead of Stiles—“He’s up to his elbows in turkey drippings”—and gifts and foods are whisked away.

Cora knocks back half her eggnog in one fell swoop, kicks out of her boots, and scams Isaac’s seat while he’s still delivering food to the kitchen. Derek does his best to look disapproving. “Merry Christmas.”

John produces a third glass of eggnog—generic rum spike this time—and clinks it against Derek’s. “Let’s hope,” he says. “If this gravy doesn’t turn out, Stiles may murder us all.”

“This gravy is going to be epic!” Stiles shouts from the kitchen. Ever since he officially took the role of emissary, it’s like his hearing is almost werewolf-level. “Or else!”

Derek suppresses a smile. “I see what you mean.”

And then, just when he’s feeling safe, it happens again.

Derek, Cora, Isaac, Scott, and Lydia raise their hands to their ears. The shrieks of the mistletoe ring through the house as Melissa and John trade bemused glances.

Allison’s closest. She raises her eyes at Derek in question, probably figuring he wouldn’t hear her if she asked aloud. He shrugs in acquiescence, but when he leans down and touches their lips together briefly… nothing. The cacophony continues, taking on a sort of musical rhythm. Which is when Derek realizes—

“Oh my God is it singing ‘Santa Baby’?” Stiles yells. Apparently his hearing really is werewolf-like, if he can pick up the pitch and the tune even in the kitchen. “Seriously, that’s awful! Why isn’t someone kissing Derek already?”

Allison looks at Derek and shrugs apologetically. Scott’s awkward bro hug and reluctant cheek kiss don’t have better results. Neither does the kiss Derek presses to Isaac’s forehead. By the time it gets to that point, even Cora has stopped finding the situation amusing and just wants the racket to end.

“Honestly,” Stiles finally says, storming in from the kitchen, “do I have to do everything around here?”

And before Derek can mentally prepare himself, Stiles has his cheeks in both hands.

Time seems to stop. Derek knows his face is burning. He wants to do something but he can’t seem to move properly; he and Stiles each go left, then right. And then finally Stiles grunts in annoyance and holds Derek’s face still while he kisses his cheek.

The shrieking stops immediately.

“There,” Stiles says firmly. His cheeks are red from what must be hours of standing in the hot kitchen, micromanaging dinner. “Was that so hard?”

Thankfully no one says anything. Derek’s ears might actually catch fire.

“Anyway,” Stiles continues obliviously into the silence, “dinner’s ready, so.”

Derek, Scott, John, and Melissa take turns carving the turkey, which is appropriately massive enough to feed a pack of werewolves. Scott’s hopeless and gives up two slices in; John does better but has obviously had enough eggnog to interfere with his hand-eye coordination. Derek would be more comfortable using his claws, but he thinks he’s managing okay until Melissa rolls her eyes at him and takes over, slicing surgically precise slabs of meat with utter competence. It’s scary.

Derek has, in fact, been less hungry in his life, but he doesn’t like to think about those times, especially on Christmas. The turkey is perfect and the gravy is actually orgasmic, and he still has to force himself to shovel it into his mouth, because he knows Stiles, and if Stiles thinks his kiss put Derek off his food, well. He’ll come to the wrong conclusion.

But everyone knows, don’t they? Everyone knows now: the mistletoe will only stop for Stiles. And everyone knows it but him.

Derek prays the pack will hold their tongues.

Dinner with werewolves is usually a raucous affair, and this one’s no different. Even preoccupied as he is, Derek’s content to sit back and watch it unfold. No one seems to mind or even notice that he keeps quieter than usual, and the mistletoe doesn’t appear again.

Until, of course, it does, halfway through presents. This time it’s singing—Derek uses the term loosely—“Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

“Ugh, rapey,” Stiles says, wrinkling his nose. Then he darts a nervous glance at Derek, like he’s going to take offense. He might as well just say That wood nymph doesn’t know you very well, huh? “Seriously, this is terrible, I’m going to give this guy such a talking-to. Now, whose turn is it?”

There’s much avoiding of eye contact as everyone’s presents suddenly get that much more interesting.

Stiles sputters. “What? Dad, you too?”

Derek wants to die a little.

John shrugs and raises his gift—vacuum-sealed venison steaks Derek just took out of the freezer and a bottle of twenty-five-year-old scotch—to hide his face. “He looked like he was in pain and there was nobody else around.”

“I’ll give it a shot,” Cora says, but by the look in her eye, she knows it won’t work.

It doesn’t.

Derek sinks a little deeper into the couch in misery.

I really can’t stay—

“Oh for God’s sake,” Stiles says when nobody else moves. He’s only two seats over from Derek anyway, just gets up on his knees and plants a kiss on Derek’s cheek over the back of Lydia’s head.

The screeching continues.

Stiles frowns. “What in the—”

“Try on the lips,” Lydia says ever-so-helpfully, sliding to her feet to get out of their way.

Derek mentally cancels her New Year’s bonus.

Stiles shrugs. “Couldn’t hurt, right?”

Wrong, Derek thinks, because having this once and then never again is exactly what he’s been trying to avoid, but he doesn’t have the willpower to say it, and his ears are practically bleeding.

Stiles’s lips are soft and chapped and his breath smells like gravy and pumpkin pie, and Derek’s too focused on memorizing everything to notice at first that the music has stopped.

Until everything stops, and then he pulls away and desperately wills himself not to blush. “Thanks.”

Stiles clears his throat and rubs at the back of his neck. “What are emissaries for?” Then he claps his hands and turns back to the tree. “So, hey, who hasn’t given me a present yet?”

In any other pack that brief moment might linger, might cast an awkward glow on the rest of the evening. But the Hale-McCall pack is more or less made of awkward moments, and some of them aren’t even Derek’s fault, like when Melissa unwraps identical bath robe and slipper sets from Scott and Stiles and makes noises about taking one back and Stiles laughs and says, “Please, the one from me is staying here. You didn’t think you were being subtle in a family full of werewolves, did you?”

Melissa and John both turn red.

Derek loves his pack.

Or he does until the end of the evening. With the “secret” out of the bag, John goes home with Melissa. Scott and Allison have a place downtown. Isaac, Lydia, and Cora decide to close out the evening at a bar.

Derek doesn’t realize until far too late that his keys are in Cora’s purse.

As soon as Isaac pulls out of the driveway, leaving Derek and Stiles alone in the house, the mistletoe begins again.

I don’t want a lot for Christmas….

“Are you kidding me?” Derek mutters under his breath, looking up at the singing mistletoe.

Something clatters in the kitchen and Stiles moseys out, dish bubbles up to his elbows.

“Did those assholes leave you with all the cleanup?” Derek says dumbly.

“Everything’s in the dishwasher. Third load,” Stiles answers without losing focus. “I handwash the wineglasses. Did you have to kiss everyone else three times?”

Fuck a duck. Stiles’s hearing might not be good enough yet to tell if Derek lies, but his intuition definitely is. Derek swallows. “No.”

Stiles huffs a long sigh, his mouth firming into a thin line. Derek hates the sight of it. “I’m just lucky, I guess.” He leans over and lets their lips touch again, chaste. Dry.

I just want you for my own….

Fuck it. If this is how their friendship ends, he might as well make it count. Derek breathes out sharply through his nose, grabs a double handful of Stiles’s hideous Christmas sweater, and slots his mouth against Stiles’s.

When Stiles parts his lips with a soft sound of surprise, Derek takes advantage, sliding his tongue inside. Just one little taste, and he thinks of the goblin market too late. It physically hurts to pull away, not to press forward until Stiles capitulates, until he melts under Derek’s touch, but he does it with one last brush of his lips against Stiles’s and makes himself uncurl his hands from scratchy wool, take a step back.

Above them, the music fizzles out. “About feckin’ time!” the mistletoe says irritably before dematerializing with a faint scent of pine sap.

Derek clenches his jaw against the need to explain, but Stiles stares at him with his mouth open and his lips red and all Derek’s resolve flies out the window. “Sorry,” he says, his voice rasping past his teeth like it doesn’t want to leave his throat. “I know you don’t—you don’t date anymore, after Lydia, and I’m sorry. I didn’t know the nymph was going to fixate on you like I do. I would have stayed away from you.”

“From me,” Stiles repeats. “Because I’m in love with Lydia.”

Derek drops his gaze, nods.

“And you’re in love with me.”

It’s the first time anyone’s ever said it out loud, but it doesn’t sound accusatory like Derek thought it would. It’s gentle, even a little wondering.

Derek looks up. He can’t help himself.

Stiles is still flushed, bright-eyed and happy, the hint of a smile playing on his lips.

Oh. Derek says, “You’re not in love with Lydia.”

“Nope,” Stiles agrees easily, closing the distance between them. “Never have been. That was sort of the problem.”

“Oh.” Heat suffuses Derek’s cheeks, his chest, the tips of his ears as Stiles puts his arms around his neck.

“Now, are you going to kiss me again, or do I have to dig up some mistletoe?”

When John gets home early the next afternoon, the wineglasses are still in the sink.