Derek wakes up that morning with absolutely no creeping feelings of dread or anxiety, which instantly puts him on his guard. He has just enough cereal left for a full bowl, and there's enough orange juice for two glasses. His tea brews perfectly. When he walks from his apartment to his studio and stops in the hipster bakery they have two of his favorite pastries left.
He's so busy wondering when the other shoe is going to drop on his head that he almost stumbles over the guy sitting and texting on his studio's doorstop.
The guy yelps in surprise, flails back and loses his grip on his phone at the highest arc of his movement; Derek snaps it out of the air before it falls down onto the concrete and glowers at him. He smells like a mage, like herbs and stone and also a little bit like a library, which is sort of sneezy and reminds Derek unpleasantly of his uncle. "Can I help you," he says, as flatly as he can. He gives the guy the phone back and stares at him.
"Hi, um, I'm looking for …. Derek Hale?" says the guy. "The leatherworker?"
"That's me," says Derek, pulling out his keys. "I don't keep an open studio."
"I was wondering if I could commission you," says the guy, beginning to look annoyed. Good, maybe he'll leave and Derek can go in to his studio alone and get actual work done. "My teacher Deaton recommended --"
"I don't do commissions," says Derek. "Especially from people who know Deaton."
"So, what, you just sit there all day and make things you don't sell?" says the guy, incredulous.
"What," says Derek helplessly.
"How do you make a living if you don't sell things?" says the guy.
Derek snaps, "I have a website." He slides his card into the key slot and it beeps, the button turning green and the magnetic lock disengaging with an audible thunk.
"Good for you," says the guy, and then, "Hey, wait just a damn second!" as Derek pulls the door open and prepares to step inside.
"I don't like Deaton and I don't like commissions," says Derek flatly, "so go away now."
"But I'm Scott McCall's emissary!" says the guy. He sticks his foot out like he thinks he can actually stop the heavy metal door with his fragile mage foot. "He said --"
Derek stops, and with deep reluctance opens the door wider again. "I'm listening," he says.
Scott McCall is the only person outside of Derek's immediate family and pack that Derek sort of tolerates; his older sister once accused him of having a crush but Derek doesn't actually want to bone him. He just smells right and is restful for Derek to be around, even if Derek and he are arguing or Scott is being a stubborn asshole.
Scott had been bitten by Derek's uncle during the very brief time Peter had been an alpha, and then Derek had been an alpha for a while because nobody wanted Peter as an alpha, not ever, and Derek's mother and sister had been half way across the country. He'd taken care of it, but Derek doesn't remember his stint as alpha very well. He knows he spent most of it with a migraine and an even greater than usual sense of anxiety coupled with intense paranoia bordering on a fugue state; he remembers Scott being really angry at him, for days, until he'd realized Derek was genuinely panicking.
Derek shook and shook, huddled up into himself where they were in the woods, terrified that if he relaxed for an instant someone else would get hurt. That he would hurt someone. That he would get used to the power and never want to give it up.
"It's okay," said Scott, putting his hand on Derek's neck, squeezing a little. The alpha instinct was to attack him for it but his mind, his real self, relaxed gratefully. "My friend has these, it's okay, it will get better."
"Do you want it," said Derek.
"Want what?" said Scott, confused, and Derek felt so badly for doing this to him, so very badly, but he lunged at Scott and bit down at his strong broad shoulder until his fangs sank in and the alpha power flowed from Derek to Scott.
So he owes Scott McCall a lot.
The guy's name is Stiles -- it's not his real name, of course, no mage would tell anybody, even a werewolf, his real name -- and he has long restless and beautiful hands and big caramel colored eyes. He has broad capable shoulders like Scott, and paces around the studio curiously while Derek calls Scott.
"Hey," says Scott, breathlessly. "I'm at work, what's up?"
"Do you know a Stiles?" says Derek, suspiciously watching Stiles trail his fingers over the pieces of a messenger bag Derek is putting together for Cora.
"Oh man, I was totally going to call you but I forgot," says Scott apologetically. "He's my best friend, we've known each other for like twenty years or something. He's training with Deaton --"
"--- hey, Deaton's not that bad," says Scott. "Anyway, he was talking my ear off about getting his grimoire done and I said you knew how to do bookbinding and I thought he was coming home next weekend, sorry."
"Ugh," says Derek, and hangs up.
"Ha," says Stiles triumphantly, "didn't believe me, did you."
"Of course I didn't," says Derek, and then, "don't touch my tools or I'll break your fingers."
Stiles holds his hands up. "Geez, touchy. Look, I swear I'll be out of your hair soon, but I really need to get this done and Scott said you did pretty good work, and Deaton said you were competent."
Deaton is an asshole and Derek believes deeply that one day he will turn out to be Sauron or something, but his mother says he needs to be less paranoid. "I thought mages had to make their grimoires themselves," he says. He moves to his work bench and picks up two of the pieces he's sewing together for Cora's bag.
"Well yeah," says Stiles, "I've got enough material for you to show me how to make one and then make the real one myself."
Derek stops and stares at him for a second, because -- "There's bookbinding classes you can take for mages. Why do you need a leatherworker to teach you?"
"Because it's leather, duh," says Stiles, and Derek takes one involuntary step back from him. "Don't give me that look, it's not like, werewolf skin or whatever."
Derek's uncle had a leather grimoire; Peter might or might not have made it himself but Derek isn't sure. After the fight Derek and his mother and Laura had built a fire in the woods and burned it decently, on a large flat boulder. It turned the flames strange colors and smelled like decayed things burning. His mother had scraped up all the ashes together, her mouth grim, and they had taken them in silent procession to the river and shaken them over a mile or so stretch of it. It was the only way to be sure.
"What type of leather?" says Derek.
"Buckskin," says Stiles. His mouth twists up a little. "I had a teacher who, you know, raised a calf for hers, but I couldn't ---" He shrugs. "So I went hunting instead."
Derek sighs, doesn't ask if Scott knows what it means that Stiles is binding his grimoire in leather. It's probably just as well. Derek is painfully aware that Scott, while not exactly a naive lamb, tends to believe the best of people. Derek's actually relieved to know that Scott has someone with enough moral ambiguity to watch his back. "Fine. Is your hide ready?"
Stiles nods, says, "I got it last autumn and finished it over the winter."
Derek rubs his face. "Okay, we can do it next week, but you have to bring your own tools and I swear to God if you tell Deaton I helped you with this I will rip out your teeth and make them into a necklace. And I will give the necklace to Scott and tell him to find better friends."
"You really don't like Deaton," says Stiles, which isn't a promise, and Derek glares at him until he lifts up his hands and says, "Pinkie swear I won't tell him but I can't promise about Scott."
"I'll take it," says Derek, and points to the door. "You can get my number from Scott. Go away."
Stiles goes away, but with a parting shot of, "This is the least meet-cute! You're supposed to be helplessly charmed by me! Like you were with Scott!"
Derek doesn't have dignity; he has sisters. Still, he doesn't respond to that beyond flashing his eyes and letting out a subvocal growl until Stiles closes the door behind him.
The day that Stiles is supposed to show up for his lesson Derek wakes up feeling pretty normal: sense of creeping dread, stumbling over a block of something his younger sister is making a carving out of, the bakery out of everything he's willing to eat and even out of the gross onion and poppyseed bagel Derek only eats out of desperation. There's only the too-dry flakey danishes left over, and there's not even any lemon ones. Then Derek spills his coffee, and some asshole nearly runs him over and makes a rude and werewolf specific gesture when Derek yells at him. By the time Derek gets to his stupid studio his mood is black and he thinks he's just going to leave a note on the door that says GO AWAY for the day and lock himself in the studio -- except then he sees Stiles on the stoop again.
"Hey," says Stiles, looking up and staring pointedly at the coffee stain covering Derek's henley. "Rocking that morning person look, I see."
"Go to hell," says Derek, baring his teeth, and then snaps his mouth closed when Stiles pulls out a white bakery bag and a thermos that smells faintly but deliciously of French roast coffee. Derek can smell blackberries in the bakery bag.
"The runes said to bring them," says Stiles smugly.
"Really?" says Derek.
"No, but I stubbed my toe like three times this morning," says Stiles. "Also the wind's in a weird direction and it's all mustard-colored today, so I thought it would be a good idea. People always spill their coffee on bad luck days."
Derek's been around mages before so he knows, sort of, what Stiles is talking about, but this is the first time he's heard a day called mustard-colored. "How is a day colored anything?" he asks.
Stiles shrugs and stands up. "I don't know, just the feeling of it. It's sort of vinegary and upsetting, like there's too much electricity in the ley lines. Scott always ends up sneezing a lot on mustard-colored days." He steps aside so Derek can unlock the door.
Derek hesitates. "If it's a bad-luck day, do you want to start the work today?"
"Oh, it's not bad luck for me," says Stiles, cheerful. "I have good luck on days like this, it's a thing. It pisses Deaton off so bad."
"Stubbing your toe is good luck?" says Derek, but Stiles seems so sure that he unlocks the door and let him in.
"Oh yes," says Stiles. "That way I know I'm really awake."
Derek stares at him.
Stiles doesn't seem to notice. Instead of explaining himself or saying something that makes even less sense, he hauls up a large plastic sack (from Macy's, of all places) and carries it to Derek's workbench. He dumps the deerhide out of it and unfolds it carefully.
Derek is reluctantly impressed by the condition of the hide. The color is a beautiful brown, almost tea colored.. Derek rarely tans hides himself because of the smell, but he knows enough to see that Stiles had done a good job of it. "Do you have the pages ready?" he says.
Stiles pulls out a pile of paper, already bound in signatures, and lays them out. "They're not parchment," he says abruptly. "I'm not -- I have my limits."
Derek says, 'I'm sure you do but it's not really any of my business, is it?" It's not. Derek's never liked putting his nose in other's people business without a good reason, which is another reason why being an alpha had been deeply weird and anxious for him.
Stiles stares at him for a moment and says, "Are you for real?"
Derek shrugs. "You're friends with Scott, right?"
Stiles lets out a bark of laughter. "You too, huh? Fucking Scott, man." He shakes his head and a smile just barely curves his mouth. "He's like that for people. He just believes so hard in people that you have to live up to it. It's the stupidest thing."
Derek clears his throat. "The sooner we get started, the sooner you get out of my hair," he says gruffly.
Stiles is a quick learner and he's had the sense to bring enough paper so that he can make a notebook first. The job on the notebook is a little rough, but Stiles is surprisingly steady and focused as he works. Derek remembers that Peter's first grimoires were slightly amateur looking too. Stiles will probably remake his grimoire again at least twice more. This first one, he explains to Derek, will be examined when Stiles becomes a master along with the grimoire he choses to make for his master exam. "The idea is to prove, you know, you're still learning and improving."
"Gently," says Derek, watching as Stiles carefully tools a border around the edge of the book. "You can go over it again, but you can make it less deep."
Stiles snorts. "Isn't that true of everything?" he says. "I guess one of Deaton's classmates made this super elaborate thing for her master exam, and she got failed because her novice grimoire was less 'jewels everyfuckingwhere' and more 'actual taste'. No pressure, right?" He lifts the bevel tool and looks at the cover critically. "It's not bad, I guess," he says, in about the same tone that Derek uses when he thinks about his own work. He's not really asking Derek as much as he is trying to convince himself.
"Heard you're giving Scott's pet mage leather lessons," says Laura. Her tone is somewhere between jeering and relieved. Derek's not known for his sociability and he knows he worries his extroverted family. Which is why he's here, at his mother's house, instead of spending his Sunday peacefully at home with his library book and Pandora radio. If he doesn't show up at least once a week his sisters barge into his apartment and eat all his secret Oreos and complain about his Netflix queue. Derek hates being the only boy.
"Is that your secret super power, making things sound awful?" says Derek. "Because I'm going to tell Mom."
"Don't you dare, Dora," says Laura, and then, "What's he like? Isaac says he and Scott been besties forever but I've never actually met the kid. He's wolf shy."
"He's really not," says Derek. "Maybe Scott told him about your gym shoes and he's afraid he's going to be knocked out if he gets within ten feet of you."
Laura tackles him and they both wolf out and wrestle all around the living room. Cora comes to stand in the doorway and tell them how much trouble they're going to be in, so they pull her into the fight like they're twelve and ten and five. Derek bangs his shoulder against the coffee table hard enough to bruise, and Laura rips her blouse. Cora, the sneakiest, almost wins, but their mother comes in and says, "Laura Elizabeth, Derek Oliver, Cora Penelope!" in her Mom Voice before Cora manages to pin them long enough to make them yield.
Laura doesn't mention Stiles again but she sits beside him after dinner and cuddles up while they kick Cora to make her lose at Mario Cart, which is like her saying she'll have his back no matter what in Laura-speak.
When Stiles clamps the book together to let the glue dry, they both let out a sigh of relief. Derek thinks longingly of a day when he won't have Stiles forever chattering at him or mumbling under his breath or chanting very softly and slightly off-tune while Derek is trying to work on an especially delicate bit of tooling.
"We never did settle on a price," says Stiles. "Like, I love Scott and all, but seriously I can't let you just help me with it because you have a weird platonic boner for him."
Weird platonic boner, mouths Derek. He's spent the better part of a week letting this idiot invade his studio and even, toward the end, use his leather-stamps, and this is what he says. "If Scott dies I'll probably get the alpha power back," he says. "I'm invested in him staying the hell alive."
Stiles hums and sticks his hands in his pockets like he really wants to fiddle with the book but knows that the glue needs to set. "I still need to pay you, dude, although I am also invested in Scott not dying."
Derek thinks about it, thinks about what he should ask for. Balance is important - he can't ask for something stupid and minor but he can't ask for something too large either. He thinks about how Stiles somehow managed to fit into the studio even when he was an obnoxious little shit, how quiet everything was without him around. His heart gives an anxious lurch at the thought that Stiles might just be an acquaintance again, someone that he just knows because of Scott.
He watches Stiles carefully from the corner of his eye. "Make me dinner sometime," he says.
Stiles blinks once, twice, his eyelashes sweeping over his brown eyes. His mouth curves up in a small pleased line. "I can't pay you back with just one," he says.
"That's okay," Derek says.