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Derek has trouble believing it’s already been over six months since Stiles turned to him after a pack dinner and asked, “Do you ever just want to be fucked within an inch of your life?”

Everyone else had already gone home, and Stiles had stood at the kitchen counter cradling his only beer of the night while Derek turned on the dishwasher.

His restlessness all evening had been making even Derek’s skin itch but that was the last thing he was expecting him to say after Derek asked him what was wrong. Stiles’ voice was light but he didn’t meet Derek’s eyes and as silence stretched between them, Derek was acutely aware of his toes curling over the edge of a precipice.

Derek licked dry lips. “Sometimes.”

Even now, months down the line, he's still not sure how the admission ended up with Stiles riding him so hard he couldn't see straight less than five minute later. All he can remember is the best orgasm of his life and Stiles pliant and sated, happy trail smeared with come.

Through a haze, he’d watched Stiles clean up and get dressed, pull the covers over Derek still on the bed and then walk out the door, and they hadn’t spoken about it until a week later when Stiles asked, “D’you wanna do it again?”

Yes. Derek did. Very much.

They haven't said a word about it since, but nor have they stopped.

No one in the pack has ever said anything despite being unable to keep something like that a secret from werewolf noses. The only indication that they knew had been after the first time, when Scott’s nose wrinkled so hard it looked it was trying to escape his face.

Derek had thought someone in the pack, probably Lydia, would have been designated spokesperson to point out that it would be messy for the pack if things went south between the two of them. But it never happened.

Derek had spared it a little bit of worry at first, but if Stiles was looking to start a relationship with someone based solely on sex, Derek reasoned that it made sense to have it be with someone in the pack. With anyone outside — anyone not in the know — it wouldn't take long for it to collapse under the weight of all the secrets they dealt with on a day to day basis. Seeing as the goal is to blow off steam, that would hardly be ideal.

And as for Derek, it means he doesn’t have to hide it if the wolf gets too close to the surface. He can let his eyes glow or his claws out or even go full beta-shift, something he’s never done with any of his previous partners. Not that he’s been with anyone since Jennifer.

But Stiles is safe. Stiles isn't using him to get to his family or to acquire power, nothing except mutual orgasms, and it has the added bonus of Derek no longer having to put up with the wolf prowling beneath his skin, urging him to find a mate. The itch is growing ever stronger to find one now that all of his betas have, no matter that there are no viable options in his life right now.

Derek stretches out and turns to look at Stiles lying beside him, dozing on his front with an arm hanging off the edge of the bed. He hadn’t needed to ask any questions when Stiles turned up at the house once his shift at the station ended that afternoon, not long after Derek had finished his lunch.

Derek has to resist the urge to reach out and place the flat of his palm across his shoulder blades, rising gently with his steady breaths. Instead, he gets to his feet, careful not to jostle the mattress, and picks up Stiles’ deputy shirt from the floor.

Most of the times they’ve fallen into bed together have been a result of Stiles’ day at work. He’s always felt things too deeply, and ever since his spark manifested into its true potential and he took over from Deaton as the pack’s emissary — thankfully with actual answers and input — he’s formed wards around the town to keep out every creature that would do them harm. But it’s no protection from human evils, and that’s what gets to him the most.

It’s days like those that Derek returns his biting kisses, spreads his legs for Stiles’ searching fingers and grips at the headboard with his claws in lieu of the sheets as Stiles snaps his hips in near-brutal thrusts. Sometimes, Derek will soothe Stiles’ harsh kisses with a hand at the back his head to hold him still, until he goes pliant enough for Derek to nearly bend him in two as he lifts his legs to sink inside. Other times, when his shift has been long and it’s exhaustion that plagues him instead — like today — he’s content to let Derek take what he needs, sighing out his own pleasure when Derek returns the favour by taking him into his mouth. By the time his breathing evens out, he’s already asleep and Derek manoeuvres him until he’s under the covers.

No matter the mood, the result is always Stiles unburdened and Derek, as his Alpha, is reassured to know he’s taking care of his pack.

He straightens out the creases in Stiles’ shirt and hangs it on the back of his desk chair, rearranging the pants that are already precariously dangling there from when Stiles tossed them aside earlier. Derek’s own clothes aren’t faring much better, so he gathers those up too but throws them in the laundry basket before digging out a fresh tank top and pair of sweats from his drawers. He pads through to the adjoining bathroom and reaches back to pull the door to. Stiles dozes on.

Just as he hops in the shower, he hears the front door open and the click of heels announces Lydia’s arrival. After her comes the voice of Jackson, his words lost amidst the rustling of bags. He can hear Erica and Boyd crunching across the driveway outside with more bags of what can only be food.

There’s a barbecue planned for tonight, and it’s so far been a perfect summer’s day. With the promise of food and a few cold ones and being surrounded by the pack, the evening is set to be even better.

Scott and Kira will be along later after Scott’s shift at his veterinarian practice is over — transferred to him by Deaton — and Allison and Isaac, newly-mated and scrounging as much ‘alone time’ as they can get, will probably be along later still.

Having a pack of so many mated couples lends an extra level of stability, linking them like a web, strengthening and supporting. Despite the couples being together for years, no mate bonds occurred until everything had settled down in Beacon Hills, important conditions for a werewolf to mate being safety and the belief they’re in a suitable environment to raise children. No pregnancies have happened yet, but a thrill goes through Derek whenever he thinks, Just a matter of time.

Only he and Stiles remain unmated, and maybe Stiles will forever remain so if he ends up finding himself a human partner. As for Derek, well. With his track record, he won’t be holding his breath.

He’s just towelled off and is ready to pull on his sweats when he catches the far-off presence of strangers in the preserve. Three, heading their way.

The pack downstairs are already heading for the back door and Derek hurries to join them, pulling on his tank while halfway down the stairs.

“Who is it?” Erica asks as Derek joins them outside. They’re all standing on the porch except for Boyd who’s on the grass where he’d been readying the grill.

“I don't know. It feels like another pack.”

Passing through Stiles’ wards around the territory only reveals those wishing them harm, so though Derek is wary, he’s not yet worried. If the group approaching are werewolves, it’s strange they haven’t sent ahead to request a visit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean danger. With any luck, the wolves will just be passing through, their visit merely a formality.

As the visitors get closer, the layered howl of an Alpha rises above the trees, sending birds scattering. It's the traditional call of greeting, one that's largely foregone by packs living in populated areas, but the surrounding preserve allows for noise that would raise concerns if it were in the middle of a city.

Derek howls back, the roar hovering in the air above them.

A minute later, the visitors reach the tree line and step out to greet them, three werewolves as expected. Derek recognises them immediately.

Marie Kennedy is a figure from Derek’s past he'd hoped never to see again, but he learnt long ago all his demons will rise up again and again to drag him through their bullshit. The resignation almost feels like a safety blanket at this point.

She's flanked by her daughter, Hannah, and Seth, her son. Hannah has grown from her mother’s mini-me into her mirror image, the same long, dark hair in effortless waves and mouth perched on the same edge of smug amusement. Seth is all hard edges with an ugly curl of disdain to his lip.

When he saw them last, they were seven in number and Marie hadn’t been the Alpha of the pack. Derek had heard news of her husband’s passing a few years ago and the other three missing pack members — and any new additions — must have remained to keep watch over their territory.

“Alpha Kennedy,” he greets when the trio are closer. “This is a surprise.” An understatement.

“Derek.” Alpha Kennedy returns, coming to a stop just a little way from the porch steps. “It’s been a long time.”

Twelve years to be exact and not long enough.

Jackson shifts his feet beside him, hands balling into fists; Derek didn’t miss the insult of not returning the respect of using Derek’s title either, but he’s not keen on starting a fight. He already has a bad enough feeling about this.

“What brings you to Hale territory?” After all the years that have passed, Derek thinks there can only be one answer but… how could they not have heard the news? And why now?

Seth crosses his arms over his chest. “It's customary to invite guests inside after a long journey.”

“Seth,” Marie warns, tilting her head towards her son.

Seth glowers but holds his tongue. When younger, he was the sort of kid to twist the heads off dolls. It doesn’t look like much has changed.

“It's also customary to send an envoy to request a meeting, or at least in this day and age pick up the telephone. And yet, here we are,” Lydia says sweetly.

Seth’s eyes bulge but Marie waves a hand before he has the chance to even think about lifting a claw.

“We’re not the first to ignore what’s customary, or have you forgotten, Derek?”

Derek hasn't forgotten, but the jab leads into territory he'd rather never revisit. Unfortunately, he can't think of any other reason for their presence.

“What brings you here?” he asks again, giving in to the urge to cross his arms.

“We’ve come so you can uphold your end of the pact.”

Derek’s stomach plummets; it’s exactly as he’d assumed.

“Then I’m afraid it’s a wasted journey. The pact can’t be fulfilled.”

“Oh? That’s news to me.” Marie smiles, showing all her teeth.

Derek holds his ground despite the dread. “You haven’t heard about Laura?”

“We have. And you have our condolences.”

“Then you would also have heard I’m an Alpha now.”

Marie’s smile widens. “But there is one among your number who’s available.”

Derek tightens his arms across his chest like it might do something to conceal the way his heart is hammering. “That wasn’t the deal. The deal only included Laura and I—”

“The deal included the Hale pack. No limitation was made in the event of your pack growing.”

Derek pales as he remembers the words Laura had spoken. Thoughts of the future were far from their minds considering their new circumstances, holding together what they could in cracked and bloody hands, and after losing everything except one sister and blaming himself for it, Derek hadn’t cared what he offered.

Hannah stands a few paces behind her mother, head held high. Her wide-eyed eagerness is gone, but she still has that edge of hunger in her gaze.

“Derek, what’s going on?” Erica asks.

Derek hesitates to respond, trying to decide on the most concise way to tell the story without his disgust bleeding through. Marie beats him to it.

“After the Argents’ attack, we were the only pack who would give them shelter. As thanks, it was agreed my daughter would marry a member of the Hale pack when she came of age.”

As thanks’ ? Is that how she saw it? The tears in Laura’s eyes when she’d agreed to their demands had had nothing to do with gratitude.

“But Derek is no longer an option because a marriage pact can’t interfere with a pack’s hierarchy,” Lydia fills in. She’s speaking slowly but not because she’s trying to piece together the strands. It’s more like she can’t believe the conclusion they’re leading to. “And now every other member of the pack is mated, you’ve finally come calling to sink your claws into Stiles.”

Stiles, the most powerful spark born in the last century in North America — and maybe even beyond.

“Stiles?” Erica repeats, looking between Derek and Marie. “But Stiles is Derek’s—”

“Yes,” Lydia confirms. “Stiles is already spoken for.”

Derek keeps his face blank of a reaction, already able to see where they’re going with this. But it won’t do any good.

“Our timing is merely coincidental—” Marie tries.

“Really? It looks to me like your daughter came of age a few years back,” Jackson interrupts, eyeing Hannah who bristles at his curled lip.

“Yes,” Lydia agrees. “How strange you should choose this moment to come collecting.”

Lydia and Marie regard each other with identical sneers, a formidable battle of wills. Marie may have Lydia beaten in the height department, but when it comes to forces to be reckoned with, Derek would wager she’s more than met her match.

Their glaring contest is broken when bare footsteps pad onto the porch and Derek almost jumps; Stiles must have cloaked himself to have snuck up on them.

“What’s going on?” Stiles asks, coming to a stop beside Derek. His hand hooks at Derek’s elbow where he’s got his arms crossed, and as Derek drops them, Stiles’ hand follows down his forearm to link their fingers together. He must have overheard the rest of the conversation and is joining in on the charade Lydia and Erica are attempting to weave.

“Emissary Stilinski—” Stiles’ scent must slap Marie in the face as she takes in their clasped hands because her nostrils flare, lips twisting. Hannah’s face has gone stony but her eyes are close to blazing.

In the long run, he’s not sure who will get the last laugh, but Derek still feels a swell of satisfaction at their expressions. If they’d picked up the scent of another on Derek, they wouldn’t have known who it belonged to, but Stiles hasn't showered, he’s wearing Derek’s clothes and they never use a condom so now there can be no question as to what Lydia meant when she said Stiles was unavailable.

“Like I said,” Lydia says coolly. “He’s already spoken for, as I’m sure your noses are telling you.”

“But not mated,” Marie points out through gritted teeth.

Yet. But in a case like this, that’s not the only Claim that matters. With the real possibility that a mate bond may occur, no one can interfere.”

They both begin another glaring match but Marie gains an edge when her lips spread in a slow smile.

“Then if it’s as you say, you won’t mind invoking the pact beneath the next full moon.”

Derek keeps his face impassive and his breathing steady, but internally, his mind is zipping through any way they can get around this. If they go up against the pact and fail and Derek tries to interfere with the Kennedys taking what they’re owed in any way, it could result in him losing his Alpha power. Or worse. They need to avoid the pact being used in any way they—

“If that’s what it takes,” Stiles answers for him, shrugging.

Derek wants to scream. Does he not realise what he’s agreeing to?

Marie smiles likes she’s wondering the exact same thing. Her eyes land on Derek and her smile turns smugger still. Lydia may be an Ice Queen and Stiles’ poker face is yet to crack under any pressure they’ve faced, but Derek’s own act has been anything but convincing.

“Well then. It looks like we’ll be sticking around for a few days.” She takes half a step back as if to return the way they came, but she pauses, eyes flickering to the barbecue grill, and her smile turns sly. “It’s been such a long journey. You couldn’t recommend somewhere to get a decent meal?”

Derek’s spine stiffens as he steels himself. He knows custom has so far been tossed out the window, but he can just imagine his mother’s face, what she might say if he allowed guests in the territory without offering a meal. Then again, she probably would have torn this woman’s throat out already.

“We’re having a barbecue,” he grinds out through his clenched jaw. “You’re welcome to join us.”

Lydia makes the quietest snort Derek’s ever heard while Stiles’ hand tightens around his. It’s not a supporting squeeze but one of displeasure. The returning twitch of Derek’s fingers reads I know, but there’s nothing I can do about it so let’s all suck it up for one evening and avoid any unnecessary bloodshed. He’s not sure if the entire message gets across, but that’s the best he can do right now.

“That sounds lovely,” Marie says but the sentiment fails to reach her eyes and Derek is glad that at least they’re all on the same page.

“Then we’ll see you here again at seven.”

It’s already late afternoon and if it were anyone else he’d invite them in for a drink, but he’d rather rip out his fangs than host the three of them for any longer than he needs to. It doesn’t help the rest of his pack are about to vibrate out of their skin with questions and if they want any hope of surviving the evening, they’ll need to be brought up to speed for a united front.

“Six-thirty it is.” And then they’re gone, melting into the trees and running back the way they’d come.

They watch them go, saying nothing until they’re out of range.

“Now will somebody please explain what the hell’s going on?” Stiles asks.

Derek sighs, and scrubs a hand over his face, only just realising he and Stiles are still holding hands. He releases him and gestures inside. “Come on. I’ll explain everything.”

 

*

 

When Stiles was seventeen, the splinter of a spark that had manifested during the kanima attacks leaped as if from flint and tinder and became a blaze. Jennifer’s abduction of his dad pushed him to a height of panic and desperation that Derek hasn’t seen from him before or since and her sacrifices for power were useless against his natural strength. He’d burned her from the inside out until all that was left was a blackened husk and had walked to his Jeep in a trance, driving straight to his dad and Melissa and Chris in that root cellar in the middle of the preserve before collapsing to the forest floor.

He couldn’t remember any of it when he woke two days later which just fanned his fears of losing control and chargrilling someone in the middle of the street for something as petty as stealing his parking space.

After some tutelage from Deaton — involving a lot of improvising because even he hadn’t encountered this much power in one person — and a few more months of turbulence that they’d never seemed to be able to escape back then, a balance had eventually settled. Derek didn’t understand the details, but Stiles’ became the most at ease Derek had ever seen him and his abilities had blossomed.

Few emissaries were powerful enough to set up a ward around an entire town, but Stiles could put wards around specific houses on top of that, and he still had power left to spare. It eventually came to be that Deaton had served as much purpose as he could and had moved on, confident in Stiles’ abilities to keep them safe and lend support.

With his surge in power, it was only natural that it would draw more enemies looking to make his strength their own, but after the news of every assailant’s defeat spread, new attacks thinned out until they reached this tentative era of peace. It’s been a few years since someone has been drawn by Stiles’ power. Derek’s got to hand it to the Kennedys; at least their method is creative.

As they settle in the lounge, a car pulls into the driveway, announcing the arrival of first Scott and Kira, and then Allison and Isaac only moments later. The wolves of the couples know immediately something’s wrong, and Derek sits back to allow the others to fill them in while he tries to gather his thoughts.

Despite the passage of years, the memories come easily. Of Laura’s ashen face. Of nights spent huddled in the backseat of her Camaro. Of every door closed to them no matter where they turned.

Only the Kennedy pack offered them shelter but not out of the kindness of their hearts.

A pack once respected and renowned, Marie saw the massacre of their family as their ticket to return to their former glory, lost under the guidance of the previous generation’s Alpha. But they were no longer built on love and support. Ambition and malcontent had festered instead, and in return for protection, they required marriage. With Laura an Alpha, Derek was the only chip they had.

“She promised you'd...?” There’s disbelief in Stiles’ voice and Derek is swift to defend his sister.

“She had no other choice. We had nothing. And with the threat of more hunters on our tails, more Argents, no one else would—” He can only remember Laura’s desperation through a haze, barely more than a shell in tow as pack after pack turned them away, debts owed to their mother no more than ash in the wind. When the Kennedys made their offer, Laura had hesitated but Derek would have agreed to anything. He didn’t care. Laura held back tears as the pact was sealed while Derek stood numb at her side.

On the surface, such a deal looked to make no sense. But even though just the two of them were all that remained of the great Hale pack, the Hale name was still known far and wide. A link to that and the bloodline, with a chance any children born from the marriage would inherit the full shift, had the Kennedys all but salivating.

“We stayed with them for a couple of months but Laura could tell the prolonged presence of another Alpha was giving Marie ideas. Laura thought they were planning to kill her, so she convinced me we had to leave.”

“You really think they’re capable of something like that?” Kira asks, eyes wide. Scott’s hand is white where she’s gripping it so hard.

Derek shrugs. “With the pact in place, they didn’t need her anymore.”

“But the pact hinged on them protecting you,” Lydia says, sitting forward in her chair. “Wouldn’t it render it void if they killed her?”

Derek mulls the point over but eventually shakes his head with a humourless snort. “Another loophole. Just like we didn’t specify who counted as the Hale pack, there was no mention of how long the protection had to last. They could have harboured us for five minutes and that would have been their end of the pact upheld.”

Jackson growls low in his throat and Lydia squeezes his knee.

They’d fled in the dead of night — his neglect of custom Marie had been speaking of — and they didn’t stop running until they hit the opposite coast.

“If we were being followed, we figured a city would be the best place to remain hidden and we stayed there until—” He gestures around himself to say they all know the rest. He almost wants to laugh at the irony that Laura had eventually been killed for her Alpha power, but from a threat so much closer to home.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Stiles asks.

“Hannah came of age seven years ago. I thought by the time they would have heard of my whereabouts, I’d already become an Alpha. I’d just considered the pact dissolved.”

Derek thinks of Hannah, the fury on her face at seeing Stiles show Derek ‘affection’. With an arranged marriage like this, he would have thought she’d be digging in her heels, kicking and screaming. But the resurfacing memories have reminded him of Marie’s cunning and ambition, and he has no doubt she’s forged those traits into her daughter.

“So what do we do now?” Scott asks. “Is your relationship as it is enough to pass the pact’s test?”

Stiles snorts. When the pack turn to look at him, he shrugs. “Don’t worry. I’ve got it covered.”

“But— It’s binding,” Derek exclaims. This wasn’t just a flimsy promise; cuts were made on palms and blood was exchanged beneath a full moon. “It’s not something you can just interfere with!”

“It’ll be fine,” Stiles says, waving away Derek’s protests as if they were nothing more than irksome flies. “You think I can’t handle a little blood oath? As your Emissary, I must say I’m offended.”

“We should at least try looking into workarounds,” Lydia says as Derek gapes at Stiles. “You’ll have to pretend to actually be in a relationship in the meantime. We can’t have the Kennedys suspecting foul play when the pact denies their claim, and whatever your physical relationship may be, the pact might just need to pick up on whether there’s an actual relationship between you.”

Kira perks up at that. “Yeah! It might be enough if you just refer to each other as boyfriends.”

Her enthusiasm is reminding Derek of the time she said the two of them would look cute together, and then flushed red all the way into her hairline. At least, Derek would put her interest down to that if the rest of the pack weren’t nodding their fervent agreement.

“It's not like you need to do much differently,” Lydia says, with a toss of her head. “Stiles is already here most of the time and you have dinner with his dad at least once a week, not to mention all your visits to the Sheriff's Station for consulting.”

Derek blanches at the mention of Stiles’ dad. John is hardly going to have the sort of reaction he might have had back when he still thought Derek was a murder suspect, but he still doesn’t relish the idea of their friendship experiencing any strain. John has never seemed to know of the new development between Stiles and Derek, and he can’t imagine Stiles is going to fill him in on every detail, but he’s not sure how long they’ll be able to keep that aspect a secret from him if they do pretend to be a couple.

Derek tries to take a steadying breath. John took him under his wing when the pack went off to college, not used to not having Stiles and the others around either, so Derek kind of became a surrogate son and it stayed that way even when Stiles came back. He’s suddenly terrified all of that is about to change, that their next meeting will involve a lot of John’s hand hovering over the gun at his hip and declaring he knows how to dispose of dead bodies.

“Stiles should probably spend every night here too. Or you could go to his place, but I don’t know why you’d want to subject yourself to that hovel.”

“Hey!” Stiles protests.

Stiles’ apartment is a tiny one-bedroomed place with a poky kitchen and barely functional bathroom. Derek knows because he’d been forced to use the shower after a fight with a witch left him covered in a slow-working acid that required immediate rinsing and Stiles’ place happened to be the closest. It was so small, he couldn’t even shut the shower door with his bulkier frame. Aside from the bathroom leaving more to be desired, it’s really not as bad as Lydia’s constant (good-natured) ribbing makes it sound and Stiles is justifiably proud of his own space.

“Other than that, just add a bit of PDA while you're out and about and the pact probably won’t know what hit it,” Isaac adds gleefully and he and Scott high five.

Derek isn’t sure what’s gotten into them and he’s about to protest that he’s not sure they even need to go that far, but the rest of the pack are already nodding along like the plan is a slam dunk.

Derek isn’t so confident. “If it doesn’t work, I'll pass on the Alpha power and go with them,” he says. “This is my mess—”

His words are drowned out as the pack all speak at once.

“This isn't your mess. We're not going to let you face this alone—”

“Don’t you dare think this is your fault—”

“We’ll fight them to the death if we have to—”

Jackson is the only one who remains silent, his arms crossed tightly over his chest and nostrils flared. Derek mentally berates himself for not having a little more tact where his beta with abandonment issues is concerned.

He covers his face with his hands and exhales a shaky breath, the pall of dread easing a little at his pack's support. A hand grips the back of his neck in solidarity and Derek tilts his head to smile wearily at Erica huddled close beside him.

“We’ll get through this. We always do.”

“It won’t be a problem,” Stiles insists, smiling around a clenched jaw. He never does like being doubted by the people who should trust him.

“With the way you reek of each other, I won’t be surprised if that woman realises she’s lost and doesn’t even bother invoking the pact.”

Derek doesn’t share Erica’s optimism but he appreciates it all the same.

“Speaking of, can you please shower now, dude?” Scott asks Stiles, nostrils flared and eyebrows drawn together into a single, disgusted line.

Stiles sniggers but Derek stops him before he can get up. His ears start to burn as the pack turn to look at him as one. He licks his dry lips. “If we were really together, I wouldn't want him to get rid of my scent all over him. Especially with strangers in the territory who want him for themselves.” Derek can smell the rest of the pack marked with the scent of their significant others so they all know exactly what he’s talking about. His stomach twists regardless.

“Fine, but can he at least clean up?” Scott whines. “We don't need to smell your— coming out of—”

Stiles starts cackling at Scott's wild gesturing while Derek’s ears grow impossibly hotter. This is definitely a conversation he never wants John to catch wind of.

Stiles keeps laughing all the way up the stairs, so hard he even trips at one point and hangs on the banister, still giggling.

Derek can’t see what’s even remotely funny about the situation. He’s too busy wondering how the afternoon in his bed could have turned into this mess.