September, Year Three of Talia Hale’s First Term
“You want me to arrange a political marriage for your son?” Stiles repeats dumbly.
“It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done this,” Talia Hale says, dark eyes twinkling over her impeccable blue pantsuit. “Senator Harvey and Elise’s match worked out perfectly, and they’re actually quite in love, from what I hear.”
“George Harvey was a little-known senatorial candidate from Kansas at the time, Madam President,” Stiles says slowly. “Your son – you, Mr. Hale,” he directs toward the man pacing tiny circles behind the president’s chair, “are the nation’s most eligible bachelor. Literally. I saw it on the cover of People.”
“I trusted you with the press for my presidential campaign,” Talia shoots back. “You have the skill and the discretion necessary.”
“With all due respect, Madam President, Stilinski & Associates is booked full these days. Anyone who’s thinking about running in next year’s elections is looking to pull skeletons out of their opponents’ closets or bury their own secrets even further. My team is already swamped. I don’t think we can take on another case at the moment, especially one so high profile.”
Talia fixes him with both barrels of what the campaign volunteers had not-so-secretly dubbed her D.I.C. (Death Is Coming) look, something she normally reserves for denouncing terrorist attacks or other injustices. “I’m the President of the United States, Stiles. I’m only asking to be polite.”
Stiles concentrates on controlling his reactions, his fidgets, his gestures. He figured out during his first year of law school that his normal physical tics – pulling expressive faces, throwing his hands and head around as he talks – don’t go over well or benefit him in the political crowd. So he’s learned a first-class poker face, learned to let that energy simmer just below the surface.
(Scott calls this persona B-Stiles, for Business Stiles. Stiles interprets it as B-Stylz and spends a memorable Thanksgiving speaking only in terrible, punny raps.)
“Are you giving me an order, ma’am?” Stiles says slowly, aware that they’re starting to encroach on the very territory that ended with Stiles leaving the White House and going off to found Stilinski & Associates in the first place. “I don’t work for you anymore. I do not serve at the pleasure of the president.”
“Just show him, Mom,” Derek Hale mutters, not looking up from the path he’s wearing into Stiles’ office’s carpet. “His team will find them when they’re vetting me anyway.”
The president bristles at the tone in Stiles’ voice and calms at Derek’s. She extracts a plain manila envelope from her briefcase and slides it along the top of Stiles’ desk. Stiles spreads the contained 8x10 stills in front of him, leaning close to see the details of what looks like overhead shots from a bar’s security camera and a few phone pictures, including a screenshot of a Snapchat. In each photo, Derek – or someone who looks a hell of a lot like Derek, the quality’s pretty crap – is in a crowded bar, standing next to someone in a red hoodie with the hood pulled up so his face can’t be seen. Each subsequent picture shows them standing closer and closer, starting to get handsy, and ends with the moneyshot: Derek pressing Red Hood against a wall, faces blurred by lens flare, but there’s no question as to what they’re doing.
“I see,” Stiles says, clamping down on his actual reaction. He sweeps the pictures back together into a pile. “Who’s the guy?”
“I told you they’d be able to tell that it’s a guy,” Derek says pointedly, finally collapsing into the chair next to his mother. “I have no idea.”
“Is he a prostitute?” Only the fact that this is the third time (this week) he’s had to ask that question keeps Stiles’ tone from straying from factual to judgmental.
“No! No. And I – I’m sure I know his name. Knew his name,” Derek corrects, plucking a paperweight off Stiles’ desk and turning it over in his hands. “I just don’t remember much about that night.”
“Do you think you were drugged?” Stiles pulls a new notepad out of one of his desk drawers and starts jotting notes longhand.
“God, no, nothing like that!” Derek says. “I mean, I don’t think so. I just…had a lot to drink. I was celebrating.”
“It’s from April of this year,” Derek explains. “I’d just been made director of Hale Enterprises DC.”
“And you celebrated by...?”
“Going out to a bar with a few friends and apparently getting drunk off my ass,” Derek says flatly. “I don’t remember anything after the first two beers. I’m told Fireball was involved. I woke up back in my apartment in bed, alone, fully clothed the next day.”
“Your friends didn’t see who you were with?” Stiles flexes his fingers around the pen, flicking his eyes up to Derek to monitor his facial expressions.
Derek shakes his head. “They were in another part of the bar and didn’t see me leave.”
“What about your Secret Service detail? Luke and Chen are still your 24/7s, aren’t they?”
Derek flushes a shade of red that Stiles has only seen him achieve twice before. “I kind of…ditched them. Told them I was in for the night, not feeling well, then took the fire escape from my apartment to the roof, jumped to the next building, went out the back.”
“Derek!” Talia exclaims, clearly having not heard that particular piece of the story before.
Derek just shrugs sheepishly. “One of my friends called Luke from the bar at closing and they came to pick me up.”
“I’ll need the names of the friends who were with you,” Stiles says, dropping his pen and sifting through the pictures again. “Okay. There’s nothing inherently damning about any of these. You weren’t in a relationship with anyone at the time, you’re only 30. You were just a young, successful businessman letting off a little steam and having fun. Details of the night are blurry, but you remember everything that happened. You’re not releasing the guy’s name to protect his privacy. We’ll get your friends to corroborate. Drunken hook-up at a bar we can handle, blacked-out one night stand is a non-starter if we can avoid it.”
When he looks up, Talia is smirking and nodding; Derek is openly staring at him.
“What?” Stiles asks sharply, momentarily falling out of his B-Stiles façade.
“Oh, sorry, nothing,” Derek stutters. “It’s just…I forgot what you’re like when you’re…you know. Doing this.”
Stiles blinks, recomposes his thoughts. “Anyway. As far as potential matches go. I’ll consult with my team, but I’ve already got a few possibilities in mind. Leo Halliway, Representative Halliway’s son, is a civil rights lawyer based in Atlanta. Strong conviction history, well respected, takes pictures of his dogs for ridiculously cute Christmas cards every year. Divorced from his wife for eight years, now happily out.”
“Wait, Stiles --.”
“Or Hamid Haddad,” Stiles continues, steamrolling right over Derek’s protests. “Naturalized citizen, played a big role in the Middle East peace talks six years ago. A little older than ideal, but a lot of fun at parties.”
“Allen Markings is a neurosurgeon at James Madison,” Stiles muses, lapsing into a momentary flashback to the incredibly hot doctor he’d gone on four dates with a few months ago before amicably agreeing they’re better off as friends. “Broke up with his boyfriend last year, stellar record for innovation and research, told me he voted for you, Madam President.”
“Stiles, stop,” Talia barks, putting on her Commander in Chief voice. Stiles freezes mid-scribbled-thought and looks up. Derek is covering his face with his hands.
“I don’t want you to find Derek a husband,” she says. “I want to you find him a wife.”
“Mr. Hale, could I speak with you privately?” Stiles says, when his brain starts functioning again. “Madam President, please excuse us for a moment.”
He leads the way out of his office, trying to keep the tension from his gait. Scott, Kira, and Isaac are in a client meeting in the main conference room, but Lydia’s out onsite at Senator Wallace’s house, so he takes Derek to her small, exquisitely decorated office and shuts the door.
“Stiles, let me explain,” Derek is saying before the deadbolt even latches, but Stiles holds up a hand, stalks around Lydia’s desk, and braces his fingers against the wood.
“Mr. Hale. Your mother is already well aware of my modus operandi, but seeing as you are the primary client for this case, allow me to enlighten you. I have one rule: complete and total honesty. If you lie to me, we’re done. Can you agree to that?”
Derek nods mutely, and Stiles swallows hard. This, this cold client/fixer relationship, is so painfully different from what he’s used to with Derek. He barely recognizes the man standing before him, and from the way Derek’s looking back, it’s clear that the feeling is mutual.
“Good. Now, what is your endgame?” Stiles sets his notepad down and starts writing again.
“You’re hiring my team for a service, Mr. Hale. In order to hold up my end of the deal, I need to know exactly what the terms of that service are. What exactly is it that you want out of this? What’s your endgame?”
“You heard my mother,” Derek says. “I just need a wife.”
“You say you just need a wife, Mr. Hale, but what you mean is that you need my team to procure a politically and socially advantageous woman for you to marry, presumably on short notice given that you intend to run for governor of Louisiana next year, which means concocting a perfectly detailed, indisputable back story as to why you’re suddenly marrying a woman you’ve never been seen with before, and getting the public and press to actually accept that story when they are trained to ferret out lies and suspect corruption from everyone in the public eye.”
“I…yes,” Derek sighs, dropping into one of the squashy armchairs across from Lydia’s desk. “Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“And you need us to do this while covering up the fact that you are, in reality, a gay man, out to your immediate family, your ex-boyfriend, and a few very, very close friends.”
“Yes,” Derek says, but it’s really more of a whisper.
“Why, Mr. Hale? It’s the twenty-first century. Same-sex marriage is legal in all fifty states. You wouldn’t be the first openly gay governor, or senator, or representative. Gay I can work with. Gay I can get elected to any office in the country. But you are asking me to set you up for a lifetime of lying to the public, a loveless marriage, and the constant niggling ache of shame in the back of your mind that comes from being closeted, so I need to know why.”
“I’m not ashamed, Stiles, I’m just a realist,” Derek says. He still has the paperweight from Stiles’ desk in his hands. “I’m running for governor of one of the most conservative states in the country. Louisianans don’t often elect Democrats to major public office, but they like what my mom’s done and they trust the Hale name – but asking them to elect an openly gay man? It’s not going to happen.”
“Every day of your life will be an act,” Stiles says. “Finding a woman to agree to that won’t be easy.”
Derek snorts. “Please. We live in DC – there’s an opportunist on every corner.”
“And that’s who you want to marry? An opportunist?”
“If I want to be governor, then yes, I suppose I need an opportunist.”
“Do you? Do you want to be governor?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I’ve known you for four years, Derek, and you’ve never in your life wanted to be in public office!”
“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you thought!”
A knock at the door and the subsequent ringing silence finally makes Stiles realize that he and Derek have been outright yelling for the past thirty seconds. He strides quickly around the desk, flips the bolt, and jerks the door open a few inches. Scott’s standing there, hands in his pockets, looking concerned.
“Scott,” Stiles snaps. “What?”
“Everything okay, dude?” Scott, bless him, doesn’t have a “B” side. He’s a heart-on-his-sleeve, everyone’s a dude, everything’s chill sort of guy, even when he’s using the brain that powered him to second in their class at Stanford Law.
Stiles takes a deep breath and visualizes pushing his stress away. Derek is a client. Stiles is not allowed to project his own experiences of living in the bisexual closet for eighteen years onto clients. Stiles isn’t allowed to project anything onto clients – no judgment, just solutions. No judgment, just solutions. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re good. How’s our embezzling CFO doing?”
“He’s an epic dickwad,” Scott says bluntly. “Remind me why we take on clients who are pure scumbags?”
“Because you don’t say no to being owed a favor by the C-level suite of a Fortune 10 company,” Stiles says patiently. “Want to come over tonight? I’m in need of one of those nights from undergrad where we eat crappy Chinese food and play video games.”
“Date with Allison tonight,” Scott says apologetically. “Tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow. Now get back to work!”
Scott rolls his eyes, but heads obediently down the hallway. Stiles takes one more deep breath before re-closing the door and turning back to Derek. “So, Mr. Hale. We’ve outlined the terms. Do we have an agreement?”
“Why are you still taking notes on actual paper?” Derek asks. “You’ve got laptops all over the place, and typing’s got to be faster.”
“Computers can be hacked, Mr. Hale, and my firm handles very delicate cases involving the most important people in the republic. All notes and files are hardcopy until the case is resolved. I then write a summary report and save it to an external drive which is kept in a secure location known only to me. Answer the question, Mr. Hale.”
“You can call me Derek, Stiles,” Derek says, looking at the paperweight he is still, for the love of God, turning over in his hands. “You didn’t stand on formality during the campaign.”
“You weren’t my client during the campaign,” Stiles points out. “Complete honesty from you, heterosexuality perpetuation and political matchmaking from me. Do we have an agreement?”
June, Talia Hale’s Campaign (4.25 years ago)
Derek wants to straight-up murder Stiles no less than eight times during their first week on the campaign trail together.
It starts on the Monday after he flies in, joining the campaign team in the middle of caucus and primary seasons. He’s fresh from his honorable discharge hearing to release him from Air Force duty, securing his spot in Harvard’s Business School to start the following January, and hasn’t made much of an effort to correct his jetlag from being stationed in Egypt for four months, so he’s awake and wired up by 4AM. He occupies himself by reading through political blogs, catching up on the campaign and all of his mom’s opponents. He makes a list of all the things he’ll need (suits, for one, since he doesn’t have a dress uniform anymore and put on about 30 pounds of muscle since 22-year-old Derek started Basic Training), reviews the week’s schedule that Deaton emailed late last night, and makes shitty in-room, single-serve coffee.
And then it’s 5AM.
He changes into his running shoes and heads for the door. Their hotel and the Hale campaign west coast HQ are located in the downtown area of some medium-sized, San Francisco-adjacent city, and he might not know his way around but he’s going to jump out of his skin if he has to stay in this room for another two hours. Besides, his phone has GPS. MapMyRun will get him back safely.
He swings open the door, focusing on selecting a playlist, and promptly runs into someone who swears softly and bounces off the door opposite his.
“…the hell?” Stiles scrubs at the back of his head where it impacted the door, further messing up the hair that’s sticking out in all directions.
“Sorry, sorry, didn’t see you,” Derek says, reaching out to steady him. “You okay?”
“Yeah, dude, I’m fine,” Stiles says, brushing his hand aside. “Just warn a guy before you brain him – oh, hey, Derek! I’m Stiles, don’t know if you remember, we met last night.”
“You’re the debate prep guy who was asking my mom questions she’s absolutely not going to get this week,” Derek says. “And you asked for a llama to carry your stuff around.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “The congresswoman is going to blow Thursday’s debate out of the water; we’ve been ready for that for two weeks. She’ll win the California Democratic primary in a landslide. I’m trying to prep her for October.”
“October? The presidential debates?” Derek takes a step toward the elevator and Stiles mirrors him.
“You’re aware that it’s June, right? She has to win primaries and caucuses and the DNC nomination.”
Stiles hits the button for the elevator, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Derek notices that Stiles, too, is in running clothes. “Don’t you think she can win?”
This is the first time Derek wants to kill Stiles. Standing there in a tight tech shirt that accentuates the spread of his shoulders, rocking the just-had-sex hair, looking at Derek with bright eyes and casually questioning his faith in his mom’s chances. Derek’s not sure if he wants to punch him or drag him back into one of their rooms and dispel his excess energy in other ways.
The elevator dings.
"Of course I think she can win,” Derek says, following Stiles into the elevator. “I just think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself.”
Stiles yawns and stretches an arm across his chest and that is really not fair. “I deferred my second semester of L3 at Stanford to work on this campaign because I believe that Talia Hale can and should be the first female President of the United States. I’m not here to play it cautious, hedge my bets, and screw around with maybes. I’m here to get your mom elected to the highest office in the world. Are you coming or what?”
Derek realizes that they’ve hit the ground floor and he’s still standing in the elevator car, staring after Stiles. He hasn’t heard anyone speak about anything with that much passion in a long time.
“What?” He asks, finally stepping out into the lobby.
Stiles sighs. “They told me you’re smart, Hale, don’t disappoint me.” (This is the second time Derek wants to kill him.) “I’m going running, you’re clearly going running, I know my way around the area and you don’t. Are you coming or what?”
The third time Derek wants to kill him is when Stiles handily beats him in the flat-out sprint back to the hotel doors at the end of the run.
“He’s infuriating,” Derek fumes on Tuesday night, pacing circles around Laura’s room while his sisters eat take-out Thai food and watch the news. “Did you hear that argument he got into with Deaton?”
Murderous urge number four had cropped up earlier that day, when Derek walked in on Stiles and Alan Deaton, his mom’s campaign manager, arguing over their travel timeline to the Utah primary.
“Deaton’s been doing this for longer than Stiles has been alive,” Derek continues.
“Shut up and eat your curry,” Laura says, brandishing a carton at him. “Stiles is right.”
“What,” Derek says flatly, accepting the carton and falling heavily into the desk chair.
“He’s right,” Laura repeats. “Mom’s never going to win the Utah primary. Utah liberals are conservatives in any other state; she’s too far left for them.”
“Shouldn’t waste time and money campaigning where we don’t stand a chance,” Cora agrees, dumping more rice into her Pra Ram. “Mom needs to get back to DC to sit on this session. We do some grassroots stuff for show, Mom joins us the day of the primary, we move on.”
“He’s a jackass.”
“He’s the best young political operative I’ve seen in a long time,” Laura says. “Might be better than Deaton in a few years.”
“He’s still a jackass.”
Laura looks at him quizzically. “Does someone have a crush?”
“No! No, I do not have a crush, that’s not – it’s not funny!”
Laura and Cora collapse against each other in fits of laughter. Derek throws a piece of broccoli at them that Cora somehow manages to catch in her mouth. Derek mock-growls, sets his food aside, and launches himself onto the bed.
“I am a grown man!” He shouts, pinning Cora’s hands with his legs and tickling Laura until she’s wheezing. “I served in the Air Force! I go to Harvard!”
They wrestle for a few more minutes, ending up snuggled in a big lump in the middle of the bed. With one sister tucked under each arm, Derek feels almost like they’re kids again, watching TV at home.
“You don’t have to hide it, Derek,” Cora says when she’s gotten her breath back. “We all love you just the same. Things are different now, better than when we were growing up.”
“Yeah, what Mom really needs is her American solider son coming out sixth months before Election Day,” Derek says sarcastically, tugging on a piece of her hair.
“You can’t pretend forever,” Laura says.
“You shouldn’t have to,” she amends.
“Let it go, guys,” he says quietly. “Another discussion for another day.”
They sit quietly for a while, just enjoying being back together.
“I’m really glad you’re safe.”
Cora sits up, using Derek’s chest for leverage. “This whole time you’ve been on active duty, I’ve been nervous. Worrying that you’d never come home, that something would happen and then someone would be handing Mom a folded flag and I’m just…I’m just really glad that you’re safe.”
“Whoa, hey, Little Bear,” Derek says, using Cora’s childhood nickname and folding her into a hug. “You know that I was mostly on desk duty. I only saw action three times, and even those weren’t too serious.”
“Not the point,” Laura says, wrapping her arms around both of them. “You’re ours, Grumble Bear, and we missed you.”
He presses a kiss to the top of Laura’s head. “Missed you too, Bossy Bear.”
Derek doesn’t want to kill Stiles at all on Wednesday. But that’s probably only because Stiles spends the entire day scouting Thursday’s debate location.
The California Democratic presidential candidate debate – the first official and televised debate of the campaign, precursor to the incredibly influential California primary the following Tuesday, is slated to start at 7PM on Thursday. Stiles, for the first time that week, misses their morning run, and when Derek asks around, he’s told that Stiles has been at the debate site since 4AM. He still hasn’t seen Stiles by noon, so he makes his way over to the selected high school auditorium to check it out. Derek doesn’t have an official role on the campaign team yet – Laura’s the Volunteer Coordinator, Dad’s a speech writer, and Cora’s the Youth Outreach lead – so he helps in whatever ways he can be useful until Stiles appears out of nowhere, grabs Derek by the arm, and drags him into the classroom that the Hale team is using as a temporary base of operations.
“Out!” Stiles barks at the couple volunteers assembling signs and a few members of the advance team, steel in his voice that Derek’s never heard from him before. Everyone scurries in record time, and Stiles closes and locks the door behind them.
“Shut up,” Stiles says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Just shut up and let me think for a second.”
Derek stares at him. In the four days he’s known this man, he’s seen him get worked up several times – but this is different. The seconds stretch long, and Derek’s about to make a joke to break the tension when Stiles drops his hand to his side, looks Derek in the eye, and plainly asks, “Are you gay?”
Derek’s pretty sure his jaw actually drops open. “What?”
"No, you’re right – that’s not what’s important. Do you want the public to think you’re gay?”
Derek can’t decipher the mess of emotions roiling around in his stomach, but this is definitely murderous rage number five. “Where the fuck do you get off asking me that?”
“The Talbot campaign knows that their only possible way to win this debate is to attack your mother on every point,” Stiles says. Derek can practically see the energy swimming just beneath Stiles’ skin. “I’ve prepped Talia to handle questions about her being a woman, lack of military experience, not having a graduate degree – she is ready to field any shallow, inane question meant to distract from the fact that she has the best platform out of any candidate in this goddamned election. But they are going to ask what it means when a mother forces her gay son to stay in the closet to win an election, Derek, and she is not prepared for that.”
“I – what?” Derek stammers. “How do you even know they’re going to ask that?”
“I’ve got a guy,” Stiles says, waving a hand dismissively.
“You’ve got a guy? You’ve got a spy in the Talbot campaign?”
“Not the fucking point, Derek!” Stiles shouts. “Deaton will be here in three hours, your mother in two. We have time. I can get it leaked back to Talbot that we know and we’re prepared, but I need to know right now which direction we’re taking this so the Rapid Response guys can start working on an answer. So when your mother stands on that stage in front of the entire country in four hours, is she saying Yes, Derek’s gay, we were protecting his privacy and it’s his right to choose how to come out and how dare you Governor Talbot, or is she saying Derek is not gay, but if he were I would never ask him to hide that for my political gain, I love my son and I would love him if he were gay because it’s nothing to be ashamed of?”
Stiles stands in front of him, breathing hard, face flushed, pupils blown, and all Derek can think is that this is probably what Stiles looks like after sex.
Derek wants to make Stiles look like this. Numerous times.
He also wants to kill Stiles for putting him on the spot like this. Six.
“Not. Gay,” Derek forces past his clenched jaw.
For the briefest fraction of a second, an expression that Derek can’t read flashes across Stiles’ face. Then the mask drops backs into place.
“Fine,” Stiles spits, digging through his pocket for his phone and dialing. “Scott? It’s me. We have an answer, and we will destroy your guy if he asks the question.”
(Talbot asks. Talia, true to Stiles’ word, destroys him.)
Stiles avoids Derek on Friday. Not actually physical avoidance, but there’s a distance there – he doesn’t talk during their run, he doesn’t pester Derek with his usual questions about life in the Air Force. There’s a distance there, and Derek doesn’t like it.
On Saturday, Stiles is back to normal without explanation. He accompanies Derek, Laura, and Cora to their appearance at an at-risk youth workshop and makes friends with all the kids, telling stories about growing up three hours north of Sacramento and having a Sheriff for a father. He smiles at Derek from across the cafeteria during lunch, distracting him long enough for 12-year-old Monica to drop a handful of mashed potatoes down the back of Derek’s shirt.
Seven, Derek thinks, as the incident devolves into a fully-fledged food fight.
Stiles wakes Derek up an hour earlier than usual on Sunday for their run, insisting that it’s going to rain later so they need to go now. When Derek just grunts and rolls over, Stiles retrieves a bucket of ice, throws back the covers, and dumps it onto the small of Derek’s back.
Eight. Definitely, definitely eight.