Derek looks up at his sister, disgruntled. She's leaning over his desk, holding his headphones hostage and glaring. Admittedly, she'd come into his office ranting about... something and he'd pointedly put his oversize headphones on so he could ignore her and she'd shortly after snatched them off his head and whapped him in the temple with them without a break in her ranting.
The problem was, he'd missed most of the first part so he genuinely wasn't sure why her nostrils were flaring like that.
"What's not?" Derek asks patiently.
"It was okay when it was just those anti-fang whackjobs, but we just lost Red Wolf."
"We did what?" Derek knows he's probably further infuriating Laura by not knowing what the hell she's talking about. He always means to go to the weekly meetings but he never makes it and Laura's stopped bothering to hound him about it. They both have their own strengths when it comes to running Clawbook and the administration side definitely isn't Derek's.
"Red Wolf," Laura says, overly slowly, throwing Derek's headphones aside and flumping dramatically into the chair in front of his desk. "Our biggest advertiser."
"So?" Laura says. "They're a werewolf sponsor, Derek. They said they weren't comfortable being associated with a site that was becoming anti-human."
"We're not anti-human," Derek says, blinking.
"I know that, and so does anyone with a brain, or so we thought, but we just lost Red Wolf because this story has started getting an uncomfortable amount of traction."
"Red Wolf is junk anyway. A werewolf energy drink? Really, I'm not that upset."
"Derek, we need our advertisers to pay people and keep the lights on and y'know, keep Clawbook. They were worth a lot of money and it's not like there's a whole lot of other werewolf companies that can replace them. Especially if they don't want to be tainted by association."
"How is this happening?" Derek asks, sitting forward. It's one thing to lose ad buys, but a completely different prospect if Clawbook is threatened. It started out small and he and Laura worked their asses off to get it viable. Now it's one of the most prestigious werewolf employers and they have eight hundred and sixty thousand users all over the world, werewolves and humans alike. There was an increase in users of twenty-two percent in the last year alone and Derek was ridiculously proud of what he and Laura had created.
"The anti-human online groups are cropping up faster than we can quash them. Every one that stays online more than a few days is more proof," Laura bites out, making air-quotes around the last word, "that we endorse their message."
"You have an idea how to fix this, right?" Derek says, because why else would Laura be in his office and not locked in a room with their staff working it out? She's ambushing him with it because it involves him and he’s going to hate it.
"It doesn't help us that we have a CEO that's basically a recluse and growls his way through the rare interviews he actually deigns to do."
"You want me to do more interviews?"
"That's not going to be enough. We have to show in a way that brooks absolutely no argument that we love the humans."
"I'm not adopting."
"Oh my god, no," Laura barks out an almost hysterical-sounding laugh. "That would be a disaster."
"Thanks," Derek says flatly.
"You just have to..." Laura trails off, her hands twisting in her lap as she mumbles something into her chest that Derek is sure he can’t have heard right.
"What did you just say?"
"Youjusthavetomarryone," Laura gets out in one long exhale, then stands, holding her hands out. "Look, hear me out-"
"Laura!" Derek roars, also rising to his feet, smacking his hands on his desk.
"Derek!" Laura roars back, eyes flashing red and that is such a blatantly unfair use of her alpha power that Derek almost throws his laptop at her. Only almost because it’s ancient and delicate and his most precious possession. He hears the sound of scurrying feet outside and wonders belatedly who had been hovering out there, eavesdropping. One of the drawbacks of a mostly werewolf staff is that you don't really have any secrets.
"That is the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
"It is not."
"It's also completely see through. I get married to a human out of the blue right when we have an image problem with humans? Really, Laura?"
"We have a way around that."
"Oh my god," Derek groans, putting a hand over his face. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"It's all worked out. It's kinda brilliant actually. Sure, there'll be some people that will cry foul, but I'm pretty sure that would happen regardless. When it's a celebrity marriage, there's always someone accused of using it to further their career."
"I'm not a celebrity."
"Well, you're known, and rich. Kind of the same thing."
"We'll be accused of paying someone to-"
"No we won't. Not if he has his own money."
"Wait, what?" Derek says, because when Laura said it's all worked out, it hadn't really sunk in that what she meant was that it was all worked out, down to the person.
"Sit," Laura says and Derek hates the way he automatically does, legs folding up like they were just waiting for the word. “My assistant Scott knows someone who can help us out.”
Derek takes a few moments to dig his thumbs into his eye sockets to the point of pain before he looks back at Laura who has also dropped back into her chair, legs crossed and hands resting daintily on her knees. "Okay, start from the beginning again," Derek finally invites. He's got this inevitable tide kind of feeling like his life is about to be washed away.
"He can do the twenty-fifth, but he could only give you a half hour. If you can move it to the twenty-eighth he's got an hour free at three. Uhuh, great, thanks."
Derek watches the kid click off the phone and swivel to input the information into the calendar. Derek frowns, because he was pretty sure Laura would have told him she was organizing another temp, although she'd sworn off doing it since the last three hadn't lasted more than a week. Something about Derek being impossible, which, okay, maybe he'd been a little unforgiving but he'd gotten used to Felicia's quiet, scary efficiency and the other temps had been gratingly sunny.
Derek wracks his brain, because he knows this guy. He's just starting to wonder if maybe he's the son of someone, nepotism is pretty rife amongst werewolves when it clicks. The reason he was so hard to place is because Derek's seeing this guy completely out of context. He's only ever seen him splashed across the glossy pages of Fangboy magazine, barely dressed and wanton.
Derek swallows thickly, thinks about beating a hasty retreat but the guy, Stiles Stilinski his brain coughs up cheerfully, spots him and stands, fidgeting in an embarrassed way. "Oh, hey, hi, sorry. Just, your phone was ringing a lot and I was waiting and I have trouble... doing nothing," he says in a rush, a pretty blush staining his cheekbones.
Derek's heart speeds up at the sight of that and he's thankful that while Stiles is a fairly famous model for a werewolf magazine, he's in fact, a human model so he won't be able to tell just how badly he's affecting Derek just by being in his space. Derek makes a mental note to clear his recent browser history, possibly burn his beloved laptop since he's a regular visitor to the Fangboy website and now it's just plain weird since Stiles is suddenly a real person.
Stiles is rounding the desk and coming forward. He doesn't hold out a hand which shows he's used to dealing with werewolves in a professional capacity. Instead he drops his chin, head held to the side so the side of his throat is bared and tucks his hands into his pockets. "I'm Stiles."
"What are you doing here?" Derek blurts. He should have offered his own name, touched a fist to the exposed line of Stiles' neck with his fingers curled in to accept his greeting but he doesn't. Instead he gapes like an idiot and flails his hands in a way that almost clips Stiles in the nose.
Stiles backs up quickly, frowning in confusion. "Sorry, I... we're..." Stiles starts looking around, like there's someone who'll rescue him from this painfully awkward situation and Derek can't blame him. All he can think is this is some kind of elaborate prank Laura is playing on him after she'd found his pile of Fangboy back copies last month.
He just really wants to know what the punchline is.
"Stiles!" someone calls from behind them and Derek whips around to see Laura's assistant Scott hurrying in their direction, looking flushed. "You were supposed to come to Laura's office first." Scott ducks around him, offering a breathless, sorry Mr. Hale, as he grabs onto Stiles' arm and starts to tug him away.
"I asked for Hale and the receptionist brought me here," Stiles says.
"What's going on?" Derek asks archly, stepping into Scott's path as he tries to retreat with Stiles in tow.
"He knows, right? Tell me he knows," Stiles says, yanking his arm away from Scott, eyes widening.
"Laura told him yesterday, but-"
"Told me what?" Derek interrupts Scott again. The only conversation he'd had with Laura yesterday was about the need for a fake marriage and she'd said that his prospective partner had his own fame and money and- "What? No!" Derek practically roars.
Scott flinches which is unexpected since Scott is an alpha but a werewolf having a mini-meltdown, even a beta, is daunting. Stiles just crosses his arms, lips going flat in irritation and possibly offense. "No?"
Derek ignores Stiles in favor of bearing down on Scott, who curls away from him. "This is your friend? The one you suggested to my sister?"
"You could do a lot worse for a fake husband, buddy," Stiles interjects in an annoyed huff and Derek looks at him, disbelieving.
"That's not-" Derek starts to say, because he doesn't have an issue with Stiles. He's just horrified at the prospect of the person he's had an embarrassing, unrealistic crush on ever since he first appeared in a photo shoot in Pack Life magazine being the one he's supposed to have a pretend relationship with.
Scott and Stiles aren't to know that, are never to know that if Derek has his way. Scott pulls himself up to his full height, which is still shorter than Derek but impressive all the same considering how incensed Derek appears to be and reaches out a finger to jab Derek in the sternum. "There's nothing wrong with Stiles. He's a catch."
"Thanks, bud," Stiles says with a warm smile, then turns a glare on Derek. They're both still glaring at him while Derek is flaring his nostrils and speechlessly staring back at them when Laura sidles up with a sly grin because she knows exactly what's going on.
"So, I see everyone's met," she says with a bright, sharp showing of fang.
"I call it kismet," she says, waggling her eyebrows.
"Is this funny to you?"
"Seriously, Der, this is all just meant to be. I needed someone you wouldn't hate on sight and I knew Scott was friends with Stiles. I'd been planning to make Scott bring Stiles to your next birthday party but this is so much better than that."
"This is because I flushed all your Barbie heads down the toilet when we were eight, isn't it? You've been waiting to get back at me for that all this time."
Laura pats Derek on the shoulder. "Sweetie, this is happening. You can throw all the tantrums you like, but it doesn't change the fact that you're going to be marrying Stiles and live in fake bliss until we’re out of the metaphorical woods."
"I'm not throwing a tantrum," Derek growls, then pointedly uncrosses his arms, undoes his pout and relaxes his stance.
"You should be thanking me. I found someone I know you find attractive-"
"Laura!" Derek hisses, smacking a hand over her mouth. They're standing in the open plan part of the office and their employees have been trickling in slowly. Right now there are three werewolves staring at them from the entrance to the break room, not even pretending to be doing anything other than eavesdropping.
"Derek, this is a take one for the team situation that you'll actually enjoy. Be grateful. I could've made you marry Greenburg from Marketing."
"That's not funny," Derek says flatly.
"We need the who to be a bigger story than the why," Laura continues and makes a tada sweep of her arms at the two figures in the conference room.
Derek lets Laura turn him around and push him into the room. He tries to school his face into as neutral an expression as possible because he doesn't want either Scott or Stiles to know how truly embarrassed he is by this whole thing. It doesn't help that Laura's practically vibrating with glee behind him.
"Mr Stilinski. So good of you to come on such short notice," Laura says, elbowing Derek aside so she can give him a warm smile. Stiles stands up and leans across the table so he can offer his neck and Laura bops him gently with a knuckle on the tendon that stands out when he tilts his head. It's a pretty informal version of their greeting and Stiles' stance relaxes a touch as he folds himself back into his chair.
"Call me Stiles, and it's fine. I have a lot of free time," Stiles waves off.
"So, Scott explained what we need?" Laura asks, shooting Derek a pointed glare until he pulls out a chair and sits. She then sweeps into her own more gracefully and folds her hands on the table.
"Uh, yeah. I'm happy to help. Scott had a lot of trouble finding a job since he was a relatively new bite and an alpha. I know you've been good to him, flexible."
Derek blinks at that revelation. Scott always seems so relaxed in himself, so much that Derek would have taken him for a born wolf. He realizes belatedly that he knows precious little about most of the people that work for him and even less about the ones directly under Laura.
"He's been a godsend," Laura says warmly and Scott beams. "So, do you have legal representation you can trust?"
"Good. We'll draw up a contract for a year-"
"A year?" Derek blurts and three pairs of eyes swivel to stare at him.
"Derek, this can't be a three day Hollywood hook up. I thought you understood that," Laura says patiently.
"Alright, fine, but a year?"
Stiles' eyes have narrowed and his gaze flicks back to Laura. "Look, maybe you should get someone else for this? Mr Hale obviously-"
"Derek," he grunts quickly and when Stiles blinks at him, he shrugs and says, "If we're getting married you shouldn't be calling me Mr Hale."
"Yeah, I figured that," Stiles says slowly. Laura and Scott are looking between them with wide eyes. Derek's not sure what they'd be smelling on him, mostly because he's not sure what he's feeling himself, but there's something sour in Stiles' scent, tangy with anticipatory rejection. "But if you're going to bristle with indignant rage whenever I'm near you then me referring to you as Mr Hale will be the least of our problems."
"Stiles, I don't think-" Scott starts to say with a confused frown, touching fingers to the back of Stiles' palm.
"Indignant rage?" Derek interrupts, furrowing his brows.
"I've always naturally rubbed people the wrong way. I've never had quite such a... visceral reaction but I get it," Stiles says, sitting back in his chair with a seemingly unaffected shrug. He probably knows, being in a room with only werewolves, that no one will buy it but his face is set, eyebrows high like he's daring anyone to call him on it.
"It's not that I dislike you. I don't know you."
"And yet you seem to have a healthy hate boner right now."
"Hate... boner...?" Derek manages faintly. Scott is staring at Stiles with an open mouth and Laura looks like she's trying not to laugh. She's got her fingers pressed against her lips so hard the tips have gone white.
"Look, this is obviously going to be a harder sell than I thought. I'm going to need some incentive," Stiles says and Laura's mirth evaporates all at once. Derek tries not to feel too smug because she'd been convinced that Stiles was doing them a no-strings-attached favor but he's decided to gouge them instead.
It'll take her two seconds to kick him out on his pert little ass and Derek will enjoy watching her do it.
"We're not paying you," Laura says, her voice almost a growl. Scott sits up straighter, looking surprised and it's genuine so at least Laura won't have to fire him for conspiring to bilk them which is the only positive Derek can see.
"No, nothing like that," Stiles says quickly and Laura relaxes a fraction.
"Okay, what do you want then?"
"I have a friend, Danny. He's a new bite too and he just needs a foot in the door somewhere, like Scott did. If you could take him on, a three month trial? I'm so sure you'll love him and won't want to let him go that it doesn't have to be part of our contract or anything."
Laura shoots a little smile at Derek and then nods. "I don't see why not."
"Laura," Derek grumbles and she waves an airy hand.
"We need some help with the trolling and hate groups. We can offer a three month contract with a view to moving to a permanent position if we're happy. At the very least, if we decide not to take him on, a reference from us should help with other companies."
"Sounds fair," Stiles says agreeably.
"You don't have any other stipulations?" Derek asks archly, raising an eyebrow.
"Just one," Stiles says and when Derek rolls his eyes he points actual finger guns at Derek. "That you be less of a douche. I'm doing you a big favour here."
"I'm afraid the douchetasticness is bone deep with this one," Laura says, patting Derek on the shoulder who is left fish-mouthing in outrage.
"No fault termination clause, interviews and required appearances, per diem," Lydia Martin recites under her breath as she's flipping through the contract Laura had drawn up by their family lawyer and Emissary, Deaton. It was convenient he was able to do double duty as he was someone they could trust implicitly even if he gave them a dubious look when they told him what they were planning.
Lydia's twirling a pen between her fingers that has feathers on it but every now and again she pauses and the pen slashes through something she's obviously not happy with, makes notes, circles paragraphs or makes a show of drawing a large question mark next to other parts. Derek suspects that they're going to be left feeling run over when she's done.
He tries not to smirk when Stiles, who is sitting next to her, keeps getting his hand smacked whenever he tries to tug the contract his way so he can see it.
After about an hour Lydia sits back, pushes the contract across the table and drums her light blue painted fingernails on the cover sheet. "I've proposed a few changes, I have a few questions but other than that, it all looks fine," she pronounces.
"Don't I get to-?" Stiles starts to protest.
"No," Lydia cuts him off crisply.
Lydia turns on him, her eyes narrowed and she jabs him in the sternum with her feathery pen. "You don't get to anything," she says and Derek blinks at them because it's suddenly clear that she's mad at Stiles. "This is a horrible idea, I don't know why you agreed to it." When Stiles opens his mouth, Lydia holds up an impatient hand. "Okay, yes, I know why you agreed to it but as your friend I still advise against it."
"As my agent though?" Stiles wheedles and it's Lydia's turn to roll her eyes.
"It's very good exposure but I'm not-"
"Thanks," Stiles says brightly, jumping up and offering his hand across the table to Deaton and his neck to Laura in turn. He does a weird little waggle of his fingers in Derek's direction before he rushes out with, "Same time tomorrow for the signing party and to work out logistics?"
"Uh, yes?" Laura says, rising automatically and smoothing her skirt out with a distracted hand.
"I'll go over the revisions and courier a copy to your office this afternoon," Deaton offers Lydia and she nods coolly.
Laura and Deaton follow Stiles’ hasty exit more sedately. Derek's still sitting at the table when he looks up to see Lydia standing across from him, arms crossed and wearing an inscrutable expression. She looks like she's debating something internally before she finally says, "Stiles has trouble with boundaries. He's an intolerable little shit some, no, most of the time so it's also hard to remember that he gets hurt easily."
"Okay," Derek says slowly.
"Just, keep that in mind."
"I will?" Derek doesn't mean for that to come out as a question but it does and Lydia doesn't look exactly pleased.
"Alright," is what she says, but Derek gets the feeling that what she really means is, I can destroy you, just give me a reason.
She leaves and Derek takes a moment to breathe before he follows her out. He's surprised to find Stiles hovering outside. Lydia pauses beside him but after he leans down and brushes a warm kiss to her cheek, she chucks him gently under the chin, throws one more pensive glance at Derek over her shoulder and then leaves them alone.
"Did you need something?" Derek asks, sounding far too stilted and formal to his own ears. They've gotten off on completely the wrong foot and Derek isn't sure how to scrape them back to relationship zero, especially considering what they're about to do.
"I don't want to tell my dad."
"He's going to find out, unless he lives on a desert island with no internet."
"Not... not about the marriage but... that it's fake."
"I don't want to lie to him, but I don't want him to have to lie." Stiles makes a face. "You see my quandary."
"I guess the less people that know a secret, the better," Derek allows after a beat. He's not sure what this means, other than possibly having to meet Stiles' dad and pretend to... not be pretending.
"I just don't want to put him in an awkward position. I know I said to stop being a douche, but maybe you could be a little douchey to him?"
"Why?" Derek asks, taken aback.
"Just so he doesn't get attached. So he's relieved when we break up? I think that would still be... terrible but also better."
"Whatever you want," Derek says and Stiles gives him a relieved little smile.
"It's not like it'll be hard for you, right? Just be yourself."
"Won't he be surprised you're getting married out of the blue to someone he's never met before?"
"That's, um, the other thing? You'll have to meet him, before."
"Fine," Derek grates between his teeth, not able to think of anything he'd rather do less.
"Is this all worth it?" Stiles asks, searching Derek's face, for what he doesn't know.
"The company's worth it and we're in trouble," Derek admits. He hasn't said it out loud before, has pretended to be ignorant but he's not. If they get too stained with the anti-human brush it'll kill them. They need to derail that train and they need to derail it fast.
"It's all Laura and I have."
By the end of each night, Derek is left supremely frustrated not just because Stiles looks increasingly lovely each time since Lydia apparently decided to dress him as she was expecting him to be photographed but also because it seems like Laura overestimated anyone's interest level in the fact that he and Stiles were a supposed thing.
"No one cares. No one's following us. No one cares," Derek asserts more than once.
"You guys just need to do something more public. More coupley."
"Stop making up words and we are."
Derek retreats into work for the most part when he's not on a scheduled date, intent on immersing himself in the relationship link issues they've been having, trying to unravel whatever bug has been introduced by the most recent upgrade. At the beginning of the fourth week, the week before Stiles is due to move in, he gets a text from Stiles and frowns at it.
COME TO CORNER OF FOURTH AND CANISTON RN.
Derek's tempted to ignore it but he has to admit he's intrigued. When he gets to the address, it's a supermarket and Stiles is standing outside, hopping from foot to foot. Derek approaches warily, still intrigued but now with a healthy amount of trepidation. "What is this?"
"You make a habit of meeting people who randomly text you addresses?" Stiles asks with raised eyebrows. "Good to know for future pranking."
"What do you want?"
Stiles looks around like he's checking for anyone possibly watching them and then tugs Derek into the doorway of the Laundromat that's next door to the supermarket. The sounds of the washing machines make excellent white noise and Derek gives Stiles a patiently curious look and a nod to indicate that they should be safe to talk.
"For you to be nice, but since that seems to be off the table for now, I just had an idea about how to leak the story."
"At a supermarket?"
"You guys were all talking about it and if it's from us then no matter how careful we are, there's a chance someone will dig deep enough to find out. I've got this asshole tabloid guy that follows me around on a Wednesday, don't ask why it's always a Wednesday, but I started thinking that he could do the hard work for us since whatever we’re doing by being more blatant isn’t working."
"Okay, again, I ask why the supermarket?"
"The dinner dates aren't working, but he photographs us doing this insanely mundane thing and he posts the pictures online and people look at them and think, why is the CEO of Clawbook and a D-List celebrity-"
"You think you're a celebrity?"
"I said D-List and also not the point. Why is this grouchy werewolf and this lovely, attractive guy doing this mundane thing together? What's the story there?"
"There is no story."
"That's right! We down-low it. No one can accuse us of coming out intentionally because, like, who would choose to do it this way if the point was to get found out?"
"So, this might not work, but maybe, just maybe, these pictures get posted online and someone tweets it and someone else puts it on tumblr and it gets traction all by itself and suddenly we're getting asked questions that we duck until we're just forced to reveal our true and sticky love."
"I think everyone is overestimating people's interest in us."
"Just, can we try it? You can smirk at me and do an I told you so dance if it doesn't work. The added benefit is that grocery shopping is an excellent way to get to know someone."
"How do you figure?" Derek asks.
"We're going to do a lot of interviews and have to talk about each other a bunch if this does work and you don't want to be tripped up just because you don't know whether I prefer red or green apples or what brand of razors I use, do you?"
"Will that actually come up?" Derek asks, dubious but also starting to get uncomfortable with this whole situation. He does know a lot of intimate details about Stiles is the thing, probably way too much to explain in a way that won't be heinously embarrassing. Stiles has a blog on the Fangboy site, he does introductory videos and little interviews all the time and there was a bio on the Pack Life page. Some of the information may be wrong or outdated or whatever, but Derek is pretty sure he could still sail through any questioning.
"People in relationships know how the other person takes their coffee and what brand of toothpaste they prefer. We're going to go in and buy a bunch of stuff for me that you're going to take home and I'll get to know what you like or hate by the faces you make when I pick stuff."
"Which ones?" Derek blurts because he can't think of anything else to say.
"Which ones what?"
"The apples. Which ones?" It's not something he knows already and it might be nice to find out something in the flesh.
"Oh! Uh, red. They're sweeter. The green ones always made my teeth feel funny."
"This isn't going to work," Derek says, deadpan although he's also ushering Stiles back outside and through the supermarket's automatic doors with a hand on the small of his back because there is a guy loitering near them, trying to appear casual about it and it's making Derek instinctively bristle. The guy has a jacket slung over his arm and a bulky object being badly hidden by it which must be the camera.
Stiles startles. "What? But-"
"I mean, I like green. We're hugely incompatible."
"Did you just make a joke?" Stiles asks, looking far too surprised about it.
"I'm funny," Derek says with a half shrug and Stiles just stares at him, like he's not sure how to absorb what just happened.
"So, I'm surprised you live by yourself," Stiles says when they've picked out a cart and have covered about half the supermarket, pausing in the cereal aisle.
"Well, I won't be soon," Derek points out.
"No, I know. Just, most werewolves-"
"Stiles, do me a favor? Whenever you're about to start a sentence with most werewolves, don't."
"You know two."
"I know more than two."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know prostrating yourself half-dressed over werewolves for money made you an expert."
"Wow," Stiles says. He's holding two kinds of cereal, All Bran and Count Chocula and the little frown he'd been wearing trying to decide between the healthy one and the choice that basically meant he was twelve at heart had been infuriatingly charming. So much so that Derek felt compelled to be a dick before he did something horrifying, like press Stiles up against the shelves and maul him. "You really hate what I do, don't you?"
Derek can't tell him the truth so he just huffs at Stiles and pushes the cart away, almost running over a woman with her toddler who throws him a dirty look. The Count Chocula comes sailing over his shoulder and lands neatly in the cart.
"Just so you know," Stiles says, breezing past Derek and hip checking the cart so Derek runs right into a pile of boxes of spiral pasta. "I've been told I'm annoying if I have too much sugar in the morning." He reaches into the cart to pat the cereal affectionately before he keeps going.
"I don't see how that's an issue since that's your natural state!" Derek calls after him and Stiles flips him off as he disappears around the end of the aisle. Derek really hopes the tabloid guy got a shot of that. It'll make a nice Christmas card.
He's so doomed.
"Good morning," Stiles says brightly, pushing a cup of strong-smelling coffee to the edge of the assistant's desk and waggling his eyebrows. "Black like your soul, right?"
"What's going on?" Derek asks slowly, wary.
"We-ell, apparently you're between EAs and you made the last two temps cry-"
"They didn't cry," Derek huffs rolling his eyes.
"I heard there was ugly weeping."
"So, I worked for Lydia for six months when she'd just hung her shingle and I don't have a lot to do with my days and I figured it would be a good way to learn about the company and you."
Stiles squints at him for a moment. "To be your assistant?"
"Wouldn't that be a conflict of interest?"
"Not if you don't pay me."
"You're volunteering to be my unpaid intern?"
"I'm not sure it's such a good idea," Derek says after a pause. Stiles is wearing a white button-down, a skinny black tie, black jeans and overly large sneakers. He looks amazing and Derek can't stand it.
"I'll be totally professional, or do you really want to leave me alone in that swish apartment of yours for extended periods where I can touch stuff and possibly break things?"
"How do you know my apartment's swish? You haven't been in it yet."
"I'm assuming, the same way you assumed I live in a hovel."
"I didn't say hovel."
"Your face did."
"Some of the employees might... recognize you."
"It seems to me like you're the only one that would have a problem with that. Laura loves the idea," Stiles says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms, chin high and defiant.
"You talked to Laura about this?"
"She outranks you."
"She does not," Derek huffs, outraged.
"Dude, she said she's four minutes older than you and therefore outranks you in everything, job and life."
"I don't think-"
"C'mo-on. Scott, Danny and I already picked out a table in the cafeteria," Stiles almost whines.
"I have completely lost control of my life," Derek grumbles, sweeping up the coffee and retreating to his office.
"Does that mean yes?" Stiles calls after him but Derek doesn't answer. His phone rings and Derek sets his coffee aside, tosses his jacket at the visitor's chair and picks up the handset. He's unsurprised to hear Stiles say smugly, "So I'll just be out here organising your calendar and making myself invaluable."
"I give it a week." Derek hangs up and then immediately calls Laura. "You're not the boss of me," he declares before she's had a chance to say anything.
"Just keep telling yourself that." Laura makes this contemplative low sound in her throat, a sound that Derek's learned through bitter experience means trouble for him. "Hey, Der? How about you bring Stiles along to pack dinner tomorrow night?"
"Laura, no. They'll eat him alive. Literally. There'll only be a hoodie and maybe a sneaker left when they're done."
"They'll love him and they have to meet him sooner or later."
"I was hoping for later. Much, much later."
"This is awesome," Stiles enthuses when the door creaks open to reveal Isaac. Stiles is wearing a soft grey sweater and a pair of jeans so new the creases are still in the legs. Derek was touched by the oddly thoughtful gesture to try not to smell as much like other wolf as Stiles usually did. It showed a good understanding of werewolves and Derek feels even more like a jerk for yelling at Stiles about how he didn't in the supermarket.
"Where do I know you from?" Isaac asks, leading them towards the kitchen area and the sounds of the pack putting together dinner. It's always a group effort and it's one of the things Derek misses about living with them all. What he doesn't miss is Isaac's morning breath, Erica's hair on everything and Boyd's quiet judgement of his life choices. Derek had felt a little suffocated and this way he gets pack and a retreat.
Derek opens his mouth and Stiles puts a hand on his shoulder, saying, "No, it's always much better when they work it out for themselves."
Isaac squints at them, dubious, but then his mouth drops open and his cheeks flush. Stiles knocks a fist against Derek's bicep. "There it is," he says jovially.
Erica and Boyd emerge, drawn by the new visitor and Isaac beats a hasty retreat. "Who's this?" Erica asks, intrigued.
"I'm his betrothed," Stiles says before Derek can answer and he resists the urge to disappear like Isaac.
Erica's eyes narrow. "He's not lying. Why aren't you lying? Wait, you have a betrothed?" Erica demands, flicking questions between them.
"Oh, please tell me this is a mail order thing. Did Derek get you out of a catalog?" Boyd asks and Derek hears Isaac make a hysterical-sounding choked off noise from deeper in the house.
"Wait! Derek, didn't you have a poster-"
Derek lunges forward without thinking, smacking a hand over Erica's mouth. "Of Bark Street Boys, yes, I did. No need to drag all that up. Everyone goes through a Teen Wolf phase," Derek says in a rush, Erica's eyes going from startled to amused in a second.
"Bark Street Boys?" Stiles scoffs. He then sings in a terrible falsetto, "You make me, make me, make me ho-o-o-o-o-wl!"
"Who's strangling a cat out here?" Laura demands, sweeping out of the kitchen area and then grins. "Oh, hello Stiles. Glad you could make it."
"Wouldn't have missed this for the world," Stiles says, letting Laura tug him towards the kitchen with a wicked smirk thrown in Derek's direction.
Once they're out of earshot, Erica leans into his space, hair swinging forward with her movement. "You're getting married, to him? That'd be like me getting married to Johnny Depp."
"You're obsessed with Johnny Depp."
"My point exactly."
"I'm not obsessed."
"Your browser history when you were living here said otherwise."
"You keep asking why I moved out. That's why," Derek says, flicking Erica in the forehead with thumb and index finger. "You have no concept of personal boundaries."
"Will we get to keep him after you mess it all up? He's cute."
"He already belongs to another pack," Derek says and Erica's eyes go wide and keen.
"Really? We're getting new wolves? Who? When can we meet them?"
"We're not getting new wolves."
"Duh, we totally are. It's like a joint bank account when you get married. Packs merge."
"Drop it," Derek hisses out of the corner of his mouth when Laura pokes her head back out of the kitchen and bawls, "Just because you're late doesn't mean you get out of helping!"
Dinner is lively and Derek discovers that he should have been more worried about Stiles being adored rather than devoured. Stiles and Erica share the teams they follow in baseball and football while Stiles and Boyd discover a mutual love of all things zombie. Isaac is mostly quiet, but when Stiles offers his still half-full plate to Isaac who'd eaten too quickly and then been left staring forlornly at everyone else's food like usual, he wins him over too.
Derek wonders if maybe he should've given Stiles the same instructions he'd gotten about meeting Stiles' father, to be the opposite of likeable. The pack already look like they're attached and while Derek knows he and Laura will explain it afterwards, it'll still be rough. Like Stiles' father though, Derek doesn't want Erica, Isaac and Boyd put in a position where they're going to have to lie.
Isaac especially, who is just plain terrible at it.
Scott and Danny are currently trooping past him, carrying heavy boxes into his apartment and being pretty careless about where they drop them. Derek doesn't think they're doing it on purpose, just that they're too busy goggling at his place to be careful. Scott had said in an awed whisper when he first opened the door, "Apartments can have two floors?"
"All of them. I need all of them. My precious," Stiles croons at the myriad controllers he has looped around his neck.
"Look at this view!" Scott yells, distracted again. "All we see out our window is the back of Prosperity Dumpling."
"Yeah, but our place always smells like sweet and sour sauce," Stiles says, sounding wistful.
"That's a good thing?" Derek asks, raising an eyebrow and Stiles waves a dismissive hand at him.
"What are the chances of you marrying me instead?" Danny asks, setting down a box overloaded with what looks like comics with a groan.
"Getting better by the minute," Derek says and Stiles hooks an arm around Danny's neck, ruffling his hair affectionately.
"Friends don't hit on friends' fake fiancés, dude, show a little class."
"You are not nice enough to live here. I, on the other hand," Danny says, sweeping down himself with his hands. "I am very nice."
"Stop it. You can't have all the boys, it's not fair," Stiles says, but he's smiling with careless affection. In the Fangboy shots, Stiles is always pouting, never smiling. Derek has no idea why because when he's happy, he's breathtaking.
Scott crosses to Stiles and Danny, takes each by the back of the neck and mimes bonking them together. "Play nice," he instructs and they subside, Danny trotting out to fetch more boxes and Stiles, after throwing a pleading look in Derek's direction and getting a grudging nod, disappears further into the apartment to explore.
"You're good with them," Derek says to Scott.
Scott's smile is rueful. "Yeah, I wasn't to begin with. I was a mess."
"I don't believe that."
"I had trouble with control. Stiles and Lydia really helped me out. They tag-team yoda'd me."
"Sometimes it was," Scott says, rubbing absently at his midsection and wincing like he's remembering an actual hurt.
"What happened to the Alpha that bit you?" Derek asks without thinking and then it's his turn to wince. It's really none of his business and if he'd asked something like that in front of Laura she would have cuffed him upside the head and demanded to know if he was raised by humans or something.
"We had to... um." Scott's hands clench into fists and his eyes flip to red for a second. Derek understands without him having to say anything, why Scott's now an Alpha although he's still painfully young as a werewolf. "He was attacking people. He bit Danny and then tried to bite Lydia. Thank goodness she's-"
"Hey Scotty! How about we get the rest of my stuff and then go eat. I'm starving!" Stiles says, interrupting Scott by smacking hands down on his shoulders from behind. He throws a worried glance at Derek over Scott's shoulder.
"She's what?" Derek presses, intrigued.
"She's just too badass," Stiles says, voice high-pitched and a little rattled. His expression says, please don't push this and Derek might be accused of lacking some in social niceties, but he does know when to drop a subject that really is none of his business.
"Chinese?" Stiles proposes after the silence stretches awkwardly. "Talking about Prosperity Dumpling got me in the mood."
Derek: He obviously has if he can't spell his name right and is starting to refer to himself in the third person.
Stiles: No, duh. Iz our Portmanteau
Derek: Our what??
Derek's phone rings in his hand and he answers saying, "You've been in my apartment for twelve seconds, what could you have possibly broken already?"
"Oh my god, I thought this conversation would be less frustrating off text but I was wrong."
"You'd better be rounding to a point at some time in the future or I'm hanging up."
"Look at your own website."
"I look at it all the time."
"Not just the code, Neo. Look at the actual site. You've got a trending thing on the front page. Tell me what's trending right now."
"What the hell is a #diles?" Derek asks, frowning.
"Like I said, it's our portmanteau. It's better than the first one they started with. They were actually calling us Stale. They should save that one for when we divorce."
"Stiles, I really need you to start making sense right now."
"Oh wow. I keep forgetting that even though you run a website, I still need to talk to you like you're a ninety year old man. A portmanteau is when two celebrity names are smooshed together to make a couple name."
Derek clicks on the first link he finds and there's the photos of them at the supermarket, but also some of Stiles moving into his place, which means creeper Tabloid guy stepped up his game. Derek bristles at those ones, because he wasn't even aware that there were photos being taken. There's one of him and Stiles at the bottom of the apartment block standing close together. From the angle, it looks like he's got an arm curved around Stiles' back while Scott lugs past a duffel bag.
There's another where Stiles is laughing with his whole body, head thrown back and hands clasped under his chin. Derek's next to him, squinting off in another direction so he'd missed seeing the way Stiles had laughed when he'd grumbled about the number of plaid shirts Stiles owned and that Stiles should think about seeing someone about an addiction as three boxes full was a little extreme.
They look like they're together, which was the point, but Derek still feels something turn over uncomfortably deep down inside. The last few days with Stiles' scent soaking into everything he owns, his wolf has been curled up and content in a way he doesn't remember it ever being. Derek feels centered, anchored. He feels terrified.
It's a disaster waiting to happen.
Derek gets off the phone as soon as he can and it rings in his hand almost immediately. He sighs down at the flashing picture of Laura flipping him off on his screen and then answers.
"Did you see?" she crows, sounding triumphant.
"Our PR department has been fielding calls all morning. This is better than we could have hoped. Stiles is a genius."
"Don't tell him that, he's got a big enough head." There must be something that's an incriminating level of affectionate in his voice because there's sudden silence on the other end of the phone, heavy and telling.
"Derek," Laura finally says, her tone completely changed to one that sets off alarm bells in Derek's head.
"Do I need to be worried?"
"About what?" he says, feigning ignorance.
"Oh, honey," Laura groans, now sounding stricken.
"It's fine," he says quickly, trying to inject cheer into his tone, which is probably the wrong thing to do.
"We'll call it off. All of it," Laura offers quickly.
"No, we can't."
"Laura, it's okay, really."
"It's not okay. I can't do this to you. Not after Ka-"
"Laura," Derek snaps, cutting her off.
"I didn't know," Laura says after a beat, her voice small.
"I didn't either, not until I got close. It just feels... Remember the way Mom talked about Dad, about how she just knew, even though it was crazy, even though they'd only known each other a couple of days at the time?"
"It's that bad?"
Derek had thought he was just attracted to Stiles, but seeing those photos, what they could be, what the world assumed they were showed Derek that he was way off. He'd thought he was like the Grinch, heart a small, blackened nub.
He was wrong.
"There's more important things at stake."
"There's nothing more important than you," Laura says fiercely. Derek feels himself smiling.
"This too shall pass," Derek says somberly, one of his father's favorite things to say whenever something bad happened.
Stiles himself is sprawled out over Derek's couch dead asleep even though he's got his own room to do that in, splayed like a discarded doll with his mouth hinged open and one limply draped hand twitching. Derek stands and watches him sleep for as long as it takes him to feel like a huge creeper about it, which is about six seconds for the record, and then even though it's a Saturday, he packs his stuff and heads for the office.
Derek's not sure how long he's plugged in before he looks up and sees Stiles hovering in his office doorway, still looking sleep-rumpled but at least in a different shirt and with a satchel slung across his front.
He's holding a tray with two coffees and has sunglasses perched on top of his head. "Wha ooh id ake me?" he says, the words made unintelligible through a yawn.
"What was that?"
"Why didn't you wake me if you were coming in?" Stiles repeats and plucks one of the coffees from the tray to set down in front of Derek. He can already smell that it's perfect and Stiles offers him a smug wink. "Black like your soul, I remembered."
"Thanks," Derek says, taking the coffee.
"I'll be out here," Stiles says, waving over his shoulder.
"You don't need to be in. It's the weekend."
"You're in, I'm in," Stiles says, shrugging.
"Don't you have stuff to do? Friends?"
"Scott and Ally are houseware shopping because apparently as soon as I was out, Allison took it as the opportunity she'd been waiting for to redecorate. Danny had a date last night so he probably won't show up till Monday morning if history tells us anything and Lydia's set her status to Do Not Disturb on all social media so you'd better believe I'm not disturbing."
"I have a small but awesome circle."
"What about, uh, people you meet on shoots?"
"That's work," Stiles dismisses, then seems to forget about his plan to retreat to his own desk because he drops onto Derek's office couch and starts doctoring his own coffee with a scary amount of sugar packets he'd had held in the spaces between his fingers.
"When's your next shoot?" Derek asks. He should be sending Stiles home because he won't get any work done with Stiles camped in his office, long legs thrown out on either side of the fashionably tiny coffee table set just in front of the couch and tongue poking out of the side of his mouth as he concentrates on getting his coffee just the right amount teeth-destroyingly sweet.
"Thursday. Not for Fangboy though. They're lending me out to a new site called Claimed."
"Claimed?" Derek repeats and resists the urge to Google it immediately. He hasn't heard of them but he doesn't really like the sound of it. Fangboy's always been more fluff and fun but there's some werewolf publications that are definitely more hardcore.
"Gotta keep things fresh. If I'm in Fangboy all the time people will get sick of my face. I do two or three shoots a year for them and some online stuff. Lydia finds other work for me in the gaps. I've done some other magazines, some advertising. I've done a catalog but you're not allowed to see that or you won't be able to take me seriously ever again."
"I don't now," Derek says.
"Ha! Funny wolf."
Derek has seen that catalog, is the thing. He'd searched like a fiend for anything Stiles related after seeing his first spread in Pack Life. Erica might have been a pain in the neck, but she was also right. His browser history would have been horribly incriminating. It was a mail order clothing catalog and all Derek can now picture is Stiles in a series of increasingly horrific knitwear and still looking adorable.
He's pretty sure he's got one of the pictures on his laptop with Stiles wearing a burnt orange and striped blue monstrosity that engulfed him and still managing to appear cheeky and hot.
"What are you doing?" Stiles asks, sprawling more fully on the couch. He looks about thirty seconds away from falling asleep again and he takes a big swig of his coffee to stave the urge off.
"There's a bug in the relationship status code that I haven't been able to fix."
"Aren't you, like, the big-wiggy boss man?"
"I think you'll find that's Laura."
"No, seriously. You guys are co-CEOs. Don't you have people to do this stuff? I thought your job would be all meetings and aloofness."
"This is what I'm good at," Derek says with a shrug. "Laura's always been more of a people person. I'm bad at...people."
"You're not bad at people," Stiles dismisses, digging back into his bag and coming up with something in a tupperware container. He tosses it over and Derek pries the lid off carefully. Inside are a dozen or so mini muffins that smell heavily of breakfast.
"What are these?"
"Egg, bacon and mushroom. Just mix it and drop the mixture into a muffin tin and tada! I basically lived on these when I first moved out of home because they're so easy and delicious."
Derek takes one and then makes a motion like he's going to toss the container back, even though the muffins smell delicious. Stiles waves him off though, tugging another, smaller container out of his bag.
"C'mon, I know how much you guys can pack away. We have to get Scott his own turkey at Thanksgiving now or there's tears, mostly from me because I don't get any."
Derek sets the container back down on his desk and pops the muffin he'd first taken out in his mouth. He immediately shoves three more in after because they are amazing. "Oh my god, what's in these? This isn't just egg, bacon and mushroom."
"Bit of Tabasco, plus a few extra Stilinski trade secret ingredients," Stiles says, tearing his own muffin into smaller bits to eat far more sedately. He's smiling down at his food, curves of his cheeks pleased.
"I am, though," Derek says when his container's empty except for a few stray crumbs of egg and he's wiping his hands off, wondering if he should feel bad about how quickly he ate them. "Bad at people. Laura says I don't talk enough or when I do I say the wrong thing and apparently my default expression is a glare."
"You talk all the time," Stiles says and Derek blinks at him for a second, because to Stiles that's true. Derek has actual, honest to god conversations with Stiles whereas with most people, according to Laura, he communicates in a series of differently pitched grunts. Stiles draws him out, gets him speaking and doesn't even know that it's not what he normally does. "You can be a bit of a dick, but so can I."
"You're doing this amazing thing for us and I've been a jerk to you."
"It's alright. It usually takes people a little while to warm up to me. I can be off-putting."
"I don't think you're off-putting."
"I say whatever's on my mind and not a lot of people like that. It's good I have a job where I don't have to talk."
"You've got your blog," Derek says and Stiles' eyes flick up to him.
"You've seen my blog? On the Fangboy site?"
"I wanted to see what you did," Derek says.
"Oh, right. In case anyone asks. I guess you would be expected to know since you're marrying me," Stiles says, nodding. Derek mimics his nod, probably a little too vigorously. He should just tell Stiles that he knows all about him, that he's followed his career for a long time now. He should admit that hating what Stiles does is probably the furthest thing from the truth.
The words stick in his throat though, because Derek knows he had a window to admit all that without it being weird and it's now passed. He mutely watches Stiles stand and brush his own hands off on his jeans before hooking a thumb over his shoulder. "I'll be out there if you need me, trying to untangle the mess your last temp left."
"I know you probably won't strain your eyes or anything, but it was giving me a headache watching you squint at your monitor in the dark," he says, leaning back again.
"What time is it?"
"Wow, I didn't realize. I kind of lose track when I'm plugged in."
"I figured," Stiles says with a wry grin. "I'm going to meet up with Scott and Lydia for a drink. Did you want to come?"
Derek suspects it's only a polite invitation so he shakes his head. "Nah, you go. I'm going to stay for a bit."
Stiles' eyes narrow, and then he's rounding Derek's desk and tugging on his arm. Derek just watches him with a raised eyebrow as Stiles fails to move him in the least. "Holy crap," Stiles huffs when he's gone nearly red in the face from exertion from trying to first tug him up by one arm and then moved around behind to lift from under his shoulders.
"Is there something I can do for you?" Derek asks, amused. It shouldn't feel so comfortable for anyone to touch him without permission. For all Stiles has professed to knowing how werewolves work, there's some behaviour he's displayed that's at odds to that. Derek supposes it's probably from being part of a pack with an undisciplined Alpha that wasn't raised by other wolves or even had the benefit of a mentor. Derek's seen how close Stiles and Scott are, how touchy-feely.
Stiles probably has to touch the werewolves he works with without much in the way of introductions also. They would have to put up with it because it's expected so it's probably skewed all of Stiles' boundaries.
"You're... coming... with... me..." Stiles wheezes, then steps back and flails his arms in a disgruntled way. "I'm not leaving you behind to work on your geek tan."
"Alright, just, stop doing that," Derek says when Stiles hooks an arm around his neck and keeps tugging.
"Ha! I knew I was too strong for you," Stiles crows and Derek bolts to his feet faster than Stiles must have been expecting, because he flails backwards and lands in a heap behind Derek's desk.
"You were saying?"
Stiles holds a hand up to Derek and whines until Derek rolls his eyes and tugs Stiles back to his feet.
The bar they end up at is small, werewolf friendly place with a darkened interior full of plush couches and a few different wolfsbane infused beers on tap. Derek sends Stiles off to the corner booth that Scott and Lydia are already sitting at and heads to the bar to order.
Scott plonks his elbows down on the bartop next to Derek's as he's waiting for the bartender to notice him a few moments later. "Glad you could make it, man," he says with an easy smile.
"Hi, how are you?" Derek says a little stiffly. Scott's a strange contradiction to him, because he's an employee and so lower than Derek on the work ladder but he's an alpha so higher in the werewolf hierarchy. Scott's not his alpha, so he doesn't necessarily have to show him any kind of respect, but he mostly wants to because Scott is Stiles' in all the ways that matter.
"Let me buy," Scott offers.
"I own the company that pays you, so technically it's still me," Derek says. He's meaning to be funny, but his delivery must be way off because Scott flinches a little, edges of his smile dropping. In a tiny way, it's a relief because now he's on more common ground, saying the wrong thing and putting someone off without even meaning to. Everything with Stiles is scarily easy and Derek's been waiting for it to blow up in his face.
Derek sees it in his face when Scott must decide to just ignore the fact that Derek was basically rude and smacks the bar top. "Well then, it might as well come directly out of your wallet."
"I didn't mean-" Derek starts to apologize but Stiles is there, slinging an arm across Scott's shoulders and grinning, breaking the tension.
"How's my two favourite werewolves?"
"Don't let Danny hear you say that," Scott says, pinching Stiles just above the hip and making him squirm.
"Hear you say what?" Danny demands, appearing behind Stiles and lifting him easily off the floor. Everyone freezes except Stiles who's squirming and the laughter dies away as he notices that the three werewolves around him are all tense, mostly because Derek had dropped his fangs and growled.
Danny sets Stiles back on his feet slowly and steps away as Scott pivots so he's positioned in front of them both, shoulders curled up in a wary stance. Derek stumbles back until his back is against the bar, acutely embarrassed. The bartender is suddenly there, leaning across with his thick arms positioned like he's ready to vault over the thing if the need arises.
"Are we having a problem, guys?" he asks, his voice jovial but his expression hard.
"No problem," Scott says, relaxing slightly now that Derek's retreated so obviously. "Right?"
"I'm sorry, I..." Derek splays his hands in a gesture that both shows his submission and also that he doesn't have claws out.
"What just happened?" Stiles blurts, blinking rapidly and gaze flicking between Derek and Scott.
"I think I'm going to call it a night," Derek says.
"But you just-" Stiles starts to protest.
"Stiles is going to stay with us tonight," Scott overrides him, putting a hand on Stiles' shoulder.
"Sure, of course," Derek agrees readily, although he doesn't want to. His wolf is scratching him up inside, pawing at him, urging him to stand up to this alpha and take what's his. Scott must smell what it's doing to Derek having a protective hand on Stiles like he does, because he drops it, still angled though so he's between Stiles and Derek.
"Can someone tell me what's going on?" Stiles demands, sounding irked.
"See you later, Derek," Scott says pointedly and Derek goes, trying not to hear it when Stiles continues protesting behind him. Derek's just outright threatened one of Scott's pack. Scott must have been stronger than Derek could have believed to not have had Derek on the ground, jaws around his throat. Derek had seen Laura discipline strange wolves for less because it was expected, it was nature.
Derek's stopped just before he reaches the door by a small hand at his elbow. When he turns he sees Lydia who's looking at him with a shrewd expression. "I got it wrong, didn't I? I shouldn't have been worried about Stiles getting his heart broken."
"It's just an arrangement," Derek says and knows that even though Lydia isn't a wolf, she still clearly hears the lie.
"I can't imagine Laura not having asked this already, but is it worth it?"
"It's getting harder to believe that it is," Derek says.
"Scott says it was all instinctive posturing," Stiles says, without looking up from the game he's playing on one of his many consoles. There's a lot of explosions and running around. Video games have always been too frenetic for Derek. He couldn't follow what was going on because his senses would get overloaded. He knows there are some games that are built for werewolf reflexes and also their enhanced senses but this is obviously not one of them.
"Pretty much," Derek says.
"I think the problem is separation," Stiles says, decisive.
"I know you want this to just be us, but it can't be, can it? We've gotta stay hitched for a year, which means I have to get along with your pack and you have to get along with mine." Stiles tosses his controller aside to push his hands together, steepled under his chin. "The answer's obvious."
"We've gotta have a party."
"Stiles," Derek groans.
"We could have a monster bash before we have to head to my dad's."
"Scott's okay with this?" Derek asks.
"Scott's always on board for a party. You just have to ask your sister and then we have to go shopping."
Stiles looks so enthusiastic that Derek can't help but nod, resigned. Stiles actually claps in glee and then bounces up, stepping on the bottom of his pajama pants so he nearly falls on his face. Derek catches him easily and sets him back on his feet.
"Oh, you should also organise an office party," Stiles says, picking up his game controller again. "You're about to hit a major milestone. One million users."
"Why would I do that?" Derek asks, honestly bewildered by the idea. He's seen the decorations start to go up around the Clawbook offices and he hasn't said a thing about it. He's pretty sure that should be the entirety of his contribution to the event. There's something to be said about not counting chickens before they hatch.
"You could invite some of your advertisers. Maybe if you humanise... wait, wolfanise? Ugh, is there a word for making a werewolf more approachable?"
"That's not really what we go for," Derek points out.
"Maybe the people that were giving you and Laura money on the regular to stay afloat wouldn't abandon you guys like rats leaving a sinking ship if they see what you're about."
"That's very nautical of you."
"Still a valid point."
"I'll think about it."
"You should be more approachable to your employees at least. Laura's always out in the open plan area. They look at your office like they're looking at Mount Doom."
"Maybe I like it that way."
Stiles snorts and shakes his head. "You really don't though. You act like you're this content loner, but if that were true you wouldn't have been able to fit me into your life so easily."
Derek looks at the easy sprawl of Stiles in his space, aghast. He hates that he's so transparent to Stiles, that he could just accept him. He always thought that living with his pack had rankled because he was meant to be alone and preferred it that way, but the looming absence of Stiles, even if it is far off in the future, makes him feel itchy and wrong all over every time he thinks about it.
He wants this, he wants Stiles, and not in a temporary way.
Stiles has turned back to his game, obviously taking Derek's silence as his way of ending the conversation. Derek hesitates for a moment, before he sits on the couch next to Stiles, not pressed up against him, but close enough for it to be companionable. Stiles doesn't acknowledge him, but his onscreen avatar runs right off a cliff so Derek figures he's had an impact.
"Have anything that won't make my eyes and ears bleed?" Derek asks, nudging the spare controller on the floor with a foot.
"I've got Wolf Cart?" Stiles says, immediately hopping up to pluck a padded folder of games out of the entertainment unit to flip through quickly.
"I've gotta warn you, I am the reigning Wolf Cart champion of my pack," Derek says and Stiles stills for a moment, before a sly grin touches his face.
"Care to make it interesting then?"
"I kick your ass all over the candy course and we have both parties, no complaints."
"What if I win?"
"I'm sure you'll think of something you want," Stiles says, going back to the game folder and Derek watches the graceful curve of him, swallowing thickly.
Almost as bitterly as he'd complained creating the Clawbook event that went out to all their staff and Laura's contact list of advertisers telling them about the office party that coming Friday. It didn't help having Stiles leaning over his shoulder and watching him type with a gleeful expression, his face so close to Derek's that if Derek turned his head his nose would bump up against Stiles' cheek.
"Look at you, grumpy smurf. Using social media for its intended purpose."
"I hate everything that you are," Derek tells him.
"Lies," Stiles crows easily.
That Thursday though is Stiles' shoot and Derek beats him home, starts dinner in the absence of anything else to do. By eight he's eaten and Stiles' share has dried out in the oven. By nine, Derek's holding his phone and contemplating calling Stiles although he's hesitant. Stiles might have gone out after the shoot, he might always go out after a shoot and he certainly doesn't have to answer to Derek about it but Derek can't help the curl of worry low in his belly.
Derek scrolls through his other contacts and his thumb hovers over Scott's name, programmed into his phone by Stiles with a, "He's my Alpha, you're my fake honey boo-boo, you guys should have each other's deets." He's saved from making an idiot of himself by Stiles' key in the lock.
Derek scrambles for the door, but stops himself and scuttles backwards almost as soon as he does. He doesn't want Stiles to think he was sitting around waiting for him, so Derek scoots back to the kitchen, busying himself with scraping Stiles' ruined dinner into the trash and rinsing the dishes.
He doesn't look up when he senses Stiles appear in the kitchen doorway behind him, just throws an unbothered "Hey," over his shoulder.
"Don't freak out," Stiles says after a too-long pause.
Derek abandons any pretense of playing it cool and whirls on Stiles with those words. Stiles has his face ducked and turned to the side but Derek advances on him, gets fingers under Stiles' chin and tilts his face up so he can see clearly the angry red circling Stiles' eye and the dried crust of blood on his lip.
"Who?" Derek growls on a punched out breath, the word mangled because it's said through fangs.
"It was an accident-" Stiles starts to lie but his words cut off when Derek grips his shoulders roughly and shake him a little. He has just enough control to curl the tip of his claws away from Stiles' vulnerable skin when he grabs him, but only barely. "Okay, it wasn't, but you can't do anything," Stiles amends.
"Like hell," Derek barks. He shunts Stiles aside and strides into the living room, grabbing up keys and his jacket. He's waiting for Stiles to give him a direction for his rage, but Stiles' jaw is set stubborn and firm when he joins Derek in the living room.
"You can't. Scott is my Alpha, he has to seek reparations himself or it'll look bad. You know that."
"I'm-" Derek starts to say.
"Not anything," Stiles interrupts and just like that, Derek's anger evaporates. His deflation must be clear because Stiles groans and totters forward, only stopping when his forehead lands on Derek's shoulder. "I didn't mean it that way. You're my friend, okay?"
"Okay," Derek says quietly, feeling gut punched and knowing he has no right to be. He allows himself the luxury of bringing a hand up to rest on Stiles' nape. He's touch-starved is the problem. Derek the man baulks at contact whereas Derek the wolf craves it. It's an interesting dilemma. There's a curl of pain buzzing under Stiles' skin and without thinking about it, Derek catches the end of it and draws it into himself, wicking it away like droplets of water.
"Oh god, what is that?" Stiles practically moans, slumping further into the curve of Derek's body.
"Most werewolves can take pain with just a little practice." When Derek feels Stiles tense, he hurries to explain, "I don't feel it, not exactly. It's like a sting for about a second but then it's gone." Stiles is still for another beat or two, but then he relaxes again.
"It's like werewolf Valium," Stiles hums happily.
"Tell me what happened."
"It really was an accident, that I got hurt anyway," Stiles says.
"Was it at your shoot?"
"It was with two other Alphas. There was bad blood between their two packs but their agents must have convinced the casting guy that it wouldn't be a problem."
"Idiot," Derek huffs against Stiles' temple. He doesn't bother resisting the urge to rest his head on top of Stiles'. They're usually of a height, but Stiles has folded into Derek like he was made for the space.
"I know, right? Anyway, it all happened so fast. I mean, it was fine but then it really wasn't,” Stiles says and he tilts his face up and his eyes are on Derek’s lips and even though Stiles just called Derek his friend, Derek still feels like he could just lean in and kiss Stiles and Stiles would be receptive to it.
From the way Stiles’ scent has gone warm and spicy, he’s sure of it, in fact.
“I guess this," Stiles says, leaning back to dance his fingers around his face, "Is mostly my fault. I got in between them."
"You what?" Derek asks flatly, any thoughts of kissing Stiles flying right out of his head.
"They looked like they were going to rip each other's throats out."
"And you got between them?" Derek grits through his teeth, scrubbing a hand over his face in disbelief.
"I thought maybe I'd defuse the situation. Scott and Danny have gotten tense a few times but if I'm there they calm the hell down."
"Scott and Danny have a deep-rooted affection and desire to protect you that would've overridden their instinct for a fight. Two alphas you don't know wouldn't have that."
"I got that memo, thanks."
"The people organizing should have known better."
"Lydia already tore strips off them. She made the casting guy cry and he was this big, burly dude in his fifties with tattoos and a mohawk."
"I'm coming with you next time," Derek says, decisive.
"I'm not shooting with Claimed again. I was booked for another three shoots but I'm not doing them and they were only too happy to pay the contract out to get Lydia away from them."
"Whoever you're shooting with. If you're shooting with werewolves, I'm coming."
Stiles steps away from Derek, eyes narrowed. "I don't need a babysitter."
Derek reaches out to press on Stiles' bloody lip and he hisses and bats Derek's hand away. "Obviously you do."
"This happened once."
"It's never happened before?" Dereks asks, disbelieving. The way Stiles' cheeks flood with color is all the answer Derek needs.
"Okay, fine. Stuff happens, but I handle it."
"I don't think hitting a werewolf with your face is handling it."
Stiles puts his fists up to his temple and knocks against it. There's the astringent taste of frustration in the air and Derek flares his nostrils to take it in deeper. "Okay, alright, I know what's happening here."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm in your space, my particular brand of boy stank is all over everything and your instincts are getting all confused."
"Derek," Stiles says, giving him a level look. "I'm not yours."
Derek reels back like Stiles struck him. He had been forgetting himself and Stiles' words are like cold water being dumped over him. Stiles has stepped forward again, hands up and out. Derek tries not to look at where his palms are scraped up, probably from after being hit.
"You just gotta remind your inner wolf that, okay?"
"I'm going to bed," Derek says stiffly.
"You and your boy stank should do the same. It's late."
Derek turns and walks to his room, without looking behind him. He even indulges in the childish urge to slam his door behind him. He stands slumped against his door for a few minutes, listens to the quiet padding of Stiles' feet as he follows, hesitates in front of Derek's door. There's the whisper of fabric that's probably Stiles raising a hand to knock, then a sigh and the footsteps retreat before Stiles' own door closes gently.
Derek gets through most of the day with his headphones on, blasting angry werewolf rock. At four, he girds himself to face the rest of the employees and their advertisers, composing excuses in his head but when he gets out into the main area of the office, it's to see the decorations have been ramped up to an eleven on the scale of awful taste and Stiles setting out trays of cookies and cupcakes on a long table with folding legs set against the wall outside Laura's door.
There are people already gathered in clumps holding Solo cups and some of the cubicles have been dismantled to make the space more open. Most of the employees are wearing party hats or headbands with bobbling glittery stars. Derek spots Erica, Isaac and Boyd all on the other side of the room, goggling at the treats Stiles is setting out. Scott is apparently on guard duty, moving to intervene when the lure of sugar proves too much for Isaac and he darts out a hand to grab a cookie when Stiles isn't looking.
Laura appears beside Derek and links their arms together, bumping into him affectionately. "We've gotta work out a way to keep him," she says, gaze fixed firmly on Stiles.
"Don't start," Derek says and Laura makes a sad little noise. She straightens up a moment later, taking her arm back and pasting on a smile.
"Mr. Kissouri, I'm glad to see you could make it."
Derek has no idea who the man is, but he holds out a hand to shake right after Laura does and pastes on an identical smile.
"Miss Hale, Mr. Hale, very interesting party you have here," he says, nodding.
Laura turns to Derek and says, "Mr. Kissouri is with Red Wolf. They've decided to recommence advertising with us."
"Well, we couldn't ignore your increasing saturation and it reassured us to find out that those rumors were just that, rumors."
"Yes, sir," Laura says, still smiling.
"I mean, we have to be careful these days. Packs are becoming increasingly more mixed and we can't be certain that the person at the point of sale making the decision between our drink and our competitor's is always going to be a werewolf."
"Certainly," Laura agrees, ignoring the way Derek digs his elbow into her ribs.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go see if Stiles needs any help setting up," Derek says and Laura pinches his arm for abandoning her, deftly hiding it from Kissouri as Derek makes his escape.
He's honestly not sure of his welcome when he approaches Stiles but Stiles turns and spots him and waves at a couple of flat boxes still sitting stacked up on the floor. "Set those out will you?" he asks, managing to get a thumb in one of the cupcakes he's holding. He pulls a face but Isaac is right there to relieve him of it, grinning as Stiles rolls his eyes but hands over the mashed cake.
"Where'd these all come from?" Derek asks, lifting one of the boxes. He reads the curling name on the boxes and has to huff a laugh. Sweet Fang is a werewolf run bakery Derek's been meaning to visit because it's only a couple of blocks from his house.
"Uh, I used your corporate credit card," Stiles says, throwing Derek a look. "I hope that was okay?"
"Of course," Derek says.
"I talked to the owner and she's opening up eight more locations."
"That's good," Derek says absently.
"I gave her your card. She's going to be calling about advertising on the site."
Derek pauses in setting out the cupcakes and blinks at Stiles. "What?"
"I know she should be talking to-"
"No, it's fine," Derek rushes to interrupt when Stiles' shoulders start creeping towards his ears defensively. "I mean, that's great."
"Okay," Stiles says and he's still not looking at Derek, so Derek sets aside what he's doing, gives Scott a meaningful glance that tells him he better not fall down on guard duty and then grabs Stiles' hand and tugs him into one of the soundproofed meeting rooms.
"What happened to your face?" Derek asks when he has Stiles actually facing him. He can still smell faint traces of blood on Stiles, only vaguely masked by sugar and icing but his skin looks bruise-free.
"I didn't want to turn up looking all beat up. I got the Fangboy makeup guy to work his magic."
"You still smell hurt," Derek points out and Stiles waggles his scraped up palms.
"Lucky I'm known for being a klutz."
"Look, I'm sorry for... everything," Derek says after a long, girding breath.
"It's okay. I understand most werewolves-" Stiles cuts himself off with a grimace, probably remembering the last time Derek had yelled at him for using those exact words.
"Don't ever let a werewolf, I don't care who it is, even Scott, use the W card as an excuse for treating you badly," Derek says, leaning into Stiles so he has no choice but to meet Derek's eyes.
"Scott's first full moon, he turned into a raging dillhole the day before. I mean, super jerk to the extreme."
"It happens," Derek allows.
"He said it was like an out of body experience, that he was watching himself act and say the things he did, hurt everyone around him and he couldn't stop."
"That sounds about right."
"It's because of that I know sometimes you'll say things you don't mean. I've always said to Scott and this goes for you and any other werewolves that are important to me, there's nothing you can do that I won't forgive. I get it."
"That's not safe for you," Derek says, frowning.
"Still, I get to cut you slack. That's my choice."
"I'm going to kiss you now. Don't freak out."
"What?" Derek blurts, surprised.
"We're supposed to be a couple," Stiles says, gesturing at the conference room wall that's completely made of glass and the people on the other side that are throwing them glances, including Kissouri. Without further warning, Stiles leans forward and kisses Derek, his lips slightly parted so he mostly gets Derek's bottom lip between his own. It's nice, it's sweet and it's over way too fast but when Stiles leans back, he looks happy and Derek's pretty sure he'll look that way too.
Stiles reaches up and tugs fingers through Derek's hair. "You have a nice smile. You should use it more often," Stiles says, before he moves back out to the main area of the party.
Derek feels eyes on him, spots Laura looking at him from across the room with her eyebrows raised.
"We're good, right?" Stiles asks, looking pleased with himself and also heavy-lidded with drink.
"I think it's working out," Derek allows.
"It's a pity Ally couldn't make it. I think her, Lydia and Laura will get along like a house on fire-" Stiles immediately claps hands over his face, looking at Derek with wide, horrified eyes over his twined fingers. "Oh my god, I can't believe I just said that," he moans.
"It's okay," Derek says, tugging Stiles' hands off his face, cuffing both of Stiles' wrists with one of his hands when he tugs on them. "Who's Ally?"
"Oh! Scott's girlfriend," Stiles says, his faux pas forgotten as he starts to gush about a dark-haired beauty that had stuck by Scott when he was bitten in high school although her family hadn't approved of her dating a wolf. Derek watches him extol the virtues of the girl while still hanging, unprotesting from Derek's grip.
"I've got a picture," Scott says, popping up beside them, but he's still digging through his pockets when Isaac grabs him from behind and lifts him. Isaac's cheeks are flushed, a sign he's overindulged in the wolfsbane laced beer which is probably why he says, "Even if you mess up stuff with Stiles, can we keep Scott?"
"Hey!" Stiles protests, launching himself at them both and they fall to the floor in a pile of giggling limbs, Stiles fortunately on top so he isn't crushed to paste under the denser werewolves. Stiles is still talking when they untangle and right themselves, Stiles held in a companionable headlock by Scott. "Oh, I had a great idea! Slumber party!"
"Slumber party!" Scott and Isaac crow immediately.
"Good lord," Derek groans, hears his sister and Lydia echoing the exact same sentiment at about the same time. Boyd, Erica and Danny just hold up their thumbs, indicating their agreement.
"The place isn't really-" Derek starts to say, but he can't finish with big enough because that's not really true where werewolves are concerned. It's not like he'd have to find beds for everybody.
"We can take the couch cushions off and the mattress from my room," Stiles wheedles, tugging on the bottom of Derek's shirt which is all he can reach considering he's still being held at hip-height by Scott.
"No one is really fit to drive anyway," Laura sidles up to him to say. She's the one that wanted a pack house and practically ordered him to stay in it. She didn't because she knew he would resent it, but she did bring it up every time he was over for dinner and she always approves of Derek being forced into group bonding time in the hopes that it will change his mind about living alone.
"You are," Derek points out, because he hasn't seen Laura touch a drop all night.
A hand appears at Laura's elbow, brandishing a shot and she takes it and downs it in one, giving Derek a triumphant grin. "You were saying?"
"Remind me how everyone in this room is an adult again?"
"Stop being such a sourpuss," Stiles says, bumping into Derek when he's abruptly released by Scott, basically head-butting his torso. Derek rights him and Stiles puts his arms around Derek's neck and dangles from him like a velcro monkey. "Pleeeeeeeease?"
"Fine," Derek huffs and then steals the next shot Lydia was holding out to Laura.
He's going to need it.
He wakes up with his face mashing into someone's spine, overheated and grouchy. Derek tries to roll away, but the person he's pressed up against makes a muffled noise of protest and Derek freezes, because it's Stiles. Derek raises his head slowly and sees that they're alone in the middle of the living room floor, everyone else obviously cleared out already.
Stiles is in nothing but a pair of Spiderman boxer shorts, big feet trapping Derek's ankles and hugging the arm Derek has slung across his torso. Derek's at least wearing sweatpants, but he swears he was also wearing a shirt when he laid down which is nowhere to be seen. Derek tilts backwards as much as he can with Stiles still holding onto his arm and can see something written on the expanse of Stiles' bare back in what looks like lipstick.
It says, insert Derek here and there's an arrow drawn with the point just above the elastic waist of Stiles' boxers. Derek swallows thickly and uses his free hand to smear the writing until it's unrecognizable, Stiles making a happy burr in the back of his throat and arching with the contact.
Derek tugs his arm and legs free then, because things are about to get extremely awkward. He accidentally flips Stiles in the process and Stiles lets out a squawk and then blinks owlishly around, startled out of sleep and adorably confused about it.
"Is everyone gone?" Stiles asks, voice sleep-roughened and hair mashed flat against his forehead.
"Pretty sure," Derek confirms. There's the lingering scent of wolves and humans in the place, but the freshest traces are a couple of hours old, smears of Scott's particular tang on Stiles like he couldn't resist palming his pack member's head and neck before he exited to leave his stamp.
"Too bad. I was going to make an epic breakfast," Stiles says and pushes upright through a series of mostly uncoordinated-looking jerks until he's smiling muzzily at Derek. He looks down at himself and his smile drops off. "Did you undress me?"
"Of course not," Derek huffs, indignant. "Don't you remember putting your pants on your head and running around singing If you wanna be my lover?"
"I decidedly do not, which means it never happened."
"I'm pretty sure Scott has video."
"Never happened," Stiles asserts while he's fighting his way out of the blankets pooled around his feet so he can totter off to his room. The shower starts up about five minutes later so Derek shrugs and moves to the kitchen to start breakfast himself when his stomach gurgles unhappily. He's plating up a veritable mountain of bacon and eggs when Stiles emerges.
"You've got a thing next week," Stiles says through a yawn as he settles on one of the kitchen stools and drags the plate Derek had been dishing for himself towards him with a satisfied hum.
"The Werewolf Business Owners Association conference thing. I'm going to come with."
"I didn't even know I was going."
"It's in your calendar and I booked the plane tickets already. We can stay an extra day and swing by my dad's. He's only an hour away by car from the conference hotel so we only have to spend one awkward night in my childhood bedroom. Kill two birds."
"Laura usually goes to those types of things," Derek says and Stiles shrugs, shoveling eggs into his face in a frankly terrifying manner for a human. Derek thinks he might even be able to keep pace with Isaac and Boyd.
"Mphum ghava treaphm."
"I didn't catch a word of that," Derek says.
"She said it'd be good for you."
"Why are you coming? We don't usually take partners."
"I'm your assistant too," Stiles points out, looking longingly at the bacon on Derek's second plate, even though he still has some on his own. Derek holds a piece out with a sigh and Stiles snaps it from Derek's fingers, waggling his eyebrows.
"I'm not really good at the whole networking thing," Derek says.
"I'm excellent at it, don't worry. Shauna from Sweet Fang will be there so you'll already know one whole person you can talk to."
"I haven't met her yet."
"I'll introduce you."
"I still think Laura is better at this stuff."
"It's mostly sitting around, going to talks and being visible. I've already made you a whole lot of business cards. You say hi, hand them a card, tell them about the site and how we're expanding and tell them to give you a call about possibly building a relationship. Easy peasy."
"Ugh," Derek says with feeling and Stiles reaches across the kitchen counter to give him a pat.
"I'm sure these WBA guys are off the chain."
"I don't even know what that means and it still sounds terrible."
"You're the oddest werewolf I've ever met. Most of them-" Stiles cuts himself off and grimaces, says a muffled, "Sorry," around his toast.
"No, continue, please. I love your most werewolves pronouncements."
"Forget it," Stiles says.
"How would you feel if every time you did something I'd say you were doing it wrong based on what most humans would do."
"I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong," Stiles says, flailing his hands and sitting back far enough on his stool that Derek has to reach across the counter and snag his shirt to stop him toppling off.
"Most humans can sit on a stool properly."
"Most humans have a sense of humor."
"Wow, you're really amusing yourself, aren't you?"
"Most humans blah da bleh de blah," Derek says, smirking now and Stiles shakes his head but he's also chuckling as Derek sets aside his utensils and pushes his plate to Stiles who falls on it like he's starving. "Most humans can't eat more than a werewolf."
"Most werewolves can eat more than a human," Stiles challenges and Derek flicks a leftover corner of toast at his head. Stiles continues eating, but he also glances up at Derek with a small smile every now and again.
"What?" Derek asks after he does it for the fifth time.
"I mean, look at us, growing as a couple. We didn't even have a fight that time."
"Most humans know when to shut up," Derek grouches, but his words don't have the edge to them he meant them to and Stiles makes a talky-talky hand at him, opening and closing his fingers in a mouth before he slides off his stool.
"I'm going to pack. Let me know if you need a hand fitting all your grumpiness into a carry-on."
"Registration, then hotel," Derek says, kicking at one of Stiles' bags. He's got a backpack and a wheelie suitcase while Derek only has a small carry-on because they're only there for four days and Derek plans to basically wear the same suit pants for three of them, swapping out to informal jeans for the dad visit because he doesn't want to look too stiff. Stiles had tried to make Derek bring a suit but he'd insisted that black slacks and a white button-down was smart enough.
"We have to do the mixer," Stiles insists as Derek gets up to stretch and shoots his cuffs to straighten them.
"I was stuck next to this annoying brat on the plane. I'm tired."
"We were the only ones-" Stiles starts to argue, but then he pulls a face. "Oh, right. Very funny. Me? I'm the brat here?"
"You calling me a brat?" Derek asks. A group of five stride past them, all craning around, wearing lanyards and basically an exact copy of Derek's outfit. He smirks at Stiles who flips him off. "Oh, very professional."
Stiles is wearing bright red jeans, a white shirt with a black-tipped collar and a grey waistcoat. Derek wishes he weren't so lovely because no one should get away with an outfit like that. It makes Derek feel kind of dirty to find him so attractive because Stiles currently looks like he belongs in children's programming.
"Professional would have been going through the schedule like I asked you to," Stiles says, holding up his tablet and waggling it.
"They're going to give us a paper copy at registration."
"I'm going to attend the basic package."
"I'm sure it will be fine."
"There's some interesting stuff on here, which you'd know if you'd taken ten minutes to look at it."
"Fine, you're my assistant, you pick stuff for me."
"Do you really want me to do that?" Stiles asks with a mischievous glint in his eye.
"Wherever I'm going, so are you so don't get cute."
"I'm doing a few workshops you wouldn't be interested in," Stiles dismisses, attention already back on his tablet. "Um, Transitioning into a Werewolf Company - the human experience, Intercultural Effectiveness in the Workplace and Navigating the Hierarchical Structure and-"
"I want you in my sight line at all times," Derek says, plucking the tablet out of Stiles' hands.
"Not this again."
"Granted, you're part of a pack but you don't know what this kind of thing can be like."
"Neither do you, you said you've never been," Stiles protests.
"I should have brought Scott."
"I should have come by myself," Stiles counters and another couple walking near them give them a wide berth. Derek can only imagine what's coming off him and Stiles at the moment, frustration, anger, sour notes of an argument that just won't die but neither will back down from.
"Clawbook is my company. There's no way in hell-"
"Oh my god, you're the Clawbook guy, right?" There's a kid, probably only a few years younger than Stiles standing in front of them in sloppy jeans with a skateboard hanging from his back. He's a wolf, Derek gets that much immediately but he must be a fairly young one if he'd approached with the scent of conflict so thick in the air. "Oh man, it's where I want to work when I graduate, seriously," the kid continues, oblivious.
"Sorry! My goodness, I'm so sorry!" another voice calls a little further away and Derek sees a woman bearing down on them fast, looking mortified. Derek has no idea who she is but Stiles' face breaks into a smile of recognition.
"Shauna, hi!" Stiles says brightly as she snags what must be her son by the arm with a sharp, "Jason, what did I tell you?"
The woman's gaze swings to Stiles and she immediately slumps in relief that's almost palpable. She's in her forties with frizzy red hair and freckles across her nose and she'd looked almost scared as she'd approached, probably mature enough to notice the tension that Jason hadn't.
Her face morphs now into a genuine smile as Stiles pops to his feet to give her a hug. "I thought you weren't getting here till tomorrow. I had a whole slew of crazy stuff to sign you up for."
"I'll bet you did," she says, then her attention swings to Derek and her face dips immediately in deference. "I'm so sorry about Jason. We're both relatively new bites so-"
"P'shaw, you're fine. Derek's a teddy bear," Stiles dismisses, waving his arms and Derek punches him in the shoulder, probably a little harder than was called for. Stiles dances away, wincing. "See, I didn't feel that at all," he says in a strangled squeak that won't convince anyone.
"Shauna, is it?" Derek asks, reaching out to touch light fingers to the side of her throat she still has exposed. Shauna nudges Jason roughly and he sighs but also tilts his head in offering. Derek taps him too, a perfunctory social greeting only before he's tucked his hands back to himself.
"Yes, Mr. Hale. I was looking forward to meeting with you but not quite like this."
"It's fine," Derek allows and when Stiles throws him a pointed look, he even smiles. Shauna still looks a little worried, but that mostly dissolves when Stiles leans into her and starts pointing out workshops he would have registered her for with Shauna making increasingly horrified noises.
"So, you want to work for Clawbook?" Derek says, abandoned with Jason for company as the four of them walk towards the main registration area.
"Oh yeah!" Jason enthuses. "All my friends are on it all the time and I thought it would be a good place for, y'know."
"Our werewolf employee ratio is-"
"Derek, don't put the kid in a coma. Talk code to him or something," Stiles interrupts.
"I don't think he'd-"
"You still do that kind of stuff yourself?" Jason says, eyes going round and keen.
"Oh yeah," Derek says immediately. "I've been working on this bug in the relationship status-"
"He's sixteen. He's not my friend."
"You could be a mentor or, oh! A big brother. Is there a werewolf equivalent for that?"
"Yeah, your Alpha," Derek says dryly.
"They don't have one," Stiles says and Derek leans out of the bathroom, toothbrush wedged in his cheek to stare at him.
"An Alpha? They don't have one."
"Not by choice. Shauna and I bonded when I found out she and her son were bitten like Scott, by a rogue."
"She told you that?"
"People open up to me. I'm a good listener," Stiles says, sounding indignant even though Derek had mostly been surprised instead of disbelieving. He knows Stiles is a good listener and he knows that there's something about Stiles that makes people that would otherwise not be, comfortable in opening up. Derek's from an old line though and Omega was not exactly a dirty word, but it was close.
Derek chooses to live alone, but he would never choose to be without a pack. Being a werewolf is a volatile existence and having a pack helps a great deal in finding balance.
"There's a few packs in the area. I'm sure-"
"They haven't found anyone they like enough and Shauna has to be careful with Jason," Stiles dismisses. He's hanging off the end of the bed, flipping through the channels on the hotel television and Derek moves over to block his view.
"They need the protection."
"They need to find a pack they're comfortable with that isn't full of asshole ragemonsters that will turn Jason from a sweet kid into a douche," Stiles snaps, smacking Derek on the thigh with the remote in irritation.
"What about Scott, then?" Derek asks.
"Dude, I love Scott and he's a stellar werewolf for what he's been through, but he's still pretty new. I think we'd both agree that Shauna needs stability right now."
"Well, I mean, I could talk to Laura about it."
"Yeah?" Stiles says, turning over slowly and then rising up to his knees. "I mean, you don't even know Shauna."
"I'm not saying we'd adopt them tomorrow. I'm just saying we could talk about it."
"Aw, Big Bro Derek!" Stiles crows, tossing the remote up in the air.
"Shut up," Derek grunts.
"Shauna is great and we'd get all the free cupcakes we could eat."
"What's this we?" Derek asks.
"Hey, you're marrying me. I get half of everything, including cupcakes."
"I think there'll be a fairly strongly worded Pre-Nuptial agreement that will rule out your claim to any and all baked goods."
"I suppose we'll need one," Stiles says, sobering. "I mean, I have money, but I don't have your money."
"It's in the contract. Didn't you read it?"
"Lydia did. That's enough for me," Stiles shrugs.
"You're way too trusting."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"It is a bad thing."
"No way. I believe in benefit of the doubt all the-"
"I trusted the wrong person and it got my family killed," Derek blurts and then they're both staring at each other and Derek feels like the air was sucked out of the room because he can't breathe. Laura knows what happened and Stiles certainly got a sanitized Hale family history but not all the gory details.
"Derek-" Stiles starts, voice careful and brittle.
"We should go grab some lunch before the afternoon sessions. I'm starving," Derek says before Stiles can say anything. He doesn't get far though, Stiles darting in front of him between Derek and the door.
"Wait, wait," Stiles insists, eyes wide. "You can't just drop a bomb like that and then expect-"
"I don't expect anything from you," Derek says in much the same way Stiles had flatly stated, I'm not yours. He gets a mean little sense of satisfaction when Stiles flinches, thunking the back of his head against the motel door.
"What if I get asked about it? We're going to be together for a year and you don't think some douchebag with a gossip blog won't dig deep enough to find out what I don't know and ambush us?"
"Fine," Derek says, pressing fingers into his eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath. Stuff like this needs to be like a bandaid, ripped off all in one go to make it less painful, as if that were even possible. "Kate Argent from the Fight The Bite movement came to me, told me she'd had second thoughts about her family's beliefs and that she wanted a way to prove to them that werewolves had as much right to live in society as humans, that they were safe. She convinced me she was sincere in wanting peace and she convinced me that part of the reason she wanted it so badly was because she loved me.
She might not have struck the match, she was clever enough to get some zealot toadies to do the actual dirty work, but she was the only one outside of pack that knew about our safe house for the lunar eclipse. She told them where and when we'd be at our weakest. My Uncle Peter was the only one in the house to survive and he's currently a shadow of himself. Laura was on an exchange program with another pack in Maine. Thankfully, Kate was able to be charged for conspiracy under the Werewolf Equality Act."
"Where were you?" Stiles asks, then winces because it probably came out a little more accusatory than he'd meant it to be.
"I was waiting at a bus station on the edge of town like a gullible idiot because Kate had told me that she'd had no luck convincing her family and that she wanted us to go away somewhere, just the two of us, together."
"Derek-" Stiles says in a broken little exhalation.
"It was a long time ago and I learned a very valuable lesson. Laura came back the Alpha of the pack, such as it was. I offered my throat to her but she told me she forgave me. That it wasn't my fault." Derek's voice tips bitter at the words.
"You haven't forgiven yourself, have you?"
"How could I?" Derek ducks his head because Stiles' own face has dropped, suddenly intent on his shoes and his scent has gone sharp with anxiety and sour with upset. "What is it?" Derek asks.
"I should tell you... I need to..." Stiles is clenching and unclenching his hands into fists and the sharpness of his anxiety ramps up the longer the silence stretches. "I'm sorry I made you tell me all that."
Stiles slides away from where he was blocking the door and goes back to the bed, sitting on the corner of it. Derek watches him, puzzled, because the apology was not what Stiles was originally intending to say and they both know it. Derek supposes he can allow Stiles the time to work up to what he did mean to tell him although it looks almost physically painful for Stiles to keep it in.
"We can go home," Derek offers, shrugging. Stiles is usually vibrant, a stark splash of color on Derek's senses and it pains him to see Stiles so muted and torn.
"No, we can't," Stiles says quietly. "This is important. We have two days of talks and then the Career Fair. Clawbook's able to take on interns this year and I think people like Jason should get the chance to talk to you about it, see there are options for them. Plus, we have to go see my dad. He's started making the face at me on Skype."
Stiles scrunches his eyebrows down, thins out his lips and flares his nostrils in what Derek can only assume is a parody of his father. It's scarily effective, Derek suddenly feels like a huge disappointment. "Okay, alright, I get it. Stop doing that," Derek finally pleads when Stiles keeps the expression on his face and starts slowly shaking his head.
Stiles huffs, the illusion broken and then he gets up and rubs his hands off his jeans. "C'mon, I have a workshop on Effective Dispute Resolution and you have Competition Law and Retail tenancy."
"Seriously?" Derek says.
"Three hours of fascinating regulations. Bet you wish you'd picked your own stuff now, hmm?" Stiles is trying valiantly to dispel the heaviness between them and Derek is willing to let him.
"What? Nooooo," Stiles whines.
"Take good notes," Derek says with a little grin.
He's not ready to relate the unsettled feeling to barely seeing Stiles. They have a half an hour lunch together on the second day and obviously share a bed at night, but neither of them are particularly chatty after what happened and they keep well and truly to their own sides.
Stiles is back late on the second night and Derek finally breaks and asks where he's been. "I saw some Right To Bite people talking to Jason and I had to rescue him," Stiles says with a shrug.
"Rescue him? What's wrong with the Right To Bite people?"
"They're a little pushy, don't you think?" Stiles says with a look of distaste on his face.
"Better than the Fight The Bite people," Derek says pointedly, thinking he'll automatically win the argument considering what he'd told Stiles about Kate. As always, apparently, he's wrong.
"Some of the RTB are just as scary."
"You agree with them? That a government body, a mostly human government body should dictate-"
"Dude, that's not what I'm saying and you know it. Just because I agree with some aspects of the registration process doesn't mean I want to step all over your rights. But what happened to Scott wasn't fair. There should be options and support and a plan in place. Scott was abandoned and we were left to clean up the mess. It's just unfortunate that both sides seem to be coming down on the extremist spectrum. There's room in the middle."
"It doesn't affect you," Derek says, dismissive but Stiles snorts.
"If you think that, you're crazy. What happened didn't just happen to Scott. It changed the trajectory of my life, of Lydia's. She was going to be a Fields medal winning scientist and instead she's a lawyer working werewolf civil cases and being my scary agent."
"That was her choice," Derek says, but he doesn't really believe his words. While Stiles, Scott and Lydia aren't a traditional pack, it's clear that the bond they share is just as strong and what happens to one, happens to them all.
"We did what we needed to do."
"Okay, fine, but-"
"And," Stiles interrupts, holding up a finger. "I was working as Lydia's EA when I got discovered by one of her clients. I couldn't pass up that kind of money, especially since it was at the time when Scott and Danny couldn't get work. Our parents were helping out but they weren't exactly flush and since my dad had to take early retirement-"
"You're not exactly suffering."
"I'm not saying I am. Just that, things would have been pretty different if Scott hadn't been bitten. Stop making that face, I'm not saying Scott is suffering either. It worked out for him, he's a brilliant werewolf and it cleared up his asthma which was nice, not being terrified that he would keel over and die on me if he took a flight of stairs too quickly, but that doesn't make what happened okay or mean that the Right to Bite people could use Scott as their poster child."
Derek wants to keep arguing, not because he disagrees but because Stiles' cheeks are flushed a pretty, impassioned red. He doesn't, instead choosing to fall back on glowering silence which Stiles always takes the wrong way without missing a beat.
"You're impossible," Stiles huffs, throwing his hands up and then flumping against the couch in the corner of the room.
"Breakfast is over," Stiles says, then sets the Styrofoam container down in front of Derek. "I hope you know I nearly died getting you the last waffles."
"What?" Derek says, hands freezing before they can snag the container.
"I'm kidding, mostly," Stiles says, sitting down in the chair set next to the little hotel desk to pop the top off the mail tube to dump out the contents. It's the materials for the Career Fair, couriered by Laura so they didn't have to take it on the plane. Stiles unrolls the banner that will wrap around their table and sorts through a number of brochures and informational packets, getting everything in order.
Derek expects to be bored and abandoned at the Fair and after they set up, Stiles does disappear to look around, but he isn't bored. There's a steady stream of werewolves and humans alike picking up the printed materials, asking questions or taking applications for the internships.
Jason appears, wearing a blazer and with his hair slicked sideways, taking an application for himself with a stammered thank you, the bright and obnoxious kid from the first day nowhere to be seen. Derek gives him a warm smile and grips the side of his neck for a few more beats than politeness requires when it's offered, Jason retreating to a cluster of other werewolf teenagers about his own age looking much more confident as they stare at him in awe.
"Your turn," Stiles says, dropping into the plastic chair next to Derek and dumping an armload of junk food onto the table in front of them. It's all treat and snack sizes and Derek figures Stiles hit up all the booths offering food incentives.
"Yes. Go, mingle, drop yours and Laura's cards off with anyone that should have ads on the site," Stiles instructs, waving a dismissive hand.
Derek would normally bristle at being told what to do by a human in a place with so many werewolves, but Stiles is opening a series of tiny packets of M&Ms into a bowl he'd gotten from who knows where and humming under his breath while he works. He looks more like himself that he has since their pseudo-fight and Derek doesn't want to break the fragile peace.
He gets up and does as he's told, moving through the space, approaching the businesses that would do well if they advertised on Clawbook and avoiding those he'd rather they weren't associated with. He doesn't even think about it, just moves in, introduces himself, tells them about Clawbook and offers his card. Most are happy to take it. Some decline, but not many and Derek actually feels like he's accomplished something when he starts back towards the Clawbook booth on the other side of the large, converted convention space.
He's halfway when Shauna appears in his path, looking worried. Derek immediately thinks, Stiles. The Sweet Fang booth was three down from theirs and two over and Shauna would be able to see it from where she was.
Without Shauna getting a chance to tell him what's happened, Derek breaks into a trot when he catches the sour tang of Stiles' anxiety when he concentrates, filtering out everything else. There's a larger number of werewolves clustered around their table than he'd seen when he was on duty and what worries him is that he can't see Stiles through the press. A couple of the wolves on the outer edges of the group are clutching familiar-looking magazines and with a sinking feeling, Derek knows what's happening.
As he gets closer though, he can hear Stiles' voice, unnaturally high and tight. "Look, I'm not really here for... I shouldn't be... can you... hey, watch it!"
Derek plants his feet, takes a deep breath and then roars.
It's risky. There could be an alpha in the press around Stiles and they could take what Derek's done as an open challenge, but he can't think about that right now. All he can think about is Stiles' scent, tangy with indignation but also bitter with rising panic.
He's lucky. All but five of the werewolves pressed in around Stiles scatter and the ones left take prudent steps backwards, even if they look pissed about it. One of the wolves left gestures with a rolled up magazine, Derek can guess it's a Fangboy and says, "We only wanted an autograph," in a sour tone.
"You were told, more politely that you deserved, that he wasn't here for that. If you're not going to sign up for the Clawbook intern program, then you have no business here," Derek says, advancing on the ones lingering. Derek catches movement behind him and he's almost angry enough to turn around and swipe at whoever it is without looking, but he yanks himself back at the last minute and it’s lucky he does. It's just Jason standing between Stiles and the group and bristling like a startled cat.
The group disperses, grumbling and Derek backs up until he's got Jason at his shoulder and Stiles firmly behind him. He gives it a few minutes, werewolves and humans alike gawping at them until they're sure nothing else exciting is going to happen and lose interest. It's only when the last of the onlookers stops onlooking that Derek relaxes and turns to Stiles.
Derek's expecting Stiles to be his usual self, railing at Derek for sticking his big snout in where it's not wanted, being able to look after himself, but Stiles is quiet, breathing a little wobbly and his hands shaking. He's got his chin tucked into his chest, looking more submissive than Derek has ever seen him, and while it's probably the right thing to do in the circumstances, it's all wrong on Stiles.
"Maybe you should-" Jason starts to suggest.
"Yeah," Derek agrees, reaches out and snags Stiles by the elbow. Jason has gathered up the internship paperwork and he hands it over with a tight little smile that Derek returns, tucking the proffered papers under his arm and he leads Stiles out.
Stiles doesn't say a word on their way back to the hotel and even when they're safely back in their room, he just mutely sits when Derek leads him over to the bed.
"Are you alright?" Derek asks, at a loss. He's thinking maybe he should call Scott. He's a werewolf, his instinct is telling him that Stiles needs his alpha, but Stiles is frighteningly human and it probably won't help.
Stiles blinks and seems to come back to himself a little. He looks up, something painfully fragile on his face and he says, "Yeah, I'm... okay."
"Sorry," Derek says.
That, more than anything else, seems to shake Stiles loose. He shakes his head, frowning. "What are you sorry for?"
"I know you're not... I just didn't think and when they..." Derek gives up trying to explain, instead offering a shrug.
"I usually have Scott with me when I'm doing signings. I always thought it was overkill but Lydia's able to pay him through the agency so I've never argued about it. I guess I didn't realize that Scott just... being his alpha self was enough. I didn't know it would be like that without him."
"You've been hurt before, though?"
"But I've never felt like I was in any real danger. Wolves get carried away on shoots, sure, but there's always someone there, multiple someones. This was... I was completely alone."
"You're not alone," Derek blurts before he can think better of it.
"Yeah, I know," Stiles says with a small smile, reaching out to catch Derek's fingers with his own. He leans forward and Derek thinks he's just going in to offer a hug, but then he lifts his head and he's-
"Is this okay?"
"Yeah, yes," Derek says in a barely audible, awed whisper because then Stiles leans the rest of the way and they're kissing.
He could tell himself that it's just unspent adrenalin, that Stiles, being the contrary shit that he is, is turned on by danger, but it doesn't feel like that. Instead when they kiss it feels like it’s been inevitable all along and Derek makes a hungry noise and surges up, pushing Stiles back and down, straddling his hips and bracketing his body.
Stiles' eyes are wide and surprised, his cheeks delightfully flushed. Derek loves the contradiction that is Stiles, outwardly unaffected and wanton in public when it doesn't really mean anything but blushing like a school boy just because Derek's pushed his shirt up and thumbed over both his nipples when they’re in private. "Tell me if this is too fast," Derek says, voice already embarrassingly edged with desperation.
"Dude, we've had the longest fucking foreplay ever," Stiles groans, hooking an arm over his eyes.
"You keep calling me dude and this will be the shortest almost-sex ever," Derek gruffs and Stiles laughs helplessly, the noise turned into a squeak of delighted surprise as Derek pushes further up to bed, dragging Stiles with him.
"You keep manhandling me like that and it definitely won't last, in a good way," Stiles says, picking his head up off the bed, hair mashed flat because he'd been shunted into the pillows. Derek reaches up to scrub a hand through Stiles' hair and make it stick up in crazy spikes that he prefers and Stiles slaps at his hands, before catching one of them and biting his index finger, little blunt human teeth worrying at it around a grin.
Derek takes his hand back because he wants to kiss Stiles again, hard and claiming. He wants to keep kissing Stiles forever. Stiles' kisses are sloppy and uncoordinated but enthusiastic, just like he is and Derek ducks down again to press his face into Stiles' throat and smile and smile and smile.
"What are you doing?" Stiles asks, pushing his fingers through the hair at Derek's nape. "You freaking out?"
Derek opens his mouth against Stiles' throat and sucks some of the vulnerable skin in, pulling until it goes taught and Stiles arches beneath him with a throaty moan. Derek lets go quickly and Stiles says in a too-shaky voice, "I don't mind if you... if you mark..."
"I think your dad might," Derek says, unsure how he can drag together enough brain cells to think of that.
"Don't mention my dad," Stiles protests, kicking Derek in the ribs with a heel. "Just... do it lower down, then."
Derek raises his head and his eyebrows at that but he also obliges, scooting further down Stiles' body, tugging Stiles' belt open so he can suck a bruise on the sharp cut of Stiles' hipbone. Stiles twists, obviously ticklish and then burbles apologies when he manages to get Derek in the ear with his knee and they're both left laughing helplessly as they undress, fast and smiling at each other and Derek thinks this, this forever, please.
They both flop down again, side by side this time and Stiles rolls into Derek, flinging an arm across him and laying a loud, smacking kiss on Derek's pectoral. Derek palms Stiles' head, not meaning to hint anything but Stiles just gives him a flirty tilt of his mouth and then eels down Derek's body until he reaches where Derek's cock has curved up against his stomach, eager and glistening.
Someone makes a high, needy whine and belatedly Derek realizes it's him when Stiles picks up Derek's cock without any further preamble and lowers his mouth over it, pressing down on Derek's hips when he arches up automatically with one hand, working the base of Derek's cock where his mouth doesn't reach with the other.
Derek would be embarrassed about how fast he hurtles towards the edge if Stiles hadn't been right on the money, they'd had the longest foreplay in history. He gives Stiles a warning tug on his hair and Stiles pulls off, hand still working Derek fast and sure and Derek shudders out his release.
He's panting raggedly, lying stupid and sated when he realizes Stiles has rolled over to finish himself off. He makes himself coordinate just enough to grip Stiles under the arms and haul him up and onto him so Stiles can rut against his stomach, dirty and unapologetic and so achingly wonderful that Derek is left struck dumb by it, watching Stiles go rigid and then spill across Derek's belly, biting at his bottom lip so hard that Derek is surprised he doesn't come away bloody.
"I always meant to ask you," Derek says when they've cleaned up and are lying on top of the hotel comforter, the sheets tossed onto the floor. Stiles flops over, ungraceful as a landed fish onto him and makes a quiet noise of query. "I meant to ask you what was in this for you? Why did you agree to all this?"
Stiles' face goes thoughtful, and then he shrugs, chin resting on Derek's sternum. "I guess, I mean when Scott first mentioned it, we were kind of joking. He'd told me that Laura had been stressing about the news stories that were circulating and how their reputation was taking a hit and that she'd come up with this zany idea but didn't know how to not make it look like what it was, a stunt.
"But I could tell he was also worried. This was, I mean Clawbook was the first place that had given him a decent shot and it was being threatened and it was totally unfair. We kinda stopped joking and started discussing it seriously. I'd do anything for Scott and he'd do anything for Laura so..." Stiles shrugs again.
Derek smooths his fingers over Stiles' brow, his cheekbones, his jaw. He's about to say, can I keep you when there's a gentle tap at the door.
Stiles pulls a face, but he gets up and tugs on an abandoned pair of shorts and Derek's undershirt and crosses to the door, opening it a crack to peer out. He opens it wider with a smile, saying, "Shauna, hi!"
"Just wanted to check you were okay," she says and from her voice, Derek can tell even though he can't see her from the bed, that she's grinning. She must have got one hell of a nose-full as soon as Stiles opened the door. "Apparently you're... fine," she says and although she still sounds amused, there's still a hint of worry in her face.
"Peachy keen," Stiles says jovially. "You guys alright?"
"Yes, absolutely. I was going to ask if we could buy you guys something to eat before we went, but if you're busy-"
"No, it's fine," Stiles says quickly, always accommodating. He leans back so he can see Derek and Derek nods. "We'll just have to-"
"Shower?" Shauna says and then that's apparently as long as she can hold it in, because the sound of her retreating giggles echoes down the hallway. "Lobby in thirty!" she calls back.
Stiles is blushing furiously when he comes back to the bed.
Stiles settles into a running commentary as they drive, pointing out various spots made infamous by his and Scott's exploits. There's a hospital, a school and a mall but they're all on the outskirts of town and there are more mom and pop establishments the closer into the center of town they get.
They take a left before they hit the center and suddenly they're in wide, tree-lined streets. It's so achingly suburban that Derek feels horribly exposed. The house they pull up at is two stories, neat as a pin with a close-trimmed lawn and clear gutters. Stiles' babbling winds down as they draw closer and now he's quiet, twisting his hands together in his lap and looking pensive.
"What are you nervous about? We already know he likes you," Derek says and Stiles throws him a wry grin over his shoulder.
"I'd kinda had this whole thing mapped out in my brain before..." Stiles half-shrugs, hands hanging loosely from the steering wheel of the rental car.
"We're still getting fake-married. That hasn't changed," Derek offers and Stiles offers him a weirdly tight little smile at that. "Is he hard to please?" Derek frowns because he hadn't even contemplated it, but, "Does he not like werewolves?"
"He's fine with that," Stiles dismisses. "He appointed his first werewolf deputy within two weeks of taking office."
"Stiles, hiring a werewolf is very different from being okay with one dating your only son."
"He just... he knows what I do because I couldn't lie to him and he... worries."
"Well, we have that in common. I can use it to break the ice."
"Are you kidding? No. He doesn't hear about that stuff, not ever."
"Okay," Derek says, holding up his hands. "Well, we should go up because he's looking at us."
"Oh my god," Stiles groans, craning around and seeing where Derek is pointing, to what Derek assumes is Stiles' father standing on his front porch with his arms crossed and a stern expression on his face. He's an impressive looking man with a lined face and a lean body. Derek knows he had to take semi-retirement because of a heart issue but he still looks like a guy that knows how to get things done. "He thinks he's hilarious."
"That's him being funny?" Derek asks, dubious.
"He stands like that on the porch whenever I bring a guy home. I rejoiced the day he had to hand in his service revolver because he would normally be wearing it."
"You've brought a lot of guys home?" Derek asks, hating how plainly jealous he sounds.
Stiles turns back around in his seat and chucks Derek under the chin, his expression one more of delighted mirth than anything else. "Just during high school and not that many. I was still a little up in the air about what side my boner bread was buttered on until senior year."
"Uhuh," Derek says slowly.
"Plus, by then Scott was a werewolf and he had a little trouble getting his protective instincts under control, so not a lot of potential suitors got past him."
"Remind me to send Scott a belated thank you fruit basket."
"You and my dad, both," Stiles says with a put-upon expression, then he's pushing his car door open and stepping out and Derek has no choice but to follow.
The man's stern expression breaks as soon as he sees Stiles loping towards him. Derek pauses, one hand on the car door handle, hesitant to intrude in this reunion as Stiles takes the porch steps in one leap and ends up buried in his dad's arms. Stiles isn't small and the Sheriff not overly large, but the way they're hugging is probably the way they always have, from when Stiles would have barely reached the Sheriff's waist to wrap his arms around him.
Derek gets out and rounds to the back of the rental car, tugging their overnight bags out of the trunk. "Sorry, sorry," Stiles huffs, knocking back into Derek's side expectantly and relieving Derek of his backpack with a grimace.
Derek follows Stiles back up to the porch and sets the bags down to take the proffered hand of the Sheriff and shake. "Derek, huh?" the man says gruffly, giving him the kind of once-over that makes a person feel like they've failed in some fundamental way as a human being.
"Be good," Stiles scolds, jabbing an elbow into his dad's side and the Sheriff rolls his eyes and then waves them inside.
"These Mel's?" Stiles asks as soon as they reach the kitchen, the bags abandoned in the entryway at Stiles' dad's insistence. There's a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter and they've snagged Stiles' entire attention, his dad and Derek both seemingly forgotten.
"She dropped them off this morning," his dad says in the time it takes Stiles to wolf down three in quick succession and have another two jammed in his mouth. "Stiles, honestly."
"What?" Stiles says, spraying crumbs everywhere and Derek can't help but laugh helplessly as Stiles' dad wipes off his shirt with an exasperated look.
"You sure you really want to do this?" Stiles' dad asks Derek, inclining his head at Stiles who has picked up the whole plate of cookies and is looking at them adoringly.
"Yes, sir," Derek says without hesitation and that gets an eyebrow raise before the Sheriff is bawling at Stiles, "Oh for heaven's- at least offer them around!"
Stiles looks like he's been asked to part with a beloved puppy, but he slowly extends the plate in Derek's direction. Derek takes a cookie mostly to be polite, and then after he eats it, contemplates wrestling Stiles for the rest of the pile. "Good, huh?" Stiles says, waggling his eyebrows.
Stiles' dad reaches out but Stiles manages, while still holding onto the plate, to smack his hand and give him a stern look. "These are definitely not the heart smart cookies."
"I could've already had twenty before you got here," the Sheriff points out, but it's probably the wrong thing to say because Stiles whisks the plate out of the kitchen, calling behind himself, "Then you don't need anymore, do you?"
"Are you really sure?" the Sheriff asks Derek again and he offers a what can you do wave of his hands.
He already knew he was screwed.
"Why's the couch made up? We're going to sleep in my old room," Stiles says, coming back into the kitchen, sans plate.
"Uh, I thought maybe Derek could take your room and you could take the couch," the Sheriff says, looking away.
"Why?" Stiles asks, blinking.
"It's the full moon tonight. I thought maybe, to be safe-"
"Derek's a born wolf. He's fine on the full moon," Stiles says, starting to frown.
"I've been reading-"
"-online that sometimes there's involuntary shifting during the REM cycle."
"We'll be fine."
"I'd prefer it, alright?" his dad says and Derek glances between them, at how Stiles is looking affronted and the Sheriff is looking adamant. They're so similar that for a second Derek feels a low rush of longing for his own father.
"We're not going to-"
"It's okay," Derek interrupts to say, knowing where this is going, able to smell the fight in the air even before it's properly launched. "Whatever you're comfortable with, sir."
"It's offensive," Stiles insists, still seething.
"It's really not," Derek soothes, putting a hand on Stiles' elbow.
"Excuse me for worrying about my only child!" Stiles' dad says, throwing up his hands, clearly frustrated.
"Tell me you at least only looked up werewolf sleep cycles," Stiles says, obviously willing to back down. They're only able to stay overnight and Derek knows Stiles would rather not be arguing that whole time.
"There were a lot of... related links," the Sheriff hedges and Stiles smacks a hand over his face.
"Oh god," he groans feelingly.
"I've almost figured out the relationship bug," Derek says, tugging his headphones off. He hadn't actually been listening to anything other than the sounds of Stiles and his dad putting together lunch but Stiles didn't need to know that. He drums his fingers on the keyboard, staring at his screen and the lines of code he's been trying to untangle. A moment later there's a finger pushing at his forehead. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to smooth out the scowl dent before it becomes permanent," Stiles says. "With me as your nominated life partner, you'll be allowed smile lines, there will be so many laugh lines, but no more scowl dent."
Derek's drumming fingers froze at the words, nominated life partner. They haven't really discussed how what happened at the conference would affect the wedding and the for-show nature of it. They had a script they were supposed to follow, whirlwind courtship, married for a year and then an amicable and duly public separation with no hard feelings. They'd definitely swerved off script and Derek wasn't sure what it meant or how to ask Stiles about it.
Derek girds himself and opens his mouth but right at that moment the Sheriff pokes his head out of the kitchen and says, "Soup's on."
The kitchen has a smaller alcove attached that works as a dining room and Derek drops into the seat at the table he's offered. He can see the fridge from where he's sitting, see Stiles open it and tug a bottle of juice out, get glasses and then proceed to take a swig directly from the bottle. His dad, making a return trip to the kitchen after dropping off grilled cheese sandwiches on the table, smacks Stiles in the back of the head.
It's so painfully domestic and warm that Derek has to swallow back the sudden lump he feels form in his throat.
"So, tell me how this all works," Stiles' dad says when he and Stiles are finally seated. They have steaming bowls of tomato soup in front of them and the huge pile of grilled cheese on a communal plate. Derek is wondering how many of the sandwiches he can eat before it becomes rude and figures that since Stiles hasn't given up the location of the hidden cookies yet, it can be most of them.
"Da-ad," Stiles chokes out.
"Not... Stiles!" his dad says, smacking a hand over his face. "I wasn't asking about that aspect."
"Seen enough on the internet?" Stiles asks, recovering admirably to waggle his eyebrows.
"I know there's child filters for the internet, but there should be some kind of adults-who-don't-want-to-know filter too," his dad grumbles.
"What did you want to know?" Derek asks politely and Stiles pulls a face at him. Stiles had asked only an hour into their visit where his grouchy, grumbly werewolf had gone and who the hell the Leave It To Beaver impostor was who'd been left in his place.
"I want to make a good impression," Derek had hissed, jabbing Stiles in the side.
"You both have packs, right? Will you leave yours, Derek, or...?" his dad looks at Stiles with a concerned frown and Derek shakes his head quickly.
"Oh no, sir. We haven't really worked out everything but-"
"We're going to combine them," Stiles says, taking a huge bite out of one of the sandwiches and looping the trailing strings of cheese around his index finger.
"Really?" Stiles' dad says, looking at Derek with raised eyebrows. "Couldn't that be a little... fraught?"
"As I was saying, we haven't really settled on anything definite yet," Derek says.
"They totally get along. Scott and Isaac have been having platonic friend dates already and I'm pretty sure Boyd and Erica asked Danny to have a three-"
"Stiles!" Derek barks and Stiles seems to realize what he almost said a little belatedly because he turns a shade very similar to the soup in his bowl.
Stiles' dad is just staring at him and Stiles grimaces, rubbing a hand over his hair and messing it up into crazy spikes because he hadn't bothered to wipe the cheese grease from his fingers before he did it. "They're just getting along really well," Stiles finishes gamely.
"I see," his dad says slowly and then his attention shifts to Derek. "Are you the, uh, Alpha of your pack? Sorry, is that rude to ask?"
"It’s not rude at all and no, I'm not. My sister Laura is."
"Oh, that's good," the Sheriff says, looking faintly relieved and Stiles narrows his eyes at him.
"Why did you ask that?" Stiles questions, obviously suspicious.
"There'd just be less chance of an... accident."
"You mean Derek biting me?" Stiles says, mouth dropping open.
"I know how hard it was for Scott when it happened."
"That is completely different," Stiles says, throwing his hands up.
"Stiles, you're around a lot of werewolves. I get to worry even if you think it's dumb."
"I don't think it's dumb. I just... I'm perfectly safe, dad."
Stiles’ dad still doesn’t look exactly convinced, but he seems to be willing to drop the subject for now. "Well, I've got some files I promised Ramirez at the station I'd go over before tomorrow. You guys okay to clean up here while I do that and then we can maybe watch a movie?"
"Sure, dad," Stiles says, watching his dad get up from the table and disappear down the hall. There's the gentle click of a door closing and then Stiles sighs and slumps forward, picking at his nails. "I guess I didn't really want him to be over the moon about this, but I didn't think he'd be quite so against it."
"You still don't want him to... like it?" Derek asks haltingly.
"Well, when we break up-" Stiles starts to say, but then frowns at whatever Derek's face does at those words. Derek's not really sure himself. He only knows that inside he feels like he's been gut-punched.
"Sure, of course," he sighs.
"I mean, we're still going to..." Stiles starts to says, rolls his hands helplessly and looks like he's waiting for Derek to confirm something for him.
"No, you're totally right. It's better, that he'll be relieved when it's over," Derek says and hates how his voice has gone a little tight and wavery around the edges. He clears his throat and offers what he hopes comes off as an unaffected smile.
He must fail miserably because Stiles reaches out and picks up one of his hands. "You didn't say... I mean, I didn't want to assume that anything had... changed?"
"I thought it would be pretty obvious that it had," Derek says shortly.
"Honestly, I didn't want to get my hopes up."
"Your...?" Derek says, everything in him relaxing at just those words and what they could possibly mean. "You mean, you'd want it to change?"
"Duh," Stiles snorts. "I figured having your dick down my throat was about as blatant as I could get short of-"
"Actually talking about our feelings?"
"Ugh," Stiles says feelingly. "We suck."
"You certainly do," Derek says with a smirk.
"You're such a butt," Stiles says and then he's leaning forward and kissing Derek, three lingering presses of his lips on cheek, jaw and then Derek's own lips. Derek reaches out and cups Stiles' face in his hands, just because he can and deepens the last kiss. "So what do we do?" Stiles breathes out when Derek pulls back, still holding onto Stiles, one of his hands now cupping the back of Stiles' head, fingers pushed through the hair at his nape.
"We talk to Laura when we get back, figure something out. Maybe we have a really long engagement."
"I like the sound of that," Stiles agrees, reaching out to twist his and Derek's fingers together and squeeze. He then looks down the hall the way his dad disappeared. "He'll come around."
"I get why he's hesitant. From what you've told me he watched the world collapse not only around you, but Scott and Lydia, too."
"It doesn't mean he gets to-"
"Yes it does," Derek interrupts gently.
It ratchets up the pressure to eleven that she's also the mother of Stiles' alpha.
"I have one question for you," she says, her eyes narrowed. Derek sees Stiles smack a hand to his face dramatically behind her, probably guessing the question is going to be mortifying so Derek girds himself and nods for her to go on. "You're not, at any point, going to expect Stiles to choose between you and my son, are you?"
"What? No!" Derek chokes out immediately, completely blindsided by the unexpected query. Melissa seems satisfied and she nods and then surprises Derek again by pulling him into a warm hug.
"Well, good," she says, smile now warm for him as well as Stiles. "Scott rang me to tell me what you did for Stiles at the convention you went to," she adds, squeezing Derek's arm.
"What's that?" his dad asks, pausing in slicing a pepper to give them a look.
"Never you mind," Melissa says lightly and sets a casserole dish down.
"That better not be potato bake," Stiles warns.
"I used light cream," Melissa dismisses, lifting the lid and Derek gets assaulted with the heavenly scent of potato, cream and cheese.
"That doesn't mean-" Stiles starts to protest but Derek wraps a hand around his mouth and Stiles' dad gives him a grateful salute with his knife.
"It's a special occasion," Derek says, shaking Stiles lightly who licks his hand in retaliation.
They sit down to dinner shortly after and Derek feels comfortable and included which should terrify him, but it doesn't at all. He watches Stiles being gently interrogated by both his father and Melissa about being careful and taking care of himself and then they switch to questioning Derek in a similar fashion. Stiles puts a hand on his knee halfway through and leaves it there and it grounds Derek, lets him smile and nod and even tentatively offer a few of his own stories.
"He has a fantastic ass. Well done, kiddo," Melissa says to Stiles when they're retrieving dessert from the kitchen.
Stiles chokes on whatever he was sneaking into his mouth before bringing the food back in. "Mel, Jesus! Werewolf, remember?" he splutters and she titters and then there's a squeak like maybe she jabbed him right in that place in his side where he's most ticklish. Derek should feel embarrassed, but he can't help but smile down at his empty place setting.
"They talking about you?" Stiles' dad asks.
"Uh, yeah. Melissa thinks I have nice... eyes," Derek hedges.
"I'll bet she does," the Sheriff huffs and then he's looking at Derek, his expression canny. "There's something you boys aren't telling me about this whole thing."
"Sir?" Derek asks, swallowing thickly.
"Don't panic, I'm not going to ask. Just... you care about him, right?"
"More than he knows," Derek says fiercely.
"Oh hell, son, you think you're more in this than Stiles?" the Sheriff says with a shake of his head and when Derek looks at him quickly, he continues, "Because I gotta tell ya-"
That's when Stiles chooses to bustle back in from the kitchen, holding a large bowl of fruit salad.
"I'm pretty sure there was a chocolate cake out there," the Sheriff says, eyeing the bowl his son's plonked down in the middle of the table with a flourish.
"Was there? I didn't see any cake," Stiles says, sitting down and pushing the bowl at his dad.
Derek watches them argue back and forth until Melissa comes in with plates and napkins, nudging him as she rounds the table and offering him a conspiratorial eye roll.
"Do I look like I'm trying to seduce you?" Stiles asks, voice strangely muffled and Derek risks opening one eye suspecting a trap, but Stiles is just curled back on his heels wearing what looks like about four layers of shirts and a hoodie, jeans and with a scarf tied around his face and neck like a makeshift balaclava, only his eyes showing.
"You look like you're about to rob a bank, or a stagecoach," Derek admits, tugging part of the scarf free so he can trail one of the ends through his fingers.
"It's chilly outside."
"We're going outside?"
"I have something I want to show you," Stiles says and then he's up on his feet, bouncing lightly and tugging on one of Derek's hands.
"Fine," Derek relents, suspecting Stiles won't leave him in peace until he gets his way.
Derek heads for the car once he's pulled on jeans, t-shirt, his leather jacket and a pair of boots, but Stiles shakes his head and heads down the road on foot instead, kicking his way through fallen leaves left undisturbed in the middle of the road by the late hour. Derek follows, thinking that maybe they should have taken the car when Stiles leads him down three more streets, but then they arrive at a small, fenced-in park with a huge tree in the middle.
Stiles pushes the gate open that squeaks in protest and then reaches out to take Derek's hand, towing him towards the large tree. "This had been here since I can remember," Stiles says, face turned up to the tree.
"It's... something," Derek says, not sure why a tree warranted a late night stroll in his pajamas. Stiles is rounding the base of the tree though, stepping carefully over and on thick roots until he stops and reaches up, fingers tracing something carved deep into the bark.
J + C with a love heart around the letters.
It's completely hokey but Stiles is looking at the carving with such reverence that Derek just gets it, without even having to be told.
It's Stiles' parents.
"Your dad did this?" Derek asks quietly.
"My mom. She was always the vandal," Stiles says with a fond smile. "We go to her grave, sure, but Dad always says that there's more of her here. This is where we come on Christmas to visit her, on her birthday."
"Stiles," Derek breathes, at a loss what else to say, honored to be trusted with something so private.
"So, Mom," Stiles says, fingers still pushed into the bottom curve of the heart. "This is Derek. He's a bit grouchy but I like him. Melissa has endorsed his ass-"
"-ets for you. His assets," Stiles says, throwing a cheeky smile over his shoulder. Then his expression sobers when he turns back to the carving and he says, "You would've liked him too."
Derek reaches out and wraps his arms around Stiles' middle, pressing his face into the warm space between his shoulder blades and just breathing for a minute. He pulls Stiles' scent deep into his lungs and feels Stiles relax back into his hold, one hand looping back to push into Derek's hair.
"I used to think this was embarrassing. They'd come here for a picnic on their anniversary and when I was ten I said I didn't want to come, that it was lame," Stiles says. His voice is a choked off whisper when he adds, "That was their last..."
"It's okay, you were just a kid," Derek says gently. Stiles' shirts have tugged aside in Derek's grip, the joint of his neck and shoulder bared and Derek presses a kiss there now, trailing up Stiles' throat until Stiles is turning in his arms and burying his face in Derek's own neck. The press of his face is hot and damp and Derek rubs a soothing hand down his spine, unsure what else to do, what else he can offer in comfort.
"Ugh, way to be a downer, right?" Stiles says, his voice a little watery-sounding.
"It's nice," Derek reassures him. "I wish I had something tangible left."
Stiles curls back then to look at Derek, his eyebrows a sad bow. "Sorry, I-"
"No, it's fine, really. It's good, that you have this, don't be silly," Derek dismisses immediately.
"There's something I need to tell you... that we need to talk about when we get home," Stiles says, leaning back a little more and wiping over his face with a sleeve.
"It's just something we should've been upfront about. It's one of those things that probably wouldn't have been a big deal but now we've left it for too long-"
"Stiles, you're starting to worry me a little," Derek says and Stiles huffs out a sigh and shrugs.
"We've gotta sit down with Laura when we get back anyway. I'd rather tell you both at the same time. Scott and I should've..." Stiles makes a helpless gesture with his hands.
"Are you secretly already married?" Derek asks.
"What? No!" Stiles says, surprised into a laugh.
"You didn't tell us for a reason?"
"It doesn't seem like a good one now," Stiles acknowledges.
"You'll tell us everything when we get back?" At Stiles' quick nod, Derek decides it's something he can let go for now. If it's something Stiles feels he needs Scott for and to tell Laura at the same time, then it can't be anything about them as a couple specifically and that leaves Derek feeling somewhat reassured. "Okay."
"You should look at the road at least once in a while," Stiles says when he catches Derek, amused.
"I could do this drive in my sleep."
"I'd rather never experience that. I don't have werewolf healing," Stiles says, reaching up to push at Derek's chin and turn his face forward. Derek nips at his retreating fingers and Stiles lets out a startled laugh.
"You know those movies where someone gets a blowjob while driving? I've always wanted to try that," Derek says, waggling his eyebrows.
"Most of those end in a car accident," Stiles says, but he's full-on grinning now and his interest in almost palpable.
"Werewolf reflexes," Derek dismisses.
"Just drive, Geeves," Stiles says.
"Should'a taken a cab," Derek groans, taking his hand off the gear shift long enough to squeeze Stiles' thigh.
"Hey, do you mind if we swing by my apartment? I want to pick up some more games."
"Your priorities are a little worrying," Derek says and Stiles waves a dismissive hand at him.
"Scott picked up the new Wolf Corps and I want to steal it before he gets too good."
"So that's one I can play?" Derek asks.
"Of course, duh," Stiles says. "I'm thinking in our underwear, when we take a breather to order pizza."
"You think I'm going to let you take a breather?"
"I don't have werewolf healing," Stiles says on a chuckle.
"I guess we'll have to allow for your frail little- ow!" Derek says, when Stiles punches him in the shoulder.
"Watch it. Withholding sex is now something I can actually threaten. It's a thing now."
"You'd break before me," Derek says.
"No, we're not doing that now. Let's just agree we'd be equally bad at resisting," Stiles opines.
"I'm good with that," Derek agrees and they high-five, which is ridiculous and something Derek would normally never be caught doing, but Stiles makes him ridiculous. "We're here."
"Cool, I'll be two secs," Stiles says when there isn't a spot in front of the building and Derek has to double-park.
Derek waits about five minutes and someone pulls out right in front of him. He takes the spot, drums his fingers on the steering wheel for all of about three seconds, before he's getting out too. The temptation to see Stiles' apartment, see his space is too great and Derek can't imagine Stiles would mind.
Stiles' address was on all the paperwork they signed so Derek finds the apartment easily. He rolls his eyes because Stiles has left the front door ajar and he can hear Stiles singing to himself from deeper in the apartment. Derek focuses, but there's no one else home, so Derek pushes the door open gently, wanting an uninterrupted poke around before Stiles busts him.
The place smells strongly of Scott and Danny, Stiles only really an undertone now since he hasn't been living in the apartment for a few weeks. The living room is furnished in what looks like scavenged odds and ends. Nothing matches, everything looks just the tiniest bit scruffy, but it's still comfortable and lived in, which Derek feels is lacking in his own space. His apartment is all clean lines and order and while Stiles has started making a dent in that order, Derek realizes that it's not enough.
He wants more mess in his life if it feels like this.
There's a blocked off fireplace off to the side with a mantle and Derek makes for it, drawn by the promise of photos. There's a service photo of a man in a uniform with the American flag draped behind him that Derek recognizes as a younger version of Stiles' dad. There's a picture of two boys who look about six, grinning for all their worth and with spindly arms slung around each other that's definitely Scott and Stiles. Derek touches reverential fingers to it, enchanted.
He moves along. A photo of Danny surrounded by people Derek doesn't know that must be his family, a curly haired woman heavy with child who has Scott's bright smile and a picture of Scott, Stiles, Lydia and Danny at the beach, Lydia in an overly large sun hat, Scott and Danny tan and smiling and Stiles as red as a tomato and reaching for Lydia's hat.
Derek almost misses the last photo, because it's half-tucked behind the one at the beach. He can see Stiles and half of Scott with his arm around someone else. Derek reaches carefully to tug it out and then nearly drops it because the girl under Scott's arm is Allison Argent.
He recognizes her immediately, even though he's never seen her smile before. Through Kate's trial she'd been stoic and serious like the rest of her family, like her grandfather who founded the Fight the Bite political party and her mother, who was extremely vocal about her anti-werewolf stance every time a reporter put a microphone under her nose during the trial.
Allison had been probably fifteen when the whole thing happened and she'd well and truly dropped out of the public eye shortly after unlike her more vocal family members, but Derek couldn't deny what he was seeing, what it was evidence of. He remembered clearly Stiles telling him that what had happened to Scott wasn't fair and it was possible, even likely, that Scott held a grudge, enough of one that when the Fight to Bite people came knocking, he agreed to help them.
Stiles wouldn't though... or would he? His friend was attacked, his entire life turned upside down. He tracked down others that had been affected in a similar way, Jason and Shauna might not have been the only ones. Derek fisted his hands in the hair at his temples because he'd completely bought it, he'd nearly fallen for the same trick twice, dammit.
He'd nearly been seduced into losing everything again.
He wondered how it would've gone down, whether Stiles would come out after they were married and claim to be attacked, or perhaps expose the arrangement for what it was. Clawbook wouldn't survive the scandal and other fledgling werewolf-run companies would also suffer. It would have a knock-on effect that Derek couldn't even entirely fathom.
Derek could still hear muffled thumps and off-key singing coming from further into the apartment and he wanted nothing more than to storm in and confront Stiles, demand he tell the truth, but despite everything, he didn't want to hurt Stiles and he couldn't be sure what he'd do if Stiles admitted it, admitted to being Kate all over again.
Derek drops the photo. It clatters and he hears the glass in the frame break, but now he's moving fast, out into the hallway and down the stairs, taking them three, four at a time to get back to the street. He hears a disembodied voice when he reaches the car, someone calling out to him from above. If he looks, he knows he'll see Stiles leaning over his balcony railing but he can't stop, he can't look because then he'll go back up there and-
Derek gets in the Camaro and drives. He doesn't know where he's going until he reaches the pack house and he doesn't say a word when Laura opens the door, opens her arms. He just falls into them because he can't do anything else.
They're probably not out of the woods in that regards, but getting distance from Scott and his pack is the first step in a number Laura is planning to try and insulate themselves. Derek even starts thinking that maybe they'll escape intact, except for Derek's heart of course, but then Laura pushes into his bedroom on the ninth day of his wallowing, pushes his curtains back and yanks his comforter off.
"Up. You need to come into the office with me."
"Whatever it is, I'm sure you can handle it," Derek grouses. He picks his phone up to see what time it is and tries to ignore the dozens of unanswered messages. He'll get Erica to clear them later.
"Nope, sorry. We have a meeting with Lydia Martin."
"What? Why?" Derek asks, practically growls.
"Because she's talking Wrongful Termination," Laura says.
"Let her do her worst."
"Der, we were just starting to see the light from underneath the anti-human stain. You really think we'll survive getting accused of two cases of wrongful termination under the Werewolf Act?"
"You think they'll say we're anti-werewolf now?" Derek bites out, incredulous.
"I think that if we've messed up some kind of big conspiracy of theirs to take us down from within, they're going to try it from the outside. This will kill us. We'll be seen as turning on our own kind."
"They were the ones-"
"Derek, the bigger guy is always going to look like the aggressor. We're the bigger guy."
Derek sits up and dry-washes his face with his hands for a moment. "You think they'll settle?"
Laura drops down onto the corner of his bed, looking more defeated than Derek has ever seen her. "No, I don't."
"What do you think they do want?"
"I don't know. Lydia is their opening salvo. I guess this meeting is more about bracing ourselves for what comes next than me having any hope that we're going to resolve this."
Derek realizes, belatedly, that he's been horribly selfish in all of this. Sure, he's been well and truly kicked, but they're targeting Laura as well and he's only seen how the whole situation affected him. Derek reaches out and snags Laura, drawing her into a hug.
"I'm sorry I didn't see this coming," Laura says in a small voice.
"How could you?"
"I'm supposed to protect us. I'm the alpha."
"We're a pack. We'll face whatever is coming together."
"Excuse me?" Laura says, her eyes flashing red.
"Oh, don't worry. I'm not just talking about you and your brother. I'm including Stiles and Scott in that. All dumbasses, every single one of you."
"Wait a second-"
"I told them to level with you, that you would give them a chance to explain but apparently they didn't and neither did you."
"I'm a little lost," Laura says slowly, laying her hands flat on the table.
"The drama we would avoid if people learned to have simple, concise conversations," Lydia says, sitting back and crossing her arms.
"Like you're doing now?" Derek says slowly and Lydia raises her eyebrows, but she also inclines her head, conceding the point.
"Fine, Allison Argent, now Allison Argyros, changed her name to distance herself from her family and everything they currently stand for, from an anti-werewolf perspective. She, Stiles and Scott are not part of some horrible conspiracy to bring you down, mostly because those three could not organise their way out of a paper bag."
"We're just supposed to believe you?" Derek snorts, trying to tamp down on the tiny flicker of hope that leaps up inside him that Stiles was genuine.
"Stiles didn't want to tell you until you trusted him so you would give him a chance to explain. You found out prematurely and it all went terribly. I think I might be psychic because I predicted that this would be exactly what happened."
"Like my brother said, why should we believe you?" Laura presses, her eyes narrowed.
"You can choose not to. I can't prove that we're not out to get you or whatever, it's completely up to you to decide. All I can tell you is that Allison and Scott were dating before he was bitten. He stood by Allison through everything that happened with Kate and then she stood by him when he was bitten even though her family didn't want her to. She changed her name because the media would hound any Argent they could find whenever there was trouble between humans and werewolves. You're both werewolves, how about you tell me whether I'm lying to you."
"Stiles basically told me that he agreed with the Fight the Bite people," Derek says even though it's not strictly true, just to see Lydia's reaction. So far, to all Derek's senses, she's telling the truth but he just can't trust his instincts when it comes to Stiles, he's been clouding them since Derek first laid eyes on him.
"Did he?" Lydia says. "Did he really?"
"Well, he believes in registration."
"He believes in a structured, supported process through which someone becomes a werewolf. He certainly doesn't believe that humans should dictate when and how that happens. He's been helping Scott and Danny put together a proposal to get a government grant to start a werewolf run body to do just that. He approached some of your advertisers at your party about corporate support and sponsorship. You can ask them."
Laura's mouth tilts up a little and she says, "Well, that certainly sounds more like the Scott and Stiles I've gotten to know than radical extremists bent on our destruction."
"Laura," Derek says warningly, because even though in his heart he wants to believe, his head is currently still overruling it and telling him to be wary.
Lydia stands, slings her purse over her shoulder and flips hair off her shoulder. "Maybe in about ten years you'll realize that the ambush you're waiting for is not coming and you'll finally come to terms with the sheer scope of your boneheadedness."
They're both watching her silently, mouths open when Lydia reaches the door and turns around. "Oh, and if I wanted to harm the werewolf image, I wouldn't choose a social media company," she says, pulling a face. "I'd target a non-profit."
She leaves and Laura turns to Derek and smacks him on the shoulder.
"Did you really just sabotage the best relationship you've had in years and take me along for the ride?"
"With good reason," Derek says.
"You have to fix this."
"He still lied," Derek grumbles, petulant and Laura smacks him again.
"When you found out, you fled and got me to fire his pack. I'd say he had good reason to worry about us overreacting."
"If he'd just told me-"
"Would you have believed him? Could you have?"
"I don't know," Derek admits, because although he wanted to trust Stiles, he wasn't sure if he'd been there yet. The photo was a shock, but maybe Stiles sitting him down and telling him that Allison was in his life would have been as much of one and Derek isn't sure he would have been able to hear the truth.
"Talk to him."
"He might not want to hear anything I have to say," Derek says.
"So, message him, tell him he can come and pick up his stuff and then, I don't know, ambush him with cuddles and apologies."
"That's a terrible plan."
"You have a better one?"
"No," Derek sighs and stands, straightening his shoulders and nodding. "Okay. Cuddles and apologies, huh?"
He doesn't want that. He doesn't want that at all.
He leans against the wall next to his door, digs his phone back out and gives it another try.
Derek: Everything's out?
Stiles: Under Godzilla
Derek winces, stooping down to pick up the ceramic Godzilla that Stiles had bought him and was set next to the front door, making Derek smile to see it whenever he got home before he was even inside. The key is stuck to the bottom with a piece of clear tape and Derek pries it free and holds it in his fist for a moment, the jagged edges biting into his palm.
Derek: There's some stuff in the back closet
Derek, at this point, is not above lying.
Stiles: OMG FINE. Sorry to take up PRECIOUS closet space. Be ovr in 20
Derek tucks his phone away and is tempted to sit out in the hall till Stiles gets there, but he takes a deep breath and uses Stiles' key to open the door.
The apartment is bigger, colder and lacking when Derek moves into it. Stiles' scent still lingers, but it's faint and nearly overridden with the musty deadness of a space closed up for too long without any fresh air. Derek cases the place quickly, but Stiles was thorough and there's not one hint of him left which makes Derek's heart hurt. If there'd been something left behind, Derek might have had hope that Stiles would be looking for an excuse to get back in, but there's nothing.
Derek does another circuit of the apartment just in case anyway, and eventually checks the laundry and finds a last load of clothes in the dryer, seemingly forgotten. There's a few of Derek's undershirts, a bundle of socks and Stiles' Stud Muffin t-shirt. Derek twists the t-shirt in his hands, chewing on the inside of his mouth, determination thrumming through him to never let Stiles leave his life again.
There's a stilted tap on his door when Derek gets back to the living room. Derek crosses to the front door and opens it and it takes everything in him not to grab Stiles when he's revealed on the other side. Stiles' smell hits him like a slap in the face, all salt and warmth. Stiles is sweaty, hair curling limply over his forehead and dark circles under his arms like he'd maybe been out for a run when Derek texted. He's wearing shorts that cut off just above his hairy knees and Derek has the insane urge to drop to his own knees and kiss them.
"Well?" Stiles snaps. Derek holds up the t-shirt and Stiles rolls his eyes. His anger is obviously coming from a place of hurt, but it's still an obstacle Derek is going to have to forge before they can talk properly. "Seriously? That's all? You could've just..." Stiles flails his hands before he snatches at the shirt. Derek holds onto it and they actually have a few seconds of childish tug-of-war before Stiles drops the bit of shirt he'd been gripping and steps back, eyes narrowed.
"We should talk," Derek says, jerking his chin to indicate Stiles should come into the apartment.
"Oh, now you want to talk? When it's convenient for you?" Stiles says. He then cranes around Derek and adds, "If there's plastic on the floor, I'm out of here."
"Stiles, I'm not going to kill you," Derek says, exasperated.
"Well, what then?"
"Lydia came to see Laura and I. She explained everything."
"Yeah, I could've explained too, if you'd bothered to ask me. Instead you went into hiding and got your sister to fire my friends."
Stiles' anger has ebbed away, but what's left is a palpable sadness that's bitter on Derek's tongue. He reaches out on impulse and Stiles leans away, scowling. "Stiles-"
"Everything's not just okay because you decide it is," he says.
"I don't expect it to be. I know we have some work to do."
"I know I screwed up, not telling you sooner, but I didn't expect...I was scared to lose..." Stiles holds out his hands, clenches and unclenches his fists a few times.
"I've been terrified since the moment I saw you in our offices," Derek admits.
"Of me? Why?" Stiles says. He'd been looking like he was going to retreat, but his curiosity makes him step towards Derek instead of away.
"You kept saying I hated what you did but I... didn't is the problem," Derek says, then leans down and picks up the box set just inside the door that he'd rescued from the apartment's crawl space. Derek can feel his cheeks burning as he passes the box over to Stiles, who takes it with an openly puzzled expression and hunkers down to pry it open.
"These are... when did you get these?" Stiles asks, plucking out a couple of Fangboys and holding them out. He goes back to pawing through the box and makes a startled, choked-off noise when he manages to unearth the well-worn magazines at the bottom. "Wait, you have a Pack Life in here."
"Keep going. It gets more embarrassing," Derek says.
"What do you... oh my god, you have my catalog in here?" Stiles splutters, holding it aloft. It naturally falls open at the fourth page, probably because that's Stiles' page, wearing a godawful fuzzy green turtleneck and staring off into the distance even though he's obviously in a cheap studio. "Where did you even get this?"
"I found it on eBay," Derek admits.
"So, is this supposed to be funny or something?" Stiles asks, standing up still with his catalog in hand and kicks at the box. "Or... some kind of proof of something or... Derek, I don't know what this is."
"I didn't just get these recently. I've had them all along. I didn't want to tell you before because it seemed a little creepy. It still kind of does."
"You hate this stuff."
"I really don't, or at least, I don't hate your stuff. I've been following you since that Pack Life issue," Derek says, stooping over to pluck said magazine out of the box and hold it open. There's a huge amount of werewolf specialty magazines available and Pack Life is just that, a celebration of all things pack. Stiles is just a model in a sidebar photograph that goes along with a story but it was one about blended packs, humans and werewolves and the picture is of a large group of the same but Derek's eye had been immediately drawn to the boy in the forefront, laughing and rolling around on the grass with a couple of teenage weres.
Stiles had his long legs kicked out, his shirt rucked up so a hint of vulnerable tummy with a dark trail of hair down to his belt was showing. One of the weres had him in a headlock and the other was biting playfully at his forearm but from the glee and joy on Stiles' face, he couldn't have been happier about it.
Derek had first found the issue while sullenly waiting for Laura in a beautician's waiting room and he'd tucked it into his jacket when leaving without a thought.
"Why did we fight so much then?" Stiles asks, flailing his hands.
"I didn't want you to know how pathetic I was. I had a crush on you just from these and your blog but then when I met you..."
"Not in the least," Derek says quickly, risking stepping closer to Stiles again. He doesn't balk this time, instead is looking down at the magazine in his hands like it's still a puzzle he can't get his head around.
"This doesn't change the fact that you don't trust me," Stiles says finally, dropping the magazine back in the box. It makes a hollow fwap when it lands and has a sound of finality to it that Derek doesn't like at all.
"I'm trying to. It's hard for me."
"I get that, I do. I just, I don't know if I can risk this happening again."
"You bailing when things get tough."
I won't Derek wants to promise, anything to get the resigned sadness off Stiles' face, but he also knows himself and he can't do that to Stiles, can't give him guarantees. Sometimes he reacts badly, closes down, flight instead of fight. Laura calls him on it, and probably given half a chance and time, Stiles will too, but he's got to want to take that risk.
"I might need a few hours, maybe days sometimes to get to a place where I can hear reason or get my head together. It's not fair to ask you to put up with that, I know and I can work on it. I can promise you I'll try if we can try."
"I'm sorry for not telling you sooner," Stiles says, looking up.
"I'm sorry for not letting you explain."
"Okay, so, what do we do now?"
"How about we try a date?" Derek proposes and Stiles blinks at him, surprised.
"Aren't we a little past all that?"
"I don't see why," Derek says, taking hold of Stiles' hands, smile broadening when Stiles lets him.
"We-ell," Stiles hedges and Derek feels a sinking feeling into his stomach, right up until Stiles says, "You're going to have to ask my Alpha and right now he's feeling especially territorial about me."
"Maybe we can double so he can keep an eye on you," Derek says, then tightens his grip and adds, "You and me, him and Allison."
"You think you're ready for that?" Stiles asks, chewing on his lip.
"I have no idea, but I feel like I can be ready for anything, as long as you're there."
"Oh my god," Stiles says, eyes twinkling with mirth and Derek drops his hands and scowls because he knows what's coming. "That is the sappiest thing I've ever heard."
"You're an asshole, you know that?" Derek grunts, but he can't be too offended because Stiles reaches forward and wraps his long, monkey arms around Derek's neck, giggling into his skin. Derek cages him in with his own arms and promises to do everything in his power to never let Stiles go again.
"It's just dinner," Stiles says, giving Shauna a quick hug. Derek watches Stiles, proud of the way he's navigating this, the first meeting with a view to maybe taking Shauna and Jason into their pack. They haven't expanded since Boyd who was their last and it's a big step, but Laura had been obviously excited by the prospect and Derek thinks it's time.
Stiles leans around Shauna to knock on the door. There's excited thumping from inside, the sound of shoving and cursing and then the door is yanked open, Erica on the other side, brushing her hair out of her face and panting like she'd just run a race. Considering Isaac and Boyd were sprawled on the floor behind her, it might have been closer to a wrestling match. They quickly gain their feet, shuffling and embarrassed and Shauna does probably the best thing she can, considering.
"I like them," Laura says later, leaning into Derek and watching Shauna fawn over Isaac and Boyd while Jason watches Erica pick a DVD to watch with an awed kind of wonder. Stiles is tucked into Jason's side, drawing on his arm with a sharpie and Jason is oblivious, even though Stiles is drawing the one thing all boys do, no matter their age, given enough clear space and a pen.
"You don't think that will be a problem?" Derek asks as Erica throws Jason a flirty smile over her shoulder.
"I think they'll be biting and scratching like siblings in no time," Laura says.
Right at that moment, Jason notices what Stiles is drawing on him and squawks in indignation, tumbling Stiles to the floor. Stiles is laughing maniacally as Jason tries to pin him but Derek knows, from very pleasant experience, that Stiles is a hard one to pin down.
"Okay, enough," Derek sighs and wades into the melee right when it looks like the three other betas are going to pile on. They do as soon as Derek plucks Stiles out from under Jason because with the human clear, they're free to squish each other all they please.
"Spoilsport," Stiles protests as Derek carries him back over to the table where Laura is sitting with a coffee cup loosely circled in her fingers and deposits him next to her.
"Do I need to remind you about the bruised ribs last month? That was not a good time for anyone."
"I was the one in pain," Stiles sniffs.
"We were the ones that had to constantly hear about it and deliver you soup and comics," Laura counters.
"Scott was pretty overly thrilled that I had a new pool of werewolves at my beck and call for that one," Stiles admits and then squeaks when Laura casually leans over and bites his nose.
"Tell anyone that we're at your beck and call and I'll do that again with my fangs," Laura threatens sweetly.
"That kind of thing shouldn't be hot, right?" Stiles says and Laura rolls her eyes, but she's also smiling indulgently.
"Should we ask Shauna to the barbecue Sunday?" Laura asks and Stiles perks up. They've been having monthly gatherings between Laura's and Scott's packs and so far they've been going well. Allison is sweet and gentle and Derek's fears that he wouldn't be able to see past Kate to her had quickly evaporated.
It's still a long, difficult road, but it's one worth traveling.
"Yeah, I think so," Derek agrees and Stiles grabs Derek's face so he can kiss him.
"Awesome, I'll ask her," Stiles says, hopping up like an excited bunny and leaping over the werewolves still locked in what now looks like a tickle war to get to where Shauna is looking on with a soft smile on her face.