April, Year One of Talia Hale’s Second Term
Derek is supposed to love being in New Orleans.
He grew up here. He grew up running down the streets of the French Quarter to make fun of tourists, spending lazy summer days at the Jazz & Heritage Festival, picking up the off-kilter mix of French and Cajun spoken only by those who can trace their roots back to the bayou the way the Hales can. September through June of every year may have been spent at the most prestigious private schools up and down the east coast, and Derek might appreciate St. Louis, Boston, and DC on their own merits, but New Orleans? Derek has a lifetime love affair with New Orleans. Culture and music and food and people, sites and history and legends and the unbelievably tight-knit community of those who call it home. Derek can feel in his bones – New Orleans.
He’s supposed to love it here. He only makes it down a few times a year anymore, but he usually spends the whole first day just walking the city, getting it sunk into his skin again.
This time, he spends the weekend sitting in his loft, watching ESPN Classic and a documentary on prairie dogs. He works out aggressively in the little gym in his building and tries to get Luke to spar with him, but the Secret Service agent refuses. He answers his phone when his sisters text or call because after the two weeks they’ve had, they’re all a little quick to worry and need to be in contact more than usual. But he shuts down any conversation that turns even vaguely in Stiles’ direction, because thinking about him – it – her – he can’t. He just can’t.
Then it’s Monday. Derek isn’t sure how he’s supposed to function when three days ago he found out that his – what is Stiles to him, anyway? His friend? His ex-boyfriend? His I-hoped-you'd-be-my-boyfriend-someday-person? His person-I-wanted-to-be-different-stronger-better-for? – when three days ago, he found out that Stiles’ mother was not only alive, but had tried to kill Derek’s mother twice and Stiles had known about it for months and hadn’t done a damn thing to stop her.
It’s too complicated put into phrasing, even when Derek is just thinking about it.
So, he doesn’t try. He just…goes to work.
It’s shockingly simple, actually. He’s been a bang-up compartmentalizer from day one, so he brushes off those skills and puts them into use. It’s a busy week at Hale Enterprises NOLA, too, which helps: the London branch opens the following Monday, so everything is conference calls at odd hours with the London and Amsterdam folks and long, detailed lists of everything that needs to go off without a hitch. All the domestic branch directors are around, as are most of the VPs, and the board of directors is making it a point to be available by phone. Something that Derek loves about HaleEnt is that they’ve never really grown out of that roll-up-your-sleeves, everyone’s-a-team-player attitude that his grandfather, Arthur Hale, had instilled when Hale Enterprises was just twenty people working out of someone’s basement – and that spirit is probably the reason that 10PM on Wednesday finds Derek in a conference room with two other directors, a VP, a handful of guys from Legal, and ten interns, assembly line-ing the disassembly, re-ordering, and re-assembly of several hundred info packets they need for Friday’s launch party.
“I’d just like to point out once again that we are a tech company,” says Evelyn Lacroix, the director of the Seattle branch, “and that it’s ridiculous that we can’t figure out a better way to do this. Ryan, you’re the VP of Manufacturing. Construct something to make this faster.”
“Wouldn’t even if I could,” Lindsey Ryan retorts, carefully extracting another binding strip and handing the packet down the line. “Just knowing how many paper cuts you’re getting is making this all worth it to me.”
"Play nice, ladies, you’re scaring the interns,” Marcos Delmonte, one of HaleEnt’s lead lawyers, sighs. He plops a corrected packet into a cardboard box, eyes the level, and adds, “Okay, that’s another box done. We’re at three hundred, so – halfway there? Time for a break.”
There’s a general sound of consensus. A couple people wander out to find a restroom; everyone else mills around aimlessly, flexing their fingers. Derek pokes through one of the boxes of takeout they’d ordered for dinner a few hours ago, looking for leftovers.
"This packet must’ve gone through at least two dozen hands before it got to the printer,” Ryan groans, dumping herself into the chair next to the takeout. “How did no one check to make sure the pages were in order?”
“It’s a simple mistake,” Derek shrugs, emerging from the bag with a beignet and powdered sugar-covered hand. “At least we caught it when we did.”
Ryan snorts. “Can you imagine if it’d gotten to Friday and your dad was in the middle of his big speech, talking everyone through the packet, and then the pages aren’t in the right order?”
“He’d have made a clever joke and no one would have remembered in five minutes,” says Evelyn, taking a seat on her wife’s lap. “David’s got charisma coming out of his ears.”
“That he does,” Derek agrees, sitting next to them. They’re at the far end of the table – Derek can see his reflection in the wall-mounted monitor they used for a video meeting with the London office earlier today.
“So, how’s the president doing?” Evelyn asks quietly, after a furtive look around the room. “And your dad?”
Derek picks his beignet into pieces, considering what to say. Ev and Ryan are old friends of the family – they’ve both got ten years on Derek and started working at the Seattle branch when he was still in high school, quickly ascending up the ranks to branch director and overall Manufacturing VP. They attended Cora’s wedding because Cora actually wanted them there, not just because they’re big names at HaleEnt. “They’re both doing well. My mom’s irritated that she has to have a check-up twice a day, and my dad probably won’t stop worrying every time she sneezes for at least the next decade, but they’re good. Thanks for asking.”
“It’s good that he's staying in DC until Monday,” Ryan muses. She rubs at a spot behind Evelyn’s ear that makes her sigh. “If anything happened to this one, I wouldn’t let her out of my sight anytime soon.”
“Plus, we’ve got a Hale here to take over if anything goes wrong,” Evelyn adds, leaning in to Ryan’s touch. “Not that anything –.”
The phone on the table rings, cutting her off, and Ryan smacks her lightly upside the head. “Why, babe? Why?”
“Answer it,” Derek says, ignoring them and nodding to the intern sitting closest to the phone. The college kid pokes the requisite buttons and the voice of one of the overnight receptionists – Marjorie, maybe, or Margaret – fills the room.
“I’ve got the London office on the other line looking for David Hale,” she says. “They say it’s an emergency.”
Derek gestures at the intern, who just looks back at him blankly, so Derek stands up and paces over to the phone. “Put them through.”
Three hours later, Derek boards a red-eye to Heathrow.
“Appendicitis,” says Jeremy Milton, director of HaleEnt London, when he wakes up to find Derek at his hospital bedside. “Acute appendicitis complicated by a preexisting blood condition five days before my branch opens. I’d have ripped the bloody thing out with my own hands a year ago if I’d have known this was going to happen.”
“Everything went smoothly,” Derek assures him, rubbing a hand across his chin and trying to remember the last time he’d shaved. It’s Monday, around 7PM according to the clock on the wall, and things like shaving and changing his shirt approximately every twenty-four hours have gone out the window in favor of getting the London branch up and running while their director was out of commission. He didn’t sleep on the flight over, hasn’t made an effort to adjust to the local time zone, and worked about 65 hours between touching down at noon on Thursday and right now, so the fact that he’s coherent at all is probably a miracle. “The server crashed when R&D’s backup systems kicked in, but I.T. got it back up in twenty minutes. Congratulations.”
Jeremy waves a weak hand. “I should be congratulating you. You saved my ass with this one, Hale. All of our asses. My team’s been sending me ‘Don’t come back, we want to keep Derek forever’ emails since Saturday.”
"You put in six months of prep work,” Derek yawns. “I showed up for the last four days and helped get you across the finish line, but that’s it.”
“Don’t be a prick when I’m thanking you, Hale. It can’t have been easy for you to leave your family to come over for this, and I appreciate the sacrifice.”
Derek replays Laura’s screeched reaction when he called her to say that he was heading to another continent for a few days. “It’s been nice to get away, actually. To be somewhere where the cover of every magazine isn’t my mother’s face. Or that woman’s.”
“Stilinski?” Jeremy shifts in his bed. “Seems like a properly crazy bitch. Can’t believe they still haven’t found her. And related to that other bloke, the press secretary? Right madhouse you’ve got going on in the states. Did you know him? The son?”
Derek realizes he’s picking at his cuticles. “No,” he says, wiping away a tiny spot of blood. “No, not really.”
It’s another two weeks before Jeremy is back on his feet and up to speed, and Derek sticks around for two weeks after that just to make sure everything’s transitioned properly. Or because London, dreary and drizzly as it may be in April, is starting to grow on him. Or because he knows the DC branch is functioning just fine under James, Trella, and Cheyenne.
It is not because he’s a chickenshit little manchild running away from his problems, as Laura so indelicately puts it during their Skype call on the night that marks a full month in London.
“Yes, it is, actually,” Laura says, taking a long swig of her beer and then brandishing it at the screen. “You’re still ticked at Stiles for something that was completely beyond his control, and instead of actually talking to the guy and apologizing for bitching him out and then leaving the fucking country, you’re hiding in London like a chickenshit little manchild.”
“You weren’t there, Laura,” Derek protests, rubbing at his eyes and regretting accepting this call at 11PM his time. “You didn’t hear him – he knew that his mother was alive. And that she was the one trying to kill Mom. He could have told anyone, but he didn’t, and she almost died as a result.”
“But she didn’t,” Laura says succinctly. “Mom didn’t die, Dad’s running a half-marathon next month to prove that his leg healed up just fine, and if you remember, Stiles got shot, too.”
Derek shrugs, moody. “So? That day was insane. Claudia easily could have hit him by accident.”
“Stiles and Cora were the only two targets left when he got hit.” Laura shakes her head. “And Cora probably would have died if Stiles hadn’t been there.”
“Which would be a really good way to make us all think that he’s on our side,” Derek says, but the words sound hollow even to him.
Laura, for her part, is starting to get legitimately pissed. “Do you honestly think that Stiles had anything to do with the shooting? Or the poisoning? Because the Stiles I know would die before letting anything happen to our family. Literally.”
Derek drags a hand across his chin. He’s working some serious scruff these days. “No. At least, I don’t think so. But he should have told someone, Laura. Me, or you, or Deaton – hell, he knows Erica and Boyd well enough. He could have told them.”
Laura peels a strip of paper off the label of her bottle and rolls it up between her fingers. “I think there’s a reason he didn’t.”
“Laura,” Derek says cautiously, suddenly wide awake. “What do you know?”
“Nothing!” She says, flicking the ball of paper at the screen. “Nothing. But the US Attorney for DC cleared him, Derek. And Mom and Peter both still want him around. Don’t you think there’s got to be a reason for that?”
“A reason no one will tell us doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence,” Derek says darkly. He misses Stiles, sure – misses him sharply every time he sees something he wants to tell Stiles about, misses him like a phantom limb every other waking moment – but that doesn’t change the fact that Stiles lied to him. About serious things. Repeatedly. For months.
It also doesn’t change the fact that Derek hasn’t received a single call, text, or email from Stiles since leaving for London.
Not that Derek checks.
“Derek,” Laura says sharply, then sighs and softens her tone. “I get that you’re hurt. You’ve got trust issues a mile wide and two miles deep, and you and Stiles were finally friends before all of this happened. But you’re thirty-two, Grumble Bear. You want to hide from your problems, that’s fine, but you have to do it domestically – no more of this fleeing-to-a-foreign-country shit. I had Louise book you a ticket home for Saturday. Luke and Chen are under orders to put you on that plane, even if it’s against your will.”
“Laura,” Derek begins, the ire that’s always just an inch too close to the surface these days bubbling uncomfortably, but Laura cuts him off.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she says. “Your job is here. Your family is here. Grow up. Come home.”
September, Year One of Talia Hale’s First Term (3.58 years ago)
“Keep your hands up, dude,” Scott says again, swiping at Stiles’ jaw. “It’s the number one rule in boxing, you have to –.”
“Keep your hands up, I got it,” Stiles says, ducking under Scott’s arm and then collapsing to the floor. “Can’t. No more. I surrender. All my base are belong to you.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Scott says cheerfully, plopping down onto the floor next to him in the middle of their Fox & Hole ring. “And we probably shouldn’t sit down here. We’re going to catch a fungus or something.”
“Don’t care,” Stiles pants. He strips off his mitts and chucks them away.
“I can’t believe you’ve had an open invitation to a secret boxing club that is literally underground and you only told me about it today,” Scott says, wiggling over to the corner on his stomach and coming back with a water bottle. “This is easily the coolest thing about you. I think I saw a senator’s dick in the locker room.”
“You are the only person I know who’d be excited about that.” Stiles squirts some of the water onto his forehead and lets it dribble into his hair. “I run twenty-five miles a week, minimum. How am I this exhausted after half an hour of boxing?”
“We weren’t even really boxing,” Scott contributes. “I’m just teaching you the basics.”
Scott snorts and lies down next to him. “Are you actually going to tell me what brought on the sudden need to learn to fight now?”
Stiles shakes out his right hand, his still slightly fissured second knuckle sending phantom pains up his arm from the connection with Derek’s jaw five weeks ago. “I can’t throw a decent punch to save my life. It’s embarrassing. I’m a grown man.”
“Nice try,” Scott says drily. “You’ve never been a fighter. Not a with-your-fists fighter, and never off the lacrosse field, anyway. Tell me what’s going on.”
“I’ll call Lydia.”
Stiles scowls at the ceiling. “Low blow.”
Scott shrugs, the movement horizontal and jerky against the slightly padded floor. “You gave me a five-minute speech about using every weapon in my arsenal before I walked into my last oral exam of law school.”
“I meant your puppy-dog eyes, Scott, not Lydia. She’s the nuclear option.”
“The shortest path between two points is –.”
“Oh my God, you’re a terrible human being,” Stiles groans, flopping an arm at Scott’s chest in disgust. He shuts his eyes and lets the sounds of the gym (little shouts, the rhythmic impact of body parts against mats and mitts, occasional outburst of laughter) lull him into something resembling a Zen state. It’s easy, then, to replay the last month – the month since his dad died – in his head as an impartial observer.
“Two main reasons,” he says. “You remember I told you about, uh, Terrance? From the Hale Communications team?”
He can feel Scott nodding, tiny vibrations traveling across the pad. “The guy you were hooking up with, right? Who had the wife, but you didn’t know about her until Election Day?”
Stiles bites back a laugh. He’d almost forgotten some of the details of his own cover story. “Yeah. He came to my dad’s funeral.”
“What?” Scott rockets upright and drags Stiles with him, forcing him to open his eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Stiles waves him off, aiming for nonchalance while swallowing down the bile that still rises at the back of his throat whenever he thinks about his dad, the funeral, or anything else even remotely related to Beacon Hills these days. “I knew you’d go all Rambo on his ass, and it wasn’t really the time or place for that. Anyway, he showed up, and I got pissed, and I tried to hit him.”
“Stiles,” Scott says, his voice soft, and Stiles consciously avoids making eye contact so he doesn’t have to see the concern or sympathy. “That’s why you were wearing the splint? You told me you punched a tree.”
“I was embarrassed,” Stiles says. “And a little drunk, at the time. But mostly embarrassed.”
Scott settles his feet under his knees. “I thought we got past being embarrassed with each other a long time ago.”
Stiles steeples his fingers and rests his chin on them. “We did. We are. I’m sorry.” He hates himself for this, for not being able to tell Scott the truth about Derek and everything that happened between them. It’s been almost a full year since the election, Talia’s securely stationed at the White House – he could tell Scott. Scott can secret-keep with the best of them, proven by the fact that no one outside the five people who were directly involved know anything about what happened with the McCall ranch. But telling Scott means reliving all of it, sorting back through every memory of him and Derek that he now looks back on and thinks, That was a red flag, there’s another warning sign, stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Don’t be sorry, dude, just talk to me,” Scott says, frustration clear in his voice. “I’m your best friend. You’re supposed to tell me shit like this.”
“It’s not exactly easy to talk about,” Stiles sighs, running his fingers through water- and sweat-drenched hair. “Anyway, it’s not like I’m planning on starting a bar fight anytime soon. But I should be able to hold my own. If I want to hit someone, I want to be able to hit them, you know?”
He finally flicks his eyes up to Scott’s face, and Scott’s watching him carefully, but without a trace of pity. “I get it. You know I get that. You know what my dad – I get it. What’s the other reason?”
Stiles thinks back to the second part of the night of his dad’s funeral, the paralyzing panic attack in front of Derek and Scott, the worst one he’d had since freshman year of college, the feeling of his respiratory system declaring civil war against the rest of his body. “You know how I started running because I read that article about using regular, controlled physical exertion to mitigate anxiety?”
Scott nods. “Sophomore year.”
“Yeah, well, running’s clearly not doing it for me anymore,” Stiles says drily. “Apparently, I need another outlet.”
“What you need is to talk to a therapist.”
A voice from above interrupts them. “If you don’t mind, gentlemen, I’ve got this ring next and you don’t seem to be using it anymore.”
“Senator Argent,” Stiles says, squinting to make out Chris Argent’s shape against the fluorescent lights. “I didn’t know you were a member here.”
“Please, Stiles, call me Chris,” the senator says, offering a hand. “I joined up when I got elected six years ago. My father’s idea.”
Stiles lets Chris tow him to his feet, then does the same for Scott. “Beneficial to have one of the Argents of Argent Arms in a room with the high-profile ex-military sect, I’d imagine.”
Chris looks at him appraisingly. “Something like that, yes. Who’s your friend?”
“Scott McCall,” Scott says, shaking Chris’ hand heartily. “Friend of Stiles’ from Stanford. It’s an honor to meet you, sir – your work on the Subcommittee for International Operations and Organizations is incredible.”
Chris’ eyes widen, and he shakes Scott’s hand with a little more oomph. “I’m impressed. Are you in the business?”
“Dad, no work talk in the ring,” a voice behind them chides, and all three men turn to see a young woman with dark brown hair braided back out of her face ducking between the ropes. She finishes tucking a piece of tape into her wrist wrap and bounds lightly to her father’s side, grinning at all of them. “There are rules about that. Hi, I’m Allison.”
"Sorry, honey,” Chris says, rolling his eyes in a manner completely unbefitting a United States Senator “This is Stiles Stilinski, White House Press Secretary, and his friend Scott. Stiles, Scott, this is my daughter Allison, who is learning to box.”
“If ‘learning’ means ‘kicking your butt six ways to Sunday,’ then sure, learning,” Allison says with a sweet smile. “C’mon, old man, I’ve got to get back to the restaurant by 1:30 or my sous chef will have a meltdown. Scott, Stiles, nice to meet you!”
“I think I’m in love,” Scott whispers as Stiles bodily shoves him towards the locker room.
Scott’s long been asleep on the couch when Stiles, finally succumbing in the battle with his own curiosity, tiptoes across his dinky living room to the bookshelf. He doesn’t even need the light from his phone to find the book he’s looking for – The Count of Monte Cristo has been in the same place ever since he moved in.
He tugs it carefully out from between his battered copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Anna Karenina, hissing at every noise he makes while he pads over the kitchen. When he sets the book down, it falls open to the bright blue envelope that’s been serving as a pseudo-bookmark for months. He stares at the familiar, sharply-angled handwriting, warring with himself again. This is a stupid thing to do. Whatever Derek had to say to him at graduation, it doesn’t matter. He’s put all of the Derek shit behind him. He’s had to, otherwise he’d still flinch whenever Laura mentions her brother's name and he’d probably lock himself in his apartment whenever there’s a state function.
Okay, not really. It’s not that bad. Yes, it had been fucking terrible right at the beginning, but he’s…getting there. It’s taken a lot of time in his own head, a lot of listening to Marvin Gaye albums on repeat and staring into space, a lot of trying to imagine what his mom would say. But it’s getting better.
Stiles, as carefully as he can, sets a pot of water on the stove and sits on the counter, running his fingers along the edges of the envelope and waiting for the water to boil. He hasn’t done this in a few years – not since he last steamed open a couple of his dad’s documents regarding the more interesting cases coming across the sheriff’s desk – but the principle remains the same. Rolling boil, hold the envelope in the steam, gently work your thumb into the seam, and – there.
It’s a generic card, one of those ConGRADulations ones with balloons on the front, and Stiles is almost pissed. Seriously? This is what Derek sent? Three months of Stiles wondering what grand words Derek might have painstakingly selected, and he gets this –
He opens the card, and his fingers start shaking. Derek’s cramped, untidy writing takes up every inch.
Congratulations on graduating. First in your class at Stanford, that’s pretty amazing.
Everything I write sounds so idiotic. Like we don’t even know each other, like we didn’t spend five months working side-by-side and eating every meal together and waking up to each other’s horrible morning breath. I still look for you when someone makes a joke to see if you got it – how pathetic is that?
I guess I miss you, if this is what missing a person is. Laura talks about you all the time and I want to kill her for having stories with you that I’m not a part of.
I’m not a good guy, but I think you know that. I shouldn’t have started anything with you at all. I knew you’d get hurt, I knew I wasn’t…I knew it was a bad idea. The first night we met, you were brilliant and just talked at me for a minute straight without breathing and smiled like
I don’t know how to make things better between us. I feel like I’ve apologized a hundred times, but
my words it doesn’t mean anything until you forgive me. Or yell at me. Or
You told me once, quoting Dumas, that what makes you a man is what you do when the storm comes. The storm came, and I ran away, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make that up to you. I don’t know if you’ll ever let me try. I wouldn’t know where to start.
…because you were right. We were in a relationship, or at least at the very beginning of one, and I wanted more – God, I wanted to be the good guy – but I was scared. And I knew it would hurt you more if I tried, because it always hurts more in the long run, and I didn’t want that for you. You deserved better than me. You still do.
So…congratulations on graduating. I'm sorry for everything.
P.S. This is the seventh card I bought because I kept writing stupid things and having to throw them out. I know this one is unfinished and choppy and awful, and it’s nowhere near everything I need to say, but Luke’s looking at me like he’s going to have me committed if I go back to Hallmark again. So try not to hate me too much for the balloons. Hate me for other things, but the balloons are innocent in all of this.